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Overlooked by that azure Jovian whose enormity dominated the space hulk’s path through the system, Miranda returned to the Midgar-6 alongside the few Kthid who had survived. Their scant captives called her name, begging her for mercy with tear-stained faces. Having captured most of them personally, she showed them no hint of clemency. The heroine walked with an uncharacteristically clenched gut… she was already sure that they would not be enough to palliate Sarcand’s wrath.
Marching past rows upon rows of hibernation pods, they headed for the Huntmaster. According to the soldiers they had passed, he was apparently at the cryosleep nexus itself, by the mainframe which controlled its function. Good… she had stashed her golden jewelry nearby. She couldn’t confront him without these.
Kneeling down, the heroine began re-adorning herself with the salacious appurtenances of a Heitera. Anklets, bracelets and a slim belly-chain were affixed to her naked person. Even as she serenely went through the ritual, the woman felt as if she existed within a thunderstorm. Never before had she so gravely failed the Warlord. He would show her no more leniency than he showed others. A prickle of horror stabbed through her guts at the thought.
And it had all been caused by her own sister. Amara had finally triumphed over her. Miranda shook her head and quickly murdered any of the emotions that thought tried to spawn inside her. She couldn’t afford them. Having finished putting on her collection of valuables and decorations once more, the woman rose. It was time to see what destiny had in store for her.
She walked, showing no fear. Entering the control center for the cryotanks, Miranda found that it had been converted into a — for her eyes — familiar scene. Its spacious and honored hollow now housed a Kthid orgy… the distinct stench of alien musk, sweat and semen could be found nowhere else. Everywhere she looked members of the conquering species from their lowest caste exercising their masculine might over their inferior human women… Yet at this depraved mass-rape, the women were all the same person. Dozens of copies of Atalanta’s body had been printed, so many that the hardware probably couldn’t handle any more concurrent iterations. This still left her gravely outnumbered, though. In some of the assorted grounds that congregated around one of the helpless copies, casteless Kthid fucked her ten to one.
“EEEEYYYIIAAAHHHH!!!” Multiple screams rang out from multiple throats, a haunting echo of agony. From their pitch, the Heitera had no doubts that the Exalted woman had been thoroughly broken already.
Surveying the landscape, she beheld many visions of utterly savage interspecies coitus. The indignity that had happened to Miranda herself inside this room was surmounted countless times over. The dark-haired ancient had been so haughty when she denounced Miranda in front of the crew and declared herself indomitable. Now, she was gang-bang fodder, mere instruments to appease the lusts of Sarcand’s crew. Her defeat had been utter and complete. Gathered to the side, by the wall of the chamber, stood the stunned and despondent Officer Corps of the captured ship… Miranda saw that they were all being allowed to observe what had happened to the Pride of Earth. Every one of those shocked women alternated between feelings of extreme dismay, fright and hopelessness.
The fallen heroine spotted Anna among them. Seeing the anxiety upon her doll-like face brought on a tiny smirk. In moments like this, she had learned to take what tiny joy she could from even the slightest emotion to keep herself alive, and schadenfreude was as good as any… not being alone in her misery was enough. With soundless footfalls, she journeyed to the medical officer’s side, noting as she did that she needed to step over the limbs and and torsos of discarded, slain bodies that had formerly contained the arrogant Exalted. When she placed a hand on the officer’s shoulder, she saw the lithe scientist jolt… yet she offered no cry, like a babe terrified past the point of making noise.
“I turned out to be quite correct, did I not?” she whispered with an ephemeral voice.
Constantos’ eyes were as wide as saucers, those cerulean irises greatly dilated. Knowing the officer to be a lover of wisdom, one of those ever-inquisitive people who sought understanding in everything — and, if she was honest, desperate to have any reason to delay facing Sarcand a mere moment longer – Miranda elected to have her educated. Looking out across that ocean of depravities, she began speaking. “When I was captured, there was no one around to teach me the manners of these creatures. You’re the lucky ones… you’ll have me to share with you what I know. If you’d direct your attention to the gang-bang in the middle of the room…” she ordered, Anna wordlessly obeying.
