Scene 1: the
main engine room
MUSIC: Amon Tobon "Verbal- Topo Gigo Mix"
Something needed to be fixed...
Evelyn Augustus Gaines, chief engineer of the freighter Tong Dizhou, climbed up the ladder into the conduit that linked sections; she could feel her head getting lighter and lighter. That's how it was, in zero-gee, and standard operating procedure said one should use the ladder the entire way. Evie always ignored this and pushed off three rungs from the top, kicking into her own freedom. The Shipping Authority rules also said one was supposed to wear shoes, but she always slipped those off at the top of the hatch, leaving the two husks to float by the entrance for her return. Her rabbit-like feet were free at last. Long toes curled and flexed, prepping for the handles they would soon grip. She gave a slight tug to the jumpsuit that fit her so poorly and glided down the conduit into the half-light of the main engine control room.
(radio) How does it look?
No problem, Captain Wainwright.
(radio)(chewing his bottom lip) How long
before you can get it fixed?
It's a quick fix. I'll have it done in two minutes, tops.
Evie took a moment to scratch the itch of the strap holding her glasses in place; clunky things needed since that stupid childhood accident. There...the worried spot in the back of drab hair, next to one of the tiny scars from when they tried to fix her broken skull. Forget the long feet that never went where she wanted. Ignore the asymmetric hips that never healed correctly after the accident. Who cared about the fat that circled her belly?
Turning so, and bend a knee.
Go to the panel once again.
I'm here in zero gravity.
Ask for more power to engines.
Do a back-flip, move to port.
Put your long toes in the straps.
See what the sensors report.
Try to find those power gaps.
Give yourself another spin
Control the roll, the pitch, the yaw
Don't forget your toothy grin
How much power can you draw?
In a very controlled tumble.
Now to starboard we shall go
Do you hear that? There's the rumble!
That's all that you need to know.
The graphs glittered—dancing a merry tune of increased
power. The monitors
chimed in agreement: yes, the tiny alteration would be made
to the fuel mixture.
How's that looking, sir?
(radio) Paul says it's good.
Stella's running the numbers.
(singing to herself)
Here, on a ship flown by Wainwrights,
We're coursing through an endless night.
Each have our own ability,
But you won't make it without me
(radio) Stella says the numbers are sound. Go check the
want to make sure we aren't leaking any years.
Aye, aye, Sir.
Evie curled her knees as she did a back-flip to
her next point of business. Oh, to be here at all times! No matter how clumsily
she waddled on the other decks of the ship, here she could glide, swan-like,
from one point to the other, making the subtle adjustments that would ensure
the ship made it to its destination.
But here, I swim so easily
Moving from port to starboard
In here, I am completely free
And you heard how those engines roared!
This ship wasn't made of old boxes and
chairs. The Tong Dizhou wasn't going
to come crashing down from the roof and
mangle its occupants. The field generator was humming along, slowing down the
ship and crew
enough so that the trip would only feel like months, as opposed to hundreds of
years. Evie glanced at the MOUS, which stated that it had been sixty days.
(radio) How does the snapback look?
The third piece of mysterious equipment sat under
the field generator, with the
MOUS between. The lights said it had power, but the moment of truth would be
when they hit Peg-51 and adjusted their standing with the rest of the universe.
Lights are on. Looks good. The unit looks sound.
(pause)It is sound. It's good. It's
the same signals as any one that's ever worked.
(radio) (chewing his bottom lip)You've
enough of these to know. Come on out.
Evie fished her slippers from where they floated
over the main hatch. Twisting
back into the standard issue foot-wear, she placed her feet on the rungs of the
ladder and crawled down, rung by rung, feeling the world of the ugly-duckling
closing in. Soon, she'd walk the corridors as the others did, weighted down and
confined by her own uneven bulk.
MUSIC: More amon tobin? mAybe lead out on "verbal"
Scene 2: The
hallway, the sick bay
Evie limped down
the ship's corridor, occasionally stopping
to pull down the front of her yellow jumpsuit. The ten-centimeter difference
between the lengths of her legs meant she could never take a smooth stride, so
she galumphed from place to place, trying not to swing her arms too much.
