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 Post subject: All the little lost boys and girls (Update: 26/5/12) PostPosted: 2009-11-29 10:07pm
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Jedi Knight
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A fun little project I've been tossing back and forth in my head; inspired by Bioshock, Dead Space, Tachyon: The Fringe and Pandorum, I've always wanted to do a story like this, so... here it is. Hopefully, you'll enjoy. And as ever, feedback and concrit are welcome. Thanks. Now, on with the show.

Prologue:

Senior Researcher Everett Hayes coughed blood as he slumped down against the wall, feeling his broken ribs grind deeper into his lungs and heart. He laughed wetly, gurgling with amusement as he heard the sounds in the outer offices, feet and hands, desks being overturned. But not the slurping, smacking and gurgling sounds of feeding. “Yes,” he coughed, letting the pistol slip from his numb, nerveless fingers. “Yes.”

“All personnel this is a general evacuation order,” the general’s announcement played once again, a dead man’s voice urging the survivors to their own deaths. “Primary breaches in sections R-3, F-2 and I-7. Multiple secondary breaches have occurred. I repeat, biohazards in sections R-3, F-2 and I-7 have been released. All containment attempts have failed. All personnel, abandon station. Repeat: abandon station. Self-destruct charges have been armed and station destruct will be activated in twenty minutes. ”

Hayes nodded to himself. Twenty minutes left. Long enough.

The door to his office opened up and cautious feet padded in, stepping over the cooling body of Senior Researcher Justin Black, the man’s face still frozen in an expression of surprise, outrage and fear. They stopped there, circling, and for a moment, Hayes felt his heart pound, driving the bone shrapnel deeper into it. But they didn’t stop there and he relaxed, smiling up as a small figure came around the corner of the desk, a shadow falling over his eyes. “You,” Evertt nodded, reaching out to the figure with a trembling hand. “I knew it would be you. I hoped.”

The figure approached cautiously. Hayes could smell blood, gunpowder and burned cloth as it knelt in front of him. He stared into its eyes, carefully touching the side of her face. “You,” he repeated. “Always my favorite. My favorite.”

There was a gibbering howl in the distance and her head snapped around, mouth opening. Teeth stained pink flashed wetly as her lips drew back and he grimaced, holding firmly onto the side of her head. “No,” he whispered. “No, I taught you better than that, didn’t I? Didn’t I? Tell me you didn’t…”

She hung her head as if ashamed, biting her lip. There was another wet, reedy shrill, punctuated by the sound of gunfire. A man screamed, the cry cut off with a sick gargling squelch. Closer. He could feel her tense up, saw her legs shaking, the muscles in them quivering with contradictory impulses. To run. To fight. To hide. To kill.

He held on to her, cupping her head in both hands. “I taught you,” he gasped, as forcefully as he could. “I taught you all. You’re not like them. Not. You hear me? I-I left you things…” he fumbled a card out of his pocket, pressing it into her hands. “Take it. This station… it’s going to…to… be cleansed” he pointed to the datacard in her hands. “You can stop it. I-I won’t be able to.” He smiled wider as he saw her shake her head.

“It’s all right,” he soothed. “It’s all right. You can do this. I’ve left you everything you need.” The doors to the office complex slid open and heavy footsteps, dragging something behind them, entered. She half-turned towards his office entrance, bristling. With a faltering hand, he handed her the pistol. “You can be better,” he said. “You can. All of you. It’s all I ever wanted for you.” Her mouth opened, but no words came out. He nodded anyways, knowing what she would have said. “Live,” he promised.

Deep whuffling breaths, the sound of something taking lungfuls of air, straining for scents within it.

She made the softest of noises, a long, drawn-out hiss, caught between her instincts and the desire to stay with him. “It’s all right,” he assured her. He touched his fingers to the alphanumeric code on the child’s tunic. “You are different.” His vision was fading, but he managed to touch her face once more. He felt something warm and wet on his hands. “You have to save the rest,” he told her. She nodded, tucking the card into her clothes and stood. She looked at him and raised the pistol, questioning.

He nodded. “Thank you,” he offered as he shut his eyes. “I’d rather not fade away, have the others find me. I’ve done what I could. Go and save the rest.” His eyes welled up. “All my children.”

“Father,” she spoke his name. It was the last thing he heard.

Chapter 1:

“Jesus.”

It was the first word any of them had spoken in over ten minutes. Packed into Kerrigan’s forward observation bay, the men and women of D Company, Artemis Private Security Firm, stared out the bulbous, thickly armoured window at their target.

“Jesus,” Shannon Hayes repeated the word as she stared into the shifting depths of the Abyss. That was only one name for it; the Mists, Twilight Field, Acheron – whatever the name, it was the same thing. An impossible nebula billions of kilometers in volume, filled in gas and dust so thick that the mercenary could barely make out the nose of the frigate Kerrigan, twenty meters ahead of the observation window. For six hundred years, humanity had avoided the Abyss. The ships and crews who didn’t… simply never came back. It was hopeless to navigate, the super-dense dust, gas and ice fragments rendering even the finest sensors worthless, slowing the fastest ship to a crawl or risk their hulls being flayed open by so much dust traveling at relativistic speeds. Safe speeds were best described as crawling, and in an expanse hundreds of millions of kilometers, it would take months or years to navigate through the entirety of the Abyss.

Some daredevils had tried. Others had claimed to have done it. There was an easy way to tell the liars from the rest: no one had ever come through the Twilight Field alive.

There were asteroids in the mists, those whose paths sent them drifting into the field or those enveloped long ago. Both types were now silent, lethal mines that you would never see coming. Not even when it was too late. Some believed that there were planets in the Abyss, their gravity drawing new rocks and comets into the shifting mists.

It had taken weeks for Kerrigan to get this deep into the field, crawling along through the swirling gas and dust, following their one guideline through the Abyss, the signal beacons laid by Primal. Broadcasting on a frequency only Kerrigan knew to look for, the low-power transmissions were almost impossible to pick up in the Mists. Twice, Kerrigan had wasted days chasing false readings and echoes. Twice, they’d had to backtrack, comm antennae straining to sort substance from signal, even as receivers were flayed by the Mists. Weeks, the men and women aboard the frigate had grown more and more unsettled as they stared out into the shifting clouds and indistinct shapes. Weeks of nightmares, headaches and increasing paranoia as Kerriagn slid through the fog, following each successive beacon deeper into Acheron.

Finally though, they’d arrived at their destination.

Looming before their ship like some monstrous citadel rising from the deep, was Deep-Range Research and Observation Platform 47. Built by the Imperium of Terra six hundred years ago and thought lost until four months ago when Artemis had been contracted to provide security for the first team of scientists, archaeologists and other assorted researchers. Thinking it a fool’s errand, but a well-paid one, the Old Man had sent B Company out aboard the APSS Primal, assuming they’d putter around in the dark for a few weeks, returning with a load of disappointed scientists and forty-five bored, but well-paid mercenaries.

That had been one of the few times the Old Man had been wrong.

The first check-in had been only three audible words out of the garbled, Mist-shredded transmission: ‘We found it.’. Successive reports were just as badly scrambled; reports from the scientists and mercenary team. Faces with incomprehensible audio tracks, scattershot dialogue, text files just as badly garbled. However, less than five days after B Company went in, the reports began to get even more erratic. Shorter. Words like ‘dead’, ‘trauma’, ‘ammunition’ began to pepper these documents. Then, two days after that, all contact with the expedition was lost.

The Old Man had wanted to know what happened to his men and women and the company wanted to know what became of their missing scientists. So now it was D Company’s turn; an extra thirty personnel, plus the ship’s crew and Hadley-Wright’s investigators.

Shannon tossed a look over her shoulder at Projector Director Kuhn and his department heads. He was a tall, reed-thin man, who’d clashed more than once with Colonel Shaw. A corper, used to getting his own way and expecting that the money Hadley-Wright had paid to override any concerns the Colonel might have. Kuhn didn’t care. Not as long as he was the one to have his name as the one who’d found DROP 47. Hayes noticed Emily staring at her. Emily Delphini; she was one of Hadley-Wright’s medics, assistant to Dr. Medevost on this expedition. The medic was twirling a forelock of auburn hair around her finger as she stared at Hayes, realized Shannon had seen her and abruptly looked away, her cheeks flushing.

Hayes hid a little grin; she was a corpsman herself and had noticed Delphini staring before, but the girl had never said anything to her and scarcely anything more that wasn’t an apology to Medevost during the doctor’s frequent assertions of inadequacy and incompetence of all those around him.

Before Shannon could decide on what to do, Jack’s voice crackled through the comm. “Slowing to docking speed,” 2nd LT Jack Haversham reported as Kerrigan slowed even further. Shannon turned her attention back to the window and the sight looming out of the clouds before her. There was an intake of breath form the assembled mercenaries and corper personnel. With good cause.

People had been claiming to find Imperial DROPs even before Earth was destroyed; some of those claims were even legit. But no one – no one – had been able to prove that DROP 47 had ever even been built, that it was anything more than a paper tiger, intended to get the Coalition to waste time and manpower chasing phantoms. Shannon never expected anyone to ever actually find it. It simply never existed and whoever had sold Hadley-Wright Industrial and Research Concern DROP 47’s location must have played the corporation like a flute.

But they were here.

There were actually here.

“Goddamn,” the Colonel whispered as he looked over Hayes’ shoulder. “Ugly bitch, ain’t she?”

Shannon could only nod mutely. DROP 47 was. A titanic construct the size of Deimos, it was dark against the slowly-shifting colours of the Mists. The bones of a broken giant, rotting for centuries, but still awful and obscene.

Girders and support arms dozens of meters think jutted through the clouds like metal tentacles, the station’s hull broken and rent from centuries of abrasion, asteroid impacts and what looked like, even at this distance, weapons fire. As the shifting clouds thickened and dispersed, more of the station was revealed in patches. Here, a shattered habitat dome. There, a massive starship port beckoned like a serpent’s gaping maw. Here, an entire outer deck torn open by a grazing asteroid impact. There, silent weapons batteries stared at the approaching ship, long-silent weapons ports brooding and malicious, despite their dormancy.

It was real. It was actually real.

“There,” Ferguson – one of Lieutenant Matthias’s problems cases and a particular pain in Shannon’s ass – pointed at a distant part of the station. “There, can you see it? The power’s on.”

And so it was; distant windows and running lights flickered and pulsed with uncertain light.

The colonel tapped the comm. “Shaw to Roberts. You hear?”

“Yes, sir. Looks like an Elysium. Instruments confirming power, too. At least, I think they are. This soup…” he drifted off, the frequent curse about the Mists’ effects on sensors old hat by this time. “Schematics call that North Sector.” There were no specific design blueprints for DROP 47, of course. No real ones. There were many ‘authentic’ DROP 47 schematics to go along with your equally-as-real map to its location, but the Empire covered its mistakes well; it had taken six hundreds years before DROP 47 was anything more than a rumour. But they did build with a certain uniformity of design, so the massive space station should have the same layout as the others of its class. At least, that was the hope.

“What makes it north?” Shaw asked.

“What doesn’t make it north?” was the pilot’s response. “Cutting to one-twentieth. I don’t want us to get hooked on some of that shit. It looks like the space around 47’s just full of debris.”

“Just bring us in easy,” Jefferies replied, pulling off his cap and running a hand through salt-and-pepper hair. At two hundred seven, he was the oldest member of D Company. Shannon was the youngest, edging out Davies by two weeks. She was also the newest to Artemis.

Kerrigan swept towards the station, threading its way through broken supports and flickering habitat domes, passing by deck after deck of the station as Jack threaded the ship towards the north quadrant, where the power seemed steadiest.

“Ursula’s picking up a tracing beacon,” Jack reported. “It matches Primal’s E-Band, but the signal’s weak, even for the Mists.”

The young woman looked up. E-Band was for emergency communications only. Everyone had been assuming – hoping – that B Company’s lack of contact was just the Mists screwing with communications, but if Primal was crying on E…

“Anything to it?” Shaw demanded.

“Negative, sir,” Ursula Capstein, another Artemis veteran cut in. Kerrigan’s captain. “It’s too garbled to make out. Definitely a repeating pattern. I’ve already got the system working on it, but it’s degraded to shit.”

“Hrrn,” Jefferies replied, knowing what the rest of the assembled mercs did; E-band transmissions shouldn’t get garbled, not from this close range. That meant something was really wrong with Primal, much more than a overdue check-in. “Fritz, anything moving on the scopes?”

“Are you kidding?” Second Lieutenant Montoya coughed. “The fucking Third Imperial Fleet could be twenty meters from our nose and we’d never know it.”

“Well, if they get within ten, let me know.”

Ignoring the back-and-forth, Shannon chewed her lip, watching DROP 47 sweep by outside. Even crawling at this slow pace, she could pick out the cracks in its windows, the scarred and worn-down paint, broken running lights and – wait. What was that? It looked like… some kind of silhouette passing by a window. No, just a trick of the light. DROP 47 had been abandoned for over six hundred years, ever since the Empire had been driven out of the Sagittarius Arm.

The only thing on it was the science team and B Company; forty-five mercs and nearly a hundred scientists, support personnel and administrators from Hadley-Wright.

To the corporation, the expense of a mission this big was chump change, but even so – it was clear that they wanted DROP 47. They’d even insisted on sending another ‘supplementary’ expedition with Kerrigan, whose manifests, equipment and personnel were virtually identical. The company’s belief in the well-being of their original mission was truly heartwarming, Shannon thought bitterly. It was a major find, though. Perhaps the most significant in the past thousand years. An intact Imperial base. The technology, the research notes… Earth had been generations ahead; the Empire had drowned under the weight of tonnage the Coalition had thrown at it. Even six centuries later, authentic Imperial tech was at least as good as most modern equipment. Even if DROP 47 had been stripped before being abandoned, it was still worth its weight in gold.

We found it, Shannon thought to herself, unable to tear her eyes away as Kerrigan slid towards a cavernous docking bay. We found it.

D Company, Artemis Private Security Firm, continued towards the station.

Their arrival had not gone unnoticed.

~

Again, New Ones had come to the cairn.

-protect-

Had they followed the others here, or was the timing only coincidence?

-defend-

It didn’t matter, did it? They were here. The New Ones never learned. So they would have to be taught.

-taste their blood-

Just like the others.

-leave nothing but their bones-



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Sugar, snips, spice and screams: What are little girls made of, made of? What are little boys made of, made of?

"...even posthuman tattooed pigmentless sexy killing machines can be vulnerable and need cuddling." - Shroom Man 777


Last edited by Bladed_Crescent on 2012-05-26 11:01am, edited 54 times in total.
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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-11-30 06:58pm
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Sith Acolyte
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God damn, Bladed, you write some seriously good, seriously creepy shit.



