Volume IV

As he made his way around the last corner, leading to the hanger where the Neophyte Serendipity was berthed, he knew he was in for a long day. The sound of the emergency alarm rang out from his hangar and the pressure door appeared to be bent into the hallway, having been forced open from the inside. Silently he cursed to himself as he drew his pistol and dashed down the hallway, sliding up to the door with his back to the wall.

The thick, alloy pressure door was bent up so badly that it would probably be good for nothing but recycling and he spied what distinctly looked like knuckle prints in several places on the distended surface of the abused door.

With practiced efficiency he spun around as he stepped quickly across to the other side of the doorway, allowing himself to get a quick glimpse of what was going on inside the hangar. Seeing no immediate threat he slipped through the door, weapon at the ready. Frank lay sprawled on the floor outside the open door to the Neophyte. He was face down and didn’t appear to be moving at all as Vincent crouched down next to him. Placing his fingers on Frank’s throat as he kept his eyes roving around the hangar. He sighed heavily when he detected a pulse in his friend’s veins.

Pulling up his holographic computer interface he tapped into the Neophyte’s computer and accessed the security cameras. Calling up the camera replay for the cargo hold he saw the mysterious figure stagger to its feet and out the door into the hangar. Tapping a few keys, he switched to the external cameras where he saw Frank try to assist the staggering figure but he was violently tossed aside where he landed on the floor where he lay now. The figure made its way to the hangar’s interior pressure door and seemed to fiddle with the keypad for a moment before finally smashing through the door with several titanic overhead strikes.

“Well now I know what that fusion power source and that damage to the crate were about. This person is obviously some kind of cyborg. But what the hell is going on?”

Quickly he checked the time index on the camera feed and compared it to his own timepiece. There was a five-minute difference. For an instant he considered jumping aboard the Neophyte and getting the hell away from the place, but in the end he knew he couldn’t do that to these people. He may not live here any more, but he grew up here, and his mother was still here. He owed these people more than that.

“Shit.” He sighed out loud as he made to stand up.

A mumble from Frank stopped him cold as he returned his attention to his friend.

“Frank. Do you need a medic?”

Frank slowly rolled over onto his back and pressed his hands into his forehead. “The hell happened?” he mumbled through his forearms.

“The person on my ship attacked you. Are you alright?

“No I’m not alright!” Frank was suddenly full of vigor as he glared at Vincent. “I was just assaulted by some…thing for doing someone a favor.”

“I’m really sorry Frank. They were unconscious for several hours on the way here. I don’t even know who they are…”

“Well you might think about asking next time before you pick up mutant hitch hikers.” Frank started to roll to his feet as he spoke.

“No kidding.” Vincent agreed, grabbing his friend’s shoulders and helping up. “Look Frank, I’m really sorry. Axel slipped that…person into a crate I was picking up for Lou. I found them en route to Lou’s and diverted here until we could figure out what was going on. I never meant…”

Frank put a hand on Vincent’s shoulder and looked him in the eye. “It’s ok Vin. Let’s just get them under control before someone else gets really hurt.”

Vincent nodded in agreement. “Did they say anything at all before they put you down?”

Frank rand his fingers through his receding hair line as he thought about it. “Now you mention it, they did say something about… a thorn maybe? It all happened so fast I’m not really sure…”

“It’s ok Frank. They’ve got about a seven minute head start on us. I’m going to see about tracking them down. You jump on a terminal and see if you can track them through the video system. Let me know if you find anything.

Frank shivered a bit as he began moving awkwardly toward the hangar’s terminal. “Be careful Vin, whatever they are, they hit like a mass driver.”

“I will.” Vincent agreed as he eyed his handgun and made his way out of the hangar.

As it turned out, following the person was not much of a challenge. As Vincent made his way through the winding maze of corridors and connecting tunnels that made up the dregs. He encountered numerous people that had been injured as the stranger had made their way past, simply pushing people aside roughly, almost as if they didn’t exist as anything more than an obstacle. He also encountered several damaged pressure doors as he followed the path of mayhem away from the Neophyte’s hangar.

