((37 - The Airship Chasm))
May 29th, 802 AT
The Quinn continued to fall into the open Void, as it had for the last four weeks. It hadn't been an overly eventful month--half a dozen demon encounters, all handily dispatched through a combination of their powers and judicious application of the HAVOC.
As they fell, they had been collecting telemetry data from sensor buoys throughout Sector Seven and into Sector Four. Each update was worse than the one before it. The crystals were shattering at an accelerating rate, in a wide, cylindrical corridor, headed straight down. Down towards the center. The Devourer Swarm (as they'd come to call them) was about a week behind, give or take.
They'd seen it half a dozen times again, since that first time just off the Corkscrew. A Devourer larva finds another demon, and eats it via those horrible red portals. A minute or two later, the larva cracks open, and spills out a twisted, glowing-red version of whatever it ate. A new part of the Swarm.
They had yet to find a feasible way to hurt the larvae themselves--red energy shields blocked any physical attacks, and they just ate any magic thrown at them. The lesser demons they'd possessed went down just fine, and fortunately, the larvae themselves were slow.
The Quinn was finally nearing Sector Four base--colloquially known as "the Roost." Kasby had decided shortly into the journey that the best course of action was for the people of the Roost to evacuate. No one had argued. There was no way they could survive the Swarm. With gravity on their side, though, the refugees of Sector Four could outrun the Swarm long enough to get to Sector One.
The crew had avoided thinking much further ahead than that.
The docking bay was a circular room, open at the top, maybe twenty meters across. Various fueling pumps and tubes ran along the walls, mostly connected to a large tank at one of the room, opposite the single double-wide door. The number of the docking bay--17--was stenciled in large white letters in half a dozen places around the room.
In the docking bay there stood a young man, wearing soft clothing, suitable to the life of a scholar. ((Dylan Scott)) He shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot, looking from floor to wall to the open Void overhead. His clothing and bearing were very much out of place here in the docking bay, a place of purpose, where everything had a job.
After he'd been waiting for far too long, a fellow in his mid teens walked in, wearing a demon-leather jacket, long, down to his heels in the back. ((Jesse Riemer)) He smiled at the older man, an unlit cig' clenched between his teeth. As he walked, four gold rings jingled along his left ear, prompting the other man to notice him. "Hey, Camael."
Camael forced a nervous smile in return. "Seth."
"We still waiting?"
The scholar nodded, his face twisting into an expression of intense longing. "They say the ship's not far away now."
Seth rolled his head, cracking his neck. His spiky black hair, dyed red at the tips of each pointed bang, shifted slightly with the motion. "Sounds like I got here right on time, then."
The Quinn fell. Cruising down, into the mist. The crew all stood atop the deck, most at their stations, knowing they were close now.
Owl bit her lip. "How close do you think we are? To the Center." As the days went on, it was all she could focus on.
Kasby manned the helm, controls gripped tightly in thickly gloved hands, bags under his eyes. "Long ways," he answered. No rants about the specific distance, or musings on their fuel.
"Oh... thank you." Owl stared at her feet. That wasn't the news she'd been hoping for.
Next to her, Skunk leaned against the wall, silent. She hadn't spoken more than a few words in the past several days. Spider lay on the ceiling of the cockpit, twirling a wrench in her hands. She was unusually quiet. Had been, for the past month. Even Goat looked bored, leaning on his spear. Zebra and Giraffe stood at the back of the cockpit, equally quiet.
Owl opened the half-filled journal on her lap and added a few more lines about home. In moments like these, when everyone around was silent and tired, it was a nice way to escape. She'd taken to carrying the journals with her everywhere.
Finally, the radio crackled, and an awkward, unsteady male voice came through. "Hello?"
Kasby pressed a button on the radio console. "Sector Four, this is Kasby Bellwood, captain of the Quinn. Requesting permission to dock." His message seemed curt, quick to the point.
The voice came back, sound like it wasn't quite talking directly into the microphone. "Am I allowed to grant that kind of permission? I suppose so, go ahead."
Slowly, out the front viewpane, something massive came into view. A huge disk, much bigger across than the Corkscrew had been. Part of it seemed to come up towards them, like a massive pillar.
Owl stood, tucking the journal into a pocket. Skunk barely looked up, and instead pulled out the coil of steel that had become her favorite weapon, and toyed with it, forming the metal into a knife, then a miniature version of the Quinn.
The radio crackled once more. "Alright, Captain, follow the red flares to Docking Bay 17."
