A search of the engineering storeroom yielded the tools and safety equipment necessary for the job, and Mykus hummed as he stepped into the harness and tightened the straps. This job would normally be achieved with the aid of special computerised programmes and robotic apparatus, but since he had been unable to make any of the computer systems function beyond the ones that governed the life support systems, he would have to do the job manually. This meant an inch by inch examination of the engine housing using the special goggles, and he estimated the job would take three days to complete. Having such a long an engrossing task to complete meant that he would not have time to dwell on the strangeness of his situation, which would lessen the anxiety. While concentrating on the job, he would be unable to let his imagination run away with him. If anyone should turn up and question him, his delight at not being alone would allay any fear of discipline. With renewed determination, he climbed into the engine bay.
An hour and a half later, his concentration was interrupted by the distinct sound of gunfire from somewhere above. Having been so engrossed in his work, the sudden explosion of noise made him leap from the side of the engine housing and end up swinging from his harness in mid air. Gasping in fright, his arms and legs flailed as he scrabbled to grasp the engine housing. With both arms wrapped around one of the stanchions that fixed the housing into the engine bay, Mykus closed his eyes and listened to his heart thumping in his breast. For long moments, he did not know what to do, so he did nothing but hang onto the engine housing, his eyes darting around the room in fright. Another burst of gunfire almost made him fall from the housing again and he was grateful for the harness that prevented him from falling to his death. The silence in between the bursts of gunfire throbbed with menace and he found himself tensing as he waited for the next volley.
“Shit. Fuck,” he gasped in between the painful thuds in his chest as his heart hammered against his ribcage. Panic rippled through his empty mind and filled the aching void where memories and self knowledge should be with horrific imaginings. “What the fuck do I do? Oh shit, there’s a gun toting maniac after me. Oh help me, someone please.” Tears of panic sprang from his eyes, desperate sobs of terror wracked his body as he clung to the stanchion too terrified to move. The initial wave of panic was over quickly and in its wake came a moment of deadness in which he felt nothing but the cold knowledge that he must move. Wiping his eyes on his sleeve, he sniffed and took a moment to enjoy the afterglow left behind after blind panic.
Realising that whilst hanging by his harness from the engine housing, neither hiding nor investigating was possible, he forced himself to act and climbed down to floor level. After discarding the harness, he tip toed to the main door and pressed his ear to its surface. When the next volley came, he knew it was coming from above, so he opened the door enough to put his head out and look both ways down the corridor. Seeing no one, he wondered whether to go back down to deck five and hide in his room or venture upstairs and find out what was going on. With his initial panic now under some control, he was able to concentrate enough to notice that the gunfire came in volleys a minute or so apart. There was nothing haphazard about it, as one might expect in a gunfight. These shots came at regularly spaced intervals and they sounded like they all came from the same gun. Mykus had no memories of guns to call upon, but he knew somewhere deep within that guns all sound different. These sounded the same though and without warning, the thought leapt to the front of his mind.
“That’s not a gunfight, it’s one person firing off a gun. Like on a firing range or something. Maybe it’s a security guy practising his sharpshooting.” That sound might indicate someone in a position of authority with an explanation for the dead engine and lack of crew. Mykus leapt up the stairs to deck three with hope pounding afresh in his heart. Following the sound, he made his way down the corridor and stopped outside a door marked ‘Security.’ He knew the gunfire was coming from within, but did not know whether to walk in unannounced or knock. Deciding that it was probably sensible to be cautious, especially as he was unarmed, he waited until the current volley ended and knocked loudly. After what he estimated to be around half a minute and with no more gunfire evident from behind the closed door, Mykus knocked again.
“Hello. Hello, is someone there? Can you help me? Hello?” His calls went unanswered and he suddenly felt unsure about what he should do. Whoever was inside must have heard him calling, so why refuse to answer the door? He could tell him to get lost if necessary, but to deliberately not acknowledge him was strange and made Mykus think it was probably because whoever it was with the gun, was not someone he felt comfortable trusting. Suddenly regretting having announced his presence to someone who may very well be either aggressive or crazy or both, Mykus decided that no good ever came from trying to hide when another action is available. A crazy man with a gun in the relatively confined environment of a space ship was not something he could easily avoid anyway. A slot to the side of the door waited for a key card and he hesitated for no more than a moment. Fishing in his pocket, he found the key card for room eighty-eight in which he had woken up and slid it into the slot. To his complete surprise, he heard a click that told him the door had accepted the card and was now unlocked.
