Last we saw, Decker, Samantha, and Eliza were scrambling to board the Matilda and get away from Senali. They did that much. After that? Things are looking a little rough.
It had been a day. Maybe a little less. Maybe a little more. Samantha wasn’t sure. She sat on the bunk of her cabin aboard the Matilda, back against the metal wall with her legs crossed in front of her. The lights were turned to their lowest setting, the pain in her head prohibiting anything brighter.
She stared across the cabin at the tacsuit visor resting on the built-in metal desk, the slug from Renic’s rail pistol embedded in the apparently indestructible material. That material had saved her life, the radiating web of cracks surrounding the slug a testament to the 5E hardware Julian had sent to protect her. Who it would protect her from, though, was not something they had predicted. Looking back, it should have been.
Samantha took a slow breath, letting her eyes unfocus. The Matilda was in jumpspace, on its way to some planet in the Fringe. It didn’t matter much where; the trail on Senali was over, and now she knew where it ended. With Gallow.
The Fleet Marshal had been the one to orchestrate this coup, and Renic was just the tip of a dagger along with what was likely countless others. What had his task been? To interface with the Red Kestrels? It would have been something a man of his moral flexibility was well-suited for. Samantha and Julian had tripped over Renic’s work when they raided Eddie Renner, but there had been no chance of stopping what was coming. Clarke had been right, but too late. Far too late.
If Gallow, the most powerful person in the Imperium, wanted to flip the empire over and shake loose whatever debris he felt was no longer necessary, there was nothing she could do to stop him. Nothing any of them could do. Samantha, Julian, Clarke—they were mere debris to be brushed aside. And now, she’d involved Decker and his crew in something she couldn’t begin to save them from. That flavor of guilt was new. Decker and his crew had saved her, jeopardizing their own lives and future in order to snatch her from her consequences of her mistake.
She’d awoken in her cabin on the Matilda a few hours after Renic shot her, wearing some loose-fitting sleeping clothes. After a moment of panic and amnesia, she had recovered enough to stagger to the cabin door, only to find Sellivan standing in her way, insisting she return to the bunk. After a half-hearted protest, she’d agreed, only after he agreed to explained what had happened.
Renic had shot her, the visor preventing the slug from killing her, but the concussion that resulted had left her unconscious. Decker had gotten her to the ship, and the Matilda had lifted into the sky. They had reached their jump entry point with only a few threatening commands to descend from Senali Orbital Patrol, but the Imperium snow-inversion algorithm had confused the patrols enough that they withheld firing. Eliza had received a healthy jolt but was recovering, aided by the selection of drinks in the galley. The rest of the crew, they didn’t seem interested in talking. Decker especially. He knew who Renic was. If he hadn’t, Samantha might have played this all off as a surprise. But, Decker would know, and that added embarrassment to the guilt.
As for Renic and whatever ship he’d used to jump to Senali and back, it had never appeared. Sellivan didn’t know if he had identified the Matilda. But, according to Eliza’s telling of the exfiltration that occurred while Samantha was unconscious, she’d seen Renic’s associate drag him out of the conference room the moments before the incendiary charge went off, Renic still cursing her name.
Yes, Renic had survived. That’s what he did. He’d return to Kestris with any lingering hope of reunification with Samantha gone, replaced with nothing but fantasies of vengeance.
Samantha closed her eyes, the throbbing of both the concussion and the taze comedown making it hard to think for long before succumbing to another shudder of nausea. The mission was over. Clarke and Julian would be in danger. There was little reason for her to maintain the communication blackout any longer, at least for her sake. Samantha Mori, that Imperium citizen identity, could never return to the empire now. Even if she did try and contact them, what would she say? That her arrogance had caused her to rashly enter into a situation without regard for consequences, and because of that disregard she had not only dashed the mission’s chances of success, but dragged everyone else—Clarke, Julian, Decker and his crew—down with her.
