The explosion had sucked all the air out of our little skirmisher. Out of the thirty-man crew, ten found suits in time to avoid asphyxiation. Artificial gravity was down. Weapons were offline. The local comms worked inside the suits, but sending for help was an impossibility. The rest of the fleet was busy, anyways.
I walked with plodding, dulled steps. The toes of the magnetic boots snapped onto the floor as I moved between various objects that had not been secured. Utensils, mugs, pistols.
“Benson, you there?”
“Yup, I’m here,” I told Carol.
She was the cook. There had been a smile on her face until the news came in two weeks ago. The news that we were going to the frontlines.
“We need to group up. Comms check,” she ordered.
Everyone listened to her, even though she was the lowest rank.
Six others responded. The other two remained as static squares on the small grid in my helmet.
“Alright. Eight have comms. Alright. Alright,” Carol said.
“Where do we go?” an officer spoke up.
He had been straight from the academy. The young man had already failed to act as a leader in previous engagements.
“Well, the docking bay has the greatest view. We’ll be able to put up a good defense from there,” Carol announced.
“We’ll never make it there before they start boarding!”
“Shut up and move you whiny pieces of shit! I’m the fucking cook and you’re looking to me. Now move!” Carol shouted into her mic.
Her face was getting red.
Seven crew members said “roger” with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
I turned around in the hallway. The body of the navigator floated from the room he had died in, out into the hallway. His hands were frozen in place at his neck. I swallowed as I ducked under his pirouetting body.
Objects bounced off my visor, and I felt the small impact as they collided with my legs. The shadows played a frightening show. The light on the end of my railgun picked up all the clutter. Things appeared as blown up two-dimensional versions of themselves. It was impossible to judge distances. I kept moving through it.
By the time I had cleared the first long hall, one of the eight screens became static. The remaining survivors chewed their lips or clenched their jaws.
“We have to assume they’re still alive, and that they’re meeting us at the docking station,” Carol said.
Only three crew members responded with words, the others made a small sound of recognition.
The next hall I came to had three bodies. They turned over at different angles and different speeds.
I decided I would not look at their faces if I didn’t have to. As I neared the first, I had to push it to the ceiling to pass. The body had no give. It was frozen solid. I could feel my breakfast fight to come up, and I forced it down. My hand let go, and I moved on.
Another screen went dead. Then another.
“Carol. There’s only five of us now,” the scared officer said.
“Johnson! Shut. The fuck. Up!” Carol yelled.
I turned off my HUD. Seeing the static screens only aided my mounting anxieties.
Past the dead comm room. Only two short hallways remained before I could see the others. I pushed myself a little faster.
“That’s another two,” said another voice.
After another second of silence, I switched the HUD back on.
Carol’s screen was static.
“Oh shit,” I said.
“Benson? Benson is that you?”
“There’s only four of us now. Jesus. They’re boarding. I say we pull back, and group up in the armory. Maybe we can make…”
“We’re already out of the core of the ship, Johnson, you coward!” came one of the crewmembers.
It was someone who I had never met.
“Okay. I’ll do my best to meet you guys…is that you?” Johnson said.
“Johnson? What do you see? Where are you?”
His face had turned resolute. His eyes were open, waiting for movement.
“Hallway C5, corner nearest the oxygen regeneration room. Is anyone at that spot?”
The other four said no.
“Johnson we’re coming to your position.”
I knew it was too late. I kept going towards the docking bay. My breath was short, and my eyes were locked onto the path.
“Oh fuck. Oh fuck. Oh fuck. Oh Jesus Christ!” Johnson’s voice had become erratic. He was breathing fast.
“Johnson! Is there…” the other voice was cut off. Replaced with static.
“Oh my…” Johnson was cut off. Static.
I froze. One screen remained. Some crew member I had never met. Their face was stoic. I realized they had not said anything for a while.
“Hello” I whispered into the mic.
Nothing could hear me anyway. It was useless.
As I strained to hear any response, a reflection glimmered near the bottom of their head-cam. Liquid was rising from their torso. Blood was seeping into their helmet.
“Oh fuck,” I shook.
I turned off the HUD. My hands found the railgun, and I set it to full auto. Turning, I saw the bodies I had passed. No movement. Or was there? It was hard to tell what was what with the dancing shadows.
Tentacles came from the hallway. I turned and saw the same form the other end. It hadn’t been a boarding party. It was them. I lowered my rifle. It wouldn’t do any good. At least it would be quick.
This story had musical inspiration. Thank you Hyper Light Drifter soundtrack.