In that space, a whole legion of Kthid and Atalanta-clones were violently copulating. The mass of beige and green-colored bodies seemed to roll and undulate like the intense frenzy of a serpent breeding den. Only when one focused on a specific group could the details of their ferocious orgy be discerned… if her attention turned elsewhere it just faded into a forest of limbs and bodies and violence. Outnumbered, the feminine copies were invariably forced to serve multiple partners at once. Her statuesque figure looked positively tiny and meek when interlocked between hordes of ferociously rutting aliens. They were subjecting her to a triple-pronged attack, forcing her to take their colossal scaled cocks into her asshole, cunt and mouth. Every time those oversized hard-ons rammed into Atalanta, some part of her body would unnaturally quake or she would unleash some woeful scream. That flesh-like skin on the copies showed considerable damage, the skin reddening and rupturing, abraded from grinding against their scaly skin over and over again. It was utterly savage and barbaric and inhuman. Without exception, the Kthid fucked as if devil-possessed, like it was of the utmost urgency that they were able to have this captured woman raped. They looked like they were going to have the last sex of their life and so would vent all of the masculine fury within them onto her manufactured bodies.
The only variety within this bacchanalia was the positions in which they fucked Atalanta. Doggy, cowgirl, or lifted in-between them so that xenos could drill her standing, the end results were always the same. Atalanta was made completely into a rape victim, her body used and used and used again, and since her digitized consciousness was shared between those copies, the actual woman got to experience all of it as once. The broken Exalted underwent almost a hundred of bestial penetrations in the same second, living through something that no flesh-and-blood woman could experience. The singular sexualized anguish she felt was evident upon all of those legendarily beautiful faces, the gorgeous vistas appearing contorted, twisted and replete with grievous emotions. Despite that, there was little in the way of resistance. Not that it mattered, of course. Her frail human arms could not have physically prevented even one of those space dragons from ravaging her. That amazing resurrected warrior was just a series of helpless, spasming holes caught by rapists and forced to serve themselves up as sacrifices to the glorious Kthid.
Every time one of her rapists finished, he would savagely deposit his seed only to then be swiftly replaced with another. They were uniformly eager, willing, and callous to her suffering, and not even the obscenely cum-clogged nature of her violated orifices dissuaded them one bit. The chaos produced by this interspecies orgy birthed an overwhelming clamor of thudding bodies and feminine wails, like a battlefield between the sexes in both visuals and noises. Staring into that hectic and unruly ocean of Kthid depravity quickly seemed hazardous to one’s mental health. Only when one of them was too worn out to be pleasant to fuck did they do anything else, and then it was only to quickly kill the copy so that the next one, already printed, could come online.
“I suppose that, by now, you’ve now noticed the intensity with which they fuck?” Miranda lightly jeered.
“Y-Yes,” Anna whimpered, tears forced from her eyes. “Why do they do so?”
“Do you remember how I told you that they are a mono-gendered species? That they need the females from other races to repopulate?”
The intellect within Anna rebelled at such a notion. “That’s evolutionary insane,” she protested.
“But true,” Miranda assured her. “What sort of scientist denies what is right in front of her?” She chuckled. “Either way… this fact of existence have granted them unconquerable willpower. All men of all species experience a drive to compete with and dominate their surroundings so to ensure the reproduction of their DNA, yet with the Kthid this instinct has been taken to an unparalleled extreme. They do not have to compete within species, but between species, making every other intelligent lifeform their target and enemy, all life in any niche a competitor with them for existence. Rape is the only form of sex they’ll ever be able to achieve. Hence their bestial enthusiasm when they finally get a hold of a potential mate. Of course… seeing as Atalanta’s bodies are copied and manufactured, there is no life-giving uterus for them to take over and pollinate… but the joy of the ravishment is still with them, naturally.”
Miranda leaned in closer as if to point out something profound to a child. “Have you began to notice the differences between them, little one? Some Kthid are armored and respected while others go without any habiliments and are treated like cannon-fodder. They are a caste-based society, you see… a meritocratic one, with prowess in one art or another being the way to prove oneself. You have Warriors, Engineers, Scientists, and dozens of others that you wont see for they have little reason to exist on a ship. These are the ones who are allowed to don uniforms or armor. And then you have the vast multitude of Casteless… those who have failed to prove themselves. These are the ones whom you presently see violating poor old Atalanta here.” She chuckled as she continued. “You see, breeding-rights are tied to caste. If you belong to a caste, then you are allowed to own a harem. They’re sort of like… elephant seals, in that way. A small percentage of the males do all the breeding for their race, with a vast number of subservient females. You should see their households. One man and numerous naked women of various species that you’ve never dreamed of, being treated as mere cattle. They all fight so savagely because they want to achieve this status. Remember how I told you that Sarcand has almost 200 children? What I didn’t mention was that that was only because he’s very young for a Huntmaster.”
