((11 - Planetarium))
The circular room was full of a thousand points of light, each one a crystal floating in the Void. The map spread, filling the room with soft luminescence.
"So, yeah. Your world... well, it's one of many." Kasby started. "Many, many crystals... all of which floating in what we call the Void. That's all this space in between crystals." he continued, waving his arms about to denote the space. "Um, any questions so far?" he asked hesitantly.
"I guess the mines were pretty redundant," Spider mused, cocking her head sideways as she walked through the space. She poked one of the floating crystals, and a line of scrawling symbols flowed out of it, sparkling in the air.
Giraffe inspected the images closely, trying to avoid touching any of them. Each was a simple square dot of light, of varying sizes. Scattered throughout was the occasional faded red square, marks of broken worlds. Zebra was not so cautious, and tried passing her hand through one. It was as immaterial as a speck of dust, the pattern of light playing across the back of her hand.
"YEAH," Spider said loudly, all of a sudden. "I have a question!"
Kasby cocked his head towards her. "Yeah?"
"We went inside the crystal place, right? And there were these spikey things that tried to IMPALE us, and then there was this thing that went like wooosh, and then the shadows were like--" she made a series of energetic gestures. "And then I kicked it, and this red light slash weird moving flying THING came out... AND the red hurt, but then we were glowing..." As her gestures got more frantic, slowly Spider's eyes started to glow with a pulsing red light. "And then it EXPLODED"
"Whaaaa, your eyes, Spider!" Giraffe exclaimed. Zebra and Kasby took a step back. Had they really just seen that.
After a moment of calm, her eyes faded back to normal. She looked from face to face. "What!?"
Zebra frowned. "You aren't aware of what just happened?"
"I know that our... crystal exploded," she started, "but--"
Giraffe cut her off. "Your eyes... were red!"
"You can see why we're a bit taken aback," Zebra added, perplexed.
"Uhuh," Spider gave her a questioning look.
Kasby paused for a long while before talking again. "It... must have been the light from the projector. Reflecting off your eyes. Don't worry about it." he said, turning away. "What was your question, Spider?"
She rolled her eyes. "My question was... WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED? What WAS that stuff?"
"Um... sorry, my brain's a bit jumbled, I think, and..." He trailed off, frowning. "Well, normally we have a whole year to be taught all this, and..."
"I'm a fast learner," she said stubbornly.
"Please, do tell," Zebra added calmly. "It's a bit important to us, you see."
Giraffe nodded. "Just a wee bit."
"Oh!" Kasby said, giving his fingers a snap. "I know!" He shuffled over to one of the shelves and slid it open. He dug through, and the sound of plastic clacking came out. He found what he needed, pulling out a small, plastic rectangle. He slid it into a larger machine, just beneath the control panel on the wall, and turned to them with a smile. "Listen close... I think these can help."
((12 - Survey Island Theme))
The machine hummed and whirred, emitting a quiet whining noise. After a moment, a voice came out, as if heard over a great distance.
"Er, right. So I figure someone oughta make a recording or something, more than just a blag or what, in case, you know, later generations wonder how the feck they got to be where they are.
"First thing's first. My name's Derek Connelly, thirty-nine years old, previously of the colony ship Templar, headed towards Vega. Right now, I'm chief navigator of the as-yet-unnamed bucket o' bolts we're flying to god-knows-where, now that we've gone and got ourselves ejected.
"Astrogation says they're getting readings on the place we're headed. The emissions spectra sure as hell seem a lot like those of a planetary nebula, but it's... much more dense, an' full to the brim of energy spikes like nothing we've ever seen. Hopefully as we get closer, we'll be able to find some solid resources. The air scrubbers on this piece of crap weren't meant to last more'n eight weeks, and we been let loose ten days arready.
" ... I guess that's about all for now. Connelly out."
"... was that supposed to answer our question?" Zebra grumbled.
Kasby held up a few more of the tapes in his hand. "Um, no, not quite. There's a few more you should hear."
"Whaaaaaaaaaaat?" Spider looked around in confusion. "All I heard was 'energy spikes,'" she said, waving her hand over her head. "Are those the spikes that tried to kill us?"
Kasby turned to her. "Not really. The energy spikes Connelly talks about are just really big energy sources..." He trailed off again for a moment. "Look, they do a better job of explaining than I do! Just listen to a few more, and maybe it'll start to make sense." The young pilot popped in another tape, and the voice began again.
"Sorry about the gap, Connelly recording again. It's been, ah, two weeks since my last entry. Busy times here on the beloved tin can. Week back, Arsibalt had the oh-so-witty idea to call the thing "Feynman," after that twentieth-century physicist. No one could think of any reason not to, so now I'm 'Derek Connelly, Navigator of the Feynman.' Sounds fancy, don' it?
