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  1. Chapter 28: Blinding Light She is lying down... the air is cool. She hears a rustling sound, a pitter-patter. It’s raining. I’m getting wet. The smell of rain on stone, her breath is short, she is tired. There is another sound... crying. The pressure of hands upon her chest. The taste of iron in her mouth. A creature kneels over her, tall, etherial. It leans towards her. “You must find Upsilon” it whispers, its lips unmoving. “You must not lie down.” Why can I hear you? “You must not lie down.” it repeated. I failed. Her reply came as a thought but she could not make the words. “You have not yet begun.” the voice whispered a reply within her mind. I don’t understand... “You must not lie down.” The creature reached out, placing it’s hands on Yseult’s chest. From it’s eyes, a blinding light, pierced with red... growing brighter, hotter. A hum behind it, whirring, faster. Suddenly, a blinding light... The smell of burnt hair and scorched metal filled the air as the laser skewed away from Yseult’s face, narrowly missing her ear. Around the black creature’s tail was a black metal hand which raised the creature aloft, writhing and screeching in panic. Another large black metallic hand encompassed the creature’s body and a moment later, they were separate, pulled into two with relative ease by the dark behemoth that was Yseult’s saviour. The laser, now discarded, smoked upon the hangar deck and as the dismembered creature writhed, desperate to escape the dark clutches of whatever had it. It would not writhe for long though as the free hand of its captor now reached for its head and with a short jolt, the creature became limp. Discarded to the hangar floor, its lifeless body landing with a deadening clank, Yseult was finally able to take in the thing that had come to her rescue... It was huge, mighty, a plethora of black bone and spikes... It had four legs, two huge arms and from its back, two larger versions of the smaller creature’s laser... Its chest was a maze of black metal work that was difficult for the eye to make out and above that, a head... Similar to the creature’s but with larger horns, the two were clearly kin. It looked down at Ysuelt with its piercing, merciless single yellow eye. Repositioning itself, it crouched, lowering the torso as much as it could and with a whirr, the cage that formed the chest opened up. Ellie was dwarfed by the monstrous exo-suit that surrounded her. She was breathing heavily, adrenaline in her veins, beads of sweat on her brow... relief in her eyes. For a moment, she just breathed. The carefully stepped out of the frame and climbed down, cautiously looking for foot-holes in the dark skeletal bodywork. Yesult was already standing by the time she got down and had stepped towards her. The two just stared at each other until finally, Ellie’s arms reached out and vigorously embraced Yseult who, after a moment of feeling somewhat out of her comfort zone, more casually did the same. She could feel Ellie’s heat pounding. The rush she thought. Ellie wasn’t used to it, she was an engineer, not a soldier. The emotions racing through her were obvious - panic, courage, fear, relief... all rolled into one hectic mess of adrenaline. Fuel for the soul. But Ellie was a different person, not used to this... That may have to change. Ellie released the embrace and Yseult followed suit without hesitation and instantly felt a little more at ease. Ellie was breathing deeply, regaining control, bringing herself back down. Her hands on her stomach, like she was stopping herself form being sick. “Okay?” Yseult asked. She didn’t know what else to say. Ellie nodded, her eyes closed, slowly, she was regaining her composure. “Don’t.” she finally said... “Touch... Anything...” There was a short awkward pause before Yseult found she couldn’t stop her cheeks tightening and a cheeky smile growing on her face... it was contagious and as soon as she noticed it on Ellie too, it only became harder to suppress... They both burst into short laughter, Ellie putting her hand to her face in embarrassment. They looked at each a moment, unsure what the right thing to say next was. Yseult pointed up at the exo-suit... “Can I have a go?” she asked, a wry cheeky smile on her face. Ellie couldn’t help it and laughed again.
  2. Chapter 27: Previous occupants Somewhere far from the edge of one of the darker regions of the moon where the black daytime sky did little to illuminate the jagged features and the gas giant it orbited even less so, the last sliver of its banded clouds fading as it approached its daily eclipse of the surface, cruising across the landscape, a small glint of light defied the darkness. With one side of Ganymede always facing Jupiter, daytime on the jovian hemisphere meant the king of the planets was always in between the moon and the distant Sun and an eclipse was a daily occurrence... each day being just over seven Earth days long elongated the process and soon, the dark surface below the dark blue transport would have even less light to reveal its character to the pilot steering her ship down a gentle glide-slope as she approached the co-ordinates she had been given. Yseult carefully watched