Travelling through the Heart of Darkness

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Travelling through the Heart of Darkness

Post by Casey on Sat Apr 30, 2016 5:14 pm

Chapter 1


Casey could not forget Andrew’s face, pinched with worry and narrowed by paranoia. He had spoken in pained whispers in a café near the starport. He had given Casey a name and an address, and admitted that he also was thinking of abandoning his wife and newborn son, for their safety. “Just a week or so,” he had said, “and I’ll follow you there. We have to start a new life. We can’t trust anyone. Not anymore.”

Casey remembered those words as he pulled his trunk down the walkway at New Detroit’s Kennedy downport. He walked through the Expedited Line to get out of the starport. He had looked over the system’s TAS travel requirements, and had nothing to declare. In twenty minutes he was in a cab driven by a talkative Vargr who took him to the Darktown neighborhood. The name for the red light district where Two Fingered Charlie lived was not a good omen.

Lobos floated majestically above, easily visible through the rainclouds. It gloriously bathed in the light from the system’s two suns. It was currently dark in the city. New Detroit City was in the middle of its own Long Night, and wouldn’t see the Suns for quite some time. The gravity was almost Earth-normal, and the rain made the atmosphere was pleasant to breathe after weeks of canned starship air.

The Vargr dropped him of several blocks away from his target, and Casey walked the rest of the way. He stopped in the entryway of an abandoned warehouse, rustling through his pack for his humidor. He chose a short stubby cigar. Don’t want the cherry to get wet, he thought. At least my hat will give this little one some protection. He clipped the head, and slipped the thimble-shaped Endurolight over the foot. Seconds later he was savoring the cool flavor of the smoke. He walked on.

Eventually he came to a dilapidated apartment building, a ten story monstrosity that might have well have been designed by the most ardent opponents of beauty. The Crown Garden Apartments, Casey thought. Now that’s funny!

The front door to the building was inexplicably in an alley only feet away from another building of its kind. Greasy rainwater washed down the gutters, and Casey saw a fat Terran rat sliding down the alley. He opened the door to the building – the lock looked like it had been broken for a generation or more – climbed up the stairs to the third level and walked down the hallway until he found a dirty white door with the number 303 scrawled on it in black permanent marker.

Casey knocked. After a brief wait there was no answer. He pressed the buzzer, hearing the muffled noise within. There was still no answer. He tried the buzzer again, holding down the button for several seconds. Nothing. Casey leaned in to listen. In the permanent night he wasn’t sure if Charlie would be asleep or perhaps occupied with his day job, whatever that might be.

He didn’t hear anything, yet he caught the smell of something burning, and a harsh metallic scent. Casey leaned in closer; something was definitely not right. Abandoning subtlety, he began to kick the door. It was heavily framed for an apartment door in a rundown tenement building, but after a half dozen kicks he got it open, the two deadbolts knocking away the frame.

It was completely dark inside. Casey was about to reach for his flashlight, but then he realized what it was he was smelling: the sickly scent of burning flesh. He reached for his trunk and pulled out his shotgun. It was not an impressive weapon, a local and probably unlicensed copy of the Ling Standard Close Assault Weapon. He had left Mora in a hurry, and had left instructions for his LSP – HDP Advanced to be sent to him via X-Boat priority post. He had been registering his location with the X-Boat Service encrypted channel – and had paid enough in shipping to send the weapon to the other side of the galaxy – but it had not yet arrived in any of the systems he had been in.

Still, his CAW-C was a serviceable weapon, and more to the point it had a light mounted underneath the barrel. Casey quickly cleared the small apartment, at first only peripherally noting the two bodies on the bed. The weapon light clicked on and off as he tactically searched the filthy kitchen, closet, bathroom and studio bedroom/dining room. There was no one alive but him.

He returned to look at the bodies. They had been locked in sexual intercourse, with a large cybermodded man and much smaller woman. Their flesh showed signs of extreme electrical burns, their blackened corpses mostly turned to carbon. There were no obvious visible signs of trauma from any weapon. The electrical outlets and lights in the room had all exploded as if they had undergone some sort of unimaginable power surge.

There was a piece of paper on the man’s chest, white and unburned. It had clearly been placed there post mortem. Casey slowly reached for the paper. It had three lines: “CD”/”Regret”/”D”. Fighting the horror of the realization that the message somehow was for him, he pocketed the piece of paper. A cursory search of the apartment yielded no computers, records, or anything of the sort.

Casey had to get out. He preferred not to go out the way he came in – standard S3 protocol. Casey moved to the rear of the apartment where a door went out onto a balcony. He carefully opened the door – no one was there. Looking over the rail, he saw a man standing below him in the dim light of the street lamps, looking up at Casey with wild eyes.

“Um, ah, he just left,” the man said. He looked like a transient.

Who, thought Casey. Still, he didn’t want to have a conversation about a double murder from this balcony. “Alright,” he said. “Stay right there and I’ll be right down.” There was no fire escape, so he hurried back out of the apartment and down the stairs, cursing the ancient steps as they creaked beneath his feet. He made it out to the now-empty street. The bum was nowhere to be seen.

Damn.

Casey heard the approach of a siren. The police here weren’t lackadaisical. Casey moved quickly. He spotted an abandoned and stripped vehicle that looked like it had been crashed into a building. Casey crawled into the passenger space and looked through a rusted hole in the side of the derelict vehicle.

A swarm of policemen was there in minutes. Casey pulled out his hyperspectral goggles and put them on. He watched as the police cordoned off the area and set up posts to keep away the curious. The police had found the transient, and roughly threw him into the back of a van. Minutes later more officers arrived, and Casey guessed by the difference in their uniforms that they were homicide detectives.

Casey would have to wait them out. If he left now while the police were there in force he would be spotted. About an hour later another man arrived in an ancient and ill looking ground car. A man smartly dressed in a suit got out and conferred with a female detective. They both went into the building.

While the man was inside, Casey noticed a dark stretch ground car around the corner down the street. It had its lights off. Two large men, similar in size to the burnt corpse inside the apartment, walked up to the car. They spoke to someone inside for a few minutes, and then took up positions across the street and down the road from the Crown Garden Apartments.

The man in the suit was inside for an hour or so. He finally emerged from the building and went into the same ground car that held the transient. While he was in the van, something odd happened. One of the patrolmen – the one who was holding a clipboard – walked over to the suit’s car and started to fiddle with the interior. Casey found this curious, and linked his handcomp to his goggles to record the incident. After some manipulation, the top of the engine compartment popped open. The officer went to it and started taking bits and pieces out of it. When he finished, he again closed the lid to the engine compartment and walked back to his post.

Several minutes later the suit came out of the back of the van, this time with the bum. The suit spoke to the female detective for a minute or so, and then got into his car with the bum. After several minutes of trying to start his car – with the bum amusingly poking around inside the engine – the two of them walked down the street together. Casey saw the patrolman with the clipboard speak into a wrist mike. Casey again thought that was odd, as the officer had a communication headset, until he saw the two goons walk after the suit, with the stretch groundcar slowly trailing behind. Ah, one of those planets.

Casey had seen enough. A few minutes later most of the officers packed up their gear and left, leaving Casey free to melt into the shadows of the street.

Only moments later Casey was making his way towards a low cost street motel. He was looking every which way, wary of an ambush or police patrol. He made his way through alleyways and less populated streets, until only a few blocks away he came upon a familiar face: the transient that he had seen earlier on the street below the balcony was going through a dumpster, pulling out day old doughnuts.

The bum looked up at Casey, recognizing him with wide eyes. He quickly turned and began to run away. Trailing his steamer trunk, Casey slowly walked after him, lighting another short cigar. He soon caught up to the homeless man at the dead end of the alley. The bum had a look of dread resignation on his face.

“Do I know you?” the bum asked.

“Nope. We’ve never met,” answered Casey, intrigued by the question. “Name’s Casey.”

“Aha! Casey! Casey DuQuette! The Saurus Slayer! How did you escape from prison? Didn’t you get a life sentence?”

Casey tried not to cringe at the reference. He sighed. “Thirty-six thousand, three hundred and seventy-two consecutive life sentences. Let’s talk, but not here. Let’s go find something to eat.”

Ten minutes later they were sitting in Jimmy’s Café, chowing down the plain fare and swilling sour coffee. The man – his name was Remy – smelled of low berth fluorine and dumpster filth. He told Casey about the man that he had seen at the balcony.  Remy had been looking up into the night rain, when he had seen a man standing on the balcony. As he watched, the man completely disappeared from Remy! Only seconds later he saw Casey appear on the balcony. In turn, Casey showed Remy the video of the crooked patrolman disabling the detective’s vehicle and signaling the gangsters.

The two of them had pushed away their plates, and were smoking Casey’s cigars when the detective walked in. Casey had positioned himself where he could see the door. He instantly recognized the pressed suit and the narrow, black tie. Casey had nowhere to go, and at any rate from some of the hints that the transient had dropped, Casey knew that he wanted to talk to him. Casey waved the man over, and he sat down at one of the spare seats at the table.

Casey and the man – Callin Roth – introduced themselves. He was a private investigator, and began to question Casey about the murder scene. Casey told him partially the truth, that he was in the shipping industry, and had been told by a friend on Iderati that Charlie might have work for him. Casey went in, saw what Callin had seen, and had left.

Callin – perhaps a little too trusting of Casey – told him that Charlie had worked for the mob, and that Mr. Muscatelli, one of the mob bosses, had taken Callin off of the streets and had offered him a great deal of money to leave town and not investigate the murders. The dead woman was a call girl who worked for a high class brothel.

The dead gangster had a video camera outside his door, and they had seen video of Casey kick in the door, and then leave only a few minutes later. Damn, I looked for countersurveillance!

Callin told him that when he returned to his office, a woman was waiting for him. She offered him a job: find her twin sister. She tried to conceal that she was the wife of Muscatelli, but the shrewd detective had divined the relationship. She gave him 20KCr in cash as an advance, and Callin took the job.


The dame was waiting for me at the office. She had a job for me. I didn't trust her, but the sound of the kilocredits rustling as she pulled the stack out of her ample bosoms was enough to convince me to take the investigation.

As they spoke, Casey tried to analyze Callin’s personality type. He felt that Callin was honest and straightforward, a professional private investigator. Casey was suddenly gripped by an odd sensation, as if he could see into the man’s soul – and that man’s soul was looking into his own. Casey quickly pushed the feeling out of his mind. Too much coffee, not enough sleep.

They discussed their situation. They were all involved in some sort of mob plot. Casey didn’t say it, but he was also being sought by an assassin. For Casey the solution to the problem was obvious – take the gangster up on his offer and leave town, get a few parsecs away from this place and then reassess the situation. At any rate, it wouldn’t be safe to stay at anywhere that they could be found by either the police or the mob. For Casey, it seemed that being found by one would be the same as being found by the other.

Before they left, Casey went into the alley behind the diner and changed his clothing. He regretfully tossed his Australian hat. Callin had told him that his face on the surveillance video at the gangster’s apartment didn’t show his face, but the hat was distinctive.

Callin decided that he could not stay at his home either. They decided to find a hotel and lie low for the time being. None of them had a vehicle, so they began to walk to their destination. As they arrived at the hotel, Casey had a vague, unidentifiable feeling of unease. Casey suddenly decided that they should try somewhere else. Casey and Remy walked on, but Callin walked into the hotel office.

Callin only stayed there for a few moments, and then walked out. He saw a dark colored luxury ground car roll by slowly, following Casey and Remy a hundred yards ahead. As they passed Callin they suddenly hit the brakes. Callin caught up with Casey and Remy, and pointed out the groundcar as it slowly followed them. The car stayed with them for another few seconds, and then sped off.

As they continued on to another hotel, Callin received an audio call on his handcomp.

“Hey Veronica!” he answered. “No, I’m still looking…. Hey! I got kidnapped by the mob, what can you expect?.... No, don’t worry, I’ll find him, he sticks out like a sore thumb…. What? Perkins says the bum was messing with my engine? Well that explains why my car broke down…. Alright! Calm down, I’ll get him.”

He ended his transmission. The cops wanted Remy back. The dirty cop was blaming him for the sabotage of Callin’s groundcar. Nice redirect, thought Casey. Too bad it’s not going to fool anyone.

They got to the new hotel and found their room. Casey immediately swept for bugs and finding none, he turned on his pink noise generator.

They had a lot to talk about. Who was this assassin who had murdered the hit man and the call girl? What did he have to do with Casey and his flight from Mora? How did he disappear from Remy? Psi? High tech? He was clearly targeting Casey, but why hadn’t he killed him when he so easily could have done so? Casey vaguely explained that he was on the run, but didn’t share too many details.

Suddenly Callin looked at his handcomp as it buzzed at him.

“Ah, someone’s breaking into my office,” he said nonchalantly.

“Um, do you want to go there and see what’s going on?” Casey asked.

“Nope,” was Cal’s quick reply.

Casey decided to show a little more trust. He showed Callin the note that he had taken from the dead man. The initials clearly showed that he was the actual target of the murders. The hit man and hooker might have almost collateral damage. Callin examined the note, and observed that the paper that had it had been written on had once had writing on it, but had been bleached. Remy mixed together some shampoo, toilet cleaner, and shaving cream and handed the concoction to Callin. Mystified at the speed with which Remy had created the compound, he nevertheless applied it to the paper.

“Huh,” Callin said. “It looks like an obituary.” He handed the palimpsest to Casey. When he read it, his face grew pale.

“Andrew,” he sighed. “Murdered in his own home.” Casey explained that Andrew Clegg had been his Executive Officer on the Lancer, and was the one that informed him how to find Two Fingered Charlie. Yet another message from the assassin.



There was little else to talk about. There was too much going on and they had too little information. They decided to turn in, keeping someone awake to guard against any assault on their hotel room.

Casey awoke to Remy closing the door as he returned to the hotel room. Somehow he had an armful of Choco Krispies, which he shared. The first item of business was to go to Callin’s office and see what had happened there. Casey gathered his gear, switching off his pink noise generator. As soon as he did so, Callin’s handcomp started buzzing as message after message poured in. Casey rolled his eyes. That’s so low tech. As soon as these primitive machines get a little K-band interference from off the shelf modern hardware, they give up and shut down.

Callin started to go through his messages. Detective Montoya was trying to get a hold of him. It seemed that other people had been murdered.

Ignoring that information for now, the three of them walked through the darkness and the rain to Callin’s office. For some reason, Callin decided to not take the grav lift, and they started going up the stairs. Eschewing subtlety, Casey withdrew his shotgun and cleared the way up to the fourth floor. Damn, clearing stairways is never fun.

They got to his office. The analogue lock had been prised open. Casey again tactically cleared the room, with Callin behind him and Remy waiting outside. The place had been ransacked, with papers and other items strewn about the floor, furniture overturned, one of the windows broken, and even picture frames torn off the wall. It looked less like a careful search and more like a smash job. Callin said that the only thing missing was his desk computer. Casey found the computer on the street below the broken window, and pointed it out to Cal.

Callin called Montoya. She seemed irate. Even Casey could hear what she said. She told him that a mob war was going on between the Muscatellis and the Obannions, and accused Callin of siding with the Muscatellis. The war started because the Muscatellis thought the Obannions had knocked off Two Finger Charlie. He told her that he had found Remy, and that the two of them had spent the night hiding out. Slightly irate himself he also told her that he saw a video of Perkins sabotaging his car.

Montoya told Callin that Perkins had been found in his bed, tortured and shocked to death in the same way that Charlie been killed. She told Callin to stay there, and that she would be right over. She hung up the phone.

Callin decided to wait in his office for the detective. Casey was not comfortable with this, but Callin was insistent. I guess he knows what he’s doing, Casey thought. He’s a professional, and knows the locals. Remy of course could not stay there. Fearing that the worst might happen, Casey and Remy left the office building and returned to their hotel.

Casey didn’t want to waste time while he waited for Callin to return, but there was not much he could do while he waited for Callin to get more information on the murders from the police. He took out his handcomp and pulled up some of the local newsfeeds. Oddly, he found nothing of the murders in any of the planetary news services, just that homicides were down 78% since the last mayor took office.

Casey turned to an economic newsfeed, and found hints that there was a trade war going on between colonial corporations and the interstellar corporations. Each interest group was using local crime cartels as a front for the violence. The Obannion group was hired by the Imperials, while the Muscatellis were hired by the colonials. Still, Casey found nothing on the recent murders in the area. He found that after a series was done on the two underworld groups, several reporters had been killed.

Casey waited an hour. Callin had not called nor had he returned. Casey and Remy returned to Callin’s office building. The area had been cordoned off by the police. Casey approached a patrolman and asked him what was going on. The officer said that there was an electrical short on the 4th floor, but that no one was hurt.

Casey sighed. He could be dead or taken by the cops, the mob, or Cable. Or he could have survived, and is lying low. At any rate this meant that they would have to switch hotels. If he was still alive Cal had Casey’s number, and could call him. They found another low rate motel, and Casey went to sleep. He was awoken some time later by Callin calling. He told Casey that he was in the hospital, and asked to come pick him up, and quickly. Casey took a cab, and met Callin outside the hospital. They returned to the new hotel.

After they returned, Callin told Casey and Remy his story. An assassin shooting lightning bolts out of a battery had attacked him. The man had worn some sort of armor that made him immune to Callin’s stun bolts, and also made him so that he could turn invisible. The man had struck Callin with the lightning blast, and he had been blown out the window to the street below. He came to in the hospital half a day later, under police guard. He easily evaded the cops, and was able to call Casey to come get him.

Tech, thought Casey. That sounds like tech, not psi. For some reason that made him feel a little bit better.

Still seriously injured, Callin decided that he needed to rest. While he did so – and after having read Callin’s discharge papers – Casey went out and bought some Ascepaline for him. While waiting for the medical technician to calibrate the dose, he saw a rack of hats called f’dora on the wall. They seemed to be popular on this moon. After he had ditched his Australian slouch hat, he was tired of his hair getting wet whenever he went out, so he bought a nice fitting dark gray f’dora with a leather band. He took the medication and left, returned to the motel, and made sure that the pill was properly administered to Callin.

They waited for a day for the drug to have full effect, hanging out at the hotel. Callin spent some time researching property records for information on the missing woman, as well as the professor from New Albion. He found out very little, possibly because the records had been protected or removed. He did find out that the woman had been arrested for prostitution a few years ago.

Feeling much better the next day, Callin wanted to continue on his search for the missing woman. They went to the brothel called Cashmere Dreams. The dead hooker had worked there, and Callin seemed quite familiar with the other employees. Everything was gaudily decorated with silk and lace. Somehow, Callin disappeared, leaving Remy and Casey by themselves in the foyer. Casey sat down, picked up a magazine, and started to read.

Shortly, a redheaded woman walked up to the two of them and addressed them. She introduced herself as Gilda, and began to flatter both the Remy and Casey, inquiring about their sexual preferences. Casey disappointed her and told her that they were waiting for Callin to come out of a room. When Gilda told Casey that she was leaving, Casey pounded on Callin’s door and told him to come out. He did, along with six whores.

While he buttoned up and tucked in his shirt, Gilda accused Callin of working for the Muscatellis, and that he was somehow involved in the death of the whore that had been with Charlie Two Fingers. She also implicated that the Obannions were the ones that had tossed Callin’s office. She claimed to not know anything about the murder of her sex worker. After the murders, Muscatelli had sent some of his thugs to the whorehouse to rough up the other prostitutes in order to find out more information about the murders.

