Today's Reading

"That's on Sapphi, Commander. We're just hanging out in the middle of a deadly vacuum, waiting. Gotta do something to distract Nika here, or you know his noodle gets in a twist." She grinned at Nika's glare. She knew he hated space work and teased him about it mercilessly every chance she got.

But, in a way, she had a point—what fool pursued a career with an Interceptor crew when they were terrified of being out in space?

You. You're the fool, he thought.

"Give me two hundred seconds and you'll be in." Sapphi's voice was soothing on the com.

The timer in the corner of Nika's vision started ticking down as the ensign turned her brilliance toward the lock on the outside of the ship.

"Nika, if things go sideways in there you grab Jenks and get the fuck out, copy?" Rosa's order came straight to him rather than broadcast on the team channel.

"You expecting trouble?" He turned in toward the ship so Jenks couldn't spot his lips moving. His little sister had an amazing ability to read lips that she exploited mercilessly.

"Something feels off. I know Off-Earth wants any SJs recovered intact and there may be live passengers on board—though you and I know the odds that anyone on ice for as long as these folks have been not having freezer burn is atom small—but why would someone be hanging out in the belt with a derelict ship? I don't like it, and regardless of what Off-Earth wants, I'll blow that ship to pieces before I risk living, breathing people on a piece of space junk."

"I thought you wanted to space Jenks yesterday." He couldn't resist the tease, and Rosa chuckled.

"That's a daily occurrence, but I know you'd miss her, so I let her keep breathing."

"Eh, today you're right." Nika smiled as Jenks continued to worry over the problem of the ratios on a sixty-seven percent failure rate for a launch. "Intel said one, maybe two pirates and no more than five for a boat this size. I think they may actually be right—the ship's not big enough to handle a crew of more than five, and I doubt they'd expend that much personnel on something like this. Jenks and I will handle the front end. But yes, if things go wrong we'll double-time it out. Hand to Saint Ivan."

"From your lips to God's ears. Be careful in there."

"Same to you, Commander."

"Will do."

The airlock opened. Jenks looked at Nika with a smile. "You got my back?" she asked, thumping her chest twice with a gloved fist.

He grinned, swinging his own arm out, tapping the back of his fist against hers before grabbing her forearm and leaning in to bump their helmets together. "You've got mine."

"Let's do this."

The pair slipped into the airlock and pulled it shut behind them. As he watched the numbers cycle, Nika debated whether they should take their helmets off. If they did, leaving them here in the airlock would be safest, but it also meant they'd have to get back to this spot in order to get off the ship.

"We've got air. This can's been refilled," Jenks said. "There's definitely someone walking around in here. Helmets off, Nik?"

The fact that she even asked him meant Jenks was already in battle mode—focused, unassailable. She'd keep with the jokes, but she'd do what he told her without question.

"Yeah, take it off. We'll stash them here." He hit the release on his own and pulled the dome loose. He shoved it into a spot behind the old suits hanging in the airlock, surprised they didn't crumble to dust when he touched them.

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