Following the Topia Evacuation
The battle was finally over.
The survivors of the southern Wangdaio Colonies were finally on their way back to civilization. Interstellar Alliance forces had brought news that the colonies in Kowloon and Kotaku systems had not seen the devastation that the other systems had endured, they were whole. This knowledge filled the colonists with hope that perhaps, their dreams had not died. In their hearts they knew otherwise, the sun had set over the Wangdaio colonies and as much as it pained them, it was time to lower their national colors once and for all.
Their long journey to the Kowlani safe zone was relatively uneventful as their wounded and limping fleet managed to stay in formation alongside their Alliance Naval escorts. Only one Shouwei vessel fell out of formation, the WCS Caliburn. Caliburn’s war wounds got the better of her as her reactor shielding failed, irradiating the ship. The fatal casualty triggered a hurried evacuation of her crew and emergency containment as the ship’s remaining power was re-routed to contain the radiation leak. Meanwhile, the transports that Caliburn had been guarding were re-tethered between the WCS Durandal and WCS Damocles while the noble corpse herself suffered the indignity of being towed the rest of the way.
Onboard the last vessel of the procession, a defeated Vice Admiral Yelran Jandar had two of his marines, an Alliance marine captain, and some guy named Greg, help transport an unconscious Sushi from the transport, Requiem of a Dream to the WCS La Lueur to be interred. Soon after arriving on the La Lueur, Jandar disappeared along with the others, leaving only Greg behind in the waiting room for the brig.
What the La Lueur called a “brig” was an improvised oubliette. Sushi was at the bottom of a long, narrow lift shaft with smooth, ruddy walls sleek with condensation and cast in an eerie crimson glow. The warm, moist air around her was heavy with the stench of rotten eggs and tasted of burnt copper. Unseen mechanisms of the ship clanked and whirred all around her barely muted by the metal plates of her “cell”. Rotted rubber matting creaked and groaned as she shifted listlessly atop of it. Then she opened her eyes.
“What?” Sushi groaned as she rolled off her stomach onto her side. The light didn’t bother her eyes, thankfully, but she still had no idea where she was. It smelled terrible, though. She pushed herself up so she was sitting, clutching her pounding head in her hands. “Oh man, what the fuck happened?” She groaned, looking at the area she was in. “And why am I at the bottom of an elevator shaft?” She asked, getting up onto her feet slowly.
She noticed no edges or deformations in the walls that would offer her purchase for ascension and pacing the chamber revealed no corners, as she quickly found herself where she had began- it was round. She assumed it must have only been about 3 meters at its widest. Only the matting beneath her feet provided any variation to the smooth metallic surface that encompassed her. The shaft was suddenly cast into darkness. Silence broken only by the audible sound of her breathing filled her ears. Her center of gravity shifted slightly to the left before righting itself again.
“Oh, great,” Sushi muttered as the lights went out. “Now, I can’t see!” She shouted, sitting down again. She was in a hole, made of metal, that was lit, and now it wasn’t. “Hey! Mind turning the damned lights back on at least!” Her voice boomed upwards at whoever was listening.
As if in response, behind her something chittered. The moisture in the air wrapped around Sushi like an oppressive sheet, soaking her fur. Above her, the crimson light flickered on long enough to see something slither across the top of the shaft.
Something crashed with a loud, wet thud near her, splashing her with hot, sticky liquid. The stench of it left a familiar salty, bitter iron taste in her mouth. She didn’t like the position she was in now. This wasn’t normal, this wasn’t a typical brig. She scrambled to her feet, wishing she at least had her armour.
“Alright, mother fucker,” she hissed, balling her fists up, stepping back and away from whatever it was that was next to her, pressing her back against the wall. “You wanna dance? I can dance,” she growled, refusing to go down without a fight. Her ears straining, her nose trying to figure out her surroundings no matter how much she hated it.
The light flickered as something slithered wetly against her leg. Up above was the distant sound of unintelligible shouting while around her was a sucking stomping accompanied by a scraping. Whatever it was, shifted at the corner of her eye when the chamber was illuminated ever so briefly, she could feel it lurking near but she could not see it. The putrid stench of the chamber returned, over powering the blood.
Like a fish in a barrel. From one hellhole to another, though this one was more appropriately themed. Her heart was starting to beat rapidly. “I didn’t make it through five years of this shit just to be killed in the bottom of a pit, you pile of worthless septic waste,” she snarled, her hands raised, facing what was coming towards her.
“Sushi, are you… okay?” The lights were too dim in the observation window to see beyond the panda-girl’s silhouette and something else, something that didn’t look normal. “What’s that at your feet?”
