Moon Rise

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<TABLE align=center><tr><td align=center>Iwaku presents...


For seven days, the Planet is calm.

The floods have receded and superstorms have left the surface frozen. Soon a new firestorm will begin, and earthquakes will split the land afresh.

But for now.... there is wasteland.

And she stands upon it... the only living being on this world.


She has found what she is searching for... what she has always searched for... in the long years of her waking. Red hair, brilliant like fire, spills from her hood as he crouches to lift an object from the ice.


It is a fragment of stone. She slips it in her pocket and leaves behind a tear, which splashes helplessly on the ice.

Her body is seizing up. She needs to keep moving - find shelter before she dies. She hurries onwards... alone on this world.

But not for long...





Steven's Story
The Drums of War

To the people of Little Europe, life had been proceeding in its plodding pace for quite some time, perhaps more time than some could bear. Though content, many people had seen their demise far in the distance, when everything they'd brought with them from a planet so far away would rot and fall into ruin. Most of those people would just wave it off or say that it was so far into the future that there wasn't any immediate need to address it, but there were a few who couldn't just bear to stand by. One such man was Captain Laurence Standish, a balding, dark-haired starship commander who was going far too quickly into his 60's for his liking. To him, ten years in the future might as well have been tomorrow, and something had to be done.

It was this man who Steven Godfry, the ship's security officer, had come to see on that important day. Doffing his hat, the young lieutenant saluted his commanding officer and said crisply, "You wanted to see me, sir?"

"Yes, Godfry," spoke the Captain, seated behind his custom-designed mahogany desk. He'd been running his hands across the edge of it and feeling the cracks and scratches that were starting to sink in, but when Steven had come in, he set that aside and simply contented himself with leaning back in his seat.

"Have a seat," he said, and Steven complied. "Lieutenant, are you aware of the current progress of the geological survey team?"

"I...wasn't aware that they'd made any, sir," Steven replied nervously. "The head of the team had a baby recently and...are you alright, sir?"

At the mention of the team leader, Captain Standish had stood up and started pacing the room. "Babies..." the captain muttered. "Who gave these people the right to marry? To have children? Don't they realize that we have a job to do?"

"With all due respect, sir, it's not as if we have the authority to regulate that."

"Of course we do!" the captain snapped at his officer. "Our job was to gather mineral samples and to extract ores, not to settle down and raise families! These people are purposefully sabotaging our mission, and for what? So they can live like apes on a rock thousands of light years from home? If I had my, perhaps it's best not to say..."

Steven had kept quiet throughout this entire rant, having realized long ago that it was best not to interrupt the captain while he was doing these. Instead, once an apparent stopping point had been reached, he cleared his throat and asked, " there something I can do, sir?"

"Yes, there is. Round up the team, the entire team, and get them back to working. The sooner we find samples, the sooner we can be done with this place."

"I'll do what I can, sir."

"See that you do. Dismissed!"

Once he'd gotten a bit of distance away from his captain's office, Steven let out a deep breath. The captain had been growing increasingly morose and prone to ranting lately, and it was beginning to put a strain on the rest of the Peacemaker's crew. He'd been talking with the rest of the senior staff and putting a formal order forward for the captain's dismissal, but none of them had listened. Moriarty, the science officer, was too busy gathering data on the indigenous fish that lived on the planet, and Newman, the medical officer...well, she had a three-year old son to take care of. It was on occasions like this that Lieutenant Godfry felt the captain's frustration, but at least he had the sense to keep it to himself.

Turning a bend towards the main security office, Steven punched in his access code and shoved the door open, shouting "Attention!"

Just as expected, Private Fitch was sleeping in a corner, while Sergeant Carver and Private Ash were playing cards at a table. Meanwhile, the four other members of his team weren't even in the office. At the sound of their commanding officer, however, the three members present immediately sprang to their feet. "New orders, sir?" asked the sergeant hopefully. The security team hadn't had an actual job to do for the longest time.

"First off, Ash and Fitch, gather the rest of the team for briefing." The two privates affirmed the order, then ran off to locate their fellow teammates.

"So what's the job, sir?" Carver asked, quickly tucking in his shirt and gathering up his gear.

"You're not going to like it."

"Try me."

After the lieutenant supplied a quick explanation, Sergeant Carver furrowed his brow and scratched his ginger hair. "Roughing up civvies, eh? You're right, I don't like it. Has the captain lost his-"

"That'll be enough of that, sergeant," Steven cut in. "Whether you like it or not, we're going to do it. It's our duty."

"Whatever you say, sir," the sergeant grumbled. "But for the record, I recommended against it."

"Duly noted. You can let those civvies know that when they string us all up."


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Two hours later...


The Chief Surveyor shoved Steven hard in the chest. He managed to push the soldier back over the small pile of rocks that marked the boundary of his garden. His young child, newly born, was screaming and crying in its mothers arms. The Surveyor's family were in the doorway of their shack-like home, terrified by the soldiers who had entered their town.

"Don't you remember anymore!" the man shouted at Steven. "It's December 21st. I'm spending the holiday, with my family, with my newborn child! DOES THAT MEAN NOTHING TO YOU PEOPLE?"

The settlement town was stretched in a thin line along the continental coast, the ocean glittering azure blue beyond them. As sea breeze whistled between the shacks it was accompanied by tears and shouts. Some of the survey team and their families were fleeing, whilst others had come out into the streets to yell at the soldiers.

Steven's squad was outnumbered, but the civilians were unarmed. So it goes.

"The mission! The mission!" sneered the Chief Surveyor as he held a trembling finger in Steven's face. "That's all you military-types think about! Well THINGS HAVE CHANGED! We have families now! You can't do this to us!"


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Doctor Newman usually preferred to keep to herself when it came to dealings with the Peacemakers outside her office, but even so, she'd known them for years. Most of them were barely more than boys! Her son looked up to them and even played soldier around the house. But now, all she could do was try to shield her screaming boy from them as they stormed into the town, trying to literally press-gang her husband, one of the geologists, and the rest of the research teams, back to work, even though they worked long and hard almost every day on the 'mission' these men were suddenly so concerned about.

