Location: Deep Space, Unclaimed Territory
*this is a distress call, highest priority, we are stranded in an unknown quadrant, navigations are offline – we are in desperate need of ferrying to the nearest station. Please hurry, emergency oxygen supplies are running low*
The call, through sent accompanied by a fairly large potential reward, seemed utterly useless, and even as she removed her finger from the button, Rushell Visanti felt the last dwindling remnants of hope attempt to run from her mind. Her head hurt, bad, and they were out of medical supplies, but they’d stopped the bleeding, so that was something.
I’ll need to get that checked out when we get back she thought to herself then stopped and corrected – if we get back…
She was scared, yes. But she wasn’t about to panic. That could only worsen the situation; she needed to be something of a beacon to these people, that’s what they needed right now. There were six of them in the pod, the few survivors from a larger transport vessel, and all of them looked like shit.
It had happened quick and fast, a Vaduual party incapacitating the engines and boarding, killing families, the elderly, mothers with children at their breast – savagely and without mercy. They were on for what seemed like hours as they unloaded the valuable cargo, eventually ripping the engine out and loading it onto a nearby ship. The Huntress herself had managed to save a few people, those with her now, and had planned to sneak them onto an escape pod, hopefully creeping out underneath the Vanduul radar, but events had unfolded differently.
They had been so close, the pods just within sight, maybe 40 meters away, when a scream from behind her ripped Visanti from her watch. A Vanduul grunt, a deformed creature about seven feet tall, lizard-like and nightmare-looking, had approached them, the sound of its feet masked by the swarm of activity around the ship, grabbed the youngest member of their group, a young boy called Yerit, and was holding him up by the throat.
“Drop your weapons or I kill the child!” The translator it was wearing had seemed broken, crackling and fizzing with every word. “On the floor, worms!” It seemed serious and Visanti knew as well as anyone that the boy’s life meant nothing to that creature. One by one, the sound of metal hitting the floor had echoed around the corridor.
“Hand him over, we’ve done as you asked. Grant us safe leave of this ship and we will leave you in peace – no more blood need be shed today.”
“So that you can go back to the UEE and report us? Not likely. I’m going to kill you all instead, starting with this maggot.” It had hissed, waving the boy in the air like a child might wave a toy. The events that followed seemed somewhat surreal in her memory, but it had happened all the same. Visanti dashed forward, sliding into the creature’s leg and knocking it down, causing Yerit to be dropped immediately. While that was an immediate victory, what followed was less than celebratory. The Vaduul’s fist, a scaled horrible ball of muscle the size of a football, came crashing into the side of her skull. Her vision went red and blood filled her mouth as the sound of the monster’s breathing, heavy and animalistic, washed over her in waves. It leaned its neck down to her and she smelt its breath, like rotting fish left out on a warm day, overwhelm her briefly. It dragged her over to the nearest wall and locked its eyes with her’s.
“Now that wasn’t too smart.” Was it gloating? “But what can we expect, you’re only human.”
She spat blood on the floor and pushed herself onto her knees, black patches drifting in and out of her vision. “I’ll admit, not my brightest moment. Maybe this will make up for it.” Pushing off the wall, she slid through its legs. Before it could react, she unclasped its rifle from its back, steadied herself and aimed it directly at the hulking creature’s head. It didn’t even bother to turn, instead of letting out a small, cracked scoff.
“You think we would be as stupid as to build gun’s that could be used against us? That rifle will never penetrate the skin of anything stronger than your pathetic self.”
“Oh, I know. But this might.”
The blast echoed around the ship and she could hear all the movement onboard stop. She spun as the alien fell, giving a small smile to the man holding a smoking blaster.
“Get back to the pod. They’re coming.” No movement from any of the passengers. “Now!”
They hadn’t bothered getting the rest of the guns. They just ran. As fast as they possibly could. Visanti held up the rear, still reeling from the hit she had taken, using the man’s blaster to cover the rest of them as they climbed into the pod. Two Vanduul had rounded the corner, and two shots had made sure they never had a chance to take in the situation. The ships outsi, e however, had been put on alert and as they ejected the pod, lasers had started pouring in from all sides. The engines were taken out instantly, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. While they now had no control over their movement and were spinning off into space, the lack of engines made them undetectable by the Vanduul’s fairly primitive tracking systems.
Leading us here. The Huntress looked around again. A family of three and a young couple. Not what she’d come on this trip to find. The parents seemed to be handling the experience fairly well all things considered, and had spent the three days they’d been adrift taking care of Yerit. The couple however, well, they seemed shell-shocked. Visanti wasn’t sure if she’d seen either of them speak. That’s one way to test a relationship, she thought to herself. It was fair enough of them though, the transport had mostly been a commercial ship, these people weren’t adventurers, and she herself had only been travelling to find more potential recruits for a little project she was working on. Hmmm Claw’s Furthest Sanctuary? No no no. Too heavy-handed. Maybe Fang’s Spaced-Out Shelter? Sounds like a drug den.
