Blood in the Sky
Noah's alarms screamed with what seemed an ever increasing desperation, as if volume alone would be enough to flush the earthmen's targets out into the open. Shir spat blood onto the floor grates beneath her feet. One hand on the wound on her side, she wrapped her feet around the pulse rifle she had acquired in the preceding bloodbath and used her free hand to cock the weapon and switch it to full auto.
A pair of earthmen stumbled into the corridor. Shir closed her eyes and pulled farther back into her hiding place amongst the pipes and duct work running along the walls. The men dropped to all fours, limbs splayed far to the side, their eyes still burning with the onyx fire of Dark Force's corruption.
Shir's breath held in her throat as the two slowly crept past her. Swallowing the bile and blood collecting at the back of her mouth Shir rolled into the corridor and unleashed and sustained burst of fire. Pulse shot ripped into the men's bodies tearing the life from them as they slid to a halt in a tangle of limbs.
Just as the percussion of machine gun fire ended, the alarms cut off. Shir started, whirling around with a mix of paranoia and exhaustion. Her ears rang in the sudden silence. Lower lip trembling Shir sank to the floor resting the pulse rifle in her lap. Her eyes went blank as she stared at the grating beneath her legs.
There was no way to know who was still alive. The last friendly face she had seen was Rudo's. He had been standing at an intersection of hallways, knee deep in the remains of robot and human alike cutting swaths of destruction across Noah's halls with a laser cannon. He had kicked a triggering mechanism sealing Shir behind a set of blast doors as he was overrun by cackling humans. The hours that followed had been a blur of blood, screams, and automatic weapons fire.
Shir had never been much of a fighter. There had been few situations that her quick tongue hadn't managed to get her out of. Any warrior codes of conduct that had managed to wheedle their way into her psych over the years were quickly superseded by fear and a near animalistic need to survive. Honor had no place in her scheme of survival and she had been dragging herself through the halls eliminating her enemies as efficiently as possible.
Now, as silence settled over her for the first time since the chaos began her mind drifted back to the dozens of living bodies she had torn apart with weapons fire. Her stomach seized up and whatever meal had last found her poured itself out on the deck. Shir hugged her rifle close to her body and rocked back against the wall. The numbness which was rapidly taking over her mind quickly spread to her body as the exhaustion of the previous day finally caught up with her.
As she began to sort through the myriad of twists her life had taken recently she found Kain's face kept working its way to the forefront of her thoughts. Although no one had ever voiced anything outright, most of the group had had some fairly substantial doubts about the wrecker's sanity. It was probably that manic giggle that surfaced anytime he tore into a piece of machinery. The conversations he had with himself didn't help much either, but Shir found most of these quirks to be superficial. Despite the violence with which he took to robotics, she noticed he took great discomfort in harming living creatures. Their very survival over the past few months had required no small amount of bloodshed, but Kain's face had always registered a pained hesitancy.
Shir had lost track of Kain before the battle had even started. Pulling themselves from the remains of Mother Brain's massive mainframe the Protectors had been surrounded by the strange earthlings. The beings had oozed with the oily residue of Dark Force's corruption. They had been bent on outright self destruction, throwing all hope of preservation away as hundreds of their brethren spilled from Noah's halls intent on tearing the Motavian's apart with their bare hands.
Rolf had snapped. Whether it was due to his meeting the beings responsible for the death of his beloved Nei, or simply some nihilistic reaction to the pain, exhaustion, and rage they all felt Shir didn't know, but their leader had let loose with the Megid technique. He was literally ripped apart as tendrils of energy lanced into the first wave of earthlings, blasting them into oblivion. The Earth men had died by the dozens, but there were simply to many of them The Protectors were separated in a mob of flailing limbs and frothing mouths. Shir and Rudo had cut their way to the lower decks. The more immediate goal of survival had taken precedence over that of escape. By the time the pair had cleared themselves some breathing room it had become apparent that they had no means of escape. Outside Noah's metal hull sat nothing but the frigid recesses of space. There was little hope of ever seeing Motavia again, and now Shir was alone.
The thief's breath began to coalesce on the barrel of the pulse rifle she leaned against her forehead. With Mother Brain gone, Noah's life support systems must be shutting down. The temperature was plummeting. The tears Shir hadn't notices before began to freeze against her face.
If only her parents could see their little girl now. Here she was; the spoiled little princess who grew so bored with all she had, who had finally found solace in taking from others; the girl who joined a Government agent and a group of pure hearted idealists on a random whim. Here she was dieing a heroes death, having saved the world from the corruption of some hell born demon and a rouge computer.
Shir had always been too self centered to even bother seeking her parents approval. Now, she found herself smiling, knowing that despite all she had done to them their little girl would, in the end, make them proud.
For a brief moment she was at peace. For the first time in weeks the threat of system wide Armageddon wasn't a concern. The demon had been killed along with it's tool of destruction. Mother brain was a rank mound of wires and bio-components. The only problem on the immediate horizon was Shir's own survival, and in the moments following her realization that the rest of the star system was safe, that concern seemed almost trivial.