Samantha scoffed, shaking her head bitterly here in the darkened cabin where no one could see. Renic had given her the chance to protect the handful of people she’d jeopardized. She had been moments away from accepting his offer and joining him on the inside of this Imperium coup. It would have been the perfect place to continue the mission, closer to the source than they could have hoped. And, in that moment of nearly accepting Renic’s invitation, she wasn’t even sure if she had been doing it as a ploy, or if he’d somehow convinced her that his plan—Gallow’s plan—had merit that one day history would forgive.
But, Decker had done what Decker does. He’d held up his end of their agreement despite Samantha’s recklessness and pulled her out of a situation that may have ended in not just the mission being over, but her life as well. Just like on Starview Station when he’d waited for her, where she’d forced him to abandon the people he had clearly wanted to help.
Samantha looked at the stolen bolt rifle leaning in the corner of the cabin, the one she’d taken from the Kestrel on Starview and then used to threaten those same people, forcing them out of the docking tube and away from the Matilda. All so she could make it to Senali to unravel this plot. It was unraveled now, and the tangled mess it left behind was a mess she was incapable of dealing with. With Renic having knowledge about Decker and his crew, they would never be safe. Like the people she left to their fates on Starview Station, the Matilda was now stranded on the wrong side of a losing battle, all for nothing.
She left behind her life on Kestris for nothing.
She accepted exile and disavowment for nothing.
She rushed headlong into that building for nothing.
She remained loyal to an empire nearing collapse for nothing.
She had let her obsession fuel her to this point for nothing.
Everything was for nothing.
Samantha, Clarke, Julian, the crew of the Matilda, even Renic—they’d all been pieces in Gallow’s game, pieces so small and insignificant that the fleet marshal probably didn’t even notice their movements. It was Gallow’s big gambit that had started with the sacrifice of the Dauntless and ending here with the final, terminal knowledge that Gallow had won before the game had even started.
The pain in Samantha’s head surged. She needed relief, something to stop the pounding, stop the thinking. She eased her body forward, leaning over the side of the bunk to reach into the computer bag on the floor. She felt the object she wanted against her fingers, and pulled it to her.
Samantha stared at the halo for a moment. She’d used it to get the information about the compromise on the Terminus from Eddie Renner. Had she not, perhaps Eddie would not have talked. Julian may never have found the hidden, duplicate key, and perhaps she would be back on Kestris right now, working with Renic as another pawn in the grand conspiracy, convinced, like him, that this was for the greater good. The thought caused her stomach to clench. She withdrew the halo from its case and unfolded it, letting her thumbs brush against the nano-hooks that coated the inner surface.
Enough thinking. Enough ruminating. She stood, shakily walking to the door and tapping the button on the entry panel that would set it to do-not-disturb. Any of the crew could likely override it. It was meant as a way to signal the need for privacy, not to keep someone out. That was probably enough. She couldn’t imagine any of them were too eager to talk to her at this point.
Samantha walked back to the bed and collapsed atop it, rolling over onto her back. She placed the halo on her forehead and held its remote. She slid her thumb up its smooth interface panel, setting the power high enough she would not think or feel, the blackness of its embrace all-encompassing. She moved her thumb to the duration setting, pausing for a moment. How long was enough? One hour? Ten?
A bitter laugh caused her head to pulse. It didn’t matter. She slid her thumb up without looking at the readout and threw the remote against the metal cabin wall, hearing it clatter to the floor. Instantly the halo’s effects sapped away the pain from the concussion, the concussion which was the result of Renic pulling the trigger after Samantha had hesitated. Because of that hesitation, whatever happened to her, and her friends, was a result of her actions. Her mistake. These were not just ancillary consequences.
Samantha’s head lolled to the side, the red light of the door lock panel getting blurrier by the second until the void finally swallowed her.
Decker stared at the curved ceiling of the Matilda crew lounge, head resting against the armrest of the couch, body stretched out, feet propped up on the other end. It was quieter than normal. No vids playing. No one rummaging around the galley mixing drinks or preparing food. No bantering over the minutiae of space travel or another tangent of conversation. Just personal contemplation and the many creaks and groans of a ship past its prime.
