Mithra was getting tired of staring at the stars, she flicked her eyes down toward the horizon, it was brightening with the coming sun. “Um, how long have we been laying out here?”
“No clue,” said Ghost absentmindedly.
Mithra pushed herself up so she was sitting. “Shouldn’t we be getting moving?”
“Nah, didn’t you hear Schultz? Cass is gonna swing by to pick us up.”
Mithra actually didn’t hear him. “Oh… I still feel like we should be doing something.”
“Any ideas?” Ghost had pushed herself up too.
Mithra’s mind seemed to empty as she tried to think of something, anything to do to pass the time. “Uh… Y’know, my mind is a total blank.”
Kid rolled over, and muttered, still half asleep, “so’s mine.”
“Heh, you said it, not me.” She looked back up. “Huh, cool clouds, I never really got to see them in the jungle.”
“Eh, they’re not all they’re cracked up to be.”
A lazy wind blew across the flats, kicking up the settled salt. Mithra’s eyes began to water.
“Gah! I’m getting rather jealous of your lack of eyes.” She furiously wiped at them as they teared up.
“On the contrary, I’m jealous of you.” Ghost looked at Mithra. “Only in the mind of another have I ever seen my wife’s true face, out here I can only rely on the tone of her voice and the feelings she willingly gives. I’ve never seen her smile, I’ve never seen her cry, I’ve never seen her truly express her feelings. It’s a very limiting way to live. I’d gladly put up with the downsides of having a flesh and blood body just to see her smile.”
“Are you being romantic over there?!” Pixia yelled from where she was with Laverne and Marge.
“Not in the slightest!” Ghost yelled back, “I’m brutally insulting you!”
“Oh! Well keep on then!”
Mithra and Ghost chuckled.
Kid pointed into the sky groggily. “That cloud looks violent.”
Mithra and Ghost followed her finger. There was small dark cloud brushing across the sky, it seemed to morph and flex in an unnatural way.
Ghost looked down at Kid. “Well you see Kid…” She was immediately on her feet, running over to Pixia and Laverne. “That’s not a cloud! Up, get up!”
Mithra squinted at the dark mass; as it grew nearer she began to make out individual creatures. Massive flapping wings, beady dark eyes, and sharp beaks were flying towards the group at high speeds.
“Corcus beasts!” yelled Laverne. “Back into the hole!”
The group sprinted back to the tunnel as the first of the rusty red Corcus began to swoop overhead. They were massive, easily seven feet from wingtip to wingtip, with small crested heads and wicked sharp beaks. She heard a crunch behind her and a panicked grunt from Kid as she fell into the salt, her foot sinking through. Mithra skidded to a halt, razor sharp talons raked across her back almost immediately; she winced as her hardened skin split. She pushed through the swarm of birds to where Kid was curled up, she flailed wildly, balling her fists up trying to hit as many as possible. She could feel the swarm break around her as she made contact with several, nearly vaporizing them with the force of her blows. She pushed through the small gap and began to tear away the dogpile that had formed around Kid. The Corcus scattered as she pulled Kid from their grip. Holding Kid to her chest Mithra slogged through the weakened salt while fending off the endless attacks from the Corcus. Her back was a knot of agony and her clothes were totally destroyed. She kept pushing, she knew the hole was somewhere in front of her, she hoped that she would just suddenly fall in; she would gladly take a tumble down the stairs over the Corcus. Through the near blinding mass of winged beasts she saw a glimpse of the hole; she pushed as hard as she could until she was finally on its edge. Throwing all caution to the wind she dove in.
The Monarch chuckled. “Trapped… yours was an excellent idea my sweet.”
The shadowy woman stood still, hands clutched tightly.
He leaned toward her. “Is it still too loud for you my dear?”
Her whisper was pained. “It hurts so much.”
He was immediately by her side. “What hurts?”
She looked into the eyes of his mask. “My mind, every thought is a spike of agony.”
He wrapped a tender arm around her shoulder and led her from the throne. “Come my dear let’s take you back upstairs, you need to rest. Things are well in hand you need not bother yourself with our enemies anymore. From now on I can work to fix you.”
“Please,” she whimpered. “End it…”
“I will, I promise. You will be whole again. You just need time to let the splice take effect.”
Cass felt weightless in Bolt’s arms as they were flung from the torn wreckage of the landing craft. Choking black smoke filled the air. The two landed with a crunch, the salt keeping them from rolling.
“Your Shalthar friends don’t know the concept of restraint,” Bolt grunted as she extricated herself from Cass.
Cass struggled to her feet. “Well, I’m pretty sure I’m public enemy number one to them so they aren’t gonna take any chances.”
Bolt nodded, she was almost invisible in the smoke. “Fair enough.”
“Where are the others?”
“They got out; we were the only ones in the ship.”
“That’s a small comfort at least.”
Over the roar of the burning wreck the sound of machine gun fire could faintly be heard.
Bolt angled her head. “I think they were seen.”
Cass leaned against a large chunk of twisted metal, she pulled a long shard of piping from her side, she winced as it fell to the ground. “Bullets aren’t an issue; I’m more worried about what they hit us with before!”
Bolt didn’t notice Cass’ injury; she was too focused on the unseen Shalthar. “Did our ship have those?”
Cass nodded holding her hand against her side trying to staunch the small waterfall of biomass. “Yep, I doubt they survived the explosion though.”
“I don’t see many other options, they got the high ground and none of us can fly. I’m kinda wishing we had Pixia with us right about now!”
Cass did as well. “Regret later! The rotors are the most fragile part of the ships, gum those up and they have to put down. How’s your throwing arm?”
“It hasn’t left me yet so I must be doing something right.”
“C’mon, get some good sized chunks and let’s get throwing!”
The two scrabbled along the ground, picking up any hunks of metal small enough to throw and large enough to do some serious damage.
Bolt hefted a wad of steel the size of her fist. She glanced at Cass. “Let’s boogie.”
They emerged from the smoke to see a craft far larger than the one they were using streaming bullets down onto the fleeing Indra. The entrance to the tunnel was little more than a smoking crater, well that explained that. Several of the remote turrets swiveled as the two appeared.
The two split as bullets sprayed into the ground where they were standing, the rest of the turrets swiveled over and began wildly firing. Dodging to the right Cass hefted a chunk of metal and lobbed it. It sped like a bullet toward the engine but the craft swerved out of the way so that it only hit the housing. Bolt used the craft’s movement to chuck her own. It was slightly off target, ever so, it sped directly into the cockpit’s main view-screen.
Cass shot a look over at Bolt. She shrugged. “Hey I’m rusty!” She was sent packing as the turrets resumed fire.
The others cottoned on to their plan and had bolted into the flaming wreck looking for ammunition of their own. Cass and Bolt struck off again, aiming for the rear engines where the pilot couldn’t as easily track their movements. Small holes in the bottom of the craft opened up. Cass silently cursed as small round objects streamed from the ship.
“Are those—,“ Bolt didn’t finish as the bombs collided with the ground and exploded throwing her thirty or so yards through the air like a ragdoll.
Cass kept throwing but her aim was constantly thrown off by the explosions. Finally one got too close and she was sent flying like Bolt. She had a wonderful view of the underside of the craft as it prepared another round of explosives. The craft veered suddenly to the left, then to the right. It began spinning. Cass pulled herself up. Had the others hit one of the engines? They couldn’t have, they were all still working. The ship juddered violently as it regained its balance. Suddenly a Shalthar burst from the cracked front view-screen and smashed into the ground, it was dead before impact. More Shalthar followed, thrown from the craft by some unseen force. Along the edges of the ship massive gashes were torn like a large blade was slicing through the outer corridors. The front cargo bay door burst open as a group of Shalthar were forced from it, they fell screaming to their deaths.
Silhouetted in the cargo bay was a massive form. Cass couldn’t make out any distinct features though she could have sworn from the height that it was Wall. Whoever it was turned back inside. The craft juddered again as the controls were fought over once more, one final Shalthar shot from the cockpit, adding to the pile of bodies on the ground. The craft moved shakily, whoever was piloting had little idea what they were doing. It lowered jumpily before finally settling on the salt. The engines slowed to a stop as the Indra approached.
Bolt had regained her footing, seemingly no worse for wear. “It’s got to be Wall,” Bolt said surely. “His pod was empty when I went to check.”
Cass shook her head. “I don’t know, they looked a lot like him but I can’t be sure.”
They stepped inside the craft, it was an absolute mess. Walls were completely shredded and the dismembered bodies of dozens of Shalthar littered the corridors. Several doorways they passed were barred or barricaded with welded scrap metal.
Anon pried the hastily welded steel from the doorway and cracked it open. He recoiled in shock. “Oh my god.” He looked at the others. “Get that shit off the doors now!” He began furiously tearing away at the barricade.
Cass poked her head inside. “Oh no… it’s a collection ship.”
Dozens of terrified eyes stared at her; the room was packed to the brim with humans.
The rooms were torn open and people streamed into the corridors, there was laughing and crying as people reunited. The elation quickly wore off as the people finally acknowledged their liberators. A heavily bearded man with a shock of red hair and biceps as big as Anon’s head grabbed him in a rough hug.
“Thank you, it brings me comfort to know that our prayers have been answered.” He turned around and addressed the humans. “The gods are with us!”
The crowd of people cheered.
Bolt sidled over to Anon. “Gods?”
“Our boy Schultz made us into a religion to keep spirits up while the world went to shit. Apparently you’re a particular favorite during droughts, O Queen of Thunder.”
The bearded man sized up the Indra, addressing each of them by their title. “The Silence!”
“The Queen of Thunder!”
Bolt crossed her arms and nodded as well.
“The God of Intellect.” His voice was respectful.
“Or as we call him: The walking torch,” Anon said jokingly.
The bearded man turned to Anon. “The Hermit and the Joker.” He bowed in admiration
“On a good day,” Anon chuckled.
“And the Goddess of Waste.”
Pestilence raised a finger. “I do hope you mean in the context of sickness and not fecal matter.”
“They are one and the same!”
He rounded on them again, eyes wet. “I am Tomba, chief of the Raksha people to the north, and am forever in your debt for saving my people.” He looked at Cass who was standing quietly behind Xypia. “I’m sorry, but I do not know you.”
She jumped slightly under the gaze of Tomba. “Oh, don’t mind me.”
Anon stepped back and wrapped an arm around her narrow shoulders. “This is our mother!” His voice was full of pride. “Without her there would be no us!”
“With one exception!” called a woman’s voice from the back.
