Image courtesy of Phil_Bird at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Floors and walls first shook, then thrummed. Step.Step.Step boomed, vibrating the air as the Orcian left their headquarters single file. My stomach dropped to my knees, which wasn’t far as I huddled down behind some crates in the industrial section of the station. I glimpsed their beetle plates, shiny black, crossed with matted black straps for weapons. More knifes, guns, and curved hooks than any human would think of carrying. They would slow us down, much too much, when we needed to run from the Orcian down here in the ragged-halls.
The gleam of white here and there from their beady eyes and overbite tusks dripped icy sweat down my back, making me shiver. Seven foot, or more, and a quarter ton, each biological hybrid moved with a fast precision somewhere between military and mob, an avalanche heading to whatever helpless soul had raised their ire this time. They ruled the dark and low places like the angel hybrids ruled the planets and the station links.
My friend put a hand on my shoulder to calm my tremors. Her pale blue eyes sparkled with adventure, a grin creasing her lips. She mouthed, “Wait”.
Why did I let her talk me into this? We were going to die. We were going to get caught. Run over. Beaten. I wanted to breathe deep to calm my nerves but scared the Orcian would hear the inhale over their trooper boots pounding the metallic floors. I reminded myself their human-alien hybrid lost most of human acuteness in the senses of sound, smell, and sight. A trade-off the scientists who made the biological monstrosities took for strength and endurance. Pity they hadn’t thought about the emotional end of things, Orcian like their Angel brethren had no compassion. But I had no pity for the scientists themselves, the first to fall at the hands of their creations forty years ago, only for the rest of natural humanity who had inherited their legacy.
Once the floor ceased vibrating and the last echoes faded from the cavern-corridor, and we waited a bit more, Pips leaned forward and whispered, “Let’s go!”
I bent-scurried behind her as we dashed to the headquarter entrance. The normal guards usually stationed either side followed their cohort through the lower levels.
As she found from her previous excursions, the Black only knows why she hung around so close to the Orcian, the front door was ajar. Barely, but enough for two thin ragged-hall rats to slip between the huge metallic door and its air-lock seal. Another metallic door faced us, equally cracked open just enough. A double-seal with opposite openings for strength during decompression. Both left unlocked and unguarded. Like an arrogant statement, “No one dare enter our realm even when we aren’t here.”
Or, if not a statement, then a trap.
I followed my best friend into the room. Twenty doors opened off the main chamber of the quarters. The walls soared up nearly twelve feet, but the ceiling receded even further. They had carved out the overhead floor giving them two eight foot levels plus the couple feet between the floor/ceiling plates used for maintenance and services – the wires and vents usually hidden, twisted off of normal paths to follow the top of the make-shift walls.
Pips laughed out loud and spun in a circle. “Told you!”
“Yes you did.” I nodded as I walked inside the most non-human place in the whole no-longer human universe, quickly searching for what we could take. I pocketed some rations tossed randomly about the room, each meal size, likely light snacks for the Orcian. For me, an entire day of food.
We started opening the doors, which led to small, for them, sleep spaces. Just enough room for a cot and locker. The locker had armor bits, no coins or cards because they could take whatever they wanted, and, strangely, underwear. It was human male underwear, tighty-whitie variety. Each pair was wider than my shoulders. My brain stopped a moment.
I knew they were part human. But … For a second I saw my brother running around in his underwear, making jokes in our sleeping rooms, before he got caught in one of the Orcian avalanches.
I slammed the door shut on the locker and the memory. Nothing about these monsters could be human. I refused to allow it.
“Hey Spanner!” came a whisper shout.
I popped back into the main room and looked around. Pips’ head emerged out of a wall. Now that is intriguing. What did the monsters need with a hologram? Pips’ wild grin had taken over her entire face. “Got your kit with you girl?”
“You know it.” I rushed over and stepped through the hologram. A door. Metal. Closed. Locked.
The wall here only went up the traditional eight feet with the floor/ceiling covering the space. I walked around the separated room. The roof to the room had been cut and isolated from all maintenance services. Studying the floor, I noticed welds and rivets indicating a possible matching isolation below.
Something off the grid.
I looked up to find Pips staring at me. My grin had to match hers. Returning to the locked door, I stroked the alum-steel challenge. A physical lock, no visible electronic. Not really a surprise there if they wanted it off of the grid. Most of the ragged rats would be totally stopped, but I pride myself in being well-rounded. The richer folks in the link levels like a combination of the strange physical with traditional electronic methods to protect their valuables. I don’t go up to those levels, since I can’t pass for anything but a 100% natural. But some of the rats who work up-levels bring me things which spring open to reveal other things, given the right kind of careful encouragement.
