Staying alive

Groggily stirring to the high pitched buzzing sound in her ear, Cass raised a hand to try and wave whatever was making the noise away from her. Her arms and fingers felt heavy, and it was only when her hand collided with her helmet that she realised she was wearing a vaccsuit.

Confused, her eyes flickered open to find that she was lying splayed on the floor, staring up at an unfamiliar ceiling, illuminated by the pale torchlight, cast from her suit lights. The buzzing resolved into the sound of an alarm.

"Muh" her cracked lips parted gummily. She felt like shit; sick and tired and aching all over.

What the fuck was going on?

The red readout blinking on the HUD, beamed onto the suit’s faceplate confirmed her worst fears..

O2 critically low.

"Shit" she croaked and lurched upright; immediately wishing she hadn't as the room swam around her and black spots danced before her eyes.

What had happened?

Breathing raggedly and feeling like she was about to vomit, Cass waited a moment while her vision cleared and tapped the suit controls to disable the alarm.

How long had she been unconscious? The suits rebreathers were apparently good for more than twelve hours - Could she really have been unconscious for that long?

Tapping the controls again Cass brought up an estimate of how much air she had left. The result was chilling.

Sixteen minutes, forty-two seconds.

Forty-one.

Forty.

Just watching the seconds tick down made her heart constrict with anxiety.

“Guys?” Cass tried the comms “Where are you?”

Silence was the only answer.

“Anyone?

"Please...?"

Fighting back her slowly mounting panic and trying to keep her breathing under control, Cass ran a series of diagnostic tests on the comms subsystems. They all came back green.

Where was everyone? Had they abandoned her?

The last thing she remembered was something about a creature aboard this abandoned colony ship. There had been a Haruk.

How was that possible unless she really had dreamed it?

Was this a dream?

If it was, Cass concluded, it was shit. Her head was pounding and she felt awful. What was wrong with dreaming about sex, or something else that was enjoyable; like friends and good times?

In any event, this wasn't helping her current predicament. A glance at the HUD showed her that she had less than sixteen minutes of air left. The suit had already initiated the emergency rationing protocols, so it was unlikely Cass would be able to eke many more minutes out by adjusting the atmospheric mix; so she needed to either find oxygen, or get out of here fast.

With a view to finding her way back to where they had docked in the white giant, Cass brought up the automap. What she saw made her want to cry in frustration.

Far from being close to where they had docked, the route finder indicated that she had been wandering aimlessly for about eight hours and was kilometers deep in the bowels of the alien ship.

Pushing aside questions about why and how this had happened, she initiated a detailed scan of the local area, only too painfully aware that it could be one of her last actions.

Minutes ticked by before the results trickled in. Time which Cass spent in worried silence, hoping against hope that the universe would go her way for once. She didn't want to die. Not yet. There were still so many things she wanted to do; like see the more of the galaxy; visit her parents, who were both still alive in this universe, and meet the brother she apparently had, but had never met.

There were demons there that needed putting to rest, and the thought that she might never get the chance filled her with a sense of loss and sadness.

If she got out of this alive, she resolved, she would do it. Assuming everyone else was dead, she'd just take off in the White Giant. Her folks lived about a hundred and fifty light years from the region of space the Dwarf had been in and, while she'd initially struggle to pilot the ship, Cass had seen Jay and others do it enough times to be reasonably confident of being able to pull it off. In any case the autopilot would compensate for most if not all of her mistakes.

Should she try and find her companions bodies?

Cass pushed that thought away. It was more likely that they had simply taken off without her and that she even if she did find oxygen, she was trapped here, doomed to die. She pushed that thought to the back of her mind as well.

Come on. Come on.

Watching the seconds of air ticking down.

There were less than thirteen minutes left now. Cass wanted to scream and run for her life. To do anything would be better than just sitting here, hoping she wasn't going to die; but doing so might seal her fate if she ran in the wrong direction, or exerted herself and burned too much oxygen to take advantage of a possible air source if one by some miracle even existed.

Don't think that way, she scolded herself. It was entirely possible that engineering had oxy-acetylene torches that she might be able to use; or there might be a nearby pocket of breathable atmosphere somewhere...

Come on.

"I don't want to die"

Cass willed herself to be calm, but it was almost impossible. She'd been in some tight spots before now, but she couldn't recall ever having had time to ponder her own mortality while she was fighting to survive. It seemed unfair after the life she'd led, to go out like this - with a whimper rather than a bang; but frankly neither option appealed when all she really wanted was just to grow old and die when it was time. Not like this.

There was a whole life to she wanted to live before she died - She could to the things everyone else did; like meet someone and find enough love to last a lifetime; maybe even settle down and have kids. Hell, she was months away from being thirty now; was a quiet life with someone really too much to ask?

Apparently so, she reluctantly concluded.

It came as little surprise to her to find her eyes brimming with tears as the timer ticked down below eleven minutes.

The suit chimed around twenty seconds later to alert her that the psi scan had finished.

"Please," Cass whispered as the data flooded onto the HUD "Please, please...There!" she nearly shrieked with excitement. Oxygen-rich atmosphere reserves in what looked like an airlock.

Lurching to her feet, she took a few seconds to orientate herself and began staggering in the direction indicated by the automapper.

Eight and a half precious minutes passed before she reached the airlock; a big, imposing door, set in the bulkhead. By the time she arrived, Cass was already gasping for breath and sheathed in sweat.

This was going to be tight.

Her fingers scrabbled clumsily with the manual controls for a moment, trying to figure them out, but the effort was too much. With black spots coalescing into tunnel vision, her legs gave way and she slid to the floor; the weight of her body serendipitously providing the leverage required to operate the airlock. The door cracked opened.

The last of her air ran out as Cass crawled into the airlock and, purple faced, gasping for a breath that quite simply wasn’t there, she kicked the door closed behind her. A mechanism somewhere whined into life; a vibration she felt through the deckplates, rather than heard as she keeled over sideways and collapsed onto her back on the floor, her fingers clawing uselessly at her throat, as if they might somehow help her draw breath.

There was a large red button set on the wall at about head height. Emergency repressurisation? It seemed so far away - If only she could reach it.

No.

Cass lurched to her feet, her heart beating wildly, and stumbled forward with the sound of blood rushing in her ears.

Blackness took her as she hammered the button with the ball of her fist.

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