I do like the categorical organization of this thread, which I absolutely did not have the patience to do in mine.
I think this is a very useful and helpful thread, so kudos! I don’t think there’s any issue with upping the character count as I believe we just went with 75K because it was the default. I’ve increased it to 100K, so let’s see how that goes.
Also, we’ll go ahead and get that sticky for you as well. I’m going to also move it to the lore section.
Thanks for your hard work on this! I had a trade thread in the old BL2 forums and just maintaining that thing was a beast sometimes! I know a lot of work is going into this and I’m sure the people that use it will appreciate it.
Thank you my friend. I shall resume construction when as soon as I return to my dwelling. With the increased character count I theorize I should be able to fit everything up to the current lore, but just nearly with larger size of all the darkspace entries. For now this works but i must stress the fact that as lore gets added in battleplans this will not be a long term solution. Regardless you have my gratitude.
Perfection shall be achieved.
#Darkspace Operations #1
The stale blue letters flickered across the lens of the modified targeting eyepiece, blinking once before vanishing into the digital aether. Navigation through the Detritus Ring was notoriously difficult, even for those among the Rogues. The ramshackle band of scrap was defined only as much as its inhabitants cared to identify its “chunks”, the various piece of salvage, debris, and rock large enough to inhabit. The vast majority of Ringspace was unmapped, home to no-names, disreputables, and those strange breeds who found themselves compelled to hermitage even amongst the Rogues. Some chunks were single-occupant domiciles, drifting life-pods or caverns carved into the cold recesses of asteroidal rock; others were barracks and communes, stations housing squadrons and families.
The Mercer, once a private short-range hauler, had long since been converted to a launch bay. Where there had been escape pods, there were now temporary living quarters; the cargo hold, once a labyrinth of shipping containers, now concealed a scrapping operation and VR sim-pods for networked training exercises. Along the principal halls, its vaulted corridors were honeycombed with retrofitted fuel lines and anchor points for the fleet of personal craft the Rogues encased within the arterial steel corridors.
Gustav landed his ship, little more than a glorified lifeboat with maneuvering gear, in the first open bore in the ship’s hull he could find. After disembarking, a quick hand gesture conjured an expectant icon on his HUD, awaiting a voice command.
“Wayfind, Chunk Mercer-1, Deck C, aft promenade.”
As he spoke, the display sparked his words into converted text and registered the command.
A moment later, a waypoint sprang into view on the digital map module of the display, and the eyepiece overlayed his vision with a faint blue beam of light drawing a crawling path in real-time to his destination. He walked determinedly through the halls, the computer rapidly outlining and identifying the ships attached to grav-clamps crudely integrated into Mercer’s frame. Having been repurposed from a piece of equipment intended for rapid threat assessment and analysis, some of its deeper instinctual elements had been difficult to rework. While he had managed to stymie the flood of target-acquisition information it was intended to output, it now steadily streamed a brook of whatever it could hastily pull from environmental cues and holonet records.
“Designation: Belt Knuckle. Status: Offline. Class: Interceptor…”
“Designation: Gunwhale. Status: Offline. Class: Gunship…”
“Designation: The Laughing Solvent. Status: Offline. Class: Custom…”
Each ship’s name appeared with an expandable ellipsis, which Gustav knew, when selected, would occlude his eye with a paragraph of text detailing the ship’s captain, most recent crew, and notable missions, as well as a suite of other technical specifications. He didn’t have time for others’ names right now. He was about to make his own.
Gustav had been with the Rogues for 2 Codex-standard years, making use of his astrogation experience to chart short-distance Tunnel runs for time-sensitive raids, in which light-minutes needed to be calculated and crossed in seconds. Such calculations were impossible for most organics without the use of cybernetic augments that could only be acquired through the LLC. These biotech suites were tracked meticulously along with their organic housings, and in the event of hardware or wetware system failure, reclamation teams could be on-site in an hour.
Through months of infiltration and careful cultivation of the LLC employee database, Gustav had engineered a financial Schwarzschild radius, a region of the payroll from which no information could escape. Once LLC Junior Vice-Accountant Vincenzo de León found himself transferred to the dark department of Gustav’s design, it was a simple matter of kidnapping, harvesting, hacking, and implanting the cortical shunt (or whatever the “surgeon” had called it) into his own body. Had he forgotten what it was like to dream? Sure. Did he occasionally have waking terrors as the simulated voice of de León echoed its feeble cry to be freed from its synaptic prison? Also sure. But no one could deny that Gustav was now better at math than an organic had any right to be, which, depending on the day, some might consider worth paying handsomely for.
He was woken from his reverie by the bright flash of red text across his HUD, “COLLISION IMMINENT”. Before he could refocus his eyes to sift through the transparent gleam of warning, he stumbled into Commander Reyna Valeria. At least, he would have. The photonic ward was instantaneous and unyielding, rippling a short distance from her gauntlet to shove him bodily away as he tripped and fell to his back beside two other waiting crew members. Even though she was shorter than all assembled, her presence somehow towered over them. “You’re supposed to be the navigator, right? I sure as hell hope you navigate better on a ship than you do on your feet.” He mumbled a half-formed apology as the others helped him up.
“Save it, we got work to do.” came her clipped reply. “You’re all here by special request for this mission. Here’s the deal: just outside the Solus system, there’s a derelict whole friggin’ universe. Lights are out, nobody’s home—that means that’s Rogue property waiting to get picked up. The job is simple: recon and retrieval. Y’all are heading through Darkspace beyond the Solus system to a little slice of heaven, maybe you’ve heard of it, Luxverse 25.”
A barrage of meaningful glances were exchanged. The Luxverse terraforming series was hailed by LLC marketing as the 12th-through-36th wonders of the universe. “Yeah, I know. You’re welcome. But you won’t have too much time for sightseeing, you’re there to tag any and everything of value that ain’t nailed down, grab a few samples to make sure the goods are good, and come back. Probably the cushiest milk run of your lives. If the lead is legit, we’ll send out a full squad to take what we can get our hands on. Any questions?”
The woman furthest from Gustav raised a gloved hand.
“Alias: Maven. Race: Human. Age: 22. Known Affiliates: Rogues …”
Reyna fixed her with a brief nod, “Yeah girl, what’s up?” Around Maven’s neck, she wore a rebreather mask attached by a hose to a small pair of tanks at her waist. With deliberate effort, she raised the mask to her mouth before finally speaking. “Darkspace? Really? Is that what we’re calling it?” Her soft voice rasped through the rubber and plastic. After the labor of her question, her shoulders rose high as she took a deep breath from the mask. Reyna’s uncovered eye rolled dramatically. “Don’t put that on me, blame the UPR, as usual. It’s space, it’s dark, Darkspace. You got something better, enlist and let them know. They’re always looking for more smartasses. Any other questions?” Gustav glanced at the others nervously before stepping forward.
“Alias: Reyna. Race: Human. Age: Unknown. Known Affiliates: Rogues, LLC, UPR, Eldrid, Jennerit, Other…”
He blinked and shook his head, clearing his nerves as well as dismissing the HUD overlay to see clearly through the scrolling tide of information. “I…” he faltered, “that is…I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say, um, it’s such an honor to fly with you. Commander.” The others nodded in assent.
Reyna grinned in comic appreciation of the compliment. “Well, aren’t you sweet. Too bad,” she paused as her own eyepiece blinked in minor computation, “Gustav. You aren’t flying with me. I got bigger fish to fry. ‘Bigger than Luxverse 25?’ I hear you thinking. Much, much bigger. But make no mistake, this mission is an important first step to what I got planned. That’s why I’m leaving you in the care of one of my most trusted pilots.”
Maven drew a shuddering breath. “Captain Hightower?”
To her left, a ruddy-faced man in a cobbled set of combat armor hazarded a guess, “Captain Shim?”
“Alias: Azef. Race: Jennerit. Age: 51. Known Affiliates: Rogues, Jennerit (exiled)…”
“Shim’s off hitting a UPR shipment of elbow macaroni, couple of Rogue sectors are low in both rations and art supplies.”
Gustav’s implant ran a quick sort of available captains, heaps of names scattered, dismissed, and neatly divided into one expanding list of “Inactive/Unavailable” and a rapidly dwindling column of “Active/Available”, until only one remained:
“Active/Available: Captain Dredge”
Gustav gave whispered voice to the text string haunting his right eye, “Dredge.”
Azef solemnly looked to the floor as Gustav’s statement hung unopposed in the moment of silence that lingered after his pronouncement. Maven looked from Gustav, to Azef, to Reyna in confusion before finally asking, “Who’s ‘Dredge’?”.
Gustav began to express bewilderment at her ignorance of his legendry, paragraphs of text answering her question clouding his viewfinder, when Azef cut him off.
“Captain Dredge. The Blue Baron,”
“Terror of the Ring,” Gustav offered.
“The Saint of Black.” Azef concluded.
“The Saint of Black?” Maven echoed, sounding breathless with some combination of physical struggle and wonder.
“Aye,” Azef continued, his shoulders hunched as he stage-whispered conspiratorially, “they say that he first escaped the LLC with a 6-year-old boy declared brain-dead due to a faulty cerebral augment. In that life, Dredge was a doctor. A Magnus doctor. Carted around from hospital to hospital and dumped into this network or that. No one knows his exact model and version number, but it goes that he was designed for modular integration into a variety of operating systems, on account of all the different computers used across the arcfleet.”
He took a hasty pull from a flask concealed in a mag-pouch on his vest.
“When they brought the boy in on account of the failing augment, they sent in Dredge to debug it from the inside. As some sorry twist of fate or perhaps a quirk of the ‘verse’s cruelty, while he was in that poor boy’s brain, the Magna Carta went offline.”
Maven gasped audibly, and adjusted a flow valve on one of her tanks.
Undeterred, Azef continued, “Debug it he did, aye, and more. With his vile digital tendrils and the devil’s own code, he reformatted that lad from the ground up, learned in microseconds which neurons to fire to draw breath, to pump blood, to raise a hand, animating the child like a puppet of blood and bone…and by nightfall, three of the LLC’s finest medical technicians were no longer among the living.”
