all that you know and all that you are can be gone in an instant all that you can hope for is that your instant takes an entire lifetime to find you and to claim its final due
“Lillian, what is it?” She heard Jacobs’ voice, but it felt far away, inconsequential. She floated on the ceiling, barely aware of time slipping by. Seconds, minutes, hours. Jacobs was talking, but she couldn’t even make out what he was saying. What did it matter anyways? Quinn was dead and it was all her fault.
And then, a twitch. Just a simple twitch of a hand and life began to flood back into her. “Quinn!” she called out, twisting in mid air so she could kick off from the ceiling. She glided down, hoping that she wasn’t just seeing things.
She heard the faint sound of a voice came over her comm. Quinn’s voice! “Hey there.”
“Quinn!” She reached him and caught one of his arms to slow down, turning over to let her own boots clamp on to the floor.
“Oh hey, that’s my name.” He sounded weak, but there was a touch of a laugh in his voice. “You don’t have to keep reminding me.”
She reached out a hand to lightly slap his face and took the opportunity to look through his mask. His face was as white as a sheet and his teeth looked locked together, barely opening when he spoke. But his eyes were open. And he was alive. “I thought I’d lost you.”
“What this?” He reached up a hand towards the burn on his side. He poked it tenderly and watched as the skin folded and dented inwards like a burnt scrap of parchment. “Doesn’t hurt a bit.”
She grabbed his hand and pulled it away before he could poke again. “That’s bad. That’s really bad.”
“No really, it doesn’t hurt at all.”
“Exactly.” She raised her voice, unsure if Jacobs could still hear her where she was standing–he’d gone quiet again. “Jacobs, can you hear me?”
He heard a sigh of relief, clear as crystal over the comm. “Lillian, thank goodness. Where were you?”
“What do you mean? We’ve been here the whole time?”
“Maybe a minute after you went in there, you cut out. Then all of a sudden you’re back, screaming fit to break my ears.”
She winced. “Sorry about that. Apparently there’s some sort of interference in this part of the ship?”
“Apparently. It’s good to hear your voice. So what’s this about Quinn?”
“He got shot.”
“By Adrian. He had a plasma gun.”
“What? Where is he now?”
“He jumped out of that big hole up there. Surely you saw him?”
There was a pause. “No, Lillian. I haven’t seen anyone since you went in.”
“Were you watching the entrance?”
“The whole time. Twice as much after you went silent. It’s all we could do.”
“Then how did you miss him?”
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
Quinn suddenly spoke up, his voice even weaker than it had been a second ago. “Lillian…” She looked over at him and he was even whiter, if that was possible and once more tilted at an odd angle, relying on the lack of gravity and his boots to hold him in place. Right, she thought to herself, priorities.
“Jacobs, we need to get Quinn to the medics. He’s got a nasty plasma burn right through the side of his suit.”
A pause and then another voice came over the comm. It sounded like the doctor that had worked on Lillian not so very long ago. “Can you describe the wound for me?”
Against her better judgment, she took a closer look. “It was a plasma gun. Burnt through the suit and the clothes underneath. The wound is pretty much completely black. Shiny. It looks sort of like a nice leather chair.”
“Very funny,” Quinn whispered.
The medic replied after a movement. “From what it sounds like, the fact that it was a plasma gun probably saved his life.”
“He’s not losing pressure is he?”
“Check around the damaged section of the suit.”
“It looks like… That can’t be right. I can’t tell where the suit ends.”
“That’s because it’s fused to his skin. It’s holding in the suit’s pressure for the time being. Bet it hurts like hell though.” Quinn chuckled at that. “Thought so. Can you get him back out of the ship?”
Lillian thought that she could. The lack of gravity would work to their advantage for once. She looked to Quinn for confirmation and he nodded. “Yes. Give me a few minutes.”
“As quickly as you can. We brought the second shuttle back and I’m going to fly out with it to meet you. We can pressurize the back of a shuttle much more quickly than the shuttle bay.”
“Good,” Quinn whispered.
It took Lillian longer than she liked to figure out how the best way to help support Quinn–he could still move around, but was weak enough that he was having problems pulling his boots free for each step. Eventually, she had him disengage his boots entirely and just pushed him towards the ceiling. She still had to deal with his greater mass, but with her leverage against the ground, she managed.
