Halloween Short Story!
Hello everyone! Since Halloween is coming up here in a few days, we wanted to give you guys a spooky Metacosm short story with a twist. Introducing Sergeant Chani Abyss. Enjoy!
The muttered expletive preceded a threateningly-large armored boot slamming into the door leading out of the docking bay, striking sparks as metal scraped across metal. The door would normally lift automatically upon sensing motion, but it had no power to do so at the moment. Three repeated kicks and the door bent inward enough for the owner of the boot to squeeze through: a tall figure armored in a full exo-suit.
A pirate ship deadlined and drifting for unknown reasons – all escape pods intact – a Rangers advance team sent out to investigate – who had yet to report in. This was the situation leading up to Sergeant Chanilinaicanau Abyssterilon (Chani for short, callsign ‘Reaper’) boarding the derelict vessel personally.
She hated missions like these. Not because she was easily scared, but because they had too many variables. But since this was her advance team, it was protocol that she – as their leader – deploy to find them. Chani worked most comfortably when provided with detailed intel, and until she could get to the ship’s black box, she’d be going in mostly blind. Not to mention, ship combat wasn’t her favorite in general – she disliked having to fight in small spaces for purely practical reasons.
She ducked into the hallway, a sonic handcannon in one hand and an elven blade in the other, instantly on high alert. It was dead silent other than the random and repeated groaning of the ship as gravity mercilessly tugged at it from all angles.
Though it was as dark as a lich’s taint with both power and life support down, her exo-suit would compensate. She scanned quickly down both sides of the hallway. Her HUD showed no thermal signatures, no electrical or energy signatures, which matched with what pre-boarding intel she did have. Though that wasn’t irrefutable proof the ship was fully empty; external scanning technology wasn’t always the most precise through thick bulkhead and the winding metal superstructure of a spacefaring vessel’s guts.
Accessing the map, she took a sharp right, moving silently and quickly down to the entry hatch she knew was on her right up ahead, leading down into engineering.
The feel of the walkway under her feet changed before she could make it to the hatch. Her hackles raised but she didn’t change her pace other than to place her steps more carefully to avoid slipping.
The walkway was strewn with viscera and splashed with blood as far as she could see.
But there was no intact body in sight – and the amount of, to use a technical term, chunkage, for someone like Chani who’d seen far too many battlefields, indicated that the victim(s) had been torn apart.
Either way. Casualties confirmed.
Swearing mentally, Chani swung down into the engineering hatch, hesitating only for a moment to search for hostiles. All she found were more body parts scattered like the detritus in a private’s room after a few days off. A torso slumped in one corner, a space pirate by his clothing, the contents of his internal cavity spilled out in a grisly pile.
Chani felt a brief pang. These were bastards – all pirates were – but nobody deserved to go this way.
Nothing she’d seen so far had indicated that any of the deceased were her team, but she was too professional to make assumptions.
She ducked swiftly under the ladder to an armored pillar set slightly into the wall behind it. Along the left side of the pillar were four buttons, which she pressed simultaneously with both hands. She angled herself so she could see the room while the pillar opened. Lotta nasty things out in space – just because there hadn’t been a breach in the hull, just because nothing was showing on her HUD, didn’t mean something wasn’t there. It was unnerving, but she was used to it.
More than likely, this flavor of bastard crew had smuggled something they weren’t supposed to and it got out. Happened with fair frequency. But to do this much damage, to this many pirates, meant it was exceptionally nasty. She’d best be ready for anything, at least until she’d accessed the contents of the black box.
The armored pillar revealed a literal black metal box. Its only features were two ports, into which she plugged two cables from her wrist-comm. The download of the data she sought took seconds and was sorted automatically. She accessed the panel on her wrist-comm, queuing up information relating to the last twenty-four hours and sending it to her HUD.
The ship log data flashed in front of her eyes: the ship’s internal systems allocation reported losing power suddenly. Images from the onboard camera captured the power loss, and the pirates dashing around in response. But this wasn’t the determined and organized hurry-scurry of a crew working to get things running again: this was outright bolting in terror. One pirate was torn to shreds by nothing directly in front of a camera.
Chani sighed in mixed aggravation and anxiety.
Please tell me this isn’t what I think it is.
