Chapter 16

“At eleven, you’re to appear at my apartment,”  Segni had said with a smile, “With your gift of vegetables ready, which you will present after carrying it to the other half of the ship.  As a past porter, you should be used to that.  What a treat tomorrow will be, a moment in history, set by a previous historian.  Set by myself.  And I cannot think of a better time for it to happen, can you?”

“No,”  I answered, the muscles in my arms tight.

“Of course not, because as you know, tomorrow is my birthday.  And what an *excellent* gift this shall be before the feast you shall prepare next week.”

I grit my teeth as he spoke, as I watched Nean dig his knife into Elliot’s back and push him from the room while Tom lead Hanna out with a hand on her elbow.

“My daughter,”  She said, “I know you have to do this, but see that she is cared for.”

Tom nodded before they disappeared down the hallway, with Segni following, and leaving me alone in the room.  Sitting in the darkness as my fists clenched.  As I saw the council crumble with a few simple commands.

Pliny’s voice spoke in the darkness then, reminding me of his final words.  Reminding me of my duty.

There are other measures, actions that I was too much of a coward to do. And other things, darker things that I could have done.

My palm started to bleed as my fingernails pushed into the skin and I closed my eyes, forcing my heartbeat to slow.  Thinking about what needed to happen next.  And with Segni, what needed to happen afterwards.  Darker things.

I never spoke out when the council was taken because I knew that I could not let Segni go alone.  I knew that whatever the danger, I had to accompany him.  Not because of what might happen to him.

But because what might happen to the ship.

***

I did not retire to my apartment that night as the meeting broke apart.  Instead, I waited for them to disperse, and walked down the length of the ship, following corridors that had long grown familiar since Pliny’s death.  Listening to the chatter of my teeth grow louder and louder as frost accumulated on the walls, and as I entered the control room.

There, on the table, I flipped through the books left on the table from ages past, reading Archim’s handwriting.  Reviewing both the capabilities that I could and that I could not understand.  Running scenarios in my mind for the next day, bookmarking pages for each, and ranking them in terms of priority.

Then, at just after six in the morning, I found what I was looking for, deep within one of the thickest journals.  Journal number six, three hundred and seventy one pages in.  I read it twice before placing two different sized paper weights on top, applying a constant to keep the page number from changing.

And carefully, I walked to the knobs at the far end of the room that controlled what I had found.  My fingers brushed them, sending adrenaline through me as I hesitated, biting my lip.

All I needed was a test, a test to find out if it would work.  Just for a few moments, no more, unless required by events the next day.

Holding my breath, I then turned a specific one just slightly to the right, watching my theory become reality just as I had done with the lights in the garden.  And I smiled.

Segni might not be willing to defend the ship.

But I would be.

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Chapter 17

Segni’s apartment was at the very back of the ship, near where the wall curved in upon itself and turned back towards the front.  As tradition, that room had always belonged to the chief- being by far the largest, having a steady temperature gradient from warm to cool from the back to the front, and having all the best furniture from the other apartments brought in.  It was shaped like a wide hall, ending abruptly at a thick sealed door at the back, where the metal of the frame had been physically fused together in several spots to make it eternally impossible to open.  A red “C” was plastered off center on that door, for “Chief”, and a few old wires that dangled from holes in the walls had been utilized to hang picture frames.

Segni was still wiping away sleep when he exited, his brother Vacki following behind.  Nean joined us with six porters as we walked down the length of the ship.

That morning, after two hours of quick sleep, I had collected a basket of produce from the gardens as Elliot, then later Segni, had instructed.  I took three of everything, the best specimens that I could find, arranging them together to display our agricultural capabilities.  As I worked, the other gardeners gathered around me, some of the children asking me questions.

“What’s going on?”  Demanded Mark, “Where are you going?  Are you going to meet the others?”

“I am,”  I had answered, leaning over to liberate a green bean, “We’re going to impress them with all the fine gardening that you’ve been doing.  Maybe they’ll want us to teach them too!”

