Darkship Revenge – Snippet 04

Between Space And A Hard Place

I woke up on the rumpled, sweaty, bloodied bed, with my daughter tucked into the crook of my arm, asleep.

She was not beautiful.  She was barely human: all wrinkly red skin, tightly clenched eyes, and an expression like as soon as she was awake she’d have words with whomever had sent her here right now.  I knew she’d grow up to look more human.  Or at least, I’d seen this in a million sensies. I had trouble believing it.

Yet she was mine, and I was responsible for everything pertaining to her. I panicked.  On the verge of feeling resentment, I frowned at her.  I didn’t want this.  I didn’t ask for this.  I was not fit to be anyone’s mother.  She sighed in her sleep. Something irrational rose up. My thoughts stopped.  In their place there was a feeling, ancient and immense, like a bottomless sea.

I’m not good at love.  Like everything I can’t understand, it makes me uncomfortable.  So I’m not going to say that’s what I felt.  I’ve come to accept that I love Kit, because no other explanation suffices for my not having killed him yet.  In the same way, I suppose he loves me, because he actually wants to spend time with me, and hasn’t taken to beating me every other day, just to stay sane.  So he loves me. I still don’t understand how.  It makes no sense at all.

I don’t know if that’s what I felt for my daughter All I knew was that I’d put a gory end to anyone who tried to hurt her.  I pulled her closer to me.  She nestled closer, like a cat.

I wondered how long I’d been asleep, precisely.  It could have been hours, or just a few seconds. I didn’t remember falling asleep.

I started to open my mouth to call to Kit, but then decided not waking the baby was highly advisable, and mind-called, Kit?

Calling with your mind is not the same as voice-calling: in your mind, you know when you call out and the message is not received.  You know if it just wasn’t heard, of even if it was ignored.  If you mind-call and there’s no reply of any kind, not even the sense of someone at the other end, the only possible conclusion is that there is no one to answer.  Even if the object of your call is asleep, impaired or in a vegetative state, there is a feeling that he is there.  Non-responsive but there.

Kit? I called, again, in my mind.

Have you ever entered an empty house?  No matter how large it is, or how much it looks like it should be inhabited, you know the house is empty and that there is no one at all in any part of it?  That the dark and cold extend forever, unbroken by human presence?

It felt like that.  The Cathouse was empty, save for myself and the baby.

Kit, Kit, Kit KIT! The call went out and was swallowed by nothingness, like a pebble falling into an endless hole.

I carefully extricated myself from my daughter, leaving her asleep on the bed, as I rose.

I didn’t know if I should stand up.  Some of the books and sensies said you should stay in bed for months.  Others that it was highly advisable to get on your feet and go weed rice paddies.  I was fresh out of rice paddies, but I had to get up.  I had to go look for Kit.  If he was in trouble, I was the only one who could help.

I closed my mind to the thought that the lack of return on my call meant not that he was in trouble, but that he didn’t exist.  Or that he was so far from me I couldn’t sense him and he couldn’t hear me.

But how could he be that far away from me in space, with no vehicle but the Cathouse nearby?

So I got up.  Had to, even if it meant I could bleed to death, or pass out cold on the floor.  Besides, I told myself, that only happened to women in sensies.

As it turned out there was no dying, no passing out.  There was a wave of dizziness, but only because I was still so tired.  And things, to include most things below my waist, felt sore, but it was a soreness short of pain.

Through my childhood and teen years, between running away from home, mental hospitals, reform homes and boot camps, getting in burner fights and broom accidents, not to mention Daddy Dearest’s version of loving correction, I’d often felt worse.  Well, not in those specific places, but worse anyway.

Walking gingerly — all right, like a duck — getting used to soreness, I called, mentally Kit? No one answered, I didn’t expect an answer, but the idea that he had simply disappeared made no sense either.  Perhaps I’d only slept a very short time, and he was still outside fixing whatever damage the unknown ship firing on us had done?  Perhaps my being so tired meant that my mind-call had less range than normal?

I went to the pilot’s room first.  There are sensors built into the wall of the ship that will show you what’s wrong with it, and what is in the process of being repaired.

I turned the lights of the screen up so I could see it, since I didn’t have Kit’s modified, feline-like eyes.  And stared unbelievingly at the devastation.

The Cathouse is not the most up-to- date ship.  Its circuits are more vulnerable than any sane designer would want. It was a retired training ship when Kit – who back then flew alone – persuaded them it was a low enough risk to rent it to him.

Somehow the unknown attacker had managed to destroy most of our air scrubbers’ ability, which meant that between myself and a little one, we would exhaust air in a couple of days. By that time we’d be without water.  Also, the ability to drive the Cathouse had been destroyed.  Our thrusters were either burned out or disconnected from the power pod. If I didn’t repair them, we’d drift aimlessly through space, forever.

I bit my lip and stared at the list of damages and waited for Kit to do something out there, and for me to see the condition of something change.

Come on.  Something change.  Kit, do something.

He’d heard me mind-call across much greater distances.  Not all distances. There was a definite limit to those.  But greater distances.  I couldn’t possibly be that tired?  Perhaps birth changed telepathic ability?  It wasn’t like I could communicate with anyone but Kit, anyway.

My query Kit? returned nothing.  No sense of him.  And the screen didn’t change.

There were three answers for this.  One was that my telepathy was broken.  Possible, but not likely.  Then again, the only other telepaths I knew were in Eden, and they didn’t usually have children.  Not gestated and delivered from their own bodies, so who knew?

Two was that Kit had died.  Perhaps something had gone suddenly wrong with him, and he was dead somewhere in this ship, or even outside.  The idea induced a sort of panicked denial. Kit couldn’t be dead.  He just couldn’t.  Of course, I knew he was mortal.  But surely if he’d died, I’d have felt it?

The third one was that he was alive but simply not here.  This last would be the most plausible, except for the part where it was impossible. It didn’t require me to have ignored his death mind-call. It didn’t require me to believe the effort of giving birth somehow destroyed telepathic ability.  It just required me to believe that Kit could fly unassisted through space, and breathe vacuum. There was nothing in the Cathouse beyond the range of mind-call.  And there was nothing outside.  Just endless space. Sure we had suits and oxygen bottles.  But not to get significantly far from the ship.

The Cathouse was a collector ship.  It was all it was designed to be.  Everything else about it had been stripped down to allow for more storage of powerpods. There were no hidden rooms, no vast labyrinths.

From the beginning, powerpod collections, from the powertrees in Earth orbit had been done without consent from Earth, and in fear that Earth would realize it and find and destroy Eden.  There were no lifeboats aboard.  There was nothing you could take to get away from the ship.

If you suffered a problem near Eden, they could send someone to evacuate the ship.  Anywhere else, you were as good as dead.  In fact, if something went wrong near Earth rather than asking to be rescued you were encouraged to simply commit suicide so you didn’t risk betraying the secret colony.