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Fleet 5

They’d left her body in the middle of the hallway, lying where it fell like a sack of dirt. Her left side looked crushed, like a massive weight had flattened half her body. Her face was twisted in horror and pain. I dove to the ground beside her slapping at the emergency call button on the old style wrist controller she was wearing. Her body was warm and limp, but I couldn’t find a pulse. Several of her broken ribs had ripped through her skin, leaking blood onto the decking.

I tried to do CPR, with her body crushed it was dangerous, but I couldn’t just sit there if there was even a ghost of a chance. Running footsteps sounded on the decking behind me, coming from the same medical section I had just left. I yelled, my throat hoarse with panic and lacking breath. Something hit me hard in the back, blasting me off my knees and pinning me to the bulkhead. I gasped, twisting painfully. Two sprinted toward the body and a third held his grav-gun steady, using the heavy gravity to pin me in place.

A grav-gun. It was the only thing I could think of that could have caused Isabel’s wounds. I tried to explain I was there to help and no one listened. The two running men stopped at the body just long enough to slap a stasis mask over her twisted face and twisted the controls on their grav-guns to lift her weightless into the air. The three ran off with the body, leaving me pinned to the bulkhead, crushing under the weight of sideways gravity.

I couldn’t move, not even my fingers, the AG field held me pinned against the metal wall. My breath came in short gasps, CPR was harder work than most people think and my heart was pounding with adrenaline. My mind still ached from the effort of the psych eval and it felt like the pressure holding me in place was getting stronger. My vision blurred, the ship tilted dangerously, it got harder to breathe, I passed out.

I woke in my cell, crawling my way back to alertness. My head pounded and it felt like my heart was still half asleep. I felt drugged, withdrawn, grimy. I flopped my arm against the edge of the bed, trying to stop the slight burning itch that was eating into my skin. Something ripped free and fell to the ground, dragging my eyes down with it. A sedation patch. I had been drugged.

I struggled up and kicked the sleeper patch across the floor, then turned and vented my frustration on the cell door. The heavy metal bars rang repeatedly without opening, but they caught the attention of someone near by. Heavy footsteps sounded down the hall and Cord’s monstrous form strode into view.

His face split with a wicked grin. “Mornin’, Killer.”

“I didn’t kill her.”

“Oh sure, sure, sure.” He flipped his hand dismissively. “Everyone knows Isabel was clumsy. She was probably just cleaning her grav-gun when it went off.” He nodded in agreement with himself. “Hell, even the computer shows it was her grav-gun that was fired. ‘Course we cant find her gun to verify and the only other person there was you… Nah, I’m sure everyone will believe you’re innocent.”

“I didn’t kill her,” I said again. “I was in medical going through tests.”

Cord roared with laughter. “That’s what makes it great! It’s not even possible for you to have killed her, but everyone is going to think you did it anyway!” He roared again. “Just ask yourself; what were you getting tested for?”

I glared at him without speaking for several minutes. “Did you need something?” I asked finally.

“Captain wants to see you.” He chortled. “But before that, you need a shower.” He thumbed a few of the controls on his grav-gun and a doorway slid open a short way down the hall. He flicked a second set of controls and my cell slid open.

“Make it quick.” He said, still chortling as he walked away.

I scowled at his retreating back for a second until the smell of my shirt tickled my nose. I really did need a shower. I was still dressed in the same slacks and button-up I had worn for graduation. I’d already lost the jacket and tie. I’d lost them the night of the party. I shrugged down at the mess. They were in great shape for being 25 years old.

The shower closet was barely large enough for me to stand in and shut the door. It had a laundry slot in the side for my dirty clothes, a twist handle and almost nothing else.

A tiny set of goggles and a string of ear plugs hung from the knob. I picked them up and looked at them closely. Why were these here? You don’t expect long-haulers to be the sensitive type. An idea tickled my brain and I looked down, there was no drain. It took me a few more seconds before I figured it out. It was a sonic shower. All 6 walls were part of a massive speaker system using high frequency vibrations to scour the body clean.

I knew how they were supposed to work in theory, but I had never even see one in real life. I slipped the protective gear into place and flipped the switch. The vibe stream had been left on full. High amplitude waves rippled across my skin, tearing off the top few layers. I screamed like a little girl and yanked the control knob to the side. The shock wore off after a few minutes and I started to get some feeling back. The gentle stream pulsing over me now was some strange combination of a back rub and an electric tingle. It was nice.

I fiddled with the control knob a bit more until I understood how to use it properly and finished cleaning with some sonic soap that appeared in a dispenser.

My clothes were clean, neatly folded, and waiting in the laundry slot when I finished. They smelled great and felt even better. Now all I needed was a shave and I be back to feeling human again.

I stepped out of the closet and straight into Cord’s bad breath. One of his massive hands grabbed me by the collar and shoved me back against the wall. He leaned in close. “Energy ain’t infinite on this tub, boy.” He growled. “Next time you’ll keep your shower under five minutes or I’ll drag you out of it.”

Maybe the shower had me feeling too good, maybe I was still pissed about being drugged. I grabbed his hand with both of mine and kicked for his crotch. The big man howled and tried to throw me to the floor, but I clung to his arm, wrapping both arms around his grip and kicking like crazy.

One of my feet caught him in the shoulder and the hand I was gripping splayed open. I caught his pinky in my fist and yanked it backward, twisting until I heard it snap. He howled in pain and slammed his free fist into my side hard enough to send me sprawling. I rolled and came up in a crouch several feet away. Cord’s grav-gun lay on the floor between us. I must have knocked it free with a flailing kick.

“Ground rules, Cord.” I said with a sneer. “I didn’t ask to be on this stinking ship. You disrespect me, you pay for it.”

His eyes snapped down to the grav-gun, measuring the distance. I barked a mocking laugh. “What’s the matter, Tiny? Afraid to fight a sober man?”

His eyes narrowed and he raised his broken hand. He grabbed the broken finger and bent it forward, forcing his broken hand into a fist. I was impressed but not as intimidated as he was obviously hoping I would be.

We charged each other down the hall. Cord had the advantage in size, he was at least a full foot and almost a hundred pounds larger, but it wasn’t the first time I’d been the smaller man in a fight. A split-second before we collided I tucked into a ball and threw myself at the ground. Even if the big man saw it coming it was too late for him to break the momentum. My shoulder slammed into his knee just as it straightened and I heard it crunch with the impact. His rear leg kicked forward, still running, and landed hard in my side as he fell. He flailed outward, trying to catch himself before he hit the deck, but I wrapped my arms around the nearest leg and stood, sending him head over heels down the hall behind me.

Cord hit the deck with face first with a solid thud. I straightened and lunged, frog-like, onto his back, smashing my fists against the back of his head, hoping to feel him go limp. Something massive hit me from behind again and I was blown forward, slamming against the far bulkhead. I felt ribs crack as I hit. I couldn’t move. I could barely breathe. I was getting really sick of grav-guns.

Shouts rang out around me. The gravity field pinning me in place was shunted away from my arms just long enough to shackle them behind me. This time they didn’t zero the gravity field and float me through the hall. They left it heavy and had three men drag me along the decking back to my cell. I caught a glimpse of Cord as I was dragged past. He was sitting up and pressing ice against his skull while a medic examined his knee. He caught my eye and grinned, mouthing the word ‘killer’ as he winked.

I went slack. I couldn’t believe it. The son of a bitch had set me up. He’d picked a fight on purpose and fought it out until someone else showed up to witness. It went right along with his earlier joke. The man was a sadist.