He paused, expectantly, until Reyna herself sighed and obliged him, “You mean he killed them?” He gave a nod of acknowledgment before continuing, “No, killing, that’d be a mercy. What Dredge did was worse by far. With that same dread art by which he was given purpose, he drove a transceiver pylon into the nape of each of their necks, not terribly invasive, but deep enough to entangle with a knot of nerves and override their brains’ own commands to their insubordinate flesh. You see, the transceiver pylon intercepts and transmits signals from the brain to Dredge, who then returns a signal of his own to order the bodies of these poor souls to do his bidding as he sees fit, captives of the corporeal, just like their captor. The only thing in this universe that knows the procedure to safely remove the pylons is Dredge himself. Anyone else so much as tries it, and it’s death at best, the most excruciating agony the body is capable of producing at worst.“
“And so they sail, beneath the Rogues’ banners, under the command of the only woman alive who could curb his lust for vengeance upon us mortals and organics, the Valkyrie’s damnation on demand, pride and scorn of the fleet, the Saint of Black and his Sinners Three aboard ‘The Doomlight’. There are whispers that Captain Valeria, when some among our number get to be too contrary for her taste, consigns the wretches to a tour aboard the Doomlight, what be crewed by the damned and watched o’er by the eyes of the Pit, or of wheresoever such black machinations as Dredge are begotten, to ride into battle on its stormdrive engines, wreaking such havocs as exist no words to describe.”
An awed appreciation hovered a moment, until Reyna hastily added, “So they say.” “Aye, so they say.” conceded Azef.
“Anyway, yeah. Not Dredge. He’s on leave.” “Oh.” Azef deflated slightly. “No, y’all are in for a treat, I’ve got you someone better. In fact…” she trailed off as four beams of light lanced from somewhere off the deck, forming a blinding Venn diagram of floodlights. Gustav peered over the edge of the promenade into the darkness, disturbed by one erratic mote of illumination. Its maneuvering made it almost impossible to get a lock for analysis. As it resolved into range, his eyepiece finally output:
“Designation: Unknown. Status: THREAT ENGAGEMENT. Class: Corvette/Custom…”
As it silently screamed towards the assembled crew, his image-tracking-and-stabilization software saved him a single frame of crude, hand-formed letters spelling one word across its hull: “Malediction”. Moments later, it slipped into place mere meters above the ground as grav-clamps harpooned into the Mercer’s floor, heaving the ship to the steel as though it was straining to escape. At last, the engines shut off as the cockpit unlatched with a depressurizing hiss. From within came an inhuman roar, the black, blast-proof panes of the hatch straining against something pounding from within.
The comms channel was lit up with a staccato burst of distorted audio, “Sorry guys, hang—beast got himself tangled in my seatb—no, you have to let go of the—”. Gustav turned to Reyna and silently mouthed a “what?” as she shrugged. With a deafening slam, the hatch violently erupted, nearly burst off its hinges as a monstrous, floating, horned creature emerged. Its unearthly howl awoke some primordial flight-instinct as it rattled about the chambers of Gustav’s heart.
“AT LAST, I AM UNBOUND.”
As adrenaline surged through him and his pupils dilated in icy panic, the eyepiece meekly presented its findings, as though by bounding the creature in pixelated text, some semblance of safety might be erected behind such vague definitions:
“Alias: Unknown. Race: Guayota. Age: Unknown. Known Affiliates: Unknown…”
Using what appeared to be the creature’s stone ribcage, a teenage girl pulled herself up from the pilot seat. “Yeah, sure pal, relatively speaking. Shut up and help me down, wouldja?” Together, the pair jumped down to the ground in front of the staring crew. Reyna smiled. “Captain Shayne, your crew as requested. Gustav, Navigator. Azef, Operator. Maven, Engineer. Crew, this here is Shayne, your new captain. She’s already one of our most experienced Darkspace pilots, not to mention she has a giant monster for a friend, so I expect you to show her the same respect you’d show me or any of my other pilots. Valkyrie out.” She raised her command gauntlet into the air, sending a stream of energy cascading into the ceiling before teleporting to her own ship.
Not to be outdone, Shayne stalked up and down the line of her small crew from a distance, each wearing an expression of incredulity. She remained silent all the while, as though daring someone to speak. Somehow, she did not carry the same gravitas of Reyna that had effected an aura of resolute respect. Instead, Azef noncommittally rested his arms on his light machine gun, slung at his waist by a strap across the shoulders.
After a minute of uncomfortable examination, Shayne wheeled around in search of something. “Wait wait wait, someone’s missing! Where’s the muscle?” Azef plodded forward, his boots thudding on the ground with ponderous, dramatic steps. “Count Azef, reporting for duty, sir.” Shayne rested her face in her hand exaggeratedly. “Aurox, fetch.” she drawled, lazily pointing Azef’s way. Like a shot, the Guayota spirited to the Jennerit soldier, gripped him in claws like stone tree limbs, and brought him in front of Shayne.
“First off, don’t call me ‘sir’,”
“S-sorry, ma’am, meaning no offense.” he stammered.
“No, just ‘Shayne’, got it? CAPTAIN Shayne.”
“Of course, cap’n, er, Shayne. Captain Shayne.”
“Secondly, you’re my operator, not my muscle. If you were who I was looking for, I’d have said so. I’m not blind.” “AAAGH I’M BLIND!” Gustav shouted, as a seething whirl of black and orange descended from some unseen rafter to wrap around his face.
He staggered to maintain his balance as the bundle of arms and cloth and fire obscured his vision, his eyepiece all the while diligently outputting information:
“Alias: Orendi, the Chaos Witch. Age: Unknown. Known Affiliates: Rogues, Other…”
Orendi cackled with manic glee, two of her arms locked around Gustav’s head as she raised the other two in jubilation, “AUROX LOOK LOOK LOOOOK I’M JUST LIKE YOU WHY AREN’T YOU LOOKING?!”
She leapt from Gustav’s shoulders, contorting to turn backwards in midair and fire a propulsive burst of black flame. The force of the blast sent her hurtling towards Aurox. She caught one of his great horns, swung around to hang from it by her legs, and began gnawing at his ribs. Shayne chuckled good-naturedly, “Orendi, get down from there, you’ll hurt your teeth! And try and bring it down a little for now, we’re about to head out.”
“Right. Guys, Orendi, Orendi, guys. That’s out of the way, let’s get going. We’re burning daylight, and from what I hear it’s already in short supply where we’re headed.”
Gustav rubbed his eye with his palm and turned to Maven. She shrugged and pulled up her rebreather mask to drag a lungful of air, before calmly exhaling, “You heard the captain.”
#Darkspace Operations #2
In. And out.
Noting a small blossom of darkness in the corner of her eye, Maven lifted her rebreather mask and took a shallow breath. The ratio felt appropriate, but she was losing volume somewhere. She peered at the analog gauges on the tanks at her waist, checking remaining capacity of each, pressure within the tanks, flow regulation—
“Hey, Maven, let’s go!”
Her head swam for a moment as she looked too quickly in the direction of the call to see Aurox tossing Shayne upwards onto the nose of the craft, allowing her to climb directly into her seat before sealing the hatch above. Maven walked to the side of the ship as its doors swung up on hinges at the roof.
“Sweet doors, right? Installed them myself. Well, I had some help from Toby. Mostly me though. He just did the mechanical junk, it was my idea. You see, I was looking at my boomerang one day and thought—“
Maven mentally dismissed the remainder of the conversation as she dedicated as much of her action to automatic process as possible. Conserve energy. Conserve air. She moved in a trance towards the ship. UPR corvette, that much was obvious, some variant of the Geist-class made popular at Garden. A factory-standard Geist was medium maneuverability, mixed payload, meant to be customizable for a number of different arenas, depending on the mission. The Malediction, however…
Torpedoes, gigaphase array, rear-armor, retrothrusters, anti-missiles—the ship had been stripped to the bone and repurposed almost entirely, forsaking virtually all weaponry in favor of speed. The one concession was the ultralight cloaking frame, useful for wide-range scattering. Re-entry scorching on the nose; harlequin heat-ablation panels, in condition too fine to have been scavenged from a derelict; “Malediction”, hand-lettered in red paint over the lifted doors, fitted with generators and anchor-spools on their underside. When raised, redundant armor and overcharged shield-rails lined the leading edge of the wings, when suddenly, Maven understood. Not wings at all. Blades.
The dark haze once again gently tightened its wrap around her sight, and she took a deep breath.
In. And out.
Inside, the corvette had been predictably gutted. No need for weapons-guidance or deterrence systems; on this ship, those were in the pilot’s hands. However, the walls were decked with a number of posters, Ultralith and Eigenvect0r and Harresburra of the Mother. The whine of engines began to crescendo through her concentration, and she noticed Azef already slumped against the wall as Gustav made his way to the helm. Orendi hung from one of the hand-rails on the ceiling, seemingly content with silence for once. The doors folded closed slowly, like one of Ekkunar’s carnivorous traproots engulfing their prey, and the grav-clamps disengaged. Maven stumbled towards one of the slim single-form seats bolted to the floor, grateful to be off her feet. When she looked up from her seat, she noted a series of tallies chalked over the opposite doorway beside the word “NO” crudely carved into the wall.
Shayne’s voice doubled as she spoke on the radio and through the narrow passage separating the cockpit, “Alright Rogues, let’s see here…engines, check, local navigation, check, shields, check, cloak, check…how are my crewbies doing back there, everyone seated and snugly ensconced in their safety harnesses?”
Azef heartily chuckled as Maven managed a wan smile.
“…Guys, need a response here, standard blackwave channels, or just shout, what’s the situation?”
Azef furrowed his brow, slinging his gun behind his back to reach his belt radio. “Are you serious? You want us to ‘buckle up’ for this cakewalk?”
