26. Well, Somebody Has To
Date: 176-993 to 177-993 Imperial.
Location: 069-526 system (0721), high above orbital plane.
"Fuck" said Fish.
"You could put it that way" said Sir David, something like bitterness or disgust creeping into his voice.
"Wow" said Maelcum, "they blew it".
There was a long pause, then Sir David spoke again. "Can you relay that back to Silea for the log, please, Fish." Fish spoke to Silea and made the data transfer.
"Thirteen, I think" said Sir David.
"Yes, so far. Plus someone in engineering, I'd imagine. And maybe the other cabins." Maelcum had also been counting bodies seen or implied. "How will we store them for the trip back?"
"We can put them in the main hold and evacuate it. That'll do. Alright, let's get this computer core out then start a proper search."
Fish dismantled the computer to get at its optical core, while the others herded the casework he detached into a corner. It was out in 15 minutes, and into a shock-absorbing bag. Then they towed the three bodies from the bridge back to Avarice Rewarded and put them in the hold. The woman, child, and cook went back in a second run, and they set to searching the ship properly.
Luan examined the frozen corpses as they came in and made medical notes for the ship's log. She didn't seem bothered by them. Back on Cochrane's Burden, Fish got through the other passenger area doors quickly since none of them were in anti-hijack mode. They found four more bodies, apparently passengers, who didn't seem to belong on their list of thirteen.
Back in engineering they found two more, looking like crew. They were perforated by flying metal shards from the hole in the wall.
"Beam came through" said Maelcum.
Fish spoke emptily. "It hit the power plant from the back. Spalls from that hit the backup." He pointed at the wreckage of the main fusion plant, and the big holes that flying debris had punched through the backup store. "All power gone. That's what stopped the doors. I wonder how the girl got her door open." He attached a tow line to one of the engineers.
"Below decks next. You two had better lead off, there'll be sharp edges down there from the weapon damage. Your suits are better for that."
The fifth visit was the worst. They found Louisa, or at least a woman in overalls labelled "Lousia", drifting in a corridor, near a chair facing a door. She showed signs of rapid decompression, plus impact trauma to the head. There was blood and broken skin on the wall.
A short way along, five feet of wall were missing from either side of the corridor. The edges of the holes were torn and blistered. Maelcum checked for radiation since they were close to the impact site, then headed through the hole on the side opposite the chair. He was quiet for a moment, then spoke over the comm link. "This is the brig, where they held the hijackers. There are bodies."
The other two followed him in.
It was a charnel house.
The room was open to space, but most of the recognisable body parts had stayed inside the hull. A head floated free, and two arms tied together at the thumbs. A pair of legs were taped to a bench against the outer hull. Of the torso, no sign. But the really gruesome sight was across the room, where the plasma and shrapnel had had a chance to spread and cover the other three prisoners. The freezing vacuum had preserved the result for all to see.
Fish began to flail, and make gagging sounds. There was the sound of heaving on the comm link. As Maelcum and Sir David turned to face him, his faceplate splashed green and yellow from the inside. He sucked in another breath for the next heave, and drew the last lot of vomit straight back into his lungs. Maelcum grabbed a bracing point and prepared to push off towards Fish, as they heard him start to drown over the comm.
But Sir David snapped a quick warning: "Leave him. Spacer suit."
Maelcum relaxed. Moments later water jets blasted Fish's faceplate clear from above, as unseen suction pumps gathered the fluid under his chin. As the visor cleared, the apparently soft fabric below his ribs constricted and gave him a Heimlich manoeuvre. A fresh water jet swept the vomit away as it hit his faceplate. The fabric shifted again, taking a grip on his lungs and regulating his breathing. In ten seconds he was back under control. His eyes refocused, before he saw the carnage in his headlamps and closed them with a shudder.
"Looks like you got the night off" said Sir David.