continuation of the space-age sex-slave story that began in Issue 10.
and packed, I drop my belongings with a station
porter, who will have them stowed on my ship,
then head down to the dining area for a bite
to eat. With a long, trying day ahead of me and
the strange night I had, I know I ought to eat
a solid breakfast, but something in me just wants
off this station now. I grab a few meal replacement
bars instead; they’ll tide me over until I hit
hyperspace, and I’ve got enough prepackaged transit
food on board to last Jzaria and me through a
trip twice as long as the one we’ll have to make
back to Rizenom I.
out of the room, I almost bump into the buyer
I chatted with the previous evening before the
auction. “Headed out so early?” she asks.
thought I’d beat the rush.”
might already be too late for that. I just walked
past the holding areas and auctioneer offices,
and it’s a madhouse down there. There’s some
kind of dispute going on with one of the scouts,
and there’s a line out the door.”
what next?” I say, throwing up my hands. I’m
trying not to let it show, but this news has
started an irrational knot of anxiety blooming
in my belly. I want out of here now.
make my way down to the holding area, where I’ll
finish up the paperwork on Jzaria and finalize
the sale. I can hear the commotion as soon as
the hatch door opens; someone is yelling much
more loudly than is considered polite in the
cramped rooms of a space station. I pass the
small, locked quarters used to house the slaves.
As I round the corner into the auctioneer area,
I run into a press of people crowded around the
office of the handler I’m headed to see, a veteran
dealer by the name of Pandergin. I can’t see
who’s doing the yelling, but I can hear every
you crook, I am not accepting damaged merchandise.
I don’t care about the contracts! Every imperial
law prohibits trafficking in diseased slaves.”
second voice, which I recognize as Pandergin’s
because of his thick outer-rim accent, is conciliatory,
but also stubborn. “Sir, I tell you truly, this
merchandise not damaged. Always there are slave
rumors, and always they are nothing. Lies told
by merchandise—this does not void a sale! The
girl is tested, she is clean, certified, and
I have your signed contract. Is already finalized
in the eyes of the empire. To void it now means
paperwork, so much paperwork, you don’t—” The
first speaker breaks in again with a long volley
of foul language, peppered with suggestions about
just where the auctioneer can put his imperial
don’t have time for this; that irrational knot
of fear is rising up into my throat with alarming
speed, and I want nothing more than to get on
my ship and get the hell out of here.
security arrives in a rush of broad shoulders,
blue uniforms, and blank stares. I manage to
pull aside one of the muscle heads and flash
him my credentials. Working for the empire does
have its perks: as the other officers begin to
usher the curious mob away from the doorway,
I’m escorted through the crowd and into the auctioneer’s
office. I notice the irate buyer being forcefully
led away just as the door closes behind me.
sit down, and the auctioneer offers me a drink.
I accept, take a long swallow, and feel myself
relax a bit. “Shit, Pandergin, what was that
fool who doesn’t know his asshole from a hole
in the ground,” he replies. “Is nothing, nothing,
just a fool making noise. He cannot void the
contract; the girl is clean. What kind of buyer
believes a slave rumor? I spit on his mother—pah!
I wish all of my clientele could be people like
you, people who know the trade.”
is business as usual. Sellers always try to butter
up scouts before a sale. That’s because slave
prices are always negotiated; what’s more, it’s
an accepted axiom among the sellers that, since
scouts don’t pay with their own money, they’re
more willing to come down on the price than someone
feeling the pinch in his own wallet. I don’t
think it’s true, but I also don’t mind the free
drinks and flattery it ensures me every time
I complete a sale.
more relaxed now that I’m back in familiar territory,
I decide to indulge my curiosity. “A slave rumor?”
I ask. “Do tell—what’s the latest word from the
you know, the same old crazy shit. Is always
the same. Always they are looking for something
to save them, even after the chip is put in—am
I right? Of course right. This time it’s some
disease, a virus they say. I can’t even remember
the name; it makes you go crazy or something,
I don’t know. Who listens to such foolishness?
