[SHORT STORY] The last flight of a Hammerhead

The NSV Valkyrie set off from Space Station 7 on the 20th of October, 2263, with six crewmen on board. Our mission is one of delivery, we must deliver the ship to the docks over Outpost 15, where it will be taken apart and its parts will be reused for new vessels. Being the last active ship of the original Hammerhead line, it is long overdue for disassembly. As I write these words, we are travelling in Bluespace at a snail’s pace. What would usually take a few hours to maybe a day takes us almost two weeks! The CE said that if we want to deliver the thrusters in one piece, we need to go slow, and we are only running on batteries anyway.

That reminded Ladislav, he promised the CE he would help disassemble the reactor. So he read his report again, concluded that he is overdramatizing the whole thing, hit “save”, and slid his PDA into his pocket. This log writing was a fool’s errand anyway, most people write them after the mission and ninety percent of the time noone touches these anyway. Of course, these logs are like diapers: you hope you’ll never need them, but when you do need them, they can save you from a lot of shit. Plus, this is his first shift as Head of Security, so he wanted to prove that he can do it well. That he can learn from his mistakes, learn from all the shifts he spent as an officer.

And what shifts those were! As he ran along the empty hallways, the echoes of his boots on the metal plating sounded deep into the past. So many times he sprinted down halls like this, giving chase to some syndicate agent or running away from them, dashing after a cry for help on the radio or just to the hangar to see the fighters launch. As he rounded the corner and looked into the cafeteria, he could almost make out people standing at the bar, sitting around the tables. So many good fellows, so many missions, with no records anywhere but his memories. A feeling struck him, like he was falling, deeper and deeper into the memories, the air whooshing around him, his head starting to swim.

The Head of Security slammed onto the floor with a metallic bang. As he stood up, he saw a maintenance drone skitter away into the vent, unaware of what he just caused. Good thing it did, he had no time to waste on nostalgic moping. He had a job to do.

  • Hey Gustav! - Lad shouted, as he walked into the reactor room - Where are you?
  • Here! - came the obvious answer
  • Yeah, no shit, but where?
  • Down in the hole! - Gustavv answered, and suddenly rose out of the Stormdrive’s reactor core. Or, where the core once was - Jesus Christ Lad, put on a radsuit maybe? We’ll be moving radioactive control rods here.
  • Right, right - he put on a suit, zipped up the neck covers, and stood next to the reactor’s chamber - Okay, I’m ready.
  • Allright, I’ll lift it to you, and you put it in the pool, got it?
  • Yes, I’m not dumb.
  • No, you are an MP! - Lad could see his grin even though his visor was down - Oh no wait, you got promoted, right? Took them long enough.
  • Yeah, hundreds of missions. 340 just on Hammerheads like this…
  • But who’s counting them, right? - Gustavv asked sarcastically
  • Why, don’t say it like you don’t think about all those shifts of old sometimes.
  • Oh yes, I could probably set up a reactor like this with my eyes closed. But then again, I could also fall into the core if I kept my eyes shut.
  • Ah, I get what you mean, but I can’t help it. I open a door and I see ghosts waving at me from years ago.
  • Then don’t open those doors, simple as! You’ve got a job to do anyway.
  • Of course. I’ve got to check maintenance to make sure we aren’t bringing a bomb to NT’s biggest shipyard.
  • Well then! Or do I have to tell you how to do your job?
  • No, of course not, Lieutenant Gustav… Hey, come to think of it, I outrank you now!
  • Huh, is that so? Then you better prepare for the fires of the revolution HoS, for you are one of CC’s corrupt lapdogs now - Gustavv replied with a laugh as Lad left engineering.

Turn left, turn right, step over the broken light, turn right again, dodge the rats, these maintenance hallways seemed to go on for ever. Hammerheads did not have an extensive network of tunnels like other ships, but the few they had were cramped and disorientating. And, they were fucking empty. Lad did not find a bomb, but before you ask, neither did he find a beeping signaller, a bloody rune or a roaming meatsack, though he did find some quality booze. But even that could not make the hallways any shorter or any more interesting. He had crossed these tunnels thousands of times by now, and knowing how few people were on board, there was no chance of actually finding something interesting in here. Left-right-left-right then right-left-right-left. His gunlight bobbing as he walked, never lighting enough of the floor in front of him, shadows dancing around it like some ghosts in a horror story around a campfire. He’d suddenly step out into a properly lit room and feel like he got hit with God’s own flashbang, only to go back into the dark tunnels again.

But as he stepped out of the hangar bay, a maintenance airlock shut in front of him. But there are only six people on board, why would anyone be there? Two in CIC, two in engi, one guy downloading research data and him- ah, who cares, he has to check it out! He darted across the hall, the rusty door opening with a groan in front of him. As he stepped into the dark supply room, his headset started buzzing

  • What? - he shouted - Repeat that, I didn’t hear you!
  • I’m chasing him - through the buzzing came the distorted reply - In Medbay maints ~buzz~ stole the hand ~buzz~ and armed.
  • I hear you Teo - Who is Teo? Who was Teo? - I’m behind you, coming from the Hangar - he replied without thinking.

