Ashild tugs at her black security uniform, where the name Epsilon Security Co. lies on the left side of her shirt. She stares blankly out the ship window with green almond eyes.
She can see the red sands outside while engineers get the ship ready for lift off.
She reaches for her plasma rifle and examines the gun, exposing the tattoo that lies on the smooth olive skin of her forearm: a blue globe with a white wolf paw in the middle and the letters "IMC" underneath.
After examining the weapon, Ashild abruptly turns around and continues her patrol. Her straight brown hair, in a high ponytail, whips side to side.
"Time to get back to work," she whispers to herself as her black combat boots thump against the white glossy floor. "There's no time for slacking off."
Ashild pulls out her radio and speaks into it. "All clear on my end." "Sector 3, all clear," Kyle adds. The ship begins to vibrate, and the walls let out a deep hum. Ashild walks over to Sector 3.
"Hey bestie!" Kyle exclaims as he sees Ashild. "What's up, jerk!" Ashild replies with a smirk on her face. "You ready for takeoff? We are going to Earth now."
"I'm never ready," Kyle says as he strokes his short black hair. "You know I get bad motion sickness." Ashild giggles. "But I'm excited to see Earth again.I haven't been there since I was little."
"You'll be fine." The ship abruptly lifts off the ground and the initial force pushes them off balance. Ashild leans against the wall while Kyle frantically grasps the wall for support.
Out the window they see the red sands of Mars and its murky clouds. Then the dark abyss that is space. The vibrations stop and the ship begins to glide smoothly.
"Finally, I'm away from Mars!" Ashild exclaims. "Why do you hate Mars so much?" Kyle asks.
"My father died in a nuclear plant explosion there. Then I spent 8 years there serving in the International Marine Corps."
"I'm sorry," Kyle says. "What division were you?" Kyle starts to smile, hoping to hear some of her military stories. Ashild points out the tattoo on her forearm.
"The paw means I was in the Wolf Sector of the Infantry division." "That's the elite sector of the infantry, right?"
"Yes." She lowers her arm and stares at the ground. Kyle's smile fades upon realizing what it means. "You were one of the first sent in at the beginning of the Mars war. The insurrection."
"My whole squad was lost during the fourth year. I took a risk, and in the blink of an eye, they were gone. My brothers and sisters. Only I was left behind to deal with these nightmares...
"Sometimes, I feel like I can see their ghosts." "Ashild, you can't blame yourself." Kyle gently rests his hand on her shoulder. He moves closer, his tall body casting a shadow over her. She looks up at him.
"And do you know what the worst part is? I can remember all but one of my squad members. I can't recall his name at all, and every time I search my memories for his face, it's blurred out." Her eyes begin to water as she turns away.
"I heard that sometimes, when you experience a traumatic event, your brain blocks out certain details to protect you until you're ready to cope with it. Maybe he was especially important to you and losing him is currently too much to handle." Kyle tries to hug her. "I also heard that hallucinations could happen too."
"Eek!" Ashild jumps away from Kyle when a black scorpion crawls by her feet. "I don't get why you're so afraid of them. A big bad girl like you is freaking out over such a small creature." Kyle crunches the unwary scorpion under his boot.
"I bet if they were giant, crushing cities like Godzilla, you would understand then," Ashild responds. Her chest heaves up and down rapidly as she tries to catch her breath. "You would be on your own because I'll be too busy running away."
"Well it's a good thing that Mars is now behind us. The planet's sand dunes are extremely infested with scorpions because of humans."
A call arrives on their radios. "Security teams Alpha and Gamma report to the lounge," says the voice on the radio. "The ship is now safe for passengers to walk around."
"Well that's our call, Gamma" Ashild says motioning for Kyle to lead the way. "Actually, I was given orders to patrol, so I'll be staying here."
"That's weird." Ashild pauses. "Whatever, have fun. All I know is that after this gig, I should be able to afford a house on Citadel 8 for my mom and I."
"The one in the Acrux district?" Kyle asks. "Yeah, how did you know? I don't recall ever telling anyone." A huge grin appears on Kyle's face.
"I know things." "Creep," Ashild replies. "Well, see you later." Kyle presses two fingers to his lips, kissing it and then holds it out in Ashild's direction.
Kyle never liked saying goodbye so he'd perform this peace-sign farewell, something that made him feel like he was back on Earth. Ashild smiles, as she turns and walks away.
Ashild later reaches the lounge where the passengers of the Vega cruise ship are mingling. She moves through the crowd, effortlessly conversing with them.
"You're quite the social butterfly aren't ya," says Randy, the security chief as he appears out of nowhere.
"I like people," Ashild says. "There's always something to learn from their stories. Besides, as security, talking to the people helps them feel safer."
"You're right. It's nice to have a people-person my team. However, I reckon that you get back to patrollin' soon." "No problem. You know I'm a workaholic anyways."
"But first, when you're done here, I want-cha to accompany me in the control center. I think we oughta' check up on the system-diagnostics team."
"Yes, sir!" Ashild exclaims sarcastically. "I'm actually done now so let's go." They reach the control center. It's a mess. The Diagnostics team is scrambling around the dark room of computers in a panic.
Among the many transparent computer screens, the middle one is blinking a triangular red warning symbol, while a flashing bulb on the wall, radiates red light throughout the dark room.
The team is rushing to locate the issue. One team member, Nick, finally finds something on the monitor. At the same time, he spots Ashild and Randy.
"Oh! You've come just in time!" says Nick, eyes wide with worry. "What in Sam Hill is goin' on?" Randy asks.
"There is a problem with the oxygen lines in the medical sector. The system is detecting life in that area, but the sensors there are not working efficiently either."
"Could be a vandal," says Randy. "There are those who try to hitch a ride or it could be pranksters who mess with ships for giggles." Suddenly, there was a commotion coming from the lounge.
"I'll send someone to check out the med-bay." He nods to Nick. Randy and Ashild rush to the lounge to find it in darkness. The only light is coming from the red flashing lights. The people begin to panic.
"Everyone, stay calm," Ashild calls out. "We are working on the issue now. Stay where you are. There is nothing to worry about." Randy in the meantime uses his radio to call two guards.
"Sam and Jack," he says. "I need y'all to check out the med-bay." They reply to let him know that they are on their way. "Ashild, stay here to keep everyone calm."
Ten minutes pass and there is no response from Sam and Jack. Ashild gets nervous. During her whole career as a security guard, nothing ever went wrong.
Suddenly, the floor shakes, startling everyone. An alarm begins to echo throughout the ship.
Ashild goes to the edge of the room, where the staircase connects the lounge to the rest of the ship's passageways. Out of nowhere there are screams.
She looks to the left corridor, which is still brightly lit, and spots Sam frantically running towards the lounge covered in blood.
"It got Jack!" she shouts. "It got him and now it's coming for us!" "What's coming?!" Ashild asks.
"I don't know! I couldn't see it in the dark. It's some kind of monster." Sam reaches the lounge. She falls to her knees and sobs into her bloodied hands. Randy tries to comfort her. "Our plasma guns did nothing to it," she says with a trembling voice.
The ground rumbles once again, this time shaking the whole room and everyone in it. To be continued...