(Part I is here)
(I don’t own this image)
It was bigger than I imagined. Compared to the glow of my home, it was bulbous and dull. Every meter covered in more bubbles of metal, stretching off into the distance. It had its own drones, making the same progress as mine, zipping around beneath the legs of the behemoth they served.
As I approached, a ramp lowered. Carlton stood at the top, a low blue lighting filling the whole bay behind him.
“You have time to talk?” I asked.
He nodded, almost impossible to see. I pushed up the ramp, and together we made our way through the bowels of the vessel.
It had endless rooms, twists and turns, most pointing back toward one another. Without him there to lead the way, I would have gotten lost in minutes.
“Used to be families in every one of these rooms,” He said.
It occurred that I didn’t know how he parted ways with his passengers. The ship belonged to him, but I didn’t know for how long. There was only one previous owner.
“What do you use all the space for?” I asked.
He stopped, opened one of the rooms with the flip of a switch, revealing a room filled with fake pigmy horses, metal boards, dolls starring at the ceiling. They were laying in disarray, piled up, like trash.
“Couldn’t fill it all up if I tried.”
There was a new odor there. I imagined that in the mess of it all, something was decaying. The switch was flipped, and the door closed.
“This model isn’t as advanced as yours,” He said as he kept going, “The war did that, shifted our priorities.”
I wanted to ask what he meant, but thought better of it. The whole thing seemed advanced enough, there were even a few features I had to ask about as we passed. In terms of sleek, my baby definitely won.
As we passed one room, there was a soft clank coming from the far side. Rhythmic, but purely mechanical. Carlton stopped there, the door still shut, and we both listened for minutes.
“I’m going to take care of that,” He said as he flipped the door open to a dimly lit room, stepped inside, then shut the door behind him.
Further down the curving hall I could see a doorway already open. My curiosity got the better of me, and I walked the hall until I could make out what was inside. Under weak light, I could make out bones. Racked, and on display, row after row.
My heart slowed as I looked over the different dirty-white fixtures. Some long and thick, others thin and racked together. It looked like a lab, or a museum. As I got closer, my steps getting faster, I noticed they varied in size. Some were massive, like animals that could walk over my head without trying, and others were almost human in size. Not all of them were as recognizable as I first imagined, the shapes off, the colors exotic. The light of the room made them match, and their arrangement made them fit.
“A collection,” Carlton said from behind me. I took an instinctive deep breath, then turned to see him.
My expression didn’t phase him, which meant I had to be doing something right.
“Impressive,” I said, “You’ve met a lot more life than I have.”
He looked into the room, “Most of it was mundane.” He flipped a switch, the door shut.
“You don’t say.”
Carlton headed back the way we came, “There is a weather advisory, you better get back.”
My relief was loud enough that I could feel it quicken his pace. We made it back to the ramp, as my monitor buzzed as soon as I made it to open air. I touched it, and received the same weather alert. The blizzard was returning, and it was advised I be inside for it.
“One last thing,” I said as I stepped down the ramp into the blue and white ice, “You were outside my ship yesterday.”
Carlton didn’t respond, he stood there waiting for the question.
I shrugged, and realized the motion felt weird, “Why?”
“I didn’t realize you weren’t in.”
I nodded, and walked out in the storm. What I didn’t ask was why he waited 3 hours. The ship was almost fueled. I could cut my trip short, maybe move to the other side of the planet, or find a new iceball to enjoy.
The alert made me snap awake. My bedroom slowly lit up, a gradual push to keep me comfortable despite my rapid heartbeat.
I touched the monitor, Alert, Lifeform detected in landing area.
The ship was still refueling, which meant I had to go and tell Carlton that I didn’t need company in the middle of my sleep cycle. I got up, and the room bloomed in light. I pulled on a pair of overalls I usually wore when it was warm enough outside to feel my extremities, and headed for the hall.
It was still chilly when I got there. The long passage going so far that I could barely make out the far end in the thin path of fluorescence. One smooth shaft, going on to the far end. Compared to Carlton’s ship, it was comfortable, simple.
Another alert chirped in my ear. I touched a spot on the wall, and felt the snap. Alert, Intruder onboard.
It felt like a wave of electricity went through my knees. I held to the wall, and probed the system further. What was it that got onboard? Was Carlton really that crazy.
The ship gave me footage in response to my personal questions, the outside camera. It was a blank feed, the status of the camera read ‘offline’. I started to spin the feed back to a point where it was online.
There was a clank in the long hall. I stopped, pulling my hand away from the wall and taking a step back toward my room.
One thought ran through my head, I keep my rifle in the cockpit.
I couldn’t see anything on the far end, but the light was low, meant to grow brighter as I approached in order to save every minuscule bit of power it could. Static snapped between my finger and the wall as I returned to the monitor. I switched to another camera, an internal one. It peeked toward me, from the far end of the hall. It listened to my commands, switching to a thermal cam and turned toward the cockpit doorway. Before it could finish pivoting, there was a loud Jang of metal, and the feed went offline.
He was coming.
I let go of the wall, turned back toward my room. It was smooth, besides the bed. Useless to me. The hallway as well, smooth and without escapes.
There was a footstep in the distance, then another. Heavy reinforced boots coming down on the walkway.
I wondered if I could take him, he was short, compact. My mind flashed back to the bones, lining the wall.
The footsteps got closer, and as I stared down the long hallway I could see other lights coming up in the distance. A silhouette was there, a grey man. I touched the wall again, looking for something, anything, to help. I needed a way around, or at least a way to stall him.
