The Adventures of Penney Dreadful: The Stowaway

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


The Ruckus has taken on an unexpected passenger. And it is hungry.

Submitted: September 10, 2017

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Submitted: September 10, 2017

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The Stowaway

 

Rain pounded on the deck of the Ruckus. Penney steered the old girl carefully through the wild storm. No place was safe for a small ship in the middle of such a storm, but Penney had managed to find a decently stable flight path. She wrestled with the wheel as the wind pushed against her. The old ship was making more noise than usual; metal screeched and wood groaned. Penney could hardly hear the engines over the din of the deluge. Down below, Parker pushed the engines to their limits. The Ruckus plowed through the piercing winds and night black clouds. Lightning flashed all around. Penney imagined some old trigger happy storm god hurling those glowing rods from some lofty cloud somewhere, trying to strike the ship as some kind of game.

Penney was glad there were no gods. She would hate them. Deafening thunder roared in the chaotic mess of rain and mist. Penney's crew fought with the storm alongside her. They struggled against the driving rain and the cold, relentless wind. Kristen howled with joy as she worked the sails with Qri. Rackham and Smither were busy securing line and loose objects on deck while Marina and Caixia aided Parker with the engines.

"C'mon new guy, let's see what you can do!" Smither yelled.

Rackham groaned as he struggled with his task.

"How're you doin' up there?" Parker's voice floated up to Penney through the voicpipe.

"We'll be steady in a moment," Penney shouted into the pipe. "How are we on your end?"

"Lookin' good, captain. All tanks full and thrusters to full power. Just give the word."

"Right."

Penney fought against the current. The rain hit her like ice cold needles. Her tattered jacket was nearly useless. She shivered and ached, but kept her hands on the wheel. All the while, Qri and Kristen cackled and sang. Penney steered the Ruckus to a relatively clear path. The monitors by the wheel indicated relatively little air resistance, low turbulence an easy current and a neutral Aether flow. The storm was still fierce, but Penney was now sure that they would survive the worst of it.

"Now," she yelled into the voicepipe, "lock thrusters!"

The ship buckled. "Thrusters locked!" Parker called.

"Are we secure?"

"Secure enough. She'll hold for now."

"Good. Keep me posted."

"Will do, captain."

Her hands were still on the wheel, but Penney had time now to relax. The crew cheered. Penney grinned.

"That was fun. Haven't had a good storm in a while." she said.

"You performed well, captain." came Caixia's voice from below.

"Couldn't have done it without my lackeys." Penney chuckled.

"I ain't your damned lackey!" Smither cried.

"Wasn't talking to you, Smithy," said Penney. "But now that you've got my attention, why don't you run downstairs and fetch me some grub? I'm starving."

"Get it yourself, you-!"

"Can't. I'm flying." Penney looked over her shoulder at Smither and grinned.

"Kristen can take over can't she?" Smither whined.

As soon as the words left his mouth, Kristen ran past him and down the stairs. Qri lumbered after her.

"I'm hungry too!" she yelled in between fits of laughter.

Smither glared at his captain. Penney stuck out her tongue, making a face at him. Smither muttered a curse, turned around and marched downstairs. Penney snickered at his retreating form. Rackham walked to the wheel as Smither trudged away.

"Ma'am," he said. "May I ask a question?"

"Call me 'Captain', Rackham. Then we'll talk."

"Right," he said. "Sorry."

"I'll let it pass. Ask away."

"Why are you so hard on Smither? I never see you treat the others like that."

"It's not my fault old Smithy can't take a joke." Penney laughed. Her stomach rumbled. Rackham raised an eyebrow. Penney shrugged. "I really am hungry," she added.

 

Marina knocked on Heydrich's door. The doctor did not answer. Marina tried the handle, but it was locked. She had a feeling it would be.

"Heydrich!" she shouted, pounding on the door again. "I'm gonna grab lunch. Don't forget to eat, okay? I'll bring something for you if you want!"

Heydrich did not answer. Marina sighed. She would have to play maid service again. As she turned down the hall, however, the door slid open. Heydrich loomed out of the doorframe, looking down at Marina. Her eyes lit up.

"Long time no see," she joked.

Heydrich grunted. He walked out into the hall and closed his door. He locked it with a copper key. With a glance at Marina, he walked down the hall to the infirmary.

"Remember to eat!" Marina called after him.

"I'll remember," he muttered.

Marina shook her head. "Idiot," she whispered.

When Heydrich turned the corner, out of sight, Kristen charged down the hall. Marina hugged the wall to avoid getting trampled. Qri followed Kristen in that slow, clunky gait of his.

"C'mon Qri," Kristen hollered. "Let's eat!"

"Do they have quail here?" asked Qri. "I do love quail."

