Chapter 53

There’s no sound in space – meaning that the tether was silent as it soared. The click Airomem waited for was purely imagined, and she had no way of knowing whether the connection was successful. But she could see the hook lodged into place, and at her belt, the wire started to spool away from her, the umbilical cord back to the ship and her sole chance of survival.

Further and further, she travelled, too scared to move and dislodge the hook, her form rigid as it waited for the wire to run out, her hip bone registering a slight vibration with each full revolution of the spindle. And in that moment, her rotation carried her around to face the planet, now slightly larger than the last time she had looked at it. The planet where she would lead her people – the Lear and the Nectians. The planet that was the culmination of Dandelion 14, that she and countless others had spent their entire lives tending to the power room to reach.

At that moment, she knew that if the tether connection broke away, she would become a slave to the planet’s gravity, pulled in until she crashed down long after her death. Inferior to its will.

So she squared her shoulders, glaring down her nose at the new world. The new world that belonged to her. And she raised her chin, just as the tether caught and whipped her into a spin, the breath nearly knocked out of her by the jerking motion. Then, at her belt, she felt the vibration again as the tether started to retract.

Click, one revolution of the spindle, drawing her closer to the ship.

Click came the second rotation, followed by a third, then a fourth, the frequency increasing with each vibration as she accelerated. She stretched out her hands, releasing a small sigh of relief just as they made contact with the metal, her fingers clutching around a handhold, the tether at her belt still pulling with a slight tension. Breathing hard as she realized she had made it to the other side, and step one was complete.

She blinked, looking left and right down the row of windows, her toes extending just over the glass of one below her. And, consulting her memory, she tried to determine where the nearest collection of apartments would be. Most likely left, she realized, though there would be some on the right as well, though about twice as far away.

Leaving her tether in place, she crawled downwards until the window was eye level, and looked inside.

Directly in front of her were farms, farms that were disturbingly empty. A few figures walked in the distance, but there on the left, just as she had predicted, was a hallway that led a row of apartments branching away from the end of the farms. Taking care to ensure at least one of her hands always firmly grasped part of the ship, she started scuttling over the outer edge, watching as the hallway approached with each passing window. Then she breached the internal wall, and there was a stretch twice as long before the next window began.

In moments, she was in front of it, one hand against the glass, squinting to look through, a triumphant smile flashing across her face as she recognized the structure of some of the ship’s smaller style of apartments characterized by the wall-mounted bed, receded shelving, and sliding door closet.

And in this one, there was even an occupant – a child whose eyes bugged out as he stared at her, held frozen in place, strands of his dark hair sticking up in the back as if they too were astonished. She raised her hand in a wave, and slack-jawed, he slowly raised his own, opening and closing his fingers as if he couldn’t remember how they worked. Then she moved to the next window, peering inside to see the door closed and the room vacant.

Thinking back to a short time before, she recalled what the procedures book had said, in the Emergency Boarding Procedures section.

Upon designing the ship, special precaution was taken to limit the points at which people and objects could enter and exit. These points form a natural weakness in the hull, as well as a general opportunity for problems to arrive, and as such were limited to two – one on each end of the ship.

However, this design possesses faults: it does not consider emergencies that may occur to maintenance workers on distant areas of the ship, the potential for the exits to become inoperable, and other unforeseeable circumstances. As such, the following section is provided as a guide in absolute emergencies, and should be used only as the very last resort in the most dire of situations. For this method to even be considered, no fewer than three hundred lives should be at risk, and the full council must make a unanimous emergency vote.

This certainly qualified as the most dire of situations, Airomem decided, and she began checking the room inside for the aspects denoted by the next section of the procedures.

First, the target room should be small and must have a closed door. Clutter within should be kept to a minimum, and there should be no occupants present. The window must not be damaged, and there should be no objects of high value in the room, including any sort of ship controls. Water vessels should not be present if possible, nor any sealed containers.

Continuing to scan the contents, Airomem nodded and moved on to the next section.

When designing windows for the ship, layers of ultra-strong plastic were interlaid between the transparent ceramic compounds, allowing for a barrier to retain the pressure of the ship even if the window should shatter. As you prepare to make your incision, be sure to puncture these internal layers, and prepare for the event of shattered glass. Make the incision short, keep tight hold of your cutting tool, and ensure your body is clear of potential fractures and pressurized gas. Utmost caution is to be used, and remember – this method is not simply a last resort due to the damage to the ship, but at the high potential for injury or death of the technician.