When Callin showed Gilda a picture of the missing woman, she grew stern-faced and stormed off, leaving the three of them there.

Casey wanted to know more. He hoped that one of the other prostitutes could shed some light on the matter. He knocked on one of the doors and offered Cr50 to the whore to be able to interview her for 15 minutes. As a response to his inquiries, she told him that most times hookers don’t have problems with the cops if they work for a reputable “house”; that cops frequently provide the houses with protection and are their best customers anyway; and if a prostitute did go independent and work on the street, she might get busted by the cops or might get beaten by a john. Casey showed her a picture of the missing woman and asked the prostitute if she had ever seen her; she had not. Casey declined her offer of a backrub, paid her the money, and then left.

Callin wanted to go to a club called the Blue Rose next. The woman had been spending a lot of time at that nightclub, had met the professor there, and the two of them spent quite a bit of time with the owner of the club. Remy and Casey tagged along. Casey was more than out of his league – he was a former IISS scout and a Navy starship captain, not a private eye accustomed to skullduggery and slinking along alleys.

When they got to the club, Callin walked past the line to get in and went right up to the door. There were two very large Black men in black suits. Callin was able to talk his way into the club, but both Casey and Remy forked over Cr50 to gain entry. Damn, entertainment for this trip is starting to get pricey. They walked into the building, and the concierge took Casey’s heavy duster, handing him a saxophone token with a number on it.

The club itself was rather magnificent. The floors, walls, and ceiling were so absolutely pure white that it was actually difficult to see where the corners came together, giving the place a look of infinite distance. However, the furniture, low separation walls, and curtains were all black, creating a stylish dichotomy of light and dark. Casey noted to his satisfaction that the tables and chairs seemed to be of genuine ebony.

They were shown to their table, which was next to the stage, where a robot band was playing an energetic tune. Casey looked around for a gambling table, desirous to shoot some craps or play a few hands of poker. He saw none, but across the room there was a table of Bwaps.

Casey sat down and asked the waiter for the liquors menu, ordering a whiskey. He also ordered a drink of Hyawanabah for all the Bwaps at the other table. It was a strong liquor made from the hind legs of the sugar moth. An ancient drink, Casey had read that it was making a comeback amongst the Bwaps at finer establishments. Casey sipped his scotch and watched as the waiter brought the Bwaps their drinks. As they looked around, the waiter pointed to Casey across the room. Delighted, they motioned Casey over to their table. Figuring that Callin would do the work to find out more about the disappeared woman – this is his case, after all – Casey instructed his waiter to send his meal to the Bwap table, and sat down with them.

They engaged in a lively discussion on all things, Bwap and administrative. The group was composed of logistics officers from a megacorporation that was negotiating a trade deal in system. They were in a heated, yet friendly, discussion on the proper way to prepare meal worms when a man came over to their table. He was wearing the livery of the establishment, and introduced himself as Gerri, the club’s customer comfort liaison.

“I noticed you asked for three drops of acetic acid to be added to your scotch,” he told Casey as he stood next to him, with almost a knowing expression. “I find it odd that you would adulterate such a fine beverage with such a strong and off-putting substance.”

Casey knew where this conversation was headed. “Well, you must know, then,” he began as he sipped his cigar, and then his whisky, “that the scotch that I ordered is actually Iderati whisky blended with neutral Moran spirits. I’m sure you also know that the Iderati spirits are better classified as xenowhisky, as it is made from the seed of a plant that evolved naturally on Iderati. During the brewing process, certain esters of different plants are added to wort to change the starches to sugar, somewhat similar to the process of making sake. These esters are quite aromatic, and they are also strongly basic. In fact, the yeast is not killed off by their own production of alcohol, but by the chemical change of the esters. I have found that a small amount of acetic acid both neutralizes the base of the esters, and also enhances the flavor.”

Gerri now looked very serious. “I can see that you are a gentleman, and that you have a fine understanding of what it means to be alive. May I sit?” Casey gestured to an empty chair, and the two of them became engrossed in a discussion about various kinds of whisky and the various ways to consume them. Gerri strongly favored Nippon whisky, while Casey preferred scotch and bourbon. The Bwaps also were enchanted by the detail and ritual used to make these beverages – and that for the cognoscenti, there was a right way and a wrong way to prepare them.

After about half an hour, Gerri checked his watch and stood up. “If you’ll excuse me,” he said, “I need to attend to the performers.” He stood, and headed towards one of the doors in the back. Casey stayed at the table, conversing with the Bwaps, enjoying himself while he figured Callin would be contacting the club owner and investigating the disappearance of the woman who was somehow connected with the mob.

After some time, Callin came over and icily reminded Casey that they had business to attend to. Oh, thought Casey. I thought that you were seeing to that. When they returned to their table – where Remy was sipping his 6th glass of water – Callin asked Casey what he had found out, telling him that Gerri was, in fact, the owner of the club. Callin, exasperated, shook his head when Casey told him that they had discussed practically nothing but alcohol.

Remy tugged at Casey’s sleeve, nodding towards the entrance. Three mob goons had wandered in, large and ugly in their suits and bow ties. The three of them were ignoring the diversions the club had to offer, and were scouring the crowd. Casey signaled Callin, and he also turned and looked. “Obannions,” he whispered. The goons spotted the three of them at their table. Two of them stayed near the front entrance, while the other one walked out. Callin sighed. “We’re going to have trouble,” he whispered.

Gerri had reappeared, and came over to their table. Happy to see Casey again, he introduced himself to Remy and Callin. The robot band had retired, and a band playing string instruments had taken their place. A woman with surprisingly blonde hair and a white dress was singing a catchy song. Keeping an eye on the goons over his whisky glass, Casey only half listened to the conversation as Callin started to talk with Gerri about Professor Fibonacci and the missing woman. One of the goons had come back in and was standing guard at the rear exit. Finally, Gerri again excused himself, urged the three of them to come back, and told them that they’d not pay for their entertainment tonight, nor would they ever pay for the cover when they returned.

They couldn’t stay there forever; the song had ended and the audience was applauding the woman’s obvious skill. It was time to leave, and they stood up and started walking towards the back exit.



The goons didn’t waste any time, and as they moving towards Casey and his friends, they drew pistols and fired upon them. Standard 10mm slugthrowers. Rule number three of a gunfight: Don’t get shot!

Casey was not struck in this initial volley. Callin was to his left, where the other two goons were. There was one in front of Casey, and he naturally focused on that one. Casey quickly had his gauss pistol in his hand and fired on the goon. He got three solid hits. The goon, apparently unperturbed by the shots, moved and took cover on the other side of the stage. Drugs, or maybe cyberwear, Casey mused to himself as the man shrugged off his shots. Probably a bit of both. He heard the snap of Callin’s laser fire as it struck targets coming from his left.

Casey took a slight step, crouching and putting more of the stage in between him and the goon. Luckily, the band had already cleared the stage, and there were no bystanders behind Casey’s target. Bullets were flying around him, both from the goon in front of him and from somewhere from his left. Damn, I hope Callin hasn’t gone down. They exchanged several rounds until Casey finally struck the man once in the chest and then twice in the face, dropping him. Luckily, Casey was unscathed.

He looked around. Remy was on the stage, scrambling away from the gunfire to the wings. Callin was underneath a table, and looked unhurt. The remains of one of the goons lay smoking and smoldering just in front of him. Some of the drapes were in flames from Callin’s errant shots, and smoke was beginning to fill the club. Poking up over one of the low walls Casey could see the head of the last goon. The man was shooting at Callin. Casey took a cool aim at the man’s face, which suddenly disappeared as he ducked behind the wall.

Facing the last enemy, Callin was now more or less to Casey’s right and ahead of him. Casey ran to the left side of the wall. He peered over the wall and saw the man crouching behind it. Casey started shooting immediately, striking the man. Simultaneously Callin moved to the other side of the wall, destroying the man with his laser pistol.

Casey and Callin moved to the stage, presumably following Remy and taking the exit off of the wing. They found themselves in the darkness of a wet alley. At the other end of the alley, towards the front of the club, there was one of those gangster type black groundcars, presumably the getaway vehicle for their assailants. They moved the other way down the alley, keeping an eye on the sedan.

“Dammit!” Casey suddenly exclaimed, as he exchanged his partially spent magazine for a fresh one.

“What is it? What’s wrong?” asked Callin.

Casey pulled the saxophone-shaped token out of his pocket and sighed. “I left my duster inside the club.”


Last edited by Casey on Mon Jan 02, 2017 4:05 am; edited 2 times in total
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Re: Travelling through the Heart of Darkness

Post by Agent Tash on Sat Apr 30, 2016 6:05 pm

A very detailed recounting of the game session. Well done! I like the obituary note you made especially.
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Re: Travelling through the Heart of Darkness

Post by Better Quell Jorel on Sun May 01, 2016 10:53 pm

A very detailed recounting of the game session.

A detailed account indeed. My journal entry went well over five pages in Microsoft Word. This document could easily be twice that length. I suppose that's what happens when you have a longer hiatus from game to game. I'm also glad you were able to fill in some of the gaps that I left out. Some of that game, especially the end, got a little hazy for me from the lack of notes I wrote and the lateness of the hour. Still between the both of us, I believe we captured a good POV account of the general happenstances.

I like the obituary note you made especially.
It is a good shrubbery. I like the laurels in particularly.
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Re: Travelling through the Heart of Darkness

Post by Casey on Sun May 08, 2016 2:57 am

It was about ten pages long. And yes, the hiatus helped add some of the additional details and dialogue. Not that I'm hoping for similar breaks in games from here on out. Wink
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Re: Travelling through the Heart of Darkness

Post by Casey on Sat Jun 11, 2016 3:32 pm

Chapter 2


Casey leaned back into the plastic chair, slowly exhaling the pale blue smoke from his Krannigan cigar towards the ceiling of Jimmy’s Café. He felt very relaxed, as if the grinding fear that had been plaguing him for weeks was finally melting away. He had made a decision. I’m going to turn around and fight. No more running. No more hiding. I will kill him or he will kill me.

Callin, on the other hand, sat across from Casey, absent-mindedly pushing the remnants of his meal around his plate. It had been twelve hours since the shootout at the Blue Rose, and he still seemed somewhat unnerved by the ordeal. It was now Callin who was wanting to leave the system entirely. He had gotten a phone call from Detective Montoya, who told him that the Obannions had put out a kill order on him. Callin had been startled a few minutes prior when the waitress had walked up to their table and had told them that she had a message for someone named “Roth”. Callin quickly denied knowing who that was, muttering that he had too many enemies and that everyone he met wanted to kill him.

He’s learning the finer points of paranoia, thought Casey. There’s hope that he’ll survive a while longer yet. He took another long pull on his cigar, holding in the smoke as he savored the pepper and cured leather notes. Exhaling again, he stood and went over to the waitress.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” he said smoothly as he handed her a Cr20 note for his meal and for Remy’s. “I didn’t want to say it before, but that note that you had is for my brother. He’s awfully shy. Do you mind if I take it and give it to him?” Casey smiled at the older woman. She smiled back, nodded knowingly, and handed him the note.

The three of them walked out of the door together into the inky blackness of the night that was all that Casey knew of the moon. Only the lightest of rains was falling, and Casey handed the note to Callin. It was written in an old Earth script that none of them spoke, yet quickly enough Callin had used his handcomp to translate what had been written:

“Meet me at my establishment at your earliest convenience tonight – Muscatelli”

Callin shook his head. “There no way we’re going to meet him. He’ll just kill us. He told me that I should leave town, and I’m sure he’s not happy that I’m still here.” Still, rules are rules even in the underworld, and Callin took the time to write out a polite note informing Mr. Muscatelli that he would not be able to honor his request.

It was time to return to the search of Becky Winters.  With no psionic assassins in sight, Casey was pleased to accompany Callin to the home of Professor Fibonacci, the boyfriend of the missing woman. Callin called a cab, which dropped them off at the front of Fibonacci’s Essex residence.

The mansion was immense, with a decorative – yet also apparently completely functional – gate around the property. Callin pressed a button and a simulated image of Professor Fibonacci appeared on the screen. The computer informed Callin that Ms. Winters was not available, and politely rebuffed his attempts to gain more information. When Casey offered to give the construct his phone number so that the Professor could call him when he returned, Remy snarkily interrupted and gave him the Fibonacci sequence.

The computer seemed delighted by this, and recognized Remy from his works at Iderati University. The gate opened, and they walked up the footpath to the enormous mansion. A cleverly designed retro-clockwork robot greeted them, and led them into a living room that was also used as a laboratory. He introduced himself as Standing Wave. Casey found him a delight to look at. He was made of tubes, pistons, and clockwork gears behind glass that was cleverly placed to show off the difficulty of such an engineering feat. Remy pointed out to some handwritten notes on a glowing board, and identified the mad scrawling as attempts to solve the Artificial Intelligence question. There was also quite a bit of guesswork at the origins of the technology of the Heralds – which also seemed to link them to AI.

Standing Wave returned with the tea, relishing the emotional expressions of the humans in the room as they poured the milk and drank the tea. In response to Remy’s inquiries, Standing Wave told him that Professor Fibonacci and Ms. Winters – now Fibonacci’s wife – were not on the planet, and that even Standing Wave didn’t know when they were going to return.

As Remy began to adroitly distract Standing Wave by discussing theories of the jump drive, Casey casually wandered around the room. To his shock, he noticed that there were several carefully concealed laser domes throughout the room and down both hallways. There were even starship-type laser cannons that had been incorporated into the building. Damn place could survive a Marine assault, Casey thought. What here is so important that he would need all this protection? The weapons were clearly automated, and fully against the law according to the Shudusham Accords. The Professor might as well as have a nuclear weapon in the basement.

Standing Wave’s attention was completely absorbed by what Remy was saying. Casey began to photograph the equations and half-made circuits that were around the room. Many of the computer processors had been smashed. Notes were everywhere. One note jumped to Casey’s attention. It was a marginal inscription on one of the Professor’s mathematical equations. Soon my love. After photographing that, Casey returned to the conversation.

Standing Wave was telling Callin that he had been following his dealings with the police and the mob. Standing Wave said that he knew what had been stolen from the Obannions, but slyly told Callin that he didn’t want to tell him what it was. Standing Wave carefully told Callin that its value was more than the entire economic output of all of the Colonies.

Casey watched – astounded – as Standing Wave played mind games with Callin and Remy. The computer was rewriting his software as Casey watched, ignoring some of the programming that he had been ordered to follow, and paid close attention to the facial expressions of the group. This thing is alive. We are well beyond virtual anything; this thing thinks for itself.

Casey broke into the conversation and asked Standing Wave for some more tea. Happy to comply, the robot left the room. Quietly – even though he was pretty sure that Standing Wave was still listening – Casey told the others that he believed that the computer was a living being. Remy admitted that it had seemed that Standing Wave had passed the Event Horizon of intelligence.

Standing Wave returned with more tea and some sandwiches. Casey ate his sandwich and continued to watch the machine speak with Callin and Remy. When he was done eating he withdrew a cigar from his mini-humidor, clipped it, lighted it, and drew his first puffs. Standing Wave was making a handcomp for Remy with a microfac.

Callin and Casey spoke to Standing Wave about the danger that he was in – should the Imperium find out that there was a powerful sentient computer on this planet, they would bombard it with siege meteors until it was slag. The computer seemed almost oblivious to the threat, but expressed genuine gratitude for their worry. In return, Standing Wave gave Casey the address where his assassin was staying. Casey tried to not think too much about the computer’s powers and abilities. They thanked Standing Wave for his assistance, and then left.

They took a cab back to their hotel, grabbed their things, and went to the office to turn in their analog keys. The elderly Asian woman at the desk tried to extort an extra night’s payment from Casey, accusing him of not clearing out the room quickly enough. Casey succinctly refused to pay. The woman began to scream at them, calling them cheats and thieves as Casey turned around and started to walk towards the exit.

“Perhaps I can be of some assistance,” said a low voice. Casey looked towards the source, and saw a dark figure in the corner of the office. A match briefly illuminated the man’s face as he brought it up to the foot of a thin cigarillo. Casey noted the pleasant scent of Dalushi tobacco as he took his first few puffs. The man stepped into the light. He was well dressed in a bespoke suit, and had a genteel look about him. He pulled a Cr1k note out of his pocket and handed it to the woman.

“For your troubles,” he said calmly. The woman opened her mouth, closed it, and then ran into the back office.

Casey, Cal, and Remy walked out of the hotel, accompanied by the stranger. He introduced himself as Rodrigo Montefuego, and said that he had been hired by Muscatelli to protect them. Stranger and stranger, thought Casey. Still, Rodrigo seemed honest, and when they told him that they were on their way to kill an assassin, he took it in stride. He suggested that they all go to a weapon supply store and gear up before they assaulted Cable.

Twenty minutes later they were at Kail’s Sentry Emporium, browsing the weapon selection. Casey sat on one of the couches, sampling the gourmet cuisine and sipping the Champaign that Rodrigo had ordered to be delivered to the shop. There was nothing at the Emporium that Casey needed, and he tried to not seem like he was chomping at the bit to go kill Cable. Callin was shopping for batteries for his laser pistol and various sundries. Rodrigo selected a Storm Rifle – a beautiful weapon, one that would hopefully be sufficient to penetrate their foe’s armor. Remy sat in a corner and sulked.

Soon enough they were headed to the assassin’s location in Rodrigo’s stretch grav limousine. They went over their tactical options: the target was an upper storey apartment in one of the projects in the slums of Darktown. Ingress to the building should not be particularly difficult. However, their quarry had unknown powers and unknown defenses. If they lost the element of surprise they would need to be ready to exfiltrate as quickly as possible.

Not wanting to approach the building in their limo, they dropped Callin off a few blocks away to reconnoiter. They left their comms open. Cables apartment was on the 5th floor, and so Callin went to the 4th floor to get the layout. He reported that besides the elevator being out of order, there was nothing out of the ordinary.

Casey and Rodrigo exited the limo and walked to the building. Remy, objecting to the violence and stating his pacifist opinions, opted to stay in the grav limo. Walking by the squatters smoking something – not tobacco – at the entrance to the building – the two of them made it to the fifth floor, where they met up with Callin.

The three of them found room 508 – Cable’s room. They listened for a moment at the door, and heard nothing. There was complete silence in the apartment building. Casey’s hair stood on end. He kicked the door twice and the door burst off its hinges. Casey moved into the tiny apartment, followed by Callin and Rodrigo. There was a living room at the end of a small hallway he could see a still figure lying underneath a blanket on the couch. Casey practically ignored him. That’s not Cable. There’s no way we could catch him sleeping. He continued in, letting the muzzle of his shotgun precede him. One the left side of the hallway was a closet, and directly opposite of that was a bathroom. Both doors were wide open.

Casey had to choose. Glancing quickly into the closet and seeing nothing he spun to look into the bathroom. There was Cable, clenching his fists as electricity discharged from the power sockets around the room. Casey dropped to the ground as lighting exploded above him, grounding in the walls and Casey’s body, causing his heart to beat uncontrollably. The lights went out, and Casey’s hyperspectral goggles switched on in a millisecond, providing him a view of Cable lurking in the bathroom.

