Iris

By:
Jamie

Part 17

The trio hurtled through the halls, the battering of their booted feet against the plating echoing in their ears. Xander led the way, tearing around every bend and stairwell with furious energy. Behind them the air of the Gehanon had begun to take on an unhealthy blue tinge as the atmosphere of Alsace IV seeped into the life support systems. Trailing slightly behind, Isla stumbled, placing a fist over her mouth and coughing violently after taking in a lungful of the approaching toxic fumes.

Xander jerked to a halt and darted back, grabbing her by the arm and yanking her clear of the swirling tendrils of blue-black mist that were slipping into the corridor. As they continued on, however, a section bulkhead slammed shut, blocking their progress. Sprinting up to the door, Xander kicked it angrily with a metal capped boot.

"Damn it, the auto lock-down systems are starting to kick in!" He spun around, staring at the tainted air.

"I thought you fried the computers?"

"The main drive, yeah," Cassie cut in. "But there are some systems that have a bazillion backups and redundancies. There are probably airtight bulkheads slamming shut all over the ship."

"Can you open it?" Xander asked.

"Yes." She snapped open the wall console with her screwdriver, ripped two wires free and crossed their circuits. The massive door opened slightly, presenting a gap just wide enough for them to squeeze through.

"Alright, go!" He pushed Isla through the gap, then grabbed Cassie and thrust her in after. Chancing once last backward glance, Xander's eyes widened at the sight of a jet black cloud churning its way down the corridor towards them. Wriggling through the gap with a curse of frustration, he popped out into the next corridor.

Spinning to the left, he grabbed the emergency manual release lever of the bulkhead and yanked it down hard. Each of the massive constructions had two manual releases, one on each side to enable the door to be sealed from either side in an emergency. The thick metal plates slammed shut again, the mechanisms squeaking and sparking under Cassie's improvisations.

Descending back onto the bottom deck of the ship, he lead the group down the corridors back towards the equipment storage area. Rounding the last bend he flew through the open door of the room, crashing into a table in his haste. Stumbling and scrambling, he reached the back wall of the room were a dozen sets of breathing apparatus hung on pegs. Suited to harsh, low oxygen environments, the glorified gas masks would allow them to breathe amongst the fumes of Alsace IV for at least some time.

Pulling two of the masks free he tossed them to his companions, closely followed by a pair of pure oxygen canisters. Placing one of the clear plastic masks over his nose and mouth, he clipped the small canister to his tool belt, joining the two via an air hose. He flicked the switch on the side of the mask and heard the hiss of its small operating system whirring into life.

Cassie and Isla eventually fumbled their way into their own gear and stood staring at him expectantly.

"What now?" Cassie asked, her voice muffled by the breather mask.

"Could we bring Redge one of the breather units?" Isla suggested.

Xander shook his head. "Wouldn't work, we can't get to him. There's no atmosphere at all in the cargo bay and this is not E.V.A gear."

"Then what?"

"There's got to be a way to just get off this thing," he replied. "Something we've overlooked, anything at all." He glanced at the door and gritted his teeth behind the mask, seeing blue-black gas swirling in the aperture. His mind twisted and turned through a thousand different and ridiculous notions, his desperation beginning to cloud his judgement.

"What about Redge?"

"I don't know. Maybe if we can get back to the Lunchbox we can grab some E.V.A gear then come back and get him."

"Masterful."

He stepped in close to Isla at the jibe, his eyes narrow in anger. "You know what, if you've got a better plan I am all ears. If not, then just do what I say and shut the fuck up!" She took a step back, visibly surprised by the venomous outburst. "And I think I might have an idea. It's not great but…well I've got nothing else."

"Shoot." Cassie nodded.

"The ship has a bundle of airtight compartments and they won't all be breached by the gas yet, not on the upper decks anyway." He patted his backpack. "I've got a plan and you're not going to like it."

"Oh, you don't want to do what I think you want to do?" Isla said, shaking her head.

"I think so."

"What are you talking about?" Cassie demanded.

"I'm talking about blasting an airtight portion of this ship away from the main body." Xander grinned, a strange feeling of confidence beginning to return at the insane prospect. "We get to an outer area of the ship, seal the bulkheads, seal the life support mechanism and place the explosives. If we do it right we should be able to make our own life boat."

The young engineer stared at him in disbelief. "You are completely and totally nuts."

