Loki shuddered as it docked against the abandoned transport ship. The comm in Tilly’s ear crackled to life and Deru’s voice filled the helmet of her vac armor.
‘We’re docked, you’re good to go.’
Tilly squinted at the blue glow from her rifle’s display as she checked it one last time. A metallic thud echoed off the walls and the hiss of hydraulics filled the room as Tilly slammed her hand against the airlock’s control panel. The door in front of them slid open, revealing the depths of the space ship beyond. Tilly blinked as the tinting on her helmet lightened, adjusting to the dim light in the corridor beyond. She thumbed the mic on her helmet.
‘You know the drill, boys, split up and grab whatever looks like it might be handy. If we don’t find something good, Loki won’t be flying for much longer.’
A chorus of ‘Yes, Ma’am’ crackled back through the speaker. Tilly raised her rifle and stepped through the doorway onto the abandoned ship, the metallic clang of her footfalls ringing out through the empty hallway. Tilly squinted her eyes, peering into the gloom, trying to see what lay in the darkness beyond. Bright white light filled Tilly’s vision. She threw her hand up in front of her face as her helmet adjusted to the sudden change. Tilly blinked, clearing the spots from her eyes.
‘Sorry, my bad. I found the light switch though.’
Tilly whirled around and glared at the hulking shape of her partner, Drake Coleman. Through his visor, she could see the look of feigned innocence written across his face. He drew his hand away from the control panel he had just been touching and shoved it behind his back. Next to him, the towering figure of Korl Den Rinata looked down at him, one eyebrow raised. Tilly rolled her eyes.
‘Korl, run an environment scan so we can see if we can get these damn helmets off.’
The big Iram grunted and nodded his leathery head. Korl pulled a small black tablet from his belt and held it out in front of him. The display lit up with a soft blue glow and let out a series of beeps.
Korl’s voice rumbled through her helmet. ‘The environment is safe, Captain. We may remove our helmets.’
Tilly nodded as she reached up and pressed a small button at the base of the helmet. With a soft click, her helmet folded back into her armor, her purple hair spilling down to her shoulder as it did. She rubbed her hand along the shaved side of her head as she breathed deeply.
‘Much better.’ She said. ‘Right, let’s move. There has to be something good on this damn ship.’
She touched her finger to the comm in her ear as she moved down the hallway.
‘Deru, see if you can get into the ship’s computer from there on Loki, I want to know why there are no life signs on this ship.’
‘Will do, Ma’am.’
‘Good. Drake, head for the galley, see what food stores you can find on board and grab whatever you can. Korl, you head for the cargo bay, let me know if there is anything good down there. I’ll head for the med bay. Radio if you get into trouble.’ She stopped and turned to face them both once more. ‘Got it?’
Both Drake and Korl grunted in agreement. After serving with her for five years, they both knew better than to argue with her.
‘Good, let’s go.’
Tilly listened as Drake and Korl headed for their assigned areas, their heavy falls echoing through the halls of the empty ship. She ran her gloved fingers along the metal wall next to her.
‘What happened to you?’ She breathed. ‘There should be almost a hundred people on board. Why did they leave?’
She reached down and pulled a data pad from her belt. She tapped a few buttons on it and a layout of the ship appeared on the screen with a flashing red dot marking where she now stood. Tilly followed the map as it guided her towards where the med bay should be, her rifle held out in front of her. The scans they had done when they first found the ship had shown no life signs aboard, but it paid to be cautious.
Tilly turned a corner and came to what looked to be the ship’s sleeping quarters. She stuck her head into the first room and looked around, blinking in surprise. It didn’t seem like anyone had left the ship in a hurry. The beds had been neatly made and there were no belongings left in the room. She moved down the hallway to the next room, it looked the same.
‘Hey Deru, how’re you going with that info?’
‘Almost there, Captain.’
‘Good, let me know as soon as you get it. This ship doesn’t look like it had been abandoned in a hurry which means someone might come back for it. I’d rather not be here when they get back.’
Drake placed his rifle down on the table in the galley and stared around the room with wide eyes. He drew in a deep breath, inhaling the delicious smells that surrounded him. He hadn’t seen food this good in a long time. He licked his lips in anticipation as he grabbed an empty storage crate from beneath the counter.
