Faceless by M Sigurd Hall
I try to keep as few lights on as possible. My eyes are light sensitive. Everything here has a purpose. I don’t decorate. What’s the point? I won’t be here long. It is my resting ground between contracts. I hear the soft buzz. Someone is calling. There is one type of person who calls me. They need someone who can do something that only one being in the solar system can. I walk over to the screen and accept the call.
“Yes?” I say. There is no response for several seconds. “I’m here.”
“I… uh…” the voice on the other end says. I say nothing. This isn’t a mistake. This is illegal, but I’ve taken the right precautions. “I want to speak to… Faceless…?”
“I hear you.”
“Have… have I called the right number?”
“I haven’t ended the call.”
“Why can’t I see you?”
“I never turn my camera on. You will never see me.”
“Is that why they call you Faceless?”
“Does it matter?”
He sighs and shakes his head. “Guess not.”
“You know how this works?”
“I was told.”
“Send me the files.”
My printer buzzes as it runs each of the pages through until a stack sits more than fifty deep on the tray.
“The person I want you to take care of is—”
“You don’t need to tell me. Just the information. That’s all I need. Weren’t you told?”
“No… I was.”
“Then why are you still talking?”
“I just thought you’d like to know…”
“I will later.”
“Do you want to know why I want h—”
“No, I don’t.”
“Then what do we do?”
“You let me do what I do, and we end this conversation.”
“Well, you need to pay me up front too.”
“That’s the deal.”
“I’m not comfortable with that.”
“Not my problem. Those are the stip’s. You don’t like them, find someone else to do your dirty work.”
“But you’re the best. I hear no one can do what you can.”
“Then you have a choice.”
“How about half up front?”
“This isn’t a negotiation. One hundred percent or I end the call.”
He sighs. “Fine.”
“I’ll wait until it hits.”
I watch him as he types. Another screen pops up with the amount I charge. It should be enough, but for some reason, I feel there might be a problem. With a glance at the face on the top page, I know this one will be special. It’s going to be harder than usual.
“Got it,” I say.
“I’ll begin work as soon as possible.”
“And when will it be done?”
“Whenever I’m ready.”
“That isn’t a timeline.”
“Yes, it is. Can’t over-plan these things. I won’t act until I’m sure.”
I end the call before he can say anything else. There is just one contact in my list. I connect to the number. She always answers.
“Hey, you,” she says. I can’t help but smile when I see her wrinkles. It’s been that long that I’ve known her. There had been no gray in her hair either.
“Need you to come here as fast as you can.”
“You have another job?”
“And you want me to…”
“It’s killing you. You know that, F.” I appreciate the concern in her voice. I do. She just doesn’t understand.
“It’s keeping me alive.”
“That’s your opinion. Doesn’t make it true.”
“Then you aren’t coming?”
She shakes her head, “No, I am.”
“It isn’t about the money. I’d do it for free. You know that. I care what happens to you. I know I’m the closest thing you have to family. Stop mentioning money with me.”
“I don’t understand you.”
“Not sure you understand anyone anymore. Maybe that’s why you do what you do… Be right over.”
I end the call.
Today is your day, Zeeva Oso. All the work you have put into FarCorp has come to this point. You are about to take over your competitor, GenTech. Even though you’re in a building that will be yours, it isn’t yet. It’s owned by the Lai triplets, at least for now. On the surface, someone might say you’re excited, but that’s for people who don’t really know you. They don’t know that you’re terrified something could go wrong.
Compared to your main headquarters, this building is nothing. It took almost a week to get out here. Your pilot had to stop twice to refuel. The shuttle you took really wasn’t meant for any of you to stay on it more than a few hours at a time. The two nights you slept in the seats were the worst. Who can blame you for being so upset today?
Every step you take makes you scrutinize the building and the employees. They will all be your soon. You always knew that stepping on so many people could make enemies. They Lais aren’t happy that you’re taking over their company. But what choice do they have? You are the most powerful woman in the solar system. What you want, you get. That is why everyone is here. Your husband, Mirek is your second-in-command. He has the title to keep him out of trouble. And your daughter Yinna is just spoiled.
Wouldn’t it be nice if she had your mind? Instead, she dates Cantag Matlock, the idiot, who she insisted come today. Though he’s worked in your security detail for a while, he has no chance for promotion. At least, he will keep Yinna safe.
It’s cold comfort though, isn’t it, Zeeva?
There is one person who you know feels out of place. He is here to document everything, a journalist sent by one of the few publications you don’t own. What was his name again…? Oh… that’s right, Inman Ali. He might be the only person here who is more nervous than you are. That comforts you. His wide, brown eyes seem to see everything and nothing at the same time.
“Do you believe the rumors that people are really angry at you?” Inman asks you. “You are taking over another company.”
“No,” you say. “I have power, and people fear me. Do you think anyone can do anything to me? I am all-powerful. I am untouchable. Whatever I want, I can have.”
“Are you sure about that?” he asks.
“What isn’t there to be sure of? People are jealous that I am the owner of the number one food producer in the solar system. Without me, people do not eat. Even the government does what I say. They can’t force me to produce food. I do it because I want to help others, but I do it for a price.”
“And the rumors of corruption?”
“Corruption? Could you clarify? I’m not sure I understand what you’re accusing me of.”
“There are rumors you steal other companies. If their owners won’t submit, they will be lucky if death is all you get.”
“I have never taken anything that wasn’t mine already.”
It’s hard to suppress the smile on your lips, isn’t it, Zeeva? You have never killed anyone personally. You used to ask questions about Royson Pollock’s past. As the head of security you needed to know. Not anymore. If you need results, he gets them. For such a fat, old man, he is effective.
Why Yinna couldn’t be more interested in someone like him is beyond you. Maybe after all this is over, you can talk to Royson about Cantag. There has to be a way to take care of him without you taking the blame. Yinna wasn’t even born when those others died because of you anyway. She wouldn’t need to know. Besides, if she is your daughter, she will understand what you want to do is for her in the end. As you wait, you plot Cantag’s end. This would be a time when you’d plot out the conversation between Yinna and you, but the door opens.
The Lai triplets enter the conference room. They splurged to make it look nice. You still haven’t seen the offices yet. Wherever they sit won’t be as nice as yours. Will it be usable? For now. The carpet is lush under your feet. It makes you feel good that if you had to stand for any period of time, your feet wouldn’t hurt.
Radan is their leader. He is to be ignored. Assup has no mind of his own. Then there is Nogga. She is the youngest, if you can call it that. Something in her eyes reminds you of you. She is to be feared and respected, not like her brothers.
When they reach out their hands to shake them, hers is the first you take. Radan is upset. Good. If you keep him on his toes, then you will stay in control. That’s all that matters. Others might believe that the control you have is real. It is an illusion. For a moment you may have it, but it could be taken at any time.
“Hello, Ms. Oso,” Radan says, his hand still extended. You don’t take it or look at him.
“Are you ready to begin?” you ask them despite knowing their answer.
Radan clenches his jaw in anger. Then he stops. His face is wiped clean of emotion. You haven’t seen anyone with emotion as good as that except you. If he was trying to take your company, you’d be across the table, trying to tear him in half. But he isn’t, is he? You’re taking his company. They use a terraformer to process food better than anyone else. That is why they are special above anyone else. Though they won’t be for long. They will just be another part of FarCorp, making you even richer than you could imagine. And you aren’t upset by that.
They are doing their best, aren’t they Zeeva? Your assistant, Farca Long passes you the documents. They need four signatures to make everything official. Oh, how they must hate you right now. You are taking everything they worked so hard for. There is nothing they can do though. They still have a name. It isn’t as recognizable as yours. If they want another business, committing corporate suicide would be a bad idea.
Each of them puts their signature to the paper. There is something about the ritual you enjoy. The ancient practice is gratifying even though trees are a priceless commodity. To burn paper is a crime so terrible that wars have begun for less when your parents were children.
You pick up the pen to be the final signature. While beginning to write, something throws you off your feet.
Hands grab and hold you down as the floor shakes harder and harder. What is happening to you, Zeeva? Is the building going to collapse?
The building shakes again. This time you hear it. Something has exploded far away. What is going on? Has there been an attack?
“Stay down,” Royson says. He is the one who holds you down. “Do you want to die?”
“What is going on?” you ask. You hope he cannot hear your fear. “Who is doing this?”
“I don’t know. Why would I?”
Several more explosions rock the building before his grip loosens. “We need to get you out,” he says as he pulls you to his feet.
“What about Yinna?” you ask. “Where is she?”
“Yinna is OK.”