A loud thunk
let her know she'd stubbed her toe on a door-jam, hearing the impact before she felt the pain. That was common enough that she didn’t even stop to examine the injury. If it was bad, she was already on her way to sick-bay and it could be handled there. She checked her watch and noted she was behind schedule as it was. Her right eye was itching again, as it always did when she was embarrassed in front of her friend Doctor Becca Tabib. Evie pushed her thick glasses up and rammed a clumsy knuckle against the offending orb. The engineer tugged at her ill-fitting jumpsuit. The front kept riding up over her belly. She flopped into a chair.
No, no, not there. Over there, the the scales.
Let's get today's reading.
(beeps of the scales)
(reading) Eighty-six kilos, You haven't lost any weight at
have you been eating?
Slugs and snails and puppy-dog tails.
Not on this ship you haven't.
What if I take off my shoes and glasses? What about now?
Eighty-five point nine.
You didn't even look.
I don't have to. Are you at least trying to get more
exercise? And... (pause)What happened to your left toe?
Doorjam...meh. I can hardly walk five paces without
falling flat on my face. How am I supposed to run eight kilometers?
Try swimming. We have a wave-tank on board.
No one wants to see me in a suit.
So go there off-shift when no one will see you. We
have the time.
People in zero-gee usually eat less.
Becca tossed a stylus that Evie ably caught
(laughing) Right, I got ya.
Are you left-handed?
No, I'm ambidextrous. I thought you knew that. You
never know which hand
you're going to need, so they should both be useful.
I might have known but didn't have a record of it.
Evie leaned on her shorter leg and kicked her friend with the longer one, but lost her balance and had to jump to catch herself. Becca watched the engineer limp away.
Try to keep yourself in one piece!
should tell her to not wear yellow. She
looks like a duck in that suit.
Scene 3: the
Because it was one of the smaller freighters
available, the Tong Dizhou
generally did mixed runs. Once the crew dropped off the heavy machinery,
textiles, and new seeds, they would transfer their store of fresh data from
home: audio, video, texts, some missives from families to their loved ones,
images of children slowly becoming adults. Small freighters only ran three
rotating sections and carried a minimal crew, but they were the connection with
home, both technological and sentimental. Breakfast was the usual grim affair.
The food on board was designed for
portability and nutrition, thus tasteless and unappealing. They were hitting
the last month of the trip and the stores would need to be replenished at
Peg-51. Becca brushed an auburn curl away from her eyes and poked at the
green paste in
front of her.
(internal) What miserable gunk! This isn't food at all; it's just taking on fuel. Food has a texture. Food has a taste that you can easily identify. When I get home, we're going to get the whole family together for a feast! I hope this is the last trip I have to do. Surely the pay will be enough that I never have to get on a ship again. Praise be! The simple life is waiting, as soon as I'm done with...what is she doing?
Evie was spooning her green gunk into a little
mound. She achieved some desired
shape and stopped to admire it.
This is important. This means something.
(sighs) It means you should have no problem loosing
extra weight like I told you to.
(annoyed) You don't watch any of the old fictions, do
We have an actual boatload of information on this ship. I think this is
supposed to be some kind of artichoke dip. Or spinach.
The galaxy's full of our spawn!
Once we get going, we don't stop...
The height of Human tech flies on
Inside, however, we eat slop.
Max Ruths, the junior engineer, sat down. The Wainwrights had
years ago from Cancri-55 after he'd shown remarkable mechanical savvy. Besides
that, his deep blue eyes and wain good-looks had caught the eye of Judith (the
second mate and only daughter of Captain Wainwright). The two were engaged to
be married after the return from this current run.
How are the air scrubbers holding out?
It's breathable, Chief. Depends on what kind
of diet we get the rest of the trip.
(explaining) Human digestion can only handle so much. We get much more of this and the whole ship will smell like a three-month old fart.
Hey, Max honey. (kiss) What's this morning's fare? Brown mash, gray mash or...
Hi, Judi sweetie.(kiss)It’s Franz's special green mash.
It's super nummy.
I hate breakfast. (sniffs and rubs nose) It’s always
this at the end of a trip.
We’ll be picking up stores once we hit Peg-51. Won’t
fruit be nice? Maybe some berries the first month, then plums and pears.
(dreamily) Or apples...
Apples not as much. They last a long time, so that’s
more of an
‘end of the trip’ kind of thing.
