The Outcast

Chapter 4

The Colonel took the lift alone back up to the Alpha Deck. He tapped his personal wrist Comm-Unit and sent a secure line to the bridge.

"Doctor, how's your progress?"

A moment of silence was followed by a response.

"I just completed the infra-red scan of the ship, and was on my way to test the troops, Sir."

"Belay that order doctor, Victor just discovered a time-bomb in the armory. We have to prepare
to abandon ship."

The Colonel expected an exclamation, but realized Dreamers didn't do so.

"I want you to personally escort Caressa to a life-pod and guard her yourself. I'll be downloading
our tactical data base and join you shortly."

"Understood sir," said the Dreamer. "However, you should know that I did find some slight anomalous
readings in my scan."

"Hold." That command was issued to the lift controls. The elevator stopped. "Explain," said the Colonel

"There were a few cold spikes found near the engine room core, and powerplant. Nothing unusual, and
definitely stationary."

"Are there any Istata crew members around those sections?"

"No sir, as per your orders all crew members are still confined to their quarters."

The Colonel thought for a moment.

"Doctor, which one of those locations is closest to a life-pod docking bay?"

"The engine room, sir."

A risky plan was forming in the Traqian's head. He looked at his chronometer. There were seven minutes left till the bomb went off.
It would be close.

"All right doctor, a change of orders. Get back on the Operations console and
set up a continuous infra-red scan of the engine room and adjacent life-pod bay."

"Yes sir, give me a moment," said the Medical Officer.

The moment ticked by slowly. The Colonel looked at his time piece. Six minutes were now left.

"Sir, the scan is set."

"Right. Now, I want you to sound off the abandon ship klaxon on my command, but confine
it to your scanned area. If anything jumps on your monitors, let me know."

"Yes sir...ready"

"Now! Doctor."

Four seconds ticked by.

"I have movement sir. A humanoid shape moving towards the life-pods. Body temperature
...one hundred and forty."

"Gotcha!" said the Colonel in satisfaction.

"Let her enter the pod, doctor, then seal the doors behind her with a level one encryption
code and disengage the outer bay doors."

More time slipped by.

"Done, sir. She's locked up tight."

Cato smiled. "Excellent work doctor." He pulled his blaster and checked his charge. "Gamma Deck, maximum velocity."

He felt the lift nearly drop out from under him.

"Doctor, get our demolition's team down to the arsenal to assist Victor.
If the job's not done in three minutes, set the order to abandon."

"Aye sir, but what are you planning to do?"

"A little recon hunting," called back the Colonel.

The lift stopped and the doors opened. Checking both his flanks outside the elevator, he turned right and sprinted in the direction of the engine
room. The sound of the klaxon eventually came closer and he slowed, hugged the shadows along the walls and spoke into his wrist unit just
above a whisper.

"Doctor, lose the siren."

Two seconds later the noise stopped. The doctor called back.

"Sir, you should know that the infra-red scan does not extend inside the life-pod habitat."

"Understood, doctor."

The wall ended at a corner two meters ahead. Soundlessly, he crept up.

"I'm sending a security team your way, Colonel. They should be there in a few minutes."

"Belay that doctor," whispered his commander. "By the time they get here we may have to abandon.
I just want to check and make sure our guest is tightly secure."

He peered around the corner of the next dimly lit corridor. On the wall across from him began a row of octagon shaped portals; the life-pod bay doors.
The one closest to him held four wedged shaped windows which occupied the top half of the thick steel door. A light was on inside. Cato sprinted to the
far wall and flatten himself to the right of the windows. The wall was cold against his back and he could feel the adrenaline rushing through him, sharpening
his senses.

Suddenly, the door thumped, a muffled bashing could be heard from the inside followed by a deep guttural sound that was far from human. The door
was bashed again, and again ...and again. A wrinkled dent was pressed out. The structure was composed of six inches of alloyed steel, and the Colonel
wondered how strong she truly was.

Silence.

Too long for the Traqian's liking. She was up to something. A sound caught his attention, unique, alarming, like the click of hard steel on glass.
He curse and leaped clear just in time. The door exploded behind him, and threw him down the hallway. Hard white pain and blackness followed...

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...Something was on his leg. A heavy weight. The smell of smoke was everywhere.

Cato opened his eyes and saw it was a piece of metal; a smoking part of the pod bay door. His left arm hurt, and movement was impossible below the
elbow. He glanced down at his torn sleeve and winced at the purple bruising along the bone line.