“Hello? Is someone there? I knocked but you didn’t hear me,” he called in his most friendly voice as he gently pushed the door open, his heart thumping in his chest. No answer came, so he pushed the door open and stepped through. He found himself in a reception area with a desk by the door, behind which were several large lockers that ran the whole length of one wall. Despite calling out several times, he got no reply and eventually plucked up the courage to investigate further. He found a small kitchen and dining area, several basic beds, gaming table, vidicom screen and through another door, a firing range. Fully expecting to find Tearan Lindo, he went in but the place was as deserted as everywhere else he had been so far. This was getting weirder by the second. He distinctly heard gunfire up until he was right outside the door and yet there was no one there. He yelled at the top of his voice, irritation over riding his fear and the silence that greeted him annoyed him.
By the time Tearan decided he was tired and wanted to stop for the day, all of the medical cargo was successfully stored in the medical bay, isolation ward, medical research lab, and morgue. He found no trace of Doctor Arma, but the crazy scribblings still decorating the walls gave him shivers as he read about ghosts and dismembered bodies. Reading the crazy ramblings made him wonder if it was safe down here after all. Whoever wrote it was, or had been at some point, seriously disturbed. He decided that once he had some time, he would come down and clean it all off. All this stuff about ghosts and bodies cut up creeped him out.
“I wonder if Mykus has seen this?” he muttered as he left.
After returning the hover loader to the cargo hangar, Tearan climbed back up to deck four and walked along to the engineering briefing room to leave a message for Mykus. He was surprised to find two messages already waiting for him, the first of which was from Mykus.
“Tearan. I can assure you the vidicom has been fixed by someone. That means both you and I are both nuts, or there is someone else aboard with us. I feel sure it isn’t Doctor Arma though, and I have a bad feeling about him. I am willing to bet you a hundred that something horrible has happened to him. Call me crazy if you want, but I know what I’m feeling. Anyway, I found a section of wire had been cut and removed. Cut, not broken by the way. Deliberately cut out. Four inches of it including an overload connection socket, cut out cleanly. Another thing too, the engineering crawlspace has been blocked off above deck seven. Access down there is impossible, I checked for access panels but there are none. This is very odd and against all the regulations in existence. I also agree about the size of the rooms on decks seven and eight. I paced it out and you’re right, there’s a large area of space sectioned off down there. Now for the bad news. Despite fixing the wire, the shuttle bay emergency back up control still will not work and I cannot get those bay doors shut. Sorry. I’m going to continue my inspection of the ship’s systems. Come by when you have time and talk about it.”
“I knew it,” Tearan shrieked, thumping a fist down onto the table. “Why block off such a large portion of the ship and try to hide its existence? I have to find out what’s going on down there.” Mykus’ news served only to further his conviction that gaining access to the blocked off space was important. Even if it turned out to be empty and silent, he had to know. The whole idea of blocking off such a large section of two decks and trying to make it invisible, unnoticeable, was too incongruous to ignore. Mykus’ apparent conviction that someone had been fiddling with the vidicom brought deep furrows to Tearan’s brow. Knowing the two of them had not touched it meant that they must assume Doctor Arma had done so, or that there was indeed someone else aboard. A flush of fear coursed through him and he acknowledged the feeling of invisible eyes watching him before shaking it off and listening to the next message.
“Hi there, guys. My name is Tovis Kerral and I’m a survivor like yourselves. I managed to get the comms working today. There was some sort of inhibitor attached inside that prevented it from working. It’s really weird, I’ve not come across anything like it before. I’ve left it on the table here for Mykus to take a look at. Your engineering brain might recognise it. You might even find them in other parts of the ship. I listened to your messages by the way and I was wondering if any of you are getting your memories back yet? The reason I ask is because I have no amnesia at all, which is a little weird don’t you think. Why should I not have it when all of you three do? I am having weird dreams though. Anyway, maybe we should get together, we’d surely be stronger as a unit. I’m in room ten on deck two. I’ll keep checking out the security room and engineering and see if I can’t catch you guys there. By the way, I’ve set a distress call going on an automatic loop so we don’t have to continuously man the comms.”