Lad charged down the tunnels, sidestepping the pipes and wires at his feet. He jumped over a table covered with a fancy tablecloth - only to look down and see no table there at all. No matter, he could hear the gunshots coming from his right. Or was it his left? Damnit, these tunnels have terrible acoustics! His gunlight shining bright in front of him, almost blinding in the pitch-black tunnel, though he did not remember taking his gun out. The light suddenly flashed into his eyes as it reflected on an airlocks’ windows. He stood there, in shock for a second. This door was not here, it wasn’t meant to be here, but before he could reason with it, the door opened and Lad stepped past it. His steps sped up more and more, slowly getting exhausted in his armored overcoat, yet he kept on running. As his hands shook, as his light jumped around the room. He could see a dark figure, always just outside his circle of light. He could feel the empty void of space outside pushing the walls around him, he felt the darkness creep ever closer. He sprinted to just reach something, to catch something to escape this growing haze. The buzzing in his headset grew louder as gunshots echoed inside his helmet, until suddenly he felt his right boot slip. His balance thrown off, he crashed down onto the floor.

As he stood up, still in a haze, he found himself in front of a red external airlock, and to his horror, he could see someone floating outside it, in space! That has to be Teo! He slammed down the open button, but the door did not move. He kept on pressing the button, faster and faster, started shouting at the door, but it was to no avail. The only answer he got were buzzes and red lights, showing that he did not have access. Tears started rolling down his face as whoever was out in space slowly floated by, and he could do nothing but watch. As he screamed at the airlock, begging it to open, out of nowhere there came a hissing sound from his right.

He raised his gun, jumped to the side, but as he did, he could see only an open door with nobody behind it- nobody, but a skittering maintenance drone, not even acknowledging him.

He lowered his gun with shaking hands. Rivers of sweat were running down his back, he threw his overcoat to the side. This didn’t make sense, none of it made sense. He froze with terror and confusion, and as he turned to look once more out to space, he couldn’t see anyone. Not a dead body, not even a human figure, but a gentle space carp swimming by. He slid down onto the floor, his back against the cold wall, and tried to make anything out of what happened. There were - there are! - only six people on the ship: him, the Captain and the BO, the CE and the Atmos Tech, and one Scientist. One Scientist, the Atmos Tech, the CE, the BO, the Captain, and the HoS, him, Ladislav Readde! But then who did he hear? Who spoke on the radio? None of them sound like that! One is an IPC, one is a lizard, and the rest are all men, they do not sound like the voice he heard. Yeeh, the voice of… the voice of Teo, that was the name!

Yes, Theodora, but everyone called her Teo, cuz she hated Dora! Yes, now he remembered, her face, her hair, her armor on that shift… What shift? She was in the navy for ages, they worked together on many shifts… when did she quit, anyway? And then it hit him, straight in the chest. Teo never quit the job, she never left the company. This is what happened to her, right here, years ago.

Yes, yes, someone stole the… the hand teleporter, and Teo chased after them. Yes, in medbay maint, right along umm… there, yes, they came from there. But he wasn’t here to see it. No, he was at the Hangar when the call came. Yes, and he took off immediately, right along the same way as now. He was running along the tunnels, just like now when he heard gunshots. Teo must’ve caught up with the perp as he was getting closer, but just as he arrived, they were both gone.

Now he stood in the same place as he stood all those years ago. Right in front of him was the airlock, and just as it did not open moments ago, it did not open years ago either. Military Police never had access to these. Now he remembered, standing here, smashing the button, but when it did not do anything, he asked - no, demanded the AI open it, but it refused, because the ship was in Bluespace. When they finally got out of Bluespace, they launched a whole manhunt, half the ship was searching, but they never found any of them, nor any bodies. Yes, now he remembered, they never recovered the hand tele, nor the thief, nor Teo. He wrote in the report that the thief must have opened the airlock somehow, hoping to hide on the hull of the ship, but Teo was too fast, she caught up, and the surprised thief chose to send both of them into space rather than go to jail. And by the time he arrived, it was too late.

He didn’t believe that. Not when it happened, not when he wrote the report and not now either. If the thief opened the airlock, the whole room would have been depressurized by the time Lad arrived. He wouldn’t have had problems with the door, as it would’ve been wide open. No, no, they couldn’t have left through the door. And then it dawned on him: they did not leave through the door. The thief stole the hand tele, so when Teo got them cornered, he must’ve opened a random portal. But then why didn’t they find either of them? As he looked out for a final time through the airlock, he knew the answer to that too. The reason space did not look as he remembered it. When this all went down the ship was FTL-ing, and the hand tele must’ve gone haywire when the thief opened a portal. They were right inside Bluespace, God knows what happened to them both. Oh, poor Teo.

Ladislav stood there for a moment, clearing the tears from his face. As he did, he reached up to his headset, pushed it back into place, and spoke into again:

  • Gustav, do you read me?
  • Lad? Man, where are you? We’ve been looking for you for an hour now!
  • I’m good, I’m fine, just tell me, how much time ‘til we get there?
  • Umm, four days, maybe three. Why?
  • Can we go faster?