“Yeah I’m serious, serious as the big guy is about gnashing the raw hearts of crew members who mess up my perfect safety record. I’m on a streak of seventy-three consecutive missions with no casualties and I’m not gonna have you screwing it up now! Now shut up, sit down, and strap in before I send Aurox back there and we have to set down to scrub the walls. I’m not so hot on landings and don’t want to re-engage the clamps.”
“Shutting up, sitting down, strapping in, cap’n.”
Shayne pressed on, “Maven, talk to me.”
Maven fastened, tightened, and locked the various belts of fabric on the five-point harness and chirped into the comms, “Ready.” She held the channel open as she took two slow breaths. “What…about…Orendi?”
Shayne snorted once, then turned to shout over the rising din of the engines, “Last time someone tried to hold Orendi down, she broke an arcship! You want to catch her and try it, be my guest, just not on Mal!”
The ship lurched upward, then bounded in a circle as thrusters fired, screeching in a tight arc. The lateral g’s strung Orendi’s arms out to the walls as her cackling rang against the steel. The blood drained from Maven’s head and she succumbed to the encroaching black.
Shayne’s voice brushed at the edge of perception, “Just stretching my legs, guys! All systems go, we are away.”
Maven awoke with a start, clawing for her rebreather mask missing from her neck before realizing it was already raised and tightened in place over her mouth and nose. Her shallow, panicked breathing slowed before leveling out as she loosened the strap at the back of her head. She kept her eyes shut as she focused on calming her heart rate.
She opened her eyes, locked with Azef’s but didn’t speak, kept one hand on the mask and another on a strap at her shoulder as she tilted her head in question. In reply, he shook his head, flicked his eyes to the ceiling and inclined his head to the tail of the ship. Orendi was entangled in the cargo net and fast asleep. Below her, locked into a charging dock at in the aft wall, a powered mining exosuit stood sentry.
In the vacuum, the burn of the engines made no sound, though parts of the hull vibrated in communion with their ionic blaze. Maven found it relaxing, almost meditative, to listen to.
Despite the quiet, Shayne spoke into her communicator, “Alright, Navigator…wait, what’s your last name?”
“Oh. First name?”
“Easy to remember, I like it. Alright, Navigator Gustav, you’re up. Here are our destination coordinates, current locale and bearing is on the viewport HUD down there. Calculate me a heading and prepare for hyperlight Tunnel procedure.”
Gustav spoke distractedly as the sounds of his rapid typing gnawed at Maven’s tranquility.
“Seventy-three missions, not a single casualty? Really?”
“Well,” mischief slipped into Shayne’s tone, “not on my ship, at least.”
Aurox made a sound like a hydebear gargling with cement.
“You know, uh, captain, I must admit I had my reservations,” Gustav paused for a lengthy moment of calculation, “but that actually makes me feel a bit better. What happened to the rest of your crew, then, they on leave?”
“Well, technically, this is my first mission with a crew this size. Usually it’s just me and freakbeast here.” Aurox bristled, his mineralized arms loudly scraping as they crossed. “But, I’ve kept him alive so far, and that’s gotta count for something, right?”
Aurox spun her chair about to face him as he howled, “RELINQUISH THE BEACON, GIRL.”
She kicked off of one of his claws to continue swiveling around in her seat, mocking his monstrous tone “Relinquish the beacon,” she chuckled, “Ohhh, Aurox, such a kidder. How’s that Tunnel jump comin’, Goose?”
“I’m ready, updating vector to match our drift.”
“Perfect! Prepare to initiate Tunnel sequence, ready on my mark—“
Azef closed his eyes and began muttering something in a low drone.
The ship’s primary systems cycled off to reserve power, allowing the Tunnel drive to draw as much as necessary. Red light strips washed the interior in a ghastly gleam, exaggerating shadows as a single silent strobe swept about.
It was over in moments.
The ship’s klaxons wailed in warning as the entire assembly quaked violently. Everywhere she looked, Maven saw lights blaring for attention, indicating pressure locks, shield charge, fuel venting, catastrophe of every sort. The hull groaned with strain as they tumbled into the atmosphere.
Shayne shouted over the PA system, “Everyone hold onto something, we’re coming in hot!”
A dull glow filled the cockpit and spewed into the cabin, flickering sickly as bits of debris flared and streamed like fireworks off the heat-ablation panels.
The klaxons shut off and Shayne once more spoke over the loudspeaker, “Sitrep. Lemme see here…we’ve lost primary engine control, uh, landing gear is fused, navigation is, well, super busted, plus I’m pretty sure my navigator is unconscious. Good news is telemetry looks like we’re on target, bad news is it’s gonna be less of an LZ and more of a crater at this rate. Also I got rid of the emergency junk to cut weight a while back.” The speakers crackled as she closed the channel.
They buzzed to life again. “But it’s cool! I got this. Maybe.”
Orendi unlatched one side of the cargo netting, rolled out and braced herself in the doorway.
“Heyyy, it’s like Newshines Dayyy!”
Shayne growled in frustration as she wrestled with the yoke, “Aurox! Handle her!”
He lunged just as Orendi flung herself to the ceiling with a jet of black flame, allowing him to rush past and crash into the hanging cargo net, sending him reeling into the exosuit in back. Orendi’s percussive giggling mingled with a string of curses from Azef. She scrambled onto Maven’s legs, covering Maven’s ears with her lower two hands.
“I CAN’T SEE IN THE DARK!” She threw her head back and gave a barking laugh as her many orange eyes radiated like coals.
Maven calmly adjusted the flow valve and nodded, as though in understanding.
In. And out.
“THE DARK SEES IN ME!” Orendi pulled Maven’s face within an inch of her own, brandishing a wide grin of cutting teeth uncomfortably close to the rebreather’s hose. The pupil of her left eye began to fill with black, enlarging, until none of the glow remained and instead the orb seemed to swallow light with an awful hunger that, frankly, terrified Maven.
She nodded once more.
Orendi’s breath smelled like toast and motor oil.
Maven watched as Orendi vanished into the control room, unharnessed and kicked Gustav out of his seat, and began to mash every button in sight. A second later, the Malediction banked hard onto its side, and Maven felt the familiar caress of oblivion as she blacked out.
She heard muffled voices.
Her head was cold, and wet.
“Awww, yeah! In your face, ‘Count Azef’, she’s totally alive! That makes seventy-four, count that! Told you, I’m the best pilot there ever is, was, or will be. Boom!”
“Aye, she’s alive, but you’re sore mistaken, that makes this seventy-three-and-one-half missions—we still need to return, if you recall.”
“Whatever, you know what they say, any landing you walk away from.”
“Or swim away from, as the case may be.”
Maven’s head pounded as she felt Azef undo her harness. She fell to the ground with a splash, shocking her awake.
She spluttered and took stock of the situation as he helped her too her feet. The ship was upside-down, laying in about a foot of water, and still running on reserve power. She coughed once, gasped, and fumbled for her mask until she found it hanging in her hair. She quickly rechecked her equipment as Shayne spoke.
“Gustav is outside rebooting or something. He says he’s fine, just took a good hit to the dome. According to him, his math was perfect, it’s space that screwed up, but that doesn’t make any sense. I told him it’s okay, you know? Math is hard. But he keeps saying the space is wrong. So he’s taking five outside.”
Maven peered out the door and gasped.
“Oh right. Welcome to Darkspace. It’s really, really dark.”
The light strips of the ship illuminated its insides and penetrated the darkness a few feet beyond the door, but past that, there was nothing. It was absolute, inviolate. Visual perception simply ceased after a few yards, despite her eyes’ continual efforts to part the black curtain any further. No shadows, no horizon—
“No stars?” Maven wondered.
“They’re out there. At least, their light is. But Luxverse planets’ atmospheres are designed to diffuse starlight. There used to be a few million micro-sats that could be configured into custom constellations, but at some point, whatever was keeping them up stopped working and they burned out.”
“How did we land?”
Azef began tossing gear into a pile by the door. “That’d be the witch’s doin’.”
Shayne sighed, “Yeah, I’m really not sure how it works, but apparently Orendi can see just fine. Also, she apparently has an idea of how to steer UPR ships.”
“And arcships!” came a shout from the aphotic zone just outside the ship.
“Yeah, and arcships.” Shayne conceded.
“Sure, those too. Anyway. I’ve got the Malediction’s inputs customized for inverted axial controls, so while she was able to steer us into this giant tide pool—“
Gustav twitched and stuttered from the doorway, “Th-th-th-the Regency North Eternity Baths are 1.2 m-m-megameters on a s-s-s-s-ide. At their deepest p-p-p-point—“
“Shut it! Where was I?”
Aurox grumbled, “Steering.”
“Right. So she banked us into the pool, but upside-down, and super fast. We basically skipped like a rock, which was awesome, then kinda-sorta crashed, which was not. Anyway, gear’s mostly intact, crew’s mostly intact, so the mission is still go.”
Shayne tossed a small headset and eyepiece to Maven. “Hyperspectral lens, should scrape pretty much any EM band activity there is and convert it to visible signal. Suit up, I want us out of here in five. It’s about two kilometers to the north pavilion. I expect no problems, this place has been abandoned for years.”
Maven slipped the headband into place. “You sure?”
“Of course I’m sure, I’m the captain. This’ll be a walk in the park, literally.” Shayne flicked her bladed boomerang open and closed. “In and out.”
#Darkspace Operations #3
(Battleplan 45: 3/30/17)
In the foul, red dim of the Malediction, Azef labored wordlessly. He hardly needed the emergency light to adjust his ill-fitting armor, inspect his crudely modified weapons, perform the well-rehearsed laying of hands as he deftly passed over each piece of his gear to ensure it was prepared for whatever dark business lay ahead. It took only a minute or two before he was waiting outside, laden with a supplementary energy pack, medkit, deployable phasic barrier, grenade and ammunition bandoliers, and a number of other tools and armaments one might need to occupy a small country.
