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“Hold!” shouted Praeter, arriving with thirty more of the Lear and bracing himself against the back of the person in front of him. “Hold, and make way! Your new brothers and sisters come to aid!”

Porters leapt forward from behind the Lear, grunting as they positioned their weight and muscles, the Lear organizing them into a structure that spider-webbed back along the length of the corridor, optimizing their strength and the available space. Then the Lear interwove themselves into tighter spaces, giving the porters more room to flex, while helping support them from the walls to prevent slipping.

Lear and Nectians pushed as a single human structure that passed force forwards until those at the front groaned with the pressure. And for a few moments, the door halted, but slowly began to move once more, the porters’ breath coming in shallow gasps as their feet dragged across the floor, their heels squeaking with each begrudgingly lost step.

And though it moved slowly, any movement cut down on the remaining space between us and the open entrance to the departure vessel.

“There’s too many of them,” shouted Prometh from the back, staying clear of the structure, the skin around the severed finger joints pulled tight as he pointed. “Behind that door is a horde, a horde that expands as we deplete our energy. They have no regard for each other. They are a mob, grinding against each other until those at the front die from the force! We must find another way! Airomem, Praeter, to me – we must develop a plan! We cannot beat them through sheer power.”

Carefully removing a hand at a time and allowing the Lear to fill in around her to replace her position, Airomem moved backwards, the crowd parting for her to pass.

“Go,” said one of the Lear next to me, his eyes on my hands, which were still bleeding too heavily to brace against the door or the configuration the Lear had built. So I followed, careful not to disturb the living struts, ducking underneath shaking elbows and knees that fought for every inch.

“There are no controls within the departure vessel,” Prometh was saying once I arrived with Airomem. I’d heard about him from her, and his deformed hand made him immediately recognizable. “The entire system is designed to move autonomously. There is a timer on the inside, one that shows fifty-two minutes remaining – at the pace we are losing ground, we have fifteen at best.”

“We can cut away more sections of the ship,” I said, stepping forward and gesturing to where I had removed the door. “If we make a barricade, then we can wedge it into the open space of the departure vessel.”

Prometh raised an eyebrow, and Airomem spoke up.

“Prometh, this is Horatius. He is the reason why the other side made it here today – without his help, they would never have come of their own will.”

“And if he does not exercise more care,” said Prometh, looking towards my bleeding fingers, “his hands will mimic mine. I’ll take it as a sign of wisdom. Anyways, Horatius, your plan does bear merit, but I fear we will not be able to hold a barricade. And the process of moving our people behind the cut-away metal while refusing to relinquish ground will prove quite difficult. Still, it is a start.”

“A start,” said Praeter, sweat falling from his temple. “But we cannot afford to let any of them into the vessel. Our bottleneck defense will work for a time, but the entryway is too wide and too shallow to hold for long. All it takes is for a few to slip past to cause havoc. And if our line breaks, it’s over. Without gravity, holding together will prove near impossible.”

“What if we had everyone out here pushing?” suggested Airomem. “Not just the soldiers and porters, but everyone?”

“It would likely be less effective and more chaotic,” answered Prometh, shaking his head. “Too difficult to align the force and we will still be outnumbered.”

“Is there any way you can think of, Prometh,” said Praeter, “to attach the door permanently in the hallway? To repair it, just as the ship once repaired itself?”

“Not with the time we have left, and not to withstand that magnitude force,” replied Prometh, his eyes squinting at the gap between the door and the walls. The back of the human structure reached us, and we moved back a few steps to create more space.

“Barricade, then?” I suggested, and he pursed his lips.

“Barricade it is, for lack of other ideas. I do have some modifications in mind, however, that will help maintain its integrity – sharp strips to ward them off, props to push them away. Airomem and Praeter, stay here. You will be needed to motivate the people. Horatius, you are with me, though with those hands, you will be of little use. You know your side of the ship, and that’s where we will cut our material. We’ll find helpers on the way.”

We turned, preparing to rush to find materials, beelining towards the back of the ship, just when the shouts and groans began. There was a screech as the bottom of the door dug into the floor, skidding forward as the structure of Lear and porters wavered.

“Can’t hold!” shouted Tom as the structure shook, quivering in place as it began to slide, no longer slow, but at a near walking pace. And from behind the door, a chorus of guttural sounds exploded forth as the Agrarians gained ground, the anger of hundreds of years manifesting itself in a single drive.

“We’re breaking!” snapped one of the back Lear between ragged breaths as the front of the line started to crumple inwards. “Praeter, what do we do here? You have twenty seconds, tops!”

“Cancel the plan,” Praeter snapped, pushed backwards by the collapsing structure. “We make our stand at the entranceway of the vessel. It will be costly, but we must make sure it does not extend beyond that – it cannot be fatal.”

“Hold, but give ground!” shouted Airomem at the human structure. “Retreat to the vessel and pivot the door sideways to give us some shielding once we arrive. Then bottleneck formation, and prepare for the battle of your lives! For your family, for your friends, for the Lear!”

“For the Lear!” chanted back the soldiers, grunting as they slowly gave way, letting themselves skid across the ground as the Porters shuffled back, their motion clumsy and out of sync compared to the Lear, and I raised my own voice.

“Porters, back through the door first! You’re to be the second line; we’ll need you as backup.” Then, speaking to Airomem, I said, “While they are big, they cannot fight. They would only break your formations. We’ll use them to brace your soldiers, but I fear if they took the front, the fight would be over before it began.”


Chapter 73

Don’t forget to vote for  The Bridge!  It takes 2 clicks and really helps!

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.