Decker took a long drag off the nether cartridge, letting the vapor seep out between his teeth. He’d like to have been in his own cabin now, but it was across from Samantha’s, and he didn’t want to see her or be anywhere near her. After she’d come to, she had stayed in her cabin, barely coherent, probably in shock. Eliza was recovering in her own cabin, and Sellivan was with Heavy in the power plant examining some of the hardware Samantha had left out. Manu, well, he’d held any ‘told you so’ comments to himself and was currently in the captain’s cabin-turned-gym sweating out whatever the felt. Decker wished Manu had scolded him. Called him names. Threatened to dissolve this business. But, he hadn’t. That was worse. It meant that it wasn’t all one big joke any longer. Now, it was just Decker alone with his thoughts, with the same question he and the crew all had on their minds: what now?
Asking Samantha would be no help. She seemed perfectly fine avoiding all of them. The Matilda was in jumpspace and on its way to a dusty little corner of the Fringe, and after that, well, that was a decision he was not eager to make.
Decker took another drag off the nether and continued to stare, imagining what would have happened if they’d gotten Jerith safely onto the Matilda and delivered to Fioli, and then, fortified by the credits from their successful job, turned down Samantha’s request. It wouldn’t have changed anything about the Imperium’s predicament, but at least Decker could have been a bystander watching it unfold on the vids, bringing a hand to his chest and gasping “my oh my, what a shame for the empire” like all the other uninvolved Fringe citizens.
How Decker was still here to think about it, he hadn’t quite pieced that together. They’d jumped away from Senali without so much as a warning shot. Sellivan had the coordinates all set with approach vectors charted. Manu piloted the ship without needing to bob or weave or dodge any incoming fire. And Heavy, he’d managed to do a touch-and-go landing that should be taught in engineering classes.
Having the Matilda slip away like that was unsettling. Maybe if Renic had come running after them, Decker or Eliza could have gotten off a lucky shot and taken him down, or Heavy could have launched some plasma rockets from his shoulder-mounted cannon and left Renic just a red smear on the Senali street. Then, at least they’d know he was taken care of. But that wasn’t the case. Now, Samantha’s angry former lover—who also happened to be a skilled assassin and genuine sociopath—knew Decker was helping Samantha. And what Renic was capable of made Fioli and IoCorp look like child’s play.
Decker stifled a snort; at least the recent events made his corporate troubles seem small.
“Think of something funny?”
Decker’s attention was brought back to reality. He turned his head without lifting it off the couch’s thickly padded armrest. Manu appeared to be standing on a wall, like gravity had shifted ninety-degrees, though the lingering adrenaline fatigue and effects of the nether might be contributing to the illusion.
“Huh? Oh. I guess. Our attempt to get out of the hole has left us so deep inside a new one, I don’t even remember what our plans were after we delivered Jerith safe and sound to Fioli.”
“Collect our fifteen thou and start over, I suppose,” Manu said, folding his arms and leaning against the galley bar.
Decker sighed, nether cartridge clenched between his teeth. “Start over. Yeah. That still an option for us?”
“Half of us, maybe. Not so sure about the three of you commandos,” Manu said.
Decker returned his gaze to the ceiling. “Well, if you hurry, maybe you, Heavy, and Selli can cram yourself into our new, trillion-credit escape pod in the cargo bay. Sell it off and disappear for good.”
Manu scoffed. “If only it was that easy. I think you’ve heard enough of my take. There’re only so many ways to say ‘I told you so’ before the teller starts to sound like they’re gloating.”
“You’re not gloating? You should be gloating. Please gloat,” Decker said as he took another drag off the nether. “You cautioned us every step of the way, and every step I found some sort of rationale on why we should keep going. I was wrong. The crew followed my lead, and now we’re here.”
Manu sighed and walked to the easy chair across from Decker. He sat down, leaning forward and resting his arms across his knees. “Your summary is accurate.”