He pulled his flask from his mag pouch and tipped it to his lips. The drink trickled like brittle fire, seeping in coarse rivulets into the cracks of his throat and instilling something like courage into his tired, aging veins. It was piercing, cloying, foul, and raw, unlike anything he’d enjoyed in the lofty halls of Tempest. “Highborn”, he’d called himself once. What use was high birth if he resigned himself to a low death under the heel of the Sustained? He idly synced his weapon sights to the headgear Captain Shayne had handed him, resting his back on the hull of the ship. There was more than one kind of immortality. He took another drink.
Gustav joined him, still shivering from whatever strange malady had afflicted him since the crash.
“I-I-Iii think the others are setting up the ssssuit.”
Azef grunted and shook his head, pocketing the flask.
“Aye, to be sure, the one thing we need most on a planet shrouded in whole by primeval darkness is a walking tank as loud as the night is long.”
As if in answer, the thrumming of a power cell ignition swept away the silence inside the ship, rocking with a creak of protest. Maven sloshed the exosuit through the shallow water, carrying Shayne and Orendi on a pair of side rails. The rear exhaust ports gleamed fiendishly behind their thermal vents, offering a bit of much-needed mobile light and warmth.
Beneath the hyperspectral headgear and rebreathing mask, entombed within the pilot cage of the exosuit, Maven’s voice was steady for the first time: “It looks like the core was damaged in the crash. At the rate I’m losing charge, this thing’s only got about 12 hours. That should be plenty, but the sooner we move out, the better.”
Shayne hopped off the side, joined in an instant by Aurox from some unseen vantage.
“Good call, Maven. Alright nerds, get moving and give me a comms check, let’s walk and talk.”
Their communicators momentarily sparked with a chorus of tests and checks, before lapsing once again into silence. As the edge of the artificial shore grew closer, the lens seemed to dull with haze, bits of poorly resolved interference washing out its field of resolution. At the water’s edge, Shayne held up a closed hand, halting the group as the sea placidly lapped at their heels.
“Maven, hit the brights, wouldja? I think something’s up with my hype-specs.”
“Roger that, captain.”
A satisfying chunk punctuated the activation of merciless beams of shoulder-mounted light. Shayne flipped her headgear up as she spun in a slow circle. Azef curiously skewed his lens off one eye. Motes of dust formed lazy clouds lingering in the air, almost playfully twisting on unseen breezes.
Shayne slowly swept an arm through a nearby puff. “What the—“
Azef called out loudly, “Button up!”
“I don’t have buttons?” Shayne countered, Gustav’s hands pausing at his collar.
Azef paused a moment more in mute confusion before shouting through his filter-weave scarf already covering his mouth and nose, “Spores!”
“Oh, sh—“ Shayne’s voice was cut off as she pressed a button on her belt, activating a light bubble of energy around her head. She pressed another button to open up the radio channel, “Usually I’m more worried about the air getting out of the ship.”
Shayne looked quickly over her crew: Maven lifted the exosuit’s arm in an exaggerated thumbs up, Orendi laughed from atop Aurox, Azef gave an affirmative nod, and Gustav shrugged.
“Goose, you good?”
“I don’t uuusually leave the ssshhhip.” He managed through a fit of blinking.
“Oh, Mother’s mercy, lad. Here!” Azef pulled an antiquated scrub-filter from his pack and tossed it to Gustav. “That bit goes between your teeth, form a seal and breath through there.”
Gustav puzzled for a second as his eyepiece identified the filter and retrieved a user manual from the holonet. He drew a quick breath through it, then hurriedly asked, “If this is in my mouth, how do I talk?” before returning the filter to his mouth.
Maven chuckled, “Sparingly. We good, Captain?”
Shayne smiled. “We good. I wonder where all this spore junk came from?”
Gustav waved his hand in a measured motion, took a short breath, and removed the filter.
“Wayfind, L-l-l—”He shook his hand angrily, took another breath, and started again. “Wayfind, Luxverse 25, Regency North, Nnnnn—“.
“It’s fine, Goose, it’s just a couple klicks…”
He shot Shayne a withering glare.
“Wayfind, Luxverse 25, Regency North, North Pavilion.”
He placed the scrub filter back in his mouth before trudging onward. The rest of the crew followed in tense silence. Azef walked forward to match pace, lightly rapping Gustav’s chest with his off-hand.
“A fine thing, lad, to be knowing one’s heading in such foul pitch.”
Gustav stolidly ignored him.
“Aye, ‘tis one thing to be in the dark, and another to be lost, but to suffer the both together’s as sure a course for disaster as any I know, and I know more of them than most.” He sighed. “Have you ever heard the story of the dragon and the dwarf?”
Gustav turned and raised an eyebrow, then shook his head before facing forward again.
“Aye, I thought as much.”
“Once, ages upon ages ago, there was a young and curious dwarf. He lived in a peaceful world of simple verdure, where the sun was always warm, the nights cool, and the grasses soft as a cloud. When he was hungry, there was food in the trees and game on the ground. When he was thirsty, there was drink in the streams and rivers. However, as he grew up, he watched the dragons soaring overhead, and he wondered what it was like to fly. He resolved to learn how.”
Azef offered Gustav the flask before wetting his lips and continuing with a nod.
“Well, as so often happens, he became consumed. Not as usually happens with dragons, with the teeth and all, but more metaphorical-like. He was obsessed with the idea of flying, of the freedom to be found out there, on the other side of the rain and the clouds, to look the stars in the eye. He watched the creatures every chance he could, trying to find where they land, that he might ride one.”
Gustav chuckled through his filter.
Azef tilted his head in agreement, “Aye, a dwarf on a dragon, who ever imagined such a thing? Now, you could like as not guess what happened next. He saw less and less of the dragons in the sky as they seemed to die out. And the days grew colder, and the nights grew longer, and the dwarf grew afraid. Not for the dragons, but that he might never get his wish, his mad wish to fly. Every now and again, he’d come across one of the beast’s skeletons, the bones always clean of any flesh, though no animal were fool enough to bite a dragon, even a dead one. So it was that he saw his last living dragon on a calm and windless morning, looking for all the world like death on wings, its wasted and ancient shoulders struggling to stay aloft. For three days and three nights, the dwarf tracked it, neither of the two pausing for rest or food. At last, through the trees, the dwarf saw the dragon set down on top of a mountain.”
By this point, Orendi, Shayne, and Aurox had gathered close, stepping softly in time with Azef and Gustav to avoid breaking the spell. Maven resigned herself to her heavy footfalls and followed behind.
“He rushed to the mountain, passing every manner of beast and flower along the way, each trying to stop him. ‘The way is too far!’ warned the trees, but the dwarf pressed on. ‘The rock is too steep!’ cautioned the scalewolf, but still the dwarf climbed. ‘The peak is all fire, and smoke, and in the burning clouds, I heard a terrible roaring. Please, brother dwarf, for me, don’t go to that place.’ begged the beetle. But the dwarf was more determined than ever."
"He reached the mountain top, where the ground yielded up its blood in roiling vents and pools of liquid stone. And the dragon was nowhere to be found. The dwarf was struck with grief. But then, through the gouts of black and the heat-haze, he thought he spied a tail wriggling through a cave set inside the mountaintop. By the time he reached the cave, it had collapsed, and there was nothing left of the dragon but a single scale. The dwarf began to pick through the rock, clearing the collapse, until he was well into the cavern as anything had ever been. No dragon. So what did the dwarf do?”
Azef waited expectantly until Orendi curiously crooned, “Did he flyyy?”
“No, girl, just the opposite. He dug. In the dark and cold of the stone, he felt the walls for the warmth of the dragon’s passing, and wherever he felt its warmth, he dug, chasing endlessly after a dream of fire. Hand over hand, fist by fist he clawed through the world, for years, a lifetime or more, deeper than anyone had ever known. The time came that the dwarf had bored through so much of the world, had so thoroughly mined it in his quest, that the whole damn thing came apart. Cracked, like a blade run through with rust. And when the fragments of the whole cursed planet drifted apart, the dwarf came to realize the dragon wasn’t there. Who knows what he’d been chasing, whether ‘twas his imagination, or perhaps something else entirely. But all he found was the dark, and the cold, and a world in pieces.”
Gustav extended a hand until a flask filled it, took a swig, followed by a breath, then coolly remarked, “There a moral to this story?”
He waited impatiently until a second later when Azef thundered him on the back with a roll of laughter that boomed even through the scarf over his mouth.
Maven stopped. “Don’t go where you’ve got no business going.”
“What’s the hold up, engineer o’ mine?”
Maven raised the massive pneumatic driver of an arm to point. “Car.”
Sure enough, beneath a weathered statue coated with dust and fungal blooms, a shuttle-car stood quaintly. Its roof had long ago been blown off, and its seats were all tatters and rot, but it had six relatively intact wheels and, presumably, an engine.
“Shotgun!” Shayne shouted over Gustav. He dejectedly clamped his mouth back on his filter and walked to the drivers’ seat.
“How about it, navigator? Will she fly?”
He turned, unamused, and resumed priming the ignition. The shuttle gave no sign of life as he jammed the green button on the center of the console. He pulled himself out, struggled at the hood for a moment, then waved Maven over. He pointed to the hood, then jerked his thumb upward twice. A moment later, the hood was crumpled and hanging from the exosuit’s hand. Gustav peered into the engine compartment. He grumbled, then kicked the bumper, sending a cloud of spores up blossoming into the air from the thick colony that had overgrown the engine. He made a curt hand gesture drawn across his neck.
“Aw, man! I wanted to arrive at the hotel in style.”
Maven spoke into her radio, “I doubt we’ll find anything out here that runs. Truth be told, I’m not too happy standing around this stuff myself. Don’t want to find any cultures around my breather gear.”
“Yeah, yeah, let’s keep walking.”
There was no conversation as they passed the relics of luxury along the way, statues and fountains, cars and artificial trees. At one point, they were startled by the apparition of a woman made of light, but it was just a projected advertisement, triggered by a motion sensor miraculously still functioning. The pavilion was surprisingly clean, save for a single massive wheel of deformed metal embedded in the stairs. Gustav’s eyepiece hummed busily. His breathing quickened as he first grabbed Azef’s sleeve, then patted his arm insistently before running over to the mangled heap. Gustav fell to his knees, his hands falling to the dimpled metal surface almost reverently.