Kasby switched off the radio without responding and pulled the Quinn in towards the massive object. As they came down level with the Sector Four base, it became clearer. Huge steel cables connected the top of the pillar to the edges of the mottled disk. Open avenues seemed to wander through the disk. It looked... well, it looked like a city. On one flat section of the disk, four red flares illuminated an opening in it, near one of the four large bridges that led up to the central column.
Owl frowned out at the massive structure. "Do people live there?" She questioned.
Kasby nodded at Owl's comment, not taking his eyes off the controls. He guided the ship until was just over where the flares were burning, the engines underneath the ship still roaring. With the pulling of a lever, the wings of the Quinn began to fold inward and the ship began to descend.
The docking bay wasn't much bigger than the Quinn itself, but the ship settled gently down into it, landing with a soft clunk. Kasby stood up from the controls and made his way to the door of the ship, pulling a lever on the side. With a hydraulic hissing, the door slip open and a metal ladder descended, Kasby taking it down quickly, the others following close behind.
Two strangers stood in the docking bay. One was in the clothes of a scholar. Soft, unprotective. He had hair that was getting just long enough to get in his eyes, dark brown, and a silver cross on a necklace on his chest. The other kept his hands in the pockets of his trenchcoat, quietly watching the figures step out of the ship, eyes flicking from person to person.
Owl walked away from the end of the ladder, eyes scanning every inch of the newcomers. Her tan skin was still covered with letters of every alphabet of every language, and her shadow seeped shifting inky words.
Skunk scowled at the newcomers, crimson eyes flashing from beneath her dark hair. She wore a black jacket and long pants, leaving her face and hands the only exposed reflective metal.
Spider took in the whole room, making sure it was architecturally sound. Finally she turned her attention to the two strangers, expression unreadable. She pressed back her unkept, black hair that spindled off in every direction. She now wore tight leather for armor and a huge belt with various tools on it. She jerked her jaw up at the strangers, eyeing them. "Sup." It was the first thing she'd said in a long while.
"Uh. I, uh. I suppose I'm fine." It was obvious the scholar's mouth was working on its own, here. He watched as Goat, Zebra, and Giraffe got out of the ship, but his eyes didn't leave its open door.
Kasby walked up to the two figures, wearing his tan buckled coat as per usual, and goggles atop his head. He wore thick, leather and metal gloves, and two belts; one had two holsters strapped to it, and the other held a curved crystal sword strapped firmly onto his back. His hair was a firey copper, but seemed pushed back. He had heavy bags under his eyes, as if he hadn't been sleeping well. He looked the pair up and down. "And who are--"
The scholar cut him off. "Why do you have that sword? That's not yours." He looked extremely uncomfortable, repeatedly glancing at the ship.
"You. Who are you, and why do you recognize this sword?" Kasby asked sharply.
The man with in the trenchcoat glared at Kasby. "Funny, I was about to ask who you are, to have acquired it."
"Goddammit, my name is Camael, and you need to answer my question." He had waited patiently for his companion to finish, but was clearly holding down barely restrained emotion.
The younger man nodded. "Yes. Please do."
Kasby looked back and forth between the two. "I was her lover. Now step out of my way," he responded coldly.
Seth stared for a long moment. "... wait. Was?"
Cam's eyes got wide and he visibly paled. "No...No..."
Kasby said nothing, but his jaw tightened. His fists visibly clenched.
Seth took a step closer to Kasby, leaning in. "Answer me, you prick."
Camael looked as if he were desperately trying not to see the obvious. "I can't... I thought..."
Kasby turned to Seth, eyes locked viciously. "Walk away right now. Leave this room."
"I asked you a fucking question," Seth spat, not backing down. "I expect an answer, thank you very much."
"Kasby," Spider said steadily from the wall. "This is a waste of time."
Owl stepped back, praying they avoided a real fight. That was the last thing anyone needed. She swallowed at their talk of Jaz, nauseous.
Camael looked up at Kasby, eyes flashing through too many emotions. "Who the hell do you think you are? Answer the question." He looked like he already knew the answer, but was hoping for one last chance. One final hope.
Kasby didn't respond to any of them directly, but his gaze darkened. "I don't owe either of you an answer to anything! You come down here, assaulting a tired and hungry crew that you've never met with a barrage of questions!"
"Jaz is dead," Goat said flatly, eyes hidden by a pair of goggles.
The cigarette dropped from Seth's mouth, and he turned away from the crew, tensed.
Owl shut her eyes, trying not to cry. It didn't work. It was too hard to hear it so simply.
