The following story is a continuation of “Blood & Oil,” be sure you read that comic first. This story is for mature readers.
My fingers are cramping on me as I tighten my grip on the controls of what we dubbed “The Rocket Authority Shit Heap.” I never thought I would die on this smelly hunk of metal, but I see oblivion approaching. It’s different from the blackness of space. Far blacker. Space is cold and indifferent. This darkness feels predatory.
The hatred I feel emanating from the approaching oblivion has shaken me so. I am Oonooan – I am supposed to be a being of reason at my core, but I find myself now drowning in fear and loathing about my imminent demise. I find myself thinking about myself so directly now.
I. I. I.
Giving myself agency in the face of this disaster that has left me for last. Taking every moment to emphasize in my mind that I existed – something that would not be true for much longer. A misguided attempt on my part to give me meaning in what will be a meaningless end.
All aboard a damned garbage scow.
The first tragedy, the word just me giving the pointlessness of the death meaning, was the death of Ranelf Sluft. Of the crew, Ranelf was the one I considered closest to a friend. His industriousness was admirable, though his thick fur tended to keep the lingering odors of the garage on him. The Asto-mole’s death was an anomaly, at least it seemed at the time. I had detected a collision against the ship’s surface in orbit around Rummigian 3. Rather than risk atmospheric re-entry with any potential damage, Ranelf was sent to walk the exterior.
The power pulse we noticed was the first sign of something being terribly wrong. The systems of the ship seemed to cycle, and then within moments, we observed the depressurization of the airlock as Ranelf was about to put on his space suit. Goshua was near enough to try to open the airlock manually, and I remember Andy attempting to reset the door at the command-line level.
But what I remember most at that time was the small, furry body of Ranelf collapsing to the ground in the airlock as the last of the air dissipated from his lungs. Andy and I stared, dumbfounded, and then we picked up on the second power cycle.
Then the darkness and systems began cycling on and off except for the lights. Those stayed off.
The second death came shortly after.
By Goshua Ailan’s murder, it had become clear we were targeted.
In the chaos of the power cycles, we missed Goshua mentioning his return to the bridge after failing to open the airlock. I had lost track of him on the security feed between cycles of systems and the terror of Ranelf’s demise. Only moments later, when cycling through the feed, Andy and I noticed Goshua in a doorway, his head lying separate from his body, the meat separated by the threshold. The Gomben, usually so full of energy, something I never appreciated, was deprived of his essence.
I am not ashamed in these moments to admit that I vomited.
I shouldn’t have let Andy leave the nav room. I should have known better. But I let Andy Richards go as I maintained orbit and scrambled for dump-company protocol on what to do in such an emergency. I admit I was practically frozen. My reaction was sluggish, and I was torn between the banks of emergency protocol flow charts and the security feed.
I didn’t even bother to respond to Karem Volus in the pit, though I should have. I was so lost at the time. In my final moments, now, I know there was little I could do then, but hearing a voice in his last moments… could have meant something.
He was assigned to the crane, organizing materials for incineration and crushing. In that tangle of garbage, he was the next to die. I only paid attention when I heard Andy scream, “the crane! The crane!”
I glanced at the feed and saw Karem at the pit door, banging his fat fists desperately against the thick, metal surface as the scow crane scooped him up. His little Slauve legs kicked and thrashed as the clawed points crushed his torso. I am sure his ribs were shattered instantly.
The worst part was watching helplessly as the crane lifted him high into the chamber and let him go. I watched him fall onto a jagged beam and saw a shower of blood as his dying body slid down until friction finally brought it to rest. I saw two feet of twisted metal extruded from his midsection, and within moments his small limbs stopped thrashing.
All that remained on the ship now were me and the Terran, Andy. He was next. He was the bravest among us in those final moments, dashing from crisis to crisis. I saw him enter the pit and stand there, dumbfounded by the display of our co-worker run through by scrap metal. Even he broke, however. Whatever adrenaline had fueled him in these minutes seemed to evaporate, and I saw him stumble backward.
Andy was peculiar – a collector. He was interested in flags and always carried at least one, usually folded into a pocket. I never quite understood his collection, but it held some profoundly personal meaning to him.
This was his doom.
I watched him stumble backward in the pit, removing his flag from his pocket. It appeared to be some ancient Terran flag of some nation I couldn’t identify. The flag looked like something from the Terran homeworld of Earth. At this moment, I think he sought comfort. I understand that.
But why, when the flag drifted out of his grasp and into the incinerator, he chose to follow it was beyond me.
I screamed at him to get out of there, but I don’t recall if I had even hit the button to activate the speaker. What I do remember is the sight of the Terran, his flag picked up from the incinerator floor. He stood there momentarily before four jets of flame burned him to a pile of ash.
I am finishing my log now, a frantic message about the tragedy of those of the Shit Heap. I am still in the dark, and my feed has picked up motion. Large, glowing rectangles stalking the corridors of the ship. It’s too dark to tell what it is, but it almost seems they are eyes.
I see that they are coming my way.
My log is done. I activate the catastrophe protocol. Sensor data of the past 15 minutes are now reinforced on the final log in case anyone discovers what is left.
My only chance now is to make a break for the escape pod. But the thing… it’s already between me and my goal.
It is time to run.
T-wk still needed to work on controlling the automated processes of this garbage scow. Given his current state, the control code he could execute required further processing power than he could provide, but he could control parts of the ship’s processes at a time. It was an awkward, clumsy option, but it had worked.
Waiting in orbit for a new scow to arrive was the clever play. It had been less than a full day on Rummagian 3 before a dump ship arrived for a scheduled drop. Had he been able to, he’d have preferred to depressurize the entire vessel in one shot, but that was too much for him to do in this state. Instead, he had to be creative in dispatching the organics that infested his ship.
T-wk still hadn’t quite figured out what to do about the lights. Those were still off, and somewhere in the code sequences, he was broadcasting some variable was off, resulting in total darkness. It didn’t matter much, but it was still a sign that the robot’s control was not as effective as needed.
His sensors picked up bio-signs running toward him in the corridor, and his visual sensors picked up what appeared to be a Grey. This seemed to be the last of the crew. As the Grey came within range, T-wk swung at it with the fist of his power suit. There was a satisfying crack as the metallic fist slammed against the alien and sent it hurtling into a wall with an audible thud.
T-wk’s sensors registered an instant death from blunt force trauma.
He felt powerful. The ship was now his.
Special thanks to Andy for letting me kill him in this story. Please check out his podcast, Flagged for Content.