I took my last breath and slapped the nanite kit on my arm. A rush of microscopic machines rushed into my bloodstream as I punched the emergency vent release. There was a thunk and I was pushed out by the remaining gases in the airlock into the emptiness beyond. It sounded like a freight train, but that was just the blood rushing in my ears, intensified by the incredible silence of space. I floated lazily away from the side of the massive vessel, lights flicking across the hull as the power surged in each section and overloaded and shut down in cycles.
I was in full-on panic already, I wasn’t trained for this, wasn’t prepared for this. Within 30 seconds I felt the urge to breathe. I’d lost all control over my ascent and the escaping air had produced considerably less thrust than I’d hoped. At least I wasn’t stuck in a spin this time.
I was drifting farther from the hull, I knew there was a small navsat in forced orbit around the bigger vessel, my hope was to catch it. It was a crazy idea, a stupid idea, an impossible chance.
My diaphragm convulsed involuntarily and the last of my air seeped out, I gasped for breath, my lungs heaved but there was nothing to fill them. A mostly forgotten part of my lizard brain flicked on and I felt myself drowning, each “breath” confusing my poor lizard brain even more as I “filled” with nothing. I breathed in and out faster and faster, but there was no oxygen to hyperventilate on. I couldn’t tell how long I’d been out there, the sound of my heartbeat was steadily getting louder and faster, with nothing else to block out the sound it filled my world.
Through the panic and adrenaline pouring through my veins I laugh a glimpse of the navsat thrusters as it swooped past in the distance. I sluggishly remembered my wrist pad before it went over the hull horizon and sent the course correction that should bring it into my arc. My body started twitching involuntarily and there were spots in my vision. I should have passed out but the nanites kept me on the jagged edge of consciousness. I imagined I could feel my brain cells flickering out and then being repeatedly resuscitated by the nanites.
I forced myself to focus. I was delirious but I wasn’t done yet. My vision was blurry from tears with nowhere to go, my fingers tingled and yet were numb. I wiped my eyes and looked at my wrist pad. The navsat had circled several times and was getting close. It hit signal horizon and I sent it a new command to decrease velocity on approach to the foreign object on its radar. An agonizing interval passed where I must have lost consciousness and then I felt something nuzzle me, adrenaline hit my system, the nanites responded, and my eyes focused. The navsat’s hull was hot to the touch, it had just been sun-side of the larger vessel. There was a small collection of handholds for maintenance workers, but they were sparse, I made my way as quickly as my addled brain and numb fingers would let me. Surely my nanites were about at the end of their rope.
I climbed around on the navsat and finally found the hatch, I used my wrist pad to unlock the airlock and climbed inside. It wasn’t even big enough to stand in, I had to crouch, I pulled the hatch shut with a trembling arm and pushed the big glowing button. I could *feel* the air on my skin, every hair stood on end, air currents were like shocks of electricity against them. I kept gasping and heaving and slowly oxygen found its way into my bloodstream, my body was fire as the nerves came back online with the help of the nanites. I felt it crawl like rigor mortis through my body from my core slowly out to my fingertips.
I must have blacked out from the pain, exertion, or oxygen deprivation. I woke up to find myself sobbing in the fetal position, I snapped awake and found myself almost overcome with claustrophobia. I came close to hitting the emergency airlock release again. I checked my wrist pad, I’d been in the vacuum for almost an hour, and another 3 drifting in and out of consciousness in the airlock as the nanites mended the damage.
I opened the inner door of the airlock, it wasn’t much more spacious inside, it hadn’t been designed for much more than supporting a basic maintenance crew of one or two people for a few hours. The oxygenated environment was conducive to repairs and meant a lot of the components could be off-the-shelf instead of vacuum hardened, but the tradeoff was debatable. I was in no position to complain. If anyone had noticed the course correction that’d have been it for me. I’d have floated forever. Dying horribly as the nanites cannibalized my body to feed my brain, until all that remained would be mummified and lifeless, and eventually pulled into the gravity well of the local star. I closed the airlock door and shuddered at the thought.
Still groggy I pushed my way through the narrow gaps between racks of hardware. There were some emergency MREs and water stashed halfheartedly behind a neon red cross, the provided bunk was little more than a foil bag with two hooks. The last maintenance run left a splash in the bottom of a whiskey bottle. I downed it without pausing or thinking. I pulled some webbing out of a nearby panel and fashioned myself a workspace and strapped myself in. I wasn’t out of danger yet, I pulled my computer out of my backpack and strapped it all into the webbing. I pulled a hardline out of a data port and plugged it into a mate on a navsat rack. My hands were still trembling, but it took me less than 5 minutes to get into the system and take over. I cut comms to the vessel below and wiped all the access codes, generated a new key signature, and started working on a set of credentials before turning the comms back on. I used the old key to log back into the mothership’s system and see what access I had. Enough, it turned out. I dropped a payload where the system would trigger it automatically and give me unfettered access to a number of systems. I wasn’t sure when it’d trigger so I set up an alarm and hooked the sleeping bag into the webbing, dropping off to sleep almost immediately.