Swallowing, Airomem’s hand fell to her tool belt where she had stored the Omni-cutter, and she held it as far as possible away from her, inching along the side of the ship until only its tip brushed the corner of the window. Pulling the trigger, she watched as the white spark danced at the edges of the prongs, and her finger hovered over a second button on the side of the tool. The button, as she had read in the procedures, would force the arc outwards in a short parabola, stripping away anything in its path.

She paused, her grip growing tighter on both the tool and her handhold, her teeth clenched, her second tether secured moments before to a point just a few yards away. And with a sharp breath, her finger danced forward, pushing the button inward as the arc leapt away from the prongs and rushed into the waiting glass.

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Chapter 54

It was the planet that drove me back into action.

Until this point, talk of departure from the ship had simply been talk. In a way, it was like the stories – I knew them to be true, but they still existed just beyond my own experience. I walked the same halls as they had occurred, yet they were removed. Facts lacking physical sustenance, like a smell without a taste.

But seeing the planet made me realize that we were actually leaving, that it was an event and not only a story, as the realization shifting from the informational part of my brain to the tangible part with a clunk.

“It’s incredible,” Hannah had breathed when she had seen it through the window, the light reflected off of it playing across her face.

“It’s a countdown,” I’d responded, my knees wobbling as I stood, the slim portions of food and water sapping away at my strength.

Each day, the light under our door grew dark, and Nean’s voice had floated through the clamoring of those outside.

“Rations!” he shouted to those outside. “Rations they fed us while we were hungry, instead of actual meals! Instead of the feasts that you have now! And now, we shall feed them rations, so that they can experience what they put us through!”

Then scraps of food would be forced through the crack under the door, mixed with water to form a sludge of the unwanted bits of vegetables, the hard stems and rotting parts that others had cast away.

At first, I’d recoiled in disgust against the far wall, my nose pinched as the smell wafted from the pile into the room. But then the thirst had begun, and I’d soaked a shirt I had found in the closet in the mound, then squeezed the sour liquid into my mouth. And eventually, I started picking through the bits of sustenance, my standards decreasing with each passing hour and the intensifying growls of my stomach, minimizing my energy to preserve my strength.

But now, with the planet still shining in Hannah’s eyes, energy started flushing back to my body and mind. And casting my eyes around the room, I stopped searching for a way to escape.

Instead, I remembered the way Airomem had fended off the horde of gardeners as I had fallen down, helpless from Nean’s strike from behind. How Tom had blocked me from the blow of the Esuri’s knife, and how I had felt when I had brought the gravity crashing down upon the Agrarians and Aquarians.

So I searched for a way to fight.

In general, the ship was engineered in ways to make it difficult to detach furniture and objects – but remembering Airomem’s story of Sitient sitting upon his couch throne, as well as bits and pieces of junk that had accrued over the centuries, I knew it was possible. I rummaged through the closet, finding only smooth wall, bundles of clothes, and a few shoes. Then I tried the bed, but it extended as a single shelf, its interface seamless with the wall with no parts that could be removed. The paneling around the window also refused to budge, though I applied far less effort in trying to remove it, fearful of opening a hole into the outside.

But finally, I found something – something that, while not perfect, would suffice.

The vent set into the wall above us.

Standing on the bed, I stared at it, examining the vertical bars which split the flow of air as it traveled outwards. Placing my hand against them, I pushed, feeling them barely flex inwards under my strength. Beneath me, Hannah stared upwards, watching as I rocked the vent back and forth in place, gaining little ground in actually removing it.

“Try this,” she said after a few minutes, handing me up a sock. “Wrap it around one of the bars, and try to pull it free.”

So I wove the fabric between the metal and yanked, pulling one of the bars outwards such that it bent in the middle. Pushing it back in, I repeated the action, the center of the grate heating up with each flex until it snapped, the sock flying loose so suddenly, I nearly toppled off the bed. The two halves of the thin bar now stretched away from the vent, their ends jagged, and with several more cycles, they broke at the base to come free.

Two sharp points of metal, each about as long as my middle finger, and about a tenth as thick. After a few more minutes, I had broken away another bar to make four, and jumped off the bed, handing two of them to Hannah.

