Published by Celestial Recursion, a -30- Press Imprint
Copyright, 2022 © Kristopher J. Patten, C.J Manor , Ashley Franz Holzmann, V.R. Walker
All Rights Reserved
Published by Celestial Recursion, a -30- Press Imprint
Copyright, 2022 © Kristopher J. Patten, C.J Manor , Ashley Franz Holzmann, V.R. Walker
All Rights Reserved
The barrel of Ochir’s railgun exploded in a cloud of metal and ceramic shrapnel.
“Damn!” she cursed under her breath, pitching the useless firearm directly into the face of one of her attackers.
Ochir immediately dropped her body into a fighting stance. The woman was a professional. Arley barely noticed that she had switched places on their front line with him, keeping her distance from the pink suit that lay motionless a dozen paces away.
Lee was dead; eviscerated in front of them. Three attackers had rushed him; he took down two but the third, a Bright Star security guard with kit from Ishtar, plunged a combat knife deep into his flesh before Ochir took the assailant out. There was no time to process the moment.
Further away, partially obscured by their attackers, a Navigator emblem glowed. It felt to Arley like an admonishment for another he couldn’t save. Dupont was one of the first that was put down. Arley had seen the mist coalescing around Dupont but still tried to ignore what he assumed was his mind pulling itself apart.
Dupont went from holding back tears and trying to help to clawing at Arley’s eyes. His end was unceremonious and cold. Arley wished Dupont’s could have been more meaningful. Especially given the history between them.
Death is so often less meaningful than birth, Arley briefly thought. A random moment that ends a story before it’s over.
The group was no longer surrounded, but they were now isolated in a corner with no discernible path toward escape. They had enough blunt weapons from the debris left in that portion of the station to defend themselves but everyone was getting tired and the deluge of space mad – though Arley now knew they were possessed by smokelike shades – crew and guards battered against them like an incessant sea swell from an approaching storm.
One, meager silver lining: some of the others who were kidnapped with Bonn had managed to make it to the group in the corner. They cowered. Those who believed prayed. So did some who didn’t believe.
Arley tried to take in as many impressions as he could. If they were nearing the end of life, he wanted to at least be self-aware of the moment.
He saw Bonn firing the coilgun Arley had thrown to her. She had been the one to drop Dupont. She wasn’t the same artsy dreamer of a child who was taken. She had emerged from years of torture not broken but stronger. More in-control. It impressed Arley. He felt pride in her the way he was sure a father should feel pride.
Did his old man back on Earth feel proud of him? A glorified killer?
Arley also felt the need to protect. He shook himself away from self-pity. He was going to save Bonn. That’s what he had set out to do.
“Ochir,” Arley said as he threw some metal pipes he found on the ground at the red eyed creatures that used to be men. “I’m going to do something to get you Lee’s weapon.”
“Something stupid?” Ochir asked as she swung her leg around to drop one of the red eyed men.
Arley flashed her a wink before climbing up on some of the corner beams behind the group. He knew he could get some headway and make it to Lee’s body if he committed to the dive.
Lee’s corpse was twenty feet away, surrounded, but he fell with a railgun that they desperately needed.
Arley got into position while Ochir dropped two more bodies. Bonn continued to fire as quickly as her coilgun would allow, but the hoard inched closer.
Arley took a deep breath and leaped.
He tried moving his legs to push through the bodies, but he still landed ten feet short of Lee’s body. He was, himself, now surrounded and he quickly sunk to the ground among the hoard.
The red eyes descended upon him and began to kick and scratch at him.
Is this how it ends?
“See them, strike them,” a voice in Arley’s head echoed.
The same voice as on the Stargazer.
Arley turned onto his stomach and tried to reach out to Lee’s body. Inch his way there.
He was absolutely surrounded.
The weight was too much, though. Arley closed his eyes. It was his moment. It was the end.
Until it wasn’t.
“Heads up, motherfuckers!” Rad screamed as he blew open a massive hole in the wall near Arley, Ochin, and Bonn. It.0 was able to track the location. The coilgun fire also made it easier.
The explosion briefly overwhelmed everyone’s hearing, muscles tensing and tinnitus flaring. Everyone except for Rad, who was in his element.
His metal gauntlets clicked over his fists and he began to swing. It.0 was behind him, doing his best to make the shots from Rad’s coilgun matter. Rad could care less.
A fist through a corpse here, a knee, then another fist.
Ochir had no idea who Rad was, but she was glad his gleaming red shoulder pauldrons and bestial size appeared to be on their side. Bonn had never seen Rad unbridled, but in that moment she understood why he held the role that he did and she was glad to see him again.
Arley used the moment to move to Lee’s body. He put a hand on Lee’s forehead in reverence, then ripped the railgun from his hands and threw it to Rad, yelling, “Rad, catch.”