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Out of Context Theatre, this week starring Broomstick.
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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-12-01 03:59pm
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Jedi Knight
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Joined: 2006-08-26 10:57am
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Quote:
God damn, Bladed, you write some seriously good, seriously creepy shit.


Thank you. I figured with this story, I'd try some more 'screaming and running' than 'shouting and exploding'.

Kerrigan and her crew learn that DROP 47 has more secrets than they thought.

Coming up: The question asked of the Marie Celeste.

Chapter 2:

Major Jeremy St. Cloud was a tiny man. Barely over five feet tall, he was from the heavy-gravity world Creedon and built like a tank. Formerly a drop trooper in His Undying Majesty’s Orbital Assault Corps, Jeremy had mustered out after the end of his tour and taken a job with Artemis. Higher pay, better jobs and he never had to start his day with prayers to some fat fuck on a life support couch.

Plus, he got to terrorize men and women who thought that they were hard-bitten. “Move it up, mercs!” he snarled at D Company as the mercenaries stripped to their skivvies, pulling on bodygloves and armour pieces. Only Alpha through Zeta were here; the ten men and women of Eta were back in the crypt, being lovingly sealed into their powered armour suits by Kerrigan’s mechanical arms. Lucky shits. “We ain’t getting paid by the hour!”

“Fuck you, sarge,” Rebbeca Hanover as she pulled a Ratchet-77a sniper rifle down from its rack. “Some of us have better things to do than bug-hunt on some fucking Imperial DROP.”

“Yeah, but what you normally do does get you paid by the hour,” St. Cloud retorted. “And what the fuck d’you think you’re doing with that, Hanover? It’s a fucking space station, not the Plains of Abraham.”

“It just makes me feel all snuggly and warm.”

“Put that shit back on the rack. We’re here for recon and rescue, not to pander to your penis envy.”

With a sigh, Rebecca put the gun back in its place. “What can I say, sarge? I’m a girl who likes big long barrels. Pump action’s the best.”

The major flipped Hanover off. “Call me ‘sarge’ again, private and you’ll be spending this mission earning your pay cleaning latrines.”

“I thought Kerrigan had maintenance bots.”

“I’d turn ‘em off just for you, sweetheart.”

“Fuck you, sir.”

The major laughed.

~

Shannon hated putting on her armour. No matter what size it was or modifications done to it, the bodysuit that went under it always felt like it was too tight across her chest, rode up the crack of her ass and pinched in other places. Dan had told her that it was just psychosomatic, that Halos weren’t meant to put on armour and some part of her wouldn’t let her forget it. But then, anything he said had to be filtered through the proper context. Namely, that Daniel Barrett was an asshole.

A well-intentioned, good-humoured asshole, but an asshole nonetheless. One who could never quite let her forget that she was a Halo and nobody else in Artemis was. The young woman reached up to tie her deep red hair into a ponytail, cramming it up into the helmet as she put it on. There was the familiar instant of claustrophobic panic and the fear of suffocating, but the suit’s own life support system never failed to start up. It had its own air pack, but normally just filtered local air for breathing. The young woman tugged her medkit on over her shoulder – she found it too awkward to have on her back – and strapped her pistol to her right hip.

And what are you going to do, Shannon? What if they give you a gun? Will you use it? Are you going to use it to kill?

If I have to.

Halos don’t fight. You have a gift for medicine. Finish your schooling, find a trade-

This is what I want to do, gran!

You’re young. You just think it is. You’re a Halo, Shannon. We don’t fight.

What about great-grandfather? He was a Halo and-

Don’t you talk about him, girl.


The young woman sighed as the last conversation she’d had with her grandmother played over in her head, as if did every time she geared up. Her parents and grandparents had been abhorred by Shannon Alicia Hayes’s choice of careers, but Halo had no military recruitment; only a lonely Artemis officer, vainly trying to entice some of the pacifist population’s youngsters away from their careers in research, engineering and other studies to the mercenary guild’s employ. You could find thugs with guns under any rock you turned over. Technical skills were in higher demand than the ability to pull a trigger and few planets had as good a reputation for the technical arts as Halo. Bioscience. Theoretical physics. Engineering and design. Everything an aspiring mercenary guild wanted… and no one who wanted them.

Shannon smiled, remembering the weary suspicion in Daniel’s eyes when she’d entered his cramped office, the Artemis recruiter thinking another self-assured ‘youngster’ had come in to start arguing with him about the morality of violence, wars in general and mercenaries in particular. When he’d realized that she was serious, he’d literally fallen all over himself to get her the papers to sign. She wasn’t a physicist or an engineering, a bioscientist or a genebuilders, but she was a good medic. And she wanted off that planet.

Three years later and she’d yet to fire her gun outside of a firing range, but she’d saved the lives of more than a dozen men and women. She’d seen stars go nova and watched as planets were born. And all she’d had to sacrifice for it were ethics she’d never trusted… and her family. She still didn’t know if it was a fair trade, but she couldn’t have stayed on Halo.

Shannon heard motion behind her and braced herself as Sergeant Ellie Mae Donowitz, Beta squad’s leader, slapped her helmet, continuing down the line of Beta’s men and women with a good-luck tradition whose value was only known to the sergeant.

“Beta, you in this?” Donowitz roared.

“We’re in it, sarge!” the squad answered her.

“Can’t hear you!” Ellie Mae shouted back. “Beta squad, you in this?”

“Like pigs in shit!” they hollered, Shannon’s voice joining with those of the eight other men and women in her squad.

“Glad to hear it!” the sergeant replied, turning smartly as Major St. Cloud stalked into the room, moving with a complete lack of grace that only two hundred and fifty pounds of muscle and augmetics could accomplish. “Beta squad’s ready for you, major.”

St. Cloud smiled around his cigar. “What you want, Donowitz? A fuckin’ cookie?”

Behind her eyes, Ellie batted her eyes at her superior. “No, but I wouldn’t mind taking a nibble of your-”

“All squads, this is Colonel Shaw,” the intercom’s interruption cutting off the sergeant’s culinary appraisal of St. Cloud’s anatomy. “We are on final approach. Sync your feeds to Kerrigan... now. Excellent.

“You know the mission,” Shaw continued. “This is primarily a search and rescue – we’re here to find B Company and the first expedition. All other concerns are secondary until we have ascertained their condition. We’re already here, mercs. There’s going to be plenty of time to look around after we’ve found B. Do your jobs, look out for each other and we’ll be home in time for Christmas. Anyone who thinks that he or she’s going to pull shit on this mission will end up with my boot so far up their ass that they’ll have to yawn when I want a shoeshine. Got that? Good.

“Beta and Gamma, once we have hard seal, you’ll secure the port. Delta and Epsilon will follow. Zeta will ride herd on our employers for the moment and Eta will remain ready to cover our backs. We don’t know anything about this place, people. But we do know two things: the Imperium built their shit to last and they didn’t like trespassers. There is power in North Sector, so there’s a chance of there being active security systems. I don’t want any idiots getting themselves or their team killed because they assumed this station was harmless.

“Watch each other’s backs and this’ll be easy. Fuck around and you’ll have more than Imperial war drones to worry about. Got it? Good. Ursula, how do I turn this fucking thing off? This switch he-”

~

“Very inspiring speech,” Alfred Kuhn observed as Colonel Calvin Shaw flicked off the comm.

“Thank you, Director,” the colonel replied pleasantly through his gritted teeth. “I’ve found it helps morale before a mission.”

“Hmm. I confess, I’d never given the idea much thought,” Kuhn admitted. “Still…”

“Yes?”

“I wonder if their captains made similar speeches?” the corper said, pointing to the holographic display of DROP 47.

Shaw narrowed his eyes, but didn’t respond. There were some things that his men and women didn’t need to know. Not yet, anyways. Morale was important; sharing Kerrigan’s find would only have rattled them. As the frigate closed to the station, it had become evident that Primal and Kerrigan were not the first to locate the abandoned station. Others had come here, had found DROP 47. And they were still here.

Perhaps due to its flickering, intermittent but still obvious power, North Sector had drawn them in like moths to a flame. Several ships, each the size of Kerrigan or even larger, were anchored to the massive docking arm, its open serpent’s mouth there to convey smaller landers and cutters into the internal hangars deeper in the station, protected from the Mists. Larger ships, with their thicker armour and protective silos for their sensitive gear, didn’t warrant such treatment. At least, not for any length of time that the designers had planned for. Decades of constant abrasion had worn away at this ships, stripping off whatever paint had survived their voyage through the Mists, eroding sharp lines and eating away at their hulls.

The rotten corpses of a half-dozen starships lay before Shaw, and it was possible that some of those shapes just outside visual were the remains of even more. DROP 47’s guests, none of whom had ever left.

No, there was no need to share that with the rest of D Company.

“Christ,” Capstein whispered, watching the feeds from Kerrigan’s sensor eyes. “That’s a Three Star Suzenrainty Achilles. They stopped building those three hundred years ago. That one… that’s a Jovian Engineering Concern Merchant of Venus. That one, up on the other side of the arm? That’s got to be a… no fucking way.”

“A Coalition cruiser,” Shaw finished, as the looming bulk of the warship came into view. Ursula was good with ships, but even he knew what that one was. “And look at its hull. Computer, what are those?”

“High probability of Imperial Gold Dragon-class cutters,” the computer replied. “They appear to be anchored to the cruiser’s external hardpoints.”

“Fuck me…” Shaw whispered. “What’s a Coalition ship doing here? If they found DROP 47, why didn’t anyone hear about it before now?”

“Maybe they were captured and brought here for analysis,” Ursula mused. “I can’t tell her class; she could be a Type III.” Toward the end of the war, the Coalition developed a few tricks to offset Earth’s advantages. “Hidden in Acheron like it is, DROP 47 would have been the perfect place to for the Empire to study a Late Era-hull.”

“Possible…” the colonel mused. “Jack, what are our options?”

The pilot didn’t look up from his console, a sheen of perspiration on his face as kept Kerrigan from being pulled off-course by the Mist’s tides. “It’s looking like all of the external mooring clamps on this arm are full, colonel. We could try North-4 below us, but what I can read through this hash makes it seem like Upper North here is in the best condition. West and South are a little iffy. There might be power, but nothing I can say for certain.”

“And East Sector?” Kuhn inquired.

The lieutenant shook his head. “I can’t even tell you for if East Sector’s still there. There’s just… nothing on scopes.”

“We’ll stick with North,” the colonel mused, wondering what to do. The upper docking arm was sealed, and the station’s other visitors seemed to have taken up all the external spaces on it. Not that he wanted to leave Kerrigan out in the Mists; all the ships here had been suffering decades to centuries of wear from the particulate matter. Hull plates had been torn out, airlocks and windows smashed in or blown out. One passenger liner had been impaled when a piece of the station had come loose and crashed through its bulbous forward bridge. The Coalition cruiser had a massive dent in its port flank and several ruined Imperial cutters from where an asteroid had blundered into it centuries ago. Anything that hadn’t been protected was worn down to nothing or broken away long ago.

There was something wrong here. Not only because of the number of ships that had come here and never left, but there was something eating at the back of his mind…

Abruptly, he realized what was missing. “Primal,” he said. “Where’s Primal?”

“We’re still receiving their signal,” Communications confirmed. “We should be right on top of them, but I can’t get any decent fix. Sorry, sir. Wait… receiving a signal.”

“Captain Shelby?” Shaw asked.

“No sir,” Communications continued, frowning. “It’s some kind of automated beacon. I can’t understand it.”

Kuhn reached into a coat pocket, handing the young woman a datacard. “Use this.”

At Shaw’s nod, Communications input the card into her system, calling up the information. It was a datacard containing Imperial ciphers. Shaw’s eyes narrowed as Communications decoded DROP 47’s hail. “It’s an automated request for docking authorization, sir.”

Ursula nodded. “Maybe we tripped a proximity sensor, or whatever’s still working over there finally sniffed us out through all this crap.”

“They’re telling us to submit identity codes or be fired upon,” Communications informed her superiors.

The colonel swung towards one of his ratings. “Sensors?”

Montya shook her head. “No weapons active, sir.”

“Formality, then.” He shot a sharp look at Kuhn. “Answer them. You have the right codes, I presume?”

“Yes. They’re on the ‘card. File ‘Beckon 77438’.”

“You heard him, comms.”

“Sir. Inputting sequence now…” a moment crawled by before the derelict station’s system chewed over the codes Kuhn had provided. Then, the massive doors at the end of the docking arm began to grind open, brilliant guide lights running down each face of the inner walls. “Automated message coming through.”

“Play it,” Shaw answered, still staring at the director.

Wel-wel-welcome, ITS Ray-ray-ray-Razorback,” a stuttering synthetic female voice greeted them. “You-you are authorized. Are authorized. Are authorized to proceed in-in-in-inside for-for docking. Docking. Alert: this system. This system. This system has registered-ed-ed damage to your craft-aft. Maintenance has been-been infor-or-or-med. Thank you, ITS Razorback. Please enjoy your stay-ay-ay.

“Well, you heard the lady,” Shaw said, leaning back in his chair. “Take us in.”

“Yessir,” Haversham nodded, bringing the frigate slowly about, pointing its nose down the docking tunnel. Running lights speared out, playing through the thinning clouds of dust and gas as Kerrigan slipped down into the belly of DROP 47, cones of brilliance playing over the flanks of the ships moored to the external hardpoints.

“Wait,” Shaw said, his gut tightening as one of the beams played over the JEC freighter, but Kerrigan was too far into the tunnel now to turn back.

But Ursula had seen it too. “Camera Four,” she said. “Playback the searchlight sweep on the freighter.”

Shaw stood, standing beside Capstein as she stared at the monitor. He could feel Kuhn’s presence over his shoulder, the corper watching as well.

There; on the bare hull between the ship and the station, where it was protected from most of the damage caused by the Mists. Patchy and nearly worn away, but it was there all the same, an unsettling proclamation:

NOT SAFE



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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-12-02 12:06am
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I read this at work where I can't log in, but didn't get online at home the past couple days to say anything.

I like it. So far it's got the start of a very nice gothic horror; where it's not the gore that scares you, but the shadow in the darkness and your own imagination.



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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-12-02 06:59pm
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Ooh shiny, more suspenseful horror and screaming in the dark where no one can hear you please.



So I stare wistfully at the Lightning for a couple of minutes. Two missiles, sharply raked razor-thin wings, a huge, pregnant belly full of fuel, and the two screamingly powerful engines that once rammed it from a cold start to a thousand miles per hour in under a minute. Life would be so much easier if our adverseries could be dealt with by supersonic death on wings - but alas, Human resources aren't so easily defeated.

My weird shit NSFW

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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-12-02 07:26pm
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Crescent you gotta get an agent man, first Children of Heaven and now this? You could make a livelihood.




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This topic is... oh Village Idiot. Carry on then.--Havok

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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-12-02 11:03pm
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LadyTevar wrote:
I like it. So far it's got the start of a very nice gothic horror; where it's not the gore that scares you, but the shadow in the darkness and your own imagination.


