Bonded: Three and Four

Chapter Three: Connor

What do you do when everything you know is gone, the world has ended, and you slept through it?

I did the only thing I could think of, and headed back to Doc’s lab. There was work to be done. First, I sealed her cryo unit. There wouldn’t be space to take her when I left in the pod, so this would have to do as her final resting place.

I grinned, despite myself. She’d always said she’d be happy dying in her lab.

She finally had.

But what the hell had happened while I was out?

The room smelt of death, but beneath it I could scent the strange woman. My nose wrinkled. Scavenger.

Useful, but no better than a graverobber.

That’s not fair, Connor.

Damn it. Even in death, I was going to have the Doc looking over my shoulder.

But she was right.

I leaned back in her office chair, looking at the blank screens, mind wheeling through the last hour.

Poor woman had come to do a job, expecting an empty ship, and I go and half-strangle her.

The console hummed faintly beneath my hands.

She’d at least gotten some power back to the rest of the systems before locking herself into one of the empty bunks.

Empty. Like the entire ship.

I shook my head, still groggy from the cryo, but there was no time for that. I had to find out what happened.

At my touch, the keyboard powered up, and I entered my password, hoping the systems weren’t too damaged to let me into the bridge logs remotely.  Long seconds stretched with no response. Well, then. I closed my eyes, trying to figure what the next steps would be now, until a ghost spoke.

“Connor.” I jumped, and instead of the the files I’d hoped for, Doc’s face filled the screen. Her eyes were bright, but she chewed her lower lip, a sure sign that something wasn’t going as she’d planned.

“It should only be you seeing this, but just in case, you’ll forgive me if I’m a little vague.”

I stretched a hand out to touch the side of her wrinkled face. The vid shook, and a rack of glassware fell off the shelves.. She’d filmed this during the attack. From the angle, she’d sat here, in this room, to record.

“I don’t have time for details, but apparently I’ve been cutting things closer to the wind than I thought. I’m sorry, so sorry. I thought you all were safe.”

Another shudder of the frame, harder this time.

“They came during your regeneration, and I couldn’t stop the process. I have to believe you’ll wake on your own, and find this.”

My gut clenched. There was nothing I could have done, but still….

“I’ve sent your brothers away to wait for orders. I’m afraid they may be waiting a long time.”

She looked over her shoulder towards the corridor behind her. Reflexively, I turned, but whatever she’d heard coming for her was long gone.

“I have to go now.” She reached towards me, and for a moment I could believe she was still there. “And so do you.” Her eyes twinkled, just a bit, until the lights flickered.

“Well, that’s my cue. I’d tell you not to hunt for answers, but that’d be silly, wouldn’t it?”

She reached for the cam switch, off-screen. “Take care of yourself. All my boys are good. You’re one of my favorites, but don’t tell the others.

Then darkness.

I sat in the half-light of the glowing blank screen, mind whirling.  How had her cryo unit failed? Or had she done something to it deliberately?  If she’d sent the Pack away, it would have been for good reason.

All of her secrets, her running. She used to joke we’d play both sides of the game and find a third.

And it had all caught up with her.

My claws dug into the arms of the chair.

Whoever had done this, what had they come here for? And did they get it?

And what was I going to do about the curly haired woman who might have just stumbled into a war?

 

Chapter Four: Eris

Despite being on a ghost ship, I didn’t wake until Nixie broke comm silence. “Good morning, Eris. I found the laws you were looking for.”

I pulled my hair up into a bun tight and neat enough not to get tangled in my helmet later. “Anything interesting?”

It depends on the nature of his modifications,” she told me. “However, the injection of non-human DNA into human embryos is outlined as illegal in no uncertain terms. Genetic editing is considered acceptable after the age of majority, but only under very strict limitations, and the human immune response makes altering an adult’s genes difficult.”

I frowned at myself in the mirror and left, headed for the bridge. “So he was probably modified illegally, is what you’re saying.”

With more data on him, I could tell you more.” She sounded hopeful. “The Daedalus’ system security check should be complete by now.”

“You really want to get into her databanks, don’t you?” I said, amused.

We have yet to encounter many scientific vessels,” Nixie said. “I believe I will enjoy the supplementary reading material.

“Yeah, well, try not to learn anything that’ll end up classified.”

I can only promise my utmost discretion.”

This was why I liked having a full-fledged AI on board. How many captains got to banter with their ship computers first thing in the morning?

***

The man was on the bridge when I got there, leaning back in one of the chairs. He was already watching the door when I came in. Had he heard me coming?

I didn’t acknowledge him at first, heading instead for the power allocation interface. It was only after I’d given Nixie access to the system that I turned to look at him, keeping my face carefully neutral.