An apple would be wonderful....Like that one that Franz
The group swiveled towards Franz, the steward. The
stout, gray man was
munching away at a Granny Smith that he held delicately with the tips of his
fingers, never closing his hand to obscure the crisp fruit. Franz was a Pegger,
a native of Peg-51, so this was a trip home for him. He'd overcome his accent
after years traveling the route with non-Peggers, but he bore the squat figure
and overabundance of hair particular to the people of that large, cold planet.
Look at that clever bastard. Advertising his wares when
(whining) That’s fresh. Oh, it’s not frozen or
freeze-dried or vacuum
Franz, You know I’m good for it. You give me a number
leave it for you under my pillow.
(eating) How many?
Here. I want a system for grilling installed. Something so I don't need a pan. I'm tired of using that blasted induction field.
(kissing) You’ll have it by this
(grunt) Promises, promises.
Franz and I have a colony/colonizer relationship. He
gives me raw materials and I give him technology.
No, Chief. You’re rubbing it in now.
Save me the seeds, at least. If we can turn a section
garden, it might be better business. I want to know if we can grow apples.
Granny Smiths are so much better than those red things we usually get.
(laughing) Captain’s daughter has never gawked an
apple tree. They take
up too much space; take a long time. Plus, they don’t breed true. You don’t
know what you would have by the time they give you anything.
Well, here...You can save your
seeds. You could even give Max half your apple if you wanted.
Oh, Evie, oh, thank-you. You have a knife, Max. You
can have half.
(laughing) The trade for technology
Here's half, Becca. Stay in the good graces of the
Wainwrights and you'll
have passage somewhere.
Thanks. (eating) How long have you been riding with them?
She did a couple runs with my uncle. Dad wanted a
good engineer for this run and she came
You'll be an official Wainwright any day now.
The other uncle...Stella's brother, Lucian.
If you're not flying with a Wainwright, you're flying with a Trechantiris. I did a few runs with a Homer Trechantiris. (bad Greek accent) I has been running ships for many generation. We map the world, and we map the skies while you was hiding in tents!
You imitate my cousin so well! Don't stop on my behalf.
The room turned to
see Stella Wainwright (née Trechantiris), wife of the captain and chief
mate of the Tong Dizhou, laughing and
clapping. Even joking, Stella was willowy
and graceful, this mother of four children: Judith, Paul (the senior pilot on
the ship, although only seventeen), Brian (who had recently left to captain his
own ship: the larger freighter Tong Qingren),
Qiu Fa Zu). There was
nervous shuffle as the others stood to
attention. Franz tugged at his
bangs and backed silently into the galley.
Judith, there are some
final numbers to run. Evelyn has made the necessary adjustments and I need to
know that no more will be required before we hit the final stretch.
Rebecca, you're on watch in five minutes.
Everyone relax.We are on the last leg of this trip
and we can't get complacent. This is the point when mistakes are made and we've
made it this far. I'm sure all of you are getting a little impatient and maybe
even stir-crazy, but trust me; the present tedium is preferable to the
excitement a tiny mistake could bring now. I am sure that you won't let a
little boredom get in the way of fulfilling your duties to your best ability.
As Becca turned to go, she looked back at
engineer was staring at
Stella with admiration.
Scene 4: the
Seventeen-year-old Paul was at the helm but signed out of the station when Becca and Judith entered the deck. He was the Wainwrights' youngest son, with dark eyes that never missed anything, shining black hair, and an aquiline nose; he had inherited his looks from his mother and shared her stunning grace of action.
End of my shift. And I'm
off to bed. See you at
Gordon Gorsky, the
junior pilot, came in after the two women and signed into the helm.
Whereas Paul’s good looks were quiet and refined, Gordon’s were broad and
brash. He brushed blonde hair away from his face, blue eyes glittering, and
flashed Becca a sheer, white smile.
Is that engine still
No. It's fine now.
(internal) Why must the
handsome boys all be pilots?
(external) Anything I should be watching for?
abnormal. Gaines cleared up that issue with the under-powered engine, so we
don't have to make anymore compensations. I'll be in my berth if anything comes
SOUND: doors opening. People leaving
What are you reading? Looks
It's about fire suppression
systems. I am the third mate.
On a lovely day like
this? You could be having a
nice conversation instead.
