Part I: Awakening
Gasping. Confusion. Panic. Choking. Vertigo. Collapse.
Tabitha Reeves hit the metal grate covering the floor on her hands and knees. She vaguely felt the blood leaking through the skin on her knees as she coughed over and over. It felt like dry heaves, but a little liquid came out each time. It looked a little like blue mucus, she thought. What the hell is going on?
Then strong hands grabbed her shoulders, and flipped her over. Everything was blurry, but she made out a huge man holding her down. She was suddenly acutely aware of the fact she wore no clothing.
Panic and bile rose to her throat as the man set his knee across her legs and pinned her shoulders to the floor. Then another set of hands shoved something hard in her mouth, lodging it between her back teeth to hold her mouth open. Then some sort of tube went in and down her throat. Another object went into her nose and she felt it hit her throat as well.
A second later there was suction in her lungs and her gut, then the blue mucus started to flow through the tubes. Her body started to relax, and as it did she felt the man move off of her. She tried to sit up but found that didn’t work so well, and she felt another bruise form on her elbow. So she laid there, waiting for her strength, sight, or breath to return.
As Tabitha waited she was given a towel by one of the people with her. She wiped her face, noting finally that her body was covered with a thing layer of something very like the slime being withdrawn from her body. As she toweled off and her mind relaxed she was able to remember how she’d gotten here.
She’d been in stasis – that explained the slime, it provided her body with oxygen and nutrients and even simulated the benefits of exercise for her muscles and bones while holding her aging at bay. The ship she was on was bound for Chigon IV. Even at faster-than-light speeds propelled by the dark matter drive it was a trip that would take decades.
She hadn’t imagined waking up was that unpleasant. She’d read the documents they’d given her. Disorientation and minor sickness was all she remembered. But she thought they used beds and restraints to avoid some of the trauma.
She finished toweling off and she was handed another towel — no, a blanket. She wrapped it around her body and looked up and around to try to get some bearings, but everything was still blurry.
The big man grabbed her arm and she felt a sharp pinch. She tried to pull away but he held her fast while injecting her with… something.
She was distracted as suddenly she started coughing again. The last of the blue fluid had left her body, which she could tell because the tubes were clear now. She couldn’t get her body to breathe on its own, though.
The second figure came to her rescue and quickly pulled the tubes from her face, then slapped her back till she had one final, wet cough and drew her first, ragged breath.
“Thanks. I…” she couldn’t hear herself. She felt panic rise for the third time when the figure who had just helped her made calming gestures. A hand held forward, fingers slightly splayed, telling her to wait a moment.
As she stared, she started to make out more details. The second figure was a woman. Above average but not too tall. Jet black hair, dusky skin and blue eyes, indicated a mixed genetic heritage. She wore a tight uniform of gray-blue, identifying her as crew on the ship. She sat on the floor, holding the used towel and smiled kindly at Tabitha, showing white teeth.
The big figure was indeed a man. Genetically designed, it appeared. He had the purple eyes that indicated such. Which explained his size: he was squatting but Tabitha could tell he was at least seven feet tall, and at least half that shoulder to shoulder. Every bit of his body was muscled, and she could tell because he wore a uniform similar to the woman’s. It didn’t hide much on either of them.
Tabitha drew the blanket tighter around her, suddenly embarrassed at her nakedness.
The man said something, but Tabitha still couldn’t hear. The woman responded, and it went back and forth for a few moments.
After a few moments Tabitha was able to make out the names sewn on the left breast of her companions’ uniforms. The woman’s read “Genzi.” The man was “Schwartz.” Last names, clearly.
“… long will it take.”
Tabitha jumped as her hearing suddenly returned.
Genzi laughed softly. “Apparently that long. Can you hear me, honey?”
Schwartz grunted. “Finally. We don’t have time.”
“Come on, we need you.” Genzi held out a hand.
She was still confused, but she took the proferred hand and rose to her feet, stumbling slightly.
Genzi led her through a door, and Schwartz followed them.
“Get dressed,” Schwartz growled. He held out a uniform similar to the ones they wore.
