Discussion in 'RPG #22 - When Darkness Descends' started by The Chaos Engine, Jun 28, 2009.
I'm not well enough to carry on. Best if this thread is deleted. Sorry for the inconvenience.
Goran sat in the dark of his apartment, a tin of beans in one hand, a penknife in the other.
He squinted down at the tin, at the dozens of indentations in its lid, and sighed morosely. Of course, before all this happened (whatever this was), he would have just stuck the tin in the electric opener and hey presto! Instant meal! But now, even the simplest things had become a chore. No electricity meant no tin opener, meant no air conditioning, meant no lights...the list went on.
Throwing the tin across the room in frustration, the Mayor of Sector 18A levered himself against the wall and got to his feet. Moving carefully, he made his way over to the window and looked out.
Darkness. Not impenetrable, but near enough. Of course, there were no longer any lights to illuminate the Stygian gloom, but something told him they wouldn't make much difference anyway. This wasn't a natural darkness. As soon as the cataclysm had hit Nu Corinth, it had descended, shrouding everything in its inky miasma. Now it was no longer possible to tell if it was night or day. There was only the interminable dark, and whatever lay within it.
Another mystery, thought Goran, feeling his way around the apartment until he found the couch. He collapsed onto it, weak from hunger, and closed his eyes. What's happened to everyone? 18A used to have a population of about sixty million people. Yet, when he went scavenging for supplies in those first few days, he had seen no-one else. Not another living soul. He knew he wasn't completely alone, for the stores and shops he'd visited had shown signs of being stripped before he even got there. There were other survivors out there, that was beyond doubt, but they were obviously keeping a very low profile.
Why? he wondered. Do they know something I don't?
His stomach grumbled noisily, and he crossed his arms over it to silence its complaints.
Damn it, he thought angrily. The power goes out and you revert to a helpless child. You're the Mayor, man! You should know what to do!
And yet the horrible truth was that he didn't. He felt helpless and scared.
More so when he heard the scratching behind him...
He rolled off the couch in an instant and lay flat-out on the floor, trying to peer under the crack at the bottom of the apartment's front door.
Too dark! Too damn dark!
For a second he thought he saw a deeper shadow within the gloom shifting on the other side of the door, but it could just as easily have been his imagination.
He waited, breathless, as the scratching continued.
Then it stopped, and he let out a long, giddy breath.
He crawled on all fours over to the plasti-steel door and pressed his ear against it. Nothing. Not a sound.
A pet, he thought with relief. Someone's pet dog or cat is roaming the building searching for its master.
Chuckling quietly to himself for over-reacting so badly, he grabbed hold of the doorhandle and used it to hoist himself upright, feeling it turn beneath his weight.
Except, once he'd taken his hand away, it continued turning.
Goran looked down at it with horror. Without realising it, he backed away, his mouth working but no words coming out.
Then the door exploded inwards, crashing into him and knocking him flat on his back. He pushed it aside in panic, and saw what was rushing towards him.
In the empty confines of Apartment Block 718b, the screaming went on for a very long time, though there was no-one around to hear it.
There was blood in his throat.
Goran tried to speak as he was dragged by his feet out of his apartment and into the hallway beyond, but the words died stillborn. Before he knew what was happening he was being pulled down an endless procession of steps, his face slamming against each and every one until he was almost senseless.
He was coherent enough to realise that there was no point turning his head to see where they were going; his eyes were bloody ruins within his face, useless to him. No point fighting, either; his limbs had lost their capacity for movement.
He was, in essence, a slab of meat, being dragged -
That was the question, was it not? Being dragged where? Hadn't the fiend done enough damage to him? What more could he endure?
Each step descended was another electric shot of agony through his defiled body, so that by the time three floors had gone by his hold on consciousness was tenuous and intermittent. He blacked out, and the rest of the journey down Apartment Block 718b passed in blissful oblivion.
After about forty minutes a blast of cool air hit his face, reviving him, and he realised they were now outside, on the street. He made one more attempt to make a noise, anything to summon attention to his plight, but all he could do was choke and swallow and spray gobbets of ichor onto the pavement.
Death would be preferable to this, he thought bleakly, and prayed to gods he didn't believe in that the end, when it came, would be swift.
The underlights await...
What? Goran tried to marshal his thoughts, though blood loss and trauma were making it increasingly difficult to think coherently. What was that? A voice? It sounded so close...
The underlights are sooo hungry, child...
He jerked his head, or tried to, but he had little strength left now. The right side of his face had been stripped raw from being scraped along the pavement, and only the lubrication provided by the blood from his many wounds prevented the flesh from being ripped off completely.
They were moving at quite a pace now, round corners, down alleys, through buildings. His attacker was eager to reach his destination...
Goran sobbed then, a heartfelt cry which was quickly swallowed by the dark.
Him, why call it a him? You saw what it was, what it is. Inhuman! A blasphemy brought to life! A...
Goran never got an opportunity to finish the thought. There was a grinding sound of metal as a manhole cover was shifted and then he was plunged downwards into a hell he could never have imagined.
In the fetid darkness beneath Nu Corinth, the underlights glowed and danced, and those who served them gathered slowly for the feast.
Displaying the wisdom of a dying man, the Mayor of Sector 18A had indeed been right.
