If you're reading this, you're fucked.
The words themselves were ominous enough, but the fact that they were carved into the metal bulkhead spoke of how emphatic the writer was on the point. The faded bloodstains underneath hovered on the verge of being overkill.
The wall helped form a small, plain room, comprised of monotonous gray surfaces broken by hints of past violence: the odd bullet hole, strange gouges that were a hair's breadth from shearing through the panels, and the bloodstains that covered most of the floor and an alarming portion of the walls.
Technical Officer Jon Riley pressed his thumb against his envirosuit's collar and keyed his mic. "You guys on my deck yet?" he asked.
"Keep your panties on, tech-o. Jesus. You should love having a valid excuse to sit around with your thumb up your ass for once."
Riley grinned. "Thumb wasn't up my ass before, Luis. Speaking of which, how's your sister doin'?" he asked.
"She's a lesbian now. We burned through the lock; we're a couple hallways from the bridge. Hang tight, tech-o."
"Yeah, easy for you to say. You haven't been stuck in this room for the past hour," Riley grunted.
"Well, if you didn't suck at your job, we wouldn't be in this situation in the first place."
"You girls do know this isn't a private channel, right? You two wanna make out after we're done, that's your business. Until then, could you at least pretend to be professionals, Technical Officer Riley? Staff Officer Ortega?"
Riley came to attention out of habit, even though there was no way Captain Shandra Hise could see him. "Yes, ma'am," he said, Ortega chiming in a half-second behind him.
"Good. We'll have you outta there soon, technical officer. Sit tight, and for the love of Christ keep the fucking channel clear."
"Yes, ma'am," Riley said again, then released his mic with a grimace. Taking a deep breath, he blew out his cheeks as he exhaled, running a hand over his short brown hair and studying the room for what had to have been the thousandth time.
This was not how he had envisioned this patrol going. It was bad enough their cutter, the UANF Roanoke, had been assigned to scan the Fringe. Just on the edge of known human space, all kinds of crazy shit had been rumored to occur in this area. As humans were under an embargo while their eligibility for joining the Coalition was being reviewed, until the petition was accepted no vessels were allowed to pass into or come out of humanity's astral territory.
Plenty of humans chafed at the restriction. They felt that if humanity wanted to leave their solar system and explore the rest of the galaxy for the first time in history, they should be able to, galactic council or no. It was the United Americas NavForce's job to ensure no one made it over the border. This made them targets to every xenophobic secessionist that decided anyone agreeing with the aliens was no longer human.
As if being stuck on the Fringe wasn't bad enough, they'd found a derelict transport floating across the stellar lanes. With the embargo, these lanes were used as often as a dick joke in a nunnery, but regulations required the damn thing to be investigated by the first arriving ship, and it had to be inspected on location to avoid a contamination risk for any space ports.
On paper it didn't sound so bad, but most transport class vessels near the Fringe were used for smuggling all kinds of materials into the system by enterprising aliens who wanted the first crack at a new market but weren't up to date on human biology. You could dock, open the first hatch, and be attacked by drug-addled spacers that hadn't realized the shit they were transporting wasn't meant for human consumption, infected by a virus that had decimated the crew, or get your own ship infested with critters whose breeding rates had been underestimated by the original haulers.
The fate of the UANF Kingston Falls was used as a cautionary tale as to why quarantine SOP's should be followed to the letter, no matter how cute and harmless an animal may look.
No life signs had shown up when they bioscanned the transport to ensure the air to be breathable and flesh-eating-bacteria-free it was. There had appeared to be no reason for the vessel's abandonment life support and engine diagnostics came back clean, and there was no obvious damage to the hull or interior. While the rest of his squad had gone down to the cargo decks to check for any clues as to the crew's fate, Riley the sole technical officer had been sent to bridge to try and hunt down any logs that could shed some light on the situation.
There had been one recoverable register the computer system was not human, and most was beyond Riley's ability to decipher. He'd discovered that the Roanoke was not the first to investigate the transport. Riley had found a list of docking signatures large enough to cause him concern one of them was a UANF FAC that had gone missing a month ago.
He'd been about to leave and rejoin the group when he'd noticed the open door to this room at the back of the bridge it must have been a storage cupboard or something before being used to stage a blood bath. After the sterile emptiness of the rest of the ship, Riley had been intrigued by any signs of habitation, sinister though they were.
