Dark Angel Chapter 30
The Starfire, Riven
No, you look, Kirith. Eddard Long hissed, crossing his arms. This is a chance like weve never seen! I dont give a damn what Taggart said, compared to this. We can get off the planet, for gods sake! We can be involved in killing a lavoid! Dont you want that?
The two were standing in a back room onboard the Starfire, one of the last working starships in the Hunter fleet. The others were all either up front or resting up while they still could, leaving them with relative privacy.
Of course I want it, but do you think it matters what we want? Listen to yourself! Youre saying we should defy Taggart? Hell hunt us down! And I dont know about you, Eddard, but Im not quite done living yet.
Eddard shook his head. When did we start living, Kirith? When did we start?
Look, Kirith sighed, shaking his head. yeah, I see your point. But we have to be realistic here. On the one hand, we have a bunch of strangers, who claim they can get us off-planet. On the other, we have the reality of Sien Taggart. One has a possibility of granting us our dreams. The other has the reality of killing us if we defy him. If either of us screws this up, its all over for both of us. Please remember that.
Eddard looked as though he was about to reply, but just then, Mathiu poked his head through the door. Both went stiff for a moment, then turned slightly to look at him.
You two had better come up front. Youre not going to believe this.
What in the world does that mean? Meryl asked, blinking as she stared in disbelief through the front viewport of the Starfire. I mean, is that normal? Does it normally go all dark like that?
Mathius eyes were still wide with shock, but he managed just the barest shake of the head. No, thats rather different.
The Black Tower of the Shi Kari had gone entirely dark, all of its typical lights extinguished. But that was hardly the strangest part. All around the tower were the fallen forms of farilii; dozens at the least. But, to look at the Starfires overhead displays, they were all dead.
How could this have happened? Meryl asked aloud, not really expecting any answer.
Cynewulf mumbled something inaudible in response, as he stared down through the viewport.
I said he began, swallowing, that those two might have an answer.
He pointed down to a spot at the base of the tower. There, Terra could just be made out amongst the bodies half-supporting, half-carrying Darrell away.
Oh my god. Meryl whispered.
They landed the ship in record time, Meryl and Cynewulf fairly bounding down its exit ramp as soon as it came to a halt. The Hunters theyd picked up followed behind, more slowly, but no less in awe at their surroundings.
Terra blinked in confusion as they came into view, shaking Darrell slightly as she did. The young man managed to look up just as the group came down to meet them. His eyes widened, and he stood a bit stronger.
Ill be damned, he grinned slightly as he spoke, nodding. If it isnt Cyne and Meryl. And some other familiar faces. His gaze moved quickly over Mathiu and Kayla.
Meryl stood in shock for a few moments, then ran forward and embraced Terra and Darrell in turn. I my god, its so good to see the both of you. So good.
Cynewulf grinned himself and looked the pair over. How are the both of you still alive? The probabilities are astronomical, you know.
Terra looked up at the Starfire, then at the motley group that surrounded them. Looks like we both have some stories to tell. That ship there have a place to sit down?
Cynewulf just chuckled, and waved them on. Yeah, sure. Follow me.
The group made its way back onboard the ship, Darrell actually walking mostly without assistance. They all took seats in the ships lounge, and with a few clicks of a button had coffee sitting at tables alongside.
God. Darrell said at length, sipping at the hot beverage and feeling his strength slowly return to him, where do we even begin?
Introductions, Id imagine. Cynewulf said, propping his feet up on the low table in front of him and leaning back. Well, lets see. Hunters, these two are our friends Darrell Shanning and Terra Lyles. They came to the planet with us to track down Grendel. And for you guys, these four are Mathiu Racnarth, Kayla Narube, James Slynt, and Eddard Long. Theyre members of the Hunter organization here on Riven. Each nodded in turn.
As for how we all came to be here . Well, I imagine that explanations going to take some time for the both of us.
