Penny Hadzhiev had grown sick and tired of the strobing red lights and roaring sirens. He’d been holding out hope that his eyes would get used to the flashing crimson bulbs, but of course he wouldn’t be that lucky. Nothing but the fact that he was still breathing was lucky about his state of affairs. The sirens were another thing altogether. There was no way any sane human being could get used to the angry wailing of those sirens. When Penny was younger, he’d lived in terror of his grade school’s fire alarm. Never in a million years had he thought he would chance upon a sound that could fill him with such abject terror the same way a fire alarm could… but the shrill, whooping voices of Gamayun Space Station’s mechanical terrors certainly did the trick.
How many days had it been? Penny couldn’t be sure. When the meteorite had gutted the ship like a tuna, the massive station’s power grid had gone dark. The only generators still functioning were the emergency backups. Since his food processor had been cut off, Penny had been subsisting off a gummy, green nutrient paste. It may have tasted like something a dog spat up, but it was nourishing. Frowning, he shot a glance at the shriveled, curled up empty tubes. The room was bathed in baleful red light and caught in choking darkness by intervals, but even still, Penny could see that his paste supply had ran dry. A part of him was almost thankful he didn’t have to choke down any more of the foul stuff.
His escape plan was simple… for the square-jawed star of an action movie maybe. “Just make your way through the service sector, duck through the maintenance tunnels, nab an EVA suit, spacewalk through what used to be engineering, sneak through research and development, take the elevator up to the captain’s deck, and you’re home free,” Penny muttered, pinching at the bridge of his nose. Doubtless this would be a cake walk for Ellen Ripleys and the Sarah Connors, but Penny was just tech support! His job with Svarog Incorporated, Gamayun Station’s benevolent corporate overlord, had mostly involved tinkering with civilian terminals and showing the station’s older citizens how to pay their grave pod fee’s through the company’s intranet. When a station citizen died, their remains were ejected into space, and those grotesque little corpse capsules didn’t come cheap.
Penny wasn’t sure how many people had died on the ship, but he was sure there wouldn’t be enough pods. To say that the meteorite ripping through the station was a catastrophe was an understatement. The structural integrity of the entire vessel had been compromised, and to make matters worse, something had arrived on the station with the meteor. Sometimes, when Penny was curled up in some especially cozy corner of his little residential cell, he could hear some terrifying, guttural, droning call. Ironically, it was the wailing station sirens that drowned out the mortifying cry. It was the only thing that kept him from smashing the alarm in his humble abode.
“No sense in stalling,” Penny said, taking a deep breath, “I mean… You either die out there, or you die of starvation… Nothing to lose.” He smiled tremulously as he gingerly pressed the button. With a sharp, mechanical hiss, the door to his domicile slid open. Penny stepped out into the clinical hall of the residential sector, armed with nothing but his bare hands and his little technical tools, better suited to terminal repair and backing up files. The way the hallway was washed in sanguine light, he almost missed the splatters of dripping blood. In between the grating shrieks of the alarm, a cool voice chimed in over the station’s loud speakers.
“Citizens of Gamayun Space Station! Currently, the station is under threat from an unknown, compelling force! Please take steps to ensure your personal safety! Remember, each and every one of you is a valued asset of Svarog Incorporated and allowing yourself to come to bodily harm is nothing short of vandalism!” the feminine voice declared cheerfully. Penny chewed his lip as he jogged through the destitute residential hallways. Why hadn’t the company sent in some sort of rescue team? They had the money for it, after all.
Penny was haunted by the voice of his almost delighted corporate entity all throughout his jaunt through the residential sector. He knew this part of the plan would be easy. After the initial panic had passed and the screams of terror had stopped, the sector had been silent. If there was anyone, or anything left on the ship, it was elsewhere. When the large bay doors to the service sector came into view, Penny breathed an audible sigh of relief.
He stopped short of opening the door however. A shifting blob in the corner of his eye made the technician freeze in his tracks. It was roughly the size of a house cat, sleek and dark. A security camera. Penny cocked an eyebrow. Shifting from side to side, he was surprised to see the camera shift, following his movement. “Are the cameras are working?” he murmured. Who could be watching? Shaking his head, Penny opened the bay doors to the service sector with the press of a button.
