"Look at what I found!" Marney stood beside Rudy and held up Knopf's gun with the tips of her thumb and fingers, as if it had recently been extracted from a pachyderm's rectum. "This is what was hurting my hip."

   "I'll take that." Rudy grabbed the gun, and stepped clear of the console to allow Marney access, while he checked the weapon. "I'm going to need your help getting this arm in a sling or something. I almost passed out from the pain a minute ago. Then I need you to get on to systems repairs, shunts, and everything else you can think of to get us moving again. And see if you can get some of this smoke cleared out of here."

   "Fine, but we have to deal with those two." She nodded toward Terry. Rudy could hear her swallow a sob. "I don't think I can just sit here and work with them there, like that." While he watched she was starting to tear and fold some material for bandages.

   "I'll see what I can do. Marney, you're the second officer now, so please stay focused. We aren't out of this yet." He thought of saying more to cheer her, but he had to stifle a scream as another jab of pain shot through his shoulder. She was already fashioning a makeshift sling, and he winced again as she moved his left arm to place it against his chest. She finished tying it snugly and turned back to the console. He started feeling better almost immediately, and could already hear blowers working, and saw smoke thinning as cleaner air flowed in. He moved both bodies into the corridor by dragging them by their collars. He was just about to place them in the exec.'s cabin when he heard a banging sound coming from his office directly across the hall.

   The captain's office door, like all doors and hatches on board, had closed automatically with the collision, and remained sealed against possible decompression. He stood there for a moment trying to determine the source of the sound when he realized that it wasn't mechanical, but the sound of someone hitting an object against the wall in there. Several things raced through his mind, but opening the door immediately wasn't the first. He returned to the bridge quickly to tell Marney about the sound, before returning with the gun in his hand. He contacted Janeane again on the handheld to find that she was still trying to dock the tug. He apprised her of the new development as well. Janeane strongly urged him to wait for her, as there was no telling how many armed thugs may have made it that far. After a moment's consideration he decided to open the door, ready with the gun.

   The door slid open with a hiss to reveal a confusing mess of books, paper, furniture and smashed equipment scattered everywhere. Lying against the wall was Maitland, gun in hand, waiting for the door to open. Rudy quickly took this entire scene in with a darting glance before bobbing his head back outside to the safety of the corridor. Maitland, white as a sheet, was barely propped against the wall, and the gun in his hand was not pointed at anything, but seemed to be the source of the tapping.

   The door remained open, and Rudy spoke loudly from around the corner, out of sight. "Mr. Maitland. Nice to see you're still with us." After a pause, and no reply, he continued, "We seem to have a slightly different situation, now, than I think you anticipated. Nevertheless, there's still the matter of the contract. I intend to collect everything owed, plus damages for the ship, personal injury, and a major cash settlement for Terry. How do you suggest we proceed?"

   A brief pause was followed by what seemed to be silent, almost breathless laughter. Maitland coughed once, then wheezed out the words, "f…fuck you."

   "Well, that's a start, at least." Rudy said. "Seriously, though. You're the last of your people here, you look pretty hurt, and I definitely want what I'm owed."

   Maitland seemed to rally a little, and sounded stronger when he said, "Oh, you'll get what's coming to you. You just don't get it do you? I'm a Wiede! You know: 'the Weeds.' Only I'm a member of the original founding family. We're big. We're corporate. More of my people will be here shortly, and we'll just finish what we started. We'll find you no matter what. So enjoy your little reprieve."

   Rudy was about to reply when his pocket comm signaled him. He keyed the audio, and heard Janeane's voice. "Captain, I've worked my way through the ship to the main hatch leading to the command deck. I'm standing on the other side of that hatch now, but Rudy, we've got another situation developing."

   "Go ahead, Janeane. I'm just having a friendly chat with Mr. Maitland here by my office. It's OK to talk."

   "Maitland?! You should probably get back the bridge and seal it, I'll open this hatch once you're in, and vent the hall and office to space. Should solve the problem, right?"

