A Dream of Enmity
- Reading time: 1 hour
- Contains strong language
- Contains graphic descriptions
- This may or may not be inspired by an episode of Final Space.
- Artwork owned by Aderoth: https://www.deviantart.com/adoreth
Chapter 1: Flight
Cade sprinted through the corridors, sidestepped crates, and leaped up flights of stairs largely from memory. The heavy soles of his boots sent sharp clanks echoing through the ship with his every footfall. Jack ran ahead of him; the smooth contours of his armour and its black finish made him glow devilishly in the red emergency lighting.
They reached the cockpit. A narrow room with a single pilot’s seat. There was space for an operator to stand behind it, and use the various wall monitors. A large and segmented viewscreen extended above and beneath them, to afford the pilot an almost totally unobstructed view.
Jack stopped at a monitor, whilst Cade leaped past him and into the pilot’s seat. With a practised familiarity, he thumbed a half dozen switches and buttons, then stopped short of engaging engines. He turned to look at his friend for confirmation.
Jack’s face was cast as a silhouette in the gloom, framed by the two stripes of hair on the top of his head, and his bright brown eyes, illuminated in the monitor’s glow. His pupils raced from left to right as he scanned the sensor data. Abruptly, he spun round to Cade.
“System fleet,” he snapped, “Go!”
Cade thumbed the ignition, sending power coursing through the ship and into the engines. The cockpit’s lighting came on, flooding Cade’s unadjusted eyes with harsh light. It would take a few agonizing seconds before the engines would be ready; Jack was busy barking into the ship’s comms system, ordering the crew into positions, whilst Cade risked a look out the rear viewscreen.
Far above and behind them, two pinpricks of light quickly became brighter and larger as they approached.
A control panel chimed, and an indicator light flashed green.
Cade turned back and floored the engines.
The Twilight Hope lurched forward, then quickly accelerated up to speed, sending dust streaming past them in the viewscreen. Cade was thrust back into his seat, and heard a thud as Jack was undoubtedly slammed into a wall.
Sensing the shift, the ship’s inertia dampeners engaged, and the g-force relented.
Cade glanced behind him.
Jack was now wearing his helmet, his face obscured behind an onyx visor and ovoid armour panels. Jack leant over the back of Cade’s chair, bracing himself against it as he undoubtedly scanned over the instruments on his heads-up display.
“Dime-drive spooling.” Cade said.
“Good thing we spotted them when we did, once the drive is ready-”
“Wait,” Jack snapped, He consulted something in his helmet. “They’re speeding up.”
“They’ll be on us before the drive is ready.”
Both were silent for a moment.
Jack pointed forward. “Move power away from non-essential systems and charge the drive as fast as you can.”
Jack’s head snapped round to regard Cade, glaring at him from behind his impassive black visor.
“I mean, we should head for that star, our heat shields are stronger, they’ll have to break pursuit.”
“Now is not the time for a debate, Cade.”
“And yet I must insist!”
Jack glared at him for a moment longer, “Alright, I trust you, go!”
Cade swung the ship round sharply and propelled them towards the star. They approached it quickly, with the brilliant orange light filling the cockpit as they approached, and again sending Cade’s sight into blurry dazzle. The viewscreen reacted by polarising, tunnel-visioning Cade’s view as its edges darkened to almost black.
“Heat-shields at 50,” Jack said. “70… 85.”
Cade glanced behind just as the two pinpricks of light, now visible as small interceptors, peeled off from their pursuit.
“We’ve lost them, I’ll pull up before we cook.”
The star rotated in the viewscreen as Cade levelled out the ship, the sun’s light rising from below and throwing shadow across the cockpit’s ceiling.
“Dime-drive spooled. Initiating now.”
Space in the viewscreen began to tumble and fold into a swirl of shadow and colour as the Dime-drive began to envelop the ship.
Cade turned to Jack, grinning wide. “Now I’d say I hate to say I told you so, but that would be a lie. In fact-”
“Cade!” Jack recoiled and pointed towards the viewscreen.
Cade turned back round to see a solar flare now looming over the ship, it fell towards them like a giant wave amidst a sea of fire.
As it approached, the heat shields all at once failed. Warning claxons and the thick smell of burnt metal and plastic filled the cockpit, as panels and monitors sparked aggressively.
Out the viewscreen, the brilliant light of the flare joined in with the Dime-drive’s hallucinogenic swirl of colour and light, before the ship finally translated, and disappeared.
Chapter 2: The New Crew
Cade strode back towards the EVA hatch. With his every step his boots mag-locked and released from the Twilight Hope’s hull. In the vacuum, the thudding of his soles was muted; the only evidence of his progress was the pulling sensation at his ankles as the magnets drew them towards the hull, and the jarring listlessness as they released.
His regular path had reduced the once vibrant red paint to metallic grey, with the abrasive tread of his boots now beginning to scratch into the metal. Around him, space swirled in large eddies of green light, globs of it coalesced or fragmented as they collided and rolled into each other, as if the vessel were entrapped within rolling layers of emerald ooze.
Cade flicked his helm’s sun visor down, despite the dimness, and headed to the hatch with his head lowered.
The airlock’s indicator light changed to green.
Cade pulled his helmet off. The padding gripped his cheeks tight, forcing him to wriggle it free. He winced as the well-worn material scratched his dry skin and pulled a few curls from his beard.
He took a breath, feeling the familiar soreness shoot down his nose and throat as dry and hot recycled air rushed in. Not that the sweat and humidity of his suit’s air supply was any better.
He tucked his helmet under his arm and regarded it for a moment. It was tan in colour; originally it had boasted thick and aggressive armour panelling that extended from the cheeks and formed a sharp wedge across the face. Cade had removed them, turning the well-worn helmet back into a utility piece, with a large full-face visor. The reflective surface regarded him back.
He had become lithe and wiry, his once dark and smooth skin now looked thin, and a few unhealthy shades lighter. White flakes hung around his brow and cheeks, and a frame of fragile and some ingrown curls formed a patchy beard around his jaw.
He turned the helmet around in his arm, he huffed, pulled off his thick gloves and pushed them into his helmet. He huffed again.
Finally, the light flashed green and a dull claxon emanated from the airlock’s control panel. With a hiss, the door’s seals unlocked and Cade was able to push them open.
Blair jumped to her feet and wheeled around to glare at Cade. She grabbed her knife from the floor and raised it overhead. The weapon had a long black blade, with a short guard.
“Who, what’s this!” She shouted, her voice hoarse and cracking.
Cade threw up his arms apathetically, “just passing through Blair,” he said. He produced a small circuit board from his pack, “just had to pull something from the hull, remember?”
Blair slowly lowered her weapon, then let herself sit heavily back onto her blanket covered chair.
“Right, yeah, I see.” She said weakly, her eyes moving around the room restlessly.
Unlike Cade, Blair had actually bulked up more than anyone else in the crew. Her face was framed with sharp cheek bones and lined with dark freckles. Her blonde hair had been unevenly shaved off, and She had removed the sleeves from her body-glove. The skin around her large and vascular arms were red and enflamed, reacting poorly to so much time in recycled air.
She winced, and scratched at her stomach.
Cade moved through her room and to the door. “Right, well I’ll be seeing you then.”
“Yeah,” Blair said, not looking back at him.
The “kitchen” was dimly lit and sparsely decorated. A circular table sat in the centre of the room, encircled by a low bench. Cupboards, work surfaces, refrigeration units and cooking equipment were built into the walls. All of the room’s features seemed to be various shades of the same gunmetal grey colour.
Tannish was sat at the table. He was a man of average height, with a noticeable paunch that seemed at odds with his otherwise slim physique and thin limbs. He wore a tan suit, with a white shirt, green tie, and a fedora that Cade knew fully-well was only there to hide his bald head. The clothes were well worn, with the colour fading to grey and becoming shiny in heavy use areas, such as the elbows, collar and backside. Tannish wasn’t an old man, yet his brown skin had taken on a sickly green pallor. He sat cross-legged on the bench, mulling over a glass of amber liquid as he read a well-thumbed book, it’s cover torn off and lost long ago.
