This story is by Claire Chandler and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“This is the SS Artemis. We are receiving your distress call. What is your status?”
A dull hiss came back over the channel.
“I repeat, this is the SS Artemis. What is your status?”
The hiss continued. The communications operator turned to face the woman at the center of the bridge.
“I’m sorry, Captain. I can’t confirm that they’re even receiving our transmission.”
Kathrine Fludd nodded in response.
“Helm, bring us alongside to assess her condition before docking. Security and Medical, prepare to receive new passengers and process them as required. Engineering, prepare a survey team. Yellow alert. All non-essential processes are suspended.” She stood up. “I’ll be in my cabin. Randor, with me. You have the bridge Ubem.”
“Yes, Captain,” said the man at the helm.
In her office Fludd sat behind her desk and gestured for her first officer to sit.
“What do you think?”
Randor shifted in his seat and wrinkled his nose.
“It’s difficult to be sure. Our scans indicate their systems are badly damaged, comms are down, weapons offline. There are faint life signs. This should be as straightforward as a rescue mission gets.”
Fludd smiled at his irony. Rescue missions could be notoriously unpredictable.
“I don’t like the vessel’s history,” said Fludd. “It appears to have come from the Trentor system. It’s registered as a freighter, but the situation out there is so volatile I’m taking no chances.”
“Nim will be in the rescue party.” Randor’s eyes opened wide in surprise.
“Are you sure she’s ready?”
“She’s not going to get ready running drills. She needs to get back out there.” Fludd’s expression stopped any further discussion. “Shendon will lead the team.”
“Engineering get the lead?”
“He’s experienced enough to cope with both medical and security. And we don’t know what we’ll find over there. I want us in and out as quickly as possible. Nim will give us that edge.”
Nim stood with the rest of the team. She found it difficult to swallow, her mouth was too dry. She focused on keeping her breathing measured and regular. Her stomach turned over. She tried again to swallow and focus her attention on the door. Wondering what they would find behind it she re-checked her weapons. Two male security officers stood ahead of her. The three of them would make the initial assessment. What she found would shape the rest of the mission. She touched the left side of her neck to check her implant. This was becoming a reflex. She shook her head and lowered her hand. Now was no time to be jumpy.
The order came to proceed. There was a hiss from the pressure change as the hatch opened. The two men walked forward with weapons ready. She followed and looked behind to nod at Shendon, the team commander, who nodded in return. She breathed in deeply and stepped through the hatch into the dark.
Low light levels were expected. The dull red glow of the emergency tracking showed life support systems were still functioning. The two security officers walked further into the ship. They looked around to assess the situation. There was no welcome, no sign of life. They looked at each other and nodded.
“Area cleared for your assessment, Nim,” said the first. They took up positions with their back to her, regarding the corridor. She nodded in response and stood still.
“Beginning scan of vessel,” she said. Standing upright she closed her eyes and pushed her awareness through the vessel. She couldn’t report on the structural integrity of the ship itself, her talent was restricted to life forms. She could locate them, report on their medical condition and, most crucially for this mission, she could assess their intent. The Trentor system had produced more than one ship posing as a freighter which turned out to be carrying bandits, terrorists or dangerous cargo.
“No one on this level. Scanning the rest of the ship.” She remained still and silent for several minutes then opened her eyes. “The only life signs are on the two upper levels of the vessel,” said Nim. “Clear for the remaining team to board.”
“Confirmed. Rescue team cleared to proceed,” said the first security officer.
“Shall we?” said the second officer. He gestured to Nim towards the corridor ahead. She nodded and they proceeded into the ship.
“How we doing?”
“Still no life signs in this part of the ship,” said Nim. “Nice to see you again Prentor.”
“Good to see you back in action.” He smiled at her. “Always good to have a telepath by your side when a fight kicks off. Gives you the edge.” He touched her arm. “You good after your accident?”
Nim didn’t answer immediately. She had no idea how it would affect her in the long term. Restriction to spaceships and denial of planetary leave was harsh, even on medical grounds.
“Yes,” she said. “I don’t know, but so far so good.” She nodded as if to convince herself. She must not let uncertainty interfere with her instincts.
“And the rehab program? Is that really a thing?”
“Oh yes,” said Nim. “It’s really a thing.” You have no idea, she thought. “This,” she pointed to her neck implant. “This is my off switch. You got the brief on that? What to do in emergencies?”
Prentor nodded and shrugged.
Nim swallowed hard.
“Let’s get this done.” Nim looked around. Something further down the corridor caught her attention. “What’s down there?”
Prentor followed her gaze and frowned. “Standard lighting?” The end of the corridor had full light, in contrast to the dim emergency lighting where they stood. Nim returned his puzzled look.
“Maybe the damage is localized? After you, Nim. You got the early warning system.” She rolled her eyes at him then continued towards the light. Her eyes adjusted. Although bright, the illumination was gentle, almost soft, it didn’t dazzle but it was difficult to pick out details or colors.
As she processed this thought, a piercing pain erupted between her eyes. She pitched forward onto her hands and knees. The pain left no room for logical thought, it occupied and invaded her being. She literally had no space to think. Nim screamed, it seemed to erupt from the depths of her soul. The pain increased and spread through her body. Her bones grew, becoming too big for her flesh. She arched her back and stretched, trying to move with the pain. This seemed to give her body permission to expand. She lurched forward as fresh waves of pain shot through her limbs and she landed on all fours. She was expanding, turning, changing.
Prentor stood rooted to the spot as she transformed in front of him. Their eyes met. Her eyes, no longer pale blue, changed shape as he looked at her. Now a deeper blue, the whites no longer visible, these were no longer Nim’s eyes. She arched her back again. She grimaced and with her last conscious breath managed to whisper, “Off switch!”
Her words melted into a howl as the creature crouched ready to leap forward.
“Moonlight?” said the Bridge security officer. “Captain, I’m reading a lunar light signature.”
Prentor watched the creature advance towards him. The snarls of the monster became louder and more frenzied. Saliva dripped from its jaws. He couldn’t move. His feet were rooted to the spot. Part of him wanted to turn and run but something had overridden his survival response. So this was what freezing in action felt like, he thought. As the wolf approached him, it seemed to taunt him, holding eye contact, before it attacked. He could feel its hot breath on his face. Not even the smell of it could make him move. As he stood there, unable to move, he wondered how sharp its teeth were.
There was an explosion in the corridor. Hot liquid splashed across Prentor’s face. It stung and broke the trance which held him. He gasped and took an enormous mouthful of air, filling his lungs as if he’d been drowning. As he began to make sense of the red mass in front of him he let out a sob, then looked behind him. The first security officer stood with his gun raised, breathing hard. He wiped Nim’s blood and brains from his face then spat repeatedly on the floor, making sure none of the gore was in his mouth. At his feet was the headless, naked corpse of a woman, parts of her ripped uniform wrapped around her. Prentor started to shake.
“Conclusions?” said Fludd to the science team.
“The lycanthropy affected both sides of her heritage. A classic werewolf from the human side, and a terrible expansion of her mental abilities from the Martine. We think she held him in place with her mind.”
“But how was she killed with a laser blast? Don’t you need a silver bullet?”
“Oh please,” said Fludd. “You’ve been watching too many old movies.”