I said this was coming, didn’t I? This story pleases me much more than the last one. It received the best “Dun DUN DUN!!!” Award in my school’s 3rd annual Sci Fi Short Story contest. Thank you to Ki for making this story possible. 🙂
I sat back on my heels and rubbed my eyes, stiff from kneeling over my desk for the last three hours. On the low table in front of me lay the disassembled remains of a ray gun. Scattered about the weapon were a screwdriver, a wrench, a file, a small knife, fine threads, wires, and a belt clasp. Still, I allowed myself some satisfaction that my precious time had not been wasted.
I’m Stock Jeidon, the Engineer aboard the ship Dragonfly. My job is to build and take apart various objects. I get my own deck with a desk and computer monitor to work with, although the deck only has enough space to crawl and sit up in, not stand. There are eleven in the crew, counting Captain Ray Vesemark. We have one person over each area of work, including Communication, Navigation, Sensors and Scanners, Tactical, Maintenance, and Medical. There are two over Security. Each crew member wears a gray uniform with the ship’s insignia, a green dragonfly in a yellow triangle, emblazoned boldly across the front, and carries a ray gun.
We’d been attacked by pirates the day before. The pirate ship’s turrets had damaged our shield and electricity generator before they boarded us. They’d only outnumbered us by four, and we killed more than half of them. Kate Statch, a Security Officer, locked the remaining six in the jail cell next to the Captain’s quarters on the upper level. The six had mysteriously escaped during the night, recovered their weapons, and surprised us in our sleep. We had no choice but to kill them all that time. Before dumping the bodies in deep space, we stripped them of their equipment, which was handed over to me to study. Did I feel any regret for the possibly avoidable deaths of the pirates? No, not really. Pirates are pirates.
I gathered up the five belts and ray guns from under the desk and swung down onto the ladder from my small deck. I jumped to the floor, squeezed past Chip Renold’s swivel chair at the Navigation desk, and started for the Captain’s platform.
Perhaps I should describe the ship some before I continue. The Dragonfly has two levels. The bottom level has the airlock and switch box at one end, storage rooms at the other, and the bunks, sick bay, and dining area in between. The lower level is also quite narrow, as the Dragonfly’s huge engines rest on either side of it. Currently, most of the Dragonfly’s lighting does not work, since everything is running off our backup battery until Mechanic Marc Merlin gets the generator fixed.
A staircase next to the bunks leads up through a corner of the top level. The top level is a large room divided into different stations with computers, a platform raised on metal legs for the Captain to oversee all activity, and a raised deck at similar height for me to work on. Unlike the Captain’s open platform with only a rail around the perimeter, my deck is almost completely enclosed. The prominent feature of the upper level is the wall screen above the Communications station. All of the computers are connected to this screen, allowing anything to be displayed at any time to everyone. It usually shows the space map, the ship’s symbol against a black screen, projected from one of the Security monitors. This screen displays us and anything else near the ship.
There are some steps to the Captain’s platform on the side facing the stairs to the lower level. I walked around the platform’s legs and mounted the stairs. The platform has a chair for the First Officer Vyland Cabral and a larger one for the Captain.
First Officer Cabral nodded to me at the top of the stairs. I returned the greeting, then turned and saluted to Captain Vesemark until he turned to me. The Captain’s uniform is the same as the rest of ours, but with a blue band about the shoulders to signify his position. Seeing the ray gun and belt in my hand, he rose from his chair and stated, “Ah, you’ve figured them out, then?”
“Yes, sir,” I replied, dropping my hand. I held up one of the ray guns. “These have a very small stun ray built into them, right next to the kill ray. The two can be toggled back and forth by pressing this switch on the side. Judging by Dawson’s recovery, I believe the stun wears off after several hours.” I set the gun down and displayed one of the belts. “The belts have fine wires woven into them, running from a battery hidden in the left side of the clasp to the right. When the two sides of the clasp meet, which would be when one dons the belt, the wires plug into a second device built next to the battery pack. I am not sure exactly what the device is, but I know that it can temporarily shut off the electromagnets in a force shield, causing the shield to waver. A person could easily pass through the shield when it wavers so.”
“So that’s how those pirates managed to get out again,” Captain Vesemark mused. “These belts and stunners are valuable equipment. Put the stun guns on the weapons rack, and the belts on the shelf.”
I left the platform, descended the stairs, and moved to the cabinets above the bunks. The first one on the right side had a rack of spare ray guns in it. As the Captain ordered, I placed the pistols on the rack, and the belts on the shelf above. Having done so, I went up the stairs, crossed the top floor, and hauled myself into my small station, and scooted over to my desk. There I began reassembling the stun gun and jailbreak belt in the blue glow of my monitor screen.
I’d gotten about halfway finished weaving the wires and threads of the belt back together when a familiar sound reached my ears: the grinding, clunking groan of the airlock rotating. The airlock consists of two chambers, one within the other. The larger chamber has two doors, the smaller only one. If you want to exit the ship, open the door, get in the small chamber, and pull the handle. The small chamber will rotate and seal off, then you can open the door and get out. It works the same way for entering.
Hearing the airlock now, I shrugged it off. I knew Marc had been out working on the generators. Perhaps he’d finished and we’d have power again. All he had to do after repairing the generators was press the button in the switch box that would set them working again. I waited for the lights above my head to come on.
They never did.
I continued working all the same, completing the belt and just starting on the stun gun when the first scream reached my ears.
I jumped, banging my head on the ceiling and stabbing my hand with the screwdriver at the same time. Shaking my hand frantically and blinking to clear the spots from my vision, I slowly crawled to the ladder and climbed down to have a look around. The first thing I noticed was the wall screen with the space map; it now showed a white skull symbol next to our dragonfly. Something’s here…. The crew ran around desperately, scrambling back as fast as they could from the stairs; I counted only eight of them.