Tearan’s eyes widened in surprise when he heard this new person introduce himself and as with Mykus and Doctor Arma, there was something about him that seemed familiar. Try as he might, he was unable to pinpoint what it was and he shook his head in frustration. He seemed friendly enough though and keen to pitch in and help. Having working comms helped their situation and it might not be long before someone hears the call and comes to rescue them. He glanced over at the table but found no components, so guessed Mykus beat him to the message. This was the best news he had since waking up on board and he was smiling as he felt his earlier paranoia disperse. Relieved to have another person with usable skills, Tearan recorded a response.
“Hi there, Tovis, Tearan Lindo here. Welcome to umm, well wherever we are. I can’t see any component on the table here, so I guess Mykus is already checking it out. I hope he finds and removes one from the shuttle bay emergency controls so we can get those bay doors closed and have access to those shuttles. I’ve noticed something odd about the size of the rooms down on decks seven and eight. The rooms as they appear on the maps are much bigger than they actually are and I estimate there’s a substantial amount of space hidden away down there. Take a look at the maps and pace out the cargo hangar and shuttle bay. Then go and pace out the hazardous waste store, you’ll see what I’m talking about. I’m shifting some stuff in the cargo hangar so I can gain access to the far wall that should be the boundary wall of the spare space and if it comes to it, I’ll crash through it with a hover loader. I won’t rest until I’ve found out the reason for the discrepancy in the sizes of those rooms. Have either of you come across Doctor Arma yet? And have either of you seen that crazy shit down in the medical bay? Go take a look if you want to be creeped out. It makes me wonder if it’s safe down there. He could be a crazy hatchet murderer for all we know, waiting to leap out on us and hack our heads off. Be careful down there until we know for sure where he is and what condition he’s in. Oh, by the way. I got the rest of my memories back over the past couple of days, all except some of the more recent stuff. I’ve started having some nightmares too, so I guess this is all part of the process. Come by the cargo hangar and find me, I’d like to meet you both.”
With renewed hope, Tearan went up to deck three and the security room to shower. His mind was fully engaged upon buttoning up his shirt when a sound made him snap his head up and spin around, eyes wide with shock.
“Tearan Lindo? Hello, anyone home? I came to introduce myself to a fellow survivor. Hello.”
After parking the hover loader alongside the others, he unpacked and within an hour had set up home in the cargo hangar. With the aid of several seating cushions from the recreation room on deck five, he made a comfortable bed on the floor facing the Q-Wall. The gym equipment stood at one end of the large room and afforded him plenty of space to work out and keep his fitness levels at optimum. After fiddling with the vidicom handset control, he found that music could be piped throughout the whole ship, so he set the handset down beside his new bed. Several guns and hundreds of power packs were stacked within easy reach should he need them and a line of motion triggered alarms spanned the room. Setting these across the width of the room in front of the Q-Wall, anyone trying to sneak through would set them off and give him the chance to arm himself. On a whim, he decided to put another one facing the door that led out into the corridor and two more outside the door facing both ways down the corridor. Anyone approaching from any direction would set them off and he would not be caught unawares. If they were indeed filming him, he wanted them to realise it would be futile to try to sneak up on him.
The cargo hangar’s small office contained a drinks dispenser, nutri-vend, and an auto snack so he would not want for food. The small staff bathroom at the far end of the office would ensure he would not have to leave the cargo hangar unless he wanted to cook a proper meal in the kitchen or watch a vidicom movie. The stores manifest yielded a personal library console, which meant he had ten thousand books, articles, and magazines to read, all contained within a small device four inches square and half an inch deep. After making himself a hot drink, he switched the vidicom handset control to random shuffle and cranked the volume up loud. The cargo hangar throbbed to the beat of some teenage boy band whose song consisted of little more than three completely unintelligible phrases, which they shouted repeatedly at the top of their lungs. He inwardly winced at the cacophonous noise and hoped whoever was behind the wall was doing so too.
All there was to do now was to settle in and wait it out for as long as possible, or until someone revealed themselves. Tearan was used to digging in and waiting, sometimes for many days and he was disciplined enough to be able to withstand the boredom. He could work out, read, listen to music, clean the cargo hangar, and even move stuff around the shelving with the loaders to stave off boredom if he was suffering. Not having something to do would not be too much of a problem. No, that’s not what worried him at all. He knew the only thing he would find difficult was not having anyone to talk to. When his unit had to dig in and wait it out on missions, having each other’s company helped keep them sane and focussed. There was no one with whom to share his fears or lighten the loneliness and he knew the solitude was already taking its toll on him.
