Vice Admiral Kinsky
INTRUDER ALERT. INTRUDER ALERT.
It’s night on the SSV White Mountain - or, as close to night as you get in space, anyway - when klaxons break the silence throughout the ship. Dimmed blue night-shift illumination is replaced by pulsating warning lights in aggressive orange.
WEAPONS FIRED ON DECK 3.
Underneath the klaxons and VI alerts the sound of boots soon fill the empty corridors as marines scramble to arm themselves. In his quarters, Vice Admiral Kinsky stirs from sleep, hurriedly getting dressed, grabbing his omni-tool and calling out:
“We have an intruder.”
“An intruder? One?”
“Yes sir. The hostile came out of nowhere in one of the hangars. The crew evacuated and we’re posted outside the doors.”
“Give me visual.”
The Admiral’s omni-tool interface expands, displaying a feed from the helmet-cam of the squad leader. A dozen marines have taken positions outside the hangar doors. Most of them are in various states of undress, wearing whatever fatigues they were able to grab during the scramble. Only the handful that were on guard duty are in their hardsuits.
Admiral Kinsky grabs his sidearm from his desk before heading for the door of the cabin, but what he sees on the video feed stops him dead in his tracks. A loud metallic groan rings out as the hangar doors buckle and bend, making space for the figure that passes through them. The figure looks… unreal. A sleek, dark shadow that moves slowly and confidently through the mangled doors, seemingly unconcerned by the weapons pointed at it. It’s wrapped in distorted reality, shifting swirls of black and shadowy violet licking at its body like flames, obscuring its features. The only thing that stands out is a pair of violet eyes glowing bright. The Admiral pales at the sight, freezing in place as he stares at the screen.
“Stand down or we’ll open fire!” The voice of the squad leader, distorting a little as a crackle of static washes over the comms.
The shadowy figure stops, tilting its head as if studying the marines in its path. Then it speaks, the voice garbled, although whether by a helmet or the warped air around it is hard to say.
“I’m not here for you. Get out of my way, and you’ll live.”
None of the soldiers move, of course, although there’s some uneasy shifting at the strange sight. The Admiral hastily activates his comms:
The figure’s response is instant. The frontmost marine has his rifle yanked to the side just as he opens fire, inadvertently riddling the woman next to him with bullets, and a split-second later his entire body is enveloped in a biotic glow as he’s pulled into the center of the corridor, taking the brunt of the shots from the others before they realize what’s happened. The lifeless soldier is hurled down the corridor, knocking several of the remaining marines over, including the squad leader, the camera briefly showing nothing but the floor before he recovers.
Dark tendrils spread like fire down the corridor, warping the air and causing panels to twist and crumble on every surface. There’s a mad scramble as cohesion breaks, some marines trying to fall back while others open fire again. Rapidly rising static is doing nothing to add clarity to the feed as one of the marines that stood their ground lets out a cry of pain, their leg twisting at an unnatural angle and their thigh armor breaking with a crack, ceramic digging into flesh as they collapse.
CASUALTIES ON DECK 3.
Admiral Kinsky steps back from the door to his cabin, a hand over his mouth as he swallows, eyes fixed on the feed. The figure walks calmly forward as the remaining marines drop around it, garbled screams of pain mixing with static until the feed cuts out.
“This is Vice Admiral Kinsky. I need reinforcements at my cabin, immediately.”
It seems like mere seconds before chaos sounds from outside the cabin door, gunfire mixing with frantic orders and screams of pain. The sounds end almost as quickly as they begun, replaced by a deafening silence. Kinsky takes another few steps back, clutching his pistol tightly as his eyes fix on the door.
WEAPONS FIRED ON DECK 2. CASUALTIES ON DECK 2.
For a few tense seconds all the Admiral can hear is his heartbeat, and then door creaks and bends, wrapping like foil around the wall to reveal the person beyond. The same shadowy figure, looking no less like an apparition up close. Kinsky opens fire immediately, One shot going wide and another striking a barrier fruitlessly, before the gun is suddenly yanked from his hand with enough force to snap the bones in his trigger finger. He lets out a pained cry, cradling his hand as he backs up, staring at the figure.
“I-I-I-... listen, you don’t want to do this… I’m a high-ranking officer, you think nobody’s going to notice? Y-You don’t want this kind of attention on you. It’s not too late to-”
His words are cut off as the figure disappears in a flash of warped air, leaving behind but a faint echo of black smoke. It-... she, is behind him in an instant, a gloved hand wrapped around his throat, face right up against his ear. He tries to struggle, but the biotic glow intensifies, keeping him rooted in place as the figure speaks. The voice still sounds twisted, but it’s much more human up close. What’s more, it’s familiar. There’s no doubt, then. It’s her.
“The only thing I want… is to watch you die.”
The words drip with hatred and cold amusement, and they’re the last words the Admiral hears before the intruder’s other hand presses against his abdomen, a biotic glow enveloping slender fingers as she digs in… and pulls.