Sometimes death is better.
On Torag 1 they have a saying:
The world is a vampire; it has an appetite for blood.
Being of a somewhat dour mindset, the Toragi go through life knowing that life is a predator: it lies in wait with a patience born of indifference, content in the knowledge that all - be they king or beggar - must eventually succumb to its killing embrace.
What this saying fails to take into account, however, is that some people die harder than others.
Jager Valance was one such individual. Where others bowed mute and and dejected in the face of the universe's many calumnies, he stood tall and defiant, every fibre of his being an act of rebellion against mortality. While others were content to exist, he lived.
This fact alone made him an unusual specimen amongst the herd of humanity which populated the thousand worlds of the galactic rim. Not for Valance the perpetual mourning imposed on others by the Church of the Endless Sun, a once-minor sect from a far off rock which had spread like a virus throughout the Empire until its juvenile utterances had become encoded in humanity's DNA, so that whole populations now laboured under the delusion that their lives were an onerous prelude to something better. Nor was he taken in by the propaganda instilled in every febrile mind by the Council of Citizenship, which instructed and brainwashed all to view the Empire as the only worthy construct mankind had ever created, a bastion against the anarchy the universe was ever trying to impose.
For the truth was, Valance liked anarchy. He joyed in it. To his mind, chaos was not something to flee or fight against, but a condition to be embraced wholeheartedly and with abandon: and this he duly did, becoming in time as much a force for change on his homeworld as any meteor strike. New movements sprang up around him as his ideas spread, political parties and campaign groups, all seeking to throw off the shackles imposed by the wider society, all seeking to usher in a new order.
It was, of course, doomed from the beginning. The Empire had not reached its current level of expansion by allowing autonomy of thought. The Emperor, residing in his gilded palace on Damocles IV, issued an edict indicating his displeasure. When this failed to quell the intellectual forest fire which had spread amongst the minds of the inhabitants of Torag 1, he summoned his generals from every corner of the starfield and outlined his plans.
They were brutal. Vector-class destroyers orbited the planet for two months, raining down a bombardment of fire which left the cities in ruin and the countryside a burning waste. Then, once the Emperor's will had been suitably enforced, the survivors were herded up and sent for 're-education', that they may never more seek to subvert the system from within.
Inside every soul there burns a flame, however. For some it is easily extinguished by brutality. For others, such treatment simply makes it burn that much brighter. In the case of Jager Valance, were he to unleash what was in his heart the entire universe would be reduced to ash.
He escaped from the re-education centre, killing three guards in the process and thinking nothing of it. For a year he hid in the mountains, living like a beast, waiting for the pendulum of fate to swing once more his way. And it did.
Whilst skirting the outskirts of Voltaire, Torag 1's capital and the only city still capable of functioning as such, he spotted a patrol of Imperial Marines standing by their vehicle, which had broken an axle whilst traversing the bombed-out, crater-strewn landscape. Without a care for the consequences, for by this time he was more animal than man, he attacked them, sneaking up from behind the many boulders which littered the locality and laying into them with a crude, home-made knife he had fashioned from a discarded oil barrel many months before. In seconds all three men were dead, their throats cut, their blood feeding the soil. They hadn't even had time to reach for their weapons. Valance dragged their bodies away and buried them, though not before purloining one of their uniforms and all the money they possessed.
Later, after booking into a hotel on the far side of the city, he shaved off the ragged beard which had grown during his time in the wilderness, had a shower, and slept in a bed softer than any he had dreamed of during his exile.
When he awoke the next morning, he stared out of the cracked and grimy window at the city beyond: despite attempts by the inhabitants to carry on as normal, there was no disguising the damage done, no hiding the burnt-out schools, shops, and houses. Nor could the copious amounts of disinfectant which had been deployed mask the stench of rotting corpses from the mass graves beyond the city limits.
It was while gazing out on this scene that Valance decided on the course of action which would decide not only his fate, but also that of the entire Empire.
The pendulum has indeed swung my way, he thought, his fury almost a living entity squirming beneath his flesh. But now it's time to push it a little further..
It was difficult finding an acolyte still loyal to him, but find one he did. Despite the danger to herself, she helped him forge new ID documents so that he would at least able to find gainful employment. This he did, a short while later, securing work servicing vehicles at the local military barracks (for he had always been good with his hands).
It was here that he first heard the name Arkan, the man who had masterminded the almost total destruction of his planet.
It was here also that he made a vow to drive a knife through Arkan's heart, regardless of the cost to himself or anyone else; a kind of madness was upon him, a thirst for revenge which threatened to drive out all rationality.
In the weeks that followed, Valance did more forging and more killing. Wearing a variety of disguises, he made his way to Nu Earth, where he knew Arkan was stationed.
Then disaster struck. While torturing a soldier he had kidnapped for the sole purpose of gathering information on his prey, Valance learned that the object of his hatred was to leave the planet, bound for the Empire's crown, Nu Corinth.
For many, this final frustration might have tipped them into despair. But Valance was performing a finely-tuned balancing act on the razor's edge of sanity, his hunger for vengeance always subservient to his more practical side. He thus spent days hanging around the spaceport, watching all those who came and went. Selecting a suitable victim, one of the countless anonymous stewards who worked in the galleys of the Helion II, he followed him home one night, stuck a blade in his back, and stole his credentials.
