Unreal

Chapter 1 – The Vortex Rikers

Malik was asleep as normal. Asleep in the confinements of his cell aboard the prison vessel Vortex Rikers. It wasn't the best way he hoped to endure in his long, sorrowful existence, but at least he was in space. However, he always wanted to see the stars, but when locked in a cramped cell on a high security prison transport, he never got to see them. In his cell, he was dreaming of earth. Blue skies, white clouds, bright sunshine on a good, Turkish day. But then emerged the bitter reality of things. The day of his capture. The metallic monolith of the Vortex Rikers docked with the station way above the atmosphere in orbit.

And next there were rumbles and violent vibrations. He must have been dreaming of earthquakes again. But he was staring into blackness now, his dreams no longer existent in his world. Next came the sounds of delighted screams, mingled with the shouts of the security guards. This could only mean one thing. He was back to reality again. He could even smell the rusting of metal and stale blood, and hear the humming of the plasma gates at the door to his cell. Within the instant, there was a loud crash and he was thrown violently from his bed to the cold metal floor.

The ship was trembling and the air was filled with the shouts and screams of the prisoners in the cells. Malik gathered his senses, suddenly remembering that he was back aboard the Vortex Rikers and not in his dream world of earth and beyond. This was the worst ship on this edge of the galaxy, he thought to himself and the furthest thing in the universe from the freedom of his dreams. But it didn't take a fool to realise something wasn't quite right. The emergency lighting was flashing ahead, and he could smell the burning essence of sulphur which stung his eyes. He scrambled to his feet, grabbing onto the metal bed frame as the floor shook violently. Looking through the plasma gate of his cell, he saw the guards running up and down the walkway.

"Hey, what the hell is going on?" shouted Kargoth.

Her British voice was always the strongest and most frequently heard during the prison riots on the Vortex Rikers. Her voice was not lost among the shouts of the other prisoners and the wailing of the ship's alert siren. However, the guards rampaging down the walkway didn't even glance at her.

"Will you listen to me?" Kargoth shouted.

"Don't waste your breath," Riker's Canadian accent replied. "The ignorant bastards will just ignore you."

"They will do when I break someone's neck!"

Malik nodded in agreement, looking aimlessly around the perimeter of the gate closing him into the cell. He knew from experience that trying to break through the plasma gate would only result in frustration and a nasty headache. However, if the Vortex Rikers was going down, he wasn't going to die like a caged rat in this desolate cell. He had to get to the emergency shuttle. The head guard walked passed, and glared viciously at Kargoth, who was still shouting out.

"What do you want, Ash?" she sneered.

"You need to watch your tongue," Ash replied.

"Hey Ash?" Malik called to him. "What the hell's going on?"

Ash turned to him, sneering slightly. "What do you think's going on, genius?" he replied, sarcastically. "We're going down, can't you feel it? Now shut your gob and strap yourself in."

"Are you insane? Turn off the gates! Let us get to the shuttle!"

Ash smirked and walked off, taking his ever-present log book with him. Malik watched him leave with amazement, feeling his anger come back. The fury seemed to rise so rapidly and so dangerously that he felt it was enough to burst right through the plasma gate and tear his head off.

"Ash!" he shouted after him.

"Ash, open the bloody gates!" Kargoth exclaimed. "Don't leave us in here!"

"Wait a minute! Open the bleeding gates you son of a…"

But a tremendous jolt rocked the ship and sent Malik hurtling across the cell into the rear wall. He felt the sickening introduction of bone to iron and then he blacked out into nothingness, and felt no more

Later, perhaps hours or even days, Malik woke up. His body felt battered and dehydrated, but somehow, he survived the crash. His head was spinning, and he felt the dull pulse of pain in his left temple. He'd take ages to recover from this one. Shaking off the nausea, he looked up to review the situation. The plasma gate was disabled, and beyond the doorway of the cell, freedom beckoned.

"Where are we?" he moaned. "Is anyone here?"

"Yeah, we hear you Malik," it was Kargoth who replied.

