“Alex, what do you think happens after we die?”
“Yo. Not the time, Ten,” I grunted, my biceps aching as I yanked the ship to the left. “Just focus.”
“Fine.” My little brother Tennyson pouted. His dark skin was lit blue by the luminous, meteor-sized chunks of ice flying past us. They looked alive with light, beacons in the blackness of deep space, reflecting the planets and stars around us. In the ranks, we called them icerocks, but no one really knew what they were for sure. Just that they were a pain in the ass when you were trying to get from Alister Cluster to Gamma Solar. “Hard to starboard,” my brother muttered.
I gritted my teeth and threw us to the right. We flipped over a few times, our pod coming uncomfortably close to the top of one of the icerocks. “Are we almost out?” I managed, squinting ahead.
An icerock larger than the pod loomed out of the darkness. I took us into a nosedive, my palms sweating almost too bad to keep a hold on the spanner.
My fingers slipped right off the rubber grips on the right, and we spiraled, lurching. My stomach curled up, and I kicked down on the gears, grasped around for the spanner again, to stabilize us. Goddamn goddamn goddamnit
As we righted, Ten stopped hugging the radarscope and peered through it like he was supposed to. “Hey, damn,” he said. “Whatever the hell you just did, looks like it got us out of the field.”
“Thank God.” My senses finally normalizing, I kicked the gear into neutral and wiped my bald head. Its crown was slick all over with sweat.
I started to unlock myself from the apparatus. Flying a pod was a dynamic activity. Because pods were shaped like bullets, turning them required hydraulic action. And that was the pilot’s job. The faster I pulled one of these spring-loaded weights toward myself, the faster we got out the way of lethal flying shit. Thing was, the weights were damn heavy. My weedy little brother had it easy, looking through the radarscope all day while I grunted and sweated myself to pieces in this metal frame.
It would’ve been easier if they’d invented some sort of pulling apparatus to do the job for us, but the inside of the pod wasn’t nearly big enough for that not to be dangerous. The interior was twice my armspan at the most.
As Ten worked on my leg straps, I happened to glance up through the windshield, the foot-thick-glass half of the bullet.
A gleam of light heading for us. “SHIT—” I grabbed Ten’s arm on instinct.
I managed one breath before the baseball-sized icerock smashed through the glass with a noise like the whole world was splintering. Even as the world roared into a vacuum, two halves of a metal sheath snapped shut over the broken windshield.
Well, there went the Space Force’s perfect crash-free record.
The emergency oxygen light glowed red. I heard a hiss of gas and let out my breath. Safe.
Maybe not safe, per se. Without the windshield, we only had the radar to see where we were flying. Technically fine for navigation, but frustrating and scary. Increased risk factor.
“You okay, Ten?”
I glanced around. The windshield had put up a nice fight. The icerock sat innocently on the floor amidst thick chunks of glass, still looking like it was reflecting the light of—
Okay, that was weird. Was it glowing?
I peered more closely at it. “Uh. Ten, am I imagining this?”
“Whoa.” Tennyson scrambled to get the icerock. As he picked it up, his eyes widened. “Holy shit, Alex!”
“Give it here.”
He tossed it to me, and I was so surprised to feel it I almost dropped it. It definitely wasn’t ice—the name ‘icerock’ was way more appropriate than I’d realized. It felt like a huge polished crystal, and buried right in the heart of it, a tiny light glowed.