The Torrentian Void aboard the Endeavour
I panted, coming to a stop in front of a door. “I really, really need to spend a little more time working out.”
“Forget about it,” I shook my head and gritted my teeth. “I think I’ve found it.”
“Are you sure… I mean, how can you tell?”
“The door marked ‘Research Area: Authorized Personnel Only’ kind of gives it away, Tanner. If shit is going down, it’ll be in there.”
It made a certain amount of sense. The Endeavour had been a research ship on a very specific mission. If someone brought something freaky aboard, they would take it to the one place on the ship where they would be able to examine and contain it. I toggled the controls, cursing when they failed to comply with the command to open, and took a few steps back. I whipped my pistol out and removed the energy cell. Though I wasn’t really keen on blowing the door to shit, you know what they say about desperate measures and all that.
Energy cells were designed to prevent idiots like me from doing just such a thing, but when you spend enough time with sleazebags and lowlifes who live on the outskirts of their respective societies, you picked up a few tricks and… I’d lived a pretty sheltered life until striking out on my own. Tanner was the one who showed me that trick, who had taught her was a matter I hadn’t quite figured out.
I finished the modifications and ducked around the corner, seconds before the resulting explosion rocked the corridor. Okay, so rocked was too strong of a word. What came was more like a little tremor. Either way, once I ducked my head back over the bend and got a perfect look at the huge freaking hole in the door, I didn’t pause to debate semantics with myself. I took action, running toward the opening and crawling through without hesitation. My eyes as wide as saucers, I stopped dead in my tracks, staring at the form laying prostrate on the deck.
I should have figured that my mother would be at the source of the shit I stepped knees deep into. That didn’t mean I understood what the fuck any of it meant. My mother’s corpse lay sprawled out on the ground, covered in blood, and would have looked lifelike were it not for the huge gaping hole in her chest. Her dead eyes stared out into nothingness, and I knelt down, a sigh escaping my lips as I looked upon her body. Tears cascaded down my face as I found the closure I had sought for so long.
She looked exactly as I remembered. I was only six years old when she disappeared, but I etched the image of her face into my mind long ago. She looked young, perhaps in her thirties, but appearances can be deceiving. My mom had been close to eighty years old. Medical technologies progressed a lot after the occupation, and each successive generation lived longer than the last, but her longevity had more to do with her symbiote. Bending over, I stroked her blue hair, a telltale sign that, in life, she hosted a K’teth symbiote. I slipped my fingers out to close those striking magenta eyes, as tears splattered my cheeks.
I cupped my gloved hand in hers, only realizing, as I did so, that she held something clenched in her palm. With gentle force, I pried her fingers loose, careful not to break or damage her hand. What I found was a stasis pod no larger than a medium-sized orange, the sort used by scientists to preserve organic samples for later study. I had no idea what she was doing with the thing, but judging from the way she clutched it in her hand, something told me it might be important.
“Jek!” Tanner’s voice cried, and my mind jumped back to the present. “Energy levels are building to dangerous levels. If you’re going to do something, it better be soon.”
The only reason I ran towards the energy buildup’s source was to prevent the ship from being destroyed and along with it, whatever hope I had of discovering my mother’s fate. I did not expect to find her corpse within its vicinity, but now that I had, I would go to whatever means necessary in order to ensure the ship remained intact.
Not that I had a death wish or anything, but I spent pretty much my entire life wondering about the fate of the Endeavour. If it got blown up, I would never discover the truth. If nothing else, the family of the crew deserved to learn the final fate of their loved ones.
My eyes scanned the room and locked onto the only item that looked important, a plain, unadorned box that wouldn’t have looked very out of place in the Centennial Hawk’s cargo hold. That is, if it weren’t for one small little detail. The thing looked ancient, like someone buried it thousands of years ago and the Endeavour crew only recently unearthed it. There were even a few clumps of dirt still affixed to its surface, but what caught my eye were a pair of blinking lights, which alternated between green, yellow, red and orange, on the front along the seam. I couldn’t guess the box’s significance, but if I were a betting man, which I was, I would say it was the origin of all the interference.
I secured the stasis pod to a clip on my waist, walked over toward my prize, reached a hand out to touch the box, and the hairs on the back of my neck rose as the entire cabin quaked.
“What the hell?” I turned toward the source, just as the opposite wall collapsed and shot toward me with sudden violent force and a loud metallic shriek.
A figure stood in the fresh opening, a hulking creature with muscles bigger than my head. Amidst the debris still fluttering through the air, I didn’t get a very good view of it, but I understood one thing without even having to ask, it wasn’t friendly. I snatched the box off the counter and booked my ass the hell out the entrance I’d made, the tiny hole snagging the suit’s fabric on the jagged steel edges of the opening. A high-pitched wail followed me out the opening, accompanied by the collapse of metal on metal as the creature, unable to fit through the opening, tore the door free from its frame.
