Cheers from the crowds roared louder than the PA speakers that tried to silence them. They watched as the last of the families left the station, and boarded the final colossal craft that was docked. Hands pressed against glass, they cried with a mixture of sadness and joy as they watched their friends disappear into the cold hull of the metallic vessels. Loved ones hugged as they waved away family and friends, knowing they would never see them again.
Within the ships that put the ark to shame, stomachs churned at the prospect of the journey. The parents pondered whether they would be safe at their new home – if they would even wake up at the other end – while the children failed to comprehend the severity of the trip. They ran around enjoying themselves, unaware of the perilous journey ahead, until slowly ushered by their parents, they made their way to the cryo-chambers, ready to preserve their bodies for the long journey ahead.
At the station, the crowds made their way to the final viewing platform, a domed room that looked out in all directions, giving those inside a view of all six massive ships. Large orange lights started to flicker around the boarding paths. Even though they were in space, everyone could simulate the familiar sirens that were sounding. Steam escaped the connecting cables as the ships were jettisoned from the station, drifting outwards and shrinking slowly as they departed. At a safe distance, the immense rear engines crackled with a blue electricity. The cheers of farewells increased as they watched the engines start up.
Then in the same moment the ships had been there, they were gone. Nothing but diminishing sparks remained, suspended in the silence that now consumed the station with the realisation that the ships – along with the loved ones they carried – were gone, forever. That those who remained would not live long enough to ever know if they would reach their destination safe. Even so, they stared a little longer, hopeful, praying for their friends and family before gradually going back to their own lives. In time, memories of those gone faded, slowly forgotten by most who remained. But never by those tasked with tracking them.
400 years later
Stars flickered as a large scrapper ship flew by, “L’s Scraping and Salvaging” barely visible behind peeling paint and deep dents.
Inside, heavy metal consumed the cockpit, a man with long, greasy black hair and stained overalls reclining into his chair with his feet raised onto his console. His large, steel-capped boots flicked dirt around as he moved his feet to the beat of the drums. Nearing sleep, he let his eyes remain closed as he followed the rhythm of the music.
His eyes opened slowly, adjusting to the light he realised his console was lighting up like a Christmas tree.
“The hell? We aren’t near anywhere.”
He turned his music off while using the base of his fist, to wipe the thick layer of dust off one of the monitors. Peering through the streaks of remaining dust he lowered his feet to the floor, metal grate clunking as his heavy boots slammed down.
“Oh,” he muttered. “Not somewhere. Something.”
Grabbing the intercom, he cleared his throat.
“Rise and shine, girls. We have a job.”
Flicking off the intercom he disabled the auto pilot, veering the ship off course.
“Let’s see what the big black feels like gifting us today.”
The first to climb their way into the cock pit was a short man with a long, nicotine stained beard, grinning wide through crooked, black teeth.
“What’s this about a job, Lio?”
Lio turned from his console, sparing his crew-member a glance just before a colossal ship came into view. Lights flickered and faded in its windows as it spun, only one of the seven colossal thrusters were firing.
“Oh, just you know, a government-funded Planet Seed vessel.”
Barney scrunched up his face and peered closer through the grimy window.
“Looks like all the escape pods have launched. Could be a fair haul.”
“What’re we looking at? Terra-forming gear, food stuffs?”
Barney scratched at his beard.
“Don’t think so. Looks old tech. Too old for terraforming.”
“Of course it’s too old for terraforming,” a voice groaned as a tall man heaved his way up the stairs and into the cockpit, fastening a belt around his expansive middle. Grease was caked into what was left of his singed hair, scantly covering a burnt scalp. “That there is one of the original Planet Seeds.”
Lio looked back at the planet seed.
“A MK-1 then?” Lio hedged, squinting out at the ship in question. “Can’t make out the markings – they’re too worn.”
Ian stepped into the cockpit.
“Nah. MK-1’s never actually flew. The first ones to fly were probably ‘bout four hundred years ago. MK-3s, from memory.”