He pulls you toward the opaque, black door. You both aren’t the first, and you aren’t the last. You search for Yinna and see that Cantag has her. She is safe and OK. A cut on her head tells you that she was hit by something, but it doesn’t look that bad.
You know someone is angry, don’t you, Zeeva? Someone from your past is back. They want revenge, and do you blame them? This attack has to be about you. Narrowing down who wants you dead could be hard.
The door is open. Royson pushes you through. Who opened it? You don’t know. But when you get to the next room, you feel another explosion that knocks you to the floor. Your head bounces off the tile floor.
It takes a moment for you to regain your vision. When you do, you realize the floor is covered with blood. Feeling your face with your hand, you wonder if it’s your own.
“A… Am I…” you try to say but realize Royson isn’t close. Looking around, you see bodies on the floor. They wear the gray of GenTech’s uniforms and your blood red FarCorp uniforms. How many of them are dead? You don’t know.
It is all you can do to stand. Get out of there. You stumbled around. Others stand too. At least you aren’t the only one. Who are they? Are any of them Yinna? Yes! She is OK. Maybe worse than before, but she doesn’t seem any worse than you feel.
“Mom?” she asks. “Where are you?”
“I’m right here,” you say.
“What is going on?”
“I don’t know.”
“I do,” someone behind you says.
You whip around. The reporter stands, staring at you. His shirt is torn so you can see his dark skin, opened, bleeding a little, but he doesn’t seem to mind.
He nods. “A friend told me the story of a killer.”
“Not just anyone. This killer only goes after high profile targets.”
You roll your eyes. This is ridiculous. “You’re joking.”
“No, I’m not.”
“And you think he wants to kill me?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Money, of course.”
“It isn’t personal?”
“Why would it be?”
“You said I stole companies. Do you think he owned one?”
Inman shakes his head. “This is a contract killer.”
“Then why wouldn’t I just pay him more?”
“Good luck finding the killer.”
“Who is he?”
“Stop saying he. The killer isn’t a he… well, no one knows if the killer is a man or a woman. It might not even be human. No one knows. You think anyone is left alive?”
“Say what you want about me, but Faceless, as it is known, always succeeds.”
You look around and see Royson. He, like everyone else doesn’t look great, but he’ll survive.
“Can you get us out of here?” you ask him.
“I don’t know how,” he says.
“I do,” another voice says. Everyone looks, trying to find who said it.
“And who are you?” you ask.
“Stelleck Hoff, head of GenTech security. I know every inch of the building.” At least he looks the part. He is tall and strong, his hair cut like he spent time fighting in a war.
“How do we get out of here?”
“There’s a private elevator over here,” he says. “If you follow me, I’ll get everyone out of here.”
Everyone moves with him. You notice Cantag with Yinna. Why couldn’t he have been one of the ones who died in one of the explosions? The triplets are there too. At least that means they can sign the documents again when you reach safety. There is a silver lining to all this. Even Farca weaseled her way out of death. It is some sort of comfort, knowing your staff wants to survive.
Stelleck reaches a wall and grips a ceramic tile. With effort, he pulls it away. With how hard it is to reach the call button, you think that they must use it for only the worst of emergencies. An all-out attack on the building has to be one.
“Everyone inside,” Stelleck says. He herds them inside, pushing each survivor in until there was almost no room left. Stelleck squeezes inside and pressed the door close button. It is just large enough that maybe one or two more people could have fit. You wish you had more room. Having people this close is hard on you. The confines of shuttles and jumpships are one thing. During a shuttle trip, it is easy to stand up when your nerves get the worst of you. Pacing through the aisles of the cabin isn’t suggested, but who will say no to you? Mirek’s shoulder presses you into the wall. Maybe you’re safe from an attack. That doesn’t help your heartbeat. It feels like a rapid piston in your chest. Deep breaths aren’t helping. Jumpships are harder because they don’t fly. You have to wait until those trips are over. At least you can sit away from everyone in them. That’s easier than this, isn’t it?
The elevator begins to drop. It hums a happy song that puts you on edge.
“This is the slowest elevator I’ve ever been on… How long will this take?” you ask.
“You don’t want to know,” Stelleck says.
“Yes. That long.”
That name burns inside your mind. Faceless. Could this attack be orchestrated by someone like that?
“Can you tell me more about Faceless?” you ask Inman, who is so close you can smell what he ate earlier.
“I thought you didn’t want to know.”
“I didn’t say that. Besides… I need to keep my mind off… this.” No one can know how much you hate confined spaces.
“What do you want to know?”
“Anything helpful. Just talk to me. Please.”
“Well, it’s hard to say. Only a few people have met Faceless and lived.”
“I thought you said that Faceless kills whoever it sets out to.”
Inman nods. “It does.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Someone close to the target is killed by Faceless. Their identity is taken. Faceless becomes that person.”
“How do you know that? How can Faceless become someone?”
“I don’t know.”
“But you know that?”
“I told you.”
“Tell me again.”
“And you think it’s true?”
“Yes, I do.”
“How long does Faceless… become that person?”
“I don’t know? Days, weeks, months… maybe even years.”
“Then how old is Faceless?”
“No one knows… maybe Faceless is immortal.”
“You asked. I’m just telling you what you wanted to know.”
“I know about Faceless too,” Cantag says.
“Do you?” you say. You don’t hide the cruel smile that curls your lips. He can’t see it, but you wouldn’t care if he could.
“Yeah. I bet I know more about Faceless than he does.”
“Oh, really how is that?”
The elevator stops.
“You were lucky, Cantag,” you say.
“Why?” he asks.
“Because you didn’t get a chance to humiliate yourself. You don’t need to act so childish. This isn’t school. You don’t need to try to impress us. We aren’t your friends.” After your comment, the doors open, and everyone begins to exit.
You can’t help but chuckle as you leave. Others do too. But at the same time, you wonder if you might have gone too far in saying what you did.
Protecting Zeeva is your job. It isn’t Stelleck’s. You’re jealous of him Royson. He is everything you aren’t. If the two of you make it out of here, Stelleck will be hired by Zeeva, you know it. There is this thing called genetics that is stopping you from being the same commanding presence he is. How much do you hate that he can lead them through the building when you can’t?
At least you can stay close to Zeeva and protect her. That’s your job. It has nothing to do with how you used to feel about her. Those days are gone. Both of you are married now. Not that it ever stopped her in the past. But you know she isn’t interested. The way she looks at him though, you can’t help but be jealous, can you? It isn’t like you can lead her through this building. You’ve never been here before.
“Where do we go now?” Zeeva asks Stelleck.
“This way,” he says.
You want to grab him and pull him aside. Lead the group, Royson. Take control. Zeeva is your employer. You should be doing more.
You stay as close to him as your chubby legs let you. It’s been far too long since you’ve run like this.
“Wait,” Stelleck says.
You take a few more steps and try to pass him, but one of his hands grab you. One of your hands tries to pry his away, but it doesn’t help. He is too strong for you.
“Let go,” you say.
“No. Stop,” he says. “Don’t you hear that?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Pay attention. Listen.”
You keep trying to fight him. In that moment, you hear something. It’s faint, but it’s something. Gunfire?
“What is that?” Zeeva asks.
“Someone is shooting,” Stelleck says before you can answer.
“There’s only one place we can go.”
“We need to get there, I know. If we can get to a jumpship, we’ll be safe.”
Stelleck gives a smile that would win awards. It doesn’t make you feel any better.
He looks back into the crowd. There are still a few of your security officers including Yinna’s boyfriend and some of his own.
“Draw your weapons,” he says. “This isn’t just for the safety of the Osos and the Lais. It is for yours too.”
You reach for your holster and brush fabric. Before the meeting, you took off your weapon. It sagged at a strange angle when you wanted to sit. You are unarmed, Royson. This is just another opportunity for you to prove to Zeeva that you’re worthless.
“Where’s your weapon?” she asks you.
You try to figure out what to say but don’t have a good answer. “He’s going to stay back and make sure you’re safe,” Stelleck says. His grin grows even wider so that it looks like it could hurt his cheeks.
“Are you?” she asks.
You nod. “If you want, I will.”
“It isn’t whether I want you to or not,” Stelleck says. “You need to stay back just in case someone breaks through our defenses.”
You want to tell him you have no weapon, but his eyes are already on your side.
“You’ll need this,” He says, reaching out and handing over a small side arm. You take it and grip it, wondering who you could kill with it.
“I… don’t know what to say,” you say to him.
“If it is that Faceless killer, don’t let him do his job.”
“I won’t,” you say.
Stelleck turns away from you and moves toward the security officers. None of them look to you. “Are you ready?” he asks them.
Even with the weapon in your hand, you know you aren’t invited. Even Cantag-the-useless has a larger weapon and is getting ready to fight. You hate Stelleck so much. If given the opportunity, you might just have to shoot him yourself. Yes, you really think he’s that bad.