Tabitha took it gingerly but hesitated.
Genzi spoke up again. “Schwa, dear. Give her a moment of privacy.” Schwartz grunted again but stepped back through the door and slid it closed. “You want me to leave too, honey?”
Tabitha wasn’t sure, but she needed answers, so she shook her head and started to dress. She noted that the name on the uniform said “Kronopolos.” It wasn’t made for her. She hoped it would still fit. “What’s going on?” she asked. “I wasn’t supposed to be revived until we got to Chigon.”
Genzi grimaced. “I’m afraid you’re not going to like the answer.”
Part II: Escape!
For some reason, that didn’t surprise Tabitha. She hadn’t liked being woken up at all. Why should not liking the reason for it be a shock? Tabitha didn’t respond, she just waited for Genzi to continue. Which she did a moment later.
“The ship’s been hailed by another vessel.”
“What?” Tabitha paused, her arm half in one of the sleeves. “What are the chances that two ships can get close enough to hail out here?” The space between Chigon and anywhere civilized was vast, even by astronomic measures.
“Impossible. Or near enough to not matter any. Unless they had a means of tracking the ship. It wouldn’t be that hard to install something if they got to the ship before it departed.”
“But, why would they?”She finished sliding her arm in.
“If they wanted something from the ship and found it difficult to acquire while in port, they could reach it in space, where security would be easier.”
“So these guys are crooks? Ok, fine. But why are you waking me up?”
Genzi gave a humorless grin. “Honey, you’re what they want.”
“Me? That doesn’t make sense. My family isn’t rich. They can’t get a ransom.” Tabitha finished dressing and the break along the front sealed seamlessly as she ran her finger along it. Whoever this Ms. Kronopolos was, she has small feet and a small rear end, but a much larger bust. It was almost too tight to walk in the legs but quite roomy up top.
Genzi shrugged. “You’re Tabitha, right?” Tabitha nodded. “You’re who they asked for. We’ve woken you because they’re going to board. We don’t have defenses strong enough to repel them. On board security teams should probably be able to stop them, though. We just don’t want to risk they’ll make it this far and get you.”
Genzi was right, Tabitha didn’t like the answer. She swallowed, her throat dry. “Ok.”
“Ready, honey? Ok, let’s go.” She slid the door open and greeted Schwartz.
Schwartz nodded and started walking.
The room was full of passengers in stasis. Rows and rows of tanks, all of them filled with blue, viscous fluid in which a human body floated motionlessly. It was eerie to see them all in so much silence. There had been a lot more movement and noise when she’d entered the tank before departure.
Schwartz didn’t pause, moving forward with the ease and directness of someone who was familiar with such sights and had something else to get too. Tabitha was behind him, Genzi bringing up the rear.
They exited through a door on the far side of the room and passed through close, dark corridors, turning every now and then. The walls curved away from the floor and then back together to the ceiling, making the halls resemble tubes. Tabitha was unable to keep track of the path they took.
Before long, the distant sounds of fighting could be heard. Shots, crashes, small explosions. Though it was cold, Tabitha felt perspiration forming on her body. The uniform quickly swept it away, but she was still aware of it.
They encountered a small pack of men. They weren’t dressed in uniforms, but they carried firearms of various models and styles. One of them grinned. “How much you bet this is her?” he cackled.
Tabitha’s eyes went wide, but Schwartz didn’t hesitate. He ran forward, yelling incoherently at ear-damaging volume. The invaders fired but that didn’t stop Schwartz as he waded into the middle of the crowd, throwing enemies to the side. He was probably wearing something to block the attacks, but that he didn’t even break stride was impressive.
“Come on, honey,” Genzi said, pulling Tabitha down a side passage. Tabitha followed, not willing to wait and see how the fight ended. Genzi held her wrist and pulled her along. They were moving than Tabitha believed she could run. Soon Tabitha was breathing hard, but Genzi kept going.
