Carathumpian of Tethys

Underside Ambush
Episode 6

"In order to choose the correct path,
you must know the pitfalls that await you."


"I'm sorry Citizen Pierre, there is nothing I can do – your ship is landlocked until the checks are done."
The officer had to raise his voice slightly to be heard over the background noise in the large anchorage, the large crowd of waiting refugees were adding to the already steady cacophony of industrial work as ships were docking, being refitted or resupplied.
He looked truly sorry for the inconvenience, but also tired of having the same conversation with different people all day.

"It's Jac, no need to be formal officer" The engineer pronounced his 'J' as a 'Dj' sound as he spoke.
"Look, I know you're just doing your job, all I want is to maybe get a feel for how long this is going to take, and to know if they singled out us specifically or if it's routine, you understand right? Can you put some of my worries to rest?" His demeanour was casual, like a man sharing a beer with a friend after a long days work.

The officer visually relaxed his pose and leaned closer "As far as I know there checking everybody, one of my coworkers said something about maybe somebody had disappeared and they were trying to stop them from leaving the station. But I don't know what to think, between the stuff going on in section eight and all the weird news from home it's been a bitch of a cycle if you know what I mean."

"Tell me about it." Doc accentuated his words by rolling his eyes and looking up towards the dome as if it would drop some sort of explanation in his lap.
When no divine intervention arrived he sighed and return his gaze to the FedPol stationed outside the Angelica. "You from Terra? how long you been out here for?"
"I'm halfway through my 5 year contract, but this last year has been the worst, I can't put my finger on it – it just seems like everyday is slightly more tense and annoyed then the last, you know?"

He paused and looked over the crowd further down the walkway that stretched out from the station leading into the heart of Caelestis. "We still call it 'Earth' you know." His smile was disarming and tired.

 


 

John looked down at his communicator, in front of the white and red wallpaper there was a message:

Periastron:
I have a lead for you: the abandoned antigrav anchor in section 3.

 

He looked up from the small rectangular glass gadget at his friends.
Red was eating – again, while he was lazily scanning over the casino they were seated in, the smell of buffalo wings in hot sauce drifted across the room to John.
Liam had once told him that apparently, they weren't purple on Terra.
Doc was going through the manuals and checking the cables to the new gear they had acquired from.  John knew he had paid to much – but he also knew that some of this tech was hard to find past the belts, so he accepted it.

"We got a message from 'P', he says there is something to check out in section three."
The two looked over at him, Red wiped sauce away from his stubble. "Should we check it?" He looked sceptical.

"I think we should, how long do you need have that up and running, Doc?" John pointed at the large duffel bag on the seat next to them.
The engineer thought for some seconds before answering "A couple hours, depends on the calibrations and if you want it done fast or right."
He leaned closer. "But I can't do it here, I need room to work and some peace – not blinking lights and waitresses with low cut tops, high cut skirts and stim marks on their arms, John."

Red glanced over at the derriere of one of the servers as she walked by, his face was marked by deep thought, like an art critic choosing a beret. He nodded, partly at Doc's word , or maybe to himself.

"Ok Doc, lets return to the flats then, I prefer being locked and loaded – especially since my room sweeper is still locked down in Angelica with Red's peashooter and your noisemaker. "
He lifted a hand to signal a waiter for the check.

 


 

The streets on the underside of Caelestis was like a different world than the top; lights were cracked, blinking and gone some places, while the streets looked like they hadn't been cleaned for cycles.
Refuse littered the streets and crunched under their boots like gravel.
"Look at this place." Red said as they walked towards the location their handler had provided.

"It looks like nobody bothered fixing up the place after the last food riots some cycles back, wouldn't suprise me if they de-couple the whole thing and replace it with something new within ten cycles, it's been done be-…"
John, stopped for a second, before continuing his step like nothing had happened.

"Red, do you see the building behind us, fourth floor?"
The voice over the com was all business now, and low.
Red glanced surreptitiously past his shoulder as he pretended to talk to Doc. "I see it."
"We have two people up there, they -…"
John fumbled with the upgraded controller on his left arm.
"Strike that, it's four people, and two of them stayed behind while the others are now following us I think."

"Should we run? the Anchor station isn't far and none of us have anything larger than a standard issue sidearm." Doc asked,  while checking the toolkit hanging from his shoulder.
They were still walking at a normal pace.

"I'll slip away and see if I can get the drop on them, give me a signal John." Red adjusted his pace to bring him closer to the nearest walls and side alleys.
"They just entered a new building, I think they're planning to get over us, they don't have eyes on us now, You can…" John chuckled, Red was gone.

That's the Martian Wardens for you.
 

The two of them walked in silence for some minutes, all the time John was following their pursuers on the HUD-display in his helmet.
Finally Red broke radio silence with three whispered words, barely audible. "I'm behind them."


"Ok, let's close the noose and -" He quickly shouted "Doc! Scramble!"
And they both dove for cover as rifle shots impacted around them.
Doc kept running around the corner, looking back he saw John stop and reverse bak the way he'd came before leaping across the street.

Holy Saturnalia that mutant is fast!

Red whispered into the radio, "One down." He sounded like he was breathing heavily.
Across the street John landed and rolled into place pressing himself up against a wall as an explosion from where he had jumped peppered him with debris.
He drew his sidearm and fired off into the nearest door before kicking it down, he barely had time to throw himself in and next to the wall as a new grenade landed where he had stood a moment ago.
The air around him was filled with dust and shrapnel.

John Icarus had once been told by a teammate that he'd bedded, that he smiled the same way when he was making love as when he was fighting, right now he was grinning as he felt the blood leak down his shoulder.
His radio crackled as Doc asked him "John? are you okay?"
He closed his eyes for a whole second as he answered.

"I'm. Just. Peachy."


Then he sprinted across the room and up the first flight of stairs, he vaulted the bannister onto the next set of flights, he left half a palm print of blood in the dust as he raced on.
"How you doing Red?" he hissed into his radio.

