The fireflies were not candles but giant burning orbs. The storage spheres adjacent to the giant ship’s hull, which once stockpiled the freighter’s supply of oxides and isotopes, had been torn open and pillaged. I felt what hope the three of us had rekindled would soon be extinguished, along with the fires.
“All gone, all gone,” Kailo exclaimed.
Aria had moved close to Kailo and placed her arm over his shoulder, letting him know he wasn’t alone. Kailo manoeuvred the hauler across the freighter’s superstructure. Most of the turrets had been destroyed, the plating pocketed by blasts and explosions. Slowly taking account of the damage, he seemed to be calculating something in his head, while mumbling words in Gek I could not begin to fathom.
I looked at Aria for an indication for what lay ahead, but she was preoccupied with comforting Kailo.
So, I risked asking, “What now?”
“Now we land on peppered freighter and see what to fix, if freighter can be fixed. Lots and lots of supplies we need. Hauler will need to work hard, we will need to work hard, but first we see if any crew left… alive.”
Kailo gently sashayed the hauler to the far end of the freighter, while trying to observe as much of the damage as he could, before finally touching down. The bridge was still intact as was the docking area. The blue flight deck shields were still functioning, and so we flew straight into the docks and landed. The docks were empty, save for one old battered shuttle and a fighter that had seen better days. Who or what ever had attacked the freighter seemed to have taken what they wanted and left. Still, Kailo was not taking any chances, he opened a narrow cabinet at the back of the cockpit beside the door and passed us each a multi-tool: Aria a pistol, a rifle for myself and Kailo holstered a bizarre alien contraption, which was part mechanical, part organic.
“Trusty fighter No.7 has shot plenty pirates.” Kailo was happy to see his old red and grey fighter parked in the docks, with a large number seven painted just behind the canopy and still intact. “Too old for stupid pirates to take,” he said laughing. “They know nothing ‘bout fighter, Kailo made special fittings, secret fittings, fighter No.7 deadly.” Kailo grinned. “Lucky number seven.”
The three of us quickly made our way to the bridge with Kailo leading the way. There had been fighting. Laser blasts pocketed the corridors with the final blast door breached. The last stand was fought on the bridge, with damage evident on all three of the open levels. Storage cabinets had been blown open; computer terminals taken apart on the top deck. It was as if someone was trying to hack into the ship’s main computer. The communications console desk had been blasted into oblivion to prevent anyone sending a distress signal. The central navigation console, however, was still displaying a three-dimensional image of the present planetary system, so it seemed intact.
But the crew was missing.
“It’s as if they were looking for something. Computers have been hacked, but not destroyed,” I said.
Concerned, Aria asked, “Kailo, is it safe?”
Kailo kneeled and opened a concealed panel at the bottom of the central navigation console. Out popped a keyboard on which Kailo began to play. Each key had a differently coloured wire connected to it, running from the keys up into the console in a maze of spaghetti rainbows. It sounded strangely familiar, but felt totally out of context… as if I was imagining, either the music, or the crazy situation I had found myself in.
As Kailo played, the image of the three-dimensional planetary system distorted and started to remodulate into musical patterns as a new image formed. A strange, dark mold began to take shape in front of my eyes. At its centre a burning red sphere pulsated. Before the image could become coherent, Kailo stopped playing. The planetary system reappeared.
“It’s safe,” Kailo said, taking a deep breath. He closed the console and stood up. Aria saw my confusion but turned her attention to Kailo.
“They’ll be back,” she said. “They couldn’t find it. We need to go now.” She had lost her steady voice and the fear was evident.
“That tune, it’s familiar. How is it I know it?” I directed my question to both of them.
“Just password for console, but Kailo plays music too, so maybe you hear Kailo’s great performance. Known in many Gek systems, yes, very popular,” Kailo answered proudly, while making some strange gurgling sounds.
“You’re imagining things,” Aria said, trying to reassure me. “And now I’m imagining sounds. Is that someone knocking?”
“No, you’re not imagining. I can hear it too,” I said, turning to look in the direction the sound was coming from.
“Come.” Kailo instructed us to follow him to the back of the bridge, then up the stairs connecting the different levels on the bridge, back across an upper conduit spanning the docks below, and ahead to the hydroponic bay. The door was sealed, but there was a steady knocking sound coming from within. Kailo came forward and entered a pin number with one hand, his weapon ready in the other. I took aim at the door with my rifle. Aria kept her distance behind us. I noticed she wasn’t holding the pistol.
The door opened, triggering a remote beacon.
Kailo hissed, “Now trouble, but crew safe.” Five Geks were tied and gagged in a row, their backs against the wall. “Quickly, help me untie.”
I entered the bay with Kailo, and together we saw a multitude of stars cross our eyes as a loud thump shuddered the back of our skulls.
When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.
Ralph Waldo Emerson