Everybody turned to see the newcomer. She was massive, bordering on eight feet and almost swollen with corded muscle. She hobbled forward on a huge crutch that was stuck under her left arm, her left leg, up to the knee was missing. Sheathed across her back was a six foot broadsword, it tickled a memory at the back of Cass’ mind. The sword used to belong to Kid.
“The Goddess of Self… Ellie I presume?” Cass walked forward with a hand outstretched.
“Cassandra F. Whorl.” Ellie’s hand completely enveloped Cass’. “I’ve heard quite a few things about you.” She paused for a moment. “My tenant is currently going haywire; we’ll have to get you inside sometime soon.”
Cass nodded, suppressing her growing excitement. She so desperately wanted to inspect Ellie; already she was picking out small details. “Yes, but until then let’s collect the others and get these people to safety.”
Ellie nodded. “Agreed, I assume you know how to fly these things?”
“That’s if there’s anything left to fly!” Anon shot off.
She put a fist on her hip. “Oi, give me some credit, at least nothing exploded.”
“Either way this is liable to be a rough takeoff.” She turned to address the Raksha. “Everyone please bear with us and go back into the rooms you’ll be better protected in case of anything going wrong.”
The people filed back into the rooms, spirits considerably higher than the first time they had to do so.
Cass turned back to Ellie. “Let’s see if we can get this old tub to take off again.”
Ellie gestured for Cass to lead the way. After a few moments she muttered something. “Oh hush up.”
Cass threw a look over her shoulder. “Hmm?”
“Oh it’s Vee, I swear she might just try and take over even after what happened that last few times.” She said the last part in a highly accusatory fashion. “Katrine’s going to lock her in the bathroom for safekeeping.”
Cass had to get more information; her scientific mind couldn’t allow such extended ignorance. “Is Katrine the owner of the brain?”
“Yep, don’t worry, everything is under control.”
“You’re very much like your new baby sister, but in reverse.”
“Oh dear… another of us?”
“Indeed, she’s been knocking around only a few days and she’s already caused quite a bit of damage.”
“Yeah, things tend to move quite quickly when we’re involved. So what sort of setup is she rocking?”
“Human brain forefront with an LE board as a companion, she used to be human.”
Ellie looked down, thoroughly confused. “How the heck did that happen?”
Cass explained from the beginning the consumption of Biomass and the transformation from human to Indra.
Ellie nodded, she still had no idea how any of that worked. “Well, at least Ari’s back in some capacity.”
“Indeed, but unfortunately she’s stuck in Mithra for the foreseeable future, her board goes out and Mithra basically melts.”
“I can see how that would be a setback, and how long will Mithra be kicking around? Is she mortal?”
Cass shrugged. “Only time will tell on that one, basically everything but her head is indistinguishable from us so for all we know she’s immortal to the same degree we are.”
They rounded the corner to the cockpit, it was absolutely trashed. Blood covered most of the instruments and the front wind visor was conspicuously absent.
Ellie shrugged under Cass’ stare. “It was the only window big enough.”
Cass couldn’t argue with Ellie’s logic. “I thought you were the caring, considerate type?”
Ellie sat on a part of the floor that wasn’t covered in blood. “I am, but only to people I like.”
“Fair enough.” Cass settled in the pilot’s seat and spooled up the engines. “So what in the world were you doing on this ship?”
“Well… Uh, I’ve been pulling an ‘All-seeing Guardian’ thing to the north for a while. The Raksha basically settled right on top of me, I didn’t have much of a choice. Then the Shalthar came and stole them so I made an executive decision to pay their leader a visit.”
Cass gently pulled the main flight stick while carefully holding the main stabilizers. “We have a similar idea, I hate to say it, but even with your power you would be cut down by the Shalthar. I’ve seen their capitol, the ruins of the city of Alcadon, it’s basically impenetrable.”
Ellie couldn’t help but chuckle. “Huh, this will be the third time I have to infiltrate that damn city.”
Quickly dropping the stabilizers Cass flicked on the frequency scanner. “It won’t be as easy as before, they’re ready for just about anything.”
“That’s what they said last time… So we’re off to collect the others?”
“Yep, Mithra, Ghost, Pixia, Kid, and two you’ll be surprised the hear are still kicking.”
“Oh? I don’t quite know if I’m capable of surprise anymore.”
“Our boy Schultz and your favorite computer Marge.”
Ellie hissed when she heard Marge’s name.
“Ah, so the bad blood spreads to you as well.”
“That damn machine is the main reason things ended the way they did. Don’t trust her, not one bit, neither her words nor her actions. Every move she makes is calculated to cause the most misery possible. Even your Indra can be won by her silver tongue, see that she doesn’t get to use it.”
Cass was quickly typing in search parameters into the frequency scanner whilst adjusting the stabilizers. “Unfortunately she’s invaluable when it comes to getting back inside the Citadel; she was the main computer system until yesterday so she’ll still know all of the inner workings. She’ll answer to her crimes soon, but not now.”
Bolt sidled into the room and sat beside Ellie. “Mind if I pop in and say hi?”
“Go right on ahead.”
Bolt placed a hand on Ellie’s shoulder and fell limp.
“Just a quick reunion, those two haven’t seen each other in quite a while. And when you go in there I’ll finally get to see what you look like, just a heads up though you’ll be totally buck naked the first time.”
Cass smiled internally. “Oh, the embarrassment… I wonder what they all look like.”
Ellie chuckled as old memories were brought forward. “You’ll see in good time, but first we have to pick everybody up and drop these folks off at the edge of the flats.”
“Shouldn’t we take them back to the settlement?”
“They’re wanderers; they don’t have a set settlement, at least until they found me. They’ll be fine.”
Silence fell on the cockpit as Cass continued fighting against the misbehaving controls.
She broke the silence. “Did you ever see a larger group of redheads?”
Ellie shook her head. “Nope, too bad they can’t see Bolt when she’s all human’y, she’s ginger.”
“Not by choice mind you.” Bolt had returned to her body and was in the process of trying to stand up. “Whoa, I forgot how woozy that makes you after a while.”
Ellie clapped Bolt on the shoulder. “Hey you still have it better than Juvinea did, you weren’t around but wow you’ve never seen so much blood.”
“Juvinea?” asked Cass.
Ellie seethed slightly. “Hmm, bit of a sore subject. She was the first human I paired with, I made direct contact with her brain stem and she got to see the little world inside my head. She was the woman Lethe loved, I can see why, when she wasn’t knocking things over of course.”
“I thought that was Pestilence’ job?”
Ellie giggled. “Oh just you wait you’ll see some stuff, it was always a tossup as to who was clumsier.”
Bolt had to chime in. “Hey don’t forget, Pestilence managed to collapse an entire ceiling by moving one tile.”
“Oh yeah, after the fight with Proteus. That was such a long time ago, wow. Time flies.”
“You were a wee babe, not even two weeks old. You were still using Kid’s old sword as a crutch.”
Cass was curious, the stories she’d heard never really answered the question. “How did you lose your leg Ellie?”
“Four words: Medusa got a mouth. It thought I looked tasty.”
“Ew.” Cass checked the scanner, they were getting awfully close. She could see a faint discoloration on the flats in the far distance.
“If you think that’s bad wait until I tell you about Havoc.”
Cass waved at her to stop talking. “It’ll have to wait, something’s wrong.”
The discoloration was more than it appeared, a massive swarm of Corcus beasts were hovering over the flats, directing swooping attacks on a small hole in the salt.
Cass flicked on the loudhailer. “Alright kids, man the turrets, it’s time for some target practice!”
Mithra tumbled down the stairs, arms tightly wrapped around Kid. They were both in incredibly rough shape; their bodies were completely layered in thin cuts. They were pulled deeper into the tunnel by Laverne and Pixia who had been fending off the few Corcus adventurous enough to brave the confined space. Marge and Ghost traded places with the two, guarding the opening.
Laverne tried to coax Mithra back into consciousness while Pixia tried to pry Kid from her arms. “Hey c’mon sweetie, stay with us. C’mon, keep your eyes open.”
Mithra’s eyes rolled in their sockets, biomass dribbled from the edges of her mouth.
Laverne felt tears well up in his eyes. “Hey, don’t be like that.” A tear fell from his cheek and splattered on Mithra’s cheek. “You got me crying kiddo I can’t believe you’re just gonna let that slide. C’mon!” He roughly shook her, her head lolled to the side, eyes staring blankly into space.
He pulled her close to him as Pixia finally got the catatonic Kid from Mithra’s arms. For the first time in millennia Laverne T. Schultz wept.
Mithra was in the void, but it felt off, she couldn’t move, her body didn’t seem to respond. She knew she was lying down but beyond that she couldn’t feel anything below the neck. She tried to speak but her voice only came out as a hoarse whisper. Ari and Medusa loomed over her; Ari’s eye was pinched with sadness while Medusa maintained its dispassionate stare.
Ari crouched down over Mithra. “You did a fantastic job, you got Kid back into the tunnel, you’re both safe.”
“But…” growled Medusa, “it has come at great cost.”
Ari sat down with a sigh and took Mithra’s limp hand. “For all intents and purposes you’re dying. You’ve lost too much biomass and what little you do have is far too polluted to repair the damage.”
Mithra let out a grunt of frustration.
Ari smiled. “I understand. I felt the same way as you when I died.”
Mithra laid there, stewing in her own unspeakable thoughts, she had a brainwave.
Ari’s voice remained calm. “Ah, but even so, it is unlikely for the others to come to that conclusion on their own and they don’t have enough biomass to share.”
Medusa swiveled its head to look at Ari. “Mother will likely come to the same conclusion.”
Ari looked up. “Indeed, but will she get here in time?”
Laverne cradled Mithra’s head in his arms, her eyes had closed and her body had gone limp and was steadily growing cold. He leaned down and planted a kiss on her forehead.
“Congratulations kiddo, you’re the one that finally broke me.” He gently placed her on the ground and bolted deeper into the cave.
“Schultz what are you doing!” Pixia yelled after him.
“I have no fucking idea!” he bellowed back.
Though it was too dark to see, a wolfish grin had begun to split across his face. He paused, his face transitioning between a cascade of emotions as he wrestled internally with his Indra counterpart.
“No,” he growled, “this time you’re working for me!”
Bursting into the shrapnel filled chamber he made a beeline to the back and hefted the large cryopod door as if it weighed nothing. Wielding it like a massive club he shot back down the corridor. Roughly pushing past Marge and Ghost he leapt to the surface and the waiting swarm of Corcus beasts. With a roar he began swinging. Feathers and viscera sprayed across the salt, quickly absorbing into the ground. So vicious was his assault and so bewildered were the Corcus that his wild swings took out tens of the unprepared creatures at a time. Quickly falling back, the Corcus were virtually crawling over each other in midair trying to escape from the maddened beast. Any attempt to cut around him only lead to a number of them being flattened by the massive metal door.
