I’d been teaching Airomem in the gardens for a week when it had happened.
She’d been among my quickest learners, due to her mind being a blank slate and her focus upon science, but even for her the techniques were not instant. And in that week, Airomem had become acquainted with the other gardeners- there were children who crept in close to watch her, or to ask her questions about the other side of the ship. And there were the early adopters of my gardening ventures who ventured forward to offer a handshake and exchange names, or to offer their assistance in accommodating her.
A group of people gathered around her each morning before work began, a group that she told stories. She spoke of Necti, and how he was among their ancestors. And she mentioned how our and her people had once been the same, and perhaps they could be the same one day again. And together, stomachs would be full, thirst would be quenched, and the children would prosper. Heads nodded at her words, at the idea of a unified ship, of returning to the former glory of what we once were- though Airomem neglected to mention that we would be doing so off the ship itself.
They watched her as she taught Ruth sign language, even sending some of their own children to learn as well. They nodded in approval when, during mealtimes, she would wait until last to be served. And they marveled at her uncanny ability to remember their names, as well as where they worked in the gardens- but what they didn’t know about were the long hours she and I spent going over them together, rehearsing so she could regurgitate them them next morning.
“What do you think is going to happen once we arrive,” I said once as we sat back in her apartment after learning a new set of names, “What do you think it will be like?”
“Well, if I was in charge of building the ship,” She said, “I would try to make it as similar as possible, so that when we arrived, the shock would be minimized.”
“That makes sense,” I said, thinking back to some of the oldest stories I knew, “But I think some things will be different. Like sheep, I wonder if there will be sheep.”
“Sheep?” Airomem asked, an eyebrow raised, “What are those?”
“I, well, I don’t really know. Something from the stories, but they showed up quite a bit.” I responded, drumming my fingers on the table.
“How are you going to know when you find them then?”
“I didn’t think that far,” I said, “Not sure if I would recognize them even if they are there. Then again, we didn’t know who your people were either, besides the stories, and I think I understand them pretty well now.”
“I think I’m still working on yours,” she said letting her gaze rest on me, “But for now, let’s continue learning names. If we’re ever going to win their support, they’ll have to like me first.”
Those who agreed with Airomem largely consisted of the people who had trusted me in the past. There were others who slinked to the other end of the garden when she passed, or who cast dark looks in our direction. And there was Skip, who never permitted himself to be within fifty yards of her.
Until Airomem and I worked through lunch, our hunger forgotten in the lesson, and those who were amicable to us already had departed for the midday break. And when I looked up from planting a row of new seeds, I saw Skip facing me with a quarter of the gardeners at his back. Behind them there were others, others who I had seen scowling in the hallways, or huddled around Nean’s table at dinner.
“We’ve had enough!” shouted Skip from the spearhead of the group, now only fifteen feet away and still approaching, “We want her out,*now*. It’s an insult to Segni and to us, and she comes trying to change our ways far more than you ever did Horatius.”
“There is no reason to overreact!” I replied as Skip stopped only inches from me, his face livid. From beside me, Airomem’s hand instinctively went to her belt as Skip pushed forward.
“Overreact?!” Shouted Skip, “While you’ve been leading this intruder around our ship, and while you’ve been meeting with the council, what have we been doing? We’ve been here gardening, praying that there will be enough food to support us! And what’s more, what’s more is what I heard what the council are planning for us! The treason!”
“Skip,” I said, “Calm down. Whatever your issue is, feel free to take it up before the council and it will be addressed. As far as food goes, we should have a surplus, it’s just going to take time. You know as well as I do that it is no instant. And Aeromem has done nothing but help us.”
“The council? The council? I would take it up with the council, if they weren’t brainwashed by her! Did you hear what they are saying now, what their plans are?”
He was shouting to the mob behind him now, their attention acute he spat the next few words.
“Their plans are to rip you away from your homes! To move us all somewhere else, somewhere we might die just as Segni did. And how do I know this? Because Vaca himself told me, Vaca the true chief!”
