The Triangle, Memoirs of a Mechanoid: The Seventh Gate of Hell
Leaking from the mind of Adam J Purcell
Blindly falling through the eternal darkness he tried to thrash about, he tried to grab onto an unseen something, anything but there was nothing there.
How long had it been? Was it always this way? He was sure he remembered a life of colour and substance but perhaps it was just his imagination. Once he could bring his hands up before his face and examine the intricate wrinkles of his pale fleshed palms. He wished he could do that again but there was nothing there. His hands were ordered to move before his face but they did not appear. He could almost sense them, he was sure, but couldn't see them. He could try to press his hands together. Sometimes he thought he was, he could feel them touching, but it was just his imagination, wasn't it? A memory of a life that may or may not have ever existed. Falling, forever falling in the featureless void. Didn't he once have silver hands, too? No, instead of the flesh hands, metal hands unlike any other? No, he was sure the void was making him crazy. It liked to do that to him. It was taunting him with fantasy realities. There were never any hands. Never any colour or substance.
Images, sounds, smells, tastes and the subtle sensations of touch played through his mind, seemingly at random. Why did the void hate him so?
Ayfnent and his two year younger brother, Reinstrom, peered through the open office door of their parent's study. Inside were their parents, in their usual smart business suits, along with two others. One they recognised as their parent's boss at Kuat Drive Yards, the other was a stranger to them. Whatever it was they were talking about it was clearly of great importance.
"This is merely rumour, we can't go to our contacts in the Navy with this! What about the board, why haven't they told us? It doesn't make sense!" their mother exclaimed.
"I'm telling you this is no mere rumour! My spies at the Rothana shipyard are personally helping to build a whole new fleet of assault ships for the Republic." the stranger said with obvious concern.
"But how's that possible? Where are the troops going to come from? Jedi?! And what are they going to be used for?" their father said incredulously.
"I don't know. This must have something to do with these separatist stories we've been hearing about. As for troops... I dunno, droids, maybe..."
"What, the Republic 'Navy', if we can laughingly call it that, is going to start invading worlds because a few politicians are talking about going independent?! Never going to happen!" their father said.
"Maybe he's right, in a way. Maybe they do plan to fill them with droids - buy enough off the Trade Federation to placate them after that trade dispute." their mother said.
Speaking for the first time their boss interjected "That trade dispute is ancient history by now. This whole separatist thing is nonsense, too. These worlds are just trying to get a bit of attention, get their voices heard. There is no chance of us 'invading' any world. None. Besides, we all know the Republic Navy is nothing more than a police force, keeping smugglers and pirates at bay. The Senate would never authorise they become anything more."
"I'm telling you what my people are seeing. They are there, on the ground - well, the orbital shipyards, anyway - and they are building some kind of fleet."
"Even if you're right, how do we know the Republic is funding this?" their father asked.
"Well, okay, we don't know for sure but who else?"
"Corporate? Local system security? Hell, crime syndicates, even" their mother replied.
"Massive assault ships I'm talking here. 12 quad turbolaser turrets, 24 laser cannons, 4 torpedo tubes. Give me a few days and I'll get you schematics, pictures of the construction progress, even. These aren't corporate toys. Somebodies going on an invasion and it ain't loan sharks..."
"Well if it's true we should have at least have heard about it - Rothana Heavy Engineering is supposed to be one of our subsidiaries, after all. Get me that proof and I'll go to Admiral..." the boss stopped in mid-sentence as the noticed the two kids watching at the doorway.
"Hey, Ayf, Rein, I told you two to go play outside until dinner time!" their mother called to them as the whole room turned to look at them.
The two boys ran off and down the grand marble staircase and around toward the rear of the country house.
Falling, falling, falling. Forever falling through the void. Another itch. It's intensity increasing the more he tried to ignore it. He wanted to scratch like mad but, as far as he could tell, there was nothing there to scratch. Nothing, even, to scratch with. Why did the void hate him so?
Their nanny walked in white faced, her eyes glazed and her movement stiff like a droid. Behind her a kindly faced Republic Officer followed her into the room. The two boys knew something was wrong. They'd felt it for a few hours. Why hadn't their parents returned when they should have? They hadn't even called to say they would be late.
The officer sat himself down opposite them, clearly he wasn't looking forward to what he had to say. "I'm sorry kids," he paused, unsure how to word it, "there was an accident at the shipyards..."
He should enjoy the little show that was being played out somewhere inside his 'head'. Why, then, did it cause him distress? How could it cause him distress? Didn't he remember a time when such feelings could be suppressed? The thrill of the hunt, the driving purposefulness of the mission? The cunning of the hunted. Where was all that now? Was it ever there at all? No, perhaps not. The void and his mind, that was all there really was.