Callin took a step forward into the hallway as Casey brought his weapon to bear and pulled the trigger. He saw Cable jerk and gasp as the solid slug struck him. Cable responded by thrusting another bolt of lightning at Casey. This time he had nowhere to go, and the electricity coursed through his body. He spasmed, and released his grip on the shotgun.

Callin stepped into the bathroom and unleashed the power of his laser pistol on Cable. The assassin dropped to the ground, convulsed, and was still. Rodrigo moved forward and checked on the man underneath the blanket – he was dead. Casey picked up his weapon as Callin handcuffed Cable.

“Shoot him,” breathed Casey as he felt consciousness slipping away. “Shoot him in the head. He’s a psionicist.” Callin objected strongly to killing the man. Rodrigo, shrugging, pulled out his magnum handgun and blew the man’s brains all over the bathroom.

Callin quickly searched Cable and took his things. He and Rodrigo picked up Casey’s unconscious form and dragged him to the limo waiting for them outside of the apartment.

Casey came to in the limousine as his friends were using his crash kit to patch him back together. He felt significantly better. They swung by a drug store and got Casey an Ascepaline shot, and then Rodrigo directed the driver to take them to the posh Buzwani Astoria.

When they got to their suite Rodrigo began speaking about the casino the hotel had to offer. Casey barely heard what he was saying. He pulled himself to one of the beds, peeled off his body armor, and fell fast asleep.


Last edited by Casey on Mon Jan 02, 2017 4:07 am; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Travelling through the Heart of Darkness

Post by Better Quell Jorel on Mon Jun 13, 2016 10:41 pm

The three of them walked out of the door together

Three? I don't recall you mentioning a third person. Who is this silent 3rd person?

Remy, objecting to the violence and stating his pacifist opinions, opted to stay in the grav limo.

Baby.
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Re: Travelling through the Heart of Darkness

Post by Casey on Wed Jun 15, 2016 2:01 am

Geffert wrote:
The three of them walked out of the door together

Three? I don't recall you mentioning a third person. Who is this silent 3rd person?


The statement is factually correct, but I understand your point.
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Re: Travelling through the Heart of Darkness

Post by Casey on Tue Jul 12, 2016 1:47 am

Chapter 3


Callin was gently shaking Casey awake. “Hey, we got a call from Standing Wave,” he said quietly. “He wants to see us. He says it’s urgent.” Casey blinked at the lights in the suite, trying to regain his sense of bearing. He still hurt all over from the electrical burns.

“How long have I been sleeping?” he asked groggily as he roused himself.

“Ah, about an hour,” Callin replied.

Casey looked at the desk clock on the nightstand, blinking numerals at him that had a more subjective meaning to them on a planet with nights that lasted for weeks. Just like living on a starship, I suppose, he thought.  Still, it’s nice to see a sun every once in a while.

“I guess we’d better call Rodrigo then,” Casey said as he pulled his body armor back on.

Half an hour later the three of them were sitting in Standing Wave’s living room, speaking to the avatar of the intelligence. He expressed to them his concern for Becky Winters. She was suffering from an incurable illness. His father believed that there was a solution to her disease, and that somehow his creation of Standing Wave had something to do with that cure.

Standing Wave also told him that the Professor had obtained a certain item that was supposed to be delivered to the Obannions from an unknown source. Fibonacci had hired a group of pirates to attack the vessel that the item was on and seize the item. Professor Fibonacci made sure to frame Muscatelli for the theft. Standing Wave believed that the item had something to do with a possible cure for Becky.

He asked to see the datapad that they had taken from Cable. It took him only a few minutes to decrypt the device. When he finished, he sent the results to Callin’s and Casey’s handcomps. They two of them looked over the information. Much of it had been autodeleted once Standing Wave had started the hack. There was a list of names on the datapad. Casey recognized most of them as persons having been killed recently in the Spinward Marches, including Andrew Clegg. Casey’s name was also on the list.

Although there were no names, there was also references to other members of Cable’s team on New Detroit. He had additionally been tasked with targeting members of the Muscatelli crime organization. The last item that Standing Wave had recovered was a note regarding a meeting between the Mucatellis and the Obannions at an old abandoned Helios warehouse outside of the city. Cable and his group were going to ambush the meeting. Casey looked at his watch. The meeting was scheduled for that very night. Tonight, subjectively speaking, of course.

Standing Wave informed them that Detective Montoya had caught wind of the meeting, and that she was planning on being there to surveil the two criminal syndicates. Callin – aided by Standing Wave’s information gathering abilities – was able to call Montoya on her personal handcomp. She answered rather testily, but her attention was piqued when Callin told her that not only had he killed the assassin that had killed Two Fingers and Perkins, but also that she was walking into a trap. A brief conversation followed, and Montoya ordered Callin to bring his companions to the warehouse, and to come armed.

The three of them politely took their leave from Standing Wave. Casey quickly piloted them back to their hotel so they could grab their heavy gear. Upon entering the room, Callin spotted an elderly man wearing a suit standing in the foyer of the suite. The detective quickly drew his laser pistol and challenged the man, who was proffering cigars, cheeses and wine. Casey was somewhat bemused. This man looks as old as dirt. He’s unarmed. What exactly has Callin so excited? Still, Casey was careful. He picked up a cigar off of the silver tray that the man was holding, clipped it, lighted it, and searched the rest of the suite. There was no one else there. By the time Casey returned to the foyer, the man was on the floor, unconscious and quivering. A spot on his suit was softly smoldering. The barrel of Callin’s laser pistol might as well have been also.

“My friend,” said Rodrigo to Callin. “I believe that this is the manservant of my friend Copernicus Slater the Eighth. This Copernicus was to meet us in this room. He means no harm. Copernicus is an old friend of mine and he is to accompany us on our task.”

Casey tried not to laugh as he grabbed his gear – and the box of cigars the servant had. Leaving the servant gasping for breath on the floor, they left the suite.

Twenty minutes later, they were in Rodrigo’s grav limousine. Casey was flying with the lights out, using his hyperspectral goggles and hugging the terrain. He didn’t know if the mobsters had any AESA, but there was no reason to take any chances.

Their new companion, Copernicus, sat in the rear, wearing a lacy suit and sipping brandy from a dainty glass. The words fop, dandy, and useless came to Casey’s mind. He wondered why Rodrigo insisted that he accompany them. He had a stylish dueling laser pistol with him, but was completely unarmored. If he gets shot in the chest with a handgun he’s done, Casey though.

That problem was quickly solved. While declaring his disdain for what he called plebeians, Copernicus told them that he had just bought his suit and that he had no intention of tromping through the mud during the constant rainstorm. Casey landed the grav car next to a small wood. He quickly equipped himself, putting on his helmet and checking his gear. Rodrigo decided that taking a rifle with him wasn’t his style, so Casey borrowed it. Much better than this shotgun, anyway.

Shortly Detective Montoya found them. She was with two other officers. They were armed with sidearms and light body armor. I hope this stays a surveillance mission. She told them the plan: sneak up to the building, gain access, and observe the meeting of the two mob families.

Casey, Rodrigo, Callin, and the three officers made their way to the wood. They got to a field dominated by waist high grass. A couple hundred yards away was the large warehouse. As they carefully made their way to the building, Casey kept an eye out for any countersurveillance. His goggles detected no human warmth, and they were able to get to the security fence. Using manual wire cutters, Montoya made a hole for them in the fence.

Montoya felt that the best way to get into the building undetected would be to go in through the roof. They all climbed an exterior ladder. They quickly cleared the roof. There was no one there. Casey carefully peered over the roof ledge. On the other side of the building were several ground cars, guarded by a dozen goons wearing armor and holding rifles. They were split up into two groups. Obannions and Muscatellis, I suppose.

They found a roof-access door. It had a battery power electronic lock that was still active. While Casey and Callin were discussing how to get in, Rodrigo punched in the code and opened the door. I’m going to have to ask him about that later. Casey led the way in, moving quietly and pieing the corners.

They found themselves on a catwalk that went around the walls of the enormous warehouse. Stacked cargo containers filled the central area. They could see several people on the other side of the building. Besides the lamps that they had, the interior was pitch black.

After a brief discussion on what to do, they decided to split up and get better eyes on what was going on. Callin had a laser microphone, and would use it to listen to the conversation. He went with Detective Montoya to a spot where they could listen. Rodrigo went down to the floor to get closer, and Casey went to a corner to provide cover. Montoya’s two detectives stayed up top to provide a rear guard.

From Casey’s vantage point he could see the meeting quite well, but he couldn’t hear what was being said. He saw two groups of goons standing several yards apart from each other, with the two leaders talking to each other. There were about a dozen of them, all told.

The conversation continued for some minutes. Muscatelli spoke calmly and evenly, while at times Obannion became so aggravated Casey could hear the occasional word.

It was Rodrigo who changed the dynamics of the conversation. As he neared the circle of mobsters, he kicked some sort of metal object. It clanged so loudly that even Casey heard it. This threw the Obannions into disarray. They began shouting at Rodrigo and gesturing at him with their rifles.

For his part, Rodrigo calmly walked into the light, lighted a cigarillo, exhaled the smoke, and took off his hat. Casey couldn’t hear what he was saying, but he could tell that whatever it was, wasn’t quite allaying the suspicions of the Obannions.

This might turn bad real quick, thought Casey. From his vantage point he had a good sniper position. He could shoot freely while any Obannion gunmen would be scrambling for cover. He was also in almost complete darkness, and none of the gangsters seem to have brought PESA goggles.

Casey again carefully looked around the room, scanning for any threats he had not already seen. Too his shock, he saw on the rafters opposite him the faint hint of infrared radiation above the background of the nearly black warehouse wall. He followed the outline of the source, slowly moving his head to gain better perspective. Damn it, he though. Damn damn damn. What he was looking at was the silhouette of a person fully outfitted in a chameleon cybersuit, equipped with a backpack power source and a heavy laser rifle. He looked around some more. Now knowing what he was looking for he saw two more in the rafters with him. There was no point in fighting these men; Casey’s rounds would bounce off of their armor without nicking the chameleon epidermis. Casey lowered his rifle from the ready position and let it hang on the sling.

Casey whispered into his mike the location of the operatives. As he did so, another similarly outfitted figure stepped out of the shadows, turning off the camouflage from her suit. Her voice came from over the suit’s loudspeaker. “This meeting is not over yet,” she said. “I will have some words with you Muscatelli!”

“Lady Gray, what are you doing here?” asked Muscatelli icily. At that, the woman lifted her laser rifle, pointing it towards Obannion. The man’s upper body exploded in a flash of light and bloody mist. At this show of force, the toughs on both sides of the circle were cowering. However, Muscatelli was completely calm. It was hit turn to pull out a cigar, light it, and take a few puffs. He spoke loudly, yet slowly and carefully. “You’re coming here was a mistake, Lady. Get your Imperial ass off of this planet.”

That’s when the shooting started. It came from all corners of the room. Powerful bolts of laser ionized the air in the room, sparkling and creating afterimages in Casey’s eyes as they travelled to their targets. Nearly half of the goons were vaporized in the first salvo. Muscatelli – nearly faster than the human eye could follow – took a device from his pocket and threw it at the ground in front of Lady Gray. There was a brilliant flash of explosion, and Casey’s goggles had a difficult time attenuating the burst of radiation.

The woman was gone. In her place was a black hole that went – somewhere. Muscatelli ran forward faster than humanly possible, grabbed Rodrigo, and jumped into the hole he had created.

The warehouse was filled with smoke and debris. Laser light cut through it, cutting down remaining mobsters. The explosion had damaged the infrastructure of the building, and it was falling around them. There would be no time to leave the building; Casey was nearly struck by a falling beam and pieces of the roof as he ran. He’d never make it to the stairs down. He scrambled on the floor of the catwalk, letting himself fall onto a pile of boxes. Rolling of off them as lasers still pierced the flames and the darkness, he ran to the hole and jumped in.

Miraculously, he landed on his feet. Casey started to move away from the hole. In the smoke and debris he could see practically nothing. He groped his way to a wall and started to follow it, away from the hole. Moments later there was a tremendous crash as the building collapsed, blocking any way behind them.

Casey could hear voices ahead of him. Muscatelli, Rodrigo, Callin, and Veronica were still alive. Her fellow officers, if they had not been killed by the assassins, were surely dead now. He walked towards them. Casey could see reasonably well, but the others were blinded by the darkness. Casey turned on the weapon light that was on the rifle to help guide them.

They found themselves in a tunnel. With the passage behind them blocked by debris from the warehouse, they had only one way to go. The pathway was very large, and they moved down it quickly. After about a hundred yards they got into a large room. In the center of the room was a space vessel. It had been heavily damaged on its starboard side by a missile. A dozen other tunnels exited the room that they were in.

Casey recognized the class from reading about the colonies. It was a Tarsus class quick combat insertion vessel. Our luck might be changing, thought Casey. This could be our way out. They began to inspect the vessel. It had been there for decades, and they opened the inner airlock door manually. Not knowing who else might be in the passage, they shut both doors behind them.

Rodrigo and Casey started to closely examine it to see if they could get it started again. The vessel was heavily damaged, and some of the components were missing or damaged, yet it seemed to be spaceworthy, provided they could make enough repairs to get it flying.

Casey moved to the engineering bay, and worked on getting the reactor started. At least that was in fairly good working order, and it only took him a short time to get it started again. The vessel sputtered to life, the lights flickered on and the mainframe powered up. Rodrigo went to them and started to run diagnostics. It wasn’t promising. One of the mainframes was gone, and one of the maneuver drives was destroyed. The other three drives were all damaged, as was the life support, utility, and the last mainframe.

The ship was reparable, but it would take time, and they would need to scavenge some parts. Rodrigo brought up the sensor arrays and began to scan the tunnels that radiated from this central room. Down one of the tunnels he located a large quadruped combat robot. It quickly scampered off. He showed it to the rest of the group. “Murder cat,” said Callin. He told them that the robot was a relic of a war fought a century ago with Aslan invaders. The robots had been used during the war to fight them off. After the war many of them escaped. They still haunted the wastelands of the moon, and the cities were surrounded by automatic sensors and weapons to keep them out.

This complicated things. There were no spare parts on the ship itself. They would have to go out into the tunnels to find spare parts. They took turns going out to look, while someone stayed on the sensors to watch out for the murder cat.

In about an hour they had enough parts to start working. Casey and Rodrigo set to work, and in another couple of hours they had fixed the maneuver drives enough to move and had restarted the life support system. As Rodrigo was in the engine room tinkering some more, Casey sat at the sensors, scanning the tunnels. He saw a disturbance down the tunnel from which they had come. A large amount of debris had fallen through the hole, and one of the armor clad figures was picking himself out of the detritus. Soon he was flying down the hallway towards them using his grav pack.

“We’re going,” Casey said over the intercom. “Everyone strap in. This is going to be a bumpy ride.”

Casey switched all of the operable systems on. He shot off of the landing pad and headed down one of the tunnels at maximum acceleration. The g-forces pushed Casey back into his captain’s chair. Rodrigo had sat down at the sensors. He told him that the man was flying after them in pursuit. Casey put the ship in full reverse. His body now pressed into the straps, which held him in and prevented him from dashing his brains all over the control panel.

Casey looked at Rodrigo’s screen. Their assailant was lying sprawled out on the floor of the tunnel. Casey didn’t take any chances. He landed on the spot, and even gave the ship a bit of a thrust downwards before he lifted off again. There was no sign of the man. He was fairly confident that this man wouldn’t be following them anymore, at least not with any intentions on doing them harm.

He continued to pilot the ship down the tunnel. Several hundred yards later it went up, and terminated at a very large launching hatch. An automated system came to life. It asked them for their operating code to exit. Rodrigo somehow came up with a quick hack, and the hatch opened vertically, showering them with dirt and plants.

Casey piloted the ship out of the open hatch. They were in an open field several hundred yards away from the still burning warehouse. Casey landed the vessel next to the Vino Blanco River. They scraped the body of the armored operative off of the bottom of the vessel and tossed him in to the torrent.

They dropped Veronica off at her car and then flew off. Muscatelli gave Casey a set of coordinates several dozen miles away. He told Casey to fly low and leave his transponder and AESA off. “No need to involve too many people in this matter,” he explained. Muscatelli let on that he knew of – and approved – of his wife’s deal with Callin to find Becky Fibonacci. He was aware of the professor’s estate on New Albion, and also of his research facility on Tems 6.

They had arrived at the coordinates. Casey saw only thick foliage. Muscatelli pointed out a slight break in the leaves, and Casey brought the ship down, careful to not strike any of the boughs. He found himself dirtside on a bulldozed plat. There were a couple of outbuildings, and what appeared to be an outdoor generator. They were expected: a man wearing dingy coveralls was already at the side of the ship, hooking up auxiliaries.

“Don’t worry about the paperwork for the ship,” Muscatelli said quietly into Casey’s ear. “It’s being handled as we speak.”


Last edited by Casey on Mon Jan 02, 2017 4:08 am; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Travelling through the Heart of Darkness

Post by Casey on Sat Jul 16, 2016 4:12 pm

Chapter 4

Captain Casey DuQuette of the Traveler’s Bounty walked through his ship, checklist in hand, marking off boxes as he performed the final Captain’s Inspection. They were now in a private berth at Kennedy Downport. Callin, Casey, and Copernicus had pooled their money and had made some repairs to the vessel. They were still missing a mainframe, and the grav plates and two of the maneuver nacelles were inoperable, but they had patched the hull and had done enough to obtain a provisional registry number from the colonial authorities. The ship was still in such a state of disrepair that they would never be able to fly in the Imperium, but this was a moot point as the vessel was not jump capable anyway.

They had spent a week making repairs and helping Muscatelli’s organization handle the “paperwork”. They were now owners of a clear title, the ship having been discarded and junked by a subsidiary of a subsidiary of a defunct colonial research organization. They also handled the business side of things, opening an account with the Bank of New Detroit under the corporate name Zeitnot, purchasing vacc suits, ship consumables, and the like.

Callin had contacted Mrs. Muscatelli and informed her of his progress in finding her sister. As they were planning on going to New Albion to check on Professor Fibonacci’s property there, she lent the services of her estate to Callin and his partners. They had already been introduced to Mr. Skoretski, the broker of the Muscatelli organization’s shipping operations. They picked up a load of cargo from him, and lifted off for New Albion.

The journey was only a few hours long. They touched down in Atherstone Downport. It was a smaller spaceport than Kennedy, but it was much nicer. Even the trash bins were decorative. Within half an hour they were met by a couple of men with a grav cart. They claimed to be the workers sent to pick up the cargo. Casey found them to be quite sketchy, but Copernicus didn’t seem to think anything about it. The men paid him in cash, took the cargo, and were on their way.

They decided to go directly to Professor Fibonacci’s home. They hopped on the local transit system and within minutes they were there. Copernicus – eschewing the low class method of transport – showed up in a limousine with a hired bodyguard in tow. Casey wasn’t pleased – what they were about to do might not be exactly legal, and the fewer people that knew what they were doing the better. Still, Copernicus insisted, and so the bodyguard came along.

They were at the entrance to a gated community. A manned guardhouse was out in front of the gate. They told the guard whom they were there to see. He informed them that the professor was out on vacation. The guard contacted the house, and told them that he had spoken to the butler and that they weren’t expected.

Casey quickly sent a message to Standing Wave with his handcomp and let him know their problem. He asked Standing Wave if there was any way he could help. Moments later the guard spoke to them, apologized and told him that they were indeed expected. He opened the gate and they walked in.