Besides, the girl is tested, she is clean.”
new acquisition mentioned something like that
last night,” I say, trying to sound more casual
than I feel.
you, Zap, I am surprised she does any talking
at all, if you know what I mean,” says Pandergin
with a leer. We’re back to the flattery. With
that nervous feeling welling up in my stomach
again, I decide to follow his lead and finish
the transaction. We negotiate for about 15 minutes
before coming to an agreement satisfactory to
both of us. Then we shake hands and sign the
papers, and I head out to the station’s docking
office to get clearance for departure while Pandergin
leaves to prepare Jzaria. The two of them will
meet me at the boarding area, then all I’ll have
to do is implant Jzaria’s chip and we’ll be ready
to begin our trip.
docking office procedures are surprisingly easy
for once. Perhaps the wheels have been greased
for me; no one here would want me to report this
morning’s incident to my superiors at the imperial
harems. True or not, rumors about diseased merchandise
won’t help anybody’s business.
one of his handlers, and Jzaria are waiting for
me when I reach the boarding area. Seeing my
familiar ship, the Siam, big enough to
carry me and up to five slaves in style and comfort,
seems to relax me somewhat. I am a valued and
respected scout for the imperial trade and soon
I’ll be onboard my ship and ready to wipe the
dust of this shithole from my shoes.
try to gauge Jzaria’s mood; she seems calm enough,
but the handler has a pretty good grip on her
upper arm. “Everything ready here?” I ask briskly
as I stride toward them.
my friend, no problems,” replies Pandergin. “The
girl, she is a little nervous; but if she gives
you any trouble, you put her in stasis, eh?”
I try to catch the girl’s reaction to this, but
her face is turned away from me.
well then,” I reply, handing him the imperial
bank access document issued to me for this trip;
the chip embedded in it will register the transaction
with the empire’s accountants and make sure the
amount is authorized, and Pandergin’s business
will be credited in a matter of hours. He hands
it back, and the deal is done. Jzaria is now
the property of one of the royal lordlings; after
this trip, she’ll probably never see anything
but the gardens of Rizenom I for the rest of
I would implant a new slave’s chip right here
in the boarding area, but today I just want to
get her onboard and get the hell out of here.
I can implant her while we maneuver our way out
of the station’s vast docking facilities—this
takes some time because ship departures are automated
by the station to make sure our procedures meet
their protocols. (Did I mention it is a bureaucratic
nightmare?) I take her arm and walk toward the
ship. She follows without a struggle, eyes on
accessing the boarding area’s command panel and
inputting the brief series of commands that syncs
the ship’s departure sequence with the station’s
traffic control center, I lead Jzaria to the
small room that will be her quarters while we’re
in transit. I take my implanting device and chip
stocks out of their carrying case and cut the
plastic seal around one of the fingernail-sized
chips. I then load it into the machine and begin
to code it with Jzaria’s information from the
paperwork Pandergin gave me.
well last night?” Jzaria’s quiet voice jars me
out of my thoughts; her eyes meet mine with no
hesitation. That strange feeling of dread, which
dissipated when I boarded my familiar ship, returns
with renewed vigor when I hear her words. Remembering
my dream, I feel myself blushing slightly, and
look back down at the device in my hand. I try
to control my voice when I reply, not lifting
my eyes to hers.
thank you. You?”
my dreams were nothing like yours. Infecting
you was a very important task; since I succeeded,
I’ve been accepted into the circle of the initiated.
I don’t dream anymore; now I share in the ecstasies.”
can’t help but look up when I say, “I’m asking
you one last time to stop talking like a nutcase.
I thought I made myself perfectly clear that
I don’t want to hear another word on that subject.
Do you know what coming out of stasis can be
like after a long space flight? Some people vomit
for three days. Is that any way to greet your
pales when I mention her owner, but continues
on: “You can’t threaten me, Zap. That’s nothing
compared to what’s coming to you and your kind.
I’m not afraid of you.”
ought to be!” I say, grabbing her forearm and
jerking her up against me. My control is gone;
I just want to get her chip in and get her in
the stasis chamber so I can have a drink, code
the ship for the route to our first return port,
and get a little sleep. “Your chip is ready,”
I growl. “Are we going to do this the easy way,
or do I have to hold you down?”
surprises me by bending forward slightly; exposing
the delicate nape of her neck, right where her
chip will go in. “By all means, Zap. I won’t
try to stop you. After all, you’re just doing
what you have to do. You don’t have any choice,
voice holds no bitterness, but her words mirror
the angry thoughts in my own head, and a flash
of guilt surges through me. I push it down, but
let go of her arm. There are angry red marks
where my fingers were.
will leave a bruise,” she says. “One more thing
for my new master to be angry about.”
to regain my control, I carefully press the implantation
device’s nozzle against her neck. “This will
sting a little,” I say. She doesn’t reply.
