11 09 2009

Manuel and Brandon stepped from the passageway into a long compartment lined with opalescent glass coffers. Within each container stood an astronaut of a by-gone age. The fourth box had a crack in the glass with a white vapor seeping out like breath on a cold morning. Manuel went to it and peered into the milky window. There was a man inside, or what was left of one.

“Brandon, take a look at this. This has to be recent damage, like within the last couple years. There should be a lot more decay . . . ” Suddenly his windpipe was cut off and he couldn’t breathe. There was pressure on his throat and he realized it was his rifle strap. He reached up with both hands behind his head and felt Brandon there. He probed with his thumbs for the eyes, but Brandon pulled himself back out of reach. Manuel dug his fingers between the sling and his neck and wrenched at it. He managed to pull it away just enough to get a jagged choking sound out. Brandon now had both hands on the rifle. Manuel dropped to one knee and Brandon placed his foot in Manuel’s back in order to get more leverage.

It was a mistake. Manuel stood suddenly, knocking Brandon completely off balance. He maintained his grip on the rifle despite being thrown sideways. The straps crossed, completely closing off his airway. Both men fell to the ground. Manuel caught Brandon just below the ribcage with an elbow as he tumbled on top of him. Brandon’s hands loosened on the rifle; Manuel tore it off of his neck and rolled over to his hands and knees. He gasped for breath, his throat feeling like a kinked duct hose.

Brandon was on his own back on the floor, his breath a rasping struggle. He began pushing with his legs and sliding along the deck toward the spot he had deposited his own rifle. His ability to breathe returned after a couple seconds. He sat up and looked into Manuel’s eyes. An expression of surprise was slowly morphing into rage.

Manuel stood up still wheezing, his shoulders moving up and down slightly on either side of his flexing back. Manual jerked his head to the side with a loud crack. His eyes filled with the hate of a wild beast and he stalked forward.

It was an intimidating sight for Brandon who still sat upon the ground. Manuel had him by a good fifty pounds and ten centimeters. He already knew the power of one of his punches and was loathe to subject himself to one. Brandon brought the rifle to bear without taking his eyes off of the approaching titan.

Manuel stopped in his tracks and his eyes grew larger as he saw the rifle come up. “Hey, now,” he managed.

“I don’t know why I don’t just shoot you in the back.” He pulled the trigger and a flash of energy leapt from the tip of the gun, catching Manuel square in the chest. The effect was instantaneous as Manuel dropped to the ground in a heap.

Brandon got slowly to his feet. A wicked grin spread uncontained upon his face. He took several moments to recover his breath and regain his composure. He clicked the com-link on. “Jason, Brandon here. There’s been a bit of an accident down here.”

“What kind of accident,” Jason’s voice crackled back.

“Electrical. One of the panels exploded. I’m afraid Manuel caught the brunt of it. He’s dead.” Brandon had just the right amount of soberness in his voice. “The life support system on the units down here gave out centuries ago, just a lot of glass coffins filled with bones.”

Silence. Finally, Jason’s voice came back on the line. “Understood. We’ve found the engine room, we could use your help inventorying the equipment here.”

“I’ll be right there, Brandon out.” He surveyed his work dully and stepped over Manuel’s body on the way out the door.






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