Eli Roth is the enemy of all mankind.

...okay, that's a little harsh. But Mr. You-Need-Lots-Of-Blood-To-Be-Scary is at least the enemy of the horror genre. Or at least my personal nemesis where horror is concerned.

I mentioned before that I think my best work comes when I'm driven by spite, yes? :D

Darth Nostril wrote:
Ooh shiny, more suspenseful horror and screaming in the dark where no one can hear you please.


Oh, there's definitely someone to hear your scream. Or something...

Themightytom wrote:
Crescent you gotta get an agent man, first Children of Heaven and now this? You could make a livelihood.


Working on it. :wink: Don't know if I'll actually succeed, but I'm working on it.



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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-12-02 11:11pm
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I decided on doing something a little extra with this storyline, since it's a 'SDN Exclusive' (so to speak), I decided to throw in some extra effort. It's something of an experiment that, depending on reception and my attention span, I may throw in here and there in later chapters, just for atmosphere. Or not; we'll see how it goes. Anyways, onward and upward.

D Company learns that the previous guests did not follow simple etiquette and leave only footprints.

Coming up: "We've got a survivor!"

Chapter 3:

“Hard seal in five… four… three… two… one… hard seal confirmed. Alpha, Beta, confirm probe telemetry.”

“Getting the spools in like crystal, Control.” St. Cloud confirmed. “All teams, eyes on?”

A series of assertions followed. “Then move your asses. Alpha, Beta – we ain’t getting any prettier.”

“Some of us aren’t,” Alpha Two – Lieutenant Rudy MacGuyver – laughed.

“Beta, Delta – out the door. Alpha’s on your six.”

Shannon swallowed against her dry mouth as the mercs in Kerrigan’s debarkation bay jostled each other. The feeds from the frigate’s sensors and probes were coming in as clear as the major had indicated. North-4 Hangar was a massive chamber, capable of holding a squadron of ships Kerrigan’s size, with a spider-web of gantries, walkways and landing pads filling the entire bay. Over five levels high, with a half-dozen docking sites per level, it was clear that whatever else the Empire had had in mind when they built DROP 47, the movement of cargo and personnel would not have been a problem.

And there are seven more bays just like this one, Hayes reminded herself, two for each sector, and each of those was very nearly a city unto itself, extensions of the Elysium-class station’s massive central core. No, the Empire could never be accused of thinking small.

“You think Shaw would have told us,” Louis Hernandez whispered to her. “You know, that we weren’t the first.”

Shannon couldn’t answer him; she had only the barest knowledge of ships, but there were at least twenty smaller vessels settled on their landing pads in the bay, corvettes and cutters, yachts and pocket freighters. And, across from the jutting docking spar that Kerrigan had sealed itself to, was their sister ship APSS Primal, looking every bit as battered and beaten as its newly-arrived sibling. Kerrigan’s searchlights played out over the darkened Primal, sweeping back and forth over the windows in an attempt to elicit some kind of response.

Primal’s still dark,” Shaw informed them. “Beta, Gamma, proceed as planned and secure the bay. Delta, check out Primal. Epsilon’s your support.”

“Yessir.”

“Open embarkation doors… now,” Operations – Kenny Roberts – noted. “Bringing up blinders.”

Shannon instinctively shut her eyes as the massive floodlights in the back of Kerrigan’s embarkation/debarkation bay snapped on, aimed out and down the ramp. An old trick; blind anyone waiting for you and give your own off-loading troops perfect vision. The young woman shifted impatiently as the ramp hissed down. The ‘blinders’ were fucking hot, so bright that you could cook food over them. But the ramp always seemed to take longer going down then it did and twenty men and women boiled out into the docking spur, weapons ready, as if challenging the darkness itself to attack them.

When no flurry of gunfire was immediately forthcoming, Beta and Gamma began to filter out into North-4 Hangar, sweeping through the area. “Nothing,” Jenna Alcubierre muttered with a look at her sensor gear. “Only things moving are Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail.” Three of Kerrigan’s automated probes; Thumper was down for maintenance. Shannon looked up, the zoom in her visor as a beam of light played out over one of the upper walkways, spearing into the dusty, cold air, playing along the far wall towards the frigate.

Shannon’s partner, Beta Three, slapped her on the shoulder and pointed up. “Look,” Abigail Hutchins gestured towards the distant ceiling.

A softly-humming nightmare presented itself, drifting down from the gantry, ten manipulator arms hanging beneath its body like the vicious tendrils of some underwater predator. The height of a man, but thicker and plating with black, gleaming armour, it was proof against most small-arms fire. A bulbous, many-eyed head swiveled back and forth as the automaton scanned Beta and Delta, analyzing them with each of its many sensory systems. With a small chuff of its propulsion systems, Mopsy continued its slow descent, before leveling off and floating towards the second-highest tier, searchlights sweeping back into the darkness. Soon, the only sign of the probe was the uncertain flickers of those same beams.

Shannon didn’t quite shake her head. Abigail was a tech, although not a full engineer, if it was broken, she could jury-rig, battlefield repair or bash it back into functioning order. She had a particular soft spot for the squiddies. There was also that story about her slipping some unauthorized programming and hardware into Flopsy and then being caught in a very compromising position with the ‘bot, but she was… almost certain that that was just Ferguson being his usual self.

“This place is a dump,” Hernandez coughed. He wasn’t wearing his helmet, not since Roberts had confirmed breathable atmosphere. St. John had even given up trying to get Louis to wear his gear, telling him that there was a sniper out there just counting the days until they met. Hernandez’s reply was that being shot in the head was almost invariably fatal anyways, so he might as well be comfortable until that happened. He coughed again, looking up and blinking. His eyes were watering. “What the fuck is this?”

Shannon managed to avoid rolling her eyes. “It’s breathable, but there’s six centuries of dust here.” She dug into her bag for an anti-allergen shot. “I shouldn’t even give you this,” she told him. “If you’d worn your helmet, the filtering systems would be handling it.”

“Yes, mother Halo,” Louis snapped, wiping his eyes with the back of one hand.

“Give him the shot,” Donowitz said as she strode by. “And the cost of it is coming out of your pay, Hernandez.” Her helmet canted towards Shannon. “How much is that?”

“For a dose of roglexicitol?” Shannon replied, as she tilted Louis’s head up and stuck the hypodermic into his neck, carefully depressing it. “c150.”

“c150 it is. You catch that, Control?”

“We did.”

Louis looked up, his symptoms gone. “Hey-”

“‘Hey’ nothing, asshole. You didn’t listen to the major. You didn’t listen to your medic, so this is what you get. If we were a real military, you’d have more than a docket to worry about, so get back to work before I get Control to add in the cost of the syringe and Corporal Hayes’s time.”

Hernadez glared at the sergeant for a moment, then shrugged and hurried to catch up with his partner, Jessica Citizen, still leaving his helmet off. “I’m going to kick his ass, I swear to God,” Donowitz muttered. “This mission, I’ve got a very low threshold for shit.”

Shannon didn’t know if the sergeant was looking for a response, so she didn’t offer one, directing her gaze around the cavernous bay as she and Abby joined the rest of Bet and Delta in exploring the hangar.

If the outside of the station had been a wreck, North-4 Bay was hardly any better. Debris was piled high everywhere and where it wasn’t piled, it was scattered across the floor. On the level above of this one, Cottontail’s feed was showing where a dozen crates had been stacked against some doors, now toppled to the deck, the doors bent inwards, as if battered open. What looked like makeshift firing positions had been set up on several of landing platforms, facing towards the doors on their respective levels – chokepoints? The redhead knelt by one of these fortifications, reaching down and picking up a shell casing. There were dozens more scattered all over the deck, along with several energy cartridges of a make she didn’t recognize.

Hutchins knelt beside her, picking up one of the cartridges. “Not issued from Primal’s armoury. Not even personal kit; too much dust for that.” She streaked a finger through it, uncovering something beneath the grime. “Wait,” Shannon said. “Go back. There. Wipe off the rest of it.”

As the other woman complied, Shannon swept her hand over the scene, the lume in her palm casting a blue-green glow over the deck. There; it looked like something had been scratched into the floor with… well, something hard and sharp. Shannon frowned – she didn’t recognize the writing. “Can you read it?” Abigail asked.

“No, I don’t think… wait. Yes, it’s … Aramarkian.” She looked up at her partner. “I can’t read Aramarkian. Much.” Shannon canted her head, trying to puzzle out the meaning. It looked like someone’s rank – was that the first abbreviation? – their name and some numbers. A date? A soldier’s serial number? She couldn’t tell. “Sorry.”

Hutchins stood back up. “Not that important, I guess.” She moved on, sweeping the beam of her rifle’s light around.

Shannon remained squatting, her fingers tracing the crude, hastily-scratched lines of the script. Who’d written this? Why? Her eyes fell on the discarded ammo casings. They were pressed for time. Between attacks, or before? What attacks? What happened here? Pirates? Why would pirates base out of the Mists?

She frowned, her full lips pouting under her helmet. She remembered… what? What did she remember? Bits and pieces, taunting her. The aroma of smoke and narcotics in a bar, the sting of her grandmother’s hand across her face. Dust tickling her nose, fermented breath washing over her face. Two different places, two different things. Why both of them? Why here? A single word, drunkenly whispered to her like a secret, some awful burden.

The young woman shook her head to clear it and stood back up. Ghosts and goblins. The likeliest situation was that two different salvagers had come here and fought over the station. Against her will, her eyes drifted up to all the grounded shuttles, pinnaces and small ships in the bay. Pirates, then. Using it as a hideout, they fought over the spoils. That’s it.

Pale blue lights flickered on and off, casting inconstant shadows throughout the bay, the illusion of motion always teasing her peripheral vision. Despite herself, Shannon felt her hand sliding down to the pistol on her hip, patting it to assure herself that it was still there. She’d never fired it at anyone and there were seventy-five men and women here, all more experienced and heavily-armed than she was.

More boxes stacked into more hastily-built firepoints. Most of them lacked any sort of scarring from return fire. Others were nicked and scratched, but not from any gun that she knew of. Shannon ran her hand over a spiderwebbed fracture in one plastic case. There was a bullet stuck in the epicenter of the fractured plastic. The insignia on the crate marked it as from something called the ‘Black Moon Expeditionary Consortium’. Sounded like a pirate clan.



“Delta to all teams. We’ve made entry into Primal. The fucking ship was locked down and someone welded the airlocks shut from the inside. Allah, it stinks in here.”

There were briefcases and crates of equipment left lying the dust. Opened and discarded, with no one even bothering to clean them up. How many times had someone come here, investigated them, and then abandoned them. What happened here?

“Gamma Nine and Ten. Found a crate of Imperial medical scanners. Looks like it was tossed off one of the higher levels and broke open on impact. Most of them are trashed or depleted, but we’ve found two that still work.”

Several of the other landers had clearly been stripped for parts; hull plates had been ripped off, engines pulled out. At least two were hulks, burnt out from the inside.

“Beta Five and Six. More shell casings here. Some debris. Looks like… cloth? I guess?”

Walkways were buckled and broken, bits of railing and jagged floor grates hanging down at awkward angles in the artificial gravity.

“Gamma Three and Four. Looks like the cover to this air vent was popped inward. There’s some… markings here. Scratch marks, I guess.”

There were dozens of bullet holes and scorchmarks around the broken doors and vents, the bulkheads there scarred and mutilated by the outpouring of firepower.

“Alpha One to all teams – less guesses, people. You’re not going to be marked down for getting something wrong.”

Shattered syringes lay on the floor, their faint chemical stink mixing with the cold, stale air of the bay.

“Beta Seven and Eight to Beta and Gamma squads,” Jackson’s voice interrupted her train of thought. “We’ve made it to the central docking terminal. There’s something here that you all need to see. Now.”

“Alpha One, Beta Seven and Eight. Be more specific.”

“We’ve been left a message.”

“From who?”

“Everyone. Every-fucking-one, sir.”

~

Sergeant Adrian Rafowitz, Delta squad, was glad that he was wearing a helmet as he and the rest of his squad explored Primal. The air here stunk, making his nose twitch. Jolene had said made him look like ‘a nervous little bunny’. Which was probably the worst compliment to ever pay a mercenary and he’d sworn her to secrecy. Unfortunately, fate had had a different idea. Private Harriet Blake was a bitch straight from Hell’s own heart and he would never be convinced otherwise. Blake and Jolene were good enough friends that Harriet knew about Jolene’s weakness for anything alcoholic and peach-flavoured and after a night of drinking more than was good for either of them, Jolene had giddily revealed her pet name for one Sergeant Rafowitz, waking up next morning with no idea what she’d done. Due her to inherently demonic nature, Blake held her liquor far better than Jolene and so not only remembered the incident, but became resolved to share it with the squad. Which, of course, she did.

And much amusement was had by the men and women of Delta Squad, D Company, Artemis Private Security Firm, at the expense of their sergeant. Whose entreaties to dole out the appropriate disciplinary measures fell on deaf ears.

“Hey sarge,” Rubenowitz, whose like-sounding name was ever a source of confusion. “How you holding up?”

“I’m fine.”

“You sure? It stinks like shit in here, so I figured that…. maybe you want a carrot?”

Rafowitz sighed, about to reply with his favorite rejoinder involving the orifices of the offender’s mother and acts usually not carried out with said orifices when Three suddenly stepped forward, holding the sensior suite on her arm up. “Got a hit, sir.”

Rafowitz pushed Rubenowitz out of the way. “What kind of hit?”

“Unknown, but it’s warm and it’s moving.” She pointed down a side tunnel. “That way.”

“Then let’s head out. Jump to it, mercs.”

“Don’t you mean hop to it, sir?” Blake suggested innocently.

Rafowitz sighed again, ignoring his twitching nose. It really was a pity that St. Cloud and Shaw had denied his request to have his underlings shot.

~

As Shannon entered the walkway to the main terminal, several vidscreens flickered to stuttering life as the station’s AI re-played the message that it had greeted everyone else with. The logo of the Imperium of Terra, Science Division drifted over a scenic tropical archipelago, the image cutting to static of blacking out entirely as it flickered. “Shore party from. From. From ITS Razorba-a-a-ack. Wel-wel-welcome to Imperial-ial-ial Deep-range Research and-and- Observation. Observation. Platform-orm. 47. We are currently-ly-ly experiencing technical difficult-ifficult-iffculties. Maintenance has-has been contacted and we expect-ect to be. To be fully operational shortly.

“Please be advi-i-ised that, due to the nature of research conducted. Conducted at this sta-ay-ay-ation, that certain areas will-ill b-be off limts to your personnel. Personnel. Failure to abide. Abide. By these posted regulations will result-ult in possible fines, imprisonment and/or termination. Termination. For further queries, please consult-ult security or a Core terminal. Thank you-you and en-enjoy your stay.” As Shannon passed by, her partner hurried to catch up, triggering the sensors and beginning the recorded message over again.