Anna was completely overwhelmed, goosebumps spreading across her body. “So, the Exalted One…?”
“She is quite useless in this regard. Since her body is false, it lacks the… equipment… that the Kthid need. No DNA, no true womb, nothing for the Kthid to hijack for reproduction. Nevertheless, AIs of conquered civilizations are always in high demand… they are gifted to appease the casteless after they are broken and tamed. Among us, they’re seen as the pinnacle of humanity. Among the Kthid, they are the lowest of the low, the worthless too useless to even serve as chattel and given to their cast-offs as a tawdry source of entertainment. Funny how that works.” Miranda shook her head. “There are a dozen or so separate Kthid Harvest Fleets. I’ve heard it said that it’s a matter of prestige how many AIs one owns.”
“Of course,” Black added slowly, “The casteless understand perfectly well that they are being given worthless victims. Their inability to bear children also makes them an object of frustration and hatred for the casteless, and they can get quite… oh, look! They’re doing it now!”
Constantos’ eyes were drawn towards one group where Atalanta was lying supine on the ground. This copy was utterly ravished, her red wounds almost looking brown, the once faultless hue begrimed as if smeared with dirt. From all three primary fuck-holes, gunky semen flowed like mighty rivers of mud. Those orifices had been hollowed out and gaped like obscene fleshy grottos. Powerless, the agony was so intense that it almost seemed blinding merely from the look of her dead pupils. The xenos were all gathered around her, fists clenched, looking furious and irked as they gazed down at this spent gynosynth.
Anna saw the Exalted’s lips flutter. Even now, she attempted to futility beg for some mercy. Enraged like wild primates, those Kthid reached down and grasped her limbs. They started a violent tearing, tugging with all their might at whatever handhold they had managed to claim. The end-result was that the artificial woman was ripped to bloodless pieces, extremities dislodged from their sockets and tossed away from her torso. Anna could see the exact moment where the individual copy died, the light of lucidity vanishing from her eyes like a lamp severed of its voltage. Its entire being was rendered into smithereens. It was a bloodless carnage, accompanied only by a leaking of the strange blue fluid that they used to transmit power… but at least it was an end.
Miranda grasped the scientist’s chin and directed it towards the side. There that printing-apparatus had been placed and was already scanning forth another body. The big-bodied aliens moved towards it as a group to fetch her replacement. Not only would Atalanta be raped by hundreds of different individuals at each time, but she would also be able to undergo the pain of dying over and over and over again. “That’s why on-board the Kthid ship, no one envies the AIs,” Miranda lightly joked.
“How were you able to take it?” Anna wept, revealing her boundless sympathy. “It’s so… so…”
“I wasn’t. I didn’t,” the scarlet-haired woman retorted. “It broke me. Didn’t I mention that fact?” The heroine noticed that the doctor was holding both palms clasped before her groin, like a small child protecting its genitals. Witnessing what those big, thick cocks could do to a woman’s body had clearly terrified her… Anna was decisively smaller in stature than both Miranda and Atalanta who were athletic marvels. It would be even worse for her.
Soon, she would have to face Sarcand with news of her failure… and she was desperate to delay that. Even another second was a pleasure, and even a painful conversation like this was preferable. “It’s sort of like giving birth,” she told Anna, letting sadism drip from her words, making sure that the nearby Kthid guards would hear it… making sure they would be too amused to insist she left. Cruelty was a delight to her alien masters. “Every time they fuck you. They’re… just… that… big.”
“There are 800,000 women on this ship!” Anna wept. “They want to subject all of them to this?”
She laughed. “Of course!” Miranda exclaimed. “It’s a real treasure! My Master has declared that when the hibernation-code is broken, even the casteless will be tossed some to breed. I promise, it will be an orgy of unimaginable proportions, like humanity has never experienced. Hundreds of thousands will wake from their slumber and then be assaulted and made to carry Kthid children. Such an epic feat will be considered so prestigious that it will catapult him to the highest rank among the Kthid warlords, cementing his power. He has a lot riding on this, you see. Our wombs are very important to him.”