In the floor above him he heard  someone were shouting before something heavy dropped to the floor with a thud. "And that's two, we done?"
Red's breathing was deep and controlled as he'd begun lowering his heart rate again.
 

John stopped and consulted his scanners. Nothing.
"Yup, the other two didn't follow."  He paused before smiling, that signal was familiar. "But Liam did."

The comms delivered the voice of their medic "Hi guys, what's going on? Anybody hurt?" as the whirr and thumps of a larger armour echoed softly from one floor down.
John answered him "Up and to your left L, I have a shoulder you can looks at, shrapnel." He looked at the blood on his arm.
"Where have you been?" He added.

John raised his visor and leaned back his head, riding the adrenaline crash slowly down.
He fumbled with a bandage from his kit but the aftershock shakes made his fingers into sausages, he stopped trying and waited for his pulse to even out again, and the professional to arrive.

Dodging grenades is a new one, people usually didn't throw them around in spaceships without having a long hard think about how much they liked vacuum and frostbite, well there was that one time – but that guy was an idiot.

And he died, ugly.


Stepping onto the same floor as John, Liam was wearing a military issue combat armour, it still had the logo of the Starsoldier Corp on on it. As he came closer John snapped out of old memories and noticed the smell of alcohol and the dark circles around his eyes, he looked happy enough though.
"it's actually a funny story" he began as he took the bandage from Johns hand and begun looking at the wound. "Remember those old army buds of mine?"

View
Neon and Sols
Episode 5

"There are no secrets,
there is no understanding,
Void is all and everything,
it is the dance of the elements."

Stars were reflected in the massive domes of Caelestis, the bands of Jupiter outlining the floating city, it's lights and neon glittering in the night like a jewel sinking into the sea.
The Angelica made it's approach towards the outer domes, the bulky ship tracked by large sensors.

"Hello Caelesti, this is the Angelica, we request immediate docking, we have injured here." The voice over the comms betrayed signs of fatigue but was clear and controlled.
The reply was quick and curt  "Angelica, dock at S3 on transit hub 1, we will have personnel ready for you." The comms made the female voice sound artificial and fuzzy as she added "Welcome home John."

 


 

The hospital was buzzing with activity, the metal walls were ringing with voices and feet. Jac almost felt like he could see the walls sweat.
So many people, all spinning out here, eating, crying, bleeding – on a ship at least you only share air with a handful of guys. I already miss the silence.
He entered the room the nurse had told him "Mr.Icarus" was in, it looked empty.
He begun sweeping the area with his eyes; bed, chair, horrible light fixtures, unspecified stains on the floor, no John.
But he had been here, his flightsuit was lying in a pile and that eerie domed helmet he wore was propped up on the nightstand jutting from the wall.

The hiss as the door to the regenerate tank opened almost had him reaching for his gun as the buck naked belter walked into the room, John paused and looked at him, his posture already receding back to nonchalance. But before that it had been a fighters pose.
The mood got awkward, John started on getting dressed.

"Red ok?" he mumbled with his back turned.
"Yeah, they say he needs a few hour more, but there is no permanent damage, just more then what you had to fix" Jac tried to avoid looking to closely at the mutated spine and the elongated limbs of his friend, no matter how much he tried, looking at the man always made his instinct scream Other, like John was something else than human … or maybe something  … next.

"And what did 'P' say?" John zipped up his suit and grabbed his helmet from the table, they left the room and proceeded down the corridor to the desk.
"He didn't have the Sols on him at Blue Zeus, so we're meeting him at 'Tyrones' later tonight, he'll have our pay then" Jac walked around a patient, the dirty skin and bulging eyes told him it was a miner, probably suffering from some sort of pressure sickness.

"He'd better. " John spat,  his stride forced Jac to hustle to keep up.
Funny how nobody is getting in 'The Pale Giants' way, but me they walk straight into.
They met up with Liam at the reception, he'd been chatting up the staff while Jac went to find John.
"How you feel, big guy?" He stopped leaning on the counter and walked toward them.
"I'm fine, best bath I've had in months." The tall belter stretched and flexed his back.

"Right, we have some hours to kill before we go to 'Tyrones', where to?" Jac sniffed his nose at the smell of antisep and iron in the air.
John turned to his two friends and smiled "I've had enough of shitty ration bars and redestilled water, I say we go to Feng's" He wrapped his long arms around each of his friends shoulders and led them into the busy streets of Caelestis.

 


"You know it's not actually chicken right?" John was pointing at Liams bowl with his chopsticks, his mouth chewing noodles as he spoke.
Around them a sea of people were splitting around the little noodle barge, it's grav-engines flickering through different colors in a lazy pattern.
Feng's had chairs sticking out of it's side bolted to the hull where patrons could sit around the bar that also doubled as a kitchen and drivers seat, a grimy curtain shielded the entrance to a wooden box that had been mounted on top of the repurposed vehicle and served as a pantry, and bedroom John suspected. 
The roof had two masts holding up an ancient banner with some barely legible kanji, time had made the symbols completely unreadable. It didn't matter, people just called the place 'Feng's', after the owner, whose accent was so thick not even other asian descended belters could understand more than one word per sentence. 

"It tastes like chicken, looks like chicken" Liam answered, scowling at his bowl "what about that? it's impossible to know what's in that 'Special' you're eating."
John smiled over another mouthfull "I like it like that, at least it's not pretending to be something it's not" he drank some hot broth from the bowl "And the special is always the best thing Feng serves, it's a point of pride to him." he reached for the unlabeled beer and took a swig.
 


This time Periastron was disguised as a raver.
The club was a neon nightmare of futuristic looking curves and dull lights, a gauche attempt at a mood and style that mostly existed in VR-recordings and holoshows. The result was slightly less mindblowing that it's designers had hoped, but the staff was nice enough and with enough drinks you could almost convince yourself that you weren't sharing the station with seven million other souls, but were in fact living in the effortless future the old space operas had envisioned.

Their handler led them to a private room, swaying his hips in a deeply unflattering way as he walked, his clothes looked like the type you sprayed on, and his face had been attacked by some deranged makeup artist that must have had a thing for pandas and glitter.