Every last one of the security officers have run into the expansive hangar bay. They hold their weapons high. You, and you alone, Royson, are staying back with everyone. Yes, you can say that you’ve been told to, but there is no way that anyone is getting past them.
Their opposition wears a deep green and have superior weapons, but they are outnumbered. If you ran in with the small weapon Stelleck gave you, why wouldn’t you assume you would die? It is better that you stay here and ‘protect’ Zeeva and the triplets. They won’t think worse of you. She might even be unable at this point. There are so many jumpships and a couple shuttles inside, but the soldiers stand between all of you and them.
A small hand grips your arm. You twist to see Inman standing beside you but don’t say anything. How can he be less scared than you? You hate him, don’t you Royson? He seems better suited for your work than you do. Maybe once this is over, you should retire. You are a little young for that, but is it really about the money? Working with Zeeva isn’t safe anymore. Leaving her would be the smart thing to do. If you’d known better, would you have just called in sick today and missed out on all this?
“You think a single person is doing this?” you are so skeptical, aren’t you as you ask Inman.
He shakes his head. “You don’t understand. Faceless plans until everything is perfect. Then its target is isolated by any means necessary.”
“And your proof?”
“My proof will be when you get between Faceless and its target.”
“Then, I’ll kill him.”
“You will die.”
You don’t like it, but his words bother you, don’t they, Royson? Wouldn’t it just be simpler if you just pushed him into the fight? He might take a stray shot. Then, you wouldn’t have to worry so much about him. Wouldn’t that be nice? You can almost see it happening.
“We’ve made a path,” Stelleck says, bringing you out of your fantasy.
“What?” Zeeva asks.
“Run fast. We can make it to a jumpship.”
Heroism suits Stelleck, doesn’t it? It even suits Cantag better than it does you, and he is a simple man. How isn’t he dead now? Killing him should have been easy. Yet, there he is with that smile on his face. Isn’t he smug? He deserves your hatred.
You reach the jumpship and realize that no one you know can pilot it.
“Who is going to fly this?” you ask everyone standing there.
“I will,” Stelleck says. Of course he will. Why wouldn’t he? If anyone could fly an obscure, old ship like this, wouldn’t it be him? It is so old and looks like it hasn’t been taken care of that only he would know how to do that. Of course. You look it over. One of these isn’t designed to stay in the air longer than an hour before it drops to the ground again. Then it jumps into the air and begins again. They were taken out of production because the feet couldn’t take the weight during their landings. On long trips, they are prone to crashes. Just the sight of it doesn’t instill you with confidence.
Stelleck opens the docking bay and everyone climbs in.
“I’m worried,” he says to you like you’re equals.
“How did anyone know where we’d be? How did they know we’d come here?”
“Seems logical, doesn’t it?”
“I don’t know… I mean, I guess…”
“That reporter kept talking to me about that Faceless killer,” you say. “Do you think he might have been the one who planned this whole thing just to get close enough to Zeeva to kill her?”
“Then we can’t let him on the ship.”
“You know that when I start the ship, it will kill everyone in the hangar, right?”
“It gets that hot, yes. The closest ones will be lucky. The heat will kill them instantly. Their skin will melt. The rockets will burn all the oxygen in the hangar. Anyone who survives the burns will suffocate while they wait for help.”
You hadn’t thought about that, Royson. But it is them or you. Is there much of a decision? “Do it,” you say.
Stelleck nods. At least you feel in control again. He didn’t have the guts to make that call. You do. You are better than him, aren’t you?
Inman takes a seat in the back. You grab him before he can click the straps together.
“You’re not coming,” you say to him.
“What?” he asks, trying to finish what he started, but you have him up and pulled into the loading bay before he can fight you. “Why?”
“You’re the only one who knows anything about this Faceless killer person. Why should we believe you aren’t him?”
“I’m not. I was trying to warn you. That is all.”
“That’s what you say.”
You grab him and shove him off the loading ramp. Inman falls and rolls to the hangar bay floor. There is a moment that you stare at him and wonder if what you did was right. Can you risk it? If he is, you just saved everyone’s lives inside the jumpship.
The two of you lock eyes as you press the close button beside the passenger compartment. The ramp isn’t fast. Inman rolls and runs for it, trying to grab it. He misses, but you see his fingers grab again and hold as the ramp continues to rise.
You hear a scream loud and long. One hand disappears. The other stays in place, but its fingers are covered in blood. You know he isn’t inside. What you meant to do was done.
As you walk through the passenger compartment and reach the cockpit, you can’t help but feel a little somber. Today was not a day you set out to kill someone. Maybe that was OK for Stelleck, but that is the biggest difference between you two.
You sit in the seat beside him.
“Everything good?” he asks.
“Yeah. We’re good. Let’s go.”
He nods and starts the engine. Soon, more people will die. Just remember, they will die because you decided they will.
The jumpship isn’t working the way you wanted it to, is it, Stelleck? No one but you can keep these people safe. What will you do now that the jumpship doesn’t want to cooperate? How can you protect these people? You have lived a life through sheer force of will. That force of will cannot keep the mass of metal in the air for much longer. The last couple jumps didn’t sound that bad. But you could feel the problems starting. It will be luck if you get one more out of it.
The fat man, Royson, stares at you as you pull back on the yoke again, leveling the jumpship off again.
“What is happening to the jumpship?” he asks you.
“You hear that?” you say, pointing to the speaker on the control board.
“It isn’t good.”
“Means we’re going down. You know that, right?”
“Soon. This is FarCorp land, right?”
“I think so.”
“You know where we can land?”
“Get me someone who does.”
The jumpship shakes as he unclips from his seat. Royson almost falls as he leaves you to try to keep the jumpship steady. It isn’t easy. The thrusters are weak and unresponsive. You wish they had the same intensity that burned all the soldiers and security officers left in the hangar bay.
The cockpit door opens. Zeeva enters before Royson.
“You wanted to tell me something?” she asks. Harsh realities wrinkled Zeeva’s face over the years. She is still beautiful even with sunken eyes. Any man she wants is hers. You’re sure of it. And that has nothing to do with power. Even now, she is gorgeous despite age and stress beginning to catch her.
“The jumpship can’t go much farther. Is there somewhere safe for us to land?”
“Where are we?”
You show her where you are. Between the two of you, you find an abandoned outpost. That is where you need to go. She is so close you can smell her sweat. You aren’t sure whether you should be disgusted or attracted to that.
Put that thought away. If you don’t, you’re going to crash. Then what? You’ll be dead. Your wife is waiting for you. Yes, things aren’t great, but whose relationships are? No one has the perfect marriage.
“You should take your seat,” you tell her.
“Why?” Royson asks.
“We aren’t going to make it that far.”
“What do you mean we aren’t?” she asks.
“I need to try to set this down as best I can.”
Zeeva walks to the door. She starts to open it.
“One thing,” you say to her.
“Don’t tell anyone.”
“Crash protocol. I don’t want anyone tensing up. They’ll be less likely to survive when it happens.”
“That doesn’t sound good.”
“That’s because it isn’t.”
Turn your eyes back to the screen, Stelleck. Don’t watch her go. She will expect you to, even though you’re flying. And where would that get you?
Open your eyes, Royson. The impact was hard, but it wasn’t that hard. You know you want to. You know you need to. You know you hurt, but the hurting isn’t going to go away by sitting there and moaning. You need to just get up and deal with it like an adult. That’s what you do, after all.
The windshield shattered. There’s air. You know it isn’t good air. You won’t last long if you just stay here. Get going, Royson. Wind blows in, and sand hits you in the face. It is a ruddy black, something so close to the two you can’t tell whether it’s closer to a black or red. It smells so sweet that it’s overpowering.
You look over at Stelleck. A boulder smashed through and crushed his skull. He is dead. His blood mixes with the sand, caking it to his skin. As you try to unstrap from your seat, your fingers slip with sweat. You look down, trying to work the bindings. They are covered with blood… your blood. It isn’t enough to matter. At least you know why you hurt so much.
You got what you wanted, didn’t you, Royson. Stelleck is dead. There’s no need to worry anymore. He is out of the way. Now is your time to shine.
You get up and make your way to the back of the cockpit. It’s hard going. The nose of the jumpship is lower than the tail. Exercising more would help you get into the passenger compartment so you can get out. It isn’t like you can crawl out of them anyway. The holes are too small for you. Your belly is too big.
Everyone seems fine. Well, fine isn’t the right word for it. Several people are injured, but no one is dead. Many have unclipped by the time you reached the compartment.
