Author: Sunhawk

Revelations (cont)

Since I had managed to not smash the hell out of my ship, I allowed myself the quick luxury of slipping my helmet off so I could wipe at that damn sweat. I went so far as to trot down to the galley for a cold drink while I was at it; suit water is just disgusting. Never cooler than body temperature.

Palate cooled, heart rate at something more like normal, I re-suited and made my way down to the air lock. Here's where things got really fun.

I had the two ships within yards of each other, the tethers keeping them together, the force of their spin keeping them apart. Now I had to take a walk and go see if I could get aboard the Derry. This is the part that would make Howard's skin crawl. Hell... it was making my skin crawl. Outship was not a place I much cared to be in the middle of the damn belt. So, in typical Duo fashion, I intended to do it fast.

I could see the airlock on the Derry; the exterior door still standing wide from the evacuation. I'm fairly good in zero gee, all part of the whole Gundam training after all, so I bypassed the personal tether line for a handheld 'spurt-gun'. I did my trajectory calculations, fired my personal booster and shot across that hundred-yard space yelling the whole way. Free-fall is one thing; it takes a certain mind set to be able to deal with the total lack of 'up' and 'down', but free-fall out between the stars is something else all together; it rips at your belly on a primal level. Something far beyond the fear of falling. There is no fathoming falling from a height that doesn't exist. It's almost more of a fear of being... lost. Not lost exactly... there's just no explaining it. It just shoves you right in the face of God and points out to you just how fucking infinitesimal you really are; how very little you truly understand the universe.

I was more than a little relieved when I got my magnetics locked to the deck in that air lock. A vacuum suit will only take so much of that rain of dust out here. The interior door wouldn't open of course; it had been that kind of day. So I had to take the time to pop open the control panel, short out the circuit and open it manually.

"Knock knock." I grinned as the panel finally slid open and I breathed a gusty sigh of relief when I was able to make my way inside.

It was almost pitch black, the occasional dim, idiot light glowing here and there. I knew this ship from stem to stern from studying the blueprints and I wasted no time in heading straight for the bridge. I passed more than one hull breach, not that I was surprised, but it's just something that will make any spacers blood run cold just on general principle.

I drifted through the corridors feeling just a little weirded out, if the truth be told. I might very well have been involved in the battle that disabled this ship. It's funny the things that will take you back in time. Smells will get me quicker than anything. There's a smell that only comes off a ship that has made a hot planetary reentry; that one whips me back in a heartbeat. There's a certain, nameless brand of I'm not sure what... deodorant? Cologne? That rushes me back to long, lonely nights in a shared dorm room. The sight of this ship was taking me back; making me remember old missions and assignments that I'd just as soon forget. I shook it off; now was not the time to be daydreaming about old comrades and the 'good old days'.

I should have been prepared for the bodies. I wasn't. Too many years removed from a war I typically tried not to think about. I had conveniently 'forgotten' that this ship had been abandoned under duress. Evacuated under fire.

Things do not deteriorate in total vacuum. There are no scavengers. Time is pretty much meaningless. I did not scream when I kicked off and sailed through the doorway to the bridge and almost collided with the first drifting corpse.

"Shit!" I cursed and hit the first surface I came to, pushing away from that thing I didn't really want to come in contact with.

I stopped my flight near the ceiling and hovered there, shining my spotlight and looking around the bridge. There were five bodies, all suited up and drifting about the room in the strangest, otherworldly dance I had ever witnessed. The sound of my own heart in my ears was thundering. Shit.

It only took me a minute to get my head together, then I kicked off and floated to the first one. I avoided looking it in the faceplate but I got the name and insignia off the suit's breast. I moved through the bridge and collected every one of the names, committing them to memory. More than likely all these names had been registered KIA a long time ago but on the off chance that there was still some family somewhere wondering what had happened to their loved ones, I'd have the answer.

Then I turned my attention to the control panels around me. The first thing I did was turn off the distress signal. I was pleased that I had guessed right; there was still power to some of the panels. I had been given all the last known access codes and I set to bringing up and logging into the ship's main system. It was almost anticlimactic. I patched the feed into my suit's com unit and sent the data merrily off to Randy.

"Record this for me, will you Randy-girl?" I grinned and just tried not to think about the dead eyes watching me from around the room. They made me feel like a damn grave robber.