The ship’s communication logs didn’t help her growing suspicion. This vessel had been ordered by their home command to deliver cargo to a system not within their own quadrant. That meant passing through Dark Space.
It wasn’t immediately clear if they’d complied with the order just based on comm records, but the navigation log put the final nail in the coffin. They had. And, as every other vessel before them, their engine had suffered a catastrophic shut down while passing through Dark Space. The ship’s momentum had catapulted them out and they’d eventually drifted to a stop in their current location (or, as ‘stopped’ as anything was in ever-moving space) … but they’d obviously dragged something with them.
Swearing again – one of her favorite activities – Chani put away her weapons. They wouldn’t be any use against Dark Space creatures. She pulled out her biggest photon torch, turned on a headlamp attached to her helmet, switched it to a specific frequency they couldn’t see, and prayed there wasn’t more than one left.
Dark Space was a place of mystery even in the Fifth Age. If galaxies were pools in the fabric of space, heavy with the condensation of light and gravity, Dark Space were their mirror opposites. Zones inhabiting the in-between, dense with a hazy substance blacker than even the inky backdrop of space. To wit, nothing was really known about said substance other than that it gathered where light wasn’t, and that any ship stupid enough to punch through it was doomed. Bar none.
Berserk creatures from nightmare, unable to be seen by standard recording equipment and immune to all technology and magic, would appear and kill everyone aboard. Black boxes retrieved from other derelicts who’d been victim to Dark Space painted a gruesome picture of crew going insane, killing each other, or being eviscerated by nothing. What these creatures were, how they infiltrated a starship, why they couldn’t be seen or affected, why they disappeared when there was nothing left to kill, and what their relationship was to Dark Space – all utterly unknown.
The only reason they had any knowledge of these creatures at all was that some ships automatically recorded in multiple frequencies, so it was found by chance that they were able to be captured digitally under certain conditions. Before then, it had been assumed that something about Dark Space caused anyone exposed to it to lose their minds: there was a lot of evidence of crew tearing each other apart in the archives. And some people still held that theory to be the primary one, but Chani knew better.
It was best that people thought whatever they wanted as long as they stayed the fuck away from Dark Space zones. Even the images of anything relating to those incidents had to be kept under the kind of security they used for slavers and the unliving. Shit’d burn a hole in a sapient brain.
Their only known weakness? Photons. Light.
At least the logs had given her one solid piece of actionable intel – that her team had fled to the vessel’s armory. She wasn’t sure if they’d survived the slaughter to this point, nor why there hadn’t been any communications, but at the very least, she could check their last known location. Worst case scenario, she could retrieve their gene-seeds.
‘Course, their last known location – the armory – was damn near across the ship from engineering. So she’d be lucky not to run into the thing(s) that had caused such havoc in the first place.
She hefted herself back up the ladder, taking a quick glance to make sure the hallway hadn’t become tenanted in her absence, and hopped back onto the walkway. According to the scan taken pre-deployment, this was the main thoroughfare through this vessel, which meant it hit every section of the ship. She took to it back towards the door she’d kicked in, pausing by every Creator-damned branchoff, photon torch at the ready, to make sure something wasn’t waiting for her around the corner.
Contrary to what one might expect, finding nothing but dead bodies and gore was not a relief on that long walk. Fighting at least gave her an outlet for the adrenaline. As she got closer to the armory, strange sounds started to filter through her communicator that made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end.
All combat Rangers knew the tales of the Dark Space creatures. The horrific figures, flickering in and out of being, behind you one second and in front of you the next. Truly the one thing no Ranger ever wanted to come face to face with. The whispering, screaming, gibberish: sometimes wailing or keening, sometimes screeching in rage or some other emotion incomprehensible to something that wasn’t from Dark Space.
Though, the sounds’ origin being her communicator and not her external audio sensors was odd, and it piqued her curiosity the closer she got.
Finally she stared up the stairs leading to one of the main areas of this lower section of the ship. Her instincts – honed by tens of thousands of years of facing danger and death – told her there was something up there, just beyond the landing she couldn’t see past. What it was, though, said instincts hadn’t bothered to clarify. Her team, being quiet to avoid the slaughter? A still-alive pirate, or a group of them? (Well, that one was less likely. Even in this situation, pirates weren’t ever silent) Or, worse … a Dark Space thing.
