reading time: 9 minutes

Chapter 2

An almost inaudible "no" escaped her lips.

Dr. Fell made a deep guttural sound while turning around and grabbing his knees. Wilms had grabbed his forehead, covering his eyes and seemed to be in deep thought. Abel and Kate simply stared.

Abel brushed passed her, raising her eyes to follow where he was going she saw the target he was heading for. An angle grinder used for shaping metal was running, bouncing energetically around on the floor, the area around it looking like an art project plastered with high speed blood and body fragments.

Abel dodged right of it and slammed his palm on the emergency wireless power shutoff on the wall. The angle grinder went dead. Maybe the emergency power cut had silenced the incessant machines that gave this station its mechanical background noise, or maybe she was in shock, but an utter, deafening silence now filled the room. The corpses somehow seeming more menacing.

Abel looked back to see only Kate still in the bulkhead portal. Turning his attention back to the macabre scene he inched carefully toward the five bodies as if they might lunge for him at any moment. Then steeling himself, he took a long look at the closest of the bodies.

Its head had been ground to a stump. Nothing identifiable remained. His gaze traveled down the line, the next had not fared much better, part of its head, a male, and also his right arm had been ground into pink particulate.

Looking down at the far left body he noticed none of the intense mutilation. In fact, the worst that body had endured looked self inflicted: where he was bound around the wrists and legs the bindings had cut down to the bone. The fatal wound for that body looked to be the binding around its own throat, cut through until he bled to death, and very quickly by all of the blood around.

The body directly next to it was a woman. Her head slumped toward her right, a sort of intimacy between the two seemingly implied. Or maybe Abel was just imagining it. Her arms terminated in mutilated hands, though not entirely annihilated as the first few bodies had been.

Abel stepped back.

"She loved him." Kate's voice came soft and close behind Abel's shoulder. "Whoever was torturing them, he wanted something, information maybe, from this one." She pointed at the left most body.

"He went down the line one by one, but when he got to her, this one couldn't let it happen. He struggled so hard against his bindings he killed himself... and my guess is she was left to bleed to death." Kate's tone had turned clinical and detached Abel thought.

With tremendous force of will, Abel forced the sickness in his throat down and began to think.

"Okay, who did this? And why?" he said matter of factly.

"Well, that must be Anna Brinkman, she was the only woman on this station." Kate added

"That is John Voigt... on the left." Came Wilms voice from the doorway behind.

"That could be Joshua Housington" Kate pointed at one of the severely mutilated bodies to the right. "He was kind of famous for wearing flip flops."

"And this one just looks like a station tech." Abel pointed.

"So... Paulson did this. My guy." Abel said resignedly.

"That's a bit of leap." Kate shot back.

Abel looked at her sideways, then back into the middle distance.

"Why though? They've been here for decades... almost a century, and then all of a sudden he pops a screw loose and tortures his colleagues to death? For what? What did he want from Voigt?" He trailed off.

The silence returned.

Kate opened her mouth to speak and stopped for a second, thinking hard. "So he murders his friends, then... does he already know about our station? Or did he discover it? And if so, how?"

"Well he was their Computer Guy" Abel added air quotes to the last. "It only took me a couple weeks to break their security and begin exploring... But as far as I can tell, the station's systems are entirely separate. He wouldn't have known what was on the other side of that connector until he got there."

"So he gets there, and blows open our air lock, and kills everyone in there including himself?" Kate posed.

"Maybe he didn't know it was an air lock? They do look a lot different than they did in his day... Back then they looked like huge bulk heads with controls on the outside." Wilms voice came again from behind, but with more composure this time, and lacking in the base level of condescension it usually carried.

"Reasonable enough, at least something like it probably happened, BUT WHY?" Abel added extra emphasis.

Kate shook her head, feeling overwhelmed for the first time since the alarms had ripped her from sleep.

After what seemed a long while of everyone motionlessly pondering, Kate looked up across the room. "Hey, what if this isn't the only other station?" She started around the corpses toward the far wall. There was a hulking airlock on one wall.

She looked to the right where the mysterious corridor had appeared on their station. Her attention was drawn to one section of the wall, innocuous looking enough, unless you were looking for something out of place. She ran her hands along it and felt the seem where it joined to the next section of wall. It wasn't flush.

"This is another connector!" she yelled over her shoulder. "But I think they went to more effort to conceal this one." She gripped a bar extending from the wall panel and pulled on it. "It's actually sealed, this bar is welding it shut."