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“Hold on-” I said, putting up a hand, but Skip was shouting again, enough spittle flying from his mouth to water the garden. Beside him, another gardener picked up a shovel, sinking the blade deep into the earth and leaning forward against the handle.
“Ever since you’ve been born Horatius, ever since that first day you joined my class, it’s been nothing but disaster after disaster! And now we’re in a worse position than ever, with you planning to make things even worse!”
“Make things worse? I saved you! I showed you how to plant more efficiently, and I got us through Segni’s feasts!”
“You would slander him before his body has even gotten cold, you would attempt to place the blame upon him! I’ve half a mind that you somehow brought the ship together to do him in too! That you are responsible for her.” He raised a finger like a knife, its quivering tip aimed at Airomem, as the glares of those behind him matched its violence.
“Impossible!” Countered Aeromem waving a dismissive hand as the crowd flinched back, “That was controlled by the ship’s systems which are inaccessible to us. It’s not like altering the lights in here to enhance growth.”
For a moment, all was silent as the muscles in my back tightened and blood flushed to my ears. Skip’s eyes widened as his breath came out in a hiss, and Airomem’s hands flew back to her belt as her face flooded with realization.
“Altered the lights to enhance growth,” Whispered Skip, turning a slow circle to where dead stocks still piled around from where they had been burnt, “Ever since you arrived, Horatius, you’ve altered our ways, luring us in with false promises. And each time, our crops died. To think now that you intended to kill them entirely, to kill us entirely.”
He shook, his face as red as Segni’s strawberries, his gaze turning upwards to where the steady glow of the lights shone overhead, then falling back towards me like a hammer.
“Treason!” He shouted, “Treason! We hunger not from our own mistakes, but because of you Horatius! I knew it, all this time, I knew it!” He brandished a shovel in his hand, his clenched nuckles white as shock crossed the other faces.
“Back away!” Commanded Airomem as the crowd began to push forward, spurred forward by their stomachs, their voices joining Skip in shouting.
“Away!” Repeated Airomem, and she flashed the blue lights as the crowd winced. But they continued to move forward, their faces reddened with anger and their footsteps spurred forward by Skip.
“She dares pull a weapon on us! She dares threaten us!”
“Skip!” I shouted as Airomem and I retreated, quickly backpedaling through the soil, “Skip, you are making a huge mistake! A bigger one that this ship has ever seen, one the council will surely punish.”
“No, you already made a huge mistake!” He retorted, kicking a clod of dirt so it exploded on my chest, “I don’t give a damn about the council. It’s time for the true chief to take charge! For Vaca!”
Behind him, the mob cheered, raising their gardening tools into the air.
“Horatius,” Hissed Airomem, “We need to get out of here. Now.”
“No!” I countered, planting my feet and squaring my shoulders as Skip’s chest pressed close to mine, pieces of earth still imprinted in my shirt, “No! I’m done with hearing this! Vaca and Segni only caused trouble! It’s their fault that we are in this situation, and I did what was necessary to save the ship.”
“Because killing our crops, and killing our chief, and killing our hope was the solution? Why can’t you just do things the right way?” A deranged smile crossing his lips, his words now spurred forward by an incredulous laughter.
“Because that’s the *idiotic* way, not the right way!” I shouted, as Skip popped his palm on my right shoulder to push me back, and Airomem’s stun guns buzzed louder. Blood rushed to my face and I raised my own fists, stepping forward to return the blow, oblivious to the crowd that pressed forward and Airomem pulling against my elbow.
And even more oblivious to Nean, who had snuck behind me in the heat of the argument from the hallways beyond the garden. And who cracked the handle of a spare shovel across the top of my head so hard that white light flashed and my knees buckled.
