BAM, bam, bam! Three rounds cracked into the target thirty metres away, dust puffing out of the sacking as the projectiles hit home. He lowered the cap gun, screwing up his eyes to locate the faraway specks. Bull’s-eye, just as he knew it would be.
Tem Sevin refilled the magazine with a sigh and snapped it shut. The old-fashioned shooting range was no longer a challenge but there was nothing else to do. He stared gloomily at the practice weapon in his left hand before ramming it into the holster around his waist. Ancient history. If only he could use some of the ship’s guns! All those gleaming laser rifles lined up on their racks in the armoury, some still in their factory packaging. It was ridiculous. They should be regularly used and cleaned, not left to rot. He’d offered to look after them but the adults had said no. Like most things in his life, they were strictly off-limits.
There really was nothing to do. There was a silver morph polishing the handholds of one of the treadmills in the gym on the other side of the rec. Just for mischief, he clicked his fingers so the robot would stop and turn around. It scanned him through its raised eye-pieces then continued its duties.
Behind the exercise machines was the totavision suite, silent in sleep mode. Tem thought about watching Tornado Terror III one more time but then realised he couldn’t be bothered even to turn on the viewer. Being alone, he ignored the ball courts and quiet room.
He wandered over to the nearest porthole and leaned against it, searching out the tiny beacon of Astra III. They had left it three days ago, yet the ten-hectare space-station, so enormous after the confines of Wayfarer, had all but disappeared. It was so unfair! He slammed his hand against the embrasure. Would an extra week - even another day - really make so difference to their six-year journey from Gaia? Apparently so. Mission Control said they would stop for only ten days and Captain Salqi was going to stick to the schedule even though the entire ship was screaming for a longer break.
Better that they hadn’t got off Wayfarer at all, Tem thought gloomily. Then they wouldn’t have had that taste of freedom which made getting back in the tin can so unbearable. The first few days of their stay had been so exciting after eighteen months in flight. School was cancelled and the children were allowed to explore all four zones of the busy space station.
Tem had been fascinated by the everyday working of the trading post. He saw cargo being unloaded and new freight packed up, dockets signed off, money paid down. The children would spend their few munits on unfamiliar sweets and chew them while watching the ships dock from worlds they’d never heard of. Sometimes other children were onboard, youngsters who spoke Standard with a strange accent or not at all. All around them babbled the foreign tongues of the travellers, trading goods and exchanging news. There were so many races, so many faces that Tem couldn’t stop staring. Time passed so quickly that before he had realised it, the holiday was over. They were back on Wayfarer and back in the routine: the same view of unending space, the same dorm, the same protein bricks that passed for food. It was nothing short of a prison sentence.
The injustice of it all made his eyes water. He wiped them angrily on the sleeve of his dull-green flightsuit. The walls of the rec seemed to be closing in on him. This never-ending journey to Thalia! Six years crammed into the creaking pioneer ship with three hundred others and only two stops along the way. The rendezvous with Astra had been the last layover. Now there was a further aeon to wait out until they got to the Paradise Planet, or so it was called back home on Gaia.
What were his parents thinking? But then even he had been tempted by the glossy brochures they had pored over, all lush green and turquoise sea. The Charis system had been claimed by Gaia over two hundred years previously, but it had taken all that time to prepare the five planets for habitation. The last phase, Thalia, had been completed in the last decade. Now all the homeworld needed was people to live on it.
According to the marketing blurb, Thalia couldn’t be more different to Gaia. Overcrowding and lack of resources had forced thousands of pioneer ships like their own across the galaxy in search of new planets. The exodus had been going on for the last five hundred years, Tem knew from his history books, but Gais’a population never seemed to shrink. Everyone lived in smaller and smaller units while the government spread propaganda about the benefits of living elsewhere. Thalia had been heavily promoted. ‘A whole new world,’ ran the advertising slogan. Twice as large as Gaia and with a sub-tropical climate, Thalia had farming land, white sand beaches and big deposits of pyrites that could be mined for thallium. It was ripe for exploitation, whatever that meant.
Tem couldn’t see what was wrong with Gaia. Okay, so they lived in a high-rise pod in Theion City which was small and cost a lot of money - so did everybody else. There was water rationing and you could hardly ever see the sky through the smog. None of this mattered to Tem because he knew everyone in the block and there was always someone around to play flickball. Now they were going to bury themselves in the jungle of some distant planet where the nearest neighbours were fifty kilometres away. It didn’t make sense.
