Click here to check out part one :) And come back on Friday for the cover reveal and release date for my next book, due out next year!
Rat Pack, part 2
© RAD Writing, 2015
I tried to keep my eyes on Neal, to figure out what was going on, but nothing in the room was still. My body knocked against one of the walls when the ship lurched again to the side, tools floating in open air along my new path. In the back of my mind I noted the sound of screeching hydraulics, the ramp closing, but I couldn’t see a thing beyond the blur of motion. Every time I closed my eyes I saw my husband’s face, the day I’d left him back on Earth. We’d both agreed that this was an opportunity I couldn’t ignore. He’d let me come out here, for the mission of a lifetime, and as I felt the ship careen once again under the force of yet another tether and again found myself hurdling toward the wall, I doubted that I would ever look into those beautiful eyes ever again.
The next thing I knew, I was back in the helm on deck one of Apollo-Negata, my flightsuit removed and blood trickling down my forehead. I lay on my stomach, my wrists bound behind me and my ankles tied tight.
Silently, I lifted my head and turned toward the viewscreen. Two men I’d never before seen were sitting in the pilot and copilot seats, neither of them paying any attention to me. Their minds were focused on the ship, on flying us deeper into the Kuiper Belt.
Earth-Space had no knowledge of where the Hunters kept their base. That was the simple truth of the matter. We’d been looking for their base for years, thus far coming up empty. But if they were taking us deeper into the belt, then I had to assume their base was beyond it. Where else would they be taking us, now that we’d been captured? We were far from the first people the Hunters had kidnapped and attempted to force to join their ranks—but I would not be moved. I vowed it to myself, there and then. No matter what these people did to me, I would rather die than join them.
I turned the other way now, looking for any sign of Neal. He’d been acting strangely before we’d been tethered to the Hunters, but it didn’t mean he wasn’t in danger as well. I had no idea what was really going on here, and I was intent on giving my CO the benefit of the doubt. Neal was a good man. He always had been, and he always would be.
“Distress beacon activated,” Harry announced.
Immediately, I lay my head back down and closed my eyes, feigning unconsciousness.
Both Hunters left the helm and I rolled onto my side, wiggling my legs through my arms as I did so. I stood up and stared at the viewscreen as the ship came out of the Kuiper Belt and neared Planet X.
Earth-Space rarely came out of the solar system this way. We tended to avoid X and Y, the so-called useless rocks of our system. But right now, I wondered if there was another reason why we were always told to avoid X: the hub, the Hunter station we’d all supposedly been looking for. I stared long and hard as the Apollo-Negata flew automatically toward the station, nearing the docking ports. I gawked so long and hard, in fact, that I nearly missed the sound of Neal’s shout behind me.
Now brought back to reality, I searched for some way to right the situation. There must have been a way to get out of this. My hands shook, my mind spinning in a search for anything I’d learned in my training that might help me in this situation. But even protocol couldn’t save me from the fist that then wound itself in my hair.
“She’s awake,” the man said in my ear.
“Put her with the other one,” a second man replied.
By the roots of my hair, he dragged me out of the helm, through crew quarters, toward airlock three in the rear of the ship. The whole of my body shook violently, but I didn’t know what to do. Protocol mandated something in this situation, surely, but I had no idea what it might have been. In that moment, every speck of my training left my mind. I was nothing but a woman who’d been taken captive, randomly chosen by the Hunters. I wondered why they would even want someone like me, someone so feeble and afraid.
He opened the airlock doors only long enough to put me inside with Neal, who knelt beside the outer doors. He still wore his flightsuit, his arms and legs were free, but his nose looked badly broken.
I flinched when the doors closed behind me, and I dropped to my knees beside my CO. “What’s going on?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” He shook his head, avoiding my gaze.
The whole of Apollo rattled quietly as we docked with the station, and my heart sank. There was no getting out of this now. I’d failed us. I hadn’t been able to do anything. As soon as I’d seen what had happened, that we were approaching the Hunters’ station, I’d lost my will to continue. Neal had put his trust in me, and I’d failed him. I’d failed both of us.
Neal remained silent but got to his feet, looking through the single window in the airlock doors, to the interior of the ship. Only two bulkhead doors now held us within his ship. All the Hunters would have to do was press a single button, and we would be sent out into the void of space. Our lives would cease, in that very moment. I didn’t doubt that they would go through with it, soon enough.
I stood beside my superior, doing my best to harness every ounce of bravery in my being. My eyes shifted through the window as more Hunters filed onto the ship through airlock two, the main docking center. Apollo was small enough that they could’ve put us inside the station if they’d wanted to—there must have been reason for them to leave us out here. Either way, I didn’t honestly think we would live long enough to find out.
One of the men caught my eye, a man I’d seen before. I recalled his face plastered on a billboard, his piercing eyes seeming to look into mine even through the ink on paper. Back then, back on Earth, he’d been a different man. He’d been in several of my classes in the Earth-Space academy, and he’d been aboard one of the cadet ships overtaken by Hunter forces. Since then, his name had appeared in more and more places. Terrorist, they called him.
