Strange New Worlds

Dead in the Water

Then:

It had been on—or rather, just above—Dusty Sunday.

They’d arrived in the middle of the colony’s biggest party of the year, the origins of which had been lost in the distant past and the selective amnesia of a colony starting over away from Earth but the customs of which endured. Live music. Recordings competing. Dancing in the streets in between and around the parades that were often indistinguishable from the dancers save for that they were trying to go in a particular direction, which often dissolved into the dance and reformed going another direction entirely with a completely different cast of paraders, yet somehow the same parade just turned around and rejuvenated, and dancing anywhere else there was room. Shiny things thrown and caught and dropped until they coated those same streets that people were dancing on, making the dance an exercise in surefootedness and propping yourself up on the people pressed too close to let you fall. Lots to drink, mostly alcohol in strange colors and mixes that made the dancing even more of an art form and increasing the already astronomical chances that the dancers were going to get groped six ways from, well, Dusty Sunday.

They’d been a team for almost two years at that point, the two ships and the two brothers.

Dean had persuaded Castiel to beam down with him in person, so to speak, so when the human materialized he was also supporting Cas’s unconscious human body until they had both fully materialized and the ship could take control. Apparently it was disorienting to both dematerialize and be in charge of the dematerialization, but they’d worked around that. Only a few seconds later, Sam had been transported down beside them. He’d been wearing Gabriel’s holoprojector in the form of a watch, and even before the man unlucky enough to draw the short straw and be manning the transport point in the middle of the planet’s biggest party had gotten impatient and waved them off the pad, Sam had switched the little device on and strapped it around the newly appeared hologram’s wrist, giving Gabriel his freedom to wander around wherever he pleased. The small projector only worked within a fifteen-meter radius; if Sam had kept it Gabriel would have had to stay close by, not always easy in the crowds sweeping across Dusty Sunday.

He and Sam had been talking about something, with the air of a challenge or a bet of some kind. Dean hadn’t been paying attention; he’d been watching Cas watch the sky and what passed for a horizon as if they were some kind of novelty and realizing that to him they were, realizing that the ship didn’t get to see this side of the sky very often and watching the curiosity and the interest until that look settled back on the human and for a heart-stopping second all that interest and fascination had been centered on each other. It had been far too intense for him to consider properly while standing on a transporter pad with his brother and Gabriel and the operator and a planet full of party people in attendance and Dean had dragged his gaze away with what felt like a physical effort to make some joke about unleashing Gabriel on a planet full of party poodles just waiting to be pranked; Gabriel had said something about that being the whole idea but he hadn’t been listening to the answer at all.

The little group fragmented almost immediately, Sam going one way with a wave and Gabriel disappearing into an unsuspecting crowd almost simultaneously.

They’d been out in the black for months at that point with no one to talk to but each other and the crowds pressing in on all sides had been overwhelming but exhilarating. The two of them wandered the streets, managing to stay together despite the madcap ebb and flow. Dean had ordered funny-colored drinks and insisted that Cas try every single one, grinning wider and wider as the ship’s avatar licked the last drops of something or other from a spoon with interest or grimaced at an unexpected taste. He’d guessed in advance that Cas wouldn’t join in the dances sweeping through the streets for love nor money but watching him move through the crowds with the unstated and probably unconscious assumption that he was flying had been almost as good. Better, maybe, because Dean had watched him and known that he knew something none of the strangers around him did, what his friend really was, what he was like, the bond they shared of two people who depended on each other more than anyone else.

Yeah. That was what it was. Sure. At the time it sounded good. And he wasn’t remotely grinning because Cas kept coming back to him despite the crowds trying to sweep him away and the many other attractions and curiosities all around.

They’d stayed for hours. Dean had grown up in crowds and Cas was processing everything through the ship’s much higher-powered mainframe rather than the limited resources of a human brain so neither of them had to worry about getting overloaded by the constant input of light and sound and the smell of happy humans all around. It was fairly obvious that if you wanted to stay on your feet and not get trampled underfoot you’d have to watch what you drank, so most people sampled rather than sozzled and they’d followed the lead of those who knew best.

It had been a glorious day. The light and the noise and the joy of everyone around them and he’d seen Cas smile, really smile, at him, because they were happy and together.