I debated going down to the engine room for a look around; if I could get the engines on-line, I might stand a chance of getting the ship out of here along with the data. But I knew there wasn't likely anything I could do on short notice to a set of engines that were damaged enough to make a crew abandon ship. The Captain's cabin wasn't far from the bridge, so I did decide at the last minute to make a stop there to see if there was a private log or some such. I had somehow come to the conclusion in the back of my mind that I wasn't getting the ship out of here. Once the choice to take the data and run made it's way to the front of my mind and informed the rest of me, I just suddenly wanted off that floating graveyard and back aboard the 'Randy Wench'.

I had to pry open the panel to the Captain's compartment and when I did, I wished I hadn't. The good Captain had decided to go down with his ship. He had not, however, chosen to die the slow way from suffocation or starvation. He had blown his brains out. The body was... moored... to the deck chair, one foot wedged under a rung. The rest of the body was drifting idly in place. It reminded me of nothing so much as seaweed. The flash frozen blood crystals wandering around the room were what made me back-peddle into the corridor and say the hell with it. Goddamn but I wanted out of there. Enough was enough; I had what I had come for.

I wasn't three yards down the corridor when my conscience bit me in the butt and made me go back. A man who shoots himself rather than run away with his crew more than likely left a damn message. I found the journal in the top desk drawer. I had it out and stuffed in my utility belt in a second and was heading for the door again when it happened.

There was a... thrum. A sound that wasn't a sound but a vibration carried to me through the doorframe I had my hand on. Then the whole world tilted and bucked and I found myself sailing into the corridor, almost out of control. I managed to grab a zero-gee handhold and keyed on the magnetics in my boots. Wouldn't do to get thrown around so bad I damaged my suit.

"What the hell are you doing, Derry-boy?" I muttered, hanging on for dear life and fearing I knew exactly what was going on. I expended a little of my attention to analyze the movements the ship was making under me. It didn't take long to figure out that something had hit one of my tether lines. Of all the stinking luck; something out there in all of space no bigger around than my damn thumb and it had to get creamed with a stinking piece of space debris.

The second tether wouldn't likely hold out long. Getting left on this side of the line was unthinkable. I killed the magnetics and began hauling myself hand over hand down the corridor. I'd take my chances with damaging the suit; it beat the hell out of the alternative.

I was actually within sight of the airlock when I felt the vibration of the second line giving way and there was an immediate cease to Derry's bucking and twisting. I made the trip to the hatch anyway; I fully intended to launch myself across space and use my spurt-gun to chase after Randy. But it was already too late. Those little guns aren't meant for more than just minor adjustments and short-term use. It would never get me where I now needed to go. The two ships had been spinning around each other and when the lines had given out, they had been thrown in opposite directions. Randy was nothing more than a pleasant memory... and I was dead.

I just stood in the damn airlock for a long time and watched her drift away. I resisted the urge to swear at her; it wasn't her fault after all. When the adrenaline rush faded a little, I just felt numb; I'd never actually been dead before.

Well damn. Wasn't this a revolting development?

At length, I shook myself and turned back to Derry. There might, after all, be an escape pod left or something else I might be able to make use of.

I searched that ship from top to bottom, front to back and all I came up with was another ten names to add to the five from the bridge and the Captain's. There wasn't so much as a workman's sledge in the hold.

I'd been onboard for close to six hours and my suit was nearing the end of its air supply. I was going to die out here in the middle of the belt and spend eternity with the ghosts of the crew of the Londonderry and the Sanderson brothers. I don't really think I was feeling it yet; probably wouldn't until I was sucking on the last of my air. But I was still close to twelve hours from my communications window. I couldn't stand the idea that Howard and the guys would never know what happened. I'd come so damn close too; the stinking data was already downloaded to Randy. I could have burst it tight-beam back to Howard during the next window. I might have had to break it into two transmissions but God damn it to hell I could still salvage the job if I could just live until the window opened. I pinged Randy just to make sure she was undamaged and was pleased to get an echo back. Now, how to survive the next twelve hours? I thought hard about what I had seen while I had been desperately searching for some sort of transport but kept coming up empty. Standing on the bridge, it took one of the corpses drifting in front of my face to engage my brain. The Captain hadn't been wearing a suit.

I kicked off and glided back toward the Captain's cabin. His suit was still hanging in its niche by the door and I pulled it down to check the tanks with shaking hands. The tanks registered full. I didn't have a lot of choice but to trust them. I disconnected the tanks themselves and hauled myself back to the bridge; the Captain's corpse got to me more than the faceless ones on the bridge.