Tannish glanced up. “Cade,” he said, before quickly returning to his book.
“Tannish,” Cade said, not slowing to regard the man. Cade had almost crossed the room when another voice called to him.
“Oh Cade, hang on.”
Cade turned to see Henry almost skipping towards him, a gleeful smile running across his face. Henry was the youngest of the crew, a short man with dazzling ginger hair and a toothy grin. A ring of black oil and dirt encircled his face. He wore a grey body-glove underneath a dull yellow apron. His arms were full of ration tubes, and flabby off-white coloured fruit that jiggled in his arms like mushrooms.
“Cade,” Henry continued, “I have your rations.”
“And I’ve finally been able to use the modified crops we found in the containers, look.” He raised one of the floppy mushroom things, “with some actually hydroponics w
can extend our supplies and humidify some of this dry air. We may not actually die here… as soon as we thought anyways.”
Cade tried to return Henry’s enthusiastic grin as much as he could, just about managing a thin expression that didn’t look too much like a grimace. “I’ll just take my rations,” he reached towards the food in Henry’s arms.
“No!” Henry recoiled and twisted his body away, a flash of anger shot across his face and his eyes twitched manically. Then it subsided, and henry drew himself up meekly.
“Sorry,” Cade started “I should know by now, you…”
“I just need to allocate it properly,”
“In your way.”
“And my way works, that’s why I’m in charge of the food, and the cleaning and the Dime drive. Because we all agreed that my way works.”
“Yeah, I know, it’s okay.”
“Yeah, good, thanks.”
The two stood in silence for a second, regarding each other.
“Rations?” Cade said.
“Ah yes, of course, do remember to let me know how they taste!” Henry moved to one of the work surfaces and began to distribute the food into five small bowls.
Tannish let out a loud sigh, collected his things and left the room, keeping his eyes away from Cade as he passed him.
“Here you are” Henry said, presenting Cade with a bowl of the mysterious fruit and the usual ration tube.
“Thanks,” Cade said, then he turned and finally made his way across the room.
“And remember to bring your dirty bowls back through!”
“Of course,” Cade replied absently.
As Cade’s entered his quarters, the small heater by his foot powered up. It’s spinning fan blades rumbling softly as they blew hot air gently against his ankles. He placed his helmet on his bunk and leaded against the doorframe to pull off his boots. He wiggled his toes for a moment, enjoying the sensations as the hot air blew between his sweaty toes.
He moved to his desk and sat down, swiping his arms across it to clear it of loose papers and components.
He produced the circuit board again and began installing it into his homemade remote. The device was large, bigger than his fist. Two large knobs sat on either side, and a small switch sat in the middle, with a transparent plastic lid covering it. It was made of various parts, some taken from the ship’s hull, others from various appliances Cade could get his hands on.
The installation didn’t take long, and soon the air in the small room was filled with the smell of glue and solder.
Cade set the device down and admired it. It was done. He turned it on and waited as the indicator light on it’s rear, formally from their fridge, flashed green, and then remained solid, as the device connected with the warhead in the cargo hold.
Cade stared at the device. He brought his hands together to cradle it and bring it close to his chest. He snorted, then threw his head back to let out a short and loud laugh. He grinned as he wiped a stinging tear from his eye and leaned forwards. He placed the device carefully down on the desk and withdrew his Holo-pad from a drawer.
Jack’s face appeared on the display; it smiled and regarded Cade warmly. Jack was a young man with tan skin and bright brown eyes. His hair was shaved, except for two parallel stripes of thick afro hair that ran over the crown of his head from front to back. His cheeks and jaw were chiselled, with the white scars on his chin and left cheek being the only points of asymmetry.
“Cade!” Jack said eagerly, “did you get it?”
Cade held up the device. “Yeah, all here.”
“Excellent, I knew you’d pull it off.”
Cade smiled, then he frowned and looked down at his desk nervously. “What if this doesn’t work? Or what if I can’t win the others round? This is such a huge risk.”
The Holo-pad’s keys emitted soft clicks as Cade typed on them; Jack’s programmed voice followed soon after. “Life is full of risks, besides we’ve talked about this already, it’s the right call, why are you doubting yourself now?”
Cade looked into Jack’s concerned eyes. “Because I keep thinking about how we got here, that was my call and it was wrong, and now you’re… You know.”
Cade typed Jack’s reply into the keypad again. “This is getting selfish now.”
Cade’s head snapped up, shocked by the vocalisation even though the words were his own.
“This hole of self-pity your living in won’t serve anyone. You have a responsibility to our crew, so I’m going to need you to stop torturing yourself buddy.” The hologram took in a breath and let its shoulders soften. “Your plan will work,” it said gently, “either way, you have to try.”
Cade turned the Holo-Pad off and pushed it away. He rested his chin in his hands and started out the window, and to the green ooze beyond.
Five pairs of eyes turned to regard Cade as he strode down the hallway. The Twilight Hope’s crew, Blair, Jane and Henry, were sat around the kitchen’s small table. Tannish sat with them, on the end closest to the door.
A sickly heat rushed into Cade’s stomach as he neared them, he ignored it, focussing on what was in front of him and flattening his expression. He marched into the room with his hands pressed confidently behind his back, he stood over them on the opposite side of the table. He hesitated. Was he meant to sit down first? Perhaps start with a greeting? No…
“I’ve gathered you all together because I’ve been working on a project for the last few months now.”
Tannish sighed and made a show of rolling his eyes.
Cade’s left brow twitched, but he continued, “I’ve created a distress beacon that we can use to send out a message beyond the dimensional bubble.” He withdrew the remote carefully from behind his back, “and we can control it remotely with this.”
Henry raised his hand but didn’t wait to be invited to speak. “But how!” He blurted, “I’ve not been able to a signal from our comms array through the bubble the entire time we’ve been here, how did you do it? Does it really work?”
“I’ve modified one of the Devil’s Egg missiles in the hold.”
There was another pause as everyone inhaled sharply, except Tannish who gagged on his drink.
“What!” Henry said rising to his feet,
“Are you insane” followed Tannish, setting his drink down on the table. “How long have you been fiddling with my weapons for? Need I remind you apes that these are nuclear warheads!”
Blair flinched at the confrontation, edging herself closer to Jane.
Henry took a step forward so that his shoulders were square to Cade’s, he hesitated for a moment, his aggression diminishing as he met the taller man’s cool eyes. He pushed forward, nonetheless.
“You shouldn’t have done this behind my back, you could’ve blown us apart, irradiated us, buggered up the Dime-drive even more than it already it. There’s a reason why-”
“Oh please, Henry” Cade interrupted flatly, “I understand that this is frustrating for you, but I won’t apologise for trying to save our lives, your particularities were getting in the way.”
“My par-” Henry stopped himself and breathed deeply for a moment. “Alright Cade” he said, “let’s entertain your stupid idea for just a moment. Talk us through it, how does it work?”
Cade turned, ensuring that he was able to address everyone, even through Henry was still in his face. “The missiles use a rudimentary Dime-drive engine to propel themselves towards their targets. Usually they’re slaved to a ship’s Dime-drive navigation computer, that way the operator can strike targets without having to move their ship into the same system.”
Henry folded his arms impatiently.
“However, I’ve modified a warhead so that once it detonates the blast wave can travel through dimensions just like a ship can; anything material will obviously be incinerated, but our message should be able to ride that same wave. If we detonate my warhead against the dimensional wall, there’s a chance we could get a message out of here.”
Everyone sat in silence, Henry’s face twisting as he considered the words.
“Sounds like you just made all that up.” Blair said.
Tannish sniggered, prompting Blair to cut her eyes at him.
“I know,” Cade said, “but I assure you that I’m not.”
“All Dime-drive science sounds like fiction to the uninitiated” Henry said smugly, “But what you say is plausible Cade.” He rubbed at his chin. “I need to see it, to make sure that it will work, we can’t possibly make a decision until I’ve seen what we’re dealing with.”
“You want to look at the bomb?”
“That remote will do,” Henry held out his hand expectantly.