As they gathered in the cramped booth, Periastron leaned on the table and addressed them "As you may have guessed, the Angelica has some extra modifications, courtesy of myself and my employers, specifically sensors and recording devices." his businesslike demeanor clashed with his party-like appearance, a duality he probably enjoyed John mused.  "So while you have been running cargo for us the last months, you've also been gathering intel for us, other ships have been doing the same and what we're picking up on the grapevine from Terra is telling us that something is going on, but first; your logs show that you found something."

"But first, you were going to pay us for the last period , Periastron." John interrupted, his pale face betraying impatience but also humor.
"Of course, John." Their handler removed four credstacks from his clothes, accompanied by the sound of latex against skin, he lay the out on the table. "we've subtracted the usual for your lodgings and etcetera, and also a little for the medical treatments you received today … chest trauma, John? what caused that?" his smile was conspiratorial.

"It's a long story." John thumbed the credstacks' small screen, it lit up with a figure, the light shoved his faint smirk as he read the number.
"I have time" Periastron ventured.
John ignored that "Maybe later, what are the rumors you're talking about?"

"Terra has finished it's new warships, and suddenly decided to send them out towards the belts, specifically our direction. I'm guessing whatever you found they either know about it, or know of it. Either way they are coming."

"They know about the ship already? If we want to salvage anything from it we have to get back out there then, before they swoop in and paint it with red tape!" Red grumbled.
"You found a ship?" Periastrons face was unreadable.

"We might have" Jac answered "Is that worth something to you, or your employers?"
"It might very well be, but we have to tread carefully, I don't want to know more than I need to, less chance for a leak that way." He darted his eyes about conspiratorially before continuing. "How about you tell me what you need from me, and then get back out there while there are still answers to be found."
"We'll need a legit reason to be traveling the area, and we need access to records, preferably old records" Jac said as he pocketed the credstack.
"Done and done" The handler smirked. "Contact Thomas Gijec at 'Records' he owes us and can get you access, Angelica already have updated salvage licenses, so you can operate under that disguise as you get me the proof I need."
Jac looked thoughtful "Does these changes have anything to do with why Caelestis is crawling with FedPol? we noticed a larger presence than before."

"The official reason is a gang war in section 8, but I think it's just a cover, the Federation, or someone with their hand up the ass of the Federation are making a move. " He huffed melodramatically "But what the endgame is, is anybody's guess." lowering his voice he added "My guess is that the Synesis Eleuteria are involved, but don't go naming that group to anybody, it can get you on their radar."

"Who?" Liam asked.

 


Leaving the meeting with their handler Jac addressed the other three: "Ok, I'll go see this Thomas first thing in the morning, meet up at Angelica after?"
"I'm going to hit up some old army buddies, see if I can get some military hardware instead of civillian." Liam ventured.
"Going to see some friends from home, hear some gossip and see if they'll trade me some gear" Red said.
John nodded "same here"
"Are there any rangers left to find on Caelestis" Jac asked, obviously suprised.
"Can't tell you, then I would have to kill you" John grinned."meet at Angelica tomorrow evening then" Liam said and started walking, Red followed his cue and strode off as well.

Jac was about to do the same when John patted his arm "Got a second Doc?".
"Sure, what's up?" Jac turned back to his large friend.
John scratched his short pale hair and shifted his weight "Not a big thing or anything, just … about Red, you haven't been with us too long so you probably don't understand him that well yet."
Jac crossed his arms and frowned "What do you mean?"

John continued "Look, you and me, we're belters, born and raised for my part, same with you yeah? for us, sitting in a tin can in the big void is not a special thing, it's our normal." He stopped to think of his words a bit.
"And Liam, well in one way he's a dustwalker, he grew up on Terra so there's that, but Liam is also military – he was trained for space."
"The thing is Red, he grew up on mars, and unlike any of us his training was all about that big dustbowl that they're terraforming."
Jac raised his eyebrows and stared at John "What's your point?"
"The point is … " John hesitated "The point is that to Red all of this, every single thing of this, is not normal for him, it's makes him a bit high strung at times." John leaned back.
"I'm just asking you to keep that in mind when he gets the way he gets, to be a bit understanding."
"Look at you" Jac teased "looking out for your friend, making sure morale is good in the group, I didn't know you had it in you, you usually act like you don't give a fuck about any of us." He smiled and shook his head.

"Well … he gave up his planet to save me and Liam, so I owe him." John started walking into the crowd.

"Oh. "
 



 

View
Acid Blood
Episode 4

"A clear mind can topple even the strongest will."

 


 

The light in the generator room was a dull yellow and slowly rotating, creating an overlapping shadowplay of dull grey shadows and golden cones around them. The dust they had whirled up in their entrance was drifting about the room and settling on the four men as they discussed.

"We have to go out again." Jac said, running his hands through his sweaty hair and stretching his back. He was standing in the middle of the group, the others were seated and morose.
"You go out there now and you're as good as dead, but be my guest, I'm taking a breather." Liams tone was terse and tired, he didn't look up from cleaning his gun  as he spoke.


"I have food, don't see what you're whining about." Red added innocently and produced a rationbar from his pack, he activated the heating on the little box and the smell of not-quite-meat and not-really-root-vegetables rose in the room.
He dug into it happily with an all-pupose knife as John looked over from his seat against the wall "Give me some of that? Thanks Red." He chewed on the lump of brown while thinking before continuing the conversation."Doc is right though, at some point we have to leave, and when we do we need a plan for how to handle that thing, any thoughts?"

"Shoot it?" Liam mumbled sarcastically from his maintenance routine.
"It's stupid mobile, and hard to spot – we have to corral it somehow for that to work." John, answered patiently, "could we get it into a bottleneck somewhere?"
"The short corridor leading to this room qualifies. " Red mumbled between bites, he passed the improvised kitchen utensil to John.
"That leaves us with nowhere to fall back to if it goes tits up, any other ideas?"