"Yes, yes I am. Unfortunately ‘nuts' is all I can give you right now." Xander tapped his com piece. "Redge, do you read me?"

"Jus…out. The ion…ation…fucking coms," came the garbled reply. He frowned, trying to discern words amidst the bursts of heavy static. "Xand…got an…reverse the bay…go for a spacewalk."

"Did he say ‘spacewalk'?" Isla asked incredulously.

Xander nodded. "Redge, say again." Only static crackled over the com piece as the ionisation effects overwhelmed the communication gear again. "Damn it."

"Xander!" Cassie's sudden yelp made him spin towards the door of the equipment store, to see three possessed members of the Gehanon's crew barrelling into the room with animalistic snarls. They seemed unaffected by the toxic fumes, but he pushed that thought to the back of his mind, gripping his wrench tightly and darting forward to meet them. The woman leading took a blow to the side of her head with a sickening crunch of bone, then toppled limply to the floor. The second in line crashed into Xander and the pair tumbled backwards into a shelf, grappling wildly with one and other.

Cassie screamed as the third attacker dove towards her, arms outstretched with pale grasping fingers. She scrambled backwards, tripping over a case of equipment and falling hard against the floor. Crawling away on all fours, she let out a shrill cry of panic when the man grasped her by the ankle.

Without warning a solid metal bar crashed down on the back of the crewman's head, caving in the skull under the impact. The corpse flopped to deck, revealing Isla, holding the blood-stained implement like a vice in both hands. Spinning, she bounded over to where Xander was still struggling with his opponent. Taking the crewman from behind, she rammed the bar up under his chin and bent the man backwards. His arms flailed wildly, a gurgle escaping from his lips. Before he could react to the new threat, however, Xander smashed his wrench hard into the crewman's midsection. His adversary doubled over, only to take a second, crunching blow to the temple.

The last attacker fell to the floor, blood seeping into a pool from the gaping wound. Isla released her shaking grip on the metal bar, letting it clatter to the deck. She pulled Cassie upright, the adrenaline making her whole frame shudder violently.

"We've got to go," Xander growled, flexing one arm experimentally. "C'mon, our best bet for this nutty scheme is the bridge."

"But I cut those doors open!"

"Not the blast doors you didn't," he snapped. "We don't have time to argue about this, Cass." He bolted from the room with his companions in tow, emerging into a corridor filled with almost opaque blue-black gas. Blinking against the stinging fumes, he led them onwards to the nearby stairwell. Through the mist he could hear screaming snarls of the pursuing Gehanon crewmen.

They sprinted through the fog-choked hallways of the factory ship, visibility of the passage ahead sometimes diminishing to barely a few metres at its worst. It made the route nearly impossible to navigate, but Xander knew he couldn't afford to stop, the ever present screeches of their pursuers urging him on. He muttered a prayer as he ran, careering around another bend into a mercifully clear corridor. Wisps of gas swirled as the toxins of Alsace IV saturated the life support of the ship. Pushing the others ahead of him, Xander paused at the bottom of the stairwell, glancing back down the corridor. Barely a few seconds later a cloud of blackness along with half a dozen running crewmen came hurtling around the corner.

Flying up the stairs, it didn't take him long to overtake his companions again, but he knew they were moving too slowly. The breather units had never been designed for such prolonged usage, and his heavy breathing had already begun to tax the small oxygen supply. His heart hammered against the inside of his chest, his lungs aching with each breath of stale air that he sucked in. Bounding as fast as his leaden limbs would carry him, he turned another corner into a gas-choked hall. Stumbling a few more blind steps, his heart sank when his outstretched palm came into contact with the cold steel of a closed blast door.

He flailed his hands left and right, trying to clear some of the mist away to reveal the control console. Cassie and Isla shot around the corner after him, slamming into the metallic bulk before stopping.

"Move, move, move!" Cassie shrieked, elbowing him to one side and attacking the panel savagely with her screwdriver. Blinking furiously against the gases, tears of pain rolled down her cheeks as she reached for the wires. Again she tore two of them free and crossed the wires, extracting a spark. Standing still for an instant, her eyes widened in panic. The door had failed to open.

Xander spun around at the sound of an unearthly screech. With a growl of unrivalled fury he swung the wrench in both hands, as a snarling form exploded from the blue-black curtain of mist.

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