Decker grunted and gave Manu a sidelong glance. “That’s it? I am not sure I can take this sort of even-tempered response. If someone on this ship doesn’t call me a dirty word soon, I am going to lose it.”
“Deck, there’s no way you could have predicted running into him. Even she missed it. We took this job knowing it had risks and this one just happens to be one of the most unpleasant to deal with.” Manu paused, exhaling slowly. “I’m not going to say it’s your fault. If anyone is to blame, it’s our client.” Manu nodded his head toward the crew cabins.
Decker took another drag from the cartridge, sucking in the nether’s calming vapor. “Something like that. Doesn’t really matter now.”
They sat in silence for a moment. Decker knew that they’d be dropping out of jumpspace at some point soon and would have to have some sort of plan, but for the moment, making plans seemed woefully premature. They lacked the information they needed to make an informed decision.
Manu sighed, leaning back in the chair and clapping his hands against his legs. “What happened down there? I mean, Renic Tau? After how many years? And he’s the one behind all this bullshit.”
Decker bounced his head softly against the armrest. “Yeah, and it looked like he was the one who took down Kat Basara. I think, at least. Either way, from his side of things, Samantha’s a traitor and we’re hired-help there to assist her betrayal of the empire. Or republic, I think he called it.”
Manu shook his head. “I don’t even know what the sides are anymore. We’ve never really taken sides since buying this ship. Now, we’re helping the Imperium fight a different Imperium, and sort of getting into the middle of the Imperium fighting the Red Kestrels, who are simultaneously being supported and thwarted by the same Imperium.” Manu threw his head back and gave a single, incredulous whoop. “Conspiracy and intrigue is a real load of shit, Deck. We should get ahold of the nearest Fringe journalist and tell them everything we know and get it all over with.”
Decker snorted at the suggestion. “Followed the next day by the headline ‘Misfit crew of ragtag mercenaries aboard aging freighter found dead, no witnesses.’” Decker sighed and awkwardly sat upright, his body stiff and lethargic. “Who am I kidding, we’d never make the headlines. How much time do we have before dropping?”
“About ten hours,” Manu said.
Decker felt his energy drain away. “Ten hours? I feel like I could crawl into my bunk and sleep for ten hours. For twenty hours. Thirty hours. I just don’t want to think about what is waiting for us on the other side of this jump.”
Manu shrugged. “Corporate kidnappings and scavenger runs have never looked so appealing.”
Decker took a final drag from the nether cartridge before tucking it into his pocket. “The rest of the crew, they’re going to need to know what we’re up against. Time for a meeting,” Decker said.
Manu raised an eyebrow. “And her?”
“Nah. She can sulk in her room. If she wanted to be a part of this, she’d be out here. We aren’t dead yet, so until then, you and I have a crew and ship to protect.”
Manu stood and nodded in satisfaction. “So you’re not totally morally dejected. That’s a start. Where is this wellspring of positivity coming from? Who are you and what have you done with the real Decker?”
Decker glared back at Manu, shaking his head slowly. “Hey, when you’ve dug a hole so deep that you’ve reached the center of a planet, technically any direction you dig from there is ‘up.’”
The crew of the Matilda was in the lounge discussing things they would never have guessed they’d be discussing. Heavy was on the couch, the only seating large enough to fit him. Eliza had taken up her spot in the easy chair, her painkillers apparently working. Sellivan sat at the galley dining table, computer open in front of him as usual. Manu was leaned against the wall opposite Decker, who had felt he needed to stand at the front of the room to deliver his talk in a captainly way.
“Where’s, uh, Samantha?” Heavy asked, his eyes darting toward the corridor that led down the stairs to the crew quarters.
“In her cabin,” Decker said flatly.
Heavy narrowed his eyes, pressing. “Shouldn’t she be out here? Wouldn’t she have some answers?”
“No. The job she paid us for ended when we dragged her out of that building. She’s just a passenger now.” Decker put his hands on his hips, his go-to move for projecting authority. It hadn’t worked in the past, but he had a good feeling about it this time. “We’ve got some, uh, decisions to make, I guess,” he said. And like that, the projection of authority vanished.