Lio sucked his lips against his teeth, letting out a small whistle as they rested.
“At any rate, docking hasn’t changed since the first expansion. Let’s dock. See what we can find on board. Anything bio’s long gone by now, but we might be able to find some tech.”
“At the very least, we can take her top off and take what’s underneath,” Barney laughed, jabbing at Ian.
“I’m sure we could get more than a handful from her,” Ian continued.
“Ha, like any woman would let you greasy bastards get near them.”
Ian and Barney looked to one another, laughing they slapped Lio on the back and headed out of the cockpit.
“You got a lot to learn young one.”
“That is why we’re married, and you’re the lonely scrapper boy.”
Lio threw a nearby rag down the corridor.
“Go get ready you horny old bastards!”
Lio chuckled to himself as he locked in the docking procedure, putting the ship back into autopilot.
“How those two horndogs got a damn wife remains a mystery,” Lio snorted as he ran the final programs in his system. Waiting until the necessary lights flicked to green, he soon followed suit, leaving the cockpit and heading out into the ship.
Stomping through the halls, Lio could hear the other two talking about the last pair of legs they saw at the last scrap yard they visited, bickering over whose had been better looking. Lio rolled his eyes.
“You’re both talking about the same goddamn woman! There was only one, so you will have to fight over her.”
The other two screamed at one another. Lio struggled to make out the thrum of the engines over their bickering. So he made his way down the narrow corridors, narrowly avoiding tripping over scattered tools and parts that littered the ship. Finally kicking a small box over, he groaned.
“Fuckin’ damned messy ship. I really need to clean this place up.”
Lio knelt down, reaching under the grate to grab one of the many small pieces that had fallen onto the cabling below. Right as he got elbow deep, the ship jolted, and he swore he felt something pop.
“The hell was that?” He cried, pulling his arm back out and rolling it around its socket.
Docking complete. Airlock 1 sealed and ready for use. 100% connectivity, the intercom crackled.
“Old ship; docking’s rough,” Barney said as he helped Lio up. “Haven’t always had nice ships like yours.”
“Right,” Lio winced. “Felt like I was going to tear my damn arm off.”
Barney grabbed his arm and started to roll it in its socket. There was a momentary pause then Barney punched Lio in the arm.
“Agh! Why the– Better be a good reason for that, Barney!”
“Nope,” Barney shrugged as he walked past. “Just figured you needed to toughen up. Think I have some harden the fuck up pills ‘round somewhere if you want a couple.”
Lio scoured, rolling his shoulder around as Barney laughed. Kneeling back down, he finished picking up the pieces that he spilled, noticing as he did plenty of other tools and supplies that had fallen below the grates.
“I really do need to clean up this mess. Might make a day of it.”
He carried on walking, rethinking the idea as he went.
“A week of it, more like. Fuck, I need to sort my shit out.”
Lio made his way down to the airlock, picking up tools and rags before arriving to see Barney and Ian suiting up.
“Hurry up kid, we already got the tool kits,” Ian gripped. “Heck, Barney even got the angle grinder off the top shelf! At his height that takes a lot of effort.”
“Hey!” Barney snapped. “At least all my growing didn’t go outwards, you fat lump.” Drawing his suit up about his waist, he smirked as he began threading his arms through. “It all went to my massive dick.”
Lio and Ian spared each other hardly a glance before they burst out laughing.
“Sure it did,” Lio grinned. “Take your short man syndrome somewhere else. We’ve got a job to do.”
Having said that, he struggled to lift the space suit out with his right arm, grunting as he felt the weight pull against his shoulder. Trying to flex it out a little, he looked up to find the others regarding him doubtfully.
“What?” Lio asked as he started to step into his suit.
“That shoulder’s probably gonna slow us down,” Ian replied, putting down one of the smaller tools with a loud thud. “Why don’t you just wait on the ship?”