And so it came to pass that when the massive spacecraft took off from Nu Earth on its perilous mission to Nu Corinth, Jager Valance took off with it.
Valance sat in his tiny, cramped quarters and looked up at the ceiling. Though separated by many levels and decks, in his mind's eye he could see Arkan up there, sitting, smoking, drinking, laughing.
Enjoy it while it lasts, butcher, Valance thought languidly, before laying back in his narrow cot and closing his eyes. Judgement is closer than you think. Payment is due, and I have come to collect.
On Torag 1 they have a saying:
The world is a vampire; it has an appetite for blood.
What they fail to mention is, so do humans.
Summer awoke to a cacophony of sounds.
An intense shrill scream announced their vessels descent into the atmosphere, and the dull groans around her announced the awakening of her fellow sleepers out of their deep, induced space slumber.
An incessant red light blinked at constant intervals, mesmerising the newly awakened occupants of the hold.
A solitary man, obviously someone of some rank, walked along the hold, purposely manhandling anyone slow to rouse from the deep flight sleep.
Summer groaned and moved her hand down to massage her weakened leg muscles, and slowly hooked her weary legs over the edge of the hibernation bed.
The entire hold was slowly becoming a mass of activity, as the jumbled mess of scientists and space marines fought each other for possession of the stowed away goods of their respective professions; one for advancement and one for annihilation.
Summer’s still groggy and dazed head swung back to the sound of the alarm, and her red-rimmed eyes focused intently on the blinking red light, as if it was about to unveil a revelation.
Sadly she knew this was not to be the case.
It was merely a sign that their journey had almost reached the point she dreaded. Within five minutes the light would go green and the ship would go into the Rapid Attack Descent, or the R.A.D as the space marines called it.
A deep resonating voice used to command and total obedience rang through the hold.
“Hands off your cocks and on with your socks…..three minutes till landing. So move your F*cking arses, I want to see shit stowed and every one of you bitches locked and loaded in two!”
The tall hefty looking man behind the voice turned to the leader of the scientific detail and murmured demurely.
“I’ll give your people three minutes…., but I need them securely in their seats before the R.A.D begins!”
Then almost as an afterthought he added in a slow and condescending manner.
The soldier then abruptly turned back to his marines and continued his tirade of profanities and promise of violence if preparations were not carried out within his personal timeframe.
Summer smiled and half stifled a laugh as she noticed the mans threats were merely washing over the troops, and all their affairs seemed well in order. The harsh words seemed to be more of an expected lecture by a caring father than a man trained to kill.
Unlike the frantic panicky civilians around her.
A short sharp cough behind her caused her to forget the intricacies of the military and turn around to face her team leader, who stood with an eyebrow raised and harsh words poised upon his thin lips.
Team leader Duul stood all of five and a half foot tall. Small in stature, but big in his pursuit of delivering as much cruelty upon his charges as was worldly possible.
The man was a product of bureaucracy, and every second of his life was enmeshed within it tight constraints. Unfortunately for those around him his dour red taped demeanour was a source of constant harassment.
Summer sighed inwardly and gazed down at the innocuous little man.
He stood about two inches shorter than her, and his manner suggested he resented this fact. It was clear he had a patriarchal view of women’s place in society, which in Summer’s view came from the resentment of being forty odd years old, single, and living with your mother.
Duul held Summer’s stare for a few seconds until its intensity threatened to overwhelm him, before arching an eyebrow and speaking.
“Well Miss Welkin…I see that by your nonchalance you obviously believe that your part in this expedition doesn’t relate to helping prepare for the imminent landing”.
Duul lowered his gaze and gestured to the strewn equipment in the scientist’s section that others were hurrying to organise.
Summer chafed at the lack of civility in his voice. After all he was just a petty upstart official, and she was a junior professor in the biomedical unit of the ministry of space, despite only having been there several months.
She glanced at her kit with had been organised before the extended hibernation period during their flight, all was in order. All she needed to do was dress for the surface conditions, and strap in for the final descent.
Duul stood, as expecting an answer but Summer looked past him to where some of the older members of the unit struggled to prepare.
She shouldered past him, deliberately dropping her shoulder into his small frame and almost unbalancing him.
“Sorry Duul, it seems I don’t have time for pre-descent chit-chat, there are things to prep you know!”
She left the official reeling and continued past to help the other members of her team.
But even as she strode confidently, her back felt the heat of Duul’s hatred burning into it like a branding iron.
Summer’s course took her directly toward an older couple, who were too busy on organising their equipment to pay heed to her approach.
Their panicked efforts to stow their gear whilst constantly chiding each other brought a rare smile to Summer’s face.
To a casual bystander the constant nagging and bickering may well have seemed like a couple tired of married life, just looking for the chance to belittle one another. Not however in this case. The couple were both Professors and joint heads of the bio-medical unit of the multi world spanning Nu Earth University after the Chancellor of the University declared that they were, at least in his words “The only such foul misshapen two headed beast for the job”
The constantly furrowed brow of Professor Amon Pohl looked up at Summer and his large brown eyes softened.
“Ahh well if it isn’t an angel to help us mere mortals with our worldly troubles!”
He exclaimed to his wife who was too enthralled in the stowing of several blood test kits into their relevant places.