“This Renic guy we faced, you were just about to tell us what that was all about,” Eliza said from her easy chair, kicking back half a glass of something that looked suspiciously like the Mr. B’s Rocket Fuel Decker had vowed to throw out.
Decker sighed, hands falling from his hips. “Yeah, that. Well, my information only goes back to when I was in the Navy, and our passenger hasn’t filled in any details.” Decker ran both hands over his face and beard. “His name is Renic Tau, and last I knew, he was a 5E intelligence agent like Samantha. Sort of a hot-shot, always operating in missions that no one could talk about, but he seemed to make sure the rumors got around. When the Imperium needed someone to go commit some act of sabotage, Renic would disappear for a week, and then there would be a news report about an entire asteroid mining operation being bombed, shutting down a whole system’s economy, hundreds killed. Or a planetary governor would turn up dead in some mysterious and violent manner. And Renic would reappear and smirk.” Decker scoffed. “He wanted everyone to know it was him. I sure believed him. The guy was… the guy was just off.”
Heavy nodded, eyebrows lowered in concentration. “If he was some sort of super spy, how did you know about all this? Isn’t that sort of the opposite of what he’d want to be doing?”
Manu snorted from the galley. “Tell them, Deck.”
Decker sighed, slow and loud. “Right. Well, when I was working with Samantha… I mean, this was a long time ago, okay? I was young, stupid.” Eliza mumbled something about ‘was?’. Decker ignored her. “Just a Fringe grunt in Navy whites, overly impressed with those government-spy types and all their hush-hush activities. I’d be hanging around with Samantha and some of her crew when our work overlapped. Renic would come around and I think he was trying to impress Samantha, which never really worked. No matter what he did, she’d top him with a story of her own. Always pissed him off, but also I think that’s why he liked her.”
“Lovers, obviously,” Eliza said lazily.
Decker groaned. “Well… yeah. I mean, I am not sure if love is what I’d call it. They would work together on their agency stuff, joint missions, things that required their combined skillsets. They had a reputation for being the team that was sent in when a situation was too hot, either for political reasons or because the target was too well-defended for the Navy to directly intervene. Samantha would let me know when our paths were bound to cross, when her agency needed navy support. I’d meet up with her, and toward the end Renic would often be there. By the time she helped me leave the Navy, she and Renic were inseparable.”
“He knows who you are,” Heavy said. “That doesn’t sound good.”
Decker exhaled through puffed cheeks. “Yeah well, about that. He knows me as a different name. I didn’t go into the Navy as Decker Sagan.”
Eliza cackled. “Oh yeah? What name did you go in under? Biff Thunderjump? Bolt Galaxian? Oh Decker, was it Ray Gunn?”
Decker frowned. “No. It’s a name that lived and died in the Imperium and that’s where it’s staying.”
Eliza looked to Heavy. “He’s mad because I was close.”
Manu took a step forward, switching from folded arms to arms akimbo. Decker grinned; finally, here comes the lecture.
“Let’s focus on the issue here. The psychopath assassin. What was he actually doing? We heard him mention Gallow, that they had some plan for the empire? And Senali was the exact same place that Samantha was bound for? He was onto her.”
Sellivan snorted from his corner of the lounge. “He was tying up a loose end. Kat Basara and the Red Kestrels had served their purpose and were now a liability. Gallow must be preparing to escalate. Even now, the news vids across the empire show his fleets are stationed around all eleven Imperium planets and patrolling the borders of Imperium space.” He looked up from his computer, face sullen and gaunt. “We are witnessing the final steps of an imperial mercy-killing.”
Everyone looked to Sellivan, then back to Decker. Decker opened his mouth, unsure of how to reply. Eliza came to his rescue.
“I dunno, Selli. I think that he was there for Samantha, not Basara. Killing her was just a pleasant side-effect. During their little chit-chat, it sounded like Renic wanted Samantha to join him in whatever he’s doing for Gallow, and then it blew up in his face. I don’t think he’ll be running back to Kestris to tattle on himself,” Eliza said, ending her statement with a gulp of the green rocket fuel.
