I ran down the emergency outer corridor on Lambda Deck, but it looked like all the others. The escape pods were gone. The automatic lighting was intermittent. The long-dried dark brown splatters on the white walls and floors made my heart thrash in my chest and I had to keep swallowing bile, but I refused to examine them closely or give them a second thought. I had to keep going.
I had to get off the Sha Naqba Imuru.
I stumbled as I charged up the ramp to Kappa Deck. My bare feet were sweating and I slipped on the incline. My bony knees knocked against the floor and I cursed loudly. The way my voice reverberated in the silent ship sent a shiver up my spine. Or maybe that was just cryosickness. Woke up too fast, but apparently still too late.
I saw light up ahead. Someone else must be moving around up here! For the first time since waking I felt hope, relief, and I ran down the hall with renewed energy, the untied back of my waking gown flapping behind me. The light was coming from around the corner of the intersection up ahead. I rounded the bend and came to a painful and abrupt stop after running full speed into a sealed compartment partition. The clear panels could be used to separate different parts of the ship in an emergency, but I hadn’t come across any yet. I got the impression things had unfolded too quickly to deploy them. I wiped the tears welling in my eyes. The bridge of my nose was tender where it had bounced off the partition.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” The question sounded like an accusation, and my heart jumped. Poor heart; having a rough day. A short blonde woman in tactical gear stood on the other side of the partition. I didn’t recognize her, but there were 1,500 people on the Sha Naqba Imuru; or at least there had been.
“I woke up on Rho,” I explained. “All the pods were gone—except on Omicron, but those were disabled—so I’ve been working my way up—”
“Jesus!” she interrupted. “Are you an original?” she asked with a tone of disbelief that I found alarming.
“Passenger! Christ, are you a passenger on the manifest?”
Instinct answered for me. “Of course! I’m not a stowaway.” Few things were worse than an interstellar stowaway. Quick way to get spaced.
She looked somber. “You don’t know.” An invisible dread grabbed two fistfuls of my insides and yanked them downward.
“Help me take down this partition,” she said, but the words barely registered.
“Know what?!” I shouted.
“The partition is manually locked from your side. Open it up and I’ll explain everything. But first I’ve got to get him outta here.”
That was when I noticed the body on the floor behind her. Tactical gear, same as hers. Big guy. Bald head with tattoos. A lot of blood. His chest was quivering strangely. Not a spasm, or convulsions. Something else. But the woman kept her eyes locked to mine.
“Hey,” she said, “open it up.”
The man on the floor began to shake with increasing violence. It made a plasticky clattering sound.
“Open it.” Her voice was calm, but her expression was anything but.
The man’s whole body was bouncing off the floor now like he was possessed.
“OPEN IT!” she screamed, and the man’s body burst like a water balloon. The clear partition was covered in blood and flecks of…parts. I couldn’t see through any longer, but I could hear the woman screaming. She was struggling against something. There were banging noises—tactical gear against the floor. I think I heard words, but they were indistinct. I was busy retching. And then running again. I don’t remember deciding to run, I was just gone. All of a sudden I was on Theta Deck and my palms were covered in blood and I didn’t know where it came from.
There were no pods on Theta Deck. But there was something docked to the lock.
I didn’t give it a second thought. I clambered through the hatch and boarded an unfamiliar shuttle.
That’s how the nightmare started.