Without even turning to look, Corinna Pohl’s rebuke cut through his lofty manner.
“Would you be able dear to stop making moon eyes at any female stupid enough to make eye contact with you and hold these?”
Her arm held out a motley collection of body bags, colour coordinated for size.
Amon took the bags and hurriedly stowed them into a bag.
Corinna looked up to lock Summer in a withering gaze that let her know that she disapproved off her presence here. It wasn’t a question of her credentials, but more of a worrying motherly concern for her lack of experience in fieldwork.
“You know I was not at all happy about your inclusion on this expedition”.
Corinna’s tone of voice was all too familiar to Summer for the past few days since the inception of the mission; it was all she had heard from her mentor.
Corinna’s voice softened and broke into the more jovial manner she and her husband were known for.
“But I am glad you are here…these packs are far too heavy for someone as petite of frame as I am”.
A thin cackle came from her husband, followed by one of his custom scathing japes.
“Petite like the backside of a Vector class destroyer!”
She turned to glare at him before breaking into laughter.
Corinna opened her mouth to say something in reply, but any speech was drowned out by a whooping siren and the flashing intermittent red light staying on.
The harsh command of the officer of the space marines rang out over the sound of the alarm.
“R.A.D in thirty seconds people! Into position now!”
Summer helped the Pohls stow the last of their gear before hurrying back to her landing position.
Summer strapped herself in the awkward safety cage as she had done many times before in flight simulators and waited for the inevitable freefall to commence.
She took once last glance around, before pulling down her heavy safety goggles, noting none of the marines seemed fazed at all by the imminent descent. She firmly gripped the handles of her safety cage as best her heavy awkward gloves would allow her, and waited.
A thousand thoughts ran through her mind about what awaited them on the cold dark surface of Nu Corinth, and she fought to hold her steadily rising fear.
Time seemed to standstill as the vessel entered Nu Corinth atmosphere and the landing light turned green and the R.A.D began.
The shriek of wind howled like a thousand banshee’s as the ship fell into the sky.
Heat started to warm her backing plate and began to seep through her suit.
Somewhere someone screamed until a shrill metallic ripping sound drowned them out.
Her vision became impaired as she drifted in and out of conscious and snatches of images drifted before her eyes as if in a dream.
The metallic ripping sound came again, only louder and stronger.
Patches of darkened sky began to appear through giant tears in the fuselage.
The screams began anew, but by more than one voice. Summer turned her head to the left in their direction.
A wall of flame rolled past her, dancing upon the exposed skin of her cheek, burning with a deep searing pain like a thousand red hot daggers in her flesh.
The room began to spin slowly at first, then gathering momentum.
The growing intensity all around her in the curses, screams, piercing alarms and tearing metal drummed in her ears, filling her mind with terror.
Summer felt her bladder let go, but even this ignominious act could not shake the fear and panic gnawing at her very soul.
Summer added her screams to the growing crescendo of noise.
A harsh bone jarring jolt brought everything to an abrupt stop.
And then there was only darkness.
Oh well, if people are starting to delete their posts already I'll delete mine. Good luck, CE. Hope you get better.
“There are a million ways to die. The Devil knows them all...”
Hedron looked up sharply at the General's words and stared intently at the old man, as if by sight alone he could discern the true meaning behind each syllable. “Devil?” he said, lowering the plasma pistol he had been cleaning. “Should that mean something?”
General Xark sighed and shook his head. “No,” he admitted. “Not any more. Like me, it is a relic of a bygone age. Our ancestors would have known to whom I refer - ”
Hedron frowned. This conversation seemed to be collapsing in on itself like an old star. “My ancestors come from Zephel XV. I've never heard anyone there talk of this Devil of yours.”
Xark studied the young man with rheumy eyes and smiled sadly. “Earth, boy,” he said softly. “I speak of Earth and its ways.”
“Nu Earth?” said Hedron in puzzlement.
“Earth!” said the General sharply, appalled by the younger man's ignorance. “The planet on which our species originated, the planet of which Nu Earth is a mere tawdry copy. Our ancestors had many strange notions: the concept of a Devil was just one of them, though considering what has befallen our once lovely world I begin to give the stories more credence...”
Mad, thought Hedron coldly. The old fool's finally gone crazy. Everyone knew that 'Earth' was a myth, designed to placate those who still foolishly clung to the notion that humanity had once occupied a single homeworld. “And what relevance does this particular fairytale have to us?” he asked, though he had no real interest in the answer and had already returned his attention to his pistol.
Xark shook his white-haired head. “Who knows?” he replied. “I just remember the stories my grandmother used to tell me, about a creature who sought to bring about the fall of Man. Considering what has happened to Nu Corinth, is it any surprise it should come to mind?”
Hedron snorted. “The creatures we face are flesh and blood,” he said. “They didn't spring from a children's book. Remember, I've seen them. I've killed them. There are no revenants on this planet, just alien scum who seek to supplant us. Once reinforcements arrive, we shall send them to oblivion where they belong.”
“Aliens,” repeated Xark in a subdued voice. “Do you really believe that? We have spread across the galaxy for these last ten thousand years, hopping from world to world and system to system. In all that time, we have never encountered another intelligent species. Yet you expect me to believe that what has happened here is the result of a hostile act by mysterious aliens who have appeared from nowhere? Poppycock! The truth will turn out to be less prosaic, lad, let me tell you.”
