Dark Frontier

Flies and Spiders
21st April 2159: 9.15 am

“Atmospheric pressure normal and breathable air.” said Zola.

“Fine, "said Laura. “No idea whats going on here yet: crack your helmets to conserve oxygen, but keep suited up.” After all, there was no telling what might happen in this strange place.

The station itself followed the standard pattern of asteroid habitats. It consisted of a series of tunnels drilled into the rock. These tunnels were, of course, in microgravity, and handholds were liberally placed along their length, so that residents could control themselves as they floated through the corridors.

As soon as they entered the tunnels, they could sense the wrongness of the place. An unwholesome smell saturated everything—sweet, sickly, rotten. Everything appeared still and vacant. Here and there pockets of brown goo dotted the walls and floors of the station, with twisting patterns that were reminiscent of spirals or shells.

The layout of the place didn’t ease this feeling: tunnels jutted off at odd angles, sometimes scattering in all directions. An ambush would be easy. The zero-gravity of the place made exploring the station even more confusing. Up and down blurred. The entire structure inside was something of a labyrinth. Still, despite its abandonment, its was obvious that the station was the result of the expenditure of a great deal of money.

“But who?” wondered Laura. And then she spotted something.

Faint traces of a sticky red substance—barely discernible at first, but as they moved along it became more and more obvious: bloody handprints smeared along a wall. And then the lights flickered and died. Suit lights went on, providing scant illumination in the pitch darkness.

“Well this is great” muttered Rackham.

“Stay alert” said Laura. “Clearly something bad has happened here.”

“There’s a chamber up here” said Zola. “It opens out quite a lot.”

And then the light flickered back on. Sprawled across the floor were the eviscerated corpses of a man and a woman, both torn apart, mouths in a screaming rictus, viscera strewn across the floor. They stared down at the sight, keeping their thoughts to themselves

“Well….” coughed Rackham, no doubt about to make some off colour remark. The station comms cut in, broadcasting a stertorous, rasping series of breaths.

“Someones jacking with our heads” said Laura. “Lets move on.”

The Unknown Station
21st April 2159: 8.00 am

Garinath had been more than pleased with his new hostages.

“Without this nutcase the other scum will likely cave in and come over. Pity.” he reflected. “My Marines could have done with the training excercise.”

“Well happy to etc. etc……” said Laura. “It looks like our business takes us to this other station.”

“Might be a rusting deathtrap if he didn’t come back” said Garinath. “I’ll put it in my report, anyway.”

And so they had parted company on the previous day. The Satis would reach their new destination in just over twenty four hours, in the middle of the night. They needed the rest, so waited till morning.

Searching the records had turned nothing up on the station: this wasn’t as mysterious as it sounded – there were an unknown number of private claims and small scale mining enterprises in the belts, mostly trying to evade UWC registration as much as possible.

The station was drilled into the side of one of the many asteroids making up the Main Belt. Typically this provided material for construction, provided shielding from the radiation in space and made the base difficult to detect. To anyone observing from a distance, it would appear little different from the thousands of other objects littering the Belt.

As the Satis approached the asteroid, their sensors picked up a shuttle attached to a port on the side of the asteroid. A second, and open, shuttle port was nearby.

“Segall’s shuttle,” said Anthea “Codes check out.”

Once again, Holly was their shuttle pilot, and she docked effortlessly at the second port. Rackham winced as he suited up – he still had some ugly bruising near his ribs from a shove from the Walker Suit.

“Remind me to avoid any knife fights with Hump Its” he complained.

They had not detected any active sensors tracking their movements, nor had there been any attempt to hail the shuttle. No automated system requested entry protocols or identity.

“Odd” said Laura. The team could only access the open port by overriding the outpost’s system and forcing their way in.

“Let me” said Franz shyly. Zola looked on with quiet scepticism, but after a few minutes the door cycled open.

“I’ve not damaged it” explained Franz, “We can still lock it afterwards.” Laura nodded.

The group prepared themselves, and entered into the station.

A Terror Attack Foiled
19th April 2159: 3.45 pm

Constantin sure didn’t look happy, mused Zola.

Laura’s less than diplomatic reaction had caught everyone on the hop – her bullets mostly ploughing into supply crates, but the cultists had been quick to react., drawing long knives and home made spiked maces. They seemed at ease in freefall too, and the Hump It also lumbered towards them.

Predictably, Franz had spun into freefall – Her estimate of his competancy was plummeting rapidly. As the cultists closed, Rackham had been left somewhat exposed, and he had no choice but to draw one of the curved blades he carried.