"I'm sorry, I just don't know what else to do." the head teacher said pointedly.
"We don't want to have to put him in a special school. The poor kid's been through enough already." the social worker replied, taking a sideways glance at Ayfnent as she did so.
"He's sadistic, vengeful. The other children keep away from him, especially after the latest incident..." the head teacher added.
"Over enthusiastic playing, surely?" she replied.
"The other child took his ball - Ayfnent beat him to the ground, breaking the poor child's arm, and began to torture him by forcing the the ball in his mouth!"
"Okay, that's a little, erm, extreme but I'm sure Ayfnent is sorry - aren't you?" the social worker prompted.
"I guess..." Ayfnent said non-committally.
"See? I'm sure the damage was repaired in a couple of days and no harm done. We just don't have room for him elsewhere and, frankly, I think he'd do fine here if you and your staff could just give him some special attention and consideration." the social worker said, her mind made up.
Did any of that ever really happen? Was it his imagination playing tricks on him again? No, it was the void, playing with him. There was nothing else but the void and his mind and the void had the upper hand.
"The two of you have quite a reputation. A pleasure in causing trouble - pain and suffering, too. Anarchy. That's exactly what I'm looking for. You interested in a job?" the underworld enforcer asked the young men, Ayfnent and Reinstrom.
"That depends - what you paying?" Reinstrom demanded.
"No, forget the money, who do we have to hurt?" Ayfnent asked with relish.
The enforcer laughed. "Yep, it sounds like you're just the men we need!"
He longed for a release from the void. Death, if such a thing really existed. Perhaps this was his death. His punishment for a life of cruelty. It hadn't ended that way, though, had it? He was sure it was different at the end. There was no cruelty, only business. There was no revenge, only money. Only contracts. But that was after..?
"Ah, my boys are back! I hear my, er, associate had seen the errors of his ways, thanks to you two. Ayf - I gather you particularly enjoyed applying a bit of pressure on my behalf! Here's your owing..." the underworld enforcer happily and held out a credit chit. Reinstrom grabbed it hungrily but Ayfnent was more interested in learning their next assignment. He could tell from their employers eyes that there was another assignment about to be doled out.
"Oh, yes!" Reinstrom crowed as the credit chit displayed the amount of credits at a press of a thumb pad.
"With a little bonus for a job so well done. Don't spend it just yet, though - I have another job for you both. This one's a very special one. Very special, indeed. It seems you have gained the attention of the Empire..." the two brothers instantly looked concerned, "no, nothing to worry about. Far from it, infact. What with your work for me and your more, er, freelance work as part-time bounty hunters, the Empire wants to employ you both specifically."
"How did they know to contact us through you?" Afynent said suspiciously.
"I've got contacts at the local garrison, as I'm sure you've already guessed, given some of my earlier jobs for you. Word has come down from the commander there that there's a little bit of work they'd like to put your way. This isn't official, you won't find it on the normal bounty lists. They want you two and just you two. You're reputations in local bounty hunting circles are already preceeding you!"
"How much?" Reinstrom asked the obvious question, the question that most readily came to his mind.
"Fifty thousand Imperial Credits - each!"
Reinstrom nearly dropped his credit chit - something he had never done before thanks to his vice-like grip where money was concerned.
"That's over five times what we'd normally get. Tell me this is someone important, someone who has to suffer a long and painful death!" Ayfnent enthused.
"As it happens..."
The Imperial officer had no idea that he was being stalked. It had taken days before Ayfnent and Reinstrom finally watched him leave the safety of the Imperial compound. They followed the unmarked airspeeder down toward the entertainment district of the city in their own, rather less well maintained open-top vehicle.
Diving off the traffic stream the Imperial's speeder flew into the parking garage half way up an exclusive tower block. Following a few seconds later the brothers hoped they hadn't been seen, this would be a good way to try to shake them as the exit was on the opposite side of the building. As they decelerated into the large parking level they instantly saw their luck was in. Walking across the half empty car park the lone Imperial turned with a start as he heard another vehicle coming towards him - and accelerating.
With a sickening crunch the Imperial bounced off the right hand side wing of the now badly dented airspeeder, he hadn't quite managed to dive out of the way in time. A squeal emanated from the repulsorlift array as Ayfnent jammed on the brakes. As soon as the speeder slammed to an abrupt halt, and the two occupants had recovered from the g-force, Reinstrom jumped out and ran back to the Imperial sprawled on the ground. Ayfnent reversed the vehicle the short distance and his brother heaved their semi-concious victim onto the back seats.
Leaving only a small pool of blood and an abandoned Imperial airspeeder, the two brothers excitedly sped their way out of the building and cut into a traffic lane heading toward their squalid makeshift home in the industrial district.