White was followed by blue as I tumbled, landing face up in the dirt while Aeromem’s twin stun guns dashed in ellipses above me, mingling with the stunned stars that filled my vision. I saw Nean reach back to strike again and instead receive a prompt jab to the neck, his eyelids shooting upwards while his body crumpled downwards. Skip followed shortly, a stun gun catching him under the chin as Airomem spun and the tips of her hair whipped against his shocked face.
The edges of my vision closed in as I saw a shovel blade thrown from within the crowd connect with her forearm, causing one of the stun guns to go flying, and accompanied with an angry cry. Then as darkness took me, the single blue streak danced with renewed vigor, and I heard more thumps hitting the ground until sounds too dissolved into nothingness.
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I slept in darkness, and I awoke in darkness.
My head slammed against something hard as I sat up, doubling the already throbbing headache as I fell to the floor with a grunt, my palm clasped against my clammy temple. My heart raced to keep pace with my rapid breaths as I felt around me, searching for clues about my surroundings.
“Hit the shelf,” Came a quiet voice from beside me as I jumped to my feet, stumbling to a thin strip of light on the ground that would be the bottom door. I found the handle and pushed, the door emitting a dull rattle as it bounced against the frame but refused to budge.
“Locked,” Came the same voice through a sniffle, and I froze, realizing that I recognized it, “Barricaded from the outside, they’ve piled things up so we can’t escape.”
“H-Hannah?” I said, sinking to the ground with my back against the wall, “What’s going on? Where is everyone?”
“Nean,” She sniffled, “He had me seized out of my apartment and taken here, where I found you passed out. There- There’s a crowd of gardeners in the hallway outside, all calling for justice, and Nean is keeping us prisoners here until Elliott relinquishes his position as chief to Vaca. W-We thought Vaca was not listening in the meetings, but there was one topic he did listen to- Airomem’s lectures on bottleneck defence. They have this entire corridor blocked off, Horatius, and defended. They’ve taken the knives, along with Airomem’s stun guns, and are guarding both ends.”
“I- I’m sorry Hannah. It’s only a matter of time until they run out of food and water, though, and then they’ll have to give in. They’ll have to- they can’t last long, and we’ll bring them to justice.”
Hannah’s sobs double for a moment in the darkness, then she found the strength to speak.
“Before they blocked off the corridor, they raided the food and water stores. It’s all here, stored away in the apartments nearby, and they’re not rationing it. They were able to take it by stationing their own guards at the stores, and since there wasn’t much left, there wasn’t much to carry. You’ve been knocked out for a day- last night, they had a feast in Segni’s honor. Tonight, they’re having another. Since they’re only a quarter of the ship, they don’t have to ration.”
“Oh God,” I said in realization, realizing the true reason that Hannah was crying, “Everyone else, all those outside the corridor-”
“Have nothing to eat,” She cried, “Ruth, Elliott, they’ll starve!”
“They won’t,” I said, thinking, “There’s enough food growing in the gardens to keep them sustained for two weeks at least, and enough water in the reclaiming units to stave their thirst. It’ll be tight, and they’ll be eating crops before they have a chance to mature, so they’re borrowing crops from the future. But after that…” My voice trailed off, and I bit my lip, not wanting to think about what would happen after that. We were silent for a moment, then I spoke up, fighting to keep my own voice from cracking.
“I- I’m sorry, Hannah. I only did what Pliny would have-”
“What’s done is done,” Said Hannah, managing to make her voice hard as she pushed away the sobs, “And while I can’t say I disagreed with your actions, doing them as a team would have been far more effective. Elliot and myself had a suspicion to what you were doing in the gardens and we turned a blind eye, so we are just as guilty. Ruth kept a watch over you for us, and her reports were positive, so we stopped short of questioning you. And Nean confirmed my suspicions- he’s kept it no secret what you have been up to.”
“And Airomem? Is she locked away too?” I asked.
“No, she’s gone. Back to her end of the ship. He gloated about that as well, said he took the trash back where it belonged.”
