The corridor is unnaturally quiet as I head out of the cafeteria back towards the lab for my shift, still picking out the remnants of the, frankly disappointing, sandwich from between my teeth. I hear the clank and creak of the metal floor beneath my boots and I even notice the ever present hum of the craft’s engines and electricity. It’s always there but indiscernible at most times, the way you don’t hear your heartbeat or your breathing unless something changes.
I pause in the corridor, a creeping feeling crawling over me. There’s not a single person in this corridor, even though the lunch break has finished. Everyone should be heading back to work. At very least, the lab crew. I try to remember if I saw my teammates in the cafeteria. Wasn’t Hannah in line? And didn’t Matthew make a face at the soggy fries again? I can’t remember.
The lights had gone out briefly. Someone had let out a little scream, which was more startling than the actual power cut. I had thought that someone had accidentally hit a switch they weren’t supposed to or something. But what if it was a bigger problem? Space travel was always precarious.
There weren’t any alarms. No announcements over the loudspeakers. I flipped my wrist over to look at my band. No messages or alerts. I shook my head and started fast walking back to the lab. I needed to stop worrying. Now I was going to be back late from lunch.
The lab doors, thick white sheets of metal, were firmly shut, the jagged edges of them interlocked tightly. I sighed. My penalty for being late. I fished out my ID from my pocket and slid it through the scanner.
Beep. Flashed red. “Oh come on!” I muttered, swiping it through again. Beep. Red. Swiped again, faster this time. Beep. Red. Slower? No luck.
“This is ridiculous,” I said, sweating a bit. Beep. Red. “Really? Just read my stupid card!”
No luck. I groaned. I was going to have to message my boss and tell her I’d locked myself out. Rubbing a hand over my face, I typed a quick text on my wrist.
When I looked up, a security guard loomed next to me, dark and muscular. I jumped away in surprise, like a startled cat.
“Oh, sorry!” I said, “I can’t get it to open. Won’t read my card.” I motioned at the obviously shut doors.
“Astrid Walker? Wrist please.”
I held out my left wrist obediently for him to scan.
“Identity confirmed. Please face the wall and put your hands behind your back. Please do not resist arrest, as this will only make matters more difficult.”
“Arrest?” I spluttered. “What are you talking about? I just locked myself out…”
“I have backup,” the officer said, motioning behind him. Indeed he did. Two other men, grim-faced, pointed guns straight at my face.
I swallowed and faced the wall. The man shoved me straight into it, and I smacked my face against the metal siding.
“Ow!” I said. “What’s going on? This has to be some kind of mistake!”
The officer cuffed me roughly, the bands pinching my skin and ice cold around my wrists. He pulled me back, and I stumbled.
“Can someone explain what this is?” I said, and then shrunk away from another gun barrel leveled at my face. My vision narrowed to encompass just the gun. I knew what those did. Not simple guns. No, those weren’t allowed on this ship. Too much explosive material to be safe for a ship. No, this was pure energy that could slice you in half.
“Come with us,” the officer said, dragging me forward. I stumbled over my own feet. I wanted to ask more questions, but I could see the two officers in the corners of my peripheral vision. I didn’t want to make them mad.
They walked fast, so that I was almost jogging to keep up. They led me back down the hall, back to the cafeteria, where a large crowd had gathered. Everyone was silent, watching me be dragged in. What the heck?
A man, dressed in all white, was addressing the assembly in a loud voice.
“Justice will be done. We will not allow such a horrible crime to go unpunished. We will find the one responsible...Officers?”
“Astrid Walker. Under arrest for the murder of Matthew Braithwite.”
I physically felt all the blood drain away from my face. I couldn’t even speak. Matthew...was dead? Murdered?
They thought I had killed him?
“No…” I said. “No, no, no, no.”
The man in white grabbed me by the collar. I looked dully into his face, still muttering no. I didn’t recognize this guy. He must be director of some other department.
“You are the one responsible for this?” he spat in my face.
“No, this isn’t possible. I didn’t do anything. Matthew can’t be…” I swallowed back the word.
“Look at the horror you have caused.” The man grabbed my face with his sweaty hand and forced me to look to the right.
A body, covered in blood, sprawled across the floor. Bile rose up in my throat, and tears squeezed out of my eyes, even as the man gripped my face so tightly it was like a vise. I closed my eyes.
“Look, you scum.”
“I...I...didn’t do it.”
“You work with him!” someone from the crowd shouted. “You were sitting right there at that table where he was when he was last alive.”
The sourness in my stomach turned to rage. I jerked my face out of the man’s grasp. “I would never hurt Matthew. Yes, I did work with him! And he was my friend!” I shouted at them.
“You were in the cafeteria when the lights when out. You were sitting right there when he was murdered.”
Oh stars. The scream? Had that been Matthew? We had always teased him for screaming like a girl.
“I didn’t do it! I swear!”
“I saw it myself,” a man, dressed in a blue jumpsuit said. “On the security cameras. It was her. I would never forget that face, twisted in such hatred.”
I gaped at him. This wasn’t real. This was a nightmare.
“Avenge Matthew,” someone began to chant in the crowd. “Throw her out.”
The people began to follow the chant, “Avenge Matthew! Throw her out!”
“This is right!” I shouted, “This isn’t fair. I’m not guilty! I...didn’t...do...anything. Matthew!”
My voice was drowned out by the mob. Arms grabbed me from behind and then like a storm bursting, the crowd swarmed toward me. I screamed as strange hands grabbed me, nails biting into my skin. They shoved me down the corridors, to the room where we prepared to take spacewalks. Someone punched in a code and opened one of the sealed chambers.
They shoved me inside. I went flying, skidding across the floor. Alarms blared and the door slammed down, shutting me inside. I hurled myself at it, trying to get back inside. At my back, all that kept me from the airless void of space was another metal door. If they opened that, I would get sucked straight out into the black. I beat against the door with my fists, sobbing and furious.
“Let me out! You are the murderers! I would never kill Matthew. I wouldn’t even hurt him!”
Faces leered at me through the window. Faces of anger, faces of grief. Twisted in ways human faces aren’t supposed to.
I caught sight of the man in the blue jumpsuit. He smiled at me, but his eyes were flat.
“You!” I gasped, pointing at him.
And then an alarm screeched in my ears.
“No!” I screamed, trying to grasp onto the door and pry it open with my bare hands. The door opened up behind me, metal scraping against metal.
It was the opposite of wind. No great force, no great explosion. Suddenly it was just dark as tar. And silent, like my ears were stuffed with cotton. And empty. The emptiness was hungry, crushing, tearing apart, imploding. The hollow consumed me. Ejected into space...