“Greg, you motherfucker!” Sushi shouted, looking down at her feet and kicking at whatever was at her feet, trying to hop away. “I swear to fucking god if this is some sort of sick joke, you better fucking leave me down here! You hear me?!”
Sushi’s foot struck air as the light stabilized at the moment of impact.
“System stabilizing,” came a distorted feminine computer voice. “Reset in 5, 4…”
The lights flicked. Long, thin, dagger-like teeth illuminated the darkness in front of Sushi’s head. Crimson eyes glowed like cooling embers as whatever it was took on more substance. It hissed threateningly as thick coils appeared around her beneath the dim illumination of the red emergency lights.
CLICK. Darkness flooded the chamber once more.
An oppressive presence accompanied by the glow of the creature’s eyes and teeth settled in a haze around her. Hissing laughter echoed upwards as it finally opened its large mouth.
“1. System restored.”
In a flash, the overhead lights came on and the creature disappeared with the shadows. Every felt cooler, drier beneath the hum of the fluorescent overhead lights.
Sushi stood there in the light, staring at where whatever that creature was had been just a moment before, unblinking. Her breathing was ragged, short, and forced, her body shaking all the while. She had been faced with death time and time again, but she had never been faced with, and been so entirely helpless to do anything against it. Her nightmares weren’t even close to what she just experienced.
Greg raised a hand to shield his eyes from the flash of light, squinting to the point of blurring what he thought was something in front of her fading away. When he was able to see again, his face twisted into a face of concern. “Sushi? What’s wrong?” He didn’t even wait for a response before running towards the entrance and banging on the door to summon someone, at this point anyone.
A concerned young woman’s face appeared in the window as two Shouwei guards hurriedly entered the room. Both Shouwei looked too young to have been in the service long, their uniforms were slightly worn at the edges but were otherwise clean. The young woman held up her right forearm as she ran some scans from her RCOM. The young man, rather boy, gripped a large metal staff but both their side arms remained holstered.
“Hold for a moment, they said there was a breach,” the guard ordered as she pushed passed Greg. Her violet eyes scanning the chamber with hurried but controlled movements. “Justice, check the woman in holding, it might have scuttled down there.”
Justice, the boy, nodded. “Hey, are y’all aight? We heard the screamin’ but the readin’s look good. Marit is gonna run sum more scans to make sure we can pull the fuzzy lady up to meet the Admiral.” He offered a reassuring smile as he moved towards the edge of the pit, staring down. “How ya doin’?”
“What…” Sushi asked, still trying to regain control of herself. She shook her head, trying to clear the pounding of her heart as she looked at those around her. She fell back against the wall, sliding down it to a sitting position as her breath start to slow, but the shaking only got worse. “What do you mean breach?” She asked, her gaze returning to a spot somewhere in front of her.
Sushi looked up at Justice when he asked his question. “Did I touch it?” She asked, her voice trying for shock but only coming out hollow. “Asking me, implies I had a choice. It touched me,” She said, shaking her head. “Why? Does that mean I have three days left to live before my head explodes? Am I going to be cursed with nightmares the rest of my life? Is it going to hunt me down in the darkness from now until my death?” She asked, looking back up. “Cause if so, just shoot me now…”
“Eh, I dunno ‘bout all that. I hear it usually eats fuzzies,” Justice offered with a shrug. He stared down with large silver eyes, not quite looking at Sushi but the chamber around her. “Yo, Mista Man, what did ya see? The Doc will wanna know.”
Greg blinked and looked to where he thought he saw something before the countdown. “I don’t… exactly know. It looked like either a corpse or a clump of meat. I couldn’t see.” Greg looked towards Sushi before looking to the woman doing the scanning. “I know this is probably a dumb question, but can we get her out of there?” He pointed to Sushi, “she’s traumatized enough.”
Marit and Justice exchanged a long look. He tapped the staff against the deck plating 7 times. A low chime from Marit’s RCOM rung 7 times in response.
“It looks clear, Justice, I’ll call the Doctor and the Admiral,” Marit replied softly, “We can’t let her up without clearance.”
Justice moved his gaze from Marit to Greg. “What she locked up for? We don’t normally lock ‘em up.” He ran his hand though roughly cut blonde hair before staring down into the hole again. “Ya look like ya got all ya pieces, ya hurt, fuzzy lady? Physically, I mean.”
“Oh no, I’m perfectly fine down here!” Sushi said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “I mean, your security measures seem to be positively top notch, and it isn’t like there is some kind of monster down here that will eat me if you decide to turn off the lights!” She added, looking back up. Then she realized something. It was a kid. She licked her muzzle, sighing. “So, Greg. Top notch organization we got here. We have kids guarding pits with dangerous shit in it. No wonder they don’t want to let me out.”
