The screaming started and he was out the hatch, and caroming off the wall towards it. A few quick turns and he arrived at Roels cube. The screaming had faded to wracking sobs as he grabbed the handhold at the hatchway, prepared to launch himself at Ingers. He pulled up short as he saw Roels, clutching a shivering, naked, woman against him. As Salila clutched at his shoulders, Roels looked up, and saw him. “Roels? Is she…”, he swallowed drily as his eyes followed Salila’s supple curves. He shook his head. Get it out of your head, asshole. She’s been raped! “Is she all right?”, he finished lamely. “Better than I”, Roels said. I think I have broken ribs. It hurts to take a breath.”
“How are we gonna keep maintenance up? I don’t trust Kim, and Ingers is great at it, but he’s not Ingers, he’s something seriously messed up.” Thompson watched Roels haunted look harden with anger as he discussed maintenance. “After this, travesty, should we even care about maintenance? I think maybe we should just let things fall apart. This is hell, and there is no way out.” Thompson looked at Roels. Everyone’s talking about how there’s no way off the station, but Vyhovsky figured out the docking ring. I gotta take a chance. It ought to pull us together. Oh slag that, David you idiot. The wound’s too deep. Still, it might be the only way off the hamster cage. I gotta ask though, why did Vyhovsky keep it from us? It doesn’t make sense. That would have brought us all together on a common goal. We’d be out of here and home.
“Roels, there is a way off”, he said quietly. Roels blinked, and stared at him. “A way off. Why do you tell me now?”, Roels asked, suspicion thick in his voice. “Vyhovsky figured it out. He told me about it just before he died”, Thompson said quietly. “The docking ring has the Xian-Xi locked in place, and a software virus locked the ring closed. Vyhovsky was taking the ring apart a little at a time. Once the ring’s disassembled, the craft will float free, and it can be powered up to go home.”
Roels looked at Salila, and closed his eyes, holding her close against him. She struggled a moment, then sobbed harder as she clutched at Roels shoulders. Roels arms went protectively around her as he gazed up at Thompson. “You’re not just saying this to trick us? Disassembling the docking ring will work? What about traps?” Thompson grimaced. “I’m guessing there aren’t any. Even the most paranoid engineer has to draw the line between function, and blowing you sky-high.” Roels gave a bitter chuckle, and wrapped his arms tighter around Salila. Salila sobbing slowed as she was held, and her head came up. “I would rather they were trapped. I could die then, and escape my shame.” The bitterness and hatred poured out in the words, making Thompson shiver. “Get healthy Roels, I have to go, vote. Kim’s wanting to set priorities.”
“Set priorities? Help me get there, and we’ll all vote. I’ve had enough of this travesty. We need to work on the Xian-Xi and the docking collars. I have had enough of this place.” Thompson nodded. “We all have.”
Thompson floated in the galley at the far side, as Kim, and Ingers conducted the meeting. Kim frowned at Roels making it to the meeting. Thompson thought he could see Kim trying to figure out the best way to control the meeting. Ingers, staring vacant-eyed at Salila, moved to sit beside her. Roels sat close, putting a comforting arm around her shoulders. Ingers reached a hand in her direction, then lowered it back to his side.
“Now, let me bring this first full complement meeting to order. We have a number of things to discuss, and prioritize. First, there is the regular maintenance, then temperature control, and finally, consumables.” Thompson mentally muted out Kim’s voice as he studied Ingers. The big Swede seemed lost in himself. Thompson couldn’t decide if this was due to being close to Salila, or guilt from previous actions. Is the real Ingers still in there? He said it was like things were flipping on and off, and he didn’t have control. Did Kim screw with his mind somehow while he took care of him? If he did , what and how did he do it? Can it be fixed? Who’s gonna fix it? Kim never would. I don’t know how, and Roels, I don’t know about Roels. Whatever this situation is, our job is to get home now that we’re on the same page.
Thompson raised his hand. Kim stopped his talk to stare directly at him. “What is it David?”, he said, sounding like a schoolteacher lecturing a troublesome student. “There’s another priority. Getting home. We need to get home and off this station. Put that in the list.” When Kim hesitated, Thompson raised his voice. “Put it on, and let’s vote on our priorities.” Ingers eyes flicked to Thompson as he spoke, and flexed his hands, clenching and unclenching them. Oh shit. Did I push my luck too much? He watched Ingers float over to the left of Kim, giving him a clear line of travel to Thompson. “I do agree that we should arrange our priorities, friend David”, Kim said quietly, his own eyes on Ingers movements. Thompson noted that Kim seemed to pale, as if he too, feared Ingers unpredictable reactions. What if Kim didn’t do anything? What if the whole thing is Ingers? Thompson tried to turn the thought over, but the vote was called for. Kim set two priority lists. Maintenance came up on ‘what needed to be done immediately’, and going home went to the top of the ‘overall priority’ list.
Roels watched Thompson with increasing agitation as Kim droned on, arguing ranks in the priorities. Finally, when Kim finished, he nodded with his head for Thompson to follow him. Ingers was staring hard at Salila, who sandwiched herself between the two men. They reached Roels’ cube, where all three spread out in the room, staring at the one entry hatch.