Actions

Work Header

Shadows of Ulthar-Duun

Chapter Text

 

View From the Ship

Technology is a wonderful thing. It's allowed leaps and bounds in the medical field and has given man the opportunity to reach the stars, encapsulated in our metal tubes and city-like colony fleets that move from planet to planet, solar system to solar system, galaxy to galaxy.

The only downside is that when it something kind of important breaks, like, say, the engine, the price of being so dependent on it is that most of us don't know how to fix it. Someone whose spent 4+ years in an engineering collage specializing in anti-matter drives are few and far between.

 

So, when the Miriam Sun breaks down, it required the skills of such a person. Except that the person was dead after having been bathed in radiation when the drive's shielding failed.

The Miriam Sun has left us stranded in a little known solar system in the Pegasus Galaxy, PEG326570.

 

Our ship has suffered everything from a sun unexpectedly going supernova, where all of us nearly baked in our skins since we weren't quite close enough to be vaporized, to the garbage chute being jammed and causing a back up that could be smelled all the way to the cock pit and we nearly succumbing to our own fumes.

But this was the worst.

 

“There are 5 planets around this star, at least one of them seems capable of of supporting life!” Captain Asky Morrison, Head Pilot of the Miriam, argues with raised voice and seems on the verge of whacking the table with his fist. He's a man of military bearing and not used to being questioned once he's made a decision. Having a few years under his belt and graying at the temples and already a stocky man, he's put on a little weight in the shoulders and hips since knowing him, when this expedition left port a year ago.

 

To my left is a majestic view of the giant swirling golds, reds, browns, pinks and even greens of the star system's largest planet, a Jupiter like gas giant known simply as Ulthar-Duun.

 

“That's what the records tell me but they are old.” Our physics specialist, Doctor Francisco, cautions our Captain.

“What other choice do we have?” Lt. Dian Morel complains, arms thrown wide as he gestures towards the colorful orb outside the conference viewing window. “In 48 hours, the back up batteries are going to run out and we're going to turn into a bunch of ice cubes because our life support systems will have failed!”

“Do we have to leave the ship?” I ask, this being the first time speaking since the conference so everyone's heads swivel in my direction, instantly paranoia and awkwardness rise to the surface.

 

“Deary, the engine shielding has sprung a leak; we're about to be irradiated into pulps of red flesh.”

This was Lady Arthoria Orchid speaking, my employer and financier of this whole science expedition. This was, in a sense, her ship. Her family is involved with a lot of the exploratory missions, usually the exploration of the stars was spear headed by The United Alliances of Earth.

This was supposed to have been a simple 3 year mission in the Pegasus Galaxy, one of the Milky Way's closest neighboring galaxies.

 

“The leak should be blockaded by the Mid Point Wall.” Captain Asky answers as if I didn't know that. “But the situation with the batteries is a very serious issue.”

 

A Mid Point Wall runs through the middle of the ship and separates the two halves, made entirely of lead and other heavy materials it's purpose is a secondary protective measure; if there's a break down in the engine shielding, it prevents us from being bathed in lethal doses of radiation while in our sleep.

 

The entire engineering crew hadn't been so lucky.

 

The moment the ship's sensors detected the breakdown, it sealed off the two halves via massive, lead lined doors that refuse to open as long as the sensors detect radiation.

The leak is fixable, yes, we even have the tools and special shielding suits for the job but not a single one of us knows how.

 

“It seems our only option is to go down the M4.” Lt. Dian, Asky's co pilot and second in command, remarks a little coldly as he casts narrowed eyes my way. The Lt. has made it plain that, and I quote, 'don't need any soldier wannabes on my ship', he regards me with dislike, bordering on contempt.

 

Our only option is to go down to M4, one of Ulthar-Duun's 20 moons. I really didn't want to and for very good reason too!

 

Upon entering PEG326570, the Miriam picked up a radio transmission with very heavy interference. It was almost impossible to make out what was being said but after running the looping message through the computer's programs and cleaning it up a bit, several words were picked out.

 

Fsssht! Containment failure-fsstpsstcht-survivors-hssthschit-immediate evac-fsstshst-AUUUUGH!”

 

The static still clings to my ears, the choppy, barely distinguishable words replaying over and over in my head. That man's scream still haunts me three days later.

 

“If the batteries run out then Lightning Boy here can just charge them up, right?” Lt. Dian says. “I mean, at least he can do that, right?”

“Don't be ridiculous.” Lady Arthoria says. “Kami may be talented but he's not all that powerful. At the most, he carries 5 million volts.”

 

I'm unsure if I'm being insulted or not so I keep my mouth shut; one never knows with the Lady Orchid.

 

“We have the solar panels for that sort of thing.” Doctor Francisco, Franny by those who know him, adds. The man has before him a transparent view screen, displaying the slowly rotating star system in which we currently float in continuous orbit, using Ulthar-Duun's magnetic fields to shield ourselves from the star's deadly rays.

“Have those damn scans come back yet?” Captain Asky wonders impatiently.

“The sensors are using a lot of power so I've had to omit certain functions so as not to drain the batteries.” Dr. Franny explains. “It's just taking a bit longer than usual.”

 

The main door into the conference room slides open and a thin, dark skinned woman with the most vivid brown eyes I've ever seen practically glides inside, followed by a redhead that fills the doorway. Wearing a black tank top and army fatigue pants, which only seems to add more appeal even if Asky doesnt like seeing one of his men out of uniform.

A pang of yearning resonates in my chest as the man looks over the people seated at the table, sees me and smiles before going around the table and sitting on the other side of Asky.

“Hope I'm not too late.” He says quietly to which Asky acknowledges him with a single nod.

 

“Kali, dear.” Lady Arthoria greets the woman with warmth belonging to an old friend.

Kali is as bald as an egg, wearing a gold band around her skull that matches the golden bands around her biceps, adorned in flowy, ghost silver pantsuit that opens along the sides of her waist and legs, revealing glimpses of dark chocolate skin. White inked tattoos curl around both arms and end in a swirling pattern on the backs of her shoulders and neck, warrior tribal markings from her people.

Kali is not only renowned for her beauty but also her quirk; Telekinesis Type.

 

Kali nods once, glancing over everyone while taking the chair on the other side of Arthoria.

“How is he?” Lady Arthoria asks, referring to Kali's 6 month old baby boy.

“He rests, finally.” Kali explains with tiredness that only a new mother would know.

Kali has been with Lady Arthoria for a very long time, years before I came along. She birthed her child after the expedition launched.

Kali also talks very little but seems to tolerate my constant attempts at striking up conversation well enough. She's also a bit older than me, 34 I think, whereas I'm barely 22 and fresh out of Yuuei.

 

“What about the emergency beacons?” I ask again, for surely someone will hear our SOS.

“I already told you that the planet is creating heavy interference!” The Lt. Dian answers a bit shortly.

“Ah ha!” Dr. Franny exclaims with delight, interrupting our staring contest. “The scans have finished!”

 

The display before the table changes, growing in size and taking on a spherical shape as it quickly zooms towards one of Ulthar-Duun's moons, M4.

The moon definitely has life-supporting habitat; there's small clusters of shrubbery and trees and other dwarf-like plant life dotting the coppery red moon's surface, finding niches between sand dunes.

“The deep red color of the dirt and rocks indicates the presence of iron that's been exposed to oxygen.”

Dr. Franny explains with excitement. “I'm willing to a week's worth of dessert that anywhere theres a grove of tree is where water rises to the surface.”

 

The view screen shifts closer, focusing on some oddly symmetrical shapes dotting the desert moon's surface, running along a jagged ridge of solid rock, looking sharp enough to cut the sky open. I soon realized that we were looking at the roofs of several buildings, they were so covered in red sand that it was hard to distinguish them at all.

Who built this place? And where are they now?

“The moon is subject to very high winds; I recommend landing as close to these buildings as possible.” Dr. Franny says with growing excitement.

If M4's surface is continually stripped by gale force winds then that could explain the absence of people.

 

A short distance from the grouping of structures is a massive ravine, so dark and deep that the satellite imagery doesn't reach the bottom. Even I can tell that this was no natural formation; someone drilled, blasted and cleared that ravine, which leads me to the conclusion that this is a mining colony. But, as far as I knew, we haven't been able to establish contact with the moon's dwellers.

