Fuel Cells by Neil Cladingboel

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SUMMARY: Sometimes, pushing yourself to the limit when you really need a break isn't always the best course of action, no matter how much you need the money!

Taken from 'Tale Spin and Visions of Transition'

Equilibrium Books (Aust.) ISBN 1-920764-44-5

Copyright © 2001, 2003 Neil Charles Cladingboel.


It was supposed to be my last run before a well-earned vacation Earthside. A simple delivery of Cryo-Cons to the Moonshadow Penitentiary Complex. I didn't usually do government transports but the pay was good, and besides, I was going home tomorrow; at least, that's what I thought!

I didn't usually like carrying iceblocks either-that was our name for the Cryo-Cons-the worst of Earth's criminals, deep-frozen inside cryostat cells for off-world transportation. Most of the short-haul shuttle pilots avoided convict cargoes-especially the non-frozen ones, although these were rare now, permitted for minimum risk cons only-but I needed the money.

This would be my second iceblock delivery to the moon and would more than pay for my much-needed break. The run was just short enough not to push me over my allowable hours. The Moonshadow Base comptrollers were very particular about pilots not exceeding their hours; three strikes and they pulled your license! I already had two, of course. We all try to push the limits; the trick is not to get caught, especially when you're down to your last warning! But I was safe for this run, providing there were no delays. I guess I should have known better.

I was about two hours from the base when my neural-monitor alerted me to a sudden pressure drop in the cargo hold. All other systems checked out okay and there was no apparent breach in the shuttle's outer skin. A pressure drop was strange, especially without a hull breach, and more than likely a false alarm.

Still, Moonshadow policy required me to log the warning and go below to check it out. I hated Company policy; it meant I'd have to suit up, just in case. I was lazy, sure, but not that lazy. I didn't plan on sucking vacuum so close to a vacation, so reluctantly, I unpacked my pressure suit.

#

The cargo hold was eerily silent, yet seemed quite normal as I walked along the catwalk looking down at the plasglass cryotanks. The naked convicts appeared more dead than suspended; yet all their neural-collars were green, indicating no obvious malfunctions. I was about to curse the antiquated bathtub and head back to the 'pit when I heard a clanging sound that seemed to be coming from outside the shuttle. I froze; listening for it again, yet heard nothing. I waited for a couple of minutes, but still heard nothing.

I turned around on the catwalk and headed back towards the hatch. That must have been when I was hit. I remember a sharp and sudden pain at the base of my skull just before I blacked out. I don't know how long I was out for, but as my eyes started to clear and my brain reminded me how much my head ached, the realization gradually filtered into my mind: escape-rare, yet not impossible. One of the iceblocks must have thawed out; at least, that was what I thought.

Shaking off my stupor, I climbed down to the tanks, feeling for my stun gun, and was surprised to find it still holstered.

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