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Deadly Contraband (Part II)
A sci-fi short story continues
The following is a sample of one chapter from an upcoming sci-fi anthology book, A Journey through Aubrey Finch’s Multiverse, which will be released this fall by Andak Media. Stay tuned for future updates!
READ PART ONE HERE:
Previously in Aubrey Finch’s multiverse…
Aubrey nodded, and pulled a flashlight from her shoulder pocket and held it out with her offhand. The emergency red lights were still pulsing in the cargo warehouse, but the doorway lights were completely off. The flashlight button clicked and the beam illuminated an elbow shaped hallway that turned back towards the engineering bay.
The engine’s core was pulsing a pale blue light, illuminating Jordan’s silhouette off and on as Aubrey and Cordette approached him. Jordan turned his body back toward them, revealing a small, air-tight container – one that had been lodged within one of the large crates.
“Hold it right there,” Aubrey ordered, raising her pistol at the young executive.
“You don’t understand,” Jordan tried to explain. “I was told not to open it. I don’t even know what’s in it.”
“We’re pirates, kid. We don’t exactly follow the rules,” Cordette jeered. “Besides – you tried to hide it at gunpoint, so obviously it’s worth more than this damn ship. Open the box.”
Jordan put the container on one of the console ledges next to the engine core. He wiped the sweat off his forehead, and looked back at Cordette and Aubrey. He turned back to the box. His hands shook as he put it around the container’s hinges.
Aubrey Finch cocked the gun. “Just do it, kid. Don’t make me use this.”
Jordan flipped the latches, and the container box hissed as the pressure was released. He flipped the lid up, and looked down into the box. Cordette joined him, staring down at the strange object inside.
It was made of an old hardened stone, onyx in color, but something was oddly organic about it. It had nearly a skull shape with luminous dark jewels in an almost oddly placed facial configuration. There were small organic looking ridges along the left side.
“What is it?” Aubrey asked curiously.
Cordette gave pause. “It’s… it’s some kind of artifact. There are gems on it. Probably worth a fortune!” He looked back at Aubrey. “We’re gonna be rich.”
Jordan shushed him. “Quiet, something’s happening.”
Cordette turned with a raised eyebrow to see that some black ooze was pooling around the edges of the gems, running down the side of the dark craggy surface. The gems almost appeared to pulse to their eyes. The gems rattled, scraping against the uneven holes.
“What on earth…” Jordan exhaled.
The gems began to protrude from their holes set in the onyx stone edifice. It almost sounded like screeching. The air around the artifact was warm and humid, wafting toward their faces.
“Close the box,” Aubrey ordered from behind them.
“My god–” Cordette managed.
“It’s beautiful,” Jordan gasped.
Black, oily tendrils jutted out from under the gems, slowly reaching out on the surface of the rock. The jewels were a carapace, shining like an insect's exoskeleton.
“I said close the –” Aubrey tried to warn.
The largest gem, one that had been sitting at what looked like the forehead of the skull-like artifact, tilted toward Jordan. A row of shiny eyes stared up unblinking at Jordan’s sweating face, glistening under the pulsing blue light. A harsh screech erupted from the creature, unholy and echoing in the engine room. Jordan was transfixed by its unsettling, terrible beauty.
Cordette put his hands on the container lid to shut it as the creature’s eyes wrenched toward him and it leapt at his face. Cordette screamed, and the creature’s tendrils drilled into the facial tissue around his left eye and the creature revealed mandibles that sliced into Cordette’s eye ball.
Blood splattered on Jordan’s face, and he fell backward onto the cold, steel floor. Cordette tried to grab at the creature, but its tendrils evaded his hands and latched to his face even harder, more oily spindles erupting from its carapace to grab more of Cordette’s face.
Aubrey recoiled in horror, firing a few panicked gunshots at the box. The container flipped over and fell to the floor. The container shook, scratching and screeching noises rumbling as it scraped along the steel floor, oily tendrils swiping from the cracks in the container.
