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   Chapter 1 No.1

Demonspawn By Christina Engela Characters: 11671

Updated: 2018-06-30 12:01


Dedication

To Daddy, who taught me perspective and my love of storytelling.

Demonspawn

Imagine, if you will:

The battle cruiser was lost. In the desolation of the vastness of space, all was silent. All, that is, except for the screaming. Then that too fell mercifully silent.

Captain Armon Kaine was the last of his crew that had survived – or at least, if any others were still alive, he was unaware of them. It didn't seem likely, given the circumstances. Somehow that… thing had managed to kill every one of his crew within the space of only a few days! All had died horribly – mangled and mauled to death!

At first the deaths had been taken as freak accidents, being at first sight unrelated and spaced far apart… but that was just at first. How were they supposed to know, after all? How was he supposed to know? Then, as suspicion was aroused, murder seemed the cause – but not long after, even this conclusion proved wholly inadequate. Soon it became crystal clear that it was no natural thing that hunted them.

Sabotage isolated them, cut the ship off from home – and without the communications system, any hope of outside help had been thwarted. Then the worst of it began… slowly at first, and then quicker. Frantic sightings of frightening things – horrible things seen by the crew – led to chaos. One by one, they were being picked off – starting in the lower levels at first, the killer began to move its way up… The crew, terrified, opted to die fighting and went hunting for their attacker. Kaine's only regret was that they found it.

It killed them all.

Systematically.

He wondered how he would meet Death. Soon it would be his turn. Kaine knew this all too well. There was nothing now that could stop it. But there was still a chance that he could choose the manner of his demise; the manner in which Kaine would meet his end. His crew – warriors all, had put up one hell of a fight! His ship – once the brightest pearl in the crown of the fleet was a mess now, in every sense of the word. Systems were in disarray, damaged equipment malfunctioned, and pieces of control panels shattered by blaster-fire littered the decks. In the fighting, severe hull damage had caused parts of the ship to be sealed off. Dead bodies – or raw red chunks of them – lay everywhere. His ship had been desecrated, just as their bodies were – it was an abattoir!

The corridors were dark where the lights had failed. His footsteps echoed eerily as he ran down them. He'd been on the run for what felt like days. He felt naked; his tattered, sweat-drenched tunic clung to his body, especially under his breastplate. Fatigue had caused him to discard his body amour. It was of no realistic use anyway, and just made him hotter and sweatier, made stealthy movement more difficult – and only weighed him down.

The weapon he held in his sweaty grip was one of a small consignment of prototypes received at the last port of call. The expert report had called it the most powerful hand weapon in the known universe. He choked. That would soon be put to the test!

Fear clutched at his heart with icy fingers, and as he wiped sweat from his stinging eyes, he fought it off. His breathing was heavy, labored. He knew the thing must already be after him, stalking him, tightening the noose. After all, if he was the only one left alive on this tomb of a ship, what else would it have to do? His sharp warrior's senses functioned as well as any tactical battle computer, and it felt like a thousand eyes were staring holes into his back! Glancing round furtively, listening for the faintest sound, he forged his way onward. If he could just reach the bridge, there was a chance he could stop it. Just a chance – he would die as well – but he'd take it!

'What madness would create such a thing?' He wondered.

He had to end the madness – stop the slaughter. His will was iron, his course set. That thing must not be allowed to get out of his ship and kill again – it had to end right here, right now! His nerves were overtaxed, almost over the edge – he was relying on instinct to keep him going. Kaine's sanity seemed to be slipping out of his grasp, but he had to hold on – he had to. Long enough to make certain the trail of blood would end here.

With him.

Finally the bridge door loomed ahead. The end was in sight! The door slid open and he stumbled weak-kneed through. Several mounds of mangled flesh – all that remained of his last bridge crew, lay sprawled on the deck grid in welcome. Most of the lights had failed in there, leaving the bridge mostly in shadow.

Kaine closed the thick steel security door as quickly as his shaking fingers would operate the control panel. It had been designed to ward off mutineers, perhaps even an enemy boarding party… but never anything quite like that! Then he locked it, and turned and faced the desecrated bridge. Alone now, he set his teeth grimly. The destroyed bodies that lay at his feet had had names once, just hours before… Kremin and Horek. They'd promised him they'd hold the bridge at all costs, until his return. They'd been good men… faithful to the end! He owed them this – as their commander!

Now he could put his plan into action, if he had enough time. He was going to order the computer to cause a deliberate imbalance in the drive system, which would cause a huge explosion – destroying the ship! His ship! He was Armon Kaine, commander of this putrid hulk – this sad, desecrated corpse of a ship, and he was going to die with it – but he was going to take that damned vile thing with him!

The machine demanded a series of access codes. As he entered the first, a faint whispering sound startled him, causing him to snatch up the sweep laser. All was silent. He mentally replayed the sound in his mind – it had sounded like meta

l on metal... Could he have imagined it? He listened intently.