There must have been a sensor or something, because the second Riley crossed the threshold, the door had slammed shut behind him and trapped him inside. The inner panel had been smashed into uselessness, and the cover plate welded to the bulkhead so he couldn't pry it off and attempt a bypass. There was nothing else in the room that would help him. When he'd radioed his squad for assistance, he'd learned that every door on the ship had closed and locked at the same time this one had. He'd been forced to sit here in the death room as his team cut their way through to him.
While he waited, a growing sense of foreboding tightened Riley's shoulders and set him to keeping a hand on his pistol, though the thing gave him precious little comfort. He was a technical officer; he should never be in combat unless everyone else was dead. Riley tried to tell himself he was letting the room get to him, and he was jumping at shadows.
Still, it would be a relief when he was let out of here. Riley read the message again, and once more wondered why someone had gone to the effort of writing it inscribing words into metal was not an idle task.
"Seniorman Tremblay? Where are you?" Riley jumped as Hise's voice snapped through his ear piece. "Seniorman Tremblay, if you're not in front of me in six seconds, I'm taking the cost of the boot I'm gonna lose up your ass out of your next paycheck."
That did not help ease Riley's mind at all. He keyed his mic. "Everything alright, captain?"
"Don't worry about it, technical officer. Just noticed somebody got lost. Dipshit must have "
"Captain! Life signs are popping up all over the place near your location! I don't know how shit, we've got an unidentified ship, coming in hot! Bastards came out of the Fringe! We're gonna undock for evasive ma "
The ship was rocked with a violent shudder, pitching Riley to the side. "What the fuck was that?!" he demanded.
"No fucking idea! Roanoke! Roanoke, come in!"
The silence from the other end raised the hairs on the back of Riley's neck. "Ma'am...?"
"God damn it... Seniorman Soto, Staff Officer Roche, get back to the ship and figure out what the fuck is going on. Technical officer, unless you have something useful to add, stay off the fucking channel we'll get to you soon."
"Yes, ma'a "
Goosebumps rippled across Riley's skin as he heard the screams come over Hise's mic.
"Seniorman Soto! Staff Officer Roche! Damn it, what "
The lights cut, plunging the room into absolute darkness, and Riley's earpiece gave out with a loud pop and a crackle of static. Cursing, he dug into his ear and tore the thing out. Fumbling at his collar, Riley tried to activate the sidelights, but whatever was affecting everything else had corrupted the electronics of his envirosuit, too.
The ship shook again, and the ensuing vertigo sent Riley crashing to the floor. "Captain Hise! Ortega! Anybody! What is going on?!" he shouted, though he doubted anyone could hear him. The distance would be too great for voices to carry.
Gunfire, however, was well within hearing range. Riley stiffened as he heard the report of pulse rifles, and a sense of dread curdled in his stomach as he realized this was nowhere near the controlled bursts they had all been trained to use; this was panicked firing.
It didn't last long. It was not the disciplined cessation of firing, signaling the target had been eliminated. This was a gradual lessening as the number of rifles or the number of people firing them decreased. All too soon, the last rifle fell silent, and Riley was left alone with the sound of his breathing for company.
The door hissed open, and Riley froze. With no light whatsoever, his ears were his sole source of information. "C-Captain?" he asked, his fear leeching most of the strength out of his voice. A series of odd footsteps crossing the room answered him though he would not have been able to see his hand if it had been touching his nose, whoever had joined Riley had no trouble locating him. Riley scuttled away, pawing for his pistol. He never got the chance to draw it something clamped around his throat, and as he was lifted into the air Riley had to use both his hands to keep his own weight from strangling him.
Though he was still blind, Riley knew whatever held him was not human the limb seemed to be a combination of scaled fingers tipped with talons and smooth tentacles. Though xenobiology was a periphery class in basic training, Riley could not think of a single race that possessed that combination. Riley's panic flared, and he began clawing at whatever was holding him in a vain attempt to free himself.
Wheezing whimpers crawled out of Riley's throat as the barrel of a rifle was jammed against his sternum. "Wait...! Please.... please, don't....!" he panted.
He didn't hear the shot. His body was too focused on the white-hot agony that tore through his middle to be bothered with auditory input. In the split-second of illumination provided by the muzzle flash, Riley was treated to the face of a nightmare.
Riley was released, and his body thudded to the floor.
He was dead before the footsteps had finished retreating from the room.