Tag Archives: Days Until Home

Days Until Home – Chapter 18

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Days Until Home: 18

“When did your tracker start working?”

Adelaide looked up at the chief engineer of the Kerwood. Her hair cascaded like a weeping willow, and she was forced to part it with her gloved hands to see the concerned look on Jeremy’s face.

“Hey, ChEng,” Adelaide greeted him when their eyes met. “When I was monkeying with the EXT during our escape last week, I brushed against a fiber optic bundle and burned the slag outta my coveralls. Might’ve jolted it back to life.” Her eyes focused briefly on the piece of equipment she was repairing, and she returned her attention to Jeremy. “Those were my favorite coveralls.”

Jeremy smiled. “You get zapped?”

Adelaide nodded. “Almost bit my slagging tongue off.”

“What’re you working on?”

Adelaide made no attempt to reveal what she was working on. Jeremy tried to peer through greasy locks of hair to see what she hunched over. He squinted and stared at Adelaide through narrowed eyes.

“Fine!” she declared with a huff and a sigh. She swept her hair aside and leaned back to reveal a series of pipes and fiber optics.

Jeremy looked at the amalgamation of technology, and he couldn’t hide the fact that he had no idea what she was working on. “What is it?” he whispered.

“Well,” Adelaide began, and then looked over her shoulder to the open doorway to Main Engineering. “When we burnt the thrusters out-”

“‘We?’” Jeremy retorted.

Adelaide leaned back and crossed her arms over her chest. Jeremy waved his hand for her to continue.

“They burned through the chemical store we, uh, borrowed from the Matsue.

Jeremy nodded. “We don’t have an easy way to decelerate when we get home.”

“We only depleted our supply of fluorine,” Adelaide explained. “We still have plenty of LOX and LH2.”

“Right,” Jeremy replied, “we can use the liquid oxygen and hydrogen we have for the environment to burn off the last of our acceleration once we get to Earth orbit.”

Adelaide rolled her eyes. “We’d be better off getting someone to kinetically decelerate us. I have another plan for some of our remaining LH2.”

“Better than keeping us from overshooting the Earth and wandering the inner planets until the food we stole from the Matsue runs out?”

“It’s more of an adaptation of an old side project, ChEng.”

“Why are you avoiding the question, Adelaide?”
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Days Until Home – Chapter 17

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Days Until Home: 26

A new bridge crew, thrown together out of mere necessity, and lacking the glue that he was used to. Winchester Hayes glanced over at Femke, she had been uncharacteristically silent since they took back the ship and hadn’t even bothered to look at him.

Gauge on the other hand was a different man. Smiling, offering up jokes—JOKES—Gauge Schneider, the navigator, was telling jokes. Winchester remembered a time when he, Angelo, and Booker had a wager going that Gauge was secretly an android that the Kerwood brass had snuck aboard to spy on their activities. None of them could prove it, but needless to say, the last thing Winchester Hayes expected out of his brilliant navigator was a joke.

He thought about the time on the Matsue when he had called his room and Marisol was in there with him. That would explain it, he thought, but the motivations of Marisol Vega were only understood by Marisol Vega. They were family now, they had bled together, and they had fought side by side to win back the Kerwood.

“Listen up,” he said, standing and grasping the back of the splintered seat. “I know that this is crazy, not what any of you signed up for, but we did the thing and we’re getting home.” He looked over at Femke, trying to read her eyes, but he couldn’t decipher what was reflected there.

“Tempers are hot,” he stopped and laughed, “ooh boy,” he began to pat the seat violently, “when I find out who did this—” he had to stop and collect himself. “The Matsue had no slagging right to offer up one-sided bargains when we were crippled and reeling for this … this … violation.” He shook his head and bit his bottom lip, struggling to keep things professional and somewhat positive.

Every muscle within his body wanted a fight. He wanted to punch someone or something, hard, for what happened. He never could talk when he was angry, and the thought of Angelo Lu only made his heart race with anticipation.

Telly spoke up, “we’re with you, Skip. You don’t have to go through this alone.”