finger begins to pull the device’s trigger when
suddenly a wave of nausea and pain rushes through
my body. All the unease and fear from earlier
in the day has been amplified into pain and terror
so intense and debilitating that I drop the device
and double over, clutching my stomach. My ears
are ringing; a trickle of blood oozes out of
my nose. I look up at Jzaria; just as I feel
the vomit rising in my throat, her face becomes
deathly pale and the fiery bird from my dream
appears in her eyes, staring out at me.
me…the…device,” I manage to spit out.
can’t, Zap. It’s broken.” I look at the floor
and see that she is right. Pieces of the machine
are scattered about the room; the damage is beyond
what I can repair. Panic rising within me, I
remember that my backup is in for repairs. I
could have performed the procedure before we
boarded; now I won’t be able to implant Jzaria’s
chip until we reach the next way station on our
route. I will be punished for this; it is against
I take Jzaria by the arm and drag her out of
the room toward the stasis chambers, stopping
to vomit several times along the way. Although
she can easily fight back or break free of my
grasp, she does nothing, following me passively.
We reach the stasis area; as I shut her into
one of the chambers, the nausea and pain begin
to leave me, and I am able to straighten up enough
to look her in the eyes.
she says, “try to not be afraid. Don’t fight
it. When it gets too bad, you can wake me up.
I can help you. I’m the only one who can help
the hell up, you filthy whore. You aren’t going
to wake up until we get to the end of this godforsaken
trip; if it was up to me, you’d never wake up
at all! I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but
I know it isn’t any fairy tale virus or vengeance
from the gods. You think any gods exist in a
world like this? No, Jzaria: I’m going to be
just fine, and you’re going back to Rizenom I
to be a sex slave until you’re used up and dried
out and…and…” I fight back tears, trying to catch
my breath. I haven’t been this angry since I
realized my parents were going to sell me to
has forgotten the gods, Zap, but the gods have
not forgotten us. Just remember what I said.
I can help you.” I slam the door shut while the
words are still coming out of her mouth, then
punch in the stasis code sequence and activate
the unit. A blue mist fills the pod and Jzaria’s
face disappears from view. I fall to the floor,
panting, crying, vomit still clinging to my face,
trying desperately to think of some excuse to
give my superiors. I will not escape punishment.
How could I let this happen? It’s…madness.
word lingers in my brain before I haul myself
to my feet and head off to the cockpit, stopping
briefly in the bathroom of my quarters to clean
up. The departure sequence is almost over; very
soon we will begin our journey, hurtling through
the stars to meet Jzaria’s destiny, and my own.
* * *
in my cabin, I take a long, hot shower and try
not to think. The entry into hyperspace went
smoothly, but the exhilaration it usually gives
me was not there. Normally there is a momentary,
elusive feeling of freedom as the light begins
to bend around me and the ship slides into incomprehensibly
rapid motion that, technology permitting, my
body never even feels. But now I feel chained,
like the slave that I truly am, and for the first
time in many years I mourn my lost freedom. No
matter how fast I go, no matter how far I travel,
my body, my very self, are not my own.
off these thoughts, I convince myself that a
stiff drink and some sleep are all I need to
set things right. I add a sleeping pill to the
mix just to be safe and drift off, hoping I will
awake peacefully after almost 18 hours of well-deserved
rest. I feel as if a mist has been cleared from
my mind; the despair and fear of the day before
have disappeared. My paranoid, incoherent thoughts
before I put Jzaria in stasis seem ridiculous
to me now. I obviously had some flash virus;
they’re common at space stations, where so many
people gather from all over the galaxy, bringing
their illnesses with them. It’s happened before—I
don’t know why it sent me into such a panic this
time. Maybe I should request a little R&R
when I get back to Rizenom I—I’m no good to the
empire like this.
seems better to me now that I’ve had some sleep.
I even know how I’ll escape punishment for failing
to implant the chip. I witnessed more than a
few code violations while on the station, minor
things like handlers “exaggerating” a slave’s
prior training or failing to mention that a slave’s
desirable physical characteristic—say, a tail,
unusual skin coloring, or even (though it’s somewhat
passé) large breasts—was “enhanced” surgically.
These violations are ubiquitous, and normally
I would never report them, but this time they
are going to buy my way out of a sticky situation.
I’ll report them to my supervisors, they’ll get
bonuses and commendations for “weeding out corruption”
in the empire’s precious trade, and I’ll be off
the hook. I’ll just have to hope no one back
at the station connects them to me.
feel quite silly now for letting my feelings
get out of hand with the new slave girl yesterday.
