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TREASURE HUNT

— by Ted R. Blasingame, with Steve Carter

Chapter 1
 

Somewhere in a dark corner on the edge of the known galaxy, hungry fire raged out of control on a small interstellar vehicle.  Out in space, a swarm of metallic gnats whirled about the spinning, careening ship as it flailed helplessly out of control, spiraling toward oblivion.  Over and over again, bursts of destructive energy spewed from the swarm, streaming out with terrifying ferocity.  The world had contracted to a single hallway, dark and choking, with only the light of the fast encroaching flames.  Another crackle of energy rent the air, a sentinel that the main power unit had been completely destroyed.  The foundering ship's corridors weakly illuminated in the dying red glow as the smaller, backup generator kicked in.

A slender woman with straight waist-length hair stumbled down the dark hall of the sleeping quarters, desperate to reach a panel at the far end of the passage.  She stumbled over the lifeless body of the captain's teenage son and choked back a sob; she could not afford to let her terror and remorse paralyze her movements.  With all her effort, she hauled herself upright and raced on as another burst erupted elsewhere in the small ship.  The echoes of those blasts seemed to careen off the inner walls like the tolling of a funeral bell.

The woman glanced briefly at a timepiece on her wrist.  There isn't much time, she thought to herself.  Where is he? She reached the far end of the corridor and thumbed a red flashing button set into the center of a smooth, convex wall.  The surface of the wall split open to reveal the interior of a small escape pod.  She clambered into the cramped space and stabbed at switches and buttons, desperately setting the sequence for release.

The woman whirled at the sound of running feet in the hall, but the approaching figure was her mate.  She was unaware she felt any relief; the blasts drew nearer every second.

"Did you get it?" she asked as her dark-haired husband neared the pod door.

"Yes," he said between winded gasps, holding up a translucent blue, crystalline icosahedron.  "It wasn't easy...  the place is crawling with Shroomers!"

She held out her hand to take the crystal from him and that moment sat suspended in time as a blast of energy passed through him, a spider web of blue electricity surging all across his body.  The woman froze in terror, unable to pull her gaze away as her mate’s angular face stretched taut in a silent scream.  His body shrank, impossibly thin now as the lightning reached his outstretched hand.  The crystal cracked from side to side and splintered with the sound of crushing glass.  She ducked away as it finally exploded in his hand, and was spared the grisly visage of more beams cutting through him.

The woman found her voice, shrieking as a shower of shards fell around her, with too much blood frothing against the inside of the craft.  Only a blind flailing brought her hand down on the pod's firing control.  The door shut quickly and she was slammed bodily against it as the tiny craft was shot away from its mother ship.

The woman barely had time to pull herself up before her pod smacked against a small asteroid fragment and spun crazily off into space.  The floor came up to strike her in the face, and the world blackened around her.  Behind, the last remnants of the cracking ship filled with flame, angry red veins standing out against its silver hull.  The ship split along its central axis as fire, beautiful and brocaded in the emptiness of space, billowed outward, fed by escaping oxygen and other gases.  In another moment, it all receded into dead, smoldering rubble as the last of the fuel burned out.  The swarm of angry mushroom-shaped ships still blasted away, slicing the shrapnel of the deep-space cruiser until each fragment stood no greater than a sliver.

NEXT CHAPTER

Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.