Decker ran a hand through his hair. Eliza’s point was optimistic; he hoped she was right. “Maybe. I don’t know. It doesn’t mean he won’t still hold it against us in ways I don’t want to find out. They’re into some empire-wide spy stuff that is way over our pay grades, if we had a pay grade. Whatever Samantha and her people were worried would happen is happening.”
Heavy cleared his throat, casting a glance down the corridor to the crew quarters. “If Renic and Gallow and whoever else have accomplished what they wanted, isn’t pursuing us kinda pointless if they’ve won?”
“Very unlikely,” Sellivan chimed in from his corner. “We’ve seen too much to be left alone. We will become something to be taken care of.”
Decker smiled. A bitter, cynical grin. “Gee, thanks, Selli. Sounds so much worse when you put it that way.” Decker cleared his throat. “That aside, we’re going to need a plan. We’ll be dropping out of jumpspace soon. Hiding out on Gaph will work for a little while, but we’ll need something more than that. The ship will need a registry sweep and all new signatures. Not a cheap hack. Even after that, we’re still marked targets.”
“I think your sister can help with that, can’t she? While Samantha may be the one responsible for getting us into this, I believe her knowledge of both the man and situation is what might help get us out,” Sellivan said. All heads turned to Sellivan, then back to Decker.
“Uhhh. What?” Decker blinked at Sellivan’s phrasing when mentioning Samantha. He turned to Manu, eyebrows raised as accusingly as he could raise them.
“Hey, I never told anyone anything,” Manu said, holding up his hands.
Sellivan chuckled, raising his head from his computer. “He’s right, Decker. Manu wanted me to keep the ship’s systems safe and keep an eye on our passenger. In doing so, I did a little research. The death of an Imperium diplomat is something that makes the feeds in many systems. Dradari. The timing. Your connections to the Red Kestrels.”
Eliza sat up in her chair. “Whoah, Deck. Sister?” She sighed, adding under her breath, “Old married couple was close.”
“Half-sister,” Decker sputtered. “And very estranged. Until now, obviously. What does this matter? Shit, Sellivan, come on, man.”
“Hmm. I can see it,” Heavy said, nodding sagely. “I mean, you don’t look alike. But it explains your willingness to help her out. Family, and all.”
“It’s not about that,” Decker muttered. “Maybe it’s about that. Who cares, doesn’t make a difference.”
“Why not tell us at the start?” Heavy asked, the big man’s good-natured inquisitiveness exactly what Decker was not interested in at the moment.
Decker rolled his eyes and tossed his hands up. “Look, it didn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. We’ve all got friends, associates, old buddies from the past. So she and I share a parent. It’s not like we grew up together. She lived a life of luxury on Kestris with housekeepers and prep schools. I grew up buried in the sand on Dradari, with a pair of murdered parents and Reed Casto’s shadow over me. Not a lot of point in emphasizing the family ties.”
“No, but we’re sorta your new family, and we haven’t let you down yet,” Eliza said, cybernetic arm raising her empty glass to Decker. “I mean, not in any big ways. Plenty of small ways, though. We’re only human. Mostly human.”
“It is best to get it all out, Decker,” Sellivan said, voice unusually calm. “Samantha and those like her may default to operating without any trust, but we don’t have to. It is not the Creator’s way, and the Creator has brought us to this point for a reason.”
Decker squinted across the lounge. Sellivan’s cynicism always seemed to disappear when he talked about his Creator. Maybe he was onto something. Decker could pursue a monk’s life aboard the Matilda. Maybe that was his fate, to become Brother Sagan without a concern in the galaxy, pious and reverent.
Manu spoke up, dragging Decker from his fantasy. “So what do you want to do, Deck? We can’t stay in jumpspace forever, and we’ll run out of booze and nether long before food and water.” He took a few steps toward the center of the lounge. “Doesn’t matter how we got here, the way forward is the same. We don’t blame you for this.”
