This ship is a grave.
hanging limply in orbit around a massive, dying sun on the very edges of the galactic disc, the metal hulk spun slowly and seemed deprived of all function and completley dead without power coursing through her.
“Is this it?”
The com crackled doubtfully through invisible sheets of radiation being thrown from the surface of the dying sun; a last violent attempt at sustained function, like a man drowning in acid.
She sighed. “Yes, this is it.”
Moving her slim finger over the scout crafts holo display brought a shock of bright LED light from the search strobes on the crafts bow, illuminating the impotent wreck of the silhouetted ship.
The hull was scarred and scorched from countless planet falls, deep space battle and ship to ship conflict. The pool of white light moved over the dark features gently, like a soft hand on a fevered brow reading the pain in the eyes of the sick thing.
“Kel na…” The com crackled again. “You think thats a human life sign?”
“It should be.” She said, unconvincingly.
“It’s pretty weak…”
“It’s enough – I found the docking hatch; patch me through to Chamber and lets get into this thing.”
“Copy that, commander. The signal is seems stable. No trauma expected.”
Staci Garott looked through the transparisteel glass as the docking hatch filled her vision and eclipsed the dying star.
This ship is a grave.
She shivered in the dark.
The hatch was welded shut; not well, but it made the automated systems cranky and eventually the commando squad had to don zero g combat vac suits and cut the seals from the outside.
When the seals finally were cut, the first trauma occurred.
Hendricks had broken the forward buckle and was tossing it into space when the corrosive gas exploded around him.
“Ke AHaahHAHHHH AHHHHHHHHHHH HELP ME! HELP M-“ but his com cut out as the dissolving liquid ate away at the suit.
“Crash, are you close?” Staci locked her helmet back into place and tore through to the airlock, palming the timer as she did.
“Im here, inflating the bio-”
“Negative,” the timer pinged at seven seconds. “That’s cernestern-90, it will eat through the tents bios; black wrap your glove and toss him into the lock, Styz I want decom cracked up to hard life signs and when he’s in here, dowse us!”
The soft blue light winked clear and the airlock flooded open, now ground level with the massive ships hull.
Hendricks was flailing, his face contorted in pain and flecks of blood were boiling away in the dark as the sun raged behind him all in the ghostly silence of deep space.
Staci snapped the anchor to the wall and saw Crash bowl into Hendricks; the two of them cannoning slowly towards the open hatch.
It seemed to take hours, Hendricks thrashing and screaming silently, his face plate cracking delicately, and the blue frost of decompression etching over his features like bad blood, but when Crash and he were over the line, Staci slammed down on the lock and the durasteel sheet came sheathing into place.
“Now now now!”
Blue foam exploded around them and as the air rushed in to fill the gap, and Hendricks silent agony shredded the quiet.
He was screaming even as the decom rendered the cernestern-90 impotent, and his eyes were black with blood being pulled through them.
Staci squeezed the combat cocktail into his jugular and as the drugs exploded into him, he fell silent and looked every bit a corpse.
“Hands?” She looked to Crash.
“Negative the wrap held long enough; Stace if thats 90 then we need to check for-”
But she was shaking her head. “It wont have anything laced into it, trust me it was just a deterrent, a ‘go away’ sign really.”
Crash slumped his black clad from against the wall as the entry hatch opened and the medics dragged Hendricks from the soft pool of foam they were all covered in.
“Go away huh? Hell of a place to come knocking anyway.”
Staci stitched together a thin smile while she gave the medics the all clear. “Yeah, I know.”
The static filled radio opened up in her hear again.
“Kzzzzzt Okay commander wezzzzz – the others so we’re – kshhhhh – on your order mam.”
Crash raised an eyebrow at Staci behind the transparent plate. “Huh?”
“I think,” she said softly, “That we can go inside now.”
“Oh.” Crash nodded laconically. “Great.”
The hatch was not only unpowered, but the drain pack that should keep it opening in an emergency had been cut out and smashed. The team had to use torches and a few machine assisted shoves to get the mettle slate tucked away safely so they could get through.
Squad 8 was comprised of some of Madine’s best; a personal go to when heavy work had to be done, and given the ship they were breaking into, ‘heavy work’ probably fell off the page before it was even hardcopy.
“Stay alert, personals on and watch every single step. He collects booby traps like Hunter collects demerits.” Staci said in as light a mood as possible.
It got her the shaking shimmer of a laugh quelled out by the darkened ship like bubbles in deep water.
