When the first blow hit the ship, Kai’Negli was thrown across his enclosure with a violence he’d never known in his long life. He thudded into the wall of his tank so hard he lost consciousness for a moment. When he came to, he reeled with pain and consternation. He had incurred soft-tissue damage, for sure. He’d regenerate, but it was a blow to his ego to be treated with such blatant contempt.
His limbs curled in impotent rage and he went immediately to assess the damage to the ship. Some of his equipment was failing from the impact, but he was able to determine that there was a breach on the starboard side—a gaping hole in the protective envelope of the ship. If there had been sectilians still alive onboard, thousands would have met dusk from explosive decompression.
He was incredulous. This was a science vessel. It was unthinkable to damage a functional ship so wantonly.
He itched to retaliate, but of course he had no recourse and they knew it. Without a commanding officer he was powerless to do anything but endure this insult. They’d made their point. Perhaps they thought he’d change his mind under threat.
He would not.
He set several thousand cadres of microscopic escutcheon squillae to move into the damaged areas. It would take years for them to close that gap, harvesting material from other areas of the ship molecule by molecule. But if anyone could guide them to such a feat, it was Kai’Negli.
Then he saw it. Red light in his peripheral vision. He rotated his funnel to change direction and froze in place, his eyes widening. They wouldn’t dare.
A laser was shining through the opening they’d created in the hull of the ship. They were slicing open his enclosure.
He trembled with horror.
How could they even contemplate such an action? Because he’d refused them? They would kill him for that? Why not just let him be? Move on?
He had to verify it with his own eyes. He jetted closer to that end of his habitat. Without the tough exterior of the ship in the way and the escutcheon to re-form over the cuts, there was little to impede the laser. The line they were scribing was moving fast and water was already spilling out of the opening.
He marshaled every squillae in the area to converge on the line already cut to re-bond the material. They moved en masse but most were caught up in the flood of escaping water, carried away to be lodged within shards frozen in the vacuum of space.
Nothing could save him. He had nothing left. He was powerless to stop them.
Perhaps they expected him to capitulate now, but he would never cooperate with thugs like this. This kind of behavior was beneath him.
He watched the laser mercilessly cut across the barrier between himself and the void. Cracks began to form in the transparent material as the pressure of the water pushed against the weakened areas. He could hear the tank creaking and groaning under the strain.
He never would have guessed he’d meet dusk in this manner.
Suddenly it gave way.
He didn’t even fight the rush of water.
The sluice hurled him through the line of the laser itself. He barely registered the pain of amputation as he flipped end over end, his remaining limbs reaching out and finding nothing to cling to. He was thrown clear of the ship, his mantle fluttering with no water left to push against.
The last thing he saw before dusk settled over him was the Portacollus initiating a jump sequence and leaving him behind.
Jane Holloway’s heart slammed against her rib cage as microseconds ticked by. She could see the leading edge of the swirl, smudging the stars beyond into indistinct commas of light. They were almost to the tunnel. Her vision blurred as the wormhole generator deep inside the ship roared to a crescendo, dominating her consciousness, linking machine to living flesh through Ei’Brai. She could feel it resonating in her bones.
Absently, she felt her body lean against the straps, eagerly pushing toward the wormhole as if she could make the ship get there faster somehow. Pain pulsed in her head with every heartbeat. It felt like her brain could split in half. She did her best to ignore it. It wasn’t important. She focused all her concentration on the jump.
Jane breathed shallowly, stubbornly clinging to consciousness and the mental link with Ei’Brai. She’d felt the rest of the crew wink out ages ago, though she knew it had only been tiny fractions of a second. It felt like forever.
A seemingly endless stream of calculations—distance algorithms, wormhole formulae, coordinates in space—flowed from Ei’Brai through her, then the ship’s computer, and finally the drive in a seamless and nearly instantaneous cascade of incomprehensible data.
She could not let go. If she did, the wormhole jump would fall short and they’d have to add another one to the route. That was the last thing she wanted to do. The fewer jumps they had to endure, the better.