This job kept getting worse and worse. What his Mom had told him back on the farm repeated over and over in Ryan’s head, that shoveling horse shit and herding cows wasn’t as bad as having to listen to all his bitching about it so he should just suck it up. Things could always be worse. Right now he wished he had listened to her. Or that he hadn’t wanted the bigger paycheck the more complex jobs offered. He could be back on Earth, sitting on his ass, watching a wall of monitors in an air conditioned room. Nooo, he had wanted to work with the Thornes! The best in the company! He wanted travel! Adventure! He cursed his stupidity in looking for something more exciting than manure as he frantically welded doors shut in an attempt to keep ahead of the water filling the ship.
Grabbing the equipment he ran past D to the next door. He’d barely rounded the corner when the door creaked open and water sloshed across his shoes. Cursing under his breath he dropped the torch and used his shoulder to shove the door closed again before twisting the handle. It didn’t lock. Of course it didn’t. Looking through the round window in the door he checked how quickly the water was rising. It was coming in too fast, there must be a large tear in the hull somewhere on the other side. They were so screwed. The pressure pushing against the door was getting stronger making his feet slide on the slippery metal floor. He braced himself against the wall but the damn door was inching open again, water was seeping through the slowly widening crack at a rate that made him want to break something.
“D! We got problems!” He called.
Dimitri came tearing around the corner and gave him a look he knew was on his face too before helping to push against the door. With their combined weight they managed to get it closed again. He almost laughed when D tried the lock too and saw it was broken. Had to love the Fairgold craftsmanship.
D’s feet started slipping in the water as he bellowed, “BRIDGET!!”
She came over running and swore a blue streak before disappearing around the corner to get a few pipes that had come loose during their five star landing. Moving around them she had D hold up the bars as she used the torch to weld them in place. He almost fell on his ass when the pressure lessened. Fuck, his legs were sore from that. Plus all the damn running.
Bridget finished up the last weld, “That’s the best I can do, these won’t work with that water coming in. We need to move to plan B.”
Ryan felt a faint flutter of hope, “What’s plan B?”
Bridget gave him a tight smile, “Run like hell for the scuba gear and hope they found enough for everyone.”
Had to love having a plan. Especially one where he’d get to see Bridget soaking wet. Like his Dad said, there’s always a silver lining. At least there was until D shoved both him and Bridget down the hall. It was becoming second nature to run so they started moving automatically. He really didn’t want to know but he had to ask. “What’s wrong?” He tried to look for the threat, something had D spooked badly.
D was on his heels, “RUN!! Stay out of the water, we’ve got fucking piranha guppies!!”
“The fuck?!” He gritted his teeth.Whoever accepted this job was going to wish they’d never been born. Fucking Mondays! It was another breakneck run, this time to the biolab.
D took point down the hall and Ryan covered their rear, both of them slowing their pace to keep Bridget in the middle. Coming up on an intersection they saw Jude jogging up carrying an air tank. D grabbed the tank out of his arms and shoved him forward. When the researcher looked about to fall Ryan picked him up and tossed the smaller man over his shoulder. He remembered how slow Jude was from their race to the passenger bay. None of that shit today. Being eaten alive was not high on his list of ways to go.
“Stay out of the water! You see a technicolor guppy stay the fuck away from it, they’re piranhas!” D snapped at the protesting scientist. That effectively shut the man up and he stopped trying to get down, which worked for Ryan. He was staying focused on the doors to the biolab. They were going to make it. He felt like sighing in relief. That was when Lazen looked up and Ryan got a very bad feeling. That weasel better not…the fucker was so dead! They watched the doors close and seal. D beat him to the swearing and got everyone’s attention.
“OPEN THE FUCKING DOORS!!”
Everyone looked up at D’s voice and Katcha ran to the doors but they weren’t opening. Cecil moved her out of the way and started working on the door lock as Katcha grabbed Lazen, probably threatening to disembowel the man. He vowed to save her the trouble. Once that door opened again he was tossing Lazen to the alien piranha guppies. Looking around the hallway he noted the shelves welded to the walls. The each had some black netting along the front. He and D barely glanced at each other before they were moving. He tossed Jude up onto one of the top shelves, holding the netting down so the other man could get over the edge before he climbed up onto another. Dimitri cupped his hands so Bridget could climb up before pulling himself and none too soon.
The water was already there and hit them all like a fist. It felt like a solid gut punch then the current nearly took him off his shelf. As the water receded he checked to make sure Jude was okay but movement further down caught his attention. The netting across the front of Bridget’s shelf had torn off and she was swept into the water. Her frightened chocolate brown eyes met his as she fell. It was the first time during this whole fucked up situation that he’d seen her look scared. He was too far down the hall, he’d never get to her in time. The colorful swarm of death was already passing him. He had to warn her. “Bridget!!”