He didn’t seem suspicious, though. Instead, he looked even more worn than he had the night before.

“Morning,” I said. “You get any sleep?”

He laughed, the warm, rich sound surprising me. “Not really. You try waking up after a months long nap. Sleep isn’t high on my list.”

He pushed to his feet and held out one hand. “Connor Miles. Sorry about yesterday.”

The heat of his skin when our hands touched took me aback. “Eris Vance. No worries. Not how I’d want to wake up either.”

“Anyway,” he continued, dropping his hands back to his sides. “What are we doing today?”

“Emergency repairs on the hull. You can help, if you want, but otherwise you’re best off staying out of my way.”

“Can’t you start on the pod?” Frustration came through in his voice. So much for getting of on a better foot.

“Nope. I need to have a stable environment to work in. I don’t know how long repairs are going to take, and I don’t want to risk the hull failing on us while I’m eyeballs deep in the pods engine, do you?”

“Fine,” he said, shrugging, but the tension rolled off of him. “Got nothing better to do. Where are we headed?”

“Starboard side, anterior hull,” I told him. “After I pick up my suit. It won’t be very interesting.”

He just grunted, shoving his hands into his pockets. He’d changed overnight into a plain crew-neck and cargo pants. Popular choices on ships where the only dress codes were dictated by practicality, but their drab, matching color schemes made them look a bit like military fatigues.

He followed me across the ship in silence, and I couldn’t help but notice that his footfalls were much lighter than my own. I could barely hear him behind me, and after a while it started to make me jumpy.

I ended up talking just for an excuse to keep an eye on him. “Were…you able to figure anything out? About what happened, I mean.”

“Some,” he said. “Enough.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well, is there anything you’d be willing to—”

“You don’t want to know,” he said shortly.

“I’d rather be the judge of that,” I said.

“If you knew enough to judge, it’d be too late,” he rumbled. “Trust me on this.”

“Not likely,” I muttered. “Can you at least tell me—”

“No.”

“—whether there’s anything specific I can take off the ship to get a profit out of this?” I persisted, glaring.

I’d had my eye on some of the tech already, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. “Look, if you want to pretend everything that happened here is classified for some serious reason, that’s fine. But I’m asking you as a professional. You’re not going to be able to take this whole ship with you, and I’m guessing you don’t want it found. So, what is it safe for me to take?”

He was silent for a long moment, looking straight ahead and ignoring my glances in his direction. “I didn’t do much work with inventory,” he said eventually. “But I’ll check. Don’t go snooping around in the ship’s records, by the way. They’re heavily encrypted, but you might end up with more than you want to find.”

“Fine,” I said. It wasn’t like I personally needed to read them to find out what they contained—if he’d forgotten about Nixie, there was no way I was going to remind him. “Here we are.”

It was the last stretch of undamaged hallway before the hull breach. I pulled on my suit the rest of the way, fussing to make sure the gloves were seated perfectly and the suit itself reported no problems.

Then I checked and double-checked the hold of the tether and ran its length under my hands, verifying there were no weak points. As always, I couldn’t afford to make any mistakes—when it came to spacewalks, you never could.

“Are you going to be okay?” he asked.

I started to talk, realized he wouldn’t be able to hear me, and turned on my speaker. I could barely hear a tinny version of my voice ringing out of the suit.

“I’ve done this for years,” I said. “I’m as safe as anyone’s going to be. You’ll need to go back to the last hallway; when I open this door, the air’s going to rush out. It’s only the emergency airlock keeping this corridor habitable.”

“Sure.” Then he paused. “Will we be able to talk while you’re out there?”

“Just go to an intercom panel. Nixie’ll patch me through.” I waved pointedly at him.

He shrugged and left, still frowning. I ignored him and looked for a secure tether port to attach my spacesuit to. Spaceship hallways always had them at standardized intervals, no matter the model, to aid in repair and rescue should the ship be damaged. I found one and plugged in, checking that both ends were firmly secured. Then I took a deep breath and started the procedure to open the emergency airlock.

I didn’t like spacewalks. I never had, and I probably never would, although I had to admit they could pack quite the adrenaline rush.

I wrestled the circular handle on the door around once, twice, three times, and felt the seal start to shift, and the door to start to open.

My tether twitched on the floor of the hallway, beginning to writhe as the air was slowly sucked out. The breeze around me turned quickly into a gale, and for a moment or two I had to brace myself against the wall to make sure I wasn’t blown out of the airlock. That really wasn’t my favorite way to start a spacewalk.

The gale died down to a breeze again, and the airlock doors slid the rest of the way open. I stared into the darkened hallway for a moment or two, and then stepped through the doors into it.

