As he was about to leave the airlock, to propel once more out into space, Gunnar steeled himself to glance back at Engineering. That place, once a second home to him, was now a charred and hollowed-out ruin. He’d come to terms with that. All he wanted, the one thing he wished for above all else, was to look back and not see a giant goddamn spider crawling after them. In the grand scheme of things it wasn’t much to ask, that the creature needed to breathe oxygen, that it abandoned its catch, as well as all other potential prey, out of self-preservation.
And there was nothing behind him.
“Well thank God for small favors,” he sighed. Then he let go and drifted out into the void.
The three men made their way up and around the outside of the ship, passing level after level of the Ark starting with Deck Thirteen: Energy and Propulsion. The massive engines at the rear of the ship, driven by the Hawking Drive, were silent and cold.
They’d agreed to use as little propellant as necessary, in case their stay out there became extended. They’d tried to reactivate the Dorniers on their dead recharging station, hoping to use the drones for the task ahead, at least to get Svarog his own propellant, but the units didn’t respond to any of their commands. Even when Gunnar opened one up and tried to manually reboot the unit it failed to respond. It was as if someone had remotely deactivated the Dorniers.
Svarog and his Edenist buddies knew what they were doing- and that scared him. That was why Gunnar towed Svarog behind him, using a length of nanometal cable they’d found in Engineering. It wasn’t that he was particularly worried about saving Svarog’s life, it was that he wanted the crazy bastard and his club of lunatics to answer for their crimes.
Desanto, meanwhile, had barely said a word. Gunnar didn’t blame him. Finding out a segment of people you live with think you’re the Antichrist had to have its effects on a guy. Gunnar got the feeling Desanto had a hundred questions for their new friend, but none he wanted to ask in front of anyone. Which meant he at least partly believed that what Svarog would say was true. All that psychotic rhetoric fed right into the problems Desanto had been having. The guy was still adjusting to the hack job Sunn had done on his brain, and here he was being served a plateful of you’re-the-devil.
Gunnar needed to squash that shit before it got under Desanto’s skin. He turned to see Svarog, his passenger gripping the cable and holding on for the ride. “These abnormal ones,” Gunnar started. Just the name made Svarog visibly uncomfortable.
“When you say they’re the Creator’s children, you’re talking about Blackwood?”
“There’s only one Creator,” Svarog shot back.
“Yeah, but someone had to create him, right?”
Svarog thought about it a moment. “You’re trying to confuse me.”
“I’m trying to wrap my head around your ideology, because it sounds pretty fucking flawed to me.”
Svarog blinked. “The Gods made the Creator. The Creator made the Ark.”
“And the abnormal ones.”
He took another long pause. “We don’t speak about that,” Svarog said.
“I get that. I wouldn’t want to, either. But I’m a little confused here- I thought you guys worshiped Blackwood, yet you’re saying he made these ‘abnormal ones’ that stop you from getting to Eden? So which is it- do you think he’s the second coming of Jesus or is he the snake tempting you with evil fruit?”
Yet another pause. “B-both, I suppose. He shows us the path with one hand and takes it away with the other. We are all rats in his maze.”
Gunnar snorted. “Pretty good for an ice pop.” They passed Deck Twelve. Gunnar thought of Abigail.
“The Creator’s power extends beyond that physical shell you see. You wouldn’t understand.”
“You’re right, I wouldn’t.” Above all, Gunnar still couldn’t believe the Edenists thought Desanto was some kind of Antichrist figure. He didn’t blame Desanto for the crazy beliefs of the Cultists- far from it- but he did wonder where they got their ideas. Most people, if they absolutely, positively had to choose an Antichrist, would choose Gunnar rather than Desanto.
He was almost offended by their choice.
“So in this maze of yours, is Desanto the cheese, or the poison,” Gunnar asked, and Desanto threw him a look.
“That depends on who you ask. Most think he’s the poison. The single greatest threat to our voyage to Eden.”
“Hence the bomb up his ass. There are easier ways to kill a guy, you know.” Desanto threw him an even stronger look. “What? I’m not saying I want them to, it just seems over-complicated.”
Svarog’s eyes had a strange, glazed look, as if he were lost in some distant past. “The death of the vessel, that was only half the reason for the attack.”
