Sarah A. Hoyt
I never wanted to go to space. Never wanted see the eerie glow of the Powerpods. Never wanted to visit Circum Terra. Never had any interest in finding out the truth about the DarkShips. You always get what you don’t ask for.
Which was why I woke up in the dark of shipnight, within the greater night of space in my father’s space cruiser.
Before full consciousness, I knew there was an intruder in my cabin. Not rationally. There was no rationality to it. The air smelled as it always did on shipboard, as it had for the week I’d spent here – stale, with that odd tang given by the recycling.
The engines, below me, hummed steadily, propelling us from Circum Terra, which we’d left hours ago and towards a-week-distant Earth.
My head felt a little light, my stomach a little queasy, from the artificial grav. Yes, I know. Scientists say that’s impossible. They say artificial gravity is just like true gravity to the senses. You don’t feel a thing. They are wrong. Artificial grav always made me feel a little out of balance, like a couple of shots of whiskey on an empty stomach.
Even before waking fully, I’d tallied all this. There was nothing out of the ordinary. And yet there was a stranger in my cabin.
It never occurred to me to doubt it. Years in reformatories, boarding schools and mental hospitals, had taught me that the feeling I woke up with was often the right one. I assumed I’d heard something while asleep – a door closing, a step on the polished floor.
It didn’t matter. There was someone in my cabin. Now, why? Knowing the why determined how I dealt with it.
There were three reasons that came to mind immediately. Theft, rape, murder. But all of them were impossible. The space cruiser belonged to Daddy dearest and there was no one aboard save Daddy dearest, my charming self – his only daughter – and his handpicked crew of about twenty, half of whom were his bodyguard goons and half maintenance-crew of one description or another. Far more than I thought it would take to run a ship this size, but then what did I know about ships?
Now, whatever I thought of my father, the Honorable Patrician Alexander Milton Sinistra of the ruling council of Earth, I neither thought him stupid nor stupidly inclined to think the best of people. His goons were the scum of the Earth – only because there were no real populations on any other planet – but they were picked, trained, conditioned and, for all I knew, mind-controlled for loyalty.Hulking giants, they would, each one of them, have laid down his life for my father. Not the least because without Father they’d only be wanted men with no place to hide. And Father took good care of the families of those who bought it in the line of duty.
As for his other servants and employees, they were the best Father could command, in any specialty he needed.
None of them, nor anyone who had ever seen Father in a white hot rage would ever do anything against Father or his family. Well… except me. I defied Father all the time. But I was the sole exception.
There were no crimes at our home in Syracuse Seacity. There weren’t even any misdemeanors. No servant had ever been caught stealing so much as a rag from the house stores. Hell, no servant even broke a plate without apologizing immediately and profusely.
So the three reasons I could come up with for an intruder in my room made no sense. No one would dare steal from me, rape me or murder me under Father’s roof. And no one – no one – who had ever dealt with me or heard rumors about me would do it even away from Father.
And yet, I was as sure that there was a stranger in my cabin as I was of being female, or nineteen or named Athena Hera Sinistra.
Without opening my eyes I looked through my eyelashes – an art I’d learned at several sojourns at various institutions – and turned in bed. No more than the aimless flailing of a sleeper seeking a better position. The cabin was dark. For a moment I could see nothing. I could turn the lights on by calling out, or by reaching. But either of those would give away that I wasn’t asleep.
And then, my eyes adjusting, I saw him standing out of the deeper darkness,. It was a him. It had to be a him. Broad shoulders and tall though not as tall as most of Father’s bodyguards. Nor as broad. He stood by my bed, very still.
My heart sped up. I tensed. I didn’t know who he was, nor what he was about to do, but it couldn’t be good. No one with good intentions would come in like that, while I was asleep and then stand there, quietly waiting.