I paused, my swallow audible among the voices outside the door. Over the next two days, I racked my brain, my ear pressed close to the door to where I could hear Elliott negotiating down the hallway, while Nean and Skip refused to budge on their terms. That Elliot turn himself over to them, serve six week’s confinement for his act of treason alongside us, and declare Vaca the true heir.
At times I stared outside the window to where I could see the other end of the ship, and I wondered what Aromem was planning, or even if she was planning. If she had convinced the Lear that we were worth saving, or if they might try to block us out from the new planet after the way we as a people had treated her.
Hannah and I spoke of possible escape, trying to think of ways to get past the barricaded door. But beyond that there would be the mob that we would have to fight through to escape- we were weaponless, and though none of the gardeners were well trained in fighting, neither were we. Eventually I resigned myself to looking at the rightward wall of the apartment, knowing that two apartments over the corridor ended, and so did our imprisonment.
And on the third day, as I racked my brain for possibilities, and I heard Elliott pleading at the end of the hallway, a voice came down from above. The voice that had changed all our lives just a few weeks ago, and now prepared to do so again.
A voice that chilled me more to the bone now that the first time I had heard it.
“Twenty four hours until arrival,” It proclaimed from above, accompanied by a siren and repeating itself three times, “All members of the ship, report to the landing vessel. Immediately.”
I swallowed, meeting Hannah’s eyes in the darkness. Knowing that if nothing changed, we would be left behind. And knowing if God were to exist, he was not with us.
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Airomem was tossed into the air, and came down to the the ground far harder than ever before in her life. Her arms strained against the metal, pushing downwards as muscles bulged, barely able to lift her head upwards. Even her hair seemed to drag her down, yanking against the roots as she turned back to down the corridor.
“Fools!” She shouted, as she watched they slam the door of The Bridge shut, “Incompetent idiots! Bringing upon your own deaths!”
The she turned back to the long corridor of the bridge before her, its gravity still magnified, and began to crawl. And with each struggling motion, she thought back upon the previous few hours, and grit her teeth.
Twenty four. Twenty four farmers she had stunned before they had managed to strip her of her weapon, and now that she was thinking about it, twenty four new reasons for them to hate the Lear.
Until they’d figured out what to do with her, they had locked her away inside an abandoned apartment for three hours. Three hours that she had searched for any means to escape but had found nothing outside of breaking the window into space beyond, something that even if she had wanted to do she would not have had the strength or tools. And something she knew would be suicide.
But then a dozen of the farmers had come back for her, armed with knives and her own stun guns, and had ushered her back to The Bridge. A few porters looked on as they threw her back in, but Tom was not among them, and they parted with little resistance before the mob.
And now she was crawling back to the Agrarians, her posture low and her pride lower. With failure pushing down upon her shoulders as hard as gravity, and the knowledge that the Lear’s potential allies would not only be a burden if it came to war, but would also be unreliable to call upon for aid. But even with that knowledge, there were those should could save among them, those like Ruth whose neighbors would sentence her to death out of ignorance.
People that she had an obligation to save, because they could not save themselves. People who the Lear could adopt as their own and who held valuable information about the methods of farming which could prove crucial on the new planet.
So she forced herself forward, knowing that each second that passed was an enlargening portion of their time left on the ship. That the marathon to the end of the corridor was already taking far too long, and that the information she held was of utmost importance.
When she made it to the end, she collapsed, her lungs heaving in the suddenly lighter environment. She allowed herself thirty seconds of rest before climbing to her feet, her hand against the wall to steady herself, and peering down the deserted walkway. This was Aquarian territory, but it was deserted- they had no reason to come this close to the edge, and were likely clustered near key points of defense for the water reclaimers. So keeping her head down, and with quick but silent feet, she began to trot towards the end of the ship where the Lear resided. But first, that meant crossing through Agrarian territory.
And unlike the Aquarians, the Agrarians were waiting.