A man blocked their passage. His purple eyes showed he was genetically designed, but he was nothing like Schwartz. He was smaller, narrower, wiry. He had corded muscles on his arms and legs that made them look like braided steel cables. And his arms were long, like an ape. He raised his arm and his arm grew at least five feet.
Genzi dropped low and grasped the man’s wrist. His arm shrunk back to its previous size, even as his other arm stretched out again, grabbing lower to keep Genzi from ducking again.
This time Genzi dodged to the side and ran up the round wall before pushing off and launching herself at the man. A knife appeared in her hand and she stabbed the man’s neck. Blood sprayed everywhere.
“Let’s go,” Genzi said, waving to Tabitha.
Tabitha stood for a second, taking in what happened. “How did you do that?”
“Honey,” Genzi hissed. “We don’t have time. There’ll be more.”
Tabitha finally found motivation to move and stepped to Genzi. The dark-skinned woman took Tabitha’s wrist and started running again. She hid the knife back on her sleeve as they moved.
The sounds of fighting grew louder and closer. Genzi stopped to check a computer panel, bringing up a display that looked like ship floor plans. Red and blue dots blinked all over it.
“Cark!” Genzi spat. “They’re everywhere. We can’t get to the secure hold.”
“What do we do? Surrender?” Tabitha tried to keep the fear from her voice, but the rising pitch almost certainly gave it away.
“If you want to be a pirate’s slave, be my guest, honey.” When Tabitha didn’t answer Genzi continued. “We could take an escape pod, but at this point the pirates are just as likely to win as the crew. ” She stared at the screen for a few more moments. “We could walk.”
“Walk? We’ve been running…” Tabitha realized suddenly what Genzi meant. “You mean… outside?” Genzi nodded. “But I’m not rated for… I’ve never even done it before! What if I float off?”
“Honey, we can stick to the outside of the ship. The bad guys are either driven off or leave when they can’t find you. Afterward, we go back in and you’re safe. We’ll tether together so you can’t get lost. I don’t see another option.”
Part III: Clinging to the Surface
No other option? Tabitha could think of a few. Fighting their way through was one. Genzi was more than competent, it would appear, having taken out that Gen-D without breaking a sweat. They could take the escape pod, which was much less terrifying than the prospect of a space walk. But Genzi was right. With the outcome of the battle up in the air, who knew who would pick the pod up? If either one did at all. Both ships could be disabled and then where would she be?
Tabitha closed her eyes. “Alright. We’ll walk,” she heard herself say. She shivered as she did so. She opened her eyes to see the humorless grin on Genzi’s face.
“Let’s do it then.” She took Tabitha around a corner to an airlock. A variety of space suits hung in the hallway by the iris portal.
They both began to dress, Genzi in a navy blue suit, Tabitha in a pink one. When she had her feet and arms in, Tabitha couldn’t figure out how to seal the suit. She touched the zipline but it didn’t respond.
“They don’t work that way. They’re designed not to respond to touch – that makes it too easy to open the suit in space.” Genzi set the helmet – a transparent bubble that looked a little like a slightly flattened fishbowl – on Tabitha’s head and pointed at a screen by the hanging suits. “Everything in the suit is controlled by eye movements. The seal command is pretty complex because, well, you don’t want to accidentally open up your suit out there. Just follow the dot with your eyes.” She pressed a button and a blinking purple dot appeared on the screen. For several seconds it moved in circular patterns that crossed over each other and then turned into back and forth and up and down. Tabitha could see why they had the screen help, because she couldn’t imagine ever memorizing the pattern.
When the dot disappeared, she heard the soft thumb and tearing sound of the suit sealing. The inside surface of the helmet was suddenly covered with a variety of lights in complex data displays. Charts, read outs, lists, arrows – she couldn’t make sense out of any of it. She stumbled backward, then held as still as she could, trying to overcome the vertigo caused by the display superimposed over the real world.
Inside her suit, she heard Genzi laugh. “You can’t see, can you?”
Tabitha shook her head.
“Using the HUD is at least half of the rating program for using one of these. Move your eyes right-left-right-left.”
