Chapter 5

“Split up! We’ll cover more ground!” Stroth said stomping down the hallway.

“And what do I do if I find him?” Taern said lowering his seat to hop down to the ground.

“He’s an Avarian, Taern. Grow a pair.”

***

Ito watched from the hole in the ceiling as the grate he’d kicked loose hit the ground with a clang. Dropping in his new metal pipe (the one he’d found and freed from the crawlspace in the spaceship) he watched as it clattered down after the grate.

Lowering himself in through the opening and dropping to the ground, Ito brushed himself off while eyeing the dark room. It was some type of prepping station, tall shelves lining the walls, and a maze of conveyor belts zigzagging across its considerable floor space, filling the central area with square metal bars, guaranteeing a sharp corner or unforgiving edge every two feet in any direction; a virtual amusement park of hard metal surfaces.

It also had tall ceilings.

Walking alongside the conveyor belt, Ito ran his palm over the top of a few pins, leaving a trail of spinning metal twirling behind him. He was wondering how heavy the shelves against the walls were.

Grabbing his pipe from where he’d dropped it, Ito continued strolling up the middle aisle, whacking a metal pin loose every few feet, smiling at the way the high metal sounds rang off the walls.

***

Stroth heard the noise again and smiled. Now I’ve got you.

Loosening his grip on the rungs, he dropped down the ladder like an eager stone. The friction heated his palms, but he kept going anyway.

The noise had come from the bottom level, the last of the Atrox’s three floors, which housed the docking bay to the left and a seldom used assembly room to the right. The inner lining of the ship, where the Avarian had been hiding like an small angry animal, could have easily led to either.

Sensing the bottom was near, Stroth clenched the insides of his boots against the ladder and and slowed himself just in time to land hard on the ground, his whumping thud echoing off the empty metal hull.

Lowering his stance and holding his breath, he stopped to listen.

Another high pitch ring sounded from the right.

Breaking into a pursed grin, Stroth hit the intercom. “Taern, you still in the cockpit?”

“No. Why?” Taern’s voice came crackling back after a minute.

“I’ve got him cornered on the last floor.”

“Okay, I’ll come meet you.”

“No. Can you make sure the auxiliary locks are password protected?”

“Why?”

“If he manages to rip out the docking bay’s circuits it could override the system and trigger an emergency bailout.”

Taern hissed. “You’re kidding. That’s a thing?”

“Unfortunately. How fast can you get up there?”

“A minute or two?” said Taern.

“Good. I’ll distract him.”

“Okay. But Stroth, I know you’re angry, but just remember–“

Stroth switched the intercom off, and hurried to the assembly with an almost child-like bounce.

As he galloped up to the wide double doors he felt his steps suddenly slow to a crawl just before reaching them. He reached for the handle, again carefully listening, ready to yank the door open, but instead found himself pausing to peer inside the window near the top, his other hand pressed firmly against the door, assuring himself it closed just in case.

Stroth gazed inside, eyes darting from wall to wall. It was dark and empty. There seemed to be nothing there. Stroth shifted from foot to foot.

Clenching his jaw, he turned the handle and stepped inside, quiet as a ghost. Shutting the door silently behind him, he swept the room with his gaze before slowly moving out towards the middle of the space. His heart pounded in his ears as he inched forward.

Nothing happened. Remembering the lights, Stroth stopped, cursed himself, and started backing up, his eyes never leaving the supposedly empty room in front of him. Bumping into the wall, he jumped before reaching for the light switch. But he couldn’t find it. Clenching his teeth, he grappled with the flat surface, searching manically for the small, glorious mechanism that would chase away the darkness.

Finally finding the switch, he smacked it on and let out a whoosh of air as the lights flickered on, filling the space with blinking yellow illumination. While he waited for the lights and his heartbeat to settle, he raked the room with his gaze, eyes narrow as slits. Still nothing. Stroth’s nostrils flared.

Stepping forward he made his way to the middle of the room. “I know you’re in here,” he called out into the empty space. “You can quit hiding.”

A malicious yellow glow settled over the room, casting fuzzy, broken shadows on the ground through the breaks between the pins.

Stroth spun around slowly. “Come out you little coward!”

Dunking down he looked the under conveyor belts, swinging his head from left to right, expecting to see his Avarian crouched somewhere in the room. But what he found instead were over two dozen conveyor pins scattered across the floor. Snarling he yanked himself upright. It was another in long list of things he’d be paying the Avarian back for very soon.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Stroth called out, his voice echoing off the walls. “But if I have to keep looking that won’t be true.”

A high pitched-clatter sounded behind him. Stroth whirled around and froze. There was nothing changed in the large yellow space; only the conveyors and shelves stared back. His eyes searched angrily over every shadow and crevice as as his heart rate roared in his ears. Clenching his fists, he brushed off the noise and, turning back, forced his feet forward when he suddenly felt something whoosh by his left ear.

Stroth spun to face the noise. Nothing.

Another whoosh went by his right.

Stroth whirled around again. Still nothing.

“Come out and face me!” Stroth screamed. “Enough with the games!”

Whipping his head left and right, he frantically tried to keep every corner of the room in view. He’d known the Avarians could be fast when they wanted to, but he’d had no idea what this particular kid was capable of when he’d decided to kidnap him. He was quickly starting to regret the whole enterprise and now, more specifically, walking into this particular room.

Sweat pouring off his brow, he could feel his chest heaving up and down with the rhythm of his breaths. He tried to calm himself, but it was no use. Every fiber of his being was on high alert. It was as if he could sense the Avarian’s eyes on him, feel his breath just behind him.

Stroth’s blood froze in his veins.

He could feel the Avarian’s breath just behind him.

Stroth whimpered, refusing to turn.

After an awkward moment a finger tapped his left shoulder.

Shifting slowly, Stroth turned around to meet the Avarian’s gaze. He was floating midair, sitting Indian style, and had a bored expression on his face. A large metal pipe was slung over his right shoulder.

“Boo,” said the Avarian before cracking Stroth across the jaw.

Front Cover W Spine

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