A short science fiction story about a derelict ship's hidden horror.
Published in Beyond Science Fiction.
By Erik Menches
The mark of the soundly defeated Zeta Imperial Empire is visible beneath the many scars and punctures covering its hull. The gray exterior of this spacecraft rotates to reveal its name, Salvation. A casualty of war that is rather small by today’s standards.
Static blares across the radio as a figure, Russ, protectively clad in a gray spacesuit backs out the airlock. Pulling behind him, a large storage container. The static clears into Russ laughing, “Alright, alright. I've got one for you.” There is a thick cable attached to his waist with another two cables leading into the derelict battleship. “What does a pirate look for in a woman?” A second figure, Finn, dressed in an identical spacesuit emerges from the airlock holding the opposite side of the crate. Finn hesitates, “Hmm.” A third voice, Colt, yells from deeper in the ship, “A big chest and plenty of booty!” They explode into laughter.
Russ, “All right boys, let's get this on board before another patrol comes by.” Hitting their tether controls, they start their slow drag back into their craft. Their ship is twice the size of the battleship and looks twenty years newer. It is completely scorch, scratch, and puncture free, a tan beauty emblazoned with the name, Reaper.
As they are dragged in, the pilot, Wade, yells over the radio, “Russ! We've picked up a vessel!” “How fast? Has it spotted us yet?” “Hard to say... It’s coming right for us.” “Ready the ship! Go as soon as were on board!” “It's not military! Looks like some kind of transport.” Russ hesitates, “Try to hail them on the comm.” “Copy.” Finn, as usual is scared, “You think it's coming for the ship we just robbed?” They choose to ignore him. “There is no response... But if our sensors are working right, it doesn't have power.” “All right. Let's see if anyone needs help. Otherwise we might just bag our second catch of the day.” They are pulled into the safety of the airlock.
The interior of their ship is bright white, a harsh contrast to the cargo ship and it's dark military colors. Russ yells at Wade, “Were done out here, pull up along side the transport.” The ship begins to accelerate toward the oncoming vessel. The three pirates are stuck peering out of the small airlock window, waiting to catch a glimpse of their new target. It’s been through hell, covered in scorch marks and dents.
They are shocked, “It must've flown straight through an asteroid field.” There are two large hull breaches that they can see. Everything inside has long since floated into space. Finn, “Nothing could've survived this.” Russ, “Well let's not take any chances.” He opens a compartment in the airlock to reveal five rifles. Each rifle is equipped with a thermal scope and fires armor piercing rounds. He removes three of these white rifles, handing them out. “Alright, enough sight seeing. Dock with the ship.” As their ship lines up with the transport's airlock, the red light next to the door goes from red to green. Russ, “You know the drill! Good hunting.”
Finn opens the airlock door, revealing a cramped and dimly lit tunnel that has extended from their ship to the transport. It doesn't look to be used often, in desperate need of maintenance. They have to walk hunched over to fit in the tunnel. Upon reaching the other side, they find the door sealed from the other side. The locking mechanism unlocks, but the door is stuck. Finn, “It's as if it was sealed from inside with a hand torch.” Russ, “Did anyone grab a torch?” Colt, “I've got one!” Russ, “Cut us through.”
It takes a few minutes and fills the tunnel with smoke, but eventually Colt finishes cutting. “Alright, stand back.” He gives the door a powerful kick, breaking the door free and causing it to hit the metal floor with a thwang.
They file into the transport's hallway, guns at the ready. The power is out and the hallway is filled with smoke from the torch. The industrial design of the hallway compliments the metallic floors. Many large pipes line the walls. They all flick on the lamps built into their spacesuit helmets. Finn happens to be looking down as he flicks his headlamp on, “Blood.” Colt, “Yea, a trail of it leading in both directions.” Russ, “Looks old.” Finn, “I don't like it, smells like death.” Colt, “Only death you can smell in that suit is what you ate for lunch.” Russ, “Shut up, both of you. We need to split up.” Finn, “Why would we do that?” Russ, “I'm going for the controls, see if I can't get the power running again.” Colt, “Alright, we'll go check the cargo.” Finn, “But sir...” Russ, “If you see anything move, shoot first.”