The same four guards that had escorted her on the way to The Bridge were nestled behind a corner and she nearly ran into them, except she was never given the chance- instead, they enveloped her once more, this time with the hint of smiles upon their faces. And they deposited her in front of Sitient as he reclined on his couch, his leg tapping against the bones dangling from the fabric, his eyes hard as they looked over her.
“I demand safe passage,” She said, forcing her own eyes to match his, “As determined by the negotiations between you and the Lear.”
“Your father has promised me ten stun guns for your release,” Replied Sitient, his voice hard, “But you have injured me, princess. And for that reason I am raising the price to fifteen. Until then, you will remain under our guard- for your father demanded your safe passage, but he did not specify what condition you would be in when you returned.”
“You can be sure,” She barked, “That if you lay a finger upon me, there will be no end to the wrath of the Lear!”
“That’s the beauty of it, that I don’t have to,” Responded Sitient, the corner of his mouth turning upwards, “But I only have so much control over my people, princess. With the tribute that the Lear demands, they grow so hungry- hungry enough that they might want a Lear snack of their own. So I suggest you only travel where my guards take you, or the only thing I will deliver back to your father are your bones.”
She paused, suddenly aware of the eyes that stared out from the shadows, of the distance she would have to travel to make it home, and the sheer number of the Agrarians she would have to pass though to get there.
“Then make your demands,” She said, “But do not be so foolish to think that he shall bend beneath your thumb.”
“We shall see, princess,” He said, “Until then, you shall wait until I fetch you. Your guards are departing- for your own safety, I would suggest you hurry to depart with them.”
Pursing her lips, she followed, leaving Sitienti laughing behind her. For five minutes they walked towards the center of Agrarian territory, crossing through fields still filled with hollow cheeked workers and yellowed plants. Then they led her into a side hallway filled with several apartments, opened the door to one, and barricaded the door once she was inside.
During the first day, she heard nothing- no food or water was delivered, and no guards checked upon her status. The second day was the same, and she tried pounding against the door or searching for weaknesses in the barricade, but found none. She bit her lip, the dry skin cracking if she wondered if they would leave her there to rot, if she would die of thirst before Sitient was satisfied with the deal.
And as she waited, one word brought her comfort, a single name scratched into the wall long before by someone else who had once shared her torment.
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“Your father has conceded,” Sneered Sitient as he thrust open the door to her cell, “Time for the princess to return home. And with the weapons he’s providing, it might be soon that we meet again.”
He smiled, and retched as his breath struck her, watching the open door quiver under the grasp of his shaking hand.
“When I’m back with the Lear,” She rasped, her throat dry from lack of water, “The next time we meet will surely be the last.”
“What’s that?” He asked, cocking an ear towards her, “I couldn’t quite make out the words. Are you thirsty? Don’t worry, we’ve prepared quite the drink for you. With the weapons, I don’t think water is going to be much of problem for us anymore. We have plenty to spare.”
She stumbled after him as he departed, her legs weak from the heavy rationing on the other end of the ship plus the lack of food over the last few days. Ahead she could hear voices, a commotion of activity they grew louder with each step, until she broke into the lighting of the farm fields.
Hundreds of the Agrarians extended before her, stretched in two long and waving lines from one side of the fields to the exit at the far end. Between the two lines there was just enough room to form a narrow path through the dirt, but it was no longer only dirt- buckets lined side the sides, buckets full of manure and water that had been cast into the earth, creating a foul mud concoction that Airomem could smell from the entrance. Her pangs of hunger dissipated under the stench as the guards prompted her closer, then stopped at the front of the two lines.
Behind her, the guards hoisted Sitient into the air on a chair and he began to speak, the crowd quieting as his voice bellowed over their own and his spittle mixed in with the mud.
