Then came the leak. Information about the secret project Sivath was working on somehow found its way into Alliance propaganda, and the battlestation’s CO got agitated. When the CO got agitated, bad things happened to slaves. Everybody understood this, except that goddamn Vulcan. Yohamdi’s mate, Serzin, thought she was jumping to conclusions when she said that somebody ought to disappear Sivath before he brought ruin on everybody. “We don’t know who the leak was,” Serzin said, “and everybody was new here once. We have to stick together.”
Serzin felt vindicated when Sivath came back to the slave dorms after his work on the project was done. The Vulcan said that he didn’t like sleeping alone in a room of his own, and asked anybody if they wanted to trade. Serzin thought this generous offer was a godsend, because Yohamdi was expecting and a private room would give them some much-needed space. He insisted on throwing in a fistful of scrip with the deal, even though Sivath didn’t seem to want it. That made Yohamdi even more suspicious.
The night she and Serzin had alone in their new bed was precious, a true gift that she would treasure. But it came at a price. The next morning Yohamdi woke early from her shift. She didn’t hear until hours later what happened. That the CO came knocking, looking for the Vulcan. That he had guards arrest Serzin. That Overseer Ryan had arranged a slave fight for Serzin and Sivath, and the Vulcan killed her mate.
There was a wake. They held it during what would have been mealtime, though there was no meal because the masters had cut all rations. People came to give their condolences, though Yohamdi could no longer remember what anyone said to her. Nobody except Sivath, who came to express his regret for what happened. He offered to give back the scrip. She spat in his face. She should have hit him, but she had been sure that if she started she wouldn’t have been able stop until he was dead.
The Vulcan didn’t show his face after that, and soon it became clear why. People being hauled in and interrogated about the leak returned with stories that Sivath had given up their names. None of them had worked on the project with him; none of them could possibly have known anything unless it came from him. The Vulcan was just trying to save his own neck. There was a code among slaves; they stuck together, because it was the only way they could survive. A sellout and double-dealer like this was a danger to everybody. Yohamdi decided that if she saw him again, she would kill him. She “misplaced” a plasma torch at work and smuggled it home with her, so she would be ready.
After 24 hours without food, and with rumors circulating that the Angel of the Warrens was dead and the masters were planning a purge, the slave dorms were close to rioting. She knew it was stupid and pointless but she also felt like she had nothing left to lose. What hope was left in this life, where Serzin could be taken from her so capriciously? What hope was there for their baby?
But by the evening of the second day without food, Yohamdi was weak and exhausted; she felt like she hadn’t eaten in a week. She retreated from the crowds and the clamor to the bunk she had shared, happily, with Serzin. They could have been fine there. The bunk would have been crowded with three, but they’d have made it work. They’d had six months left before the birth to figure it out. Yohamdi felt the grief rise up from her gut and choke her, but she had no more tears to weep.
A younger woman who shared the bunk room, Pela, saw her sitting alone and surreptitiously passed her a wadded-up cloth. Pela touched a finger to her lips and then gave Yohamdi a hug before slipping away. Yohamdi unwrapped the little bundle to discover a dozen Cardilia seeds. Pela worked in the botany labs and was sometimes able to sneak exotic plant bits out. This small handful of food was a fortune now; Pela could have traded them for just about any material possession she wanted. Instead she had given them to Yohamdi. She felt greedy and selfish as she rolled onto her bunk with her back to the room, shoving seeds four at a time into her mouth and chewing as slowly and silently as he hunger would allow. She did it anyway. She was still hungry when they were gone. Physically and emotionally spent, Yohamdi went to sleep.
It was dark in the nearly-empty bunk room when she was awakened by a hand shaking her. The noise of unrest was louder now, closer. Yohamdi rolled to see who was bothering her when all she wanted to do was sleep. It was the Vulcan sellout, Sivath.
Instantly, the plasma torch was in her hand. A blink of an eye later she was launching herself from her bunk, knocking Sivath to the ground. She bludgeoned him with the tool once, twice, pressed it under his throat. Her thumb found the ignition switch.
“Wait!” he croaked. “Please, wait! I need your help!”
“You’ve helped yourself plenty,” Yohamdi spat back.
“They’re gonna kill everybody,” Sivath hissed. “Not just a few. Everybody.”
“What do you want me to do about it?” Yohamdi snarled. “Even if I believed you, and I don’t, I can’t save you. I can’t save anybody. If they want to kill us, they can kill us any time they like. But not you. I’m gonna kill you first.”
“I can stop it,” Sivath said. “Someone came to me. Made a deal. I can stop this from happening, but I need your help. Please, Yohamdi. You have every reason to hate me but this isn’t about just us. They’re going to kill everybody.”