He hurriedly packed food into the crate, grabbing everything in sight. He grabbed a bowl of shiny, red apples and paused. It had been a long, long time since he had had an apple. Whoever had been on this ship must have been filthy rich. Drake grabbed one of the apples and sank his teeth into it. Juice dribbled down his beard as the fruit crunched in his mouth. A slight moan of joy escaped his lips as he swallowed the delicious fruit. He leaned against the counter as he finished the fruit and then threw the core onto the deck.
He finished filling the first crate with the food that had been out on the counters. Mainly fruits and vegetables, hopefully, he’d be able to find meat in the ice lockers though. His mouth watered again at the thought of a nice juicy Baltra steak. He bent down to grab another crate from beneath the counter. His ears pricked up as they caught a faint sound, like a metallic tapping.
Drake shot upright. His hand darting for the blaster strapped to his leg. His eyes scanned the room. Nothing. He stood still, listening. There was nothing. He quietly moved towards the door to the galley and peered out into the hall beyond. It was empty. Drake let out a sigh of relief and relaxed. He headed back into the galley and swung open the door to the storage lockers. As his eyes fell on its contents, he almost collapsed with joy.
‘Captain, I’m into the ship’s logs. It looks like the ship was a civilian transport on its way from Feynus to Aitera.’
‘Okay. What happened to it?’
‘It looks like the engines stopped working. The engineers couldn’t work out why, so the transport company had another ship pick up the passengers. A mechanical crew is due to arrive tomorrow to get the ship up and running again.’
Tilly stopped walking, a frown creasing her face. ‘Wait. You said they sent another ship to pick up the passengers.’
‘What the hell happened to the crew then?’
The comm line was silent for a moment.
‘Oh fuck.’ Deru whispered.
Tilly’s gun snapped up, ready to fire at a moments notice. Tilly touched the comm in her ear, changing it to broadcast to Drake and Korl.
‘Drake, Korl. Are you both okay?’
‘I am.’ Came Korl’s heavy voice.
For a moment there was silence again.
‘Drake?’ Tilly said.
‘Yep, I’m -slurp– fine. What’s up?’ Came Drakes muffled reply.
‘What’s wrong with your voice?’
There was a loud gulping sound. ‘Err, nothing. Must just be the line.’
Tilly frowned again. ‘We need to get out of here now. According to the log, the crew should still be on board.’
‘But Deru said there were no life signs?’ Drake questioned.
‘Yep.’ Tilly replied.
Korl just grunted.
‘Grab whatever you can and let’s get out of here.’
‘Yes, Ma’am.’ Came the replies.
Tilly closed the channel to Drake and Korl.
‘Deru, fire up the engines. And have Talan and Keila grab the biggest guns they can carry and wait near the airlock. I don’t want whatever killed this crew getting on to Loki.’
Tilly looked at her data pad, checking for the quickest way back to Loki. She stopped as her ears, caught something. It sounded like a faint metallic tapping. She looked up, scanning the hallway in front of her. She turned slowly in a circle, her finger hovering on the trigger of her rifle. She couldn’t tell where the sound was coming from, its echo was bouncing off the metal walls. She couldn’t see anything. She strained, listening for the sound, trying to work out where it was coming from. Above.
Tilly looked up, swinging the barrel of her rifle towards the roof. As her eyes moved upwards, she saw a large gray object swinging towards her. That was all her brain had time to register before it collided with the side of her head. Tilly flew backward through the air. Her rifle fell from her grasp as she did so. She slammed into the wall with a loud crash.
Tilly’s eyes snapped open. Her vision swam, a mix of blurry colors and shapes. A large gray blob appeared in the middle of her vision. It grew larger. Tilly’s hand scrabbled for the blaster strapped to her leg. The shape moved closer. She blinked and her vision cleared a little but she could still only see shapes and color. Her fingers scrabbled at the butt of her pistol. The shape was almost upon her now. Her hand closed around the blaster. She ripped it from the holster and raised it towards the gray blur. She pulled the trigger. Her hands shook as she pulled again. A screeching roar filled the air. Tilly squeezed her eyes shut and continued to fire. The roar faded and Tilly stopped firing. She opened her eyes and blinked a few times. Whatever it was, had gone.
Tilly breathed a sigh of relief and laid back against the wall. She breathed heavily for a few moments as she tried to slow her heart rate. She touched the comm in her ear.
‘Drake, Korl. You there?’ There was a slight crackling noise, but no reply came.
She tried again. ‘Deru, you there?’
‘Shit,’ she breathed.
She sat for a few moments longer, her head pounding. Her comm crackled.
