Staring at the cylinder of coolant, Xander tapped his wrench meaningfully against his thigh, his mind running over the best course of action. The super-cooled liquid inside the container would only be useable for a matter of minutes having been removed from the freezer unit. He needed to act fast. Therefore, he opted for the simplest solution he could think of.
Tipping the bulky cylinder, he gripped the handle with his jacket and lowered it gently till it was lying on its side, manoeuvring it so the nozzle pointed directly at the base of the bulkhead. Gripping the wrench tightly in his right hand, he brought it down hard on the side of the container, again and again until a fist sized dent had been driven into the metal casing. The tell-tale whine of building pressure told him the plan was working. Jumping to the nozzle of the canister, Xander counted to ten, then smashed the wrench down as hard as he could over the cap.
He hurled himself backwards as the icy blue liquid exploded forth, hissing like a nest of snakes, dousing a large section of the bulkhead door in freezing coolant. Scrambling backwards, Xander simply watched and hoped. In a matter of seconds the blue-white liquid had solidified over the plating of the door, hissing and steaming with all the ferocity of some corrosive acid. The last droplets trickled from the nozzle, falling to the plating below.
"C'mon, c'mon, c'mon," he muttered over and over, shuffling towards the door in a crouch. Dodging gingerly around the canister he bent in close to the frozen metal and gripped the wrench in both hands. "Please God let this work!" He swung the wrench with a roar of exertion at the affected section.
The blow landed squarely, and the blue-white ice exploded under the impact, taking with it a large chunk of the foot thick steel plating that had been fused into a brittle compound by the staggering drop in temperature. Xander dealt it three more strikes for good measure, dislodging a miniature mountain of frozen debris and opening a gap just wide enough for him to crawl through. He picked up his jacket, shaking some of the frost from the sleeves.
"Guys," he said, opening his com channel. "You read me?"
"Got you, Xander," Jonas replied first. "What just went on in the engine room? I just saw atmosphere venting!"
"Long story, Jonas. How bout the rest of you?"
"Still here," Redge grunted.
"Okay, I'm out of the engine chamber." He put the jacket on, shuddering slightly at the lingering cold. "Time to get ourselves off this ship."
"Easier said than done, Xander. Isla and I are out of that closet you locked us in but those freaks are everywhere. Every deck is crawling with them!"
"Sorry, Cap, as far as I can tell from these snapshots he's right."
"Okay, so we have a bit of a task," he snapped. "But by God we're going to get out of here! First things first, let's all get back together. Doesn't seem like that…whatever the hell it is can track us."
"How can it do anything? It's a cloud for fuck sake!"
"I don't know, but you better just start dealing with it, Redge. Whatever that thing is it murdered the two thousand people on this ship and it got Brodie. I'd rather not be part of the body count." He shook his head in annoyance. "Cassie, you still in that store room?"
"Okay, our best bet is the galley then. Is it still quiet down there?"
"I…I think so. I haven't seen one for a while."
"Right. I'm on deck one. Redge, where are you two?"
"Sitting on the lucrative fourth floor near the crew quarters."
"Right." Xander closed his eyes and tried to think, piecing together the massive ship from memory. "How's Isla doing?"
A slight scuffling sound and muffled voices came over his com for a few seconds. "Hey, Xander. I'm okay. Still a whopper of a headache but I'm good to go."
"Atta'girl." He smiled. "There should be a stairwell near you."
"Yeah, we came up that way."
"Well go back down, meet me on deck three. There should be a junction breaker for the circuits in section…section four."
"You sure about that?"
"Pretty sure." Xander dropped flat onto his belly and began wriggling through the small gap he had fashioned in the blast door. "Just get going."
"What about me?"
"Stay put, Cass. Just like I said, we'll link up then we'll come get you. Just keep an eye open and give us a call if that thing or any bodies show up in the galley, alright?"
"Okay…please hurry. I'm…I don't know…I'm just getting freaked out down here."
"We'll do our best, Cass. Hang in there." Closing the channel, Xander cursed and freed his tool belt from a jagged piece of metal before slithering through into the connecting passage. Scrambling upright he took in a deep breath to steady himself, then set off down the corridor.
