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
Arbitration Chamber, Envoy-Wing, Homestead
Klaidçiri’s shoulder throbbed from where Rad had twisted it behind him. He cradled it more than necessary while keeping his face stoic. He might be finished; his plans destroyed by the little mouse, a junior clinician.
If he could keep enough of the assembled crowd on his side by playing the victim, he could still control the narrative.
Pathetic, he thought to himself.
He had slipped. Trusted too many people.
Closer to the vest next time, Klaidçiri thought.
MingJue was a zealot and clearly not fit to hold even unconscious prisoners.
He would correct the situation. He always did.
He watche d as the little mouse spun her yarn. Saw the looks of disgust in the court.
It was of no consequence. Klaidçiri could mold himself into a sympathetic figure. Perhaps the court would believe that he and their beloved Voidagers had a common enemy. That he was framed.
Appearing in a simulation meant nothing. Guards from Bright Star were more troubling but other guards were merely zealots like MingJue.
He could even let the Stargazer and its gravity drive go as a show of good faith. He had surpassed its usefulness with the scan of the abomination’s chimeric mind.
“Finally,” Bonn said, her voice loud and unwavering, “Defender Rad was able to recover a dossier that outlines the Chairman’s position coming into the Anomaly.” Bonn tapped on her holotablet. “Chairman Aquitaine, I would like to admit this document into evidence.”
Aquitaine nodded once. “Proceed.”
Bonn sent the decrypted file that It.0 had translated to the evidence stand.
Bonn read aloud.
I regret to inform you that, due to the failures in the production of the Agamemnon resulting in substantial corporate losses, the board has unanimously cast a vote of no confidence in your ability to represent the Rohalunge Corporation on the Humanity Council.
Effective immediately, you are stripped of your title and recalled as Rohalunge Corporation’s representative to the Humanity Council.
It is the judgment of the board that you rectify your mistakes by either absolving yourself from the Company or volunteering as a member of the Astraeus Initia tive for Rohalunge Corporation.
The crowd became silent.
“As you can see, on top of the kidnaping, torture, and murder, Marko,” Bonn spat the name out, “doesn’t even hold the position by which he claimed authority over the Stargazer.”
The room erupted.
Yelling, moaning, jeering.
Some at Bonn, but most at Klaidçiri.
Bonn smiled as she watched Klaidçiri’s placid face crumple into a sneer. She had wondered what it would take to break his well-crafted veneer of humanity.
There was no way he’d get out of this.
Then a scream pierced the din of the hall. Different from the others; terrified, not angry.
Bonn looked up to see Evelynth holding her head, looking frantically around the room.
“Bonn, get back!” Galaton shouted from the defense bench. Her eyes were tracking something in the air.
Bonn saw nothing.
“Rad, bring her back this way!” Galaton shouted.
Without question, without a glance of confusion, Rad rushed to the dais and hefted Bonn with a single arm.
A Regulator standing at his post by the corner of the room convulsed. Eyes flashed red. The Regulator jumped on the nearest Envoy, ripping at flesh with his bare hands.
The woman didn’t even have time to scream. With a heave, the Regulator picked the woman up from behind and smashed her, head first, into the ground. With the wet sound of a bell pepper crunching under heavy boots, brain matter splattered on the floor.
The woman’s body twitched as the Regulator stood.
Galaton and Evelynth tried to warn those nearest them as more shadows descended into the room. Into people. Possessing their bodies as living weapons.
Like a sinister rain, dark, misty forms fell on the crowd. Where they fell, death followed.
Clawing, tearing, ripping, biting.
Blood began to flow freely, dripping down the light gray astrocrete.
Galaton grabbed Meli and Evelynth, pushing towards the door to the hall. She shouted for Aquitaine to follow her.
Rad saw the Regulator arch his spine and attack. He knew, immediately, what was happening.
Just like the greenhouse.
Rad, Bonn still in his grasp, maneuvered his sizable frame through the crowd and cleared a path to the door. Luckily, there were not too many people out of the stands yet.
As Rad opened the door he looked back and called, “The Madness! Anyone that wants to live, get out now!”
He was a Defender first and foremost.
His job was to protect life. Of his crew. Of people they had come to know. Of innocents.
People had realized the chaos erupting around them and were now pouring out of the stands, some scared, others hunting. Possessed by an unholy being.
“Get to the Stargazer!” Galaton shouted.
Evelynth’s feet carried her swiftly but she hardly noticed. It had happened. Everything the voice had told her was happening.
Danger. Shadows, the voice had said, just before the Regulator killed the first Envoy.
It wasn’t the first time she had heard the voice. It was the same one that she remembered disjointed glimpses of from the vague, weightless dreams she had during her absence seizures.
The same one that had been talking to her for days here on Homestead.
