Ten astronauts are woken from suspended animation to deal with a crisis on board their ship.
Selected from a crew of thousands, none of them knows any of the others: all they know is that one of their number is a murderer.
And until they work out who it is, none of them can go back to sleep.
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Even before the alarm began to sound, Blair knew in his gut that something was wrong. It was only when he pushed open the hatch of the suspension tank, and a few drops of thick cryonic fluid drifted out into the pitch-black hallway, that he realised what it was: there was no gravity. That was why his stomach churned. The world, the tiny pool of light spilling from his tank, seemed to swirl.
The computer gave no response.
‘Owen, turn on the lights.’
‘Owen…’ But there was something else now, beyond the cold tank and the dark hallway. Something that no crewman wanted to encounter anywhere, let alone ten trillion kilometres beyond Earth orbit.
It was the smell of burning plastic.
Blair hauled himself out of the tank and clawed for the rack of emergency supplies. Even the smallest fire could render the air unbreathable very quickly. Finally managing to find a torch, he tore it from its bracket and pumped the dynamo. A feeble light flickered into life.
Without gravity, every direction was downwards. Away from the wall of suspension tanks and handrails, the darkness of the hallway yawned like an endless chasm. Gradually the smell of scorched plastic grew stronger. The end of the passage loomed in the torchlight, and Blair pulled himself hand over hand towards the steel door of Computing Hub Five. He heaved it open, and the torch picked out a blizzard of extinguisher foam. Someone else was already here. Sweeping the torch across the room, he spotted a figure in the far corner, clutching an extinguisher, but the man hung motionless in the air. A ball of blood was forming on his back, held by surface tension to the axe planted between his ribs. A constellation of droplets spread throughout the room.
Blair fought back the urge to cry for help. This man was dead, and there was every chance that whoever had killed him was still nearby. The clumps of foam suspended in mid-air drifted slowly through the beam of the torch, casting shadows that slunk and flickered across the banks of equipment lining the room.
‘In the event of an emergency, the ship defrosts ten crew members.’
Blair wheeled round to see a black-haired man, and a small group behind him, clinging to the handrails at the doorway to the next cryonic bay.
‘With you and your friend over there,’ the man continued, gesturing to the corpse, ‘I make that eleven.’