Wednesday, January 31, 2024

A Cold Stopover


The lights of Sanctuary were beautiful. Karis thought about the haul they'd just finished, the long time away. They were home now, or the nearest thing to home they had. He wondered if his bot had missed him. Jenna came up and and embraced him, flirty as always. It was her nature. 

Sanctuary was immense, a testament to man's prowess, bigger than some worlds. A space station, the largest built, a place some residents never left. The Radiance- his ship- was impressive, but it was dwarfed in size by the space station. He could go anywhere, but he always returned here. 

He thought about the haul they'd just completed as he waited for permission to dock. 

Arcangel was cold. The blue and white planet looked cold from orbit and the reality on the ground was, if anything, worse. They were here on a hastily assembled mission to drop some personnel and supplies. Arcangel was a nothing planet- or had been, until a Gate had been discovered. And more than that. They'd found a base of the Ancients, also... abandoned, machines still running, as always. So now Paxus had assembled a base here. Huge, ready to exploit whatever secrets they could glean from the Ancients. 

It wasn't uncommon to find a Gate... well, it was, but it was even rarer to find an Ancients ruin. Apparently this one ran for miles under the ice. That wasn't common knowledge, but he heard things. Even odder was the rumor that they'd found... something else. Some thing that denoted that others had been here. Another race? Starfaring people that they hadn't encountered? Rumors were flying. 

The place was immense- huge, circular, with multiple levels, concentric domes built one atop the other. It was impressive, flying in- they had swooped down from a frigid sky, setting down in a cold docking bay, a circular opening in the blue and white structure. There were regional governors' bases smaller than this. 

Offloading took a while, and he had time to see the place. Jenna came with him, he had people to handle the offloading. This base was restricted, many didn't even know it existed- Gates were a need to know proposition, and most didn't need to know. Everything was top quality. They had lunch in an atrium- three levels, with flowering plants and fountains, rock gardens. Outside, through tinted windows, he could see a herd of something- they almost looked like mammoths- trekking up a slope. Mountains rose in the far distance, and somewhere out there was a Gate. 

"It's amazing, isn't it? asked Jenna. He realized he'd been silent for a while. 

"Yes," he replied. "To think that none of this would be here without the chance discovery of a Gate." He realized he should keep his voice low. "Or an Ancient ruin. Although scuttlebutt is it isn't so ruined."

"Ooh, really? What's the scoop?"

"Well, I hear that they found evidence of others. Somebody's been here already... and not the originals. Vanguard Corporation has been building this for how many years... most don't know."

"So cold here," Jenna replied, "but if you're going to be here at least they have the amenities."

Later they were walking the outer ring, a long corridor that circled the complex. To their right were windows looking out upon the frigid landscape, although they were far up- on the other side were offices or whatever- sometimes labs. Everyone here was businesslike. They did find, up a long escalator, a waterpark and other facilites for recreation. The tropical ambience was a shock after the cold and clinical feel of the rest of the complex. They were able to enjoy a holo theater as well. 

They were there less than twenty four hours. Secrecy was high- they even had to doctor their logs to delete mention of Arcangel. 

Need to know. 

As they blasted out of orbit Jenna grinned wistfully. 

"One down. How amny to go?"

He smiled. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Beneath Unknown Skies 77


Morning came too soon. One of Trish's people prodded Joon awake with his boot, and Joon rolled over, annoyed. Hillier was already up, cracking open a can of food with her knife, but she apparently didn't like how it tasted, screwing up her face and tossing it in the corner.   

"How do you people eat this slop?"

"If you're hungry enough you'll eat anything."

"I'm not hungry enough then."

One of Trish's people scowled in her direction. 

After a lackluster breakfast they set out, carefully scanning the surrounding area before emerging from the bunker. It was a cold, sunny morning. Trish had been quiet. 

"The Refuge?" Joon asked. "The people back there. Where are they from?"

"The poor, the malcontents," said Trish. "Those who don't stay obedient. Many of them flee there to be free or avoid persecution, but many are there too because they have nowhere else to go. If the Scholars deem you not useful enough, or you're too poor, you get consigned to the sewer levels. Space is at a premium, after all."