She looked around energetically for some way to break the bar, and then her eyes fell on the angle grinder. Abel sensing where this was going shook his head "No, no way, no no no."

She walked over and hefted the blood strewn device and shook it to free some residual flesh from its working end. Then walking briskly back to the wall panel she shouted in a stern voice "Turn the power back on!"

Abel, with vicious knots in his stomach and throat, blinked a tear away, then turned back to the wall and depressed the emergency reset. The angle grinder sprang to life and Kate immediately pressed it into the bar.

The noise of grinding metal, given a sinister connotation in this particular room, was too much for Wilms, he ducked back through the portal and covered his ears. Abel simply held his head in his hands, but Kate pressed it in harder, grimacing as much from the effort as the anger she felt growing in her.

Then all at once the bar cut through and broke, slamming to the floor and bouncing off against the adjoining wall. Kate disengaged the grinder and flung it to the floor, instantly her hands were on the seam of the wall panel again, prying with all her strength.

"HELP ME!" She shouted through gritted teeth.

Abel ran to her side and crimped his fingers on the barely protruding seam, and together they pulled centimeter by centimeter, slowly it began to move, until it came free at once and flung open, throwing them to the floor.

They sat where they fell, before them lay a darkened square tunnel identical to the one they had come through to this station.

Rising to their feet, Kate fished around in her pockets for the pen light Fell had given her. Grasping it finally, she pulled it from her pocket and thumbed it on, shining it on the floor of the newly revealed tunnel.

"It's exactly the same," she said in a raised voice.

"There's another station." Abel said much quieter.

Kate started down the tunnel at a brisk pace, Abel still unsure what to do, called after her "Hey wait!" Whether or not she heard him he realized it was a lost cause. He turned back to the doorway Fell and Wilms were behind and yelled "Hey there is another connector, another station maybe, we're going to check it out."

Wilms' head poked out from one side of the bulkhead, but he made no motions to enter the room, he just stared.

Abel turned and followed after Kate who could only be discerned by the bobbing light in the pitch black connector.

When he caught up to her at the far end she was pondering a panel on the wall next to an obvious door.

She turned aside and barked orders at Abel "Get this open."

"Hey, let's just calm down for a moment." Abel said in a pleading voice as he slowly took the mystery device from his pocket. The rage that filled her eyes at being told to calm down caused him to slowly put his hands in the air in a gesture of "don't hurt me" he didn't even realize he was doing.

She snatched the device from his raised hand and turned back to the door, turning it over in her hands trying to figure out how to make it work.

"Listen, we're in this together, I need you to stay with me here. I can't do this on my own." Abel pleaded.

She stopped inspecting the device and hung her head. "They're all dead, why in the fuck is this happening? Why are they even here? Why were we lied to. WHAT THE FUCK." she broke off and her body shook with sobs, and she gave into it.

Abel inched forward and lightly grasped her hand with the device in it, letting his touch linger for a moment before gently taking the device back.

"I left my daughter for this." She said through light sobs "and Anderson. And now for what, to be mutilated in some far flung part of the Galaxy by a `psycho scientist that shouldn't even be alive?"

It hung in the air and no one talked. Her sobs subsided and she looked up at Abel and mouthed "thank you". Then she wiped her cheek with the back of her sleeve and cleared her throat. "Well, how does this thing work?"

Abel smirked slightly and waved it over the door panel which turned green immediately, and the door clunked open.

"Oh, so really hard to use, thank God I had you here to show me," Kate said through some sad laughter, still sniffling away the remnants of her tears.

Abel smiled and looked at the device "It's a simpler version of the General AI system I'm developing. It uses the wireless com link on the panels and tries to learn how to hack them based on everything I've taught it already."

His eyes still on the device.

"It's about as smart as a dog for everything that isn't hacking... I call him Lucky," he added with some pride in his voice and a knowing grin.

Kate shook her head with a smile on her face. "A dog that just loves hacking huh?"

"Yeah." Abel said with a laugh.

"Hey," Wilms voice came from the entrance to the tunnel. They turned to look, Wilms had Fell's head covered in a lab coat and he was ushering him into the tunnel.

"Dr. Fell was having trouble with the scene in that room." Wilms said

"Yeah." Kate said back

"Well, should we see what we have here?" Abel said looking around at them all.

Kate looked him in the eyes, "Let's do it."

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