When the Ascender doors opened, Aloe helped Ven off. After walking only a few paces, a loud explosion erupted, launching them in the air like ragdolls. Aloe felt the wind knocked out her as she landed on her back with a hard slam. Ven fell just a few feet ahead of her in samilar fashion. A burst of flames exploded around them, sending out a wave of sparks from the illuminants, completely shattering some. Many of the walls of the corridor were torn open with ease, shooting out debris like shrapnel. The entire ship rocked, releasing a deep moan.
Without warning, the ships’ stabilizer failed, sending the ship to tilt at a downward angle. Aloe and Ven started to slide down the hall into the long mouth of the corridor. Just as the two were starting to pick up speed, they managed to grab onto the wall’s support beams. Chunks of debris slid dangerously past them, crashing below. After a few seconds, the ship began to correct itself, stabilizing back.
“That vexing b*****d!” Ven cursed out loud. “He could’ve killed us all.”
Aloe’s ears were ringing from the blast as she lay there, trying to compose herself. They were still alive? How?
“Ven? Aloe?!” Lester’s voice could be heard from their Callers. “Are ya’ll alright?”
Ven managed to sit up with a grunt of pain. He lifted his Caller to reply. “Somehow we managed.”
“What in Solaris’ name just happened?!”
“Lenio set off the Syn-Cells,” he replied.
“Has he gone mad?! Where’s the vexin’ idiot?!” Lester yelled. “Wait til’ I get hold of ‘im!”
Ven looked over to Aloe, who was finally able to get to her feet. “Lenio’s gone, Lest.”
Lester went quiet.
“How bad is the damage?” Ven inquired.
Lester sighed from his end. “The whole vexin’ Bridge is goin’ haywire,” he noted. Behind him, a choir of alarms could be heard. “Well I’ve got good news and bad news, Sir.”
“Give me the bad first.”
“The bad news is, Insula can’t maintain her orbit. She’s fallin’ towards the planet now,” Lester answered.
“And the good news?”
“Sir, well the good news is we’re not dead…yet. I hope ya’ got a plan.”
Aloe helped Ven to his feet. “Sir?” she said.
Ven gestured that he was fine to walk on his own, although he still limped. “Lester, make your way down to the Drill pod. We’re abandoning ship.”
Aloe’s eyes lit up.
“Should we inform the Captain, Sir?” Lester asked.
Ven glanced at Aloe. “Screw the Captain!” Ven said. “Meet us down there ASAP.”
“So what’s the plan?” Lester inquired. “Are we just gonna jettison ourselves out into space? We’ll be sittin’ ducks out there.”
They were on third Ascender which led to drill pod. Lucky for them, tt was on the opposite end of the ship away from the Cell room and the Cargo Bay. Aloe thought back on all the days she used to complain about that, but now it was a blessing.
“That might be,” Ven replied, rubbing his knee, “but it beats sticking around here.”
Lester nodded in agreement. “Did he at least kill the vexin’ thing?” he asked.
“We don’t know,” Aloe answered. “I hope so.”
“Same,” Lester agreed, “I’d hate to see him die in vain.”
“I’m not sure how long the ship can hold up, so suit as quickly as possible,” Ven stated. “Aloe, as soon as you’re done, fire up that pod.”
“Lest, you’ll hover by the bay-door switch.”
The doors opened, revealing a large Docking bay. It was spacious, rivaling the S.A.F. in height and depth. The illuminants were very bright casting over the small ship centered within the bay. It was trivial to the Insula but large in comparison to them. The pod held a faded, dark yellow hue – a result from its years breaching the surface of many planets.
It was connected to thick tubes, feeding into the walls like anchors. At the rear of the pod, the large drill was folded up. The drill pod could salvage up to several tons of resources from one pull. Yet, no one was ever anxious to pilot the vexing thing. It was their job, but it was never an easy pill to swallow, descending down into unknown planets – brewing with storms and elements eager to kill them. Yet, now it was their only hope – their salvation.
On the side wall, they could see several glass tubes containing a series of suits. They could be used to traverse the outside of the ship, but were mainly used when piloting the pod. They quickly made their way over to them. Normally, Aloe could suit up under a minute, but now she found her hands trembling, struggling to get her feet inside the leggings.
There was another loud explosion, knocking everyone to the ground, prompting a deafening alarm. The illuminants above shifted to a bright red as a spark of electricity flared.
“We need to hurry!” Ven pressed.
Aloe had finally managed to suit up completely. Her breathing fogged up the helmet’s visor as she took off heading to the pod. Once Lester was done, he ran towards the bay-door switch.
“Vexus’ a*s!” Lester yelled out. “We’ve got a problem, Sir!”
“What is it?!” Ven asked, hobbling to him.
“The last explosion might’ve fried the panel. I’ll have to reset it!” he explained.
“How long will it take?!”
“Should have it up a few!”
The ship rendered another violent shake nearly knocking over the two.
“Do it, then!” Ven said.
He started to head over to the drill pod.
“How we looking in there, Corporal?!” he said over his Caller.
Aloe had already unhooked the ship from the docking cables. She was in the cockpit’s main seat, activating the switches on the control panel. She looked out the window as she her fingers moved.
“Working on it, Sir,” she replied, calibrating a button.
“Well, keep at it,” Ven replied. He turned to Lester. “Lest, you told me a few. Where we at now?”
Lester gave him a thumbs-up.
Without warning, there was another loud explosion, tipping the ship again to the side. The stabilizer was giving-out again. Lester and Ven began sliding unable to keep their balance. Lester managed to grab onto the Ascender’s panel. Ven smacked into the wall. He was much closer to it than Lester, but still managed to hit it relatively hard. Aloe attempted to brace herself within the pod, feeling it tilt to the side.
