Part 15

Careering through the gaping doorway of the main cargo hold, Redge nearly lost his footing as he turned to the right, one leg slipping away. With a curse he caught the handrail of the gantry to keep himself up, before bolting off along the walkway. The cube shaped chamber opened out in front of him; a vast hanger-like room, three hundred yards across. Glancing down to the main deck as he ran, Redge saw three massive harvesting drill arms, protruding out of the shimmering blue of the bay's force field that contained the atmosphere.

Looking back, Redge gritted his teeth as the pursuing band of possessed crewmen came thundering into the cargo hold after him. He turned down the thin corrugated stairway that led down onto the main deck, the clang of boots against metal echoing through the space.

Leaping, he hurdled the last five steps with a cry of exertion, landing in a stumbling run towards the drills. With his heart beginning to hammer against his chest, Redge sucked in another lungful of air and pressed on. Forcing a final, desperate burst of speed from his leaden limbs, he broadened the gap even further, making a break for the closest of the drills.

He scrambled up the side of the machine into the compact driver's compartment. Staring for a few precious seconds at the controls, Redge pressed the green button to the right of the main arrangement, and the drill arm hummed into life. Gritting his teeth in anticipation, he gripped the control levers and swung the arm around, through the force field, back into the bay itself and towards the onrushing crewmen. Timing the swing, Redge pressed his right thumb down hard on the red button surmounting the control stick.

A searing orange beam shot forth from the tip of the drill arm as it swept across the group of possessed crewmen. Designed to cut ores from asteroids, the beam sliced through their bodies as easily as the air around it. The downward trajectory decapitated the frontrunners, while those behind were sawn in half at the waist, thighs, or even had their shins removed.

Taking his thumb off the red button, Redge stared wide-eyed at the mound of partially dismembered bodies lying strewn in front of the drill. His hands remained locked around the controls in a vice-like grip. After gazing silently for a moment, a short, almost hysterical laugh slipped out of his mouth.

However, Redge's laugh died in his throat along with the faint smile, when an emergency alarm began blaring through the cavernous space of the cargo hold. Red lights flashed ominously and he scrambled out of the drill, looking around desperately for the cause. It didn't take long to find. His eyes opened wide in realisation when he spotted the thin but unmistakable scar of where the drill's beam had carved through the deck plating of the room, allowing the atmosphere to seep out. 

"Oh you have got to be kidding me," he murmured. After a split second of indecision, he bolted back towards the stairway, leaping over the mangled bodies of the crewmen. Those with their tops halves still intact made feeble grabs at him as he hurtled past. With his boots battering against the metal plates, Redge bounded up the stairs as fast as his legs could carry him, heading for the doorway. Barely a second before he reached the aperture, however, the emergency blast doors closed with a defiant boom.

"C'mon!" Redge screamed, slamming his fist against the door plate. "What the fuck did I do to earn this?!" He punched the door three more times before spinning around, resting his back against the construction and breathing heavily. Glancing around frantically, he spotted the box-like shape of the bay office, situated opposite the force field on a raised platform. Sucking in another breath he started running for the small building. If memory served, it would be airtight and buy him at least some time.

Pelting hell-for-leather along the main gantry, he bit back another enraged tirade when the safety doors of the office began slowly descending downwards. Piling on speed, he felt as though his lungs would explode, every step powered by the strength born of desperation. With a wordless roar of exertion he threw himself the final few yards, passing under the door with inches to spare. His momentum carried him across the room until his tumble was brought to an abrupt halt by the far wall. A few seconds later the doors on either side of the office closed with a hiss, turning the room into a lifeboat of breathable air.

Rolling over onto his back, Redge sat up with a grunt. Taking in a deep breath, he levered himself upright and stared around the tiny chamber. Three bulky consoles lined the wall facing the cabin window, looking out into the massive expanse of the cargo bay itself. A few filing cabinets, two chairs and a computer were the only over objects in the room. Running one hand through his hair with a sigh, he stepped over to the window and looked out.