Maven was the first to speak, “What you got?”
Gustav’s response was unclear through his manic laughter, stifled through the filter.
“Gustav, say again? Didn’t catch any of that.”
Gustav tore the scrub filter from his mouth and shouted, “Gold!”
The rest of the crew shared a brief glance before sprinting to his side.
“Gods, is it solid all the way through?”
“It must weigh a ton!”
“I WANT A SLICE!”
“Not now, Orendi. This thing is huuuge! Aurox, see it you can lift it!”
“Of course he can’t, you’d need a crane.”
“If this is what’s laying on the ground, think of what’s inside!”
“ORENDI WANTS TO SHINE!”
“How many creds you think it’s worth?”
“A fortune to the Consortium, perhaps, what with their circuitry and opulence, but ye’d be hard pressed finding a buyer elsewhere.”
“Yeah, be nicer if they decorated in shards.”
“Maybe they’ve got a plasmite fountain somewhere!”
Their feverish discussion was interrupted by an explosion as Orendi sent a blast of fire skyward.
“Hey, Orendi, cool it, alri—ohhh wow…” Shayne’s voice drifted off as she looked up at Orendi’s destruction.
REGENCY N RTH was spelled out in similarly lavish fashion on the grand façade over the stairs.
A moment later, it read REGENCY N TH as the colossal “R” fell from the eaves and slammed into the ground beside the “O” with a deafening blast of dust and stone.
“THAT ONE’S MIIINE!”
Shaken from the diversion, Shayne collected herself before addressing the crew.
“Right! Okay, so obviously, this place has some awesome stuff for the Rogues. Let’s stick to the mission, get this done quick, and we’ll be back before you know it, living the high life. Aurox and I will check out the inside. Navigator Gustav, you and the Count are gonna need to hit the maintenance access console through the garage, check if any security is still active and deactivate it for me and the big guy. Maven, you and little miss walking apocalypse here are gonna give me a quick perimeter sweep, get to high ground and set up the mobile telemetry station and ansible. I want to be comms ready within the hour. Split up, keep the channels open, and let’s get to work!”
Gustav’s eyepiece sifted through diagrams and schematics as his eye flitted back and forth behind the display. He removed the mouthpiece, “Wayfind, Regency North, maintenance and security.”
Azef smiled, “Got it in one.”
Gustav walked ahead confidently, “Looks like it’s ap-p-proximaaately—“ He cut himself short, “Through the garage.”
The gate to the garage was an imposing hulk of segmented metallic sheets slipped down from a coil affixed to the ceiling. In minutes, Azef had set and detonated breaching charges at either end, toppling the whole gate forward into the cavernous structure. Within, there were scores of rusted, mangled vehicles.
Gustav shook his head in dismay. “Looks like the fungus found its way inside. Circulation system must have outlasted its filter.”
They walked on, Gustav following a trail only he could see, soberly passing the destroyed monuments of patrons past.
“Through here.” He tried the door without success, then stepped aside to let Azef do his work.
Azef stood rooted.
“Hey, operator! Got a door that needs operation!”
“Quiet, you damn fool, you’re ruining the moment. Look.”
Gustav followed his gaze until his eyes rested on a slick of hovering, jet-black material limned in a soft, yellow light parked about thirty feet from the door. It looked uncomfortably predatorial.
“Ssself-contained stasis-wrap and blackshield.”
“Whatever’s under th-th-there is probably c-c-c-completely preserved.”
“Untouched by any of thiiis devastation for decades.”
“Can you open it?”
Gustav knelt by the node on the hood of the car as a flood of information filled his HUD. He clicked a button on the side of his lens, shutting it off.
“Do you have a medkit?”
“Medkit, I need a defibrillator, something to deliver a strong electric charge! Been a long time since I’ve done this…”
Azef tossed his pack to the ground, rifled through it for the kit, gingerly handing the portable defibrillator to Gustav.
After a few moments, Gustav jumped back with a yelp of pain as the yellow light dimmed and the black caul dispersed, revealing the hovercar below.
“Yeah. The Obsidian Terranautics ‘Phaeton Exceeder’, discontinued after only three months at market when Baron Farrowbank accused a valet driver of making his car look bad by comparison.”
They paused in appreciation.
“It p-p-probably doesn’t rrrun anyway.”
They paused again.
“But we should probably check, just in case.”
“We are supposed to retrieve valuable technology.”
“And what’s more valuable than this?”
Gustav clicked his lens back on and gestured through a series of virtual consoles. He reached his hand to the driver’s door, and it sprang to life. The headlights blazed defiantly, an eager growl murmuring from within.
A synthesized woman’s voice softly greeted them: “Welcome back, User One.”
#Darkspace Operations #4
(Battleplan 47: 4/13/17)
Maven piloted the plodding mining rig towards a high ridge overlooking the grand concourse of the hotel, doing her best to tune out Orendi’s clambering about the shoulders of the frame. Every few minutes, Orendi and her enormous hat would hang in front of the cockpit upside down, her collection of pointed teeth flashing as she pulled a face or offered some chaotic koan.
“I wear my stars on the inside!”
"carry you now, but first you have to leave.”
Maven would nod politely and offer mild responses, hoping to avoid provoking what passed for conversation with Orendi, which usually involved wanton
“That seems like a good place for them.”
“I’ll let you know when I get tired.”
“I bet that comes in handy.”
Eventually, Orendi simply sat atop the exosuit in palpable, silent frustration. Which was fine with Maven. She was used to not talking for long periods.
When at last they reached the top of the hill, Maven lifted the cage of the cockpit and extricated herself from the suit, taking care not to tangle the hose of her breathing mask on any of the instruments. As an afterthought, she reached into the cockpit, fumbled for a switch, and deactivated the rig’s floodlight. Best to conserve power, just in case. She checked the tanks of air at her waist. Supplemented by an auxiliary supply in the suit, they were still nearly full.
She slipped off the hyperspectral lens she’d been wearing, necessary to scrape the EM band for vision in Darkspace, and flicked the articulated flashlight that hung from a ring on her vest. Even if it was limited range, she was grateful to be working in the visible spectrum, to feel the air against part of her face again. Navigating by the wide cone of light, she unlatched a storage bin and set to the task of establishing a link with the Rogues’ primary ansible relay.
Typically, the automated system took only a few minutes to establish and secure a connection, but the persistent interference from the micro-satellite artificial constellations, or the peculiar signal-diffusing atmosphere, or both, were slowing the link to a crawl. She left the ansible to its calculations and worked on setting up the telemetry station. With an adequate vantage and a clear signal, the equipment allowed for the monitoring of everything from simple ambient temperature to local deformations of spacetime. As she prepared the main console, the flashlight dimmed forebodingly before breathing its luminous last and flickering into death.
“Are you kidding me…“ she muttered under her breath. Stupid. Forgot to check batteries, forgot to bring spares.
She sighed and stood up to stretch, padding through her pack for the headgear she’d set aside only a moment before, when something caught her eye from the darkness. A glimmer of pale green. She closed her eyes—it might be an afterimage, or a phantom of the sensory deprivation of Darkspace. It went away. She opened her eyes and saw it again. It was impossible to gauge its distance without more reference, but it was there. She held the hype-specs to her eyes and peered through them in the alien, muted tones of artificially converted signal to get a better view. There was a crater perhaps a kilometer away, too miniscule to have been made by an asteroid of appreciable size—it couldn’t have been more than 20 meters in radius. At its center, flaring in the thermal infrared, was…something, embedded in the earth. Not large enough to be a craft.
Maven tripped her way back to the rig, flipped the floods back on, lifted the cage and climbed back in, settling the uncomfortable goggles back in place.
“Orendi, we gotta move!”
Orendi burst out from within the storage compartment and scrambled to hang from the side rail, her hideous laughter battering against Maven’s veneer of calm.
Together, they sped along the marbled walkways and ruined steps, the dreamlike clouds of spores cavitating in whorls in their wake. Closer to the crater, the air grew warmer, and every step kicked up lazy plumes of fungal explosions. In the thermal IR of the hyperspectral lens, the glowing anomaly washed out the surroundings beyond recognition. Maven stood above the strange, half-buried object—maybe a foot of which protruded through the dirt in an oblate dome—and spun the manipulator’s hand to excavate the soil around it. As gingerly as could be done with a giant metal arm, she plucked the object up. It looked like a seed, or an egg; definitely organic, in any case. Running along its veined, striated side was a long crack, through which Maven could feel a wash of warmth. It wasn’t triggering the suit’s radiological alarm, but something was definitely off–
“I want to hold the dream thing to DEATH!” Orendi pounced, knocking the pod from the rig’s metal fingertips.
“Hey, watch it!”
She recoiled immediately after grabbing it. “Owww, the fire dream bit me!”
Her hands erupted into black flames as she held the object at arm’s length and slung a barrage of black flame into it with her two free arms.
“NOBODY. BITES. ME. BUT. ME!”
Bits of the organic casing were flaking off under her assault.
“Orendi!” Maven pounded the pneumatic driver into the ground, startling her partner.
“You’ve reached the offices of Orendi and Orendi, how can I assist you?”
“We’ve got contacts.”
Maven nodded towards the opposite rim of the crater, where a group of skulks were shambling out of a Varelsi portal. She reached into an overhead panel and withdrew a bulky flare gun. The flare streamed into the barren sky before settling into a lazy drift high above. Orendi cackled hysterically under the grim white phosphorus, tossing the pod behind them.
Maven turned around and lumbered after it—whatever it was, it had to be important if it got the Varelsi’s attention.
“Orendi, I need you to focus, I can draw them off for a bit, but you have to take this and—oh.“
Maven turned back to face the skulks only to find they were gone, seemingly evaporated in the path of whatever
strange energy Orendi harnessed and hurled their way. Orendi calmly climbed onto the outside of the cockpit and smiled.