Dimitri was in the water before he could say another word. D had barely gotten her to safety before he was slammed into the bio lab doors. Ahead of the others, a bright blue fish sank its teeth into his arm. The blood drove the rest into a frenzy. Blood was already seeping into the water. The world slowed down to heartbeats. D’s struggles became weaker as he sank under the weight of the brightly colored scales and bloody water.
“Stay out of the water!!” He ordered before he was pulled under.
Ryan looked around frantically, cataloging what he had at his disposal. Besides himself and his pocket knife, not much. There had to be something he could do to get D out of there, he wasn’t about to watch one of his best friends get torn apart. He needed to be closer though. Reaching over to the netting along the shelf in front of him he pulled on it hard. When it didn’t tear he pulled himself forward and made his way down the hall as fast as he could.
Jude chose this moment to break his silence, “Do something! He needs help!”
“Tell me something I don’t know!” He snapped back, he really didn’t need Jude distracting him right now. It probably looked easy, climbing from shelf to shelf like a monkey, but it really wasn’t. If the netting tore or he didn’t balance right there’d be two people feeding the fish and he doubted any rescue was coming from the researcher behind him. Bridget however was testing the netting on the shelves around her. When they didn’t tear she poked her foot through and twisted it around her calf, effectively anchoring herself to the shelf before leaning over the ledge and holding her hand out. Clever girl.
Waving her hand she called out, trying to get Dimitri’s attention though he was still under. “D!!”
He held his breath but kept moving as D made a grab for Bridget’s hand. Swearing, he moved faster as their fingers slipped and D went back into the water. His thrashing was getting slower and weaker. That wasn’t good. He was almost there though, just a bit more. By the time he was close enough to reach D the water was a bloody, foamy mess. He couldn’t see D at all through the swarm attacking him.
D didn’t have much time, he was a strong swimmer but shit at holding his breath. Taking his pocket knife out Ryan started cutting the netting from a nearby shelf. He’d need two for what he was planning, one wouldn’t reach. After the second netting was cut clear he tore off a strip and wove the two nets together. Just like fixing the fences back home. He said a little prayer that this worked because he had no back up plan if it didn’t.
Looking across at Bridget he didn’t have time to asses how much she could hold up so he just asked her. “How strong are you?”
Like everything else so far she didn’t miss a beat. “We scooping him out? I’m strong enough! Toss it!”
Ryan felt a moment of relief that Bridget was so sharp, she’d already figured out the plan. Attaching one of his boots to the end of their improvised net he threw it across the hall to her. She caught it easily and frowned, noticing what he had. The net was long enough to get across the space but it wasn’t long enough to scoop D out. They needed D to make another jump out of the water. He wasn’t though. D was barely moving. Ryan and Bridget both leaned over as far as they could trying to make the net reach but this wasn’t going to work if D couldn’t make those last few inches. Desperation was riding him hard.
“What the fuck are you doing?! Get up!” Ryan reached desperately for his friend.
He had to think. If this wasn’t going to work what else could he do? Going in the water wasn’t an option, he’d just add to the situation. Until they could get the fish off him D was too heavy for Ryan to pull up himself and it was looking like D wouldn’t be able to grip things anyway. He forced himself to look at the bloody water and make sense of the chaos. Nausea threatened to overtake him when his brain finally did.
D’s left arm was ripped open to the bone. His right leg was a mass of wriggling scales and fins as was his stomach. Even if they got him out of the water, without immediate medical attention he wasn’t going to last long. Hell, he might not make it even if they did have a medical team with them. He had to try anyway. Leaving D to die like that wasn’t an option. The fucker had to move though! “Move it, D! Get the fuck up!”
“It’s not going to work! We need to think of something else!” Bridget was right but what the fuck else could they do?
“I’m open to suggestions!” He didn’t mean to snap at her like that, she was right. He didn’t want to be an asshole but he couldn’t find any patience while watching his friend die in front of him. The worse part was he couldn’t see how they were going to get out of this either. There was no way to open the doors without flooding the biolab with water and piranhas so that wasn’t an option. Eventually the water would reach the shelves and then… Looking down at D he noticed a change in the fish. They weren’t attacking now but circling around D. It was like a whirlpool of bloody foam.
Looking across the hall to see if Bridget noticed the change in behavior he saw her staring down the hallway instead, her face deathly pale. His head jerked and he felt his face go as pale as hers. A very large fin over a very large shadow in the water was coming towards them very quickly. Behind it was another large shadow that looked like…tentacles? This was so fucked. He had to get D out of the water now.
Panic was starting to cloud his mind but then something unexpected happened. The piranhas backed off. Moving in sync they turned to go further down the hall but the finned shadow put on a burst of speed and got most of them in one bite. Holy shit. The second shadow moved toward D in a blur. Soon D was encased in some kind of goo and..was that a bag?
Bridget broke the stunned silence in the hallway, “I think the recon drones missed something.”