“I appreciate that, Telly, but I just wanted to thank you all. Now let’s get to the silver back gorilla in the room. We have some strong concerns about Mr. Sharapov, don’t we? Mhm, yeah buddy, we have some strong concerns. We’re going to have to deal with that one way or another, and I don’t think it can wait—especially now that he knows we’re onto him.”

“Skip, he may actually be innocent,” Femke spoke up for the first time. “He seemed pretty scared when we questioned him, and he was actually shaking. You may not know it, but you’re pretty frightening when you’re angry … plus, Telly chiming in. Well. Let’s just say that most of us would have melted if we were in that same situation. It’s only fair to have him tell his side of the story, if anything we’ve accused him of even sticks—”

“I was just getting to that, Funky, I’m not about to airlock the man. I just want answers before we get home. There are countless lives lost due to one person’s selfishness on this ship. I can’t have that, the dead can’t have that, and we need to make sure that it isn’t going to happen again.”

Marisol Vega raised her hand and Winchester nodded, “Skip, um, the Matsue’s still trying to get a hold of you. I’m not good on insults and they’re getting nasty.”
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Days Until Home – Chapter 16

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Days Until Home: 82

Viktor bent to pick up a crate of ore from the Kerwood hold while considering the question he’d been asked. When he turned around the Matsue worker, Harry, was waiting for an answer, as if it were a question at all.

“Yeah, it was bad,” Viktor said over the suit comms. “The worst thing I have ever experienced.”

Harry bobbed his helmeted head in agreement. “I mean, yeah, it had to have been, right? I saw the launch hallway. Hell of an explosion. Must’ve been quite the sight.”

The third guy on the shift, who hadn’t bothered to volunteer his name to Viktor, stood in the corner taking a breather. He didn’t seem to care about the tragedy that had befallen the Kerwood, beyond annoyance at needing to do work.

Viktor only nodded at Harry and carried the crate toward the hatch of open black, his mag-boots clomping along with each step in the semi-gravity. They were bundling the crates into groups of four to later be moved and rearranged in the most efficient arrangement of mass according to the computer algorithms and laws of physics. For now they were just stacking them close to the ramp door.

Viktor didn’t need to help, but he was sick of waiting around like a passenger. It felt good to work at something, even a job as monotonous as moving cubes of rocky money from one area to another. And the low-G work wasn’t so much hard as it was tedious; even with his wounded arm unable to grip anything with real strength he was able to move the heavy crates without issue.

“Quite a sight,” Harry repeated, staring off at nothing. Viktor got the impression that he was bored, and wanted some sort of excitement to break the dullness of spaceflight. It was the kind of restlessness that only came from youth, when one hadn’t experienced true tragedy yet. When one hadn’t learned that excitement was a bad thing out in the black. With some guidance and nurturing that sentiment would be trained out of him, hopefully without any real crisis.

For a brief, painful moment it made Viktor wish he and Helena had had children.

He smiled sadly and said over the comms, “Stay sharp, Harry. The boots are tricky if you’re not paying attention.”

Harry followed him to the edge of the cargo hold with his own crate. The kid’s steps slowed as he approached, his hesitation at nearing the black edge palpable in the airless air. Viktor kept his movements steady and confident to show him how it was done.

“You want to stop at the edge, here,” Viktor said, just as everything went wrong.

Red and orange klaxon lights around the border of the bay began flashing in warning. It must have scared Harry, because he took a jerky step, one boot detaching from the ground, and then he was tumbling through the air.

Over the comms, Harry screamed.
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Days Until Home – Vote Now!

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Chapters to go: 06

Hey, Days Until Home fans! You already know that chapter fifteen came out last Wednesday. For those of you who remember, that’s where you guys start voting on which of us writers gets to write the “official” villains of the story. The story, as of my chapter 15, is 66k words. We’ve only got six chapters left, and we’re expecting to have another 20k or so to tell the rest of the story. You need to tell us who the villains are, though. Tell us through your vote.