Cordette fell to the floor, clawing at his own face and writhing in agony as more tendrils entered his eye socket. Jordan shrieked and desperately tried to pull himself off the floor. The container wrenched to the side, and another creature rolled out from under its weight, tendrils whipping around in the air in a chaotic mess of oily yarn. The creature shrieked from its darkened mouth and brandished metallic teeth, its dead pearly asymmetrical eyeballs set upon Jordan’s panicked face.
Aubrey backpedaled through the engineering room doorway and into the elbow hallway. She looked back and saw the creature leap into the air and scrape at Jordan’s face. Jordan put his arms out, blocking the creature, but its tendrils wrapped around his hands, slicing into the flesh and then used the leverage to jump into Jordan’s face.
Aubrey ran, the screams echoing the hallway after her, and she stumbled into the cargo warehouse, stumbling across the cargo containers and into Captain Boyd.
“We need to go.”
“What?” one of the pirates questioned. “Where is the loot?”
The group heard the sounds of metal scraping metal, scurrying noises of the slimy insectoid creatures headed their way.
“Go!” Aubrey yelled, and the two pirates bolted for their docking tube.
Aubrey turned back to the engineering room doorway and fired a round as one of the creatures snarled at them.
Han screamed, and one of the creatures jumped onto her face, clawing at her eyes.
“Holy shit!” Captain Boyd rolled away and used Han’s pistol to fire at the insects, causing them to duck away under the shelving racks.
One of Aubrey’s henchmen hit a button on their docking tube, and the sealant structures released, causing the cargo warehouse to depressurize. Aubrey watched as her own skiff floated off away from the AJAX.
Aubrey was pulled back toward the gaping opening in the back of the AJAX, she frantically grabbed her oxygen mask and pulled it over her face. This was it, sucked out into space.
Leighton pulled himself to the maintenance control panel and slammed the emergency air lock. The cargo warehouse door to the docking bay slammed shut, and Aubrey slammed it into and spiraled away through the zero gravity.
Leighton pulled oxygen masks from the maintenance box and threw one to Captain Boyd, who pulled it over. Boyd turned to help Han, but the creature had already lodged itself in her right eye and was burrowing its tendrils in her face.
Boyd reached for Han, but Aubrey wrenched him away from her.
“Don’t! She’s already gone!” Aubrey yelled.
Leighton pushed off the wall and up to the ceiling of the cargo warehouse, motioning for them to follow. “This maintenance shaft leads to the bridge. Come on!”
Boyd pushed off the floor, pulling Aubrey with him, and they floated through the open maintenance shaft. The shaft seemed to go on for hundreds of meters to Aubrey. They floated their way up, and were nearly to the top, when Boyd’s wrist comm chimed.
CABIN PRESSURE RESUMING.
“Oh, that’s good,” Aubrey sighed.
ARTIFICIAL GRAVITY RETURNING.
“Shit,” Aubrey gasped, as she slammed the side of the maintenance shaft with her outstretched arms and legs.
Leighton wasn’t as lucky. He fell down, hitting Boyd, and the two men fell on top of Aubrey, who started sliding down towards the cargo warehouse. Aubrey wrenched her utility belt loose and stabbed the sides of the tunnel with a titanium blade.
“Grab… the… maintenance rungs,” Aubrey groaned from underneath the two men. Boyd righted himself and grabbed onto the ladder rungs that lined the opposite side of their tunnel.
“Got it,” Boyd managed, and then Leighton grabbed a set of rungs as well. All three sighed, relieved.
A shriek erupted, echoing up the tunnel. Aubrey looked down over her shoulders, to see Tac Officer Han looking up at them. Her face was disfigured by oily black and white webs and one of the creatures lodged in her eye, tendrils flicking around her face violently. The image of her was broken as one of the creatures latched onto the underside of the hatch, pulling itself up in a chaotic mass.
“Move!” Aubrey shouted, and the three bolted up the rungs to the upper section hatch.