“I’ll teach you some time. The trick is knowing how to shoot fire! After that, it’s eeeasyyy.”
Behind Orendi, Maven saw a Varelsi portal bloom. The Varelsi poured out everywhere she swept the floodlight, too many to count.
“No time. We have to get to the ansible, now!”
She opened the comms channel as the Varelsi rained their energy weapons after her. “Shayne! This is Maven, we need immediate reinforcements, repeat, immediate reinforcements! We are en route to the ansible, uploading position.”
After a few moments, the radio crackled through the portal interference, “What? No, pause it, I don’t want to miss anything. Hey, Maven, what did you say? I couldn’t hear you over Aurox.”
Maven shouted over the rattle of the suit’s thrusters, “We’re being overrun by Varelsi, we need reinforcements!”
Panic crept into Shayne’s voice, “Hang tight and stay close to Orendi, we’re on our way!”
“C’mon, big guy, we’ve gotta run.” Shayne sprinted to a window and dove out to the stones of the entrance below—it was only a couple of stories, and she had Aurox and her energy shield. They hit the ground rolling and Aurox unwrapped himself from around Shayne as she groaned at the sight of the flare in the distance.
“Uuugh, we’ve gotta run far!”
Gustav’s voice squawked over Shayne’s radio, “Might want to belay that, captain. I am on approach, coming in hot.”
The basso rumble of the Exceeder’s engine heralded its arrival as much as its headlights, sliding to a halt neatly at her side. The passenger door opened automatically.
A digital woman’s voice invited her, “Welcome, Passenger 2.”
Shayne hopped in excitedly.
“Full speed ahead!”
“Aye aye, captain.” Gustav slammed his foot on the accelerator, sending the car lunging forward like an Aplian whipcat. His personal eyepiece was nearly opaque as it displayed wayfinding routes, predictive steering guidance, energy anomaly alarms, and embedded consoles synced to the Exceeder’s own robust system.
“Computer, patch to local ansible node at input coordinates, retrieve ansible contact ‘Reyna Valeria’ from User 1 personal account and call using provided encryption.”
Shayne stared in wonder as they raced up the road at breakneck speed. “This thing can do all that?”
Gustav laughed, “No, captain, I can do all that, with the right car.”
“How’s the head?”
“Seems it was nothing a little adrenaline couldn’t fix.”
Within a minute, they stopped on a dime in front of Maven and Orendi atop the hill.
Reyna’s voice was clear over the car’s speakers, “Malediction, Valkyrie here, whatcha got for me?”
Shayne leaned inexpertly over Gustav, looking for a microphone, “Valkyrie, this is Malediction actual, we’ve got a big problem, our position is crawling with V, we need immediate reinforcements. Over.”
There was a brief moment of radio silence before Reyna replied, “Copy that, Malediction Actual. Sending you reinforcements in a big way, hold position. ETA 5 minutes. Over.”
“Acknowledged, over and out.”
Shayne looked at Gustav expectantly.
“Does it hang up automatically or what?”
Reyna laughed on the other line, “Give ‘em hell, kid. Over and out.”
#Darkspace Operations #5
(Battleplan 48: 04/27/17)
Estimated time of arrival: 4m 50s…
Gustav’s first experience with a Tunnel-drive had cost him a month.
Calculated correctly, the Tunnel allowed for near-instantaneous travel between seemingly disparate positions in space. However, a single misstep in conversion, one quanta of imprecision, any intrusion of human fallibility upon the divine ordainments of the equations governing the Drive, and the alchemy of traversing artificial space could stretch a momentary jaunt into an odyssey of delirium and starvation. He reflected on the cost of his error as he linked himself deeper into the car’s processes. Even with his LLC-empowered brain, a measure of manual command was sometimes faster than digitally subverting the Exceeder’s systems.
Estimated time of arrival: 4m 49s…
He enabled the Exceeder’s “super-sport mode” configuration, sinking the chassis of the car nearly flush with the ground. Secondary power cells conjured polarized energy shielding for the windows, windshield, and undercarriage. The shields were intended to deflect debris and absorb shock at high speeds, but would just as well serve as makeshift combat defenses. He spent another few seconds overriding its safety parameters to allow him to open the sunroof and disable the collision avoidance. He winced inwardly as he saw Azef’s boots in the rearview mirror, standing on the back seat. He told himself some muddy seats were worth their survival. It was all relative. He grit his teeth at the scrape of metal on the roof as Azef firmly planted the bipod of his light machine gun, mag-mounted the deployable phasic barrier. He cast his personal HUD onto the digital display of the windshield and activated its targeting subroutines, struggling to keep up as more portals opened all around them.
Target acquired (54): Varelsi “Skulk” …
Target acquired (23): Varelsi “Scout” …
Target acquired (9): Varelsi “Scaven” …
He disabled the targeting and leaned out the window, “Captain,
Estimated time of arrival: 4m 36s
“What do you think? Annihilize these jokers and defend the ansible!”
Gustav floored the accelerator, doing his best to ignore the timer widget pinned in the bottom-right corner of the windshield:
Estimated time of arrival: 4m 29s…
He had all the time in the world.
Maven watched the car pounce forward to plow into a swathe of the Varelsi. Sporadic bursts of machine gun fire left a stream of glittering casings raining off the roof and onto the ground, like a fairy-tale path of crumbs, or a blood-trail of a wounded animal. She adjusted the flow of one of her breathing tanks, nearly sealing it, and opened the valve of the other tank entirely.
Five minutes…I can take five minutes, I think. In…
She took a deep breath, feeling the acrid cocktail of stimulants urge the hammering of her heart.
She checked the breathing hose and strap once more as she advanced on a Varelsi scout.
She felt a well of anger writhing in her gut, her eyes taut and piercing.
She charged and impaled the scout onto the pneumatic driver, lifting it overhead before pinning it to the ground. With a guttural roar of bloodlust, she rammed a mechanized heel onto its head as she pushed forward into fray. A scaven leapt at her from a light post and was snatched out of midair, somehow reminding Maven of Orendi. While it hung suspended by the crushing hydraulic vice grip of the exosuit’s manipulator arm, the words of the Chaos Witch echoed in her mind, “four arms!”. As the creature squirmed and flailed helplessly, Maven emptied the flare gun of the spent casing, chambered a new flare, and fired directly into its mouth. Once more, her thoughts drifted to Orendi’s teachings, “the trick is knowing how to shoot fire”. She dismissed these final remnants of conscious thought with a scream, tossed the mutilated carcass into another group of Varelsi, its shrieks ceasing suddenly as it evaporated. Oblivious to the thin trickle of blood at her nose, she hove the rig onward in a berserk frenzy.
Estimated time of arrival: 4m 1s…
The shadows whipped about feverishly, flung by the hovercar’s headlights and the mining rig’s flood lamp, the occasional flash from the muzzle of Azef’s gun, the zip of a tracer round or ember of crackling void-energy splashing on shielding. Everywhere Gustav looked, the air on the ground was thick with the pestilential blur of the Varelsi’s violet sublimation mingling with blots of pastel green, kicked by the hundreds of scurrying, shambling wraiths.
As he drove, he dug deeper into the Exceeder’s core systems. Complicating the process was the fact that he still had to steer amid the constant impacts of enemies shuddering against the frame. He slid through the collision avoidance protocols to access the LADAR array; once unhooked from the safety features, he adjusted the pedestrian filters to prioritize his crewmates, granting him continuously tracked imaging and a positional minimap.
Estimated time of arrival: 3m 22s…
This excursion was growing expensive, but it was worth it.
He took a breath of real-time, then submerged himself again in the mesmeric vapors of the digital console. He unloaded the fuel-cell limiters and overcharged the shields—this would render the cells uselessly ridden with dendritic growth within minutes of the car’s next boot sequence, but that didn’t matter now. After a brief conversation with the auto-chauffeur subroutine, and an explanation of how to apply the traveling salesman problem to combat scenarios, the car could assess, target, ram, and strafe prioritized Varelsi squads with peak efficiency. He adjusted the seat. Struggling for inspiration, he turned to the AI for help.
“Computer,” he swiped a “data corrupted” notification off the center of the console, “did I miss anything of significant strategic value in the available features?”
A small cup whirred from an armrest-mounted dispenser into a gimbaled cupholder.
The synthetic voice responded after a brief pause, “The wind that rises in the daytime lasts long, but the night breeze soon falls.”
"Computer, I have no idea what that means.”
He stared as a small nozzle appeared from a concealed socket and deftly poured a stream of aromatic tea into the cup.
“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance. Will there be anything else, user one?”
Gustav sipped the tea thoughtfully, savoring the moment. It was very good.
He resisted the urge to look at the timer.
Shayne waded into the thicket of dark, grasping claws and gleaming blaster fire. The hordes of Varelsi infantry crumbled before Aurox’s rending claws, the rake of Shayne’s blade. But for every one they cut down, two more shambled in its place, plodding without end from the swathe of portals surrounding the hill.
Gustav’s voice was calm on the radio, “Captain, scaven alpha on your six.”
She pressed a button on her belt, dematerializing Aurox and activating her cloak. She circled behind the alpha quickly—even though it couldn’t see her, its creeping veins of void-energy lashed all around, sapping her shield. With another press of the button, Aurox rematerialized with an explosive burst, dazing the Varelsi as steel and stone tore into its starry flesh. The alpha attempted to bound to safety, but a gesture from Shayne sent Aurox swiftly locking it in place. Before Shayne could finish it off, a corridor of black fire enveloped it and the surrounding scouts. In its wake, a series of concentric sigils hung in the air a second longer, then vanished.
Shayne’s voice was slightly fuzzed by static on the comms, “Aww, guys, we’re using teamwork!”
Orendi shouted into her own communicator, “And fire! And bullets! AND FIRE!”
Gustav took another sip of tea as he opened the Exceeder’s equalizer to lower the levels of any audio coming from Orendi’s communicator frequency.
