“Why haven’t they let us in?” We were idling a mere five meters from the doors of the vehicle bay, at the base of the massive cliff on which the facility was built. Because we were driving slowly, by the time we arrived the sun had set, and the snow had almost stopped falling. The fog was thick, pierced only by the cones of light angled down at us from above the metal bay doors, and our own headlights. I turned off the music and tried the comms system once more, for good measure.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
K looked at me, concerned.
“Unable to connect. Unknown Error. Make sure you are using the correct-”
I shut off the comms device and sighed. Something was wrong. My body was tensing.
I unbuckled my seat belt, and said to K, “I’m going to get out, and see if I can determine anything.” She nodded, and started doing the same.
We stepped out of the vehicle into the freezing fog. Looking behind us, I could only see a few meters into the distance before the snow faded into a black veil of mist. In front, the overhead lights provided some much needed illumination, but looking up the cliff I couldn’t see much higher than the light fixtures. On a clear night, this would have been a beautiful, open space, but now, it felt claustrophobic. We left the hover-car idling, hovering a few feet off the ground, and pointing its lights at the frozen doors.
K folded her fur coat over herself, and we both crunched through the snow until we reached the doors. We shared a glance, and then I knocked on the massive vehicle doors with my hand. Each hit reverberated along the metal sheet.
“Hello?” I had no idea if they would be able to hear us, but I thought it was worth a try.
We waited for a response, but all we could hear was the moaning wind as it whistled past the cliff. K grunted.
She was clutching the side of her head with her hand, eyes closed.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
She nodded slowly, looking at me. “Just- Just a headache.”
I gazed back into the dark snowfields and felt my heart rate increasing steadily. I remembered the sound of the creature in the snow, howling, and my ears twitched. “We should get inside as soon as possible.”
K, rubbing the pale blue ridge on her forehead, asked hesitantly, “Do you think they’re… okay in there?”
“I…” I trailed off. Her eyes were full of fear. “I’m sure it’s just a malfunction with the vehicle bay camera system. Combine that with our faulty comms system, and we just need to find a way to communicate with them through the door.” I continued knocking on the door, and calling out.
There was a sound from inside. Something shrill, echoing through the chamber. I could barely make it out.
“What was that?” asked K.
There was the sound again, this time louder, and followed by the unmistakable sound of an E-gun blast. Then all was silent.
“We have to get inside, now!” said K. She squatted to the ground, and tried finding a place to grab the door and lift it. Not finding anything, she took both fists, and punched two large indents into the door with a clank, using those spots to get started.
I watched in awe as in her desperation she clenched her jaw, and began slowly lifting the door. It must have weighed at least 500 pounds, and it might have weighed significantly more. Once she got it high enough, she positioned her body under it, and motioned with her head for me to step inside. I drew my E-pistol and it flared to life with a brief electronic whir, a dim red glow emanating from the barrel. I crouched low to get under the door, and felt a wave of heat hit me as I stepped inside. My mandibles dropped, my arms limp at my side, and my heart began pounding.
With a thunderous crash, the door closed behind us, and K stood up next to me, clutching her head, clearly in pain. When her eyes adjusted to the sight, she stood motionless too.
It was chaos. The main lights were inactive, red emergency lights blaring. An alarm could be heard faintly crackling through damaged speakers in the far side of the room. Massive vehicles were turned over, and the floor and walls were scorched and misshapen from energy blasts and explosions. Oil fires were burning all over the room, and in the dim lighting, I could make out bodies of technicians and mechanics strewn about. Some of them were thrown atop supply crates and vehicles, with smoke rising from their bodies. One was leaning over the controls of a hover-lift; she had been driving it around when the attack started.
I started walking through the middle of the room, slowly. Fire crackled and warmed my skin, and I could smell burning rubber. The bodies were all human, and they all wore TAU outfits. I stood in the middle of the room, scanning the carnage, E-pistol in hand.
K, with a great deal of difficulty, made her way over to me. She was still clutching her head. “Osax…” she said, shaking her head in disbelief. “What happened?”
I knelt down next to one of the bodies, and started examining it. His eyes were wide open in surprise, and his clothes and the floor were wet with blood. He had no weapons on him. My body trembled.