Then I thought it might not be one of Father’s people at all. Look, our security was good. Really good. But we’d just been on a four-day-long state-visit to Circum Terra, where the population was the top scientists in their field. Smart people. Smart people who were halfway through duty rotations a couple of years long. Smart people who had stared and sighed when I walked around and attended parties and been my most flirty self in the clothes that were one of the few perks of being Father’s daughter.
If one of those people had sneaked abroad…
Moving slowly, in the same seemingly aimless movements, I clenched my hands on the blanket about an arm’s length apart, and made fists, grabbing handfuls of the stuff. I’d have preferred to twist it around my wrists, so it wouldn’t come loose, but that would be way too obvious.
The man in the dark took a step towards me. He was good. If he was a scientist, he must have been a cat burglar in a previous life. He moved silently. If I hadn’t been awake, he surely wouldn’t have awakened me now.
I sprang. I hopped up to the edge of the bed. The ceramite bed-side gave a better surface for bouncing. I bounced, on my tiptoes and flew up, blanket stretched between my hands.
There is this state I go into when in fear or anger. It seems as though I can move faster – and be stronger – than normal people. At least enough to take everyone by surprise. It had seen me through countless battles in boarding schools, hospitals, detention centers. I never understood why people didn’t catch on.
And this time was no different. As time seemed to slow for me, I wrapped the blanket over the head of the intruder and pulled, with the blanket still held in both hands. A blanket is the worst garotte possible. I much prefer a scarf or a rope. But needs must when the devil drives.
As my prey started to flail, I knew that however much slower than I he was, he was stronger. And bigger. I pulled the ends of the blanket I had grabbed, as tight as I could around his neck. I needed something big and heavy to crash over his head. But – damn the space cabin! — everything was locked behind drawers and doors. And he was thrashing, struggling, groping for me.
I did what comes naturally in these Circumstances. I lifted my foot, aiming with my heel because bare toes aren’t very effective, and kicked. Hard. Right at the center of his manhood. He screamed and let go of my arm.
Just long enough for me to find, on the floor, the boots that I, according to my bad habit, had taken off and left by the side of the bed. I mustn’t have been asleep very long, since my maid hadn’t picked them up yet. This meant that most of the people on board should be awake still.
As I thought this, I grabbed the boot. It was more fashionable than practical, a boot designed for walking indoors and looking good.
Fortunately looking good – in the short silk dresses I normally favored – demanded a fairly high heel, plated all around with a thick layer of silver. And chunky, according to current fashion.
I had just time to weigh it in my hand. My uninvited guest was trying to pull the blanket off and calling out some nasty words that good scientists shouldn’t pronounce.
When hitting someone on the head it’s all a matter of knowing the point where it will do the most good. Or harm. Long experimentation had told me the point above the ear would work, only of course, he was moving around too much to make it exact, but I did try.
I visualized my hand going through his head – because otherwise the smack would lack the needed force — pulled back, to gain momentum, and brought the heel of the boot hard on his head. As hard as I could from the disadvantage of a lower height. If he hadn’t been half-bent, trying to unwrap the blanket, I’d never have managed it at all.
As it was, the first hit made him pause. Just pause. He didn’t fall and I thought I hadn’t hit hard enough, so I hit again, harder.
He made a sound like choking and went down. The blanket, which he’d managed to loosen most of the way by the time he fell, came off his face.
“Lights on,” I said, and jumped back, holding my boot, because if he came back at me I was going to hit him again, and this time I wanted to be able to see where.
But as the soft glow shone on his pale face, it was a shock. Because it wasn’t the scientist or support guy from Circum Terra that I expected to see. It was Andrija Baldo, the head of my father’s goons. Not as big as the other goons, he made up for it by being five times as mean.
His square face was pasty gray. The brutal lips another shade of grey. There was a drop of blood running from beneath his hair. I wondered for a moment if I had killed him, and exactly how mad Father would be if I had.
Then I realized his chest was rising and falling minimally. So, still alive.