Once he was through, she followed him with a quick hop upwards. Once back on the outer hull, she took a fearful glance about, but Adrian was nowhere to be seen. Floating overhead, she could see Jacobs’ shuttle.
“How are you doing?” he asked.
“Fine. Quinn’s fading fast though. Where’s that other shuttle?”
She could hear him smile. “Turn around.”
She turned her upper body to look and tried to jump–a futile gesture with the boots grabbing the hull. The back door of the other shuttle was floating no more than half a meter from, almost resting on the surface of the Borealis. In complete silence, the rear door slid open.
Carefully, she helped Quinn in and then stepped in herself. Immediately, she felt the return of weight. She hadn’t expected that and fell to one knee. Quinn fell all the way to the floor, landing on his side. She heard a faint cry of pain.
Even as they fell to the ground, she saw the rear door closing again and heard a faint hiss through the floor as the air that had been pumped out earlier was pumped back in. She could see the medic on the other side of the cockpit door, waiting for the repressurization to complete.
She slid along the floor over to Quinn and looked into his mask. He was unconscious. But he was going to be ok.
Almost immediately after the pressure had risen enough, Jonathan swung it open and jumped through. He had a set of attachments on his jumpsuit that looked oddly like what Lillian always used to hold her tools and many of the tools actually looked the same. Curious that. He politely but firmly pushed Lillian out of the way and knelt by Quinn.
Pulling off her helmet, she asked. “How is it?”
“I’ll know more when I’ve looked.” He sounded distracted.
“It’s bad isn’t it?”
He turned towards her, a look most of the way to a glare on his face. “Ms. Shaw, please. Let me do my job. I’ll do everything I can. But that means that you have to stop distracting me.
She opened her mouth to object and just as quickly shut it again. He did have a point. She could almost picture how she’d react if someone were bugging her every second about how to fix a particularly troublesome piece of hardware. Pretty much the same way. So instead, she walked up to the front of the craft, holding her helmet under her arm.
The security officer she’d seen earlier was sitting in the pilot’s chair, looking back in her direction. It was Watkins. Before the events of the last few days, Lillian really hadn’t interacted with her much–or at all. But she’d gone with her and Madeline when they were looking over the damage from the first explosions had rocked the ship. Then again, she hadn’t really interacted with her much then either.
As Lillian approached, she shook her head towards the back of the craft and grunted. She took it to be a question of Quinn’s status.
“The medic is working on him now. It doesn’t look like there’s plasma damage to anything vital though.”
A nod and Watkins turned back to the front of the shuttle. She started flying the craft back to the shuttle bay. Likely to get Quinn to the actual infirmary as quickly as possible. As she flew, she kept glancing over at Lillian, as if she expected her to say something, but so far as Lillian was concerned, she couldn’t think of what. In fact, it was becoming increasingly difficult to concentrate on anything. Some combination of being thrown about so much the previous day and not getting more than a few hours of sleep–unconsciousness really, she didn’t know if it really even qualified as sleep. All combined she was tired. Bone tired. So it really wasn’t surprising when she missed whatever Watkins said the first time.
She noticed when she repeated herself the second time though. “You said Adrian was there?” It was the most words that Lillian had heard her say all together ever.
“Yeah. He’s the one that shot Quinn.”
Lillian hesitated. She didn’t know how well Watkins and Adrian got along, just that they were both security. If it had been her and any of the other engineering crew, it would have been a rather sticky situation. “I’m not completely sure.”
“I think he’s a Sympathizer.”
She was quiet for a moment. Lillian watched her, but couldn’t make heads nor tells out of what she was thinking. There wasn’t much change in her face to go off of and the scars made it difficult to actually see what was there. After a few moments, she finally responded. “Oh.” Just that. Oh. Not a very talkative one, that.
Lillian felt that she should just stay quiet and not make the situation worse, but she couldn’t. She was about to fall asleep and the only way she could keep herself awake was by talking. So she talked.
“I worked with him back on the Daedalus, you know. Years ago. Although I didn’t know it then.”
“I remembered it while I was out earlier today. Him and Jenkins. You remember Jenkins, don’t you.”
She looked over and there was the barest nod. At least she was listening. Lillian couldn’t tell what she thought about anything she was saying, but she had an audience.
