His eyes snapped open when he felt the urgent tugging on his sleeve. Turning he saw Cassie staring intently at him.
"Xander, we're almost finished," she said, fighting to keep her voice level. "There's only half a dozen more welds to make before we can try a manual power feed."
"Do it fast," Redge cut in from across the room. "Isla's not looking so good."
"Alright." Xander turned around and lay down, propped up on his elbows. Shuffling forward he wedged the torch back into place to fully light up the conduits. Blinking in surprise he gave Cassie a quizzical look. "How the hell'd you manage all that in the dark?"
"Dunno." She shrugged. "Just concentrated."
"I'll say." Xander reached forward with a tiny welding torch. "Let's finish this."
It took a few more minutes for the last of the welds to be completed, but Xander looked them over twice to make sure they were secure. One misplaced connection, one loose wire and they could blow out the ship's life support system beyond repair. However, satisfied that the improvised connections would hold, he gave Cassie a nod then turned to Redge.
"I think we're ready."
"Well, good luck, for what it's worth."
"I'm counting on it," he muttered. "Okay…here goes nothing." Reaching into the panel he flicked the switch of the improvised circuit breaker, rerouting the main power directly into the lighting system. Almost immediately the lights above them began flickering on and off, flashing like a strobe.
"Dial up the power!" Cassie exclaimed shrilly.
"I'm doing it." Gritting his teeth, Xander turned down the control of the one remaining resistor in the arrangement. As he did so the lights gradually stopped flashing, filling the central chamber and adjoining corridors with luminous white. Taking his hand away from the mass or wires and circuits, he waited.
One second. Two seconds. Three seconds.
"If it was going to go, it'd have done it by now," he breathed, then slumped back onto the floor with a gasp of relief. Cassie let her head loll forwards against the plating.
"How bout that overload then?" Redge grunted. "See if we can't end this thing once and for all."
"Sounds like a plan."
"The sub-conduit's aligned," Cassie interjected. "Flip the switch and it should overload the computer systems. We'll still have life support, but if you ever want to fly the ship we'd be better off getting out and pushing."
"I'll take that deal," Xander replied. He reached forward and flipped the switch in question.
A pulsing sound echoed through the corridors of the Gehanon on every deck and the lights flickered for a fraction of a second. Some of the circuit boards of the improvised shunt began sparking and hissing under the massive current passing through their systems.
"There's nothing to do, we hard wired those circuits, Redge." He edged away from the open panel, hoping and praying that the realigned circuits would take the strain of the ships power. A few seconds later, however, the sparking died away, leaving the group in an eerie silence. They waited for a moment and Xander found himself holding his breath.
"Did it work?" Redge asked, gazing up and around the room.
"Well the lights stayed on didn't they?" Xander tapped his earpiece. "Jonas, do you read me?"
"I got you, Xander. What just happened? The sensors just picked up a massive power surge, it's fluctuating left, right and centre!"
"We had some improvised electronics to attend to. Has the airlock been repressurised?"
"Eh…it has," Jonas exclaimed. "You guys better get yourselves back there, I'm coming in to dock."
me." Xander glanced at Cassie. "You ready to get off this hulk?"
"I'll take that trip," groaned a voice. Looking across the room he saw Isla sitting up, touching the cut on her temple gingerly. "What'd I miss?"
"Plenty," Redge answered, putting an arm around her shoulders to keep her steady. "But I think we should save the catch-up for later. Can you move?"
"Yeah…yeah I think so." She closed her eyes, shaking her head slowly from side to side. "One helluva hangover." Xander laughed at that, and even Cassie forced a smile. The brief swell of relief evaporated, however, at the sound of running footsteps.
Jumping upright he dashed the connecting corridor that led off in the direction of the Gehanon's cargo hold, grabbing his backpack en route. He scanned the empty passage, but the footsteps persisted, growing louder and louder.
"Pack up the gear, we need to get out of here," he hissed without looking round. The sound of scuffling and clanking began to mingle with the footsteps as the group obeyed. Still staring down the hallway, Xander's eyes widened when the physical manifestation of the footfalls appeared at the far end. A dozen running figures, their skin deathly pale, all clad in green overalls which he assumed were the uniforms of the Gehanon's crew.
"RUN!" he shouted, spinning on his heel and bolting off towards the opposite passage. He grabbed Cassie by the arm and yanked her along with him when she hesitated, while Redge stooped to support Isla over his shoulder. The thunder of booted feet echoed through the halls of the factory ship as the chase began in earnest.
They weren't going to make it. A glance over one shoulder told him that much. Both Isla and Redge were beginning to lag behind, the former still weak from her injury. Forcing himself to slow to their pace, Xander grabbed Isla under her other arm and gritted his teeth. Despite the added boost, their pursuers continued gaining ground.
