I held my breath as Invictia diverted all available power into emergency cooling. The ship hummed with a subtle vibration as the drive’s thermal control system radiated excess heat into space. The next thirty seconds would determine if we lived or died and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to tip the scales in our favor.
I unclipped my harness and pushed myself gently out of the chair. I kept a hand on the harness strap as I floated up. If I’d known we were going to lose gravity, I would’ve worn mag-boots. Zero gravity was fun for a minute, then it became a pain in the ass.
A gentle push sent me floating towards the door. While Invictia wasn’t really designed for zero-g, it did have the bare minimum number of holds to make getting around possible. I hooked my toes under the foothold and used the manual override to push the door open.
I hissed out a breath as the movement pulled against my anchored leg. My injured anchored leg. Holy mother of gods, that hurt. The whimper escaped before I could suppress it.
“Samara, what’s going on? Did we escape? Are you hurt?” Valentin called from his cell.
“Tweaked my leg opening the door,” I said. “I’m fine. And we haven’t blown up yet, so maybe we’ll survive after all.”
The hallway had a waist-high handrail slot embedded into the wall. Usually it glowed like a soft nightlight when the overhead lights were off. Since all of the power was off, it appeared as a dark slash in the wall in the greenish-gray of my night-vision. I pushed towards it and used it to pull myself down the hallway to the holding cells.
Valentin stood in the middle of his cell. If it wasn’t for the floating bedding behind him, I’d think he had somehow retained gravity. He walked closer to the thermoplastic wall separating us and I heard faint clicking as his mag-boots activated.
I hadn’t realized that his boots were mag-boots. They were nearly as sleek as my leather boots. Proof, once again, that while money might not buy happiness, it could buy a lot of damn fine gear.
“Why are the lights out?” Valentin asked. “Are we stranded?”
“No,” I said. I used the sides of the doorway to pull myself upright into a standing position. Without gravity, I hovered a couple inches above the floor. “The stardrive overheated and went into emergency shutdown. Once it cools off, everything should come back online.” In theory.
“If you have a communication drone, I can have help here in twenty minutes,” Valentin said.
Invictia did have a full quartet of communication drones. I wouldn’t fly on a ship without them. Disabled ships in deep space could float around for decades before another ship happened upon them. Com drones had miniature stardrives so they could jump emergency messages back to populated space.
They were also incredibly expensive and single-use. I wasn’t going to waste one just to bring the Kos Empire down on my head—especially not when we were already within communication range of CP57.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said. “For now, I’m going down to maintenance to see how bad it is.”
“Samara, wait,” Valentin said as I started to leave. He ran a frustrated hand through his hair before looking up and meeting my eyes. “I apologize for the things I said. I should not have let my temper control my mouth.”
“Let me know if you figure out how to make that work,” I said drily.
“Are your people truly starving?” he asked.
I pressed my lips together and struggled for patience. I wanted to rant, but that wouldn’t get me anywhere. Valentin appeared to be willing to listen, so I needed to have a civilized conversation, even if diplomacy wasn’t my strong suit.
“We were getting by until your father’s death last year,” I said. “Then the war turned ugly and both sides embargoed anyone who wasn’t allied with them. Trade died overnight. Shipping and mercenary jobs, the lifeblood of our sector, also dried up. We’ve been on strict rations for the last six months.”
And even with the rationing, we’d resorted to careful piracy just to stay alive, but I didn’t think Valentin would appreciate the reminder.
I sighed. “We have no income. The Coalition’s coffers are empty and Trigon Three isn’t exactly a farmer’s paradise. The last of our food supplies will run out within the next two months.”
“Why not ally with one of the sides?” he asked. “I don’t know about the Quint Confederacy, but we don’t let our allies starve.”
I wasn’t entirely sure that was true, but I let it go. Instead, I said, “And be forced to join the war so many of my people risked their lives to escape? No.”
In truth, I’d floated the idea three months ago. Every person I’d talked to had vehemently declared that they would rather starve, and after three months of rationing, they knew what they could expect.
Of course, they all assumed I would pull a miracle out of thin air, and I’d attempted to do just that. So far my miracle was looking a little ragged around the edges.
“There must be something—” he started.
“There is. I’m doing it right now. Soon you’ll be safe at home and my people will get to eat for a while longer. Of course, if you’d like to end the war, that would help, too.”
“I tried. My advisors assured me we were winning and peace talks were unnecessary because Quint would soon surrender.”
“And when was that?” I asked.
He glanced away. “Six months ago,” he said stiffly.
“You already know my opinion of your advisors. This doesn’t change it. But for now, I have to get the ship up and running.”
“Please let me out,” he said. “I’ve been cooped up for weeks.”
“I wish I could,” I said honestly. “But despite your apology, you threatened to hurt me. Plus, I don’t know how your ability works.”
I held up a hand when he tried to interject. “I don’t want to know,” I said. “Right now I need to get Invictia back online in case Commander Adams shows up again, and I can’t do that if I have to look over my shoulder every second.”
Happy New Year! The second half of the chapter will be out later this week.