 

“The interference is being quite troublesome with our sensors.” Dr. Franny says. “I'm afraid other than these images and the basic readouts of molecules in the air--”

“Does the moon support human life?” Captain Asky asks, brow furrowed in deep rows of impatience.

“According to these readings, yes. The moon even has an earth-like gravity weight. But the strength of the sun's rays is four times higher than that of Mount Everest. I highly recommend covering every inch of your body in 100 proof sunscreen and wearing long sleeves and pants, as well something to cover your head. And wear sun glasses, unless you want to sunburn your retinas and risk permanent injury.”

 

My throat clears in surprise, eyebrow cocked in wonderment. “Thats a thing?”

“Oh yes! It's something that climbers reaching Mount Everest's Summit deal with every second they are up there! Quite painful, I assure you.” The man says with an amused glint in his eyes, making me wonder if he's actually sunburnt his retinas before.

“Why can't we send a probe down instead? This is a science ship, isn't it?” I ask and Dian sneers like he'd just picked up a bad smell.

“The probes were all stored in the aft section of the ship, genius.” Dian says. “The radiation will have destroyed all the delicate instruments and wiring.”

“This is unfortunate.” Lady Arthoria agrees almost absently as she stares at the tiny red orb next to the massive, swirling planet.

 

“The planet is perfectly safe.” Dr Franny explains. “As long as you follow my advice and protect yourselves.”

“Then I say we go down to the surface.” The Captain says while looking directly at Arthoria. She's the real person in charge here, at least the Captain respects her enough to put aside his years of military service and trust her 'civilian' judgment.

She nods, at least the two of them agree on that.

 

A knot of unease twists itself in my gut, swallowing back the sick feeling that I just can't seem to get rid of. I just... have a bad feeling though most of it stems from that haunted radio transmission.

 

“What kind of animal life is documented on this moon?” Kali asks, voice like polished glass. I could honestly listen to her talk all day and never get tired of listening.

“Lets see...” Dr. Franny says, typing something on his keyboard.

 

There wasn't much in the way of animal life but it looks like the biggest thing down there was some sort of red lizard no bigger than my arm. Short, stubby tails and diamond patterns along their backs would make them difficult to spot on the ground but, Dr. Franny assures me, they aren't venomous.

“The plants, now, thats another matter.” The man says, pulling up yet another documentation about the poisonous Ultharis Muscosa.

“Ultharis Muscosa?” I scoff.

“Apparently, anyone who eats the leaves of this plant will drown in their own mucus.”

“Oh.”

Lt. Dian smirks to himself but, thankfully, says nothing.

 

“Kirishima.”

“Yes sir?” The redhead next to him answers.

“We're going to the moon's surface. Bring four men and leave Corporal Iida in charge.”

“Yes sir.”

 

I steal a look at the man, appreciating the handsome face and the head of spiky hair. I wanted to wrap my fingers in that hair, destroy the carefully styled points and feel those lips against mine. I also wanted to get him between my legs but it's just kind of a fantasy of mine; I'm not really sure how he'd react if I told him. I'm sure he knows something is up but for now, we're just good friends. I get along well with him, Hanta and Mineta but the rest of the soldiers seem determined to keep away, unless of course it involved flirting with one of the housekeepers or kitchen staff.

But I definitely wouldn't mind getting a piece of that ass.

 

“Don't pout, Kami, darling. I'm sure it'll be perfectly safe with the intrepid Major Kirishima guiding our little landing party.” Her Ladyship says with a somewhat patronizing pat on my arm.

I squirm uncomfortably in my chair, Lady Arthoria regarding me with the hint of a smile that lifts the corners of her mouth.

“Have you taken your medication today?” She inquires sweetly.

“Medication?” Dian wonders as his head bobs up with newfound interest. “Are you sick or something?”

“Its my anxiety meds.” I answer a tad coldly.

Anxiety?” He says, eyes wide with disbelief and he sits back and looks at Captain Asky who, being the gentleman that he is, says nothing.

 

-----------------------------------------------------------------

 

With nothing else to do but wait for the moon to swing to the far side of it's planet (to be as far away from the sun as possible) everyone convenes in the dining room for a very belated dinner.

 

The room is small but grandiose, vaulted white ceiling and panels of large windows on either side gave us a view to enjoy while stuffing our faces. Large, high quality photographs of earth's cities and beaches hang between each window, reaching floor to ceiling.

 

The table was dark wood, polished to a gleam in spite of the dim, overhead light fixtures suspended by thin, golden chains.

In the middle of the table was a trio of Peace Lilies, white flowers and dark green leaves elegantly curling heavenward.

 

The table could easily seat 30 people but we were only joined by Chiyo, the ship's doctor who conveniently owned a healing quirk, and Dr. Franny's narcoleptic assistant, Isiah Blackstone.

 

Halfway through the meal, Kali's baby began to fuss so she leaves the table, Lady Arthoria compliments Captain Asky on his hand to hand combat and even goes so far as to suggest that I spar with him.

Which is a definite no from me; he'd wipe the floor with me if I can't use my quirk.

Dr. Franny and Dr. Chiyo become immediately engaged in a conversation about scientific pursuit vs. ethical issues while Blackstone nods off at the table.

 

Stomach bulging, I lean back pat it contently, waiting for the dessert trolley as they make their round.

 

The conversation turns, inevitably, to politics. I can drone the senseless garble out, focusing instead on sweeping majesty before us. The atmosphere of Ulthar-Duun burns a fiery red glow as we shift along the shadowed side of the planet. The heavily tinted windows protect us from the worst of the star's brightness and Ulthar-Duun, for the most part, hides the star.

But sometimes a sliver of the star appears around the edges and it's like being back on earth, trying to stare at the sun with a pair of sunglasses.

I shift my attention to the moon, nothing but a tiny dot against the shadowed backdrop of it's planet.

 

I'm not entirely sure just what it is thats bothering me. Sure, the badly received SOS message freaked me out a bit but the ship's computer wasn't able to clearly decipher most of it. I could easily be taking the whole thing out of context, except for that scream. Just thinking about it chills my bones.

 

“Whats the average temp on M4?” I ask Dr. Franny, already digging into the apple tart set before him.

“Ah, theres two averages, actually.” The man begins and hums in delight as he takes a first bite of the cinnamony pastry before him.

“While in the shadow of Ulthar-Duun, the temperature hangs around a low 23 F but in the Sun, it's usually in the 40's or 50's.”

“Thats all?” I was expecting Sahara-like conditions, not a cool autumn afternoon.

 

“Oh, don't let that fool you. Its still a desert.” Dr. Franny assures me. “The air must be terribly arid, there is very little moisture left in the air by the time the sun sets. This is quite the opportunity here.” He mumbles.

 

This man.

Why let being stranded and potentially never being rescued stand in the way of science?

 

I'm not sure what made me look up, perhaps there was a shift in the light glancing off Ulthar-Duun's atmosphere or something but I see something just over the Doctor's shoulder.

As the gas giant slowly turns, a dark object slips into view, so tiny that if it hadn't been for the nanosecond flash I would have never seen it.

 

“What is that?

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

The steel hull was covered in scorch marks, the windows blackened and melted out from being subject to the intense rays of the star. The name of the ship was stamped into the hull, barely legible from blackened metal that still had a hint of red glow.

Valiant Spirit.

And from the look of things, the Valiant Spirit has been here for quite some time.

 

“What the hell happened?” Asky demands of no one in particular, still aghast by the sorry state of the obviously much larger ship.

 

Inevitably, we find ourselves back in the conference room and the appearance of the ship has put everyone in a somber mood. I may have been able to ignore the poorly received SOS message as a simple misunderstanding but this?

No. Something bad happened here and I can't help but feel that we're putting out foot right in it.

 

The Miriam Sun's computer had identified the ship and it's ranking; a heavy freight liner, the kind usually commissioned to haul raw minerals and other bulky materials.

 

“They don't even make this model of ship anymore.” Lt. Dian explains, brows up to his hairline. “The last one was made in 2135. That's...”

“Nearly 150 years ago.” Dr. Franny answers, his expression one of profound wonderment that I usually only ever saw when he was bent over a petri dish and microscope.

 

“Well that explains it then.” The Lieutenant says as though he's figured out the entire thing. “It wouldn't have the fail safes that we have nowadays.”