Jac stroked his chin stubble "If I can get to the control room over us we could drop one of those crates on it."
"Nice" John nodded "But we still need to go out there then and all the way to said control room for that to work."

Liam looked up from his rifle, he was done. "No matter what we come up with, we need to go back out there, but we are tired and that thing is right outside there now, so lets rest out a stretch and hope it fucks off." He leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms. "Think of something 'till I wake up yeah?"

The other exchanged some glances before following his lead.
 


The large blast door opened slowly accompanied by it's own low mechanical drumbeat.
John and Liam stepped through and into the short corridor leading to the cargo room, both were suited up and sweeping their weapons across every square inch, nobody spoke.

They advanced at a glacier rate to the point where the corridor opened up into the larger room. John backed into the room, his autoshotgun aimed up and above, scanning the walls and roof directly over them. Liam waved at the two others and followed him out, tracing his rifle across the containers surrounding them.
The four of them started on the path that would lead them to the Angelica, John in front, Liam watching the rear, the two others checking their flanks.

 


 

Jac and John were watching through the window as the crane moved the large container over the nest in the cargo bay.

"I think this thing is too smart for that trick" John mentioned, his gaze drawn to the shadows littering the room like plastic cups on a concert floor.
"It might work, as an ambush or distraction, you never know." Jac answered.
"Sure, what's next?" John said, his eyes didn't leave the dark hangar.
"Hooking the generator up with fuel" Jac looked up "We have to go back in."
"Of course" John grumbled "You know, Liam is saying we should just leave, pack up and go home."
"And you?"
"I say we fuck this teleporting invisible piece of shit up harder than anything we've ever fucked and piss on the corpse." He turned to the shocked engineer "But I'm a bit funny like that."

 



The generator hummed contently behind them as they returned to the cargo hold, as before it  was eerily silent, but now the lights were coming on, one by one, flickering the room from dull darkness to piercing neon glare.
A sound from behind the crates drew their attention, and four sets of leadspitters trained on the area.
"That must be it" Liam hissed.
"I'm going to see if I can track it" John  pressed the controls on his vambrace and a couple of small lights on his helm lit up a subdued blue. "There is too much steel between us, I don't have a clear lock on it yet."
Doc turned to him "Wait, didn't you say it could notice when you used the scanner?!"
"It already knows we're here, Doc." John replied.
"But what if -" Doc didn't finish his sentence as a black body dropped down in their midst and dark tentacles whipped out and threw him against the nearest wall. Liam was knocked over by a vicious appendage and John was pushed back by another.

Liam groaned and looked up to see Red being lifted by the throat, he was feebly swatting at the strong muscles as his feet treaded the air.

Yup, that's some cracked ribs again, but Red is getting it worse.

In the corner of his eye he saw John raising his room sweeper and then the whole hangar filled with automatic fire and light as the belter unloaded half a clip into the beast among them. Green liquid sprayed from countless wounds before it slumped to the ground in a fleshy heap.

Then the screaming started, Liam staggered to his feet just as he saw Doc fall over on his side screaming, his hands against his gut as steam was rising from his reinforced jumpsuit.

It's eating the suit.

He looked down at his own chest.
"Oh. Shit."

There was a clang as Johns weapon hit the metal floor, followed by a groan as he sank into a kneeling position, the tall belter looked at his blood covered glove.
Red hadn't moved since the monster dropped him.

I'm the only one standing.

 


 

Throwing the scapel to the floor and sitting down next to the immobile form of 'Red', Liams eyes met his "You still want to stay John?"
"Fuck no, L" John sighed and leaned against the bulkheads "Acid blood? …. that shit makes me want to go back home and become a farmer."


Liam chuckled, his gloves were red and he looked tired. "Indentured to a landowner? John Icarus? I think not, you would probably lead a revolution before the first month." He aimed red ringed eyes at his friend  "Your not made for normal work buddy, your parents saw to that, and Ranger training made it worse."
"None of us are" John grinned madly at the Earther, his teeth glistening with blood. "But maybe it's time to get off this ghost ship and save Red … You were right L."

The medic looked around the room at their unconcious companions "It's been known to happen."

View
Eyes of Pure Darkness
Episode 3

"For more corrupt the soul, the more painful it becomes to look upon the pure.
So it is with crystal and jade and the creatures of the dark lands.
Remember this Hantei, for it will one day save your life."


This ship is too big, and far too infested for our tiny crew.

Liam thought as Doc, the new guy, wanted to power up a mainframe computer for more information so as to explore the ship. Both Doc and John had agreed, tyranny of the majority at work, and Red would probably agree with them. They were clearly forgetting the monster in the ships water storage, the ghoulish creatures that lurked behind every door. Hell, behind the door next to the mainframe, probably.

Watching the hallway through which they had entered, suddenly the lights started flickering on. Doc then announced he had gotten access to the mainframe, only to be silenced by the clawing of the creatures on the other side of the door. Liam and John drew their weapons, preparing for the locks to fail. Ste…- Doc still too caught up in the influx of information too care, maybe even notice.

Suddenly silence. The clawing stopped,  had the ghouls given up? Could they?
Pale bodies, screaming, running through the hallway. The first warning was Johns' scanner. He barked a warning, but they almost caught Liam, as he advanced retrograde to get some space. Two ghouls, John opened up with that oversized boomstick and drew the attention of the rearmost one.

One for John, one for Liam, split up the ghouls were swiftly dispatched. Their danger seemingly ended with the surprise ambush.

Doc had still not budged from the screens, about as useful this fight as tastebuds in an asshole.

Finding more of Lieutenant Harry Yagai and his logs. It mentioned radiation, and odd symptoms, suddenly the very air felt prickly. They quickly checked their radiation scanners.
 


The next room did wonders explaining the fate of a significant part of the ships' crew. Torn bodies, rotten meat and gnawed bones. How long had those ghouls laired here? Enough "food" for this to be considered a larder.

Seaching the bodies yielded little in the way of answers, some medical supplies.

The room had another exit. Spilling out into the main hallway, a service hatch with a hidden inlaid panel. That must have bene where the ghouls exited to get around them.