Anna’s gaze moved, and Miranda followed it… to Sarcand. The Huntmaster himself stood, holding a leash which connected to a collar encircling Atalanta’s throat. They were within spitting distance of that console whereupon one could input the security code to the colonists hibernation-pods. The Exalted woman herself was down on all fours like a dog, hauling and straining against the leash… struggling with no dignity in an attempt to fling herself at said console. She would leap and scamper in its direction without even moving, managing to only strangle and humiliate herself. There was a wild-eyed desperation to her struggle, and it wasn’t hard to imagine why. Surrendering that password was the only thing that could stop her torment, so she kept on dragging herself in its direction no matter how useless it was.
Of course, Sarcand’s arms didn’t even need to flex from the effort to stop her. The Warlord’s face was open in their race’s analog of a grin, revealing plenty of glistening teeth, enjoying himself in this moment. It was all to underscore that he was in utter control of all their destinies and that this show would only end when he said it would.
Miranda swallowed. If Sarcand noticed that she was stalling, it would be worse. Before his dragonic head shifted in their direction and noticed her return, the Heitera rose and strode off towards her Master with hips giddily sashaying… doing her best to be enticing.
Anna watched shaking as the fallen heroine walked away, and it was only now, as Miranda left her, that the doctor realized that Captain Amara wasn’t with her. The sheer shock of that stuck with her. She had sworn to return to the Midgar-6 with Amara in chains yet had returned seemingly empty-handed. The legendary Miranda had failed?
Arriving at Sarcand’s side, Miranda kowtowed before his enormous feet and felicitated the Warlord for his victory over Atalanta. Then she offered the report of what had happened. Just from their cadence and body-language, Anna could tell that the hunt had not gone as planned. As if hexed by some spell of obsession, the doctor edged closer with a single-minded focus, amazingly not stopped by the guards who were busy enjoying the orgy. She managed to hear the words, “Mistrunner,” “Escaped into space,” “Ocvar is dead,” over the frenzied thundering of the orgy before Miranda ceased speaking. That peerless heroine’s visage was face-down, utterly abashing herself, communicating her failure as stoically as she possibly could… yet somehow Anna knew that a maelstrom of fear was raging within the prostrate warrioress.
Sarcand’s face was strangely inscrutable. For once, the Warlord seemed secretive with his emotions. All that Anna could discern from her vantage point as an unnoticed spectator was the tenor of pondering going on inside his mind. She doubted that even his concubine Miranda could unveil anything more than that. Hearing of the small triumph of the escapees, Atalanta didn’t even seem to react… she only kept reaching for the console just out of her reach.
After these moments of unreadable rumination, the bulky space dragon turned towards his nearest lieutenant and ordered three strike vessels to be immediately dispatched to pursue the escapees and the Mistrunner. The lizard nodded immediately and began speaking into his communicator even before Sarcand turned his attention back to his slave. “Ocvar is dead, you say?” he said evenly.
“Yes, Master,” Miranda replied.
He made some gesture with his claws. The beauty exhumed her visage off the floor and sat back on her heels. She fought to maintain an expression of servile placidity. “As well as most of his men, it seems. This ‘Amara’ is quite something. It appears that she has now slain more Kthid than even you managed,” Sarcand said.
A collection of queer expressions broke through Miranda’s unflappable expression, her implacability rocked. She looked as if possessing no idea how to grapple with that assessment. All that was certain was the fright she felt for the consequences of having failed her Master.
Despite sporting a composure uncharacteristic of his race, Sarcand was somehow the most threatening among them. Every word was tinted with some innate coldness, as if he was perpetually ready for violence. “You should have told me that your sister was a woman of such… ability,” he pressed.
“Then… I have failed you twice in one day, Master,” Miranda responded, voice unnaturally controlled. “She shares my genes. I should have known. This human has offended you. Do with me whatever satisfies the Dark Star.”
Anna felt the very air between them go tense. It was as if she perceived some amazing ethereal power emanating from the man. Every muscle within the Warlord flexed. Then… he slackened. That phlegmatic expression upon his snout never shifted. “I suppose that means your pathetic species has at least a second prize for me to stock my harem with!” he finally said with a jeer, handing over Atalanta’s leash to his kneeling slave. “Have her input the codes.”
Rising, Miranda clasped it with head held submissively low. She accepted the leash and then walked Atalanta like a dog over to the console. The Exalted heroine had declared herself unbreakable, and that Miranda was an embarrassment for the Federation. Now there was no limits to her eagerness to surrender her part of the password. As if notified by some wordless signal, the low-ranked casteless ceased their fucking, remaining crowded around the printed avatars of Atalanta while watching that mainframe.