The wall slid open, revealing a red-lit catwalk. I leaped inside, and the door closed behind me.
I was beyond confused on where I was, until I saw a drone float up and past me, heading to some higher part of the ship. It was the inside, long paths of metallic paths revealed by circles of dim red light. The walls of the ship, the outer hull, were still invisible. There was so much of it, I didn’t know where to go, or what chance I had of making it back out again. It dropped off into eternity, and went on forever.
So I held the rail, and walked. Distinctly aware of the likely murderous man behind me. I walked and walked until the path cut in two, then I took a turn and started to walk again.
In the distance I heard an unmistakable sound; quick steps, clinks on the metal path. He found his way in.
I looked back and couldn’t see him under any of the red lights spread out in the darkness. Then I saw a motion, black against the red. Peering closer, unsure, I saw a drone in the area. Then saw another shadow under a closer light. The footsteps, the whole time, came quicker.
I turned and ran. It made the catwalk wobble under my feet, making every step unsure. No matter how fast I tried to run, no matter how many turns I took, it felt like his steps were getting louder.
There was a shape ahead, the outer wall of the hall. It was built by the same red, and I knew then that I could lock him below deck and try for my rifle. My heart pumped, my legs were on fire, the pit of my stomach full of electricity.
As I reached out for the door, a shadow came from my right, hit me full force. Collided was a better word, the growl he let out confirmed it was him, and the wild blow he launched at my head pushed me into the rail.
He already had my rifle. His arm tried to pull it into position, but I shoved him against the doorframe, pushing it into his throat. The red light washed over his face, revealing a calm man, squinted eyes, stern chin.
“What are you doing?” I shouted at him.
He didn’t answer, pushed me back, tried to aim the rifle again. I grabbed the length of it in both hands, struck him in the face, and pushed him back onto the catwalk. He held tight to the rifle, and as he fell I had to let it go.
My finger touched the wall, felt the snap, and the door slid open.
I jumped through, felt the swish behind me, and heard the boom of the rifle echoing in my ears.
I struggled to my feet, trying hard to think of a way out of here while my ship was still filling up. Where could I defend myself?
There was a scrabbling behind me, he was working on the door. I never heard the rifle fire when he broke into the below deck area, that meant I needed to hurry. I touched a nearby wall, there was a crank as the ramp to the outside began to lower with a loud mechanical stir.
The blizzard was back full force. I would say that I ran, but the ice and wind made that impossible. No matter how hard I pushed myself, I could only force myself against the wind and risk being picked up and dragged away. Plus I was freezing, a thin layer of cloth between me and temperatures I was afraid to double check.
There was nothing to hear in the howling wind, and there was nothing to see in the white. I kept one leg moving in front of another, pushed all I could into my body, rubbed my whole body with my hands to keep feeling.
In the distance, I heard the sound of the rifle firing. There was no stopping.
When I saw his ship, I almost collapsed. The ramp was open, and climbed it like a starving man looking for a morsel.
The inside was as wild as I remembered. I walked, partially to look for something to use, and partially to warm up my blood. The halls kept twisting, and each room I looked into was full of abandoned clothing and linens. The darkness didn’t help, the rooms had light but the rest of the hall was black.
I stopped, listening, and heard footsteps that stopped soon after. My body was still freezing, my fingers blue. In the dark, I rubbed my arms, took heavy breaths. Then I ran.
I ran in the dark, hoping for something familiar, anything. When I heard footsteps as loud and as fast as mine, I ran even faster.
Then I saw it. That pale light. Bones beneath, up for display. I slowed, and realized this was where it was all supposed to happen. If he ever wanted to kill me, to add me to his collection, he expected it right here, in his maze-like halls. I couldn’t escape him on his own ship, I couldn’t even find my way back to the ramp.
So I hid. The strength was gone from my legs, and I needed to rest. I waited, ears open, for him to come to me.
When I hunted, in those few times in 1000 years that I found something to kill, I always had to stalk it. You find it where it feels comfortable, strike out, then push it until it can’t run anymore. Then, you destroy it, simple. It worked on big land animals, worked on quick grazers, it even worked on birds, or at least what seemed like birds.
I could make him out now, hear his footsteps. He came to the hall, and stopped where I had, looking toward the room of bones.
“Are you waiting for it now?” Carlton said to the darkness, “Do you understand?”
I stayed quiet, unwilling to give him even that much.
“It isn’t often I get to talk to someone,” He said, “Don’t deprive me now.”
He took a heavy step up the hall, as if he was savoring each twitch of muscle as he approached the pale light. I could hear him getting closer, see him sliding along the hall.
“You’ll talk,” He said, “Every human loves to talk, craves that interaction.”
Another step, slower, louder. He was here, and I could hear him begin to prepare the rifle.
I flipped the switch, opened the door to the room of dolls and horses, and charged. The scream was guttural, the last ounce of strength I had pushing me up the hallway.
He turned in the low light of the hall, tried to pull the rifle up. I brandished my weapon, a toy horse, and struck him. We both fell, his arms went out, I tried to strike again, he dug into the meat of my skin, I hit him again, the rifle fired.
We laid there in the dark, Carlton and I. I bled from the arms, and he bled from the head. His breath came in weak gurgles, punctuated by spasms. All I could do was sob, and try not to sleep in a pool of blood.
It had been 500 years since the last time I saw another human being. I left home, left Earth, left my family, all of civilization. If I had my way, it would be another 500.