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    The Dime Shift Girl [language, gore]

    Discussion in '2013 Science Fiction Writing Contest' started by Okon, Nov 16, 2013.

    The Dime Shift Girl

    Part 1

    Peaceful. Stars don't talk. Stars sing light and love. I wonder what that's like.

    "You can wonder what Hennel's buttocks feel like later. Keep your mind on that presentine, or we'll be geometric atrocities before you can say so ca toa," said Simony.

    Dallas laughed nervously and looked away from the bow camera on her console. "Sorry. I thought I said that in my head."

    Would it kill him to ease up?

    Simony had been working dime shifts on The Testament for two years; this was Dallas' second shift of her first flight on the cruise ship.

    "And I wasn't thinking about Hennel." Dallas' helmet smacked against the back of her seat as she looked up at the presentine display. She reminded herself that on cruise ships, the comm helmets were bigger, and the chairs smothered you.

    The presentine display showed the ship morphing into a triangle and rotating clockwise. Dallas looked back down and typed two commands on her keyboard: rnd66^pi, pitch+64. She watched the ship change back into the friendly trapezoid that resembled The Testament.

    That should keep things real enough. For about three-hundred seconds, anyway.

    "That's the second time you've hit your head this shift," said Simony, from behind her.

    God he notices everything.

    "You'll want to adjust your seat, Dallas. If you keep treating your brain like that, it'll be harder to conjure up those images of Hennel in a swimsuit."

    "Ha. Ha. Ha." Dallas reached around the right side of her chair. She felt for the adjustment switch, but her hand only met straps and the emergency kit.

    "Water dripping off of his toned body, the outline of his behind visible through his tight shorts," continued Simony, "The switch is on the left, by the way."

    He's on the other side of the dimension bridge, facing the opposite direction, and still watching me like a hawk.

    "Thanks." Dallas found the switch and pulled it back. A motor came to life, and she eased her chair back thirty centimetres; just enough so that she would only have to slightly tilt her head to see the presentine. Dallas tried to look over her shoulder at Simony, but the tall, wide back of the chair blocked her view of the rest of the small dime shift control room. Her sight was limited to the slanted black surface before her. On this surface was a live feed of the bow of the ship, numerous opaque buttons, and a screen that sat just above a keyboard.

    Stupid chair. He has the same kind. How can he see me? Maybe he's not in his seat.

    Dallas tried to undo the mess of belts that held her secure, but they were all locked.

    This shouldn't have surprised her; it was standard procedure for a Dime Shifter to be kept in place during transit.

    A glance at presentine showed the ship gradually flattening. Dallas quickly punched in a command: skew y -54.23 The image on the presentine flattened further, and the red bulb that lit the room turned pink.

    "Whatever you just did, fix it now," said Simony.

    Dallas felt her cheeks warm. "Typo. I meant positive skew! Sorry."

    He must think I'm such an amateur.

    She quickly countered her mistake: skew y +108.46. The light turned from pink to red again, and the shape on the presentine returned to normal.

    On a smaller ship, only one person was needed to calculate and prevent the minor changes a vessel undergoes during dimension travel periods. Those who undertook this task were called Dime Shifters. Cruise liners, like The Testament, required two Dime Shifters.

    Yeah, two's a company all right.

    The duties were divided into physical changes and environmental changes. It was Simony's turn to counter environmental changes; things like air flow, temperature, and light. This left Dallas to ensure that the ship and its passengers would not be squished, twisted, or formed into anything bizarre.

    Simony's tone eased. "It sounds like you're distracted. Thirty is a little old to be going after men like Hennel, you know."

    "I'm not thirty." Dallas had turned thirty-two last month. "I'm twenty-nine. And I told you, I wasn't thinking about Hennel."

    "Oh?"

    Dallas dared a quick second look and the bow camera. "I was wondering what it's like to be a star."

    "A star in those movies in your head involving Hennel?"

    Dallas didn't reply.

    "My apologies, Dallas. I'm only remarking on it because I've never seen a woman stare at a man's behind for so long. It was like you were in a trance."

    Dallas could hear the smile in Simony's voice. She remained silent.

    Simony must have gotten the message; he dropped the Hennel subject. "Stars are bland. They don't have flaws, they don't tell jokes. How could it possibly be an interesting perspective?"

    Dallas scratched her thigh. "Maybe they're beyond flaws and jokes. Maybe they look at us in the galaxy like you or me would look at an ant carrying a tiny little piece of leaf back to his crowded home."

    "Would you really want that?" said Simony, "Does the ant want to know that his life is pointless and he shouldn't even bother, because he'll be dead soon and his friends will eat his body, then promptly forget about him?"

    Dallas couldn't think of a good counter argument. She didn't understand how ant cannibalism played a factor, but Simony otherwise had a point.

    Minutes passed as they sat in silence, occasionally accompanied by the odd string of reality correcting keystrokes.

    Dallas heard a short metal scrape, followed by a thud.

    "Was that us?" Simony's alarmed tone was followed by rapid typing.

    Dallas checked the presentine, "I'm good here."

    More typing from behind her.

    Simony's voice levelled, "Fine on my end, too. Must have just been a heating panel adjustment."

    He sounded so scared for a moment, there. Clangs and bangs are hardly anything new, what's his problem?

    Dallas wondered if he was still edgy about the reality incident that had happened two months ago. Everybody else had already forgotten it and moved on with their lives, and Simony was jumping at sounds. "You were thinking about The Staggerer, weren't you?"

    "It doesn't hurt to be careful."

    When there is a catastrophic error in Dime Shifting, the computer will try to regain as much reality as possible, then halt dimension transit. Any reality traits the crew and passengers are subject to when leaving transit are permanent, with the exception of temperature and light.

    Dallas tried not to think about it, for the most part.

    The Staggerer, a public ferry that ran between Colony Two and the Earth's moon, had succumbed to a massive reality error during transit. The ferry was found in orbiting Mars, seven hours after departure from Colony Two. The computer had done the best reality correction it could, but it was far from enough.

    Simony continued, "It wasn't the pictures of the people, or the video, or the reports that bothered me the most."

    Dallas knew what he was going to say next, even though she herself found the video of the the most disturbing of all. One of the news broadcasts in particular was all too easy to recall: Those two waitresses, the ones that asked to die.

    They were so fucked up and they begged and begged.

    "Equipment malfunction," Simony went on, "The Dime Shifters on duty were helpless as soon as the cortex stabilizer snapped itself in two. That's what keeps me awake at night, a thousand more guns are pointed at our heads every time we break another technological boundary."

    Dallas was annoyed by the lecture. It was terrible what happened, no doubt, but it had only happened once. Now Simony was blaming everything on humanity's ambition and closing his mind in the process, just like those annoying reality activists.

    She was going to change the subject when she heard the noise again. This time the metal scrape lasted longer, and the thud sound seemed closer.

    Dallas heard Simony adjust his comm helmet, "Fuck. I'm going to raise maintenance."

    This was the first time Dallas heard Simony curse.

    He must be terrified. Maybe the videos had disturbed him a little more than he let on.

    "It's probably nothing," Dallas looked up at the presentine and saw the ship shrinking. She typed a command: exp +.06(r)^2(dia), "I don't go running to the doctor every time I hear my wrist crack, or my vertebrae pop."

    "It doesn't hurt to be careful," Simony said a second time.

    "I suppose," Dallas didn't want to argue.

    Simony adopted a more professional tone as he spoke into his comm helmet. "Maintenance inquiry on... section thirty-four please."

    She heard a bubbly reply in her own helmet; her and Simony shared the same channel: "Good afternoon! Maintenance thirty-four, Martha here."

