11.37, February 4th 2138
Earth, Stargate Orbital Station
They've barely been back a day when Emma, Monica and Jeri receive orders to report to the launching bay where the Viking is still docked. "No rest for the wicked," Peel says, and packs away the two gyro units the three of them pooled their limited resources to buy on the black market. At the hub of Stargate station, the three women meet Rudy "Stormfront" Owens again. "I've already received our coordinates," he says. "Get yourself strapped in. A briefing is waiting on the comp."
The sounds of the ship's undocking go unnoticed by the three women as they pay attention to the sternfaced marine Sword Major who gives them their orders. "As you know, Earth has been in the process of colonizing the Delta Pavonis system. Heavy cargo haulers have been transporting colonists and equipment for the past six months now. One of those cargo haulers, carrying approximately 400 colonists, has suddenly dropped out of hyperspace 7 lightyears away from Earth. We received a distress call from the ship's computer which reported a hull breach. Unfortunately, since these ships are fully automated, we have practically no further data on the situation. A repair crew is being assembled, but we want a small fast ship to go ahead and check out the situation. That's you. You should reach the ship in approximately seven days. The repair ship will be seven days behind you. Good luck."
16.59, February 11th 2138
Deep space, seven lightyears from Earth
The four Synners watch cargohauler AV225, adrift in the black void of deep space. The hull breach the computer reported can be clearly seen on the back of the long cylindrical central module, just in front of the two large cross-angled drive units.
"Look at the edges of the hole," O'Neill says. "It looks as if they were burned away by some sort of acid." Lewinsky and Peel exchange worried glances. "Sensors report minimum power aboard the hauler," Owens reports. "No artificial gravity or life support, but still enough power to keep the cryo-units functioning. The colonists should be all right."
O'Neill, Lewinsky and Peel put on their spacesuits. The suits are special issue, with heavy armored plates. Owens maneuvers the Viking to the rear of the hauler where he docks with the hauler's airlock. The Viking's own airlock door hisses open, and the three women step out into the darkness of the hauler. The airlock door closes behind them and they feel the floor beneath them vibrate as the Viking uncouples.
O'Neill's headlight sweeps the airlock, and the large hole that has been burned into the airlock's inner door. Looking to the side, she sees that the hatches leading off to the drive units have also been burned open. Lewinsky heads in and discovers that all the control consoles of the drive computers have received the same acid treatment as the doors. O'Neill curses. "Whatever we're dealing with, it's intelligent. Watch your back everybody."
The three Synners slowly make their way into the central cylinder, their magnetic boots clicking down on the metal floors. The cylinder is divided into several compartments, but all the connecting doors have been burned open. As they look up, the three see the hole which has been burned in the outer hull of the cylinder, straight through the computers that line the inside of the hull. The hole's pretty big. "Okay," says O'Neill, "let's check the first container on the left." As the women cautiously enter the breached airlock, they notice that the entrances to the crawlspaces have also been burned open.
The three step out into the large cargo module, with Lewinsky on point. They survey the rows upon rows of cryo-units that occupy the container, shining their headlights across the frosted panels. The Synners perform a methodical search of the cargo module but everything appears to be in order, apart from the fact that all computer consoles have been burned away. O'Neill plugs in her hand computer to check out the readings of the units. "They're all still alive," she says. "Let's check the next module."
They move through the connecting airlock, into the next cargo pod. The first few rows of cryo-units are all right, but when they get to the ones in the back, they discover several units that have had their lids burned open. Pallid vacuum-twisted corpses stare out at the women, who can feel their stomachs churn. "One of the corpses is moving," Lewinsky says weakly. The others look and see that the skin of a corpse to the rear is crawling.
"Shoot it," O'Neill orders Lewinsky, who shoulders her rifle and aims for the moving bulges under the dead skin. Gore spatters in lumps through the interior of the ship as the bullets rip the corpse to shreds. Distracted, O'Neill almost doesn't notice the movement above her head. Almost. Reacting immediately, she jumps backward and is just in time to see a thing out of nightmare come through an acid hole in the ceiling. Large round black eyes look at her with all the emotion of an oil slick, the two orbs framing either side of a maw like a spike-lined vice. One of the thing's three thin and barbed front limbs reaches out for O'Neill, almost grazing her faceplate. O'Neill opens fire at pointblank range, bullets tearing into the creature. In the meantime, two more patches in the ceiling have gone dark as acid burns its way through. Soon, all three Synners are firing.
