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Darkship Revenge: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Wednesday, February 15, 2017 21:04 EST



Between Space And A Hard Place

    I woke up on the rumpled, sweaty, bloodied bed, with my daughter tucked into the crook of my arm, asleep.

    She was not beautiful. She was barely human: all wrinkly red skin, tightly clenched eyes, and an expression like as soon as she was awake she’d have words with whomever had sent her here right now. I knew she’d grow up to look more human. Or at least, I’d seen this in a million sensies. I had trouble believing it.

    Yet she was mine, and I was responsible for everything pertaining to her. I panicked. On the verge of feeling resentment, I frowned at her. I didn’t want this. I didn’t ask for this. I was not fit to be anyone’s mother. She sighed in her sleep. Something irrational rose up. My thoughts stopped. In their place there was a feeling, ancient and immense, like a bottomless sea.

    I’m not good at love. Like everything I can’t understand, it makes me uncomfortable. So I’m not going to say that’s what I felt. I’ve come to accept that I love Kit, because no other explanation suffices for my not having killed him yet. In the same way, I suppose he loves me, because he actually wants to spend time with me, and hasn’t taken to beating me every other day, just to stay sane. So he loves me. I still don’t understand how. It makes no sense at all.

    I don’t know if that’s what I felt for my daughter All I knew was that I’d put a gory end to anyone who tried to hurt her. I pulled her closer to me. She nestled closer, like a cat.

    I wondered how long I’d been asleep, precisely. It could have been hours, or just a few seconds. I didn’t remember falling asleep.

    I started to open my mouth to call to Kit, but then decided not waking the baby was highly advisable, and mind-called, Kit?

    Calling with your mind is not the same as voice-calling: in your mind, you know when you call out and the message is not received. You know if it just wasn’t heard, of even if it was ignored. If you mind-call and there’s no reply of any kind, not even the sense of someone at the other end, the only possible conclusion is that there is no one to answer. Even if the object of your call is asleep, impaired or in a vegetative state, there is a feeling that he is there. Non-responsive but there.

    Kit? I called, again, in my mind.

    Have you ever entered an empty house? No matter how large it is, or how much it looks like it should be inhabited, you know the house is empty and that there is no one at all in any part of it? That the dark and cold extend forever, unbroken by human presence?

    It felt like that. The Cathouse was empty, save for myself and the baby.

    Kit, Kit, Kit KIT! The call went out and was swallowed by nothingness, like a pebble falling into an endless hole.

    I carefully extricated myself from my daughter, leaving her asleep on the bed, as I rose.

    I didn’t know if I should stand up. Some of the books and sensies said you should stay in bed for months. Others that it was highly advisable to get on your feet and go weed rice paddies. I was fresh out of rice paddies, but I had to get up. I had to go look for Kit. If he was in trouble, I was the only one who could help.

    I closed my mind to the thought that the lack of return on my call meant not that he was in trouble, but that he didn’t exist. Or that he was so far from me I couldn’t sense him and he couldn’t hear me.

    But how could he be that far away from me in space, with no vehicle but the Cathouse nearby?

    So I got up. Had to, even if it meant I could bleed to death, or pass out cold on the floor. Besides, I told myself, that only happened to women in sensies.

    As it turned out there was no dying, no passing out. There was a wave of dizziness, but only because I was still so tired. And things, to include most things below my waist, felt sore, but it was a soreness short of pain.

    Through my childhood and teen years, between running away from home, mental hospitals, reform homes and boot camps, getting in burner fights and broom accidents, not to mention Daddy Dearest’s version of loving correction, I’d often felt worse. Well, not in those specific places, but worse anyway.

    Walking gingerly — all right, like a duck — getting used to soreness, I called, mentally Kit? No one answered, I didn’t expect an answer, but the idea that he had simply disappeared made no sense either. Perhaps I’d only slept a very short time, and he was still outside fixing whatever damage the unknown ship firing on us had done? Perhaps my being so tired meant that my mind-call had less range than normal?

    I went to the pilot’s room first. There are sensors built into the wall of the ship that will show you what’s wrong with it, and what is in the process of being repaired.

    I turned the lights of the screen up so I could see it, since I didn’t have Kit’s modified, feline-like eyes. And stared unbelievingly at the devastation.

    The Cathouse is not the most up-to- date ship. Its circuits are more vulnerable than any sane designer would want. It was a retired training ship when Kit – who back then flew alone – persuaded them it was a low enough risk to rent it to him.

