The Doomed Flotilla. Part 3 ‘Seventh Seal’



The remains of turbid goo splashed at the bottom of the mug. Nick sat on a small metal structure, which was probably conceived by its creators as a bar stool. Two hours passed, and the owner of the institution was already looking askance at the gunner, who was sipping on one portion of condensate water all this time.

— Aren’t you bored here? — Sam’s voice rang out.

Nick shuddered, he gave up expecting the mechanic to appear. Without waiting for an answer, the girl snatched the mug out of his hands, finished the contents and dumped it noisily on the table. A circular saw hung on the belt behind her back, so Nick did not protest much.

— Your advance payment — he handed her a slice of protein bar, — let’s go.

— So what are you up to?

— We need to open the Seventh Seal.

Sam bit a piece off the bar and put the remainder in the pocket of her overalls.

—How’s that?

— Well… we’ll cut the lining with your saw.

— Seventh Seal, is it a ship? — Sam guessed.

— A Jericho cruiser, — Nick once again measured the girl-mechanic with a glance, but this time not on the subject of the width of her thighs. He did not know yet whether she could be trusted. He decided not to tell her about his true intentions just yet. — It may have full access codes, — the gunner muttered.

Sam looked at him. Mistrust was clear on her face. Nick did not know how to lie.

— As you say, — she shrugged, — just remember that you still owe me.

They went to their objective, going from airlock to airlock, from one ship to another. The Seventh Seal was in the furthest part of sector 17.When four earthly months ago the cruiser was found drifting without a crew, it was obvious — the ship was infected. It was taken into tow, and put in quarantine. Then the station had a severe shortage of electricity and  the still-sealed ship was used as an external generator — cable-attached to its shield system. But time passed, and traces of the virus were never found. The quarantine was removed, the ship was partially looted. But nobody dared to go deep into its systems and even more so — to settle in the dark corridors of the cruiser. Too mysterious was the reputation of Jericho. Too much the Station’s residents were afraid, mostly imperials, of mysterious fanatics.

The gunner knew only one thing for sure about the Seventh Seal — the ship was still in working condition.

— Is this it? — passing by the viewing window Sam pointed to the ship docked to the Station.

Against the background of the vast blackness of cosmos, the dark red of the cruiser was almost invisible. Weapon towers, several landing decks for small ships, protective systems — all this was hidden by an elegant, but no less terrifying Jericho hull. The hull was rippling with light from the almost disabled shields. It seemed that the ship was breathing.

Nick just nodded. A lump came to his throat, and he could not utter a word.

Having reached the lock room, the gunner froze. Sam stopped beside him.

When the ship docked with the station, no one could open its doors and then the hull of the cruiser was burned with plasma. Now this hole, as expected, was tightly welded with sheets of metal and reinforced with cross beams. It was in order to reopen this passage Nick called Sam.

But next to this clumsy design, in the segmented panel of the Jericho ship, an open doorway gaped.

— Is this normal? — Nick asked Sam. She dismantled half the station and had to have experience with such things.

The girl had already removed the circular from the belt and tightened her grip on the handle. Looking at the gunner, she shook her head.

Nick pulled a knife from the worn army boot. One of the two souvenirs that he had left from the suddenly interrupted service in the imperial infantry.

— Stay here, don’t let anyone in, — he said, trying to be as quiet as possible.

Sam said something to him in return, but the gunner was not listening. Having caught the knife with a back grip, he moved into the darkness of the Seventh Seal. It was completely dark in the airlock, except for the dim glow that poured through the half-open door. But a red fluorescent light flickered in the depths of the cruiser. In all other ships, the red light was emergency, in Jericho it was the main one. It was somehow related to eye implants, as far as Nick knew.

The worn out soles softly rustled over the metal floor. Somewhere in the belly of the ship the reactor was buzzing, the grilles of the air recirculation system rattled rhythmically every few seconds overhead. In this restless silence, a distant voice began to be heard. With each step it became more and more distinct.

— Your name is in the singing of microcircuits, oh Thousand-Handed, — somebody said slowly, — your truth is in the network code. You observe us with the eyes of the lenses and direct with the set of diodes… O Prophet, lead me to the true path, for I am lost in darkness.

The strange mantra ended and began again. Then again. And again. By the fifth repetition, Nick had already descended into what he considered a machine room. The walls were covered with shallow lime. He did not recognize the language in which the text was written. However, he did not want to know its meaning. Gradually, primitive horror settled in the soul of the gunner and now each step was difficult. The mantra sounded again and again, and its words seemed to get stuck in Nick’s head. Involuntarily he began to repeat them.