“Our only chance,” I said, holding one of the miniature spears up, “is to catch them by surprise if they open the door, and to make a rush for the exit before they recover.”

“You do realize,” she responded, her face skeptical though she clutched the rods, “that fighting kitchen knives with these is suicide.”

“No, Hannah,” I answered, pointing to the floor, “this, staying on this ship, is suicide.”

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Chapter 55

The current of air from the freshly cut hole was less than Airomem had expected.

Instead of an explosion it was like a tiny faucet – a thin, spindling tube of air visible by dust jetting out through the hole into space, emptying the apartment in front of her.

Like all doors on the ship, the one in front of her had sealed itself as the pressure fell – a precaution that prevented a single hole from taking down vast swaths of the ship. From her position, she could see that the crack underneath had turned solid, the frame itself swelling to form a barrier, and though she could not yet touch it to test, that lock would be held fast. Until pressure was restored, the room would remain that way – sealed away and preventing any more of the precious air from escaping.

She clung to the side of the ship as she waited, watching the flow slow and thin, until only a trickle exited that she could just barely sense through her glove. And taking the Omni-cutter once more, she placed it up against the hole and let the spark fly out to meet the glass.

The plasma curve traced through glass quicker than she expected as the arc eroded the material, her hand gliding along the outer edge with a speed that attested to the sheer power of the Omni-cutter. In seconds, she had cut away nearly three-quarters of a hole the size of her shoulders, and she slowed down at the last portion, careful to make sure the connecting cut was clean and that there would be no rough edges, or a jagged snap that might cause cracks to spider web across the surface.

Ever so gently, she completed the circle, the white light flashing as it cut through the final finger length, then inch, then sliver. Catching the outside eddies of the ship’s gravity field, the circle cutout of the window fell the quarter of an inch of a gap the Omni-cutter had left behind in slow motion, then began to tip inwards.

Airomem’s hand shot out and caught it just before it fell, the sharp edge biting through her gloves. And she breathed a sigh of relief as she felt the ship’s gravity take hold of her fingers through the hole and she experienced the sensation of becoming grounded once more.

And slowly, without releasing the glass or her tethers, she placed her right foot through the hole, then her left, so that she sat scrunched half inside and half outside the ship, the gravity gradient making her insides feel imbalanced. Then she slid the remainder of the way, her feet connecting with the floor in a silence that should have left a thud had air been present, and turned to glance back into space. Space that had nearly claimed her, but she, Airomem, princess of the Lear, had conquered.

It took another few minutes to place the window back over the hole, and to pull the temporary repair kit from her utility belt. Two strips of tape held the window in place as she applied a sealant around the edge, one designed to stop any microcracks from propagating as well as reduce airflow through microscopic channels, the thick yellow putty conforming to the shape of the gap. Then the remainder of the job was a layer of tape over the gap, an amount that seemed to Airomem like far too little but would at least temporarily hold, according to the procedures. She could feel wire mesh in between the polymer layers, the adhesive itself so strong that she gave up on removing a piece that had attached itself to her gloves and now dangled from her index finger, and the black finish obscuring the yellow underneath.

She tested it, placing a palm against the window and pushing outwards, feeling the circle bulge slightly into space but hold tight. Then she turned back to the door, locked under the pressure differential, and considered her next steps.

It would be easiest to simply slice through it with the Omni-cutter, making a hole just as she had with the window. Her fingers twitched, greedy to use the instrument again to save time, her fear forgotten after her first use. But she paused, looking behind her at the patch. Cutting through the door might be a shortcut, but if the patch gave way due to a quick pressure change, then she could potentially lock down an entire portion of the ship. And the rapid decrease in pressure for anyone not wearing a suit in the nearby hallways would mean near instant death.

So instead, she placed the Omni-cutter back into her tool pouch and reached around to her back where her air tanks connected to the rest of the suit. There, just under the last of the vertebrae in her neck, she felt the valve that was used to quickly replace air tanks in the event of a longer than usual maintenance project. And remembering the instructions in the procedure book, she gently turned the knob until she could just barely hear a hiss. Too much, and the safety would kick in and close the air pathway to the suit. Too little, and she would be waiting for hours for the room to fill with air.