The party hadn’t really stopped when it got dark but it had gotten a little more serious, less about the dancing and the foolishness and more about the drinking and the people willing to embarrass themselves in public and probably on camera for the hoots and hollers of the audience and the rush of doing something they’d regret later. Under most circumstances Dean would have stayed for that but to his shock he’d found himself realizing that Cas wouldn’t have and was probably ready to go home by now, and caring more about that. So home they had gone, not bothering to work their way back to their original transport pad. Dean had wrapped an arm around Cas and held him tightly as his eyes went blank and Castiel transported both bodies back into orbit.

They’d materialized right outside his rooms and the rush and the joy of the day and the sensation of Cas coming back to life right there against him had been enough for him to take a chance on some—until then—very private fantasies. He’d dropped the arm already around Cas’s shoulders down to his waist, used it to pull their hips together, and kissed him gently but thoroughly, curious and affectionate, not yet daring to take it—whatever it might be—any further just yet.

He’d had a split second to think Lords of the storm, I shouldn’t have done that before the man in his arms had kissed him back very definitively with all the hunger and desire the human hadn’t dared offer, the taste of that last drink on his lips and the music still thrumming through both their bodies rapidly being overwhelmed by the beat of a much older rhythm.

“Oh,” Dean had manage to gasp out a minute or two later. “You do—”

He had no idea what the rest of that sentence had been going to be, but he never got to finish it anyway as his best friend, his guardian, his companion, his partner, his equal, his lover curled warm and trembling fingers into his hair and pulled him back into the kiss, whispering “Yes. Yes, yes, yes.”

Later he would realize what a complete and absolute surrender it was. Yes, he’d granted, yes, I need to be touched and loved as much as you do, yes, make me feel. I’m a person too and I want, I want, I want. Kiss me until I can no longer bear it, don’t stop. Give me everything, take what you will; you are mine and everything I am is yours. Shatter me to pieces, make me scream, fly with me, fly with me.

(And sometime after that, Dean had murmured, “You brought us right here. You knew. I didn’t even know.” Cas had laughed at him, silently—he knew that look, it was laughter—and replied quietly, “I hoped.”)


Now:

It had been so damn simple on Dusty Sunday.

Dean was where he had been for most of the week since he’d stormed out of sickbay giving the impression of slamming the door hard enough to rattle—namely, entangled in the guts of his pet shuttlecraft trying to retrofit tools and materials into the body and systems in ways they were never intended to be used. The project had the simultaneous effects of exhausting him on a daily basis, keeping him from thinking about anything but what was immediately in front of him, letting him think he was doing something to fight back against whatever had taken his brother, and giving him something to do. Not that he was ignoring Castiel at all. No, he wasn’t. He was just busy. And angry. And, he was aware, very poor company.

He’d started by raiding the various equipment lockers scattered throughout the ship’s habitable areas, looking for some of the more heavy-duty tools. The industrial laser welder he’d come up with, raising its power levels significantly and designing a remote-control interface that would let him operate it from within the shuttlecraft’s body, was a pretty good find. Originally intended for doing repairs on the hull of a ship or salvage in deep space on a large scale, the welder could operate in vacuum and cut through just about anything even before he’d enhanced it. Now integrated into the shuttlecraft itself, it was shaping up to be a fairly effective weapon. Aiming it precisely might be a problem, but it was mounted on a maneuverable little shuttle.

What its range was, Dean wasn’t quite sure. Pissed as he was, he wasn’t going to test a weapon with an unknown field of effect while within Castiel’s shuttlebay. He wasn’t mad enough to actually hurt him by mistake. But then again, he wasn’t ready to ask the ship to let him out to run tests, either. That would involve talking to him, and the two hadn’t said a word to each other since the day of the attack. Oh, and stopping for a while, since the shuttle wasn’t flight-capable, so tests would only drag out the time before they could turn right around and head out after what they were currently so infuriatingly running from. While Dean knew that running had been the only possible option that left them alive at the end of it, he still couldn’t feel it. Something basic and biological, deep in his mind and his body, was screaming at him to stand and fight, to kill the things that had hurt him and his brother. With what, it didn’t matter. Teeth and fingernails, if need be. But with no immediate enemy to fight, he knew that he would turn that anger on the closest person, no matter what he actually felt about them. He’d done it to Sam in the past, snarling and shouting just because Sam was there and might fight back.

