Outpost: Hetero Edition
Chapter 1: Exile
Copyright© 2017 by Snekguy
Science Fiction Sex Story: Chapter 1: Exile - When he uncovers corruption in the heart of the Pinwheel, Schaffer is made to disappear, sent to die in a remote region of Borealis. PLEASE NOTE: There are two version of this story, one includes bisexual and gay scenes, please ensure you're reading the one that appeals to you! This is the HETEROSEXUAL version.
Caution: This Science Fiction Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa Fa/Fa Mult Consensual Reluctant Lesbian Heterosexual Fiction Military Science Fiction Aliens Space FemaleDom Rough Group Sex Orgy Polygamy/Polyamory Cream Pie Oral Sex Petting Voyeurism Big Breasts Public Sex Size Politics Slow Violent
“Your transfer papers, Corporal Schaffer,” the Admiral chimed, handing him a file with a condescending smirk. Schaffer took it, opening the document and glancing over its contents with a concerned expression. His concern turned to horror as he realized where exactly it was that the admiral was sending him.
“This isn’t legal Rawling, you can’t just make me disappear into thin air, people will notice.”
The admiral straightened his spectacles, his smirk turning into a wide grin.
“Oh I assure you, Mister Schaffer, you have already disappeared, and nobody has noticed.”
Schaffer rose to his feet, standing before the admiral’s mahogany desk, the dark, varnished wood shining under the mellow office lighting. He balled his fists, anger overcoming him.
“I could hop over this desk and beat the life out of you before security was even alerted,” he snarled.
“You’d never get out of here alive, Corporal. You’re on a navy space station, where would you go?”
“This assignment is a death sentence and you know it, you miserable old bastard. You too yellow to do the job yourself?”
The admiral stood, placing his hands, gloved in formal white cotton, on his desk and leaning over to look Schaffer in the eye. He was clad in an immaculate white uniform, the standard attire of the UNN Admiralty who oversaw military operations in human-controlled space. The badges and medals that were displayed proudly on his breast identified him as one of the overseers of affairs on Pinwheel, the most notorious of all the naval stations in Coalition space. It was a prominent and esteemed position, and Rawling had not attained it without significant nepotism and corruption, at least one instance of which Schaffer had accidentally stumbled upon.
“Listen here, you insubordinate worm,” Rawling sneered, emphasizing the last word as if Schaffer were a stain he had just discovered on his lapel. “You stuck your nose where it didn’t belong, you made problems for me. As your commanding officer, it is fully within the scope of my duties to reassign personnel who I have deemed ... disruptive to the day to day operations of this station.”
“I have friends, you think they won’t notice that I’m missing?”
“My dear fellow,” Rawling chuckled. “Check your papers, you aren’t missing.”
Schaffer scowled at the man, then turned his eyes down to the folder, scanning the text as Rawling waited with a smile. It was all legal, there were no inconsistencies. The Admiral outranked him, he couldn’t refuse his orders To be charged with insubordination or dereliction of duty in wartime was to risk a lengthy prison sentence or even execution. He could try to challenge the ruling, but it would be a kangaroo court, no doubt presided over by the bastard himself and a jury of his minions. In fact, he might be counting on that, it would add legitimacy to his plot.
“I’ll tell people, I’ll tell everyone,” Scaffer blurted, panicking somewhat as he started to realize just how carefully Rawling had orchestrated his plan. It had all the subtlety of a mob hit.
“You aren’t telling anyone, Corporal Schaffer. You’re actually quite late, in fact you’ve not been on the station for several days.”
“What are you talking about? You’re insane.” Schaffer scanned the document, noticing the date on it. November the third, today was the fifth. According to the documents he held in his hands, he had been transferred two days ago. He looked up at the admiral in disbelief. “Even you can’t pull this many strings, what about security camera footage, the testimonies of all the people I’ve interacted with,” he waved his hand in the direction of the door behind him. “Your own damned security personnel who just escorted me in here?”
“All taken care of, I assure you. I am a powerful man, Schaffer. You knew as much when you decided to challenge me. Your peers all had the good sense to take the bribe and shut their mouths, as did a few of your so-called friends.” Schaffer lowered his head at this revelation, staring at the carpeted floor. Who? Who had sold him out? “The rest have been shuffled around, they won’t be in touch with each other, most have been reassigned off-station. The only narrative that could ever be constructed about your whereabouts is my own, and the official records reflect that.”
Schaffer seethed, he was out of ideas, completely outsmarted.
“Get away with this?” Rawling interrupted with a chuckle. “I already have. As far as anyone knows you are long gone, just another brief acquaintance who was rotated out, one face among thousands.” The admiral pressed a button on his desk, activating an intercom with a hiss of static. “Guards, please escort Corporal Schaffer to his next assignment.”