As the hissing continued, she paced, her eyes flicking back towards the patch every thirty seconds. And she thought about her next moves – first to find Elliott and Ruth, then to rescue Horatius, then to lead the charge back to the bridge. Saving all who would follow, and leaving those who would embrace death to their fate.

As her pacing quickened, the hissing slowed until it became just barely audible, then stopped entirely. Raising both hands in front of her, she clapped, a smile breaking across her face as she heard the sound and knew that pressure had been restored. Her heart quickened as she placed two hands against the door, prepared to sling it open, ready to enter as the first person who had traveled from end to end on the ship since Necti, both through internal and external means. Her chin raised of its own accord, and her stance widened, prepared to make a strong reemergence.

She shoved, putting all her weight behind her palms.

In front of her, the door rattled, the latch caught. The pressure in the room was not quite high enough to completely release the safety mechanism, though her air supply was depleted.

And cursing, she reached back to her belt, pulling back out the Omni-cutter, the white arc illuminating her face as she began to slice through the metal, cursing again as pressure was restored and she realized the lock had jammed.

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Chapter 56

The hallway was nearly empty when she kicked through the door, an oval portion of it just a few inches shorter than her falling forward with a ringing clang as it struck the floor, skidding forward under its own momentum until it rammed against the opposite wall. Only one set of eyes watched her as she stepped outwards, the Omni-cutter still emitting its white arc, her suit still covering every inch of her body. Behind her, there was a click and the door swung open, the lock releasing as reverberations from the falling metal shook it loose. And though the window bulged out slightly more than usual, the tape, mesh, and putty combination held. Hopefully, for at least a few more hours – that was all she needed.

Across the hall, the lone figure stared as she reached a hand around to release the clasp that held her helmet in place, shaking her hair out as she set it on the floor. His eyes widened as he recognized her, then widened further as they looked past her to the hole in the window, then to the other end of the ship, and coming to rest on the Omni-cutter just as she shut it off.

“Hello, Tom,” she said, standing atop the fallen door to be only a head shorter than him. “Ready to save Horatius again?”

“Of course,” his lumbering voice responded, a slow smile uplifting the words. “But what is that? Stun gun?”

He pointed towards the Omni-cutter, and Airomem raised it upwards for him to get a closer look.

“Just as you are the strongest man on this side of the ship, this is now the sharpest knife. There is little, if anything, it cannot cut.”

Tom reached a hand forward, his eyes sparkling, but Airomem retracted her arm, speaking, “And because it is the sharpest, it’s also the most dangerous. It should only be used when absolutely necessary, and I fear now is one of those times. Do you know where Ruth is, Tom? Can you take me to her?”

“Her, yes. Horatius, no.”

“Then let’s start moving,” said Airomem, following Tom as he began to walk towards the exit of the corridor. “I fear our time already runs short. And if we are to depart, we must make haste.”

“Depart?” asked Tom, and Airomem gestured back to towards the window.

“To our new home, Tom. To the planet that you see out there, the purpose of our long journey.”

“But this Tom’s home,” he answered, confusion crossing his face. “Here, the ship.”

“Your old home, Tom. This one is falling apart, but the one that we are going to, that one is full of life and promise.”

Then they broke out of the corridor and into the farmland beyond, the overhead lights significantly dimmer than just a few days before, the soil harder under her feet from lack of maintenance. At the far edge, a crowd milled, clustered around the entrance to another corridor, their voices melding together into a buzz by the time they reached her ears. And from the tip of the crowd, just beneath the doorframe, she could see the glint of knives behind a barricade of furniture.

Halfway across the fields, she heard a scream that differentiated itself from the crowd, one that emanated from a small figure that rushed across the earth towards her, her haste so great that flecks of soil flew into the air behind her.

“Airomem!” shouted Ruth, barreling into her. “I knew you’d come! I knewit! There, in that corridor, they have my mother and Horatius! We have to save them!”

Behind Ruth, the crowd began to turn around, the words stopping in their throats as their eyes traveled from her face to her suit. Awe took hold of them in a wave, young and old, big and small, literate and illiterate. Ruth let go of Airomem and moved to her right, while Tom stood at her left, their heights forming a downward slant.

And when the silence was so thick that it felt impossible to breach, Airomem bent down and gathered a handful of soil from the ground at her feet and held it high in the air, allowing a trickle of it to pass through her fingers like water.

