Dec. 24th, 2011

Lopez backpedaled away from the vault in horror; I followed suit.

"Up the tube," I suggested.

"Compartment's sealed off," Lopez said.

"We could pinch off the vent tube," I said.

"And let the Fatir gas loose in the compartment, in which case we'll die messily, and then we'll be vented to space anyway because it'll eat its way down through the hull." Lopez looked around. "Well, we have lots of blasters; we could shoot each other."

"We could set one of the blasters on overload and let it get sucked down the vent tube," I suggested. "Won't save us, but might take McMillan out too."

"That's a thought," said Lopez. It was getting difficult to hear. Lopez suddenly convulsed in a coughing spasm. When he came up, one of those weird tadpole parasites was glistening on the carpet. It opened a maw and uttered a piercing scream, almost too high pitched to be audible. I stepped on it.

Swami's voice sounded in my ear. "You have a problem," he said.

"You *are* a genius," I said gratefully.

"Who are you talking to?" Lopez asked irritably.

"I…." I reconsidered. McMillan might not be able to hear me, but perhaps he could still listen in on Lopez. "Nobody," I said.

"Here's a thought," said Swami. "The magnetic bottle in the vault is still working. As the Fatir gas gets drawn out, it'll draw the remaining oxygen on the floor behind it. There won't be a lot of vapor pressure, but…."

"C'mon, Lopez," I said, pulling my friend towards the vault. We peered past the vent tube, the breeze ruffling our hair. The mass of Fatir gas was a billowing cloud, held only a couple of feet off the vault's wall. A thin ribbon of purple spiraled into the vent tube, gyrating lazily in the air.

"Let's go," I said, pulling Lopez. I ducked under the vent tube and pressed my back flat against the vault wall. I started edging my way around the side.

"You're crazy," said Lopez.

"Crazy like a fox that enjoys aerobic respiration," I said. There was a rushing in my ears, but I knew it wasn't a real sound. I'd been decompressed enough times to know the noise your blood makes when there's no air.

I held out a hand. "Come and live," I said. "Or stay and die."

Lopez's whiskers twitched. "Shit," he said, and put his hand in mine.

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