Chapter 28: Hard Vacuum

I stared in horror at Lindsi’s body, crumpled on the grey floor, and knelt beside her, trying to touch her shoulder, shake her, anything — but my hand went straight through. It struck me a moment later that she might not even still be there: even though she was the one fully colourful thing left in the Ship, I had no idea at all how I would see anything if it was her eyes and the Ship’s cameras that gave me my vision. Even as I was still absorbing that, something happened that creeped me out even worse. A disembodied voice from somewhere said

“Pick her up.”

Moments later, Lindsi’s arm lifted into the air like a puppet on a string, loose and floppy, awkwardly hooking around nothing at all and dragging the rest of her up after it. I shot backwards several steps, feeling like my heart had just tried to escape through my throat, unconsciously gripping my own hands for lack of anything else to hold on to. Lindsi’s body swayed in the air, her feet dragging on the ground, and I stared transfixed at the unnatural sight, unconsciously shaking my head.

“Subject neutralised.” I only even pieced the words together several seconds after I’d heard them as Lindsi’s head tipped back, a section of her hair flattening under some invisible pressure. “Adult female. Appears… skin appears as though wearing a biosuit.” Her head dropped again, and her body rocked back and forth as if pushed at the free shoulder. “No fastenings or closures visible.”

There was a pause, a faint, tinny whisper like a comm unit held to someone’s ear. I strained to make it out, though I felt like my racing heartbeat would drown it all on its own.

“…as expected. …not have control. Transformation… to be irreversible… instructed to… with all haste. No known procedure… the sake of the woman… before she wakes…”

There was silence for a few moments, then the first voice again.

“Please confirm that order, Command. Whatever the… affliction, the woman is a citizen of the Ship.” He paused for a moment, then went on in a different tone, as if to someone else.

“Scan her identity.”

“I’m not getting a response,” a woman’s voice replied almost immediately, clipped and professional. At the same time, the faint whisper spoke again, and I missed the first few words.

“…at the highest level. The only kindness… before she wakes.”

A moment later, there was a faint tone, like a ‘message received’ chime, and the man sighed.

“Authorisation received and understood, Command.” He sounded reluctant, resigned. I clenched my fists unconsciously, desperate to know what was happening. I couldn’t hear enough, and all I knew was that it had to be bad. “All right, people. We’re to take her to the wall.”

There was a mutter of subdued assent in several different voices. They’d presumably heard as much of the conversation as I had, and it sounded as though they knew what it meant. I wanted to scream, to make them hear me, even just to be able to see them, but all I could do was watch and follow as Lindsi wavered through the air, carried in an invisible grip.

I followed her a short distance before she was laid down somewhere above the floor, and moments later I heard the hum of an electric motor start up, the sound of doors and brushing cloth replacing footsteps. I realised after a heartbeat of confusion that they must have put her on or in some sort of vehicle, and I was going to have to follow before I lost her altogether! Determined and afraid, I concentrated, focused on floating, deliberately lifted my feet off the ground, or where I thought it was, and stayed hovering. I wasn’t touching anything, I wasn’t really real at all, I could jump and drift and walk through walls — I had to be able to keep up!

The motor’s hum deepened, and with a jerk, Lindsi began to move, floating unnaturally above the ground on a surface I couldn’t see. I focused on staying the same distance from Lindsi, following her along. At first I kept speeding up and slowing down, having to swerve when the vehicle went around an obstacle, then I half-accidentally tried thinking of Lindsi as a still point and all of a sudden everything — what I could see of it — was just moving past me. Even when they turned, I just stayed where I was relative to her, moving through the faded Ship… through the faded Ship and into the black.

That was even more eerie. Other than scattered outlines here and there, mostly high up, there was just Lindsi, and the electric hum of the motor. Nobody spoke. I didn’t even technically know if there was still anyone there, beyond that I guessed someone had to be driving whatever vehicle they’d put her on. The motor wasn’t loud, but it still drowned out any breathing or anything else quiet I could have tried to use to count people. In the distance, I could see something approaching, almost indistinguishable from the blackness. Dark, dim, faded, it was a wall that stretched from where I at least thought the floor was to what I could see of the ceiling. It was curved, only slightly, but enough to see: part of a circle, maybe — and with that thought, I realised what it was. It had to be the hull of the Ship! That had to be what the man, whoever he was, had meant by ‘the wall’.