Who do you think sabotaged the Kerwood? The Miners, written by David Kristoph are Viktor, Jimmy, Siebert, Jessica, and others. The Bridge Crew, written by Greg Dragon are Hayes, Femke, Gauge, Bianconi, and others. The Engineers, written by Mark Gardner are Jeremy, Adelaide, Erika, and others. Sound out in the poll below and in the comments on any of the chapters. Maybe you can convince other readers to vote your way.

While you’re at it, Please Vote each week for Days until Home on TopWebFiction.


Days Until Home – Chapter 15

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Days Until Home: 82

A klaxon sounded out, and the passageway lighting faded from brilliant to dark and back to brilliant in time with the klaxon’s wail. It had been less than twenty minutes since an explosion rumbled the Matsue’s deck plates, triggering the alarm. The crew of the Matsue wouldn’t stand for saboteurs aboard their ship any more than Erika or her surviving Kerwood shipmates would, and the Matsue crew was determined to stop the mutiny. Mutiny, Erika Ängström thought, as if they would call it anything else.

“Stop!” A Matsue crewman burst around the corner, leading with his tranquilizer gun. He dropped to one knee, his forearm resting on the other knee. He sighted the running form of Captain Winchester Hayes, of the crippled Kerwood. “Don’t make me shoot you, Captain Hayes!”

Erika stepped out of an alcove where she watched the scene unfold and thrust a syringe into the security man’s shoulder. The hiss was more felt than heard as the syringe discharged the sedative directly into the man’s skin. He had only a moment to look up at the new threat before he collapsed onto the deck.

Captain Hayes returned to the scene and eyed the pair of launch suits in a pile in the alcove that Erika had hidden. His eyes kept wandering to Erika’s missing hand on her right arm. The suit glove was required to maintain suit integrity, but her glove was limp and ineffectual.

“Stop staring,” Erika grumbled and flipped her launch helmet over her head with her good hand. She rotated the collar of her suit and helped Captain Hayes into his launch suit. “We’ve only got six or seven minutes, so get your slag together.”

Captain Hayes’s eyes were blank and uncomprehending. Erika reached up with her good hand and rotated the captain’s collar. “It’s a race against time,” Erika said over the private communication link that she and Captain Hayes had created. “We’ve got to be through the umbilicus by 17:30 Kerwood time.”

Captain Hayes gave her a thumbs up. He shifted to look at Erika’s flaccid glove. She rolled her eyes, pushed the captain away with her good hand, and jogged down the passageway. Captain Hayes fell into step beside her. When they arrived at the makeshift airlock that the Matsue was using to shift goods and matériel from the Kerwood to the Matsue, they stopped to see two suited figures guarding the temporary airlock. One was rotund, and the other was so tall he had to stoop in the Matsue passageway.

A pair of Matsue security personnel lay at their feet. A third figure knelt over the prostrate guards and was affixing oxygen-breathing apparatuses over their noses and mouths. The figure turned, and Erika heard her over the COMS, “Just in case this goes sideways.”

“Move it, Funky!” Captain Hayes ordered over the COMS.

Femke rose and placed her hands on her hips in defiance. She turned to respond to her captain, “Stealing the Kerwood is one thing, but if anyone dies, it’s all our asses.” Femke pulled the recessed handle in the hatch, swung it open, and stepped through.

“It’s our ship,” Captain Hayes grumbled. “We’re not stealing anything.”
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Days Until Home – Chapter 14

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Days Until Home: 83

“So let me ask you this. If the Matsue hadn’t shown up, what were you going to do to get the crew and cargo home?” the gruff voice said with a hint of frustration behind it.

Winchester Hayes sat at the desk with his arms in front of him, one on top of the other, and his head bent low over the intercom. His face was a mask of determination, and the upper arm blocked the view of his hand crushing a ball of paper. He was squeezing it so tightly that it was becoming painful, but it kept him from falling off the precipice and becoming something that he had sworn not to become.

