All Profound and Logical Minds
By Bennett North
The space station was silent in the way that a black hole is black; it was more than just an absence of noise. There was something physical to the silence, a force pulling in all sound and eating it. Hannah anchored her boots to the floor of the atrium, feeling the reassuring click as the magnets engaged. Emergency lights washed the atrium floor with a watery red light.
Taking a deep breath of her tepid suit air, Hannah unzipped her bag. An insulated thermos floated out. She left it slowly rotating next to her elbow while she rummaged around to find her keychain. It was a cheap one, made of injection-molded nickel, in the shape of a caffeine molecule. Stupid and gimmicky, yes, but she needed a symbol of her faith and as an atheist, it worked. Bethany had come up with the idea of doing the ritual as an exorcism. A real Catholic exorcism would take much longer, but the clients liked the concept, and Hannah’s abbreviated version worked.
A faint click in Hannah’s ear warned her a second before she heard her sister’s voice over the radio. “Ship to Missionary. Come in, Missionary.” Bethany’s voice was thin and staticky, more white noise than words, but it was like tasting cream after having nothing but water.
Hannah closed her eyes for a second, savoring the soft hiss, and then opened them again, shifting a glance to the heads-up display to trigger the radio to pick up her response. “This is Missionary. I’m in position in the atrium.”
“How’s it looking in there?”
Hannah looked toward the starboard side of the atrium. Six or seven bodies had collected in the awning of a cafe like a lost handful of balloons. They were dressed casually as if they’d been strolling through the park at the time that the station vented.
“Quiet,” said Hannah.
“Good.” Bethany’s voice had a laugh in it. “The longer it stays quiet, the better.”
Hannah’s neck was prickling with unease, but she pushed that away. It was just too familiar in here, too much like the station she’d grown up in. It reminded her of home in the worst way.
She turned in a slow circle, surveying the atrium. The shops were different, but she could remember playing in a plaza just like this one as a kid, under the same sort of sky. During the day the screens set into the ceiling would show an artificial blue sky, and at night they’d show a real view of the stars outside the station. Now the screens were dead gray, frozen in the vacuum of space.
They’d done that back home, too.
Almost all the way through her turn, she stopped. “Missionary to Ship. It looks like they renovated a couple of the shops to the port.”
“They might have changed other things. This station is too much like home. I’m afraid I’ll assume it’s identical and find out it’s different at just the wrong moment. Could you double check the floor plan and make sure that there aren’t any differences I should be aware of?”
“I already checked. You’re going to be fine.”
“You didn’t tell me about the shops.”
“You’re not going that way, Hannah.”
“Could you double check?”
“Checking now. Nope, they’re identical.”
Hannah scowled. The rogue space station was the biggest job they’d ever done, and Bethany was treating it like a malfunctioning coffee pot. “You didn’t really check again, did you?”
“Here, I’ll check a third time. Still no.”
Hannah closed her eyes briefly and sighed. “Beth.”
“Trust me, Hannah.”
Hannah pressed her lips together unhappily. When in doubt, assume the worst. Always assume the worst. This was a space station that housed twenty thousand people at full capacity and had killed two-thirds of that when it vented its atmosphere into space. There was no way to fix it without being inside of it, within its sphere of influence, and that meant trusting Bethany to monitor things from the outside. She hated trusting anyone with her life, but especially her little sister.
“Okay,” Hannah said out loud.
There was a pause. She couldn’t tell if Beth was annoyed with her delayed response or was just, as usual, distracted. “Ready when you are.”
Hannah ran through a quick inventory of her items again, making sure everything was in place. She turned on the audio feed. Without an atmosphere, she couldn’t transmit audibly to the atrium around her, but the station would pick up her broadcast. She closed her eyes and inhaled, then let out the air, straightening her shoulders.
“Those who view mathematical science, not merely as a vast body of abstract and immutable truths, but as the language through which alone we can adequately express the great facts of the natural world,” she began. She had said these words so many times that she didn’t have to think. That was what was most important: not the words, but how she said it.
At the end of the atrium, an exit sign lit up.
“Now it knows you’re here,” Bethany muttered in her ear.
Hannah unscrewed the top of the thermos. Inside was a plastic bag with a squeeze spout on the end. She squeezed the bag hard. The liquid boiled instantly in the low pressure, then froze into a delicate white mist, slowly expanding outward from where she stood.