A new life, his parents had said. They seemed to ignore the fact it would take a lifetime to get there. Or to get back. Tem thought of his grandparents and chasing his cousins around the foot of their building. He knew now he would probably never see Tanla and Amata again. He had been eleven years old when they left Gaia. He had already wasted five years of his childhood cooped up in a spaceship. When they got to Thalia he would be seventeen, practically an adult. “We’ve made so many sacrifices for you,” his parents often said. Well, he wished they hadn’t.
’I’ve been looking for you everywhere!’ Ruben, Tem’s twelve-year old brother, rushed through the rec doors and barrelled a fist into Tem’ stomach. ‘What’s up? You got a face like a … dried turd!’
’Get lost, zerohead,’ said Tem, rebuffing him with a sideswipe. ’Why didn’t they leave you with the hardware on Astra?’
’Critical to the mission. Aargh!’ Ruben yelped as Tem pinned him, wriggling, against the wall.
‘Leave me alone, buckethead. Understand?’
’I came to tell you … Susa’s got a cake,’ Ruben gasped, blinking through the fringe that dangled in his eyes. Both brothers had inherited their father’s dark colouring. Tem had also taken his sharp nose and firm chin, while Ruben had their mother’s more rounded features.
‘Real cake,’ Ruben continued. ‘With egg and sugar. It’s got candles and everything.’
Tem had heard the rumour there were special rations left over from Astra. He needed a piece of that. He released Ruben who concertinaed to the floor.
‘Where is she?’ he demanded.
‘In the refectory. They’re cutting it now.’
‘Well, you droize, let’s get down there!’
’On the yeller, finkadeller!’ Ruben scrabbled up fron the floor. ‘I’ll race ya!’ he called over his shoulder, grinning as he gave himself a head start.
‘You cheating…’ Tem chased after him, the cap gun bouncing against his thigh. He’d return it later. Cake was far more important.
Exploding through the doors of the rec, their boots hammered along corridors and catwalks and finally up the stairs to the refectory on the top level. Tem reached the entrance first. The doors were supposed to be airtight but odours of cabbage substitute had somehow crept out. Through the smoked polypro he could make out their sister standing at the end of a long table. She too wore the standard green flightsuit with a pink paper hat over her long brown hair. She was surrounded by seven or eight children of various ages and sizes, all in the same uniform.
‘Is she in there?’ Ruben panted into his ear.
’Of course.’ Tem waved a hand in front of the sensors. The door stayed shut.
‘Is anyone ever going to fix these things?’ he tutted, hitting the manual override. The doors drew apart and Ruben pushing Tem out of the way to get to the table first. Susa was lining up a thin brown disc with an enormous knife, her tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth. She looked up as they entered and her face broke into a beaming smile.
’You found him! Tem – get over here, look what I got!’
The brothers joined the circle of staring youngsters. It was a simple chocolate cake but it may as well have been a fairytale castle. Dessert on Wayfarer was normally a few glucose tablets.
‘I haven’t seen anything like that since we left Gaia,’ mumbled Ruben.
‘I never seen it. Not never,’ piped up Reeve. Everyone stared at the blond seven-year old.
’Did you never have cake at home?’ asked Ruben.
‘Home?’ asked Reeve.
’Yes, on Gaia.’
’Er, yes, course I did. All the time.’ Reeve looked away from the curious faces.
’Here’s your chance to try it again,’ said Tem, realising that Reeve probably had no memory of life before Wayfarer.
Susa was sawing into the cake. ‘D’you need a hand with that?’ Tem asked her.
’I can do it!’ she said, balancing a wobbling slice on the flat of the knife. It trembled in mid-air then fell. Tem caught it before it hit the ground.
’That’ll be mine then,’ he smiled. He lifted the cake to eye-level. It looked amazing. He could taste the chocolate already. ‘Happy fourteenth, Suse.’
’Thank you.’ She dealt out the slices, trying not to show her pleasure in the attention of the older brother she worshipped. The others snatched the plates as fast as she could get the cake on to them.
‘Just think, Tem, when we get there. To Thalia,’ she said, lifting her own portion to her mouth. ‘We can have cake all the time.’
‘When we get there,’ he reminded her. ‘It’s another ten months yet.’
‘It’ll go so fast. You’ll see.’
There was a quiet moment as the children munched, savouring the rare treat. The younger ones soon had smears of chocolate over their cheeks and chins. The noise level started to rise until the lights in the refectory dimmed then came on again.