I’m glad no one else will ever know about the
incident; it was almost as bad as that scene
Pandergin’s client made back at the station.
I can’t believe I let an ignorant slave rumor
get to me.
enjoy a leisurely shower and breakfast before
heading up to the ship’s command center to perform
a system check. I would, of course, be automatically
notified if anything went wrong, but it’s a good
policy (as well as the empire’s standard operating
procedure) to do a complete systems check three
times a “day” (defined, of course, by imperial
policy as to be equal in length to one Rizenomian
day, or about 28 1/2 hours). These checks take
about an “hour” (again, defined by the Rizenomian
standard), but the rest of the time during transit
is mine to spend as I please.
rev up my status consoles and begin the long
sequence of tests and checks that assure me that
no part of the ship will fail and I won’t be
sucked out into the vacuum of space screaming
like a little girl. Internal communications:
fine. External communications (meaning my constant
contact with the empire): fine. Telemetry: fine.
Propulsion: fine. Occupied stasis systems: fine.
Jzaria is tucked away safely in her pod; the
trip will just be one long nap for her.
atmospheric systems: fine… but I have an odd
reading in a rarely used storage area near the
left hull. All that’s in there at the moment
are some emergency supplies. It’s probably nothing;
it could even just be some particulate matter,
like dust in the air, fouling up the sensory
inputs. But I have to go check it out; otherwise,
the computers will just keep reminding me about
it every five minutes. In fact, I’m a little
surprised that I haven’t already received a message
about it; once I’ve taken a look at this, I should
probably run a diagnostic check on the automatic
warning com-links as well.
I finish my other checks before making my way out
to the storage room; this is no emergency, so
I take my time. The room’s hatch sticks a bit
while sliding open, and I have to force it the
last half foot or so, although it closes normally
behind me. Entering the room, I realize that
the motion detector lights aren’t powering up.
That’s odd, because I never got a warning that
they needed service—and I’ve programmed that
as standard operating procedure just so I won’t
run into situations like this. Something is seriously
on the fritz in here. I decide to fetch a flashlight
and my basic toolkit and see if I can’t repair
whatever the problem is myself; that’ll be easier
than making an unscheduled stop for maintenance
on such a minor issue.
return with the flashlight and tools only to
find that the hatch is now seriously jammed.
It’s only about an inch open, and I can’t force
it to move at all, in either direction. I open
up the outside control panel, which also seems
to be jammed—I have to use a screwdriver to pop
the latch. Once I do get it open, it spits sparks
at me! This shit is nuts.
I give up and fetch a crowbar to pry the door
open; it’ll be somewhat expensive to fix, but
there’s obviously some problem in there that
needs to be addressed immediately. I’ll have
to have my automatic warning system overhauled
as well, since all of these problems should have
been brought to my attention by the ship much
finally get the hatch open and step gingerly
into the storage room. My nose is assaulted by
a rank smell, and I hear a strange, slight scratching
noise. It’s a little unnerving as I train my
flashlight about the floor and see nothing. But
I feel a sense of relief, because I think I already
know what the problem is: rats.
even way out in the vast reaches of space, vermin
still find ways to plague mankind. Although it
isn’t usually a problem in a station as highly
rated as the one I’ve just left, rats, mice,
and cockroaches are quite common throughout the
empire, and can cause a great deal of damage
aboard any ship. It’s unusual that they’d infest
a ship so quickly—I was only on the station for
three days—but having once worked in a kitchen,
I know that one should never underestimate these
kinds of pests and their ability to make a mess.
a closer look around, I see more evidence of
the furry little bastards: droppings on the floor,
holes gnawed in the supply crates, and empty
food containers in a few places. There is also
a strange-looking stain running down the wall;
tracing it up to the ceiling, I find a busted
air vent, which is probably how they’re moving
about the ship. A quick sniff tells me the stain
is probably rat urine—just fabulous. Like it
or not, I’m going to have to go into that air
vent and see how extensive the damage is.
I go back down to the cockpit to shut down the
malfunction warning system in the storage room
(so it won’t kindly inform me of the problems
every five minutes until I’m mad as a hatter).