There is more than one
unattached woman on
But only one of them is
(laughing) Long haul
trips usually are.
But the pay's good. What
are you gonna do with
Save up for my own ship.
You have to trade for the engine,
What are you gonna call
That's up to the
I might go to the
mountains. I've been meaning to go for a
Too cold up there. You
should go someplace warm, someplace
with a beach.
(mockingly) So you can
ogle her in a swim-suit?
I might.... See how she
matches up with my
How odd that you should
mention that! I was just suggesting
to Evie that she use the wave tank we have on board.
You're all out to ruin
all my fantasies.
What do you see in her
Don't call me "Beks". What do I
see in who?
That Evie chick. You
spend a lot of time together.
Oh? (chuckles) Friends.
That's what they call it.
You have completely
misunderstood the nature of our
So it is a
relationship?(laughs)I see how it is.
Well, if that's how it is, I
won't be backwards about it. But still, a long trip like this...and you
spend so much time together.
Knock it off, Gorsky.
Just because a girl isn't
interested in you—
You sound like my ex.
I'm sure you have a lot
many as I'd like.
Scene 5: Galley
By the time Becca went back to
the galley for dinner, Franz had a new
equipment in his kitchen. It produced some sort of lightly-colored field in
which Franz held a piece of soy-beef. There was no open flame, so Becca felt a
little foolish for spending all that time reading about fire-suppression and
she noticed that Evie had even included a reflecting shield that fitted over
the apparatus. Franz chuckled as he turned the wire
cage containing the imitation meat.
I should have bribed her months
ago. Now I know why the food on the
Mang was so good. The steward there never told me the secret, but I
had to be something.
Scene 6: Bridge
A week later, Becca was on deck with a safety report when a tinny alarm went off. A distress signal had been picked up. Stella spotted it first: a tiny ship, some type of lifeboat or escape pod. Captain Wainwright leaned over his wife to study the display.
It's Vencume design.
a Vencume? Isn't that where we get our engines?
the civilized races. This is your first deep flight,
so you probably haven't run into one before. The Vencume maintain a pretty
broad territory, but this is a little out of their range. They must have
originated near Peg-51, but they usually come from the other direction.
It had been a couple generations since Humans first
met the Vencume. Large and lumbering creatures, the Vencume were always
helpful and curious (unlike the insect-like Toshdohai or aloof and piscine
Mavdares). Trade with them had been minimal, but enough to swap technology
(like the "borrowed time" field that made interstellar travel possible) for raw
materials like grains or beans. Peg-51 used to be a Vencume outpost, just on
the edge of their vast empire, so it was near the edges of that territory where
Humans generally encountered them.
aren't responding to hail. But it's the source of the
We'll pick them up. (chewing his
bottom lip) Stella, get a bay
ready. Tell Gaines to suit up. She's worked with them before.
bring them in on seventeen in the center
section. It's empty and we can reduce the spin there for them.
suit up as well.
No, be ready if we need you to
go in, but I only
want one crew member in there at a time. There's still an infection risk and I
don't want my doctor involved.
exposure to Vencume germs, and their exposure to ours. Sure,
we've dealt with them before, but it's not worth the risk of going in without a
Also, we don't know why they're in distress.
As soon as the center section
stopped spinning, two lines were sent
retrieve the Vencume ship. Once it was safely inside, the hatch was shut and
the spin started again, but only half-speed. Evie was already in her bright red
bio-suit and adjusting the translator around her neck before the bay was
brought to pressure.
Evie crossed in front to port and yelled
knocked on the side, 2…3…5…7…, the accepted greeting
of "civil-kind". The sense of gravity alone would have signaled safety on a
ship, the shout indicated atmosphere, and the prime knock let the survivors
know they were in safe hands.
There were four, deep-purple Vencume in this pod; they huddled together, running long tentacles over each other. A fifth was dead from what looked like severe burns. Evie also noticed a raw space in the center the gray, vine-like mass where something had been removed. There was water on the floor of the pod. The remaining four Vencume chittered. Evie's translator spoke in a smooth, unhurried, female voice:
Time constraint. Ship coming.
Gratitude for safety. Indebtedness to
very welcome. You're on board the freighter Tong
Dizhou, headed to Peg-51. What happened to your ship? Why were you
massive Vencume shuffled out of the pod on trunk-like legs and clustered
around her; they had a poor sense of personal space and did this to everyone,
running long, multiple fingers over everything they encountered. Their five
arms waved, each arm ending in a knot of many twisting digits.