Lio gave him a disapproving stare. He finished suiting up in silence, clipping on his helmet and taking a tool chest in his left hand before striding past the others and heading toward the airlock.
“Hurry up, old men. Work on my ship and you can learn to work through an injury. I have two arms and a need for what is on that craft.”
“Gotta be honest, I was nervous working for someone his age,” Barney whispered to Ian as he clamped on his gloves. “Twenty two’s a hell of an age to own such a big ship.”
“Yea, I thought he was going to be some rich kid I could scam. But the little shit is annoyingly smart.”
Ian looked over to Lio as he was arranging tools through the tool box with both his good and his bad arm.
“And hard working.”
The tan brown suit acted as a uniform, Lio’s red and black logo printed on the arm and backs. The three of them stood by the door. Lio glanced over the equipment.
“Barney, take the small blow torch. Make sure the cylinders are full then bring it over.”
Barney acknowledged him with a small salute. Ian turned to Lio, awaiting his instructions.
“I won’t bother with a lot of these tools because of how old the system is. We’ll go bare bones.”
“Baby bag, glow sticks, and the red tool belt?”
“Don’t forget batteries, we will need backups for everything. I saw a couple of lights working, but I wouldn’t rely on it. Those solar panels are just looking for an excuse to give up.”
Lio grabbed a frayed and stained brown bag from under a pile of tools. Putting the pouch on Ian’s front, he clipped it onto the back. Securing it over his shoulders, he gave it a tug.
“Should hold out for a little while longer. Just don’t pick up anything too big.”
“Got it. If I have the baby bag, red tool belt, batteries, and Barney has the blow torch. What are you taking?”
“I am going to take some of the hacking tools we have. They are only good for low end tech, but it should be more than enough for this craft. If they fail, we always have Barney on the Blow torch.”
They both turned to see Barney grinning through his crooked teeth. Black glasses on, he sparked the torch and cheered.
“Let’s go have some fun.”
“Don’t waste my fuel you little shit, that stuff ain’t cheap.”
Barney powered down the blow torch, his smile fading.
“You’re no fun.”
“I’ll take the mapping pack as well. At the very least you two’ll know where I’ve been.”
Lio said as he strapped a large, hard, backpack on and plugged it into his suit.
Geared up and ready, they stood in the air lock. Waiting for the cabin to pressurize they stood shoulder to shoulder looking out the small round window. Catching the edge of the ship in view before the endless black consumed everything else.
“Did you see that?” Barney said, lurching forward.
“See what?” Ian asked, trying to get a better look.
“Could’ve sworn I just saw people running past that window.”
Ian screamed into the coms and Lio jumped so high he bashed his helmet on the roof of the chamber.
“You utter cunts!”
Lio yelled and hit the others as they laughed in his face, falling to the ground as the cabin pressurized and the other ships doors opened. Lio pushed past as they lent on each other to stand.
“Alright, focus up. I have the mapping pack, so your suit’s wrist computers will be able to see where I go. I also have the only low-tech door hack. Can I have you two please call out what you have so we all know who has what.” Lio managed to yell through the laughter.
“Hi my name is Ian and I am an alcoholic, today I have this stylish front pouch to make me look more like a kangaroo. I also have a stock of batteries for our torches and the lovely red tool belt. Which as we all know has a variety of little tools for dealing with electrics.”
“Oh, hi. My name’s Barney, and I’m a pyromaniac. Today I brought my favorite blow torch, and I snuck a couple of these very expensive looking glow sticks.”
“If I see that packet opened there better be a bloody good reason. And as always, we should all have our own personal battery reserves and the tasers for anyone that might be lurking in the shadows. Alright, spread out and let’s see what we can find.”
“Or how about we check out your little door hack first. Because if that doesn’t work we might as well stay together.” Barney said as he lent up against a wall.
“Good call, let me see what I can do.”
