Ned clenched his armrests. The solarshuttle rattled with the sounds of loose bolts as the ship's pressureplates compressed under the star's pressure. Babies cried, unable to equalize the pressure in their ears. He was too old to travel, his bones ached, a pain that wasn't just physical, but mental as well.
The holodisplays tracked the final images of Ceres II, sagging coastlines on intricately laid continents, visible from their near star orbit. His wife had left him for one of her young playthings, and Ceres II was too small for him to avoid her. When the robots had arrived, eliminating Ceres II's need for their only maintenance man, Ned had decided he needed one last trip.
Solar flares burst from the surface of the star. The ship exuded the mixture of lithium and helium gases that the starworms fed upon. A boy squealed, climbing onto his seat to point as the holodisplays focused on the star where a worm rose from the star's surface, the mouth unhinging in layers of energy. The image expanded to fill the ceiling as the worm swallowed the solarshuttle.
The holodisplay dimmed to show a movie and Ned rummaged through his pack to find a reader, swiping through schematics, tracing across the display where the stress points would lead to failures. Ned lost track of time. He'd had a knack for understanding the way things worked and fixing them.
"The shuttle is broken," said a young man, his cheeks tattooed with the mark of the wyrm. Ned tried to remember the man's name, but they grew so fast it was hard to keep them apart. Especially, those in the cult.
"The wyrm is not satisfied with our sacrifice. We will be imprisoned here until the beast receives what it wishes." The man stood in his seat where everyone on the shuttle could see him, his red hair brushing against the belly of the holodisplay.
"She is the traitor! She communes with the wyrm, forcing it to dream of the food it could consume inside this shuttle. The wyrm has not spewed us out on the other side of the wormhole because of her work."
Ned pressed through the narrow aisles between the seats. The other passengers stood, muttering under their breaths, listening to the man's madness. He tried to climb onto a seat, but his foot slipped on the edge and he fell, smashing his ankle.
"The wyrm needs a sacrifice to fuel its passage through the ether."
"No," shouted Ned, trying to be heard. "It doesn't work that way."
Men in the crowd hoisted the woman, her feet kicking, trying to break free of their grasp.
"Take him too! Only a traitor would argue against satisfying the Wyrm with a sacrifice."
"Yes, Salem." Responded the men surrounding the madman as they manhandled Ned through the airlocks.
The door shut, silence engulfing Ned. He wouldn't have much time. He looked at the woman, tears falling from her eyes. He roughly lifted her drop earring from her ear, bending the thin metal.
She slapped him. "You're no better than the others."
"No time. I can jury rig that panel with this hook." The panel was too far away. "But, I can't reach it."
She knelt on the floor and he stood on her back, his ankle hurting as he swiveled the metal into the lock. The panel fell loose and Ned climbed into the shaft, extending a hand to the woman. As he replaced the panel, the airlock hissed with the pumps beginning the evacuation of the air. He tightened the panel, thankful it had taken them awhile to operate the airlock.
"I wish I'd known that before marrying him."