And in his right hand, firmly clutched, was the oval shape of an injector. I knew the color too. There was only one medicine they packaged in those piss-yellow injectors.
Morpheus. The strongest knock-out juice in the universe.
A full injector of morpheus and I’d have been dead to the world for the rest of the night. Was it really rape after all? Or murder?
I frowned down at the passed out goon on my floor. Right. Andrija Baldo, who — as far as I knew — had been with Father since Father had rescued him from some correction camp or other, had been about to drug me and…
The mind stopped there. Oh, he could have raped me. And maybe I wouldn’t even have known, come morning. Or he could have killed me.
But none of us, and Father’s goons certainly least of all, could imagine that we had any real privacy aboard this cruiser. Father had it built to specifications. If there were no cameras and microphones covering every possible inch of every possible compartment, then Father was not the paranoid bastard I knew him to be. And that Andrija, who had worked for Father for ten years, knew him to be.
Look, truth was this whole trip to Circum Terra stank to high heavens. Yes, Father was a member of the Earth’s ruling council. But he was not one of those who interacted with the public or who gave the benighted multitudes the idea that they had a say in their governance. Father stayed behind the scenes. He planned things. He hired people. He saw that plans came to fruition. So, why go to Circum Terra? Why meet with scientists whose influence on the public opinion was slim to none? And why bring me along?
Oh, I could do the decorative daughter. I’ll admit that. I could be decked out and made up and – at all of five five, with long wavy dark hair and the size of breasts that make other women call you fat – I could look like the perfect young lady of patrician class. For a time at least. Before the next clash with Daddy Dearest made me tear a broad swath of rebellion and rage through whatever society surrounded us. And four days in Circum were a short enough period to allow me to pass.
But why would Father want me with him? And why the trip to Circum at all? And if he had to go there, why not use an air to space, which traveled much faster and could get us to Circum in a day? Why the huge, slow space cruiser with its full complement of personnel?
None of it made any sense. And this made the least sense of all.
I stood by Andrija’s unconscious body, holding my boot in one hand. I could shove him into one of the closets around the room, under all the gowns, and then lock my door and go back to bed. And hope he didn’t wake up in the night, and come after me. Or hope that someone had seen all this on a camera and came to my rescue.
No. I’d never before waited for someone else to rescue me. I didn’t think it would work any better if I did now. For one, I couldn’t really believe Andrija was working on his own. Not in Father’s ship. Not when Father would surely find out.
I’d just come to this conclusion when someone knocked at the door. It was the sort of tentative knock people give when they don’t want to rouse anyone else. My hair prickled at the back of my neck. If someone had spotted the attack on the security tape and had come to rescue me, the knock would be loud. They would be calling my name.
But there was only the tentative knock. Repeated. And then the doorknob shook.
I slid around to the right side of the door. The door was set on a wall with a slight angle, so that the right side formed a shallow angle with the closet. I squeezed myself against the wall there, as the knob turned completely and the door opened.
A dark head poked in, there was a muffled sound of surprise at seeing Andrija on the floor. I acted on instinct. Before he could open his mouth or call out, I reached over, and hit him hard with the heel of the boot. He went down.
As he fell, I recognized Friso Sikke, the second in command among Father’s goons. What was going on? And did it matter? Whatever it was, clearly Father’s goons had turned on me and would be coming after me.
I took a deep breath. I had to get out of this room. When under attack, a place with only one exit – through which enemies were coming in – was the worst possible in which to make a stand.
There was a sound from the hallway. I could not stand here to hit them one by one as they came in. I took a quick look down at myself. I was wearing only the thigh-long silk slip in which I slept. I cast a longing look at my closet, full of all sorts of work suits which would be much better for fighting or fleeing in.
But the steps approached, and I couldn’t take the time. I didn’t have a moment. I had to get out before they blocked the door.
Boot still in hand, I ran out of the cabin. Outside a broad hallway opened. In the middle of the hallway stood two men. They weren’t familiar. Servants. Or at least I assumed they were servants, hired for the trip.