Securing the entire  mainframe compartment from further break-ins, Doc and John started scanning through the walls for possible entryways to other parts of the ship. Behind one wall they picked up no gravity, and maybe even no air. Another wall showed another compartment, but this time the scans read gravity, uncertain as to pressure or air. They decided to open a small hole first, to get a feel for the air flow, a standard tactic for breaching in damaged ships. An unknown concept to Doc it seemed, but both John and Liam had seen what vacuum could do to the unaware in the past.

Using a lasertorch to open a segment of the wall worked, until the metal plate dropped. It made more noise than they wanted. Much more. Peeking through the hole revealed a spiral staircase, the uneven reflection of light from water shining up from its bottom. There was a door, barely open, on the other end. An unspoken agreement to not go near the stairs, they all too clearly remembered the monster that almost killed John and Red, the stairs might just open into that water reservoir.


Leaving only the door across the room as a viable option for further discovery. Sneaking slowly across the room Liam peeked through the crack. A ships galley, more bodies, nothing moving.

Giving John the "all-clear" handsign, they entered the galley.  The bodies, for the first time the bodies were not clad  in unremarkable spacers jumpsuits, but uniforms, of different services with rank insignia. Three bodies, all three officers, one lieutenant and two ensigns. Searching the bodies left little in the way of results, only the dogtags. Lieutenant Yagai, whose scrambled writings had so motived Doc to stay was found. A worse sign was the door out of the galley, barricaded. Another door that should probably stay shut.  
 


Leaving the galley as silently as they could, Liam and John met up with Doc near the mainframe exit. Being yet unwilling to leave, John and Doc decided to press on, simply in a different direction. On the first day, they had found what probably was the cargo hold. Searching that way might yield answers as to what all of this was for, or better yet, loot. 

Walking the main corridor, John decided to scan the way ahead. Scans showed an unknown lifeform, humanoid and arachnid in appearance. John saw it react to his scan, his presence. then disappear off the screen unlike anything he had seen before, not active camouflage, not a signal distortion. It simply was not there, suddenly, not there.

They quickly huddled, nervous from this alien specter, and made a new plan: Liam would watch their rear, John and 'Doc' would advance cautiously, John in the lead.


The incessant thumping from the large door by the elevator banks, came to an abrupt end. It ended not with silence, but with a screech, as if metal tore from metal.


Liam, John and Ste.. Doc moved forwards into the room preceding the cargo hold. Liam wanting to keep an eye out for whatever might yet come from the elevator banks, John and Doc seeking to explore the hold. Mindful of the disappearing creature, remembering the sound of metal yielding to force. Unknown, probable hostiles, on both fronts.


The waiting got to Liam, fast.

John and Doc had already entered the hold. Being alone in the void of space is bad enough, worse yet is being alone on a unknown ship. He followed them into the hold, never getting a chance at seeing whatever it was busting up that door down the central compartment.


Doc and John in the cargo hold found only the bodies of ghouls hanging from the ceiling, dripping stalactites, beneath them the remnants of others of their kind. No sign of the weird creature from John's scans, yet.

Faint scratching from the far end of the hold caught their attention. They withdrew from the feeding area. Doc, looking for safety found an armoured door, and wanting to get behind it started hacking the system using a carelessly placed dataport.

John wanted to locate this thing, once more, even trap it, drew out his scanner wanting to force it to his location. It worked too well. Tentacles, the colour of shadows wound around his legs. Seeking to drag him to an dark unwanted end. Unable to see the source of the webs, and busy trying to hold on to something anything, he did not see Liam sprint forth to open fire on the dark. Something was hit. Hit badly enough to relinquish the grip on John. Shocked higher on adrenaline than a fighterpilot on himself, John and Liam moved back-to-back to the Docs' gate.


Doc had barely gotten the gate open when they arrived. a hallway, with what might be the  Nova Terras' main power generator at the end. Against the walls of the room stood emergency lockers.

Locking the door behind them, Liam opened a few lockers and found envirosuits, rated for vacuum and other hazarduos environments. They were trapped. Far too many unknowns. A real clusterfuck.



"Told you we should have bloody well left alone."
"Shut up, Liam."
"Yeah Liam, shut up."

Blue Falcons, the lot of them.

 

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Hooks and Barbs
Episode 2

"When the mind is exhausted of images, it invents it's own."


Red was running.

The sounds of his boots made echoes down the metal corridor, irritating.

He was following his training; advance under cover, quiet recon pattern – but those tactics were made for the deserts of his homeland, not this big ringing can of a ship.

Got to adapt Red, or join the rest of the ghosts.

Ahead of him he heard a barrage of gunfire from the doorway leading into the next chamber – machine guns, none of his companions brought machine guns on this op. That didn't bode well.

He came to a halt looking into the muzzle of a custom terran corp rifle, held by an Earther in combat gear. They stared at each other for half a second, before Liam repositioned and gave a clear to John and Jac. Just a couple of years back he would probably have fired, but things were different then.

Nostalgic Mikhail? 

He ignored the accusations of the past and focused on the carnage in the corridor: Jac was rubbing his head while he emerged from a nearby room, while John was scanning their surroundings with his Ranger gear.

Those would have been helpful during the blitz on Kashmir, too bad the damn Belters weren't sharing back then … still not that big on it when you think about it. 

Although John was ok for a Belter, creepy and weird, but ok. He'd proved himself on Mars.

In front of two belted 'Bots with machine guns a pile of barely recognizable human flesh was cooling and leaking out on the hallway.

What the hell is going on here then?

 


Great, they're coming out of the vents.

These things were barely human anymore, split jaws with rows of teeth, elongated hands and talons, great loping strides and animal, monsterous howls and shrieks.

But they don't have guns, so fuck them.

Liam was lighting them up, gladly.
They had made a 'Kill Box' with the two Turret 'Bots that 'Doc' had repurposed, John on the left with Red, and Liam on the right. These things didn't stand a chance.

Might not be so optimal next time though.

