Part 4: Shiva - Chapter 11

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The Helots shoved them along towards the air lock, which was located on the deck below. It was different to the docking bays for the dinghies, a small door located under the engineering deck. They had to climb down a ladder and duck under some low pipes to access it.

Maddy looked at their captors: three of them, the two called Sniper and Frank, and a third one with long arms. Their harpoons were visible at all times.

The long-armed Helot activated the inner door of the airlock, which hissed open. A tiny window in the outer door showed nothing but utter darkness.

'I appeal to you,' said Reed. 'Do you know what that Sape is trying to do?'

Their captors' expressions were hard to read, especially by a Sape like herself, but Maddy thought there was a trace of confusion in the sallow brows and thick lips.

'Yes, of course,' said the long-armed one.

'You can't kill other Helots,' declared Reed. 'Our own people. That is what Sapes do to their own kind, but not Helots.'

'Don't listen to him, Gibbon!' said the female Serf.

'Death is necessary for freedom!' called out the third Helot, the one called Sniper.

'But they're going to kill millions!'

'Shut up!' Frank shoved her harpoon towards Reed. 'Shut up now! You must be either for us or against us!'

'Be quiet, Frank,' said Gibbon, holding out a hand. 'These Sapes at least must be killed.'

'What are you expecting us to do, calmly climb into the airlock?' Marshall was taller than all of them and made sure they knew it. His head brushed the ceiling of the low chamber.

Frank aimed her stun gun at Marshall. 'You won't be able to resist if you're unconscious.'

'I've been hit with that thing before. I don't intend to let it happen again.'

At that moment Maddy felt herself go light and her feet left the floor. Automatically she reached out to grab something for support, and was propelled across the room as a result. The ship's internal gravity, induced by its rotation, had ceased. There was only one explanation for that: it had gone Void.

Marshall lashed out at Frank. The stun gun hit the wall and rebounded towards Maddy. At the same moment Sniper fired his harpoon. The bolt slapped into the wall of the compartment beside Reed's head. The other Helot, Gibbon, fired his harpoon at Marshall. The bolt entered the man's arm, but he merely grunted and tried to grab the end of the weapon. Blood oozed from his arm and formed small globes at it drifted away in zero gravity.

Maddy caught the stun gun as it struck her in the stomach. She sighted at Gibbon and squeezed the trigger. The charge hit him and he went limp.

Five seconds was required for the stun gun to recharge. Marshall and Reed launched themselves from the walls to grapple with the remaining Helots. Maddy stayed near the wall, half-obscured by a bank of equipment, and waited for her gun to be ready. The five seconds seemed an eternity.

A gun roared: Sniper had drawn one of Marshall's confiscated weapons and fired. The plasma bolt ploughed through Reed's body, emerged on the other side and continued into the airlock, where it smashed through the window into Void.

The inner door automatically slammed shut; at the same time a klaxon siren started up warning of the hull breach.

Maddy discharged her gun at Sniper and he, too, went limp, hanging in mid-air.

Marshall had managed to secure Frank with his good arm, the injured one wrapped round a grab-bar on the wall.

'Do it,' said Marshall and Maddy fired for the third time. Frank's head hit the hull with a dull thud as she slumped.

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