“So you have killed my daughter! I will kill you in return!” he screamed.
The Corcus had regrouped and were spiraling around him, breaking quickly around his rapidly slowing swings. Laverne planted his foot in the salt and began swinging, holding the door flat. The Corcus easily skimmed over and under the narrow door. With a grunt of effort he twisted the door vertically and a dozen more Corcus met their end.
They began dive bombing him, trying to get a grip on his head with their wicked sharp talons, trying to get him on the ground. He wasn’t having it; his rage filled him with renewed strength. The door might has well have been made of air as he swung it in a vicious corkscrew creating a moving wall of death around him as he threw himself into the swirling mass once more.
He didn’t know how long he’d been out there, he didn’t care, until every one of those beasts were dead he wasn’t going to stop. It seemed that no matter how many he smashed with the door more kept flocking in their place, from what he could see the swarm was no thinner. The Corcus were endless, thousands still swarmed around Laverne.
One ambitious Corcus managed to break through Laverne’s swinging wall of death and latch onto his leg. It dug its beak into his calf, ripping and tearing. He ignored it, not daring to let up his attack for even one moment. He carefully shuffled to the side, catching the beast’s long tail feathers beneath his feet. With more careful deliberate movements he slowly crushed it under his feet. He almost savored the crunching as he stamped the life out of the contemptible creature.
More Corcus were pushing closer, analyzing the breaks in his defense and waiting for their opportunity. He could feel the brush of their wingtips drawing ever closer as they weaved around the door. He felt a stinging across his back as one of them shot by, dragging its talons as it did so. The jig was up.
Laverne prepared himself for one final attack. He made his peace; he knew what had to be done.
A ripple of panic sped through the swarm, croaks of alarm spewed from the beaks of the Corcus as they began to scatter. The whirling maelstrom of feathers broke around Laverne and he could see what was making the Corcus flee. A large landing craft, quite worse for wear, was unloading its turrets into the flock, cutting down swathes of the beasts.
The battle was lost, the Corcus scattered in every direction as more of their number were cut down. Laverne flung the door like a discus after the fleeing beasts and sunk to his knees, looking up at his salvation. The strength ebbed from his muscles, his skin steamed, his breathing was ragged. He fell backwards sinking into the blood soaked salt. He could hear the craft lowering and punching through the salt as it landed. He saw several dark shapes flit past him in the direction of the hole. A massive dark shape filled his vision; an arm roughly pulled him over a broad shoulder.
“Mithra…” he muttered. “Save her.”
He could see the red stained salt glide underneath him as he was carried toward the ship.
“It’s going to be alright Laverne, you’re safe now.” Their voice was muffled; he couldn’t make out who it was.
“Save her.” His vision faded to black.
Pestilence, Scorn, and Xypia dropped into the hole. Scorn’s luminescence lit up a sad scene. Mithra and Kid were being held in the arms of Ghost and Pixia, both were covered in innumerable gashes and neither was moving. Marge was standing off to the side, looking solemn for once.
“C’mon!” Scorn waved them over. “Let’s get out of here!”
With Xypia’s help the three were carefully lifted up to a picture of absolute carnage. The corpses of at least a thousand Corcus beasts lay cooking in the sun, the smell of death hung heavy in the air.
“Ignore them, get to the ship!” Scorn and Pestilence began pulling the others through the mess towards the waiting ship.
They were virtually pulled into the cargo bay, Pestilence smashed the door controls and the bay door slowly closed.
“Med bay, now, Xypia!”
Xypia nodded and ushered Ghost and Pixia to the med bay. They had to step over the stiff corpses of several Shalthar on their way over. Laverne was already tucked in one of the examination tables and two more were already prepared for Kid and Mithra. Cass and Anon were buzzing around Laverne, inspecting his wounds and carefully cleaning them out. She wilted when she saw Kid and Mithra.
She looked to Xypia. “You and Bolt pilot the ship out of here, go north and put down at the edge of the salt flats.”
Xypia nodded and jogged to the cockpit. As he entered he tapped the back of the pilot’s chair alerting Bolt to take off. She grunted as he settled in the copilot’s seat and spooled up the engines.
The group in the med bay could feel the ship judder and shake at it took off.
“Get them on the tables, now!” Cass hurried over to inspect the two. It was grizzly; both were covered in hundreds of deep cuts all across their bodies. Streams of biomass dribbled from the open wounds. “Staple gun!” she shouted to Anon.
He tossed it over to her waiting hands and she went to work patching together the gashes.
“Damn, they’re losing too much.” She grumbled.
“Can we do anything?” Asked Ghost.
“Yes.” Cass scanned the room, finally setting her gaze on a large bin used for hazardous waste storage. “We need biomass, Mithra needs it especially, she’s almost dry.” She handed Ghost a scalpel. “Please.”
Ghost looked at Pixia. “Get the others, we need as much as we can get.”
Pixia nodded and ran from the room. Ghost pulled the bin from its place in the corner of the room next to the tables. She held her hand over the bin and cut a deep gash in her palm with the scalpel. She watched a stream of her biomass dribble into the bin. Anon stood next to her and did the same with his own palm. The others, bar Bolt who was still flying the ship, filed into the med bay. Ghost was beginning to feel dizzy; she staunched the flow with a gauze pad and stepped aside. Slowly the others contributed a portion of their own biomass to the growing pool. Finally Cass pricked her hand and gave some of her own. Nearly ten gallons sloshed in the bin.
“I hope this is enough.” Cass began rifling through a supply cabinet finally turning around with a feeding tube and a funnel. “Half to her and half to Kid.”
She shoved the tube down Mithra’s throat and stuck the funnel on the end. Anon carefully lifted the bin and began slowly pouring. The thick liquid flowed quickly down the tube, after a minute or two of pouring Anon slowly tiled the bin slowing the stream until it came to a stop. Cass pulled the tube from Mithra’s throat and stuck the tube into one of Kid’s many wounds.
She winced as the tube shifted under Kid’s skin. “I’m sorry; this is the only way we can get more inside of you.” She spoke to the assembled Indra. “One of you keep stapling their cuts closed, we can’t have that biomass escaping.”
Pixia wielded the staple gun and began slowly closing Mithra’s many wounds while Ghost wrapped the closed wounds with roll after roll of gauze.
“Ellie?” Cass asked.
She looked up. “Yeah.”
“You’re better at it than anyone else; see if she’s still in there.”
Ellie nodded. “Sure thing.”
Ellie place her hands on either side of Mithra’s head. She winced slightly as dozens of tendrils of her fiber optic cabling split from the palms of her hands and burrowed into Mithra’s scalp. Ellie could immediately feel Ari and Medusa, but they were very weak. There was a third presence, incredibly weak, it must have been Mithra. Ellie delved further.
Ellie’s eyes opened to a stark white void, she looked down at her body, she was in her Indra form. “Well that’s rather unexpected.” She could see several dark shapes in the distance; she looked down at her leg, still missing. “Well, here’s hoping their too weak to remember this. She began hopping toward the figures.
One of the distant forms began shifting towards her; she stopped and watched it approach. It was Medusa, belting toward her at full speed. Ellie fell into her usual defensive stance as Medusa grew closer. It stopped several paces from her and kneeled down. Ellie started in surprise.
“Come,” it grunted.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked.
“Quickly!” it grunted.
Ellie nodded, she would question it later. She hopped forward and straddled Medusa’s thin, bony back. It stood up and began dashing back towards the other two. They drew forward remarkably quickly; Ellie forgot just how fast Medusa was. She slid from its back and hopped the final few feet over to where Mithra lay. She kneeled down next to her.
Mithra was frighteningly pale and painfully thin, her eyes were sunken and milky and her skin was sallow. Her breaths were painfully weak; she was on the brink of death.
Ellie’s heart broke at seeing Mithra though she kept a reassuring smile in her voice. She picked up Mithra’s hand, it was like ice. “Hey there, how’re you holding up?”
Mithra’s head slowly turned to look at Ellie. “Shit,” she whispered.
Ellie squeezed her hand. “Don’t worry, you’re with the others, they’re gonna fix you up.”
Ellie shook her head. “No, you can feel it can’t you? They filled you back up, just a little bit. When Schultz gets back on his feet we’re gonna have him whisk up the biggest feast he can.”
“Back on his… feet?” Mithra’s whisper turned questioning.
“He fought those things off, on his own, for you. He loves you Mithra, don’t let him down.”
Mithra smiled weakly. “Bastard,” she croaked.
Ellie squeezed harder. “C’mon, pull through, for him, for Ari, for the people who love you.”
Mithra’s eyes closed. “No one loves me…”
Ellie knew Mithra was fishing for a reaction. “That’s not true and you know it. You have to believe in yourself, you have to believe in your friends.”
Mithra snorted quietly.
Ellie snickered, even at death’s door this child was filled with so much sass. “Don’t snort at me young lady, I am by far your elder and deserve your undivided attention.”
Mithra’s eyes cracked open slightly. “Precocious child,” she whispered Mithra finally squeezed back weakly.
“I’m sure you’re used to hearing that one.” Mithra’s breaths were becoming longer and steadier.
“My finest quality,” she sighed.
“I think that’s actually your resilience. See, you can feel it right, you’re getting stronger.”
“Barely… Where did you get the biomass?”
Ellie showed her the scabbed over cut on her palm. “We all chipped in, because you’re worth it.”
Mithra turned her head over to Medusa. “No disgusted exclamation? How unlike you.”
Medusa looked over to Ari who had been sitting silently, watching. “It has returned to being annoying. I am swiftly regretting my part in this.”
Mithra stuck out her tongue. “Regret away, I’m personally glad I’m not dead.”
Medusa snorted in disgust and turned away.
“There it is!” Mithra weakly pointed at Medusa. “You’re so predictable.”
Ellie turned to look at Ari; she hadn’t moved a muscle since she’d got there. “Ari, you ok?”
“Slowly… Sorry I’m rather focused on keeping her biomass together.”
“Yep, don’t let me bother you.” Ellie turned to look back at Mithra, she was looking much better. Her skin was regaining its color and her eyes shone with a mischievous energy. Her body was still rail thin but everything else seemed to be improving. Ellie stood up. “Well, I think you’ve got things well in hand, get back into your body as soon as you’re able, I want to meet you in person.
Mithra squeezed Ellie’s hand, not letting go. “Oh no you don’t, you’re not ducking out on me yet.”