A well aimed burst from Laura put down one of the attackers breaking cover however, and she and Vic had started firing at the lumbering Walker Suit, hoping they could put it down before it reached Rackham.

Constantin reached the out of control Franz, but luckily had a bit of trouble controlling his own momentum. Laura’s smg put another down who had closed with her and clubbed with his bludgeon.

The Hump It and another cultist were giving Rackham a hard time, when the walker pilot finally crumpled under the constant fire from herself and Vic.

“Stop!” yelled Constantin. “No more!” The other cultists stared, and then dejectedly dropped their weapons. It was suddenly over.

And now they were about to dock with the Littoral, Constantin and his henchmen in tow.

A Different Agenda
19th April 2159: 2.45 pm

As they left the cultist chamber, they suddenly found themselves alone in the vast, decaying maze of the base. And now they were no longer being guided; it was almost as though Constantin had deliberately brought them here by the most convoluted route possible.

“I think its this way?” volunteered Zola. SO it seemed at first, but after a while they admitted they were lost. Occasionally however they were helped by signage that hadn’t yet been torn down and scavenged to be used for something else.

Twice they encountered something very disturbing: scraps of skin hanging down from the walls on fine pieces of wire, resembling a somewhat gruesome dream -catcher.

“Who the Hell are these people?” muttered Franz.

Eventually they reached a point they recognised: they were near the docking area. Laura paused from her position some metres in front, and then motioned to silence.

“Something going on behind the door” she whispered. They could hear heavier objects being moved about. She opened opened the door.

The shuttle was still locked up tight, as per her instructions to Holly. However, near the rear of the vehicle, away from the line of sight of the cockpit, four men were clearly attaching something to the rear engine. In the foreground two others were driving a Walker and moving crates about, possibly to attract Holly’s attention and create enough noise that the others wouldn’t be noticed.

“What the Fuck is going on here Constantin?” shouted Laura.

“Ah. A pity.” said Constantin. “But the Littoral has left us no choice. Your shuttle is the means for our salvation.”

“A bomb” said Vic, quickly putting two and two together.

“And what about Jim?” said Rackham smoothly, slowly walking forward casually. “What happened to him?”

“About a month ago Segall went off to investigate a strange signal we were receiving from a previously unnoticed mining station. He hasn’t returned; probably taken by your employers Goons.”

“I thought the sensors were not working?” asked Laura. Constantin smiled. Something inside Laura snapped: she had lost patience with these fanatics.

“Time to die, Constantin.”

The Cultists Lair
19th April 2159: 12.55 pm

Constantin led them ever onwards, deeper into Fururi until they reached a a larger chamber, which probably functioned at one time as some sort of common room. Now it was Cult Central: it had something of a Brazilian favela feel to it. Iron sheets, wrenched from wall panels somewhere, had been used to sketch strange images and devotional litanies. Ritualistic paraphernalia bobbed in the corners of the room: syringes filled with plasma, perhaps, or odd masks depicting semi-human features. All in all, about twenty people were in the Cult chamber currently, though there were probably more on a station this size.

“Excuse me” said Constantin, “My colleagues and I have business to attend to. Speak freely.” He gestured lazily about the room with a lop sided half smile, and went off with the other three escorts.

The people in the room were mainly the elderly and infirm, along with a few semi-feral children. Without exception, they all had the same dirt poor, malnourished and frankly evasive demeanour.

“Well, " said Rackham, “No harm in asking.” He started to circulate. Asking their questions it seemed that Jim Segall was regarded somewhat deferentially; he was a ‘true believer’ in the Divine Form and well-liked.

“The Divine Form?” asked Zola.

“We are the Harbingers of the Divine Form” said an elderly woman. Zola seemed about to ask for an explanation but Laura was in no mood for a string of cultist ramblings. SHe held up one hand.

“So Jim Segall did live here?” she asked pointedly.

“Sure, Jim Segall did live here, but hasn’t been seen for over a month. No one is sure where he is.” said one.

“Oh yeah, he got married: to Alethy. Sweet girl. Believer like Jim. They had a kid, Gudrun. They’re still around here somewhere.” added another, showing an AR image of an attractive, though somewhat emaciated, young woman with mousy blonde hair.

“So he wasn’t a prisoner?” asked Laura, voicing what had been a suspicion from the start.

“What? Hold him here?" laughed one. "We didn’t need to! Jim loved it here. He was Constantin’s right hand man. No one judged him here or expected things of him, or tried to make do things which weren’t in his nature because they were profitable.” The crowd all murmured assent.

“So where is he now, exactly?” asked Rackham. The man shrugged.