Rad caught the gun, then immediately threw it to Ochir, “Don’t need it.”
Ochir scrambled to catch it, “Thanks, stupid.” Then she opened fire.
The combined firepower made enough space for movement.
“Get behind me,” Rad called out. His fists moved like pistons. Right, left, right, left. He was born for moments like this.
Everyone listened, except for Arley, who stood beside Rad in solidarity.
Arley hefted a broken length of rebar from the ruined astrocrete wall. His hits were well-placed, the next blow into a soft pressure point planned before the last had landed. It was almost like a dance.
Rad, on the other hand, was an overpowered wrecking machine. He didn’t need perfect placement when a gauntleted fist could cave in a skull.
Discipline and intense training contrasted with sheer power. It was as true on the battlefield as it was in their professional lives, though the roles were reversed.
Rad could have used that moment to say a lot that had been on his mind regarding Arley. But he didn’t. Rad nodded to Arley, and Arley nodded in return.
“Excuse me, gentlemen, but we must depart,” It.0 said between coilgun shots.
“Get running, I’ll catch up,” Rad said to It.0 and the others.
“I’m not leaving,” Arley said, thrusting his length of rebar between an attacker’s ribs and puncturing a lung.
“A warrior’s death?” Rad asked.
“I’m not here to die,” Arley shook his head, yanking his weapon free as the injured guard stumbled backward. “We don’t know what’s going on here. Why they were taken. How they caused,” he gestured at the flood of bodies before them, “all this. If we leave, all the evidence is gone.”
“I understand. I have the others.”
With that, Rad turned and began to run.
Arley waited until Rad and the rest of them were no longer visible out of the corner of his eye.
Then he raised up his hands.
The red eyes surrounded him.
“See them, strike them,” the voice said again.
I don’t have a problem with that, he thought.
“The wraiths,” the voice said.
Arley opened his eyes and focused on the men. As the horde closed in, Arley saw something he hadn’t seen before.
Shapes superimposed on the men. In them. The shadowy, billowing shapes formed of smoky mist he had seen earlier. That he saw swirling in the larger room beyond. Shapes in the form of men but that were not men.
Arley dropped his rebar.
Giving in to this voice again. Just like on Stargazer, he thought.
But Ladipo had the same timbre to his voice and Arley had confirmed, in as much as he could, that the real Ladipo was communicating with him. So who was the other voice?
This wasn’t just reacting. This was a plan. He was back in his element.
Arley focused on the shadows, and struck.
He felt a shift immediately, his ungauntled fist seemed to resonate like a gong as it made contact with one of the bodies. A tenor that vibrated his whole arm.
It didn’t feel like a noisy crash, though. It felt right. Sonorant and almost soothing.
As he struck, he heard that banshee wail again, low and high at the same time. The shadow seemed to evaporate out of the man in whispy tendrils like a dying fire. The body crumpled to the ground, lifeless.
Arley paused, not sure how to process, but then the next assailant was upon him.
He fought, the world melted away. All there was left jabs, right crosses, duck, kick. Sometimes, he would feel the resonance and the shadows would dissipate from within the writhing masses, leaving them a crumpled shell. Other times, flesh and bone would meet as expected.
As he swung, he began to see the shadows more clearly.
The clearer he saw them, the more frequently the strange resonance would occur.
Arley glanced over his shoulder, Rad had gathered Ochir, Bonn, and It.0 and was now escorting them through the hole he had made in the wall.
They locked eyes and nodded once more. Rad raised a questioning eyebrow. Arley didn’t know if Rad was asking if he was sure about his crazy plan or had noticed some of the attackers crumpling with Arley’s blows.
The answer was the same either way. Arley shrugged.
They would make it.
Arley turned back to the hoard and kept fighting.
He swung and danced, the masses of bodies circling him. Angry shadows clawing at him through deformed faces.
In the distance, he heard the engines of a transport ship firing up and knew that the rest of them would make it out.
As good of shape as Arley was in, he was getting exhausted. Lactic acid was building up. It had probably only been a few minutes but it felt like an eternity.
Arley’s arms grew heavy. His punches slowed. He didn’t try to kick anymore. His chest heaved.
Body after body he met. Focusing on the shadow within. Until the last horrid scream echoed in Arley’s mind, and the final creature disintegrated.
Arley looked around him, blinking.
His chest heaved.
No more bodies attacked him.
Then he passed out.
Ladipo was sitting down.
It seemed like as decent a place as any to die.
It had taken him several minutes to get his bearings once he was snatched back into the tunnel of light. He realized after a moment that he was being carried by one of the creatures from Shuriken-001.
A grim reality set in.
