The Cosmic Serpent

Summary: An otherworldly being hunts the last survivor of a starship crew. Then a third being boards the craft…

Marta Gartelli hurled the spanner across the room, momentarily drawing the demon's attention. The being, a shambling mound of hissing worms, sprinted towards it with supernatural celerity. Each step was a parody of human gait, but Marta was not there to see it. She sprinted around a corner, desperately hoping for salvation in the equipment storage.

Marta ran past Peithos-8, a Marcellus-series android that served as their communications and astrogation officer. The poor android might have even been conscious and partially functional, but he was pinned beneath a massive cargo container that the demon hurled at him. She ripped her eyes away from Captain Joan, who sat impaled on her chair. She saw the stain that had once been their pilot, Martel Adams, right after the creature materialized inside the ship.

Marta slammed the bulkhead behind her, all too aware of its futility. She saw the weapons locker in the corner of the room, a standard spacefarer's precaution against piracy and xenofauna. Her power tools were on the other side of the ship, so this was the only chance she had of fighting back. She reached for a shotgun, loading in pyrotechnic and explosive shells. They were normally used to clear slag off the engines and hull, but she thought they'd work against the swarm.

Marta put her theory to the test when the walking worm swarm ripped the bulkhead opened like cardboard. The beady, multifaceted eyespots of alien wrigglers all converged on her. Acting on instinct, she pulled the trigger. Thunder and fire erupted in the tight corridors of the Thallosan Albatross, and the thing staggered back.

For a moment, Marta thought she'd stopped it. Instead, it surged forwards with a newfound alacrity. Her frantic fusillade fried the worms on its front, creating a crushed, ashy carapace. It closed the last few meters towards her, moving at a slow pace. It was toying with her, she thought. The hissing grew closer, but there was a sound that gave both of them pause.

Marta identified that sound as the pneumatic hiss that accompanied the airlock cycling. A red light activated in the hallway, indicating the airlock was in use. The worm-thing hunched over, staring at it like a parody of a hunchbacked human. Marta shoveled more shells into the shotgun, hoping to blast it while it was distracted. However, her curiosity got the better of her.

Marta turned to see a suit of powered armor emerge from the airlock. The silver-coated suit was covered in stylistic engravings, like an ancient Amaranthine knight. A heavy machinegun was mounted over one shoulder, and a missile-launcher was mounted on the other. Held in both hands was an archaic, wavy blade with the shape of a dancing flame. A red gem on the pommel glowed with the sanguine of emergency lighting. The worm-thing stepped back.

"My, my. You've really let yourself go, Vermichore," came a modulated voice from the visored helmet.

A split second later, the power armored soldier catapulted forwards on jumpjets. Their blade came down across the worm-thing, bisecting it in a single hit. The two halves of its body lost their consistency, becoming translucent in the moments they hit the ground. They seemingly evaporated into the air around them, as though they lost all mass and weight.

"W-who are you?" Marta said, leveling her weapon at the interloper.

"Humanling, you may address me-" the soldier said, before opening the visor. "Asss Lord Hissss."

Marta saw it was no human in the suit. Instead, it was a giant ophidian head, like that of an immense python. It turned towards her, its eyes registering intelligence. Its free hand pulled a red object from its suit, an apple. It floated into the snake creature's mouth, where it was promptly swallowed whole.

"My true, glorious Naga name cannot be pronounced with crude mammalian tongues," Lord Hiss said. "But we must get this ship ready. I have a meeting with a Count."

Marta lowered the weapon. Whatever this was, it would be interesting.