Ellie sighed and looked down; Mithra had a small smirk on her face. Ellie shook her head and sat back down. “Alright… What do you want to talk about?”
“Tell me about the past. When did you first meet Laverne?”
Ellie made the sound of fluttered her lips. “Oh my, that’s a long story; you’ll be a little old lady by the time I finish.”
“As you can well see, I’m not going anywhere. Get rambling.”
Ellie pursed her lips as she struggled to find a place to start.
The Monarch looked up from the corpse he was desecrating. He absentmindedly left his scalpel and tweezers lodged in the cadaver. He chuckled. “Oh, my dear Schultz, so you do have a heart after all. How very interesting, I was so terribly disappointed that I wouldn’t be allowed to get my claws on you before you died.” He turned about and laid a hand on a massive tube filled with a sickly blue liquid. He sighed quietly. “I’m sorry dearest, it seems the Corcus failed. We will simply have to be patient and wait for our enemy to deliver themselves unto us. It doesn’t matter though… soon you shall be complete, and I shall be unstoppable.”
Inside of the tube was the woman, the Monarch’s love, suspended in a deep sleep. Her curly hair splayed about her becalmed features.
“My love,” the Monarch purred. “Perhaps it’s time to take things seriously.”
He rummaged in a small dusty cabinet set in the far side of the room and pulled out a small metal box. The hinges creaked as he slowly opened the lid. Set inside a nest of shock absorbing foam were two small circuit boards. The monarch gingerly picked the boards up and drew two similar boards from the fold of his robes.
“It’s time to play, my friends.” He pawed at the boards, rubbing his thumb over the tiny black chips.
The Monarch knocked four times on the wall, the door to his lab opened and a Shalthar stepped inside and stood at attention. The monarch turned around and stalked up to the nervous guard. The Monarch wrapped their fingers around the Shalthar’s broad shoulder, his nails digging into its flesh; it winced as it fell to its knees.
The Monarch loomed in close. “Fetch Tash… and prepare the Vats, we need to make some biomass for my old friends. Tell Brekka to prepare for my departure, I have business beyond the Citadel.”
He released the Shalthar who fell back and virtually crawled from the room. The Monarch let out a dark chuckle and went back to the object of his affection. He studied her face; every detail was perfect except for the one that mattered the most. He gently pressed a button on a nearby control panel and the blue liquid drained.
The door opened and another Shalthar stepped inside. The Monarch turned.
“Tash… I leave her in your care; make every effort to resurrect her.”
The Shalthar nodded and stood aside as the Monarch stalked from the room.
Kid struggled fitfully into wakefulness; her body was afire with agony. She rolled gently to the side, wincing with pain as the hundreds of staples across her body twisted in her flesh. She could see Mithra, lying silently on the table next to her, Ellie’s massive form hunched over her. Kid slowly pulled herself up, keeping her gaze planted firmly on Mithra’s face. She gently lowered herself to the floor and shuffled over to the table. She crawled up, careful not to disturb Mithra or Ellie. She snuggled up to Mithra’s midsection, wrapping her arms around her waist.
Kid was so tired, but Mithra gave her hope.
Kid fell asleep content.
Mithra stared at Ellie, jaw slack. “You are the most screwed up people I’ve ever met.”
Ellie scratched where her nose would be thoughtfully. “Normally I’d get all defensive and try to argue but honestly there’s just no use. Have you begun to regret your decision to associate with us?”
Mithra huffed. “Well, considering so far I’ve gotten exactly what I asked for… No not really.”
A metaphorical eyebrow was raised. “Even when considering the very nearly almost being entirely dead thing?”
A solemn nod. “Yes, even factoring that in.”
Ellie jammed a thumb at Medusa. “Even with that thing acting as part of your not-so-subconscious?”
Mithra narrowed her eyes and smiled at Medusa. “At this point I think it’s more scarred from my thoughts than I from theirs.”
Medusa snarled. “A very likely possibility.”
“Hmph, well call me crazy but it seems like you’ve got things pretty well under control. At least one of us does. Do you feel well enough to try and stand up?”
“I’ve got nothing to lose by trying.”
Ellie stood up; she cringed as her muscles stretched out. “Oh, stiff. That’s the problem with our flawless bodies; they get real stiff real quick. Just wait, you’ll see.”
“Anything else I need to know about my new dynamic form?”
Ellie began to list things off on her fingers. “You won’t need to eat, you won’t need to breathe, waste is a thing of the past, and you’re going to want to sleep all the time.”
“Am I at least allowed that one luxury?”
“Thank whatever god you pray to because you can.”
“Alright, thank you.”
Ellie paused… “Oi! No religion while I’m in earshot, it’s embarrassing.”
Mithra raised a finger at Ellie. “I make no promises!”
Ellie grunted. “I don’t know what I was hoping for with that one.” She grabbed Mithra’s outstretched hand and pulled her to her feet. “Now, thank goodness there aren’t any mirrors in this place otherwise you’d probably faint all over again.”
Mithra’s face twisted in an exaggerated frown. “First my boobs, now everything else, what hasn’t been taken from me!?”
Ari struggled to her feet. “Your life, all other things are superfluous compared to that.”
“But my—,” Mithra slapped her chest.
“You’re complaining to the wrong people about that.”
Mithra looked up at Ellie; she was virtually a walking slab of muscle, if it wasn’t for her voice Mithra would have mistaken her as male. “Hmm, now I’m wondering what you look like in human form.”
She made a little curtsy. “Courtesy of my unique setup that has now taken second when compared to yours. Human brain forward, I expect I’ll be hearing from Katrine about that one. Honestly I’m rather glad; I’d hate to be that wad of muscle in that little apartment.” She made a small happy grunt. “You’re gonna get to see it too, eventually. You’ll probably get your human body back; even Ari looks fully human in there.”
“Has Medusa ever gone in there?”
Ari shook her head. “No, they always abstained; perhaps it fears the wrath of Vee.”
Medusa settled down with an indifferent grunt. “I fear nothing; I simply do not see the point in vapid fraternization.”
Ellie whispered conspiratorially, “Vee would beat the shit out of it. Now, I’m gonna get out of here, you come back to your body as quick as you like, just gonna warn you though, you’re not going to be feeling all too good.”
“All the cuts.”
Ellie nodded. “And all the staples currently keeping your skin on.”
Mithra shuddered slightly. “Eww.”
“You’ll probably see worse in time, just a heads up.” Ellie seemed to fade away.
Mithra put her hands on her hips and grunted. “If I didn’t know better I’d say you’re all a bunch of jaded immortals who are infinitely tired with involving yourselves in the affairs of mortals.”
Ari nodded. “Very eloquently put. Some of us still care, but for the rest it’s more of an obligation. And besides, we can’t just say no to mom.”
Mithra put a look of wistfulness on her face. “Perhaps I’ll get to meet her one day,” she sighed dramatically.
Ari kept her face blank, not playing into Mithra’s act. “You did though.”
The whimsy vanished and a look of mild offence took its place. “It was for like five minutes and she poked me in uncomfortable places.”
“Fair enough.” Ari shrugged.
Mithra concentrated on returning to her body. It was strange, there seemed to be a slight resistance where there used to be none. Mithra pushed harder, she saw the white void fade slowly to black. Immediately her body was covered in stinging pain, there wasn’t a single part of her that wasn’t wracked with horrible discomfort. She floated in the strange dark in-between for a while, slowly coaxing her limbs back into working order. Slowly her limbs grew cold with the overeager air conditioning of the med bay and her forehead grew hot. There was a strange pressure on her waist but she figured that it was just another one of her infinite injuries.
Her eyes fluttered open to see the familiar med bay ceiling. She tried to coax something witty from her mouth but only a pained groan came out. Better than nothing. She tried to move her arms but they seemed incredibly heavy, as if they were weighed down with lead. She groaned again as Ellie loomed over her.
“Welcome back to the real world. Ignore the pain in your scalp, that was me.”
“Thanks,” Mithra croaked.
“Also, you seem to have a friend.”
Ellie tipped Mithra’s head up so she could see Kid wrapped around her waist.
“She’s so cute isn’t she?” Ellie reached off to the side and grabbed a large wad of rags and wedged them beneath Mithra’s head, keeping it propped up.
Mithra winced as she kept trying to move her body. “Yeah, I think she’s bonded to me.”
Ellie chuckled. “That’s not a bad thing; she’s quite fierce given the chance.”
“Do I detect a hint of jealousy?”
“Not at all, Kid will bond with whoever she chooses.”
A quiet voice spoke to Mithra’s right, “ah, I see you’re back to yourself.”
Mithra turned her head to see Laverne sprawled out on the farthest table. She tried to wave but her arm simply flopped off the table. “Hey, what’re you in for?”
Ellie chuckled. “We found him beating those things with the cryopod door.”
He smiled. “I’m glad you’re alright.”
“He’s just exhausted, he’ll be better in no time.”
He grunted. “The sooner the better, I need to whip up some of your favorite food, you’re looking a bit thin.”
Ellie headed off Mithra’s question. “Your biomass levels are dangerously low, basically think about it in terms of blood. Luckily for all of us Schultz knows how to whip up mostly cruelty-free biomass.”
“You’re going to have to do a bit of hunting before I do anything resembling cooking.”
“Consider it done.”
“Thank you.” Laverne’s voice trailed off as he fell asleep.
“I like his thinking.” Mithra yawned. “I think it’s time I take a proper nap.”
Ellie ruffled her hair. “Hop to it then.”
Mithra’s eyes closed, she was asleep in moments.
Cass’ voice crackled over the loudhailer. “Ellie to the cockpit please, Tomba to the cockpit please.”
“Probably pulling up to the edge of the flats,” Ellie muttered.
She hobbled down the narrow passageways weaving through several Raksha who had left the rooms to wander. She nearly bumped into Tomba as he suddenly emerged from a doorway. He turned to look at her, familiar smile spread across his face. He looked past her at the wanderers and his face quickly turned to a scowl.
“Back into the rooms, you’ll get to walk when we’re out of this accursed machine!” His thundering voice sent them scurrying back into the rooms. He looked at Ellie smile back in place. “You just need to be firm.” He clapped her back and they went up to the cockpit together. They were blasted by a chill wind as they entered the cockpit; Ellie rather regretted tearing it off in hindsight, everybody was probably freezing.
Cass looked up from the navigational monitor as the two entered. “Alright, we’re past the northern edge of the flats, we can set you down anywhere you like, any preferences?”
Tomba leaned in and glowered at the display. “There should be a stream, an offshoot of the major river running alongside these wastes. If I recall it’s about a half day’s march from the edge, near about fifty miles.”
