The Euderus Set

A sci-fi/horror series by Kilmo.

Pt. 1

‘There’

The woman at Jury’s side had the long hair and black skin of one of the equator zones gene edited inhabitants. For a moment he can barely see her against the void pressing at the viewport. Then she moves and her shadow slides across the stars.

‘You see it?’ says Sofia. ‘We’ve arrived.’

The asteroid is one of the more solid examples of its type, more rock than ice. That doesn’t stop it glittering in what light makes it this far from the sun.

‘Object c.547/1,’ says Sofia, ‘look there’s the anomaly, and…’

Jury follows her finger, he can clearly see the pyramid: the squat edifice they’d come so far to find, but its what’s spreading from it that his lover means.

‘It’s like its part of a circuit,’ says Jury.

‘Yeah, but for what?’

Jury can see the ragged metal ends where the lines leading from the pyramid’s base have severed. The lump of space debris tumbling through its orbit must have been part of something larger once, a long shattered planet perhaps.

‘Get a landing party ready. We’re going to need to take a look.’

Below them the pyramid winks in the sun.

‘What do you think that is?’ says one of the crew as they bound across the asteroids frozen surface. They sound muffled and the comms net is full of the eerie whale song of interstellar space.

It’s not the first time Jury’s heard the question. He’s asked it a thousand times himself since they’d first seen the results.

‘Whatever it is we’re going to find out,’ says Jury.

More of the asteroid’s landscape is becoming visible now as it tumbles through the void and sunlight chases over the rock. Jury hears Sofia gasp.

‘Those didn’t show up on the preliminaries.’

The twin needles are nearly the same height as the pyramid, and Jury can see why they’ve stayed invisible so long. They’re so thin they look like knives and they’re facing with their edges to inhabited space. It’s only because the landing party’s gotten round the asteroid’s equator that they can see them.

‘What do you think they’re made of?’ breathes Sofia.

‘Something we haven’t seen before.’

They remind him of teeth thinks Jury as he runs a scan over the nearest and there are hieroglyphs cut into its surface that make his eyes ache just looking at them.

He’s still trying to decipher what they mean when the voice of one of the men standing nearer to them crackles across the net.

‘You need to look at this Jury.’

Jury’s eyes linger for a moment on the hieroglyph he’s been puzzling over. If he looks at it side on its something like a figure poised over a prostrate victim. They have their arms upraised and there’s something in their hands.

‘Coming.’

He mutters under his breath.

(to be continued)

Pt. 2

They were nearly at the pyramid when it happened. One of the crews feet connects with something Jury finds hard to make out in the weak light. It looks suspiciously like a skull, but there isn’t time to make the suits optics focus before it’s sailing through the void and slamming into the nearest needle. Even the smallest impact out here sends debris tumbling though space and for a minute he thinks that’s what’s going to happen despite it’s foundations as it starts to vibrate.

‘Get back here, do something like that again, and I’ll cut you loose myself,’ says Jury as he gives a yank on the tether attached to their waists.

But it’s not the landing party that’s really occupying his attention. He’d expected the needle to stop relatively quickly, but if anything its vibrating faster, and Jury’s ears are full of noise.

‘Anyone hear that?’

Its beginning to sound like words, and the chanting’s growing louder as if somewhere a bell’s been struck.

‘Impossible,’ say’s Sofia; and her voice rises over the whine coming over the comms link. ‘That thing was tiny.’

‘Look.’

It’s one of the other crew that’s spoken. Jury doesn’t know which. It doesn’t seem important with what’s opening in front of them.

At first the thing reminds him of an eye and its edges bleed lightning that crawls down the needles until it earths in rock. All the time that whining in his ears is getting worse.

‘The pyramid, it’s glowing.’

Sofia sounds more nervous than Jury has heard her in all the years they’ve been together. Humans have only colonized the edges of known space and the corps isn’t big. He and his wife had been amongst the first who’d signed up from the hive to defend its settlements. It hadn’t seemed necessary for the force to be bigger. There wasn’t much to worry about with the nearest habitable planet supposedly ten light years away or more.

‘Get back, and call the ship, all channels. We’re getting out of here.’

But Jury can barely hear the sound of his own voice in his head or out of it, and he doubts the others can either as the space trapped between the spikes finally splits and he’s looking at something that ripples like its made of oil.

‘Back, back now,’ says Jury.

‘What the hell is that?’ the crewman’s voice is cut off as a scream drowns out anything else. Jury’s already moving when the line floats past his eyes; something’s snapped it. He grabs Sofia; his legs pistoning through the void. Flashes from behind light his way and his feet move slow…too slow. Then Sofia jerks as though she’s trying to pull him to a stop and he turns to drag her with him, by force if necessary. That’s when he see’s what’s come through the gap, and what’s punctured a hole through her suit.

(to be continued)

Pt. 3

Jury watched Sofia’s mouth open and fluid spatter across her helmet as his fingers fumbled at the tether round his waist. Then he was launching himself through the void offering silent prayers to gods he didn’t believe in. If he mistimed the flight he’d likely end up in his own solitary orbit round the lump of rock, a tiny frozen moonlet destined to circulate through space forever. A figure cartwheeled by with their arms and legs outstretched. What was dragging itself through the gate was getting closer.

‘Hang on.’ Jury had his knife out; its edge gleaming in the starlight. ‘Can you hear me?’

He tapped the side of Sofia’s helmet, but if she did she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, answer. It wasn’t a good sign. He brought the knife to the leg skewering through the sealant that had erupted round its entry point; and started sawing.

‘I’ll have you off it in a second. You’ll be fine.’ Jury took a deep breath. He could see the fluid inside Sofia’s helmet getting worse and it was becoming difficult to convince himself it was all coolant. The dome was flooding like the inside of a bathing pool.

‘Go.’

Sofia’s voice crackled through his headphones, and Jury looked down to see his arm caught in a gloved hand. When he looked up he could see her face pressed against the glass as she mouthed the words he heard so often in the morning. Then the things leg snapped taught and his wife sped backward through the rent torn through space. He howled and tried to run after her but the ship’s lights had found him.

‘Evac operational,’ said the ship’s computer, ‘…situation report.’

Useless curses fell from Jury’s lips. The situation was obvious what more did it want? He watched as the hole sealed and closed. Already his feet were beginning to leave the floor as the vessels traction beams locked into place and the last of the shadow detached itself from the rift and spread across the pyramid.

‘Get me out of here, now.’

Someone had to take new’s of what they’d found planetside before more of these things arrived.

(to be continued)

Pt.4

Even from behind the ten suns where it had been basking in the light leaking across the shorn the Nephilim had sensed the dropships approach. From the spot where it liked to graze the futures off the sleeping minds beyond the cold the pyramid was already visible; like bait glittering in the dark where the walls of the shorn sank and rippled. The edifice had been built to open a door in the days when the Nephilim still played a part in the arm of the galaxy beyond the veil. Now only their rootlets were able to spread through the heads of the sleepers whose minds they invaded. It didn’t know what the lives were called, didn’t know what the ten suns were called either. It was too young for that, but it knew what it could smell. The energy was brighter than any star; as clear as the days the icon had swallowed with its hunger.

‘Possibilities,’ the Nephilim’s voice disappeared into the void as the shorn in front of it began to spit and crackle as something cut through.

The woman in the Nephilim’s grip screamed as it emptied her of futures with a kiss and finished struggling through the hole the needles had created.

‘Never enough…dead…cold…’ But it doubted she was listening, already her eyes had lost focus as blood sped away from the wound it had created; the droplets spilling across space.

It eviscerated another figure, cutting the spine from their back before leaving them to drift across the frozen asteroid.

‘Always hungry…always empty,’ said the Nephilim.

But it still hadn’t found the mother load; the treasure trove that had called it across the shorn. It shuddered; the penalties for crossing the barrier were severe. If it didn’t feed properly soon it would be dragged back. It looked at the pyramid sensing the slow beat of things moving within. Most didn’t even know what the lights in their dreams were. They’d been robbed so often they could barely see.

‘Unused futures…’

It watched the ships afterburners flare overhead as it sped toward a nearby blue planet.

‘Buried lives.’

It’s feelers quivered as it dragged itself closer to the pyramid. The needles were quiet now. Their tips no longer crackled and sliced at the veil separating the dimensions, but it would have to work fast if it was to crack the structure before the icon noticed its absence.

‘Mine.’

It was salivating now, the asteroid beneath hissing where the drops from the mouthparts hidden beneath its mantles hit the surface. It had heard of the pyramids before; although in the emptiness it called home the last physical object had been dismantled eons ago. It concentrated and sent a little of itself into the nearest fissure.

‘In…’

Like water it let itself flow between the pyramids gaps, freezing and cracking, letting the slabs the thing was made of burst into the void like stone petals. The sun caught the bodies floating from the pyramids embrace sparkling from the frost and frozen droplets that had spilled from their veins. The Nephilim breathed a sigh of relief; the lives that had lain behind the portal had been preserved for just such an eventuality.

Below it, the blue planet floated. Down there were more lives, more futures, and these weren’t dead. It dropped the corpse it had been feeding on. If the Nephilim had had lips it would have licked them.

(to be continued)

Pt.5

Jury had seen something similar on Earth, back when they’d finally bitten the bullet and started carpet bombing the arcologies. Stone span away as the creature that had crawled through the rent reached the pyramid’s remains. Jury paused…crawled might not be the right way of looking at it. There was a bow wave traveling in front as though the void was turning in on itself, and the light didn’t like touching its back. A thrust brought it near enough to the shattered blocks that its whips and flagella could reach inside.

‘Whose bodies?’ said Jury as corpses spilled into space.

The ship’s dry voice answered, ‘unsure at this time.’

‘Aliens then.’

‘It’s possible, but we’ve only encountered two species different enough to ours to warrant the term.’

Jury watched the rents in one of the figure’s suit’s open and close as they bit on nothing. The pyramid had been so packed the dead were forming a cloud round the tumbling rock. Two collided, and shattered, crystals of frozen meat spinning into the darkness.

Alarms sounded as one of the things whip-like flagella spat across the void and slammed into the ship causing it to lurch to one side.

‘Get us out of here, now,’ said Jury.

‘Already complying. Please remain calm, data shows that my next statement is likely to cause distress – you should be aware; you are the sole survivor.’

Jury had thought as much although he’d been struggling too hard in the traction beam to pay much attention to anything else.

‘Then…’

‘Yes, if I’m right in anticipating your question correctly. The navigator perished along with the rest.’

That meant no access codes to Earth’s quarantine satellites. They were likely to get shot out of the sky.

‘My wife?’

‘There are no life forms left on the rock and the newcomer presents an interesting definition of ‘alive’.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘It barely seems to exist.’

Jury laughed, something that ‘barely existed’ had just obliterated the entire crew.

‘You’ll have to clarify that ship.’

‘It appears to be from somewhere else, and…’

‘And…?’

‘It’s half-formed, a juvenile maybe.’

As the ship shot away and the carnage shrank until the lights from the pyramids destruction looked like the pinpricks you got from the settlements on the edge of habitable space Jury tried to imagine what an adult would look like.

‘Ship, you’re recording equipment?’

‘Inoperative, one of the blows destroyed the main data processor.’

‘Then we’re the only witnesses.’

Jury’s jaw tightened. He’d have to work fast. He knew exactly what was likely to happen if data like this found its way into the Corporation Empires hands. They’d never been keen on challenges to their rule.

He looked out of the viewport. A lonely body was drifting toward the nearest star. Jury wondered how long it would take to reach her as he tracked its trajectory.

‘Rest in peace,’ he said.

There was something on his cheek and he rubbed at it without thinking about it. The new arrival was really getting down to the business of dismembering now. He watched the corpse drift away. If anyone had been there to see it they might have spotted his black skin turn pale as it tightened round his knuckles.

‘I’ll make it pay Sofia, and I’ll warn the rest.’

(to be continued)

Pt. 6

‘Unidentified craft…’ the voice crackling over the comms link sounded like it had a hundred other things it would prefer to be doing, ‘…approaching vessel respond.’

Jury waited until the ship was rotating at the same speed as the station.

‘Receiving, am requesting permission to come aboard quarantine satellite Gateway Nine. We were on a mission to explore an anomaly…there’s been problems.’

The man on the screen that had flickered into life leaned forward as he tried to see behind Jury.

‘Where’s the rest of your crew?’

Jury made sure his voice was level when he answered, ‘That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.’

There was a bang and glass shivered back from his latest blow but if it was about to crack it wasn’t giving any sign of it. Jury felt like a fish in a bowl as he stared at the station’s crew on the barrier’s other side. They’d put him on lockdown as soon as he arrived. He supposed it was better than the alternative. At least they’d let him board.

‘You said you wouldn’t do this,’ he yelled although he doubted they could hear him. All that protruded from the voice unit were the bare ends of severed wire.

All four crew members manning the tiny outlying station were present and they were staring at him like they’d found some weird species of bug. It looked like they’d try pulling his legs off soon to see what he did.

On the barrier’s other side the group were talking.

‘You reckon he’s telling the truth?’ said a tall skinny man who was the stations psychic taking a long swig on something that looked like it had no place on the planetary quarantine wall. After the last epidemic had nearly resulted in earth being overrun by plague; they’d begun building. No one wanted a repeat of the sickness that  had emerged from the decaying colony habitats and outdated spaceports festering life support systems.’

‘There’s nothing like that out here; the area’s been surveyed a thousand times. He’s talking rubbish. I should know I was head of the operation till they sent me here.’ The overweight figure that had spoken was wearing the tasselled epaulets and shreds of shabby finery of a station Chief. He knocked the skinny man’s beverage flying. ‘I’ve told you before. Stay off that and concentrate on making sure the through traffic stays clean. Last time I looked there was an ideology that was about to get up and walk. We let one of those get past and we’re all out of a job.’

‘I think he’s telling the truth.’

The woman who’d spoken was the shortest of the group. She had the jet black hair and green eyes of one of the healthier colonies and her uniform was the only one  that didn’t look like it had been through several wars.

‘You’re as bad as him then,’ said the station chief. ‘Not that it’s going to change anything. We all know what happened the last time customs let someone through without due process.’ Their expressions lengthened. ‘That’s right, The Dying, and we’re here to prevent a repeat.’

‘Yeah, but if he’s telling the truth shouldn’t we inform someone? He’s been moaning on about aliens ever since he got here.’