Nothing.

Swallowing, he put the weapon back down on the console and entered the second code. Then, suddenly, there was a sound like a marble dropping on the floor – bouncing slowly, gradually getting faster as it dropped lower and lower…until it faded away. The thing was toying with him! Where was it? He strained his hearing, but all was again silent. He wanted to shout and scream obscenities at the monster, but he fought the impulse. It might not really know his location after all – and that would've only led it right to him! It must be coming for him! Surely it must be by the door by now, looking for a way in. Perhaps it would try to trick him into opening it? Time was running out! Kaine hastily keyed in the third and final access code.

Death the destroyer never is late!

The words of the old proverb of his people still milling in his mind, he hastened to complete the final destruct commands with quivering fingers. The shortest available countdown time was thirty honarks – that's how long it would take to create an imbalance in the main reactor. There was no access code required to stop the countdown. Clutching the sweeplaser, he punched the final key. The countdown began. If it got in here now, he'd have thirty honarks to keep it away from the computer and aborting the destruct sequence! Kaine firmed his grip on the sweeplaser. He thought of his wife and his family. His two young children… A home he wouldn't see again in this life. Thirty honarks to live wasn't long, but he intended to live them well.

If dying's all that's left – then die well!

The noise came again, rustling like metal on metal. Was it toying with his mind, or was he starting to snap? Playing games like it did with the others? Perhaps it was trying to find a way to trick him into opening the door after all… He hadn't seen anything yet though. That thought brought with it a rising wave of raw fear. He swallowed. Maybe it couldn't get in after all. Each passing moment reduced the hunter's chances of stopping it – and brought him closer to eternity and his ancestors.

There was a sudden muffled thump inside the room. Behind him. Kaine turned, bringing the sweeplaser round with him. With a sudden sickening shock he realized it was there – straightening up from behind a control desk where it had been all along! The monster had lain in wait for him! Death was right on time.

Kaine, suddenly afflicted, staggered backward on legs of ether. He saw it clearly – a dark, bulky shadowy shape! His stomach turned with terror! What remained of the bridge lighting seemed to fade away around him, into total blackness. It was there – not the frightful illusions the others had seen – but the thing itself, unmasking itself to its last victim. Somehow the reality was much more frightening… It advanced on him with the rhythmic click of Death. Kaine knew that if he were to start screaming now, he would go irretrievably mad! Instinct had left him momentarily cold, frozen.

If dying's all that's left – then die well!

The sweeplaser came up and Kaine fired, screaming all his hate and anger and fear and hopelessness at it. Sparks flew. The flashes lit up the dead bridge and flammable material in the small room burst suddenly aflame. The chunks of bodies on the deck sizzled… globs of melted metal and plastic rained down around them… But it was not enough. Something dark and unstoppable stepped through the blasts of light and energy and the curtain of flame that had lit the bridge – and as it loomed over him menacingly, appreciating his astonishment, his fear and hopelessness – at that moment, he knew it was over. Kaine lowered the weapon and stood there, facing the Reaper. A light spectrum filled his eyes and he heard himself scream as his life boiled away, and a sound like a waterfall filled his head. Then there was nothing. All was still. All over the ship, the remaining lights and equipment shut down. Darkness fell with an echoing clang that spanned the millennia.

* * *

Commander Joe Lofflin knocked back a tumbler of Scotland's Finest to brace himself. He'd spent the last few hours preparing to face the crew, without too much success. He'd tried thinking up speeches, taking notes – even reading philosophy. He finally decided on a glass of scotch. Not on the rocks – there were no rocks because the icemaker was broken. He chuckled wryly to himself. Even the bloody glass was cracked! That said it best, didn't it? Although Lofflin usually took a dim view of drinking while on duty, he'd made an exception. Humph. An exceptional exception. For exceptional circumstances! Lofflin figured he needed some kind of reinforcement for the task that lay at hand… After all, it's not easy to tell two hundred and twenty six people they're going to die.

Up until three days ago, I.S.S. Mordrake had been a fully functional Benatar class cruiser of the Imperial Space Fleet. That is, until the incident at Horner's World – an isolated desolate chunk of rock in the furthest known, godsforsaken reaches of the Omegan Quadrant – a vast stretch of barely charted, let alone known, space. Now, thanks to the ill-considered actions of Captain Philip Wainright Blaine – that bombastic old bastard, the task of telling two hundred and twenty six crewmen to prepare to die fell to yours truly – Joe Lofflin.

Two hundred and twenty six!

It was a frightening thought! A sobering thought – which was why it was so hard for Lofflin to actually get drunk that day… the thought of certain death kept seemingly counteracting the effects of the alcohol. Certain death by hypoxia – freezing cold and suffocation, as the ship's waning emergency batteries gradually and inexorably wore down… Death looked pretty damned certain alright!

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