“Okay, I’ll bite- what’s the other?” Deck Eleven, Farms and Food Processing.
“To take the Ark off the false path, the path of the heretics.”
“How does setting off a mining charge in Engineering do that?”
Svarog’s eyes focused, rejoining the present time. “It doesn’t,” he said. “Not on its own.”
Desanto and Gunnar looked at each other, realizing what he meant.
“How many more bombs are there,” Desanto asked, finally breaking his silent stretch.
“First we cut off the hands, so they can’t fight back,” Svarog said. “Then we silence the mouth, so they can’t call for help. And finally, we sever the brain.”
“So they can’t think for themselves,” Desanto finished.
“If it can’t think, it can’t heal. If it can’t heal it can die. That way is the true path. The path to Eden.”
Gunnar felt the pull of fear in his gut. “Jesus Christ. Okay, so two more bombs, Communications and-”
A loud static-sound came through their comms, cutting Gunnar off and scaring all of them. It was only coming through in waves, but the static contained a definite pattern, morphing and tuning in and out until it became a clear yet hollow voice.
“Hello, Erick. Hello, Gunnar,” the voice broke through. Gunnar would have known its owner anywhere.
It was Sunn. The brain that was about to be severed.
Doctor Hannigan was angry at herself. She hadn’t followed her instincts about Allcleric Crick, and as a result she’d gotten herself into trouble, the kind she might not come back from.
“We would be honored if you joined us on this holy day,” Crick had said. In so many words the Allcleric had revealed himself to her, showing her his true self. Of all the religions he carried with him, clearly there was one he held above all- the newest, and possibly the most dangerous.
He was an Edenist.
She’d tried to run, of course, but by then a pair of Edenists had shown up to help the Allcleric. The bigger of the two had grabbed her, pinning her arms against her back as she struggled to break free of the large man’s grip. When Crick rejoined her, he had slipped a knife out from his Allcleric garb.
“Please, Doctor,” he smiled, “no fighting- not today.”
“Go to hell,” she replied.
Hannigan had been to Deck Eight plenty of times, but almost always on the opposite end, in the Science Labs. She’d only set foot in the Mining area a handful of times, usually to treat a Miner for an injury they’d sustained on an expedition. She found they were a stubborn group, who took pride in shaking off injuries and pretending it didn’t hurt. The rare times she did see a Miner, it was usually in the privacy of her Medlab, far away from the judgmental eyes of the others.
As such, the Mining Deck was still something of a new sight for her. Where Engineering had one small airlock for Mechanics to make spacewalks and service the hull, Mining was designed so that nearly half the deck would be opened up to space. That way the small fleet of seven spacecraft would be free to exit the Ark. There was one large Driller as well as two, smaller Drillers, plus three Tows for hauling materials and one Demolitions Craft. Machinery filled the deck, all of it dedicated to processing asteroids. Inside those Separators, hunks of asteroid were broken down into their valuable components for the Ark to use, including Hydrogen, Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Iron and so many other industrial metals and elements.
All of this had once been explained to her by Frank Peabody, the Lead Miner who was currently bleeding fifty feet from where she stood. She pulled free of the large Cultist’s grip. “Stop touching me,” she hissed. “I’m not going anywhere.”
He pointed a thick finger at her. “Be a good girl now,” he chastised.
She frowned at him. “God help you if you ever need medical attention.”
A strange grin spread across his leathery face. “The Gods are helping me.” Then he pointed to Zane Nolan, busy negotiating with the Holo of Captain Ashby.
Officer Pagani was dying.
While Captain Ashby had been speaking with Zane Nolan, leader of the Cultists, for the last few minutes, her Navigator had been bleeding out. The stab wound, delivered to his belly by her Communications Officer, was ebbing blood in slower and slower pulses. His face had gone pale, the skin sallow and sweaty. She wanted to ask Zane if she could get the man the help he needed, but she was afraid it would come at a terrible price.
Meanwhile, First Officer Oberlander was hunched over Pagani, trying his best to stop the bloodflow with his hands. They’d been trained in basic first aid, but nothing that covered this. Hopes, bloody knife in hand, kept warning Oberlander not to do or try anything funny or he would use the knife again. Ashby had never particularly liked her Communications Officer, but she didn’t imagine he was capable of this. Part of her, the cold, analytical side, was disappointed that she’d underestimated the man’s potential, how far he was willing to go for his mission.
