Chapter 20

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Haylee and her team stood well back as the red line of molten metal slowly curved around in a large circle until it met itself.

"Okay, that should be cut," Braxton's laid-back voice said in her helmet.

"Confirmed," Haylee said.

"Laser powered down."

Haylee stepped forward and gave the centre of the cut out circle a shove with her foot. It floated out into space, leaving a sizable hole in the hull. Through the hole, a lone fighter hovered. Braxton grinned from the cockpit and saluted.

"Thanks. Appreciate the help," Haylee said.

"No worries," Braxton said. "I better be on the move. I have a hot date with some ugly mongrels."

"If anyone can hold them off, it's you." The plane backed up slightly, then tilted and flew up and over them. "Good luck," Haylee whispered.

She turned. The two engineers from the Jewel were already dragging the reactor towards the hole.

Haylee tapped her wristband, opening a new channel. "Sue, you there?"

"On final approach now. The engineering crew are already hard at work mounting the cannon. Shove the reactor out the hole and I'll grapple it. If you guys can make your way back to the main cavity where we docked before, and use your thrusters to get out into open space, I'll pick you up and take you home."

"That sounds real good."

Together, they pushed the reactor out. The shuttle lowered itself, ready to grab the reactor with the tractor beam.

"We're done here. Let's move," Jaylen said.

Haylee smiled and turned. Maaka led the way, and Haylee followed with the engineers with Jaylen in the rear. They bobbed and floated through the corridors. It was a good thing Maaka knew the way, because Haylee was completely lost. Women were supposed to have a better sense of direction than men. That particular trait must have passed her by.

"Not far now," Maaka said. "A few more corners and we'll be in the cavity."

"You'll all need to be careful," Jaylen said. "Touch your thrusters a little. Less is more. You'll find it doesn't take much to adjust your course, and there is plenty out there that could skewer a person."

A hint of cinnamon tickled Haylee's nose.

That was odd.

Nausea washed over her, and her breath quickened. She knew these feelings. A panic attack. She hadn't had a panic attack in years. Why now? She grabbed a handhold to push herself onward. Her hands were sweaty in her gloves. She had to get out of here. Something was coming. She was going to die. Her heart raced. She was—

The railing vibrated in her grip. Haylee turned to look over her shoulder. A giant creature pulled itself up through a hole in the wall. It was all muscle, with six limbs and a face covered in blood. A steroid-infused grasshopper from hell. Haylee screamed.

"Braxton said that thing was dead," Maaka yelled.

An image flashed into Haylee's mind. The creature was tearing her limb from limb, discarding her body parts and moving on to ... Ronald! Her chest ached. She couldn't breathe. The beast was telepathic. It was reading her thoughts and trying to terrify her with violent images.

It was getting closer. Have ... to ...

"Run!" she yelled. Haylee would have given anything for artificial gravity at this point. She pulled herself along by the handholds. One after another. Keep moving. She caught a reflection of the alien in the metal of the bulkhead. It was gaining on them.

Jaylen, who was almost alongside her now, turned and fired his pistol. The momentum pushed him forward, ahead of Haylee.

"Bullets are having little effect," Jaylen said. "It's got a hard outer shell.

Maaka stopped and turned around. He drew a pistol and yanked a hand hold, propelling himself back towards the creature. These brave men were going to get themselves killed, all for her and the other engineers. Haylee pulled herself forward again but something grabbed her right foot.

The alien had her.

Haylee grasped hold of a new handhold and pulled with all her might. She shook herself loose. She pulled to propel herself forward but as she did, something grasped her other foot.

She turned to face her captor. It stared her down through damaged eyes. She gritted her teeth.

"You think you're so scary, don't you. Well you don't know what you're in for." Images of Elsie and Austen flashed before her. So precious. "I'm not just some helpless prey." She leaned forward and looked into the bloodied right eye. "I'm a mother!"

She kicked with her free leg and collided with the alien's face. It pulled back, its mouth contorting.

Haylee kicked again, and the alien caught her other foot. The alien now had both of Haylee's feet, and it still had two free arms, both mounted with horrifyingly sharp claws. Haylee met the creature's gaze. It had taken quite a beating. It wore no space-suit. Perhaps it could survive in a vacuum, at least for a while.

She let go of the handhold she'd clung to and swung her fist towards the creature. She made contact with its face. It winced.

"Shoot for the eye," Jaylen shouted. The security officers were Haylee's only hope of escape now. She leaned back, giving them a clear shot of the alien's face. Maaka approached.

The alien flexed the biceps of its upper arms and plunged one of its claws into Maaka's throat. His eyes widened. He gurgled over the comm channel.

Haylee winced.

Fire tore through her chest and stomach. The alien's other claw burrowed into her torso. Pain like she'd never known. A terrible scream sounded. Was it her? More gunfire. Blood obscured her vision. It was everywhere.

It was hers.

#

Les gripped the edge of the front console that held the helm, communications, and sensor stations. His hand slipped off, slippery with sweat.

"Forty-five minutes," Maya said.

"Come on Braxton." Les said. "Buy us a little time."

The fighter had sped off into the distance a few minutes ago. Felt like forever.

"Any word from the team?"

The officer at communications shook her head. There were tears in her eyes.

"Hold it together, everyone. I know none of us were trained for this, but I know you can handle it."

The communications board beeped. "I have them, Captain."

"On speakers."

"Captain!" It was Jaylen. His voice was frantic.

"Report!"

"We're on our way, just need to get outside the ship to rendezvous with the shuttle. Captain, Maaka is dead, and Haylee is down."

Les's heart clenched. Dead. And Haylee? "Down? As in ..."

"I don't think she's dead, sir, not yet, but she doesn't have long. You need to have an emergency medical team standing by when we arrive."

Les turned to Maya. She was already on it.

"It was the alien, Captain."

"I thought Braxton killed it."

"Apparently not, sir. We took it down, but who knows. It may still get up again. We won't be here to find out."

"Get that woman safely aboard this ship, Jaylen. We owe her our lives. She has to make it."

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