A moment later, Smither joined the procession. He stomped down the hall, mumbling obscenities. Marina could not help but laugh.

"Having fun up there?" she asked as Smither passed by. He shot her a black look before continuing on his way.

Marina joined Smither and the others in the storeroom. Kristen was already tearing through barrels of food. Smither began gathering grub for Penney, but not before pocketing some for himself.

"Don't eat everything, Kristen." said Marina.

"No promises," said Kristen as she munched on salted meat.

"Hey," said Smither, rummaging through a barrel. "Didn't we have more cashews?"

"Maybe we miscounted during the last check." Marina suggested.

"I counted these myself," Smither grunted.

"Have you seen the quail?" asked Qri.

"Qri," Marina laughed, "I don't think we have quail."

"We do," Qri insisted. "I can hear it."

"Well, I don't hear any-" Marina paused. Somewhere in the storeroom, there was a faint scratching sound. "What is that?" she wondered.

"A rat," Smither suggested, not looking up from his task. "We probably picked it up from Maria."

"Sounds too big for a rat," said Qri. "It must be a quail."

"No," said Kristen. She followed the sound to a dark corner of the room. Something big bumped into a barrel, rocking it slightly. A shadow twitched in the candlelight. Qri slowly walked alongside his maker, with his hand on his holster. Marina and Smither exchanged glances and watched. Kristen tiptoed to the corner. Something was hiding behind a barrel of salted hawk meat. Something big. Everyone in the room could feel it now. Kristen grabbed the barrel and moved it aside. There, cowering in the dark, was a pale form wrapped in tattered gray cloak.

"It's a mouse." said Kristen.

 

Penney looked down at the quivering pile of filth before her. The man called Mouse grinned sheepishly. Mouse was wearing his usual attire of soiled gray rags. His hair was thin and messy. Nearly all of his teeth were missing. Marina had her gun pointed at his head. The remainder of the crew looked on.

"Mouse," Penney said. "Give me one reason I shouldn't kill you right now."

"I haven't stolen anything yet," Mouse shrugged.

"We both know that's a lie."

Penney poked Mouse in the gut with her boot. Mouse started to back away, but stopped when Marina placed the muzzle of her gun to the back of his head. Mouse could do nothing but squirm. Despite the freezing rain, he began to sweat.

"Maybe we should cut your belly open and take back what's ours." said Penney.

Mouse groaned. Penney stopped prodding him and kicked him hard in the gut. Mouse grabbed his side as he fell to the deck.

"Or maybe we should shanghai you and let the storm do the rest. What do you think, boys and girls?" Penney shouted over the storm. Her crew cheered.

"Or maybe," she said, crouching down to look Mouse in the eye, "maybe we should just gut you." She tapped the handle of her cutlass, still in its sheath. For now.

"Look," Mouse gasped. "Look, I'm sorry. I was just...angry and hungry. When I saw the opportunity to climb aboard...well, I just couldn't resist myself."

Penney stood up. Her amber eyes were smoldering as she looked around the deck. The crew shifted uncomfortably under her gaze. Except, of course, for Qri.

"And how exactly did you get aboard, Mouse?" she asked, still eyeing her crew. "Who was on lookout duty."

Qri raised his hand.

"That explains it," Penney sighed. She couldn't really punish the metal man. He could feel no pain. Besides, he would probably think it was some sort of game or tea party or something. Penney shook her head. She didn't even want to punish him. She didn't want to punish anyone, if she could help it. Penney refused to act like some high and mighty Regency captain. Lowering herself to Mouse's eyes again, Penney said, "Look, I'm not that mad. Which is lucky for you. If I was really mad, you would be dead already. But I really don't want another mouth to feed here, especially since you've already had your fair share. So you've got to die. Sorry."

"No!" Mouse screamed, throwing himself toward Penney's boots. "Y-you don't need to feed me, I've had my fill! You can drop me off at the next tower. Any place will do!"

"Next tower is days away," Penney said, rising up. She turned to crew and smiled. "Now, I'll leave your fate to them." she said to Mouse.

Marina grabbed Mouse by the collar as the crew gathered around. They circled the begging man, laughing like hyenas. They poked and prodded him with boots, guns and swords. Mouse screamed. He could do nothing but scream. Penney backed away from the scene, smiling. Rackham was once again at her side.

"Isn't this just a tad cruel?" he asked her, looking at the screaming Mouse in sympathy. Rackham knew all too well what is was like to be a plaything. To have your own fate taken into the hands of others. The sight of the crew circling Mouse infuriated him, but he hid it well. He did not wish to share Mouse's fate, after all.

"That's the point," Penney said. She frowned again and glanced at Rackham. "You see boy, this is my ship. This is my land. These are my rules."