The Miriam Sun has the advanced software that doesn't allow the ship to pass within dangerous limits of stars or black holes; it's the next best thing in artificial intelligence. I've seen the Lt. get into augments with the ship's computer before, crouched over wall panels and trying to fix a bit of wiring while one of the engineers scowls nearby.

Head Engineer Bakugou likes the Lt. about as much as I do, which means we're instant friends whether Bakugou likes it or not.

 

“Ah, yes!” Dr. Franny exclaims, indicating enlightenment as he almost jumps out of his chair. Instead, he leans back, pointing at his laptop screen. “We're caught in the magnetic south pole of Ulthar-Duun!” “The Valiant Spirit is caught in the magnetic north pole.”

“And this is relevant how?” I ask and even Dian looks questioningly at Dr. Franny.

 

“There is a slight variation in the planet's magnetic field because the poles have recently shifted! This is why we haven't seen the ship before now as well as explain why we have such heavy interference!”

“The poles recently shifted?” I ask, clearly wondering how such a thing could have happened and we not know about it.

“It's very common, actually.” Dr. Franny explains easily. “Ulthar-Duun's poles rotate every 3 or 4 of our Earth Days. The Earth itself has reversing magnetic poles, though that happens every 200,000 to 300,000 years and its not exactly a quick flip either, not like this. Blackstone, get me the electromagnetic reader, will you?”

Blackstone complies readily by leaving the conference room.

 

“Captain.” Dian says, drawing our attention. “Finally got that info on the Spirit.”

Asky turns away from the window, leaving me to stare alone at the remains of the ship while something nibbles at the back of my mind. I can't quite put my finger on it but I do know that something bad happened here. I really don't think we should go down there but since the appearance of the ship, everyone has become more interested in moon, not less.

 

Is it possible that the Valiant's antimatter shielding also failed? Or was there another reason the ship was abandoned? As in, the crew never returning to their ship?

 

I'm not sure which scenario I preferred; they're both terrible choices.

 

“A crew of 41 manned the Valiant.” Asky says. “Headed by a Captain Phiccy. They're listed as MIA about 140 years ago.”

“Thats because they've been here the whole time!” I say, wanting to address the concerns that no one else seems willing to bring up. “And why weren't they rescued?”

“Well, if the SOS never left the star system...” Lt. Dian begins and for once, doesn't finish his snarky remark simply because he realizes that we have bigger issues now.

“Surely a search party would have been launched? Why did nobody come looking for them?”

“Maybe they did. Maybe they never made it back either.” Dr. Franny suggests unhelpfully.

“What else does the computer database say?” I have to wonder, arms folding across my chest.

“Thats it.”

“Thats it? Theres nothing more?” My disbelief is clear.

“This is a pre-loaded software program. All ships carry this, it's installed into their memory banks before they're even out of the docks.” Dian gestures towards the Valiant. “We can report finding this missing ship, at least.”

“There's gonna hell to pay for this one.” Captain Asky grumbles.

 

I wanted to ask him what that meant but Dian turns his attention back on me.

“What are you so scared of, anyway?” He mocks.

“I just... got a bad feeling about this.” I say, bracing myself for more ridicule.

“I'm sure that whatever's down there is long since dead.” Dr. Franny assures me.

“Whatever's down there?! Like, monsters or something? Is that what you mean?”

Even Lt. Dian looks concerned at this point, following my gaze to Dr. Franny.

 

“I am simply stating a fact. I'm sure that once we get down there, we will find a perfectly reasonable explanation.”

“Such as?” I ask.

“I am willing to bet money that the people on that ship, as well as the moon miners, were evacuated safely.” He says, ignoring the last question.

“Then why is the Valiant and her whole crew still missing in action?” I ask, aware of my own raised voice.

Dr. Franny doesn't have an answer and merely shrugs before going back to his computer.

Lady Arthoria lays a gentle hand on my arm, her way of calming me down.

“Kaminari, it's been a very long day. Let's look at this in the morning with fresh eyes.”

Fresh eyes nothing. Something bad happened here, I can feel it.

But she's right. I bid her and Kali good evening and leave the conference room.

 

Green carpeted halls absorb my footfalls as I make my way down the wide, Cabin Hall. Cityscapes cover the walls like a painted mural, only marred by the heavy, black lead lined door at the every end.

The porthole in the door is dark, the heavy pane of glass reflecting my figure as I approach.

I hate that window. I keep imagining that I'll look up one day and see the faces of the engineers, not yet dead but their flesh rotting off their bodies, pounding on the door and begging me to open it.

Not that I could even if I wanted to; the ship has sealed the door and it took Captain Asky and Kirishima, both powerful men, just to turn that big hatch wheel and manually seal it as well.

 

I shake my head, shivering even though the temperature is a balmy 72 degrees.

Turning my back on the black iron door, I press my thumb to the bio reader outside my door, a bright, chirpy sound indicates my recognition and the door whispers open.

 

A sense of calm falls over me like a warm blanket, the painful tension in my shoulders leaves as I finally relax, taking a deep, cleansing breath.

Enveloped in the soft glow of the foyer light, motion sensors activate the main lights and cast a white-brightness over the small room interior. My bed, attached to the wall, is still rumpled and pushed to one side from my mad dash when the ship wide alarm started screeching.

My game controller was on the bed, hurled against the wall in my panic.

A large screen inset in the wall at the foot of the bed currently displays nature scene screen savers, most of them are from Earth.

 

Clothes and aluminum cans litter the floor, most of which are loosely collected around the overflowing trash can near my bed.

As this was a luxury liner converted to science vessel, we each have our own bathroom and shower.

 

Most of my wall drawers are packed with the several thousand sodas I'd brought, hoping that they'd last my the duration of the trip. But nothing rivals my vast collection of movies, music, and games.

 

Honestly, I'd be devastated if I got stranded on that stupid moon without my games and music. The thought terrifies me almost as much as the thought of going down to that mining town.

 

But being stuck with Asky and his small herd of goons was the scariest. I'd almost rather have dry socket again than be stranded with those assholes. Except Kirishima, he's okay. And maybe a couple of the other guys like Mineta and Hanta. They're okay, I guess.

 

Almost subconsciously, I run my tongue over the smooth, glassy surface of the crown that covers the infamous 'dry socket', the metal stud in my tongue sliding against the roof of my mouth as I contemplate which scenario would cause me the most pain.

 

Opening the mini fridge near the glass pane of my half-moon wall-table, I grab a soda and crack it open, picking up the game controller and am about to unpause when theres a musical bleep at the door.

Who the hell could that be?

“Yeah?” I ask, pressing the speaker button on the wall to the side of my bed.

“Can I come in?”

I recognize Kali's smooth voice right away.

 

What on earth? She's never come here before.

 

“S-sure!” I exclaim, quickly pressing the unlock button.

She steps through the door, face blank so I can't get a read of her.

She casts a non-critical eye over the state of my room, eyes settling on the two stools by the table.

“May I sit?” She asks politely.

“Of course! You don't even have to ask!” I splutter, gesturing towards the stools. “Um, just push all that stuff on the floor. I'll clean it up later.”

God, if I had known anyone was coming over I would have at least straightened things up a bit.

 

We stare at each other across the room, my mind whirling as I try to imagine what scenario might've brought her to my room. And just when my mind inevitably wanders towards more unsavory thoughts, she speaks.

 

“You have felt it too, haven't you.” She states.

 

I'm taken aback by this, unsure of how to answer before I glance to the cold soda in my hand, crinkling as I lightly squeeze the aluminum sides.

“Yeah. I think something really bad happened here.”

Kali doesn't speak.

“What do you think about it?”

I ask, suddenly wanting to know as I meet her gaze directly.

“I have my child to think of now.” She says, simply and neat.

“But, have you said something to Lady Arthoria?”

After all, aren't we her body guards? Isn't it our job to make sure our employer doesn't go wandering into certain danger?

 

“I am not sure that what happened here was any accident.”

Kali, aside from being psychokinetic, she's also very perceptive and often surprises me with what comes out of her mouth sometimes.

“What do you mean? Are you talking about the moon? The freighter?”

She doesnt answer, the silence allows me to draw my own conclusions.

“You mean our coming here, don't you. And the radiation shielding failing wasn't an accident, was it.”

Kali smiles ever so slightly, a rare sight indeed. She looks pleased, probably happy that she didn't have to explain every minuet detail.

