No Place In Space
By Mike Jack Stoumbos 
“You’re not takin this ship!” I scream, lungs achin out like a drift-by. We’re already low-atmoed, enough’t the little drops of spittle streamin from my lips evaporate away instead of coolin-n-poolin.  Still, my hand’s steady round the black steel handle, fingerin over the trigger, threatenin to pull the antique and blast us both outta the claim.
The pirate yanks to a halt, grabbin onto a rung in the hatchway, his legs swingin fore him. He’s backhand holdin a long dagger. He sneers and shakes— both from fear and long-term space-walkin. “You wouldn’t! Blow us both?!”
My face prickles in the growin cold. Eyes sting at the corners. “Better’n let you take ’er. I swear to Sol, I’ll—”
“Come off there, girlie!” He points the blade at me, positions his feet. Four-meter lunge; too close. He wants to see my cards, tell if I’m bluffin, but misjudges. “Guns got no place in space.”
I’m scared and low on air, but grinnin neath watrin eyes. I know well as him that pumpin lead’s the best recipe for XDC— explosive decompression. 
I pull the trigger—
I always known’t air’s the most valuable thing out here. Some like to argue the ship, but you only need the good-sealed ship to hold the air. And with so few people buildin new ships, that makes them the second most valuable.
Only times you pick up Hitchers from the rocks is if they bring their own air and an extra compressed tank to barter passage. This Hitcher was tall and wiry, pale-brown skin with black gristle all over his face. He smiled mostly real teeth, spoke nice with Pap, but not so nice he’d shine us fancy. Said he was goin our way, just a bit of rock-hoppin to get to a new job site.
And he brought tanks. Lotsa tanks, algae kits, sweets for the kiddies, and a rare bottle of the ’shine— din’t even carry a knife.
I din’t like him from the get, on account of his squirmy-eye workin below my collar. Better rotational grav made me grow up more proportioned than the women he’d licked at in his day —no doubt— but oglin’s not friendly at his age or health. 
Twice in that first meeting, I saw him suckin down the stimmies, typed for the old zero-g folks, with poor muscle and worse hearts. Stims keep em sharp, but wear the body down.
I was standin as Pap’s wing for negotiatin, carried my own long blade, visibly hangin at the hip. Said, “Float on, scoundrel.”
But Pap wanted the oxygen tanks, and superseded as family leader, as well as Captain. “Welcome aboard.”
The Hitcher spun words like a Ganymede merchant, tellin stories of the old days, back when Terra-Proper tried to colonize the system, when there were more ships than people they say. I knew’t was smoke up the pipe, but the tales warmed Mam immediately and charmed the rest of the family crew by and by. Lot of us stayed and cavorted in the main for much longer’n usual, after most duties and fore bed. Hitcher and Pap shared laughs. Pap drank the shine— din’t need to worry about pilotin now we were already coursed.
The kiddies were even disappointed when he said he’d only ride with us a short time. The Hitcher kept them happy and occupied enough, I din’t even have to do any bedtimin for the youngests, so I was grateful too and considered changin my mind bout him.
Til Pap hit a nerve, said to the Hitcher, “It’s joyin to talk to you, brother. Your spirit! You remind me of my oldest son, Bayon.”
I’d been tendin the cyclin plants, but still in earshot in the main chamber. I froze.
“Oy! Now where is the boy?” wondered the jovial Hitcher. “I haven’t seen a lad so chiseled as you, brother.”
The Hitcher was scannin around, tryin to place Bayon among the crew, but Pap interrupted him, with both a chort at the compliment and a tear in his eye. “No— sorely, we lost Bayon in a salvage accident. More’n a year ago now. Was his spirit that built him up and brung him down.”
The Hitcher, clearly not one to pass a joke, took the chance to say, “Well, we ought let Bayons be Bayons.”
Pap cawed out in a sound that was a twisted mesh of laugh and sob. “That’s what we used to say about him!”
I din’t go for nothin dramatic, but it took me a fair few minutes to button my jaw up again. Hitcher caught my stare and tipped his mug in my direction, failin to notice (or just to point out) how much I too looked like Pap and Bayon. 
Pap was doin drunken recountin of my lost older brother, when I stormed off to bed, lackin some of the emphasis of the stomp in reduced rotational-g.
Longer fore...
Bayon weren’t much older’n I am now. He too liked the stories, but had very few of his own, he thought. Memorized whatever Disneys we ran cross, sang ’em like a meltin saxophone in a Jovian storm— in space, everyone can hear you sing. Read and reread what paperbooks we stumbled on, especially a lucky collection of novels bout an ancient terran Cap called Aubrey and his ship the Surprise, from back when planet’s oceans were intimidatin as space. Course, in those days, they were willin to destroy their ships to win a battle— scuttlin Bayon would tell me, which sounded all kinds of backward. Pap always said there were rules to war and raids; maybe ancient, earth-trapped folk din’t know any better.
Don’t know if Bayon ever really knew what a 28-gun-frigate was anyway, but he liked to talk bout it. Gave me nightmares sayin how these things called cannons shot iron and would rip through hulls. Mam’d tell him not to talk like that, was disrespectful and bad luck. Maybe Pap shoulda told him too.
Then, we found the jewel, a kinda vein-o-gold in an untouched asteroid, a huge ship, ol’ Terran Union style from the war. Abandoned, broken, stashed— din’t matter. It was ours by salvage rights.