‘What was that?’ quailed Reeve.
’Must be a power cut,’ said Ruben, licking his fingers.
‘It’s more than that. Listen,’ said Hanya, Reeve’s older sister. ‘I can’t hear the main drive.’
It was true. The normal swooshing had cut out. There was an eerie silence.
’It must have gone offline,’ Hanya said.
A siren went off.
‘What’s that?’ said Ruben, his lower lip quivering.
The sound triggered a memory buried deep in Tem’s mind. He had heard that noise before, on a school trip when they visited the national space centre. ‘Battlestations,’ he whispered to himself. But why here and why now? On a pioneer ship? It couldn’t be. But the alarm said they were under attack.
The chocolate cake lay half-eaten on forgotten plates.
‘Where are the grown-ups?’ whimpered someone.
‘A ship, a ship! I see a ship!’ Little Reeve had run to starboard and was looking through the triple-height portholes. Over his head, Tem made out the shape of a blunt silver arrow in the distance. Closer to them and growing larger by the second was a shuttle, pale-blue light coursing from its rear thrusters. The children lined the windows.
‘It’s coming right at us!’
‘It’s headed for the docking bays.’
‘Who is it?’
’What is it?’ asked Tem. It didn’t look like anything in his copy of Spaceships Past and Present. One thing he did notice was that all the normal welcome lights a docking vessel would display on approach weren’t there.
’Something’s wrong.’ He turned to the children. As the most senior, they were looking at him expectantly.
‘Everyone go and find their parents,’ he said. ‘Susa, Ruben, find Mum and then go and sit in our dorm.’ He looked at his timepiece which displayed the hour on Gaia, known as standard time or GST. Irrelevant as it was out here, the ship and most of the colonies still ran on it. He knew their father would be on shift. Tem took the stick-shaped beeper out of his breast pocket and pressed his number. He got the busy tone.
’I’ll find Dad,’ he told Ruben. ‘Once I’ve found out what’s going on I’ll come back to the dorm and let you know. Then we can beep everyone else, okay?’ The children didn’t move, looking at each other fearfully.
‘Go on!’ urged Tem. ‘Find your parents!’
Then he was out of the refectory and running, running hard, swerving between adults rushing in the opposite direction, panic in their faces. A recorded emergency message telling all personnel to go to their dorms was playing on loop over the ship’s tannoy.
As Tem burst onto the bridge, the huddle of men in green uniform around the central navigation desk looked up and then ignored him, continuing their conference. His father was one of them. Tem crept towards him, glancing around at the flickering screens and banks of controls. He always found Wayfarer’s cockpit nerve-wracking, especially as he was only allowed there in special circumstances. He tapped his father’s arm.
‘Dad, Dad! What’s going on?’
The quick brown eyes registered his presence with alarm. Tem had never seen his father so tense. Piar Sevin was calm and methodical. He hardly ever raised his voice, even in the heat of anger. This time was different.
‘Tem! What are you doing here?’ he bellowed, pulling the boy away from the table. ‘You should be in the dorm with your mother.’
’It’s okay,’ Tem said, holding up a hand. ‘I sent the others along. They’re there by now, easily. I just came along to find out what’s happening. Everyone’s scared.’
His father hesitated, giving him a look which Tem knew well. It was normally followed by the phrase ‘you’re too young’. The he seemed to change his mind.
‘We’re under attack by pirates,’ he said. ‘Gharst, from the Rikke system. They’ve managed to shut down the reactor remotely so we’ve got no power. Everything’s gone offline: main drive, life support, all the ship’s controls. We’re drifting. Only the auxiliaries are operational.’
Tem’s mouth dropped open. Gharst? He had heard of them, of course. Originally warrior clans spread over the four planets in the Rikke system, they had finally united under a single king and queen after decades of battles. The royal family however were merely figureheads as real power was in the hands of a few high-caste generals. A chill crept between his shoulder blades. The fighting had been bloody and the losers forced into a position not much higher than slaves. Once again he heard the monotone voice of Mr Feird spelling out significant dates in the Modern Politics lesson: ‘The bitter civil war only came to an end in the winter of 3041 when King Gudrun was assassinated and his family fled into exile. The union agreement between Rheged and Viken was signed the following year, but it was not until three years later that Sigeslund was forced to capitulate and surrender governance of Isvarld too...’