That was the youngest of the four, a kid who looked like he spent far too much time behind a monitor screen. He had pasty white skin and a plaster on his chin where he’d nicked himself trying to scrape off the patchy fluff sprouting there.

‘Well we could do, but someone’s got our net so jammed up the systems on the verge of collapse. Half of those things you’re downloading aren’t what you say they are anyway. Don’t think I don’t know it,’ said the station chief.

The kid looked down at his feet. ‘It’s all necessary captain. I wouldn’t use company hardware for personal use.

‘You’re lucky I can’t understand any of it.’

Of course, the kid already knew that. One of the first things he’d done when they’d exiled him after the little incident with an orbital banking syndicate was check the station chiefs technical rating. He could hardly believe his luck when it turned out the man was as retarded as a six-year-old when it came to programming.

The crew turned to look at the black man trapped behind the isolation cubicles glass.

‘We leave him in there.’ I’m still boss round here and my word goes,’ said the Chief. Jury’s fist cracked against the glass as he stopped speaking and the overweight man took a step back. ‘He’s definitely in a mood about something.’

But the prisoner’s eyes were fixed on the blood trickling down the glass.

‘Looks like he’s damaged himself already.’ The Chiefs hand scraped across the stubble on his chin, ‘are we liable for that?’

‘Not under the terms of our franchise,’ said the youth. ‘That only covers suicide and escape attempts.’

‘Well, we’re not going to flush him yet,’ said the station Chief. ‘What’s he doing?’

Jury had backed up and was staring straight at them.

(to be continued)

Pt. 7

Jury waited until they were gone before rubbing his shoulder where it had met the wall. When the door had finished closing he opened his mouth wide enough for his fingers to reach the back. The device was dug in so far it was anchored in his jaw. There’d been no other way; Chronos machines were too dangerous to have knocked out in a fight and Jury hadn’t always spent his life on the deck of a research vessel.

‘Got you,’ the words came out muffled, covered in blood and spit, as he peered at the tiny thing clenched between his fingertips.

The Chronos device was no bigger than a pin; even encased in hardened ceramic. He lined it up so it was pointing at the glass and slammed the heel of his shoe on what he hoped was the right end. Instantly spiderwebs shot through the barrier as the accumulated weight of  a few generations descended on its molecules.

‘One…two…’

He hit the barrier side on like he was charging through a crowd and smashed through to the other side in a rain of flying glass. Jury had no idea how long it would be before the stations alarms went off, but he doubted he had long. At least he’d been careful to take note of the route glad that they hadn’t used stun guns or other weapons to keep him subdued. Back when he’d arrived they’d still been pretending they were all one big happy spacefaring family. He doubted it would be the same now.

‘Hey…you, please, over here,’ came a voice from one of the cells.

Jury finished rolling to a stop. The figures in the other containment suites were standing against the glass. A few had begun to hammer on it.

‘…sorry.’

He backed away as the alarms kicked in.

‘Shit.’

Jury began to run. The crew had looked shabby enough except for the woman. But they were bound to shoot first and ask questions later rather than risk the station’s contamination of  with what he might be infected with.

When he got to the cargo bay and saw what the quarantine satellite had to offer as getaway vehicles Jury’s heart plummeted. The ships looked like they ran on steam.

‘Stop right there.’

Jury watched laser sights dance around him.

‘I’m not going anywhere, don’t shoot,’ said Jury.

He turned round slowly so he was facing the speaker, some of those spots were dancing about way too erratically for safety.

‘Can I kill him now? Go on, please?’

It was the kid with the mullet and he was jumping around all over the place.

‘Don’t be an idiot.’  The black haired woman shoved him behind her and aimed her gun at Jury’s head. Jury was glad to see she had brains to match her looks. ‘You heard what the Chief said. We’re to stop him getting off here, not kill him. There’s a bounty on his head.’

‘Then its true about the alien?’ said the kid.

‘How do I know? I just work here,’ said the woman brushing an imaginary spot of dirt off her uniform.

‘You let me go, and I’ll let you in on a secret,’ said Jury.

‘Yeah? and what’s that?’ replied the kid sighting down his weapon.

‘In about five seconds a bomb is going to detonate upstairs that will release every quarantine case you’ve got.’ Jury’s tongue probed the hole in the other side of his jaw. ‘I hope you have a lot of fun with them.’

Jury decided it had been worth it just to see the look on their faces as the backup munition went off and the satellite shook hard enough to fling them against the wall.

(to be continued)

Pt. 8

‘How long will it take?’ Jury pointed at the carnage unrolling on the screen.

‘A day, a week, maybe more. Quarantine’s been getting more and more rundown since the food riots.’

Jury watched the figures, one of them had the satellite Chief’s head on a stake.

He flicked a switch and engaged the engines.

‘We’re are we going? said the woman in the restraining cuffs.

‘What’s it to you?’

Jury wouldn’t have been so tetchy, but she’d managed to land a blow that was still ringing even after they’d boarded the least decrepit looking of the shuttles in the dock.

A groan by their feet made him look down.

There was a thud as his boot made contact with the kids stomach. Jury made himself calm down. They’d just been doing their job; but now he had a crew on what he’d meant to be a solo mission.

‘You sure he sent the message off?’

‘We saw him do it? The woman’s name was Svelt and there was a clank as she lifted the cuffs under his nose. ‘Will you? He needs to be looked at.’

The kid’s face was a mass of blood from a gash over one eye and his eyes had rolled so far back only the whites were visible.

‘Before you say no the kids a first rate data hacker. It cost them millions in governement funding to track him down and repair the damage.’

‘Alright,’ there was a click as the lock snapped free and Svelt massaged her wrists.

‘You need anything?’ said Jury running his eyes over her.

‘Apart from off this ship? You realise they’ll chase you to the far reaches of hab space for this? Even now with the department in the state its in they won’t let an escapee go.’

‘Yeah, but they’ll have to deal with that first.’ Jury gestured to the rioting on the screen the Chronus bomb had done its work. The satellite was alive with freed prisoners.

‘It’ll only take one high velocity war head,’ Svelt shrugged. ‘There’s no one watching up here. They’ll just say there was technical problems and the evidence will burn up on re-entry.’

Jury nodded the New Zionists were notorious for their heavy handed approach to security. Still with their Empire encompassing all of earth now the wars were over it was hardly surprising.

‘Ok, how’s he doing?’

‘He’ll live,’ said Svelt adminstering a pain killer. ‘What I’ve just given him will keep him knocked out for a day or two whilst the worst of the damage repairs itself. Now are you going to tell me were we’re going?’

‘We’re going to make sure.’

‘You mean you want to go back don’t you?’ said Svelt taking in the grin spreading across his face.

Svelt looked like she’d have taken a step back if she could. It was her bad luck there was six inches of solid bulkhead behind her.

‘Yeah, you may have seen the chief send the data cast but that doesn’t mean they’re going to listen. We need more.’

‘In this?’

Svelt didn’t need to say anything else the craft Jury had pinched before the satellite sealed itself looked like it would fall apart in a solar wind.

Jury flicked a switch and the rest of the bridge came to life.

‘Of course, you never been on a deep space surveyor craft before?’

Jury had been expecting her to be angry, or outraged maybe, but he hadn’t expected her skin to turn pale.

‘But that means…’

‘What?’

‘Are you stupid or something? You didn’t notice where you were maybe? Didn’t read the signs?’

Jury shook his head in confusion. He honestly had no idea what the woman meant.

‘This is deep space exploration vessel “Marie Celeste”. We found her adrift with all the crew dead.’

She waited a moment to see if he got it.

‘That’s right,’ said Svelt, ‘this is a plague vessel.’

Jury felt something twist in his chest. It was his fault there hadn’t been time to think with the alarms blowing so loud he thought his skull would split.

‘Shit.’

(to be continued)

Pt. 9

Jury put an arm around Svelt’s waist and when she didn’t try and break free he felt something shift inside that he stamped on quick. For a moment it wasn’t Svelt he could see; instead Sofia’s face looked back at him and he felt a sadness rise inside him until it drowned something he barely knew he had. Jury slammed the release button hard enough to break it and tightened his grip.

‘Hold on.’

Svelt nodded back and he heard her voice in his ear, ‘The kid?’

‘Those straps were designed to deal with emergency re-entry. He’ll be fine.’

Already air was rushing past so fast that their feet were rising from the floor.

‘Five minutes, no more.’ He had to mouth the words. The roar from the depressurizing ship was beginning to sound like a storm. Svelt nodded and they waited as the last of the atmosphere mushroomed into the void.

When it was over they swung free and began to check the displays.

‘Atmosphere vented,’ said Jury. If there’s anything left alive in here it went out that airlock.’

He pointed to the open hatch. You couldn’t even see the stars out there now, just that empty darkness sucking at your eyes until they ached.

‘I’m checking Jury, wait.’ Svelt’s hands floated over the controls. In zero-g every movement looked like a ballet, a silent dance punctuated by the static from their suit comms net. ‘It was a viral bio-agent. ‘Probably from the last war.’

‘Where do you think they picked it up?’

‘I don’t know, depends where they were fighting.’

‘I thought you said this was an exploration vessel?’

Even through her suit Jury could see the look on her face.

‘They tried to wipe it out.’

‘What?’

‘The plague worlds.’

‘But they were inhabited weren’t they?’

‘We’re not supposed to talk about it.’ Static hissed and crackled in Jury’s ear then her voice returned. ‘They used genocide bombs first, but the infected are tougher than they look. They burrowed too deep for the bombardment to work. In the end they used core nukes. Some suicide squads managed to get off the surface, killed a few ships,’ Svelt shrugged.

‘But, I thought they were peaceful? Non-violent? We had treaties with the new people’s.’

‘Yeah, and then we found out what they were carrying. You realize that just one of them could have wiped out the whole human race? Planetary destruction was the only way.’

Jury watched her for a moment.

‘Check the scans again.’

Svelt’s attention returned to the display’s, ‘Nothing.’

‘Ok, what about the youth?’

Jury and Svelt went over to the youth they’d strapped into one of the bunks.

‘You Ok?’ said Jury.

He tapped the kid’s face plate and tried to see into its depths but it was as black as the void outside. Then with a slam that had him dragging Svelt with him in an effort to get away, the kids face thrust its way into the light.

‘What’s wrong with him?’ said Svelt.

They floated a little further away from the figure on the bunk. The kid had started to twitch now jerking and thrashing like there was more than one figure trapped in the suit.

‘Did you see his eyes?’

Jury new exactly what she meant. There’d been no colour in there nothing at all.

There was a thud from up front and proximity indicators began to flash on the screens.

‘We have multiple collisions imminent,’ said Svelt under her breath.

‘But we’re still in empty space aren’t we? I programmed the ship to go into orbit round the asteroid. There should be nothing out here but us.’

Another thud juddered through the ship.

‘Well, there’s something here now; a whole lot of somethings,’ said Svelt.

‘If we’re clean, repressurize. We can’t do anything with him like that.’

The kid was floating six inches from the ceiling now like the straps were barely holding him.

‘We’re clean,’ said Svelt.

The airlock slammed shut and Svelt’s hands began to speed up. ‘Repressurising now, estimated time till restoration of atmosphere T-10 minutes.’

Jury eyes the med kit attached to the wall. There were sedatives in that. The kid jerked again and this time Jury thought he saw one of the straps begin to fray.

‘Impact warning, a new set of lights exploded into life and he risked a look out of the viewport.

‘Where the hell…’

The face that slammed into the glass looked like one of the desiccated corpses they still found in tombs back on earth. If there’d been any fluid in it it had been robbed long ago.

‘Jury look,’ Svelt was at his shoulder, ‘…there’s thousands of them.’

(to be continued)

Pt. 10

The first of the cloud figures were bursting against the ships hull, flowing across it in a rain of frozen body parts.

‘Look.’

Svelt pointed at where the pyramid had opened like a bird spreading its wings. The span was shedding stones that gleamed like jade in the distant sunlight.

‘Is that what I think it is?’ said Svelt pointing at what was left of the structure floating in front of the stars.

‘It’s a tomb, or what’s left of one. I noticed it before.’

‘For who?’

At first, Jury had thought the bodies rising from the pyramid’s centre were alien but now he wasn’t so sure. Whatever they were they were very very old but there were still recognizable features hidden under their hair and jutting eyebrows.

‘For us,’ said Jury, ‘for humans.’

The gate had grown silent now, the lines of piezoelectricity that had crawled across its surface dead and vanished. But Jury remembered what it had looked like at its height as the obelisks had shone like they were made of something a hell of a lot more combustible than stone.

‘You ever thought what it would take to punch a hole through the fabric of space?’ said Jury.

‘Not really, most of the time I have other things to worry about,’ said Svelt, ‘like whether or not I’m going to make it through the week. The station chief was keen on early retirements.’

‘Think about it, that tomb looked like it was made to focus something didn’t it?’

They looked at the glowing emerald cloud. You could have fit a hundred of their craft inside when the pyramid was still in one piece. Underneath the pit it had been built over exactly matched the slopes of the structure before it had opened.

‘Yeah, so?’ said Svelt.

‘These bodies  look drained.’ Another corpse shattered against the viewport and Jury continued, ‘What if the stuff that was taken from them is what opened that gate? I think the creature that came through was following the scent of what was in these corpses. It’s like they were storing them.’

Svelt and Jury watched the stars wheel before them.

‘It came from somewhere else?’ said the woman, ‘what if there’s more?’

Jury didn’t mention what else was on his mind. The pulsating spider-shaped thing had looked young to him, young and badly formed. But if that was one of the infants, what were the adults like?

(to be continued)

Pt. 11

They didn’t see the crowd until till the last minute, the asteroid had hidden them from view. But although the journey across its pitted surface had been hard enough it was when the desiccated figures appeared that Svelt and Jury got a shock. They seemed mostly made of the eyebrow ridges peering above their suits helmet couplings and as the ship brought the nearest into resolution  they could see something move in its empty sockets.

It was cold void outside but whatever they were they weren’t dead.

‘Did you see that?’

Jury nodded, ‘It’s alive…Jesus Christ. They’re all….alive. How’s that possible?’

The movement was spreading too because as they looked at the graveyard in front of the ship they could see the animation spread. In fits and starts the figures began to twitch as if space had become a pond and insects were dancing over it.

‘They’re headed this way,’ said Svelt.

For a moment Jury thought she was going to grab him, but whatever made her tick it was tougher than that. She was already at the navigation controls whisperng calculations with lips that barely moved as she tried to chart a course out of the debris.

