St John's College, Johannesburg, South Africa: eSports, boardgaming, wargaming & all mindsports. Affiliated to Mind Sports South Africa
The Spacetrucker Chronicles: Chapter Ib
The Ground Team
Torchlight cut through the blackness of the room, illuminating the cloud of miniscule dust particles that floated weightlessly through the void. This room had suffered some of the worst of the hull breach. Furniture was wrecked and scorch marks covered the walls. Anything not bolted down had escaped long ago into the vacuum of space.
“Keep us posted” came Jukuren’s voice over the comm. Petrus shined his torch across the room, scanning for an exit. A door, at the far end of the room, came into view. Slowly, achingly slowly the three men began their slow, silent walk across the room.
“Petrus in. Nothing so far. Over.”
“Roger” replied Jukuren.
They walked slow. Really slow. Like a turtle.
Eventually, they reached the door and, having gone through, sealed it behind them.
“I’ll pressurize the room” said Doc, as he approached a console. Blanco began scanning for life signs on the ship, which quickly revealed that the engine room was a likely place to hold survivors. Two small vents on either side of the room opened and oxygen began flowing in. Small objects which previously had been floating around fell swiftly to the ground as artificial gravity restored itself. Petrus took off his helmet, relieved to be free of the stuffy prison.
“I think I’ll keep mine on” said Blanco. “Better safe than sorry.” Doc nodded in agreement.
“Suit yourselves” said Petrus. “Heh,” he chuckled. “Get it? Suit yourselves?”
Jay’s restless voice came loudly through the comm, “What’s happening!?”
“We’re checking the engine room. Over” Petrus answered.
“Roger that,” responded Jukuren, “keep us posted. In case the comms break.”
“Ja, ja” muttered Petrus. Calm your lizard tits…
The engine room was dark, save for a small flashing VI, which spewed out warning messages on loop.
‘WARNING. ENGINE BREACH DETECTED. FUEL LEAKAGE HAS REACHED CRITICAL LEVELS. V-REACTOR DAMAGED AND UNSTABLE. RECOMMEND IMMEDIATE EVACUATION.’
“Uh oh,” said Doc. He walked over to the VI and began interrogating it. “VI, engineering bay status?”
The warning messages stopped abruptly.
‘ENGINEERING BAY. STATUS: HULL BREACH ON LEVELS FOUR TO SEVENTEEN. FUEL LEAKAGE ON LEVELS TWO, THREE AND NINE. DANGEROUS LEVELS OF V-RADIATION ON LEVELS ONE TO SIX.’
“Survivors?” asked Doc.
‘NO LIFEFORMS DETECTED IN ENGINEERING BAY.’
“Dammit!” cursed Doc. The warning message began again.
Petrus approached the VI. “Are there any lifeforms detected at all?”
The warning messages again stopped abruptly, much to the squad’s relief.
‘THREE LIFEFORMS DETECTED ON ENGINEERING ENTRY LEVEL, ROOM NINE. ONE HUMAN, MALE. SCANS INDICATE MUTATION. ONE HUMAN, MAL-‘
“Apart from us!” shouted Blanco.
‘LIFE SIGNS ARE PRESENT IN HANGAR BAY AND ESCAPE POD LEVEL. CANNOT CONCLUDE MORE FROM AVAILABLE DATA.’
“Looks like it’s the hangar, okes.”
“Uh, what are you doing?” asked Doc to Petrus, who was rubbing his hands all over his microphone and making crackling noises into it.
“Are you alright?” came Jukuren’s voice on the comm. Petrus smiled, continuing his game as they walked through the metal corridors.
“Can you hear me!?”
“Uh, you shouldn’t do that” reprimanded Doc.
“It’s just a bit of fun!” protested Petrus.
Doc gave Petrus a disapproving stare.
“Fine” sighed Petrus, stopping his game.
“Ja, we’re fine. Just mucking about” laughed Petrus.
Jukuren’s rage seeped through the comms, only making Petrus laugh harder. “Please get serious! Don’t do that again or I will…shshshh…ou…”
The end of Jukuren’s message trailed off into white noise.
“Oh shit!” he cursed, ceasing his laughter. “I think the comms are breaking. For real this time.”
“Well that’s great” commented Doc.
“Are we in the hangar yet?” asked Blanco, bored.
“You asked five minutes ago and I said I’d tell you when we got there!” shouted Doc, annoyed.
“Anything on the comms?” asked Petrus.
“Well,” replied Doc. “I swear I heard Caramelldansen for a second. But it must’ve just been my imagination…”
At last, the ground team reached a towering bulkhead.
“Hangar bay’s just through there,” said Doc, pointing at the bulkhead in front of him. “Scans indicate life behind the bulkhead.”
Blanco anxiously peered around the bulkhead.
“Uh…guys…we have a problem.”
“Wat is dit nou?” grunted Petrus, pushing Blanco aside to take a look. Inside the bay was a massive writhing mound of insects – or at least, things that resembled insects. Towards the centre of the hangar were human corpses being ripped apart by the creatures. Intestines splattered from a corpse and landed in the chirring sea, disappearing beneath the mass of insects. Petrus ducked back behind the bulkhead, his heart racing.
“Fok!” he cursed, under his breath.