So someone else did survive! He hoped to Hell that it wasn't Ash as well. He clambered to his feet, feeling dizziness sweep him momentarily, but it passed on. He emerged from his cell, the emergency lights still flashing, several sparks issuing from the computer screen. He saw that Kargoth was walking along the walkway, and he looked into Riker's cell, happy enough that he was sat on the bed, recovering.

"You ok?" he asked.

"Never felt better," Riker shook his head. "Next silly question."

"Ok, where the hell are we?"

"On a planet," Kargoth replied, bluntly.

"Oh, I would never have guessed that one."

"Look, this is an uncharted system, we know nothing about it."

"So what do we do?" Riker asked. "Stay here?"

"What, and wait for earth to come to our rescue and put us back inside some god forsaken cell? Fuck you Riker, freedom is too important to me," Kargoth replied. "I say we leave the ship and explore our open world."

"We don't even know what's out there."

"There's only one way to find out," Malik shrugged.

"See!" Kargoth pointed a finger at Malik. "He agrees with me!"

"Even if we do leave," Riker began. "We have no weapons."

"But the guards do."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning, if we're the only survivors, we can nick 'em."

"Sounds like a good idea to me," Malik shrugged again.

"Sounds like suicide to me," Riker shook his head.

"Have it your way," Kargoth replied. "You coming out Malik?"

"Look, we can leave no one alone," Malik replied pointedly. "Either we all go or we all stay, I'm not leaving anyone by themselves, be it out there on the planet's surface or in here aboard the Vortex Rikers."

"Alright then, I'll go by myself."

"You're insane," Riker shook his head.

"That follows being on this ship."

Kargoth turned and walked off, heading towards the lift. Malik watched her head towards it, Riker not moving off the bed in his cell. Kargoth called down the lift, and it slammed down to the deck at her feet, but she did not get on it.

"Are you going or not?" Riker yawned.

Kargoth didn't respond, and Malik felt a satisfied smirk creep to his face. Kargoth wouldn't go alone; she didn't dare, and she wasn't that stupid. She wouldn't want to be left alone on this world not knowing where the hell she was. She clenched her fists and then spun round to look at the two men.

"Not without company," she sighed.

Riker laughed, Malik's smirk breaking into a smile.

"I knew you wouldn't," he shook his head.

"Anyone want to leave this junkyard behind for good?" Kargoth asked.

"I'm through with that," Riker grinned.

He got to his feet, feeling fully recovered since coming round from the crash. He joined Malik out on the walkway, and they met Kargoth by the lift and stepped onto it, heading up to the deck above. Maybe the Vortex Rikers wasn't that far in the universe from the freedom of Malik's dreams after all. As the lift ascended and locked into the second deck, Kargoth led them off and they came across a body.

"Well, look who it is," she sneered.

"Ash?" Malik sounded hopeful.

"Got it in one."

Malik bent down beside the body of Ash and rummaged about for a weapon, but there was none. He cursed under his breath, but he soon found something which could have been of equal value. He picked it up, brushed off some dust particles and held it up into the flashing lights.

"Well, what do you know," he proclaimed. "A universal translator!"

"That could come in handy when we reach the surface," Kargoth replied.

"Good of him to leave it lying around," Riker nodded.

Malik glanced at him. "He's dead."

"Well, he could have fallen on it and broke it."

Riker shrugged, Kargoth laughing and Malik shaking his head. They continued on down the walkway, but Riker cut them off outside a cell. He was looking into one of the cells, the dead body of a prisoner lying on the bed. On the small table was a leather bound book, and that seemed to catch his eye.

"I wonder what old Dregor has to say for himself," he murmured.

"You shouldn't read people's diaries," Malik stated.

"What's the harm when he's dead?"

He picked up the book and turned to the most recent page, which was dated two days ago. When stuck inside a confined cell on a rickety old prison vessel, there was little you could to amuse yourself except keep diaries. However, that only went to say when amusement wasn't classed as starting a riot or attacking other prisoners and guards.

"So, what does he say?" Kargoth pressed on.

"Hang on, his handwriting's a bit messy," Riker replied.

"Here, give it to me," Malik replied.

He took the book from the man's grip, getting a startled shout back in reply, but no resistance. Malik took out the universal translator and switched it on; listening with pleasure at the sound it gave. This proved it was working alright.