Then I initiate a ship-wide vermin eradication
protocol—luckily, although the pests of the dark
ages are still with us, it’s much easier to get
rid of them nowadays. With practically every
part of the ship linked up to some kind of watchdog
system, it’s easy to target and eliminate the
nasty little beasts with a contained burst of
nerve gas that dissipates harmlessly within a
few minutes. Of course, I’ve still got to collect
the bodies myself. But at least by the time I
get up to the ventilation system access port,
they’ll no longer be any issue beyond cleanup.
download the ventilation grid map onto a handheld
interface, then head to the gear room for some
coveralls; there’s no way I’m going into a tiny
dark tube full of dead rats without something
between my skin and the outside world. Finally
I make my way up to the ventilation system access
and climb in.
my map, I make my way toward the space above
the infested storage room. Strangely, I don’t
come upon any rats along the way. Lovely—I’ll
have to check the extermination system’s records
to get the rats’ locales and come back for another
round of crawling through a dusty air vent to
retrieve their little corpses.
I get closer to the problem area, I hear a faint,
distinct tapping sound. I mentally cross my fingers—I
know all the rats are supposed to be dead, but
everything’s been going wrong on this trip and
I do not particularly want to run into one of
the little fuckers in this cramped space. Up
ahead I can see the broken vent; as I crawl forward,
my hand brushes against something wet, soft,
and slimy, and I recoil in disgust. Have I just
touched a dead, poisoned rat? Could this entire
scouting trip possibly get any worse?
my flashlight down at my hand, I find myself
relieved, but then puzzled. What I’m touching
is not a dead rat; it’s a beautiful, elaborate,
bright orange fungus growing on the bottom of
the air tube. Thin filaments, now mostly crushed
under my hand, rise up delicately from the main
mass; they seem to be slowly moving in the shaft’s
slight air current. Taking a quick look around,
I see that there are a few more of these ahead
of me, and a great cluster of them growing near
the broken air vent.
still relieved that what I touched wasn’t a dead
rat, but I’m getting more confused by the minute.
The air in space-traveling vehicles, especially
those with hyperspace capabilities, is notoriously
dry; in fact, one of the ship’s most expensive
and difficult to maintain systems is the atmospheric
controls, mainly because they have to work so
hard to keep the air humid enough for humanoid
comfort. How could these things possibly be growing
here without any moisture?
the broken air vent, I find the answer to one
question, and open up many more. I discover that
the tapping I heard earlier wasn’t actually tapping,
but dripping. Above me there’s a miniscule crack
in the ceiling of the tube, and what I hope is
just water is dripping steadily out of it, plunking
into the tube and then, obviously, running down
the wall below—explaining the stain on the wall.
I know I’m out of my depth. This tube is the
last accessible place on the ship before you
hit the various layers of the hull. Beyond this
are only the slim, airtight spaces filled with
the kind of heavy-duty insulation a space vehicle
requires, and beyond that the hull tectonics
and infrastructure. Those can only be accessed
when the ship’s in for service, and even then,
it’s a big job; they’re sealed so securely that
not even microscopic particles should be able
to move from them into the occupied areas of
the ship. And yet here there’s not only a breach
in the seal, but water! Water, where it’s impossible
for water to be.
have never even heard of anything like this;
this is way beyond anything I can fix. I decide
I’d better leave it alone and land at the next
approved way station for repairs. I’ll have to
notify my superiors and get approval to dock
ahead of schedule.
air shaft is so narrow that I don’t think I’ll
be able to turn around and go back the way I
came. I consult my handheld interface to locate
the nearest exit ahead of me and try to crawl
toward it as fast as I can—I’ve still got plenty
of other work to do, and I don’t particularly
enjoy hanging out in this fungus-filled tube.
But when I reach the spot where the exit should
be, there’s no hatch there. I must have misread
the map. I try to check it again, but now the
damn thing is on the fritz—all I’m getting is
garbled data and meaningless text, and its making
noises like a cat in a blender. Shit! I crawl
onward a little bit, and breathe a sigh of relief
when I see the faint light of an exit a long
way down the tube.
my flashlight dies. I’m crawling on my hands
and knees through a pitch-black tunnel that may
or may not contain dead rats and is also sporting
some seriously weird fungal growth. All right,
stay calm; just keep crawling toward the light.
Finally I’m out, and just in the knick of time,
too, as I was quickly getting spooked by the
to the cockpit, I have the computer reroute the
ventilation system, then erect a force field
around the problem room and the air shaft itself.
Whatever the cause of this is, it shouldn’t be
difficult to contain it in that isolated area
until I can get it looked at.
