A dark, massive ship had emerged from hyperspace far too close to the Phoenix for Commander Dvoretsky. The ship had no windows and no lights. From a window aboard the Phoenix, one wouldn't see it at all. However invisible to the naked eye, David could see it on the ship's sensors, and it chilled him to the bone. He had only been aboard a ship attacked by them two other times before. Most people never survived a third attack.
"Full power to the shields," he ordered, hiding his horror well. "Prepare to fire all weapons."
Michael jumped up from the operations station and stepped over beside David. "What's going on? Who is it?"
"What the hell is going on?" Godiva exclaimed, just stepping onto the bridge. She walked over to Michael. "Michael?"
David stared at the sensor display of the alien ship. "It's the grarthan," he said quietly.
"Shields are powered, Sir, and weapons are on standby," announced Ensign Raza from his security station.
"Who the hell are the grarthan?" Godiva asked, brows furrowed. "Will someone please tell me what the hell is going on?"
"We're being attacked!" David answered impatiently. "How far away is the Paradox?"
"I've already transmitted a distress signal to them, Sir," answered Lindsey. "They're still thirty-two minutes out."
"Grarthan ship is in range," Raza warned.
Suddenly the bridge shook violently as the Phoenix took fire from the grarthan vessel. Holding tightly to the arms of his chair, David ordered, "Fire weapons now!"
Godiva ran up to a console next to Raza. She opened the tactical readout from sensors on the grarthan ship. "Fuck me," she gasped.
The ship shook again.
"Weapons are having only a negligible effect on the enemy's shields!" Raza shouted. "Our shields are already failing!"
Michael ran up behind Godiva. "What's wrong?" he asked.
"That's a fucking warship out there," Godiva said dismally. She looked over at David. "Who are these people?"
"A nightmare," Lindsey said quietly, staring out the forward window bemused.
The ship took another hard hit, shaking the bridge so hard it knocked everyone to the floor. The power onboard flickered and lights all over the ship went out as main power failed. For a few seconds the artificial gravity shifted, and everyone on board suddenly felt themselves tugged to the side. When Godiva opened her eyes she saw nothing. Computer control and everything but life-support had shut off. The bridge was completely dark and eerily silent.
Godiva groaned as she pulled herself up and sat back against a wall. "What happened?" she asked through heavy breathing.
"This is it," David answered cryptically from somewhere to her left.
"What?" Godiva asked sharply. "What is it?"
"Are you okay?" Michael asked crawling up beside Godiva and putting his hand on her shoulder.
"I'm fine. You?"
"I'm alright," he nodded.
"This is standard procedure during a grarthan attack," Raza finally answered Godiva. "They disable your ship and then board it. They'll cut a hole in the ship-most likely in the ventral hull-and fly their shuttles in through there."
Godiva stood up and took her gun from its holster on her hip. "Then it's a fight they want. We have to get down there."
"It's senseless to go after them," Denala said.
"It's senseless to just let them raid my ship," Godiva retorted, "or worse, take it over."
"You don't understand, Miss Breckenridge," David said. "They're not here for your ship. They're here for you-for all of us."
"What the hell for?" Godiva asked after hitting the button to charge her gun.
"No one really knows," Lindsey spoke with a shaky, quiet voice, "cause no one ever sees the ones they take again."
"It's just what they do," David said. "They raid ships for people. No one knows what happens to them."
"But there are stories," Raza added. "Stories that haunt the minds of those who stand in these dark ships waiting for them to come."
"Well," Godiva replied sarcastically, "aren't you the poetic one." She sighed. "I'm not gonna just stand here and wait for them," Godiva said. "I'm going after them."
"You're what?" Michael exclaimed.
"That's quite possibly the most unintelligent thing I've ever heard anyone say," David said dryly.
Godiva aimed herself in the direction of David's voice and kicked her foot. Her boot struck David in the leg.
"Ah! Fuck!" he shouted in pain.
"Oh," Godiva smiled, "there you are."
David sighed and stood up. "Miss Breckenridge," he said, trying desperately not to lash out at her, "I highly recommend you stay here."
"And I recommend you remember whose ship you are on," she said. "It's my ship being boarded and I'm going to defend it."
Michael's heart had started to pound harder. "Godiva, please," he pleaded, "it's too dangerous."
Godiva sighed and turned halfway in the direction of Michael's voice. "Mike, listen to me," she said patiently, "in the last few days I've found out that my family and practically everyone else I know is gone and have allowed my ship to be overrun by these Federation numbs. I am not about to risk losing my ship entirely to some fucking shitless aliens who creep around dark corners looking for dinner!"