“Goddess above us and the Blackness below,” Abigail whispered as she skidded to a stop next to Shannon crossing herself.

Shannon didn’t share Three’s denomination, but she agreed wholeheartedly with the sentiment. The bay itself was vast, disorganized and ruined, but in presentation it was ostensibly no worse than a hundred other battlefields the mercs had seen, or the handful that Shannon herself had been two. This, though… this was new.

“It’s all over the walls.”

It took her a moment to realize that she’d been the one to speak, the first amongst the stunned mercenaries to do so, as she had in the observation day. Writing. From a hundred different hands – maybe more. Script in dozens of languages, including one strange script that she didn’t recognize at all, was scrawled on every available surface. The bulkheads and doors. The smashed screens of computer terminals, even the floor. Entreaties for help, warnings, mad gibberings and rants, prayers and invocations. On the wall opposite each tier’s entry to this central concourse was a single message, decades old, written over in turn as it had covered up much of the writing beneath i, but still legible. A very simple, if exuberant, proclamation.

WELCOME TO ACHERON! ENJOY YOUR STAY!

And beneath it: THE STAFF WILL BE WITH YOU SHORTLY.

[Reveal] Spoiler: Writing on the walls
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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-12-03 09:36pm
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Ooo... I love it. The scene is just screaming "GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE NOW", but no one's listening.



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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-12-04 11:22pm
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Indeed, lots of shell casings, unidentifiable smears on the floor and up the walls, cargo containers piled up as defensive positions, doors welded shut and several centuries worth of warnings carved into & sprayed onto the walls .
Only a merc would be stupid enough to stay ..... oh wait.... :D



So I stare wistfully at the Lightning for a couple of minutes. Two missiles, sharply raked razor-thin wings, a huge, pregnant belly full of fuel, and the two screamingly powerful engines that once rammed it from a cold start to a thousand miles per hour in under a minute. Life would be so much easier if our adverseries could be dealt with by supersonic death on wings - but alas, Human resources aren't so easily defeated.

My weird shit NSFW

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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-12-05 12:59am
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Lady Tevar wrote:
Ooo... I love it. The scene is just screaming "GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE NOW", but no one's listening.


Darth Nostril wrote:
Indeed, lots of shell casings, unidentifiable smears on the floor and up the walls, cargo containers piled up as defensive positions, doors welded shut and several centuries worth of warnings carved into & sprayed onto the walls .
Only a merc would be stupid enough to stay ..... oh wait.... :D


Well, unlike in most horror movies where the protagonists seem compelled to open the door/stick their head in the darkened room/explore the cave for no good reason at all, the mercs at least do have several good excuses for sticking around (hopefully). Namely that:

i. they came to find out what happened to the first expedition, and they haven't done that. So there's still a few hundred friends and colleagues that are missing.
ii. it takes several weeks to get in and out of the Mists and they've only been on the station for a couple hours, so packing it in so soon isn't really an option. It's like Columbus reaching the shores of North America, stepping off the landing boat and deciding he doesn't like the looks of those crabs, let's head back to Spain.
iii. DROP 47 is probably the biggest archaelogical find in centuries... which is probably what a lot of the other ship crews were thinking, but still. Curses on Egyptian tombs and the potential for a grisly booby-trap/curse/spore-inflicted death didn't slow down a generation of grave robbers archaeologists! :P
iv. they wouldn't be very good mercenaries if Weird Things made them run. Sensible, perhaps. But not good mercenaries
v. so far, they've explored less than a percentage point of the entire station. It'd be hard to make a convincing case for any modern-day military or mercenary unit abandoning their mission after accomplishing so little. Basically, all they've done is climb out of the chopper and get freaked out by some ruins. Try explaining that one to your superiors:

"Echo Nine to Big Papa, we have high probability of boogeymen in the area. Calling an abort."

"Big Papa confirms boogeymen, Echo Nine. Come back to the barn. We'll have the nightlights plugged in and waiting."

Not to worry, though. DROP 47 prides itself on its enthusiastic welcome to all visitors and the staff will be with them very soon to continue this tradition.



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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-12-05 01:08am
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Time for a pep-talk... whose effect is rapidly neutralized by further revelations that DROP 47 is not, in fact, the vacation hotspot that the brochures made it out to be.

Coming up: "I have to ensure that you are free of Transmissible Celestial Dementia."


Chapter 4:

Eat.

~

“This is fucked up in a most auspicious way,” Hernandez murmured as he stared, like the rest of Beta and Gamma squads, at the wall. Shannon couldn’t help herself; she kept picking out messages amidst the jumbled graffiti, wondering at what they meant. Some were obvious. Others, less so.

BREATHING; DON’T TRUST IT

“What… the fuck… is going on here?” Shannon heard a voice. It took her a moment to realize that it had been Colonel Shaw who’d spoken; he was still aboard Kerrigan, monitoring his teams’ vidlinks and telemetry. “What in God’s name happened to this place?” It was the question of day.

EYES IN THE DARK LIGHT LIGHTS

“Looks like everyone got the bug,” St. Cloud replied, Alpha squad shouldering their way through the assembled mercs. Only five men, Alpha was D Company’s command unit. The diminutive major stepped in front of the far wall, his back to the message welcoming them to Acheron. “The fuck are all of you doing here? I thought I told your asses to scout the bay, not stare like a kid at his first peep show.”

GET ME OUT OF HERE

The ‘bug’ was space madness. Symptoms could vary – sometimes intense claustrophobia or severe agoraphobia presented themselves. Mania, obsessive-compulsive actions, unpredictable mood swings, sleeplessness, nervous twitches and headaches were all common symptoms of space madness. Severe, often violent, paranoia and disturbing hallucinations were the underlying traits in the most extreme cases.

NO, I LIKE IT! LET’S PLAY!

“Sorry sir,” Gamma Nine said. “You gotta admit, this is fucking weird.”

I CAN SEE WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE!

“Maybe it is,” St. Cloud said. “I don’t see anything changing here, do you? We got a missing crew, missing corper teams and I didn’t think we stumbled across B Company yet, do you? Three hundred people, private. How many of those do you want to leave behind? Got any friends you want to abandon?”

EATING AND WATCHING AND EATING AND WATCHING AND EATING AND KILLING AND WATCHING

Nine looked away without answering. “Yeah,” the major said. “That’s what I thought.” He turned back to the rest of the assembled squads, his voice booming through the comm to reach the rest of D Company. “Yes, this is fucked up. Yes, it’s not what we expected. But we are not leaving without knowing that happened to our people. We do the job, we get paid. We’re here to find our friends, not hide in our beds with the blankets pulled up over our heads so the monsters won’t get us. You want to walk? You fucking do it after the job. Then, anyone who wants to can go. Until then?” St. Cloud jerked a thumb at the wall. “Write me a fucking letter.”

DON’T TRUST THEM! ANY OF THEM!

“Well said, major,” Shaw put in. “Keep your wits about you, people. We are not extras in a slasher vid and I expect to see that reflected in your performance. You were hired because you were willing to chew rocks and capable of shitting gunpowder. You are trained. Toned. Fit and capable. We are here, we are not going anywhere until the job is done and until it is, we are going to hold this station. Keep a level head, trust in your team and whatever’s waiting here for us is in for the worst day of its life. If you’re going to panic, if you’re going to lose your cool and you might as well flush yourself out into space now, and save me the trouble because I don’t have any use for you. Do you understand?”

“We understand, sir!” the emboldened mercenaries shouted back.

“That’s what I thought,” Shaw’s voice, granite and unyielding, answered back. “Now carry out your orders before I let St. Cloud break out the motivational thumbscrews.”

Slowly, the two squads broke back up again into twos and threes, some studying the words, others heading back into the bay. St. Cloud gestured for Gamma’s technical specialist to try and work with some of the shattered computers, though it was clear that they’d been destroyed long ago. Perhaps even when the Empire abandoned DROP 47. Shannon turned to go, when one last hastily-smeared note caught her attention.

DON’T GO IN THE SHIPS! TRAPPED!

The young woman started. The burned landers… St. Cloud was right. They got the bug.

Shannon frowned, looking at a particular spot on the wall, just below the warning about the ships. Strange symbols... There was something about the way they were written. More orderly, not with the same scrawled desperation, the same urgency as the multitude of other notes. Someone had taken their time here. She traced the shape of the unknown letters, trying to figure out why they bothered her. The markings… they looked so familiar. Where had she seen them before?

You don’t believe me do you, Hayes? Here. This’ll prove it. Look. Look.

Some things are better left in the past, child.

The corporal straightened, looking for her partner. This was pointless. They needed to be scouting the area like the major said, not wool-gathering over something she’d probably seen in a holovid and some bugged-out pirate had just copied.

As Abigail wandered over, Shannon looked over Three’s shoulder, to another note amongst the scribbled background. Like the welcoming one, it was very simple and to the point.

THEY WON’T LET YOU LEAVE

~

“Colonel Shaw.”

“Director Kuhn.”

“There was something you wanted to speak with me about?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact, there is. When we were on approach to the station and received the hail… you had a datacard containing the appropriate codes to decipher the Imperial encryption. Not only that, but you had the correct codes to allow us access to this station.”

“Yes.”

“You didn’t inform me, nor the Old Man that Hadley-Wright had this information.”

“There was no need to.”

“Yes, there was. We based our entry plans around hard-docking and cutting into the station. I had my squads assembled on the assumption that we were going to make that kind of docking.”

“Does it really make a difference?”

“Yes, it does. If I’d known we could expect an easier approach, I would have had an alternate deployment plan. If there had been a hostile response, my units would have been out of position and not able to respond as effectively. The main bay is good for rapid mass offloads of troops and equipment, but it is a chokepoint. We do have personnel airlocks for a reason.”

“I apologize, colonel. I honestly never considered such things.”

“That’s why your superiors hired me, director. If I’m to do my job – if my men and women are to do theirs – we need to be kept informed. Is there anything else that I should know about this mission? Anything at all?”

“No, colonel. There’s nothing else you or your people need to be concerned with.”

“Very good. The bay appears to be secure. Epsilon will be available if you need it, but Zeta is your teams’ assigned support.”

“Thank you, colonel Shaw. I’ll pass the word to my team leaders that they can begin setting up their biviouac immediately.”

~

Delta Three – Corporal Ludmilla Pachel – sighed and gave the IDS-S on her arm a hard thwack, bringing up its holographic interface, enlarging her sensor screen. There and gone. There and gone. She kept getting hits on the tracker’s thermal read, but nothing more than a hint pointing them down a new corridor or passeway. Either the fucking IDS was on the fritz again, or someone was fucking playing with them.

Someone who knows the range of an Artemis-issue IDS-S, a paranoid voice in the back of her head whispered.

She’d been on Primal for a mission once. The frigate was a good ship, but now… it was like an entirely different vessel. The stagnant air stunk, running a gamut of odours, all of them rank and foul. Rotting meat. Soiled blood. Filthy water. Effluvia. Carbon scorings and bullet holes speckled the walls in places. The acrid touch of ozone from energy weapon discharges hung in every corridor. Either air recycling had been shut down, or the battle had been recent.

The battle… against who? Why?

They’d only found one body. Captain Shelby. He’d sealed himself in the bridge, put the entire ship in a quarantine protocol then he’d disabled the controls and the comm system’s hardlines. With that kind of damage, not even Kerrigan could override the lockdown. Pachel had managed to get into the security system and get eyes on the bridge. Darryl Shelby had been sitting in his command chair, looking as composed as anyone could expect, the picture of serene contemplation ruined by the ragged hole in the side of his head and the pistol that had fallen from his hands to the deck..

Because it had been locked away, the bridge was the only part of the ship with functioning security cameras. The rest had been smashed or otherwise deactivated.

The living quarters… something bad had happened down here. Doors had been broken down, beds overturned, furniture up-ended… there was blood, blast scars and dragmarks throughout the crew deck.. More writing on the walls. No bodies.

The walls were marked, smeared with substance she didn’t want to identify. Blood, of course. Grease pencil, paint, bodily fluids and evacuations. There were notes scrawled on the walls, just like there were in the bay’s terminal, only here there was no question of who’d written them. Pleas for help, ravings and threats. Fragments she couldn’t understand even if she wanted to. And one phrase repeated over and over in a dozen different styles. It’s time.

Time for what? What happened here? What could take down over three hundred people like this? What made them seal themselves inside? Were they trying to keep something out… or something in?

No one had mentioned the hundreds of scratchmarks and bloody smears covering inside the sealed airlock, as if a lot of people had very desperately wanted to get out, had tried for hours under their fingers were raw and bloody. That kind of maddened desperation led to thoughts that none of the mercs wanted to share. But it still left a question. Where was Primal’s crew? There were no responses to comms, no sign of anyone else. Had they gotten out somehow, or had they died, trapped aboard their own ship? Or are they stalking you? a little voice in Ludmilla’s head whispered to her as she got another infuriatingly brief thermal contact on her scanner.

As the stale, foul air attested, someone had been messing with environmental, turning the lights down; if Delta hadn’t had vision augments in their helmets, they would have been all but blind. Even still, every few minutes the lights occasionally flickered to full brightness, too abruptly for the blacklight systems to compensate for, the sudden, unexpected flashes of whiteness blinding the mercenaries. Rafowitz had ordered Delta to low-power blacklight only, the squad relying more on their flashlights for vision than Primal’s illumination or their own blacklight gear.

The intercom had been left on, spewing nothing but static and white noise. At least… every so often, Ludmilla thought she heard other noises coming from the comm. Giggles, or whispers. She couldn’t make out the words. At first she thought she was just going buggy, but she noticed others looking up at the intercom and she knew it wasn’t just her.

It’s time.

No one had said anything, afraid of being the first to sound crazy. She was about to take the plunge, opening her mouth to speak, when her IDS’s sensor suite pinged again with a thermal reading. This time it was more solid, coming from the galley. “That way,” she said.

As they approached the galley, the sweep of Ludmilla’s flashlight passed over the bulkhead, briefly revealing a new message, daubed in artful smears and sweeps of red.

I am watching you.

~

Emily Delphini, Junior Medical Assistant, Hadley-Wright Industrial and Research Concern, kept her eyes carefully downcast as she went about her work, setting up the medical pavilion of the prefabricated bivouac. Little more than metal rods for a superstructure and memory plastic, it was the size of a small house, too big to set up inside the frigate, with its cramped corridors and strict adherence to function over form. Until the mercenaries and tech teams secured more of the station, this would be a processing center for the various relics and devices the first forays brought back, as well as a repair kiosk and, in Emily’s case, a first-aid station. Well, a first aid cot-and-table.