I initiate a search for the dead rats—that stain
might not have been rat piss, but the droppings
on the floor certainly were real. Accessing the
eradication protocol, I type in the command to
locate the corpses. Nothing. No results. The
computer claims that there are no dead rats in
the ventilation system, that it hasn’t even run
the eradication sequence since my arrival at
I don’t know what the hell is wrong with my computers,
but I’ve been running around here for hours trying
to fix things without accomplishing a goddamn
thing. I need a drink.
head back to my quarters and the well-stocked
supply of liquor I keep there. Whatever crazy
thing is wrong with these machines can wait.
I open the hatch, but my room light doesn’t come
on. Frustration boiling over, I smash a fist
into the wall console; the lights flash on, and
then I see them: the rats.
rats are all over my bed, their dead bodies piled
in heaps so high I can’t even see the sheets
underneath. Their mouths are open, some of them
with foam still dripping slowly off their tongues.
Their eyes are open too, staring, staring at
me. A few are still twitching erratically. There
is a smell of smoke, and of filth, in the room.
I suppress an urge to vomit.
a warning light and alarm begin to go off. I’ve
got no time to process the situation here; the
computer’s telling me that the problem in the
storage room has reached emergency proportions.
What in hell is going on here? I’ve never heard
of so many malfunctions happening all at once.
I turn and leave the room; alarm warnings are
sounding endlessly as I board the lift, and red
lights are flashing, flashing, making me dizzy.
I want to close my eyes. I want to lie down.
I want to get off this ship, even if it means
dying in the void of space. I want to die if
I can’t escape these lights and alarms and the
rats, fuck! My thoughts have gone wild; I try
to stay calm as I make my way back toward the
storage room, try not to think of what I’ve just
seen in my bedroom, of what in hell it could
possible mean. But the feel of vomit rising in
my throat stays with me.
lift stops but the door only opens about a foot.
I cut my hands pushing it back enough to squeeze
through. As I walk down the hallway, I wipe my
palms against my pants, leaving slick blood stains.
I see what has happened in the storage area,
it’s all I can do to keep myself from falling
to the floor and weeping. Inside the force field
I have erected, the room and the hallways nearby
have been flooded with nearly five feet of water.
Where can it be coming from? How is it possible?
There isn’t this much water stored anywhere in
the whole fucking ship! Anchored on several of
the walls are nightmarish, three-foot-high versions
of the fungi I found in the air shaft. I can
see now that they are moving on their own, occasionally
grabbing one of the dead rats that are floating
on the water’s surface and putting them into
a dark hole that I can only assume is some sort
of mouth. I sink to my knees and retch dryly,
my forehead pressed against the force field.
A stiff, bloated rat gradually sinks to the floor
in front of my face, belly up. This isn’t happening.
there is a terrifying rush of sound and air around
me. As I rise unsteadily to my feet, I watch
in horror as something tears through the ship’s
hull into the storage room. A vast breach opens
up, and the water and other horrors floating
there are sucked out into space. The force field
holds momentarily, but then shorts out with a
buzz as the air around me is sucked violently
outward. I cling desperately to a railing, but
I know I won’t be able to hold on for long.
I can see what has destroyed my ship. The bird,
the great, fiery bird from my dream, is hovering
outside the hull breach, the lift clutched in
her great talon like a crushed can. She is screaming,
the sound still clear above the rushing air around
me. She speaks. “Do you see now, Zap? Do you
see? Let go.”
looks into my eyes. I can’t bear it. I turn away,
I let go, I feel my fingers slip. I am gone.
* * *
come to, lying on the floor in the command center.
There is no blood on my pants. There are no cuts
on my palms. A quick scan of the instruments
shows that nothing, not a single fucking connection
on the ship, has any problems whatsoever. No
rats anywhere, either. All clear, it tells me.
All systems normal. My god, was it all a dream?
But I still have bile in my throat.
I rise to my feet. My knees are shaking and I’m
not certain I can walk the short distance to
the stasis room. But I will make it—I’ll make
it even if I have to crawl there on my belly.
at the walls for support, I reach Jzaria’s unit.
Once there, I initiate the sequence that will
bring her back to consciousness. Then I sink
to my knees, spent, empty, hopeless.
her pod opens, Jzaria steps out, then falls to
the floor beside me, retching and gasping for
breath. When she can finally look up, our eyes
have you done to me?”
sits up and pulls my head into her lap, gently
stroking my hair. “Shh, Zap, don’t be afraid.
I’ll help you if you’ll let me. You’re halfway
there. Now you can follow me. Now you are one
of us. The time is here…” Her voice drifts off
into a toneless, nonsense croon; I don’t know
which one of us is farther away from sanity.
I rest my head on her lap and weep.
TO BE CONTINUED…