“One thousand years ago!” she shouted as the dirt fell. “One thousand years ago, our ancestors departed upon a journey for new life! A journey that took them far from what they called home in search for another. And today, we embark on a similar journey.”

She took a step forward towards the crowd and gathered another handful of soil.

“Today, we complete our voyage among the stars! We remember that this is but a step along our path, that the ship itself is not a destination but a bridge into the future of us all. To the planet you see outside the windows, a place where the lights shall never dim, where the plants shall grow, and the water plentiful. Where all shall be fed, and none greater than their neighbor. And we shall bring the dirt our ancestors left us, our only true piece of their home that we have left, and mix it with the soil we find ahead. As a remembrance of the past, the seeds that shall grow the future.”

Then she let the handful of dirt fall in front of her, the clump thudding against the edge of a shovel and spreading out in all directions.

“I will not force you to follow me. I give you the option to choose, but I warn you, just as a plant with no water withers and dies, so too will this ship. Already you have seen the signs that all is not as it once was, that you no longer can do what you have always done and survive. So I charge you this: wait here for death or spring forward for life! And I, Airomem, your chief and your equal, shall lead you there!”

The clapping started in the back, closest to the barricaded entrance, Elliott’s hands coming together in short powerful strokes where he stood. Dozens of others joined in, a small peppering interspersed in the masses, but with heart.

But then the jeers started from those who had been listening behind the barricade, and the crowd erupted in response, their faces red as they shouted and hands moving in a flurry of motion, the thunderous applause drowning out all other sound.

Airomem brushed the earth from her hands as she walked towards them, glimpsing the planet through a window in the corner of her eye as she did so, and whispering in a voice that stood no chance against the roar.

“To dust we shall return.”

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Chapter 57

Ruth, Tom, and Elliott were gathered around Airomem as she drew in the dirt with the toe of her shoe, recreating the corridor where Horatius and Hannah were trapped.

“It bends a little there,” said Ruth, bending over and adding an arc to a previously straight line. “And here there is a closet.”

“Other than that, it’s correct,” said Elliott, and Tom nodded. “There are only two entrances, as you’ve drawn, both barricaded and defended by knives. Even if we could get past the barricade, we’d be cut to pieces. If they have the spine.”

“From what you have told me, they have the food rations holed up in there as well,” said Airomem, and she thought back to the wars between the Agrarians and the Aquarians. “Men are capable of much more evil than you would anticipate when they are defending their stomachs, and much more good when defending their hearts.”

“Good or evil, it’s still a barrier,” said Elliott. “Negotiations are failing – I believe they are holding on to Horatius and Hannah to exchange for food in the future, as well as to ensure their own safety. But even more so, I fear it is an attempt at petty revenge for Segni’s death, in which case, I fear for the life of my wife.”

“These are the same people who assaulted me,” said Airomem through clenched teeth, then pointed to the rooms she had drawn in the dirt. “We are past the point of negotiation. Now, where are they keeping them? And where are they keeping the food?”

Elliott turned and waved to a woman who had been waiting twenty feet away, her gaze turned towards the crowd still milling at the entrance of the corridor. With a start, she walked over, long bags under her eyes and scratches on her shins.

“Airomem, this is Angie; you may recognize her from your time in the gardens,” said Elliott. “Angie was asleep in her bed in the corridor when the rest of the gardeners moved the food and hostages inside, and woke up to the current barricade situation. She escaped by crawling through the barricade – if you can call it an escape. Nean was all too happy to have one less mouth to feed. They practically drove Angie out.”

“I see,” said Airomem as Angie stood opposite her, her lip trembling, her face flushed red as a quick flash of recognition spread across Airomem’s own expression. As she remembered that face from when she had fought off the gardeners with her dual stun guns, not participating in the mob but not helping Airomem and Horatius either. But standing to the side, watching and following. And certainly not asleep during the ordeal.

Airomem met her eyes and spoke slowly, her voice portraying no emotion.

“Quite unfortunate for you, Angie, though it is good you escaped. But now that you are here, that is all behind us. All that matters is what lies ahead. Can you point out on our map everything you know about inside the corridor?”