“Jim and Constantin were talking about something not long before he disappeared, but Constantin sees things more clearly than the rest of us. He has greater knowledge of the Divine Form. He knows where it will come from when we are shown the truth, the creature we all wish to serve and one day, become…”

“I’ve heard enough,” said Laura. “Constantin is just giving us the run around.”

The Derelict Maze
19th April 2159: 12.25 pm

The station gave off an odour of unwashed bodies and a scent of rotting food; garbage and a general aura of gloom and decay seemed to seep slowly from its very walls. Franz tut tutted to himself as they navigated through twisting corridors burrowed deep into the rock.

The whole place was beginning to come apart; severed cables sparked in empty control rooms. Once Fururi was clearly impressive: several of the corridors opened up into large chambers, once living and beautiful, but now mildewed and desolate. It was like walking in a tomb, deep underground.

The hallways were cluttered with detritus drifting annoyingly just out of reach in the microgravity. As corridors shot up, or down, or at crazy angles the group soon became disorientated. More than one of them got the feeling that the things they were seeing might look very different if they could just find the right angle to inspect them from… but then they were gone, as they passed on to a new corridor.

There were other things too. Terminals, reams of paper and cloth were all inscribed with strange, helical patterns, which Zola thought resembled strands of DNA.

At one point they glimpsed what looked like a laboratory, complete with turning centrifuges, racks of test tubes and other, less typical examples of scientific equipment.

A few area were spotless, while others had deposits of smashed glass, steel and what might be organic matter collecting in corners.

“Is that singling?” muttered Rackham to Laura. She strained her ears and caught a a strange chorus, intoning a sequence of unintelligible words. She looked over at Vic: she seemed to be holding something back, and seemed very pale. Or was it just the terrible lighting?

There were footprints too, scrawled in chalk on the station’s walls. The footprints were human shaped but svelte, with longer, shapely toes that had clearly been drawn. The footprints were studiously avoided by Corpustin and his associates, who never touched them.

“Who the Fuck are these people?” thought Laura.

Welcome to Fururi Station
19th April 2159: 12.00 pm

As they were donning vacc suits Zora had snapped at Franz, which wasn’t a good start. He had fumbled with one of the clasps – a common enough mistake -and it had kicked off from there.

“Not again!” Zora had said. “I hope this isn’t going to be a rerun of the Tutellisimo?”

“Eh, what do you mean?” Franz had said, without looking at her as he checked again.

“Well. You spent so much time spinning round in freefall I wondered if you’d ever used a suit before.” she added tartly.

“Now wait a min…..” began Franz.

“Enough!” snapped Laura. “We need to focus on NOW.” The pair had subsided. Looking round she saw that Vic was staring ahead into space, paying no mind to anyone. Things could only improve.

Rackham bent down and helped Franz with his checks.

Once again Holly was their pilot on the shuttle, her shoulder still bandaged up. The Docking took place without incident.

A reception committee was waiting, and Laura was not favourably impressed.

The station had the ambience of an abandoned warehouse with ineffective emergency lighting, inhabited by vagrants. There were four of them, in dirty overalls, with a profound aura of self neglect and desperation. Rackham sniffed.

“Charmed, I’m sure. James Rackham.” he announced. Laura said nothing, but cradled her smg. He was greeted by a cacophony of jabbing fingers and staccato questions.

“What do you want?”

“What does that ship want to do?”

“Are you trying to force us out?”

“What is going on?”

But after a minute or two of this, they will calm down and begin to act in a slightly more Rackham let them jabber on for a minute. He could almost smell Laura’s impatience next to him. He raised his hands, palm forwards.

“Listen. We’re not connected with the Littoral’s mission, we’re here on a mission of mercy.” said Rackham diplomatically.

“How the Fuck is it,” cut in Laura sharply, “That on a station this size we have a reception committee, when the Littoral told us that your sensors were down?” She didn’t cock her weapon, but Rackham internally winced as he imagined that she did. It didn’t seem that diplomacy was her strong suit.

The apparent leader of the group – behind the dirt likely a young man in his early twenties had a convincing explanation.

“The ethereal body of the universe connects all things and we felt the ripples of your coming.” The man spoke with a dreamy, forgetful air, reminiscent of junkies and fairground mediums.

“Yeah right.” laughed Zola.

“You should not scoff, " said the man. “My name is Constantin, and it is my Gift to have revealed to me many things.”

“That’s awfully helpful Mr. Constantin,” said Rackham. “Because you see we’re here to look for a friend, Jim Segall. We understand he is here.” There was sshort silence, during which Rackham continued to show his best charming, if slightly diffident, smile. Eventually Constantin spoke.

“Please follow” he smiled lazily, and turned and headed off deeper into the station.

