NGC 6814

“There are definitely humans in that thing.”

It was a strange comment about the fast approaching Galaxy. One which gave the crew who heard it pause.

The first mate a man most called Watty, whose given name was Saul, turned to the Chief Engineer and smirked, the small dark skinned man he had come to trust during training and who had earned his friendship gave him a knowing smile back.

This trip had been a long one. The small twenty man crew was aboard an explorer class ship coasting 75 million light years from Earth and nobody felt fully awake yet from the decade of cyrosleep.

The captain would be allowed the ridiculous comment.

“Yes sir,” the second in command responds, “there will be.”

‘No,’ the word comes out like a dying croak. ‘There are humans there, I feel it. Turn the ship around! We need to go home.”

The silver haired Frenchman, who was rumored to be given command of the Starlight to get him out of the Sol system before an inquiry about unauthorized spending brought down the whole program, leaped for the controls being manipulated still by an auto pilot program.

First thing they teach you at the academy is a ship going near light speed wants to keep going near light speed so it should never be stopped going near light speed without the step down procedures.

The captain was going for the kill switch though. It was called the kill switch because that’s what it would do if touched:

kill everyone.

If he is allowed to touch the controls not only will the mission end, but so will all of their lives and any hope of exploring the NGC 6814 galaxy.

The captain would have gotten to the controls easily to if not for the huge hand of the Russian maintenance tech that grabbed him by the cuff of his shirt lifting him so that only his tippytoes brushed on the rubber coated aluminum floor.

Comically the captain works his legs like he could still loco mote on the magnetically charged flooring.

“Crazy little man is sleep sick. Maybe more sleep make you feel better,” and with a lazy smack the captain is knocked out cold by a face sized well placed palm strike.

Saul stares at the prone now snoring man.

“Captain, shall we maintain heading and speed?”

It takes a moment to recognize what just happened. Mutiny, he was now in command. Saul Watson was now captain. “Yes,” he answers the chief. “Place the oldman in the brig and continue straight on towards our destination.”

 

Droken

Droken sits a bit away from the rest of his party. He is thinking about stuff that bothers him. He decides elves bother him and he doesn’t like them. He thinks they are shiny and smell like flowers and they look too soft and their hair shimmers like cloudless nights after a deep snowfall.

As a dwarf with no mountain Droken hates elves more than he hates Moradin.

He especially hates Starla and her golden skin and her huge blue eyes and her soft touch and her real good healing spells.

Deep in his thinking Droken is startled when the human bard yells from just behind his shoulder, “Hey guys Droken’s drawing elves in the dirt again.”

“No I ain’t,” he says quickly scrubbing the figure he had been sketching in the dirt away with his foot and throwing the short length of stick into the woods. “No I ain’t, neither.”

 

Space Marine

Harold fingers the button behind his ear but decides not yet. Maybe he can make it tonight without it. Maybe the last time was in fact the last time. Maybe he won’t have to remember, he hopes, even as the memories begin to drip into his thoughts.

Harold is a veteran. He fought on Europa. He killed fish. He killed fish-fathers protecting their fish-families. He stomped on freshly laid fish-eggs containing fish-babies destined for fish-sentience. He killed fish-mothers guarding their fish nests and fish-grandmas minding fish-stoves.

He personally killed thousands and thousands of fish. He watched them fall and be instantly replaced by thousands more fish ready to die.

The worst part is he isn’t sure whether the blue-scaled sea beasts deserved it or not. Humans invaded their world. Destroyed their civilization, but in the end, he felt like he was just protecting himself. They would just come and come and come. They would kill marines and devour the flesh right off the bone as marine bullets rained into their bodies.

The image of their jagged toothed face stretched into a hideous smile while dripping human blood haunts his dreams every night.

Eventually, they had to nuke the fish cities under the ice. Marines went in to do clean up. Marines went crazy when they saw the bombs did nothing to quell the numbers.

They just kept coming. More and more. Ten replacing every single one killed.