Greg agreed, but knew that Sushi had already almost mauled one of the more veteran Shouwei not a few days before. “They’re hurting for people I guess.” He didn’t say too much more. Instead he looked to the woman that was being called Marit. “Is there any way we could expedite this? Like, something else was in there and Sushi doesn’t lie about stuff like that too much.”
Marit raised her hand as Justice started to say something in response. He stopped short, silent. “Admiral Connelly is on her way, and the foreign entity is no longer here. I could turn off the lights to prove it but I doubt anyone really wants that at the moment.”
The young man’s grip on the staff tightened as he paced around the upper edge of the pit, tapping it softly against the rusted deck plating as he went. His gaze shifted up to the overhead, checking for something.
Marit watched Greg with pointed curiosity as her gaze shifted towards the door. She frowned as she muttered, “Do you have to sneak around like this?”
“Yeah, let’s not turn the lights off, and say we did!” Sushi muttered, kicking at the water. “Seriously! Are we so poor we don’t even have a normal fucking brig?!” She yelled, looking up. “You gotta put me in a fucking elevator shaft, all gussied up? Christ sake, I look up and partially think you’re gonna lower a basket down and tell me if I don’t put the lotion on you’re gonna hose me down!”
Marit quirked a brow at Sushi’s comments, not understanding the reference. The door opened with a grinding creak and revealed an entourage of four Shouwei in Tianshi Armor behind a crimson haired woman wearing less severe armor, that was more reminiscent of police riot armor sans helmet.
The crimson haired woman nodded to Justice and Marit. “Bring that one up and please take the other back to her room,” she ordered softly as she settled center of the pit. Admiral Connelly gestured to the Tianshi to surround the rest of the pit. “It’s an eternity of darkness and waiting, but we’ll have you up soon enough.” Her gaze shifted to another figure, an elf, for a moment before it returned to the pit, not fixed on Sushi but on the shadows that lengthened on the ground beneath her.
Marit entered a sequence on her RCOM and the pit groaned and scraped as it started to shakily heave upwards.
The Tianshi pilots raised their weapons to the ready as they waited for an indication. The elf took a few steps forward, the grey streaks of hair on the side of his face almost immediately setting off who he was: Yelran Jandar. He was quiet as the pit began its motions, his eyes focused on the darkness. Like a machine, he reached for his pistol on his right hip and undid the buckle holding it in place. Placing his hand around the grip he didn’t draw it yet. He seemed unsure enough to do so. “Don’t make any sudden movements, I’m not sure where it is.”
The Tianshi pilots were already in position, silence filled the chamber as everyone seemed to hold their breath in anticipation.
Alarms sounded and the lights died. Yelran and Sushi saw a flash of large white teeth and heard a loud hiss. The atmosphere of the chamber suddenly felt hot and sticky. The creature's presence was oppressive and overwhelming. It felt larger than the room and oozed with hostility.
When the red lights came on, a thick fog curled around them and a massive serpentine creature had maneuvered itself behind Admiral Connelly, dark fins fanned out on its sides making it appear larger and more intimidating than it already was. Large rough, onyx scales glistened in the crimson light along a broad head. Large slitted red eyes glared at them. It had no visible limbs that they could see and could have been for all the galaxy been some sort of limbless dragonling with its size.
There was no explanation for how it had gotten into the ship. Sushi supposed it might have been the "containment breech" that someone mentioned earlier. The thought that this thing had been slithering around at her ankles sent chills down her spine. It had been toying with her. She sprung out of the pit and moved to the opposite side of the armored and armed Tianshi pilots. "Fuck this, drop me back on Topia, this is ridiculous."
Ember turned to face the creature and drew up to her full height, raising her hand towards the creature.
The Tianshi pilots paused, unsure of themselves in the presence of the beast.
"Respectfully, please don't make this thing kill us. I already don't like the thing it came from despite the circumstances." He looked two seconds from breaking apart but his voice was almost sarcastic in tone. His eyes darted to the admiral's before going to the closest two Tianshi pilots. Did they even have the firepower to kill this... thing?
He felt he was about to find out.
One of the Tianshi pilots made a small, sick gasp of disbelief. The silence in the chamber grew heavier with the fog.
It rose up again and turned its broad spade shaped head towards Yelran. It opened its mouth and revealed razor sharp rows of blood stained teeth. A hissing resembling some sick form of laughter rose from the creature's throat.
The stench of flesh burning filled the air and the chamber grew hotter. The fog burned away and the creature exploded - thick black goo flew everywhere as the lights flashed on and the din of the ship returned. Where the creature once stood was a small pile of goo.