Lio approached the first door. Locked. He brought out a small handheld device with a retractable cable that had a magnetic strip on it. Sticking the strip to part of the panel, he turned the device on. A few moments later the door opened with a puff of dust.
“Guess my way works. I’ll give you two one, make sure I have the rest in case I find a stubborn door. You two stay together. Just try not to fuck around too much.”
They gave him a sarcastic salute and headed off, leaving Lio on his own.
He looked around at the dark grey walls, the paneling pulled off and lain strewn across the floor.
“Guess we aren’t the first to find this place,” Lio muttered to himself.
Heading deeper in he felt uncomfortable, he pulled his taser rod out and held it by his side. Making sure to check each room before entering them. Each room appeared as the last, empty with worthless miscellaneous.
“Shit, this place is overturned. No way it’s been drifting four hundred years without being raided.”
A metal bowl falling to the ground caught Lio’s attention. He spun around, pushing his back hard against the wall next to the door. His breathing picked up, and he adjusted his grip on his stun baton. Carefully stepping out he heard more crashing, but the map on his arm showed that Ian and Barney were far away. Cautiously moving forward, Lio approached the door, peeking his head forward he tried to peer through.
“Hey Lio, you need to come see this.”
Lio pulled his head back as Ian’s voice came through the helmet intercom. Stepping away, he took out the door hack and placed it on the door control panel. Once it had sealed, he moved as quietly as his boots would allow and made his way back.
“On my way. I don’t think we’re alone so just… keep your batons at the ready. I heard rummaging in one of the rooms, so I’ve locked it and am getting the hell away.”
Lio looked down on his map, since he was the only one with a mapping pack he could only see their location on the map, and not how they got there. But as Lio went through the door they did he found it easy to follow an obvious path. Taking the last turn, he saw Ian and Barney standing in a large, open room.
Before them was a colossal tree that had grown several stories high, surrounded by smaller plant life and even animals, foraging among the greenery.
“What the hell?” Lio murmured, amazed.
“Maybe the ship went off-course and they decided to make the best of things here,” Ian mused.
“Or the cryo-pods failed and they all woke up early or some shit,” Barney added.
“Whatever happened, it might be worth our time leaving a beacon in this. Sell the coordinates to the government.”
Just as Lio finished speaking the small computer on his arm started flashing. He looked down and panicked. Lio sprinted out of the room, Barney and Ian following suit without a second thought. By the time they had caught up, Lio was standing at the air lock, face pressed against the glass.
“What is it?” Ian heaved through heavy breath.
“The airlock’s been sealed, and the control panel’s smashed. The only way back to our ship is overriding the controls from the maintenance room or the cock pit.”
“Uh, I have a blow torch. I can just cut our way through.”
“Usually, yes. But these old tech ships only have one external door. This means this one is made of a space metal, these metals are designed to take heats much higher than that puny torch.”
Ian looked warily at the control panel, cautious of the sparking wires.
“Any chance it was like this on the way in?” he asked.
“Maybe. I forgot to check.” Lio cursed. “Fuckin’ amateur mistake. Whatever. We have to find our way to a computer that’ll let us open this up.”
They stood, staring at their ship mere meters away but completely unreachable.
“Well fuck, let’s get going! I don’t want to be here all day. Cockpit will be easier to find than a maintenance room. We just need to stick together, and move quickly,” Barney barked.
Barney started to walk off, following the path Lio had already mapped out. When Lio failed to show any sign of following, Ian placed a hand on his shoulder and turned him around.
“Come on. Nothing we can do here.”
Lio nodded, turning to catch up with Barney as Ian tailed behind.
They drew level as Barney began to round a corner, Lio pulling him back and signalling the other two to listen. Pausing, they could hear the rummaging that had spooked Lio earlier.
“I locked someone in there. Never saw them, but I think they’re alone.”
Barney cautiously moved toward the sealed door, peering through the window.
“Chris?” he gasped, making to unlock the door. “What the hell are you doing here?”