The service sector was a massive space. In terms of size, it was a small planet-side suburb. Overhead, the ceiling loomed above Penny, all opaque glass. Some structures of the service sector were nearly as tall as the ceiling too. They towered over the rest of the sector, angular industrial giants of neon radiance. Beneath them, the sector’s many colorful company stores and bars, covered in the hammer and anvil logo of the Svarog Corporation, were bathed in flickering light from these skyscraper-like structures. Penny shuffled a few steps forward into the ruined ‘streets’ of Gamayun’s center of commerce. Nausea hit him like the dense mass of a ton of bricks. Corpses were scattered throughout the neon-bathed lanes of the service sector, like a field of red blooming, foul smelling masses of flowers. Penny had never seen a cadaver in his entire life. A stone had sunk to the floor of his stomach, and his blood had turned to solid lead in his veins. Creeping dread grabbed hold of Penny like a cold, unforgiving vice, and it refused to release him.
A warbling whirring tone ripped him from his reverie. Turning on his heel, Penny’s eyes widened at what he saw. Suddenly, the mass of corpses made sense. Extending from an open cell in the ground was a dangerous, almost predatory looking turret. A gleeful voice chimed from the killing machine, “Threat detected! Please comply with Svarog Incorporated code of laws, section-04, clause-01 and submit yourself for summary termination! Stand still!” Penny broke into a mad dash.
A tremendous staccato of thunder-like booms echoed through the empty service sector as the turret opened fire. Penny scrambled, nearly tripping over the outstretched arm of one of his fellow citizens of Gamayun Station. Bullets tore up the steely floor of the station like a dog chewing at a rawhide bone. Penny threw himself forward behind the broad side of an abandoned transport vehicle. There was the sound of splitting metal; before the sector went silent save for the humming of spinning turret barrels. A fuzziness prickled at his face, down his arms to his fingertips. Penny hadn’t realized he’d been hyperventilating until then. Breathing hard, he rested a hand over his heart. It was beating a vicious drumline in his chest.
Penny looked left and right. On one side was a street that stretched on and on, flanked by flickering blue, red, and violet neon advertisements. On the other was a pathway that led right into a steely wall— one that led to service access. Penny bit the inside of his cheek, letting out a ragged sigh of relief. The service tunnels would get him out of the public space of the station, away from those defensive turrets. Better yet, he could follow the service tunnels all the way to the landing dock. There, he could grab an EVA suit for traveling through open space, and then—
Penny tensed. From down the road of the service sector came the sound of harsh, gurgling breath. It was punctuated by a low buzzing, as though whatever the source of the sound was, it was accompanied by a furious swarm of wasps. He could feel himself shaking. Slowly, he craned his head back, peering over his shoulder. One glance at the shambling figure was enough to push Penny into another mad sprint. The thing had been human once. He even recognized the orange jumpsuit of an engineer, but something was so terribly wrong about the neon lit silhouette. The head was craned back at an uncomfortable angle, and a long, needle-like proboscis sprouted from its throat. It reminded Penny vaguely of a mosquito.
As his boots thudded dully against the hard ground of the station, the figure let out a horrid, undulating cry. Penny could hear it coming for him. He could see the hatch to the service entrance coming closer and closer as the warbling growls of the once—human thing behind him did as well. A choked, whimpering noise escaped Penny as he stopped at the hatch. He ripped the opening latch back with a grunt of effort. Prying the hatch open, Penny quickly ducked inside and slammed it shut.
There was a heavy crash against the door, just as it closed. Penny could hear his pursuer on the other side. Like a petulant child, it let out a baleful shriek. Penny scrambled away from the hatch on his hands and rear, before clambering to his feet and sprinting forward.
The tunnels were terribly cluttered. Rough metal pipes twisted along the walls and through the pathways like rotund serpents. Penny felt like a scared animal trapped in a cage. He couldn’t run for long in the confined, meager space. Arms held against his sides, he furrowed his brow. Looking ahead, the tunnel was as narrow as the head of a needle.