“…Will regard with especial interest all that can facilitate the translation of its principles into explicit practical forms.”
She kept her eyes on the exit sign, which stared back unblinkingly. There were upwards of two hundred sensors tracking her right now, recording her body temperature, tone of voice, the movement of blood under her skin, her microbiome, and a few dozen other data points.
Under Hannah’s feet, the floor rumbled as a system came online. The exit sign blinked and then went out. The lights of the cafe turned on, illuminating the bodies caught in the awning, as if to draw her attention to them. Hannah jerked her eyes away and her voice shook just a little. She couldn’t do anything for the dead except keep going.
“Ventilation and life support just came on,” Bethany reported. “It’s been trying to ping your suit controls but it can’t get through. I don’t think there’s anything it can do to you with just the ventilation.”
Don’t tell me about that, Hannah thought, but didn’t break her recitation. I didn’t need to know that.
“Here comes the DDOS attack. Jeez, it’s so predictable.”
Hannah held up the keychain, showing it to the lights in the cafe. The sensors would be tracking the way her neural patterns and breathing rate changed when she looked at it, the facility with which her muscles handled it, and her unconscious awareness of its existence once it was no longer in her direct line of sight. The symbol itself didn’t matter, except for the fact that it was one.
There were no demons involved in this exorcism; just a rogue AI. Sometimes the massively complicated computers in charge of space stations or ships got corrupted, as all data did eventually, and things went wrong. There was no ill intent behind the malfunctioning. Often the corruption manifested itself in blinking lights or power fluctuations, but space was such an inherently deadly environment that it didn’t take much for the AI to play with something dangerous like the airlock controls. Humans liked doing what humans always did, which was ascribe meaning and intent to random tragedy, and one popular theory, along with the singularity and a secret terrorist organization, was demonic possession. Exorcisms worked, though not of any actual demons. Rogue AIs, having been designed by humans, were inevitably rooted in human culture, and some pattern of vocal cadence and body language worked to untangle the corrupted code. It didn’t matter what you said, just how you said it. You needed unshakeable belief in something, and confidence that what you were doing was going to succeed.
In that regard, Catholic exorcisms worked great if you were Catholic, thought that exorcisms worked, and believed that space stations could be possessed by demons. Otherwise, any sort of intensely practiced ritual could keep a station from going rogue—a Japanese tea ceremony, a Maori haka, a dance troupe’s production of Coppélia—but few of those translated well to working in a vacuum once the station had gone past the tipping point. Many stations these days made sure to have one sort of ritual or another going on within the AI’s purview as a preventative measure. Hannah’s ritual, which Bethany advertised to clients as a “science exorcism,” was for when things went too far.
A couple bistro tables that had been bumping against the ceiling overhead started to move in lazy circles, pushed by newly active air vents. She heard the clink of metal tapping metal, which meant that there was enough atmosphere in the room to transmit sound.
The air conditioning in her suit came on, and Hannah’s mouth went dry. She quickly muted her broadcast.
“Beth—” she said.
“It doesn’t have you. Your suit is just responding to the temperature of the station,” Bethany said. “It’s playing with the thermostat, but I don’t think it can raise it over a buck twenty anyway. You’re fine. Keep going.”
Hannah took a deep breath and let it out. “Are you sure?”
“Your suit’s air conditioning can handle a lot more than what this station can put out,” Bethany said. She sounded slightly exasperated.
The thawed mist condensed onto the floor at Hannah’s feet, as much of a pseudo-baptism as was going to happen here in space. And then three things happened all at once.
The artificial gravity abruptly turned on, and Hannah, taken by surprise, fell onto her butt on the floor. At the same time, the lights cut out, and a shriek of white noise came from the intercom, carried on the developing atmosphere in the room.
“The distinctive characteristic of the Analytical Engine,” Hannah shouted desperately, disengaging the magnets in her boots to keep her ankles from twisting. “And that which has rendered it possible—”
That was when one of the bistro tables hit her. The edge of the table punched her in the gut, knocking the air out of her. Her head cracked into the floor, bouncing off the inside of the helmet, and white fizz erupted behind her eyes. Something crunched in her arm and she would have screamed if she’d had air. Air—where was her air? Had the suit been punctured?