"More importantly, we hit the edge of the nebula. Place is full of... fog. Plain ol' H2O-based water vapor condensate fog. Fog and oxygen, plenty breathable. Kind of... disturbingly habitable. We're not really sure what's up with that, but hey, we're not complaining.
"Furthermore, we found this... massive crystal. 'S about... a thousan' miles in diameter, perfectly dodecahedral. Mostly quartz, with some veins of various metals running through it, far as we can tell. Definitely weird.
"We're going further into the Nebula. Exploring. Uncharted waters an' all that. See if we can... make some sense of this ridiculous place.
"I been keepin' track of the days. She should have only a few more now.
"Connelly here again. Recording more, even though I just made one day before yesterday.
"Erm. We... found something. Somethin' big. It's... alive.
"The SETI team is going nuts.
"We lost it in the fog, but... more as I know it.
"We found it again, about an hour back. A party went out in one of the lifeboats, see if they could get a better look at it. And boy, did they ever. It was sort of... snake-like, long and red and definitely reptilian. Almost looked like a Chinese dragon, if y' can believe it.
"Ah, yeh, and that's the other thing. When they got close? It started spittin' lightning at 'em. Fortunately the lifeboat's got a solid hull plating, so they were fine, but... damn, they all came back terrified. Feeling... like they'd just found something evil. That's just weird, yeah?
"We're also findin' lots more of the crystals. They vary in sizes, some of 'em are half a dozen meters across, an' the biggest we found was a cube thirteen thousand miles long a side. 'S crazy.
"Still... going deeper. Looking for more life, if we can. Who knows, maybe we'll find something intelligent in here?
"Two days left, now.
"The crystals are getting denser, now. We saw two of 'em yesterday. An' furthermore, we found another one of the... things. Living things. This one was... real different, too. Kind of... insectoid. Had wings like a bug, and an exoskeleton. Didn't see much of it, though. It flew off when we got close.
"We've decided to see if we can get to the center of the nebula. Maybe... find something solid, somewhere livable. Hydroponics is going stable, and we're thinking we can tap some of the resources in the crystals...
"Assuming there were no... complications... ah, shoulda been today. Christ, I wish I coulda been with her... but... wherever she is, wherever... wherever he is, I hope to God my son knows that his father loves him dearly, and is praying for his safe journey... somewhere. I... I love you, Jeremy.
"... Connelly... Connelly out."
"Yesterday... yesterday did not go well. Heh. A whole mess of buggers came at us, wings and teeth and... hell, I'm sure everyone else on the ship will disagree with me on this one, but I swear to christ they had magic. They could... turn invisible, and... I dunno, knock people over from far away. Like, psychokinesis or somethin' ridiculous like that.
"Anyway, we managed to fight 'em off, but... hell, we lost Engineer Saria, and two of the physicists, Takagi and Anders.
"The crew's... started referring to 'em as demons.
"No one's arguing with that.
Kasby ejected the tape and turned to the listeners. "Those things you ran into in the tunnels? That's what Connelly is talking about. Demons, on their way out."
Spider stared at him. "Demons. You're shitting me."
"Not like we have a better name for 'em," shrugged Kasby. "Same with the thing that attacked us before, in the ship."
"Huh. They've never bothered us before..." The architect paced around the map-room, puzzling over all the crystals.
"That... that would be thanks to us. Or, more recently, to me... in any case, I think you'll understand a bit more with the next tape..." Kasby pushed in another tape and hit the button once again.
"It's been five months since my last entry, 'cause... there hasn't been much to report. I've started keeping a journal instead. Only keeping these audiojournals for big events. And ah, this one's big. We finally figured out what this place is.
"It's a prison. One gigantic prison complex, full of crystal cages for a thousand demons. I can't even begin to imagine what kind of beings could have made something like this...
"Whatever they were, though, they're long gone now. 'S just... the demons, now. The demons and us.
"Connelly out, for now."
"What." Zebra stared blankly ahead, trying to put together puzzle pieces.
"So, uh, how come we've been living on the outsides of a demon cage? That's a little bit... weird..." Spider looked a bit disbelieving.
Kasby looked to the three women. "Starting to make sense now?"
"NO!" Spider yelled.
"Our home as a demon prison. Perfect sense" Zebra said calmly, following it up with a more impassioned, "Of course not! Am you crazy?"
"Alright, alright! Jeez!" He threw his hands up defensively. "I have my own theories on that point. But... well, might as well finish these off. Last tape." He slid it in and pressed play.
"We've decided to stay here. It's... not like we can go anywhere, and it's not like we're going to do anything with our lives. So we might as well stay here and try to make a difference.
"Study the demons. See if we can learn how their power works. Some of us say it's magic, etheric tenet, beyond understanding. Others say it's just physics we don't know yet. Either way, we don't really know what's going on.
"Also, find out who made this place, and how. Not sure how we're going to do that."
"And... fight the demons. Kill the fuckers before they kill us.