Placing them in the verse was becoming more and more of an issue the further away from UEE territory they got. Visanti knew the local star patterns off by heart but these nearby ones were matching fewer and fewer charts that she knew of. What’s more, every second brought them further and futher away from the patterns she did know.
The pod, which was fairly large considering normal sizes but still a cosy fit for all six of them, was drifting through an asteroid field. The asteroids, set stunningly against a nearby nebula that shone shades of orange and red too vivid and awesome to be given credit though words, were about the size of small houses on average, each tinted with minerals: copper, iron, gold and silver occasionally. This place would have been a jackpot for miners. If I could figure out where the hell ‘this place’ is.
Wham! Visanti was thrown forward as a large asteroid collided forcefully with the rear end of the pod, sending everyone onboard the ship flying off their seats and onto the floor. The view into the void, which had only stopped spinning so forcefully a few hours ago started up again, disorientating her further. As it span off, the ship collided with more rocks, throwing it about like a kite in the wind. Strong wind at that. Earth wind. Not the shitty stuff on all the other planets she’d been to. Left, right, up, down – Visanti lost all sense of placement that she had spent the past 3 days trying to build. The curses came out thick and fast. In the midst of all this, suddenly, it all stopped. The asteroid belt cut off suddenly and when she looked out the window, Visanti saw something that made her double take.
A huge ship, maybe 200m long, was laid adrift in the middle of the belt, just floating. A logo on one side showed the Musashi manufacturing corp and on the other – some sort of insignia, a red circle with a black pattern that had been rubbed away by solar winds and passing debris.
And they were headed right for it.
Acting fast, Visanti opened up one of the floor panels and pulled out a few wires and cut then open using a tool stored inside the ship. She called over one of the couple next.
“Yes Ma’am.” He hastily replied. She laughed at that. “No need for formalities right now Tereth, I need you to steer quickly, I’m about the short circuit the entire ship.”
“I’m going to fry the systems.”
“Including the life support?”
“Won’t that kill us?”
“Maybe, maybe not.” A short silence followed. “That’s not the point. You see that?” She gestured at the massive capital ship and watched his eyes widen. “If we crash into it, the front of this ship will be crushed and we will be exposed to the vacuum of space. I’m going to push all of the pod’s energy through the engines and hopefully detonate any remaining fuel in them, which might be enough to allow you to land us inside of that beast instead to splat into the side like some bug.”
“But I’ve never-”
“-You’ll have to learn.” His face was a picture of fear for a short while but suddenly he broke out and a gimmer of excitement spread across his face. “Let’s do it.” He jumped into the pilot’s seat. Visanti held up the sparking wires.
She rammed the end’s together and saw the engines momentarily roar to life outside the window. Tereth pushed forward on the joystick and began steering the craft toward the underside of the cruiser. They were going much faster than the pod was intended to go and fragments of the outer shell were coming off, flying out into the blackness of space. For a second it looked like the cruiser would go straight past them but at the last second Tereth pulled up, aiming straight at the partially visable crack where the hanger opened. So close. We’re so so close. The ship seemed fairly old, but there was no visible battle damage. Maybe the comms might just work.
Without warning, the engines cut off again and the pod plunged into darkness. With a soft wirr she heard the life support cut out as well, an the effect was instant. She felt her lungs compress and her skin begin to freeze, just out of the corner of her eye seeing the pod fly flawlessly through the gap. The family were collapsed on the floor and the poor girl was pressed up against the door trying to get out, but looking near the front Visanti saw that Tereth was handling it worst of all. His eyes were frozen over and he was crumpled forward onto the dashboard. The ship glided into the hanger before hitting a wall and coming down to the floor. Her suit’s artificial atmosphere had activated, but that only gave her about an hour. Besides, they’re hardly likely to live a few more minutes. There was some oxygen left in the pod, but it was leaking out fast, she had to work quickly.
Opening up the small hatch at the rear and quickly closing it again, The Huntress entered into the hanger. It was fairly large, but there was no sign of use in years at least. The entire thing was illuminated by the nebula behind the asteroids. At the far end, a large door was partially opened that led into the remainder of the ship. As she squeezed through, she found herself in a corridor with sleeping quarters on either side, and checking in on one, found the bed’s to be neatly folded away. The corridor eventually branched out and heading in one direction as much as she could, she found herself on the bridge. It was a fairly small room, with 5 seats and a series of computer screens that were blank on the dashboard.
Except for one.
Right on the centre screen, as if waiting, was a handprint symbol above the words – ENTER BIOMETRIC KEY written in red letters. In the bottom right hand corner was the same logo she saw on the side of the ship, only this time fully visible. It was a red circle, with a depiction of a dragon facing to the right. By its side stood the letters TOH.
Tentatively, Rushell Visanti placed her hand onto the scanner,
and time seemed to freeze.