Hedron holstered his pistol angrily and turned a flushed face towards his superior. “Ghosts don't kill,” he said, his fury barely suppressed. “Ghosts don't block out the sun so that we are forced to live in half-light.” His voice rose higher. “Ghosts do not make a population of three billion disappear. Why? Because ghosts do not exist!”
Xark looked at him calmly. “Really? Are you so sure, my boy? Are you sure enough to bet your life on it?”
Hedron stood up from the bench on which he had been sitting and adjusted his uniform as best he could in the cloying gloom which surrounded them. “You know I am,” he said, and with that he turned and left the room.
As Hedron returned to the barracks, anger still bubbled inside him. Stupid old bastard! he thought savagely. We're the only people alive in this sector and he thinks ghosts are the cause! He kicked a locker, and the noise reverberated across the empty room. Damnation, I've seen those things. They're flesh and blood, just like me. They can be hurt, they can be killed. If only more of us had survived. If I had a battalion with me I'd wipe them from the face of this planet.
But, of course, he didn't have a battalion. He and Xark were, as far as they were aware, the only living people in Sector 43. Hedron had made several sorties from the military compound in which they'd both holed up, sometimes spending days away in search of fellow survivors. Not one had he found. Not even one. It was during one of his forays that he had first encountered the shadow creatures, the aliens. He'd been investigating downtown when he came across them dragging a corpse along a road. Thinking the victim might still be alive, he'd leapt out of his armoured car and laid down a devastating stream of fire with a plasma rifle. They'd died easy, those aliens. Unfortunately, the woman they'd been dragging was beyond help and had already breathed her last by the time Hedron got to her. She was the only one. Since that day, he'd seen no other sign of human life.
And now he was going out again. He'd be away longer this time. Nu Corinth was divided into one hundred sectors, and he had investigated just one. This time he would expand his search. It would take a week of hard driving just to reach the nearest adjacent sector, but Hedron wasn't about to give up hope. There were survivors out there somewhere. There had to be.
Exiting the barracks, he checked the back of the armoured car to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything. Food and water? Check. Plasma cells for his weapons? Check. The only thing he couldn't stock up on was petrol. Vehicles didn't run on petrol any more. Only the more primitive planets in the Empire still used it as a source of fuel. Yet, when this tragedy had hit Nu Corinth, all other vehicles had died. Only those museum pieces which didn't rely on fuel cells were capable of running, which was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because, after finding the armoured car in the nearby military museum Hedron had realised he wouldn't have to go out into the world unprotected, a curse because it was nearly impossible to find fuel for it. He'd raided as many portable generators as he could find, but he knew it wouldn't be enough. At some point he'd have to dump the vehicle and carry on on foot. The prospect didn't fill him with joy.
As Hedron climbed into the driver's seat and started the engine, the noise somewhat shocking in the absolute stillness, Xark watched him from the window of the Officers' Mess.
Shame, thought the old man. I've told him there's no point looking, but he just won't listen. Young people are always such optimists. He's going to die out there, and then I'll be all alone.
As the armoured car drove off, the General resumed his seat at his desk and picked up the antique revolver which had been hidden under a pile of papers. He stared at it for some time before raising it to his temple.
Hedron was already far away when the shot rang out.
[deleted due to GM being chronically indisposed and unlikely to return]
Summer awoke to the sound of disembodied muffled voices.
Upon opening her eyes from darkness, she found that nothing but more darkness awaited her.
Her body felt pinned into position in a cold metallic embrace, as she tried and failed to move her limbs.
A dull throbbing ache ran along the side of her head, which brought with it vague recollections of burning flesh and agonising pain.
Summer tried to call out for help, but her throat was too raw from screaming during the descent.
She stopped for a second to collect her thoughts…It had been a descent? Or had something else happened?
The slightest glimpse of light flashed on the edge of her peripheral vision, and she painfully turned her head to the left to see what it was.
As she turned to the light, the fog clouding her brain began to slightly dissipate, and her mind picked up disembodied voices through the white noise reverberating in her ears.
“Over here…we’ve got one” a strong authorative voice called out.
Summer felt the heat of light on her face and the feel of human touch as someone held her left hand through a gap in the metal that covered her.
Piece by piece the metallic coffin she lay in was peeled away. Moonlight streamed weakly at first but growing in intensity as she was freed.
Summer felt strong arms gently lift her out of the remnants of her safety cage and lay her down on the ground.
Slowly she regained her senses, and remembered what had occurred.
Summer sat bolt upright and stared into the rugged yet strangely handsome face of the Space Marines officer she had noticed before the R.A.D.
“What happened?” Summer exclaimed.
The Space Marine’s officer smiled wanly and grimaced slightly before speaking.
“Seems we ran into a touch of trouble during the freefall, my thought is that one of the stabilisers failed and threw us into a spin, and the damn ship tore itself apart.
But I can’t be sure…none of the flight crew made it through, neither did half our complement.”
Summer’s face must have betrayed her next question, as the officer continued.
“Before you ask, most of your people made it. The aft section of the ship where you guys were located came through in the best shape. Apart from a few broken bones and minor injuries, most are okay. It seems that most of my lads bore the brunt…”
The officer gestured to his right where soldiers were busy laying out their dead comrades in a long black row of body bags.