    "Hi Martha, DS Simony speaking," said Simony, "We've been hearing some strange sounds from below us. Wonder if you could take a look?"

    "It was probably just a heating panel, you silly goose."

    "It's more persistent than that," said Simony.

    "Well, okay. I'll come over there and have a peek to make sure nothing's up."

    "Thank you, Martha."

    "See? She's not worried," said Dallas.

    "The crew on The Staggerer probably weren't, either," Simony sighed, "There is a lot of account for human error, it's pretty hard for us to screw something up. The glass covering on our emergency stop buttons is a good example: we can't be trusted not to accidentally press a big red button, and so we don't have the power to."

    What's he on about?

    "We're also predictable when it comes to problems. For example, I knew you would look on the wrong side of your seat for the adjustment switch. Every right-handed person I've ever worked with has. That's actually the first question in the FAQ sheet under the console."

    "I'm actually left hand--"

    "Wires and steel don't have fail-safes, because the people building it think they accounted for everything. Central processing units fuck up their logic every now and then, and theycan'tread an FAQ sheet. The cost is getting too high for things to just break, but, like The Staggerer's cortex stabilizer, they're still breaking."

    Dallas thought the Hennel topic was bad, let alone this. "It only happened once, Simony. You're making monsters out of shadows, and it's freaking me out. Let's drop it and do our jobs, okay? I won't even get distracted by looking at the bow camera anymore, or by thinking about Hennel's butt, if it makes you feel better."

    "I wish you were right, Dallas. I'm tired of lying awake at night, wondering when something will go wrong, when I'm going to look in the mirror and see a fucking hexagon were my--"

    Dallas was jerked back at the sound piercing scrape followed by a metallic gong. Buckets of dark fluid slooshed onto her console. Stars twinkled in sight.

    I wonder what that's like. To be a star. Wait, what did I have for dinner last night? Where am I? Oh yes, The Testament. What just happened?

    Dallas felt sick, and she could hear nothing past the ringing in her ears. She looked at her console, the dark liquid had flowed down the screen, and was dripping onto the floor. it took her a moment to recall what the computer did, what it meant to her.

    Yes, right. That's what I use to--

    She looked up at the presentine display of the ship; it looked fine. That meant it was a local problem. She needed to find out where that stuff was leaking from, and if she could stop it.

    She tried to get up, but she couldn't get out of her seat. Something was holding her down.

    Dallas' ears got a little better, she heard Martha's voice, mid-sentence, on the comm channel: "--a compressor coil came loose just below you." She had forgotten about Martha, just like she had forgotten everything else. Everyone else.

    Why hasn't Simony said anything?

    "Simony!" Dallas struggled against the belts that held her in place, "Stupid fucking chair! Talk to me, Simony!"

    Martha's voice again, "I'm almost there, are you guys okay? I've never seen a coil do that before."

    Dallas stopped struggling and replied, "Um, some kind of fluid has leaked all over my console, and I think DS Simony might be unconscious."

    "Could you reply please? Are you two okay?" asked Martha.

    "I said that something's wrong with DS Simony, and--"

    Martha added, "Oh. My digisplay says that your out-comm is damaged," her high-pitched laugh sounded broken over the comm, "I thought you guys were just giving me the cold shoulder. I'll be there soon."

    Shit, she can't hear me.

    The room turned pink. Dallas quickly looked up at her presentine display.

    The ship's shape was fine. That meant--

    She quickly typed on her keyboard, annoyed by the sticky goo that had covered it: set presentine 02 env. Her display changed to Simony's, a graph that displayed the temperature, light, opacity, and reflective properties of the ship. The heat bar on the graph was rising rapidly.

    Being cooked alive isn't going to help much.

    Dallas entered a command: temp 0.045c(h + 4). A line of text appeared on her terminal screen:

    Error 341. Access denied. DS 01 only.

    That meant Simony was the only one with environmental permissions. Dallas knew a way to change that: set terminal 02 DS 01.

    Error 343. Access denied. This account is not permitted to change user status. Please contact your system administrator.

    Fuck.

    The the room turned yellow. Dallas' heart was a jackhammer in her chest.

    She remembered her textbook on the four stages of reality loss, they were called Dime Danger levels. From least to greatest Dime Danger, they were coloured: red, pink, yellow, and blue.
    Temperature isn't permanent like shape is. I just need to stop this, and the heat will dissipate. Need to hit that red button.

    Dallas typed a command that would raise the glass covering the button: init exit rout.

    Initiating dimension exit. Prompting DS 'Simony' for full authorization...

    Dallas hit the console. "No!" The heat was making it harder for her to breathe. She needed to think. There had to be a way to fix this.

    The light turned blue. Sweat ran down her face and blossomed under her arms. She wiped her eyes and looked at the glass the held the button. It didn't look that thick to her.

    Just need something to hit it with.

    Dallas looked along the slanted surface before her for anything she could use, but there were only buttons and screens. She glanced down at her chair. Nothing but those damn straps.

    What's that?

    She saw a metal rod on the floor, just to the right of her chair. It must have been part of the spring that Martha had mentioned. She stretched her fingers and leaned as far as she could, but the rod was still centimetres from her reach.

    That just leaves Martha. She should have gotten here by now.

    Dallas doubted that Martha was ever going to arrive; the dimension transit control room was sealed from the environment of the rest of the ship. If she felt warm, the rest of The Testament's crew and passengers would be roasting. Tears accompanied the sweat on Dallas' face. She buried her head in her hands.

    They're going to die. I'm going to die. We're all going die. Going to show up somewhere around Mars, every one of us blackened and crispy. Who knows, maybe I'll still be alive, begging for death just like those two waitresses. This isn't supposed to happen. This isn't right.

    Right.

    Simony's voice, in her head, The switch is on the left, by the way.

    Dallas looked up from her hands. She couldn't believe she had forgotten something so obvious. She reached for the adjustment switch on the left side of her chair. The motor whined as she slid closer to the metal rod. She stopped the chair, leaned to the right once more, and grabbed hold of the rod, "Gotcha." She had to hold tight; the rod was was bathed in grease. Dallas pointed one end at the glass-encased button, and braced the other end with her palm. She jabbed the glass once, leaving a bruise that looked like a spider web. She hit the glass a second time. The rod crunched through and left a hole just bigger than her hand.

    Dallas dropped the rod, reached through the hole in the glass, and pressed the button. The room was red once more. Friendly red.

    Now I need to stop that leak, wake up Simony and--

    Pain lashed her hand as she drew it back out of the glass. She heard her blood dripping on her jumpsuit before she saw it. Dallas brought her hand up to her face, and looked at the blood running up her arm from the fresh cuts. Something gnawed at her mind. The blood on her hand was dark, just like the--

    Just like what's all over my console. That fluid isn't from the ship. Oh no. Simony.

    Part 2

    Dallas undid the warm buckles that held the chair straps in place and stumbled to the floor. She then crawled to the right and removed the emergency kit from its slot in the base of the chair. She was careful to hold it with her left hand, it hurt to even move the other hand. Dallas pushed herself up from the armrest. If Simony was bleeding, she could patch him up; first aid is one of the entry-level requirements for Dime Shifters.

    She saw the rest of the room.

    Her hand loosened. The emergency kit fell to her feet and popped open, coughing a pair of scissors and a small box of band-aids onto the floor.

    A very thick metal spring had punched through the floor and gouged the ceiling. Simony had been in its path. Half of him was still in the chair, the other half had been skewered, and was now hanging partway along the spring. She saw ragged, red bits of him dangling from his silent, twisted upper half.