The creature’s tendrils sliced into the tunnel as it climbed, rising at a frenzied pace. The ripping metal signs echoed up the tunnel and drowned out Aubrey’s yelling, but the noise spurred the AJAX crew to the top of the tunnel regardless.
Aubrey used her offhand and fired a few shots down at the creature, which deftly dodged them, tendrils whipping out of the way of the projectiles and pinning to the tunnel walls. It relentlessly pulled itself up, shrieking from its oily mouth lined with metallic looking teeth and dead, pearly eyes.
Leighton frantically typed the access code to the maintenance hatch, a few errant numbers making him restart. Boyd yelled bitingly at him. Leighton brushed the sweat from his forehead and shakily entered the final numbers, a hiss emitting from the hatch hinges.
Leighton pushed up on the hatch, and opened out onto the upper deck floor with a loud thud. He pulled himself up into the pulsing red light, then reached down to grab Boyd by the arm and help him in. Aubrey continued her frantic climbing, firing shots every few rungs.
“Close the hatch,” Boyd ordered as soon as he caught a haggard breath.
“What?” Leighton questioned, his eyebrows raised at his commanding officer.
A few more pistol shots rang up through the shaft.
“Close it,” Boyd ordered again.
Leighton looked back down at Aubrey struggling her way up the maintenance shaft. He looked back at his captain.
“Do it,” Boyd pleaded, his eyes wide, sweat trickling down his forehead past his nose. “Just do it.”
Leighton shook his head and reached down, maintaining eye contact with Boyd even as he took Aubrey’s hand. Boyd mouthed an expletive, and picked himself up off the floor.
“Thank you,” Aubrey managed as Leighton slammed the hatch shut.
Leighton didn’t make eye contact. “We need to get to the bridge,” he explained.
“You want to tell me why the hell you were smuggling that shit on your ship?” Aubrey asked.
“You want to tell us why you came here to steal it?” Boyd replied.
“Fair,” Aubrey said.
Leighton motioned for them to follow him to service the elevator. “What were those things?”
“I don’t know, Jordan was the one hiding it from us,” Boyd said.
“For a big payday, no doubt.” Leighton activated his wrist communicator and a light beam illuminated the dim corridor.
“Not like it’s going to do him much good now,” Aubrey said, stretching the fabric of her suit. The mix of carbon fibers, vinyl, and anodized metals made soft crunching noises as they contracted and twisted with her movements. Here she was, a renowned pirate of the outer reaches, trapped by sludgy alien monsters with a couple of delivery boys.
The bridge was bathed in the red, pulsing emergency lights; a static image of the emergency protocol on the screen.
“OMNI, disengage emergency protocol and lockdown the cargo-hold,” Boyd ordered as he slid down into his captain’s chair.
“Authorization denied. Emergency reset required.”
“Shit,” Leighton slammed his hands on his console. “I’m locked out of flight controls.”
“You're stuck on the weigh station lockdown. They never released it,” Aubrey explained.
“Son of a bitch,” Boyd growled. “Your buddy really screwed us over.”
“We can still get out of it. But we need to do an emergency reset,” Leighton sighed.
“Where is that?” Aubrey asked.
“The engine room.”
Boyd mouthed an expletive, and pulled up the security feeds on the main screen in front of them. The crew - what was left of them - were moving about the cargo bay and engine room with skulking, slinking frames. Boyd could see their faces were being hollowed out, the creatures taking root, pulling and gnashing the bone in their skulls.
“What are they doing?” Leighton asked.
“They’re trying to lock us out of the computer systems,” Boyd explained, pointing to one of the creatures who was controlling the kid in the engine room. He was banging his hands on the computer screen, access denied text flashing on the interface. Bloodied fingers traced across the console, desperately tapping at code.
“Will it work? Can they lock you out?” Aubrey asked reluctantly.
Leighton grimaced, gazing at the blood streaking on the engine room screen. “Let’s hope not.”
