I scanned the storehouse with the .357 as I got to my feet and edged toward the spacecraft’s open hatch. The storehouse’s barn doors were shut, as I had left them, and a trail of blood from where the dead man had laid drew a path to the main entrance, then disappeared underneath the closed door. I cursed under my breath as I backed up against the ship, having bumped my left shoulder against the hull. I shook it off, took a few short, sharp breaths, then spun around, pointing the Taurus into the craft’s interior.

I immediately buckled and stumbled backward, dropping the gun. The stench was unbelievable. Coughing, I covered my nose with my hand, then started vomiting through my fingers. I staggered away, bent over, trying to keep from puking all over myself. The heaving persisted until there was nothing left, but I continued to gag and my stomach lurched, and I held onto a rack and spit and wheezed until I settled enough to clear my mouth, then I dug into my coat for my scarf and started to wipe my face, trying not to breathe through my nose.

Suddenly there was a noise outside the door. I turned, quickly scanning the storehouse for a place to hide. There was no where else to go. The door handle turned. I clenched my teeth, clamped my scarf over my mouth, sprinted toward the putrid spaceship, ducked down, and leapt through the hatch.

I landed on my left shoulder and howled into the scarf, writhing on the floor, and immediately started heaving. The interior of the ship was filled with trash and a sticky green residue that covered the floor and smelled of corpses. I sucked in a breath and turned away to find a large window that somehow wasn’t visible from the outside. I could see the storehouse perfectly. And then I watched, gagging, as the storehouse door swung open. From that angle I could see nothing more than an arm—a green, sinewy arm—holding the door.

I turned my head, suddenly remembering my gun. There is was, outside the ship, six or seven feet from the hatch. I cursed through my teeth. Idiot.

The door stayed open and the arm that held it remained, unmoving. I waited, watching, my stomach an incessant spasm, my heart pounding in my left shoulder, and in my face, and my arms and legs, and every other goddamn wound in my body. I glanced at the gun, then back to the door…. I took a few conservative breaths and strained to keep myself from puking. Six or seven feet wasn’t that far. I could easily get out and grab the gun before it reached me. I shifted quietly inside the cramped ship, turned my body around, and tensed—ready to leap.

Then, suddenly, without a sound, whatever it was withdrew its arm, and the door lazily swung backward on its spring… then clicked shut.