1.8a To Die Well

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The armada seemed to be waiting for something, so maybe the threat wasn't dire. After all, the Upward Governess must want Thomas alive for his torture.

"Do you have a plan?" Alex expected a good idea from Thomas. Even a sketchy plan would be better than what he had, which was nothing.

Thomas gave him an incredulous stare. "You're asking me if we have a chance?" His gaze hardened. "We don't.  We're doomed."

"Wait a minute." Margo was defiant. "Are you sure?" She glanced from Thomas to Alex, then towards the apparently empty sky. "I mean, have we explored all of our options? If they're ..."

A low hissing sound seized Alex's attention. Air was escaping somewhere.

"Knockout gas," Thomas said.

His helpful hint sounded far away, because Alex had already spiked out his awareness to scour the ship for unusual air flow. Foggy puffs spewed from nozzles underneath seats. The puffs were low to the ground, but quickly adding up, and Alex guessed they would poison all the breathable air within a few minutes.

He used his powers to crumple each straw-like hose, one by one, in quick succession. That stopped the gassy clouds. 

But they must have a source, so he focused on one of the gas lines, and traced it underneath the carpet, then below a floor panel. He raced his awareness down the pressurized line until he found where it was coming from. A canister. 

Alex widened his awareness to detect the surrounding area, full of incongruent machinery. A utility closet.

He couldn't guess how to eject the canister into space, or how to defuse it, either. Maybe he could shut it down. 

He probed the canister with his awareness, searching for valves, and sure enough, there were several. He poured himself into each valve, sealing the canister tight.

Then he snapped back to his body. "I shut it down. We're safe, for now."

Margo and Kessa looked appreciative, and Thomas gave a grudging nod of admiration. "Great." He leaned close to the holographic pedestal and worked furiously, ignoring the worried stares aimed his way. "She might have planted more traps. I'll check."

"When did the Torth have time to put traps here?" Kessa asked. "How could they guess what ship we chose?"

Others nodded. Their choice had been unplanned and unpredictable.

"The Torth must have installed the same sabotage into every ship on Umdalkdul," Thomas explained, not pausing in his work. "Or they did it to every ship within a thousand miles of Duin. They figured we would steal one. She buried the hijack in substrate shells, knowing I'd be too smug or lazy to check every branching layer."

He sounded furious. Alex hoped some of that fury was directed at the Upward Governess, and the Torth Empire, not at himself.

"This is because I was stupidly avoiding the Megacosm," Thomas went on. "She got a large-scale project underway, because she knew I wouldn't ascend, and I'd be clueless. The whole operation must have taken at least a day. Maybe two!" He was growing angrier. "I gave her time. She had time to record that message and package it into the hijack macro, and set a trigger so it would spill out when I finally figured ..." His voice grew strangled with despair. "I just assumed we were safe. Like an idiot."

"None of us—" Margo began in a reassuring tone, but Thomas cut her off.

"I know her! I should have guessed. I should have known. I told you before, I thought our escape was too easy, but I failed to follow up on my suspicions. And now we're dead!"

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