The air rushed back into her lungs with a whoop as her diaphragm remembered what it was supposed to be doing. A bistro chair smashed into the floor right next to her head, and Hannah shrieked, trying to twist away. Her arm blazed with fiery pain and she stopped.
It was too dark to see. The sound of more things hitting the floor carried weakly on the thin atmosphere. Hannah heaved the table off herself with her good arm and then lay flat on her back while she took stock.
The keychain and thermos were lost somewhere. And Bethany—
As soon as she thought of Bethany, Hannah realized the hiss of static in her ear was gone. “Beth?” she said, but there was no answer. Panic surged up her throat. Bethany was supposed to be safe on their ship. That’s why Hannah always insisted she stay there.
How had she been so stupid? She’d been looking for threats on the flat plane of the floor, not in the three dimensions of space, as she should have been. Why hadn’t she thought of the bistro tables over her head? Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Staring up, all she could think about was the dead sky looking back down at her. Almost everyone Hannah had known as a child had died under a sky just like this one. The only thing that saved her and Bethany had been Hannah’s obsession with preparing for the worst.
You’re ready for this, she told herself. You have a space suit and a plan of attack. You’ve seen the worst, and this isn’t it. Get up.
Wrapping her hand around her bad arm, Hannah gingerly rolled onto her side and then her knees. She sat up and triggered her helmet lights, which illuminated the area around her. At least those still worked.
“Okay,” Hannah said out loud. “Okay. I can do this.” Her voice sounded too loud in her helmet.
She rolled from her knees to her feet, sweeping her helmet light over the mess of chairs and tables around her. There—the thermos was on the floor, trapped under a chair.
Hannah leaned to grab it, and just as her fingers touched it, the gravity turned off again. She managed an awkward forward spin and grabbed the thermos as the chairs all rose in a gentle ballet around her.
According to her suit display, the temperature in the atrium was forty-three degrees Celsius, or, as Bethany had said, about a buck twenty. Hannah continued her slow spin forward until she’d completed a full revolution and then engaged the magnets in her boots, letting them pull her back to the floor.
She couldn’t stay out here where the chairs could drop down on her again. She turned her head, playing her helmet light over the floor. It was hard to picture how she’d moved in the tumult of the gravity and darkness. Ah, there was the familiar curve of the wall outside the shops. She pushed off toward it, then triggered her boots to pull her to a stop when a dead end loomed up unexpectedly out of the darkness. How did—oh. The renovations that Bethany had said she wasn’t going anywhere near. Dammit, Bethany.
She followed the wall until she found an awning. There were no corpses under this one, and it felt safer to have something over her head. She anchored herself to the ground.
“The Analytical Engine has no pretensions whatever to originate anything. It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform,” she said, finishing her recitation. “It can follow analysis, but it has no power of anticipating any analytical relations or truths. Its province is to assist us in making available what we are already acquainted with.”
The atrium fell silent. The gravity remained off, and the temperature remained stable. Hannah held her breath. It didn’t feel like the same silence as before; more quiescent than waiting. She couldn’t be sure until she had Bethany check, though, and she knew better than to assume everything was fine.
“Those who view mathematical science…”
Hannah ran the ritual three more times, using up the last of the water in her thermos. She went through the motions without the keychain, but it didn’t seem to matter. There was no further response from the station.
When she completed the ritual the third time, the radio clicked in Hannah’s ear. “—nah? Hannah, come in, please—”
Something tight in Hannah’s chest relaxed. “I’m here, Beth! I’m okay.”
“Oh thank god,” Bethany burst out, her voice sounding thick with tears. “I thought it had got you. Are you okay?”
“I think my arm is broken,” Hannah said. “And I lost my keychain.”
“Come on back. We can celebrate with some high-quality painkillers.” Bethany sniffled. “The station looks clean from here. No more rogue readings. It’s dead, baby.”
“Good. Can you turn on the lights?”
After a moment, the lights came back on, revealing the atrium once again. Hannah eyed the drifting chairs and tables, feeling a growing burn of anger in her chest replacing the relief.
“And while you’re at it, can you tell me why you wouldn’t tell me about the goddamned renovations?”
“You saw them yourself, Hannah. There was nothing to them.”
“You are not the one who decides what I need to know!” Hannah only barely kept herself from shouting. “You have no idea what information I need to do my job.”
