It happened so suddenly. One second, they were traveling along the FTL stream, heading back to Earth, and the next they were out of it and the emergency inertia dampeners were engaging.
“What just happened?” demanded Captain Cortaire.
“I don’t know,” replied Navigator Upsur. “Something kicked us out of the FTL stream.”
“Find out,” she told the young navigator. “In the meantime, we’ll need to send something to Earth. Make sure they’re aware of the situation.”
“Already on it ma’am,” interjected Communications Officer Yost. She was typing furiously at her terminal. “Should we also ask for assistance?”
“Yes,” Cortaire said. “We’re several months from Earth outside of the stream. It would be good to have some help if this FTL issue turns out to too big.”
And so, they sent a message off to Earth requesting aid. And they waited. And they waited. It was known that Earth wasn’t the most responsive planet out there. Most planets, you could expect a response within minutes when you used the quantum communications, but Earth, it could take hours. Still, the hours wore on with no response.
As they crawled their way toward Earth at sub-light speeds, the hours turned to days, and the days turned to weeks. They accepted that the FTL drive wasn’t being fixed and that no help was coming. All they could do was wait for the day they made it all the way to Earth. They had enough provisions to survive several months out there. They’d be fine.
“Captain, you gotta see this,” called Officer Yost. She had been monitoring the communications for the past few weeks more out of habit than anything else. They hadn’t received a single thing since they had been kicked out of the FTL stream.
“Is it a communication from earth?” Cortaire asked.
“I… Don’t know ma’am.”
Cortaire crossed the bridge to the communications panel. Like Yost, she had continued to come there because she had nothing better to do. The only thing on the console was the phrase ‘Hungry, in the dark’. There was no indication of who sent it or even when it was received.
“What is this?” she asked Yost. Was this her idea of a joke?
“I don’t know ma’am,” Yost replied. “It indicated we had a new message and when I opened it, it was just this and now I can’t even close it.”
Shit. Were the comms computers going down now too? First the FTL drive then the computers, they’d be lucky if the ship made it back to Earth in one piece. “We’ll have to get engineering to look at that, I guess.” At least that explained why Earth hadn’t got back to them yet.
“Yes ma’am. I’ll get them on it right away.” Yost left the bridge to go inform engineering. It would be a long couple of months if they couldn’t even communicate inside the ship.
Cortaire waited for Yost to come back. Truth be told, it felt a lot like the waiting around she did when Yost was on the bridge. Upsur sat at his terminal and did… something. Besides engineering, he was the only one around who had an actual, concrete job on this nightmare voyage.
The minutes crawled by with agonizing slowness as she waited for Yost to return with some kind of news. Shouldn’t she have been back by now? Engineering wasn’t that far. Not that it mattered. Who cared if it was fixed within the hour or next week? It wasn’t going to get them to Earth any faster.
As she waited, she heard a series of clicks. Above her. Below her. All around. And then. They were gone. And they took the lights with them. All the lights. Out.
There’s nothing quite so dark as a ship in deep space with every light out. Every. Single. Light. The terminals were out too, like mains power was gone. Even the emergency lights that ran off their own power source were out. There was nothing.
“You okay over there?” she called in Upsur’s direction. An unspecific growl was all she got in return. She heard the clicks again. Without the lights, they seemed to come from everywhere at once. They seemed closer than before, but she dismissed that as a trick of her mind in the absolute dark.
The unmistakable woosh of the doors at the far end followed. Yost. “What’s going on?” She called to the returned Communications Officer. Nothing.
“Officer Yost?” She asked, uncertainly into the dark.
“Dark,” came Yost’s voice from over near Upsur. It was muffled, like her mouth was full of something.
“It is,” said back suspiciously. She began feeling her way to where she last heard the voice. She needed to hear Yost’s voice again. “What did engineering say.”
Nothing. She could feel the air move around her. One of them was doing it, but she had no idea which. She thought she could hear heavy breathing nearby.
“Yost?” she called.
“Hungry,” the voice whispered in her ear seconds before she felt the teeth puncture her throat.