“We’re coming up on a stream now,” Bolt called back.
Tomba nodded. “That’s the one, set us down there and we’ll make out way back to our settlement. You and your machinery take all of the joy from traveling.”
“That’s only if you’re not on a tight schedule. Speed is of the essence.”
Tomba nodded. “I wish you luck, I will gather my people in the ‘cargo bay’.” He looked at Ellie and nodded before turning from the cockpit.
Bolt eased on the flight stick and flipped several switches; the craft came to a smooth stop and began descending. Long grass was crushed beneath the massive weight of the landing craft as it sunk slightly into the soft wet earth. The whining of the rotors came to a stop; slowly the cries of the night filled the cockpit.
“Nature,” Bolt muttered.
Xypia nodded and Cass simply stared out of the window taking it all in.
Bolt stood up and stretched. “Ew,” was all she said as she left the cockpit.
Cass snorted. “She never was one to appreciate the finer things in life. How about you?”
Xypia radiated contentment.
“I’m glad you understand.”
Marge stormed into the cockpit, followed closely by a Raksha man.
His eyes were glassy as he stared longingly at her. “You’re hair burns with the fire of a thousand suns and your eyes radiate with the umber glow of the heart of the universe. Please… be my bride.” He got down on his knees.
Marge scooped him up and tossed him back down the corridor. “For the last time, no!” She whirled around to look at Cass and Xypia. “That is the tenth man to propose to me in the past half hour. Three women also tried to court me!”
Cass shot a glance back to Xypia who was wracked with silent laughter. “At least someone likes her.”
Marge’s eyes were pleading. “For the love of all that’s holy, please tell me they’re leaving!”
Cass sighed. “Yes, they’re leaving.”
Marge sighed in relief. “If anyone asks I’ll be hiding in storage closet number five.” She turned and left.
“Doubtful!” Cass called after her.
Marge harrumphed and stormed down the corridor. Cass chuckled and swiveled back around to marvel at the view. She twitched slightly as the mood in the room changed sharply. Xypia was suddenly on edge, he was peering into the thick plant growth along the edge of the stream.
Cass leaned back in the chair, feigning relaxation. “What’s wrong?” she whispered.
He held up three fingers.
Cass nodded. “Should I get the others?”
Xypia shook his head a fraction of an inch.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” Cass warned.
He threw a glance back at her.
“Don’t give me that look young man.”
He shrugged and settled back in his seat. Quick as a flash he threw himself from the shattered windscreen and into the long grass. Cass didn’t get up; she simply watched the long grass rustle and shake as Xypia beat the stuffing out of whoever was stalking them. After a few seconds Xypia came hurtling back from the long grass and sprawled on the floor.
Cass looked down at him. “Now should I call the others?”
He shook his head again; he was radiating excitement, something Cass wasn’t quite expecting. He got back to his feet and swan dove from the window again.
Cass maneuvered over to the loudhailer button. “Um, Ellie, Bolt, and… Pestilence and you come to the cockpit please?”
The long grass thrashed wildly as Xypia continued his struggle.
Pestilence and Bolt filed into the small room, Ellie was nowhere to be seen.
Pestilence peered around the cockpit. “Sorry, Ellie couldn’t make it, the Raksha are making a scene. Where’d Xypia go?”
Cass nodded in understanding. “So… Xypia jumped out of the window and appears to be fighting someone. Would you like to lend him a hand in roughing some fools up?”
Bolt looked down at Cass. “You’re not gonna help?”
“Sweetie they’d snap me in half.”
Pestilence limbered up. “I don’t usually make it a habit to jump out of windows but I think I’ll make an exception.”
Bolt stretched her neck, filling the cockpit with crackling. “You may not jump out of them but you sure as hell break them!” She sprinted toward the front of the cockpit.
“Oi!” Pestilence followed close after her.
The two leapt into the small scuffle. There were a few small whoops of surprise before they fell silent. One by one the three were launched back into the cockpit. Cass had to quickly vacate the room as Xypia smashed into the navigator’s station. They laid groaning on the floor as several sets of incredibly heavy footsteps tromped towards the cockpit. Cass began pulling the three from the cockpit as a pair of massive hands gripped the edge of the broken window, fingers digging into the hard metal. There was a quiet grunt as whoever it was pulled themselves up, a massive head rose up.
Cass’ panic instantly vanished. “Ah,” was all she could manage.
A second set of slightly smaller hands appeared next to the others and another familiar head popped up, followed by a third set of even smaller hands.
Cass crossed her arms and began tapping her foot. “Well that’s remarkably convenient.”
Wall, Wulf, and Lethe crawled inside the cockpit. Ellie came bustling down the corridor. Cass could hear her gasp quietly when she saw Pestilence and Bolt lying on the floor. She rounded the corner and…
“Tsk, you tall bastard!” Discarding her crutch she crouched down and launched like a spear into Wall’s midsection.
The two flew from the window in a tangle of limbs. Lethe and Wulf wilted slightly as the sounds of catastrophic violence leaked back into the cockpit.
Cass tilted her head. “Umm…”
Wulf broke the silence. “It was discovered that only Wall could wrestle with Ellie and live.” He rubbed at his neck. “Yeah, the old man wasn’t happy about that one.”
Cass was still lost for words, her attention turned to Lethe. He gave her a small wave and pointed at Wulf. “She accidentally killed him for a half hour.”
“Uh huh…” If Cass wasn’t intimidated by Ellie before, then that cemented it.
The cockpit shuddered as Wall was plastered across the front of the ship.
His voice was hoarse and raspy. “You win, you win.”
Ellie leapt back into the cockpit effortlessly and pulled Wall in like an overcooked noodle. She grunted in satisfaction and hopped over to reclaim her crutch. She turned around and hobbled back over to Wulf and Lethe, she pulled each of them into a smothering hug.
“Good to see you guys again! You’ve just saved us a bunch of time trying to find you.”
Lethe shrugged as he settled down in one of the nearby chairs. “We’re nothing if not convenient.”
Cass felt a small amount of suspicion well up, which confused her somewhat. “Well, what in the world are you doing out here? The whole world is out there for you lot to be wandering around in but you manage to pop up right here.”
Wulf shrugged. “Well yeah… I met up with Lethe a long time ago, probably a few millennia back, up north near the Arctic Circle. We came back down a few hundred years back and snagged Wall, and we went off and did adventure-y things. We haven’t really been in the loop so we completely missed the Shalthar and that whole mess until a few years ago when we met up with one of their collection ships.”
“That was three hundred years ago,” Cass said flatly.
“Really?” Wulf seemed genuinely surprised. “Has it been that long?” He looked down at Wall and Lethe. “What were we doing for all that time?”
Lethe shrugged. “Well there was the time you wanted to hunt down the Targus Beast of the East, The Shlachtalamarani Wisp to the far south and just about every small fuzzy creature we came across.”
Wulf scratched his chin as he remembered. “Oh yeah, but three hundred years?”
Wall finally regained his senses and stood up, his head hunched over in the rapidly shrinking cockpit. “I recall something about ‘taking your time’ and ‘not rushing things’ and ‘oh this scat is particularly fresh’.”
Wulf waved away Wall’s comments. “Yeah, yeah. So we were coming back down the river until we met up with the flats, we were going to collect everybody else and do exactly what you were planning on doing.”
Ellie leaned up against the doorframe. “And what are we planning to do?”
Wulf pantomimed punching.
Cass slouched. “We’re so predictable that they don’t even need words.”
Ellie shrugged. “We’re fans of keeping things simple.”
Cass clapped her hands together. “Well alright then, it looks like we have everybody we need, I think it’s time we pay the Monarch a visit.”
The others nodded resolutely, with the exception of Lethe who had already fallen unconscious in the copilot’s chair.
Cass shook her head. “Did nobody try to get that fixed?”
The others shook their heads. Cass shrugged and stood up, leading the others from the cockpit.
Wall stayed behind. “Here, I’ll stay back with him; you know how he hates waking up alone.”
Cass turned around, getting a face full of Xypia. She leaned around him. “Fair enough, we’ll be in the cargo bay, just so you know where to go when he wakes up.”
“Thanks, we’ll be down soon enough.”
Cass waved and led the others down the corridor.
Ellie froze for a moment as she realized something. “Hey imma break off for a moment, I want to check up on the med bay, they might be feeling well enough to join in, we might be able to finally get introductions out of the way.”
“Go right on ahead.”
Marge, true to her word, was hunkered down in storage closet number five. While she was flattered that so many people wanted her so badly, they could at least have the courtesy of looking attractive themselves. She stuck out her tongue, she couldn’t abide messy beards. It did strike her as odd though at how many of them were redheads. She sighed as she let her mind wander, already forgetting about whatever offense led to her cooping herself up in that closet in the first place. She thought back to the good old days, back when she was a pile of circuits in a box and her creator was constantly trying to figure out where her attitude came from. Marge smiled, that woman, despite creating life, never could quite grasp the intricacies of self.
Marge closed her eyes and leaned back until she was reclining against the wall. “I swear, the woman was more a machine than I am.” She sighed again.
Her ears pricked as she heard heavy footsteps thud past, she could easily tell Ellie’s unique pattern as it faded. She resigned herself to a comfortable nap in the closet.
“How far I’ve fallen.”
Her eyes opened again, something felt off. Whatever software pack she installed that gave her a sixth sense was going haywire. She slowly maneuvered herself so that she was crouching once more. She silently leaned forward, carefully peering through the tiny slits in the metal door. The lights in the corridor flickered and turned off. She could hear the Indra in the storage bay yell and jeer at the sudden darkness.
Suddenly a silhouette filled Marge’s vision. She couldn’t tell how big they were from where she was looking nor could she make out any details from the darkness. She silently cursed as she wished she got the full-spectrum visual receivers instead of the ‘classics’. Whoever it was stalked silently down the corridor, not making a sound. Marge thought for a moment. Yeah, it still could be Ellie. Marge knew from experience not to underestimate the stealthiness of the Crippled Indra.
The figure flitted around the corner and vanished from view. Marge let out a nearly inaudible sigh.
The door to the closet flew open and Marge’s world went black, she didn’t even have time to scream.
“Hey! C’mon!” Anon yelled as the lights shut off in the cargo bay.
Only Scorn’s luminescence cast a weak light in the crushing darkness.
“Oi! Stop yelling its electricity it can’t hear you!” Bolt shot back.
“I will yell at whatever I please!” Anon retorted.
“Good lord,” Ghost mumbled. “Is he still afraid of the dark?”
“I fear nothing!” Anon yelled, voice notably panicked.
