IS MCKENNA IN THERE BY HIMSELF?

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Submitted Date 09/19/2022
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Maxim's voice crackled in Ginger's headset. "Crystal Seven, do you read me?" She ignored him and continued programming the weapons safeties and organizing her approach. Her gloved hands moved efficiently over the controls. The tail end of Yeemans was plainly visible in her front window, and it was steadily getting bigger as her ship approached.

"Crystal Seven, do you—"

Ginger pressed her own press-to-talk, interrupting him. "What do you want, Max?"

"You've got visual yet?"

"Yes, yes, I've got visual," she answered back, annoyed. "Now stop bothering me."

"Okay, but be sure you—"

This time, Ginger interrupted him by shutting off the channel, then she switched on Mozart. The opening strains of Violin Concerto Number 4 in D Major began, and she clicked the volume up two clicks as she finalized the security handshaking between Yeemans and her ship. "All right now, let's see what's going on up there," she muttered, activating the approach computer and tensing as the ship accelerated to come alongsideYeemans.

She flipped the ship over so that its canopy was directly above her own; she let her ship float down toward Yeemans, peered up and into Yeeman's cockpit, and saw the top of the pilot's helmet. She flicked the comm channel back on. "Max."

There was a pause, and then Max responded. "You turned your comm link off?"

"I'm over the ship right now," she said. "I can see somebody flying the thing. Is McKenna in there by himself?"

"Supposed to be, but who knows?" Maxim answered. "There are a couple of dozen Vimili missing from the lab."

"What kind of Vimili?"

"Blues. All blues."

Ginger glanced at her console time display. "Those blues won't live long without a yellow. Did he take a yellow?"

"Nope. All the yellows are accounted for," Maxim said. "Look, before you confront him, you should—"

"Crystal Seven out," Ginger cut him off, once again flicking off the comm channel. She turned a dial and then cleared her throat and made a conscious effort to sound calm and approachable. "Yeemans Four, this is Crystal Seven. You in there, Terry Mac?"

After a moment, there was a slight crackle in her headset and she held her breath for a moment, thinking that McKenna's voice would follow—but it did not. After a few more moments, she tried again.

"Yeemans Four, Yeemans Four, this is Crystal Seven, do you read?"

Nothing. She peered up again and watched for movement in Yeemans' cockpit. As far as she could tell, the helmet was stock still. Then there was movement to her left and she looked over to see that Maxim had maneuvered his own ship alongside hers. She could see him under his own canopy. He was holding a hand up, first one finger, then two, then back to one, then he held his hand outstretched to signal five. One two one point five—the emergency frequency. He saw her looking and then he pointed to the side of his helmet and signed 121.5 again.

Ginger sighed and flicked her comm channel over—not to 121.5, but to the usual ship-to-ship frequency. "What do you want, Max?"

"Crystal Seven, base says abort mission, I repeat, abort mission and return to base. I'm going to turn, you turn and follow me."

Oh, for crying out loud, Ginger thought to herself. "What about Terry Mac?"

"I don't know. Base says abort and return. Turning in three…two…one…."

Maxim turned his ship away. Ginger let her ship float up to create room to flip over and had intended to turn when she glanced up one more time, and this time she saw that the inside of Yeemans' canopy was completely occluded by a grainy blue material. Ginger flicked the comm channel "Max! I thought you said there weren't any yellows missing!"

A pause, and then Maxim answered. "That's what the lab said."

"Yeah, well, the blues are reproducing. They've filled up the damn cockpit over there, I can see them through the canopy." She deftly maneuvered her ship around and under Yeemans and raised up against it, docking against Yeemans' hatch. "I'm going to go in and kill them."

"No!" Maxim said. "Wait a minute, let me—"

Ginger flicked the comm channel off again, pulled the quick releases on her harness and spun the chair around. In a moment, she was out of her flight boots and socks. She stood up and peeled off her flightsuit, dropping it on the floor, then wriggled out of her underwear and strode out of the cockpit, down the corridor, and into the hatch room. She yanked open the weapons locker, assembled the big flamethrower, and shouldered it. She climbed up the ladder to the hatch door and entered the open code into the panel; the hatch slid back to reveal the exterior of Yeemans' hatch and its lock keypad. Now what the hell is the code? She closed her eyes, trying to remember from the last time she had flown Yeemans.

Ginger entered the six digits and pressed the button—wrong code. Damn it. Back down the ladder, she toggled the comm channel there in the hatch room. "Maxim! What's the code to get in?"

"I'm not telling you that, Ginger! You can't go in there if the blues are breeding."

"I took my clothes off, dammit. I know what I'm doing. Give me the code!"

"No."

"Give me the code or I'm going to blast the hatch open."

"Blast it, then. I'm not giving you the code."

"Fine!" Ginger didn't bother to flick the comm circuit off, but instead put the flamethrower on the deck and opened a drawer below the locker. She plucked one of the grenades out of the drawer, climbed back up the ladder, and placed the grenade onto Yeemans' hatch, turned it on, and activated its magnetic attach. Then she keyed in a countdown—120 seconds—and pressed go. The grenade blinked green, and then red, blinking in time with the count that appeared on its face. She closed her own hatch, climbed down the ladder and stepped back into the cockpit to get her own ship out of there.

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