At about 1 AM Claire and her cleaning crew were leaving by the front door of her restaurant because the area around the back door, frankly, looked unsafe to her. Too many places to hide in the dark around that door, she thought as she locked the storefront behind her.
“See you tomorrow!” Claire waved as all three of them piled into the autotaxi they’d called. Her auto-t was just pulling up.
The car’s mechanical voice asked, “Fitzgerald?”
“That’s me…I mean, yes.”
“I am carrying another fare,” the car informed her. “Is that acceptable?”
Claire hesitated. She had not been able to see that through the silvered windows. “I guess so. I mean, yes.” You had to be so careful to be specific with the damned AIs.
The back door on her side opened. There was a largish red-haired man in neat business attire seated on the other side of the back seat, doing something with his link, oblivious to her. She shrugged, and got in.
The auto-t accelerated smoothly, almost as smoothly as the other passenger used what had looked like a link to spray something cool on her face.
Claire lost consciousness almost immediately. Her last, waning thought was that maybe the back door alley would have been safer.
Claire awakened very slowly from being drugged. Air puffed on her face from a grille in the wall. She was lying on some sort of bunk in a very small metal room. She tried to get up. She could sit but not stand yet. Still woozy. Queasy.
Perhaps the room was monitored, because a few minute after she woke, the door opened. An armed guard came in. He didn’t look military to Claire, but he did look like he and his huge gun meant business.
“Where am I?” She asked him.
No answer. Stony silence.
Another rabbit of a man entered the small room, taking up most of the rest of the space. This turned out to be a medical person who checked her over perfunctorily, ignored her questions, and left. He seemed afraid.
The silent guard stayed; the door remained open with tantalizing views of a slightly-curved corridor. Where was she? There was a faint hum of some sort of mechanism in the background. The air smelled a bit stale, and of machinery and…paint? And humanity.
Rapid footsteps approached. A very plain older woman in a tattered black jumpsuit glanced at the guard and passed him. She seemed afraid, too. She had a similar jumpsuit over her arm, and a tray of very plain food in her hands.
“Where am I? Who are you people?”
The guard gestured with is gun, and the woman all but dropped the clothes at Claire’s feet and spun—never taking her eyes of the guard—to place the food tray on the bunk, the one flat surface in the room. She choked back a sob, and backed out of the room. Claire could hear her running down the corridor.
Not good. This was not good.
Claire looked around, really looked around for the first time. Her link and her bag were nowhere to be seen. Her shoes were missing.
The guard stepped just outside into the corridor, still visible and watching her, but doing something with his link. Behind where he’d stood in the room, Claire’s eyes focused on a glass covered cabinet, marked “Emergency Oxygen.” She put the clues together: curved corridor, mechanical hum, stale air, emergency oxygen, metal room.
She was in a spaceship. She was in space.
The guard finally spoke. He pointed at the clothes heaped on the floor with the tip of his gun as he said, “Put those on.” His voice was guttural, accented. He indicated the tray of food in the same menacing way. “Eat that.” As an afterthought, he added, “It helps nausea from the drug.”
He closed the door.
Claire got up and walked shakily to the door, leaning against the walls as she went. It was locked. There were scratches in the metal near the latch, as if someone had been trying—and failed—to get out.
She couldn’t handle the food yet, but she didn’t want to tangle with that guard. She supposed she’d better put on the black jumpsuit. It wasn’t prison orange, at least.
On the other hand, maybe it was worse.