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Week #18: Creative Writing Challenge – Night in a Graveyard

May 13, 2021

Start your story with two characters deciding to spend the night in a graveyard.

The graveyard was beautiful. It was full of rows upon rows of shiny hulking metal and it wasn’t just any graveyard. It was Central’s highest security graveyard for decommissioned or broken ships, or ships whose origins were unknown. In between the ships that were known were the ships they didn’t talk about, ships that weren’t functional but once carried treasure, mysterious objects, dead bodies, or worse. There were rumors about these “ghost” ships, but technically they didn’t exist. They couldn’t be found in any computer system and the graveyard didn’t have them in their database, but Gale and Abs could see them through the small ports of their cruiser.

“I guess we’ll have to spend the night here in the graveyard,” Gale said. She was the captain of the covert two woman operation. “We’ll put the shields up on the cruiser and find a big hulk to hide behind so our signal will be harder to spot. We’ll take lookout shifts.”

As Gale searched for the perfect hulk to hide behind, Abs scanned the graveyard looking for their target. The two women, Abigail “Abs” Magnolia and Florence “Gale” Nightingale, were the best team in the sector for finding things that didn’t want to be found. This job was a bit different from their normal hidden gems, medical equipment, and documents. This job was a big one. Not just one that would mean a comfy retirement on the purple sands of Katsinga, but Gale and Abs thought they might actually be doing something good for the universe on this one, and not just for rich jerks who wanted more stuff.

The Telvic Flu had been ravaging this quadrant of the Purtic Galaxy for the last 50 rotations of Katsinga around its star. Billions had died, whole planets were quarantined and hadn’t been heard from in 10 rotations, while others insisted and relied on continued trade and thus spread Telvic Flu all over the galaxy. Almost 30 rotations ago, a medical ship from the neighboring Cappitta Galaxy had wormhole jumped into the Purtic Galaxy claiming to have a cure for the Telvic Flu. The ship, called The Pasteur, traveled between galaxies collecting viruses, engineering vaccines for them, and then charging galaxies however many arms they had to save everyone.

The Pasteur was headed toward Central’s headquarters on Katsinga when they lost all communication. The Pasteur was found floating in space, all of its systems still fully functional, but with no life signs aboard. A boarding party was formed, taking all the potential safety precautions when dealing with bacteria and viruses. The boarding team found the entire crew dead, having hemorrhaged through every possible orifice. The weird thing was that the crew all had on personal protective equipment. It was apparently a pretty gruesome sight. When the communications team, not on The Pasteur, learned what had happened, they sealed The Pasteur with the boarding team inside, disabled the ship with a well-placed laser ion pulse and tagged it for the graveyard.

The graveyard doesn’t ask questions about what types of ships or cargo end up there, but they protect the boundaries with well-armed stealth destroyers and regularly patrol the inside with smaller interceptor crafts.

The Pasteur was one of those mystery ships that didn’t exist, but it had the cure for the Telvic Flu aboard. The boarding party had at least confirmed that much. Gale and Abs had been contracted by a private organization to retrieve the vaccine and deliver it to the central medical hospital on Katsinga. The best Abs could tell when she investigated was that the organization had ties to social welfare companies, the central medical system on Katsinga, and some small independent pharmaceutical companies. It was likely a covert mission because the government denied the existence of The Pasteur and then covered up the boarding party catastrophe. People eventually forgot it had happened in the first place. Well, not everyone apparently.

“I think I found it!” Abs said excitedly. At her side, Gale was maneuvering their cruiser between an old Tyvek 4000 long hauler and a Botswain cargo ship and just grunted her acknowledgement. Gale was all business, and business needed to be conducted one step at a time. When Gale had tucked the cruiser in the exhaust port of the Tyvek 4000 and went through the engine shut down protocols, she turned to Abs and said, “Tell me.”

Abs pulled up a map on the Nav screen and pointed to a ship that didn’t look like any models that frequented the Purtic galaxy. “This has to be it,” Abs said. “We can come in from this direction, use the Tisdyek long hauler as cover over this whole edge. We’ll have to make a run across this part, but then we’ll be right there. The air lock should be close to the front stabilizers, and if we tie up there no one will notice us unless they fly directly under and look up.” Abs explained as she traced their route over the screen with her hand. “Looks reasonable. Let’s make a final check of the safety gear and then get some rest,” Gale said.

They had come with the normal infectious disease PPE, but also with some additional tech to prevent bugs from getting stuck on them. They had been on a job about 5 revolutions ago and as payment for retrieving a galaxy-wide patent on some kind of mind altering earpiece, the client had given them a bunch of nano-bots that could make an impenetrable layer of nano-goo that killed anything that touched it, including bacteria and viruses. It was perfect for this job.

Abs took first watch after they checked the PPE. Looking out the small port, Abs could see the graveyard and several of its inhabitants. She made note of the patrol routes and times to compare with what Gale would see on her watch. Each woman managed to get a couple hours of sleep, having gotten used to sleeping in less than ideal circumstances.

When the time came, Abs and Gale suited up and applied the nano-bots. The mission might come down to timing, so they wanted to be prepared for anything. Gale maneuvered the cruiser along the path Abs had identified, and at a pace that took into account information about the patrols. They managed to make it to The Pasteur without incident and docked the cruiser next to the air hatch on the starboard side of the ship near the front stabilizers. With the air hatches connected, Abs also connected the cruiser’s computer to The Pasteur’s. They would have to input the correct codes to get the air hatch to open.

They had prepared for this and obtained potential codes from a contact. They had no idea which one, if any, would actually work. Worst case scenario, they would drill through the air lock and pry it open manually. Abs’s fingers flew across the keyboard connecting computers and inputing codes. There was a soft click after about two minutes and Abs said, “Good to go.”

