The Winking Skull

     by Aidee Ladnier

thewinkingskull
The weak beacon pulsed in time to Hester’s heartbeat. She’d been alone on board the derelict ship for three weeks now.

 

The weak beacon pulsed in time to Hester’s heartbeat. She’d been alone on board the derelict ship for three weeks now.

She switched off the all frequency distress call. Her five minutes were up. She daren’t risk a longer signal with her dwindling energy stores. Her orbit decay started accelerating the day before and she prayed a ship from the cargo lanes would hear her soon or her craft would crash into the icy, deserted planetoid below her.

“Hello, is anybody in there?”

The static from the radio almost obscured the words. Maybe she just hoped that’s what they said.

Hester dove for the comm mike.

“Yes! Yes, this is Siren’s Wail sierra sierra delta dash two niner three eight. Mayday. Massive ship wide casualty. I repeat, mayday, massive ship wide casualty. I am in distress. My life support and communication are the only functioning systems left on my craft.”

The static burned her ears but Hester strained to puzzle out the garbled response. She stared at the blank view screens wishing the outside cameras still functioned. Were they close? Were they able to pinpoint her location?

A reassuring thud echoed against the ship’s hull making her jump. Stumbling as the shudder of the docking ship pushed her craft sideways, she grabbed hold of the console to keep from spilling out of her chair.

“Oh thank God.” Hester sprinted down the dark passageway toward the airlock. She skidded to a stop in front of the tiny porthole. Two figures clad in familiar black United Van Allen Mining jumpsuits attached energy cables to the airlock ports to power the dead ship’s entrance.

Hester stepped back, the lights and systems one by one winking back on in the tiny ship. The airlock exhaled a soft shush as it slid open.

The two spacers waited for the airlock to close again before unfastening their helmets.

A man in his thirties swiped a hand through his sweaty hair and grinned at Hester, eyeing the ripped bodice of her jumpsuit. He licked his lips.

Hester pulled at the torn material to try to cover herself, but instead the fabric gaped wider around her fingers. A mishap with a panel wall while rewiring the comm into the life support system had ripped her suit down the center exposing the roundness of both unsupported breasts. He was obviously enjoying the show.

“I’m so glad you’re here. Are you—” She hesitated wetting her lips with a dart of her tongue.

“I assure you, hon, we’re the cavalry. Anything you need.” He stepped closer into her space, his dimpled smile pulling back to show white, even teeth. “Dan Carbocheck of United Van Allen Mining security.” He held out his hand, but when Hester didn’t extend hers in greeting he reached out and grabbed it in a shake. “You’re lucky we were escorting the ore train past this sector. We only switched to this route last month.”

The second figure pulled off her helmet. The older woman pushed streaky gray hair away from face. She rolled her eyes.

Hester pulled her hand from Security Officer Carbocheck’s enthusiastic handshake and nodded to the older woman.

“I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to her.” Hester barely suppressed the elated grin that threatened to over take her.

Carbocheck’s forehead creased in a frown. “What? Old Essie here? I’m in charge of the detail. She’s just backup.”

Hester moved closer to the older woman, a smile on her lips. “I know where I’d like to back you up, Esmeralda. Did you have any trouble securing the crew?”

“None.” The older woman’s smooth voice held a hint of laughter. “United Van Allen Mining quashed the latest bid to unionize. I simply outlined our health and dental plan.”

“What?” Carbocheck’s gaze bounced from one woman to the other. “What’s going on here?”

Hester wrapped her fist in the front of Esmeralda’s suit and yanked her into a scorching kiss. When she pulled away panting, Esmeralda’s hands squeezed her waist in a familiar gesture.

The last three weeks had been lonelier than Hester had expected. She missed her undercover first mate and wanted her back under her own covers.

Hester wiped a thumb along Esmeralda’s full wet lower lip, smirking as her lover’s eyes darkened with anticipation. “What do you say we go greet our newest recruits.”

“Aye, aye, Captain.” Esmeralda bit Hester’s lip, soothing it again in a sliding kiss.

“Now wait just one minute.” Carbocheck shook himself out of his stunned silence and unholstered his slicer, training it on the women. “I want answers and I want them now.”

“It won’t work.” Esmeralda nodded at the gun. “I disabled it before we boarded.”

“Sure it does.” Carbocheck pointed it toward the inner passage wall and pressed the trigger. The gun didn’t even offer a satisfying click. He reached for his shoulder comm. “Mayday, mayday, there are hostiles aboard this ship. ”

A crackle and a pop met his words. Esmeralda shrugged.

Hester opened a door in the passageway. “In here, please.”

“No! This is piracy. I will not—”

Esmeralda clocked him on the chin and he crumpled to the floor.

“I told you he wouldn’t go quietly.” Esmeralda squatted to help Hester yank him out of his suit.

“Yeah, yeah. Help me shove him in the closet.” Hester heaved one of his bare legs. “I’m ready for a nice hot shower and a hotter bedmate, thank you. I signaled the patrol when you docked so we need to hurry.”

“Always with the hurrying, Hester. This vacation was supposed to relax you, not make you tenser.”

“I did catch up on my reading. Oooomph!” Hester pushed the door closed on the unconscious man. She snatched up the discarded Van Allen suit and climbed into it, hands tangling with Esmeralda’s as they fastened her inside. “Did you bring my brand?”

“Right here.” Esmeralda handed her the branding laser and Hester smiled. She whirled and pulled the trigger.

When the smoke cleared, a winking skull and crossbones grinned from the closet door. But the women didn’t see it, because their ships had already zoomed away.

Copyright 2016, Aidee Ladnier. All rights reserved.