Iago jetted down the corridor that felt longer than it should have. Any door around him could contain an active hostile, or a civilian.
His system was still not functioning, so his HUD couldn’t give him an active mini-map.
It was the best way to reach his squad’s rally point, and theoretically shouldn’t have enemy present. But everything was down around him; the lights, the gravity.
That was extremely bad. It seemed unlikely that the P’G’Maig boarders could have taken down so many systems that the power was fully out.
Where was everyone? There should be Response Teams all over this area, dealing with the breach. At least drones.
Things had gone terribly wrong. He increased his speed.
Keeping his hand to the wall, he felt the ship. Normally, the Craton hummed. It was never loud, all steps taken to keep things calm and quiet in most areas.
Despite that, there was always a feel to a ship. Every spacer grew to know the feel of their ship when things were normal.
But right now there was nothing. She was as still as a tomb.
He felt a small shudder. Someone was not far away, perhaps in the room whose door lay just ahead.
If he was feeling it, then they had just fired their thrusters. The blast had impacted a wall, and . . .
They were alive, and could be a threat.
He placed himself next to the door, guessing as to when it might open. Perhaps on five or six.
He started counting, and had just reached five when the door opened.
And he rushed the target, shoving his pistol into the crook of his neck, where the armor was thinnest.
“Commander Caraval!” he heard. It was a male Dessei voice, filtering just barely through the contact of their suits.
He blinked, his finger on the trigger, ready to pull it. With a great effort, he let go, and leaned in to press his helmet to the other being’s.
“Kessissiin,” he said, panting. “It’s you.”
The Dessei’s eyes were wide with concern, his crest higher still – at least as high as the confines of his helmet would let it go.
“Sorry,” Iago told him. “I thought you were a Hev.”
“I had to patch my suit,” Kessissiin told him. “Took some hits that ripped it, but I’m unhurt, sir. The detonation of their landing pod caused some disruption to local systems, so I also acquired some replacement radio pieces.” He offered one to Iago.
He gratefully took it and connected it to his helmet. His speaker crackled to life.
“Good job,” Iago said to him, now over the radio. “We should . . . get moving.”
“Yes, hook up with whatever unit we can,” Kessissiin replied.
Iago didn’t echo the sentiment. At the moment, he was just glad that the first person he’d run into was someone he could trust.
Someone not from the Craton.
“If I were the Hev,” Iago said, “And I had landed there, I think the obvious place to head would be Reactor Two.”
“True,” Kessissiin agreed. “It’s a prime target.”
Iago unslung the rifle he’d taken, trying not to picture Ackerman’s face. “Let’s move out. If we catch them from behind, we can take a few.”
They had no drone defenses left. It was much more likely they’d be shot down before they could do much.
But they had to try.
Kessissiin clearly knew that. But he nodded along. “Yes, sir. You will know the best path – I will be with you.”
Kell had felt it.
Apollonia Nor had awoken something, and that something, however briefly and ephemerally it had been here, had come.
Every part of the ship felt strange to him, but the area Apollonia had been in had turned to a shade of reality he was all-too familiar with – and loathed.
He could travel where he wished; locked doors were nothing to him, the security of the ship was nothing, and he made his way there, straying to the edges of the fabric, until he arrived.
The bodies of the Hev were torn, twisted in ways that could not be achieved with tooth, claw, or human weaponry. Not even he could have tortured them into the shapes they had become.
Unnatural shapes that stirred within him ancient hate and even, to an extent, horror.
Oh, when he was fully awake, how he hated the force that had done this.
Even if they had done his immediate job for him.
Scurrying animals, using their tricks and technology to confuse and kill each other. It was all beneath him, their games, and these were not the first of the secret Hev teams he had found and dealt with.
His body flowed like a liquid, over their corpses. He left behind all the parts that were artificial. But their bodies, their flesh, was consumed. Bone, fur, tissue.
They were alien, yes. But . . . he savored the uniqueness of their matter. Truly, he’d never had anything like it.
He had known he’d get to eat an alien eventually. What a pleasant novelty.
When the last of their twisted corpses was consumed, he moved on, into the room they had sought entry into. The door was still standing, but he moved past it, flowing through the gaps, and into what was beyond.
A creature that he still did not know was dead here, punctured and oozing orange ichor across the floor. Doctor Arn Logus was in a puddle of his own blood, his wounds covered now with drones that were focused entirely on keeping him stabilized. Lights flashed on them, some sort of call for help. Perhaps it would come; he knew that should he even bother to intervene the man would be certain to die.
Logus should be thankful he didn’t try.
More importantly beyond him, was the woman.
Apollonia Nor was unconscious, blood running from her nose, ears, and eyes. The natural result of what she had unleashed.
But she still lived. And she was not going to die, not from that.
Something wanted her to live, and he saw suddenly, how the thing, so often asleep, much like most of his mass, subtly twisted the world around itself.
All to protect Apollonia Nor. And by extension . . . itself.
But like Nor, it was now dormant. Exhausted into a stupor.
Looking down at her, he wondered. Would he be doing them all a favor by killing her?
Would it be the greatest gift he could ever give Apollonia Nor, to free her?