Sunday, December 6, 2009
This week's story is a light one. Just two guys talking while they run out of air.
He tried to hatch again, leaned hard into the wheel, but it didn't move this time, not a single creaking inch. With a disgusted sigh he let go, wiping flecks of paint and rust on the sides of his jumpsuit. "This is your fault."
"Funny, I don't remember locking us in here," I told him more calmly than I felt. It had already been twenty minutes and with the way the temperature was climbing I was sure they really had turned off the environmental controls. That left us less than an hour of air.
He crossed his arms over his chest, fat beads of sweat running down his neck and into the collar of his T-shirt. He'd stripped out of the top of the jumpsuit, tying the sleeves around his waist and exposing his strong shoulders. Combined with the fierce look on his face, the effect was almost intimidating. "If you hadn't been trying to kill that man none of this would have happened."
He was frustrated, his accent was always thicker when he was frustrated. I patted a spot on the deck next to me. "I wasn't trying to kill anyone," I insisted. He didn't look impressed so I tried a different angle. "Yelling will only waste air."
For a second he frowned harder with his mouth open and ready to argue. But just as quickly his shoulders slumped and he sighed. He sat down gingerly on the deck and put his back to the bulkhead beside me. "If you weren't trying to kill him, what were you trying to do?"
I wished he was still looming over me and shouting. He had the most amazing temper when something managed to make him angry. Watching that would have been a lot more entertaining than answering his question. "I was only going to scare him," I hedged. It wasn't really a lie. Death was scary.
"To the casual observer it certainly looked like you were going to shoot him." He had forced his voice to be low and even, but from the corner of my eye I could see that his fists were balled up on his knees.
I turned my head a fraction. His hands were clenched so tight that the blood had been forced out, his knuckles almost white against his dark skin. "But I didn't shoot him, did I?"
"No," he agreed tensely. "You would have though, if I hadn't stopped you?"
I let my head fall back against the pitted surface of the bulkhead. The metal was getting warm and I the oppressive heat pushed in at me on all sides. "I've never shot anyone," I said, surprising myself with the admission.
There was a muted gasp next to me and I felt his shoulder touch mine. "But, all of those years with The Company?"
I shrugged, my eyes still on the peeling paint above us. This wasn't a conversation I wanted to have either. Still, it was better than admitting I had been prepared to shoot that alien because it had insulted him. "There are all sorts of ways to keep the peace."
His hand covered mine where it rested on the deck. "I'm sorry. I'd always assumed-"
"That we were all killers?" His hand twitched and I turned mine to hold it before he could pull away. "It's what everyone is supposed to think," I told him. The Company had a reputation to maintain.
He squeezed my fingers. "Still Zane, I shouldn't have assumed."
"Don't worry about it," I told him. It was disconcerting that his apology made me feel so much lighter.
We sat side by side against the bulkhead, shoulders touching and fingers twined despite the heat. There was no way to know how long we stayed like that. I had noticed the air was stale when he broke the silence.
"Tell me about what you what you did for The Company," he asked softly.
I rubbed my thumb over the back of his hand. "I'm sure you've heard all the best stories." There was no telling what he had heard before we started traveling together. It was true I'd never shot anyone, but it didn't mean my hands were clean. Shooting wasn't the only way to kill.
He yawned, and to my complete surprise his head settled on my shoulder. "I haven't heard them from you."
My heart was beating too hard for the heat and our limited air. If he was already getting tired we didn't have much time left. He couldn't have realized it yet or he would have tried the door again. I had to keep him distracted. I cleared my throat. "Did you ever hear about the security breach on the Nautilus?"
"A breach? That would have been on the news," he protested just above a whisper.
I shifted to look at him. I couldn't see his face, just his dark curly hair. "It would've been on the news if anyone had ever found out about it. The Company does have a few secrets."
"I'm sure," he agreed, shifting closer.
I took a deep breath and let my head fall to the side until my cheek was pressed against his hair. "They had just replaced the internal sensors. I was off duty, reading in my bunk, when the alarms went off.
"When those alarms go off you're supposed to just go. So you have to picture ten guys running down the halls with compression rifles, in nothing but uniform boots and boxers."
He laughed softly. "I think I can imagine it."
I wasn't quite sure what to make of his tone. I swallowed against my dry throat and continued. "Yeah well, I was squad second so I had to carry the tracker. Once the alarms went off all the lifts shut down, so I had to tell the guys that we'd be running down six decks. And when we got there the intruder had shifted down another deck. It took three squads to corner it in a storage bay." I paused and listened to his breathing. It was slow and regular. Asleep. I sighed. We were going to die in a tiny metal room because I couldn't get a handle on my temper. Maybe I deserved that, but he didn't. "I'm sorry," I whispered.
He shifted but didn't wake up. The heat was worse, it made us sweat like we might melt into each other. The air was getting thin, I could only breathe in short jerks and my eyelids felt heavy.
When the door creaked I barely jumped. It opened in a blast of cold air and light. A skinny green thing with tentacles for a mouth stared at us. "What the hell? Ain't no one supposed to be in here. We're runnin' a test."
"We were just leaving," I assured it with a cracking voice. I nudged the dark head against my shoulder but he didn't wake up. I checked his pulse, it was strong. I put one arm around his shoulder and the other under his knees. My legs shook but I managed to pick him up. "What deck's the infirmary?" I asked tentacle mouth.
"Ten, but you all have to wait for security. Clean area, wasn't supposed to be anyone down here," it said, blocking the doorway.
"If you want to explain to The Company Outpost why you're holding two of its officers, feel free," I said coolly, shifting the dead weight in my arms.
The bluff worked, it shifted far enough to the side to let us pass. "Don't want no trouble."
"Which way is the lift?" I asked once we were in the bright hall.
It pointed off to the right. "Down there. Left at the junction. Sir," it added with something like a salute.
I nodded and started down the hall. By the time I got to the lift my arms were shaking. I was grateful to lean against the wall as we moved up to deck ten. The lift opened straight into the infirmary. "Need a bed!" I called out to the first nurse I saw.
"Gurney," she called over her shoulder. She came up to us and felt for the pulse in his wrist. "How long has he been out?"
"Ten minutes, maybe fifteen. It was oxygen dep," I told her.
The gurney rolled up and I set him carefully on it. When I backed away I found my hand caught in a strong grip.
His eyes were open. "What was it?"
"What was what?" I asked, finally take a deep breath. I stumbled along with the gurney as they rolled him down the hall.
His hold on my hand loosened. "The breach."
I squeezed his hand hard afraid he was going to pass out again. "Cat. They set the sensors too high."
He laughed and it dissolved into a cough. "Three squads for a cat? Wonderful."
There was a hand at my chest and I looked up to see a doctor shaking his blue head. "You can't come back here. You can wait over there."
I had to fight down the urge to hit him, but I'd been around enough medics to know they'd have no problem calling security on me. I reluctantly released the hand I was holding.
"He'll be fine," the doctor assured me over his shoulder as he pushed the gurney forward through the doors.
A dark hand lifted before the doors blocked them from view. I held my own hand up and tried to look reassuring. I stared after him long after the doors closed.