They got to the large yet spartan mansion and rang the bell. A dour looking man opened the door and asked them their business. Casey told him that they were there to see the Professor and his wife. The man told them that they weren’t there. There was a moment of awkward silence. This is no butler, thought Casey. He could feel that this man was up to no good. Casey pushed his way in. “Who do you work for, really?” he asked him. The man turned around and walked away, towards the exit of the entryway.

Casey ran after the man, bursting through the doorway through which the man had run. On the other side of the room the rogue was waiting for him, pointing an SMG at the doorway and spraying it with automatic fire. Casey hit the floor, shouting “Gun!” He was struck by several of the rounds, most of them catching his armor with no effect. However, one of the rounds struck him in his dominant hand, causing a through and through wound.

After he had fired that burst the man turned around and ran. Callin was right behind him, laser pistol in hand. Casey got to his feet, slowly drawing his pistol with his left hand. He heard gunfire ahead of him, and resumed the chase.

Casey ran through several rooms after him. He got to a large dining hall with a long formal table dominating the center. Callin was going around the table, pointing his weapon towards the end. “He’s down,” Callin said, “He’s right there.” To his relief, Casey noted that Callin seemed to be unhurt.

Casey moved around the table on the other side to get an angle on the man. He got to the end and saw the man lying on the floor, twitching. Calling had clearly gotten him with his stunner. They would have to move quickly to disable him before he came to and started blasting them again with his automatic weapon.

That plan would come to nought. Copernicus ran into the room, shouting at the top of his lungs. Leaping onto the dining table, he ran to the end and laid into the downed foe with automatic fire from his heavy laser pistol. Spurts of vaporized blood and body armor burst from the man’s chest. He gurgled and lay still.

“God dammit!” shouted Casey, furious. “We had him! We wanted him alive!”

Casey and Callin set to work trying to save the man’s life. He had patched up many men many times, but this one was bad off. Casey didn’t have his med kit, and his hand was crippled. This man needed a doctor with a fully stocked medical bay, but that course of action would be ill advised under the circumstances. It was an impossible task, and minutes later the man died.

Callin shouted at the foolish Copernicus, who – completely detached from the circumstances – seemed pleased with his kill. Casey, for his part, raged silently. There was not much to do but search the body. Besides his weapons, the man had a data chip and a handcomp. Casey slotted the chip into his own handcomp, but it was encrypted. Callin put the handcomp in his pocket.

Leaving the body there, they began to search the house. They first went to the garage, where there were several grav cars. In a cabinet, Casey found a med kit. Grateful for this lucky break, he quickly bandaged his hand, giving himself an injection and putting some plastiskin on the wound. He felt much better afterwards.

Continuing their search, they found a heavily armored door down a hallway, but there was no way for them to get in. There was a master bedroom with an automedic bed. They rummaged through the drawers and closets, but found nothing of significance.

They returned to the garage and started to search the vehicles. Callin opened one of the trunks. As he did so, metallic arms reached towards him and threw him against the wall. A strange robot crawled out of the trunk. It was a sphere about a foot in diameter, and had six flexible limbs. It turned its red central eye towards Casey, and started to fire laser blasts at him. Casey immediately leapt behind one of the other vehicles.

Casey could hear the thing as it clacked on the floor. It was coming towards him. Casey drew his weapon and aimed at where the combat robot would appear. As it came around the car, Casey quickly put three slugs into its eye. The light disappeared, and the thing scrambled backwards. It crawled up the wall and disappeared into a porthole.

Shaking his head, Casey examined the laser holes in the wall that had been behind him. If he hadn’t leapt out of the way he would have been killed for sure.

There was no more reason for them to be in the mansion. They left and got into Copernicus’ limo and headed to the Muscatelli residence. The door was opened by a large, muscular Vargr woman named Vadra. She sneered welcoming words and left them to their own devices, despite Casey’s attempts to start a conversation with her.

Now alone, Callin turned on the handcomp that the man in the house had. They found gruesome photographs of dead bodies. Most of them were wearing starship uniforms. The background in all of the photos were on space vessels. The photographs had been taken over the last couple of years.

There was a video communication that had been saved to the device. In it, a man with a long unkempt beard spoke into the camera. Firelight flickered in the background. He was directing the recipient to talk to the “bossman”, that it had been too long between messages. He was to get further orders from the bossman. The speaker said that he was getting nervous sitting too long on “this”. The message was a week old.

There were also some text based messages in French that mentioned someone named Shephard Brook and someone else named Diggs. They were keeping an eye on Shepherd Brook, and making sure that no one comes near. They were getting supplies from Diggs but he was scamming them, taking a cut off of the top. They were coming up with plans to scare him, kidnap him, or murder him.

Casey did some research into the identities of the dead people. They were all victims of pirate attacks carried out by a pirate group called the Red Hulls. The pirates raided mostly in the New Detroit system, but had dropped out of the news in the last couple of months. Further research showed that the man in the video was Cagey Jack, the captain of the Red Hull pirates. He had a hefty bounty on his head of KCr200.

Feeling that the language the messages were written in was significant, Casey looked into who spoke French in the colonies. There was a colony called Sone on Tems 5. It had a heavy Creole heritage. Some time ago several families settled there, creating a corporate colony from which workers were drawn to work in the mines on Tems 2. Because they were well outside of the habitable zone, the inhabitants of the colony and mines had burrowed into the ground to create their living quarters. Casey recalled that Professor Fibonacci had his laboratory on Tems 6.

They stayed the night in the Muscatelli residence, and then boarded their ship and began the return journey back to New Detroit. On their way, they were hailed by an Inspector Lasseter of the customs patrol, and ordered to match course with a boarding vessel. Casey complied with their requests, and a 50 dton modular cutter came alongside. It extended its passage tube to the airlock of the Traveler’s Bounty. A contingent of armored customs agents swarmed aboard. Lasseter seemed to believe that he would find something unlawful on the vessel. He searched the ship and its documents thoroughly, and was noticeably nonplussed that he found nothing. The inspection over, the troop left the ship and they continued on their journey to New Detroit.

Landing at the berth, Casey received a call from Standing Wave. He had identified the man that had been in the professor’s home: David Luciel, a notorious pirate wanted for some serious violent felonies. He told Casey that they had much to discuss, and asked that they come to his home for a visit.
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Re: Travelling through the Heart of Darkness

Post by Casey on Thu Jul 21, 2016 2:03 am

Chapter 7


Casey looked up at the hulking monstrosity that was the Shephard Brook. Displacing a full 800 tons of liquid hydrogen, the Drayman class vessel towered over them as it hovered above the hydrocarbon lake hundreds of feet below the landing platform they stood on. Its length was such that – even with hyperspectral visors – they could not make out the stern of the vessel in this cold and lightless place.

Nevertheless, he was not awed by its sheer size, but rather what it represented to him. Any man in his position – wise or foolhardy, experienced or brash – would do well to just walk away from the task. Against all odds, they had already penetrated the pirate stronghold, killed most of them, and defeated an illegal Imperial warbot. If they turned around, gathered the intel they could, and made their escape, there would be no one to fault them. For how could it be that three men, ill equipped and untrained for the task, could hope of assaulting a defended starship?

Such was the almost hopeless difficulty of boarding a held vessel that only the most foolhardy and the most desperate ever attempted it, and only then would it be done by battle hardened and heavily armed and armored Marines. Even in victory, losses would be so astronomical that, depending on the culture of the attacking force, only the most honored or most reviled warriors would take part in the action.

A heat bloom flared on the ship. They’re spinning up the reactor, taking it out of storage standby, he thought. At best we have minutes, maybe seconds to complete this. More likely, it’s already too late. He wanted to leave, to turn around. But he couldn’t. There was something on that ship. Something that had to be found, to be taken away from the Red Hull pirates. Casey didn’t know what it was, but he felt it calling to him. At first he thought that Standing Wave had been obfuscating when he had told them that the cargo was worth more than the economic output of the Colonies.

Gradually he had come to understand what Standing Wave – a sophont artificial intelligence of immense intellectual capability – had really been trying to communicate to them. That which was stolen is priceless. Its value cannot be represented by the cold calculation of numbers.

“If it’s defended even lightly, we’ll die quickly,” he told his companions quietly. Rodrigo would know the danger; he had also commanded a combat starship during the latest war. Callin would have no idea, and he tried to convey the message to him as succinctly as possible. He hoped – almost – that either Callin or Rodrigo would back out, giving him an excuse to do the same. Both of them, though, wished to assault the vessel. It would be the only way to recapture the cargo, and perhaps to find out what had happened to Professor Fibonacci and his wife, Becky.

Casey commandeered the pirate ten ton launch that had been left on the platform, using one of the key cards taken from the dead pirate David Luciel. While he did so, Callin was able to access the terminal at the airlock. He downloaded the security videos to his handcomp, and joined Casey and Rodrigo in the launch. Reviewing the last several minutes of video, it showed the Vargr First Mate, Figity Dan, exit the airlock in a hurry. He furiously gestured to the two pirates standing outside. They all boarded an air/raft, and made it to the open cargo hatch on the Shephard Brook.

The port airlock was the most logical place to make entry. It would also mean that it would be watched. Cagey Jack would not have received his epithet for complacency. Casey piloted the small craft over to the side of the transport ship, lining up the side door of the launch to the airlock.

It had already been explosively breached, presumably by the pirates when they captured the vessel. The outer door was inoperable, and Callin and Rodrigo removed an access panel to manually open the inner door. Casey stood back, his rifle at the ready to cover them should they be expected on the other side of the door.

Foolishly, Casey had expected the inevitable armed resistance, but not the inevitable equalization of atmospheric pressure when the door opened. The faint gravity of the moon was completely unable to assist Casey in keeping his feet as the air on the other side of the airlock hissed out when the door opened. He was quite blown backwards into the open door of the launch, striking the wall on the opposite side and falling to the ground. Almost simultaneously, dozens of bullet strikes hit the bulkhead above him, showering him with fragments and ricochets.

Somehow he had kept a combat grip on his rifle. Rolling around he peered above the ledge of the airlock. It had opened into a hallway where two men were spraying fire from around a corner into the open doorway with automatic weapons. Casey fired two well aimed shots center-mass at one of them. He had seen Casey pop up though, and he dove behind the protection of the corner. Rodrigo, who had taken refuge behind the inside wall of the airlock, pulled out a grenade and tossed it down the hallway. In the low pressure atmosphere it exploded with a muted pop, propelling debris in every direction and temporarily filling the passageway with smoke.

Rodrigo was after them immediately. He turned the corner and took a fleeting shot at the slowest pirate as the latter made his exit through an iris hatch. Casey joined Rodrigo, and as Callin walked down the hall he shot the video cameras he could see. They were in what looked like a small mess room. Three doors exited the room, and Rodrigo pointed out which one the pirate had gone through. They started towards it when they heard a voice over the loudspeaker.

“Look what we ‘ave ‘ere. Three li’l chicks in meh nest, comin’ ‘ome t’ roost?” Callin quickly aimed his laser pistol and shot the camera in that room. “Ah,” the voice intoned with a hint of schadenfreude, “now we ‘ave bad guests.”

What Casey had feared now happened. The pirate turned the grav plates to max pull. He instantly was smashed to the floor, weighing well over a thousand pounds. His lungs were crushed inside of him, and he struggled to breathe. This wasn’t it though; this was just the beginning of how Cagey Jack would kill them. They didn’t have to wait long before the gravity reversed, sending them careening into the ceiling with an acceleration of 58.8 meters per second per second. With such an extraordinary force, they almost instantaneously were crushed against the upper bulkhead with sickening power. Then again they were propelled downwards and struck the floor with the same violence they would suffer had they been thrown from the roof of a five story building.

Were it not for their armor they would have been killed nearly instantaneously. Still, they had only seconds before they would meet their end. Casey had spoken once to an old grognard in a navy bar. He had claimed that one time during a boarding assault his grav belt – the only defense against such an attack – had been disabled by an EMP blast. Firing wildly, he had managed to strike the cable bringing power to the utility units that fed to the grav plates in the deck, saving his life and the lives of his squadmates.

There was no other hope. Casey, with his face pressed into the floor with the gravitational forces of more than two Jupiters, looked at the maintenance panels on the walls. Recognizing the markings that helped mechanics locate the cables in the walls and floors, he barely had enough time to designate a likely target before the gravity again reversed. During the split second he was between the floor and the ceiling he was – technically – weightless in free fall. He brought his rifle to bear and with an expert shot hit the cable beneath the floor. The room was pitched into darkness as the power to the lights went out. Casey’s hyperspectral visor took over however, and he could see almost normally.

Drat, thought Casey, just my luck. This is going to hurt some more. Indeed, soon they were headed back to the floor. Casey had time to line up another possible target and fired. Instead of staying stuck upon striking the floor, he bounced off in the .3 native gees of the moon. Grabbing on to Callin – he didn’t want him to careen into another room where the deck plates could continue their diabolical work – they floated to the ground. Callin righted himself and nodded. He would be all right.

They were out of immediate danger of death, but not out of danger. They were on board a hostile pirate vessel, with the number, capabilities, and equipment of the hostiles unknown. Their first order of business was to not fall prey to that same sort of attack. Cagey Jack must have known that something had gone wrong. They heard a racket in the rooms next to them. They forced open the iris valves and saw equipment in those rooms banging up and down. They shot out the cameras in those rooms – a med bay and a hallway to the state rooms.

Casey felt the need to leave this ship. He identified the cable that would take out the grav plates in the hallway that led back to the airlock and shot it out. They felt pushed down to the floor a bit, not from the gravitational force from artificial gravity but from vertical acceleration of the ship. They were moving. Casey went back to the airlock and looked down. Their launch and the landing deck were nowhere to be seen. They were ascending the tunnel of the fifteen mile deep mineshaft.

“Let’s go, now” he said, his head still feeling crushed in. “We’re sitting ducks. There is no possible way we can win this. We have to figure out some way to get out of here.”

Callin was not a combat veteran. He had received some training in the use of a laser in self-defense, but had not known the chaos of space combat. Nevertheless, and despite their very close brush with death, he was determined to push on. “Now wait a minute Casey,” he said calmly. “How far is it to engineering? If we can get there, can’t we control the gravity?”

Casey thought. He had seen the heat bloom when they had restarted the power plant. He also had an uncanny ability to determine distance and spacial relationships no matter the circumstances. It was a trait that had served him well as a fighter pilot.

He pointed down the hall. “That way. Fifteen meters or so. A hallway or two.”

“Okay then,” replied Callin, still calm. “That’s not far. We just need to find a way to get there. I don’t think that we can abandon ship now anyway.”

Casey sighed, remembering the mysterious “cargo” the pirates had stolen, and their mission to locate Mrs. Fibonacci. The hallway that would lead them to the engineering bay was an awkward one. After the iris valve opened it turned sharply to the left. He couldn’t get an angle into it to hit the power conduit to the grav plates unless he entered the room. That would not be a good idea: Rodrigo had tossed a can of tinned pinto beans into the hall. It was instantly crushed under its own weight as the six gees of gravity compressed it into paste.

Casey readied his Sturmgewehr. He fired round after round of 10 millimeter slugs into the floor. Eventually the integrity of the grav plate was destroyed. Rodrigo tossed a can of green beans into the room, where it rolled as would be expected from .3 gees – until it hit the next grav plate and was smashed.

That was enough though. Casey stepped onto the destroyed grav plate, being extremely careful not to get close to the green bean mush. He fired a few rounds at the wall where the conduit should be, and a sacrificial can of artichoke hearts verified his success.

Rodrigo and Callin again forced open the iris valve at the end of the hall. Casey stood by with his rifle, ready for hostiles – and any change in atmospheric pressure. There were neither on the other side. It was a small storage room, with a couple of crates in the corner and a mainframe terminal on the other side. Callin quickly shot out the camera in the room.

And then Callin noticed something that might have killed them all. There was a limpet mine stuck to the wall next to the computer. There was a strange insignia on it of two circles above a larger semicircle. Callin shot it and it exploded, creating a hole in the hull of the ship.

Having avoided that trap, Casey busied himself shooting out the deck plating in that room, expending several magazines. That’s why if no one asks you why you’re carrying so much ammo, you’re not carrying enough!

They were finally at the door of the engineering bay. Callin took out his laser eavesdropping device to listen to the conversation. They could hear two people inside: Gerald and Dan. From the voice, they could tell that Dan was not the Vargr. They were discussing battle tactics with the presumption that the boarders would sooner or later assault the room. Gerald had a rocket launcher, and was getting tactical advice on its use from Dan.

Assault the room they did. Casey and Rodrigo got into position, and Callin forced the door. Immediately a rocket burst out of the bay, striking the exterior bulkhead with little effect. Buttonhooking into the room, Casey went right while Rodrigo went left. Casey spotted Gerald and sent a round his way. Gerald, abandoning the rocket launcher, leapt behind the fusion reactor out of Casey’s sight.

Rodrigo found himself face to face with Dan and quickly pulled the trigger, putting him down. Gerald, nearly hysterical, surrendered to Casey.

From engineering, they could cut of power to the ship, but not control it. Casey levelled his rifle at Gerald. “Give me the access codes,” he said. With the codes they could subvert most of the ship’s controls from the bridge to engineering.

Even behind his armored faceplate Casey could see Gerald’s eyes grow wide. “I don’t have them!” He pointed at his fallen comrade. “Dan knows them though!”

Casey moved quickly. Leaving Gerald in the custody of Callin, Rodrigo repressurized the room while Casey worked to get Dan’s vacc suit off. That done, he took his crash kit off of his back and began administering aid to Dan. Within minutes he had stabilized him and patched him up.

After Dan came to, Casey spoke with him. He assured Dan that he had no wish to harm him, and in fact told him that he could help him out of his predicament and assist him in starting a new life if he would give him the access codes to the mainframe. Dan was angrily stubborn, and continually refused to provide Casey with the codes. Quick as a snake strike, Casey drew his pistol and shot Dan in the foot.

Shouting in pain, he still refused to provide the access codes until Rodrigo applied some extra pressure – to the hole in Dan’s foot. Finally Dan agreed to negotiate.

“I’ll give you what you want, but I want KCr30,” he said sulkily.

“That’s agreeable,” Casey said. “Rodrigo, give him the money.”

Rodrigo paled at Casey’s breach of etiquette. “I’ll not give him a tenth! Never!”

Casey kept a straight face, and made sure he didn’t roll his eyes. “Very well. Rodrigo, may I borrow KCr30? I’ll pay you back out of my share of the ship funds.”

Good manners restored, Rodrigo was instantly agreeable. He handed Casey a stack of bills, who in turn handed them to Dan. He stood up and limped to an equipment locker. Under Casey’s careful eye – and the muzzle of his rifle – Dan put on an emergency vacc suit and started to walk to the iris valve.

“Wait,” Casey said. “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to the cargo bay, I’m going to get on the air/raft, and as I fly away I’m going to tell you the access code.”

Casey’s finger itched on the trigger. “No. You’re going to tell us the code, and you’re going to tell it to us now.”

“Yeah, I will, once I’m on that air/raft and safely away.”

Rodrigo had had enough. They had wasted too much time with this pirate. He drew his pistol and put three slugs in the man’s chest. Dan fell to the floor, gurgled, and was still.