“We need to go,” you try to sound as commanding as possible and hope they buy it. Everyone looks to you.
“Where is Stelleck?” one of the triplets asks. He doesn’t look terrible.
“He… uh…” How do you tell them that your rival is dead and you aren’t upset? You don’t want to sound callous. So many men and women are dead already from your escape. If you do it wrong, who knows how it will go?
“Is he… dead?” the girl triplet says. You could kiss her for bailing you out.
“How did it happen?”
“You don’t want to know.” His head was crushed. You want to tell her, but you know it isn’t the right time.
“I want to see.”
“No, you don’t. It’s bad. I promise.”
She nods. “OK…”
“We need to go.” Everyone knows your words aren’t just to her. You start to climb toward the back and leave the rest to do what they need. They will follow when they will.
“Help,” a voice says behind you.
You look back. The female triplet looks back at you. “What?” you ask.
“Assup broke his leg,” she says as she points to her brother’s blood-covered leg.
“So?” you ask. “How’s that my problem.”
“We need help.”
“You have another brother. Get him to help.”
Both the Lais give you a look of disgust. Like Zeeva, they must not be used to doing their own work. Who knows how long it’s been since they have worked hard enough to sweat. This will be good for them.
You reach the door that will lead to the ramp. It needs help opening. Having Stelleck’s help would be nice. He looks like he could twist the servos by hand. But he isn’t able to help you, is he? You’re just going to have to do this on your own.
After trying the controls twice, you grab the door and begin to pull as hard as you can between the door and the gap. During flight, the doors seal. In a crash, they should open. Something went wrong here. It opened enough you can get your fingers between the two but not much farther. You’re going to really have to pull to get real leverage.
Gritting your teeth, you groan as you pull. It does come with effort. Your arms are spent. Just take a moment before climbing up and hitting the emergency open button for the ramp.
With it open, you jump off the jumpship and land on the rocky ground. The sweet air hits your lungs even stronger than in the cockpit. You gag on the first couple breaths. A few more hurt, but after that, you feel OK enough. It isn’t long before everyone surrounds you. But now what? You don’t know where you’re going. Someone else needs to lead. And it isn’t like you have that long. The air is toxic. Soon, you’re going to be tired, and it will get the best of you.
Your day isn’t going the way you thought it would, is it, Yinna? Your mom told you it was time to come on a trip to see what she did. Then this happened. Here you are. You’re walking on a desolate planetoid. Bet you didn’t think this was the way you were going to die.
Your mom takes the lead. She seems to be the only one with half an idea where to go. Cantag stays close to you. He is more protective than usual. It’s normal that he wants to stay close when you’re in public. Your mother is a target. It’s natural he wants to make sure you’re safe. This is more. There is a different force behind him today like nothing you’ve seen in him. Cantag is your protector. With him here, nothing will happen to you.
As far as you can see are spired mountains the same color as the ground. The air isn’t much different in color. It is hard to see much more than figures through the sand blown up by the wind. Even more than the air, you worry about the sand. Can’t it bury you if the wind gets strong enough?
Everyone walks close. You took time to learn all their names. It is, after all, the most important word a person can hear. Your mom does what she always does, leads with your dad right behind. Glaf Redfood keeps pace with him, almost stepping on his heels. He is the assistant to the Lais. His face is passive, set like all he can do is just take a step then another, then another, then another. Royson is behind him. You and Cantag walk side-by-side. His hand darts out sometimes. Is he checking to make sure you keep pace? Will he carry you the way Radan and Nogga carry Assup? There is no doubt in your mind. He will. With his slender limbs and broad shoulders, you are sure he would put you over them and take every step he could.
“We need help,” Nogga says. You turn back to look at them. The Lais are lagging behind.
“Deal with it,” your dad says. “He’s your brother.”
“Leave him,” Royson says.
Radan says. “We can’t just leave him.”
“I’m not helping you,” Royson says.
“Yeah, good luck,” your dad says.
You’re upset. Yes they have nothing to do with you, but they still need help. They are people. People should be helped. You aren’t big enough to, or you would. Just a few steps and you’d have to trade off with someone. Sure, the gravity might be less, but the air is the real problem. Your stamina is gone.
Cantag’s hand brushes yours. That gives you an idea.
“Can you help?” you ask him.
“Me?” he asks. He is pretty, but he isn’t bright.
“You want me to help them?”
Cantag looks from you to the Lais and then to the rest of the group. Without saying anything else, he walks over to them and takes Assup’s legs from Nogga. “Is this better?” he asks her. At least his heart is in the right place.
“Can we just get going?” Royson asks.
Cantag shifts Assup to one arm and gives the group the thumbs-up. He almost drops Assup but catches him before he hits the ground. “Oops,” Cantag says.
You shake your head. Yes, it’s nice he has his heart in the right place. Otherwise… why are you with him?
Everyone begins walking again. It feels longer than before. Each step is worse than the one before. You don’t have your safety net anymore. How are you going to do this? It feels like you could drop anytime.
When your legs are so heavy you cannot take another step, something brushes against you. Something makes you turn your head. Cantag walks backward beside you, close enough that he can brush you with his closer arm.
“You can do it,” he says. “Keep going.” His voice is enough. You can keep going and do. Just another step. Keep going. You stop paying attention to how much farther you need to go or went. You will arrive when you do.
“We’re here,” your mom says. The building is bigger than you expected, and it looks like it goes deep into the ground. The metal looks like it was a reflective silver at one time. Years of wear from the wind have beaten it so few patches match the original sheen. She reaches the door and gets to the keypad. “One second.” Your mom begins keying in different combinations. It takes her several tries and frustration before one works. The door is slow, but it opens. “Come on,” she says.
Each of you passes through the doors. The air is stale and old, but it tastes better than the acrid air outside. At least your lungs don’t burn so much anymore. Each breath is clearer than the last. In minutes, your relief invigorates you. If exhaustion from the day weren’t so bad, you aren’t sure what you’d want to do. The looks on everyone else’s faces tell the same story: relief and exhaustion.
Your mom closes the door behind the Lais and shuts it. Do you feel trapped inside, Yinna?
“Everything is dark,” Cantag says. “Why are the lights off?”
“We weren’t turning enough of a profit here,” your mom says. “This outpost shut down a few years ago.”
“I’m going to look for something to eat,” your dad says. Until he said something, you didn’t realize how hungry you were. Instead of going with him, you sit with your back against the wall letting the air flow in and out of your lungs. Cantag sits beside you. Before long, your head is against his shoulder, then your eyes close. Even the rumbling of your stomach cannot keep you awake.
It isn’t until Cantag moves that you are jolted awake.
“Wha… what?” you say almost falling before he catches you.
“The food is gone,” your dad says.
“Gone?” your mom says. “What do you mean gone?”
“I mean the store rooms are empty. There isn’t any food. Medical supplies have been stripped. Even the armory had everything worthwhile taken,” he says.
“I… don’t understand…” she says.
“I can show you, but it won’t matter. We’re going to die here.”
You have failed as a father and a husband, Mirek. Sure, your wife has the power. The company was hers from the beginning. So, why are you even here if you can’t stop your wife and child from dying of starvation? Are you just going to keep roaming the halls to avoid them? It’s been two days since you’ve talked to anyone. Without eating or drinking anything, they are getting weak, just like you. You just refuse to be the first one to give in.
That is why you stalk the hallways at what you assume is night only because everyone else sleeps. They are long and winding. Each connects to another. No one else seems to take the time to explore you have. The twists and turns become familiar to you despite how much they feel like a maze.
When everyone else begins to wake, you find a secluded corner and lie down. They don’t bother you. Everyone is on edge. They can’t feel much different than you do. They are hungry, thirsty, and tired too. Someone needs to do something now, or else there is going to be a serious problem. The jumpship is gone. Not like you could have used it anyway. That fight was bad. It was so bad you’d be surprised if there was anything left of the GenTech building you all left a few days ago.
One thought comes back to you over the long nights alone. It is the thought that someone could be there to kill your wife. Yes, you all might die soon, but wouldn’t you rather find this killer and finish them off than let your wife die in front of you? If this Faceless has lured you all here, wouldn’t that mean there is a way off this rock? There are a few things you need to do. Figure out who the killer is. Beat them to the punch. Find out how Faceless was going to escape. Be the father and husband you’re supposed to be. Save the women you love.
But who can be Faceless? Each person you think of doesn’t make sense. Royson and Cantag can’t be. Royson is too loyal to Zeeva. They have history you don’t want to think about. Cantag wouldn’t do anything to hurt Yinna. Two of the Lais are too preoccupied with the other to think about anything else. There is that girlfriend of the one, but she doesn’t seem dangerous. Even their assistant doesn’t seem like he could be a killer. His eyes are too shallow, and he has trouble looking at anyone directly.