    Vomit escaped Dallas' mouth before she could finish bending over. It ran down her jumpsuit and landed on the emergency kit. "Oh my god." What sounded like oatmeal hit the floor. She gasped, cursed, and more oatmeal followed. When she felt that she was finished, Dallas wiped her mouth and tear-rimmed eyes on her sleeve, and grimaced at the taste of bile. She had to get out. Maybe it was cooler out there. Maybe the crew had recovered from the heat and could help her, the captain would tell her she had done the best she could, and they would all go home. Dallas walked to the exit of the room.

    She pressed a plastic button that was positioned on the right side of the door. The metal door silently slid upwards. She was hit by a blast of heat that dwarfed the high temperature in the dimension transit room.

    I need to get... fresh. Fresh air. Water. Something.

    Dallas hit her shoulder on the door frame as she left the room and entered the access hall, a wide corridor littered with doors that were spaced five metres apart.

    Her head was spinning. She couldn't feel her lips. Dallas dodged something purple at her feet. She stopped and tried to support herself on the wall, but it burned her hand and she was forced to use just her legs to remain standing. She looked down and saw it was a fit young woman in a purple jumpsuit. The woman was lying on her side, her face deep red and void of expression. Dallas could see half of the woman's name tag from her angle: MAR--

    Martha. I'm so sorry.

    Dallas took a closer look at the rest of the hall. She hadn't noticed at first; bodies were scattered across the floor. Every one of them had just felt what it was like to spend a week in a desert with no water. All it took was a few minutes of a level four reality danger. She wondered if anyone else was alive. There was over a thousand passengers on The Testament, she couldn't imagine that much death.

    She walked on, reading the black stencil on each of the doors she passed. Lounge Eight. Cafe. Gym. Showers. Data. Bunk D.

    Hold... up, girl. Get yourself... together. Lounge Eight. Cafe. Gym. Showers.

    Showers.

    Dallas spun to the door and slapped the button. It slid upwards, revealing black tile floor and walls. She stepped in. The room was divided into stalls. She walked to one in the corner. Dallas saw a touch screen on the wall. There were four options on the display: cooler, warmer, hot, and custom. She pressed 'custom' with her good hand. The options were replaced by a vertical bar, a gradient that was red at the top and blue at the bottom. She dragged her finger to the bottom. The screen changed to the blue caricature of a water drop. She looked up at the shower head.

    No water flowed.

    Dallas didn't know what else to do.

    No water. Shit. So sweaty can't breathe got to get out. Got to get out.

    She unzipped her jumpsuit down to the waist. She tried to step out of it, but her legs tangled with the fabric and she fell to the floor. Her limbs were heavy. She closed her eyes.

    * * *​

    Dallas smiled politely and held the warm mug closer to her chest, "No, thank you."

    "Suit yourself," Simony tossed the pool cue to Andy, who fumbled and dropped it to the floor. "You're up, Andrew."

    Andy picked up the cue and pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose, "Uh, okay."

    Dallas wasn't interested in pool, she was busy watching Hennel fix the refrigerator. The pool table was the centrepiece of Lounge Three, but there were other things to appreciate. Like the comfy chair she was sitting in, or the digital books, or the assortment of teas. If she was thirsty, she could also grab a bottle of water from the fridge that sat on the other end of the room. The fridge wasn't cold right now, though. In Hennel's words, it had 'carked' it.

    She watched Hennel produce a small crescent wrench from his large toolbox and dive head-first into the refrigerator.

    "You're terrible at this," said Simony.

    "I guess, yeah," Andy replied, "I don't normally play."

    Hennel's tall face appeared from inside the fridge, "Wait until I fix this box and I'll show you a corker of a game."

    "Do you aussies normally play billiards?" asked Simony.

    "More that you wowsers know."

    "Hurry up, then. My shift with the new Dime Girl starts in twenty minutes," Simony lowered his pool cue and turned to Dallas, "She looks excited, too."

    Dallas took a sip of her tea, the warmth had done little to still her shaky hands, "I can't wait." It was going to be her second shift ever on The Testament, and the first had not gone well.

    If I have to ask any of those stupid questions a second time, I'll be right back were I started: dime shifting shitty little tours that pay half as much.

    She focused on the outline of Hennel's body that showed through his purple jumpsuit as he ducked back into the refrigerator. Dallas wondered if any men on the ship had been looking at her that way. She used to frequently catch men staring at her, but that was back in her twenties.

    Simony walked to the other side of the table and lined up a shot. "Tell me, Andy, why are you here, and not in Lounge Eight with the other coordinate-plotters? I hear that they have some pretty high-octane sudoku matches there." The cue slid through his fingers and scattered the balls on the table.

    Dallas didn't know how to play pool; even if she had been paying attention to the game instead of Hennel, she wouldn't have known who was winning.

    Andy stared at the table. "Uh, yeah. Kevin reprogrammed the puzzle generator and increased the grid size twenty-fold," He looked up at Simony, "It's not fun anymore, and I can't figure out how to change it back."

    Simony laughed.

    Dallas grinned and took another sip of her tea. She looked back up. Simony was gone. It sounded like it started raining.

    Andy made a shot and turned to her, "Okay, it's your turn."

    "But I'm not playing," said Dallas.

    "Come on, Simony," Andy was looking over her head, "If you're busy, can we at least, I don't know, finish the game later?"

    Hennel glanced back out of the fridge, right at Dallas' forehead, "You're in a right state these days, aren't you?" he kneeled and rummaged through his toolbox.

    This is weird. Why's everybody looking at me? Is there something on my face?

    "Just wrinkles," Simony's voice came from behind her, "I mean, you are thirty-two."

    Dallas jumped out of her chair and turned around. There was no one there. "I'm-- I'm sorry, I meant to say that in my head," she whipped her gaze from one side of the room to the other, "And I'm twenty-nine, by the way."

    "Don't worry Simony, I'll get you back together," said Hennel, "You're spine is ten millimetres, right?"

    Dallas looked up and dropped her tea, the mug hit the floor with a soft thud. The bloody upper half of Simony was pinned to the ceiling, just above her. Red bits of him rained down and soaked her shirt. She couldn't move, couldn't speak.

    "This is kind of boring," said Andy. He dropped his pool cue and ran to the door, despite his lax tone.

    Hennel pushed past her, climbed up onto her chair, and reached up towards Simony with a socket wrench. "Oi, what a mess you are."

    Some of Simony's pieces fell into her mouth, she gasped for air.

    "Do you want to know what it's like to be a star, Dallas?" said Simony, "A thousand more guns are pointed at our heads. Do you really want to fucking--

    * * *​

    know?"

    Dallas' eyes shot open. Her bare back was being massaged by warm water.

    At least the shower's working now.

    She had set the shower to the coldest setting, but this was probably as cool as it got, and it was still refreshing.

    She coughed wetly and sat up. Her hand was sore, she looked at it and saw that it was bleeding again, probably due to the shower spray.

    Dallas kicked off the rest of her jumpsuit and stood up on wobbly legs.

    When she felt re-hydrated, Dallas turned off the shower and picked up her jumpsuit. She tried to put it back on, but had no luck; there was too much friction caused by the wetness, and her wounded hand was no help. She threw the apparel, it slopped against the wall and impotently oozed to the floor.

    It's still a bit warm in here, and I don't care if dead people see me in my underwear. Not that they would bother looking if they were alive, anyway.

    Dallas looked at her hand once more. It wasn't bleeding as much as before, but properly bandaging it was a goal she could work towards. She grabbed a face towel from outside the stall and wrapped it around her hand. She scolded herself for leaving the emergency kit in the Dime Shift room.

    No way am I going back in there. Those stupid kits are probably all over the ship, anyway. I just need to find bandages, fix hand, then worry about everything else. Like the fact that I might be the only living person on The Testament.