Now the Gharst had jumped out of the pages of history right into his everyday. For the first time in his life, the notion of real danger presented itself. It seemed like a joke and he would have laughed out loud if it hadn’t been for the universally serious faces around the navigation table.
‘What are they doing out here? Rikke must be millions of linials away!’ Tem asked.
’I don’t know, but they’re trying to board us,’ his father said. ’You know we are carrying cargo from Astra to Thalia? Nanochips and switchers mainly. There’s money too.’
Tem read fear in his father’s expression. ‘Will they hurt us?’ he asked.
‘Probably. They’re carrying laser blasters. We’ve sent an armed response team to the docking bays.’
So the rifles were finally out of the armoury. A dry-throated excitement went straight to his head. His father grabbed him by the shoulder.
‘Tem, listen to me,’ he said. ‘This isn’t a game. You must go to the dorm.’
‘But Dad, we’re in danger and I’m good with guns - I can help you. Please, let me!’
‘Piar, we need you,’ Captain Salqi said from behind them.
’Coming,’ he acknowledged. Turning back to Tem, he continued: ‘Go back to the dorm. Find Mum, Ruben and Susa and stay together, out of sight if necessary.’ His voice dropped a notch. ‘Here, take this.’ He fumbled in his jacket pocket then took Tem’s hand and pressed a hard object into it.
‘What is it?’ Tem studied the metallic cruciform lump.
‘It’s the key for number 9 escape raft. If you see things getting out of control, use it.’
‘You mean, abandon ship?’ Tem said, not quite believing what he was hearing.
’I mean exactly that. Now remember, your first priority is Mum and the other children. If they’re in danger, don’t wait for me. Get them to safety first. Do you understand?’
Tem said nothing, confused by the enormity of what his father was asking him to do.
‘Do you understand? Tem!’
‘Piar! They’ve got the advantage!’
Tem felt the briefest of embraces. His father rejoined the war council hunched over the viewers relaying the action from the docking bays. Tem saw a close-up of a pirate in a dark jumpsuit and white visored helmet knock out someone who looked a lot like Reeve’s dad. There was an insignia of three connected triangles on the pirate’s chest, white on a bloody red background.
‘Go son, now! While there’s still time.’
Tem didn’t need to be told twice. He flew out of the bridge, leaping the stairs two at a time and sprinted down the walkways back to the core. An unnerving stillness hung over the thoroughfares that were normally full of bustling crew or roaming children. He stopped to listen to an unfamiliar noise, a faint and intermittent whining. Blaster fire. He must find the rest of his family. He pressed on.
The lifts to the dormitories weren’t working so Tem took the back stairs. The droning was getting louder and more frequent. He could hear the pounding of feet and occasional shouts. Emerging at the top level, he saw he was on the home straight. A final dash took him to the door of their family dorm. He flung it open, relieved to have made it.
‘Mum, MUM!’ he called. The cabin was empty. He checked the bunks and the wash room. Nothing. No clue in the living area as to where they were; papers, toys and clothes lay undisturbed. They might not even have been back. He put his hands on his head, thinking frantically. Where would they be? They had to be in the rec somewhere. He’d better find them.
He opened the door gingerly. There were voices in the corridor: the guttural bark of a language he did not understand and anxious questioning in one which he did. A baby started to wail. He drew his head in quickly as the footsteps approached, closing the door silently and opening its peephole. Seconds later the aperture filled with two silver-visored Gharst driving a neighbouring family in front of them, blasters prodded in the parents’ backs. A third pirate brought up the rear. He didn’t wear a helmet and his hair was so blond it seemed white. He was scanning the passageway from side to side and Tem froze as his eyes roved over the peephole. They were red like a glowing ember. Thankfully the pirate noticed nothing amiss and walked past.
Tem’s relief was short-lived. A dorm door slammed nearby, then another, followed by more shouting and female screaming. Tem guessed they were searching the dorms for families and taking them away. If he didn’t move fast, he would be next.
He felt the metallic bite of the escape raft key in his hand. They could use it if he could find his family. He zipped it into his pocket. How to get out of the dorm unseen? He stared at the fibre mesh that covered the envirocon vent. He remembered how difficult it was to remove when Ruben and he had hidden inside it to surprise Susa one day. It had been a tight fit two years ago but it might be his only option now.
The grille was stiff. Using all his weight, he pulled it open and wriggled inside. The tubing was a spiralling diaphragm covered with plastic sheeting. Tem started to crawl through it on all fours, bumping his head against the top of the duct. As the grille clanged shut over his feet, darkness closed in and he was alone in what felt like a body bag.