I stood up, and my eyes caught the reflection of firelight in a pool of liquid. It wasn’t oil, or blood, at least not human blood. It was a thick, greenish colour. I activated my holo-gauntlet, and began scanning the substance, though I was almost certain I already knew what it was. My hand quivered, and I hoped I was wrong.
K walked past me. “I’m going to head for the elevators. We need to get to the control room.”
I spun around. “K, wait! It could be dangerous!”
“It will be. But I’m not wasting time!”
“Alright. I’ll be right behind you.” I turned back to the substance, as K jogged her way to the exit and left the room.
My holo-gauntlet was analyzing the data. Comparing it to known substances. And with a beep, it was done.
I stood up quickly, alone in the dead room, my heart racing. I was breathing fast. That was valicorr blood. Of course it was; who else would have done this?
I jumped, and whirled around, my gun trained on a hover-lift several meters away from me. Something was moaning, and it was coming from that direction. I looked toward the exit of the room, where K had gone. I should follow her...
I turned back to the moaning. Cautiously, I stepped around an oil fire, over a smouldering body, towards the broken hover-lift. The moaning grew louder as I got closer and closer, my pistol aimed shakily at the vehicle.
I started pacing around the lift, trying to be as silent as I could with my breathing.
Suddenly, a burst of red light shot out from behind the lift. The silence broke with an energy blast and a startled scream, and I clasped my shoulder. I let out a skyther curse. Searing pain shot through my right arm and I dropped my pistol clamouring to the floor. The gunshot grazed me, and my thermal suit had torn off at the shoulder.
I fell to the floor and exclaimed. My eyes were staring down the barrel of an E-gun. The man’s lower half was stuck, crushed under the weight of the broken hover-lift. His body was twisted to the right to face me. His left arm was trying in vain to move the lift, his right holding the gun. His TAU-blue outfit was covered in oil, and his face was lined with short stubble, his hair beginning to grey-
I blinked, staring at his face in the red emergency lights and the glow of the fires. He was the mechanic who’d harassed me.
“Jesus!” he cried, holding the gun steady.
Wincing in pain, I let my right arm rest as best as I could, and cautiously raised my left arm. “It’s okay-” I closed my eyes, the pain in my shoulder flaring up. “I’m here to help.”
“Get back!” His eyes were full of fear, beads of sweat on his face. “Get back or I’ll shoot!”
I started slowly reaching my hand toward my E-pistol on the floor. In an instant, he blasted my pistol away with a gunshot.
“Whoa!” I yelled, raising my hand up in defense.
“You were reachin’ for a gun!” he cried, his voice almost breaking.
I was beginning to sweat. “I wasn’t going to shoot you! There might be more valicorr around!”
A metal crate tumbled behind me, and I turned to look. I couldn’t see anything, but dread filled my chest.
I looked back at the man. “There’s something else in here.”
“How do I know you aren’t on their side?!” I saw a tear drip down his cheek. He was shaking.
A blur of motion in my peripheral. I saw the shadow of something moving, cast on the wall by one of the flames. Then it was gone. The man turned his gun in the shadow’s direction.
He was looking around frantically.
I noticed movement behind the hover-lift. I urged him, “Don’t move!”
The man looked at me and hesitated, still trembling. There was a sound of movement from the other side of the hover-lift. I glanced behind me to see if I could find another weapon. There was an E-pistol, a few feet away from me, next to a scorched body. If I could just reach it…
Fear gripped me. Crawling over the hover lift, the dark shape of a figure slinked closer to the man. It had a thin body, and was around seven feet tall. It had six long fingers on each hand, and digitigrade legs with sharp talons. It wasn’t holding any weapons that I could see, but horrifyingly, its jaw opened, revealing a set of needle-like teeth. The firelight reflected off of its three pitch black eyes.
I moved toward the gun, and the man yelled. “Don’t move!”
I froze, my arm outstretched toward the gun, staring back at the man, and the thing, which was now leaning over him, mouth wide open. He was pointing his weapon at me. He hadn’t noticed it yet. I was shaking, leaning on my injured arm.
“Above you!” I cried.
