Chapter 10:

Survive Survival

The Hoshinauts

“The Soviets are saying they can’t risk turning off their missile defense system,” Melina reported during the morning planning conference, “and the ‘Muricans are saying they can’t guarantee their defense system won’t act the same way.”

“As of right now, we’re rationing our food and water,” Sachiko announced. “I want everyone to check in with Surgery daily. She can help you adjust your food and exercise levels.”

“Just how long are we going to be up here?” Erika asked.

“Until things settle down,” Sachiko answered.

“And if they don’t?” Erika pressed.

“Then we won’t be the only ones to die,” Sachiko informed her, “but it’s too early to worry about that. As long as we’re careful, we can last six months, probably more.”

“What about the battle colonies?” Erika asked. “They had enough supplies to sustain large populations before they were abandoned.”

“Yum, centuries-old food,” Yasu joked.

“The battle colonies are parked at Earth-Moon Lagrange points,” Sachiko explained. “Our ships can’t reach them.”

“You’re telling me that the Federation’s current technology can’t match what the ‘Muricans and the Soviets were doing hundreds of years ago?” Erika scoffed.

Sachiko shook her head. She’d much rather be on the moon, or at least a lunar gateway station, than messing around in low-Earth orbit, but the decision had been made to act slowly, carefully, and above all else, economically, when resuming space exploration. She might have been inclined to share Erika’s frustration, were it not for her ignorance.

“This isn’t a video game,” Sachiko explained. “There’s not just some technology stat that goes up when a country makes scientific discoveries. We outshine the other countries in a lot of areas, but space is difficult, and this is the Federation’s first go at it. It doesn’t matter that we have the best reactors, handheld beam weaponry, or airships. None of that matters when it comes to space.”

“So it’s like a skill tree,” Erika said. “The other countries put their points into space, while the Federation decided massive flying boats were more their playstyle.”

“No, it’s nothing like that,” Sachiko snapped. “We may be piddling around in low-Earth orbit, but the ‘Soviets and the ‘Muricans are stuck scratching dirt. They lost everything they knew about space during the war.”

“Sorry,” Erika apologized, realizing she was acting emotionally. “I’m just nervous. This isn’t what I expected when I signed up for this.”

“You’re scared,” Sachiko corrected, “and you have every right to be. This isn’t what any of us expected, but I promise I will do everything in my power to get us home alive.”

Erika opened her mouth, but stopped herself before saying, “Like you got the others on GE26 home alive?” Instead, she smiled and let out a quiet, “Thanks.”

“How are things going down there?” Sachiko asked. “Any deserters yet?”

“Not even the janitors,” Melina said, pride evident in her voice. The janitors, however, were all gynoids. Sachiko expected they would be the last to abandon the space program.

“Still no word from the government?” Sachiko followed up.

“Actually, we heard from the defense ministry,” Melina said. “They wanted to know where the director was.”

“A good question,” Sachiko said, “and a worrying one, but maybe we’ll finally see some acknowledgement of our situation. Got anything else, or should we call it?”

“If you’re going to be reducing your exercise, we’d like you to get more B-roll while you can.”

“We can’t reduce it that much,” Sachiko said, “but point taken. Better to get the footage while we’re still looking healthy.”

The rest of the meeting went smoothly. After reviewing their schedule for the day, Hina and Yasu went to exercise, while Sachiko left to perform a routine inspection and maintenance on the Russian segment. Contrary to her usual behavior of sticking close to Sachiko, Maeko followed Erika back to Harmony.

“Did you need something?” Erika asked once they were alone.

“I believe we should consider eliminating the others,” Maeko said. “If this conflict lasts longer than six months, I cannot risk losing my mechanic.”

“Absolutely not,” Erika gasped. “I’m not going to kill children to save myself.”

“They signed up for this knowing that they might die,” Maeko pressed. “It doesn’t matter how old they are. You are more important.”

“I can’t run this station,” Erika pointed out. “I’ve seen how much work it takes. Can you do it alone? What if your shielding fails completely?”

“We’ll keep one alive then,” Maeko said. “Yasu works quickly enough, and she would be easiest to control.”

“Not if you kill Hina,” Erika said, shaking her head.

“She’d be upset, but she’d do her job,” Maeko said. “She wouldn’t have a choice.”

“I do have a choice,” Erika said. “If you harm any of them, I will pull you apart piece-by-piece and eject you from the airlock. I don’t care if that leaves me up here all alone. I’d rather die than sacrifice their lives.”

“Brave words,” Maeko said. “Braver than I expected from you. Let’s see how long they last.”

“If you harm any of them, I will pull you apart piece-by-piece and eject you from the airlock. I don’t care if that leaves me up here all alone. I’d rather die than sacrifice their lives.”

Maeko finished playing the recording for Sachiko, and the commander of the ISS let out a long sigh.

“It’s good we don’t have to worry about her, but I wish she hadn’t threatened you.”

“I do not believe she will cause me any harm unless I give her reason to,” Maeko assured her.

