"Is it anywhere nearby?" asked Caden. They were moving down another corridor, still near the outer wall of the station. According to the map that Tamimi had downloaded into her personal data system, they should be nearing the maintenance closet; once they had Tamimi in a vac-suit, they could get off the station... through the outer wall, if necessary.
Tamimi shook her head. "I can't hear it at all."
Caden nodded. He'd had the usual testing as a child and knew he wasn't a sensitive, but he was starting to get a bad feeling nevertheless. "Have the rest of the systems been stable?"
"Not since... whatever happened. The station's AI has been down almost since the beginning, and we've lost power in a couple of areas... once temporarily, and once that as far as I know was permanent. The air's getting a bit stale, too, which makes me wonder if this thing took the plants as well as the people. I haven't been by the garden level to check."
"And you have no idea what happened?"
"It sounded like something tearing, like metal or stone ripping in half," answered Tamimi. "That's what woke me up. I have ideas, but I honestly don't know. And it wasn't a real sound, it was something my sensitivity picked up." She stopped, then glanced down at the map on her display and up at the corridor in front of them. "That door, there."
They stopped, and the second drone unfolded itself from the back of Velasquez's armor and drifted forward to join Scout at the door. A pair of arms unfolded from its belly and tried the handle. A moment later it had settled closer, more limbs emerging as it began disassembling the latching mechanism.
Caden glanced at Tamimi. "Nothing?"
Contact. Akira's voice was clear over the tightbeam; from the signature, he was signaling the whole unit. It's Hirakawa's Ninety-Fifty -- they must have been keeping quiet, staying off channel, but one of them just beamed in an alert. They've spotted Padma's three.
Understood. Padma's voice was tight, even over the broadcast. Can you fix a location?
Near you. Looks like they posted a couple of sentries; I'm not seeing any sign of electronic security. And they just received orders to pull back.
In front of them, the door swung open; Caden motioned absently for his six to move through.
Put one of your familiars on them, Campbell, ordered Padma. We'll follow them back to the rest. How close are you to joining us, Captain?
Caden glanced around the storage closet, which was actually a mid-sized room divided into sections. We've found vac-suits, he said. Now it's just a matter of getting out of the station and over to the ship.
It may not be that simple. The interruption came from Celia, still watching over them from the bridge of the Ultima Ratio. The station's venting atmosphere. It's a small breach on the far side from you, but get your survivor into a suit now. A brief clip of the relevant scan came along behind the message.
Concur, Caden replied, and turned to Tamimi. "We need you in a suit now," he said. "The station's starting to lose air."
Tamimi straightened. "Of course it is," she muttered, exasperated. She turned to the line of vac-suits, generic and clunky in their slots along the wall, and walked quickly along until she reached one that would fit her.
"Walker, help her out." Caden pulled his copy of the map that Tamimi had provided, but the airlock where they'd entered was still the closest exit.
Tamimi had obviously done this before; she pulled the suit open and stepped into it, dropping her PDS into the hip pouch and sealing it closed. Walker had moved up beside her, but she didn't seem to need their help.
She had the suit sealed and was pulling the helmet into place when the lights went out and the gravity failed again.