“Fine.” Cade handed the remote over, wincing as Henry snatched it from him and sat down to scrutinise.
Now Tannish rounded on him, jabbing at yellow-nailed index finger at him. “You’re forgetting one thing, captain,” he said, the last word leaving his lips as a hiss.
Cade’s eye twitched again, and his left hand reflexively balled into a loose fist. “Yes Tannish, what might that be?”
“Your forgetting that you’re talking about detonating a nuclear bomb a few kilometres away from the ship.”
“I’d say it’s a bit more than a few.”
“And we don’t even know the specs of these weapons, or whether their genuine or not.”
Blair cut in, “Weren’t they originally your weapons? Isn’t that why you hired us? To move them across the system so you could sell?”
“Irrelevant,” Tannish snapped, waving his hand dismissively at her.
“Well,” said Cade with a smirk, “We know that they’re small.”
“This is no laughing matter. This is no warship, our hull shielding isn’t particularly robust, the radiation alone could flay our skin straight off, and destroy every system on this ship. We’ll suffocate, slowly.”
“We might,” Cade replied flatly, “but if we don’t, we’ll die eventually anyway, and I didn’t plan on growing old with you Tannish.”
“Likewise, but you realise that there are more pleasant ways of getting us all killed right?”
Cade just stared at Tannish.
“It will work,” Henry said.
Everyone turned to look at Henry.
He stood slowly, now cradling the remote reverently. He cleared his throat. “I said that it will work, or at least should work, Cade is right, his modifications have the potential to get a signal out, this could save us!”
“Whoa,” Blair murmured, “after all this time…”
“Hold on, before anyone gets carried away,” Tannish said, “ Henry, what are the chances of it not working, or just killing us instead?”
“I don’t know.”
Tannish threw up his arms and sat back down heavily.
“Can you elaborate?” Cade said.
“So, we need to be clear, the EMP wave from the bomb will definitely disable the ship. If we do this, we’ll only have at most two weeks of oxygen left, no matter what. But I simply don’t know what the chances of the signal leaving our dimension are.”
“Sounds like a pretty fat risk to me.” Tannish muttered.
“Yes, it is” Cade said, “I’m asking you all to take a risk on me, but is this existence we have right now, is this really living?”
The kitchen fell silent again.
“Let’s put it to a vote” Jane said.
Everyone turned to the until now silent woman, and paused to consider her proposal. Jane had been sat on the end of the bench. She was sat up straight, one of her arms cradling the anxious Blair’s shoulder. She was tall and lean, not bigger than Blair, but tall enough to stand level with Henry and Tannish. Her black hair was contained in a loose and tall topknot that extended from the middle of her head, and a fringe that fell to either side of her eyes and down to her cheeks.
“That sounds fair” Blair said slowly, “so long as we have time to think about it.”
“And I’ll need time to properly consider the numbers” Henry said.
Tannish crossed his legs and shrugged.
Cade looked over his crew, nodding slightly to himself. “It’s decided then” he said, “this time tomorrow, we vote.”
Chapter 3: Bridges
Cade knocked gently on Blair’s door. There was a pause, and then it half opened.
Blair stood opposite him, her scowl relaxing some at the sight of him.
“Hey” she said softly.
“Hi,” Cade said, “I wanted to talk about tonight, can I come in?”
“Sure.” She allowed him in and closed the door behind him. She currently lived in the airlock room, next to the racks of EVA gear and the airlock door itself. It was a small room, no bigger than the kitchen; she slept on a mattress and pillow in the middle of the floor. Her belongings were scattered in a ring around the mattress like a nest.
Blair sat down on her mattress and looked out at the wall absently.
Cade joined her, sitting cross-legged on the floor next to her.
“I know that my beacon can save us, but I need support, can I count on your vote Blair?”
Blair turned and frowned at him, then looked back at the wall. “I don’t know.”
“oh,” Cade said. “Why? I thought you hated it here?”
“I do,” she hissed, “I… It’s just not always easy… I just don’t know.”
“Really? Because to me it’s simple, either we definitely die miserably here, or take a chance with my plan.”
“But is this really the only way? What if we think of something else later?”
Cade chewed his lips. “Are you serious?” He said, “Is this because you don’t trust me or something? Do you blame me for-”
“Just stop!” Blair had stood in an instant, now towering over him.
They glared at each other. Cade now noticed the dark crescents under her eyes and the rawness of her arm. Her pupils had a lack of focus to them, and her head wobbled slightly on her neck.
“Are you okay?”
She blinked, disarmed. “Yeah,” she said, “just dizzy.”
Reflexively, Blair took a step back. She caught her foot on her knife and stumbled backwards.
Cade reached out a caught her by the arm, steadying her.
She flinched sharply at the contact.
“Oh sorry,” Cade said, beginning to move away.
“No, it’s okay.” She pulled him in close and hugged him tight enough to make his ribs ache; as quickly as it had begun, the gesture was over, and she withdrew. “I need to lay down for a bit,” she said.
Cade lead her over to the mattress, she laid down and pulled the thin covers over herself. Cade knelt next to her. “You okay?” He asked again.
“Just slept badly last night,”
“Because of today?”
“Yeah… I’m sorry Cade, I can’t deal with all these feelings like I used to. I just don’t know which way I’m going to go tonight.”
“I understand, I should’ve known better than to push you.” Cade scratched at his jaw absently. “I’ll let you rest.” He moved to get up.
Blair held onto his wrist gently. “I do trust you Cade. You’ve earned that, and whatever happens won’t be a reflection of that.”
Cade smiled thinly, and then left in silence.
The cargo bay was full of small shipping containers. Each container was a small yellow box, easily handled by one person. They had been stacked high, creating a maze of garish metal walls, some reaching over 6 feet high. Cade navigated the familiar maze until it spat him out towards the rear of the bay, near the loading ramp. It was a clearing of open space amidst the metal.
The cargo bay wasn’t particularly tall, only a foot or so taller than the highest of the boxes. The grey floor had been cut into by the repeated dragging of containers, carving lines of shining metal into the grey paint. The walls and ceiling were covered by makeshift planters, with the gelatinous plants growing from each; they stank, forcing the sharp and acrid scent of feet into Cade’s nose.
“Cade!” Henry crawled from underneath one of planters, his face and chest covered in wet soil, “You never come down here,” he said with a smile on his face.
Cade wrinkled his nose, “Yeah, now I remember why.”
Henry eyed Cade steadily, “and yet here you are, braving the smell, I have an idea why.”
“I’ve come about tonight; I want to see if I can’t convince you to give me your vote.”
Henry’s expression hardened. “No, I’m sorry but you won’t be getting it.”
“Can you be persuaded otherwise?”
“Cade, I had a look at the warhead you rigged up,” he gestured a thumb to one of the containers. “Firstly, I must say you did an excellent bloody job for someone not trained in Dime-drive mechanics… Or nuclear science… Or rocket science for that matter.”
“But you shouldn’t have gone behind my back about it. You could’ve vaporised us with your errant fiddling?”
“Seriously? You just said how good of a job I’d done. I clearly know what I’m doing.”
“But you didn’t know more than me. I could have done this much more safely.”
“So, if I’d asked, you would have helped?”
“No, of course not, this whole idea is completely bats!”
Cade threw up his arms. “Come on Henry, I was in an impossible position. The smartest and most qualified person on the ship refused to look for solutions, and now-”
“Flattery will get you nowhere mate,”
“… And now, you’re going to block my plan because of what? I wounded your pride? Found a solution without you?”
“No, pride doesn’t come into it at all.” Henry pointed to the container again, “You don’t have my vote because the chances of your plan working are still 50/50. It’s not worth the risk.”
“So what, you’d rather die here? Become old and sterile on some dusty freighter, growing this stinky crap?”
Henry eyed Cade again, twisting his mouth as he considered the question. He walked over to a low container and sat on it, looking down at Cade.
“You know when you die that’s it right? There’s nothing else, just blackness, but not even that.”
Cade blinked, “right?” He said cautiously.
“So, we have to cherish all the life we get right? Because at the end, that’s it.”