Two marines in black UNN combat armor entered the room, making a beeline towards him. He briefly considered struggling, but it would be pointless. If he were beaten to death on the carpet before the eyes of the Admiral, he would only be playing into his hands. He wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. The guards grabbed Schaffer firmly by his arms and twisted them behind his back, restraining him with a zip tie secured tightly around his wrists.
“It’s a fairly long trip to Borealis,” Rawling called after him as the guards dragged him through the automatic doors. “I hope you don’t mind being in solitary confinement for a couple of weeks.”
The guards, obviously corrupt themselves, manhandled Scaffer through the cramped engineering tunnels of the station. They were careful to keep him out of view of the general population who lived and worked in the giant torus that ringed the central control hub, rotating on its axis to provide artificial gravity. That was where the space station got its nickname. The Pinwheel.
Schaffer didn’t struggle, it was pointless. As far as anyone knew he wasn’t on the station, and if the marines were to dispose of him in these tunnels and drop him out of a convenient airlock, he would not be missed. He should be thanking his stars that Rawling had not done precisely that. The man was cruel, but his cruelty ensured that Schaffer had a chance, however small, to escape his fate.
He knew where he was being sent, he had recognized the name in the documents Rawling had handed to him. It was the Polar outpost. Oh it had some official designation, a long string of numbers and letters that would only mean something to the button pushers and screen tappers who worked in logistics, but its reputation preceded it. It was a small, manned base in the northern polar region of Borealis, an inhospitable planet with crushing gravity, unpredictable weather, and inhabitants who could at best be described as unfriendly.
Some kind of deal had been made with the alien who ruled the area, its permission had been sought to build a listening post there, so that the UNN might spy on its ‘allies’ in other territories of the planet. It was top secret, but word had circulated, as it often does, when the station had started to earn a bad reputation for driving its personnel crazy. Word had it that even the aliens who lived in the region found it inhospitable, a frozen tundra, a featureless wasteland, and had sought to escape it by any means. Those marines unlucky enough to be stationed there were confined to the tiny outpost, and after a string of suicides and attempted desertions, the Admiralty had eventually abandoned the base, letting computers run its systems.
Schaffer knew that he wouldn’t be coming back from ‘the Terminal’, as it had been aptly named, as it had been the final destination of many of the poor souls who had been stationed there.
The guards dragged him through the winding service tunnels, ducking under protruding pipes and bundles of electronics. They must be taking him to one of the docking hangars that were spaced at regular intervals along the torus. Perhaps he could call for help once there, and some crew member loading cargo would notice him and raise the alarm. Though he doubted Rawling would have failed to account for that.
The Admiral was certainly vindictive, but Schaffer had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Part of his job as a Corporal on the Pinwheel station was to take inventory of the cargo that came in and out of one of the hangars where the larger supply ships docked to unload their wares. He had noticed goods going missing, cargo being loaded onto ships that had not been inventoried, and money changing hands outside of official channels. He had investigated, and that investigation had led him to none other than Admiral Rawling. The man had been abusing his position of authority to run a black market under the very noses of the Admiralty, and on the largest military installations outside of Sol system no less. He was audacious, that was for certain, but what Schaffer had initially assumed to be a small smuggling operation had ended up extending to half of the damned station staff. They were all corrupt, taking bribes to keep quiet.
He had wanted to be a hero, and had confronted one of the smugglers in the hangar who had obviously reported him to Rawling immediately. A short while later he had found himself summoned before the corrupt admiral.
They arrived at their destination, and one of the guards shoved him through a small service door and into one of the cavernous hangars, as he had suspected. The ceiling extended hundreds of feet above him, the walls lined with walkways and bridges, large enough to accommodate even battleships should they need refueling or repairs. A low powered force field contained the air, strong enough to prevent the loss of atmosphere to space, but not so powerful as to impede the passage of ships and shuttles. It was common practice not to venture too close to the edge, a human pushing hard enough might slip through the barrier, such accidents were not unheard of. The same artificial gravity created by the spin of the station was present in the hangars, as they were located on the North and South faces of the torus.
The same guard shoved him roughly from behind, the bay was mostly deserted, what few personnel staffed it were too far away to pay any attention, small figures in the huge hangar. There was one shuttle docked, sitting on the floor of the bay as two men loaded crates onto it. It was a standard UNN dropship, engines under the tail fins and short, stubby wings for atmospheric flight. The guard pointed at it over Schaffer’s shoulder with a gloved hand, his voice somewhat muffled under his full-faced helmet.
“There’s your shuttle, and out there,” he pointed to open space, where a tiny structure floated in the distance, too small to make out details. “That’s the jump carrier that’s gonna take you to Borealis.”