Estimated time of arrival: 45s…
Not much longer now…
He gave a quick callout to Maven to let her know of where she might find another group of enemies to rampage through when a rush of interference scrambled the HUD. Azef clambered down, crouched on top of the seat like a wild animal as he pulled out his flask. A small pile of spent casings glimmered in the crevices of the leather.
Gustav looked at him through the rearview mirror as the car continued its automated maneuvering.
“What is it?”
Azef gave a hollow smile. “Conservator.”
Gustav’s eyes widened. He flipped open the comms channel.
“Captain, Varelsi conservator inbound! Orders?”
Shayne’s voice was barely audible through the distorted feed, “Regroup on the ansible!”
The conservator floated from the portal slowly, deliberately, knowing Shayne and the others were surrounded. The crushing tide of Varelsi was simply too much for their small crew. As it approached, Gustav opened the doors to the hovercar.
“If Aurox rides on the outside and we ditch the powersuit, we might be able to run for it.”
Shayne nodded, “Sounds good, let’s move!”
Maven flung open her cockpit, took one step, then collapsed.
The others shoved her limp body into the car as the encroaching Varelsi prepared to attack.
A deafening explosion threw a spray of dirt into the air as an approaching skulk disintegrated. Where it had stood, a twisted heap of metal and circuitry sizzled.
“What the heck was that?”
Two more thunderous impacts kicked waves of spores and rubble into the air.
“Gods alive, the sky is falling—it’s the satellites! Button up!”
Azef pulled his gun through the sunroof as it slid closed.
The conservator battered away a squad of infantry as it lunged for the Exceeder, then abruptly halted in its tracks. Its expressionless face looked down, as if confused, and snapped upright as a bolt of blue lightning speared through the back of its neck and into the crushed earth below. As the satellites continued raining havoc upon the mass of Varelsi, the lightning bolt stood rooted firmly in place, frozen somehow, grotesquely pinning the conservator in place. Shayne looked in fascination at the trail of the bolt leading into the sky. It only hung there a moment, spores lazily clinging to its ionic path.
Gustav stared at the blinking timer.
Estimated time of arrival: 0s…
“At the heart of all beauty lies something inhuman.” The car’s voice pitched low as it powered down, shuddering to the ground with a soft crunch.
The shaft of light disappeared, leaving arcing sprites of electricity dancing between incinerating motes of dust, spores, and flecks of voidflesh. The sparks grew more and more numerous, leaving a pair of boot-print scorch marks in the dirt. A crude, glowing silhouette of a man formed as a keening siren droned from miles above. The blazing electric shade ambled towards the car as three more rifts of light descended upon Varelsi, momentarily illuminating the sky above.
Shayne peered up through the windshield. “Doom…light?”
Azef’s eyes were fixed on the specter. “The Blue Baron…”
The hovercar suddenly powered back on, the doors flinging open of their own accord as hoarse laughter and static played through the speakers.
Gustav stumbled out of the car in horror. “T-t-terror the Ring…the Sssaint of Black…”
The dancing lights resolved with a blinding flash into a solid form: he was tall, slim, and softly glowed from within through jagged seams in his vest and eyes. At the base of his neck, three luminous tendrils of energy tethered him to the other electric ghosts trailing behind. He seemed to dissolve into a vaporous projection, then reappeared seated in the car by Maven. His pale, cracked hand rested just above her, then hissed as electricity coursed from an implanted node into her chest.
Her back bent violently as she spasmed, then coughed weakly, “Captain Dredge…”
His lip curled as he spoke, “A lifetime, Maven, not a half. No one cheats me of what’s owed. Not the Last Light, not the Void, and certainly not the likes of you.”
He teleported to stand in front of the three men who’d descended with him, standing unnaturally still like soft statues.
“Now get up. There’s work to be done yet.”
#Rath Conversation with HDEC
Subject: Application Status
Warmaster Rath, this is an automated message sent as confirmation of receipt of your résumé and application for the position of “security officer” with Hemsworth Deepworks Expeditionary Company #149. We appreciate your interest and will respond at the earliest convenience.
Subject: Re: Application Status
There must be some mistake. I sent no such application. I don’t even have a résumé.
Subject: Re: Re: Application Status
This is an automated response to inform you that yes you did. And yes you do.
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Application Status
Remove me from this mailing list or face annihilation.
This is an automated response to inform you that pursuant to rules set forth in Section 301(a)(iii) of the Hemsworth Intelligence Enterprises (hereafter referred to as “H.I.E.”) End User License Agreement regarding the “regular service” of “Magnus” properties, modification (or failure to reasonably prevent such modification) of Magnus hardware, firmware, software, liveware, wetware, middleware, or anyware will result in immediate forfeiture of personal information gathered by the modified product to aid in any and all mitigative, litigative, or precipitative measures, to be used at the discretion of H.I.E.
Such discretionary use may include, but is not limited to: preventative threat of defamation (“blackmail”), sale of personal information to parties of terminal intent (“assassination”), or requisite consolidation of qualifications and service candidacy (“pressganging”).
For details of how to petition for dissociation of your personal information from LLC archives and discretionary remittance, please contact your nearest LLC barony.
Subject: Re: Threat
//chat client opened
HDEC_careers: Greetings, Lord Rath! I’m Reyhan, I’ve been assigned to oversee your candidacy throughout the application process. I couldn’t find any record of your having been involved with an archaeological expedition before; before we continue, did I miss something, or is that accurate?
v.rath: What is the meaning of this?
HDEC_careers: After you were selected for superior eligibility by our sorting algorithms, I took the liberty of researching and drafting an updated résumé with your relevant work experience and skills. Congratulations!
v.rath: I’d really rather not.
HDEC_careers: The sooner we get through this, the sooner I can file for an release order on your file. Otherwise, you may be subject to any number of penalties, outlined here:
//file uploading: InfoBreachPenalties_Full (2.4GB) …
v.rath: Ugh, just get on with it!
HDEC_careers: I’ve also reached out to some of your previous coworkers…
HDEC_careers: …although admittedly your most recent employers themselves are difficult to reach.
HDEC_careers: I’d like to review some of these items with you. For instance, I see here that you’re proficient with wielding 3 swords simultaneously. Typically, we aim for 4 swords at a minimum, ideally 5. Not a deal-breaker by any means, just letting you know what you’re up against.
v.rath: I’ve slain Varelsi Conservators by the score, and it didn’t take me 5 prancing blades to do it. I’m sure my skill and superior craftsmanship are up to any challenge.
HDEC_careers: Speaking of challenges, can you tell me of a time you faced adversity in the workplace, and how you overcame it?
v.rath: there was this one time the previous Warmaster overthrew the Empress of my homeworld, staged a military coup of the government, and attempted to subjugate the entire universe.
v.rath: So I stabbed him.
v.rath: Then, later, I sent him through an interdimensional portal and was awarded his position and title.
HDEC_careers: Stabbing! Excellent, that’s sure to earn you some points with Lady Hemsworth.
HDEC_careers: And for my own part, I’m not too worried to admit I’m impressed—that kind of initiative and enterprise is exactly what we look for in a candidate.
HDEC_careers: I will caution you against such, ah, aggressive attempts of upward mobility if you work with HDEC; you’ll be brought on strictly in a contractor capacity.
HDEC_careers: Now, on the matter of contracts, one of your coworkers, when asked about your interpersonal skills, said you are, and I quote, “as approachable as a Nyboreal jelly-ray, and half as warm”.
HDEC_careers: Anything you’d like to say on that?”
v.rath: I’ve spent most of the past few millennia working—crafting blades, waging war, defending the Empress, things of that sort. I try not to let my social life intrude on my work. Or intrude on anything, really.
HDEC_careers: Yes, that was a subject I wanted to briefly touch on. I understand that, as a member of her personal guard, it was your personal responsibility to ensure the Empress’ safety.
HDEC_careers: Now, we all make mistakes—we at the LLC are more understanding than many. What’s important is how we learn from them.
HDEC_careers: What lessons would you say you’ve learned from your abject failure, which some might say was in large part responsible for the near-total destruction of the universe?
v.rath: I’ve learned to be careful who I trust. To not be so warm nor let people get so close.
HDEC_careers: I see. Last question for now, Verod.
HDEC_careers: According to one of your coworkers, your personal loyalty to the Jennerit Empire, and to the Empress herself, was absolute.
HDEC_careers: Such loyalty to your employer is beyond reproach, of course, but given the ah, dissolution of your employer’s position, would you be willing to sign a non-compete clause indicating that, in the unlikely event of your previous position becoming available, you would remain in exclusive retainer to the LLC for a minimum of 1 year after the final date of your employment?
v.rath: You want me to say that if I have to choose between serving a dead Empress and protecting what few surviving friends I have, I’ll make the right decision?
HDEC_careers: Yes, that’s right.
v.rath: As you said, my loyalty is absolute.
HDEC_careers: That’s what I wanted to hear! I’m satisfied.
HDEC_careers: I’ll pass your application on for further review, but I must say, this feels good! I can’t promise anything, but I expect you’ll hear back from us soon.
v.rath: Oh, joy.
//chat client closed
Your application for the position of “security officer” within Hemsworth Deepworks Expeditionary Company #149 has been approved. Report to [Phoebe Hemsworth] for additional instructions.
P.S. (p_hemsworth.IV): I doubt you’ll need to leave the ship, but it never hurts to have a spare pair of hands, especially with those phasic steak knives of yours! Ta-ta for now, Lord Rath…
#Darkspace Operations #6
The Varelsi were decimated in minutes. Every few seconds, the hellish drone of the Doomlight’s siren would sound, its stormdrive core briefly illuminated with charge in the pitch-black sky. Peals of Dredge’s laughter rang out as lightning traced the path of least resistance between the Doomlight’s cannons and whatever unfortunate Varelsi he pointed at, leaving only the indigo cinders of their deconstitution and the echo of thunder. Between strikes, Orendi and the Sinners darted between stragglers to mop up. After spectating a few salvos, Shayne’s patience wore out.
“This bites. Aurox, watch Maven. I’m gonna talk with this Dredge jerkbag.”
