Notes: Thanks to Chrysti (aka CLCurtis) for giving me the idea, after the server crash on the GS Online board. Hope the GS regulars find it an amusing punishment for the server administrators :-D
Stretching slowly, Jack Ferriman looked around him at the faded opulence of his former quarters about the Antonia Graza. He had so far managed to claim the soul of one of the new salvage crew he had brought aboard, but the rest were proving to be slightly more complicated. Add to that, the fact that his ship was sinking, and the Soul Collector was not a happy man. Sean Murphy had vanished into the bowels of the ship, probably to get drunk in an attempt to ease his guilt over the death of Santos, while Greer was off getting boozed up in the ballroom with Francesca., one of the Graza's ghosts. Dodge and Munder were off trying to find something to eat, and patting themselves on the back for their great find of the gold in the cargo hold. And then there was Maureen Epps… He wasn't sure what the hell her story was. One minute she was all rough and tough, the embodiment of a salvager, and the next she was melting in his arms like a lady of ancient times. He could hear her in the hallways, calling out to that damned brat, Katie. If the little brat told her what was going on here, he's make damn sure that she regret it, for a very long time.
"So, what now Jack?" he wondered to himself, his voice soft, yet sinister in the silence of the ghost ship. "Do I go and take care of another member of the crew, or do I have a little fun with lil Maureen?" His eyes sparkled at the thought of getting Epps alone again, especially as Dodge was busy being greedy and wouldn't be there to interrupt again. The more he considered that option, the more appealing it became to him.
Suddenly the world around him began to dissolve and fade, as if he were a spirit and he was fading form the world. Or rather, the world was fading away from him. Lights flashed all around him, and strange noises broke the silence of the ship. Then there was no ship, and Jack found himself standing in a plain white room, surrounded by strange looking creatures. Each one looked like a breed of dog, but bore a resemblance to a slim line computer, except for the large, unblinking eyes and rows of very sharp teeth. In a flash of understanding, Jack realised he had been torn from his comfortable existence and pulled into a bizarre world, where the souls of inanimate objects existed. He had inadvertently crossed into cyber space, and there didn't seem to be any way back!
Looking around him, he soon saw the cause of his problems. Sat in a darkened corner, was a sickly looking beast about the size of a Labrador. It was coughing and wheezing, as if it had some strange disease, and small trickles of blood ran from the corners of its eyes. It was obviously dying, and Jack was a soul collector. The fact that he'd never even attempted to collect the soul of a supposedly inanimate object didn't bother him, he still had a job to do and a quota to fill. Gazing down at the pathetic looking creature though, he realised it wasn't the poor beast's fault it was so sickly.
"No, the blame lays with the people who are supposed to be looking after you, doesn't it little fella?" he murmured to the little server, reaching out to gently scratch it behind the ears. The beast whined slightly, enjoying the attention, but soon started coughing, a wet hacking sound that angered Jack. It was time to visit the people who cared for these beasts, and teach them the meaning of responsibility.
Closing his eyes, Jack concentrated on the world around him, feeling the ebb and flow of the power and life. Every plane of existence had the same basic make up, and it was something he was very familiar with manipulating. Within a few moments, he had widened his perception to include the existence plane within which the beasts existed in tandem to their own, and now saw people moving around. The air around him became hotter, stuffy almost, and small droplets of sweat began forming on his arms. It was no wonder the poor things were suffering, he realised, for these beasts preferred a much cooler environment. A plan began forming in his mind, and a smile tugged at his lips as he saw how he could accomplish his goal.
Seeing a small disk on one of the tables in the other existence plane, he concentrated on it and slowly reached his hand through the barrier between planes. He took hold of the disk, unseen by humans in the room, and slowly pulled it back into the plane he was currently occupying. As his hand came back through the barrier, the disk blurred into a small syringe, and Jack moved to the sickly beast in the corner. He located a vein and injected the glowing white serum into the dying animal, watching as the medicine began to work almost immediately. Within a few minutes, the beast had stopped coughing and its eyes had stopped bleeding. It remained sitting in the corner, but cocked its head up at Jack and an unspoken idea passed between them. The beast wanted revenge as much as Jack did, and the Soul Collector was going to help the creature get it.
Getting to his feet, Jack moved back to the barrier between planes, and the now healthy server beast followed him. Its eyes shone brightly, holding a hint of its fury at his carers for their lack of attention to it. Jack placed both his hands against the barrier, feeling the beast press its shoulder against his leg, and concentrated on the parallel plane. Slowly man and beast shimmered and faded, coalescing into solid form in the human's plane of existence.
The server technicians in the room froze as they heard a strange, guttural growl behind them. As one, they turned to see Jack and the server beast standing a few feet away, both with an aura of fury about them. The beast wanted to attack, but Jack signalled it to remain where it was for a moment longer. He wanted them to fully understand what was happening, before they met a rather gruesome end.
"Good afternoon gentlemen," he began, smelling the fear from each of them. "I'm Jack Ferriman, and this is one of your servers. You haven't been looking after him, and he's pretty mad about that. You've all commited the sin of gross neglect, and after he satisfies his anger, you souls will be collected by me." He could see the terror in their eyes now, and the hopeful glances towards the door of the large server room. With a sadistic smile, Jack reached out an invisible hand and slammed the door shut, making sure it could not be opened until the business here had been concluded.
Jack signalled the beast and it leapt forwards, its sharp teeth and claws ripping into the soft flesh of the nearest tech. Screams echoed around the room as the beast satisfied its anger at its carers, and as each of them died, jack clasped their right hand between his own and burned his mark onto them. As the last of them was marked, he gathered the leashes which were wound around the souls of the dead. Pausing for a moment, he knelt down and dipped his fingers into the large pool of blood on the floor. The warm, sticky liquid dripped form his fingers as he rose to his feet and scrawled a message onto the plain white wall of the server room. Leaving the bodies behind him, he led the souls back through the barrier to the cyber space plane, the beast following at his heels. Once they had all stepped through, the barrier closed behind them and the beast moved back into its spot in the corner. It whined happily and curled up on the floor, closing its eyes. The world around Jack began to shimmer once more, and he found himself back on the Antonia Graza, as if he had never left. The souls of the server techs looked around them wildly, not understanding where they were or how they had gotten there. With a flick of his hand, the leashes vanished, and the terrified new souls ran off into the darkness of the ship. Happy to be back in his own reality, Jack lay back down on his comfortable bed and started going over the possibilities for the night's entertainment...
Back in the server room, the next shift came in to find the employees on the previous shift murdered. The police were called in to investigate, but could find no murderer, nor any murder weapon. They had only three clues to the mass murder; each victim seemed to have been mauled, but the teeth and claw marks matched no known animal. The right palm of each victim had a strange mark burned into it, as if each of them had been branded, but it also matched nothing the police had ever seen before. And there was a message scrawled on the wall, made using the blood of several victim, which read: "Everything has a Soul, even machines. Take better care of them, or they may decide to teach you some respect".
The police were baffled by the bizarre message and the strange circumstances surrounding the deaths of the five server technicians. To avoid the possibility of a panic, both the police and the company hushed up the incident, but the techs who worked there never forgot the message. From that day forward, the servers were kept in pristine condition and were never neglected again...