„‚Kicking ass for the working class, in zero gee we float by thee.‘ And again, all together: ‚Kicking ass for the working class, in zero gee we float by thee!‘ And once more, and louder…“
Wafting at some distance from Buck, Aklan barely moves his lips in sync.
There‘s perfectly no need to waste oxygen. The other side couldn’t care less. You don’t impress a police drone by shouting at it. They’ll only adjust their audio sensors. They often have to. Biologicals scream a lot, when they get bothandled.
Aklan feels stupid. Back in the social club, under the influence, this idea sounded like fun. Bye, bye lecture hall. Hello action. Meet the oppressed. Smash walls. Break chains. Muscular bodies in spacesuits cheering their youthful saviors.
Such was the plan. Not this series of glitches.
First Coran called in sick. Compressed air allergy. Space walk no go. Impossible to argue, with a medical student claiming illness. Drash didn‘t show up, either. Without even sending a message, the bitch. Ethan did at least explain, sort of: „Pologies, urgentimax other.“ Probably getting laid again. Always getting laid, Ethan. Lucky bastard.
„… oh come on, Aklan! You‘ve got to mean it, to impress the vile oppressor. They are listening, you know? All the time. Never stop watching and listening. Because they‘re afraid of us. And for good reason! Come on, Aklan, one more round: ‚Kicking ass for the working…“
Overall, Buck is a sensible comrade. Clever. Circumspect. The kind of person you‘d trust with air filter maintenance. Excellent grades at school. Still doing passably well at university. Despite wasting a lot of time on selective paranoia and mostly futile activism.
That‘s Buck‘s only vice. Just because her dad went bald and caught space suit fungus. Not a pretty sight, sure. No beach holidays for folks with a skin disfigured by greenish tile patterns. Not exactly a recipe for romance. But blaming 42Fix&Refit, that’s still farfetched. You need to wear a spacesuit, to work in shuttle maintenance. The capitalist pigs, as Buck calls her dad‘s bosses, they don’t harm their employees on purpose.
„That one, the blue and red one, it’s taking off. Now we’re talking! Come on, all together: ‚Hell no, you shouldn‘t fly, not until we own the sky! Hell no…‘“
Frar. More voice than Buck. Less brain. You don‘t need a degree in space shuttle maintenance to see that the blue and red shuttle lacks an essential. No Yang unit. Even space intern Aklan knows the quip: No Yang, no fly. There is some action around that shuttle, but it won‘t take off. If any officialdom listens in on this, they‘re sure to laugh a lot.
Two hours worth of oxygen left, according to Aklan‘s visor display. With a little luck, Buck should already be down to less than an hour, with all her shouting. Another forty five minutes to go, until her alarm starts beeping and they have to rush back.
The servicebot at the lendery was adamant: „If you hear that beep, you rush back. Full throttle. You don‘t want to be at the receiving end of our backbot‘s attentions. You really don‘t.“
Ever since hearing this, Aklan wonders what a backbot looks like. And what it would do, to a straggler. The servicebot made such an encounter sound scary.
As if there wasn’t enough scary around. The few space station permanents, they‘re forever joking. The weirdos no longer care. Have exhausted their potential for fear. Coran says doctors call this the 782 Times Syndrome. It‘s considered a disease, because it dims all emotions. Not just fear. Bad for relationships. Aklan would still prefer to be a sufferer right now.
Up here, you‘re 782 times more likely to die a sudden premature death.
Back home in Nya Cairo, Aklan used to joke: „782 times, so what? Move from the Zamalek to the Manshiyat Nasr neighborhood, and you get that same risk increase. Down here does tough, too. Like it or not, loony moonies, you‘re not the only ones living a dangerous life. And now stop baying for higher hardship compensation and shorter hours, will you?“ Typical attitude of those who have only ever been to places with all-you-can-breathe free air.
The views up here are spectacular. Even in this hangar. Just a slim scaffold and lots of transparent photovoltaic mesh separating them from the surrounding immensity. Below, the moon, with the open cast mines clearly demarcated. Beyond, one hell of a sky.
This scenery could be considered beautiful. By a brain willing to appreciate. Not worried about suffocation. With every gulp of air tasting like old boots gone gaseous, Aklan‘s sense of beauty is as close to absolute zero as the temperature beyond his space suit.
Silence. All of a sudden. Buck and Frar have both stopped shouting.
Something is moving, behind the web of police drones. Stupid Frar guessed well. The blue and red wreck can‘t move on its own, but it’s leaving the dock all right. Pulled along by a flock of drones. Heading their way. Just as the plan had assumed.
Now every minute counts. The convoy headed for the space gate they‘re guarding, or blockading, according to Buck’s firm intent, is crawling forward. It will take many more minutes to reach what they call their picket float. But it’s bound to arrive.