Kasby looked incredulously at Goat for a minute, seizing up in anger, before letting out a breath. "... there's your answer. Now who the fuck are you?"
Seth tried to recompose himself, turning back to the captain. "Her fucking brother."
Camael followed, quieter. "I was her lover."
Owl's eyes snapped open. "You... you were... oh, I'm so sorry!" she gushed, voice breaking over the tears. "She was... so many people loved..."
Kasby didn't reel back in surprise or even react all that visibly. If anything, his fists only clenched tighter. "Spider's right. We're wasting time."
Cam's hands moved to his face, pressing harder against his eyes, but Seth's stare just hardened. "What. Happened. To her?"
Spider strutted back to the group, not quite making eye contact with either Camael or Seth. "It was my fault." She glanced back and Kasby, and shrugged. "We don't have much time."
"All very touching, I'm sure," muttered Skunk darkly.
"Skunk, shut up," Kasby said in a low, almost uncatchable voice.
Owl glared at the metal woman. "Don't you have any respect?" she whispered.
By now Skunk was openly bored, but she said nothing more.
Spider's jaw was set, her fists clenched. She shot a glare back at Kasby, then turned to the other two. "Demons. Coming here. Evacuation. Let's move."
Kasby nodded in agreement. "If you have something to say, get it out. But otherwise, stand aside."
Seth Quinn fixed his eyes on Spider, then Kasby. "I'm not letting you leave without a fucking explanation. Do you read?"
Spider didn't wait. She walked between the two, determination in her step, even though she didn't know where she was going. She pushed the double doors open wide, and left, leaving Seth and Cam staring after.
Skunk interjected "It's very sweet, all this posturing, but you're all idiots. We're not getting anywhere here. Do you want her to have died in vain?"
This set off Kasby more than anything else said, and he stormed up into Skunk's face. "Never say that again. NEVER. SAY THAT AGAIN. Jaz did not die for a reason!"
"...Skunk's right, though," Owl admitted in a stage whisper. "Jaz would want us to take care of ourselves right now. Get away from the demons and..." She swallowed. "Kill the fuckers before they kill us."
Camael looked at the arguing crew. "Goddamit, can't you understand, these are human concerns! Are you monsters? You're just as good as the demons you fight."
Skunk glared at Kasby. "Maybe I am a monster." She twitched her head in Camael's direction, acknowledging him. "But you're being an idiot." She followed Spider.
"SOMEONE FUCKING ANSWER ME!" Seth's voice echoed through the dock as he shouted in frustration, eyes blazing.
Kasby whirled on him, still fuming. "You want an explanation? FINE. Jazrill Quinn was killed by a demon on our journey leaving the Corkscrew. Eaten. Get out of my way." He stormed past the two, to the doors.
Seth's face darkened. "How hard was it to spit out that one sentence?" He said softly. He followed Kasby to the doors.
Kasby pushed them open. "Harder than you will ever know," he said without turning, through clenched teeth.
The remaining four followed to the door, leaving Camael standing alone, staring down into his hands. "When you stare into the abyss..."
((28 - Corsican Corridor))
Kasby, Goat, and Spider stood just inside the end of the corridor, waiting. Seth had offered to take anyone who needed rest to spare apartments, and most of the crew had taken him up on it. Outside the doors was a broad thoroughfare, full of people. Dressed in grays, browns, and blues, chattering amiably to each other. They ducked in and out of side-alleys and doorways, laughing and talking.
After a few minutes, Seth returned, eyes cold. "So. To Coordinator Ammon's." His voice was devoid of tone or emotion.
Kasby gave a small nod to Seth, his own face still an unreadable slate.
Seth began to walk down the wide street, the others following behind. People cleared out of the group's path, pointing at the strangers and whispering.
Goat leapt up, grabbing hold of one of the lights hanging from the high ceiling. There was a chorus of gasps from below as he made his way forward, leaping from light to light.
Spider was looking down as she walked, making an effort not to look at anyone. It was strange to suddenly be surrounded by so many people, though she moved easily through the throng. "Ammon?" She half-asked, not looking at Seth.
"The guy in charge of this city," he answered, with an equal lack of vigor.
Not far ahead, the ceiling opened up, and the road began to slope steadily upwards. It was clearly one of the bridges they'd seen from the air.
"See you at the top!" Goat said, leaping up and away along the bridge.
The bridge was large, and long. The walls continued along it, but doors were replaced by large windows at regular intervals. They could see the Roost stretching along beneath them as they walked. The bridge was even more crowded than the thoroughfare, but the crowd still parted before them, letting them through.
