88 More

A swell of nausea pulled Private Elowen Dextre out of darkness. The spinning in her head was a very specific sensation: gravity flux. She felt she was strapped to a flight chair, but her arms and legs were restrained, too. She opened her eyes, and the sight before her gave her stomach a new reason to tumble. She retched and remembered.

They’d been boarded by the Locusts—humanity’s insectile-looking nemeses, an enemy born of nightmares who’d more than lived up to their name.

It was hard to tell, through the smoke and the low light and the blood and grime, but she was still aboard the Thundershock. First Sergeant Kirawa’s upper half sat propped up in one corner. His missing arms and legs likely accounted for some, but not nearly all, of the splatter on the walls. His lifeless dark eyes stared straight ahead, but then snapped to meet her gaze. She screamed and let out a cry like an animal in a trap; that’s exactly what she was, and she knew it. She turned her face downward and sobbed.

“Enter the slip space,” the corpse said. A shadow of Kirawa’s voice was present, but he mostly sounded like someone whispering far away through an aluminum air duct. She looked at him again, slowly, and with purpose, and noticed now the cabling and ribbed tubing running out of the torso’s ragged bottom, snaking out below the not-quite-closed compartment hatch. “The slip space,” it said again, insistent.

“It doesn’t work like that!” she screamed. The Locusts were under the mistaken impression that humans could enter the bulk using their minds, star-hopping as effortlessly as getting a glass of water.

“This one said it was not a translator, but see the evidence before you. You are the spacetime modulus. Enter the slip space.”

She retched again and then sat listening to the sound of blood rushing through her ears, a pounding like a war drum made of taut human skin. The hatch slid open rapidly, squealing and squelching as the gristle of dismembered crewmates gummed up the tracks. One of her living crewmates entered, hunched over and holding his abdomen with his arms. He was more covered in dried blood than not—couldn’t have been his though; couldn’t live after losing that much. Behind him followed a Locust, a revolting creature like a rhinoceros beetle fucked a house centipede, learned to walk upright, and grew to three meters. It incessantly flicked its six scythe-like fore-appendages in rapid, stuttering motions too fast for the eye to track, giving them a disturbing flickering quality.

It hissed and rattled, and Kirawa’s corpse translated. “Use your mind. Take us to slip space.”

She didn’t know this crewmate—the Thundershock had had close to 1,000—but she locked eyes with him in a moment of intimate helplessness. “I’m sorry…” she whimpered. He only could make a horrified, knowing croak.

“Slip space…” the corpse said again.

She put her head down and squeezed her eyes tightly shut. There was a wet sound, soon buried under an agonized wail, and the wetness again in the sudden quiet. A snapping. She tried to pretend she was somewhere else, but her mind couldn’t conjure a single place, real or imagined, outside of this compartment.

The Locust spoke again, a sound like a crackling fire and a stiff push broom. “There are Eighty-eight more,” said Kirawa’s mouth. “Eighty-eight more. Slip space. Eighty-eight more.”

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