Tanner’s voice called out, but it was not intelligible against the creature’s roar when it came tearing after me. I risked a glance back, but it moved so fast that I saw little more than a blur. It was big, gray, and had lots of teeth. That was pretty much all I needed to know. I didn’t stop to examine it or try to reason with it, assuming it was even a sapient being. For a change, I didn’t do the stupidest thing humanly possible, I did the exact opposite. I ran like hell.
“Tanner. I uh, think I made a new friend.” I panted, rounding a bend, just barely evading the creature’s fist as crashed it down toward me.
“Holy fuck, what is that sound?” She replied as my pursuer let out a blood-curdling scream.
“My new friend, don’t you listen, Tanner?”
“Uh huh, and this new friend is trying to kill you, isn’t it?”
“That’s why I like you Tanner, you’re such a smart cookie.”
“You realize I can’t help you, don’t you? I can’t read a damn thing on my end.”
“Figures, I’m being chased down by a massive gray blur with muscles that would make any man tremor in his little booties and teeth big enough to bite me in two and all you can do is provide commentary. Story of my life.”
“Why don’t you shoot it?”
“Can’t, I already used my energy cell to blow a crater in the research area’s door and my only spare one is inside my suit. I think I might have a plan… I won’t speak it aloud in case smiley understands me, but assuming he doesn’t get to me before I institute it, it should work.”
“Why doesn’t that fill me with confidence?”
“Tanner, you need to–” I stopped short as a sudden and very violent force yanked me back and slammed me into the wall.
“Jek? Jek? JEK?!” Judging from her screams, I’m sure Tanner had at least an inkling that something had gone wrong, but the cold acceptance I experienced as I stared into the eyes of the creature was far and beyond the most terrifying feeling… ever. I know that itsounds like a contradiction, but it’s like I had divided my mind in two. One half was scared beyond reason, and the other half had already accepted that I would die.
I got my first good glimpse at the creature, as the hand grasped tighter and tighter around my neck. My original assessment had been correct, but as my eyes filled in the gaps, my imagination hadn’t, I realized just how much shit I was in. The creature looked like someone had taken a Qharr warrior and crossbred him with a Dre’k. The Qharr are big, gray, three-eyed and fairly human looking. Dre’k are not… They’re four legged reptilian beasts from the darkest depths of hell. The resulting combination was the most horrifying and fearsome creature I had ever laid eyes on. One who was all scales, teeth, muscle and claws.
Shit, it was like the living-embodiment of the fucking boogeyman.
I would have died there and then, but as my bowels evacuated, the part of my mind that was scared shitless did something completely and unexpectedly rational. I kicked out with my legs, hitting the huge bastard where it counts. That’s right, square between the legs. The effect was instantaneous. The fucking beast dropped me like a ship ejecting its cargo and I hit the floor gasping for air. I struggled back up, shaking my head as I fought the remaining effects of hypoxia.
Back on my feet before the monster had recovered, I swooped down, snatching the fallen mystery box from the deck before taking off down the passageway. I rushed forward, moving at a speed that only adrenaline could sustain, and screamed at the top of my lungs as the beast jumped at me with one spectacular and impressive leap. It prompted me to run even faster, moving at speeds I never would have believed possible without the aid of a K’teth symbiote.
I felt the creature’s hand on me again, but before his grip tightened, I spun around and forced the box into his hands. “You know what? You can have it.”
The ploy worked… in a matter of speaking. My attacker’s hand slid away as it fumbled to grasp its prize and I scrambled away, once again launching myself down the corridor. It roared and resumed pursuit, and I screamed louder. Why couldn’t he just have been happy with the damn box?
Pretty soon I reached my destination, which was a small miracle since I had no clue where in the hell I was fucking going. I didn’t make to celebrate, instead I made a beeline right for the cargo dock release controls, but before I reached them, the creature stopped me and slammed the box square into the center of my back. I went down like a sack of potatoes. This time I slid across the floor and slammed my head into the nearest bulkhead. The collision had me seeing stars, and before I could even think about getting back up, something pressed against my back.
I thrashed about, trying to break free, but the more I struggled the more the pressure tightened. I cried out, begging for mercy, in a vain hope that the creature understood me, but if he could comprehend, my cries were either unnoticed or more likely he just didn’t care. With a sharp intake of breath, I squeezed my eyes shut, preparing for what must be my end when a voice cried out, screaming the most beautiful words to have ever been uttered.
“Hey, fuck-face! Over here.”