His count of injured people had reached twenty before he encountered his first serious injury. A young man, in his late teens, had apparently tried to stand up to the stranger as they had pushed aside his sister. The result of his act of heroism seemed from Vincent’s quick evaluation, to be several broken ribs, a possible concussion, and, worst of all his right arm was broken in at least four different places, having been wrenched around behind his back and forced into something resembling a pretzel. He lay on the ground twitching and barely conscious as Vincent checked his pulse and made sure he was breathing, all the while keeping his own eyes on the corridor for any signs of trouble.

Making a quick call to the local medical response personnel, he informed them of the young man’s location and condition, then set off down the corridor again with a renewed sense of urgency.

Moments later he heard the sound of metal being bent under some great pressure and quickened his pace until he reached the corner that seemed to be the origin of the sound. Peeking around the corner he saw the person pulling on a badly damaged pressure door, peeling one of its corners away from the frame of the doorway. One of their legs was propped up on the wall and both hands gripped the edge of the door and their back was arched steeply away. They grunted heavily as they pulled on the metal slab with some great effort, their voice coming out in a strange, reverberating combination of male and female tones.

After a moment he stepped halfway around the corner, weapon at the ready and shouted authoritatively at them. “You there. Stop what you are doing and stand down!”

The stranger ignored him and kept wrenching the door from its frame with no small measure of success as it was now folded nearly in half. They shifted their grip to a point closer to the wall and renewed their efforts.

Vincent cleared his throat loudly and raised his voice as he tried once more. “Stop what you are doing and stand down or I will drop you where you stand!”

Again the figure ignored him so he clicked the safety off and slid his finger over the trigger. “Last chance. Stand down, or fall down, your choice.”

Slowly he counted to five under his breath, hoping they would not make him shoot them. When he hit five he slowed his breathing and gently squeezed the trigger. The pistol’s report echoed up and down the hallways on both sides of the intersection as the armor-piercing slug tore into the figure’s right knee, sending a spray of some kind of fluid that was obviously not blood arcing away from the leg. The brief shower coated the wall in a layer of thick, viscous fluid before stopping abruptly.

The figure stopped their efforts on the door then and looked down at their wounded knee, then back up at Vincent. The strange wound that was in the center of their face before was now closer to the right side of their head, running directly over their right eye, making it look as though it had been gouged out by some rabid animal or industrial accident. Their light blue hair was now covering most of their head, having forced the silvery-grey strands to give up most of their purchase. The cobalt blue eye on the growing, feminine side of their face narrowed at him with a hateful look that made him shudder, but something about that female side of their face made Vincent think he had seen it before.

Not giving him a moment to explore the strange feeling of recognition, the stranger turned toward him and began charging him down with a strange, stiff-legged gait that, while awkward, was closing the distance all too quickly.

“Shit!” Vincent spat as he squeezed off several more rounds from his handgun. The enhanced projectiles slammed into the stranger’s lower legs, causing them to stagger halfway to where Vincent stood but they didn’t stop their menacing advance.

Taking a step back, Vincent aimed a little higher and moved the selector switch on his weapon to the ‘auto’ position. Mere feet away now, he squeezed the trigger and held it down, his weapon emptying the remaining rounds from its magazine in an instant. The small swarm of bullets slammed into the stranger’s upper body and head, forcing them to spin, heels over head, in mid air and slam into the metal deck plate with a resounding thunk that sounded more like someone had dropped a 300 pound sack of ball bearings than an actual body hitting the floor.

As the strange figure lay face down on the deck plates, two pools of liquid began to form underneath them. On their left, a large pool of blood, and on their right more of the viscous machine fluid. The two liquids began to slowly mingle together on the deck, forming an ugly black pool that began to clot as it cooled in the air.

Vincent replaced the magazine in his pistol and pulled the charging slide, loading the weapon once more, then cautiously approached the prone figure and gently prodded them with the toe of his boot.

Before he could react, the figure’s right hand snapped out from under them and snatched his ankle, squeezing it roughly and pulling on him so that he had a difficult time maintaining his balance. As he leaned back away from the person, adjusting his balance and trying to wrench his foot away from the iron-clad grasp.

The stranger raised their head and looked at him with their one good eye, narrowed viciously at him, then they spoke in their strange, male/female voice. “Thorindal…”