In the distance, distorted by the nutrient gel filling the stasis tank, klaxons blared.
The vat’s seal popped, exposing him to the sting of cold, dry ship-board air. Marc’s breather unit detached, followed by the connections that kept his body functioning through the long dark sleep. The klaxon became louder, more immediate.
Red emergency lights strobed as he opened his eyes, illuminating a dimly lit storage hold. He had just enough time to realize that this was not the comfortable passenger carrier he’d gone to sleep on before the stasis pod tilted upright and dumped him out on the dirty metal decking. The nutrient gel steamed as it flowed down a conveniently located drain. Icy metal welcomed him, naked and shivering, back into the real world.
The storage hold was not particularly well-heated. A row of lockers faced the stasis pods; Marc riffled their contents until he found a jumpsuit whose previous owner had been similar in stature and boots that more or less fit. The locker also contained a shiv honed from a shard of FirmaPlate. He tucked it into the sleeve of the jumpsuit and went looking for answers.
None of the other stasis tanks in the storage hold appeared to have been used recently. Where were the others he’d gone to sleep with?
His concern grew as he made his way out into the corridor. He expected to encounter crewmembers, or at least a few other unwillingly ejected travelers like himself. Instead, only the creaks and pings of cooling metal greeted him. The klaxon had gone silent; the red warning lights continued to flash. His breath steamed in the increasingly chill and motionless air.
Orienting himself with the help of a dusty bulkhead diagram, Marc made his way toward the bridge. Every comm station and control console he passed was destroyed or without power. Much of the starboard side of the ship was inaccessible, sealed behind locked blast doors. Corrosion crept up through the deck plating, etching crazy diagrams in the composite as it ate into the walls.
The dust of disuse lay heavily in the corridors, atop consoles and access switches, among the torn wiring spilling from broken input panels. It began to occur to him that the ship was little more than a husk, barely clinging to life.
A muffled boom reverberated through the hull. Marc staggered against the wall as the deck bucked and shuddered under his feet, and the boom became a protracted squeal of metal against metal. The klaxon began to wail again, and somewhere in the distance another set of blast doors slammed shut.
He found the bridge dark and empty, the consoles lifeless. Whatever crew had manned this ship was long gone. A groan echoed up through the empty vessel, as if the very ship itself was tired, and then the hull breach klaxon fell silent.
Shattered composite littered the deck beneath two of the three central display screens. Thirty minutes of creative rewiring saw Marc able to route power to the remaining one. The navigational systems were inaccessible from his current console, but at least he had sensor access.
A structural integrity diagram revealed hull breaches across the starboard side, and slow atmospheric leaks at a multitude of points. The ship’s supply of nuclear fuel was nearly expended. A quick scan revealed what he’d already begun to suspect: there were no other souls on board.
Where is everyone?
They’d gone into stasis for a relatively routine journey, he and his client and the rest of her staff. Had it been a politically motivated kidnapping? Or a surgical strike from an unusually high-tech band of pirates?
And why dump him alone on this ship?
Where were the others– and more importantly, where was his client? Was she still alive?
Marc shut the train of thought down abruptly. It was the cold, eerie silence and the stale air that made his chest tighten with something almost akin to panic– nothing more.
He pulled up the external sensor feeds, and a tangle of twisted metal filled the viewscreen. The wreckage of a thousand ships, locked together in a chaotic tangle dictated by the gravitational pull of the nearest stellar bodies. Warships, junk haulers, freighters, passenger cruisers. Vessels that hadn’t graced a port in a hundred years, ship classes he couldn’t even put a name to– and he’d been a pilot once.
The sight took his breath away. His vessel was locked in some kind of interstellar graveyard. Nothing got out of these places without a heavily armored salvage rig to cut it free and tow it out.
A message icon flashed on the console in front of him. He read the characters that unfolded across the screen twice, just to be sure his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him. Then he swore and punched the broken console.
She’s not dead yet. But you are.
Rise and Shine – © 2019 Leland Lydecker