All four men stood in a circle studying the floor, faces a myriad of different expressions ranging from mild surprise to general curiosity. “This is damn strange.”
Flynt couldn’t disagree with Hansen’s observation. Empty ship, essentially dead in space, how the hell would a dead body end up here? Not just any dead body, this guy’s neck was slit from ear to ear. Flynt tucked his gun into the back of his belt before kneeling down for a closer look. Glassy eyes stared back at him, Flynt could almost see the shadow of his final moments of terror mirrored there.
Dipping his finger in the expansive puddle spread out underneath the body, he rubbed his fingers together, and with his other hand grasped the corpse’s wrist and tried to move his hand. “Hard to figure how long he’s been dead, rigor has set in and the blood’s congealed, but the ambient temp in here has been cold.”
“What kind of uniform is that?” Lim asked indicating the patch emblazoned on the shoulder. “I’ve never seen it before.”
Flynt reached over and ripped the patch from the shoulder, studying it closely. “Medical of some sort, maybe a special med transport, don’t know. Right now though, I want a complete sweep of this ship, this is too weird for my liking.”
“Since when was this normal from the get go?” Jones flippantly remarked.
Flynt had to give him that, standing and wiping his fingers on his pants. “Everybody do a thorough check as quickly as possible. I’m going to see if navigation is operational, the longer we’re out here attached to this ship the longer we’re vulnerable.”
“Thinking of cutting her loose, Captain?”
“No, if we can get her up and running I want to move her to a more secure location,” he explained, “Do a cargo transfer once we’re in a safer situation. Time is of the essence right now.”
He turned his attention to the consoles as the other three moved off to search the rest of the ship. They lit up brightly at his touch, kicking back information as he input commands. Good, the ship itself seemed in operational shape. Should be no problem moving her independently out of here. “Now, are you going to show me what you have hiding in those shipping containers.”
A cargo manifest scrolled across his screen, everything broken down into numbered containers and then subcategorized into specific items. The manifest itself lent credence to his assumption that this was a medical transport of some sort, most entries were for medical equipment and supplies.
One entry halfway down caught his eye, the entry in question was highlighted red, with the benign label of Unspecified Medical Cargo. Tapping it, a notification appeared requesting further identification and a clearance code. “Damn. Hopefully something of value at least.”
His radio crackled to life, “Captain, we found another one.”
“Another what?” Flynt replied.
There was a moment of hesitation before Jones voice came back over comms, “Dead body. In the cargo hold.”
“I’ll be right there.”
Coming through the doors he could see all three standing in the cargo pit, a pair of legs the only visible part of the second victim. Sliding down the ladder he felt his boot crunch on something, reaching he picked up what was left of what looked like an empty injection. He turned it over in his hand studying the half smashed tube, the label from the contents not giving him much of a clue.
Approaching the group Flynt held out his hand to Hansen, handing off the vial to the only person who might know what it was. “What do you make of that?”
Flynt glanced down at the body, slumped up against a tall, vertical shipping container. Blood streaked down the front where the guy had obviously leant and finally slid to his final resting place. Multiple stab wounds punctured his body, most of his life blood soaking his clothes and pooling around him on the decking.
“It’s an injected sedative, Captain.” Hansen finally answered throwing the cracked container to the side. “Stands to reason that it might have fallen out of one of the containers during loading.”
Hansen shrugged his shoulders signalling his lack of answer. This whole thing was damned strange. Best course of action was to leave while the leaving was good. “Hansen, Lim move the bodies out of the way and prep her for flight, we’re leaving as soon as possible. Jones, you and I are on the Cat. Let’s get a move on. Comm when you’re ready.”
Hansen and Lim looked at each momentarily, “You take the feet?”
“Fine.” Hansen answered.
Hansen grabbed the feet and waited for Lim to hoist the rest upon heaving the body into his arms Lim felt his legs buckle a bit and leant back against the side of the container to adjust his grip.
“Lim, what the hell did you touch? Something just blinked behind you.”
Lim turned his head to see a lit up panel momentarily red before cycling back to white. “Don’t know, seems to be fine now.”