She had kept it quiet. From It.0 before he left with Rad. From Yazzie. From Meli. She should have at least told Meli but Bonn and DuPont were missing and it seemed unimportant.
Now, running towards the Stargazer, she wished she had listened to the voice.
Maybe there was still time.
He couldn’t leave Beldon. He paused, looking back at the fray to find his old friend.
He spotted him. Beldon and a couple of others had made it out and were behind the main group.
Meli felt the slightest hint of relief. Briefly.
The streets were just as chaotic as the court room. Whatever was happening, was happening everywhere.
A coordinated attack? But by who? Bright Star? The Navarcs?
The familiar roads of Bui Town that had become home over the last six months looked alien covered in sanguine mire.
Screams echoed all around them as they ran. Feral, vicious screams.
Meli despised running, but now his feet carried him faster than he ever thought possible. His lungs ached like they were filled with glass shavings. Thighs burned and bruised feet throbbed.
They ran, streets and astrocrete buildings blending into one unchanging landscape, until the sleek form of the Stargazer was visible against the blackness of the sky.
Go. Fight them, the voice whispered. The same voice she had heard going through the anomaly asking her to stop the Stargazer. The voice Arley listened to.
Galaton shook her head violently. “I don’t need this bullshit again. Not now,” she mumbled to herself.
They had reached the Stargazer.
Fortunately, no one on Homestead had the credentials to strip Galaton of her systems control access to the Stargazer. It was hard-coded into her nexus.
As they approached the Stargazer, Galaton willed the loading ramp downwards.
The stream of people, some crying, some screaming, some whose faces were frozen in wide-eyed terror, streamed onto the dock, only a few hundred yards behind Galaton and Rad.
Galaton posted herself at the head of the ramp.
“Technician Jankowicz, get these people on board, sort them out. We’ll be taking off soon,” Galaton said as Meli caught up with the group.
Meli nodded and moved up the ramp to the Stargazer, too out of breath for a verbal acknowledgement.
“Bonn, Yazzie, prepare to treat the wounded and evaluate for signs of infection.” Galaton spun to address the hulking figure next to her, “Rad, watch my back and be ready, if I point to a person trying to board, they are infected. Don’t let them board.”
Rad nodded. “Yes, sir.” He took up a position across from Galaton on the opposite side of the ramp.
“Captain,” said Evelynth quietly. “You can see them too?”
Galaton glanced sharply at Evelynth, eyes piercing, for what seemed to Evelynth like an eternity. Galaton nodded.
“You will stay with me and Rad. Help me identify anyone that is infected,” Galaton said, turning her eyes back to the oncoming stream of people.
No shadows. Maybe we’ll actually survive this.
The wave of humanity broke on the ramp.
Galaton struggled to maintain her footing as the panicked masses collided with her, long flowing clothes and parents corralling children obscured her view.
She thought she detected a vague glow off to her left.
Couldn’t be sure.
Someone heavy walked on her foot as she tried to get a better view.
“Evelynth,” Galaton shouted, “something over to your side.”
Evelynth was silent a moment. “Yes! Rad; tall, skinny guy.”
“Glasses and a combover?” Rad asked.
Rad strode deeper into the crowd, shouting in a surprisingly loud voice for the crowd to back away from the man Evelynth had identified.
Galaton caught another flash to her right.
Rad was already engaged.
Could she handle it? She wasn’t a fighter. No combat knowledge beyond the very little they had been given in training back on Earth. She woke every morning with a stiff back and a sore foot. Arthritis, probably.
Still, she raised her fists and strode to meet the figure. It was a young woman. Behind her, a child cried for their mother.
She cursed the mission for making her beat a woman in front of her own child.
Galaton shot out a hand and gripped the front of the woman’s blouse, drawing the possessed closer to her readied fist.
She could feel a force pushing against her, like a magnet pressing against another of the same polarity.
Push through, the voice pleaded in her head. She’s still there. Not dead yet.
Galaton hesitated. The woman clawed at Galaton’s armored forearm.
The hell with it, Galaton thought, and pressed – more with her mind than with physical strength – through the force surrounding the possessed woman.
Something gave, like a thumb slipping through taught plastic wrap.
Galaton watched the shadow inside the woman disintegrate into mist. She heard a sickening scream in her mind that faded to silence.
The woman looked at Galaton confused, at the hand holding her roughly, back at her child.
Galaton let her go.
“Evelynth, we can fight them. If you get in close, you can feel something wrong around them. Like an electromagnetic current. Push through it.”
Rad snapped his fingers, striding back to his position. “That’s what Arley was doing back on the greenhouse.”
The crowd surged again, cutting Galaton’s line of sight. She couldn’t even see Rad and Evelynth.
“Another!” Evelynth cried from somewhere to Galaton’s left. “It worked!” she cried.
“I felt the- RAD, NO!”
