Remind me never to speculate the ‘worst thing’ again.
What I speculate gets topped more often than I’d like, because there’s always something worse than what I think is the worst. But, I really am the luckiest degenerate alive. That’s something that only ripples once in a while.
“You’re not getting out of my sight again,” Ace hisses at me. I nod. That’s a promise I plan to keep. He yanks me over the edge of the platform, hooking the tether back on my waist. We lock gazes. His eyes are burning with fury. I suppose I deserve it. But it doesn’t make it any less terrifying. We’re glued, staring daggers at one another and then I notice his hand slap to his hip. Without hesitation, he draws his ZaP-48H. Yeah, I didn’t get to name it. If I had, I’d have called it a Zapifier or something. I regret that. That’s about the lamest name that could have come to mind. Ignore that. It’s an energy gun. That’s really what’s important. Well that, and him aiming it straight at me.
He shoves the point of it into my chest with force. I can feel my heart eating my ribs alive, voraciously trying to escape. It was ‘live with him or die by him.’ I’ve always known that. He grits his teeth and then spins on his heel. He takes the helm, leading the three of us into the dark hallway. As he floats through, he lowers himself to the floor. After a moment of fidgeting, his boots clamp down. Magnets are a brilliant thing.
The lights on our shoulders flicker on as soon as we enter, but it’s so narrow, it’s still difficult to see. We each follow Ace's lead, magnetizing to the floor.
I bring the ladies between me and Ace. There’s still a bit of decency left in me. I’ll be the first to die if the space monster comes for us. And, as the rear, will anyone even hear me scream? That thought brings my hand to my waist. Ace’s knife is still there.
I whip around to the noise as we turn the corner.
The doors shut. We’re officially trapped in here. That’s what I like. No, really. I love that. Being trapped is my idea of paradise.
“Lou?” Ace addresses me, looking for answers.
“Door’s shut,” I reply, my hand gripping the handle of his knife. I didn’t necessarily feel safe aboard this ship before, but now I’m paranoid. And the sounds of everyone else’s heavy breathing isn’t helping. Wrench sounds like she’s having a panic attack, Pilot holds her breath every once in a while, only to choke it out, and Ace is still panting from the great exertion of rescuing me.
“Guess that means we keep moving,” Ace mutters, raising his gun a bit higher.
“I’d say so,” I agree. There’s actually a sound that’s more nerve-wracking than the rest, and that’s the heavy clack of our boots on the metal flooring beneath us. They echo down every hallway we pass, disorienting me.
“Control room should be up ahead,” Wrench mutters, “if she’s anything like our sister.”
“You mean, in the basement?” I confirm.
“That’s exactly what she means,” Ace grumbles, “but it’s called a lower deck.”
“I’m pretty sure that was for actual ships,” Pilot corrects him. The fear is making us cranky, even snarky.
“Spaceships are actual ships,” Ace bites back, and then he stops. “This should be it, right Wrench?” There’s a manual door to our right. It’s open, leading into a small room with one hatch at the far side. It’s almost too open. The open door, the open hatch, the open mouth to death.
“Just down the ladder,” she whispers. “I really don’t want to go down there alone.” You and me both. I don’t want to go down there period.
“Is there a reason we must?” I ask. There's a prickle at the base of my neck. I can’t escape the feeling of bugs--or hot breath. But when I look, there’s nothing there. If I’m going to die on here, I’d prefer it happen sooner rather than later. I can’t take this anticipation.
“If I can get even an ounce of the power routed through, I might be able to turn on the lights,” Wrench glances at me over her shoulder. “Was there any indication of how much power remains?”
“Not much,” I shrug.
“I’m going first,” Ace interrupts us, slinging his ZaP over his shoulder. We’re all brave and stupid. I guess it runs in our crew’s blood. It certainly runs in mine. He approaches the hatch. There’s a soft glow below, welcoming us. Yeah, right, welcoming us to the bowels.
“I have a light,” Wrench scrambles forward, prepared to play hero for her heartthrob. She produces an ancient flashlight--practically the size of her arm--and shines it down over him. “Okay. You can go. Be careful!” Ace doesn’t answer her. He descends into the hole with steady steps, until his feet clatter to the floor.
“What happened?!” Wrench cries out, already fitting herself into the opening.
“Accident,” Ace retorts, sounding embarrassed. I didn’t think the man could. He spends his free time prancing the halls of the ship shirtless, what could be more shameful?
“So I’m safe to come down?” Wrench confirms.
“Yup,” Ace moves a couple steps, his boots loud on the metal. So she makes her way down. Before her boots even meet the floor, Pilot is forcing me out of the way.
“You bring up the rear for good reason,” she hisses. She’s a hard one for me to read. Behind the abundance of confidence, she’s a failure and a bitc-of a pain. And since I’m her honorary target, the same as I’m Ace’s, it’s slowly whittling away at me. One of these days, I’ll snap. I’m known for it. Not not insane, remember?
“Go on then,” I gesture for her to climb down. Her eyes meet mine, follow the curve of my body to my waist, and then she unclasps me from the tether. Being a free man isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I like being attached to Ace. Do I? That’s a revelation.
“You can stay here,” she retorts, lowering through the entrance, “keep us safe.”
“What are you talking about?” Ace’s rough voice crackles over hers. “Where’s Lou?”
“I told him to stay up there,” Pilot announces. “Don’t bother asking him to come down.” The door on the entrance snaps shut. If she knows me, I must have done something to her. I’m at a loss though. I’ve done a lot of things to a lot of people. Ace and Wrench included. I’m surprised Wrench still talks to me. “He’s our bait if that thing is up there.”
