Chapter Seventy: Tall Tales
Outside the city bustled like a kicked over insect nest as people tried to go about their lives while ignoring the looming threat of war, but inside it was quiet and dark, the low lighting obscured by smoke from various burning narcotics. While it had a reputation for being a bit of a rough place that attracted the rowdy military boys on shore leave, it was actually a more sedate place where the less rambunctious NCOs and officers would go to forget about rank for a few hours without indulging in the wilder behaviour of their subordinates.
The place was an archetype, a pattern repeated subconsciously countless billions of times throughout the galaxy and, unbeknownst to even the more savvy travellers, across the greater cosmos as a whole. And central to this archetype was that one table, the place that was invitation only, and even an invite wouldn't guarantee your stay, as the price of a seat was a story.
With thoughts turned to the morbid with the war raging on other worlds and in the void between the stars, somehow the subject of ghost stories had come up. Those gathered around the table had already progressed through the basic ones, of things seen in the shadows of hyperspace, of messages received from dead wingmen warning of impending doom, and other common tales.
Then, the musician, a comely young woman in the shadowy background seemed to pick up on the mood and shifted into something a touch stranger and more haunting. This caused one of the men at the table to put down his glass with an audible thump. Everyone looked at him and he said, "Now I have a tale for you."
Human or near human, he had the broad, ever so slightly out of shape look that suggested a desk job but the hungry, ambitious glint of the eye that suggested that he was not the sort of man to be trifled with. In all likelihood he was an executive or commanding officer on a ship.
Running a finger around the edge of his glass, he said, "Now this happened… oh… I'd say about ten years ago. Back when we were still fighting the Imps, although by that stage things had mostly ground down to skirmishes and cleaning up the warlords and pirates. It was the latter that we were out to find, although they were really more of a minor criminal syndicate than 'just' pirates."
Pausing for a second to take a sip of his drink, the man continued and said, "So for a couple of months the task group I'm part of has been tracking these pirates, driving them off of shipping when we can and slowly gathering up information. Finally, we've got enough that we think we can lay a trap for the bastards. So we're lying in wait, half the task force escorting a group of freighters 'loaded' with expensive, military grade hyperdrive motivators, the sort of thing your average pirate in a rust bucket death trap would typically salivate over. The other half of us are hiding in the shadow of a gas giant, using its moons and magnetic field to screen us while stealth relays fed us information. Once the pirates attacked we were going to boost of out the grav well and make a quick jump to hand with both feet on them."
"I've heard this one before," one of the other members of the table said with a smirk.
"Shut up, and no you haven't," the storyteller replied. "This doesn't one involve the pirates springing the trap on us only for something to intervene, no, this one gets weirder. Technically this story was classified for two years after the incident while the spooks worked on figuring out what happened."
Pausing to collect his thoughts again, the man continued, "Anyway, we're sitting there when you can see the comm. officer starting to get a little freaked out by something. Eventually he told the CO that he has picking up an anomalous transmission. Now, our CO, he was this leathery Calamari bastard, hardest fish this side of old Ackbar. So he takes a quick listen in on what's freaking out our comm. boy and I swear to the Force he goes whiter than Hoth."
One of the female members of the table, a Twi'lek commando, asked, "Is this…?"
"Yeah, this is about Killfrenzy," the storyteller said with a nod, causing a small collection of whispers amongst the table before dying down to let the man finish.
"Now, I don't know what you've all heard or not heard, but I was there, on the bridge when this happened. Something was broadcasting… I don't know if they ever figured out how they were doing it, but somehow they used an entire gas giant as an antenna, broadcasting all over the system. I even heard the broadcast," the man then paused to shudder and take a drink.
"I know who has heard that signal and who's just heard the stories. The Killfrenzy broadcasts, they're not some guy speaking or even a chant. No, those broadcasts are a song, a religious hymn out of the darkest recesses of time. Yeah, there is a voice that is saying 'Kill frenzy' over and over again, the words blended into one long madness mantra, but there's more. The voice chanting it is guttural and oddly accented, like it doesn't know Basic and just memorized those two words. And in the background there's a… 'doom choir' I suppose you could call it, adding in strange lyrics in an unknown language and random bursts of psychotic, high pitched cackling, almost like children literally laughing to death. If you listen to it for more than a few seconds you start to feel your skin crawl," the man said before shuddering once more in revulsion and finishing off his drink.
His audience now listening raptly, he said, "So we've got this radio signal coming from all around us chanting this psychotic message and we figure it's some sort of trap so we bug out of there as quickly as we can. We never even see the pirates, and we suspect later that they got the kriff out of there when they heard that broadcast too."
"Good story," one of the members of the table said, before the storyteller held up a hand.
"I'm not done," the man replied, earning raised eyebrows.
"Now, most of the Killfrenzy stories would end here, but a week later and we haven't heard a peep from the pirates. Eventually one of our agents reports that their smaller bases have lost contact with their main base. So we take the whole task group out to that location, half expecting an ambush, only we find nothing. There's a hollowed out asteroid that obviously used to be a base, but there's nothing left there now. Nothing. Long range sensors track an object moving into the shadow of a desolate planet, and we only got a fuzzy blob of a signal off it before it vanished in a weird burst of energy. We didn't even get a hyperspace tracking off of it, it just disappeared. We did however get a radio signal still bouncing around the system, this quiet, plaintive whistling song of a transmission. I think Killfrenzy found somewhere to satiate its urges," the man explained.
