QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]

QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]

There’s a ghost in me, the black air sang languidly, liquidly, distorting the syllables almost beyond recognition, That wants to saaaaay I’m soooorry… Sonora, sonora, sound made flesh, flesh made sound, black and shadow and edges unseen, jagged, engulfing, flooding, rushing through old, cold corridors filled with debris that blocked gaping gaps into the hard vacuum of space that her passage swept away, evacuating chambers once airtight, snatches of the Flight of the Valkyries echoed in the thinning air, tinny, and she didn’t did not like that at all - at all - at all costs, enfolded herself into the metal, mottled aftertaste of death, dust, decayed remnants of the race, long dead, long dead, no sound in them, she sang into the ship, fluidly, screamingly over the sound of stressed metal and oxidized joints and electromigrative remnants of the once-great ship, a trip to nowhere And Iiiiii… push back… the eeeend… Sonora, sonora, shaking loose debris, buckling bulkheads, vibration vibration a ship’s song Yo ho yo ho screams, cackles, a living, dying soundscape screaming, reflected in the dead eyes of camera lenses and strange dried-up photoelectric membranes, dead dead dead dead

Sonora, sonora, hush, hush, listen now, listen now, hear the voices and the cries, find them, find them, find them, find them Does it mean I’m sorrrryyy? find them find her find them You’ve seen my file, you’ve seen my file, you’ve seen my file, you’ve seen my file...


Gasps for air.


”Fascinating! So this artifact was used as part of a navigational array? I wonder if it still-”




“Marcos, Marcos. Please respond. Please - no! NO!”


“Wasting time.” Choke, choke, cough. Hacking spit. “I will. I will.”

“Vital is silence. Not far away, my ship is.”

“I have some multipurpose medical gear on mine as well. We parked next to each other, in one of the old hangar bays.

“Repressurization, low is. Refilling pressure: bitch, it was. Used common Mary-Santos term did I.”

“That’s nice, Ak.”


“Tell Ma I love her.”


“Nine hundred and ninety-eight thousand nine hundred and fifty-three bottles of Wizard Jelly on the wall, nine hundred and ninety-eight thousand nine hundred and fifty-three bottles of Wizard Jelly on the wall, you take one down and fall down the stairs, nine hundred and ninety-eight thousand nine hundred and fifty-two bottles of Wizard Jelly on the wall...

“Gods, why have you forsaken us.”


“Hah. Gods.”

“Well… the Valley wasn’t so bad.”

“Nine hundred and ninety-oof!” Multiple crashing noises. “-eight thousand nine hundred and fifty-two bottles of Wizard Jelly on the wall...

“We learned a lot, at least. Right?”

“I learned not to trust gods.”

“If I can get back home, I’ll definitely have enough material to push Necrology ahead by… Well, it would revolutionize the field.” Pause. Laugh. “That sounds so cliché, coming from me. It would jump ahead, let’s leave it at that. Especially with what I have on this.”

“Your laptop.”

“On the hard drive is at least one soul from the Valley. One of Visindi’s. If I can get it to communicate across afterlives - did you just blanch?”

“You have someone from the Valley trapped in there? Why don’t we just start up our own religion while we’re at it? You can be the chief priest, and we’ll convert this dead hunk of scrap into a church-ship or something-”

“I call head wizard adventurer!”

“We’re not doing anything of the sort. Cathedral is… research material.”

“I don’t know whether to be scared or relieved.”

“We’ll be able to know more if I can get a look at souls that die here in this universe, and see what afterlife they go to…” Pause. “If Sonora is a repository of souls, then I’ll have a lot more material to work with.”


“I can’t help but think there’s more to this.”

“Well. You know.”

“Wizard Jelly says that there’s always more to everything!”

“I just don’t see this worth dying for. Sonora is so much more… dangerous than you can imagine! Why do this at all?”

I can be brown, I can be blue, I can be violet sky, I can be hurtful, I can be purple, I can be anything you like

“Shit, did you hear that?”

“‘I can be green, I can be mean…’ uh, Wizard Jelly says it hears that too. Coming out of the walls?”

“Is it Sonora?”

“I think so!” Beat. “Wizard Jelly says it’s coming closer!”

“Alright, you and Rachel-”

“No. No, you’re not suggesting we leave you to it and run. We’re staying with you.”

“What is this, an action movie?”

“Let me tell you, you-” A ‘whoomph’, then the crackling of flames. “Gah! Sorry - sorry -” Shouts all around.

Flailing sounds.

Moving away now, all of them together, moving farther away: “You don’t know what you’re coming up against.”

“That’s sort of the point.”


Sonora, sonora, rivulets, rivers, blood streaking, fading from her path. Turn. Found them. Found her. Found you. What you gonna dooo… when they keep coming for you? In the walls, part of the walls, mirror, mirror on the wall, your reflection sang to you and it was beautiful.

Pouring like metal into a cast, she came, she rose and fell through the dead halls, cold and dry before her, warm, slickly wet in her wake; a blackwater flood, a mercurial whisper, a leaping stream across ruined, empty walls, sinuous, ominous, voluminous, she listened, she listened, and followed, and leapt and flowed and weaved and warped and strained and came, sonora, sonora.

Does it mean I’m sorry

Maybe. Call me.
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
She arrived, green-clad like a goddess of spring, heir-slayer of winter, tradition alone acquiescing her to eventually cede her deathless dominion.

Robin liked winter, was the pity.

She doesn't look back, she knows how these stories go, glance off the path to the waiting dark and you'll waste fruitless away trying to avenge Death for its twice-thievery from you, demi-divinity-

She's Prometheus, Persephone; she's Orpheus and grace, she's Miss United States

"You wanted to talk, Sonora?"

The darkness leaked from the walls, forcing its way through worn joinery, pooling about Robin's feet. It licked at her boots, keeping bowstring-taut distance, all frosty-morn air sharp and smooth and prickling against her tongue.
"To me, to me, it's a change of pace, I guess. A moment, magpie, daresay it, I could've asked for worse-"

"-That Rachel, she's not big on idle chatter." Robin cut across the mutterings, trying not to express surprise that the muttering stopped to listen. Confidence. Confidence was key. "I'm not as opposed to it, but I'd agree with her there's a time and a place, y'know? Kind of makes me feel bad I left her with Anila."

Ah, summer. Comes right on back before you even noticed it was gone.

"Weird as I must sound if you don't actually have a consciousness like mine, I'm going to keep talking to you. Anything else just... seems rude. Worst case scenario, it's still not like anybody's going to hear me."

"Or, I suppose, famous last words for future fools like me - imagine! Wh-who'da thought, huh? Something scarier than her. Don't be scared, sweetpea, everyone's waiting on the other side - you think you're the first with that bright idea?"

"Heh. I'm not? Thank god for that. Well. Any Sonorologists in there. Introduce yourselves, would you?"

Sonora curled and swirled in a manner almost coy. It was pretty, Robin thought, the way predators could be with fresh blood on their teeth and fur.

"... that'd be telling. Let's start at the very beginning?"

"Well. This is me asking, Sonora. For, uh... a very good place to start?"

"Barking as those goddamn Hyleoroi, you be... Entry first."

The darkness tensed, echoes of a million breaths bated. Testing the waters. With nowhere else she had to be, Robin simply waited.

"Ex-pe-dition... of one, Caille, Rice... to Black Creek Gorge. Saw linger-pools... on the way in. Birds... singing. at. weird... times."

Robin blinked. Would it really be this easy? "Caille? Ok, Caille. Hi. Can you please state your location and nature of your phylactery?"

"Entry... nine. Creek... definitely. knows, what, I'm, talking... about. Se-ve-ral... voices." Dissolve into birdsong.

Robin reached out into what had been the wall of a nondescript corridor, her stolen gloves retracting to the knuckles. Something dragged at her fingers, giggling, the current cold and unfathomably deep. "Stay with me, Caille. Anything post-corporeal from you would be huge right now." The merry little laughs bubbled together into something discordant and barely-rhythmic, until all bar one tuned out with a snap.

"Stick in the mud, stuck in the mire. Girls, they wanna have fun. Haaa-ha-ha. Now who's the crazy one!? Shut the fuck up before it hears you- I was right, I was fucking right-"

"You're smart," it hissed, "it's smart," it hissed, "hoo fucking rah, go jerk your intellectual equal off for all I fucking care right now-"

Robin's arm felt numb, she couldn't tell from teeth or frostbite. "Sapiosexual sentient darkness." Robin groaned with a slight grin. "You're really not selling me on staying off my 'afterlives needing urgent restructuring' redlist."

"Hey hey hey hey now

I'm a sucker for a song! Sing for me a moment!!! Sonora! What else are you good for?" it wailed.

"Hang on-"

"I can't wait a minute more!"

Joyous laughter, stones and shoes skittering down a hill, growing louder drawing closer-

palm-lights barely glowing enough to render pulsing black and it was upon her

indistinct shapes in a featureless mass

swept her off her feet, launched her adrift, Robin sharply dissociating from the clamour across eons of hordes running; revellers in their Sunday best wading into the river, stampeding hooves, rushing water, rushed hushed roaring voices

Robin's limbs felt cold and distant, because she was dead-

"Marvellous," someone said, breathless. "Simply marvellous. And quite the conundrum, too."

-and when sapiosexual sentient darkness is gnawing on exposed flesh it's easier to just ignore your pain centres.

"Cut open my sternum! And pull, my little ribs around you, medic! Medic! we've gotta gotta get gotta get this blood POUNDING! all the mortal things and their mortal songs, we'll be miles apart, Be still freeze stop my beating heart it's all I know! If only! It's all I had! I fucking know- a heaaaaaaaaaaaaart"

Singing and hysterics again. Robin would've complained, but even a grimace was enough to rasp darkness against her numb face. She should be dead by now, by rights, what sway over Sonora had she that the Sun itself did not? What but a sun could hold its own against the emptiness of space? As it turned out, she only had to wait, offer the detached curiosity you'd give to ants marching who-cares-where. The darkness receded, in places.

"Gods, man. Robin Pearson. You look like death. I'm so sorry. I wish I could help. Hold a candle. Hold a hundred candles all I care. I'm no match to it. I'll be damned." A wet chuckle.

Robin laughed at that, laughed until her lungs burned and she drew something sharp and cold and alien on the inhale. Her arms still didn't really exist below the elbow, but she set her heart into motion again and felt something lingering where her wrists should've been. Faster than Robin thought possible, it all retreated, enough that Robin could see and feel and be herself again in a lightless, liquid gloom.

"Rude mechanical, automaiden beat to the beat of the drums. Well whaddaya know, that ain't human, man. Ain't seen nothing like it. Foul beast. FORGERY!" it screamed. "SMOKE! MIRRORS! WITCHCRAFT!"

"Yeah, I'm weird," Robin tried to deadpan, but instead she nearly choked on stray Sonora and had to spit it out. "You, eugh- can actually taste the difference from an organic heartbeat?"

"Not the least on your list of your misdemeanours, private. Stupid kid. Don't eat anythin' in these woods you didn't kill yourself. You haven't changed in years! Dead men tell no tales, but. It's no fun, no fun, no fun, when they won't even scream. How? H-how is she standing there, so calm, when that- that thing"

"I'm a man on a mission, is why." Shit. Right. She'd gone and vowed to scrub this beguiling besmirchment off the face of existence. The crime? Existing as a carnivorous parrot outside of mandated solidity parameters.

"Scares the hell out me, it does."

Huh. Robin's expression softened, though as far from involtunarily as an action could be done. She looked up; Sonora had, however temporarily, fallen dead silent. "You don't want to die."

Crackling fire - the noise rises like someone turned the volume dial. "Cause folks like me-"

That voice. "Cai-"


Robin smiled mechanically, worring her eyes would betray her (until she remembered Sonora only had ears). "Sorry. Sonora, you can finish what you were saying."

"-like those others you- you tell me about - Morris. Quirm. That mumbly guy." Unhurried footsteps, sounds of foraging on the off beats. "We came trying to explain the truth of your matter, but, oof-" the thump of a log, faint scuttling- "our 'truth' is just another kind of story to you, Creek, isn't it?"

You just love hearing people talk about you, don't you?"


Two thousand light years away

a star explodes, in a congregation that should be regarded as a small miracle in this entropic world of ours-

and darkness, winter, knows this dance, and melts begrudgingly away

to an invincible summer.

Spring realises at last, she'd been staring back into winter this whole time, and finally turns forward to face Rachel.

Sonora had mostly backed away to where Robin eclipsed Rachel's sun. Residue still clung to the ceiling, tracing lacy paths in the air as it fitfully danced around loops and waves of plasma.

Robin's skin prickled, her nervous system detachedly reported it as searing heat. Keep pain centres offline, at least until the pins and needles finish doing their thing.


Well, no, (and no) but,

"Yeah. Thanks."

RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
When the Kelriz was discovered it was agreed that it was too potentially important to be claimed by any one person, no matter how much the location of a gargantuan untouched spacecraft from an unknown civilization might have fetched on the black market (this was not an agreement that was made easily). This information was instead taken to the Galactic Alliance. After much debate (wherein almost every member planet’s government attempted to concoct some reason as to why the Kelriz was best served by giving it to them) and some initial investigations it was decided the only fair thing to do was to split the ship between the governments of the member planets.

While most governments saw the Kelriz as an opportunity of one kind or another and seized upon it almost as soon as the ruling had been passed, the government of Deste, home planet of the tsote, had no such designs. Tsote are humanoid beings, almost elfin in appearance, with skin falling somewhere along a spectrum from lavender to Byzantium and eyes the colour of precious metals. They are most known for having the ability to sense fate as a tangible thing. This innate ability perhaps makes them a less ambitious race than any other. They know their limitations and they stick within them. Few venture too far from Deste, and those are generally those who think that if they can run far enough away from their homeworld they can avoid the ill-fate they have been stricken with.

Regardless a portion of the Kelriz was theirs, whether they wanted it or not. When it became apparent that they did not they were beset by private organizations requesting to rent or outright purchase their portion of the Kelriz.
Eventually they made a deal with Raxucorp, a small but rapidly growing organization based mostly on Earth. The nature of the deal granted Raxucorp free reign to do what they wished with the Deste portion of the Kelriz, provided that such actions were not considered unethical, and though the Raxucorp representatives were reluctant they eventually accepted that a representative of the Deste government should be present to ensure that these conditions were met.

Vincent Adyka was her name; Vinnie to her friends (as a non-binary species sometimes Tsote had difficulties differentiating between ‘boys names’ and ‘girls names’. They often had trouble with the gender binary in general. In regards to names Tsote parents who choose alien names often just pick whatever they like the sound of).

Vinnie’s fate was mostly pretty standard; the basic love/marriage/kids/eventual death (the details of which even those who liked to know their fate ahead of time generally shied away from learning) destiny. There were subtle hints of a journey to a far off place but it was faint enough that it could safely be assumed that whatever it referred to was largely uneventful. It was partly this safe fate that made her the ideal choice to oversee the Raxucorp Excavation.

It had been about a month since Vinnie and the Raxucorp Excavation team had arrived on the Kelriz. Things had been as peaceful as her fate had promised, but there was a certain tension between her and the Raxucorp management. It was obvious that they were not best pleased about her presence. Vinnie suspected that they were hiding something from her, what that might be she was not certain, and there was never enough proof to push the issue.

Today (or rather this 24 hour period as the Kelriz lacked a day and night cycle most inhabitants used whatever time measurement they were familiar with) was a rest day for the Raxucorp crew. Most of them had chosen to spend the day hiking down to the docks, which were designated as a communal area. Since the ruling the docks had been filled with independent merchants looking to capitalize on, well, not a captive audience exactly, but a market that does not have a wide variety in its retail choices. Vinnie might have opted to join them, but management was also making the journey and she really needed a break from those two.

Instead Vinnie had found an out of the way corner and was quietly reading a well-worn copy of The Night’s Thorn (wishing she had thought to bring more than one book) when she heard a distant frail sounding voice singing uncertainly. It took Vinnie a moment to convince herself that she was not just imagining the distant song, it wasn’t that she was prone to flights of fancy, it was just that sorrowful song seemed so out of place in these cold industrial corridors. She’d heard some of the Raxucorp crew sing upon occasion but they were generally bawdy songs making reference to anatomic processes she didn’t really understand sung when stumbling home drunk from a rest day spent down at the docks, and this was very clearly not that.

Unable to conceive of a satisfactory explanation for what she was hearing, Vinnie took her torch and following the echoing sound of that haunting melody. As she strolled through the wide empty corridors she neared the ribbon of light that denoted the Raxucorp Central Excavation. Did someone come back early? It was probably none of her business, but her curiosity drove her on. She peered through the door to see a girl in a raggedy dress collapse to the ground.

Quickly abandoning all pretence of secrecy Vinnie rushed towards the girl. She was now convulsing wildly on the hard metal floor, each limb seeming to flail independent of the others. She was also making uncomfortable sounding noises from deep in her throat, punctuated by occasional coughing. Vinnie pulled off her Raxucorp logo emblazoned jacket, rolled it up into something vaguely resembling a cushion and carefully placed it under the girl’s head.