Ship damaged. Signal sent. Ship
coming. Time constraint.
have another ship coming? You’ve sent your signal and someone is coming
to pick you up?
Time constraint. Ship coming.
run into some kind of
debris? Was there an explosion? We can take you the rest of the way to Peg-51,
but we can’t
stop and wait here. You know we can’t dock with Vencume ships.
The Vencume shuffled again, their five large feet scraping against the floor. Evie started to back towards the hallway door. The Vencume followed and she noticed one of them was holding a pressurized container closely.
Time constraint. Concern for
safety. Understanding. Ship coming.
safe with us. We have quarters where we can put you. We have a refrigeration
Misunderstanding. Ship coming.
Tzikzik coming included. Time
what else is coming?
Tzikzik. Time constraint.
Concern for safety.
Tzikzik? Is that an event or a storm or—?
Not civil-kind. Concern for
safety. Human time constraint.
damage. Tzikzik not safe.
gestured to the Vencume to stay by the hallway door and switched to her
guys, I think we have a new word.
(radio) Gaines, what do you
mean, a ‘new word’?
I mean a
word the translator hasn’t heard
before. They seem pretty agitated and keep asking me to hurry, but they’re
worried about something called Tzikzik coming
but they say it isn’t civil-kind.
(radio) The squiddies hardly
consider us civil-kind. Listen, if
they’re in such a
hurry, see if you can get that thing operational and let’s show them the door.
Inter-species goodwill can only go so far.
too badly damaged. It might be able to hold pressure, but the life-support on
it is minimal and there’s no thrust or sensors. It looks like the array was
knocked off and the main engine unit took a direct hit from something either
massive or fast. The control panel inside is toast and there’s a dead Vencume
(radio) They already cored the
one, right? That’s why they’re in a hurry. I’m going to assume you already told
them we have a refrigeration unit.
but they seem to want us to get out of here as well. They have a ship
Explosion. Evie hitting the wall.
(radio) Gaines! What happened
down there? We just
watched an explosion. Are you all right?
Fuel cell went up...It finally
had enough atmosphere to go.
Evie made sure to get up easily to prevent flying across the bay. A sharp pain stopped her. She ripped off her glove and the bloody mess came apart.
have shrapnel in my hand.
(radio) Right, get out of there.
about the Vencume?
(radio) We'll put them on one of
ours if they're in such a hurry.
We have a schedule
to keep and they can get it back to us some other time. I won't have a school
of flighty squiddies on the ship for the rest of the trip.
examined the twisted metal embedded in her left hand. There wasn't much
time left before the shock hit. The Vencume came up on her fast, chittering
Ship broken. Human fix ship.
Human broken. Vencume fix Human.
one of the Vencume reached for the bloody shrapnel, Evie slapped the squid-like
mass of fingers away. It was one of those
things a person does without thinking...
Once, as a child, Evie had knocked a glass off a counter. The thought process was that she didn't want the glass to fall and break, and she didn't want broken glass on the floor, because her baby sister Gwen might find the it and get hurt. She caught the glass and it broke in her hand, nearly skinning three of her fingers and leaving an ugly gash across her palm, right across the lifeline.
And so, in trying to prevent infection and slapping away what could be called a hand on a Vencume, Evie managed to break what could be called a hand on a Vencume. Just like the broken glass all those years ago, she knew that the instinct had been wrong the moment she heard the sharp snap.
god, I'm so sorry, I only...
No malice. Vencume fix.
Understanding. Infection. Vencume fix.
Vencume produced a small vial and sprayed the broken "hand" of its
companion. The flesh sizzled a moment before the digits wiggled freely. The
Vencume clustered and touched each other again, the mass of tentacles that
stuck out from between their arms interlacing.
Understanding. Vencume has
helix. Vencume fix. Human fix ship.
cannot fix the ship. The ship is too
broken. We will give you one of our lifeboats. Little ship? Your ship can pick
up little ship?
was backing to the door.The Vencume were keeping their distance now.
Not dock. Absorb. Understanding.
Similar now. Acceptable.
OK...Someone else will get
suited up and take you to one of
our little ships.
