From the author: Forty-six years after the star-ship battle that left Crewman Rose adrift in space, rescue has finally come.
Klaxons sounded. Crewmen dashed about in an organized panic. The White Wolf, the flagship of the Confederacy's fleet was under attack by United Protectorate forces. An ambush. Three dark-ships had appeared, seemingly from nowhere, and had begun launching attack boats without even a warning hail. Crewman Rose had been knocked from his feet at his station during the first volley, and was watching dazed as his comrades bustled around him. Specialist Harris grabbed Rose by one arm and hauled him to his feet.
"You okay, Sweets?" Specialist Harris's face was very close, and Rose could see blood spattered across his left cheek and eye. It didn't look like it was his own.
"I-" Rose gasped, struggling to find his breath after the impact, "I think I'm alright." Harris nodded hurriedly and moved away, disappearing immediately into the mad rush.
Crewman Rose tried to concentrate. The klaxon pattern was indicating general quarters. He turned back to his action post, but the starboard communications monitoring station was fried; the portholes were blackened and the equipment was smoking. He didn't have a secondary action post, so what next? He tried to think. His thoughts were stuck in deep mud, and if he pulled much harder, he would only lose a boot. He was likely concussed. There was nothing for it but to try to find a medic -- or his CO. Luckily the med-bay and his CO's quarters were in the same direction. He took off down the passage, becoming one more among the frantically moving crew.
The ship shuddered. The hull of the ship peeled back to reveal open space beyond. The transverse bulkheads fore and aft sealed instantly. His emergency helmet activated, washing his face in a rush of oxygen, as he grasped for something, anything to hold on to...
The timer buzzed again, and Rose slapped it off without thinking and walked over to the nutrient recycler with his bowl, dumping the mess. He looked up at the bulkhead where he marked time. Forty-six years, as well as he could reckon, since the White Wolf was ambushed and destroyed, leaving him the only survivor; trapped inside the sealed and shielded galley compartment, tumbling aimlessly through space. The galley had food to support a forty-man crew for three years, a water purifier, a waste recycler, a hydroponic garden to keep him in oxygen, and solar panels to keep it all running.
The timer buzzed again, somehow more insistently than before, and he glanced at it, annoyed. Except... It wasn't the timer. The timer had been broken for over a year. It sat inert in the console next to the hot plate. Rose's eyes widened as he looked around. If it wasn't the timer...
He spun to stare at a panel on the bulkhead next to the aft porthole where the kitchen radio was suddenly all blinking lights, in time with the buzzer. He sprang across the deck -- knocking over his carefully set table in his rush -- and switched on the speaker.
"-lie Farmer of the C.F.S Wildflower calling the occupant of the unidentified wreckage. Please come in. Is anyone there?"
Rose pressed the transmit button with a trembling finger. His voice cracked and stuttered as he spoke, "W-Wildflower, this is Crewm-man Dexter Rose of the C.F.S. White Wolf. I'm h-here. I'm here!"
"Sweet name!" said the voice. She sounded young, and pleasantly disposed. He'd heard the joke before, of course, but never had it sounded so good, "Nice to hear you made it, Crewman Rose. I'm not familiar with the White Wolf. How long have you been out here?"
Rose glanced at his tracking wall again, "forty-six years, one-hundred and thirty-nine days... I think."
"Hold the Launch!" She exclaimed. "That's amazing! I've never heard of anyone surviving inside a wreck for more than a few days. You've been in there since right before the end of the rebellion."
Rose grinned. It was heartening to hear that the war had not lasted much longer, "I was lucky," he said. "I b-brought the kitchen with me."
"I want to hear all about it," Farmer said, "but let's get you out of there first. You have an evac suit in there with you?"
Rose glanced around, as if he did not already know every square centimeter of the inside of this galley. "No, just my pop helmet," he said, taking it off the hook on the wall and fitting it around his neck. It would activate the instant it detected vacuum.