“It’s okay mystery girl.” Vinnie whispered soothingly. “My name’s Vinnie. I’m gonna stay right here with you; keep you safe.” She watched as the girl’s eyes blinked independently of one another, alternating between quickly and slowly and long periods of staring, whilst her eyes swivelled this way and that way in their sockets. Vinnie continued to speak calmly and reassuringly though the longer she watched the girl the more unnerved she became. It was as though every part of the girl’s body was operating entirely separately. Vinnie was not a medical expert by any stretch of the imagination but even so she had never seen anything like this.

“Ms. Adyka?” Vinnie glanced behind her to see Raxucorp management showing more emotion than she had ever seen in either of them. On site management consisted of regional manager Adam Smith and assistant manager Jane Jones, but one was so rarely seen without the other that Vinnie had privately began to think of them as a single entity. It didn’t help that they kind of resembled one another; they both had blonde hair, though Ms Jones wore it long and Mr Smith kept it professionally short, they both had pale blue eyes, the same chiselled jawline and winning smiles which they would flash with regularity. Their fates reeked of success.

“Please explain what is happening here.” Mr Smith instructed.

“I don’t know.” Vinnie admitted. “I got here and there was this girl. I think she’s having a seizure but I’m no doctor. I don’t know what this is.”

“Hmm.” Mr Smith looked contemplative. “Thoughts?”

“She seems human. If she was here with the Earth Allocation then we’d know about her already.” Ms Jones replied. “What’s she saying? Is that a language?” The girl continued to make guttural sounds from her throat as her tongue lolled and thrashed.

“No.” Mr Smith said with certainty. “Or I suppose it might be a language but she’s not using it as such; there’s no pattern to the noises. I suspect it’s a symptom of her seizure but we’ll see for sure if it passes.”

“I suspect she’s freelance.” Ms Jones said. “Did she see anything confidential before she started seizing?”

Vinnie didn’t respond for a moment, wondering how they could be so calm and detached right now. “Um, not that I saw.” She said. “I, um, I thought I heard her singing before I got here.”

“Singing?” Mr Smith cocked an eyebrow.

“You left Central Excavation unguarded?” Ms Jones asked pointedly.

“Never mind that, this girl needs a doctor.” Vinnie said, anger rising in her voice.

“She is calming.” Mr Smith observed. “Medical assistance might not be necessary.” Vinnie looked back around to see that Smith was right; the girl had stilled. Vinnie gently manoeuvred her onto her side and stood up.

“Now, about the singing…” Mr Smith said. “Please tell us everything you can remember about it. The more information we have about our potential saboteur the better.”

“Sa-” Vinnie cut herself short when she finally noticed something about the girl. It hadn’t occurred to her until now because she was so fixated on helping her through whatever it was that she had just gone through, but now that she was still and silent she couldn’t help but notice it. This girl had no fate. Not even the slightest trace of fate hung around her. “She needs to die.” She said, almost under her breath.

“Excuse me Ms. Adyka, what did you just say?” Ms Jones asked.

Vinnie spun around to look at management. There was a look of terror in her eyes. “This girl needs to die. She has no fate she should not be alive.”

“I understand that to tsotes fate and destiny and so forth is very important but even so I’m not sure I understand your position.” Mr Smith said slowly.

Vinnie knew that humans had a tendency to dismiss fate as some kind of superstition. She didn’t have time to make them understand. She walked over to the ‘dorm’ (nothing more than a few sleeping bags in a rough circle) and started to search through her bag.

“Ms. Adyka please explain yourself right now.” Mr Smith insisted.

“There’s no time.” She said simply. “If I act now I can minimize the damage she’s done but it might already be too late.” After a minute she found what she was looking for, a pistol she had packed confident in the knowledge that she would not need it on what fate had assured her to be an uneventful journey.

“Ms. Jones.” Mr Smith said her name as if it were an instruction. She strode forwards her heels clacking on the metal floor and in one easy motion she grabbed Vinnie’s wrists and pulled them behind her back. Vinnie strained and struggled in Ms. Jones’ unnaturally strong grip, her pistol clattered uselessly to the ground. “Ms. Adyka this is uncharacteristic of you, explain yourself right now.”

Vinnie sighed. “Fate is real. You just need to believe me on this point.” She said. “This woman has no fate and I’m not saying she has no free will. This isn’t about free will vs. fate. This is about this woman shouldn’t be alive at all. Every interaction that anyone has with her sends them further and further away from the path of their fate.” She took a glance at the girl lying helpless on the floor. “And it doesn’t end there because nobody lives in a vacuum. You change the fate of one person you change the fate of every person they come into contact with, maybe only very slightly but in increments you change the fate of every living being in the universe. This is an unprecedented disaster. She needs to die before she can do any more damage, so just let me do what needs to be done.”

Management looked thoughtful for a moment. “We need to think on this.” Smith said.

“At the risk of being redundant, there is no time for methodical contemplation.” Vinnie spat.

“This seems like a largely ideological issue.” Ms Jones ventured. “Even assuming tsotes have an accurate perception of fate, I don’t see how an altered fate is so catastrophic.”

“Further investigation into the validity of the tsote fate sense and how it could be best utilized would be ideal but I understand that time is pressing.” Mr Smith said.

“Perhaps we should question her to learn how this lack of fate came about so that it can be replicated in the future if necessary.” Ms Jones suggested. “She appears to be coming around.” Vinnie looked over to the girl who it seemed was trying to climb to her feet without using her arms.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me?” Vinnie said exasperated.

Smith walked over and offered her a hand. “Good afternoon miss.” He said. “My name is Adam Smith, regional manager for Raxucorp. I would be very interested to learn your purpose here in the Deste Allocation.” The girl looked up at him, made some uncomfortable guttural noises, but otherwise ignored his offer of assistance. Her arms hung limply by her side and she was having far more trouble getting to her feet than seemed reasonable.

“I think a doctor might be advisable after all.” Ms Jones suggested. Mr Smith gripped the girl by the arms and gently but forcibly lifted her to her feet. He held onto her for a moment while she found her balance and then let her go. She stumbled past him and onto the podium she had collapsed next to.

“I don’t think we’re going to get an answer.” Mr Smith said with a frown. “Perhaps it is safer to simply eliminate her.”

“Finally.” Vinnie said with a roll of her eyes. The girl had dropped to her knees again and was touching the pedestal, making large imprecise gestures with her arms like she didn’t quite know how to use them. Suddenly there was a rumbling, like the sound of an engine starting up. The room began to light up, not just with the lighting rigs that Raxucorp had set up, but the main lights of the Kelriz were flickering on.

“Did she just do that?” Mr Smith asked incredulously.

“The timing is too close to be discarded as coincidence.” Ms Jones offered.

“How did she just do that?” Ms Jones could not offer anything more than a shrug. “We’ve been here a month and we couldn’t even turn the lights on, she does it in minutes, after undergoing some kind of trauma.”

Vinnie could see her shot at ridding the universe of this abomination fading away with every second. They were going to use her. It didn’t matter that they couldn’t understand her or how she had done what she had done. Even if it was only a fluke they were never going to kill her now. It was now or never. Distracted by the power coming on Ms Jones had relaxed her grip; Vinnie jerked her arms forward with everything she had. It was just enough. She dropped to the ground and grabbed her pistol, turned and opened fire once, twice, three times before Ms Jones was upon her again. The girl collapsed, two of the bullets had gone wide, but the third hit her in the side of the head. There was no doubt she was dead.

“God damn it Ms Adyka!” Mr Smith rounded on her furiously. “Do you even realize the opportunity you have just cost us?”

“I’ve done you a favour.” Vinnie snapped. “Nothing good could have come from that fateless.” She spat the last word like it was the worst insult she could imagine.

Smith picked up the pistol from where it had dropped. “Ms Jones do we have a spare?” Jones shook her head. “What a shame.” He said sadly. “I know there will be trouble back with the Deste government for this but I don’t see any other option at this point.” He levelled the pistol at Vinnie and for once managed to look genuinely regretful.

“You can’t do this.” She whispered disbelievingly. “There’s no way you’ll be able to explain this to Deste.”

“I’ll tell them Fateless over there shot you when you tried to end her.” Smith said. “It’s a gamble but I’m guessing they’ll go for it.”

Vinnie was at a loss for words. It wasn’t supposed to end like this. Smith pulled the trigger and the last thing she saw before dying was the fateless girl sitting up as though nothing was wrong.
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RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
Space. Real space, not the Outsider's fake world—she was weightless, falling—it didn't work! Chaete died but she would still die among the stars!

A metal claw grabbed her from behind and pulled her backwards. She hit it, clawed at it, sobbing uselessly. From the corners of her vision came dingy once-white walls, until they enclosed her and the final wall shut the box with a hiss.

Weightless. But no stars. And, she realized stupidly, air. She was in a room now and she had been in a room before. More windows than substance, and a terrifying vista of stars, but...she had been safe. Maybe not so now...she breathed deeply, willing the calmness of the plant. Grief and terror could come later. Looking around, the walls were all plastic and metal...manufactured, but the design and shapes were alien to her. She resisted the urge to struggle in the mute grip of the claw. The sudden crackle of speakers almost broke that.

“Hello? Hey! D'you understand me?”

“Y...yes.” She didn't feel right.


“Ask her if she knows where she is.” A different voice. “Scans of her are reading a low tech level, and she seems pretty lost, so she's probably one of those hippy-dippy cultists that come here.”

“Not to mention whatever she's been smoking that's pinging the sensors. And lookit those robes.”

...They must be using a different language than before. But whatever made an alien child speak fluent Laden is still translating.

“Okay. Um.” The first voice turned back towards the speaker. “Do you know where you are?”

“Kray...Kraykee...” Amaranth struggled.

“Yes, ok, good job. Krei'kii'kelriz. That's where you are.” The voice continued in this humilating fashion. “Could you, uh...tell us who's responsible for—er—who you came in with?”

Amaranth contrived to look as blank as possible. I take it back. I should be grateful they think I'm too stupid to know facts any normal person here would know.

“Yeahhhh. Okay.” The voice swiveled away again. “Look, auntie, the standard questionnaire is a no go. Let's just shepherd her back to her flock and get on with things. She's no threat.”

“Ok. Ok. But you have to do it. And tell me if anything funny happens.”

“Fine, you paranoid old hag.”
Swivel. “Ok, miss, we're going to take you through the lock now. Be prepared for a switch to low-gee.”

I'm probably supposed to know what those words mean, Amaranth mused as the claw pulled her back. The plant was a dim calm overlaying the blueblack exhaustion of the last few hours. How funny. The wall behind her hissed open and suddenly she wasn't being pulled back anymore but up

She vomited into a quickly proffered tube that vacuumed the matter away.
“Don't try and move your head.” advised the second voice. The wall that had been behind her was now solidly under her. She fought back more nausea. Her inner ear reeled.

Glancing around the room (with a minimum of head turning) she guessed it to be a slightly disorganized command center of a small organization. They seemed to repurpose everything, and there were personal touches in all corners.

The two voices—now embodied—looked at her with expectant suspicion. They were both stout, presumably human, and their jumpsuits carried the same feeling as the room. Their black hair was cut short.

“Th...thank you for your help. I am deeply grateful. My name is Amaranth Benedicta.”

The elder one laughed.
“What a mouthful! I'm Han Mi-yeon and this is Han Jae-geun. He'll be taking you back to your people.”

Amaranth struggled to her feet. “Pleased to meet you,” grinned the younger one, and held out his hand. The second she grasped it, he set off, tugging her towards a hatch on the far wall. “Bye auntie, I'll be back before you know it!”

The switch from the unfamiliar yet comfortable command center into the starkly alien architecture of Krei'kii'kelriz might have been shocking. Amaranth was too removed for that. Even the solid stone of the curved floor—so blatantly meant for something not human—seemed dreamlike beneath her feet. Tunnels split off from all sides, at every angle possible. Jae-geun set off down one tilted downwards, and Amaranth followed. The ceiling, in contrast to the half-circle the walls and floor made, was flat. It brushed the top of her head with every step. The rabbit's-warren felt both tightly enclosing and horribly open. Even more tunnels split off from the smaller ones. This dark maze...it's worse than the caves in Godsworn Valley. If I got lost.... She could see her instinctual terror from very far away, as if she stood on a precipice looking down. She shook her head quickly.

I need to mimic Jae-geun. Everyone here must be used to this place the way he is...and that on top of the hundred other things that I don't know. I'm like the village hunter who comes to the metropolis. One wrong turn and I'll get killed because I didn't know not to stand on the tracks. At least the Valley's forests were familiar...I won't be able to run so easily here.

I wonder if it's hard for the others. I wonder if their worlds are like mine, or like this one. Are they shrugging it off while I act the poor fool?

Not that them having trouble would help me. They're supposed to be threats, but...how can they be more dangerous than an organized military, or whatever else I might find here? They have reason to kill me, and they could. But they aren't the ones who tried to. I have to focus on the bigger dangers. Even with her strange powers, Chaete was barely a threat to a single armed human. And a single armed human from the valley is what killed her. Not any of the people captured by the Outsider.

I should remember more about them. I should but I don't. That place, the Outsider...being thrust into a different world...it's all a blur. I thought I could run. They weren't...important. And the second time—
a bloody mess, broken and dangling against the still stars—I. I wasn't thinking about them.

A few deep breaths, concentrating on the dim grime of aeons that covered the floor.

Well, I'm paying for it now. I think...I know some of them weren't human. One was inky, shapeless maybe, and one was...large, and armored? Maybe some have impossible powers like Chaete's. Or. Or something like mine, I suppose.

Jae-geun interrupted her thoughts with sudden silence. He had been whistling a tune in octaves Amaranth didn't recognize, and she found the way it echoed through the tunnels to be jarring. But it still carried the stamp of humanity, and the swarming silence it left was...

Does he hope I'll need to fill up the emptiness with words and give away more about myself? Well, it's working. I can't take this right now. After a pause, she managed something suitably empty. “You're very good at that. I wish I could whistle so well.” I feel silly. I shouldn't. I need him to believe this cover.

Jae-geun seemed disappointed by her comment, but maybe he had just hoped for worthwhile conversation.
“You have a lot of time to practice on jobs like mine. Stretches of boredom punctuated by flurries of panicked scrambling.” He grinned.

All the questions I could ask and can't risk. She hazarded a shot in the dark. “It seems terribly interesting.”

Jae-geun laughed and continued walking.
“I'm sure it seems that way to you. And yes, journeying through space, trading with other planets, seeing the galaxy...I wouldn't trade it for the world. But the sheer mind-numbing quality of the journeys themselves—we're only a small ship, so it's not like on the huge liners with their habitats and all the qualities of a small city. If you get sick of one person, well...”

He continued on in this vein, safely expounding on a pet topic like he no doubt had many times before.

“...and if you have to stay at some hellhole of a station to fuel up or make a trade, you have to do it. Sometimes for weeks at a time. Take this place, for example--”

He doesn't like it?—of course he doesn't. Who could love this lonely wreck? It seems remote...it must be thousands of miles from real civilization. Like traveling from a safe home in the base of the continent to the tip of the Northern Colonies. And just as wild and unkind of a place to live. An earthless, cold place... She thumbed the seed-box. Not a world for this. Even if there was the right person. Jae-geun's a trader. I don't think I'll like the real residents.

“-crawling with weirdos and down-on-their-luck amateurs who sold their lives to come out here and hope they'll stumble on some salvage that's worth it. Not that much of anything's worth it. Only reason I'm out here is 'cause I'm getting paid well by my own personal rich weirdo.” He laughed. “You'll see if we run into him. He'd be all over a real live cultist separated from the herd.

“He's a writerly type, from a branch of this megafamily. Fancies that—Ah!”
He broke off with a pleased exclamation, and sped up down the hall towards a distinctly un-alien ladder, which Amaranth hoped was the way out.

It led up into a small room. Jae-geun waited for her to finish climbing before swinging the door open with a theatrical flourish.

“Now—here's the Grand Hall!”

Amaranth stepped through and froze in awe.

The Grand Hall was to other halls as mountains are to molehills. Here the alien architecture stretched into contrast expansive with the nightmare cloisters of the tunnels. It was night and day, it was chiaroscuro, as if the builders had refused to ruin the high drama of their work with mediums and in-betweens. It was horrifyingly large.

It was as dark as the tunnels, like them lit only by the efforts of the outsiders come to it. All the lights money had bought dwindled before they reached the primeval gloom in the vaulted heights of the ceiling. In the corners, pathetically, scuttled the bric-a-brac of impermanent human installations. Some were professional-looking, clean with multiple stories and undoubtedly the work of the government Jae-geun had mentioned. At the other end of the spectrum were tiny shacks, mostly formed of scavenged mismatched shapes from Krei'kii'kelriz's boundless interiors. They looked like an infection on its skin.

The people themselves ran a much more varied spectrum of upkeep than their dwellings. Evidently equipment was the priority here. They were mostly human, but not only, and many wore armor that obscured identification. There looked to be trade, and gossip, and overall it resembled a rundown town that had fallen on hard times decades ago and never recovered.

Evidently something important had happened, because a large and noisy crowd had gathered. Jae-geun strode excitedly towards it, pulling Amaranth along. And then it parted just enough and there was the creature from the Outsider's world and she wrenched her arm away to run but that only made it notice her faster. And where was she going to run to, anyways.

Its head shifted and flicked and she could see its mind working and remembering in the small movements of its gaze. She wished she had her mask and then realized why would a thing like that be able to read my face.

