‘Keri, do you have any idea what you’re doing?’ Shilo’s voice rings openly in your mind as you fasten yourself to a seat in the Valkyr’s cockpit. Your movements are neither frantic nor calm, achieving a moderate shakiness likely appropriate to a girl your age trying to save the lives of her newly made friends. Once you’re seated properly, you pull out the command interfaces and start up the Valkyr’s displays of the hangar outside.
“Nope,” you reply straightforwardly as you pull on the main drivers. “I have no clue.” You smirk as the crewmen around the Valkyr jump at the sound of his drives. The low, animalistic growl makes it seem almost alive, and the fact that apparently none of them saw you enter it and shut the airlocks makes it all the more startling for them. You take to the controls and begin preparing to exit the hangar, only this time you’ve actually been treated for zero-grav environments, so the sensation of weightlessness doesn’t go to your stomach as the Valkyr gently drifts off of his moorings, the electromagnetic locks deactivating as you pull away.
You float the Valkyr forward to the hangar airlock. Once inside, the inner lock closes, and you can see the jets of condensation as the pressurized space has its air removed. You remember a lieutenant mentioning that air can’t just be vented to space carelessly since the ship has a limited supply. You understood why immediately, but it hadn’t been something of which you’d thought.
As you watch the outer lock open, you hear Shilo reply, ‘Well, I haven’t ever disarmed a ship full of bardag bombs over three hundred cycles old. Come to think of it, I’ve never disarmed a single, brand-new bardag bomb because they were phased out over a hundred cycles ago, and none of them were still supposed to exist.’ The tone that rings out with Shilo’s voice doesn’t sit well with you, but it’s often best simply to take what she says with a grain of optimism. You simply roll the Valkyr to the side, out of the airlock, and activate his more sensitive detectors. Immediately, you get a fix on the Storm Ship, and you make your way toward it, watching the Osgord flash her lights at you as she pulls away, slowly at first but increasing her speed steadily.
“Well,” you speak into the silence, “I suppose it’s just us now.” Shilo’s returned grumblings are unremarkable rhetoric pertaining to leaving the Osgord behind entirely once the bombs are disarmed, but you have no intention of leaving that crew for what only remain to be five days aboard ship. Your skills as a spacer have greatly improved across the board, and you plan on taking the Osgord into her mooring in the orbit of her namesake.
You fire up the Valkyr’s main drivers, and he begins to purr contentedly as you approach and just slightly surpass matching speed with the Storm Ship. It will take a few centidays to reach the derelict beast, but that will give you time to take more thorough scans of the ship, verifying what you had sensed from the Osgord. Opening up your glow, you feel more intimately the workings of the ship and the bombs aboard it. As you do so, you notice that many of the bombs have had their trigger mechanisms combined in compartmental order. Curious, you build up a simulation of one of the mechanisms on your display and start studying a way to disarm the bombs.
About four centidays later, you come alongside the Storm Ship and throttle down the main drivers, matching speed exactly with the craft and setting the Valkyr to follow a path that will maintain its position relative to the tumbling ship. As you do, you notice the writing on the side of the ship: Reka. Once everything’s set, you gently bump sides with the ship and get out of your seat. ‘Well,’ Shilo pipes in, ‘at least you have small hands.’
You smile as you make your way to the peripheral airlock behind the Valkyr’s galley. That is very true. You activate your helmet and enhance your glow, grabbing a set of tools from the box beside the airlock. You make your way inside the airlock and close the inner lock, hearing the whoosh to nothingness as the air is pulled from the tiny space. You open the outer lock, revealing the Reka’s emergency exit.
As you pull out your cutter, you note that the quiet of space is actually quite difficult to notice. Even out here, there is still the sound of your own heartbeat and breathing. It’s actually rather comforting. If you couldn’t hear the minor sounds of movement in your armor or the steady rhythm of your heart, you’re fairly certain you’d go quite mad, being constantly reminded of the stasis pod in which you had very nearly died. You shudder at the very thought and fire up the cutter, its highly focused emission quickly embrittling the door to the Reka in a slightly wobbly circle, just wider than yourself.
When you finish, you put away the cutter and place a small thumper on the center of the circle. Floating off to the side, you activate the thumper. It isn’t long before the fracture line you’ve created breaks. As soon as it does, the chunk of metal now disconnected bursts away from the Reka, bumping into your Valkyr as the air in the local compartment pushes itself out into the zero-pressure void of space.
When the air stops rushing out of the compartment, you work your way into the space once intended to be a secondary airlock for the Reka. You reach to activate the inner door, but Shilo quickly reminds you, ‘Magnetic lock!’ Your hand stops. You blink a few commands into your helmet and activate your magnetic lock as well as sending a signal to the Valkyr to revolve a quarter of a circle around the Reka, in case anything comes shooting out of the ship when you open the door.
Just as Shilo suspected, you find yourself ducking quickly as items which had drifted away from the bulkheads are pushed out the new opening to the ultra low pressure environment of the void. You creep your way under the rushing debris and shut the airlock door behind you. The objects in motion drift toward the closed door and thud quietly against the metal. Turning away from the door’s operator, you start looking about the passageway and gag on your own vomit. Instantly understanding why you sensed no one aboard, you realize that none of the crew evacuated this ship.
Bodies surround you, floating freely in the air after being stirred from age-old resting places. The sterile environment of ships meant that the bodies were surprisingly well preserved for being so old as they were, but decay had nonetheless found its way to the faces of all of these men and women. Looks of horror are forever etched into the stone-cold, drained flesh of their faces. The gaunt looks of the spacers throughout the passageway thoroughly convey the fact that they did not die in battle. The damage to the outside of the ship had made it clear that no penetrations had made it entirely through all of the ship’s hulls, but you had considered the possibility of evacuation or fire as explanations to your inability to sense any life aboard. You had not prepared for the hollow faces of men and women who had starved to death.
You begin wading your way through the bodies, carefully setting each one on its back on the deck before passing by, posing their arms over their hearts. When you reach the end of the passageway, you view the status of the primary airlock. The faded indicator light still shows that the airlock is set, so you reach toward the door’s operator only to realize that it’s been violently destroyed. Confused toward why this would be, you reach into the door’s operating mechanisms with your glow and activate the opening sequence of the airlock. The hiss of the air being pushed out of the airlock to equalize pressure with the passageway sounds for only a few moments before the door unlocks.
You make your way into the airlock and close the door, setting the lock and prepping the space for the insurge of air that will occur when you operate the internal door. Looking down, you notice that this operator, too, has been destroyed. You begin reaching into the door when something bumps against your helmet. You turn around and grab the small, soft cylinder from the air. This time, you are unable to prevent vomit from entering your mouth as you bring the thoroughly gnawed finger into the light of your helmet.
Swallowing the sour taste, you turn and open the inside door of the airlock, seeing for the first time something the glow had not revealed across the void between the Reka and the Osgord. As you calm yourself, you step forward into the compartment, this time full of many bodies which had not starved but had rather simply not made it to the airlock before the cannibalism began. You are reminded of the house in which you met Shilo and step forward into a scene straight from a nightmare. Stone sets itself onto your face as you press on, resolving yourself to destroy this ship as soon as the bombs have been disarmed.