The Hunt by Matt Lao (Page 9)

They were faint at first. Longing. Distant. Lonely. It was like staring into a vat of tar, or an inky canvas littered with pathetic grains of dust and sand. Sure, some specks were bigger than others. But the dirt particles were nothing more than simply that—dirt. And then, Talon’s orange camera eyes shifted. The lenses compressed and expanded, the strength of the optics were adjusted. A human would have it easy; its eyes could naturally adjust after a few moments. But Talon struggled like a frustrated child tinkering with his toy telescope. Oh, how the boy longed to see the stars above him. Only, the stars weren’t just above him. Talon had finally found the right setting, the right magnification, the right density. So Talon looked. In every direction, there were stars and more than stars. In the near distance lay an opulent blue pearl, a star in her prime, its tendrils of inverted fire lashed out angrily against the darkness. Not far from the ship was the full view of a gray planet.

Despite the beauty, something was wrong. So very wrong. Talon saw the shrapnel, he saw the shards. He saw the mutilated hull of his beloved Endurance. The backside of the ship had been blown outwards, taking the shape of a radical metal flower. Worse, the ship was caught in a spin. Belly up, belly down. Belly up, belly down. Not so fast as to impress Talon, but enough to make him break a mental sweat. He was drifting. Like cruel gravity, Talon fell slowly away from his ship. Act fast, or die alone. Of course, Talon had no means to simply swim, walk, or fly back to (somewhat) safety. Think fast, or die alone.

Bits and pieces from the Endurance continued to float past Talon. How tragic that they would only find mathematical eternity beyond matter’s embrace. Though he mourned for his ship, Talon knew its bleeding cadaver was the only hope of survival. Just as another opportunity almost bypassed him, the gunslinger snatched a large hull fragment and held it to his chest. Talon looked at the metal tombstone, and caressed its torn edges. Then, like the champions of theoretical history clad in sandals and broom-helmets, Talon raised the blast-covered shrapnel above his head—crying for victory. A perfect union of hyper-advanced bio-technology and a concoction of human emotion blended together to create the ultimate formula for survival. The gunslinger contracted every segment in his arms, every servo in his spine, every pseudo-tendon in his legs, and launched the chunk of metal away from the Endurance. Liftoff was a go.

The direction of Talon’s spacial drift had changed; not strongly, not jarringly, but enough. During his drift, Talon felt the warmth. With nowhere for it to radiate, the heat began to well within the gunslinger’s chest. It was comfortable for a few moments, at least until about thirty seconds had passed. As Talon floated towards the remains of his ship as helpless as the scorched debris, he could feel an inferno rising. Using an eyeballed estimation of the distance between the Endurance and himself, Talon need only remain in the vacuum of space for about another minute—give or take a few seconds.

Another ten seconds passed; Talon could feel the millions of electro-neurons running through his metal frame boiling themselves with tiny currents of information. Talon’s nerves were almost quite literally on fire. Talon had a few theories about the concept of Hell within multiple Old World religions; he assumed this is what it would feel like. Had space carried sound, Talon’s voice could have ruptured a human’s eardrums.

Another ten seconds passed; in his agony Talon’s arms began to glow. Not the kind of glow produced by the angry, dancing flames of his own Power. This glow was born of utter emptiness; neither darkness nor light. The Void was hungry, and it would see to it that it was satisfied. Besides the heat, there was this terrible tremble—he could feel it. In his arms and in his legs, Talon shook. He did not know why.

Another ten seconds passed; between silent screams, Talon noticed his frame beginning to change gradients. Apparently his body had reached far beyond its own black-point. The red hue was as dark as rust. The heat was gone, now. The harrowing pain, anyway. Talon’s nerves had been burned away by the Void. The Endurance was within his reach.

Should another minute pass, Talon figured any hope of reaching safe haven would be gone. Mechanical paralysis would set in—the ligaments and motors controlling most of Talon’s limbs would nearly liquefy at that point. The rotation of the Endurance slapped the entirety of Talon’s body; though he was no mosquito, he certainly felt as one. Despite the force of impact, he latched onto the outer exhaust vents just above the main cabin. As Talon desperately clutched the grooves of the ship, the background stars spun maddeningly, crunching the length of an entire day to mere seconds. Talon’s only option: crawl. Every foot, every inch, was overflowing with insurmountable amounts of tantalizing panic. Points of contact between his body and his ship changed color gradients—the metal fuselage blending into a deep maple tree mahogany. A trail of red followed Talon’s path, all the way to the bottom level cargo airlock, now exposed to empty space after the hold had been ripped away. As his fist encased the handle of the cargo bay’s airlock, the metal rebar immediately transformed into a bright crimson. With a final act of might, Talon tore open the door. Opening the airlock was easy; getting in was the difficult part. The pressurized cargo-bay threw immense blasts of force against Talon—the Void would not let him go easily. He attempted to obtain a foothold upon the ship, only to realize that he was stiff from the waist down. Not much longer before the rest of his body followed.

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