“Hey Stace; were going to have to hardwire into the ship, about the only thing working inside is the jammer.”
“That’s fine, just look for red smoke, we’ll be okay in here. How’s Hendricks?”
“Doc says he’ll be okay; looks like your gut was right, the viral carriers were empty, just the dissolve.” They all let go a collective breath, and even in the darkened hall the mood seemed to lighten.
In this job, surviving was cause for celebration.
The devaronian Chud was stringing the hardwire from the docking tube and the rest were checking weapons load and preparing for the rush of mission time as they swept the ship. Staci was only looking into the black abyss that yawned at the other end of the room.
The ships power was almost completely cut aside from a few vital life sustaining functions, and hazard lighting that is some places had been physically blasted away.
There were thick, transparisteel windows that drank in the massive sun, but the interior of the ship seemed like the mausoleum it must surly have been. Staci felt her pulse quicken, and a hot flash of fear slithered through her bones before years of commando physiology and training locked it down.
This ship is a grave.
Staci reeled back from the darkness to find Chud standing next to her.
“We’re ready, mam.”
“Good, then lets move out. Crash, you’re with me on point, were headed to the bridge. Stye and Maxi, take the lower decks, Harris, Brent, Chud and Meyers, you take engines and the hold; trust me it’s massive. This is a recovery op, people don’t forget that; I don’t want you shooting everything you see. Hunter, you stay here.”
The hardwire fed the short range wavelength of laugher while everyone split up in military precision. As Staci clicked her glow rod to life, Chud stopped her.
“Should I tell him?”
She hesitated. “No. No, not yet. Let’s wait until we find something first; Who knows what else is waiting in here. Have the med team base out of this location. Keep chamber up to date.”
“Copy that, commander.”
Turning, Scai found that Crash had pried open the turbolift doors and extended two grappling launchers.
“Thanks.” She said, taking one.
“Always. Hey by the way; how did you know about the 90? I thought the whole point of that was stuff viral delivery.”
Staci smiled despite herself and started wrenching her way up the darkened shaft.
“Well, he would tell you that it’s because viruses aren’t playing fair…”
Crash raised his eyebrows. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah, but that’s not really the reason. Playing fair is not something he’s ever done.”
“So what is the reason?” They had made their way up the short tube, and Crash activated a droid sniff to check for explosive or chemical agents on the other side of the sealed doors.
“He just doesn’t like diseases, he’s – haha – he’s afraid of them.”
“Is that right?” The sniff was clean, and Crash was firing up the torch to cut through the doors; the white plasma flame threw ghostly shadows around to haunt them in the confided space.
“Yeah, not the Quinn Corvin most people get to hear about, huh?”
“Are you kidding? I love it; the guy was sold to me as a fucking god. I like to think that some part of him is human.”
Staci let a sad smile fall into the space between them.
“Yeah,” she said quietly, the auto amp cranking her up from the hardwire for Crash to hear over the din of the burning plasma and metal slag falling around them like molten snow. “Some part of him probably is.”
In the end, Stye and Harris took damage from some of Quinn’s improvised booby traps, but it wasn’t even close to what Hendricks had paid. Stye took a welp from a cable gun imbedded in a wall that would have burned through his arm, but it was mechanical and the bio-alloy deactivated the cable before it could scorch through anything. Harris took a hallucinogen grenade to the face that shattered his containment. It was worrying, but whatever Quinn had loaded it with gave Harris nothing more than a sleepy disposition and a raging hard on that could be seen through his combat vac suit.
On the bridge however, it was slow going.
They had come out easily into the glass walled room and found it draped in shadows like the rest of the ship; it’s face now turned from the brilliant star. Crash had crawled out into the gloom only to have Staci throw him back in and duck, pressing herself against a nearby console. When nothing happened, she hazarded a glance.
There, in the gathered pools of darkness that lived before the silent star field, stood the bone still edifice of Quinn’s droids. Towering above silent data stacks and holo displays grown cold with disuse, their eyes still shimmered with the voltage flowing through them.
“Combat droids?” Crash whispered into the radio.
“Negative, load lifters; but what Quinn has crammed into their heads, I have no idea.”
“What about Sammy’s info?”
She shook her head across the gap between them. “Na; Sammy left before – well before this, and he knows as well as I do that Quinn is likely to change everything when he left.”
“You have no idea.”
Staci slowly rose, and the droid nearest to her swiveled its head in mild regard, and then went back to it’s silent vigil in endless night.
“I guess we don’t have to worry about them?”