    "One thing at a time, girl." Dallas walked to the entrance, opened the door, and entered the access hall.

    The bodies were still chaotically arranged on the floor, like purple chess pieces demonstrating the loser's poor sportsmanship. One was on his knees, his head and arms plunged into a deep access port on the wall that sat below a terminal. Dallas surmised that he had been fixing it just before he died. To the left of the terminal was a door with 'Lounge Eight' stenciled across the upper half. She searched her memory.

    Oh, yes, the coordinate plotter's lounge. Apparently they played a lot of sudoku in there.

    Dallas decided that it was a good place to check for a medical kit as any. She walked to the door, raised the hand not wrapped in a towel to the button, and froze.

    The dead man, the one who had been torso-deep in the access port, stood up beside her.

    Part 3

    "Well bugger me dead. It's nice to see you alive, Dallas."

    "Fuck! Hennel, you scared the shit out of me."

    Hennel spread his hands, "Sorry mate, I'm thought you would have seen me there."

    Light, springy hair sat on the Australian's tall face. His eyes were bright and active, his features were the kind that dramatically changed expression on even the slightest of remarks. Dallas wondered how hard it would be for her to keep his face straight, like keeping a ship close to reality when she was dime shifting.

    I wouldn't be fast enough for that. Eyes -45 percent. Eyebrow tilt -30 degrees. Frown +20 points. Yeah, no way.

    "I did see you, but I thought you were dead," Dallas gestured to the rest of the corpse-laden hall, "like everyone else."

    Hennel pointed at her and raised his eyebrows, "It is really not as bad as you think."

    Dallas stared at the bodies, "They look pretty dead to me, so I'd say that it is as bad as I thought," she turned her gaze back to Hennel, "How did you survive?"

    "I had just finished fixing that refrigerator in the lounge when things got hot. I restarted it and jumped in," his eyes quickly scanned her body then returned to her face. He smiled, "I see you found another way to cool down."

    "I was in the shower, and--"

    Hennel held up his hand, "No need to explain. I was undressed for a bit to stay cool, too, after I left the fridger. But it felt strange, you know, being naked around all of the these bodies," He shrugged, "Doesn't seem to bother you, though."

    Perfect, now he thinks I'm a creep; like a necrophiliac or something. What about him? How can he act so normal when he's standing in a fucking tomb? He's the creep.

    Hennel lowered his voice and looked her in the eye, "Now that formies are out of the way, I don't suppose you have any idear what caused this heat surge?"

    Her stomach squirmed. "I do," she scratched her shoulder, "Simony got... impaled by some spring that came through the floor."

    "I'm sorry to hear about that. He was a good gent," Hennel rubbed his chin, "I've never heard of a compressor coil coming loose before, but I guess anything is possible. Go on."

    "I lost control of the transit, and I was barely able to stop it in time. Actually, I guess I really didn't stop it in time," she sighed.

    "I had a feeling this were Dime Transit related," Hennel faced the terminal and typed something, "Again, it's not as bad as you think." He stepped aside and motioned Dallas to look at the screen, "Take a squizz at this."

    It was surveillance footage from the commercial sections of The Testament. Dallas saw men in suits, and women in nice dresses, dancing in a ballroom bordered by dining tables draped in white cloths. Her eyes widened, "They're alive."

    Hennel reached forward and pressed a button. The screen changed to display one of the kitchens. Flames leaped from hot stoves, cooks shuffled frying pans and sauteed vegetables.

    They're all okay. Maybe that means we'll be okay. Maybe there's a way to fix all of this.

    Dallas turned to Hennel, "How is this possible?"

    "When the heat panels get overloaded, the extra heat gets delegated to the crew areas of the ship. Rather stupid dessy, if you think about it."

    "So the crew, like the maintenance men and pilots were baked to death, but the passengers are fine?"

    "And it doesn't look like they're privy to the matter, either," Hennel pointed to the hole in the wall, "That's why I was digging around in that access port. I need to reroute the ship's speakies so I can tell everybody there's no one at the helm--"

    "They'll go crazy if you tell them that."

    Hennel spoke slowly, "I don't want to panic them any more than you do, but someone over there might know how to steer this place."

    Dallas drew in a deep breath, "I can. All Dime Shifters know how to pilot large space vessels. It's one of the prerequisites."

    "Are you sure?"

    Dallas tried to remember the last time she had flown a ship.

    It was after I moved to Shard Station, but before I bought thatHutsiopurse, the one with the green lace. No, it was blue lace. Six years, then. Damn, I hope it's like riding a hover bike.

    "Yes."

    Hennel nodded, "So it is, then. We'll get you to the pilot bridge and tell the passens what's what as soon as the ship's under control."

    "That's a plan, all right," Dallas held up her towel-wrapped hand, "Can I see to this, first?"

    "Oi, look at that mess," Hennel hit the door button, "Come with me, there's a meddy kit in every lounge."

    The door slid upwards. Dallas followed Hennel into the room. It had green carpeting, chairs, and a fridge; just like Lounge Three. Instead of a pool table, there was a black table that sported a white grid. A picture of the ship lay in the center, but it was mostly obscured by sheets of paper that had soduko puzzles printed on them.

    Hennel walked past the table to the wall. Dallas' eyes darted to his backside. He jerked open a panel on the wall, revealing a small white box. He turned around and faced her before she could look back up.

    Shit, he caught me looking. Well, there's other things I could have been looking down at, uh--

    Dallas pointed at the table, "So, is that a live presentine of the ship's radar? I never been in here before."

    Hennel walked to the table, swiped off the papers, and set down the kit. "You couldn't be more right," he looked up, "I've never seen a coordinate plotter get bored of watching live radar, they're a little strange that way."

    Dallas thought of the shy, slinky Andy, "They're a little strange in every way. I mean, were."

    Hennel frowned and opened the kit, "Good men, they were. Now let's see if I'm as good at sewing as I think I am."

    "What's that?" Dallas walked to the edge of the table. A large green blob was slowly making its way from the very edge to the center of the table. It was heading towards The Testament.

    Hennel looked, "Crikey. That's twice the size of this vessel."

    "A fucking asteroid?"

    Hennel quickly shut the emergency kit and stood up, "You're hand is going to have to wait, mate," he dashed past her, kit in hand, to the entrance of the lounge, "Chop chop, we need to get you to that pilot bridge before we get smashed!"

    Dallas hurried after him.

    It's just like riding a hover bike. A massive hover bike, in space, with a thousand passengers. Oh god. What was I thinking?

    * * *​

    Dallas could barely keep up with Hennel. He dodged and lept past where Dallas tripped and stumbled. They never had a clear path; there was always a sharp corner or a pile of purple-suited bodies in the way.

    How is he so fast? Maybe he spent a lot of time running from crocodiles as a child.

    Dallas smiled at the thought.

    Oh well, the view isn't so bad from back here--

    She felt metal scrape her bare shin just before she tripped over a large toolbox and landed on her hands and knees. Dallas rolled to her side, clutching her knee. "Fuck. That's a shitty place to put that," She looked up, Hennel was running back to her, "I'm okay! Just a sec." She clenched her jaw and pushed herself up with her good hand. She managed to fully stand up before Hennel reached her.

    The last thing I need is to be helped up like some old lady. Thirty-two isn't old, damn it.

    "Careful, girl," said Hennel, "You can't save us if you're in pieces, now."

    "How much farther is the bridge?"

    "Around that corner and up the stairs."

    She half-ran the rest of the way, with Hennel close by her side. The pain in her knee had faded when they reached the top of the stairs. Hennel punched some buttons into a keypad to the side of the door, it slid open.