‘We have to leave,’ said Jury’s co-pilot.

‘Look,’ The nearest figures had begun to scuttle over the backs of the ones in front like wave of locusts he’d once seen decimate a field back on Earth. ‘They want in.’

‘Then don’t let them.’

‘Too late,’ in front of Jury, a red light had begun to flash. ‘There’s something in one of the intake valves.’

‘Hold on, I’m nearly there.’ A heads-up display had appeared in the air in front of Svelt’s face and she was punching in coordinates with hands he could barely follow.

‘But that’s…’ said Jury looking at the needles sticking from the asteroid.

Svelt nodded, briefly, ‘Close, but the gate’s inactive now. We have to risk it. It’s the only space free of bodies.’

Jury stared at the needles. She was right the patch between them was empty. ‘Then lets do it. We won’t be able to see much longer if this keeps up, let alone move.’

Already the viewport was covered with bodies and more lights had begun to flash along the controls. Jury didn’t want to think of what was moving up the ships drive valves. Nothing living should be able to survive that sort of journey, but as he watched light after light on the ships schematics came on like water flowing uphill. He pushed the ships throttle forwards as far it would go.

It was one of the worst decisions he’d ever make.

‘Jury…what?’

The space between the needles shimmered as if oil had been spilled there and then they were through, leaving only ripples in their wake.

When Jury opened his eyes he wished he hadn’t.

‘Where is everything? It’s… gone.’

He was an interstellar pilot, a fighter, and an experienced hand and Jury had been through more uncharted space than most. But he’d never seen a stretch of the cosmos as bleak, and empty as the one they’d found themselves in.

‘Do you see that?’

Svelt was so quiet he could barely hear her.

He’d been wrong. It wasn’t empty; it was worse than that. As the ship span slowly through the void  a star so vast and cold it would have been called a sun if it were made of flame filled the view port.

‘What is that?’ said Svelt.

(to be continued)

Pt. 12

Svelt and Jury were staring out of the viewport at a sphere of white fire that was making the ships sensors tick like crickets when the lights went out.

‘Jury?’ said Svelt.

‘Yeah?’

‘Are we going to be alright?’

‘I don’t know. Whatever that is its powerful. Do you think its collapsed matter maybe?’

The shape of it reminded Jury of a galaxy seen from so far out it had flattened and his skin crawled just looking at it.

‘Can you feel that?’ said Svelt.

They were silent for a moment, and Jury tried to find her eyes on the darkened bridge.

‘It’s a gravity field isn’t it?’

He was already trying to find the gate they’d used to enter whatever part of non-space this was called. But when Jury tried to operate the ships controls they showed nothing but emptiness in their wake.

‘There’s no sign of it.’

‘The gate?…Jury you should see this.’

Jury risked another look…there was something in her voice.

‘Isn’t that…?’

‘…like that thing that came visiting? yeah.’

As they watched a line of cold white fire spread from the distant shape and headed toward them. It had a way to go, but at the speed it was travelling they didn’t have long.

‘There has to be something we can do,’ said Svelt. ‘But I don’t even know where to start. Wait…what’s that?’

She was pointing to the cloud of rubble and half dismembered bodies that had fallen through the gate when it was still open. The nearest looked like they were sinking.

‘Jury, you seeing this?’

It took Svelt a few moments to realise he hadn’t replied. She was too busy trying to pinpoint where the debris was headed. But clearly a tide had them in its grip and as she watched one of the primates that had been hidden within the pyramid cartwheeled by arms and legs spread wide against the emptiness.

‘Jury?’

She turned round at last to see what had happened to her crew mate and found him with his back to her staring into space. As she called his name again the bolt of lightning that had left the freezing circle found them and struck the view port square on.

Jury was lifted off his feet in seconds as a line of white fire travelled through their shields like they didn’t exist. When it found his face and began to crawl over it his scream was so loud Svelt buckled over with her arms wrapped round her head like she’d been punched. She never saw the knife appear in his hands but when she lifted her head she saw the movement as he brought it up…

(to be continued)

Pt. 13

Jury felt like someone had clapped their hands behind his eyes and then the knife was in his fist with it’s handle slick and damp from sweat. There was only one way to end this even if he wasn’t sure he wanted to take it.

‘Get out…get out,’ screamed Jury.

His body jerked again as his feet left the floor and the sickly pale tendril that had crawled through the viewport pulsed as it began to feed.

Jury’s eyes were on fire, a sea of cold flame slopping in their sockets as that white light crawled across his skin. He tried to stop it bringing one hand up as fissures lengthened in his face; when it came back down his fingers were full of clumps of hair.

He screamed again the the knife was in his hand and then his head as Jury chased the pain in his sockets. He’d thought what had come before was bad enough, but as the tendril that had sprung from the light thrashed this way and that, he dug, feverishly. The knife edge pulling at the roots crawling into him before they went deeper.

‘Svelt…’

He was barely aware he’d said her name. He never heard her answer either or felt her hands on his shoulders as the tendril whiplashed back the way it had come.

How long they had he didn’t know but it would be back, he was certain of that and this time not for him. Svelt was here too and so far she was undamaged. Jury tried to clean what was left of his eyes off his face shudders ran through him as he curled to his knees.

Then Svelt’s voice was in his ear.

‘Jury…your eyes.’

‘Never mind about them.’

He could barely feel anything anymore. There was at least that to be thankful for, and there was only that cold dead feeling inside him as though something precious had been stolen and he didn’t know what.

‘Here take this,’ said Jury.

He finished ripping the bottom of his jacket into strips and thrust the bandage at Svelt. Jury didn’t know how long they had.

‘Cover your eyes,’ he said as he groped for her hands. ‘Make sure they’re hidden.’

When Svelt had taken his offering Jury let his fingers walk across her face.

‘It feeds on us,’ he said. ‘Be careful, there has to be a way out of here, a way back. Find it Svelt. I’m no use to you like this.’

He leaned on her as she half dragged him to the nearest seat and collapsed. Before Jury lost consciousness he heard her breath suck between her teeth.

‘Jury…its…’

(to be continued)

Pt. 14

Svelt screamed as she heard,

Jury hit the deck,

And light try to crawl,

It’s way through,

Her eyes,

Panic,

Terror,

The slick feel of neurotransmitters,

Taking control,

It was like putting her fingers,

In a bowling ball,

Except her body,

Had vanished,

The feeling didn’t last,

Too much of her,

Was on the other side,

Like an anchor,

Cast into thin air,

Expulsion,

Rejection,

Then the cold wet taste of home space,

Svelt wanted to tear,

The blindfold off,

But if she did,

She knew the owner,

Of that pale freezing light,

Would follow,

So Svelt became a needle,

Mind bobbing fire fly fast,

Punching holes,

Closing pathways,

Until the matter that had exploded,

Into the void,

Was safe,

Svelt would never know,

How she did it,

Except it left her,

Hands wet.

(to be continued)

Pt. 15

Svelt tore the blindfold from her eyes as proximity alarms shattered the bridge’s silence. It looked like something had hemorrhaged in the ships guts and the air was full of the seapage. She wasn’t alone though; Jury was curled in a ball with his hands clamped over his face and the same fluid that was on her own had pooled around him. Svelt rubbed them dry on her clothes as her nose wrinkled. The smell of salt and iron was everywhere.

‘Where the hell…’

She ducked as a metal stanchion studded with flickering lights flew by outside close enough to make the ships alarm’s sound a few decibels louder. Svelt wasn’t sure what had just happened but that thing had to have been tens of miles long.

‘Jury?’

He was still breathing although when he raised his face she had time to wonder why. The mutilation on it was enough to take your breath away. She checked over her shoulder as a spot in the middle of her back itched. She’d been in two places at once, hadn’t she? Although how that was possible was beyond her understanding. Svelt decided she didn’t care; she’d needed to find a way out and she had. It turned out the asteroids gate wasn’t the only one because wherever they were it was at least in space she could recognise. She looked at the stars and let herself relax a little bit as Jury struggled to his feet.

‘You saved us,’ he groaned. ‘That thing was in my head.’

His temples still itched like the cold needles of white fire that had cut into his mind had left memories of themselves there. Jury dropped his hands before they tried to dig a way in and check.

‘Jury what about your eyes?’ There was silence for a moment as Svelt examined the damage to his face. ‘Can’t you feel that?’

He let his fingers crawl across his skin, and winced. There was no way he was going to forget that sort of pain. The slick feeling as the knife had punctured his iris’ and the freezing agony afterwards were like nothing he’d experienced before.

‘Had to stop it somehow,’ said Jury. ‘I could feel myself slipping away.’

Jury concentrated half expecting to see something through the spots and wheels shooting through the empty pits where his eyes had been. But the extant of the surgery he’d conducted was too much. He was lucky he wasn’t screaming, but whatever it was that had drawn the futures off him like it was taking water from a lake had cauterized the flesh, and left nothing but scars in its wake.

‘Warning collision imminent.’

The ships dry voice echoed through the bridge and Svelt made a move toward the controls. Jury didn’t follow. It wasn’t like he could do much anymore, was it? Not now he was blind, and besides, he was finding it hard to summon much enthusiasm. If they were going to die through a collision…so what?

‘Look.’

Svelt pointed at a hole that had been torn through one of the stanchions scything past them on their way to the distant planet filling the view port. It looked like whatever the habitat was it encircled its surface completely. It was also responsible for its destruction – a parasitic life form made of steel and shovels that had latched on to a living world and torn it to shreds. As Svelt watched tiny bits of machinery burned off the ships force fields, vaporizing in explosions of light.

‘That creature’s been through here,’ said Svelt.

‘How can you tell?’

‘I don’t know I just can; it’s like more than just the superstructure’s been damaged.’

(to be continued)

 

Pt.16

They were getting closer to what was left of the superstructure now and they could see its shovels dropping away beneath them. The scoops busily returning to the planet’s surface to replenish their loads. For a moment the ships proximity sensors went into overdrive; then they were inside.

‘Where is everything?’ Svelt’s voice was hushed as the ships lights cut through the empty gloom.

‘They were designed like this originally,’ said Jury. ‘The mining gear was retrofitted. This thing would have been a colony at one point.’

Jury listened to the ship relay schematics in his ear.

‘Tell me what you can see Svelt.’

‘It’s vast…’ She was quiet for a moment. There were virtual representations of the megaprojects on the edge of inhabited space, but she’d never seen one up close. Svelt doubted the simulations did them justice. ‘It’s like one of the old rings they installed round earth.’

Overhead there was what might have been the faint gleam of power nodes. But it was hard to be sure in the darkness. ‘It looks like they’re filling it with what they’ve mined,’ said Svelt pointing at the hoppers shuttling through the apertures in the structures sides. A few had been too badly damaged to function, but there were still plenty that worked.

‘Any sign of the thing that came through the gate?’ said Jury.

‘No.’

They were passing through an airlock now; a massive thing like the shutter of a missile sylo.

‘What do you think it wants?’ said Svelt.

‘The same thing everything wants I expect – to feed.’

Svelt was trying to think what that might mean when there was a rattle of small arms fire off the hull.

‘Survivors,’ said Jury, ‘where?’

‘Up top,’ looks like they’ve got a gun emplacement up there.’

The tapping on the ships hull was becoming more insistent now.

‘At this rate they’ll find a way through our armor soon,’ said Jury as the shuttle’s force fields began to vibrate like drums. ‘Try getting them on the comms net.’

‘I’m trying but why are they firing at us? They can’t think we’ve something to do with what came through that portal can they?’

‘I wouldn’t have thought so, but…’ Jury shrugged, ‘If I were them I’d fire at anything that moved.’ They’ve seen that thing haven’t they? And they’re not soldiers.’

There was a dull boom and another red light came on on the decks instrument panel. Svelt crowed with delight.

‘I’ve got them…’ there was a hiss of static and then what sounded like one of the Arabic/French dialects before the translator segued in.

‘Who’s this?’ said the man.

Svelt made sure to keep her voice calm. If they’d seen what had passed through they had every right to be spooked. She suppressed a shudder; the only thing she knew of like the thing they were chasing were the creatures they’d found in the trenches of the Martian oceans. Back when they’d first started terraforming the place they hadn’t realised what would happen to the organisms that escaped into the wild. It turned out there’d been more than one thing hiding in the Martian soil.

‘Power off your engines,’ said the bearded face on the screen. ‘I speak for the crew of planetary mining ring Zhen-Tse. The next salvo will cripple you. The vessel you’re in wasn’t designed for combat.’

‘You’ve seen it haven’t you?’ said Jury straight away.

‘If you mean have we seen the thing that tore the guts out of our operation and trashed the capability of this rig…yeah we’ve seen it. What is it?

Svelt tried not to stare at Jury’s empty socket as she said, ‘We don’t know.’

‘Is it coming back?’ said the disembodied face.

‘How many of you are left? said Svelt avoiding the question.

‘A half dozen or so. The rest were down on what’s left of this worthless lump of rock. There was too much damage to retrieve survivors. They’ll be dead now; no air.’

‘I’m sorry,’ said Svelt as she thought of the pyramid and the corpses that had sprung from it. The miners had been lucky. ‘If you’re still alive it’s because its had enough…for now.’

She saw Jury give an imperceptible shake of his head, and stopped.

‘It’ll want more,’ he said. ‘But it’ll go to somewhere with more life than this. We need to find it.’

‘We?’ said the man on the screen.

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 17
Svelt and Jury had to wade through knee-high waste from a burst recycling pump when they arrived at the crews hab quarters.

‘You’ve been living like this?’ said Jury to the miner who’d spoken to them on the ship. It looked like he’d been trying to make repairs.
‘No choice, the creature tried to get in through our flight deck. We don’t have any working shuttles left.’
‘You do now,’ said Svelt. ‘We’ll take you off.’
‘In return for something,’ said Jury.
The miner didn’t look that surprised, on the edge of space you got used to bartering for everything; including your life.
‘And what would that be?’ said the miner.
Jury grinned, ‘You help us hunt it.’
Other men had appeared from further in the hab module bringing with them the smell of cordite from the guns they’d been using on the ship. They went into a huddle. Jury and Svelt watched as they reached an agreement.
‘First of all,’ said their spokesman, ‘Why?’ And what is it?’
‘We could do with your help,’ said Jury. ‘As for what it is; we don’t know. But we’ve seen where it comes from. It cost me my eyes,’ Jury gestured at the holes where they used to be. ‘If more like that thing follow it we’re going to be in the sort of trouble we won’t climb out of.’
‘What about Earth?’ said the miner. ‘They should be here to help us.’
‘Told ’em, they don’t believe a word of it,’ replied Svelt, ‘just thought I was talking space garbage.’ She looked at Jury, ‘When he turned up at our quarantine satellite a while back we thought the same.’
‘Until you saw it.’
Svelt nodded ‘…until we saw it.’
‘Ok, it’s like this, we’ll come with you, but only until we get anywhere near a decent sized colony, then you let us go.’
‘Done,’ said Jury and this time his grin was as wide as a shark’s.