Eliza sat upright in her chair. “Blame? More like credit. We’re the most notorious freedom fighters the sector doesn’t know about yet. We could be heroes, facing down evil Gallow’s big-bad henchman in a vicious double-cross as we tried to save the empire?” Eliza pretended to shiver, delighted at the gallantry.
Decker sighed and dropped his hands to his sides. Maybe he didn’t need to become a monk just yet. The crew was still with him, the Matilda was still flying.
“Okay. Okay, let’s get her out here. It’s time for some answers.”
‘Do not disturb’. That was the message on the cabin’s door-lock panel. Decker raised his fist to the door, but paused. He wasn’t sure if knocking could be heard from inside. He’d never had to do it. In lieu of better options, he rapped his knuckles against the metal anyway and waited.
Nothing. He sighed and tried again, harder this time, adding his voice. “Samantha, it’s Decker. Open up, okay? We need to talk with you.” He waited a moment. Nothing. Maybe sound didn’t transfer.
Decker crossed the narrow corridor to his own cabin and retrieved a solid metal coupler from an unidentified project he’d been working on at some point. He banged the coupler against the door, the smacking sound echoing through the ship.
“Samantha, come on. I can override the door, but I really don’t want to.” He banged the coupler again. “I’ll give you a minute,” he shouted, an inch from the door with no idea if she could hear him. She’d had a day, plenty of time to recuperate for a conversation.
Decker closed his eyes tightly, clenching both fists. Why was he still accommodating her? Maybe it was a good thing that Sellivan had chosen to ambush him with the sibling-connection. It would make it easier for the crew to push back on Decker when they felt this old family tie was clouding his judgement.
Decker banged the coupler one last time. “Okay, I am going to open the door, I’m sorr-” he exhaled forcefully. He was not sorry. “You have about ten seconds to make yourself decent, okay?”
Decker counted, then keyed in his override on the door panel, something he’d never done before. That wasn’t how the Matilda worked, and it wasn’t how he wanted it to, either.
The door panel switched from red to green. He took one last deep breath, setting his face into an expression of stern, no-nonsense resolve. He touched the panel and the door slid open.
The interior of the cabin was dim, no brighter than a candle. He reached for the lighting controls and turned them to full, bathing the room in artificial white light. Samantha was on her back in the recessed bunk, apparently sleeping. The cabins must be well-soundproofed if she’d slept through the sound of the coupler slamming against the metal.
“Hey, Samantha, wake up. Samantha,” Decker commanded. No response. He turned and took a step toward the bed. It was unnerving standing over a sleeping person, especially one that was likely to wake up and stab him out of instinct.
Decker’s eyes narrowed. Something was strange. Samantha didn’t look like a sleeping person; she looked unconscious. Decker’s sense of confrontation drained away and a new feeling of urgency replaced it. He crouched and leaned into the bunk alcove, putting his hands on her shoulders and shaking.
“Hey, Samantha. Sam… oh, what the…”
On Samantha’s forehead was a device Decker vaguely recognized. It was one of the brain-inhibitors used to sedate medical patients. Now, Decker could see that her mouth and eyes were both slightly open, her body far too limp to be asleep. He shook her shoulders again, harder than before.
“Samantha? Shit!” He turned his head to the door. “Sellivan, you need to get in here. Medical emergency. Bring your kit!”
Decker turned back to Samantha. She didn’t look good. He put his ear against her chest. She had a heartbeat.
Sellivan’s shadow appeared over him. Decker ducked back out of the alcove. “She did something with that brain device. I don’t know.”
Sellivan came forward without hesitation, medical kit already in hand. No quip, no sarcasm, no scowl. “This is a neuro-interference halo. There should be a control of some sort, a handheld device with buttons and a small screen.”
Decker looked around the bunk. “Can’t you just pull it off?”
