Our hero leaps from the frying pan and dives into the fire. I strode across the surface of the station, secured to the guide line. The only sounds
Our hero leaps from the frying pan and dives into the fire.
I strode across the surface of the station, secured to the guide line. The only sounds were the rasps of my breathing and the hard strike of my footfalls against metal.
The silhouette of the traitor I struggled to keep in view as my eyes were dazzled with the shifting pattern of sharp shadows and glints of the blinding sun reflected from unpainted metal. Still worse was the endless vault of night. I squinted to avoid both.
Even in the absence of gravity, and perhaps because of it, my legs burned and my body trembled with the strain, like climbing a mountain. Sweat stung my eyes and my helmet fogged so I could barely see, but by slow and painful degrees, the silhouette grew larger. I could see the still form he pulled along with him, my Aeliana.
Somewhere in the chase, I attached that word to her name. We barely knew each other, and the distance between us seemed greater than ever. But I could feel in my bones that it was true.
Along the midpoint of the station, I pursued the traitor, between the ends where spin gravity was generated. As he stopped, a flash of something, like a twinkling star, caught my eye. Except it was no star—when it caught the sunlight, it was plain that it was barreling toward us.
Were they nuts? I’d read enough about spaceflight to know that something moving that fast could destroy the station. Whatever their plan, I had to reach the traitor.
I drove forward and held the guide line with both hands, straining with my arms to keep my feet planted.
The bright star of the ship grew larger. There was half a football field’s distance between me and the traitor when there was a great bloom of flame, the ignition of retro thrusters to slow the vessel’s course.
The traitor hadn’t noticed me, but I could see that Aeliana’s suit was tethered to his, as his was to the guide line. A dozen bounding steps and I tackled him.
The whole clash was a mess of flailing fists, shoves, and glancing blows in tethered suits. Instead, most of the fight was in the clinches—a trapped arm, a clamped wrist, a hooked leg. Those were the moments when I had the leverage to drive an elbow or a knee into the man’s body.
I’m proud to say I got in more shots than he did, but my ribs still felt like they would cave in. Every inch of my body hurt, and given how slow his return strikes were, he must’ve felt the same way. My hands, especially, were trembling to the point that I could barely make a fist.
I felt a shudder in the station’s surface through my boots. I looked up to see a sleek spearhead shape, secured by four cables attached to cannon-fired spikes driven into the station’s metal plate. A fifth gun swung on a turret to point at me.
A hatch opened on the ship’s side and someone in a much sleeker suit descended from it, directed by small suit thrusters, to light upon the station. He held some kind of sidearm and moved it between us.
Then the traitor gestured to him in some unseen conversation—I guess the suits had internal radios—and the weapon settled on me. I put my hands up. It seemed to be the right answer, since he gestured to his vessel, instead of shooting me.
The traitor pointed to my tether and his compatriot withdrew a tool that resembled metal shears. With a quick stroke, my tether was severed.
By the turn of the traitor’s head and his long moment of stillness, I knew what he was thinking—he could just push me off into the void. I’d die when I ran out of air, if he didn’t just puncture my suit first.
But his ally again gestured to his ship and made his point clearer by leveling the barrel of his gun at my helmet visor. I obliged him.
There were no handholds, but barbs or studs extended from the ship’s hull, wide enough to grab hold of. They continued up to the hatch.
I looked back and Aeliana seemed as undisturbed as before. The gunman gestured again, more emphatically.
I took it slow, not wanting to launch myself into the endless expanse. The gunman didn’t protest this, as he must’ve come to the same conclusion.
The vessel was separated into a tapering cockpit and a back compartment with its own hatch. A third man occupied what the co-pilot’s chair.
The gunman gestured to the back compartment. I went through the hatch as the traitor and gunman followed behind. The traitor closed the hatch behind him, and I felt a squeeze against the surface of my suit.
The traitor pulled off his helmet, took a deep breath, and smiled at me with a look like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. “You’re a canker on my backside, but it looks like we finally lanced the problem.” He gestured to his helmet. “Off with it.”
The gunman, with his helmet still on, seconded the command.
At their tender mercies, I complied. With a bit of fumbling, I got it off.
I don’t consider myself bold, and being a graduate student, don’t make it a habit of looking for life and death situations. But the last several days had done much to raise my threshold for danger. I looked the traitor over. “Do you have a name, or do I just call you a whore for the Hypogeans?”
That wiped the smirk off his face.
He half-snarled a reply, “When you die screaming, remember this name—Eude Osmot.”
I made a show of trying not to snigger. He went red in the face. The gunman had to hold him back.
Eude drew in a deep breath. “Hand over your weapon—I know you have it—and then get strapped in.” He pointed to the seats mounted on the armatures, allowing them to adjust to the different orientations of the ship. Then he pointed to the gunman. “My partner here will keep an eye on you.”
It took some work to draw out my arm and fish around in the tight confines of the suit’s torso to pull out my pistol, but I handed it over.
Aeliana floated in her suit, quiet and still. I tried to pretend nonchalance. “What about her?”
Eude didn’t buy it. He smirked. “I’ll leave her to your tender care.”
He and the gunman withdrew, closing and locking the hatch.
I pulled off her helmet. Her raven hair was plastered to her sweaty face, which I brushed aside to take her pulse. It was steady, as was her breathing. In turn, I breathed a sigh of relief.
One thing that Eude hadn’t known, I had the other orb. As my fingers brushed it, there was the same tug through the sphere that had first drawn me to Aeliana. I grasped it and tried to will something back through to wake her up.
Her eyes fluttered open and found mine. “Wha..what happened?”
“We’re in trouble.”
To be continued…