Guhle brought us around and into the hangar bay of the enormous, broken vessel. As we approached, it became clear just how devastated the battleship was. It had the same sleek structure of the scout ships we had encountered early on in our travels — an aesthetic to match the armor of its Farseer creators. But this ship was so beaten and battered that its elegance was almost unrecognizable. Jagged rips along the edges of its metal plating. Great, big holes dotting the surface where something had punched through it. And inside, though the sleek aesthetic was better preserved, piles of shrapnel, debris, and once-operational devices took away from that perception.
As we touched down, Guhle deployed our docking clamps — magnetic feet that held us down to the deck, even in zero gravity.
“Alright,” he said. “We’re latched on. Everybody suit up.”
And, as if to drive home the point, he lifted a pressurized helmet from underneath his seat and settled it over his head, fastening the clasps to the stiff collar of his suit.
Once everyone was fully prepared for the lack of atmosphere — some, like Cap and the Farseers, didn’t have to put anything on, since they were already enclosed in their own survival suits, and Sys apparently didn’t need any kind of atmospheric protection at all — Guhle lowered the gangplank and we all marched on down onto the hangar deck.
It was the first time I’d seen Mearr, or most of everyone else, in close proximity since the attack. I was somewhat startled by the change in her appearance. It was as though her entire features had ballooned out, along with her stomach. While she retained her feline grace and agility, there wasn’t any other word I could think of to describe her except…pudgy.
I made a note to keep such thoughts to myself. At all costs.
“You all have your assignments,” said Gator. “Remain in radio contact. I will have you each check in at appointed intervals. If you need to reach me, for any reason, do not hesitate to use my direct comm feed. Understood?”
There was a murmur of agreement over the comm feed.
“Alright,” said Guhle. “Let’s go see what this baby’s got.”
Everyone paired off and scattered across the deck. I didn’t know if they actually knew where they were going. I certainly hadn’t seen any floor plans for the ship. But then, I was just Gator’s stooge. I figured they didn’t need to tell me anything.
As Gator and I forged ahead through the sleek halls of the battlecruiser, Cap and T’Vosh trailed behind. Whether they were locked in heated discussion or merely walking stoically beside one another, I could not tell. Sound doesn’t travel well in a vacuum, I’ve found.
At any rate, they kept their distance, apparently preferring to allow Gator and I to lead.
Maybe Gator had a map of the ship’s floor plan in his suit, I realized suddenly. Or perhaps he had used some sort of scan to map out the layout of the ship’s decks. That would explain why everyone was deferring to him. It would also explain how everyone had instantly known where to go — assuming they were heading in the right direction, of course. He could have given them directions somehow.
Well, regardless of how we managed to navigate the structure, we reached a lift that led directly to the bridge — complete with directions.
“Power is insufficient,” Gator said after a moment’s prodding and prying at the circuitry in the lift. “We should be able to float our way to the top if we release our magboots. What do you think, captain?”
The captain had long forsaken the floor for the walls and ceiling as he scuttled down the corridors. Zero gravity seemed to be affecting him far less severely than it was me. I had a headache and my stomach felt like it was about to flip out of my mouth. And over it all I felt a light-headedness that made me feel like I was seeing everything through a viewscreen, instead of experiencing it firsthand.
All in all, it made for a less-than-enviable experience.
“A simple enough operation,” said Cap, after scuttling into the lift and taking a look for himself. “Let’s try one of the others, to see if we can find a shaft that’s more intact. Otherwise, you have my permission or proceed.”
We searched among the neighboring lift tubes for a secure line up to the bridge, and found it on our third try. While the first had been crumpled by some collapsing floor plating several floors up, and the second had its lift stuck in our way, the third was an ideal launching point. The lift was on the floor below us, which gave us a base to stand on, and its shaft was completely intact, which meant we could simply reorient ourselves and lock our magboots to the wall, walking up the shaft as though the wall was the floor.
Aside from some mental gymnastics I had to perform, the entire operation was more-or-less painless. I adjusted my boots as I stepped onto the wall, and suddenly found myself looking “forward” where “up” had once been. It took me a minute to divorce direction from orientation, but once I had done so, I proceeded to follow Gator and the others without complaint.
The bridge itself was a disaster. After cutting our way out of the shaft at the appropriate height, we pushed away the lift doors to reveal a scene of carnage unrivaled anywhere else on the ship. Catwalks and platforms were torn from their moorings and bent into angles that had them jutting out into empty space, even breaking through the panoramic viewports in a few places. Consoles and helm controls had either been smashed or uprooted, and now settled themselves against the new structure that the criss-crossing catwalks had formed with their dislodgment. Off in the corners of the cavernous primary operations room, the private offices and planning rooms had been opened to the general public via gaping holes in their exterior walls. Some had been scorched by weapons fire, others had been demolished by falling debris, and still others looked like they had been sliced through with precision tools. The entire scene was one indicative of chaos and death.
And yet, there were no people. Gator had to point it out to me. As my eyes feasted on the wreckage, my mind failed to connect the room’s purpose to its vast personnel requirement. And so, the absence of any bodies was not something I found myself thinking about until Gator mentioned it.
But once that had been brought to my attention, I found it consuming my thoughts.
What had happened to them? Slavers? They couldn’t have taken down something this big. Disintegrating weapons? Those would have decimated the ship as well. Had they abandoned the ship? There should still be some sign of the deceased, as well as lifeboats or escape pods floating nearby outside.
There was no reasonable explanation. And this suspicion of mine was confirmed by the reaction of my three superiors. After Gator muttered his simple, “Where is everybody?” Cap and T’Vosh simply stood and stared around the bridge, taking in the scene, perhaps searching fervently for some sign of life.
There was nothing. Not even blood. Aside from the obvious signs of devastation, the room was as spotless as the day it was made.
“What the hell happened here?”