The two women transferred through the airlock onto The Pasteur. Their contact had also given them the blueprints for the ship, which had helped them identify the most likely places a vaccine would be stored. There were a couple of options and the two women headed to the closest, Gale in the lead with a flashlight.

They passed long-dead bodies in various states of decomposition. It didn’t seem to bother either woman that the bodies were sealed in their PPEs and any decomposition was the result of normal microbiome activity. They were used to seeing gruesome sights during their missions, although this would certainly count as an extreme circumstance. Gale followed a long metal hallway toward what they had identified as a medical bay. When they came to a set of doors that required a keycard to access, they doubled back to lift a keycard from the nearest body.

The two women split up when they entered the medical bay, searching drawers and refrigerated cabinets for anything that could be a vaccine. Abs came up empty-handed, but Gale found some papers in a drawer that had long lists of DNA base pairs and the words “Telvic Flu” at the top. It might be the sequence of the viral genome or something having to do with the vaccine, so Gale stuffed it into the messenger bag she carried.

The next potential storage space required them to cross through the ship’s recreation and eating area. It took about five minutes to find a way through the various rooms and identify the correct hallway on the other side. Abs identified the boarding party in a corner of what looked like a dining room. They weren’t wearing any PPE and looked much older than she imagined an active boarding party might look. Abs wondered aloud if the boarding party might have survived, trapped for years on a ship full of things that could kill a person. “No use contemplating. Focus on the job.” Gale reminded her sternly.

The hallway they found led to a door marked with the universal biohazard symbol. Gale stopped before she swiped the keycard. “We don’t know how these people died. Don’t touch anything unless you have to and don’t brush up against anything. The last thing we need is an accidental suit tear.” Gale reminded Abs. Abs just nodded.

Gale swiped the keycard and the door slid open to reveal rows of freezer units in a large room. The ambient temperature was cold but not unbearable. “Let’s split up and see what we can find,” Gale said and motioned for Abs to start at one side of the room.

Abs opened the first freezer and saw row upon row of vials, all labeled with numbers. She opened another freezer and was greeted by the same sight. After that Abs started to look for a computer terminal. That would be the only place to figure out what the numbers all stood for. One of them had to be for the Telvic Flu.

Gale met her at a central computer terminal in the middle of the room, having had the same realization. Gale scanned the keycard to wake up the computer and Abs’s fingers flew. Gale waited patiently while Abs searched the database for Telvic Flu. “Got it.” Abs cried excitedly and looked up at the freezers. Once she found the small numbers painted at top of each one, Abs hurried across the room to freezer 21.

She opened it and froze. It was empty except for one vial. It didn’t make any sense. All the other freezers were full of vaccines for hundreds of other viruses and the computer database had said there were 52 vials of vaccine for the Telvic Flu.

Neither of the women spoke. Gale broke the silence finally by asking, “Abs, do you remember how many crew were on The Pasteur originally?” A horrified look spreading across her face. Abs answered slowly, “Fifty-one”. More silence followed.

“Did they catch the Telvic Flu somehow? And then try to use the vaccine in a last ditch effort, and it didn’t work?” Abs asked.

“I don’t know Abs. Let’s go back to the computer terminal and see if we can find the ship’s logs.” Gale said.

When Abs found the ship’s logs both women spent a long time reading silently. Apparently when The Pasteur entered the Purtic Galaxy they took on food supplies. The crew later found out that they had been infected with the Telvic Flu, but not before they had brokered their vaccine deal with the government. Out of pure hubris they hadn’t tried to vaccinate themselves before arriving in the Purtic Galaxy. In animal trials with rodents they found the vaccine helped spur the immune system into action if it was administered at the very beginning of an infection. Apparently it didn’t happen the same way in people and they had all died.

Finally Gale spoke. “Okay, download the logs, any information on the Telvic Flu or their trials, and lets get that vial and get out of here.” Gale handed her a memory stick for the information and headed back to freezer 21 where she took the single vial and placed it into a small portable freezer unit from her messenger bag.

When the two women finally made it back to their cruiser it was clear something was wrong. All the lights on the control panel were blinking and there was an alarm going off somewhere.

Gale quickly swept into action, storing the freezer unit in a storage bin and tucking the memory stick into a zippered pocket in her PPE. “We’ve been hailed about a hundred times, we’ve got stunners locked on, and they’ve disabled the right thruster.” Gale said calmly but quickly. “Abs, get us unhooked from The Pasteur and see if you can unlock those stunners. Let me know when it’s done.” Gale said without glancing at Abs, trusting Abs to do what she did best.

It took Abs about fifteen seconds to disconnect from the airlock and another thirty to scramble the stunner signal to make it think the cruiser was forty meters to starboard. “Done.” Abs announced.

With that, Gale did what Gale did best and maneuvered the cruiser away from The Pasteur, dodged the interceptor ship that had located them, and wove a path through the graveyard, all without the right thrusters. The interceptor followed closely, but was unable to make some of the tight turns that the cruiser took with ease. On one tight turn, the interceptor clipped a Tyvek 4100 and spun into the side of a small early era cruiser. The interceptor wasn’t destroyed, but it was delayed enough trying to regain control that Gale straightened her path and made a run for the edge of the graveyard. Abs scrambled their signal so the destroyer patrolling the graveyard boundary would at least be delayed in noticing them. They just needed enough time to make a jump and get away.

Gale barreled the cruiser out of the graveyard, entered in a set of coordinates to the Nav system and punched the helm. The two women in the cruiser had made it past the destroyer and were on their way to Katsinga to deliver something that would hopefully save the galaxy.

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