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Mara Vostok awoke from cryosleep to the klaxon of the ship's alarm.

Red warning lights oscillated in the darkness of the chamber, bathing her pod in a crimson at an interval of every two seconds. She took a frosty breath, willed her fingers to life as the circulation slowly returned to her extremities. She hated the helplessness more than the chill, her body playing catch-up with her mind. One would think a space-faring civilization could design cryosleep that didn't debilitate the sleeper on awakening but the people she worked for weren't all that concerned with comfort.

Mara flexed her fingers. There was a slight tingle in the tips, inching up past her knuckles. She managed to form a trembling fist with her left hand and focused her attention on her arms, envisioned each individual cord of muscle warming up and moving until she could tense them, flexed them and finally move them as she desired. It was a slow process, one she hated repeating, which informed her preference for staying in the pod for as long as possible.

She stared at her reflection in the glass while she worked, tracing the outline of her blue lips, her skin paler than a Siberian winter. The red in her curls seemed more like gray in the wan interior lighting of her pod. She looked to herself like a corpse, the illusion disrupted only by her blinking and the ponderous rise of her chest. Her reflection, moments later, was replaced by the frantic face of an Asian woman, slanted eyes wide with panic as she slammed into the pod.

"Mara!" came the woman's muffled voice. "Wake up! We're being boarded!"

Mara reeled from a vertigo of worry. Who would want to board a science vessel so far out of civilized space? She felt moisture form on her palms, evaporate and freeze against her skin. She tried to form words with her lips but her jaw was as rigid as the rest of her body.

"Hold on," the woman said. "I'm hitting the override."

Mara watched the woman's head disappear around the side of the pod. Yuki Nakamura was her bunkmate and friend, one of only a handful of security personnel stationed on the vessel. The ex-soldier was older than her by a few months but from the same colony world and continent, the only person on the ship she trusted besides the cook. If Yuki was worried, the situation must have been dire indeed.

She heard the lid of her pod hiss as the electronic release activated and the glass inched its way open. Warm air rushed in to replace the chill, icy vapors curling upwards and dissipating in the blood red emergency light. She felt goosebumps rise against her skin, tickle the stretchy fabric of her jumpsuit. The lycra was her second skin; she went nude underneath it.

"Come here, babygirl." Yuki's voice carried a hint of worry. "I've got you."

Mara let herself be scooped out of the cryopod. She had little choice; her legs were jelly underneath her, prickly with circulation, too frail to support her weight. She leaned on the cold metal casing of Yuki's combat harness, a headache forming from the combination of noise and an abrupt awakening. Standard procedure for newly-roused cryosleepers was a ration of water and bread to regain strength. She had no business being awake yet but there was no help for it now.

"Who's…boarding?" The words came out slurred, thick with cryo-slumber. "Pirates?"

"Don't know, Mara-chan. I was on my break when the ship lurched and the alarms started going off." Yuki grunted as she threw Mara's arm over her shoulder. "They must have ripped us out of slipspace. I barely had time to get my armor on."

Mara felt the world move beneath her feet. Cold steel decking brushed against her instep as Yuki dragged her out of the cryo chamber. "Where are we going?"

"To the escape pods, fatass." Yuki planted a wet smooch on her cheek. "There's too many of them."

Mara managed a weak smile. She didn't weigh a pound over one hundred thirty-five. "Yours…or mine?"

"Yours. Remember the code?"

Mara grunted an affirmative. It was one of the most important numbers to remember on a space faring vessel, other than the time and date. She strained her neck to look up, willing her muscles to cooperate. She could only see the austere grey floor plating, awash with emergency red, but she knew the layout of the ship better than the captain. "Hang a right."

She felt Yuki turn their bodies around the bend. Yuki's boots rung hollow as she strode briskly through the corridors. A door hissed open and with it came the muffled staccato of faraway gunfire.

"Not good," Yuki muttered.

Mara felt sensation return to her legs and feet. The floor was unbearably chilly against her soles. "Blood's in my feet," she rasped. "I can walk."

Yuki slipped her arm from Mara's shoulder to the small of her back. She felt metal between her fingers. Ribbed grip. Trigger guard. A pistol. "Know you're not security but those bastards'll shoot you anyway."

Mara closed her fingers around the grip. The solidness grounded her, helped her reorient herself. She thumbed off the safety as she padded awkwardly alongside her friend. She felt as if she were in a nightmare, looping through the same corridor while the grating clamor of the emergency alarms, distant gunfire and screams blended into a terrible background noise.

She stumbled, fell to her knees and vomited bile onto the deck. Moments later, she felt Yuki's fingers digging into her arm, dragging her back to her feet. "Sorry, babe, but we gotta move."

Mara's head spun, her stomach and bones aching. It mattered very little to her whether this was reality or a dream; she wanted it to end.

The door to the escape pod vestibule was locked when they arrived. Yuki dumped her to the side of it while she punched in the code. "Keep watch. Goddamn password is four tiers."