The thunder of guns shook the hallway and made his teeth rattle as they all unloaded on the approaching monstrosities, and then it was over. Silence and smoke spread out. Liam spared a glance at John as he was reloading, the belter was doing the same.

All business that one, we're not so different you and I.

But that didn't change the fact that they both knew that John most likely had killed some of Liam's friends during the skirmishes of the last age. Water under the bridge, they both avoided the subject whenever they socialized. Better that way.

'Doc' was cursing and making a ruckus over by the sealed door.

I'm no Mechanic, but I'm pretty sure kicking at the thing seldom proves to be effective.

Who was this guy anyway? He'd joined up with them after their last mechanic had suffered an … accident.  They've referred to him as 'Steve' the first month before bothering learning his name – Now John was calling him 'Doc' like they were old pals and bringing him into discussions like he was their equal.

But he wasn't there when it went bad, he hasn't bled for us like we bled for each other back on …

Liam brough his shit under control, no time for that. The Belter had proven his worth with machines, John was giving him a chance, might as well do the same. Liam went about sifting through the corpses, partly looking for clues, partly taking medical notes on the mutations in these … things.

The Martian was shouting from the corner he'd been leaning against "Hey guys, I found another door!" he stepped back as a part of the wall slid away, revealing a stairway.

Good, maybe our luck is changing.


 

The bridge was slippery with remains, John didn't know of whom or what, he only focused on his footing. Under the metal bridge he could hear the water moving, the light from their torches reflected on the walls in a kaleidoscope of patterns.

I wonder if this is how the sea sounds.

John had never been on Terra, he had never breathed fresh air or walked without a dome over him. He was from one of the Firstcomer Families, to the Martians or Terran the term meant nothing. But to Belters it was something to live up to. His ancestors were one of the first to settle in space, and they had stayed there across generations. It had begun to shape them into something slightly different than human. 

He looked at where Red was walking in front of him, the Martian was scanning the edges of the bridge with his rifle.

Your kind chained themselves to a rock the first chance they got, when they had all the stars to choose from. Fucking Dustwalkers, all the same.

Something caught his attention, a vague movement in the darkness to his left.

Suddenly Red made a shout from his right, twisting back to him he could see something slimy and long was gripping his friend, it's shape continuing from the bridge down into the pool below them. He had to help him.

Wait, the movement to the left.

John turned back just in time to see the spikeed appendage of the tentacle embed itself in his chest, it's icy toxins pumping into him as he screamed in pain and outrage.

Shit! No! Should have paid more attention to my sector!

He ripped the appendage away from his torso and almost fell over convulsing as he dragged himself back to safety. He could see Liam opening his medic kit, Jac was running towards him. Sounds were gone, his vision was tunneling as he staggered away from the bridge.

Didn't even get to swim, typical Belter luck.


 

"What I'm saying is that we need access to the mainframe somehow, all we've got so far is local controls, and that won't cut it." Jac highlighted his point by making a chopping motion with his hand.

"You saw what happened to Reznikov and John, that thing was big and it was fast, it's suicide!" Liam sounded tired, after carrying his squadmates back to the Angeliqa, stitching them up, and making sure they were stable, he had sat down to rest his head for a moment. That's when the discussion with 'Doc' had started.

He was seconds away fom punching the Belter Mechanic, just for being a tool, and for not shutting up. 

"Then we go around somehow, we still haven't explored all of the aft, somewhere in the back there has to be a different access." The engineer was relentless.

Liam studied the dried blood on his suit and gloves as the irritation bubbled in him "Listen, STEVE – I'm tired, I'm covered in blood, I don't CARE how good you are with a tablet or welding torch, we are NOT going back in there JUST the two of us."

"Three. " The voice was raw and ragged.

Standing in the doorway leading to the improvised medbay, John looked paler than ever before, his eyes were ringed and his chest was covered with the silvery spiderweb-like material Liam had sprayed on him some hours past.

"The three of us are going back in there." He repeated, his voice had a tinge of madness or anger in it.

He looks like Death himself.

"Ok John" Liam edged, staring at the pale half dead giant of a man " But we're not going in now, I'm tired, you're barely standing – you lost a lot of blood, remember. And we don't have a plan"

He continued quickly, to avoid the annoying mechanic from interrupting him "We rest, we heal, we eat,  and THEN we decide whether we're staying here or cutting our losses and leaving. So far all we've lost is some ammo – But we almost lost you AND Red , man!"

John looked like he was about to fall over, he gripped the top of the doorway to steady himself. "Ok, ok, we will rest, you're right Liam." He leaned closer, his slender bulk towering over Liam and Jac. "But. We. Are. Not. Leaving."

"Sure thing John, now get some rest"

I know that look, this is going to get ugly.

"Right, I'll get some rest as well" Jac added smugly. Liam gave him a look of death.

I'm going to punch that dude one day, it's a certainty.


 

"There" Jac added finally and kicked the lever for good measure, the gears loosened and started spinning slowly, the door slid away with a grinding slow sound.

Kicking things always help.

The corridor ahead was narrow, enough room for one man to stride.

"Right" John was tapping at the control on his arm, unlike the others helmets the visor of his Ranger helm showed no trace of his face, just a tinted dome of glass and metal tapering to an end at the back of his head, all sinister curves and sleek design. "No signs of movement, but hrmm .."

"Humm-what, Icarus?" Jace asked, his tone curious and annoyed at the same time.

The visor angled in his direction, the tall angular body betraying tension … or mirth? It was hard to tell with this guy. "Whoever built this ship did not have a problem with mineral rationing or economics – so the bulkheads and doors are thicker and stronger than what my sensors are used to." He looked back to the hallway, readying his autoshotgun. "So I'm not sure I trust the scans as much as I usually would."

"Send one of the 'Bots ahead, we follow in a line, me, Liam, then you. Keep two metres between each other-to avoid getting tangled if we're jumped. Let's go."

Jac looked over at Liam, the Earther just shrugged and lined up behind the large Void Ranger.

Creepy fucker at times, I'm glad he's on our side though.