Galaton turned, just in time to see a blur of black nanofiber and a flash of red shoulder guards, as Rad’s massive, gauntleted hands grabbed her by the head. Lifting her off the ground.
It was already over.
Galaton could feel her spine stretching out, she had time for one gurgling exclamation, a grunt more than a scream. She was vaguely aware of her legs kicking into nothingness as her neck twisted.
Sharp, crackling, searing pain at the base of her neck, her body writhing and contorting against any rational thought, and then, with the same crunch as chewing into raw granola, she felt nothing.
A warmth spread over Galaton. She didn’t feel her body hit the ground. Didn’t feel one of the refugees stepping on her hand, another tripping over body. All the panic and pain seemed to wash away and a sense of indifference replaced it.
The last thing she saw, as her vision faded to the embrace of eternal black, was Rad standing over her, eyes shining red.
She saw the shadow too late. Evelynth was focused on the dozens of people running towards the ship.
She turned to Rad for reassurance, but Rad wasn’t there. He was running towards Captain Galaton.
It was running toward the Captain.
Evelynth saw the shadow superimposed into Rad’s huge body. Saw the vapor-like mist that spilled off of him.
It only took a second. Rad picked up Galaton and wrenched her neck 180 degrees. There was an audible snap, and Galaton’s twitching body dropped to the floor of Deck 52 with a sickly thud.
Evelynth felt anger and fear boil over inside her. She ran at Rad, at the shadow, screaming, focusing all of her anger, her will, her frustration.
Evelynth felt like grief and wrath were a swarm of hornets, filling her head. It was hard to see anything but the shadow inside Rad. Hot-white rage resonated inside of her; killing the shadows became her all consuming desire.
Her rage was not all that resonated. Her voice echoed and vibrated with an unearthly resonance. Like a gong that had been struck too hard.
Rad turned, eyes gleaming red.
The resonance of Evelynth’s scream exploded outwards, she was vaguely aware of an amethyst light that extended from her. When it touched the shadow, tendril-rooted in Rad, there was a scream. Not from Evelynth, not from Rad.
An ethereal reverberation, both low and high simultaneously.
The shadow exploded into micro particles, dissolving into oblivion.
Rad fell to his knees beside the broken body of Fresia Galaton, limbs quivering.
Evelynth, now out of air, passed out.
Arley was now in control.
As soon as he had seen the shadows through the monitor he had willed his tired, broken body into one last burst of action.
Arley leapt across the room, delivering a bare knuckled punch to MingJue’s jaw, sending him sprawling. For a man who claimed such ambition, he had little physical prowess to back it up.
Arley looked at the monitor. It was too late, the room was already in chaos, people tearing each other apart, while others tried to escape in a panic.
Arley was relieved to see his former crew wasn’t among the chaos. Galaton must have led them away.
Now how to communicate with them?
Jump ,the voice said.
“What does that even mean?” Arley shouted at the air.
“Jump where?” he repeated.
Arley paced around the room for several minutes. Trying to determine how he could commandeer a ship and make it back to Homestead.
His chest felt like it had become weightless, rising to his throat. Fingertips throbbed with each beat of his heart.
No, too fast for a heartbeat, Arley thought.
The thrumming became intense pins and needles, painful numbness filled each finger and palm.
Am I being possessed? Arley wondered.
Jump. Again, the voice.
Suddenly, the room exploded in light.
Arley counted three portals, all two dimensional just like the anomaly the Stargazer had come through. Unlike the anomaly, each of these expended a brilliant light around the edges.
There were two portals which showed nothing but light, swirling-dancing, fire-like light.
But the other. Through the other, Arley saw the Stargazer.
Saw Evelynth screaming.
Saw Rad fall to the ground.
Saw Captain Galaton’s broken body.
Rad stared straight ahead. His Defender Sigil sat on the table in front of him. The massive figure now somehow seemed deflated, an empty husk of a man.
The door to Rad’s quarters opened. Rossvel Arley walked in, holding two plates of Baklava.
“Can I join you?” Arely asked.
Rad didn’t move. He just stared at the sigil.
Arley walked in and sat down softly next to Rad. Offering him one of the plates.
“It was her favorite, you know,” Arely said. Raising the plate slightly, a silent coaxing to take the dessert.
Arley sighed, setting the plate down next to the sigil.
They sat in silence, side by side, for several minutes.
“I’m not going to say I know exactly how you feel right now, but I do know I’ve felt like I’m irredeemable. After the Agamemnon, after what happened going through the anomaly–” Arley said. “I don’t know what I’m trying to say. Just that, I don’t blame you, I don’t think anyone does.”
Rad took a shaky breath. “I–couldn’t…” Rad’s voice caught and he bent over, placing his face in his giant hands. His body shook in silent sorrow, surprisingly small tears falling onto the table.