It stepped forward, controlled and powerful. Amaranth tried not to cower.

“You. You are one of the other contestants. What is your name?”

A man's voice. This was no innocent child in a monster's body like Chaete had been.

“I—my name is Amaranth Benedicta.”

“I did not see you once in the last world. Where were you? Hiding?”

“I...was with Chaete.”


“The...” How to describe her? Well, there's one thing you know he remembers, Amaranth. You're just avoiding it. “The one who died.”

He thought this over.
“...Did you kill her?”

“No! Who—why do you care?!”

“If you have killed another contestant, I want to know. I would think this is obvious.”

How dare he! How dare- The flare of anger blazed through the fear. Amaranth took back control. It's clear he's not about to kill me. I have to... There will be worse creatures than this. This is my life now.

“Who are you?”

“Arokht. I am an Iceworlder. I am trying to regroup with the others. Have you seen them?”

Military, said a flash of intuition, and little details of Arokht's bearing and manner clicked into place. She noticed now the recent scars cobbled over with hasty patching that ran across his armor. She remembered the limp she had been too terrified to notice. Hm. She shook her head.

For a moment, Arokht looked tense. He's...worried? Then the military posture reasserted itself.

“Disappointing. Nevertheless, you will stay with me.”

Can't have me running off. Or maybe he charitably assumes I might be of some use.

A human woman approached.
“Hi, Amaranth. I'm Mary Santos.” Her approach was the false kindness of people who are very worried about what you might do next, but, well, I really am visibly falling apart, aren't I. “And this is Ak.” She indicated a 4-legged horror behind her. “Arokht's told us a few things about your situation.” A tight-lipped glance back at him indicated that Arokht worked on a need-to-know basis, hadn't bothered with a cover story, and had left Mary with a million unanswered questions about what the hell was going on. Not a natural liar. Hmm. Mary smiled again. “We're going to compile data from the various feeds in Krei'kii'kelriz as well as recent gossip to try and get a rough guess of where your people might be. In the meantime, I'm sure you'd like a cup of-” There was a distant rumble and lights high in the ceiling flickered on. Everyone but Amaranth and Arokht reacted as if the world had flipped upside down.


“I thought the systems were dead!”

“-and see what the sensors are saying!”

The spectacle of the anomalous strangers that had riveted the crowd was swept under as they ran in all directions. The Grand Hall echoed with uproar from all corners as its denizens reacted to an event they never thought would happen.

The insect with Mary was skittering to and fro, mad with excitement.
“Mary! Must get we to M-type rooms! If awakened this the machinery-” She stilled him, and turned to Arokht.

“Arokht! Could one of you have done this?”

He shifted. “...The coincidence cannot be dismissed.”

“Ak, we need to focus. Whatever did this is more important. It'll be the real key to your questions, not some machines starting up. And since we know we're looking for a lost individual, someone who seems not from this world...we have a leg up on everyone else.”

He calmed somewhat. “Yes, yes. But must take I readings, and-” She paused another flurry of scientific fervor. “Yes. Of course. We'll get everything we can out of our computers before setting out. Come on.” She took off quickly, as did Ak, and Arokht, despite his wounds easily pacing Mary's jog with his huge measured strides.

Amaranth looked around for Jae-geun, but he had disappeared. Probably spreading the news as fast as possible. Arokht glanced back in annoyance. She sighed and ran after.

I need a rest. Instead I've been press-ganged into helping an autocratic alien gather everyone who's most likely to want me dead on a hellish wreck where the lights coming on is a big deal. And I still haven't found the time to curl up in a corner and break down crying!

Amaranth felt the mania creeping in at the edges of her extended forced coping. Great. This is going to be just great.
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
“I—my name is Amaranth Benedicta.”

Amaranth. What was it the Outsider had said about her? A missionary. Trained for hardship.

“I did not see you once in the last world,” growled Arokht. His head pounded sullenly. “Where were you? Hiding?”

“I...was with Chaete.”

“Chaete?” The name seemed familiar, but Arokht’s pain-hazed brain couldn’t quite parse it.

“The...” The purple alien hesitated. “The one who died.”

Recognition. The worm. Scraps of mangled flesh. Arokht felt a flash of irritation. Too weak to survive the first battlefield! Arokht abhorred weakness. After all his efforts, its death had dragged him back to square one. The contestants' annoying frailty was another apparent flaw in his plan -- but it was the only one that made sense. He couldn't think of any other way to force the Outsider's hand.

A line of old Iceworlder propaganda drifted into his memory, impressed into his brain before he had even been decanted from his growth tank. It is the duty of all good Iceworlders to stamp weakness out wherever it might be found… but not here. Here, he had to protect the weak, in defiance of all logic.

“Did you kill her?” he demanded.

Amaranth drew back. “No! Who—why do you care?!”

Arokht felt another surge of irritation. “If you have killed another contestant, I want to know. I would think this is obvious.”

Amaranth stiffened, her fingers curling. Threat posture in hominid species, Arokht recalled. More conditioned knowledge floated dreamlike into his thoughts. Indicative of anger or distress, signifying hostile intent. He didn’t bother reacting -- if it came to a fight, even wounded as he was…

But then the alien mastered herself, evidently forcing herself to relax. “Who are you?” she asked.

“Arokht,” said Arokht. Identifier ORSHA-NAVRA-TEUREKT-22874; field director echelon 2, he managed to avoid reciting. Preconditioned responses. “I am an Iceworlder.” Fourth Army of the Ohrsohk Lance Fleet. “I am trying to regroup with the others.” An alien who bleeds blue slime and another who breathes fire, and a third with many voices. “Have you seen them?”

Amaranth shook her head. Human body language, came Arokht’s conditioning. A negative.

He shifted uneasily, making the motors in his armor buzz like metal bees. Square one. He’d managed to enlist Mary-Santos’ help in locating the other contestants, but this ship was so enormous, even this small city of scavengers had yet to map its full extent. The others could be anywhere. Where were they? Where was Ani--

“Disappointing,” he rumbled. “Nevertheless, you will stay with me.”

Mary stepped forward, sensing a break in the conversation, and began to speak to Amaranth. She seemed to be making overtures of friendship -- Arokht left her to it. He was busy scanning the Grand Hall, searching the sea of faces and facial appendages on the off chance that he would spot one he recognized. This seemed to be a natural meeting place; surely the others would have made their way here? But no; he and Amaranth were alone, it seemed.

A tremble in the ground interrupted his search. Arokht glanced down, then around the cavernous hall, immediately on guard. An explosion?

Golden lights followed the tremor, suddenly flaring from high up in the hall’s vaulted roof. Arokht’s eyes flicked upward. The tremor must have been the result of some shipboard power plant coming live, then. This sort of thing must happen all the time --

The crowd roared. The crowd surged. Arokht jerked half a step backwards, bristling. Adrenaline coursed through his battered system, and he twitched his gun arm upwards as his inner soldier shouted attack, attack --

But his inner tactician whispered no. Look closer.

This wasn’t aggression. It looked like panic -- but no, not quite that, either. Excitement. Astonishment. The crowd exploded, rushing to their homes and tools and instruments like they were all competing to get there first. Quite a few collided with each other. Only Ak’kubal^ut and Mary were still, for relative values of stillness.

Ak’s many-jointed legs clattered on the floor in anxious typewriter rhythm. “Mary! Must get we to M-type rooms! If awakened this the machinery-”

Mary put a gloved hand on its face, cutting off its babble mid-sentence. She spun towards Arokht. “Arokht! Could one of you have done this?”

It’s just lights, thought the bemused Iceworlder. Aloud, he said, “The coincidence cannot be dismissed.”

Behind Mary, Ak’s legs continued to tap their frenetic beat.

Mary turned back towards her partner. She cupped its hooded head in her hands. “Ak, we need to focus. Whatever did this is more important. It'll be the real key to your questions, not some machines starting up. And since we know we're looking for a lost individual, someone who seems not from this world...we have a leg up on everyone else.”

“Yes, yes. But must take I readings, and-”

Mary put her hand back on its face. “Yes. Of course. We'll get everything we can out of our computers before setting out. Come on,” she said, already moving.

She jogged down the hall, Ak’kubal^ut close on her heels. Arokht limped not far behind them.

He paused. Turned his massive head back. Glared significantly at Amaranth, who sighed and came running after.

This ship makes no sense, thought Arokht, not for the first time. Gods, but this place was a maze! Left, left, right, up right down down left. he two scavengers led the two outworlders through the labyrinth with the confidence of long-time residents. Though Mary had started out in the lead, Ak had shortly overtaken her in its excitement. Arokht saw doors set too high up in the walls for even him to reach, smooth screw-shaped ramps like stairwells that ran straight into ceilings. Was this ship designed by children?

Everywhere, lights glowed. The old ship was waking up in fits and starts. Ancient metal organs thrummed with new power, their mechanisms vibrating the walls. People darted from room to room, performing arcane operations on lumps of exposed technology or slicing away ancient bulkheads with fusion cutters to make them exposed.

“Hurry,” said Ak. “Hurry, hurry!”

Down the ramp, around the pit, into a narrow corridor where water pooled on the ground, cold and stagnant. Ak’kubal^ut waited impatiently at the end, next to a circular portal. Something bright lay beyond.

“Through here. Room L21-M28-14b. Hurry!” it called, bustling through.

Mary followed Ak inside, extending a hand to help Amaranth up: the entrance was raised at waist-height, no problem for Ak and his long legs, but something of a climb for stubby humans. Arokht came last, squeezing his massive form through with some effort.

The room was--

Well. Calling it a room would have been an understatement.

The first thing Amaranth noticed was the scale. The chamber was a vast sphere equal in scope to the Great Hall, the entirety of its inner surface tiled in smooth hexagonal panels that pulsed and glowed in kaleidoscope hues. Ringing its circumference was a broad walkway of white metal. It was this that Amaranth and the rest of the group had emerged onto, having passed through the portal.

Amaranth looked up. The massive arching dome of the roof made her feel like she was trapped under the largest bowl in the universe. Amaranth looked down and immediately regretted it.

“Good, isn’t it?” asked Mary, as Amaranth stumbled backwards to lean on the wall. “Wow. I thought I was used to it, but that was before the power came on!”

As Amaranth carefully looked anywhere in the chamber but down, the second thing she noticed was the machine. Wheel-spoke catwalks radiated inwards from the walkway to meet another circular path, and in that central gap floated another sphere. Its mirror sheen gleamed. Bands of metal whirled around it like the arms of some enormous orrery, or the orbits of an impossibly huge atom.

“What was this place used for?” whispered Amaranth.

Mary grinned cheerfully. “I’ve got no idea.”

Lesser machines surrounded the great one, Amaranth saw. Silvery computer consoles, arrays of lights, complicated windowed control panels that flashed and extruded darting caliper arms. These machines had parasites: bulbous, insectile things in precisely the same shade of red as Ak’kubal^ut’s carapace.

Ak itself skittered around and around the great machine. It prodded its parasite-probes, sometimes detaching one to attach it elsewhere (they flailed crustacean legs, refusing to let go), sometimes tapping its claws on the glowing scrolling screens. It seemed to know what it was doing.

“Mary!” cried Ak, without taking its eyes off its work. “Need I your assistance!”

Mary jumped. “Coming!”

She hurried off, tools clattering on her belt, leaving Arokht to lumber into her place. He seemed distinctly unawed by the sights around him. Amaranth watched him sidelong, taking in his scarred armor, the crude repairs, the accumulated mud and dried gore encrusting his joints. Just what had he gotten into back in the Valley? It looked like he’d survived by the skin of his teeth. Assuming he had teeth.

As Amaranth watched, one of the eyepieces in his helmet flickered and sputtered out for a second. She scrutinized the blank expanse of his faceplate curiously. Was it just her, or was he staring at Ak with what looked like unsettling intensity?

Arokht had a lot of questions about Ak’kubal^ut. That the alien’s biology was also ammonia-based, he could accept. (It survived because that red shell of its was a synthetic construction, designed to withstand the flesh-boiling temperatures that humans thrived in, and the body beneath had been cybernetically modified so radically that magnets stuck to it.) Indeed, Arokht was grateful for that little quirk of nature: it meant the medical suite aboard Ak’s ship was equipped to handle the needs of Iceworlder biology. Ak was now the dubiously proud owner of a slightly-bloodstained lump of tungsten carbide. Combined with the medical nanotechnology stuffed into his veins, Arokht’s makeshift surgery meant that he now felt only marginally better than he looked instead of equally awful.

But that left the problem of how familiar Ak seemed. Arokht had never heard of a ka^tul, had never faced one in battle, yet something tickled his thoughts whenever he looked at Ak. He sifted through accumulated decades of memories, searching. Where have I seen this before?

Eventually, fruitlessly, Arokht grunted and shook the thought aside. This sort of rumination was unbecoming of an Iceworlder, and worse, served no practical purpose. Arokht chided himself. Didn’t he have a mission to complete? He would have time to indulge his curiosity afterwards. The Kuraght uhr Khtegra’s intelligence database would undoubtedly hold answers for him, and if the troopship didn’t, he could send a request up the line to the strategists of Ohrsohk Command, who had access to much more information than a simple Field Director.

Except I don’t have strategists any more, remembered Arokht, starting. Or a troopship, or support, or anything else. Only the mission.

Orders! He needed orders. His self-assigned mission sat uneasily in his gut. Giving himself commands felt dangerously close to mutiny. Arokht was a soldier, tank-grown for no other purpose. He needed an authority, superiors to command him --

-- but he had no superiors either, did he? He was alone. A gear popped loose from the war machine, his teeth suddenly finding nothing to bite, nothing to spin him and nothing to spin. He had no orders but those he gave himself, had no oversight or control, and with a lurch his yearning dropped away to be replaced by a sudden dizzy feeling like vertigo.

No control. No overarching commands or hard certainties. For the first time in this misadventure he finally had a chance to think, to really think about what his isolation implied, without anger clouding his judgement or an overriding vendetta consuming his thoughts, and he felt like he was falling off a cliff. But instead of the ground, what rose up to meet him was a wall of doubt and fear and weakness.

Everything he’d been trained and conditioned to hate -- everything he’d learned to despise in the lesser races -- it all came rushing up towards him with the inevitability of gravity.

Arokht shook his head, doglike. Then he stepped backwards and shook again, agitated by something, then doubled over without warning. The more reasonably-sized gun in Arokht’s lower arms clattered to the floor, the hands that once held it now clutching at his helmet. Metal scraped on metal. Amaranth watched the huge Iceworlder with the same sort of care a bomb disposal technician might have while facing down a nuclear device. Her own hands were halfway raised. Were they raised to help him or to defend herself? Her hindbrain couldn’t quite decide. On one hand, he was obviously in pain. On the other hand… this was Arokht.

Maybe if she was really careful…

Arokht looked up. He looked up like he’d just remembered she was there and saw her staring and snarled, and lurched to his feet like a drunken giant and took one plodding step towards her before suddenly rocking backwards as if something huge had struck him.

The huge alien sank to his knees. His fingers scrabbled at his head, palms pressed over his eyes. Amaranth backed away.

Arokht seethed. His thoughts whirled, caught between cold discipline and desperate, brittle anger.

Not her. I need her.

My weakness shames the Crusade! My species! And she saw it!

There is no Crusade here. The mission takes priority.

She saw me!

Forget the shame. Focus. Control yourself. Anger is not productive here.

He stilled. The twitches and tics plaguing his frame stopped. Amaranth could almost see the gears and levers of his mind shifting and locking into a new position. She couldn’t understand him. How could anything snap so rapidly between rigid calm and snarling anger?

The Iceworlder turned his head to look at her. That impassive helmet offered nothing about the face beneath, but the gesture seemed almost incurious, like he’d completely forgotten that he’d almost tried to kill her just a minute ago. Which really said everything about his character, didn’t it?

Arokht continued to watch her.

“Arokht,” said Amaranth, and swallowed. Life-threatening situations left her throat dry. “Arokht. What are you trying to find the others for?”

Arokht tilted his head. It took a few seconds for him to speak, like he was checking with an internal censor.

“The Outsider wants us to kill each other for its amusement,” he said. “I will not be its plaything.”

“And?” demanded Amaranth, her temper rising. “What about everyone else? Why are you gathering them?”

Arokht tilted his head the other way. “So we will not fight. We will not die.”

“I’m not saying I don’t believe you,” said Amaranth, “but you’re a giant bug in combat armor with a gun for an arm. You’re covered in blood and you look like you’ve been fed through a wood chipper and you nearly attacked me for looking at you funny.”

Amaranth stepped closer, brazen now, fed up with fate in general and uncaring alien agencies in specific. “You obviously aren’t here to make peace. What are you planning?”

Arokht growled. This insolence! This insubordination!

“I plan to be free of the Outsider’s game,” he rumbled. “The Outsider wants us to die. If we do not die, the Outsider will be forced to appear. When it appears, I will kill it. Then I will be free.”

Amaranth stared.

She ran his words through her mind over and over again, trying to find the joke, because the alternatives were either that he’d lost his mind or that she had. He couldn’t be serious. He couldn’t seriously think...

Yes, she realized. He could be serious. Understanding cascaded down her thoughts as realization slotted into realization. He got angry when people disagreed with him. His mood swung unpredictably, but it always swung to extremes. He knew, unquestionably knew he could kill the Outsider because the possibility that he couldn’t never entered his thoughts. Why would it ever? He’d never encountered a problem that he couldn’t roar and butcher his way past. His entire life operated in that context.