Blurrily, I noticed they were pushing an antigrav platform between them. A stretcher, of the type used for hospitals. I ducked under it before the two men could react. They yelled something as I passed, but I had more important things on my mind.
My father’s cabin was at the other end of the hallway from mine – presumably so that should I decide to hold a party by myself in the dark of night I wouldn’t disturb him. Across from Father’s cabin was the antigrav well that led to the next level. I ran towards it.
If Father wasn’t in on this, then the safest thing would be to run towards him. I couldn’t imagine why Father would be in on this, but all my instincts warned me off running to his room. At the very least, if Father weren’t there, or if he weren’t capable of stopping their coming after me, I would be stuck at another dead end. The antigrav well, and the working levels of the ship below it were the only way to go.
I heard screams and running feet behind me, but I’d already jumped into the cushioning currents of the antigrav well. The landing at the other end was soft enough, and I started running immediately, faltering only slightly as I pulled free of the antigrav. I felt more than heard the two men hit the well behind me.
This corridor was the working level used by Father, not his personnel. During our time docked at Circum it had served a mobile embassy for Syracuse Seacity. Three of the doors on either side led to ballrooms and one to an office/work room. I had no idea what the other three were for. We had never opened them. At the other end of the hallway another antigrav well led to the servants’ quarters and, at the end, to the lifeboat bay.
In between was a hallway twice as broad as the one upstairs, with the walls covered in holo-windows that displayed sunny Mediterranean landscapes – beaches and olive groves and pastoral-looking mountains.
The ballrooms were spacious, and the office had more places to hide than my cabin, but in the end they were enclosed areas and not a good place to get trapped in. Running full tilt on my bare feet, boot in hand, I wondered if one of the other rooms might hide an armory. Unlikely. Our home had an armory, but Father – being almost eighty years old – never used it.
Still, one of the other rooms might hold something… Or it might lock securely till I could figure out my next step.
In despair, I slowed enough to test the door of the first room I’d never opened. And found myself staring at a state-of-the-art operating room? Father lay on an antigrav stretcher.
I had time to register that he was clearly unconscious before a hand touched my arm. I felt more than heard movement behind me it and spun around, full tilt, in combat mode, that mode in which I felt as if I were going twice as fast as everything around me.
The boot, clutched in my hand, caught the medtech full force on the forehead. He grunted and stepped back. This surprised his friend just long enough to allow me to pull my arm free and run again.
No escape there. No escape in the medical rooms. Medical rooms. Why were there medical rooms in a space cruiser? There was no way we could take a trip longer than week. Father was old but not that old. And he was in good health. Father. Why was Father unconscious in a medical room. There had been… trays of instruments. And… I had a vague memory of medtechs. And medical machinery. Why?
As I legged it as fast as I could towards the antigrav well, a sudden shrieking alarm broke the silence, and then a strobe light effect kicked in, making the Mediterranean landscapes on the walls look like they would if the Earth was hit by a meteorite cluster.
The voice that went with the shipboard alarm came in over speakers, seemingly from everywhere at once. Well, several voices. One of them was the fire alarm saying, “Fire, fire. Please rush to the lifeboat bay.” The other one was the one for piracy and it said, “There are intruders abroad. Please secure your area and do not leave.” And yet another talked about a mechanical malfunction and my absolute need to rush to assist.
It seemed to me that someone had clapped his hand across all the alarm buttons. In my particular emergency – unable to understand what was going on – finding an area I could secure seemed like a really good idea. Perhaps the kitchens downstairs. Kitchens would have knives and cookers and all sorts of implements that could cut and poke and burn.
Once, at twelve, I’d held an entire finishing school at bay and barricaded myself in the kitchen for a week, until Father had come for me.