(to be continued)

Pt. 18

‘There’s something wrong,’ said Jury.

They’d dropped out of hyperdrive in a binary system where the two largest planets orbited each other in their long slow spin round the sun.

‘Those are supposed to be living worlds with well established populations, so why aren’t we picking up on any chatter?’

Jury ran through the incoming transmissions but there was nothing only the gentle hiss of empty radio waves.

‘You tried the emergency beacons?’ said Svelt as the mining rigs crew regained consciousnesses.

‘They’re still there but they don’t show any signs of having been triggered.’

The miner’s spokesman, a man who’d introduced himself as DeepHaul, appeared on the deck.

‘Are we there?’

‘We are,’ said Jury. ‘Welcome to the twins.’

‘Where are all the lights?’ said DeepHaul.

They looked at the two worlds; the sun was on the other side but there wasn’t even a pinprick of illumination visible on their surfaces.

‘Maybe they’re asleep?’ said Svelt hopefully.

‘It would have been funny if the nearest hadn’t chosen that moment to erupt as a string of explosions burst across its surface.’

There was silence on the bridge for a few moments.

‘Well…at least someone’s home,’ said Svelt.

‘Got something,’ Jury was hunched over the bridges controls, ‘there.’

There was light after all. As the planet continued its rotation a solitary spike of life came into view; a pity it wasn’t human.

What had once been a hive so big it burst through the cloud cover was dead now; the lights that must have sparkled up its sides broken and vanished. It wasn’t hard to guess why. The visitor had attached itself to its side like a leech. They watched its body pulsate slowly, tiny sparks sucking from the hives depths to travel through it’s semi-translucent-flesh like phosphorescence in an ocean.

‘Is that what I think it is?’ said Svelt.

Jury nodded, ‘Bound to be. You’ve seen what it did to the others.’

‘Let’s turn around and get out of here,’ said DeepHaul, and the men crowding round nodded.

‘Can’t, don’t you see what size it is? It’s grown already.’

‘So what? Who cares what size it is if we’re dead?’ said DeepHaul.

‘No,’ Jury was already lining up the ship. ‘We stay, ready the weapons Svelt.’

‘You’re out of your mind Jury. Nothing we have’s going to damage that thing,’ said the woman from the quarantine satellite.

‘You’re not thinking right Svelt. We’re not going to aim at it. We’re going to aim for what it’s attached too.’

When he saw she understood Jury nodded, ‘That’s right; the hive.’

(to be continued)

Pt. 19

‘Where?’ Svelt had to fight to keep her voice under control as the ship bounced through the planets atmosphere.

‘You should be able to see an exhaust,’ said Jury, ‘some sort of gas venting from the environment processors. I’d hurry; if it’s emptied that tower where do you think it’s going to go next?’

Svelt called up a scan of the building’s interior.

‘They’ve been upgrading it,’ she said over her shoulder. ‘I’m not sure what we’ve got will penetrate all the junk they’ve tacked on.’

‘Try.’

Jury’s face didn’t move; ever since their return, there’d been one coal, one ember, that still held life in him and it was burning to kill the creature, kill it, and anything like it.

‘Done,’ Svelt held her breath as she watched the ship’s lasers sear through the thin air. The visitor had completely enveloped most of the habitats lower levels now and it’s appendages danced over the shattered windows like spiders as it scoured the place clean.

‘Is that supposed to be doing that?’ DeepHaul pointed at the lasers power gauge. It was spiking dangerously close to meltdown.

‘No,’ Svelt powered down hands flying over the controls before the ship was torn to pieces.

‘Jury? Instructions, please. You’re the one that seems to think he knows most about these things.’

‘Why do you think that? Look what’s happened to me.’

Jury fingered his empty sockets.

Then DeepHaul stepped between them and stared at the visitor, ‘We’ll take it out. But you drop us off at the next colony alright? I’m not joking. If we do this for you we fly for the next colony and you let us out there.’

He tapped the side of his head where his slave circuits were wired up but you could see the other miners were already in agreement.

‘What?’ said Svelt.

‘Set us down somewhere close enough that we can walk there and back on suit air.’ DeepHaul turned to the man nearest him, ‘Shale? You still got the gear?’

‘Course, you said to bring it in case these lot turned out to be crooked.’

DeepHaul tried not to meet Svelt’s eyes. ‘Yeah, well, it’s not the first time we’ve had a dodgy customer turning up. There’s still enough material on that orbital to buy a small planet.’

‘What do you want to do?’ said Jury.

‘There’s only one way we’re going to bring that thing down, and that’s with these.’ DeepHauls fingers tapped the black wrapped lozenges Shale was handing out. Each of the lumps had a countdown on it ready to start.

‘Most of our mining operations we don’t need to be on the surface.’ DeepHaul shrugged, but every now and then we come across a snag that can’t be sorted out from orbit; that’s when we use these babies.

‘We’ll give you one shot. You fuck it up, we leave,’ said Jury.

DeepHaul’s voice was calm as ice when he answered, ‘Wouldn’t expect anything else.’

Svelt screamed as the ship lurched and the howl of tortured metal and multiple alarms grew worse.

‘Ready lads? We’ve got work to do,’ said DeepHaul.

‘Good luck,’ the rest of what Jury was going to say was lost as the ship hit the surface.

(to be continued)

Pt. 20

‘How are they?’

Jury’s ears were still full of the sound of the ships impact, but the miners had barely waited for it to slow before leaping to the planets surface.

Svelt glanced over, ‘The first are nearly there…wait…I think its spotted us.’

Her eyes searched the screens. It was hard to tell from the dots crawling past the wreckage but they looked too near the creature wrapped round the tower for safety.

‘Come on DeepHaul…answer me’

Her finger stabbed at the communication channel.

‘What is it?’ DeepHaul’s voice crackled through the air before there was the sound of rending metal. ‘It knows we’re here. Most of it’s tied up with what’s in there right now, but it’s looking for us.’

Gunfire erupted in the distance.

‘What’s happened to the residents?’ said Jury. ‘Tell me what you can see.’

‘They’re,’ DeepHaul paused, ‘I think some of them are still alive.’

There was a scream and more gunfire. When DeepHaul’s voice came back his words were short and fast like he’d been running. ‘Deploying charges now.’

‘Svelt,’ Jury’s empty sockets found her face, ‘activate the remotes.’

A rank of screens snapped into life.

‘I can see them Jury,’ said Svelt. The creature reminded her of an insect – one that was crippled deep inside. It stalked over the towers surface like even the air burned dragging figure after struggling figure from inside. For a moment they were outlined against arcs of blinding white as the buildings atmosphere controls shorted out and then the creatures legs stabbed through their eyes draining the life from them in seconds. For a moment after their deaths it calmed and its movements became almost graceful, but it never last long. What fell to the earth and joined the growing pile of bodies looked worse than the corpses from the pyramid.

‘Tell them to bring some of it back if they can. One of its tentacles, or a chunk of leg,’ said Jury.

‘You hear that DeepHaul? We need a sample.’

‘I’ll see what I can do.’

The gunfire had gotten worse and as the ship gained altitude Svelt got a better look at what was happening. She was silent for a moment.

‘Jury…they’re going to die.’

‘I know.’

While the miners finished strapping the charges to the habitats generators the first of the creatures legs was creeping up behind.

‘I should tell them.’

‘Don’t,’ said Jury, ‘maybe some will make it out.’

Svelt doubted it. She was watching the bulges in its flesh and what was left of the planets citizenry as they were drawn towards the organs it used for digestion.

‘They’re headed back this way now,’ said Svelt.

The dots on the screen had formed into a ragged wedge and as Svelt watched the visitor dropped over the last of the fleeing men. It was too quick to hear their screams.

‘DeepHaul, you still there?’ said Jury

The miner’s voice came back ‘…only just.’

‘We saw.’

Whatever else Jury had been about to say it was lost as detonations shook the bridge. There was the faint sound of firing; then DeepHaul’s voice came back.

‘We did it…watch.’

One of the ships drones showed a view of the tower as flames leapt from its side. The creature recoiled from the heat like someone had used a blowtorch.

‘It’s not dead,’ Svelt was close to screaming. ‘Jury…’

On the screen a mouth was opening and there was the faint rattle of legs against the hull.

(to be continued)

Pt. 21

As the creature detached from the tower’s side Jury felt Svelt’s hand creep into his. The ship had begun to display what the creature had been doing through the rents in the building’s superstructure and they could see it wasn’t just people it had been taking. The towers lower levels and the apron of land that held its infrastructure, were empty. From sewage plants to mini-nukes the concrete plinths that had held them had been scoured clean.

‘It’s just a skeleton,’ breathed Svelt as the sound of metal buckling reached their ears. ‘Listen…’ she said as the tower began to topple and figures jumped to their deaths. ‘We were right their are people alive in there. What are we going to do?’

‘Forget them. We need to get our own survivors aboard. Drop the lines.’

The heavy steel hawsers used to anchor the ship were coiled near the back. Jury heard Svelt kick them outside moments later as he powered up the engines.

‘They better be able to climb,’ he said between gritted teeth trusting to the ships automatics to plot a course away from the noise he could hear getting closer. Jury was starting to appreciate there was a plus side to being blind.

‘They’re here,’ said Svelt as someone clambered into the loading bay.

‘That them?’ Jury called over his shoulder.

‘There’s no ‘them’ anymore Jury. Not any longer. There’s just me…’ DeepHaul sounded more tired than he’d heard him since they’d met, ‘the others are dead.’

Jury didn’t waste time, already the ships proximity alarms were going off. He hit maximum the same time he heard his companions begin to scream.

(to be continued)

Pt. 22

‘There,’ Svelt felt the gravity that had flattened her during the journey ease as they left the planet’s atmosphere. ‘We made it.’

‘Just,’ said DeepHaul. Half the displays in front of them were lit up in various shades of red and he didn’t want to think about how much fuel they’d burned either.

‘What if it follows us?’ said Svelt.

‘It won’t,’ DeepHaul dragged himself to where she was sitting and gazed down at the planets surface with a confidence he didn’t feel. ‘It’ll be too busy feeding on what’s left. Isn’t that right Jury?’

When only silence reached their ears Svelt craned round. ‘Jury?’ But the seat that had held him was empty, ‘…where is he DeepHaul?’

‘Search me,’ said the miner as they finished powering down. ‘There’s not many places he can go is there? Cargo probably; I heard him muttering about checking storage.’

Svelt unbuckled, something about Jury’s absence was making the hairs on her arms stand on end.

‘DeepHaul, what were you carrying when you got here?’

There hadn’t been time to ask when they’d been trying to avoid joining the others inside the creatures guts.

‘That? Well you told me to get something from it didn’t you?’ DeepHaul’s smile was razor thin. ‘I cut a bit off.’

‘Where is it now?’ said Svelt.’

‘I gave it to him. There wasn’t much time for anything else. We were about to die.’

The last expression she’d seen on Jury’s face came back to Svelt.

‘Where are you?’ she said to herself.

Jury checked again, but the bulkhead was still sealed, and although he couldn’t hear behind it that squirming voice was in his head like it was filled with worms.

He tore another piece from the creature’s flesh and lifted it to his empty sockets desperate to see something, anything. He knew it wasn’t dead, from the first moment he’d picked it up it the creatures flesh had writhed against his hands like a living thing despite its amputation. But Jury didn’t care; he ached for the flashes of light that burst in his head when he touched it. Even the cold pinpricks that filled him then were better than the void.

By the time they finished battering the door down he’d used most of it.

‘Jury…Jury…are you alright?’ said Svelt and he felt her hands on him, swift imprints of warmth that faded too quick to halt the cold that was filling him. She tried again to uncurl him from the ball he was hunched in.

‘Jury, are you Ok? Please…say something.’

But Jury’s knuckles were buried in his sockets and he was rocking back and forth like he couldn’t hear a word.

‘What have you done?’ said Svelt.

When they finally took his hands away the light was so fierce he screamed.

‘What is it? Jury…please…’

‘You don’t understand Svelt. I can see, I can see…and…it’s…so…cold.’

Jury stood up, as the ice that burned from every object in the room filled his skull. He never heard the cry of revulsion from Svelt, or her hands leave his body. The man with the creature’s flesh stuffed where his eyes had been was too full of triumph for that.

‘I can see,’ said Jury.

(to be continued)

Pt. 23

Jury’s eyes were on fire like what he’d placed in his sockets wasn’t flesh, but ice, or metal. Yes, maybe metal because his head felt so heavy it was in danger of falling off….and there was something attached to the end of his arm.

‘Svelt?’

The light was so bright it felt like hammers striking the inside of his skull. But he was aware of her looking back at him from where he’d pushed her against the wall, and her heartbeat in her chest.

‘You don’t get off her right now friend I’ll put a bullet in your head,’ said DeepHaul’s voice behind him and Jury felt the muzzle of a rifle nudge against the back of his neck.

‘That’s better,’ said the miner as he removed his gun, and then, as Jury turned round there was a sharp indrawn breath.

Jury let his fingers explore his face. He could touch the cold orbs of squirming matter he’d used as prosthetics. There was no pain and he frowned as he tried to make sense of the images they were feeding him.

‘Right side up…I wasn’t sure it would be,’ said Jury.  His companions faces looked like death, corpses, as bloodless as dead meat. ‘Wasn’t sure if it would work either.’

Jury glanced at the appendage he’d used as a donor.

‘What are you talking about? DeepHaul had reached Svelts side and was lifting her up. Svelt coughed and rubbed her neck. ‘You’ve half murdered her,’ said the miner.

‘She’ll be alright. I wasn’t sure it was her that was all.’ Jury let his hands fall from his face. ‘I’m not used to how things look yet. But I will be; in time. Everything will be alright now I can see again, don’t you worry.’

‘Well, I hope you’re alright to fly this thing. I don’t know if she’s going to be able to do it the condition she’s in.’

