This situation looked bad. Ship screwed up. Power down. Convicts loose. Men injured. Our one and only medical doctor is a prisoner. Hell-in-a-handbasket was taking on a new meaning. Oh yeah, and we were going to take the rap for the captain’s favorite collectibles drifting out of the conning bay. Great, just frellin… great.
Shaking my head I look around the med bay. I know I should be getting after those victs, but those two slugs on the table must be hurtin. Whoever put that string on ‘em pulled it awful tight, I can see ‘em bleed.
I hate wasting the time, but I work at cutting ‘em loose. It takes for-bleedin-ever, that synth strand is some kind of designer polymer, and my knife does exactly nothing to it. I rummage around in the Doc’s cabinets and find the special monofilament nippers she uses to cut the stuff. I can’t just cut it loose in one spot, I have to shear it all away.
My comm. squawks. I pick up. “What?”
*Status?* Terry asks me.
“Still in med bay cutting these poor dweebs loose. Stinkin surgical wire is killing them.”
*Understood. Something else has come up.*
I roll my eyes and sigh. I really should have kept my thoughts to myself. What else could go wrong? Oh, just everything. I really don’t want something else thrown on my plate. There’s a wary tone in my voice. “All right… what?”
*I hooked up with Bengal.*
“Okaaay. Did he solve our problem on the conning deck?”
*I’m getting to that. When he suited up to head to the conning deck he found a broken crate full of machine parts.*
I sigh. I keep working on the thread holding Sanchez. There’s still a bunch of threads holding him down. The poor slob is groaning like he’s been broke up bad. “Yeah, we got a bunch of them in the lower cargo level.”
*Well, there was what looks like a hollowed out meteorite in amongst the stuff.*
“So, I don’t get it. We know we was hit by debris. What’s yer point?”
*Well, first it’s old. Can’t really say how old actually. But the all the metal parts look… well, eaten.*
“Eaten?” I frown. I cut the last strand on Sanchez. He moans and I steady him. I start working on Smith. “This doesn’t make sense. You’re saying we were hit by a meteor and didn’t know it? That something was in the meteor and ate its way out?”
*Yeah, and whatever it was may have been on board for a while.*
“I’m lost. What does that have to do with the victs or the meteor storm that just hit us?”
*Maybe nothing, but we have been experiencing some sabotage haven’t we, tie downs being cut—*
I rub my forehead. I’m reaching my limit. “—Boss! Pardon my saying it, but you’re talking crazy. A metal-eating space alien hatched in box of machine parts is running around the ship terrorizing our tie downs?”
There’s a long pause. Maybe Terry realizes how crazy he sounds. *Look, I don’t know what it all means. I know there’s something running around besides those prisoners. Just keep your eyes open.*
“Roger that.” I thumb the comm. Off. Metal eatin space aliens. He needed furlough bad. I cut the final strand on Smith. He sags with a moan. I know that stuff had to hurt. I smack his face. “Smith, you awake?”
“Uhhh.” He blinks his eyes and looks up at me. He’s seems to be having trouble focusing.
“Smith, you see the guys that did this to ya?”
He mumbles and I help him sit up. He rubs the back of his head and focuses on me again. “Clive?”
“Yeah. Did you see the punks who mugged yah?”
Smith winces. “Yeah—urrh, big guy—he clocked me.”
I take him by the shoulders. “Did you see how many there were? Did they have weapons?”
“Uhhh, at least four. One of them was a scary bullock. Dead eyed bastid, had em tie us up. They got my side arm and Sanchez—and the Doc’s.”
“Great. Did you hear where they was goin?”
“They was fraggin around with the comms. One of ‘em is a gadget whiz. I think they said something about the armory.”
Spit. Damn robot. “Okay, you hang tight. I have to go after them.” The question was with what? The good weapons were in the armory. Now, they were between me and the armory. The only thing I could think of were the freeze guns. They were for putting out vacuum fires. They sprayed a liquid nitrogen ignition retardant. Stuff was frellin painful to get on ya. The range sucked though.
I leave Smith and Sanchez to their own care. I ain’t no nursemaid anyhow.
I grab a freeze gun out of a forward locker and head toward the armory.
My comm squawks with a general announce tone. *Terrence, Hilda, Clive,” Felix’s frosty tone declares. “I have immobilized one of the intruders in starboard corridor seven, panel section twenty-nine. I have identified four more targets by their thermal signatures. Proceeding to target.”
I lean into a run, rounding the corner into corridor seven. I hear pounding behind me. Probably Terry catching up. There’s a guy laid out in the corridor. Felix is no-where in sight. That robot can move fast when he wants to.
I lean down next to the vict. He’s a burly fella, campaign tattoos wind down both arms. He’s a merc. His cheek is black, the skin split and bleeding. He’s lucky his neck ain’t broke. Felix popped him good. He ain’t going anywhere. I lean closer, his eyes are shiny—polished. I touch the corner of his eye—cold. Damn, the bugger is mil-chromed.
I hear footsteps thump to a stop behind me. I look back and see Terry. He’s got a blaster in hand. He’s done better scrounging than me.
“That one of them?” he asks.
“Yeah. Sucker is mil-chromed, I better warn Felix—” As I grab my comm I hear a scream. Then more yells. It sure ain’t Felix yellin. Then there’s a shriek like nothing I ever heard before. It’s shrill and pitched such that’s it’s certainly not the scream of anything human. It makes my skin prickle.
“Spit, don’t like that sound of that…” Terry says.
“Tell me about it…”