“I’m not new to this,” Bethany returned, her voice just as heated. “Don’t treat me like a child.”
“I’ll stop treating you like a child once you stop treating this like a game. I should have known you weren’t ready to help out. You should have stuck to booking clients.”
That wounded Bethany, Hannah could tell. In the pause, Hannah came out from under the awning and started back toward the airlock, using the magnet-assisted force of her boots to stomp some of her anger out on the atrium floor.
“You know what’s the most important part of the ritual?” Bethany asked coldly, coming back on the radio. “Confidence. If you hadn’t spent half your time in there questioning everything I did, maybe you could have taken care of the problem before it got onto our ship. You think that being old enough to remember our home venting when we were kids gives you natural aptitude for this job or some bullshit, but all it really gives you is fear. You’re sabotaging the job when you keep second-guessing yourself, and you’re putting us in danger when you don’t let me help.”
“Don’t pretend you know any part of—”
Bethany cut her off, hot and furious. “If I don’t, whose fault is that? You can’t accuse me of not knowing the job when you refuse to let me do it.”
“You haven’t earned that trust!” Hannah gritted her teeth at the pulses of pain coming from her arm.
“I never will because you expect the worst from me every time.”
“And you always live up to it,” Hannah snapped.
The radio clicked off. That sent off a twinge of guilt in her chest. Maybe Bethany hadn’t deserved that, but she needed to learn to take this seriously.
Hannah reached the hallway leading to the airlock. She’d traced this route many times as a child back home, and she still did in her mind every night before she fell asleep. A break from the routine wouldn’t just throw her off schedule; it could cause her to lose muscle memory when the need arose, or it would trip her own spaceship over into a cascading series of errors. Bethany had been too young when their home station vented to understand the importance of all of this preparation.
The airlock responded to her commands exactly as it was meant to. Hannah kicked off into the kevlar chute attaching the airlock to her own ship.
Bethany was waiting on the other side of the airlock when she boarded, but she said nothing, her jaw tightly clenched as she turned on the controls to retract the chute and disengage from the station. Hannah waited stiffly as the mechanics engaged. The artificial gravity on the ship weighed heavily on her arm.
“I need you to splint my arm,” Hannah said finally.
“Can’t you do it yourself?” Bethany shot back.
“You’re lucky I bother working with you.” Bethany slammed the control panel shut and stalked past Hannah, heading toward the med bay. “God knows no one else will.”
That stung just a bit. Hannah remained silent as they entered the small room where they kept their medical supplies. She sat down on a stool and fumbled one-handed with the latch to her helmet. Bethany searched through drawers, opening and closing them more forcefully than necessary. By the time she found painkillers and a splint, Hannah had only managed to get the helmet half off. Bethany pulled it off the rest of the way and set it down on the table.
“Thank you,” Hannah muttered. Then: “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“I’m doing my fucking best,” Bethany burst out like the words had been dammed up behind her teeth for a while. “I did check the floor plan. There was barely any difference.”
“Barely any is not the same as—”
“The only difference was those shops and you’d already noticed that.” Bethany helped her peel the suit down to her waist, exposing her arm. Despite her anger and her actions in the last few minutes, she was surprisingly gentle. “But it didn’t matter that I checked. You’d never believe me anyway.”
Hannah started to respond, then stopped herself, chewing her lower lip. She accepted the painkillers from Bethany and swallowed them dry while she marshaled her thoughts. To be fair, Bethany was right.
“We both made mistakes,” Hannah said slowly. “I didn’t consider all the angles either.”
“I’ll do better next time.” Bethany began to splint her arm, which was rapidly swelling. It looked like only a fracture, at least. “I underestimated your obsessive need to over-prepare.” There was the faintest hint of amusement in her words.
Hannah squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the painkillers to work. Bethany finished splinting her arm and helped loop a sling over her shoulder to support it. When Hannah opened her eyes again, she caught movement over Bethany’s shoulder. Frowning, she studied the doorway behind Bethany, but nothing seemed amiss.
Bethany patted her shoulder gently. “Let’s go get paid,” she said.
In the doorway, the exit sign flickered and then turned back on. Hannah felt a bolt of lightning run up her spine, and she straightened.
“Beth—” she started.
