Chapter 9: Changes
Bower could hardly believe that he was saved and was amazed at how the diminutive Asian man was able to kick the hunter over the railing. Now there was an escape route.
Scarface stared at the stocky newcomer in disbelief. The hatred in its gaze was so radiant that Bower wouldn't be shocked if he was burned by the heat emanating from it. There was a familiar recognition. These two combatants had crossed paths before and had a long history together. Bower thought he was going to need a black and white striped shirt to referee the horrendous fight that was seconds from breaking out.
The stocky man gestured to himself with one of the blades and said simply, "Manh". Bower couldn't tell if he was talking to him or Scarface.
If looks could kill, Manh would have died a dozen times by then. Scarface threw his head back and unleashed a deafening shriek. Immediately, Bower could hear more of the hunters responding with calls of their own.
More of them would be there soon.
Manh said, "Run."
Bower took a few steps away from Scarface.
Scarface started up the stairs, the horrible spear pointed at Manh.
Bower turned to run.
He saw it in slow motion: the awful speed and strength of which Scarface attacked Manh. Incredibly, Manh parried the thrust aimed at his heart and spinning, kicked Scarface again and knocked him backwards. The brute tumbled down the steps roaring with rage.
Manh then chased after Bower.
Bower was nearing the bay doors to exit the storage area but he heard Manh yell to him to go left so he ducked into what appeared to be a narrow hall. Manh stepped inside and cut the control panel with one of his swords and the door sealed behind them.
Bower felt like dancing... but he restrained himself.
"I'm Corporal Bower. I'm glad to meet you." He realized he was rambling but he couldn't help himself, "Never been so happy to see another human being in all my life. I don't know how I can ever thank you. You saved my ass back there."
"You can thank me by getting us to the bridge." He spoke with a thick Vietnamese accent and his voice was soft.
"We can't get to the bridge until we restore the power."
"You know how to restore the power?"
"Then we can get to the bridge?"
"Okay. Let us go."
"I was on my way to the engine room. We have to reset the reactor to restore power."
"Okay. Let us go."
Bower felt like a dick. "Do you know how to get to the engine room?"
Manh shifted his weight. "I am an agricultural specialist. A botanist and a professional gardener with experience growing crops in extreme climates. Out in the wild, I can find just about any herb or edible plant we would ever need. On this ship I have no clue where to find much of anything."
"I was afraid of that. I was headed aft."
Manh nodded, "That sounds right, maybe on the lower levels?"
"Yeah." Bower told him. Seeing him in the black cloak, Bower realized that this man was the one he had seen earlier. The black cloak had made it look like a mere shadow following him up the stairwell. So he hadn't been seeing things. Manh had been tailing him this whole time.
With deep regret, Bower realized that he had gotten turned around and wasn't sure which direction the rear of the ship was. They were going to get lost. They were going to need Payton's guidance or someone who was familiar with that part of the ship to guide them.
Manh shifted his weight again. Perhaps he was also aware that blindly wandering around the ship was very risky.
"I've been in contact with my Lieutenant but I lost him when those fucking things chased me." Bower informed him. "I think we should keep moving and try to reestablish contact. What do you think?"
"Sounds good to me. If we keep down this hall it will lead us to the second storage bay."
Bower lead the way. "So, how long have you been awake?"
"I am not sure. A few years I think."
"Are you shitting me?"
Manh chuckled. "No, really. At least a couple of years."
"So that's why Scarface recognized you."
Manh laughed harder. "Yeah. He and I go way back."
Now Bower laughed too. It felt good to laugh. He had forgotten that. "You must have kicked his ass numerous times over the years to still be alive."
"I am the one that took his nose off."
"Nice! Its unbelievable that you can fight them so equally. I mean, to me they seem so much faster and stronger than I am."
"The change will come in time for you too."
Bower stopped walking and faced Manh. "What do you mean?"
"The change, my friend. You will mutate to adapt to your environment here due to the enzyme that was given to us in our feeding tubes. It was designed to accelerate evolution so that our bodies could adapt to living conditions on Pandorum."
"You mean you've adapted to fight these things?"
"Well to me, they just seem to gradually get slower and weaker over time. But after I thought about it, I realized that I had become stronger and faster. I can see better in the darkness and I heal a lot faster if they manage to wound me."
Bower saw deep, jagged scars on the man's arms and one on his face.
"Holy shit." No wonder everyone was so much faster and stronger than he was. Now he didn't feel so embarrassed about getting his ass kicked by a woman. She was practically a super mutant. He also took notice that he didn't need to turn on his flashlight as much. Perhaps his eyes were already adapting to the darkness.
"I am not the only one that has survived around here," Manh continued in his soft slow voice. "I see a woman but she will not let me approach her and I do not want to be at the end of her spear."
Bower continued down the hallway. "Yeah I ran into her myself."
"You should really take your boots off, my friend. They make too much noise. You need softer footwear."
"Throw away your flashlight. They can see it a mile away."
Bower tossed the flashlight aside. "No problem."
"We need to get you different clothing. The grease will mask your scent better if you were not in coveralls."
"We will get you a better weapon. We have got to kill them, not stun them, you know?"
"Melee weapons are better suited because of the physical enhancements you are going to get from the enzymes, my friend."
"I get that. This was the closest thing handy." The anti-riot nonlethal firearm seemed like a toy now that Bower had seen what an enzyme fueled person was capable of. "How long will the change take?"
"The full effects take a few months but you will notice slight improvements within a few hours of awakening. I guess you would need fast acting mutation to adapt quickly to the foreign climate, you know?"
The hallway opened up into another huge bay and Bower couldn't help but worry that the hunters had head them off. The dark peace of the massive area set his mind at ease. The main doors must have been sealed through the power shortage between the massive bays.