No, better to stay away—as much as that was possible when the person he was avoiding was the structure in which he lived. He’d kept at least the metaphorical distance of the cold shoulder.

Whether he wasn’t sleeping because of worry and rage over Sam or because he’d gotten used to having Cas there dozing beside him, Dean wasn’t quite sure. It was probably both, he’d decided, and since it was both fixing one of those problems wouldn’t help any. Or so he’d reasoned in the grip of a furious and exhausted attack on a malfunctioning power capacitor buried in an inconvenient location within the shuttlecraft’s engine complex.

He’d broken the capacitor. It had probably been broken anyway. The minute and precise work of replacing it had burned out some of the anger, but not as much as breaking it had, and then he had gone to work on the shuttle-mounted welder. By now he knew the power readings were beyond what they were supposed to be, and he knew he didn’t want to test it for fear of the damage it could do. Good enough.

That had taken him a couple of days, but the practice had made it much faster to find the spare welder and repeat the process to give the shuttlecraft double the firepower.

The Fleet supplied its explorers with, theoretically, everything they might need to take on unknown dangers on unknown worlds. But he wasn’t having any luck with the assorted types of blasting agent he’d dug up, either. How hard could it be to weaponize chemicals with the designated purpose of destroying things? Or so he’d thought. The problem was that space was firstly big, and secondly mostly vacuum. Building a spaceworthy launcher from scratch would take too long with the materials he had, and to seed a space with mines and remotely detonate them he’d need much, much more than the Fleet had issued them when they’d left, and in any case the boys had used several kilos early on when they’d stopped off at one of the outer colonies and gotten drafted by the expanding settlement to help with some heavy excavation.

Good times, but not a reminder Dean needed right now.

A shame the shuttlecraft was so small, compared to those monstrosities that had attacked them. Homemade weaponry or not, he might have more luck just ramming the thing into their hulls and hoping to hit a weak point. That had its downsides though, namely that he’d never know if he succeeded.

There was an access point under the body of the shuttlecraft. If Dean remembered correctly, there was a storage space connected to it. He might be able to shove another power unit in there and hook that up to whatever he added to the laser welders. There was some hunting equipment that had ended up in the lab down the hall, unless it had been moved, which he doubted, and a harpoon was a harpoon, right? Give it enough propulsion at launch—it had a basic launcher already built in—and the vacuum environment should work in his favor. He might have to reinforce it somehow, because he didn’t know what those things were made of, but an unexpected collision was likely to make any pilot stop or at least slow for half a second or so.

Quite how it had gotten into the lab rather than somewhere more storage-related wasn’t important, and certainly probably didn’t have anything to do with a planetary survey that had turned into an elaborate and increasingly insane fishing trip and turned up something that wasn’t exactly the monster fish it looked like. Hadn’t tasted all that good, either; he’d gotten an “I told you so” from Cas when Dean had insisted on trying to cook the remains in a variety of ways even if a couple of hours in said lab being scanned by a dubious Castiel had predicted that it wouldn’t poison him but he probably wouldn’t like it anyway.

Not thinking about that. Not grinning slightly and entirely involuntarily at the remembered expression on Cas’s face as he’d sat and watched Dean experiment and taste and amend and generally destroy more of the fish than he’d ultimately end up eating, with the air of a creature that had no idea why he was bothering but was amused by the completely unnecessary spectacle.

Just like he wasn’t thinking about Dusty Sunday, either. He was turning this ship into a weapon and he was planning on getting back at whatever the hell had made it necessary by hurting his family.

“That’s what they’re going to do to me.”

Halfway under the body of the shuttlecraft, Dean managed not to drop the crowbar he’d been using to lever open the panel. Maybe it hadn’t been intended to be opened after all, but that hadn’t stopped him. After all, he’d been right there and holding a conveniently tough steel lever that would have really hurt if he’d let go in surprise when Castiel decided to pipe up right now.

“Do what?” he asked anyway, and he was not relieved to hear his partner’s voice in any way. At all. He wasn’t. Really. To show how much he didn’t care, he stayed under the shuttle where Castiel probably couldn’t see him smiling.

