Tepet Parn looked around the interior of the ship, feeling an uncommon sense of dread. He had not gone through the effort of graduating from the Heptagram for the purpose of entering dark, poorly-powered ships that likely had supernatural killers in them. The engineer sighed, looking around. Power was low, and he guessed that the shipâ€™s power source was low or gone.
"Seal the doors." Captain Makar was already surveying the shadow-pooled corridor. Parn raised an eyebrow behind his visor, but moved to obey.
"What? Why?" Corporal Kaltos spoke with a tremor in his voice, and Parn paused. It would be him that would object.
â€œI want to know if the killer tries to leave. This way, it will likely be trapped in here.â€
â€œWith us.â€ Ollanderâ€™s voice was faint.
â€œPrecisely.â€ Parn noted with wry amusement that his captainâ€™s calm seemed to be returning. â€œParn, which way will the cockpit be?â€
Parn finished sealing the hatch, and then turned to look. â€œThis looks like a modified Nobility-class merchant vessel, so I would guessâ€¦ left here, and then the first right. Should take us straight there.â€ He glanced around thoughtfully. â€œThese ships usually have a crew of anywhere from five to ten. If the internal sensors are still running, I can get you a bit more.â€
â€œVery good. I will take point. Kaltos, Olander, rearguard.â€ The two soldiers fell into place, with Gallen stepping forwards to cover Parn. The engineer followed Captain Makar, trepidation filling him.
The directions proved accurate, and soon the faint shine of natural light suggested that the five soldiers had reached the cockpit. Glancing out at the starlight, Parn nodded. â€œThis should beâ€¦ oh, Dragons.â€ His attention had been drawn to the torn remains of the pilotâ€™s chair â€“ and the torn remains of the pilot, her face frozen in an expression of shock, slumped across the control board.
â€œThat makes two.â€ Gallen swallowed heavily.
â€œNot going to throw up again, are you?â€ Corporal Kaltos stepped forwards and knelt, then whistled. â€œLooks like someone â€“ or something â€“ drove their fist right through the chair, and this poor sap.â€ He glanced back. â€œSystems seem fine.â€
Parn took a deep breath and stepped forwards, as Kaltos and Gallen carefully lifted the dead pilot and laid her out in the co-pilotâ€™s empty seat. He toggled the system. â€œCome onâ€¦ alright, weâ€™ve got power. Not much, though. No way this ship could lift off, not and keep its grid active.â€
Captain Makar nodded thoughtfully. Without a grid, the ship would quickly dissolve into the chaos of the Wyld. â€œThat may explain the distress signal. How many crew should there be?â€
Parn frowned, reading over the manifest. â€œThatâ€™s oddâ€¦â€ He glanced over at the captain. â€œItâ€™s all locked. Heavy security, too.â€ His fingers flew across the keyboard. â€œMerchants wouldnâ€™t bother with all this. Smugglers, maybe. Orâ€¦â€ As he cracked open the crew manifest, he swallowed. â€œOh, Dragons above.â€
â€œNow what?â€ Kaltos muttered.
â€œItâ€™s a New Realm ship.â€ Parn looked back at the soldiers. â€œSpies.â€
â€œAnathema-worshippers, huh?â€ Kaltos leaned against the wall, looking thoughtful. â€œWell, thatâ€™s that. To hell with searching for survivors â€“ I say we get out of here. No sense risking our necks for the enemy.â€
â€œThat makes it more important to find them. Parn, find out if anyone is still alive.â€ As the soldiers turned to Captain Makar in surprise, he glowered. â€œThis is a spy ship on an uncharted world dangerously close to Imperium territory. Donâ€™t you think it matters that we find out WHAT they were doing here?â€
â€œOh. Right.â€ Kaltos sighed heavily, and muttered something else that Parn didnâ€™t catch. After a few more moments of working, the engineer shook his head.
â€œWell, Iâ€™ve got the official crew manifest. Eight names on the list. But the scanners have been locked down, and I canâ€™t get them back online.â€
â€œThat makes sense, if you want to hide from a monster killing the crew.â€ Gallen nodded thoughtfully.
â€œOr if you want to hide from the crew.â€ Olander pointed out with a frown. â€œSo weâ€™re stuck?â€
â€œMaybe. Maybe not.â€ Parn tapped some more keys. â€œI canâ€™t unlock it from here, but we could from the source point. Itâ€™s hidden, but that I can find.â€ A few moments later, he nodded and stood. â€œRear medical bay.â€
â€œAlright, then. Letâ€™s move.â€ Makar nodded firmly, leading the way out of the cockpit. â€œThere could be up to six survivors still onboard, and I want to know why they were here.â€
The five fell back into formation as they crossed the ship. Its atmosphere seemed more ominous than ever to Parn, something hovering just on the edge of hearing. He almost thoughtâ€¦
â€œWhat is that, the air vents?â€ Kaltos spoke first, and Gallen frowned thoughtfully.
â€œCouldnâ€™t be.â€ He looked around. â€œIt sounds more like whispering.â€ The others paused, listening, and Parn realized that this was what had been tickling the edge of his senses. The faintest breath of whispers, crawling through his ears. He shivered.
â€œIt must be the vents. Itâ€™s not coming from anywhere.â€ Olander turned slowly, and then shook his head. â€œLetâ€™s just keep moving. Please.â€
Makar nodded, without comment, and the five pressed on. Soon, they were in front of the doors to the medical bay â€“ doors which were wide open. The soldiers stepped inside, Olander standing guard by the door as the other four started to spread out.
Makar paused, and then gestured towards a closed-off storage closet â€“ Parn hadnâ€™t even heard a sound, but apparently the captain had. Gallen, with a nod, stepped lightly over to it and held up a hand as Kaltos and Makar settled into position, in case whatever was within wasnâ€™t friendly. Reaching out slowly, Gallen took the handle, and then pulled it open.
A woman all but flew out of the closet, swinging a medical scalpel around as though it were a daiklave as she tried to fling herself past Gallenâ€™s reach. She stopped dead, her eyes widening as she took in the soldiers, and stumbled backwards again. As she overbalanced, Gallen caught her, and she lashed out at him with a scream of mingled anger and fear.
â€œHey, easy! Weâ€™re not the bad guys!â€ Gallen caught the scalpel hand in one armoured fist, and reached with his other to remove his helmet. â€œWeâ€™re a patrol, thatâ€™s all.â€
â€œA patrolâ€¦â€ The womanâ€™s eyes were wild. â€œYou have to run. Escape while you can, before the shadowsâ€¦â€ She broke off, sobbing, and Gallen awkwardly held her. Over her shoulder, he gave the captain a helpless look.
Parn sighed, walking over to the terminal. â€œI take it you shut down the scanners.â€ The woman didnâ€™t answer immediately, and he shook his head. â€œWell, we found a survivor. Now we justâ€¦â€ He broke off abruptly, scanning the room with an expression that rapidly moved from confused to afraid. â€œWhereâ€™s Olander?â€
Everyone froze and, as one, looked to the door, still hanging slightly ajar, and lacking in any sign of the Private.