"It says," he began. "Found some more maggots in me broth today. I swear that this ship is infested with something. How stuff like that can get aboard ships like this I will never have a clue. And I tell you, if that woman down in cell 5 keeps giving me death stares, I swear I'll rip out her larynx."

Riker laughed, glancing at Kargoth.

"That'll be you then," he said.

"Rip out my larynx, eh?" Kargoth snarled. "Hmm, we'll see."

She grabbed the book from Malik and threw it at the dead body of Dregor. The spine slammed into his nose, drawing blood, which smelled awful seeing as he had been dead for some time now.

"Rip out my larynx will ye," she shook her head.

"Look, we really need to be moving," Malik cut in.

"Don't kill him," Riker warned Kargoth. "The ship did that for you."

"Curse the ship! I would like to have wrung his neck!" Kargoth spat.

"Well, you can try. But don't expect it to do much damage."

"You can't kill a corpse, Riker."

"I bet you'd try it, though."

"Quit the bickering!" Malik snapped. "Let's move!"

Taking no more chances with arguing about things which were never going to happen, Kargoth and Riker ended their fight and followed Malik towards the doors. However, they were barred and they weren't getting out. Kargoth could hear the sound of reverberation coming from a mechanical source. She side stepped away from the door and found herself looking down into a vent.

"Prisoners eight over nine escaping," the computer stated.

It's voice was a mess.

"You two," Kargoth called. "Here."

She pointed down the vent, which was issuing with green smoke. Malik walked inside, but the translator bleeped him a message. He took it out from his pocket, holding the screen up to the light to read.

"This'll get us to the bridge," he stated.

"Then we can make our way out from there," Kargoth replied.

"So long as the way is signposted," Riker cut in.

"Here he is with the negative."

Kargoth shook her head, climbing into the vent after Malik. Riker went in behind her, and they trekked along up the vent. It was leading them up into the upper decks of the ship, which was where they would go to the exit rout. Suddenly, as they turned a corner, Malik stopped their advance, Kargoth crashing into him and Riker into her.

"Malik, what the hell?" Kargoth asked.

"Quiet," Malik hissed.

"Why?" Riker queried.

"Up there."

Malik pointed ahead into the green smoke. Kargoth narrowed her eyes against it, seeing what he had seen. There was a large, hefty looking creature up ahead, with what looking like huge blades on its wrists and dreadlocks on its head. It looked down at them, and suddenly took flight, its pace quite frightening. Malik issued a sigh of relief.

"What the fuck was that?" Riker asked from the rear.

"I'm open to suggestions," Malik replied.

"What ever it was, it didn't look friendly," Kargoth replied.

"I say we press on."

"With that thing up there?" Riker queried.

"Yes, with that thing up there."

"What if it tries to kill us? Call me blind, but did you see those blades?"

"I did for sure," Kargoth replied darkly.

"Look, you wanted to do this," Malik cut in.

"I'm not saying go back, am I?"

"But you ain't saying move on, are you?"

"So you mean to stay here?" Riker asked, his tone fearful.

"No way!" Kargoth snapped. "We stick to the fucking plan."

"Then let's stop wasting time and get a move on," Malik growled.

He was beginning to get frustrated, wishing now that he had woken up to Ash, who might be a little more professional in this situation. However, Ash was more likely to pull a trigger on him that either Kargoth or Riker. And maybe these pair were better company, seeing as he had been on speaking terms with them. He always liked to riot with them on occasions, but he had lost his other counterparts, Bane and Essa. They had been sent into the chambers below for death by electric chair.

Malik shuddered at the thought of the chair, for he had been told frequently by Ash that he would end up in it. But if Kargoth was never sent there, no one else would get there now Bane and Essa were gone. It was Essa's seventeenth birthday and she celebrated by calling everyone up for a prison riot. It was a very memorable occasion, and her biggest present was a trip to the chair and a short electrocution.

Coming out of thought by a hard prod from Kargoth, Malik made his move upwards along the shaft. Perhaps that bore them some time so they wouldn't end up walking into the back of that creature. They moved along through the green smoke, turning several corners blocked by pipes before arriving at the other end. Malik sat down with his legs forwards and kicked open the hatch. That creature must have replaced it as it fled. And, as said by the translator, they were looking down at the bridge.

