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Chapter 42

“Hold on-” I said, putting up a hand, but Skip was shouting again, enough spittle flying from his mouth to water the garden. Beside him, another gardener picked up a shovel, sinking the blade deep into the earth and leaning forward against the handle.

“Ever since you’ve been born Horatius, ever since that first day you joined my class, it’s been nothing but disaster after disaster! And now we’re in a worse position than ever, with you planning to make things even worse!”

“Make things worse? I saved you! I showed you how to plant more efficiently, and I got us through Segni’s feasts!”

“You would slander him before his body has even gotten cold, you would attempt to place the blame upon him! I’ve half a mind that you somehow brought the ship together to do him in too! That you are responsible for her.” He raised a finger like a knife, its quivering tip aimed at Airomem, as the glares of those behind him matched its violence.

“Impossible!” Countered Aeromem waving a dismissive hand as the crowd flinched back, “That was controlled by the ship’s systems which are inaccessible to us. It’s not like altering the lights in here to enhance growth.”

For a moment, all was silent as the muscles in my back tightened and blood flushed to my ears. Skip’s eyes widened as his breath came out in a hiss, and Airomem’s hands flew back to her belt as her face flooded with realization.

“Altered the lights to enhance growth,” Whispered Skip, turning a slow circle to where dead stocks still piled around from where they had been burnt, “Ever since you arrived, Horatius, you’ve altered our ways, luring us in with false promises. And each time, our crops died. To think now that you intended to kill them entirely, to kill us entirely.”

He shook, his face as red as Segni’s strawberries, his gaze turning upwards to where the steady glow of the lights shone overhead, then falling back towards me like a hammer.

“Treason!” He shouted, “Treason! We hunger not from our own mistakes, but because of you Horatius! I knew it, all this time, I knew it!” He brandished a shovel in his hand, his clenched nuckles white as shock crossed the other faces.

“Back away!” Commanded Airomem as the crowd began to push forward, spurred forward by their stomachs, their voices joining Skip in shouting.

“Away!” Repeated Airomem, and she flashed the blue lights as the crowd winced. But they continued to move forward, their faces reddened with anger and their footsteps spurred forward by Skip.

“She dares pull a weapon on us! She dares threaten us!”

“Skip!” I shouted as Airomem and I retreated, quickly backpedaling through the soil, “Skip, you are making a huge mistake! A bigger one that this ship has ever seen, one the council will surely punish.”

“No, you already made a huge mistake!” He retorted, kicking a clod of dirt so it exploded on my chest, “I don’t give a damn about the council. It’s time for the true chief to take charge! For Vaca!”

Behind him, the mob cheered, raising their gardening tools into the air.

“Horatius,” Hissed Airomem, “We need to get out of here. Now.”

“No!” I countered, planting my feet and squaring my shoulders as Skip’s chest pressed close to mine, pieces of earth still imprinted in my shirt, “No! I’m done with hearing this! Vaca and Segni only caused trouble! It’s their fault that we are in this situation, and I did what was necessary to save the ship.”

“Because killing our crops, and killing our chief, and killing our hope was the solution? Why can’t you just do things the right way?” A deranged smile crossing his lips, his words now spurred forward by an incredulous laughter.

“Because that’s the *idiotic* way, not the right way!” I shouted, as Skip popped his palm on my right shoulder to push me back, and Airomem’s stun guns buzzed louder. Blood rushed to my face and I raised my own fists, stepping forward to return the blow, oblivious to the crowd that pressed forward and Airomem pulling against my elbow.

And even more oblivious to Nean, who had snuck behind me in the heat of the argument from the hallways beyond the garden. And who cracked the handle of a spare shovel across the top of my head so hard that white light flashed and my knees buckled.

White was followed by blue as I tumbled, landing face up in the dirt while Aeromem’s twin stun guns dashed in ellipses above me, mingling with the stunned stars that filled my vision. I saw Nean reach back to strike again and instead receive a prompt jab to the neck, his eyelids shooting upwards while his body crumpled downwards. Skip followed shortly, a stun gun catching him under the chin as Airomem spun and the tips of her hair whipped against his shocked face.

The edges of my vision closed in as I saw a shovel blade thrown from within the crowd connect with her forearm, causing one of the stun guns to go flying, and accompanied with an angry cry. Then as darkness took me, the single blue streak danced with renewed vigor, and I heard more thumps hitting the ground until sounds too dissolved into nothingness.

Chapter 43

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