“We must be on our keenest guard.” She says, standing.

 

I've since gotten used to Kali's way of speaking, especially since she doesn't talk all that much and it often makes me wonder about her true heritage. Her past has been a well kept secret, not even Lady Arthoria knows. I know because I asked her.

 

“Wait!” I say as she makes for the door. She pauses, half turning to face me with her customary blank expression. “Who is it? Who would do this? And why?!”

“The answers are here, Kaminari, you must 'look' without 'looking', 'see' without 'seeing'.”

Waving her palm over the door's sensory pad, I'm left to my own thoughts.

“What the fuck does that even mean? 'See' without 'seeing'?” I flop back onto my bed in frustration, head striking the wall and after uttering a few colorful phrases, go back to my game.

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------

 

The shuttle pod's seating area was an oval shaped design, padded benches ran long the walls and three floor hatches provided access to supply storage. The cockpit, closed off from the rest of the ship, is next to the bathroom/shower thats just outside it's door. All in all, it's a miniature house, complete with TV, gaming console and a sealed-behind-plastic bookshelf. I stare at the binders, stamped in generic print and pf varying colors, most of them are the old classics like Moby Dick, Robinson Crusoe and Tongue-cut Sparrow, which kinda feels like we're inviting bad luck.

I honestly can't imagine surviving in this living space for two months and with 9 other people. Especially this lot of people. Honestly, I think I'd just open the airlock hatch and vent myself into space.

 

I've plugged my headphones into my ears in an attempt to push down the uneasy thoughts that are accompanied by gut knots, twisting and writhing. I catch a shock of red hair as Kirishima boards the shuttle craft; apparently, he got assigned to the same ship I was taking, since Asky insisted on taking two shuttles down to the moon's surface.

My stomach contents nudge upwards as my gut tightens, nervously returning his smile and wave.

 

Behind him trudge three soldiers and looking like they'd come straight out of one of those black ops movies.

The good fortune of Kiri's arrival is countered when I recognize one of the soldiers as Joji. He's even more obnoxious that Lt. Dian and his superiority complex is even worse than Asky's.

The others are Hanta and Mineta.

 

The men seat themselves opposite me, instead choosing to sit with Dr. Franny, who is messing around with a back pack strapped to Blackstone's shoulders, making little beeping sounds.

I try to hide my dismay as Kirishima approaches, realizing that he's going to take the empty space next to me.

Play it cool and for the love of god, act natural!

“Hiya.” He greets with blazing smile that rivals the nearby star.

“Hi.” I answer with a smile, ignoring the stares of his men.

I open my mouth to say something else and... draw a blank. Every sensible thought has fled my mind and leaves my skull devoid of a single, intelligent thought.

Kiri saves me from embarrassing myself by reaching for one of my wireless earbuds, brushing my ear with a knuckle.

“What'cha listening to?”

“Oh, a buncha stuff.”

“Hm. I didn't think you were a jazz fan.”

“It calms me down.” I explain with small smile. Kiri probably listens to screaming metal or something like that, it seems to be a running theme with these military types.

 

I glance back towards the window, eyeing the tiny red orb in the corner of the smudged, dirty glass.

“You really don't wanna go down there, do you?” Kiri says after a minute.

“Its just...” How am I going to explain this without sounding like a paranoid idiot? I don't care what the others think I have to say or even if they do think I'm a paranoid schizo. It's different with Kiri, I actually care what he thinks about me.

 

“What were you going to say?” Kiri asks.

“Its nothing.” I say, studying the dragon's tattooed claws that wrap around his throat and the detailed arm down the side of his neck. It looks traditional, suiting Kiri very well.

I look away, trying hard to ignore the heat creeping up my own neck. “I'm just being a chicken shit.”

“I don't think that at all.” Kiri says, which surprises me.

“Thanks.”

 

Kali breezes into the room wearing embroidered leather cuffs, carrying her staff of Ironwood with the utmost confidence. A small collection of knives have been buckled to her waist and thighs, preferring more subtle instruments of pain and death than the group of soldiers and their big guns.

 

“Where is your weapon?” She asks me, the door closing behind her and sealing.

“Right here.” I grin, lifting both hands and forming fists.

Don't be a fool her look seems to warn me.

“Its right here.” I say, half twisting in my seat to show her the hilt, jutting from my half zipped back pack. She nods once, approving before taking the place next to Arthoria.

“Apologies; Adisa was being very fussy so it took me longer than expected, milady.” Kali explains as she sits next to her Ladyship.

“Dr. Chiyo works wonders with fussy patients.” Arthoria says with a slight smile.

It was clear to me that Kali was much more on edge than usual and I'm sure it had to do with leaving her child behind.

 

The shuttle detaches, drifting away from the Miriam Sun as the ship thrusters work to straighten the craft.

I stare at the ghostly hulk of the Valiant Spirit as we descend towards the moon, Asky warning us to put on our seat harnesses.

 

I know the moment we hit the atmosphere, everyone does; the ship lurches suddenly and our collective butt holes pucker. The small craft bucks up and down, my teeth gnash together and I'm lucky to not gotten my tongue caught between them. Had we not taken Asky's warning to heart, we'd have been bouncing around like rubber balls.

 

“I detected high wind speeds but this is ridiculous!” Dr Franny says while trying to hold his computer under one arm and keeping his glasses on his face with the other hand.

One of the floor hatches pops open, sending out dozens of shiny wrapped missiles. One of them clocks Blackstone in the face and the poor man yelps, clutching his savaged noggin.

 

My stomach churns and my old enemy, motion sickness, returns. I was distracted by my effort not to yark all over the shuttle when something slips past my shoulders in a glimpse of metal.

“Look out!” I shout as the somersaulting blade hurtles towards the soldiers.

Hanta ducks his head to the side, hearing my warning in time. The sword's tip buries itself in the wall a mere inch from the man's head and I'm amazed he was able to see it and duck it with all the other objects bouncing around.

I swallow, feeling the blood returning to my face as Hanta yanks the sword out of the wall with a nasty glare my way.

That was close.

 

“Prepare for landing!” Asky's voice blares over the loud speakers, voice jarred and broken.

Oh thank god!

The shuttle's engines strain against the heavy winds, their whine vibrating through the walls in a high pitch as Asky struggles to maintain control.

A sense of equilibrium returns and the engines die down in a sigh of relief.

The floor is littered with the broken and loose ration packages and Blackstone is sporting a large goose egg on the side of his head.

 

Kiri is giving me a strangely nonchalant smile, remaining seated while everyone else was undoing their harness traps and getting up.

“You can let go now.”

I look down and realize that my hand, for some strange reason known only unto itself, had latched onto his knee with a death grip.

The door begins opening and a blast of wind and sand rushes inside, rescuing me from the potentially most embarrassing moment of my life.

 

Hanta steps towards me with sword held out, the cold glare in his eye was all the warning I needed to know that he wasn't pleased that his head had nearly been cut off.

With all the jerking and bouncing, the oiled blade had come free of it's scabbard but he didn't stick around long enough to hear my apologetic explanation.

 

I slip a balaclava over my head, snugging the dark, firm material over my face and settling dark sunglasses over my eyes. Arthoria had the foresight of bringing goggles, as did Kiri, to keep out the blasting wind and sand. He wraps a turban around his head and neck, slipping black gloves over his hands before wrapping one hand over the handle of his AK, leading the charge.

 

We brace against the elements, thankful that the first building was only 50 feet away. The shuttle door closes with a whining hum with the Captain following close behind.

 

Once inside the building and the door shut, the howls and screams of the wind fade to tolerable levels.

Fumbling for my flashlight, I flick the light on and shine it around, Asky walks past and joins the sound of foot scrapes and voices ahead.

I'm standing in a small room, theres a simple metal desk tucked into the little alcove with a single, brass stemmed desk lamp on the upper left corner.

It's empty of anything else but a heavy layer of red dust.

 

Footprints are clearly imprinted on the floor, giving me a clear trail to follow down the narrow corridor, massive cobwebs strung from wall to wall are broken and blown aside by our passage.

 

Several narrow doors line the wall, a quick glance inside one of the rooms reveals they are nothing more than cramped living quarters.

Everything had been left intact, even the blankets on the beds were rumpled from where someone had tossed them aside all those years ago, remarkably preserved in the arid, desert environment.