"Bingo," Malik mumbled.

"Now we're in business!" Kargoth proclaimed.

She shook hands with Riker as Malik climbed down the shaft, hung off the edge and dropped down onto the deck of the bridge. He walked out towards the pilot's console, hearing the metallic thud of Kargoth's feet as she climbed down. He took out the universal translator, not surprised as it bleeped a message as he approached the console. He looked at the log as he heard Riker slam into the deck with force. Clearly, he had jumped from the shaft rather than dropped.

"Idiot," Kargoth snapped.

"I'd like to see you do better," Riker replied.

"I dropped down, I never fell off."

"Come off it! That was a perfect landing!"

"Yeah, until you fell over."

"Quiet!" Malik snapped. "Hear this."

He scanned back up to the top of the translator, readying the log he had downloaded from the pilot's console. Kargoth and Riker stopped their arguing and walked over to Malik, standing around him as he read from the panel.

"It says," Malik began. "We've been caught in the planet's gravity and we seem to be spiralling down towards it. Clearly something had knocked us out of the shipping lane, and I think it might have been a rouge comet interfering with our scanners again. We'll shortly be crashing down, and we've set up a warning for all prisoners and crew members to strap themselves in for the descent to the planet."

"Nothing on our location?" Riker asked.

"Not here," Malik replied. "We could try the other consoles."

Kargoth wasn't told twice. She walked over to the Captain's chair, seeing that the log panel was still active between the other two broken consoles. She tapped into it, scanning down to the most recent log.

"Anything?" Malik asked.

"Nothing about the planet," Kargoth shrugged. "Just about us."

Riker grinned. "What does it say about us?"

"Things are getting painfully tiresome around here. Of all the prison ships in all of the galaxy, I had to be the captain of the Vortex Rikers. We have prison riots nearly every day, and it's getting ridiculous. Yeah, the security guards keep saying that they have things under control, but they always seem to be shipping prisoners constantly between their cells and the medical bay."

"Now he knows why the V Rikers is so infamous," Malik smiled.

"Well, the sucker got his dues," Riker laughed. "He's dead now."

"So are most of them, saver this one," Kargoth replied.

The other two jumped, looking around for someone else. However, they watched as Kargoth stepped down away from the captain's console, crossed the deck and approached the navigator's chair. The man was still there, but he was badly injured. Kargoth prodded him in the chest. He twitched, gave out a strangled cry and then remained motionless, blood slowly trickling from his mouth.

"He didn't last long," she summarised.

"Sure," Malik shook his head. "What does the console say?"

Kargoth pushed the chair out of the way and activated the log console, which was still operable. Meanwhile, Riker sat in the Captain's chair, leaning back into it, looking quite comfy. Malik glanced at him.

"Captain B. Riker of the prison transport vessel Vortex Rikers," he stated.

"Your name and the title Captain don't go," Malik shook his head.

"Yeah, but my name goes with the ship's name."

He laughed contentedly to himself, getting off the chair to wonder over towards the navigation console as Malik went over there. Kargoth had finished scanning down to the latest log made by the navigator.

"Navigator's log," Kargoth began. "We have entered the atmosphere of an uncharted planet in this unknown system. We are being pulled in by the gravity and any control we now have over the ship is gone. We recommend that the crew prepare for a crash landing immediately."

"Fat lot of use that did," Riker shrugged.

"That's fine for the crew," Malik glared. "They don't supply the cells with seat belts."

"They expect us to use the walls instead."

Riker rubbed the back of his head, still feeling the ache from where he had been catapulted into the wall. That would soon come up in a nice purple bruise which would show up something wonderful on his shaved head. Kargoth wandered over to one of the doors, but it was locked as a mechanism.

"Locked," she stated.

"We'll have to drop down to the lower deck," Malik stated.

He went first, almost hooking his ankle into one of the cracks in the broken floor, but he made it to the lower deck with no broken bones. From where she stood, Kargoth jumped down, crashing to the deck without over balancing and falling over. She gave Riker a smug glance, who glared at her in return. He too jumped down, but his landing was not as choreographed as Kargoth's. He smashed into the deck and fell forwards, rolling over onto his back as he smacked his body against the floor. He looked up at Kargoth, who had walked over and was towering above him.

