Doctor Silas Rogers, better known across and beyond the Angelor Republic as The Soul Survivor, stood in the middle of a catwalk in the remains of the ruined station. His red, metallic body stood tall while he processed what data came in from the station’s machinery, advanced by even his standards but tamable through his patient application of research. The glass jar that sat where his head should have been seemed to stare into the dense fog of the Cypulchral Cloud, even though his personal sensors could barely push more than a few feet. The water in his jar bubbled thoughtfully, creating the only sound of activity in this long-dead place.
A Morcalan Scuttler cut through the mist. It approached the remnant of the station that used to be the hangar, perfectly landing at the spot designated by the coordinates that Doctor Rogers had included into all of the signals he’d been causing the station to generate. He had seen this vessel twice before, once while escaping to it and once while escaping from it, but this third time felt triumphant. He strode toward the landing spot as the Scuttler’s simple exit hatch lowered. Captain Calen stepped off first, followed by Ensign Trell and another figure he didn’t recognize… likely the unintended messenger who had been silently working for him for much of this day. Finally, the noble Captain Ortega stepped off after the others, smiling and even waving as he reached the bottom of the steps.
“We’ve come to lend assistance, as requested,” said Calen as Rogers neared. “What does the Soul Survivor need?”
“Passage away from here once my work is done,” said Rogers, selecting the resonant tenor voice that he preferred. “I’m almost disappointed. I’d expected to need to wait as long as a quarter of a century, but it appears I underestimated the ways in which I might benefit from Dyson’s attempted empire, brief though it may be.”
“Hey now,” said Pilot Tan.
“Your allegiance to this upstart so quickly after he conquered your region suggests subtle mental tampering, just like the one I’m using through your cybernetic lens.”
“You don’t even know which region I’m from.”
“With as short a time as Dyson has been around, it really doesn’t matter,” said Rogers. “What’s your name? I wasn’t able to get a good look at your records. The signal generated by this station had wreaked havoc with your ship before I was able to bring it to heel.”
“I’m Pilot Wilson Tan.”
“We’ll have much to discuss, Wilson,” said Rogers. “But first, I would speak to Captain Ortega.”
Ortega stepped forward, nodding.
“Clever use of the Dyson Empire’s technologies, Rogers,” said Ortega. “A visual output from a device designed to subvert certain neural preconceptions. Instant friendship and good will.”
“Yes, yes, I’m brilliant,” said Rogers. “Walk with me. You’ve information that I need.”
The servos and gears in Rogers whizzed and clanked as he turned to walk along the catwalk, heading toward an archway that separated this outer region of the ruined station from an interior section. Captain Ortega strode forward, easily catching up with Doctor Rogers as they moved.
“This is incredible,” said Ortega. “A portion of the nebula thick enough to contain heat and a breathable atmosphere.”
“I wouldn’t breathe it for more than twelve hours, if I were you,” said Rogers. “The cloud’s vapors contain many unpleasant materials. Illness and death would occur without treatment, or at least lengthy immersion in a proper environment.”
“So we’ll need to return to Calen’s ship before long.”
“We’ll be able to leave well before then,” said Rogers, stepping through an aperture and entering a long hallway. The hall was made from a red metal that Captain Ortega didn’t recognize. It featured walls that angled away, tapering to a point on either side and causing it to have, once the ceiling and floor were counted, six sides. Holes and patches in the walls and floor revealed unusual lengths of crystal that resembled pipes. Ortega had encountered any number of unusual alien technologies, but he didn’t recognize any of what he saw in the holes in the walls.
“What is all of this?”
“An engine of destruction,” said Doctor Rogers. “The Morcalan legends were true, to a degree. I’ve been searching for this space station for years under a number of different pretenses, a difficult task as it rarely spoke of itself to the ancient cultures it assaulted, seemingly at random. I believe this to have been the Terror Teknika of Thorrid Three, the Rupture Seed of the Crystalline Rifts, and the storied final doom of the Sepia Lord of the Vishnari.”
“The Sepia Lord didn’t exist, though, and the Crystalline Rifts are thought to have just been poetic descriptions of a standard nebula.”
“I believe that history is wrong on both of those counts,” said Rogers. “If the Sepia Lord didn’t exist, then someone very much like him did, and he grievously wounded this place. We are standing, Captain Ortega, in the flagship of Terranda Xol.”
“Xol?” said Ortega. “The… mythical birthplace of the Pyrhians?”
“Birthplace, Heaven, Hell, Shangri-La,” said Rogers. “Xol was their pre-life, after life, and most sought legendary location of the early space faring Pyrhian fleets. Like certain other cthonic entities, the name was used as both a location and a person. There was little difference between describing Terranda Xol and the location itself. This mobile fortress, though, was her way of traveling between the stars, and bringing her will to the non-Pyrhians, matching the early Pyrhian texts. ‘And Xol flew to the sky, to war with the far folk, to bring Xol to all.’”
“I’m not familiar with Pyrhian scriptures,” said Ortega.
“Not scripture,” said Rogers. “That passage is listed in their historical records.”
“Human historical records include stories about ancient England being home to giants,” said Ortega. “But I see what you mean. So why did you come here?”