That really only leaves one person: Zeeva’s assistant, Farca Long. It makes sense. If anyone is Faceless, it has to be her. She has had access to Zeeva all day, every day. No one knows more about Zeeva than her. You might not even know as much about her as Farca does. With that knowledge, what are you going to do? Are you just going to stalk the halls like you don’t know this, or are you going to do something?
It’s still the time when everyone sleeps, so the time is perfect. All you need to do is find a weapon before you go after her. If she’s that dangerous… then you better be ready.
As you go through the halls, you find a wrench. It isn’t perfect, but it will have to do. It’s big and heavy, and a few swings should be enough to daze her so you can do what you need to. You have never considered yourself a fighter, have you, Mirek? But now, you’re going to do what you feel like you need to. Farca is going to die. She has to be Faceless. Who else could it be?
The wrench is heavy enough that you can’t carry it far without both your hands. Your fingers slip against the smooth metal as you go, and you have to adjust your hands several times. You reach where Farca lies, a pile of clothing wrapped under her head. Her sleep is peaceful and undisturbed as you get close to her. She has no idea what you’re about to do.
There is a moment that you struggle with the thought that you cannot do this. You want to. But you’ve never hit anyone. Killing someone will be even harder. How are you going to do this?
“How could you do this?” the words come out of your mouth before you mean to say them.
Farca’s eyes open. She stares at you, confused. “What?”
“How could you bring us here… strand us… and why do you want Zeeva dead?”
“I… don’t know what you’re talking about…”
She is lying to you. You know she is. Her response angers you, doesn’t it? That wrench isn’t as heavy as you thought it was. Lifting it past your waist so that you can bring it down on her head won’t be so hard. Just get a better grip.
“What are you doing, Mirek?” she asks. It is the last thing she says before the wrench hits her on the head. You swing it up, hitting her in the chin, throwing her back on the floor. She doesn’t move. Have you killed her already?
“Mirek, what have you done?” Zeeva asks.
Mirek’s screaming woke you. Why would he be screaming at your assistant, Zeeva? She has been so close to you this whole time. The fact that the two of you haven’t slept side-by-side the last few days is odd. Then again, with hunger and thirst as bad as it is, no one wants to spend too much time together. It is only time before someone dies. You are so hungry. Maybe you wouldn’t kill someone and eat them. A dead body is a different story. It doesn’t sound good yet, but you might be getting that hungry soon.
You snap yourself out of that thought. Mirek yells Farca’s name again. Something is very wrong. You need to get there to figure out what is happening as fast as possible.
This outpost isn’t one you know well. It hasn’t been open for years. Maybe you should have visited it more when it was. Doesn’t matter now. You’re here. Find them.
There are more screams that make you realize you followed an echo. Turning around, you run back the way you came. Footsteps tell you you’re headed the right direction. Both your legs and lungs burn as you run. More screams make you forget your pain. Things are worse than you thought. Why is everyone screaming?
When you turn the corner, you stop. You could keep going. What is the point? Mirek stands over Farca. A large, bloody wrench is in his hands. His breaths are deep from exertion. It takes a short look for you to realize that Farca’s injuries are ones she won’t survive. You can’t tell if she is breathing. It doesn’t matter. There’s no way to treat her injuries. She bleeds from gashes in her head. There is so much blood. You don’t even know how to make her feel better.
Your eyes move from her to Mirek.
“What did you do?” you ask him.
“I protected you and everyone else here,” he says.
“What are you talking about?”
“She is Faceless.”
“Think about it.”
“That’s Farca. She’s my assistant. You’ve known her for years.”
“Then who better to try to kill you?”
He believes what he says. Maybe he was trying to protect Yinna and you, but he is misguided. In her own way, Farca might as well have been another daughter to you. Fury bubbles deep in you. It is an anger you didn’t know you could hold. Before you know it, you are running at him. You hit him in the face, neck, chest, and stomach. Each blow lands, but none of them seem to do much except glance off of him.
“I hate you!” you say, screaming at him.
“Don’t say that,” he says.
“I hate you,” you say again.
“Please,” he says.
“I hate you. I wish you were dead.”
With the last sentence, you stop hitting him. Mirek stares at you, his eyes heavy.
“Did you mean that?” he asks.
You did, but you don’t now. “No…” you say.
“Yes, you did,” he says. “I know you.”
“I was angry.”
“You were honest. You don’t need to lie. It’s fine.”
Mirek walks past you down the hallway. You watch him go and take a few steps. Yinna pushes past you.
“Dad?” she says.
You want to follow them but don’t feel right about it. Anxiety gets the better of you. You take three steps down the hall. The building rumbles. Before the meeting, you wouldn’t know what it was. Now, the sound is all too familiar. There’s been an explosion.
“Mirek! Yinna!” you say, screaming at the top of your lungs. Maybe they can hear you. You hope they weren’t in the explosion. Something tells you that you were wrong.
The metal is too heavy and too hot for you to pull off your dad, Yinna. The more you try, the worse the pain is. There’s nothing you can do to save him. You’re worthless. You’re weak. The explosion did its job. He turned the wrong corner, and that was it.
Deep down, you know he’s dead, but you can’t let it go. He’s your dad. Even more than your mom, he was there for you. You owe it to him to try to pull him out. All the trouble you got in as a kid, he was there. Those boys who wanted to do things to you and tried to drug you? It wasn’t your mom who showed up with security. When you set fire to the kitchen ceiling? It was him who helped you put it out. He’s the one who has been there for you. You can’t just give up on him. He wouldn’t give up on you. What would he say if he saw you there, trying to pull the hardening metal away? Would he tell you to try harder or to stop? You don’t know. In its own way, that scares you.
It isn’t until hands grab you around the waist and start to pull you from the metal that you realize someone else is there with you.
“No, what are you doing?” you say.
“You can’t save him,” Cantag says.
“I have to.”
“No one. Look at it…” Despite your panic, you can’t help but stare at the wreckage. On some level, you know he is right. Your father is gone. The metal was too hot. There are too many shards that melted into the mess. No one could have survived that. You don’t see blood. You realize how little that means. With metal so hot, what would happen to blood?
“Oh my God. Yinna. What happened?” your mom’s voice says.
Your mom approaches you. She is so close.
“Where is he?” your mom asks.
“Where do you think?”
“Is… Is he… Under the metal?”
Your mom’s steps are slow as she approaches. She knees and puts hands to the metal, running her fingers along the edges until she finds purchase. Your mom attempts to tug at the metal. Just like you, the hot metal burns her hands. And just like you she does her best to ignore it. The harder she works, the worse it gets.
You are exhausted and drained. How much do you want to go over there and try to help her? You just don’t have the strength to do it.
“I’m sorry,” Cantag says, a whisper in your ear.
“What do you know?” you ask.
“You know I’ve lost every person that matters to me.”
“I don’t care.” You try to wriggle away. His grip is too tight. “Let go of me.”
“Please. I need to help her.”
“You can’t. He’s gone.”
Royson runs into the area. He sees your mom trying to pull at the metal as it still steams. Sweat runs off her forehead. It sizzles against the hot metal. Royson grabs her the same way you feel Cantag hold you and pulls her away from the twisted metal.
“What are you doing?” he asks your mom.
“Mirek,” she says.
“What about him?”
“He’s under there.”
“The metal,” you say, defeat in your voice.
“What are you talking about?” he asks.
“My dad was buried in the metal in the explosion.”
“I… I’m sorry…”
“There’s no way to pull him out, is there?” you ask.
“No…” Cantag says.
“What do we do?” you ask. “Do we just give up?”
Cantag still holds you. “We’re going to die here,” you say.
“Aren’t we close to a FarCorp space station?” he asks.
“I don’t know. You know?”
Your mom looks at him, confused. “How did you know that?” she asks.
“It was in the briefing notes. I read them on the way to the meeting,” he says.
“There is one… but we don’t have a way to reach it.”
You feel Cantag nod, his head brushing against yours. “Too bad. Bet if we could get there… maybe there’d be food or a way to contact someone.”
“Yeah… too bad,” your mom says.
“Wait… What’s that?” Royson asks.
“What’s what?” your mom asks.
“Isn’t that a hole in the wall?”
You pull away from Cantag and walk over to the hole that Royson points at.
“Is that a hangar?” you ask.
“There is a hangar here,” your mom says. “It is attached, but there isn’t direct access to it from inside. Not that it matters. There won’t be any shuttles inside.”