I waited until the last possible second, milking my own supply for all it was worth before jerking the coupling and making the switch. The air flooded my suit, stale and bitter cold, but it was breathable. That bought me another eight hours.

But my brain was engaged now and I looked around the room at my new shipmates; not all of them had suffocated. The third body I checked had died from a holed suit. There was six hours of air left in his tanks. That would get me through to my window. I took the tanks and went to belt down in the Captain's chair. A body at rest will use less oxygen. I did my best to nap a little, setting my alarm to wake me a half an hour before the com window opened.

Instead of sleeping, I found myself trying to figure out how in the hell I was going to tell Howard. I could feel Kurt's medal where it rested against my chest and I felt like crap, hearing his gruff voice telling me to just leave it go and turn around. Getting the data back would make up for it some; they would at least still be able to feed their families at the end of the week.

It's funny; I couldn't really seem to work up to being truly frightened. I should have been; I was about to die in a rather ugly manner. The way the Sanderson brothers had gone out would be preferable to this slow, inexorable slide into nothing. But thinking over my life, I wasn't really leaving all that much behind. My 'Demon' was promised to Howard and I suppose the few personal things I had, could go to him as well. I didn't own all that much; my books, some photographs, my music, some clothes. There wasn't much to parlay out. My belongings would probably fit in a half a dozen cardboard boxes. My bank account was a tidy little amount; nothing to write home about, but respectable. I had to think about that for a while; maybe I should have Howard give it to Kurt. Maybe that would make up a little for my not bringing him his medal back. I never did sleep; it seemed a horrendous waste of the last hours of my life. It was just as well; I had set my alarm for the check-in time, not the time when the Captain's air would have run out. I might have sat there and suffocated had I fallen asleep. I must have been a little more rattled than I thought.

It was Howard's voice that came through the suit's speakers when the time came, sounding anxious and worried.

"Duo? Are you there?"

"Hey, Howard," I said softly and all the lines I had prepared went right out of my head.

"What's wrong?" He heard it in my voice instantly.

"Listen... I have a list of names... are you recording?" I pushed the rest of it off for the moment. I learned that from Wufei; one thing at a time.

There was a moment's pause, then he came back and said, "Go ahead."

So I rattled off the list of names, starting with the Captain, omitting the fact that he had killed himself. I only said that he had deliberately gone down with his ship. The instant I was finished, Howard pounced like a cat on a string.

"Duo; what the hell is wrong?" His voice was rising and I thought I heard someone else in the background.

"Listen... Howard... I kinda had an accident."

There was the sound of a groan and suddenly it was Kurt talking to me.

"Tell me what happened, Duo," he told me in his calm, sure voice.

"The tether line got cut somehow... with me on the wrong end of it." It wasn't much of a joke and it sure as hell didn't get a laugh.

"God... Duo... " That from Howard.

"Ok, kid;" Kurt was cool as ice, sounded like we were working on an engine together. Ok, kid; hand me that wrench. I wanted to laugh, "What kind of shape is the 'Londonderry' in? How's the life support? What... "

I cut him off; he'd made a couple of false assumptions, "Kurt, stop it. There is no life support. The ship is holed in a dozen places. I made it this far on borrowed tanks. I'm... running out of corpses."

"Fuck," he muttered.

In the background I heard Howard start yelling for men to get a ship ready to launch, his voice fading as he moved away.

"No!" I shouted at them, "There isn't any damn point in sending anybody else out here to die! I only have about four hours of air left. I'm gonna be a corpsecicle long before anybody can get here."

There wasn't an immediate answer, so I bulled ahead, "I got the data downloaded before the... accident. I'm going to tight beam... "

"I don't care about the fucking data, Duo Maxwell!" Kurt snapped at me.

"Damn it! I'm dying for this fucking data... " I stopped. There was no way in hell I was going to have my last words to this man be in anger. I took a breath and started again, "Kurt... I'm sorry, man. I know this sucks but done is done. Tomorrow I'll be gone but you guys will still have mouths to feed and house payments to make. Let me do this."

There was a long silence and for a moment I thought something had gone wrong, that I'd lost the window somehow or something had happened to Randy.

"Kurt?" I finally called into that silence.

His voice when it came again was that gruff one, "Ok squirt. How much air do you have left?"

"Four hours in this tank," I told him.

"Is that the last tank?"He wanted to know and I had to admit I wasn't sure.