 

A scratchy dryness in my throat gets my attention, pulling the balaclava down I take a swig from my water canteen and I see something on the floor, just under the metal bed frame.

 

I reach down for it when something darts out of the shadows, brushing my hand.

“Augh!”

I reel back, heel catching on something and tumbling backwards into someone that had followed me into the room.

“Its just a lizard, man!” Asky chides, non-too-gently shoving me off.

I glare at him as I straighten my clothes and the shred of dignity I have left but he coolly stares me down before simply backing out and leaving.

 

Asshole.

 

I turn my attention to the item on the floor, picking up the book and turning it over to read the still legible title.

 

The Martian.

 

While I've never read the book, I knew the story a little bit from the movie.

I flip through the pages, so old that the edges flaked off. Then a slip of yellowed paper flutters loose from between the pages, kiting across the floor.

 

I stare at it, noting the curious scrawl in red ink. It's in a strange language and I'm afraid that the paper might turn to dust if I try picking it up. I snap a photo of it with my phone instead, hoping that maybe Dr. Franny knew the language and how to read it or something; he could speak, read and write a few languages.

I try picking up the paper and find it fragile so I tuck it back inside the book and put it in my backpack for safekeeping.

 

I'm being left behind so I jog to catch up to the others who have reached the end of the hall, which is nothing more than a wall of red stone thats freezing cold to the touch. A 10 foot tall door towers over me, black metal with quarter sized rivets dot it's surface, effectively blocking further exploration. A trio of metal planks bar this side of the door, held in brackets bolted into the rock on either side.

 

The door is strange, though since this was a mining operation was it supposed to keep blasting repercussions out? I get closer and realize why the door looked so strange; it's bent outwards.

The door is bugling in four different places like it had been hit several times from the other side.

My heart beats painfully hard as a dreadful sense of foreboding settles over me, my anxiety returning full force.

What the hell.

The steel is freezing cold to the touch, brushing aside a layer of frost my flashlight reveals signs of metal fatigue where the steel was stretched and warped.

We really shouldn't open this door.

 

“We should search the other buildings.” Joji says to Asky, who stands with arms crossed and scowling at the door.

Maybe he's come to the same conclusion that I have. But I was almost certain that he wasn't going to let that stop them.

“Those are probably maintenance shacks.” Dr. Franny argues, tapping the electronic device strapped to Blackstone's back. “There is a large cavern on the other side of this door. I'm picking up some other metallic structures as well. I am sure that this is where main base of their operations are held!”

 

“Uh, guys, I really don't think we should go in there.” I say but none is really paying attention.

“Oh don't be ridiculous.” Lady Arthoria says, sounding very much like Bakugou. Not for the first time I wonder if they are related.

“There!” Arthoria exclaims with victory, tapping at something on the machine's screen of the strange device Blackstone carried. Dr. Franny raises his eyebrows in surprise.

“Well I'll be a monkeys uncle!”

“What?” Asky demands, glaring at the pair of them with patience wearing thin.

“There's a ship down there!” Dr. Franny exclaims.

“A ship?” Kiri says with interest and leans over Dr. Franny to peer at the screen.

All I see are squiggly lines and a square grid.

“What kind of ship?” Asky inquires, eyes narrowed suspiciously. The dim, blue glow of the screen bathes his features, emphasizing every line until he looks like he's a thousand years old.

“It's smaller than the Miriam but it's certainly capable of interstellar travel.” Arthoria explains, looking back to the steel door.

 

“It's a sonar X-ray machine.” Kiri explains upon seeing my confusion.

“Don't tell that you actually understand this gibberish?”

“Gibberish?” Dr. Franny is maybe the slightest bit offended.

“Here's the shape of the ship.” He tries pointing out, finger tracing one of the bouncing, shifting lines. “And this one represents the cavern levels, theres two levels, three counting where we are.”

“So basically, youre telling me that theres a perfectly good spaceship underneath us?” I say. Theres no way our luck is that good. No way.

“Thats what it looks like.” Lady Arthoria says back.

“Then why was it left? Why didnt anyone take it when they left?”

“Maybe they didn't need it? Perhaps there is something wrong with it and they couldn't use it.” She answers without concern.

“Are you serious? Isn't that just a little bit concerning to you?”

As far as I'm concerned, the only reason we should even be going through the door is to get the space craft and get the hell out.

“Well lets find out, shall we?” Dr. Franny says as he places his hand beneath one of the heavy bars and attempts to lift. If it werent for his face darkening and the strained look on his face I wouldn't have known he was actually trying.

 

Kiri looks at Asky, who nods towards the door and with a tap on Hanta's shoulder, both Kiri and Hanta take over the difficult task of moving the three heavy bars.

My hopes that the bars were too heavy or rusted in place are dashed as they almost effortlessly slide the planks free, metal echoing into the cavern behind the door as they are scraped out of their brackets.

“Excuse me but are we just going to ignore the dents in the door here?!” I point out in a last ditch effort. “This thing was obviously shut for a reason! And until we know what that reason is, I dont think we should open it!”

“Good god, man! For once in your life, be a man!” Asky scolds, his brows deeply furrowed in disgust at my apparent lack of manliness.

You may be used to running headlong into disaster but I'm not!” I growl back.

The last plank is moved, the metal latch on the door is lifted and the door is swung open, hinges screaming and forcing me to clap my palms over my ears in an attempt to save my hearing.

Asky remains stoic but he's supposedly too manly to show any form of pain.

 

A rush of cold, stale air has me taking a step back, the stirring, deep echoes from deep inside the darkness makes the hair on the back of my neck stand.

A chill runs down my spine and I'm not entirely sure it had to do with the cold.

It was cold but not so much that the slime covering the rocks couldnt grow. The cavern was slicked with the sticky stuff, Dr. Franny taking a few readings from a strange electronic device he keeps in his pockets before taking some samples, dropping the little tubes into plastic zip lock bags.

I guess for all of our advancements, we haven't moved past plastic bags.

 

My flashlight's beam dances up the walls, the ceiling overhead is filled with dangerous looking stalactites that are dripping with the grey slime and thinking they could fall at any time, impaling any one of us.

I glance wistfully back at the door, noting how it, too, was covered in the grey slime.

 

The tunnel ahead narrows, the ceiling sloping lower and lower until, reaching a bend in the corridor, the floor drops sharply and temperature drastically follows.

Teeth chattering, the sandy floor crunches underfoot, following the prints that have broken the 150 year old layer of frost.

The walls sparkle and glisten like new fallen snow, strangely transfixing the way the light is amplified from beams of flashlights, sparkling and shimmering with the rainbow of colors. Further ahead, I hear the telltale sound of light chipping and know that Dr. Franny is hard at work collecting samples.

Blackstone stands nearby, dutifully holding the flashlight.

 

Ahead, the tunnel splits into a fork. The fork on the right ends with another metal door. This one is thin, nothing like the one at the entrance to the cave. Theres even an eye level slow. However, this door door has nearly bent in half inwards, like someone rammed it from this side.

 

Arthoria and Kali are already inside, lights illuminating the rows of cages bolted to the back stone wall.

The doors of the cages were either missing or twisted, hanging on by a single hinge. The frosty gleam of ice on the steel is oddly picturesque.

 

A single metal table stands in the middle of the room, also covered in a layer of frost yet littered with research equipment; glass retorts and rubber hoses lay on their sides. Some of the glass vials were had been left upright in their stands, their contents frozen.

On the other side of the table was what looked like a dentists chair, only this one had leather straps and buckles and discolored patches stained it's surface.

 

The icy environment has preserved the area well. Stepping forward, some cracks underfoot, staring at a strange, discolored white tube thats been smashed to several pieces.

There are more of these 'white tubes' scattered across the floor. And then I figure out they arent white tubes at all but bones. Hundreds of them.

 

Kali picks one up, examining it closely.

“Teeth marks.” She says, gently turning it over to me. “Animal.”

Unsure whether she means the teeth marks or the bones but they're small enough that they can't possibly be human.

Thank god we haven't found the remains of the miners.

“I'm going to take some of these back so Chiyo can examine them.” I said, crouching down and gathering up a few more of the picked clean bones.

 

Dr. Franny claims the intact glass vials and their frozen contents, dropping them into more plastic zip lock bags and stuffing them into his coat pockets. His electronic reader had been unable to identify any of the contents, except one, apparently.

