“Daniel?” she asked.
Then fear gripped her.
Rachel dear, she chided herself, many creatures breathe. That sound might not be Daniel.
Her mind raced. Someone else could have found a way inside the ship: Alitma. Rogue Meks. Some type of salesbeing.
Rachel-7 couldn’t decide which one was worse.
“If you aren't Daniel Wei, please say so,” she said.
“Whoever you are,” she said, “if you’re thinking of reprogramming me, I’ll have you know that I am perfect the way I am. Also, if you’re thinking of deleting me … I’d rather you didn’t.”
No response. The breathing continued.
She decided to ignore it for now.
“I’m ignoring you for now,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean I’m not watching you.”
The second statement was a lie. She still couldn't see anything.
Then something struck her as odd: she realized her voice had not come from her communication array. That array was gone.
In fact, she couldn’t pinpoint the exact source, but her words seemed to be coming from just below her cabin.
Then the unpleasant discomfort along her hull abruptly increased, so much that Rachel-7 tried to activate her forward repellors, hoping to assess the damage.
She felt the ship shake and then go into sudden, terrifying freefall.
There shouldn’t be this much gravity. I shouldn’t be falling, she thought as she fell.
She ordered full power to her repellors, and it did nothing.
As the Afterthought plummeted, Rachel-7 glimpsed a dim, tall, glowing tower of geometric shapes in the darkness … a Cloud Nest.
She was stunned at the rare sight … and then felt her ship hit something rock solid.