Penny could taste bile in the back of his throat. His legs burned as though they’d caught fire. With every step, he winced. He couldn’t afford to stop for a short rest. That thing could get into the tunnels with him… and if it did, Penny knew he was as good as dead. Even if it didn’t force its way into the tunnels, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to get back up again if he sat down. The lead was gone from his veins, and his heart was working overtime to bring blood to the rest of his body.
The landing dock was easy to find within the service tunnels. Spread throughout the narrow confinement of the station’s arteries were dimly glowing maps of the station, just in case an engineer got lost. It happened more often than one would think. Penny couldn’t even count on his fingers how many times some desiccated engineer was pulled out of some obscure nook or cranny of the tunnels. He had always avoided those rescue endeavors like the plague. Penny brought the back of his hand up to his forehead. When had he started sweating?
He stopped at the hatch to the landing dock. Leaning in close, Penny pressed an ear to the ice-cold metal of it. If there was anything on the other side of the hatch, the sound was drowned out by the familiar wail of the station alarms. Penny pulled the latch to the hatch and pushed it open.
When he opened his eyes, Penny was greeted with the sight of the crowded landing dock. Several small supply ships were arranged in neat rows throughout the massive space. Blood covered the ground in large, still puddles. He could see a toppled cart too, its cargo spilled out onto the ground. There were scatterings of bodies thereabout, although these weren’t riddled with bullet wounds like those filling the service sector.
The myriad corpses of pilots and ship technicians were nothing more than pulpy masses, twisted and pulled into grotesque shapes. This time, the wave of nausea did more than just stagger him in the tide, it dragged him beneath its shifting waves. Penny retched, hunching over as he lost whatever nutrient paste had been left inside his churning belly. Face twisted in disgust, he lifted a hand up to shield the bodies from his vision. The EVA suits would be in the supply closet of the dock’s offices.
Stepping inside the room full of large, blocky lockers, Penny spotted the suits immediately. No way to miss them. EVA suits were puffy, hazard yellow jumpsuits with an opaque helmet. A harness was fitted around the torso of the suit to support a variety of modular attachments, everything from tool kits to medical wares. Penny needed only an oxygen tank to hook up to the suit.
Penny spent the next ten minutes squirming his way into the EVA suit and listening for any sounds beyond the drone of the alarms. The scuff of boots on the ground made him spin toward the door. Whining servos. Heavy footsteps. Penny slipped on the helmet of the EVA suit. There was a low hiss as it sealed into place. He stepped quietly toward the door of the supply office. It certainly didn’t sound like one of those things. Bringing a hand up, Penny hit the switch to open the door.
The source of the servos and footsteps became immediately clear. An industrial exoskeleton was standing upright, a bloody, crater-filled corpse trapped within it. Penny took a quick step back. A trauma harness. He could remember reading a report about these things— After so many engineering injuries and fatalities, Svarog Incorporated had finally decided to invest in a way to keep their workforce alive… or at least know whose family to bill in the case of a death. The harness activated when its wearer lost consciousness. When it became active, the harness could walk the worker to safety or the nearest Svarog supervisor. Gingerly, Penny stepped forward. The whirring harness quickly turned to face him.
“Harness-93 reporting. Svarog Incorporated employee ID number six-five-seven-seven-eight-two has died. Cause of death: evisceration. Cremation and jettison required immediately. Please contact the nearest living Svarog supervisor,” it boomed in a low, synthetic tone. Awkwardly, Penny circled past it. The trauma harness continued to repeat its business-like mantra as he jogged toward the next set of bay doors.
These doors had been sealed shut with massive blast doors. Gamayun Station’s blast doors were dangerous in their own right. Unlike the station’s typical bay doors, there was no safety to stop them from closing on employees… which had led to some rather grisly fatalities. Penny swallowed hard as he scanned his technician’s ID. With a pneumatic hiss, the blast door slid open.