Phase fire illuminated the corridor, as my attacker lifted its foot off my back and he went tearing through the passageway after his new prey. I rolled onto my back, just in time to watch Tanner’s fabulous ass, prominent even through the thick fabric of her EVA suit, disappear into the passageway followed by the beast. This time I had a lot more difficulty clawing back to my feet, because of the throbbing pain in my back. The fact that I could move my legs meant he hadn’t injured my spine, at least not to the point he’d paralyzed me, but there was some definite damage in my mid-back. One thing was certain, I wouldn’t be doing any running soon.
“Tanner, god dammit, I told you to stay on the Hawk!” I spoke into the comm. “Do you have any idea how dumb what you just did was?”
“As opposed to your brand of stupidity?” She replied. “Besides, you’d be dead right now if not for me, so I fully expect to hear the words thank and you some time in the not so distant future.”
I grimaced, rubbing a hand up and down my back, hoping that it would ease the overwhelming pain and thus help me move better, but the fabric of the suit was too thick for me to feel much of anything. “Right, just get back here, would you? And have a tether ready, things are gonna get pretty… turbulent in here.”
“You’re one crazy motherfucker, you know that, Jek?”
“Yeah, well, I wasn’t expecting you to be here.”
“Need I remind you? Tanner here… Jek not dead.”
I hobbled over to the controls, trying to hurry, but unable to produce more than a crawl. Whatever the hell that thing had done to me, it had really fucked me up. Just walking in a straight line was a challenge. I did finally reach the control panel and, by some minor miracle, it was ready to take my commands.
A glimpse through the transparium doors, and into the area beyond revealed nothing. It was dark, probably to conserve power. Not a surprise, cargo holds saw little foot traffic compared to the rest of a ship. Why keep it lit all the time? Tanner and I did the same thing on the Centennial Hawk.
I knew what was on the far side of the cargo bay concealed by the shadows without being told: the bay doors. Though it was a stroke of brilliant deductive reasoning, I didn’t have time to congratulate myself. An unearthly scream cascaded through the corridor, hitting my ears and producing a shiver down my spine.
“Fuck it.” I anchored my tether to the console and turned my head just as Tanner reappeared, tailed by the creature.
I opened the doors leading into the cargo hold and Tanner took her cue, latching her own tether in place. Before I could open the exterior doors, the creature’s eyes locked onto me again and it let out another howl as it came charging straight toward me.
I slammed my hand down on the emergency override mechanism. I guessed it would have been too simple to have labelled it with something a tad more straightforward like ‘jettison’, but who was I to argue in a life and death situation?
The beast had me before the doors had opened. It tore into my chest with claws that looked a great fucking deal more menacing than a phase pistol. When it pulled its fist back, I got an up close and rather personal view of the serrated, jagged little growths that were sticking out from the outside of its hand. When its fist struck, it rent through flesh like butter, producing an immense hole just below my heart.
If I wasn’t completely and utterly terrified beyond rational thought, I probably would have reasoned that he ripped through the thoracic aorta, the artery that runs down from the heart. Instead, I screamed out, blood splattering all over the place, but it was to no avail. The creature did not let up. He smashed me into the controls, and I cursed, spitting blood into his face as he raised one of his massive arms to make a swing at me.
He never had the chance. The doors slid open with so much force that it produced a loud clang and the ship rocked. Everything in the area not bolted down or tethered in place hurtled through the new opening. Most of that included the cargo and the mysterious box, but what it didn’t include was my buddy, the grotesquely terrifying creature from the deepest darkest recesses of my nightmares.
No, the bastard had grabbed hold of my ankle and was holding on for dear life. I took the only option open to me: I kicked the bastard with my one free leg. The blow wasn’t as hard as I liked, but his hand slipped so it must have done some good. Three successive kicks. His hand shifted a little further until finally he slid free and flew into the deep abyss of space.
Blood was everywhere, and the darkness crept at the edge of my vision as I struggled to pull myself close enough to toggle the emergency switch off. I was just able to grab hold of it and force it back into place before my hands went limp. Even as the room re-pressurized and my lungs filled with air, unconsciousness continued to creep away.
It was all the blood I lost and there wasn’t a lot I could do. I should have been delirious, but somehow, I remained lucid. Something clicked inside my dense skull, and I realized why my mother had been clutching the stasis pod so obsessively. Somehow I mustered enough strength to yank it free from my waist and slammed it down to the ground, shattering the glass into a thousand pieces.
Tanner screamed my name, but by then it was already too late. The darkness carried me away, but just before it took hold there was a blur of movement from something that looked an awful lot like a clear ball of gelatin. Maybe I was hallucinating, or maybe it was just something I knew that could save my life. Either way, I didn’t remain conscious long enough to see what happened next.
As my mind receded, I heard a voice calling out. Speaking words I had heard a thousand times over, but always in my dreams.
‘Find her, set her free.’