Heart of Darkness
Zeus was watching Phil’s hands on the controls of the shuttle, committing it all to memory so if he ever needed to, he could take over in a pinch.
“How long did it take?” Zeus asked.
“Flight school? 3 years, then another one because I failed the flight test first time. Crashed into the ocean. Second time, though... I managed to pull it up”
Zeus smirked at the story. “You crashed into the ocean? How?”
“Oh, god,′ Phil groaned, ’my partner dared me to break the record for pulling up. I was cocky, and dive-nosed into the water. I nearly drowned.”
Zeus laughed with Phil, heard from the passenger area of the shuttle. Apollo looked up at Dionysus with a grin.
“You look good for Swiss cheese”
Dionysus rolled her eyes, grunting as she breathed out. “Thanks. Being a guest of the medical wing was fun”
“Shut up, computers are evil!” Apollo growled.
Epione snorted from her seat and chuckled lightly. Minnie frowned, however.
“You’re all... normal”
Epione smiled genuinely at Minnie. “Why wouldn’t we be?”
Minnie hummed to herself with the engines, a habit she had when she was nervous, and looked at her tablet, cataloguing her equipment again.
Thanatos and Tartarus were on the opposite end of the shuttle, looking through the window at the stars and space junk as they traveled to Bjarni.
“Such splendor is evidence of his divine design,” Thanatos murmured.
Tartarus shook his head. “Yeah, cause his design on the things like cancer and those bugs that lay eggs in people’s eyes are so splendorous” Tartarus said.
Thanatos smiled at these words.
“Ah... like so many, you focus on what is bad for you. Do we not kill the lamb to eat and keep ourselves warm? Do we not battle each other to fight for the family back home? His design encompasses all. Sometimes it benefits us... and sometimes it does not. But in a true testament to his vision, we are still here.”
Tartarus grunted, knowing he wasn’t getting anywhere with this.
Kurt was watching Enyo write on her tablet with spider-like grace, fascinated as he listened to her.
“-and that is why a grenade with a black hole inside it will not work!”
“Wow,” Kurt said quietly, “though a black hole in a grenade would be a great tactical advantage”
“I know,” Enyo said, bouncing in her seat, “That’s why I’m designing one!”
“But you just said-”
“I am Russian, Mr. Dwarf. Nothing is impossible to us.”
Kurt smirked at her confidence, then checked on his rifle.
All conversations were cut short when the shuttle lurched. Phil turned her head over her shoulder.
“Hey, strap in, all of y-”
The shuttle lurched again, more violently this time, knocking everyone who was standing to the ground. Tartarus pulled Thanatos up and the two buckled in. Dionysus, Apollo and Kurt all buckled their harnesses quickly, but Epione and Enyo could not understand how it worked. Minnie cried out as her tablet skidded across the floor, and she dived after it.
“Zeus, get them buckled in. Now!”
Zeus nodded, using the walls to prop himself up as he moved hastily towards Minnie. He picked the Elf up and slammed her into a seat, pulling the harness over her.
Zeus used the chairs as the shuttle slammed around, the windows showing the blizzard outside. Zeus slammed the harness over Enyo, then pulled Epione up and pushed her into her chair.
“I’m sorry, I-” Epione stammered
“Later. Do it la-”
The shuttle lurched violently, and Zeus was launched into the air, his arm breaking against the metal, then landing bodily on the ground. A large chunk of ice slammed into the shuttle, making the vessel spin out uncontrollably.
“Brace!” Phil called out, though no one could hear her.
Phil opened her eyes, a piercing ringing in her ears, her vision blurred. She shook her head, then pulled a protein bar from her pocket and chewed it. Her vision returned, and the ringing stopped as her body used the nutrients to heal.
“Thank god for that,” Phil groaned, then unbuckled herself, standing up and going back to check the others. “Oh damn...”
Most of the passengers were fine, a little woozy from the landing, or unconscious, but fine. The problem was Zeus. He was on the ground, a spear of torn metal sticking out of his side, just where the shuttle had broken open, letting the searing cold into the shuttle.
“Epione, wake the hell up, I need you”
Phil slapped Epione across the face, but no response. Phil walked over to Zeus, then looked over her shoulder. No one was paying attention to her... yet. Phil knelt down, then yanked the metal out of Zeus’s side, making his growl in pain
“Shut up, dammit,” Phil growled, then cut her hand on the metal, then wiped the blood onto his wound. She watched the skin crawl and regenerate over his side, then stop. The hole was the size of a spike in the abdomen.
“Any more will kill you, Zeus... you gotta power through this.”
Zeus looked up at Phil.
“How?” he whispered.
“We all have secrets. This is mine.”
Zeus nodded, then fell back, unconscious.
It took about three minutes for Olympus to assemble after the crash, but it was a sorry assembly. Zeus was still unconscious, and Epione had insisted she remain with him, so they were already down two agents, not to mention Phil needed to repair the shuttle. With what, no one knew, nor wanted to ask. Thankfully, they had crashed near the facility, silent like the grave only a small walk away.
