The noise had stopped almost as soon as it had started. Bent over the hatchway ladder guard, above the down ladder to the lower decks, I strained to hear it again and identify the source. Turning my head from side to side, alternately switching ears, I struggled to make out the faintest whispers of movement over the natural hum and thrum of the ship. Heat rose from the decks below and warmed my face and neck. It was an odd heat, like wet warmth from living growth. I watched droplets of warm sweat fall from my face to the darkness of the decks below. I heard nothing.

When it first started, it was a series of dull poundings from far below, like someone battering a hatch or a bulkhead with a sizable object. Although muted, it was certainly a metallic bang, as you would expect from metal-on-metal behind a closed door. This was no ship noise. It was too erratic. Someone or something was trying to get in to or out of an enclosure.

I stood silently, unmoving on the upper deck, next to the fore-end personnel lift. I was at the top of the ladder that descended down to the lower decks. I didn’t want to activate the lift, for fear of drawing attention to my location. I didn’t know what was going on below and I wanted to execute the search as stealthily as possible.

Bang! Bang! Bang! The noise came again.

Did I hear a voice this time, a muffled shout? Was this a lure, a trap? This strange ship held more than its fair share of secrets and dangers. The pry bar felt warm and heavy and rough in my hands, but I longed for a weapon of more substantial reach and effectiveness. An LMO is bred to be tough and capable of working in harsh environments. Most LMOs are docile and even fearful of humans. The dead one in the corridor was a different type. Were it not injured from some earlier scuffle, I would have had a difficult time subduing it with a blunt object alone. I longed for a hand-held EMD, otherwise known as an electro-muscular disruptor, something common to survival packs on pods. But the pod on this ship had been launched. There was nothing to scavenge from.

I must be cautious!

I hooked the pry bar into my waistband and over my belt and stepped carefully over the ladder guard onto the downward ladder. I could scale the ladder system straight down to the lower-most deck, stopping at the mid deck to listen again for the source of the noise. My heart began skipping beats and my palms were sweating. This was a descent into madness. Every fiber of my being wanted to stay topside, but there was no place to hide, not for any length of time. Soon, whatever haunted this ship would see the mess I had made of the LMO in the corridor and set after me. It was best to take matters into my own hands, play the game my own way.

I started slowly working my way down the length of the ladder. At the half-way mark, I stopped briefly to listen. I didn’t want to step down into a waiting ambush. Again, I heard nothing. Then, without warning, the ship gave a terrible, jolting shudder. I was thrown from one side of the ladder to the other. I momentarily lost my grip and slid with a rush down to the floor of the mid deck. My feet landed first with a bang and my right ankle rolled with an audible pop. The ship shuddered wildly again and I was thrown to the floor in a full-body sprawl. The pry bar shot from my waistband and skittered across the smooth deck into the darkness, rattling and clanging all the way.

In the dim light of the mid deck, I rolled over on to my chest and waited, listening carefully. No sound. No movement. Then, one last minor rumble from outside the ship vibrated the deck again. The pry bar rang like an alarm bell on the hard floor ahead of me. I held my breath. My chest began to ache.

Something will hear! They will come for me!

I hugged the deck until the vibrating ceased. A few seconds seemed like an eternity.

When all was calm again, I took a few deep breaths and steadied myself. I was fairly certain that these were the same violent tremors that seized the SM5 and threatened to rip the survival pod from the ship weeks ago. I wondered if the bizarre gravitational deformity had returned to claim this new ship. I also wondered how much time I had before it was too late.

I slowly rose to my feet and staggered after the pry bar. At first step, a searing pain ripped through my right foot, telling me that my ankle had been seriously injured in the fall. I hobbled the last few feet to the spot on the floor where the bar had landed and snatched it up into a high attacking position.

As I slowly moved backwards to the ladder, I scanned the darkness for movement. There was none. I reached out and grasped the nearest rung with my free hand and stepped on to the ladder again. Slowly, I began to move downward to the lower deck. As I descended and my head disappeared below the mid deck flooring, I heard the voice. It was a long howl of anger and frustration. It came from below.

[Communication sent: 01FEB2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

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