"Well find out, damnit!" he snapped. "If I give up this window to download data, then I want another one to... to say goodbye! The guys... will want to... "

He stopped and I was just as glad; this rush of emotion from calm and cool Kurt was a little overwhelming. "All right," I conceded meekly, "I will scrounge through the ship from end to end and I will do my best to make it another day. Can I start the download now?"

There was the sound of a heavy sigh. "Promise me."

I grinned despite myself. "I promise."

"All right... go ahead." His voice sounded very small.

I sent the commands to Randy to burst the data before he had a chance to change his mind. Then I went to rob the graveyard again. While I was at it, I towed the corpses down the corridor to an empty cabin; it was starting to be too hard not to look at the faces. In the end I came up with just under thirty hours of air. I got lucky and stumbled on another couple of unused suits to add to my supply of 'corpse' air.

Then there was nothing to do but sit on the bridge and try to breathe shallowly, constantly resetting my alarm to remind me to change tanks. I finally did doze off sometime after the download finished; I'd been up for over twenty-four hours after all. The body can only take so much stress before it just doesn't care anymore.

I hit the damn gravity flux in there somewhere and woke with a curse, clinging to the arms of the Captain's chair until Derry and I rode through to the other side. When things settled, I frantically pinged Randy and felt weak in the knees when I got a response; she was my only link to the rest of the universe.

The silence was starting to get to me and I had to stop myself from singing more than once; used too much extra air. My suit was struggling with waste management and the air was starting to take on a musky tang no matter whose tank I was breathing out of. I longed for a cool, fresh drink; the recycled water tasted brackish and warm. My stomach was complaining rather loudly that I had missed a score of meals now and I was actually starting to feel a little shaky from it. Extreme hunger is one of those triggers that takes me back to my childhood on the streets of L2. I could almost hear Solo laughing beside me as we ran through the crowds, our pockets full of stolen ration bars.

I checked the chrono and found that there were still hours to go but only about thirty minutes before time to change tanks again. It didn't seem worth trying to doze back off.

I found myself thinking about Solo and the other scrappers and scrabblers that I had grown up with. It's kind of funny when you think about it really; some of my life's earliest lessons had taught me that there was safety in numbers. I wondered how I had come to be here at the end of my life all alone. If I'd had a partner, someone on the other end of that line, I wouldn't be in this mess. Of course, if I'd had a partner, I probably would never have taken this job. Isn't that a strange thing? I had sense enough to know that this was a suicide job when it came to someone else's life, but not enough sense not to tackle it myself.

I suspect, sometimes, that Freud would have had a field day with the inside of my head.

Solo would be cursing me rather resoundingly right now; I could almost hear his voice.

"What the hell were you thinking, you idiot? How many times I got to tell you never go where the bastards can get you cornered!"

I'd broken that most basic of rules when I had made the leap to the Derry without a clear path back. I'd let myself get cornered. Now I was going to pay the price. I just had to make it to the next window and say my goodbyes; make things easier for those few people I was leaving behind. I would have the time to give the final instructions for the dispersion of my meager, worldly belongings. Could hopefully make things better with Howard then get on with the business of dying.

I changed the air tanks again and it suddenly came to me that I had more than enough to make it to the appointed time. It really didn't matter how long I lasted after that. The silence was gnawing at me again, beginning to fill with the voices of my dead. So I went ahead and sang; let the music drive the demons away. I sang a few of the hymns that Sister Helen had taught me, because my thoughts had been drifting through those years. But that only served to depress me, so I switched to the street songs that I had picked up before I had even understood the words. I was sitting in the Captain's chair, belted down and singing for all I was worth when the channel went live in my ear.

"... Duo? Do you read me... Duo?"

I blinked in total surprise. "Quatre?" What in the world? The shock of that voice after all this time was almost enough to make me forget where I was. "Qat! Hey man; what are you doing there?"I tried to imagine bright, sweet little Quatre in Howard's radio room surrounded by hulking, gritty Sweepers and almost laughed.

"Duo!" The relief in his voice was plain and it brought me back to my plight; I was instantly embarrassed and cursed Howard in my head. Why in the hell had the man called Quatre?

I didn't know what to say. I had planned out all the reassuring things I needed to say to Howard. I had settled on what to do with my money and my things. I had practiced an apology to Kurt over the medal that was even now weighing heavily on my chest. None of those things fit the situation now.

"Duo, how's the air?" he asked me then, all business and I grinned. This was the Quatre from the war; calm and sure and in charge. Took me right back to that time and place. But... he wasn't getting me out of this one though.