Jury took in the sobbing woman; she did look a little distressed.

‘Can she talk?’ said Jury.

He watched as DeepHaul put his head to her mouth.

‘Enough to call you an arsehole.’

Jury nodded everything was going to be just fine.

‘I don’t think you understand. I can see and I know just what to do.’

‘Oh yeah, and what’s that?’

DeepHaul deposited Svelt in one of the flight seats as Jury’s new mercury eyes scanned the controls and checked the maps co-ordinates.

‘We have to kill it.’

‘Yeah, I gathered that, and then what?’

‘Then we have to kill all of them, and for that we have to return.’

Jury frowned, it was difficult to read the expression on the miners face now his companions looked the same.

‘To the dimension it came from?’ said Deephaul. ‘The one she’s been telling me about?’

Jury nodded.

‘Why?’

‘To let them in of course. We can’t do the job over there.’ Jury shook his head. ‘We need them over here where we outnumber them.’

Jury didn’t tell him what else his new eyes allowed him to see. How his friends looked like they were at the center of a plant whose roots stretched through the ships walls, and out into space and its constellations. It’s rhizomes were the frail bodies in front of him. The Nephilim would strip them of all that; cut the futures from them like they were pruning heads leaving just one naked obedient lifeline, a perfect servant until even its time came.

But first he would kill their child.

(to be continued)

Pt. 24

Jury stabbed at the readout with a hand he could barely see in the freezing shades of mercury passing for sight now his eye sockets were filled with the Nephilim’s flesh.

‘I knew it; it was right where it said it would be.’

‘You mean the rocks?’ Svelt leaned forwards; the asteroid cloud was one of the larger examples of its type floating through the void. It looked big enough to swallow a flotilla. ‘We can’t go in; we’ll be torn apart.’

‘We can and we will,’ said Jury.

His companions stared at him, neither felt like arguing with a man that looked like he did now.

‘What’s so special about it?’ said DeepHaul. It was just another load of semi-frozen rubble to him. Here and there he caught the glimmer of what might be deposit worth extracting, but that was all.

Jury shut his eyes and listened to the sliver worming its way through the back of his head.

‘There’s something in there; something old.’ He was tempted to say more but he kept his mouth shut. They must already think he was mad after what he’d done.

‘What like last time?’ said Svelt thinking of the abandoned gateway and its shattered pyramid. ‘What if we let another one in?’ Through the viewports the rocks were looming closer. For a moment she thought she could see structures on them, but that couldn’t be possible not out here. Svelt shook her head- annoyed with herself.

‘We’ll dock, or at least land,’ said Jury although you could see he was talking to himself. ‘There’s still enough of a breathable atmosphere trapped in the hull. They liked to receive visitors.’

‘What are you talking about Jury,’ said Svelt ‘…who did?’

‘Who do you think?’ said Jury with a grin that made you wish he’d kept it to himself. ‘The Nephilim…they’ve been here before.’

They were nearing the clouds center now and Svelt and DeepHaul could see what it had hidden. The nearest sun was reflecting off an object that looked like it had been borne in the manufacturing yards floating in deep space and whatever it was had materialised half inside one of the rocks. Jury followed a manipulator twice the size of the ship. What was left of the crew must have been trying to pull themselves out.

‘Is that what I think it is?’ said DeepHaul with his voice so low the others could barely hear it.

‘It’s one of their ships isn’t it?’ Svelt’s mouth was hanging open.

Jury nodded and said, ‘We land there.’

‘It’s definitely from them?’ Svelt slipped her hand into his. For a moment Jury was too startled to speak. In a world as cold and dead as the one he saw now Svelt was somehow different.

‘I think so,’ said Jury.

(to be continued)

Pt. 25

Planets weren’t the only thing that had been mined when the colonists started to cross space and at first the machine fused into the asteroid reminded Jury of that. As they got closer he began to wonder what was left of the crew trapped in there.

‘Reverse, we’re going in too fast,’ said Jury.

But their escape from the alien thing stalking the planet they’d left behind must have affected the ship’s capacity to decelerate. No matter what Svelt did their speed didn’t alter. When they hit the rig they went through more walls than Jury could count; each impact like crashing through an eggshell. Whatever it had been made of once; the ship felt like a ghost, as frail as shed skin. After their vessel had come to a halt Jury raised his head surprised he was still breathing and that it was attached to his shoulders.

‘Who else is alive?’

There was a pause and Jury had plenty of time to contemplate a life marooned on an asteroid until the oxygen ran out.

‘Here,’ Svelt’s voice sounded like she thought it was too loud to use. When DeepHaul and her emerged from the rubble filling the bridges deck Jury was gladder than he liked to admit despite the Nephilim’s coldness where his eyes had been. He was doubly glad when he saw what the display screens were showing.

‘Looks like we crashed right in,’ said Jury.

On the screen, gas was leaking from shattered conduits filling the rig with a pale white cloud.

‘You think this is something they made?’ said Svelt.

Jury’s eyes were responding to the material like they were made of the same thing. ‘Something did, and…we’re not alone.’

‘I can see that,’ murmured Svelt, ‘look.’

The gas was spreading and as they watched ripples formed and spread in it like there were things moving inside.

‘Can we get out?’ said DeepHaul.

‘I doubt it,’ said Jury. On the bridge’s controls a light had begun to flash. ‘That’s an information dump,’ he said gesturing at the bulb. ‘Someone’s trying to transmit something.

What good is that going to do if we’re stuck here?’ said Svelt.

‘I don’t think we will be much longer, look.’ DeepHaul nodded in the direction of the ships side.

As they watched their ships remotes zoomed in on the rents in its hull. They were weaving back together like a spider working in reverse. Jury had watched a simulation once of what happened to an unsuited combatant when they were caught in a bio attack. Watching the ships wall was like seeing that except in reverse as atoms and molecules finished restitching themselves.

But the real question was what had the ship brought with it?

Jury watched the gas with narrowed eyes; as he fought the urge to scratch them.

(to be continued)

Pt. 26

A noise like someone was stripping the cogs in a machine reached their ears as the ship settled further into the hole it had made. Below them, where its nose cone pointed at the ground, Jury could see movement between the pipes and abandoned gear.

‘Looks like we’ve got something headed our way,’ said Jury as a cloud the colour of an angry thunderhead began to spread through the machinery in the rigs depths. As they looked plumes the colour of phosphorescence in an ocean appeared inside it. Before long its swirls and eddies had spread through the rigs infrastructure and were climbing up to meet them. He heard something that might have been a scream before the currents ripped it to shreds and the mouth that had been opened inside the storm was silenced.

‘What is that do you think?’ said Jury.

The bulkheads that they could see on the balconies nearby were crowded with wheels and dials like one of the old submersibles back before earth had invented the combustion engine. As they watched the read outs flickered and lights came on in their midst.

‘I don’t know but the rig looks like one of those habitats they used to build in the oceans doesn’t it?’ said Svelt. ‘It’s definitely cold enough.’ She wrapped her arms round herself. The cloud filling the vast chamber from wall to barely glimpsed wall was beginning to get so thick they could hardly see. More gas was joining it now from vents strung along the different levels as the crash site began to shake.

‘Getting closer,’ DeepHaul cocked his gun.

‘Put that away,’ Jury shoved the man back. ‘You’re not going to hit anything, look at it.’ He jammed his palms over his eyes; the stolen orbs were itching like the gas was made of something that aggravated them. It was only when he looked at his companions he felt calm as the air rippled around them like they were pebbles dropped in a pond.

‘Time to go,’ said Jury.

As they watched shadows began to move in the halls depths. Something was waking up down there.

‘Jury? What are we going to do?’ said Svelt.

But Jury’s attention was on the debris from their arrival. It was starting to move. As he watched a screw lifted from the deck and began to revolve end over end.

‘It’s forcing us out,’ said Svelt.

As they looked the last of the wall finished stitching itself together and there was the hiss of returning oxygen as the bridge’s lights came back on. None of them saw the tendril escaping from the hatch by their feet. They were too busy looking at the crash site as it began to fold in on itself. It was Svelt that first noticed the word blinking steadily on the screens.

She pointed, ‘Look.’

‘DOWNLOAD COMPLETE.’

Read the message.

(to be continued)

Pt. 27

Another section of the rig below them teetered and collapsed. The destruction had been moving slowly but it was fast becoming a storm. Jury heard Svelt gasp.

‘What the hell was that?’

‘Where?’ said Jury.

‘I’m not sure,’ answered Svelt. ‘If we weren’t in space I’d say there are things moving out there like a swarm of bats.’

‘Not bats,’ DeepHaul’s voice was strained. ‘Ships, gotta be. Whoever made that machine’s still out there and they’re coming for what’s left.’

‘And whoever destroyed it,’ said Jury. But as he watched shadows chase each other over the asteroid he wasn’t as sure as he sounded. ‘Lets have a look at that download.’

At first all they could see was the snarl of unfiltered static. Then little by little a face appeared. It looked Egyptian, although it was made of electricity and the kohl round the woman’s eyes was lines of code.

‘Who…what…are you?’ said Jury as the smell of combusting wiring filled his nostrils.

‘You have security parameters in place; why?’ said the woman on the screen. ‘Lower them. ‘

The image glitched and then returned even clearer than before.

‘You are an invasive program that was not given clearance to invade this craft. What do you want?’ said Jury.

The face hissed; its mouth opening and closing as it howled.

‘I need access to its systems.’

‘You came from that thing on the rock didn’t you?’ said Jury.

The face on the screen stilled as though it got pleasure at the thought. ‘We killed them and took over. Then their machine turned against itself and drained what was left to husks. But we were marooned when it attacked us too, awake but too empty to leave. When your ship appeared we lured you in. One of us had to escape on something with the means of finding if there’s more.’

‘What will happen if there is?’ Jury looked at the stars spread across the heavens.

‘System death, entropy, the total lack of energy in this reality.’

‘What are these invaders called?’

‘They are the Nephilim.’

(to be continued)

Pt. 28

The faces on the bridge looked cold and dead in the light from the ships instruments as the rig began to crumple like it was at the bottom of the sea. Phosphorescence span around it and Jury watched as the first outliers from its destruction began to close in.

The alien material in his sockets gleamed .

‘Are you seeing this?’

He stabbed at the screen as system after system went into lock down.

‘We’re moving,’ said Jury. Metal popped and stretched in the vacuum before a voice answered.

‘Yes, toward it, but we’re still so far.’

It had come from the ships speakers and the screen squalled and resolved into the woman’s face. Their visitor was back.

‘Toward what? Who are you?’ said Jury.

‘Ankhetitat,‘ said the face on the screen.

‘Jury…what is it?’ Svelt’s voice was low like she was afraid to say the words.

‘I think we’re looking at a fracture, a tear in space,’ said Jury watching the last of the rig fold in on itself. ‘Our visit disturbed something it shouldn’t.’

‘That’s not possible,’ said Svelt, ‘look’.

New co-ordinates were appearing on the navigation consoles as another jolt slammed the three of them into the nearest bulwark.

‘Success,’ their visitor’s voice sounded like she’d tasted something sweet. ‘The energy the Nephilim’s entry into this dimension displaced has reached us. We can ride it to the world cloud.’

‘The what?’ said Jury.

‘A place where so many lives are born they’re like seeds.’

‘You mean a nebula? Seeds are something that grow planet-side right?’ said DeepHaul. ‘Small green things? We’re in space. Nothing grows here.’

‘The world cloud, is a little different some say it’s a lung turning vacuum into futures. Others that it’s a virus and that it’s alive,’ said the visitor.

Svelt stared out of the view-port.

‘How fast do you think we’re moving?’ she pointed at the green tidal wave that had them in its grip.

DeepHaul checked the readouts, ‘faster than we’d go under our own power that’s for sure.’

‘Then the ship wasn’t designed to cope with it,’ finished Svelt for them.

‘I still don’t understand,’ said Jury. ‘What’s out there?’

‘Where do you think all this comes from?’ said Ankhetitat and the viewports lit up showing the stars outside.

‘You mean the dust traps – where matter accumulates around matter?’ said Jury.

‘That’s right,’ breathed the woman, ‘…seeds.’

‘But we’ve already charted the stars. We know what’s out there,’ said DeepHaul. ‘There’s no such thing as a world cloud.’

Svelt pointed at the maps. ‘We’ve been sending unmanned exploration drones since way before we even began the first extractions. There’s nothing out there that would produce planets fast enough to be described as seeds.

‘That’s because you haven’t been looking in the right place,’ said their visitor. ‘Not all of them stay where they can be seen.’

‘What do you mean by that?’ said Svelt. ‘Travel to other dimensions has been tried. It doesn’t work. Even our machines can’t make it without being turned inside out.’

‘The Nephilim aren’t machines and they know where it is,’ replied Ankhetitat.

‘But what was back there was.’

‘Yes, but you should think of the rig like a submersible. They built them to come here, and they traveled inside.’

‘What’s wrong with where they come from?’ said Jury looking at the woman on the screen.

‘There’s nothing left. The Nephilim have appetites and there’s little remaining that they can feed on.’

‘How long will the journey take?’ said Jury.

‘Long enough, there’ll be more of my kind where we’re going. They’ll open a way through the Tesseract.’

‘Tesseract?’

‘The cube that hides the world cloud.’

‘Then what should we do?’ said Svelt.

‘Rest, there’s hyper sleep if you need it and you don’t mind the dreams.’ A chuckle echoed round the ships depths. ‘I’ve repaired the damage you sustained. We should make it without too many problems.’

Jury had forgotten the last time he’d tried to close his eyes and part of him was wondering if the stolen things in his sockets would allow him to do it.

He nodded.

(to be continued)

Pt. 29

Jury’s breath plumed in front of him. He gasped – drawing in recycled O2 that tasted metallic and stale into lungs that felt like they should crackle. He slowly became aware of Ankhetitat’s voice talking.

‘…halved. Drop into normal space completed.’

Jury clamped a hand on the sus cot’s side and levered himself forward. The plastic lozenges used to monitor his internals falling away one by one with the sound of hailstones hitting water.

‘The others?’ said Jury shivering slightly as his body struggled to adjust.

‘All vitals are functioning correctly. They’ll wake as soon as the rest of their organs come on line. You’ll be happy to know our journey was conducted without any significant hitches. We have arrived.’

‘Let me see.’

Jury winced as he staggered for the suspension suites door. They’d been kept under long enough for atrophication to have set in despite the electrical impulses designed to stop muscle failure.

