White Dust

By Amanda Ashton

A swirling silver void silently appeared and expanded, a few moments passed before a small battered space ship with the name ‘Condor’ barely readable on the side, flew from it. As soon as it was clear of the void, the mass snapped shut leaving the Condor alone in the depths of space.

On the old worn bridge sat Helen. She checked her instruments; these were definitely the correct co-ordinates, but where was the cargo ship? Frowning she typed in some new instructions on the console. Then silently a blip appeared on her scanners that had to be the old space craft. Helen grabbed the joy stick and turned her ship heading to the new coordinates. When the Condor reached it, she flicked on the external lights and studied the oval craft, which dwarfed her own. As Helen made her routine check of the outside, she typed some notes. There seemed to be no external damage. Yet this ship was old, very old. She looked at the notes sent to her by her superior. No wonder, this ship had been lost for over 80 years! Helen wondered why the ship was way out here in a deserted part of space, with no shipping routes for a couple of sectors. Why had this ship gone so far off course? She shrugged; hell it wasn’t her place to question it. Her employer, Terra Nova, gave her the jobs and she got well paid to do them. It was their fault that they had lost the ship for so long. Helen hit the docking sequence control button and the Condor started the automatic process, of docking with the older ship. Both ships’ external airlocks were connected together by a type of umbilical cord corridor, sealing them securely.

While she waited for the ships to dock, she wriggled her tall athletic frame into the snug fitting pressure suit, and pulled on her helmet, clicking it into place. She took a deep breath of the oxygen, which was cleaner than the recycled air in her ship. She suddenly felt very alert, her body being boosted by the higher oxygen level. Slipping a laser pistol in her holster, Helen was ready to go. The airlock beeped, the ships were connected. With anticipation she stepped inside the old ship; the light on her helmet illuminating the way. She walked carefully not wanting to slip on the frost covered floors. With no power the ship had become one big freezer. Seeing something on the walls Helen brushed away the frost to see scorch marks from small arms fire. It seemed this ship had seen some action, yet she hadn’t seen anything on the hull. Had there been a mutiny? Considering the small wages Terra Nova paid cargo crew, she didn’t blame them. Going from her expertise of other ships she soon figured out the way to the bridge, hoping all her answers would be there. The computer systems would be old, yet she would still be able to retrieve data from them, finding out what cargo would have been on board, crew numbers etc. With the ship being so cold there could be some cargo that would salvageable.

Knowing there was no power on the ship; Helen’s heart skipped a beat when she saw a faint glow coming from a room ahead. She ran and skidded into the medical area. Inside was a row of ten cryogenic chambers, three were in operation! Helen quickly checked the main medical computer. It seemed it had been programmed to channel every ounce of the ship’s power to keep them going. She checked the gauges on the main control panel. The power was low, maybe a few weeks supply left. It seemed she may have come in time. Helen walked over to the cryogenic chambers, wiping the layer of frost from the glass cover of the first operating one. Inside was a small girl of about seven, sleeping soundly. She checked the next two; both contained middle aged men, also sleeping well. Taking a deep breath she checked the unlit ones, all empty except one. Helen felt sick; the face of the man inside was contorted in pain. One of his hands was at his throat while he gasped for air, the other trying to claw his way out. She turned away, her eyes focusing on the lit ones. Those needed to be transported onto the Condor, and then she could wake them.

* * * *

While the cryogenic chambers were set to de-sleep mode in her medical area, Helen went back onto the older ship in order to get the logs and data. She had taken a look in the cargo hold and to her dismay there had been nothing that could be salvaged. So she headed straight to the bridge. It was pretty spacious, and very old, the design was more for elegance than practicality. Sitting at one of the main terminals, she studied the instruments even though they were out of date, the data would be salvageable. Rummaging around the consoles she soon found the main memory hard drive, which held the vital information from the logs to the manifests. Helen carefully unplugged the palm sized cube, her fingers beginning to feel cold for being on the ship so long. She glanced round, wondering what had happened on board. Maybe the survivors would tell her. Until they woke she would read the ships logs, hoping they would explain the arms fire.

Once back on board her ship Helen contacted her employer. They were pleased with her findings and said they would inform the demolition team to head out, and cut up the ship for parts. Until then she was ordered to find out where the rest of the crew were and read the logs and manifests for information. Knowing the de-sleep program would take a while; Helen started to read the captain’s logs. Most of them were very mundane. What concerned her, was that there should have been six crew and two children. Once she’d glanced through these logs she would go back and search the rest of the ship. She must have missed the bodies being stored in the cargo hold.

Helen leant back combing her fingers through her short brown hair and took a deep breath that was some log. It seemed there hadn’t been a mutiny, but they had inadvertently brought an alien creature on board, which had killed most of the crew. The ones in the chambers had been the lucky survivors.
The captain had stated in his logs. “…the alien is a brutal creature; one of the crew called it an Alidron from an Arion legend, of a creature that takes its victims whole. Taking all their life energy and memories. Nothing being left behind.”
The victims on this ship had also been completely consumed. Except there had been piles of white dust, which the captain had determined to be the victim’s remains. That would explain why Helen hadn’t found any bodies, there were none to find! She quickly switched on her scanner checking the old ship, no other life forms. It seemed the creature had been destroyed by the crew. Helen sent her report to Terra Nova, along with a copy of the captain’s logs, and then went to check on her passengers.