Tabitha relaxed as the display disappeared, replaced by the solidity of the real walls.
“You can talk, you know,” Tabitha told her. “The comm is voice activated and defaults to broadcasting to local suits.”
“Ok,” Tabitha said quietly.
Genzi held the end of an orange cable. “The tether,” she explained. “Turn around.” When she did Genzi pushed the cable against the back of Tabitha’s suit. “Move your eyes in a clock wise circle three times.” The cable sealed itself to Tabitha’s suit. More accurately, the suit sealed itself to the cable, Tabitha thought.
Genzi held out the other end of the cable. It was about 20 feet long. “Push it against the square on my back.”
When they were both connected to the tether, Genzi started pushing buttons by the screen again, but seemed to ignore the button for opening the lock.
“I’m hacking the registry so there’s no record we went out this way,” she explained. We don’t want them to know where to look for us.”
As Genzi worked, Tabitha became aware of how silent it had become. While dressing, they had heard the sounds of the ship operating and the fighting going on. But inside the suit the silence was absolute. Tabitha couldn’t remember anything being this quiet.
At last Genzi finished and opened the iris door to the airlock. “Let’s go, honey.”
Tabitha stepped in, and the iris closed behind her. It was dark inside the lock.
“Why isn’t the other door opening?” she asked, her voice shaking a little.
“They’re pumping the air out. Interstellar travel teaches you not to waste. They don’t want to lose the oxygen that was in here.”
Tabitha nodded, forgetting that Tabitha couldn’t see her.
A moment later the external iris spread open. Genzi stepped out onto the surface of the ship. Tabitha followed awkwardly, unused to the strong attraction between the boots and the ship, but grateful for it so she didn’t fly off into space.
“We’re not sharing air,” Genzi said with a chuckle. “So feel free to fart, it won’t bother me.”
Tabitha had an image of what a spacewalk would be like. There would be long dark shadows along the ship from its irregular features, with a bright, blinding glare from the nearest sun. This was nothing like that. For one thing, the surface of the ship was smooth, a fact she should have remembered, since she had seen it before. It was smooth to minimize the damage and chance of accidental collision with space debris. Very little of space was completely empty.
For another thing, it was dark, nearly pitch. There was no nearby sun. They were far in between stars. There were a very few lights that indicated where view ports were, but none of it illuminated onto the surface of the ship. The only light in their area were the arm-mounted lights on Genzi’s suit.
They took a few strides and then stopped. Genzi turned off her lights. “Shutting off anything that will help them find us,” she explained. “Now we wait.”
It was queer not to feel a sense of down. There was a pull at Tabitha’s legs where her boots attached to the ship’s surface, but she could her body trying to drift away from it. Her inner ear had no idea which way to orient her. It made her more than a little nauseous and she worried about throwing up inside the helmet. She tried to distract herself by looking around.
Tabitha had never imagined herself afraid of the dark before. But she had never been in darkness so absolute. There were stars in view, but far fewer than she had imagined. Mostly what she saw was black. Black nothing. Emptiness. Void. She had never felt so isolated. There was a woman tied to her, she knew, but unless Genzi spoke, Tabitha couldn’t hear her. And she couldn’t see her. She peered into the void and it didn’t peer back. Nothing did, because there was nothing there.
She could feel her heart rate start to increase. Perspiration dripped down her temple. She began looking all round her, back and forth, hoping to see something, anything. Somewhere in her head she could tell she was panicking, but she couldn’t stop herself. The HUD in her helmet started to flash on and off intermittently as her eyes moved frantically. She crouched down into a fetal position. Her boots released from the ship and she started to float away. She felt the tug as her inertia was stopped by the tether to Genzi.
“Honey?” she heard over the radio. Tabitha couldn’t respond.
“Honey,” Genzi said again. “Honey! Listen to me.”
An incoherent whimper was all Tabitha could manage.
“Honey, close your eyes. Close them tight. I’m going to help you, but you have to be able to do what I say.”
“Honey, I need you to answer.”
“Y… yes…” Tabitha managed.