“Here,” said Angie, her own voice with a slight warble and gesturing at the second room on the outer edge of the corridor, one that faced the stars, “is where they are keeping Horatius. And here,” she pointed opposite, to a room that receded inside the ship so that it shared a wall with the edge of the gardens, “is where they are keeping the majority of food supplies. They keep that door shut tight, and distribute food from there twice a day.”

“And the times that they open the doors?”

“Morning and night for food, and they don’t really open the other ones. Nean wants to ensure there is no chance for escape.”

“Thank you, Angie,” Airomem said as the other woman looked down. “Your actions will help determine the fate of the ship.”

“I know,” she whispered, eyes watering.

“When we arrive,” said Airomem, “you’ll be remembered for this crucial information, as the reason why Horatius and Hannah were freed. If you remember anything else, Angie, do not hesitate to tell us. For now, that’s all we needed, but we may have more questions later.”

“Thank you, Airomem,” she said, departing. “Thank you.”

“Now,” said Airomem, ignoring Elliott’s questioning look, “we have two objectives. One, to rescue the hostages. And second, because everyone here looks so famished, is to recover much of your food. I’d rather everyone had energy for the next few hours. Here is what we are going to do.”

Crouching down, she illustrated the plan in the dirt, drawing two lines to show the proposed movement. Elliott shook his head when she finished, speaking.

“The things you have shown us that are possible, things I never would have dreamed of, have changed everything.”

“Let’s hope,” she said. “In one hour, we will act. That should give us enough time to prepare. During that time, Elliott, I need you to make it clear to your people to prepare to evacuate. Pair them up, ensure that your elderly and young have a strong counterpart. They should only bring the most essential of items. In addition, have your porters bring as much water as possible. Warn them that at any moment, the power may cut, and should that happen, they should reconvene just outside the entrance to the bridge. Make it clear that they should not enter that hallway without us, as it could mean death. And make it clear that anyone who waits here will be left behind. Be back here quickly, so we can start negations.”

“Of course, we will start immediately. I thought you said we were finished with negotiations?”

“We are. I just need you to hold Nean’s attention. Work some insults into them, get him and his people flustered. Tom?”

“Yes?” responded Tom, who had otherwise been silent, his eyes slightly narrowed as he tried to make sense of the diagram in the earth.

“Are you feeling strong today?”

“Tom always feels strong,” he said, stretching his arms in front of him and looking down them.

“Good,” said Airomem, holding her own arm next to his, the suit contrasting skin. “We’re going to need it.”

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Chapter 58

“I’ve come again to negotiate!” shouted Elliott through the barrier, a crowd milling behind him. They were those who had finished packing first and were ready to evacuate, only ten percent of those who had been present earlier, but clustered directly around the corridor entrance. In their cone-like formation, and with each of them generating a nonstop high volume chatter as Elliott had instructed, it would appear to Nean as if their ranks had not diminished.

“Look who’s come crying back to my doorstep,” came a sneer through the barrier as Nean’s face appeared between two stacked chairs. “Are you ready to recognize your true chief? Turn yourself over, Elliott, and only then will we free you and your wife – after six weeks!”

“Can’t do that, Nean,” responded Elliott. “But what I can do is offer you and Vaca positions as vice coordinators of the council – each of your votes would count as half of my own. And to do this, you would only need to serve one week in our captivity for your crimes.”

“What?” hissed Nean through the gap. “I have the food, Elliott! And unless you kneel before your rightful chief, you’ll die of hunger!”

Elliott shrugged, laughing, and responded, “Did you really think that the council didn’t squirrel away our own food, Nean? Why do you think we had such shortages – we saved it for an event like this!” He pulled a strawberry from his pocket, the last strawberry that had been found in a forgotten corner of the storerooms, and took a bite. “I bet Segni would have loved this one. We always did keep the best for ourselves, of course.”

Spittle flew from Nean’s mouth as he shouted, flecks nearly making their way through the barrier, “I still have your wife, Elliott! I still have her, and I could kill her before your eyes!” Then he turned to where his own crowd was amassed and shouted, “Do you hear that? Just as I have always said, they kept you hungry! They are the traitors!”

His hands gripped a chair in front of him, and he shook the barrier, others from behind him rushing to join in generating the clacking sound that reverberated around the garden. From Elliott’s prior instruction, his own crowd surged to take hold of the barrier, shaking the furniture just as hard, their screams slamming through the holes where they met the mutineers ten feet beyond.