Private Ash was currently trying to defend himself against one of the other scientists who was currently going after him with a rake from his garden. He really was trying not to hurt this guy, but he didn't want to walk away injured himself.

"Look, I don't want to hurt you!" he told the man again, starting to feel a bit panicked.

His attention slipped for a second when he heard something off to his side, but was quickly snapped back when he felt the rake go upside his head. Cursing in surprise, he fell back on his training and jammed his rifle stock into the man's gut before clocking him upside the head with it. When the man went down, Ash stood over him, panting and feeling at the gash on the side of his head. Wincing, he cursed again, annoyed.
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As expected, trying to strong-arm the scientists into doing their work was going nowhere fast. Dusting himself off as he stepped back to his feet, Lieutenant Godfry stepped forward and was about to give his case again, but the family shrunk back, going back into their house. "Listen, Martin..." he began, but was interrupted when someone suddenly shouted, "Oh my God! Someone help him!"

Following the screaming woman's finger, Steven's heart sank. There, in front of one of the shacks, stood Private Ash, standing over a fallen scientist with his rifle held high. Ash, realizing that all eyes had suddenly fallen on him and that a number of the settlers were now approaching him with weapons in hand, began to wave around his rifle, shouting at them to back off. Cursing under his breath, Steven ran in, motioning to the rest of the squad to follow suit, stun guns at the ready. Beating up the crowd was not going to make anything better, but it would be far worse to leave the private trapped in a corner with a loaded gun at the ready.

The chaos that ensued was monumental. In the end, at least two dozen men were on the ground, bruised, bloodied and/or electrically shocked. Steven himself had taken a rock on the forehead and was now bleeding out from the wound, and Ash had broken his arm blocking a wooden beam aimed at his head. Martin, who'd stayed out of the fighting, was now standing to the side, aghast and lost for words.

"Should have listened to us, Martin," Steven gasped, holding a cloth to his head. "If it wasn't for you..."

"Get out of here, soldier!" Martin hissed. "And you can tell your boss that we refuse to work."

"W-wait," Steven said pleadingly. "You can't do that! We need you!"

Martin laughed with no trace of actual humor in his voice. "You need us. You NEED us? You would do THIS to those who you need? Go back to your ship and stay there, soldier. We don't need you."

Steven looked at the scene before him. Obviously, in their current state, the scientists couldn't work. In fact, some couldn't even walk, and the security forces weren't much better. And so, with his head tilted back to keep the blood from flowing so much, the lieutenant shouted out to his squad, "Team, we are leaving! Rutger, get a splint on Ash's arm!" The captain wouldn't like this, obviously, but what could he do? He'd just have to take his lumps and hope that he didn't get canned, which, what with his reputation in the colony, might actually be a blessing in disguise.


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An hour later, Captain Standish paced the length of the Peacemaker medical bay. He was a large man, with a body conditioned by long years of exercise on the space flight from Earth. But his eyes were dark and distant, like all captains who had stared too long at the void. It seemed he had lost more of his hair since this morning.

"You've made a mockery of the whole corps," he muttered as he paced. He was wringing his hands, feeling the cracks and wrinkles of his flesh as he had with the table. In front of him Steven and his squad were sitting or laying on medical beds, being patched up by Doctor Newman and her team. None of the injuries were too severe.

Nothing like the damage to the military's reputation.

"I give you one simple mission. And you cause a fiasco. You're as bad as the civilians - all of you."

He stopped abruptly and turned his gaze upon the soldiers. "Is that what you want? You want to lay down your arms, dig yourselves into the sand and have babies like the rest of them? Grow weak and flabby on that moon and forget the Mission?"

Private Ash, who was having his arm checked by Doctor Newman, tried to speak up. "Sir, the guy hit me first. It was..."

"WELL I'VE GOT NEWS FOR ALL OF YOU!" the Captain roared suddenly, startling the soldiers. His whole face seemed to change as the anger twisted his features. "IN TEN YEARS WE'RE DEAD! OUR SHIPS ARE FALLING APART! WE'RE RUNNING OUT OF RAW MATERIALS. EVERYTHING - THIS ENTIRE GODDAM COLONY IS ABOUT TO COLLAPSE!"

He pushed Doctor Newman aside and gripped Private Ash's recently splinted arm, applying pressue to the wound. The young private grimaced and gasped as the Captain continued his tirade. "SO GO HOME IF YOU WANT! GO START A FAMILY AND LIVE WITH THE REST OF THOSE RATS! But some of us - some of us who STILL REMEMBER why we're here... we'll do what NEEDS to be done!"

He released Ash and strode to the window, glaring out into the depths of space. His chin was flecked with spittle now. "I won't let the Mission fail. I won't."


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Doctor Newman worked silently and quickly, not looking any of the men in the eye. She hated the fact that she had to leave her now-traumatized son back in town to tend to the soldiers who'd brutalized them, but she knew that the men couldn't do all the first aid work they needed, and she'd rather do it herself rather than anyone else on her team.

When Captain Standish shoved her out of the way and grabbed Ash's arm, she had to resist with every fibre of her being the urge to throttle the man. Watching the exchange, though, she understood what the men were up against. They'd really had no choice in the matter. She felt sorry for them, but still, they could've maybe gone about it differently.

Sighing, she waited until Standing finished his tirade before she went back to tending Ash's arm.

Ash was near tears in pain, but he refused to cry in front of the doctor. He looked at her apologetically, but she still refused to meet his eyes. She moved on to the next soldier and continued her silent mission of mercy until everyone had been treated.

When she was finally finished, Newman left the medical bay without a single word and didn't look back. She headed directly to her tiny pod and headed back home.

Ash looked to his lieutenant uncertainly. "Now what, sir?" he whispered carefully.


