The Calypso was roughly 1/50th the size of the Elizabeth, the derelict was massive. There were was debris floating around the hull, but no sign of a fight. No hull fractures, plasma burns, or anything to indicate another ship engaged them. There were docking ports fore, aft, gaining access wasn’t the problem, it was the nebula; the ionized gasses were mucking up the calypso’s sensors that seemed to create life sign readings that were there and then gone again.
Cal opened up a channel, “Elizabeth this is the Calypso requesting permission to dock. Over.”
Doc looked at Cal confused, “Why are you asking permission to dock on a vessel with no crew?”
Cal nodded at his confusion and said, “I am detecting anomalous readings, suggesting that something or someone is alive on board. It's like echos, it's there one second then gone, then back on a different part of the ship.”
Doc reached out with his mind, carefully looking for another mind to join with and all he got was an eerie sense of loss. As he did so, the tattoos that were etched into his body began to glow ever so slightly.
Doc opened his eyes and spoke matter-a-factly, "I don't sense anyone out here but us."
Cal frowned and shrugged, “It could be interference from the nebula or something on board. I just thought I would knock before bashing the door down. I found a strong reading suggesting that the builder-relic could be on the bridge. We are going to dock into one of the escape pod ports. I'll wait for you there.”
Doc raised an eyebrow at Cal, “Oh you're coming with me flyboy.”
Cal became very sarcastic, “There could be those...things on board. I'm partial to keeping my light where it is thank you.”
Doc tilted his head, “Thus, why you are coming with me, to watch my back.”
Cal grinned, “Admit it, you’re scared.”
Doc looked appraisingly at Cal but said nothing, and continued to busy himself with docking procedures.
Cal stopped smiling, “You never get scared.”
It was Doc’s turn to grin, “Sure I do, it has just been a long time.”
Cal stopped what he was doing and spun in his chair, “You sure as shit never lie. What's got you so spooked?”
Doc breathed deeply but he didn’t turn to face the accusation, “My grandmother used to tell me stories when I was a boy of living shadow, she called them light eaters. It was before I became part of the Sedic order.”
Cal nodded, “Doc, I wasn’t gonna let you go in alone…”
Doc held up a hand stopping Cal from continuing, “She said they were eaters of worlds. Worlds, Cal. I thought that old hag would tell me those stories just to scare me, to show me that I wasn’t worthy of the order, but now I’m not so sure.”
After a brief pause, both men busied themselves with the final preparations. The Calypso was small enough that the ship easily docked into the empty escape pod port. As the Calypso settled against the docking collar the sound of docking clamps gripping the Elizabeth could be heard inside, KAT KAT KAT KAT KAT, followed by the decompression of the Calypso, PSSSSSSHHOOOO.
Doc looked at the clock they set counting down, it read ninty-eight minutes, “We have thirty to forty-five minutes to get back to the Calypso. We are going to be using gravity boots, So, it’s going to be slow, but we have enough time. If we are engaged the primary concern is to keep the path to the Calypso open. Copy?”
Cal chambered a round, “Copy.”
Cal and Doc were carrying Mk III assault rifles with class IV ammunition; the ammunition carried everything it needed to fire, including its own oxygen. It was state of the art, and according to Cal, it saved his life on countless occasions. Doc was grateful for Cal’s propensity for violence and would be glad to have him covering his ass.
The Escape hatch door was already open, so when the door to the Calypso arose the cones of light that shone from their weapons into the corridor illuminated floating crimson-colored ice crystals hugging the edges of the long tunnel that bent slightly to the right and out of view of the two would-be plunderers.
Doc shined the light through the dense crystalline ice, trying to assess what they were about to walk through, "There must be a coolant leak somewhere nearby."
Cal stepped up next to his comrade, and knew immediately what he was seeing, "That's not a coolant leak, that's blood." They both looked at one another steeling themselves for what lies ahead.
Doc stepped out first, the grav-boots grabbed the ceiling, as they did a red light on the ankle and toe of the gravity boot went turned green; the light changed color every time the two took a step. The lights were not bright, but they created an eerie light show that both preceded and extended beyond the brave explorers.
As they turned the bend in the corner the source of all the crystalized blood came into view. A crewman who must not have made it into the escape hatch was floating near the bulkhead door that led to the bridge.
As Doc and Cal made their way past the floating crewman, They took note of her skin, cracked and split, as if all the gasses and water escaped her body in a sort of explosive decompression; her face caught in mid-scream.
Doc attempted to treat the remains with respect, but with his attention on the closed bulkhead, and the corpse constantly bumping into his shoulder, he finally turned to shove her down the corridor. The moment he touched her, a residual memory flashed into Doc’s mind. Paralyzing him.