“I. Can’t. Help. Anyone!” Yohamdi shouted in his face. “You idiot! I’m as much a prisoner here as you!”
“I came to ask for the codes to the tool cabinets,” Sivath countered, “but I’ll settle for your torch.”
Yohamdi looked at the plasma torch gripped tightly in her hands. Her thumb was tensed on the switch. She wanted so badly to kill him. But what would that do? Serzin wasn’t coming back. And if what the Vulcan said was true, she’d be seeing him again soon. Did she want to have to explain the blood on her hands to him?
Yohamdi released a low, ragged breath. “How are you gonna stop a massacre with a torch?”
The next day, Yohamdi sat on the edge of her bunk, waiting for the inevitable. She didn’t know what had become of the Vulcan, and felt angry at herself for letting him leave with his life and her tool the night before. She’d had the power to do something, to change something, however small and insignificant. Now she had none.
The dorms had been put into lockdown during the early morning hours, segmenting the slave population into manageable clusters that the masters could deal with in their own time. Word pass through the tapnet, wherein slaves struck the pipes running throughout the warrens in Morse code to pass news and messages along when their movement was restricted. This morning the news came in that Rear Admiral Desimone was dead. She’d been murdered with a plasma torch. Under other circumstances, Yohamdi would have feared the investigation of the source of that tool. Today she had other things to worry about.
The Vulcan’s promised reprieve didn’t come. Either he’d been lying or lied to. When it was time for Yohamdi’s sector, the armed guard swarmed in and hustled everybody out into the corridors, marching them four-abreast through checkpoint after checkpoint. The service lift carried the group, consisting of about a hundred slaves and several dozen guards, up to deck 128. Yohamdi ran through a mental checklist of what was accessible from this deck that they might be heading for, and realized that it could be only one thing: cargo bays.
Cold fear seized Yohamdi. She hadn’t been certain before this point, but now she was: she was going to die, and there was nothing she or anyone could do about it.
They were marched into bay 34H. Yohamdi had knew every panel and rivet of it. All the loose equipment that might otherwise be present to service shuttles or workbees had been removed. The guards left and sealed the door behind them. And then, without warning, the artificial gravity and forcefield were deactivated.
The world around her seemed to explode as Yohamdi was shoved violently by the wind rushing out the bay door. Without any gravity to hold her down, Yohamdi and every other person in the bay were tossed clear, hurtling into the dark, spinning wildly and careening into one another. The air was forced from her lungs, as though she were being wrung out. Her mouth grew cold even as the liquid on her tongue began to boil. Then she lost consciousness.
One hundred bodies went sailing into the dark. From the windows of the lounge, observers could see the shapes fading into black as they passed beyond the glow of the bay. They looked so tiny and insignificant; a brief flash of color, spinning, fading, and then lost.
Not visible from the lounge were the two Romulan vessels waiting, cloaked, just outside cargo bays 34G and H. And when these tiny bodies, practically indistinguishable from the void beyond, passed through the cloaking field, drawn in by tractor beam, who could be blamed for failing to notice as they suddenly vanished? Even the officers watching sensor readouts in ops saw what they expected to see: tiny lifesign blips drifting away from the station and winking out, one by one.
Behind the veil of the cloaking effect, the Romulan vessels were busily beaming up floating bodies, whole clusters of them at once, as rapidly as possible. They weren’t fast enough to save everyone, and some of those drifting bodies, already lifeless, were left where they were. But many, perhaps even most, were transported aboard.
When Yohamdi awoke—and she did, indeed, awake—she hurt everywhere. She couldn’t open her eyes, couldn’t move, couldn’t even taste anything. But she was alive, and there was a bed beneath her, and atmosphere around her. She listened. She could hear the bustle of many people working, the artificial noise of machines, the groans and cries of the suffering.
Yohamdi drifted in and out of consciousness for hours. She was tended by medics much too busy to talk to her. By degrees, her body’s swelling went down and she was finally able to open her eyes. The blurry, harried people hustling to and fro gradually resolved into focus. She thought at first they were Vulcans, but the odd V-shaped ridge on their foreheads was unfamiliar to her. The next time a medic came to check her vitals, she tried to speak.
“Where am I?” she croaked. Drawing enough breath to form audible words pained her; even her lungs were sore.
“This is the IRW Llair mh'Aerrh,” the young man replied. “You’re safe now.”
“I’m pregnant,” she said. She needed two know but she didn’t want to ask.
“We know,” the young man said. “For now we think everything’s OK, but it will be some time before we’re sure. Try not to worry. Just rest.”
The suggestion was tempting, but Yohamdi needed to know one more thing. “Who… are you?”
The young man patted her shoulder. “We’re the good guys.” Then he was gone.