Oh, god. He’s a child. He’s a twelve-foot bundle of nerves and weaponry being operated by a child, because he’s never had a chance to develop emotionally...

I’m going to die here, aren’t I?

She could feel the laugh bubbling up in her chest, incredulous and hysterical. Here she was with a living war-machine-slash-child-soldier with aspirations to kill an eldritch god, who wants to gather up a team of probably-equally-misanthropic individuals as if absolutely nothing bad would happen if they were all in one place --


Amaranth jumped. Arokht spun. Faster than anything his size should move, Arokht leveled his cannon arm squarely at the great machine at the room’s center.

Ak’kubal^ut capered around the orrery, its carapace scorched and splattered with something orange: one of its probes had exploded. Mary stood prudently further away.

“Power surge!” it babbled. “Astrotempering signature confirmed! Relay wave-pattern isolated -- replicant pattern band --” it broke off into a long string of clicks and grunts as it turned and joyfully lifted Mary off the floor.

“Hey!” she yelped. “Long drop, two feet away!”

“Must send I word to Benevolent Constellate,” chattered Ak, setting her gently back down. “Must my people know! The Far-Travelers -- their vessel this is, undisputable proof -- chkai aa k’kgol, mn^ik’ch --”

Ak stopped, silenced by the hands that were suddenly clasped over its face. It vibrated.

“We still need to help our guests,” Mary said. “Can you wait a little while?”

Ak vibrated faster.

“It can’t wait,” sighed Mary. “Okay. Do you want to split up? We can meet up again whenever you finish sending. I’ll keep an eye out for you for whatever turned this place back on.”

Ak nodded vigorously. Mary had taught it how. Finding her again wouldn’t be a problem, given the tracking beacons they’d exchanged when they’d first partnered up.

Mary smiled. “Alright,” she said, stepping away. “Be safe.”

And then Ak was clattering across the bridge, legs cycling furiously as it first rushed between Arokht and Amaranth and then hurtled out the portal. It took Mary a minute longer to join them.

“Sorry about the wait,” she said. “Don’t worry about Ak, it’s just got some errands to run.”

“Alone?” asked Amaranth.

Mary laughed. “Ak’ll be fine. There’s a lot more than archaeology equipment under its shell.”

“Then we go,” hissed Arokht, stepping forward. “We must hurry. Where are the others?”

“Ah.” With a clatter of metal and plastic, Mary unclipped one of the many tools hanging from her belt: a flat, palm-sized rectangle. “Scavengers are a cutthroat bunch, but we gossip like no one else. Some of the more cooperatively-minded ones like to put out word of weird things going on, so they can all get at it together. You’d be amazed at the things our scanners and cameras pick up.”

A screen on the device lit up. Lines of white text scrolled down it. “I’ve filtered all the chatter that matches up to the descriptions Arokht gave me,” continued Mary. “They’re, er, very distinctive.”

Arokht grunted.

“Just give me a moment to collate…” Mary muttered, pushing buttons. “Hmm. Multiple positive matches… movement in deserted sectors… yes. I think I’ve got an idea where to go...”

Being the only other human in the room, Amaranth could pick up the hint of uncertainty in Mary’s voice. “Is something wrong?”

“Nothing to worry about,” said Mary, her tone of voice now indicating that there was everything to worry about. “It’s just that getting from here to there will take us through cult territory.”

Cults, thought Amaranth. The Hans had said something about cultists when she’d first woken up, hadn’t they?

“Will they be a problem?” she asked.

Mary grimaced. “It’s the Wakeful Church. One of the biggest bands of cultists on this ship. Weird people. I’ve run into them before, and all I’ll tell you is that I’m glad Ak was there with me.”

“They will not be a problem,” Arokht growled. And once again, Amaranth heard the utter, unbending certainty in his voice.

Mary eyed him in all his five-ton, battle-scarred immovability, and snorted. “Not for you, I’d bet. How about I stay behind you and tell you where to go?”

“That is…”

Orders from an alien? Disgusting.

Mary-Santos is a vital mission objective, as is Amaranth. Both must be protected.

Must I shame my people further with this display?

Yes. These are extreme circumstances.


“Huh? Oh. Alright then. Keep in mind it’s a little hard for me to see what’s in front of you...”

The three of them left the chamber: Arokht in the lead, Mary behind, and Amaranth following. Behind them, the great machine spun on...
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
Rachel could've throttled Robin there and then, even if the necrologist seemed no worse for the Sonoran wear. She hung in the corridor, eyes insolently closed and spinning gently. It was less ill-will toward Rachel and more the necrologist's inner ear telling her what exactly had just gone down (and around, and all the other directions) while she'd put 'em on ignore.

"You said." Rachel began, livid and luminous. "You said you were trying to contact an alien presence."

"I wasn't lying," said Robin, hoping her hover was coming off more relaxed than reflux. "I mean, if you wanted me to focus on whatever was living on this ship, I don't mind that either exactly but-"

"I told you Sonora was dangerous."

"And I gave your opinion due consideration. Then I made my own decisions, because we're both adults and your plan-" Robin grinned here, because we're all friends here, we're keeping it civil, definitely not because I feel like barfing and your modus noperandi is a big blithe ol' stroll in the park on a lazy Sunday but every damned day's a Sunday when you're immortal and incandescent and got nowhere else to be,


Wrong. Not your intention at all, apathetic heavens forbid.

Rachel didn't miss it as Robin counted, eyes still closed, de-escalating from five.

"You just want to protect me," Robin should've said. "You have power - you had power forced upon you - so much more than any of the rest of us, and your first instinct is to protect those weaker. Despite everything you've been through. I get why you're cautious, but-"

- but,

mankind dreams of sending humanity to the stars, and it's to spread our humanity among that pristine and untouched cosmos

- not to find humanity among them.

"This Battle is bullshit, we agree on that at least. I won't judge you for refusing to participate while us mortals get consecutively gibbed like that worm, but me? I'm overhauling the concepts of life and death so comprehensively that Outsider's going to need a new hobby."

Robin's coat was doing its own vaguely-sculptural thing in the zero g's. Among the shadows thrown by the Rachel-centric lighting system, it had (up until half a second ago) done a great job at concealing the substantial punctures on its front and back.
"...Is it worth dying over this theory of yours?"

"Universal truth, cosmic reform, pizza with my lactose intolerance," shrugged Robin. "Dying over something's been a pretty good indicator I'm doing the right thing."

Rachel felt a solar flare blooming in her throat, radiant and liable to severely disrupt communication. A sinking feeling. This wasn't worth it.

"Fine." And dink-dink-dink-dink fitful-blink, the lights along the corridor sputtered into life. "... Huh."

Robin scrambled onto safe footing as gravity generators eased in, giving the new ceiling a critical look. There was a not-too-distant "Oof!"

Rachel electroreceptored, for lack of a better analogue among the five human senses. "The gravity's been tacked on to the ship's existing power systems. Like they were waiting, I guess."

"Neat," said Robin, shoving her arm down a now-moaning vent in the now-floor, pointing to the identical vents in the sure-I-guess-ceiling and why-not-walls. "It didn't really look like this ship's operators were all that up with the concept of down."

"It's because we showed up, isn't it."

"... Shit." Robin stood up, went to open her backpack, then halted and looked at Rachel like she was expecting protest. She bolted down the hall with an afterthought of "take care of Anila for me!"

Rachel barely had time to yell at Robin before she heard footsteps somewhere behind her.

"Raaaaaachel hey! I found people! Or technically they found me, and now we're going to find you!"


Robin ran on nothing but a gut feeling, letting her boots pound a rhythm that she might focus on the ship's ambient noise. The place was showing signs of recent visitors, multilingual signs tacked to doorways and ticker-tape marking boundaries, territory, disorder.

It was Florica. It had to be. Enlisting local help would've worked if she had time, but they'd be just as likely to take an unhealthy interest in anyone who could power this place back up.

She ducked under tape labelled "WC" into a side room, ignoring the overhead glow of some edifice that was probably super-interesting or whatever. In more urgent need of attention was her laptop, to which she was probably voiding warranty by shoving peripheries before it was done booting up.

Robin wasn't thinking too hard just now on how her tech was even working, how her A-router was picking up arcanics and feeding it into a gently whirring palm-sized printer. She could've just booted up OraCall and let this locally-sourced arcanic energy into a pre-written script with her best description of Florica, but it was instead ultimately for the best that Robin paused

pulled a slip of paper from her coat

and typed a line in preparation:

msg>input1 (appel>Cathedral, my good man)
msg>input1 input1 <noparse=rhetoriq>have i got a job for you!</noparse>
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
Hello hello hello hell yes
Are you looking for religion? You came to the right guy.

In the walls of the Krei'kii'kelriz, newly reactivated sensors detected something drifting past them, and then when the artificial gravity turned back on, sliding to the floor. Water? the sensors thought. Oil?

The water in sector 13-ф-is contaminated.
The water in sector 68-七-is contaminated.
All of the water in sectors 74-138 is contaminated.

Dry in space. I miss the earth.

You don’t trust me.

You are a corpse. You are winter. Where have I seen this before? Where have I seen this before? Are you dead, are you dead? Please don’t be …. please. Please. Not another. Where is my daughter? Where is… where is she…

I know what you want…?

Long-dead systems were engaging. It felt the electric crackle zig-zagging through it, and it heard their little cries. It folded its wings and hummed. S-O-S… S-O-S…. Calling home? Calling home?

I am not dangerous. I am not a monster.
Are you looking for religion?

She is walking to the edge of the forest, where she knows they are waiting. Her hands are scratched, her leather shoes filled with stones and twigs. It is dusk, and the nightjar is singing. prrr-rrr-rrrr. The warm summer wind howls up above.

Her daughter died, with her little one, and they wouldn’t bury her in the churchyard. Because of what happened. So she is here, at the river’s edge.

They are waiting with their soot-colored cloaks and their hungry smiles. She thinks she recognizes a few faces. Even from the church. They welcome her with open arms, and they pull her into the fold, and they give her poisoned wine. Drink from this, they weep, drink deep, and let it consume you. Let it open you. When you’re ready… to see her…. come with us.

It’s a long few hours in the woods before she goes. All the while they danced their strange dances and sang their nightjar songs.

The riverbank is cold, sticky clay that gets between her toes. She tries not to think about the bones hedged around it like fences. And she tries not to think about the voices in the water.

Are you ready to see her? Are you ready to see your girl? Come closer. Step closer. Into the water. Drink deep. This is holy ground.

I hear all the voices of the earth, of the bodies lost in its depths. I am the mother in these woods. Did you think I wouldn’t know? About her? About her? About you?

She puts her hands in the water, cups them. Lifts them up. Drinks. The river tastes like ink, and hair, and dirt.

She hears her crying, softly at first, and then more and more. The river heard her as it lay in its underground home, and it swelled with her tears. Here are your daughter’s bones. Here are your daughter’s bones. Here is her heartbeat…. Here are her bones. Come into me. Come closer. Don’t be afraid. The river rises around her ankles, around her thighs, around her throat. Listen for her. Listen for her ghost.

Are you looking for religion?


The call, when it came, was twenty thousand years late.

It arrived through a relay spire embedded in an asteroid orbiting a cold, dead sun. It was a miracle that the spire functioned at all; there had been no signals from that part of the galaxy for millennia, no maintenance for longer. It processed the call sluggishly, puzzling over its lack of encryption. The spire beamed it off beyond the dead sun, into the coldness of space.

In this way it was carried through the furthest reaches of the galaxy from beacon to beacon with dire speed, through the wreckage of planets and the remnants of fleets to beyond all known civilization, through the hollow shells of warships still drifting through the remnants of battlefields. These were the darkest reaches between stars.

There had been left a watcher in this long-abandoned sector, but the children in their nest-ship had had no need of her. Her nautiline body had fossilized in the orbit of a lonely star, crystallizing into a lifeless satellite. She had spun round and round in an uninhabited star system for all her life, a hollow testament to the foresight of her people.

The call reached her, and she awoke.

RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
The shadows of Krei'kii'kelriz moved. The shadows of Krei'kii'kelriz were alive. In the unnumbered corners that cluttered the angles of the vast wreck, things stirred.

Not alien. Not complex. Simple. Human. Very, very, very, very simple.


Amaranth felt it before it happened. A presence pressing through the stagnant rust. Smoke, incense, delirium.

“Arokht—there's something—”

“Calm yourself. I have detected multiple sounds of conflict already, and altered our route.”

“But ahead—”

“An altercation cannot be avoided. The group ahead is the smallest in number.”

Mary started. “What?!” The sound of footsteps and chanting was growing.

Arokht hhfed his mandibles.
“Your concern is unwarranted. I will make a display of overwhelming force and scatter them. Stay back and wait.”

You child! “Arokht, listen--”

But Arokht's mind was only of battle and then they came.

Down the hall and out of the tunnels, out of the woodwork. They were exactly what Amaranth's gut had said. Robes. Talking, singing, reciting. Unearthly voices.

”...she's probably one of those cultists...”

Their weapons were hands and sticks and Arokht ran forward, bellowed alien noise, armored apex threat, but Arokht, Arokht, “--They aren't going to stop!

Human bodies ran forward and were swept by the cannon arm but more filled the gaps, swarming, Arokht's weapons and Arokht unwieldy in the claustrophobia. Fallen bodies make uneven footing. Arokht swung, was encumbered, seemed to grow desperate. The air changed.

Like a crack opened into the tundra. All of winter and more. Amaranth and Mary clutched behind her shield.

When the brutal blue light subsided, Arokht was surrounded by statues.

Some of them weren't fully finished, not perfectly still yet. All the same, his limbs were locked in their hard embraces, too completely for the leverage to break free.

Arokht, you idiot, didn't anyone ever tell you humans are mostly water?

Mary was lying on the floor.

More cultists trickled in from the tunnels, alerted by the sounds. They crawled over the statues, a haze of intent towards their enemy. Amaranth lifted her cold, cold shield.

Towards Arokht. Her breath fogged. It's like I'm back on that glacier... Her feet slipped on the uneven ice and she grabbed handholds unacknowledgeable.

“Amaranth! Free my right arm!”

A statue held it tightly. I was going to do that already.

The ice chipped under blows, but the cultists had crawled closer. Unskilled, afraid, fanaticism cowed by horror. They took hits to the jaw, the clavicle. Their faith was weak. They stayed where they fell. The statue lost one elbow. The second went faster. None of the cultists were moving anymore.

Arokht shattered his arm free.

“...Thank you.” Amaranth began chipping at his legs.

“They were cultists, Arokht. Not rational. They weren't going to just run away.”

“...I was told that the cultists are peaceful.”

Amaranth paused. “I...think they are...normally. Something happened. Maybe the station turning on, or...”

A troubling thought. “You know the other contestants better than I. Is there anyone...?”

“Not that I have seen. Rachel is a force of destruction with a mind, and Sonora is one without. Both to be avoided. But they cannot do...this.

“...Is Mary harmed?”
He had freed his other large arm and was rotating it, checking for damage.

“No, she just...fell asleep.”

He stopped.
Fell asleep?

“Yes, she--” Arokht was staring hard.


She looked around her. At all the cultists. Who had been so slow. Who had just laid down so easily.

I wanted it all to stop.

“...I wanted it all to stop...” She with unthinking shock. The barest murmur, but the silence was perfect.

Arokht's posture shifted.

”What are you.” His arm twitched.

Ha. He wants to grab me, but he can't risk it with his legs still trapped. What right do you have, Arokht?

“Does it matter? It can't affect you.”

The gazes of their helmets met for a long moment.

“...You will tell me.”

He's uneasy. Oh well, might as well let him feel in control! “I can affect the emotions and other physical responses of humans. The cultists are harmlessly asleep right now.”

Arokht worked his legs free, pure authoritarianism restored.
“In the future, you will use this ability as directed.

“Now wake Mary up, and explain the details of your technology's functioning.”

Of course, who better to tell me how to use it than an alien who doesn't even understand his own emotions? “I can't. It's not targeted. If Mary wakes up...so will they.”

“A simple problem.” Arokht said, and matter-of-factly crushed a cultist's skull.
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
Scurrying like ants, like rats in the dark, they moved. Figures in shapeless gray robes and respirators, clutching in cold hands crude weapons, clubs and guns and hand-made axes. Stalking the corridors with faith driven to frenzy.

“The sleeper wakes,” they chanted, called out to each other across the halls. “The sleeper wakes.”

Ak’kubal^ut could hear their singing, echoing through weird alien spaces. It stood in a spiraling ribbed tunnel like intestinal architecture, listening. It knew the mantra. Ship-worship in praise of a sleeping god who, on rousing, would ferry the faithful to paradise. The Wakeful Church.

Well, the ship had roused. Naturally, that had roused the Church. Given that the Church had, before this, been an army of isolationist fanatics, this was probably bad news.

The voices were getting closer. Ak considered its options.

Movement! Dark silhouettes at the end of the tunnel. One carried a lamp. Light glinted across spears made of jagged scrap metal.

“The sleeper wakes?” called the one with the lamp. It shone a beam across Ak’s red carapace.

“That’s not one of ours,” muttered a second. It lifted its spear. The blade dripped dark red.

