Friday, March 6, 2020

ItB 013: Escape Plans

Caden grumbled to himself as he smothered the urge to pulse Padma and see how the rest of his team was doing. They were still following Tamimi, but she'd stopped and changed directions three different times, and now she was gesturing angrily to herself as they moved deeper into the center of the station. Finally she held up a hand and stopped, then turned back and looked them over. After a moment she picked out Caden, and gestured him forward, then leaned her helmet against his.

"It's spread out, Captain. Bigger. Whatever it did on the far side of the station made it stronger, I think. And it's doing the same thing over here. We're far enough from the surface to be safe for now, but I can't feel any way out. And it could sweep back through the center and kill us all -- or whatever it does -- any second now. I think our only way out is to shut down the drive test, and that means going further in."

"Drive test?" Caden asked, shouting back to make himself heard through the tenuous contact between their helmets. The outside air was gone; this was a close as they could come to hearing each other, and they didn't dare reactivate any of the comms. Fortunately, the EAE ran all sorts of worst-case simulations, and the rest of his six were perfectly capable of following on the basis of hand-signs alone.

"The knight-tech," Tamimi shouted back. "We'd just turned on the prototype when everything went sideways. If we cut power to it, it might close the door on our visitor."

"Power's already down!"

"Not in the labs! Labs have their own source, self-contained." There was a momentary pause, and then Tamimi said: "Trust me?"

Caden took a long moment to consider that. Finally, he pressed his helmet against the survivor's and said: "Don't get us killed."

"All right. Keep following. Even if this only closes it out for a moment, you can use that moment to punch a way out."

"Deal," said Caden, wishing desperately that he dared contact Celia... but if the unseen thing had been closing in on their transmissions, it might go both ways; any extended contact might draw the thing toward the the Ratio. The raptors weren't in contact with the station, so they were probably still safe, but getting back to them might be tricky.

Another part of the EAE training had been the so-called Unwinnables: scenarios that they faced in training where there simply was no path to victory. It was an idea that dated back to the twentieth century, and more to the entertainments of the period than to any actual space flight. It was supposed to teach the cadets that sometimes victory was impossible, no matter their quickness or intelligence, no matter their strength of will or character. It was supposed to force them to cope with unexpected helplessness. Caden supposed that some of the Elites might have needed the lesson, but he'd grown up in a family with little money and the lesson was wasted on him; having it imposed on him filled him with nothing but contempt. He'd known all his life that sometimes the closest you could come to victory was to make your defeat as costly as possible.

He wondered, not entirely idly, if this was about to be one of those times.

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