But she is wrong, isn’t she, Yinna? You see a small shuttle that could fit all of you. It is more rocket and fuel tank than cockpit and passenger compartment. The rockets on the tips of the wings are at angles. With their size and shape, the only thing they could do is steer. Its existence makes you feel good even though it doesn’t look much better than the jumpship did. Can it fly? You don’t know. But if it can… you’d think it could reach the space station. “Isn’t that a shuttle?” you ask.
“There. Look in the hole.”
Royson approaches you and looks where you point. He furls his brow. “Yeah…” he says, “I think it is.”
“What? They were all flown off world,” your mom says.
“Come look,” he says.
She looks through the hold. “I haven’t seen that kind of shuttle before…”
“The shuttle isn’t the problem,” Royson says. “We don’t have a pilot.”
“I can fly it,” Cantag says.
“When I was in training, I needed work. So, I got a job navigating cargo shuttles. This was one of our test models.”
“But you didn’t fly it?”
“Not all the time, but navigators had to learn how to just in case of an emergency.”
“Great,” you say. If anyone can save all of you, it has to be Cantag. He does surprise you often. That’s one of the reasons you love him so much.
“Let’s get going,” Royson says.
Everyone begins looking around. “We’re missing someone,” Cantag says.
“People are dead,” your mom says.
“No… like someone who should be alive.
Radan Lai looks at you with a sheepish grin. “I… uh…” he says.
“She isn’t well.”
“Neither is your brother.”
“His leg is broken, but he can travel.”
“Is it your sister?”
He shakes his head. “No.”
Everyone follows him back to a deep corner of the building. Jearno Grey lies on the floor. She looks terrible.
“She won’t live, you know,” Royson says. “It won’t be long.”
“Don’t say that,” Radan says.
“I cannot live without her.”
“She wouldn’t survive the trip, even if you carried her…”
“I can’t let her die.”
Royson nods. “Tell you what… you all go to the entrance, and I’ll get her to the door. Then we’ll see what we do from there. OK?”
Randan nods. You don’t like the look on Royson’s face though. “We will wait for you.” He and Nogga lift Assup and carry him in the direction of the entrance. Everyone else does as well. You hang back, curious.
“Come on,” Cantag says, stepping back into view and beckoning you. As you turn away from Royson, you swear you see him pull a sidearm from under his jacket, but you can’t be sure.
“She didn’t make it,” you say to them. You know it’s a lie though. Your weapon was quiet enough no one could hear you shoot them, at least you hope that’s true, Royson. No one needs to know what you did. A woman is dead because of you. You don’t feel good about it, but it had to be done. Now, everyone can leave the building without worrying about her.
“Where is Jearno?” one of the triplets asks.
“Who?” you ask.
“My girlfriend. That one you said was dying.”
“She… didn’t make it.” You put a hand on his shoulder. It is cold comfort to him, but it is all you can offer the man after killing his girlfriend.
“What do you mean she didn’t make it?” he raises his voice.
You shrug. “Don’t know what to say. The crash took a lot out of her. Hunger… thirst… they do bad things to a person… you know?”
“You… you killed her…”
“Think whatever you want. I’m done talking about this.” You aren’t going to lie about what you did, but you aren’t going to tell him the truth either. “We need to go.”
Zeeva looks at you but doesn’t say anything before turning to the door. “Is everybody ready?” she asks.
Yeses come without enthusiasm. She opens the door, and the stale air you’ve been breathing blows out into the atmosphere outside.
Zeeva takes a last breath and then leaves the building. You are right behind her. Out here is far away from all of them and their judging eyes. Even if they walk with you, they all will be too preoccupied with the trip to worry about whether or not you’re a murderer.
The outpost stretches a long way past you on both sides. You feel like you’re never going to get there. The air tastes worse. It doesn’t seem to stop anyone. They move faster than ever.
Cantag helps the triplets without being asked this time. You hate him even more than before. He makes you look so bad doing this. Why does he feel like he has to do this? Cantag is making you look bad the same way Stelleck did earlier. With his stoic heroism, everyone is going to like him better than they like you. Although you had nothing to do with Stelleck’s death, you had the most to profit from it. You will have the same with Cantag.
Someone cries out. You turn back. Cantag and Yinna have stopped. They stare over a small cliff. No one should have fallen over it. There is plenty of room to stay away.
“What happened?” Zeeva asks.
“Glaf… he fell,” the female triplet says.
“What do you mean he fell?” Zeeva asks.
“He tripped on a rock and lost his balance. He fell the wrong direction.” Her eyes were red. Maybe if any of you had any water, she would have been crying. It’s hard to tell. You’re too tired to worry about this. She looks terrible. There’s no time to waste. Someone is going to drop if you don’t get them moving. It’s going to happen fast.
“Not like we can help him,” you say. “We need to keep going.”
“No,” the triplet carrying his brother says. “We need to try. We need to help him. I can’t lose my brother.”
You shrug. This isn’t your problem. He can do what he wants, but you’re going to keep going. Maybe you can’t pilot the shuttle. You’d rather die trying to do that than saving someone who might already be dead.
Cantag keeps looking over the cliff. “We can’t do anything,” he says. “I want to… but we can’t. He’s gone. I can’t even see him…” If Cantag agrees with you, that means something. He is carrying someone you would have left behind in the crash.
“We need to keep going,” Zeeva says. “If we don’t… the air…” everyone but the triplets nod in understanding. They continue on. With Cantag still holding the legs of one of the triplets, he has to wait to continue on. You look back and see them move on too.
When everyone reaches the entrance of the outpost’s hangar, they are exhausted. The man in Cantag and his brother’s arms has his eyes closed. His sister puts a hand on his shoulder.
“Assup?” she says. He doesn’t respond. Putting fingers to his neck, she tries to feel for a pulse. She shuts her eyes.
“What?” Yinna asks.
“He’s dead,” the sister says.
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“We need to bury him.”
“No,” Zeeva says. “We don’t have time.”
“That wasn’t a request.”
“You can stay out here, if you want. But if you do, you will die.”
Zeeva opens the hangar bay door. Air flows out slower than from the main building. Did we shut the other doors? Maybe it doesn’t matter. We won’t be here long.
“I’m sorry. He’s dead weight,” Cantag says. “We need to leave him.” Cantag kneels and lets go of the man’s legs so that his brother holds the man’s full weight. “I have to get the shuttle ready to fly. I’m sorry.”
The cockpit of the shuttle isn’t what you expected. It’s small. The controls are identical from each of the two seats though one is recessed back farther than the other. It matches the shape of the shuttle. Why Cantag didn’t choose the seat in the center, you don’t know. He seems like he knows what he is doing though, doesn’t he?
Do you think Cantag looks different, Yinna? He flips switches, presses buttons, and checks readings. His eyes are set as he works. You can’t help but be mesmerized by him.
“Why didn’t you ever tell me you could fly shuttles?” you ask him.
“You never asked,” he says.
“It’s just… you know everything about me. Now, I don’t feel like I know anything about you.”
“You know me.”
“Yeah.” He checks readings and flips another switch. The engines begin to hum. The sound is low. “And I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”
“Is that how it is supposed to sound?” you ask.
“For now,” he says. “It will change as I go through the steps though. I just hope the sound dampeners are working.”
“What are you talking about? What are sound dampeners?”
“This model… the rockets are loud… so loud that if the dampeners don’t work… well… anyone inside will go deaf in an instant.”
“Do you think the sound dampeners will work?” you ask.
“There’s one way to find out.”
“You can’t check any other way?”
Cantag shakes his head. “No. There’s no other way.”
“Then, I guess you’re just going to have to keep going.”
Cantag nods. “I need to focus. I need to make sure I don’t miss anything.”
Royson enters the cockpit. He slips into the seat beside Cantag. You look at him, knowing there is nowhere for you to sit.
“What?” Royson asks.
“I was going to sit there,” you say.
Royson shakes his head. “Your mom said you should sit in back with her.”
“I want to sit with Cantag.”
“She doesn’t care. Neither do I. So go back there while we do the work.”
Cantag glares at us. “I need to focus,” he says. “And there isn’t anything for you to do up here, Royson.”
“Go to the back before you make Cantag make a mistake. You don’t want us to die, do you?”
Cantag turns to you. He nods. “Yinna, you know I care about you, right?”
You nod. “Yeah.”
“You know I wouldn’t do anything to hurt you, right?”
“Well, it might be best if you go to the back and take a seat.”
“I don’t want you to see if there are any problems. If there are… I want to deal with them on my own.”
You shake your head. “No,” you say. “I’m not doing that.”
“What?” Royson asks.
“I’m not leaving. You sit in the back. I don’t care what my mom says.”
Cantag shrugs. “She’s the one who pays me. I don’t answer to you.”
You stare at Royson and nod to Cantag. “Who do you think he answers to? If you want him to fly the ship, you better give me your seat…”
Royson stares at you then looks at Cantag.