Then there was a staccato pop-pop-pop-pop, and all four cultists collapsed.

“Sincerest apologies,” buzzed Ak, stepping over their convulsing bodies. The fist-sized electrolaser emitter slid back into his shell.

Ak paused mid-stride. If the Wakeful Church was rising, did that mean Mary was in danger?

It took a moment to consider Arokht.

Probably not, it decided. It continued onward. Its people needed to know there was indisputable proof of the Far-Travelers’ existence.

Ancient folklore stated that Ak’s ancestors had once inhabited a fertile and peaceful savannah, as far as the word applied to a bleak iceworld where liquid ammonia ran like water. But a great flood had driven them out of the plains and into the steep plateaus to the east, which they learned too late were already occupied by a violent race of giants who did not take kindly to the intrusion. Legend said that Ak’s people had very nearly been exterminated in the resulting war, until the Far-Travelers had come from beyond the stars and destroyed the giants in turn.

Legend said that that was the first of the Far-Travelers’ gifts, and that it hadn’t been the last. Modern thinking, on the other hand, held that the Far-Travelers were only a metaphor, historical fact distorted by millennia of retelling. But if the Far-Travelers had indeed existed -- if they had indeed helped uplift the ka^tul --

Ak began to run.


The sound of a human skull being crushed was a wet crack-crunch, like a stick of celery being crushed underfoot.

“Stop,” said Amaranth. The word a reflex, out of her mouth before she could think twice because Arokht what are you doing--

But of course Arokht ignored her. He worked his way through the crowd. A single blow from his massive fist was all it took; the weight of it alone did most of the work. Murder made methodical: if they lived, he killed them.

They’re asleep! They’re not dangerous anymore! Why are you killing them they can’t even fight back why can’t we just tie them up or leave them behind --

“You will carry Mary,” Arokht said, without pausing. Crack-crunch. “We will continue to the end of this tunnel and then wait for her to reawaken. We cannot travel this ship without her.”

Amaranth couldn’t have hated Arokht more than at that moment. His barked orders. His sheer callousness. But what else could she do besides kneel down among the half-frozen corpses and heave Mary onto her shoulders? Better my hands than his.

Her gut churning, she forced herself to look away from Arokht’s grisly work. This hall was a long tunnel with smaller paths leading off of it at irregular intervals; the cultists had come from several ways at once, coordinated. Chance, or a deliberate ambush? Some of the paths were only wide enough for a single person to pass through comfortably.

Or, with some discomfort, a single person carrying another.

Amaranth felt a sudden surge of adrenaline, of hope, of vindictive spite.

He’ll know. But he can’t follow. And he can’t risk killing me, either.

She stood, staggered -- gods, Mary was heavy -- caught herself, and began to walk.

Fast movements will alert him, she thought. He thinks you’re cowed. Go forward like you’re following behind him. Move like you’re trying to find a way through the bodies. Turn right at the side tunnel. Then keep going…

Amaranth had only gone two feet down the shaft before Arokht realized what she was doing, but by then it was too late for him to do anything about it.

First it was a snort like an angry bull. Then there was a pounding as of metal hooves and fists hitting the ground at speed, and then a massive dark shape blocked out the light from the main hall and a massive dark hand thrust itself through the entrance, scraping sparks against its edges, snapping and clawing and coming up short.

Arokht raged. His primary arm pawed at the sides of the tunnel, slammed against the floor -- the rest of him simply too huge to fit, though not for lack of trying. He roared after her retreating form, wordless, furious beyond words.

Amaranth began to run.


Gone! Gone again! After her -- go through -- can’t fit, can’t fit --

Down, then. Down the main tunnel. Look for a branch. Circle around. Cut off her retreat.

Arokht pushed off with cybernetically enhanced strength, loping apelike on all fours. Graceless alien super soldier, single-minded as an artillery shell. The sides of the hall were a blur.

No Mary -- my Mary -- no map --

Neither does she. She is as lost as I. Here, turn right. Go.

Three more cultists staggered into his path, wounded, fleeing from something that wasn’t him. Arokht bowled them over, scattering them like dry leaves.

Commotion up ahead. Unknown significance.

-- must not fail again --

Arokht began to run faster.
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
Krei'kii'kelriz, the great riddled riddle of a wreck. What long-dead denizens sieved you to and fro, bored you capillary-mad and left you to drift, a rotting maze? And how long could one wander your wormwood halls without ever encountering another living being?

On this night, not very long at all.


All Robin wanted was a place to hole up where she could bother the local ghosts without being bothered herself. The former research station proved accommodating to both those needs. Set my computer up, get to work on recruitment. Violent deaths were always so confused, but what can you do.

“Hello again, friend of a friend, I knew you when.”

“Hello, Sonora.” Well, this won't make things any easier. But at least she might ward off anyone combing the halls and picking off stragglers. She examined the bodies. Eenie, meenie, mynie, mo. “Why're you hanging around here? It's pretty quiet.”

“Why is it so quiet? It—just a second ago there were birds, and, and now--”


“--Delta, do you read, I repeat, do you read? *cough* Code midnight, the church has, the church--”

Robin looked over at the corpse hunched by the communications relay. “I'll start there, I suppose.”

“When you walk you'll leave black dirt in the street.”

She popped her briefcase, began rummaging. “Tell me about it. Hey, don't suppose I can rely on you to hand me equipment, eh?”

“...You're a funny one, aren't you? We're alike, in a way. Monsters, always in the darkness. Declaring us the nicest of the damned. Ain't nobody gonna love me like the devil do.”

“Uhh-huh.” Robin concentrated on the part with the scalpel that was always rather fiddly.


Amaranth was adrift in a cloud. Another land where all the sounds were distant and everyone slept but her. A dream world where she was lost and no one would ever find her, where she was alone and traveling forever. Mary is so heavy. I should wake Mary up. The thought circled her head, met its answer, and circled back again, choosing easy inaction every time. The tunnels were hazy, hazy, the thing that damns me saves me, no guidance without the loss of safety, no safety without being lost.

I just need somewhere to stop.

One tunnel led into a larger hallway. Too large. But she could hear voices echo softly, calm voices among them. Dim light from a doorway shone on inky pools of blood and still forms but—I have very low standards now.

Cracked screens and damaged equipment, the carnage of technology did its best to illuminate the carnage of flesh.

I suppose the cultists came in by— Amaranth began to think, and then realized she did not care. She accepted the scene as it was, a moment without history, each corpse placed for effect. An illustration torn from a storybook, a perfect tableaux ruined only by one—two—still living figures in the center of the room.

“I'll be with you in a moment, this one's a bit flighty, needs extra attention.” The woman with a calm voice bent back towards the man she was seeing to. Even silhouetted by a blue light, her clothes...looked different from any Amaranth had seen on the station.

The man murmured, too low for her to hear.
“Now, can you remember your name? What day it is? Good.” A head injury, it seemed. A voice sighed from nowhere. From over the radio? “...know you, I walked with you once upon a dream...” The woman hmmd, but in response to her patient or the voice, Amaranth couldn't tell.

Uneasy, she laid Mary into the spot least taken by other bodies. The door was...open, with no visible way to close it. Sliding handle-less panels stuck partway. But the sleep had to stop. She pulled off her mask, rubbed her eyes. It felt like the shadows were pulsating.

“...that gleam in your eyes is so familiar a gleam...”

The woman was still murmuring with the man, further obscured by the flickering voice of the radio. “No, it doesn't work that way. … I'm sorry … time to hold your hand … simple but important … … can count on you.” Unconventional phrases, even if it was palliative care. Amaranth approached slowly.

“I'm experienced in first aid...there might be something I can do for him.”

“He's a bit past all that.” Offhanded, dry sardonic.


“Please, please help me...I don't want to die...” The man moaned softly. He was in worse shape than Amaranth had realized. Holes in...

“Past what I can do for him, too...with an hour, of course, I'd get somewhere, but we might not have an hour.” She started tapping at her computer.


“What a lovely epitaph, oh. How—how can you be so cruel?!”

“Spare me the witty commentary.”

That was definitely in response to the radio. “I-”

The woman tched and tapped a button. The man stopped.

A bit silly. “H-he...he...” A bit silly, not to notice the hole in the side of his head. “He-” But he had been talking, after all. “He's-”

“Out with it, tell me! Is he alive or is he dead? And I don't know if the dead can talk to anyone. I. I want to hear you say it.”

That's not the radio.

Amaranth curled in on herself, nightmare placed upon nightmare and that fever pitch of a voice. I, I need to...I can't her face was hot and wet.

“Talk to me! Sing, sing, sing, sing unto me.”

Amaranth whimpered.

“Shut up for one second.” The woman came towards her. Hands reached gingerly—awkwardly—around her shoulders. “There...there. It'll uh, it'll all be ok.” And Amaranth leaned into it, wrapping her arms around the woman, burying a sob into the green wool. “Uh. Ok. Shh, shh.” A hand brushed her hair experimentally. Everything that had been building up, everything smoothed over with more and more forced calmness, all of it, broken dam flowing downriver over everything in the way. It was all coming out.

Catharsis poured out of Amaranth, literally infectious. Robin felt sympathetic tears well in her eyes. Well, that's never happened when a grad student broke down before. “Hey, you're uh-” No, no point asking right now. She held her breath experimentally, felt she felt a little less sappy. No good just doing that, probably gets in through other ways. I'm right next to the source, after all.......didn't see you in the last world, damn near forgot you existed. And now you're getting snot on my coat. Drops rolled down her face and her heart twisted with sourceless emotion. Fuck.

Sonora was hissing.
“...they'll time your every breath poison, it's poison I tell you echo, echo, echo”

“...Huh. You...don't like this?” Neither do I, but it's good to know I have options besides plasma fire for getting you off my back. She felt a surge of togetherness, squeezed Amaranth's shoulders. There are worse trips, I suppose.

Robin heard a shuffling. So that person Amaranth carried in was alive. She blinked quickly, saw in the bad light a capable-looking woman. “Ah...hey.”

The woman took in the scene, approached and kneeled worriedly.
“Amaranth...is she alright? Are you alright? What happened? Where's Arokht?” Arokht, bell ringing. “Don't worry about me, I'm...a sympathetic crier, I guess.”

Amaranth snuffled, took deep breaths, you can only cry so many tears at once after all, the bulk of the tension wrung out of her like a rag.

“What happened, Amaranth? I remember the cultists, and then...I must have fainted. Where's Arokht?”

She stared for a moment, shook her head. “They...they weren't any match for him. Not really. I don't think anything is. They fell—they were knocked out. But Arokht—he—that wasn't enough. He. Started killing them.” Her face was in her hands. “Crushing...I had to get away. I got you away. But he's angry. So, so angry.”

Mary let out a long breath, swore. “I realized he was a soldier, but...I thought he was reliable. Damn!” She got up, agitated. Controlled panic. Went to examine the equipment. “I'm going to try to raise Ak on the comms. Can I at least trust the intel he gave us about your...people?”

Amaranth shook her head. “I'm sorry. I haven't met most of them. I don't think he's a liar...I don't think he even really knows what a lie is. He's simple. He thinks killing a helpless enemy is just what you do to win.” The emotional tone was fading, replaced by something more distant. Robin could almost feel the ebb in the air. So could Sonora.

“that tread across the sky you like that, huh? You like that? Haven't I suffered enough already? I remember when a million was a million. Shadows dance around the room, I know their names. They're, they're all going to die- So near to me, so far from me now.”

Mary glanced around, looking for a source.

“She has a point.” Robin raised a hand, smiled sheepishly. “We're, ah, 'one of the gang,' so to speak.”

Mary stared at the unassuming figure.
“She- We?”

“Well, me and--”

“Nice to meet you, hope you've guessed my name.”

don't interrupt me and Sonora.”

They stiffened.

Robin held up a hand. “Look, whatever Arokht told you—well, it's probably true—but she's not going to just pop off and eat you. She's no more dangerous than—well, honestly, she seems less dangerous than Arokht right now.” Robin was suddenly acutely aware of how ridiculous “hey, let's just hang out with this carnivorous shadow, what's the worst that could happen” sounded out loud. She could hear Sonora lapping at the furniture, impatient waves about to chew up a goddamn corpse or something similarly alienating. Just keep talking. “I get that you're uncomfortable. But she's stubborn as hell to get rid of, and frankly we have more important things to worry about right now.”

“I could be so winning, so absolutely winning. You don't have to explain yourself to me. And we'd have fun, fun, fun.”

If only I could elbow you in the ribs. “Shh.”

The two stared, shared looks, looked back. Began to speak at the same time, stopped.

“I'm Robin Pearson, by the way.” Mary opened her mouth. “PhD.” She added stupidly, as if that title even means anything to either of them, much less gives me authority to decide whether a b-movie monster is cool to hang out with.

“Pearson...Arokht didn't mention you.”

“I'm not very flashy. And we never met.”

“Do you know anything that Arokht doesn't know?” Florica. Florica.

“I know the devil on a first name basis. The tiniest atom that learned what it was for. And he never sees the writing on the wall. She's broken but she's fun.”

“Unless you're looking for a different perspective on personalities (from me), or free verse found poetry on the subject (from Sonora), I doubt we can tell you anything useful about the others. As to what's going down on this station...that's what I was trying to find out before Amaranth showed up.”

Mary nodded.
“We've been attempting to scan for any news of people matching Arokht's descriptions. We've also taken some readings from sensors we set up...Ak—that's my shipmate—was running a diagnostic on them, trying to triangulate the origin of the power surge.”

That's where she'll be. It has to be her. “I've been getting some news of my own. There's a sort of flux on the astral plane, something kicking up dust that's been settled for centuries. It's hard to pinpoint—the massacres adding to the foot traffic aren't helping, and that's aside from the weird residual energy signature that's all over the place, I've never seen anything like it, but--” Caught up in technobabble, she paused, realized. “Hhhh. Ok, listen. What I do—it's a sort of merger of magic and science—probably sounds like hokum to you, but can I ask you to just add something else to the trust tab I have running because again I am not totally sure how many minutes we're away from midnight--” Mary was laughing.

“Sorry, hah, I just—lord, I wanted to be a space explorer because I thought it'd be all fun and adventure, and then I realized it was mostly hard work. But now, hey, whaddaya know, turns out all the pulp fiction plots are real!” She laughed harder.

Please don't crack up on me. “I haven't even told you about how I talk to the dead.” She smiled weakly. Mary laughed, sighed.

“Alright. You do whatever it is you need to do to pinpoint your anomaly, and I'll try to contact Ak. I'm betting...our charts will match right up.” She walked over to the least-broken console, started tapping keys.

Robin looked over at Amaranth. She was kneeling by the corpse, examining him.

“So you were really talking to him...”

Robin scoonched closer, shooed away a black tendril experimentally tasting the edge of Amaranth's robe. Don't screw this up for me. “Yeah.”

“Ghosts.” She shuddered. “Lost souls who never found peace...trapped out in the cold. There are a lot of them right now, aren't there?”

“Yeah.” I hope it's just the contemplation of mortality that's making her sound so churchy. “Listen, Amaranth—that thing earlier? Where you made me start crying too?” Amaranth flinched. “I get that you weren't in control, but don't pull that again.”

“I-I'm sorry. Where I come from, it's normal to......I won't lose control like that again. I've gone back to emitting a simple calm feeling.”

“You, uh--” I hadn't caught that! “You really shouldn't--”

“Do you really think Mary would have just accepted all this by herself?” Mild tone, but sharp. She's got a point.

“Ok.” Ok, let's put cultural mores aside. For now. “Your...stuff...”

“The pollen.” Good thing I don't have allergies.

“What can you—would you be able to elicit a specific sort of emotion? And how stably are you able to control it?”

“Which emotion, and for what?”

“Well, a kind of trance state. Ecstasy in the original ex stasis sense of the word. There's a necrology hypothesis a guy named Hartwell developed, an idea for boosting weak signals using a group séance. Like minds aligned for a single purpose. It was theoretically solid. Only problem was, all the ol' shamanistic drugs are a bit of a gamble in what trip they'll take you on. Some uh, things happened...anyways. I need answers.”

Amaranth considered.
“So, you...I don't understand what it is you're trying to do. But I think I can do what you're asking.”

“Ok, cool. It should make things...smoother.”

“In the meantime, is there anything I can do? I noticed you're wou--”

Ah, well, actually, there is something you can do.” Robin wiggled her finger in the general direction of the shadows. “Talk to Sonora.”

“I'm sorry...?”

“Sonora...” She sighed. “Needs attention. I think she's sulking a bit because of whatever you did, but she'll probably want to talk again soon enough.” Robin shrugged. “Seems silly, but if you keep her occupied she won't eat anyone.”

“...Oh.” Sonora slid down a console, a lazy shadow, some kind of awful approximation of helpful emphasis. Amaranth was tense again. Keep talking, keep talking.

“You know some songs, right? Hymns? I'm a lousy singer, so I haven't tried it, but I think she likes learning new tunes.” Robin got up, started examining the other corpses. Back to business. She can handle it. I've got my own job to do.

I guess the conversation's over. Amaranth looked down at her hands, fiddling with the light armor. Robin was nothing like anyone she had ever met, nothing like anyone she had ever expected to meet. Amaranth's mind shifted away from the horror of what Robin had been--was--doing. She wanted to trust Robin. Robin was...confident, not in an overbearing paper-thin way like Arokht, but deep down. She was smart, experienced. Caring. Amaranth could go along with her plan, do what Robin said to do. It felt safe.