Rackham stared at Penney, but could not hold his gaze. Her eyes were smoldering once more.

"This man may be a stowaway," she said, turning her eyes back to the crew. "But as long as he is on my ship, he will be subject to my laws."

"The pirate way," Rackham whispered, still not looking at her.

"No," Penney said quietly. "This is my way."

 

Heydrich was vaguely aware of the commotion on deck. He paid it no mind. He had work to do. The ship was stable enough in the storm, but still Heydrich decided against delicate operations. He would simply review his notes and arrange things for his next experiment. Once the storm cleared away, Heydrich would return his focus to the real work.

I'm close, Heydrich thought. I can feel it.

Only another few months and Heydrich would have it. Everything that he had hoping for was but a few short months away. But for now, he needed to focus on the task at hand. Which would be easier to do if it were not for that infernal scratching noise. It was faint, but incessant. Heydrich had already searched the infirmary for rats. He did not want to waste precious time searching the hall or the nearby rooms. Heydrich, like the rest of the crew, had grown accustomed to the never ending song of the Ruckus. In fact, if the Ruckus was ever quiet, that would mean that it was broken. But this noise, this faint scratching noise was driving Heydrich up the walls. Even Kristen could not do that to Heydrich. He was a hard man to pester. Kristen usually got bored of teasing him and would go off to bother Smither. This noise would not go away.

Heydrich abandoned his research and stormed into the hall. He locked the door behind him with his personal infirmary key. The hall was quiet and dark. The meager light from the wall mounted candles flickered, casting dancing shadows on the floor. Heydrich briskly walked among the shadow dancers. He glanced around corners and into rooms crowded with crates and machinery. As he walked through the belly of the ship, the scratching grew louder and louder. The sound reached its peak as he rounded a corner. The lights there had burnt out. Recently, he judged from the thin smoke trailing from the candle wicks. Heydrich covered his ears and peered into the darkness. The sound was emanating from somewhere down this corridor.

"Kristen," Heydrich grumbled, "I'll feed you to the harpies if you don't stop this racket!"

The scratching stopped. Something crawled out of the dark corner and into the candlelight. It wasn't Kristen. Heydrich considered himself a brave man, but the thing on the floor terrified him. Pale and shaking, Heydrich ran all the way upstairs.

 

Penney and Rackham watched as the crew prepared the plank for Mouse. Penney wore a warm smile.

"I suppose we should thank Mouse for the entertainment." she said. Rackham said nothing.

Penney's reverie was interrupted when Heydrich burst onto the deck. He ran straight to Penney, heedless of the rain. His long coat billowed out behind him.

"Captain," he said, panting, "we have a stowaway."

"Yes, I know." said Penney, pointing at Mouse.

"No, not him," said Heydrich, not taking his eyes off of his captain. "It's a parasite."

"You mean a flyworm?"

"No!" Heydrich grabbed Penney by the shoulders. Rackham took a step back. "It's a devil," said Heydrich. "Or a machine. Whatever you want to call it, we have one aboard!"

Penney placed her hands gently on Heydrich's arms. He relaxed his grip, but still held onto her. Penney locked her fierce eyes with his.

"Are you sure?"

"Positive."

"How did it get aboard?"

Heydrich glanced at Mouse. "How do you think?" he said. Penney nodded. She squeezed his arms.

"How much time do we have?"

" Enough time to dispose of it, I hope."

"Then what the hell are we waiting for? I'll inform our torturers over here. You send word down to Parker and Cai."

Heydrich nodded. Penney released him and ran to her crew. Heydrich made for the voicepipe, knocking Rackham aside as he did so. Rackham stared after him, eyes wide and slack jawed. Then he looked at Penney and rushed to her side.

 

"A parasite?" asked Kristen.

"Yes," said Penney.

"Does it taste like quail?" asked Qri.

"No," said Penney.

"This is bad," said Smither, pacing back and forth. "This is real bad."

"I know," said Penney. "But I need you-all of you-to stay calm."

"How can I be calm when there's a monster on board?" Smither shouted, reeling on Penney. Without hesitation, Penney slapped him across the face. The crew watched in silence.

"Smither, I need to know that I can count on you." said Penney. Smither rubbed his face, but did not meet her gaze.

"Can you do this? Are you with me?"

Smither nodded in response.

"I need to hear you say it." said Penney.

"Yes," said Smither. "Yes. I'm with you."

"Good," Penney smiled at him. She turned to address the rest of her crew as Heydrich approached. "We move in groups," Penney said. "Stay close to each other. Heydrich, where did you see this thing?"

"Corridor D, I believe. Not far from the infirmary."

"Okay. Kristen and I will start there. Rackham and Smither, you meet up with Cai and Parker. Heydrich, do you have a gun?"