“To gain an understanding of myself primarily,” said Doctor Rogers. “After the battle with the Sepia Lord, this facility was nearly destroyed. Terranda Xol needed to repair her flagship, using the raw souls and purified life of those who treasured life the most. This coffin of the Sepia Lord, this… cybernetic sepulcher swiftly fled to find those who lived more fully than any others.”
“And then what?” asked Ortega.
Doctor Rogers paused at a door at the end of the corridor. Rather than opening the door, the robotic frame twisted, miming the humanoid action of someone turning back to look at someone over their shoulder.
“What?” said Ortega.
“You don’t know what happened next?”
“No,” said Ortega.
“You really are a cretin,” said Rogers. “Obviously what happened next was the battle of Morcalan legend. Xol sought the souls of Morcalans to repair and refuel her fortress of terror, and the Morcalans stopped her. Barely.”
“Wait, the Morcalans are the ones who love life the most? Honestly?”
“Have you met them?” asked Rogers. “It’s hard to imagine a society more fully dedicated to acting wildly. I believe parts of this are lost in translation, though. ‘Loving life’ may not be as accurate for you, but something about the Morcalan principals of life resonated strongly with Terranda Xol, or were at least sufficient for her purposes.”
“Something doesn’t add up, though,” said Ortega. “Chronologically, ancient Pyrhian history and tales of things like the Sepia Lord are… well, old. They’ve been spacefarers much longer than humans, and Morcala wasn’t around during that time frame.”
“Don’t forget the incredible damage to this place,” said Rogers. “Even an idiot like you should be able to appreciate what moving at less than light speed means over such vast distances. Worse, imagine traveling at light speed without relativistic dampeners functioning. Morcala might not have existed when her quest began, but the early eras of their settlement would have already passed by the time Xol reached them and discovered a suitable race for her needs.”
“And you believe that she could truly find an interaction between her physical machinery and an immaterial concept like souls?”
“Of course I do,” said Rogers. “I’m an example of such technology, am I not?”
“I don’t know about that,” said Captain Ortega.
Doctor Rogers lowered his arm toward Ortega, and a glow rapidly filled his mechanical palm. Before Ortega could react a beam of energy shot forward, slamming into Ortega’s space-suit, knocking him back. Ortega’s suit seized and spasmed, no longer giving him the freedom of movement it normally provided as he hit the ground.
“I don’t know how you avoided the hypnotic lens flare, Ortega,” said Rogers. “But your acting needs work. A newly converted friend would at least humor me enough to agree that my soul lives. Or, at least, would be able to call me Soul Survivor instead of Rogers, as you did when you first left the ship. I would have your aid in this, Ortega, but if I must reap the life-harvesting soul-power of this dread place and the worlds beyond by myself, then so be it.”
Ortega glared from behind the helmet of his space suit as Doctor Rogers turned back to the door and opened it.
Much earlier, on another world…
Harold Zamona stepped up to the desk and nodded to the man behind it. The man was wearing an old Garamor military outfit. In another organization that might have been showing off, but in the Desperate Measures Agency it probably meant the person had an active career outside of his secretarial duties.
“Desperate times?” asked the man.
“Gettin’ there,” said Harold. “I was looking for some help with some work I’m doing. I’d like to get a list of your agents working on protection jobs.”
The secretary raised his eyebrow and glanced at the screen of the terminal at his desk. He looked back at Harold.
“You look familiar.”
“I get that a lot,” said Zamona. “So, how about it?”
“That kind of information is confidential, I’m afraid, and even if it wasn’t it’s harder to get that kind of information outside of the Veskid office. Best I could give you is information on agents on this planet, and outdated information on ones who’ve left here recently.”
“That should do,” said Zamona. “I believe the agent in question is either here, or recently left here.”
“That’s great. Doesn’t actually change the fact that it’s confidential.”
Zamona dropped a stack of bills onto the desk. One of the few reasons that Harold vastly preferred non-digital currency was for moments like this. A chip could contain so much more money, but with hard currency the recipient could actually see how much was being offered the moment the offer was made.
The secretary’s eyes widened a bit. He reached forward and flipped through the stack, rapidly approximating how much it contained. The man shook his head.
“Look, sir, I appreciate the offer, but I really mean that it’s confidential.”
Zamona dropped a second stack. The man behind the desk quickly pulled both stacks under the desk, rifled in a book for a second, and pulled out a sheet of paper which he handed to Harold.
“There you go,” he said.
“That was fast,” said Zamona, suspiciously.
“You’re not the first person to swing by this week. I printed some off in advance when I saw the trend. Paying customers deserve a speedy response.”
“I see,” said Zamona, taking the paper. “Thanks. You really helped me out here.”
“I hope so. Remember us the next time you need to take some Desperate Measures!”
“Right.” He shrugged his massive shoulders into a turn and walked back out the door.
The secretary opened up a tab on his computer, marked an officially accepted bribe, the service it was accepted for to ensure that he hadn’t given away too much information, and how much above the company’s cut of the bribe he’d accepted. Business continued to run smoothly, if you just understood how to regulate it.