Cabin Pressure

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Rowan slid down the access shaft and into the dying spacecraft's smoke-filled cabin. Flo Citro still hadn't managed to kill the shrieking emergency alarm, and as Rowan spilled out of the access portal and settled down into the wrecked main cabin the sound swelled to a skull-splitting roar. Fanning away the thick smoke to clear some airspace, he used his free hand as a muffle over his ear closest to the metal speaker grill. He barked into the hazy darkness, "Flo! I told you to kill the damn alarm!"

The atmosphere in the cabin was unbreathable and, as various electrical fires spread throughout the shuttle's myriad computer systems, the temperature was rising quickly. You could hear the flame sizzling and crackling behind some of the console panels.

A female voice, muffled inside a plastic respirator mask, responded from the cabin's smokey depths. "The system's unresponsive. There's no doing anything."

Rowan had to crawl over a crushed, sparking console to get to his fellow astronauts, who were clustered around Joseph Wescott doing their best to set him free.

"How we doing?"

Flo and Bob Rehearsal were busy trying to pry the wounded Wescott free from beneath a collapsed AP-15 nav console. Pete Sands was squatting beside Wescott sharing his respirator face mask with the unconscious space veteran; Every time he swapped the mask between himself and the wounded man, you could see streaks of ash beneath Rehearsal's nostrils. Clearly he'd taken more than a few lungfuls of toxic smoke before he'd gotten his mitts on an eco respirator.

One quick look at Wescott's pallid, unconscious face and Rowan already knew he was going to have to kill him. He fished his hand into the special pocket behind his right thigh, and extracted a teeny white cyanide capsule. Rowan knew they wouldn't willingly leave a fellow astronaut behind to burn with the rest of the shuttle; they'd keep trying to free Wescott until the cabin burst into flame around them. Once the fire caught, Rowan knew, it would spread fast, possibly trapping anyone foolish enough to hang around that long.

Yes, Rowan could always order them to abandon ship, but that would likely invite argument from Peter and the witch, Citro, and Rowan felt there wasn't any time to waste.

"Citro," Rowan said as he cupped his respirator mask to his face and took a nice long drag of air, "I'll take over here. I need you to get the survival gear in order. Suits too. We're abandoning ship."

Citro gave him a suspicious, begrudging look, then disappeared into the smoke.

"Report," Rowan said to Rehearsal once Citro was gone.

"He's unconscious, obviously. Right leg liquified beneath the knee where the metal grinded him. He's pinned down good, Commander." The large man wiped his wide-set eyes with the back of his meaty palm. "We'd have to amputate at the knee. I have my knife right here." He tugged a black searing knife from a makeshift plastic scabbard fixed to his right ankle—the famous "butter knife."

"No," Rowan said, prompting the other two astronauts to give him a look of dread. "He wouldn't survive, and even if he did, he'd just slow us down."

"Screw that," said Pete, the youngest of the astronauts and the most outspoken. His typically intense, manic gaze now amplified to the breaking point. "The man's a legend. I'll carry him myself."

"Did you take a look at yourself lately, Pete? You half look like one of the People, for god's sake. The rest of us are no better. Don't make promises you can't keep." Rowan fixed him with a serious glare. "Our only hope of surviving planetfall is to operate with brutal efficiency. Besides Tranquility Base, whose status remains dubious, we are likely the only humans alive in Earth/Luna domain with access to super-heavy spaceflight technologies. We are a critical resource to the continuation of the species. No mistakes."

"Is that how you rationalize what you did up there—" Pete said, pointing his finger up towards the ceiling, but before he was done talking a tongue of flame burst from a nearby computer station. Pete had to scoot around to the other side of Wescott to avoid getting his ass singed. He didn't have too much to say after that.

"We're not letting him cook," Rowan said as he casually leaned forward and popped the cyanide in between Wescott's lips. It was as if he were giving his bedridden buddy a mento lyptus cough drop. Rehearsal made a move as if he was going to try and stop him, but, as the nearby fire quickly began to rope along the cabin walls, he restrained himself. He lifted the Wescott's chin and tapped his neck to get him to swallow.

In seconds a fast hissing foam streamed from Wescott's partially closed lips and his body began to convulse. For just one second the man's eyes fluttered open and he moved a hand to his mouth, as if to try and fish out the capsule. Rowan reached down and placed his own hand over Wescott's foaming mouth to keep the poison inside. Streaks of foam hissed and oozed between his fingers. Then Wescott's flailing hands went limp and the First Man on Mars was dead.

Citro emerged from the smoke toting all kinds of survival gear, some of which she handed to Rehearsal. Her eyes quickly settled on Wescott's horrible, foam-streaked visage, and she flashed Rowan a hateful look. She watched as he wiped some of the foam beneath to the American flag on the shoulder his ashy white flightsuit.

"The People will be here soon," Rowan said, returning her spiteful stare. "Let's get moving."


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