Summer turned back to the officer and quietly spoke.
“How many did we lose?”
The officer lowered his head and in a dismayed voice whispered.
He then seemed to gather his thoughts and quickly hide away any grief that he felt and abruptly stood up and made as if to walk away and rejoin his men in their grisly task.
Summer quietly spoke.
“Sir, I wish to thank you for helping to free me and wish to know your name”.
The officer locked eyes with summer for what seemed like an eternity, and she felt herself melting under his intense glare, before the moment was broken by his words.
“It’s Tyrr, miss. Captain commanding the 44th special recon unit”
With that he turned and strode off towards what remained of his men, bellowing orders as he walked.
Summer lay back and looked at the twin moons shining malevolently above in the frigid sky above Nu-Corinth.
As she stared at them, she remembered the fables of their being that she was taught at school.
The moons were according to some fragments of the old texts, not originally moons at all but twin gods named Etain and Aetain. The twins represented the light and darkness present in all human souls, the good and the bad. Despite being siblings their intense rivalry for control of the souls of the world was legendary.
Over the aeons they waged a war against each other through their followers. Each possession of a soul was a victory against the other. After a time so intense was their hatred for each other, that both lost sight of what they were originally fighting for and their focus upon their followers began to wane.
As people began to lose interest in following either of the twins, their power base was eroded until nothing remained except their abyssal hate for each other.
The perpetual war against each other began to eat away at them, until each became as hard as stone, floating waiting in space for someone or something to unlock their powers encased beneath their cold hard surfaces.
Summer involuntary shivered as she wondered if the twin’s legendary hatred had somehow been unleashed upon the world again.
A kind voice broke through her thoughts.
“You look cold there girl, here have a blanket”.
Summer lowered her eyes from the sky to look at the bandaged face of Corinna Pohl and exclaimed in shock at the sight of her injured mentor.
“Heavens Corinna are you alright”
Corinna nervously laughed as she laid a blanket over Summer’s legs.
“Not to fear child, nothing but a scratch. Not like the old buzzard over there”.
Corinna indicated over to where her husband lay unconscious under a thermal blanket.
“At least we won’t have to hear his tales of elder gods and crumbling ancient civilizations all day”
Corinna continued to ramble in order to disguise the fear she felt without him by her side.
“You know as well as I that he spent his entire leisure time studying what histories remain of this planet, loved it he did. Sometimes more so than science and even me I thought on occasion! Stupid old sod…”
With that exclamation she broke down into tears, and Summer struggled to sit upright to console her.
“Shhh Corinna, he will be fine. In a short while he’ll be awake like a proverbial bear with a sore head annoying us all again with his rambling”.
Corinna smiled through the tears and nodded.
“I suspect you are right, Summer, I do however shudder at the thought of some of the things he has said had been done on this planet by the ancients in order to appease their elder gods. I am glad that science is my faith at times to be honest”.
Both sat for a while wrapped in their own thoughts about the past and pondering what the future would bring.
Summer shook herself from the gloominess that was threatening to overtake her, but still some desolation seemed to have etched itself upon her soul.
Looking around Summer noticed that many of the survivors were huddled in little groups looking despondent, as if a vast blanketing weight had settled upon them.
Only the space marines seemed to be ignoring it, though possibly only due to the unwavering verbal lashings from their Captain who was harrying them to set a perimeter.
Summer sat watching as they set about gathering weapons and ammunition and began to enforce the immediate crash site.
Several heavily armed marines appeared to be preparing to move out to reconnoitre the area around them.
It was only now that Summer took note of their surroundings.
It appeared that they had crashed in one of the industrial sectors of Nu-Earth.
All around the massive structures of engineering workshops rose, towering above them, belaying a feeling of being hemmed in on all sides.
The ship had hit one of the workshops about one hundred feet in the air before finally landing in the middle of a roadway between the buildings.
Summer looked down the road into the murkiness of the nights gloom and saw nothing but a few abandoned transport skimmers.
For one instance Summer imagined she saw some twitching form of movement at the extremities of her line of sight, but quickly dismissed it as a trick of the dark.
Turning her eyes back to the crash site Summer noted a flurry of activity near Captain Tyrr.
Summer called out to a marine who was hurriedly running past while fumbling with his plasma rifle.
“Excuse me what’s happening?”
The marine turned with a look of expectancy on his face and exclaimed.
“Apparently we got company coming from that a way”
His grimy hand pointed to the other side of the crash site where Summer had earlier seen the marines head out to reconnoitre.
The marine continued on his way and Summer tried to focus in the direction he had indicated to see what was coming but saw nothing but blackness.
All talk around the site ceased as the marines began to take up positions and communicate via hand signal only.
Several armed medical staff situated themselves among the throng of civilians and indicated for silence.
Suddenly all movement ceased as everyone was in position and the wait for an appearance by someone or something began.
For some unknown reason Summer’s eyes lifted to the darkened sky again and her gaze rested upon the almost mocking glow of the twin moons and she shuddered, from fear or cold she did not know.
Her attention was diverted from the sky by a challenge issued far in front of her by an advance post of marines.
Then all hell broke loose.