Sellivan placed the medical kit on the bunk and opened it, taking out a small, rectangular device. He placed it on her chest. “Yes, but the device’s effects should be inverted to help restore her brain activity to normal. Otherwise, we would be leaving her in a coma for an unpredictable amount of time, and at great risk,” he said as he pulled small sensor pads from the device. He placed the blinking pads on Samantha’s forehead, just above the halo, and two more just below her collarbones beneath her shirt collar.
“Yeah, uh… right.” Decker’s eyes swept around the room. Beneath the small desk bolted to the wall was a device matching Sellivan’s description. Decker picked it up, careful not to touch any controls, and handed it to Sellivan.
“Creator…” Sellivan whispered. He pressed several buttons on the remote’s interface. “She turned it on but did not implement the timer function. This could have been on since she entered. I’m reversing the device’s effects, but there is no telling what damage is done. Anything from moderate dehydration to permanent brain damage.”
Manu and Eliza appeared in the doorway, crowding each other to get a better look while Heavy leaned over them to stick his head inside.
“Is she going to be okay?” Heavy asked.
“She’s not dead. That is all I can tell you,” Sellivan said flatly.
Decker stared at Samantha’s face. It still hadn’t moved. He’d been angry at her, but not angry enough that he wasn’t scared. He may have been considering parting ways with her, but not like this. Her fancy visor had saved her from Renic’s slug, but now she had went ahead and taken herself out anyways.
Sellivan looked at the device the sensor pads were connected to. He hummed, then rummaged through his medical supplies. He retrieved a cylindric case and opened it, pulling out an auto-injector.
“What’s that? Adrenaline?” Decker asked.
Sellivan shook his head. “No. It’s a general purpose stabilizing agent that will help her autonomic system regain equilibrium, as well as mitigate the effects of her drug withdrawal.” He jabbed the injector against her neck and depressed the plunger.
“Drug withdrawal? From the halo?” Decker said, practically clawing at his scalp as he dragged his fingers through his hair in exasperation.
Sellivan didn’t answer. He appeared to be praying. Everyone was silent. A few more moments passed, then Sellivan opened his eyes and pointed to the desk. “See that metal container on the desk? That is likely where she kept Neurphandol tablets. Taze. Your sister seems to have quite a habit.”
Decker picked up the case and held it up. The pills inside rattled. “I know what taze is. How did you know about this?”
“The monitor is able to do a blood reading through the pads.” Sellivan pointed to the four electrode pads stuck to her body. “She still has metabolites from the taze in her blood. A lot. I would guess that she was quite stimulated while you were down on Senali. Not only that, her blood sugar is dangerously low, as well as her hydration. She doesn’t appear to have eaten or drank anything in quite some time.” Sellivan looked back to Samantha. “For such a competent person, your sister is pitifully irresponsible. The halo is a terrible method for taking one’s own life, if that is what she intended, but an excellent way to spend the rest of your days bedridden with the brain of an infant.”
Manu muttered a string of curses and backed out into the hall. Decker put his hands on his hips. “That’s it? Shouldn’t we do something else? Shock her or something?”
“I don’t recommend that,” Eliza said from the hall.
Sellivan gave Decker a stare with enough compassion it made him uncomfortable “Decker, her heart is beating. She is breathing. We have turned off the halo, but her body will only recover when it is ready, at which point I will evaluate for permanent damage. Which, it is my duty to inform you, should really be done at a proper medical facility. We may need to take her to a hospital on Gaph.”
Decker pressed his palms against his eyes. “This isn’t seriously happening, is it?”
Sellivan snorted. “It is. We need to administer intravenous fluids and nutrition. Hang this bag,” he pointed to an emergency fluids bag in the medical case, “while I insert a catheter into her vein. Heavy, please bring me my computer. I am going to stay in here and monitor her. I may not be a practicing physician any longer, but I will not let someone die under my supervision. The Creator is watching.”
Decker shook his head at Samantha, helpless and unconscious. “Yeah, Selli. Yeah. Good call,” he murmured.
Eliza’s hand, the organic one, appeared on Decker’s shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. “She’ll come around, Deck. And when she does, then you can throw her out the airlock.”