Authors: Aubrie Dionne
Tags: #new adult, #Sci-fi, #space, #haven 6, #space opera, #tundra 37, #Romance, #Science Fiction, #scifi, #paradise 21, #apocalypse, #aubrie dionne, #a new dawn
Carly’s hands squeezed the back of Skye’s shirt as they walked farther into the compound. The little girl shrieked and hid her head.
Skye twisted her neck to see behind her. “What is it, Carls?”
“Something moved down there.”
James pointed his laser into the dim light ahead.
Skye’s hand clutched the scythe so tightly she felt splinters digging into her palms. Adrenaline she’d not experienced since her alley days shot through her veins. She knew what it felt like to be watched. “What was it?”
A shadow flickered in and out, as if someone ran from one side of the corridor to the other. James waved them back. “Let me go first.”
He took one step forward as a dark-skinned man darted toward him in a blur. Carly let out a high-pitched shriek. Skye glimpsed almond-shaped eyes too big to be human and the curve of a bald, oblong head before James went down with the man in a tangle of limbs. A primal urge swelled inside her, the same urgency she had when gangmen tried to catch her in the alley. She gripped the handle of the scythe, desperation racing through her veins.
More shadows moved in the distance. Skye didn’t wait to see what they looked like. She whirled around, swinging her scythe until the blade cut through flesh with a
. One of the attackers went down spewing black blood, but Skye didn’t have time to examine him, or
. She swung again as two others reached out with fingers like wires, tickling her arms. A head went flying, and then an arm. The last attacker fell to the floor, holding its shoulder and hissing through crooked, V-shaped razor teeth.
“What are they?” Carly shrieked as Skye raised her scythe. Its eyes were dark as deep space, and no matter how closely she looked, she couldn’t see her reflection. The emotionless orbs sucked in light.
James was still struggling with the first one, so Skye slashed the injured one in half to make sure it didn’t go after Carly and ran to help him. Just as the moonshiner, alien, or whatever it was opened its mouth to bite his neck, James managed to regain control of the laser and fired. The skinny body weakened and stilled.
“Cyber hell.” James threw the body off him and stood up. He looked around at the other three attackers on the floor and gave Skye an appraising smile. “You offed three while I battled one?”
She shrugged, although every nerve in her body twitched and her fingers shook so hard the blade of the scythe undulated in the dim light. “Like I said, I had a hunch.”
Movement shuffled in the rooms behind them. James’s eyes widened. “Run!”
James picked up Carly and they sprinted through the corridor to an elevator at the end. James pressed the button as Skye positioned herself in front of them, holding her scythe. Black bodies squiggling against one another crammed the corridor behind them.
Come on. Come on.
Skye gritted her teeth so hard her jaw ached.
The elevator beeped and they slipped in, watching the wiry hands reach for them as the doors closed. One finger managed to thrust in, and Skye chopped it off without another thought. It plopped on the floor oozing black blood. “Where does this go?”
“I don’t know. Away from here.” James held onto Carly with both hands and she buried her head into his shoulder, sobbing.
“What are those things?” As the elevator moved, Skye finally released her hold on the scythe, her palms burning with heat. The blade dripped black blood onto the floor, the substance thick and sticky as caramel.
“Maybe that’s what Charles meant.” Even as James spoke he looked as though he couldn’t believe it. But Skye could. She’d had a good look at Grease those last few days, and she’d seen the darkness in his eyes before. Grease would blink once, and there it was: cold nothingness like a black hole. He’d blink again and be back to fun-loving Grease. Skye wondered if the substance was meant to change humans as some alien way of colonizing other planets, or if the human body had a unique reaction to it.
“You think the government used people in experiments with Morpheus?”
“That or overexposure from testing turned them into those things one by one.”
“I can see why they shut it down.” Skye’s stomach tightened like a coil of snakes. “What if there’s no ship here at all? What if it was just a cover up for these lab tests?”
“I refuse to believe it.” James’s voice hardened. “All of Dal’s research couldn’t have been wrong.”
Skye held onto his hope as the elevator beeped and the doors parted again. She held up the scythe, but nothing lunged at them from the darkness. They stepped into a vast, cavernous room with wires and chains hanging from the ceiling like chandeliers. A long, torpedo-shaped vessel towered over them. Small bubble windows lined each level in rows.
James stepped closer, leaning over the railing. The silver hull reflected James’s neon hair. “That’s it: the
“It’s humongous.” Never mind the space station—they could just live on that. She’d heard of cruise ships sailing in the deep ocean for years on end, but the
loomed far larger than anything she could have ever imagined.
“It’s one of the smaller ones.” James paced down the balcony, taking in the length of the hull. “Holds maybe fifteen hundred, two thousand at most, if you don’t mind being cramped.”
Carly finally let go of Skye’s leg and took a tentative step forward with wide eyes.
