Hard KnockMature

Will's arm strained against the lever and it gave way. The hatch before him shuddered in silence and dust floated from its seams when it shot outward and disappeared above the opening. "Stack up." He said over the mic.

The men behind him ordered themselves and grasped each other on a raised guard at the nape of the armor.

Will clung to either side of the hatch. The thrusters of the Zephyr were still burning, slowing the ship as it orbited the Bethesda's aft section. "Dismounting." He said, pulling himself out of the hatch.

Every man in the column used their free hand to pull against the frame of the hatch as they passed it. The chain of bodies shot out of the Zephyr and made their way into open space.

Kevin was the last man hurtled through the doorway and he pushed against the ramp with his feet for one final burst of speed. The vibration of the hull coursed through his suit and was the last thing he heard before breaking free of the Zephyr. He rotated in the weightlessness of space and stared up at the long neck of the gunboat on which the cockpit rested.

Logan was jostled as the burning thrusters and main engines were screaming at him. He rattled in his chair from the turbulence, flicked several emergency valves and cut flow from tiers in the reactor to prevent overheating of manifolds. He looked down through the canopy at his feet, its frame blurred by the vibrations. He saw the string of darkness that blotted out the stars in the background. "I see you." He said, giving the thumbs up to Kevin who he knew was staring back at him.

Kevin extended his arm, one finger raised from his clenched fist.

Logan shook his head. "Asshole." He said, still vibrating in his seat as he punched a button that closed the hatch on the ramp. He pulled the nose up and fired the main engines for a couple seconds before letting the Zephyr drift away from the Bethesda.

Carter leaned over and looked at the position of the turret. "Chris. Anything out there?"

"Nothing." Chris replied, his eyes glued to the scopes of the turret. "Doug?"

Doug too, had his helmet pressed against the scopes. "Nope."

Chris backed away from the periscope and looked over his other instruments. Aside from the seven heat signatures drifting toward the Bethesda, there was no activity to speak of. "Looks like we're all alone Sergeant."

"That's what I want to hear."

The sound of his heart pounded in his head as Will drifted toward the hull. He felt a tug, his men were rearranging themselves into an assault formation. He could see them moving on his heads up display. They moved in a deliberate fashion; emerging into formation with practiced ease.

Kevin and Michael had drifted off to the flanks with their heavy weapons while the other four took up each corner of a slowly expanding square. The formation continued to bloom as the seven fell toward the hull at an oblique angle. Since Will was the anchor of the formation, he was now moving more slowly and sunk into the center of the square, his men gradually passing him.

Rob was the first to arrive. He turned his body with a short burst from his suit's thrusters and made contact with his breastplate grazing against the hull.

Cody and Andrew were next, also manoeuvering to slide along the hull against their chests.

"Alright." Will came over the means. "Twenty meters up, there's a maintenance hatch. Rob, I want you to start working on it as soon as you get there. The rest of us will cordon."

"Yup." Rob said, making out the shallow seam in the hull where his destination lay. He reached his hand forward and let it slide across the smooth metal of the hull, altering the drift of his body. He spun himself sideways in this fashion until he watched the hatch move in beneath him. He dug his trailing hand into the hull and slowed until his fingers caught the lip of the hatch and he abruptly stopped. "Ugh." He grunted over the mic from the strain of inertia.

The others spread out, sliding across the hull to move into positions of cover with good fields of fire. If the ship was being highjacked, there was always the possibility of a trained strike team emerging from within to fight off their would be thwarters.

No such team came into view as Chase positioned himself behind the butt of a plasma thruster that projected from the hull.

Kevin was on the far left in reference to the nose of the Bethesda. He had dropped into a mooring cleft and braced himself in case he needed to fire his weapon. He checked his heads up display to see if everyone was in place. "The cordon's set Will."

"Roger." Will replied, as he slid in toward Rob. He slowed himself against the hull and lightly bumped Rob when he reached the hatch. "How's it coming?" He asked, looking down at the panel that Rob had opened.

"This thing doesn't work as well as blowing a hole open with the main cannon." Rob said, punching keys on a small datapad he'd taken from his leg bag.

"Nothing like a tungsten slug to make a doorway." Andrew added.

"Yeah I know." Will raised his head to take a look down the hull. He scanned for motion with every tool his armor had installed and couldn't find any sign of hostile activity. " If this weren't a friendly ship, that's how I'd have breached. But hey, whatever gets the job done right?"

"I guess." Rob said in lament. "Here we go."

A cloud of dust lifted from the hatch as it stirred. They both felt the vibration through the hull.

"Boys." Will said. "Suck it in."

The three on the cordon moved first, pushing off the ship to slide toward Will and Rob. Kevin and Michael moved last, and kept facing outward from the hatch even after joining the others.

Will looked at Rob. "Stack up."

Rob nodded and unplugged the datapad, stuffing it back in his leg bag and producing his weapon. He grabbed the lip of the hatch and waited for the others to latch on behind him.

"Breacher up." Rob said, preparing himself for what was to come.

Will leaned in and wrapped his hand around the lever.

