The cryocrate rested unobtrusively in the corner of Sanitation Engineer Edward Holmes’s broom closet. It was metal, like most cryocrates, and marked only by the blinking temperature meter and a yellow sticker declaring CAUTION: MAN-EATING SNAKES to those who cared to read it.
Most of the flight staff did not care to read it. Their cargo was often covered with such warnings: CYANIDE, EBOLA, KRYPTONITE. In reality, the boxes usually contained smuggled Terran cigarettes or other things best kept from prying eyes. Not in this case, however. This box actually contained man-eating snakes.
The first three months of the journey were uneventful. The navigator navigated, the communications manager communicated, and the captain capted. Edward cleaned, as he’d been hired to do, until he ran out of the blue-colored stuff that smelled like mothballs. Edward had never been terribly bright.
“What in space are you doing, Holmes?” the captain exclaimed as he poured a bucket of used bathwater down the stairs.
“Why aren’t you using that blue-colored stuff that smells like mothballs?” she demanded. The captain had never been terribly bright, either.
“We’re all out of it, sir!”
“Well, get some from the storage closet!”
The captain stormed back towards the command chamber, leaving Edward Holmes to stare at the small bubbles and gray soapy liquid that coated the stairway. He prodded the liquid with his mop, to no avail. “What a mess,” he said. He propped his mop against the wall and headed off to the broom closet.
“Blue-colored stuff,” Edward said to himself as he stared at the boxes before him. He tried several, most of which were filled with test tubes, though he did find what he assumed was a human heart. Although all of the boxes contained stuff, none of them contained stuff that was blue. “The captain’s gonna be mad,” he said as he opened the lid of the final box.
The last thing Sanitation Engineer Edward Holmes heard was the bony click of an unhinging jaw.
Meanwhile, back in the command chamber, the captain was doing what captains do with remarkable efficiency. She’d long since mastered the art of making thoughtful grunts and sipping powdered coffee, and she’d almost perfected simultaneously casting condescending glances towards the other members of her crew.
“Captain!” exclaimed the exclamations officer. “I’m receiving a danger report from level 13!”
The captain sighed. “What’s wrong now?” she asked.
“I’m not sure!” he said. “It seems that some of the cargo has escaped!”
“I advise we secure the command chamber! And set course to the nearest station!”
“What cargo do we have that could escape?” the captain wondered aloud. Ever since the sentient fetus incident in the Alaran system, she’d refused to transport live cargo.
“Maintain course, Chief Exclamations Officer Jones. I’ll look into it.”
“As you wish, sir!”
The captain stood up and strode to the door, which she opened with a tap against a glowing panel. No sooner had the metal panel opened, however, than a slithering scaly mass made its way into the chamber. “Snake!” she screamed as the large form wrapped itself around her leg. “Jones, do something!”
The Exclamations Officer, however, had problems of his own. The keyboard of his station exploded forward in a spray of plastic, immediately followed by a dozen ringed reptiles. He screamed as one creature’s fangs pierced his neck.
The security officer, who’d never had excellent aim and neglected to consider the logic of using a heat-seeking weapon on a reptile, managed only to stun three members of the crew while trying to target his legless adversaries. “Snake, I kill you filthy!” he screamed as a cobra slapped the gun from his hand with its tail.
The chamber was alive with serpents. The violent hissing was a battle cry unequaled by the sounds of any Terran revolution. Valiantly, the officers and engineers tried to defend their ship, but it was in vain. The snakes, those cruel, cold-blooded bringers of despair and death, had won in a matter of minutes.
“Nooo!” was the final human cry to penetrate the tumultuous sibilance. Then, the Exclamations Officer too was devoured.