They’d never released his name to the public, and I’d never known him well enough to find it out.
He approached the airlock, a look of defiance in his eyes. By that look alone, I was aware of his power over these people. He’d been promoted quickly through the ranks, if he was already in command of a task force like this. We would’ve graduated the same time, he and I, if he hadn’t been taken and turned.
The man reached out to the side of the door and I held my breath, expecting that any moment I would be thrust out into the void.
Instead, the doors slid open. He looked me straight in the eye, his power clearer now than it had ever been before. He was in control here. I had become the prisoner, the weak woman who’d lost her own mind and will the moment she’d woken up inside the helm, her hands and feet bound.
I opened my mouth to speak, and he turned his head away from us. “Find out what you can,” he said. “Then bring the woman to the commander.” He stepped away from the airlock, moving toward the exit. “Use whatever force you deem necessary. Kill the man, if you wish. Commander’s orders.”
Again my hands shook, my eyes gaping wide and turning to my commanding officer. What was I to expect, in this situation? Should I now lie down and allow myself to be beaten half to death, at the whim of a man who’d once been a part of my cadet class in Earth-Space?
“Neal?” I whispered.
He shook his head slowly, imperceptibly, and I took a slow deep breath to steel myself. This was going to happen. These men wouldn’t ignore their orders, not even for a woman. I couldn’t consider myself anything more than another mission to any of them. I had to assume that they hadn’t come to the Kuiper Belt for me. Neal would’ve been the better of us, the one they should’ve come for. He meant something, in Earth-Space. I was just another recruit, another rookie in the field, probably too early.
The next three hours were the slowest of my life so far. First I watched while my CO was stripped of his uniform, both of his kneecaps shot out from under him. They forced me to stand idly by while his blood pooled upon the metal grated baseboards of his own ship, long enough to make him too weak to stand. A medical officer saw to him long enough to keep him alive, and then they turned to me. My flightsuit had already been stripped from me, my sense of dignity gone in the hours since I’d been stolen from my life. I never allowed myself to scream, to cry out for help, or to ask them to stop. I only made a sound when I could not prevent it, when my lungs required it for the expulsion of air from the force of a blow.
In all my days, I had never seen so much blood. Both mine and Neal’s, mingled on the ground beneath me. I could only barely stand upon my feet, my knees shaken and bruised from countless falls, my face and chest bloodied beyond recognition. I felt the warmth of my own blood seeping from my wounds, getting into my eyes, pooling in my mouth. The metallic taste was the only thing that kept me lucid, prevented me from falling into dismay.
Life in Earth-Space wasn’t supposed to be like this. Coming out here was supposed to be my great adventure, the thing I’d been working toward my whole life. It wasn’t supposed to be the thing that killed me, the thing that proved I wasn’t cut out for life in the void. I’d been trained in combat, in flight, even in ship repair, but in that moment I believed nothing could prepare a person for the fact that their life was about to end. And when another metal rod was rammed into my abdomen, another bout of electricity sent coursing through my veins and knocking me back down onto my knees, I knew that I would not survive much more of this.
All the while, my eyes shifted whenever I found the chance, to the computer panels that surrounded me. Harry was there, the ship’s AI, watching all of this. Protocol mandated that he allow this to happen, that he do nothing that might go against the orders of his crew, and we could not order him to help us. Right then, I saw the absurdity of it all. In his humanoid eyes projected upon those screens, I saw his confusion, his desire to help us. But I had no idea how he might be able to do so. He needed an audio command from one of us, if he was ever going to succeed.
We were alone in this, Neal and I, and though I did my best to clear my mind and find a way, I saw no way out for either of us.
They asked us questions, things I didn’t know the answers to. I was only a lower level specialist, not privy to important information. The things I knew were the things anyone in Earth-Space could know, and I had a feeling that the Hunters had people hiding among our ranks as it was. They didn’t need to know the things I knew—we already had the same sources, the same intelligence.
The rod was removed, and I wept as I collapsed upon the ground. I didn’t bother to look up when footsteps approached through the airlock, from the station. There was only one person who would bother to come back here: the man who’d ordered this to happen.
“Report,” he said, the man who’d been in my classes, the man who’d seen my face countless times before today, the man who surely knew who I was and why I was here.
The others made no reply.
I turned my head to the side, to look into Harry’s eyes upon one of the out of the way panels, and my brows furrowed as I attempted to focus upon the words that had been written there. Harry shouldn’t have been able to do anything like that, to even attempt to communicate with me. It went against the mandate of his very creation, the coding within his own systems. This wasn’t possible.
And yet, there they were.
How long can you hold your breath?
You're right, that was mean. This isn't the ending. The ending will be revealed in the next edition of Mavguard Magazine, due out in April, 2016.