Both ships were underway in less than 20 mins. Flynt had to hand it to his crew, they were proficiently fast when necessary. Now to reach a safe haven and see what they managed to acquire.
Hansen checked the instruments again, nervous at the prospect of making it safely to where they were going. They’d never managed to heist a whole ship before. The transit to a safe point was going to be the most stressful part. Lim was off to the side at one of the stations trying to go through the cargo manifest.
A low crash sounded through the open bridge doors from the cargo bay. Hansen and Lim eyed each other, “What was that?”
“Shifting cargo most likely, someone probably didn’t secure something.” Lim answered, “I’ll go check it out.”
Hansen turned his attention back to keeping an eye on the Caterpillar and making minute course corrections as they went. Minutes ticked by before he finally heard a set of boots coming up behind him, “Lim, that took long enough, what was it?”
A hot breath warmed his ear just as he felt wet steel press against his throat, “Lim won’t be joining you unfortunately.”
Hansen felt his body freeze, his breathing shallow as the voice talked into his ear. “Now I want you to comm the Caterpillar, I want them to dock with the ship again. Make up whatever excuse you need to and try not to let on that there’s real trouble, or this will end badly for you.”
Hansen managed to swallow a little, feeling the blade dig into his skin. Fumbling for the comms without looking he transmitted, “Captain, this is Hansen. Please respond.”
Agonizing seconds passed before Flynt’s voice came back, “Hansen, is there a problem?”
“Remember, calm and collected.” The voice reiterated into his ear before he answered.
“Captain, we’re having some mechanical problems,” Hansen said his voice only quavering slightly, “Can we dock, I’m going to need parts from the Caterpillar’s stores to fix it.”
The comms were quiet momentarily, Hansen knew he was conversing with Jones about it. The answer came back, “All right, let’s make this as quick as possible.”
Hansen brought the Aquila to a stop, holding his breath for the faceless man’s next move. “I’ve done what you asked.”
“My thanks,” the voice said before Hansen felt the knife bite across his throat and warmth spill down his chest. He felt himself gag as he fought for breath, feeling himself slowly drown. Everything going slowly dark.
Flynt sighed heavily waiting for the docking collar to cycle green before the doors open. Walking through the Aquila doors opened on darkness, “What the hell…”
She was in low power mode, emergency lights on. Feeling behind him he pulled the gun from his belt where he’d tucked it after they’d searched the Aquila initially, something was off. Skirting along the wall he moved forward, his eyes roaming. A strange black stain smeared the floor leading into the bridge. The door cycled open, closing behind him as he stepped him, heart in his throat.
A small part of him knew what he was going to find before his eyes came to rest of Hansen and Lim. Both lying on the floor side by side, both their necks slit open. A quick search cleared the bridge before he started moving aft, checking all conceivable hiding places.
The Aquila was clean, that left one possibility, ice spread through his veins at the thought. Activating his comms he tried to hail the Caterpillar bridge, “Jones?”
A long drawn out silence followed before it came to life, “If you’re looking for your shipmate, don’t bother.”
The foreign voice clipped out the words, an almost sinister sounding sneer at the end. Flynt tightened his grip on his gun and proceeded back through to the Caterpillar. “Who are you?”
There was a slight pause and small chuckles, “You would like to know wouldn’t you? Well, seeing as I will be the last thing you see before I dispatch you from this world, I’ll be fair. My name is Sharp.”
“The name means nothing to me. Who are you? Where did you come from?” He spit out angrily as he stepped across the threshold of his ship. Emergency lights were now on here as well, he’d obviously damaged or shut down the power.
“I was being transported to a new psych facility. A very dangerous patient, doctors thought I needed further evaluation and therapy, being sent to an advanced treatment centre.” Sharp explained. “They sedated me before loading me onto the ship but I don’t think they counted on the fact that they hadn’t given me enough, I woke up part way through the trip.”
“Where were you hiding?”
“After I killed one of them and fatally wounded the second, he caught me unawares. Managed to inject me with more sedative, needless to say I woke up thawing out in a cryo locker.”