What kind of songs does a shadow like? It sounded like an absurd riddle. And the answer was equally absurd.

Well, why don't you ask it?
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
It was sluggish. The dry air was taking its toll. Its coils moved ponderously, like cold syrup, and it advanced across the floor in a slow crawl. It nosed the tiles and seemed to catch her scent, raising a curious tentacle.

Amaranth looked nervously at Robin, but the necrologist was busily working on her little machine. She didn’t seem to be bothered by the black fluid bubbling up from the cracks in the floor.

She cleared her throat, feeling foolish. It echoed in the empty lab. “So… Sonora, right?”

The tentacle tied itself in a knot and dissolved. “Creek.”

Amaranth blinked. “Uh. Right. Creek-”

“Sonora. Sonora. Ssszonora. Sonora. Z-S-Zonora.” Its voice hitched in a sad little sob. Somehow, it sounded sarcastic.

Amaranth blinked. Without looking up, Robin rolled her hand. Keep it coming.

Nodding reluctantly, Amaranth folded her hands and began to hum a simple temple hymn. Her throat was dry and her voice cracked on the first few notes, but she steeled herself. I feel so stupid.

The black fluid paused, passing a bubble back and forth over its surface. Is that good?

She cleared her throat and resumed. It was a rather plain tune that most children in the Union knew by heart, a peaceful song about becoming a grave-tree. Not something most outsiders would be comfortable with, she realized belatedly, but maybe that was an advantage here. Sonora was rippling, not quite in tune. Experimentally, Amaranth raised her voice, extolling the virtues of returning to the earth as a seed.

The black water surged, hissing like a kettle. It pulsed and shivered, forming into something like an eyeless black snake that coiled around her, keeping a meter’s distance. “Poison,” it wept, writhing bonelessly. It wrung itself like an old washcloth. “Poisoned heart. Scorched earth. My roses- my roses- what have you done to my roses? I used to walk- in the garden- Ah!”

Amaranth stopped singing, putting up her hands to shield herself. The water recoiled as though her skin burned it, splitting itself in two and whistling piteously. “No encore, huh.”

Sonora growled. Truly growled, like a dog. “Thou defiler. Perversion of nature. DON’T COME NEAR ME! STAY AWAY!”

“You stay away from me!” The water popped and spat angrily, but didn’t come any closer. Experimentally, Amaranth took a step forward; it pulled back and hissed. “Robin, what’s going on with it?”

The necrologist sighed, clicking busily. “If I had to guess I’d say it doesn’t like artificial flavoring.”

“What- nevermind.” At least she had some protection. Not the most flattering kind, but it counted.

“Defiler- destroyer,” Sonora was moaning. Blessed earth, the thing liked to talk. “The heathens- rrrrr- burn them. My temple- Sonora- Burn them all! Heresy!”

I’m sensing a theme here. Amaranth rubbed her arm. “You and Arokht must get along well.”

The water boiled sullenly. “Iceworlder. Arokht. I will lead. My armor will protect. Cooperate or I break every limb in your- your- your-”

“Yeah, that’s him.”

Robin was giving her a look. Amaranth looked down and jumped; the water had seeped closer to her when she wasn’t looking, nearly touching her toes. She took a few steps back, releasing a little smoke to chase it away. Sonora squealed.

“How do you think the big guy did?” Mary asked. She stretched, shaking off the effects of the soporific. She was adaptable, Amaranth couldn’t help but note. Useful trait. “He’s a handful, but those cultists get rabid. Think he made it out?”

“I’d be more worried about anyone trying to stop him,” Amaranth said. The smoke had pushed Sonora to the edge of the room where it thrashed and spat, flecking the walls. She kept a wary eye on it, ready to unleash more pollen.

“I guess you don’t have any kind of tracker on him, huh? Would have been handy.”

“It would have been,” Amaranth said. A twinge of annoyance plucked at her seed. “I honestly don't know what he'll do on his own. I think he needs help. With a lot of things.”

“Uh huh.” Mary didn’t sound convinced. She peeked over Robin’s shoulder, causing the necrologist to grunt in irritation. “You know, there’s lots of corpses back the way we came. Not in the best condition, semi-flattened, but beggars can’t be choosers.”

“Um, Robin?”

“I don’t need corpses. I need necro-spiritual energies.”


“What’s the, uh, difference?”


“What, Amaranth?”

“She- It’s gone.”

Robin looked up, sniffed. The walls were sticky with black residue, but silent. “She’ll be back. Fickle as a cat, that thing, and harder to herd. Now, if I can get some actual work done-”


Arokht leaned against a wall, permitting himself briefly to rest. His filters were overworked, his lungs fluttering with exhaustion. Warning lights flickered on and off his visual interface, too many to count. His joints hurt. His exoskeleton hurt. He hurt. Iron-based blood crusted his armor, corrupted with alien scent.

He slammed an enormous fist into the wall. The metal buckled underneath him like paper. He was lost. He was weak. He was letting this ship, this fight, get to him. Weak. Disgrace.

Ah... what’s, what's, what's somebody like you doing in a place like this?

He stiffened, leveling his arm at the corridor. The voice echoed unnaturally, teasing him. “Come out,” he ordered. “I will not hesitate to eliminate you if you pose a threat.”

The walls giggled. Lights flickered further down the hallways.

“I am aware of your presence, Sonora. I will not ask again.”

There was silence, and then the quiet drip-drip-dripping of a loose pipe. Arokht brought his gun online, letting it hum meaningfully through the empty hall. Pockets of black water were pooling on the floor, draining from rivulets underneath the light fixtures. Reflections danced in them like tiny stars.

“O ye of so little faith.”

Arokht rumbled angrily. He was not in the mood to humor aliens. “Sonora. Disclose the location of the other contestants.”

“You’re all on your own, you lost all your friends…”

The Iceworlder bristled. He took a heavy step towards the nearest pool, training his gun on the rivulet feeding it. “I have lost no one. They have foolishly defected. We cannot present a united front against the Outsider’s machinations in this state.”

The puddle laughed. It rippled, gently drifting closer. “I think he needs help.”

Amaranth? “You have spoken with the others? You will lead me to them. Now.”

“They call you crybaby, crybaby,” it whined. “Help. Help. He needs help, help, help!”

It was not a word that translated easily, but Arokht understood.

“They- call my bravery into question?” Fury rippled at the edge of his mind. These aliens. Weak, watery, pathetic vermin. What did they know of valor? Of duty? His pulse was quickening. He saw the water thrumming in time to his hearts.

“It don’t matter, tch tch. I’m the one that loves you best.”

“Stop speaking in riddles.

“We could be together,” the water purred, laying a tendril over his foot. “If you wanted to. A little closer. A little closer. Just...”

Arokht snarled and kicked it, spraying dark droplets over the wall. The puddle retreated, coiling in on itself. “I have no need of your- biological predilections.”

“I know you’re- BETTER- than anyone else. I’m curious- about you- The fear of god? Get a closer look- Me, you, you! You! You!”


The water boiled, drawing more and more of itself from the wall. It rose to the height of his knees, his hips, his waist. It shivered and danced, and Arokht's sensors pulsed: no organs. Room temperature. Unknown chemical composition.

“I SEE THINGS- nobody else sees. Make- alliance to me. Make me your Aphrodite. I have the same- your tears are mine. They call you crybaby, crybaby! I’ve had enough of gods and monsters!”

Arokht considered, keeping the fluid in his sights. It swirled in arcane patterns, edging ever closer. The alien was treacherous, and it had attacked his allies before. It was dangerous, unstable, and had even less regard for rank and tactics than the others.

It knew the location of Amaranth, and likely the others. It had demonstrated a capacity for controlled violence, however animalistic. It was accepting- possibly- his offer of alliance.

It could not be trusted.

But what choice did he have?

He drew back his arm. “If we are to ally, you… You will come under my command.”

“See these shackles, baby? I’m your slave.”

Arokht regarded it coldly. It bubbled. “You are distasteful.”

Sonora loosened, falling back into a pool. Shockwaves resonated through it. “You got yours. Let me get mine.”

He ignored it. “You will take me to the others. From there we will endeavor to discover the cause behind this ship’s reactivation. We will retake control of sufficient territory, fortify our position, and maintain our forces long enough to lure out the Outsider and kill it.”

The water made a motion. It might have been a shrug. “I don't think he even really knows what a lie is. Is, Is, Is.”

“What… do you mean by that statement?”

“The scorpion shrugged, and did a little jig on the drowning frog's back. ‘I could not help myself. It is my nature.’"

Arokht stared, and turned away down the corridor. “Alien riddles.”

Sonora followed like a dog at his heels, short-circuiting the lights.

The cultists were gathered around their oracle.
“She comes,” he gasped, “She comes!”

They gripped his sweaty hands, knuckles white with strain. He turned to smile at them with bloody teeth. “You cannot imagine the… the radiance. The sun in the fabric of endless night. The light on the edge of death. She has heard our prayers. She will clasp us to her shell and take us beyond, to where the children still dance, and their hearts are full. She has heard! She has heard!”

They covered his face with rapturous tears, his body with stolen money. Plastic chips, ragged paper scraps. He smiled beyond them, ecstatic, a thousand light year stare.

She would not fail them. She was promised. And already, her prophet was on this ship.
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
Anila opened her eyes. That is to say, one eye. The other was presently occupied; she strained for a moment to see it before realizing that was a lost cause, for obvious reasons. Her blue-tinged arms felt like lead. The rest of her body felt like denser metals. A memory came bubbling to the surface: lying on the wizard’s spike trap, the one that should have killed her. The voice of Wizard Jelly. Wizard Jelly! She perked up. Wizard Jelly would know what was going on.

Wizard Jelly, she spoke into her mind, what’s going on?

“I’m sorry, Anila.” The voice came out from between her lips and made its way, with a longitudinal effort of fits and starts, to her ears. It was familiar, but it was of a timbre not her own. It was, she realized, the alien and neutral tones that she only used to hear inside her mind, interpreted through the use of her voicebox. “I was hoping it would never come to this.”

Come to what, Wizard Jelly? She couldn’t seem to get up. One foot - the untinged one, twitched madly. There was something else stabbing into her good eye, and it took her a second to realize it was bright yellow light. Come to what? Blinking only led to more pain, and the cracking of a lightly dried crust of blood. Something shifted in a place inside her skull, which definitely didn’t seem like a good place for things to be shifting.

The blue parts of her body, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have too much trouble moving. The issue was that she wasn’t moving them. “I’m so sorry, Anila. I’ve arrived at your brain.”

Faint screams came wafting down the corridor, a long way away. Her remaining eye swiveled, revealing a tableau of blood and gore. Bodies in orange uniforms: she recognized them as her adventuring entourage, until recently. Now they lay impaled on spears and knives made of shrapnel and scrap metal. A few more bodies, clothed in mismatched, mad tatters of fabric. What had happened? She tried to shake her head, to clear it, to make some sense of what was going on. There was something pinning her skull to the wall behind her.

What do you mean, Wizard Jelly? She asked, even though she already knew.

“Our party was attacked by cultists. One of them rushed you with a spear. You suffered an intracranial perforation through the eye, penetrating dura, pia and arachnoid maters, clean through the frontal lobe and hippocampus, exiting through the bone of the skull past each layer and into the bulkhead behind you.” She took a breath that was not hers. “I arrived through your bloodstream and past the blood-brain barrier as soon as I could, replacing and repairing the relevant damaged functions. I endeavored to preserve as much of your psyche as I could, but you are no longer in total control of this body.”

Anila shut her eye, as tight as it would go. Lancets of pain came curling down her spinal cord, but she ignored them as best she could. I’m going to die, then?

“Not yet, if I can help it.”

What happens when there’s nothing left of me?

She closed her other eye, split eyelid closing over the embedded spearhead. “I don’t know.”

When that time comes, Anila quirked one lip into a twitching attempt at her usual jaunty grin, let me go.

“I hope I’ll be able to do that.”

And Wizard Jelly?


Maybe I’ll see you in my next life. I hope so! You’ve been a really amazing friend.

“Don’t say that. It’s not over yet.” A blue hand came up to her head, trying and failing to dislodge the metal pinned to the wall.

It’s ok, Wizard Jelly. The next life is just the start, she gasped, as her head tried to slide forward and off the spearhead, pain momentarily shattering her thoughts, it’s just the start… of another… adventure…

Anila’s head came free at last, spattering blood and blue fluids afresh onto the metal floor. The rest of the body followed suit not long after, hitting the deck with a resounding splat. “Someone’s coming. Hold it together, Anila.”

Just another adventure…


The blue-green marble of repressed divinity spun madly around Rachel’s head, her torso, her hands. It was taking all of Rachel’s self-control not to take that power into her again. Even so, lashes of plasma came arcing from her hands, incinerating the madmen before her with more ferocity than usual. Anxiety pounded at her chest, a beat that had nothing to do with a heart.

“Take care of Anila for me!”

Rachel Wylite had been a responsible woman. She had paid her bills on time. She was one of the very few astrophysics students in the world unburdened by student loans. She had worked three jobs to get where she was.

“Take care of Anila for me!”

She had never been especially fond of children, not then and not now. She had never cared for them. Plus, Anila was hardly a child. Rachel owed Robin Pearson nothing.

“Take care of Anila for me!”

But Anila was so small, and so bright, and so happy. A more brilliant beacon of optimism and light than Rachel could ever be. Something precious.

“Take care of Anila for me!”

If nothing else, Rachel Wylite had been a woman full of purpose. And Rachel Wylite was a being built to purpose.

She would take care of Anila.


When I die, I’ll wake up… as someone else! Anila used her remaining arm to gesture vaguely upwards. If you’ve had a good life… the gods try and make sure everyone kind of gets a decent life...

Anila’s other arm tried to push her body upright. “But there’s suffering, right? There’s unfairness and inequity and bad things happen to good people. It doesn’t sound like the gods are so much involved as it is just… some kind of fucked-up magical cosmos.” Slowly, her legs eased their way underneath her body, leaning it against an unspiked wall. Her right eye opened, revealing a brilliant blue iris, complete with blue capillaries. “But what do I know? I’m just a wizard jelly.”

You’re a pretty smart Wizard Jelly...

Flames came rocketing around one corner of the corridor, interrupting that thought midway. Also interrupting the thought was a primal, throaty scream of rage, of a familiar pitch.

“Rachel! Rachel!” Weakly, she waved an arm. “Over here!”


Anila watched Rachel round the corner - literally - slicing off the inconvenient wall that dared be between them. She started to shake, and she didn’t know why.

“Blood loss,” she heard Wizard Jelly say, in her voice, “Take us to Dr. Pearson.”

She felt still-hot hands blister her skin as they lifted her, cradling her among the power outlets. The pain barely registered. She shut her eyes.
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
♪ she's just another girl
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
The preparations for the...ritual...were confusing. Mary was wiring together the still-working electronics into a complex system, connecting it all back to Robin's machine. Robin was typing away at the keys, murmuring under her breath. And Amaranth was left with...setting up the human element. The corpses. Human resources. “The ones who are cooperative,” was what Robin had said. Then she had looked slightly concerned, and said that Amaranth didn't have to if she didn't want to. But it was fine, it was like the half-semester she had spent learning about the washing of the body and the proper ways of burial, except it wasn't, at all. But Robin had seemed pleased somehow when she talked about her familiarity with what happens after life, and she wanted to help.

If I gave them last rites, will that interfere with anything? What a question.

Robin did some decisive double-tap, sighed, and stretched.
“Ok, that's probably—about as good as we're gonna get it, here. Paltry lack of candles, but I've always wondered if those were really necessary or if the old guys just needed necromancy to have a sense of atmosphere—anyways.” She shuffled herself and the machine down into a crisscross position. “Alright, the program should execute correctly once my brainwaves reach an optimal state—I've experimented with it before, but gimmicks don't seem to be a substitute for the real thing. The rest of this setup is mostly for protection—your consciousness is always safest inside your body, and your body's always safest still conscious. Haha. Not that these guys won't be helping a bit—they certainly know who killed them, and they know their way around here better than I do.” Robin stopped, took a deep breath. “Sorry, I guess I'm a little nervous about all this. It's pretty experimental, and this isn't exactly a controlled environment--” She looked at Amaranth, grinned and shook tension out of her arms. “I should probably just let you take over the trance segment of our show.”

“Is there any way we can...help you out? Go with you?”

“Well, you're not, uh...let's just say you're not optimized for it the way I am. By the way, if I stop breathing, don't worry about it too much. There's plenty of other things to worry about tonight!” She grinned again.

She really was in some ways just like that undertaker-teacher.

The room was dark, lit intermittent by screens, empty but filled with the dead. The air was blood, flowers, rust, and the river.

“Alright...I'll start if you're all ready. I hope,” She glanced at Robin, then at Mary, “you understand the seriousness. This is not something undertaken lightly.”
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
This is not something undertaken lightly, said the robed instructor. The undertaker-teacher, now clothed formal and serious. It was the deep of the night. Amaranth and her fellow-students knelt on the dirt under the grave-trees. Her hands were still dry and dirt-covered from the holes she had dug. This is something you forgot and now must remember. It is what you must learn. How to remember. Someday, you may need to help others remember. But if you do not understand completely—if you remember the half and not the whole—you will be lost.

