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Dark Lords, book one: Shadows, Chapter 37

Chapter Thirty-Seven
Jax Industries Lifepod from the Burru, #278, Outside the Xanadu System

“He’s got to be part cat,” Alex said, getting up from the lifepod’s floor. He put the welding torch on the main table. The power line was fixed. “Forty to sixty people, my ass.”
Alex flinched. Well, almost.
His fingers brushed his right pocket. The little square was there, charged.
Ping! Tink!
“Oh, come on!” Alex grabbed the sealer. The hissing as atmosphere escaped into space hurried him to the two new holes in the side of the lifepod. He squeezed the plunger and the sealant filled the first hole.
The far small porthole was fracturing. The seal he’d put on earlier around the window’s edge was giving way, damn mould! Of course, without proper maintenance, the outer porthole covers had stopped working years ago. Turning the nozzle he pumped out a flat smear of sealant. It took him half an hour to completely seal the porthole. He hurried to the last pin hole. Damn milk runs!
Feeling giggly, Alex went to the atmosphere mix. Too much oxy, again. He turned it down.
“Fungus and Mould, the Spacefarer’s Greatest Enemy!” Alex said the old vid’s title in a dramatic voice. He opened the second floor panel. The reek made him gag. “Frell, fracking brundi!”
Alex giggled again. “That did not make any sense … Pod size means you have to wait till the oxy drops. Now, zelfts brundi, or Fex sex, those are good ones.”
Slapping hands over his mouth, he listened.
Silence. Was the fracking transponder even working? Had he frelled it changing it’s code? Was he too oxy high? Had Jason tried to contact him to tell him he wouldn’t be picking him up? Had mould and fungus dissolved too many parts?
“Stop it, Alex! It’s only been five days. Yeah.” Alex rubbed his face. “And its a big frigging system.”
His stomach reminded him that he hadn’t eaten for eight hours. He opened the third emergency rations locker. Picking up the sanitising spritzer he sprayed the slimy interior. “Someone has a sick, sick, sense of humour.”
He pulled out two packets, the only two flavours on board. “Sir, you have a choice this evening for your dining pleasure. You can have chicken Alfredo and apple pie or veal Alfredo and apple crisp. Both tasting strangely identical to protein carb paste.”
Alex squeezed both packets to make sure they were still sealed. That had been a nasty surprise on his first night in the pod.
“Dai, I win our bet!” Alex yelled to no one. “Typical civi! The cleaner runs in, does a pass and goes. Milk runs!”
Alex went to the water recycler. Filled the veal Alfredo. Waiting for it to reconstitute, he walked to the main view port. Outside he could see the Xanadu system. The amount of debris around an active system always surprised him. With all the rules on dumping junk in space, where did all the crap come from?
Outside an old space boot floated, held by the larger mass of the pod. Alex sighed.
“I’m sending a letter of complaint to the,” he lifted the ration packet up, “Standard Rations Company, Inc., you guys should eat your own food.”
Alex slurped down the ration, then headed back to the manoeuvring jets. He needed to be at least close to where Jason said he’d be … like he knew where that was.
“Should have dated, Lisa. That chick knew her nav.”
* * *