The creature in the kid’s skull shrieked, tendrils flailing about. Boyd considered it a tantrum, the anger of a savage thing at the obstacle before it. But it wasn’t. Another shriek answered. Jordan’s creature entered the room and the man typed haphazardly onto the computer.
“Shit,” Boyd replied. “Jordan knows the codes.”
“But he’s –” Leighton trailed off.
“Dead?” Aubrey questioned. “Maybe not dead enough.”
“He’s in,” Boyd said, his jaw clenched. “Leighton, see if you can freeze it out.”
Leighton pulled up the console at his navigation console, tapping violently at each button as fast as he could. A modal popped up to the side of his coding logs, navigation locks popping up as Jordan’s creature started pushing Leighton out of the system.
Warehouse Control: Locked.
Airlock Control: Locked.
Drive Control: Locked.
“It’s getting everything!” Boyd shouted.
“I know, I know!” Leighton yelled back, sweat trickling down his face, his fingers frantically typing.
“Health and safety! Health and safety!” Boyd yelled.
“I know, shut up!” Leighton growled back.
Tap tap tap tap.
Leighton finally released a breath, a green block pulsing over his screen.
“What happened?” Aubrey asked.
“I was able to quarantine the atmosphere controls, gravity processor, cryo… Basically anything we need to not die.”
“Comms?” Boyd asked.
Leighton shook his head.
“What now?” Boyd growled. He pulled up the camera sensors.
“It’s the fuzz,” Aubrey said. “You blew up a weigh station, the government doesn’t like that for some reason.”
“We didn’t blow it up,” Leighton said.
“They don’t know that.”
OMNI overrode their speaker system.
“UCV AJAX, you are wanted in the destruction of Republic property.”
“They can’t hear us,” Leighton said, “Comms are locked.”
“UCV AJAX, throttle engine and prepare to be boarded.”
A moment passed in silence.
“UCV AJAX, this is your final warning.”
A second later, the AJAX was struck in its engines by the Republic vessel's guns. They were dead in the water.
“Quite the warning,” Aubrey jeered. “They’ll be boarding us now.”
“We have to warn them!” Leighton shouted.
“The comms are down…” Boyd trailed off, his eyes wandering to the surveillance screens. Republic troops boarded the empty hole where the back end of the AJAX used to be, and they placed breaching charges on the warehouse hold doors.
“Clear!” a soldier yelled through his comm. Another soldier pushed a button on his wrist comm, The charge exploded, sending door shrapnel into the warehouse, blowing out the warehouse security camera and leaving Boyd, Leighton, and Aubrey staring at static.
“We have to go. Warn them,” Leighton said again, and he walked to the deck door. Boyd grabbed his arm.
“If we open that door, we will lose this ship,” Boyd said.
“You already have,” Aubrey replied, and she opened the door, gun in hand. “If we’re going to do this, at least be smart about it.”
“Ah yes, the pirate is going to tell us how to defend our ship from slimy, goo aliens,” Boyd rolled his eyes, and followed Leighton and Aubrey out into the hallway back to the maintenance shaft.
Aubrey pulled a chunk of her wrist comm away, releasing it into the air. The piece of technology slowly found its bearings, hovering within eye line of Aubrey, two cameras protruding and locking onto its owner.
“OMNI, we need a distraction. Enable party mode.”
The OMNI comm drone, buzzed, “Affirmative. PARTY MODE ENABLED.”
The drone immediately whizzed away, and through the maintenance shaft, lights spinning and a loud siren noise emitting from its tiny speakers.
“That should give us enough time.”
The warehouse cargo bay was covered in black oily webbing and bathed in the dim, pulsing red emergency lights. Aubrey heard gunshots coming from down the hallway exit near the engine room. Leighton swallowed the lump in his throat and followed her into the hallway, with Boyd bringing up the rear. Another gunshot stopped them in their tracks. Aubrey took one more step, then a loud scream bounced off the walls at them, then quickly cut off.