    Dallas followed him inside, "What's the code to the bridge, again? I forgot." The induction to The Testament had been over one-hundred pages long, and she couldn't remember most of it.

    "Three-four-three-seven."

    The bridge was roomy, bordered by wide blinking consoles, and had a large window that showed the front of the ship. The view was now completely dominated by a pitted grey surface. Dallas had never seen an asteroid that close before.

    Not that I've ever wanted to.

    Below the window sat the main console. The captain's body was face down on the corrugated floor, at the base of the pilot chair. His iconic captain's cap lay at his side.

    Hennel knelt by the body, "He was an inspiring man, really just too bad."

    Dallas couldn't think of anything to say, considering she had never actually met the captain. She walked chair and sat down; it was annoyingly snug, just like the ones in the dime shift room. She tried not to look at the window; the sight of the asteroid advancing would only stress her more, and instead focused on the controls before her. They didn't look like anything Dallas had seen in her training. She rubbed her hands together, "Um, okay."

    Hennel's shadow appeared on the console.

    Shit, I can't think when he's looking over my shoulder. Where's forward throttle? It's supposed to be in the top left. How come there's AE1 and AET3, but noAET2? And what the hell doesAEmean?

    "Hennel, I can't-- I can't, I don't kn-know how to--"

    "But you said that you were trained."

    "That was six fucking years ago! I've never even seen this kind of control layout before. The functions are all abbreviated and they don't make any fucking sense!" Dallas looked up, the asteroid was closer than ever. She placed her good hand on her forehead, "I sorry, Hennel. This is my fault. I'm so sorry."

    Hennel rubbed her shoulder, "Don't beat yourself up, girl. Maybe it isn't too late, we might still have time to access the ship speakies and we can tell everyone to head for the escape trannies."

    The shadow of Hennel left the console, Dallas spun the chair around and saw him heading for the exit. She stood up and followed him.

    I've wasted precious time and cost countless lives. God, what have I done? There has to be a way I can make up for it.

    Hennel was a metre from the door when it opened on its own. He stopped, "Well bugger me dead."

    Part 4

    Dallas couldn't see past Hennel. She got out of the chair and ran to the door.

    Andy was standing on the other side. His thin forearms were black with grease, "Hey, uh, did you guys see that asteroid?"

    Relief hit her, Dime Shifters weren't the only ones who were trained to pilot ships. "Come on!" Dallas pointed at the command chair, "We need you."

    They hurried to the captain's console. Dallas felt like every step was too slow. She imagined the asteroid crashing through the ship. Them all being sucked out into nothing. A flat ending to a bad day.

    Hennel said, "I didn't know plotters could fly."

    Andy sat down in the chair, "Yeah it's, you know, one of the prerequisites."

    "I've heard that before," said Hennel.

    Dallas' heart sank at the comment. She looked at Hennel, and was immediately eased by a smiled and a wink in return.

    He's a few kliks from death-by-giant-space-rock because of me, and he isn't holding a grudge for shit. Maybe he likes me. Damn, that's just wishful thinking for a thirty-two year old. He probably just doesn't want me to feel bad before I die.

    She smiled back, then returned to peering over Andy's shoulder.

    Andy manipulated the controls, "None of the engines on the starboard side are responding."

    "The heat surge must have killed them," said Dallas.

    "I guess I can still use the port engines to rotate clockwise."

    Dallas watched the cold, imperfect surface fall to their left, the blackness of space partially returned to the window. The Testament was now speeding past the front of the advancing asteroid. "Yes!"

    Andy sat back in the chair and stared at the window, "I can't go any farther, it would just be circles after that. A few more kilometres and we'll have cleared it."

    Hennel patted Andy's shoulder, "Good job, mate. Now we--"

    Dallas hit the floor and faced the ceiling. Hennel fell past her spinning sight. Then the lights went out. She couldn't tell which way was up. Dallas looked frantically around the room. She saw the window, the asteroid was no longer in sight. Below the window, the glowing control console illuminated Andy's face, his glasses hanging onto his neck by one arm. He hadn't been displaced like she and Hennel had.

    He buckled up. Smart.

    Dallas rolled onto her belly, mindful of her towel-wrapped hand, "The fuck?"

    "The bow of the ship must have been snagged by the asteroid," said Andy, "The primary lighting generator is compromised, but I think we're, uh, we're okay everywhere else."

    Hennel's hand entered her sight. She grabbed hold, and he pulled her up.

    So much for being able to stand up on my own. I guess I am an old lady.

    "Thanks."

    "Happy to. Andy, do you know where an aussie might find a torch around here?"

    "Uh, let me think," Andy undid the buckles on his chair and stood up. He slowly walked to the end of the room, hands spread out, searching for obstacles.

    Dallas watched the darkness eat his figure. She started forward, "Anything?" Dallas had advanced a just few steps when she heard a crash.

    "You okay?" asked Hennel from behind her.

    "Uh, yeah. I guess," said Andy, "No flashlights, though. I thought there was a cabinet..."

    Dallas took another three steps, then hit something metal with her bare toe, "Ow! Stupid shit. Who put that there?"

    Hennel laughed from somewhere to her side, "You really are a natural at finding things with your feet."

    "It's one of the prerequisites," Dallas sat down next to it, the lack of light and past surges of adrenaline left her tired. She idly felt the side, her good hand found a latch. She twisted it and the side swung open. Dallas reached in and felt stretchy bands attached to cylindrical objects.

    Click.

    She quickly looked away from the bright blue light that followed.

    Hennel's voice, from behind her, "Good find, girl!"

    * * *​

    They used the elastic straps on the flashlights to fasten them to their heads. Andy found the captain's comm, then after quick deliberation, Hennel was elected to speak. He stood at the control console and put his mouth to a microphone.

    "Attention, passengers of The Testament. The captain is--" Hennel looked at the body, "--Ill. Do not worry, everything is under control. Please stay calm and look under the beds in your rooms for flashlights; there will be no more light for the duration of the trip. We are cutting the cruise short by three weeks due to some major complications."

    It sounded flat to Dallas. Something was missing.

    What would my first thought be?

    "Tell them they'll get their money back," whispered Dallas.

    "You will all be fully refunded. Thank you."

    Andy pressed a button, "Okay you're uh, off the air."

    Hennel looked at Andy, then Dallas. "Do you think those words will help un-knot their under-chunders?"

    Dallas could imagine dozens of different reactions, each one worse than the last. She scratched her arm, "I don't think many people are going to take it well, but they needed to hear something."

    Hennel walked to a table in the middle of the bridge and set down the emergency kit, "Yeah. It will have to do for now." He opened it, picked out bandages and a pair of scissors and sat down.

    Dallas was confused for a moment; then she remembered her hand. She joined him on the opposite side of the table.

    Andy spun his chair to face them, "So what do we do now?"

    "As much as I hate the thought, it would take us weeks to reach the closest station with just normal transit, and the passengers are going to go nuts in no time," Dallas put her hand on the table and slowly unwrapped the towel, "We need to get the dime shift operational again."

    Andy looked thoughtfully at the floor for a moment, his head-light illuminated a space pen at his feet. His hand entered the light and picked up the pen, then disappeared as he looked back up at Dallas, "Uh, that sounds good. But we can't do that without any starboard engines."

    Hennel opened a sterile gauze packet and began to wipe Dallas' wounds, "True that, endless doughnuts is the best we can manage right now."

    The cold of the gauze aggravated her hand, it made her wish she was wearing her uniform so that she could just irrationally hide her hand in her pocket where no one could poke and prod it. "So we fix the engines. Just how messed up are they?"