“I’m not getting between you two,” Cantag says, “but I can say that she has a point. I don’t want her mad at me.”
Royson throws his hands up and then brings them down on the armrests. “Fine,” he says. He pushes up and stands. “I’ll go to the back.” He leaves the cockpit.
You sit in the seat. It is warm from Royson sitting there.
Cantag works until he finishes everything he needs and then turns to you. “That’s it,” he says. “I’m done.”
“You are?” you ask.
“Now to see if we’re going to go deaf…”
“You don’t sound sure.”
“You have to try though, right?”
Cantag nods. He puts his index and middle finger to a switch and hold them there.
“That one?” you ask.
He nods. “Yeah…”
You put your fingers over his. “We’ll do it together on three. One… two… three…” The two of you flip the switches together.
You’re worried about that sound. Cantag tries to do something with the controls, but whatever it is doesn’t seem to work. You know that face. Something is very wrong.
“I know that face,” you say. “You get that look sometimes.”
“What?” he asks. You haven’t talked almost the whole trip, trying to give him a chance to work. Now, you’re not sure that you can last much longer. His surprise at your voice seems genuine.
“There’s a problem, isn’t there?”
“No. No problem. There is no problem,” he says. Cantag fiddles with the knobs, trying to look busy. He doesn’t do a good job.
“You don’t need to lie to me.”
“I’m not. I am not lying to you.”
“Yes, you are. I know you better than that.”
“Earlier, you said you didn’t think you did.”
“Maybe I was wrong.”
“What if you weren’t? You know… wrong about me.”
You turn even more to him and reach out to his face. He turns his seat so the two of you face each other. “I know you. You are a good man. You’re doing your best. That is all that matters.”
“Just… sometimes… I’m not so sure.”
“What do you mean?”
“I try to do what I think is right… but what happens when you aren’t sure?”
“Go with your gut?”
“And what if my gut is telling me something different than my heart or even my mind?”
“Which told you to ask me out?” you smile at him.
“I was pretty hungry that day. So, it probably was my stomach.” He smiles back at you. There’s the man you love. You hate to do this to him, but pumping his confidence will be the best way to keep all of you alive. If he loses it, then there is no way he will fix any problem. It feels terrible to think that way, but you know it’s true. This is less about the two of you than your own survival. Not that he can know that. Wouldn’t that feel terrible if he found out you were just using him right now for survival?
“So… tell me. What’s the problem?” you ask.
“We’re almost out of fuel,” he says.
He shakes his head. “I’m sorry.” He hangs his head and turns back to the controls. “Wish there was something I can do, but there isn’t.”
“We should tell my mom.”
Cantag shakes his head. “Why? You think she doesn’t have enough to worry about back there?”
“But she should still know.”
“Everyone that died is dead because of the life she has led. What do you think would happen if you told her we were about to start drifting in space because our only chance wasn’t good enough?”
“Didn’t you check the fuel tanks?”
“Would it have mattered?” he shrugged. “Did you see a refueling ship there? I’m pretty sure all we would have found was what is on this ship.”
You nod. He’s right. It makes sense.
“Besides, fuel doesn’t last that long,” he says. “We’re lucky this worked at all…”
You want to comfort him. You can tell how bad he feels. That doesn’t make you feel any better. If there was something you could do or say to make it better… but there isn’t. The ship is about to start drifting into space.
“I am going to try to aim us with the last of our fuel,” Cantag says. “One of the techniques we were trained to do was a no-fuel landing. We never had to do one from this far away though, so I wouldn’t count on it working…”
“No fuel landing?” those words don’t make sense to you. Doesn’t that just mean crash?
“Yeah. If your mom’s space station is up-to-date, then they should have a system in-place to make sure we don’t crash. Even if we do… wouldn’t it be better than floating in space forever?”
You hate that he has a point.
How long has the ship stopped making sound? You don’t know. Cantag stares out the windshield at the nothingness of space. The ship still has power, which means that there is still heat inside the ship. Why do you feel so cold, Yinna?
“I’m worried,” you say.
“I know,” he says.
“Is there anything you can do?”
“I don’t know…”
“Wait…” he leans forward in his seat.
“What?” you ask. Why is he acting like this?
“Don’t you see that?” he asks.
He points at the glass. “That.”
You look where he points. You do see something. Without him, the spot would have looked like little more than a speck of dust or a scratch. Though you aren’t sure what it is, your heart races. Maybe… just maybe you can start feeling hope.
“I think it’s your mom’s space station,” he says.
Relief washes over you. You can’t remember a time that you felt so good. Even the nights where the two of you lay wrapped together, talking about the mysteries of the universe… Those had nothing on this moment. That was the night you were sure Cantag would say those three words to you and you were disappointed. As he pilots the shuttle, though, do you still doubt about his devotion? How easy would it have been to escape on his own or have left the Lais behind? Cantag is the best person you know. He is even greater than your mom, not that you’d let her hear you say that.
“We made it?” you ask.
“Maybe. I just don’t know if we’re headed in the right direction,” he says.
“When will you know?”
“When we get closer.”
The door to the cockpit opens. Your mom enters. She looks worried. “Is there a reason I can’t hear the engines anymore?” she asks.
“Yeah,” Cantag says.
“They aren’t running?”
“You are such an idiot,” your mom glares at him. For a moment, you wonder if he’s putting on an act. Is Cantag smarter than he lets others think he is? Sometimes, it seems like he’s so smart. Other times, when he says things, it is like he isn’t there at all. You don’t know why.
“We have no fuel,” Cantag says.
“What do you mean?” your mom says.
“We ran out.”
“How could we just run out of fuel?”
“Because the tanks weren’t full.”
“And you didn’t say this earlier?”
“I didn’t want to worry you or anyone else.”
“I wouldn’t have gotten on the ship if I didn’t think we’d make it to the space station.”
“Mom,” you say, pointing at the windshield, “look…”
Her head turns. “What?” she asks.
“Don’t you see it?” you ask.
“That’s the space station.”
You stand and reach until your finger touches the glass. Your mom continues to look where you point.
“That little, gray dot?” she asks.
“Yeah,” Cantag says.
“But we’re drifting…”
“He’s trained to do this. All shuttle pilots are. It’s in case of times like these.”
Your mom eyes you both with skepticism.
“You’re sure we’re going to make this?”
Cantag opens his mouth. You put a hand on his arm. “Yes,” you say. “We’re going to be fine. Go back to your seat and tell everyone we’ll be there soon.”
“OK…” your mom says. You know she doesn’t believe you, but what other choice does she have?
Metal screeches as the shuttle slams into the red, riveted face of the space station. Cantag did his best. He tried. But his aim wasn’t perfect. One of the hooked wings catches, spinning the nose of the shuttle toward the side wall.
“Hold on,” Cantag says to you.
Not knowing what else to do, you grip the armrests of your seat and hold your breath. Are you going to die? The nose of the shuttle slams into the wall, and the whole shuttle bounces off it, leaving a gigantic dent in the interior, metal wall.
With almost no gravity, the shuttle bounces away, back toward the center of the hangar.
“That was the worst of it,” Cantag says. “Are you OK?”
You don’t feel OK. Your head was rocked back and forth. Your head hit something when the wing hit the wall. You bounced and hit again when the nose hit the wall. You’re dazed but conscious.
“Yinna?” he asks. “Can you answer me?”
“I’m OK,” you say.
“Yeah.” You groan. Your body hurts, but you don’t think you’re so bad. “What now?”
“Sensors should do their job… and…”
The sound of servos begins from outside the shuttle.
“What’s happening?” you ask. Something is wrong. You’re sure of it.
“Don’t worry. It’s just the docking bay closing. When it’s done, air will pump in. This is good.”
“Yes.” He smiles at you. “Come here.”
Cantag unclips and pushes out of the seat. He floats a little off the floor before settling back on it.
“What?” you ask.
“There is gravity here,” he says. “It’s just light. I bet the modifier isn’t working right. We might have to fix that when we get a chance.”
You do the same and float to him before settling in Cantag’s arms. He holds you tighter than you remember him doing before. “Oh…” The servos stop. “What was that?” you ask.
“I think that it’s done.”
Jets of air begin. The sound is loud enough that you can hear it inside the cockpit. You don’t let go of Cantag. If anything, you grip him around the waist tighter until the sound ends.
“Do you think it’s safe?” you ask.
“There’s one way to find out,” he says.
When he lets go of you, you grab his fingers. Feeling him beside you is good. Having him close will feel better as you leave the safety of the shuttle.
He opens the door of the passenger compartment. Your mom’s eyes are wide. She stares at you as you enter.
