Josie’s arm was jammed into one of the Thresher‘s exterior maintenance ducts past her elbow, but she still hadn’t found the ruptured cell. The attack had left the ship vulnerable—it was a miracle they’d managed to limp it away at all—but nothing made you feel quite as exposed as being out in the vacuum with nothing but an invisible layer of nanoweave thinner than your own skin to keep your sweat from boiling off and your organs from baking in the radioactive cloud of a million-year-old supernova. The sooner she repaired the jump drive, the sooner she could get back inside.
She worked her way methodically from the starboard tip inward, checking behind one panel and then the next for the fault. Ken was doing the same on the port side and moving more quickly, probably happily distracted. Things had happened so fast. If he hadn’t gone for a piss when he had, he’d have been in the vented compartment too. Michael told him he was lucky, but Josie knew he’d never see it that way.
Her finger brushed something sharp. It was the ruptured cell, finally! She alerted the crew over the comms and saw Ken start to make his way back to the central lock. Josie double-checked the power indicators, then carefully released the damaged cell from its couplings. She examined the ruined component. It was trash, burst from the inside. It looked like maybe a beam diverged, but she’d never seen a whole cell rupture like this. She would bring it back inside for closer inspection—
The Outsider hunter-killer tumbled out of slipspace not even a kilometer away. Interrogator class: it was the same ship that nearly put them all in the grave not yet an hour ago. It was here to finish the job.
“Josie, we need that jump drive!” said Michael.
She didn’t respond; she was already getting the replacement cell into position, moving with desperate precision. It clicked into place and the venting gas blew her to the end of her tether. Fuckers didn’t even wait to power it back up. They were blind jumping, with Josie and Ken still spacewalking.
She pulled herself along the tether, a task made nearly impossible by the fact that it bounced around slackly without any acceleration to keep it taut. If she could just stay inside the slipspace envelope she might be able to ride out the wave.
Josie got one hand around a grab handle on the Thresher‘s hull. The stars began to fold.
She caught a glimpse of Ken just as they jumped. He was tangled in his tether, nowhere near the hull. Well outside the envelope. The negative energy wake snatched him into the purest dark.
Josie felt like her bones were vibrating, and she felt like she was seeing the ship through a long crimson tube. Slipspace was dangerous enough; this wasn’t the way to ride it. She was disoriented, caught in the spray of crashing time waves.
Her hand slipped free, and she tumbled into black.
Josie awoke muddy beneath a strange needle tree in a pale blue fog. A garden world; uncharted, no doubt. Only a hundred meters away was the wreckage of the Thresher. Its silvery skin had lost its luster, and strange mosses clung to its panels in clumps and patches. Alien vines had been working their slow salvage for years. Decades maybe.
She’d slipped away by only a short distance, but by a long time. A curiosity of slipspace. The rest of the crew either escaped or died long ago. And Ken wouldn’t arrive for centuries more. Josie was alive, but she was on her own.