“Will they be new friends?”  Asked Matthew, and I smiled, biting my lip.

“We can only hope!” I responded, and repeated the sentence in my own thoughts, trying to convince myself as well.  But it was the last question that caught me off guard as I walked out of the gardens, and felt a small hand tugging on my shirt, and looked down to see the face of a young girl, tears spilling down her cheeks.

“When will my parents be back?” Ruth said, and buried her face in my shirt.

“What happened?” I asked, stunned, “Where did they go?”

“Uncle Tom said they were with you,” She answered, “When they were taken away.  He said that you saw it!”

I took a sharp breath inward, remembering the night before, and bent down to speak with Ruth.

“Hannah, and Elliot?”

“Y- Yes,” she stuttered.

“Soon, Ruth.  Listen to me, soon.  Nothing like this will ever happen again, do you understand?  You have my promise, and they will be back soon. But I have to go now, Ruth.  As soon as I come back, I will help you, ok?”

She nodded, then turned and walked back to the gardens, whispering before she left.

“Ok, Horatius.  You’ve always been able to do it before.”

I then left Ruth and the other gardeners, their gazes following me as I departed.  And as I  met up with Segni, his eye had wondered to the basket I carried as we walked.  Reaching a hand over, he rooted through the arrangement of food until he found the three strawberries at the center and tucked them into his shirt pocket.

“What are you doing?” I demanded, and he laughed through his heavy breathing from the exertion of walking.

“It’s not like they’re going to know,”  He said, “It’s not going to make a difference either way.”  Then he popped one into his mouth, discarding the stem on the ground behind him, where the four leaves were promptly trampled on by Nean’s foot.  And his hand returned to the basket, removing a green bean, then a tomato, and other produce until only two of everything remained.

“We’re getting close,”  I said as Segni started to shiver and his shoes scuffed across frost encrusted floor, cutting out arced streaks among the white.  Nean dragged his knife along the wall, leaving a long scratch behind him as metal grated against metal, absentmindedly flicking the edge from time to time to scatter ice on the ground.

“Cut it out, will you?” I said, the noise reverberating in my ears.

“Figure I’ll leave a trail, in case you try to get us lost here,”  He said, and dug the knife in with a sharp squeak.

Then, minutes later, we arrived at the door, and placing my hand against it I could feel it humming, vibrating from something behind it.

“The four of us will enter,”  Said Segni, looking at the narrow width and gesturing to me, Tom, and Nean, “Myself and Horatius in front, Nean and Tom behind with your knives ready in case I am in danger.  I will present the gift and accept theirs in return. Other porters, force the door shut if we have issues and after we escape, and hold it there.”

“Maybe we should have something heavy to prop against it,”  I said, “In case it needs to hold.”

“You’re looking at the strongest men on the ship,”  Said Segni, “We’ll be fine.”

“The strongest men on this side of the ship.”

“Horatius, if you question me again then I’ll be sure to include you in our present to the other side.  Now, how much longer do we have to wait?”

“Any minute now,”  Answered Nean, “If anything happens at all.”

“Indeed, if,”  Said Segni, with a yawn, and sat on the floor with his back against the wall and shutting his eyes, “If it doesn’t, deliver the gift basket to my room, refilled, Horatius.  I’ll be retiring to sleep, as there just so happened to be an interruption last night that cost me several hours, as you know.  We’ll give it fifteen more minutes, and if nothing happens, then-”

Airlock restored.”  Said the voice from above, causing everyone in the part to jump, and Segni’s eyes to snap open.

With a crack the ice along the seam split, shattering onto the floor and scattering down the hall as the door opened, propelled forward with such force that it slammed against the wall.  And peering inside, we saw a long hallway with another door at the end.

A door that had also opened.
And now had three figures peering back.