Heydrich reached inside his coat and produced a flintlock pistol. "I never leave my room without one," he said.

"Alright, you and Marina stay here then. Guard the staircase. If you see anything that isn't us, shoot it."

"Right," said Marina and Heydrich in unison.

"Qri, man the wheel. Stay the course and try not to kill us." said Penney.

"Right ho, ma'am!" said the metal man.

"And you," said Penney, locking her gaze on Mouse.

"Me?" he whimpered.

"I know just what to do with you now."

Penney walked slowly over to Mouse. The ragged man quivered in his cloak. He backed up against the railing. His hands gripped the posts until his knuckles whitened. Penney grabbed him and lifted him off the floor. His long, yellow fingernails left scratch marks on the old wood.

"P-please," he begged. "I'll make it up to you. I'll work, I'll do anything you please!"

"You brought this thing aboard my ship," Penney growled. "You endangered the lives of my crew. Nothing could ever make up for that."

"I didn't know it was there!" cried Mouse. "Well...I mean, there was a tingling sensation somewhere in the crotch area, but I thought those were just the usual sensations. If I had known what I carried, I would never have-"

"Goodbye, little Mouse." said Penney.

With an effortless thrust, Penney threw Mouse over the railing and into the storm. There was a brief cry of panic, then silence. The storm swallowed his screams. Penney did not watch him fall. She turned back to her crew, who watched her awe and just a tinge of fear.

"What are you staring at?" said Penney. "We got work to do."

With that, the crew split up into their designated groups. Penney and her team descended the stairs, followed by Smither and Rackham. Marina and Heydrich stood by the staircase, watching their mates step into darkness. At the bottom of the stairs, just before separating, Penney put her hand and Smither's shoulder.

"You got this?" she asked him.

"Yes," he said, staring back into her unflinching gaze. "I do."

"Good man," said Penney. With Qri and Kristen in tow, she disappeared into the dark. Smither made his way to the engineering deck, followed closely by Rackham. The two men peered into every room and around every corner and they traversed the halls. Rackham's pistol trembled nervously in his hand.

"Smither, I gotta ask you something." he said.

"Shoot," said Smither.

"What exactly are we fighting here? What the hell is this...parasite?"

Smither glanced over his shoulder at the younger man. "You haven't spent much time on the lower levels, have you?"

Rackham shook his head.

"Heydrich could give you a more scientific explanation," said Smither. "But as far as I can understand, these parasite buggers start real tiny. The wind carries 'em until they find what Heydrich calls 'organic matter'."

"Human flesh," whispered Rackham.

"Exactly," said Smither. "So then, the little arsehole goes inside a host and grows there. Months, maybe even years later, it exits the host and grows some more. They can get as big as a person. Bigger, even."

"My god," said Rackham. "That poor soul had a monster like that living inside of him?"

"I'd scratch the 'poor soul' part, but yeah, that about sums it up."

"Is it related to that leviathan we encountered before?"

"Maybe," Smither shrugged. "Damned if I know for sure. Like I said, Heydrich can get all technical for ya."

Rackham shuddered. "'The Sky is full of Troublesome Things,'"

"Amen," said Smither.

Soon, the two men arrived at the engine room, where Parker and Caixia stood in the doorway, weapons drawn.

"Heard we got a bug problem," said Parker.

"Have you seen it?" said Smither.

Parker shook his head.

"Damn," said Smither. "It could be anywhere!"

"Well, what now?" asked Rackham.

"We guard this room," said Parker, indicating the clanking machinery behind him. "Nothing gets in, no matter the cost."

"Why? Won't Penney and the others need our help?" said Rackham.

"Just do it, boy! No arguments." Parker growled.

Rackham glanced at Smither. The older man gave him a look that said "Trust me, you do not want to argue with Parker." Rackham nodded and took his place beside the engine room door.

 

Penney and Kristen stalked through the dark halls, stopping to inspect every suspicious noise or shadow. Penney know it was probably unwise to give someone like Kristen a gun, but she wanted none of her mates to go about unprotected. There was always a slim chance that one of her crew would use one of those guns against her, but Penney welcomed that risk. Besides, Kristen would not likely be the one to start a mutiny.

"I hope Qri's okay up there," said Kristen. "He gets quite lonely when I'm not around."

"Ah, Marina and Heydrich will keep him company. I couldn't very well bring him down here. Those big feet of his make too much noise."

"I know," said Kristen sadly.

