Sally shuddered with Omega Station as the lights dimmed once more in the Level 5 corridor. She tumbled toward Eddie, her work and bunk partner as station tilted and groaned.
He grabbed her hand before she hit the wall and whispered, “Don’t worry, Sal. We’re okay. I promise.”
She yanked her hand away. “We need full light. They can get to us better in the dark.”
“Are you on about those things you saw outside again? Captain said to drop that line of thought, spacer.”
“And where’s the captain now?”
They’d stopped getting requests from the bridge about an hour ago, and the bridge lift no longer accepted their access codes.
Her partner rolled his bright blue eyes in a way that any other time would have made her laugh. “How many system failures like this have we seen since we boarded this old rust-bucket? The captain is probably knocking back some Jack and Coke waiting for comms to come back up.”
“The outside of Omega was crawling with those creatures…or whatever they are.”
“Computer scanned the exterior after you submitted the report. Nothing out of the ordinary was found.”
“You weren’t there!”
“I was there when you did that tab the night before you went out.”
“Ballard died out there because of them.”
“We all agreed that was an accident. The tether snapped—”
“Because those things crawled up it—”
“Because she used a tether from the station that was old and decaying.”
“We checked those tethers and all the equipment before we went out. You signed off on them.”
“Don’t try to blame Alicia’s death on me, Sal.”
“Don’t blame her death on faulty equipment, Eddie.”
A chuckling-chittering tickled the periphery of her mind. She pulled out her blaster but wasn’t sure if the noise came from the corridor or not. The walls rippled around them like a river of shadow. Eddie tried to put his arm around her, but she pushed away from him.
“Too many tabs make a person paranoid.”
“Please?” He touched the lift panel.
A soft almost human voice moaned in an unfamiliar language as the lights dimmed once more.
“Dammit, Computer, work with me!” He slammed his fist against the wall.
“You’re scared too.”
The lights fluttered and Sally saw a dark, fluid flowing down the wall toward the lift door. Without hesitation, she fired her blaster above Eddie’s head at the flowing darkness, which absorbed the energy of the blast and left no burn on the wall. He hit the floor. “You could’ve killed me!”
The lights rose, and the flood of shadow was gone. Chittering laughter surrounded her. She pointed her weapon at the ceiling, trying to lock on a target she couldn’t find.
“Stop laughing!” she said. “Please stop laughing.”
“I’m not, Sal. I’m not,” he said, getting to his feet and taking the blaster from her. “Now, let’s see if we can’t get down to Engineering, okay? Yates is probably getting antsy.”
“Level, please?” The computer spoke in a level, unaccented English.
The laughter stopped, but Sally felt a mocking echo that lingered around her, causing the soft hairs on her arms to stand up. When she went to follow her partner, the remnant of sound clung to her. She stopped short.
“Maybe I should stay here, Ed.”
“I need you when we get to Engineering. You know the workings of this station better than any of us,” he said. “Besides, we’re a team. First rule of Space Reclamation?”
The chitters became whispers that echoed the words engineering and station. Then the word ours rose in her mind.
She had to shake her head to focus on her response. “No one goes alone.”
He pulled her into the lift. Sally couldn’t help but join the chuckle that wrapped around her and rose in the back of her throat. As the doors slid shut, she felt a heavy hunger weighing on her. One single dribble of ooze flowed down the left corner of the computer panel. It reached out and grew toward Ed, who could not or would not see it. This time she didn’t scream. She wanted to scream and yank him away, but the need for nourishment and warmth was greater. Strands of darkness pulled off her arms and legs and reached out to join in the feasting.
“No one goes alone, Ed,” they chittered.
The computer’s familiar voice cut through the hunger and said, “Error Message 7.4656. Passengers must evacuate the lift immediately. Error Message 7.4656.” She willed the lights and the computer to shut down. The darkness was no longer her enemy.
The lift shook hard and then began its descent to engineering once again. Ed was with her and in her. She was not alone. The door slid open and the lights fluttered. Yates’ eyes widened when she stepped out, and he fired his blaster. It didn’t matter. The energy just fueled them. A wave of shadow and darkness rose behind him and now he was part of them too.
Sally sat at Comms and sent out an SOS. It was only a matter of time before more came. They would never be alone.
Jessica Nettles is a life-long storyteller, an adventuress, and a lover of cats. She is also the author of many short stories, some of which can be found on the Internet if your Google-fu is strong. Her first novel, Children of Menlo Park, is being released by Falstaff Books in 2021. She will also be featured in the horror anthology, Off the Beaten Path 4, from Prospective Press next year.
You can find her on Facebook at Jessica Nettles books, where she posts writing updates, encouragement, videos of her playing ukulele, and pictures of her two black cats. Jessica’s pronouns are she/her.