Free Zombie Apocalypse Fiction: Episode 1 Chapter 3
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Although there were no outright signs of any danger, David and the rest moved silently and carefully in single file down the darkened passageways. The occasional red light that flashed around in circles played with their shadows, stretching them and then crunching them flat every other second. David motioned with his hands, and everyone clicked on their shoulder lights.
Steven quickened his pace in order to catch up to David. “So where is everyone?” he asked.
David shrugged and looked down the length of the hallway, which now appeared like the throat of a huge monster, swallowing them into the depths of oblivion. “I suspect that they all might be assembled in one place. It depends on the nature of the emergency, and that’s if there even is one. I personally think it’s an evacuation drill and nothing more.”
“You think so?” Steven asked.
David nodded. “A few days before we took off, Captain Hendricks mentioned something about running a refresher drill. I think that’s what this is.”
“But why not wait for us to dock before the drill?”
“Dunno,” David said. “Perhaps the point of the exercise is to prepare for situations where one of the teams isn’t on board yet. That could be why the Photon-I never took off. The crew attended the Orion part of the drill, and in two weeks when they return, they’ll go through what we just did while we stay on board for that part of the training.”
“Even at the risk of a crash and the destruction of the entire station?”
“It’s not the first time we had to dock manually. Forcing us to learn how to perfect the maneuver could prevent a possible crash in the future.”
“I hope you’re right,” Steven said.
David became distinctly aware of his heavy breathing in his own ears. The usual ambient sounds that were always there—but never consciously heard—were now totally gone: the gentle droning sound of the plasma propulsion engines, the soft humming of the air con, and the normal buzzing of people talking or going about their business. Now there was nothing, and that only added to the hollow gnawing in his gut.
“Geez, it’s cold in here,” Jim said and blew out a small plume of vapor to prove his point.
“It’s the air con,” David said and pointed at the roof above them. “We’ll need to get it up and running as quickly as possible.”
Jim nodded. “I’ll handle it once we find our people.”
“Thanks,” David said. He liked the lad and was glad that he decided to join him and not Jason. Sooner or later they would require Jim’s electronic skills, so having him at their side was an added benefit.
The passage made a sharp left, and one-by-one, the crew of Photon-II slipped around the corner into what appeared to be another endless corridor. Red, blue and green lines painted on the floors and walls marked which way to go. Red led off to the infirmary, green to the living quarters, and blue to the work bays, all based within and around the food court. In the red alarm lights, all the lines appeared to be different shades of black, but David’s shoulder light allowed him to differentiate between the three colors. He knew the layout of the ship by heart and didn’t need to see the lines to know where he was going. Still, there was an odd sense of comfort in double-checking his memory.
“Should we split up?” Steven asked when they arrived at an intersection of passages. The passage to the front stretched out long and dark for as far as the eye could see. To the left, the passage made a sharp left several feet down, and to the right, the passage ended in a sliding door.
David knew that the passage with the door led to the living quarters. If they went left, they would eventually end up at the infirmary. “No,” he said. “We stick together until we get to the food court at least.”
“Roger that,” Steven said and followed David farther down the corridor.
A bit down the hallway, something hard crunched under David’s boot. He instinctively shot a fist up, and everyone behind him halted dead in their tracks.
“What is it?” Steven asked as he knelt down beside David.
“Glasses,” David said and held up the pair of eyeglasses to the light that was cast from Steven’s shoulder.
“Any idea whose it could be?”
There were over a thousand people on board the Orion, and around a third of them wore specs. “Beats me,” David said and flipped them aside. He stood up and motioned for the rest to keep following him.
* * *
On an average day, the food court would be a hive of activity as those on board the Orion Space Station went about their everyday business of work and social responsibilities. Now, like the space station itself, it was eerily deserted and devoid of any sign of life. David scanned the beam of his shoulder light along with the various shops and stalls surrounding the enormous enclosure.
“Okay,” Steven said, “seems like no one’s home.”
David didn’t say anything. As he washed the light over the tables and chairs strewn about in the inner courtyard, a tiny tingle trickled down his back to the base of his spine.
“Something went down here,” Steven said. “Looks like whoever was here left in one heck of a rush.”
“They wouldn’t just overturn tables and chairs during a normal evacuation exercise,” Duanne said. “Something bad happened here.”
“Let’s not jump to any conclusions here just yet, guys,” David said. “Let’s get all the facts first before we unnerve one another.”
“Hang on a minute,” Jim said. “I know of a control panel that might be able to shed some light on this for us.” With that, he disappeared into the shadows.
For the first time, David really worried about the wellbeing of Beverly and Amy. He consoled himself in the knowledge that if something really did go wrong, they would most likely be safe and sound in an escape pod on their way back to Earth. They would probably confirm this once they arrived at the infirmary where everyone would have boarded the pods.
There was a slam sound, and a few seconds later, fluorescent lights flickered on and off and then finally illuminated the entire food court sector.
“How did you do that?” David asked and clicked off his shoulder light.
Jim raked his fingers through his curly hair. “I used to date a girl who worked in one of the food shops,” he said. “We came here for a little romance one evening after her shift ended and thought we’d dim some of the lights to make the mood a bit more romantic.” His lips broke into a smile and he waved his hand around. “We accidentally managed to trip all the lights. The peacekeepers and Captain Hendricks were on us before we could sneak away and, needless to say, the rest of the evening was not as romantic as we had hoped it would be.”
David managed a chuckle. “Certainly came in handy now,” he said and pointed down a hallway. “Why are those still dark?”
“The control panel only works in here,” Jim said. “As far as I know, there are other panels scattered all over the ship that control the lights for different sections, but I have no idea where they’re hidden.”
Steven picked up one of the chairs and sat down on it. “This wasn’t an evacuation exercise at all, was it?”
David shook his head. “Don’t think so, no,” he said. “I just hope that the women and children are safe.” Until proven otherwise by hard facts, David resolved that he would cling to whatever fragment of hope he could, no matter how unlikely.
“So what do we do now? Infirmary?”
David nodded and pointed down one of the dark passageways. “It’s where all the escape pods are. If there really was an emergency of sorts, that’s where everyone would have headed.”
“Agreed,” Steven said. “Let’s go.”
David held up his hand and walked over to one of the walls. There was a metal box attached to it, and David smashed through the glass cover with a chair. He stuck his hand inside the box and from it he produced a razor-sharp axe. “If something bad really did go down here,” he said, “I’m sure as hell not gonna leave anything up to chance.”
“Good idea,” Steven said, and everyone disappeared into the various shops. A few minutes later, they joined up with David again, each armed with sharp steak knives and meat cleavers.
David was about to give the instruction to move out when he froze; his eyes fixated on a distant spot at the end of one corridor.
“What’s wrong?” Steven asked.
For what seemed like a long time David said nothing. He could have sworn that he saw a shadow move at the end of the passage. He kept staring to see if he would see it again, but finally, he was convinced that there was nothing there and figured that whatever he saw was merely a figment of his over-tired and stressed-out imagination. Around the corner was a red light that kept flashing, and David realized that what he saw might have been only an illusion, a trick caused by the rotating light. “Nothing,” he said and clicked on his shoulder light. “Let’s go.”
“All right, guys,” Steven called out to the others. “We’re heading out to the infirmary. Stay close together and watch each other’s backs.”
The others clicked on their shoulder lights and tightened the grip on their weapons. Once satisfied that they were sufficiently armed, they all entered the darkened passage.