The other half of her, the one watching one of her Bridge Officers bleed to death on the floor, couldn’t stop thinking about her wife. Ness was home alone at that moment. There was a good chance she’d heard the explosion yet was stuck behind the quarantine with no way of knowing what was going on. She hadn’t tried to call yet- that the Captain knew of, it was possible they were blocking calls- but that didn’t mean she hadn’t felt the blast.
Then there was the other thought: what if the Cultists, the so-called Children of Eden, were planning to take Ness hostage? For all she knew they could be inside her quarters that very moment, pulling Ness out by her hair while she begged them to stop, if not for her safety then for theirs, for the good of the quarantine.
And for the baby.
Ashby pushed those thoughts down, drowning them in the washbin of her rage. Not only were those deranged terrorists not going to succeed, they were going to pay for what they’d done. She glanced down at her lap before looking up again.
Zane Nolan’s smugness bled through the Holo. A second man joined him by his side, a man Ashby recognized as Allcleric Crick. By the way they nodded to each other, they were already well-acquainted. “So what will it be, Captain,” Zane asked, “can we count on your cooperation to ensure a peaceful transition?”
“There are many things you can count on in the coming days, Mister Nolan, but my cooperation is not one of them.” She glanced down again, then back up.
Zane nodded with an inevitable smile. “I knew you would be stubborn. That’s why we didn’t stop at just one.”
Ashby squinted. “What are you talking about?”
“Charges, Captain. There are more to come, set to go off in key areas of the ship. That is, unless we stop them first. So again I ask you: what will it be?”
She glanced down one, final time at the screen in her lap, pressing the button that sent the distress call she’d been activating. If the Communications channels were functioning properly, if they had any chance at squashing this thing, it was at that moment heading to the Peace Officer station.
Zane had said it himself: unless we stop them first.
On Deck Four, at the front desk of the Peace Officer station, Officer Nakajima bit her nails.
There had been an accident in Engineering, that she knew. Everyone on board who wasn’t in Cryo had felt the blast. The updates had been scarce, though, and no news was always the worst news. A few family members of Mechanics and Engineers had called in, concerned about the well-being of their husbands and wives and, in one case, the most nervous of the bunch, the girl’s mother. Nakajima could only keep her voice calm and steady and explain to them that they should wait in their quarters for further instructions.
That was fine for the passengers, but even the Peace Officers had been left on standby. Inspector Raymond had ordered them to stay put and await orders from the Captain. “If those people see us running around with our hair on fire, it’s game over,” Raymond said. As was often the case those days, Nakajima didn’t entirely agree with the Inspector’s orders.
She looked up from her screen to glance around at the small station. Song and Eckstein were both at their desks, neither of them looking too concerned. Officer Trent, so new he didn’t have a partner yet, was at the back running through training Holos. The last she knew, Officers Nicolai and Kash were out investigating the disappearance of Baptiste Marlow, while Gadhavi and Wolfe were on patrol. And that, that was the full roster of Ark One’s active Peace Officer force- except one.
Her Partner, Luisa Brigham, had taken the day off to be with her sister. She’d never seen Brigham so shaken up as when the news came in of the attack her sister Vanessa had suffered. It was still a mystery as to what had stung her in Genlab 12. That bit of strangeness, combined with the disappearance of Baptiste, and now the explosion on Fourteen, had put Nakajima and a few others on edge. Some of them hid it better than others, but she saw a lot of doubt behind the eyes of her fellow Officers.
A flashing light caught her eye. Her screen glowed red. A silent alarm had been tripped, and she opened it to see who had sent the distress signal.
It was from the Captain.
Nakajima’s pulse quickened as she read the only two words contained within the message. They appeared to have been typed quickly, with no concern for punctuation or capitalization. They were, simply, mutiny and mining.
Pushing away from the Station’s front desk, Officer Nakajima sprung to her feet and hurried to Inspector Raymond’s office, not bothering to see if Song and Eckstein had seen the distress signal. She knocked briefly before opening the door, finding the Inspector seated, as always, behind his large desk.
“Did you see it?
The man frowned. “I did.”
“What are we waiting for? The Captain needs our help.”