Michael sighed, realizing he wouldn't be able to change her mind. "Alright, well, at least let me go with you."
Stifling a snicker, Godiva answered, "Mikey, I appreciate the offer, but you're safer here, okay? I can take care of myself."
Sighing more heavily, Michael conceded. "Alright, but please, just be careful."
Godiva began to feel around for the wall behind her for the manual door release.
"I will join you, Godiva Breckenridge," Ensign Raza's computer voice said through his translator as he stepped around his console toward the door, pulling his gun from his side.
Godiva pulled the lever next to the door and the door slid up. She paused for a moment considering Raza's offer and decided she didn't mind. "Okay," she said and stepped into the corridor.
David grit his teeth a bit. He would not have minded Godiva conveniently disappearing, but he knew they still had to deliver her to the Council. He reached out toward the sound of Raza's footsteps and caught his arm. Leaning in, he whispered, "Protect her at all costs."
A hardly noticeable grunt came through Raza's translator as he trudged on into the corridor.
David sealed the door behind them and sat back on the floor against the back of the center chair.
For a minute, Michael contemplated going after Godiva, but decided against it. He realized it wouldn't be a great idea running after her in the dark while she hunted the corridors. Sighing again, he slid down to the floor against the wall and wrapped his arms around his legs. He knew Godiva could well take care of herself, but he still felt his heart sinking while he waited there.
Having stopped in her office along the way for a flashlight, Godiva and Raza had made their way down the ship's bowels to the second lowest level on the Phoenix without any trouble. Godiva had hoped that if they moved fast enough they could catch the grarthan before they moved very far into the ship. Following Godiva, Raza had just happily cleared the cramped hatch from the wall and landed heavily onto the metal deck plating. Crouched, Godiva held the flashlight steady in the direction of the ship's dorsal with her gun aimed in the same.
She slowly traced the wall on her left down the corridor with her flashlight, but as she aimed it directly down the corridor the light faded out well before the corridor did.
They moved their way slowly down the corridor, trying not to make a sound. The entire deck seemed quiet enough to hear a pen drop, save the low hum of the ship's engines. A very slight pulsating could be felt in the deck plating along with a vague smell of steam from the engine room. The lower levels consisted primarily of catwalks and engineering access. They didn't have the carpeted floors and bright lighting of the higher levels. The thin walls and small corridors kept the lower levels warmer and more exposed, with pipes and ventilation hatches running along the ceiling.
Godiva had started to sweat by the time they reached a fork in the corridor. She stopped at the end of the wall and shined her light down both directions. Turning her head slightly behind her for a moment, she whispered, "The left leads to the engine room's lowest level."
"The right?" Raza's voice through the translator sounded low and eerie in the quiet, black corridors.
Godiva shook her head. "Just a few catwalks to the starboard engine frame and some bathrooms." She shined her light at Raza as he gave a nod, and they headed left toward the engine room.
Halfway to the engine room, they both froze as a sudden sound like scuffling along the deck plating came from behind them, seeming like it came from the corridor leading to the catwalks. It only lasted a second. Godiva turned and shone her flashlight down the hall but could scarcely see past the corridor they had come from.
"Bathrooms?" Raza asked inquisitively.
Godiva squinted, still searching the corridor. "There is another access hatch to a ladder, but how big are these guys? You could barely squeeze through it yourself."
"Their physical appearance is unknown."
Godiva paused and looked up at him. "No one's even seen one of them?"
"Not without disappearing before they could tell anyone."
Swallowing her fear, Godiva turned her attention back toward the engine room. "Could just be a pipe knocking. Maintenance isn't exactly a high priority of Michael's, no matter how much I tell him."
They started their way back down the corridor, taking each step a bit slower than before, listening intently for any sound. Godiva found herself wanting to look behind them again and again but rather kept her eyes ahead of her.
"So what do you call these guys? Grarthan?" Godiva asked. She wouldn't have admitted it, but she needed a little banter to keep herself from freaking out.
"Yes." Raza answered, his words typically short.
"How do you know what they're called when no one's so much as seen one before?"
"We do not. The term 'grarthan' is an ancient Oscilic word that means 'killers'."
Godiva arched a brow. "Cute." She gave in and shined her light behind them for a second, and then returned her gaze ahead of them. "So what's your opinion? Why do you think these 'killers' take people?"