“Ladies!” Miranda yelled to the gathered officers. “Witness the downfall of the Federation!” she taunted, allowing Atalanta access.
With extreme rapidity, that ancient heroine allowed her fingers to dance upon the keyboard. The codes were inserted. She pressed enter.
All that happened was that one light-bulb out of four upon that great mainframe lit up. But the implications of the action was much more enormous. Atalanta was their safeguard! She was the one who could never be broken… And the Kthid had effortlessly broken her first. It was only one out of four… But it still felt like the end.
Sarcand stepped up before them. Despite the fact that they were almost twenty strong, and he was alone, they shrank before his shadow like mice encountering a king serpent. His grin was toothy as he stared them down. “I’ve kept my word,” he sibilantly hissed. “No one has been touched by my men until after this artificial cunt surrendered to me her password.”
Anna Constanos stood decisively to the side, still sharing their immense fright. “And now she has. You are now the property of the Kthid warriors,” he declared.
At that moment, the double-doors slid open. A horde of Kthid strode in, leering as they materialized in muscular nudity. The pickings had apparently already been decided.
Miranda stepped up to her, standing like a baleful statue behind the terrified Doctor. “These are the Warriors who distinguished themselves conquering your ship,” the red-haired woman wickedly whispered. “Have you ever seen so many women experience their nuptials at once? I can’t think of any marriage that promises to be more fruitful.” Anna’s blood chilled as she felt Miranda’s lips brush her ears. She was clearly enjoying no longer being the sole human female who had fallen to these stellar-aged demons. She tried not to resent her for that.
As the unclothed warriors gathered around Sarcand, the copy of Atalanta that had input the codes came crawling over to him, prostrating herself before his feet. “Please,” she lamented. “I’ve done what you asked! Just, please… Don’t hurt me anymore! Take them instead, they are the ones who can bear you children!”
In response, Sarcand reached down and clasped both of her ankles. He lifted her up by his chiseled torso, holding the blue-haired Amazon upside down so that her torso hung down towards the floor, her large breasts dangling in the artificial gravity. He yanked both of her legs in the opposite direction, and kept applying his strength. Atalanta screeched, her lungs shrieking in extreme anguish. Then her artificial body started tearing. Everyone screamed and Anna attempted to avert her eyes yet Miranda was quick to stop her, holding onto the sides of her face and keeping it locked so that Anna had to watch as Atalanta’s figure was ripped asunder like a piece of paper from her groin, that rupture traveling downward along her torso like a crack in the ice, continuing until it utterly separated her flesh into two pieces and ended that death-shrieks. However, the intensity of that pain continued to be expressed by the other copies within the room, as they shared the same consciousness and thus the same experiences. Sarcand held her mutilated body like two pieces of a trophy, allowing the continued agony cries of the other printed copies and the officers to regale him like a chorus. “Get this trash out of my sight,” he ordered, glaring as the casteless. “She’s yours now.”
The Kthid all laughed and cheered. Those castless who had been participating in the gang-bang resumed their frenzied fucking, not even stopping as they picked the wailing copies up and began to take her from the room. “Have at them!” the Warlord yelled as the casteless departed, leaving only warriors and the officers in the room. Those Warriors stormed towards the assembled women, and while they screamed and tried to escape, each was effortlessly stopped, hunted down like antelopes overtaken by lions. Everyone was at the mercy of their Kthid mates.
One by one, most were forced down and began to be raped, their screams rising in a discordant chorus… Yet for some reason, it didn’t happen to her.
Miranda placed a possessive handhold upon her pert buttocks. Sarcand, who had been standing over Ki’an’i’s prone form and directing several warriors to her, strolled over, signaling out her as worthy of his special attention. Instantly, she felt herself confronted by an apex predator. “She is another of the Earthlings who hold the codes?” he questioned.
“Yes, Master,” Miranda agreed.
Gazing at her up-and-down, he saw no power. Anna was so frightened that she nearly pissed herself. “She’ll break like a twig,” he asserted. “Charnametros!”
A young-looking Kthid stepped forth, slimmer and less bulky than the rest of them, yet still possessing the same reptile callousness and poise. His tail swayed about as if greatly excited. Spotting Anna, the intensity in his eyes took on a maddening quality.
The massive Huntmaster grabbed his arm in a way that seemed almost… affectionate. “She is yours,” Sarcand said. “Make her give me those codes.”
