Winner of writingforums.org short story of the week contest, and the story that this blog took its name, enjoy.
The light faded as April’s photo disappeared from the screen and she drifted out of range. Taco rubbed his face, digging in his nose momentarily, he flicked the crusty wad on the floor before reaching under the dash. He tugged at a drawer, but the metal stuck, he shook it violently before it finally ground free. Going Back of House, as they say, required a little more courage than Taco had on his own.
He cracked open the snap-lock bag before pouring the white crystals onto the flat drink rest, on the rightside of the dashboard. Chopping at it with his ID card, he leant in.
The crystals slid up the steel straw. ‘Ohhhhh, yeeeah,’ he said as a half sigh. Taco stretched out and his back crackled as he stood up. Pressing his palm against his cheek, he snorted hard again. His throat tight he licked his lips and turned the tunes back up, to full volume. He could barely hear himself think. Perfect.
The double kicks pounding, the base heaving. He swung the locker open, revealing the only piece of modern tech found on the Battlehammer, his Vapourgrind Spacesuit.
Barely able to keep the grin from his face, there was something about heading through the airlock and into space that still got his motor running… Or perhaps it was because it was always preceded by a thick rail of Ermaine. A somewhat hallucinogenic drug that made a person feel like they could break mountains and walk through walls… He wouldn’t be sleeping for a couple of days.
The Vapourgrind started as a baggy red jump suit with a bauble helmet. he zipped it up. Folding the front flaps down and hooking them in. A flick of his wrist engaged the locks, sealing him in. Then the magic happened. He pumped the button on the wrist and the suit began to shrink. After ten pumps, the suit was pulled taught across his muscular body.
The red jumpsuit hugging his form, he scratched at his head before remembering the helmet. Entering the airlock he engaged the Mag Tether, the device that would keep him from flying off into space. Shouldering the Battle Hammer’s laser rifle, he pulled the lever. Though his suit shielded him from the brunt of it, he winced under the force of the pressure change.
If his ship hadn’t told him otherwise, he’d be inclined to believe he stood stationary. Reds and blues shimmered on the distant horizon, stars twinkled amid dust clouds as he stomped, his boots clinging to the hull. Mind swimming from the drug, he walked along the causeway skirting the first cargo hold. Ten meters high, the monstrous rectangular prism had no intention handholds. Bolted together by rivets as big as his fist, the carriages were hardier than the craft that pulled them.
Taco scanned his ID badge over the lock and the door to the carriage opened sideways. The container’s lights flickered into life as the airlock sealed behind him… Normally a carriage this size would be laden. The walls lined with crates and boxes, with a thin causeway along the centre. But this one, curiously, was empty save for a white box at its centre. A single clamp holding it in place.
Taco narrowed his eyes and, again, scratched at his head only to meet the glass dome. He unslung the rifle and progressed forward. He shook his head violently as his sight began to tunnel. The Eramine playing with his brain, drowning his focus and honing in on the peculiar crate. A perfect cube, it had no lock, and seemingly no opening.
‘This is fucked,’ he whispered to himself before rolling his eyes. It wasn’t a stow-away, and that was good enough for him… Or was it?… Something stopped him. Curiosity? Perhaps. The drug pumping through his system? More likely.
Taco traced his palm along the box but swallowed thickly as the cube began to glow. It’s matte white exterior turning luminous before his eyes. He thought to turn. Turn to run. But he did not. Taking two steps back he watched as the cube unfolded like a blooming flower. He raised the rifle as the form of a girl, no older than ten, emerged. Her pallid body was locked in place by steel arms, her head wired with more than one hundred thin cables coiling out of rubber pads.
‘Oh, shit!’ Taco snapped unconsciously. Filled with hurt and worry he began frantically tearing at the claws, and pulling off the cables. He placed a hand on her chest. The girl was breathing, her cotton wrapped chest only just moving. He cradled her head, staring at her closed eyes. Through his glass dome he had a realisation… A horrible realisation… The carriage was pressure controlled, yes. But there was no oxygen. How could she?…
Taco’s eyes shot wide, as the girl’s opened slowly. Hollow, glowing blue eyes.
‘Liriad!’ Taco shrieked. He dropped the girl. ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck.’
The man got to his feet as fast as possible as understanding hit him like a Fed Sweep and Destroy. The Battle Hammer’s I.R.L.F.D. Wouldn’t detect a Liriad. His mind reeled back, back to the orbital warehouse, the grizzled quartermaster: ‘Six million dollar job, Taco. God knows why they want this piece of shit. But they were specific.’
Who was specific? Who the fuck was specific? Why don’t I ask questions… fuck, Taco thought as he turned to run.
The Liriad began to move, it’s face vacant, emotionless. Her race was the human kind’s latest conquest. Taco knew the stories, but that was it. He’d never seen one. The race, physically, appeared to be human, save for their curious eyes, but they possessed telekinetic and psychic powers, far surpassing any of the human Chosen. They were the something, the Federation had found in Nowhere.
‘Why flee?’ A voice stung Taco’s brain. Like it were all around him, it echoed. Almost his own voice at first but broke into a woman’s, an old woman, his mother. It sang again and again, stinging his drug addled mind. As his mag boots hammered the steel ground, he turned from his flight, meeting the creature’s eyes.