“Shut up, skiller!”
The creature leaned its mouth in closer to him. The man’s gun was still trained on me. I couldn’t take it anymore.
I lunged for the gun; my arm couldn’t hold me, so I collapsed, now lying sideways on the floor. But the gun was in my hand.
The man fired a shot at me, but it soared overhead, missing by an inch. I fired at the creature and red energy bolts raced toward it. I hit one of its arms, but with a hiss it scampered aside behind a crate. The man, finally noticing it, screamed and tried desperately to get out from under the hover-lift.
With some difficulty, I stood up, and raised my gun toward the crate. I was still shaking a little. I heard the sound of what must have been an E-gun powering up. I started charging a bolt of energy and got ready to dash for cover, the tip of my pistol glowing brighter as the energy hummed.
In a flash of motion, the valicorr cried, leaping toward me over the crate, firing a spray of yellow energy bolts from an arm-mounted cannon. Their legs were powerful and allowed them to jump meters into the air. I vaulted over another crate and ducked, sparks bursting from the bullet impacts all around me.
I was breathing heavily. In front of me was a parked hover-lift. I could see the valicorr in the reflection of its smooth hull. It raised its arm cannon toward my cover, and from its other wrist, a shimmering red plasma blade appeared, as it took another step forward. The sword sparked and buzzed, and it hissed.
My weapon was beginning to overheat, the red glow intensifying. Sparks of red energy were flitting out of the barrel. I’d have to release the energy soon.
I saw the valicorr dash towards me in the reflection, and without thinking I rolled to the side.
The plasma sword sliced deep into the crate where I had been hiding. Noticing it missed, the valicorr angled its gun toward me. Summoning all my strength, I swung my right hand to knock its aim to the side as it fired three bullets of energy that ricocheted off the hover-lift.
I held my breath, and fired my weapon. A wide beam of energy impacted the alien, and it was blasted back several feet from the explosion. Its weapons powered down, smoke rising from its body. It was dead.
I stood there panting for a moment. My shoulder was still in a lot of pain from the mechanic’s gun. I turned to face him, raising my ears. He was staring at me wide eyed, mouth open, still holding his gun in my general direction. I walked over to him, and he lowered his gun.
“You…” he tried to speak, but seemed to be having difficulty, tears welling in his eyes. I knelt down beside him.
“I’m here to help.” I said, and then putting the gun down, tried to lift the vehicle off of him with both arms. My right arm seized with pain, and I had to take a break.
If only K hadn’t gone ahead, I thought, and then I squatted next to the vehicle and hooked my hands under it again. I only needed to lift it enough for the man to crawl out.
My blood was pounding in my head as I lifted with every fiber of my being. The man was trying to lift too. We angled it up just enough that he started sliding his way out from underneath. I was straining to keep it lifted as he used his hands to crawl out.
At last he was free, and I dropped the hover-lift with a thud. I felt like my right arm was about to fall off.
The man tried to stand, and I helped him up. He was leaning against me for balance, and we stood amidst the wrecked, flaming vehicle bay. His legs didn’t look too crushed, thankfully.
He spoke at last. “Th-Thank you.” He wiped away some tears from his eyes, though he still looked to be in shock.
“Don’t mention it,” I said. For a moment, I felt anger for this man. He deserved my anger; but he also deserved my help. He was a living being. “I’m going up to the control room. Let’s find someplace safe for you to hide.”
“I…” he looked around the room, then back into my eyes. “I’d rather stick with you, ma’am.”
“Actually, I’m male.”
His cheeks flushed. “B-But your ear fur… I thought-”
“Male skythers can have ear fur.”
“I- I didn’t know.”
I started leading us toward the exit, not before picking up the E-pistol again. “It’s fine,” I said, and then added, “You can call me Osax.” Osax? I thought. I hadn’t introduced myself as Osax since I was a child. I guessed that spending all day with K, such an informal person, reminded me that I liked the name. My thoughts drifted to my mother...
“I’m Waylon,” said the man. He seemed to be calming down, which was good.
“Alright, Waylon,” I said. I grimaced as I rubbed my shoulder, then tightened my grip on the pistol, narrowing my eyes. “To the control room.”