Less than an hour later, the captain had returned to his office to think. Lieutenant Godfry's idiocy had tarnished the military's stature in the public eye. Soon, word would spread to other settlements that their military overseers had beaten half a town into submission, and then what? He could publicly condemn Godfry's actions, put the entire squad in the brig for a week, but in the meantime, he'd still be unable to get his samples.

Standing from his desk, the captain looked out the window at the planet below. As a child, he'd always wanted to see other planets, but now that he'd spent enough time at this one, all he wanted was to see his own planet again. He had to get back, but how could he? Not without something to show for all the time they'd wasted on this rock, this "Little Europe." How was it that he'd had the luck to land his crew on the one moon without any resources to show for itself other than fish and grass?

But wait, there were others, weren't there? Just because this rock didn't have anything didn't mean that the others would be similarly barren. Flipping through the channels on his intercom, the captain keyed the mic and said, "Moriarty! Moriarty, are you there?"

"Yes, captain," the high-pitched voice of the ship's science officer replied. "Is there something you need?"

"Yeah, remember those probes we launched at a few of the other moons a while back?"

"Of course! Why?"

"Tell me about the readings you got from them."


Back in Sickbay, Steven was lying back on his bed and staring at the ceiling. He was technically okay, having had his wound sewed up easily, but he didn't feel like moving. If the rest of the soldiers felt anywhere near as guilty as he did, this was going to be a big pity party.

Right on cue, Ash posed an obvious question, one which Steven didn't have an adequate answer for. "What do we do?" he repeated, then paused to think on it before going to a sitting position. "We act like soldiers and we move on. You can apologize if you like, but ultimately, what's done is done. If they want to, they'll forgive us, but if not, we'll just have to live with it."

"Don't see what you've got to cry about anyway," grumbled Private Fitch, holding an ice pack against the side of his head. "You're the one that got us into this." He pantomimed firing a fake rifle in all directions. "Oh no, the eggheads are coming at me with SHOVELS! Game over, man!"

"What, you think I should have just let them do that?" Ash whined. "You would have done the same thing."

"Quiet, both of you!" Steven barked, hopping out of bed. "Our existence as a unit is hanging by a thread, and now you're fighting? Look, the bottom line is that we got sloppy. That's natural. We've been out of action for years. Heck, some of you hadn't even gotten your feet wet until today. What we need to do is get back to basics. Starting tomorrow, I'm implementing regular drills and practice sessions." The group as a whole either sighed or groaned. "Practice makes perfect, people. We can't afford to make any more mistakes."

Suddenly, the intercom chimed, and a robotic voice said, "Attention all hands. An unscheduled departure order has been issued for 2230 hours. All crucial personnel, please report to your stations immediately. This is not a drill."

"What in the..." Steven said, and then, grabbing his hat, he bolted out the door. Looking at his watch, he realized that it was already 2210. Giving people only about fifteen minutes to get ready for a departure was completely against regulations except in the case of an emergency. Something screwy was going on, and the best place to find out what would be to go to the Bridge where, by regulation, the captain would already be.

Lady of the Dragons

Man, I hate this.

It didn't matter how many times he said it. The rookie would probably never see action.

The rookie in particular was Adam Bold Merrimen, often teasingly nicknamed Rook. He had just volunteered to help the mission after being pushed by his parents to find something to do with his life. Currently he was the newest member on the team and quite infamous for his ability to rush into battles and defy orders from his superior officers. Due to his headstrong and reckless ways, many officers didn't like taking him out into the field of play. Right now Adam Merrimen was standing guard to some room...he didn't even know what kind of room it was. It had been some time since he'd last been outside the ship actually doing something. His boredom would drive him insanely up the wall of he didn't run around soon...

"Attention all hands. An unscheduled departure order has been issued for 2230 hours. All crucial personnel, please report to your stations immediately. This is not a drill."

Merrimen tensed up at the announcement. Around him soldiers were jogging to their stations, fumbling around with pieces of their uniform or any other small trinkets. Seeing them, Merrimen felt a twinge of anger. He should be among them, running towards his stations. Instead he was stuck here. It wasn't his fault that he had provoked the dangerous wildlife on that one planet mission...
A devious mind played into his head, fueled by his desperation for action. Obviously, they'd need all the manpower they would get on this mission. Maybe they'd be grateful for his skills and promote him from being a lowly rookie. Maybe...
Pushed by his fantasies, Merrimen quickly slipped into a clutch of chatting soldiers, blending in carefully with them.

But now came the hard part. Not getting caught.


The lift ride to the Bridge seemed to be taking forever, but the instant it stopped, Steven burst out into it and demanded, "Captain, what's going-"

Of course, the instant he entered, he realized that a few other crew members had already beaten him to the punch. A brief headcount showed that all essential personnel were present except for the Comms Officer who came in shortly after Steven had entered, and all of them were clustered around the captain, asking the same questions that Steven had prepared.

"Quiet..." Captain Standish said, and then, when that didn't achieve results, he stood up and shouted, "QUIET! Everyone get to your stations. This mission is top priority, and so I cannot tell you of it until we get in the air." The crew grudgingly did so, Steven included, taking up his normal post by the door to prevent anyone from breaking in.

To Steven's surprise, and indeed the surprise of everyone else there, the captains of the Vigilant, the Steadfast, and the Victory all began chatting on the comms channel, going through their own launch sequences. Everyone looked at everyone else, but nobody dared actually broach the obvious question: what precisely were they doing that required all four ships working in tandem?

"Pardon me, sir," Lieutenant Carl Beaumont asked, looking up at the instructions that the captain had sent to his navigation console, "but why are we going into orbit around the planet?"

"Patience. Execute those coordinates, lieutenant." The navigator did so, and the engines hummed to life, lifting the Peacemaker from the moon's atmosphere for the first time in a very long while.

"Now then," the captain said, pressing a few buttons on his personal console. "Our current mission involves this moon here." The larger viewscreen in the front of the room flickered to life, showing grainy images of the moon in question. "Lieutenant Moriarty, please explain."