One of the Vencume spun up
suddenly and pressed the vial
of spray into her
Barter. You fix. Understanding.
Human ability. Understanding. Human
helix useful. Understanding.
you...I have to go now. Other Human fix this Human,
The Vencume shuffled back. The others received it, all of them running tentacled masses over each other.
Vencume understanding. Human fix
ship helix. Usefulness.
Yes, yes... Much gratitude. I
understand. Thank you, of course. I have to
was getting light-headed and blood was dripping around the
protruding shrapnel. She
felt ill, and it would do no good to be ill in a hood.
Evie had to pass through the zero-gee conduit to get back to the rest of the ship, the entire time thinking about how the drops of blood would vaporize over time. An antibiotic spray misted over her and the suit, stinging her wound and making the rungs slippery. Becca was waiting at the bottom with a syringe and some bags.
Other Human fix Human? How about
a little extra adrenaline before we go
to bay and you
Vesta, Diana, Minerva...Thank the universe for centrifugal force.
Evie swore as she ripped off the
hood of the
blood-red bio-suit and vomited into one of the bags. She wriggled out of the
suit and Becca helped her to the sick-bay.
The piece of shrapnel was the
length of Evie's palm and the width of
finger. It had entered the palm halfway down and two centimeters in from the
pinky, right at the end of the headline. She had to take her watch off so they
could strap the wrist and prevent further bleeding. Becca had anesthetized the
area before extraction because Evie had refused general anesthesia. She wanted
to watch the process and studied Becca's work the entire time. Evie was looking
at the vial Becca had
placed in a plastic bag.
don't we use the Vencume spray?
it's made for Vencume. I've seen it before. Some
sort of stem-tech they have. We don't know what it would do in your case. You
want a squid for a hand?
might want to get another barf-bag ready if you're going to talk like
(chuckling again) She says,
looking at the insides of her own hand.
seen it before.
So I've guessed. There's a lot
of heavy scarring here. You make
a living with your hands; you should take better care of them. Granted, it was
an unavoidable accident.
myself there. I could have stayed grass-side and never met a Vencume. I decided
on this life.
little late to have doubts now.
something I doubt. I know that it isn't blind chance. I decided to
live this way.
to lighten the mood) Hey...you're going to miss the best part. I
have to do another saline wash.
lemme do it. I've seen this lots of times.
You're good at
should get out of engineering and be my assistant.
never. Can't stand the sight of blood unless it's my own.
two stitched and stared in silence. There was a minor stopping point when
Becca had to give Evie another injection to keep the hand numb.
through this stuff so quickly?
help it. I process it quickly or something.
missed the manual tendon here... Good thing we didn't have
to go digging... Wiggle your fingers before I close it up.
always weird. I see them move, but I
don't feel anything. It's only my will that makes them move.
only your will that makes them move any other time.
know it's my will that makes them move.
I don't feel it move, so I'm detached from it. But that's just it, isn't it? I
make a decision and see myself doing a thing, then I do it.
you regain feeling in this hand, it's going to hurt. I'll
give you some pills for it.
least talk to Franz about putting ice on it to help prevent swelling.
pain how we know we're healing? What about those people
who can't feel pain? Don't they get hurt all the time? Isn't pain how humans
talking about neuropathy? Yes, OK, pain is important.
Children with the disorder are in constant risk of self-injury.
about emotional neuropathy?
being a sociopath. It isn't healthy
either...And we're done. Be mindful of those stitches.
think emotional pain is important for human
want to talk about that fight you
had the other day?
you're too hard on yourself. What was it you
and Gordon were fighting over anyway?
I have to go put ice on this. We'll talk later.
With that, Evie stood and limped in her usual way out of sick bay. Becca sat in the empty room for a few minutes. She started to clear away the needles and gauze.
(internal) What the hell were they fighting about? Why won't she talk to me? Look at that; she forgot her watch as well. Typical engineer stuff; it always has to be complicated.
It had a short arrow pointing to an IX and a longer arrow pointing at a VI. She started to put it in her pocket, then put the timepiece on her own wrist.