"It isn't trivial," Shir muttered to herself in an attempt to rouse her fried nerve endings back into action. I'm not going to die on this freezing casket of a space cruiser. I'm going to find the rest of the party, and the neisword, and we're going back home. Wrenching herself up from her alcove, Shir stumbled back into the hallway. Closing her eyes, she listened. The hiss of steam from pipes ruptured by weapons fire crept up the base of her neck. Shir heard footsteps sounding on metal grates. It wasn't the steady pattern of walking feet, but the flurried steps and shuffles of combat. A muffled cry joined the sounds.
Shir was off. She padded down the hall quickly and silently, head down, pulse rifle at the ready. The shriek of metal on metal led her through the twisting passageways. The sounds rang with more clarity as she neared her goal. In front of her a blast door had been torn open by some explosion. A gray steam poured through collecting on the walls and ceiling. Shir lowered her head and jumped through the opening.
The hall on the other side had a half a foot of water covering the floor. Through the mist the remains of half a dozen robots and even more humans were submerged in the blood tinged water.
"Anna, Amy!" Shir's two compatriots were about twenty feet away.
Amy was sitting waist deep in the gore filled stew covering the floor. Her face was pulled tight in a vain effort to keep back tears. Anna was soaked. Her hair, matted to her torn uniform, looked like it had been badly burnt. She was standing across the middle of the hall, coating the far end in a hail of pulse rifle fire. She seemed to be doing all she could to protect Amy from any incoming shots.
"Shir," Amy wailed, "I have to get back to Hugh. He's hurt. I have to get back to him."
Anna hit the release on the side of her pulse rifle dropping it's spent ammo cartridge, steaming, into the muck around her feet. One of her slashers was jammed into the wall near her head. She yanked it free and drew back. "Shir," she shouted, "get her out of the damn water and drag her ass back through that blast door." The sound of human feet cutting through the water spat through the mist. Anna let loose with the slasher. The wet report of metal on flesh was followed by a choking gurgle and a satisfying splash. The slasher clanged back into Anna's gauntlet. "Move it."
Shir threw her weapon's strap over her head and raced forward. Her arms wrapped around Amy's ribs and she yanked the young doctor to her feet, dragging her back down the hall. Anna slipped her pulse rifle around to her back and withdrew after her, slasher held at the ready.
Amy remained limp until she was pulled through the blast door. Her eyes lit up once again as she lashed out kicking and flailing.
"No, we have to go back and help Hugh. He needs me. He's going to die. Let me go." Amy broke free and lunged for the blast door just as Anna was stepping through. Anna pressed her hand against Amy's chest and shoved her to the ground effortlessly.
"He's dead Amy. He fought well, but there's no way he's still alive." Anna knelt beside Amy and ripped open her pack. She withdrew another ammo clip for her weapon. "This is our last one. Shir, how many you got?"
Shir cast a nervous glance towards the steam billowing through the door in front of them. She could hear movement in the water beyond. "Hugh's dead? You're sure Hugh's dead?"
"He can't be." Amy broke down completely, her head sinking to the metal grates of the floor, sobs finally breaking loose.
"Dammit Amy we need you to stay frosty. Pull yourself together." Anna slammed the ammo clip into place and chambered a round as the pulse rifle whined to life again. "Yes Shir, he's dead. He let loose with a gravity technique in the ventilation ducts we were sneaking through. He centered it on himself and must have taken out at least a dozen of those maniacs with him." For a brief moment Anna's iron countenance fell. "He was hurt pretty bad in the initial chaos. That was on top of the damage he took from that electric attack of Mother Brain's. He probably wouldn't have been able to make it anyway. I think he just wanted to go down fighting."
"I couldn't help him," Amy cried, "I was too weak."
"Shut up Amy. There wasn't a damn thing you could have done," said Anna.
"Lay off her Anna." Shir knelt beside the young doctor. "Amy if it wasn't for you none of us would have survived the fight with that demon thing. If you hadn't drained yourself then Hugh just would have died anyway. On top of that Mother Brain would still be operational."
With a strangled cry an earthman flew out of the mist and barreled down the hallway towards them. A thick black oil trickled from his eyes and ears. Anna held off until the last possible moment before grabbing his wrist and using his own momentum to send him sprawling with one hand, while drawing the slasher across his neck with the other.
"What the hell is wrong with these people," Anna shouted. "One minute they're a disciplined military regiment, the next it's like they're possessed."
"We need to get back up to the bridge." Shir said, helping Amy back to her feet. "We need to find the neisword. It's the only way we know of to get off of this deathtrap."
"Leaving isn't an option until we've found out what happened to Rudo and Kain." Anna turned and started down the hall. "Come on."
Shir grabbed her shoulder. "We can help them better if we have the Neisword."
"Let go of me Shir. I'm not going anywhere without knowing what happened to Kain and Rudo."
"You're not thinking. What if they're hurt? What if they can't move? We need to get the neisword."