With the bugs dead, O'Neill orders Lewinsky to destroy the rest of the corpses while she and Peel watch her back. Lewinsky takes out her knife and cuts open a corpse. Inside are smaller embryonic versions of the things that just came through the ceiling. The small creatures are completely white, rather than the dark, puss-like color of the adults. Some of the little creatures are already trying to crawl out. Lewinsky quickly cuts them to pieces.
Once all the infected corpses have been destroyed, the three women move towards the central cylinder again. They enter the compartment that houses the communications gear and head straight through to the third cargo module. Everything seems to be all right here and they soon move on to the fourth and last module. They've just entered the intermediate airlock when shapes come flying out of the darkness beyond. "Fire!" O'Neill yells, but the others need no prompting. "The crawl spaces," Peel shouts. She and O'Neill divert their fire to the breached hatches above and below the main door, while Lewinsky keeps pumping bullets into the horrors that are coming into the airlock, their jaws opened wide, hurtling through the zero-g by unknown means of propulsion. Coming behind the adults is a swarm of the smaller horrors, still mostly white and probably only just hatched.
One of the adults claws a gap into O'Neill's environment suit. She closes it as much as possible with her left hand, using her right to keep firing her assault rifle. But Lady Luck is not with O'Neill today. One of her bullets ricochets through the airlock, puncturing her suit again. O'Neill is forced to withdraw to seal her suit with emergency patches before she loses too much air. Fortunately, the bugs are not immune to the Synners' streams of bullets. Soon, the adults are dead meat floating in space, hunks of their torn flesh drifting through the airlock. But the smaller ones are harder to hit. The little things swarm around the Synners, nipping at their suits. But the small jaws aren't yet strong enough to do much more than scratch the armor plates. The Synners whittle away at the swarm's numbers, finally emerging gore-covered but alive. O'Neill has patched her suit and raises Owens on the radio: "These bugs can fly in zero-g. Watch the hauler and make sure none of those things tries to get to the Viking." Owens acknowledges.
From the airlock, the Synners shine their headlights as deep as possible into the cargo module. Towards the rear, they see more opened cryo-units. Then Owens's voice sounds over the radio. "I've got two hostiles coming towards me," he shouts. O'Neill orders him to take the ship further out. Owens complies and soon reports that the two bugs are returning to the hauler, heading for a spot somewhere below the rear of the cargo module O'Neill and the others are in.
"Aim your grenade launchers at the rear," O'Neill orders. "Let's blast whatever is there before it comes out to play."
"What about the humans?" Lewinsky asks.
"Dead already. Fire!"
Three grenades shoot through the zero-g vacuum, turning the rear of the module into an incandescent blaze. The Synners feel the shockwave reverberate through their boots. "Owens, did you see anything?" O'Neill asks. Owens reports seeing a flash of light come from somewhere in the area, a few moments before the grenades went off. Unfortunately, the Viking wasn't in a position to clearly see what it was. The three Synners carefully move forward, walking between the shattered remains of cryo-units. Behind one of the scorched rows in the rear, they discover a hole in the floor the size of an elephant.
"Looks like momma hit the road," Lewinsky says, her stomach now sinking rather than churning. O'Neill keys her radio: "The hauler got the hull breach while in hyperspace. That means that whatever did this probably came from hyperspace. Owens, that flash of light you saw, did it look like something entering hyperspace?"
"Could have been," Owens answers. "But I can't be sure. The hauler blocked my view."
"Owens, I want you to take the Viking along the mostly likely vector that thing might have taken. If it came out of hyperspace somewhere nearby, find it and blast it on sight, before it decides to come back and pay us another visit."
Owens acknowledges, and moments later the three see the Viking pass below them, the light from the thrusters briefly illuminating the hole in the floor. About a minute has gone by in silence when the radio suddenly comes back to life. "It's on the ship! It's coming through the hull! It's coming through the..." The rest of the words are lost in the rushing sound of a decompressing cockpit and the sound of gunfire and a scream that is abruptly cut short. Then there is only static. The three women look at eachother, momentarily too stunned to move.
"The com systems of the hauler," O'Neill says, her throat as dry as a desert. "We've got to get a link-up to the Viking before it shoots off into space." The three run through the hauler as fast as their magnetic boots will allow. They emerge into the front compartment of the central cylinder. O'Neill quickly checks the computers. "The consoles have been ruined, but I can still access the system with my hand computer. With the drives out of commission, I'm going to need another power supply though. Peel, help me get out the emergency beacon, that has its own power." The two quickly remove the coverplates from the computer banks. They find the beacon and redirect its power supply. Then O'Neill hooks up her hand computer and starts entering passcodes and commands. "I've got an uplink," she says, feverishly typing the code for a navigational program. "Feeding navigational commands... Damn! My program crashed. But I did manage to have the Viking shut down its engines."
