Beyond the Red Door
Only three of us now remain, and of we three I am the only survivor left fit to pass down this tale. Marcus is wounded gravely, and growers nearer to death by the minute. Julius' mind was taken from him without his life to go along with it during our journey. We have chained him to the ground so that he cannot deal himself or us an injury in his frequent frenzies.
He, at least, has the luxury of living out his last few days in the chaotic peace of the madman. It does not matter that we three alone survived our trek through the realm of nightmares; we have no food, no water, no warmth, and no way to contact anyone who might bring us succor. If I do not record our tale, no one will.
We were one and all warriors in our own way. Our professions and tasks were different, but all of us served High Command as People of Fang and Sword. Other races may slander our name and call us nothing more than low-born Space Pirates, but they do not know how glorious it is to kill for your Lord and Master, nor have they any notion of the welx – the glory that fills up the whole body – at fulfilling every one of one's orders and duties to one's Lord. We were People; we were Pirates. Whatever the case, we were created to serve our masters in High Command. That was our purpose and the sum meaning of our lives.
I was not more than a common grunt. But I was not created to be more, and I felt just as much welx at shifting about containers of excrement as I did at the are pleasure of executing a prisoner. Why I was chosen, why Worker Unit Α43-βω998 was chosen by the Lords of High Command for this sad business, I will never know. Perhaps it was retribution from one of the beings that the human I once executed had called upon for justice. Perhaps it was nothing more than a cruel random number generator. Perhaps it does not matter. For when my foreman approached me and said that High Command had sent for unit Α43-βω998, I felt such strong fear and welx that it was all I could do to stand. Very few of my class receive such an order, and it was not my place to ask questions.
I left immediately and journeyed without rest through tunnels across half of our homeworld to the Blood Halls, and there I saw High Command in their black chamber, the Lords too great and terrible for words to describe. The sound of their breath, the sibilant hiss of shell on scale, their powerful voices that were at once soft as a whisper and strong as the thunder all together made such fear rise up in me that I could do nothing but stand in awe and welx. The Lords did not speak to me, of course. A worder is beneath their notice, of no more importance next to their greatness than a scuttlebug. They spoke to a red-shelled unit of Science Team –
Science Team. Even in the Faced Land, their indiscretion had been what killed them off first. It was common knowledge that Science Team had been engineered to not experience fear or welx, but it was precisely that quality that drove all of us in the lower orders to hate them so fondly. They were an easy target our hate, for who would dare call himself one of the People of Fang and Sword if he had no welx?
I had never seen a member of Science team before that time. Rumours abounded as to what they might look like. Some of us thought they must have thick, hard shells as proof against their own experiments going awry, and would therefore be huge, hulking creatures to support their own exoskeleton. Others swore they had seen a member of Science Team before, and that they had long digits without claws and bulbous craniums, and were overall very tall.
The creature I saw was like neither of these. Science Team stood no taller than the lowest breed of soldier, but though no one part of the head was disproportionately large, it stood on a long, thin neck that seemed too small to support the weight of its owner's brain. The effect was pitiful. Rumours had at least one detail right, however, which was that Science Team was covered in a hard, red carapace from head to claw, though it was thin and far more ornamental than strictly useful. A disgusting creature, through and through.
I was not alone in the Chamber of Lords. I stood in a line with three other workers and three soldiers. The soldiers held beam cannons at attention in their massive pincers while we workers simply stood with hands at our sides, being as meek and respectful as we knew how. We stood shock still and watched the whispered exchange between the great and terrible Lords and the Science Team creature come to an end, and presently the Lord who had last spoken turned to us from out of the darkness. This was Lord Ridley, greatest perhaps of all the People of Fang and Sword, past, present, or even future. I knew he had died thrice, yet lived. This was a being that had cheated death by embracing it. I looked into the eyes and saw the black mood therein; I looked at the body and saw the claws and great wide wings of Death himself. Even now, I fear Lord Ridley more than my own death – for every one of the People knows that there is no fear in Lord Ridley. No fear. No welx. He did not need it; he was welx itself.
Lord Ridley spared not a glance for me, and I am grateful for that. He spoke our orders to the empty air in front of us. We were to go with a three-member delegation of Science Team to investigate a region of space long considered a dead zone, which in the last cycle had begun to show bizarre emissions spectra, as if quite suddenly inhabited. We were to serve them, guard them, tend every need and want of Science Team. For the duration of the mission, we were slaves and property of Science Team. We would leave immediately and not rest until there was something to report. We would do our duty and be rewarded with our lives. Failure would strip us of all welx and earn a slow and bloody execution in the Sport Halls for all the People to see. After he had said his part, Lord Ridley melted back into the Chamber of Lords, becoming nothing more than a shadow amidst the darkness. I could no longer see him or any other Lord, and neither did I wish to. They live in darkness to awesome and full of welx for a simple worker to understand.
We left the planet immediately. A ship – a fast, stealthy clipper, designed to slip in and out of ports unnoticed – was waiting for us in the span of a few clicks. No worker could meet my gaze as I boarded, for I was innum, forbidden, taboo. I had seen the Lords and had been sent on a mission. I would therefore return dead, glorious, or not at all. Until then, I am innum.
Well, I shall never return to our homeworld now. The last light of welx has long since left me, and what awaits me is not a triumphant return, lit by glory from within, but a slow death of want. The Lords could not have predicted that it would all end exactly in this way, but they knew. I would curse them, but I fear the darkness still, and I know that out there in the shadows beyond the edge of the world I see, Lord Ridley listens. He watches. He waits.
I am afraid.