There was a dull THUD as the two men slid free from the metal tube.
“You told me this was a low-risk job!” Rishard said, landing heavily. Delta fell to the left, holding a black satchel above his head. The men were in grey, Planitech overalls and goggles. The logo: a blue, open-palmed hand holding a planet. Rishard was tall and bald. Delta was stout, with red hair. There was a certain wildness to Delta that Rishard had always found unnerving.
“It was a low-risk job,” Delta said.
“Tell that to all the Sky-Centurions up there trying to blow our Garnak heads off!”
Richard turned and fumbled with the com-centre on his arm. A metal panel slid back, and a glowing orb came up. Blue light. They were in a solid cube and, aside from the tube high above, there seemed to be no exit. The walls were coated in grime and the ground was littered with machine scraps, food waste, and some unidentifiable liquid.
“At least I wasn’t the one to suggest a refuse chute. What is this? Amateur hour at the Banak races?” Delta said, aggressively swiping at the grime on his legs.
“We got away, didn’t we?”
“Are we away? Does this look away to you?”
Rishard snorted and started pawing at the walls, overlapping strips of ionized titanium by the looks of them. He could feel a distant whirring of machinery beyond, “Have you got the processor chips?” he said, over one shoulder.
“Yep,” Delta opened the bag. Blue light caught on the hoard. Hundreds of them. Small, rectangular. Shiny.
“Good, put them away. If they get wet, we may as well drown here with them.” Rishard looked around, holding his wrist up. The light caught on Delta’s goggles. “Where are we?”
They looked around. On the wall, in yellow lettering, ‘Zone 3.’
“Get onto that bot.” Delta said, “Get us out of here.”
Rishard lifted his wrist to his face and pushed a button. “FF, check the schematics for the refuse chute on deck 3. We need it cleared now.”
High above, in the upper section, the spider-drone was clawing its way along a maintenance duct. Just below it, Centurions were running in lines down a long corridor. Crème armour glinting as a green sun set against a curved observation window. They were locking down the exits to the outpost, scanning room by room. Glowing plasma-rifles in hand. The drone jangled along for a few seconds until it found a relay panel on an air compression unit. It released an interface probe.
Down in the disposal system, a grating electronic voice sounded from high above, “Initiating clearing sequence.” The walls shuddered and there was a low sound of gears turning in sequence behind the walls.
“I told you getting that drone was worth it,” Rishard said, grinning.
KLUNK. A hatch came down hard over the opening of the metal tube. Some stuck litter dripped away from the wall, revealing a huge sign in yellow lettering. COMPACTOR: STAY CLEAR.
Rishard held his light up, “Compactor?”
The walls shuddered. THUNK. THUNK. THUNK. The refuse started moving inwards. Swirling, shuddering.
“TELL THAT DRONE TO SHUT IT OFF,” Delta said.
“FF, come in. Turn off compactor 3 now.”
THUNK. The walls continued towards them. Chunks of metal grinding together in the muck.
The electronic voice came through again, “Cannot abort sequence.”
Delta grabbed Richard’s wrist, “You turn it off, bot or I’ll have you melted down to patch my hull.”
KLUNK. The walls slid closer. “Use your light-cutter.” Rishard said, “Get us through that wall!”
Delta tossed Rishard the satchel of chips and then pulled his light-cutter off his belt, a thin metal cylinder. He flicked the safety and pushed a fuse out of the far end. There was a low hum. He pointed to the wall, flicked the trigger, and a brilliant beam of red light cut through the air. It hit the ionized metal, heating it red.
THUNK. The walls shuddered, pushing closer still.
“Hurry up!” Rishard said, climbing a bent solar array. “Widen it.”
“I’ll widen you.” Red, glowing pieces of metal started falling away from the focus point. Dripping, sizzling into the grime. A small, circular hole started growing.
KUUFK. High above, the mechanical voice sounded again, “Core temperature rising. Automated cooldown sequence initiated.” There was a hiss and then a thin stream of white vapour poured into the room just above Delta. He stumbled back and the cutter turned off, plunging the room again into the blue semi-darkness. Rishard slid down the array, the room was vibrating, churning. He knew the smell, liquid Nitrogen. He’d used it countless times. Overloading humidity sensors or patching hull breaches. He grasped the collar of Delta’s overalls and pulled him backwards, away from the vapour. Icicles had already formed around the man’s goggles, continuing down his face. He was dead. Flash-frozen. Angry eyes frosted open.
THUNK. The gas stopped and Rishard looked up at the melted section. The ice had done its job, sealing a toothy hole about the width of a finger. “I’m so sorry,” he said, dropping Delta, the words turning to steam in the cold air. The body slid into the swirling litter.
KUNK. The walls shuddered again. Rishard held up his wrist-light, looking for that cutter, but it was gone. Lost in the refuse.
“FF, come in. Reroute power away from compactor 3.”
“Cannot override clearing sequence.”
KRPT. Metal and machine jumbled higher and higher. Rishard climbed to the top of the room and pushed his back hard against one wall, his feet on the opposite side. He thought of Marcy, her soft brown hair, the trip they were to take after this was all over, the way she always spilt her Astropuffs down her top when she laughed.
THUNK. There was a dull popping sound, like ice popping. Rishard pushed as hard as he could, his knees now at his chin. “FF, engage emergency override!”
“Does not compute.”
THUNK. The walls closed.