Warped: Eight – Entomophobia

by Andrea Speed

Eight – Entomophobia

After discovering blood, no one was actually anxious to enter the station, except for Vani, who went ahead and triggered the inner airlock door. Khal was happy to try and anchor on to her emotional state, as Syshahi just weren’t very emotional ever. It was good, because everybody was freaking; even Kvec was starting to panic, which was weird and unsettling. But finding blood inside an airlock in a strange place – after watching an entire ship get sucked in on itself – was a naturally freaky thing. He was pretty sure he was panicking too, his heart was racing laps around his chest, occasionally kicking at his ribcage like it wanted out. Khal didn’t blame it; out seemed like an ideal place to be.

Since they were continuing onward, Kvec decided to move ahead and take the lead, mainly to try and beat Vani to the punch, as she was heading out into the dark station fearlessly. Did Syshahi ever get scared? He was beginning to wonder if they were even equipped for such a thing. Maybe their fear was different – not every beings reaction had to be exactly the same.

war8.jpgIt was so dark they might as well have been inside a black hole. His HUD light didn’t penetrate the gloom, nor did anyone else’s. Normally being unable to see beyond several inches in front of his face wouldn’t bother him – he could sense any threat before it manifested itself – but of course that weird “”static” continued, and pretty much neutered his ability to sense anything except his immediate companions. It was a horrible feeling, one that made him feel … normal. It wasn’t a feeling he liked.

There were noises inside the station, strange groaning sounds of metal under stress, and it seemed wrong. If there were gravitational forces pulling this station apart, there’d be more instability, not to mention the fact that Dar just might have said something about it. “You have twenty minutes before the place shakes itself to pieces. Good luck.”

Come to think of it, it was just the sort of thing she wouldn’t mention.

The darkness was almost total, with all interior features rendered to amorphic black blobs, and hand spotlights didn’t help much. It was like wading into ink, the shadows clinging to them aggressively, like the security response of this station was total darkness.

After a minute or two, where Gen proclaimed this “sucked ass”, they all paused as they heard a noise. It was soft and regular, almost mechanical … no, definitely mechanical. A machine was on, and was coming towards them.

Kvec moved in front of all of them, going into his programmed “inhuman shield” mode, while they attempted to use the spots to find whatever it was that was coming towards them. The walls were the same faintly glittery black metal as the outer hull, as was the floor and ceiling, stark in its austerity. There were no features that he could make out, save for what looked like exposed conduits and bracing, metal brackets that would have looked more natural in a rustic replica wooden home on some Human backwater colony than here, in a mysterious space station.

Actually, the more he looked at it, the more he wondered if this was a space station. Maybe this was some kind of mining drone, just larger than anything they were used to.

“Shit,” Gen groaned, holding her rack gun tight across her chest. “I should have brought the fill gun.” A “rack gun” was designed to be used in space stations and enclosed space habitats; it fired a special enzymatic type of fluid that instantly began to harden and shrink on contact with any source of water (and since most humanoids were majority water, that meant just about any biological organism, save for Cryers), and it shrunk at such a fantastic and incredible rate it could rip your skin off, break bones. A dose of “rack” (what the fluid was called, for reasons that Khal didn’t know) could kill you if it hit you in the right place. But at least your hull would still be intact. A “fill gun” was a portable version of a monofilament cannon, that would fire monofils virtually invisible to the naked eye, that would cut through fucking everything – people, hulls, machinery, Cryers, layers and layers of depleted cobol-uranium and cerasteel. Hell, it was theorized that if you could get enough monofilament together, you could shred a planet. It was that nasty, and that impossible to stop.

Wait a minute – Cryers? Is that what killed them on that moon? No, they didn’t look neatly sliced, like they would have if hit with monofil; they looked shattered, broken like glass. No, nothing as cleanly lethal as a fill burst had taken them down. Whatever killed them was somehow even nastier than being sliced to ribbons by gossamer threads of the sharpest, strongest engineered substance in the known universe.

The noise was so close now they had all bunched together instinctively behind Kvec, sweeping the floor with their seemingly insignificant lights, and finally movement was caught in a scudding beam, a dark, low movement against the floor. It was something round, like a ball made of black metal, only it had recesses, small depressions in its glittering ebony surface, and moved of its own accord. A type of robot, probably a type of scutter, although Khal couldn’t remember ever seeing one that looked so round and ball like.

Kvec must have guessed the same thing, as he suddenly stamped down on it, smashing the robot into a hundred separate pieces. It was possible it had scanned them all and sent information back to wherever its central hub was; they wouldn’t really know until a response team showed up with guns blazing, or an internal security program electrified the deck plating. “We should really get outta here,” Gen said, still gripping the gun tight.

Khal was of two minds. He still wanted to find out what this place was, and he was loathe to ever agree with Gen about anything … but she did have a point. If they’d been scanned and put in somebody’s database, they could be in serious trouble on several different levels.

Vani cocked her head, as if listening to music in another room, and said, “We ssshould be fffine. We have Kivech.” She had a difficult time with the hard consonant sounds in Kvec’s name, so she always pronounced it a little bit wrong. As it was, though, he couldn’t blame her; after all, his name was derived purely from an engineering batch code. It wasn’t really a name more than it was a shorthand filing system.

