Iris

By:
Jamie

Part 14

Peering around the corner that led into the main engineering deck, Xander bit back a curse of frustration at the sight of dozens of possessed crewmen wandering back and forth through the hall. His right hand strangled the grip of the wrench as he tried to think of a way through. Moving up behind him, Redge tapped him lightly on the shoulder.

"Xander, I know we need to get in there but…but I don't think we've got a hope getting past unseen." He bit his lip.

"You're right." Xander nodded. "But they don't need to see all of us."

"Oh I get it," Cassie hissed, her jaw tight with annoyance. "Somebody has to go as bait right?"

"You got a better idea of getting them out of the way?"

"How do you know they'll all go for it? It might not work at all!"

Xander grabbed her by the arm. "I don't know, but we don't have any other options. This is the only way to the furnace chambers. That thing knows as well as we do. So we have to go through there, Cass."

"Alright," Isla interjected. "So who goes?"

"Well not you," he returned. "You'd never make it."

"Excuse me?"

"He's right," Redge grunted. "That crack on the head's not done you any good, Isla."

"And if we're going to really take out the engines, Cass, we'll need you once we get in there." He turned with a rueful smile, facing Redge. "Which leaves you and me."

"Great." The other man rolled his eyes. "So what do you think, rock-paper-scissors?"

"Good a way as any." Xander smiled half-heartedly and held up a clenched fist. "On three." Redge nodded, raising his own fist slowly. "One, two, three!" He barely suppressed a smile of relief having kept his fist clenched. Redge stared at his own two protruding fingers for a long moment.

"Bollocks." He glanced around the corner at the wandering crewmen and drew in a long breath. "Alright, get out of sight and wish me luck."

"Good luck, Redge." Isla forced a smile, squeezing his upper arm gently with one hand. He turned away, hiding the rush of blood to his cheeks.
"C'mon," Xander murmured. "There's a maintenance room down the hall, that's our hideout." He gestured to Redge's backpack. "You won't be needing that right now." The other man nodded, unshouldering the pack and handing it over. Leading the others down the corridor, Xander cast one last glance back at his crewmate. He gave a thumb's up in encouragement then pressed the release button of the door before herding Cassie and Isla inside.

As the others disappeared from view, Redge turned around, breathing in and out slowly in preparation. Clenching his fists tightly he moved up to the corner of the wall and peeked around. The masses of zombie-like cadavers were still there, as coldly disturbing as ever, a sea of grey skin and sickly black-stained eyes. He swallowed hard.

"Buck up, Redgy," he mumbled. After exhaling a last deep breath, he stepped out into the corridor in full view of the creatures. Gradually, one by one, the dead faced crewmen turned towards him, their eyes swivelling in their sockets as they focused on his body. He spread his arms wide and beckoned them forward.

"C'mon you lazy bastards," Redge bellowed, adrenaline beginning to seep into his system as the slouching forms edged closer. "I'm not standing here all day!" The possessed crewmen, however, had no intention of moving any faster. They plodded down the corridor towards him in a single, heaving mass of flesh. Then, to his surprise, they stopped dead. With dozens of eyes staring blankly at him, he hesitated.

"Eh…Xander," he said, tapping his earpiece.

"Redge, that was fast!"

"Yeah…about that. I think we've got a bit of a problem here."

"What do you mean?"

"I think they're smarter than we gave them credit for, buddy. They're not chasing me. They're just staring at me like I pulled a firework out of my ass."

"Damn it!"

"Uh-huh…hang on." Redge took a step back as two of the crewmen broke out of the assembled mass and started to jog towards him. His eyes widened as their pace increased till they were running flat out towards him, their arms outstretched. Gritting his teeth, he shook his head and stood his ground. "Okay..."

With a snarl of anger, he dropped into a crouch and darted forward into the closer of the two, driving one broad shoulder hard into the man's midriff. Letting out a roar of exertion he stood upright in a sharp motion, flipping his opponent head over heels to slam down onto the deck. The second attacker crashed into him in a flying tackle, but he took the impact solidly, jamming one sinewy forearm under the possessed man's chin.

Growling wordlessly, Redge used his other hand to pull the struggling thing close, then threw himself forward at the nearest wall. The back of the man's head slammed into the metal with a crunch, Redge's full body weight adding well over two hundred extra pounds of impact to the blow. The body twitched spasmodically for a few seconds before going limp. Letting the corpse tumble to the deck, he spun around and darted over to the first assailant who was still scrambling upright. Lashing out with one leg, the metal cap of his boot crashed into the man's jaw, sending a fountain of blood splattering over the far wall as the bone shattered.