"She's right Anna," Amy interjected. "I can't help them in my condition. If I can get back to Lutz he can heal me. I should be able to save them."
"Then go," Anna stormed off down the hallway, "Find the damn sword. I'm looking for the others." She passed through another blast door ripping her slasher through the control panel as she did. The keypad exploded in a shower of sparks as the door slammed shut behind her.
"Anna." Shir raced down the hall and pounded on the access button. The door was sealed shut. "What the hell is wrong with you. We have to stay together. Anna. Anna. Answer me dammit."
"Let her go Shir." Amy placed her hand on the thief's shoulder. "You were right. We need to find the neisword if we want to save the others. We need to get going in case they're hurt. I don't want to lose anyone else."
A symphony of crazed howls erupted from the flooded corridor behind them. Amy pulled out her laser knife and slashed the grating off the nearest air vent. Noah's air shafts were large enough to duck and move through as long as you weren't too heavily armored. For Shir and Amy this hadn't been a problem. The pair slipped into the vents, Amy leading the way, Shir turned backwards covering their tail.
Backlit against the glaring lights of the hallway, several forms ducked down peering into the air vents entrance. Shir let loose with a burst of weapons fire scattering their pursuers. "Move faster doc," she whispered, "we need to lose these guys. Not all of them are unarmed."
Amy darted around the corners of the twisting labyrinth of Noah's climate system. The cold was growing more intense and the metal of the tunnel wall seemed to reach out and grab onto exposed skin. Behind them the sound of bodies thrashing their way through the vents after them echoed in the enclosed space.
Amy composed herself quickly, for which Shir was thankful. The young doctor was no stranger to death and certainly not to blood, yet she always seemed more fragile than the rest of the party. The weeks of violence and hardship hadn't been easy on her. She thrived best under the auspice of helping humanity, and as such didn't take to the outlaw lifestyle well. She had been growing steadily more frayed after the protectors had been declared criminals by Mota's governing council. Hugh had been the one who seemed to understand her the best, or maybe it just seemed that way since the two of them were the most quiet in a party of, otherwise, forceful personalities.
Nei had been the only one who really brought everyone together. The young numan's sweetness at times grated on Shir's nerves. No one should be that caring. She was the calming element in more internal power struggles than should really exist in a group on whose shoulders the fate of the world rested. As the purity of Nei's intentions gradually broke down Shir's distrust, a deepening respect emerged. Seeing her die at the hands of her dark counterpart hurt Shir on a level which she had never been hurt before. The little rich girl with the loving family felt loss. It didn't end there. Now Rolf was dead, and Hugh also.
Shir crawled to a halt. She gritted her teeth in an effort to stem back the tears, but it didn't work. She broke down in the air ducts in the depths of Noah's hull.
"Shir?" Amy turned around and crept back to her companion. She sat in silence for a moment before embracing the thief, pressing her head down onto her shoulder. "Let it out. Let every last bit of it out."
Shir degenerated into a mess of sniffles as she tried to compose herself. "No, I can't. The others need us."
"There's no weakness in it Shir."
"We can't waste any more time. We have to find the bridge again." Shir wiped her hand across her eyes. "I'm fine. Go."
Amy hesitated, then turned around and pushed onwards. The vents began to narrow and the pair soon found themselves suspended over another hallway. A group of five earthmen stood directly below them. All were armed with laser shot's. They were pressed up against the walls, weapons aimed down the hall at a bend that turned sharply to the right. From around the corner came the sounds of labored dragging footsteps.
"An ambush," Amy mouthed.
At the far end of the hall a large form stumbled around the corner and slammed into the floor. It was Rudo. Five laser shots hummed to life.
Shir pointed her weapon straight down and yanked the trigger. The floor of the air shaft was ripped to pieces in a barrage of pulse rifle fire. A frenzy of bullets tore their way across the hallway tearing into the earthmen as the tattered duct work dumped Amy and Shir into the open. The pair landed atop the ambushers in a pile of tangled limbs. Amy screamed lashing out with her laser knife cutting anything that got too close. One of the surviving earthmen grabbed on to Shir's rifle. The pair struggled over the weapon, lashing about the floor, kicking at each other with flailing legs. The earthman's head shot forward smashing into Shir's face. She rolled away grabbing at her nose as her opponent swung around training the weapon on Amy who was still cutting at two others with enough ferocity to keep them from their own guns.
A roar filled the hall as an energy blast ripped through the earthman flinging him back against the wall. Rudo had managed to roll onto his stomach and had the neishot steadied on the floor like a sniper. He screamed as he tried to get to his knees and crawl towards the battle.
Shir forgot the blood running from her nose and made a move towards her pulse rifle. Amy had a single earthman on her who had managed to wrest away her laser knife and now strained to drive it into her chest. The gun would be to risky with them wrapped together. Turning, Shir leapt onto the earthman's back ripping at any exposed flesh with her nails. The man shouted in shock and pain as he rolled to the side, and with a staggering effort wrapped his arms around Shir's neck pulling her over top of him and slamming her to the floor. He raised the knife for the kill as Amy grabbed on of the laser shots, swung it around, and smashed it against the back of the earthman's skull. He fell to the ground in a heap.