A loud humming soon filled the air, growing louder. Her eyes grew wide when she heard it. Ven was still pinned up against the wall due to the destabilization, but he too noted the sound.
The Things were still alive.
Suddenly, a cloud of the creatures burst through the Ascender’s doors. Lester screamed, struggling to hold onto the panel. The cloud hovered above him like a swarm of bees. As it did, its composition slowly began to change. Among the small, fluttering bodies, an image began to appear across the surface. They were changing again, but into what?
Ven stared helplessly up from his position. An image began to take form, pressing outward, resembling a face. It was… Lenio, or rather it was a poor attempt to become him. Its eyes were engorged, sagging loosely as if melting – its mouth stretched open as like it was attempting to scream out its agony. Instead, the same distorting hum left its lips.
The head glanced down at Lester, who was powerless. He had nowhere to go. The panel he held onto was much further to the wall. More faces began to appear, meshing up against Lenio’s like a artist’s twisted sculpture – each taking on a familiar appearance from the crew: Dr. Qim’s first, then Eri’s, and even Faa’s. Their faces were filled with anguish. Were they suffering inside there? The cloud swarmed around Lester, forcing him to let go. He fell far, smashing into the wall-now-ground. Lester screamed in agony, flailing around. Ven watched in horror as the creatures completely smothered him, tearing into his suit.
The ship finally re-stabilized, causing Ven and Lester to fall back to the ground.
“What’s going on out there?!” Aloe screamed into the Caller.
Her voice managed to pull Ven from his trance. He rose to his feet, and began to limp over to the bay-door switch. He could feel the surge of pain in his leg, but he fought against it.
“Aloe! Get that ship up and running now!” he screamed.
As he hobbled over to the switch, he could see the creatures flooding into Lester’s suit as if the entire swarm was trying to enter it. His screams grew louder cracking from the strain. Finally, they cut short from the creatures exploding out his mouth, flooding the inside of his visor. Before they completely covered the inside, he caught a terrifying glance of Lester’s face with most of his skin missing, little meat clinging to his skull.
Ven felt his leg give out on him, falling to the ground. He cringed, but attempted to crawl towards the switch.
Aloe ignited the pod’s power, prompting the control panel’s lights. The outside engines sparked with life, burning with a ring of blue flames.
“Chief! We’re all ready, make your way back!” Aloe announced. “Chief?!”
She could hear him grunting over the Caller. “Aloe, there’s no way I’m gonna be able to make it back to the ship.”
What was he saying?
“Sir! Yes, you can! Now, move it!”
He struggled to pull himself up to the switch, reaching the base of the board. The cloud of creatures began regrouping in the air, now finished with Lester. His face now joined the others, forming out the side of Faa’s.
“No, I won’t,” he said softly. “Not if this switch has to be pulled.”
“Chief, move your vexing a*s!” she screamed.
Ven pulled himself up the switchboard’s base, hovering over the button. “I’m sorry, Aloe,” he stated. “You have to survive this.”
The cloud of faces rushed towards him. Immediately, Ven hit the switch, prompting a loud alarm. The illuminants above flashed erratically. Below the pod, the doors started to part. Like a vacuum, the air violently sucked out of the room through the cracks.
“Ven!” Aloe screamed.
The pod plummeted through the open door, barreling out of control. Aloe felt her stomach tighten from the sudden drop. She couldn’t submit to it though and instantly turned her attention to the control panel. Her heart was crashing against her chest but her fingers began moving across the b*****s. They danced furiously as if they had a mind of their own.
Through the window, a dizzying display of the planet and the ship flashed across as the pod continued to fall uncontrollably. An alarm ran int he background with lights flashing. She needed to regain control of it. She hit another switch and grabbed onto the throttle, fighting to keep it from jerking.
The dizzying view began to slow down, but she could feel the grip of the planet pulling on the ship. The alarms grew louder. The outer hull of the ship began to moan, caving-in slowly like a can being squeezed. She tightened her grip, pressing a switch to activate a small thruster in an attempt to cancel out the spinning.
With luck, it worked. She was now oriented, but the pod was still heading down towards the planet. Aloe adjusted her grip on the throttle, turning it to the side. With her other hand, she managed to activate another thruster, from the rear this time.
She felt the boost throw her back into her seat. The pod was now maneuvering away from the planet. Yet, she still wasn’t out of harm’s way – she was still in the path of the Insula falling towards her. She immediately yanked the throttle to the side, throwing all her weight into it in effort to avert the collision.
Her stomach tightened even more as the large vessel came dangerously close. The pod shook, releasing a dull screech from the metal scrapping between it and the ship. Eventually though, the noise ceased. Aloe felt relief fill her veins. Air – she had almost forgotten to breath, taking in large puffs of it.
She was home-free.
Without warning, another explosion erupted from the Insula. Aloe felt the pod violently shake from the blast. The shockwave was enough for the throttle to slip from her grip. She felt her head smack forward onto to the control panel.
Once again, the pod began barreling out of control. Her vision grew blurry as a spot of blood leaked onto her visor. Through the spins of the pod, she could see the aftermath of the explosion from the Insula in between the vast ocean of stars. She wanted to grab the throttle again and try to re-stabilize the pod, but she felt weak, and her eyelids were so heavy.
You have to survive this. She could hear Ven’s words lingering in her mind.
It couldn’t end like this – not after everything.
You have to survive this.
I’m sorry, Ven, she thought. I tried.
Everything went completely black for her.