The goo grew larger until a humanoid form stood and pointed at Yelran, still gaining substance as it formed.
Marit broke the silence, her voice shaking, "W...wait! Don't shoot it!" She looked down at something only she seemed to be able to see beside her. "She's phasing back in."
His hand floated off of the pistol's grip, the color returning to his knuckles as he spoke to the mass of tar-black goo. "It's just me, jumpy old me." The sweat was beginning to try and bead from the top of his forehead.
But... It brought with it a sensation of reassurance and the scent of a river.
As suddenly as it had appeared, the light and scent were gone. Marit blinked as she tried to clear what must have been spots from her vision.
Admiral Connelly stood at the edge of the pit, blood ran down the length of her left arm. It had soaked through the neck and shoulder of her uniform. Copper, salt... Her eyes were closed as she took deep breaths. "I wasn't quite fast enough but, I sealed the breech. It damaged the core.'
He dared not touch her outright, but he did offer a hand and shoulder. "I'm here if you feel frail, ma'am."
Marit opened the door, motioning to the Tianshi guards. Her voice was strained, like she was not trying to speak above a whisper, "We'll check for additional damage. Ginger will guide us, ma'am. I leave my mother in your hands, sir, take care of her."
Sushi shoved her way from the room with a hateful hiss. "Fucking useless, all of you! Fat good you did! Let the most important person on the ship get eaten!!" She scolded as she disappeared around a corner.
Marit watched the Jongwu go without any desire to pursue. Without waiting for reassurances Marit and the Tianshi clad Shouwei filed from the room.
With a whoosh, the door slid closed again and left the two of them alone. "It would be better to go to my quarters. I have a kit. I will need to undress," Ember said after a quiet stillness settled in the room. "Unless you are shy." She nodded, and situated herself against him.
The walk was done as quick a possible, passing both Ember's young, almost refugee-looking Shouwei as well as Yelran's worn and weary own. The Elven Captain turned corner after corner, climbed stair after stair, all carrying the highest ranking officer left standing that they knew of. The only words he kept saying were, "Keep with me, we're almost there."
When they finally arrived Yelran gently sat her down on the edge of her mattress then closed the door behind him, making sure it locked and sealed for what little privacy they could get. He was familiar with the La Leuer's layout, but it took him a tad long to find the medical kit. He placed it on a chair and popped it open. He gently looked into the Admiral's eyes before going dow nto her shoulder.
"Alright, Ember, let's see this wound."
She met Yelran's eyes, there was more there beyond the pain, maybe remorse. Sounds beyond her quarters were garbled, like they were underwater. The soft rattle of an environmental unit kicking on broke up the hum of the lights as cold air puffed into the room.
He needed to close each wound, and the bite marks were not all together. Thankfully, most of it was close enough. Yelran could try and use what magic he could muster from his soul to try and heal the wounds but his strength would be diminished. In that state, and with Ember needing to recover, the fleet would be without leadership. He needed to be there while she healed, even though he knew she would fight to be the unphased Admiral, the rock against the crashing sea.
"But this is gonna hurt worse." He pulled a brick of compression gauze and pressed in into the wound with one hand while he reached for a compression bandage. He began wrapping the wound, blood covering his hands as he worked with utmost haste. Tighter and tighter, he rolled the compression bandage until the hemorrhage seemed to slow to a halt. He then took a white cloth bandage and wrapped the compression bandage and then covered it in a medical compound to give the bandage layers a sterile bond, making all three layers into one strong layer.
"That should do it," Yelran's bagged eyes looked to Embers once more, "I think i got it to stop."
Has was falling, floating, into a deep blue sky. Gigantic winged creatures danced like feathered rainbows around him like he didn't exist. Four legged beasts that reminded him of black horses sparked lightning as they ran along the tops of the clouds. His stomach teetered as his vision shifted earthward. A still dark sea stretched towards inky purple shores. He could sense something in the water was watching, waiting for him to fall. Looking upward he saw twin suns burning brightly beyond a large planetary ring. He didn't recognize this planet, these creatures.
Only the hostility of the thing in the water was familiar.
Just as suddenly as the vision started, it stopped, jerking Yelran's vision back into the dim light of Ember's quarters. The familiar dull grey paneling of the ceiling came fuzzily back into focus, but Ember was not beside him. He no longer felt exhausted or weak, it was like a weight had been taken from him.
This bothered him severely.
Yelran moved for the communications panel installed by the door. He thought to call the bridge, or the security team, or the medical bay. He decided to call the bridge.
"Jandar to Bridge, status update please?" Even his voice sounded better than it did before. It wasn't as tired and hoarse.