Chapter 50

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"I say, it's getting a little bumpy in here, isn't it?"  Wedged between the US president and the German chancellor, on a shuttle-seat really only designed for two backsides, the British PM was feeling somewhat compressed.  Even more so when the president, who had the aisle seat, leaned over to look out the window.

"A little, my ass.  This place is bucking like a bronco.  And I don't like the look of that red glow coming in through the docking-bay entrance, either.  I reckon those Ri-jellians need to get us off of this big-rig, pronto.  It's just like them little assholes to put us on the last ship outta here."

The chancellor braced herself against the wall, as a particularly savage lurch threatened to throw the three of them to the floor.  She gave a weary sigh.  "I suppose we should not be surprised that they would save themselves first.  Still, we should be glad that at least we are on a ship, ja?  Surely it will be leaving soon."

"Fingers crossed," replied the PM, fervently.  "I can only suppose that the little blighters must be waiting for something."

"Or someone."  The president pointed out the window.  "Here comes a coupla fellas—looks like a Ri-jellian and one of ours.  Hopefully once those guys are on board, we can get the hell outta Dodge."

"C'mon, Cam—almost there

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"C'mon, Cam—almost there."  The last few minutes had been some of the longest of Flenson's life.  Negotiating his way through an unstable, smoke-filled battle-station would have been tricky enough on his own; the need to also shepherd a reluctant, guilt-stricken, super-powered barista had made it a nightmare.

Further complicating their progress, Cam had insisted on lugging EJ's capsule along with them, even though the little orb, which had housed EJ's essence—faithfully and discreetly shadowing the proto-human hologram throughout his short but eventful existence, usually alive with shimmering, intricate traceries of red and green—was now dull, grey and utterly lifeless.

"Maybe we should wait a bit longer.  You know, in case he's just playing a joke on us, or something."

Flenson boggled at him.  "A joke?"

"Yeah.  I know it wouldn't be very funny, but then EJ didn't really get humour.  In fact, he didn't get a lot of things.  Humour, sarcasm, sayings, irony, fashion—all kinds of stuff.  But his heart was in the right place.  Well, it would have been, if he had one.  Can't we just stick around for another minute or two?"

"Cam, we may not have another minute or two.  Take a good look at that capsule—it's clearly dead.  And if it's dead, then so is EJ.  I'm really sorry, but he's gone.  Just like we will be, if we don't get on that shuttle."

For a few seconds more, Cam stood undecided, bracing himself against the bucking of the station.  Then—carefully, reverently—he placed the capsule onto one of the numerous unidentifiable pieces of machinery that littered the docking bay.  "Goodbye, EJ.  It was nice knowing you."  A sudden lurch sent the capsule flying to the floor, where it landed with an undignified clang, before rolling away and becoming rapidly lost in the smoke.  The barista sighed.  "Let's go."

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