Based on what she knew—and suspected—of Erika’s past, Sachiko wasn’t convinced, but Maeko knew more about Erika. The gynoid probably even knew Erika’s real name, so Sachiko decided to trust her.

“There is one thing I would like to clarify,” Maeko added. “I told Erika that she was the most important person to me on this station, but that was not true. You are.”

“Important enough to kill for?” Sachiko asked.

“Under different circumstances,” Maeko answered. “I know you would be just as uncooperative as Erika if I decided to harm the others to increase your chances of survival.”

“As long as we’re clear on that,” Sachiko said. “Zvezda checks out. I repaired a water filter, but everything else was in working order. Can I ask you to finish the rest? I’m going to let Erika know that it was a test.”

“And, I assume, complain about her threatening me,” Maeko said. “That really isn’t necessary. It’s enough for me that you care.”

Sachiko gave Maeko a confused look. A gynoid shouldn’t care about emotional gestures like that. Like Sachiko, they were primarily interested in concrete results, and to Sachiko, that meant doing everything in her power to prevent violence on the station. Shaking her head, Sachiko pushed off towards the US segment.

As she passed by Tranquility, she popped her head in to see how things were going. Hina was strapped into the ARED and doing bench presses. Yasu was filming, and, on the camcorder screen, Sachiko could see that she was zoomed all the way in on Hina’s right biceps. Not exactly thrilling television, Sachiko thought.

“Come on, Hina, push,” Yasu encouraged her. “Just one more.”

“I can’t,” Hina grunted. “I’m spent.”

“Puuush,” Yasu repeated. “You can do it. Come on, harder. Harder! You could handle this much just last week.”

“Well I can’t do it now,” Hina gasped, releasing the bar.

“Yes you can,” Yasu insisted, “and this might be your last chance to try before Surgery tells you to stop.”

“It doesn’t matter what you say,” Hina said, taking deep breaths. “It’s impossible. My muscles are going to turn to dust up here.”

“If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for me,” Yasu said, leaning close and batting her eyes at Hina. “And if you won’t do it for me, do it for… Claire?”

“I already told you,” Hina growled, grabbing the bar and pushing it off her in frustration, “there’s nothing going on between me and Claire.”

“That ‘nothing’ just gave you enough energy for one more rep,” Yasu observed.

“Fine,” Hina spat as she unhooked herself from the ARED. “We’re going to die up here anyway. You might as well know the truth. Turn off the camera.”

“Hey, come on, we’re not going to die,” Yasu said.

“You were right,” Hina continued, ignoring her. “She is trying to make me jealous of her boyfriend. That’s all she ever wanted from me: jealousy, but I… I had a crush on her.”

“I don’t want to hear this after all,” Yasu said, stone faced. She grabbed a handlebar to push off, but Hina grabbed her wrist.

“You’re the one who kept pressing the issue,” Hina said. “I don’t want to die keeping it a secret from you. It was five years ago. The reason you never knew I was hanging out with her was because we were sneaking out at night.”

“No, no,” Yasu pleaded.

“After the director went to sleep and the employees went home, there was an unused room on the East wing. On weekends, some of the kids would sneak out. We’d watch movies, gossip, and play games. One time, a boy snuck in a can of low-alcohol beer and we passed it around. It wasn't enough to feel anything, but it seemed so adult, so cool. Sometimes, when the mood was right, I’d put my arm around Claire, and she’d rest her head on my shoulder.”

“So what?” Yasu said, trying once more to pull away. “I rest my head on your shoulder all the time.”

“But when she did it, my heart raced,” Hina said. “Sometimes, later at night, when the others were getting sleepy, we’d sneak off to a darkened corner to make out. We’d observed some of the teenagers doing it, but we didn’t really understand, so we’d just kiss for a few minutes. It didn’t really feel that good, but it was—”

“Exciting, I get it,” Yasu interrupted. “Are you done yet?”

“One night when I arrived at the room, one of the boys had his arm around her shoulder,” Hina said. “She had her head turned towards him, and she saw me out of the corner of her eye. She got a big smile on her face and whispered something in his ear, and then next thing I knew, they were kissing. I ran back to our room, and, first thing the next morning, called JAXA to let them know I’d changed my mind.”

“You told me I was the reason you left.” Yasu gasped. “You told me I was too dependent on you, that I’d never grow if you were always protecting me. Was that all just an excuse? A lie?”

This was a surprise to Sachiko too. She had paid a visit to the orphanage in an attempt to recruit Hina, and she always assumed that her words ultimately convinced Hina to join the space program.

“It wasn’t a lie,” Hina said, “it just wasn’t the main reason. I… liked looking out for you, even if it wasn’t the best thing for either of us.”

“I liked it too,” Yasu said.

Without warning, Hina pulled Yasu close and wrapped her arms around her. “I’m sorry for hurting you. I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I’m scared of dying up here.”