“Phosphate?” He mumbles aloud to himself, the look on his face is one of extreme puzzlement.

Arthoria's face is set with a grim determination and she leaves the doorway, following the soldiers as they explore the other forking tunnel.

 

I can see the machinery marks where they'd worked to widen the tunnel, at least 3 of us could walk abreast.

This tunnel ends in a dead end, much to my relief, because of another door. This door is unremarkable in that it has no handle, no buttons, not even a sensory pad. No one is sure how it opens. Maybe it only opens on the other side?

“Whelp, guess thats it.” I say, turning on my heel and heading back down the hall.

 

A strong hand grabs me by the collar and pulls me back.

“Power it up.” Arthoria orders in a gritty, no nonsense tone as she steels me with a warning look.

I've seen this expression on her before, usually when she's dealing with a very unsavory person or an unpleasant topic of conversation.

“Get that door open.”

Theres something in the way she says it, like she's dreading me opening that door but she's determined to go through it.

Something is off here, something with her. I can't quite put my finger on it. I resign myself and placing one palm flat against the cold metal surface, apply my Quirk. Tongues of electricity lick and snake down my arm, snapping and popping.

The door hums with energy and the sound of something unlocking echoes long and loud. I take my hand away as the door slides vertically open and I see nothing but-- something lunges at me from the darkness beyond, clawed fingers reaching for my throat as I fall backwards with an ear piercing scream.

 

A great spark of electricity blasts from my palms and the creature explodes.

Something hard whacks me in the forehead and stars dance before my eyes before I hit the sand with a spine jarring thud.

Someone yells, footfalls pound the sand as someone beats a hasty retreat.

Pieces had flown everywhere, smoking and burning bits pelted the walls ground all.

 

I'm still holding a large chunk of something as remnant flickers of electricity dance over whats left of... whatever it was.

The foul odor of burnt hair assails my nose, panic and disgust surge through me and I toss it, kicking away the chunk as I scramble to my feet.

“Oh fuck! Oh Jesus! Oh god!”

 

My heel catches on something again and I lose my footing, stumbling backwards except this time theres no Asky there to catch me.

I land on my butt and elbows, nearly knocking the air out of my lungs I lift my leg and stare at the object to which I'd tripped over.

 

It's a human skull.

 

The dark eye sockets stare at me, some missing teeth are scattered over the sand and theres even a patch of dark hair still stuck to the top of the head.

 

The fact that it was a corpse and not a monster that had lunged out of the darkness didn't make me feel any better.

 

In fact, this was worse.

 

“That was...” Arthoria says somewhere behind me, the soft swish of her steps in the sand.

“Manly.” Kiri supplies directly behind me as hands slide under my arms, helping me back to my feet.

 

“Not fucking funny, guys! Thats a fucking dead person!” Mineta says, voicing my thoughts exactly.

“I guess we know what happened to the crew.” A much calmer voice belonging to Asky follows.

I'm a little dizzy and Kiri has the decency to hold me steady until my vision clears.

 

“That was singlehandedly the most terrifying thing I've ever experienced in my entire life. And thanks for the fucking help, by the way; sure glad you guys got my back!”

“What did you want us to do? Shoot it?” Joji grumbles. “Do you have any idea what it would do to us if we fired a gun in this narrow hallway?”

“We were right here the whole time.” Asky affirms.

“Blackstone took off like a scared rabbit.” Mineta explains, thumbing over his shoulder and chuckling. “Never seen someone move so fast!”

 

The aftermath of my quirk was visible on the stone walls and melted sand, fine veins spider webbed out from the epicenter where I'd stood.

“Did I shock anyone?”

I may be pissed and still trying to get my heart rate to slow back down but I hope no one got caught in the cross fire.

“I was right behind you but my quirk saved me from being electrocuted. That shit smarts though.”

“Youre quirk?”

I knew that Kirishima's quirk was Hardening but I didn't know it could protect him from energy type quirks.

Theres several places on his shirt sleeves that have been burned through and one of the spikes of his hair is smoldering.

I lick my thumb and forefinger and put it out with a little sszzt.

 

Kali kneels near remains, gently touching the torn fabric still clinging to the corpse's torso.

“Dr. Adrian Knowles.” She whispers, reading the shredded name label sewn to the front breast pocket that had somehow escaped the ferocity of my quirk.

“Well fuck Dr. Adrian Knowles!” I say, perhaps a bit vehemently.

“Calm down, Kaminari. If you were in any real danger--” Asky begins.

“If I was in any real danger I'd be dead!” I cut him off sharply.

“Your quirk would have surely fended off the creature.” He answers with impatience. I can't exactly argue with him there.

“Well, you're a BONEified monster hunter in my book!” Mineta says with a slap on the back.

 

I wanted to congratulate him on his 'punnery' but as it was, the already powerless door remains open. The dark void behind seems to welcome us into it's eternal darkness, a darkness that our flashlights can't find the bottom off.

 

Only a few yards through the doorway and we come to a ridge with some old, decrepit railing the only thing between us and certain death.

If one of us took a slight misstep, they'd plunge into the bottomless pit below.

There is, however, a faint glint of icy reflection below, or was that the reflection of metal I saw down there?

 

The path cut into the stone is about two feet wide only, cutting down straight at an steep angle. There is no railing in place to keep anyone from toppling over the side and I'm glad I can't see the bottom.

 

As we descend into the cavern, it gets bitterly cold. No longer can I feel my toes or fingers, my face growing numb and I can feel the ice forming over the balaclava where my breath freezes.

It's obvious that we're in a fairly large cave, as the echoes of well meant cusses and clanking of belts amplify considerably.

 

After what feels like forever, Kiri's light finally levels off. We're still drowning in the utter pitch darkness but it's clear that we've reached the ground floor.

The air is still frigid, frost coating the stones makes me wary of slipping. This would not be an ideal time to break something.

 

Light catches the glimmer of metal a couple hundred yards away, as we approach the structure looms before us.

To my immediate relief, someone's light plays over the metal flank of a space craft, jagged, red lettering runs along the side at waist level. It's a single Japanese word.

 

AKUMA.

 

Hand prints also paint the ship's flank.

Dr. Franny's electronic device bleeps and the man slowly straightens.

“Human blood.” He reads aloud though I think everyone here already knew that.

Theres no sign or whomever left the message here. My skin crawls as I look over my shoulder, flashlight piercing the darkness. Theres nothing but empty stone floor, smoothed by machines years ago.

The wall of the cave is distant, my light so faint that I can't see very well but my mind plays tricks with the shadows there and I really wish that I'd never come here.

 

“The hull looks intact.” Asky mulls as he runs a gloved hand over the surface of the ship.

The Miriam Sun is three times the size of this one but it sure beats being stuck in one of those shuttle crafts.

“Kaminari.” Lady Arthoria calls, her voice carried to the walls. She is standing near the ship's wing with several others.

 

She is standing beside a flight of stairs resting against the side of the ship. Above is a single, blinking red light.

This proves two things; firstly, that we found the door and secondly, there is still power.

 

This might not be so hopeless after all.

 

The clamor as I go up the steps is loud, wincing while willing the echoes of the metal to die down. I stare at the door, trying to find someway to open it.

“Well?” Arthoria inquires at the foot of the stairs.

“I should be able to hack it, I just don't know how long it'll take.” I say, rapping the door twice with my knuckles.

“Then get to it.” Asky orders. I stick my tongue at him; in the darkness, he'll never know.

 

Sticking the magnetic flashlight to the side of the ship wall and sliding my back pack off my shoulders, I dig out a small, electronic device with several cords running from it, a small screen that fits in the palm of my hand.

 

“Major, you and Mineta take the front of the ship and Joji, myself and Hanta will take the back.”

I watch their lights bobbing off into the darkness, the men fanning out as they make a perimeter search of the cavern.

 

My attention back on the screen, a pale blue screen glowing like a friendly fairy. Locating the outer maintenance panel, I angle the flashlight to shine where I need it before prying it open. Inside are multi colored wires and a couple fuses. Everything looks intact, which means the door has been locked from the inside.

I hang the device around my neck, glancing down to find the inquisitive expression of Lady Arthoria.

“This could take a while.” I warn her, to which she nods and turns to Kali, mumbling something that I couldn't quite make out.