With only three of them in attendance, they haven‘t been able to properly deploy their carbon nanotube net. You need six people, to span a hexagon. They only manage a triangle with flaps. But it’s still enough of an obstacle no to allow the convoy to pass the gate.
The police drones display no signs of upcoming brutality. Deceptive bastards. Aklan knows how nasty they can turn, in a blink. Same procedure as at the stadium. One moment you stand there and sip your drink, admiring their worn and dented armor. Next, some idiot pisses them off. In response, they tell the crowd to get lost and beat any slow responders to pulp.
Aklan would like Buck to run out of air. Ponders if he should restart the shouting, to speed things up. Hesitates, because he doesn’t want to come across as the leader. Police drones have sharp senses, they perceive details no biological would notice.
„So you‘re really suggesting we should, like… See this through? Go the full course? As in really trying to stop them? The police, they’re pretty sure not to appreciate, you know?“ Buck’s voice suggests he’s familiar with the downsides of getting policed. Aklan feels camaraderie rising. One cautious guy is a coward. Two out of three are the sensible majority.
„Of course we deny them passage. That’s the whole point! Space is no place for our kind. These bloody jobs are deadly exploitation, for nothing more important than some creature comforts back down. This shit needs to stop. They send students like us up here to learn about the hardship. Well, lesson learned. Too much hardship, and it has to stop. ‘Kicking ass…“
Buck really means it. At least she has resumed shouting, depleting her oxygen reserves.
The approaching convoy reveals the blue and red shuttle lost more than its Yang unit. There must have been a fire on board. Or an explosion. Most probably both. Not much left, of the middle section. This is one huge piece of space debris headed for the junk yard. Nasty reminder of how much unlike earth busses space vehicles still are.
In the year two hundred of lunar mining there‘s an hourly moon-orbital shuttle service. Timetable just like one more bus. Except it very much is no bus. 42Shuttle is proud to be down to one crash per nine hundred thirty craft runs. Proud! No bus.
The convoy is moving slowing, but they‘re making progress. At least half the distance to the gate covered already. The web of police drones still stationary. For how much longer? Staying in their current position is becoming more dangerous by the minute.
Once again, Frar beats Aklan to the speaking up slot. Squeezes his question into the moment of silence following every fifth round of Buck’s sloganeering:
„Guys, I do think we‘ve made our point. Running low on oxygen, too. How about having my cambot take one more picture, for the revolutionary records, and calling it quits? If we look like really blocking the exit, the police drones are going to act. And I’d rather not find out what happens when a cheap space suit from a lendery gets trashed. We’re an awful long way from the next air lock, and in case something goes wrong…“
Aklan nods as obviously as his attire and keeping himself in position allows. Frar is hereby declared best friend ever. Even Buck should see sense now. The revolution is certain not going to get advanced by the three of them dying in front of a stupid space gate.
„Oh, look, someone else is coming out! And fast. By all the seven cataclysms, that‘s an PAON live coverage bot! We‘re going to be on the Planet and Orbit News, guys, and the world will find out about the shit going on here. Come on now, as loud as you can: ‚One, two, three, four, no comfort is worth dying for! Five, six, seven, eight, workers will no longer wait! One, two…‘“
With his visor all foggy from the sweating, Aklan struggles to discern Frar‘s facial expression. He‘s certainly not joining Buck‘s shouting. Nor does he wave his clenched left fist at the web of police drones. Time for the sensible majority to assert itself:
„Buck, stop it. We’ve made our point, the PAON bot has made pictures, time to get the hell out of here. Frar is absolutely right, about everything, and we’re low on oxygen…“
Aklan doesn‘t get to finish his sentence. A furious Buck won‘t have it:
„Are you mad? We can’t leave now! Those pictures will never be broadcast, if we leave now. A live coverage bot, that’s not for holiday souvenirs, that’s for coverage. And three folks in a spacesuit in front of a hangar gate, that’s no coverage. Batons, tasers, action, that’s coverage. If we leave now, we abandon the drone supervisors. No way. ‚One, two, three…‘“
Aklan and Frar don‘t even need to talk. Buck sealed her own fate by mentioning tasers. The concept of the damage associated with taser needles piercing a space suit proves decisive. A screaming Buck gets wrapped into the carbon nanotube net.
To the sound of „You fucking turncoats, let me fucking go!“ and even more crude expressions of acute dissatisfaction, they rush their package through the web of police drones and past the blinking live coverage bot, towards the space suit lendery air lock.
By the time they pass the convoy, Buck has stopped shouting. Her oxygen alarm is beeping instead. Above this noise, Aklan hears the close range broadcast comment when they pass the two drone supervisors shepherding the convoy.
It‘s the taller one talking: „Brave stunt, kids, very brave. Thanks a million. And that was clever, to have her run out of oxygen just in time. No point in getting yourself killed. We need each head we can get. See you after the revolution!“
Aklan considers dying of shame. But that would be even less sensible than martyrdom.