A small man, at least compared to the other well-built members of the crew, Benjamin Moriarty did not strike a very impressive figure as he walked up to the screen and, with a large classroom pointer, said, "Two years ago, as most of you perhaps know, the Peacemaker and the Vigilant launched probes at other moons orbiting this planet to determine whether they would be suitable for habitation. The reason why we'd avoided those moons was because scans demonstrated that they were already settled by other beings, but our analysis of their structures and devices suggests a supply of metals and, potentially, petroleum."

"Permission to ask a question?" Steven asked, and the captain allowed it. "Whether or not they have resources over there, what's the point? They already staked claim to them."

"There are no 'claims' out here, lieutenant," the captain replied. "They have no more right to their moon than we do to ours. Believe me, I would not resort to this if there were any other options, but certain circumstances-" he gave Steven a dirty look, "-have forced me to look elsewhere for the samples we need."

"And what if the people there don't want to part with their 'samples?'"

"Then I suppose we'll have to try a harder form of negotiation. Are there any other inane questions you wish to ask, lieutenant, or are you finished with questioning my authority?"

All eyes were on Steven. The current situation wasn't lost on most of them, and if something broke out, they were fully prepared to stop the security officer. However, much to their relief, he simply huffed and said, "I'm finished, sir."

"Good. Our orbit will intersect the moon I've chosen in...Navigation?"

"Three days and approximately four hours, sir."

"Right. Until then, you're free to move around, but be ready to be called at a moment's notice. Dismissed!"


"I will admit, sir," said Sergeant Carver a couple hours later, "this sure is sounding like a war to me."

"It's not a war until we shoot at them," Lieutenant Godfry said, leaning against his desk and reading a ten-year old gun catalog. "I think you'd be more worried about the people we left behind."

"Naw, they can feed themselves, even if we bite it. They'll be fine."

"I wish I shared your enthusiasm."

"You know," someone said, "they could just give us the stuff without a fight."

Lowering his reading material enough so that he could see over it, the lieutenant asked the young guy standing before him, "Who the heck are you?"

"Uh, Private Merrimen. Adam. Sir!" The fellow looked like he wasn't in his late 20's yet. "I heard you were understaffed I decided to volunteer for Security Forces."

Only halfway listening, Steven pulled out a binder with the personnel records on them. "Merrimen...Merrimen...part of the Army Unit, eh? According to this, you're supposed to be guarding Storage Room 2."

"I got reassigned," the private lied.

Steven would have normally checked on this, perhaps cross-referenced with the Army commander, but he was feeling a little short-fused as of the moment, so he simply crammed the binder back into the desk. "Fine, get yourself a uniform that fits." What would be the harm in it, after all? With Ash out of commission, he did have a vacancy, so why not? He just hoped that this Merrimen fellow was ready for some hard work, because those drills he'd been planning would be doubly important now that they were going to war.

We're not going to war, he reminded himself, we're just going to do a little trading. That's all. Maybe the new kid was right. Maybe the inhabitants of the moon wouldn't be hostile, and maybe they'd be able to conduct business without a hitch.


Lady of the Dragons

Merrimen was excited that he was going to be joining the mission, but he had wanted to ask Steven a question.
"Uh...sir? Permission to ask a question?" He paused, before asking. "Um, sir, what's the Captain's reasons for this mission?"

It was a true question he liked to know the answer to. Whispers and stories among the other Rooks told of how Standish was slowly becoming less mentally...stable. Well, they had said he was in fact a crazy loon. He was getting more and more obsessed with getting "samples", whatever they were, and was becoming more prone to rages. One Rook is particular that Merrimen knew had confirmed this. One day while sneaking a snack from the mess hall, he had accidentally bumped into the Captain, who proceeded to rage at him in the hallway. Was space travel making him turn this way? A young female Rook had suggested that he probably had been away from home too long and was beginning to feel the effects. Whatever it was, it had certainly changed the captain into a different man. If only he knew what it was...

Another thing, he really wondered if the captain was really going to use aggressive force to get the samples. Surely you wouldn't try to get some samples of...then it hit Merrimen. He didn't know what the samples are. Maybe they were some rare resource that would get the captain rich, thus driving him to do such things like that. Maybe that was the reason that it was making him go a little nuts. But it would be wrong to jump to such conclusions. Merrimen reasoned with himself, maybe the captain has a good reason to turn out the way he is. There many maybe's hovering around in his thinking. As it was, there were just not enough points to conclude from. Maybe if they waited, the answer would come to them. Maybe if--

Merrimen realized he had spaced out for a short moment and quickly slapped (not literally, of course) himself into reality again. Though he couldn't help but have the question floating around in his mind.


Steven sighed at the new recruit's questions, recalling a time back when he was so naive. What was the purpose of the mission? That was a difficult one to answer in any satisfactory way.

"One thing you're gonna learn, private," Sergeant Carver volunteered, "is you don't question the mission."

"But it doesn't make sense to me," Merrimen insisted. "We're just supposed to be protecting the colony, right? Why are we going off to another colony like this? We're a security force, not an invasion fleet."

"Times change, kid," the sergeant said. "What I'd like to know is: are you willing to obey orders?"

"I guess it depends on the orders."

"Wrong!" Carver boomed, putting his finger on Merrimen's chest. "You always obey orders, understand? In the field, you stop to ask questions, and you're dead!"

"Settle down, sergeant," Steven said, and Carver backed off, leaning against a wall.

"So if my commanding officer tells me to do something wrong," Merrimen demanded, "I'm just supposed to do it, no questions asked?"

"Yeah," Steven admitted, "you are. The sergeant's right, you know. You can't choose your CO, nor your orders. If your own scruples get in the way of fulfilling your duty, then you're a liability to your squad. If you don't like that, you're free to resign, but if I can't depend on you following my orders to the letter, I can't trust you to watch my back."

Merrimen looked like he was going to say something more, but he eventually just said, "Yes, sir. I think I understand."

"Good. Tell the boys in Sickbay that they've got a day off to recuperate, but I need all the folks who are able to report in at 1800 sharp tomorrow."

