The pressure was on.
Despite everything, despite all his misgivings, his confusion, his uncertainty, Eric now knew that he, for sure, wanted to live. Walking down the wrapped stairwell of the control tower one last time, (he hoped), some small but powerful part of Eric knew that this was very likely only temporary. Of course he wanted to live right now, but after he got out of here? When he didn't have other people directly depending on him?
Well, that was a fucking coin toss.
Luckily, it didn't matter, because in a situation like this, you lived in the moment. And in this very moment, Eric Starck had a reason to live. He was going to save two beings. A cat and an AI. To others, his task may seem ridiculous, crazy even, but right here, right now, there didn't seem to be anything more important in the entire breadth of existence.
His first goal was to secure the cat. Eric had had cats in his life. He'd never really been a dog person. They were nice, he liked them and he definitely understood the reason why people liked them, but for some reason a dog's very nature didn't appeal to him as much as a cat's did. Dogs needed you. They would be happy to see you regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the conditions. Cats, on the other hand, wanted you. If a cat came up to you and pushed against you with its cheek or curled up into a ball of purring fur on your lap, it was because that cat wanted to. It was under no compulsion to do so.
Perhaps in direct contrast to his own desperate need, he valued that.
Eric edged out of the control tower and back into the corridor that had become oh so familiar by now. He was geared up and ready to go. Finally, for the first time since landing on this godforsaken rock, he felt like he was in control of himself. He felt like how he used to, during the 'best' days of his career, when there was just him and the objective. The way was clear, the hallway well lit and empty of hostiles, though, further down the corridor, he could see a darkened section. That was where Autumn had killed one of them while they were under the deckplates. He paused, briefly, feeling a tremor of misery rip through him.
Regaining control of himself, Eric turned around, going the opposite direction this time, heading for the dormitories section. As he jogged down the corridor, he found himself wondering how this cat had survived all the chaos, the madness, the blood, and the death. Could it be that it was the only pet onboard the whole of Theseus Station? It didn't seem likely. While pets were surely a rarity in outer space, it was even more rare that there should only be a single one among a population of two hundred. Which meant something darker.
There had been more, but they hadn't made it.
Did the creatures hunt pets as well? Or were humans the only ones who suffered under the malignant brutality of their alien ire? Eric intentionally turned away from that thought. It was ironic, in a way. Knowing or even experiencing this level of malicious savagery against fellow human beings was stomach churning and wretched, to be sure, but he could fundamentally handle that. Against a cat, though?
No, it was too much, he wouldn't tolerate it.
The corridor terminated in a right-hand turn. He pressed himself up against the wall and peered cautiously around the corner.
His heart leaped into his throat as he spied one of the creatures standing about ten meters down the passageway, its back to him. Eric stood frozen, rooted to his current position, eyes locked on the alien abomination. It lingered a moment longer, then began walking away from him, directly into the residential section.
Now it would be in there with him. From the map, it looked like this dorms area he was walking into was laid out a bit like a maze.
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...