‘…aptain. Can you hear me?’
‘Deru? Thank god.’
‘Are you ok, Tilly?’
‘A bit sore, but I’ll live. I think I found whatever killed the crew though.’
‘Whatever it is, it’s still not showing up on a life sign scan.’ Deru said.
Tilly paused. ‘What the fuck is it and what’s it doing on a transport ship?’
‘That I don’t know. Korl found a cage though, it looks like it was being held in there. He also found the bodies of the crew, it dragged them to its nest.’
‘You need to hurry and get out of there before it comes back. You can’t take it on alone, especially if you are injured.’
Tilly dragged herself to her feet. Her vision had cleared now. She looked down at herself. She felt something tickle the side of her face. Tilly wiped at it with her glove. She glanced down at the glove as she pulled it away from her face. Red blood smeared her fingers.
‘Fuck, I’m bleeding. I must’ve split my head when it hit me.’
‘Can you make it back to Loki?’ His voice sounded worried.
‘I don’t know. I’m near the med bay though, I’ll head there and patch myself up.’
‘Tilly, you need to come back to the ship.’
‘I’ll be fine. I’ve been in worse situations before. Now I know it’s here, the bastard won’t sneak up on me again.’
‘Tell Drake and Korl to hurry and get back to Loki. I’ll be there as soon as I can. That’s an order.’
‘Yes, Ma’am.’ Deru growled.
Tilly looked around for the rifle she had dropped. Small drops of dark liquid splattered the ground in front of her, she must have at least wounded the creature. She scanned the ground looking for the gun. Her eyes fell on a twisted piece of black metal, over by the far wall.
‘Son of a bitch.’ She let out a deep sigh and headed for the med bay.
The airlock in front of Drake slid open with a hiss. Drake stopped mid-step as he found himself face to face with the barrel of a Gauss Cannon. He raised a hand and delicately pushed the barrel away from his face. He peered at the small Orass medic on the other end of the gun.
‘Oh hi, Drake.’ Keila beamed.
‘Could you have grabbed a bigger gun? It’s the same size as you.’
Keila’s white facial tattoos rippled as she giggled. ‘Sorry, Deru said Tilly wanted us to protect Loki from the monster.’
‘Well, that ought to do it.’ Drake said with an amused grin. ‘Is Tilly back yet?’
‘No, not yet.’ Keila let out a sigh. ‘Something attacked her and her head’s bleeding. Deru said she was heading for the med bay on the other ship.’
‘What?’ Drake spluttered. ‘Gimme that.’
Keila’s feet lifted off the ground as Drake ripped the Gauss Cannon from her grasp.
‘Er..but..Tilly said for you and Korl to come back here.’
She took a step back as Drake turned his gaze on her, cold fury filling his eyes.
‘I don’t care.’ He growled.
The echo of footsteps filled the hall behind him. Drake turned to see Korl coming toward him. Korl raised an eyebrow at the gun in Drake’s hands.
‘Come on, we’re going to get Tilly.’
Korl’s other eyebrow raised, it was an odd expression on the fearsome Iram face.
Drake pointed to the grav sled he had been pulling behind him.
‘Keila, take that back on board Loki. There’s food in there.’
With that, he stormed off down the hall. Korl exchanged a brief look with Keila as he turned on his pulse rifle. She shrugged at him and grabbed the grav sled and headed back aboard Loki.
Tilly’s vision swam as she stumbled and fell against the wall. She rested her head on her arm and closed her eyes. She could feel the blood streaming down her face from the split on her forehead. She glanced at the data pad again. Almost there.
She pushed herself away from the wall and straightened. She could do this. She had to. Her crew needed her. She took a deep breath and started down the hallway again. She managed to reach the next corner before she stumbled and fell again. This time she hit the ground. She lay there for a minute, breathing hard, her head spinning.
‘How you doing, captain?’ Deru’s voice cut through the fog.
She gritted her teeth and looked up. In front of her, not a hundred meters away, was the med bay. With a great deal of effort, she pushed herself up and got to her feet.
‘I’m fine Deru,’ she said through gritted teeth.
‘Good. Hold on, Drake and Korl are on their way.’
‘I told them to go back to the ship.’ Anger filled her voice and drove her forward. She managed to stumble the last few steps into the med bay.
‘Yeah, but you know they were never going to listen to that.’