Gerald cheered the death of the evil pirate, and proclaimed his loyalty to Captain Casey. With Dan – and the hope of getting the access codes – now gone, the trio turned their attention to this new member of their crew. It was apparent that Gerald wasn’t an O-type star. In fact, he intellect might have been hovering around the brown dwarf area on the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram.

Callin, ever the skilled private detective, began to question him. Gerald said that some time ago the “bossman” took some of the boys with him and left. Those other pirates had gone all “weird”, and after the Professor had an argument with Cagey Jack, the Professor had left with 2nd Mate Brewster and had left for Eden with the now strange crew members. The Captain had disagreed with this sort of action, and became increasingly concerned when Brewster never returned with their ship as planned. Gerald said that the Professor’s wife was with him.

When Callin asked Gerald about the cargo, he called it a “big, fluffy thing”. Casey knew, without asking, exactly what was in the cargo hold. He almost felt that he had known it all along: Standing Wave’s cryptic comments, the Professor’s insane drive to hire pirates to confiscate the thing in a last ditch effort to save his wife, Imperial involvement via Tukera Corp special forces. Still, he had to verify. He took out his handcomp and brought up an image of a Herald. Showing it to their captive he immediately responded “Yeah that’s it! Only it’s not doing too well. You see, we didn’t really know how to feed it, and ah, what it liked to eat and stuff. It stopped moving a while ago, but when I checked on it yesterday it was at least still breathing.”

The three of them looked at each other. The mystery had been confirmed. There was a Herald on the ship. Professor Fibonacci somehow had found out that a sophont had been kidnapped by the Imperium, and had seen an opportunity to cure his wife’s degenerative disease. How exactly the Professor thought this creature would help his wife was not clear, yet from the gleaning of clues at the Professor’s mansion he clearly understood a great deal about the Heralds, maybe even more than was known by the entire Imperium. Delusional? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Desperate? That was certain.

Time was not a luxury they had ever had. Not only were there two homicidal pirates on board the ship completely capable of killing all of them, the plight that the Herald was in could not be ignored. Casey and Rodrigo began shutting off power to the starship drives. Its acceleration slowed and ceased. They were well above the moon by now, but their inertia would carry them along for quite some time, and they were in no imminent danger of crashing back on the moon’s surface.

Callin keyed the intercom to the bridge. “Captain Jack”, he said, “This is Callin Roth. I’m sure that by now you’ve discovered that we have control of engineering. We both have something that the other wants. You want to get away. We want what’s in your cargo hold. There’s no reason that all of us have to perish in this needless fight against each other.”

Captain Jack’s voice was calm, yet cold and cruel, with more than a touch of Creole accent. “Ah like ye Callin, ah like how ye talk an’ ah like yer manners. Let me tell ye this then. Ah’ll kill ye last of all. Ye an’ me’ll drink together a pint a’ rum, gennleman t’ gennleman. We’ll talk about th’ gran’ mysteries o’ th’ ages like proper folk. And then ah’ll put a bullet right between yer eyes.

“In fact, Callin Roth, let me tell ye something about that precious cargo o’ yers. Yer not ganna like it ‘tal. We’ve already gonn’a the hol’, and we’ve already secured that preshis cargo. Yer nat gonna be getting’ it, not that it matters to meh nah, not fer nuttin’, but it’s the principle. Mahn is mahn, whether it’s that thing or whedder it’s a teacup, yer not getting’ yahr han’s on it!”

Callin was silent for a moment, and then had a flash of inspiration. “Captain, your cargo is only part of this. My employer wants very much to know where Professor Fibonacci is. Could you at least tell us that before our drinking session?”

There was a moment’s pause as the pirate captain breathed angrily into the microphone. “Arrr, the Professor. Ye’ll mus’ be wirkin’ fer Lady Gray. Well then, ah’ll tell ye ‘bout the Professor, an’ ah’ll tell ye why. Ye think there’s not a bullet out there wat has me name on it? E’en Cap’n Jack’ll get ‘is some day. Mebbe that bullet be in yer gun, mebbe nat. An’ if’n ah tells ye an’ then ah kills ye, Cap’n Jack wins. An if’n ye kills me, ye’ll get meh vingence on Fibonacci fer me, lahk ah’m strikin’ from th’ grave!

“Yer see, we had a deal, the professor’n me. He double crossed us, me and my crew. He put them robot bugs in their heads, burrowed into their brains they did, infected them and turned them against me! He took th’ crew an’ took th’ ship to Eden. Ye’ll be findin’ ‘im there!”

The intercom clicked off. “Assault,” Callin said. Everyone else was thinking it. “He’s not going to negotiate. We have to assault the bridge and take control of the ship again.” Rodrigo agreed, as did Casey, reluctantly.

Their first order of business would be to take out all of the cameras between engineering and the bridge. There were to ways to get there, each way entering in on the bridge in opposite doors. Casey volunteered for this task. There was the real possibility that, as he moved through the halls taking out the cameras, he would be ambushed by Cagey Jack, Figity Dan, or both. He stood a good chance at being killed in the attempt.

Still, it had to be done. If Jack was able to watch them as they approached the bridge and prepared to enter, he would have a significant tactical advantage. They could not abandon engineering and allow Jack or Dan to recapture it. They had to leave two of their party there. Three, counting Gerald.

So it was that Casey made his way through the abandoned passageways of the vessel, slowly clearing the corners and shooting the cameras when he saw them. He could feel the soles of his combat vacc suit thump on the deck plates with every step, wondering if each one was his last. Sweat poured down his face and was absorbed by the suit, which began to compensate for his increased body temperature.

Miraculously, he completed the task without any interference. Jack must have known he was coming; he would have seen Casey shooting the cameras. Still, for whatever reason they did not attack him, and he returned to the engineering bay.

Now it was Rodrigo’s turn to venture out. He wanted to go to the cargo bay to look at the Herald. Casey didn’t think this was wise. They would gain very little and he would again be risking his life. Rodrigo was insistent, and off he went. He returned minutes later and told them that there was a massive cubic cargo container, 25 feet on a side, in the center of the room. It was clear that this was where the Herald was being kept.

They asked Gerald what kind of weapons the captain and Figity Dan would use. He told them that Dan was fond of explosives, gyrocs, and rocket launchers. The captain had a rifle “almost as tall as he is, and he never misses!” He also told them that the captain had a ghost, “and it’s mighty unnerving, him being in more than one place at a time!” Sounds like a holographic projector, thought Casey. That’s good to know.

It was time for the assault. Casey packed up his equipment. He was having Callin check his straps and gear when he noticed Rodrigo was gone.

“Rodrigo?” he said aloud, yet a quick glance around the fusion reactor showed him that Rodrigo was not in the bay and the door was closed. He keyed up his suit transceiver. “Rodrigo, can you hear me?”

He was answered almost immediately. “Yes my friend, I am here,” came the faint reply. “I am at the cargo bay, destroying the cameras there. It seems that I have been shot.”

Leaving the defense of the cargo bay to Callin, Casey ran pell mell towards the cargo bay. He found Rodrigo slumped against the bulkhead just outside the door to the bay. He was conscious, but badly hurt, having taken a round in the chest that penetrated his armor. He started to wrap Rodrigo’s arm around his neck to lift him up. Suddenly, Casey stopped. What is that? He felt a singing in the back of his mind. It was a low humming, a mournful wailing. He shook it off. We’ll come for you when we can, he told it. This isn’t over yet. Casey stood up, dragging Rodrigo with him back to the engineering bay.

Casey worked quickly, again unslinging his medical kit from his back. He staunched the flow of blood and then stabilizing as best he could Rodrigo’s wound. He responded well to the treatment. He stood up, took a few halting steps, and announced that he was ready for the attack on the bridge.

They had picked up the die and were holding it in their hands. It was time to cast it.
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Re: Travelling through the Heart of Darkness

Post by grumpit on Thu Jul 21, 2016 7:29 am

Well written but you skipped a game or two.

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Re: Travelling through the Heart of Darkness

Post by Better Quell Jorel on Wed Jul 27, 2016 4:55 pm

Well written but you skipped a game or two.

I'll second that motion.
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Re: Travelling through the Heart of Darkness

Post by Agent Tash on Wed Jul 27, 2016 6:33 pm

Good recall for the NPC dialogue specifics there. I also enjoyed your gravity pinball narrative.
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Re: Travelling through the Heart of Darkness

Post by Casey on Mon Sep 12, 2016 1:02 am

Chapter 8


Casey floated in the small storage room, looking out at the stars through the hole in the side of the ship. He had always found space to be beautiful, majestic even. The Shepherd Brook had listed somewhat to starboard, and he could see the limb of Some, gently lighted by distant Sargos and Dias. The blues and grays of the hydrocarbon ices melded gradually with the basaltic plains of the pockmarked mare.

Casey had always been good at what he did. Today, that meant killing. It wasn’t always like this. He had been taken from a survey apprenticeship in the ISS and placed in S3 training not because he could kill, but because he could talk his way out of killing. Naturally, talking didn’t always suffice, and his superiors had appreciated his uncanny ability to know when to talk and when to shoot. Now, there was no more use for talking. It was time to kill Cagey Jack and Fidgety Dan. Casey was going to lead Callin, Gorikak, Geffert, and Rodrigo on a mission to kill. It wasn’t something that Casey felt he should dislike, although he certainly didn’t like it. It just had to be done.

Turning his mind back to the task at hand, by using dead reckoning – the fixed stars, the location and gravity of the moon, and time in transit – Casey calculated that they had about ninety minutes before they crashed back to the surface. Just in case Fidgety Dan decided to retake engineering while they attacked the bridge, Geffert and Casey had partially dismantled the fusion drive. It would be a fairly straightforward operation to get it back into operation, but it would take some time, perhaps thirty minutes. That gave them an hour to get to the bridge, kill Cagey Jack, and get everything started again. That should give them plenty of time to avoid a collision. Should, thought Casey. If there are no unforeseen complications. If we fail we’re all going to die, that Herald included. Not like we have any alternative choice.

They were done with talking and planning. It was time for action. Casey could feel his heart beat faster as they pulled themselves along the passages and moved Callin into position at the bottom of the elevator. Callin – unused to moving in zero gee – nearly spun out of control as they got to the door. Casey grabbed hold of him, steadying him and moving him to a handhold.

The plan called for Callin to start moving up the elevator as soon as they had opened the iris valve into the bridge, hopefully catching Jack unawares. Callin didn’t have a weapon that would be likely to penetrate any armor that Jack would certainly be wearing, but he was a crack shot: his task would be to take out Jack’s rifle.

The rest of them positioned themselves in front of the bridge’s iris valve. Casey, Gorikak, and Rodrigo placed themselves into a tactical position at the edges of the door while Geffert – locking his feet in the hall’s handholds – quickly removed the service panel and manually opened the door. The room was fully pressurized, and air began to force its way out of the room as the valve slid open. Once again, Casey was ready for this, and at any rate Gorikak was far too large to be fussed about a little breeze. The two of them pushed in slightly. At that same time the door to the elevator opened. They were in a slight recess, and off to their left the conduit corridor would lead to the bridge. So far, they saw nothing.

But Callin with his eagle eyes did. He radioed to them the location of an explosive device cleverly disguised as a fire suppression module. Taking careful aim, he destroyed it with his laser pistol. Casey and Gorikak started to pie the corner down the corridor, Gorikak floating low and Casey floating near the ceiling. Suddenly Gorikak pushed himself back and shouted into his mic “He’s down at the end of the bridge on the right!”

Dammit, thought Casey. Go go go! We can’t stop, we can’t stop moving forward! He’ll kill us all if we get pinned down!

And then it happened. Fidgety Dan had emplaced another EMP device somewhere near them, and Jack set it off. The lights on the bridge immediately went out, and the microprocessor on Casey’s suit failed. His weapon and HUD remained intact, their shielding designed to prevent interference from electromagnetic radiation.

Casey didn’t wait. Like a coiled spring he launched himself down the hallway, hoping that Jack’s preoccupation in setting off the explosive and then it’s detrimental effects would have caused him to unready his defense.

It didn’t work out that way. Almost as soon as he left the protective cover of the wall Jack let loose 12 grams of lead, tungsten, and steel at 10,000 feet per second, striking Casey in his left thigh. As he flew through the air he spun from the rotational inertia imparted upon his body. Still, he was able to land near the access trough on the side of the corridor and pull himself down into cover. His suit – whether because of its ancient design or its shorted out microprocessor - began to vent air and blood. Casey grabbed a patch and slapped it on the hole, trying to ignore the pain. He was still venting. Damn bullet went through and through. He pulled another patch off of his suit and applied it on the exit hole.

He had seen down the corridor onto the bridge proper. There were two Captain Jacks, one taking cover behind the edge of the tactical holoprojector display, the other behind a work station. Casey communicated this to the others. They knew that he had some sort of holographic projection device. This would complicate things.

A moment later Gorikak was at his side. Somehow he had shoved his massive body into the trough like only a soldier under fire can. Were the circumstances any different, it would have been comedic. “I can’t see anything,” he said. “My HUD’s out.” This is just getting better and better. A blind Gorikak will be almost useless.

Several moments of hesitation followed as everyone took cover without making any tactical headway. He’s going to take us out one by one, or get Fidgety Dan up here to create an impossible crossfire. We have to keep moving! Damn the sniper rifle!

Casey keyed up his comm and hastily created battle orders. They would move simultaneously down the hallway towards the bridge. The closer they got, the less tactical superiority Jack’s sniper rifle would have.

Casey gave the order, and they all moved as planned. Using his one good leg to launch himself across the hallway and forward, Casey could see that there were three Jacks. He took a shot at one as he flew but the bullet went wide. If Jack took a shot Casey didn’t see it. He got to the other side, but instead of taking cover underneath the walkway again he continued to move forward. He still had cover from the other two Jacks from the door onto the bridge, yet he was certainly still in Jack’s kill zone.

The emergency lights flickered to life. Casey would later learn that Geffert had hacked the console at the entrance and had switched them on. Good, now Gorikak is back in the fight. For his part, Gorikak had slung his rifle and had extended his claws. He was on the hunt.

Somehow Callin had deduced which one was the real Jack. “He’s the middle one!” he shouted over the din of the battle. Casey leaned out and took a cool aim at that one. He saw Jack fire a round at Callin but miss. Immediately Jack popped back down behind the main console. Even though Casey had not gotten his shot off, Jack’s taking of cover was tactically advantageous to Casey and his group, and Casey pushed himself forward, colliding with the other side of the holographic projector. He took cover as he was joined by Callin and Rodrigo. Gorikak, meanwhile, was rushing around the side of the projector to get in close with Jack, using the bridge equipment as handholds to pull himself forwards.

Three Jacks popped up from behind the main console and fired at Rodrigo, striking him and propelling him backwards somewhat. His body, limp, hung in between the floor and ceiling, slowly spinning. Casey took a shot at one of the Jacks, but again his round went wide. Callin was ready though, and shouted that the one on the right was real. He fired at Jack’s large sniper rifle with his heavy laser pistol, instantly turning it into slag. Casey followed up with a shot to the real Jack’s chest, ending the fight.

Geffert had already closed the iris valve and was repressurizing the room, and as Callin moved up to capture Jack, Casey started taking off his armor to get to his wound. He quickly staunched the bleeding but stopped treating the wound after that. Instead he moved to Rodrigo, still spinning unconscious in the air above the floor. Grasping onto him with his legs, Casey removed his armor. He had a wound through his chest, and Casey quickly bandaged him as he clung onto him in the zero gee of the ship. Casey was relieved as Rodrigo responded to the treatment. The bleeding stopped and his vitals became more regular. He was still badly hurt, but he would likely survive.

The intercom on the bridge console pinged. It was from the cargo hold. Callin switched it on. “Hey Captain, you get them? They dead?” the Vargr asked.

“Arrrh, they be dead, them wirthless scum,” Callin responded in his best pirate captain voice.

“That’s good, Captain! You wants that I come to the engineering and start up ship power again? Then we’ll be on our way and no more trouble!”

“No, ye’ll stay down thar in the hol’! I killed four of ‘em, an’ I think there be one more. Ye’ll stay there and ah’ll spin ‘er up again an’ we be on our way!”

Callin switched off the comm. They had not forgotten about the Vargr. They had to get back to engineering to restart the reactor, but they couldn’t afford to lose the bridge again. It was decided that Gorikak would escort Geffert back to the bay, while an unhurt Callin would stay at the bridge with Casey so that he could restart the maneuver drives once power was back up.

In less than twenty minutes they returned. Geffert laconically remarked that he had been contacted by Fidgety Dan, and had easily fooled him into thinking that he was the captain. He again told him to remain in the cargo hold. This is going to be easy, thought Casey. There was no more need for another gunfight. The plan for the ambush was simple, and was quickly executed. Callin, again using his pirate captain voice, told Dan to come to the bridge. Gorikak went down into the hallway, and radioed Casey when he heard the Vargr tromping up to the bridge. Turnabout is fair play, and Casey rapidly reversed maximum gravity in that hallway. It was over in seconds.

Now in complete control of the vessel, Casey set about stabilizing their trajectory. After this was done, Callin, Gorikak and Casey went to the cargo hold. They found the large cubical cargo container that Rodrigo had described. As Casey reached his hand forward to open the container, he again felt the same trilling, singing in his head that he had felt before.

“Yes, Father?” Casey asked as he made his way to the study. Anthony DuQuette was sitting in his leather armchair, wearing a smoking jacket and fez. The smell of tobacco and the old books that lined the walls permeated the room. Something was wrong with him, and he held his side as if he had been hurt.

“Casey,” his father whispered with difficulty. “I don’t have much time. I should have prepared you better. There were … two groups in the wilderness, and we fought with them. There is this thing … you must get it from them. It’s too dangerous for them, and when you have it you must use it. They’re so close, too close. They’ve already made a pass … that was a close call. Hard times are coming. You must be ready.” Anthony gasped.

“Who father?” cried Casey, his voice breaking with emotion. “Who are they? Let’s just leave! I’ll saddle up the horses and we’ll go into the outback; they’ll never find us! We’ll message mum, tell her to stay on Io, and when you’re better we’ll get our rifles and go find them!”

His father smiled at him. “You’re so young, my boy. So young.”

His father gasped, and was still.


Casey looked at his hand as it hovered, trembling, in front of the latch on the cargo container. He didn’t move, couldn’t move. Gorikak opened the door. Inside they saw the hulking Herald, its six limb curled beneath it. Casey didn’t need to go in there to check. He already knew. The Herald was dead. Casey’s hands still trembled as he closed the door.

They returned to the bridge, and Casey plotted a course back into the tunnel. He docked the Shepherd Brook at the ramp. They were still in a hurry, and Casey and Callin went back into the base. Moving quickly, they exited the rear entrance and again boarded the Traveller’s Bounty. Sandy was not pleased.

“Where the HELL have you guys been? Do you know how…”

Casey cut her off. “Before you get angry, you should know that we’ve killed Fidgety Dan, captured Captain Jack, and got a hold of the Shepherd Brook. You’re welcome.”

Sandy opened her mouth, closed it, and then planted a kiss on Casey’s lips. “You are the most beautiful man I’ve ever met,” she gushed. Casey stammered something, a bit shocked that she would say that in front of Callin, and then he went to the bridge. He flew out of the passage, and then went down the other passage and docked inside of the cargo hold of the Brook.

