Author: Robert Flippo

The hearse’s view screen crackled with static, forcing Clive to rely on mirrors to reverse the anti-grav sled through the ship’s cargo bay. He steered with cautious flicks of the joystick to keep from jostling the sled’s delicate burden. When the reflection of the sealed blast doors loomed over the steel casket, he cut the thrusters altogether.

He glanced at the clock in his heads up display. Engineering should have already depressurized the bay and opened the doors. There was a tight window for conducting the Rites without screwing up the orbits. Not that Clive cared for religious reasons. Dead was dead and he didn’t think a slow spiral into the sun was any more restful for the soul than drifting aimlessly in space. It was the principle of the thing. He had a job to do and he was going to do it right.

“What’s the hold up, Engineering?” Clive asked.

The comm hissed, harmonizing with the static on the view screen. Great, the ship must have skimmed a solar cloud. The dust always wreaked havoc on the equipment this close to the hull. Clive sighed and dropped from the cockpit to the deck.

“I’m going to hit the manual release,” he said on the off chance they could hear him on the other end of the line. The occasional snippet of indecipherable chatter broke through the static so it was possible the problem existed only on his end.

Clive pulled the manual release and the blast doors crawled open, revealing the marbled edge of a solar cloud. It was beautiful. A swirl of purples and blues with an immense shadowy heart—

A heart that writhed.

Long tendrils burst from the heart, their midnight skin mottled with steel rectangles. The ship lurched. Clive stumbled to his knees. The comm static vanished and the voices on the other end came through clearly.