Scorn thought a moment before replying to Ghost. “The dark and his wife, he fears two things.” He said it just loud enough for Anon to hear.
“We’re all afraid of his wife!” said Wulf as he entered the cargo bay.
Scorn whirled around to look at Wulf. “Ey!” He held his arm out.
Wulf grabbed the outstretched hand firmly. “Long time no see!”
There was a round of welcomes and slaps on the back as the Indra took turns greeting their ever errant brother.
Cass stood by silently as the greetings took place and quickly gathered everyone’s attention as they lost steam. “Alright everyone! Wulf also brought Wall and Lethe with him, they’d be here but Lethe’s unconscious in the cockpit.”
The sigh of relief was audible, long had they wondered about what happened to Lethe.
“Now originally we were going to take off and make a beeline right for the Citadel but it seems we’ve run into one small issue.”
“Which is?” asked Pixia earnestly.
Cass was taken off guard. If she had eyebrows they’d be raised in a questioning manner. She made the sound of clearing her throat. “Ship broke, why you think there no light?”
Pixia inhaled sharply as she realized. “Ah…” She winced as Ghost jabbed an elbow in her side.
“We’ll have to go through the ship to see where the fault is and see if it can even be fixed. If we can’t fix it then we’re hoofing it.”
“That’s a three hundred mile jog,” Anon said incredulously.
“So it shouldn’t take us more than three days.” Cass nodded.
Ghost raised her hand, stopping Cass from going on. “What about Laverne, Kid, and Mithra?”
Cass tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Yes… Alright, we still search and try to fix the ship, if we can then there’s no problem, let Mithra and Kid have a few days to get back on their feet, then we go off and do action-y things. If we can’t fix it then we split forces and have one group go off to infiltrate the Citadel nice and quiet-like and the other group stays back and follows. How’s that sound?”
“Adequate!” yelled Anon.
“Any feedback that isn’t from Anon?”
“Should we decide on groups now or after we determine the state of the ship?” asked Pestilence.
“After, we can’t be getting distracted.” Cass turned to find the Cargo Bay’s utility closet looking for flashlights. She turned around to see all of her Indra still looking to her. “Oh, um, let the fighting over Scorn begin, I’m gonna see if I can find any flashlights.”
The Indra basically enveloped Scorn, all quietly arguing who he should go with.
After some fumbling, with the grumbling of her children as a backing track, Cass finally found the supply closet. She tore the door open and faced a wall of somehow darker darkness. She turned around and yelled into the group. “Scorn get over here!”
The Indra all stopped jostling and pulling allowing Scorn to extricate himself from the scrum and walk over to where Cass was.
She grunted. “I’m really regretting not having the factory install IR sensors on your boards; can you help me find the flashlights so they can all stop arguing?”
His tone was slightly more than relieved. “Gladly. It’s weird suddenly being popular with them, feels wrong somehow.”
Cass chuckled as she began rifling through the illuminated closet. “You never liked being the center of attention, despite your appearance.” She tore open a large box; several small dome shaped objects with straps on either side were nestled inside.
“Palm lights, you hit the jackpot.”
Cass took one from the box and studied it. “Clever, when’d you ever get to see one of these?”
“When I was shanghaied into working for the Shalthar, the Citadel can get very dark in places. Not that they ever had to worry about losing me in the dark.” He chuckled contemptuously. “And I thought Wulf had it bad in the hands of the Japanese.”
“They hurt you so much, didn’t they?”
“And Kid, and Anon, when they were done with us they just locked us in that room and left us to die. The only thing that kept us from just ending it was pure stubbornness.”
“Well I’m for one glad you didn’t.” She pulled him into a quiet hug.
She could hear a few of the Indra quietly grumble, they were stopped by Pixia hushing them. She faced them wielding the box of palm lights. “Alright, dig in! Look for sparks, listen for odd crackles and keep your noses tuned for the smell of melting plastic or fish.”
“Fish?” a few of them chorused?
“Fish!” Cass replied. “Hop to it!”
The Indra scattered, beams of light waving through the darkness.
Mithra’s eyes opened to a wall of darkness. She shifted slightly on the bed trying to see her surroundings, not even her enhanced vision could make a dent in the oppressive murkiness.
“Shit, this is going to be a running theme isn’t it?”
Laverne’s voice spoke from the dark, “You betcha kiddo, this is a regular Monday evening for me.”
“I’ve seen every Monday evening of yours for the past seventeen years boyo and this ain’t like any I’ve seen.”
“Believe me, seventeen years is pretty damn short for everybody else on this old tub. You’re barely a baby in comparison to the others.”
Kid shifted, Mithra could feel her arms move on her waist. “More like a fetus,” she mumbled.
Laverne’s tone was mildly shocked. “A disgusting yet apt comparison.”
Ellie’s quiet cursing slowly faded in as she blundered down the corridor using her crutch like a visually impaired person would use a cane. There was a small whoop of surprise as she fell forward, tripping on some unseen object.
“You tell this to no one,” she growled, likely to Katrine and Vee.
“I can hear you!” Mithra called. “I can’t see you but it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what happened!”
“Don’t start with me child!” Ellie roared jokingly.
“I can and will!”
The door crashed open as Ellie ignored the concept of doorknobs and just lobbed her weight against it. She stormed into the med bay. “Well it seems your mouth is back in working order, what about the rest of you?”
Mithra wiggled slightly; she grimaced as the staples dug into her rapidly healing skin. “Functionally useless.”
Laverne chipped into the pile of ridicule. “For such action oriented folks, you Indra wind up on your backs completely helpless quite regularly.”
If Ellie had a tongue it would be stuck at Laverne, she had to settle for making the sound of a raspberry. “It’s our repressed human nature asserting itself, not that you’d know much about that.”
Laverne seethed, “right in my nonexistent heart.”
Mithra had to get back into the argument. “None of us are interested in the inner physical state of your organs Laverne!”
“Says the only one with organs!”
Ellie sounded mildly offended. “Oi, I have a brain too!”
“It’s not even yours!”
“Since when was that a factor?!”
“It’s always been a factor.”
“Why am I always the last one to hear about these things?”
“Because nobody cares enough to tell you!”
Kid stopped the mock argument dead. “Stop talking or I’ll rip your skin off!”
Mithra frowned. “Get with the program Kid, we’re having fun here.”
A drowsy finger pushed up Mithra’s chest and to her chin where it came to rest on her lips. A quiet hushing cut through the darkness. “S-s-s-skin-n-n-n,” Kid hissed.
Mithra could feel Ellie’s massive hands rest slowly on her feet, she grunted quietly. She could hear Ellie slowly make her way up the table. She could sense her standing right next to her. With the slight creaking of muscle Ellie knelt down and whispered into Mithra’s ear.
“Never get in the way of Kid and a good nap.”
Mithra exhaled loudly in agreement.
“Gimme a moment, I’m gonna tell Laverne what we’re up to so he doesn’t incite the Small One’s wrath.”
“And what are we doing?” Mithra whispered as quietly as she could.
“You’re coming inside.” Ellie poked Mithra’s temple.
She couldn’t quite repress the surge of excitement, she wanted to wriggle with enthusiasm but the ever present weight of Kid kept her stock-still. “Hurry.”
She heard Ellie shift away and across the room, the quiet cursing started up again. Mithra was learning a variety of new swears, she carefully listened and memorized, she knew she’d get the chance to use them later. There was some quiet muttering from over by Laverne and the sounds of hopping and shuffling started back up again. After an agonizing few minutes she felt Ellie loom over her once more. Her massive hands gently rested on Mithra’s shoulders and slowly made their way down her arm. She wrapped her hand around Mithra’s, holding it tightly.
Ellie leaned down and whispered in Mithra’s ear. “You have to do the heavy lifting this time. You have to come in, I can’t make you.”
“And how do I do that?”
“Focus on the presences that aren’t me then go to them.”
“How very intuitive.”
“It happens naturally, now focus.”
Mithra first focused on her hand, it felt odd, as if there were something shifting beneath her skin. It wasn’t uncomfortable it just felt odd. She could feel a similar shifting in Ellie’s massive palm, there was a small sting and it suddenly felt like her world had exploded in size.
She could feel Ellie, her thoughts and her feelings were laid bare, her memories flashed through Mithra’s eyes in an instant. A crazy menagerie of images filtered from Mithra’s mind, faces, places, smiles, frowns, screams, death were all running through her head. Suddenly her world grew cold and her vision faded into darkness.
Mithra felt a stiff breeze roll across her skin, a wave of goosebumps washed over her as she began to shiver. Her feet sunk into the loose sandy earth, dirt running through her bare feet. Her nose twitched, a horrendous smell hung in the air, battered about by the indifferent breeze. The smell of burning, the smell of blood, the vile odor of death flowed up her nose. The foul taste of bile rose in her throat. She finally cracked her eyes open as the pale heat of the sun warmed her skin.
It was a battlefield. Sloped before her, in a natural crater, lay a sea of corpses steaming in the early morning sun. Craters pocketed the shallow slope, craters ringed with more bodies. Carcasses in various states of destruction dotted the vast ocean of death. Their deaths had been as swift as they were painful. Mithra’s breath caught in her throat. She looked away, but no matter where she looked it seemed as if the waves of bodies were endless. To her back, to her sides, she looked down only to see frozen fingers grasping for the sky. Tears began to well up in her eyes, she couldn’t help it, she never thought such slaughter was possible. She heard a sniffling to her left, she wasn’t alone.
She turned to see the source of the sound. It was Ellie, she was kneeling in the dirt cradling something, sobs wracked her body. Another Indra, Lethe, stood behind her; he shook his head and turned away, marching through the field of corpses. Ellie screamed. Mithra felt not only her skin but her soul grow cold as Ellie’s wail of anguish rolled across the crater of death, reverberating across the endless piles of cold bodies.
Mithra walked across the soft earth trying to reach Ellie, her feet sinking in deeper and deeper, she could feel grasping fingers tickling the soles of her feet. The ground had pulled her up to her knees; cold bony hands had wrapped around Mithra’s ankles and were pulling her deeper. Mithra watched helplessly as Ellie screamed again. She kept screaming, an endless heartbreaking chord rang through Mithra’s head until it was finally submerged.
Mithra’s vision faded in, she was in a small dark room. She looked around, taking in her surroundings once more. The small room was actually several rooms connected in the center only separated by thin dividing walls. There was a frightened sniffling, it sounded like Ellie again. Mithra took a step forward, broken glass crunched beneath her feet. Mithra stopped suddenly and looked around the space again. The small windows in the far wall had been blown apart, the outside burned orange with the tops of pillars of flame licking at the windowsills. Smoke billowed past in thick stifling columns. Mithra took another step forward, she felt something soft beneath her feet.