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Chapter 18

The three figures started walking, the two on the sides slightly behind the one in the center.  The leftmost swayed with a slight limp, his hand on his belt where a scratched cooking knife hung on one side and a short black rectangle was clipped to the other.  The sleeves of his shirt were too wide for his arms, the red fabric hanging off his bone as if his shoulders were a hanger.  He smiled as they approached, two of his bottom teeth missing, and his cheeks forming concave pockets on the sides of his face, and his facial muscles twitching slightly as they held the expression.

The other side figure wore faded blue, the shirt jumping across his skin as his chest spasmed underneath.  The contents of his belt were identical to the left figure and a thin scar ran through his eyebrow to his jaw.  He spat on the side of the passageway, his thick phlegm trickling slowly down the wall, the metal similar in most parts to the rest of the ship but interrupted by long arcs of more rough material, globs that were fused to the surface and ran in frozen drops towards the ground. 

Then there was the center figure, her clothes entirely grey, the fit far more crisp than the other two, the folds accented with sharp creases.  She met my eyes as she led the party, my heart racing as I recognized the familiar pattern of freckles coupled with ginger hair.

Segni and I approached from the other end, him taking up enough of the hallway to push me near against the edge, Tom and Nean following our stride.  Segni held a hand against my chest to prevent me from moving past him, his breath coming in puffs as the others reached the halfway point and kept walking.  At one third of the way we met them, standing five feet apart, and a cluster of heads appeared at the open doorway at the end of the hall to watch and wait.

For a moment, no one spoke- we simply stared, taking in the appearance of those that had been separated for centuries, and viewable only from a distance.  Segni’s eyes flickered to each in turn, scanning their hands.  The men on the left and right of the woman in grey responded by looking him over, their eyes narrowing as they reached his chin, then turning to near slits when the glossed over his stomach.  My sight was drawn to the woman in grey, just as they had been drawn there over the years as I had spotted her watching me from her window, and her stare met my own.  Then her pupils flicked downward and to her right, where the fingers of her hand danced in a soft flurry of motion, too low to be seen by her counterparts.

Two signs, repeated over and over, one of her thumb overlapping her index and ring fingers, another of her pinky bending in towards her palm.  I frowned as I looked towards her face again, and then she spoke, her voice harder and sharper than I was used to.

“I am Airomem,”  She said, her chin high in the air, “Daughter of Praeter, leader of the Lear tribe.  With me are the leaders of the two other tribes, who have granted me safe passage to this meeting between our peoples today.”

“Esuri,”  Said the man to her left, scowling at her, “King of the Aquarians.”

“Sitient,”  Said the other, his voice raspy and starting before the other had finished speaking, “Chieftain of the Agrarians.”

“Segni, Chief of the ship,”  Came the answer from our side of the divide, “And on this day of meeting, we bring you a gift.”

He extended the basket to Airomem, and she accepted it, while Esuri and Sitent stared at the contents.

“No water?” Asked Sitient, “Only food?”

“And not enough to share between the three of us,”  Said Esuri, “With most of these varieties being of the basic species.”

“I forgo my share, such that the two of you may enjoy it,”  Said Airomem, “And we graciously accept your gift, Segni.”

“Of course she would give up her share, as if she would even need it,” Said Sitient, and spat against the wall again.

Enough,”  Said Airomem, her voice sharp just as Esuri opened his mouth to comment as well, and gestured to me, “And you, are you the leader of another tribe from your side of the ship?”

“I am Hor-”

“Him?”  Laughed Segni, putting a hand in front of me to cut me off, “No, he is the one who prepared the gift for you, a simple farmer.”

“Simple farmer?”  Said Sitient, “Did you come to trade insults as well as gifts?”

“Or to show disdain for us, the leaders, with his inferior presence?”  Asked Esuri.

“I am sure that he meant nothing of the sort,”  Interjected Airomem, “We must respect that their customs may be different than our own.”