her instruments; there would be no approach lights for this landing, no illuminated apron. The hangar was built into the side of a steep rocky slope... Difficult to find... That was the idea. She didn’t know how Riddaeon had found it, he just provided her with the co-ordinates and the approach vector. Despite the bland field of darkness before her, the primary flight display clearly showed where she was headed and she reduced the throttle accordingly to maintain a gentle approach. The hangar’s internal lighting became visible only at the last minute and finally, Yseult was able to use her natural senses to guide the Speedy Owl in. With a shudder, the passed through the atmosfield and the growling hum of the engines acquired an echoed resonance as they entered the enclosed space. Bringing the ship to a hover in the centre of the hangar, she throttled back on the lift engines and with a loud clunk, the Owl set down of the hangar deck. As the engines spooled down, Yseult looked up out of the canopy at the hangar... It wasn’t the bright, well lit industrial space she’d expected. Black surfaces oddly lit by yellow glow - it was difficult to see the details. ‘Maybe that’s the idea’ she thought. Even from within the enclosed confines of the cockpit, there was a foreboding feel to it. The hangar floor was black. So were the walls and the ceiling save for a few stark details is contrasting bright yellow. The air was cold and had a deathly silence, broken only by a random clank somewhere that echoed off the walls enough to hide its true origin. Yseult tried to determine whee it came from, the only evidence that they were not alone was another vessel parked neatly in one of the designated bays. Yseult had landed the Owl right in the centre over the large triangular markings that adorned the floor... No-one had told her otherwise so she parked where she liked. The other vessel, in stark contrast to the hangar was grey and red. She knew the design but the Cylbruda Starglider was a classic, there weren’t many around, certainly not in the condition this one appeared to be in. A moment later, Riddaeon appeared from behind it with Ellie, they were discussing something and pointing at various parts of the chassis. When Riddaeon noticed that Yseult was out on the deck, he left Ellie and came over. “What do you think?” He asked as he neared her, his arms open indicating the hangar. Yseult looked briefly around while maintaining her usual non-plussed expression. “I don’t like it.” She said. “Well, we need to stay off the scopes.” Riddaeon replied. “Everybody’s... Including M.A.N.T.I.S. so we need somewhere...” He considered his words for a moment, as though avoiding an unfortunate truth. “... they don’t want to go.” Yseult’s gaze had returned to him, sceptical, as usual, but with more concern than he was used to. He didn’t blame her. This place was the kind that stories were told about. But with Big Sal on the run and still back in Andromeda for all he knew, M.A.N.T.I.S. were showing more interest in Riddaeon’s ‘side projects’ than he was comfortable with. They needed to be tucked away somewhere... They needed a home of their own. “It’ll do until we go back. For now, we need to get this place running properly, we’ve only got basic power at the moment... Did you bring the gear?” Yseult merely leaned her head back towards the container she had brought in with the Speedy Owl. Riddaeon took a breath and gave an assured nod... “Let’s get to it.” The blast door slid open with a reluctant creak that screamed of the neglect the base had suffered in the absence of its previous occupants. It had taken Ellie nearly half an hour just to open it. She hoped, being the door from the hangar that it would be the most difficult - the first line of defence if intruders came. She went to step forward into the corridor but a hand across her chest stopped her. Riddaeon’s eyes scanned the stale murky air, dimly lit with yellow wall lights. His eyes, narrow, took in the details - looking, suspecting... they settled on a small detail on the wall. He found a matching feature on the opposite side; It was about 1.5 metres off the ground and about half a metre away from them. He knelt and took a piece of equipment from the bag next to him. Like three sides of a square, the frame had a padded handle and control on the middle edge. One the insides of the two that protruded forwards perpendicular to the handle were a row of small nozzles and either side of them, narrow field emitters. Riddaeon activated the device and a wafer thin cloud of gas flowed between the top and bottom nozzles. Cautiously, Riddaeon approached the space between the wall features and inserted the device directly between them. The smooth and steady stream of cloud was disrupted and as he waved the device gently back and forth along the line, escaping remnants of gas revealed the detection laser crossing the corridor in front of them. Deactivating the device, he turned to Ellie. “Can you deactivate them?” He asked. “It’ll take time.” She replied. “They could be all over the place.” “Work on it.” Riddaeon said to her. “Yseult and I will work on detection. An hour later the party had made progress through the main corridors. Riddaeon and Yseult