The first thought that crossed his mind when he finally made it out of the engineering section of the ship was not a pleasant one. Simply put, Redge had been right. They were everywhere. He crept through the halls of the Gehanon like a wraith, stopping and peering round every corner with painstaking care. Sometimes the halls were mercifully empty, other times leering pale faces were waiting. They hadn't spotted him yet, but there were only so many different routes he could take to reach Redge and Isla.
Biting back a curse, he jerked behind the corner of the passage after spotting a pair of wandering crewmen. He needed to go directly across the four way junction of corridors to reach his destination. Grinding his teeth together in frustration he began backtracking the way he'd come, then ducked inside one of the small maintenance workshops. The door slid shut with a mercifully quiet hiss, barely audible in the silence of the Gehanon's halls.
Still holding the wrench in one hand, Xander backed away from the door, moved behind one of the spotless white work tables and dropped into a crouch behind it. Listening intently, it wasn't long before he could make out muffled footsteps in the corridor outside. Closing his eyes, he held his breath.
The door to the workshop remained closed and after a moment the footsteps had faded away. Letting out a sigh of relief he opened his eyes and stepped back towards the entrance of the room. He hesitated for a fraction of a second, his hand hovering over the release button, before pushing it and poking his head out into the corridor. Looking to the right he saw the pair of ghostly crewmen disappear around the next corner. He stepped out of the room and set off again in the opposite direction, picking his way closer to the rendezvous.
Eventually he made his way to the third deck, slipping quietly up the stairway to see Redge and Isla waiting at the end of the corridor beside the junction box. Glancing left and right, he let a fleeting smile flash across his face and darted down the hall to join them.
"What took you so long?" Redge muttered.
"Good to see you too."
"Now where we going?" Isla cut in.
"To get Cassie out of that storeroom," he replied. "And then we are leaving."
"Just like that?"
"Exactly like that." He grinned.
"Xander, what about…well what about the crew, that thing? Are we just taking off without a backward glance?"
"Pretty much, why?"
Isla's jaw tightened. "It's just, I don't know…it doesn't feel right."
"You'd rather stay here?" Redge laughed hollowly.
"Isla, I know how you feel, but we're not just bugging out without a care. There's nothing we can do for them anyway, and the military is on its way to deal with that…cloud thing." Xander shrugged. "Let's not forget, they ordered us to steer clear."
"Yeah, after we were already on the damned ship!"
"We're not discussing this anymore," he snapped, a hardness sneaking into his voice. "We're getting Cass and we're leaving. End of story."
"Fine." She looked away, staring at the wall.
"I thought you blew the cloud out into space," Redge declared in the silence that followed. "How come the zombie brigade are still on the prowl?"
"I don't know, Redge, I really don't," he answered ruefully. "Maybe they're separate entities, maybe the thing got back in, maybe it can control them from the outside-," he paused, his eyebrows creeping up as an idea occurred to him. "Although…hold that thought." He tapped his com piece. "Jonas, you read me?"
"Loud and clear. You guys okay?"
"Yeah, we're alright for now. Jonas, are you still mass-scanning the Gehanon?"
"Uh-huh, as often as I can."
"Have you picked up any kind of gaseous cloud?"
"There's something that's on the ship, a big black cloud thing, looks like a damned shadow. We think it's what killed everyone onboard and got Brodie."
"Xander, I've scanned the ship a dozen times and not seen anything like that. All I get is you guys and the bodies of the crew. No gas, no clouds."
"Xander," Isla interjected. "The Gehanon was out here collecting fuel right?"
"Sucking compounds in from Alsace IV?"
"Uh-huh, what's your point?"
She put her hands on her hips and glared at him. "The point is, that must be where it came from. They must have brought it on board with some of the compounds they were harvesting."
"Guys, can we discuss this while we move?" Redge grunted. "It's only a matter of time before some more of those creeps come through here."
Xander nodded distractedly, waving his companions on. "Jonas, reconfigure the mass scanner and link it in with our primary sensor banks. Then scan the planet's atmosphere layers, look for anything unusual that you can't classify. If you find it, then use the same data and scan for it on the Gehanon. Got it?"
"Okay, stay off the radio for now, Jonas, we'll call you." Xander closed the com channel then followed Redge and Isla down the corridor.