“We meant no insult, and I am more than a simple farmer, and act as the Hist-“

Segni cut me off with his hand again and spoke, gesturing towards the basket.

“And now that we have provided on to you, where is the gift that you have prepared for us?”

For a moment, all was silent, Airomem’s mouth opening slightly as the Esuri and Sitient bristled, their hands moving towards their hips as Nean and Tom stirred behind us.

Our gift?”  Hissed Esuri, and pointed at Segni’s stomach, his finger rigid, “Our gift, after you send us your scraps?  Are you sure that you did not have more to give fat man, because your offering is a mockery.”

“Give it back then, if you don’t want it,”  Responded Segni, his face reddening and voice rising, “It’s all we could spare with the feast next week.”

“A feast?”  Shouted Esuri, “You feast, while the two thousand members of our tribe starve?  How many are you wasting this food upon?  Perhaps you should set seats for us as well!”

“A thousand,”  Shouted Segni back, “And maybe I would have invited a few of you, if you had been more polite!”

Airomem’s face turned white as Esuri and Sitient looked to each other, their heads tilting slightly to the side.

“A thousand,”  Sitient breathed, “Of course, that would just simply be your warriors, those invited to partake in the feast?”

“No,”  Lectured Segni, as Airomem held up a hand and I tried to interject, “The feast is for everyone.”

“One thousand total,” Muttered Esuri, “Five times less than our tribes combined.  With just as much food and water.”

“I assure you,”  I said, speaking quickly, “That our resources are few and stretched thin, much of them destroyed when the Hand of God struck.”

“Liar!”  Shouted Esuri, taking the basket from Airomem and smashing it against the ground, sending vegetables flying down the hallway in both directions. Airomem spun and slapped him, her nails leaving red marks across his face as he reached towards his hip again.

“Harm me, and you know the consequences for you and your tribe!” She shouted at him, then continued to us all, “We came here for peace!  We do not know the circumstances of their side of the ship, must assume that they likely have a fifth of the resources we do with their population, and must work with them in the future to assure mutual survival.  Together, as four tribes, we will create a future- a better future than our past.”

Esuri shook with rage as Segni responded, leaning over to pick up the remainder of the basket, a few vegetables left in the center.

“Four tribes?  No, I am Chief of the ship, just as my father was, and just how I told you earlier.  Just how it used to be before the Hand of God struck.  And now that we are reunited, I will assume responsibilities of the ship.  Not half the ship.”

And as he straightened up, and bit off the end of a green bean in his hand, something toppled out from his shirt pocket.  Something red, that bounced on the floor and rolled to the Esuri’s feet, with a bright green stem and unmistakable among the metal.

It was result of my labor reading the Guide to Gardening.  A plump strawberry, one that Segni had stolen from the basket, the size and color greatly enhanced through my work.

 And far more impressive than the other contents of the gift.

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Chapter 19

For a moment the strawberry wobbled, each set of eyes staring down at it as I held my breath.  Everyone was still, save for the twitching in Sentient’s chest and Esuri’s face,  causing the shadows to dance on the walls, and for a slight shift in weight of Airomem’s posture.

Then Esuri lifted his foot and brought it down on the strawberry, pressing until it was flat against the metal, juice and pulp oozing out from underneath his tattered shoe.  And Sitient raised his eyes, his mouth opening to whisper a single word.

“Liar.”

Together they lunged, covering the distance between us in an instant as Airomem’s arms shot out, sending each careening against opposite walls.  And as they bounced away and recovered, I felt a thick hand grip my collar as Segni dragged me in front of his own body.  Behind us Nean shrieked and sprinted away, his footsteps echoing in slow motion in my mind as  Esuri and Sitient attacked again.