“They were talking about trying to find something. Something that I think I have now.” She wasn’t sure why she was telling Watkins this, but if she kept it general enough she couldn’t think about what harm it would cause. Besides, Eve was missing again. Somehow, she wasn’t worried about that, not nearly as much as she’d expected she would be. Probably just the exhaustion talking again. “But that’s…”
Before she could go on, there was a sudden burst of chatter over the comms. Madeline’s voice. “Hey Lillian. Remember Quinn’s idea?” There was a sudden burst of emotion hearing his name and she turned back to look into the back of the shuttle, but the door was closed. Madeline went on regardless, “To put some sort of temporary patch over the damaged section of the ship?”
“Sure,” Lillian replied. “Did you think of something you could use.”
“Actually we did. It makes sense when you think about it.”
“We have a bunch of spare paneling in the engineering lockers.”
“We can use that to cover the holes.”
“Sure, but how are we going to fix it in place.”
“That’s actually the easy part. We can cold weld it into place.”
“We already have a vacuum. All we have to do is get the surfaces smooth enough and they’ll stick themselves together.”
“And how do we get the surfaces smooth enough. In case you haven’t noticed, whatever hit us tore a nice gash. There are shards everywhere.”
“I’m not going to like this am I?”
“You’re already suited up. You can get the tools from the shuttle bay while you’re here.” Speaking of which, they were just passing through the bay doors now. They would be pressurized in minutes. “The shuttles can take care of most of the heavy lifting, you only have to deal with the detail work.”
“You know that people are supposed to work in pairs when they’re working in space, right? Pairs at the very least.”
There was a pause on the other end. When Madeline came back, she really did sound sorry about that. “Well, we don’t really have many options. While you were out, we went through the rest of the crew records. There are a half dozen people on the ship that could have gone out in suits, but…”
“Only Quinn and I were available, I know.”
“The other four where Hans,”
“Trapped, probably even dead.”
“True, although he might just not have access to a working comm.” You had to admire her spirit at the very least. An optimist to the core. “Then there’s William Ratheborn.”
Lillian flashed back to the old man in the room that had been opened to space. “That old man was trained to space walk?”
“And the last one?” Although she had a feeling she already knew what the last name would be.
“And he’s already out here with us somewhere.”
There was another pause on the other side of the comm. Longer this time. While she waited, Lillian looked out at the instruments that indicated the process of the shuttle bay’s repressurization. It was almost complete. Finally, Madeline’s voice came back. She was quieter than she’d been. “Lillian. No one’s seen him since before the collision.”
“But he was out there. He had to have been. He shot Quinn.”
“Which only you and he saw. And he’s in no shape to tell anyone.”
“What are you trying to say?”
A third pause. “I’m just saying that there I’ve heard things.”
“What sort of things.”
“People think that maybe you’re the one responsible.”
“Me?” She couldn’t keep the incredulity out of her voice.
“Think about it for a moment. The first explosion, who was there.”
“You and me.”
“And how did you know that the panel was rigged to explode? Before I’d even laid a hand on it?”
She thought for a second. “Intuition.”
“Uh huh. And the second time? We both worked on the kitchens that morning. Either one of us could have planted something easily. And we were just a room down when it went off. Easy distance for some sort of transmitter.”
Lillian started to respond that they knew who had cause that one, but remembered at the last second that it was an open line. Anyone could be listening in. Not to mention Watkins. She was too quiet. It was easy to forget that she was there. Instead, she replied, “I thought they’d figured that one out. It was a heat sensitive charge set off by the ovens.”
“Well, you and I know that, but not everyone does.” She had to agree with that. “And then what about this last mess?”
“What about it?”
“Why were you awake when it all went down? It was well after most people would have been in bed, but there you were, among the first to respond. And then you went darting off after the captain, just before we got hit.”
“Hey, that almost got me killed.”
“It’s not like I took my time getting there.”
“Sure, but how can you prove that?”
“I’m sure there are security cameras…”
“All out of commission because of the power loss.”
Lillian mentally smacked herself. Of course. “And volunteering to go out into space and try to fix our problems?”
“Well, there are some that even take that into account. You and Quinn are the only ones that can space walk. If you managed to shoot him…”
”…then there’d be no one left. You could wreck all sorts of havoc from outside the ship and no one could do a thing to stop you.”