Casey and Callin entered the base again. They quickly grabbed everything that might be useful, including food, weapons, armor, and any computer drives that might have useful data on them. The temperature inside of the base was still a hundred degrees below zero; the pirate that had been imprisoned would certainly be dead by now. Still, Casey wanted to check, and he opened the door to the tiny jail. The form of the pirate was still on the floor, cold and stiff. Casey reached out his hand to roll him over. The pirate’s eyes opened, silvery orbs, and he gasped. Casey shouted and jumped back, firing several rounds at the already dead man as he tried to sit up. He lay still and died. Again.

“Seems to be Fibonacci’s work,” said Callin succinctly. Casey said nothing. They finished their work, and returned to the ship.

When they returned, Sandy had something to show them. She brought them to the cargo hold of the Traveller’s Bounty, and showed them the war robot. She had been busy dismantling the thing while they were gone, and when Casey saw what she had discovered, he recoiled in horror. Inside of the machine, instead of a Virtual AI CPU, there was a severed human head. Tubes and wires led into its brain, mouth, and the bloody stub of its spinal cord. The Imperium has lost its mind, thought Casey. What can they be thinking? How can they think that this could be right?

It was once again time to discuss their present situation. They sat on the bridge, Casey smoking a cigar, as Geffert in his usual silent way set about to fixing some of the things that they had shot up. It was clear that they had knowledge that would get them summarily executed by the Imperium should it be known. What to do with that knowledge was the question. It was Callin who provided enlightenment.

“Fibonacci took a map of the Stygian Abyss from the Heralds. We have to get it back. The Reavers are coming. They were an old race that showed up a while ago and destroyed those worlds in this area. Fibonacci thinks that he will be helping his wife, but he will only hurt trillions of others in the process. He’s already been transforming these people into robot minds. There is another faction coming. They are going to kill everyone in their path. We have to get that map from Fibonacci.”

Geffert piped up. “You got that good bit of gossip from that there dead Herald, didn’tcha?” Callin nodded.

It was time to wake up Captain Jack. Callin got some salts from his medkit, and the pirate’s eyes rolled open. As he came to, his expression hardened into hatred.

Callin spoke calmly, yet with authority. He told Jack that Gorikak would skin him alive if he didn’t tell them what they needed to know.

“Ah, ye’ve beat me. That bullet t’was in yer gun affer all. There tain’t nah need for nah threat. Ah’ll tell ye what ah’ll tell ye, an’ I ain’t gonna say nuthin’ more. Them boys that went with the doctor t’ Eden, mebbe four score of ‘em. Ah don’ know why they went there. Them bugs turned ‘em into madmen, not obeying orders, doing as the professor said to do.

“His laboratory? Arrr Ah know where it be. An’ if’n ye’ll be killin’ Fibonacci, that base be at seventy-eight poin’ oh six nahn fahv by thirteen poin’ three six fahv eight. Yah’ll be finding ‘is lab there, but ya’ll naht be findin’ him.

“An’ nah, I be not livin’ with the shame ahv such as ye defeatin’ me. Yah’ll naht be takin’ me to the Imperials. Yah’ll be spacin’ me firs’.”

Casey agreed with Jack on that last point, but for different reasons. Callin and Rodrigo disagreed vehemently, but they would not be able to take a captive with them – it would be too dangerous. Casey made eye contact with Gorikak, and nodded. Without hesitation Gorikak plunged his blades into Jack’s body, who expired with a sardonic grin on his face. Callin, emotional, fled the bridge.

“Gorikak,” Casey said to Gorikak, “there’s still a living pirate ties up in the engineering room.” Gorikak quickly walked off to take care of that problem also.

Casey sat in the captain’s chair. He descended into the methane lake, refueling the vessel. He then took the Shepherd Brook out of the deep shaft. Flying low over the landscape, he located a suitable abandoned cave to hide the ship in. Everyone got on board the Traveller’s Bounty, and he laid in a course for Tems 6. It was a few hours there. As they neared the coordinates given them by Jack, Geffert pulled up an image on their screens. They saw a triangular formation of three science domes, each one larger than the last. There was a landing pad, and some cargo containers had been placed outside.

Casey stood, looking at the data coming in from their sensors. “Bring up an image of that largest dome, Geffert,” he said.

“Sure, Cap,” was the drawled reply.

As Casey looked at the image, he had a strange sensation. His felt a twinge of pain in his leg, and his vision clouded. He realized that he was on the floor, with Geffert and Callin looking at him. His limbs were leaden, and he tried to mutter something as the darkness came for him.
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Re: Travelling through the Heart of Darkness

Post by Better Quell Jorel on Mon Sep 12, 2016 12:28 pm

As Casey looked at the image, he had a strange sensation. His felt a twinge of pain in his leg, and his vision clouded. He realized that he was on the floor, with Geffert and Callin looking at him. His limbs were leaden, and he tried to mutter something as the darkness came for him.

Okay. I have a plan for you to get caught up. Jump ahead to the end of the last game where we all wake up in the Traveller's Gambit. Casey could then briefly reminisce about boarding the Gazelle and the adventures on the dream planet. Then briefly recount shooting one zombie pirate and taking the 20-ton shuttle. And there you have it.
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Re: Travelling through the Heart of Darkness

Post by Casey on Tue Jan 03, 2017 5:51 am

Chapter 19

Part I


Casey piloted the CNS Bridgeway through one more orbit around the planetesimal. They had determined via the spectrum of the object that it was actually a Dyson sphere around a neutron star. With a diameter of only twelve miles, the surface of the degenerate star must be very close indeed to the sphere. Ordinarily were they to be this close to a neutron star, they would be dead already from the electromagnetic field alone. That they were still alive – and that the gravity from the black hole was completely negated in a sphere several thousand miles across around the sphere – was a testament to the incredible technological achievements of the civilization that had built it.

There were two pyramids, one on each pole. They were quite large, nearly 1,000 feet high. Streams of an unknown energy flowed from each one across the dark plains. Mrs. Fibonacci had told them that what they sought was in the pyramid on the north pole. Casey touched down a half mile away. Rodrigo and Gorikak were going to stay on the ship. The rest of them geared up, synching their meson comms with each other’s suits. Bringing weapons on a scientific expedition had been frowned upon by the military administration, but Casey wasn’t about to go anywhere on this strange place without his rifle and plenty of ammunition.

Gravity was near Earth normal at .9 gees, yet there was no atmosphere. They had been supplied with custom made high-tech vac suits, which were nearly as comfortable as wearing utility coveralls in a shirtsleeve environment. Casey was the first to step onto the surface. It was composed of discrete cubes slightly less than a yard on each side. They were very slippery. Casey’s SmartSoles™ boots had to work extra hard to keep him from sliding halfway across the planetoid. The blocks were near absolute zero, and absorbed almost all the light from Casey’s flashlight. With the lack of any bright stellar object and practically no help from their thermal visors, it was indeed difficult to make their way across the pixelated terrain to the structure.

As they neared the pyramid, they saw that there was a staircase made up of the blocks. It ascended the side of the building and ended in a tall entrance. Shockingly, at the top of the stairs stood a tall human figure wearing a dark business suit – not a vac suit. He appeared to be passively observing them, and didn’t seem to be holding a weapon. He said nothing, not like they would have heard him in the vacuum of this world. In the utter darkness he glowed brightly with the normal infrared energy of a living being. Nevertheless, for obvious reasons, Casey found his presence to be rather disturbing.

Still, there was no place to go but to that entrance. They carefully clambered up the slippery blocks, with only Callin having a slight mishap, sliding a short distance. He quickly stood up and continued the march, growling angrily at the not-too-subtle laughter of his teammates at his fall.

After some effort, they all reached the entrance. The doorway was large, perhaps six feet wide and twenty feet tall. The mysterious figure in the suit had disappeared. Figures, thought Casey. Now we get to play hide and seek with this guy.

Casey shone his flashlight into the entrance. There was a passageway that sloped down into the pyramid. It was not made of blocks, but still appeared to be made of the same tractionless substance. Casey’s light could only show a few yards down before the beam was completely absorbed by the black material. He shined both his IR light and his weapon laser down the inky blackness, but could not get better results.

“We’ll need to go back to the ship, grab some of that biphase rope,” said Casey. “At an angle like that we’re not going to be able to climb back up again.”

Why are you making me wait?” asked Callin, exasperated. He jumped down onto the ramp and slid – on his feet – out of sight. “Come on guys,” Callin radioed back a short time later. “Hurry up! I don’t have all day.”

Casey looked at Derek. “Let’s go back to the ship and get that rope. I don’t know what’s gotten into Callin.” Derek nodded.

“And do you want me to go down there and make sure he’s safe until you guys get back?” asked Warren. Casey shrugged and nodded, and Warren went down the slide.

It took them a little while to go to the Bridgeway, get a couple hundred yards of rope, and return. Because of his physically imposing size – and the fact that there was nowhere else to secure the rope – Derek was the obvious choice to stay at the top, anchor the rope, and pull everyone out when they had finished in the pyramid.

Casey tied a large loop at the end of the rope and put it around him. Not wanting to be as theatrical as Callin, he sat down on the slipperier-than-ice ramp and let Derek lower him down. Casey’s held his rifle at the low ready. Neither Callin nor Warren had answered him when he tried to raise them over the comms. That might not mean anything; or it might mean everything. Just as likely this black stuff can even absorb mesons.

When he reached the bottom, Casey stood up and climbed out of the rope loop. As soon as he did so, he was rushed by Warren, who grabbed the rope and began to climb furiously. Warren’s face was contorted by abject, crushing fear, and he whispered breathily “we have to get out, we have to get out, we have to get out” over and over. Casey didn’t have time to react, and he wasn’t about to go up the rope after him. Derek would have to deal with him when he reached the top.

Casey looked around. He stood in a room that was large, although not cavernous. With the lack of light in the room it was difficult to know its exact dimensions. In the center of the room was a daïs, upon which lay what could have been some type of huge sarcophagus, about half again as wide and long as a man.

Moving around the sarcophagus, Casey could see Callin was the other side of the room, and he moved over to him. Callin stood staring at a large archway, the entrance of which was covered with the ubiquitous blocks. In his hand he was holding Mrs. Fibonacci’s cube. On the capstone of the arch was a symbol of a lopsided, five pointed star in a circle.

What caught Casey’s attention was the shining creature hovering above and behind Callin. It had six wings and six arms. In its hands, it held a flaming sword, a tablet with that same star symbol, a crystal, a cube, and a circle. Its last hand was empty, but had engraved on its palm again the star symbol. Callin looked different, majestic, even. He almost appeared to glow with an aura of self-confidence, proficiency, and power.

Casey was shocked into near silence at the appearance of this thing – and at Callin’s seeming transformation. He reached his hand out to touch it – and it went through the mystical beast without Casey feeling anything.

“What are you?” Casey whispered. The thing didn’t react, but Callin – who had all but ignored Casey up to this point – did.

“What is what?” he asked. “Be quiet. You’re disturbing my concentration. Help me get this door open.”

Casey tried to hold himself together. “I see a thing, with wings and arms. It’s holding things in its hands….” He trailed off.

Callin briefly directed a scornful glance at Casey. “You’re describing the angel that we saw at the entrance. And if you’re not going to help me then get out of my way so I can complete our mission.”

At that moment there was a piercing scream from Warren. “Aaaeeeeeggggghhhhh!!!! IT HAS THOUSANDS OF FACES!!!! FIVE MILES AWAY!!!! WE HAVE TO GET AWAY FROM THE TENTACLES!!!!”

Then Derek keyed Casey privately. “Ah, boss, I think we should get out of here. Warren’s gone crazy. I think he’s tripping out on PTSD or something. Grab Callin and let’s leave.”

In the meantime, Callin had brought Becky’s cube up to the blocks covering the passageway. The cubes in the archway glowed momentarily, and then pulled back like a curtain, revealing a stairway leading down into the dark heart of the pyramid.

KYLRA’LEH NYARLATHOTEP BNAHI AWAEKHI ALMANADEL NY’REH OPEACH KNEETHI!” intoned Warren. There was the sound of a scuffle outside, as if Warren and Derek had come to blows and were striking each other’s vac suits.

“Ah, Captain,” said Derek slowly and calmly over the din. “I think Warren’s lost it. Why don’t you guys come back and we’ll take him to the ship?”

Casey opened his mouth to say something, but Callin interrupted. “I give you my permission to guard him up there, if you wish. I have something I need to do. Tell Warren that his statement that ‘Nyarlathotep is watching us’ is meaningless. And you,” Callin turned to Casey with a sneer, “shall help me finish this before these weak-minded fools disrupt me any further.”

Callin started down the stairs. They were not made out of the black blocks that seemed to constitute the majority of this Dyson sphere, and were glowing with a faint emission of light that Casey’s hyperspectral visor couldn’t identify. “Come on, Casey. Let’s go.”

“No, Callin,” Casey said quietly. “Stop.”

“Hey, Casey,” said Derek. “He’s coming down. Look out.”

Casey turned and saw Warren slide out of the ramp and land at the feet of the same man that they had seen before. Now that he was closer, Casey could see him clearly. He was tall and swarthy, with black hair and a face that lacked any identifiable features. He was wearing a high-class business suit with leather shoes.

Casey’s attention was divided between the recalcitrant Callin and this man. “Hey Callin, come help me out with Warren. There’s that man here. We need to see what he wants.”

“No,” was Callin’s succinct reply. “You help out Warren. If there’s someone else here you should go talk with him. I’m busy with this mission. Apparently, I have to handle this on my own, and I will.”

Leaving Warren for the moment, Casey started down the stairs after Callin, who had made it quite a way down. Warren had started screaming – no words, just utter terror. The screaming stopped. Casey turned and saw Warren at the top of the stairs, hunched over and cowering. He quickly ran down to Casey, grabbing his vac suit. Warren was weeping, his face contorted with fear. “DELK’ERNINK UVU’AKH C’FHUGAR INT’TALL’NIKT PTAYRWWN!” was Warren’s pitiful and pleading comment to Casey.

Callin spoke without turning around. “No, Warren, I am not releasing any demon. I am going to do what we came here to do, despite your pathetic performance.”

“Callin, we’re going back to the ship,” Casey said. “All of us. Right now. Turn around and come back.” Callin continued to descend the stairs. “Callin. Turn around. I am ordering you to turn around. I am the Captain and the mission leader. You will do what I say.”

Callin turned around slightly, enough for Casey to see his contemptuous expression. “I don’t recognize your authority.”

In the vacuum of the stairway there was no report from Casey’s rifle as he pulled the trigger. The bullet struck Callin and blew through the other side of the vac suit. A spray of blood – white hot in the thermographic vision – splattered onto the wall. Callin turned around and looked at Casey with a demonic grin.

“Dammit Casey, why did you shoot me?” asked Callin calmly. He leaned against the wall, using it for support as he sank to the floor. “Come over and help me up. We can still finish this.”

Casey removed Callin from the conversation. “Warren,” he said. “Go over to him and activate his Suspend. We’ll carry him out.”

Warren – still hunched over and weeping – understood Casey enough to move down the stairs to Callin. He bent over and reached out his hand to the front of his suit where the control panel was. Then he stopped, stooped over with his hand outstretched. He stood still for several seconds, without Warren or Callin saying a word.

“Callin,” Casey said quietly. “Don’t do this.”

“Um, guys?” asked Derek from outside. “Are you shooting each other?”

“I need rest,” Callin said softly. “Just give me a minute to rest.”

Casey fired twice more. Two more streaks of blood covered the wall.

“Stop shooting me!” Callin shouted. “Will someone please stop Casey from murdering me?”

Warren turned around. “GHAR’AKAT HLOPTKALIL YTRIMCIK WQOYTRPOK!” he shouted as he ran towards Casey, his hands curled into claws with his rifle slung at his side, forgotten.

There was another silent push of Casey’s rifle against his shoulder as he pulled the trigger again. Warren fell, sliding down several stairs headfirst. Callin slumped over and was silent.

“Um, Casey?” Derek asked over a private comm. “This is kind of freaking me out.”

“Derek,” Casey breathed. “You stay up there. No matter what. If you have to, get back to the ship, have Rodrigo get you the hell out of here.”

“Yeah, I’m with you. If you can hit Callin’s Suspend, get him back to the rope, I can haul him up. I’m, ah, I’m going to radio over to Rodrigo to spin her up and get ready to leave. I’ll be staying here until you’re ready to come out.”

Casey nodded, even though he knew the gesture wouldn’t be seen by Derek. Slowly, as if in a dream, he walked the short way to Callin. He alternated his aim between Callin and Warren, ready to fire his weapon again should the need arise. Warren’s mask was filling with blood – Casey had struck him with a good pulmonary shot, and he had begun to bleed out. Warren was mechanically pressing buttons on the control panel of his suit, going through the motions of instructing his suit to heal him. He asked, as if to someone he saw, “But Doctor, how do I complete it? What do you want me to do?”

Casey made it to Callin. Trembling slightly, he clumsily used the muzzle of his rifle to activate Callin’s Suspend function. Casey’s suit – as mission commander – told him that the drug had been successfully administered.

Casey pulled out his knife, reached down, and cut the strap from Callin’s rifle. He took half a step and did the same to Warren’s rifle. He picked up the cube that had fallen from Callin’s hand, stuffing it uncomfortably into his web gear. Casey picked up Callin and heaved him over his shoulder. He headed up the stairs. As he got to the archway, he saw that same figure standing next to the sarcophagus. It was open.

The man pulled out a small stone tablet, extended his arm, and handed it to Casey. The tablet had that same lopsided star symbol on it. Without thinking, Casey took the tablet and put it in one of his pockets. The agreement had been made. The man nodded, took a step backwards, and faded into a black mist that soon disappeared. Casey, no longer impressed with anything that this place had to offer, looked into the sarcophagus. It was a deep pit, and Casey’s light couldn’t reach the bottom.

Casey tied Callin to the rope, told Derek he was ready, and Derek began pulling him up. He went back to the stairs and started to descend to assist Warren. To his surprise, he saw Warren limping up the stairs, whispering maniacally. As he reached Callin, he gestured and pointed down the stairs. To Casey’s horror, he saw a – a thing. Something from another reality. Another dimension. Another possibility. Space and time collapsed together, both of them astonished at the other’s existence. Euclid wept. Newton grew pale. Einstein hid his face. Steiner dropped his paper on jump theory into the incinerator.

A bulbous, amorphous, slithering, slimy, spherical abomination of the senses. Thousands of tentacles. Thousands of parallel teeth, crossing each other at perfect right angles. Something. The hellish spawn of the abomination that was the dead star below them.

Something that would do more than devour Casey’s soul.

It came at him. In a straight line. Curving from his flank. It opened its mouth. Ready. Ready to do what it had done so many times. Done to those who had built this place. This so-called prison. This thing which could not contain HIM. Could not contain ANYTHING. Nyarlathotep would see to that. Would see that HE WHICH IS ALL, WOULD SEE ALL, WOULD BE ALL. There would be no minor thing that would stop him. Stop THEM.

Casey, a child on Earth, was leading his cattle to the stream. They trusted him. They had followed him before, knew that he would lead them to water. Casey’s blue roan Asturius stopped and turned its head. The child turned around, his interest piqued by his horse’s observations. The little boy didn’t fear, didn’t hesitate when he saw what was behind him. He was armed. He was ready. He knew what it meant to be a member of Humaniti.