A figure dressed completely in black, looking for all the world like the void of space, stood not far from the top of the stairs; he seemed to suck away all the light in the room. A uniform, like ours, but in black; tall, shiny black boots, black gloves with iron spikes on the knuckles; a voluminous black hooded cape, the hood hiding this entity’s face from view. One hand stretched out before him, fingertips gently brushing the face of David Sanson, who runs the scanners. David stood frozen, one hand on his ray gun and his face a picture of terror. The gloved hand withdrew and David collapsed, a wordless cry on his lips. Now we numbered seven.
The figure swung his head around, searching for his next victim. The crew members cowered in the shadows under desks, in corners, behind chairs, praying not to be seen. I pressed against the wall as he turned to me, and suppressed a shriek myself as I caught a glimpse of the shadowed face. A bleached white skull grinned from the darkness under the hood, like a full moon in a midnight sky. The black holes of his eye sockets fixated on me, he took one slow, deliberate step forward. Locked in his empty gaze, fear paralyzed me completely.
From the corner of my eye, I saw Kate emerge from behind the Security desk and draw her pistol. Leveling the weapon with the entity’s head, she squeezed the trigger. A white flash exploded from the muzzle and struck right on target. But the second it hit, Kate crumpled to the floor behind the desk again, the pistol slipping from her limp hand to slid several inches away. The ghastly apparition then spun on his heel and vanished, his very being melting into the dark spaces of the ship. Second later, he reappeared next to Steven Arch, the Head of Communications. The black hand seized his face, and he fell across his desk. Five.
This resulted once more in pandemonium, though the effect wasn’t quite so overwhelming as there were only four other people scurrying for cover. Recovering from my shock, I dashed for the Captain’s platform, thinking to hide on top of it. Climbing the stairs, I found the Captain already on the floor looking over the edge. I dropped to the floor next to him without a word. Below, our other Security Officer Dawson Warden hefted a chair and threw it at the phantom figure. The projectile passed harmlessly through him to crash against the far wall, and Dawson collapsed beneath the Navigation desk. Four.
I turned to Captain Vesemark and asked, “Where are Marc and Josef?” Josef Cambrin was the Dragonfly’s Medic.
“Marc never came back in,” Captain Vesemark explained. “When he stopped answering his radio, David scanned the ship’s exterior, but found nothing. Josef was downstairs when that- that creature entered. We heard him scream, and moments later our visitor came upstairs.”
“Who – or what – is our visitor, exactly?”
“I- I don’t know,” the Captain admitted. “We cannot hurt him without hurting ourselves, our weapons have no effect, and we die at his touch. He vanishes at will. There is no logical explanation. I fear he is a supernatural being, come to ensure our destruction.” His face twisted into a humorless smile. “Perhaps he was friends with the pirates. For now, I shall – aptly – call him Death.”
I nodded, finding this a fitting name. “What should we do, sir?”
“We’ll make for my quarters when he’s not looking,” Captain Vesemark stated. “We’ll gather as many of the crew as we can and barricade ourselves in. He’ll have to leave eventually; maybe another ship will come across us and drive him off. Either way, he can’t stay forever. Once he’s gone, we’ll make straight for the nearest space station.”
I nodded again, smiling grimly. Captain Vesemark always had a plan.
“Go!” he whispered violently, jumping to his feet and racing down the stairs. I stood quickly and chased after them. He made straight for the steps on the other side of the room, pausing to whisper instructions to Tactician Tess Liam and First Officer Cabral crouched in the shadows. I started to follow, but Death turned from the still form of Dawson, searching for the last of us. I ducked under the stairs to the platform I had just left, hidden in the shadows, and waited for my chance.
But even as I watched, Death vanished on the spot. I tensed, heart racing. He could appear anywhere. I pressed harder against the wall, listening intently but hearing only my own gasping breath. Then I thought I heard a footstep on the stairs I hid beneath. I took a chance and looked around. Nothing. I sighed in relief and turned my head back…
…to find myself staring Death in the face. Literally.
The world seemed suddenly to go in slow motion, as if we were underwater. My breath caught in my throat and my heart started racing in panic. A spiked, black-gloved hand slowly rose into my field of vision. A touch colder than ice, cold as the emptiness of space, lightly brushed my cheek. My senses fled, and I fell as darkness closed in, the image of that terrible grinning skull burned into my mind as my last vision of this world.
“I don’t understand it,” Captain Jason Terrace of the Stargazer muttered. “The whole crew of eleven dead, and not any sign of violence whatsoever?”
First Officer Victor Stanwell, to whom he spoke, nodded in affirmation. “Several of them appear to have been injured after they died, probably as they fell. The ship had some damages to the shield and power generators, but whether that was related to the sudden death of the crew is a complete mystery.” He paused, then continued, “There was one strange thing, though. Their space map showed a white skull symbol stamped over their own insignia. That would imply something is on top of them. We scanned the whole area, but there’s nothing.”
Captain Terrace sighed deeply and rubbed his temples. “Let’s tow the Dragonfly to the Eridanus Space Station, where we can deal with the bodies of the crew and possibly repair the ship,” he suggested. “Perhaps we can also get this mystery solved. Eridanus has the best equipment and investigators.”
Victor nodded and turned to go find someone to secure the Dragonfly in their tractor beam so they could tow it behind them. On his way, he nearly ran into the Navigator Owen Hardin coming in the opposite direction. Muttering an apology, Victor hurried past. Glancing up at their wall screen, a familiar skull symbol next to their blue star startled him. Odd….
Then Victor’s heart skipped a beat as he heard Owen’s words to the Captain:
“Sir, an unidentified person is entering through the airlock.”