A/n: Just the first little bit of this story. I haven't actually finished it yet, so I can't really say what the timing between chapter uploads will be. Have been working on this for AGES. Seriously. I found it in my computer files, half finished, and because I'd already put so much work into it, decided I had to finish it. Which I haven't yet... but hopefully beginning to post it will motivate me more. So... here's the first chapter.

When Darkness Falls

"All clear," stated Wayan, before dropping his gun to his side and strolling into the abandoned room. It was more a formality than anything. He was quite sure there was no one in the old laboratories the pirates were exploring.

"This place is a mess…" grumbled Cortes, stomping in behind him.

The bloc they were now on was in a possibly strategic position to the pirates. It would have been ideal to mount an automated outpost for keeping an eye on the Sphere's movements through the area.

But when the Saint Nazaire had arrived they'd discovered there was a Sphere outpost already there. Thankfully, it had been abandoned, but Cortes had wanted to explore so that they could be entirely sure this were true. So far his and Wayan's search had proved that while it was safe the base took up almost all available space, and the base itself was chock full of the Sphere's junk.

Cortes kicked an offending cardboard box out of the way in frustration. "Any idea what they were doing in here?" he asked, referring to the room they were currently in.

"Um…" Wayan saw a lot of musty notepaper, test tubes, and broken beakers lying haphazardly around on the now not so stainless steel bench tops. "… experiments… of some sort…" He brushed a piece of notepaper aside to see what was under it, and then pulled his hand back with a hiss. "… shit."

Cortes was immediately alert. "What?"

Wayan grimaced and flicked his hand. "Broken beaker… I didn't see it."

"Are you alright?"

Wayan looked at his hand again, and then pressed it to the side of his pants. "Yeah. It was glass, think it's a clean cut…"

"Are you sure?" Cortes pressed. "We can go back to the ship…"

Wayan gave him a look, and smirked. "Now you're just being a mother hen."

Cortes scowled, then huffed, and walked back across the other side of the room. His eyes caught on a rusted first aid box bolted to the wall.

"Might be something in that…" muttered Wayan, who didn't feel like walking around with his hand stuck to his pants for the rest of the trip.

Cortes smacked the box with his fist, because that looked like about the only way to open it easily. The small door swung open with a creak.

All that was inside was a small hand weapon.

Cortes raised an eyebrow.

"Apparently, violence is the cure for everything," Wayan observed, before grabbing up a piece of notepaper instead. He pressed it to his hand.

"Is that clean…?" Cortes asked. He sighed as he saw the amused look Wayan was getting on his face. "Wayan, if you start flapping and making chicken noises I am going to leave you here to bleed out."

"Relax. I'm fine."

"Alright," Cortes sighed, shaking his head. "Let's just get through this place so we can decide what to do with it."

The two men left the room to explore the rest of the base.


Seventeen kilometres away, on a nearby bloc, a young woman was fleeing for her life.

This would seem to have little to do with the pirates' exploration of the abandoned Sphere base. There was, however, one commonality. This bloc now held, in one remote corner, another Sphere base. It was the new home of the abandoned base the pirates were now exploring.

It was this the woman was running away from. Behind her, the base melded into a desolate rock face, noticeable only if you looked closely. And if you suddenly happened to glance over to see what had previously appeared to a slab of rock roll back, letting a flash of silver metal escape into the atmosphere.

The woman didn't notice this, so panicked was she as she fled sobbing and completely naked. Not until the metal object smashed into the ground in front of her, clawed landing gear digging into the earth and blocking off her escape route.

She screamed, tried to turn in her tracks, but slipped on loose sand and fell to the ground.

The machine that towered in front of her would appear to be a beast of some kind, except that it was all hard edged metal. A 'tail' of jointed segments extended away from the main body, designed to stop it overbalancing; on the end of this extended stabilisers to keep it steady as it moved through the air. More stabilisers jutted out of the 'head'. The head even had eyes, pinning the woman with a glare, judging the distance she was away. Then a motor whirred, and the thing's jaw dropped.

Suddenly the woman was pinned to the earth by two shafts of metal. One pierced her shoulder; the other went straight through her heart, cutting instantly short any reaction as her body simply went limp.

Motors whirred again; the beast dropped its head to allow the body to be easily dragged into the 'mouth', pulled in by the chains that were attached to the harpoons that had lodged in the woman's body.

The jaw snapped shut as the body became contained within the machines confines. Then the whole creature lifted back up into the air under power from its thrusters, fitted smoothly to the body to maintain the aerodynamics, and the landing gear pulled up to fit flush against the body. It climbed to a height then the thrusters cut. Just as it began to fall, canvas wings folded out from the body, allowing the machine to glide gently down through the entrance to the base it had previously used.

The landing gear didn't come down this time. Instead the machine came into contact with a smooth metal chute, its wings pulling in just before getting caught on the side walls.

Eight seconds later, it had docked with a turntable at the base of the chute, and its engines had powered down with a whine that steadily lowered in pitch and volume to nothing.

The machine's docking bay was silent for a few moments. Dim lighting revealed other similar machines, docked at their own turntables and also silent. Then the door whooshed open and a woman walked in.

"Good, you returned," she smiled, placing a hand on the machine which had just entered the docking bay. She ran the hand up the smooth metal face until her fingers found a button behind a metal joint, and pressed it.

The machine's jaw dropped to the floor, and its engines whirred as it dropped its cargo. The body tumbled out onto the floor.

"Damn it!" the woman stepped back until the body came to rest. She then knelt down, and worked one of the harpoons out of the still warm flesh.

She stood back up and looked at the harpoon. "I've really got to find a better method of retrieval…" she muttered to herself, before throwing it back up into the machine's body.

She wiped her hands on her lab coat, which at some stage had possibly been white. "At least you weren't much of a success," she said, nudging the other woman's body with her toe. "But we couldn't have you running off and telling everybody. Not that they would've listened… would've probably hunted you down instead."

The woman sighed, before pushing her glasses back up her nose, and checking her clipboard. She would have to find another test subject. But that could wait a few days; she would have to make advancements on the formula before finding one. There was no point in repeating failed combinations.

"Alright then," she said, turning back to the machine. She gestured at the body. "Dispose of it."

The machines eyes flashed green, letting her know it had acknowledged the order. Then it reeled the body back inside with the still attached harpoon, and its turntable began to whir as it reorientated for take off.

The woman stayed until the machine had launched, then turned and left, her heels clacking on the steel floors.


There was another factor that brought the pirates' and this bloc's fates together. The pirates' had just left the old Sphere base when a critical failure occurred in the Saint Nazaire's left engine. They were lucky that a nearby bloc had an adequate repair facility…