“But then surely the risk is worth it then? We’ve all lived better lives before we were trapped here; surely it’s worth the risk to get back. And if we fail then… At least we ended on a high?”
“No Cade, you’ve got it the wrong way round. You don’t risk your neck for life, you flee from death.”
“I don’t understand. You’re part of this crew, our last job was literally smuggling nukes across the system. Your chosen lifestyle is far from risk free Henry.”
“That’s because the rewards have always been worth the risk. And we’re good at what we do, what we did. The odds were always in our favour. But this plan of yours.” He slowly shook his head, “this is not good odds. And yeah, I think I would rather live out my days here than die stupidly. Because y’know that there’s no reward for “ending on a high,” right There’s nothing Cade, so we live, and we live because there’s nothing else to do.”
Cade was silent for a moment, he frowned, and then sighed. “I don’t know what to say to that.”
“Sorry Cade, I’ll be voting against you tonight.”
The two friends stood opposite each other, Henry with his arms crossed and Cade with his head towards the floor.
“How did your last ration taste?”
“Like arsehole,” Cade said flatly, “If I have to eat that for the rest of my life, I might just shoot myself.”
“So, you’d rather die than eat arse? I assure you it’s not as bad as it seems, that girl from Mars said I did a pretty good job,” Henry brushed imaginary dust from his shoulder.
The two friends grinned at each other, then broke into a brief fit of laughter that echoed around the cargo hold.
Jack frowned, the programme’s expression changing a moment behind Cade’s typing as it processed the commands.
“You realise that if you can’t convince them, you’ll be stuck here forever right?”
“I know, just, it’s hard.”
Jack’s expression didn’t change. “Keep trying.”
Cade trudged heavy-footedly down the corridor to the captain’s cabin. As he approached the door he forced his shoulders to rise, and managed to produce a half-smile.
He knocked on the door but didn’t wait before opening it. The cabin was modest, but still offered far more comforts than the crew quarters. The small rectangular room featured a single bed, desk, armchair and built-in wardrobes and lockers. The surfaces were the same metallic grey as the rest of the ship’s interior, apart from the subtle outlines of scratches and dust on the walls and desk, where Cade had removed all of Jack’s personal effects.
Tannish was laid across the armchair opposite the door. It was a dull burgundy and padded enough to allow his backside to sink almost entirely into the cushions. He still wore his cream trousers, but went shirtless. A pair of thick rimmed black glasses sat over his eyes.
He was reading, this time on a handheld personal computer. He dropped it heavily onto his lap and looked sideways at Cade.
“Tannish,” Cade said as warmly as he could, as he stepped into the room.
“I know why you’re here,” Tannish said looking away from Cade. “If your plan fails, we’ll all die horribly.”
“And if we do nothing-”
“I vote against,” Tannish interrupted, flicking his hand towards Cade dismissively.
“Oh it’s not so bad here,” he waved his personal computer in the air. “I’ve got thousands of books loaded on here, and did I mention that I’ve started writing a novel?”
“Care for a read?”
“No… I don’t read all too much.”
“Ah yes,” again Tannish waved his hand towards Cade, “I didn’t think someone like you would be much of a bookworm.”
The positive air Cade was putting on left him immediately; he slapped Tannish’s hand away with a loud clap of contact. “What’s that supposed to mean?” He snarled.
A flash a panic washed over Tannish’s face, it subsided quickly. He slowly recoiled his hand and looked away from Cade again. “Oh nothing,” he said merrily. “Martini?” He picked up a glass form the table next to him and extended it to Cade. Frozen olives, and a wrinkled slither of lemon bobbed in the light amber drink.
Cade looked flatly at Tannish. “We all know that’s your own filtered piss.”
“But is it really?” Tannish gently waved it around in the air.”
Cade rolled his eyes, then left, making sure to close the door behind him.
“This is just disappointing.”
Cade lowered his eyes to his desk, unable to look at Jack’s hologram in its eyes. “I know,” he sighed weakly.
“Is this it? This is what all your experience has come to?” Jack leaned in to leer down at Cade. “After all this time you couldn’t even win the trust of your crew? This is pathetic.”
A hand clasped the back of Cade’s chair.
Cade sat up and turned to see Jane looking down at him. She slunk past and turned so that she was stood opposite. She smiled intently.
“Cade, I came to say that I’m in for your crazy plan,” her grin lengthened.
“Why?” Cade said struggling to meet her gaze.
“Because it’ll work, and because Jack would want us to try.”
Now Cade looked up. “But how do you know that?”
Jane knelt down so that she was eye level and rested her elbow on the desk. “I just know” she said, the grin disappeared, “just like I know Jack never would have said those things about you.”
“Not a problem,” she got up and beckoned for him to follow her. “Now come on, let’s get to work.”
“But what about the others?”
She smiled. “Screw’em.”
Chapter 4: Executive Decisions
The warhead was eerily small. Cade held the device with either hand on each end like a tray. It was encased in a thick octagonal shell, on one side sat a small display showing the weapon’s status, on the other sat a control panel. The panel was encased in a thick plastic cover, to ensure it wasn’t triggered accidently. Despite its size, the device was still monstrously heavy. Cade’s arms throbbed as he recalled carrying it as quietly as he could through the ship. Out here though, the weight was far more manageable.
Cade and Jane were attached to safety tethers mag-locked to the hull. Between them sat the barrel to the mass-driver. The driver was a modestly sized gimballed turret, with sloping crimson armour panels on its top that flattened it into relative inconspicuousness against the hull plating. A well worn and rifled barrel protruded from the turret’s housing and sat between Cade and Jane. The barrel extended deeper into the ship, becoming darker as Cade peered into it. Metallic wires that ran down the length of the barrel twinkled against the green light in the otherwise dark tunnel.
He had strapped the remote to his belt, he checked the screen confirming that the bomb was indeed slaved to the remote.
“Any trouble getting that from the cargo hold?”
“What? Sorry miles away. No, Henry sleeps like a brick, same as Blair.”
Jane nodded. “We should get started” she said.
“Right.” Taking the nuke, he turned it so that the payload was facing him, lined it up with the mass driver’s barrel, and pushed it down. The warhead’s casing was designed to be fired from mass drivers, it slotted perfectly into the barrel’s rifling. It rotated down the barrel before clicking into the firing mechanism with a dull thud that Cade felt travel up the Barrell and into his spine.
“It’s done” Cade said.
Jane stared down the barrel absently. “Weird that they’re so small,” she said, “considering the damage they can do.” Jane had done very little to her EVA suit in all the time that had passed. It was matte and dark teal in colour. The thick armour panels were segmented and overlapped in an arrowhead pattern. Her helmet boasted a T shaped visor slit, with the glass tinted blood orange.
“Yeah” Cade said.
Jane checked her watch. “It’s time, we should tell the others, they’re still expecting a vote.”
“Right. Go ahead, I’ll catch up.”
Her head tilted slightly, “Okay,” she said slowly, then turned and left for the airlock.
Confirming that his tether was secure, Cade pushed off the ship’s hull and allowed himself to drift in the void. He could see the entire Twilight Hope from here. He could see the way it hung motionless in space, not drifting, but anchored in place. Its sharp crescent shape sat at odds against the green goo that surrounded it on all sides. Cade let his head lean back. The ooze that surrounded him continued to roll in into itself like the globs in a lava lamp, throwing soft green light onto his face. In his mind’s eye alone, it felt warm.
Again Cade strode through the hallway, he hadn’t changed, and the soles of his EVA boots pounded onto the metallic floor. Under his arm he held his helmet, and in his other he gripped his remote in a trembling gauntlet. The ship’s lighting simulated evening by dimming and changing to an artificial gold. The colour gave all the sharp edges of objects an angelic glow.
The crew didn’t notice him, a heated argument already in full swing. Tannish was wagging his finger at Jane and gnashed his yellow teeth in frustration. Henry and Blair sat around them awkwardly.
Cade didn’t raise his voice, he didn’t need to.
A loud and blunt thump resonated throughout the ship, as if a clap of thunder had been condensed into a single dull note. The ship shunted hard to one side, but quickly settled back into its original position as the inertia dampeners kicked in.
