As Jeth started suiting up, Milton came over and helped him with the fastenings. “Be careful over there,” he said. “Keep your helmet on. If Avalon’s scans were wrong after all, the suit should protect you.”
“Okay,” Jeth said, suddenly finding it hard to breathe. He didn’t care for Milton’s use of the word “should.” He took a deep inhale, slid on the helmet, and double-checked the seal.
Then Jeth buckled his gun holster around his hips and stomped over to Shady, the space suit heavy and awkward. “Can you hear me?” he asked, testing the helmet’s proximity mike.
“Gotcha,” Shady replied, his voice echoing inside Jeth’s helmet.
Jeth nodded as he pressed one of the switches on the side of the helmet, opening the link to Avalon’s main comm line. “You getting us, Celeste?”
“Yep,” Celeste said from the bridge. “It looks like all three survivors are in the same place, rear and starboard. The cargo bay, according to this Marlin schematic. Assuming it’s accurate, the nearest hatch from the tow ports should be right behind the two crow guns up top. It’ll lead you to the passenger deck.”
Jeth and Shady entered the airlock together while Milton sealed the door behind them. Jeth approached the hatch leading to the outside, deactivated the gravity drive, and slid the hatch open, his body now weightless in the zero-g. He grasped the safety rail outside the door and peered over the edge, allowing himself one thrilling, terrifying look at the nothingness of space surrounding them. Then he focused on the Donerail in the distance. The hole in its bow looked even more ominous from here.
Jeth glanced at Shady. “You ready?” Shady answered with a thumbs-up.
Here we go, Jeth thought. Following the rail, he pulled himself outside the ship to where one of the two towline mechanisms sat inside a compartment just beyond the door. He opened the compartment, grasped the small propulsion unit that made up the head of the towline, and yanked it out. Then he pointed the unit toward the Donerail and switched it on. The engine jerked him forward, pulling him over to the other ship in seconds.
Jeth grabbed onto the railing that ran along the front of the Donerail a couple of meters below the bridge window and switched the engine off. Then he moved left, following the rail as it led him to the Donerail’s starboard tow port. To his right, Shady was doing the same with the other towline.
As soon as Jeth attached the towline’s unit into the port, he heard Celeste’s voice. “Okay, Avalon’s establishing a connection to the Donerail’s network now. . . . All right, connection’s a go. Lizzie should be able to override the locks on the hatch. Just give us a minute.”
While Lizzie worked, Jeth and Shady met back in the middle and then climbed their way up and over the bridge to the crow guns and the hatch just beyond them. When Celeste gave them the go-ahead a few moments later, Jeth pulled the hatch open and slipped inside. Shady followed after him, sealing the door shut behind them. Gravity activated inside the hatch automatically.
Jeth stooped and pulled up on the handle of the door to the corridor below. The light on his helmet barely penetrated the inky blackness, and even through the space suit, he could tell how cold it was down there, almost as cold as it had been outside the ship.
Looks like a big black mouth.
Pushing the image away, Jeth dropped through the hatch, trying to land as softly as possible, without much success. Shady’s descent was even louder. Jeth winced and pulled the Triton from the holster around his hips. He looked around, his eyes adjusting to the dimness of the emergency lighting that had come on the moment it detected movement.
In a second his pulse doubled, until his heart felt like a fist pounding against his breastbone. Something was wrong. Something terrible had happened here. Parts of the corridor were missing. Not blown away or damaged but missing, holes carved in the walls as neatly as the one in the ship’s front. Some of the holes were small, hardly big enough for Lizzie’s cat to fit through, while others were large enough for Jeth and Shady to pass through side by side.
The nearest of the bigger holes was a few meters down and to the right. It was cut at an angle through the corridor wall into a passenger cabin and also downward into what was probably the common room or maybe sick bay. Jeth stared at the exposed cross section into the ship’s innards, taking in the shorn ends of wires and ductwork. Everything had been sliced off so precisely that the edges looked smooth and sharp enough to cut skin. An odd, fuzzy sensation filled his head, as if the receiver in his brain were out of tune, unable to process the images his eyes were sending to it.
“What the hell happened here?” Shady asked.
Jeth jumped at the loud sound of his voice, amplified by the mike. He shot a glare at Shady. “Keep quiet. We don’t want anybody to know we’re here until we’re ready.”
Jeth shook his head, trying to get his heart rate back into the normal range. Orienting himself toward the rear of the ship, he moved on, steering clear of the hole in the floor. He wondered if the weapon Hammer was after had survived all this damage. Or maybe it had caused it.
A few of the cabin doors were still intact and closed, and as Jeth reached one of them, curiosity got the best of him, and he slid it open.
The door to the cabin might have been fine, but the inside of the room contained more of the same destruction. A hole had been cut through the bed. Only the bed wasn’t empty. Or at least it hadn’t been whenever that hole had been made.