“Carmen Shift, please move to the far end of the hallway.”
Carmen sat up and looked around, trying to identify the source of the voice. It was a woman’s voice, soft and lilting. Xorn’Tal and Vince were also making themselves comfortable at the door to the bridge, and neither looked like they were speaking. Carmen opened her mouth to speak.
“Don’t. They didn’t hear me.”
“Only you can hear me, Carmen Shift. Please move to the far end of the hallway. I must speak with you, and you would do well to not appear to be speaking to yourself.”
Carmen raised an eyebrow but stood. Xorn’Tal seemed to not care, and Vince merely nodded in recognition of the fact that she was moving. A lethargy had settled upon the racers after their failure to find a quick solution to the problem of the door. Carmen walked passed the window that revealed their proximity to Mandrake. She passed a maintenance hatch, a lavatory, and a supply closet before she neared the door to the kitchen.
“That’s far enough,” said the voice.
“Great,” said Carmen, quietly. “So, what’s your mondo mysterioso angle here?”
“Carmen,” said the voice, changing dramatically to a masculine, sonorous tenor. “It is I, the Soul Survivor!”
“Figures,” she said. “I don’t need this. Later.”
“Wait,” said the Soul Survivor. “Don’t leave. I’m going to release you?”
“Great,” said Carmen. “What’s the catch?”
“No catch, apart from my difficulty in locating a suitable drop point for you. The Dyson Empire’s forces have locked down most safe ports and entrances to the system, and I’d rather not take you so far away just to release you. There is a mostly unharassed fueling station at the far reaches of the system, though. I could fly out of my way and leave you there.”
“Seriously? Huh. That’s surprising. Well… thanks. I’ll tell the guys.”
“Do you believe that’s wise?”
“To tell ‘em we’ll be out of this tin can soon? Seems smart to me.”
“Ah. I… have communicated this poorly.”
“Miss Shift, I intend to release you. The other two will stay as my prisoners until I can finally contact someone within your racing federation to pay for them. I believe I may yet profit from this venture.”
“Hey now, you said now catches.”
“This isn’t a catch. You go free, no strings attached. Your friends, though… they must endure here.”
“You really can’t see why that’s a catch?”
“We are debating semantics.”
“No, I’m debating you. You think I’d just leave them?”
“Carmen, you okay?” called Vince from the opposite end of the hall.
“Tan: escaped?” called Xorn’Tal’s translator.
“Your voice carried farther than hoped,” said the Soul Survivor.
“Yeah, it does that when I’m mad,” she said. “No, I’m fine you two. Hey, listen-”
“Shut up,” said Carmen, walking back. “The Soul Survivor’s talking to me. Only I can hear it because of… I don’t know, something dumb.”
“I’m bouncing the sound waves so that they only grow audible in your immediate-”
“I said shut up. Basically, the brains of this operation wants to kick me off the ship at some fueling station while leaving you here until he gets his ransom payment.”
“Nice,” said Vince. “Lucky you.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not going unless we’re all going.”
“Really?” said Vince, rising to his feet. “Carmen, I think if we can get one of us off this ship, it’s a chance worth taking.”
“I think it’s stupid to split the group like that,” said Carmen. “Thanks for voting to get me out of here, but with all three of us we’ve got a better chance of taking advantage of any surprises the Soul Survivor throws our way.”
“Surprises: Unlikely,” said Xorn’Tal. “Alternative thought: point: valid.”
The Soul Survivor listened to their argument, seething but willing himself to remain logical. If Carmen Shift wouldn’t take his generous offer, then she could stay confined with the other racers despite what his fading sentimentality had to say about it. The past would remain in the past, and the future would involve a greater ransom because of it.