Shir gave her a weak smile as she fell back and lay on the floor, chest heaving. Amy was on her feet almost instantly. "Rudo," she ran down the hall towards him.
Rudo coughed weakly, but offered her a small grin. "It's good to see you're still alive doctor."
Frazzled as Amy could be in the heat of battle, she was at home now. "Don't say anything. Lay your head back." She yanked off her pack and lay it under his neck. Running her hands down his side she began unbuckling his chest plate.
"Amy we don't have time. I'll be alright." Rudo tried to sit up but fell back down in a fit of coughing.
"Be quiet and lay your head back down," the doctor ordered. She ripped off his chest plate and let out a little gasp. Their were half a dozen laser burns and puncture wounds adorning the hunter's torso. Amy composed herself quickly. "You're like a tank. How are you able to even stay conscious?"
Rudo smiled weakly. "I just stay focused on not passing out for the next few moments and when they've passed I repeat the process."
"Well, keep doing it." Amy was up and around the corridor ripping strips of cloth from the dead earthmens' garments.
Shir poked her head around the corner from which Rudo had come and tried to take stock in the situation. "We need to keep moving. Who knows how many of them are still out there."
"Cut it out Shir," Amy's hands were a blur, tying off bandages and stopping blood flows. "Rudo's in no condition to move anywhere. There can't be many left. We've killed…"
"No." Rudo placed his hand on the young doctor's shoulder. "There could be hundreds, or even thousands of them."
"I reached the topmost level." Rudo's arm slumped back to his side. "It's just a giant glass dome. This ship stretches out as far as the eye can see in every direction." Rudo's eyes glazed slightly. "I've never seen anything like it. I guess it's to be expected from the people who created Mother Brain. These beings have controlled every aspect of our lives for centuries."
"Bullshit," Shir growled. "They've controlled our environment. Our lives always were and always will be our own. If they didn't realize that before they sure do now."
"Mother Brain must have controlled every system on this ship," Amy's hand went to her mouth. "This place is going to be a tomb in a few hours." She laid her hands on the layer of frost that had begun to form on the floor gratings. "How many people did we just kill? How many more are going to die when the rest of the life support systems stop functioning."
"Stop it Amy. This race was dying already. We just sped up the process." Shir knelt next to her. "Hurry up. We need to find our way back to the bridge."
Rudo's eyes blazed to life and he lurched to his feet.
"Rudo Steiner sit back down this instant." Amy only stood chest high to the hunter but her tone was that of an angry mother.
"The others could need us. We need to go." Rudo stated flatly.
"Are you up to this?" Shir asked.
"No he is not." Amy shouted.
"We need to go." Rudo was cut off by the sound of the door at the far end of the hallway opening. A torrent of earthmen crashed through spilling into the hall. Most carried weapons which they showed every intention of using, even if it meant cutting through the ranks ahead of them to get at the three Motavians.
The body closest to Shir was Amy, and the thief reached out and yanked her around the corner as the corridor filled with laser blasts and pulse shells. The Neishot roared to life as Rudo rolled to his back, aiming at the encroaching mass. The first earthman was vaporized, but the wave continued forwards unabated.
Rudo managed to roll over to Shir and Amy who helped drag him to his feet. Shir slammed on the control panel in front of her opening a door. Amy lunged through it with the massive hunter leaning heavily on her shoulder. Shir lodged herself in the doorway, one booted foot propped up against the door frame. Keeping most of her body out of sight of the corridor she jammed her pulse rifle around the doors edge and drained the clip. Her efforts resulted in a cacophony of screams and ripping flesh. She knocked another clip into her rifle and continued the barrage. The mob's bloodlust was peaked, but the hail of pulse shot kept them pinned down around the corner where Amy had dressed Rudo's wounds. The pulse rifle fell silent. Shir's hands went for another clip even though she knew her last one hung empty from the rifle's receiver.
For the briefest moment it seemed like the entire ship had fallen silent.
Adrenalin kicked back in and Shir grabbed the laconi dagger from her belt and jammed it into the control panel on her side of the door. Without her leg propped in the door jam the barrier slid shut as the masterfully forged blade sliced through the Earthen alloy in an explosion of sparks.
Instantly a chorus of pounding fists and scratching nails filled the room from the other side of the locked portal. Cut off from the hall, darkness wrapped around Shir. She could barely make out Amy helping Rudo up a ladder at the far wall. Leaping across the room Shir took to the rungs, straining to help push the hunter through the opening above. Blood from Rudo's wounds dripped down on her making the ladder slick, and sweat dripped into her eyes, stinging and searing.
With a scream of effort Rudo's weight was lifted from her shoulders, as his hands found the opening above and he pulled himself up. Shir fought her way up the ladder after him. The chamber they emerged in was huge. They had been there before. The mass of circuits and bio components that were Mother Brain still hung from the walls and littered the floor. Fleshy tendrils of circuitry dangled from the ceiling. The floor was covered in a shallow pool of putrid purple liquid.