"Space me! You guys already had pop helmets way back in The Rebellion?" she sounded even younger then. "Okay, let me just send for operational clearance." Silence for a few moments, then: "My CO wants to know The White Wolf's regnums. She can't find them in the database."
"Erm alright, charlie - foxtrot - sierra - tango - whiskey - two - seven - one - ate - dash - tree, " he recited.
"And your Crewman I.D.?" she asked.
"fower - two - eight - fife - seven - tree - zero - ate - ate - bravo," he didn't even have to think about that one.
"Okay, I'll send that info up." Rose waited, surprised at his impatience after over four decades of waiting to be rescued. "It'll be a mo' for that to get sent up the chain, Sweets, sorry."
“It’s all right,” he said, but he didn’t feel all right, Something about what she said just then, or the way she said it, bothered him. He felt nauseous and his head was swimming.
"So," Farmer said conversationally, "What happened to the White Wolf forty-six years, one-hundred and thirty-nine days ago?"
Rose forced himself to focus. "We were ambushed by Protectorate forces; unknown objective. They came out of nowhere."
"How did they get through the shielding of a Tower-class flagship?"
"I don't know," Rose said, "I was just a comm tech. I didn't even see what happened before... before..." What had happened after he left his post? He couldn't remember. How had he even gotten to the galley?
"Where was the White Wolf headed?" Farmer asked.
"Covert mission," Rose said, "We'd discovered the location of the Protectorate shipyards in the atmosphere of Jupiter. We were on our way to take it out. We were decelerating toward Vesta Station for a refueling when we were attacked."
Silence dragged for a few moments, then "Okay, Crewman Rose, We've got clearance to get you out of there."
"What should I do?"
"Just grab anything you want to take with you, shut down the seals, and leap from the transverse bulkhead. I'll catch you." There was a smile in her voice at the last sentence.
Rose looked around the compartment that he'd been trapped in for two-thirds of his life. Was there anything in here that was important to him after all this time? There wasn't, and it surprised him. Why didn't he keep a journal, sculpt or paint something? Why didn't he create anything or decorate the bulkheads? "I wasted so much time here," he said.
"Let's not waste another minute, then, Sweets," she said, and the headache and nausea returned instantly. He felt like he was floating down through the deck, and it was all he could do not to vomit. Sweets? How did she-?
"I'm here," he said, "but I can't shut the seals down. The shielding controls are behind this bulkhead, and I can't get to them while the seals are up."
"Hmm..." she said. "Hang a tick."
There was a minute of silence. Something had concerned him greatly just a few moments ago, but now he couldn't remember what it was. Something about Farmer...
"Okay," She said. "I've tapped into the shield controls for that compartment from my boat's computer. I'll take them down from here. I just need the ship's remote shield control code. You were comms, you should know it, right?"
"Yeah," Rose said, but hesitated. The shield command code was top, top secret. It was treason to share it, even with other crew members.
"C'mon, Crewman," Farmer said. She sounded just a bit impatient. "I can't get you out of there without that code."
Rose closed his eyes, and recalled the code, "six - seven - niner - foxtrot - victor - fife - one - six - niner - papa - fower - six - foxtrot"
"Thank you, Crewman Rose," she said, but her voice sounded different, closer.
He tried to open his eyes, but could not. Everything was darkness, and his head was feeling light again. He was frantic, frightened, but pain kept his words slow, "What's going on? Did you get the seals down?"
"I will have soon," Farmer said, her voice close now, right beside him and clear as a bell. "Thanks to you."
"Wait!" he shouted. He struggled, trying to push himself to sitting, but he could not. He was reclined, strapped to a bed, his arms and legs held in restraints. He still could not open his eyes.
"Stay calm, Sweets," she said. A soft hand brushed over his smooth, young cheek. "Our surgeon tells me you have a fresh concussion."
This story originally appeared in Balloons Lit.