Chapter Eight

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"Lord of All," Eustus gasped as a white light, bright as any sun, speared through the clear view panels in the flex-dock as the Venetian Star exploded. The faceplates of the Marines' helmets automatically darkened to keep them from being blinded, but the civilians weren't so lucky. The captain had already begun to rotate Chasseur about her long axis to put the mass of the ship between the paper-thin walls of the flex-dock and the expanding sphere of white hot debris. Eustus cringed as he saw a cloud of fragments whiz through the empty space where the flex-dock had been just a moment before, and hot tears welled in his eyes as he thought of Reza. He's gone. But Eustus had no time now to grieve.

"Hurry!" Ortiz bellowed over the radio and her suit's PA. "Get them aboard!"

While her idea of vacuuming the survivors into the destroyer was working, it wasn't working fast enough. The dock had now collapsed along the destroyer's flank as the ship maneuvered, and a huge strain was being placed on the seam where the docking ring attached to the ship's airlock.

"Come on," Eustus said, grabbing a sobbing passenger, whose hands were covering her flash-blinded eyes. Eustus propelled her forward with one hand while he held onto one of the handhold loops with the other. The other Marines followed his lead, forming a fire brigade of sorts to fling the remaining passengers toward the airlock.

Looking up at a loud popping sound, Eustus saw the telltale vapor stream from air that was venting from a tear in the dock where it met the airlock, courtesy of a fragment of debris that had ricocheted off one of the ship's gun turrets. The good news was that it made more of a pressure differential in the direction of the ship to help move the remaining passengers along. The bad news, on the other hand, was all too obvious.

"Go on, Camden," Ortiz said after an agonizingly long time of moving the passengers forward, putting her hand on his shoulder as she tossed one last civilian forward. "We're the last ones in this conga line. Move your ass!"

He didn't need any further prompting. Pulling himself forward with the handhold loop, he went sailing behind the last passenger, pausing at the next handhold long enough to turn and make sure Ortiz was following behind him.

"You stop again and I'm going to shoot you!" she shouted. Yanking him free of the handhold as she sailed by, the two of them caromed toward the airlock, where Stalin and Davis were now waiting, their boots magnetically locked to the deck and their arms held out to assist. The inner door had been closed to protect the passengers and other Marines, who were now safely inside the ship.

Stalin grabbed Ortiz and hauled her in, and Davis had a hold of Eustus's arm when the seam of the flex-dock finally gave way. Even though the pressure in the dock had been reduced dramatically, the resulting decompression into the near-perfect vacuum of space was still explosive. Eustus screamed as Davis lost his grip and Eustus was blown through the hole...

...or would have been, had not Reza appeared right between the two men. One of his hands latched onto the armor of Davis's upper arm, the gleaming talons of Reza's armored gauntlets sinking into the metal, while the other grabbed Eustus's wrist in an unyielding grip. Together, Davis, Stalin, and Ortiz managed to haul the two of them back into the lock before Stalin hit the button to close the outer door. He turned around and took a long look at Reza in the near-vacuum in the lock. Reza, acting as if the dangerously low pressure had no effect on him, got to his feet and calmly stared back.

"Pressurize the lock!" Ortiz ordered, but Stalin made no move to do so. Shoving past him, she slammed her palm down on the appropriate control, releasing a hissing torrent of air that quickly brought the lock up to pressure. She grabbed Stalin's arm. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

Without taking his eyes from Reza, he grabbed her combat harness and flung her into Eustus and Davis, who were both dumbstruck by Reza's appearance.

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