"I recognise this one - he's the officer who came to the house that night..." Afynent said with a strange far-away quality to his voice.
"Are you sure, that was a good 20 years ago?" Reinstrom asked, the younger brother's memory of the day not being as sharp as Afynent's almost photographic recollection.
Ayfnent hadn't looked up from the unconscious form of the one time Republic, now Imperial, Officer. The years hadn't been kind to him and the wounds didn't help but it was unmistakably the same man. Ayfnent nodded simply.
"It's big money, all we've got to do is kill him - or even just leave him to die, he's certainly well on his way..." Reinstrom said uncertainly, unsure what was going through his brother's mind.
Ayfnent looked up, directly into his brother's eyes, and spoke firmly, "I'll do more than kill him."
Another dose of adrenaline was pumped into the Imperial, this time twice the amount as before. Again the Imperial came round with a start but this time the combination of pain and drugs were enough to give his mind a degree of focus and clarity.
"Who are you?" he mumbled, blood bubbling in his mouth as he did so.
"Your executioners." Afynent proclaimed as he began to twist a primitive rusty corkscrew into his quarry's leg.
"Why are you - aghhh... The Commander - he know's... I'm wor... rebel..."
"You're working for the rebels?! Well that explains the big money but not why he didn't just arrest and interrogate you himself." Reinstrom chipped in, watching, as ever, in slight distaste at his brother's enthusiasm for inflicting pain.
"I know, the Empor-aghhh! Palpatine... The war, the ships..." the Imperial traitor said before screaming out in pain as Ayfnent ripped the corkscrew from his already shattered leg.
"Hand me the vegetable grater." Ayfnent said, ignoring what his captive was saying but immensely enjoying the obvious suffering the man was in.
"Please... I've only jus... Only now... sure... Kuat drive yards... Clone wars... both sides... Must tell Senat... Bai... Organa..."
"Kuat Drive Yards? Ayfnent says you're the one who came to tell us our parent's were killed in an accident there..." Reinstrom rushed the words out, sensing their prisoner had some chilling truth to tell them. Suddenly alarmed that he answers may soon die he shouted out to his brother, "Stop! Let him talk!"
Ayfnent had about given up waiting for his brother to fetch his next implement for him, even though it had just been a few seconds, and began to bring the now flesh covered corkscrew to the Imperial's ear. He stopped short and looked over at his brother's insistent expression.
"He knows something. Something about..." Reinstrom was cut off by a shrill alarm. The two brother's, as one, shot glances at a monitor by the door. Imperial Stormtroopers filled the screen. They both jumped up and ran to a beat up old metal locker by the windows. Ayfnent got their first and ripped open the door. He reached in and pulled out an old jetpack and threw it at Reinstrom, then reached in again to pick up a blaster carbine.
"Go, I'll hold them off. You know where to meet me. GO!" Ayfnent yelled at his brother.
"What about the prisoner? He knows... that's why they want him dead - and us!" Reinstrom said hurriedly as he put the jetpack on and his brother pushed him toward the windows.
"GO! NOW!" Ayfnent bellowed as he barged his brother, smashing him out of the window to fall the 60 storeys or, he hoped, to use his jetpack to fly to safety.
Ayfnent turned back to the Imperial and the door beyond just in time to see that door explode inward. A series of blue blaster bolts came from the thick smoke in a totally random fashion. Afynent wasted no time and sent his reply, a barrage of red blaster bolts, into the already dissipating smoke. A Stormtrooper fell in the doorway but the others behind swarmed in, seemingly paying no attention to their fallen comrade. One of the group made an immediate move to Ayfnent's prisoner, like the others completely ignoring any personal danger or opportunities for cover, and coldly sent off a series of red laser bolts at the dying man.
Dropping another Stormtrooper helped Ayfnent's odds but only marginally. The ten remaining Stormtroopers fired wildly in his direction, the remaining glass in the windows behind exploding all around him. It felt like longer but it then took less than a second for one of the blue bolts to slam into his stomach. Ayfnent doubled over and collapsed forward as the Stormtroopers fanned out to secure the rest of the otherwise empty property, continuing to fire indiscriminately as they did so.
Consciousness slowly washed in and out for Ayfnent. He didn't know where he was or how long he had been there and, in his current state of semi-consciousness, didn't care too much either.
Gradual awareness of his surroundings came as the background noises and gentle vibration of the hard surface he was laying on eased into his mind. He was certainly in a transport of some kind and he was pretty sure he was on its metal floor. The odd murmuring sound suggested he wasn't alone and probably wasn't in a small personal compartment, either. He opened his eyes a crack, or rather one eye as the other was sticking together, to have a quick peak at his predicament. It wasn't a dream - he really was a prisoner of the Empire.