Harold does not like to think of himself as crazy, but he can’t sleep anymore and this night is no different.

Tonight he tried to sleep, but the face of his buddy Tony kept creeping up on him. If not Tony’s face, one of the hundred others he watched die every day joins him in his dreams.

They all are set upon by hungry fish screaming as the flesh is pulled from their bones.

He climbed out of bed deciding to walk it off.

He tries to walk it off every night.

He likes the pathway that circles the whole hab. It measures fifty miles. He has never felt the need to walk the whole thing, just a couple miles of it. He will walk a few hundred feet and stop and soak in the quiet from down below. Twenty million sleeping people live in a dome orbiting the moon.

He has trouble believing he gets to live here, sometimes he feels lucky.

Then the images of his war will spring up out of nowhere.

A devastated city deep under the ice shimmering with the light of Jupiter.

The men talked about how it must have looked before the nukes. Blue crystal shards are all that remain. Blue crystal shards and angry fish.

Piles of dead, piles and piles of dead marines being eaten by angry fish.

Nothing could stop the fish but abandoning the planet, and they did, but not until they threw all they had against them. But they just kept coming, billions and billions of them, nothing slowed their numbers, or cooled their anger.

Or stop the memories from ramming themselves into his brain.

Humans never went back to Europa. Leery, they set up watch and waited for the fish to come get their revenge. It’s been a decade and so far so good, but still Harold knows they are owed a revenge and if they come he knows he will kill himself before facing them again.

Two fighters race across the horizon of the moon. Probably just maneuvers, but still it makes his anxiety soar.

Harold does not know why he was asked to go in the first place. Maybe revenge for the first Europa exploration mission. Maybe resources. Maybe politics. Maybe preservation of humanity. Maybe so this nice dome could be built so the old folks can enjoy a view of the moon as they die.

Harold isn’t old, but he can’t work anymore either and feels the gravity of death pulling on him, getting closer every day.

He stops again and leans against the pathway railing and looks down at the homes below . The shimmering swimming pools. The lawn furniture. The grills. The fake grass. Happy people who don’t have to think about Tony screaming for help as he is being eaten alive. Eaten alive for what? So Harold can escape back to the surface and board a waiting evac ship?

Harold fingers the button behind his ear again. There is an implant there that turns off the negative thoughts. The V.A. gave it to him. Some of the guys he knows who made it back say it’s to save the government money on meds and therapy.

Harold still takes meds and goes to therapy. Nothing helps. But he hates hitting the little button. It does what they say it’s going to do. It makes his thoughts better, but then his thoughts always return to Tony and the fish.

Always.

He presses the little skin-tone colored button behind his ear anyway. He can’t help it. He needs the thoughts to stop. He needs to sleep.

He feels the dopamine receptor fire a burst of chemicals into his hippocampus and instantly he feels better.

Instantly he remembers he is a Space Marine. A Space marine until he dies.

Idiots

Hi, name is Harold.

You might have noticed, I have kind of an odd set up here. Not usual to see a guy in Fremennik skeleton armour swinging from the magma-dripping maw of a rock dragon.

Let’s just say we have an arrangement.

She lets me call her Sara.

Whoa there big guy, why don’t we start this little parlay here by putting our giant swords back in our little sheaths, shall we?

We can all be gentlemen, or ladies, as the case may be, madam cleric?

That’s a bit better. Have a seat relax.

I wouldn’t suggest coming any closer either, ole Sara here is kind of the jealous type, and she’s been a bit picky with her food lately. Only likes stuff that fights back. So please, if you feel like doing a bit of swimming in Sara’s digestive tract by all means. I would not want to be the one to stand, or swing, as the case may be, in your way.

So anywho, a rock dragon is a pretty unique thing in these lands I surmise. Maybe one day if you are lucky to walk away from this little encounter, you can make it up North. That’s where I found Sara, the Northland, just off the coast.