He inhaled slowly and began his retort, “My chief engineer and his brilliant staff were on it. We weren’t down long enough to need rescuing and—”

“Do you hear yourself, Hayes? You lost more people on your watch than a wartime captain handling a destroyer. How do you think the Lu and Hawkins’ family feel about you not being ‘down long enough’? I think that they would be very annoyed to hear the man responsible for—”

“Hey, that’s enough. I may be contracted with you, but I am not your toady. If you don’t want to reconsider the green light on us being stripped and salvaged while we’re down on one knee, then, I am very disappointed. I have had a long, successful run with the Kerwood. Even you with your nasty opinion of me would have to admit that. We have been the ship that the superstars ask to be transferred to, because, we get things done. I removed every facet of a life to dedicate myself to this ship and your organization, and what do I get? A call for help answered by some spineless shit, who sits comfortably in an air conditioned building, telling me what the family of my friends would think about my refusal to take an ass—”

“That’s enough, Captain Hayes. I owe you an apology, and I just want to clarify that I am not in an air conditioned building. I am home with family. I took this call as a courtesy. Anyway, I fully understand your position, and it is a regrettable and unfortunate position that nobody could dream of being in. Not in their worst nightmare. But the Kerwood Corporation wants you home. The losses that we have suffered already are far greater than we can afford. You called because you’re a great man with tremendous pride, but the ship is crippled, Captain. Allow your rescuers to do their job and when you get back we can help you put the pieces together.”

Winchester adjusted his seat and began to rub his forehead with frustration. Bitter-sweet doesn’t quite describe it, he thought. We’re in a bigger ship that can get us back home, fast, but the reason we came out here will become null and void. I can’t have Booker and Lu’s lives become the result of a worthless mission. “Thanks for taking my call. Enjoy the rest of your day,” he said flatly and disconnected the communication.

He sat back and scanned the room. It was spacious, clean, and meant for important guests whenever the Matsue’s captain would have one along. When his eyes found the bed, he thought about Femke, and how waking up on the Kerwood had been the stuff of dreams on their trip. One minute happiness, the next, death and total anarchy. It was funny how life was so unstable, and no matter how many times it happened, he could never prepare himself enough for it.
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Days Until Home – Chapter 13

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 Days Until Home: 84

Viktor was moving down the hallway toward Siebert’s transponder signal, cringing with every magnetically-enhanced boot step that sent jolts of pain through the bundle of fabric and flesh fused together at his belly, when laughter drifted through his helmet.

Jimmy paused and turned around, giving Viktor a confused look. He heard the laughter too. “What the…”

“Attention all Kerwood crew,” came Captain Hayes’ voice, clearer but still twinged with levity. “I have an important announcement to make.”

“Then make it already,” Jimmy said on the private channel only Viktor could hear.

“We’ve established communication with the commercial mining vessel Matsue. They are plotting an intercept course to provide assistance. Folks, we’re being rescued.”

Hayes must have opened up the channel to everyone, because a scattering of cheers filled Viktor’s helmet, some weary, others halfhearted, all of them hopeful. Jimmy grinned like an idiot and pumped his fist in the vacuum.

“The Matsue,” Viktor breathed, staring off at a point past Jimmy’s shoulder. “That’s my old ship.”

“Who fricken cares what ship it is,” Jimmy said. “It’s a ship, and it’s rescue, and it’s safety. I thought I was gunna die out here, and no offense Vicky, but I was terrified your ugly face would be the last thing I saw.”

His laughter took the sting out of the words, and Viktor surprised himself by joining. For a long while they stood there and laughed, along with the remnants of the crew throughout the crippled Kerwood.

It took eight hours for the Matsue to reach them, hard-burning all the way on chemical rockets. Viktor imagined the chest-crushing g-forces the crew must be suffering just to reach them as quickly as possible. Viktor and Jimmy were able to cut open the mangled door and retrieve Siebert. The big miner appeared unconscious at first, but came to once they patched into his suit comms. He seemed to hear everything they said, and he nodded or shook his head to answer their questions, but he had a thousand-meter stare in his eye that Viktor recognized as shock. There was no sign of Adelaide, so they escorted Siebert back to relative safety before his brain could process everything that had happened.