Esuri’s knife was in his hand this time as he lept forward, slashing downward from above as Segni’s grip tightened on my collar, his fingers wrapping around the fabric until it cut off my breathing and I saw black in the corners of my vision.  I kicked backwards as the knife came down, Segni twisting me to his left to meet the silver edge that was nicked dozens of times along its length, the short handle stained red where it was clasped in Esuri’s fingers.  His enraged face was reflected in the blade as is neared my throat, spittle flying from his mouth as he twisted, the blade mere inches away from my skin as it exploded in a shower of sparks.

Reaching around mine and Segni’s shoulders, Tom’s knife had met Ensuri’s, his own arm absorbing the blow as if it he were catching a moderate weight in the heavy room.  Then Segni squealed, a high pitched sound that flooded directly into my ear as his hand loosened and I bucked away, turning to see Sitient at  his right, his eyes alight with fury.

And twisting the knife that had just plunged deep into Segni’s exposed side as blood spurted onto his hands, and Esuri reared backwards to attack once again.

But then there were two flashes of bright blue light as Airomem stepped forward, an arm extended towards both Esuri and Setient with one of the peculiar black rectangles in each hand, the blue light buzzing between two sharp metal prongs on the end. With a jabbing motion she simultaneously jammed one into each of their torsos and they were thrown backwards, screaming as their muscles locked tight and they shook on the ground, their jaws bulging and necks bent.

“Run!”  Airomem shouted, pointing towards the door, “They won’t be down long!  More will surely be coming!”

And as soon as the words left her throat bodies began pouring through the door at the end of the hall.   Dozens of them, screeching as they pushed off each other with too thin arms, and ran on too thin legs, and fought amongst themselves to be first with flashes of blue light and the brandishing of knives.

I turned, slamming into Segni’s stomach as he continued to howl,clutching at his side where the knife handle still protruded, his face white and fingers red.

“Segni, run!”  I shouted, pushing him, but he barely stumbled backwards.  Behind us, the mass of limbs advanced as Ensuri and Stitient started to rise, each now holding a knife in one hand and one of the black rectangles in the other.  

“I can’t!”  Segni shouted, “Your chief is wounded!  Stand, stand and defend me, your chief!  Avenge me!, teach them who their true leader is!”

The horde was a third of the way now, and picking up speed, their calls more frantic, their movements more fluid.  

“Go!”  Shouted Airomem, strobing the blue light devices, “Go!  Now!  They will have no mercy!”

“Then we shall have no mercy!” Shouted Segni,  “Defend me, fight for your chief!  In front, get in front of me!”

Behind Segni Tom stooped down, lowering his shoulder underneath Segni’s arm and pulling him into the air as he began to kick.  Then Tom started to run with Segni, clearing the way for us to pass as Segni struggled, then eventually reached a hand down to his side and pulled the crimson knife free a quarter of the way to the door.

“Cowards!  This ship belongs to *me*! It is *mine*!”  Segni shouted, and slashed downwards, cutting deep into Tom’s tricep.  With a started yelp Tom dropped Segni to the ground where he writhed in drops of his own blood as Airomem and I jumped over him, and then he struggled to his feet.

The horde was now half of the way, with Ensuri and Sitient leading them by several lengths.  Segni turned a full circle, his eyes wide, then his face growing even paler than I thought possible as he saw the advancing horde again as we fled, and then started to hobble after us. Airomem took the rear of the small group, holding the blue lights in front of her, somehow making them buzz louder and glow brighter as Segni struggled to catch up.

“Wait!”  Pleaded Segni as his breaths came in puffs and he struggled to keep pace, slowing from a jog to a walk with his right hand up.  Tom stopped, preparing to turn back, but I took his arm and shouted at him until he budged.

“Tom, no!  It’s too late!”

And it was.

Segni screamed as the fastest members reached him, their momentum so great that they ran over him as he toppled, but turning back as soon as they saw the blue flash of Airomem. The first dozen knives flashed as he fell to his knees, moving in and out of the skin as he screamed, and then his screams turned to gurgles.  And out of his shirt pocket fell another strawberry, coming to a halt ten feet away from him in our direction as we reached the door, just as Sitient reached the center of the mass and buried his open mouth into Segni’s throat, cutting off all sound.