"How the heck do you do that?" he sounded dismayed.

"Face the facts Riker," Kargoth shrugged. "Women are just physically superior."

"Yeah right, just get me up before I trip you over."

Smirking with satisfaction at such a victory, Kargoth extended her hand towards Riker, who took it thankfully. She pulled him to his feet, though he wished she could have done so with a little less force.

"You two ready?" Malik queried.

"Ready when you are," Kargoth replied.

"Aren't I the Captain here?" Riker asked.

"You? The cat's mother could do a better job."

"Well thanks very much."

"I said, are you two ready?" Malik pressed on.

"And I said ready when you are," Kargoth snapped.

Malik shook his head and carried on, a smirk coming to his face when he realised how much he enjoyed hearing Kargoth and Riker argue. Not that he'd ever admit that of cause, for he would be faced with Riker's irritating sighs and Kargoth's irritating sarcasm. They were both as bad as each other, but he would be no where without them now. He'd possibly be dead, but there was a huge possibility that everyone aboard the Vortex Rikers died in the crash. Then what would have happened? Probably nothing, but he was beginning to get the feeling that they'd be faced with something pretty big when they reached the planet's surface outside the hull of the ship.

At the far end of the lower deck, Kargoth called up a lift, and the three prisoners mounted it before it descended to the area below. Malik recognised this area as the shaft used when transporting casualties to the medical bay. He knew this trip all too well, for he had done it many times before. They stepped off the lift down below and entered another room, which was dark except for a few dim emergency lights. The door ahead was closed, and shut tight by the looks of things.

"See if you can get that open," Malik looked at Kargoth.

"I'll try," she replied.

She moved forwards, but Riker caught her by the arm.

"What?" she asked.

"Listen!" he hissed.

They stayed silent. From beyond the door, they could hear the sound of footsteps. There were people beyond it! Some more survivors of the crash. But it could have been that weird creature they'd seen in the shaft earlier on. Suddenly, the footsteps were joined by another pair, which were fast and far off. They heard a dull growling sound, like the noise made by wild cats back on earth.

"Shit!" it was a human voice. "What the hell is that?"

Following this was a series of frantic pulse fire, and the sound of a taunting growl. Violent noises of attack came out, the sounds of tearing limbs drowned out by the terrible screams made by the humans as what ever it was killed them. The prisoners listened on intently, hearing further sounds from the creature. There was a final exclamation of pain and then the sound of a body dropping to the floor. Suddenly, the door lifted up.

"You opened it?" Malik glanced at Kargoth.

"I didn't touch anything," Kargoth hissed.

The creature was the same one, or similar to the one, they had seen a while back in the vents above the bridge. Again, it looked in their direction and ran away, disappearing into the misty corridors of the ship. Malik emerged from the doorway, Kargoth coming next and followed by Riker.

"Only one of them," Malik began. "And five of us."

"That thing killed all of them?" Kargoth sounded amazed.

"So it would seem."

"Even I couldn't do that many in one go without getting injured."

"That's because you're not professional like me," Riker replied.

"Oh, and you are professional?"

"Well, no… but more so than you!"

"I'd sure like to see that…"

"Oh, cut it out for Hell's sake!" Malik snapped. "Take a look."

Malik knelt down on the floor besides a heap of body parts, pushed aside the bloody mess and pulled out a dispersion pistol. He grinned at it happily, sliding it into his belt. Seeing this with satisfaction, Kargoth and Riker then moved to rob two other corpses of their dispersion pistols.

"This is our lucky day," Riker grinned, broadly.

"Don't say that too soon," Kargoth warned. "Whatever that thing was, it's probably still here and five men armed with these things couldn't kill it. What makes you think that three of us could do any better?"

"We're hardened criminals."

"I like that point," Malik replied, smiling.

"Well let's prove that shall we," Kargoth replied.