Abandoned Mining Asteroid BT 11987, Lost Souls Astroid Belt, System 873,
Edge of Uncharted (Wilds) Zone
Dani came awake, the pain intense. She hit the skrim rat gnawing on her left forearm. The thing squealed, it’s back broken. The others scattered, out of reach.
Across from her the girl was eating one, watching her. Her incredibly blue eyes piercing in the darkness. Dani picked up the rat like creature and broke the thing’s neck. Her stomach ached. She bit into the fur and gagged. The thing was covered in a bitter fungus. She vomited.
Picking up the small stinking body she threw it at girl. The girl was fast. She caught it through the bars. Her hand pulled it into her cage.
“Are they looking for you?”
The girl kept moving from foot to foot.
“They are looking for me.” Dani nodded. Screaming echoed from down the hallway. The sound of insanity echoed in her head. “Right now. They are looking right now. They are going to find me.”
Dani got up on shaking legs. Her throat burned. At the back of the cell water ran, pooling, too mineralised to drink. “You went through so much trouble!”
Her voice was harsh, broken. Why? Why go through all the trouble of getting her here to watch her die slowly in a cell?
The sound of metal on metal surprised her. Dani looked up, the girl was gone. She blinked. The cell looked empty. Dani moved to her bars, gripped them. The girl? Was still. Perfectly still. Why was she not moving?
“Help! Please, Lord! Help me!”
Dani tried to look down the hall.
“Here!” She choked out. “Please!”
A shadow danced strangely on the floor. The man stumbled into view.
“Please! Oh, Lord, please!” He was up.
Could he not see? He stumbled, tripping over broken bars from a cell further down. He reached out and touched the wall, crying out as his hands hit a patch of acidic fungus.
Dani looked at her hands. They were ghostly to her eyes. Why had she not noticed? That meant the light levels were extremely low. She was seeing in the ultraviolet, seeing heat, her mind filling in the blanks.
The man stumbled down the hall.
“Here!” Dani called.
“They’re after me!” The man was crying. “Please Lord, save me!”
He was almost to them. Dani looked across. The girl was perfectly still. The skrim rats were nervously moving in closer. Movement to Dani’s right. Spiders!
A group were moving along the ceiling. There was a flutter as a bat like creature darted in and grabbed one.
“Please! My lord! Save me!” The man was nearly to them.
“I am here!” Dani cried. The man made it to her bars. Crying.
She reached through. He gripped her hands.
“They are coming. Our Lord will save us.” He sobbed. Dani gripped him tight. “Pray with me.”
What? Dani let go of the man, but he gripped her tightly. Pray? No!
The Old Enemy … Dani started to cry. Tears, bitter, dripped down her cheeks.
“He who is Lord of Heaven, protect us from demons. Protect us from—” A howling turned both of them. A group of twisted, eight or nine were on him. Dani pulled back her hands. Two of them lunged for her. She stumbled scattering skrim rats.
The man screamed as he was lifted. They bit into him. Drinking!
The blood smell filled Dani with hunger. No!
Crying Dani retreated to the bitter water. The man was whimpering. One of the twisted, the leader, by the size of him, watched her with large bright grey eyes. He swallowed, his eyes fixed on her. Dani tried to looked away. Tried. A part of her mind was telling her she had to know. They dropped the body, it moaned, no more prayers upon his lips.
Dani curled up into a ball. They were at her bars now. Loud whimpering made her look up. A group of the human Thralls were just in view. The big male thew the body at them. The body moaned too weak to scream as they started eating his flesh. Smaller ones. Children? Were tossed chunks of meat.
The man, she knew the scarred and pitted face belong to a man because he wore no clothes on his scared and burnt body, moved to the bars. He was interested in her. His erection both lewd and not. He gripped the bars, shaking them. The others, three of which were women, joined him. He turned his head sharply at them, showing far too many sharp teeth. They all lowered their faces. None had yet to speak.
Submission. They are showing simian submission.
Again he shook the bars. Dani looked at the flowing water. The bars were shaken, pounded. Rock dust was starting to rise as several of them slammed their weight against the bars.
What are the four simian responses to threat? Dani heard Mrs. Heg the biologist and behaviourist at Albion University. The four responses are flight, fight, posture or submit.
Dani stood. She stepped toward the man, but stayed out of reach. He growled at her. Not a fake growl, but something that his throat should not be able to do, low and guttural. He glared, but she refused to break eye contact. The others went into a silent frenzy. Climbing on the bars. Flinging themselves at the carbon silica. They were clawing at the top, digging at the bottom, their claws gouging the stone. Over them she clearly heard the others eating.
“They are going to get in here.” Her words froze them. They all looked at her with their crazy eyes. Even the others, still eating behind them, were watching her now.
Dani stepped closer to the man. He was not particularly large. A metre eight, maybe. Just under six feet. She reached up and undid her shirt. He licked his lips and showed her his teeth.
She showed him her teeth. He snarled. They were going crazy again, shaking the bars. The larger frame the bars sat in started to move. On the right side they were being loosened from the top. Stone fell in chunks from the ceiling.
Boots, running boots. Dani felt a stab of satisfaction. The Old Enemy would not want her to have a quick death.
The Twisted crawled up the walls. Dani watched them. What were they up too? Why weren’t they running away? Laser bolts hit some of the Thralls. They scattered, running to her right past her line of sight. The troops, all in black, jogged past. Did they not see the Twisted ones? Dani looking up, realized she could not see them! Their heat signatures had vanished.
The troop was almost past when the Twisted struck. It was over in seconds. Blood splashed her face, hot and sweet. Shaking Dani could not watch. Then the Twisted were gone, fleeing. For a moment the man stood outside the cell looking at her. He tossed her an arm, then he vanished with the rest of them.
Blue eyes watched her from the other cell. The girl had not drawn any attention to herself. A part of Dani’s mind kept pointing this out, but she did not care. Dani sat and licked blood from her arms, but did not touch the gift left at her feet.

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