"Sir!" And with that, Merrimen left. Ash wouldn't be too happy to know that he'd been replaced, but with the state of his arm, he couldn't be combat ready for at least a few weeks, and he'd just have to live with that.

"Aren't you getting philosophical these days," the sergeant said half-jokingly. "Guilty conscience, sir?"

"Something like that." In truth, Godfry was beginning to wonder if what he just said was something that he could adhere to as well. Sure, it was easy to talk about unflinching loyalty, but those selfsame scruples were beginning to spring up in his mind as well, and it wasn't so easy to just dismiss them. Hesitation was weakness, and he couldn't stand to be weak if he hoped to survive the next few days.


"Get me another reading," spoke the captain, drumming his fingers along the side of his chair.

"Currently, we're two days, twenty-three hours from the moon, sir," the navigator replied.

"Good. Keep me updated." Examining the planetary charts, Captain Standish noticed something peculiar, and he waved the science officer over. "Moriarty, what can you tell me about that moon?"

"Hard to say, sir," he replied, looking at the one the captain mentioned. "This moon has regular dust storms, and they were interfering with the probe's sensors. However, there were some signs of life on the surface, and we did see something that looked like a settlement, but I wouldn't recommend-"

"Wonderful, wonderful! Navigation, if we set a course for that moon, how long would it take?"

"Umm...eleven hours, sir?"

"Redirect our course immediately, lieutenant." Keying the intercom, the captain entered in the channel that went directly to the Security Office and said...


"Officer Godfry, please report to the Bridge immediately. Officer Godfry, to the Bridge please."

"Now what?" Steven groaned.

"Want me to come with you, sir?" Carver asked.

"Please. This had better be good."


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On the bridge of the Peacemaker, even command and control had not escaped the necessities of colonial life. Many of the consoles had been jury-rigged with spare wiring or surface-patched with wood and scrap metal. Tape held together what could no longer be welded and even rust-proofing was a luxury for only the most critical systems.

At the rear of the helm, the tactical hub had been propped up with legs from a dining table, and oil lamps were being used to compliment the flickering hub lighting. It was more like a medieval cou"ncil than a state-of-art war room.

Captain Standish glanced up as Steven exited the elevator, then returned to his deliberations. His eyes seemed even blacker in the glow of the tactical hub. "The forward array crashed again - corrosion damage," he murmured as he traced a finger around the digital image of Govad. His lieutenants were gathered around him, watching silently as the astrometric display flickered. "But the prelim sweep confirms no orbital defences. It's a low-tech planet - equivalent to late Middle Ages. We've identified a ferrous deposit here." His finger jabbed the screen hard. "But there's a beta-size settlement on the edge of the ore patch."

With only the slightest turn of his head, he indicated Steven. The circle of lieutenants parted slightly to admit the Chief to their gathering. "Chief Godfrey, you'll lead the preliminary raid. The aim is shock and awe. Drive the indigenous lifeforms from that settlement and make sure they learn to fear us. A lot of expense and disruption will be spared if the locals learn to stay well away from our mining operations. You've demonstrated that you and your squad excel at scaring civilians. I couldn't ask for a better candidate."

The others weren't sure if they were supposed to laugh or avert their eyes, such was the dryness with which the Captain issued this order. He made no other acknowledgment of the Chief and carried on sorting through the maps. "Alright. Lieutenant Chambers, what's the status of our mining drones...?"


Of all the personnel, Lieutenant Barnes, Comm Officer, had been one of the few to actually maintain his post. And so it was that when a message came through, he immediately shouted to the captain, "Captain Jamison of the Vigilant wants to know if he should change course too, sir."

"No, tell him to keep going," Captain Standish replied. "We'll only be a short while here." Bringing up an overhead view of the colony, the captain pointed to a specific spot a short distance away and said to Lieutenant Godfry, "This spot seems like an ideal Landing Zone. If you take a shuttle, you ought to be there well ahead of the mining teams, and if all goes well, we should be started mining in less than a day."

"Permission to ask a question, sir?" Steven said again, and an uncomfortable silence fell among the rest of the staff, who quickly backed off a short ways. "Why are we intimidating these people? Have they shown any hostilities yet?"

The captain simply huffed and said in a somewhat patronizing voice, "Honestly Godfry, do we look like we have the time to barter with a bunch of savages? If there aren't any more questions, I need you to get moving now! Dismissed, lieutenant!"

At first, the lieutenant was about to turn and walk away, but something stopped him. "No, I have another question, sir," Godfry replied, holding his ground. "At what point did you decide that we could defy protocol? We have no right to bully people who aren't even at war with us!"

"Steven, I would watch my tone if I were you..."

"What's happened to you, sir?" Steven continued. "Back when I signed up for this mission, I respected you. I thought that, with you at the helm, this operation couldn't fail."

"Lieutenant," Sergeant Carver hissed warningly, "back off."

"I can't do this, sir," Godfry concluded. "I can't do this anymore. I refuse." There was a silent pause in the room, as everyone stared at the two officers, wondering what was going to happen.

"So if I'm to understand you correctly," the captain said harshly, standing up from his chair, "you're refusing MY orders, a direct order from a superior. Do you even understand what you've done?" Pointing at Sergeant Carver, the captain boomed, "You! Take this man away!"

"But sir, I-" Carver said.

"Quiet, lieutenant Carver. This man is a traitor inciting sedition in the ranks. Take him away, NOW!"

The two security officers stared at one another for a short while, not daring at first to move. Then Carver reached for his stun gun, only to take a right hook to the face. Unprepared, the new lieutenant fell over backwards, and Steven bolted for the exit, ducking a swipe from the Comms Officer on the way. The door of the lift closed shut just in time to block a gunshot from the captain, which instead pinged around the Bridge, prompting everyone to duck for cover.

"What have I done?" Steven said to himself as the lift descended to the shuttle deck. He'd never intended for it to go this far. All he'd wanted was for the captain to realize how far he was going, not to assume the problem was on Steven's end. He supposed he shouldn't have been so naive.