Amy was already dragging Rudo to the double doors at the far end. Shir glanced across the room. There were no pieces of debris big enough to jam in the access hatch they had slipped through. I guess we're just going to have to rely on speed she thought.
Rudo looked to be on his last legs. Shir ran ahead of the pair kicking the large pieces of gore out of the way, and flung open the doors to the chamber beyond. Running back she looped Rudo's other arm over her shoulder, and she and Amy sloughed their way through to the next room.
The stench of death in the audience chamber was even more overwhelming. This is where the battle had begun. The corpses of earthmen lay strewn about like refuse. In the center of the slaughter lay the earthen commander. The Neisword was buried up to its hilt in his chest.
"Hold him," Shir instructed Amy, as she shifted Rudo's weight to her. Racing through the maze of bodies, Shir placed a boot on the commander's chest and grasped the sleek hilt of the Neisword. It yanked free with a small spurt of blood. Shir gritted back tears. They were going to make it. With Lutz's healing they could come back and find Anna and Kain. "Hang in their Rudo. We're going to get you…"
The mechanized terror hit the floor with an impact that sent Shir over backwards. Her head struck the ground as she landed amongst the bodies. It stood directly between her and her companions. The vehicle resembled one of the Motan Areotanks, but four massive legs sprouted, spider-like, from it's body. The cockpit was open and a single earthman leaned out. The thick black oil she had seen on his companions trickled from his eyes, ears, and nose. His head sat at an odd angle and swayed back and forth with the movements of the Mech.
Dozens of howling earthmen were pouring through the double doors. Rudo fell to the ground. Amy crouched over him protectively. Every muscle in her body strained as she wrestled the Neishot from his limp grasp and forced the massive cannon into firing position. The blast scattered the first wave of attackers, but the doors continued to spew forth more.
Shir rolled over and grabbed a lasershot from the nearest body. She let loose with a flurry of blasts at the man in the cockpit. The spider-beast reared up, taking the hits on its undercarriage, protecting its pilot. The space between its legs provided a clear shot at Amy and Rudo. Shir rolled to her feet, grabbing the Neisword with both hands, and threw it with every bit of power she could muster.
The sword spun, hilt over blade, and clattered to the ground near Rudo's head. Shir shouted. Amy broke her concentration away from the onrush of bodies. Her eyes fell on the sword, then raised to the thief at the far side of the room. Shir could see a deluge of objections cross the doctors face. In a span of seconds her eyes showed a battle between emotion and reason so intense that time seemed to freeze. And with that, the earthmen were upon them.
Amy and Shir's eyes locked. "I'm sorry," Amy mouthed. She grabbed Rudo's collar and shot forwards locking onto the hilt of the neisword. Just as the torrent of bodies fell on them, the pair vanished in a blaze of light.
For a few glorious moments the room went quiet.
A calm settled over the legion of earthmen. Those who had fallen atop Amy and Rudo stood. The rest slowly spread out across the far side of the room. All glared at Shir with empty eyes. Hundreds of bodies, standing shoulder to shoulder. The mechanical Areotank beast lowered itself to the floor again. Its legs splayed out to the sides in a crouch, and its pilot leaned forwards with his head at an sickening angle.
"A well played move girl." The voice that slid from the pilots mouth couldn't possibly be human. It sounded as a sickly chorus. Like hundreds of registers in pitches across the spectrum, both guttural and divine.
Shir's chest locked. A familiar dread crept throughout her body. "We destroyed you. Just die already," she forced through gritted teeth.
"1,000 years. I waited 1,000 years for my chance at revenge, as I have for millennia upon millennia before. With each passing moment my influence grows weaker, but I will at least have the satisfaction of a most painful death for a few of those who destroyed me.
The hoard of earthmen let out unified roar, scratching at their faces and leaping up and down like wild beasts. Shir fell to her knees.
"My loss was not complete," the pilot host continued as he jerked to his feet like a crude puppet. "The last remains of the planet earth shall go with me. Along with your Mota."
A sharp laugh cut through Shir's tears as she shot the being a hateful look. "You're all talk demon. You missed your chance at Mota. I can feel you growing weaker with each passing moment.
The roars of the earthen hoard reached a crescendo, and the demonic voice joined it. As the mechanical beast lunged forwards retractable claws burst from its sides, and clamped down on Shir, yanking her into the air. They drew her to the cockpit, and the pilot leaned over the canopy inches from her face. "Not entirely true girl." The spidery legs flew forwards. Shir and the machine plunged into Noah's corridors, bursting through blast doors and air locks. Its legs tore into a large elevator shaft, grasping the walls it climbed upwards.
Shir dangled from the hydraulic claw that threatened to crush her ribs. She struggled to stay conscious. A circular portal opened above them, and the spider beast launched into a large room covered in a glass dome. The span of Noah's bulk lay beneath them, spreading out for miles in every direction. The emptiness of space hung above them pierced by a the pinpoints of stars.