Behind her, Dr. Medevost was on another tear, pacing back and forth in the medical pavilion, swearing and cursing at the mercenaries who’d so unceremoniously dropped the case of broken Imperial medical scanners in front of him, declaiming their incompetence and uselessness in increasing acerbic language, as well as the station’s previous visitors for their treatment of such priceless technology. Emily knew better than to say anything while the doctor was in one of his moods, even in agreement – it would only make her a target, too. Every failing, whether real or imagined would be brought back out as fodder for the irate doctor’s notorious temper.

Randolph Medevost was one of the most brilliant medical minds she’d ever known, so there was no question about his place on the second expedition to an Imperial DROP, which were well-known for their dabbling in various medical sciences from the benign to the deeply horrific. That he hadn’t been slotted for the first expedition had nettled the doctor and Emily had had to suffer his indignation for the entirety of Kerrigan’s voyage to the station. That the first group Hadley-Wright had sent had vanished without a trace didn’t seemed to have mattered to Medevost, as long as ‘that worthless cunt Dunst’ wasn’t around any longer to take the credit that Medevosty believed was his.

As the doctor continued to lambaste the (thankfully out of earshot) ‘jarheaded, sister-fucking brutes’ of Artemis Private Security, the young woman looked up through the clear plastic window set into the more-opaque plastic walls of the bivouac, looking out across the dark hangar. Points of light moved back and forth, pointing out the locations of the mercenaries. A pair them, indistinguishable in their armour, wandered by the window. One stopped to look in and Emily blushed, glancing away. She didn’t know enough about their markings to pick out one person from the other without reading the names, but she wondered which one was Shannon Hayes.

She’d learned the corporal was from Halo; Emily had never heard of a Halo ever carrying arms, let along serving as a mercenary and her curiosity was piqued. But she doubted that Hayes would ever be interested in her… she was nobody. Just another ‘corper’, a drone in Hadley-Wright’s multi-trillion dollar and multi-billion-faced hive. Still, as she finished laying out her medical kit and began sorting through the medical scanners, separating the ‘active’, ‘fixable’ and ‘junked’ devices and listening to Medevost rant and rave, occasionally snatching one of the scanners out of her hands to wave it in her face, she occasionally glanced out the window, looking for one anonymous set of armour amongst many.

~

Shannon swept her flashlight over the walls, wishing she’d brought some water. Her mouth was still dry. Gamma three and four had been right; several of the grates intended to cover the airvents had been punched out, metal frames, busted fans and broken grating scattered here and there. She approached one of the vents; there was something there, faded but darker than the metal. Keeping her flashlight on it, the medic swept her lume over the stain, the scan results coming up on her HUD. Blood. Human blood.

Recent; no more than two months old.

“What have you found?” Hutchins asked, standing next to Hayes.

Shannon switched from her HUD to IDS display, showing the data to her squadmate. Hutchins wasn’t a medic, but she’d worked with Shannon long enough to be able to understand the basics of a medical scan and she swore softly. “Have an ID?”

“It’s pretty badly degraded. And I don’t have B Company’s genome files anyways.”

“I’ll call it in,” Abigail put a hand to the side of her helmet, as if cradling a headset. “Beta Three and Four. Found blood. Four says it fits the time frame for Primal’s stay, but we don’t have the medical files for a match. …yessir.”

Shannon blinked; Three was right. The stain was from two months ago, when Primal would have been here …

Hutchins placed a tiny marker on the vent. “You have the beacon? Good. Beta Three clear.” She looked down at Shannon. “Control’s got it tagged. Once Delta opens Primal’s lines, we’ll get the medical data from them and find out who got splashed here.”

“It might not have been one of ours,” Hayes mused aloud. “There were over a hundred scientists assigned t the first expedition. Should we get one of the corpers to do the sample in case it’s one of theirs? Might as well make them useful…” Shannon said.

She could practically hear a knowing smirk in Abby’s voice. “Yeah, we could do that if you really wanted. Hmm. Looks like the good doctor is on another tear, the rest of his staff is smart enough to get clear. Oh, except poor Delphini. Feel like rescuing a damsel in distress from a fire-breathing dragon? You’ve already got the shining armour.”

“Fuck you.”

Hutchins laughed. “Hit a sore spot, have I, sir?” As a corporal, Shannon did outrank most of the other men and women in her squad, but she had also seen the least action out of any of them, since the Old Man and Colonel Shaw continued to see her as a Halo first and one of their own second, putting her far out of harm’s way. She didn’t know whether they didn’t want their only Halo-born merc to be killed or simply didn’t think that they could trust her to follow her training rather her upbringing in a firefight, and she wasn’t sure which was worse. The former was more patronizing, but the latter was downright insulting.

But she had made corporal on her own (at least she liked to think so). The rank had been awarded after her actions on September. The counter-insurgency mission to that world had gone bad and Beta had been ambushed by guerillas who’d gotten their hands on mortars intended for the use of the planetary militia. Shannon had rescued one of her teammates who’d been hit by the initial barrage, carrying him back to cover and taking a decent amount of shrapnel herself. The merc’s name was Andrew Fumere. She’d saved his life… and two weeks later, he’d been shot dead by a guerilla sniper.

She could almost hear her grandmother and parents lecturing her on the futility of her actions.

So, she was a corporal. In a mercenary unit whose adherence to proper military decorum depended largely on how much they were being paid and how big of a stick their superiors threatened them with if they didn’t, but mercs weren’t soldiers and there was a fair amount of insouciance in how the men and women of Artemis handled each other.

“I’m just offended by your ignorance, private. You should know that a Halo would never, ever attack a dragon. Instead, we’d reason with it until it understood that an all-princess diet is simply unhealthy and convince it to seek alternatives.”

Abigail laughed. “Like the Halo who spoiled its dinner with too much talk.”

“Like that.”

“Ready to move, sir?”

“Just a moment.” Shannon stood on her tiptoes and peered further into the vent; the dark smear continued as far as she could see, a haphazard hashmark of scratches dug into the metal surface. Most prominent of all were the eight parallel strips, just enough for four fingers on a hand, dug into the shaft’s smooth surface as their owner was dragged away.

Despite her suit’s climate control, Shannon swallowed again, feeling a chill as she tried to force that image from her mind. Two months. Two months ago, someone had been pulled, bleeding and screaming, into that vent. Where, though? And why? And by whom? Not just pirates, a nagging voice whispered to her. So then what? Going to use that famous Halo brain to come up with any theories?

Before she could finish the thought, Hernandez’s voice snapped through the comm. “We’ve found a survivor!”

~

The sweep was completed; there was no trace of the New Ones outside the cairn. They had to be inside.

-hunt and slay-

It was… unfortunate that they were here, so close to the birth. They couldn’t be allowed to interfere.

-protect-

But then, it wasn’t as if any others had ever survived long enough to do the same, was it?

-pull out their entrails and devour their flesh-

No. It wasn’t. Not this time, not ever.

-hunger/desire-

The New Ones had walked into their own graves, as they always did.

-bury them alive and feed while they scream-

And they would be obliged, as they always were.

-kill-


[Reveal] Spoiler: The ongoing vandalism problem afflicting DROP 47
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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-12-05 03:06am
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...I would not want to share the head that dreams this kind of thing up, Bladed. And I thought I was fucked up.

Well, okay, yeah I am.



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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-12-05 03:16pm
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It's reached the point where I would leave the station and do my best to blow it to hell.



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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-12-05 05:37pm
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B Company might have been a mistake, I think. Seeing random prospectors and scientists and such having gotten themselves horribly murdered is one thing, but D Company has been presented with compelling evidence that something here ate their equals without a burp. I dunno about you, but that'd be cause for me to get the fuck outta dodge.



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Out of Context Theatre, this week starring Broomstick.
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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-12-05 07:03pm
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Something that pulls an armored merc into a fan duct despite the merc's best efforts. And he had to be armored, because of the drag-marks in metal made by the merc's fingers.

Next thing you know, one of the Squidies will find something and try to transmit video ... just before it's destroyed.



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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-12-06 05:51pm
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White Haven wrote:
...I would not want to share the head that dreams this kind of thing up, Bladed. And I thought I was fucked up.

Well, okay, yeah I am.


I suppose that this is a bad time to tell you that this story is not my maximum levels of creepy?, then :P

The Vortex Empire wrote:
It's reached the point where I would leave the station and do my best to blow it to hell.


Good survival skills, crummy sense of camaraderie. ;)

White Haven wrote:
B Company might have been a mistake, I think. Seeing random prospectors and scientists and such having gotten themselves horribly murdered is one thing, but D Company has been presented with compelling evidence that something here ate their equals without a burp. I dunno about you, but that'd be cause for me to get the fuck outta dodge.


I'm going to have to disagree with you there. I'd planned out several plot points that necessitate encounters with previous occupants (two of them in the upcoming chapter), so I needed some 'forerunners', as it were, since DROP 47's, ah, 'staff' aren't going to be all that useful for that.

Lady Tevar wrote:
Something that pulls an armored merc into a fan duct despite the merc's best efforts. And he had to be armored, because of the drag-marks in metal made by the merc's fingers.


Actually, it's quite possible to have done so with normal fingernails, especially in relatively soft metal like you'll find in air vents. As a rather ghastly anecdote, during the liberation of the concentration camps, several of the ovens were found to have clawmarks on the inside of their heavy metal doors.

So, I'll leave it to your imagination just who was pulled into that vent, and by what...

Although the latter question will be answered soon enough. Ah heh.

Quote:
Next thing you know, one of the Squidies will find something and try to transmit video ... just before it's destroyed.


I briefly considered that, but it seemed too much like what every other horror show does and I'm trying not to be too cliche. :) Besides, what I've got in mind will, hopefully, be better.

Ah heh heh heh.



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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-12-08 01:17am
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A survivor's tale.

Coming up: "Get back to the ship!"

Chapter 5:

Louis was exploring one of the corridors leading up to one of North-4 Hangar’s upper levels when he heard it.

The walls on these hallways hadn’t been as thoroughly marked as those in the main terminal. There were one or two scrawled warnings and half a nursery rhyme, but nothing as disconcerting as the collective efforts of six centuries of bugged-out shipcrews. Hernandez frowned, shining his light over the wall. Faded, but still quite legible, was the guideline arrow pointing up to the exit to Mezzanine Three, and the half-dozen small ship ports on it. In the distance he could hear the low, barely-audible thrum of a squiddie’s antigrav. Two squiddies, actually; Flopsy and Mopsy were circling one of the burned-out hulks, picking at the shuttle’s remains with their manipulators and scanning it carefully for residual explosives or contaminants. The ship was long dead, so there was unlikely to be any risk from it, but it didn’t pay to assume. Cottontail was two levels up, trying to open one of the welded-shut doors and get into the cargo access tunnels that led deeper into the station’s core. From there, the drone would – eventually – be able to see what the state of many of the primary systems was.

Hernandez sighed, continuing up the sloped hallway, leaving Daniel Overstern, Beta Ten behind to parse out what the carefully-stenciled symbols neatly written over the guide signs on the wall meant. When Dan still didn’t realize that his partner was heading on without him, Hernandez turned, about to tell Overstern to stop navel-gazing and help him, when he cocked his head. Faint, barely audible even over the soft, distant noise of Flopsy and Mopsy and the sounds of the corpers setting up their bivouac, he thought he heard someone crying.

He paused, straining to define the sound and for the third time today, wished he’d worn his helmet with its enhanced auto-senses. The noise drifted in and out, but… yes. It was there. And close, but muffled. In a crawl space, the next level up? It was hard to tell.

“Do you hear that?” he asked Overstern, finally drawing his partner’s attention.

Daniel looked up, his face hidden under his helmet. “Hear what?” he asked, his voice in Louis’ commset. The other mercenary paused, running an audio filter. “Yes,” he amended. “I do.” He pointed up into a hallway leading to the next level, a small emergency stairwell. “In there.”

Louis tapped the side of his gun. He didn’t like this, but as the major had pointed out, survivors were their number one priority, no matter what the corpers wanted. “Betas Nine and Ten,” he said into the squad frequency. “Possible survivor off…” he called up the station schematic on his eyepiece HUD. “Corridor N4-L1-3. Investigating.”

“Control confirms, Beta Nine and Ten. Sending you Beta Seven and Eight. Just in case.”

“Confirmed, Control.” Louis looked over at his partner, flashed him a grin. “Shall we?”

Overstern nodded and Louis moved to one side of the stairwell reaching out and grabbing the door’s handle as Daniel stood across from the entraceway, his rifle held up, the beam of the attached flashlight shining onto the door. Together, they counted down from three and Louis pulled the door open, Oversten’s flashlight stabbing into the gloom of the darkened staircase and settling on the far bulkhead, which was most unremarkable.

Nothing. Nothing to see, anyways.

The crying was louder; definitely coming from the stairwell. Daniel gestured with his gun and Louis slipped inside, his back to the wall and his pistol up and ready. The stairwell was utterly black, lit only by the distant flickering wash of lights from North-4 Bay and the beams of his and Overtstern’s torches. For the fourth time today, Louis wished he’d worn his helmet.

Hernadez peered down the stairs to the next level; clean. He looked up to the next flight. The sound was definitely coming from up there. With Ten at his back, Louis moved carefully up the stairs. There; a shape in the corner. He moved the light of the beam towards it, the indistinct pale blur turning into a cowering woman in a filthy Hadley-Wright labcoat, her knees drawn up to her chest, her head ducked between them legs, arms cradled her skull, her pale, reed-thin fingers entwined in strands of greasy brown hair.

She screamed as soon as the beam touched her, though her head remained tucked between her legs. The woman flailed blindly with one arm, as if to ward the brightness away. Louis dropped the barrel of this gun, taking the light off her. The woman seemed to calm, resuming her sobbing as she rocked back and forth. She didn’t move towards the men or even seem aware of them. But she was alive, the first living person anyone had found. Now they could get some answers.

“Hernandez to all units,” Louis said, his voice coming out in an excited rush. “We’ve found a survivor!”

~

Shannon’s head snapped up as she heard Nine’s report. “Beta Three and Four responding,” she called in, already moving to Hernandez’s location. Surprised by her partner’s sudden burst of movement, Abigail hurried to catch up.

“Seven and Eight are en route,” Control reminded her.

“They may need a medic,” Hayes replied, vaulting an overturned stack of crates.

“Roger that,” Shaw’s voice overrode whatever Control had been intending to say. “Assist Hernandez and render any and all aide you see fit, Four. We’re alerting the bivouac and shipboard medical, just in case.”

Shannon all but scrambled up the incline leading to Three’s position. On her HUD, she could see the icons indicating the other four members of Beta above her; Seven and Eight were almost there.

Finally, they could get some answers. Find out what happened here, where the rest of B Company was and what had happened to-

Shannon’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of screaming.