He was on the floor of a fairly featureless cargo hold. Before him he could see two Imperial Stormtroopers guarding an internal doorway. Around him he could just about make out a few others prisoners, most of them huddled up against the cold grey walls. Given the noise and slight turbulence it was obvious that whatever craft they were in was flying through an atmosphere.
Why wasn't he dead? Why did they only stun him rather than kill him as they did the rebellious Imperial that he and his brother had snatched? Did they get Reinstrom?
Ayfnent sat up suddenly, prised both eyes fully open and quickly looked around the other prisoners. No, Reinstrom wasn't there. He didn't know if that were good or bad.
For the most part the prisoners did their best to ignore one another with only the occasional muffled exchange, as if they were afraid too much talking might induce the armed Stormtroopers to open fire (not an unrealistic fear). Ayfnent shuffled across to a large empty spot against one wall and sat their surveying the room and its occupants. Clearly most were criminals, by the look of them probably fairly petty criminals, at that. Almost certainly they were heading to a detention centre somewhere. If he was still on his home planet then they were likely heading for the notorious Jarewquay Holding Centre a good few thousand miles to the south. Few people ever came out of that place, even fewer came out alive. The alleged atrocities were the stuff of sick legend in the criminal underworld and rumour had it that you'd be better off committing suicide before allowing yourself to be taken there. All sorts of nasty images came into his head, most of which Ayfnent had already tried on others. He didn't like the idea of being on the receiving end of such torture one bit.
Nothing happened for nearly 20 minutes. Then, without warning, the interior door slid open and in marched two more Stormtroopers closely followed by an Imperial Major.
"Mr. Buntz - I have some further questions to ask you..." the Imperial Major announced in Ayfnent's direction.
"Further?" Afynent asked, not standing as the group of three approached him.
"Perhaps you don't remember but you've already been very helpful in providing information on your Rebel friends, oh yes."
Rebel friends? What 'Rebel friends' Afynent asked himself. Clearly it was some Imperial ruse to put him off guard. The two Stormtroopers grabbed him under the arms. Ayfnent didn't resist, he allowed them to pull him to his feet and he was walked out of the holding area.
No sooner than the metal door slid shut in its rapid and uncompromising way than Ayfnent found himself being pinned against a wall and savagely punched in the stomach.
"What did he tell you before we got there?" the Imperial Major snarled, the calm and civilised demeanour from a few moments ago gone.
Ayfnent, despite being severely winded, looked up at his interrogator with contempt but made no attempt to say anything.
"If you want to play it like that, so be it. Any knowledge you think you now have will do you no good when you're dead, oh yes. You and your brother."
"Rein?" Ayfnent studied the other man's face but he'd played far too much sabacc to be fooled. "You haven't got him. And if you haven't got him now then you'll never find him. That's what you really want me to tell you, isn't it? Well, I don't know where he is..." Ayfnent stated firmly before being punched in the stomach by one of the Stormtroopers again.
The reaction of his Imperial 'friends' alerted him to something being wrong before his brain managed to register the wailing siren. The transport shuddered and a voice came over the intercom "Rebel troops have entered the transport! Rebel troops have ent..." The voice was cut off with a couple of seconds of static before that too died completely.
"Looks like I'll have to locate your brother without your help - I can't take the risk with you. Not now." The Imperial Major drew his blaster pistol and without any pause for thought, without even a glimmer of hesitation, he aimed the blaster at Ayfnent's face and pulled the trigger.
A searing combination of heat and pain burnt its way through his face. He was vaguely aware of himself being let go and sliding down the wall. All he could see was a deep blackness filled with millions of multicoloured stars raining at him.
As if from afar a voice echoed into his mind "Sterilise the hold!" It may have been the Imperial Major but Ayfnent could no longer tell.
Two more bolts of pain lanced into his chest but Ayfnent refused to left himself die. Part of his mind was willing the end on. That part of him really did want to let go but he wouldn't be beaten like this. He couldn't be beaten like this.
More distant, yet strangely close, sounds filtered their way into the remains of his head. Blaster shots, scuffling sounds, a door? He tried to piece together what must have been happening around him, in a desperate attempt to keep a grip on life and the world that was slipping away from him.
"They've all had it, General. Those bastards have sterilised the hold they were all in..."
"This one's still alive - just."
"He'll never make it back to home base - look at him, he's dead already."
"We've got to try. You three, check all the prisoners, just in case. You help me with this one. Dr. Necker may be able to help him and he help us. Failing that there's always Doc Halum..."
Yes, that was when the blackness, the void, began. After that, for what felt like an eternity, the void ruled as it did again now. Was it death? Is this death? What came in between, was that real? It didn't feel quite as real as what came before. The intensity was still there but it was different. Controlled. Had the void tamed him? Had the void made him reborn? To test him? Had he failed? Was this why the void had reclaimed him?