"Perhaps you should try something simpler to get the ship back," Lewinsky suggests. "Order it to turn 180 degrees and give a few seconds of burn. We can use the radio to ping the distance as it nears and then slow the ship down again."
O'Neill feeds in the new commands and anxiously watches the screen of her hand computer. The plan works and soon the Viking is hanging next to the hauler again. Standing outside on the hull of the hauler, the Synners momentarily pause to look at the hole in the cockpit of their ship. Then Lewinsky jumps across to the Viking with some cable salvaged from the hauler and ties a line between the two ships. O'Neill and Peel pull their way across and together the three enter the cockpit, carefully making their way through the huge hole.
Inside, there is no sign of the creature. Of Rudy Owens, all that remains is a long smear of blood on the floor and wall. The women cautiously make their way through the ship, discovering that the computer consoles have all been destroyed and that the connecting doors have been burned through, all except the rear airlock door. There is no sign of the enemy. "I can probably weld the rear module shut with some plate from the hauler," O'Neill says once the ship's been searched. "The environmental systems seem to be operational, so we could pressurize the module. But first let's recharge our air supplies."
With their air supplies replenished, the Synners send a message to warn Earth and the reinforcements. Having done that, O'Neill gets to work on sealing the rear module of the Viking. With that task completed, the Synners spend the next few hours searching the hauler, but they find no signs of more bugs. "We'll have to check the hauler at least once a day, to make sure that there aren't any more of those things hatching," says O'Neill. Peel and Lewinsky agree.
The next day, Peel takes the first inspection round but, to her relief, finds nothing. All the cryo-units are still intact. The day after that however, she discovers almost twenty units have been opened. Nine infected corpses still lie in the units, another ten are completely gone. O'Neill curses. "It'll be at least five more days before reinforcements arrive and that thing could have stashed those corpses anywhere. If they hatch..." The Synners once again search the ship, until they discover a hand sticking out of one of the crawlspaces. "No risks," O'Neill says, "use your grenades." Afterwards, the three count the bodyparts that are floating around and try to determine if there are enough to account for ten corpses.
After returning to the Viking, the women debate what to do next. In the end, they decide to boobytrap the hauler. It takes them a few hours, but then they've gotten most of the entrances sealed. The next day however, another hole has been burned in a strategic location on the hull, and twenty-one humans are missing. "That fucking thing knew about our traps," Lewinsky says darkly as she surveys the plundered cryo-units.
Another plan is made. Since the cryo-units are moveable, the Synners decide to move as many of them as possible to a single cargo container. In the meantime, the Viking will be placed away from the hauler to get as complete an overview of the ship as possible. O'Neill stays on board the Viking to watch for their enemy, hoping to spot it if it emerges from hyperspace.
Peel and Lewinsky, sweating inside their suits from the heavy work, are just halfway through moving the remaining cryo-units, when O'Neill raises them on the radio. "I saw it! It came out of hyperspace and disappeared between the modules somewhere opposite from your location, on the other side of the central cylinder. Watch it, people, that thing is uglier than anything I've ever seen!"
Peel and Lewinsky make their way through the airlocks and emerge into the central cylinder. From there they enter the opposite module. As Lewinsky looks to her left, she sees something straight out of Hell. The creature's red bulk is carried by many barbed stalklike legs. Several fanglined mouths protrude from its upper body. Peel watches in horror as the thing snatches another body from the cryo-units it is plundering. She automatically raises her rifle and starts firing. The thing whips around and turns its attention to the new prey. "Back through the airlock!" Lewinsky shouts, "grenades the moment we're clear!" The two backpedal as fast as they can and then each fire two grenades before taking what little cover they can get. Once the shockwave has passed, they slowly move back into the module, walking amidst the wreckage of cryo-units. Turning slowly in the weightlessness is a massive lump of twisted and scorched flesh. Just to be on the safe side, the two women pump some more bullets into it.
01.49, February 19th 2138
Deep Space, seven lightyears from Earth
The reinforcements have finally arrived. O'Neill, Lewinsky and Peel, tired to the bone after the rigors of the past days, report to the captain. After the hour-long debriefing, the captain tells the three to get cleaned up and get some sleep and to report for duty in eight hours.
"No rest for the wicked," Peel says wearily.
To be continued...
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