~

“It’s okay,” Louis tried to soothe the frightened woman, gesturing for his three compatriots to remain behind him. “We’re here to help.” Every time one of them tried to put light on her, she flinched and howled as if in pain, swatting wildly at empty air. Otherwise, she didn’t even seem to register their presence. In between the sobs and gasping, breaths, Hernandez could hear the corper talking, repeating the same things over and over, the same words.

“Didn’t want. Didn’t want to. Didn’t want to. They find you. Whispering, calling to you. Didn’t want to.”

“Who’s calling to you?” Hernandez said, taking another step towards the woman. “Do you know what happened here?”

“Didn’t want to. Didn’t want to. I couldn’t stop them. I couldn’t stop myself. Finds you. In the dark, always dark. I hid, you see? I hid for so long, but they found me.”

“Who found you?”

At last, the woman seemed to realize that there was someone else with her and she looked up. Her cheeks were gaunt and caked with filth, ugly dark stains around her lips. “You…” she drawled out in a breathy whisper, uncoiling from her crouch onto her hands and knees, staring at him. “You don’t know. You weren’t there. You’re here now. Here now. You won’t want to, either.”

“We’re here now,” Louis affirmed, holding up a hand to ward off his compatriots from raising their guns. His nose twitched. The woman smelled awful, the aroma of rotten meat and something… something else that he couldn’t identify. “You’re safe now. No one’s going to hurt you.”

“It’s too late,” the corper whispered, her eyes still locked on his, something unsettling in them. Louis felt the urge to back away, but he held his ground. “They know. They know you’re here.”

“Who knows? I need you to concentrate on me… Michelle,” Louis caught a glimpse of her nametag, still affixed to her torn, filthy coat. “Okay? Focus on me. Tell me what happened.”

It was if whatever cloud over her dissipated and she reared back on her haunches, still staring. “We landed. Writing on walls. We didn’t listen. We should have listened. It started so small,” she licked her lips, shifting her position. “So small. Whispers in the dark.”

“What started?”

“Everything,” her mouth worked for a moment, tongue running over her lips. “I don’t want to,” she keened, rocking back and forth again. “Don’t want to. Don’t want to. But I need. I need.” She reached up, scratching the back of her head with one hand. “I need.”

“What do you need?”

“Trapped. No way out. Wanted to run, but they were here. Killing. Eating. Eating. They won’t let you leave. No one leaves. Please. I need.” A low, deep moan rumbled out of her, a noise of despair. “Hungry,” she sobbed. “So hungry.”

“We can help you,” Louis said, reaching into a hip pouch and pulling out an MRE bar.

“No help. No help but what they give. Burning. Screaming. You burn, you eat, they find.” She giggled. “They always find.” Her eyes flickered back to Louis, to the ration bar in his outstretched hand.

He nodded. “Here. Take it. You can eat it; it’s okay.”

Michelle stared at Louis for a long moment, then crawled towards him cautiously, her eyes still on his face. She reached one trembling hand out towards him, then froze, cocking her head to one side. Her mouth opened, closed and opened again. Her feet shifted, bracing her weight against the deck. “I need. I don’t want. I need.” She started to drool.

“Michelle…?” Louis began, slowly edging away.

She lunged.

~

Shannon and Abigail raced up the levels to their squadmates’ position, listening to someone’s wet, gurgling shriek. It didn’t even sound human. The medic skidded into the stairwell, her mouth dropping open. Seven, Eight and Ten were there, trying to wrench a woman in one of Hadley-Wright’s science division tunics off of Hernandez.

Her teeth were sunk into his throat, her mouth chewing on his neck, making sick slurping and smacking noises, her arms wrapped around his torso. Eight and Ten each had a leg, trying to pull her free and Seven was screaming at the woman to let go, one thick arm around her neck, trying to wrench her head free.

“Get off him!” Seven was shouting, the barrel of his pistol jammed into her temple. “Get off him, or I will fucking put you down!”

Hernadez was turning grey, red streams pouring down his neck as the woman continued to gnaw on his throat, slurping up whatever she could, her face covered in the mercenary’s blood.

Abigail didn’t hesitate, twitching her right arm and extending the stun rod from within its vambrace. “He said,” she took two quick steps and raised the crackling shock baton. “Let fucking go!” she rammed the rod down into the back of the woman’s head, at the base of her spine. The woman screamed, convulsing wildly as the current sent her into a seizure, but when it was over, her grip slackened and the other mercenaries were able to pull her off Nine. She recovered fast, struggling against the pinning her down, her mouth and lips soaked red, shrieking. “I didn’t want to!” over and over.

“Hold her!” Shannon shouted. “I don’t have time for her now, you three hold her the fuck down! Abby, here. Now.”

Hutchins dropped to her knees beside Shannon as the corporal slapped Louis. His eyes were going glassy and unfocused. “Hernandez! Stay with me! Focus! Stay awake.” She gave him a hi-ox shot to keep his brain from starving. He was rolling back and forth on the floor, gasping, coughing blood. “Abby, hold him still. I can’t see with him covering his neck.” She pulled out a synthskin strip as Hutchins seized Louis’s wrists, holding them by the side of his head. Shannon straddled the fallen mercenary, careful not to apply any weight to his chest, just to keep him from thrashing.

Shannon ran her lume over the wound. Arteries are intact, thank God. Jugular vein’s been nicked. You’re lucky, Hernandez. But if you’d just worn your God-damned helmet…! “Beta Four, calling in a medical alert. Severe neck trauma to Beta Nine, blood loss. Possibility of hemothorax.”

“Medical’s responding,” Shaw replied.

Hayes pulled the cap off a canister of regenitol with her teeth, spraying the healing catalyst into the wound. Louis shrieked in agony. Unlike the regenerist treatment, the regenitol family of compounds were not gentle, nor were they pleasant to endure. But they worked, and quickly. Both women held the screaming man down until his spasms subsided. From behind her, Shannon could hear the woman shriek alongside Hernadez, still fighting. “Coming!” she screamed from a mouth frothing with bloody saliva. “Coming in the dark!”

Shannon put the synthstrip over the wound, listening to the wet, wheezing gargles of Hernandez’s breathing. Fluid in the lungs. From that wound? Definitely hemothorax He’s drowning in his own blood. The hi-ox she gave him wouldn’t last forever and keeping his brain alive wouldn’t do any good if his lungs filled up! “Beta Four. I’m cracking Nine.” She reared back, opening the straps holding Hernandez’s cuirass together. Luckily, no one but Eta was wearing power armour. Those were a bitch to get through.

She grabbed scissors and cut open Louis’s shirt; her palm scanner confirmed it – his lungs were full of his own blood. Louis was starting to hyperventilate, burning through the first shot she’d given him. He was starting to gasp for air again, his normally swarthy complexion pale and only just turning grey. There was pink foam on his lips.

“Pump!” Shannon snapped at Abigail, affixing an oxygen mask over Hernadez’s mouth and nose. Hutchins knew the rhythm and followed the medic’s lead as Shannon pulled the cap off an empty syringe, placed a hand on Louis’s chest to steady him. What he needed was a thoracostomy. Human lungs weren’t hollow sacs of air; they were spongy, filled with thousands upon thousands of alveoli; small compartments for gas exchange. If she hit the wrong place, the suction from the needle would rip that spongy tissue right out with the blood, or the needle itself would cut up his lungs.

There; she’d slid the needle under the second rib. She hooked a drainage tube and valve up to the open needle, letting the blood start to drain of out his lungs without the risk of it being drawn back in. This wasn’t the time or place for a complete chest drainage; he’d need a doctor, not just a corpsman for that. But… yes. She could hear the difference in his breathing already. Two levels below she could hear the pounding feet as the medics raced up the ramps. The response was too quick to get someone from Kerrigan; they were corpers.

Louis was still trying to move, Abigail whispering to him, trying to keep him calm. It seemed to be having an effect. If he moved now, he’d pull the needle and drain right out. She couldn’t risk giving him a sedative after that much blood loss, not without a better appraisal of his condition and the doctors could handle that. She did administer a wide-spectrum antibiotic, just to keep whatever what in the woman’s mouth from taking up residence in Hernandez.

Hayes patted Louis on the shoulder as he weakly reached out to her. She took his hand, and smiled at him. “You stupid fuck,” she said sweetly. “Maybe next time you’ll wear your helmet.”

Under the oxygen mask, he smiled.

With Louis stabilized and the doctors – Emily was one of them – here, Shannon was able to turn her attention to the woman. She was still fighting the mercenaries holding her down, writhing and twisting like demon. Her, on the other hand… Hayes grabbed a sedative and the woman’s attention focused on her, mad eyes widening in terror. She tried to scramble away, but Seven, Eight and Ten held her fast. “No!” she cried. “No! Can’t sleep! Won’t sleep! Don’t do it to me, I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to…! I’m sorry, please, I’m sorry. Don’t put me under! You don’t know. You don’t know it. Please!” Tears were streaming down her filthy cheeks.

“I thought I could hide, hide until you got here. I waited for you. I did – I did! – but you never came! And you can’t hide. They find you. They find you wherever you go.”

“Who? Who found you?”

The woman sagged in her captors’ arms, all strength leaving her. When she spoke again, it was a in a flat, lifeless monotone, like a recording. “Continued exposure to ambient conditions causes increasing levels of paranoia. Subject demonstrates heightened aggression, restlessness and irritability. Hallucinations are common, becoming progressively more disturbing as condition progresses. Subject is prone to unpredictable bouts of violent, though still maintains some social characteristics. Condition has lead to uncontrollable mania and psychosis. Biological affects include sensitivity to light, heightened pain threshold, increase in endorphin, adrenalin and epinephrine production.” She rocked back and forth, at least as much as the mercenaries’ grip would allow. “Afflicted subject retains some semblance of rationality. Kill me.”

Shannon blinked. “What?”

“Though brief moments of lucidity occur, subject’s condition is rapidly deteriorating. Increased hunger, propensity for violence are characteristics of this stage of degeneration. F2. F2. Kill me.” She looked up. “Don’t do it. Don’t put me under. Don’t let me wake up like this. You have to do it,” she begged desperately. Her voice went dead again. “Terminate the experiment; euthanize all affected subjects. Extreme containment procedures are authorized.”

Shannon hesitated. Whatever happened here, it had clearly driven the woman insane. Was this what had happened to the rest of Primal’s crew?

“Give her the shot, corporal.” Shaw ordered.

“Yes, sir.” She’d been given a directive. Hayes reached forward, turning the woman’s head to one side.

“No!” the corper screamed, thrashing even harder than before. “No! Don’t! Please, I’m sorry! I didn’t want to! I didn’t want to!

She went limp in the mercenaries’ arms as Shannon gave her the sedative. The corporal stood back up, looking over at the other medics. “Take her, too. Strap her down. There’s no telling how long she’ll be out.” I gave her enough to put her out for twelve hours, but no one of her size should have been able to fight that hard to begin with. Increased adrenal production can counteract the affect of some sedatives and it could explain her strength…

Shannon looked down at Louis; Emily and the other doctor had managed to get him on a stretcher. He gave her another weak smile and a thumbs-up. “He’ll be fine,” Delphini assured the mercenaries. “You got to him just in time.”

“Sergeant, requesting permission to go with them,” Overstern said.

“Granted,” Donowitz replied. “Three and Four, you might as well tag along, too. Keep an eye on your other patient. Seven, Eight – pick up where Nine and Ten left off. I want to make sure we don’t have any other surprises coming our way.”

There was a chorus of acknowledgements.

~

Emily kept an eye on the mercenary’s vitals as Shannon pushed the stretcher and its grav-sled towards the bivouac. It was a miracle that the man was still alive; as it was, his throat was starting to mend, and the drain Hayes had put in him had kept his lungs from filling up. If Michelle’s teeth had gone any deeper, there wouldn’t have been anything anyone could have done.

Michelle. Emily looked down at her, her gaunt features, sunken eyes. Dirty fingers so thin that they might as well have been claws. Her mouth, her lips and teeth stained with Louis Hernandez’s blood. Even with a strong dose of myxiniparn, she was still twitching and whimpering in her bonds. She didn’t even look like the same person anymore. Not the girl who’d drag the other junior physicians out to all-night mixers, the woman who’d offer sympathy to patients and their families when Medevost had moved on to the next case, who’d gleefully done a polar bear dip every single year.

If there was any of that in her, Emily couldn’t see it any more. Only a tortured, pathetic thing that had begged for its own death as if it were some kind of lab animal to be put down. Everyone on the station had asked themselves this question, over and over. What happened here?

The young doctor suspected that they’d find out, and soon.

I want to go home.

She tried to shove that thought away, looking over at Hayes. The medic was as anonymous as every other mercenary in her armour. “Did you know him well?” Emily asked, almost tripping over the question.

There was moment of hesitation from Hayes before she answered, surprised that Emily had actually spoken to her. “A little. He joined Artemis a few months ago and was just assigned to Beta. We served together for one mission, three operations.” Armoured shoulders moved fractionally; up and then down. “Nothing major. Private security for a PFL.”

“PFL?”

There was a smile behind Shannon’s answer. “Sorry. Acronym I picked up from Artemis. It means ‘president-for-life’. Another nobody, claiming a chunk of one planet and trying to claim it all.”

Emily blinked. Hayes was a Halo; how could she prop up a dictator?

Her expression must have betrayed her, or Shannon had heard the objection enough times to know it by heart. “There was no wetworks. He had his own units for those. We just had to protect him from his own generals, the ‘adoring citizens’ and the ‘special units’ of his rivals. When he ran out of money, we left.” She shrugged. “Better than some jobs.”

The doctor hooked a fresh drip bag onto Hernandez’s IV. “But, I mean… how could you do it in the first place? Any of this? I couldn’t, and…”

“…you’re not even a Halo. I know. Everyone gets hung up on that. Genetically predisposed for rationality, intelligence, cooperation. But not aggression. Not violence. Halos don’t fight. We just let everyone else do it for us. We don’t build weapons. We just design them for others. We don’t conquer other planets. We just out-build, out-produce and crash their economies. We’re very civilized.” She laughed. “And I’m an entire planet’s biggest embarrassment. The Halo Who Fights.”

“I’m sorry,” Emily said in a rush. “I shouldn’t have said anything. I’m sorry.” She looked away as she felt her cheeks warm, about to start mentally kicking herself when an armoured hand fell on her. Shannon squeezed the doctor’s shoulder.

“It’s all right. I’ve been asked it before. All the time. The truth is, I don’t know why I’m the only one… I mean, I think my great-grandfather…” she trailed off. “I just wanted to get off that planet. Away from everyone who’d never had to do anything except have the entire galaxy handed to them. Everyone wants Halos, you know. For biosciences. Physics. Engineering. Nations and corporations will pay anything, do anything to get a Halo working for them. Even kill each other over us.”

“47% of all research breakthroughs directly involve a Halo,” Emily murmured, the factoid springing into her mind. For a planet of billions amongst a galaxy of hundreds of trillions, that was an impressive accomplishment.

