The passage was all afloat with the debris of feral rab life. "What are they finding to eat?" asked Carlotta.

"All the debris is rab body parts," said Ender. "They eat each other."

They were at a level now that Carlotta's map said should be just aft of the intersection of rock and hull. "If there are viewports at all, they could begin at this level."

"Maximum shelter," said Sergeant. "Let's give this level a shot."

They fogged the corridor and began to make the circuit. There were doors but they all led inward, toward the hub.

"Maybe we were wrong and the control room is in the hub," said Carlotta.

"Might as well see," said Sergeant.

They took up their standard positions at the door and Carlotta opened it.

It felt as if all the rabs on the ship leapt at her. Carlotta was knocked into the opposite wall. Both Sergeant and Ender sprayed like crazy, but it took several seconds for the rabs to fall into a stupor, and in that time, two got claws up under Carlotta's visor. If they had understood human anatomy, they could have severed her carotid artery, but instead they went for the soft place under her jaw. The pain was exquisite.

Carlotta tried to crawl away, but something had hold of her leg and wouldn't let go.

Sergeant. It was Sergeant holding her. All the rabs that had poured out of the inner chamber were inert, floating and bouncing around with the force of their original launch. Ender was still spraying fog into the room. Nothing was coming out.

"Bloody mess," muttered Sergeant. "Who ever knew the girl had so much blood in her?"

Within a minute, he had a coagulant pad in place and anesthetic was doing its job.

"Can you still use your tongue?" asked Sergeant. "Talk?"

Carlotta made a try. The anesthetic was numbing her tongue a little, but she could move it. "Talk fine," she said.

Ender came back then. "How's she doing?"

"Just soft flesh damage under the jaw. Nothing to the throat, and the meds will have it all healed up in a couple of hours."

"Wish I knew how long the sedatives would hold," said Ender.

"What were you doing in there?" asked Sergeant.

That's when Carlotta realized Ender must have gone inside the chamber that the rabs had come out of.

"It's a breeding chamber. They were protecting their young."

"Any queens?" asked Sergeant.

"More like seals -- mothers and their pups gathered around them. Huge room. I think it's the control center," said Ender. "All the cabling is routed through there. Ductwork everywhere, ducts filled with cables and wires, lots of maintenance doors on everything."

"Let's go before they wake up," said Sergeant. "I think this might still be the level of the helm or helms. If all the controls are routed through the hub, they must be coming from somewhere and leading to somewhere. Might be on this level."

But it wasn't. It was on the next level aft, which they reached an hour later. They also learned that the recovery time from the sedative mix was longer than that hour, because no rabs woke up. For all they knew, the fog was lethal and they'd never wake up.

Carlotta knew the door of a helm room when she saw it. It lay in the floor beneath their feet, and it was exceptionally wide and high. There was also a window in the door, and there was light on the other side. Bright light. Sunlight. They were on the side of the ship facing the sun right now.

"This isn't it," she said. "There has to be a way to block the sunlight when it's shining in the ports, and it isn't being blocked. But it'll be a room like this, farther along."

It took a while to work their way around the ship. They fogged the corridors as they went, because there was debris -- but a lot less. And then Carlotta realized something and made them stop. "This sedative is going to work against the pilots, too -- they're bound to be biologically related to Formics, even if they aren't Formics themselves. We've got to wait for the fog to dissipate before we open a door."

"The ventilation system is slow," said Ender.

"Maybe we want them to get a little dose of the sedative," said Sergeant. "Not a full spray, but whatever seeps in from the corridor."


Tags: Orson Scott Card The Shadow Science Fiction
Source: www.StudyNovels.com