Lillian sighed. When laid out like that, it all sounded pretty convincing. Heck, she was almost starting to believe that maybe she was the bad guy after all. But then she remembered Quinn. He’d been shot, taking the plasma that had been meant for her. That was Adrian’s doing. It was all Adrian’s fault.
“Well, it doesn’t really matter what they all think,” she said to Madeline, doing her best to keep her voice level. She mostly succeeded. “I know that I didn’t do it and I’m going to keep right on doing everything in my power to save the ship. If…” She stopped and corrected herself. “When we make it through all this, they can all have at me. But until then, I have a job to do.”
She was startled to hear a faint clapping sound. She turned to see Watkins, sitting in her seat on the other side of the cockpit clapping her hands together slightly. As Lillian turned, Watkins dropped her hands to her sides and nodded once at Lillian. Then she was back to watching out the window, not looking at anything in particular.
“Lovely speech,” Madeline was saying. She’d not heard the clapping over the comms. “And I’m glad you’re all gung ho for the job. I’ve sent a few people out with as many panels as they can carry and some extra equipment to help you smooth out the hull. I take it you still have that plasma torch you always carry around?”
Lillian checked. “Always.”
“Good. You can use that to cut off the fragments.”
“I know what I’m doing.”
“Of course you do.” One final pause. “Lillian? Good luck.” Then she was gone, off to work on some other problems. The lack of main power was probably causing all sorts of issues by now. That was actually quite puzzling. Only one of the generators was attached to the damaged living quarters section, the other two were on the far ends of storage and command. They should have been able to get them working by now. Seeing a group loaded down with metal panels–a good number seemed to have been loaded onto one of the infirmaries gurneys it seemed–she made a mental note to ask Madeline about that later. For the time being, she slid out of her seat to check on Quinn.
She never made it. Just as she stepped out of her chair, she heard a deafening shout. “LILLIAN!”
“What?” she shouted back.
Watkins turned in her seat to stare at her. Lillian glared back. Amazingly, Watkins turned back to the front of the craft. Granted, she raised an eyebrow at Lillian and shrugged before she did, giving the distinct impression that she thought she was crazy, but she did turn away.
“What?” she repeated more quietly. She’d figured out who the voice belonged to. It was Eve.
“CAN YOU HEAR ME?”
Lillian winced and tried desperately to find the volume control on her comm. It was much easier when there wasn’t someone trying to take her head off in a purely auditory manner. “Yes, I can hear you,” she half hissed. “Entirely too well in fact. Could you tone it down a bit.”
“Stop yelling!” She realized she was yelling herself. She glanced back to the front of the shuttle and saw Watkins very carefully not looking in her direction. But her shoulders were shaking ever so slightly. Was she laughing at her? She opened the door, thinking that at least Quinn was probably too unconscious and the medic too busy with Quinn to bother paying attention to her. But they were gone. The back of the shuttle was already have loaded with steel panels and several of the crew were loading on more. More than one gave her an odd look when she stepped through the door, but none of them said a word to her.
There were a few seconds of silence, then Eve’s voice came back over the comm, so quiet as to barely even be legible. Some of the words dropped out of Lillian’s hearing entirely. “Sorry about … Borealis has a … seem to have caught it too. But … alright. I’m winning. … to have scrambled a few …”
Lillian shook her head. Borealis has a what? What could Eve have caught from Borealis? Wait. A virus? “Borealis has a virus?”
“That’s … trying to say. I’ve been … going too well.”
“I can barely understand you. Can you try to speak up a little bit?”
A pause. “I CAN TRY.”
Lillian swore and curled in on herself. “Too loud again.”
A moment more, then Eve’s voice came back, finally at a relatively sane level. It still sounded off, perhaps a little too high pitched, but at least she could hear it–and without going deaf in the process. “How about that?”
“Much better. So what were you saying about the Borealis?”
“She caught a virus. Nasty one too. That’s what’s been causing all of the issues with the power loss.”
“And you caught it too?”
“I was trying to fight back. Patch up Borealis’ computers. I’ve never run into any sort of computer virus that could do a thing to me before.”
“What makes this one different?”
“I thi…” Her voice suddenly cracked, mid-word. When it came back, it was several notes lower, but still intelligible. She didn’t seem to have noticed. “…nk it may have been based on alien software. It’s orders of magnitude more complex than anything I’ve come across before…” Another break. Now she sounded like one of those chipmunk voice recordings. “…in any human systems.”