The only solution was to move forward. How long it took he could not tell. It might have been five minutes or half an hour. He had no idea what lay outside the tubing. He inched along, praying fervently that the material would not rupture and let him fall into the abyss of the ship’s outer regions. There were turnings to the left and the right but he ignored them. When he judged he might be nearing the ship’s centre, he held out for the next right-hand turn and followed it. After a while, the twilight at the end of the tunnel built into a brightness and he hoped he was approaching the large vents of the refectory. There were noises now, horrible noises from afar. Cries and shouting, a woman’s long keening scream and the undeniable squealing of blasters. Then silence.
He arrived at another grille. From behind the latticing, the immediate view was the underside of a table and its benches. It seemed safe to come out. He forced open the covering and squirmed through on to the refectory floor, glad to be free of the sausage skin. His nose twitched. Something was burning, a meaty smell like the oven had been left on in the kitchens. Perhaps there was a fire.
He rose warily, using the table as cover, forehead first, then eyes, then shoulders. Finally he was standing. Then he gasped. A heap of bodies was piled up in the middle of the room. Others were slumped over tables or propped at awkward angles against the far wall like sick puppets. None were moving. On the centre table were the remains of Susa’s chocolate cake.
At first Tem thought he was hallucinating. This was the place where they ate their meals every day. Images of laughing with his parents and throwing bread at Ruben flashed through his mind to be replaced with the awful reality of the flesh and bones that confronted him. He gagged.
Hand over mouth he crept around the table and drew closer to the bodies. They were all people that he knew, people he had travelled with, lived every day with, for the past five years. There was Miriam who he sat next to in Maths, the piercing blue eyes now glassy. Her mother, Aster, always so strict and uptight, was flopped over her daughter’s legs, her back flayed purple where the blasters had burnt through clothing and skin.
A hammering started on the main doors. Someone was trying to get in. He scanned around for somewhere to hide. There was nowhere, he’d have to play dead. Tem dropped to the floor, his face centimetres from the rigid legs of a body he recognised as the mother of Edel, the girl from the dorm next door. Stunned, he squeezed his eyes shut as the manual override opened the entrance.
‘Aaah,’ a woman cried and there was a crash as something or someone smashed into a table. Then: ‘Oh my gods! What have you done?’
The voice stabbed at his heart. It was his mother.
’Stand over there.’ A female voice gave the order in a thick, harsh accent. He heard Susa start to cry and the strange gulping noise Ruben made when he tried to hold back tears.
’Wait, wait!’ his mother pleaded. ‘Look, do what you like with me, but let them go free. Please, they’re just children. They can’t do you any harm. Please!’
’Morken stinken!’ was the response. ‘Say hello to goodbye.’
There was the click and lug of a weapon being readied. Tem felt the blood pounding in his temples. They were going to kill his mother, he had to stop them. His left hand went to the holster on his hip. The cap gun with six rounds, it would be a diversion. He leapt to his feet.
‘Run!” he screamed. “Get out of here!’ He took aim at the two helmeted figures by the doorway.
‘Tem!’ shrieked his mother, looking around wildly, Susa and Ruben clinging to her.
’The vents, the air vents. Behind me!’ he shouted, pulling the trigger. The first two bullets smacked into the chest pieces of the pirates, lodging in the body armour. Their weapons drooped as the pirates patted themselves, confused, until they realised Tem what was shooting at them. The one standing closest to him, the woman, laughed as another round bounced harmlessly off her torso, thin lips curling. Tem aimed for her mouth and hit target. Blood spurted as her jaw snapped shut. She dashed a hand across the injury then grabbed the nozzle of her blaster, barking something at the other pirate. They raised their guns together. Tem dived behind a table, hearing his sister cry out and Ruben shouting ‘No!’ before the blasters opened fire. He heard the thump of bodies falling to the ground even over the whining of the lasers.
Face down, Sevin heard an exchange in the foreign language, the woman berating her male companion. It was all he could do to stay still: fear shook his body. The conversation stopped, replaced by slow and heavy footsteps picking their way over the corpses towards him. He froze, hoping they’d think he was dead. The footsteps kept coming closer. Tem tried not to flinch when the body to his left knocked into him. The pirate must have kicked it to make sure the man was properly dead. Then, just above him, he heard the Gharst speak and he almost screamed as the pirate bent down and grabbed his shoulder. But the swish of autodoors opening and a warning shout made him loosen his hold.