They huddled in the med bay while waiting for the Matsue. The video screens that would normally show the view outside the ship were down, so they had to use their imagination, with occasional updates over the radio. The Matsue matched their relative velocity, then closed the distance until they were only a few meters apart. Though the engineers had done a pretty good job at negating the Kerwood’s spin by opening and closing airlocks, the ship still was unstable on one axis, so the Matsue used engineering arms to clamp onto the crippled vessel and then negate the spin with its own maneuverability jets.

An emergency airlock attached to the trunk entrance. It sounded like a dozen woodpeckers hammering the outside of the hull, creating the temporary seal. Viktor had the absurd image of old earth pirates on the open seas, throwing hooks onto a vessel before they boarded. He laughed, and when Jimmy asked what was so funny he only shook his head. Part of him knew he was so far beyond exhaustion that his brain was barely functioning. The larger part didn’t care.
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Days Until Home – Chapter 12

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Days Until Home: UNKNOWN

“What the fuck have you all done to my ship?”

“Skipper, it’s good to see that you’re still with us,” Jeremy responded as a silence fell on the rest of the survivors in the Kerwood’s escape trunk. Most of them looked as if they’d gotten caught trying to steal one more cookie from the cookie jar. Jeremy turned away from the fuming captain. Jessica and Old Vicky were tethered to the hatch bulkhead with Siebert clucking over them like a mother hen.

Adelaide frowned at a flashing indicator light on the jury-rigged panel. She pushed off the bulkhead, ignoring Captain Hayes in his silent raging impotence. “ChEng,” she called out, “come look at this.”

Jeremy floated to Adelaide as she worked the controls. It amazed him that she seemed to have more access to the system than she was supposed to. He decided that, in her own words, he should just “stow that shit.”

“Someone is popping hatches and moving atmosphere around this boat,” Adelaide commented.

“Look at the ship’s attitude,” Jeremy countered.

“Who the hell…”

“Report!” Captain Hayes barked next to the duo.

Adelaide rolled her eyes and looked to Jeremy.

“Well…” Jeremy began. “Miss Bähr will explain…”

“Someone is opening and closing outer hatches and allowing decompression to slow the ship’s roll.” Adelaide shook her head. “Each time the two remaining atmospheric thrusters are pointed at Egeria-13, they are firing.” She frowned. “Short bursts,” she closed her eyes and appeared to do some calculations in her head. “They’re pushing us into a trajectory back to Earth orbit, but…”

“But what?” inquired Jeremy.

“Well, the trajectory has us shooting well to the side of the Earth. We’ll miss it.”

Captain Hayes steel eyes didn’t betray what he was thinking. “Gauge,” he declared.

The two engineers stared at him.

“That’s why Gauge is my navigator, and you two are grease monkeys.”

Adelaide’s eyes narrowed, but she remained silent.

Captain Hayes brushed an invisible imperfection from the front of his suit. He narrowed his eyes and looked at the two senior engineers as if they were children answering classroom questions – cute, but utterly worthless. “Gauge is pointing us to where the Earth is going to be, not where it is right now.”
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Days Until Home – Chapter 11

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Days Until Home: UNKNOWN

After securing Femke to the bed in order to treat her wounds, Gauge had checked the only working computer panel in the room. He tried to see if there was any way to access the lower levels, where the miners and engineers had been strapped in for the trip.

The explosion had come from that area, and an itch in the back of his mind wanted him to believe that he, Winchester, Marisol, and Femke were the last survivors on the ship.

Winchester Hayes was concerned for his engineers, knowing that they were his only hope in getting his girl back on track. If the Kerwood was damaged beyond repair, the engineers could do what was needed to give them a chance to survive a wait for rescue. They could also get the atmosphere back online so that they could comfortably work on their current situation.

He hated being in the dark. They were floating blind. The black was poking holes in his girl. Starry fingers reaching in to suck the life from anyone that was vulnerable. He had gone from his standard sarcastic but cavalier attitude, to one of intense brooding. Gauge was beginning to wonder if he was truly okay and didn’t believe him when he asked and was given the standard, “I’m good … just thinking.”