Anna felt a heavy weight settle in her stomach. Atalanta had failed. The responsibility of protecting 800,000 colonists was now upon her shoulders. If she failed… then they would all be condemned to share this fate. The potential of failing them seemed more terrible than anything he could to do her body.
She gazed down towards his crotch, spotting that the green flesh-baton hanging there was simply enormous. A very distinct feminine fear enveloped her. Seeing this, Miranda giggled, unable to contain her mirth. “Oh Anna,” that statuesque heroine said. “Come now. This is a joyous occasion. Allow me to introduce you to the father of your future children…”
Amara groaned as she woke up, her arm automatically lifting above her pained eyes to block out the glaring overhead light. She lay on a mattress inside some coldly utilitarian sleeping-quarters. Everything hurt, but the agony emanating from her legs was still the worst… and the throbbing agony reminded her of where she was, what had happened. She groaned again, wincing her eyes shut as she recognized the familiar cool of the healing gel wrapped around the wounds. She’d probably be able to walk again soon, if she wasn’t already, but it wasn’t likely to stop hurting anytime soon.
“Sorry, sorry,” whispered Ri’she’a as she noticed how much the light-panels bothered Amara, quickly dimming them. “Please go back to sleep, Captain.”
“Where are we?” asked the human, voice hoarse as she forced herself into a sitting position and ignoring the pain.
“We’re on the Mistrunner,” the Sethis helmswoman replied. “You’ve only been out for a few hours. Go back to sleep.”
It was already plain that she wasn’t going to be able to do that. While her body might be located in this bed, her mind was still down upon the space-hulk, harrowed by the traumatic experiences undergone there. She had fought off her sister like one would have fought a demon… and she had lost. The emotions of that encounter — alongside everything else that had happened — wore themselves upon her face, making the exhausted woman feel twice her age. Miranda’s ferocious image was still imprinted upon her mind like a stamp, a glowing image in her eyes like a flame that wouldn’t burn out. When her lower limbs had been crippled, the Captain had been assured of her own doom, knowing that she would be dragged back to the Midgar-6 at her sister’s hand. They had butted heads and as ever Miranda had proved the greater willpower. She had been helpless.
Only Ri’she’a’s heroic rescue had saved her.
The green-skinned alien gently placed a palm upon her chest, pushing her down until she was horizontal again. Amara felt the warmth of comfort and relaxed into it. Alone with the helmswoman inside these quarters, she couldn’t help but think how beautiful the woman was… lost in memories of their nightly trysts aboard the Midgar-6, their illicit love interrupted by spiraling catastrophe. Those moments now burned within her like the ardor of long-lost nostalgia. It felt almost strange to be alone and close with the amazing woman now, during such a time of calamity.
“You made quite a show back there,” Amara said softly. “I thought you were going to crash yourself straight into the asteroid and kill us all. You even fooled Miranda.” She chuckled as she lay down. “You should have seen your face… It was really quite something.”
“No such talk right now,” Ri’she’a stringently replied, “what I want to know is, are you well? Is the healing gel working properly?”
The Captain grunted a little. “Yes. I can already feel that I’m able to walk again. More like hobble… but I’ll be back to form in no time. But tell me, what of our ship? Is the Mistrunner fully operational? What about pursuit?”
“Well…” the pilot began. “More or less. Evy managed to implant the Atalanta into the mainframe, but they are having some trouble integrating her. I don’t know enough about computers to follow was Leila was saying, but from what I understand some systems in the ship were disabled that that is preventing system-wide activation. Some of the engineering crew is trying to fix it. For the moment, we’ve only really managed to activate the cockpit and the reactors enough to steer off into deep space.”
“Any signs of a Kthid pursuit vessel?” she asked.
Ri’she’a’s pause told Amara everything she needed to know. “Something launched from that alien battleship. At this range we can’t really tell what. It could be missiles, or it could be a ship but… something is coming,” the Sethis answered.
Amara swallowed, making her audibly exhale. It was too much to hope they might make a clean escape. They had no idea about the enemy’s capabilities. Yet at least now, they seemed like they might be able to navigate back to Earth safely.
“Everything else about the ship is a blackout, though… including about half the engines. We’re limp, Captain…” Ri’she’a said with a bit of tension. “At our current rate and course it’s still going to be about four days before we make it back to the jump. I’ve sent Kelindra on an expedition to into the bottom of the hull to check out the engine-turbines. Leila is the head-engineer but she’s busy just making sure Atalanta stays online. I’ve kind of assumed command, you see. It’s fun trying out the Captain’s role,” she said with a forced smile.