"Squeeze up." Rob said.

The last man in the chain reached forward and pinched the man in front of him in an unarmored joint; under a knee or near the armpit. This pinch travelled up the chain, ensuring everyone was aware of what was about to happen. When it reached Rob, he nodded to Will who, in the meantime, had prepared a distraction device.

Will nodded in return and hefted the lever. A jet of air blasted from the opening. The moment it subsided, Will swung his arm in and released the small spherical object. It drifted through the opening, disappearing into the shadows below.

A blinding flash, followed by a shudder in the hull, was Rob's queue. He brought his weapon up with one hand and pulled himself through the opening with the other. The men behind him instantly pushed off the hull and the lip of the opening to gain position. The minute they cleared the breach, their formation bloomed; all weapons brought to bear. The airlock was unlit, forcing the displays in their helmets to take on thermal vision.

Rob scanned his arcs when he reached the end of the airlock. "Left ok." He said, staring at the white hot smudge the distraction device had left on the wall.

"Right ok." Came Andrew over the means.

"It's clear." Rob continued. "There's a closed hatch ahead, I'll get on it with the key."

"Kev, you stay out here with Michael until we're ready to breach." Will said.

Kevin nodded.

"I'll be back in a second." Will moved into the airlock. "Alright, what do you have?"

Rob started talking, his free hand still tapping away at the datapad. "There's atmosphere inside, and I can pressurize us in here before we move through."

"Alright, do it." Will surveyed the position of each team member on his display. "Kev, Michael, move in."

The two pulled themselves through the opening.

Rob looked back, and waited for them to be through the doorway before he entered the command that closed the outer hatch. "Pressurizing."

Air hissed into the compartment. The men floated there, waiting in an awkward silence for the chamber to fill. A static came over the means, followed by the sound of chewing. The group all looked toward Andrew, floating in the corner.

"What?" He said, the chewing becoming louder.

Will shook his head. "You‘re on permanent send."

"Oh." He said, his head dropping as he tried to find the problem on his display. "Huh, so I am." His mic finally turned off.

"What the fuck are you chewing anyway?" Chase asked.

Andrew turned to him. "What's it matter to you?"

"I don't want to have to do the Heimlich on you when you suddenly start choking."

Cody laughed. "Don't worry about it. He‘s got lots of practice with large objects being shoved down his throat. I‘m sure he‘ll be fine."

Laughter filled the means.

A light behind Rob turned green. "Alright, we're good."

Will moved forward. "Cody, you're up."

Cody moved up next to the door and the others lined up behind him. They squeezed up, and Will pulled the lever. The door opened. The column moved through the opening and into a hallway.

"Clear." Cody said after scanning the area.

The team moved up into the hall and took up firing positions on either side of the passageway.

On the Zephyr, Carter was keeping track of them on his commanders display. He knew they were now just below the impact drive. He keyed his mic. "Will."

"Send it." Will said, ensuring his men were in position.

"I want you to check engineering first."

Will watched the destination become highlighted in his helmet. "You got it."

"Give me a situation report when you get there. Out."

"Alright, you heard the man. We're moving. Kevin, you're in the lead."

Kevin moved to the edge of the group at one end of the hall. Two team members nearest him braced themselves against the walls and pushed Kevin forward. He drifted through the center of the passageway, followed closely by Chase and Andrew who had propelled him.

Will looked back at Rob, Cody and Michael. "Well? You know what to do. Get to it."

The others followed suit, creating an assault formation that slowly drifted down the hall. When they reached a doorway, they had Rob move up with the key program and breach the door. Each doorway led to an empty cargo airlock; the small space between the Bethesda herself and the sealed cargo containers she carried. They continued down the hall until they reached its end; they moved into the reactor room. It took them considerable time to sift through the large space before determining it was vacant.

The Zephyr's reactor was dwarfed by that of the Bethesda. Where the gunboat had two shallow decks dedicated to its engineering section, the Bethesda reserved ten. The massive sphere of the reactor was ominously silent. The team could still see the remaining heat escaping its armored shell as it lay dormant in the expansive space of the room it occupied.

"John." Will said over the means. "We're in engineering. No one's here. What do you want to do?"

"Link me in." Logan interjected.

Carter sighed. "Fine. Do it."

"Rob. You heard him." Will said.

"Yeah I'm on it." Rob moved toward the console and tapped into it with his datapad. "Core's offline... obviously. Uh ... The batteries still have charge though, I'm not sure why the emergency lighting isn't online. Must be a computer issue. I'm linking it to the Zephyr."

Logan watched as a few new windows populated his screens. "Alright, it's coming up now."

"What's the problem?" Carter asked.

"I don't know, it's not immediately apparent. I'll need more time." Logan said, his hands clattering across the keyboard. "Not to mention, the Bethesda's reactor is about a thousand times more complicated then the little shit box we've got sputtering behind us."

Carter looked at his console. "Will. Make your way to the bridge and find out what's going on."

Will nodded. "We're on our way." He turned and pointed back the way they came. "Boys, turn around."

The End

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