   Rudy smiled as he answered, "Thanks but there really isn't any problem for the moment, but you've given me a good idea for getting out of here. What's the other situation?"

   "The box." She replied. "Someone's in there. I did the helmet contact thing to listen, and I heard sounds. I banged, and they banged back. Neither of us were up on our Morse code, but I think they're in trouble. It could be Jukka or Arne, but my guess is they're running out of air, or freezing to death. Maybe both. Not much is working down there."

   Rudy paused to think for a moment before giving her new orders. "OK, Janeane. We have to get them out fast. It could be a medical emergency, too, we all got pretty banged up on board, Maitland included from the looks of him. Marney and I will see if we can get them some air and warmth from up here. I need you to go below them, to the cargo master's office to see if you can get them out safely from the lower hatch. Be careful as hell. If it is Arne and/or Jukka, get them straight over to the tug. I sure hope you found some more suits."

   "Two shiny new crisis vac suits, courtesy of the BABEL-17." Janeane said. "They should be enough to get them to safety, if I can get to them."

   "Then find a way to make it happen. We'll be OK here for awhile, as long as nobody hostile shows up. Stay in touch." He thought he heard more wheezing laughter from the office, but he couldn't be certain. "Now, where were we Mr. Maitland…ah yes, my financial settlement…."

   "Not 'Maitland', you idiot. Wiede. I'm Martin Wiede. And your name doesn't matter, 'cause you're dead."

   "Whatever. Listen carefully, Wiede. Here's what I want…"

   He heard a loud popping sound from the direction of the bridge, and when he looked in that direction, he saw a shower of sparks raining down on the deck plates from the ceiling of the bridge. Lights flickered briefly before stabilizing. "Marney." He shouted down the corridor. "What's going on up there?"

   Marney shouted back, though she sounded very far away, making him wonder about pressure loss. "It's OK. I'm just trying to get some power back to more systems, but I'm a pilot, not an engineer."

   "I'll be right there. In the meantime, get to work on restoring functions to the box. Arne or Jukka might be alive in there." Rudy looked into the office for a second time to see that Maitland hadn't moved. Wiede's gun was resting on limp, unclasped fingers on the floor. He noticed a trickle of blood at the corner of the man's mouth. "I have to go help my pilot of the bridge Mr. Maitland… sorry, Wiede. In the meantime, here's something for you to consider: In return for sparing your life, I want the location of the base you were so reluctant to share with us earlier, the tug that's left, the cash we were contracted to receive, and safe passage."

   This time he definitely heard a wheezing laugh from the office. "Anything else?" Wiede managed to say. This was followed by a series of painful sounding coughs. Wiede finally replied again with, "What are you going to do if I don't comply, kill me? You definitely haven't got it in you."

   "Don't be so sure. Not when it comes to my ship and my crew. Besides, from where I stand, I won't have to do a thing. You're in pretty bad shape. Lots of pain, right? You'll probably be dead in a couple of hours, anyway. Maybe sooner. Looks like internal bleeding to me. Point is, we can give you some meds to try to help you, or we can just wait here to see if you get better all by yourself."

   "Why do you need anything from me?" Wiede managed to utter after groaning. "Why trust the word of a pirate to give you anything?"

   "Insurance. To be honest, I don't trust anything you say. I'm not really holding out for cash or a promise of safe passage, either. The tug is pretty much ours anyway. But the location is something I can hold onto for awhile. The question I'm asking myself is 'why am I showing mercy to the man who murdered my friend in cold blood?' Give me a reason, Wiede. What are the coordinates of that base?" This was followed by silence, so Rudy spoke again. "Are you sure you want to die like this: slowly and painfully, on an unarmed crappy old freighter with no cargo; one you couldn't even capture from an unarmed crew? Some legendary pirate! How do you think this will effect your clan's reputation? I'm telling you, we can patch you up and send you home, and no one will be the wiser. I just want a little short-term insurance. What do you say?"