Without Zeus, though, someone else needed to step up and take control. It was clear, that this someone needed to have experience commanding, was able to make difficult decisions, and had the wisdom to get their team through this dangerous encounter.
When no one came forward, Tartarus stepped up. Maybe not the best decision, but it was what they currently had.
‘Alright,’ Tartarus said, ‘we still have a mission to do, and you all know your objectives. Keep in comm contact, and only engage the enemy if absolutely necessary. We don’t know enough about them to assume it’ll be easy.’
‘Well said, Tartarus,’ Alice crooned in his head.
‘So, Dionysus, you and I are going alone, and Epione won’t be going with Thanatos and Enyo. We can do this, I know we can. Your HUDs have a map, so get going, Olympus.’
Tartarus and Dionysus came upon a side entrance, the closest to Dr. Wilson’s laboratory, though they’d still have to traverse the facility some ways. Once inside, Dionysus groaned. The first thing she noticed was the smell. Rotted flesh from the corpses that littered the corridor. Dead for at least a few weeks, the facility’s heater ferrying them along to rot.
‘Ugh, Tartarus, do you have... anti-smell something?’ Dionysus pleaded, covering her nose.
The smell was not better for Tartarus, but he always came prepared. In the equipment locker on the Cerberus, he had found olfactory blockers, little pieces of a sponge-like material that took away your sense of smell, but allowed normal breathing. He had three pairs, as he had envisioned Zeus coming along, so after placing two in his nostrils, and handing two to Dionysus so she could do the same, he had a spare. Next time, maybe.
‘Oh, that’s much better,’ Dionysus said, breathing it deep to test them. Not a whiff. She knelt down beside one of the scientists, and checked him for an ID badge. Tartarus sighed, pulled his knife out, then dug out the I.D chip in the scientist’s hand.
‘Robert Ridgewell, bio-engineer. Not Riley’s department,’ Alice said quietly.
‘But we’re in... robotics. Why is a bio-engineer here?’ Dionysus said into her mic.
‘It’s possible that what attacked the scientists was here for some time, and that Dr. Ridgewell was simply a survivor.’
‘I’d rather not carve I.D chips out of every body, Alice...’ Tartarus mused.
‘You don’t have to. I can program your HUD to beep when you’re near Riley, or his body.’
Dionysus sighed happily, then continued ahead. Tartarus, however, was looking at one body by the door. A bullet wound in the head. Instant death. But what was interesting to him was the black feather emblazoned on the dark green armor.
‘That is the symbol of the Black Feather, a group of Eco-terrorists that have attacked multiple Alliance planets. It seems this was their latest target.’
‘Olympus, Tartarus,’ the assassin spoke through his mic, ‘confirmed enemy, Black Feather. Eco-terrorists. Armed and dangerous, though not mutants or aliens.’
Tartarus heard no response. He checked his comm. It was working, so it seemed Black Feather was blocking communications.
‘Bla—Fea——E—–rror—-.’ came the message over the comms. Enyo tapped her earpiece, then shrugged.
‘Comms are out,’ she decreed happily. Thanatos rose his eyebrow at his partner’s jovial attitude.
’That’s bad, Enyo. But if we do the mission and go back to the meetup point, we should be fine. Just in case, though, we should have out weaponry readied.
Thanatos rose his sword and activated the electricity within it. It hummed a deadly tune in his grip, and he strode down the corridor, empty of any signs of battle or incursion.
‘What must we do, Enyo?’ Thanatos asked the scientist behind him.
‘Find a mainframe. I could use any computer, but a mainframe will be stupid quick. Then, we can leave before the pointy-eared one blows the base up.’
‘I assume you know what to look for?’
Enyo nodded, and took the lead, following her HUD to the computer lab. It was odd that there was no signs of a battle. No bodies, no structural damage... Like someone had cleaned up.
‘Perhaps we should also fix the radios?’ Enyo offered.
‘How? We don’t know what’s wrong with them.’
‘They appear jammed. If we find the jammer, we can fix our communications. It’s a small deviation, and would let us know the base is about to explode.’
Thanatos agreed with a slight nod. So they both moved ahead, on to their task at hand.
‘You’ll be fine, Zeus,’ Epione said, pushing a hypo of Medifoam into the shrunken hole in Zeus’s torso. It was strange, it was like someone had tried to heal it, but had stopped half way through. And Zeus’s blood pressure was through the roof, fighting... unknown organisms. Epione took a sample of his blood, and pocketed it for later study.
Phil came back from outside, dragging panels she had stolen from the facility’s exterior, and slammed them on the ground.
‘This is going to take forever... I might have to do a bubble.’ she murmured.
‘What’s a bubble?’ Epione asked curiously.
‘Sometimes, when you need to get off a planet, but your ship is trashed and... not airtight, pilots make bubbles, or an environment shield. It doesn’t cycle air, though, so we’d have to go at top speed and smash into the hangar, unless we can get it open.’
‘Junior will handle that.’ Epione said with a smile.
‘You can have faith in the kid. I’ll put my faith in me.’