"Algo's destruction will come at my hands," the demon roared, "even if it means doing it one planet at a time." Over the horizon of Noah's hull rose Mota, a lush sphere of green against the blank canvas of space.
"You're going to collide with another planet." Shir screamed.
"As methods go its hardly ideal. I would rather subjugate this system world by world and make the populous tremble under my rule before destroying them. If you choose you may take consolation in the fact that your efforts have granted the people of Mota a quick death." The spider-tank cast Shir to the floor. She slid across the polished metal and hit the edge of the dome.
Shir didn't move. Her forehead was pressed against the cool barrier separating her from the cosmos. Tears began to well up in her eyes. She was so tired. More tired than she could ever remember having felt. Every muscle in her body was wracked with soreness. Every scratch and cut she had sustained over the past weeks was on fire. Her mind felt sluggish and unfocused.
"From here the view should be phenomenal." the demon said. "Truly a sight for the ages."
Shir rolled over, a retort balanced on the tip of her tongue.
She saw the hand clutching at the edge of the elevator shaft.
It took every mental resource she had left to keep from reacting. Another hand appeared and Kain's head followed, peering over the edge taking in the situation. The spider-tank stood between the pair. Shir locked her gaze on it. "It's a view I'll have to miss."
"Now that's a pity," the demon said, looming closer to her.
"If I'm going to die today I'd just as soon do it while tearing the throat out of that host you're occupying." Shir forced herself to stand.
The spider-tank's leg shot forwards lifting her from her feet slamming her against the dome wall. The pilots body leaned over the cockpit. "Bleed for me human."
The flurry of movement was all the distraction Kain needed. He was under the spider-tanks body in an instant. Josh Kain didn't get high marks in school. He was lanky but by no means athletic. He was unmotivated and not just a little crazy. However, there was one thing Kain was great at. One skill that caused the world to take notice of him. One path in which he had never found his equal. Josh Kain was the solar system's worst mechanic. His ineptness with machinery was such that it inspired awe in those around him. Any screw, bolt, nut, or cable he touched was bound to be the one that could cause the most damage at any particular time. Without hesitation he was digging around the spider-tank's underside.
Cables broke free and sparks showered the dome's floor as armored plating hit the ground. Kain held one of Anna's laser scalpels which managed to find chinks in the combat vehicles armor that even its creators couldn't know about. The pilot heaved back on the controls trying to dislodge the wrecker from his weapon's undercarriage, but Kain locked his arms around a vent covering. The spider skittered backwards with Kain clinging tightly as he tore loose wires and hydraulic o-rings.
Shir forced herself back to her feet. She scanned the area looking desperately for a weapon. All that was available were pieces of scrap that Kain had already managed to separate from his prey. Shir grabbed a small length of electrical wiring. The spider-tank was thrashing around now, getting closer and closer to the open elevator shaft. Kain still clung to it, but his grip was growing weaker. The pilot was howling in rage. The timbre of the demon's voice was enough to shake the entire dome.
Shir sprang into motion circling to the vehicle's flank. With a cry she leapt forwards latching onto the back, and drug herself up to the cockpit. Dark Force's host was thrashing at the controls as he leaned over the edge of his perch trying to see his attacker. He didn't sense Shir until she was on him.
The thief wrapped the wiring around his throat as she planted her boot at the nape of his neck. The pilot barely had time to let go of the controls before Shir yanked back. The pilot kicked at the instruments and reached back trying to dislodge his attacker, but it was too late. His eyes rolled back in his head and he let out one final gasp before slumping forwards over the edge and onto the floor. The spider-tank fell silent.
Kain dropped off the bottom and knelt beside the body, rolling it over. He smiled up at Shir. "So how have you been?"
"Alright. How about you?"
"I think I feel a cold coming on." A hose on the tank's leg broke free spewing a thick black fluid across the room. The leg it was attached to went limp dropping the vehicle to its side and spilling Shir onto the floor. "I wondered when that was going to go." Kain commented.
Shir threw her arms around the wreckers neck. "God, I was worried about you."
At their feet, the body of the pilot twitched to life, thrashing and clawing at the floor. Its lower jaw distended tearing the flesh of its cheeks as small oily black tentacles broke their way free and whipped about. Kain reached down and grabbed the appendages. Giving them a quick yank he pulled free a formless black mass covered in chattering jaws. The mouths gnashed and snapped at each other as they swung at the end of Kain's grasp.
Kain lashed out with his laser scalpel cleaving the mass in half. It fell to the floor with a wet splat and lay still. Shir brought her boot down on the remains spraying them across the ground.
"Why take chances," she said in response to Kain's smile.
"How do you figure we get off of this thing?" asked Kain.
"We can't. Not yet. That thing set this ship on a collision course with Mota."
"It's just never over is it?"
"We have to find a way to change course. I didn't lose Hugh, Rolf, and Nei only to see the planet they fought to defend get obliterated."
"That's not to mention us."
"Think you can stop this thing."
"It's a machine isn't it? Just show me the engine."
