“You’re not going to like the answer.”
That didn’t surprise Tabitha. She hadn’t liked anything so far. Why would that change now? She waited for Genzi to continue.
“The ship’s been hailed by another vessel,” Genzi said.
Tabitha paused, her arm half in a sleeve. “What are the chances two ships can get close enough to hail out here?” The space between Chigon and anywhere civilized was vast, even by astronomic measures.
“Impossible. Or near enough to impossible. Unless they had a means of tracking the ship. It wouldn’t be that hard to install something if they got to the ship before it departed.”
“But, why would they?” Tabitha finished sliding her arm in.
“If they wanted something from the ship and found it difficult to acquire while in port, they could try in space, where security would be easier to defeat.”
“So these guys are crooks? Ok, fine. But why are you waking me up?”
Genzi gave a humorless grin. “Honey, you’re what they want.”
“Me? That doesn’t make sense. My family isn’t rich. They can’t get a ransom.” Tabitha finished dressing. The break along the front sealed seamlessly as she ran her finger along it. Whoever this Ms. Kronopolos was, she has small feet and a small rear end, but a much larger bust. It was almost too tight to walk in the legs but quite roomy up top.
Genzi shrugged. “You’re Tabitha, right?” Tabitha nodded. “You’re who they asked for. We’ve woken you because they’re going to board. We don’t have defenses strong enough to repel them. But the on-board security teams should probably be able to stop them. We just don’t want to risk they’ll make it this far and get you. It’s easier to hide you awake than defend the stasis chambers.”
Genzi was right, Tabitha didn’t like the answer. She swallowed, her throat dry. “Ok.”
“Ready, honey? Let’s go.” Genzi slid the door open and greeted Schwartz.
Schwartz nodded and started walking.
They passed rows and rows of tanks, all of them filled with blue, viscous fluid in which a human body floated motionlessly. It was eerie to see them all in so much silence. There had been a lot more movement and noise when Tabitha had entered the tank before departure.
Schwartz didn’t pause, moving forward with the ease and directness of someone who was familiar with the sights and had something to do. Tabitha was behind him. Genzi brought up the rear.
They exited through the chamber and passed through close, dark corridors, turning every now and then. The walls curved away from the floor and then back together to the ceiling, making tubes out of the passageways. Tabitha was unable to keep track of the path they took.
Before long, Tabitha heard the distant sounds of fighting. Shots, crashes, small explosions. Though it was cold, Tabitha felt perspiration form on her body. The uniform quickly swept it away, but she was still aware of it.
They encountered a small pack of men who weren’t in uniforms, but carried firearms of various models and styles. One of them grinned. “How much you bet this is her?” he cackled.
Tabitha’s eyes went wide, but Schwartz didn’t hesitate. He ran forward, yelling incoherently at ear-damaging volume. The invaders fired but couldn’t stop Schwartz as he waded into the middle of the crowd, throwing enemies to the side. He was probably wearing something to block their fire, but that he didn’t even break stride was impressive.
“Come on, honey,” Genzi said, pulling Tabitha down a side passage. Tabitha followed, unwilling to wait and see how the fight ended. Genzi held her wrist and dragged her along. They were moving faster than Tabitha believed she could run, and soon she was breathing hard. Still Genzi kept going.
A man blocked their passage. His purple eyes showed he was genetically designed, but he was nothing like Schwartz. He was smaller, narrower, wiry. He had corded muscles on his arms and legs that made them look like braided steel cables. And his arms were long, like an ape. He raised one hand and his arm grew at least five feet.
Genzi dropped low and reached for the man’s wrist. His arm shrunk back to its normal size in an instant, even as his other arm stretched out, grabbing lower to keep Genzi from ducking again.
This time Genzi dodged to the side and ran up the round wall before pushing off and launching herself at the man. A knife appeared in her hand and she stabbed the man’s neck. Blood sprayed everywhere.
“Let’s go,” Genzi said, waving to Tabitha.
Tabitha stood for a second, taking in what happened. “How did you do that?”
“Honey,” Genzi hissed. “We don’t have time. There’ll be more.”
Tabitha finally found motivation to move and stepped to Genzi. The dark-skinned woman took Tabitha’s wrist and started running again. She hid the knife back in her sleeve as they moved.
The sounds of fighting grew louder and closer. Genzi stopped to check a computer panel, bringing up a display that looked like ship floor plans. Red and blue dots blinked all over it.
“Cark!” Genzi spat. “They’re everywhere. We can’t get to the secure hold.”
“What do we do? Surrender?” Tabitha tried to keep the fear from her voice, but the rising pitch almost certainly gave it away.
“If you want to be a pirate’s slave, be my guest, honey.” When Tabitha didn’t answer Genzi continued. “We could take an escape pod, but at this point the pirates are just as likely to win as the crew.” She stared at the screen for a few moments. “We could walk.”
“Walk? We’ve been running…” Tabitha realized what Genzi was saying. “You mean… outside?” Genzi nodded. “But I’m not rated for… I’ve never even done it before! What if I float off?”
“Honey, we can stick to the outside of the ship. The bad guys are either driven off or leave when they can’t find you. Afterward, we go back in and you’re safe. We’ll tether together so you can’t get lost. I don’t see another option.”