“Me too,” Yasu choked, tears building up in the corner of her eyes. Hina released her and wiped her eyes with a finger, causing the tears to float around them. She then caught Yasu completely by surprise by closing her eyes and leaning in for a kiss. Yasu could feel her heartbeat accelerate, heat running up her neck. She tilted her head and began to close her eyes, but at the last moment pulled back.

“What’s wrong?” Hina asked. “I thought this was what you wanted.” There was no passion in her eyes, but no disappointment either, and Yasu could tell that her heart wasn’t beating quicker.

“Not like this,” Yasu shook her head. “I want to be the girl you love, not the girl who just happens to be around when you’re scared and lonely.”

“That’s all you’ve ever been,” Hina said, shoving Yasu away. “If you don’t like it, you should never have followed me to JAXA.”

Yasu angrily threw the camera at Hina, who easily caught it, and stormed off, more tears streaming behind her. Sachiko pulled herself out of the way as Yasu passed her, fleeing towards the Russian segment. She reentered Tranquility just in time to witness Hina stop herself at the last second from kicking the ARED in frustration.

“How much of that did you hear?” Hina asked.

“All of it,” Sachiko shrugged. “I thought I told you to work this out on your own time, not to cause more drama during work hours.”

“Who cares?” Hina scoffed. “We’re going to die, and you want me to keep lying to her?”

“As far as I know, you’re still not telling her the truth. You worded that confession very carefully,” Sachiko said. “And we’re not going to die.”

“Come on,” Hina shouted. “The last war was centuries long. You really think this one’ll be over in six months?”

“Yes,” Sachiko answered. “Both sides know returning to full-scale war will completely destroy the planet in short order. That much hasn’t changed.”

“They could stay locked in a cold war until we starve,” Hina pointed out.

“There’s nothing we can do about that, so it’s a waste of energy to worry about it,” Sachiko told her. “We should focus on what we can do, so hand me that camera and strap back in. You’re not done with your workout, and it’s putting us behind schedule.”

“What about Yasu?” Hina challenged. “Isn’t she putting us even further behind?”

“I can only deal with one problem at a time,” Sachiko said, “though I’ll admit, I was wrong about her. I can’t believe Erika noticed it before I did.”

“Yeah, well, that’s because you’re a terrible friend,” Hina spat.

“At least I’m not trying to kiss my friends out of desperation,” Sachiko shot back. That did it. Rage flashed in Hina’s eyes, and she curled her right hand into a fist and raised it menacingly. Sachiko didn’t flinch. They would only be under greater pressure as their food supplies dwindled. She needed to know how far Hina would go, and she was willing to take the hit to find out.

“You’re a good commander though,” Hina sighed, uncurling her fist.

“Funny,” Sachiko smirked, “Before you got all depressed, I was thinking of handing that job off to you. We still don’t have a new director, and matters on Earth are taking too much of my time.”

“You’d really take orders from me?” Hina asked. “I can’t see it.”

“I took orders from commanders less capable than you,” Sachiko reminded her. “It’ll be tough, but you’ve done almost as much for the space program as I have. This is your last chance, and you earned it.”

“I thought you said we weren’t going to die,” Hina teased.

“Even if we make it back, this is it for us,” Sachiko sighed. “You’re taller than I am now, and I already don’t fit comfortably in my sleeping bag.”

“What? No, I’ve always been shorter than you.”

“You’re growing up. Time for you to grow up in here too,” Sachiko said, poking Hina on the forehead. “The position’s yours, if you can pull yourself together.”

Hina nodded. She wasn’t sure she could, but it was worth a try. If she only had six months left, she might as well make the best of them.

Yasu didn’t want any of the others to see her cry, so she rushed towards her cabin in Zvezda as quickly as she could. Unfortunately, for her, Maeko was in her way. She tried to slide past without touching the gynoid, but Maeko moved to block her path.

“Move,” Yasu demanded, her anger now boiling over.

Maeko smiled and began reciting lines from a Hina x Sachiko fic. “Hina pushed Sachiko against the wall and leaned in close. ‘I’m going to prove to you this airlock is safe, even if we have to stay here all night.’ A shiver ran up Sachiko’s spine, not of fear, but of anticipation.”

Yasu recognized the fic Maeko was quoting from, but she tried to feign ignorance. “The hell is that?”

“Once more, Yasu cracked the riding crop across Erika’s bouncy, quickly-reddening—”

“OK, OK, I admit it,” Yasu interrupted. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to get out of control. I’ll shut it all down, I promise. Just give me some time.”

She was saying what she thought the gynoid wanted to hear, but Maeko shook her head. “You misunderstand. I want more.”

“More,” Yasu gulped.

“Specifically, I want Maeko x Sachiko. Lots of it. Everything from innocent hand holding to the watersports olympiad.”

“But you’re a gynoid,” Yasu observed. “What use could you have for it?”

“That’s none of your business,” Maeko told her. “If you don’t do what I say, I’ll reveal your hobby to the others.”

Lucky / Glenn
Pope Evaristus