Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

First we got lost. Then we got ambushed. If we hadn’t got lost, I’m sure that wouldn’t have happened. Which would have saved the lives of sixty-eight beings, and let me avoid drifting through uncharted space in a Terlestraian escape pod: not quite enough oxygen in the atmosphere and way too many toxins in the water.

It was day three. I had just torn the last apple juice pouch open and greedily licked up the remaining droplets, when something occluded the wan starlight coming through the viewport. I paddled awkwardly across to it, fumbling for a handhold. Accidentally turning on the exterior lights allowed me to see the hold I was looking for.

Secured, I looked out to see a huge letter ‘V’ painted on a grey hull plate so big that I couldn’t see the sides. Then I launched myself down the pod to grab my helmet, because the ‘V’ was approaching fast. The impact was tremendous, but the crumpling and subsequent shattering of the escape pod left me hanging in space, surprisingly unscathed, and drifting slowly toward the great hull.

The ‘V’ was the leftmost of a series of letters: VARANGIO. The only ‘Varangio’ I knew of had been one of the earliest colony vessels, loaded with enough to start an entire human civilisation, providing primitive defrosting and revivification routines worked, and that only if first generation cryotech did not fail along the way.

I tore a shoulder keeping myself from glancing off the hull, but I could feel the low-key thrum of a working vessel through my gloves! It took me ages to find an airlock, which was wide open: outer and inner doors. Making my way inside, I found the whole ship was under power, with lights and just enough heat in the surfaces to keep ice from forming. But this sector of the behemoth was airless and apparently deserted.

My thoughts on that were interrupted by an impact that shook the deck plates. Moving quickly to a viewing console, I checked the hull cameras. On one, three vessels had appeared. Zooming in, I saw that one of them was my former ship!

Zooming further, the other two ships were revealed to be a heavily armoured corvette of primitive design, and freighter similar to mine.

The corvette entered the Varangio, presumably returning to dock. I saw a swarm of figures start to empty the two freighters. I switched views and saw that the figures were using manoeuvring rigs but wore no suits!

Then something filled the screen – someone had seen the camera move. Pupilless ruby eyes in a white face, more lupine than human in jaw shape. The mouth split in a wide, predatory grin, revealing jagged teeth: more incisors than molars.

As I fled, I cursed. You know what survives flash freezing well? Meat. Ghoul ships are a rare menace, as the terrible tribes that crew them are loathed by all, and hunted vigorously whenever survivors live to tell of an encounter. It looked like the Varangio was the granddaddy of all ghoul ships. Fortified, bigger than any ship currently under power, running primitive technologies, cruising far beyond populated and patrolled areas, sending its corvettes out to hunt. How many degenerate generations had passed to evolve what had stared into that lens?

All I needed now was more weapons and a place to make a last stand. This meal was going to cost them dearly.

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