The assumption had proved an accurate one, as the stories of the horrific events in Terisiare and the Black Tower ended up taking upwards of three hours. Several points had to be repeated several times Darrells disbelief at how far his parents organization had fallen bordered on simply being dense and they were all quite tired as the story was winding up.
Darrell stood up and stretched, yawning as he uncertainly tested aching muscles. This is going to take awhile to digest, for all of us. Now, I dont know about you guys, but I intend on doing it with a full nights sleep. What do you say we get this thing in the air and off of this godforsaken rock, then get some actual rest?
Mathiu laughed despite himself, and nodded in agreement. Ive got a lot of questions that havent been asked yet, particularly about the Shi Kari, but youre right. Everything Ive heard already is bordering on sensory overload. Im dead tired besides.
The others all stated their agreement, and rose wearily from their chairs.
Cynewulf glanced over towards the bridge, then looked back at the group. I can handle a little more; Ill take us somewhere isolated, and we can set a course off-planet after weve all rested. And, hey its good to have you two back.
He walked away without another word.
I dont think we should do this, Kirith. Eddard hissed hours later. The two were standing in the relative gloom of one of the Starfires storage rooms.
Yeah, neither do I. Oh well. Hold this, would you? Kirith handed Eddard a small holo-projector as he continued typing in numbers on a small transponder.
I mean, look. These guys took out the Shi Kari. I dont know how, but they did. Maybe they could even handle Taggart!
Kirith set down the device in his hand and nodded towards Eddard. Coordinates are in, just flip on the projector so that he knows were trying to link up.
God damn it. Eddard mumbled, but he did as hed been asked. Almost immediately, a thin white light shot out from the front of the projector and stopped somewhere just in front of the far wall. A few idle moments passed, then quite suddenly the light took form along the end.
It was as though Sien Taggart were standing before them.
Slynt, Long. What do you have for me? The man looked impatient, like some great cat waiting to pounce.
Were onboard the Mediators ship Starfire, just outside of Asgard. Kirith picked up his transponder again, and began punching in numbers. Transmitting our current coordinates.
A few moments passed, and Sien nodded simply. Youre still nearby, then. Decent enough work. Thatll be all, then.
Sir, wait, theres more.
Sien raised a thin eyebrow. Do go on.
They picked up two more just outside of the Black Tower, sir. And whats more, the Tower itself isnt functioning. There were dead farilii everywhere.
I trust you know better than to play games with me, Slynt.
Kirith swallowed nervously, and found himself, ridiculously, backing up a step as if to get farther away from the man. I swear to you, its true. I dont know how it happened, but by all appearances the Shi Kari are dead.
There was a long silence, broken only by Taggarts dry chuckle several moments later. An unexpected development. This Hunt will be a good one. Keep me posted; I will make my move within the next eight hours. You know what you have to do.
Kirith glanced downward. Yes sir.
With no further word of parting, the image blinked out.
Eddard threw the holo-projector aside in disgust a moment later. Well then, lets just say goodbye to the prospect of lavoid hunting, eh? Thats great, man, just great.
Shut up, Kirith said, bending to pick up the small device and putting it in a jacket pocket, Im sick of hearing it. Its not like I thought this was the best option. Its that its the only option. You want to pretend its otherwise, then Id suggest you do so quietly. Im not about to get myself killed because youre having a fit of self-righteousness.
But Kirith, look
I said shut up. His expression softened slightly. Look, Eddard, I know how you feel. But look at it like this. The Shi Kari are gone. They will still be gone even if these guys arent around. We can get off of this rock any time we like now, we just have to do this one last job for Taggart. Well still be hunting lavoids. We just wont have to look over our shoulders every other second to make sure that were not about to be stabbed in the back. This is the only choice weve got, okay?
Right. Eddard shook his head and left the room without another word. Kirith soon followed suit, cursing under his breath.
Terra woke with a start, sitting straight up in her bed. It took her a long moment to realize where she was.
Trouble sleeping, huh?
Terra blinked, and turned to see Meryl, sitting next to one of the ships large windows. It was raining outside, with only bolts of thunder illuminating the wrecked city skyline far below them.
