Siris wished that he could be a fly on the wall when Geoffrey broke down the door and saw that none of the children were still there. He was especially proud of the fact that he’d thought of replacing the panel that he’d unscrewed. With no obvious means of escape for the shareholders, Geoffrey would go berserk at their disappearance, and Siris wished that he could witness it. He smiled as he led the children through the darkened warren of corridors that he had reconnoitered hours before to the ladder that would lead them up to the dorsal maintenance hatch.
It had taken him half a day to find the hatch buried as it was under centuries of accumulated topsoil and plants, but even so he counted himself lucky. If it hadn’t been for the precise measurements provided by the tablet’s schematics he never would have found it. He asked Iris to lead the way up the ladder.
She had a better head on her shoulders than most of the shareholders and armed with the shotgun and the knowledge of how to use it, she was the best besides himself to lead the group to daylight. Still he worried for her. He told himself that it was a ridiculous concern since he highly doubted anyone had found the opened hatch atop the buried ship.
During his hours-long search for the hatch, no one had crested the summit, and based on the complete lack of tracks or paths, he didn’t think anyone ever had. Besides, he needed to bring up the rear, where the true danger lay. It was far more likely that someone within the ship stumbled upon their quietly sobbing band of distraught youth at the base of the ladder, so Siris guarded the children as the queue to start the long climb up to the hatch slowly dwindled.
He’d held Peter back so that he could assist the crippled child ascend. To be honest, he’d been surprised that Iris had allowed the sense of the strategy to outweigh her protective instincts and had only made a token protest to her brother being so far from her.
Peter started up the ladder with something approaching exuberance. Siris had to whisper cautions to the boy as they went, reminding him that it wasn’t a race. Peter would pull his body up with both arms enough to place his single foot on the next rung up, then choke up on the ladder and pull again. It had to be taxing and Siris made sure to be as close behind the boy as he could get so that if he slipped, he would be there to help support or even catch Peter if it was needed.
A girl who had apparently been injured by Geoffrey’s random gunfire was climbing right above Peter and the boy’s enthusiasm was checked by her flagging strength. Iris had introduced the girl to him as Becky, or Becka, he couldn’t remember which. She had been hit in the thigh by some birdshot or something. It was hard to tell in the dark, but the damage was pretty minor, at least compared to what buckshot or a slug would have done.
His own burned and bloody side twinged as he reached and flexed with the muscles there, but he had bandaged it and treated it with the impressive medical resources in the hab where as Becky’s injuries were fresh. That combined with her probable dehydration was taking its toll.
“Rebecca. Just keep going, okay. We’re almost there.” He saw her head bob as she nodded. The open ladder closed in around them so that they now climbed in an enclosed tube. With each step the light coming from the open hatch above them grew brighter. He could see silhouetted figures crawling through the bright circle every few seconds. It was hard to believe that their brand new society had devolved so quickly.
It was war, essentially. He didn’t want it to be. He wanted to just escape and be safely away from Geoffrey and his cronies, but he knew that the boy-dictator would not let them go so easily. He would hunt them.
Siris needed to be ready, but he was feeling more and more overwhelmed. He had always been good at trouble-solving. That’s what made him such a good mechanic/engineer. But he had been forced into a constant defensive stance. Each hour since waking up in the Samsara, he had reacted. He was tired of it. His dad would have said that he needed a vacation.
“Okay, Becky. Grab Iris’s hand.” Iris was reaching down through the hatch helping each child through the opening so that they wouldn’t have to negotiate the most difficult part of the ascent.
Becky reached out, but Siris didn’t see exactly what happened to make the girl slip. The too-bright background rendered the details in the dark tunnel impossible to see. All Siris knew was that he was reacting again. Iris screamed. He looped his leg around the rung at his hip as a jumble of arms and legs windmilled toward him. Becky smashed into Peter and then both tumbled backward into him.
He saw stars when Peter’s hip crumpled his nose, but his left arm encircled the boy’s shoulder, arresting his fall. Then Becky’s weight added to the rest, making him groan as the tendons behind his knee pressed painfully into the metal rung. After she hit, her momentum threatened to pull her past the pair, but Siris used his right arm to hug her to Peter’s chest.
The wound in his side screamed. The muscles in his abdomen felt like they had pulled free from the bones and tendons they commanded, but he kept upright until Becky could regain a grip on the ladder and climb up again, and then Peter. Once they were off of him, his hand pressed to his side then he lifted it away and looked at the fresh blood there.
This time, Iris climbed down and met the girl, then lifted her up past her and pushed her bodily out of the hatch then she did the same with her brother. When Siris pulled himself out into the wan light with a groan, Iris hugged him again.
“I think I now believe in God,” she said. “Because guardian angels can only exist if there is a God, right?”
Siris didn’t know what to say, or if a response was even needed, so he stayed silent and just enjoyed her warm body against his.
She pulled away from him so she could look in his eyes. “You will tell me if you tire of saving our lives won’t you?” She paused and looked down, almost ashamed. “I mean, sooner or later you will have the thought that it would be easier to just let us die already.” She smiled, but Siris could see that she was truly worried about it.
He smiled back.
“As long as you keep giving me hugs, I’ll never get tired of saving you.” It was cheesy. The type of thing that would be said in a movie, and he didn’t think he pulled it off particularly well, but she blushed regardless and hugged him again, so he supposed he’d done okay.
When she pulled away again there were tears in her eyes.
“You okay?” He said.
She nodded, though he knew she was lying. “Claire’s dead.” Siris knew he should know that name and he racked his brain until it came to him.
“The girl that helped you with…” he trailed off. She nodded.
He gripped her shoulders and looked into her eyes. “I’m sorry, Iris. I didn’t know her…of course… but she seemed like a nice person. Was it Geoffrey?”
She gulped back a sob and nodded again. “He needs to die,”she growled.
He was shocked how fast her sadness had changed to anger, but he felt the same way about the boy.