“Yes,” Shannon nodded. “Everyone wants us.”

“So… I mean… why are you just… I mean, you’re only a medic!”

Another miniscule shrug. “Because I wanted to be.” A sigh. “I am very smart. I fluently speak and read over twenty-eight language and can get by in another two dozen. I can build you a counter-grav out of a box of scraps. I can calculate starship drive equations in my head. I remember everything.” A beat. “Almost everything.” There seemed to be something to that, something she wasn’t saying, but Shannon continued past it.

“If I’d finished my schooling, I could do even more. I probably will, at some point. I know the Old Man and Colonel Shaw want that, that they see me as a long-term investment, waiting for me to get over this silly ‘front-line grunt’ phase. Then they’ll give me a lab – in any field I want – and everything I ask for and reap the benefits of having their own Halo.” She didn’t – quite – laugh. She didn’t even worry that Shaw and Control were hearing this. She’d known what Artemis wanted from her for a long time. And to their credit, they’d never really made any attempt to hide that fact, humouring her little infatuation with mercenaries.

“Maybe they’re right. Maybe everyone is and this is just a stupid, foolish rebellion. But I still want it. I don’t know why. Maybe because I want to do something different, at least until my genes kick back in.” She shook her head. “Sorry. You probably didn’t want to listen to me ramble about how terrible it is to be a Halo.”

“It’s all right,” Emily assured her, smiling a little. “In fact-”

Her words died in her throat as Shannon jerked, so abruptly that she twisted the stretcher off-course. She let go of it entirely and Emily scrambled to catch it before it tipped. An instinctive rebuke died on her lips, when she realized the other woman had gone completely rigid, one hand reaching for the pistol on her hip. Emily’s throat dried as she saw the other two members of Beta squad – no, all off the mercenaries in the bay – had done the same, frozen just as completely as Shannon, helmets turned towards the docking spar and the silent, dark Primal nestled across from its sister ship. For an instant, the thought that she and the rest of the scientists were about to be double-crossed and gunned down flashed through her mind, until she realized that D Company wasn’t reacting to her people. It was something on their comm.

Hadley-Wright’s science team didn’t share D Company’s radio frequencies. There was a general channel for instructions intended to reach both groups at once, so they were not privy to what Artemis’s mercenaries were now experiencing. They could not hear the sounds of men and women dying, the thunder of weapons in their ears, pleas for mercy, cries of hatred and despair, the wet, thick rasps of cutting or the smacking, slurping sounds of feeding.

Despite all of that, it took the men and women of Hadley-Wright’s science team very little time to understand what was happening.

Abandoned and left to die over half a millennium ago, DROP 47 had again awakened. Like Michelle had promised, it had found them.

And it was hungry.



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Sugar, snips, spice and screams: What are little girls made of, made of? What are little boys made of, made of?

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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-12-08 02:31am
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I like the clinical detachment defense mechanism Blade, also where did you pick up all that background medical knowledge? You do research for your fanfics???




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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-12-08 02:34pm
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Ok, so something is creating Ghouls out of the people here. Or at least, out of the people who survive the 'staff visit'.



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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-12-10 12:11pm
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Themightytom wrote:
I like the clinical detachment defense mechanism Blade, also where did you pick up all that background medical knowledge? You do research for your fanfics???


When and where it's applicable, yep. I can't make any claim to all the details being 100% accurate, but I try to make sure that - to anyone with knowledge of the fields in question - they're at least not completely implausible. Or that's the hope, anyways. :)

Lady Tevar wrote:
Ok, so something is creating Ghouls out of the people here. Or at least, out of the people who survive the 'staff visit'.


Everything you said was completely accurate. Although we may not be talking about the same thing...

Tum te tum tum te tum...

Next chapter will be up shortly.



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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-12-10 12:58pm
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This one's a bit of a doozy. Originally, this chapter, last chapter and the next chapter were all supposed to be one installment. But the next chapter should wrap up the 'trilogy' as it were.

Delta Squad discovers that Primal lives up to its namesake.

Coming up: No one leaves. They won't let you.

Chapter 6:

Deep within Primal’s body, new systems flickered to life. They had been coming on-line ever since Delta had cut their way into the frigate, slowly but steadily, so as not to attract any attention. Soft blue lights bathed everything in a twilight glow, flashing icons of monitor panels and stations on each of six filled tombs alerting a missing staff that the occupants were coming out of cryosleep. Four of the pods were empty. Their occupants were dead or otherwise engaged.

Pharmaceutical drips changed their outputs, adding stimulants, synaptic multipliers and increased metabolites to their mix, prone bodies jerking and twitching in their sealed bunks as the chemicals raced through their systems. They awoke screaming and thrashing blindly as the drugs flooded their bodies, tearing them out of their comas. Automatic processes continued diligently, unsealing the sleep chambers and men and women in sweat-stained skivvies fell to the floor, cursing, snarling and clawing blindly at one another before the rush of the drugs faded, and they began to remember.

“Let us out!” Lieutenant Jane Godfrey shouted as she beat her fists against the Crypt’s door. “You can’t do this! Let us out!” She looked frantically about, trying to find a cutting torch or anything to firce the heavy armoured doors open, but the entire room was dead. “Let us out!” she screamed again, futilely trying to pry the door open with her bare hands.

“I’m sorry, Jane,” Shelby’s voice rolled smoothly through the comm. “I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

“Captain?” the lieutenant and the other five members of the Ghosts – B Company’s G Squad – looked up. A vidscreen snapped to life,
Primal’s captain on it. None of the Ghosts had expected to hear from the captain. They’d assumed he’d already been killed. That it had been him who’d lured them into this trap was… almost reassuring. Matthias Shelby was not looking well at all; he was on the bridge and appeared to be alone, but there were dark circles under his eyes and every so often, an involuntary shiver would run through him. He had the bug. “What’s going on, sir?” Jane demanded warily. “We heard-”

“Yes, I know what you heard. It’s bad, lieutenant. I’m sure you’ve noticed, but the entire crew’s been affected. Not only affected…” He twitched. “I’ve managed to put the ship into lockdown, but someone’s attempting to override my access. I don’t think I have the…” he touched a hand to the side of his head. Despite herself, Jane flinched when she saw the pistol in Shelby’s hand. “I don’t think I can keep them out for long. And when that happens, whenever any rescue party gets here, they’re going to be… at least with
Primal sealed, there’s a chance of keeping it contained. I’ve made a log and put a warning on the E-band, so that should help.”

“Where do we fit in, sir?” Trevor Pierce asked.

“I can’t leave the bridge,” Shelby continued. “I need someone to go out there and seal the doors manually. From the inside.” He smiled ruefully. “I trust you six as much as I can trust anyone now.”

Godfrey’s eyes narrowed. “But not enough to let us out?”

“Not that much, no. Besides – do you really want to be out there? The Crypt has stasis tubes for each of you and emergency rations for months. You go in, you go to sleep and you’ll wake up whenever there’s a breach. You’ll seal it, go back into coldsleep and wait for rescue. Outside…” he shrugged. “The sensor loci are tracking lots of movement.”

Jane swallowed. “Not the locals.”

“Not at all. We created quite a commotion and it looks like they’re coming up from the core to investigate.”

“Not to put too fine a point on it, sir,” Gregori looked up from where he was sitting on an ammo crate. “We appreciate the heads-up about… them and all. But how do we know we can trust you? We’d be awful helpless in the tubes if you went buggy.”

“You’ll just have to trust me,” Shelby replied. “Just like I’m trusting you.” He did something with the controls and the Crypt’s systems surged to life, fitting arms and maintenance units awakening, manipulator appendages turning towards the mercenaries expectantly.

“Trust,” Jane deadpanned, looking back up at the monitor.

“Trust,” Shelby replied, nodding.

“What the hell,” the lieutenant breathed, striding over to a marker, and holding her arms out. Recognizing the gesture, the Crypt’s automated systems seized dormant pieces of power armour, swiftly sealing the woman inside. “We’ll play cryptkeeper,” she said as machinery clamped the helmet over her head, a cyclic cannon clamping to her arm.

Shelby nodded again. “Good soldier. Good soldiers. I’m on channel twelve; it’s still secure. Once you’re done sealing the ship, I’ll make sure you have everything you need.” His eyes drifted to the gun in his hand. “You’re the last of us, now.”


~

As far as starships went, neither Primal nor Kerrigan was terribly big, but the mess was as large a room as you were likely to find in either ship, at least without being devoted to engineering, the computer core or some other major ship’s system. The mess also doubled as a rec room for the small frigates, so it had to accommodate the full ship’s crew and then some. It also had to be easily accessible, so as a defensive position, it was terrible, with five entrances to the dining area, not including the access to and from the nearby galley.

Delta squad slowly filtered into the mess, following Ludmilla’s sensor trace, a pair of the mercenaries staying back at the door to cover their comrades, while Seven and Eight attempted to circle around the deck, to cut off whoever was there in case they tried to run again. Ludmilla didn’t think so; whoever had been leading them through the ship was done running. She felt the comforting weight of the carbine hanging over her shoulder as she entered the mess, sweeping her IDS across the open room.

The lights were slightly brighter here than in the rest of the ship, flashing emergency beacons strobing on and off. The intercom was still on, still running white noise, interspersed with what – she was sure of it now – voices, too soft to make out, but she could hear the distinct clicks and hisses of syllables amongst the buzz and ramble of static.

Plates had been left out of the table, dishes scattered and broken on the floor. There was no food left on the plates, just rotting, moldy streaks of whatever had been there. Smeared across one wall in paint was a simple, almost plaintive declaration.

I’M STILL HUNGRY.

Glass and plastic crunched under the squad’s feet as they filtered between overturned tables and scattered chairs.

Shhhhk.

The sound was rasping, sharp against dull and Ludmilla looked up in its direction.

Standing with his back to them, just outside the galley, was someone in the uniform of the ship’s crew. His clothes hung off him as if they were too big for him, stained, rumpled and dirty, like the rest of Primal. He didn’t acknowledge Delta’s presence as they entered the room, continuing to run the large butcher’s knife he held in one hand against the whetstone in the other.

Shhhhk.

The man tottered back and forth slowly, his lips moving, but he still didn’t react as Rafowitz swept his flashlight over him, bringing the true level of filth encrusting his clothes into stark evidence. The patch on his jacket’s shoulder said he was an engineer, but it fit so poorly that he might have taken it from someone else.

Shhhhk.

“Rating McGill, report,” snapped Rafowitz, his harsh voice trying to get a reaction out of the man. Ludmilla hadn’t seen anything to identify him, so Rafowitz must have known him from before.

Shhhhk.

They were close enough now to hear what McGill was saying. As the team approached, he looked up furtively, the angle of his head changing only the barest amount as he stared at Delta. “… cups chopped red onions, serve until tender. Listen. Listen. Listen to the music of the spears.” His gaze drifted from Rafowitz to Two. “Remove the shell, then tie off and remove each limb. Six stuffed filangro peppers; place each one with each limb as it boils, stirring and adding two cups assorted vegetables. Serve when tender.” His eyes drifted onto Ludmilla. “No escape, lost, left and alone. Remove the shell. Secure and baste. Stuff with blood pudding and crutons. Spit over and mount heating element. Slow rotation to ensure thorough cooking. Season with golden oregano and spices. Serve when skin is golden brown and meat is medium-well.”

Shhhhk.

Ludmilla repressed a shudder of revulsion as she realized what he was talking about, the cook’s continuing to appraise each of the mercenaries present. He half-turned towards them, his cheeks gaunt, eyes sunken and dark. The whetstone fell from his hand, fingers dancing madly over the handle of the knife.

“Put it down, McGill,” Rafowitz ordered, his rifle aimed at the cook’s center of mass. “We’re here to help. But put the knife down.”

McGill’s eyes flitted back to the sergeant. “No help coming,” he whispered. “All alone, trapped and left behind. Survive. Survive. You don’t know. He betrayed us, you know. Shelby and his metal whores.” His mouth worked, chewing on nothing. “Hating us. Lying to us. Sealing us. Sealing us away. Because he didn’t see. They didn’t see. Couldn’t understand the whispers. F2 starts. And…” he giggled, lifting the hand with the knife up to his mouth, putting a finger to his lips. “And the secret.”

“What secret is that?”

“Empty, but not alone.” He laughed again, lowering the knife. “None of us were alone even before he betrayed us.” McGill cocked his head. “Where do you think you’ll go, sergeant? Can’t get out. They won’t let you.

Ludmilla cocked her head; there were noises coming from the corridors. Distant, but echoing through the hallways, up to Delta’s position. She checked her sensor display. Nothing.

Rafowitz continued to try and talk to McGill. “I need you to slow down, yeoman. Slow down and start from the beginning. What happened here?”

“You know what happened. You know,” the yeoman began to rant. “It’s why we were sent here. It’s why you did this to us. Why you let them do it. Leave the mistakes behind, just like it told us.”

Pachel called up the sensor log of their journey through Primal, the flitting there-and-gone contacts. Something about it wasn’t quite right.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, yeoman. We came here to rescue you. Put the knife down and we’ll get you off this ship.”

“Aren’t you listening?” the cook asked, his voice dropping so low that even with the pickups in his helmet, Rafowitz had to strain to hear him. “There’s no going back. No rescue. No going back. There is only Acheron and what was left behind.”

It wasn’t just the thermals; all her readings were off. She’d been too freaked out by the ship to notice before. This wasn’t just scatter or back-bounce from the hull. The only thing that can explain these kinds of readings is if… Oh my God. ‘I am watching you’. They’ve been watching us. They’ve been fucking jamming us. “Sir…”

The distant sounds were getting closer; she wasn’t just imagining them. Frantically, Ludmilla tried to reset her system. It was only a cheap IDS without the expensive ECM and ECCM power armoured gear had, but she knew a few tricks… there. Oh. Oh no.

“What happened here?” Rafowitz demanded again. He looked like he was about to throttle McGill, the crewer’s lips drawing back in a hideous rictus, taking a step away from the sergeant.

“Listening.”

“Listening to what? Goddman you, I want an answer!”

“He’s stalling you!” Ludmilla exploded, grabbing Rafowitz by the shoulder and pulling him away from the yeoman. “We have to go, sir.” McGill stepped forward and Ludmilla raised her weapon. “Don’t fucking move, asshole!”

“What the fuck are you doing, Three?” the sergeant shouted at her. “We’re here to-”

“Get your people out of there,” Control’s voice cut in; they’d seen Ludmilla’s data, too. “Delta, get out now.”

McGill spread his arms open in an embrace, still holding the knife. “Welcome to Acheron!” he shouted, his voice rising to a scream. “This is what they want!” And from deep within the frigate’s body, that cry was answered.

~

Remembering despair.

“We’re all that’s left.”

Remembering fear.