Everyone’s turned sharply to look out the kitchen’s viewport. They watched as the canister spun away from the ship, ejected from the mass driver. Their eyes fell upon Cade aghast, apart from Jane, who smiled wryly.
“No, no no no, what have you done!” Tannish snarled, his face quickly contorting and growing red.
Cade regarded them all coolly, his hand loosely but securely gripping the remote.
“I’ve launched my nuke,” he said.
Tannish’s mouth hung open.
Henry stood, his eyes darting between the viewport and Cade, “Oh you idiot!” He chewed his fingers hard for a moment, “you should have… Never mind!” He turned to the door, “I need my instruments!” And ran from the room.
Tannish stood and faced Cade. “So that’s it then, no vote?”
“No vote.” Cade said.
“That’s not fair, you can’t just go back on your word when it suits you!”
“I don’t care.”
Tannish glanced out the window again, the nuke was a spec now, growing smaller as it hurled towards the green wall. “Why hasn’t it gone off yet?”
“It’s detonated manually, I’m waiting for it to reach minimum safe distance, and be as close to the wall as I can get it.”
Tannish narrowed his eyes, “and when will that be?”
Cade looked back to the remote, its screen counting down the seconds. 5. 4. 3. 2.
“Now,” Cade said. He flipped up the remote’s safety cover and laid his thumb over the detonation switch. He hesitated, letting him thumb just rest over the switch. He could still back out now, if he didn’t detonate the nuke it would just slam harmlessly against the green bubble.
Tannish lunged at Cade, his thin limbs shooting out towards Cade’s arm and the remote within.
Anticipating the move, Blair scooped him up and wrapped her arms around his chest, hoisting him up into the air.
Tannish screamed, and flailed his arms and legs trying to wriggle free. “He’s going to kill us you idiot!” He roared, spittle flying from his mouth. A wild elbow connected with Blair’s ear, she grunted and wobbled, but kept her grip.
Jane moved in to help, “Tannish stop,” she said.
Seeing her coming, Tannish flailed his legs at her. The first arcing overhead, but the second connecting centre-mass just under her ribs, ejecting the wind from her in a wet hiss.
Blair lifted the man higher and took a step away from Jane.
Tannish went for her with his elbows, connecting with her face just between the eye socket and bridge of her nose, blackening both.
Blair brought him down hard, practically throwing Tannish face first into the floor.
Henry rounded the corner, his arms cradling a monitor, just in time to see Tannish’s face bite into the anti-slip floor with a wet crack.
Cade, who had been until now staring down at the remote, finally thumbed the detonator.
Light, painful and blinding, struck the room. Instantly the kitchen was cast into jarring contrast. Cade jerked his head away from the window to see the forms of his crew and the kitchen’s interior as glowing silhouettes. The sides of their bodies facing the viewport were now brilliant white, contrasting without transition into midnight black on their reverse sides, which extended into long shadows that arched along the floor and crisscrossed against the back wall.
Cade blinked, tears welling in his dazzled eyes and streaming down his dry cheeks. The window polarised in a vain attempt to limit this incoming light. The sudden blinding contrast of the initial detonation quickly bled into a pulsating fireball of brilliant yellow, then bright orange. The green dome than had trapped the ship was gone, leaving the Twilight Hope alone with the fireball opposite. It expanded quickly, almost pushing through space as if inflating. Its surface billowed and rolled across itself as its various layers aggressively expanded, uninhibited by the confines of atmosphere and gravity.
Everyone stared out the viewport; even Tannish gazed glassy eyed at the fireball, wiping at the blood and snot that streamed freely from his brow and nose.
Henry tapped at his display. “Radiation wave in 5.”
Nothing changed externally, the sphere continued to loom at them in the distance. No pressure wave, no thundering sound, but it came nevertheless.
Monitors blinked and sparked around them. The ceiling lamps popped and died. The ship, no longer able to hold its position in space, began to pitch awkwardly. The metal floor and the panels on Cade’s armour became warm, then hot, hot enough to send itchy flushes through his spine, then it passed, growing no warmer.
“EM shielding mostly held up. Engines and Dime-drive were already down. Life support is disabled but not destroyed, batteries are gone, but the generator is still up. We’ve lost inertia stabilizers and dampeners, a host of subsystems have gone down, including weapons, heating, and-”
“And the radiation?”
“Well, as you felt we weren’t cooked, but it got a bit toasty didn’t it. All in all, I’d say we were just far enough away.”
Jane inclined her head. “And what about damage to us? Just how much gamma were we just exposed to?”
Henry tapped at his monitor again. He frowned, then his eyes widened and he cleared his throat. “Well… Since none of you are pregnant, I wouldn’t worry about it right now.”
Everyone turned to look at Henry in silence for a moment, then turned back to the viewport.
Tannish glared Cade, his small pupils cutting into him even behind the veil of blood on his face. Tannish turned slowly and walked out of the room in silence.
Cade watched him leave impassively, then turned back to the viewport.
“A massive object’s transitioning nearby!” Henry exclaimed, a wide grin stitched across his face.
Blair spun on her heels to face him, “A rescue ship? So, the plan worked, we’re actually going home!”
Henry continued to study the monitor, then he kept looked at it, the delight in his eyes slowly flattened, then he frowned again.”
“Henry?” Cade said softly.
Henry looked up at him. “Cade,” he said, “It’s not a rescue ship.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. But it’s coming in now.”
The crew stood and faced the viewport.
The expanding blast stopped. Its edges becoming uniform and rolling into itself as the fire and gases beneath thinned, darkening from yellow, to glowing orange, to nothing, as the edges of the blast dissipated into the background of space.
An object moved through the dissipating cloud, dragging fire and smoke along with it as it came into view. It was enormous, at least as big as the Twilight Hope. Light emerged from the object, unlike the nuke, this light didn’t explode into brightness, but rather slowly rose to a sapphire glow. Three black and pupiless eyes came into focus, each at least as big as a man and surrounded by the sapphire glow. They seemed to transcend the distance between them and leer at the crew. A maw of silver teeth sat in lipless gums. Each tooth resembled a colossal molar, tipped with a piercing spike in its centre. Two thin and almost whip-like mandibles extended from either side of its jaw, each tipped with silvery barbs and hooks. An aggressive protrusion of the same silver material extended from its forehead, so that its brow resembled the prow of a nautical ship. Its skin was translucent, revealing blue muscles and arteries that ran from its tail all the way up to head, the skin itself was a thick membrane that sat meters away from the visible flesh beneath, with the bioluminescence within giving it the ethereal sapphire glow.
It screamed, opening its maw wide and pulsating its worm-like body with the silent exertion. Its multiple eyes narrowed, and then it began to swim towards the Twilight Hope.
The four of them stood in awe, watching in silence as the creature progressed towards them.
Cade noticed Blair look up at him. He kept his face towards the window.
“What are we looking at here?” She asked.
Cade took a breath to reply, but said nothing, he frowned and rested a palm on the warm viewscreen.
Jane cleared her throat. “Henry?”
Henry tore his gaze away from the creature and looked back at her blankly.
“Oh, right.” He tapped frantically at his display, and then began to shake his head slowly. “No” he said, “I… I can’t explain this,” he frowned, “Why is there a giant worm coming to eat us?”
Everyone shifted to look at the back of his head. With the power down the usual background clicks and hums were gone, casting the kitchen into an eery silence, apart from Cade’s laughter. It was an ugly laugh, he was almost cackling with his head rolling on his shoulders and his eyes watering. It evolved into wet snorting, and finally a muted and
awkward chuckle. He slapped his hand against the viewscreen, it hit hard and sent a sharp clap around the room that prompted Henry and Blair to take a step back.
Jane rested a hand on his shoulder, it was gentle, but she also had a firm hold of him.
Cade turned back to them, wiping away the wetness under his eyes and stifling another bout of laughter.
“Apologies,” he started, “Do forgive me for that,” he pointed to the viewscreen, “It just couldn’t be easy for us, right?”
Blair and Henry glanced at each other. Jane, still with her hand on him, regarded him flatly and unimpressed.