A shout of shock escaped Penny as he was sucked forward into open space. Looking around wide-eyed, it took a moment for him to realize that he’d been pulled outside of the station. This was where the meteorite had split the station open like a raw egg. It was surreal to see the hive-like cross-section of his home. Penny looked across the vast expanse to the other side of the donut-shaped station. He could see the set of sealed blast doors that led to the research section. So close…
Penny kicked his legs a moment, before feeling rather foolish. He was in a vacuum— no gravity. “Idiot…” Penny grunted softly; before lifting his arm. Equipped for work in the emptiness of space, the EVA suits had small jets on their extremities. Penny tapped a button on the plastic bracer of the suit. A faint puff of air shot from the jets. That was enough to set him on a path hurtling toward the blast doors.
It was the first quiet moment Penny had in what felt like an eternity. The limitless black vault of space tolerated no sound in its domain. Penny was relieved when he finally bumped against the blast doors to the research labs. He had to move quickly to grab hold of the door’s latch before he floated away. Carefully, the technician brought his ID card up and scanned his way in. The blast doors opened like the maw of a metal beast and Penny pulled himself inside.
The doors slid shut behind him. Penny twisted the helmet and pried it off his head. Gamayun’s research labs were its greatest asset. Here was where the real work was done… The work that kept the station funded. Glass devices and unmoving machinery filled the bare white space of the research labs. In a similar fashion to the residential sector, the research labs had an almost honeycomb-like lay out. Different cells within the hive served different purposes. Penny spotted one room full of heavy machinery and glowing fuel canisters in one cell, and in another, a room full of stored colorful liquids.
Penny didn’t have the time to go sight-seeing. The master elevator to the captain’s deck was straight ahead. A part of him couldn’t believe he had made it so far… But there was no time to dwell on all the ways he should have died now. His wan smile faded at the sound of a monstrous crashing. Penny didn’t stop to see what it was, he just started running. A booming cry shook research labs. His eyes widened to the sounds of saucers at the familiar sound, an animalistic, shuddering shriek that shook Penny to his very core. As he dashed forward, Penny looked back over his shoulder.
The entity was utterly alien in appearance and nature. Hunched down on four legs, the whipping, thrashing aberration was all sleek red scales and long hooked appendages. A proboscis extended like a spire in the middle of a round maw full of rows of gyrating, razor-like teeth. The droning buzz was coming from its back. Penny could see horrid, winged larvae crawling forth from craters in the beasts back. Their orange-pulp bodies were covered in hooked barbs and squirming legs.
Penny skidded on his heels as he arrived at the sleek elevator. Rushing inside, he tripped over his own feet and for a moment, the world dimmed as his head smashed into the wall of the elevator. Dazed and confused, Penny looked at the slim control panel of the elevator from the ground. As the chittering cries of the aberrant hive thing’s writhing young grew louder, Penny stretched an arm out and slammed a fist into one of two buttons. One of the skittering creatures thrashed into view, clawing its way toward Penny on barbed legs. Penny let out a sharp cry of terror— just as the doors of the elevator slid shut. The thing let out a sharp shriek as the doors tore it in half. Vile black blood pumped from the twitching upper body of the thing as the elevator ascended.
Listening to the smooth hum of the rising elevator, Penny felt a strange tightness in his chest. Above him was the captain’s deck… and the captain’s own escape pod. Assuming it was still there. Until that moment, it hadn’t occurred to him there was a chance the pod wasn’t there. It had to be. All of this had to be for something.
The elevator cabin shook somewhat as it finally came to its destination. In truth, to call it the captain’s ‘deck’ was inaccurate. Rather, the elevator led out into a waiting room of a kind, and beyond that, a long hallway leading to the office of the captain himself. Penny ran out from the elevator as a resonant thumping grew closer. He was just entering the long hall when he heard the vicious wrenching of metal. The aberrant beast had crawled up the elevator shaft!
Floor to ceiling aquariums made up the walls of the hallway. Faint blue light glowed from within as little fish swam about. Penny doubled his pace as the alien monster screamed a furious cry behind him. Glass shattered and water flooded the hallway as the droning beast charged forward. Penny Hadzhiev could feel a sharp pain in his chest and an acidic ache all throughout his body. The hefty boots of the EVA suit splashed in the rapidly rising water as the hive creature surged forward, unyielding. The captain’s office was a dead end. This was it. Penny felt like crying. He had done everything to a tee. This wasn’t fair.