A jump carrier? Did the corruption extend so far? Jump carriers were the largest class of ships operated by the UNN, their very purpose being to use their massive superlight engines to tow smaller vessels into hyperspace in their wake. Perhaps the captain was not aware of the situation, but some of the ship’s crew certainly were. With luck he would have an opportunity to escape, or to interact with someone who was not in on the conspiracy, but he doubted it. Admiral Rawling did not make such mistakes, and his money greased the palms of anyone who might interfere with his plans.
One of the men loading the crates onto the shuttle stopped what he was doing, placing a box down on the loading ramp and wiping his brow as he appraised Schaffer.
“This the guy the boss wants us to clip?”
“Yeah,” the marine replied, pushing Schaffer forward, keeping a firm grip on his arm. “This is a special job though, don’t bump him off, he needs to get to the Terminal first. If they go looking, that’s where they’ll find him.” The man loading cargo whistled, eyeing Schaffer up and down.
“Don’t know what you did to piss the boss off, buddy, but that’s a tough break.”
Schaffer kept quiet, antagonizing these people would do him no good right now. The guard continued, talking over his shoulder.
“Fence this lot,” he said, gesturing to the boxes with his free hand. “The boss says you get an extra twenty percent of the cut for doing him this favor.”
“I hear that, give him my regards.”
The marine handed Schaffer off to the shuttle crew, turning to leave with his colleague.
“In you go,” the man on the ramp said, taking him by the upper arm and angling him inside the craft. “You’re riding in the back with the crates, don’t give me and my co-pilot any trouble and we won’t give you any. I’m here to get you to Borealis, that’s all. It’s not personal.”
Schaffer took a seat on one of the boxes inside the cargo bay, and after loading a few more crates, the pilot raised the ramp, sealing him in darkness. There was a short delay, then he felt the craft rise off the deck, feeling the thud of the landing gear as it retracted into the belly of the shuttle reverberate through his feet. He tried to steady himself, his hands still tied behind his back, the inertia buffeting him around as the craft accelerated and made course corrections. It didn’t take long for the shuttle to arrive at the jump carrier and begin to slow, angling itself towards what he knew was the landing bay of the larger craft. Jump carriers were massive, blocky vessels, their hulls covered in recesses where shuttles full of marines would anchor themselves like limpets in order to ride the superlight current that the behemoth generated. Larger ships with more mass could coast up alongside it in formation, ensuring they were pulled in when the engines came online and tore a hole in space. Carriers had a docking bay for cargo that ran through the middle of the ship, open to space on both sides and contained by a force field much like the ones on Pinwheel. They looked as if they had been stamped with some giant cookie cutter from port to starboard.
The shuttle slowed to a crawl, and he felt the landing gear descend and impact the floor, the shock absorbers making the craft bounce briefly before coming to rest. Most ships in the UNN, including shuttles, had artificial gravity generators. It was trivial to generate an AG field on something as small as a dropship, but as the mass of the vessel increased, so did the power requirements. Large space stations like Pinwheel just couldn’t feasibly meet those requirements, and so they were given a spin, using centripetal force as a substitute.
Schaffer waited, his eyes unable to adjust to the pitch blackness. After a couple of minutes the ramp descended, the glare of the hangar lighting blinding him for a moment. The pilot climbed up into the cargo hold and draped a jacket over Schaffer’s shoulders, concealing his tied hands.
“No trouble now, and this will all go smoothly. If you try to make a scene, you’ll regret it. The boss said you had to be alive when you got to Borealis, he didn’t specify in what condition.”
“I won’t make a scene,” Scaffer muttered, following the man off the shuttle.
“You unpack these crates,” the man called back to his co-pilot. “I’ll deal with this guy.”
There was nobody else on the deck, a few other shuttles lay idle, powered down and waiting for their crews to return. A few cargo lifters with thick, tank-like treads were stowed near the walls, their long forks colored with yellow warning markings. Schaffer looked out into space, watching the Pinwheel hang in the velvet blackness, the planet it orbited shining below it. It spun lazily, the fat torus ringed with glinting lights and the off-blue glow of force fields. This was probably the last time he would ever see it. His train of thought was popped like a bubble as the pilot urged him forward.
“Enough sight seeing, come on, let’s get this done and we can both be on our way.”
They marched over to the forward wall of the great vessel, entering the carrier proper through one of the automatic doors that led them into a cramped hallway. Schaffer had ridden carriers, but he had never actually been inside one before. It was much like a battleship or a cruiser, the low ceilings and narrow passages were claustrophobic and one had to duck to avoid protruding pipes and machinery. It was like being inside some kind of industrial factory. The air was stale and had that metallic, dry tinge to it that was so familiar to naval personnel.