The red haired Captain smiled back, faintly but real. “And as the person in Command,” Ri’she’a continued, “I’m ordering you to get back to bed! Let me fix this. I can handle it,” she unhanded her and slowly turned to leave.
“You saved me out there,” Amara whispered, voice low and intimate. “Thank-”
“Hell with that!” The Sethis countered. “Amara… you’ve saved us more times than I can count during these last twenty four hours! Now get sleeping, ensign! You deserve it!” Ri’she’a practically stormed out of the sleeping-quarters in her faux umbrage.
Amara chuckled. Gazing about, she discerned that she must be in the Captain’s cabin. No other chamber offered such privacy, space and fixtures. She briefly wondered what had been the fate of this vessel. If Amara’s memories of this ship were right, and she had no reason to doubt they were after how this ship has impacted the course of her life, the final Captain of record was a woman named Talia Icarus, a veteran explorer… and while Amara hadn’t wanted to think about it while they were focused on getting the ship operational, the dread mystery of it returned now as she lay in bed. How had Talia managed to strand her ship on such a graveyard of debris, and what was she doing so far from where she had been supposed to be? The last system they had known it had explored was near two light years coreward. What had been the fate of the crew? The scenario of a Kthid attack ran through her thoughts, yet she wondered if they really would just have stranded a vessel like this, and Miranda made it sound as if her encounter with that diabolical species had been the first. Not to mention, the ship was still spaceworthy… she couldn’t see any signs of it having been brought to a space battle.
Could Talia have docked the Mistrunner at the space-hulk for some reason? Possible… but why? And if the ship remained in an operational condition, why just leave it there? That planetoid seemed perfectly abandoned. What sort of misfortune could have befallen them to prevent a return to the ship? Either way, it was ancient history… but probably bad news. Amara felt her gut knot. She was now certain that she was going to mutiny against that order to sleep. Slowly, she pushed herself up…
And a glowing figure of light material just beside her face. “Captain!” Atalanta barked, the doll-sized figure of the Exalted woman emerging out of nowhere and making Amara jump as her mind wandered lost on the ghosts of a bygone age.
“Goddamn it, Atalanta,” Amara blurted.
“This is no time for idle respite,” she continued. “Chief Engineer Leila has managed to partly restore the ship’s communications system. At present, however, communication can only be initiated by the Captain herself… an emergency lockdown protocol is in effect, and I am not able to overrule it.”
“I see,” the officer wearily replied, rubbing eyes.
“That means you.”
“Oh, it does?” she replied, feigning surprise.
“Yes. You would have know that if you’ve read the HEF’s handbook.”
Amara wished the woman had some mass to that she could punch her in the face. At least the actual heroine had some subtlety to her insolence. Without a mainframe and so downsized in processing power, the Exalted One’s dislike for her had taken on a more… outright… approach, it seemed. “I guess I should start checking up on everyone,” she said slowly, taking a deep breath.
“I reached that conclusion minutes ago. Glad to see you’ve caught up,” Atalanta bragged smartly, disappearing into thin air as her projection vanished.
“I’m going to give that woman a virus,” she muttered to herself, touching her ear piece so to initiate sync and start the process of contact.
The first person she called was Ri’she’a, to inform the petal-haired alien of Leila’s progress with restoring ship-functions. The helmswoman’s opening move was a scolding for her inability to go unconscious… but Amara could barely hear her over a scraping, creaking noise in the background. She immediately focused on it. “What’s that sound?” she asked. “It’s like the creaking of an ancient ship’s hull…”
“Ancient… ship?” Ri’she’a said slowly. “You mean like… the Apollo spaceships? The ones that went to your moon?”
“No… like seaborne vessels,” Amara groaned.
“Oh. Sorry. Sometimes I forget that you humans had such a primitive stage.”
Amara’s worry had not dissipated. “It’s like the… groaning of timber. Like something is putting pressure on its walls. Or more like a set of creaking… Don’t you hear it? What could cause something like that. You sure this ship is space-worthy, Ri’she’a?”
“Of course I hear it, Captain,” the pilot replied. “But both I and Evy went through the hull’s integrity before takeoff. It’s perfectly solid. I assure you.”
“But…” Black continued, perplexed. “Why can’t I hear it in my room?”