With a sudden jerk that launched him into the air, the lift stopped halfway down, leaving Steven trapped on the residential floors. At that point, a voice resounded from the loudspeaker, "Attention all hands! Armed hostile is on the move. His name is Lieutenant Steven Godfry. Orders are to shoot on sight. Do not let him get to the emergency escape pods!"

"Great, great!" he mumbled, pulling out the panel next to the door, "Not going to make this easy on me, are you?" Unfortunately for the captain, he was dealing with a man who knew all the security override codes. Keying in the code that opened the door, the ex-security chief drew his pistol and ran out into the corridors, hoping that he wouldn't run into anyone from the security team, the Army Unit, or anyone else, for that matter. Just because he was a fugitive now didn't mean that he could run around shooting anyone he pleased. He just prayed that they'd give him the same courtesy.

Childish Grumpino

all things are nothing to me

Standish clearly had no intention of making Steven's escape easy...


Upon hearing the second announcement, Steven's blood froze. When a suspect was said to be armed and highly dangerous, it was basically a more fancy way of saying to shoot first and tell the suspect to freeze later. But he was fine for now. Nobody seemed to even be-

"It's him! Call security!"

The pair of technicians who'd said that immediately ducked around a corner, having been scared off by the conspicuous pistol in Steven's hand. He felt like chasing them down and intercepting them before they could get to an intercom outlet, but they were close enough to the nearby maintenance corridors that they could just duck into there. And once they'd gotten into the tunnels, they could be anywhere. Anywhere...

This gave Steven an idea. Running down a different hallway, he found what he was looking for: an armored panel leading into the tunnels. Normally, only engineers and technicians had pass keys that would open these panels, but as security chief, he also had a pass his office. Darn.

That was okay though, he had other means. Removing a police baton from its holster on his belt, he wedged it into a space under the panel and lifted, causing a loud and sickening shriek of metal and moving the panel a little.

"Come on! Move!" he shouted, and pulled again, budging the panel a little more. Suddenly, the lock keeping the panel on snapped off and, unable to adjust for the sudden loss of tension, ex-Lieutenant Godfry fell over backwards, just as a familiar private came running down the hall.

"Lieutenant, what's going on?" demanded Private Merrimen, not even drawing his weapon yet. "What happened with the Captain? What did you do?"

"Go away, Merrimen," Steven said, slowly rising to a standing position. "I'm a traitor to the ship now. If you stick around, one of us will get hurt."

"I see. In that case..." Even as he reached for his gun, Merrimen was surprised to see that Godfry had already drawn his, and he just raised his hands over his head.

"Smart move. Now you're going to pretend that you never saw me. If the captain learns you let me go, your career is over." Turning so that he could slide into the maintenance tunnel, Steven was about to leave when...

"Wait!" Merrimen said suddenly, prompting Steven to pause. "Why did you do it, sir?"

"You don't even know what I 'did,' private, so why should you care?"

"Just tell me! I need to know!"

"Don't have the time, kid. Take care of yourself."

"Lieutenant!" the new recruit shouted, but Steven was already gone.

As he crawled through the shafts and down a few ladders, Steven realized that he'd also left his radio and other essential gear in the office, so he had no way of knowing what was waiting for him at the other end. That was why, after kicking open another panel, Steven slid almost literally into the waiting arms of four members of the security force, standing guard over the emergency escape pods.

"Grab him! Secure his weapons!" Lieutenant Carver shouted as the security team pinned Steven down. The lifts had been reengaged after Steven had left them, giving the team plenty of time to get there before their previous commander could.

"Carver, let me go!" Steven shouted, throwing off Fitch just as he was about to cuff his hands. The other two responded by kicking him upside the head and hitting him with their weapons, and then Carver threw in a boot to the face for good measure.

"Can't do that, sir," Carver said, cuffing Steven's hands behind his back. "Captain's given me orders to take you in."

"You can't be serious!" Steven sputtered, unable to staunch the flow of blood coming from his nose as he was forced to his feet. "You're actually doing what he says? Haven't you been listening to him lately?"

"Funny," Carver chuckled, "I remember that SOMEONE said that we shouldn't question orders. Now who might that have been?"

"This is different! We're forcing innocent people off their land, Carver! Doesn't that matter to you?"

"Your complaint is 'duly noted,' sir." Motioning to Fitch and the other two, Carver said, "Get him over to the lift." While Fitch prodded Steven from behind with his pistol, the other two, Privates Georges and Hoover, grabbed Steven by an arm each and pulled him along.

Much to everyone's surprise, when they reached the elevator, it suddenly opened, and there, standing in it, was a smallish man in an army uniform with full helmet. "What do you want, private?" Carver wanted to say, but before he could do so, the soldier pulled a stun gun and shot both prongs into the ex-Sergeant's chest, sending him spasming to the ground. This immediately set off alarm bells in Godfry's head, because he knew for a fact that the Army Unit didn't outfit its soldiers that way. Almost immediately, he was able to connect the dots.

Fitch, being the only security officer with his hands free, tried for a shot while Private Merrimen's stun gun was recharging, but Steven jerked to the side, causing Private Georges to stumble into Fitch, sending the shot wildly over Merrimen's head and into the interior of the lift. Meanwhile, Hoover was reaching for his stun gun, but Merrimen caught him before he could, dropping him as well.

Fitch, for his part, had already recovered and was about to get a shot off when Steven kicked him in the knee, putting him down on his knees and causing him to shoot wildly again, just in time for Merrimen to run in and kick him in the face, taking him out. The last one, Georges, chose not to fight, running instead for the intercom. "We're under attack!" he shouted right into the mic. "We need backup-" But that was as far as he got before Steven shoulder checked him and Merrimen shocked him, effectively ending the fight.

"Just a second, sir," Merrimen said, snatching a key from Carver and unlocking the cuffs. "Sir, you're bleeding! Are you okay?"