The hesitation was momentary. Whatever it was, she’d have to face it.
Back facing one wall, she climbed the steps one by one, trying to keep as low a profile as possible against the open doorway. Sure, the power was off, but she wasn’t the only one who could see in the dark.
Goosebumps cascaded down her neck and arms as her line of vision crested the floor of the landing above.
A massive, bulbous … thing … with lifeless grey skin floated at the far end of the room. It was shaped like a baby’s head, but nearly as tall as Chani. Underneath its ‘skin,’ if it even was what it appeared to be, something roiled and crawled as though trying to escape.
It turned slightly and Chani froze.
Presented with part of its profile, she could now see that it did indeed have a face – bulging eyes, a tiny nose, and a massive dripping maw. She didn’t even want to guess at what the liquid was.
Dark Space creature confirmed – and a big one at that – blocking the entrance to the armory, which was to the left of the room. As slowly and quietly as she could, Chani reached up to her bandolier and unhooked a photon grenade. The soft tk of the grenade releasing from its catch could have been a cannon boom in the relative silence, though Chani could hardly hear it herself over her heartbeat. Thankfully the creature hadn’t seemed to notice, but it looked like it was becoming agitated. Its head – which was its body? – twitched from side to side.
She realized she was hearing whispering again, this time clearly in Ranger Battle-speak and definitely coming through her communicator, but she couldn’t allocate attention to it.
She pressed the button on the top of the grenade to activate its timer.
Banging from the armory suddenly startled both her and the creature, who whipped to look at the door, then noticed Chani.
“SHIIIIIIIIIIIT!” She shrieked as the thing sped toward her, piercing her with a gaze from beyond the hells. Its maw gaped open as though to swallow her – there, a chance! – with all her strength, she chucked the grenade into its mouth, desperately skipping back down the steps with the same motion.
The grenade went off with a muffled kh-thoom that still managed to be loud as shit, and the burst of light overwhelmed her external visual sensors briefly.
She’d drawn the photon torch and was holding it out in front of her just in case the thing had managed to survive, while she waited for her optical sensors to clear. Though, judging by the lack of sound, the grenade had done its job.
Cautiously she ascended the staircase again. There was a smoking hole in the metal floor. She waited to see if the noise would draw anything else immediately nearby, but after a moment, quickly moved to the armory door. There was a panel on the wall, meant to activate the door with a code input, but with no power it was dead and useless. That was fine, she had alternative methods.
Cocking back her arm, she rerouted power from her core to it for a brief burst, and jackhammered into the panel. It shattered with little resistance, and she grabbed the manual release lever hidden behind it. The door slid open with a thunk, and light spilled out, followed quickly by a rancid stench even her exo-suit’s scrubbers couldn’t completely erase.
The pit of her stomach dropped briefly, but as the smell registered, she realized it wasn’t one of the myriad smells associated with death.
Chani peeked her head around.
Inside were the huddled bodies of her advance team. All very much alive. Though most of them were wearing full helmets like herself, her communicator exploded with overlapping chatter of relief and gratitude. Chani held up a hand and they instantly quieted.
“What’s that smell?” Chani asked, sharp and professional. “Is someone hurt?”
There was a suspicious silence that soldiers got when they had something to say, but nobody wanted to be the first to spill.
“Paul had beans,” someone finally blurted. “And we’ve been stuck in here with him for two hours! It was torture!”
I’m not actually sure what’s worse, Paul’s bean-farts or the Dark Space creatures. At least with the Dark Spacer, death is guaranteed.
Chani was thankful that she was wearing a full helmet, so they couldn’t see her massive grin.
“I get gassy when I’m frightened,” the soldier in the back said with a heavy accent.
“Why is there light in here?” Chani asked, holding onto her professional composure with both fists.
As if in response to her question, the light flickered and died. Chani sighed, aggrieved.
“Let’s just get the fuck out of here before more of those bastards show up.”
She directed the team out and they took positions. The procession back to her entry point was long but thankfully uneventful, other than Paul’s occasional quiet ass-trumpeting to the tune of his steps and the groaning of his team.
“Private Paul,” Chani said quietly.
“From today forward you are banned from eating beans within twenty-four hours of duty.”
“… Yes, Sarnt.”