    Somehow the unknown attacker had managed to destroy most of our air scrubbers’ ability, which meant that between myself and a little one, we would exhaust air in a couple of days. By that time we’d be without water. Also, the ability to drive the Cathouse had been destroyed. Our thrusters were either burned out or disconnected from the power pod. If I didn’t repair them, we’d drift aimlessly through space, forever.

    I bit my lip and stared at the list of damages and waited for Kit to do something out there, and for me to see the condition of something change.

    Come on. Something change. Kit, do something.

    He’d heard me mind-call across much greater distances. Not all distances. There was a definite limit to those. But greater distances. I couldn’t possibly be that tired? Perhaps birth changed telepathic ability? It wasn’t like I could communicate with anyone but Kit, anyway.

    My query Kit? returned nothing. No sense of him. And the screen didn’t change.

    There were three answers for this. One was that my telepathy was broken. Possible, but not likely. Then again, the only other telepaths I knew were in Eden, and they didn’t usually have children. Not gestated and delivered from their own bodies, so who knew?

    Two was that Kit had died. Perhaps something had gone suddenly wrong with him, and he was dead somewhere in this ship, or even outside. The idea induced a sort of panicked denial. Kit couldn’t be dead. He just couldn’t. Of course, I knew he was mortal. But surely if he’d died, I’d have felt it?

    The third one was that he was alive but simply not here. This last would be the most plausible, except for the part where it was impossible. It didn’t require me to have ignored his death mind-call. It didn’t require me to believe the effort of giving birth somehow destroyed telepathic ability. It just required me to believe that Kit could fly unassisted through space, and breathe vacuum. There was nothing in the Cathouse beyond the range of mind-call. And there was nothing outside. Just endless space. Sure we had suits and oxygen bottles. But not to get significantly far from the ship.

    The Cathouse was a collector ship. It was all it was designed to be. Everything else about it had been stripped down to allow for more storage of powerpods. There were no hidden rooms, no vast labyrinths.

    From the beginning, powerpod collections, from the powertrees in Earth orbit had been done without consent from Earth, and in fear that Earth would realize it and find and destroy Eden. There were no lifeboats aboard. There was nothing you could take to get away from the ship.

    If you suffered a problem near Eden, they could send someone to evacuate the ship. Anywhere else, you were as good as dead. In fact, if something went wrong near Earth rather than asking to be rescued you were encouraged to simply commit suicide so you didn’t risk betraying the secret colony.



    So, Kit couldn’t have run away. Good to know. And I couldn’t picture him committing suicide by jumping from the ship to outer space with only the limited oxygen in a spacesuit. And so, the second place I checked was the suit storage locker.

    Spacesuits from Eden are made of material unavailable on Earth. They look and feel like a soft knit, but somehow lock when outside, to keep internal pressure. The same for the helmet, which looks like a hood with a transparent view window.

    Our suits normally hung in a closet, side by side.

    Kit’s was gone.

    So, he’d gone outside, wearing a suit and intending to repair the ship, as he said he would. It was always possible, of course, that an unexpected tear in the suit, or something could have killed him without his realizing it was coming. It was a risk we lived with.

    I stood in the bedroom, watching my daughter sleep in the middle of our very large bed. If Kit was gone, I must go outside and fix what was wrong with the ship, otherwise we were going to be dead. And while life without Kit seemed horrible, I was responsible for that little creature: responsible for making her, responsible for bringing her into the world and responsible for choosing to take this trip while pregnant. Moisture formed in my eyes and rolled down my cheeks.

    None of this felt fair, and the injustice of it all galled me. It made no difference. There was no one to see me cry, and even if there were, who would care? No one ever did anything for me because I cried, except maybe Kit. I was in charge of saving myself and my daughter. And by damn I was going to do it.

    Tears continued to flow as I decided the first order of business was to clean myself and the baby and to diaper her and dress her in something. Then I’d leave her on the bed and go outside to fix the ship. I felt a twinge at this, but didn’t know what else to do.

    First of all, the bed had a horrible organic mess that I suspected, from reading, was the placenta. Have I mentioned this is a stupid design? I disposed of it down the incinerator.

    I got in the fresher alone, first, cleaning the blood and sweat and other residues of the messy process of bringing a human to life, right down the drain.

    Then I came back to the room, still naked, picked my daughter up and took her back with me to the fresher. The business of being born must be even more tiring than the business of giving birth. Though I’d set the fresher for water, she didn’t awake when I washed her, merely grumbled in her sleep and half opened her eyes, before closing them again.

