She scrabbled hard against the robes, hard against him, hard against her fear. “Let me go. Let me go. Let me go!”
But he kept dragging her along.
“Let me go!”
“No.” And he yanked on her ropes, made her stumble.
Her knees scraped the rough deck-plating through her coveralls. They were going up a ramp, though, so it was easy to get her footing again.
She could feel her blood, running hot down her knees. It itched. The arches of her feet were cramped. She could barely feel her hands anymore and the ropes bit painfully into her wrists. “Please…” she tried again.
He ignored her. Until they reached the landing. Then he yanked on the rope again, pulling her towards him then driving her to her knees. She cried out. Her torn knee burned and screamed. Fresh tears made fresh tracks on her dirty face.
They’d found her in the engine room. She hadn’t even known the ship had been boarded.
He looped the rope around her neck, then around one of the railings. If she pulled on it she’d strangle herself. He walked away.
She curled in on herself as best she could. Her stomach was cramping, but she’d already thrown up everything she’d had for dinner when she’d been hit in the solar plexus. She was no lightweight. Working down in the engines meant a certain amount of dexterity and athleticism. But she was no fighter, either, unless it was with her CO or a multi-tool. Fear and exhaustion—they’d come near the end of the graveyard shift, her shift—was making her sick. And she was feverish. Up here, outside the bowels of the ship, it shouldn’t be so hot. The invaders hadn’t killed enviro; she could feel the breeze of the circulating air. But she was sweating and trembling in her jumpsuit. Tears and sweat mingled with dirt and dust. She stank.
He came back, untied the rope and loosened it from her neck. She thought of biting his hand. He slapped her before she could. “Up!”
They were heading for a blank wall. No, not a blank wall, but one of the pneumatic tubes. Where were they going? Where was he sending her? The tubes were only big enough for one. Even children, who were only allowed to use them in an emergency, had to take them singly.
He stuffed her inside, carelessly throwing the rope over her head toward the back wall. Then he stuffed himself inside, too.
She struggled. She fought. She wasn’t exactly claustrophobic, couldn’t be working in the bowels of a ship, but she hated the pneumatic tubes. She hated him. Hated being tied up. How could he even think they could both travel this way?!
“Let me go!”
He snapped his head into hers. Blackness edged her vision. The sound of rushing blood filled her ears. His “No” came from far away. She was burning up.
But she struggled again. There was a fire in her hands, even though she couldn’t feel them properly anymore. “Let me go…” She wasn’t even sure he could hear her now. He was barking out directions. They were going up to command. “Let me go…”
The fire was working up her arms now. Her whole body was hot and getting hotter. Even he was beginning to sweat. The pneumatics didn’t have enviro. The darkness around her eyes ebbed and flowed…and flickered.
The pneumatic began to pressurize. Her heart raced. No, no, no, no! No the pneumatic. Not with him. Not now!
“What is that?”
The captain, bound and shoved to his knees with the rest of his bridge-crew sneered. “Don’t you know?”
He got a rifle butt to the head from one of the foot soldiers.
The invaders continued on as if he hadn’t spoken. “Where is that coming from?”
“The pneumatic tubes, sir,” someone he couldn’t see responded.
“Who do we have in them?”
“A soldier and the last engineer were supposed to be coming up— ”
“But it’s black, sir.”
“It’s fire, Nav. I want screens up. Now!”
“Yes, sir. Done, sir.”
“Yes, sir. Done, sir.”
“Science. Tell me what I’m seeing.”
The Ajax's science officer stopped staring out the viewer and turned to her console. “Fire. Sir. Fire consuming the Gestalt.”
“Something the enemy’s done?”
“Sir, if so did then they’re doing it to themselves. No escape pods were launched. Their ship hasn’t broken away. They’re destroying themselves.”
“Captain, they never—”
“I know, First. So what’s going on?”
“Sir! The Gestalt. She’s breaking up. She’s going to—”
Despite the screens, the bridge crew all flinched and covered their eyes as the fiery ship exploded, despite the screens.
“Any escape pods? Any survivors? Science?”
“Sir…no sir. We’re not detecting any life signs.”
Silence filled the command bridge. Finally the captain spoke. “How many were on board?”
“Two thousand and sixty-four. Including children and passengers. No record of how many of the enemy boarded the ship.”
“Any of them survive?”
“No, sir. Everything seems to—Wait. Captain. I have one life sign. Grid 3-8-20.”
“Nav, pull up that sector and magnify.”
The viewer shifted and changed, magnifying the portion of space a thousand times to show one unconscious body, floating in space, in a pool of dark light.