“Or you just trapped us down here with it,” Ace shouts. I hear shuffling below, and then a banging fist. “Lou!”
“I’m here,” I am, but I’d rather not be. I drop to a squat.
“Unlock it,” he demands. I reach forward, resting my hands on the door. It’s a round capsule style door, something that’s strangely abundant on our ship. And it’s definitely stuck in place.
“Can’t,” I announce. It groans with my effort, startling me. My eyes snap around the room behind me, then beside me. It really was just the door. Sighing, I give it another tug, trying to twist the handle. Not even one budge. “I really can’t.”
“I’m going to kill you!” Ace drops back down. I can almost imagine him raising his gun to Pilot.
“Hey wait,” Wrench is back at it, pitting herself between Ace and his next victim. “As long as we get to the control room, there’s a chance I can get it open again.”
“For her sake,” Ace hisses, “you better be able to. Lou?”
“Still here,” I retort, rubbing one of my bent knees. And I still wish I wasn’t.
“Stay put,” he barks, “I don’t want to find you gone when we return, do you hear?” Is that a twinge of concern I hear? That’s a pleasant surprise.
“Love you too,” I stand. How brave am I feeling? I inch towards the hallway we arrived from. Like the other, to the right, it’s pitch black. I want to lock myself in, but I’m worried if I do, it’ll trap me like the other had. Maybe if I just pull it closed a little.
“Guys?” I call out. But they don’t answer. They’re already on the move, already out of range. With my door arranged, I return to the room. If it opens, then I’ll know I’m not alone. Perfect, except a space monster probably won’t bother with opening the door. Yeah. This is the kind of thought process I want to have right now. I have a talent for scaring myself.
I huddle myself into the far corner, fighting thoughts of death. Even though I’m terrified, I still can’t feel the adrenaline coursing through me the way it used to. I really have gone cold. I’m not even truly afraid anymore. Sure, I don’t want to be devoured, but of the list of ways to die up here, it’s not last. At least I’d seem a bit heroic.
My eyes whip upward. That definitely came from the hallway. Did one of the doors shut? It wouldn’t be the first time. I unsheathe Ace’s knife from my belt, clutching it in trembling fingers.
That was closer. I bite my lip, debating between calling out to the team again or staying silent. Would whatever is out there hear me? Likely. I choose silence.
The adrenaline finally surges. At least it still visits when I’m terrified to death. Otherwise, it hasn’t been a very decent friend lately.
It’s right in front of me. And blessed be to the engineers who built this sister, there’s no window in the door. I can’t see it. But it also can’t see me. My hands fumble with the light on my shoulder. It steps forward, dragging a clanking foot across the floor. My light clicks off.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
I can’t tell if that’s my heart pounding in my ears, or if it’s the monster outside. Slowly, I bring myself to my knees, and then my feet. If it finds me, I’m not fighting it from the floor. I’d be an easy target. One lunge and I’d flatten out.
“Still with us Lou?” The thumping stops. I think you’ve sealed my fate, Ace. The door whips open before I can move. I scream. In the darkness, I can’t tell where it is until it strikes me. Two clawed hands clamp around my throat.
“Lou?!” Ace’s voice rises several pitches. All I can reply with is gurgled choking. I tighten my fist on Ace’s knife, and jam it into the monster’s back. It reels, but its grip remains strong. Damnit, damnit, damnit. I blindly reach forward with my free hand. As soon as my fingers brush flesh, I shove. I’m not one to multitask. But now seems like the time to learn.
My hand draws the knife back, hacking a bit higher, while my other hand continues pushing. The two claws at my throat release. In my gasp for breath, it fights back. One claw rips through the right sleeve of my suit. The other swipes my chest. It stings, reminding me of a certain slap my ex-wife once rendered. Compare her to a space monster, she’ll like that. I hope she’s buried under the weight of a volcano. Not the time, Lou!
Air screams out of my suit, ripping from my lungs. But it doesn’t compare to the sobbing coming from my throat. It’s surreal to listen to your own sobbing, especially when it doesn’t seem human.
“Lou!” Ace’s voice is desperate. Bang! Bang! He’s slamming himself against the hatch. That catches the monster’s attention, if just for a moment. But it’s all I need. I raise my mangled arm, and hack. The knife sinks into flesh, again and again. It writhes at my onslaught, flailing, biting me. But I won’t stop. Hell, I’m not dying here.
And then it stops.
My uninjured arm claps down on my shoulder light. Even with my frantic breathing, which I can’t seem to calm, the light is steady enough to see. The creature that attacked me is wearing a jumper, a jumper I’m all too familiar with. It’s not a space monster at all. Well, it is. But it’s not a beast. It’s a zombie.
A laugh escapes through my lips, but when I try to suck in another breath, I wheeze. My chest is killing me. The injury has dissolved from stinging to agony. Bang! Bang! It takes me a minute to remember what that noise is. Right, Ace.
“Ace,” I gasp out, dropping to my knees. I have enough air trapped in my helmet to breath, the back-up mechanism worked well. Really, I’m just losing too much blood. I’m tired of having my meals with death today. He’s a coffee addict, and I’m more of an alcoholic. We really don’t mesh well. I crawl my way to the door, heaving.
“Lou? Please tell me you’re alive.” The banging stops, as Ace sighs out.
“Right now,” I agree. At the door, I slam myself forward. It clasps and then locks. “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” He stammers.
"Not keeping my promise," I slump to the floor.
"What promise?" He's really not that bad. I close my eyes.
“And for trapping us in.”