"I'll last out the hour," I told him blandly; I really didn't have time to sugar coat things.

"That's not what I asked, mister." His tone was firm and I did laugh at him then. What the hell was he going to do? Come and smack me?

"About six more hours."

"This is what I need you to do... " he began and I sat in my empty ship and gawped at nobody.

"Quatre... this is nuts... where's Howard?" I could not fathom what he thought he was doing.

"I'm here, Duo." came Howard's voice, sounding oddly hopeful. "Listen to him... do as he says."

I didn't say anything for a long minute and I thought I could hear the hint of a muttered conversation.

"Guys. Listen to me. It. Is. Over." I was a little surprised at the grumble of anger that rumbled through my belly.

"No it is not," came a new voice, just as firm as Quatre's but deeper. I recognized it in an instant. Shit, what was this, a fucking reunion?

"Trowa?"

"We're here, Duo," he told me, then said the most ridiculous thing I had heard all day. "We're coming after you."

"That's insane!" I barked at them. "I'll be dead in six hours! What in the hell do you idiots think you're doing? God damn it all to hell; nobody else dies because of me! Do you hear me?"

There was a stony silence, then, very softly, Quatre said, "the ship launched yesterday. It's already on it's way."

What had come over these people? I had known them all a long time and had never thought that any of them were this freaking stupid.

I struggled with the words to make them stop this lunacy. "It's a nightmare out here," I told them bluntly. "The ship is in an elliptical orbit. Erratic as hell. There's some sort of damn gravity wash throwing crap around. I do not have the air to survive that long. Please... please... do not do this."

It was Quatre who spoke to me next, "Duo. It's already done. The ship is on the way... we have an idea that might get you through until... "

I cut him off, feeling the snakes of anger and fear coiling around each other in my gut, "I won't have this. I will not, fucking well have this. I screwed up. I did this to myself. Nobody else is going to die because of my mistake. I am going to pull the line and end this right here... right now." My hand was actually on the airline as I spoke.

"We're coming after you alive or dead, damnit!" Kurt's voice suddenly came out of nowhere, loud and clear. I imagined him shoving Quatre away from the transmitter. "You can't stop us! I won't have your...body... out there... "

Someone spoke softly and he just shut up. I was shocked; he'd been doing that to me a lot lately. I resisted the urge to call him Papa Kurt. I didn't know what to say. I didn't know what to do. They were bloody well serious; they were coming for me even if I died right now while they were listening. I sat and blinked at nothing.

"Duo," came Quatre's voice again, "I need you to take whatever tanks you have left and go down to engineering."

I found myself unbuckling. "O... Ok," my voice said meekly.

I went on some kind of autopilot, returning to the old days. The war days when following Quatre's commands had become second nature.

He guided me down to engineering and it quickly came clear what he intended. He only had to get me started and I was able to finish the job myself. I'm not sure why I hadn't thought of this. I'm not sure how I felt about the fact that they had thought of this.

Quatre had me tie my suit into the ships filtration unit. It was a simple process, really, easily accomplished. Not so easily lived with. I was tied in place now, with a veritable umbilical cord connecting me to a system that was neither tried nor true. There was nothing around me that I could reach and I could do nothing but float in place at the end of my line. There was no port here in the depths of the ship; it was pitch black when I didn't have my flash unit on. The batteries in it were growing weak and I had to keep it turned off to conserve them.

"Done," I told them when the job was complete, and I didn't even know whether to hope the system was still functioning or not.

I think I imagined a collective sigh of relief. "All right then." Quatre told me soothingly, "the ship launched yesterday, within two hours of your last transmission. You've already got almost a day behind you."

I was suddenly very weary and a little irritated that they could ask me to continue like this. Four more full days with no food and no water other than the vile, tainted shit my suit was producing. Shut away in the dark... in the cold... alone with the voices. Waiting for a rescue that was probably going to fail; then there would be more than just my corpse to add to the growing collection.

"Quatre... " I sighed, "I've done as you asked, now let me get this said... "

And I detailed my last will and testament. There wasn't much to dispense with but it made me feel better to not leave any loose ends.

I instructed them to send the books off to the orphanage and gave them the address from memory. I gave my bank account to Kurt, quoting the account numbers and pass codes; I knew they would be recording this. I had been planning on having Howard pack the little box of pictures off to one of the guys; they were mostly of the war years after all. But since Quatre and Trowa were right there, I told them to take them and do with them as they saw fit. I gave them directions to where the box was kept aboard the 'Demon'.