*Probable fractured,* he thought.

His Comm-unit was shattered. Its jagged edges had lacerated his wrist, allowing trickles of his own blood to puddle on the cold floor. His right hand
felt empty; glancing over he saw why. His gun lay several feet away. He began to move towards it when he heard her.

Smoke was clearing from the ruined remains of the life-pod door way. The steel door had been parted and curled back like the exit wound of a gunshot.
Sounds were emanating from the darkness in low moans, the acoustics of live wires burning, and the crash of falling debris. The Dakka had taken a risk by
using one of its own explosive charges to blow open the door. It was injured, but alive and coming out.

The Colonel reached for his gun once more, but the metal plate on his leg suddenly moved and scratched the floor in a terrible grating noise. Cato froze
and the sound of the creature moving inside the life-pod abruptly stopped as well. He cursed himself and held his breath as he tried to recall everything he
knew about Dakka sensor biology. How good was their hearing? Their sense of smell? Thirty seconds seemed to tick by making the Colonel more aware
of lost time. How long had he been out? How much time on the bomb? was Victor successful in defusing it?

The creature moved again, and Cato knew this time she was coming out.

Cautiously, clamping the piece of wrecked debris between his legs, the Colonel stretched for his weapon. It was now only inches away ...closer now
...his tips touched the grip, but it was too late.

The Dakka stepped through the portal with giant steps. It was huge, at least seven feet tall in a humanoid shape. Its body was covered with a dull red,
pebbly, leathery hide from head to toe. Its massive arms, thicker than Cato's legs, drooped nearly to the floor, ending in wide flipper-like fins with black
serrated edges and four, single jointed clawed fingers. The head was misshapen, placed atop a thick corded neck where two flaps of membrane like skin
draped from the back of its skull to its wide shoulders like two grotesque fleshy sails, transparent with blood vessels. The creature turned and Cato could
see its face. Its brows were knotted protrusions above empty eye sockets covered with loose flaps of its leathery skin. Between them were two long slits
that served as it nose. The slits puckered wider, then closed in a rhythmic breathing pattern.

Its mouth was the worse. Like two thick purple worms, wrinkled and pressed together in an emotionless grin.

Cato lunged for his gun, rolled and aimed the blaster in the creatures direction.

"Stand were you are!" he cried.

The creature simply looked in his direction as a slight tremor went through its body. Its arms twitched as it clicked its claws together. Eight sets of nipples
ran down its chest to its abdomen, the only sign of its sex. It took a step forward.

"I will shoot you where you stand!" warned the Colonel. He crouched to one knee.

The creature stopped and did nothing for several moments, then its lips began to move, to spasticly wiggle, and for half a moment Cato thought they
were worms. They parted, revealing a thick set of fangs, criss-crossed in a deformed growth pattern. The mouth opened wider, and the teeth parted.
Inside was a single, dark eye. It began to glow.

Cato fired.

The shot slammed home at the intersection of the Dakka's neck and shoulder jerking her back several feet. She slammed into the jagged door way,
bounced off and fell back inside the pod chamber. The shot echoed down the corridor fading off into silence. The Traqian felt dizzy, his right arm trembled.

*Must be hurt more than I realized,* he thought. *...was aiming for the heart.*

The Colonel stood up and was instantly met with the pressure wave of a head rush. He staggered, clamped his teeth and fought the urge to vomit.

*Concussion. Minor if I'm lucky*

He maintained his balance and won the battle between mind and digestive system. Raising his gun, he made his way towards what was left of the
life-pod door. The chamber was small and he could see the Dakka's legs on the ground. The soles of her feet were pink, like those of a rat's. He waited
until his eyes adjusted to the darkness, then entered.

It laid on its stomach neither moving or breathing. There was no entrance wound on its back, and so the Colonel kept his blaster pointed at his head,
and advanced to its side. Wedging his boot under the creatures shoulder, he lifted with considerable effort and roll the creature on to its back. It was Anna,
his fiancee.

The world reeled around him as he stared dumb struck at image of his beloved. Like a well spring, blood pumped out of the wound at the base of her
neck, and trickled out of her mouth in tiny rivulets. Her skin was pale with sickening bluish hue, and her unfocused eyes rolled around with shock, a
prelude to death. A voice found his mind.

"Cato?...Why?..why did you shoot me?"

"Anna! I..I don't understand?...." He was dizzy, His vision began to darken.

