The Fourth Fleet - Lyonesse

You haven't felt fear until you've been left to die in a giant tin can, one point two billion kilometers from home. The last thing we heard from the pirates was their laughter as they slammed the hatch shut. Then we watched out the tiny windows in terror as they flew away.

We did a thorough inventory of everything they'd left us. It wasn't much. Our batteries would last us a day or two – and we could probably extend that to a week if we powered down everything non-essential. But they hadn't left us any fuel to get anywhere, and they'd taken most of the oxygen, too. We weren't sure yet how much they'd left us. Our harvest – hydrogen and helium rich gases we'd mined out of Neptune's upper atmosphere – was by far the most valuable thing we'd had on board. They'd taken it first.

They hadn't left much beyond that, either. Not that we'd had a whole lot to start with. Every ounce of weight was extra money. Lots of extra money, when you shipped it all the way out to Neptunian space. Our little gas mining vessel didn't have a lot of extra niceties. Just enough to keep me and my two brothers alive for our two year contract.

We had about a day's worth of food in the crew stores. My brother John had a handful of meal bars that he'd brought on at our last resupply. We'd mocked him at the time for spending most of his per diem trying to put back on all the weight that a tightly rationed space diet had finally helped him shed. Now we wished he'd bought more. A couple of flashlights, the clothes on our backs, two rolls of spacer tape, and a smattering of random tools that hadn't been properly put away fleshed out our meager belongings.

We did what we could anyway. We powered down most of our systems, instituted emergency food rationing, and limited our activity to preserve the little water and air we had left. We even deployed the solar panels for extra juice, although they wouldn't do us very much good this far into the outer solar system. We'd take anything we could get. But we didn't really have any hope. Without any propulsion, we weren't going anywhere.

Everything changed when Simon tried to power down the harvester.

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