Desperate Measures

The feed cuts out as I position the ship above the wreckage. "Fraeia?"   I hear them growl before their reply, "It's following me."   "You need to leave now, before the antimatter can make contact with the hull." My voice is urgent. I'm worried, jostling in my seat as I wait. "I'm right outside. Just get out of there."   "No air," they say, clearly out of breath, "no more talking."   I watch through the panoramic view and see small sparks of light through cracks in the hull. The light reveals Fraeia as they run through the corridors. I watch as they take a leap off the edge of a floating metal plate, leaving the stable ground for the embrace of empty space.   I speak into the mic, "Fraeia?"   There's no response. I match their speed, and direction, positioning the ship alongside them. I then jump up from the pilot's chair and run to the back of the ship, the airlock. I don't think I've ever been able to put on my suit this fast, and with a perfect seal I might add.   I open the airlock and see Fraeia's body drifting maybe twenty meters away. I can't explain how strange the shift in perspective feels when you leap into space. From where I am, Freaia appears to be motionless. Once you're out in the void, and see the debris slowly getting further away, you learn to appreciate all that talk of relativity. It helps handle the inevitable nausea.   I anchor myself to the ship via a cable and jump without hesitation. One moment I'm stable with the feet on the metal hull, and in the next I'm weightless, drifting closer and using the boosters on my suit to angle myself just right. When able, I reach out and grab Fraeia's arm. I pull them in, ensuring I have a good grip before giving the cable a firm tug.   We drift back to the airlock and then I notice the blood. My suit is covered in black fluid, with little droplets dancing around us in floating orbs. When my feet touch the floor of the airlock, the higgstech starts to work its magic. I don't even need to use the magnets in my boots.   Fraeia tries to stand but their body goes limp, dead weight I now have to drag into the ship. I strain as the weight bears down on my shoulder, their feet dragging behind until we enter the safety of the ship. I catch a quick breath, trying to figure out just how they could possibly weigh so much. That's when I realize they aren't breathing.
Antimatter can be a tricky topic to discuss in scientific circles. I remember a spark of debate back at the wayfarer academy regarding its potential, but it never took off. Humanity lacks and never even had a fraction of the infrastructure needed to produce a single gram of the stuff. It's just not in the cards for us.   Antimatter is the opposite of matter. Any partner of standard matter will have an antiparticle. Protons have anti-protons, neutrons have anti-neutrons, and even electrons have an opposite in the form of positrons. Think of it like an electric charge where standard matter is positive and antimatter is negative. You know the rules: opposites attract. It takes a lot of effort to contain antimatter, let alone create it. Containing it is the hardest part, though. You have to use an electromagnetic field to suspend it in a near perfect vacuum, a panning trap.   Antimatter will drift towards standard matter. It's attracted to it. If it makes contact, the result is total annihilation of both, an explosive burst of energy. There will be zero wasted energy potential. An antimatter weapon leaves nothing behind. There's not even a trace of radiation when the bombs go off.

The problem with antimatter

On the surface, antimatter seems like a perfect weapon. You could wipe a fleet off the field with little effort. Point defense turrets used to destroy incoming missiles won't even work. Breaking the trap doesnt disable the bomb. The missile is merely a delivery system. Breaking it just frees the beast. You'll probably just get hit anyway.   The problem with antimatter is twofold: it's extremely expensive to make, sure, but most of all, it's overkill. Why would you even want a weapon like this? It could win you a war but the economic depression that follows will do you in anyway. It's not efficient, especially when you have so many other options.   Then you have the problem of storage and transportation. I would never haul this cargo. It could fail at any given moment. If something happened, there's no if, and, or but about it. You're gone. Existing is no longer a thing you do. There won't even be ashes to scatter. You just disappear.

Other uses

Antimatter isn't just a way to wage war. You could theoretically use it to power your ship. It would be exponentially more powerful and fuel efficient compared to fusion technology. That being said, it's still a bad idea.   Again you have the costs and potential hazards associated with storing large quantities of antimatter on your ship, but your access to fuel would be limited as well. You're not going to find antimatter somewhere to harvest or a fuel ship ready to fill your tank.   Fusion engines run on deuterium and tritium, both being isotopes of hydrogen. Just so we're clear, hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. You can't help but run into the stuff. Everywhere you go, you have fuel, it's practically a law of the universe. Antimatter doesn't have that luxury. It's why fusion is so widely used across all species.