Tilly growled as she pulled things from cupboards. Her vision blurred again and her head spun. She collapsed to the floor again. She dragged herself to the next cupboard, faintly aware of Deru’s voice in her ear still. Where was it? There had to be some here. She would not die, not yet. Desperate, she flung things from the cupboard, searching for the only thing that could save her now. Then she saw it, the small metal tube she had been searching for. Just out of reach.
With one last surge of strength, she hauled herself up, reaching for the tube. Her fingers clasped around the cool metal and she fell back to the floor, breathing hard. Her vision darkened at the edges. Her muscles screamed in protest as she tried to raise the device to her neck. She felt a small pinch as the needle pierced her skin. Everything went black.
‘Tilly, come in….Tilly, can you hear me?’
Tilly’s eyes snapped open and light flooded in. She flung up her hands, to shield her eyes.
‘Tilly, can you hear me?’ Deru’s urgent cry made her head feel like it was splitting.
‘Don’t get your tail in a knot. I’m here,’ she groaned. ‘Keep it down though.’
‘You’re an idiot.’
‘I’ll pretend you didn’t just say that to your captain.’
Tilly hauled herself to her feet as the Adrenol coursed through her body.
‘Man I love this stuff, it reminds me of my days at the academy.’
Deru sighed. ‘Hurry and patch your head up before you pass out again.’
Tilly grunted and touched her comm to change back to the open channel with Drake and Korl.
‘Where are you two?’ she demanded as she looked through the cupboards once more. She pulled a plastex pack out and tore open the packaging. She laid it over the cut on her forehead and groaned as it sealed the wound.
‘We’re about halfway to you.’ Drake replied.
‘Good, head back to the ship. I’m ok now, I’ll be there in a minute.’
‘Ok, see you soon.’
Tilly’s head snapped up as her ears picked up another sound. The sound of faint metallic tapping.
‘Fuck, it’s found me again. It must have smelled my blood.’
Drake let loose a string of profanity. ‘We’ll be there as soon as we can. Run.’
Tilly dashed out into the corridor, looking both ways. The sound was coming from the left. She took off in the opposite direction.
‘Deru, you there?’
‘Is there an armory on board this ship or a security station?’
‘Ah give me a minute.’
‘I don’t think I have a minute. This thing is right behind me and I must have dropped my blaster when I was trying to find the med bay.’
‘Ok, take the next right.’
Tilly bolted down the hall and turned right down the next corridor.
‘It should be just ahead, on your left.’
Tilly skidded to a halt and slammed her hand against the control panel to open the door. Nothing happened.
‘Shit, shit, shit. Deru, do something.’
The tapping was getting closer.
Tilly saw movement at the end of the hall. A large gray, shape came barreling around the corner. Tilly’s eyes widened in horror as she caught sight of the beast. It’s four long, spindly legs supported a spiny torso, tapping furiously on the metal deck as it ran. The creatures gray, spiky head split, revealing rows of razor sharp teeth as it let out a terrifying roar. Its orange eyes glowed as they locked onto her.
‘FUCK! It’s a corlag.’
The door in front of her hissed open and Tilly dove through.
‘Got it.’ Deru breathed.
Tilly slammed the control panel on the other side and the door slid shut. As it did, there was a loud bang as the creature hit the side. Tilly leaned against the wall, breathing hard. She looked around the room she was in and her eyes widened in amazement. She could hear the corlag still scratching at the outside of the door, its roar still audible even through the thick metal.
‘Are you well, captain?’ Korl’s voice boomed.
‘I’m ok,’ she said. ‘But somehow I think this ship was more than a civilian transport.’
‘What do you mean?’ Drake replied.
Tilly stared around her in wonder at the array of weapons that filled the walls of the room.
‘There is some serious firepower in here. Plus, how the hell did a corlag get on a civilian ship? Korl, did you find anything good in the cargo bay?’
‘I did not have much time to search it before you instructed us to return, however, there were several crates that looked most promising.’
Tilly reached up and grabbed a gun from the wall. A Titus AR-430, one of the best assault rifles in the market.
‘Good. Head back down to the cargo bay and load up whatever you can. With the gear in here, I can get rid of the corlag in no time.’
Tilly raised the gun and pointed it towards the door. She was armed to the teeth. She had grabbed the best rifle she could find as well as twin pistols and a few plasma grenades.
‘Deru, when I say, open the door.’
‘You must have hit your head harder than I thought.’ Deru replied.
‘Just do it,’ she growled.