Aubrey could see the lattice work of webbing running across the halls. Oily tendriled strings curling around conduit and switches as they weaved onward into every nook and cranny of the ship. Aubrey held her pistol out, an eye staring down the barrel into the darkened corridor. No more gunshots. No screams. Just the pulsing lights, and steady thrumming she couldn’t be sure was all in her mind.
Aubrey rounded the corner and entered the engine room. A soldier was on the ground, unconscious. Jordan was nowhere to be seen. Aubrey couldn’t see Cordette either. Leighton stepped around Aubrey and took stock of the console where Jordan’s creature had locked them out of the ship. Leighton looked at the blood streaked fingerprints all over the screen, and tried to wipe them away with his shaking hand, but all it did was spread the blood across in a fanned pattern.
Boyd entered the engine room and looked down at the soldier, who was face down on the floor. Aubrey pointed the gun at the body and nodded for Boyd to help her. They flipped the body over.
A shiny black carapace was pulsing inside the soldier’s right eye ball, slinking strings rolling around underneath the surface. Boyd and Aubrey recoiled backward, Boyd slamming into the side wall with a metallic thud and Aubrey falling into the hallway.
Aubrey looked down the side hall and saw shadows fluttering in the doorway leading to the warehouse. “We need to get out of here,” she called.
Leighton finished his keystrokes, then helped Aubrey back up. Boyd grabbed the soldier’s gun, a hi-tech rifle with a laser dot sight and infrared optics. He checked the chamber, and looked over at Leighton and Aubrey.
“Way ahead of you. I’m jettisoning the cryo-pods to the nearest checkpoint,” Leighton explained. “We’ll ask the Republic for help.”
“I’d rather not,” Aubrey flinched.
“We don’t have much of a choice at this point. I set the ship to self-destruct.”
“You what?” Boyd’s voice raised angrily, and he shoved Leighton into the far wall near the console. “Do you realize how many shares that’s going to cost us?! Our grandchildren will be paying off our debt to the company!”
Boyd hit Leighton in the face with the butt of the rifle, sending him to the floor with a loud thud. Leighton could taste the rust of blood in his mouth. He spat a mist of it out onto the floor to his side. He looked up through hazy eyes at Boyd, who was hulking over him with the soldier’s rifle. Aubrey held her gun up at Boyd, and Boyd aimed at her in return.
“Don’t make me,” Aubrey said.
“Oh? The pirate too scared to take the shot now?” Boyd jeered through his clenched jaw. “Coward.”
“I’ll take the shot when I need to,” Aubrey replied, her trigger finger sliding along the side of her pistol into the firing position. “Nobody else needs to die.”
“Nobody would have if you hadn’t come along!” Boyd shouted.
“We have to go!” Leighton yelled back. “This ship is going to blow in…”
[SELF DESTRUCT ACTIVATED. DETONATION IMMINENT. YOU HAVE 5 MINUTES TO EVACUATE.]
Leighton held his hand out at the intercom system.
Boyd aimed his rifle down at him, his right eye twitching under the pressure. He wiped the sweat from his brow with his off hand and eased his hands around the grip near the trigger. “Why not just shoot you both and tell the soldiers whatever I want?”
“You sound like a pirate,” Leighton chuckled through coughing, bloody breaths.
Boyd snickered, his shoulders easing back. Then with a whip, he tightened up again and took aim at Aubrey, firing off a shot that hit Aubrey’s hands. The pistol fell to the ground and Aubrey hunched over to try and grab it.
Boyd aimed down at Leighton, but he was quicker than expected. Leighton swung his leg around and kicked Boyd’s legs out from under him. The rifle hit the floor with a loud crash. Aubrey stretched out her bleeding hand to grab her pistol. Boyd managed to pull up his rifle to aim at Aubrey.
A squelching sound erupted behind Boyd. The creature leapt from the soldier’s eye cavity and shot itself through the back of Boyd’s skull. Boyd shrieked as the creature’s razor sharp tendrils sliced its way through Boyd’s head and through to his right eye.