The lights went out, and the gravity let go at the same instant. Hannah felt like a rug had been swept out from under her feet—she could feel her butt leaving the chair, but couldn’t tell which way was up. She reached out, grabbing for Bethany, and her hand closed around something fleshy—Bethany’s arm.
“What—” Bethany gasped out. “How did it—” In the darkness, Beth’s other hand grabbed Hannah’s shoulder, and they spun crazily in the zero-g.
“It’ll vent the atmo,” Hannah said. “We need to get suits on.” In the back of her head, a voice was urgently shouting emergency evacuation instructions. She’d practiced evacuating so many times when they first got this ship since she knew she couldn’t waste an instant in a real emergency. But she’d never practiced in pitch blackness with no gravity, which was a foolish mistake, always expect the worst, always, how could you be so dumb…
Hannah’s ankle bone clanged into the examination table, sending a shock of pain up her shin but also reorienting her to the room. “This way,” she said, pushing off the table. She let go of Bethany and put her good arm out ahead of her, feeling for the door frame.
“Put your suit on first,” Bethany said behind her. “I’ve got your helmet.”
“I need your help to get it back on, and I’m not going to make you do that before we get a suit for you,” Hannah said. “Bring the helmet.”
Down the hall, a whine started, quickly increasing in volume to a full-throated wail. Hannah recoiled just as her hand touched the door frame. That was the sound of oxygen howling out the airlock.
Bethany swore, bumping into her. Hannah pushed back, bracing herself against the pull of the vacuum. “Help me shut the door,” she said, feeling for the handle. Between the two of them, they pulled the door shut manually. Hannah turned the latch and listened to the squeak of the rubber sealing. Bethany held her elbow, and the two of them waited, listening.
“How did it get on the ship?” Hannah whispered as if the AI wouldn’t be able to hear her. It was observing every biological detail of her right now. It knew her fear.
“God, I don’t know. It must have got through our firewall…Oh, damn. I should have realized something was wrong when it cut out our comms. It didn’t just cause interference; it cut them off at the source.”
“It’s okay,” Hannah said. Her lips felt numb. Always expect the worst. “We should have scanned the ship. We should always check.”
The howling noise in the hall receded into silence, which meant there was no more oxygen outside of the med bay. They were trapped in here now with only one space suit between them. Hannah kept her hand on the manual lock. Her mind was buzzing and blank, abortively jumping toward a hundred possible solutions at the same time. She had practiced evacuation so many times, and for what? She couldn’t think of a single route to take now.
Behind them, a medical drill whirred to life, catching her attention. The cauterizer lit with a dull red glow next. It felt like the AI was flexing its muscles, trying to figure out the new shape it was in. That was silly. It wasn’t following them like a serial killer. It had merely infected the ship with a virus before Hannah had debugged the station. It was easy to see why people were quick to jump to the idea of demons, of a sentient, malicious entity actively hunting people, instead of a few lines of corrupted code playing with power switches.
“I’m not ready for another debugging,” Hannah mumbled, more to herself than Bethany. “My arm is broken, and I’m out of water and I don’t know where I put my keychain.” Stupid, stupid, her brain scolded her.
“You know it by heart,” Bethany said.
“I can’t do this without at least some of my things,” Hannah insisted. She could feel sweat starting to bead her upper lip, but she couldn’t tell if the temperature was rising or if she was panicking. Both, probably. “I can’t just change the ritual like this. It’s not a ritual if we change it, Bethany. You know this. I need—I need to—”
“Shhh.” Bethany followed Hannah’s elbow to her hand and clasped her fingers in her own. “It’s okay. Take a breath. We’ll be fine.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I know that because I have the best atheist priestess in the solar system on my side,” Bethany said. Hannah could hear the fondness in her voice. “You’ve already kicked ass once today. Let’s get rid of this thing for good.”
“How?” Hannah asked.
“We’ll find a different ritual,” Bethany said, her voice surprisingly calm. Her hair was sticking to her forehead with sweat. “Let’s see. Did you ever play Miss Mary Mack when you were a kid? How did that go…?”
Hannah shook her head firmly. “That won’t work. I haven’t practiced it.”
“Okay, no childhood rhymes. I took ballroom dancing lessons, but that would be hard in zero-g,” Bethany said. “I heard of someone exorcising a ship by making a thousand origami cranes before. Do you know origami?”