He swung the door wide and a large pig bounded from the room, squealing, barging past Ian and Lio and sprinting out of sight.
“Think I went to college with him,” Barney grinned. “Chris P. Bacon – great guy.”
Ian and Lio shared an exasperated glance as he disappeared into the room.
“How the hell did all this nature survive?” Lio grumbled.
Ian gave him a critical look.
“Seed ships were filled with shit for colonizing planets. Colonists probably woke up in the middle of nowhere and started using the supplies.” He shrugged. “I’m surprised it’s not worse… guess plants don’t like growing in a metal ship.”
A crackle echoed through the halls as the ship’s intercom struggled, before a deep, solemn voice spoke.
“Children, today’s service is about to begin. Finish your prayers and make your way to the Garden. Church begins in one hour.”
Barney stepping back out of the room, the three drew their stun batons in unison.
“What the hell do we do?” Lio whispered, nervously glancing behind them. “Talk to them?”
“The first ships were barely supposed to travel a century,” Ian whispered back. “No way these guys are sane after three. I say we lock ourselves in that room ‘till the coast’s clear, then make a fucking break for the cockpit and get the hell outta here.”
He herded the other two inside as he spoke, locking the door behind them. Taking care to sit outside the view of the window, they began to count down.
Despite his attempts, Lio was the first to fall prey to restlessness, starting up a quiet conversation after checking his watch for the fifth time in two minutes.
“Isn’t this a little overkill? Why are we hiding from people who are probably desperate for an escape? We could help them.”
Ian looked towards the door, double-checking they were well out of sight should anyone care to peer in.
“You got a lot to learn kid. Only reason that alarm on your wrist went off was because the door altered its state. It can’t do that on its own… someone closed it. And that door was sparking, violently. I know we would’ve noticed that on the way in. Didn’t want to scare you, but we are not welcome on this ship. We need to be very careful.”
The room fell silent again, Lio’s shaky breath dispersing a layer of condensation inside of his visor. The minutes crawled by sluggishly, and Lio grimaced with each glance at his watch as mere seconds passed between them. Sooner than it felt, they heard the gentle patter of footsteps, echoing above a quiet chatter, fading slowly as a group moved past.
Lio tried to move, but Barney held him back with one arm, mouth moving indistinctly. He seemed to be counting under his breath. After short while he let go, and the three stood up as quietly as they could. Barney stole a glance through the door window, turning back to the others and nodding. Lio released the door, and they moved in unison, Barney in the lead, with Lio close behind and Ian manning the rear.
The farther they went, the greener it got, walls rending where thick foliage forced its way out, metal paneling warped and covered in rust. Barney led like he knew where he was going, picking up the pace as their footsteps became masked by moss. He slowed only as an open doorway appeared ahead, near where he thought the cockpit would be. The three couldn’t help but pause in silent horror as they took in the man in the room beyond, before retreating as quickly as their muffled footsteps would allow.
Out of sight, they sat, staring blankly forwards. It took a moment before any of them could speak, minds unwilling or incapable of registering what they’d seen. Ian’s face was deathly white.
“Did you see how tall he was?”
“He was hunched…”
“In a three-metre-high room,” Lio finished.
Their racing thoughts were disrupted as the ship’s intercom began to crackle. This time, though, they heard the words a split second before they sounded over the ancient speakers.
“The next blinking cycle has finished; the Eye is open. Their full glory can now be seen. As I bask in its warm light, I feel his words. The words churn in my mind like an endless rage, overlapping voices that fill my mind. As you know, they like to speak about different things, and it can take time for me to hear their message. But this cycle it is clear. We have guests on our ship. Guests that seek to leave.”
Hearing the voice in person made it clear how sickly it was, like phlegm detaching at the back of the throat before being immediately replaced. He croaked and winced through his words, … lost over the dying intercom.
“How does he know we’re here?” Lio bit in a hushed panic.