“You got your eyes closed?”
“Ok, sit like that for a moment. Imagine you’re in your bunk, tucked up. You got a mom?”
“N… no. Dad raised me… She… d…”
Genzi interrupted. “Ok, your dad. He’s with you, sitting next to you on your bed. He’s got his hand on your hand, he’s keeping you safe.”
Tabitha pictured it, trying to keep it in her mind.
“Ok, hold your breath. Control it. In slowly. Out slowly.”
“Yeah,” Tabitha said, letting her breathing slow. The tugging on the tether stopped and she felt Genzi grab her.
“Ok, honey. Stretch your legs out, let them re-attach to the ship.”
She felt the movement stop, but was glad Genzi didn’t release her. “Ok, eyes still closed?”
Tabitha nodded again, then remembered that Genzi couldn’t see it. “Yes,” she said.
“OK, open your eyes slowly, tell me if the display is on.”
Tabitha opened her eyes, quickly shutting them again. “No, it’s not there.”
“Ok, this is going to be hard. But I want you open your eyes again. Then turn on the display. Right-left-right-left.”
It took her three tries, but at last she managed to control her eyes enough to get it to come on.
She took a strange relief in the appearance of the colored display. It has disoriented her in the ship, but now it was a comfort just to see anything.
“You doing ok now, honey?”
“Tabitha let out a long breath. Yeah, I think I’m alright. Thanks, uh… Ms. Genzi.”
Genzi laughed. “I guess I never introduced myself. I’m Neva. I guess you got my last name. The muscle’s name is Percy, but for obvious reasons we just call him Schwartz. I’m sorry about this. I had no idea you’d be a kenophobe.”
“Kenophobe. Someone frightened of, well, space. It’s not the stuff in space, it’s the nothing in space. It’s not uncommon, I just… wasn’t thinking.”
“It’s ok, I didn’t know either. All of this… is so weird to me.”
“Heh, honey, you ain’t seen nothing. This is a big galaxy, and there’s some bizarre things in it.
“Look, I need to work on something, but we want to keep your mind from wandering off. There’s a help manual in the HUD. Down-up-down-left. That’ll give you something to read. Sorry it’s not more entertaining.”
“What? No romance novels?”
Genzi laughed. “Sorry honey.”
Part IV: Purple Haze
Tabitha read for a long time. It was impossible to tell how long – though the HUD had a clock synced with the ship, she didn’t take note of the time when she started and didn’t know how to access the HUD’s logs. After a while, though, her eyes began to swim and dry out. Her brain had dried out long before, but she kept reading, even though she didn’t understand most of it, because she didn’t want to succumb to her kenophobia again.
She wanted to rub her eyes, and even reached up to do so, and felt sheepish when her gloved hands bumped into the bubble over her head. She laughed nervously.
“Incoming,” Neva said over the suit communicators.
Tabitha looked around but all she could see was the wall of text that covered the inside of her helmet. She bit her tongue before she could cry out in irrational panic. She flipped her eyes from side to side to deactivate the HUD and tried to see what Neva was talking about.
It didn’t take her long to find it. A wide shadow was blocking out stars and shining lights onto the surface of the ship in a search pattern. The black spot grew larger till the reflection of the light it emitted finally gave Tabitha a sense of its shape. It was broad, and seemed to be flat in comparison. It was a diamond shape, with one of the longer sides in the lead, the extended points out to each side. The back end of it had a long triangular tail. As it was nearly on top of them, Tabitha realized the size was sort of an optical illusion. Compared to her it was big, but it was probably only a couple hundred feet from one wing-tip to the other. It was clearly not large enough for interstellar travel, and probably belonged to one of the two ships in conflict.
That was confirmed a moment later when the light shone directly on them with blinding brilliance. The ship stopped moving and narrowcasted to their helmets. “This Sergeant Blod of the Inverness, attached to the cruiser Passagarde. Maintain position. We will pick you up.” The connection snapped off just as quickly. Tabitha relaxed. It was from the good guys and not the pirates.
All the same, she heard Neva curse over the suit comms.