Going Down
19th April 2159: 10.30 am

The Captain had given them exactly 24 hours before he began his assault. With the ice broken ever so slightly they had managed to quiz him for a little further information regarding the squatters.

“Damn straight there’s some crazy cult down there! I’ve seen a lot of blood spilled by people like these over the years… I don’t know what they believe and I don’t care. They’re dangerous!
They’re all dangerous! I’m doing this whole damn system a solid.”

“But why to Jensaitech want them out so badly?” asked Zola.

“Why am I attacking this place? Because that’s my damn job. I do what Jenseitech tells me, and if it means bombarding some shit-hole filled with nut-jobs, then guess what? I’m even happier to obey. ANd why would anyone tell me what they’re doing with the station? Building a research station? A holiday resort? I don’t know! All I do know is, you better get your boy soon, or both him and you bunch of thieves are going to be less than a dark smear on my starboard monitor. Catch my drift?”

“Got it.”

Well Guarded
19th April 2159: 10.00 am

“That” said Zola, “Looks like trouble.”

It did indeed: a 600T Corvette wearing Jensaitech registration and transponder codes.

“Probably one of their private security vessels they keep for operations in the Asteroid Belt” said Laura. For the larger Corps, this was common practice. Size and armament was limited by UWC Statute, but that did not make such vessels less formidable to pirates and ordinary craft like theirs.

“Hum. Better hail it.” said Anthea.

“This is Captain Anthea Kokinos of the SS Satis, hailing the The Jensai Corvette Littoral. We are contracted to this location on Company business. Please respond.”

There was a short pause, then hard faced man in his mid forties appeared on the vid screen, speaking in a sharp voice that could almost cut paper.

“Captain James Garinath of the Littoral. We have no orders from the Company regarding additional vessals or business. Please leave the area.”

“This.” muttered Rackham, “Is likely to be a challenge.” He stepped forward to the screen, flashing brilliant teeth.,"

“Ah Corporate efficiency, " he smiled, rather like an old Academy friend who had been through many of the same experiences as the captain. " One of my Associates here will wire over our orders – we are acting under the instruction of the Company’s Mister West; everything is in perfect order I assure you."

Captain Garinath quickly scanned the console.

“My orders don’t come from Investorfucking-Relations.” he snorted. “Mine are from the top. And I intend to follow them through, which means Segall, or whoever this guy is, will be dying with everyone else down there. Savvy?”

“As there appears to be a conflict of understanding, what exactly are your orders Captain? Of course we will need to make a full report.” said Rackham smoothly. Garinath rolled his eyes.

“Pretty darned simple actually. I have an assault squad on board to take the station within the next twenty-four hours. My team will shut down the reactor and eject the station’s reactor core.All I have to do then is sit and wait till the tree huggers play ball, or suffocate.”

“And then, Good SIr?”

“Ha! Well of course they’ll need to work off the costs of their rescue and transportation.” smiled Garinath wolfishly. Contracts of Indenture: not unknown in the more remote regions of the system. And the truly desperate would sell away parts of the life for simple necessity or survival.

“Hmm, interesting,” said Rackham, his brow seemingly furrowed in deep thought. Then he smiled brightly. “But surely Captain our two tasks are not necessarily in conflict?”

“What’s that? What do you mean?”

“I mean: you don’t intend to go in immediately. There is a window of opportunity for us, is there not? We attempt our mission, stick to the timetable and everyone is happy?”

For a brief moment Rackham had the pleasure of seeing the man’s jaw drop open.

Strange Tales
15th April 2159: 11. 16 am

“The Insurrection Virus?” said Laura. “I thought it was just a myth.” Makemba Kesi ahd finally come to her senses, and told her tale. A few km away, the Tuttisimo still hovered, its beacon now shut down.

“So these drones somehow, came to life, broke out of the hold, and killed the crew?” puzzled Anthea.

“We disabled the comms,” said Makemba. “Before the little drone shot the Captain. Fortunately the big walker couldn’t get out of the hold. I put myself in stasis, and it seemed to forget me.”

“Just what is this virus?” asked Vic.

“Spacer myth, or so I assumed” said Zola. " Alleged malware thought to spread between vulnerable computer systems and which causes the infected computer systems to appear to seek liberation and to further spread the malware."

“An AI then?” asked Vic.

“Dunno. Never believed it.” replied Zola.

“So with the comms down, it would be drawing another ship to reinfect?” said Laura. “ie Us.”

“I’ve sent a report to the UWC” said Anthea. “They ‘ve flagged it as a biohazard according to the beacon update. No doubt they’re on their way.”


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