Ryan had to agree with her. The drones had missed something huge. The tentacled thing was already zipping back down the hall, dodging more fins and other tentacled shadows while dragging D behind it. It had all happened faster than Ryan’s stunned mind could react. Below them the water was a flurry of activity. Looking around he saw the same confused expression on Bridget and Jude’s faces.
The finned shadows, his mind kept calling them sharks though they looked more like a cross between sharks and beta fish with those colorful scales and long fins, had retreated back down the hall in the direction D had been taken while the tentacled things were spreading a milky substance in the water. Slowly the blood cleared and they could see into the biolab again. They were all as stunned. Good to know it wasn’t just them. More activity in the hall and somehow the water started retreating past a shimmery barrier.
Some kind of machine was pumping it out and keeping it from flooding back. Bridget was eying it with an intense expression and barely noticed when the large tentacle thing reached up and helped her down from the shelf. Ryan was more hesitant but they hadn’t made an aggressive move so he went along with it.
“They look like sea anemones! This is amazing! First contact!” Jude’s voice startled Ryan, he almost forgot the man was there until he spoke up. Ryan had a hard time matching Jude’s enthusiasm, though. Maybe it was the fact that one of his best friends may be dead or dying, they were dealing with an unknown species and culture, or the fact that they knew jack shit about their situation but he wasn’t feeling the excitement. The tentacled things stood to the side, to all intents and purposes politely waiting for them to get their shit together. Ryan moved over to the door and looked into the biolab. The rest of the researchers in the group seemed to be in a heated argument, Lazen and Lawrence obviously yelling at each other.
What sounded almost like someone talking through a flute drew his attention back to the aliens. They really were like sea anemones with tentacles sticking out of the top and bottom of a torso that looked almost like a wrapped burrito to him. About five and a half feet tall and standing on thick tentacles that reached out and gripped the floor, it looked more like gliding than walking. Their torsos had a striped pattern on them that differed on each. Sprouting out of the tops of their torsos were longer tentacles that they seemed to use to pick things up. They seemed to have bumps on the underside of the tentacles that helped them grip. Jude was completely engrossed in observing their savors but Bridget wore a more cautious expression.
“What do you think they’re waiting for?” He liked that Bridget was suspicious but she’d already shown more sense than any of the others so he should have expected it.
“Us to get our shit together?” Speaking of that they needed to regroup.
Cecil and Katcha were already watching the activity in the hallway so he used a few hand signs to ask them what the fuck they were doing now. Katcha looked to Cecil who barely glanced at the argument going on behind him which had now expanded to include Fletcher. Zaine was ignoring the argument completely and was suspiciously watching the aliens, who were still waiting on the side and speaking to each other softly. Cecil moved over to the door lock and started working on it again. Ryan took the time to listen to the aliens.
“Ck’xl viltreh Adarian keth?”
“Mgl uilz brid il’ck.”
There was no understanding what they were saying. Or repeating it. As far as he could tell the sounds were coming from multiple tentacles. That would be a bitch to figure out how to pronounce. Another tentacled alien came through the shimmery barrier carrying a pouch. He dropped into a defensive stance in front of Bridget and Jude while the aliens ignored him and opened the bag. What they pulled out looked like…face masks? He breathed a sigh of relief as he heard the biolab doors unseal and open with a hiss. That is, until the noise from Lazen and Lawrence’s arguing hit his ears.
“Don’t be an idiot, Lawrence! The doors have to stay closed! We have no idea what we are dealing with!”
“For how long, Lazen?! We need to get out of here before we all die!”
The aliens jumped at the sudden noise and started chattering to each other. Lazen and Lawrence hadn’t even noticed the doors opening. One of the aliens hesitantly approached Ryan and held up the face mask. It was circular without straps but the sides were soft and a little sticky. It was mostly clear with veins of brown spreading inward from the darker brown sides. They helped him put it on his face and it was fairly comfortable except for where the part pinching his nose. It didn’t impede his breathing though so he hoped like hell this was for breathing underwater and not something nefarious. Like inseminating his lungs with baby tentacle aliens that’d be popping out of his chest later…he needed to stop watching horror movies.
Cecil was much calmer than Ryan but he always was. Much more polite too. “We’re leaving. Unless you want to stay here by yourselves I suggest you put these on.”
Cecil didn’t exactly raise his voice, he never did, but it got Lawrence and Lazen looking over and noticing that they were the only ones still in the biolab. Cecil leveled them both a look before following one of the aliens through the shimmery barrier. Turning back he gave them a thumbs up as he tread water, he and his escort obviously waiting for the rest of the group.
“This is ridiculous! I am not trusting some creature with alien tech! I am still the head of this project and I say we are not trusting them!”
That officially snapped his temper. “Want to stay here and deal with the piranhas after we leave? If not then put the suction cup on your face and get your ass in gear. I want to find out where they took D.”