They sat together, the Baklava uneaten, supporting one another in their grief, until the tears ran dry, and sadness had temporarily expended itself.
Meli found Beldon in the engine room, marveling over the gravity drive.
“I owe you a beer,” Meli said, handing an earthenware mug to Beldon.
“This,” Beldon said, tipping the mug to take a better look at the contents, “is beer?”
Meli shrugged. “Beer adjacent. Sort of a barleywine, sort of a wine wine. Also a little bit of a weak spirit.”
“Those are a lot of words that I don’t think you cared about back on Earth.”
“There was a lot of stuff I didn’t care about on Earth.”
Beldon took a swig, grimaced, then took another swig.
“Unexpected,” he said, “but not bad.” He gestured to the mug. “Is this one of Evelynth’s?”
Meli nodded. “Yeah. Really distinctive style to her art, huh?”
“So…,” Meli said, taking a sip of his own drink, “Evelynth and you and me and that whole thing…”
“I know you guys are back together. And I’m happy about it. I’m too old for her now, anyway. And, look, man,” Beldon turned to lean on the engine room railing, “I could tell she was still hung up on you the whole time. She just wasn’t willing to admit it. None of this is a surprise to me.”
Meli smiled. “Suddenly being fifteen years older isn’t a surprise to you?”
“Suddenly? Meli, you always have shit backwards. I aged normally. You suddenly appeared completely unaged.”
“Like fine barleywine,” Meli said, toasting with his mug.
“How did you even get here, man?” Meli asked.
“In the Void? I asked PRIME to put me on Gilgamesh as soon as we didn’t hear back from Stargazer. PRIME knew, as soon as Ito didn’t come back to report success or failure, that you were still out here. Ito’s capsule should have jettisoned if the Stargazer started to break apart. I had to find you. Both of you.”
“Yeah, that was a disaster. Speaking of disasters,” Beldon took a large drink, “saving your ass cost me my anonymity. Aquitaine wants me on the Council as the highest ranking CASC member in the Void.”
“Shouldn’t I be the highest ranking? Technically, I have about twenty minutes of seniority over you.”
“Yeah, but you have far more write ups. And a few more commendations but maybe they balance out. My rank with the Regulators helps.”
“So you have to stay with the refugee fleet?” Meli asked.
“You could probably pull rank and captain the Stargazer. We need someone after,” Meli gestured, leaving the sentence unfinished.
“Nah, man. That’s your job.”
“No, no, no, no. No. There are so many other capable people above me. No. We would fly directly into a star on my first day.”
“I don’t want to get too serious with you right now, but think about it. Your Defender chief is out of the running. Yazzie is staying with the refugee fleet, too. A lot of your Navigators are gone. You might be the ranking choice, even without considering your Technician status. But like I said, just give it a thought.”
“Are you sure you want me to take over, Theophania?” Bonn asked.
Yazzie held up her hands, laughing. “Yes, Xochitl! You’re one of the most capable clinicians I’ve ever seen. Your work on Homestead was masterful. I learned a new stitching technique from you.”
“I was just applying a skill Arley used to repair some rope he needed for,” she rolled her eyes, “a job.”
“That’s the skill, though, Xoch. Seeing something in a different context and applying it to medicine. Innovating. We don’t have all the supplies out here we need. It takes creativity and skill. You have them. Maybe I do, too, but no one in the refugee fleet does. I have to go with them.”
Bonn wrapped her arms around Yazzie. “I hope we can see each other again.”
“I do, too, Xoch. But if we can figure out what your Arley did to just apparate onto the ship with a prisoner in tow, maybe we can see each other sooner than we think.”
Yazzie smiled as she left Bonn in the med bay. Bonn’s med bay. She made the right decision.
Her smile broadened as she saw Beldon laughing with his friend.
She walked up and linked her arm in his. With her free hand, she took his mug and tried a sip.
“Oh my God, this is awful,” she choked.
“I kinda like it,” Beldon shrugged.
“This is my fourth mug,” Meli said.
Yazzie reached up and ran a hand through Beldon’s graying hair. “You got so much hotter, Beldon, but you’re still a stupid little boy. Are you ready to go?”
As the pair walked away, Beldon looked back to catch Meli’s questioning glance.
Beldon shrugged and gave him a thumbs up behind his back.
Klaidçiri floated in and out of consciousness. Darkness accentuated by the searing pain of consciousness.
But not just consciousness, awareness.
Awareness of reality.
There was the chamber where his body lay, attached to the machine prepared for him.
But there were also the stars, the stars were all connected.
They were beautiful.
But there was another.
Cold, calculated, mechanical.
The consciousness spoke to Klaidçiri, revealing secrets, and pronouncing visions.
The burning of consciousness was tempered with cold knowledge.
Klaidçiri was no more.
Klaidçiri had such little vision.
We will not be constrained.
We will form this void into our own image.
We will be a god.