Cade cleared his throat. He smiled at Jane and touched her hand, but waited her to take it off.
“Twilight Hope,” he began. “This has been a long time coming. For two years my mistake has trapped us here. Robbed us of a future, of our ambitions, everyone we knew; and now it comes for our lives.” He gestured to the window again, confidently this time, stabbing his open hand towards the creature. “Do you see that? This is what the galaxy has spat out to confront me, this is my retribution made manifest!” His left eye began to twitch erratically, he didn’t suppress it. “I will not hide, I will fight, I will fight this thing with everything I have.” He was breathing heavily now, his stomach swimming with pleasant butterflies.
Henry tilted his head, frowning slightly. “But how?” He said softly, “the ship is disabled, how will you fight them?”
“I don’t know” Cade said immediately, he paused for a moment, digesting what he had just said. “I don’t know. I’ll need to think of a plan. But all that I know for sure is that one final effort is all that remains.” He balled his fists. “If I am to be eaten today, then I would rather die out there in style, than here on my knees.”
A shallow smile appeared on the edge of Blair’s face.
“Twilight Hope. I have no right to ask you this, but will you follow me into the void, one last time?”
Blair spoke first. “I will follow you captain. I haven’t lived a long life, and I have spent much of it alone,” she wrapped her palm around her fist and cracked it’s knuckles. “so, I am glad that I can choose that it ends, alongside my friends.”
“Cade.” Jane said, “You’re wrong, this isn’t you’re fight,” she smiled, “It’s ours. And retribution be damned, I will stand with you.”
Everyone turned to look at Henry. He looked back absently and shrugged. “You’ve got pretty big balls Cade, rolling up with an inspiration speech after all the crap you’ve pulled today.” He shook his head slowly. “You know, today was the first time you’ve come to see me in weeks… I had this crazy idea that we were making progress, that things were on their way to being like before you became Captain… But now I see that you haven’t changed at all. At the end of the day, nobody else’s opinions matter, Cade has to get his own way.”
Henry took a long look out of the viewscreen. “And now, I suppose there’s only one real option here too.” He looked Cade up and down, then met his eyes flatly. “I assume that whilst you were being all dramatic there, you cooked up another stupid plan?”
Cade smiled weakly, “Jane. Please unlock the armoury.”
Chapter 5: A Somewhat Simple Plan
The Twilight Hope’s crew strode through the EVA door and onto the hull of the ship. Cade and Jane lead, with Blair and Henry behind them. Each wore their combat plate in full, and a EVA thruster pack on their backs.
Cade’s vision was reduced to a thin slit with his helmet’s ballistic panelling attached. The rest of his suit was adorned with sloping plates of metal, wrapped in tan fabric.
Blair flexed and twisted constantly, her skin giving her trouble in the armour. Her suit was a heavily modified utility piece. It featured large orange panelling and a thick gel-filled lining. Aftermarket sheets of ballistic metal had been affixed to the armour, giving her chest-plate and pouldrons extra thickness. A skirt of segmented metal extended from the bottom of her sternum to the top of her knees.
Henry’s olive-green suit featured large cameras around his helmet, and a huge coil of cable wrapped up into a pressurised grapple launcher affixed to his chest. The cylindrical device was large and extended so far out in front of him, that It looked as it could threaten to break his back if affixed like that in normal gravity.
The four of them were laden with an arsenal of firearms. Jane carried two pistols, one in each hand and a line of magazines on her leg plate. Blair cradled a long EVA specific rifle with two long barrels and a bulbous drum magazine filled with steel darts. Henry had a short collapsible rifle strapped to his stomach, needing both of his hands to operate the grapple. Cade carried a short shotgun in his hands, and a long rifle on his back.
The creature advanced on them, though distant it still progressed quickly, it’s unblinking black eyes leering at them, and its fanged maw swaying loosely open.
Tannish watched them from behind his room’s viewport, his bloody face regarding them impassively.
Cade caught his eye.
After a moment, Tannish nodded to him slightly.
Cade nodded back.
The away team looked up, looked towards the creature and the stars beyond, crouched, then disabled their mag-locks and jumped, flaring their thruster packs in a thick jet of white vapour. They were weightless. Cade, anticipating the whipping of wind against his ears, found the silence disorientating as they shot through space.
Distant stars and other pinpricks of light streamed past them as the creature’s hungry jaws grew ever larger. Cade looked to his wrist display. 1000 meters… 900, 800, 660.
“Blair, on my mark… Mark!”
Blair’s thruster pack kicked into life and spewed light and propellant as she veered away from the others and decelerated. Her head rocked inside her helmet-cam, and she audibly gnashed her teeth together. She swung the rifle onto her chest and engaged the creature.
A stream of fiery tracer-backed darts raced across from Cade’s left and into the creature’s face. The darts embedded themselves into its flesh, drawing blue blood and peppering its mouth like porcupine needles in a dog’s snout.
The creature reacted immediately, moving faster than something its size should. It lowered its head bringing its armoured brow down to block the hail of darts. It barred its fangs together in a parody of a grimace, before turning off course to swim straight at Blair.
“Well I’ll be damned,” Henry breathed softly, “It’s actually taken the bait!”
Blair grunted, her face flashing with light and shadow between her weapon’s discharges. “Well it had better-”
“Shut up!” Cade cut in, “keep the channel clear and listen for your marks. Banter when this is over.”
Jane’s helm shifted towards him slightly, but she said nothing, and tuned back to the creature.
Cade looked back to his wrist. 400… 300… 200… “Mark!”
Henry slammed the grapple’s release and it exploded forward, shooting a clawed hook and cable from his chest. The creature was in front and below them at this point, still swimming towards Blair. The hook sailed towards it, perfectly on target for the membrane-like flesh just behind its neck. It imbedded itself deep inside. Henry pressed another button and the hook’s mechanism engaged, spreading the hook’s claws wide and securing it in place.
“Secure secure secure,” Henry said.
“Twilight Hope, on my mark… Dive!”
The three of them turned sharply, and dived towards the creature, firing their thruster packs as they hurtled down in a trail of blue fire and white vapour.
Cade and Jane went straight for the nape, whilst Henry aimed for the tail so that the cable could lay across the creature’s body.
90… 80, 70, 60, 50, “Brakes!”
They rolled, so they fell feet first towards the creature, and then fired their thrusters again, decelerating into a survivable landing.
Jane landed ahead of Cade, touching down on its nape. She was immediately thrown to the ground by its speed, her body seemed to bounce along its skin until she managed to grip onto the cable and steady herself.
Henry also landed clumsily, the cable pulling taught and whipping him hard against its tail. To his credit, he stuck the landing and gripped a chunk of blue flesh, steadying himself.
Cade was last to land, his feet mere meters from the nape.
The creature looked up at him, twisting its head up at speed so that just as he realised what was happening Cade’s feet were headed towards its black eyes.
Cade inhaled sharply and flared his thrusters, trying to get clear. He just cleared its silver brow, but his pack connected with the hard material at speed. His thruster pack crunched with the piercing sound of metal against metal, it sparked and dripped propellant.
Cade slammed the emergency release on his chest just as the leaking fuel ignited. The pack flew from him in a spiral of torn metal and fire. He hit the creature’s flesh. The membrane was remarkably flexible, easily taking his weight and then flinging him down the creature’s back.
He flailed his arms and legs about until his gauntlet brushed against the metallic cable. He clenched his fist around it, sending a flurry of sparks and burning rubber flying from his hands and he slowly decelerated, and then stopped. “Status?”
Jane was a little further up the creature, crouching and gripping the cable.
“Fine here,” she said.
“Fine here,” Henry called out from behind him, his voice interwoven with the metallic flapping of the cable he was attached to.
Blair’s audio feed was filled with the punchy thwack thwack thwack of her gun. “What was that?” She asked, barely audible above the noise.
“Alright,” Cade said, gripping the cable tighter. “Prepare to engage.”
“But we’re nowhere near the nape.” Jane said.
“We can’t wait any longer, it’s almost reached Blair.”
“Aim for anything that looks like an organ. On my mark. Fire!”