“He’s in the bridge; he would have been alerted as soon as we docked. Come on, Lio,” Barney replied. “We assumed this ship was empty but it clearly isn’t. It’s clear this freak does not want us leaving, so we have to decide. Do we fight, or try for the maintenance room?”
Ian mindlessly grabbed his stun baton and hovered over the ignition, tightening his grip around the handle. Barney sighed, unsurprised to see Lio attaching his own baton to his arm. The three of them began steadying their nerves when they realized the ship’s intercom was still broadcasting.
“–appear to be readying to assault the bridge. They have electronic weapons and seek to harm me. But they do not know that the Eye empowers me. They may assault me, but they will die. The Eye provides.”
Wild voices echoed up the halls.
“The Eye provides.”
Ian leapt to his feet. He screamed as he charged around the corner, battle cry inspiring the other two to follow, stun batons crackling with power. Their charge didn’t last long, Lio and Barney crashed into Ian where he stood, rigid with fear. The man was facing them.
Acrid orange light cut through the front viewing window, creating a harsh contrast of shadows across his misshapen form. The left side of his face drooped as if melted, his eye bubbled and was pockmarked by several corneas. His left arm stretched out far beyond normal proportions, even for a creature of his height, extra elbows and wrists and fingers sprouting from it in every direction. Everywhere the light touched, a new mutation added to the horror.
“Come on friends, step into the light.”
His voice sounded even more distorted than before, staring hypnotized as the horror of his malformed body seared itself into the three scrappers’ eyes.
“Become one with the Eye. Join us.”
“Fuck this shit,” Barney yelled, and sparked up the blow torch.
He moved to ignite the door’s control panel, but the monstrous man lashed out and wrapped his warped fingers around Barney’s neck. The door shut as soon as he was dragged inside, screams twisting into choked gurgles, stopping completely with the sound of a limp body hitting the floor. In the silence rose a low growl, wracked with phlegm. The intercom crackled again.
“Once three, now two. Come now, guests. Meet the rest of your hosts.”
Ian and Lio shared a look of pure terror as they began to hear the thundering feet. Ian’s eyes streamed, unrelenting, while Lio just watched the masses charge them, numb.
They were smiling, beckoning them to join as their charge drew to a standstill. They mass forcing Lio and Ian into the bridge, both of them standing spitting distance from the light that was mutating the enormous freak. Ian stared at the wrong faces of the acolytes that stood as a wall, blocking their escape. Turning back to their leader he sighed, walking into the light.
Lio watched in horror as Ian started to change in shape, growing, stretching, melting. He was quickly becoming a monster.
“Yes my child, embrace the light, become what you were meant to be.
He picked up the blow torch dropped by Barney and walked to the front glass of the bridge. Raising what was once a fist he got ready to strike.
“What are you doing? Stop! You will brea–”
Lio took the moment before the strike to dive into the mass of malformed humans.
“Hull breach, bridge in lock down. Controls have been released to terminals outside the bridge.”
The bridge door slammed shut behind Lio as he pushed his way past those that ran in to stop Ian.
Lio walked mindlessly to a nearby terminal, releasing the lock-down on their craft. Pushing past the awestruck masses, he dragged himself through, and away from their silent stares. Lio could hear as the access terminal by the bridge was being interacted with by one of the acolytes. Another sound of gushing air and the wind pulled against Lio for a moment before a bulk head slammed down a dividing door. There were screams that turned silent as the air was sucked from the corridor behind the sealed door.
Blank-eyed and silent, Lio boarded their ship. They pulled from dock, realigned their trajectory, and readied to leave. Lio watched small dots floating in front of the ship from the window, soft orange glow consuming each figure. He tried to see where it came from, but all he could see was that orange light, beaming into the bridge of the seed ship. The bodies twitched and grew as the light altered their forms until they became a solid mass of flesh that writhed in the light.
“Back on course. Should still get to drop off a day early,” Lio murmured to the empty halls.
Then silence. Hollow stares and sleepless nights.