They proceeded down the corridor, turning a couple of corners, until they came across a man waiting for them, leaning against a wall with his arms crossed. He was wearing blue overalls, standard attire for a navy engineer. He put out an e-cigarette, the only kind permitted on service vessels because of the air filtration systems, and greeted the pilot with a wave of his hand.
The pilot nodded, reaching into his pocket and retrieving a wad of blue bills. He handed it to the engineer who flipped through the stack, counting the notes. Schaffer recognized it as UN currency, the kind most often used in the colonies. Countries on Earth and Mars tended to retain their ancient currencies, but colony worlds and outposts preferred to deal in UN credits. Paper money was still preferred to digital transactions where shady dealings were concerned.
“I counted it already, Patrick, you know I won’t stiff you.”
“Just making sure,” the engineer replied, his voice gruff and gravelly. “I got a storage compartment for your ... cargo. Two weeks, one-way trip, there’s a toilet and I’ll bring him food once a day. Nobody will find him here.”
“Rawling sends his regards.”
The pilot handed him off to the engineer and turned his back, walking away down the hall towards the hangar. Patrick took him roughly by the arm and tugged him forward, typing in a four digit code on a panel beside a door. It opened with a whoosh of stale air, revealing a small room, no larger than a prison cell. There was a sink and a toilet, and a metal bed frame with no mattress. This must have been a janitor’s haunt not too long ago, somewhere to rest and freshen up without having to travel the entire length of the ship to return to the living quarters. Schaffer was shoved inside, then the man drew a short retractable blade. Schaffer tensed, fearing the worst, but the engineer ran it over the zip tie, cutting his hands free of their restrains.
“You’re in the engineering section, nobody comes here besides me. You can shout for help if you like, nobody will hear you. The door is locked from the outside, so you can’t escape. I’ll bring you rations once per day, that’s all you get.” He brandished the knife, popping the blade free of the handle, the sharp metal glinting under the fluorescent lighting. “Don’t try anything stupid, I’m not allowed to kill you, but I can sure as hell make you regret it.”
Schaffer didn’t reply, but the engineer seemed satisfied. He turned to leave, then hesitated for a moment, digging through his pockets.
“Catch,” he said, tossing an object to Schaffer. He snatched it out of the air, examining it. It was a clear, plastic bit, of the kind used during superlight jumps. “Don’t bite your tongue off during the jumps, or it’ll be my neck on the line.”
The engineer left, sealing the door behind him. Schaffer was glad for the bit at least, though he had no crash couch and no restraints in this cell. He would have to make do.
Sentient minds were unable to handle the strain of inter-dimensional travel, the neurological effects of which included uncontrollable muscle spasms, hallucinations, temporary insanity and blackouts. The energies at play did strange things to the nervous system, and the safest way to traverse the dimensional tears was to be safely strapped down, rendered immobile with a bit preventing you from biting off your own tongue and bleeding out.
He was cold, moisture dripped from an exposed pipe that had been sealed with some kind of tape. This must be one of the older vessels still in service, it certainly didn’t seem up to spec. That was probably why it was hauling cargo to irrelevant allied worlds rather than serving on the front. What had Rawling said, it took two weeks to get to Borealis? Fuck...
He sat in silence for a long while, scanning the room with his eyes, taking in every detail and imperfection. There was nothing else to do. The least his captors could have done was give him a book to read to alleviate the boredom that would not doubt drive him half crazy, but maybe that was the idea.
He felt a subtle inertia as the massive vessel began to maneuver, they were underway. There were no windows in his room, it must have been located somewhere towards the middle of the superstructure, but experience had honed his senses to detect the subtle movements of a ship in space. Jump carriers never went far under the power of their chemical rockets, it must be preparing for the first of several superlight jumps. Schaffer held the bit in his hand apprehensively, hoping that he would have time to insert it. The hairs on his arms stood up, and he felt a strange tugging sensation in his sinuses, this was it, the carrier was drawing in energy from the space around it. The engine would suck in hydrogen from the surrounding interstellar medium, along with charged particles and exotic matter from small, microscopic dimensional tears that would form around the hull as the roiling energies flickered across it. When the superlight engine had stored enough power, it would release it, directing it towards the front of the ship and creating a tear in the fabric of space. Schaffer was no astrophysicist, he didn’t understand the details of inter-dimensional travel and miniaturized black holes, just that the ship would be sucked in, catapulting it dozens of light years away where it would be birthed into our reality again like some giant stellar infant.
He inserted the bit, biting down on it and wondering if it would be better to be seated or lying down, then his senses left him.
