The Solidarity pushed away from Mars and into open space. Without a proper captain, only a host of Magus that crowded the command deck, it was left to the few remaining pilots to plot a course. Porter had a better knowledge of some of the controls, but he hadn’t known how to plot their course. A young Eidolon had done it for him.
He loitered by some of the sensor modules. All through the dim chamber Utopians sat staring into space. No one was talking. The bodies had been cleaned, but a gory scent still lingered on the air. As he turned his eye to the nearest console, he saw the feed from an aft exterior camera.
“The Deus Ex is following,” he said.
“What?!” a nearby student asked, terrified.
“Just out of cannon range,” he added.
Wulff leaned over the console to see the feed. He checked the sensors as well. “I’m not feeling a single potentiality featuring an attack,” he told them. “It’s no threat.”
“I find that a little hard to believe. We should mount an attack,” Porter said.
Wulff shook his head, thinking hard a moment. “We move into range, it’ll back up.”
“We can’t waste time on that.” O’Reilly, coming out of the crowd, tapped the screen. “We’ve got just a few minutes to Earth at max speed. Then we can immediately set up a portal to move any survivors to the Monastery.”
“You’re forgetting about the moon,” Porter corrected. “Lunar colony will have survivors.”
“Damn,” O’Reilly swore. “You’re right. That will add hours to our timeline.”
“How do we want to do it, then?” Porter asked.
Wulff tapped his shoulder. “You and me. Let’s not land the Solidarity.”
“An away team?” Porter looked to the Eidolon manning the warship’s helm. “Are the teleporters operational?”
“Then okay.” Porter stood up. “You need to get suited for a vacuum. We’ll take a few students. Anyone with healing specialties, any general sorcerers! Show of hands!” He picked three out, “you, you, and you. Get suited.” Finally, he looked back to Wulff. “What could go wrong.”
“Something fairly horrific, actually,” he replied. “Let’s be careful.”
“Let’s be quick,” Porter added.
The grey dust stirred when five figures appeared on the lunar surface. Porter looked high above into space, seeing the dim stars. He could make out the silhouette of the Solidarity, but only barely. By the time he’d looked down, the dust had settled and they were moving forward.
One student, the healer, stumbled in the low gravity. “Shit. Sorry fellas.”
“Try to be cool,” his friend admonished him. A sorcerer, jack of all trades, Porter remembered.
The last, an Eidolon, said nothing, only carrying his gun and backpack tightly. A tech expert.
Porter saw ahead the broken domes and half buried inflatable corridors of the surface level colony. He knew it went deep into the ground, and he could see further structures poking up far out of sight. Not a light was on. No one, it seemed, was home.
“Blackout,” he said. “But it’s not been long. Air won’t have run out, yet.”
“Yes,” Wulff agreed.
“Tag em and zap em,” the Eidolon spoke for the first time.
All they had to do was get a location on them and then the Solidarity could grab any survivors. Granted that they weren’t too deep into the rock for the signal to penetrate, that was.
Porter walked up the first dome inset in the moon, coming to a shattered opening. He gestured back to them before going first. His fall was down through dust clouded open air until he landed in the center of a street. Looking around, what he could see resembled a shopping district.
The others landed shortly after him, their impacts heavy but not injuring, even from their height. The last of them fell spinning, landing on a shop booth and falling through. A massive piece of glass shortly followed them, having broken out from under their feet. Porter stepped out of its way.
“Cool, man,” the sorcerer sarcastically said.
“Come on,” Porter ordered.
They had to move cautiously. Wulff was on edge and that seriously bothered Porter. Through the shopping district, there was nothing but the frozen bodies. At the far edge, a wide tunnel led into what looked like a row of apartment doors. The total lack of air compression, it seemed, went on.
Porter really hoped Aku hadn’t simply let the air out. There’d be no one left.
That’s what they would do, though, he worried. That’s what I would do.
“You,” Porter pushed the Eidolon ahead. “Get into the sound system if you can. Anywhere with air, let them know our signal.”
Porter pried back the door into one of the apartments. It was pitch black inside. He flipped on his night vision and gave it a look. Nothing. Only green hued darkness, the back of someone’s head sitting on the couch. Dead.
Wulff clasped a hand on his shoulder and Porter startled.
“You’re on edge?”
“I’m not feeling good about this,” he told him. He turned his head to the side, peering to the end of the hall. “I see a closed door. Could be a sealed airlock.”
“Could be,” Wulff agreed.
Suddenly, a foreign voice sounded in their ears.
“Hello? Please help,” they said. A girl? No, sounded more like a young boy.
Using the radio?
“Got a fix on it,” the Eidolon said. “Straight ahead.”
