Chapter 1

Zamin had gone into his stasis pod already angry and upset, still stunned by the reports of treachery and slaughter that he'd listened to only hours earlier. His dreams had been long, harsh, and feverish, a mixture of grief and vengeance. At times, he dreamed that he could see the fallen, the murdered. His brother, dead. His brother's gentle wife, butchered. His nephew, slaughtered. Their friends murdered, their homes defiled, and so much worse done... If he could have awakened, he would have screamed and beaten his fists bloody against the sides of the chamber. Sometimes he dreamt of doing just that. Other times, he dreamt of delivering his payload, of watching the cleansing black fire sweep over that forsaken world and strip it of all of its evils. No matter what kinds of creatures resulted, it would have to be better than a species that could do such hideous things to those who had only ever meant it kindness. Sometimes he called out for release, aware that he was trapped in a Hell of his mind's creation, begging someone, anyone, to free him from its malign grip.

And then he was awake.

As consciousness rushed back, he sat up and coughed, expecting to hear his Captain or others of his brethren moving around the command center as they prepared to enter orbit and begin the cleansing. Instead, he heard a rasping, demanding voice speaking in an unintelligible language. He opened his eyes and found himself staring at—

A human! One of Ersetu's filth had infiltrated his ship! It was old, wizened and infirm, staring at him with hungry, avaricious eyes. Then another voice, this one speaking a tongue he recognized, spoke from his left. His head jerked toward it.

"We have come across the stars, in answer to your invitation," it told him. It? Yes, it. Although it looked human, there was something profoundly wrong with its way of moving, of speaking. He watched as it spoke, trying to decide what was so strange and wrong about it, and then he realized – its balance was too perfect, unaffected by breathing or speech or any of the other tiny things that made a living creature sway and twitch, however minutely. A golem! Not only had the elderly human invaded his ship, but he'd brought an abomination with him—

And they weren't alone. Feigning dizziness, he glanced around and spotted three more invaders, all of them dressed in the same bizarre clothes. Only the elderly man, he noticed, was using metal buttresses to hold himself erect. The others were much younger. One clearly was a soldier, and appeared to be carrying a weapon of some kind which was pointed directly at him, his face impersonally hostile. Invaders, indeed! The others—

Women! The blasted humans had brought women onto his ship! Were they insane?

One was younger and smaller, her head uncovered except for dark red hair that stood out in wild disarray around her face. Something was wrong with her. She seemed barely able to stand, her face hollow and pinched as if with severe pain. In spite of the chill of the room, she was sweating. Ill or injured, she seemed somehow apart from the others. The second woman was older and seemed, at first glance, to be the more composed of the two, but he could see genuine terror in her eyes when they met his.

Continuing to pretend he was struggling with the fog of stasis, he rose to his feet, assessing his situation. The ship's engines were silent, he noticed, and the other stasis pods were undisturbed. Most significantly, the navigation module hadn't been deployed. Had these invaders somehow reached the ship before his crew could take off? Where were the guards? He couldn't believe that this tiny band of savages could have taken on an elite squad and won.

A threat-level assessment was crucial. The golem could be dangerous; in spite of its small, slight stature, it would probably be very strong and might have hidden weapons. It would have to be one of the first he destroyed. The old man appeared to be no threat at all. The soldier would have to die first. The women…

Why had these damnable savages brought women into the ship? As offerings? Temptations? Bribes to win him over? Did they think he would forgive the slaughter of his kin and brothers-in-arms because they gave him a few forbidden concubines, one old and one sickly?

Even as he dismissed the idea that such temptation would work, a part of him considered the possibility of keeping the younger one, if whatever sickness or injury she suffered from could be healed. He shouldn't contemplate such a thing, but it was difficult to resist the impulse with a human woman so near him. This was why the Anunnaki had forbidden Ersetu's women from entering their abodes or even coming near them unveiled! How dare these intruders violate the first laws?

"Ahhhh," he exhaled, deciding that he understood. The savages hoped to inflame his desire, make him irrational, and then turn him against his sleeping crewmates. The older woman flinched in response. The younger one's expression was… pleading?

He needed to ignore the women for now. There was a weapon pointed at him and he needed to destroy it. Climbing out of the stasis chamber, he pretended dizziness and fell to his knees. What would they do?

The elderly man stumbled back from him. Immediately the soldier and the older woman hurried to his side to steady him, more or less ignoring Zamin although the weapon remained trained on him. The younger woman took a step forward, not toward the old man but toward him, but stopped short with a wince of pain and pressed her hand to her lower abdomen.

Injured, then. The ideas he couldn't help entertaining angered him. He should be above such temptations. He pitched his voice to its deepest and most guttural battlefield roar, determined to make these savages aware how badly they were transgressing.

"Why have you invaded our vessel? What is it you want?"

The older woman backed away from him the second he began speaking, her body stiff with terror. The elderly man, however, stared at him with hungry eyes in a ravaged face, and then asked the golem something in that strange, unfamiliar tongue. Zamin had a passing familiarity with most of the major languages of Ersetu, but this one was unfamiliar. The golem answered in the same tongue. Apparently it was the only one who knew his language! How could this be?

The elderly man drew in a breath to speak. Before he could, though, the younger of the two women interrupted.

