Alarms blared, screaming throughout the ship.
Lena dropped the plate of cake onto the bed and her eyes met Zinna’s.
“That’s coming from the station.” Zinna said. “It’s not us.”
“We’d still better check it out.”
She led the way from her room, rattling down corridors echoing with the scream of the siren. On the bridge, Leo met her. He looked worried. “The station’s under attack,” he said. “Carnites.”
A ship hovered on the viewscreen up front. Definitely Carnite. “Can we pull away?”
“No. They’ve boarded and locked all docks. We’re trapped.”
Lena flexed her jaw. If the Carnites boarded them, that would be the end of their cargo, and their paycheck.
The siren died, leaving silence.
Zinna rubbed at her ears. “That’s better. I can think now.”
“We really need to leave,” Lena said.
“Then we have to find a way of undocking the ship.” Leo pointed to the viewscreen. “But I don’t think they’re just going to let us go.”
Lena folded her arms over chest. “There’s a manual override for the doors. If we can get through onto the station, I can override the docking mechanisms. We’ll be free.”
“And if you get shot doing it?” Leo asked.
“Any better ideas?”
He looked past her to Zinna, who made a helpless gesture with her arms.
“Right then, let’s get out of here before they get to us.” She caught Zinna’s eye. “Back up?”
“Aren’t I always?”
“Then let’s go.”
“I’ll watch the bridge then, yeah?” Leo said.
Lena jogged down the passageway. Her heavy footsteps echoed off the walls, drowning out Zinna’s softer ones. The echo of the siren rang in her ears.
“It may be a dumb question, but do you really think you can do this?” Zinna asked.
“I can, I know the theory perfectly.”
“The theory? You’ve never actually practised?”
“No. But I can do it. Photographic memory, remember?” Under different circumstances she’d have pointed out her little pun, and maybe given herself a little chuckle.
She stopped in front of the doors, and turned to the panel to her right. It beeped as she inputted the code, then flashed red, warning her the other side was in lockdown. “I know,” she muttered, then put in another code.
Zinna jiggled on her feet. “How long will it take?”
“Just a couple of seconds.” She tapped out another long string of numbers, cycling through various menus, convincing both her ship and the station to open the doors.
True to theory, they slid open, cutting through the silence.
Zinna had her gun up in an instant, ready for any Carnite that might show themselves.
Lena met her gaze, and a small nod meant it was safe. She crept forward, her hand on her own small weapon. Zinna was the good shot, with fast reflexes and a killer’s eye. Lena carried because it would be stupid not to.
The corridor was silent and deserted. The access panel she wanted was on the wall beside the doors. She set to work, Zinna at her back.
This procedure was harder. The docking clamps weren’t designed to be operated manually. They were controlled by the central system, from a heavily guarded room somewhere in the station.
Heavy footsteps echoed. Lena’s heart thudded painfully in her chest as the panel glowed at her, flashing red with the words ‘unauthorised access.’ Her fingers turned clammy with cold sweat.
Sounds of a scuffle broke out behind her. The sharp sounds of guns going off, grunts of pain and the slamming of something heavy on the metal floor.
A shadow covered her and she turned so see a Carnite. Then pain exploded in a flash of stars.
“Lena! Lena! Wake up!”
It was Zinna’s voice, hissing at her. What was so wrong that she had to wake her in the middle of the night?
Lena blinked. Her head hurt. “What’s…” Her voice was a mumble, hard to control.
“Come on, get with it,” Zinna said, and, slowly, her face came into focus. “You have to wake up.”
She groaned, and blinked a few more times. A light flickered behind Zinna’s head. “Where are we?”
Zinna took her hand and pulled her up. Dizziness swept over her, and she became aware of a wet feeling on the right side of her head. She reached up to touch it but Zinna caught her hand. “Leave it,” she said.
“Bad enough. Let it heal.” She flicked her head around, further than Lena’s would go. “We have to get out of here.” She was on edge, nervous.
With Zinna’s help, Lena stood, and another wave of dizziness swept over her. A metallic taste coated her tongue and infiltrated her nose. Her stomach turned.
“Okay?” Concern hovered in Zinna’s eyes.
“I think so.” She swallowed bile, and distracted herself with her surroundings. Shelving units lined three out of the four small walls. The fourth consisted of a door, closed.
“It’s locked,” Zinna said, glancing over her shoulder. “And my gun’s gone.” Her eyes flicked down to Lena’s belt. “But yours isn’t.” She took it from its holster and spun, aiming it at the green-glowing lock.
Lena stepped back, so that her back was against the shelves.
A flash of red light shot from the muzzle. The lock cracked and steam hissed from it.
“Come on, let’s go.” Zinna wrenched the door open.
Sounds echoed from somewhere in the distance: people moving around, voices calling, shots being fired.
Lena met Zinna’s eyes, and she knew they were thinking the same thing. “Back to the ship,” she said.
Zinna led the way, her whole body in a state of constant alertness, the gun still clutched in her right hand. Lena listened, and watched, but she couldn’t match Zinna’s senses. She may have had some alien DNA in her, but she had little that was useful, only the photographic memory. Which did come in handy.
Zinna came to a sudden halt and whipped the gun up, in the same instant as a Carnite appeared in their path. He had his weapon aimed at Lena.
“Shoot, and you die.” The softness of Zinna’s tone turned menacing.
He bared his sharp teeth, and his finger shifted on the trigger, his hand tightening its grip. “Where is your ship?” His voice matched his appearance, rough and intimidating.
“What makes you think we have one?” Lena said.
“We’ve been tracking you. You’re carrying the Ludite gold.”
Gold? That would be the day. “I think you have your wires crossed,” she said. Her nerves were dancing, her skin clammy and cold, but she tried not to show her fear.
“Just let us go,” Zinna added, “go find your gold elsewhere.”
His eyes flicked between them, doubt clearly in his mind.
In that moment of hesitation, Zinna struck.
She pulled the trigger on the weapon, but it misfired. A small pop and a hiss of steam was all she got. She swore, one of her wonderful Airean curses, then dropped the weapon as she flicked one long leg out. Her foot caught the Carnite’s weapon just as it discharged. The discharge flew over Lena’s head, scorching the tips of her hair.
The gun dropped to the ground and skittered along the metal, coming to rest against the wall. The Carnite’s eyes darted to it, but Zinna clipped his head with a back-handed strike before he could move.
In the moment he was stunned, Lena dove for the gun. Her fingers grabbed the handle, finding their way around the foreign shape. She stood up and spun. The Carnite was pressing Zinna up against the wall, his hands searching for her throat, trying to find a way past her defences.
Lena squeezed the trigger of the gun, her heart banging in her chest. Please don’t hit Zinna…
He dropped. Stunned.
Lena reached out a hand and Zinna took it. She hopped over the prone form and they both ran.
The panel outside their docking berth was still flashing red.
Lena skidded to a stop in front of it, handing Zinna the Carnite gun as her other hand started work.
Her fingers moved faster than she’d known they could, adrenaline coursing through her. She was sweaty, and shaking, and her stomach didn’t know which way up it wanted to be.
But she had to admit it was a rush.
“There yet?” Zinna asked. The tightness in her voice gave away her nerves.
A beep sounded, triggering a tidal wave of relief. “There.”
Dull, muffled sounds of the great clamps beneath them moving, releasing the ship, filtered through the air. She tapped another button and the doors slid open with their customary grating.
She closed the doors from inside, and hit the intercom. “We’re free,” she said to Leo. “Get us out of here.”
“Already on it.”
The usual jolt of undocking rippled through her. She grinned at Zinna, who raised her eyebrows in reply. “How about we finish that cake?” she said.