We came closer and closer, and finally we stopped, almost right at the base of the dark wall, more sketched in like an outline than really certain and solid. Lindsi still hadn’t stirred, beyond rocking with the motion of the vehicle, and I was still just as worried about her. The motor shut down, and I heard someone give a heavy sigh, though it was muffled like it was on the other side of a thin wall, or, say, inside a vehicle. A door opened somewhere close by, and I heard the man’s voice again.

“All right, get her up.”

More doors, footsteps, creaking. Lindsi swayed slightly as if the suspension under her had rocked, and then something or someone lifted her again, her arm draping once more around empty air.

“Sir, are you sure about this?”

There was that sigh again.

“Honestly? No. But they tell me it’s incurable, that she isn’t even in control of herself. And it came from the highest authority.”

Of course she is! I was shouting at the top of my voice, but it didn’t make any difference. No-one could hear a word I said.

“So what is she? Some sort of… puppet?” I could hear their distaste for that idea, and if I’d just been told it unrelated to anything else I probably would have felt the same thing, but that was Lindsi they were talking about, the only friend I had left, and why couldn’t they see that wasn’t true?!

“That’s certainly what they implied.” His voice was heavy with resignation. “I was told that getting it over with before she woke up was the only kindness we could do her.”

‘Getting it over with.’ The words felt like they froze my spine, and all the while we were getting closer to the wall, right up against it, walking alongside it. I saw something ahead, hard to make out but there, and the rest of me turned to ice as well as I recognised a tripartite personnel airlock.

No, no, you can’t do this, you have to stop! Put her down, let her go, you can’t do this! YOU CAN’T DO THIS! I’d never shouted so loud in my entire life and I might as well have said nothing at all. There was a pause as they navigated some sort of outer obstacle — I heard a door open — and then another pause outside the airlock itself as they put in a code and did something that sounded manual. I watched the innermost airlock door open and watched Lindsi be carried in; I watched that one close and the midlayer doors open, all in almost wireframe dark grey outlines; I watched Lindsi go through them and be laid down before the final door to space. I heard that man’s voice again, the one in charge, say

“I’m sorry.”

His footsteps receded, the middle doors closed, and all sound was cut off. There was only my panicked voice and Lindsi’s slow breathing.

Lindsi, wake up, they’re going to cycle the airlock, LINDSI! I tried to grab her shoulders again and shake her, willing her to wake up with all my might, and just for a moment I thought I felt a static spark under my palms as my hands rested where her shoulders were. A moment later, she gasped and her eyes shot open, colour washing across the inside of the airlock. I sat back in shock and she blinked, confused, panting like she’d just run a race.

Get up, Lindsi! We’re in the airlock!

She focused on me, still looking almost frantic and yet completely confused at the same time, like I’d woken her up from the middle of the deepest sleep you can have by screaming in her ear.

Get up!

I heard the warning tones start, two alternating notes, not so much loud as penetrating in that way that goes right through your head. At least if you aren’t wearing a suit to block them out a bit. Lindsi shot upright, but she still seemed dazed, like she wasn’t thinking right, and she swayed a little.

You have to get hold of something! They can’t keep the airlock open, you have to-

Still swaying, Lindsi stepped uncertainly towards the door, reaching out with one hand… as the outer airlock suddenly opened, air gusting out sharply enough to take her with it. She grabbed helplessly for the edge of the airlock as she passed it, and I shouted at her because I suddenly remembered what these airlocks look like from the outside, even though there’s no sound in a vacuum, but then I wasn’t really making any sound to start with.

Right! Right!

And somehow she heard me, somehow she listened, and her hand snapped sideways just barely in time for her fingers to catch around one of the handholds at the side of the hatch and even though she slipped it was enough to swing her around so that she spun towards the side of the Ship instead of away. I kept shouting, drifting with her, somehow moving under control, maybe because I was so panicked I wasn’t thinking about it any more.

Grab the Ship! Grab it! You have to or you’ll bounce into space, grab it!

Lindsi grabbed frantically at the side of the Ship, and as her hands skittered over the hull she finally managed to catch hold and stay there at last. Her eyes were clearing at last, less dazed, less panicked. She looked at me and opened her mouth as if to say something, and I saw puzzlement in her eyes even though I heard her voice, somehow, just like I always had, just as if it was real.

“What ha-”

And I saw the panic start, I saw her realising she wasn’t breathing, that she couldn’t breathe, or speak, that she should have been dying, and there wasn’t anything I could do to help her.

< Chapter 27 | The Fused | Chapter 29>

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The Fused by V. L. Bending is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.