Tabitha held up her hand to block some of the light, but she still couldn’t sense anything. A few moments later a smaller pod landed on the ship’s surface just a few feet away. She could feel the vibrations through her legs and feet.
A square door in the pod opened and two Gen-D’s stepped out. Tabitha thought one might be Schwartz for a moment, but they were too short to be him. Their guns were massive things. Nearly the same size as their body. Impractical for most to use outside of a zero-g environment, but with a Gen-D, it might be what they used all the time. The soldiers motioned for the women to enter the pod with them.
After they did so, the door shut. Tabitha thought it was completely dark at first, and she felt some bile rise in her throat till she realized there was a light dome on the ceiling, and it was just the comparison to the search lights that made it so dark. No one opened their suits, and there was no gravity in the pod. But she felt it move, the ship above, the Inverness, Tabitha supposed, reeling them in at what felt like a rapid pace. A moment later, the door opened again and she had a view of a large area. The pod was in the center of a large room with brown floors, and a huge arching dome over head. Around the edge of the circular room servicemen sat at computers. A man sat in a chair nearby, turned to face them. He must be the commander of the vessel. He lounged comfortably, slouching. His splayed fingers steepled as he regarded them without expression.
The Gen-D that had picked them up removed their helmets, and one held a datapad in front of Tabitha’s face. A dot moved in strange patterns across it. It took her a moment to realize it was the code to unlock her suit. She pushed the “restart” button at the bottom of the pad than dutifully followed the dot. When it finished, she was rewarded with a soft hiss as the seals on the suit released. One of the Gen-D took her helmet before she could even move. She looked over and saw that Neva was being treated the same way. They left the space suits on them.
“I see,” the seated man said finally, looking at Neva. His face twitched once, ever so briefly showing anger or hate or something similar before he restored his stoic appearance. “Contain her,” he said, pointing at Neva. “Don’t let her speak.”
“But, she helped me!” Tabitha said in confusion. Neva didn’t say anything.
“Indeed.” He waved to the Gen-D soldiers and they dragged Neva away.
“What’s going on?” Tabitha asked.
The officer finally stood. He wore a uniform identical to the ones she’d seen on Schwartz and Neva when they’d revived her, except the name and he had decorations on the shoulder. Tabitha assumed the indicated rank or medals. “I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful,” he said. “I’m Commander Tarsak. And as a commander I’m not cleared to explain much. You’ve already seen that pirates have boarded the Passagarde in an attempt to kidnap you. Beyond that, I’m not allowed to explain. I’m sure the chief captain of the Passagarde can help you further. We’re taking you to her now.”
Tabitha tried to think of what to say. Before anything came to mind Commander Tarsak returned to his chair and rotated to face the front of the ship.
Tabitha watched out the dome as the ship propelled itself along the length of the big cruiser. As they moved toward the front she could see the pirate ship disengage and pull away from the Passagarde. It seemed to happen in slow motion as the two huge ships drifted apart silently. Compared to the Inverness, the pirate ship was huge — easily a hundred times as large. Even at that, it was only a quarter the size of the Passagarde.
Every interstellar ship in the galaxy either belonged to a giant conglomerate (which ran their fleets like military), a government (which made them a part of an actually military), or to pirates (which either ran their ships like military or barely controlled anarchy). The Passagarde, while government (and thus military) was not a combat ship, which meant it had very few weapons. So while the pirates looked gutsy, the Passagarde was actually the kind of ship they found ideal to attack.
So why were they retreating? Were they simply incompetent or under armed? Decent pirates could take the ship, or at least enough of it to demand something to get rid of them. And they had that Gen-D on their side. The one with the freakish arms. Something was weird about all that.
But Tabitha couldn’t put the pieces together. So she stared at the pirate ship starting to distance itself from the Passagarde. The Inverness was moving faster, relative to the Passagarde, so they managed to see some details on the pirate vessel before they distanced themselves. There was no name printed on the side like legitimate ships had, but there was a huge, if dirty and faded, emblem on the side. A scorpion with a devil’s face, in what was once a deep red, was painted on the vessel’s metallic hull.