"There is an old story among my people," what sounded like a grumble escaped his machine voice, "about a species that once existed on our world long ago. Some believe this was an intelligent species that evolved alongside our own and fought us for dominance. My people sought several peaceful solutions, but the result of each one was the same - a bloody battle. Regardless of their true intelligence, we were forced to eliminate the species from our world."
Godiva frowned. "That's an interesting story, Raza, but I don't see the point."
"The 'point', Godiva Breckenridge, is that every race is known for something, and it is often something simple, and for some…that something is simply killing."
Godiva nodded, sighing. "People are very simple creatures," she said. "They can make life as complicated as they like, but it all comes down to the simple fundamentals."
"That is an admirably astute observation, Godiva Breckenridge," Raza said, surprised that he could agree with a statement from a human for the first time in his life.
As they reached the entrance to the engine room, Godiva handed the flashlight to Raza and opened the door. The faint glow from the engine core cast a dim green light around the engine room. The humming from the engine was slightly louder. Godiva took the light from Raza and began to shine it around. She started at the engine core, tracing the bulkheads toward the main entrance where her heart nearly went up her throat as two legs were dragged outside the engine room leaving a trail of blood in their wake and the doors closed behind them.
She cursed as she swung back into the corridor, nearly plastered to the wall. She gazed up at Raza and tilted her head toward the engine room. Raza nodded knowingly. She swallowed hard and turned back into fearless Godiva. They started into the engine room, Godiva shining her light around fast. They heard a sound from behind the core and each one of them darted behind a console on opposite sides of each other.
Godiva peered around the console to the engine core and didn't see anything. She shared a look with Raza. "That bay is a dead end," she said as quietly as she could so he could hear her.
She remembered that the bay behind the engine core was completely dark as a casing covered the glow around the back. Looking around her, she found a panel in a wall. She took her flashlight and rolled it over to Raza, and then opened up the panel and took another one from inside it.
Raza took the flashlight and shined it around the engine core but couldn't see anything. They shared another look with each other and nodded. Together they slowly stood up and made their way to the engine core, each taking their own side. Godiva stayed close to the core, hiding in small corners of it and peering around them before moving forward. Ever so delicately they made their way around the core toward each other. If they had cornered a grarthan, they knew he was likely hiding directly behind the core.
Godiva came to the last little corner before the one directly behind the core and started to hope they hadn't cornered one at all. She may have driven the meanest cargo from earth to Betelgeuse, but hunting killer aliens was not something she had expected to have to do in the process. Moistening her dried lips and wiping the sweat from her cheeks with her shoulders, she took a deep breath and swung around the corner right into a giant, roaring figure that nearly took her face into the floor when it fell from a shot in the back.
Frozen, and her mouth wide open, Godiva took a few seconds before shining her light back up and onto Raza who was just pointing his gun back down at the ground. A few more seconds passed as Godiva and Raza stood there staring at each other. Before either could move or say anything, the lights suddenly came on all over the engine room and consoles and computer screens hummed to life.
Godiva only glanced down at the smoking mass before her for a second.
Raza's communicator broke the silence with David's voice. "Ensign Raza, report!"
Raza pulled his communicator from his hip and spoke into it. "We're here, Commander. It is clear."
Godiva finally walked over to a communication panel in the wall and opened a channel to the bridge. "We've got a gift for you down here in the engine room. I suggest you get some people down here."
David didn't answer right away.
"Ensign?" David inquired through Raza's communicator.
Godiva and Raza stared at each other. "We cornered a grarthan behind the engine core, Sir," he answered. "It's dead."
David ordered them to remain there until he got there. Godiva spent the time checking the status of the engines and looking up the systems. Raza stood guard over the body. When David entered with his team, they went straight to the body and began inspecting it. David stopped next to Godiva, staring down at the grarthan body with awe. Slowly, he turned his head to Godiva. "How the hell…."
Godiva arched a brow and answered him with a smirk.
Wetting his lips, David finally turned his entire body to face Godiva and followed her towards the communication panel. "Miss Breckenridge, there's something I should tell you."
Godiva held a finger up at him to pause him as she opened a channel to the bridge. "Michael I want diagnostics run on everything."
"Miss Breckenridge," David interjected, "so far we know that we've lost twelve people in the attack."
Godiva waited for Michael to answer her but didn't hear anything. "Michael, where the hell are you?"
Godiva looked at him.
David sighed. "We were attacked on the bridge."
A fear began to well up inside Godiva.
"They took him. …I'm sorry."