She rubbed her temples with the backs of her palms and sighed. Yeah. The last few days have been hellish, to say the least.
Meryl nodded. At least youre alive. I dont even want to think about how Darrell would be holding up if you werent.
He seems okay, considering what hes been through. She pushed her blankets aside and turned to a bedside table, pulling on her clawed gloves one at a time.
You think so? Alright, then. Meryl stood up, hands behind her back as she continued gazing out the window. Something Ive been wondering, Terra. Why are we here? As in, you and I. This goal of lavoid-killing is lofty and all but seeing this place like it is, it just shows you how futile it is.
Well, she said as she pulled open a drawer on the table, rifling through it for a hairbrush, the concept of revenge is hardly one unique to Darrell, you know.
Certainly, but Terra. Youve seen the odds at work here. And given what the Hunters have told us, Grendel might well be un-killable. You arent this obsessed.
Terra pulled out a simple red comb, looked at it for a moment, then cast it aside as inadequate. You know the answer as well as I do, Meryl. She said calmly as she continued her search.
Meryl looked back at the younger woman over her shoulder. For him, then.
Im all he has left from before. And vice-versa, honestly. Ill stay with him as long as he needs me. Her brow furrowed as she looked down at the open drawer in disgust. And where the hell can I get a hairbrush?
I think I saw some near the lavatories, Ill grab you one. Meryl turned and walked towards the small rooms door, which slid open automatically as she approached. And Terra?
She took one last look back over her shoulder.
Be prepared to spend a lot of nights crying yourself to sleep. Hes just like Cynewulf.
The door slid shut almost noiselessly a moment later.
So, Cynewulf! Long time no talk. How goes the friend-using trade?
Shut up, Zohar. I dont have time for another lecture.
Up until a moment ago, Cynewulf had been sitting alone on the bridge of the Starfire, working on the navigation computers to chart the best course he could for the Planetary Union.
Then, just when Cynewulf had been reflecting that today might be a pleasant day, Zohar had popped into view in the seat next to him, all frowns and gloom. It was enough to make a cyborg pessimistic.
Well, youre in luck! I dont want to lecture you, I just want to help you out! He held up one callow finger as Cynewulf began to voice another protest. And dont worry, I have enough time for both of us, so Ill share it with you.
Zohar vanished again, and reappeared looking over Cynewulfs left shoulder at the nav computers. So, where we going?
Zion. Cynewulf replied, not bothering to look up.
Marvelous. To find some scraps of DNA that well need to track Grendel, I assume? He didnt wait for a response. You told Darrell and Terra yet? Im sure theyll be as thrilled as I am.
The large Seeker sighed. Ill tell them when theyre up again. They were in rough shape earlier, I didnt want to deliver another shock to the system so soon.
Zohar feigned shock, putting one hand up to his mouth. Why, Cyne! Expressing concern? How terribly human of you.
No thanks! the little finori said cheerfully, hopping over into the co-pilots chair again. But hey, what do you say we get this heap moving? Weve been sitting here for over seven hours, Im getting antsy watching you fidget.
Cynewulf rolled his eyes, but pulled up the control panels anyway. First useful thing youve said all day, Zohar.
If Sien Taggart had been the humming type, hed have been humming a merry tune as he walked down the wrecked corridors of Terisiare. Instead, he walked in silence.
If hed been the type to be swayed by emotion, hed have been walking down those blood-stained halls with a spring in his step. Instead, he walked with a grim sense of purpose.
There was but one thing on Siens mind as he entered the spaceport, stepping over the bodies of his former comrades as he did.
There was but one force driving Siens will as he stepped onboard his small fighter ship and turned the ignition.
As he burst out of the spaceport at speeds defying logic, the Hunt was all that mattered.
Cripple the ship, then board it.
Then one by one by one, they fall.