Two purple snakes intertwined and then seperated, their bodies slipping up and around in beat with the music. Kraun only focused half his attention on the holo display in his retina, his thoughts were elsewhere. His thoughts were on the planet beneath him. His briefing had assigned him and his fellow Riechen to a Captain Arkan, which didn't mean much to the others. Hell, they thought they were simply soldiers going to slay enemies of the empire. But Kraun knew better, Kraun knew his true purpose.
"Ten minutes and counting for R.A.D" A voice shouted. Kraun pressed two buttons on his chestplate and the light combat suit covering his body hissed into place, plates interlocking until nothing could be seen of his skin.
"I don't like this" A voice beside Kraun said. He looked over and saw Juseel locking up his suit. Kraun stared at his head, pretending he could see the counter neurons flowing through Juseel's head. Unbeknownst to him of course, only Kraun knew of its existence.
"Yes, it is ominous, kind of like when you're told to explore the SPA Storage Unit when you know the mutants are crawling around." Juseel gave him a look and sneered.
"Keep your fantasy bullshit to yourself, this is real, no mutants and downed power centers, only a planet full of monsters and an opportunity to rise in rank."
Kraun smiled, eyeing Juseel's head again. "Doubt it"
"Lock and load boys, Zeta Unit, you're on point with Captain Arkan, sweep and destroy, you know the deal."
Kraun saluted with the rest of Zeta at the gunnery sergeant and turned to the drop ships. He was following these officers to certain doom and misery on a dead planet. No, not doom, not misery, but duty, glory, genocide. Kraun would wipe this abomination from the planet, humanity was pure, humanity was god, there was no room in this universe for aliens and their impurities. He would not be bothered in his work, in fact Kraun's annihilation of this new threat would be sanctioned and encouraged, nay ordered for the glory of the empire. And to further Kraun's and his true master's greater agenda. This Kraun would die for.
"Menik, what do you believe in?"
"I believe that in order to get to the UniCon Station we'll need at least three more units of Strum Krieg"
"No, irrelevent, what do you believe in? What are you fighting for?" Menik looked at his superior, Lt. Vlyse, standing by the display consol. He looked at his own holoport and swtiched off the readings and statistics.
"I'm fighting to rid this universe of impurities, to rebuild the empire into something greater, something with purpose. The same thing we are all fighting for sir."
"And you know we will loose."
"No, not yet sir, not until the last Riechen battleship has been blown to pieces, we still have many battles to wage before the empire has seen the last of us."
"Yes Menik, but one day that last battleship will go down, our last bastion will fall, and our men will break. And what will you do after that? Stand trial for your actions with the rest of us?"
"Your point please Lt."
"After this war, a new one starts. I have seen that the empire is not yet ready for us, not yet willing to let go of its dying ideals. Our message must go on, our fight must not yet be finished. Menik, I offer you a chance to be reborn, to become a new breed of soldier in the empire, one who will bring change from within"
"I.....my fight is here sir, I would not abandon my ideals for an uncertain future"
"You must, it is how we will survive. You will not be alone, there will be others, but you must forsake this life, Menik must be no more. This is a direct order, do you understand?"
"......Sir, yes sir."
[deleted due to reasons given above]
Summer threw herself down on the ground hard, as the sound of gunfire crackled through the air.
The unrelenting cacophony of firing seemed to continue unabated with no pause or break, like the men shooting were worried to stop in fear that something would penetrate the wall of death they were creating.
A murmur of new noise broke in between the sounds of the marine’s suppression fire.
A pinging, metallic noise interspersed by a roaring sound that Summer could not quite place.
Summer raised her head ever so slightly from the roadbed she had been trying to bury herself into for dear life.
The Space Marine Captain she had met earlier on, Tyrr she remembered his name as, was pacing around his perimeter casually as if on a morning stroll. Now and then he paused to say something to the aide de camp that seemed to be permanently in his shadow.
Beyond that Summer go only see the backs of the Space Marines who appeared to be frantically working their weapons at whatever was approaching them.
Summer slowly raised her head more in an effort to see what was attracting the firepower of the Marines.
The murky gloom of the evening made visibility practically impossible despite the waning moonlights sickly glow from above. The shadows cast by the huge buildings all but restricted the efforts of the moon to cast its malevolent gaze on the ground.
The roaring noise that had been gradually getting louder, or closer Summer thought, suddenly died away to a faint burbling that tickled Summer’s memory, but she couldn’t quite place it.
The Space Marines Captain made a quick gesture and bellowed out a command that was hurriedly taken up by his subordinates.
The crackle of gunfire fall away to nothing, as did the metallic pinging sound almost in unison.
Silence reigned across the night, broken out by the hiss of gun muzzles rapidly cooling in the cool evening air.
A rapid signal from the Captain sent a three man team edging cautiously forward beyond the perimeter.
Summer barely was able to breath as the minutes ticked by with no movement from anyone. The Marines remained assuming their firing positions and the civilians lay face down hugging the earth for all it was worth, bar her.
Summer peered intently at the Space Marine Captain’s face, or at least the side of it she could see. The eye she focused on was intently studying the scene in front of it as if slightly perplexed. Then without warning he broke contact with the view in front of him. His eye swivelled in her direction and looked hard into her face for a second before breaking contact and turning to his aide.