Zamin turned his attention to her, startled by how desperate she looked. Her speech was as unintelligible as the old man's, but impassioned. She seemed to be protesting something, or perhaps begging. Was she aware of the impiety of being offered to him, and objecting? The old man kept trying to hush her but she continued, until he barked something peremptory at the soldier, who slammed the barrel of his weapon into the woman's stomach. Her scream drove Zamin to his feet and he had to restrain himself from lunging at the soldier.

She fell to her knees but didn't let it silence her, shouting final, frenzied words at him. She only went silent when the old man barked another order at the soldier, who promptly armed his weapon and pointed it at her head.

If there had been any doubt in his mind that he would kill them, it was gone. When the older woman shot a scornful, almost vindictive glance at her kneeling compatriot, he decided that there would be only one survivor among the invaders. The old man spoke again and now the golem finally translated once more.

"This man is here because he does not want to die," the golem told him. "He believes you can give him more life."

Zamin felt almost ill with loathing. The old man was seeking the forbidden and profane, and offering the forbidden in exchange? Was this what had also driven the madmen who had slaughtered his people on Ersetu? The man was far too decayed for such a gift, anyway, even if it would have been allowed. It would only have made him linger, suffering, as his body withered away. How did he not realize that?

"How can he want more life after this long?" he demanded, wondering if these savages were really ignorant of what had happened to other humans who had received the forbidden gift.

The old man listened to the golem's translation and then began speaking, his avidity undiminished in the face of Zamin's disgust. He gestured to the golem with almost fatherly pride, and then to himself, and then to Zamin in turn. At one time, this man must have been a charismatic speaker who inspired loyalty in legions. Undoubtedly he was enumerating the reasons he should continue to do so. That loyalty, Zamin decided, could work in his favor. Since the weapon was no longer pointed at him, he'd destroy the golem first. Then, he'd distract the old man's servants by injuring him so that they had to come to his aid, before killing the soldier. Then everyone but their comely female prisoner would die.

When the old man finished speaking, he turned to the golem and reached out, touching the artificial hair on its head as though in benediction. It gave him a bright, false smile, not resisting at all. He hoisted it off of the ground and wrenched its head loose as the old man shouted protests, and then smashed the false head against the skull of its master. He turned as thunder roared through the chamber, and something slammed into his chest. The soldier's weapon! The man must have had far less loyalty to his master than it had seemed; neither he nor the older woman were even bothering to try to help their fallen king. He tossed aside the golem's head and advanced on the soldier, trying to reach him before he could reload. His biosupport suit would repair the damage and had already suppressed the pain; full armor would have been far better. Suddenly the older woman was in his way. He grabbed her by the strange collar of her suit and shoved her aside, not especially caring how hard she fell. Their disloyalty to their master was both inconvenient and appalling.

The soldier aimed his weapon at Zamin a second time, but he'd already knocked it upward before the man could fire. He wrenched it out of the man's grasp and flung it aside, and then punched him, astounded when the small man flew across the room. Yes, battle lust was fully upon him now!

The clatter of feet brought him back to his senses. He turned and saw the younger woman, a clear helmet in one hand, racing out of the room and down the corridor that led to the armory and the loading bay. Was that how the invaders had come in?

For a moment he dithered, tempted to follow her. No. She might lead him into an ambush, if there were more humans on the base. He had a mission to complete, and the behavior of these invaders only underscored why it needed to be carried out as quickly as possible. The base was compromised, and he was struggling to resist temptation. He needed to get the ship on its way so that his mission wouldn't be a failure. If she stayed on board, he'd deal with her later. If she stayed on the base…

Well, then, he'd see if she was still around when he returned from his mission.

Zamin had always looked down his nose at the soldiers who had returned from the outworlds in disgrace, guilty of taking human women as lovers. He had always been convinced that the temptation was one he'd have been able to resist in their place. Now he knew better. Her face – exotic, pained, pleading – was going to haunt him for a very long time.

Notes: This chapter is, obviously, based on the deleted scene that you can see on the Blu-Ray. There's some language stuff going on in the story that's based on the film's contention that the Engineers spoke a proto-Indo-European (PIE) tongue, which kind of makes sense but is a completely hypothetical language… I felt it would be easier to just use Sumerian. So a lot of the words that my Engineer uses (Zamin, Ersetu, Anunnaki) aren't actually gobbledy-gook but straight out of the Sumerian (and occasionally Akkadian) lexicons. Having studied their writings some, it was fun to dust that off and use it. The things about human women being forbidden to Engineers comes out of some fun college bull sessions about passages in the Old Testament and some interpretations in which angels apparently had a real fetish for mortal women but it tended to result in disaster (Genesis 6:1-4, and other fun passages) so I decided to play with that and treat the more nonsensical passages in the Bible and ancient mythology as garbled accounts of encounters with Engineers, who were trying to maintain their distance from humanity but frequently got seduced into interfering. The slaughter of Zamin's family and friends is based on some other really nasty stuff that happens even now – albinos are often perceived as supernatural creatures in many parts of the world and often either killed as witches or butchered for the supposedly magical properties of their body parts (UGH!), and so the idea here is that that superstition emerged from encounters with the Engineers, and a group of ancient humans actually did butcher them, which resulted in the planned retaliation that the crew of the Prometheus found when they entered the pyramid and ship. I mean, seriously, who wouldn't want to nuke from orbit the people who killed and ate his family and friends?