    "I'll run a, you know, diagnostic," Andy faced the console once more, she heard him press some buttons, "It says a diagnostic will take six minutes and thirty-two seconds."

    Dallas said, "Andy?"

    "Yes?" Andy was still focused on the terminal.

    "How did you survive the heat surge?"

    "I was in Lounge Seven. I set the pool there to the coolest setting and jumped in. When I felt it was safe, I went straight to the bridge to see if the--" Andy's head light darted to the body next to his chair, "--captain was okay. What about you guys?"

    "Showers," said Dallas.

    Hennel didn't look up from her hand, "Fridge."

    "Smart thinking, guys."

    "I guess that's why we're alive, we thought on our feet," something nagged Dallas' mind, she dismissed it as fatigue and looked back at her hand. It was mostly clean now, save for one last cut that looked to be the deepest.

    God, it hurt less before he went to town on it. I guess it's worth it; the pictures of advanced infections they showed at first aid aren't easy to forget.

    Hennel paused and looked up at her, she squinted her eyes against his head-light, "This one's going to hurt the most, Dallas. It might be easier if you look away."

    She did so. Hennel had been right about the pain, Dallas clenched her jaw and curled her toes against the digging, cold cloth.

    "Do you have any pets?" he asked.

    Dallas wasn't fooled, she knew that Hennel was trying to take her mind from the discomfort. She supposed that might not be such a bad thing, "Yeah, a parrot, back at Shard Station," she grimaced and hit the table with her other hand, "His name is Peekie."

    "Does he talk much?"

    "He had a really bad throat infection two years ago. Peekie can't actually talk anymore. But I still love him."

    Dallas trusted Peekie more than any man. He was always there for her, never even tried to escape through the door or a window.

    All I have to do is feed him god damn it. No make-up or nice clothes needed. Just me and some fruit.

    He frowned, "That's rather sad."

    "It's really not, he wouldn't shut up before that," Dallas laughed.

    Hennel smiled and set aside the gauze, "Okay, she's clean, now I need to wrap her up."

    "How about you?"

    "I've got a fourth year Border Collie back down under, Skella," He placed the tip of the roll at her wrist.

    "I heard those dogs have a lot of energy."

    Hennel laughed, "That's an understatement, mate! I hope Aunt Sally is walking her twice a day like she said she would," he wrapped the bandage around her hand several times, alternating between above and below her thumb, "Do you miss your Peekie?"

    "I didn't think I would that much, but I do."

    "I understand. I myself can't wait to see the Skella again, she always cheers me up," Hennel tucked the bandage around itself and used the scissors the snip off the roll, "Every time I come home from work or the grocery, she tears down the hall and raging speeds and almost knocks me over. She ends up sniffing every jar of vegemite, and if I drop a bag of crisps, she grabs it with her mouth and runs away. It never gets old."

    Dallas examined the front and back of her hand with the help of her head-light.

    It doesn't hurt like shit anymore, and it's clean. I guess he's good at more than just fixing fridges.

    "Thanks, you're pretty good at that."

    Hennel sat back, "It's one of the prerequisites of the job. I would have seen to your hand sooner, but there's been a few distractions, as you know," he laughed, "seems like everything is going wrong today, between the heat and that asteroid. I'm not excited about the fact that things come in threes, either."

    There's a thousand more guns pointed at our heads, Dallas.

    She decided that it might bother her less if she talked about it, "Simony said something strange before he died."

    "Strange?"

    "Something about computers not having FAQ sheets like humans do. He said technology can't be trusted with the power we use, that there is a higher cost to equipment failure than ever before," Dallas rubbed her shoulder, "Then that stupid coil killed him, and all of this happened. I thought he just sounded like one of those reality-activists, but now I think he had a point. Maybe they have a point, too."

    Hennel leaned forward and placed his hands on the table, "Don't worry, that's a load of cods. Like all of those crazy activists, Simony forgot something very important--"

    "Okay guys, it's uh, finished the diagnosis."

    Hennel turned to Andy, "How bad is it, plotter?"

    "The salex cores on the starboard engines are completely gone. They can't be repaired. We're stuck here."

    Dallas' put her head in her hand.

    One fucking thing after another. What did we to do to deserve this? For everything thing we fix, two more go wrong.

    Two.

    A spark in the dark. Dallas thought it was worth a mention at least, "But we still have two engines port-side, right?"

    Part 5

    At least I'm decent now.

    The Mark Six Gala Suit was more comfortable than Dallas had remembered. The oxygen tank on the back was heavy, and the gloves hurt her dexterity, but the boots were soft, and the neck was cushioned where the helmet attached. Her breathing was amplified by two small oxygen tanks on her back: In. And out. In. And out.

    "Have you done many space walks before?" asked Hennel, his voice was burdened with static from the comm. He, Dallas, and Andy were all on the same channel. Andy had stayed in the ship to control the fuel pipes of the engines, and he also said something about trying to activate The Arm. Dallas had never heard of The Arm, but she assumed it would be useful.

    Dallas looked across the top of the engine, she could just see Hennel's head on the other side, tiny in the distance, "Two." She had one glove securely gripped onto the engine; it didn't have a tether like she did, and tossing one of The Testament's last two working engines into space was not going to help them. Both her and Hennel had taken advantage of their electronically magnetized boots to walk the seven-thousand kilogram engine across the top of the ship.

    Thank god for weightlessness.

    "I really don't mind it, though. How many times have you come out here?" she asked.

    "I've lost count, girl."

    Dallas turned her gaze back to the stars ahead. She was glad that Hennel was quick with a plasma-cutter, they still needed to remove the engine's broken twin and replace it with the one in their hands.

    Just another metre.

    She finally reached the edge of the top of the ship and peeked over at the starboard side. The other engine was already gone, and what looked like the large yellow leg of a spider had emerged from a nearby port on the ship.

    Andy spoke over the comm "Hey uh, guys, I think I can handle the rest. I found out how to use The Arm."

    "That's too bad, I was hoping for more time with that cutter," said Hennel, "Here, one engine coming your way."

    Dallas flicked a switch on each of her heels, deactivating the magnetism in her boots. Now free, she launched herself and the engine towards the arm, carefully matching Hennel's actions on the other side. She was always more nervous when only held in place by the tether.

    I'm putting my life in the hands of a thin white cable. Another gun pointed at my head.

    She saw Hennel let go of the engine, Dallas did the same and watched it float towards The Arm. She looked at her gloves, they were covered in black grease from the engine.

    Hennel floated within two metres of her. The plasma-cutter in his hand was as long as his arm, and still glowed red at the tip. He said, "Good thinking with engine, girl. I think you might have found us a way out of this mess."

    "I hope so," She held out her hands to him, "What's with this shit? I thought they stopped using it three years ago."

    "They have. We mostly use that Clear Synth Gel these days, but there are a few times that isn't the case, like all of the engines and compressor coils. It's because the gel doesn't work with certain metal compounds."

    She watched The Arm busily work over the engine, welding pipes and wires into place. Something began running circles in the back of her head, like an invisible moose knocking over tables and chairs in a cafe after business hours. Her mind's eye kept seeing little bits: a hoof, the outline of its antlers. But she couldn't place it.

    Hey, uh, did you guys see that asteroid?

    Why am I thinking about that? What does the fucking space rock have to do with anything?

    The Arm froze, and its welding light died. "Okay, I think it's done," said Andy.

    Dallas decided to forget about the moose and the cafe, "Great. Me and Hennel on our way back."

    Hennel's tether was parallel to hers, he fell into place beside her as they pulled themselves back to the ship, one arm at a time.

    Just like gym, but I'm climbing forward instead of up.

