The air was thick with moisture, cold and dark as a shadowy tomb. The cargo hold echoed with the whisper of claws against metal grates.
Devyn heard the drips. Alone in the dark with alien monsters hunting her Devyn feared death.
In the dark, with no one to help and monsters after her, Devyn was trapped.
Droplets of water ghosted over her skin, an icy mist in the cold air.
Dancing on the Edge of the Waterfall
By Meyari McFarland
Devyn shut her eyes, held her breath. The air was thick with moisture, like standing outside of the shower as the water pounded down and steam rose to fill the bathroom. It was a cold moisture, though, not warm and welcoming. She could have sworn that there were droplets running along her arms but when she rubbed one hand over her wrist her palm came away dry.
The hold was dark, lights on dim to conserve energy. They’d all agreed that there was no need for bright lights in rooms that weren’t currently used so everywhere, not just the hold, dimmed the lights after they left the area. That made the hold a shadowy tomb full of nightmare fodder when she opened her eyes again. The little girl who’d been terrified of the dark screamed inside of Devyn for her to turn the lights on so that the monsters wouldn’t get her.
Lights wouldn’t protect her from monsters. The ‘monsters’ they’d picked up were sightless, claw-bedecked beaked monstrosities that enjoyed gnawing on plastic and skittering through the ducts. Even if Arlana thought they were no different than rats, Devyn had private intentions of wiping every single one of the little monsters out before they made planet again. Stupid things didn’t breed fast, didn’t seem to breed at all, so it shouldn’t be hard.
Somewhere, deep inside the echoing cavern of a hold, a water drop pinged against metal. A leak. Three seconds later another ping echoed, as loud as a shout in a silent room and three times as hard to trace given the way the sound bounced off the walls, the crates, the curve of Devyn’s ears.
“I have a leak,” Devyn announced over the comm.
“Fuck, where?” Isleen demanded.
“I don’t know,” Devyn said as she pulled out her scanner. “Three second interval, somewhere in the hold. That’s all I’ve got so far. It’s damp as hell down here, though. It’s been going for a while.”
She went silent as a double ping echoed through the hold. Devyn cursed under her breath as she set out down the main aisle of the hold, scanning for any pooling of water. Unlikely given the grates under their goods but you never knew. There were places where the floor was solid. Not many, mind you, but a few that had been designed as spots to hold high priced goods that Isleen had never managed to book. Nya had taken to storing crates of dehydrated food there strictly because it was easier on her weak leg to walk on solid plates than open grates.
“How much water are we talking?” Riley asked. Even over the comms her voice came out gruff and so deep that you’d suspect vocal cord damage.
“Too much,” Devyn snapped as her sensor pad came back with entirely too much water under her feet. “It feels like I’m in the middle of a waterfall in here. I think it’s all pooled in the pit under the grates. Not sure yet how much but even with the spin of the hull we’re talking enough to nearly fill the pit.”
That set off a wave of cursing from the others, Isleen loudest and longest of them all. As the captain she’d cursed at them all for wasting water over the last few months. Their supplies always seemed to evaporate without a trace and now Devyn knew why. They really needed to invest in upgrades to the water control system. The money hadn’t seemed justified when all it took was hooking up to a floating asteroid and draining water off it, filtering the supply, but this much water was more than a mere drip.
Somewhere a pipe had broken. Had to have. Which meant that they had a huge mess that they had to vent out of the hold somehow.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t going to be as easy as just opening the hold doors and dropping the force field for a few minutes. Most of the cargo at the moment was perishable, prone to spoilage if the temperature got too high. Or the humidity.
“I’m going to check the order,” Devyn said. “Humidity might already have ruined the load.”
“It wasn’t that bad when we loaded it last week,” Arlana complained. “Seriously, it can’t be that much water in there.”
“Come check for yourself,” Devyn replied as she strode up the aisle, turned onto one of Nya’s solid bits of deck. “Nya, the bird-rats have been at your food in AB-12. I see bits of food strewn across the deck.”
The floor was covered with a sticky purple and yellow paste made Devyn’s boots cling to the deck. Thousands of little footprints, three toed with long claw scrapes, filled the paste. One corner of the crate was gone, gnawed away so that the bird-rats could get in at the dehydrated food. Devyn wouldn’t have believed it if she hadn’t seen it but the bird-rats had plenty of water to rehydrate the food so obviously they’d ferreted out everything they could eat.
“Damn those things,” Nya complained. The words held little heat. “How much did they get?”
“I’d write off the whole crate, honestly,” Devyn replied and then grinned as Nya cursed a blue streak over the comms. “There’s too much on the floor for them not to have gone all the way through.”
“There’s only a handful of them,” Arlana protested. “Maybe ten or so. They couldn’t eat that much, Devyn.”
The hold echoed with thump-hiss-thump as Arlana opened the door and then strode in to find Devyn. Her footsteps on the grates echoed far more than Devyn’s did, legacy of her size. Where Devyn was small, barely five foot and thin boned as suited a born and bred spacer, Arlana came from one of the heavier planets. She stood twice Devyn’s height and looked like she was made of solid rock. Hard glossy onyx, Devyn mused as Arlana turned the corner and spotted her by the crate of no-longer edible food.
Her eyes narrowed. She’d pinned her long curly hair up into a tight bun today, covered that with a net so that it wouldn’t drift when she worked in the weightless section of the ship. Devyn pursed her lips against saying something about that choice. She preferred Arlana’s hair down but practicality did have to come first, even if Devyn liked to be able to run her fingers through Arlana’s hair, to touch and caress her neck.
“This is too many footprints, Devyn,” Arlana whispered. Her cheeks went brown as she paled, the blood draining from her cheeks. “They’re too small.”
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