Kvec held his thumb up, what he took to mean a “we’re all cool” gesture, and continued onward. Khal sent him a telepathic image of a dozen or so plasma cannons springing to life from the shadows around them and spewing hot, bloody red death. Kvec sent back a scene of darkness as just that – darkness. He imagined turning on a light, filling an empty space with harsh yellow light, showing curved interior walls leading up to a domed ceiling crosshatched with conduits and decorative brackets. Cryers didn’t have better than average night vision, so, he knew he was guessing. He thought the place was deserted, the station an empty husk save for programmed automatons.

And he could be right, but the fact that he was blocked from using his empathy was too damned suspicious. If the place was abandoned, why couldn’t he confirm that?

They’d advanced another few meters into the general darkness when they heard another new noise. This was very faint, and very odd; the best Khal could compare it to was a type of skittering noise, faint light clicks on metal. It was relatively rhythmic, although not enough to be considered mechanical. They all paused, and Gen whispered harshly, “What the hell is that?”

No one answered, because nobody knew. On a different topic, Vani reported, “Dar has infiltrated a secondary system. Attempting to access station systems.”

“Tell her to turn the lights on,” Khal said. The fact that it took Dar so long to infiltrate the system was a troubling sign. Did they have that good a firewall, or was the system just that alien? They were probably fucking with people they shouldn’t be fucking with. Just how long they’d be alive to regret it was the only question left.

The lights actually started to come on, but they were dim red spots at about thigh height on either side of the wall. Emergency lights? Their placement was weird, unless these people were on the short side.

There was movement in the bloody shadows, and Gen stepped around Kvec and aimed the rack gun at it, bracing the thick stock against her right hip, shouting, “Stop right there! Identity yourself!”

“What the hell happened to “We come in peace”?” Khal snapped. Was there such a need for immediate hostility? They were the interlopers here! But Gen was terrified; the fear was so acrid he could feel himself sweating right along with her. His heart was doing that thing again where it felt like it was on the verge of exploding.

The thing moved into the more immediate puddle of crimson light, and Khal suddenly wished that it hadn’t – mainly because it was a bug; the most big ass bug he’d ever had the misfortune to see.

It was almost waist height, but longer than it was tall, and resembled an ant with some beetles in its gene pool. It had six thin, stalk like black legs holding up its thick, segmented body, with a carapace that gleamed like wet oil even in this dim light. The body was basically bulbous, although it wore what looked like a silver metal brace that went across its back and flowed down its legs, and something that looked like a chunky gold collar ringing … did bugs have throats? If it did, that’s where it was. The head was basically shaped like an arrowhead, although the two bulging, grapefruit sized segmented black eyes threw off the analogy, as did the curving mandibles that almost looked like claws (and also looked like they could snip off your arm as neat as you pleased). They gaped wide, opening horizontally, and it suddenly spat a yellowish liquid towards them. It landed short, splashing on the deck an inch from Kvec, and it began to bubble and hiss. Holy shit, was it acid?

It made clicking and high pitched noises that wasn’t quite a squeak (but close), and after it was done making noises, a smooth, synthetic female voice kicked in. “Meatbags! You’re here to finish the job, are you? Do your worst. I’ll feast on your entrails and make jewels of your bones.” The voice seemed to be coming from her collar. A translator?

Gen leveled the rack gun at it but didn’t fire, probably because she didn’t know if rack would work on an insectoidal carapace. Or maybe she was just scared of big, big bugs. Khal felt like running screaming from the station, just like almost everyone else, but Vani stepped forward, hands held up to show they were empty, and said, “Fffinisssh the job? We don’t know what you mean. We’ve never encountered your kind beffore.”

It clicked and squeaked once more, its two long, slender antennae moving in a manner that suggested stalks in a breeze. After the strange pause, the translator kicked in. “Liar! All you meatbags lie! It’s all you apes are good for. Apes and whatever you are.”

Vani continued attempting to be soothing, but there was no telling how the big bug was taking it all. It must have had another translating unit in its ear … if it had ears. Oh, weird, where were its ears? “We are not who you ssseem to think we are. We are trying to dissscover who runs this ssstation, and if they know anything about a weapon that ssseems to open wormholess. We sssaw it desstroy a MoSssysss ssship.”

The bug’s roughly triangular head canted to the side, almost a mirror image of the gesture Vani had made before it showed up, its antennae wavering, seemingly twisting around to point behind it. There were more clicks and squeaks, then the translation: “She’s used the weapon? On the meatbags? I thought the bitch was your ally.”

Kvec glanced back at him, but all Khal could do was shake his head. He could read mammals in general, but he was getting absolutely nothing from the bug, and he was obscurely glad. Did he really want to tune into the feelings of a giant talking ant? (Then again, why did he think this was weird? He shared a ship with an empathic squid and a quasi-telepathic hunk of crystal. A bug seemed almost normal by comparison.) “We don’t know who you’re talking about,” Vani replied, keeping her voice in that level, even tone. It was an aural sedative, and if it wasn’t for the general terror of being around a giant acid spitting bug with a voice like screaming metal, it might have put them all to sleep.

The bug made a noise that didn’t translate (so presumably it wasn’t actually a word), and its antennae seemed to briefly thrashed, as if distressed. It then clicked in a manner that seemed rapid, punctuated by sharp screeches that were nearly whistles. “I’m talking about Kr’Tk’Re, that traitorous, drone sucking bitch the Queen. My sister.”

Okay, now things had gotten even more interesting.

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