Behind them, scuffling echoed down the elevator shaft. Skye whirled around, poised to strike. “They’re climbing down.”
James pulled her backward. “We can make it in time. Come on!”
They ran across the balcony and down three flights of stairs to a platform where the ship’s belly rested. A console with a thousand buttons and three panels stood by a ladder leading up to a sealed door. Finding a morsel of food in an alley Dumpster seemed easier than deciphering these controls. Skye almost pulled her hair out. “How do you open it?”
James hooked up his miniscreen. “Just give me a sec.”
The elevator banged as the first few moonshiners fell on top of it. Scratching noises echoed out in the high ceilings as they clawed their way through the metal.
“What if there’re more of them in the ship?”
James shook his head. “Highly unlikely. They had this project locked up pretty tight. Unless they can figure out code, which I doubt.”
“Is it ready to fly? Does it have any fuel at all?”
James scanned the screen as it downloaded information from the console. “Looks good. The ship’s not finished, and it won’t fly us to another planet. But it can get us to the space station.” James’s fingers flew over his keyboard. He jabbed one last button. “There.”
Streams of lights flickered on across the hull, illuminating both the inside and the outside of the ship. Air wheezed as the hatch opened, revealing a chrome interior. Skye shouted at Carly, “Climb!”
Carly scrambled to the ladder as James closed his miniscreen. The aliens broke through the roof of the elevator and moved with a strange fluid grace down the balcony. Some jumped three flights and landed upright on the ship’s level.
Carly climbed one foot at a time, excruciatingly slowly. Skye suppressed the urge to rush her; she didn’t want Carly slipping to her death. She clutched the scythe, reluctant to discard it but knowing she couldn’t climb with the weapon. Although the weight of it felt reassuring, there were so many, she’d never be able to fight them all off. Skye threw it at the oncoming horde and the scythe clanged as it hit the floor. Defenseless, Skye sprang up the ladder. James still stood by the console, his fingers pattering over the keys.
“James, come on!”
“Just one more thing. I have to make sure the chamber will open.” James pressed a few buttons on his miniscreen before slipping it into his backpack and following. Carly climbed in, wiggling on her belly, and Skye followed, pulling herself up with aching muscles. She shot her hand down to James and he grabbed on. Above them, the ceiling cracked open with a loud screech. Sand rained on their shoulders and sunlight shot down in a thin line as the two halves parted. Skye finally understood why James had taken so long. They couldn’t take off with the dome still intact.
An army of the aliens filled the balcony, dropping like grasshoppers to the platform. James looked at Skye with panic in his eyes. “I have to kick the ladder out. They’re too fast.”
“I’ve got you.”
Skye’s grip tightened as James kicked away his support. The aliens scrambled up the slick side. Their fingers brushed James’s feet as Skye pulled him up and dragged him in.
He lay on his back panting. A set of wiry fingers clung to the hatch where James had hung just a second ago. Skye kicked them away. “Close the door!”
James shot up and slammed his fist down on a panel beside the opening. The hatch shut just as a hundred pairs of black eyes stared up at Skye like minions blindly worshipping their god.
Skye fell back against the wall and slid down, their eyes burning into her retinas forever. She’d never forget the utter bleakness of a mass of souls eaten away.
“It’s all right, Skye. We beat them. It’s over.” James had never seen her unravel like this. Had she given up while success loomed so close? He crouched by her and put a hand onto her shoulder. She fell forward and he held her in his arms.
“Their eyes…they reminded me of Grease.”
“I know.” James treaded on icy ground, knowing the wrong words would send him flinging into cold water. He knew what it was like to lose someone you loved. “You and Carly are safe now.”
“I never want to see them again.”
“You won’t have to. When we go back to the city, you and Carly can stay on the ship. I’ll need someone to work the controls.”
Somehow, he’d said the wrong thing. She pulled back, her eyes bright with fear. “You’re going back down into the city?” The muscles in her chin trembled.
“I have to, Skye. I need to help my people escape.”
Skye nodded, swallowing hard. “I understand.”
The way her voice broke on her words tore a hole in James’s heart. Had she said the same thing to Grease before he left? James smoothed her hair, his hand traveling from her head to cup the back of her neck. She’d had so many wrongs in her life, and he wanted to right them all. “I’ll never leave you, Skye.” Not the way Grease had.
She froze, her lips parted in a question, as if she doubted his true intentions.
Why wouldn’t he ever leave her? Because if they succeeded, they’d be stuck on the same space station together for the rest of their lives? Or because of something more—because of feelings he thought he’d never have again blossoming from the rawness of his broken heart. The truth knocked the air right out of his lungs.
James had feelings for Skye, and he had to show her. He had to give her something to prove he cared beyond her immediate welfare. He had to show her when all this ended, if they survived, they’d still be together, not as a gang member and his recruit, but as lovers.