    "Then we can start the Dime Transit again and be home before dinner," said Hennel.

    Dallas' saw her hands leave black grease marks on her tether. And just like that, back in the cafe. A spotlight fell on the moose. It was standing amongst a mess of overturned chairs, staring at her with bright red eyes. She couldn't believe she had forgotten such an important detail.

    That can't be. No. Can't be.

    "Hennel, you said that you'd never seen a compress coil come loose before."

    "A compressor coil, and never in my years."

    When I felt it was safe, I went straight to the bridge

    "And we use the old-fashioned grease on compressor coils, right?" asked Dallas.

    Hennel paused, then, "Andy, how did you get grease on your hands?"

    "I loosened a few bolts. I had to show you that God did not design us to do this. Tearing holes in reality to buy a litre of big-spider milk from Colony Two? It's uh, wrong. How can no one see that?"

    The Arm's welder light came back on.

    Dallas had never heard Hennel sound so worried, "Andy, we will talk about this back at the ship, all right?"

    "No. You're both stupid like the rest of them. Two-hundred and fifty maintenance people are killed by a reality error, and your first plan is to start the Dime Transit up again. That's, you know, pretty bad logic."

    Simony, the captain, Martha, everyone. They're all dead. Because of him.

    Dallas' insides exploded with anger, "You fucking cocksucker! You killed them, not the transit!"

    "Nobody was supposed to live, not even me. But now I see that God has a different, uh, plan."

    They climbed towards the ship as fast as they could, but not before the The Arm swiftly severed both of their tethers, leaving them stranded in space.

    Dallas desperately reached forward towards the ship, grasping nothing, "Fuck! No. What do we do? There has to be some way--"

    Hennel's voice sounded flat, "No. We're buggered this time."

    Acceptance washed away her hope. She was able to diagnose the deep emptiness she felt as an extreme example of despair.

    That's it. That was all it took. Now we're as dead as someone who has just jumped out of an airplane without a parachute.

    Hennel floated behind her. Dallas turned, facing away from The Testament, and grabbed his hand, "I'm sorry, Hennel."

    "You've nothing to be sorry about. Sometimes you outrun the croc, sometimes you don't. It's life."

    Dallas didn't know what else to say. She pulled him closer and wrapped her arms around him, he did the same.

    He's the only thing I have left in the rest of my life, as I am to him. All of the other shit in our lives is gone to us. Well, he has that plasma cutter, but I think I matter more to him than that.

    She adopted a wane smile, "I always wondered what it was like to be a star. This is probably as close as I'll get."

    Hennel's eyes darted to the left, his eyebrows furrowed, "Enjoy it while you can, girl."

    "I didn't even look at the tank's oxygen rating, but I imagine we have at least--"

    Hennel's brow shot upwards, he spoke quickly, "I'm not talking about asphyxiation," he put her at arms length, and smiled, "I never told you why Simony was wrong. Things break, Dallas. He might be right about that one part."

    "But?"

    "But we fix them. Humans are real smarties. You and me, we've been doing nothing but fix things for the past five hours, busy as cats burying shit we've been. And we're not finished yet. Now we, I mean, you, you need to fix this one last problem," he handed her the plasma cutter, "You shouldn't have to use this, you just need to get help from the passengers, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared."

    Dallas didn't know what Hennel was planning to do, but her heart once again began pumping rapidly.

    Shit, responsibility is more frightening than death.

    "Hennel, I don't understand."

    "It was a pleasure to know you, Dallas. If there is a heaven, I hope it's like the outback," he brought his knees to his chest, "Brace yourself. If I do this right, you'll hit Airlock Three. The code is seven-seven-seven."

    She understood, "No. No! Wait--"

    He kicked her. Hard.

    The Gala suit did little to dull the painful impact of Hennel's feet on her chest. It hurt her more to see him float away. He waved slowly as he spiralled into vast, empty space, his tether trailing behind him like a cat's tail. She waved back. Tears flooded her helmet, and her loneliness grew with each metre of her new friend's permanent departure.

    "Bye," she said in a broken whisper.

    He never said anything bad about anyone. Always looked on the bright side. He was a good person. Why. Why the fuck did all of this have to happen?

    Dallas's back hit something hard, she turned and saw the rectangular Airlock Three.

    Andy. That's why. He's gone. They're all gone because of Andy.

    She tried to get purchase with her hands, but she couldn't see anything near the airlock to grab onto. Dallas remembered her boots. She flicked the switches on her heels and her feet sped from under her, sticking to metal just decimetres from the airlock access panel. She crouched and slid open the panel.

    Seven-seven-seven.

    The airlock opened. She could see air escaping and imagined the hissing sound it would make, had there been sound in this star-filled hell. She walked in, found the panel on her side, and entered the code once more. The door began to slide shut. The yellow, spider-leg-thing that Andy had called The Arm swung into view before Dallas. "You're too late," she said, "Unless you want to weld in and destroy the entire ship. In that case, be my fucking guest."

    Andy didn't reply. The airlock door hit something before it could fully close, and slid back open.

    Her dangling tether.

    She quickly tried to disconnect it from her waist, but her gloves where still covered in grease from the engine; her thumb kept slipping on the latch.

    Screw it. I'll just reel it in.

    Dallas pulled in the cable as fast as she could. She had already brought in four arm-lengths, then it went taught. The Arm had found the other end of her tether, and had it clamped tight. She was on the wrong end of a deadly tug-o-war.

    Shit.

    Her boots, still magnetized to the metal, began to slide towards to the exit of the airlock.

    Part 6

    Dallas refocused her efforts on the tether latch. She knew she only had seconds before she was back out in space

    Just like Hennel.

    Her feet had slid to less than ten centimetres from the exit of the air lock, and The Arm was not letting up. Her grease-covered thumb was still slipping on the latch, "Come on!" She tossed the plasma cutter into the corner of the airlock in frustration.

    Oh. The plasma cutter. Damn it.

    It bounced off of the corner and floated back to her. She grabbed it, turned the knob on the side, and pointed the sparkling tip at her tether. It snapped. She watched other end shoot into space, towards The Arm. Dallas was left with a forearm's length of the cable dangling from her waist. She sighed and spun the cutter's knob to the 'off' position.

    That will have to do.

    Dallas flicked off her heel switches and propelled herself back to the panel by the door. She entered the code, and the door slid shut.

    * * *​

    Dallas threw off her gloves and opened the door on the other side of the airlock and entered a dark hallway. She didn't recognize it; her mental map of The Testament's interior was hopelessly vague and inaccurate. She took off her helmet and delicately set it on the floor, like a widow placing flowers before a tombstone. She then picked a direction, and walked. If she was in the passenger section of the ship, it wouldn't be long before she found someone. Dallas stumbled over something soft. Without looking down, she knew it was wearing a purple jumpsuit.

    I'm back in the crew area, then. Where these people were like busy cogs, and now they're just lumps in the dark because of that sick bastard.

    She would rather have been in the passenger area of the ship, being alone with Andy in the same section made her uneasy.

    Just need to find a sign or something.

    "Hey, uh, Dallas. You're kind of asking for it now."

    The taunt from over the comm broke the deep silence and almost her nerve. She didn't reply, and instead set her plasma cutter to the lowest setting, creating enough light for her to dodge the burnt people-lumps on the floor and read the words stencilled on the doors.

    Bunk C. Lab.

    "I tried to talk to you about this stuff, but you just don't uh, don't get it. Humans have to stop, and God is trying to tell you that. He's trying to tell all of us. Why won't you listen?"

    How could he have acted so normal before?

    Lounge Five. Bunk D.