"Why?....why Cato?..."

Suddenly, her eyes focused and found him; she reached out. Her thin arm, moving with a trembling strength, suddenly grasped his injured left arm.
The Colonel howled in pain and the image of his betrothed shattered into a thousand pieces only to be replaced with the horrible figure of the Dakka.
Her claws reached for him and a single eye blazed into his. The Colonel felt the gore rising in his throat. He tore his eyes away and fired point blank.

His vision tunneled black, sounds faded, and he knew no more.

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The security team spotted the Colonel. He was limping along the corridor wall.

"Colonel! Are you all right?"

It was his First officer, Lieutenant Julius Grasius. He lead the team in a dead run towards his Commander. The Colonel waved the team back in warning.

"The creature bit me! I may be infected."

Julius slowed down. He saw the gaping wound at the base of the Colonel's neck and a deep laceration along the side of his skull. He spoke into his
throat mike on his battlesuit.

"Get a medical team down to corridor G-4. The Colonel's been wounded."

"There may not be time." Pompei was looking down at his wrist chronometer. "What's our status?"

"Commander Drake says he's got the situation under control, but it'll be close."

A strange flash of anger drew across the Colonel's face.

"What do you mean?"

Julius momentarily held his hand to his helmet's ear plate before responding.

"He's temporary frozen the timer, but there's still two minutes to go on the bomb."

Julius expected more relief to register on the Colonels face than the shocked surprise he saw. His commanding officer stood up straight and folded
his arms across his chest, an odd gesture for someone who seemed so wounded. A strange smile played across his face, one filled with triumph and satisfaction.

"Well soldier, that's cutting it a bit too close, don't you think?"

The smile broaden, it was unnaturally wide.

"I'm giving the order...abandon ship!"

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My story was over and I waited in silence in the confessional abode.

"Is that all? Is that how your story ends?" said her voice from the other side of the screen.
"What of this woman you said you killed? What of the Dakka's fate?"

"You tell me," I said.

There was no immediate answer, but somehow I sensed she was shaking her head.

"No, the story goes on because that wasn't your Colonel talking to his troops.
It was your 'Dakka'... fooling them into seeing the Colonel, just as it fooled him
into seeing his beloved. And so, the Dakka escaped in one of your life-pods."

"But it wasn't a clean get away, was it?" I added.

No. The Dakka was wounded...damaged from the second shot that had grazed her skull.
Her thoughts were not strong. She was weak and alone."

"Until her pod was picked up by a mining frigate on its way out of Archaen Space," I said.

"Yessss, but how easy to fool them too. Fool them into seeing what they wanted, like one
of their precious Istata Sisters in need of help. And how easy to make them turn around
and return to their miserable colony, to this miserable Q-dex where she found her magic
was weaker! DEFORMED!!"

"The Archaen Quantum Zone 'locked' her into the illusionary form she came in on - The Istata
Sister everyone was concerned for, but who's name on one could remember," I said. "She knew
we were looking for her, so with her mono-form she sought the one place where she could hide.
A place of worship - this church."

I unbuckled the flap on my holster.

"Lets drop the pretense, assassin, I found the bodies of the Sisters you killed minutes before we
started this game ...Dakka!"

In the silence I could hear her breathing grow harsher, building.

"DAMN YOU! WHY CAN'T I FIND YOUR THOUGHTS! WHY CAN'T I
FIND YOUR MIND!!"

She sliced through the screen and into my form. She was fast, faster than I thought. Her berserker rage snapped timber and smashed stone
with a terrible crushing sound. Her arms were blurs of furious power as she destroyed the entire Confessional Abode in a manner of seconds;
digging for my body, for solid flesh and bone.

I watched the scene from twenty feet away, glad I wasn't in there.

I reached up and clicked off the holographic projector around my neck. The nano-probe receiver in the Confessional Abode was undoubtedly
destroyed by now. The Unit had been combing the colony for hours in a standard search pattern for the Dakka. My instincts had lead me here.
I got lucky. For the past twenty minutes I had managed to keep her busy while the troops convened on my signal and surrounded the church outside.
Half a minute ago I got the word; They were in position.

I rose from my place at the pew and the Dakka instantly spotted me. Her mouth dropped in a perfect 'O' of surprise. I probable cut a satisfied grin
myself, but she never saw it. My face and head were covered with my battlesuit helmet where the nano-pixel face-plate showed black. Inside, it afforded
me a three hundred and sixty degree view of the church in an infra-red format. I was hoping it would keep me immune from her powers. I stepped into
the isle and feigned a casual pose, my right arm hung near my blaster.