The Twi'lek from before then spoke up slightly and said, "Uh… I actually might have a continuation of your story. This happened about… three or four years ago. We found a wreck in deep space. It was a wreck of a pirate up-gunned medium freighter floating in the debris cloud above the elliptic of a Mid Rim star system. No bodies, although it had been exposed to vacuum so some of the bloodstains were preserved. Really freaky boarding it though. When boarding abandoned ships, you get a feeling for which ones are going to be bad, and that one was the worst sort of feeling."
Those gathered around the table all nodded knowingly. The best sorts of soldiers, and those were the ones with stories to tell, all had a set of instincts that told them when a mission didn't feel right, when something was about to go wrong.
"We were all tense going in there. If we had a Jedi assigned to us I'm sure he would have been yammering on about the Dark Side, but I would have been agreeing whole heartedly. Something evil happened in that place. As I said, we found some bloodstains, but they were mostly just rust coloured patches here and there. Then again, there must have been a major massacre in there to even get that much blood to stay in those conditions. I hate to think what it might have looked like when it was still new," she explained.
Pausing to remember the details more clearly, she then said, "I any case, we eventually reach the bridge and try to power the wreck up. No good there though, not because its power systems are busted up, but because the fuel tanks were empty. Nothing particularly strange there, but by this point everything was making us jumpy. So we get portable generators hooked up and start poking around.
"Ten minutes in, we're all more stressed than matter at the heart of a neutron star, and our slicer just loses it. Poor bastard does a triple take before he just sort of curls up. It turns out the chronometer logs stopped recording some time about a thousand years from now when the last of the fuel decayed away in the tanks. Radio-isotope data pegged the ship as being older than the Great Sith War, while the ship's design is from the Clone Wars. Now, we've found ships abandoned since the Great Hyperspace War in the lightless parts of space far from stars, and we've found ships displaced in time due to faulty relativistic shielding, but never anything that looks like it went back in time," the Twi'lek woman explained.
"Now, the brass declared that it was just a malfunctioning wreck, but we were drawn to the area in the first place and we deployed actual boarder teams first instead of a salvage team because we detected a strange radio transmission from that area and then picked up the metal of the hull. We assumed it was a trap, but… nothing… just a weird, time lost, impossible ship," the Twi'lek explained, twitching her lekku in agitation at the memories.
Finally a rough looking human male with the sort of scarring that implied seeing recent ground action against the Yuuzhan Vong said, "I've got you all beat. I saw the Killfrenzy."
This raised a number of eyebrows before he smirked and took a pull from his beer. Running his tongue over his teeth a few times, he leaned back in his chair, ran a finger over a particularly nasty acid mark on his face and said, "This happened shortly before I picked up this little beauty, which I am actually here to get removed. Now, my task force was assigned to hunting down the Vong's kriffing slaver ships when we find a destroyer analog just drifting in space, the ship 'alive' but the crew apparently no longer at the helm.
"So we slip in close with a boarding ship and send in the marines. Full vacuum armour, power assist, big guns: essentially the full Vong killing kit that most ground pounders really wish they had access to all the time. Now we get in there, and it's like something out of a bad horror vid. Considering that Vong ships are normally like that, that's saying something. Everything's dead inside. If it was wearing armour, there's no head. If it wasn't wearing armour it's been hacked to pieces. There's no sign of who did it, but the slave pens are all empty and there's some weird symbols painted on the walls in the blood of the dead," the man, who those at the table now suspected was a marine, explained.
"So we're getting ready to haul this thing off for the R&D boys to take a look at when we pick up this radio transmission. I didn't hear it myself, but the rumours all said it was the Killfrenzy song. We also notice an anomalous gravity distortion, sort of like what a coralskipper might produce, but much weaker, and its travelling away from the general vicinity of the transmission. So one group goes off to find the source of the gravity distortion and the bigger group looks for where the radio transmission is coming from. I'm in the latter group. We see it, hiding behind the horizon of an uninhabited ice world, bouncing its signal off the ionosphere," the man explained.
Taking a deep breathe, he detailed further, "It was big. As in twice the size of an Imp Star big, but it looked primitive too, like someone had taken some ancient stone cathedral and launched it into space. I suppose like that big flying castle thing the Hapans have, only less elegant and more evil looking. It's studded with guns, and it's just hanging there, screaming out its chant when it starts boosting out of orbit. Slow and ugly, but we don't want to get close to it. While we're trailing it, trying to sort out all the things stuck on its hull, it disappears in a flash of weird light and strange sensor readings. It didn't jump to lightspeed, but it definitely didn't cloak either. And when it disappeared in that strange light, everyone who was looking at it felt a chill down their spine. It was never classified, the spooks have other things to worry about, but I don't think that ship is on our side."
There was a consensus of nods and then, no one thinking that they could top that story, they slowly began to disperse for the night.
Once everyone was gone, the musician quietly packed up her instrument and walked into the back. She took a few moments to take off her make-up before she opened her locker in the empty back room.
With a loud thump the body of a Yuuzhan Vong spy fell out of the locker, her body folded in half hours earlier, her ooglith masquer neatly set on top of her corpse, the features on the organic infiltration suit identical to the musician now obliviously packing up her things.
A few minutes later an old man who went by the moniker Marti left the locker room, whistling a slow, plaintive song in an alien language.
"Gott weiss ich will kein Engel sein."