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Chapter 58

“I’ve come again to negotiate!” shouted Elliott through the barrier, a crowd milling behind him. They were those who had finished packing first and were ready to evacuate, only ten percent of those who had been present earlier, but clustered directly around the corridor entrance. In their cone-like formation, and with each of them generating a nonstop high volume chatter as Elliott had instructed, it would appear to Nean as if their ranks had not diminished.

“Look who’s come crying back to my doorstep,” came a sneer through the barrier as Nean’s face appeared between two stacked chairs. “Are you ready to recognize your true chief? Turn yourself over, Elliott, and only then will we free you and your wife – after six weeks!”

“Can’t do that, Nean,” responded Elliott. “But what I can do is offer you and Vaca positions as vice coordinators of the council – each of your votes would count as half of my own. And to do this, you would only need to serve one week in our captivity for your crimes.”

“What?” hissed Nean through the gap. “I have the food, Elliott! And unless you kneel before your rightful chief, you’ll die of hunger!”

Elliott shrugged, laughing, and responded, “Did you really think that the council didn’t squirrel away our own food, Nean? Why do you think we had such shortages – we saved it for an event like this!” He pulled a strawberry from his pocket, the last strawberry that had been found in a forgotten corner of the storerooms, and took a bite. “I bet Segni would have loved this one. We always did keep the best for ourselves, of course.”

Spittle flew from Nean’s mouth as he shouted, flecks nearly making their way through the barrier, “I still have your wife, Elliott! I still have her, and I could kill her before your eyes!” Then he turned to where his own crowd was amassed and shouted, “Do you hear that? Just as I have always said, they kept you hungry! They are the traitors!”

His hands gripped a chair in front of him, and he shook the barrier, others from behind him rushing to join in generating the clacking sound that reverberated around the garden. From Elliott’s prior instruction, his own crowd surged to take hold of the barrier, shaking the furniture just as hard, their screams slamming through the holes where they met the mutineers ten feet beyond.

Then they started propelling handfuls of mud along with their voices, and the inside retaliated with half rotten food. Elliott stepped back to watch, remembering the words he had said to the crowd who now only half faked their anger.

Make noise, engage them, cover them in mud. But make no attempts to take apart the barrier or enter.

And under his breath, as he watched the conflict escalate, Elliott muttered, “Make all haste, Airomem. Your window is open.”


Five porters trotted behind Airomem as she jogged along the outside wall of the gardens, keeping an eye at her feet where she rushed across measurements made in the earth every ten steps. Behind them, they pulled two carts each, the large wheels leaving trailing grooves in their wake, and the insides empty except for two packed to the brim with supplies from the doctors.

“Here!” she shouted as she came to an arrow that pointed directly into the flat metal wall and came to a stop. “Now, here’s the plan. Just on the other side of this wall is where their food is stored – according to Angie, it’s piled high and fills nearly the entire room. We only want the food in the back, understood? And just enough to fill those carts, nothing more.”

They nodded, and Airomem spoke again. “I’m going to need your help breaking in. I can’t do it alone. Get ready, and remember, stay quiet!”

“Can’t break the wall,” said one of the porters, rolling his eyes. “Manny there has tried many times; had to send him to the doctors after he broke his fist instead over a bet.”

“I almost broke through!” exclaimed another porter, presumably Manny, and pointing a suspiciously crooked finger at the first. “And if I did, we wouldn’t have to open the door anymore go into the main hall.”

“You dented it, Manny; there’s a difference,” smirked the first.

“Well, maybe it’s time I tried again and showed you up!” shouted Manny, his face red, but Airomem pushed back against his chest as he tried to move forward, her heels digging into the mud as he looked down in surprise.

No,” she said, feeling the suit stiffen as it took on his weight, “I’ll be breaking through the wall. All you have to do is help me move it. Quietly.”

“Oh, she’s going to show you up, Manny!” said the other porter, laughing, until Airomem glared at him.

“Enough,” she said. “We don’t have time for this.”

And taking the Omni-cutter, she started cutting the wall, the porters backing away as the metal fizzed. She made an arc as high as she could reach, then cut straight lines downwards, completing the process with a horizontal line across the bottom. Then she pushed the right side of the arched cutout, the metal grinding as it pivoted on its center, exposing one edge while the other tucked inwards.

“Ready?” she said, the porters transfixed. “Careful, the edges are sharp.”

“Told you so, Manny,” said the one from earlier and moved forward, grabbing a section of the wall. Manny grasped the bottom and Airomem stepped sideways to let the others through. Together, they wriggled the wall away to expose a foot of space on the inside, then another metal barrier. A few bundles of wire ran bolted to the inner wall, and Airomem pushed them aside as she held her ear to the inner wall, holding her breath as she waited for any noise to break the silence. But none came, and she started cutting again, making the same arcs, though slightly smaller, quicker this time to minimize the amount of white glow showing on the other side of the wall, and taking care to avoid wires.

She stepped back and held a finger to her lips as the porters moved in, twisting the door away to reveal stacks of sacks holding produce piled to the ceiling.

“Remember, only the back layers so they can’t tell any is missing,” she whispered. “No talking. If the door opens on the other side, stop working until it closes again. When you’re finished, take two carts back to Elliott to ration out, then start taking the rest to the bridge. Bring any belongings you want to take on the journey with you. Wait there; we will join you shortly.”

She watched them start to load the carts until she was satisfied with their noise level and progress, then turned to leave, running along the edge of the wall. The roar of noise that Elliott had started grew louder with each step, and she skirted the crowd when she arrived, then continued running. Her breath came smoothly – even in running, the suit removed most of the effort.

With a quick gasp of realization, she rushed to the window, flashing her stun gun furiously. But there was no response this time, with the Lear preparing for departure, and she cursed under her breath.

Back in the power room were the other suits just like the one she was wearing, suits that could be invaluable on the new planet. Suits whose abilities had been long forgotten, and now hung on the wall as memories of a past age, and were left untouched out of reverence and preservation.

And now would have been left behind for eternity to continue traveling among the stars.


Next chapter

Don’t forget to vote for  The Bridge!  It takes 2 clicks.

I’ll be providing the entire story here for free for a limited time.  In return, I ask that you tell a friend about Chapter 1!  The only way others find out about my work is through word of mouth.