About halfway up, a section of the center of the bridge descended down, towards the center of the base. The trio continued around and past it, up towards higher on the column. Eventually, they reached a broad opening in the massive cone that is the base of the column. Inside, the corridors closed up again, and felt like the Corkscrew. But... a populated Corkscrew.
Signs pointed in various directions, but Seth led them straight forward, into the heart of the tower, to a set of elevators. Various people of all ages wandered in and out of other elevators, but none went to this one.
Goat stood next to it, waiting. "How far up?" He asked.
"Nearly to the top," Seth responded quietly.
Kasby, almost instinctively, hit button to call the elevator. He had gotten use to being the only one with the knowledge of how buttons worked.
After a moment, the doors slid open, and all four stepped in. Seth tapped the button for Ammon's floor, and the elevator shot upwards.
The elevator doors opened onto a small anteroom, with a pair of guards standing next to a door. They started in surprise, and looked at the people.
Kasby stepped out of the elevator first, walking towards the room and conducting himself as if the guards weren't there.
The first guard piped up. "Here to see the Coordinator?"
The other one stepped in front of Kasby. "Hey, hold on. You can't go in yet."
Kasby looked up at the man, who was at least a foot taller. Big fellow. "We're here to see the Coordinator."
"No weapons in the Coordinator's office." The man held his hands out expectantly. The small guard shrugged, and gestured for the others to put their weapons on a nearby rack.
Kasby clipped off one of his belts, handing the belt with the two holsters on it to the larger guard. "There." He started towards the door again.
"... the sword, sir." The man looked at him levelly, slowly raising an eyebrow.
Kasby stopped. "Personal memento. I'll hold onto it."
"Afraid that's not gonna cut it, sir."
The shorter guard looked slightly apologetic. "Can't be sure you're not being mind-controlled, or, no offense sir, a shape-shifting demon."
Kasby looked very measuredly at the guard. "I'm not going to give you this sword. Nor am I going to remove it from my person." He gripped the hilt and drew it partially out of the sheath, stopping halfway. The crystal gleamed under the fluorescent lighting.
"SIR!" Both guards reached for their guns.
Spider's red eyes flared. "Kasby. We DON'T have time for this. We don't have time for you to be stupid and arrogant."
Ignoring her, Kasby clenched his hand down on to the crystal blade, hard. It bit through the leather gloves he wore, and a thin stream of blood trickled down his wrist. "I'm no demon... as you can see."
The two guards watched him, dumb-struck. Then they looked at other, shrugged, re-holstered their guns, and stepped out of Kasby's way mutely.
"Like I said. I'll be holding onto it." He stepped past them without another word, sheathing the sword as he went.
The doors swung open in front of him, and a strange music floated out from inside.
((38 - Coffee in the Morning (Kisses in the Night) ))
The room took up much of the level of the tower. Big windows overlooked the base on three sides. At the center of the room was a large circular desk, absolutely covered in paperwork. The blinking lights of a communications console were immediately visible against the dim lighting. A very surprised, clean-cut man of about fifty, in peak physical condition, wearing a suit and tiny glasses, looked up from behind the desk, quite surprised. ((Michael Joseph Grant V))
Kasby stepped inside, wiping some of the blood off his glove and wrist. "Coordinator Ammon?"
Spider stalked behind him, trying very hard not to punch him. Seth followed, taking up a position at the back of the room.
Goat jumped into the room, having left his spear with the guards. He landed on the desk, skidding on the paperwork. "Sorry!"
The Coordinator leapt to his feet, a gun suddenly in his hand.
Kasby raised an eyebrow at the gun. "Warm welcome. Your guards already cleared our entrance."
"Excuse me," he says, putting the gun back into place under the desk, giving Goat a critical glance. "I'm not quite accustomed to having people catapulted onto my desk while I'm working."
"Then you haven't spent more than two hours in a space with Goat." responded Kasby, although there wasn't much humor left in his voice.
"Yeah, sorry about that," Goat said. "This room is just really spacious, y'know."
"Obviously I haven't. Quite some legs you've got, there!" Reservedly, the Coordinator stood and opened the partition that let him out of his desk, so he could shake hands with everyone.
Spider slid up against one of the walls, her hair literally standing up. She eyed one of the stranger things on the Coordinator's desk. A large brown box, with a strange metal cone coming off the top of it. A large black disk spun in circles atop the disk. The music seemed to be coming from the contraption.
The captain shook the Coordinator's hand. "I'm Kasby Bellwood, acting captain of the Quinn."
