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Segni’s apartment was at the very back of the ship, near where the wall curved in upon itself and turned back towards the front.  As tradition, that room had always belonged to the chief- being by far the largest, having a steady temperature gradient from warm to cool from the back to the front, and having all the best furniture from the other apartments brought in.  It was shaped like a wide hall, ending abruptly at a thick sealed door at the back, where the metal of the frame had been physically fused together in several spots to make it eternally impossible to open.  A red “C” was plastered off center on that door, for “Chief”, and a few old wires that dangled from holes in the walls had been utilized to hang picture frames.

Segni was still wiping away sleep when he exited, his brother Vacki following behind.  Nean joined us with six porters as we walked down the length of the ship.

That morning, after two hours of quick sleep, I had collected a basket of produce from the gardens as Elliot, then later Segni, had instructed.  I took three of everything, the best specimens that I could find, arranging them together to display our agricultural capabilities.  As I worked, the other gardeners gathered around me, some of the children asking me questions.

“What’s going on?”  Demanded Mark, “Where are you going?  Are you going to meet the others?”

“I am,”  I had answered, leaning over to liberate a green bean, “We’re going to impress them with all the fine gardening that you’ve been doing.  Maybe they’ll want us to teach them too!”

“Will they be new friends?”  Asked Matthew, and I smiled, biting my lip.

“We can only hope!” I responded, and repeated the sentence in my own thoughts, trying to convince myself as well.  But it was the last question that caught me off guard as I walked out of the gardens, and felt a small hand tugging on my shirt, and looked down to see the face of a young girl, tears spilling down her cheeks.

“When will my parents be back?” Ruth said, and buried her face in my shirt.

“What happened?” I asked, stunned, “Where did they go?”

“Uncle Tom said they were with you,” She answered, “When they were taken away.  He said that you saw it!”

I took a sharp breath inward, remembering the night before, and bent down to speak with Ruth.

“Hannah, and Elliot?”

“Y- Yes,” she stuttered.

“Soon, Ruth.  Listen to me, soon.  Nothing like this will ever happen again, do you understand?  You have my promise, and they will be back soon. But I have to go now, Ruth.  As soon as I come back, I will help you, ok?”

She nodded, then turned and walked back to the gardens, whispering before she left.

“Ok, Horatius.  You’ve always been able to do it before.”

I then left Ruth and the other gardeners, their gazes following me as I departed.  And as I  met up with Segni, his eye had wondered to the basket I carried as we walked.  Reaching a hand over, he rooted through the arrangement of food until he found the three strawberries at the center and tucked them into his shirt pocket.

“What are you doing?” I demanded, and he laughed through his heavy breathing from the exertion of walking.

“It’s not like they’re going to know,”  He said, “It’s not going to make a difference either way.”  Then he popped one into his mouth, discarding the stem on the ground behind him, where the four leaves were promptly trampled on by Nean’s foot.  And his hand returned to the basket, removing a green bean, then a tomato, and other produce until only two of everything remained.

“We’re getting close,”  I said as Segni started to shiver and his shoes scuffed across frost encrusted floor, cutting out arced streaks among the white.  Nean dragged his knife along the wall, leaving a long scratch behind him as metal grated against metal, absentmindedly flicking the edge from time to time to scatter ice on the ground.

“Cut it out, will you?” I said, the noise reverberating in my ears.

“Figure I’ll leave a trail, in case you try to get us lost here,”  He said, and dug the knife in with a sharp squeak.

Then, minutes later, we arrived at the door, and placing my hand against it I could feel it humming, vibrating from something behind it.

“The four of us will enter,”  Said Segni, looking at the narrow width and gesturing to me, Tom, and Nean, “Myself and Horatius in front, Nean and Tom behind with your knives ready in case I am in danger.  I will present the gift and accept theirs in return. Other porters, force the door shut if we have issues and after we escape, and hold it there.”

“Maybe we should have something heavy to prop against it,”  I said, “In case it needs to hold.”

“You’re looking at the strongest men on the ship,”  Said Segni, “We’ll be fine.”

“The strongest men on this side of the ship.”

“Horatius, if you question me again then I’ll be sure to include you in our present to the other side.  Now, how much longer do we have to wait?”

“Any minute now,”  Answered Nean, “If anything happens at all.”

“Indeed, if,”  Said Segni, with a yawn, and sat on the floor with his back against the wall and shutting his eyes, “If it doesn’t, deliver the gift basket to my room, refilled, Horatius.  I’ll be retiring to sleep, as there just so happened to be an interruption last night that cost me several hours, as you know.  We’ll give it fifteen more minutes, and if nothing happens, then-”

Airlock restored.”  Said the voice from above, causing everyone in the part to jump, and Segni’s eyes to snap open.

With a crack the ice along the seam split, shattering onto the floor and scattering down the hall as the door opened, propelled forward with such force that it slammed against the wall.  And peering inside, we saw a long hallway with another door at the end.

A door that had also opened.
And now had three figures peering back.

***

Part 18