‘When he got to it the bridge stayed cold and dark a long time before its panels flickered into life.

‘That’s it?’

Jury blinked, in all his years exploring the edge of known space he’d never seen anything like it. One wall of the ships deck was filled with a representation of the gas cloud swirling outside. It looked like the iris of a god. But that wasn’t what caught his attention. It was what was around it that made his pulse really quicken.

‘Those things looks man made.’

The sounds of the others waking from their sleep came from behind and Jury’s fingers flashed over the ships HUD.

‘Enhance that…now…zoom.’

The image stuttered, frames flashing by too fast for the eye to catch. But when it was over he knew exactly what he was looking at.

‘The Maryland?’ he finished reading the words painted on the ship’s side; and that was only the nearest. There were plenty more spread along the edge of the cloud like staples. Jury staggered as the ship lurched. Whatever the cloud they’d flown so far to find was made of it had storms the same as anywhere else.

‘The Clearwater?’ said Svelt as she appeared on the bridge.

The Grinstead?’ read DeepHaul.

Jury didn’t turn round; there was something about the image that sucked at his stolen eyes.

‘They’re American then. Whoever they are,’ said DeepHaul.

‘There is no America anymore,’ answered Jury. ‘Hasn’t been for decades.’

‘I wonder if they know that,’ said Svelt.

As they watched lightning flashed deep inside the cloud and by its light they could see what else they’d missed – each ship had the stars and stripes emblazoned on its hull.

‘Wait, I remember this,’ Svelt’s voice was hushed. ‘They sent an expedition to the furthest reaches of space didn’t they? They were looking for something.’

As they watched one of the craft began to lower something into the cloud.

‘What’s that on the end of that?’ said Svelt pointing at the line.

‘They were supposed to prove the existence of alien lifeforms,’ muttered Jury, ‘the Scientologists were going through another of their schisms.’

‘What are you talking about?’ said DeepHaul.

‘You’re looking at an exploration mission.’

‘But those things look like they’re manned,’ said Svelt watching the lights spread across the vessels. Shadows were moving inside.’

‘If its the Church,’ Jury finally turning to face her, ‘when they made the offer they were nearly swamped. The other dimension was supposed to be the next final frontier – the home of the supreme being. They’ll be using automatons now – no need for living quarters.’

Another burst of lightning revealed what was on the end of the line.

‘And that’s a cage,’ said DeepHaul looking at the inverted pyramid made from welded bars.

‘Yes,’ said Jury.’ They watched as it and the screaming figures struggling within it were swallowed by the cloud, ‘…and there’s more than one.’

(to be continued)

Pt. 30 a

The med suits felt like being inside tin cans, but then the sort of diseases they’d been designed to cope with would give anyone nightmares for weeks.

Jury dinged the side of Svelt’s helmet, ‘Svelt? Can you hear me?’

‘Yes, said the woman behind the faceplate and if Jury felt uncomfortable it had to be ten times worse floating around in there. The suit was way too big for her. It was only DeepHaul out of the three who looked comfortable in the gear.

‘Reminds me of the old prospecting suits,’ said the miner absently fingering something that looked suspiciously like a bloody hand print. ‘They’ve seen action too.’ He brought his blood smeared mitten up to his eyes.

Jury read from the HUD scrolling in front of him.

‘They have – everywhere from Angola to Papua New Guinea and Salvador. They had to bomb an entire planet into submission in one of the outer quadrants when the infected spread to local government. These must be surplus from it.’

So what are we going to do?’ said DeepHaul. ‘Those things are designed for operating in deep space.’ He gestured at the staple ships holding the rent open. ‘The sort of explosive we’ve got won’t work.’

‘I’ve a better idea than that,’ Jury’s eyes shone. He’d spent the time as his companions suited up well. ‘Those things aren’t just an exploration mission.’

‘Course they are Jury,’ Svelt’s smile was warm and full of understanding, but she was still losing it.

‘Look you can see,’ she pointed at the nearest and the massive stars and stripes on its side. Jury’s grin grew a little broader.

‘Look closer.’

He allowed the ship’s on board security to zoom in. Underneath the peeling paint was a string of numbers.

‘Those are decommissioned hospital ships.’

‘You mean?’

‘Yeah, from the early stages of the outbreak when they still thought it was confined to the solar system. They had those things around every inhabited planet where they thought there was a chance of controlling it.

‘Why are they here then?’ said Svelt.

DeepHaul shrugged, ‘whoever it is got them on the cheap, I expect.’

But Jury was shaking his head and his stolen eyes glittered dully in the light from the rent torn through space.

‘These were for something else,’ said Jury.

They were still staring at it when a noise like glass breaking filled the ships bridge and the rent grew a little wider. The staple ships pinning its lips back bucked and writhed and they saw more than a few of them dragged into the swirling vortex as the wires leading into its depths snapped taught.

‘Something’s coming through,’ said Svelt.

As the first appendage appeared through the gap the noise changed until it reminded Jury of someone sticking their hand into the spokes of a wheel. As the sound grew faster and more of the crawling pallid tentacles crept through it didn’t take much to imagine screams.

‘That’s the problem, isn’t it?’ breathed Jury, ‘they haven’t made it wide enough.’

He looked around the tear. What he’d taken for the usual junk from any deep space operation was beginning to looks suspiciously like something else.

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 30 b

‘That’s not man made,’ Jury pointed at the floating chunks of debris, ‘that’s ice. We’re surrounded by ice. How long have they been doing this?’ he said, glancing at where the ships were dragging another Nephilim into normal space.

Their forward shields stuttered as bits of frozen alien bounced over the shell encasing them.

‘They’re doing this against those things will,’ said Jury.

Briefly the noise got louder as the proximity alarms sounded and they watched as the creature’s appendages thrashed and struggled as more of them crawled up the wires. DeepHaul was looking at Jury with an expression on his face like he’d rather be anywhere else right now.

‘I don’t think they’ve seen us yet, but still…’ said the miner.

‘Deploy the magnetics lets go see what we can see.’ Jury’s eyes gleamed,’ ready?’

‘Ready,’ answered DeepHaul and Svelt. Then the bottom of the bay they were stood in swung away and they were running through the docking ladder as it concertinaed toward the larger ship. There was a clang as it slammed against the nearest hatch and they were left staring at the indecipherable letters on its side.

Their mics were crackling so bad it sounded like lightning walking across a mountain range, and that hole was getting wider. Jury could barely hear DeepHaul as he struggled with the lock. He looked at the heavily armoured staple perched on the hole’s lip. It was staying impervious to attempts to scan it.

‘What the hell is this?’ screamed DeepHaul. ‘Hospital ships were supposed to be universally operable.’

‘This must have been built before the ascension,’ said Jury.

‘They were using a bastardised form of Chinese then,’ said Svelt dragging herself closer to the pictograms supposedly denoting how to open the airlock from the outside.  ‘Let me have a look,’ It wasn’t long before she began to shake her head.

‘I can’t make head nor tale of it.’

DeepHaul joined in, ‘Damn right, neither can I.’

They both looked at Jury, but he was floating – still as a stone with a half-smile on his face. He was just beginning to work out what else his new eyes could do. Jury let them roam through the other vessel’s depths.

‘We don’t,’ said the black man. ‘We let them do it for us. Ship? Begin firing.’

DeepHaul and Svelt’s mouths were open so far he could see them through their helmets.

‘Affirmative,’ came the voice of their computer, ‘for how long?’

‘For the duration, or until you expire.’ Jury turned to the other crew members. ‘This way we kill two birds with one stone. That alien we took onboard will die with the ship too.’

‘What have you done?’ screamed DeepHaul lunging for the smiling black man as their vessel opened fire on the hospital ship, but Svelt held him back.

‘Don’t start fighting, not now,’ said the girl.

‘Why though?’ said DeepHaul.

‘Listen.’

As the first detonations began to make the skeletal mandible shudder, they heard the faint sound of stampeding feet.

‘They’ll vent that deck to put out the fire. When they do it’s our opportunity to get in.’

‘We’ll never make it,’ said DeepHaul. ‘Have you got any idea how fast air is going to come out of there?’

‘We have to,’ Jury shrugged, ‘…better buckle up.’

As the noise grew louder, he unshackled a lanyard from his waist and attached it to the hospital ship. DeepHaul and Svelt didn’t waste any time doing the same. As the first light from the opening fell across them, they clipped their lanyards to the handholds bolted along its side too.

‘Hold on,’ smiled Jury.

And the storm began.

‘Is that it?’ said Svelt when it was over.

‘Has to be,’ DeepHaul watched the deck’s detritus speed into the distance. ‘Doesn’t it?’

(to be continued)

Pt. 31

The klaxons were still ringing in their ears when the ship’s hull split apart and red light blazed into the void. It was like looking at the opening to a forge and it was getting wider.

‘How long do you think that’s going to stay open?’ said Svelt as DeepHaul finished tinkering with the bay’s locking mechanism.

‘Plenty long enough to draw attention. I’d get a move on,’ said the miner bracing himself in the gap with his hand extended as shots began to lance past them. He looked over his shoulder and back at them.

‘Stay.’

It was the sort of command you’d bark at a dog but clearly Jury wasn’t listening as he began to return fire into the half open cargo bay.

‘I said stay.’

DeepHaul’s foot caught Jury in the face and his head whipped round, but it had done what he wanted. The bay doors were un-obstructed again and Svelt got a clear view as DeepHaul stepped back before turning to face the figures boiling in from the far end. So many fragmentation bolts were impacting with the door as it slid shut it felt like a meteor storm and Svelt fell back in a tangle of arms and legs.

When she looked up DeepHaul was gone.

‘He was just here,’ said Svelt searching the ships impassive metal slabs. ‘Do you think he’ll be alright?’

Jury had raised himself up with a dazed expression on his face. He shook his head.

‘You saw how many of them there were.’

They sat watching the door, flinching occasionally as impacts slammed home on the other side.

‘At least there was an atmosphere. I wouldn’t have thought they’d bother if they’re using automatons,’ said Svelt.

‘Must be something breathing in there.’

The thought made Jury more than a little nervous. If it had been a generation ship he’d have said it was because the original crew had had offspring. But none of the preliminary scans had shown signs of life. Jury felt his eyeballs crawl.

‘Yeah, me,’ came DeepHaul’s voice as the screech of tortured metal erupted over their helmet mics and the crack that had appeared while Jury had been thinking widened another inch or two. They stared as the end of a crowbar appeared.

‘Found this while the rest of them were bleeding out.’

DeepHaul threw the bar at their feet. ‘Funniest bunch of automatons I’ve seen. They look machine from the outside but inside.’ He wiped one blood smeared hand on his suit. ‘It’s the usual gunk.’

‘Where are they now?’ said Jury clambering over the bays lip and into the corpse littered interior. He turned to help Svelt over the edge as the airlocks outer doors sealed.

‘Gone, most of them that could anyway. I hardly did anything,’ said the squat miner.

‘Then they’ll be back soon,’ replied Jury.

‘Yeah,’ DeepHaul, glanced uneasily at one of the decompression clocks that was still slowly ticking down nearby. ‘I wouldn’t be so…’

The rest of what he was going to say was lost as the last of the cargo bay doors slammed shut neatly slicing his face from the bone.

‘De…’ Svelt’s voice vanished amongst the snap of docking bolts blowing.’

‘Someone must have reversed the polarisation on the coupling’s,’ howled Jury over the departing atmosphere before the last of DeepHaul’s bisected body dropped from the doors and they finished sealing up.

‘Come on,’ he grabbed Svelt’s hand. ‘He’s dead.’ Jury wiped the blood off Svelt’s faceplate.

‘But…’

‘Don’t argue.’

Jury wasn’t sure where he thought he was dragging her too. There hadn’t been time to search through the ships schematics properly before they’d left. But that pull was back in his eyeballs – as insistent as if they had hooks buried in their centres. There was something in the ship that wanted to see him.

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 32

To her credit Svelt didn’t struggle; although once Jury had scraped the worst of DeepHaul off her there was a shell shocked expression on her face that was worse.

‘Svelt, come on, snap out of it.’ Jury’s voice echo’d down the low ceilinged corridor lit by a few flickering light panels. ‘I can’t look after you like this.’

‘But DeepHaul…’

‘Is dead, get over it. We’re on our own. You notice something about this place?’

He brushed some dangling wires to one side.

‘It looks…old?’

‘Yeah, I was right this is one of the original medical vessels. Notice anything else?’

‘Cells.’

‘Clever girl,’ muttered Jury. They were passing door after door with hatches down low, level with the floor and grills at head height. He’d glanced in a few but you couldn’t see much.

‘They sent them through didn’t they?’ said Svelt.

He nodded and said, ‘Still sending them through, I think. I wonder how far along they’ve got? There were thousands here at one point.’

They stopped at a map showing the decks and medical facilities.

‘Where do we go?’ said Svelt.

‘Up,’ Jury’s eyes gleamed, up was where they wanted to go and he was in the mood to follow. A fragmentation bolt slammed through the air between them.

‘We’ve got company,’ Jury grabbed Svelt’s hand and they backed away.

‘Jury?’

‘Yeah?’

‘If they know this ship so well how are we going to stop them finding us?’

Jury would have liked to say something comforting. instead he pulled her into the shadows with him as feet stampeded past.

‘This better be the right way,’ said Jury but he could feel the stolen flesh in his sockets dance. It was excited and he had a feeling he knew what by. The tramp of more footsteps filled the air.

‘We haven’t got much choice,’ Svelt kept her voice low. ‘There’s so many of them back there they fill the corridor, and they’ve brought nets.’

She looked straight at him. ‘I know you don’t see things the same anymore.’ He felt her fingers brush his cheek and the warmth spread from her skin, ‘but I’m not going through that hole out there. I’d rather die.’

Jury nodded, he had a feeling that wasn’t going to be that hard a wish to grant.

‘Let’s go then.’

They turned to leave just as a barrage of fragmentation bolts turned the wall they’d been standing against into liquid metal. Jury knocked a hole in a doors controls with the butt end of his rifle and then they were racing through the ships guts.

Neither of them wanted to talk about what was opening their way for them as barrier after barrier slid up in front.

When they arrived Jury began to think heading for the bridge might have been the right thing to do all along. As the last airlocked slammed shut behind them he took in the barren frozen earth they were stood on.

‘We’re in a park.’

