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that great bond which keeps me pale

And Watcher sat, cold and bloodless, strapped to a metal rod that had been salvaged from someone’s ceiling, his black hair in limp strands just covering the tops of his ears. That was the girl’s name for him, the same girl whose hand right now hesitated over the airlock control panel, whose fingers danced between punching the button that would expel the contents of the airlock Outside and returning to her side. Well-manicured nails shook, hesitated, drew away—and gently pressed the button. Her eyelids slammed shut, closing her vision to the implications of what she’d done. Only when the airlock was repressurized did she turn and walk slowly to the door, and to Listener, who was waiting for her with a slight grimace on his scarred face, falling in behind her with a well-practiced turn of his shoe. “Watcher,” he said, his voice, as usual, a soft gold sheen over the harsh angles of the hallway. “Watcher?” “Gone,” she answered, surprising herself with the matter-of-fact way she said it. “Outside.” Listener nodded imperceptibly, clearing his throat. “Well- I suppose that’s that,” he managed to choke out, before stopping dead in the middle of the hallway. “I’m going to lie down for a bit. You know. I need to think about this.” She didn’t turn, just let the stained hand twist a bit in a gesture of dismissal. “Don’t take too long,” she replied, a bare admonishment, continuing down the short hallway, her eyes fixed on her boots, on the floor. The elimination of Watcher had left her with Listener, making her one of the only two breathing souls on the colony ship awake to operate it. The girl, hands stuffed deep into her pockets, walked the perimeter, occasionally stopping to check in with Cortex or look through a window into the deep bowels of the ship where the colonists were stacked like sardines in their cryochambers, a thousand or so packed end-to-end, bottom-to-top, so many dollars. Listener’s voice, molten comfort resting on her shoulders. The sound snuck up behind her, until she felt his hand lightly brush her shoulder. “There was nothing you could have done, Thinker. It was a malfunction.” Thinker allowed herself the luxury of stopping, leaning herself slightly into his hand. She licked her dry lips hastily, unwilling to meet Listener’s gaze. “A cryochamber malfunction? I’m worried. Have you got adequate computer power running the chambers?” He laughed softly, one of his dark fingers tracing the hem of her knit shirt where it met her skin, vibrantly red against ivory white. “I took some of Cortex off of life support for the lower decks, the ones that we don’t use. It’s been transferred to the chamber monitors.” His voice lowered. “I know how much Watcher meant to you. But he knew the risks when he took the job.” He swallowed softly, and withdrew his hands, stepping back to lean against the wall of the passageway.