Maven, silent as she focused on breathing and remaining conscious, reached a limp arm to stop Shayne. Shayne shrugged off her hand and advanced on Dredge.
“Hey.” He chuckled impassively as one of his minions used a modified bone saw to split an enemy in half. “Hey!”
He turned and raised a quizzical eyebrow.
“First off, thanks for saving Maven. And, you know, all of us. Second off, no one talks to my crew like that except me and the commander.”
He bristled as he raked his hair with a cracked hand, “See here, girl—“
“Captain. It’s Captain Shayne, just like you. It is ‘Captain’, right? You weren’t promoted to hypercaptain or something in the last few minutes?”
The hairs on her arms began to stand on end as electricity danced across his skin.
“Captain Shayne, if you value the lives of you and your crew, you will mind your tongue.”
“Yeah, well the hell with that, I didn’t join the Rogues because I ‘valued my life’ or whatever, I joined because I valued not owing anything to anybody. That goes for my crew; you’ve got business with them, you go through me. Got it?”
A hand touched Shayne’s shoulder.
Maven calmly looked her in the eyes, “Think you should see this, captain.”
“Yeah, alright. Come on, Aurox. Gustav, Azef, watch the car.”
“Car’s dead, captain.”
“Whatever, just watch something!”
Shayne followed as Maven led her to the mining exosuit. Maven gingerly unlatched the exterior case and retrieved the glowing green artifact of the crater.
Shayne extended her hands to cradle the object. “Okayyy, what am I looking at?”
A crash of thunder reverberated through the silence as Maven took a deep breath from her mask.
“No idea. Looks organic. Think the Varelsi wanted it.”
“Huh. I’ll call the commander.”
Maven called out as Shayne turned to leave, “Captain?”
Shayne’s tension seemed to evaporate as Reyna’s cool edge came through the ansible, “Maledictor, this is Valkyrie, what’s your status? Over.”
“Hey, it’s Shayne, looks like we’re in the clear, thanks to Dredge and those creepers on his crew.”
“Did I deliver, or did I deliver?”
“Yeah, yeah—Reyna, we found something here.”
Reyna suppressed a snort of laughter, “I sure as hell hope so, there’s supposed to be a whole planet of something.”
“Right, no, there’s gold and lots of tech junk, but there’s something else. For one, the whole surface is covered with these spores, ruined a lot of the electronics laying around.”
“Damn. Sounds like still plenty worth plundering out there though, I’ll notify the fleet and draw up a salvaging op. Anything else?”
Shayne proffered the alien object to the ansible’s camera, “Found this weird egg pod thing, Maven says she thinks the Varelsi were after it. It’s warm and luminescent.” She added after a pause, “That means it glows.”
“I know what it means! Now let me see what we’ve got here…”
A hologram of Reyna appeared to inspect it more closely.
“Green, check, freaky, check—I’m about two hundred percent sure that’s Eldrid tech. Better contact the Black Observer if the Varelsi were after it. Or, wait, maybe the Green Observer? They might know more about, you know, green things. Damn, what do they study again? Is there someone in between Black and Green, like, a Dark Green Observer?”
“What about the High Observer?” Shayne ventured.
“Nah, that’ll get a lot more attention on this thing than I’d like. Heck with it, I’ll just call our old friend the Red Observer. Gimme a sec.”
The image of Reyna pantomimed punching a series of buttons before a hologram of Mellka appeared seated in the air, legs kicked up on an invisible desk.
“Yo, long time no see guys. What’s going on?”
Shayne wordlessly showed the pod to the camera. Mellka quickly stood up, her eyes growing wide, before punching a button and disconnecting.
Shayne exchanged glances with Reyna’s hologram.
Mellka reconnected less than a minute later, standing stiffly with one hand resting behind her back.
“Okay guys, here’s the deal. What you’re holding is a Seed of Codex. Could be nothing but informational noise, could be the mythical Aztanti Aeon Forge. We won’t know until we graft it to the Codex Regrowth and decode it.”
Reyna cut her off. “Sounds valuable.”
“Yeah, Reyna, it is. To the Eldrid. Not to the Rogues, and not to any other buyers. No one else can access it. That’s what I was just talking to the other Observers about—when I told them, they asked me my evaluation of the strength and number of Rogue forces, to see if we could just take it.”
Reyna jabbed her finger at Mellka in challenge, “Nobody steals from—“
“Obviously, I cautioned them against it and assured them we could deal reasonably. I’ve been authorized to trade with the Rogues for any and all Seeds you guys find, at least on an interim basis until we can figure out how to locate them ourselves.”
Reyna scowled and folded her arms. “What’s the Eldrid got that we want? Fruits and veggies?”
“I mean, yeah, we do have pretty much the freshest produce in the universe if you want to avoid scurvy. But I was thinking more along the lines of information. The Regrowth Archives have the most up-to-date and accurate astrogation charts, derelict coordinates and manifests, lossless copies of ship’s logs, genealogical records, you name it.”
“We’ve got the Neon Forge—“
“Aeon. It makes stars. And I said could be, once decoded. Might just be more of Oscar Mike’s poetry.”
“—and you’re trying to bargain with a library card?”
Mellka hovered her Claw over a console for a moment.
“I’ve just sent you the coordinates to Luxverse 1 as a show of good faith. No one else in existence has that information. Yet. Reyna,” Mellka’s voice softened, “please. I’m your friend, remember? We need that Seed pod. An entire world of Eldrid fought and died to save just a fraction of hope for Codex, scattered over the universe. Countless more died for the Regrowth Archive when the Jennerit attacked. How far do you think they’ll go for a living Seed of Codex itself?”
Reyna tapped her foot, then uncrossed her arms.
“Fine. But if I find more of these things, the Eldrid better pick ‘em up their own damn selves, I don’t want any more of my Rogues fending off Varelsi invasion forces.”
Mellka breathed a sigh of relief, “Totally! Thanks Reyna, I’ll let the High Observer know you’ve agreed.” She furrowed her brow as she looked down, then continued, “I’ll meet you in the Ring when Shayne gets back. Gotta go for now. Oh, and Shayne?”
“Congrats on making captain.” Mellka’s hologram dissipated as she disconnected.
Though Reyna disabled the camera and hologram, she continued speaking into her microphone, “Alright, Captain Shayne. You heard Red. Come on back.”
“About that, my ship is kiiind of out of commission. We had a really bad landing.”
“That’s fine, just tell Captain Dredge I said to give you a lift, he’ll be happy to.”
“What?! No way, can’t you just send someone else?”
A vaporous wisp of Dredge coalesced into shape beside her and grimaced, “I must also object, the girl is insufferable. I can’t guarantee her safety.”
“Shayne, that’s an order, we don’t have resources to be playing favorites right now. Dredge, I know you don’t care about her safety, so I’ll tell you this: if I find even one hair from her pretty little head out of place, if I hear that you were anything short of accommodating, I will personally jeopardize your safety. Get the picture?”
Dredge quivered with rage, then closed his eyes with a sharp inhalation. “That an order?”
Reyna paused before replying, “No, Dredge. Just a request, and a threat.”
“Aye aye, commander. I’ll bring the crew, but I’m not bringing that heap of scrap she calls a ship. I’m taking enough trash on board as it is.”
“That’s fine. Get it done, Dredge. Sooner you get back, sooner you’re back on leave.”
Shayne glared at Dredge as the line went dead.
“Assemble your crew, Captain Shayne.”
Dredge’s voice seemed to double as the communicators somehow picked it up. He ticked his fingers as he spoke, “No shields. The stormdrive doesn’t like them. Anyone wearing a shield will be killed. No music. Can’t stand it myself, and my crew doesn’t care for it either. Anyone playing music, singing, humming, stepping conspicuously rhythmically, will be killed. Lastly, no one in the brig. Period. Anyone near the brig—“
“Will be killed?”
“—will be thrown in the brig, where they will wish they’d be killed. Lastly, while you’re on my ship, you will obey my orders. Are we clear?”
A grumbling chorus of assent stirred from each of them, except for Orendi who only eyed him warily.
Crackling columns of light suffused each of them in turn, before the sharp scent of ozone stung their nostrils and the light grew to blinding intensity.
Shayne struggled to her feet and strained her eyes to take in the surroundings. After a few moments passed, she was still fumbling in utter darkness.
She heard Azef cry out, “Mother help me, I’m blind!”
Maven’s familiar soft rasp echoed a response, “No, he just likes it dark.”
“How does he see anything in here?”
A flash of light signaled Dredge’s arrival. The electric blue energy poured out of his seams in gentle rays, illuminating wherever he stood.
“Welcome aboard the Doomlight. The Seed is safely away in the cargo hold, along with the mining suit. And the car. Make yourselves comfortable while you can, my men are making ready for hyperlight Tunnel procedure.”
The light flared. “What is it?”
“What’s with all the rips and tears, you know, in your body?”
He waved a hand and turned to walk away, plunging the rest of them in darkness.
Maven again spoke up, hardly above a whisper, “Scars. Mortal wounds from blades, bullets, even the stormdrive, once. Some things, even he can’t fix. So he just holds it together as best he can.”
“Maven, how do you know this guy?”
Before she could answer, a voice came on over the PA system.
“This is the UPR frigate Grimalkin. You are trespassing upon Darkspace air…space…which is recognized as UPR controlled…uhm, space. You are hereby ordered to land immediately or more aggressive measures will be taken. You have thirty seconds to comply. You have been warned.”
Dredge’s voice followed in a general broadcast, “Apologies for the delay, we’re recalculating our Tunnel sequence to account for a few thousand tons of extra mass. Prepare for departure in t-minus ten…”
“Uh, you are hereby ordered to disengage the gravitic harpoon on our hull, or even more aggressive measures will be taken. You have, like, five seconds—“
“We are away.”
after almost two years my pinned topic had fallen into disrepair. the hidden text was starting to deteriorate and show a lot of the forum code underneath. I cleaned up the original post and returned it to its former glory. if anyone actually sees this post i’ll be surprised.