DELIVERY

sci-fi/horror – july 2021 – 964 words

Ryza had been a inter-system courier now for 5 years. She was highly requested from Earth to Neptune, both for her delivery speed, her customer service and her, ahem, discreetness. If you had something you need to cross the system Ryza was one of the best couriers-for-hire money could buy. At least, in her opinion.

She didn’t belong to any of those shipping conglomerates run by big wigs on Earth, she was independent and her own boss. Her own little ship – the Dragonfly – was not a rental or a lease and definitely her own. It was her baby, and she answered to no one but herself, and the one paying her.

Being on her own though meant there was no company to take care of it when things broke. Ryza was pilot, navigator and mechanic as her small ship had a crew of two. Herself, and the computer system.

She normally had no issue with her own company, but after picking up a delivery at a research station (that she wasn’t allowed to look at and was paid extra for someone else to load it) on Io from a rather highly anxious looking tech-nerd, her ship had decided to kick up with a weird sound just out past Saturn.

She knew Dragonfly like the back of her own hand, she knew every sound she made and every dent in her hull, but that noise wasn’t normal. At first she thought it was a ticking, but as she finally put the ship on autopilot and stepped out of the small cockpit, she figured the sound more for a tapping. Like nails rapping on metal.

It could be a loose part, but she went down to the engine room right below her and nothing was amiss, the sound seeming drowned out by the hum of her lightdrive. When she went back up the ladder to the main area of the small ship, she heard it again. Her watch – which connected her to the autopilot when she was out of the cockpit – flashed to warn her they were in the thick of the asteroids.

She knew she should go back in, but the tapping was growing louder. It had no real pattern, and it was obnoxious enough she knew it would drive her insane to hear it all the way to Earth. She tapped on her watch and told the autopilot to slow, and she felt the deck below her vibrate then stop as the ship slowed in space.

With the ambient noise of the engine and space travel, the tapping was now the only noise she heard. She strained, cussing under her breath as the sound definitely sounded like it was coming from the back hatch. Her ship was small, with a cockpit, the engine room below, a tiny living area, and the back was the bay in which the goods were stored.

She usually left the artificial gravity in there off to conserve power, everything strapped down. She walked to the large double doors, the tapping on the other side suddenly ceasing as she stood outside. The door, for security, was locked and Ryza put in her passcode. It denied her entry, the panel flashing a big red X. Confused, Ryza put the code in again more slowly, but it still denied her entry.

“What the f-” her words were cut off as the lights cut out. It only took a few seconds before the back up generators came on, casting the deck in a eerie red light. Ryza swung around to look behind her but saw nothing, and a check of her watch showed the ship was still still. The tapping seemed to have stopped, and the mystery of the door no longer seemed to matter as she cut through the living quarters.

Before she could reach the door for the cockpit though, that infernal tapping started up again. This time though, it came with the soft sound almost of something being dragged. All the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end, as she swore the sound seemed to be coming closer.

There was about 10 meters between her and the door to the cockpit. She froze in place. It wasn’t a raider, they don’t come in quiet like this, her sensors would have seen them and there were no alarms of breaches. Someone, or something, was on this ship though with her.

She made the split second decision, when the tap-scrape suddenly was joined with the low sound of a hiss. Not like her oxygen tanks leaking, or a pipe bursting. Like a snake. Like an animal. She broke out into a run, the distance short yet infinite, her heart pounding inside her head. When she was within a few meters she lunged for the cockpit door.

The noises behind her stopped as she bodily slammed into the door but in the poor light she couldn’t get her hand around the handle. That split second of fumbling, and she suddenly felt something wrap itself around with something large and strong around her middle.

Before she could even scream she felt herself pulled backwards so fast the red emergency lights blurred, and as the first decibel escaped her throat, she disappeared through the suddenly open doors of the back bay, into the darkness, where the doors slammed closed to cut off what remained of her cries of terror.

The Firefly always guaranteed delivery time or your money back. When Ryza missed her date three days later and failed to go through Earth Orbit Customs a team from Io, in unmarked ships, came out and found the ship adrift with systems on stand-by.

They didn’t board her. They didn’t scan her.

They blew Dragonfly out of the stars.