    She woke as I was drying her and set up a scream that wouldn’t stop. Since I assumed she didn’t object to being dried, I diagnosed the problem as hunger.

    Once she had been nursed, she dozed again, not waking as I diapered her using for the purpose a quick reengineering of feminine hygiene products, provided in the normal stocking of the ship, but not used by me at all this whole trip until now.

    One of my tunics, stylishly tied around her feet served as further clothing.

    She slept through all this, but opened her eyes when I put her back on the bed. And I stopped.

    I stopped, staring at her blue eyes and thinking that Kit had gone outside and something had happened. What if I went outside and something happened to me?

    Then I’d leave her behind here. And she couldn’t even feed herself.

    “Okay,” I said, surprised and annoyed at the sound of tears in my voice. “That’s so not happening.”

    The spacesuits stretched. Not far, granted, but they did stretch.

    It was uncomfortable and the baby squirmed. It took some doing to squeeze into it with my daughter tied around my middle, with the excess of her tunic’s sleeves. Her nose protruded just below my chin, safely within the helmet and able to breathe, her back supported against me. One thing I had managed to understand from the stories was that human newborns lacked spine strength. This again seemed like a design flaw to me. We’re a lousily engineered race.

    It was uncomfortable as hell, but not as scary as leaving her alone in the ship, while I went outside to work on the shell of the Cathouse. And it made me feel less abandoned, less alone, safer. It made no sense, because a little baby had no way of keeping me safe, but that’s how I felt.

    She seemed to agree. She fell back to sleep as we proceeded through the air locks, and outside. She didn’t even wake as the suit stiffened in response to outer vacuum.

    I hate being outside the ship in space. I always have. I know the shoes that come with the spacesuit attach to the ship and that as long as I took care not to jump and have both feet off the ship, I’d be fine. As the resident repair mechanic, given that the cathouse was designed almost as badly as the human body, I’d been outside many times.

    It doesn’t make it any more comfortable. I hate the idea of being in a place where you can fall, in any direction, without stopping, ever. It’s not a fear of open spaces so much as a fear of lack of control.

    This whole situation was tweaking that fear. I wanted Kit back, and I wanted to know where he was. I wanted my life back.

    I got the little tool kit and walked in an unnatural duck-walk, so the entire sole of the suit made contact with the ship, to the air processing nodule first. It wasn’t actually the air processing mechanism, merely the linkage of power to the air processor. It was a bubble-like protrusion in the skin of the ship, and opening it, I looked at charred internals and blinked.

    It wasn’t the charred internals that disturbed me. There were replacement wires – only they weren’t exactly wires, being bioed, and technically I THINK living creatures – in the bottom of the tool box, and I had expected the ones in place to be charred.

    No. What I was staring at was characters, written in the charred remains of the connectors. Two words. Kidnapped and Earth.

    “At least it isn’t Croatoan,” I told no one in particular, thinking of a particularly scary story about a lost colony which I’d read long ago in my father’s library.

    It made no sense, but then the ship attacking us made no sense either. Had they lurked around to kidnap Kit? How does one lurk in open space? And how easy was it to kidnap my husband? I couldn’t imagine him going without a fight. Then I thought again. He might not have wanted them to notice he was not alone. He might have gone quietly if he saw no chance of fighting them off without endangering us. He might have sacrificed himself to save us. At least sacrificed himself to the extent of allowing himself to be kidnapped. Which meant it was my job to set things right and free him. Besides the fact that I’d gotten used to him, and had no intention of living without him for any length of time.

    I had to stay alive for my daughter, and life without Kit would be unbearable. Therefore my daughter and I would have to go and find him.

    It was getting really tiring calling her the baby or my daughter. Kit and I had only spoken of names in jest. If I’d had a boy I’d probably have named him Bartolomeu. Or Jarl Bartolomeu, after the closest thing Kit had to a biological father and his mentor. But I didn’t. And we’d never agreed on a name for a girl.

    Men had strange ideas, and my husband might be the strangest of all. The only name he’d proposed for a girl was unsuitable. I was not going to call my daughter after Kit’s first wife. There are limits in what love can cause me to do. Through a moment when I’d shared his memories accidentally, I’d formed my opinion of that lady. And it was not so complementary I wanted my daughter’s name to pay her homage. On the contrary. And it didn’t matter how much Kit’s guilt and his illusions made him like the name.

    I thought of Kit, kidnapped and taken to Earth, and of the circumstances of my child’s birth. There was really only one name for her. “It’s alright, Eris,” I said, though she was probably asleep. “We’re going to go to Earth and get daddy back.”

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