    "I guess it doesn't matter. You're old, Dallas. No one is going to believe a crazy old lady like you. You don't even, you know, look that good."

    That hit home. Dallas' pace faltered. She told herself that he was just trying to demoralize her. The self-reassurance didn't work; deep down, she believed what Andy had said. She continued scanning the doors.

    Data. Showers.

    Showers, that means I'm back at--

    Stars, and a loud pain in the back of her head.

    Dallas was on her side, the floor was still slightly warm from the dime shifting disaster. Through her jarred vision, she saw her plasma cutter roll to a stop, one metre from her hand. A blue light illuminated the cutter as a thin arm attached to a grease-covered hand picked it up. The second arm entered the light and set down a familiar-looking metal rod in its place. Her eyes began to sting. She closed them instinctively and felt with her good hand. Something wet was running down her face. Blood.

    Oh fuck.

    The darkness past her eyelids brightened to that of daylight. Dallas knew it was a result of Andy setting the cutter to the 'max' position. She tried to open her eyes, but her blood, though neutral on a pH scale, was acid to her sight. She blindly stood up, feeling next to the door. Her hand found the button, she pressed it and placed her hand against the door as it slid upwards. Dallas stepped through the doorway and reached in all directions, hoping to find a way to ground herself.

    What room is this? Oh my god he's going to kill me.

    Dallas' hands found nothing. She recalled Hennel telling her that she was good at finding things with her feet.

    I hope there is an afterlife. Hennel would be there, and everything would be okay.

    Something hot touched Dallas' upper back. She dashed to the right and felt tile wall.

    Right, the showers. I was standing outside the showers when--

    She heard a loud splitting sound. Bits of ceramic rained on her head.

    Andy spoke, "God gave, uh, giveth me a tool. He's on my side, you know."

    Shit that was too close. It'll be closer that too close next time.

    Water.

    Her last bet: a bad hand standing on high stakes. The fourth street card didn't favour her, but there was still the fifth. Dallas felt her way along the wall until she found a stall. She ran inside and frantically tapped the touchscreen. She felt warm shower spray dance on her face and run down her neck, into her Gala suit. The amount of light forcing itself past her eyelids indicated that Andy was standing right in front of her. A persistent hissing sound began. She opened her eyes; the blood that had painfully sealed them shut was now running down the shower drain. Andy stood before her, he was subject to as much water as her, but the thick black grease on his hands showed no sign of fading.

    May as well be Hennel's blood. May as well be the blood of the entire crew.

    The hissing was coming from the bright, hot tip of the plasma cutter. An aura of bright orange light and steam had formed around it. Dallas had hoped that the water would short it out, but that card had obviously failed. She looked past Andy's orange-tinted face and through his water-dotted glasses. His gaze was as dead as his victims.

    Andy raised the cutter. Dallas was cornered in the stall, even a slight dodge or shift was hastily followed by the murderer's weapon. She lost sight of his eyes. She now couldn't see anything past his glasses, they had become covered in--

    Steam.

    Andy reached up with his free hand to wipe his glasses. Dallas took her chance and kicked the plasma cutter at the floor. Shards of black tile shot in all directions at response to the heat. Dallas saw Andy's glasses fall to the floor. She heard the lenses shatter. Andy blindly waved the cutter at her; she ducked low and saw a loose piece of tile shaped like a long, jagged right-triangle on floor at his feet.

    Another card. One last card.

    She picked it up and dodged to her right as he swung down at her, destroying the tile floor she had been kneeling on seconds before. She slammed into the inside of the stall, and rebounded at Andy's vulnerable left side.

    Dallas slashed his neck as hard as she could, dropped the piece of tile, then spun and ran to the exit and out into the hall. She was three metres down the hall when she slipped and fell.

    He's still alive. He's coming after me. Oh my god.

    She pushed herself up. On hands and knees she faced the door, straining to hear over her heavy breathing and pulsing heart. She could hear it faintly.

    Gurgling.

    Andy's faint, dark figure emerged from the showers room. His hands dropped from his neck, and he slumped against the door frame. Just another lump in the dark.

    * * *​

    Dallas slid into the captain's chair. She could have looked for a pilot amongst the passengers, but she knew that no one would approve of her plan. She felt under the controls. She remembered that Simony had said something about FAQ sheets under consoles.

    It's worth a try.

    The tip of her finger met a thick book. She pulled it out and examined the cover: Full Operations Manual for B-Class Cruise Vessels, by Brooklyne Hanava & Team.

    Even better.

    She looked up at the main window and wondered how she was even going to go about her task. She saw a woman looking back at her, the woman wore no makeup under her puffy eyes, and lines of age wove themselves among her features. She had never realized how faint the lines really were, and how it all formed a picture. It was her picture, and it looked better than she remembered.

    I'll have plenty of time to worry about my age when I'm dead. Right now--

    "I'm thirty-two and I look good, damn it," she opened the manual and began scanning the contents section.

    Part 7

    The day has finally arrived.

    He takes one last look at his house, head of his battle axe block, then sets down the winding driveway with his travel case in tow. The Red Gums lean in from all sides of the dirt path; the branches twist and shoot in so many directions, like the trees have spent their entire lives in indecision.

    That used to be me.

    He runs over a pothole with his case. He looks down, but there is no rut or imperfection to be seen. His breath quickens, and he looks over his shoulder. Just like that, it's different. He doesn't want to go, now.

    Responsibility defeats his sudden homesickness, and he drags himself onward. He reaches the end of his driveway, the claustrophobic foliage opens up to a wide, empty highway. A bus stop sits on his side of the road. The blue bench looks right at him and says: What are you waiting for? Your next mechanic posting isn't something you can just be late for.

    He feels like he forgot something. He hears something running-- no, galloping at him from behind. He turns.

    Her black ears dance and her fur ripples, but is static compared to her tongue that looks like it is going to fly out of her grinning mouth and land somewhere on the path.

    How is she here? I left her with Aunt Sally.

    Skella slows to a trot as she reaches him. She grabs his hand in her jaws. The dog's grip is tight, but there is no pain from her teeth. She digs in her rear legs and tries to pull him back. Back home.

    I can't. I have to go and make a living.

    He looks back at the highway, it is now a river. The river is cluttered with pale bones, and bordered by dead people wearing purple jumpsuits. The bus stop bench is over-turned, and a woman is impaled on the sign.

    Crikey.

    Still, he fights his friend. He has to go on. It's his job, bones or not.

    Skella lets go and looks up at him with big eyes, "Hennel, can you hear me?"

    Consciousness greets him. He sees that the good-looking woman, that Dime Shift girl, has pressed her helmet against his to cut the glare and see his face.

    * * *​

    He's alive. He told me that humans fix what breaks, and he's right.

    "Well bug me dead, it's nice to see you alive, Hennel," said Dallas, wondering how much time she had before he wasn't.

    Hennel grinned, his words were staggered among heavy breaths, "It's bugger, not bug. But that's pretty good for a first try, girl."

    Poor guy, he must be scraping the barrel for oxygen.

    Dallas shrugged and smiled back, "I'll practice more."

    "How did you... go about finding me?"

    She decided not to mention the five other things she had tried before this, "I found the manual. Activating the tracking beacons on the Gala suits was one of the solutions in the trouble-shooting guide, under 'missing staff.'"

    "Thanks Dallas," he leaned his head back. It took her a moment to realize that he had passed out.

    "Anytime, pal. Let's go home," Dallas took hold of the man's hand and looked up at the stars as she pulled herself and Hennel back to the ship, along her tether.

    I don't ever want to know what it's like. To be a star. They don't sing light and love, they're lonely and they envy me. I'm the happy little ant, and I'm carrying my leaf home.

    End
     
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