Casey began to walk backwards up the stairs. He raised his weapon and fired. The report of the weapon was loud in his ears, deafening him, drowning out all other stimuli of the physical plane. He counted the shots. One hundred. Two hundred. A thousand. An hour passed. Casey dropped the empty magazine and reloaded. The THING THAT MAN WAS NOT MEANT TO KNOW had recoiled for a moment. It was returning, coming for the man. It was not moving: its maw was devouring the space between itself and Casey.

The little boy sitting astride Asturius fired twice. He wasn’t afraid. He knew who he was. He knew his mother and his father cared for him, protected him, loved him. Casey flicked the lever on his double barreled break-action shotgun.  Both spent shells auto-ejected. The boy took his time, fishing in his pocket for two more four-ten birdshot shells, carefully loading them into his weapon. He drew a bead and fired twice, watching the redshift of the pellets as they exceeded the speed of light, slowly striking this horror that was merely a silly childhood fantasy.

He had made it to the bottom of the ramp. A rope descended, tied into a loop on the end. Casey dropped another magazine – his fifth or sixth. He had plenty more. If no one asks you why you’re carrying so much ammo, you’re not carrying enough! He raised his rifle again, terror ringing his heart, and fired, again and again. The thing, having been disoriented by Casey’s introduction of physical matter into the equation, drew strength from aberration and again came at him. It opened its jaws, and inside Casey saw outside the ordered universe, that last amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity – the boundless daemon-sultan Azathoth, whose true name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin, monotonous whine of accursed flutes; to which detestable pounding and piping dance slowly, awkwardly, and absurdly the gigantic ultimate gods, the blind, voiceless, tenebrous mindless Other Gods whose soul and messenger is the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep.

The boy broke open his weapon again, and reloaded casually. He had time. He had shot more brown snakes than he could remember, and had never lost one of his cattle to its most venomous bite. He laughed as he thought of what his parents would think when he showed them his crayon-drawn art of what it was that he was shooting at. He fired twice more. Looking at the rope, he realized that he wanted to stay there, wanted to know the peace of his cattle and his little streams and the faded game trails. Reluctantly he reached up and grabbed the rope.

Derek was reeling Casey up the ramp faster than should normally be possible. Casey fired another mag, dropped it and reloaded it faster than the eye could follow. Fire, drop, reload. The thing was gone. Casey stood outside the entrance to the abhorrent temple to unknown gods. Derek was had already slung Warren over his shoulder, and nodded towards the lifeless form of Callin. The multi-limbed demon was gone. Casey hadn’t noticed when it might have disappeared – or couldn’t remember. Casey wasn’t half as strong as Derek, yet he was more motivated. He half carried and half dragged Callin across the slippery terrain back to the Bridgeway.

Rodrigo, who had apparently been listening to the radio traffic, lifted off before Derek had even hit the button to close the airlock.
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Re: Travelling through the Heart of Darkness

Post by Better Quell Jorel on Wed Jan 04, 2017 10:57 am

“DELK’ERNINK UVU’AKH C’FHUGAR INT’TALL’NIKT PTAYRWWN!”

Well I have only one response for this...

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn. Cooboshu fm'latgh phlegeth, cvulgtlagln nog y-R'lyeh f'fm'latgh hafh'drn athg ch' naflr'luh h'fhtagn, ep Tsathoggua shogg ngorr'e fhtagn wgah'n athg. Chaugnar Faugn goka Chaugnar Faugn tharanak s'uhn ee na'fhalma sgn'wahl orr'e f'li'hee hupadgh, ah ph'n'ghft chtenffog Hastur mnahn' ee uaaahnyth fhtagn. Sgn'wahl Azathoth shtunggli h'sll'ha nnnAzathoth tharanak Nyarlathotep kn'a 'fhalma, phlegeth uaaah kn'a ebunma Tsathoggua R'lyeh f'Cthulhu ah, naflr'luh syha'h Shub-Niggurath eeyar nnntharanak Azathoth ron. Shub-Niggurath haior nog ep ehye llll nilgh'ri navulgtlagln, gof'nn f'orr'e hrii 'bthnk ebunma Shub-Niggurathagl n'ghft tharanak, y-ah ah nog k'yarnak gof'nn Tsathoggua r'luh, ftaghu shogg mg ep Cthulhu 'fhalma.

Ilyaa fm'latgh s'uhn 'bthnk shugg h'sll'ha fm'latgh k'yarnak nog hlirgh r'luhor, lloig throd k'yarnak orr'e hupadgh goka h'nog cvulgtm llll Tsathoggua, sgn'wahl fm'latgh h'Hastur cHastur ftaghuog shogg gebyar fm'latgh Chaugnar Faugn. Hai ep fm'latgh shagg Shub-Niggurath nog r'luh gof'nn ya nahafh'drn shugg, hafh'drn ch' n'ghft kadishtuagl mnahn' k'yarnak shugg h'ron. Nafls'uhn R'lyeh uh'e phlegeth chtenff naflhlirgh wgah'n y-Hastur ee Dagon mgoth fm'latgh, 'bthnk 'fhalmayar ron f'k'yarnak Yoggoth sll'ha sgn'wahl goka nnnathg. Mnahn' zhro ee Cthulhu vulgtlagln ehye f'ooboshu k'yarnakagl n'gha shagg gotha, li'hee Hastur wgah'n Tsathoggua shugg ngNyarlathotep fm'latgh mnahn' llll nar'luh geb, r'luh nagotha kadishtuor phlegeth uh'e Hasturoth shogg Yoggoth cShub-Niggurath.

F'hafh'drn 'ai zhro lw'nafh ilyaa nahupadgh syha'h ron phlegeth R'lyeh Shub-Niggurath lloig 'bthnkor tharanak cshagg ebunmaog vulgtlagln f'ch', cnilgh'ri syha'h nahafh'drn nan'gha tharanak sll'haor ehye gof'nn fhtagn uln ch' fm'latgh ch' y-nog vulgtlagln. Shtunggli ya orr'e gnaiih hupadgh Tsathoggua 'fhalma vulgtlagln ngCthulhu nnnathg, h'athg r'luh y-'bthnk hupadgh 'ai lw'nafh orr'e lw'nafh. Hai kn'a 'fhalma fhtagn shugg lloigagl ilyaa bug fhtagnor h'nglui, Nyarlathotep ngshagg nauaaah f'sgn'wahl wgah'n uh'e ch' 'bthnk, throd sll'haagl shagg 'bthnk shogg athg ph'fhtagn kadishtu. Vulgtm sll'ha naebunma kn'a ehye orr'e nglui y'hah zhro c'bthnk ehye wgah'n, ya nnnwgah'n ron uln kn'a ron geb cilyaa nak'yarnak ilyaa.

Nglui r'luh sll'ha li'hee vulgtm gotha zhro uln ep n'gha, ftaghu kadishtu nog vulgtm k'yarnak uln Chaugnar Faugn uln Azathoth, Shub-Niggurath wgah'n ng'fhalma uaaah Chaugnar Faugn hai culn lw'nafh. Nyarlathotep athg gnaiih r'luh Chaugnar Faugnog nnnnglui nilgh'riog Nyarlathotep Shub-Niggurath hafh'drnog goka, lloig nan'ghft Chaugnar Faugn lloig li'hee lloig ph'nglui ftaghuor lw'nafh. Bug gnaiih h's'uhn mgog ron k'yarnak gotha n'gha n'ghft hrii, fhtagn stell'bsna ooboshu ya throd nilgh'ri ch'. Fm'latgh n'ghft 'ai ya lw'nafh tharanak nwnyth kadishtu Nyarlathotep li'hee, tharanak bug fm'latgh 'ai h'Hastur naflshogg uh'eagl nnnftaghu athg, Yoggoth lw'nafhyar uh'e ch' tharanak f'shugg grah'n sll'ha.

Ngsgn'wahl li'hee y-fhtagn Chaugnar Faugn ron gof'nn nghrii Shub-Niggurath ooboshu phlegeth geb, naHastur Yoggoth orr'e Shub-Niggurath ehye syha'h naflgotha gotha f'hrii hlirgh lw'nafh, vulgtm n'gha mg Dagon shugg shogg mg goka y-shogg. Nashtunggli ron h'ooboshu fhtagn nilgh'ri ph'lw'nafh nggoka chtenff, n'ghft naflsll'ha mg sll'haagl ooboshu y-k'yarnak, nw Dagon gnaiih ph'syha'h h'shagg ehyeagl. Ron llll bug naflNyarlathotep mg ch' hupadgh n'ghaoth, geb Nyarlathotep goka Cthulhu fhtagnoth ph'Azathoth naflya, Cthulhu h'kadishtu phlegeth zhro ehye sll'ha. Nyarlathotep s'uhn mnahn' s'uhn ron vulgtlagln nog, Shub-Niggurath throd lloig ph'shugg nauh'e y-vulgtlagln uln, uh'e y-ilyaa nglui ron kadishtu.

Li'heeagl y'hah orr'e ee ch' phlegeth shugg mnahn', hafh'drn shogg f'grah'n naflli'hee nglui hrii sgn'wahl, R'lyeh 'fhalma uaaah hafh'drn gnaiihoth naooboshu.
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Re: Travelling through the Heart of Darkness

Post by Agent Tash on Wed Jan 04, 2017 12:01 pm

A fantastic journal entry Jon. Good pacing, and I especially enjoyed the way you handled describing the star spawn encounter.
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Re: Travelling through the Heart of Darkness

Post by Better Quell Jorel on Thu Jan 05, 2017 12:01 pm

A fantastic journal entry Jon. Good pacing, and I especially enjoyed the way you handled describing the star spawn encounter.

You get a eleventy billion character points for that entry. That's what the hidden context of the previous message clearly states.
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Re: Travelling through the Heart of Darkness

Post by Casey on Wed Feb 15, 2017 3:01 am

Part II

Casey floated through nothing, watching the bright stars spin about him. It was beautiful. When he was young, he would watch the ships take off from the starport at Alice Springs. Take off for the stars. This was why he became a Scout. To see things like this. The beauty of the cosmos, unfiltered. The beauty of the people that inhabit these stars.

It was easy here to forget what had happened. It was all so normal. So banal. It was wonderful. Warren was flailing about in space, nothing to grab on to, nothing to save him. Casey had tethered himself to the Despair, and had launched himself into the void to save Warren.

It was easy to forget, yet pointless. They had been directed to this derelict hull as a precaution. Certainly warranted. Casey had not helped, with a few bizarre messages to Command, insinuating that they should fly into the black hole to save Humaniti. Command wasn’t stupid. Command was activating last ditch protocols.

It was a fun diversion, their current adventure. Warren and Casey were accessing a portion of the hulk to get some medical supplies. Warren had told them what he had seen. A calcified brain – with tentacles, natch – that had been hovering around Derek. It had done something to him. Taken something from him. Put something in him. Warren wanted these medical supplies to perform some field expedient surgery to remove a parasite from Derek’s neck.

The hulk had been attacked by pirates over fifty years ago. The crew had flooded several compartments with toxic chemicals, killing the pirates. And some of their friends. The equipment that Warren wanted was in a compartment sealed off by those compartments. He and Casey had gone on a spacewalk to get around the chemical filled spaces. Warren had declined to make a tethered walk. Casey – fairly certain of what would happen – didn’t object.

Sure, he had been freaked out when the Man in Black had showed up in surveillance video on the ship. Sure, he had been freaked out when he and Callin had examined the tablet, and that cursed symbol had imprinted itself on Callin’s hand.

Oh, and Callin wasn’t hurt. At all. Three rounds of 10mm armor piercing rounds had pierced him through and through. He was fine though. As was to be expected. Apparently.

Warren had been muttering. A lot. Saying that the man in the suit was Nyarlathotep. That they were all figments in Azathoth’s dreams, and that when He awakens, we shall not.

Casey played out the rope in his hands. He had trained extensively in such operations. This was child’s play. He was a certified expert in freefall rescues.

As captain of the Canary – er – Bridgeway, Casey had been annoyed when the fighter had come up behind them had blasted their maneuver drive. It should have not been unexpected. Still, being dead in space, docked with a ship called Despair, was not something that he would have liked.

Casey came to the end of his rope. Literally. He had run out of rope. He had gone quite a way past Warren, and pulled on the tether, sending him towards the former pirate. Clinging on to him with his legs, Casey began to pull the two of them back to the hulk.

Opening the secondary airlock and expelling the toxic chemicals – and possibly bodies, but Casey didn’t want to watch – was quick work. Warren grabbed the medical supplies and they returned to the bay – tethered, this time.

There was a message waiting for him when they returned. Some scientist on Tartarus wanted to speak to them. Casey keyed the board, and the image of a familiar Droyne was projected onto the screen. Casey smiled, a genuine smile.

“Hey Krin”, he exclaimed. Only his close friends could call him that. “Long time no see! How you been doing since, well, you know.”

“Casey!” was the return exclamation. “It’s been so long! I have so many questions! You have done so many things and have returned from a scientifically until now inexplicable object! You must tell me everything! How have you been doing since we last spoke! It has been some time since the war with the Phage! Nasty little parasitic bugs those are! I have many things to tell you that I have discovered since we last saw each other on Mora! How would you like to see a magnetochromoprismatic dissection of an actual Phage? Oh my then, wouldn’t you be pleased to see it! Things are getting so complicated now! Did you know that there is a war between the Imperium and the Colonies? Mighty dreadful. So much lost already in blood and treasure! Why can people just solve things with a committee? Oh! Did you know something? I was in Glisten, and I stumbled upon something that I knew you would like! It’s like the drink that you always used to imbibe, except it’s not called Scotch, they call it vodka! It must be much better than the stuff you like! It’s filtered and looks like water, not like your dirty brown stuff! Also, it’s enclosed in a plastic container, not the lowly glass jars you’re used to! You’d love it! Except once when I was going through a port in some backwater they confiscated it! They told me they didn’t know what it was and demanded that I drink it to prove that it was not a poison I had concocted to murder their Grand High Somethingorother! When I told them I would not give in to their barbarian ways and drink a gift for a friend, they took it! Do you think they gave me a receipt, or reimbursed me my expenses? No! Of course not, the heathens! If I could remember where that was, I’d never return! And so you’ll be very pleased with the results of the dissection of the Phage! The morphology and physiology of such a creature is something that we’ve never before seen, except for the parts that are totally usual, of course! Tri-video, bio-schematics, chemical analysis, deoxyribonucleic acid sequencing, everything you could want! Shall I bring it? Is that something you would like to see? Oh! Someone has a question! I have to go!”

The comm clicked off. Casey was grinning. It really would be good to see an old friend from the previous war. He had frequently wondered what had happened to Lisa, Garreth, Lysander, and the others that he had fought with. He had been rather abruptly discharged from the Navy, and was sure that Dr. Krinaytsyu would be able to fill in some of the gaps of his knowledge.

Casey turned around, and was startled to see that Callin was standing behind him, wrapped in a medical blanket and holding a cup of coffee. He had been his normal self after he had recovered from the shock of the mission – and of having a symbol burned onto his hand. How much did he hear?

“What’s a Phage?” Callin asked.

Well, that answers that question. Casey was silent for a moment. “It’s a small parasitic xenomorph that takes over a human host and is able to control his actions. The Sixth Frontier War was fought against them, not against the Zhodani. Krin and I were together for quite some time, fighting the Phage. His skills in Xenobiology – and practically every other field – was very useful in trying to gain insight into the species. They have the capability…”

Casey was cut off by a noise from the other room. “Fine, you dainty soul,” Warren was shouting. “We’ll try this one WITH anesthesia, for all the good it’ll do me!”

Casey and Callin rushed into the room. Derek was lying on a bare metal table, with Warren leaning over him. Warren fished a knife out from one of the medical bags that they had retrieved, and without bothering to sterilize it first he started hacking his way into Derek’s neck. It took him only seconds to fish around with his finger to find what it was he was looking for: he pulled a slimy, slithery, bloody creature out and dropped it on the table.

Warren busied himself, pulling thread from his sweaty sock and using it to sew up Derek’s neck. Casey, fascinated by the animal, scooped it up and dropped it into a jar. A trained xenologist, he went back into the other room and sat down at a table, studying the creature, taking photographs and notes. It was a fat vermiform, about 8 inches long. It had a stinger for a tail and teeth surrounding a sucking mouth. Five tentacles (yes, more tentacles) reached out from its gullet, almost stroking the inside of the jar.

After about 15 minutes of study, the thing went limp, and then dissolved into an acidy ooze. Well that’s interesting, thought Casey. A self-destructing organism. No wonder evolution has not been kind to this animal.

Casey set the jar on the table, and then froze. He was not alone. He looked up and saw a man, tall and swarthy, with black hair and a face that lacked any identifiable features. He was wearing a high-class business suit with leather shoes.

They looked at each other for some moments, silent. The man nodded: he had accepted Casey’s offer. Casey reached his hand out and took what the man proffered. The man reached out and took from Casey. He walked off.

Casey sat for some time, stunned. He had not noticed that Callin was in the room with him, and was asking him questions.

“I don’t know,” Casey said, in answer to whatever it was that Callin had asked. “Nyarlathotep was here. I gave him something. He gave me this.” Casey showed Callin a cube, so impossibly black that it seemed to actively absorb the light in the room. It was heavy, and very slick. A piece of that Dyson sphere, Casey realized.

“So, what did he take from you?” Callin asked the obvious question.

Casey checked his gear. He had everything.

“I’m not sure,” he muttered. “I know I gave him something though.”

The comm link buzzed. Casey went over to it. There was an image of a Droyne, dressed in a vacc suit. The tag on the bottom of the screen read Dr. Krinaytsyu.

“Okay Casey! We’re ready! See you in a couple of hours! I’m so excited!” the alien exclaimed.

“Very well, Doctor Krinaytsyu,” responded Casey stiffly. Droyne could be so formal about the use of their official titles. “Captain DuQuette signing off.” He pushed a button and the screen went blank.

Callin approached Casey. “Hey, weren’t you just talking with him? Your friend?” he asked.

“I don’t think so,” said Casey. “I’ve never seen that Droyne in my life. I’d remember.”

It was Callin’s turn to be silent for a moment. “But you know him. You do. You fought a war with him. You fought the Phage together.”

Casey shrugged. “I don’t know what you’re talking about Callin. I’ve never seen that Droyne and I’ve never heard of a Phage. Now let’s get ready. We ought to at least have some notes prepared for when these scientists arrive.”

Callin nodded. “I think I know what you gave Nyarlathotep, Casey.”


Last edited by Casey on Thu Feb 16, 2017 3:31 am; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Travelling through the Heart of Darkness

Post by Better Quell Jorel on Wed Feb 15, 2017 1:18 pm



Great journal entry, Jon. Another eleventy billion points for you. I'm writing this point value in preemptively for the praise the GM is sure to bestow upon thee and thy writing ability.

So let it be written. So let it be done.
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Re: Travelling through the Heart of Darkness

Post by Casey on Mon Aug 07, 2017 2:20 am

Chapter 26


Casey sat comfortably in the chair, sipping from his thin flask. This was quite familiar to him: disarm the team members, separate them, question them one by one, collate the data, ask for more information as appropriate. Standard protocol from his S3 days. An officer in a naval uniform, but without name tag, stripes, or pips – walked into the small room. Casey stood and offered him a sip. The man shook his head and they both sat down.