The artificial gravity wasn’t completely gone here, which was good, but the damaged systems in the area had weakened it considerably. I launched myself up to the ceiling and switched on the electromagnets on my gloves, landing spider-like beside the first large crack I could see.

Suddenly, loud static crackled in my ear, and I jumped, shrieking a bit. “What the—”

It’s just me,” came a voice, harsh and too close to my ear. “Like you said, your AI patched me through.”

“Right,” I said, and took a ragged breath. I checked to make sure I was still firmly attached to the ledge, and forced myself to get my bearings before I could become too nervous. Best to get this over with quickly.

There were multiple breaches in the hull, and the largest would easily fit me. Through the gaps, I could see faint hints of starlight and stronger light from the nearby sun reflecting on space debris. I took a deep, calming breath, and then, before I could start breathing too quickly, focused on climbing my way up the side of the hull.

Is everything alright?” Connor asked.

“Fine,” I said, teeth gritted. I reached the edge of the largest breach and began to feel my way up the side, towards the outer shell of the ship. “I should be outside the outer hull in a minute. I’ll start with a bird’s-eye view, and then check whether there’s anything the systems can tell me.”

Understood,” he said, and then, to my surprise, added, “Be careful.”

“Always am,” I answered automatically, looking over the gap and plotting out my trajectory. I lowered myself into a crouch, turned off the electromagnets on my boots, and pushed off.

I drifted toward the opening a little faster than I’d hoped, and thoughts of ripping open my suit on a jagged edge rushed through my head. I knew the suit was much sturdier than that, but that didn’t stop the thoughts from coming.

I shot cleanly through the opening, with only a little bit of scraping at the edges of my suit. The sky opened up over my head, and as I drifted further away from the ship, it continued to open, until it surrounded me almost completely. The outer hull of the Daedalus spread out before me, and I resisted the urge to squeeze my eyes shut tight.

Most of the steps in safe spacewalking were tricky and important, but this was a major one. I waited until I was several dozen meters away from the ship, and then slowly began to clamp on the winch, slowing the cord that was playing out from my suit.

Brake too fast and I would be in danger of going into a spin, or angling myself to crash against the hull. I’d done both before, and neither of them were pleasant. At least stopping slowly gave me the illusion of control.

The meters flashed by, and then crawled, and then stopped. I was hanging in space, relatively immobile.

“…Eris?” came the voice in my ear. I flinched in surprise; I’d already almost forgotten Connor was there.

“What?” I snapped.

You were muttering to yourself.

“Was I?” I hadn’t noticed. “Guess I’m not used to company.”

Connor was silent for a long moment, and when he spoke again, there was an odd rumble in his voice. “Are you sure you couldn’t use backup? I know how to spacewalk. Sometimes a second pair of eyes can come in handy.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I snapped. “I am perfectly capable of doing a simple diagnostic on my own. I’ve—”

I’m not saying you can’t,” he snapped back, cutting me off. “I’m saying you shouldn’t have to, if—”

I was waiting for him to finish, already lining up a cutting reply, when I felt a shudder run through my entire body. At first I thought it was me—it had to be, what else could it be? But then the cord in front of me started go slack and I realized this was a much, much bigger problem.

I hadn’t seen it because everything was moving relative to me, and I hadn’t heard it because I was in my own little bubble of air; but the rumble I heard over the speaker a split-second after confirmed what I was seeing.

The far side of the Daedalus—the good side, for the most part—had been struck by debris from the meteoroid field, and the ship had broken free from the mooring it had made against a large asteroid.

We were taking damage, and outside the ship wasn’t safe. Hell, inside probably wasn’t particularly safe either, but had to be better than out here.

“Nixie, report,” I rushed out. “What damage are you reading? How are communications? Is there any debris threatening to get between me and the Daedalus?”

Crash is still in progress,” Nixie said. “Readings made now would be premature. Structural integrity dropping; central command system unaffected.”

I listened to her reel off reports as I watched the ship settle in front of me. At least none of the debris seemed to be coming my way.

I thought I heard Connor cursing in the background as Nixie spoke, but he must have moved away from the console, because I could only hear him faintly.

When I heard Nixie’s voice again, she sounded…different, somehow. Strained, maybe.

Power supply failing in the area you left from, Eris. There seem to be some structural integrity issues.” A pause, and then her next question made the blood freeze in my veins: “Is your cable secure?”

I reached down with my gloved fingers, feeling for the cable. I tugged experimentally, only to confirm it was loose and weightless under my hands.

I swore loudly and optimistically tried to pull myself, hand over hand, back to the ship. I didn’t move.