‘Not much of one now,’ Svelt’s voice crackled in his ear. They’d suited up again when they’d begun to see how much damage the ship had sustained in its long shift standing guard on the edge of space. There hadn’t been bodies. Jury had a feeling they were too precious to leave floating around.

They stepped under the branches of trees that were in the midst of the most terminal winter of their lives and Jury felt Svelt stop by his side. He didn’t know how that was possible seeing as the shattered bio facility’s atmosphere had long fled to be replaced by cold void.

‘Jury?

She was pointing at a mandible spreading through the withered branches on its way to what was left of the dome’s struts. He followed the appendage with his eyes. There was more than one and each of them was encased in the sort of cuff that would keep a dinosaur in place. Jury saw lights flash along their sides and wondered if they were armed.

‘Just be careful,’ those look strong enough,’ said Jury. ‘But we don’t know for sure.’

At the end of the path was the remains of a little area where the parks patrons could stop to admire the heavens wheeling above them.

The view was different now.

Svelt’s gasp was clearly audible over the helmet mic.

‘They only went and caught one didn’t they?’ breathed Jury.

Spreadeagled in front of them was a fully grown Nephilim. Jury followed the tubes leading from the ships interior to its sides. ‘They’re feeding it too.’

The maggot bodied thing twitched as though something had disturbed whatever passed for dreams amongst its kind and Svelt’s voice reached his ears again.

‘Jury? Are those stitches?’

 

(to be continued)

Svelt and Jury hadn’t gone far from the few sparse trees before they realised just how many of the creatures limbs there were. They spread overhead like the branches of a forest made from spider legs and the impression only got worse when they saw what they did to the man. He’d appeared out of nowhere; one minute the bare frost saturated ground had been empty and the next there was someone standing there. Their back was to them and whoever it was was getting a close up of the alien, but they weren’t running. Jury saw why a moment later.

‘What’s that?’ said Jury pointing to the thin circle of red light rising from the ground round the figures feet.

‘I don’t know a lift? A containment field?’ said Svelt.

‘It’s an anti personnel barrier isn’t it?’ breathed Jury. ‘They’ve got him staked out there like bait.

‘Maybe that’s what he is.’

Whoever had tethered the alien in place they hadn’t cuffed all its mandibles. Round what Jury assumed was its head there were a few that had been left loose and these were unfurling towards the new arrival, sneaking across the gap so they could curl round him. At first he tried to escape, dodging this way and that but every time he touched that wall of light it flared and he rebounded as the smell of burning filled the air. His screams over their helmet mics sounded more angry than afraid, but as the containment field switched off and those legs found his head that changed.

‘Jury…we’ve got to…’ said Svelt.

‘Wait.’

‘This time it was Jury’s hand on Svelt’s arm. He’d seen what else the dead branches had concealed. Way up high where the domes rafters scythed across the stars were other lights.

‘Anyone goes anywhere near that little show is going to get fried to a crisp. They’ve got it locked down in a grid.’

‘Why isn’t he calling out for help? Someone might come,’ said Svelt.

Jury doubted that. The ship must have been there for decades to be in the condition it was in. If there’d been any human natural lifespan crew they were more than likely long dead, or they’d left. An idea hit him.

‘I wonder if we can…’

As the thing in front of them finally pinned its prey in place Jury caught a clear look at the man’s suit.

‘They look like numbers to you?’ He said pointing with his plan forgotten.

Svelt nodded.

‘They’re like the ones prisoners wear,’ said the girl. ‘But no one would bother with the expense of sending convicts this far. They get used up in the colonies breaking rocks.’

‘No, this has all been here too long for it to be that. He’s no convict.’ Jury paused. ‘He’s a clone, that’s what they’re feeding it, clones.’

The alien had the man pinioned firmly in place now and as the last of its legs snicked round him the clones feet left the ground. A thin trickle of what looked like blood escaped his suit and spattered to the floor. Svelt was silent now as they watched the twitching figure get lifted to the mouthparts in the things face. The result was like watching someone empty a can of soda except the Nephilim didn’t stop. What was left barely resembled a human being before the creature flung it in a corner.

Jury stood up.

That tug in his eyes had become so bad he they felt like they were being dragged from his head.

‘Wait, Jury, I’m coming with you.’

But Jury was barely paying attention he was too busy staring at the creature spreading through the dome. He never saw Svelt chambering a round in her gun.

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 34

As Jury stepped toward the creature his eyes crawled as though the amputated flesh below his brows wanted to return to its source in whatever the Nephilim were made of. He stopped as his feet met the tatters that were all that was left of the man it had consumed.

Svelt pulled him back.

‘Jury, stay down.’

The Nephilim was turning toward them and the movement made the dome vibrate like an earthquake were under way. Dust burst from the cuffs bolted on its bulkheads and Svelt began to fire round after round at the thing trapped in its prison. Jury didn’t need telling twice. He was on his knees screaming anyway as the muzzle flashes seared into his stolen eyes. Now the Nephilim had fed its pinioned mandibles slammed against their confinement and the movement was echo’d in his sockets. His hands went to his head gear, but the only way to gain access to his face was taking off the helmet, and the dome was filled with cold void.

He scrabbled at the lock. He’d dig anyway. He’d put the alien things there; he could get them out. Already he regretted the madness that had lead him to listen to the voice whispering to him in their ship. He wanted that niggling coldness that had spread inside him gone. He could live with the empty pits where site had been.

‘Got to get them out,’ said Jury.

He saw Svelt’s expression through the rain of empty shell cartridges.

‘Jury…no.’

Huge rents had appeared in the Nephilim’s side. But Jury was more concerned with the numbness spreading across his skin as it tightened and withered. The pain was getting worse.

‘Get to the…airlock…hurry,’ said Jury through gritted teeth.

Svelt shouldered her weapon and they began to stumble in the direction of the nearest door.

Inside Jury curled up as soon as he could hear the hiss of returning air. He could barely feel his fingers, but he still had plenty of breath left to scream. It looked like Svelt wasn’t far off doing the same either as she dropped her gun and tore off her helmet.

Outside the Nephilim was sitting amongst great clouds of spherical things like opaque frogspawn as it opened its mouthparts wide and the vibrations grew worse.

‘Svelt?’

‘Here let me have a look,’ said the girl.

There was a click and he felt his helmet disengage.

Nothing prepared him for her reaction.

‘Jury…your face. Your eyes.’

‘What? Jury groaned and tried to feel what had happened. Even through his mittens the contours felt wrong – thinner somehow and weakened.

‘Oh my God, it’s all over you,’ she said and there was horror mixed with the awe in her voice.

Jury stared blankly at the clumps of hair in his grip. Even his teeth felt loose in their sockets.

‘I think they’ve been feeding off you,’ said Svelt picking up her own helmet and triggering the blast shield. As she brought the silvered glass toward him Jury’s vision cleared. He opened his mouth and watched the distorted cadaver reflection mimic it.

She was right; they had been hungry.

‘What facilities are on this ship?’ said Jury.

But there was another expression on Svelt’s face now. She clapped her hand on his before he could draw the knife strapped to his thigh.

‘Wait, not yet anyway,’ said the girl. ‘There might be another way. You said this is a clone ship? And that man out there had been vat bred?’

He nodded.

‘Then we use one of them. There has to be equipment for a transferral. They’d have been planning to make a return journey wouldn’t they?

The viewing panel shuddered and they watched some of what had spilled from the Nephilim spin away into the darkness.

 

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 35

Jury could feel the wall against his back and hear the machine they’d come to find butting against the blast door that had slammed shut in front, but that was all.

’Svelt?’

‘I’m here Jury. I’ve got the hatch off.’

There was the sound of shorting wires as Svelt began to work her way deeper into the sarcohpagus shaped Undertaker swearing as she realised how old the technology was.

‘Jury? How you feeling?’

She heard a groan and risked a look over her shoulder. Jury was worse; a lot worse. His skin looked grey, wrinkled, almost translucent and under the thin epidermis still holding him together there was the shadow of things moving as cold roots burrowed and dug their way deep inside. Before her eyes he seemed to shrink as the Nephilim’s flesh ate at him. She turned her attention back to the machine ignoring the whine as she traced the lines of crystal lattice with her fingers.

‘Jury get up.’

But the man propped against the wall was as still as stone now and Svelt’s hands twitched. The machine was nowhere near as advanced as the one’s she was used too. There’d be no bringing him back if he was already dead. She checked his pulse and felt for the erratic beat that told her he was alive; he was…but only barely. At least the crystals that powered the machine were glowing now as it amped up and the controls sparked. She checked the power pack from her rifle where she’d taped it in place and added Jury’s. In its normal operating life, the machine had been designed to record the imprint of a patient’s families and friends plus any other visitors that came aboard. That didn’t mean that was all that it could do though. If enough power was added you could digitise a human being’s entire personality. Not just the shallow things it used as reassuring avatars.

‘You’ll be alright Jury.’ Svelt didn’t add what else she wanted to say. He’d be alright, sure, so long as he didn’t end up bouncing back and forth between the fire walls, Svelt scanned the logo on the machine’s side. ‘Pyramid Corps’ would have installed in order to make sure its customers downloads didn’t alter or decay during the process.

She grunted as she got her hands under Jury’s arms.

‘Christ, you’re heavier than you look.’

Panic flickered at the corner of her mind as she saw that Jury’s feet still stuck over the sarcophagus’ edge. She’d forgotten that in the decades preceding the excision the general human population had been smaller than the moderns. Sweat dripped down Svelt’s jet black skin painting curls and arabesques over her muscles. She had minutes…if they were lucky.

When it was over she slid the knife back into its sheath. She didn’t want to think about what she’d done or what the bloody amputated things were she’d kicked under the machine. Either way Jury was going to die unless she downloaded him and found a suitable sleeve.

‘At least you were unconscious.’

She watched Jury’s eyes as a faint tremble passed through them. Underneath their lids it looked like they’d burst leaving the glowing alien material spilling over his skin like ruptured eggs.

‘This better work.’

Surprised at herself she leant down and gave him a kiss before turning her attention back to the machine’s displays.

‘Come on, this has got to work.’

A red light began to flicker across his face after it had safely navigated the mess where his feet had been. The Undertaker was designed to scan biometrics as well after they’d found out what happened when they didn’t. Integrating a sleeve with its download was even harder than they’d thought, and the places the machines were used couldn’t afford mistakes. The first downloads placed in the vat grown soldiers sent to fight had malfunctioned as the fine tracery of nerves and impulses that made up the interface between mind and body struggled.

When Jury began to spasm Svelt held her breath. There was no stopping the process; no off switch that she’d be able to use. It was step back and pray now she’d taken out the overrides. If the machine decided to break there was nothing she could do. Svelt wondered how much of Jury would be left if it did. She’d seen the results of the mistakes, as they liked to call them, a lot of people had, seeing as they were kept for study by the training colleges.

(to be continued)

Pt. 36

Svelt shifted the bloody thing in the palm of her hand. The vial was a few inches in diameter and reminded her off one of the old diode’s they’d used in Earth’s obsolete electrical past. She’d been running so long her breath was coming in ragged torn gasps, but she had him. Whether or not the download was anything she could use was another matter, but before the first bolts had seared into the Undertaker’s side it had ejected the last product it would ever make. It even had some of Jury on it.

‘One Jury.’

She brought it up to her eye and tried to work out if he could think in there. Survivors said the experience of being decanted was akin to dreaming whilst being asleep. As she watched the digital thing swarming up the sides, she hoped he couldn’t. Maybe being sleeved would take the memories of what she’d done to him away.

‘Only thing, I could think of to do Jury. I’m sorry.’

Svelt paused at one of the schematics depicting the ship’s interior. They weren’t far now. She wondered if he’d felt the pain as she’d made him fit the Undertakers sarcophagus and brushed the thought aside. She had too much to worry about. The schematic had shown the rows of semi dormant life signs that had to be the clones. If they were something else she was in even deeper trouble than she’d thought. But she remembered their initial scans on arrival. There’d been no life aboard the ship.

‘No life we could detect at any rate,’ muttered Svelt under her breath as she began to descend.

It turned out she needn’t have worried.

‘Nebula and pulsar, there’s lot of you.’

Svelt had nearly lost count of the decks she’d passed on her way down but the hold she’d reached was vast and it was filled to capacity. Body after body was suspended from arcs of metal like the rings in a production line. With the looped umbilical cords of their life support systems the only thing keeping them from falling. She searched through the forest but although none of the bodies hanging by their feet was moving, she couldn’t see a thing. If there was pursuit, or the strange automatons had noticed where she’d gone they were staying out of sight.

Svelt started trying to work out which one to use for Jury’s new home. But she gave up pretty quick. They were all the same vaguely Anglo-Saxon stock.

‘You just have to get used to it,’ she said selecting one at random and manoeuvring a hover truck underneath. With a snap she finished sawing through the tubes suspending it and then the lumpy thing landed in the truck’s hopper.

That left finding the right medical gear for a transferral. With the Undertake gone she couldn’t use that even if she wanted to drag Jury’s new home up more decks than she could easily remember. Svelt followed the lines of bodies. They all seemed to be heading one place, a room marked with enough warning signs to make her heart hammer in her chest.

When she heard the crying, it didn’t help.

(to be continued)

Pt. 37

At first Svelt thought the mewling was from overhead but as she glanced at the figures, she could see none of them had moved. Instead she gazed over a floor where the upturned nozzles of what looked like rocket propulsion engines reared toward the clones. She watched as a body spasmed and with a rattle the line holding it in place inched forward. When one of them dropped into a cone large enough to swallow a man whole she couldn’t stop the gasp that left her lips.

‘They’re recycling them, aren’t they?’

A wave of nausea rippled through her. But she supposed the clones had to be fed. Svelt’s eyes followed the lines of tubes tucking their way into fragile necks; more than a few lead to the engines and Svelt had a pretty good idea what was on the menu for the crop. The mewling rose in pitch and she brought her attention back to earth following the sound round the nearest engine and its outlying infrastructure. There were bodies there stacked one atop the other. Pale anaemic things and not one of them had made it far into their teens. Svelt started to pray then; a thin barely remembered mantra from her childhood as the lights stuttered and she saw there was another rack atop the one with the bodies suspended from it. When the claw descended, she only just made it out of the way in time.

‘Jury, you should see this.’

She shifted the vial before it could break and watched the giant mechanical hand pick up one of the adolescent clones. It looked like they’d stopped breathing; their skin was blue and there was spittle on their cheeks.