The sound of yelling and running spilled through the entrance. A man yammered something incomprehensible and hurried away. The pirate above Tem stood up.
’Vas ischt?’ he asked. There was no reply. ’Adelvilde! Vas ischt?’
The female Gharst rattled off a brisk reply. Tem thought he heard a word like ‘IPP’ but otherwise the jagged phrases meant nothing. He kept his head to the ground as the male pirate retreated to the door. There was a hurried exchange then a volley of blaster fire broke out across the refectory. Eye-stinging black smoke began to drift upwards as the benches and tables smouldered. An agonising weal stripped across Tem’s right leg. Finally the shrilling faded away: the pirates were satisfied that nothing was alive. They marched smartly out of the hall and the doors purred shut behind them.
A few breathless minutes passed before Tem raised his head. The coast was clear. He sat up and pulled aside the tatters of his trouser leg. Most of the calf was raw and blistered, but the beam had not split through to the bone. That didn’t stop it hurting like hell.
His mother - Ruben and Susa! Maybe they were still alive. Latching on to a nearby bench, he hauled himself up on his good leg, clinging to the table for support. He scanned the hall of death, numbed now what he saw. Craning his neck, he identified the long, red hair of his mother flowing over the back of a female form. He had to get over there. The escape raft key was in his pocket, they could still make it. He shifted some weight to the wounded leg, too much and too quickly. It buckled underneath him as he fainted.
When he came to, it was dark. There were voices, speaking in Standard.
‘Will you look at this? Complete carnage. Women and children mostly, none armed,’ a man’s voice said.
‘Aye, it’s barbaric. Seems they’re getting more brutal as they get stronger,’ a woman replied.
‘This never happened before Unification.’
’We could play the tribes off against each other then. Now they’re allied, who knows what they’re capable of? It’ll be cities next.’
‘How long will we tolerate this?’ The man’s voice was angry. ‘The IPP can’t cope, Charis will have to create an interplanetary force to put them down.’
’They could, if they would stop bickering amongst themselves for long enough to do it!’
The man clicked his tongue. ‘This trade row between Thalia and Escovar. Just protectionism!’
Tem opened his eyes. From the shape of the ceiling tiles, he guessed he was in the refectory. He lifted his head from the floor and commanded the rest of his body to get up. The pain in his leg made him cry out and he fell back.
’I think this one’s alive.’ A man of about forty came into vision. He wore a light-blue jacket and a friendly expression. He knelt down beside Tem.
‘Where does it hurt?’ he asked.
Tem pointed at his leg.
The man looked at it. ‘Nasty. We can fix it up though. We’d better get you back to our ship. D’you think you can walk?’
Tem shook his head.
‘Fion, can you help?’
A slight, dark-haired woman approached, dressed in a similar jacket. The two adults lifted him up and, wrapping one of his arms around each of their shoulders, strung him between them. They carried him towards the refectory doors.
‘What’s your name, son?’ the man asked.
‘Tem, Tem Sevin. Who are you?’
‘Grigor. This is my colleague, Fion.’
‘We’re IPP. Inter-planetary police,’ explained Fion. ‘From the Charis system.’
‘Where Thalia is?’
‘That’s one of our planets, yes. Was that where you were going?’
’Yes. With my family.’ Tem’s head lolled, then he remembered the most recent events. ‘Wait – my Dad, my Mum, they’re back there. I’ve got to find them!’ He unhooked his arms from around the officers’ necks and tried to stand without support. He slid to the ground with a gasp.
’Hey, hey,’ said Grigor, bending down to him. ‘Tem, listen to me. You’ve got to come with us – right now. Life support is down and there’s not much air left. You can see there’s only the emergency lights on now. And the Gharst often booby-trap the ships they raid, they might have done it here. We’ve got to get going.’
’But my parents…My sister…’ He thought of his father. Don’t worry about me. Your first priority is Mum and the other children.
‘I’m sorry Tem,’ said Grigor. ‘But everyone else is dead.’
‘What? Are you sure?’
’Yes, we’ve done a thorough check. All the cargo Wayfarer was carrying is gone. They’ve taken everything, even the covers off the bunks.’
Tem searched the concerned face. The man was telling the truth.
‘I’m the only one left?’ he said in a small voice.
’You’re the only survivor,’ said Grigor. ‘Let’s make sure it stays that way, eh?’
‘Okay,’ he said, sagging against the older man as unconsciousness overwhelmed him.