“Dark! Go dark! They’re out there!”

“Who?”

“Them!”


Remembering hunger.

“There’s got to be something here! They can’t have taken it all!”

Remembering anger.

“This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be! You kept us in! Traitors! Murderers! You left us in here with them! You slept while we were hunted and killed! You did this to us! I hate you!”

“Just fucking die already!”


Remembering hate.

~

It rolled through the corridors and hallways leading into the mess, rattling through the air vents, dozens of voices melded together into a single ululating shriek, a nightmare crescendo. The pound of feet on metal echoed out of the galley’s other entrances, beams of light sweeping around corners, their shifting glow filtering ahead of the rush of feet.

“Defensive positions!” Rafowitz roared. “Seven, Eight – we are pulling out. Do you read? Seven, Eight – do you copy?”

The pound of gunfire echoed through the comm. “We are engaged!” Eight shouted back. “-out of nowhere!” Another burst of a weapon, this time on full auto, Eight’s hoarse cry of fear and anger rising. “Get back, get back, get ba-” The signal from Eight ended abruptly as his biosigns flatlined.

Distracted by Seven and Eight’s demise, Sergeant Adrian Rafowitz made a mistake. For an instant, for the barest amount of time, he turned his back on Yeoman McGill.

He barely felt it, just a sudden pressure and fullness in his throat and then he was looking down at the tip of a knife, driven forward so forcefully that it had pierced the bullet-proof bodyglove on the back and front of his neck. “Two. You’re in command,” he tried to say, but nothing came out, only a raspy, bloody squeak.

When McGill twisted the knife, that was when he felt it. He didn’t hear the thunder of bullets from his squad, didn’t see the cook ripped into bloody clumps of loosely-connected meat, didn’t feel himself fall to the floor. As darkness closed in, he thought of Jolene’s face. Her smile, and her teasing nickname.

My nervous little bunny.

~

Aboard Kerrigan, the bridge crew watched as Seven and Eight’s biosigns spiked abruptly, then flatlined, helmet cams capturing nothing but lights stabbing out of the darkness, and a rush of movement. Shaw watched as Seven’s cam continued transmitting, bouncing and jerking as its owner’s body was twisted and pulled, the flare of a plasma torch blindingly bright as it was brought down to cut Rubenowitz’s armour open. The camera view arced crazily as it was thrown, helmet and head rolling across the floor, coming to a stop against one wall. Ghastly silhouettes rushed by, headed towards the mess.

“Get them out,” Shaw demanded, pounding a hand against the control panel watching as Rafowitz flatlined, watching from the other feeds as McGill was torn into chunks of ruined meat and what was left of the yeoman was sprayed across the room. The colonel gritted his teeth. He’d known McGill. “Get them out of there now!”

“Epsilon, move to assist-”

“Eta, you are clear to move out-”

“Zeta, cover the science team. Bring them back aboard-”

“Beta and Gamma, be ready to assist-”

And then the rest of Delta Squad met Acheron’s first secret.

~

They had been Primal’s last, best hope. A bulwark against the nightmares, keeping what was within the frigate bottled up, hopefully safe from the same affliction that had consumed the rest of the expedition.

Jane retched onto the sterile, clean floor of the crypt, emptying a stomach full of bile and little else. Her fingers curled into claws, her lips drawing back over her teeth as she lifted her head, staring into Gregori’s eyes. He was still dazed, still trying to recover his wits. Weak. Her pupils dilated, nostrils flaring as she reached for something, anything she could wrap her hands around and strike at him with, but the lights in the Crypt continued to brighten and she covered her eyes, shying away from the illumination, into a dark, empty corner filled with discarded MRE wrappers. She grabbed one, licking up the trace crumbs left behind, rooting through the pile for an unopened bar. Hungry.

She watched her squadmates slink away from each other, into their own darkened alcoves, away from the light.

Finally, her drug-addled mind remembered what the images and flashing letters on the screens meant and she stood, uneasy on her feet. Her breath was hot and acrid, a side-effect of the chemicals. Intruders. Distantly, she knew she remembered what that meant. But it was faded, a pale wraith of a memory. She didn’t quite remember what it had meant, but she knew enough that they weren’t supposed to be here. That was why she and her team were here. To keep it safe. Protect.

Jane bared her teeth, stalking over to a marker and holding out her arms, feeling the eyes of her squad on her. Her own never left the monitors, tracking the newcomers, her team following her gaze one by one. “We have a mission,” she informed them. “Get ready.”

As her helmet was sealed over her head and her HUD came up, Jane Godfrey called up the sensor feeds and licked her lips, feeling the comforting weight of her armour’s weapons as they were attached to her, coming on-line.

If there was one flaw in Captain Shelby’s plan, it had been in assuming that anywhere on the station was safe, that the weeks of fighting and murdering their own would leave the Ghosts unscathed.

~

They came boiling out of the hallways, clawing along the walls, loping on hands and feet like animals. The crew and passengers of APSS Primal, screaming and shrieking in froth-mouthed fury, clutching pipes, wrenches, crudely-fashioned swords and truncheons. More than a few had guns. Torn and ragged clothes flapped behind them as mercenaries and scientists closed the distance between themselves and Delta at an unbelievable rate.

“Fall back!” Two shouted as he squeezed the trigger on his gun, firing down into one of the hallways, but there were four more to cover. The galley doors banged open. Five entrances, now. “Fall back by fire teams!”

Ludmilla raised her carbine and sighted. She fired, watching the head of a man she’d dated evaporate in a bloody mist. She fired again and a Hadley-Wright technician was hurled off her feet, craters the size of Ludmilla’s clasped fists blown out of her back.

And they still came.

Four was screaming something incoherently, emptying his magazine on full autofire, hosing the bullets back and forth across one of the hallways.

And they came through it.

Missing arms, they still ran. Guts blown out, they still came. Legs ripped free, they crawled, the sheer momentum of their charge pushing them through all of Delta’s firepower. The mercenaries fell back to the door as the first wave, bloody and dying, but still determined to rip their flesh from their friends’ bones, poured into the mess.

“Clear!” Five and Six shouted as they dove through the door, Two behind them. Ludmilla was falling back, but Four was still there, still shouting and hollering as he scythed his weapon back and forth…

An overhead vent burst open, a spiderline made into a noose dropping around his neck. With a strong yank, whoever was in the vent pulled Four off his feet, his gun slipping from his hands in shock as he tried to pull the cord off. Delta’s medic was dragged up into the shaft, his legs kicking back and forth as he screamed, his cries painfully loud in Ludmilla’s earpiece. Then, a hard, brutal crack and he went limp, hands dropping lifelessly to his sides as rivulets of red blood poured down over his armour, the rest of him pulled up into the air vent.

“No…” Pachel stared, frozen in place. Two grabbed her and pulled her back, just as a triple-burst of bullets tore through the air inches in front of her.

Two of B Company’s marines had come out to play. Each of them hunkered behind the corners on opposite sides of the room, sniping at the retreating mercenaries. One of them dove out from his cover, rolling through the gore-slick floor, using the wave of unarmoured ship’s crew for cover. Time seemed to slow as Ludmilla caught sight of him fully. His helmet was scratched and dented, his armour clawed and scored, a hole punched in it over his right breast. Whatever had happened here, he had fought it until he was just like the others.

Three almost had a bead on him, but the B Company merc, too fast and his gun came up. The barrel flashed…

And Rebecca Hanover went down, her head suddenly ending at her lower jaw, the harsh squeal of her flatline signal ringing in Ludmilla’s ears.

Two shoved her through the door, an instant behind her. An instant too slow as a young, petite woman in an engineers’ coveralls jumped on him, knocking him down, the rest of the horde swarming him, dragging him off. Whatever cohesion they had shattered as individual men and women started fighting with each other, tugging back and forth on the struggling mercenary, screaming curses and slashing out at one another with whatever was at hand.

Ludmilla was about to order Delta to save Two when she saw what the B Company marine was doing. He was ignoring the frenzy surrounding Two and there was something in his hand. Something small and metallic… “Grenade!” she screamed in warning.

The explosive arced over the heads of the infighting swarm, into the hallway with Delta. They ducked, cowering and flattening themselves against what cover there was as the frag charge went off, spraying white-hot shrapnel over the mercenaries. Their armour was proof against most of it… but only most. Nine was down: her knee shattered, tendons cut to pieces. Ludmilla, Six and Ten sprayed fire back into the mess, howls of pain and rage their only answer, but she could hear the distant rattles and rapid footfalls of additional incoming.

Two’s signal went flat as his former comrades found a way through his armour.

“Go!” Nine shouted, giving Ten a shaky shove away from her. “I’ll hold them!” she pulled out a grenade of her own; incendiary.

Her vitals were already fading, blood pressure dropping, heart rate spiking; the shrapnel must have opened her femoral artery. “I’ll hold them,” she promised, looking into Ludmilla’s eyes. “I’ll hold them. Go.” They were getting closer.

Three turned, Six and Ten on her heels. A moment passed and a flash of orange filled the hallways. Nine’s signal cut out.

The three survivors of Delta squad ran for the airlock. In their panic, none of them realized that at some point they had begun transmitting on D Company’s general channel, sharing their panic and horror with every other man and woman from Kerriagn. Even if they had realized, they wouldn’t have cared. Only one thought was pounding in their minds: get out get out get OUT!

They almost made it.

~

The only warning they had was the harsh, whirring scream of a cyclic cannon spinning up and then a hurricane of explosive darts blew Six into so many scraps of metal, ceramics and meat. Advancing up the hallway was one of B’s marines, this one in full power armour, the heavy cannon attached to one arm already tracking towards Three and Ten. Each merc dove into an alcove on opposite sides of the hallway as a fresh burst from the ogre’s cannon ripped towards them. B Company’s power team had been called the Ghosts, their armour painted grey-white. This one’s was the same, only it was spattered with a liberal amount of dark brown – Ludmilla had no doubt that it had started out as red – crudely smeared into words she didn’t recognize, a single bloody handprint on the soldier’s torso.

The trooper had opened the lower half of his helmet, teeth bared in a feral grin, screaming something in a language Ludmilla didn’t understand. The mercenary fired up the hallway at the advancing troll, but against a heavy trooper, she might as well have been using spitwads. Behind her, she could hear the jeers and cries of the rest of Primal’s complement. They’d been hard on their heels, but it seemed like – somehow – she and Ten had lost them. Now it would only be a matter of moments before they were caught between the troll and the horde.

Bullets chewed up the bulkhead, spraying Ludmilla and Ten with more shrapnel as the trooper drew closer to their hiding places. Then, salvation. She heard the shrill whine of a hellbore and the thunderous impact of something heavy crashing to the deck. She risked a look; smoke wafted out of the trooper’s back, an array of flashlights shining down at her and Ten. It was then that she realized that Sergeant Laverty from Epsilon had been shouting for her to respond.

She smiled in relief as the ten men and women of Epsilon pounded towards her and Ten, leaping over the body of the dead power trooper.

Then, from further down the hallway, hidden by the darkness, came the soft whir of more cyclic cannons spinning up. We never lost them! Ludmilla’s mind screamed at her as she threw herself to the deck. They drove us here!

Laverty’s torso vanished in a burst of gore, along with three more of Epsilon. Two more Ghosts advanced out of the darkness of the hall, plodding and methodical as they walked their fire over the Epsilon squad, cutting men and women down like so much wheat. Like the trooper, they’d removed the armour over their mouths, each set of raw, ragged, red-stained lips twisted into a grotesque rictus, tongues lashing over their mouths and teeth, drool running out of the corners of their mouths. “Seal the breach! No one gets out!” one of them – a woman – shouted as her fire ripped into Epsilon, shredding armour and flesh alike.

Sobbing in terror, Ludmilla scrambled on her hands and knees through the carnage as a handful of Epsilon tried to fire back, but none of them had the presence of mind to put up a coordinated fight, let alone aim carefully enough to put a round through the giant’s faces. They’d wanted Epsilon to come in, waited for them.

In point of fact, that level of coordination had never occurred to either of the two groups pursuing D Company. G Squad had, in their own way, continued to fulfill Shelby’s last orders to them, hunting down and destroying anyone – anyone at all – who attempted to breach the captain’s lockdown. Even the most impaired of the remaining crew had learned to avoid the hulking giants on their rare excursions from the Crypt.

Not that any of this mattered to Epsilon at the moment.

Ludmilla was not proud of leaving Ten and the rest to die, but her instincts were screaming at her to run and she did; she didn’t even know if she was headed towards the airlock. She was operating on nothing but pure blind panic, ignoring the voices in her ear screaming at her, thinking of nothing else but the desire to get out, get out, get out, scrabbling over the deck. Then, there was silence. No more screams, no more shots or the ripping thuds of explosive bullets detonating inside flesh.

Three rolled onto her back, pushing herself up against the wall as the Ghosts strode forward. Light shone painfully into her eyes as one of the troopers stepped over the dead and dying, its cannon leveled at her. She could barely see, just able to make out the hulking form of the female trooper as she reached one massive gauntlet down for Ludmilla…

A frantic, rolling chorus of screams reverberated down the hall and the power trooper froze, her teeth clicking as the rest of Primal’s crew raced towards them. The troopers exchanged a brief look and shut off their lights, their ghostly forms retreating back into the darkness.

With the shrieks of the horde getting closer and the troopers’ retreat blocking the only way out, Ludmilla Pachel, Artemis Private Security Services, sat amidst the gore of her friends and shipmates, bringing her carbine up, pointing it down the hallway. With shaking hands, she fed a fresh clip into the weapon.

And waited.



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Sugar, snips, spice and screams: What are little girls made of, made of? What are little boys made of, made of?

"...even posthuman tattooed pigmentless sexy killing machines can be vulnerable and need cuddling." - Shroom Man 777

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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-12-10 06:01pm
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Holy shit. She's dead. No way will she manage to kill all of the crazies.



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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-12-11 01:06am
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Quote:
“I’m sorry, Jane,” Shelby’s voice rolled smoothly through the comm. “I’m afraid I can’t do that.”


Is it bad that I heard HAL 9000's voice in my head when i read this line?




"Since when is "the west" a nation?"-Styphon
"ACORN= Cobra obviously." AMT
This topic is... oh Village Idiot. Carry on then.--Havok

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 Post subject: Re: All the little lost boys and girls PostPosted: 2009-12-16 03:10pm
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The Vortex Empire wrote:
Holy shit. She's dead. No way will she manage to kill all of the crazies.


Heh; I guess we'll see, won't we? :twisted:

The mighty tom wrote:
Is it bad that I heard HAL 9000's voice in my head when i read this line?


Nope; that is exactly why I wrote that line.



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Sugar, snips, spice and screams: What are little girls made of, made of? What are little boys made of, made of?

"...even posthuman tattooed pigmentless sexy killing machines can be vulnerable and need cuddling." - Shroom Man 777

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