Our hero finds himself trapped with a traitor and the woman he loves held hostage. The steel walls of the cabin surrounded us as the klaxons yowled like
Our hero finds himself trapped with a traitor and the woman he loves held hostage.
The steel walls of the cabin surrounded us as the klaxons yowled like the damned and the red emergency lamps throbbed like the heartbeat of hell.
Aeliana, a gun to her temple, speared me with her bright amber eyes. With pain, I turned from her to glare at her kidnapper. His leer was lit with a desperate fire and mouth spread in a feral rictus, blending ferocity and fear. At his feet was Aeliana’s orb. “I can understand you. Your vaunted Inheritance may not run through my veins, but the power works in me just the same.”
I knew less about this “Inheritance” than he did, and I was pretty sure I didn’t have it either. I tried to think of a reply.
My comrade spoke first, though without the orb, his speech was unintelligible.
The gunman replied, “Treason? It is no treason to overthrow a tyrant. Their throne rests on our backs and we groan under its weight. The Hypogeans have given us a chance at liberation, for any man bold enough to take it. Are you bold enough to join me?”
My companion snarled and straightened his shooting stance.
The gunman stepped back. “I’ll take that as a ‘no.’”
I tried to stall for time. “Tyranny? What tyranny? Why are you doing this?”
The gunman’s eyes slid across me. Contempt dripped from his voice. “Of course an outlander wouldn’t know. But because of your father, you should be set to rule over me? No!”
He looked again at my companion. “They spend our blood in their perpetual war against the Hypogeans, but protect their own bloodlines so they alone control the ancient wonders of the Fathers! Yet, you crouch at their feet like the cur you are, ready to bite any hand, as your masters bid!”
I raised my voice. “And how are you better? These Hypogeans have scorched your lands in nuclear fire! They have murdered innocents in untold millions.”
Aeliana struggled to pull away and reach for the holstered pistol on the other side of the cabin. But the gunman, wild-eyed, clamped down on her arm and shook her without losing his aim. “They drove the Hypogeans underground all those centuries ago, for daring to challenge their rule! And our ancestors were the cudgel they used to drive them there. Who could blame them for what they do now? They take what is theirs by right!”
My suspicion was kindled. “Are you working for them? Are there others working with you?”
“Now you get it,” he chuckled, “Yes, we aided the Hypogeans. And there are more of us than you know…”
He took another step backward. In fact, they had both taken several steps during our conversation, while she remained a human shield. Then I noticed the recess behind him, and the narrow sliver of darkness.
Then everything happened at once.
The gunman ducked into the recess and through the secret doorway, dragging Aeliana with him. Over her shoulder, he let off a string of shots from his pistol.
I dived aside, hit the deck, and tried to get a bead on him, but he was gone. While I got to my feet, my companion laid flat on the deck, glassy-eyed, with bloody holes in his chest.
The last thready signs of life faded under the fingers I pressed to his neck.
“Go in peace.” I closed his eyes, not even knowing his name.
My ears ringing from the gunshots, I dashed through the recess, which remained open.
The tunnel was barely enough to fit me width-wise. With so many turns, I would’ve gotten lost if the tunnel had any branches. It felt like hours as I twisted through the bowels of the station, making my way to Aeliana.
Somewhere ahead in the tunnel, there was a yell, followed by a scream. I rushed onward and emerged into a chamber, an airlock with windows to either side.
Through those windows, open square hatches were visible. The gunman was stuffing Aeliana’s limp body, feet first, into one of the hatches.
I tried the airlock, but it was shut tight. I raised my pistol and fired into the glass, but the slugs only made webs of cracks across the glass as they were stopped dead.
The gunman jerked and turned in panic, only to give a leering smile and drop a syringe before he shoved Aeliana the rest of the way through the hatch and closed it behind her. Then he slid into a hatch next to it and sealed it behind him.
The airlock cycled as the light beside it changed from blue to cyan. Then I was able to open it.
I stuck my head into one of the open hatches. The sight on the other side baffled me before I recognized the human-shaped impressions as pressure suits. There were like the Russian Orlan spacesuits, which opened in the back for entry.
I went in feet first and, halfway through, grabbed the hatch to close it. I banged knees, elbows, shins, shoulders, and my head trying to fit myself inside. With the hatch sealed, the rest was automatic as the sound of machinery was transduced through the helmet and thrummed down into my body.
In the next moment, it was like I was shot out of a cannon, only to be jerked to a stop at the end of a tether as I swung like a weighted pendulum to collide with the outside of the station. The faceplate of my helmet cracked on impact. The air was stuffy, smelling of rubber and copper, but I could still breathe. Good enough.
Most of my momentum was arrested in the impact, so I drifted away from the station, still secured to the tether. It took me a long moment to get my orientation.
If I thought of the station as a barbell, then I drifted beside the broad rim of one of those bells. As I followed its contours, I saw a figure making its way along the outer surface of the station, with a suit floating beside them.
Time for pursuit.
I grabbed hold of my tether, reeled myself in, and planted my feet against the station’s outer hull. The tether was hooked to a guide rail that ran off into the distance. With no plan in my mind, I started after them, intent on stopping the bastard and rescuing Aeliana.
To be continued…