She looked down only to see the sightless eyes of a young woman peering into her soul. Her blood spattered face was wreathed in matted black hair. Her mouth was twisted into a frozen scream of terror. She was laid on top of another woman, trying to protect her but whatever put the massive puncture wound in her stomach simply went through them both. The sniffling grew louder and more panicked.
Mithra looked around one of the dividing walls; a lone bed was pushed against the far wall. A small form was held in the bed with rough leather straps, struggling weakly. It was Ellie. Mithra walked closer, her feet suddenly feeling sickly warm moisture, she looked down once more, she was standing in a pool of blood. Spurts of the red liquid jetted from Ellie’s severed leg. Another small noise near the front of the space caught her attention.
A thick blue mist jetted in from the crack beneath a door. More mist flooded in from the shattered windows; soon the entire apartment was filled with the choking blue vapor. A shape writhed through the mist, slipping silkily between the billowing clouds. A familiar purring filled Mithra’s ears. A wave of mist briefly obscured Ellie from view, as it blew past; Medusa was suddenly perched atop the bed, face level with Ellie’s.
A sick cracking filled the apartment as Medusa’s mouth opened, wider and wider like that of a snake. Mithra’s vision grew black as Medusa lunged forward.
Ellie’s voice echoed through the darkness, it was quiet and quavering as if her tears were barely restrained. “You did not deserve this… I’m so sorry.”
Mithra caught a vague glimpse of Ellie’s silhouette carrying a limp body to an unseen source of light.
Mithra’s eyes snapped open. She was in the same room as before except it was bathed in a welcoming yellow light and Ellie was crouched over her looking concerned instead of being eaten by Medusa.
“Girl, you have issues,” Mithra groaned.
Another woman loomed over Mithra; it was the woman with black hair. “You’re preaching to the choir, so far I think you’re the least scarred of us all.”
“I tore out somebody’s heart and crushed it,” Mithra said flatly.
“My statement stands,” the woman affirmed.
Ellie gently pushed her away. “Shoo Katrine, you’re scaring her.” She looked back down at Mithra; her eyes twinkled as she smiled. “Let’s see if I can finally get you standing.”
“This will be attempt number four everybody!” Mithra waved her hand with four fingers held up.
Ellie looked over her shoulder. “Hey Vee, could you lend a hand? Spare no expense?”
There was a chuckling and a slightly husky woman’s voice responded. “Gladly.” A woman with a kind face and long burgundy hair put up in a messy bun appeared above Mithra.
“Before you do anything rash-,“ Mithra started.
Vee grabbed her hand and yanked her into the air, holding her suspended above her head. Vee held her out so that her legs were dangling above the ground.
Vee’s face retained the kind gentleness. “Now I’d recommend you land on your feet, the ground is surprisingly hard when you hit it from this height.” She smiled and dropped Mithra.
Her feet landed solidly on the floor, she wobbled a bit but she was finally standing under her own power. “What a twist, I could stand this whole time.”
Ari’s voice spoke behind her. “A twist is unexpected, that was just silly.”
Mithra whirled around, to see Ari framed in the open doorway. Her face wasn’t covered in a mask, but it didn’t need to be, her face was normal. The massive scar was gone, as was the enormous mouth. Her nose was stately and her lips were full, her eyes glimmered with their usual mischievous energy. She leaned against the door, clad in a fancy black evening dress; her gloved hands were wrapped around a lace parasol.
“I forgot, the last time I was in here was the gala, I feel like I’m a tad overdressed.”
Mithra looked at the others; they were clad in simple plain colored shirts and tunics with baggy cotton pants. She then looked down at herself and was filled with elation. “They’re back!” She hugged her chest.
Katrine and Vee raised an eyebrow.
Mithra looked at the others. “Let me be vain for a moment.”
The two nodded and turned away, Vee settled at the small kitchen table while Katrine made a beeline for the closet. She rifled through it for a moment before launching a wad of clothes at Mithra. She stumbled back as the clothes wrapped themselves around her head. Ari casually reached out as a wad of clothing slapped into her waiting hand. Mithra struggled with the bundle of clothing, finally managing to disentangle herself. It was a simple shirt like the others were wearing and a similar pair of pants. She slipped them on; they were somewhat loose but incredibly comfortable.
Katrine watched, amused, as Mithra tested out her new clothes. “We learned to prioritize comfort over style ages ago, it keeps things simpler.”
Ari grunted in agreement as the pulled off the dress. “Indeed, here’s hoping you never have to learn what wearing one of these feels like.”
Vee scoffed. “That was tame compared to the others. Did you see what Bolt was wearing?”
Ari scrunched her face up. “How could she breathe with that thing on?”
Katrine rolled her eyes. “How do you think I feel? I had to make the damn thing.”
Ellie chuckled as she remembered. “I think Kid had the right idea, it should have been a pajama party.”
Vee’s tone was stern. “There is no way on earth you’d get either War or Scorn in a pair of pajamas, their egos would not allow it.”
Katrine tapped her chin a smile spread across her face. “But they did participate in the pillow fight.”
“Only under duress.”
The conversation petered out as Mithra began poking around the apartment. She steered clear of the closet area where she saw Katrine and Vee’s bodies in Ellie’s memories.
“Ah… so that’s what’s bothering you…” Ari spoke up, interrupting Mithra’s exploration. “I can still hear your thoughts, even over here.”
Ellie looked between the two. “What’s up?”
Ari walked over to Mithra and looked into her eyes. “It seems her trip over was more emotionally taxing than we thought. She took a little cruise through your memories, specifically those three. The ones I was glad you omitted from your dramatic retelling of the past.”
Ellie’s face fell. “Oh dear, I can see how that would put a bit of strain on the old brainbox.” She hobbled over to Mithra and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry about it, those all happened long in the past, they aren’t worth thinking about now. C’mon how about I give you the tour.”
“But I’ve already seen everythi—,”
The door crashed open and Kid, resplendent in an absolutely eye watering pair of pajamas, waddled inside, half asleep. She looked drowsily up at Katrine, who was looking rather shocked, and pointed at the bed. Katrine rolled her eyes and hoisted Kid in her arms and carried her to the bed. Mithra could vaguely hear Kid muttering something to Katrine as she went past. Katrine basically dropped Kid onto the bed she was unconscious before her head hit the pillow.
Ellie slumped. “Old habits die hard, c’mon lets go.” She led Mithra to a door set in the far wall, one she hadn’t seen before.
Ghost and Pixia slowly made their ways down the pitch black corridor, shining their lights across the floor and walls as they went.
“Sheesh, you’d think she was angry about something,” Pixia muttered as she finally saw the extent of the damage Ellie caused.
Ghost inspected a particularly deep cut. “You’re repeating yourself, that’s just how she rolls.”
Pixia chuckled. “Yeah… remember that time she beat the crap out of us?”
Ghost threw a glance over her shoulder. “Which one? We only ever beat her that one time. Get looking, stop getting caught up in nostalgia.”
Pixia made the sound of a raspberry. “That girl have no chill.”
“Neither will I if you don’t get looking.”
Pixia scrambled to the nearest wall and began listening and smelling. “Y’know this reminds me of the scene in those old movies where the main character is moving against the wall and they feel up the butler or something.”
A voice spoke out of the darkness. “How bold of you to assume that you’d be the main character, I’d say second tier side character, at best.”
The two shot around, their beams focused on Lethe who was standing quietly in the center of the hall, they were about to scoot right past him.
He made a small wave. “’Allo.”
He was knocked to the ground as Pixia launched at him in a wild hug. “My boy!”
He looked into Ghost’s beam of light. “I see she’s as clingy as ever.”
Ghost crouched down next to them. “If she didn’t I would have. We’ve all been worried sick about you, you just up and vanished.”
His voice grew hard. “I needed some alone time, a lot of alone time.”
Ghost kept her voice calm. “That’s entirely understandable. Let’s get you back up on your feet. Pixia… drop him.”
Pixia let Lethe go and awkwardly shuffled back into the darkness while Ghost grabbed his outstretched hand and pulled him up.
“Social activity, ugh,” Lethe said jokingly.
“You have no choice when it comes to that my boy; you’re doomed like the rest of us.”
“Doomed,” Pixia intoned quietly.
Lethe chuckled somewhat humorlessly. “It’s good to know you haven’t changed a bit.”
“We’re nothing if not consistent. Wanna help us find whatever the heck knocked us out?”
“Actually I was on my way to find Cass to tell her. I did a bit of poking around the main energizer unit when the lights first went out. The thing is toast, totally fried. I’m somewhat acquainted with that form of energy unit and believe me, it’s a miracle the whole damn ship didn’t go up like a light.”
“Ellie was a bit rough on the ship.” Ghost placed her hand over a massive gash in the wall; severed piping and cables were easily visible dangling behind the wall. “Not that the Shalthar gave her much choice.”
Lethe shrugged invisibly. “Fists were always an option. Heck a few of the cuts I saw were placed perfectly to cause the most damage, a saboteur’s dream.”
The beams refocused on him, he raised his hands disarmingly. “But we know better than most how fired up she can get in the heat of the moment. What was she doing on this ship anyway?”
Pixia scratched her chin. “From what we can tell a group of nomads stumbled on her and began worshiping her as a god, we’re a religion around here y’know. The Shalthar came ‘round and stole the tribe so Ellie was going to hitch a ride and pay their master a visit.”
Ghost flashed her light down the corridor. “I pity the poor fool who get’s on her bad side.”
Lethe nodded. “Indeed, I—,” he was interrupted by a shrill scream. His shoulders slumped, “oh what does that annoyance want now?”
Ghost and Pixia exchanged unseen glances and struck off down the corridor, followed closely by Lethe. Another scream spurred them to quicken their pace.
Lethe was flagging behind, tripping occasionally on debris obscured by the darkness. “Wait up! You have no idea how hard it is getting around in the dark like thi—.” His voice cut off sharply. There was a loud crash as he collapsed onto the floor.
Ghost and Pixia stopped their lights beaming on Lethe’s unconscious form.
“Why didn’t we get that fixed when we got the chance!” Pixia was slightly more than annoyed. She rushed back and hoisted Lethe over her narrow shoulder and struck back after Ghost.
As Ghost rounded a corner she collided headlong with Bolt, they both fell back into their partners. Pixia lost her hold on Lethe as she fell back and Pestilence stumbled back, putting a grasping fist through the metal wall.
Ghost rubbed her forehead. “Was it the screaming?”
Bolt huffed. “Yeah, I was rather hoping to see something tear that annoying thing to pieces.”