Like trying to crawl out of a tar pit, Schaffer slowly regained consciousness. He was on the floor beside the bed, his head pounded. Had he hit it on something, or was it just a migraine from the jump? He couldn’t tell. He spat out the plastic bit, wiping it on his clothes and stowing it in his pocket. He rose to his feet unsteadily, bracing himself against the metal bed frame for balance. His whole body was wracked by the slowly receding ache of cramping muscles, and he felt like someone had twisted a fork in his brain as if it were a bowl of pasta. He sat heavily on the bed, rusty springs creaking beneath him, and cradled his temples in his hands. He had done this numerous times before, it would subside in a few minutes.
After a while the pain and dizziness abated, and he was startled by the whoosh of the automatic door. It was the engineer, carrying a ration pack, the same kind soldiers used in the field. He was probably unable to smuggle food from the ship’s mess, so this was yet more evidence of supplies and equipment being misappropriated. He stood in the doorway, not actually entering the room, and tossed the ration pack to the floor.
“Still alive then? Good. Here’s your 24 hour ration, has everything you need. I’ll be back again tomorrow.” The door slid closed, and Schaffer rose to his feet, walking across the small room and crouching to retrieve the package. It was an MRE, marked ‘three thousand calories’ and sealed in a green pouch. He didn’t have a knife, but these packages were easy to open. He chewed at it with his teeth, eventually succeeding in tearing a hole in the plastic. He pulled it apart with his fingers, exposing the cardboard boxes within. There were three compartments, breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with a small, transparent packet containing plastic cutlery, toilet paper, gum, a disposable toothbrush, and waterproof matches. Interesting, the engineer had either not cared, or forgotten to remove the matches. Perhaps he could light a fire? There was no mattress though, and the smoke inhalation from anything he managed to burn would probably suffocate him in the enclosed space before anyone could arrive to help him.
Fuck it, he was hungry. He broke open the box marked ‘lunch’. It contained a packet of beans and rice for reheating, some dry crackers with a small cup of peanut butter, dehydrated hamburger helper, and packets with powdered juice and coffee. There was a small tin stove that unfolded on hinges to support a pot, and the flammable gel packets that were intended to be used to cook the contents.
He took the little metal pot over to the sink and filled it with water, then placed it on the little stove and lit one of the gel packets, then sat on the bed waiting for the water to boil. The food could be a lot worse, at least there was that. His biggest gripe right now the lack of a mattress.
The days crawled by, his maddening boredom dragging out every hour to lengths that felt unbearable. Every day the engineer, Patrick, the shuttle pilot had called him, brought him food, and every three or maybe four days the carrier would make another jump. The physiological effects were just noticeable enough to warn him a few seconds beforehand, giving him scant moments to insert the bit and brace himself against the bed or a wall. Borealis was around seventy light years from Earth if he recalled correctly, and Pinwheel was about twenty to a similar heading. If his math was right, it should take about four jumps to arrive at their destination.
This was confirmed when after the fourth jump, Patrick lingered for a few extra moments at the door after throwing Schaffer his MRE.
“We’re about a day out now. When the ship enters orbit I’ll come to collect you and take you to a shuttle.” He hesitated, making eye contact with Schaffer for the first time. “I don’t envy you, just remember, I do what they pay me to do. It isn’t my choice. If it was up to me I’d flush you out of an airlock and you’d be dead in seconds, but it’s not a good idea to cross the boss. If I went against his orders it might be me on the next shuttle down to the Terminal.”
Schaffer didn’t reply, he had no sympathy. These people were all complicit, all working together to operate this vast network of black markets and corruption, he wasn’t about to spare a thought for the feelings of this lackey, a man willing to take blood money.
“Think about me when you’re counting that fat wad of bank notes,” Schaffer sneered. “Hopefully being an accessory to murder won’t tarnish the taste of your next drink.”
The engineer shook his head dismissively.
“You don’t know me, you don’t know my situation. I don’t agree with this, but it isn’t my problem, and I need the cash. Your fault for sticking your nose in the boss’ business, not mine.”
“You’re helping him murder me, don’t act like you’re uninvolved. You’re no middle man, you’re a hitman.” Schaffer’s tone softened momentarily, pleading with the engineer. “Listen Patrick, you can still stop this. Go to the captain, tell him what happened. We can have Rawling in irons before the end of the day. They’ll make a deal with you, give you immunity, protection.”
The engineer shook his head, reaching over to thumb the door panel.
“Not everyone gets to be an officer on a fancy space station. That place is a fucking resort. Some of us are out here in the engine rooms, crawling through ducts to patch battle damage while the ship is under fire, cleaning up blood stains after a bulkhead collapses and crushes someone. My problems won’t go away because I decided to be a ‘good guy’. Doing jobs for Rawling is my ticket out of this sardine can. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
The door closed with a whoosh of stale air, and Schaffar sank back down onto his cot. That was his only chance, if he had more time he might be able to reason with Patrick. The man didn’t seem happy about the situation, but now it was too late. He lay back on the bed and closed his eyes, trying to fall asleep so that he didn’t have to think about what was coming.
