It was dark and so cold he could feel his breath freeze in front of his face. But he smelled blood. Lots of it. I should never have left my ship, he thought.
He edged soundlessly down the foreign hall, his gun drawn and ready. Out here in deep space, you hardly ever saw another ship. Especially not an old cruiser like this one…
He hadn’t been able to bring himself to just fly past it, when something was so clearly wrong. The vessel was old and well-cared for, but falling apart just the same. You’d have to be brave to take your family out into the fringes in an old bucket like this. Brave or crazy, maybe both. His father had been like that. And their family’s ship had been a lot like this one…
Ahead of him, something in the darkness scuttled. He aimed reflexively. “Who’s there?”
The voice belonged to a woman. Surprised, he almost lowered his gun. But it could be a trick. “I’m a searcher,” he said. “I stopped because… no one stops out here. I wondered if you might be having problems. Thought I’d offer you some help.” There’s enough blood in the air here to choke a Krystac, he thought.
“The ship isn’t mine,” she said. Her voice was strained. “I just pushed through to this place. But things went wrong.” She shuffled closer.
“Get back or I’ll shoot! Stay where you are. I’m going to light a torch.”
“No lights,” she hissed.
It was a singular sound, and even after all these years as a bounty hunter, it was enough to make Theo’s blood freeze. “You’re a Phyrnosian,” he said. His voice was dead. He lit the flare, throwing light across the small room. In an instant he took in the frozen blood strung like dark tinsel across the fixtures, furniture, walls: and the slim, feminine Phyrnosian as she tried to slink backwards, toward the door.
“On the floor,” he said, icily. “Where I can see you. Or I’ll shoot first and ask questions later.”
She lowered herself, arranging her tail behind her prettily. Her eyes glinted. “I always liked that saying.”
“Yes… you humans have such interesting ways of… putting things. My people have no poetry, as you must know.”
“Shut up. What happened to the people who lived here?”
She dipped her long chin ashamedly. Although Theo had always found the Phyrnosian race unattractive, he had to admit this one was peculiarly beautiful. She was lightly built, with delicate horns and an expressive face.
He stepped closer and shoved the gun in her face. “Speak up,” he said, gritting his teeth, “I can’t hear you.”
She covered her face with long-fingered claws. Whatever her story was, she had spent enough time around humans to learn their gestures well. “I just—I just wanted to watch them! I didn’t know he was following me.” She looked up at him desperately. “Since I was a hatchling I’ve been fascinated by your kind. Your ability to feel, and your beautiful history. As a species, you’re really quite wonderful, you know. And I’m a bit of a historian… but when I pushed through, Raptor followed me. He wanted to see where I was going, and when he realized I’d simply run off to live with humans instead, he went insane. I didn’t know he was even here… I hid for a few days, just watching them. The way they talked, and lived together. They were a lovely family, very sweet. Very brave. And then Raptor came out of hiding… when he knew I was watching. And he massacred them. All of them.”
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Discovery: After Ice Book OneScience Fiction
A bounty hunter finds a beautiful alien aboard an abandoned ship… and a lot of bodies. In this first of three stories from the After Ice label, we meet the Phyrnosians, who control much of the space around the Oup Hind. Coming soon as a comic boo...