“On this day, we welcome Airomem, princess of the Lear- for she has fetched us the price of fifteen stun guns, more than our tribe has ever known!” He raised his arms and the crowd erupted into screeches and stomped, spraying flecks of mud into the air. He waited until they quieted, and he continued, “On this day, we are no longer one of the three tribes. On this day, we become part of the one tribe! We take the Aquarians and their water, and then we take the Lear! In thanks for their gift, we have spent our remaining water until the Aquarian tonight in Airomem’s honor! Be sure, I repeat, be sure not a single drop of it goes to waste!”
Airomem felt a foot thrust forward from the small of her back and propel her forward, sending her sprawling into the mud. Jeers erupted ahead of her as she rose to her knees, muck clinging to the front of her clothes and tips of her hair, and before she had a chance to stand a ball of the manure slammed into her right cheek, exploding over the entire side of her face and up one nostril. She shook it off just as another smacked against her side, launched by a woman with no teeth twenty paces up the line as others scooped up the material to make their own projectiles.
Airomem clenched her jaw, then raised her chin upwards.
And she began to walk, her feet sinking ankle deep into the earth.
By the twentieth mudball she she hardly felt the new ones, and by third time she had been tripped or shoved there was no part of her body left uncoated, no patch of skin or hair that stood naked. Their voices laughed and their eyes flashed as she moved past them, the lines constricting in places to make it near impossible to cross while thickening in other areas to allow for more projectiles. For ten minutes she endured it, making no sound, meeting none of their eyes. Staring directly ahead, plowing onward until at last the lines split and she reached a corridor, the one that she had initially taken when she had departed the Lear.
Refuse rolled away from her with each step down the deserted hallway, her feet leaving dark tracks on the metal, the commotion still loud behind her. And after two hundred paces she came upon a group of twenty waiting Lear soldiers circled around a pile of stun guns.
“Halt!” Commanded the first as the others recoiled, “No entry is allowed by any Agrarian past this point until princess Airomem has been returned to the Lear!”
“I am Airomem.” She hissed, throwing her matted hair over one shoulder, “Daughter of Praeter. And I have seen the other side of the ship.”
The soldiers gasped as they recognized her and parted, allowing her to pass and escorting her to the first bottleneck a mere minute away. Upon arrival, she turned to the soldiers and spoke.
“I seek my father’s council, at once. This matter cannot wait for cleaning or rest – bring him here, now! We have but only minutes to act!”
And standing on the doorway, she shook the mud from her feet, and shouted into Agrarian territory, her voice harsh and her eyes cold.
“The wrath of the Lear will not be felt with weapons or words! No, it will be felt with our absence, for our departure is the departure of your lifeblood. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, and the wicked will have no peace!”
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“What in the name of-” Airomem’s father started, his face turning red as he saw her scraping mud from her arms with rags provided by the soldiers.
“It can wait,” She said, cutting him off, her voice refreshed by water from a soldier, “I’ll include it in my full report. But first, we must act. The Agrarians have nearly exhausted their water supply and plan on using their newfound weapons to attack the Aquarians, then us. We must cut them off by providing five stun guns to the Aquarians, in exchange for all the water that they have, plus three more stun guns every six hours they provide us with more water. When the Agrarians find out water is not being delivered to them, they’ll initiate attacks, only to discover that the Aquarians have them matched in weaponry.”
“You‘re sure of this?” He asked, pausing, “What if the Agrarians turn on us instead?”
“Absolutely sure. The Agrarians know that without water, they only have a few days, so they’ll attack the Aquarians first. And if they do attack us first, the Aquarians will respond by attacking their exposed flank with their new weapons. Either way the Agrarians and Aquarians are locked in gridlock and will hopefully weaken each other to the point where we can stroll through their territory when it is time to depart. The Agrarians have greater fire power, but no water, which will keep the battles raging.”
“I’ll bring it to the war council at once” He answered, “It’s a dangerous hand, but one that needs to be played. And yourself, you will be appearing-”
“After an hour, I need to clean up,” She responded, then turned to the soldiers beside her, “Food and water, I’ll need them both at my apartment. And father, it will be difficult, but we must convince the others that we have to save the other side of the ship. Otherwise, we have provided them with power for the last hundreds of years for nothing, and that energy has gone to waste. They’re like us, the Lear, but there are those similar to the Aquarians and Agrarians among them. And we must save the Lear.”