Penney suddenly stopped. Dead ahead of the two women was the door to the armory. It was open just a crack. Candlelight spilled out from the door, illuminating only a fraction of the room within. Penney cautiously walked to the door. With her pistol still in her other hand, Penney opened the door. It creaked open with dreadful slowness. Penney noted that the hinges were due for some oil. In the center of the room, amid neat stacks of ammunition, cleaned mortars and crates full of supplies, was a monster. Kristen leaned out from behind Penney, aiming her pistol at the beast. Penney grabbed Kristen roughly by the wrist.

"What?" said Kristen, wincing. "That's the thing we need dead, right?"

"No," said Penney. "That's the shell."

Looking closely, Kristen saw that Penney was right. The thing on the floor was nothing but an empty vessel. The creature had shed its skin for a new form. The old, opaque skin was long and snakelike, ridged at the head and the tail. The skin, along with most of the floor, was drenched in an odorless red fluid. The substance, brighter than blood, seemed to glow in the candlelight. A trail of the stuff led up the wall and into a small vent on the ceiling.

"Damn," Penney muttered. "I can't get in there."

"But I can," said Kristen, eager to be of service.

Penney shook her head. "I'm not letting you go in there alone."

"But-"

"No! We do this together. It's too dangerous to split up. You wouldn't even be able to fire in there."

"I want to help!"

"You can help by staying alive, with me!"

Something rumbled in the vent. Penney and Kristen pointed their pistols at it. The rumble turned into a roar which reverberated throughout the entire ship. The pipes on the ceiling shook.

"Kristen," said Penney in a hoarse whisper. "Do you know where that vent leads?"

"Of course," Kristen nodded enthusiastically.

"Lead the way, then."

 

It is time. Separate from the whole. Divide. Untangle. Ride the dying breath of the world. Seek the flesh. Storms and darkness. Unending noise. This is the closest thing to home you have. Where are you? Where are we? Other Self? No, focus. The Other shall guide you. Focus, new Self. Where is the flesh? There, right there. A machine! An unholy machine! A product of the Enemy. It will do us no harm. Us? We? Seek the flesh.

Dig. Gnaw. Darkness and noise. The sound of organs and blood. Drink. Eat. Bathe in discordance. This flesh is dying, but it will do. Its thoughts are dry. But it has the nectar! Sweet, sweet nectar. Fruit from Heaven! Do not gorge yourself. Save the rest. Our time will come. Sleep now. Sleep. The Other will dream for you.

Where is it? Where has it gone? Follow the trail! Direct the flesh...but where! There, that flying machine! There is something wrong...a void. The silence chokes me. I cannot advance. We must! Let the hunger drive you. We must feed. We must be whole. We are close now. Feed...feed now. FEED!

The Void! We must conceal ourselves. No, you must feed! We will be consumed if we do not hide. Well, we must eat something. The rats...eat the rats. The flesh wants food. Feed it rats. It is resisting. Push harder. Swallow it whole. The flesh is weeping. The rats have clawed at the inside of its throat. There is blood. Drink it. Drink it, and deliver it unto the Other. Yes, blood for the machine.

Emerge. The nectar is close. This flesh is damaged. Discard it and move on. Grow. More darkness. More noise. Machines...our fellow Selves, or tools of the Enemy? No, only the simple work of man. We will tear it all apart. Not now. When the time is right. The Void is here. It is in pursuit. Flee now. Escape. Eat the fruit of Heaven and deliver it unto the Other. It is there...with more flesh. Veins pulsing with blood. Organs working away in the dark. Liberate the flesh. Let the blood flow. Yes, blood. Blood for the machine.

Penney and Kristen followed the pipe, listening for the beast. The air became cooler as they ran through the dim corridors of the Ruckus. Frost obscured the portholes. Penney shivered.

"The cooling tanks," she muttered. "Of course."

Kristen led her captain into a room with an open doorway. Inside, four massive tanks stood covered with frost. An icy mist emanated from slits in the tanks. Icicles hung from the ceiling. Great gray pipes were connected to the tanks and to several different ducts and ports in the walls.

"This is the end of the line." said Kristen, pointing at the center tank. The vent they had been following ended right above the tank, where a steel pipe connected to it.

"Damn," said Penney. "That thing's going to break the cooling system."

"Not if we break it first," Kristen grinned.

"Kristen, I love how you think." said Penney, grinning back.

Above, in the vent, metal scraped against metal. A thousand nails scratched on the world's biggest blackboard. Kristen winced. Penney aimed at the vent and fired. Kristen composed herself and followed Penney's lead. A broken ventilation shaft would be a pain to fix, but it was preferable to losing an entire cooling tank. Penney and Kristen emptied their guns into the vent. Penney waved the smoke out of her face. The only sound was that of the tanks working away. Red fluid dripped from the bullet ridden vent.