They were both leaning against opposite walls of the medical bay and Winchester braced himself between the bed—that Femke was on—and the adjacent wall. Marisol Vega was still asleep, herself, and had not even so much as stirred since Gauge set her nose and she had passed out a few minutes after.

Winchester looked up at Gauge for the first time in an hour and the big man met his gaze with cold blue eyes, embedded inside a mask of stoic resolution.

“You know what one of my biggest fears is, Gauge?” Winchester asked.

“I don’t know, Cap,” Gauge replied. “Is it what we’re going through right now? All of our crew dead. The survivors a mystery to you. And, we here, stuck, helpless, and running out of options?”

“Not this, but something similar. Back on Earth we used to do a lot of hiking. Me and the family that is. Man, we use to travel to parks and just, you know, walk. Well at least the parks that still had trees. Like in Indiana, when we used to go to see my parents. Cole loved our hikes. He thought that trees were the most magical things in the world. But I imagine for a kid growing up in our world that makes sense. Can you imagine? Something as natural and part of the Earth like a tree, an alien thing to my human child? Seeing how he reacted to nature, it made me realize just how fucked up we are, you know?”

“What do you mean, Cap?”

Pah, I’m rambling. Feels like I’m just wasting precious oxygen,” Winchester said under his breath.

“I wouldn’t worry about it, Captain. If there’s anything we’re set on, it’s oxygen. Now you were saying that the world is, erm, fucked. What’s the reasoning?”
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Days Until Home – Chapter 10

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Days Until Home: UNKNOWN

Viktor drifted through his cube-shaped bubble of atmosphere a few millimeters per second. Such slight movement was practically still relative to the walls, but the airlock was small enough that within seconds he neared the ceiling. He reached up with his good hand and let his fingertips absorb the inertia. The result was that he began floating back the way he’d come, a fraction of a degree slower than before.

There was a comfort, there. Whatever disaster had befallen the Kerwood, the laws of physics still applied. A reminder that they were still in the world of the living.

He couldn’t muster the energy to do more than float back and forth. He couldn’t muster the energy to care. Once the adrenaline from the action had worn off extreme exhaustion had taken its place, like he’d worked a double shift in high-G with no calorie break. Simply floating there was a soft, calm luxury.

When Viktor was a child, his father had taken the family on a trip to the Caspian Sea. The people in the markets there were exotic compared to the stoic Russians: they called their wares in high-pitched, almost singsong voices, pointing out strangers and gesturing wildly to attract attention. One rotund man sold blown-glass ornaments, small enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand, intricate and precisely crafted. Viktor had never seen glass with colors swirled inside, greens and reds mixing and dancing like water. He’d begged his father to buy him a glass figurine of a ballerina, leg extended and dress blown out in a swirl. Of course they could not afford it, and Viktor’s father had been angry at the request.

The man selling the ornaments had smiled sadly at Viktor. What he remembered most about the man was that he wore a white turban around his head, tightly wrapped like a cloth beehive.

The gauze wrapped around Jessica’s head wound reminded Viktor of the glass salesman. A big, swollen, turban.

Jessica occupied the wall opposite him, looking alarmingly like a dead body, though he knew she lived and could see her chest rise and fall. Despite what she said, the pain from her scalping had become too severe for her to suffer. Viktor shot her up with drugs from the medical bag before wrapping her head in gauze. They clipped Jessica’s tether hook onto the wall to keep her in place.

Viktor envied Jessica her unconsciousness. He wanted to curl up and sleep. Not in his Kerwood bunk, but in a real bed, with the warm lump of his wife an arm’s length away. A warning indicator on the wall next to Jessica changed from green to yellow with an emphatic blink. He knew he should be thinking about what to do, but he couldn’t bring himself to focus.

Jimmy smashed the comms button again and spoke louder, as if volume were the reason nobody was responding.

“Hey there boys and girls, it’s your friendly precious mineral extractor here. Still here. In the airlock. Waitin’ for death. We’ll be here for–oh, I don’t know. A few more hours, depending on how much O2 I consume speaking into this squawk-box.”
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