The lights on the bridge turned on. Then the gravity. Then the life support systems. The ship seemed to come to life, somewhere far off a hydrogen engine warming up caused a slight shudder to emanate throughout the floor. Finally, the screens at the front turned on, revealing a fully functioning star map and far more importantly, comms screen.
She swung into the pilot’s chair instantly, the seat feeling somehow familiar and entered the comms chat connecting instantly onto her group’s secure channel, being met with a familiar burst of static.
“Blackjayne, Natalia, someone pick up. Its Huntress. I’m in an asteroid field in…” She looked at the star map to her left, “…nevermind I’ll just send you coordinates I’m about as far from you guys as I could be.” She beamed the coordinates into the comms. “I’ve found an old capital ship that booted up but I have no idea how long the life support will last, I need pickup within the next day. There are 5 civilians with me, all have been exposed to the vacuum of space, I’m running out of options here.”
The radio silence seemed to mock here, minutes of white noise filling her ear until finally,
“Huntress? Is that really you? We’ve been searching for days!” It was Medjay.
“Yes, yes, its me, I’ll give you the full story but I need a medical group here asap, I don’t know how long these people have to live. If at all possible, I wouldn’t mind getting this ship out of here too.”
“Alright, I’ll get everyone on call, be at your position in T- minus 4 hours.
“Good to hear. And Medjay?”
It was a long four hours. She headed back to the hanger and brought the other’s inside one by one, each one of them totally unconscious and cold as ice, their pulses barely present. Now that the lights were on the ship should have seemed more welcoming, but there was something about it that made her uncomfortable, something that didn’t quite fit.
Enter biometric key…
Why did her biometrics match the key?
How is that possible?
Why would anyone leave a ship like this, in perfectly good working condition, stranded so far away from any sort of civilisation or contact? It must have cost millions…and why was it so clean?
Questions swam through her mind, consuming her every thought, the seconds dragging by like days, until all of a sudden she head the sound of the large hangar gate being opened from the outside, emitting a sound like what she imagined nails across a chalkboard must have sounded like back in the 20th century. As she ran out to meet whoever had arrived, she saw not just Medjay and half a dozen others but at least 30 or 40 pilots, piloting a number of ships of various sizes, some entering in, other stopped outside. As she stepped down from the door, she was met immediately by Blackjayne, Natalia, and Medjay.
“What the…hell is going on?” Nat-brat’s face was a mask of utter awe.
“I’m just as confused as you are – care to join me at the bridge?”
“With pleasure,” Blackjayne responded, and gesturing to a handful of members carrying a medical supply box “,these guys will take care of the civilians.”
The whole ship suddenly seemed much warmer as it swarmed with life; people carrying in supplies, goods and fuel to the storage room in the hold. The rooms started to be filled and a thin fog of smaller crafts started to file in on either side of the capital vessel. The four of them milled about the bridge, taking in the seer size of the craft if nothing else.
“Anyone know what kinda ship this is?” Natalia asked.
“It seems fairly similar to the recent Endeavour models being used for scientific purposes but, based on the age, it would have to be some kind of prototype.” Medjay had interrupted his careful examination of the cockpit to respond.
“For a prototype, it seems incredibly functional.”
“Well, whoever owned it previously seems to have made a huge deal of modifications to this thing. The radar capabilities are way beyond any modern military standards and it can store a colossal amount of hydrogen fuel for its size, which is absurd anyway.”
Blackjayne interupted, “Do we have any idea who did own it?”
“Well,” Huntress mused, running her hand across the dashboard, “There’s this symbol here.” Gesturing to the red insignia in the corner of the screens and as she did so pushing it gently. The reaction was instant: the bridge lights cut out, doors sealed shut and all noise from the outside corridors was silenced. There was a small burst of static before, without any sort of transmission call, an older woman began to speak through the comms, her voice soft and calm, yet with an unwavering air of unprecedented authority. Between each sentence there seemed to be a pause in which the universe stopped, each person present unmoving, unwavering.
“Rushell Visanti, child of Earth, you have been chosen to take the reins of the future, to forge the stars, to conquer the unknown til the day of your death. You have been chosen to take in the broken, the hurt, the irredeemable and to fashion them into the family that the universe needs. We live in unstable times, and though you may spend the rest of your life chasing answers as to why, the truth is that no one is better suited to this role than yourself. Through you I believe the balance of companionship and bravery might once again be righted. Do you accept the weight of this responsibility?”
The recording seemed to pause, and when the other three looked over at her, the Huntress seemed to be frozen, her eyes glzed over. The words came from her mouth but seemed as if to be journeying across the stars themselves.
“I accept it.”
Then rise, Great Wyrm, go forth to provide the shelter that so many need, to set an example to the rest of the cosmos on how they to should live. Go forth Great Wyrm, to once again raise Talon’s Outer Haven to the place it must be.”
The audio cut out cleanly, and for a long time no one said anything, til finally Natalia broke the quiet. “Where to, Great Wyrm?”
The Huntress’ face seemed still for a moment, then the others saw a great happiness come across her like a wave.
“How about…somewhere totally brand new.”