Space Sharks by Brandann Hill-Mann

By the time Emmaline hauled her rear-end over the rail of the ship, Dayle and the rest of the crew had slashed the lines to drop the foil sail. Capsizing in space didn’t have the same repercussions as once existed back when sailing meant mist in your face and leagues of blue reflecting blue as far as the eyes could see. That didn’t mean Dayle was eager to do it. Detritus had pierced the sail’s corner while they’d been circumnavigating the space station, waiting for Emmaline’s return.

They’d be stranded on the ridge without the photon sail. Not only stranded, but if Emmaline managed placing the charges on that station, the shifting of the solar wind wasn’t going to be their only problem. That station was a vital hub of communication for the Imperium Fleet. If the blast didn’t get them, an advanced patrol would. Dayle refused to go down like that. Not when they were so close to landing a huge strike against the Imperium. The Imperium with their violent suppression of any hint of dissent on outer rim planets. The Imperium who made certain those same planets and colonies remained dependent on them for resources and medical care with beauracracy. The Imperium who believed they could maintain tighter control if they enforced a militantly atheistic society. Their own hubris made them believe they’d killed not only the gods, but faith in them. It would be that same hubris that would undo them. With a little help from Dayle’s crew. She stomped soundlessly to the quarterdeck, the rest of the crew pushing and shouting gangway!

Fools, they’d been called. Fools for using retrofitted Old Earth sailing ships. Fools for depending on erratic migration patterns of shivers of sharks for backup. But the old ships, even with propulsion sails and RADAR, were muted. Sometimes they were missed by larger, more modern ships, mistaken for debris or chunks of asteroid. That gave them their only edge. They were silent when they needed to go dark, and shutting down all their power systems didn’t leave them dead in the sky.

Unless the sail ripped.

“Why aren’t we moving, Skipper?” Emmaline’s voice crackled, tinny and far away, in Dayle’s sound powered comm. She adjusted the grav settings of her biosuit without looking up.

“Damned sail’s ripped.” Dayle didn’t bother looking for her. She was on the deck. That was good enough. Good enough she wasn’t followed by a patrol. Good enough she was back safely. “FOD through the upper starboard side. Just tell me you got the job done, Em.” Her eyes focused on the gauges and dials of the bridge while Smitty fidgeted, moving fore and aft, taking and logging readings. They weren’t moving, and that always had Smitty’s knickers twisted.

“Those Imperium pricks are gonna have some pretty pretty lights soon.” There was a smile in Em’s voice that Dayle wanted to appreciate. The urgency of the moment wasn’t going to let her.

“Skipper.” Smitty pointed to the heat sensors. “Wind’s pickin’ up. Need to move.”

“And how do you propose we do that? I’m all ears if you got a suggestion.” There was more bite to her words than she’d meant, but sitting still left her brow and pits damp and nothing clenched her jaw more than helplessness. No one wanted to be burned alive at one point six million degrees kelvin. She turned on a heel, watching Jeanie and the others clamoring through the lines. “And I want that sail back up. Yesterday.”

Time didn’t have meaning until they didn’t have any. It was likely they only had fifteen minutes or so to get away unfollowed. Just because they didn’t see a scout didn’t mean they weren’t there. Photon propulsion was efficient and clean but it was also slow, with no FTL. If they were followed, they were dead.

“Bridge, watch.”

Dayle turned her head to give her a view of the crow’s nest. “Watch, bridge. Go ahead.”

“Bridge, watch. Got a shiver.”

A grin flashed across her face as she slammed the button for the horn.

They used the horn when it was just a drill. Every member of the crew reacted by rote whether already in their suits or in their racks inside. That the message now blared that it was not a drill made no difference in how they responded. Everyone had a job. Everyone knew what it was.

“Everyone to their line!” Dayle yelled into the comm in her helmet loud enough to cause feedback in her earpiece. She pulled herself hand over hand from forecastle to rail where the lines were secured in large, neat, coils.

Years of practice made her fingers as adroit in her thick suit gloves as they were otherwise. She effortlessly released the ropes, the large loops of them uncoiling in an upward spiral. The lack of gravity worked in her favor as she tied her bowline around the end, coiled it a few times, and threw it athwart to Emmaline.

She caught it — she always did — then crouched and pushed off the deck with her boot thrusters. Taking her place at the mainsail, Emmaline lashed it in place, waving to the other side where Jeanie signaled the same.

The impact of boots on deck made no sound in space, and they were so weightless they didn’t vibrate the surface. It looked effortless, the silent heave and ho pulled by all hands to the rhythm of the message repeating in their ears. Dayle knew better. The solar wind would soon pass for the orbit they traveled; this cruise, this job, this hope, depended on these rare moments when the schools swam by.

The nets bellied out fore of the prow and bow, held both by chains and lines. Dayle pumped her thrusters and pushed off the deck, catching the top line as she drifted past. It snapped tautly when she bound it in place before shoving from the mast with both arms. Her legs hooked over the crow’s nest and she pulled close enough to wrap her arms around the mast.

The timing played out precisely as they had practiced.

Perfect practice.

Perfect reality.

The sharks scintillated in the dim glow of the lights as they swished by, tails flicking starboard and port, their noses pushing out and filling the nets. The ship jerked forward with a mighty tug.

“We did it, Skipper.” Emmaline’s voice sounded in Dayle’s ear before the woman pulled herself through the ratlines and into the crow’s nest beside her.

“Looks like.” Dayle’s eyes flicked towards her, hindered by the side of her helmet, then ahead of them once again. She reached down and helped Emmaline up through the landlubber’s hole. It was close. Too close. “Almost missed them. We’d be stuck on this rim for who knows how long.” No need to voice the threat they’d barely escaped.

“Can’t have that.” Emmaline leaned shoulder to shoulder against her, watching as some far off body streaked through the horizon, then flickerd into oblivion. There was a trail where it was and then it was gone. “That would be taking “go down with your ship” a little far. Hmm?”

Dayle snorted, making feedback across the comm before she turned, watching Smitty on the rudder. “We’ll be out of range soon.”

Emmaline wiped a hand over her helmet as if she could push the tightly-kinked curl out of her eyes through the shield. The delay between the moving of her lush lips and the sound in Dayle’s comm no longer had a surreal edge to it. “Not too far, though. Don’t want to miss the show.”

She felt the clink of shield against shield as she leaned against Emmaline. A few Earth days and there’d be no suit to stop the incidental touches and there would be warm skin to feel again. For now a tinny-sounding chuckle and a squeeze of gloved hand on gloved hand was going to have to suffice. “Don’t worry. I don’t think we’d be able to miss it if we tried.”

She counted the seconds, watching the world drift away behind them. Ten more. Then nine. She lifted the small remote in her hand and flipped the cap open. Five more. Then four. Emmaline’s hand wrapped around hers, one thumb overlapping the other. Two. One.

They pressed the button down together, and blinked into the bright breath of light.

Brandann R. Hill-Mann is an Anishinaabe, U.S. Navy veteran currently seeing the world on Uncle Sam’s dime. She finds time zones annoying. Brandann likes to wax lyrical and sometimes onanistic about intersectional social politics. She is a shameless fangirl, writer of fiction, wannabe artist, gamer, comic enthusiast, Navy spouse, and parent. She uses her superhuman tolerance for caffeine and chocolate to be a social justice warrior before mortal bedtimes, and believes that being an Aries makes her better than you.

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