Having missed a mid day meal, Tearan approached the nutri-vend in the cargo hangar office and perused its menu. Military personnel use these machines all the time, so he knew what to expect. These machines deliver a variety of hot and cold meals, all made with a nutritionally balanced, food grade, synthetic puree. With the addition of equally synthetic flavourings and some processing, something safe, healthy, and edible is available to those in situations where cooking or real ingredients are not an option. The puree is highly concentrated and stored with all the air taken out. The high concentration means a little goes a long way and when air is reintroduced through the extrusion nozzle as it exits the machine, it fluffs up to fifty times its volume. Used by a single individual, a fully stocked nutri-vend machine can go for a thousand meals before needing a refill cartridge.
Tearan knew what he was going to choose, but he always took the time to peruse the menu anyway. All nutri-vend machines offered the same fifteen item menu of well known dishes from a variety of planetary systems. With many different savoury and sweet dishes on offer, most soldiers knew the menu by heart and had tried them all, with the exception of one. Yamelian Pie is one of the sweet dishes offered by all nutri-vend machines galaxy wide and is a popular dessert from the Canorly system, right out in galactic sector 83583-3340P. The Canorly system has three large inhabited planets, all of which are the only known location of Mexahedralonium X4. All three Canorly planets produce it in abundance, via the unique mineral make up of their molten cores. With an abundance of volcanoes on all three planets, the bright pink lava flows yield a constant supply, which is sold all over the galaxy at enormous profit for use in the production of a high specification space ship fuel additive. The substance makes Trans Wave Flow Core engines run cleaner and enables them to gain up to twenty-four percent extra speed. Because of the cost of this rare substance, it is used exclusively by the military, where extra speed and agility in the theatre of war can save countless lives.
The Canorly people love Yamelian Pie passionately. As a token of gratitude from the military for providing them with Mexahedralonium X4, they were promised that wherever a Canorly soldier should find himself, no matter what dangers he may be placing himself in for the good of others, he would always have a taste of home to keep up his spirits. Thus, Yamelian Pie will always be on the nutri-vend menu. The only problem for everyone else is that no one other than Canorly people like it. Everyone else unanimously agrees that it is the most disgusting substance known. Tearan was not about to break with tradition, so he plumped for his usual Wassalen Toka, then Noma Curd for dessert.
After spending a couple of hours reading, he decided it was time to start stirring things up a little. This would not only give him something to do, but it would hopefully annoy the hell out of whoever was keeping watch from behind the wall. If so, that would amuse him no end. He was done trying to avoid getting involved in whatever was going on and did not care that he was making it plain he knew of their existence. Whether there was any danger to him from knowing about the Q-Wall, he did not know, but he was beyond caring. He had to change things and if they proved dangerous, so be it. Remaining on board alone, possibly for years to come would send him insane with loneliness. That was worse than death and he would rather die than endure it.
He switched off the music and began to sing aloud. If the men in his unit were still alive and watching him, he knew they would be wetting themselves laughing. Tearan, a strong and dependable soldier, a highly trained elite operative with many awards for marksmanship and for his ability to focus in extremely stressful situations, was most definitely not a natural singer. Being tone deaf meant that if he ever sang a note on key, it was by accident rather than by design and his friends teased him mercilessly about it. During training, when he and his men did twenty-mile training runs with seventy five pound kit packs on their backs and full helmet air masks on their heads, they sang various songs to help keep their spirits up and their feet in step. The men in the unit got together and taught Tearan to sing these songs all on one note, as a sort of harmonisation for their own voices and it worked reasonably well.
In the cargo hangar, he let rip with as much force as his voice would give, only this time he did not sing the songs all on one note. His attempts to sing reverberated around the lofty space and he knew he could keep it up for hours, as he used to on those training runs. Singing at the top of his lungs, he let his mind drift as he jogged back and forth up and down the room. By going through each song a certain number of times, Tearan knew he had run up and down the cargo hangar for something approximating twenty miles during the three hours and twenty-five minutes he had been singing. One of the songs had one hundred and seven verses, each one telling the story of a fictitious person from an equally fictitious Arlenikan village. A terrible tragedy befell the village and many different forms of the song exist in different military units. The one Tearan and his unit sang had the villagers suffering a flood, with each verse telling the story of one of the village’s one hundred and seven inhabitants. Although the tragedy that befell the village tended to change with whomever was singing, the ending was always the same. Each of the inhabitants died and their spirits remained to haunt the now abandoned and forever uninhabitable village. Tearan decided that if his men were still alive and listening, he hoped they were joining in.