"No," Steven admitted, wiping his face with his freed hands. "But we don't have time to fix that." Running over to the security console next to the pod bays, he began typing in codes just as the lift doors automatically closed and the lift began to rise. "You see that?" he said, gesturing at the closed door. "In just a minute or two, we're going to be waist deep in your friends from the Army. I've gotta get you out of here."

"No need, sir," the private replied, tapping his helmet. "They'll never know it was me."

"Now prepping escape pods," the computerized voice said. "Please wait." Klaxons sounded across the entire deck as the ship's one hundred fifty small three-person pods opened their doors one by one, and Steven cursed. He'd entered in the group code by accident, and so the automatic scripts wouldn't launch the pods until every single one had been prepped.

"Why did you do it, sir," Merrimen said, barely audible over the din.







"I SAID I WAS...Oh, that's much better." Evidently, the folks on the Bridge weren't fond of the alarm either, and they'd switched it off. "You see, kid, I learned something today."

"And that is...?

"How to say 'Why?' Thanks, by the way." Stepping into the closest pod, Steven told the private, "Listen, I'm going to need you to slow down the captain any way you can. You think you can handle that?"

"Yes sir! Good luck out there, sir!"

"You too, kid." At that moment, the lift reached their floor with a small ding. "Time to go," he said, and pushed the button next to the pod's door, slamming it shut just as Merrimen jumped into the maintenance shaft. The soldiers streaming into the pod bay arrived just in time to see the pod blast off, taking with it a man with a warning. The captain would not be happy.

"Farewell, Peacemaker," Steven said, looking back through the pod's only window at the ship he'd been staying on for who knew how long. He probably should have been looking the other direction, because he only noticed the orbital defense drones around the moon by the time they'd shot out his engines and sent him screaming into the surface at a fast speed. Whether or not Steven survived, and if so, what he did from there was a topic for a different story.

Lady of the Dragons

Merrimen blinked after watching Steven blast off, sweat beginning to collect on his brow. He thought carefully about what Steven had just said. He was needed. He needed to slow down the captain or anyone who was going to try and go after Steven. The sound of footsteps began to echo in the hallway along with the shouts and yelling of men. One of them rounded the corner and spotted him. He pointed a finger straight at him, then yelled over his shoulder to the men. His hand then went for the gun at his hip but Merrimen quickly shot him the chest with a stun charge. The man became stiff and fell the floor while his comrades began to run for him, guns aimed while stepping over the body of the fallen soldier.

Merrimen bolted down the hallway, avoiding charges and shot meant for him. Occasionally he would turn his body around to shoot back. He caught two men, one in the forehead and the other on the thigh. The former was out before he hit the floor. Now the men were yelling into their comms demanding for back-up to capture the unknown soldier. Sometimes he would run around a corner only to spot even more soldiers targeting him. Thinking quickly, Merrimen reached into a small he had attached to his shin. He threw a small sphere with a blinking green light on it. It exploded in seconds and filled the hallway with a yellow gas. All the soldiers began to cough and choke while rubbing at their red eyes. He had smuggled a couple of those grenades from a locker that was carelessly left open. Now their reduced eyesight would help him in his escape.

With the men coughing and gagging, Merrimen dashed from the yellow gas. Luckily, he was unaffected due to his helmet equipped with an air filter. He made a plan to stop by his bunk, ditch the helmet and armor and walk back out to feign confusion and innocence about the whole ordeal. A smile made its way onto his lips. But then it disappeared when he remembered the Captain. Captain Standish. What about him? This whole event would only drive him more up the wall. What would Merrimen do after this? Maybe he would just--

His body came to a halt when he slammed full-force into a thick built man. He tried to go for his gun but the man seized his wrists and tightly held onto them. "We got him." He said into a comm. "Bringing him to you now." The man proceeded to drag Merrimen by his wrists to bring him to the captain, no doubt he would get punished. Even with this failure, he had a grin of triumph. Steven had escaped. He'd be long gone by now all for the price of his dignity and job.

It was a sacrifice worth having in his opinion.


Original poster
Posting Speed
  1. Speed of Light
Captain Standish had shut himself in his ready room. Reports were flooding into the bridge... of Godfry's escape, of Carver's team being hospitalised... of orbital defences springing to life around Govad. The Peacemaker was shaking with impact strikes as it pulled back from high orbit. They would have to retreat from the weapons platforms until they had a chance to regroup. The whole assault would have to be re-planned. They had underestimated this moon.

But the Captain had turned off the intercom. He had ignored his lieutenants knocking frantically at the door. He had ceased thinking about Godrfy and Govad and everything else...

Captain Standish was staring through the window, out into the blackness of the void.

He was gazing into darkness.

"Wh... where....are...y... you..?"

Blood trickled into his eye and he whimpered. His whole body was shaking as he slumped over the table and more of his hair seemed to have fallen out.

And somewhere out there... in the darkness... a voice answered.



[*screaming into the void intensifies*]
Invitation Status
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  1. Speed of Light
  2. Slow As Molasses
Online Availability
It varies a lot depending on my schedule, unfortunately.
Writing Levels
  1. Advanced
  2. Adaptable
Preferred Character Gender
  1. Primarily Prefer Male
Psychological horror
Body horror
Dark fantasy
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Space saga
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Medieval fantasy
<object height="200" width="450"></object>THE STORY OF MARGO

The volcanic flares in the distance lit up the moon's atmosphere with flashes of red-orange as a ragged-looking bunch of wastelanders trekked into the town of New Junction- or as the locals liked to call it, New Junk. The group was small, numbering only six or seven, and all wrapped in similar cloaks of tan leather which served to protect against the harsh sandstorms that ravaged the surface of Damascus. These in particular were well-worn, ratty and tattered and stained with the Planessiah only knew what. Even for wastelanders, these people were clearly only just barely scraping by.