I threw myself down the grav well, determined to make it to the kitchen. Landed ready to run. For my money, of all the self-defense, street fighting and all sorts of fighting I’d taught myself, the best training of all as far as running and staying on my feet and even fighting back had been my time spent at the ballet school in Paris when I was fourteen. It helped me keep my balance now, as I landed on tiptoes and leapt out of the anti-grav field.
I lopped two large steps down the hallway. And became aware of steps behind me. Of large, heavy bodies hitting the floor in the gravwell, and falling into a run as easily as I had.
A look over my shoulder showed me what remained of my Daddy Dearest’s goons – or perhaps all of them, as I had no idea if I’d disabled two of them permanently or just given them headaches – eight of them. They were dressed in full dimatough armor our from head to toe. At a casual glance they looked like men in black masks wearing a suit made entirely of black scales. Which they were. They were also men protected by material that nothing – not even diamond – could cut.
And they were coming for me. Why?
But it didn’t matter. What mattered was that nothing I found in a kitchen could hold them at bay. It would have to be the lifeboat bay.
I ran as fast as I could, hearing the clump clump clump of their boots behind me cut through the mishmash of warnings, sirens and alarm bells. I wondered why no one came out of the kitchen or other dependencies, but then it was the middle of the night, and most of them must be in their dormitories and confused by the cacophony of alarms. Also, Father’s long-time servants knew me. Not one of them would volunteer to grapple with me.
At the end of the hallway, the huge double doors led to the lifeboat bay. Next to them was a panel for the palm print that would allow one to open the doors. I lay my sweaty palm against it. I was afraid it wouldn’t open. The law said it had to be coded for everyone aboard. But this was Father’s cruiser, and since when did Daddy Dearest give a hang about the law?
Slowly, ponderously, the door started sliding open. One handspan. Two. I slid through into the opening and squeezed into the bay.
Inside, the lifeboat bay was cavernous, and lifeboats were set in a circle around the bay, each of them in front of its own eject lock. There were thirty five. Enough for everyone aboard. I dove towards the nearest one.
And saw one of the goons – from the bulk Narran, another of Father’s favorite bodyguards – near the control panel inside the lifeboat bay. He was about to press the button that would lock the lifeboats. Not that I knew there was such a button, but it stood to reason. He could prevent my leaving.
Instinct is a wondrous thing. I turned around, grabbed my night shirt and tore it, top to bottom, exposing my naked body.
It was only a second but, if I knew the male brain – and I did – long enough to short circuit his reactions for a couple of seconds.
Enough for me to jump into the lifeboat and push the red eject button. I suspected once that was done nothing could stop it. But still, relief flooded me as the boat shot out into the membrane that divided it from the airlock. The membrane opened to let it through. Then the other membrane opened.
I shot out into space in the lifeboat – which was a triangular vessel made of transparent dimatough and barely large enough to hold me – in an awkward position, effectively straddling the central axis of the vehicle, with my knees and legs on the floor of it, and bent forward over controls that consisted only of a joystick and a com button.
Trembling, I took a deep breath. Whatever was going on, and I couldn’t begin to think what it might be, I was sure my father’s goons would follow me as soon as they could strip off their dimatough armors and squeeze into the lifeboats.
I had to get away from here. I had to get help.
Grabbing hold of the joystick, I pointed myself towards Circum Terra, which hung like a glowing doughnut in the eastern quadrant of the sky. With my free hand I pushed down the combutton.
“Help,” I shouted into whatever frequency might be picking up. The cruiser for sure, but perhaps Circum Terra too. “My name is Athena Hera Sinistra. My Father’s space cruiser has been highjacked.”
I woke upside down. Blinking my eyes and opening them, to find myself in a lifepod, surrounded on all sides by space, I realized this was not strictly true. Lessons from childhood bobbed up in my mind. In Space there’s no up nor down.
Which was another of those things like antigrav not making you sick to your stomach. It’s fine to say that, but clearly the scientists who thought so didn’t live in my body. In space, with nullgrav, with a minimal vehicle between me and the void, everything was upside down. Always.