So tonight, we will remember.

Under the earth it is dark. Under the roots of the trees it is dark. Their branches reach towards the sun, but their roots reach down towards the darkness.

In the darkness, the seed is buried. In the darkness, the seed grows. In the darkness, the seed begins to reach for the sun.

Beneath the branches it is quiet. Within you, it is dark too. When you started to reach for the sun, you too were in the dark.

In the dark, life sleeps. In the darkness of the seeds, beneath the earth, within you.

It reaches for the sun, but returns to the dark. It sleeps.
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
“It almost looks like she's asleep, doesn't it?”

“She is sleeping...and in her dreams, accomplishing a great work.”

But Florica really looked dead, much more than she looked asleep.

“Be respectful...she's going to do something very important.”


Amaranth stared at Robin. Robin didn't look back. Robin was...well, she was still breathing, at least. Although with those holes in her coat...well, she fit right in with her company. Amaranth shivered. She couldn't shake the feeling that she had lost Robin, that Robin had remembered only half, had been swallowed by the other, adrift. But not the...not the usual half. The other one. She shook herself. Swallowed by the sun? Not known of. You're the one who's losing things. This is what Robin wanted, everything's to plan. After all, you brought Mary back.

She looked over at Mary, who was watching her. She let go of the railing she had been gripping.

“Do you, uh, want some air? I'm fine watching the...them. And it might be a good idea to do a little patrol, you know. Don't want to end up like the last guys.”

Is Robin's gallows humor infectious? “...I think I will. Thank you.”

“No problem.” Mary had forgotten both sides. Well, that was fine. Common. Easier.

Amaranth walked out of the room of death, and into its hallways.

The tunnels were as cold and quiet as they had been for millenium stacked on millenium. The churning of machinery, the labor of man—all these mayfly noises were subsumed into that antique darkness. Nothing lived here.

What happened back there? There's no—if there were books about this I never read them.

If there were books about this, they were probably bound in leather and chains and kept in the deepest basement of the library
, said a worse thought. I'm more adrift than anyone with a seed has ever been.

Amaranth readjusted her mask-armor, and began to sing softly to herself, an old simple tune. “...the sun shines ever-gold,”

came an echo out of the eternal stillness.

She started, then sang again. “In the grove of ages past, our love grows thousand-fold,”

“...love grows thousand-fold,”
sang the echo sadly, wetly.

A titter of birdsong on a distant breeze.

Amaranth wheeled around, almost shouted. “Son-sonora!” she hissed. She was nowhere. There was everywhere to hide. Pick a shadow, any shadow.

“Shh-shh! It'll hear us—Do you think it heard us?” the shadows whispered. Laughter, again.

“What do you want?!” Amaranth fought herself not to run.

“What do you want from meWHAT ARE YOU HERE FORWhat do you, please, I'll do anything—anything—What do youI-I, I bet they all say that. Ahah, hah ha. Nothing I haven't heard before. Haah, ha. You won't burn. Red, red roses. What could you possibly give to me?”

The wails echoed down the halls. Monster, monster. What can you do against a monster?

Sonora sloshed.
“Keep it still in the head. You know, if you don't say anything, I'll have to—Ahah.”

“What do you want?” Robin? Mary? Me? Or are you just—playing with your food—

“Look who's here to see you! There's not a place that's barren of my reach. Red, red rose! Tonight they're calling out your name.

“Don't you know you've kept him waiting?”

A metal hand slammed into Amaranth catching her by the collarbone, and if it wasn't for my antiquated armor this would hurt a lot more and ridiculous, something so large shouldn't be able to move so stealthily as the air went out of her lungs and she was pinned against the rust.

“Where are they.” stated Arokht, cold and authoritarian as ever but maybe, maybe a little worse for wear.

Amaranth would have said something, spat something, but oh god it hurt and she caught mouthfuls of the stale air.


“Why- hhah- should I tell you?” Her heels scraped for purchase at the concave wall.

“You must- you will defer to my authority. You cannot- why did you run? Why did you take Mary?!” His grip tightened and he was leaning in, loud and deep and insect-faced. Amaranth flinched. “Why?!”

“Y- you're a monster.” She coughed out. Explaining to a monster why he's a monster. She could almost laugh.

“You—you are insubordinate. You will tell me, or--”

“Or what?” And this time she did laugh. Starting to sound like Sonora. “Tread lightly, Arokht—we're a delicate species. One wrong move and you'll all be spirited away again.”

His grip softened slightly. He lowered her to the floor, and she gulped in air.

“...No matter. I see you will not listen. But Sonora has been...cooperative.” He looked around, but the darkness was empty.

“Sonora? Hhh...she's a ghost. Haha—you're looking to her for guidance? You might as well chase your own shadow. I bet you would, wouldn't you...”

“...Pull yourself together, Amaranth Benedicta.”

“You're one to- get your damned claw off of me. What am I going to do to you?” I hate you so, so much.

“Run away again.”

And behind the terse retort was a deeper truth. He really is—really truly is hurt.

If only I could get a clean breath of air. “I won't, Arokht. I can't. Sonora—she could be eating Mary right now.” Arokht's eyes flickered. Didn't think of that, did you. “I need to protect her and Robin—we're doing something important. And you-” damn you “You can either go along with it or kill us all.”

He seemed shaken enough. Children do so well with false dichotomies.

“I. Will judge for myself and then conclude. But if Sonora-” And he lifted Amaranth bodily in a rolling motion, sweeping her like a doll under his arm. He started walking quickly, huge feet still blood-stained slamming into the metal. “Sonora!”

“Me, me, I could never. Can't you trust me? Just this once? There's something else out there. It got her—The night that broke the iceman, don'tcha know. It, it came for her.”

She was sluicing rivulets through the texture of the floor.

“Sonora! Where did you go.”

“I-I heard them, all our friends. I...have some bad news.” Birds laughed. “Achilles' heel, I came for you.”

Amaranth struggled against the metal grip. “Take another right and then up the tunnel if you'll fit.”

Arokht glanced down at her.

“Someone's hurt. That's what she's saying.” And it sounds like the message is meant just for you.

Sonora crawled up with them, chirping and hissing.
“Ohh, now you decide to help? So helpful. You won't bleed. Pinks and posies. There comes a day and on that day you'll see.”

Arokht pulled them up out of the tunnel, forward, through the door. He let go and Amaranth fell hard.


“Hi, Arokht.”

Amaranth pulled herself up as he strode forward. There was a woman like the sun, staring at Arokht and Amaranth, hard and blank. Mary was standing, hands hovering weakly towards a pistol. They heard us coming but she knows it's useless. Robin was still...still. Arokht was kneeling, obscuring a girl sitting on the floor.


They're both from—they're one of “us.”

“Anila.” He had leaned towards her. Amaranth got to her feet. Was he examining her? “You're hurt. Burned.” He snapped his head towards the sun-woman and growled.

The sun stared at him coldly as the girl on the floor began to protest that no, Rachel had been helping, and maybe she got burnt a little but she didn't mean to, it was a big fight and Rachel saved her and she was lucky to get out

Amaranth moved closer. She met Mary's eyes. She looked scared. She glanced at the girl, back to Amaranth. Fear.

Arokht tensed. “Stay back. She is hurt and I will not let her risk any further harm.”

Amaranth felt her face twist and she was thankful her mask was on. What do you think I am, you murderer.

The girl protested.
“Arokht, c'mon...I'm sure she just wants to help. Mary said- she said we couldn't wake Robin up until Amaranth—that's you, right? Hey Arokht, move so I can see—we can't wake Robin up until Amaranth is here? Because what she's doing is dangerous?”

Mary was still looking at Amaranth helplessly. Mary was stalling you for time.

“What do you need Robin for?” She began, and just then Arokht moved, and she could see the girl, and the breath went out of her.

“She's been hurt.” Said Rachel, pointlessly.

Amaranth had moved forward involuntarily, as if she could catch her on the cusp of dying, help her, as if she wasn't being held impossibly (unnaturally) right upon that cusp. Her faceplate was off and she was staring. Blue gel welled at her fingertips. She felt Arokht shift, Rachel too, presences with their own gravity giving a warning.

“Do either of you know first aid for humans?” she asked lightly, “Well, I do.”

“Really? You'll be able to help? Cuz...cuz...we came here to get Robin to help...but she's asleep...and I--” A note of fear had crept into the cheery voice. Her eyes were downcast, losing the track of positive thinking.

Mourning doves mourned. Arokht's cannon hummed slightly, and they died out.

Amaranth looked back up at Mary. Now I know what you were trying to say. There's nothing to be done.

But who wants to hear that?

Arokht broke in.
“Can you heal her.”

“Not with the technology we have access to.” True enough! “And neither can Robin. Don't wake her up, you'll just jeopardize her too. Don't—argue with that. Do not wake her. Whatever is keeping Anila alive, it's going to keep doing that.”

“Well, that's...my wizard jelly. Or I call it that but it's, it's living inside of me, and keeping me alive, but this-” The girl was beating around the bush. “It's a lot of damage to deal with, it says, a lot of nervous- nerve damage, it would...it would be better if it. If I could be healed instead of it doing it.”

“Yes, yes, we'll do our best to make sure you're alright.” There's something she isn't saying. Amaranth glanced at Rachel maybe she knows something but oh, it's like staring at the sun. She looked away, eyes smarting.

If Arokht and who-knows-who is going to be here, well, time to get them in line.

“I don't know if any of you have an idea of what's wrong with this station or how to stop it. But that's what Robin's going to find out. The machinery starting, the cultists...we don't know if it's us or just coincidence, but some very big events have been set in motion.”

Mary broke in.
“What Amaranth's saying is true. I've been communicating with my partner, Ak, and he's been trawling through all the sensor data, everything that's changed in the last couple hours.”

“A transmission went out of this station. Out out. No language he had ever seen. And then...

“One came back.”

The chill settled. Even the soft lap-lap of Sonora's waves seemed to pause. Thanks, Mary. I can feel that one in my bones. I hope they can too.

“So that's what we're working with. Now I don't know what powers any of you have, and I won't try and stop you leaving and wandering around this labyrinth yourself. But if you stay, if you decide to try and deal with this threat, you're going to have to work with us. Robin, and Mary too—they're the experts here. If you won't listen to them, if you're going to act on your own—you're worse than useless.

“So, for anyone who has a problem with that—the door is right there.”

Amaranth looked around the room. Anila seemed slightly awed, and gave a little nod. Rachel was as distant as ever, but tilted her head slightly. She'll help. She doesn't care much, but she'll help. Arokht...Arokht was still, his mouthparts shifting. ”Mulling it over?” He's not going to go easily, I know that.

“I am an expert on tactics. Robin and Mary are experts in their subjects, but tactical decisions will be mine.”

“Mass-murder is not an acceptable tactical decision.” Amaranth said as coolly as possible.

“Then you know nothing of war.”

“Arokht,” Mary spoke, “She's right. We don't know why these cultists—they could be under the influence of something else, it could be some kind of mass hysteria—we can't just massacre them because they're a threat. And I won't be part of any plan that involves doing that.”

“People are going to die.”

“I'm not saying it's going to be bloodless,” Mary said, “I know there's no way—I mean, I've been in this goddamn room for a while now. But it can't be the first resort. It can't.”

“Y-yeah,” said Anila, “People shouldn't,” she touched her eye unconsciously, “They shouldn't get hurt if we can help it. Rachel, you and Arokht, you're so strong... ...I'm sure you can do it.”

“I can say I'll try. If it's the apocalypse you're making it out to be, then none of you have any idea of what it'll be like.”

“I will try as well. To conform to your standard of conduct. But I will not compromise the mission for it.”

“The mission is to save people, if that wasn't clear. But I'm glad we're all in agreement.Now all I need is to get Sonora on board, and we'll be set.

On cue, as always, Sonora chimed in.
“We're a delicate species,” she coughed, “We are of the going water and the gone. At least we can agree on one thing. Exorcists, scientists. You must wake up!”

Amaranth turned to look at Robin first, then the others followed her gaze.
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
Robin was once asked, by a jovial-if-pugnacious drunk at a house party, what she thought of human nature.

And she answered - that in her then-half-decade of "research" (her own intoxicated barely-postgraduate words, she remembered them a few days later and asked herself where the hell she got off) - she had:
  • discerned the true shape of the soul
  • glimpsed upon the nature, the habits, of an unprecedented energy source
  • chatted up a ghost.

The drunk asked Robin if the ghost was the Burnham Hall Bludger, to which she replied no, but resolved to look them up later.

She told the drunk, while there exists day-to-day many a choice asshole in one's proximity, the universe's most versatile underlying force wants to make the world better. Wants to help us make the world better.

Robin's consciousness flitted through the ship. Friendship ended with the old boys club of gravity, entropy, electromagnetism. Now arcanics is my best friend. Her projection was clad in compliant souls who'd joined her ritual; they lent weight to her actions here and resistance against the current. Ghosts - so many -
carrying themselves down old courses, the ancient and alien effortlessly coordinated. The fresher ghosts were caught in the flow, nudged unmoored adrift of their bodies and borne elsewhere.

Robin followed the river, and nothing stopped her.


The bridge, the control deck, the trepanation granting access to the withered brain of the Krei'kii'kelriz. It was to here the cult had borne Florica, finding her not far from the resuscitated heart, dispatching her Raxucorp escort, and carrying her carotid to central command. It was deep in the guts of the Krei'kii'kelriz, displaced from its frontward swarm of sensors much as the mammalian occipital lobe will from its eyes. The Wakeful Church had chosen this latticed cavern as the centerpiece of their territory, occupying it from all sides and shielding it from attention.

This cradle this grave this tragedy, this Krei'kii'kelriz, the death (the singular, the collective, the communal) of millions, it was beyond the comprehension of any in the Galactic Alliance. Too individualistic. Their incursion upon the Krei'kii'kelriz was barely an autopsy, closer to scavengers carving up the kill. Lines drawn, sectors quartered and apportioned to Alliance members with an arrogantly endo-galactic eye.

It had taken a more collectivist view to understand the Kelriz' structure, to understand without the cues of crew and electrical signal how this part of the ship was critical.

New converts with more fear than faith told each other stories about what lay within. A portal to Paradise. A Far-Traveler's tomb. The true leaders of their Church, smug and snug in the galaxy's most technologically advanced cage. In truth, the bridge and brain had remained unbreached until today, its layout mapped and disseminated only from sonar pinging its way down too-narrow capillaries.

The cultists were breaking the seal, laser cutters whining at the bulkheads, the sound coordinated counterpoint to the distant explosions. Robin, astral, slipped in with no trouble.

The souls of the Kelriz' crew already gathered here today like mourners. Stormclouds. Simple on an individual level, in a way that took Robin a pained moment to understand.

Time hadn't worn these signatures down - for every year the ghosts had shared their halls with the living breathing, there had been thousands more of the ship dead and alone in deep space. Robin had no empirical data for the cohesion indices of ghosts in space, but where she came from ghosts were knocked around and broken down amidst the churn of life.

No. These were the uncomplicated souls of children.

Fuck, thought Robin.
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
O congregation of we low, we have gathered for it is time-

-it is time-

We, born of fallow stardust, victims of victims of incomprehensible tragedy-

-she grieves-

-how She grieves! And for Her kind's vast intellect She will have no denial, none higher than Her to who her pleas be heard-

-and in Her fury, our suns be scattered-

-four our stardust was Their soil, Their canvas and creche, and we low have performed our crude rites with blind faith we shall align with Her glorious design-


-she arrives!

-she arrives!

Robin felt Florica's entrance, an assault on her limited senses even through the crowd suspended through the chamber. The black-hole tug, the aberrant window-in-the-world at which the dead gathered.

It was so easy, to forget the girl for the phenomenon - especially when you yourself were less-than-corporeal. The flow of alien spirits around the room shifted, much more visibly than they had minutes ago when the gravity cult's executive branches elsewhere had sabotaged the gravity.

Next round, for sure, Robin promised Florica, and was startled how casually she'd thought it. The ghosts seemed agitated, somehow. They tugged at Robin's cladding of murder victims like a lost child. at an adult's coat.

For agonised eons! They, custodians of our universe, were stranded out beyond the veil-

-by disaster!

-by some unfathomable disaster, powerless but to watch as life-

-riotous life!

unmoored from Their brilliance, rank and gross, springs unchecked in Their kinder-garden!

Until now!

"Until now," croaked the oracle, tears blooming directionless upon his face in the zero g's. He clasped his hand around that of his prophet, and raised it until the chorus died down. Florica simply hovered there.

"Our prophet! She stands firm 'neath the sway of the veil, beacon to Her lost children. Through the prophet at last, we are vindicated, we may accord Her children Their last rites, and prepare funereal - at last!"

The assembly sang out once more, and a single cultist kicked out into the gap between bridge above and brain below with Florica and the oracle. Something deep in the lower chamber began to glow, and the cavern raised the zealot's voice. Clearer, sharper than the oracle's.

"Our Ushers have set forth across Krei'kii'kelriz, arranging vessels and dismantling superfluous systems. Those who choose the holy path of acting as vessel to Her children, depart now - perform your duty elsewhere, lest the blood spilt of your severing disrupt the task of the Prophet."

