He reached the end of the corridor, it terminating in a T junction, and looked left, then right. Nothing awaited him. Taking the left turn, he recommenced his journey. He would have to cut through a mess hall, traverse the medical wing, and finally make his way through a cargo bay before arriving at his destination. With lots of corridors in between, because, hey, why not? What was life without long hallways to have to hurry down while something inhuman was coming after you? Eric kept going, trying to keep his head clear.
Good thing, too.
As he approached the end of the corridor he was in, he heard a sharp snuff. Eric froze and quickly looked around. There was an open door to his left. Without thinking, he ducked in through the door and hit the close button. The door closed with relative quietness. Immediately, though, he heard footfalls. Eric looked around. He'd ducked into an office. He spied a pair of messy workstations, chairs, a stack of crates in the corner...
Not much to work with. The footfalls were getting closer, rattling everything in the room. Eric's eyes zeroed in on something above the crates. A vent! It was open and accessible. It would have to do. He hurried across the room, climbed up the crates and shoved himself into the vent. Behind him, the footfalls drew ever closer. He heard the quiet whir of the door opening and felt terror fill his veins with ice. He finished getting into the vent and began crawling as quickly as he could. The vent was big enough to allow him to crawl on his hands and knees. Back in the office there was a sound, something like a low-pitched squeal.
And then rending metal as the creature reached into the vent.
Eric kept going, pushing himself as fast as physically possible. A few seconds later, he heard a furious roar. He'd made it, the thing couldn't reach him. It sure sounded like it was trying, though. More rending metal, tearing open as the creature tried to rip its way into the vent, but the wall around it was built too sturdily. Eric continued crawling as quickly as he could, putting as much distance between the monster and himself as possible. Soon, the sounds fell away and he was alone in the vent. Maybe he should just stay up here.
He passed a few more grates, staring down into more offices, trying to get his bearings. If he had his directions right, he needed to make a right-hand turn somewhere. The eating areas were just adjacent to the office complex. Eric followed the vent until he spied a right turn and took it. He paused every couple of moments, listening for signs of life, trying to determine if the creature was still on his trail or not. Or if he had picked up a new one. So many possibilities, almost all of them terrible. But it was silent.
Finally, he came to the mess hall he'd been looking for. It was done up in the style he'd gotten used to in the military. Although the map had called it the dining hall, it definitely looked more like a mess hall. Rows of tables and benches bolted to the deckplates, laid out in a mathematically precise grid for maximum occupancy. Eric decided he'd pushed the whole vent thing far enough. It was way, way too easy to die up in there if one of the beasts decided to just reach up and grab him. He canvased the mess hall once more.
It remained empty.
Deciding it was now or never, Eric opened the grate and dropped down into the room. The lighting was poor. The edges of the room had been cast into thick shadows. He could just make out the door across the room that he had to pass through.
As Eric began to step out of the shadows, he froze as that same door he was staring at suddenly slid open. He felt his body seize in fear and took a step back as one of the creatures began squeezing itself into the room. What were the odds?! He felt like the unluckiest person in the whole galaxy right then. And it wasn't as if he could just wait for it to go away, even if that was an option. He was working against the clock here. Eric took a deep breath and let it out as slowly as he could. The creature clearly hadn't seen him yet.
YOU ARE READING
The twelfth novel in The Shadow Wars. Eric Starck is a man adrift. After fighting in the Systems Wars that ravaged the galaxy, he's spent the past three years drifting from one job to the next, never quite feeling comfortable. The latest in a long l...