Chapter Eight (of Ten)
He woke again and went to Brad immediately. The mob had disappeared and left everything in shambles. The jack had been flung against the side of the motor housing several times, bending the thick extended shaft . Judging by the splashes of blood on it, either it had bounced back from something and struck someone, or had been used as a weapon. Either of those were likely to be fatal, and wielded by a strong man or a group of people just to handle the weight of the jack.
His debate was still undecided as to whether he wanted to live or not, but during the fight it was a matter of immediate survival regardless of his future decision. Tim found most of the carnage in the control room. His priceless instruments were broken, some knocked right off the face of the panels where they had been, or shoved beneath the face of the panel, dangling by wires inside of the cabinet. The panel itself bent inward by something very heavy, perhaps a body.
Another earthquake shook him, this one was even stronger than the last one. He went to the entrance. The once white surfaces were black from the explosives used to blast open the door and the cylinder of metal that had once encircled it. It had been ripped off and now hung by a single, bent piece of flat metal, a weld that held even through the violence of the explosion. But he didn’t think they had wrecked the entrance as much as they had wanted. He hoped that he was correct in that assumption himself, that the door had been smashed, but not the seal meant to keep the vacuum of space out of the ship.
He found a single bar of metal that had been pushed over, bent by the explosion. It was the door closer. He banged on one side of it for several minutes with a long chunk of metal that had come loose from the door mechanism. When he had returned it to a vertical position, it moved easily in the slot that it extended through. He slid it back and forth several times to assure himself that it was moving correctly, then finally pushed it over to one end of the slot and waited. He watched as a huge round disk of metal a foot thick rolled next to the opening, then fell over, covering it completely. He had designed it to hold in place even if air pressure was lost or became too great on either side of it, but now it looked more defensive than anything else. It would easily hold out more than just space from the other side.
It dropped into the circular depression and sank hydraulically until it was level with the rest of the floor. He could hear the grinding of the locking bolts moving into the wheel of hardened metal like that of a bank vault. The outside world, or whatever it could be called, was shut out with a finality. Until he fixed the viewers across the spaceship he was also unable to view anything outside, or what was left of anything out there.
The earthquakes were becoming more and more regular now, like the beating of a heart. A wave of shaking when through his whole body when he realized that it was very likely that it was exactly that. To know that didn’t lessen his fear even slightly. The inevitability of the end of the world wasn’t even slightly calming to him, he had no resolve from it, he wasn’t someone that could give up, not even when faced with no alternatives. “…til my dying breath.” Went through his mind without calming him at all.
He hurried through the living quarter’s area outside of the control section of the ship. Each of the private quarters had a small window for the travelers that he had temporarily forgotten about. He found several windows coated with blood as though someone had beat themselves against it while trying to open them, or maybe to get through them if they could get them open. They were all unsuccessful attempts.
Not much of the upholstered furniture had survived in any sort of usable condition. It had been torn free of its fabrics, and the wood shattered and used to kill or injure each other. Nearly every splintered end of wood had blood covering it. It left a sickening smell that was hard to take on his weakened stomach and confused head. He still had found no bodies and had to attribute it to the madness and insanity that people had developed. It made no sense for them to take dead bodies out of the spaceship with them, but rational thought didn’t seem to be existence any more.
Without bothering about the supply compartment, he finally visited it just as he happened upon it. He was expecting it to be ruined just as the living quarters and the control room had been. He had installed a security door in front of it, but it was not much of an improvement to security as much as it was merely to keep wandering travelers from entering it without his knowledge. He pressed the simple code into it and it slid open. He was surprised to find that it hadn’t been bothered very much. Perhaps they had been too busy to work on the door, or they simply didn’t have the time to fool with it, but the little damage to the interior of the room told him that they hadn’t been inside for very long.
His expectation of finding bodies all over the ship remained unfulfilled. He still hadn’t found a single person around other than Brad, and he was quite alive. Evidence of the warfare was everywhere, but not a body was to be found. It was a riddle that he had no answers for, and no time or inclination to solve it. He wondered why they had singled out Brad and Himself and left the two of them behind. He had no answers to that either.
Suddenly a quake shook him until he fell to the floor. This one had been at least as severe as the only he had experienced in the engine room. He was bouncing around the floor for several minutes before he could get a hold on something to hang on to. He thought that maybe they had panicked, thinking that the ship was being crushed or falling apart during one of these earthquakes and had run out of it without sense. He could imagine what his ship looked like bouncing up and down, similar to the model on his now long gone house. He wondered if the model had ended up, if it was still floating in the air with no house around it.
After that the ship finally settled at an angle. At least all of the floors felt crooked afterwards but he had no visual clues from outside to compare with the inside. Across a hallway and across a room he could see out of a clean window, but it only looked out into a greenish hue. It would be an uphill climb to get to it, but he had finally decided that he would choose to live, now that the choice had been taken out of his hands, no matter how short the period of life ended up being. It made so little difference anyway since he would die in a matter of years even if the ship did save him, and nothing would be left of the human race but two skeletons, or piles of dust, depending on when someone or something discovered it after their deaths.
Even that was somewhat optimistic. Across the vastness of space the insignificance of Earth was so minor that it would never be discovered. Mankind had lost. The eggs of this planetary system were all hatching, ending their stay in this part of the galaxy. But it wasn’t within him to quit. He went to the control room and flipped switches for several minutes, waiting between each flip for lights to indicate something he had changed. Finally he collapsed in the rounded chair, exhausted by his mental battle with the inevitable as well as his physical effort to stand on the crooked floor. The decision was irrelevant, sitting still and waiting for it wasn’t acceptable to him anyway.
At least if he had gotten “The Planet” to work finally, he could spend his life enjoying the beauty of this galaxy using the very power of the universe. That would include the invisible solar wind; the source of power that the creatures were using to head out in the direction of the expanding universe.
A green light suddenly blinked on and shone on the control panel, completely surprising him. He bounded out of the chair instantly. It had never come on before. Its indication said that “The Planet” was successfully running. He hadn’t felt any kind of lurch or shaking, but he trusted his work that it was correct. A single light was a simple thing, either it was on, or it was off. Then he realized that he was no longer feeling the earthquakes either, and when he stood he was standing upright, not at an angle. But this was impossible. By now the animal had fully developed and would be expanding its wings for many thousands of miles into space. It should be battering him and his ship around like a pinball while it stretched out its wings and flexed its body.