As Inspector Raymond stroked his white goatee, Nakajima glanced up at the ancient musket displayed on his wall. Despite his constant attempts to maintain order and peace on the Ark, the Inspector had a love for the old ways of war, and would, given the chance, speak for hours about names like Lincoln, Lee and Grant.
“Inspector,” she prodded.
“Grab my coat,” he replied.
Finally. Nakajima went to where Inspector Raymond always hung his Inspector’s coat. She slipped the coat off the hook, finding it heavier than expected. As she glanced inside, curious why it weighed so much, she spotted something peeking out from the inside pocket.
It was a knife. A knife with strange carvings in the handle. She’d heard of this kind of knife before, of what kind of people carried them. But before she could finish the thought, she felt a rush of air on the back of her neck as something came down on her.
The hum of a Peace Stick was the last sound she heard before the darkness fell.
Desanto was grateful to hear Sunn’s voice.
He hated that.
Apparently Sunn had been trying to contact them ever since the explosion. It was only by several major reroutes through underlying systems that he had managed to reach them, and even then it took thirty layers of encryption to sneak the signal out. “It appears someone is blocking me,” he explained, “removing me from the Ark one system at a time. I have been attempting to locate them with little success.”
“The boy.” Svarog looked at them in turn, another moment of clarity before he slipped back into darkness. “The most brilliant Coder I’ve ever seen. He’s the one killing your Sunn.”
Gunnar scoffed. “Seriously? The bombs weren’t enough, you had to start ripping out the plugs, too?”
Svarog shrank. “We were just being thorough.”
“Yeah, well being thorough doesn’t mean you fuck the corpse.”
“Shut up,” Desanto spoke over them. “That doesn’t matter now. The only thing that matters is stopping the Edenists before we lose the Ark.”
“Let’s not forget the abnormal ones,” Gunnar pointed.
“Speaking of which,” Desanto addressed Sunn, “Do you know about the creatures on the ship?”
Desanto knew it. From the moment he’d met him, he hadn’t trusted Sunn. There was a saying someone had told him, someone long forgotten: the fly on the wall always has shit on its wings. “How long have you known?”
“Forgive me, but it is my suggestion that we delay this conversation until a more appropriate time. The more pressing issue is your reentry into the Ark before your life functions are put in danger.”
“I can agree with that,” Gunnar said.
“Fine. But we are talking about this the second we get a chance,” Desanto said.
“I understand.” As they made their approach, Sunn coached Desanto and Gunnar how to enter Mining by keying into an emergency access panel. The trick was- and there was always a trick- the command had to be double-confirmed from the inside.
Gunnar exhaled. “Let me guess: you don’t have access.”
“Actually, I do,” Sunn said.
“However,” he added, “there is a group of passengers present on Deck Eight, and as you are no doubt aware I cannot injure or otherwise allow a passenger to come to harm.”
“Tell them to clear the area,” Desanto suggested.
“I am afraid that will not work.” Just then they rounded the final bend of the ship, a massive door becoming visible ahead. It was the oversized airlock where Mining opened up into space, allowing the craft to come and go.
“I have not been entirely forthcoming in regards to the situation on Mining Deck. There is currently a small group of passengers present, this is true, however not all of them would be considered friendly to the idea of helping you. In fact, they are the cause of your current predicament.”
Gunnar grunted angrily. “Edenists. How many?”
“Of the eight passengers present, six seem to be associated with the group in question. Their leader, Zane Nolan, is among them.”
It sounded like a hostage situation to Desanto, though with the current state of the Ark there were technically far more than two hostages on board. “Listen to me- I understand that you can’t put passengers in direct danger, but if we can get in there, we can save far more than eight passengers.”
“I am aware of that,” Sunn replied. “That is why there may be another way.”
A bomb. Those maniacs had set off a bomb on the Ark, and there were still more out there.
Before the information could even settle into Cybele Hannigan’s mind, a light had filled up her eyes, surrounding her in its humming glow. For a moment she thought she was having a stroke, perhaps brought on by the stress of the situation. But then a voice had spoken into her ear.
“Do not be alarmed, Doctor,” it said. “Only you can hear me. I am projecting an exact copy of yourself around you. Please nod if you understand.”
Recognizing Sunn’s voice, she nodded carefully. The light followed her movement.
“Good. At the count of three, please slowly step backward.”