were hunting for lasers, Ellie was deactivating them as they went. It was getting easier with each one - Ellie had to hack the individual detector and change the power surge parameters that caused it to reset into a safety mode, now only requiring the smallest of fluctuations which was then easily caused with a small plasma pulse charger. By the fifth or sixth one, it had almost become routine and Riddaeon and Yseult had even split up, taking two different routes through the base. The inner doors had also been easier to overcome; the technology was decades old. It was laborious rather than difficult. Yseult checked the inner frame of a door Ellie had just opened to what appeared to be some kind of storage room. “I’ll go see where Riddaeon’s up to.” Ellie said as she turned and walked back down the corridor. So far, they hadn’t found any detectors in any rooms, only corridors and certain doorways but Yseult still proceeded carefully. This particular room looked much like storage, it wasn’t as well lit as others they’d found, nor was it as tidy. It was also more black than the others with only a few blinking guide lights on the corners of crates and containers giving a fluttering of life to and otherwise void-like space. Her instructions had been clear: Don’t... touch... anything. Yseult hated following instructions. Their first priority was to locate main power and the atmosfield generator. The first was needed to make the base fully operable again and second was critical to ensure their safety; while it obviously still worked, they were losing heat and gas and Yseult’s container had brought equipment and parts to bring it up to modern standards. Yseult had seen the videos as a child; space workers in full suits with air tanks, just incase the atmosfield failed. Over time, the equipment shrank and the technology became more reliable... Habits changed. Yseult paced cautiously forward, her eyes systematically assessing each part of her field of view. A few of the containers had signage, written in an obscure lettering, almost alien-like... She widened her view and looked at the whole word... It was English, it was just the font that was so abstract. Deciphering each letter, she read the label... ‘BIOMASS’. Others nearby were similar. Then she noticed a large container near the back of the room. This one was different to the others. In stead of clean lines and flat surfaces, it was an odd, almost organic shape. Around the corner edges were rib-like contours, curved with rounded off joint-like corners. There was something... Beautiful about it. The dull flat metal of the other containers was in stead an intricate mesh of contours reflecting glints of light in a thousand different places. It was hard to make out the precise shaping. Her fingertips brushed along a bone-like ridge, allured by the the desire to see, not with eyes that failed to discern such subtle variations in the darkness, but with fingertips. Without realising, both hands now caressed the frame and soon, the lengths of her fingers wrapped the ridges. She twisted her wrists and allowed her palms to press against the wider side of the framework and firmly slide towards the outer edge. There was something about it... alluring... tactile. Suddenly, the lights in the room brightened and the whirr of a power surge filled the walls. In surprise, Yseult jolted and looked around... The main power is on she thought. “Yseult?” Ellie’s voice came over the A-com. “Yes.” She replied, more alarmed and shorter of breath than she would like. “We’ve got main power back and have located the atmosfield generator.” Ellie said. “We’re headng back to the hangar to get the equipment.” “I’ll be right there” Yseult replied. She looked back at the black container that had captured her attention so much, enraptured her and taken her away from where she was and what she was doing. Her hands, still holding the front ridges had moved when she jolted... and the ridges with them. Just a couple of centimetres outwards... a notch... a click. Yseult tensed her hands and pulled. The ridges snapped back inwards to where they were. Gently, she let go and backed away slowly before turning and leaving the room. She hadn’t noticed that this container had not had a blinking light on it before... She didn’t notice that the light it had now didn’t blink... slowly it brightened, and slowly it dimmed, pulsating... breathing... waking. Yseult was about to turn into the corridor when she heard the sounds... Turning, she saw the containers ridges opening and unravelling and from within a long curved tail of some kind unraveled. At the end, some kind of red glowing spike. out of the sides, interlaced with the container’s ridges emerges legs. Two, four... no, six and at the front, between two black fang-like protrusions... A glowing yellow eye... It looked at her... She ran. Behind her, a half mechanical screech echoed and metallic claws tap, tapped against the floor as whatever it was followed. She turned a corner... then another... and hoped she remembered the way back. Eventually she stopped to catch breath... She had to compose herself. She reached for her A-com. “Riddaeon!” She said urgently and loudly as she dared. “Go ahead.” Riddaeon’s voice