 

Being in the employ of her Ladyship, I've hacked more doors and computers than I'd care to admit. I suspect that the real reason she hired me was for my coding skills. Out of the myriad of applicants she interviewed, she picked me.

I'd been a 23 year old with little to no experience and her Ladyship made it plain that she didn't like my 'mouthiness', her words not mine.

But I can't say that I've been bored. I quite liked working for Lady Arthoria and the fact that she will to bend the rules to get what she wants...

 

The random jumble of thoughts knocking together in my head sometimes make a bulls eye and the puzzle pieces sometimes just fit.

 

Is that whats going on here? Did she know about this place? Is this what Kali meant?

My mind is a while of thoughts. If we meant to come here then what is she after? What is she looking for?

 

Clipping one of the wires and stripping the the plastic casing off, attaching connectors from my hacking computer the screen blooms with green base code.

“How is it going?” Arthoria asks again. I can detect the urgency in her voice, she wants me to hurry.

“Its an older code but I should have it soon.”

She nods once and walks away, Kali in tow and I'm left to my work.

 

--------------------------------------------------------

 

My neck aches from being craned over the digital screen for too long, I can barely move my stiff and frozen fingers at this point, stopping frequently to blow hot breath into them.

It's quiet. Like, damned quiet. I can't even hear anyone, not voices, not the scrape of a foot, nothing. Its almost like I'm the only one here.

The thought makes me panic and I've got half a mind to stumble down this ladder and go look for them. What if they'd left me here? What if they'd found something else like another ship or--

 

“Hows it going?”

I start and almost tumble over the side of the staircase, gripping the metal with hands that barely work and will my heart beat to return to normal.

“Whoa! Sorry, I thought you knew I was here.” Kiri quickly says as he gets to his feet.

“Don't sneak up on me like that!” I hiss.

He'd been sitting in the darkness under the wing, rifle on the ground beside him.

I'd been too absorbed in sorting out the code to notice that he'd even walked up.

 

“God it's cold!” I grumble as I blow into my hands once again. “I can barely get my fingers moving anymore.”

“Well you have been up there for an hour.”

An hour? Has it really been that long?

 

Kiri stands at the foot of the stairs before climbing up, slinging his rifle over his shoulder.

The stair platform is tiny, I'm hyper aware of his proximity but when he pulls of his gloves and reaches out, I'm too surprised to react.

My cold fingers are pressed into his surprisingly warm hands and he even goes so far as to lift them to his face, breathing warm air over my frozen digits.

Whats-whats happening? Whats going on?

“I, uh, what are you doing, exactly?”

“Helping.” He says, the vague outline of his smile visible in the pale glow of my screen.

 

This felt horribly intimate, like, what do I do? But on the one hand, this wasn't such a bad thing. I was just surprised, thats all.

 

“I, er, uh, probably better finish this before Lady Arthoria gets back.”

“Yes.” Kiri agrees but he shows no indication of letting go.

He kisses my fingers, the warm softness sending a heat rushing through that leaves me bright red from my toes to the tip of my numb nose.

I'm suddenly glad for the darkness, no doubt my face is red as a tomato.

“I kinda need m-my hands.”

God, here comes the stutters.

“Ya know, youre pretty cute when you get all flustered.”

“Wha-what? Flustered? I'm not—I'm not flustered!”

His chuckle is so quiet that I barely hear his laughing, leaning a little bit closer and I'm sure that he can hear the pounding in my chest.

“It's still cute.”

My head clunks against the cold steel of the ship's door, too surprised.

Is he gonna... are we... how long ago did I brush my teeth? He is, he really is!

 

But Kiri stops, just shy of our lips actually touching. I can feel his warmth breath on my face, his eyes taunting me.

“Can I... can I try something?” He whispers.

I swallow.

“Yes?” I breath. He so close, his body heat seeps through my clothes and I can't say that it's unwelcome.

“Can I kiss you?”

“K-kiss me?”

“You want to... kiss me...?” I whisper and closing my eyes, yank the balaclava down and close the distance.

 

I've only ever thought about feeling those lips on mine, tasting him with wine or however the song goes. I pressed against him, the feel of lips curling into a smile as I deepen the kiss.

Wet, smacking sounds intersect the harsh breaths taken through our noses, an incredible thrill runs up my back.

God, this is even better than I imagined!

Heat flares through my chest, sizzling over my skin and tingling in the frozen tips of my fingers and toes.

 

His tongue feels along my lips and I open my mouth, humming with surprise when his tongue feels along the metal stud. I want to reach for his hair, plunge my fingers into that red thickness but he's still holding my hands. He flicks the tip of his tongue at the metal stud playfully, suggestively and I go weak at the knees.

I surge forward, humming my delight. I want to get closer, I want...

 

And then he pulls back, I open my eyes and stare at him in confusion but he's grinning with lips still parted as he catches his breath.

“Are your hands warm enough yet?” Kiri asks.

“What?” I say, unsure that I fully understood.

Raising a hand he runs his thumb across my bottom lip.

“As much as I'd like to continue, we should get that door open.”

“Oh. Uh, yeah. Um, thanks.”

“Don't mention it.” He says, grinning even wider and lets go, stepping down one step to give me space.

 

Back on the ground and beneath the wing like before, I have time to think as I go back to cracking the surprisingly complicated code.

What was that just now? Were we kissing kissing or were we just kissing?

He's a really good kisser though. Wow. I wonder what else he can do with that tongue.

The very thought sends a spike of heat straight to my groin.

My lips tingle with the recent memory, smiling to myself as the familiar crick in my neck returns, hunched over the device.

 

Sand then something clicks. The light beside the door turns green and the door unlocks with a clink of disengaging metal.

Eureka!

“What was that?” Kiri asks, back at the foot of the stair.

“I think I got it.” I say, even surprised myself. The door is only unlocked, its pretty heavy as I find out when I put my shoulder to it and get it to budge a few inches.

“Here, let me.” He says and I trade places with him on the stairs.

Putting his own shoulder to the door, grunting he pushes the door open.

“I should give you my man card.” I say, perhaps just a little bit envious of his strength.

“What for? Hey, theres another door.”

“Goddamn.”

 

Kiri has stepped into a small foyer like area, walls slate grey and a single, overhead light flickers to life.

This door is also heavily armored but theres a keypad.

“Well?” Kiri asks as I pry the lid off with a flat head screwdriver.

“Child's play.” I say and within less than a minute, I get the door open.

 

Snatching a black marker from one of the side pouches in my back pack, I scrawl the pass code on one of the panels before following Kiri inside.

 

The interior lighting of the ship comes to life walking into a lounge room area with two red velvet couches and a scattering of matching arm chairs, long dead palms intersecting each piece of furniture. The once richly plush white carpets are now moldy, stained with god knows what in patches near the walls.

Even here, frost covers nearly every surface.

To my right is a door clearly marked CONFERENCE while ahead of me is a spiral staircase leading up to a sealed off loft. To my left is a wall bearing a single, slate grey door thats open; I glimpse the corner of a room with a large TV bolted to the wall.

I follow Kiri into the room, speaking into a wire headset thats clipped against one side of his head and letting his teammates know that I got the doors open.

 

Inside the room is a table with an unfinished game of cards and a treadmill, next to it is a lifting station. One of the walls has 6 small doors, the 6th door is marked ENGINEERING in bold, red lettering.

This door is locked and all it takes is one glance at me to already know what he wants. Sighing, I feel along the wall looking for the panel, prying it open and connecting my hacking device to the appropriate wires.

“Wait a second.” Kiri says, grabbing my shoulder. “Maybe we should wait until Dr. Franny and Blackstone get herewith their device. We don't want to accidentally irradiate ourselves or something.”

I pause, staring at the green code blinking across my screen.

“Good point.”

 

I disconnect the hacker, leaving the room for later and follow Kiri back into the lounge room, pausing before the door marked CONFERENCE.

I prepare to resign myself to hacking this door when it opens. Inside is a small room a cream colored table top with 8 metal office chairs bolted to the floor around it. The head of the table has a tablet resting on the table, a quick swipe reveals that it's charged but also locked.

Odd to think that the last time someone touched this was over 100 years ago.

I sit in the chair and give it an experimental spin, leaning back to see how far back the chair would go. It was surprisingly comfortable.

 

The door cockpit door opens when Kiri tries, which was even more surprising that it was unlocked.

The ship senses our presence, lights flick on and the panels of buttons and switches brighten with blue lights beneath their dashboards.

