= CHAPTER 18 =

512 years in the future.
A Thursday morning.
6:31 AM

“I killed him, and you can’t tell me I didn’t,” Ms Arenson continued, wiping her tears with one hand, and gesturing for them to come in with the other.

“Killed who?” asked a stunned Mr Martell, as he and Mr Chamberlain entered the Engine Room.

“Mr Ellis, Mr Ellis!” she wailed. “I closed the bulkhead doors!”

Mr Chamberlain and Mr Martell stared at her.

“In the Cargo Hold! I closed the doors – Ms Aku told me to – and he was on the other side. The side with the hull breach. He got sucked out in to space,” Ms Arenson explained, as she collapsed wearily into a chair. “All my fault.”

Mr Chamberlain and Mr Martell knew this; they’d also heard the feed from Ms Aku’s communicator, as it was happening. The two men exchanged a look.

“You did what you had to do,” Mr Chamberlain said quietly. “There was a hole in the side of the ship – you had to make a split second decision.”

Mr Martell nodded. “You were following Ms Aku’s orders. And Ms Arenson, if you hadn’t closed those bulkhead doors, Ms Aku and Ms Leguin would also be gone now. You saved their lives.”

“… Along with those three pirates,” she retorted bitterly, referring to Evans, Fullbrook and Skarsgard. “I saved them too, you know”.

“You did,” said Mr Chamberlain. “But they won’t be troubling us anymore. They’ve gone off in one of their own ships, chasing after the gold.”

“Ha!” said Mr Martell, snorting at the futility of the gesture. “Wish them luck – they’ll need it.”

Ms Arenson allowed herself a small smile. It was good to have these two with her – she’d been feeling very alone and helpless since the pirates stormed the ship, being cut off as she was, all by herself, in the engine room. What had been happening this morning was dreadful, but at least the others had been surrounded by their crew mates, helping them through it.

“Where’s Mr Abara?” she asked suddenly, as she realised that the Chief Technology Officer wasn’t there. “Wasn’t he with you?”

“He ran off,” Mr Martell answered. “We couldn’t stop him. Said he wanted to find one of the pirates. Said he’s fallen in love, and he just had to see her. As he ran off, he yelled ‘I’ll be back here in fifteen minutes!’”

“… Damn fool,” muttered Mr Chamberlain.

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Searching the corridors on B deck, Mr Abara pondered while he wandered. His mind kept drifting in circles – numerous circles, various circles, irregular circles… but each circle had her at its centre.

What would her name be? It needed to be something that suited her – something delicate, feminine, and pretty… Melissa? Catherine? Pia? Martine? But it had to be strong too; as strong as she was. Jane? Fiona? Kim? Sarah? He remembered the defiance in her eyes, the confident way she wielded that rifle, that aura of danger and action about her… a shiver of excitement ran down his spine as he pictured her yet again.

As he kept walking, smilingly searching for her, he tried to envisage their first meeting. What would he say to her? (After he’d got past “Please don’t shoot”)? Would her voice sound as lovely as he imagined? Had she noticed him earlier? Would she like the look of him? Was he good enough for her?

He suddenly stopped walking. An extremely unwelcome thought had interrupted his blissful reverie. What if she wasn’t single? His heart hurt. ‘NO!’ he thought, instantly banishing the idea from his brain. ‘She has to be single – she can’t already be with someone! She just can’t. I couldn’t stand it if she was. I just. Couldn’t. Stand it.’ In the past, Mr Abara had been known to let jealousy get the better of him.

He re-started his search, wrangling his thoughts back to the pleasant pastime of guessing her name. Hannah? Meredith? Jennifer? Tamara? Nicole? Michaela?

Devereux’s given name was actually Ariane.

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Dr Zivai was now on the outskirts of the library, hoping to find the fox in non-fiction. She was sure she’d heard a noise come from one of the shelves here… and had that been a flash of orange fur behind the thesauruses? The scurrying noise sounded again, as she came up alongside the dictionaries and atlases. This time, though, it came from behind her. Feeling her frustration growing, Dr Zivai turned and followed the noise out of the library and onto B deck’s central corridor. In an effort to tamp down her rising anger, she told herself ‘It’ll be worth it. Once we catch that animal, we’ll have those marauders in the palm of our hand. Their captain’s a fool for having a mascot; who does that? His pointless sentimentality will be his undoing.’ But her self-administered pep talk didn’t seem to be working; Dr Zivai’s anger continued to grow. This ludicrous little mammal had put her on high alert. She was jumping at shadows, following hunches, doubting her own eyes and ears. The animal was making a fool of her. Dr Zivai had planned to catch the fox simply, quickly and with a minimum of effort. And she still hadn’t caught it.

