Crow’s nest duties were always the worst. It was supposed to be done by convicts, but the trip had been long and there were no convicts left. A quarter of them were back in their cells below babbling incoherently. The rest had disappeared.
The crow’s nest needed to be manned, however. So it was that Marius was sitting in the small wooden circle atop the mast. He had shown a little too much disrespect to his section lead. Normally this was punishable by a little extra duty and a forfeiture of pay. Given the need for lookouts, though, he was ordered up to the top of the mast instead.
He shivered as he stared out into the darkness. There was no real day or night out on the cosmic seas, but it was the twenty-third hour. The decks below were as silent as the cosmos surrounding Marius as the majority of the crew slept. The solar winds provided no warmth and only heightened the feelings of isolation.
Out in the distance, a sole balaeic drifted through space, its massive body undulating and writhing on unseen currents. The Jues Nebulae glittered beyond the bow, a red and green beacon that signaled the final leg of their journey. With a little skill and a little luck, the Viribus would be back at a friendly dock within a week.
From the shadows below Jues, a glint of light caught Marius’ eye. He fetched his looking glass and lifted it in the direction of the flash. The image of another ship jumped into his vision. The vessel was thin and sleek, bearing a single mast, and its bow was carved into a strange shape. While it was still too far to make out the design of the bow clearly, the shape of the ship was unmistakable.
“Pictusings! Pictusings below the Jues!”
In response to Marius’ cries, the bell on the deck below began to ring out its alarm. A flurry of motion erupted below him as the crew was woken. They rushed to their battle stations as the Pictusings ship approached.
It wasn’t long before the Pictusings were upon them and the battle was made. The clash of swords and the thud of clubs exploded around the two ships. Screams of the wounded and dying pierced the air. Even though the Viribus was a larger ship with a skilled and hardened crew, the Pictusings were known for their fierceness, dragging the fight on longer than it should have. Longer than was prudent.
Out from the depths of the cosmic seas, a shadow moved. It was drawn to the sounds of pain and scent of blood. There was no form to the shadow as passed by the battling ships, only an indescribable sound. The sound bore into Marius’ ears like a screw digging into wood, removing shavings of sense and sanity. His screams were echoed by those below until a fog passed over his mind, blurring out reality.
* * *
The Viribus drifted into the port of Helenesopia. Once secured, the dockmaster strode up the gangplank, notebook in hand, ready to record the declarations from the ship’s logistician.
“A little more trouble than normal on this run Heraclon,” the logistician reported. “We lost all our convicts about eighty percent of the way through. Mindeaters and the like seem to be growing in the Adriomos region. Had a little run-in with the Pictusings near Jues as well. I recommend you put a notice out on those two spots.”
Heraclon nodded absently as he made the notes. “Of course. We will also start the paperwork to refill your stock of convicts. Any thing else to declare?”
The logistician tapped his chin a moment in thought. “No, not that I can think of. Cargo is all accounted for and our paperwork is in order. All in all, I would say it was a fairly successful trip.”
If you liked this, let us know and share with your friends. Remember to follow for more stories and musings on storytelling. Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. We also have our quarterly newsletter you can sign up for with the link on the sidebar. Sign up for exclusive short stories and news about our projects. And remember, I mustache you to stay fantastical.