‘Fine.’ He sighed.
The door slid open, and the corlag barreled through. Tilly fired two shots into its chest and dove to the side. The beast roared in pain and swung its massive claws. They smashed into the wall and the shriek of twisting metal filled the air. Tilly rolled behind the corlag and through the doorway. She crouched and let off another burst of bullets. The beast spun toward her as she rose to her feet and she took off down the hallway. The furious tapping of the monster’s legs followed her, its shrieks tearing through the air. Tilly glanced back as she ran and let off another round of bullets.
She slid around the corner and threw a grenade over her shoulder. She ran as fast as she could. The explosion tore through the air. Tilly was well out of the blast radius but she still felt the searing heat on the back of her head. The lights went out, replaced by a flashing red light and a wailing claxon. The beast roared. How the fuck was the damn thing still alive?
She dashed around another corner. She dropped to one knee and whirled to face the direction she had just come from, gun raised. The beast came around the corner, letting loose another roar as it did so. Tilly squeezed the trigger. The rifle roared to life, a hail of lead lanced towards the corlag. The monster let out one last screech and then fell to the ground as the bullets tore its head and torso apart.
Tilly breathed a sigh of relief and lowered the gun. The claxon blared. Tilly stared at the carnage around her as the red light strobed, casting her surroundings into darkness and then bathing them in red once more. She rose to her feet.
‘Deru, can you turn the alarm off?’ she yelled into the comm.
‘What? I can’t hear you over the alarm.’
Something hit her, the air exploding from her lungs. She flew forwards and slammed into the ground. She rolled onto her back and raise the rifle. She pulled the trigger, firing blindly. Another roar rent the air. Tilly scrambled back towards the wall and got to her feet. She panted, trying to regain her breath. In the strobing light, she caught glimpses of another corlag as it rushed towards her. She dove to her left and rolled back to her feet. She fired at the beast. A hideous screech cut through the blaring of the claxon as one of her shots struck home.
Tilly took the opportunity and ran. She sprinted down the hallway, firing behind her as she ran. She struggled to breathe, her chest heaving. She stumbled and fell. The rifle clattered from her grasp. She lay there, gasping for breath.
‘TILLY!’ the sound of her name cut through the fog of pain.
The claxon had stopped. Tilly rolled onto her back.
‘TILLY! HOLD ON!’
Tilly looked up as the world was bathed in red light once more. The corlag was almost on her. The world plunged into darkness again. The furious metallic tapping filled the air as it ran toward her. She reached for the twin pistols on her belt. She would only get one shot at this. The world was illuminated in red once more. The beast was only inches from her. Tilly raised the pistols, aiming just in front of the creatures hideous head. Darkness fell again. Tilly fired. The monsters shriek filled the air. Suddenly everything was silent. The world was bathed in red once more as the corlag’s body fell to the ground with a crash. Tilly lay back in relief.
‘TILLY?’ Drake yelled through the comm.
‘Please tell me that’s all of them?’ she panted
‘Oh thank fuck.’ Drake breathed. ‘Yeah, I think that’s it. We found a nest with eggs in it. We tried to warn you that there might be another, but the grenade set off the alarms.’
‘Who the hell lets off a grenade on a spaceship?’ Deru cut in.
Tilly fell into a coughing fit as she tried to laugh. ‘We’re all still alive aren’t we?’
Tilly limped back through the airlock to Loki, her arm slung over Drake’s shoulder. He guided her through the cargo bay of their small ship and up to the bridge. Deru looked up as they entered, his furry orange face creasing into a disapproving frown as he saw her. Tilly rolled her eyes.
‘Where the hell is Keila?’
‘She’s coming up now. She should be here in a minute.’
Tilly rolled her eyes at his disapproving sniff.
‘Did we get a good haul at least?’
She let out a laugh as Drake’s eyes lit up and his beard quivered with excitement.
‘Hell yeah, we did. I scored a heap of awesome food from the galley. We have actual meat!’
A groan of pleasure escaped Tilly’s lips at the thought of being able to eat actual meat.
‘Anything we can sell?’
‘Whatever the hell that ship is, you were right, it wasn’t civilian. With the money we make off this stuff, we’ll be able to fix up Loki and buy a heap of sweet new gear.’
‘Good.’ Tilly sighed as she closed her eyes. ‘Then blow up the ship and let’s get the hell out of here. I don’t want any sign left we were ever here.’
‘Aye Aye, Captain.’