Summer felt like she was a child again, caught out looking at something she wasn’t supposed to. What was it about that man? She felt like a teenager again, heart aflutter after a first kiss.
Involuntarily she shook her head, as if trying to dislodge any feelings her muddled head was insinuating. Gods! She thought, I am not in a position to feel any emotional attachment for anyone, not here, not now!
A flicker of movement on the perimeter interrupted her thoughts, and she focused back on what was unfolding before her.
The Marines appeared to have assumed a wary, yet relaxed approach to whatever was in front of them. Several appeared to be joking with each and one or two had even lit cigarettes and were greedily puffing away as if it would be taken from them at any instant. Even the Space Marine Captain seemed to have taken a stance that rivalled the look of a wary leopard, and his officers attempted to emulate the look with varying degrees of success.
Summer slowly and carefully began to pull her body upright, ignoring the horrified wide eyes of the civilians around her.
Once upright the vista before the perimeter began to appear to her as her eyes became accustomed to penetrating through the gloom.
The source of the roaring sound became obvious to her as she looked out in front. An antiquated Armoured car lay stationary about 200 metres short of the perimeter, with a tattered and grimy white banner unceremoniously draped from the command hatch.
The appearance of it led Summer to believe that the pinging metallic noises she had heard were bullets repeatedly striking the vehicle.
The soft burbling of its petrol fuelled piston engine took Summer back to her formative years as a graduate student at Nu Earth University, who had to work part time in the dusty and filthy halls of Antiquity to make ends meet.
Despite the grandiose of the name, the Hall had offered little beyond a series of foul mouthed old men and their toys, that most deemed offensive and prehistoric.
Summer suppressed a giggle as she wondered which was more offensive and prehistoric, the machines or the men that tended them.
Shaking her head at such inane memories she attempted to focus on what lay before her. What was with her today? She mused silently.
The Armoured car was surrounded by the three man team she had seen earlier, and several point scouts that had been hidden in forward positions.
Two of the men had a third man, who appeared to be in different uniform to the Marines between them.
The captives hands appeared to be restrained behind his back, and he was being led, no, more like dragged towards the perimeter.
The defeated looking prisoner had his head dejectedly hanging forward, so that only a shock of red hair showed to his captors within the perimeter.
Summer began to paint a picture of the man within her head as these few details came into view. The wild red hair marked him surely as a descendant of the Zephel XV survivors, a dour lot as Summer had ever met. The Zephel Enclave’s on Nu Earth were without a doubt one of the most drab and uniformly mediocre places you could ever visit. The people had, at least in Summers eyes, been as a whole been born without any sense of humour or individuality. Everything they did revolved around the fact that Science was God, and technology was the absolute pursuit of happiness. Outside of the perpetual hunt for disapproving everything through science, they lived for little else. Social interaction outside of their communities was frowned upon, and any notion of “Higher Powers” or the like, which some other subscribed to were seen as heresy and punishable accordingly. Thankfully the Elder Council’s had managed to break the stranglehold the Enclave’s were gaining on the populace and limit their political power to several area’s only. They were however a brooding menace nestled in the backwaters of the Empire, the proverbial boil that would eventually need to be lanced before one day it crippled the democracy, so to speak.
Summer broke away from her thoughts on the Zephellian’s and concentrated on the man as he was brought before the Space Marine Captain.
The drab olive brown one piece jumpsuit he was wearing marked his as auxiliary staff to the central transport flight wing. The mans left arm bore three red linear slashes just below the shoulder indicating him as a senior flight technician.
Typical, Summer thought. Just like a Zeph to spend his time playing around with avionics and the like rather than anything else.
To Summers surprise the man also had a smaller triangular badge under the stripes portraying a snake wrapped around a human skull.
Summer gave a sharp intake of breath, for that badge was a symbol of the first Air Guards, the most elite and secretive unit of the Empire.
Summers brain raced. If he were from the First’s airbase and he had not travelled far. Then by rights they were within few days travel of the central hub of Nu Corinth.
The First Air Guard always was stationed closest to the central hub for quick response to any perceived threat on what was the nerve centre of the planet. It was in this sector that the most important and secretive of the planets dealings occurred. It was here that the truth of what happened to Nu Corinth would be found.
Summer stared at the man as he was dragged before the Space Marine Captain for immediate interrogation.
A thousand questions and theories raced through her mind as she watched the man answering the Captains questions.
The man seemed to have an air of urgency about him, and made continued furtive glances back from where he had come from. Several times the officers standing nearby glanced in the same direction with strange unreadable looks on their faces, and then looked back as if ashamed they had done so.
Summer began to note a number of other civilians around her getting to their feet and making a show of straightening their clothing and organising their strewn equipment in an effort to appear calm and collected.
Summer felt a hand on her arm as Corinna Pohl spoke softly, almost in a whisper.
“What is going on Summer? Who is that man?”
Summer turned to stare into the frightened face of her mentor, and opened her mouth to speak when a harsh challenge was yelled from beyond the perimeter, followed by a scream and the gunfire began again.
And for the second time since their abrupt arrival on Nu Corinth all hell broke loose.
And for the second time since their arrival, Summer felt her bladder loosen in fear as the shadows in the night around her seemed to come alive.
Separate names with a comma.