Mara glanced down both ends of the corridor. In the low, oscillating emergency light, she could barely make out shadows let alone people. Her arms may as well have been missing for all the good they did her. Her aim was shaky, the effort to lift the gun more than she had energy for. Fear snaked its way up her gut; this time there was no cryo to freeze the sweat on her palms.

"Yuki…I'm scared…"

"I know, babygirl. I'm scared too but we're gonna make it, ok? Keep watching that corridor for me."

An earsplitting scream carried down the hall from the west, followed by the abrupt report of fully automatic fire. There was a shriek of pain, another burst, a dull thud and then silence.

"Shit," Yuki muttered, punching the console with her fingers. "Come on, you piece of shit! Open!"

Mara watched the corridor where the gunshots had come from. For a while, nothing appeared. Then, in the half second when the emergency light swept its way around, she glimpsed the silhouette of an armored figure with glowing red eyes. Her gut churned with icy terror. "Y-yuki…h-he's here."

Shots rang out from down the corridor, slamming into the wall mere inches from Yuki's head to ricochet off the floor and ceiling. Her friend cursed, returned fire and tapped frantically at the vestibule's console. "Mara, suppress him!"

Mara lifted a trembling arm, trying to line up the figure in her shaky sights. She squeezed off a few shots that missed their mark, clanging off the metal decking. The armored figure returned fire, dangerously close to hitting them this time. Yuki let off a fresh burst of return fire from her rifle.

"I put in the code," Yuki screamed. "Why won't you open?!"

She slammed her fist against the console. It gave a short, cheesy chime and slid open, just as another flurry of bullets whizzed past them.

"Yes!" Yuki grabbed her by the arm and dragged her inside, closing the door behind them. "Lock's engaged. Your turn now. Where's the pod?"

Mara could barely focus for her dry mouth and clammy hands. "A-F-Four."

Yuki muttered the letter-number combination as she walked past the row of escape pods. "Found it."

Mara padded over, came face to face with the number pad. Four digits stood between her and freedom.

She tapped out the passcode. Nothing happened. She tried again, with the same result. "Yuki…it's not working…"

"What do you mean? Is it correct? Try again!"

"It is the right code! 6401!" She tried it a third time. "It's not working!"

There was a banging on the door and the pop of bullets striking metal. The armored figure was trying to get inside.

"Fuck! I'll try my pod!" Yuki ran over to her assigned pod and frantically punched buttons, to no effect. "God fucking dammit!"

She slammed the console with both fists. Mara noticed a subtle shake in her frame as she stood over the number pad.

"We're not dying here," Yuki muttered shakily. "We're getting out of this."

The banging grew louder. More pops as bullets struck the door. Mara's heart thumped so quickly in her chest, she thought it would burst. Her palms were colder than the cryopod, sweat pouring from every orifice. She wanted to scream, cry and beg for mercy but she knew no one would listen. The pistol weighed heavy in her hand; as she stared at the cold metal, a brief flicker of a thought whispered to her. Her wrist tensed. She had it raised halfway to her head when Yuki cried out.

"Wait! The emergency override!"

Mara lowered the pistol. She knew where it lay, just behind the last escape pod at the far end of the vestibule. She felt a surge of hope; there was still a chance at survival, a chance at life. She had turned to run for the override when she heard an explosion behind her. The door flew off its hinges and the armored figure stepped through the smoke.

A flurry of bullets silenced Yuki's screams. Hot lead tore through her combat harness, slicing through her combat harness like knives through wet paper. Another burst split her skull apart, bone and brain matter splattering the escape pod behind her. Yuki collapsed into a twitching heap on the floor, eyes wide in the shock of her final moments, mouth agape in surprise and disbelief. Her bladder voided its contents as a final humiliation, staining her pants with a dark spot that slowly spread across the tan colored fabric. The odor of urine wafted into Maya's nostrils.

Mara raised her pistol, managed to squeeze off one shot before the armored killer visited the same fate on her. The force of the gunshots threw her back against the deck. Her jumpsuit was no combat harness, offering no protection against the ballistic spray. She hit the floor with a hard thump that sent pain exploding against the back of her skull. She tried to move, to lift the gun in her hand, but her muscles refused to obey.

She felt nothing but stinging agony. Her chest was heavy, as if the hot lead had been lodged inside her breasts to way her down. Tears formed in her eyes, spilled down her cheeks and under her jaw. She realized, with sober terror, that she was going to die.

The armored figure loomed her, staring down with red eyes that glowed like some unfeeling machine.

"Please…" she sobbed. "I'm not ready to-"

Another short burst of automatic fire slammed into her chest. *Fwup fwup fwup.* Mara Vostok was vaguely aware of a warm wetness spreading against her crotch before she breathed her last, a short exhaled whine, and knew no more.


Nice, I like a good combat gore story.


More, great work!

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