The lock, locks – several layers of them, was fun. Took me nearly ten minutes to open all the various bits, but the obstinate barrier gave up eventually.
“Weapons? Money? What do you think?” Pips whispered in anticipation.
Smiling back at her, I tapped the metal with the reproducer I had had to break out to take visuals to get around the last tumbler. With a bit of bravo and self-satisfaction, I opened the door.
Our jaws dropped.
That equipment wasn’t legal anywhere anymore. The Angels didn’t want any competition.
Unthinking, my finger nervously tapped the reproducer in my hand while my mind processed how much danger we were in. “We need to leave now.” I looked over at my unstoppably cheerful friend and watched her swallow in fear.
She nodded, and we slammed the door shut. She backed to the other side of the hologram before muttering. “No evidence.”
I stared at her, my eyes widening then I backed through the hologram again and worked my way through the Black-begotten lock, returning it to its previous state. When I returned to the other side of the electronic illusion, I found her hopping from foot to foot, her eyes subdued but brightening.
“Clean except…” I slapped where the reproducer had been secreted on my body. Did those taps take pictures? Doesn’t matter, what’s done is done. She didn’t need to know. “Yeah, clean. You?”
“No prints anywhere.”
“Great.” As we hurried to the entrance, I felt it.
The floor trembled.
We had taken too long. Maybe. We.needed.to.move.
The pounding of boots shook the walls. Walls built to withstand decompression. Pips froze just before the door. I slipped by her and grabbed her hand to pull her through to the between area but she didn’t budge. I twisted to go back through the first crack when the outer door slammed open catching me between it and the wall.
The second door, the one I had just passed through with Pips on the other side, plowed through the air into the quarters as a hand big enough to palm my face and curl the fingers around the back of my head pushed it open. I saw the whites of her eyes as her pupils pinpointed. She glanced to me only a second, pleading, begging, before blanking her face. The Black bless her.
She backed up into the main room as a wall of plate passed by, blocking my ability to see her.
“What do we have here?” A voice deeper than any I have ever heard questioned. I lost the crack as another wall of shiny beetle plate pushed the door edge completely against the wall, preventing me from seeing anything else. I heard second voice state, “A thief.”
Another ton of monster caused the floor to tremble. “A toy.” Laughter. The pounding boots continued as each hybrid passed into their quarters. I inched further and further into the open area, until I reached the furthest corner between the door and the wall, trembling in time with the footsteps.
“Do I get any?” Said the deepest, strongest voice yet. It’s location the corridor side of the airlock, high above my head.
“After your shift.” Came the uncompromising reply. Several things laughed. The door on the quarters side slammed shut.
The corridor door, the one I hid behind, started moving. “Just my luck,” growled the guard before closing the other door catching me between in the dark.
Pips screamed for a long time. I could hear it through the airlock, the full seal wasn’t in place so air could circulate. She lasted beyond the guard shift change. It took a long, long.
Time before she stopped making any sound.
Five shift changes.
I stayed shivering in the corner. Terrified every time they opened the door. Terrified to move from the safe corner where they couldn’t see me. Terrified to sleep. Once or twice I slumped, but dared not close my eyes because I would fall down. The bars in my pocket mocked me, but I didn’t know when I could piss again so I didn’t eat them. I grew dizzy from thirst.
Inside, between the doors, I dreamed of warm liquid running down my legs, puddling on the floor. At shift change they found the puddle and me behind the door. I jerked myself upright. I hadn’t been sleeping. I rubbed my face.
With hands covered in blood. That was the puddle on the floor. Beside Pips body. Blood flowing from her to me. I left her, and her blood found me. Shuttering I pushed myself deeper in the corner.
Stay awake. Stay awake.
So thirsty. Hallucinating from the thirst. Right? Her body couldn’t be here between the doors.
Could I piss myself and catch it to drink? Couldn’t miss. Can’t leave a puddle.
Shift change. Number nine or twelve?
I waited for the next avalanche, hoping it would arrive soon. They didn’t leave guards during avalanches. Unless they changed because they found Pips. I hoped not. I needed to get away. Before I give up. No, I can’t give up. So easy to give up. Been so long. So long. I won’t last much longer. No, must last. I could just push the door next time and give myself away. No. Don’t. But… But no.
Because if they find me. Find what is on me. I don’t think they would only play with me for a few shifts and then let me die. No, they would keep me alive a long time. I wouldn’t be a toy.
Because if they had me, they would find the thing on me. They would find the reproducer and those pictures my fingers had tapped. The pictures of the illegal equipment. Pictures capturing the movement I saw inside the equipment.
(Words 1940 – first published 12/31/2017)