Survival Test out now.

A brief excerpt:

Out of reach of the Earth, engines damaged, the Troy mission needing to cut weight by dropping one of the hulls or be forever lost in interplanetary space when crewman Vernon Anderson panics and begins cutting at the support structure with a torch.

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Captain Karen Gold led the way into the airlock.  The pressure dropped as the scavenger pump sucked out the air, saving it for later reuse.  A few minutes later, the outer door cranked open.  Gold eased herself out the door and looked down the long tether.  Here at the hub they were in zero gravity, but weight would increase as they descended the tether.

“You–” Gold pointed at one of the men. “–go down the spinward ladder.” She pointed at the other. “You take the antispinward.  Take Doctor Scott with you.  I’ll go up the middle.  If we can catch him between us, maybe we can do this without anyone being hurt.

“Doctor,” she continued. “I’ll want you to tranquilize him, knock him out if you can.”

“I’ll do my best, Captain.”

“Okay,” Gold said. “Let’s do it.”

As they started down their respective ladders, Gold said, “Harry?  Do you read me?”

“Five by, Captain.”

“Good.  What channel’s Vernon on?”

“Sixteen.”

“All right.  I’ll want the rest of you to stay on your current channel.  I’m going to switch to sixteen, talk to our problem child.  Harry, you monitor and relay any messages I have.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Jordan said.

Gold chinned her helmet switch, watching the display reflected in her faceplate until it read sixteen.

“…ever and forever,” she heard. “Burn out engines and drift forever and forever.  Can’t let it happen.  Cut weight.  Don’t want to drift forever and forever.”

“Vernon,” Gold said.

“Drift forever,” Vernon said.

“Vernon,” Gold said.

“Captain!” Vernon sounded surprised.  Gold could see him now.  He swung the cutting torch in an arc between him and the hull, slicing at the tether. “What are you doing out here?”

“I’ve come to take you back inside, Vernon.”

“No!” Vernon said. “I’ve got to save the ship.  Cut weight.  Hull’s got to go.”

“We’ll do that, Vernon,” Gold said, “but not right now.”

“Yes!” Vernon lifted the torch and shook it. “Right now. If we don’t, we’ll kill the engines and then we’ll drift forever–forever and forever in the blackness and cold of space.  Forever and forever.”

“It’s okay, Vernon.” Gold crept closer. “We’ve got plenty of time.”

“No, not plenty of time.  Now.”

Gold lowered herself another rung. “Okay, Vernon.  If you want to cut loose now, we’ll do it now.  But let’s do it right, huh?” Another rung.  She was very close now, almost close enough to reach him.  She could see the men on the other ladders passing Vernon.  A few meters farther on, they would reach a crossbeam and be able to come up behind him.  She just needed to keep him occupied.  Keep his attention on her. “Why don’t we go inside and get one of the big torches?  That way the work will go much faster.  Get rid of the weight sooner.”

“Yes, that’s…that’s…wait a minute!  You’re trying to trick me.”

He swung the torch at her.

“Shit!” Gold jerked herself back up the ladder.

“Karen!” Harry’s voice shouted in her helmet. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine, Harry,” she said. “Damn, that was close.”

Gold climbed a step back up the ladder. “Vernon, that wasn’t necessary.”

“It’s you!” Vernon’s voice rose to a shriek, swamping the suit radio’s electronics. “You want us to be out here forever.  That’s why you’re telling us there’s a war on Earth.  I bet there’s no war.  I bet it’s all a giant hoax.”

Gold hung on the ladder, her lips pursed.  Vernon, she decided, had gone completely mad. “That’s not true, Vernon,” she said softly. “There is a war.  Everything we’re doing is trying to stay alive so we can go back when it’s over.”

“No,” Vernon said. “You’re the one keeping us out here.  You!”

He swung the torch again but this time, Gold was out of his reach.

The torch slipped from Vernon’s fingers.  He grabbed for it.  His other hand slipped from the ladder.  He started to topple.

“No!” Gold screamed.  She lunged, twining her legs through the rungs of the ladder to anchor herself almost instinctively.

Her fingers brushed against Vernon’s suit, seeking purchase and finding none.

Gold watched, helpless to tear her gaze away.  Vernon fell outward, his path seeming to curve against the direction of their spin, but Gold knew that was an illusion.  He struck the hull of the ship.  His hands scrabbled as he slid around the hull.  Then he vanished over the side.

Vernon’s scream echoed in Gold’s helmet for a long, long time.

Available in paper and for Kindle.

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