We are anci-
when the Lost Jerusalem wa-
I judge you all guilty
The hardest part was not being able to remember clearly. He could remember everything up until the moment that he, as Id, walked into the chamber of the Hive Mind. Then it all broke up into bits and pieces until it was completely engulfed by a vision of a black power.
Darrell sighed and put a hand to his still-aching head, slowing in his walk through the Starfires lower level. He could only hope the memories would return in time; for now, thinking on them only made them less clear.
He turned his mind to other matters, found it quickly moving over to the fact that they were flying back to Zion. Finding this line of thought equally unappealing, he decided to just avoid thinking completely and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
I should really see, he thought, concentrating very hard on the floor directly in front of him, If I cant get some new clothes. New shoes, at least. Im looking more than a little scruffy.
He snorted. Scruffy. What a strange word. I wonder
Whatever Darrell was wondering, he lost track of it almost immediately at the sound of voices to his immediate right, just through a closed door marked Engine.
Confused, the young man turned and waited a moment for the door to open. As it did, he was greeted with the sight of two of the Riven Hunters Kirith and Eddard, he believed arguing over something. One of them had a box of tools open beside him.
Um whats going on here? he asked. It seemed a reasonable enough question to him.
Apparently they disagreed, for instead of answering, they just stood there staring at him, as if hoping that if they thought very hard he would go away.
Hello? Darrell said, his mind regaining some degree of clarity as he took a few more steps into the engine room.
What are you doing down here? The one Darrell thought was Kirith asked. One of his hands slipped quietly into his toolbox.
I was just taking a walk. But you still havent answered my question, which I feel is a bit more pressing, given the tools and all.
Eddard cursed under his breath as Kirith brought up a blaster and trained it on Darrells head. Dammit, man, is this really necessary?
Kirith gave Eddard a sidelong glance, his eyes narrow. Im not taking any chances. Now look here, buddy, I dont want to hurt you, but I most certainly will if you do anything to screw this up. Heres what were going to do. Youre going to stand there while Eddard keeps his gun on you, he motioned to Eddard, who reluctantly unholstered his own blaster and did so, And not make any noise while I do a little work on this engine. Sound good?
Darrells expression was one of purest confusion. Why are you doing this?
Someones very anxious to see that none of you get off-planet. Its nothing personal, buddy; hell, Im grateful to you for whatever happened in the Tower. Im just following orders.
Kirith turned from him and began to pull some tools out to get to work on sabotaging the ships engine as Darrell alternated between glaring daggers at the back of his head, and glaring daggers at Eddard.
They didnt prove a very effective weapon in either case.
Alright. We should be off-planet within the minute. Feels damn good to be able to say that.
Cynewulf gave his new co-pilot a glance thankfully, Zohar had chosen to vanish again a few minutes after hed appeared and nodded appreciatively. Ive got to say Im impressed. I wouldnt have figured youd have the slightest bit of ability on a starship, but youre shaping up to be a very capable navigator.
Mathiu shrugged. Fairly standard Hunter training, though I never thought Id get much use out of it. Ive only flown in simulators before, heh.
Well, youve got a knack for it, definitely. And this is coming from a guy who never put much stock in simulators as opposed to the real what in the world?
Mathiu looked over at the sensors Cynewulf was suddenly so interested in, and blinked. What is that, another ship?
Yeah. Coming in way too fast for my liking. His hands flew over a small control panel at his left. Hold on, Im turning up the boosters. I dont like this one bit.
Just as the ship sped up, two twin bolts of red energy slammed into the particle shield guarding the right end of the hull. Regardless, the impact set the ship rocking and caused a number of red lights on the bridge to begin flashing insistently.
What the hell? Cynewulf pulled up a screen with a video feed from that sector. More lasers were already flying their way, trailed closely by a sleek black craft.
Oh, shit. Mathiu said, paling visibly. Thats Taggarts ship!
The sudden jolt nearly knocked Darrell from his feet, and sent Kiriths tools skidding across the floor in all directions. Kirith let out a curse as he fell backwards, and caught himself on his hands just in time to get slammed again by Eddard as he dropped.