I’m going to die, he thought.
Then the world became dim.
Purple light faded to gray.
Ladipo hit the ground.
He looked up. He was in another chamber similar to the one on Shuriken-001, except this one was bigger. Much bigger.
This chamber was also filled with creatures, varying in size and color from dingy brown to slate black.
As Ladipo sat up, the creatures formed a semi-circle around him, staying at least 15 feet away from him.
I’m going to die, he thought again.
Then the circle split down the middle, and a brilliant white-scaled creature lumbered towards him, appendages swaying gently.
It stopped just in front of Ladipo.
Ladipo looked up at the creature.
The creature’s scales began to pulsate with an amethyst glow; and Ladipo gaped.
It can’t be.
“We’re in another recess. This fucking hearing is a farce. Legally, we should win but…,” Klaidciri shook his head. “It’s not important.”
He smoothed his black blazer. “Were you able to take a scan of the Ito abomination’s neural structure from the chair on Bright Star?”
“I was, Chairman.”
Klaidciri smiled. “Excellent work. We’ll talk again when my schedule allows but please forward that scan to me at your convenience.”
It had been almost 12 hours since Arley had been captured. He had been found by Bright Star guards, still in control of themselves, who had arrived at Dome-3 sometime after he had passed out. Initially, they had bound him and put him in a supply room.
When he had been moved to a small office, the guards were much gentler with him..
He sat in a leather chair. How it had arrived at Dome-3, he did not know; leather was rare on Earth. It was almost unheard of on this side of the anomaly. Despite the circumstance, Arley found himself tracing his fingers across the leather seat, appreciating the craftsmanship and gentle warmth of the organic material.
The room was small but warm. A desk of stained astrocrete, designed to imitate wood grain, stood against the far wall. Multiple monitors sat on the desk, most of them blank but one showing a flickering image of a small, Queen Anne-style house from the twentieth century.
Arley’s mouth gaped as memories of the simulation came back to him. The red-eyed shadows.
Were they the same as what he saw inside the attackers in the greenhouse?
Three leather chairs were situated in a triangular pattern framed the center of the room, clearly meant for conversation.
On the walls hung a variety of three dimensional optical illusions which seemed to fold in on themselves and then re-emerge into a cohesive image.
Arley couldn’t look at them too long without getting dizzy.
The door swung open, a well dressed man in a slim-fit gray suit walked confidently into the room.
“Rossvel Arley, welcome,” the man said, “I am MingJue, Chief Science Officer of the Ishtar.”
Arley said nothing.
“I understand your hesitation but, let me assure you, no harm will come to you– for now.”
MingJue sat down in a leather chair across from Arley.
“Do you appreciate the art, Rossvel?” MingJue said, gesturing to the illusions on the wall.
“Can’t say that I do,” Arley said coldly.
MingJue shook his head gently. “I was hoping that you already understood.”
“Understood what?” Arley asked.
“The purpose of life, Rossvel. You have already tasted it; tasted the power to resist the avatars of the Deity.”
“What the damn-hell are you talking about?” Arley said, clenching his fist tighter.
“You know by now that this is not merely space madness, some psychological break due to isolation or faulty CogNets,” MingJue said, gesturing outward, palm outstretched. “It is the manifestation of shadow, a possession, the obliviation of human identity.
“You and I share a unique ability,” MingJue continued, leaning toward Arley like he was sharing a secret, “we can both resist them. Our intellects, our beings, perhaps our souls are stronger than others. We are elected for a purpose.”
“So you’re going to slam me in a simulation, torture me, and figure out what makes me tick huh?” Arley said pointedly.
MingJue chuckled. “No–no, nothing so crass. You and I are going to work together to shepard humanity through what comes next. The Grand Recursion.”
Arley spat a humorless laugh. “You mean to tell me that Marko Klaidciri cares about your religious zealotry? That’s obscene. I know who you work for. The guards are Klaidciri’s; the equipment is Klaidciri’s, Klaidciri was even in the damn simulation. Don’t tell me that you have some grand vision that supersedes the man who pays for all this.”
MingJue remained serene. A muscle under his eye twitched, a droplet breaking an otherwise calm pond.
“My employer is a small minded fool, obsessed with his own grandiose perversion of humanity. Klaidciri could not possibly grasp the implications. I tailor the results of my work to suit his ego; but I was waiting, biding my time until the moment arrived.
“The real value takes place in the observation of the avatars of the deity. The harbingers of the Grand Recursion. My purpose is so much higher. Our purpose is so much higher.”
“You are bat shit crazy,” said Arley, standing up abruptly.
MingJue remained seated. “Am I? Klaidciri wants to create the singularity, the merge of a PRIME-like AI with his own consciousness. I serve a higher purpose. Look at these paintings.” He gestured towards the walls.