They walked into the gloom, the clicks of boots and the whirr of belts preceding them. As the corridor widened out into a room Liam and John turned to each their side, scanning over the corners. "Clear." "Clear" They've obviously done this together before.

The left side had lockers, the right had … what Jace though were old batteries or generators, much weaker than what they had in their ship.


 

The door slid up and the mutated crewmen launched themselves into the hallway, climbing over the turret robot in their eagerness to get to flesh. The small corridor flashed with the gunfire from Liam and Johns automated weapons, throwing dramaticly distorted shadows around them.

One of them was running at John, it's crew uniform torn into rags and it's eyes blodshot and unfocused. He removed it's left leg with the first shot.

Aaaaand, Stay Down!

He filled the sprawled creature with shots until it stopped moving, then added two more for good measure. He quickly scanned the others, all hostiles down – that was good. He could have sworn I saw the mechanic actually using that SMG he was holding.

The man is an ok shot – make a note of that, John.

They advanced into the room, near it's center a large ugly anglular box was standing, surrounded by blinking lights and screens. A mainframe terminal.

"Jackpot." 'Doc' hissed.

Two other doors led from the room, one to a storage room with grilles separating the layers above and below. John did not like the look of those.

Too easy to get outflanked if we forget about those.

The other door was sealed, behind it sounds of … animals? could be heard moving about, grunting and roaring at each other. They hadn't noticed the group yet.

Most likely more of those shark-mouthed beasts we mowed down in the hallway, don't want to fight THEM in close quarters.

Now, what next?

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Introduction Episode 2: Aièn aristeúein
Choices, choices, choices...

Having responded to the odd signals as per the law, and decelerated into the shadow of Saturn, the crew of the Angelica discovered, through a near miss collision, a mysterious vessel. It was massive, and its design nothing of the modern day. It was long, angular and black, it was almost as if design had been prioritised over function – whatever function it was to have, it looked like no other ship they had seen. They could pick up no life forms or any other signals or readings. They could however pick up readings of life support. After locating an airlock, they boarded the vessel.

"Red" stayed on the Angelica to keep the ship ready and to watch the scanners and listen on the communicators for raiders, other's coming to investigate help and more. Considering the mysterious ship's lack of readings and transmissions, they were uncertain of whether or not their own communicators could penetrate the hull, another reason for "Red" to stay behind.

Having explored and met some odd cannibal like crew members that John and Liam dispatched of loudly and proudly, while Jac managed to open a large door, leading away from the large hangar-like corridor they had been traversing.

After a brief encounter with some robot security Jac managed to shut down – security was old and out of date, they discovered a small control room, overlooking a darkened room. The control room contained the first working consoles and computers they had found since boarding the ship, a ship they suspected quickly was called Nova Terra.

Steve, also known as Jac or 'Doc' sat down by the only working console, touched the screen and a flurry of text and images flowed by until the screen settled on the rotating emblem of the Nova Terra, a stylised bird of prey in flight. Jac set to work on getting through the computer security, whereas Liam and John started to rummage through the room, looking for gear and anything useful the crew of this ship may have left behind.

Shortly after having successfully hacked the system, the first activity Jac noticed on the running system showed the following scan of the solar system:


 

John and Liam found a small storage room containing cleaning utensils, two still functioning flashlights, a pair of magnetic boots, one set of goggles (lowlight), a suture pen, and a weapon rack with an old submachine gun and 50 rounds for it. John and Liam considered the machine guns of the security robots, effective weapons (even if they were old), yet heavy to carry around.

On further exploration of the computer system, Jac came across the following excerpt from some old, partly corrupted, document:

Jac found a few other corrupt documents with some discernible writing. The local computer system seemed otherwise purged or corrupted, further inquiries and exploration of the system would require time, power and – it seemed – activation of the section's and/or level's main-frame computer. The location of which appeared to be classified.

Liam pointed at a screen that suddenly came to life. The image was blurry and full of static. It showed a medical bay, several shapes on stretchers and beds could be made out, a loud hissing and crackling sound coming for the speakers. Before any further details could be gleaned, the screen flickered again, a stylised map of the Nova Terra appeared.

Now, to gain access to the computer systems a main-frame had to be located. They knew they were in the stern, the engineering, cargo and defence section. From here, access to systems and the rest of the ship should be possible, if difficult.

Studying the map and trying to raise "Red" on the comms, heard a whirr, a thud and a distant moan …

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Derelict spacecraft
Episode 1: New owners

The crew had gotten close enough that they could start scanning the signal source. After several minutes of scanning and some improvements done on the scanners by Doc, they managed to see that is was spacecraft. Several orders of magnitude larger than the one they flew in now. No signs of life, and no response to hailing over the radio. John had tried for a fast docking with the ship, but was unable to complete det maneuver, resulting in a minor crash. Only Doc and Liam was injured. After correcting the course John was able to dock with the larger craft.

They managed to get into the airlock but the way further in was locked. Never despairing Doc pulled out his tools and circumvented the security, opening the door. The tech in the lock suggested this ship was old. Like way old. Inside the ship they found it was breathable and had some dim lighting. They entered a large corridor going in the direction of the bridge. Following this they found a power conduit that was out of order. Fixing this would take time, and they wanted to scout some more first. Getting farther in they came to a T-intersection. On one side there was a large door and on the other side a small passage. Doc tried the lock on the large door, but it was not functional. He set about fixing it while John and Liam went into the small passage.

