Though Hell Should Bar The Way – Snippet 25


I didn’t exactly wake up, but I came around enough to realize that somebody was shaking me and shouting, “Get up, numbnuts!”

The High Drive was on. The buzz made my brain tremble. I didn’t know where I was; I wasn’t sure who I was. It occurred to me that I might be dead and in Hell.

“Get up, you little shit!”

Water splashed in my face. A second voice said, “Hey, watch the bunk, Wellesley.”

There was a rope tethering my thighs to the bunk. My eyes didn’t work right; I saw a blur lean close and move back, but I wasn’t sure anything moved except in my mind.

The water on my lips tasted good. I licked them and sat up.

“About bloody time,” the voice said. I threw up.

I wasn’t aiming at the speaker — I wasn’t awake enough to do anything that organized — but I was looking toward the blur that spoke. I guess that was good enough to get the same result.

The voice roared, “You little shit!” and something slugged me. I went back into blackness.

* * *

When I finally came around the ship was under way in the Matrix. I felt as if there was a membrane shrunk over my skin, moving when I did. It didn’t get in my way — but it was there.

I opened my eyes. I was on the bottom bunk of a tier. The two higher bunks were raised against the bulkhead, which is how I’d been able to sit up before.

The side of my jaw hurt. One thing at a time. First I had to learn where I was.

The man at the console heard the bunk springs squeal and turned to look at me. “Bloody well about time,” he said. “I was beginning to think we’d paid good money for a deader. Not a lot of money, though.”

I recognized the voice of the man who’d waked me the first time — and who’d then slugged me when I threw up. He was big and broad, though short legged as best I could tell in a seated figure. The right half of his skull was bald and he was missing the top of his right ear. I didn’t see any scar tissue on his scalp.

He had a nasty voice, but I was already sure we weren’t going to be friends. If I remembered correctly from when I was still under the drug, his name was Wellesley.

“Where am I?” I said. I was glad to learn that my voice worked. I didn’t try to shout, partly because I didn’t have the energy. I felt like a dishrag.

I’d heard the outer airlock close as I came around, but I wasn’t sure whether it was for people going out on the hull or coming back in. Now the dogs of the inner lock drew back in a series of small clicks and the hatch opened. Three spacers entered the cabin, two in hard suits and the third in an air suit.

They’d already taken their helmets off. One was a hatchet-faced spacer who must be seventy; the other two were as pale as anyone I’d ever seen.

“Where you are,” Wellesley said, “is aboard the Martinique, on the way to Blanchard. And you’re a landsman.”

“I rated able spacer in the RCN,” I lied. I didn’t know exactly what the situation was, but I didn’t see any advantage to blurting that I could astrogate. I wasn’t great, but I was probably as good as any of this lot.

“I’m still captain of the Martinique, Wellesley,” the old man said as he continued to strip off his suit. He turned to me and said, “I’m Captain Langland. What’s your name, spacer?”

The captain’s hard suit looked like a piece of junk, but it was better than the suit the crewman behind him was taking off. The air suit that the other spacer was getting out of was visibly patched with cargo tape.

“I’m Roy Olfetrie, crew on the Sunray till you drugged and kidnapped me,” I said. “Where are we headed?”

“That’s a bloody lie!” Wellesley said. “Two of your friends brought you aboard!”

“We’re headed for Blanchard,” Langland said. “We’re twelve days out.”

I sat up carefully. My arms were ready to support me but they didn’t need to; I’d slept off whatever it was that they’d drugged me with, though I still felt weak.

I stank. I guess somebody’d cleaned the deck, but the front of my tunic was soaked with my own vomit. “Bloody hell,” I muttered. “Where do I clean up, Langland? And I need a change of clothes, at least a tunic. I’m not going to wait twelve bloody days.”

“There’s the head,” Langland said, gesturing to the corner with the rear bulkhead. The screen there was the same grease-dulled color as the deck and bulkheads; with my current fuzzy vision I hadn’t noticed it. “And I guess a set of my slops’ll fit you.”

I got up with only a momentary rush of dizziness and started for the head. “Look, Olfetrie?” Langland said. “You’re not raising hell about this?”

I looked at him over my shoulder. “That wouldn’t do much good, would it?” I said. “You going to turn around and put me back on Saguntum?”

“Like hell we will!” Wellesley said.

“Yeah, that’s what I figured,” I said. I walked into the head and stripped off my tunic. “I’ve never been on Blanchard, but I guess it’s got bars. That makes it pretty much all same-same as Saguntum so far as I care.”

“Well, you’re a cool little bastard,” said Langland.

I ran water into the basin and rinsed out my tunic. Then I used the wet garment to wipe my face and torso before rinsing it again. One thing about a starship is that there’s always water from the tanks of reaction mass.

I wasn’t looking forward to being a crewman on the Martinique, but after Dad shot himself I’d given up expecting things to be the way I wanted. This wasn’t going to be fun, but I guessed it’d be livable. If I was wrong about that, well, then I didn’t have any problems at all.

* * *

The Martinique didn’t have proper watches, but when we’d dropped into normal space so that Langland could fix our position, he swore and said, “Wellesley, we’ve got to get the starboard antenna back in service. It’ll be a month before we make Blanchard at this rate, and we don’t have food for that long.”

“All right,” Wellesley said. “I’ll take the landsman out and we’ll free the cable.”

We were all more or less average size, though Wellesley probably strained the expansion seams of the hard suits. I went to the less-good hard suit, though that was a toss-up: The cushion lining was almost completely gone from this one, but it looked to me like the interior flex at the joints was maybe in a little better shape than on the other.

Wellesley cuffed me away. “Who told you to take a hard suit?” he snarled. “Put on one of the air suits until I decide you’re ready for a good one!”

“I won’t wear one of those air suits,” I said. “Especially if I’m going out with you.”

“You’ll do what I bloody say!” said Wellesley. “I’m the mate!”

He cocked his fist. I set my feet and said, “I’m not drugged now!”

Wellesley didn’t swing. I was about to start things myself, moving in and hitting him as many times as I could in the pit of his stomach. I wasn’t as strong as Wellesley and he had forty pounds on me besides, but I hit hard and I didn’t figure he was used to taking punishment.

“Oh, back off, Wellesley,” the captain said. “I’ll take Olfetrie out. You recalibrate us for Blanchard with starboard in service again.”