This story is by Lexie Christine and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Kyta stepped cautiously from her small shuttle, pistol raised and eyes narrowed. Nothing moved. She lowered the gun, but kept it in her hand as she moved forward, testing the ground with each step. Even with her envirosuit she could feel the cold nipping at her.
“Let’s just get this shit and get out of here,” she grumbled. There was no one to hear her, other than the ghost of a dead ship. And what a ship it was! Kyta looked up at the hulking wreck in awe. Most ships she salvaged were small freighters, barely big enough to need a dual drive core, but this was a massive, multideck monstrosity. Large chunks were scattered over the northern ridge of the icy planet, barely hanging on the edge of the cliff. It was beautiful in a way, and that was one reason why she was a salvager. To find the misplaced, broken beauty in the galaxy and let it matter, even if only to her. She looked over the wreck again. With no light pollution, the stars twinkled brightly above her and the ship, painting the sky in diamond nebulas and copper waves. There were two moons high overhead, the smaller intersecting the larger one by a slim margin. She couldn’t see any sign of the sun; not that it would have mattered. The entire planet was a giant ball of ice. Scans from the mining company showed that it had roughly thirty kilometers of compacted ice and snow before it broke through to rock and dirt.
Kyta stepped carefully, surprised that her bargain bin boots were able to hold the slick ground as well as they were. She thought she would have had to slide around like a penguin to get anywhere. Kyta had concluded that nothing was going to jump out at her, between the cold and the silence, so she stowed her pistol in its holster at her hip. A six wheeled ground vehicle was jutting out of a pile of snow, held at an impossible angle simply because of how hard it had hit the surface. She regarded it curiously. One side of the tank was still shiny black with white detailing stating it was a Model 13-B209, marking it as a military vehicle from almost eighty years ago, according to her pocket guide for outdated salvage. It would make an interesting souvenir, but she doubted she would have room in her little shuttle for the door even if she could get it off. The thing was nearly twice the size of her craft. After one more long look, Kyta left it to its fate and wandered to the main wreck.
She whistled, “Hell’s bells. What happened to you, poor thing?”
There was a jagged hole in the side of the ship, all charred metal and sharp edges. It looked like someone had fired a plasma cannon through the hull. But, no one she knew of had one big enough to do that amount of damage. She instinctively wrapped her arms around her middle against the uneasiness that settled there.
Rill Mining had contracted her to salvage the ship’s black box after they had found the wreckage. Until the ship was identified, no one but official salvagers were permitted to trapeze through the wreck. She was one of the best interstellar spaceship salvagers of the century and worked closely with Rill Mining in the past, which is why they offered the substantial commission. The derelict ship was found by the mining company when they were testing the planet’s stability for an ion drill. From what she had seen, it was a large military vessel, outdated by nearly a century. How did the UNSEF lose a ship of this size for almost a hundred years? Her brow furrowed under her helmet and the feeling of uneasiness grew. She had been a solo salvager for fifteen years, and up until this point, she was glad to be alone. It meant that there was no one to share the profit, or demise. Salvaging could be dangerous as most wrecks were unstable, and she knew more than a few that never made it back. But there was something about another’s presence, a living one, that she missed at that moment.
Every ship had a life of its own, that grew and changed with every crew rotation until you could feel the pulse of it. This one was no different. This ship was proud, and loud, and a little crude. It was dangerous and powerful and…angry. It’s spirit, and the spirit of its crew, wanted justice for what happened to them, and they called to her, begging her to unveil its secrets. She reached out and rested her hand against the hull. It was still and cold, but she could imagine what it was like before, humming and full of life. Her heart ached for the loss.
With a last look over her shoulder, she disappeared into the wreck. The metal deck was slippery and she had to cling to the side to keep from falling flat. With a grunt, she crashed into the far wall, shaking some of the ice loose and revealing a faded sign.
Deck 7 Crew’s Quarters
She peered into the gloom and was able to make out a frost covered table with the remnants of the crew’s last meal scattered around it.
“Why are there no bodies?” She whispered. The frigid temperatures should have kept them relatively intact, despite the crash. She wasn’t usually keen on finding dead men watching her from corners, their bodies bent at odd angles and cloudy eyes following her movements, but it was more unsettling that there were none at all. A ship this size should have had a crew of at least three hundred and that many people can’t just disappear, can they? She shuddered.
Farther into the wreck, Kyta shoved a door harder than was necessary and careened through it, landing in a tangled heap. Pulling herself to her knees, she noticed marks under the frost. Drag marks. From body armor similar to her own. Letting out an uneasy breath, she stood and followed them to the far end of the hall. They disappeared through a door that was wedged open by a fallen support beam. She squeezed through, her body armor grating against the wall.
She groaned, “I just got this buffed!”
Rubbing at the fresh scratches, she surveyed the room. It was difficult to tell what the room had been; only one of the walls was intact, and it was empty. There might have been some lettering on the wall to her left, but it was obscured by debris. Kyta stepped forward and the floor gave out underneath her. She shrieked as she fell, the noise deafening on the silent planet.
The echoes died around her and Kyta coughed, trying to force some air back into her lungs. She had landed flat on her back, staring at the deck above. Her HUD was flashing medical warnings across the edge of the display. Two broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder and a mild concussion. She grit her teeth as she sat up. Her battered body protested every movement she made, so she sat still and caught her breath while her eyes roamed the room.
Deck 6 Command Centre
“Thank the Divine for small favors,” she whispered as she forced herself to her feet. There was a terminal set into the far left wall. There should have been a yellow warning light above it, but the light, like the screen, was broken and dark. Even so, she knew what it was and hobbled over to it, pulling a slim silver rectangle from one of her many pockets. It flashed blue, and she tapped the middle of it, lighting up a screen. A few more taps and it buzzed, opening a small hatch. Kyta took a chunk of metal from the ship and dropped it into the opening. The hatch closed, and the rectangle flashed orange. It would take a few minutes for the RS-2000 to remake the metal into a usable tool, and she pondered upgrading to the RS-3000. It could make almost any tool a salvager could need in less time than the old model, which would be helpful when she was freezing on an ice planet. The device flashed green and opened to reveal a small hammer. It was lightweight, only good for one hit before it would shatter, and Kyta used it to break through the screen of the terminal. Inside, tucked away in the corner, was the ship’s black box. It was flashing a red warning light.
“Looks like I was just in time. Now, let’s get out of here.” She pocketed the small drive and limped to the ship’s main door. This one opened without any trouble and she heaved a sigh of relief. It was a long walk back to her shuttle, but it was one she was proud to take.