Chapter no 42

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars

The inner door to the airlock rolled open. Sparrow was standing there with a rifle fitted to her shoulder, aiming it toward the Jelly at the back of the airlock. Her hair hung flat and heavy in the high-g of the Wallfish’s burn.

“What’s that thing doing here, Captain?” she said. “You want I should remove it?”

The Marines scooted back from the Jelly while keeping their own weapons trained on it. A sudden tenseness filled the air. “Falconi?” said Hawes.

“The Jelly was helping us,” said Falconi, getting to his feet. It took him noticeable effort.

[[Itari here: Strike Leader Wrnakkr ordered me to guard you, so I will guard you.]]

Kira translated, and Falconi said, “Fine. But he stays here until we get shit sorted out. Not going to have him wandering around the ship. You tell him that.”

It,” said Kira. “Not him.”

Falconi grunted. “It. Whatever.” He slung his grenade launcher across his back and lurched out of the airlock. “I’ll be in Control.”

“Roger that,” said Nielsen, her voice muffled as she pulled off the helmet of her power armor.

The captain staggered down the corridor as fast as he could despite the ship’s thrust, and Sparrow followed close behind. “Glad you made it, knuckleheads!” she shouted over her shoulder.

Kira conveyed Falconi’s orders to the Jelly. It formed a nest with its tentacles and settled down at the end of the airlock. [[Itari here: I will wait.]]

[[Kira here: Do you need help with your injuries?]]

Nearscent of negation reached her. [[Itari here: This form will heal on its own. Help is not required.]] And Kira saw that the crack in the Jelly’s carapace was already crusted over with a hard, brown substance.

As Kira moved out of the airlock, she passed by Nielsen. “Your arm!” said the first officer.

Kira shrugged. She was still in so much shock over what she’d learned about the nightmares that the loss didn’t seem very important. And yet she avoided looking at the absence below her elbow.

The Entropists were there, but of their whole expedition, only seven of the Marines had survived.

“Koyich? Nishu?” she said to Hawes.

The lieutenant shook his head while tending to Moros, who had a piece of humerus sticking through his skinsuit. Despite her own distress, Kira felt a pang of sorrow for the lost men.

Vishal came hurrying up to the airlock, bag in hand. His face was lined and streaked with sweat. He gave Trig’s body a worried glance and then said, “Ms. Nielsen! Ms. Kira! We thought for sure we’d lost you. It’s good to see you.”

“You too, Vishal,” Nielsen said, stepping out of her armor. “When you get a chance, we’ll need some rad-pills.”

The doctor bobbed his head. “Right here, Ms. Nielsen.” He handed a blister pack to the first officer, and then held out another to Kira.

She tried to accept with her missing hand. The doctor’s eyes widened as he noticed. “Ms. Kira!”

“It’s fine,” she said, and snatched up the pills with her other hand. It most definitely wasn’t.

Vishal continued to stare after her as she left the airlock.

Once out of sight, she stopped in the corridor and downed the pills. They stuck in her throat for an unpleasant moment. After, she just stood there. She didn’t know what she wanted to do, and for a time, her brain refused to provide an answer.

Then, she said, “Gregorovich, what’s happening?”

“Rather busy at the moment,” the ship mind answered in an unusually serious voice. “Sorry, O Spiky Meatbag.”

Kira nodded and started to trudge toward Control, each weighted step jarring her heels.

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