I tweaked the joystick to bring me “up” the other direction, but I still felt upside down. It must be two hours at least since I’d fallen asleep. In front of me, Circum Terra loomed – doughnut shaped, shining with the lights of myriad docking stations and beacons. And behind me…
Looking over my shoulder, squinting, I could see a straggle of other lifeboats, in hot pursuit. Er…. in pursuit as hot as they could manage. Which wasn’t much. These lifeboats had no speed controls. They had a fixed speed and – I thought – twelve hour air supply. I wished I’d paid more attention to Father’s lectures about the lifeboats. But I had known they all had fixed speeds. And so Father’s goons were as far behind as they’d been when they’d left the space cruiser.
I had to get to Circum, dock and make my case quickly. To be honest, I doubted anyone would take the opinion of the goons over mine, but still… One never knew.
I looked down at the front of my torn nightgown. Not much chance of making myself look respectable before I reached Circum. As for my hair, with the best hairdressing in the world, and lots of work, I could tame the wild black curls. With my fingers, in a small space vessel, I’d have to hope I didn’t look too savage to ask for refuge.
My eye on the goons behind me – just in case they magically gained on me – I reached for the button of the com, and pressed it. Before I could open my mouth, a voice came from it. Father’s voice.
“Athena Hera Sinistra,” he said. “Has left my Space Cruiser while hallucinating. She might be in the grip of mind-altering drugs. She must be believed to be armed and dangerous. We’re asking Circum Terra to detain her till she can be retrieved by my employees.”
Several shocks hit me in succession.
First – the com was two way? My mind accommodated to this quickly, though. Of course it was two way. How else could a base talk a stranded castaway through landing?
Second – My father was talking? My father? Last time I’d seen Daddy Dearest, he looked about as likely to talk as to sing opera. So what had happened? Had he been behind this all the time? No. I couldn’t imagine Father being part of any plot that involved his laying there, in a medical room, cold and dead-looking like landed mackerel. I knew for a fact that most procedures he’d had done on him, from minor re-gen to surgery he had insisted on local anesthesia only, because he didn’t trust anyone to operate on him while he was out cold.
So… no. Father wasn’t behind this. He couldn’t be. But whoever was either had awakened him and forced him to issue this warning, or found a way of faking his voice – not hard with computer generation – so well that it even fooled me – a little harder, but possible.
How the warning was contrived and whether the voice was fake or not didn’t matter. That it was recognizable as Father’s voice mattered. No one at Circum would doubt it. Not for a minute.
And though I’d been on my best behavior while in Circum – the charming socialite Athena Sinistra – I was sure even they got casts. And the casts had been full off and on of my misdeeds. The running with wild broomers. The time I’d flown my broom right up against a wall and everyone had thought I’d die. Drugs? They’d believe that. Psychotic behavior under drugs? They’d believe that too.
This was the last shock, and the worst of all. Because it dawned on me slowly, it took a while for my mind to formulate: Third, I couldn’t go to Circum.
And this was a problem indeed. Because space lifeboats depended on the fact that the ship in trouble would have sent a rescue signal. And faster ships would have come to rescue any survivors within hours.
This meant… I had oxygen for a few hours more – I wasn’t sure how many as I didn’t know the speed of the lifeboat nor how long I’d slept. Not nearly enough to make it to Earth.
I looked behind me, at the lifeboats with goons. Oh, they’d never catch me, but what was the point, if they could capture me without getting there before me?
What other choice did I have? I thought of my time in Circum Terra. I’d flirted with scientists and befriended techs, but the ones I’d felt most comfortable with were the powerpod harvesters. These men, who risked their lives daily navigating through the thorny, dark labyrinth of the powertrees and harvesting the unstable powerpods, were somehow the same kind of person I was. They were kin. We understood each other.
Now, with Circum up and to my right – well, to my insides everything felt like down and to my right, but it was relatively above the lifeboat and I knew it – I had the forest of powertrees, the powerpods glowing upon them like captive fireflies to my right.