I'll forget. I'll give it to her
see her next, which should be as soon as she realizes she's forgotten it.
cleaning up and filing the incident report. She ran into Franz
in the corridor.
have the remains of that glove from Evie’s suit?
she already had the glove off when I met her outside the
air through his teeth) I wanted to see how bad
the damage was and see if I could fix it, but I can’t find it anywhere.
probably got purged, the same time we opened the
bay door to send out that Vencume body. They didn’t seem interested in taking
it with them.
guess. Those squid were in a big hurry to get going.
Probably had to do with those two cores they had with them.
10: Becca dream
dreaming about New Year's Eve. She is riding on her father's shoulders
and swaying with each step he takes. The fireworks are so loud, she can
feel the booms in her chest.
SOUND: Explosions. Fireworks.
glitter across the night sky. Her dream
little princess enjoying the show?
tries to answer, but no sound comes out.
SOUND: Brass band playing. Brass Band skipping.
father repeats the question, thinking she hasn't heard him. Again, she
opens her mouth but is unable to speak. Her father gives her arm a little
honey? You OK up there? Were we out too late for you? Have
you fallen asleep? Rebecca? Becca? Becca?
Becca wake up!
was Judith, shaking her awake. Behind her, there were
flashing lights. An alarm was going off. Becca fell out of bed.
Where? What's going on?
under attack! They're attacking us!
Judith looked near panic and ran out of the room. Becca quickly got dressed, hurriedly putting on pants, shoes, and jacket. No time to comb her hair. She grabbed her quick-bag, filled with the things that mattered most.
(PA system) Attention crew. We are evacuating. Please make your way to bay fifteen, center section. Attention crew. We are evacuating. Please make your way to bay fifteen, center section.
we evacuating? What's going on?
ago, Stella picked up some kind of large ship on the display. It didn't respond
to hail at first; then it started lobbing stuff at us. Mostly junk from the
looks of things. Paul tried to evade-—even dropped out of field--but
they're fast and now our ship's starting to suffer. We're close to losing one
of the holds. Judith went to get you because you weren't responding to the
intercom. We were actually worried your berth had gone out.
short one lifeboat, due to our
magnanimous nature, so that cramps the nine of us in one. Engines are still
keeping a good push. Sensor section is breached but the shutters are in; no
idea on the cargo. Spin is slowing down so we’ll be swimming the last lap.
must be what the Vencume were running from!
was shifting her
quick-bag from shoulder to shoulder. Already, Becca felt her steps gaining a
little more spring. Soon, they would
have to push off from walls. She leaned forward and kicked.
We should have
listened to them! They tried to
the time they made it to bay fifteen, the section had completely stopped
spinning. The crew had to grapple with doorways and kick off from walls. Becca
glanced sideways at Evie who seemed to be moving effortlessly in zero-gee while
the others bounced off each other and struggled to keep moving.
13: bay, lifeboat, loadmaster
The lifeboat sat in the center of the bay, gripping the hold-stays. Captain Wainwright floated just outside the craft, making sure his crew was safely aboard. Franz gave Max a good push to where the captain caught him. Franz pushed himself off with a huff. Evie kicked off and pulled Becca with her. She lazily rotated in the air and looked Becca in the eye, then spun again in a lazy arc, pointing Becca at the lifeboat door.
inside was cramped. Gordon was already sitting at helm, prepping for the
launch. Stella and Judith were in the two seats behind. Paul pulled Becca into
the seat next to him. Franz, Max, the captain, and Evie crowded in behind.
Captain Wainwright shut the hatch and gave the order to go. The hold-stays
released and the boat started to float up from the floor. The only problem was
that the bay door wasn’t opening.
giving it the command, but there's no response.
even trying to move. We
have to open it manually.
You don’t have
suit and crank. It’s the receiver on the side wall. I can send the command from
the loadmaster and ride the magnet down.
I can do
getting married...and I work better in zero-gee.
The loadmaster was a crane control pod at the top of the bay used for loading and unloading of cargo. Evie launched herself up to the pod and pushed past the dark-gray, emergency pressure-suit that had floated out from behind the seat. The control display flickered when she turned it on.
We’re losing juice. We’re losing connection.
entered the master password and brought up the command
menu. Load, unload, connection, main hatch open, pressure override, pressure
ARE YOU SURE
YOU WANT TO OVER-RIDE THE PRESSURE SENSOR CONTROL SYSTEM?
