Dawn coloured the sky in pinks and peaches. Standing for a second I looked down at Stormrock, seeing the town as it could be rather than as it was, Mile’s imagination helping to create the place we all wanted it to be. Turning, I got my first sight of the flaming metal ship which was minutes from crashing into the ground. I didn’t stop to think. Sprinting for the door nearest me, the hospital, I threw it open.
“We’ll likely have some injured people coming in soon, Alex.” He stared at me. “Something’s coming down from space, and it’s not looking good.”
For a second he continued to stare at me, blinking, before shaking his head. “Something?”
“I don’t know. All I could tell was it was moving fast toward the ground, and we need to be prepared.”
Nodding, Alex looked over at Penny. “You heard Arlo. We need to be ready for whatever they might find.”
Giving them a nod I stepped out of the hospital, heading for the next most important stop – the Defense Force building. Whacking a hand on the wall, enough to get everyone up, my four comrades stepped into the main room, Vere still only half dressed. I smiled, a moment I needed considering what might happen next. Sobering, giving Vere the time he needed to pull his shirt on, I looked at each of them in turn. Monsters we were used to. Things falling from space were something entirely new.
“Sorry for the early wake up. You’re needed, probably somewhere down the hill from here.”
Reuben raised an eyebrow. “Probably?”
Had things been different I’d have said something about his tone, but complicating our already distant relationship did not seem like the best of things to do right then. “Yes, I couldn’t tell exactly where it was going to land, but from what I saw it appeared to be heading straight for the bottom of the hill.” I sighed. “Something from space. Could be good, or bad. There’s no way of knowing until we’ve checked it out.”
Mara stepped forward. “You’ve alerted Alex?”
“Did it on the way here.” My eyes met with hers. “We’re as ready as we’re ever going to be.”
Without waiting for another response I stepped back out, and the scent of burning hit my nose. It wasn’t a surprise, from what I’d seen, but it wasn’t a good sign. Moving fast was the only chance we had of being able to help if there was anyone who’d survived, although we could also be looking at something else entirely. Even then my thought was we were looking at a ship, one travelling through space, something I’d heard stories of a few times before. Until we reached it I had no way to be certain, and we had no way of knowing if any of the people on it were safe.
The five of us moved fast, heading down the hill toward the burning metal of whatever had crashed at the bottom. As we got closer I looked at Vere and Sage, who nodded, not needing me to say anything. Getting the fire out was one of the two priorities we had, with the other being the search on the ship for any possible survivors, if there were any people on the ship to begin with. I gestured for Mara and Reuben to follow me. Reuben might not have been the best choice, but it wasn’t as though I had a lot of options.
In front of us was what looked to be half a ship, rather than a whole one, and our route in wasn’t via a door. We stepped into the corridor together, our footsteps echoing on the metal. Together we made our way through them, and we were about halfway down when we heard someone coughing. Possibly from the fire. I stilled, not certain what we were going to find, but they seemed to be moving toward us very slowly.
Mara gently pushed past me, moving further into the ship. “They sounded normal enough, Arlo, and I’m not going to let anyone die if I have any other choice.”
Nodding, I followed her, until we reached a man who was leaning against the wall of the corridor. He appeared to have a splint of wood on one leg, tied on with what appeared to be parts of his own clothes. The relief in his eyes when he looked at us was understandable. After a couple of seconds he collapsed onto the floor. Mara moved forward, kneeling beside him to check him over.
“He has a pulse. It’s not strong, but it exists.”
“Name’s Tom. Engineer on the… Paladin.” Tom looked at me. “Sorry for the… rude arrival. This wasn’t… the plan.”
“Don’t push yourself.” Mara studied him. “You’re not in good shape.”
“You need to… know.” He breathed in deeply. “People were travelling… to another world… to build a new… settlement. We were… still years… away when this… happened. It… appeared to be… sabotage.” He shook his head. “I think… the supplies… are on the other… half. Don’t know… where it might have… landed. No one… here is… going to harm… you. Most will be… trapped.”
“Sabotage which led to the ship crashing?” My eyes met with Tom’s, and he nodded slowly. “Mara’s going to get you to the hospital, and we’ll start searching the Paladin. Do you know how many there are?”
“At least… a hundred. Maybe… more. I got most… of the other… engineers off before… I realised… over half the… stasis bays… were stuck shut.” Another deep breath, and he closed his eyes. “There were… two of us… trying to get… people out before…” He gestured. “We tried… our best.”
“Do you know where the other engineer was?”
“Opposite side… to me. Not… sure exactly… where. She said… it would be easier… if we split.”
