THE BRIDGE HAS BEEN PUBLISHED!  Click here for the kindle link OR here for the paperback link!  As promised, I will continue posting chapters, but you can get the remaining 32 now for under $3 on the kindle app to be read on your phone, laptop, tablet, or (duh) kindle!

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Airomem, you know where these keys belong. And you know the one other way to the other side of the ship, the way least traveled. Over the years, I’ve kept the suits on their place on the wall in case of an emergency such as this. And I inherited the books on how to operate them. Consider them my gift to you. Once you are ready to depart, enter the code on the back of this paper simultaneously into the two control panels, one the main in the power room, the other inside the room of suits. And beware, Airomem – should you lose physical contact with the ship once you depart, you do so forever. Heed the safety section with utmost care. I cannot stress this enough.

Airomem swallowed as she reread the note and turned back to face the suits. On the ground, in front of the first one, a book lay open – a book with three slips of paper marking pages. Read me first was scrawled upon the first in Prometh’s handwriting, centered on the already open page. Turning the book over, she mouthed the title of the cover, Ship Maintenance and Exo-repair Manual, then returned to the parted page.

Mandatory Safety Precautions

Section 1: Any and all excursions outside the hull of the ship shall occur in teams with a bare minimum of three participants.

Airomem grimaced as she paused. She’d only read one rule, and already she was breaking it.

Section 2: Excursions must be approved by the ship council prior to departure, and must be supported by the mission team in the control room.

Rule two, broken.

Section 3: Proper gowning and tethering procedures listed below. Prior to departure, each item must be checked and approved by a minimum of two other authorized members of the excursion team.

A list appeared beneath the section, detailing the proper way to ensure the suit was airtight, check over the tool belt, and connect the user to the ship via a double coil of wire spooled around the left hip. From what she could read, at all times, the user was to be tethered to two different points in the ship and was to scuttle along the outside edge of the ship while reconnecting to different points as the spools of wire ran short.

There would be no one to check her list, but she could ensure that she at least followed half of rule three, which was better than none.

Then she turned the pages to the second bookmark, a section titled Emergency Boarding Procedures, her eyes widening and a nervous laugh growing in her throat with each passing line. After committing the section to memory, she flipped to the last bookmark, Departure Procedures.

Closing her eyes, she reviewed the steps line by line, making sure she missed no part of what she had to do. That every step was as clear as it could be, that she could identify no discrepancies, knowing that even a small deviation meant death.

Then she turned to the wall of suits, running her hand along them until she came to the empty space at the end, and selected the one adjacent. The suit itself was intuitive – the boots were built into the pants, internal straps tightening the fabric to her heels automatically as her toes found the inner edge, the soft compression cupping her arch. Then the sensation travelled up to her ankle, the fabric compressing inward, small wrinkles forming upon the surface from where the outermost layer was designed for thicker calves. Her hamstrings were next, then her hips and stomach, the suit forming more of a skin than an article of clothing up to her shoulders, then moving down each of her arms until even individual fingers were intimate with the material.

As the fabric tightened, she noticed the weight of the tools at her belt and the air tank on her back become alleviated, the suit itself taking on some of the downward force from each. Moving an experimental step forward, she felt the suit not only conform to her movements, but contribute to them – stretching in regions to accommodate the strain of her muscles, while constricting in others to remove weight.

Then she reached forward and took the helmet in her hands, a curved trapezoid constructed of glass and metal that fit atop her shoulders and interlocked into her back, and slid it over her head. With a hiss, the fabric latched onto the harder helmet, constricting around the rim of the helmet like a bottle cap over a glass bottle, until no path remained for air to escape. She took a breath and felt the suit respond, a slight breeze smelling of plastic wafting upwards from her collarbone.

Reaching towards her belt, she zipped open the container, checking that all the tools that she would need were present. Then she picked up the three keys she had left on the book before gowning and strode over to the cabinet her father had opened for her just before she had left the Lear. Taking each of the keys, she unlocked a separate lock, surprised at the dexterity of her fingers as she turned the keys, an uneasy feeling growing inside her at just how easy it had been to open the most secure vault on the ship as she recalled her father’s words.

Back when it was used by those who wore the suits, only the most senior among them could remove it from its cabinet, and only for the greatest of emergencies.

As the last tumbler settled, the door creaked open and Airomem reached a careful hand inside, pulling the Omni-cutter from the box with a steady hand. It was heavier than it appeared, and she gripped it tight, afraid that it might somehow leap from her fingers. Holding it an arm’s length away, she flipped upwards the red guard, and put her index finger over the trigger.

She would need to test it, of course. It should be simple – just to see if the machine reacted to her at all, but she hesitated. Dropping it at the wrong angle would tear a hole in the floor, while an accident could send it into the wall, ripping a hole that would suck her into space. But she pushed the thoughts away and slowly commanded her finger to move, her muscles tensing with each millimeter that the trigger twitched, its internal mechanism resisting her.

Then there was a click and her index shot backwards as the trigger gave way. Bright white light exploded into the room as she gripped the Omni-cutter, accompanied by a buzzing far louder than even the full power setting of her stun gun. She cursed and released the trigger, seeing stars, and realizing that Abraham would have seen the light as well. That he would think it was the signal, and if she didn’t move now, he might come to investigate.

Her hand fell to her belt and she pulled the cord out of its winder, snapping the connector at its end to a railing intended for anchoring according to the procedure book. Then she rushed to the panel, the cord trailing behind her, and entered the numbers on the keypad with flying fingertips.

One.

Four.

Four.

Zero.

Go.

As she held the go button down, she flashed her stun gun repeatedly in case Abraham had missed the first light. She’d already been in the room for twenty minutes, and she prayed that another engineer had not distracted him from his post or noticed him touching the keypad.

She held her breath as seconds counted by, keeping one eye on the door’s window and her other eye towards the stars. Then she saw a face appear in the window, Abraham’s, his eyes wide as he saw her. She saw him shout and watched as his face turned down to look at the handle, then his hand pounded against the glass.

Then she heard the sound, a soft humming that filled the room, and felt her suit adjusting its grip upon her as the pressure dropped. More faces appeared at the window, red-faced engineers that pushed Abraham aside, their expressions confused. She raised a hand to them, and she signed two words.

My task.

Their looks turned to panic as she looked back out towards the stars and saw that the wall had begun to slide downwards moving until its lip was flush with the floor. She walked to the edge of the ship, the abyss surrounding her on every side, the cord spooled behind her, and the other end of the ship waiting.

And she gasped.

There, far to her right, there was an object among the stars, but far larger than any of them. What appeared to be a disk the size of her fist, a swirl of blues and greens, of color among the darkness.

The planet.

Their planet.

Home.

 

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