“This. What you’re doing.”

Yeah, it had made sense the first time. “Lotta people thought you and your siblings shoulda been armed a long time ago, Cas.”

“And we said no. Because it wasn’t needed. You evolved with bloodlust. We didn’t.”

Sounded like Cas planned on sticking around and actually holding a conversation. Dean put the crowbar down. “Like hell. Maybe you didn’t, but you ships mimic humans. It’s in you same way it’s in us.”

“I know. Why do you think we said no? But now that we know there’s a danger—” He broke off. Whether he was still there and just silent or had vanished again altogether Dean wasn’t sure, but the human decided to go with it.

“You know this for sure or just guessing?”

“It was your first reaction, wasn’t it?”

Actually, his first reaction had been instant white-hot rage that he’d used to shove Cas away and then spend almost half an hour swearing at the unresponsive walls without repeating himself even once.

The question had been rhetorical and Castiel wasn’t waiting for a response. “Everyone is talking. Most of them are sending me messages about it. The technology has been in development for years, and there are branches of the Fleet that have been building weapons for us just in case it became necessary to use them. They began installing the prototypes almost immediately after we reported the nature of the attack.” He changed the subject without warning. “Dean, don’t do this to me.”

That could mean almost anything, and if he wanted to find out what the ship actually meant, Dean was going to have to come out from where he was not hiding underneath the shuttle. Subtle variations in his friend’s voice told him that it wasn’t coming through the ship’s intercom, and he hadn’t heard the shuttlebay doors open, so Dean was willing to bet he was talking to the ship’s holographic interface.

He crawled out from his prone position on the shuttlebay deck, leaving the crowbar and the other pieces of miscellaneous equipment that had drifted under there over the course of his week of experimentation and destruction. The small shuttles had evolved from personal vehicles throughout the ages, and it still bore a passing resemblance to a car, admittedly an oversized version of a solid and sturdy one, despite the fact that its power and acceleration and general innards weren’t anything like one. There was a little of the breadbox shape of early designs still to it, although it was far more streamlined than some models.

For a second Dean thought his guess was completely wrong and he’d been talking to empty air after all. Then he looked up, to find that Cas was sitting on the shuttlecraft’s roof, elbows braced on his knees and hunched over as if he was trying to hide, childlike and unhappy.

“Do what?” he asked again, and added, “C’mon down, man.”

“Shut me out,” Cas explained briefly, acting as if he was looking anywhere except Dean, not an easy task as the man was standing right in front of him and definitely paying attention to him even if Dean wasn’t quite at eye level. The human saw the glance anyway. “It’s not—” Motionless as he was for a moment, and not, as requested, moving from the roof of the shuttle, he was clearly struggling. “—what I want to be. To do. It’ll hurt, and I won’t be who I was. Who I am.”

“I gotta save Sam, Cas,” Dean pointed out, not terribly patiently. “And Gabriel, and maybe some of the others gone missing too. You seriously gonna—”

Cas could move terribly quickly when he wanted to and the rest of Dean’s sentence was cut off as he found cool fingers pressed to his lips, the subtle static of holographic illusion providing a surreal counterpoint. “No,” he insisted. “Of course I want them back. You’re not the only one who’s lost family, Dean!” The hand braced against the shuttle’s roof, keeping his balance, flexed as if trying to get a grip on solid metal in frustration.

When he spoke again, it was much quieter. “I will do anything to save them, as many as we can. We’ll go after them, and we’ll hurt whoever it is that took them so this never happens again.” The quiet was almost as intense as the snarl that occasionally roughened Castiel’s customary voice even further. “…Just don’t make me do it without you, Dean. I need you.”

That was a plan Dean could get behind, as long as… “You know them up there with the Fleet are gonna drag their feet and bitch ‘til everything’s squared away and organized before anything gets done, right?” he teased softly.

The affection in his voice worked wonders, instantly visible in Cas’s expression and manner. “They might move faster if they were chasing us.”

Dean laughed, rather liking the idea of scorching out of the Fleet’s control with a dozen or so of Cas’s siblings in their dust, and ambushing those two monster ships with backup right behind them. “Damn right. And scratch what I just said.”

“Which part?”