What’s going on?” Connor demanded. I ignored him, focusing on pulling as carefully as I could. The hallway was long, and the breach in the hull was ragged. Maybe, just maybe the cord could be tangled in the wreckage, even if it had detached, and I could winch myself in that way.

Eris?

I shushed him. “Working on it. Nixie, can you see anything?”

All external cameras are down in that area,” Nixie said. “You’re—“

Something struck my helmet, from behind and without warning, and for a second everything was black.

I spun end over end, fast enough that the stars around me blurred. I blinked stupidly behind my visor, trying to put together what had happened. Struck from behind…a piece of debris, then?

I was in a meteoroid field, and Nixie had just said that the side of the ship I was on was basically one big blind spot. She wouldn’t have been able to warn me, especially if she was distracted…

I swore again, long and loud, trying to drive away the panic that was suddenly choking me.

Eris!” Connor snapped over the intercom, but even though the speaker was right beside my ear, he sounded distant. Was the Daedalus’ communication system failing? I was on the wrong damn side for my own ship to be of much help.

I opened my eyes briefly. The scenery outside was still spinning, and I quickly shut them again, taking a deep, calming breath. As I did so, I realized I was feeling lightheaded. The communication system probably wasn’t suffering yet, then—it was probably just me.

I coughed once, twice, trying to force the blood back up to my head, and then spoke. “Nixie,” I said, and my voice sounded oddly flat in my ears, “do you still have diagnostics on my suit? Is it damaged?”

The primary diagnostic system in your suit is down,” Nixie reported after a moment. “I believe it may be possible that the oxygen supply has been compromised.” She paused. “Please try to remain calm.

I bit back a hysterical laugh. “Great.” Stars whirled over my head, and for a second I couldn’t breathe.

I could, though, and I knew I could. I sucked in one breath, held it a few seconds, and hissed it out again between my teeth.

The Daedalus was a gray blur that sped by on each rotation, the Nyx a smaller blur that I could only occasionally see out of the corner of my eye.

I focused on the visor inches from my face and the thick layers of vacuum-sealed space suit that was keeping me safe. I pretended I was in a very small ship that was in freefall, not a tiny speck of a human about to be carried off to my certain death.

…is? Eris!

“I’m here,” I gasped. “I’m not hurt. What’s going on over there?”

Hell if I know,” he said. “Your damn ship computer’s talking too fast and I can’t make anything out. Look, how long can you last out there?”

“Several hours,” I said. “Maybe. Probably. As long as I don’t hyperventilate.”

A brief silence, broken by the crackle of static, and then another Nixie spoke, sounding tentative. “Your air renewal system was damaged in the collision. You should still have at least three-quarters of an hour’s worth of air, according to my current calculations, but those may be inaccurate.”

I fought to keep my breaths even. “Wonderful,” I said flatly. I was beyond the point of surprise and was a little angry I hadn’t seen this newest problem coming. Why had I been naïve enough to ignore the worst-case scenario?

With that little air, there’s no way she could use emergency depressurization to jet back over here,” Connor said. “Is there?

“Is that even possible?” That solution wasn’t one I’d ever seen in an emergency handbook, but at least he had any ideas at all right now.

Normally, yes. Not fabulous, but an option in emergencies,” Connor said shortly. “Nyx, do you have anything that could pick her up? Magnets, clamps?

Nixie didn’t bother correcting him about her name. “My outer electromagnets are too strong to be used safely. The clamps, too, are likely to rupture the space suit if used.”

Connor sighed, aggravated. “Fine. You figure out the nearest airlock to where she is; I’ll go get my spacesuit.”

“You can’t be serious,” I said flatly. “It’s too dangerous out here. I just proved that.”

I can handle it.” He didn’t even sound angry—just determined.

”Have you ever even put on a spacesuit before?”

Yes,” he said shortly, then added, “The longer I spend talking, the longer it’ll take to get you back in here.

He was right about that, I figured. I thought it over briefly before accepting that I didn’t have much of a choice. “…Go.”

He went, judging by the radio silence.

“Nixie,” I said quietly, “If you have any relaxing ambient noise or anything like that, it would be greatly appreciated.”

Understood. Searching.” In the space of a breath, the sound of lapping waves and chimes was ringing through the speakers. I settled back and took a deep breath, pretending I was somewhere where it made sense to hear it.

It was a losing battle, though. I could feel my heart rate picking up slowly but steadily, pounding insistently against my ribs.

Every time I tried to slow down my breathing, my breaths got deeper to compensate, and I still felt like I was drowning. There was nothing out here that was going to calm me down, because a very primal part of me was convinced I was going to die.

