Re-Coil - J.T. Nicholas

To die, to sleep—

To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub;

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause: there’s the respect

That makes calamity of so long life.


The derelict vessel drifted against endless darkness.

I made no sound as I walked along the ship’s surface in the sliding shuffle forced by magnetic boots, nothing but electrical charge and the ferrous content of the hull keeping me from spinning away into the deep. My ship was out there, too, of course, a hundred meters away and matching vectors with the wreck. Not that it mattered. If something went wrong while I was EVA, they might as well be back on Earth.

I kept the slow, steady shuffle, making sure one boot latched firmly before sending the mental command through my personal Net that deactivated the electromagnet in the second and sliding it forward in turn. Rinse. Repeat. Slow and steady and, most importantly, survivable.

It took almost fifteen minutes, but I found myself before the airlock door. With a thought, the miniature spotlight mounted on the shoulder of my suit blazed to life, bathing the door in harsh white light. The beam revealed pocking along the hull, not unexpected given that the ship could have been drifting through the system for decades. But it also caught the edges of three almost perfectly circular holes, two centimeters in diameter, and arrayed in a neat triangle, near the door’s center.

Analysis, Sarah, I thought.

My agent’s voice—a contralto programmed to be calm, soothing, and always well modulated—came back at once, resonating in the depths of my mind, from the place that I always associated with my Net implant. Diameter, twenty-two millimeters. The smoothness suggests a cutting laser, though there are no signs of metal fatigue. Certain drills would also be possible, though it would be difficult to maneuver them into position outside of a shipyard. The holes are equidistant from one another and placed to form a perfect isosceles triangle measuring thirty point four-eight centimeters per side.

“Did it come from the inside, or the outside?” I asked aloud, my voice hollow and tinny in the vacc suit’s helmet.

“Say again, Langston.”

This voice didn’t sound from the depths of my own mind, but rather crackled to life over the vacc suit’s speakers. “Wait one, Miller,” I replied, staving off the issue for the moment. Sarah?

Insufficient data, the agent responded.

“Great,” I muttered. “You getting this, Persephone?”

Miller’s voice came back. “Roger that, Langston. Got three holes punched in the side. We’ve been running the data through the Persephone, but we’ve got nothing.”

“Yeah. Sarah’s coming up dry, too.”

“Your call.”

It wasn’t much of a choice, really. The Persephone was a small ship, outfitted for salvage operations, with a crew of just four souls. Miller piloted, Harper ran the heavy equipment, Chan was our techno-wiz, and I was the lucky SOB who got to play EVA specialist. When we could get close to space junk, it was normally Harper’s show—they drove the mechanical arms and cutters that could crack open any debris that didn’t need the finer touch of a direct human hand and bring it aboard the Persephone, leaving Chan and me to pull off the small bits in relative comfort. But when the junk went tumbling and spinning, it was my job to get over to it, try to stabilize it for the Persephone to approach, and if that wasn’t possible, grab whatever was worth the most creds.

We’d been working together for a few years now, going out a couple of months at a time and laying claim to what salvage we could find. Lately, we’d been finding a lot of nothing. Scrap metal that barely kept fuel in the Persephone’s tanks and flavorless synth-soy in her larders. I couldn’t speak for my crewmates—when we left the ship, we tended to go our separate ways until the next mission—but I could certainly use the creds. Coil premiums were coming due, and as things stood, I had enough in my free balance to cover them, but only just. I really didn’t want to go into arrears. A derelict vessel on a ballistic trajectory into Sol was too good a find to pass up.

“Roger that, Persephone. I’m going in.”

“Be safe. And keep the video streaming.”

“Will do.”

I turned my attention back to the airlock door. The exterior of the ship didn’t tell us much. Starship design hadn’t changed significantly over the past hundred years or so. They say that technology used to change much faster, growing