The pair made their way down the elevator shaft. The corridors of Noah were becoming unbearably cold. Both protectors hugged themselves tightly rubbing their arms for warmth. No sounds crept down the halls. No devilish cackles or screams of battle. The ship was quickly becoming a floating tomb. A fact that hit home even harder with every earthman corpse that they passed. Their way was littered with the signs of the battles that had overtaken the halls. Acid and laser burns marked the walls. Blood coated nearly everything. Much of it was beginning to freeze leaving a slick glare over the floors.
Deeper and deeper into the ship they ventured. Shir had little idea where they were headed, but Kain strode on, following the instincts that led to so much mechanical destruction. The corridors grew tighter as they moved on. More and more steam pipe and electrical conduits adorned the walls. The air became thick with the smell of oil and hydraulic fluid. They came to a set of double doors blown off their moorings by some great force.
"This is it," said Kain.
"I have no idea how you do that," Shir commented.
They stepped into the ships core. It was silent. A grated walkway extended from the door across an empty expanse that disappeared into darkness. Halfway across the catwalk, about 30 yards ahead of them, stood Anna. Her back was to them and her gun was gone. She held a slasher in each hand, and faced down a single human about 20 feet in front of her.
The earthman was on his last legs. He leaned heavily on one of the railings, gripping them with blood caked hands. Hands that also held a pair of laser claws. He coughed, spraying a mist of phlegm and gore over the edge into nothingness.
"I see more of your companions have arrived," The man forced himself back to his feet.
Anna cast a quick glance over her shoulder as Shir and Kain moved up behind her.
"I must say I'm impressed to see that so many of you survived," he continued. "You are fine warriors indeed."
Anna raised her slashers slightly, but didn't approach the man. "Stay back. He's weakened, but he's a hell of a lot faster than he looks."
Undeterred, Kain and Shir moved closer.
"I told you to stop," Anna shouted. "You won't do any good. This bridge is only wide enough for one of us at a time. We can't flank him."
Shir placed her hand on Kain's shoulder bringing him to a halt. "We need to find a way to change this ships course," she called, "That demon was still alive. He's what caused the earthmen to go crazy."
"Indeed," the earthman chimed, "That beast did use us for his own ends. His influence overtook us as we fought your party on the bridge. Had he not filled us with such unthinking rage many of my kin would still be alive." He took a step forwards. Anna drew her slashers back. "I could feel his presence evacuate my body. You must have destroyed him."
"He is gone," Shir called. "There is no need for this. We have to change course or we're going to die along with everyone on Mota."
"What's happened," growled Anna, not taking her eyes off her opponent.
"Mota's destruction is inevitable, as are our own deaths. The main engines were taken offline when you destroyed Mother Brain. The demon used the emergency thrusters to aim us towards your home world before ejecting the core. Every source of power is gone. We will continue on this course unless we collide with something, and that something will be Mota. My final act will be to avenge my race against you beings of Algo. Then I shall ride this star of destruction into oblivion. It will be a fitting end for my people. Killing seems to be our purpose in this universe."
"This isn't going to do any of us any good.." Shir was cut off as the earthman lunged forwards. Despite his injuries he moved with the utmost grace. Sparks flew from the railings as his claws passed across them on their way to Anna. The pair collided. Ready as she was for his charge, Anna tumbled backwards into Shir and Kain. The entire group hit the walkway. Anna's slashers and the earthman's claws raked against each other in a flurry of close attacks and parries.
A stray limb struck Kain in the temple. With a mangled shout he fell back, tumbling over the edge of the catwalk. Shir was on him in an instant grappling his legs before he could plummet downwards.
At that instant the earthman broke through Anna's guard, and buried a laser claw in her chest. He didn't miss a beat as she opened her mouth in a silent scream. He shot forwards towards the prone form of Shir as she struggled with Kain's legs.
His claws fell scant inches short as Anna swung her arm up thrusting a slasher into his neck. A sickly gurgling bubbled from the earthman's throat as he looked down at his dying opponent. Anna managed a triumphant smile as her eyes glazed over. Her arms fell limp, dropping the earthman to the ground. He tumbled to the side and dropped over the walkway into the darkness below.
Shir almost let Kain's legs go as she cried out. Anna lay next to her staring up into nothingness.
Kain struggled back to consciousness, "Shir, god… don't drop me."
"They killed each other. For what? They killed each other."
Kain swung an arm up and pulled his way back onto the grating. He wrapped his arms around Shir, and she buried her head in his shoulder. "She saved us Shir. Neither of us could have stopped that guy. Anna did what came naturally to her. She protected those she cared for."
"But for what? We're going to die anyway. We can't stop this ship. We know nothing about how is works."
"But we're going to try our damndest with the time we have left. Now get up. We have work to do."
Shir stumbled to her feet, still looking down at Anna's inert form. She reached out and clamped onto the railing next to her. Her knuckles strained as she stared into the darkness that filled the huge shaft that once housed the core.
"Something on the ship has to be combustible. We just need to figure out a way to ignite it." Kain stalked back and forth across the walkway. "Shir don't snap on me. We need to figure this out.