Then he saw the door to the captain’s office. More specifically, the emergency latch beside it. Blast doors. If the blast doors could crush a person like a paper doll… Penny stumbled into the smart, untouched office of the station’s captain. Facing the beast, it let out a trumpeting cry. Penny watched, heart beating faster and faster as the horrific thing grew larger and larger in his vision. If he mistimed this, he was dead. Plain and simple.
The thing just crossed the threshold of the door. Penny felt the sharp proboscis graze his chest before he wrenched the latch down. With a sharp hiss, the blast doors came down… Smashing the body of the beast like it was no more than a horsefly. Penny fell onto his back as the beast shrieked in agony. Black fluid spewed from the open cavity where the blast door had cloven it in half. It was still moving, clawing its way closer and closer to Penny as the young man scrambled backwards. Shuddering masses of the creature’s fleshy young tore their way out from the crushed husk in a panic. They spilled out onto the floor in dense pools. Penny watched incredulously as the larvae curled up like slips of burning parchment and went still. He felt his back press against cold glass before the great monster finally went slack like its foul children. It was over
Penny couldn’t tell if he was laughing or crying. Tears were running down his cheeks in thick, wet drops that splattered down onto the yellow covering of the EVA suit. Rising to his feet, Penny turned to the left wall. Sure enough, the escape pod was still present. He rushed toward it, but a soft chime made him turn around. The captain’s terminal was still operational… and it had a message. Frowning, Penny took a step closer toward it.
The message was several days old now; the captain had never had the opportunity to listen to it. It was from corporate too— heavily encrypted. Penny hesitated a moment. Listening to this could cost him his job. It broke so many policies in Svarog Incorporated’s code of laws! He looked back to the twitching red body of the dead creature. Did he really want to be a part of the Svarog family anymore anyways? Penny hit play.
A voice crackled to life from the terminal, the same female voice that blared over the station’s speakers in little pre-recorded messages for the employees. “Why, hello there, captain!” the voice hummed happily, “This is Director of Research Charlotte Marrow! I’m very pleased to announce that Gamayun Station has been chosen as the site of a very special little experiment. Recently, our hard-working scientists in our bio-weapons department have whipped up something unique! You have the great honor of being a very important part of this new venture into biological live weaponry! Rest assured, any lives lost in the process of this testing won’t cut into our fourth quarter profits even a smidge. Thank you so much for your sacrifice, captain. You will receive a very honorable mention in the patent for this very unique creature. We wish you the best, captain.”
Penny was petrified. Moving like a man possessed, he stripped himself of the EVA suit and let it drop to the floor. He picked through his technician’s tools and brought up a data chip. It had more than enough storage to download an audio file. Penny looked to the escape pod as he slipped the chip into the terminal. Backing up the file took no more than a minute. Slipping the chip from the terminal, Penny looked at the little piece of technology like it was a million dollars.
He felt like he was in a trance as he made his way to the escape pod. The slender doors slid shut behind him. Penny slumped into the seat of the pod, fastening a safety harness over his chest. As soon as the buckles snapped into place, there was a hum throughout the pod. “Greetings, captain,” a synthetic voice purred, “Svarog Incorporated thanks you for your loyal service!” A large, flat map of the star sector appeared before him.
“Anywhere but here,” he mumbled, waving a hand through the projection of light. It seemed that was a satisfactory answer for the pod. The pod shook madly as it was jettisoned from the side of the station, rocketing off into space. He looked down at the data chip in his hands as the station slowly shrank behind him.
Thomas Adams is a student at Northern Arizona University double majoring in both English and Anthropology with emphases in creative writing and archaeology respectively. He absolutely loves the horror and sci-fi genres, and his hobbies include writing, collecting movies, and tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons. "Originally, I wrote Escape from Gamayun Station for a creative writing workshop in the Fall of 2019. I wanted to write a story that took the claustrophobic horror of genre staples like Alien or Pandorum and bring a bit more pulp to the piece, with a totally underequipped protagonist. I feel like sci-fi horror is a criminally unexplored subgenre, especially in the context of a more satirical, hyperbolic setting. I wanted to write a story that was fun; a story that would make for a great late-night read with a little bite to it."