Chapter 3 - Home

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"I'm getting movement out of the debris field," said Phebe, the senior scanner-technician, "It looks like the salvage team is finally- By everything sacred that's a- m'Lord-Captain I'm reading a Seraphim emerging from the debris field. It's fully operational, not of any recognized type."

If Lord-Captain Methuselah would have been asked to come up with a worse-case-scenario for this mission, it would have been this. Exactly this.

"Do we have anything that could hurt one of those things?" he asked.

"In a word, no," said Jonas, at tactical.

"It's attempting to open an encrypted communications channel with us," reported Mara, at operations.

"Well put it through for the Emperor's sake," barked the Lord-Captain "Middle panel primary viewing window."

The middle of the three large viewing screens that made up the primary viewing window ceased to display a starscape, and began to display just about the last person Lord-Captain Methuselah had expected to see in the pilot's chair of the Seraphim: Eve Peleg.

"June's dead," she said, matter-of-factly.

"What in the universe happened?" asked the Lord-Captain.

"Her Cherubim was destroyed and she-" Eve started.

"Begin at the beginning," said the Lord-Captain.

* * *

The Cherubim bay wasn't designed for Seraphim; it wouldn't be able to affect repairs on the thing, but with a little modification it seemed to do a passable enough job of housing one. The ancient machine was worth more than the whole ship so the crew was willing to do whatever it took.

This had been the greatest salvage run in the history of the Ray Bradbury, June's death notwithstanding. The general exuberance of the crew over this fact bothered Eve; she kept to her cramped quarters so she wouldn't have to be reminded of how happy everyone was.

Eve had private quarters, one of the perks of being a Cherubim pilot, and they were so large she could almost stand up inside them. They contained little more than her bed alcove and her terminal screen, but what was important was what they didn't contain: a bunkmate.

Solitude was all the more precious with space at such a premium, and the luxury offered some small comfort to Eve even in her state of emotional turmoil. She hadn't quite decided how she felt yet, but she knew it was bad.

She spent the entire sleep cycle lying awake, telling herself she wasn't even going to go down to the mess for breakfast. The very second breakfast time rolled around for her ration color she sat up in bed, furious with herself, but went down to the mess hall anyway.

Nobody, not even a Cherubim pilot, ate enough to make those kinds of concessions to grief.

Eve ended up being last in line for ration block red, and so spent the first 20 minutes of her allotted 30 minutes for breakfast waiting. The line was cramped, but this wasn't anything new. Everyone in line was chatting away happily and it just made Eve sick.

Finally her turn came and she pushed her tray up to the autocook. It ejected a series of colorful nutrition gels into the various compartments. Each gel was warm and of exactly the same consistency.

Even if she had wanted to sit, and she didn't, Eve wouldn't have had the option. The mess hall was completely full. She and the other latecomers stood in the gaps between the tables, gulping down their meal as quickly as possible.

Eve finished eating and angrily slammed her tray into the receiver slot in the wall. She walked back to her quarters at a speed just under the limit of what would provoke the computer to scold her not to run.

* * *

Mara swore.

"There's another ship in this system, a carrier-class with out-of-date friend-or-foe codes," she yelled.

The mood in the bridge went from jovial to grim in the span of a moment.

"How soon can we get out of here?" barked the Lord-Captain.

"Safely?" replied Jonas "Between the debris and the gravity field we're lucky if we can get far enough clear to make a jump in two hours."

"Who said safely? What about dangerously?" asked the Lord-Captain.

"If we ignore all safety precautions it would still take an hour, but we'd all be dead inside ten minutes," replied Jonas.

"The Seraphim?" offered Phebe.

"Someone get Eve Peleg to the Cherub Bay!" yelled the Lord-Captain.

* * *

There were armsmen waiting for Eve when she arrived back at the habitat block. Eve recognized one of them as Gideon, who she had known from school and who was a year younger than her. She could never take him entirely seriously as a result, but she wasn't feeling up to teasing him today. The other one she didn't know; it was a big ship and he was probably in a different color block.

"Gideon-" was all Eve had time to say before each of the armsmen grabbed her by an arm and started force-marching her towards the Cherubim bay.

"Where in the universe were you?" demanded Gideon.

"Eating," said Eve "I'm red block, remember? What's going on?"

"Rebel ship," said the unfamiliar armsman "No way to get clear enough to jump in time. Lord-Captain wants you in that Seraphim of yours."

"Me?" asked Eve.

"It's down to you or Sam," said Gideon.

All that managed to do was remind Eve that June was dead.

"Would you two let go of me?" Eve snapped "I can walk on my own."

"No," replied the unfamiliar armsman.

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