Worse, everything logic had to offer said my instincts were making a valid point.

There was a fresh crackle over my loudspeakers. “This is Connor. Do you read? Am I on the right frequency?

“Yes,” I said, my voice cracking. I tried again. “Yes, I read you. Where are you?”

Are you crying?” He sounded confused.

“No,” I choked out, and realized I was. “Shut up.”

You didn’t strike me as the type.

“I’m agoraphobic,” I snapped at him. “Space is as big an open space as it gets. Just get me out of here.”

And so you decided to work on a ship? Good choice.”

“Ha ha,” I said. “Ships are fine. Ships are great. And usually spacewalks don’t end up like this.”

Point taken.” He actually sounded slightly amused. “Very logical of you. Just hang on for a bit, and I’ll do what I can to bring you back.”

I was suddenly very glad that he was there. Not just because he was going to try to rescue me—though I appreciated that—but because there was someone else who could imagine what I was so afraid of, who could talk to me and keep me calm.

I hadn’t had someone to help me out when I was in trouble for a very long time.

If the worst happened and I died out here, Connor at least would know what had happened to me; he might be willing to take Nixie, even—make sure she was as safe and well-looked-after as she could be without me there.

He already carried one person’s legacy, if not that of his whole crew, but if I asked him—if it came to that—would he be willing to take another last wish or two?

My musing was interrupted when his voice crackled over the comm again. How long had it been? Five minutes? Twenty? I felt almost like I was half-asleep; maybe my oxygen was already running out. “I’m opening the airlock now; let me see if I can’t find you.

I waited. The stars still spun overhead, much faster than I liked and far too fast to catch a glimpse of him at this distance. I shut my eyes against my rising nausea; throwing up in my spacesuit wouldn’t be fun.

“…There you are,” he said eventually, and I caught an unexpected note of warmth in his voice. “Okay, let’s do this.

I gritted my teeth and opened my eyes. The landscape was a harsh mishmash of stark reflected light against the blackness of space. It was still moving too quickly for me to catch a glimpse of him.

“…First launch didn’t go far enough,” he said after a few minutes, tone brusque. “Reeling back in now. The second one will go better.”

“You have to switch off the electromagnets at the right time,” I told him.

I felt tightly restrained impatience in his voice. ”I’ll keep that in mind.

Maybe a minute later, he spoke again, tone suddenly more urgent. “Okay, I’m on a good trajectory this time. Keep an eye out for me.

I forced my eyes open, trying to see past the blur of motion. “I can hardly see the ship,” I admitted. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to—wait.”

One dot, vibrantly white with segments of bright, artificial color, slowly getting bigger on each rotation. “Yeah, see you too,” he grunted. “Decelerating.”

He was getting close enough that I could almost tell his velocity. I held my breath as I followed him with my eyes, but felt my throat tighten. He’d almost stopped, but not close enough to reach me. He was only a few yards short, if that, but…

This is close enough,” he said, voice hard. “Don’t make any sudden movements.”

Obediently, I froze in my suit, still spinning in place. Over the comm, I could hear a strange hissing noise, and Connor muttering under his breath.

The hissing cut off, and Connor seemed to be drifting closer again. “Ready?” he said. “I’m going to grab you—now!

I felt a jerk as his hands locked on my suit at the wrist and shoulder. He pulled me in front of him as we spun wildly together, making a cage with his limbs and locking me against his chest. He braced against his tether line to slow us to a stop, and we hung in silence for a second, just breathing.

Feeling any more secure?” he asked.

I could barely feel his grip through the material of the suit, but it was helping. “Yeah,” I gasped. “It’s good not to be spinning anymore.”

Good,” he said. “I’ll wind us in.

He did. The winching wasn’t particularly fast, but I could see the ship inching steadily closer to us. I shut my eyes and tried to work through the last of my panic. My heart was hammering, and even aware of it, I wasn’t able to slow it down.

When he spoke again, his voice was soft. “Are you okay?

“Y…yeah,” I said. My voice was shakier than I thought it would be. “Should have plenty of air to get me back in.”

I meant in general.” The rough undertone was still present in his voice. “What’s an agoraphobe doing in deep space by herself? Are you some kind of masochist?

“No,” I said firmly. “I don’t have any problems when I’m in a ship, and I’ve never had a spacewalk go this wrong before. Besides, it’s better than being planetside.”

If things go wrong planetside, you usually don’t end up dead.” He didn’t sound amused.

“Usually?” I giggled. The lack of oxygen might have been making things funnier than they were. Maybe.

Usually,” he repeated firmly. Then, “Hold on tight and get ready to switch your boots on.

 

***

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