I dont know whats going on, Darrell thought as he steadied himself, but far be it for me to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Darrell rushed forward as Eddard pulled himself to his feet, trying desperately to get his gun up in time to prevent the inevitable. Not fast enough. Leaning down slightly, the young Zionite slammed his shoulder into the Hunter full-force, knocking him off his feet again and sending his blaster out of his hand and spinning across the floor. Without even thinking, he skidded to a stop and kicked straight out. His booted foot connected directly with Kiriths jaw as he struggled to rise, snapping his head back against the metal floor with a resounding crack.
Rubbing his shoulder with one hand, the young man bent down and picked up the fallen blaster. As Eddard tried to rise again, he pulled back the hammer and pointed it at him. Tell you what. How about you just stay there, okay? I think we need to have a chat about your priorities.
The Starfire left Rivens atmosphere in a full roll, desperately evading a salvo of missiles that had been fired from Taggarts black craft. As the ship straightened briefly before going into a second spin, Mathiu picked up a receiver for the ships intercom and smashed down the on switch. All hands, to battle stations. We are under attack, I repeat, we are under attack!
Well, this is just great. Cynewulf said, somewhat out of breath as he wrenched at the controls. His ships faster than ours, and better on the maneuvering. I dont know how long we can keep this up.
Maybe Mathiu paused as a missile detonation nearby shook the ship, we wont have to. This was the Mediators ship, remember. It has all the bells and whistles.
Cynewulf pulled hard to the left. Why arent we returning fire?! This is not a test! he yelled out behind him. Without even a glance to Mathiu, he resumed talking. Cut to the point, kid, we dont really have time to beat around the bush.
Mathiu had already pulled up a set of menus on his navigational screen and started poring over them, typing furiously all the while. This thing comes equipped with a sub-ether drive. If I can chart a completely clear course, we can activate that and drop out of normal space, throwing the pursuit off entirely.
As good as a plan as were going to get. Hurry up with those coordinates, then. Ill throw off all this as long as I can.
Although, he added loudly, Some cover fire would be fucking brilliant right about now!
Let me see if Im crystal clear on this one, Eddy. Darrell poked idly at Kiriths shoulder with one boot, making certain he was unconscious. His eyes and gun however, were locked firmly on Eddard Long. You wanted to help us out, but ultimately you were just setting us up for this Sien Taggart guy. Youve been whining at me over and over how you didnt want to do anything, but you were plotting to fuck us all over. Am I right?
I-I I didnt want to, you dont understand Eddard stammered, his eyes wide. But Taggart, he
Darrells eyes narrowed. Fuck Taggart! Youll find Im a hell of a lot more dangerous than anyone who has to plant traitors amongst his own fucking kind in order to accomplish anything. I mean, lets look at the game stats here, since apparently you and your little buddy are having trouble keeping up. This Taggart has what going for him? Scary mother fucker, I guess we can give him that. What do I have? Hmm, lets see does taking down the Black Tower that crippled your organization count for anything? Get a clue, asshole. Im the only Lavoid Hunter here. The rest of you are just playing war.
Eddard was obviously at a loss: his reply came out stammering and nearly incomprehensible. Darrell only listened to it for a moment before clubbing him over the head with the butt of the blaster. The young man fell prone without so much as a whimper.
Lavoid-loving scum. He spat in the unconscious mans face.
Sien had been surprised when the Starfires shields had completely failed to go down, as per his instructions to Long and Slynt. Hed been shocked though pleased at how tenacious the prey was proving to be, as it performed maneuvers he wouldnt have believed possible for such a large craft.
When the ship suddenly vanished from sight in a sudden burst of light, hed begun to respect the resourcefulness of this group. To actually manage to perform such complex calculations in the heat of battle most pleasing. But I know where youre headed, little ones. He punched in some figures on his own sub-ether drives computer. Its been a long time since Ive been to the Union.
Parting is such sweet sorrow. Juliet.