“I… don’t have the faintest,” Ri’she’a replied, her voice slightly tense. “It sort of… comes and goes. Systems trying to come online, perhaps? Once started up, a ship like this was never meant to go offline in the first place.”
Amara paused, considering. “…Possible,” she admitted. “I should check in with Kelindra. See if it’s audible in the lower parts of the ship as well. This could be a future problem,” the Captain said.
“You do that, Captain,” the Sethis replied, ending transmission.
Amara felt her throat tighten, and she located the next transmission on her list. “Kelindra, how goes th—” she managed to ask before she heard a hydraulic noise hiss to life and the science officer started cursing a torrent.
“Not good, Captain!” the brown-haired woman swore. “This ship’s lower-levels are a goddamn maze! Some of these levels were embedded down into the hulk and something… changed, Captain. Nothing is where the maps say it should be. We haven’t even found the turbines yet and we’ve been moving in circles! And where the hell is Felicia!? The woman went missing half an hour ago!” she shouted to her equally confused underlings, livid with frustration.
“Kelindra. Can you hear if the hull is creakin—”
“What?” the Officer shouted into her comm, competing with the noise of the hydraulics.
The astronaut stomped off away from the disturbance so to clear their channel. Yet now, Amara needed no confirmation. The sound was all around them. It was as if the Mistrunner itself was alive with the ghosts of its ancient crew. “Oh blast it all! Lost again! And where the hell is that engineer!” Kelindra asked someone beside her.
“Kelindra!” the Captain yelled.
“You know, the one with the freckles?” she kept asking, as if not hearing her Commander’s call.
“Kelindra!” Black repeated, feeling increasingly worried. “Can you hear me?”
“The turbines have to b—” she said… and then their communication broke off. After that, there was nothing but static.
Amara tried to reach her again, once again was answered by nothing but static. A sinking feeling of dread filling her, she called Leila next.
The blonde engineer was tinkering with Atalanta’s configurations as they spoke. “Communications have been going in and out, Captain,” the engineer reported as she asked about Kelindra. “There’s… some kind of security measure active in the computers here. Something non-standard. I’m working on it.”
That took the edge of panic off of Amara, but a sense of unease remained. “Have you been hearing… creaking noises where you are?”
“Yeah, I noticed them too, Commander,” she replied while typing on some keyboard. “They started just after we took off. Nothing in here though. Some weird result of the fuel, maybe? Ion-engines are supposed to be interminable and all but no-one has ever really had a chance to experiment with the stuff for such an extensive period of time without any maintenance. Either way, the Mistrunner’s vitals appear stable, and Atalanta is reporting no malfunction at all, in the systems she can reach.”
That positive report did little to assuage the Captain. “The systems she can reach? Ri’she’a mentioned something about that…”
Leila nodded. “It looks like when the ship the was thoroughly locked down before it was abandoned.”
Amara frowned. “Would that have been standard procedure back then?” It certainly wasn’t now… it would cut one of the Exalted off. This ship would have been run by a weak AMI, though, not one of the exalted.
The chief engineer shook her head. “Not unless they were worried about being boarded and the ship seized. Even then, scuttling it would be the procedure. The procedure is reversible with the security codes, but we don’t have them. Atalanta says that she can hack it, though… but not with the resources she has at hand. In order to get enough processing power, she’ll need to be physically transferred into the primary mainframe in the ship core. Once there, she should be able to unlock the systems.”
Before Amara had a chance to reply further, Evy leaned into the communicator and joined in the conversation. “Captain, I have something bad to report though.”
“Blood. I found a stain. A small puddle, really.”
“At least now we have some idea of what could have happened with Talia’s crew,” Black replied back grimly.
“Maybe. There is only one way to be sure though,” Leila replied back.
“What’s that?” Amara asked.
“By getting the Captain’s log back.”
Amara’s face set into a grim line. “You think it narrates the doom of the ship? Would Talia have had time to record it?”
“We could always hope. But if they remain, then they should be stored somewhere in the computer system,” Evy said.
“Well that gives me two reasons to get Atalanta into the computer systems,” Amara mused, already planning on violating Ri’she’a’s instructions of slumber. “I’ll head up and pick her up myself. I’ll make sure that Atalanta gets installed. Over and out,” she worded.
Some primal part of her mind didn’t like this. This ship didn’t feel as much like salvation anymore… it felt more like a tomb. Before heading off for the mainframe, she attempted to contact Kelindra again.
The static remained.