“Not them,” Staci sighed, shining her beam through the stale air, “But these are going to suck.”
Across the once elegant bridge-scape now dulled with months of neglect, near the hallway that led to Quinn’s cabin, a latticework of monofilament had been strung across the floor and doorways like a spiders web; ghostly and shimmering in the artificial light the glow rod created.
“Stace this could take days to decouple…”
She signed and sat down in an errant chair. “I know.” She clicked the wider mic to the hardwire. “Hey guys, I need demo expertise up here, is Harris still – whatever.”
The com crackled to life “Err, yeah thats affirmative; Harris is making some pretty compelling arguments as to why he and I should be fucking right now.”
Laugher shot through the coms and cut the tension like frag.
Crash took off his helmet after Staci did, and smiled; his short, dark hair unruly in the starlight. Staci’s was it’s typical elegant shock of long and blond.
“I had no idea Harris was such a romantic.”
“Yeah Im officially requesting permission to start drinking, Commander; I’m afraid this bantha is going to overpower me and I do not want to remember any of it.”
More laugher piped through.
“Granted,” stacy smiled as she said it, “but be sure to set up the recorder before you’re too drunk to-” She stopped. “Too drunk…”
“What?” Crash said, his real voice on the ships stale, recycled air supply.
“Quinn; he’s a drunk.” She rose smoothly and went to the tangle of wires.
Staci plunged her hands into them.
Blasterfire exploded from the mess, and only the sixth sense of combat intelligence that Staci had honed to a fine point reeled her head back milliseconds before the crimson bold slammed into the tarnsparisteel viewport and splashed harmlessly into thick clouds of ozone.
“What was-” But Crash couldn’t finish; something slammed into his head and the blunt trauma dragged him into wild dizziness.
“I need everyone on the bridge, now!”
The hard scrape and shattering of glass, then it was on her, the glint of metal thrust down and it-
She couldn’t believe it.
He stood up, and ripped more of the fake wiring down with the motion. Staci could only gape at him from the floor.
Crash was standing and reached for his sidearm, but Staci cried out “NO! No, don’t-”
“Crash? CRASH Williams?! Get off my ship! All of you, get out of here!”
Quinn was brandishing his heavy blaster, but that wasn’t what had Staci reeling.
It was him. It was Quinn.
This ship is a grave.
“My god, Quinn… what happened to you?” she pursed her brow and rose slowly, showing her hands.
Quinn looked like a corps.
His clothing was rotten and dirty, threadbare and hastily patched in some places. His usually thin beard was a tangled grove of matted hair that looked more like an untrimmed plant than anything else. His typically handsome face was ash grey and sunken; two black circles from which the wet peel of eyes seemed to have trouble seeing.
“Quinn, you have to listen to me, we’ve been looking for you for months-”
“Who has?!” He leaped at her, in one hand the blaster hung loosely like he’d forgotten how to use it, in the other a half empty bottle of cruscan sloshed about and seemed to match the stains on his now yellowing shirt.
“Us, Quinn; we have; Madine-”
But the brief spell broke.
“NO!” He screamed, smashing the bottle and falling to his knees, the weapon butt and his now bleeding hand pressed violently to his temples. “I can’t I I I NO!”
But it was too late; he has emerged from the dark hovel of his room, littered with food paste and hundreds of half empty liquor bottles and strong drugs; he had crossed the threshold from that once sacred place into the dying light of the universes; and he was clutching the shredded remains of his former self like they were his own exposed intestines.
Staci went to his side to try and stop the inhuman wailing that ripped through the quiet deck, and was splashed with the eerie glow of the lamps in the droids eyes as they turned gently and watching Quinn weep.
“Quinn, please whats-”
“He’s coming!! Don’t you see it?
“NO! No Chandra, I wont go back!!”
Crash was on the comm, but his eyes were fixed doubtfully on Staci’s. “I need a medical team up here right now; Chud let Madine know he have him.”
The star crested in the viewport as the ship made its slow turn like an ailing aquatic beast, and light threw itself over the dark bridge and cast hard shadows across Quinn’s vision.
“Quinn, It’s me, it’s Staci, please Quinn…” She was trying to hold his head in her hands, but he was writhing now and screaming like a lunatic.
Blood in the sand, blood in the sky; no one can ever leave Chandra alive.
And there, in the fiery face of the growing sun, the black visage seemed to smile at Quinn like madness, and only the flood of the sedatives stopped the raging mind and the tearing screams.
This ship is a grave.
Quinn lapsed into unconsciousness with the fear still frozen in his face.