Inside the small passage they found a service room, for the engineers of the crew. And it was still populated.. By ghouls… Seeing John and Liam they attacked. Meanwhile Doc continued fixing the door and started to hear gunfire. He asked them over the comms if they needed any help. (Hoping for a no, as his last submachine gun had been stolen from him shortly before coming on this mission, and with the gun he had he could scarcely do any damage). On the 4th call he got a reply for John, "Yeah we're good. At least I am, and Liam will be too if he can kill that thing". Taking this as a good thing Doc finished fixing the door and went after them. Inside the service room there were body parts everywhere. Gagging a little Doc asked if they found anything, getting a negative in response. There were som stairs leading downwards from the room, but they went into total darkness. Spending a little time searching Doc found a weird conical, circular thing that emitted a weak power pulse. Putting it in is his bag the party went back to the now unlocked door. By combining Doc's console and John's scanning tech they tried to scan for anything on the other side of the door. Getting nothing they went through. Inside was a smaller corridor with an opening in the middle of the far wall and a door towards the front of the ship. They decided that they needed to check out the opening for dangers, and lo, they found some. Two small tracked, cubic droids with not so small machine guns mounted on them circled the room. Doc found some network signals he could interfere with and started working on those. In the meantime the droids saw us. Asking us for our identification, they were getting ready to shot. In the same second that John and Liam answered the drones Doc managed to turn them of remotely. Whoa, a close one.

Some higher power made the crew check out the door towards the front before it got to late in the day. Inside they found a large viewing room and the name of the ship: Nova Terra…

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Introduction: how it all began ...
Episode 1

It was their last trip to Eris, the last out of too many, this year. They hadn't been further in-system than Caelestis in more than six months, and the last trip further in had only been to Ceres. Caelestis had been their port of call in this massive transport scheme Apsis had hired them for. Periastron, their handler – an obvious code name – had suggested legit work for once. Running errands for the Syndicate wasn't always a great way to make friends or avoid FedPol.

The work had been mostly fine, if boring. Transporting foodstuffs and equipment to the colony on Eris wasn't a high-octane risky job with high stakes and good pay … Periastron had let them continue to use Angelica for the job, which had, finally, confirmed their suspicion of the Apsis-link. John looked out the view port as he eased Angelica towards the docking tower. He could hear Liam and Mikhail getting ready to move out the cargo. What a place to settle John thought as the lights turned blue to confirm the atmo-seal. They had docked.

Aphelion wasn't much to look at, it probably never would be. It was a large bubble city with extra reinforced ceiling, couldn't be too careful in the Kuiper-belt, this resulted in even less light getting through. John and the crew had quickly unloaded their cargo and had been allowed to enter the colony proper, for the first time. It is after all New Year's eve they had been told, and there was going to be a party. There was going to be fireworks and a ceremonial send-off of three communications and research satellites. People were merry and drinks were free.

Large signs and holograms lit up the various quarters, sound blasted from hidden speakers. All sensory input overloaded with slogans for the genius behind the Cepheus-program.

The preparations had been going on for decades. Soon Eris would be too far away to reliably and efficiently receive visitors. They were now prepared for more than 400 years of relative isolation. By this it was understood that help would be too far away to be meaningful in case of an immediate crisis, but new colonists could arrive, supplies would still be shuttled, and military patrols would still swing by at times. Advances in technology would or could change this of course, but the minds behind this venture did not count on the mega corporations and governments of the conflicted solar system to maintain what counted as peace these days. The relative stability humanity had suffered the last century was not something to strive towards.

The airlock shut, the transport's life-support sucked up all the remaining air in the chamber. Something like a shudder could be felt as the ship was released from the docking clamps. The job was done, the last of the packages delivered. John eased the freighter away from the docking tower and manoeuvred the ship away from Eris; he started calculating a route to the Jovian system it was about time to get paid. From below he could hear their engineer working on the damaged gravitic drive; it had been acting up lately. It was a risky run if he couldn't hold it together. But then everything was risky these days, even with a working gravitic drive. Mikhail and Liam could be heard chatting in the galley – they looked forward to get paid again. Apsis had better pay up this time John thought as he settled on a route to Jupiter.

The journey would take a week, most likely more, perhaps less. It was a long trek. It was their last from Eris.

The engines of Angelica coughed and hummed as the gravitic drive generated all the G's it could muster, the shields flickered ominously as the ship accelerated towards Uranus' orbit, aiming for Saturn's orbit to save time and fuel and shoot from Saturn towards Jupiter about halfway through the journey. Out here not many dangers lurked, beyond meteor showers and the like.

It is a long journey, lots could go wrong and this engine isn't cooperating. Steve the mechanic moved his toolkit closer as he got working on the redundancy power couplings – a risky endeavor at this speed, but the risk of them not working was far more lethal, if something else went wrong.

The Angelica was coming up on Saturn. Almost 7 days into the journey, they were only about a day and a half or so from Jupiter. This area of space was still mostly void of life and human presence, except for the research stations on Titan. It should be silent, except maybe for the odd hail from a researcher of the aforementioned installations. Yet, John could pick up readings on the sensors originating from a source closer to the gas giant than Titan, among the innermost moons of Saturn.

The law was clear, any SOS or out of the ordinary signals and transmissions must be investigated. Not only for the "good of your fellow humans," but also for the profit of your employer. John started the deceleration procedure. Hopefully this wouldn't set them back too much… he could already hear the groans from his companions as they realised that the universe had conspired against them. Again.

The Angelica had slowed down from their top speed, a healthy 0.025c, close to 7500 km/s, to 700 km/s and still decelerating towards the source of the signal, they would be there soon, time to get the crew ready. He called out "Get up here, we're within reasonable range, I'm going to start up the scanners." With the flick of a switch two displays lit up, he aimed towards the source and started the scanners.

At this distance there were limitations with their old sensor suit, but chance were they could identify it and figure out whether they could or should move on, or stop to investigate. His hopes weren't high. It could be desperate pirates, fanatical pseudo-luddites in search of food, Belter rebels or a syndicate raiding party. It could also be an old derelict vessel ripe for scavenging, which could mean extra cash … or it could be someone in need of help, some desperate scientist kid in a stolen shuttle from Titan. Either way it meant losing fuel and time …

Focused on the scanning he could hear the others making their way into the cockpit, Mikhail and Liam had been around for a while, but the new guy … Steve? He was useful, but chatty and … worse, sociable. The smell of canned food followed them. Food. In the cockpit. The sensors pinged …

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Session 0
God damn chaotic

We only used 6 hours to create the characters. And that is without much of the gear.

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