came back. “We have a problem.” She would have explained more... She needed to, but the metallic sound of scuttling tips drew close... She edged backwards. She couldn’t run forever. She didn’t even know what this thing was. The scuttling became faster, another screech echoed off the walls. She stopped. Stand firm she thought. She poised herself ready to run... in which direction she didn’t know yet... Then it appeared, so fast it half climbed the wall getting around the corner. It resembled a scorpion but with six legs and instead of pincers at the front, two small cannons of some sort were attached to its belly. Instinct consumed her... Yseult was no longer thinking, not like normal people do. She ran. Not away, it would have cut her down, but towards. Not straight, it would have cut down even sooner, but at an angle. The creature, if that’s what it was, had half of its legs up on the side wall otherwise it would have simply crashed into it, it had been travelling so fast... it was oddly poised. It’s belly tipped sideways facing the wall. Yseult ran to the other side. The sound of a few shots rang through the tunnel that was the corridor but moving out of the cannon’s field of fire, Yseult forced it to rethink and it repositioned itself, the red spike on its tail glowing brighter, the sound of a weapon charging filling the air. The corridor walls have vertical struts at intervals that encroached inward at 45 degrees at the ceiling and floor. As the creature turned and closed in on Yseult, she planted her right foot on one and launched herself over the creature’s head onto its back, grabbing the base of the glowing red spike as she did. The creature tried to adjust... it was too late Yseult used her body-weight to yank the head of the glowing spike down and as the laser fired, a bright red beam shot through the outer shell of the creature, through its body and out of the bottom. Panicked, it began to flail, whipping it’s tail and throwing Yseult to the floor. It was hurt, the cannons on its belly were in pieces but otherwise... it reared up, poised and let out of fearful screech. Yseult scrambled to her feet... This time, she ran away. “Get to the hangar.” Riddaeon’s voice came over the A-com. Yseult was too busy running to respond. Her heart pounded; she could hear the creature behind her... She’d had a head start but it wouldn’t last. Finally she reached the door to the hangar. Riddaeon and Ellie were no where to be seen. Grabbing the frame, she swung round and hit the door control. The heavy doors screeched closed... The tap, tapping of the creature’s feet getting closer. She couldn’t see it, she didn’t know how far behind it was. The doors were almost shut... relief. It didn’t last as the creature burst through the gap, stumbling almost but with six legs it was quick to steady itself and immediately turned to face Yseult. She went to run but something caught her leg and she tumbled to the floor. She rolled onto her back, the creature upon her. She crawled backwards until she was against the wall... No where else to go. A high pitched rattled hiss emanated from the creature like spite and hatred had been given a voice. It looked at her, its solitary eye showing only a desire to kill. The hum of a weapon being charged, the red glow. The spike on the end of its tail close to touching Yseult between the eyes, as though it wanted this to hurt more... Revenge, she recognised... Yseult heard sounds but she couldn’t discern them; mechanical clanks... they didn’t matter. She stared the creature back in the eye and returned a look of equal despise. If this is how it is to be, I will not die scared. The hum reached its highest pitch, the red its brightest glow... and the laser fired.
  3. “I have seen beyond the vale. Those of us that saw the true nature of Andromeda have been touched by a power greater than ourselves and greater than these mighty corporations can ever know. Their petty squabbles will be their end. The Dawn of Order approaches...” Sheep. Thought Yseult as she gazed over the crowd that had gathered to listen to the oddly-dressed character on the platform protruding from the temple entrance. He had recently become a kind of overnight celebrity, preaching about the future of Human-kind in vague ideological terms. He was ridiculed my many as an attention seeker, latching on to people’s fears and discontent with unfounded rhetoric, yet to so many, he had become a visionary, someone who spoke the truths that no-one else dared to. “... I was once like you, a slave consumer, blinkered by the empty promises of corporations. Lured into their cycle of temporary fulfilment... I was blind, but now... I see. They went to Andromeda to further their own greed, but they have kept from you what they discovered... The future of Mankind. I have seen this future, with my own eyes... But when I open the door to this future to you all, I will not sell it wrapped in a package of lies, I will give it freely to all those whose follow behind me.” There was a cheer from the crowd. They seem so easily pleased. Yseult thought as the man on stage that had termed himself ‘The Shadowmancer’ moved on to his next well rehearsed soliloquy of crowd-fodder. “I didn’t expect to see you