THE PRESSURE SENSOR CONTROL SYSTEM MAY RESULT IN
OF LOAD BAY
Yes! Ok! Yes, I'm sure I want to escape! Why don't you have an emergency
PRESSURE SENSOR CONTROL SYSTEM. OPENING MAIN HATCH
give me a blow-by-blow, just freaking do it! If I survive long enough to
meet the guy who designed this system, I'll kill him!
SOUND: low groan and sudden rush of air.
Evie’s ears popped....She shut her eyes and clamped her hands over her ears. When Evie opened her eyes, she tried to get a fix on the lifeboat beneath her, to calculate the magnet drop....The lifeboat had left.
SOUND: more rushing air. high whistling sound.
There was no
escape now. Evie quickly wriggled into
the pressure-suit, bunching the material around her
believe this. Not easy. Nothing is easy. We can do this.
She set the loadmaster electromagnet to "on" and loosened the pull-line. She pushed out from the control pod, using the line to control her decent. Getting the door to the hallway open involved a hand-crank, but she managed to get enough room to wiggle into the main corridor. Evie swam through sections of the ship, pulling the emergency rip-cords for the shutters in each section.
must be Tzikzik. No worries. If I can keep the
core going, I can turn the ship so they don’t go after the lifeboat. Okay,
here's two extra tanks. So...that's enough air for sixteen
hours. I can hold out that long. I'm not hypoglycemic. I can hide. If all else
fails, maybe I can do a walk and cling to the exterior. If I can tether
outside, I have all the time I need. (pause) I can't do that. This is deep
space. I have to
hide here. Sixteen hours is a long time.
SOUND: A grinding noise. a low groan. a rumble. Evie's breathing in the suit getting faster, shallower.
It's not made of cardboard. It's not going to come crashing down. My hips...
SOUND: a crackling sound. Something electric burning out.
still atmosphere. Tzikzik need that, don't they? What do they want? This place
is huge. I can hide somewhere. I
can do this. It's not that bad. We've seen worse. Get to the core and keep it
going. We're still too close to the lifeboat. Get the ship turned. We have to
keep the lifeboat safe. We can pick them up once all this is done. This doesn't
make any sense. I can do this.
SOUND: A popping sound now. More rumbles.
as the others get away. Maybe they can get back to
the ship once all this is over. I just have to make sure we can hold pressure
afterwards. I'm fine in zero-gee. I can do this. It's OK... You've lived a good
There. That was the sound of a person dying. Evie banished the idea.
Once the Tzikzik are gone, I can pick up the others.
That's no problem. It's just like the Vencume. I'll send out a couple lines and
bring them back in. I can do this. It's eight people. They can stay on the
lifeboat while I fix the bay. I can do it. We have the parts. I can do this. It
will be just like it was before... I've lived a good life.
That dying mantra snuck in again. Evie was pushing the last lap into the engine control room. She didn't even bother with the ladder, but shot up the tunnel.
This is easy. We've been here lots of times before. I
can do this. There's too
much bulk. Which suit am I wearing? Is it my yellow one? I love the yellow one.
No, this one is black. That's fine. Black hides my weight. Black is slimming.
I'm sorry, Becca. I never lost that weight. It's bad for you. Heart disease.
Evie quickly made the adjustments to halt all remaining fuel to port engine. The graphs glittered. The monitors agreed, yes, this will be accepted. The ship’s angle adjusted by thousands of kilometers a second, now pointing away from Peg-51, moving away from a tiny lifeboat.
They want to destroy us. They hate the Vencume and
they're angry. We stole
their prey from them. She's all yours now, Gordon. Take good care of her. I
hope you two are far enough away.
SOUND: More clangs. Rumbles and grinding sounds.
Maybe I can distract them with
one of the tanks. I can hear them. They need atmosphere. You hear that? They're
mortal. They have to breathe. I'm sorry. I'm going to die fat. I lived a good
life. Remember me?
SOUND: Something banging on a metal door. Metal tearing.
Take care of Becca, Gordon. Don't be like that guy was
While the Tzikzik battered down the door, Evie
slowly started to
recite pi to
as many places as she could remember, her calming exercise. She had to start
over a few times, but by the time she got to the 180th place, she and the
Tzikzik had come to an understanding: Evie understood why the Vencume had been
afraid, and the Tzikzik understood how much effort had to be expended to take a