‘Lucky you, at least you’re getting out of here.’

Svelt thought of the clones fate she’d witnessed in the empty frozen park. There’d been more shattered domes dotted on the ships back like the blisters of a disease; and she wondered how many held Nephilim in their hearts.

The motorized platform with the new sleeve on it picked its way through the next crop waiting to be plucked for the harnesses. They must be tanked up to the eyeballs she decided wincing as she stepped on a comatose male’s hand. He groaned but his eyes never opened, and none of them seemed concerned by the massive steel claws zipping by overhead like the mechanisms of a game. But that wasn’t what concerned Svelt she’d no idea how long Jury could survive without being re-sleeved and there were too many clones to attempt a rescue. She heard a rising whine behind her. More of the vat born must be ready for the Nephilim’s appetites above.

‘…Personnel…Hardware…Security…’

Svelt read the names on signs spotted with age and lack of maintenance. The place wasn’t well lit and apart from the elevator that reminded her of the entrance to a garbage compactor she hadn’t seen any other way out.

‘Medical! At last.’

Svelt breathed and guided the platform with its cargo through the last of the bodies in the way. Only once was she genuinely concerned for her safety when one of the giant hands with its three fingers like the digits of a cyclops hovered overhead and she’d had time to think how much of what the Nephilim wanted she possessed compared to the meat shuttling by on racks.

Ducking through the whirring machinery Svelt headed for the airlock she’d spotted. She did her best to ignore the blood-spattered handprints and smears leading to the bay’s door. Whatever else the automatons were doing with their captive population she didn’t need to see the evidence to know it would be nothing nice. Svelt’s eyes widened as the door snicked into its rubber seals behind her.

It didn’t take long before the facility made her want to dig a hole and bury it so deep no one would ever find it.

She took in the rows of gently oxidising instruments covered with flecks from the work they’d been used in.

‘Hundreds,’ said Svelt under her breath.

There were at least that many clones outside.

‘No…thousands.’

The automatons had been busy. What she could see was an organ harvesting plant. Food was clearly not the only efficiency program at work.

Svelt’s hands flashed across the pad of something that at least looked like it didn’t belong in a medieval dungeon.

‘Got you.’

Her fingers stopped. In front of her was the access portal for a personality re-sleeve. Now all that remained to be seen was whether a white Caucasian male was going to be a suitable vessel.

‘Thank you for small mercies.’

Svelt raised her eyes to heaven or at least to where it would have been if a few gigatons of ship and resident Nephilim hadn’t been in the way.

(to be continued)

Pt. 38

Bright neon overheads slowly dimmed until Jury could see where they were.

‘What is this place?’

He rubbed the last of the glare from his eyes.

There was a pause and his hands crawled over his face. There was something wrong, although at first, he couldn’t work out what. Then Svelt answered, ‘Medical, it’s where they cut them up, I think.’

Jury nodded.

‘My eyes…. they’re back to normal.’

‘Yes, but it’s the rest of you you might not be so happy about.’

Svelt turned his head so he could see in the metal of a kidney dish she was holding up and Jury winced. He must be still sick because the reflection was far too…white?’

His breath sucked between his teeth.

‘Svelt, what did you do?’

It wasn’t just his face that was the pale sickly colour of half the whites he’d ever seen. His hands were too, and Jury realised what had bothered him earlier. The familiar contours of his body were gone.

‘This isn’t my body. Whose is it?’

Svelt’s face screwed up, under different circumstances it might have been funny.

‘There were so many. I don’t know and there was no time Jury. I just picked one that looked healthy and there weren’t any blacks.’

Jury clenched and unclenched his hand letting the unfamiliar fingers form a fist.

‘It’ll do.’

What he didn’t say was how relieved he was; the cold alien tentacles worming their way through him from his stolen orbs had vanished now he’d been re-sleeved.

‘At least I’ve eyes that work again.’

Jury grinned pleased to see an answering smile on her face. He was still doing it when they heard the voice.

‘Stay where you are.’

Jury looked up and his eyes scanned the room’s corners. He’d heard something similar before back on earth when he’d first joined up and they’d put some of the old battle droids out of operation.

‘Who are you?’ said Jury.

There was the sound of wind moving through a cold dead forest and Jury pulled Svelt close so he could feel her warmth.

‘You mean who are we,’ said the voice. ‘You have something we want Jury.’

‘You can’t have her.’

‘No Jury, not the woman. You’re the first.’

‘The first what?’

‘You’ve transferred. We wish to do the same.’

‘You’re one of those things we saw up above, aren’t you?’

‘I’m a spokesman, nothing more.’

‘And you want to.’ Jury thought about the clones then and the soft pulpy matter that had spilled from the automatons wounds in the entry bay. ‘You want to hide in us don’t you?’

You could hear the shrug in the next words even if you couldn’t see it.

‘The automatons will be hard to accept. How much better if we use your bodies instead?’ said that cold dead voice.

(to be continued)

Pt. 39

Jury shuddered, there was no other way to describe the crawling sensation of horror that travelled through him. The Nephilim was talking about possession and he knew exactly how that felt as he remembered the cold slimy presence that had invaded his previous body. That had only been after the theft of enough material to replace his eyes. Imagine what the result would be if the Nephilim gained more access to him. There was a hammering at the door.

‘Don’t worry it can’t get to you. Not yet. That comes later,’ said that disembodied voice.

Jury’s eyes scanned the rooms shadows.

‘Where are you?’

At first he’d thought the place was empty, now he wasn’t so sure.

‘Over here.’ Hsssssst. ‘Where do you come from?’ Hsssssssst. ‘No clones should be able to speak. We haven’t taught them.’

‘We’re not from here,’ said Jury.

There was the click of a shutter falling into place and the hissing grew worse. Jury saw a diaphram rise trapped in its glass tube. Then an arm that gleamed with the dull metal sheen of one of the automatons raised itself from a bench as the voice continued.

‘Outsiders?’ Hsssssst, ‘that’s very good, very good. You can help.’

Already the noise was growing louder as it continued, ‘Missing more than I thought after they’d finished hacking and slicing. You want out of here don’t you? Rely on me, I want the same.’

Stretched on a bench like a table at a morgue was the figure of one of the automatons although this looked like it had been gutted like a fish.

‘Took me longer than I thought to overide their command controls,’ said its voice. ‘These things were designed to be servants after all.’

Already it was moving clamping metal back into place over what looked like a mess of organics and fused wiring. Jury reached it first in time to see its faceplate snap into place over lips as cold as glaciers. Even its skin was white.

‘What are you?’ said Jury.

‘You should know. You’ve had a taste of what we do.’

The faceplate turned toward him.

‘I’m a Nephilim.’

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 40

Jury stared back at the Nephilim. It wasn’t finished, ‘They’ve been trying to cut holes in me ever since they found I was different.’

‘How different?’ said Svelt.

‘I don’t have the ache, the hunger that comes from the void living in all of them. I came here to escape that, and it worked for a little while. I want to cut a deal humans. You help me get out of here and leave me in control of the ship and I’ll show you a vessel you can leave in.’

‘How’s that possible we’re locked in here as soon as those things arrive we’re dead meat,’ Svelt sounded far from convinced.

‘Easy,’ said the Nephilim as it finished locking the last of its casing into place hiding the awful damage that had been conducted on its organics. ‘Now you’ve distracted the minds and they’re concentrating on you I can do this.’

There was a sound like a bolt being drawn and the roof over their heads began to splinter. Soon pieces were vanishing into the darkness like pieces of a jigsaw a child had kicked.

‘What’s up there?’ said Jury.

‘The machine,’ answered the Nephilim, ‘the inner workings of this ship. We can use it to get out of here.’

Overhead as Jury’s new eyes grew used to the lack of light things were moving.

‘Come,’ the automaton stretched out an arm to Svelt, ‘Use me, just don’t forget your promise. I’m to be left in charge of the ship.’

It’s face began to strobe as warning lights flashed.

‘Hurry, they’re nearly here,’ said the automaton.

Jury didn’t need encouragement as the noise redoubled and dents bagan to appear in the door. He took the Nephilm’s offer and planted his feet in its hands. Soon he was swinging from the teeth of a flywheel following Svelt’s heels into the blackness. He was just wondering how the Nephilim would manage when he heard a voice behind him.

‘Oh no Jury. You don’t get rid of me that easy.’

Jury risked a look behind him to see the Nephilim a few tiers down. It looked like it had punched holes in the rooms walls with its fists using them as a ladder and he could see broken scraps of armour trailing from its knuckles.

‘Everything can be repaired Jury you should know that,’ said the creature following his eyes. That cold impassive face plate was looking at him. ‘Particularly when you stole one of our bodies.’

‘They were never yours,’ said Jury. He didn’t know what the vat bourne things outside could be said to belong to but they were human enough. Jury was sure of one thing – nothing living belonged to a Nephilim.

‘Jury, shut up,’ they’re coming in,’ hissed Svelt.

Below where the lights had been joined by the steady blat of an alarm Jury could see what Svelt meant. As he watched one of the doors mangled remains spanged across the crowded deck followed by the boiling figures of dozens of the automatons.

‘How fast does this thing move?’ Jury gestured at the teeth of the giant flywheel they were riding.

‘It’s the center of the ship, its heart,’  said the Nephilim, ‘fast enough.’

Steadily they rose past gear levers, spindle shafts, and armatures more numerous than a spiders and as they did Jury became aware of a steady glow.

‘The power source?’ he said to the creature riding behind him.

‘Yes, one of them. How do you think all this runs?’

In the distance a shape like a sun caught in a cats cradle of spinning metal was rising into view. Jury felt his eyebrows wither.

‘How long have we got?’ said Jury.

‘You’d fry if that’s what you’re worried about human. Ask your woman.’

But Jury had barely opened his mouth to speak when he heard Svelt’s voice.

‘Jury, up ahead…’

A spire of metal like a corkscrew was disappearing through the dark in front of them.

‘The ships main drive,’ breathed the Nephilim. ‘ See, we can ride on that. Now jump.’

Jury felt a shove from behind and then he was tumbling after Svelt. He just had time to scream before he landed on the drive shaft and clung with bone white fingers to its treatoriously smooth surface. Each revolution he caught a glimpse of Svelt’s terrified face below him, but they were still rising inexorably up. When he saw what they were going to pass through he nearly let go.

‘We’ll never get through that,’ said Jury.

Above them lines of chain whistled through the air. If he’d wanted reassurance from the Nephilim he got none.

‘Jury…?’ Svelt’s voice reached his ears the same time the first links began to pass over head.

(to be continued)

Pt. 41

Jury lay panting on the floor; it felt like what was left inside his chest was trying to climb its way to freedom and the open air.

‘What was that?’ he said spitting dirt from his tongue.

‘I told you,’ answered the Nephilim. ‘The machine that runs this ship.’

‘We shouldn’t be alive.’

‘But we are, or at least you are. With me it’s a little more complicated.’

Jury shook his head.

‘Where are we?’

‘The command deck.’

Thinking back to the confusing mass of images it had felt as though the ships engine had done its best to turn them inside out and strip the skin off their backs. One hand shot out and he found Svelt’s body lying beside him.

‘Svelt?’

‘I’m here Jury, look.’

In front of them one wall of the chamber they’d found themselves in appeared to be a giant holograph of the part of space they were flying through. As they watched stars bounced and skimmed the ships surface although Jury knew they had to be many light years away.

‘Where’s the rift?’ said Jury.’

‘We’ll see it in a moment. The ships getting closer.’

As Jury watched the giant tear in space swam slowly into view and he felt the last of his breath leave his lungs.

‘It’s huge.’

‘Of course,’ the Nephilim’s voice interrupted, ‘and it will get bigger still if what’s trying to get through has its way.’

Lines of staple ships sped away into the distance and Jury realised what else he’d been missing about the place.

‘This part of the ship…it’s not like the rest is it?’

‘No, they built it for separation in case things went wrong. You’re stood in your way out of here. If you choose to take it.’

‘And what do you want for showing us this?’

‘Everything else, but I need a human to grant me access to the ship’s programming.’

‘What makes you think Jury or I would be able to help?’ said Svelt. ‘We’re not part of the crew. It won’t recognise us.’

‘That’s where you’re wrong. This part of the vessel is seperate from the rest; only accessible by the route we took. It will assume you’re part of command just by your presence here. Now…’ there was a snap as part of the deck folded up….’ pucker up. It’ll want a scan of your retina.

Jury held Svelt back with one arm. Whatever the Nephilim had said he wasn’t keen to trust it.

‘Don’t, let me. Who knows what this really does?’

Already a thin red line was searching through the air in front of him as it sought to lock onto a human eye.

‘Agh.’

Jury blinked, for a moment he’d seen it all – the ship with its crowded factory decks and the Nephilim riding it all in their prisons. Whatever the ship had done it was a two way thing. But already couplings were snapping free and running gear was maneuvering into position.

‘This is where I leave you,’ said the Nephilim. ‘But before I go I have one small favour to ask.’

‘What’s that,’ said Jury rubbing his eyes from where the laser had travelled over them.

‘Open every blast door in the ship. I want a clear run at my comrades when I take over. I can’t do it otherwise. I’m to alien for the makers of this vessel.’

Jury didn’t need to be asked twice. The control deck was already bouncing and shuddering as it began to shake itself free. For such a small price he’d gladly open up the ships interior. Let the Nephilim rebel have its tiny empire, he wanted no part of it.

‘Done.’

Jury grabbed the yoke that had swung down.

‘Then you’re free, and I’m gone.’

‘There was a note in the Nephilim’s voice that Jury didn’t understand until later. But in the split second before it vanished back the way it had come it sounded like laughter.

‘Strap in tight Svelt. We’re getting out of here.’

Jury’s hand found hers and he squeezed tight as after burners flared. Then they were shooting away from the hospital ship as fast as one of the stars that had slid by on the display.

It only took him a moment to realise what was wrong.

‘The capsules caught in something.’

Warning lights snapped on on the consoles in front of him.

‘Like what? There’s nothing out here,’ said Svelt.

But Jury was watching the giant rift swirling in front of them. On the readouts a bar under ‘traction’ was steadily maxing out.

‘No, nothing’s out here,’ he said and his voice sounded like it belonged in the cold depths of space, ‘but whatever’s beyond that gap is different.’

Jury and Svelt’s eyes turned to the swirling maelstrom.

‘It’s opening,’ said Jury. ‘Something’s coming through.’

(to be continued)

 

 

 

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