“About getting down off Baby’s roof. I’m all done savaging her for the day. You blink out and come be human with me so I can kiss you properly.”


Somewhere Else:

Sam felt as if he’d been beating his head against this display panel for hours, both in terms of aggravation and physical pain. It couldn’t have been that long, because the spacesuit’s external sensors were still reporting a steady atmospheric leak all around him and if it had been hours all the air would have been long gone. One of the only things he’d been able to accomplish so far was to get a sense of the extent of the gross structural damage to the ship. It wasn’t good. Essentially nothing was working, probably due to the immense gashes through the ship’s port hull, as if some enormous cat had raked its claws through solid metal and alloys designed to resist the heat of a star, the deep cold of interstellar vacuum, and the alternate higher dimension where faster-than-light flight took place equally casually.

The ships weren’t designed with a single central brain the way humans were. A lot of processing took place in the systems distributed throughout the physical superstructure, through networks that ran throughout the ships’ inner hulls like an enhanced and much more powerful version of a human’s central nervous system. Unlike a human’s, which basically received information from and sent it to a brain that did the work of a central processor, the ships’ neural networks existed throughout their physical forms. Theoretically it made them less vulnerable; a single shot could take out a human brain, but unless a ship was vaporized entirely some part of its mind might survive.

Some of it was biological in origin, other parts manufactured, and some a conglomeration of both where the line between grown and built wavered and started to get perforated out of sheer embarrassment over its identity crisis. Linking the various components together and translating from one medium to the other was one of the many things ships could do much faster than humans. They weren’t segmented enough that each section thought separately—the connections were too fast and too multilayered—but it was rather like a human brain had been interweaved into the entire body rather than staying just in the head. Some functions were unconscious, and some simply beneath their interest to pay attention to, like the precise functioning of the plumbing their human companions required or the operation of the replicators that provided food, clothing, and medication on a regular basis as said humans tore through all three.

They got annoyed if you asked where their minds lived, a stupid question to begin with as no one had ever isolated where in the human brain the human ‘soul’ lived.

In this case it meant that whatever had torn through Gabriel’s hull had taken out part of his ability to think and respond to Sam’s repeated attempts to contact the ship’s consciousness and while he was designed to be able to reroute those functions it would take a while at best. And that was only the damage Sam had been able to find data on.

The younger Winchester eventually managed to access some of the internal controls that didn’t directly connect to Gabriel’s higher functions, like the door controls and airlocks. He sealed off the area he was in, which stopped what was left of the atmosphere from bleeding out into empty space, but which meant he’d also locked himself in. A few minutes later, after finding two other access points and networking them together, not without resorting to thumping some uncooperative computers a few times, he’d managed to rig together something that might let him get through to Gabriel, if the ship was still alive. The screens looked built-in, but they were designed to be removed from the walls if necessary, letting Sam arrange them in a circle around him as he knelt on the deck. There wasn’t a comfortable way to sit in a spacesuit, yet another design flaw that hadn’t been satisfactorily worked out.

He still couldn’t get an accurate picture of how much damage had been done to his friend’s neural networks, which was in itself a bad sign.

Using his makeshift computer network, Sam sent out a variety of messages in a variety of different ways, hoping to get the ship’s attention and provoke a response. He started with connecting the spacesuit’s built-in computer to the network and hacking into the intercom system with it.

“Hope you can hear me, Gabriel,” Sam said aloud as he continued to work, ordering whatever part of the ship’s brain was working to start running damage assessments on the power distribution system. Simultaneously, he tapped into the remote-control for the same system and used it to pulse whatever lights might be working in a deliberate pattern based on ancient Morse. GABRIEL ITS SAM WAKE UP. Setting that program to loop continuously, he switched computers, setting the first panel to one side and leaning over to access another. “Trying to get through to you. Where are we, what happened? I’m OK for now, ‘long as you rule out the headache, which is getting worse by the minute. Not seeing flashing lights anymore, though, except the ones I’m putting there on purpose. And all the error messages I keep getting. I think this suit saved my life, I’d be out of air by now if I wasn’t wearing it.”

No answer on any channel. He’d try something else.