Jeb Sylvester, proprietor of the Silver Comet Saloon, kept a weather eye on the party as they filed in quiet-like through the swinging doors of his establishment, polishing a steel tumbler with a dirty rag. It was a hard job to keep things clean, given the climate around these parts, but he did his best- and he didn't care much for the muck his latest customers were tracking in on their boots. Wastelanders were usually just your average nomads, those too poor to afford the precious-scarce Basilica-funded housing, but every now and then you got thieves and other troublemakers moseying into town. Jeb glanced at his server-bot; if necessary, he'd signal the little fella to contact the Sheriff. It wouldn't be the first time a situation called for drastic measures.

No one wanted to have to call in the Sheriff.

But the party settled themselves in a booth at the back of the otherwise deserted saloon without any fuss, talking in low tones amongst themselves. One of them rose within the minute, pulling their hood close about their face, and wandered over to lean across the bar. Jeb set down the tumbler and gave a cautious nod; in return, the wastelander held up three fingers.

"Three whiskeys," they said, and Jeb blinked slowly. It was a little lady under that cloak. He'd never have guessed, from her height and the shroud of her garb. "And a pitcher of water. What have you got for solids?"

She'd barely finished speaking when the doors pushed open again, a breeze whipping sand and bits of tumbleweed in with the long shadows of the new- much noisier- arrivals. Jeb recognized them by sound alone: Billy Strychnine and his hoverbike gang were unmistakeable, with the rattle of their heavy chains, the hard thumping of their boots, and the fractious ruckus of their dialogue. Now Billy... Billy was trouble; big trouble. Jeb's hand strayed to the laser rifle he kept stored under the bar.

Sure enough, Billy's gang crowded into the bar, rowdy and raring to fight, whether it be each other or someone less armored. Billy sidled up to the bar like top dog, ignoring the wastelander woman entirely as he barked at Jeb to get them a full round and make it quick. Wordless, Jeb hastened to fill the order. He didn't want to be the match that lit the fire. However, he watched out of the corner of his eye as several of the burlier gang members loomed over the wastelanders' table. One of them jabbed a grubby, brass-knuckled finger into a wastelander's face.

"You're sittin' at our table, friend," the tough began, baring yellowed teeth in a menacing smile. "Would you kindly move?"

It wasn't truthfully their regular table, of course. This was about bossing around folks who were weaker than them, of marking their territory and asserting their dominance like the bastard pack of jackals they were. Jeb knew that, and he hoped to the Planessiah these wastelanders did too.

No such luck.

"Your table?" he heard the wastelander reply. Another dame. "I don't see your name on it, stranger. There are plenty of other tables in this joint. Why don't you and your amigos pick one of those?"

The biker didn't like that, not one bit. With a face like he'd bitten into a sour cactus, the man pulled out a blade faster than Jeb could sneeze and slammed it sharp-side into Jeb's nice polished wood table. It bit in with a resounding crunch, the surface splitting outward from where the point struck. Several of the wastelanders recoiled, but the woman who'd spoken didn't so much as flinch, even when the brawny ganger started to threaten her again.

"I said, friend, that you're sitting at our table. I'd like for us to all stay friends here," he drawled the lie, pulling the knife free and sending splinters scattering across the saloon as he wiggled the knife at her. "Let's see a smile, little lady, or will I hafta carve it in for you?"

The sound of a trigger setting from STANDBY to ARMED effectively silenced the saloon.

Jeb wasn't entirely sure how she'd done it; he'd lost track of her somewhere in the exchange between her friend and Billy's pal. But the woman who'd been at the bar was holding a pistol to the ganger's temple. He did a double-take, because it looked like law-enforcement issue, but that wasn't possible. Unless...

"Back away there, friend, peace-like," Ex-Sheriff Margo Lux told the biker in a voice like space-cooled gunmetal. "We don't have to do it this way. We can all just sit down, have a drink, and forget that any of this ever happened."

Jeb waited with bated breath as they stared each other down.

And then, the saloon erupted into chaos.

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Hopeful Monster
"Hi ho! Hi ho! It's off to drink I go!"

Franz Molman whistled through the gap between his enormous buck teeth as he made his way down the sun bleached streets of New Junction, his massive tool sack swaying to his jolly pace. Today, they had issued out everyone's pay slips at the mine, and Franz was eager to wet his whistle, tell a few dirty jokes and try to be home in time for dinner. After Mis'us Molman had taken the dog and left him last Long Summer, he had promised her that he wouldn't drink any more. But then again, he wasn't drinking any less 'neither. He brought a dirt encrusted, stubby finger to scratch his radish-like nose. Franz sniffled a bit, then cleared his throat, eliciting a rumble like rocks whirling in a tumbler from somewhere within his chest.

His other hand ventured into his coat pocket, fishing for the happy jingle of coin, instead, his fingers closed around something small and smooth. He drew it out into the light to examine. From behind his bottle base goggles, Franz's small, wet eyes blinked molishly. It was a stone, simple, small and smooth and a shade of black so deep that Franz thought that he might be holding a chunk of space in his hand. For all that he knew, that's what the rock could have been. It was unlike and rock or mineral he had ever seen; he had found it this morning, in the mines.

A commotion ahead caught Franz's attention.

"Somethin's goin' on at ol' Jeb's joint..." He muttered as he hurried over for a closer look. His oversized trenchcoat billowed open around his bulbous belly, revealing soiled overalls. Of course it was a fight, what else could be happening in a saloon? It was the who Franz was concerned with.

Ah, it was Billy and his gang of lowlife's, no surprise there. But who were those wastelanders? A few of 'em were ladies, and one of 'em had a man with a heavy chain creepin' up behind her...

Franz Molman's eyes widened with recognition.

"Look out, Sherrif Lux!" Franz bolted into the saloon, lumbering as fast as his short legs would carry him, his long, meaty arms swinging. There was a splintering snap as one of the floorboards gave beneath him. Franz was sent tumbling backwards as the other end of the floorboard shot upward and cracked into the biker's jaw. Lux's assailant fell on his back, out cold, just as the ex-sheriff whirled around to face him.

"Aagh! I'm down!" Franz lay flat on his back, flailing his arms and legs like a turtle unable to right itself.