We pulled up alongside. Our patch-piece ship, amalgamed weld and solder hatches, paired gainst sleek military design. But ours was hardier. Sleek terran ship din’t have the same redundancies as us, but, miraculously, it was only punctured on one deck; the rest empty. All the markins of a good haul, includin decks of uncompromised air to compress and steal.
So we jacked up to the ship, entered in full suit, found the workable airlocks. Pap gave us direction and assignment. Bayon was old enough and excited enough to call the dead ship’s officer cabins. He was supposed to be lookin after me, his little sis.
In most cases, wouldn’t be much cause to watch out on a dead ship. Low grav through the corridors, seein what doors we could open with low persuasion, pickin through scraps and riggin air canisters. Mostly boring unless you ran into a corpse. But this haul was clean, fancy even, and the kind we could stomach.
I remember Bayon got all excited over a desk. A real-wood number, lacquered, bolted to the floor. It was in the long-gone terran Cap’s cabin, which was still well air-sealed.
Bayon took off gloves to manually open the desk, took off helmet to see better. I thought nothin of it. Til Bayon showed me something I din’t recognize, looked like a miniature spot welder. It was really an antique pistol. He said these’d fire out hot metal slugs, meant to puncture and kill, but faster’n a dagger or even a net-shooter or bolt. Too dangerous to be in air-sealed space-worthy numbers, even like this. So must’ve been for show. A seasoned Cap would know better and use a sword if boardin or boarded.
Bayon called the gun an ’achronism, said it would be worth a fortune to a real collector.
I went to reach for it, curious, and Bayon pulled it away from me to point the dangerous end overhead. He moved too quick, his hand on the handle, must’ve caught the trigger. A bang, and then we were jetted, as the whole room experienced XDC—explosive decompression.
I was lucky enough to be in a suit. But Bayon?
Mam swung our docking shuttle round, burnin more than she ought, just to catch us quickly. I got banged up some on collision, but didn’t even pass out from impact or g-change. The old pistol was still in Bayon’s cold, dead hands when his body was recovered.
He’d never known it were loaded.
I can’t sleep much on the night of the Hitcher. After a couple of hours of tossin, I give up and go out of my bunk. Takin Bayon’s beat up copy of one of the old nauticals, Master and Commander, I settle into one of the couches in the main, where there’s amb’ent light, and no sleepin relatives’ll be bothered.
I hear the telltale rattle of the pill bottle, fore I hear him proper. Hitcher comin in through the hatchway, takin the stimmies to stay awake and findin unsure footing. Stay awake, start to shake, like Mam used to say. 
He don’t see me first. Or else he wouldn’t’ve jammed the inner lock seal, wouldn’t’ve started signalin.
The hiss of the air, slow leak. The beepin of the beacon. My hearin’s pretty good, and my suspicions are better.
Sittin up full, I see him freeze, and my eyes adjust to catch his expression. A little more menacin, a little better at revealin his plan.
I know what’s happenin even as I ask, “What’s on’t now?”
The Hitcher grins. But he’s not just a Hitcher— he’s a pirate, who’s set a leak and a beacon. Probly for a group of drift pirates like him, maneuverin to take our ship, ready to close in any minute.
Pirate says, “Shush now, girlie. Nobody’s hurtin tonight.”
“Pap!” I call out, then, “Captain!”
But the ship’s caught the drop in pressure, starts sealin off the doors automatic. Savin the crew, but trappin ’em from stoppin pirates. I spring to my feet, low grav but not null. I want to go get my blade— a long dagger, deadly in my skilled hand.
But the pirate’s crafty. Not carryin his own dagger, he's preempted and already found and acquired mine. Easy to recognize when he's pointing the tip at me.
I hurl the paperbook to distract. Then, without pausin to check, I leap to an open doorway and system panel. It reads ALERT: Low Pressure. The pirate advances, thinkin he’s got time. I can’t override the bulkheads or get past him to the beacon. But I can cut rotation and set the family ship to zero-grav.
His feet slip, legs push off wrong in the new momentum, and he slams!— startled, but not droppin my blade. 
I pull myself through the doorway with practice, to storage lockers with suits and tools. But he’s skilled at floatin too and follows quickly.
I open a rarely-used locker, grab what I never wanted to touch and take aim.
“You’re not takin this ship!” I cry.
Even the barrel of a gun only stops him a second. He don’t believe me, and scorns the threat, challengin, “You wouldn’t! Blow us both?!”
“Better’n let you take ’er.” Grittin my teeth, I try to match his sneer. “I swear to Sol, I’ll—”
“Come off there, girlie!” He’s positionin for assault, too close to avoid, and repeats what I’ve been told my whole life. “Guns got no place in space.”
Don’t matter now. 
I pull the trigger, a promise of XDC for us both— just gone, no prize for him, or for whatever pirate crew on their way. And it’s enough.
The Hitcher gasps, forearms up to cover his mouth and eyes. Understandable, but not needed. Then, havin dropped my blade, his free hands now go to his pained chest, fingers grippin, tryin to coax it back to life. Stimmies and zero-grav. Weak hearts in old men. 
He’s goin without a chance to curse me, but the ship is still here.  I’m still here, still breathin, even if temporarily.
I grab a mask on my way to deactivate the beacon and reseal the ship, brushin by the floatin, jerkin body, soon-to-be corpse. 
The gun remains behind.
He’d never known it weren’t loaded.
DreamForge Anvil © 2022 DreamForge Press
No Place In Space © 2022 Mike Jack Stoumbos