Patrick returned the next day with a zip tie, binding Schaffer’s hands in front of him and draping a jacket over them to conceal his restraints. He led him out of the tiny room that had been his prison for the last two weeks, and back down towards the carrier’s hangar bay. There was more activity now, the previously idle cargo loaders were transporting large crates and pallets across the deck, loading them onto shuttles and larger cargo haulers. Patrick was careful to keep him out of earshot of the crews, pressing the point of his knife into Schaffer’s lower back and skirting the edge of the bay, headed towards a waiting dropship. He ushered him up the ramp, closing it behind him, and then walked around to the cockpit, Schaffer heard him tap on the pilot’s window. The shuttle hummed to life, then lifted off the deck, landing gear rumbling as it stowed in the shuttle’s belly. It coasted past the hangar force field, then Schaffer’s stomach turned as he felt it drop, caught in the gravity of a planet. The carrier must be in low orbit around Borealis. Strange, were there no satellites? No danger of collision from orbiting stations or shipyards? This planet must be even less developed than its reputation as a backwater suggested.
He felt turbulence as the shuttle hit atmosphere, and clung to one of the handholds embedded in the cargo bay wall, trying to stay on his feet as the winds buffeted the craft around. Eventually they leveled out, and Schaffer sensed that the shuttle was slowing as inertia tugged him forward. They hovered as the landing gear descended, then made landfall with a thump. Schaffer shielded his eyes as the ramp lowered, blinding him with a white glare, and chilling him to the bone as a freezing wind blew through the opening. He immediately began to shiver violently, the cold penetrating his clothes like ice water.
There was nobody at the ramp controls, the pilot must have lowered it from the cockpit, unwilling to leave his heated chair perhaps. Schaffer got the message, and inched forward, feeling his eyelashes begin to freeze as the frigid wind hit him with full force. His shoes left the ramp, crunching in crisp snow. The crushing gravity crippled him as soon as he left the AG field of the shuttle, and he doubled over, groaning in pain and surprise. Moisture soaked through to his socks, and he tried to shield his face with his bound hands, looking around, trying to get his bearings. He was in a tundra, completely flat fields of white snow as far as the eye could see. The sky was a piercing, deep azure with no clouds, and the light from the planet’s primary star was as white and glaring as a fluorescent lamp. Schaffer stumbled as the shuttle behind him began to rise, the blowback from the engines knocking him off balance as the craft’s thrusters melted the snow beneath it. It rose and shot off over the horizon, and Schaffer despaired, the tears of anger and frustration that fell from his eyes freezing into hard droplets as they rolled down his face. He felt as if someone had dropped a donkey on his back, he could barely stand, could barely breathe under such intense pressure.
He felt as if he might just keel over and succumb to the elements where he stood, but then he glimpsed something in the distance. Metal, reflecting the harsh light of the sun, barely seen through the rapid onset of snow-blindness. That must be the outpost, he had to reach it, had to try, at least. The cold stabbed at him like a thousand knives, his uniform providing no worthwhile insulation, and his socks were soaking with moisture. He couldn’t even wrap his arms around his body, the zip tie still restrained him. If he didn’t move now, he might start losing toes to frostbite.
He inched forward, marching against the wind as his knees threatened to give out. Each shaky step took enormous effort, his muscles and joints struggling to support his new weight. He waded through knee-high snow drifts, he couldn’t even feel his feet now, he had to keep moving, had to reach that base soon.
After what felt like an eternity his hands found metal, the handle of the door cold enough to burn his skin. Would it even open? Was the base powered? Was the door frozen shut? He turned the handle, nothing. He gripped it harder, feeling the skin on his palm sticking to the metal, and tugged. It was frozen, or perhaps blocked by the snow. He wailed in despair, his voice lost on the wind, and drove his shoulder against the door, slamming it with a newfound animal strength. It creaked under his weight, and he gave it another desperate heave, his shoulder bruising against the hard, frigid surface. One last time, he turned the handle and threw his weight against the door. It creaked open, and he spilled through into the dark interior of the base, falling heavily to the floor.
He panted, his sweat freezing to his skin as he lay there, trying to catch his breath. Even his lungs were freezing, his lips starting to chap and crack in response to the cold air. He rose to his feet with great effort, his arms shaking as he tried to support himself. The massive gravity gave him an illusion of frailty, as if all of his muscles had wasted away, leaving him weak and sickly. He turned to push the door closed, and it fastened with a click, casting him into gloom.