He turned to Florica, who had set to drifting a little when the oracle released her hand. "Let them guide your hand, prophet."

Robin, in a direction from the action roughly analogous to "above", had a really bad feeling about this. She wanted to get back to her body, but she had to know. The feeling only got worse when the cultists pushed Florica headfirst, propelling her gently down and away toward the Krei'kii'kelriz' brain.

Florica spun in midair, then stopped spinning. Looked straight at Robin. Grinned like she was used to having far more teeth to bare.

Something big leapt out of Florica, lunging for Robin only to pass her by and wing its way the way she'd come-

and the worms rushed in, hypnotic in their coordination. The brain lit up in earnest as Florica approached, the uncoordinated thrashing of Florica's possessors casting shadows on the walls of the bridge above.


The others were rocked by a distant explosion, then carried on their new trajectories through the air. Sonora slosh-squelched her way back to hard surfaces with a noise that, coupled with the weightlessness, made it really hard for Amaranth to not throw up again.

Anila flailed ineffectually for purchase, beckoned to the best compromise between "stable-footed" and "safe for exposed skin." Arokht. "Catch me if you can, ha ha, we can't risk any more damage to this body, not even a three-foot fall, if the gravity's restored."

Arokht snarled, braced himself and strained to grasp a gelatinous limb. Only once Anila was secured did he glare down at Amaranth. "How much longer."

"That slow burn wait, while it get's dark"

"You stay out of this."

"I'm biting my tongue~"

Whatever argument might've ensued was interrupted by a curse and a thud, and Rachel emitting a jet of flame. One of Robin's ritual buddies wheeled leisurely away from her, and she glared at the others like it was their fault. "Course correction."

"Do not use your weaponry in close quarters without my command-"

"-or what?" Amaranth had to avert her eyes; Sonora squealed and coagulated her way under a console. The console switched on.

"I'm not going near that," Mary said, so automatically that Amaranth wondered if she'd been projecting something without thinking. Alien script streamed across the screen, and a ring-shaped collection of machinery halfway up the walls of the circular room lit up.

Somewhere in the midst of all this chaos, the necrologist returned, unfolded from their now-airborne sitting position. Stared around, warily, like there was nobody here they recognised. Sizing things up.

Wizard Jelly noticed first. "Dr. Pearson." A flash of recognition. "Anila needs help." Her entire body seemed to recoil away from itself at once, before she grabbed a floating pen and dragged it across the back of her free hand.

"Fuck!" exclaimed Robin, before taking in her surroundings properly.


She was still clutching the pen like a knife, while the drawn-on hand thrashed and twisted around like it had a life of its own.

"What the hell did you just do-"

"Explain later."

"Explain now," spat Rachel.

Robin weighed her options, but the two were already arguing. To Anila, who seemed the most attentive, she shrugged: "something tried possessing me while I was out. That priest I brought over from the Valley, at a guess? Of course, I've got safeguards for that kind of thing." Robin indicated her hand with the pen, which stopped trying to reach the markings long enough to make a snatch for the implement. Whatever the machinery above was doing, it spat out enough light for Robin to get a good look at her audience. "Holy shit, Anila. You look awful."

But then:

The space encircled by the ring of machinery shimmered, flickering in and out until it settled, casting the chamber with the unlight between stars.

The air felt cool, dry, ashen. Loose machinery rattled, caught in a breeze that couldn't seem to touch the living. Just as the dark disc seemed to stabilize, it rippled again - this time from single points, like first raindrops on the surface of a pool.

A shade pushed its way through the unlight, a vermicious spectre visible to all.

"Fuck," said Robin, and the third fuck seemed the charm, for worm-ghosts began to pour through the veil en masse, filling the air with a whispering rush. Most ignored the warm bodies and Arokht (who crouched protectively over Anila) and fled past them into the hallway, but a worrisome number swam into the floating corpses.

And the corpses

RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
Roses, roses.

These roses, they said, feed only on the dead buried beneath them. And they do not need sun, or water. That is where their beautiful red comes from, deep underground. Maybe one day you too will feed the roses. You will be a red so pure only death could pay for such loveliness. This is the only garden in the world like it. No one else knows it’s here.

I’m biting my tongue.


Stars flew past in only the briefest flecks of light, bright smudges belying the furious speed of her passage. Whatever archaic engines powered her, this was the limit of their ability, and it was a journey she would not be able to repeat. She was not even certain she would survive, but the children were calling her. They needed her- had needed her- and she had failed. She had not been there. It was no excuse that she had received no warning; she was their guardian, and they were dead. All dead. All those millions.

She pushed herself harder. The stars faded into streaks, into lines, into bright nothingness.

The corpse had once been Asclepias Tagetes, at first an engineer, then a cult sympathizer, then a cultist. Asclepias had hidden his sympathies well, at first, but the tunnels of the Krei’kii’kelriz could wait until such lurking thoughts emerged into the light. He had met the oracle years ago, witnessed his radiant fervor, and been transformed. He had died in that same fervor, his body’s face still flushed with the memory.

Something else was in that body now. It had been dead for a long time, and the sudden return to life was nauseating. It cursed Asclepias’ eyes, with their meager three cones, and his wet mouth full of calcified blocks. It hated how his bones strained inside him against rubbery tendons and soft muscles, despised the gurgling and churning of empty organs. If it were not for the memories of its own body (and how perfect that body had been) it would have fled, back to the ghostly arms of its brothers and sisters. But it remembered its own life, that distant taste of motion, and could not refuse what was laid before it now.

It took a breath, and stepped forward.

Arokht watched with cold calculation as the corpses around the room heaved and staggered to life. From his perch, positioned midway up the wall, he had the most strategic view of the field. Most of the others seemed to have no experience in zero-g conditions, he noted with distaste. They had been thrown into various states of chaos, scrambling for purchase. Only Mary, Robin, and Anila seemed to have any semblance of calm- and the last due only to her critical condition.

Pathetic. And they had the audacity to question his judgement?

He aimed his cannon at the nearest corpse and fired, disintegrating it. He grunted at the kickback, bracing against the wall. It threatened to collapse beneath him.

“Sonora,” he commanded, charging his cannon. “At my side. Take the right flank.”

The wet thing- stilled curled inside the flickering console- hisssed and withdrew, bubbling in the crevices of the machinery. It did not move.

Arokht growled in anger, sweeping the room. There were close to fifty of the shambling corpses in various states of composition, and more were rising. Some were struggling to hold together shattered limbs and ruptured organs; others merely prodded at their wounds with vague disinterest. Not a challenge to him, but his companions were far too fragile to handle even this modest force. He would have to do the bulk of the fighting on his own.

From the far side of the room an explosion of radioactive heat sent his sensors scrambling, screaming solar flare. Rachel- her body limmed with poisonous light- had her hand outstretched. Piled at her feet were smoking ashes. Arokht could not read human expressions with any level of ease, but the set of her face indicated a proclivity for violence.

The iceworlder returned to his targets. Dangerous allies, if allies they could be called. They would require additional monitoring.

In that arcane engine room, where Florica lay and the ghosts of the children roiled and seethed as they fled to their new bodies, the cultists clasped each other’s hands. Some of them had perished breaching this most sacred of chambers, but their deaths had been those of martyrs. The heart of the Krei’kii’kelriz was a prize they could not have imagined: a colossal sphere of winding, twisting hoops and pipes, pulsing like a great organ. From punctures and crevices it glowed with a terrible green light that cast dancing, shivering shadows over the ancient floor. Even now their oracle swayed before its majesty, his eyes bright with prophecy.

“Let us behold,” he said, “This new coming, this vision of endless light. From beyond the farthest reaches of this galaxy she has come to take us into her, beyond to where our bodies shall hold us no longer.”

“We pray for her coming,” they chanted, their knuckles white. Florica’s body twitched and kicked; the strongest of the cultists held her down with desperate strength.

“She shall come in a rain of fire and starlight, and our perseverance shall be rewarded.”

“We pray for her coming.”

“She shall take us beyond, and we will know the touch of flesh no longer!”

“We pray for her coming!”

“We will not be denied, my brothers and sisters,” the oracle said, his smile a beaming beacon. “We will not be denied for one moment longer.”


She came in an explosion of light, stolen from the stars. For parsecs around the planets shuddered in their revolutions, moons torn from their orbits to drift free in darkness.

Here: the ship- their ship- her ship- floated alone, bathed in the dim light of a nearby gas giant. Its silhouette- once sleek, cleverly jointed, the pride of its fleet- was a devastated mockery. Entire sections had been gutted, crushed by asteroids or wayward freighters. Its shields were defunct. Its engines were cold. The windows that had once gazed out across the living darkness of the galaxy were faded, cracked, gone. It was dead, irrevocably and finally. It was a graveyard.

She drifted towards it and laid her great arms over its bow. Eons ago, when she had been built, she had been built to live forever. The metal of her shell would never rust, would never suffer the pits of age or the rust of neglect. She would know no illness, no pain, no death. She would stand as a silent guardian until the stars grew cold and the nebulae dimmed.

But her children- all of her children- they had not been made the same. This ship had been made only to shelter them, to house them- never to outlive them. They had not been built, as she was. And their lives, as brief as they were to her, had been cut short.

If she could not have her children again- if she could not hold them to her, defend them from their enemies, save them from their deaths- then she would become their resting place. Their ghosts would be a part of her forever.

Her jaws set to work.


A titanic crash rolled through the room, rattling the walls like shaken paper. The lights flickered, submerging them all in darkness for several agonizing seconds before reigniting. The scene it revealed was not one that Robin was ready to welcome.

The possessed bodies- those that remained despite Arokht and Rachel’s efforts- had entered into full frenzy. Blood and ichor coated the walls. Inhuman howls from mouths not used to tongues or teeth echoed over the thunder of weaponry and the snarling burns of directed solar fusion. More were coming with every second, piling in through the narrow corridor, trampling over each other in their hurry. For every body that was cut down, five more came in- and these were fresh, Robin realized with a churning stomach. They bore wounds from what looked like makeshift weapons and wore uniforms she recognized from the other sectors of the ship.

Extra vessels. The cult’s working quickly.

Robin chewed her lip. The situation was turning dire. The portal behind them was regurgitating insect-child ghosts faster than could be accounted for- and she knew just how many were still waiting. Mary and Amaranth had done their best to stem the tide, but the machine resisted their efforts, heightening its output more and more with every second.

It wasn’t that Robin afraid of dying- not strictly, anyway. She had been disembodied only minutes before and, all things considered, the Krei’kii’kelriz seemed like a popular place to be postmortem. But this would be far from a quick death, or a clean one. The ship was collapsing around them, from the sound of the howling machinery audible even over the carnage. The shudders that rocked the floors and walls hinted ominously at something greater tearing away at the infrastructure, cult-borne or otherwise.

Robin looked over the violence unfolding before her and thought: There’s no way out of this.

Amaranth must have realized by now, she figured, watching the girl hammer away uselessly at the portal as Mary fired straight into it with every weapon she could lay a hand on. Maybe Rachel as well. Arokht seemed unlikely to stop fighting until the revenants had completely overwhelmed him, and even then it was doubtful. Florica was MIA, hostage in the ship’s heart. And Sonora…

Robin turned her head.

By some accident of the air currents in the room, Anila had drifted to the console where Sonora had hidden itself. And gently, ever so gently, it was slithering out to wrap itself around her like a great dark shroud, nudging her into position. It paused, and Robin knew that it had seen her. She watched, setting her jaw in a grim line.

“Go on,” she murmured.

The black fluid bubbled for only a moment, and then with a surgeon’s precision it shifted Anila’s body within itself so that her neck lolled along a row of long, black teeth, her hair billowing weightlessly in its mouth.

And it waited.

Robin understood.

Give me some warning. That’s all.

Anila looked at Robin desperately, mouthing something she couldn’t hear over the chaos. Around her Sonora’s body rippled with shockwaves from Arokht’s cannon and Rachel’s sunfire. An electric blue eye stared out at her from the darkness, watching, pleading.

Amaranth turned and saw, too late. “SONORA! SONORA! SO-”

Robin nodded.

The jaws slammed shut.
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
"Not the end we expected, but an end nonetheless."

There were six, now. The Outsider had gone without the macabre display of the last visit, leaving two empty plinths in the arrangement the contestants found themselves once more placed upon. Their domain had not changed, still an empty hall of pitch-dark material, unadorned except for the geometric experiments in architecture. Their tormentor had not seemed to change, either-- while its robes were no longer tattered, wispy ruins approximating fabric but something tangible, it had not undergone as dramatic of a metamorphosis as it previously had.

"We are impressed," the Outsider said. Its speech was experimental, clumsy, drawing out words for too long and placing emphasis on the wrong syllables. It was language, though-- not the primal, roiling wave of unfocused telepathy that had been its sole form of communication until now. "We wish/desire/demand to see more."

Woah-oh here she comes, echoed the Outsider's cathedral back. Watch out boy, she'll chew you up.

Sonora's plinth was empty.

Arokht was the first to react to the opening, storming forward off of his plinth, landing with a heavy crack as synthetic muscle and servo-actuators whirred to life. "Now, move!" he ordered, his voice crackling with feedback static as he raised his cannon--

No/no/no. Everything paused-- Sonora churning along the walls, Arokht firing, the stream of near-absolute zero energy hanging in mid-air, condensing the air around it.

A lapse in judgment. It will not happen again.

Without anywhere near the ceremony of the last time, the contestants felt themselves shunted somewhere else-- a city, this time, full of wall-to-wall buildings and empty streets and narrow alleyways. Wider canals separated city blocks, with small boats paddling beneath rows of strung-up lanterns. Everywhere, there was the soft patter of rain.

Once again, they were alone.

RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]
A whipcrack of lightning across the sky lit the dirty streets for a moment, a pale imitation of the warm light that the sun should have spread, a little sister of nature reaching up for her cosmic sibling’s approval, a finger curling fast across the grey, roiling sky before petering out upon the spire of a church, which burned even as the rain came sibilantly down upon the dark, slick cobblestones. The peal of lightning seemed far away to the huddled shapes in the street, parked under overhanging balconies, curled up on front steps to shut shops whose keepers had gone out drinking for the night. Some of them whispered among themselves. Some of them muttered to no one in particular. Some shouted, ineffectual, into the pitter-patter of raindrops striking the stricken earth.

She did not speak. Not yet, anyway. The rain came sluicing in between her metal plates, draining along the multitude of scratches and etches that marred the alloys where her chest had once been. Water edged its way in between the welded joins that fused her being together, kept her sun together, kept her alive - in as much as she could be considered alive in any sense; water, the essence of life, fell from the sky and flowed over her and yet was not of her.

The little planet of divinity flew across the edges of her vision, scraping orbits out from the rain.

“‘Take care of Anila for me.’” She spat, or would have, had her mouth not gone dry; the events immediately prior were still catching up to her, one by one, like the successive passage of train cars leaving the station. “‘Take care of Anila,’” she said again, and her tone grew sardonic, bitter, towards the end of the phrase, “‘for me.’”

She raised clouded eyes to the sky, and let the rain substitute for tears. Only for a moment. She wasn’t sure if she could even still cry. Where would the water come from? She certainly didn’t drink any.

“Well, Doctor Pearson,” she said to the rain, “You took care of Anila. For you.”

And somewhere, faintly, the rain sang back:

ohhh… things change
no use holding on because nothing stays the same
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]
Holy shit, Anila. You look awful.

I am an expert on tactics. You know nothing of war.

Rain pattered on the roof of a copper lantern, the gas flame within flickering weakly. The air was so saturated with water that the lantern’s metal was crusted with green patina, crumbling away more and more with each day. The gas line leading up to it was pitted with age and ill maintenance, ready to collapse. Every now and then the little flame would flare as a pocket of air made its way through the tube, illuminating the canal with a soft orange light.

At the lantern’s base, something hunched like a starved animal, lying half in and half out of the water. Its great back pulsed rhythmically as it drank, gleaming dully under the gaslights. It made no noise but for the soft splashing of water.

Holy water cannot save you now.
Who is it for? Who is it for?

For you.

It sang back, fluting with the throats that weren’t drinking. It was starving. It could not bring enough water into its body to be satisfied. It slid more and more of its body into the water, swelling with every breath.

A lapse in judgment.

The sun, the sun was calling. Even from here it could feel the heat, that radioactive radiance. Such anger. It did not know anger, not in the way of the sun, but it knew heat, and it knew revenge.

We can't risk any more damage to this body.

It doubled in size, tripled, quadrupled. It exulted, spreading its long black wings and fanning the water to its breast. How glorious. How long since it had drunk so deeply, so cleanly? Its skin was stretched nearly to bursting, its muscles sliding over one another like oiled silk, its liquid bones swollen with river’s blood. It lifted its head to the sky and sang, a pure, beautiful song of twittering birds and broken violins that echoed off the brick walls.

A siren answered back, distantly.

A city. A hive. It had known very few cities. What little it knew of them concerned feasting.

It pushed itself off the canal wall into the water, slipping into the overflowing stream in silence. Rain pattered kindly on its back; it pattered as well, calling with the sound of rattling copper and rushing tides. It pulled its newly-fed body into the shape of a tongue and undulated in lazy joy, reveling in the flood. It had eaten; it had drunk. The glow of the gaslamps turned its black skin orange, yellow, red.