Cybele Hannigan stepped back out of herself. In her place stood a perfect Holo of her. It even swayed slightly, mimicking the movements of a living human being. The feeling of looking at herself from the outside, in the third-person, was surreal to say the least. It was, quite literally, an out-of-body experience.
The Cultists, especially the large one who had dragged her to Mining, hadn’t noticed a thing. They were paying close attention to the conversation between Zane and Ashby’s Holo, their leaders words alternately heated and chilly.
“These are people’s lives you’re playing with,” Ashby spit.
“Funny, Captain, I was about to say the same to you,” Zane replied.
Sunn’s voice filled her ears again. “Doctor, please continue to move backward. There is a Driller to your left. You can hide behind it momentarily.”
Cybele took one, slow step back at a time, straining not to make a sound or catch anyone’s attention with fast movements. Her legs shook and her mind screamed, but slowly, one inch at a time, she made her way around the craft, around its sharpened drill with its mangling, nanosteel teeth, and behind.
She ducked down just as the Large Cultist glanced back. A second later and he would have spotted her for sure. Not breathing, not blinking, she prayed he didn’t try to touch or grab her doppelganger. He’d be in for quite the surprise when his hand passed right through her.
“Now what,” she whispered to Sunn when she felt somewhat safe.
“Now there is something I must ask you to do, though the decision to do it or not must ultimately be yours.”
Well that didn’t sound great. “Okay,” she said, waiting for more.
“First, I must ask you two questions: one, what are your feelings regarding Erick Desanto? And two, would you be opposed to exposing yourself?”
Cybele paused. “Exposing myself…to Erick?”
“No, Doctor,” Sunn replied. “To the vacuum of space.”
It wasn’t just the Captains and Doctors who found themselves having to deal with the uprising. The Children of Eden, who minutes earlier had been trusted neighbors, workers and family members, had begun their coup in earnest throughout the Ark. Knives out, they gathered up unwitting passengers, people still scared and confused by the earlier explosion, and forced them into areas where they could be watched and managed.
“We don’t want to hurt anyone,” one of them said. “We’re here to save you.”
Cornelia and Imani had just been returning from the cafeteria when they heard the shouting. Before they could figure out what the issue was, they found themselves swept up in a crowd of frightened faces. They were pushed down the hall, gathered together by two men with knives who made no concessions for the young or the old. All were shoved along, pushed to move and be silent.
“Where are all the Peace Officers,” Cornelia whispered.
“Maybe they’re in on it,” Imani replied.
“They can’t be. Not all of them.”
Imani frowned. “You don’t know what people can do, especially when you-know-who gets to them.”
She hadn’t wanted to say it. Cornelia knew who was responsible for the mutiny. She knew the faces of the men and women carrying the knives. Knew who they followed.
“Not Nicolai. He would never join them.”
“Then I guess he has his own problems,” Imani said.
One of the Edenists noticed their conversation. Cornelia knew him. His name was Will Miller, he was one of the Environment Keepers. He was usually a harmless bug of a man, more interested in the job than anything else, but he looked very different with a knife in his hand. “You work the farms, don’t you,” he asked her through squinted eyes.
“Then you should be better at herding.”
Imani almost jumped out at him, but Cornelia managed to hold her back, calm her down. The second Edenist noticed Will talking to them and quickly made his way over. Cornelia heard a word exchanged between them, a word that didn’t surprise her. He was warning Will about her. Telling him not to talk to her, not to touch her.
The word he used was wife.
“You should be ashamed,” she blurted. “Don’t you have a child?”
Will Miller turned back to her. Dryly he replied, “Didn’t you used to?”
She was stunned silent. The wind had been knocked out of her. With legs shaking she heard the distant sound of Imani shouting, a scuffle, then more shouting.
Then she noticed something strange. The light above her started to flicker, a feeling like moths in her eyes. Soon the next light did the same. And the next, and the next, all the way down the hall.
Red lights replaced the white. Doors contracted and locked. Screens powered down.
“Is this us,” the second Edenist asked Will.
“I don’t think so,” Will replied.
It must have been a play of light, a disturbance in the eye from the red lights, because it looked to Cornelia, really looked, like a dark mass of arms and legs and teeth was moving up the hallway.
Moving directly toward them.