It was barely warmer inside, but at least the wind no longer tore at him. He removed his boots, tugging off his wet socks and casting them aside. Was it better to go barefoot than to wear wet socks? The end result might be the same. The floor was tiled, oddly rubbery, and he stumbled deeper inside the base. There were windows, small and placed high on he walls, but enough light penetrated the glass to illuminate the cramped rooms, allowing him to navigate.
The base was deserted, nobody had been here for a long time, that much was immediately obvious. He entered a dining area, a layer of glistening frost coated the table. Icicles clung to the faucets over the kitchen sink, and the cupboards and shelves that should have held food were bare, save for a few solitary cans of food, their labels too covered in frost to make out. He spied a knife on the counter, and fumbled with it, his fingers almost too cold and stiff to function. He turned it around in his grip and sawed into the zip tie, freeing his hands.
He proceeded deeper, rubbing the red marks on his wrists, his violent shivering making his teeth chatter. There had to be some reprieve here, some dry clothes, some kind of heating element, a power switch, something that might relieve him before he died of hypothermia. He passed a bathroom area, crew quarters, their doors ajar revealing bunk beds and equipment lockers, and what looked like a rec room with a pool table and couches.
He knew that this outpost was still operational, even if it wasn’t manned, the station computer would be running, sifting through planetary chatter and relaying relevant data to the UNN. It must have a power source, and where there was electricity, there would be heat.
Yes, there at the end of the hall, just enough light to make out the yellow ‘danger of death’ warning labels on the door that indicated live machinery. He struggled towards it, gripping the handle and trying to turn it. It was locked. He pounded the door with his fist, frustrated, and the sound reverberated through the metal. There was a keypad just beside the frame, he would need a combination to open it. He would have to come back later.
He returned to the crew quarters, entering the first room to his right and almost falling as he crouched to open an equipment locker at the end of one of the beds. He couldn’t keep this up for long, he was exhausted, becoming delirious, unable to think straight. He opened the box, nothing. Cursing he shuffled across the floor to an adjacent locker, and flipped the lid. Electronics, nothing he recognized, nothing he could wear or burn. He rose to his feet with great difficulty, leaving through the door and crossing the narrow hall to search another room. The next locker he opened had clothing, finally some luck! He rifled through it, pulling out coats, hats, pants, gloves. It wasn’t much but it would help. He tried to pull on one of the jackets, but it was too small for him. Had it belonged to a woman maybe? He pulled a woolen hat over his head and wrapped a purple scarf around his neck, those at least were gender neutral. The gloves didn’t fit him either, his hands were too large.
Encouraged by his minor success, he mustered the strength to keep going, and in a short while had retrieved everything of use from the crew quarters. He had found an insulated coat with a furry hood that fit him well enough, work gloves, several pairs of thick socks that he had layered, and a pair of boots that, while too large for him, stayed on well enough if he fastened the laces tightly. Blisters from ill-fitting footwear were the least of his problems right now.
There was nothing he could do about the gravity, but at least he was starting to warm now. It was still intolerably cold, but sheltered from the wind, and with his own body heat starting to compound as the clothing trapped it, he was out of immediate danger. He should rest, he was close to collapse, but he felt compelled to gain access to that locked door. Behind that numeric lock could be a simple switch that would activate the building’s heating system.
He shuffled through the hallway, was there some kind of administrator’s office? Somewhere the combination might be written down? Or had some long departed engineer committed it to memory, taking Schaffer’s hopes for salvation with him when he had fled the base? He would have to turn this damned place upside down and inside out.
He rifled through the kitchen, the muscles in his thighs and calves burning under the strain of supporting his body. The fridge was powered off and empty, but he was able to collect a few cans from shelves and cupboards. Who knew what they contained, all of the labels were either so decayed as to be illegible, or frozen over. He piled them on the dining table, and then tried to turn on the water. If he could find a heat source he could melt snow to make clean water, but if the boiler was still operational it would save him a step. He turned the handle on one of the faucets, and there was a great, echoing creaking. The pipes must be completely frozen. He decided to leave it running, perhaps if the boiler was still able to heat the water, it would eventually melt its way up through the plumbing system.
What he needed were some of those damned MREs, the matches and flammable gel packets would be invaluable right about now, but he doubted he would find any such equipment here. There must be a storeroom somewhere on-site, this kitchen couldn’t possibly hold enough food to supply the base staff for more than a week. With luck there would be crates full of supplies and useful equipment. He should try to locate it.
But he was getting sidetracked, his tired mind wandering. Find the door combination first, that was the most pressing issue. Perhaps he could even call for help somehow if he were to gain access to the computer. The base was a massive transmitter after all, its only purpose was to send data into space.