The trade war

No one even tried to use antimatter weapons until the trade war. Dhitol somehow managed to make it work. Their ground troops even use it. Granted, small arms would be much cheaper compared to arming ships.   Still… It's an act of desperation. Imagine the mentality your soldiers would need to have to be willing to carry antimatter rounds. These rounds could fracture or shatter in the heat of combat and they're literally attached to you.   The Dhitol are fighting for survival. The Eden would wipe out their species if they fail. I get it. Their soldiers are sacrificing themselves for their cause. I wish I believed in something that much.    
The airlock door seals behind me and I start tearing pieces of the suit from my body. It may be skin tight, but it's too cumbersome, too awkward to assess the damage and even more so to actually fix it.   I resist the sensation, the indescribable agony of metal against my skin as I take off their helmet, working my way down and taking note of every wound.   Their body is covered in small round sores, black blood slowly oozing from them and staining the ground. I should have worn gloves.   I reach for the first aid kit and realize nothing in it will work. I can bandage the wounds, seal them with a tube of surgical adhesive, but I can't get their lungs working with anything I have. They need to start breathing.   I reach for my temples and then pull my hands away. My hands are already stained. I'd rather my face be spared. I scream out, an act of frustration as the adrenaline continues to flow but I find myself unable to act.   Fraeia's chest rises and falls; a single, subtle moment of motion as their lungs fill with air, and let it out. Another breath follows, then another.   I'm crying. I take a moment to wipe the tears on my sleeve. "Fray?"   Fraeia's eyes open, their expression somewhere between agony, confusion, and anger.   I don't even care about the tears now. I cry out, "You're alive."   "I...yes. I'm alive," they reply. They haven't even seen me yet. Their eyes dart around the room, taking in their surroundings as they try to sit.   I reach out with my hands but pull them back. "How? Are you okay?"   They don't seem to recognize me. It takes a moment for it to register. They see my face then their eyes widen.   I nod, and immediately get to work patching their wounds. I dress every sore, cleaning the blood and sealing it. The adhesive squeezes from a small aluminum tube. It fills the wound, seals it, and does so while also disinfecting it.   Their gaze shifts and drops to focus on my hands. "Amber," They reach out but see the blood on their hands as well. It's the first time I've seen them unsure of what to do. They look lost, ashamed, and just as panicked as me.   I shake my head. "It's okay." I nod and grasp their hand, giving it a gentle squeeze before continuing my work on their wounds. "What happened?"   "I don't know."   I clench my jaw as I speak but can't seem to understand why it makes me mad, "You weren't breathing, Fray. By all accounts, you were dead."   They cock their head in reply, then start shaking it violently. "No. No, not at all."   I nod, my mind drifting to a dark place. I can't resist the pull. I'm falling. "I was there. I think I'd know."   They grab my hand as I press the gauze against another wound. "The drift. Our bodies will enter hibernation if we run out of air. Not death, but not alive either. It's in between."   I finish dressing the wounds and that's when I see the mess we've made. It's as if we gave the airlock a fresh coat of paint, there's so much blood.   It's like I'm sinking. The storm is passing and now I'm starting to realize just how bad this could have been. I bring knees up to my chest, resting my chin on them as I count in sets of ten in my head. I need to calm down.   They try to rise but their head slowly drops back down. "I'm sorry."   "For what?"   They shake their head, "That wasn't smart. I should've been more careful." They smile. Have you considered getting a drone?"   I shout, "You almost died." They narrow their eyes but I fail to notice. I'm too far gone now. "I-I…" I pause to take a breath, "I would have been alone, again."   "I thought you liked being alone." Fraeia lifts their head so their eyes meet mine. They aren't trying to be rude. They really don't get it. "Why are you angry with me?"   "You're…" I stop, my mouth slamming shut as if refusing to speak. I get it. It's kind of embarrassing.   "What?" They strain, fighting through the pain as they sit up and rest their back against the wall of the airlock.   "Everyone either hates me, leaves me, or treats me like I'm this fragile, broken thing in need of fixing." I spit the words out. As much as I hate admitting it, I can't help but understand. "I mean, yeah. I could never keep my shit together," I pause and gesture to the inner rooms of the ship, "I can't keep a clean home. I haven't even showered in like a week."   "Amber," they say my name as if my words offended them.   I ignore it. To be honest I can't even hear them at this point. "You know all of this. You know who I am too, who my mom is. You're only here because you're following orders."   "Amber." Their voice is lower now, less offended and more soothing.   "I'm sorry. I'll stop talking now." I stand up and carefully step toward the door. I step over the blood when possible and try not to slip when it's unavoidable.   "Stop, just for a moment." Fraeia reaches for my leg as I pass but makes an effort not to touch me. I look down at them, but can't bring myself to look at their eyes. "You did everything right, and I thank you for it. Furthermore, you should know that while I was under orders to assist you in your efforts, that doesn't make it less of a choice. I chose to be here. I still choose to be here."   "Yeah, but why? For how long?" I don't give them a chance to answer. I open the door, reaching a hand out to help them to their feet. "You're the only one I haven't hurt or disappointed yet, and I almost got you killed."

Cover image: by Zoltan Tasi


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Jan 31, 2022 10:29 by Catoblepon

FRAEIAAAAAAAAAAAA... Amber no, don't feel sad, you are amazing ;-;

Jan 31, 2022 13:37 by Bart Weergang

Oi that hurt.

Apr 27, 2022 23:44 by Grace Gittel Lewis

God what an awful time for both of them, huh? Antimatter sounds rough.   1 question— you note here that antimatter drifts towards standard matter, right? So...why did it not hit the ship it was in, instead of chasing Fraeia?

Apr 28, 2022 03:52 by R. Dylon Elder

For sure! Oh that's actually easy but a bit of a cop out. Antimatter would interfere with itself. In truth though, I hadn't thought of that so yes, you have found a plot hole. Must fill... must filllll!

Apr 28, 2022 17:51 by Grace Gittel Lewis

Whoops haha, think that's an easy one to patch though— maybe. Perhaps changing things so Fraeia picks up a canister that then breaks rather than the antimatter already being exposed?

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