Every thought in his logical mind told him to pull away. He’d loved so deeply not long ago, it was hard to imagine ever loving again. Yet this woman, beautiful, vulnerable, and strong, sat before him reaching for his love as if she needed him more than anything. He’d started as her caretaker, but she’d saved his life just as many times as he’d saved hers and had helped him achieve his goals. He couldn’t have done it without her. He needed her, too.
James brushed his lips against hers in a tentative kiss. She kissed him back fiercely, pressing against him, as if releasing pent-up urges that she could no longer contain. Desire stirred inside his chest like a spark blown into a full flame.
James jerked back, embarrassed. Carly sat with her little arms crossed, clicking her tongue.
Skye laughed behind him, and when he turned back to her, a gorgeous blush brought out the freckles on her cheeks. For the first time since he’d met her, she was happy, and she’d never looked so beautiful. He had to remind himself they were still surrounded by an alien horde.
Ruffling Carly’s hair, he stood up and offered Skye his hand. “Now, let’s go see if we can fly this thing.”
They ran through a hollow exoskeleton of a starship, a shadow of what it was dreamed to be. The floor changed from new chrome plating to metal grating, the holes so big their feet could fall through if they weren’t careful. Wires hung in clumps from the unfinished ceiling, and raw circuit boards stood in place of panels. James wondered how operational such an unfinished project could be.
They ran down the length of four buildings before they found the main control chamber. Unlike the rest of the ship, this deck seemed partially finished. Control boards lit with status charts and systems operations illuminated the room. A long sight panel with glass a half meter thick ran across the front hull, providing a view of the cavernous chamber. Black shadows moved around them as the alien horde circled. There must have been three hundred of them waiting for the hatch to reopen so they could flood the ship’s bowels.
How many teams had gone down to regain control of the experiment and failed?
A current of dread followed by gratitude flowed through him. He would have failed as well if it weren’t for Skye and her excellent scythe-fighting skills.
Plugging in his miniscreen, James thought of Mestasis driving the
with her mind. A control deck much like this one was her new home. Although he missed her, this time thinking of her didn’t carry such a severe pang. He’d always love her, and that would never change. But his love had morphed from a tortured state to one of admiration and respect for her decision and her destiny. If she truly loved him, she’d want him to go on, and that’s exactly what he planned to do. He wished Mestasis all the best, and in a way, in his inner heart, he said good-bye.
“Do you think you can fly it?” Skye asked him, studying all of the panels and charts with wide eyes.
He had no such powers as Mestasis, but he did have his miniscreen. The program Dal had made for him popped up with a click, and the parameters of the exercise adjusted to the ship, linking to the controls. He could use the flight simulator he’d been practicing on.
Confidence brimmed up inside of him and he replied, “Yes, I can.”
“Good, because there’s no way we’re going back through those things.”
James smiled. “When the engines ignite, we’ll blast them all to the moon—supposedly where they came from in the first place.”
He clicked a few keys on his miniscreen and turned on the ship’s working systems. Low-pitched hums grew louder and higher in a drone as the ship’s systems came online. They had central air ventilation, hover power, and flight speed capability—all the things they’d need for a two-day trip to Outpost Omega. What they didn’t have was food. The biodome hadn’t been installed, and no living quarters had been finished, but scrounging for food for a few days and sleeping on the floor were small beans compared to radiation poisoning or being burned alive.
He waited until the systems booted completely before igniting the engines. Thunderous rumbling echoed around them and the deck below their feet shook as the engines fired up.
James turned to Skye and Carly. “You might want to find a seat belt.”
Two chairs flanked the commander’s seat. Each one had a shoulder harness jutting out from the plastic cushion. Skye belted Carly in. “Thank goodness they finished these.”
“Makes me wonder if they pushed to make the ship functional before it was finished for the very reason we’re using it today.”
“Good thing we got here first, then.”
James pointed to the aliens squirming on the balcony like ants on crack. “I think we got here second, third, or even fourth.”
“Well, I don’t want to be the next person to walk those corridors,” Skye said as she yanked her belt across her lap. “Nothing left to escape in.”
“There’ll be no one left to escape after the nuke.” James pulled a lever and the hum of the engines intensified.
Skye shouted over the din, “All the more reason to leave right now.”
James took her advice. Wires detached as the vessel rose up, spewing air so hot and fast it burned the aliens away in a heat wave. His seat shook underneath him, making his spine tingle and his teeth rattle as he increased the air pressure.
“You all right?” He turned his head, checking on Skye and Carly. Skye nodded, and Carly gave him a thumbs-up.
Not bad for a girl that had called him “green hair” two days ago. James smiled as the ship rose from the chamber to the broad daylight of the desert. A cloud of sand spewed up, and they rose above it until the dust settled and the shack was a dark speck in an otherwise bleached out land.
They could cover the distance to the city in half the time of the hovercraft they’d flown in to get there. James sped them forward, eager to send a message to Dal.