"So," said Kristen. "Did we-"

Suddenly, the untouched section of the vent behind the two women exploded. A chrome figure drenched in red ichor and covered head to toe in spikes landed clumsily and ran out of the room. It lashed out as it ran, striking Kristen. The blow sent her flying back into the wall. Penney swung her cutlass at the creature. She felt as if she was attacking the air. The beast brushed against her and fled down the hall. It was all over in a second, with the creature moving in a blur.

Penney clutched her side where the stowaway had brushed her. It was a shallow cut, but it was bleeding fiercely. Penney hardly felt it as she crouched down beside Kristen.

"I guess we didn't," Kristen groaned.

"Are you alright?" asked Penney.

"Yeah, I'll live. Ouch...probably."

"Can you walk?"

Kristen nodded. Using some nearby pipes for support, she hauled herself to her feet. Her eyes went wide when she saw Penney's wound.

"Cap'n," she said, "your bleeding."

"Just a scratch," Penney smirked, patting a pouch on her belt. "Nothing I can't fix."

Kristen smiled. It faltered when she caught something on the floor behind Penney.

"Uh, Cap'n, what is that?" she said, pointing.

Penney threw a look over her shoulder. There, on the floor, was a chunk of chrome flesh. It twitched and convulsed, covered in that same reddish liquid. A dozen small spikes protruded from it, glistening in the weak candlelight.

"Huh," said Penney, grinning. "I guess I got a shot in after all."

 

"Did you hear that?" said Rackham.

"Gunfire," said Smtiher. "It's about time."

"Hold your ground." Parker demanded.

They waited. The gunfire soon abated, only to be followed by the tearing of metal and two dull thumps. Sweat dripped from Rackham's brow. His eyes darted back and forth.

"You sure we shouldn't check that out?" he asked Parker.

The older man said nothing. He only stared ahead. Caixia stood like a statue beside him. Now the only sound was of the engines working away. Rackham wiped the sweat from his face. Smither tapped his fingers on the side of his rifle. Suddenly, Rackham heard someone running down the corridor. But it sounded wrong. Like metal rapidly striking the wooden floors. The others heard it too, for they had their weapons up and at the ready. Rackham followed suit.

Around the bend came a chrome blur. The creature looked like a forest of metal thorns glowing in the candlelight. It crashed into the wall as it ran, but quickly recovered and made its way toward the engine room. Rackham nearly dropped his rifle. Only when he could clearly see his reflection in the monsters metallic hide did Parker give the order to fire.

The monster met the barrage of smoke and bullets with little resistance. It plunged forward, desperate to get in the room. Bits of metal flesh broke off here and there, but it did little to slow the thing down.

"We really need better guns!" Smither cried.

"Keep firing!" ordered Parker.

"What happens when we run out of ammo?" Rackham inquired.

"Then we give it a fair fight," said Caixia.

"Let's hope we don't run out of ammo, then." said Smither.

The creature finally slowed under the assault. A well placed shot from Rackham blew off a kneecap. The creature staggered and fell. It crawled toward the pirates, who did not let up. The damaged knee began to regenerate. The blasted tissue rapidly reconnected with a terrible sound like the cracking of bones. With the regeneration completed, the creature stood again. It took a step forward. It did not get far. There was an explosion of smoke and ichor from behind the creature. It roared and fell forward. Its back was completely shredded. The pirates halted the assault.

Penney stood in the hall, a smoking shotgun in her hand. Kristen stood beside her, holding two heavy pistols. Penney flashed a grin at her friends and reloaded her gun. The creature stirred. Penney blew its head off. Kristen shot it five times in the torso, for good measure. Still, the thing convulsed on the floor until it suddenly rose, as if it were a puppet on a string. As it faced the engine room, the sound of cracking bones returned. The pirates watched in horror as the creature grew another torso on its back. It seemed as if another creature was bursting out of the great bleeding wound, complete with flailing limbs and a gaping maw. Now the beast faced the engine room and Penney simultaneously. The side facing the engines walked forward, while the side facing Penney and Kristen swung an arm in the air. The spikes on the things arm dislodged, flying at Penney and her companion. Penney hugged the wall to her right, while Kristen ducked behind the corner on the left. 

Parker, Smither and Rackham ran inside the engine room. Caixia remained in the hall. She discarded her gun and drew her swords. Without a word, she rushed at the creature. She deflected the flying spikes with precise movements of her silver blades. As she approached, the beast fashioned its arms into sharp points of shining steel. Caixia met the monster in a clash of sparks. Penney removed herself from the wall and ran to the rear of the beast. She blasted spikes out of the air until the trigger clicked. She unsheathed her cutlass and swiped at the beast. It deflected her strike with a claw. With astounding speed and a sickening crunch, the rear arms of the parasite morphed into swords. It swung at Penney and Caixia both. The others watched helplessly.