We watched as they ripped him apart, a frenzied mass of butchering on all sides.  And in front of the spectacle Ensuri stepped forward, a strip of Segni in his hand, and walked ten feet towards us. Then he bent down to the ground and picked up a small object, the strawberry Segni had dropped moments before.

“A feast!”  He cried out, his teeth already red before they bit into the fruit and he threw the stem towards us, “A feast fit for a king!”

And taking the door into both her hands, Aeromem slammed it shut, cutting us off from the celebration.

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Chapter 20

My breath came in choking gasps as the porters stood open mouths, shutting my eyes to block out the remains of Segni on the other side of the door, while Airomem started to shout.

“Brace the door!  Brace the door, we don’t have long!”  Her head whipped back and forth over the crew, surveying Nean who was shaking against the wall, Tom staring dumbfounded at his red hands, and a white faced and wide eyed Vaca, “The braces, where are the braces?”

“B-braces?”  Stuttered one of the porters, as Airomem whirled on him.

“Yes, braces, to reinforce the door!  They’ll be trying to burst through in any minute, first with their body weight, then with a ram!  And I give that door about a half hour before it falls in, if that.”

“A ram?”  I said, my thoughts starting to spin again, fighting the adrenaline that was coursing through my system and still screaming for me to run, “What do you mean by a ram?”

“A battering ram!  As in they’ll slam into the door with something heavy until it is no longer a door!”

“Why, why would they have something like that?”  Asked Vaca, still in shock.

“To. Break. Doors.”  She hissed, clenching her fists, then rounded on me, “When was the last war here?  How prepared are you warriors?  How quickly can we get a group of guards with weapons, here, to defend this point?”  

“W-warriors?”  Said the same porter that had spoke up a moment before as Airomem bit the side of her cheek, and I answered.

“War?  We’ve never had a war, not in all of our recorded history since the Hand of God struck!  I’ve only heard of them through books. This crew right here, these are the majority of those who would be fit for any sort of defense, minus some gardeners.  And Segni’s death is the first violent one in at least three hundred years, since the Great Thirst!”  

“The what?  Wait, no, never mind, that’s not important now.  Unless we have a way to barricade that door, they’re coming through.  And if that happens, you’ll end up just like your chief!  You lot, standing around, I want you pushing against that door as hard as you can!  It will buy us time!”

“Don’t listen to her!”  Shouted Nean, raising his face from his hands, his face wet with tears, “She’s one of them, one of the barbarians that killed Segni!  And now she’s probably going to kill us too, and eat us!  Just like they did, just like they did to-”

“Get yourself together!”  I shouted back, stepping in front of Airomem, “She did far more to protect Segni than you did!  She’s the reason any of us escaped!”

“And I’m not one of them,”  Said Airomem, “Their tribes are separate than my own, with good reason.”

“She’s still one of them,”  Shrieked Nean, “We can’t trust her!”

“What if Segni is still alive,”  Joined in Vaca, “What if he fought them off?  What if he’s trying to escape now, but we are going to lock him inside?  I command you not to hold the door!”  

The porters hesitated, but before I could speak again there was the sound of something striking the metal door as it started to swing open on its hinges, and Tom and I both lept to push our weight against it.  There was a screech as the door slammed shut, something behind it scrambling away and scratching at the metal, as I turned to address the other porters who were already jumping forward.

“All of you, against this door, now!”

Their bodies joined ours as several others collided on the other side, but the door held, rattling against the frame.

“We’ll need braces,”  Exclaimed Airomem, her voice high, “That won’t last long!”

“Hold the door, I have an idea!  We’ll be right back!”  I responded, turning to run down the hallway when Tom’s thick fingers gripped around my forearm and he pulled me close.  Then he whispered in my ear, so quiet that only I could hear him as Airomem motioned for us to hurry.