Russ heads down the right side of the hallway. The smoke begins to clear up as he gets further from the airlock. The blood trail is becoming more prominent with each step. Upon reaching the hall’s bulkhead, he walks over the threshold into a vaguely lit room.
The dim light he sees is coming from the stars. Starlight shines through the cockpit onto the rotting corpse of the ship's pilot. The blood trail he is following leads straight to the pilot and a large dried pool of blood. Small bits of flesh remain on the skeletal remains of the pilot. It is tied to the only chair in the room. Its hands are secured to the piloting controls, chest and legs tied to the chair. Its mouth is still agape in horror at whatever transpired here. It stares right at Russ...
The control panel is powered off, except for one red blinking light. Russ goes toward it, looking for a way to restore the power. Next to the blinking light is a small leather bound ship’s journal. It is open, with a lengthy journey written and drawn onto the pages. Russ pushes the journal aside and finds the button he is looking for. After pushing the power button, the lights flicker on throughout the ship.
Finn and Colt step lightly as they pick their way through a dark cafeteria. They can see decomposing body parts here and there, blood is splattered everywhere. Not obvious to them, they are following the old blood trail. The power flicks on to reveal the true carnage, worse than we imagined, filled with rotting limbs, hands, legs, and even a couple of skulls. Sprinkled between these limbs are various internal organs and intestines, dried out and decaying on the floor. Colt, “Looks like an all you can eat buffet!” Finn, “What could do this? An animal?” Colt, “Not any animals I know.”
They walk out the other side of the mess hall and into another long hallway filled with pipes. Finn, “Is that the same blood trail?” Colt, “Who can tell with all this slaughter.” Finn, “Where is this damn cargo hold anyway?” Colt, “It's got to be down here somewhere.” Finn, “This ship is much bigger on the inside...” Colt spots a door at the end of the hall, “That's got to be it.” Finn, “Thank god. This place gives me the creeps.”
As they enter the hold, it gets worse... Blood is splashed as high as the ceiling. The only light still working flashes in the far back corner of the hold. Through the darkness, they find a large mound in the middle of the room. When their headlamps hit the mound, they witness the horror. A massive pile of torsos have been collected and piled here. Finn, “We should go.” Colt, “So when we finally reach our destination, already seen the blood and guts, now you want leave?” Finn, “Yes! Let's get the hell out of here!” Colt, “Not yet, I'll check the other side of this...”
Russ walks in as Colt disappears behind the large pile of death. Russ, “Where's he going?” Finn, “Check for cargo I guess...” A loud scream pierces their headsets as Colt's body is thrown across the room, rebounding against the wall with a crunch. The two survivors back out of the room, one foot at a time, looks of absolute fear painted on their faces. They can't stop staring, their expressions becoming more desperate with each breath. They turn and run.
Finn starts to fall behind... He is overtaken and pulled down, screaming for Russ. Wasting but a single glance back at his longtime shipmate, Russ continues to flee. He manages to get halfway through the mess hall before Finn's scream is silenced...
Drenched with sweat and fear, he reaches the original hallway leading back to their docked ship. As he closes in on the airlock, he is engulfed by a massive creature and ripped in half. His upper and lower bodies fly into opposite walls, raining blood across the hall...
The creature towers over its fresh kill. It sees better in the dark, a yellow tint gives it an advantage. Crouched over Russ’ body, it extends its claws. It begins to feed on the raw flesh of Russ. In a matter of seconds it has eaten the entire left side of his body. It leans back on its haunches, its vision losing its golden luster as its claws transform into human hands...
As it stands up, we see what appears to be Russ. But Russ is still at its feet ripped in two... This new, naked copy of Russ starts to walk, heading into the airlock and towards the docked Reaper.