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In Fire and Ash

Chapter Five - A Long Night

The mighty C.W.S. Saratoga, an old but reliable deep space Junker, now lay in ruin along the bank of a large river of sulfur yellow water. Nearby trees lay strewn in smoldering masses across the ground. Scattered fires belched smoke plumes into the thick night air and the stench of charred bodies stuck to the hot night wind. Inside the fallen behemoth the true horror unfolded. Hallways were blocked by unidentifiable remnants of human bodies. Red alert lights flashed across the walls, glistening red with blood. Inside the ship was a nightmare come to life, a haunting scene no person should see.

The hollow moans of those still living, better described as those not yet dead, echoed into the bridge. The alert for crash positions had gone out too late and only those on the bridge had truly had time to prepare. Captain Serman breathed with visible effort, his chest rising and falling in short breaths. His head pounded to the point of nausea and his entire body ached, muscles spasming in pain. Warm blood dripped into his eyes as they searched the room for any signs of life. Serman slowly turned his head to the right, where Lieutenant Leline Aria should have been. He saw her crumpled chair nearly imbedded into the control panel, with no sign of Aria. Serman reached out with a numb hand to undo his safety restraints. He attempted to stand as he pulled the thick, buckled straps away from his body. Serman was surprised that he was able to move at all, much less stand with only good effort.

As he stood and turned to look back his stomach churned violently. His weapons officer's legs were still seated in his chair, but the rest of him, eviscerated by the safety restraints, lay across his control panel. The buckled inner hull had crushed another man, the only visible sign was his arm protruding from the wreckage. As for the rest, Serman could not match a part to a person. But there was still no sign of Lieutenant Aria, the one person Serman desperately wanted not to see amongst all this.

Serman waded through the corpses to the open door that lead off of the bridge. The warm air, laden with the stench of death, stuck to the inside of Serman's nose. Water poured through bent and twisted metal, washing blood down the off canter halls. Serman walked for what felt like an eternity until he came across a porthole that was just above the ground outside. He looked out to see rain beating down to the muddy ground where occasional surges of lighting would light up trees and bushes outside.

Suddenly a hand fell to Captain Serman's shoulder. His body twisted in pain and he rounded to see what startled him.

Lieutenant Aria stood with blood smeared on her face. The blood did little to cover the purple and black bruises she has sustained. Still, the injuries did little to diminish her beauty in Serman's eyes. The two embraced, ignoring the pain that enveloped them from numerous broken bones and bruised bodies.

"I can't believe you're alive!" Serman said. "Why weren't you on the bridge?"

"You were barely breathing", Aria replied, "And I had to try to get to Med Lab. To find something to help you."

Captain Serman nodded, but did not look up from the ground. "Did anyone else live?" He asked, expecting the answer before she even replied.

"Yes" Aria said. Serman looked up, hope filled his eyes. "But I don't know how to get to them, the ship is a mangled wreck."

Serman accompanied Aria to Med Lab 2 just down the hall. Serman's brow relaxed with relief to see three crewmen and a medical officer in the room. The crewmen were in bad shape, but they would live. The medical staff member barely seemed hurt as his quickly moved from one man to the next and back to his supplies. He turned his head when the Captain walked in and quickly moved to him. The medical officer supported Captain Serman to a leaning bed in the corner. Serman waved him off thankfully and looked to the man's featureless visage. Too smooth skin covered a lean face, split by a smile that did not touch the cold, solid black eyes of the GenKin. The tall half man walked back to its supply cabinet and removed clean gauze and bandages. Aria took them and thanked the medical officer as it returned to its other patients.

GenKin were genetically mutated humans created to perform tasks that were too dangerous or too lowly for normal men to perform. Some were created as laborers and others as soldiers. Since the war with the Sakkra had begun, Humans found out that their long-standing rules in war no longer applied. Saurians targeted medics before any other soldiers and slaughtered them while they attended to the wounded. GenKin, Halfmen, Morphs and whatever other names normal men called them, were enlisted as medical officers due to their incredible physical prowess and deep understanding of practical knowledge. These creations were very good at all tasks that required a strong logical thought, but could formulate very little independent ideas. They had been outlawed in many places due to the high instability of recent models. Obviously, the old Saratoga still had at least one on board.

Serman shrugged uncomfortably under the weighty eyes of the other men in the room. They acted as if they had not noticed him walk in, but Serman believed they only wished he had not. He stood slowly and walked to the console behind the med officer's desk, calling up the current ship status. Every area of the ship was highlighted in red, meaning there was no area the crash had not completely destroyed. The ship, though still in one piece, would not be able to leave this planet. The good news remained that there were survivors in the lower decks. The relays came back with three men alive in Hydroponics, a small group still in Communications and the main concern, five men still alive in Engineering on the bottom level. Engineering held the supplies the crew would need to survive outside the ship, that is where they would head first. The scattered blips from crewmembers accessing consoles across the ship reflected that some of the salvage crew had survived and were attempting to contact one another. Main power was out, leaving little lighting inside. The pale blue moonlight from outside illuminated nothing beyond the bridge, as the Saratoga held no other portholes beyond the main deck. Emergency power surged off and on, red alert lights flashing for a while, before dimming to darkness.

Serman stood and walked to the other crewmembers. "Can any of you walk?"
One man looked at the Captain, a bandage covering his left eye. "Looks like we have to, sir."

All three men pushed themselves off the beds and walked over to Captain Serman, all seemed hurt, but they looked ready for anything. Serman looked them over from head to toe as he ran down the synopsis.

"There are injured crewmen all over the ship. We're not leaving without every one of them. We're going to search one deck at a time starting with Engineering."

One of the crewmen, a skinny man covered in blood but with no visible injuries, raised his hand while speaking. "Captain, I believe there are sentry bots still located around the ship. I can access them from the security station on Communications deck. They might be of help, sir."

"Very well" Serman agreed, "Head to Comm deck, the rest of us will move to Engineering, and when we've secured the crew there we will meet you at the security station. We'll move on from there."

The man nodded with pleased compliance. Serman motioned for everyone to move out, there was no time to waste if men were injured somewhere in the ship. Captain Serman had to separately order the GenKin to follow them, which it did accordingly. As the group entered the hallway, the security officer split off to head to the station while the rest of the group moved to the nearby emergency stairwell. This would be a long night.


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