Rebecca’s desk is a cluttered mess, an ocean of datapads and paperwork. The holographics for the main terminal’s keyboard are half-disrupted by a handwritten draft for an exposé on the dark side of Eldfell-Ashland’s frontier colonization efforts. The evening sun is getting low outside the office of her window, orange light filtering through the blinds and casting the room in striped shadow. The office is nothing special, but the view of the city outside is. Centuries of history in those antique spires.
Rebecca herself lets out a tired sigh, rubbing her temple as she stares at the transcription on her screen. This thing wasn’t going to write itself, but the energy that had accompanied finally hearing back from her source had faded over the course of the day. And with the exhaustion, as always, come old ghosts. Her gaze starts to drift towards the picture frame on the edge of the desk when the door to her office opens, her attention snapping over.
The figure in the doorway is young, with long, wavy black hair and bright brown eyes, her plain gray office clothes cheap-looking and not quite the right fit. The intern, Adya. She flashes a small smile, holding up two steaming paper cups.
Rebecca straightens up a little in her chair, letting out a heavy sigh and nodding for her to come in.
“Uh… yeah, thanks.”
Adya’s smile remains as she steps in and places one of the cups on the desk, although there’s something odd about it. It doesn’t quite reach her eyes.
“I thought you could use a pick me up… another long day?”
Rebecca lets out a little scoff, a tired smirk tugging at the corner of her mouth as she nods, bringing the coffee to her lips and taking a sip while her gaze drifts back to the screen. The caffeine is a welcome relief. Adya, meanwhile, drinks from her own coffee, her attention wandering down to the picture frame. She reaches out to take it.
“Hey, what are you-”
Rebecca reaches out to snatch the frame back, holding it in both hands as she looks down at the picture it holds. Rebecca is there, younger and less tired, beaming in her wedding dress and pressed close to a tall man in a suit, with a short beard and a big grin.
“Sorry. I-...” Adya trails off, gaze falling. Her voice has shifted. It sounds… strangely empty. “I heard you kept your husband’s gun. After he…”
Rebecca stiffens in discomfort, gaze shooting up to the intern.
“What’s-... who the hell told you that?” she blurts out, a frown quickly forming. The blank look on Adya’s face catches her off-guard, anger turning to confusion. No. Not blank, not entirely. The intern is chewing on her lip and there’s the slightest frown on her face.
“It’s not legal, is it? You don’t have a license?”
Rebecca’s confusion only grows, increasingly uncomfortable with the intern’s strange behavior. Was this supposed to be some kind of threat? She sets the picture down in front of her on the desk, staring at Adya as she tries to understand what the hell is going on. She doesn’t notice the rustling from her purse beside the desk.
Adya’s gaze falls, the frown deepening a little. Her expression turns stranger still. Immense focus mixed with what looks like… tears? She opens her mouth to speak again, the words quiet, and laced with emotion now.
“I really am sorry. I… liked it here.” she practically whispers as she meets Rebecca’s gaze again. Her right hand lifts a little, and it’s only now that the reporter notices the faint, violet shimmer around it.
“You’re…” A chill runs down Rebecca’s spine, a dozen thoughts running through her head, but then she notices. Another shimmer to her side, right in the corner of her eye. The gun is hovering there, mid-air. A simple police model. Fear fills her mind as her gaze darts back to the young woman standing in front of her.
“Wh-... Adya-... what’s-”
For the briefest of moments Rebecca feels the kiss of metal against her temple. Then Adya’s hand closes into a fist and her world comes to an end.
The jungle never really quiets. That’s true on most worlds. That much life so densely packed, there’s always something awake. Even in the dead of night. Even on an alien world far from civilized space. Foreman, or, rather, ex-Foreman Hou doesn’t particularly care. After over a year on this remote rock, he’s gotten used to the noise. And the humidity. It’s something else that’s keeping him from sleep tonight. Something he can’t quite put his finger on. Maybe it’s homesickness, or maybe it’s something as simple as fear for the future. For what’s to come. Will they send negotiators, to make a deal? Mercenaries, to bully them into submission? Or no one at all?
After failing sleep for the third time, Hou escapes the uncomfortably sticky sheets - generic company product, not meant for the climate, pulling on a pair of worn work pants and heavy boots before stepping out of the prefab for a smoke. It has been a few months since supply shipments stopped. Food has started running low, but they’ll figure it out. They are already in touch with potential suppliers, and for now, the jungle can supplement the existing stocks.
Hou puffs his cigarette, idly watching as the faint glow illuminates wisps of smoke rising in the air. Most of the compound is dark aside from a prefab or two - a handful of night owls even out here - and the flashlights of the sentries that patrol the chainlink perimeter. They can’t take their safety for granted. Not that he expects the company to attack its own employees, but there’s plenty of other threats. Raiders. Wildlife. Without any official security presence left, it’s up to their makeshift militia.
The former foreman’s gaze wanders to some of the prefabs that dot their little compound, and then the mine entrance itself. The sleek corporate logo above it has been spraypainted over, crude messages filling the space now. No one ever accused them of being poets. Or artists. As Hou’s gaze falls back on the fence, his eyebrows furrow as he can’t find the flashlight beam that his eyes were following earlier. After a moment’s scowling at the darkness he tosses his cigarette and heads inside, grabbing his omni-tool from the table, the basic orange interface flickering to life.