“Have they noticed us?” asked Blanco.
Doc peered round the bulkhead and he too recoiled quickly, looking as though he was about to vomit. “Uh…I…uh…don’t th…think so” he stuttered nervously.
“Plan?” asked Petrus.
“Do we really think there are survivors?” he asked. “We could just leave.”
“Leaving sounds good” said Petrus, shaking.
“Agreed” said Doc, on the verge of wetting himself.
They fled from the bulkhead, towards a flight of stairs marked: ‘Escape Pods’. “Help! This is an emergency!” screamed Petrus into his mic. “We need immediate assistance! We found a fucktonne of insects and hulle is nie ons vriende nie!”
“I want mommy!” cried Doc into his.
“The insects were tearing the shit out of corpses of the crew!” continued Petrus, turning into another corridor in his mad flight.
“Don’t bother!” wailed Blanco. “They can’t hear us!”
“Can anyone hear us?!” screamed Petrus.
They group came to a stop to catch their breath.
“Is it safe?” asked Blanco.
“Ek dink so…” answered Petrus. The group had found themselves in a long corridor lined with escape pods. By the looks of it, none of the escape pods had been used. Doc stepped forward to examine the pods, but stopped short. The floor, he had noticed, was covered in a thick, white webbing.
“Uh…guys?” said Doc.
“What is it, boi?” asked Petrus, slapping Doc on the back so hard he nearly fell face first into the webbing.
“Oh shit!” exclaimed Petrus, noticing the floor.
“That’s not good” commented Blanco.
Finding a narrow path along the edges of the webbing, the three continued forward, eventually finding themselves at the end of the corridor, with no exit and no other features apart from a few storage crates piled in a corner.
“Well,” said Blanco. “What do we do now?”
At that moment, Blanco noticed the top of a head, peeping over the crates.
“Hello?” Blanco said, quietly. The head disappeared and a sharp intake of breath could be heard. The three creeped over to the crates.
“Come out,” Petrus cheerfully added. “We don’t bite.”
Coming around the crates, it could be seen that the person was in fact a woman, with black hair tied up in a high ponytail with plaits on either side. She was curled up in a foetal position, crying softly.
“Are you OK, Miss?” asked Petrus.
She ignored him, continuing to sob.
“Is she Max?” asked Blanco confused.
“No. Different hair. She had red hair. This one has black. And those are French plaits.” said Doc, showing off his somewhat encyclopaedic knowledge of hairstyles.
“Fuck the French plaits” swore Petrus. “Miss,” he said, turning to her “it’s not safe on this ship. Are there any other survivors?”
At that moment, a thundering boom echoed through the corridor. The woman let out a whimpering scream as she jumped to her feet and bolted out, back through the corridor from where the ground team had come.
Petrus sighed. “I’m not that ugly am I?”
The three chased after her, dashing through the corridor, winding their way through the maze of rooms and passage ways until at last they caught up with the woman, who had now found a corner in which to crouch.
“There you are, Not Max!” said Petrus, catching his breath.
“They’re all gone” she whimpered.
“She’s clearly traumatised” observed Blanco. ‘I don’t suggest being too forceful with her.”
“Miss, it is imperative we leave this ship” said Petrus, trying his best not to frighten her. Please come with us. We are not here to hurt you.”
“Shitshitshitshitshit…” she repeated to herself, trembling.
“Miss, please try to keep calm” said Petrus.
“Please, ma’am, come with us. We’ll get you to safety” added Doc.
“Guys!” exclaimed Blanco. “Comms are back! This is ground team. Can anyone hear us?”
“There’s some serious shit going on here! We’re attempting evac” said Petrus into the comm.
“Um, Guys? Does anyone hear that noise” said Doc.
“Return to the ship,” ordered Jukuren over the comm. “This was obviously a planned attack.”
“There’s definitely a bad, insecty noise” said Doc. “And it’s getting closer.”
“Attempting to…’persuade’ survivor to come with us” said Petrus, ignoring Doc. “We’ll get back ASAP.”
Suddenly the rest of the group noticed the chirring of thousands, possibly even millions of the insect creatures. It was indeed getting closer.
“That’s it” said Petrus, picking the woman up and slinging her over his shoulder, despite her meagre resistance. “We’re getting off this fokken ship!”
They began to run as fast as they could, the growing chirring constantly at their backs.
“Get ready!” shouted Petrus through the comm. “Coming in hot!”
Petrus paused for a moment to catch his breath. “Well, hotter than usual.”
They picked up the pace, frantically running through the bowels of the ship. Blanco, in a mad rush, telekinetically threw things in the path behind them – anything to slow down the horde of corpse-rippers behind them.
“Fokfokfokfokfok!” screamed Petrus, running with all the strength he had in him.
They turned a corner. And another corner. And another one. Fortunately, with the comms working again, they were able to navigate themselves towards an intact airlock, where they were assured the ship would be waiting for them.
Suddenly, they turned a last corner and found themselves by an airlock, behind which was the ship. Winry was just visible behind a massive turret. They jumped into the airlock and the doors sealed behind them. The door began to shake and a noise erupted from it, like the sound of thousands of drums beating as the insects threw themselves at it.
Blanco let out a sigh of relief. “Let’s not do that again any time soon.”