“They represent the Grand Recursion; the re-creation of all things. There have been many rebirths, many attempts, but now it is time for the final one, the great one, the grand one. What was missing were the avatars of the deity, these shades are the elements of our salvation!”
MingJue now stood up, growing agitated.
“You and I hold the keys of life and death, we decide who shall become one with the deity. The Navarcs will herald the Grand Recursion and all will cease to be, and then be again! For the last time!”
Arley began to circle towards the door while MingJue moved towards the desk.
“I still think you are utterly bat-shit crazy,” said Arley. “Do you really think we’re some divine arbiters?”
“I’ll prove it to you, ” MingJue said, a wild look in his eye.
He walked over to the wood-stained desk and began keying in commands to his holotablet.
“What are you doing?” Arley asked, poised to run or fight.
“You’ll see that you and I–people like us– are the key!” MingJue said.
The house on the center display changed. It now showed a large room, full of people, people that Arley recognized.
Along the back corners of the room, shadows began to coalesce, and flickers of red began to appear.
“What have you done?”
Rad was fast for such a behemoth of a man, but Bonn moved faster. As soon as they landed on Homestead she had sprinted towards Envoy Hall.
Bonn smashed through the doors to the courtroom. Both arms extended.
“Klaidciri!” She shouted in a voice full of resolve that far exceeded her stature.
The whole room turned to look. Marko Klaidciri, still on the cross-examination stand, looked stunned.
Bonn scanned the crowd, eyes piercing.
She found Captain Galaton who nodded and smiled.
Yazzie had started to move towards the bottom of the stands as soon as Bonn had entered.
“Xochil,” Yazzie said tenderly, almost motherly. “I’m so glad you’re back!”
Bonn looked at Yazzie and her resolve almost broke. “I’m glad to be back.” She said, “I’ll talk to you later, but now we have to take care of this.”
Yazzie nodded curtly, returning to her reserved, clinical demeanor.
Behind Bonn, Rad and It.0 had caught up and were now entering the courtroom.
Rad, while slightly red in the face, immediately locked eyes with Klaidciri. To those around him it appeared very much like a bull about to gore a matador.
“What is the meaning of this?” Klaidciri said, standing to face the newcomers.
His tone seemed parental and stern, as if some small child was running where there were breakable electronics. But those that sat closest to him could see his whole body begin to quiver.
“Marko Klaidciri, as a Chief of the Defender Corp, I am placing you under arrest for violation of the Humanity Charter, CASC mandates, and for murder,” Rad thundered, marching straight down the center-way towards the stand.
“Regulators!” Klaidciri called, his voice cracking in panic.
Two Homestead Regulators moved to intercept Rad, who deftly ducked under the grip of the first Regulator, throwing his arm between the man’s legs and picking him up over his shoulder.
Rad then did a half spin and threw the unfortunate Regulator at the other, sending both crumpling to the ground, groaning.
By this point the court was in total chaos. Shouting, screaming, and cheers echoed around the chamber as more Regulators began to pile in.
By now Rad was at the stand where Klaidciri stood. With one jump he cleared the railing and grabbed Klaidciri by the shoulder, spinning him around and twisting his arm behind his back.
Klaidciri yelled in pain, a tear streaking down his face.
“ENOUGH!” Councilman Aquataine bellowed with the help of an amplification device.
The room grew silent.
“I am not a defender of Chairman Klaidciri, but due process is something we are trying to develop here. So, if the good Defender would kindly let the Chairman go so we can sort this out,” said Aquataine, in a remarkable display of gentle authority.
“I’ll let Xochil present the evidence while I hold this slime-ball. He’s too dangerous to let go,” gowled Rad.
“Rad, let him go,” Galaton called from the stands. “ I believe we can entrust the good Chairman to the Regulators while the charges are brought.”
Rad glared at Galaton. “Yes, Sir,” he said through gritted teeth, releasing Klaidciri who instantly collapsed to the floor holding his shoulder.
The Regulators had streamed into the room now. They grabbed both the Chairman and Rad and escorted them, somewhat unceremoniously to a bench at the front of the room.
Councilman Aquataine walked to the stand.
“Now, let’s hear what is so pressing,” Aquitaine began, “about the good Chairman. Clinician Bonn, please approach the stand.”
Bonn looked up at Yazzie, who nodded at her.
Bonn walked forward, and took the stand.
Pulsating, swirling, calling.
Little lights with bodies.
Bodies that needed to be broken to extinguish the light.
The lights had appeared not long ago.
Like the lights before, they would be extinguished soon.
The lights that connected would be the first.
An instinct to overwhelm and envelop.
Direction from an unseen master.
The extinguishing had begun.