He was increasingly sure that the void was turning him insane. Amusing itself, playing with his mind. They were two entities locked in perpetual conflict. Were they all that really existed? No. He refused to allow that thought. He was in limbo, yes, but there was more to reality than the void and himself. There had to be. He'd escaped the void once before...
There was an intense pain and an even more intense light. It was like he was waking up after a fever. There was disorientation, nausea. Memories started to seep back into his mind but they were confused and meaningless. He'd been rescued from... something. Death, nothingness. Somehow he had passed beyond that, into some other place. Vague background sounds slowly permeated his gradually re-establishing consciousness. A consciousness that his brain was somehow telling him had ebbed away into a void. A void he had at last escaped.
"Can you hear me?" a slightly gruff and certainly booming voice called out. "Are you sure he's awake, Evelyn?"
"He's certainly conscious and I'm getting readings of activity in all the sensory areas... temporals, rhinencephalon, occipitals... Neurons are firing out of sequence, particularly the thalamus - not surprisingly. The patterns are beginning to emerge, however." a woman's voice replied. "Walex?"
"CTU is looking good, as is the thorax fusion unit. The technologies are looking better than I dared imagine, Doc." another male voice, older and more sober sounding than the first, added.
"Incredible! I knew we could do it! We've saved this man's life!" the increasingly manic sounding first speaker enthused.
"Yes but is he a man anymore?" the woman said with a slight quizzical quality to her voice.
The pain and nausea began to subside and, perhaps more importantly, the blazing white light was beginning to resolve into a scene. He tried to blink away the last of the fuzziness but something wasn't right. Though he could will his eyes to close, and it was starting to go dark when he did so, for some reason he couldn't actually feel his eyelids. He tried to bring his right hand up to his face but is wouldn't move. Three people in white lab coats slowly came into focus before him. Beyond them, around them, was a white laboratory or maybe a medical centre. He was upright, held up against a slightly soft surface not unlike a firm mattress. There was the vague sensation of straps holding him in place. Were they to stop him falling over or to restrain him - or both?
"Hello, er, AEC-1. Sorry, we never managed to find out your real name. I'm Bardsion, or 'Doc', Halum and these are my friends and colleagues - Dr. Evelyn Necker and Dr. Walex Blissex." Halum boomed cheerily, though ever so slightly nervously, as he indicated to the other two people in the lab coats. "Oh yes, and we saved you from certain death - well, that is, the most important part of you was saved from death. There was little we could do for your body so we, er, gave you a new one!"
What were they talking about? He managed to loll his head down to look at his body. He couldn't really remember much about anything but he was sure his body wasn't nearly as fit before as it looked now. And why was he wearing what looked like a chrome skin tight outfit? More importantly still, his torso was indeed strapped into some kind of now vertical bed but his arms were hanging freely by his side - why weren't they doing as he commanded?
One of the trio before him was wheeling some large object into his now limited field of view. It took a surprisingly amount of willpower to command his head back up to take a proper look at what they were doing. As he did so he caught view of a fourth person - what looked like a silver giant with a face from a nightmare... It's two red dots for eyes locked onto his the instant he saw them. The fearsome angry glare of the figure cut straight into him. It was a mirror. The figure's expression turned to that of horror as the truth finally sank in.
Yes, he had escaped the void before. He was a changed 'man' for it. A mechanoid, in fact. He was far stronger and more agile than he ever was as flesh and blood. He brain was all that remained, or so they told him. It took several days before he could begin to move properly again and several months of physical training before he could again walk, run and he eventually found himself even more dexterous than before. For a long time memories of his former life evaded him. They were back with him now, as they had been before the end, before the return of the void. Somehow they were more vivid here, though, in the void. Memories of choosing a new name for himself, unsure of the name of his old and now dead self. 'Death Bringer'.
The void had taught him. He was now cold and calculating. Precision and control. There was only business, never anything personal. Part of his mind used to whisper to him that he should get revenge but he couldn't remember on whom and it wouldn't have made any difference anyway - there was no profit in revenge. There was someone he had to find? He couldn't remember but it didn't matter anyway - his former self, whoever that was, was dead. His former life was over. The Rebel Alliance had saved him. Doc Halum and his colleagues had raised him from the dead and moulded him into their 'Anti-Empire Cyborg 1'. He wasn't their minion, though. Yes, he would work for them, for a price. He would work for anyone for a price, except the Empire but he couldn't explain why not for them at the time.
The void played at the edges of his mind again, as if trying to drive those thoughts and memories from him. He wouldn't allow that. He couldn't allow that. More memories played before his mind's eye. His spacecraft, the Prestinium, crash landing on a planet from a different time, different place. Somehow he, the Empire and various others from his galaxy had found their way into a region of space called 'The Triangle'.