Boyd sank to the floor, head first, smacking into the metal with a thud. Leighton scampered back on his butt to where Aubrey was sitting up on her knees, her gun pointed at the mass that used to be Boyd. Leighton struggled to his feet and pulled Aubrey up with him.
“Come on!” Leighton shouted, and he grabbed the rifle at his feet.
[SELF DESTRUCT ACTIVATED. DETONATION IMMINENT. YOU HAVE 3 MINUTES TO EVACUATE.]
Leighton’s wrist comm blared the warning almost as if it were shouting at him. Aubrey stumbled into the hallway behind Leighton and looked up to see shadowy figures in the darkened hall. Squelching shrieks and snapping teeth filled their ears. Leighton had never filed a rifle before.
The rifle kicked, the shot echoing loudly in their ears, and the first round slammed through the first soldier’s body, knocking it over. The other soldiers stumbled past their fallen comrade, their legs dragging and the creatures snarling in their heads.
Leighton pressed the butt stock to his shoulder and fired three more rounds. Bodies were falling.
[SELF DESTRUCT ACTIVATED. DETONATION IMMINENT. YOU HAVE 2 MINUTES 30 SECONDS TO EVACUATE.]
Aubrey fired her pistol, which sent a soldier reeling. Leighton and Aubrey pressed forward over the heap of bodies. Leighton passed first, but was grabbed by one of the soldiers. Aubrey held out her pistol, but stopped for a moment. It wasn’t a soldier, but Cordette. The creature snarled in his head, oily tendrils like whips fluttering around Cordette’s eye.
Aubrey fired right through the creature's black facade. A mist of black goo and brown blood sprayed back at them. The other soldiers lashed out and Leighton fired the rifle several times. She shoved him forward and out into the warehouse.
Aubrey pulled Leighton off the floor and down the aisle of the cargo bay shelves. In the chaos of deafening gunshots, the blood splatter, and the fighting, Leighton dropped the rifle and reached back down the aisle.
“Leave it!” Aubrey ordered.
[DETONATION IMMINENT. YOU HAVE 30 SECONDS TO EVACUATE.]
Aubrey aimed her pistol around the edge of the boarding tube. Clear. Leighton threw his body into the tube after her. They rolled into the Republic ship’s docking bay, and Leighton reached up and slammed his hand down on the release hatch, shutting the door.
[SELF DESTRUCT ACTIVATED. DETONATION IMMINENT. YOU HAVE 15 SECONDS TO EVACUATE.]
The docking bay was attached to a small armory for the soldiers. Aubrey let out a groan as she squeezed her bleeding hand, new jolts of pain shooting up her arm. Aubrey clenched her jaw and screamed in agony. Leighton pulled her up, but was stopped by a bullet. Aubrey looked up from her pained hand to see Jordan, gun in hand, creature snarling in his eye.
“For th – convergence,” Jordan’s voice was airy, the embodiment of death.
Leighton fell to the ground, his hands on his bleeding stomach.
Aubrey grabbed Leighton.
Aubrey pulled the airlock release with her bloodied hand, the other hand gripping Leighton.
Jordan was pulled out of the docking bay, as the Republic vessel drifted farther away from the AJAX.
The door shut. That was the last thing Aubrey felt before the blast. The g-forces were so strong that she blacked out. The AJAX was vaporized, and the Republic cruiser was spiraling out of control. Rudderless, awash in the currents of the blast. Aubrey awoke momentarily, long enough to hear OMNI’s alert.
[PLANETARY PROXIMITY ALERT. IMPACT IMMINENT.]
This was one short story from the upcoming sci-fi anthology A JOURNEY THROUGH AUBREY FINCH’S MULTIVERSE, releasing this fall from Andak Media. Stay tuned for future updates. As usual, I’ll return on Tuesday with my usual writing, but if you have an idea for what fiction writing you’d like me to share next, comment below or anywhere you see this story!