"Why did you join them?" Joon asked. "Why not go back through the Gate? Rejoin Stella." 

"They wouldn't let me. Stella and the Directors would never condone what's happening here. I mean, the tech advancements are amazing. But... it's not right. There is right and wrong."

"And we thought Stella was tough."


"Oh, just that Stella has a ruthless reputation, but here..."

"I know. Remember, I know Stella."

They walked on in silence. Hillier was ahead with the scout. It looked just like Earth... was Earth... but Joon still felt he was on another world. 

In some ways he was. 

"To answer your question," Trish spoke up. "I think you'll understand better when we get to the city. The mutants are everywhere, but that's part of the tradeoff. We hide in an extremely dangerous area, but that protects us from Sanctuary as well."

"Will we be able to go back?"

"Depends. We know ways into and out of Sanctuary. But... the Gate is heavily guarded, if you mean going back to your time."

"Yoiu know Jack. What's your take? He would like me to join them."

"Your name means a lot because the other... you found the time travel tech. Or, rather, the info to actually use the Gate."

"Does Stella know that?"

"I'm not sure."

Just then Hillier held up a hand and everyone stopped. It was quiet. 

Too quiet. 

Trish lifted her weapon as a spear came from somewhere, transfixing one of her people. Chaos erupted as all around them shrieks and howls went up, ululating cries that were bloodcurdling. Hillier was motioning him to hurry and join her, and Trish snapped "Come on!" They broke into a run, with Trish's remaining people falling in around them. Joon could see people now, all around them. No, not people. 

What were they?


They looked like people, but wild. Some had no clothes, or wore rags. Some had weapons, some not. Wild, matted hair, some hideously deformed, bloodshot eyes. Or terrifyingly, no eyes. Parts of them were missing. And they were closing from all directions. 


Alarms were going off and the hallways were a strobe of red emergency lighting and shadow. Maia raced down the corridor, trying to avoid soldiers and techs running this and that, but she had to keep slowing down to wait for Howie. He could only go so fast. She was heading for the command center, but when she got there, no sign of Stella or Mallory. Or anyone she recognized. She made for the Gate chamber next. Someone crashed into her around the corner and papers went everywhere. 

"Stupid bitch," the harried looking officer snapped, and ran on, leaving the papers behind. 

What was happening?

There had been reports of fights, of people going nuts, but now the entire complex shook at times, and there was an unearthly wailing periodically that made her ears ache. What was it?

She suspected she knew, but her mind didn't want to go there. 

Oh, Joon

When she reached the Gate chamber the scene was chaotic. Soldiers were trying to maintain order, but no one seemed to be in charge. No sign of Stella. What was going on by the portal? As she got closer she recoiled. And almost screamed. It looked like... Joon. But... he was scattered all over the area. Like his body had exploded. 

Please no...

His torso was close, and there was something in his hand. 

A beacon. 

She had seen the beacon Joon- 352 had sent to Joon, and it was identical. She kneeled, taking it gingerly even as she almost vomited. Tears stung her eyes. 

Please God no...

It couldn't be. Where was Hillier? Did she... no, Hillier had had a million chances to kill him. Why now? His eyes were open and she could feel a scream building. She wanted to claw her face, to die. 

"Give that to me, woman," someone said to her. She looked up. 


The Director on base. Stella's boss. 

She ran. 



You don't know me, but I'm Joon. Not your Joon. Joon- 352, they tell me. That seems insulting. I'm the Joon, feels like. But I guess we all feel that way. At any rate, this is a warning. Your Joon is alive, last I knew. He had to run, though. Another Maia... yes, you're here too... tried to kill him. Why? Who knows. 

This is a beacon. Preprogrammed to take you somewhere else. Just go through the Gate. Two choices. Here- the 25th- where Joon is. But they'll just arrest you. Or Poseidon, where you may be safe for awhile. Trust no one. Stella won't hurt you but it's not up to her. Be careful. My Maia... didn't survive. 

I love you. Well, another you. Your Joon of course loves you. I can see it when he talks about you. Be safe. 


The message ended and Howie keened.