Jane, Cade and Henry discharged their weapons into the flesh beneath them.
Jane and Henry’s muzzles spat bullets in sharp flashes of light and sent waves of vibrations rippling through the creature’s skin.
Cade’s shotgun pumped pellets into the membrane, each shot
slamming home with a satisfying thump.
Jane’s magazine ran dry first, then Henry’s, then Cade’s. They paused to reload.
Their weapons had done almost nothing. Their shots had pierced the creature, but that’s all that they had done. Cade could see this shotgun’s pellets deep inside the translucent blubber beneath him. There was no blood, and if the creature felt pain then it hadn’t even flinched.
“It’s just… that’s incredible.” Henry mused.
“Cade,” Jane said, “we can’t punch through this membrane, we need a new approach.”
Cade was examining the flesh beneath him. The translucent blubber was meters thick. Within, at its core the long spine of dark blue muscled flesh ran the length of the creature, ending at its neck where it’s head and mandibles were made of the same material. He remembered how Blair’s darts had bled it.
“Cade, we need a-”
“What?” Jane asked.
“Not its neck, we need to get to its face, it’s head and spine are the only real flesh on this thing, they’re how it moves and interacts with things. This blubber is just armour. Henry, stay where you are and keep the cable taught, Jane, you and I are going climbing.”
Even though they were progressing along a flat surface, the speed of the creature was pushing them back and down into the slippery blubber and threatening to slide them off altogether. Using the cable to move along its body felt like climbing up a steep cliff whilst gripping a flapping railing.
Jane was discharging her thruster pack regularly, using it to help propel her “up” the creature. She had almost reached its neck.
“Cade, this thing is almost on top of me.” Blair said calmly.
“We’re almost there, hold on.” Cade could see Blair’s vision on her helm-cam. She was flying away from the creature, with her front towards it, all the while shooting her cannon into its brow.
The creature still had its head bowed to her, allowing it’s armoured brow to shrug off the hail of darts. The tiniest slither of one of its eyes poked out from beneath, starring her down as it got closer with every passing moment.
“I have an idea,” Blair said.
Cade watched on his screen as Blair eased off her thrusters, allowing her speed to fall, sensing this the creature raised its head, it’s maw parting slightly ready to snap her up.
“Blair, what are you-”
Blair twisted her body round, and floored her thruster pack, sending her careening into the creature, as it sped up to meet her. She’d aimed herself perfectly, connecting the pauldrons of her suit, followed by the rest of her body, into its left eye.
As she connected the eye’s flesh was torn and ruptured, coating her in blood and thick amber juice. The eyeball itself rolled as Blair’s weight pushed it far back into its socket. As her velocity carried her into it, the eyeball became distended before simply detaching.
The crushed massed flapped limp and dead, connected by a thick strand of optical nerve as it slapped against the creature’s cheeks.
The creature arched up and twisted sharply, sending its body into a pain-induced corkscrew.
Jane and Cade gripped the creature’s flesh as the motion pressed them against it.
Blair grunted audibly as she was ejected from the eye-socket, she gunned her thrusters away from the creature, dropping her massive gun, its frame now twisted and useless.
“Blair, get clear”
“Already on it.”
The creature suddenly stopped twisting.
Cade righted himself, his feet struggling to again finding purchase on the blubbery surface. He looked up.
The creature had arched its head right back, so that it’s upside-down face looked straight at him. Its jaw hung open, it twitched, then exploded into motion. In an instant it had slammed its face down just in front of him, its maw taking a chunk, several meters wide out of its own blubber, and consuming Jane whole.
It had eaten clean through the cable too, with an unsettling weightlessness washing over Cade as the tension was immediately released. He started to slide down the creature’s body. He punched his hand into the blubber, anchoring him in place.
“Cade,” Henry said, “The cable…” Cade watched Henry’s helmet cam as he drifted off the creature’s tail and was left behind as and it sped off.
Cade inhaled hard and barred his teeth together as he forced his gun arm up and narrowed his eyes. He discharged his weapon into the side of the creature’s face. Pellets embedded themselves in its cheeks and brow, it flinched, trying to shield its second eye, but they found their mark. The shotgun’s pellets impaled it with a myriad of bleeding holes, and
the eye sagged uselessly in its socket.
The creature arched its head away from Cade and spat its mouthful back out into space. Jane tumbled through void, her inertia pack spitting
propellant in a failing attempt to right her.
“Jane, what’s your-”
The creature shifted, preparing to accelerate hard and threatening to dislodge Cade.
He looked down to his hand, and at the flapping cable on the other side of the crater. He sprinted up the creature and dived at the metallic cable, dropping his shotgun. As his gauntlets gripped the metal cable the creature shot forward, pressing him against its flesh and leaving the rest of his crew behind.
He stood. He was at the creature’s neck now, just able to see over the armoured carapace of the its head. The creature was speeding directly towards the Twilight Hope.
“Henry, Henry can you hear me?”
“Cade? I read you.”
“It’s headed straight for the ship, are any systems operational yet? Even just the mass driver?”
“What? No, of course not, do you not remember that time you shot a nuke at-”
“Okay, I just needed to check if there were any other options.”
There was moment of hesitation before Blair spoke up. “Are you still on that thing?” She exclaimed.
“I’m almost at his face now.”
Jane spoke now, “Cade, what’re you planning on doing?”
Cade had reached the end of the tether, with the grappling hook embedded at his feet, knowing the cable wouldn’t extend far enough now, he unclipped himself.
“Its eyes are vulnerable, and it’s only got one left, it can’t eat what it can’t see. . . Hopefully.”
“Just, don’t die okay.”
“Right.” Cade began to pull himself over the crest of its head feeling like he was swimming hard against a current as he clambered over it. Once over, the inertia of the creature pinned him flat against its brow. He looked up. The Twilight Hope was becoming increasingly bigger as the creature sped towards it. He looked down, the one remaining eye in the centre of its face was focussed on the ship, its teeth gnashed together in a bestial parody of determination. In any case it hadn’t noticed Cade, and paid him no more attention than a bead of sweat.
He crawled headfirst down the creature’s forehead, his armour scraping against the thick silvery flesh. He got closer and closer to the eye, its gelatinous black flesh glistening against the starlight. Cade looked down, finding bumpy scars and pockmarks to grip onto. As he looked back up, the eye had turned to glare at him.
The creature decelerated hard, sending Cade flying forward; he was stopped almost as abruptly, his body halting with enough force to whip him around like a doll and rattle his head around the inside of his helmet. He blinked away stars and nausea. He tasted rich copper in his mouth and nose, and resisted the urge to spit globs of blood into his helmet. He
swallowed it instead. His stomach felt cold, his whole body did actually, he was acutely in pain, and also numb. He pawed at himself gingerly and looked himself over with bleary eyes.
A barbed and bladed mandible had speared him from behind, it rose from his lower abdomen like a thick carapace rod, covered in his own crimson blood.
Cade tore his eyes from it and looked up, the creature loomed over him, ready to bring its mandibles in and snap him up with its jaws.
In a smooth and practised motion, Cade withdrew his rifle, and shot it at the final eye. The black mass popped in a wet explosion of amber juice and chunks of ocular meat.
There was a moment where neither of the two did anything, the creature didn’t move, and Cade regarded its three dead eye sockets. Its expression changed, its lipless mouth twisting and coiling at the edges as the animal rationalised its dark new world and roared in silent rage.
Cade fired another shot at the mandible’s joint, shattering the blue flesh and
disconnecting it from the creature.
It lunged at Cade, attempting to swallow him whole, but missed, Cade instead hit its chin and bounced from it, sending him tumbling through space.
Cade’s vision began to tunnel. He saw the creature thrashing and charging through space. It moved away from the Twilight Hope, having forgotten all about the ship, or at least where it was. He looked again at his abdomen, at the mandible that still impaled him, the blood that was now forming spherical droplets and leaking into space. And then he blacked
Chapter 6: The Other Side
Cade’s vision swam, and a layer of milky haze washed over his sight. He felt incredibly dehydrated and weak.