Ammon frowned. "Wait. Acting captain, you say?"
Kasby gave a small nod, but faltered. "We...lost our co-captain Jazrill Quinn. "Early in our journey," he said tonelessly.
A grave, stoic look crosses Ammon's face. "I'm sorry to hear that. She was among our best pilots."
And more. The thought crossed Kasby's mind, but he didn't utter a syllable.
"Goat the Leaper, cook of the Quinn, last son of Face," Goat said, shaking the Coordinator's hand.
Ammon nodded cordially, and shook his hand, but whatever good humor he had had fled for the moment.
Spider folded her hands behind her head, feet not quite touching the floor. "Spider." She sniffed, and rubbed her nose before giving a half-assed salute.
Coordinator Ammon nodded again, though his didn't come back up. He stared at Spider's feet, somewhat puzzled.
Spider noticed his staring with a slight smirk, and let herself return to the floor.
((39 - When I Take My Sugar To Tea))
Ammon raised his eyebrows but said nothing, returning his attention to Kasby.
"There's something you need to hear, Coordinator," said Kasby, not allowing the growing silence to take the room. "Why we came here in the first place." He reached into his pocket and retrieved a folded up piece of paper from one of his coat pockets. He flipped it open and set it down on Ammon's desk.
The Coordinator studied it for a moment, unsure of what to make of it. The sketch on it was of something that looks like a cross between a maggot larva and a tapered worm. It had two large insectile wings coming off the narrow midsection, and a disk of some sort was sketched in front of one end. "Devourer larva" was scrawled in Kasby's messy handwriting under it.
"Demons." Kasby had crossed his arms. "A swarm of them. Different than anything you or I have ever seen before. I've taken to calling them Devourers. That's all they do... eat." An almost unperceivable tremor pass through Kasby as he elaborated.
"Are they, then, the ones that...?" Seth asked Kasby softly.
Kasby didn't respond to Seth, only clenched his jaw.
The Coordinator picked up the sketch, still looking at it. "What makes them so different from any insectoid we bump into?"
"They absorb everything," Spider muttered.
Ammon frowned at her. "You're saying they eat whatever ammunition is thrown at them?"
Kasby nodded. "Magic. Bullets. Crystal Shards. Nothing gets through." He sighed. "On their own, they aren't that bad. Very slow, not that hard to escape from. But... like I said. Devourers. They'll eat a demon whole, and shed their outer skins, becoming some twisted replica of the being. All part of the swarm."
"And the swarm's coming fast." Spider sounded tired.
Kasby set his face tight. "Spider's right. They're on a course for the center, and Sector Four is right in their way." He reached for another pocket, and pulled a small disk from it. "Plug it in."
The Coordinator blinked. "Oh, good, you have proof."
Spider pushed off the wall and stepped forward to the desk. "Yeah, because we'd make this shit up!"
Ammon took the disk relievedly. "I couldn't decide whether you had space madness or whether I just hoped you did. And was probably about to make some very poor decisions." He popped the disk into a slot in the console on his desk, and a cracked projector started up with a whirr.
((40 - You Oughta Be In Pictures))
It projected a map of the Void, with recent telemetry data included. The dozens of shattered crystals blinked red, like an arrow pointing straight at Sector Four.
"Holy fuck," the Coordinator breathed.
"That's better." Spider frowned.
Kasby still said nothing, preferring to let the crisis sink in for a few more seconds.
Ammon rapped on the desk console, which blipped eagerly. "I want the councilium in here. Consider this an urgent summons." He returned his focus to the map. After a moment, he looked at Kasby and company again. "So. Uh. Welcome to Sector Four! Are you planning on staying long?" There was a note of controlled mania in his voice.
"No. And you shouldn't be either," said Kasby with resolve.
Spider put her hands down on the desk. "We need to evacuate." She glared at the Coordinator's face like she was trying to split it open with her eyes.
Kasby grimaced. "She's right. We have no means of stopping them, and neither do you."
"I'll discuss that with my peers; it's certainly on the table. But where are we going to evacuate to?"
"If we try to make it in freefall, we risk colliding with undisturbed cells." Ammon crossed his arms decisively, then sighed in frustration. "As I said, I have to discuss this with the consilium. That said... Thank you for getting us this information. We still have time to do something about this."
"One week. You have one week, if that." Kasby said, turning and starting out of the room. He turned back over his shoulder before exiting the room completely. "Finish your bureaucracy quickly, Ammon. War's at your very doorstep."