The ship literally shook, as if it had been hit with an enormous earthquake. Seconds later, the lounge dimmed, and a sound like cats squalling and screeching blared overhead. Meredith dropped to the floor in surprise as a few of the others shrieked in panic.
"Go to your room!" F'Orlo yelled, trying to be heard above the din. The ship jumped again, sending everyone and pillows temporarily flying. With the gravitational drive still operable, they landed hard.
Meredith hit the wall sideways, but found herself not too far from the doorway. Remaining on her knees, she hurried for the entrance, pushing aside pillows and other debris that had fallen in the way.
Loud buzzing sounds filled the corridor, and appeared to be getting closer. Grabbing the door frame, she managed to crawl into the narrow hallway and start for her cubicle.
The ship must have rolled. Still clinging to the floor, she felt her equilibrium somersault. Her stomach also did a three-sixty.
Crawling along wasn't getting her anywhere. If she didn't get to her room soon, no telling what else would happen to her. For once, she was glad her cubicle was small enough to prevent her from sustaining any major injuries if she was going to be tossed about, or in the event the ship lost gravity.
Jumping to her feet, she sprinted down the corridor. Racing around the corner at the first intersection, she was nearly hit by a beam of light that exploded into a rainbow of colors when it struck the wall. Her survival instincts ramped up several notches as she continued down the hall without looking back to see what had fired at her.
The yell sent cold shivers down her back as she ducked and tried to evade being hit. The ship jiggled again, and she was hurtled against the ceiling. Gravity was gone, leaving her unable to run any further. Recalling what she'd seen astronauts do, she got her feet beneath her and launched herself from the ceiling, much like a swimmer into a pool. Another bolt of light sprayed above her head where she'd been seconds before.
She made it to the last intersection, and grabbed the corner to pull herself around. Her room was ten yards away. Close. Not much further!
Gravity was restored. The shot aimed at her missed by a mile.
She fell hard on her side, banging her head against the wall. Vaguely, she could see fuzzy figures running toward her. Something glinted. She was jerked sideways, and the shot struck the floor.
"Come! This way!"
The creature undulated over the wall, moving with a grace and speed Meredith would never have imagined the alien capable of doing. She found herself hard pressed to keep up. At some point, someone had turned off the howling cat alarm, and she said a prayer of thanks. Maybe she would be able to hear those things coming now.
Pudrith led her down a hallway, then turned and took another avenue. By this time, Meredith was completely lost, but the little creature continued as if it knew what it was doing. It paused momentarily in a tiny alcove, heaving for air. She bent over her knees as she labored to catch her breath.
"To the big room."
Pudrith took off again. "Is it far?" Meredith called out, rushing to catch up. She could still hear weapons firing, but they sounded muffled and distant. For all she could guess, the ship was under attack, which left her to wonder if there was any safe place on board.
The alien disappeared around another corner. By the time she got there, the hallway was empty. Meredith slumped against the wall.
"Pudrith! Where'd you go?"
A doorway slid open inches away from her arm, and the alien reached out for her.
As soon as she nearly fell into the room, Meredith knew where she was. Over in the distance, cubes sat stacked in neat, orderly rows. And many of them were still filled with creatures.
"Come on!" The little creature grabbed her shift and jerked on it, leading her over to where the translucent cages were piled. At the sight of the cells, she halted.
"You want me to get back inside one of those things? Fuck no!"
"We must, Merry! They are safe. They will protect us!"
"I said no! Once those things are closed, I'll be locked inside again, and that ain't happening twice in my lifetime!" Meredith scanned the room. On the opposite side of the dome-shaped structure appeared to be more doorways. She pointed to them. "Where do those go? Do you know?"
Pudrith shook itself. "I am not familiar with that part of the ship. Please, Merry." It tugged on her shift. "Save yourself."
The ship shuddered again, this time more violently. Meredith went flying into the pile of cubes, which remained adhered firmly to the floor. However, the creatures inside were not as lucky, as they all were tossed about until many were left lying motionless. She searched the boxes for sign of the little alien, finally spotting it crawling inside an empty cell. As she'd suspected, the lid immediately slid shut, sealing Pudrith inside.
The hold was the worst place to be because of its vastness. Meredith could envision herself being thrown upward, toward the high, arched, dome ceiling. If that happened, the resulting fall would kill her.
"I gotta get out of here."
She struggled to reach the doors at the other end of the room, but the first one she came to didn't respond. Neither did the second one.
"Fuck!" She slammed a hand on the panel. Either she needed a code, or the doors sealed automatically in case of emergencies. That left her with just two choices, back through the door she'd come in, or...
Meredith scanned the catwalk circling the room. She couldn't see any kind of a ladder, which meant access had to be behind the door. Frustrated, she screamed again and hit the door with the side of her fist.
She heard the telltale hum a second before the light struck the door. Automatically, she threw herself backwards and looked overhead to see what had fired at her.
The creature was humanoid and immense in size. What she could see past the dark gray uniform were the wide shoulders and immense chest. The neck was so thick, it extended from beneath the pointed ears to the clavicle.
She froze in place. The alien also remained where he stood, a large silver tube held at his waist. He was a dark reddish-brown, nearly the same color as the walls in the pleasuring room. Jet black hair or fur swept down to his shoulders. His eyes were an indistinguishable hue at this distance, but the nose was wide and flat. Thick lips jutted above a square jaw, and a pair of glistening white tusks braced the bottom edges of his mouth. Meredith glanced back up at the thing's face, but he was no longer staring at her. His wide-eyed gaze was directed downward, down at her...
Her hands clutched the jeweled waistlet, and a look of sheer joy came over the being's countenance. Her heart leaped.
She started to lift her hand to wave at him when he raised the silver tube, aimed it directly at her, and fired.