“We don’t have paper,” Hannah said shortly. “We should be in the escape pod by now.”
“If you take the helmet, you can make it,” Bethany said. That caught Hannah up short.
“No.” Hannah shook her head. “I’m not leaving you to die.”
“You won’t be leaving me,” Bethany said. “I’ll come along for the ride. As long as you stay conscious and get us both into the escape pod, I’ll be fine.”
Hannah opened her mouth, then closed it. “You would trust me with your life?”
“You saved me from an AI once before.” Bethany grinned at her.
Hannah traced the steps in her head. If they could get to the escape pod, she could go through the evacuation procedure. She practiced that as much as her debugging ritual, so if anything would debug this AI, it would be that.
“Okay,” Hannah said. “Help me get back into the suit.”
As Bethany pulled the first layer of the pressure suit up over Hannah’s shoulders and zipped it closed, the pressure on Hannah’s splinted arm increased until tears started to gather in the corners of her eyes. By the time Bethany started to help her into the second layer, Hannah was breathing in short, quick gasps.
“You can’t do this,” Bethany said slowly, drawing back.
“No, I can do it. Put it on,” Hannah protested with a tight shake of her head. “It’s just a little sore. I’ll be fine.”
“What if I do it?” Bethany suggested. “I’ll have two hands to work with.”
“No,” Hannah said immediately. “It’s too dangerous. You don’t know how these AIs think, Beth. You can’t anticipate what it might do to stop you.”
“What do you think I do when you’re exorcising an AI?” Bethany shot back, reaching for the fastener on Hannah’s suit. Hannah moved back. “I’m not completely dumb. I’ve been paying attention.”
Hannah didn’t have the energy for her usual cutting response. “You’re my little sister, Beth. I can’t put you in danger like that.”
“Let me protect you for once,” Beth said quietly. She held up the helmet. “We’ll die if we just sit here. Give me your suit.”
Hannah swallowed hard, staring at her little sister. How could she trust Bethany to save them both? Bethany never went through the evacuation procedures with her. The only other time she’d been in the grip of a corrupted AI, she’d been eight months old. She never took Hannah’s precautions seriously. Hannah was the one to look out for them both.
The pulsing pain in her arm was making her head buzz. The thought of fighting with the escape pod or with the storage locker made her want to gag.
“It might turn the gravity back on when you least expect it,” Hannah said quietly. “And make sure to turn down the radio so it doesn’t startle you with noise.”
Bethany’s eyes widened and then she grabbed for the front of Hannah’s suit, unfastening it. Hannah let her and nearly sobbed with relief when the pressure let up on her arm.
“It likes to turn the lights on and off,” Hannah continued when she had breath again. Bethany helped her wriggle out of the bottom half of the suit. “Always make sure you know what’s right above you.”
“I got it,” Bethany said, stepping into the suit. “We’re going to need some rope or something to tie you to me. I can’t have you letting go when you pass out.”
They searched the drawers until they found some medical gauze. Bethany looped it around Hannah’s waist and then her own, tying Hannah to her back. Hannah wrapped her arm and legs around Bethany’s shoulders and waist and hoped that the gravity wouldn’t come back on unexpectedly.
Then they were ready. Bethany floated in front of the door leading out into the rest of the ship. Hannah rested her chin on her little sister’s shoulder.
“Brace yourself,” Bethany said, her voice coming tinnily through the speakers. “This is going to get rough.”
Hannah squeezed Bethany tighter and took a few deep breaths. Bethany rested her hand on the manual door lock, giving Hannah a second. As Hannah felt Bethany’s muscle flex to unlock the door, she breathed out as hard as she could, squeezing her eyes shut.
The door slammed open, and the two of them were launched into the wall opposite so quickly that it all happened as one movement. Hannah’s head cracked into the back of Bethany’s helmet. The vacuum violently ripped the last bit of air out of Hannah with a mist of blood. If she’d been holding her breath, that would have been the end of her lungs. Her sinuses burned and bubbled as the last of the air in them struggled to escape.
Bethany clung to the wall. The air leaving the med bay was trying to drag them with it on its way out the airlock, and it was pulling hard on Hannah. She had the presence of mind to be grateful for the gauze they’d used to tie her to Bethany.