He left the kitchen and wandered the installation, it was fairly small as far as outposts went, yet its design was odd, maze-like, and it all seemed to be constructed around the central computer room. There must be a large transmitter dish protruding from the roof, though he had barely been able to see anything outside, the glare of the snow was so blinding. There was just enough illumination to see, and wherever he went, glistening frost coated every surface and motes of dust hung in the shafts of light that penetrated the dirty windows.
He circled the central room, and found himself on the opposite side of the building, looking up at an office door. There was a name on it, though he couldn’t read the text, the plaque was obscured beneath a layer of opaque ice. This must be some kind of administrative room, had to be. He tugged at the doorknob. Another locked room, god damn it. Why all the security? The base was in a wasteland, there were no natives here to go snooping through UNN secrets. This door was made of wood however, not metal like the one protecting the computer room, he might be able to break it down. He was already so tired though, his muscles were on fire.
He geared up to slam the door, taking a couple of steps back on aching legs. He made himself a promise that if he broke through this door, he might finally be able to sleep. He lunged forward, bringing up his boot to impact it near the brass knob. No effect. He tried again, slamming his foot against where he assumed the lock would be. This was draining his energy faster than he had anticipated, he was already beyond exhausted. He tried a third time, and a fourth. On the fifth attempt the wood around the knob splintered, and with one last kick the lock gave out. The door swung loose on its hinges, and he stumbled inside the room, gasping. There was a computer terminal on a desk in the middle of the space, and what looked like filing cabinets lined the walls. He doubted they would be full of paper documents, perhaps data storage devices or printed readouts of some kind.
He made a beeline for the computer terminal, remarking that it was not a self-contained unit, its cabling left the back of the screen’s blocky shroud and disappeared into the floor. With any luck it would be hooked up to the main computer. He pushed away a chair and leaned down to tap the keyboard. Nothing. He searched the shroud for a power button, and found one, thumbing the switch. He heard the whir of electronic motors as the cooling fans come to life. He feared ice or moisture might have penetrated the circuits and caused shorts, but breathed a sigh of relief as a BIOS screen displayed, illuminated text white on a black background. The station definitely had power, that was encouraging.
It cycled through a short diagnostic phase, then finding no apparent problems, displayed a login screen. Schaffer’s heart sank. God damn it, was everything in this fucking base locked? He pulled open one of the desk drawers, rummaging through paperwork. If the owner of this terminal was anything like the people Schaffer had worked alongside on the Pinwheel, the passwords were generated by a security algorithm, and more often than not people would just write them down rather than attempt to commit the ever changing codes to memory.
The cursor on the login screen blinked expectantly as he scattered paper and folders. There was a ball point pen, the ink frozen inside it, bulldog clips, a data chip, what looked like a coffee filter, what on Earth was that doing in there? As he dug into the pile, a yellow slip caught his eye. It was a sticky memo, with numbers and characters scrawled on it in fading ink. That had to be the password.
He had trouble typing in the code through his thick gloves, but he managed it eventually, and the computer accepted the password, admitting him to the desktop. He pumped his fist in triumph, and gripped the mouse in his hand. There were only four icons, documents, system, settings and user. He clicked on settings, and a window popped up showing innumerable values and sliders. He squinted, trying to understand what he was seeing through his fog of fatigue.
Some of these were coordinates, they must be for aiming the satellite dish, but those were greyed out. Did he not have full access to all of the systems from here? Others appeared to show locked doors. He unchecked all of those options, in theory every lock in the facility should now be disabled. Next was perhaps water pressure, he didn’t want to mess with that without knowing more about the system. As he scrolled down, he came across lighting options, it seemed as if this one terminal could remotely control at least some of the base’s functions. There might not even be an interface inside the central computer room itself. He dragged one of the sliders experimentally. No reaction, perhaps this light was in a different room of the outpost. He decided to just turn on every light until something happened, and about half way down the list, the bulb over his head turned on. It was fading and dull, but now he could see better. He switched on the rest of them, noting that the hall beyond the door was now illuminated too. Excellent.
Now if he could only find the central heating. There, a temperature gauge. He dragged his mouse cursor over the value, raising it to forty degrees centigrade. He heard a rumbling echo through the building, he wasn’t sure what method they had used, but pipes would be frozen, and ducts might be clogged. it might take a little while for the effects to be noticeable, if the heating system was operating at all...
It was as much as he could do right now, he would investigate any problems tomorrow, when he had rested. Feeling vindicated, he made his way back towards the crew quarters, the outpost now illuminated by its light fixtures. A few had succumbed to the elements and were not functioning, but the majority were operational, casting a warm glow that reflected off the frozen walls He collapsed onto one of the beds, sinking into the mattress, and within seconds he was asleep.