“Nice. I'm glad to have to not---”

Kiri suddenly snaps his back straight, eyes wide as though he's just been possessed by something.
“Whats the matter?”

“Gunfire!” He hisses, dashing out of the room and unslinging his rifle as he makes for the main door.

“Gunfire?” I echo, too astonished to realize what this actually means.

“Joji! Hanta! Whats going on?!” Kiri hisses into his headset, standing outside on the ladder's landing.

I stand next to him but I can neither hear nor see anything in the distance. No lights, no gunfire, nothing.

 

I open my mouth to ask whats going one when I hear something. The sound of someone running hard reaches me, it sounds like several someones.

“Get back inside!” Kiri orders and I wasn't going to argue.

“Get ready to close the door on my mark!”

“Close the door?!”

There wasnt a button panel on either side of the door, which means I have to do it from the cockpit.

 

I run like the devil himself is after me, landing in the head pilot's chair and spinning around. The words 'rapidly studied' seemed appropriate here, for thats exactly what I was doing.

“Wheres the door, wheres the door, wheres the door?!”

As if chanting it to myself was going to make it pop out of nowhere. The buttons have these strange symbols next to them, oddly familiar so I wonder where I've seen them before.

I find the camera tabs, the air conditioning tab, the interior lighting controller, hell theres even a switch here for the window shades!

 

And then I see it, a pair of switches on the wall to my left and clearly marked outer main door and inner main door. I breath a sigh of relief and reach for it but then catch myself; I haven't heard Kiri's mark yet.

 

The sound of nearby gunfire has me jumping in my seat, staring wide eyed at the cockpit door as though some unspeakable terror might come crashing through at any given moment.

“Come on!”

“Hurry! Close the door!” Arthoria cries out.

“Not yet! Wheres the others?!”

“I dont know! Close the door!”

“Kami!” Kiri shouts and I slap the two switches with the flick of my hand.

 

I leap out of the chair and run back into the lounge to see Kiri, facing the door with his rifle held at the ready while behind him is Arthoria, Asky, Joji and Blackstone.

Faces slicked in sweat, panting to catch their breaths I open my mouth to demand that someone tell me what the hell was going on when

 

BANG!

 

Something heavy just slammed into the outer main door hard enough that the vibrations were felt through the floor.

 

BAM!

 

“What the fuck is going on!?” I said even as my throat constricts and I find it hard to speak above a whisper.

“What if it gets through the door?!” Blackstone panics.

“It wont!” Kiri answers quickly enough.

“But how do--”

“It won't!” He cuts him off, never taking his eyes off the door.

 

Wait, the cameras!

 

I dash back into the cockpit, landing in the chair from before and flicking the buttons.

A screen appears before me set into the cockpit wind screen, much like the transparent one from Dr. Franny's computer.

Activate main door camera I type into the keyboard, the words appearing on the bottom of the screen.

Camera access requires Level 3 permissions; continue?

Yes.

 

Another screen appears to my right. Its mostly just darkness and I smack myself in my already sore forehead.

Its dark out there, of course I can't... my flashlight!

I'd forgotten it was there, still magnetically stuck to the side of the ship though it wasn't exactly providing much in the way of light.

Something passes near the light and I get a glimpse of a shocking white limb, twisted and bent in odd angles from what I could see.

 

Record main camera feed I type into the screen and a blinking red dot appears in the upper right corner of the screen.

Activate sound for main door camera and the most god awful screeching sound fills the cabin. It's a cross between a wail and a what I can only describe as a baby's cry.

And then it stops and suddenly, as if it knows I'm watching it, the thing turns and looks directly at the camera, the flashlight providing just enough of a scattered glow for me to make out it's basic, blobby shape.

The awful sound stops and it shifts. I can make out... what is that? Is that a head? But I thought that was the head...oh god, theres a hand sticking out of it's... neck?

 

In any other sitting it would have been hilarious. But not now. Right now, I was the most terrifying thing I've ever seen. The creature appears to have multiple limbs and of varying lengths and thickness. It struck a primal chord inside me, as though sensing the very unnaturalness of it caused my body to be seized by a paralyzing fear.

Something moves from it's body, reaching for the light.

Disjointed fingers wrap around it, pulling it from the ship's metal.

The flashlight glances off the things body and I wish I had never seen it.

 

The body is pasty white, blobs of fat hang off in every which way and of the several arms that stick out of it, only 3 of them reach the floor. Only three limbs support the weight of this, this thing and one of them is an arm. A single heavy breast and two penises hang from the front of it's body, as if whoever had put this thing together had been aiming for the basic human shape but fell drastically short.

 

The flashlight it turned and illuminates a face I wouldn't see even in my worst nightmare.

Eyes, noses and mouths stare at me, several of the mouths gap like landed fish while others hang slack, greenish yellow drool leaking down the sides. Some of the eyes are horribly infected, one of them stays closed and the noses each have yellow substances running from the nostrils.

 

Rgghlll...” it says, each mouth sounding in a different pitch, wheezing terribly. “Uuhhnnngg! Opppp... oooppeeeennn...”

 

Holy fuck, it's actually talking?! And how the hell... it doesn't know I'm here, does it? No, its irrational to think otherwise but it's looks like it's looking right at me!

 

Ooooppeeeeennn!” It says again, having gained more control over the word it now becomes more persistent.

Ooopeeeeenn!!” It screams angrily and hurls the flashlight, shattering it into a million pieces.

 

 

It's eeriest thing I've ever seen and heard, freezing the marrow in my bones. I can't help but stare at the screen, unable to move, unable to take my eyes away.

 

The sound of something running, like wet bare feet slapping against the stone floor fades away as it retreats, going back to wherever it had come from.

“Its gone.” Kiri says gently, resting a hand on my shoulder.

“What...what is that thing?!”

I leap out of the chair, Arthoria is collapsed in one of the couches, Asky remains standing and Blackstone is huddled by one of the couches, knees pressed against his chest with arms wrapped tightly around them.

“What the fuck was that thing out there?!” I demand, pointing at the door while staring down both Asky and Arthoria.

 

“Please...” Arthoria says, drained both physically and mentally.

“And where are the others? Are they dead? Did that thing kill them? Or is it worse?!”

The cold weight settling in my stomach is nothing compared to the righteous anger coursing through my veins.

I knew we shouldnt have come down here. I knew it.

“I told you all we shouldn't have come down here!” I growl, each bitter word dragged from the pit of my stomach. “And now everyone's dead and we're stuck here! Be a man, Kaminari!” I say while burning holes in Asky's face. “Don't be such a chicken shit, Kaminari.” I said as I glare Joji down. “Take your medication, Kami!”

Arthoria actually winces as I said this.

“Thats what you all said, isn't it? Well haha, jokes on you!”

 

I tightly cross my arms over my chest, the following silence weighty as nobody mustered the strength to make any reply.

 

“We don't know if the others are dead.” Asky finally says, the grim look on his face tells me otherwise.

“Not unless they managed to barricade themselves in a room with heavy armor plated walls.”

“No. Blackstone says, now slightly rocking from where he's hiding beside the couch. He's chewing his thumbnail and staring at the floor, clearly dissociating. “It's too slow. They can out run it.”

 

So it's possible that the others are still alive. Its just a matter of them outrunning the thing then.

 

“Dr. Franny wanted to investigate some of the upper tier rooms, Hanta went with him and thats the last I saw of them.” Arthoria says, sitting up and leaning forward so that her elbows rest on her knees.

“And wheres Kali?”

“I don't know. She left to do some searching of her own.”

“And what were you doing?” I ask coldly, stare boring into her as she shifts her gaze away.

“I was investigating the computers.”

“Why don't you tell us what is really going on here.”

Asky's brows furrow, expressing deep puzzlement as he shifts his gaze from me to Arthoria, who refuses to even look up.

“Our coming here really wasn't an accident, was it?” I add.

 

“No.” She finally answers. “And... and the anti matter shielding failure was faked. Bakugou and the others are fine. They are simply following my orders.”

What?!” Asky hisses, eyes flashing as color flushes his cheeks and his fists drop to his sides, clenched tightly.

“Yes.”

“So what did we come here to die for?” I say. Arthoria takes a deep breath, sighing but still staring at the floor.

“Very well, I will tell you what I know.”

 

View From the Ship