While technically memory files like the media libraries the ships consumed in great gulps and then retained for the entertainment of the humans involved were below their conscious level of awareness, only accessed when necessary, involved, or interested, Sam figured it couldn’t be a bad way to get Gabriel’s attention if he could get into the media database and it wasn’t too shattered. He had other things he could try, but he tucked away the idea of queuing up as many forms of media at once as he could, especially ones that Gabriel had used to get his attention in the past.

“I hope your sensors are working better than I can see from here,” Sam told the unresponsive intercom. He was trying to find something—anything—on what could be going on outside without walking over to the nearest gash in Gabriel’s hull and just sticking his head out and taking a look for himself. “We must have moved. I know flight when I feel it trying to jam nails through my brain. Where did we go? Did we escape? Something hit us.”

The lights flickered, and Sam swore roughly and furiously as his panels blanked out sometime in the middle of it. He was still working his way through a mixture of his brother’s favorite invocations against malfunctioning equipment when a message appeared on the screen without fanfare.

sam?

It was quite possibly a glitch but then again maybe it wasn’t, and Sam allowed himself a whoop! of relief. “Gabriel?” he called, then splayed his fingers across the panel as though typing on a keyboard and tapped the featureless surface in the appropriate sequence.

you’re alive? hurting

“I’m here. I’m okay. Are you?” He kept typing but it helped to talk.

The response was slow enough to worry him further. no lost hurting don’t know

“Lost? You don’t know where we are? Do you have access to your sensors? What do you see outside?”

can’t see. there’s no light no light no stars

Sam brought the panel with him as he stood up. “Your scanners are probably damaged, Gabriel. My suit still has a few hours of air so I’m going to try to find some tools and start repairs.”

Gabriel’s response was much faster this time, although whether it was due to recovery or concern wasn’t clear. NO not safe not working right

“You?”

here. stay away from the breach there’s dark out there

Sam had already changed his mind. “All right. What do you want me to do? I don’t know how bad the damage is, but you and I have to get it fixed. We were attacked, right?”

yes don’t know what

He was about to keep asking questions when the screen continued but not far away can hear them

He’d thought his alert level had been maxed out for the day. Evidently not. “Are they coming back?”

you betcha

Sam thought about it for a second, decided this was the perfect time for a word that could scorch paint in vacuum, and tried it out.

damn right hide sam

“Where?” He was already picking his way around the debris and panels scattered across the floor, headed away from the nearest hull breach and into the depths of the ship.

engine compartments power readings will hide you not as much damage there’s air and light still

The engines that enabled the ships to slip between dimensions and blatantly outrace the speed of light while supplying enough excess power to run every other onboard system and more besides were housed as deep within all ships’ structures as possible. They weren’t radioactive in any way that affected human bodies but some people reported feeling strange, as if their minds weren’t working the way they were used to. The engines allowed ships to jump from one dimension to another; something of that in-between, slightly different quality seemed to leak out. No tests had ever found a scientific basis for this, but the engine rooms were still not somewhere human crew tended to want to hang out, partly because there wasn’t much they needed to do. The ships monitored their own power output and production very carefully. Exactly what their upper output limits were hadn’t been fully tested lately, especially since successive generations of ships kept getting smarter and more intuitive and coming up with ways to go faster, think faster, and generate more power to do so.

Given the damage to Gabriel Sam decided not to complain about his persistent headache, which hadn’t abated at all and would probably only get worse in proximity to the flight engines.

“All right, but if I’m going to be climbing between decks—” The engine rooms were four decks below where Sam currently was. “—I can’t bring this panel with me, it’s damn awkward. Can you get into the intercom yet? If there’s something out there coming after us I want to know about it.”

i’ll try hurry not safe here

A little less than five minutes later Sam was inching his way through a passageway more designed for last-ditch maintenance than travel when he finally heard Gabriel’s voice. He didn’t sound tired so much as uninflected, as if the effort required to add the appropriate tones and emphases to his speech was simply too hard to figure out and apply. “The hell you doing in there?”

“Good to hear from you too,” Sam replied evenly. He’d been struggling to keep his cool as it was and didn’t intend to let Gabriel’s attempt at stress relief get to him. “I couldn’t get through the hallway because it’s full of ceiling. This seemed like the fastest way round. Gabriel, what happened? Are Castiel and Dean here? Did they get caught up too?”