Dr Zivai did not like to lose.

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Although he was searching B deck for the fox, Mr Serrano could not stop thinking about the Cargo Hold, and the secret shipment it had been concealing. He hated Captain Singh for not telling them about the ten tonnes of solid gold bars right under their noses. (She did, of course, have very good reasons for the secret cargo to remain secret, but Mr Serrano’s greed-clouded mind couldn’t conceive of them.) He hated the fact that all of the gold had now been blasted out into space. He hated the fact that he never even got a chance to see it. And he hated those pirates. He hated them for making him aware of the gold, he hated them for chasing the gold, for fighting for the gold, for killing his friends over the gold… but the thing Mr Serrano hated the pirates for most was for losing the gold.

As he grumpily continued his search, straining his ears for any vaguely vulpine utterances, he found himself hating the fox, too. She was one of them. Mr Serrano looked down at his rifle, wondering if the ‘stun’ setting (calibrated for humans) would also stun something as small as a fox. Or would it just kill her?

The way he was feeling at the moment, he’d gladly take the chance. Granted, the pirate captain’s pet would be a more valuable bargaining chip if she were alive… but if it could put an end to this ridiculous hunt, while hurting the man responsible for the deaths of two Symphony crew members – and the loss of all that beautiful, wonderful gold – Mr Serrano was perfectly prepared to pull the trigger at the first opportunity.

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So was his colleague, Deck Rating Ferrer. Mr Ferrer was not brave, in the classic sense – that is to say, the technically accurate sense – of the word. He’d never needed to be. Mr Ferrer was a young man blessed with handsome features, a strong, well-made body and a sense of easy entitlement to all the perks his genetic good luck had brought him.
The idea of chasing the fox had initially struck him as a fun diversion…. But now that he was out here, all alone, roaming the dark, empty corridors of B deck, that novelty had well and truly worn off. There were still pirates – vicious, murderous, pirates – aboard the Symphony. And any one of them could be waiting for him around the next corner, ready and waiting to shoot him on sight.

Mr Ferrer felt his arms begin to quiver. It wasn’t especially cold in here, he observed – so he wasn’t shivering. This was such an unfamiliar sensation to him, that it took him a moment to work out what was happening. He was trembling with fear. He would go back to the library. He needed to find Dr Zivai and Mr Serrano, and fast. There was safety in numbers.

He stopped, turned, and had taken two steps back towards safety when he heard something faint. An unfamiliar sound – something he didn’t at first associate with the fox.

Although he was still afraid, Mr Ferrer knew himself well enough to realise that his curiosity was about to get the better of him.

Flipping his rifle from ‘stun’ to ‘kill’, he ventured forward.

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B Deck on the Symphony of the Stars was also home to its restaurant Epicurus, along with its famed cellar. The cellar whose siren call had enticed the pirate Suarez away from his crew mates some 24 minutes earlier. Suarez had not wasted a single one of those 24 minutes, in his quest to sample the myriad liquid delights stored here. So far he’d sipped Irish whiskey, quaffed French brandy, swigged Australian rum, and all but inhaled some very fine Swiss absinthe.

He was currently feeling no pain.

“Now!” he said loudly and agreeably to himself. “Where shall I go next? Whomsoever shall I drink next, do I think? You?” he said, staring at a bottle of Betelgeusean schnapps. “…You?” he said, spinning around to address a carafe of Rigelian claret “….or maybe even… YOU!” (a sealed decanter of Terran tawny port).

He stood for a moment, swaying, frowning and deliberating.

“I know!” he exclaimed suddenly. “I’ll drink all three!” chuckling approvingly at his own genius, he carefully gathered all three vessels, sat on the cellar floor, and opened the decanter.

Five minutes later, Suarez had indeed sampled all three, and was frowning at the nearest wine rack. “I will decide which bottle to open next…” he told himself, “… just as soon as I can focus on the bloody things.”

Suarez was concentrating so hard on trying to see the bottles clearly that he didn’t realise there was now someone else in the room with him.

Someone with a syringe.

 

 

Author’s note: I’ve recorded a short video diary entry about the writing of this chapter, and if you’re interested, you can watch it right here

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