Venwi's Claim... Yes, a fateful mission. An emergency conference between the two major local powers around the Triangle, the Federation and the Klingons. Their concerns over the sudden instability in the Triangle and the influx of new and particularly dangerous adversaries from unknown regions of space/time.
Mount Vequess... A showdown between Death Bringer and his old adversary Tonb Terak in the Utility Station atop the hollowed out volcano (now full of water for power generation and water supply for Venwi's City below).
He winced as the memory of falling into a machine came back to him. The memory of his right arm and half his right leg being mangled in it. Terak taunting him as he was trapped, jammed in the machine. Terak's plan to destroy everyone and everything in the city below, including the secret conference, by demolishing one side of the volcano. The thought of the consequences - untold millions of tons of water washing away the city, undoubtedly killing the Federation President and Klingon Chancellor along with the innocent population. Being left for dead by Terak as the other fled the scene before the timer explosives did their job. Just managing to amputate his shredded right limbs and free himself moments before the explosives went off. Not enough time to even pull himself across the floor to the edge of the room, let alone to his ship or the detonation charges hundreds of metres below on the side of Mount Vequess.
The thud of the explosives going off. There were a few seconds of grace before the Utility Station and the rock it sat on collapsed into the sudden and torrential outburst of water. There was nothing he could do. Half way across the smooth metal floor there was nothing he could hold onto. The Utility Station was ripped apart around him. The ferocious unleashed energies of the water tore the comparatively flimsy structure apart. The power of the water smashed into him, engulfed him. There was no resistance possible.
So he was now dead after all? It was just him and the void? He'd failed to save the Conference and now he was paying the price, for eternity. No, he was letting insanity take hold. Memories of those last few seconds of life played and replayed through his mind. He wasn't dead. The void may have him again but he wasn't dead this time any more than he was last time. No, last time his meagre remains were kept alive for months in a special bacta vat, utterly devoid of sensory input. Was he back there again? Had they rescued what was left of him from the ruins of Venwi's City? No, this time he was trapped. He was suddenly sure he was trapped. Not in a void. No, somewhere else, somewhere more real. After the flood that must have washed away Venwi's City as Terak had planned. Yes, he must be trapped under the inevitable layers of mud and debris. He... Dilon... He'd promised Dilon's father, a command or general or somesuch in the Rebel Alliance, that he would look after him. Dilon was in Venwi's City with the Conference attendees... He tried to move, he imagined himself fighting his way through the mud to the surface but it was no good. The void still had him. If he really did still have arms and legs (or rather an arm and a leg left) then they weren't moving as far as he could tell. Did his limbs really exist or was it phantom limb syndrome, his sensation starved brain playing tricks on him? He was sure both his left and right arms were there but that was impossible - his right arm was lost in that machine. He could almost feel panic begin to rise but he cut it off, suppressed it. Where's the profit in panic? He would not let the void beat him...
"Damn scavengers!" the lead Human Ranger shouted as he fired a PPG shot near the group of one metre high creatures in their brown all covering robes. The glowing yellow eyes all urgently turned in the direction of the gunshot and the little beings scurried away, dispersing into the ruins of Venwi's City.
"Do you think they're native to here?" a Minbari Ranger asked his four comrades as he watched the Jawas run off into hiding.
"No, I think they're the owners of that pile of scrap ship we saw on the scanners. Similar technologies to the Empire." one of the other Human Rangers replied.
"Let's see what they've found..." the lead Human Ranger said, walking toward the area the Jawas had begun to dig.
"There's someone alive down there, barely..." a different Minbari Ranger said as he consulted some kind of hand scanner.
"Impossible, it's been nearly three months since this all happened. Besides, looking at this they'd have to be encased in mud - they could never breathe let alone last so long without food or water" the lead Ranger said, though oddly doubting his own logic. "We may as well get digging, though, we're not making much headway on this mission so far..."
They each took a simple fold-up spade from their backpacks and began to carefully dig the hard compacted mud with its mix of rock and concrete fragments (and worse). It was hard work and they'd dug down almost a metre before they noticed something silver and began to dig with their hands.
"It's a hand - a left hand..." one of the Rangers said. As he touched it the mud covered fingers flexed almost imperceptibly.
"Oh my god..." the lead Ranger said in quiet awe as they watched the silver hand move ever so slightly. "Carefully now..."
Cautiously scooping up clumps of the dense mud they slowly uncovered the arm, then the shoulder and moving up to where the head should be.
"It looks like he might be wearing some kind of helmet, maybe that somehow kept him alive..." the lead Ranger said as they uncovered the nightmarish face. They gingerly began to wipe away as much from the face as they could so at least he'd be able to breathe and see again. They gently cleared the mud from the vertical grill which they presumed to be covering his mouth. They then wiped as much from the flat discs that must be covering his eyes and a faint red dot flickered in the centre of each.