"That's... that's it, really.
"My boy's one year old today. Happy birthday, Jeremy. Your father loves you.
"So, that's why I'm here, I suppose." said Kasby. "But why you're here... well, that's a bit trickier. I think I've put it together, though," he said, with a bit of a sly grin. "See... the way all this started out, why Connely and his crew were in a lifeboat... There was a colony ship. Mostly, it was run by us scientists, or demon-hunters now, because we kept everything working.
"One day, though, the colonists decided they didn't need us anymore. Voted us off... so we left. Never heard from them again. Never thought we would." His thoughtful expression broke into a smile. "Until you three came along, of course. We didn't think the ship would last more than a few days without the people who actually knew what they were doing to fix things. Turns out we were wrong. Somehow, you folks found a way."
"So you're a demon hunter..." Spider spoke slowly, one word at a time, as she tried to process the massive influx of information. "And we came on a... ship...thing, to lots of prisons for demons... So the colonists decided it would be a good idea to build a city on a demon-prison???" The teen's eyebrows were going to get stuck in the upright position, at this rate.
"To... guard it, maybe." Giraffe was deep in thought.
"No, that would be ridiculous!" answered Kasby. "The scientists didn't figure out what this place was until long after we got kicked out. I don't think you guys ever really made the connection. You did say that you've never had any troubles with demons before. Not like you had any way of knowing what those big crystals were."
"They kicked you off their ship?" Spider blinked at their surroundings. "Then what's this?"
"We rebuilt, of course! Had eight hundred years to do it, after all," he elaborated. "This is one of a few bases we have throughout the Void."
"So, why did these...demons suddenly start causing trouble?" Zebra crossed her muscular arms, unsatisfied.
"You mean in your world?" Kasby asked the woman.
"Yes, in our world. The one that exploded, if you recall. I have yet to get a proper explanation for that." The dark-haired woman arched an eyebrow.
"Well... there are these things, lifelines, energy... they run through all the crystals, and act as a kind of reinforcement. Stop the demons inside from breaking out, and such. Occasionally, they weaken, and... well, you've seen what happens when they get too weak." Kasby said grimly. "At least, that's what alot of us think. All we really know is that usually, these energies fill in cracks when they form, and make the crystal spears. But when they break, all we can do is clean up the mess."
"The black stuff?" Spider's eyes lit up, and she snapped her fingers. "Oh. Umm..." She looked guiltily at her companions, and fell down to sitting again, cross-legged. She let her head drop, and let out a groan. "I think...I kicked a pressure point in the crystal..." Her mind went to her architectural training. "A... pillar."
"...Don't beat yourself up, Spider." said Kasby. "Honestly, I don't know how much a kick from a human could do to one of those anyway. I was detecting some weird readings even before that... it probably wasn't your fault."
But Spider wasn't listening. "I blew up our wooooorld!" she wailed.
From somewhere, a bell chimed quietly, and the lights in the room slowly began to dim.
Giraffe glanced around. "What's going on now?"
"It's just night time." Kasby said to Giraffe, while trying awkwardly to pat Spider on the shoulder. "Look, I... I know this is alot to take in," he said, trying to speak to everyone. "But... well, you had questions. I tried my best to answer them." His voice took on a gentler quality than they'd heard in it before. "I'm sorry, I really, truly am sorry for everything that happened. But you're not alone."
"Did this happen to you?" Giraffe asked, slightly sarcastically, but with a tone of real curiosity.
"... something like that," replied Kasby quietly. "It's... probably been a long day for you. Why don't you get some rest."
Spider curled up into a tiny ball on the floor, whimpering very softly, and tucked her hands under her head.
Kasby tapped her on the shoulder. "C'mon, Spider." He gestured to Zebra and Giraffe. "You two as well. I'll show you to some rooms."
Spider kicked him in the shin. "Nnnn!" She waved him away. She was already beginning to feel drowsy... The light dancing from the crystals in the room was soft, like a slow lullaby. Or water, gently flowing... she could already feel herself falling into sleep underneath the hoard of crystals.
Kasby didn't react much to the kick, but he moved off all the same, over to the doorway. "Well, if you'd rather sleep in here, shouldn't be too much of a problem... But one of you at least remember this much." He pointed to a red lever on the wall. "If anything happens, or there's an emergency, or a demon, pull this lever. I'll be there in a flash."
Giraffe nodded, settling against one wall, not really hearing him. Zebra stared at the pilot, clearly waiting for him to leave.
"Goodnight, Giraffe, Zebra, Spider... at the very least, I'm glad you're here." He added the last bit in on a gentler note, to himself, and slid the door shut behind him.
Spider curled up tighter around herself, as Giraffe and Zebra tried to make themselves comfortable against the metal floor. "Goodnight..." Spider mumbled into the silence. "Don't let the spikes...nnn......."