She slid the dispersion pistol into her belt, Riker feeling his spirit rise as he did the same. Of all the prison riots he'd been involved in, whether at his doing or someone else's, this escape felt the best of all. There was three of them, and all got on as if they were the last people alive on earth and had been best friends for years. Well, they had known each other for that length of time pretty much. And even better still, with this new road to freedom now open to them all, they would get to slaughter and murder many things on this planet without anybody caring except themselves. It sounded great.

With weapons clipped into belts and ready for some action since their escape, the prisoners headed on towards the medical bay, bending low to avoid the wire as they passed it along the corridor. Soon, they arrived into the familiar block of the medical wing, but it wasn't in the usual, tidy state. The medical officer was lying on the floor on his front, his blood oozing out around him. Kargoth skirted round passed the corpse, looking at one of the bodies which was crushed under a girder.

"This was Kriss," she stated.

"Not anymore she's not," Riker shook his head.

"This must have been at the centre of impact."

"Well, the crash must have hit this area quite hard," Malik nodded.

"Some medical room this is," Riker replied. "More like a tomb now."

"Pity the incinerator is inoperable."

He wandered over to the console, not reading the information from the log screen as his translator bleeped a message at him. He was proud of this translator falling nicely into his hands, and he thought he should at least use it.

"Very smug at that translator aren't you," Kargoth shook her head.

"Why not make the use of it whilst it's at hand," Malik shrugged.

"One can use things too much."

"Like you and your sniper rifle?" Riker countered.

"Well, one is never hasty to love a gun too much."

"Especially when you love it more than human life."

"Well, I wouldn't be here if that wasn't the case."

"As I was saying," Malik interrupted. "The chief medical officer says he's concerned at the number of casualties from the crash, never mind the prison riots before hand. He's concerned that they're going to run out of supplies before they reach the prison planet."

There was a sudden explosion from above in the ship's shafts, and a girder came crashing down on the neck of the already dead medical officer. The head was sent catapulting across the room, slamming into the wall and bouncing off to lie neatly under one of the hospital beds. Kargoth looked mildly amused at this, watching with fascination as the blood oozed from the neck, slowly and thickly. With the body already dead, the blood pressure would have been too low for the blood to spurt across the deck. Riker got the distinct impression that she was disappointed at this.

The prisoners moved on from medical, walking into one of the cargo holds which was attached here. The crates were all jarred open and scattered across the deck, the two fans on the ceiling spinning round slowly, the left one a little faster then the one on the right. The room was mess, and they could tell from the open crates that the medical supplies were indeed running low. There were two dead people here; one crushed under the lid of a crate and the other sprawled out on the floor.

"Is the entire ship dead?" Kargoth queried.

"Come on," Riker replied. "If we're alive, there must be some survivors."

"They probably fled onto the planets surface, especially with those weird looking aliens aboard," Malik explained. "It wouldn't surprise me if the bastards were willing to let them open our cells and murder us in unconsciousness. It would be one less trauma for them to deal with, and it would distract the aliens from them while they fled."

"It's wonderful how the human mind works, ain't it?"

Kargoth shrugged. "I'd do that if I were them."

"Yeah, but you run on basic instinct."

"That's right. Only the strong survive; i.e. I save myself and let others perish."

"Well, we all operated that code here, so no misfortunes for any of us."

"We really need to keep moving," Malik pressed on.

"Why the hurry?" Kargoth queried. "If we get out there, who knows what'll happen."

"It's better than staying in this maggoty ship, anyway."

"I've never once seen a maggot."

"That's because if it was in your food, you'd eat it," Riker cut in.

"Yeah, nice juicy maggots full of vitamins, you know."

"More so than prison food, I bet you that."

"The maggots are added for the flavour."

"We need to see if anyone else survived the crash out there," Malik interrupted. "If they did, we really need to send out a distress call and hope someone from earth comes and picks us up."

"Rather it be Mars," Riker replied.

"Why Mars?" Kargoth asked.

"I can get into mining and start some riots down there!"

"Exactly what would cross my mind."

They started off on their way again, careful not to trip over the corpse as they made their way down the short flight of stairs. The doors opened ahead of them, one only going half way because the mechanism had jammed. The next room must be close to the engine, for the wall ahead was mainly the vents for fans, the huge blades turning. However, the one at the far end had stopped moving, and the grate was broken at the same place where one of the fan blades had snapped off.