Nearly half an hour passed before Airomem was satisfied with cleaning herself, certain that she had missed a patch of excrement somewhere as she tossed down the fifth soiled cloth. Her teeth gritted with each stroke as she remembered walking down the aisle, and her forearms tensed as she remembered Sitient’s smile. The only comfort she felt was that soon the Lear would be leaving their problems behind, literally.
She took a bite out of the meal that had been provided for her, savoring the taste as her stomach cried out in excitement with each passing morsel. Already, she was nearly full to the bursting with water- usually, she would feel guilty for wasting so much of it upon washing and quenching her thirst, but by that night the Lear should have more water than they had in a century.
She took a last bite and dressed herself, knowing that her father and the other leaders were awaiting her report. Casting a glance outside the window, she frowned as she looked over the other end of the ship, wondering how she could tie their futures together. Wondering if they would let her.
And just before she turned away, a flash of white light caught her eye, a flash that repeated two more times. She squinted, trying to make out the distant object through the narrow ship’s window, nearly turning away before she saw the flashing repeat again in a stuccatto burst. Her hand fell to her drawers, and she pulled out a spare stun stun gun that she kept in case of emergencies, the same one that she had pulled on her father long ago.
Holding her breath, she raised it to the window, and responded with three blue pulses.
Three white flashes immediately responded, three flashes she now saw was simply a window near an overhead light being covered and uncovered, and her eyes widened as she saw a face fill the window, the forehead pressed against the glass. A child’s face, one she had seen only three days before.
Then the face was replaced with hands that raced through a flurry of signals, though too fast and far away for Airomem to understand. She pulsed her stun gun to capture Ruth’s attention, and signed two words, her fingers taking long and deliberate pauses between each.
Ruth’s flashed back, and then the words began once more- in the time that Airomem had spent with her, she had only been able to teach her a portion of the words, and they came across rough and disjointed. It felt as if she was reading a paragraph with holes in it, that someone had written with their left hand, in darkness.
Help, that part was clear. Stuck. Two stuck. Stuck like you.
Stuck? she signed back.
Danger. Man and woman stuck. Help.
Airomem frowned, and then Ruth continued to sign.
Radioactive people stuck man and woman. Need help.
Radioactive? thought Airomem, What did she mean?
And then she remembered the word she had used for radioactive among them. Poison. And Ruth’s message began to make sense.
Poisonous people have stuck a man and a woman. Need help.
The poisonous people could only be those who had exiled her, Vaca and Nean and Skip. They had Horatius, that’s what stuck had to mean, that he was captured. But woman, who was the woman?
What woman? She signed back.
My woman. Came the answer, My woman.
Her mother, Airomem realized. Both Horatius and her mother were captured- she had seen Horatius being taken, but not Hannah as well. And then Ruth signed again.
No leave man and woman. Help. Stuck.
Six, came the sign, followed by a gesture, and Airomem counted over six windows until she saw one that was dark. It was in a portion of the ship that she had passed through on her way back from the bridge, as it was mirrored on the Agrarian side. And a lump swelled in her throat as she realized it was a lone corridor, with easily defended entry and exit points. And she realized how it might be defended.
How are they stuck?
You. You teach. Your power.
Her bottleneck defense lessons. Her stun guns. She was the reason Horatius and Hannah were captured.
And she realized that when the bridge opened, and she had crossed, it had not only allowed her to pass through. Rather she had brought other pieces of her side of the ship with her, sections of their culture, ideas the had long been dormant in Horatius’ people’s minds simply because of the naivety of their side of the ship. Because they hadn’t experienced them in centuries, until the opening of the bridge had awakened the concepts once again.
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