   He could hear breathing, but Wiede may have lost consciousness. Another quick glance around the corner into his office proved to be an almost fatal mistake. The gunshot was loud, and the slug bounced off the edge of the doorframe, back into the room somewhere. The shock of the close call caused Rudy to freeze in the corridor for a moment, and his breathing was very shallow and fast. Maybe the pressure was dropping after all. He heard Marney shriek from the bridge, in response to the gunshot, then saw her head peer down the corridor at him. He removed the antique watch from his wrist and held the glass face out beyond the doorframe. The reflection on the surface revealed a barely conscious man lying limp on the floor, the gun fallen from his hand. That act of defiance must have cost him his last bit of energy.

   "OK, Wiede. We do it the hard way. Those coordinates are probably somewhere on the BABEL-17, aren't they? And I didn't really think you were going to give me anything. I just wanted to see how afraid you were of dying like that. See ya." Rudy listened and waited a moment before turning to head back toward the bridge. He thought he heard a whisper.

   "Wait." Wiede was barely audible.

   "I'm waiting." Rudy replied.

   "Get me to your MedBed, I need help. And give me a moment on your communications station."

   "Sorry, that would be 'no' on both accounts. The MedBed is on the other side of some hard vaccuum, and the comms are shot. I'll get the first aid stuff from the bridge, though. Just give me those coordinates. My insurance policy. Our little secret."

   "Mmm…p…painkillers."

   "Sure, I'll be right back. Before I do, one last question: Are you sure you're done shooting at me?" Rudy asked. All he got was more silence. Since there was no point in waiting, he headed toward the bridge, where he could hear Marney swearing at a console.

   "I'm getting fluctuating pressure readings everywhere." Marney said. "I think we're bleeding air. Except for the section by the cargo master's suite. Pressure seems to be building there."

   "That'll be Janeane trying to get to the box." Rudy said as he fumbled for the first-aid kit one-handed. "What's the differential you're seeing elsewhere?"

   "Point oh-two. But it's dropping steadily." Marney replied. "I suppose its not surprising considering the hit we took."

   "No, but we do need to act fast to isolate and seal leaks. I'm already noticing the difference in the air." He grabbed a handful of medications, after swallowing a pill himself, and headed back toward the exit. "What about the box? Could you do anything?"

   "I'm afraid not." Marney answered. "If Janeane doesn't get there soon, there won't be much point."

   "Stay on it, and keep trying everything and anything. Get on that pressure drop, too." Rudy then stepped back into the corridor to return to his office and it's occupant. He peered quickly into the room, only to realize that their uninvited guest was unconscious. He hopped into the room and kicked the gun spinning across the floor into a pile of books and papers, and bent down to face his adversary.

   "Wiede. Can you hear me? I've got something here that'll help. Where's your base?" The man was completely unconscious, and barely breathing. His colour was particularly disconcerting, as well. Rudy pocketed the drugs and activated the pocket comm. "Janeane. Report."

   "I'm almost there." She said. "I'm re-pressurizing the access tube now, so I can open the ceiling hatch to get up to them. I'll be another minute or so."

   "Don't dawdle. We couldn't do anything from here. Our readings aren't good either." Rudy cautioned.

   "Understood. I'm still getting some tapping, though. How's Maitland?"

   Rudy paused to examine the pirate more closely at that moment. His answer was definitive. "Dead. Must've died just now. Can't really say we'll miss him, can we?" After another brief pause, Rudy continued, "Janeane, just get whoever's left to safety, then try to come back here for us. We're losing pressure, and I want to be better dressed for the occasion when it happens. Remind me to keep some crisis vac suits stored on the bridge from now on, OK?"

   "Sure thing, chief." Janeane replied. "Pressure has equalized. I'm going up the ladder now." He could hear her breathing change as she clambered up then banged on the hatch. A few more moments passed as he imagined her opening the hatch and entering the box. He heard her whisper "Shit" to herself, then her breathing really picked up as she started getting the suits opened and prepped.

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