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Decoupling progressed, and red flashing lights flared over the two side doors. Retch was back in the ship still. He should have been able to find his way out. I couldn’t stop the ship from disconnecting, but I could slow its progress with a word. Trinity would hold the doors for me. I didn’t know how long the ship would stay.
The open airlock would just vent into space, including all the art, debris, and people in it. Same as what would likely happen to the contents of the foyer.
A shouted curse rang down the hallway from the door to the left. Retch’s voice at first, and then someone bigger. Deeper.
Sam Wash stepped into the foyer, his boots crunching on broken glass. In his grasp, Retch struggled and kicked. Sam pressed a plastic gun with a crimson barrel hard against the boy’s head.
That gun. Had he picked it up from Saint Lucy of the Light? Was it another carbon copy like a million others? He was too far for me to read the inscription etched on the barrel.
The side doors slammed shut with a resounding boom. Above, the clear shielding that would separate the ship’s foyer from Nicodemia started to move.
A hollow expression haunted Sam’s eyes. He was slipping down the slope of desperation, and I didn’t much like where he was going to land. “Back away, Demarco,” he hissed. “Or the kid gets it.”
I raised my hands in the air and stepped back. Retch struggled and kicked, but Sam was a solid guy and he had a good grip. When the two reached the center of the room, Sam paused, and without taking his eyes from me, lowered the gun and shot Lauder in the back of the skull. The plasti-ceramic bullet shattered on impact and scrambled Lauder across the stark white floor.
Retch screamed righteous fury, but Sam returned the pistol to its previous position.
“Looks like there’s going to be a new boss in town after all,” Sam said, glancing at Saint Jerome’s body. “With Lauder and Jerome gone, you’re going to want to start working for me.”
“Not a chance, asshole,” Retch said.
“I wasn’t talking to you, kid.”
“This isn’t what you want, Sam,” I said.
“How would you know,” he sneered. “Money. Power. This is what it takes to be safe.”
“Your lady won’t like it,” I said. “And you won’t be safe.”
His brown eyes glistened in the dry ship air. “There’s no other way.”
“Stop fighting,” I said, locking gazes with Retch. The clear station shell was already halfway down. I didn’t have time for this. “Trinity?”
“Reconcile?” said a booming voice.
“Not today. Stop closing the outer shielding.” My heart pounded in my chest.
The shielding stopped above my head.
Retch put out one final burst of a struggle, then stilled. He stared me down, but stopped moving. He trusted me, and the weight of that trust pressed down on my shoulders.
In my calmest tone, I said, “Sometimes we need to stop struggling to get our bearings. We need to take a step back from the chaos around us and make a good assessment of our surroundings. Figure out what side we want to be on and consider what the best way is to accomplish our goals. It’s not an assessment devoid of emotion, but emotion is only one part of the bigger equation. A person has to think, what can we do, what should we do, and what’s worth trying even if our chance of success is very low?”
“You’re going to work for me now.” Sam nodded toward the airlock where the display still showed one occupied compartment. “First thing we’re going to do is get back into the city.”
I drew a deep, long breath. “Retch. Relax.”
The boy calmed, his fingers releasing Sam’s muscular arm and falling to his sides.
Where his hand touched the stunstick hanging there. His eyes went wide. Sam, in his idiocy, hadn’t disarmed his captive. He must have caught the boy by surprise.
I tipped my hat at Sam. “Sam,” I said, “it’s been a pleasure, but one word from me and Trinity will close the airlock and detach the ship that you are currently standing in. I’ll rid the city of your violence and get rid of this pesky thief all at once. I’m asking you one last time to stop fighting.”
Sam’s expression went from confused to understanding to rage. He pulled the pistol from Retch, pointed it at me—
Retch jammed his stunstick into Sam’s hip and pulled the trigger. A pulse of power surged with a pop. Every muscle in Sam’s body convulsed. His gun fired.
A pain bloomed in my shoulder. Retch ran to me and slowed my fall. I landed in a heap in his arms, but he barely slowed my fall to the hard floor.
Pain blackened the corners of my vision.
Sam writhed on the floor, his limbs flailing. He got an arm under him. The gun lay a few steps away.
“Demarco,” Retch cried. “Close the shielding.”
I opened my mouth to talk, but a wave of pain shut it.
Sam’s arm flopped forward, his fingertips touched the pistol. His legs propelled him forward.
“Trinity,” I whispered.
Trinity’s serene voice reverberated in my skull. “Reconcile?”
“Not today, asshole.”
Sam clutched the gun. He got his knees under him. He was one good lunge from the gate.
“Trinity,” I said, “close the shield and detach the ship. All emergency overrides.”
The clear outer airlock slammed shut as Sam fired. The shots sparked against the station’s clear outer shell.
Then, the ship detached. A hard vacuum hit Sam, freezing him in death in an expression of rage and horror and confusion. All the art and saints and bodies in the foyer were blasted away into the great void. The ship fell hard, tearing loose of Nicodemia and falling outward into the stars. In less than a gasped breath, we looked out upon the vast nothing.
“It’s beautiful,” said Maurice from the corner.
“It is,” I said, struggling to sit up. “It is.”
“I’ve never seen stars,” said Retch. “There are so many of them. We’re so small.”
“That we are, kid. That we are.”
The airlock door behind Maurice opened and Anders entered, leading a dozen blues.
“Well I’ll be damned,” said Anders when he saw the bloody mess surrounding us, “the lady in the wheelchair was right, then.”
“Perfect timing,” I gasped as Anders knelt at my side. “And you brought backup.”
“They wanted to help,” said Anders, slipping an arm under my shoulder to help me up. “A lot of people wanted to help.”
“Good.” My foot slipped under me as I tried to rise, and he struggled to support most of my weight. He lowered me back to the floor where I let out a long breath. “Good.”
With that, I lay back and let the blackness take me.

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About the author

AWEichenlaub

Bio: Anthony W. Eichenlaub's short fiction has appeared in numerous publications, including Little Blue Marble, On Spec Magazine, and the anthology A Punk Rock Future. His novels range from pulse-pounding technothrillers to the adventures of irresponsible scientists on a colony planet. In his spare time he enjoys woodworking, video games, and working in his garden. Support him at: https://www.patreon.com/AWEichenlaub

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