"C'mon!" he screamed, shaking his fists at the remainder as the body flopped raggedly to the deck. "I'll kill every last, mother-fucking one of you!" In response to his challenge, a dozen of the crewmen started forwards. Redge stopped his mad dance of fury, staring at the onrushing figures for a split second. Then his common sense kicked in, and he spun around, sprinting off down the corridor with the creatures in hot pursuit.  

"Xander," he yelled into the com as he ran. "I got some of them after me!"

"What do you mean some?"

"I mean some for fuck's sake, y'know, not all!" Pelting down the hall he jinked to the left and thundered onwards, the clatter of booted feet filling his ears. "Sorry, man but there's still plenty guarding the engineering bay. Can't talk now, gotta run." Closing the channel, Redge piled on a burst of speed for the nearest stairway.

Hurtling down the hallway, he opened the gap between him and the pursuing crewmen, then turned sharply to the right. He darted to the end of the next corridor and bounded down the stairway, barely keeping upright as he reached the final deck below. Without breaking stride, he stumbled onwards, pitching forward and using one hand to keep himself from slamming face first into the floor plating. Regaining his feet, Redge pushed himself onward down the corridor towards the Gehanon's main cargo bay, and the best weapon he could think of.

 

*

"Now what do we do?" Cassie asked quietly. Sitting in one of the white plastic chairs of the maintenance room, Xander stared despondently at the floor. He tried to think, but his mind had been reduced to a blank slate by the latest development. There simply didn't seem to be a way to get to the engine room, never mind shutting down the furnaces.

Sighing heavily, he leaned forward and placed his head in his hands, gripping his hair tightly in frustration. "I think that's game."

"No, no, no," Isla hissed, stepping in close and crouching down in front of him. "C'mon, Xander, don't you dare give up on us now!"

"I'm open to any bright ideas," he grunted back.

"You kept us alive this long." She reached forward and shook him by one shoulder. "There's got to be something. Let's just put our heads together and think."

"I don't see what we can do. Even if we came up with some master plan that could shut of the engines, save the ship, whatever, we just can't get there."

"Well maybe we don't have to get into the room itself."
"Isla, this thing doesn't exactly have an ‘on/off' switch." He met her gaze with a shrug. "Furnace engines need manual operation."

"I know that," she said. "But there must be something we can try!"

"Eh…guys." They both looked up sharply at Cassie. The young engineer stood uncertainly, looking at the floor, her eyes narrow in thought. "I think…there might just be something else."

"Cass, you get us out of this and I will give you the next month of my pay," Xander exclaimed, jumping upright.

"Well, I don't know if it would work…it's a long shot."

"So?  I would give you my pay check if you pull it off because it is a long shot. What have you got?"

"The furnace chamber is more than one deck high, right?"

"Right."

"But there's only one door on this deck."

"That's our problem."

"Well there's only one door that they made." She spread her arms wide. "I'm not sure how thick the walls are, but do you think we might be able to break through from a different deck?"

"Huh…" Xander rubbed his chin thoughtfully for a moment. "I guess it's possible, but the furnace walls are built to some pretty heavy specs, Cass. Getting through a solid bulkhead is not going to be easy."

"I never said it would be."

"Well one thing's for sure," Isla interjected. "We can't do it with a hand welder."

"Damn it, I should have been the one to go," Xander cursed. "Right now we're talking explosives. We'd need to blast that bulkhead open."

"Let's not give up on Redge yet. He was running wasn't he?"

"Yeah, but it's the time factor that we're stuck with."

"Okay," Cassie put in. "Where are we going to get explosives?"

"The cargo deck where the mining equipment's stored. They have industrial grade blasting gear down there. Should be able to take out any bulkhead." Xander stepped towards the door. "Okay…let's get moving. We've got a little over ten minutes before Jonas has to break off. Then we're fish in a barrel." He opened the maintenance room door and peeked out. A mercifully empty corridor greeted him. "Looks like we're clear."

"Xander, how d'we know how much explosive to use?" Cassie asked.

"Cass, can we jump that fence when we come to it?" He stepped out into the corridor. "Follow me and stay close." Cassie rolled her eyes and followed suit, with Isla bringing up the rear. The trio slipped away down the corridor towards the bottom deck of the factory ship.

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