SPACE ELDRITCH II Sneak Peek: “The Queen in Shadow” by David J. West


se2 smallSomething was wrong. In a micro-cosmic big bang, Jane Thorson’s eyes flashed open from stygian black to a blinding haze.

A jarring wrench forced Jane out the door of her cryo-stasis pod. Why was she already conscious? Was she falling or being pulled out by someone? Milliseconds seemed an eternity as her body gave way to the ship’s ill-timed return to induced gravity.

You don’t dream in cryo-stasis, do you? She couldn’t remember.

She was still falling, and dreaming?

Unable to catch herself, the titanium deck was a harsh mistress. Almost blind and deaf as she came to, the numbness in her extremities throbbed alive as feeling returned like spiders swarming over cold flesh. She cursed the name of a dozen fornicating deities.

Pain brought her awareness to the pulsing red alarm and droning siren. With senses dazedly returning, the cause of the waking nightmare banished all other concern. Monitors initially revealed naught but darkness pinpricked with cold unfeeling stars, coupled with the fathomless silence. Then something swung into view, eclipsing the rest of the delta quadrant.

A vast asymmetrical ship, incalculably larger than her own space freighter, Centurion, loomed across the monitor. Blotting out stars, the behemoth came on deliberately and with malevolent purpose. Such a ship had never before been seen, nor even dreamt of, by humans.

Fear welled up inside Jane where she had never known it before. The alien ship was so utterly unlike anything she had ever conceived of; spiky flanges reached out for miles in abstract angles and curves that served no discernible function. It resembled nothing so much as a dust mite the size of a moon.

Drawing nearer with forward bay doors agape, the colossal ship threatened to swallow Centurion like the whale did Jonah.

Why did that metaphor cross her mind? As the ship’s secondary science officer she would never say that. She did not believe in those myths—unlike someone else she knew.

“What is it?” Before he spoke, Jane hadn’t even noticed the man beside her. Her eyes registered the specific security badges across his chest, marking him as the conventional trans-atmospheric pilot. It took Jane a half second longer for her brain to engage and recognize her own husband, Christian.

She took his hand tenderly. “I don’t know, Chris.” She hated using the full given name that reminded her of his faith.

“It’s swallowing us like―”

“I know,” she interrupted with a kiss. “It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever seen.” She pulled him close.

He blinked at her rapidly, rubbing his own eyes, then stared at the image of the incredible object bearing down on them. “Did you hear it?”

“Hear what,” she asked.

“A voice from out of the darkness. In my dreams… It woke me up.”

“I heard nothing.” What did Christian think he had heard? Jane needed to have hard, quantifiable evidence for everything, but Christian always held to his gut and instinct. She both resented and admired him for it.

“It was just a dream, nothing more, lover.”

Space is too harsh for dreamers, priests and fools. There is no time but the now, and no god but what you see in the mirror each morning.

“It had to be the cryo-sleep wearing off. Nothing else,” she said.

He smiled in a way she knew meant both that he didn’t believe that and that he knew she knew.

Every time she looked out the monitors into space, she couldn’t help but think of the ancient astronaut Yuri Gagarin’s mantra, “I see no god up here.” We are inevitably alone in a universe that cares not one whit for our feeling and faith. We press on only because of the indomitable human spirit, not because of a bearded old man above.

Speaking of the god-complex, Captain Williams staggered to the helm and engaged the initial repulsers. “This will buy us time, the sons of bitches!”

“What time? It’s too big!”

“I won’t go down without a fight! Damn pirates!”

Williams gave Jane no confidence; she knew it was all bravado from a scared little boy. If there was one thing Williams was good at it—maybe the only thing—it was looking brave. When it came down to the wire, would he try to stand now, here? Christian alone had kept the pirates at bay at Sigma 7, when everyone else would have surrendered. No—they did surrender. Williams never forgot that humiliation, maybe he would try to be stronger now. But could he? Jane hated to think it considering the situation, but she doubted Williams could truly take the reins and ride this storm out.

“Do you really think it’s pirates?” asked Jane, still blinking.

Christian shook his head, “I don’t think so. Not with something so… big.”

An array of rail guns fired magnetic loads at the oncoming behemoth. Specks of flotsam erupted from the incredible ship’s exterior with each strike, but it came on all the same, indifferent, unfeeling, uncaring, as heedless of Centurion’s defenses as the sea is to the sands of the shore.

Williams cursed and punched every button on the arsenal panel. Dozens of crewmen stood watching the futile gestures. “Evacuate!” he shouted. “They can’t take all of us! To the shuttles!”

Christian hesitated, watching, waiting.

“Lets go,” pleaded Jane, pulling on his arm.

“It’s too big,” he answered. “It will engulf Centurion in moments and all the shuttles with it. Whoever they are… whatever they want… they have us.”

The jaws of the great ships bay doors cut off whatever dim light reached the outside monitors. The ship gave off no light itself; no window or screen released any hint of luminescence.

“What do they want? The methane rods? The salt converters? It can’t be the horn manipulators, can it?”

Christian shook his head. “I think they want us.”

“Us? I’d rather die than be pieced out for the Red Market.” Jane pulled on his arm, but he resisted. Even the mention of the hated organ dealers paled before this monstrosity. “We have to do something!”

Christian remained transfixed, staring at the ship, “I have to remember. She said something.”

She?”

“I don’t know why I said that…”

***

[“The Queen in Shadow” by David J. West is part of SPACE ELDRITCH II, anthology of Lovecraftian pulp space opera, on sale now!]

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