Out in front, Cassie skidded to halt at one of the retracting doors that separated the sections of the Gehanon. Breaking into the panel on the wall, she cast one furtive glance back down the corridor.
"Cassie, keep going!"
"Get through the door!" she yelled back, her voice shrill with panic. Turning to the panel, she jammed her screwdriver into the arrangement and twisted it savagely, causing a fountain of sparks and smoke to burst forth. The rest of the group hurtled through the aperture, and a moment later the bulkhead doors slammed shut with an echoing boom. Seconds after the massive structure closed a cacophony of feral screeches and repeated pounding sounded through the door.
"That'll hold them," Cassie gasped, slumping against the wall and taking several deep breaths.
"Jesus, Cass, what did you do?"
"We need to keep going," Xander barked. "Jonas is coming in to dock. Those freaks are going to find another route soon. If we're going to get off this ship it's now or never." Three bobbing heads greeted his declaration and the group took off again, hurtling through the Gehanon's corridors as fast as they could.
They careered around bend after bend, their footfalls echoing thunderously through the passages as they ran. Reaching the flight of stairs that led to the fourth level they slowed, virtually carrying Isla downward to the next corridor.
"Xander, left or right," Cassie shouted.
"Right!" And they were moving again.
A few bends later they burst out into the central corridor leading to the airlock door. Sobbing for breath, Cassie tumbled forward, leading the way to the Lunchbox and safety. Xander opened his com channel as they followed her.
"Jonas, are you docked yet?" he panted.
"Nearly, gimme a minute!"
"We're there, get ready to unlock as soon as you get a seal!" He redoubled his efforts, drawing on what reserves of energy he still had to drag Isla's stumbling form towards the airlock. His growing sense of relief was abruptly flattened, however, when something swept in from a connecting corridor to bar their path.
The group skidded to a halt, staring wordlessly at the apparition that now spanned the hall in front of them, completely shielding the airlock door from view with its mass. It looked like some kind of malevolent cloud, black as sin, boiling and twisting in the confines of the passage. What could have been a limb of some sort flailed out briefly, causing the lights around it to flicker.
"What is that?!" Redge growled, stepping backwards, pulling Isla and Xander with him.
"Jonas, do not dock with the Gehanon," Xander bellowed into the earpiece. "Cassie get the hell back here!"
"Xander? What the hell's going on?!"
"Damn it, just stay clear!"
"Now what?" Isla grated hoarsely.
"Secondary docking hatch." Xander turned around, twisting the others with him. "Far side of the ship."
"Xander," Cassie shrieked. "It's coming towards us, we'll never get there!"
"We've got to try."
However, Cassie had no intention of waiting around. With the shadow creature flooding down the corridor towards them she took off down the nearest connecting passage and disappeared from view.
"Cassie, get back here! CASSIE!"
"Xander, we've got to go."
With a wordless snarl he gritted his teeth and the trio set off as fast as possible, the blackness in silent pursuit.
"Guys, you can get away if you run," Isla said weakly.
"You stow that shit right now," Xander snarled. "We're not about to dump you for that thing to get. Shut up and move your fucking legs woman!" They twisted and turned down two more corridors, desperately trying to put ground between themselves and the apparition behind.
"It's getting closer, Cass was right. We're not gonna make it to the secondary dock!" Redge cast a glance over his shoulder. "We're pretty screwed."
"In there." Xander inclined his head towards the nearest door of their current passage. Lashing out with one foot, he thumped the release button and the doorway slid open. Loosing his grip on Isla, he stepped away before pushing them both inside. As they tumbled into the room he pulled a long strip of pipe-weld material from his backpack. Used primarily to fuse thin strips of metal together through the medium of a short lived but incredibly high temperature reaction, it would effectively weld the only entrance of the chamber shut. Standing alone in the corridor Xander laid the strip along the inside of the doorframe then punched the door controls again, sending it slamming shut.
"Xander!" Redge's muffled voice came through the door as the pipe-weld began its cycle, a blindingly bright flare filling the corridor for a few seconds with the hiss of melting metal. "Xander what are you doing?"
"Sit tight Redge, I've got an idea." He darted down till he reached the end of the corridor before rounding to see the shadow, its mass pulsating grotesquely as it moved. It moved towards him, enveloping the door leading to Redge and Isla. The thing churned and twisted at the doorway for a moment, but the fused metal held fast. The door remained closed.
Shoving his growing well of panic to the back of his mind, Xander waved his hands, beckoning the apparition. "C'mon, you need something to chase?" he roared, hurling a spanner from his pack into the cloud. To his surprise, a muffled thump sounded from within the darkness, but it had the desired affect. The thing began hurtling in his direction, tendrils of blackness reaching out towards him. Waiting for as long as he dared, Xander tensed every muscle in his body. Just as the gangly limbs of darkness were about to envelope him, he spun and bolted off down the corridor, the creature flailing madly at his heels.