Challenge #02002-E178: Double Scheherazade

in fiction •  10 months ago


Alien crew explores a likely-haunted spaceship wreck they found floating around -- TheDragonsFlame

Afterlives are one of the more complicated cultural complications in Galactic Society. Though citizens are not encouraged to insist on inserting their beliefs into others' heads, the topic of assorted beliefs is not taboo, either. One is expected to not judge, and not be judged in return. For instance: most cultures believe that some form of animated spirit persists after the mortal shell is deceased. Where it goes and what it does varies after that.

And all of those beliefs come out into the assembled team's brains when exploring an empty, drifting vessel. Vessels should be full. Or at a minimum, crewed. This looked like a long haul cargo transporter and nothing had activated when they hailed it. Trajectory had it heading off into nowhere. So they docked and at least tried to sort out why it was headed in a funky direction.

The pock-marked painting on the side said, Revere's Ride. Which made it a human vessel. The airlock failed, and had failed some time in the past, leaking air like a seive and subtly pushing the Revere's Ride off course by potentially millions of kliks. How it had not set off alarms or signals was anyone's guess. Nevertheless, they managed to bully the leaking door into opening and equalising pressure inside.

They stepped in cautiously, full-disaster Livesuits on, to examine the evidence. Some of the cargo were people. Frozen at a point between life and death. Waiting for medical teams to revive them at their destination. The bulk of the cargo was colonial supplies.

The lights didn't always work, leading to a gloomy atmosphere where one might expect fast shadows to move in one's peripheral vision. Well. If one were human. And Human Steph was seemingly expecting them.

"I'm not scared," she singsonged. "I'm not scared of shadows. Some big motherfucker's gonna jump on us an' I plan to blast it to shiiiit..." She twitched, aiming her plasma gun down a side-corridor. "Aaaawww... Aw the poor kitty..."

There was, indeed, a cat. Curled up on a pet bed as if the calico had gone to sleep and never woken up. Someone had carefully placed a toy mouse and a dried fish by her nose. Vacuum had freeze-dried the body.

"That's a flakking grave," sang Human Steph. She backed away.

Then they found the jury-rigged rack containing thirty-three potential survivors of an obvious meteor impact. The meteor itself was still lodged in the ship and surrounded by sealing foam.

"I'm not frightened of dead bodies," singsonged Human Steph. "They can't do anything, they're dead. No ghosts would want to be here, stop thinking like that."

Exploratory Officer Groz, knowing Human Steph as she did, sighed. "The spirits of the departed have long since flown to their greater paradise. What you are experiencing is a liminal-space-induced episode of paranoia."

"It's only paranoia until they're out to get you," sang Human Steph. "Cryo coffins stacked up like cordwood is not my favourite thing to find. Dead bodies are in the top ten, too..."

They trod quietly, or as quietly as they could, through the halls of the empty ship. Spooky lighting had Human Steph jumping at their own shadows. At least she was one of the few humans who could be relied upon to identify her target before pressing the trigger.

"There aren't any ghosts here," sang Human Steph. "Only shadows. Darkness there and nothing more..."

"Hello and welcome, Wandering Star," said an unfamiliar voice.

Human Steph whirled like a cat that had found a cucumber, training her gun on... a very ordinary speaker.

The voice continued. An automated message had finally kicked into life. "This ship, the Revere's Ride is a cryo-courier vessel carrying colonists to New Frisco. This is a recording of the sole crew member. You should find me up in the front cabin, and if all goes well, I should be revivable. If I'm not... well... see that I'm put away with my cat, will you? She did me fine service and I couldn't let her go away alone."

"As for my cargo and passengers... Please see to it that they reach New Frisco intact. They trusted me to get them there. I did my utmost to keep that promise." There was an extended pause, as if the speaker was considering his next words. "This is Pilot Paul Collins, signing off. Maybe for the last time."

ExOff Groz looked to Human Steph. Her eyes were wide and terrified. "Someone's still alive on this hulk. We have to attempt rescue."

"Hell-flakk no," Human Steph warbled. "I've heard all the stories. Shit goes bad when you mix stasis and vacuum."

"You'd leave your Havenworlder crew alone with something you're scared of?" ExOff Groz goaded.

"I hate you," she muttered insincerely. "No. You know I won't."

The pilot's chambers had been gutted of everything that could be safely removed. The jury-rigged navigation system had quit at some point in the past and continued on a heading close to the one they'd found it on. And the body in the stasis booth was wearing a livesuit.

"Huh," said Human Steph. "They heard those stories, too."

Oh yes. Those stories. Passed between cogniscents wherever two beings gathered to scare the fluids out of each other. People who trusted stasis alone to keep them safe, and the ship suffered a critical hull failure. Stasis kept them between moments, but it couldn't keep air in the chamber or warmth, either.

They say that when stasis was ended, the freeze-dried corpse had one scream left in it before it properly died...

Science and medicine had tried everything, but all they had was one last scream.

This body was in a sealed livesuit, inside the stasis chamber. They rightfully didn't trust their ship to keep them safe.

Through the faceplate, they could see a human face. Dried out a little, and looking like it had been ravaged by cold, but still potentially alive. And the read-out on the chest-plate confirmed it.

"This person's still alive. Holy flakk, they're still alive!"

They towed Revere's Ride to its destination, circulating the ship's logs to anyone who wanted to help. Nobody on record had done anything like this. The surviving colonists were easier to revive than Pilot Collins, since there was procedure for cryo-suspended people.

The other good news was that his family were coming out to meet him. And they didn't care about his diagnosis of Freezer-burnt, But Okay. The okay part was the important bit.

[AN: For further news about Paul Collins' interesting times, check out Nor Gloom of Night by this author :D Also, in case you're wondering about the title, Scheherazade told a thousand and one tales. I just doubled it. Brag, brag, skite, skite.]

[Image (c) Can Stock Photo / AlgolOnline]

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