“It’s not what you think,” she replied in a placating tone, reaching out for him with her free hand. Then the shuttle shuddered more violently than before, hard enough to knock him off his feet. He was thrown against a bulkhead and then down to the grating that served as its floor. It hurt. He groaned.

I am flashing the warning lights for a reason, the shuttles voice complained. And I did warn you not to leave the controls.

He could sense Cygnus had moved over him, was kneeling. “Are you all right?” she asked. “That looked painful. ?  Short-lived species are always so fragile. You aren’t dying, are you”

He felt her hand against his back as he rose, then move to grab his arm to help steady him as he rose.

“Maybe,” he replied, aggravated.

The shuttle shifted again, seemed to straighten somehow on its own. Iain turned to see the blackness disappear from the screen, to be replaced by the grey and green walls of the shuttle bay.

I think someone’s mad at you, the autopilot stated. Really, really mad.

Iain turned to Cygnus.

“Well, what was this all for?” he wanted to know. “Were we ever going to escape at all? Was this some kind of game to you?”

“Listen, Iain,” she said in what sounded to him like a textbook patronizing tone. You know, the sort of tone ex-girlfriends would use to explain he was washing the dishes wrong, or it wasn’t him, it was them. “You have to trust me.”

He focused his attention back on what Cygnus was saying.

“This is a shuttle craft. The Transient Void is a starship. No way we were going to get away from it, even in the condition it is in.”

“Then, what the fuck?! What was the point?” Iain complained.

With a lurch, the shuttle landed. The bounce caused Cygnus and him to stumble into the shuttle’s bulkhead. At least she took the brunt of it this time, softening the impact..

The rear hatch opened with a hiss and the landing bay lights streamed in.

Please exit the vehicle! Came an authorative command from beyond.

For a moment, Iain was back in the grey twilight of a Caledon evening, with a flashing light ahead of him blinking through the fog. And a very similar authoritative voice, telling him to get out of his van.

Oh, fuck me!

He felt a hand grip his arm.

“Don’t be angry,” Cygnus told him as she pulled him up with her. “Just go with it.”

“Don’t be angry?!” Ian replied loudly. “I’m stuck on a starship with a screwed up synthetic intelligence controlling it, that picks up people on whatever planet it decides to set down on and puts them in really long term cold storage. The planet I lived on, that was my home, is thousands of light years away and everyone I ever known has been dead for millennia. I have missed out on everything I was ever looking forward to, because I was stupid enough to get out of my van when I was told to!”

She looked at him, then appeared to think about it, then said, “If it helps, most of the people I knew have been gone for millennia, too. Although a lot of them are probably still around, not that I think about it.  And I’m here because I’ve always been a lousy judge of character.”

Iain snorted.

“And it could be worse,” Cygnus added with a wry twist of her mouth.

“Really?” he demanded to know. “How?”

“The ship could have landed on you,” she offered. “You could have never been woken up and spent another who knows how many thousands of years on ice. Or, you could have spent the remainder of it with only those two peckers up front for company.”

She moved her head down and gave him a kiss, then pulled back before he could decide whether or not to respond.

“Please, just roll with it sweetie,” she told him, grabbing his hand and tugging added, “come on, its time to head out and face the music.”

“Taps?” he offered. “Closing time?”

“What do they sound like?” she asked.

“I’ll tell you later, if there is a later.” Iain grumbled. He had at least one of them on his phone. But at the moment, couldn’t remember which. He did remember having provided rentals to more than a few funerals of ex-servicemen.

Go to Chapter Thirty One

Go to Chapter Thirty Three

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