“I saw Esuri’s knife,”  He said, “I saw Sitient’s kife.  I could only stop one.  Make sure I made the right decision.”

***

“This way!”  I shouted to Airomem, streaking down the hallway, sliding on the ice on the floor. Ice that was now melting, I noticed, and air that no longer frosted in front of my face.  We turned a corner and my feet nearly went out from under me but I recovered, pinwheeling my arms as I ran down a small staircase.

“Where are we going?”  She shouted, nearly colliding with the wall herself, “There is no way that the two of us will be able to carry anything big enough to stop them back ourselves!”

“We won’t need to!”  I shouted, and continued sprinting, not stopping until I reached the room that Pliny had showed me long ago.  The control room.

Together, we burst inside, and I ran to the center table where the book I had studied earlier was still open.  And before rushing to the knobs on the far wall, I read the section again that I had found.

The section in the book labeled Gravitational Controls.  The instructions I would use to defend the ship.

Graviation for the ship has been preset to account for acceleration and deceleration inertial differentials, read the passage, Several other applications are toggled, such as the reduction of artificial gravity in hallways to allow for better transportation, or for recreational activities requiring higher values.  In the event of special circumstances, full gravitational control is enabled.  It should be noted that energy usage grows exponentially with higher gravitational values, and that gravitational changes should be communicated to the inhabitants of the ship to prevent injuries.  Furthermore, the ship’s intelligence will modulate any set gravitational values accordingly to account for inertial deltas.

“It exists,”  Came Airomem’s voice behind me as she walked over to a wall, reaching out a hand to touch one of the knobs, “It actually exists.”

Stop!  Don’t touch that!”  I shouted, and she withdrew her hand sharply.

“Sorry, I was-”

Just then, there was a noise that boomed from above, and rattling thunder that that echoed in the control room.

“Damn bastards!”  Airomem exclaimed, looking towards the origin of the sound, “They must have had the ram ready, prepared before the meeting, in case they wanted to force their way across the bridge!  We should have had more time than this.  Quick, we need to act!”

But I was already running towards the section of switches that I had identified earlier, those that corresponded to the other side of the door and to Segni’s remains.  Without a moment’s hesitation, my finger came into constant with a cold metal knob.

And taking a sharp breath, I turned it as far as it would go to the right.

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Chapter 21

The sound of a crash slammed into my eardrums again, far louder this time, reverberations reaching us in the control room as the book shook off the table.  

“I don’t understand, it should have worked!”  I said, double checking the knob and jiggling it to be sure that there was no room left to turn.  It was the right one, corresponding with the correct section of the ship according to the manual.

When I had tested the knob indicated to adjust the control room, it had worked- I’d felt my arms being dragged down to the ground, and my spine crunching under the excess weight, just like I felt in the heavy room.

But this time I must have been wrong.

“They’ll be breaking through now!”  Shouted Airomem as we heard shouts, “Hurry, we need to get back!  We can defend the door for some time at least!  With any luck, if we harm enough of them they’ll turn back and we can regroup, and maintain the bottleneck. But once they break through that door there will be no stopping them!”

We ran back the way we had came, thoughts flooding my mind as Airomem removed the black rectangles from her belt and blue light flashed along the walls.

Like she said, if they had already broken through then we would already be defeated.  With several more times people on their end of the ship than our own, defending ourselves would be impossible.  Even if they did not harm a single person on our end, they would find our crops, and without stores weakened from the combination of feasting and my actions then we would starve.  

Water had now puddled thick upon the floor from the icy walls, frigid moisture soaking through my shoes with each step. And we were nearly at the corner when the shouts had grown more frantic.  

And I wondered what we would do.

We had almost no weapons.  In my entire life before that day, I’d never been in a fight whose consequence was anything more than a potential broken bone.  And after seeing Segni go down, I knew how this fight would end.

Then we turned, and I saw the scene that was waiting for us.