“Is something wrong?” you ask.
Your mom looks to the two, remaining triplets sitting close to her. Both of them have pieces of metal torn from the ship stabbed into them. When you look back at her, you realize why she is so quiet. A piece of metal is against the side of her neck.
“Cantag…” you say.
“What?” he asks.
“The metal… Don’t you see it?”
“Oh…” he approaches her and puts a hand to the metal, the other to her seat. “Don’t worry, Mrs. Oso. I’ll help. You’re going to be fine.”
“Don’t do something stupid,” she says in a soft voice.”
“Where’s Royson?” you ask.
“He went outside to see if he could find something to cut me out of here.”
“He left you?”
“That seems weird. Doesn’t it?”
“Can you just get me out of here?”
“Don’t worry. I got this,” Cantag says. Cantag pulls on the piece of metal, wiggling it back and forth until it comes out. There is a slice deep in your mom’s neck. Cantag holds his hand against your mom’s neck. “You’re not dead yet.”
The three of you leave the shuttle behind. You don’t like how it feels. At least inside the shuttle, there was safety. Now, you aren’t so sure. The hangar bay feels too open. Danger could be anywhere. Faceless could be anywhere… that is… if Faceless is real.
The space station is full of contradictions. The corridors are small enough that you begin to understand your mom’s fear of small spaces. But these halls feel like they wind forever. There are so many doors that each of you try with the same result. They won’t open. Are they locked or fused shut? It doesn’t matter. It almost feels like Faceless leads you to where your mom will be murdered. Will you die here too?
Cantag walks ahead of you and your mom. Since things started getting worse, you realize that despite his faults, he is amazing. He has kept you alive this long. You have faith that he will keep you alive until this is all over. Oh, the things you’re going to do to him once you get back home. You’re going to demand your mom give him a raise, a promotion, and as much leave as the two of you want. You have never been blind to the kind of woman she is, have you, Yinna? She is your mom. She gave you everything you have. You owe her your life, don’t you? But even she cannot deny this. She has to be able to put aside her feelings for your boyfriend and realize that he has saved both your lives.
“This isn’t my space station,” your mom says.
“What?” you ask.
“This…” she says. “I don’t own this… I’ve never seen it before.”
“What do you mean?”
“Wherever we are… it isn’t owned by FarCorp.
“Then where are we?”
“Ask your boyfriend. He flew us here.”
Cantag shrugs. “I don’t know where we are,” he says.
“You were the one at the controls,” your mom says. “How don’t you know? Did you just pick somewhere random to fly?”
“I put in the coordinates of what I thought was your space station. I took us where I thought we were supposed to go. I flew us where I thought we needed to go.”
“Can’t you see he tried?” you ask your mom. Someone needs to step in and protect him. Otherwise, your mom will just keep beating him the way she does with all her employees. “What’s important is that we’re safe. We alive because of him.”
“Yeah… maybe. I’m not sure if we’re safe though.”
“How many people are dead?”
“But we aren’t.”
“No we aren’t. At least we aren’t… Not yet.”
Your stomach growls. “You’re hungry,” your mom says.
“And you aren’t?” you say.
“We should try to find some food.”
Cantag takes the lead. He is being so attentive. It’s normal for him to be like this, but he’s being even better than usual, isn’t he, Yinna? It makes you feel good but worries you at the same time. What might he feel that you don’t? A shiver runs up your spine. Something is wrong.
“Where’s Royson?” you ask.
“He was trying to find something to help me,” your mom says.
“What?” your mom says.
“I just had a thought,” he says.
“You’re going to think it’s stupid.”
“I’ve had a bad week. Give me something to laugh at. I need something good.”
“What if Royson is Faceless?”
“What do you mean?” your mom asks.
“Think about it. The reporter died because of him. He threw the reporter out the back of the jumpship, didn’t he?”
“He thought Inman was Faceless.”
“That’s what he said. What about the Lais’ head of security? Maybe he was pretending to be jealous to try to get him out of the way to make it easier to get you alone. People keep dying. He’s the only one who makes sense to blame.”
You realize how much what Cantag says makes sense.
“No… it’s not true… it can’t be true,” your mom says. “Royson has been loyal to me for years.”
“Maybe he was. One thing Inman mentioned was that Faceless replaces other people. Royson could have been loyal to the day he died. But Royson is dead.”
“Liar,” Royson says from a dark corner. “When both the Lais died, I knew… I knew who Faceless was. That’s why I left. I needed to find a weapon so I could kill you. And I did.” He lowers the gun, aiming it at the three of you. “I don’t care if you want Zeeva dead, just let me walk away.
“It isn’t me. I’m not Faceless,” Cantag says. He dives at Royson and the gun. The two wrestle for it, beating each other as they try to turn the weapon on each other.
Cantag grabs the gun and turns it toward Royson. Royson knocks it loose. He gets on Cantag and punches him until Cantag’s face is bloody.
“Stop,” your mom says. She holds the weapon between both the men.
“Kill us both,” Cantag says. “Then you’ll be free.”
“If you do that, you’ll never know which of us is Faceless. Kill him.” Your mom aimed the gun and fired it. Royson slumped onto Cantag’s body, dead from the single shot to his head. Cantag’s eyes are wide with horror for a moment. He pushes the corpse off his body. His dark skin matches the dirty uniform he wears.
Your mom keeps holding the pistol, aiming it at Royson’s body.
“You… you don’t need that anymore,” Cantag says, a tremble in his voice. It sounds different. Something is wrong, but you don’t know what it is. He holds out his hand. Your mom hands him the weapon. He checks to see how many rounds are left before aiming the weapon at her.
“What are you doing, Cantag?” Zeeva asks me.
“I’m going with my gut,” I say. The look on Yinna’s face would be terrible if I were Cantag Matlock. They cannot understand how much planning this took. How long did I spend ensuring that I first killed Zeeva’s spirit before her body was ready? I needed every second of this trip. None were wasted. That is why I’m paid what I am.
“Why are you doing this?” Yinna asks.
“I’m being paid. That’s why I do anything,” I say.
“Don’t you love me?”
“But you’re him.”
“This body is Cantag’s. I have been sent to kill your mother.”
“Do you want to know all the crimes that she has committed or all the ones that were committed in her name?”
Zeeva shakes her head. “Don’t,” she says. “She’s still my baby girl. Do what you need to. Just don’t tell her all that. Don’t sully her memory of me.”
“See,” I say to Yinna. “She doesn’t even deny it.”
“So, you came to judge and then execute her?”
I shake my head. “No. I’m just being paid to do a job.”
Yinna steps between us. “You’ll have to kill me too.”
“I don’t want to, but I will if you force me to.”
Zeeva puts a hand on Yinna’s shoulder. “Is she safe if I let you do this?” Zeeva asks.
I nod. “Yes.”
“Then I’m ready. I deserve it.” Zeeva swallows hard. “Will she be able to escape this space station?”
“Where do you want to do this?”
“Come with me.”
Zeeva looks at Yinna. “I love you, Yinny.” She gives her daughter a hug and a kiss.
“Love you too, Mom.”
Zeeva and I walk together until we reach an observation deck.
“How long were you Cantag?” Zeeva asks.
I bring her close and press my lips to her ear. As I tell her, I raise the gun to her chest and squeeze the trigger. The single shot pierces her heart. I’ll never know if she found out or not. It doesn’t matter. Wherever she is now, she cannot tell anyone my secret.
I lay her on the floor and step away from her limp body. It doesn’t take me long to find Yinna. After all, I own this space station. Every inch is so familiar to me. I have used it before. When this is all over, a cleaning crew will come up and make sure there are no traces of the dead bodies if I need it again.
“Someone will come get you in two days,” I say. “You can do whatever you want until then.”
“Take me with you,” Yinna says.
“You don’t know me. I kill people.”
“You almost told me you were Faceless back in the shuttle.”
I nod. “I did. It was a mistake.”
“You do care about me.”
“And you’re Cantag.”
“I was for a time. Cantag has been dead for a long time.”
“Does it matter?”
“It does to me.”
“You don’t want to know.”
Yinna’s lip quivers, “Let me come with you. My life is over now. I have nothing now.”
“No. I can’t.”
Yinna reaches out and pulls me into her arms. “I love you, Cantag,” she says.
I want to tell her I’m not Cantag, but I know she needs this. I let her hold me, understanding that we can never be together. A tear rolls down my cheek. I wipe it in her hair. It is time for me to become who I really am.
“Time to go,” I say, pulling away from her. My single-person pod is like that for a reason. I can’t get attached. There are too many problems when I do. After all, I’m only human. Today, I’m Cantag Matlock. Tomorrow, I will be faceless again.
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