When she reached the medical area the de-sleep program had just completed. Yet none of the three were coming round. Helen checked the little girl’s pulse and sighed. The poor kid hadn’t made it; she had been under too long. She turned to the two men, the same with one of them, no pulse. Then she checked the other man, his pulse was strong. It seemed he would just take a while to come round, at least one had survived. As there was nothing else for her to do, until the man awoke, Helen decided to deal with the bodies and put them into storage.

When Helen returned from the cargo hold, the man had come round and was sitting up. He looked at her groggily when she entered. She smiled seeing slight concern on his face. “Welcome on board the Condor, I’m Helen Cramer the captain of this ship.”
The man had striking dark features. “I’m Captain Von; can I ask where my colleagues are?”
She sighed, “I’m sorry, but there were only three of the cyro’s working and you were the only one to survive the de-sleep mode.”
Von sighed, “They had been through so much.”
“Yes, I know I read your logs. You were very lucky. But with the abnormal length of time that you were all in cryo, their hearts just gave out.”
“Abnormal length of time? How long have we been out here?”
“Your ship has been lost for over 80 years.”
Von cursed under his breath and glanced round the room. “I wondered why nothing looked familiar.” He climbed out of the cryo chamber, “So what now?”
Helen answered, “I take you back to the nearest planet where you will be debriefed by my employer. Then it’s up to you, you would probably have to be retrained if you wanted to carry on with your career! Well I should contact my employer, to let them know you are ok.”
He studied Helen, “I think you shouldn’t. Well not yet.”
“What?” frowned Helen.
Von winced when pain shot up his side. “Damn! Seems I won’t be able to keep this body much longer.”
Helen suddenly felt un-nerved slowly backing away, keeping her distance from the suddenly pale Von. “What?”
He studied her, his eyes no longer human, more lizard like. “Do you really think those fools on that ship could destroy me! I have survived for over a millennium!”
He winced again, and then smiled right at her. She swallowed knowing he was going to kill her next. She needed her gun and cursed knowing she had left it on the bridge, but then again she hadn’t expected to be facing a dangerous alien. Helen spun quickly and ran out, heading for the bridge, she needed to send out a distress beacon.

Reaching the bridge, Helen grabbed her gun from where she had left it, and listened carefully, Von, well the Alidron, hadn’t given chase. She quickly typed in a command on her ships console, sending out a distress call to any ship that happened to be passing, and to her employers. She felt better now that she would hopefully have help on the way. Taking a deep breath she headed carefully back towards the medical room. She had to find this creature and kill him fast. All she could think about was the captain’s logs and how the creature had managed to kill so many of his crew. What the captain couldn’t understand was why none of the victims had put up a fight. Well she was going to, no alien was taking her!

Suddenly the lights cut out and Helen tensed. A few seconds later the emergency lighting flickered on. That’s why the Alidron hadn’t followed; it was dealing with the power! She could hear something ahead. Keeping a firm hold of her gun, Helen slowly rounded the corner in the corridor.

There ahead of her was the Alidron, in its own form. Its head was narrow with a row of sharp spines as a crest and large amphibian eyes; it had two small slits for nostrils and no mouth. It crept towards her on muscular hind legs, with sharp claws clinking on the metal walkway. Its black scaled skin slid smoothly over its lean powerful muscles, while its five foot long tail, and lashed from side to side, like it had a mind of its own.

Helen felt dizzy, her eyes were locked on the creatures. She tried to get her gun but found that her arms felt as heavy as rock, what was happening to her? She then tried to back away but her legs felt like they were stuck in sand. She even tried to pull away from the creature’s eyes, but realised, she was unable to do anything, frozen to the spot in some sort of trance, yet she still had independent thought. Tears filled her eyes as she realised this was it, she was unable to control her body, and realised all the victims on the other ship had fallen to the same fate. No one was going to come to her aid in time and as much as she screamed at her body to move, she couldn’t fight back. The Alidron’s tail snapped round her waist and slowly pulled her frozen body towards it. Helen wanted to fight her way free but with all the will power in the world she was unable to move, the Alidron’s gaze keeping her under its will. The strangely formed rib cage on the outside of the creature, opened slightly and Helen was pulled in between them. Then the ribs extended out and closed around her. She found it hard to think, as the creature’s thoughts invaded her own. Helen saw all the lives it had taken; all the places in the universe it had been. Then she screamed out in pain as her life energy was ripped from her. Her head felt like it was being crushed, as all her memories and knowledge were being consumed. Helen glared at the Alidron through her tear filled eyes; the alien was taking her form! She was withering with age at a phenomenal rate. Helen screamed as she died in a flash of light, a pile of white dust was all that remained.
The Alidron studied its new body and smiled. “This will do fine.”

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