The parasite countered Penney's heavy, twirling blows with ease. Its other half, however, could not match Caixia's speed. The pale woman was a silver blur. Her blades moved like machines, never stopping even for a moment. Caixia hacked off the parasites arms and drove her swords into its chest. For a moment, the parasite stared at her with its empty sockets and toothy grin. Then, the arms regenerated, sharpening once again into deadly points. Caixia removed her swords from the gut of the beast and deflected the incoming barrage of limbs. At the rear, Penney slashed the parasites knees. It brought down a bladed arm before she could strike. The other arm swung toward her head. Penney met the blow and pushed the blade back with her cutlass. She slashed at the parasites abdomen, which only seemed to piss it off. Penney stepped back a few feet as the parasite swung wildly with both blades.

"Cap'n!" Kristen cried.

Penney risked a glance backward. Kristen held out one of her heavy pistols. She gave a curt nod, glancing between Penney, the gun and the parasite. Penney made a grunting sound of affirmation. Kristen took her cue and threw the gun in the air. Penney spun around, catching it in her free hand. In that same spinning movement, Penney brought the pistol to the parasites head and fired. There was a metallic clang and a spray of red ichor. Half of the parasites head was gone, reduced only to bits of flesh and metal. The remainder of its face gave Penney the same blank stare it had given Caixia. Then, with a chorus of crunching bones and broken glass, the parasite seemed to fold back in on itself. Before Penney's eyes, the monster she had shot became one with its other self. Even as she watched, she could hardly describe what she was seeing. The parasites flesh shifted, and the metal screeched until it was a single creature once more. A single creature with four deadly arms, four legs and two malformed heads.

"Cai, watch out!" Penney cried as she slashed at the creature.

Caixia took a step back. She was a second too late. In an instant, the parasites two extra limbs shifted back into claws. The claws lashed out and grabbed Caixia by the wrists. Blood dripped from where the metal beast dug into her flesh. Caixia grimaced. She pushed her swords forward, only for the parasite to push back. In another instance, the parasite took its other two limbs, still in the form of blades, and positioned them only inches away from Caixia's stomach. Penney and Kristen continued to attack the parasite from behind as Caixia struggled to fight. The parasite leaned close to Caixia and let out a hoarse roar. She could smell meat on its breath.

With a sudden movement, the parasite pushed its blades into Caixia's stomach. The pale woman staggered. The parasite removed its blades and threw Caixia aside. As the parasite ran to the engine room, it slashed Caixia across the back. She hit the wall with a thud. With a ragged breath, she fell to the floor.

"Cai!" cried Smither, racing to meet the creature.

"Damn-it Smither!" yelled Parker.

Smither fired at the parasite as it raced down the hall. It shrugged off the barrage even as Smither tore holes into its flesh. Rackham stayed where he was, but covered Smither with a fierce attack of his own. The parasite closed in and knocked Smither aside. A bladed arm slashed across Smither's cheek and he flew into the wall. Rackham took a step back, preparing to flee deeper into the engine room. He didn't get far before the parasite bore down on him. It grabbed his head with a metal claw and smashed it against a pipe. Rackham trailed blood down the pipe as he dropped. With a roar, Parker nearly emptied his pistol into the parasite at point blank range. It simply pushed Parker against the wall. Parker struggled to rise, only for the parasite to step on his leg until the bone cracked. Parker, who was too proud to scream, just grunted and clutched his leg.

The parasite continued on to the engines. It began to tear machinery from the walls. Sparks and tools flew as the parasite dismantled the guts of the Ruckus. Kristen dashed from her cover, dashing to reach the engine room. Penney stopped her with an outstretched arm.

"Cap'n?"

"Get Qri," said Penney, "and Heydrich. Get them down here."

"What about you, Cap'n?"

"I'll soften this sucker up. Now go, quickly!"

"Why can't I just use the voicepipe?"

"Well, for one, it's too dangerous in there right now. And besides, I think that was the voicepipe." Penney pointed at the growing pile of torn metal in the engine room.

"But-!"

"Do it now, Kristen!"

Penney glared at Kristen. Her eyes were like amber flames, burning in the darkness. Without another word, Kristen nodded and ran. Penney then turned her eyes to the engine room. She dashed past her injured companions and into the doorway. Within the loud, boiling room, the parasite had torn open a storage locker. It reached inside, producing a case of Aether. It effortlessly ripped the case off and began to swallow the pink, semi-gaseous substance.

Penney fired at the parasite as she ran. Once she was close enough, she began to hack at it with her cutlass. The parasite roared and flailed its razor sharp limbs. Penney blocked its blows and pushed forward, forcing the parasite back to the engines. A bladed limb struck her leg, and another sliced her forearm. Penney ignored the pain and kept pushing. Over the humming of the engines and the din of battle, Penney heard Parker groaning.