There were several white containers on his level that were unlocked. These were housing containers that held the household items, clothing and furniture for colonization on Pandorum. Even though he knew they were most likely ransacked of anything useful, he opened one. Just as he expected, it looked like a rat's nest. There were opened packages, empty water bottles, broken glass, torn fabric, dirty clothing and other trash. Bower rifled around through the debris and only found a candle that was usable but it was nearly spent so he dropped it back onto the pile.
He moved thru the container towards the other end and pushed the doors open. It was a drop off. He was startled at how high he was and his surprise nearly caused him to lose his balance. He windmilled his arms so he wouldn't fall, feeling like a complete idiot. He regained his balance and looked back to see if Manh was laughing at him.
Mahn wasn't there.
What the hell? Where did he go?
He hadn't been paying attention to the other man. When had he lost track of him? Had he rummaged through the container alone? How could he have not noticed that Manh wasn't with him until now?
He heard a slight noise and turned back forward to see someone swinging down at him from the top of the opened doors. He tried to duck but got kicked square in the face. When he landed flat on his back, the wind was knocked from his lungs. His attacker let go of the edge and landed deftly to her feet, crouched low to the ground. She pulled a long, fierce spear-weapon from her back and pointed it at him.
It was the woman.
This time she had a spear.
This time, she wasn't running.
He froze, knowing that if he made any sudden moves, it could incite an attack and her spear looked really sharp.
She was glaring at him. There was a wild look in her eye. It wasn't anger. It was sheer terror. Impossibly, she was terrified of him, so terrified that she was willing to kill. He could see the cold emptiness of her visage, devoid of guilt or remorse.
"Wait," He wheezed, "Listen to me."
She spoke through gritted teeth, "Shut your mouth."
"Look," he pulled the anti riot gun from his arm and set it on the floor, "No weapons, I don't want to fight." He raised his arms in surrender and coughed. "I just wanna talk."
"I said, shut up!"
"We're all in this together, we all want to live through this. I won't hurt you."
"LIAR!" She lunged forward and he heard a metallic clang as Manh came out of nowhere and kicked the spear out of her grip. The little man set his feet and kicked at her head. She ducked under the kick and tackled him around the waist. As they were crashing to the floor locked together, Manh managed got both feet against her abdomen and as they fell, he used the momentum to lift her up with his legs and tossed her over his head. Normally, she should have face planted into the deck but she did a handstand and nimbly flipped onto her feet.
Bower remained on the floor motionless like a possum playing dead.
The two warriors faced each other again. She withdrew a long knife-weapon from her waist band and Manh drew his swords. There wasn't a lot of room in the container but neither of them seemed hindered by the tightness of space.
Fearlessly, she came forward and stabbed at Manh but he parried it with one sword and sliced at her head with the other. She ducked under it. Their speed and strength was unbelievable. Moving low, she kicked at his ankles with the heel of her foot but Manh sprang backwards avoiding the attack. It had been a feign because as Manh withdrew, she dropped the knife and took up her spear again.
Mahn cursed her in Vietnamese. Although Bower couldn't understand what he said, universal wisdom and the tone of which Manh spit it out told him it was something vile.
She cursed him vehemently in German and what she had to say didn't sound very nice either.
Bower fired the anti riot weapon at the ceiling of the small container. The whole thing shook and lighting panels fell down on their heads. Manh and the woman both covered their heads from the debris. "I understand," Bower told them calmly, "I do. I understand that its felt like every man for himself but if we're going to get out of this, a little fucking solidarity goes a long way." He stood behind Manh who still had his swords trained on her.
"I do not think she cares, my friend. I think she is too far gone."
"We all want to survive, right?" Bower asked to her softly. " I lost contact with my CO. So, I need someone to tell me how to get to the reactor."
Her expression soften slightly.
"You know?" Bower asked, "That's great. We can all work together."
"We should find it ourselves." Manh's voice was uncharacteristically flat.
"It could take us weeks to find it that way."
Tat, tat, tat, tat, tat!
"We need to get going." Manh seemed more concerned with the woman than the approaching hunters.
"I think aft is that way."
He didn't want to leave her but obviously she didn't need his help since she had survived this long without help. "Let's go." Manh lead the way so Bower lingered behind for a few moments watching her. She didn't move. Oh well.
He hurried after Manh.
They went into another network of narrow hallways, the main one terminated into a heavy door. It was closed by twin panels that fitted together in the center. This type of door was much easier to pry open than the single panel bottom fitted doors.
"She was tough." Manh said softly.
Bower checked to see if the door had power but, of course, it didn't.
"When she tackled me, I think she bruised my ribs."
"Yeah well, no sympathy here, pal. She left me with a few sore spots too."
Manh was wedging one of his swords into the jam to pry the door opened and Bower got ready to pull on the the other side, when they heard a voice-
"Why the hell should I trust you?"
-and both of them spun towards it defensively. It was her. She had put her weapons away.
"Listen, Lady, we don't want any-"
"Are you really part of the flight crew?"
"I'm Corporal Bower, ship's mechanical engineer."
"I'm Nadia." She moved closer. Again, he was taken in by her beauty albeit the filthy clothes and greased skin and hair. She was staring so intently into his eyes, he was tempted to look away like he had back in grade school when girls made him feel goofy. She spoke softer to him sounding relieved, "I didn't think there was any flight crew left. What's happened to us?"
"A malfunction of some sort."
She made a sarcastic noise, "You think?" She continued watching him closely. Her tone was cold again, "What's your plan?"
"Fire up the reactor. Go from there."
"You just wake up?"
"Yep, just joined the party."
"You'll never make it."
"You're going in the wrong direction."