"The crash made our escape rout," Kargoth sounded pleased.

"Perhaps the survivors who got out did it so they could escape," Riker added.

"Always a possibility," Malik replied. "All the more to hope that some others did get out of this mess."

"Only one way to find out."

Riker approached the fan, climbed into the vent, crawled under the fan blade and came out at the other end. Kargoth came next, and followed by Malik, who was already looking about in search of an escape rout. There was an industrial heavyweight lift at the far end, which would take them out to the loading bay, which joined to a shaft which lead outside of the ship. This was indeed, quite fortunate.

He walked over to the activation console, almost glad that the translator didn't bleep a message here. He pushed the button on the console, watching as the wheel next to him turned round. Above, the lift crossed over from the platform and moved down the mechanism, landing on the ground below. Hurriedly, in case he missed the return, Malik jumped onto the lift next to Riker and Kargoth, who were both leaning on crates. Two of them had been jarred open, and the other two were standing upright and undamaged.

The mechanism below by the console clicked back, and the wheel began to turn. The lift ascended up the mechanism, reached the high of the bars and crossed the room over the air conditioning shaft and joined up with the exist shaft. Malik jumped off the lift before it slid into place, Kargoth and Riker taking their time in pushing away from the crates and moving off the lift. They bent low under the fallen bar and into the room. They had hit a dead end, and there was no were to go now except a locked panel on the floor.

"That must be the exit shaft," Kargoth pointed to it.

"But how do we open it?" Riker asked.

"I'll check the security officer's log," Malik replied.

He walked over to the console where the chair was, the security officer slumped in his chair, battered and bruised from the damage. He would have been hit from the crash landing quite badly in this lower part of the ship. The translator bleeped him a message, and he held the screen up to the light to read it.

"That's not too good," he glared. "No one told him the ship was going down! He only knew when he felt the first shift of the gravity when the air conditioning shaft shut itself down. However, we can get out through that shaft in the floor."

"How does it open?" Kargoth pressed on.

"We break the glass on that emergency panel."

Malik pointed to the glass panel on the wall. Within it was a handle, which clearly was the mechanism for opening the panel on the floor. Riker walked over to it, raised his hand into a fist parallel with his head and smashed it into the glass. It shattered to the floor, not drawing blood for it was only safety glass. He gripped the lever on the handle and pulled it round, watching as the panel on the floor lifted up.

"Great!" Riker proclaimed. "The road to freedom!"

The three of them walked to the shaft, which was just big enough to fit a large sized person into it, either by fat or by muscle. This couldn't have been the way any survivors got out or the way any of those weird aliens got inside.

"Volunteers?" Kargoth queried.

"Seeing as you were so desperate to leave the ship behind," Riker replied, glancing at her. "I think you should volunteer."

"Leave it be Riker," Malik warned. "We're all as eager to taste freedom as her."

"Supposing there are survivors, what if they cage us up again?"

"Then you can lecture us all you want."

Taking this lightly, Riker decided to take the plunge first. He sat down at the mouth of the vent, hanging is legs down inside. He levered himself down, landing on the ground below, which was metal and stained with blood. He looked above, moving aside as Malik came down next, landing hard on the metal floor. They moved aside, Kargoth joining them, also landing with force. Slowly, they walked along the shaft, which was stained with blood from a few accidents or the crawling of injured crew members. Kargoth saw something among the blood. Stopping the others, she knelt down and picked up two flares.

"We may need these," she stated.

"You keep them then," Riker stated.

"We'll need to manage any thing we find well," Malik nodded.

"So it follows then," Kargoth added. "I carry the flares, Malik the universal translator, and you Riker, anything else that we come across we'll need."

"Like weapons?" he sounded hopeful.

"Now, that we'll see about depending on what we find."

"Let me guess, you'll get the sniper rifle."

"Got it in one!"

She grinned, imagining what pleasure she would gain if they did find a sniper rifle on the way, or even a Minigun or rocket launcher. The prisoners continued their tracks along the exit shafts, and they soon saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Beyond the ship, freedom beckoned, and there was no stopping them. Slowly, and no longer with any hesitation, they emerged into the light to the planet's surface.