Lillian shook her head. “But who could have access to something like that?” But even before Eve answered, she already knew the reply.
“The Sympathizers. They’ve had years to study the Artifact.”
Great, Lillian thought. Now we not only have to deal with Adrian the Vanished, we have Adrian plus a potential unknown assortment of alien technology. Lovely.
Out loud, she went on. “Never mind that for now. Do you think you can fix the Borealis’ computers?”
“Sure. I think I’ve figured out most of what the virus is up to. The only problem is that I need a direct connection.”
“Because I’ll need to mess with a good number of the ship’s systems to eradicate it completely. And I don’t want to be using a wireless connection that I have to shut off in the middle of it.”
“Good point.” She switched to broadcast mode. “Madeline? Can you meet me at the shuttle.”
A second later, her voice came back. She sounded a little out of breath. “I’m kind of busy right now, can it wait?”
“What’s it about?”
She thought for a moment. The line was open, so anyone could be listening, but if they really were dealing with a virus based on alien technology, Eve was the only one who might be able to help them. “Eve.”
At first, she didn’t think that Madeline was even going to respond, but finally she sighed. “Fine. Meet me at the shuttle bay doors. I’ll be there in a minute.”
A bit more than a minute later, Eve jogged up to the door. Her face was flushed and she was sweating slightly and there was tears in her jumpsuit.
“The crew didn’t…”
She glanced down at herself and shook her head. She was actually grinning, although there was an edge to it. “This? Nah. I was in the outer walls.”
No wonder she was flushed. The crawlspaces in between the outer walls of the compartments and the actual outer hull of the ship contained all manner of pipes and electrical equipment that the people who had designed the ship wanted to get out of the way. It was noisy, cramped, and surprisingly hot.
Anyone that says space is cold is only half right. It is cold, but there’s also nothing out there. So it takes a while for heat to radiate out into space. More often than not, it was actually harder to cool spaceships off than it was to keep them hot.
“What in the world where you doing out there?”
She shook her head. “We’ve been having all sorts of issues. Every time we get one thing fixed, another goes wrong. And no matter how we work, we still can’t manage to get the main power back online.” She lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “I think the ship is possessed.”
“You’re not half wrong.”
The look of surprise on her face was priceless. “What?”
“Eve says the ship has a virus.”
Madeline’s eyes lit up. “Of course. But don’t we have any sort of antivirus program?”
Eve’s voice spoke into Lillian’s head. It was pack to the proper pitch, but started out a little more quickly paced than normal, slowing down as she spoke. “It’s alien technology. Not something that your antivirus programs would be likely to pick up, no matter how good they are.” Lillian started to pass the message along, but Madeline was already nodding.
As she nodded, she mouthed to Lillian, “Is she all right?” She was pointing to Eve’s shell.
Lillian mouthed back, “She caught the virus too for a while. I think she’s getting better though. She sounds better.”
“Better?” Madeline started, but Eve broken in. “You know I can hear you right?”
Lillian flushed and could see Madeline doing the same. Deciding that just moving on was probably the safest course of action, Lillian continued at her normal volume. “In any case, Eve thinks she can fight it, but needs a direct connection to do it.”
“And you’re going back out to work on the repairs, got it.”
She held out her hand. After a moment, Lillian unbuckled Eve from her pouch and handed her over. She felt strangely hesitant; she was really beginning to like having Eve in her head.
Madeline had some similar pouches on her jumpsuit, but there were all full of various tools, so she just held Eve in her hand. She looked over Lillian’s shoulder and then back at Lillian. “Looks like you’re all loaded up and ready to go.”
She checked. Watkins was sitting in the front of the ship, looking bored, but all of the sheets of metal had already been loaded. “Looks like it.”
“Good luck Lillian.” She reached out and pulled Lillian to her in a hug.
She hugged her back. She wasn’t sure which job she’d rather have had, given a choice–dealing with the confines of outer crawlspaces and an anxious crew or trying to repair the outer hull of a her ship well enough that they could repressurize the living quarters–even temporarily. But it wasn’t really a choice, she had the suit training, she had to go outside. Plus, Madeline didn’t like being out in space anyways. “Good luck Madeline.”