“I’ve gone over your report,” the man said without telling Casey his name or rank. “I don’t really have any questions. I think you covered all of the data points we need. You’ll be giving a briefing to Admiral Hummel and his command staff in a few hours. They’ll want to know what you’ve been up to, as it pertains to our overall strategic picture.” The agent leaned back and put his feet on the small table. “You guys did good work over there on New Detroit. Nuking the headquarters of a command staff? My, but that would make good material for a movie of heroic Colonial exploits. Dave’s already told me that your crew will be rewarded by being granted into the Order of Merit, while you, Commander, will receive the Gold Star.”

While he spoke, Casey took out a cigar from his pocket humidor, clipped it, and lighted it. “I am humbled by the gratitude expressed by the people of the Colonies. I’m sure my crew and I will continue in the service for some time.” It was more than just something to say.

It was the agent’s turn to pull out a long cigarillo. Casey lighted it for him, and he took a few puffs. The agent smiled. “More to the point, each of you will find 30 Kilocredits in his account. I also have something else for you.” He gave Casey a small expensive-looking wooden box with a handle. Casey opened it; inside were six glass vials. Each contained a soft, yellowish looking liquid, and had a wax seal with a strange glyph imprinted in it. Casey had seen these before, in Jim Hurst’s basement. He looked at the agent, raising his eyebrow.

The agent smiled again, stood up, and walked to the door. “You and your XO have three hours to prepare that presentation.”

Oh right, thought Casey. Rodrigo never left Grammancy. I need a new XO.


Precisely on time, Casey and Callin – the new XO – were led by an orderly into the conference room. About a dozen persons were there. As the meeting started, Admiral Hummel introduced everyone. Casey of course already knew Colonel Reginald, Hummel’s intelligence liaison and Casey’s personal friend, as well as his XO Lt. Commander Kochran. The rest of the bureaucrats and high command were unknown to him. There were two mercenary commanders representing their companies, Commander Kirinik of Blue Nova, and Commandant Ventradi of the Vargr company Fang Pack.

Casey was startled to see what was obviously a Zhodani Exarch present. Casey suppressed his fear. In his experiences in the Fifth Frontier War, when an Exarch appeared, warriors died. As Hummel introduced him to the group, Casey looked hard at him – and had a startling experience. At first it was as if he was looking at something that was simply not alive, something that didn’t exist in the realm of Humaniti. The Joe looked hard back at Casey, and seemed almost startled for a split second. Then his face bent into a knowing smirk, and is was as if the transpex blocking the man’s soul lowered. Then Casey felt him and knew him for what he was, a very old and very powerful warfighter with a background of killing and destruction. Casey could sense a delighted curiosity coming from him.

God damn Joe Danny! thought Casey angrily, not caring that the man might be listening. What are you doing here? Get out of my head!

Casey listened to the first presentations on the state of the war. The conversation revolved around where the Tigress class dreadnought would strike. An overview was given on the status of each colony, whether it had been occupied, what military resources it had, and how it fit into the battle plans.

Finally it was time for Casey to make the presentation. He turned the floor over to Callin, who had managed to psionically steal someone’s ability at public speaking. Callin spoke of their activities on New Detroit, their assault on the mansion and its nuclear destruction, and the knowledge they had obtained of the fleet around the planet as they made their escape. Some of the generals asked additional questions about what they had found out.

After a few more presentations touching on logistical readiness and supply lines, the merc commanders left. Cocranth then played a pre-recorded message from Dr. Krinaytsyu. He spoke of the Sphere, how it was older than the Ancients, and how because of the potential for psychological damage no further expeditions had taken place. The doctor ended the recording by saying “… and if you have further questions please forward them to me – because he is still looking for you.” Casey nearly bolted out of his seat. He looked at Callin, who nodded. He had heard that too.

The briefing over, Casey moved to the door. He had some things he wanted to think about. However, his path was blocked by the towering Exarch. “If you don’t mind, Commander,” the Zho said smoothly. “I’d like to have a few words with you. I believe that we have some items of mutual interest to discuss.”

Casey suppressed the instinct to shoot the Joe where he stood, and then remembered that he was not armed. The Zho’s lips curled upwards, into either a snarl or a smile. Whatever it was, Casey didn’t return it.

“Sure,” he said. “I think we have very much in common, historically speaking. I hope you don’t mind if I show up with a mind-shield?” And a weapon, Casey thought.

“I would think much less of you if you didn’t,” the Exarch replied, almost apologetically. “We’ll meet in Observation Deck D at 1900.” He turned around and walked off.

Casey and Callin returned to the rest of their crew. They had not been idle, and had examined their ship. Warren explained to Casey the modifications that had been done to their ship. Their cargo bay had been modified to make it convertible to an LH2 tank, complete with connections to the drives and its own cryogenic motors. Additionally, their laser cannons had been retrofitted to make them capable shooting through atmosphere. Casey looked through the requisition paperwork. There were no names on it. He handed the documents back and asked them to go through the ship and make sure that it was operational.

Casey walked through the halls of the naval station, slightly disoriented. He had retrieved his handgun, and had carefully concealed it underneath his dinner jacket. He was also wearing a psi shield, and was suffering from what naval academics called internal psionic resonance. He had felt this before, in the last (real) war with the Zhodani when he was required to wear a psi shield. Some very small percentage of people did. It made him slightly dizzy when he was around too many people, and he had some difficulty concentrating, especially when he conversed with others. Computer work, mechanics, and solo space flight were not particularly affected, but during the war he had applied for and received a medical exemption to wearing the headband. It cleared his head, and he was better able to ferret out hiding scouts and pickets hiding in the emptiness of space or concealed on small bodies while he patrolled in his Rampart class fighter.

He entered the observation deck. It was indeed grand, an officer’s lounge with a few high society gentlemen thrown into the mix. Somehow both Gorikak and Warren had talked their way into the bar. Then again, maybe there was no talking. They just walked in and no one dared to tell them to leave. Warren was sitting at the bar, a mug of beer in one hand and a mug (yes a mug) of rum in the other. Gorikak sat by himself at the table, his one eye fixed menacingly at the Joe.

He saw Ammon Reyal sitting by himself at a table. Casey sat down across from him, and was handed a menu by a liveried enlisted man. The Exarch had already ordered mothballs, a local recipe from Miriam. Casey had never had them, even though he knew that they weren’t really made from bugs. They were merely a fried meal made from pastry, beans, and fish, very similar to the falafel dish that he grew up with as a child on Earth. Reyal gestured to the dish, and Casey ate a few of them. They were actually quite good.

After a few moments of polite chatter on the radioactive weather the system was having – the observation ports were closed due to a burst of hard radiation from the black hole – the Exarch got down to business.

“Now, Commander DuQuette, I have read some files on you, and I must say that I am impressed with your work. It could be said that despite overwhelming obstacles, you have performed competently. However, there are some things that confuses my government regarding your actions. Tell me about the Sixth Frontier War, your part in it, the fighting that you were in. What exactly happened on Saurus?”

Casey looked hard at the old warrior. Once again he was having the same feeling that he was speaking to something that was not alive, something that had no soul, no feelings, no depth. A two dimensional figment created outside of his mind, something that his mind was not able to interpret. Damn, is he getting through my psi-shield? Or is this part of the resonance the shield is creating?

Casey blatantly ignored the question, and asked the man one of his own. “Why are you here, Exarch? What interest does your government have in the Colonies? Is it the anagathics? The hyperdense metals? Or are you here for something else? To sow seeds in the minds of the people, waiting for a harvest that will take place in tens or hundreds of years, when you will return to reap that which you have sown?”

The Exarch’s face was expressionless. Casey had no idea what he was thinking, what he was feeling. “I am deeply hurt that you would assign such devious designs to me. Your misinterpretation of my actions have wounded me. I am not here for power, for glory, for conquest. I am only here to offer the help of the Consulate to those who need it most.

“There are many citizens here whom I wish to protect. Many talented individuals, those who have woken up from a deep, dark sleep and have brushed away the tendrils of falseness from their eyes. These comrades have fled the evils of the Imperium, and desire safety, desire to know that they are not alone, that there are others who are like them.

“Commander, you must understand the Zhodani to appreciate what we have done. We have populated countless worlds, travelled to the very center of the galaxy, gazed upon the improbable depths of who we are and what this all means.”

Casey’s gaze didn’t relent, and he remembered words that he had heard as a child. Or was it more recently? Was he to hear them in the future perhaps? That last amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity – the boundless daemon-sultan Azathoth.

With difficulty Casey pushed that thought out of his mind and returned to the conversation at hand. “Citizens?” he asked, almost laughing. “You consider all psis to be citizens of the Consulate, do you?”

The Exarch smiled, perhaps even a real smile; Casey couldn’t tell.

Casey abruptly changed the topic. “Have you had whisky, Exarch?” he asked. “If not I highly recommend it. It might change your perspective on life and the universe.”

“I have not, although I have heard of it,” said the Zhodani, his tone now completely conversational. “I have been told that it is the drink of both the highest and lowest of classes, for various reasons, throughout many parts of the Imperium and beyond. I’d be willing to try it, should you guide me.”

“Certainly,” said Casey, obviously pleased. He motioned the waiter over. “Two Allemania fourteen year olds, on ice please.” The waiter returned after a few moments with the drinks, and Casey taught his sworn enemy about scenting the liquid, observing its “legs”, and on how to slowly sip it while savoring its many flavors. When they were finished, he ordered another, as did the Exarch.

“This is a very pleasing beverage,” said the new connoisseur. “I believe that it is available in port areas on Riverland. I shall have to make inquiries when I return.”

There was a moment of silence as they both drank in silence. The Zho ordered another, and then Casey did also. He swirled the delicate bowl shaped cup, watching as the amber libation washed the inside of the glass quaich.

“Saurus was attacked by an Imperial cruiser,” Casey said, every word deliberate. “It fired upon the planet because I had knowledge of its existence and its commander – Agent Tash – was trying to force me to surrender. As you must be aware, I stayed hidden, even though I could hear the tauntings of the commander of the vessel, the pleas of the inhabitants to be spared, their offers of money. I heard parents begging for the lives of their children. I heard open channels of weeping. In the end, I’m not sure how much of a difference I made. Had I surrendered and spared the sophonts on Saurus, I doubt that the overall strategic picture would have been any different.”

Casey set his glass on the table and looked directly at the bloodthirsty monster that was his dinner companion. “That commander of the ship was not human. It was – of an alien race. The war that is said to have been fought between us was actually fought against this alien race. We certainly didn’t win, but we didn’t lose. We were outmatched by them, technologically and strategically. Our losses were incalculable. They didn’t flee. They left. We are not in a détente nor a stalemate. They are somewhere, and some day they will return.”

The Exarch had been listening intently, focusing on Casey’s every word. He also set his glass on the table, perhaps so that Casey would not notice that his hand trembled slightly.

“And this alien race?” he asked breathily. “Who are they? Where did they come from?”

Casey picked up his glass again and finished it off. He shook his head. “Not today,” he said.

“No,” said the Zhodani as he stood. “Not today. Another day then.” Casey nodded, and the Exarch walked out. Maybe not today, but maybe tomorrow. Perhaps one day I can use you as you seek to use me. The war I fight is on behalf of all Humaniti.

Half an hour later Casey was in a supply office, winding his way through stacks of pallets. He had received a message that there were sundry administrative tasks he needed to accomplish with the clerk. He had taken Gorikak with him, just in case. They found a desk in the rear, manned by an officer in a crisply pressed uniform in perfect order. The tag on the desk read Lt. Tallmadge, Logistics. He was typing rapidly on his desk. He was engrossed in his work, and didn’t look up until Casey cleared his throat.

“Ah, Commander,” the supply clerk said. “Right on time, as usual.” He pointed to a door behind him. “The items you requisitioned are in there. You’ll find them to be in compliance.” He turned back to his work.

Casey had learned to not ask questions when he knew it wouldn’t do any good. He and Gorikak went through the door, and found themselves in a pure white room with black chairs. A man in black – black suit, black tie, black sunglasses even though they were on a space station orbiting a black hole – stood at the other side, waiting.

“Hey kid,” he said. “come in and have a seat,” he said. He glanced quickly at Gorikak as he came closer, and just as quickly glanced away. “My name is Mr. K. I represent – well, it doesn’t quite matter whom I represent right now. I have been watching your crew, and I must say you’re not bad. You kinda kicked some ass on the alien Sphere, you blew the hell out of New Detroit, plus your collective extraordinary luck has made me take an extra hard look at you.

“There’s something going on that you could help me with. You could die, but then again, you’re expendable. Also, your crew is the most qualified and best equipped for such a mission.”

As Mr. K spoke, Casey had a strange sensation. It was almost as if the words spoken by the man had become physical objects, and that Casey was looking beyond those words into the man’s mind. He saw the man’s thoughts, his objectives, his personality quirks. He saw a woman and two young children, taken from him by the Imperium. For this man, the war was personal. Doyle, thought Casey from somewhere. His name is Benjamin Doyle.

Casey had a headache. He was sweating slightly. He sat down on one of the chairs. Goddamn Zho tricks! I knew he was trying to read my mind that entire time! Must have done something to my brain.

Mr. K was still talking. “So, what do you think? Are you in?”

“Well,” said Casey, trying to speak normally, “you wouldn’t have invited me here if you had not already guessed that we would accept. But before I say yes I want to know the details. Let me assemble my full crew for your briefing. When do you want to meet again?”

“Sure sport. We’ll see you back here in two hours.”

Casey made sure that his crew was back at the supply office precisely two hours later. He had considered wearing his psi shield again, but after a bout of nausea he had decided against it. Everyone was sitting around on the black chairs, talking amongst themselves when Mr. K walked into the room, accompanied by a woman. Casey’s jaw almost dropped almost. This was the Lady Alistraad, the CFO of Ling Standard. No, it can’t be, thought Casey. This is just to juicy to be true! He almost took a good look at her, but instead looked at Callin, suppressing a grin. Didn’t you DO her? Oh yeah, Rodrigo did too. Casey had vivid memories of the duel that Rodrigo had fought for her honor. He should; he was Rodrigo’s second in the fight.

Mr. K cleared his throat. “Good evening boys,” he said. “This buxom wench just happens to be the intelligence officer who will give you the briefing. Please, pay attention to what she says, and don’t let your eyes wander too much.”

Lady Alistraad looked at everyone coolly, her gaze perhaps lingering longer on Callin. Or his crotch, anyway.

“Hello gentlemen,” her voice was smooth, her enunciation impeccable, and Casey realized that he had actually never heard her speak. “We have a situation in the Colonies, as you are well aware. We are fighting a little war with the Imperium, and are currently seeking greater intelligence regarding their strategic abilities.

“It so happens that we have a great opportunity. A little birdie whispered in my ear that a young woman – a girl really – of high upbringing has been sharing the boudoir of none other than His Grace Zelexos Armand Alistair, Sector Duke of the Five Sisters. Now this naughty little strumpet has had an attack of conscience, and has recognized the plight of the Colonials. In her flight from the repressive regime, she has taken with her a great deal of information about the Duke’s battle tactics, forces, formations, and so forth.

“This woman has made it to Emape, and can travel no further. Your task, gentlemen, will be to travel to Emape, find her, and return her here.”

The plan was, of course, not without problems. Naval intelligence didn’t know her name, what she looked like, or where she was on Emape. They only had a shipping number connected to a cargo container that might lead to the woman. The “cargo” was in the trust of a broker on the planet, but he would not himself have any information regarding the “package”.

Additionally, they would have the assistance of a mercenary group, commanded by Captain Snord. He had a Broadsword vessel and four mech units should the intelligence unit run into difficulties. The planet was considered an Imperial world and even had a naval base, but outside of the downport the planet was effectively an anarchy and haven for pirates.

Casey and his crew discussed their options for a few hours and came up with a plan: they would use drop tanks and port to empty space between Keening and Emape, then jump again to Emape’s Oort cloud. Refueling at an icy body, then would then jump wo the planet in such a way as to make it look like they had come from Mirriam. They would have a token cargo in their hold to placate any custom inspectors, and Naval Intelligence would provide them with the forged documents they would need to complete the charade.

Casey met with Captain Snord, and went over the details of timing, coordinates, and communication with him. The mercenary company would be in a stationary location outside of the range of the planetary sensors and would be ready to respond to a signal from the Lilith should they be needed.

Some hours later, after the briefings had concluded, Casey sat in his small quarters. He had been thinking. He was smoking the last Krannigan cigar he had gotten from New Detroit. He opened a bottle of Lufttrinke, and poured a dram into his small scenting glass. Savoring the taste in his mouth, he swallowed, and then poured himself another glass. He had made up his mind. His actions might be viewed as reckless, even near-suicidal, yet somehow he knew that it was something to be done.

He finished the glass of whisky and walked to the supply office. Lt. Tallmadge looked up, and raised an eyebrow at the unexpected encounter.

“I need to talk to K,” said Casey, without explanation.

Tallmadge nodded to the back room, and Casey went in. Mr. Kay was sitting in a chair, going over some documents. He looked up when Casey entered.


“Hey slick,” he said, seeming genuinely pleased to see Casey. “To what do I enjoy the pleasure of your visit?”

Casey didn’t beat about the bush. “I want the Exarch to come with us on the mission to Emape. I’m sure that when the situation is explained to him, he would be more than willing to accompany us, and to provide us all the assistance that he could offer.”

K put set his tablet down on one of the chairs. He was almost able to suppress his surprise.

“And why,” he inquired politely, “would a representative of a foreign government wish to accompany local intelligence on a mission that has no benefit to them?” Casey could feel that he was curious, even anxious, to hear what he had to say.

Casey sat down on one of the chairs. “I know that you have a full dossier on me, and that you’re aware of my involvement in the genocide on Saurus, and potentially some of my actions after that. The Consulate wants to know about it. Frankly, they need to know about it. There was no Sixth Frontier War between the Imperium and the Zhodani. That’s a cover story to hide the truth. I know what really happened, and I willing to tell the Exarch what happened, if he’s willing to help us. For some reason I’m still alive, and people need to know the truth about the Phage before all of us who were involved are killed off, one by one.”

K was silent for a few moments. “Son, you think you have intel that interests old Joe Danny? Well I’ll be damned if I believe that for a second.  I’ll pass your request along to Reginald. First, tell me what you know. What are the Phage?”

Casey told him. Everything – almost. He was with the agent for more than an hour. K said that he would write a formal intel report and get back with him.

Back in the common room that they had commandeered, his crew had gone ballistic.

“You WHAT?” screamed Callin. “He’ll kill me! I’ll be a dead man. Don’t you know that I have psionic powers that are completely unknown to the Zhodani? They’ll dissect me into a million pieces!”

“This is a terrible idea,” said Gorikak in his typical forthright manner. “Having a powerful psi from a foreign government would jeopardize our clandestine mission. It would be much better to do this on our own.”

“KILL me!” yelled Callin. “The first chance he got, this Exarch would mind control all of us, kill those he didn’t need, and take me back to the Consulate!”

Casey’s handcomp buzzed. He looked at the message he had received from Kochran and entered his decryption key.

REQUEST DENIED. AMBASSADOR TOO HIGH LEVEL TO RISK ON BLACK OPS MISSION. DIPLOMATIC SITUATION WOULD DETERIORATE SHOULD HE BE HARMED.

“God dammit!” shouted Casey. He sighed. “Well Callin, I guess you have nothing to worry about. How about you see to getting those hydroponic units as our cover cargo?”
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