If I couldn’t go to Circum, why not the powertrees?
Fine, fine, any rational person would refuse to consider the powertrees. Ever. But I was never a rational person. And what choice did I have?
If I could find a harvester there, in the forest of coiling branches, and if I could get the harvester to take me on, I’d have a chance, wouldn’t I? I could talk to the harvester operator and convince him of my story, and get him on my side before I landed in Circum. I might have a chance. Just a chance, but better than none.
I veered off towards the powertrees. Calling them trees is, of course, a misnomer. They have no trunks and no roots. They are rather a conglomeration of twisting branches with what appear to be gigantic thorns growing out of them. And here and there, amid them, the powerpods in various stages of ripeness, radiation glowing through their skins.
What did I know about them? Absolutely nothing. Or nothing more than you learned in your primary programs. That the trees are a biological solar collector, planted and grown in the late twenty first century during the reign of Earth’s bio-rulers. That they somehow collected the sun’s radiation into the powerpods which, in turn, brought to Earth, powered our civilization.
How the trees grew in space, in vacuum, and from what materials? No idea. How did the fruits ripen and grow? No idea. But then again, neither had our leading scientists any ideas. The bio rulers, fortunately deposed in turmoils long before my birth, had been bio engineered to be well beyond our intellectual capacity. None of us could match it. But we still used the power system. All or our technology was keyed to it. And it was so abundant and inexhaustible
Even the harvesters had no idea how the trees grew or why. All they knew was how to pick the pods at the sweet spot between ripeness and instability. Too little ripe, and they would have too little power, barely worthy transporting to Earth. Too much and they would blow up and take the harvester with them before ever getting to Circus storage chamber.
Oh, another thing they knew – or said they knew – and that was that DarkShip Thieves, the descendants of a few escaped biorulers, lived somewhere beyond the stars and stole ripe pods. Or so they’d told me. I wasn’t sure it was a true legend, or the equivalent of stories to frighten a child.
I’d given them no thought at all – not until I found myself flying into the tangle of powertrees.
The joystick was sweaty in my hand, and it was hard to maneuver — even this small a ship — between trunk and powerpod, carefully, carefully. Harvesters had precision controls and computer aided steering. I had a joystick and an unwieldy pod that reacted just a little too slow.
Down over a branch, I dodged above the next just in time to avoid smashing into it, and then there was a huge powerpod in front of me, the fissures in the skin indicating it was overripe and about to blow. I twisted sideways and barely skidded away from it. And found myself threading a needle hole, barely large enough for the pod to dive through. I hoped.
I swallowed hard, as I went into it. I’d have prayed if I believed in gods.
And then, out of nowhere I hit something. Not hard. And whatever I hit was not as deadly solid as the diamond-hard trunks and certainly no powerpod.
Even after hitting it, I couldn’t see what it was. It was… dark. Straining, I could make out a rounded outline, but barely distinguishable from the surrounding gloom.
My throat closed. It was a DarkShip. It was a DarkShip piloted by the descendant of the biorulers. The biorulers had been inhumanely intelligent, modified to be that way. They’d also been unable to reproduce – leading to their being called mules – to ensure that the human race survived. But if this was a descendant, they must have been able to reproduce? Or was this one of the original biorulers? How long did they live? And what did they want with us? Their rule of Earth had been utterly ruthless. They’d moved and eliminated populations without regard. What would they do with me?
In a panic, I looked behind, looked around for a harvester. But there was no one in sight. I tried to move away from the ship, but I seemed to have caught somehow. All I managed was a long, painful scrape.
And all of a sudden my com button pushed itself down and a voice came over it. A deep, male voice, with an odd accent. “Blazing Light,” it said. “Why are you scraping my sensors?”
I froze. This thing wasn’t a ship. It was a creature. A dark, huge and powerful creature. And I’d injured it.