It made Tabitha shiver.
A few moments later and the pirate ship was starting to gain inertia and really separate from the Passagarde. The Inverness slowed as it approached a thick tower jutting from the Passagard’s primarily smooth surface. There was a mechanical whirring and thumps, and the smallest shiver through the hull of the Inverness as it docked.
Tabitha was escorted by the same two Gen-D soldiers back to the Passagarde and through a maze of tunnels. She tried once to speak to them, noticing that the name on one of their uniforms said “Blod,” the sergeant that had hailed her earlier. But the men just grunted. Eventually they arrived at a gold-painted double door with the Earth League’s crest on it, centered over the crack where the doors met.
Sergeant Blod tapped the computer on his wrist and the doors opened. Neither soldier stepped forward but instead saluted by making a fist over their heart.
There stood the coldest looking woman Tabitha had ever seen. A pinched nose, sunken cheeks, pale, nearly translucent skin. But corded muscle evident under the skin and the same skin-tight uniform. She had shaved her head, but not recently, and stark black stubble stood out on her scalp.
That’s when things got very strange. A purple, cloudy haze drifted through Tabitha’s field of vision. “What is that?” she asked, but no one else seemed to react at all to the violet fog. Tabitha’s adrenaline spiked, and she fell back into a ready stance, not sure if she was about to be attacked and ready to flee if she was. The mist grew thicker, obscuring everything, and eventually hiding it entirely. She held up her hand and couldn’t see it until it was mere inches from her eyes.
Then shapes started to form from the purple clouds, making images, new colors. Small actions, like tiny vignettes acted out by players on a stage, but some of the players were people she knew. A vision of Schwartz firing a large gun into a crowd of silhouettes. Her own hands, covered with blood, the woman officer at her feet. Neva being carried away by a mob. The pirate ship trading weapons fire with an unfamiliar ship, swarmed about with fighter craft. Flashes of even shorter scenes she doesn’t have time to make sense of.
Then a flash and the purple haze drifted away faster than it had appeared. Tabitha stumbled in place before catching herself and rubbing her eyes. What the heck had just happened?
She looked up. The woman officer raised an eyebrow. “Are you well?”
Tabitha hesitated then nodded. She wasn’t well, she didn’t think. But she didn’t think it would help to tell this woman that.
“Good.” The officer nodded to the Gen-D soldiers. “I am Chief Captain Talia Zenzoff of the E.L.S. Passagarde. Please come with me, we have much to discuss.” She moved back through the double doors into a small antechamber. Opposite the doors was a large room with screens, computers access panels, and a small crowd of officers. An empty command chair sat perched slightly above the rest of the room.
To Tabitha’s left, between the main ingresses of the antechamber, was a single door emblazoned with the Earth League’s seal. Zenzoff led Tabitha through this door into a small but impressively appointed office. The walls were covered in a fine, burgundy, velvety material. Soft Light emanated along the tops of the walls. Hanging on the wall were pictures featuring the chief captain with various official looking people in and out of uniform, and not a few letters of commendation. In the center of the office there was a desk, which looked to be actual wood – an extreme luxury.
Zenzoff saw Tabitha’s reaction and smiled with co ld pride. “Yes, it’s a family heirloom. For four and a half centuries my family has commanded ships of the Earth League’s fleet. The desk was carved from trees found on our ancestral estate before Earth was evacuated.” She moved around the desk and sat in a high-backed chair. She indicated Tabitha should sit in one of the smaller chairs.
After a moment Zenzoff held up a datapad. “I’ve been reading your files. Trying to see what motivated the pirates to come for you.”
Tabitha caught a glimpse of the contents, wondering what information they kept on her. The heading read “Tabitha Kronopolos.” Unconsciously, she looked down at the name on her ill-fitting borrowed uniform, which also said “Kronopolos.” She felt a chill.
Zenzoff appeared not to notice. “You are a xeno-biologist, specialized with research in arthropod analogs, yes?”