Gabriel sounded exhausted and unhappy even through the vaguely creepy atonal delivery and Sam couldn’t blame him. “They’re not here. I don’t think they ever were. Shut up, it’s a good thing.”

Sam had been about to ask, but stayed quiet and kept moving. He was a tall man and the spacesuit only made him bigger, and it wasn’t an easy task to get his long limbs through a cramped corridor that hadn’t been in great repair even before something broadsided Gabriel and tore him open. He was trying to judge the ship’s condition by his choice of words and speed of response and it wasn’t easy, especially on top of fear for his brother and the other ship. “I’ll show you what I saw when you get to the engine rooms. I guess that’s where I am, but it’s hard to—” Gabriel stopped without warning and didn’t resume for a few moments. When he did, it sounded as if he hadn’t even been aware of the pause. “—think here. Everything’s wrong.”

“I’m almost there,” Sam tried to be reassuring. “What about Dean and Cas?”

“All I know is I got hit, Sammy. May have missed whatever happened after that. And I don’t know where we are or how we got here either.” Sam was okay with the diminutive from Dean—he didn’t have much choice about it—but he didn’t much like it from anyone else.

“Fine, I get it, Gabe,” he sniped back, knowing the ship didn’t like being called that any more than Sam liked the ship calling him Sammy. “So either they’ll find us or we’ll find them.”

Gabriel’s huff of indignation was refreshingly normal; his answer was not. “Don’t bet on it.”

Sam elected to strongarm the hatch at the end of the service conduit open rather than answer that, and only after he braced his feet against a corner and shoved with all his strength did he manage to wrench it open. Immediately, even through the spacesuit fabric, he could feel atmosphere leaking past him into the near-void in the more damaged sections of the ship. When he crawled out into a corridor where he could stand up and the lights were dim but constant, it was a level of relief he could feel in his core.

“Should be okay to breathe, you’re tired of helmet air,” Gabriel suggested, obviously tracking his progress or possibly feeling the hatch slam as Sam kicked it closed with no little amount of spite.

This would be an incredibly terrible time for one of Gabriel’s pranks, but Sam decided to check the readings his suit provided anyway, just in case the ship’s capacity for decision making or life support assessment had been damaged. A quick glance told him that the air was cold and not as rich as it could be but breathable, and that now that the hatch was closed it wasn’t leaking away, either. He was suddenly incredibly grateful that the suit had survived whatever ordeal they’d gone through in getting here, wherever here was and however they’d gotten so.

Freeing himself from the helmet and raking a smartsuit-gloved hand through his long hair in an effort to keep it out of his eyes, which the helmet had made very difficult, Sam addressed the ceiling with “We gotta start repairs, Gabriel; there’s no way you can fly in this state and we don’t have a chance of getting anywhere or finding—”

Dean and Cas with your hull torn open and you losing time, he’d meant to finish his sentence, but Gabriel interrupted him, sounding focused and awake with a suddenness only granted through fear. Sam had felt his fair share of that lately. “Sam. Run.”

He didn’t stop to ask questions, taking off at a sprint down corridors familiar even in the half light. The doors to the complex of engine rooms, deceptively small to lead to such large spaces, were open even before he got there, and closed behind him almost as soon as he passed the threshold. Gasping in the thinner air, and staying moving in order to get closer to the engines proper, Sam had only a few breaths’ worth of time to look around at the complex array of machinery that no one but the ships and a few humans really understood before the ship’s already-activated intercom system was overwhelmed.

With what, he didn’t know, and couldn’t have thought about if he’d tried. It rapidly stopped being noise and became almost a bodily impact, as if the sheer volume on a shattering range of frequencies could tear him down without any need for another devastating physical attack.

Between the unfiltered blast from the intercom, the migraine from the flight to this space where there was only dark and no light, and the subtle but strong effects from the reality-warping engines the space housed, all Sam could do was slam his hands over his ears and stumble the last few steps to the machine that, several stories high as it was and as many long, seemed to coruscate and waver as he braced himself against it.

Hide, Gabriel had said, and that was what Sam did, dropping to his knees and crawling into the confined space between this component of his ship’s flight engine and the deck as every sound in the worlds tried to beat his eardrums until they broke.

Something was out there, and it didn’t intend to let them go.


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