Kain swung around. Amy sprinted down the catwalk towards them. Rudo followed close behind, weapons strapped to his body, a trio of pulse vulcuns across his back, an acid shot in one hand, and the neishot hanging off his shoulder. Shir said nothing, but continued to stare into the depths.
"Oh god, Anna," Amy knelt next to her fallen friend, pulling out bandages and trimate.
"She's already gone Amy," said Kain, "she died well. She went the way she would have wanted to."
Amy's face twisted in sorrow as she placed her hand on the wound in Anna's chest. Having assured himself that the area was secure, Rudo knelt beside her. Kain crouched in front of them, "We're in trouble."
Shir remained distant from all of this. She was scant feet from the trio, but her mind seemed detached from the danger. So many had died. What good had they done? If they had never undertaken this task the earthmen would have taken control of Algo, but at least their would still be an Algo to take control of. All of the actions they had taken, all the choices they had made, led to this. The destruction of Palm, and soon, the destruction of their own home world.
Buried in her grief, unknowingly shedding tears into the depths above which she stood, something called to Shir. Something soothing, but urgent and distant, very distant.
Shir blinked away her tears and snapped her head up. Amy, Kain, and Rudo still sat around Anna's body.
"Explosives are out of the question," said Rudo, "Do you have idea how much we would need to start a chain reaction in a ship of this size?"
Shir's breath caught in her throat. The neisword was hanging from Amy's back. Shir could hear no voices or see no reaction, but she knew the blade was calling her. In the deepest part of her self she could feel hundreds of entities reaching out. She stepped away from the railing and slid past Amy. The trio was shouting at each other by this point and none of them even acknowledged her movement.
The neisword had no scabbard. It hung from Amy's back with a simple pair of leather loops. The contours of the naked blade began to swim about, twirling in delicate motion. The call of the blade strengthened. Transfixed, Shir reached out and touched the sword's simple, unadorned, hilt.
They were with her. Hundreds of beings. Heroes from every age of Algo's history. Most Shir didn't recognize. Some, like the plain faced, brown haired, girl who seemed no older that Shir, seemed strangely familiar. One in particular she knew all to well.
Rolf floated into her field of vision. Tears welled up in Shir's eyes as she smiled. The vaporous form of Rolf's hand stretched forwards and brushed her forehead. Shir's body froze. An unbearable sense of cold filled her being. Somewhere deep in her head a barrier crumbled. With the knowledge of what needed to be done Shir buried the joy she felt from her brush with Elysdon. Algo's future would be one of peace, but it had to be ushered in with a baptism of anger and sorrow.
The neisword/Elysdon flew free from its sheath. Shir held the blade close for the briefest of moments and graced its cold surface with a gentle kiss. Kain, Amy, and Rudo stared up at the thief in confusion.
There was so much she wanted to say to her friends. So many thanks she needed to offer, so many feeling she needed to profess. However, what she needed to do required that her emotions be as raw and unfocused as possible. One day they would all be together again. Until that day though….
"Mota is at a powerful turning point," It was all Shir could bring herself to say, "help make her beautiful again."
Realization came to Kain's eyes as Shir waved the blade in front of them. Her friends protests never made it to her ears as they vanished in a crackle of energy.
Shir climbed up on the rail overlooking the shaft. With the honed reflexes of her occupation she balanced there for a brief time holding the neisword close to her body. She allowed herself one last thought for her parents.
If they could see their spoiled little girl now.
Shir launched herself forwards. The neisword blazed to life as Elysdon channeled the pain and sorrow of an entire planet through her frail form. The peoples of Palm would not die in vain. Shir blazed to life in a trail of blue energy. She could feel Rolf guiding her thoughts, merging his memories with her own. The proper sequence of synapses in her brain fired in rapid succession. The darkness gave way revealing the central junction that had housed the core at the bottom of the shaft.
Shir screamed. A scream that carried the agony and pain of a dying world.
Shir's body disintegrated instantly as the Megido technique was triggered.
Talk of fuel flashpoints and chain reactions became moot. The vacuum of space carried no sound. There were no small explosions ripping Noah's bulk apart in a shower of debris. There was no shockwave extending out into the cold depths of space.
For a brief moment all was light. Light that surpassed even glory of the Algo star itself. Then all was darkness again.
The only molecules to survive the destruction of Noah existed in a blade. A blade which tumbled through the expanse of space, guided by wills of generations upon generations of protectors, towards the world to which it offered its guardianship.
On the icy plains of Dezo a trio of friends sat in the snow starring up at the night sky in astonishment. For the briefest of moments Dezo's night sky had shown brighter than the clearest summer's day. All three were expecting to feel loss, grief, rage, but this was not the case. A surreal sense of warmth and connectedness permeated them bringing tears of joy, not sorrow to their battle weary faces.
They sat in the snow, transfixed by the heavens. Rudo finally broke the reverie and helped his friends to their feet. They started towards the lights of a distant settlement. Over the eastern mountains the bright burning star of Algo began to rise.