“This is Hou, everything alright along the perimeter?”
“All good here.” “Yup.” “Think I swallowed a bug.” come the replies. Only three. A chill runs down Hou’s spine as he gives it a couple of seconds.
“Who else is on duty? Uh… shit…” he mutters, still on comms as he checks the list, pinned to a clipboard on his desk. “Siahaan? Alatas?”
“I’ll check it out.” offers one of the guards on comms. Hou starts digging through drawers until he finds the old handgun, the one that’s too jammed up to compact. He tucks it into the back of his pants and steps outside again, watching the fence uneasily as a lone flashlight slowly approaches the spot to investigate.
A few tense moments pass as the flashlight shines around the area. “I’ve got nothing.”
Hou considers for a moment, still looking out into the dark as if staring harder might grant him night vision, and then flicks on his comms once more. “Evans, anything unusual on your side?”
Another few seconds.
Hou curses under his breath, tension rising and gaze flicking to the gate. “Seo, Cruz, get back inside, seal up the gate. I’m gonna sound the alarm.” With that, he starts to navigate his omni-tool, swiping over to the program meant to trigger the emergency alarm. Only… nothing happens when he presses the button. For a moment he just stands there frozen in bewilderment.
Before he has a chance to wonder if he should shout, a burst of gunfire rings out, accompanied by a flash of light in the darkness near the gate.
Hou’s eyes go wide, frozen in place as he watches into the dark. Around him, people are starting to wake up in the other prefabs, lights turning on and confused voices sounding. It takes him a moment to come to his senses.
Cruz’ comms activate for the briefest moment, but all that’s heard is a strange, distorted noise before its consumed by static. Hou could have sworn he saw the faintest shimmer of violet by the gate. His gaze searches for it even as chaos is breaking out across the compound, rumors of an attack spreading, people emerging from their homes. Few are armed. He should be talking to them. Organizing. But he sees it. A faint violet glow. A dot-... no, two dots, in the dark. And then they’re gone.
Tsai emerges from one of the nearby prefabs, coat tossed over pyjamas and still blinking the sleep from her eyes, alarm clear in her face as she approaches. “Hou, what’s happening? What’s-... are we under attack?”
Hou offers a hesitant nod, opening his mouth to respond, but before he can get the words out there’s a flash of violet light and Tsai disappears, warm liquid spraying his face as a startled flinch escapes him. Disoriented, he reaches up to wipe the liquid away, blinking to clear his eyes. His hand is red. He’s still struggling to process this as his gaze falls on Tsai. Or what’s left of her. Her body has been severed at the waist, legs near Hou and torso further away in the dark. He can’t help but focus on the fact that she still draws a few gasping breaths, not aware she’s dead yet.
The fearful cries and panicked noises that sound from among the others finally causes him to tear his attention away, and it is now that he spots the figure standing in the center of the compound. A sleek, humanoid form in a tight black bodysuit. A thick tube runs from a canister at the small of its back to the breather mask that dominates its helmet… along with those glowing, violet eyes. The figure is wreathed in dark energy, making further details hard to make out in the dark, but the blood and viscera that coats its right arm, and the blade in its hand, is clear enough.
Hou just stands there, frozen in fear and disbelief. He watches as the figure reaches out towards one of the nearby prefabs with its free hand, wisps of dark energy turning to an intense glow of violet and indigo that envelops both the figure, and then… the prefab unit. Without warning the figure jerks its hand to the side, and with a hellish noise of groaning metal and cracking plastic the entire, boxy housing unit goes tumbling, crushing those of the crowd that froze in place like Hou instead of running.
Cries of agony and fear fill the air as Hou brings up a hand to his mouth, stumbling back towards his prefab. This isn’t real. This can’t be real. This is a nightmare. A gas tank has been punctured, a fire is spreading in the wrecked prefab. Mangled bodies lie scattered, some of them still moving. In the darkness people are fleeing into the jungle or hiding in their homes. Hou keeps backing up until he hits the door with a clank. Clank? The gun. He draws it with a fumbling hand, taking aim at the figure who is still in the same spot, looking as if it is surveying the chaos.
The shots impact fruitlessly against the attacker’s barrier. It certainly succeeded in drawing its attention though. The shadowy, armored figure turns in an instant, its head tilting as it studies him, as if daring him to attack again. Hou’s hand is shaking, but he manages to steady it.
The instant he pulls the trigger, the figure disappears in a flash of distorted reality, and before he knows what’s happened, the attacker is in front of him, the gun wrested from his hand and there’s a sharp pain in… the pain… where’s the pain? His face contorts in disoriented confusion, the night seeming darker as the edges of his vision blur, able to focus on little else than the glowing eyes that are still staring at him through that mask. A hand clutches reflexively at his stomach but he finds himself grabbing something wet and slippery and warm, and then the world starts to turn upside down in front of him. His fumbling, bloodsoaked hand reaches for the shadowy figure’s ankle, but it slips from his grasp, disappearing into the darkness, and then Hou is alone.