A blinding bright light burned into his eyes. At last he was escaping the void. He'd beaten it again...
"That isn't a helmet. He appears to be some form of cyborg." a Minbari Ranger announced to his comrades.
"Whatever, we need to get him back to our White Star. As the only survivor we've found he may have invaluable information on what happened here. Not to mention if it had anything to do with that rift up there." the lead Ranger said redundantly.
They silently and efficiently continued to dig around the Mechanoid's body. It quickly became obvious to them that he was in bad shape. Two gaping holes in the front of his torso exposed his innards, one showing a rib strut and the other the kiirium shielding around his fusion core. Neither were as serious as they appeared, fortunately. Worse, however, was the loss of his right arm and the lower part of his right leg. Over the twenty minutes it took them to completely uncover him Death Bringer drifted in and out of semi-consciousness.
"Okay, this chap looks rather heavy. You don't mind if I leave it to the Minbari among us to lift him?" the lead Ranger, a Human, said.
Death Bringer felt himself being lifted up onto his 'feet' and tried to take his own weight, forgetting that he was lacking limbs. Even if he did have both legs he was too weak to hold himself up anyway. The Minbari managed to prevent him falling over sideways and heaved him out of the hole in the mud.
* Water... * the Mechanoid said weakly as he realised it was taking all of what little energy he had left to remain conscious.
"Of course, sorry I didn't know if you needed to drink or not." the lead Ranger said as he reached into his backpack and retrieved a flask. Death Bringer tried to reach over to take the drink but it was more effort to move his arm all that way than he could muster. The Human reached over to him "Allow me. In here?" he asked as he brought the now opened flask to Death Bringer's mouth grill. He took the slight movement of the Mechanoid's head as a yes and poured a little in.
Death Bringer could feel the cool water sliding down his throat and down into his 'stomach'. There was an audible jolt in his belly as the fusion core sprang back into life after months of inactivity. He could already feel the strength returning to him. Systems coming out of hibernation, his brain coming out of hibernation. It wasn't quite a triumphant return to power that he might have hoped for, though. As the general weakness started to subside he felt more and more dreadful. One thing was for sure, he'd need a bit of time to recuperate before he started thinking about what to do next.
Over the next few hours the Rangers took him back to their ship and cleaned him up. He was quickly able to regain enough strength enough to be able to carefully hop around, as long as he kept his remaining hand leaning up against something. Captain Calder, who had lead the team that rescued him, walked into the White Star's small infirmary as Death Bringer was trying to make his way out.
"Please, sit down, rest." the Human Ranger Captain said as a request rather than an order. "You've been through a lot and I'm amazed you've survived this long, sturdy as you are."
Death Bringer hopped across to the nearest chair and allowed himself to fall into it in a semi-controlled fashion. He looked from Calder to a wall mounted computer screen that was showing an aerial image of the destroyed Venwi's City. * Any other survivors, huh? *
Calder looked grimly at the image. "Not that we've found but there's plenty of evidence of an earlier rescue effort. We only been here a few days but we estimate this happened two to three months ago."
* Three months, eh..? * Death Bringer said with understated surprise. Memories of the nightmare void were already fading like a bad dream but he wasn't sure if he were surprised that is was only three months or surprised that it was as much as three months. * Had a, er, friend down there. Goes by the name Dilon. Any word? *
"No, sorry. As I said we've only found you. I could try to put out some feelers. It looks like the local 'Federation' might have been behind the earlier rescue project. From what we've seen it looks like they were probably able to save some. We have some tentative contact with a few members of the Federation, the Rangers I mean - not us on this ship personally. I may be able to get a list of the survivors if you give us a couple of weeks. I wouldn't get your hopes up, though... We know that there are at least several hundred thousand bodies buried in the mud and wreckage down there..."
* The Federation President and Klingon Chancellor? * Death Bringer asked.
"We do know that President Sankey... didn't make it. The Deputy President, Preston I think, is also dead..."
* Preston? There was no Preston at the Conference? * Death Bringer remarked.
"I don't know, it's all rather sketchy. All hell's breaking loose in the Federation right now. Civil unrest and general panic - especially since these telepaths - Betazoids - were wiped out by what looks to us like some kind of planetary plague." Calder paused to change track slightly. "Official Klingon reports say that Chancellor Gowron survived that," Calder indicated the ruins on the computer screen, "but he's made no public appearances since. The entire Klingon Empire is apparently going into a security shutdown mode even more so than the Federation. The most visible threat, besides growing distrust between the Federation and Klingons, is this insurgent 'Empire'. We suspect that the 'First Ones', from our universe, are involved in all this as well, somehow." Calder paused to let the deluge of information sink in before giving his off the cuff opinion on things. "It's a mess out there and it's getting worse every day."
