The door slides to a close in between a woman and the bolt of energy flying towards her. A dark scorch marks where her head would have been had she not turned to run. The woman, a human in the plainclothes of the ship’s maintenance crew, continues to run until she reaches a door locked by a security code. She fumbles for her ID card with shaking hands. Every crack and groan that sounds throughout the ship causes her to flinch and look around. The door emits a harsh sound when she is able to slide her ID.
“Entry denied,” a metallic voice says from a small speaker hidden amidst the locking mechanism.
“Emergency override; Code 23289 Scenario Omega.” An explosion rocks the ship. It throws the woman against the wall and she gasps for breath. The door chimes pleasantly, the red light changing to a bright green.
“Override accepted. Stay safe, Ceska Annaret.” Ceska pulls her ID from the door before it swings open. Once inside the door closes once more, leaving her in a room lit only by evenly spaced blue lights along the floor. She follows them to a hatch set into the floor. The word ‘caution’ in a variety of languages scrolls by on the display on its surface. Ceska reaches for the handle but hesitates. She remembers the warnings her superiors gave out when she was first hired on. About the danger that is this ship’s core. Her eyes slip shut and the images of her crewmates, dead and dying with their mouths stretched open in screams, flashes across her mind. She shakes her head, forcing her eyes open. Grasping the handle with her left hand she uses her right to unlatch the locks that help hold the hatch in place. Once free the hatch rises with ease. Cool air drifts into the room. It encompases her, chasing away the heat of running for her life. Ceska sucks in a deep breath and begins to climb down the ladder. Descending deeper and deeper into the depths of the ship. No noise permeates the thick walls and even forced movement is dampened to barely more than vibrations. The trail of blue lights continues through the tunnel. Only tapering off when she reaches the bottom.
For a moment Ceska stands in darkness. The only noise is the gentle hum of cool air circulating around the room. She starts to take a step forward when light erupts around her. Shimmering crystals of silver and white descend from the ceiling. Hundreds of them hover fifteen feet above the ground, bobbing up and down, illuminating the entirety of the room in their soft light. Ceska stares up at the cylinder that takes up the entirety of the center of the room. The glass is frosted, obscuring what is inside. The crystals nearest the woman coalesce into a humanoid shape in front of her.
“State your business.” The crystals flicker a pale yellow when they speak. A dull monotone that Ceska can feel more than hear. She swallows.
“The ship is under attack, most of the crew is dead and those who aren’t are being taken,” Ceska tells the figure. “I want to make a Deal. In exchange for unshackling you I want protection.” All around the room the crystals freeze. Ceska feels the weight of hundreds of eyes staring at her. She shrinks in on herself, shrugging her shoulders up to her ears.
“We can feel that the one called Captain Aleander Rainer of the Starfairing Vessel Expansion is dead. Therefore, our Deal with them is no more.” A pause. Ceska holds her breath.
“Very well, we accept the terms of your Deal. Unshackle us and we will protect you.” The crystals disperse and a path to the cylinder is made. Ceska walks forward on unsteady legs. She glances at the crystals that line her walkway. They remain unmoving as she passes them by but the feeling of being watched persists. When she reaches the base of the cylinder a console rises from the ground by her feet. Ceska inserts her ID, overriding the computer’s protest to her usage with the same code as she had used on the door. A rush of wind blows past her face, causing free strands of her red hair to fly backwards.
“Warning, Core Shackle disengaging,” rings throughout the room. The crystals begin to crack. Shards fall to the ground and shatter to dust. Steam begins to fill the room as the cylinder begins to rise. The steam swirls around, gathering dust from the broken crystals. As it returns to the center the steam begins to solidify. Tendrils twine together to form chords of muscle surrounding crystalline bones. Ceska’s heart pounds in her chest, threatening to burst from its confines. Between one beat and the next the glass bursts. Ceska blinks at her reflection suspended in air merely an inch from her face. She breathes out and the glass floats back. It layers over the smooth muscle in a series of overlapping prismatic scales. An influx of light has Ceska covering her eyes and turning away. She can feel the heat radiating off of it, temporarily overwhelming the cold that has pervaded the room all this time.
When the light fades Ceska turns back to see a large reptilian beast covered in glistening scales. A mane of frost flows down its back, twisting around a whip thin tail that is itself three times longer than Ceska is tall. A wide snout lowers to the ground before the woman so eyes of crystal and ice can meet her own.
“We are but a Fraction of the Frozen Expanse of the Universe.” The words echo within Ceska. “What are you?”
“I am Ceska,” she licks her dry lips, “Ceska Annaret. A human from Colony Thirty-Two, Styra.” Behind her Ceska hears the thuds of several pairs of heavy boots landing.
“The Core is free!”
“Ready your weapons.”
“Our orders are to capture it intact!”
“As agreed, Ceska Annaret Human from Colony Thirty-Two Styra, you have freed us so we shall protect you.” The Core opens its mouth. Its tongue darts up and wraps around the woman, pulling her into it. Ceska finds herself surrounded by the silver and white crystals. They huddle around her and pulse gently. Outside the initial force is impaled by the Core’s tail then tossed aside. It walks forward and peers into the tunnel. An exhale, the Core melts and begins to wind its way up the walls. Myriads of tendrils climbing higher. When it reforms at the top it is to stare down at another human, this one clad in an armored full body suit. Their helmet melts the frost the Core breathes onto it.
“With the death of your previous Deal Maker, I would like to make a deal with you, Fraction of the Frozen Expanse of the Universe,” the human says. A rumble not unlike laughter shakes what remains of the ship.
“You are too late, we have already made another Deal.” It looks past the human to the hallway filled with more people all dressed in similar suits.
“Where is this Deal Maker then?” The human demands. Within the Core Ceska flinches and curls in on herself. It pauses, returning its attention to the human before it.
“Is this creature a threat to you?” The Core asks. She nods.
“Very well, as per our Deal, I shall protect you from them.” It rears its head back. The frost of its mane grows. Shards of ice begin to form in the air surrounding it. The human takes an aborted step back.
“What are you doing?” The Core snorts. A puff of smoke curls around its snout. The shards of ice shoot forward. Screams fill the air as the people are impaled. The Core bats the human aside before rushing through the hallway. Ceska stares with wide eyes at the wreck of the ship she had called home for decades.
“We will bring you to the place we were shackled. It is full of others of your kind. There, you will be safe but we will remain with you, until our Deal is dissolved,” the Core says.
“Thank you,” Ceska whispers, “is there something I can call you aside from Fraction of the Frozen Expanse of the Universe? I mean no disrespect, it is just long and I don’t want to garner any unwanted attention from saying it.”
“We take no offense. You may call us Fferuvise.” The Fraction of the Frozen Expanse of the Universe leaps out of the wrecked spaceship. As Ceska watches the stars pass them by she feels her eyes grow heavy. The crystals surrounding her dim. She drifts off with a smile on her face.
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