The porters still stood with their backs against the door, pushing against the metal.  Nean and Vaca watched from the hallway, ready to run at a moment’s notice.

But nothing had changed except for the screams on the other end of the wall.  Which, though faded, now sounded quieter than they should at our proximity.

“What happened?”  I said to Tom, my breaths coming in stuccatto gasps, “We heard the ram, are they preparing for another strike?”

“One hit,”  He answered, “Then nothing.  Only noise.”

“It’s unlike them,”  Said Airomem, “Typically, when they are blood lusted they do not give up that easily, or until they can carry away some of their own dead.  Their tribes detest each other, however, and made a peace pact for today only.  Maybe it broke down.”

“Have you heard anything close in the past few minutes since we left?”  I asked, listening, and Tom shook his head.

“Then open the door.”  I said, “But be prepared to slam it shut again.”

“I would advise against that,” said Airomem, flashing the blue lights brighter, the porters flinching away.

“We’ll be alright,”  I answered, “I know what happened.  Go on, open it.”

One by one, the porters stepped away until only Tom was left.  With a nod he grasped the hand holds in the center, and pulled, slowly cracking the door until it was only an inch open.  And stepping forward, I placed my eye against the crack.

“Clear!”  I said, and pushed the door open as we crowded around the opening.

At the far end of the hallway several bodies were squirming away on all fours, dragging their limbs along the floor, their hair plastered to the sides of their heads.  And directly in front of us was the battering ram where it had fallen under increased gravity, its edge denting the metal floor underneath.  

The front of it was the remains of a metal grating, folded over and hammered into a blunt edge.  And the body was constructed the tops of desks, dressers, and bed frames bound together, with fabric handholds from ripped apart clothes lining the sides.  Inside the hollow frame was gardening dirt which had given it weight, but now spilled out a crack in the back.  Underneath the ram a shoe stuck out, trapped underneath its weight, and a trail of blood led from it back to the door at the other end of the hallway where the last of the others had disappeared from sight.

I averted my eyes from the red mass past the end of the ram, though little of Segni remained.  Instead, it looked as if they had taken him with them to their side of the ship.

“They’ve fled!”  Shouted Vaca, “And taken Segni with them!”

Before I could stop him, he crossed over the threshold into the hallway, Nean moving at his side.  Or, as Airomem had called the hallway, the bridge.

Confusion crossed their faces as their first step slammed into the ground, puling the rest of their bodies forward.  Vaca’s face followed, smashing into the metal, an audible snap sounding as his nose arrived first and bent under the weight of his head.  Nean caught himself with his hands before collapsing on his chest, his arm muscles bulging as he pushed himself up, his legs which were still across the threshold kicking.

“I’m suck!”  Shouted Vaca, he voice nasally, “Help, I’m stuck!”

Tom reached down and took each of their legs in a hand, then pulled them backwards, sliding them out of the bridge.

“The hallway is now a heavy room,”  I said, pointing as Vaca held his nose, “But much heavier than you are accustomed to.  So heavy that making it across is difficult, and we can fend away anyone who gets close.  All we have to do is defend this single point, and we defend our entire side of the ship. As long as we post guards, our life will go unchanged.”

“Unchanged?”  Shouted Vaca, and sniffled as tears accompanied the blood on his face, “Without Segni, who will lead us?  How will we be able to survive?”

“Why, you of course,”  Said Nean, and knelt in front of him, “Just as I protected your brother, I will protect you.  And just as he led, you will lead.  And I assure you, those that were responsible for his death will pay dearly.”  And with that sentence, he turned to look at me, his eyes narrowed and furious.

“Me, chief?”  Said Vaca, holding his hands in front of him.

“Not yet,”  I said quickly, “Without the approval of the council-”

“Then for my first decree,”  Said Vaca, ignoring me, and pointing a finger at Airomem, “I want her locked away, for what her people did to my brother!”

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