Eyes meeting with Mara’s I nodded to her. Gently she lifted Tom up, letting him lean on her for support, and it was then I was able to see the burns up his arms. I had no idea how he’d managed to move, apart from possibly the adrenaline, so hopefully it would be enough to keep him conscious until she managed to get him to the hospital. Glancing at Reuben, who didn’t seem at all happy with the situation, I raked a hand through my hair. I had a decision to make. There were limited options, but having him go through the ship hunting for survivors didn’t appear to be the best option for them.
“Can you head back to the entrance to the corridor, let Vere and Sage know what happened if they appear, and watch out for any attacks?”
Reuben nodded. I could see the relief in his eyes, a sign I’d made the right choice. “Of course. Be careful.”
His words were nothing more than him saying what he believed I wanted to hear, because he didn’t truly care what happened to me. Watching him go wasn’t the best use of time, but I wanted to be certain he was off the ship before I started looking, and then I headed further down the corridor. There were more corridors splitting off, but nothing to tell me where I needed to go, so I took one of them at random, hoping it was the right way to go.
I reached a room with three strange looking open bays within it, a sign they might have already been able to get out. Either that, or Tom helped them. Moving on I kept looking into the rooms on either side of the corridor. It wasn’t until I was getting toward the end I found the first of the closed bays. Moving into the room I studied them, trying to work out how to get them open, preferably before whoever was within them died.
There was a button, but when I pressed it nothing happened. I expected it, from what Tom said, and kept looking, trying to find another option, something to be used in an emergency where there was no power. Finally I saw it. Slipping my hand in I pulled open the lid of the bay. Only I was too late. A man lay there, eyes closed, no movement. Reaching out with a hand I checked for a pulse. Nothing. He might have been dead for minutes, or for hours. There was no way of knowing.
Pushing aside the emotion, because they weren’t going to help, I moved on to the next bay. Opening the lid a man stared at me, his eyes open. At least they were for a moment, before he closed them, probably from the light.
“I was beginning to think I’d never get out.” He slowly opened his eyes again, and they met with mine. “Thank you.”
“Nothing to thank me for.” I leaned in to help him out of the bay. “How are you feeling?”
“Alive.” He glanced at the man in the pod beside him. “More than I can say about him. You know what happened?”
“Very little. One of the engineers, Tom, survived, but I don’t know how long for.”
Nodding, he looked around the room. “This wasn’t the plan. I’m sure he’d have said we were making the journey across space to build a new settlement, on a planet I’m sure was still some distance away.”
Moving to the next bay I opened it far more easily than the first, to find another survivor, this time a woman. She stared at me, breathing slowly. I let her take her time to work through whatever emotions it was she felt. When she showed signs of being ready to move I helped her from the bay.
“We all heard the alarms.” She glanced at the man beside me. “I… hearing them was terrifying, even after the tests we did before we boarded the Paladin. Finding I couldn’t open the bay… I thought I was going to die.”
“Fortunately we’re both fine.” He smiled at her. “Leah, right? I remember meeting you.”
She nodded. “Sam?”
“That’s me.” They both glanced at the man left in the bay. “What are you going to do with our lost companion?”
“We’ll bury them, somewhere close by, and make it easy for you to visit should you wish to. For now I need to get you both to the hospital, before hunting through some of the other rooms.”
“Give us some directions. It’ll give you more time.” Sam’s eyes met with mine. “Unless there’s a reason for you not to.”
“You haven’t found yourselves on an entirely safe world. What happened will draw the interest of the monsters we’ve been fighting.” I raked a hand through my hair. “For now it seems safe enough, but I don’t want to put you in any danger after everything you’ve already been through.”
Leah and Sam shared a look. “Then we’ll help you look. When there’s a group of us we’ll go together.” Leah shrugged. “Crashing here wasn’t a choice, and all we can do is make the most of the situation we’ve found ourselves in.”
As I had no reason to argue against it I nodded. “We’ll each take a room. You know how to open the bay from the outside?”
“It was another of those things we were taught in case of the emergency we didn’t believe would ever happen.” Sam sighed. “We’d never heard of it happening.”
“Probably due to how unlikely it was anyone who had crashed would be able to return.” Leah looked at me. “Knowing something is possible is so very different to actually experiencing it, and what I want now is to help those who were trapped the same way I was.”
“Fortunately most of the bays down this corridor were already opened. I think there’s another three rooms down here.” Taking me up to having found 12 survivors. If Tom was right and there were at least a hundred then I’d need to keep looking. “Both of you were fine, so it’s possible they will be too.”
Stepping out of the room, with the two of them following me, I took the last room along the corridor, while they took the two on the other side. Like before I opened the stasis bay from the outside, to find a woman with tears streaming down her cheeks staring back at me. With a smile she wiped them off her cheeks.