Raised her from an egg, I did. Isn’t that right baby? Just happened upon her one day. Well, that’s not entirely true. I do a fair bit of treasure hunting and sometimes my hunts bring me to the bottom of the Deep Water.

Rescued her from a brood of dagannoth. Bloody disgusting creatures. Never less than a hundred in a nest at any one time. Kill the queen and you are good to go, but they will protect that sea bitch to the last of them.

You look shocked, Madam cleric. You have heard of dagannoth before? Or have your sensitivities been injuried? Oh well, either way, I don’t recommend any novice looking for treasure seek them out, but I’ve got certain abilities with manipulating elements, so really not much challenges me.

One element worth having control over is air. Need it to breathe. Even us nearly God-like creatures. It is never really an issue as long as I have the consumables and what kind of idiot would hunt without them? Consumables are usually easy to come by, for this spell you would just need a little milkweed and shark liver flake and wham, you can breathe the oxygen out of water.

I’m no teacher though, so if you want exact measurements or a little instruction I could not recommend enough the art of reading. Try it some day. Pick up a book. It’s not difficult. Well maybe for mister loincloth there.

Don’t get mad big guy, I just call ’em as I see ’em.

So, back to our little situation, me and Sara here have a problem and we are kind of hoping you all can help us out.

You see, we aren’t really ones to appreciate being beat and we aren’t too good for a bit of back handedness – I’m getting ahead of myself here, let me back up – when we discovered the lore behind the Mountain Dwarves that carved out this place, we knew we would find a certain something worth killing for. So we came looking, but it seems you may have beaten us to it.

Oh, oh, oh, no use hiding it now. I’ve seen it, haven’t I?

I know, I know it’s not fair and all that, but I’ll tell you what, we don’t much care about the coin or any of the other Dwarven crap that you might have dug out of there and dragged up here to the surface, what we want are the gems, specifically the diamonds, more specifically the large blue glowy one I can see in your sack right there.

So I can give you a bit of a choice. Sara here is hungry. And I have primed up a few new spells I’m itching to try. Not going to tell you which ones, no use ruining the surprise, but once I let a few of them loose it’s going to hurt a fair bit and I can promise the four of you aren’t going to be seeing home again unless you have a friend hiding about who can do a little resurrection magic.

Now I can see your little brains working it out. Let me help you with the math here. There is only one of me and a rock dragon. Maybe you are wondering how hard can it be take down a rock dragon. I mean, you look like the butchy type. You two got nice shiny armor and maybe enough of a connection with your God to make the fight last long enough to hurt really bad. Mr. Barbarian there already showed me the sharp edge on his weapon and the guy in the back there with the little glasses and the billowy robes can probably cast a spell or two, but let me get you to ask yourself one question: how many dark elves have you ever seen swinging from the glowing mouth of a dragon before?

***

Idiots.

Sara, can you fly on a full belly, baby?

 

 

3:45

“The clock is stopped at 3:45. Think that was morning or night?” Steve asks. He is feeling overly talkative and knows Paul doesn’t like it when he gets chatty, but he’s nervous. Something about the old train station. Maybe it’s the history. Maybe how this whole city went from vibrant spring day to fiery nightmare without warning. The bombing started and went on for days. Millions died. Millions more lingered before dying of wounds or the sickness. Then hunger took quite a few more. When the ground opened it swallowed the rest.

“Doesn’t matter. How close are we?”

Steve Checks his tab. “A mile or more. Maybe a bit less.”

“And the bio signal?”

“Keeping pace. Like its stalking us. Do you think it could be a…’ his voice trails off. He knows Paul doesn’t believe in the rumors and he needs this job. ‘Never mind.”

Paul looks back and the two men make brief eye contact and Steve sees fear. Somehow Paul’s fear makes Steve less uncomfortable, makes him feel sane. Imagined monsters can’t be fought. But real monsters maybe they actually can win against.

“Let’s go,” Paul says in almost a whisper, before dropping a line and climbing over a steep ledge.

With a glance into the inky black behind them Steve shivers before following his boss over.