“I’m gonna ward us.” The Sorcerer’s head darted around. “I’m pissing myself, here. And I’ve been to Hell. This is something different.”
“A different metaphysical profile from Hell,” the healer agreed. “There’s a gateway just hanging open somewhere around here. It… doesn’t feel like it’s got a destination?” He visibly shivered. “That’s some element of despair. It’s really potent.”
“Nihilism,” Wulff told them. He pressed the button aside the door they’d reached. When it opened, they could see that it was an airlock with another closed door. “It’s not a magical element you’re feeling, just an inevitable conclusion.”
“Stay focused,” Porter chastised.
Stepping inside, the door closed behind them.
Air flooded in and the lights flickered. Systems were half functional and their tech expert was having to finagle them at every juncture. He carried a small device with an interchangeable tip and holographic screen. He stabbed it into the terminal of the next door and swore at the data that came up. “Everything is bogged down. All the RAM is being dedicated to processing screams. Listen.”
He let the signal into their speakers and they immediately heard the screeching and wailing. Dozens of voices, each similar but different from Aku’s, shouting and whispering gibberish.
“Cut that,” Porter barked.
“You get the point,” they said. “I’ve never touched a system this slow.”
He got the point. He wasn’t happy about it.
The airlock door opened out into a partially lit hall which quickly met open air. They came through it to the railing overlooking an Orpheum. They saw the stairs leading down and took them. Once at ground level, standing in the theater aisle, Porter looked up to the glass overhead.
Where the fuck were the stars.
It was dim enough that he should have been able to see them. The Earth wasn’t in view to obstruct. With his head tilted back, staring into space, the others passed on unnoticing.
“Wulff!” he said.
“Where are the-”
“Gone.” He was interrupted. That voice.
Porter’s eyes widened, his head whipping to see a shadowed figure standing in one of the unlit exit halls of the Orpheum. Out of the dark came a hanging face framed in heavy black dreads. “You can feel it,” they said. “Can’t you?”
Porter ripped off his helmet. He needed to see with his own eyes.
“Doran,” he realized, horrified. “You’re here…”
“That’s the feeling of your lie dying. That all those stars mattered, that you had anywhere to run. It’s the walls closing in and the lights going out, Porter. It’s me, Aziacht.”
There was a moment of silence as he raised the helmet mic back up to his lips, their eyes still locked. “Porter to Solidarity…”
Before he could finish, Aziacht’s hand reached lazily out, fingers snapping. The floor of the Orpheum crumbled, falling with them. Porter lost sight of him and grip on his helmet as they flew downward into an abyss.
The fall felt like an eternity. When they hit the ground, the floor of the Orpheum flattened out. Porter landed back first on a seat and bounced off into the deformed remnants of the aisle. The others were on their feet when he achingly found his way up, standing in the wreckage.
“Is this what you saw?!” he demanded.
Wulff detached his helmet and threw it away. The other three did the same. “Display fried,” he said absently. He shook his head. “No! I just saw a possibility of…”
“Of what? Spit it out,” the Sorcerer butted in.
“A no-win scenario.” Wulff looked up to the opening they’d fallen from, hundreds of feet above. He looked around them at the encompassing darkness. Some kind of storage space? “A walking, no-win scenario…” He ran a hand through his thinning hair. “I don’t see a way out.”
Porter stepped away from the scattered wood floor onto cold, damp concrete. He could faintly see the walls of this vast storage room. “There’s a way out of here,” he said. “Let’s start with that.” He got walking.
“Hey!” the Sorcerer called. “You knew that guy?”
He grimaced, still going. “No.” He could see what looked like a door. “I never knew Doran. But I knew he wasn’t right. He’s had too much time to think.”
When he made it to the door, the others had caught up with him. He pushed it open came into a hall. Red emergency lights lit the way. He took the first right turn he came upon, immediately assaulted by the sight of dead bodies.
That’s not good.
They were all laid out. Purposefully, like a pattern. They couldn’t have suffocated that way. He paced around them, trying to make out the shape in poor light.
“No life force,” the healer said. “But not long dead. They came down here to escape.”
The bodies formed a word.
“It says hello,” Porter told them. He squinted at the dark corners of the room before his eyes fell on the others’ faces. “They were killed by him. Aziacht. By a personification he made, as powerful as the Ouroboros. Not a truth, though. Something else given life. It was a Horror.”
“Are we… predetermined to die here?” the Eidolon asked, looking at Wulff.
“I don’t know,” he answered.
Porter kicked a console. “Fuck!” he cursed. “There’s not a single survivor on this rock.”
There was only one thing they could do now.
We have to make it to the surface.