* Sounds like I've got some catching up to do, yes? And you are? What's your interest in all this, eh? *
"We represent what we like to call the 'Forces of Light'. We work for Delenn and Sheridan who are based on Babylon 5." Calder paused again, this time to gauge the other's reaction to the names but not getting any he continued. "Well, we're the good guys - we want to stop these conflicts and this death. As for why we are here, on Venwi's Claim, we're investigating these rifts between universes."
* There's a rift nearby? * Death Bringer asked the captain.
"Yes. This is the seventh rift we've so far discovered but it's not quite like the others. This one is drifting at a far greater rate, the others are all but 'stationary' - relative to some gravity well or other with only minor drift. This one isn't and we don't know why. Worse, it's much more powerful and, well, unstable than the others we've seen."
* Unstable? *
"The other rifts are all dumping some form of energy into this universe - well, it's almost like some form of anti-energy... it... it's hard to explain but it causes decay, destruction - entropy, almost. The point is this one is doing it much more so. The other rifts, their 'flow' is much weaker than this one. Those rifts you can actually travel through them from this side. It's much more work than coming back through them - going with the flow - but it is possible. Not with this rift, though, the 'current' is far too powerful for our ships and believe me, this little ship is a lot more powerful than you might expect."
* You've been through the other rifts, yes? *
"Personally, some of them, yes. We've got other teams of Rangers, other White Stars, doing a similar job so I haven't visited all the rifts but as an organisation we have. This rift is different, more powerful, and we're in real danger here - this world is on a direct collision course." Calder looked back at the computer monitor for a second before turning back and continuing. "What I'm really here for is to find out what, if any, connection the destruction of this lone city on Venwi's Claim has to do with this rift."
* None. The Klingon's chose this planet for the conference. Someone paid Terak to destroy the conference, kill the delegates, yes? Nothing to do with any rift effects. *
Calder nodded. "You were at the conference - a body guard of some description, can I assume?"
* Freelance Peacekeeping Agent, yes? *
"Sounds like we've got a lot in common, then - we try to keep the peace too."
The ship shuddered and a voice came over the intercom "Captain, the rift's effects are beginning to become extreme - it's belching again!"
"Okay, Lieutenant, prepare to open a jump point and get us out of here. Hold the jump point open as long as you can, though - if we can I want to see what effects it has on the planet."
Calder looked back at Death Bringer. "It looks like we got you out just in time. You're a very lucky 'Freelance Peacekeeping Agent'!"
* Always been lucky, yes... * Death Bringer said sounding anything but sincere as memories again began to flood back.
The ship shuddered once more but neither Calder not Death Bringer gave much of a reaction this time.
"Listen, you said you were 'Freelance'. You certainly seem to know something about the Federation and Klingons and, I suspect, something about the Empire. We could do with your help. These rifts are not natural, of that we are sure. Someone, or something, is making all this happen. We don't know who or why. Will you help us?"
* Hmmm... * Death Bringer said uncertainly.
"You help us and we can help you. Do you want to track down this Terak? Find out if this Dilon is still alive?"
* No profit in revenge, yes? Still, am on a retainer from the Rebels, that may be at risk if Dilon is dead... * Death Bringer pondered it for a moment. * Could also do with finding my ship, yes? * he looked down at his mangled body. * Access to this universe's replicator technology might not go amiss, either, huh? *
"We'll do all we can. Do we have a deal - sorry, I never did catch your name..?"
* Death Bringer, yes? *
"Do we have a deal, Death Bringer?"
* Beats being buried alive, huh? *
Captain Calder and his crew watched through the open jump point, safely - they hoped - on the other side in hyperspace. Before them the planet of Venwi's Claim and beyond that the sole star that the planet orbited. They watched in grim fascination as the invisible rift approached the centre of the system, the elevated energies spewing forth over everything in its path. The magnetic field of Venwi's Claim began to fluctuate, the core began to rapidly, impossibly rapidly, cool. The atmosphere began to bleed off. What little life there was began to spontaneously die. The stresses on the crust suddenly became immense as the layers below began to cool and shrink. The crust began to twist and crack as the rotation of the planet noticeably slowed. The star beyond began to expand and change from the current yellowy colour to a red.
The Ranger's White Star could no longer sustain the jump point but the death of Venwi's Claim, swallowed by the expanding red giant star, was certain. They all sat in silence for several minutes. This time it was an uninhabited system but with all these rifts about the fate of the entire Triangle, probably beyond, was not looking at all good.
They needed to close these rifts, at any cost, and they just might need the help of every warring faction to do it.