The three hulking drill arms stood motionless in the vacuum of the bay, the lights of their operating systems blinking innocently. A dozen yards from them the dismembered bodies of the crewmen lay, a bloody mess of flesh and bone. Letting his gaze wander across the gaping expanse, Redge's eyes narrowed when he spotted a large cylindrical canister on the far right side of the bay-shield. He squinted at it, leaning in closer to the glass. He guessed it was around ten feet in height, shorter than the drill arms, but still big in its own right. Rods of gleaming metal ran around its sides like a circular cage, with a strange, partly tinted mesh of what looked like glass between each one.

 "Huh." He frowned and tapped his com piece. "Guys, you reading me?"

"Redge! Yeah we've got you loud and clear," Xander answered. "Where are you? Are you okay?"

"I'm in the cargo bay office. As for being okay…the vote's not in yet." He cocked his head quizzically to one side, still staring at the cylinder. "There's something down in the bay, Xander, and it doesn't look like standard mining gear."

"What does it look like?"

"Looks kind of like a holding cage of some kind." Redge's frown deepened as he thought. "And it looks seriously heavy duty. Do you think…maybe they were sent here to, I dunno, capture this black cloud thing?"

"Redge, your guess is as good as mine," Xander replied. "But we've got a bigger problem right now. Can you meet us, say deck three?"

Redge almost laughed. "No can do. The main bay is depressurised. I'm stuck here."



Xander ground his teeth together in frustration, exchanging looks with his companions. "That's bad news, Redge."

"Tell me about it. You guys have any luck getting into the engine room?"

"We're working on another way in."

"You what?"

"We're going to try and blast through from a higher deck and get in that way, then we can bypass the freak show." He waited for a moment but the com stayed silent. "Redge?"

"I sure wish we'd thought of that about ten minutes ago," the man replied in a slow, deliberate voice. "So I did that whole run for nothing?"

"No, Redge, you lured some of them away. That gives us a better chance."

"Whoop dee fucking doo."

"Well you can still help," Xander said as he walked, turning the final corner leading to the equipment stores. "We're about to try blasting through a bulkhead with industrial mining explosives."
"Xander," Redge replied warily. "That is not a good idea."

"I know it's not perfect but-,"

"You don't get it. With explosives that high yield, placing the charge wrongly could blow out an entire deck, destroy power conduits, shut down life support, gravity, everything. You'll need to get this right, to the centimetre."

"You got a better idea?"

"Well…no." He sighed heavily over the com. "Okay, you'll need two charges. There are different types they use, we're looking for Type C. They're about  four inches square, blue."

"Hang on, we're entering the equipment store now." Xander pressed the release button on the door and poked his head inside. The room was gratifyingly devoid of life.

"Xander, there's another problem."

"As if we didn't have enough of those."

"There's no way to know for certain, I'd need to see the bulkhead myself, but blasting a hole in it might compromise the hull integrity of the ship. That happens and falling into Alsace IV is going to be the least of your worries."

"Our worries," he corrected, peering around the room.

"Xander, over here." Cassie beckoned, having slipped past and begun rummaging through the shelves. He stepped over to see an open case with several dozen of the explosives Redge had described inside.

"You sure you want to do this?"

"It's that or nothing." Xander picked up two and placed them inside Redge's rucksack. He half turned, before picking up two more and shoving them into the bag.

"What's that for?" Isla asked.

"Just in case." He turned for the door. "Okay, Redge, we've got the bombs."

"Where do you plan on blasting through?"

"I figured deck two."

"C'mon, Xander! Stop and think about it. You do it that close and you'll wreck the hull beyond anyone's help. To minimize the risk, go as close to the centre as you can. The rest should hold well enough on its own, even with a hole like a donut."

Xander frowned, but saw the sense in his crewmate's tirade. "Okay, we'll go on deck four." He motioned Cassie and Isla to follow him and started off towards the stairs.



"How are you going to get down into the room from the fourth deck?"

"We've got some spare cable in the bags, I figured it'd work well enough as rope." He shrugged as he walked.

"Okay, radio me when you get to your target area, I'll tell you how to position the charges."

"Redge, is there any way you can get out of the cargo bay at all?"

"Would if I could," the other man answered ruefully. "Sorry, you guys are on your own for a while. That is, until you come up with a masterful plan to get me out of here."

"We'll get to that, Redge," he chuckled. "Okay, Xander out."

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