“Join the club,” Pestilence mumbled.
“Weren’t you on Marge’s side?” Pixia asked earnestly as she scooped Lethe from the ground.
Pestilence made a sound very close to a growl. “I’ve had a very long time to reflect on what happened, let’s just say that the years have not kept me quite as convinced as I was in that moment.”
Bolt laughed openly. “It didn’t help that I kept beating you at Fish’em babe.”
Pixia cocked her head, not missing that last word. “Babe? That’s my line, isn’t it, babe?”
Ghost nodded. “Is there something you’ve been keeping a secret?”
Bolt shrugged. “I mean, when you’re stuck with someone for several thousand years you tend to grow attached.”
Pestilence retorted. “Only several thousand years? Oh dear, snookums, how quickly you’ve grown to love my charms.”
Bolt pointed a finger into the gloom. “I will destroy you at arm wrestling!” She was pulled deeper into the dark as Pestilence grabbed the finger and pulled. Bolt’s palm light fell to the ground.
Ghost leaned down and picked up the ownerless light. “Isn’t that what the kids call cuddling these days?”
There was some annoyed grunting to Ghost’s right; she flashed her lights toward the noise. Bolt was illuminated holding a struggling Pestilence above her head. The two froze at Ghost and Pixia’s snickering.
“Romance is dead.” Ghost tossed the palm light over to Bolt and went off after Marge’s scream. Bolt carelessly dropped Pestilence to snatch the light out of the air. Pestilence in an unusual display of agility, twisted her body to land back on her feet.
Ghost poked her head into several small rooms dotted around the corridor, they were the ones used to hold the Raksha though they were now used to hold the corpses of the Shalthar Ellie dealt with. There was a faint whimpering down the corridor, several rooms down. Ghost crept over slowly scanned her flashlight around the room. Just as she was about to turn away, a flash of red hair stopped her. Marge was pressed up against the wall, next to the door. Though she didn’t need to breath she was in the process of hyperventilating. She raised a shaky finger, pointing to the few Shalthar bodies piled up in the far corner. Ghost flicked her light over the bodies; she detected the faintest of movements. The others had gathered behind her, one by one she waved them inside, keeping them against the wall. She clapped a hand over Marge’s mouth cutting off her quiet but obnoxious noises and slowly entered the room herself. The body moved again, a nearly imperceptible movement. Keeping the Indra against the wall as backup, Ghost approached the corpse.
There were faint breaths coming from the pile, nearly inaudible. Perhaps one of the Shalthar had faked their death and had sabotaged the energy unit; perhaps they had radioed the Monarch for good measure. Ghost wrapped her hand around the neck of the topmost corpse and braced herself to tear it away. She held out her free hand with three fingers raised, she slowly dropped them as she counted down.
She ripped the corpse away and the Indra rushed forward.
Ghost’s cry halted the Indra’s momentum; they all tumbled to a halt.
“Son of a bitch!” Ghost screamed.
Cass looked up from the energizer unit. “Did you two hear screaming?”
Anon and Xypia nodded.
Cass when back to her inspection. “Hmm, probably nothing to worry about, it only sounded like Marge.” She pulled off a small inspection panel, it was horribly dented. “Jesus wept!” A wad of destroyed electronics fell from the small space. “That’s the regulator, that’s the thing that doles power out to the rest of the ship.”
Anon crouched and prodded the mess of wires. “Could the ship feasibly have flown with this thing torched like this?”
Cass thought for a moment, she stood up and walked over to a small bank of displays and meters, she tapped at a small meter. “Ah… reserves, this thing was basically flying on batteries the whole way here, they finally drained.”
“Just enough juice to get out of danger and set down.”
Cass turned back to the energizer. “But that damage is what’s confusing me.”
It was Xypia’s turn to explain. He gestured for Anon to stand next to him and carefully picked him up.
Anon was unfazed. “I see where you’re going with this.”
Zypia then pantomimed smashing Anon’s head into the energizer.
Cass nodded. “Shalthar helmets are hard enough to make a dent like that but the total destruction of the internals?” She shrugged. “Call me crazy but it almost seems deliberate.
She shrugged harder. “I don’t know the tech; it could be incredibly fragile for all I know.”
There was another scream, multiple screams layered on top of each other. That got Cass’ attention. “Hol’ up, I know all of your screams… excluding a member of present company. One of those was something new.”
Anon nodded. “It sounded vaguely human, but I’ve never heard such a visceral scream.”
Cass jogged from the room. “C’mon let’s see what’s got everyone so frightened.”
Scorn, Wall, and Wulf were stopped down a nondescript dark corridor.
Scorn grunted in annoyance. “Since when did this ship get so big?”
Wall shrugged. “I can’t really tell. I’m just looking down all the time.” His head was bent pretty sharply forward.
Scorn looked up at him; he’d forgotten just how huge Wall was. Eight feet of broad muscle, just edging out Ellie by a few inches, his shoulders nearly touched either side of the corridor he was so wide.
“I’m sorry bud but I don’t think they built this thing with you in mind.”
He sighed sadly. “You’d think I’d be used to it at this point… I miss the tower, all the ceilings were eight foot five exactly, I miss that.”
Wulf grunted as his keen hearing picked up a small noise to the group’s front. He signaled for the two to quiet down as he listened further.
A chuckle emerged from the gloom. Schultz spoke in a slightly mocking gravelly tone. “And what is it mine nose smells? An Indra who hasn’t washed in a thousand years gone… There is only one who it could be… Wulf!”
He yelled into the gloom. “Oh, were back to that one again old man! Come on, I can’t smell nearly as bad as the cheddar growing underneath your toenails!”
“I wish I could turn off my nose to spare myself from your odor, O Foul One.”
Wulf turned to the others, they quickly averted their gaze. He looked back at the unseen Schultz. “Fair enough, find me a shower and I’ll have a wash!”
Laverne’s voice was clipped with unseen laughter. “Your tone does not strike much confidence.”
Wulf looked back at the others and stalked into the darkness, seeking his new prey. “Excuse me a moment, I need to have a quick chat with our favorite senior citizen.”
Scorn sighed and shook his head. “Wall you go with him, keep him out of trouble.” He leaned in as close as he could and whispered. “There are emergency showers in some of the utility closets, good luck.”
Wall nodded silently and went off after Wulf. Scorn watched him go, and waited a while until their tramping footsteps had faded; he quickly turned around and made a beeline for the med bay. The room illuminated slightly as he entered, jagged shadows were cast against the walls. He looked in distain at the light he created, a walking flashlight, a basic utility disguised as an Indra. He quietly walked through the room, being careful to leave plenty of space between himself and the hulking shape of Ellie.
He began slowly opening and closing all the cabinets and drawers he could find, not finding what he was looking for. He looked into one of the utility sinks, in a pool of murky water laid a scalpel, gleaming in his light. He grabbed it and pulled it silently from the water. He whisked the moisture off with his finger; a small drop of biomass fell from the small cut on his fingertip. He grunted in satisfaction. He stretched his arm out and looked for a good spot. He zeroed in on a small spot on his inner arm right before the bend of his elbow. He placed the scalpel onto his skin, he hesitated.
“C’mon… It’s not that hard… you’ve had worse,” he muttered, psyching himself up.
He stuck the scalpel into his skin. He winced as a sharp feeling of icy cold spread across his arm. He began sawing a square of his skin away. The Icy cold was quickly replaced with a terrible burning sensation. His fingers grew slick on the handle of the scalpel as biomass dribbled from the cut and onto the floor. He pulled off the thin square of skin; it glowed cheerily as it dripped more of his black blood onto the ground. Scorn dropped it onto the floor and ground it beneath his heel. He almost forgot the pain in his arm as he destroyed that despised part of him. He grabbed a nearby roll of gauze, leftover from when Anon bandaged Mithra, and wrapped his arm in it.
His whispering was shaky as the pain began radiating from his arm in force. “We’ll just say I tripped and cut my arm on some metal, that’s believable enough given the state of this place.” He looked over at the still forms of Mithra and Ellie. “Yeah.” He placed the scalpel back into the sink and left the med lab.
He didn’t get far before a figure shot out of the darkness. Schultz collided head-on with Scorn as he rushed around a corner. The two fell back, landing in a pile of debris with a crash. Scorn groaned as he felt a shard of jagged metal rake across his side. He sighed as Schultz got up.
Schultz’ tone was apologetic. “Sorry Scorn, I actually didn’t see you coming.”
“If we could all be so lucky,” Scorn muttered. “Welp, back to the med bay gotta patch another cut.” He brandished his bandaged arm. “Only now that I can’t see it do I realize how badly Ellie tore this place up. Four minutes to do this!”
“You were keeping track of time?”
“It’s a nasty habit,” he grumbled as Schultz pulled him back to his feet. “Recipe for disaster they name is Indra.”
A chorus of screams echoed down the narrow hallways.
The Indra converged on the source of the screaming, all prepared for the worst. A wall of light filled the room as the Indra attempted pile in. Ghost, Pixia, Bolt, Pestilence, and Marge were all piled in the corner of the room, quietly looking at the baby cooing in the corner.
There was a choir of disgusted grunts and frightened groans as the Indra saw the tiny human laying on a pile of corpses.
Cass looked at them all with a sense of wonderment. “It’s just a baby, why are you so scared?”
“Because it’s a baby,” Bolt whispered.
“You will literally wade through an ocean of death and blood without flinching but a baby makes you cower like children.”
“Don’t bring those things up!” Anon cried, he had fled back into the corridor.
She looked over at him, her bewilderment growing. “What!? You’ve all been alive for how long and you still don’t understand children!?”
“They’re so loud!” yelled Pixia.
“And smelly!” wailed Bolt.
“And needy,” Pestilence shuddered.
Ghost would have added but she’d basically shut down entirely, she was overwhelmed with fear and disgust.
“And just look at it! It’s so ugly!” Marge cried.
Cass looked between the two. “I’d say the resemblance is remarkable.”
Marge sank to the ground and curled up in the fetal position. “Don’t say that,” her tone was monotonous.
Cass looked to the ceiling for strength and stepped towards the baby. The Indra gasped as she approached the thing and scooped it up.
She glared around at her children. “It seems I’ve found where your humanity ends, the mind boggles I never thought I’d live to see the day.”
Wall and a soaking wet Wulf poked their head’s around the doorway. “What’s going on!?”
Anon pointed a shaky finger. “B-b-baby.”
Wulf bolted down the corridor with a yell.
Wall glanced quickly between the rapidly departing Wulf and the baby in Cass’ arms. “With respect ma, but fuck that!” He shot off after Wulf.