The broken sedative container, one of the med staff sitting against the vertical cargo container, all the small details came flooding back to him. Things were beginning to make sense now. “Why not tell me where you are? If you’re so unafraid…”
“I’m where the randomness of everything makes sense.”
His brain latched onto each word trying to decipher the riddle. Randomness making sense…his thoughts darting through each specific area on the ship trying to fit it into the riddle. Boxes stacked high row on row… full of miscellaneous items. He was in the cargo bays.
Stepping through the door, gun up he surveyed the walkway and immediate surroundings. Emergency lights were on but didn’t give off enough light, as they had never been used some were burnt out and others dirty from years of cargo hauling.
Slowly and quietly as possible he walked in watching for movement, the slightest shift of a shadow. The soles of his boots whispered across the steel plates as he crept along, his eyes constantly moving.
“I smell your fear, Captain,” the voice echoed through the shadows. “Even now sweat is collecting on your brow, sliding down your spinal column. You are like a cornered animal fighting for survival. Fear makes you slow… careless.”
“Why don’t you just kill me outright then? Why all the cat and mouse games with you?” Flynt yelled back, peering through the dim light, trying to make out anything. “You killed my crew easy enough.”
“Tsk, tsk, Captain. They were but the warm up, a tasting of what is to come, if you will.” Arrogant impatience tinged the reply, “You my dear captain, are the trophy kill. I mean to make this worth my while and you will either prove a worthy opponent or you will die quickly when the time comes.”
Flynt knew he was at a disadvantage, the best way to proceed was straight down the centre walkway but it also was the most exposed. And the sides of the walkway was littered with smaller boxes and coils of rope and wire in some place. As quiet as he tried to be his feet still rang out with slight footfalls, all there was for it now was that his reflexes were hopefully faster.
A quarter of the way down a shadow moved in the dark just off the walkway, Flynt hissed as a blade sliced his shirt and glided across his ribs. Slapping a hand over them he felt warmth seep through his fingers. He stumbled, turning in time to see Sharp smiling back at him in satisfaction from a short distance away.
Sharp held up the knife that glinted crimson, blood dripping slowly down the blade, “Too slow.”
Flynt could see his gun lying on the floor at Sharp’s feet, where he’d dropped it upon being ambushed. Pulling his hand away he wiped the blood on his shirt before pulling the knife out of his boot that he always kept there.
“So, you would like to dance!” Sharp laughed before mocking him with a gentlemanly bow. “Shall we Captain?”
Flynt eyed up Sharp, giving him a quick once over. Well, if he was going to go out, he was going out in style. Gripping the knife tightly he charged Sharp knocking both of them to the ground. Both men were up quick as a flash, Flynt having the advantage of being behind Sharp, throwing his arms around his neck he tried his best to choke him.
A sudden crack and flare of pain hit him as something solid connected with his kneecap, shattering it. It had the desired effect, he instantly released Sharp, stumbling back trying his best to maintain consciousness. His vision narrowing and spots dancing before his eyes.
Sharp didn’t give him a reprieve, coming at him again. Flynt felt Sharp’s blade sink into his shoulder, the pain jolting him aware again. An effort was made to pull it back out but Flynt could feel the small teeth bite into bone in his shoulder successfully halting the knife’s retrieval. It was by sheer will that he didn’t pass out.
They grappled briefly for the free remaining blade, Sharp’s size lending support in the struggle, he came up with the knife. His foe stood over him considering the final death blow, “Short and sweet. I may have been wrong about you.”
With the last ounce of energy he could muster Flynt kicked out connecting with Sharp midsection, sending him reeling unbalanced backwards, his feet tangling in a coil of rope sending him over the side of the railing. Flynt didn’t hear the thud of a body hitting the deck and instead the creak of rope as someone struggled against it to get free.
Pushing himself up and clumsily to his feet, Flynt hobbled over to where his gun lay, leaning down and retrieving said object from the floor. Shuffling down to where Sharp had fallen over, waiting for Sharp to look up at him. He pulled the trigger, the noise reverberating through the cargo bay loudly, “Who’s the trophy kill now you fucking bastard.”