No other option? Tabitha could think of a few. Fighting their way through was one. Genzi was more than competent, having taken out that Gen-D without breaking a sweat. They could take the escape pod, which was much less terrifying than the prospect of a space walk. But Genzi was right. With the outcome of the battle up in the air, who knew who would pick the pod up? If either one did at all. Both ships could be disabled and then where would she be?
Tabitha closed her eyes. “Alright. We’ll walk,” she heard herself say. She shivered as she did so. She opened her eyes to see the humorless grin on Genzi’s face.
“Let’s do it then.” She took Tabitha around a corner to an airlock. A variety of space suits hung in the hallway by the iris portal.
They both began to dress, Genzi in a navy blue suit, Tabitha in a pink one. When she had her feet and arms in, Tabitha couldn’t figure out how to seal the suit. She touched the zipline but it didn’t respond.
“They don’t work that way. They’re designed not to respond to touch – that makes it too easy to open the suit in space.” Genzi set the helmet – a transparent bubble that looked a little like a slightly flattened fishbowl – on Tabitha’s head and pointed at a screen by the hanging suits. “Everything in the suit is controlled by eye movements. The seal command is pretty complex because, well, you don’t want to accidentally open up your suit out there. Just follow the dot with your eyes.” She pressed a button and a blinking purple dot appeared on the screen. For several seconds it moved in circular patterns that crossed over each other and then turned into back and forth and up and down. Tabitha could see why they had the screen help; she couldn’t imagine ever memorizing the pattern.
When the dot disappeared, she heard the soft thumb and tearing sound of the suit sealing. The inside surface of the helmet was suddenly covered with a variety of lights in complex data displays. Charts, readouts, lists, arrows – she couldn’t make sense out of any of it. She stumbled backward, then held as still as she could, trying to overcome the vertigo caused by the display superimposed over the real world.
Inside her suit, she heard Genzi laugh. “You can’t see, can you?”
Tabitha shook her head.
“Using the HUD is at least half of the rating program for using one of these. Move your eyes right-left-right-left.”
Tabitha relaxed as the display disappeared, replaced by the solidity of the real walls.
“You can talk, you know,” Genzi told her. “The comm is voice activated and defaults to broadcasting to local suits.”
“Ok,” Tabitha said quietly.
Genzi held the end of an orange cable. “The tether,” she explained. “Turn around.” When she did Genzi pushed the cable against the back of Tabitha’s suit. “Move your eyes in a clockwise circle three times.” The cable sealed itself to Tabitha’s suit. More accurately, the suit sealed itself to the cable, Tabitha thought.
Genzi held out the other end of the cable. It was about 20 feet long. “Push it against the square on my back.”
When they were both connected to the tether, Genzi started pushing buttons by the screen again, but seemed to ignore the button for opening the lock.
“I’m hacking the registry so there’s no record we went out this way,” she explained. We don’t want them to know where to look for us.”
As Genzi worked, Tabitha became aware of how silent it had become. While dressing, they had heard the sounds of the ship operating and the fight. But inside the suit the silence was absolute. Tabitha couldn’t remember anything being this quiet.
At last Genzi finished and opened the iris door to the airlock. “Let’s go, honey.”
Tabitha stepped in, and the iris closed behind her. It was dark inside the lock.
“Why isn’t the other door opening?” she asked, her voice shaking a little.
“They’re pumping the air out. Interstellar travel teaches you not to waste. They don’t want to lose the oxygen that was in here.”
Tabitha nodded, forgetting that Genzi couldn’t see her.
A moment later the external iris spread open. Genzi stepped out onto the surface of the ship. Tabitha followed awkwardly, unused to the strong attraction between the boots and the ship, but grateful for it so she didn’t fly off into space. The iris closed behind them, blocking any light from inside the ship.
“We’re not sharing air,” Genzi said with a chuckle. “So feel free to fart, it won’t bother me.”
Tabitha had an image of what a spacewalk would be like. There would be long dark shadows along the ship from its irregular features, with a bright, blinding glare from the nearest sun. This was nothing like that. For one thing, the surface of the ship was smooth, a fact she should have remembered, since she had seen it before.
For another thing, it was dark, nearly pitch. There was no nearby sun. They were far in between stars. There were a very few lights that indicated where view ports were, but none of it illuminated onto the surface of the ship. The only light in their area were the arm-mounted lights on Genzi’s suit.
They took a few strides and then stopped. Genzi turned off her lights. “Shutting off anything that will help them find us,” she explained. “Now we wait.”
It was queer not to feel a sense of down. There was a pull at Tabitha’s legs where her boots attached to the ship’s surface, but she could feel her body trying to drift away from it. Her inner ear had no idea which way to orient her. It made her more than a little nauseous and she worried about throwing up inside the helmet. She tried to distract herself by looking around.
Tabitha had never imagined herself afraid of the dark before. But she had never been in darkness so absolute. There were stars in view, but far fewer than she had imagined. Mostly what she saw was black. Black nothing. Emptiness. Void. She had never felt so isolated. There was a woman tied to her, she knew, but unless Genzi spoke, Tabitha couldn’t hear her. And she couldn’t see her. She peered into the void and it didn’t peer back. Nothing did, because there was nothing there.
She could feel her heart rate start to increase. Perspiration dripped down her temple. She began looking all round her, back and forth, hoping to see something, anything. Somewhere in her head she could tell she was panicking, but she couldn’t stop herself. The HUD in her helmet started to flash on and off intermittently in response to her frantic eye movements. She crouched down into a fetal position. Her boots released from the ship and she started to float away.