here.” A man’s voice said behind Yseult. She turned, tensing, as if expecting trouble but it was Riddaeon who stood there. “It’s you.” She said, sounding disappointed, though self-loathing would have been more accurate. She hadn’t liked that someone had approached her without her knowing. She relaxed and turned back to the podium. Riddaeon stood beside her, taking in the crowd and the figure on stage. “Doesn’t seem like your...” Riddaeon looked for the right words. “Cup of coffee.” He said, recalling what Yseult had done with the one he took her on Donwarr. He doesn’t see it. Yseult thought. Few would have in her experience. It was both a blessing and a curse; usually the latter that she could see disparate and apparently unrelated things and make the connection between them. She knew when people were lying, or just improvising and hoping no-one would notice, when the facts didn’t add up. But of course, most of the time, there’s no way of proving to people how you know. She’d challenged plenty of them, sick of seeing them get what they want with carefully placed lies. But with no proof, most of those instances ended in fights. A few she won, many had been part of the lesson not to bother anymore. Let the liars lie, I’ll go live my life elsewhere. Some would tell her she looks into things ‘too deeply’ but to her it was obvious, apparent and glaring. She didn’t know why no-one else seemed to see it. They’re all idiots, happy to be taken for a ride... Not me. “Upsilon.” Yseult finally said to Riddaeon. “What?” He asked in reply, the word being so out of context. “Upsilon.” Yseult repeated. “Big Sal believes something is changing reality, the Universe. I think this man has seen it too. The difference: Sal wishes to understand it, this man wishes to worship it. But what he says... I think maybe they have seen the same thing...” The crowd suddenly dropped to complete silence and Yseult turned to see the Shadowmancer stood at the edge of the platform, his bejewelled staff pointing straight at her. After a moment, He brought it back upright, stamping the end on the platform with a deep thud. Before Yseult, the crowd cleared to make a path to the steps up to the platform. “Do not fear child.” The Shadowmancer said, his words echoing across the silent crowd from the loudspeakers places out side of each set of steps. Yseult looked him in the eyes, barely visible though the shimmering vale that covered his face. She hadn’t expected this, a chance to get closer to him, to evaluate him. She didn’t want to go up, she wasn’t one of his little sheep... But she also couldn’t resist the opportunity. Cautiously, she left Riddaeon and walked to the bottom of the steps, a disorderly array of stones at different heights. She stopped for a moment at the bottom of them as she decided how best to ascend. “The path to enlightenment is never obvious.” The Shadowmancer’s voice echoed out. “We must each learn to find our own way.” Yseult thought for a moment... A test she realised. He’ll use it to make a judgement about me. She observed her wider surroundings, there was no other way to the platform which was about head height... With a stride, Yseult leapt forward and launched herself up. Her hands finding the platform edge, she pulled herself up, managing to get a foot on the platform as the rest of her followed with ease. The Shadowmancer stepped back in reaction, giving her room. As she stood before him, he stared at her, looking almost dazed. “Interesting.” He said in a quiet, half mumbled voice. Remembering his intent, the Shadowmancer gestured for Yseult to stand in the middle on a rectangular purple dias. The crowd was silent in anticipation as she stepped into position, as though some sacred ritual had begun. The Shadowmancer stood before her, holding his staff out to his side, an aide silently stepping in to take it while he gazed at Yseult’s face as if analysing her features. Both hands free, he gently placed them to cradle her face, moving it carefully from side to side. “Another orphan to corporate greed.” He announced loudly to the crowd who jeered and shouted to express their anger at the corporate enemy. The Shadowmancer analysed Yseult’s features some more. His face changed, eyes widening... A realisation. “Tell me child...” He asked. “How did your father die?” Yseult’s face changed instantly and the Shadowmancer’s hands were pushed away before a right-hand swing caught him square in the face. He stumbled back, falling to one knee and his aides moved quickly to restrain Yseult. “STOP!” The Shadowmancer shouted, his voice echoing through the loudspeakers. The crowd’s brief uproar once again became a sea of silence at his command. Slowly, he brought himself back to his feet and gestured to receive his staff. Once in hand, he stood before Yseult, contemplating, wrestling with his decision... “Let her go.” he eventually said, nodding to the aides to ensure they understood. “Let her go.” As Yseult jumped down from the platform, the crown had made a new path, this time directly away from the temple. The heads of every person following her every step as she walked away. Upon the dias, behind a shimmering violet veil, the eyes of the Shadowmancer narrowed beneath a furrowed brow.