There was an odd silence then and I supposed that I had made them uncomfortable.

I felt weird not really knowing who all was on the other end of this open transmission but my time was ticking away.

"Howard... you listen to me, man; this is not your fault." I tried to pretend it was just him and me sitting here, talking in his office, "I took this job with my eyes wide open. You know the kinds of missions I take; it was only a matter of time before I hit one that hit me back."

But Trowa and Quatre had handed him a platter full of hope and he wouldn't hear any part of it. "We're going to get you out of this, kid," he told me, sounding like the Howard I knew and loved, not the broken, guilt-ridden man from yesterday.

I sighed and felt that vague irritation again. I had come to grips with this; why the hell couldn't they?

I stopped trying to convince him, he wasn't hearing me anyway and I was just wasting my breath and the last of my time.

"God." I muttered, "I can't believe you're asking me... " I cut it off; I hadn't meant to say that out loud.

Quatre's voice came again and if I was expecting a little sympathy, I wasn't getting it here. "Suck it up, Maxwell. You got yourself into this, now you're going to do whatever it takes to get yourself out." There was the sound of a couple of shocked gasps in the background.

I did my best to throw my head back, and I laughed long and hard, "Yes sir, General Winner, sir!"

"That's better," he said then and I could hear the soft smile in his voice.

I drifted at the end of my umbilical tether and stared off into the dark, "Quatre?"

"Yes, Duo?"

"If anybody else dies because of me I'm going to come back and haunt you till the end of your days; you understand that... right?"

There was a dry chuckle, "If that happens, I'll make up the guest room myself."

The little shit won another laugh but I don't think he heard it; the window closed and I was suddenly alone in the dark.

Damn. I hadn't even thought to ask who in the hell they had sent after me.

I drifted, not even aware of the movement unless I bumped into the wall. I'm not sure what was making the difference but I was cold. Either the heating system in my suit was failing or it just wasn't enough to counter being connected to the almost-dead ship. I didn't dare use my failing light any more despite the fact that it was pitch black down here; I might need the last of that light at some point. The bridge had made things a little easier, with the view port and the few little indicator lights left alive. There was nothing down here; I couldn't see my hand in front of my face.

But the worst was the frozen silence. Even my own voice, when I raised it as a shield against the dark, seemed weak and deadened.

"Well, Derry old boy... I hope you don't mind me staying for a couple of days. I feel kind of bad showing up here uninvited and all, though."

Derry didn't seem to mind and I decided that we might learn to get along after all.

"Wish you'd paid the electric bill though... " I muttered under my breath, not wanting to offend. "And sorry you didn't get on with Randy better," I told him. "Don't be too hard on her for bugging out though; it is kind of a tough neighborhood."

Derry wasn't any better at conversation than Randy had been. Kinda made me miss Deathscythe.

I went back to singing for a while until I finally felt sleepy enough to doze. It was so damn cold down here; I really hate being cold. You're cold almost all the time on the streets, so being chilled always reminds me of my days of scrabbling for a hidey-hole to sleep in, someplace out of the wind and the rain.

I could almost see Solo, looking at me from under that fall of dirty blond hair, shaking his head and rolling his eyes, "What kinda mess you got yourself into this time, kid?"

"Nothing you can get me out of, rat-boy," I muttered.

"Suit yourself, baby-rat," and he faded away, laughing at the old joke.

Vacuum suits are not meant to be worn for days on end. I could feel mine starting to rub sores on the tops of my shoulders and at my elbows and knees. You cannot squirm in a suit. You cannot rub or scratch in a suit. You cannot ease or adjust things once you are committed to hard vacuum. All you can do is sit and stew in your own juices.

I checked the chrono and almost groaned; time had apparently stopped dead in there somewhere when I wasn't looking.

I was thirsty but the suit water tasted so damn bad I had to force myself to swallow it. It didn't help assuage my thirst much and only made me start worrying about throwing up. Now there has to be one of the nastiest ways to go in the known universe; choking to death on your own vomit in a sealed vacuum suit. I shuddered and tried to think about something else.

I could always think about my hunger. There was certainly something to take my mind off how thirsty I was, the possibility that my stomach could actually wrap around my backbone and digest it.

I could hear Solo's voice again, coming to me from quite close; "Get used to it, kid. Hunger's just one'a those facts of life. Nothin' to worry about until you don't feel it no more."

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