"It seems both of us can play the illusionary game," I said as I tapped the Holographic collar around my neck. It cursed at me. A hideous oath that
blasphemed the very Goddess I worshipped.

"I said that I had killed a woman today. That remains to be seen, but it doesn't have to be.
The church is surrounded. The only way out is in shackles..."

"...Or in death!" it said in its true voice, an icy thing that tugged on the linings of my mind. She strode forth.

"I have hunted Golem and Suarian warriors, human. What makes you think you can slay me?"

"Hunted them on your terms, maggot. I'd say the playing field is level now. Your speed verses mine."

I stood my ground. She slashed through a stone column like it was tissue. Her claws were like swords, she stalked closer.

"It will save you not," she stopped.

I could see the wounds Cato had given her were choked with puss-worms.

"Your death will be ...agonizing."

"Your move, witch. Ready when you are."

She shot forward, a distorted blur of churning muscle, teeth and claws. I waited until she was closer, too close for her to duck and then struck my
arm to life. In one smooth motion I drew, aimed and fired into her face, twisting my body away at the last possible moment. The back of her head
blew off, nearly decapitating her as she shot by tumbling like a devilish centrifuge. She exploded into row after row of pews as she plowed a fissure
of destruction nearly to the back of the church, snapping stone, timber and mortar in her wake. Her form thrashed about in a spastic death throes,
but she wasn't dead. I could feel her screaming in my mind.

"That was for the sisters that you killed, maggot."

I adjusted the levels on the Traqian Blaster to its highest setting, and walked towards her. One of her arms and legs were twitching in vibrational blurs.
Arterial blood sputtered out white, thick ichor in oozing clumps. By all means she should be dead, but her lopsided head managed to roll my way. She
tried the speak, but only milky bubbles welled out of the blast hole in her mouth, through the ruined hole that was once her eye. Like a distant shout I
could feel her Death Curse tugging on my mind once more. I shut her out and reminded myself on how she had killed the Sisters. She had killed Haegan,
and nearly Caressa, and Julie and everyone on board. She had killed thousands, and of that I had no doubt. I aimed my blaster.

"And this...is for everyone else."

I fired. A quick death was more than she deserved.

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I walked out of the church and was greeted by a growing crowd behind security barriers a hundred meters away. Our troops held their formations
mixed with soldiers from the local militia. Their Captain approached, a middle aged man with a serious face.

"Is it?..." he asked. I nodded

"We'll cover the expense of the damage and dispose of the body," I said. "I'm sorry we came too late, Captain.
You'll find the Sisters bodies in the upper gallery."

His face tightened at that and grew solemn with understanding. He signaled to three of his own men and together they entered the church. I walked
down the rest of the steps and was met by the Colonel at the bottom. He wore his battle suit, and like me, his identity was concealed by his helmet.

"You okay?" asked his voice in my Comm-unit. I nodded again.

"I've been better. Killing a person in a church isn't something that sits easy with me."

"I understand Vic, but don't think of her as a person. It was a filthy animal in my opinion."

I read the bitterness in his voice and understood what he meant. I pulled out his blaster and returned it to him. He accepted it with his right hand,
I knew his left arm was in a dermo-cast under his battle suit.

"Thanks for doing me the honor," he said. "I owe you one."

I shook my head. "If our roles had been reversed Cato, and that ...thing had imitated my wife, I'd want you to kill it with my gun too."

We turned to leave. I hand signaled the same intent to the troops. The Colonel issued orders to Dr. Rhodes and few other officers to retrieve what
was left of the Dakka's body.

"We'll chalk this up in the official report as a joint kill," I said, thinking on how things would probable be different if Cato's shots hadn't seriously wounded her.

"I'd like that," replied the Colonel.

Remmer and Julius fell into step behind us, followed by the rest of the Unit in a single file.

"You know, this is far from over," said the Colonel as we walked.

"I know. We still have Caressa to deal with, and ultimately ...Marka's consciousness in her mind," I said.

The sky was a dark purple before us. Behind us, the church bells began to ring, a mournful sound, announcing death in the community.

"Tomorrow maybe, or the next day. Once we've all healed, but for now...let's just go home."

The crowd parted to let us through. There was a mixture of emotions in their expressions. We were, after all, a parade of soldiers with hidden faces.

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