The rumbling, glowing engines were only inches away. Penney stabbed her cutlass deep into the parasites gut and pushed hard. She ignored the small spikes that were digging into her arms. She ignored the pain and the blood and the hideous grin of the creature itself. Drenched in sweat and covered in blood and ichor, Penney pushed on. The parasite clawed at her skin, peeling off large chunks. She felt it pushing back, threatening to overpower her. Her whole body shook.

The parasite grabbed the blade of the cutlass and began to drag it out. Penney struggled to keep the weapon embedded in the creatures metallic skin. At that moment, she heard loud, clunky footsteps behind her. A second later, a strong hand gripped Penney by the shirt collar and pulled her back. Penney flew into the air and landed on her back. She quickly sat up, just in time to see Qri grab the creature. Penney got to her feet and hobbled to the blast door.

Qri grappled with the beast. The metal man was silent. His red eyes glowed, reflecting the fire of the engines. A bladed limb struck out at Qri, who deftly grabbed it. Qri met the emotionless stare of the parasite as he twisted the bladed arm around and ran it through a mass of twisted flesh. Qri grabbed the other bladed arm and used it to cut off one of the creatures legs. Now crippled, the parasite was much easier to maneuver. Qri held the parasite in a metal embrace and ran forward. The parasite slammed into the engine. The searing heat of the machine caused it to unleash a glass breaking roar. 

"Qri, now!" yelled Penney, pulling at the blast door.

In one fluid movement, Qri pinned the parasite against the engine and pulled Penney's cutlass from its gut. The parasite lashed out once more. A claw blocked the blast door. Qri grabbed the handle of the door, and with Penney's aid, slammed it close. The claw fell to the floor, writhing and scratching at air. Penney ran to the engine controls. With practiced ease, Penney fed the engines with a burst of fuel. The blast door glowed red, then orange. The parasite screamed from behind the door, pounding and scratching at the searing metal. At that moment, an observer from the outside would have seen a great spout of flame erupt from the Ruckus.

The whole ship shook. Within moments, it was over. Penney and Qri waited. They heard nothing from behind the blast door. After deeming it safe, Penney nodded to Qri. The metal man pulled the blast door open. Inside there was nothing but ash and a putrid stench.

"Well done, tin man." said Penney, plugging her nose.

"Thank you, ma'am."

"Did the doctor come down with you?"

"I am never late for my appointments," said Heydrich, poking his head in the door.

"Good. Now make sure no one dies here." said Penney, helping a dazed Parker to his feet.

"I shall do my best," said Heydrich, reaching into his bag.

"Qri, stay here and help the doc. I'll go see how our pilot is doing."

"Very well, ma'am." said Qri.

"I will need to examine your wounds as well, Captain." said Heydrich to Penney.

"Later," she said.

As Heydrich watched her leave, he cursed his luck. This day was to be devoted to research. Now, instead of doing important work, he had to stitch a crew of stinking scallywags back together. He looked at them all, laying there bleeding all over the place. The nerve they had, getting themselves hurt like this. With a sigh, Heydrich got to work. Before he got far, however, Heydrich spied the shriveling claw of the parasite near the blast door.

Perhaps this day isn't a total loss, he thought.

 

On deck, the still-pounding rain struck Penney like a heavy blanket. She left a watery trail of blood behind her as she approached Marina at the wheel. Kristen stood close by. The tall, blonde mechanic blanched as she saw Penney's condition. Marina was too busy struggling with the wheel to notice.

"How are we doing?" asked Penney.

"Not great," said Marina. "I tried to keep to the flight path, but that burst knocked us off course."

"I know. Sorry for the lack of a warning, but we were pressed on time."

"What are you-?" Marina glanced at Penney and stopped mid-sentence.

"I don't look great, do I?" said Penney.

"To be honest, captain, you look like shit." said Marina.

"Duly noted."

"So...uh, how's the stowaway?"

"Extra crispy. Now, let's get going."

"Going where, Captain? We're off course and our visibility is fucked. We could be headed for the ass end of the world for all I know."

"Now that would interesting, wouldn't it?"

Penney looked up into the sky and closed her eyes. After today, she didn't care where the Ruckus was taking them. Although her mind was clouded with worry, she reminded herself to have faith in Heydrich. She had seen the good doctor perform miracles. And as a woman of little faith, that meant a lot. While Penney did not have much faith in the gods, she had faith aplenty for her crew. After letting the rain wash away the blood, Penney opened her eyes and smiled.

"Let's see where the wind takes us, ladies."

 


© Copyright 2019 Daniel Borin. All rights reserved.

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