Then they started propelling handfuls of mud along with their voices, and the inside retaliated with half rotten food. Elliott stepped back to watch, remembering the words he had said to the crowd who now only half faked their anger.

Make noise, engage them, cover them in mud. But make no attempts to take apart the barrier or enter.

And under his breath, as he watched the conflict escalate, Elliott muttered, “Make all haste, Airomem. Your window is open.”

***

Five porters trotted behind Airomem as she jogged along the outside wall of the gardens, keeping an eye at her feet where she rushed across measurements made in the earth every ten steps. Behind them, they pulled two carts each, the large wheels leaving trailing grooves in their wake, and the insides empty except for two packed to the brim with supplies from the doctors.

“Here!” she shouted as she came to an arrow that pointed directly into the flat metal wall and came to a stop. “Now, here’s the plan. Just on the other side of this wall is where their food is stored – according to Angie, it’s piled high and fills nearly the entire room. We only want the food in the back, understood? And just enough to fill those carts, nothing more.”

They nodded, and Airomem spoke again. “I’m going to need your help breaking in. I can’t do it alone. Get ready, and remember, stay quiet!”

“Can’t break the wall,” said one of the porters, rolling his eyes. “Manny there has tried many times; had to send him to the doctors after he broke his fist instead over a bet.”

“I almost broke through!” exclaimed another porter, presumably Manny, and pointing a suspiciously crooked finger at the first. “And if I did, we wouldn’t have to open the door anymore go into the main hall.”

“You dented it, Manny; there’s a difference,” smirked the first.

“Well, maybe it’s time I tried again and showed you up!” shouted Manny, his face red, but Airomem pushed back against his chest as he tried to move forward, her heels digging into the mud as he looked down in surprise.

No,” she said, feeling the suit stiffen as it took on his weight, “I’ll be breaking through the wall. All you have to do is help me move it. Quietly.”

“Oh, she’s going to show you up, Manny!” said the other porter, laughing, until Airomem glared at him.

“Enough,” she said. “We don’t have time for this.”

And taking the Omni-cutter, she started cutting the wall, the porters backing away as the metal fizzed. She made an arc as high as she could reach, then cut straight lines downwards, completing the process with a horizontal line across the bottom. Then she pushed the right side of the arched cutout, the metal grinding as it pivoted on its center, exposing one edge while the other tucked inwards.

“Ready?” she said, the porters transfixed. “Careful, the edges are sharp.”

“Told you so, Manny,” said the one from earlier and moved forward, grabbing a section of the wall. Manny grasped the bottom and Airomem stepped sideways to let the others through. Together, they wriggled the wall away to expose a foot of space on the inside, then another metal barrier. A few bundles of wire ran bolted to the inner wall, and Airomem pushed them aside as she held her ear to the inner wall, holding her breath as she waited for any noise to break the silence. But none came, and she started cutting again, making the same arcs, though slightly smaller, quicker this time to minimize the amount of white glow showing on the other side of the wall, and taking care to avoid wires.

She stepped back and held a finger to her lips as the porters moved in, twisting the door away to reveal stacks of sacks holding produce piled to the ceiling.

“Remember, only the back layers so they can’t tell any is missing,” she whispered. “No talking. If the door opens on the other side, stop working until it closes again. When you’re finished, take two carts back to Elliott to ration out, then start taking the rest to the bridge. Bring any belongings you want to take on the journey with you. Wait there; we will join you shortly.”

She watched them start to load the carts until she was satisfied with their noise level and progress, then turned to leave, running along the edge of the wall. The roar of noise that Elliott had started grew louder with each step, and she skirted the crowd when she arrived, then continued running. Her breath came smoothly – even in running, the suit removed most of the effort.

With a quick gasp of realization, she rushed to the window, flashing her stun gun furiously. But there was no response this time, with the Lear preparing for departure, and she cursed under her breath.

Back in the power room were the other suits just like the one she was wearing, suits that could be invaluable on the new planet. Suits whose abilities had been long forgotten, and now hung on the wall as memories of a past age, and were left untouched out of reverence and preservation.

And now would have been left behind for eternity to continue traveling among the stars.

Are you loving The Bridge? You can purchase the edited and final book/audiobook here.