Then all the air was gone, and it was silent. Hannah opened her mouth automatically, trying to pull in a breath, but there was nothing there. Spit boiled off her tongue, and she clamped her mouth shut again.
Bethany pushed off, kicking toward the escape pod. Hannah tried to mentally trace their movement, but without gravity and with her eyes shut it was impossible. She was entirely dependent on Bethany.
Bethany’s shoulders jarred. Had she flinched? Was she opening a door? Hannah’s lungs were screaming at her to take a breath. Surely they should be in the escape pod by now?
Another jolt, and then the heaviest weight in the world yanked down on Hannah. Her back hit something hard, and Bethany slammed into her. White hot pain shot from Hannah’s arm into her skull and she opened her mouth to scream, but couldn’t. The floor. The AI had turned on gravity.
That was the last thing she remembered.
Hannah slowly became aware of the distinct taste of recycled air in the back of her throat. She was laying flat, which meant there was gravity, and her limbs were cradled in a spacesuit, apart from her splinted arm, which was folded carefully against her chest.
“—All profound and logical minds, but as possessing a yet deeper interest for the human race—” Bethany’s voice came through the radio next to her ear. Hannah opened her eyes, and Bethany immediately broke off her recitation. “Oh, thank fuck.”
They were in the escape pod. The view panel showed the rest of the ship a few meters away from them in space. The engine rumbled under Hannah, comfortingly normal.
Hannah licked her lips, trying to wet her dry mouth. Her tongue felt like she’d sipped too-hot coffee, and her chest hurt like it had that time she’d had pneumonia.
“Hey,” Hannah said hoarsely. “You did it.”
“You’re goddamn right,” Bethany said. She was sitting cross-legged on the crash couch, the lengths of medical gauze draped over her lap. She looked like she was in the middle of tying them into knots for some reason, working slowly with the compression gloves of her suit.
Hannah started to try to sit up, then gave up when her arm reminded her of its existence. “What happened?”
“Oh, I just carried you in here like a hero,” Bethany said, grinning. “I got us launched too because the evacuation procedure is written on the controls.”
Hannah probed the inside of her cheeks with her tongue, feeling for swelling in her sinuses. “And because you watched me do it a million times.”
“Well. Maybe.” Bethany held up the gauze. “I don’t think the escape pod has been infected, but I’m not taking any chances. Since you were unconscious, I had to improvise.”
Hannah squinted at the gauze. “Doing what?”
“Sailor’s knots. I did Girl Scouts, remember?” Bethany looked a little embarrassed and proud at the same time. “I could do these in my sleep. I know it’s not a whole ritual or anything, but it’s a start.”
“It’s good,” Hannah said. “That’s really good, Beth.” She tried sitting up again, more carefully this time, and this time managed it. “You’re…I didn’t realize you paid that much attention to me.”
“Yeah, well.” Bethany looked down at the gauze.
“I’m sorry for what I said.” Hannah looked down too. “That was unfair of me. You were great.”
“We’re even. You carried me out of a possessed station, and now I did the same for you.” Bethany’s voice was light. “So no more bitching about how I do my job.”
Hannah hesitated, then nodded, looking up. “Fair enough.”
Bethany nodded her head at the view screen. “You ready to go save our ship?”
Hannah followed her gaze. The ship was hanging there in space, waiting for them to come back. Behind it, the space station floated, dark and silent.
“Yeah,” Hannah said. “Let me show you how it’s done.”
About the Author
By day, Bennett North maintains computer labs for art students at a local university. By night, she writes both short and long format queer speculative fiction (when she’s not too busy playing Fallout 4 or 7 Days to Die). She likes to think of herself as a runner and a rock climber, although she doesn’t do either of those things nearly as often as she’d like. She lives somewhere between Providence, RI and Boston, MA.
About the Narrator
A woman of many hobbies, reading, narrating for and working as co-editor of Cast of Wonders are just a few of the things Dani loves to do. Living on Long Island, in the state of New York, she’s a retired roller derby player and current hobbyist soap maker, for instance. She also rants on twitter as @danooli_dani, if that’s your thing. Or you can visit the EA forums, where she moderates the Cast of Wonders boards.
About the Artist
Geneva is a self-taught illustrator from North Carolina, who loves working with colors, big hair, and drawing whimsy with a touch of realism and happiness. Her work has appeared in magazines, novels, editorial and advertising campaigns.