Specialist Ashley Casa was jarred awake by series of explosions. Ashly was thrown from her rack onto the floor, A second explosion threw her against the wall, and as she was trying to get to her feet a third explosion tossed her across the room and her under a table. The lights in quarters flickered before going out altogether, almost immediately replaced by emergency floor-lighting.
The ship-wide intercom squawked, “General Quarters. Security to deck seven.” It sounded distant and underwater, she must have hit her head.
Specialist Ashley Casa had just been reassigned to the bridge team. She hadn’t even set foot on the bridge yet, tomorrow was her first day.
Within moments Ashley Casa had regained her footing and had made her way into the corridor. As Ashley entered, people were heading to their assigned stations with practiced, hurried ease. Panic wasn’t something you usually saw on the faces of the crew, and it was comforting to see everyone moving with purpose. It gave Ashley the wits to remember where the bridge was, and just as she was about to beeline it to a Go-To, BRRRRAAAATTTT! BRRRAAAAAAT! followed by screams that jolted her into a sprint.
As Specialist Ashley Casa entered the Go-To and began entering the bridge location data more gunfire and screams could be heard from the same direction. As the Go-to Glass tube slid down around her, a man by the name of Daniel Cummings, ghost-white in complexion, was running at a full sprint, smooshing his face against the glass with an expression of sheer terror.
Daniel poked at the glass tube, “Open up Specialist, I have priority!”
Ashley Casa wanted nothing more than the Go-To to activate, but it took a minute or so for the emitters and transmitters to power up. Daniel's wide eyes and desperation caused her to unconsciously shake her head in a slow short burst, as she confirmed her location on the keypad. The confirmation started the customary countdown that super-imposed on the glass that seemed to insulate Ashely from the dread that was expressed on Daniel's face.
With nothing to do but wait Ashley memorized Daniel's face, He had the prettiest blue eyes. It’s funny what you notice, she thought. Ashley didn’t notice the people franticly running at a full sprint behind Daniel, or even the gun that Daniel was pointing at her head through the glass. She saw the life in Daniel’s beautiful brilliant blue eyes and how vibrant they were.
The lights flickered and then they went out altogether. When the red emergency lights kicked on everything stopped; her heart, her breath, the blood in her veins. It all just froze. A lithe shadow twice the height of Daniel loomed over them. Daniel didn't seem to notice until Ashley’s complexion began to pale.
He didn’t have a chance to turn around, the shadow picked Daniel up like he was an infant, turned him so they faced each other, and then it began to feast. Daniel pissed himself as a brilliant white light burst through in seams all along his face and arms, it shined through his clothes. The shadow pulled this light right out of Daniel, devouring it.
When the macabre transaction was complete the shadow tossed Daniel to the ground. Daniels’ body was covered in large hollow crevices where the light tore from his body, but there was no blood, not a drop. Just a husk that Ashley kept expecting to blow away like dust.
The slinky shadow stood motionless, except the creatures’ face, it took on the countenance of Daniel, his eyes, they were Daniels’, until they weren’t. The beautiful blue eyes that were so full of life became black bottomless orbs that now looked ravenous and searching.
Daniel seemed to surface from somewhere deep within the creature, from a hollow distant place Daniel spoke one last time, “Don’t let them take you.”
The Shadow became faceless once more, looked right through Specialist Ashley Casa as the countdown reached zero she vanished…but Doc realized he was still seeing the shadow, and the shadow was seeing him. The Shadow punched through the glass and grabbed Doc by the throat, Doc Screamed, “AHHHHH!”
Doc let out a scream, as the world came back, “NOOO!”
Doc was hyperventilating, his heart threatened to jar itself out of his chest.
“Doc!”, Cal shook Doc by the shoulder, Doc tried to slink away from Cal's concern, but his grav-boots held him in place, so he fell slowly to his rump in zero-G fashion.
Cal had never seen Doc like this, and it was shaking his cool, “Doc! What the hell, you just fell over and started screaming. Are you ok?"
Doc just sat there eating up his oxygen in quick breaths, but a minute passed and the shadow had not come back to finish the job. Doc slowed his breathing, reached for Cal, who helped him to his feet.
Doc looked Cal in the eyes through their helmets, waiting for Cal to reciprocate and when their eyes met he told him the bad news, “A shadow was here...is here and…and I think it knows we’re here.”
Cal didn't understand how Doc knew what he knew, but over the two years that he has worked with him, Cal has learned to trust Doc's instincts, but he wanted Doc to be wrong about this one, so he questioned, "How do you know that?"
Doc quickly regained his composure, Ashley, uh, the crewman I touched, she witnessed what these things do. Cal, it's horrific, it pulls the light right out of you. This ship was attacked, I'm not sure our weapons will have any effect." In the vision there was gunfire, but this thing looked untouched. Cal, it saw me, in the vision, Like I was there, and it wasn't happy about it."