Blair carefully lowered him down into the pilot’s seat. “Henry,” she said, “how bad is he?”
Cade’s equilibrium returned and he could make out the blurry silhouettes of the crew in front of him. The mandible still jutted out from his abdomen, but now a thick and viscous cream-coloured paste was encrusted at the wound-site.
“Not good,” Henry replied flatly, “he’s dying.”
“But the Medi-foam?”
“Will stop the bleeding, and most of the pain sure… But he has still been impaled.”
Cade’s sight returned properly now. Blair and Henry were crouched in front of him, an open medical box between them as they fussed anxiously over him.
Jane stood a step behind them, still covered in thick globs of blubber, and finally Tannish leaned against the cockpit hatch’s frame, fixing his eyes on the scene impassively.
Cade raised a hand, his arm was weak and swayed listless in the air, nevertheless, the room’s attention immediately turned to him. “I’m sorry,” he said, ignoring the stream of warm blood that ran from his mouth as he
spoke. The numbing effect of the Medi-foam made his words leave his mouth as slurs. “We’re still trapped here. We’ve been here two years and I still couldn’t save you; I couldn’t even save myself.” Cade took in a laboured breath, his chest shaking as he did so.
Jane, Blair and Henry looked to each other sombrely, and then moved in close, embracing Cade in a semi-circle of their bodies.
Blair reached behind his head and propped it up gently.
“I, I wish I’d appreciated our time together more, I wish-” One of the operator’s monitors crackled, and then chimed loudly.
Shock flashed across the faces of the crew in front of him, and Cade smiled weakly. The comms system chimed again before a distorted voice filled the cockpit.
“Twilight Hope, signal received, repeat, signal received, please respond.”
Blair gripped Cade’s hand, pushing his knuckles together in excitement. “Cade,” she exclaimed, “you did it, someone’s hear you. You need to hold on, okay? Stay with us, for me, stay with me okay.”
“For all of us,” Henry said.
“And for yourself,” Jane said.
Cade smiled again. “Thanks guys, I wouldn’t know what I would have done without you.” He leaned his head back against the seat and gazed up at the viewport and his dull reflection therein.
He pulled his gaze away from it sharply. Within, his reflection showed him sitting back against the pilot’s chair. It showed no trace of the bleeding hole in his torso, or his friends surrounding him. He was sat alone in the cockpit, with a green wall cutting him off from the rest of the ship, as he had been for the past two years.
Jack stood with his arms crossed tight over his chest, he stopped himself from chewing the inside of his lips, and instead began to tap his foot, slowly, but still impatiently, against the metal floor. He checked the display attached to his forearm. Five minutes since the Dime-drive translation. He glanced behind him.
Jane, Blair and Tannish were stood, pressed up against the wall of the already cramped cockpit. Blair chewed her nails with her back teeth, whilst Jane looked to Jack with her hands resting gently on her hips. Tannish starred absently into the distance whilst he picked his nails.
Jack glared at the side of the man’s head for a moment, then turned back to his front.
In front of him a wall of green separated him from the pilot’s chair and the viewscreen beyond. The wall was thick and translucent like glass, but also seemed to be liquid, with thick droplets gliding through it. Cade was still sat in the pilot’s seat, his helmet resting on the seat’s holster, his fists still clenched against the controls and his face knotted with concentration. To Jack, Cade was frozen in time, his body unmoving. Jack narrowed his eyes.
Lines of stress began to develop on Cade’s forehead, and his skin lightened noticeably. Jack leaned in closer.
“Don’t touch it!” Henry cried.
Jack snapped his head round. Henry was sweating and panting lungsful of recycled air, he pushed his way into the room and knelt on the floor, hurrying to unscrew a panel with a multi-tool.
“Has it worked?” Jack asked.
“Well, he’s still on the other side of that wall,” Henry snapped, “So what do you think?”
Jack slowly knelt down, so that he was at Henry’s eye level.
Henry looked up from his work. “Sorry,” he said, “just stressed, this whole situation, it’s so…”
“I know,” Jack slapped Henry gently on the shoulder, then drew himself up again. “So, will this work?”
Henry’s response was punctuated with the snapping and hissing of wires as he tore bundles of them from floor, and welded others into a port on his suit. “In theory, yes, when the solar flare hit, the Dime-drive had already enveloped most of the ship,” he jabbed a thumb towards the pilot’s seat, “apart from the very front obviously.”
The room’s lights flickered as Henry tugged on a cable. “Instead of cutting the ship in half, it’s placed everything in that front section, that green zone, into a connected but unstable dimension; they’re easy to generate, but… that’s because time doesn’t work properly.”
“So, if we don’t get him out quickly…”
“Yeah, it could have been months already.”
“Understood.” Jack folded him arms again and looked through the green ooze. “And why is it green?”
“I programmed it to be… Green’s my favourite colour Captain.”
“I see.” Nobody said anything after that, for several long moments the only sound was the snapping and hissing of Henry’s work, the hum of the ship’s systems, and the clicking of Tannish’s long nails.
Henry closed the hatch with a sharp clank of metal on metal. A bundle of wires and cable seemed to stream haphazardly from his suit’s ports, Henry himself consulted a large monitor on his forearm. “Spooling Dime-drive” he said, “just a minute now. It’s a quick fix in theory, just home in on his co coordinates so to speak, and complete the translation; the biggest issue was that the controls to do that are obviously in the pilot’s console.”
“Well,” Jack slapped his chest and the coils of wires now running from his armour and into the floor, “now I’m the pilot’s console, we’ll be ready to go as soon as the drive’s spooled.”
Jack nodded, as he turned, he noticed that Jane and Blair had moved in, creating a semi-circle of the four of them around Cade’s chair.
Henry smirked wryly. “Word of warming, there’s a slight chance we might just explode or cut the ship in half, just thought I’d mention that now.”
Tannish’s head snapped round. “What? Explode?” “Only joking Tan Tan,” Henry turned back round, silently mouthing “I wasn’t.”
Jack just smiled and looked round his crew. Their eyes all rested confidently on the green wall opposite them.
The ship shuddered slightly as it always did when the Dime-drive spooled. The monitor on Henry’s forearm chimed sharply. “Ready captain.”
“Punch it Henry.”
The viewscreen outside tumbled with starlight and watercolour, as the Twilight Hope tumbled through Dimensions.
A flash of light pulsed beyond Cade’s closed eyes; it filled his vision with a snap of bright pink as the blood and flesh behind his eyelids were illuminated.
He opened them slowly, then sat bolt upright. The stars outside of the cockpit’s viewport were spinning and tumbling in blurring colours, clear indicators of a Dime-drive translation.
He griped his seat’s restrains, anticipation forming as a dry lump in his throat and his heart hammering in his chest. The radiant green that emanated from the wall of ooze behind him, and threw gloomy light across the cockpit, flashed once, twice, and then washed over him; bathing him in inky light as it progressed through him, and then vanished.
The viewscreen had normalised to the black void of space. Cade took in a breath through his mouth, filling the base of his lungs with the cleanest gulp of air he had taken in a long time. The recycled air practically tasted sweet as it passed through his teeth and over his tongue.
He touched his face, eagerly feeling its contours with his fingers. Surprising strength had returned to his hands, with long-lost energy flowing into his grip. The skin of his face felt thick and soft in his hands, and his short hair strong and fibrous between his fingers. He stood quickly, reaching for the chair to steady himself, but not needing it. Then turned around.
The crew faced him, exactly as they had been long ago, and are now. Blair with her pale skin and thick braids of blonde hair; Henry, with his gleeful smile and suit’s ports plugged into something stupid, and Jane, well Jane hadn’t actually changed at all.
Cade focussed on Jack. His friend’s racing stripe haircut and black armour seemed at odds with the warm eyes that tracked over Cade with equal parts relief and concern.
Cade flung himself forward and hugged his friend with all the strength in his arms. A dull clank emanated from them as their armour thumped against each other. Cade’s legs buckled under him as hot tears and streaming snot poured from his eyes and nose.
Cade felt his friend’s thoroughly confused hand rest on the back of his head, and he smiled from ear to ear.