Cal shrugged, "Doesn't matter Doc. We're here and we need to find the relic. Besides whatever happened could've happened a long time ago." He said it to comfort himself as much as Doc, but either way, Cal wasn't one for running away.
Cal didn't wait for Doc to respond, instead, he grabbed a silver disc that was attached to his suit, placed it on the sealed Bulkhead. It was like a master key, it was given to them by their employers and it worked like they said it would. Sequential lights began blinking along the edge of the disc coming full circle. All the lights turned green and the bulkhead door slid open.
Whatever happened spilled over onto the bridge. Shell casings were floating and were so numerous that when Cal stepped in to clear his side of the bridge his suit collided with casings causing them to cascade and domino across the bridge. The walls were pot-marked and scarred, some of the consols were blackened like they caught fire. There were two corpses strapped in their chairs, they looked like they were shot in the back.
Cal had been in twenty-seven firefights, half of those on space vessels, and half of those at some point became zero-G environments, and never in all his days has he seen anything like quite like this.
Cal looked to the Doc, “No eyes on the relic, and I only see one form of ammo discharged. There doesn’t seem to be a concentrated point of fire, they fired their weapons in every direction, that's not what a firefight supposed to look like.”
Doc moved to the dead consoles attempting to ascertain the last moments before the ship went dark. He pushed the customary buttons that would usually prompt the console to come to life, but it failed to respond to his prompts.
Cal, realizing what Doc was doing muttered, “check under that console to the left of the one you just tried. Sometimes these old military freighters would put back up power supplies under the consoles in case of unexpected power drains.”
Doc looked, stood up, and shook his head.
Cal shrugged, “Ah hell, when have I ever been that lucky?”
Doc continued to search the terminals, “we may not have found the artifact, but we are not leaving here empty-handed.” I am going to pull the ship's logs, maybe Kassy or Cora can recover them once we get back to the Nightingale.”
Cal positioned himself so that he could watch Doc’s back, “Hurry up, this place doesn't add up, and I don’t want to stick around to find out why.”
Cal was old school, he was part of the sixty-Sixers, a classified regiment garrisoned by the cartographers guild. They were on the losing side of the trade wars, but near the end of the conflict, they became desperate, and as result was willing to experiment on their own soldiers in an attempt to turn the tide. Most of which didn't turn out so well, but the Sixty-Sixers were the exception.
Cal's DNA was modified to give him and his fellow soldiers a critical edge in combat. Time. The scientist weren't even sure how it worked, but when Cal’s mind went into fight-or-flight His acuity became so heightened time became malleable for Cal. While everyone was still processing what was happening Cal was watching everything at a leisurely pace. It saved Cal’s Life and that of his friends lives countless times. Today, however, Cal was in the midst of living shadow. So when Cal felt time slow, he was confused, he didn't see nor feel the mortal danger he was in. Cal's body just responded.
Doc was distracted with making the ships data cubes traversable; pulling them from the consoles, putting them in the case that they brought; it wasn’t easy, if the gel packs within the data cubes were damaged then the data could be lost, and Doc wasn’t sure just how much stress the data cubes could take, so it was slow going, moving them into the case. When Doc had finally placed the final data cube, he sealed the case and activated the stasis field.
Doc stood up with the case in hand and saw Cal face to face with roiling shadow. It’s soulless pits for eyes looking intently into Cal’s.
The Shadow moved like smoke, and the smoke looked invigorated as if fueled by an unseen fire; the inky smoldering hatred morphed to mirror Cal, becoming his doppelganger.
Doc was looking at two versions of Cal, one staring intently into the other. The Doppelganger pulled at some baser instinct within him, Its eyes were filled with darkness and ate whatever they touched and Doc suddenly became terrified he was being watched, despite its intent focus on Cal.
For the briefest of moments, Doc wanted to hide. Except there was nowhere to hide, just the dim shadow cast by Cal’s spacesuit. Doc inched himself just beyond the sight of this eater of light.
Hidden in the shadow of Cal’s space suit, Doc took a deep breath and began saying in slow rhythmic words the prayer of his order, the words became rhythmic, they flowed from Docs mouth into the mic, and from his mic into Cal’s ears. The shadow seemed distant from Doc's mind and it made breathing easy again. Doc’s eyes brightened with gold flex as his prayer lightened his heart. Doc extended his song unto his brother Cal, hoping that he would hear it.
The rhythm began to build, the light from his eyes extended to his tattoos erupting in gold light, filling his suit with such radiance that his face became just a silhouette. The chanting sound beating in rhythm with the light, and with the final utterance of the final syllable Doc placed himself in the only place he could be of service. Within Cal's mind.
Doc was with Cal, and Cal was in a duel with the one person he was helpless against. Himself.