A Space Odyssey - Chapter 38
Shaking his head groggily, Bran blinked at the cage of twisted metal surrounding him. It looked like the whole gantry had collapsed around him. Knowing the Beast had to be around, he tried to pull himself out of the mass of metal, pulling up short as a searing jolt of pain flared up his leg. Teeth gritted from the pain, he twisted his head around to find the source; a meter long piece of metal sticking right through his left calf and pinning him to the wreckage.
Cursing, he tried to reach back to yank it out and free himself, but he couldn’t get the leverage he needed. Too much of the gantry lay between him and the spear of metal. He was pinned down, literally this time. Looking around for both the Beast and his crew, he called out, “Is everyone alright?”
“Minsc is… Minsc is upside down! Boo does not like this. Neither does Minsc. Boots are for ground, not for sky,” growled Minsc over the comms. Straining his neck, he could see Minsc dangling upside down in a cocoon of metal and cabling.
“Valygar.. Valygar and I are kinda stuck right now Bran. Got… a good chunk of gantry on top of us over here,” Imoen called from his right.
“Very cozy, sir. We’ll be a while.”
“J… Jaheira and I are alright, Captain. Bu… but we can’t reach you. We’re still up on what’s left of the gantry.”
“And I… seem to be trapped here with you Captain,” came Mazzy’s clipped tone. She coughed. “Although for how long…” She coughed again. “Remains to be seen.”
Bran looked left to see Mazzy trapped in the twisted wreckage of metal that caged him, her face tight with pain. “You okay?”
“No. But I think we both have much… bigger… concerns at the moment,” Mazzy replied, nodding forward.
A massive column of multihued meat slammed down in front of his face, the talons of the foot crashing through the twisted metal. New and exciting jolts of fresh pain tore through his leg as the wreckage shifted. He searched desperately for his rifle, only to see its butt sticking out from under the Beast’s foot.
So much for that idea. First the bastard Beastie had collapsed the decking down on them. Then the thing had the temerity to step on his rifle. Poor form.
Snaking his hand through the wreckage to try to reach Wynona, the pulse pistol holstered at his hip, he found himself face to, for lack of a better term, face, with the Beast. Eyes that shined like polished obsidian stared into his and he shivered. It was like looking into the darkest, starless abyss of space.
His hand clutched white knuckled over Wynona’s grips, he wondered where he should aim it. At the Beast’s eyes? Or maybe at his own skull.
Its fetid breath washing over him, it announced. “The Lord comessss. You will sssserve or feed me.”
Choking from the stench, he glared back at the Beast and its midnight black eyes. “Is that so? Well, here. Have a breath mint before dinner!” Snapping his arm up, he fired two rounds right into its throat.
Howling, the Beast reared back, smoke pouring from its maw. Bran brought Wynona up, trying to draw a bead for another shot when a voice chided, “Captain Varnas, that was very impolite.”
The speaker, Yolandan by stature, was carefully picking his way through the wreckage of Engineering. Fire and emergency lighting cast a sickly glow across his face, twisting his features, but even the most flattering light could not improve their diseased look. The skin of his face hung loosely from the bone, veined with black cracks. Thick scales of flesh, some half peeling covered cheeks and chin. The lips were bloody and torn, revealing yellowed teeth. Once thick, brown wavy hair hung from his skull in matted patches. Only the eyes, still a startling blue, seemed uncorrupted.
The impression lasted until you met their gaze. While the Beast’s were empty, a dark and forbidding intelligence coursed behind these. The figure stopped a few paces away and smiled through tattered lips. “Now, before you consider firing any further shots and wasting perfectly good ammunition, I’d like to mention that I kept my servant from turning you into so much bonemeal.” The Beast growled threatening. “Please don’t make me regret my… forbearance.”
“So, you’re the ‘Leader’. You’ve got me at a bit of a disadvantage,” Bran said as he tried to work his way free. “You seem to know my name, but I don’t know yours.”
“P… Patrick?” Mazzy whispered aloud before the Leader could reply.
“Patrick?” Bran asked, snapping his head towards the Yolandan captain.
“Yes, lovely Mazzy. Patrick is here, in a way. He is my host now, allowing me to speak more… freely. However, dear Patrick’s corporeal form is… running out of its usefulness.” ‘Patrick’ plucked at his hand, tearing away an oozing patch of skin. “Your bodies are rather resilient, but leave much to be desired in long term homes.”
“You bastard! You filth! Release him! Release him now!” Mazzy cursed from her metal prison.
“I will, but at the current time that would be dreadfully inconvenient. We are… running short on time and have much to discuss. No do be quiet or I shall rip out that cute little tongue of yours. And Patrick would rather I not. He was rather fond of it.”
Lowering Wynona marginally, Bran replied. “I didn’t realize we were keeping you. Feel free to leave, we’ll show ourselves the way out.”
‘Patrick’ threw back his head and laughed. It was not a pleasant sound. “I see you are a comedian, Captain. I imagine that is good for all those long voyages. Keep your fine crew’s spirits up!” ‘Patrick’ took a few more steps forward and crouched so that he and Bran were more eye to eye. “Oh no Captain. You and I both know why our time is running short.”
“Really?” Bran asked pleasantly. “Why’s that?”
‘Patrick’ frowned and the Beast leapt forward, grabbing a hold of the steel spear still stuck through his leg and twisting hard. Spectacular blossoms of pain exploded behind his eyes. “Now Captain, I doubt you’re that much a fool. Don’t pretend I am or next time I’ll just have my Servant rip the leg off.”
“Right.” Bran managed through gritted teeth.
“Now, I know you and your friends have rigged this ship to explode. I’m sure you’ve come up with all sorts of failsafes and boobytraps and the like to ensure that I cannot disarm them and thus, keep me from ‘spreading my evil’ throughout the galaxy. As you can imagine, I would prefer not to be consumed in nuclear fire. I imagine it’s rather painful. Now… I could kill all of you, your cute little sister, all of them and rip the knowledge from your brains. I might even absorb it quickly enough to stop your plan from succeeding.”
“You know, if you were going to do that, you would have already. Give you that extra time to figure it out. But I’m still breathing, so that means you’re screwed,” Bran said with a laugh.
“That fact can easily be remedied, Captain,” ‘Patrick’ hissed.
“Well, ‘Pat’, actions speak louder than words.” He flashed the decaying figure a wide grin and started working his left hand to his hip. If only he could reach a grenade.
“But of course.” ‘Patrick’ smiled back. “As you have so cleverly deduced, I likely can’t disarm all of your little explosives before they go off. Now without your help.”
“Well, I guess you’re seriously and totally frelled, aren’t you?”
‘Patrick’ smiled again, unpleasantly. “Perhaps. But your own deaths are ensured along with mine and I can make your last few moments of life a lifetime of agony.”
“So, this is the idle threat stage of the proceedings then? Ahh good. You wouldn’t mind if I do some paperwork while you vent? I’m really not in the mood. Whole chunk of metal through the leg thing. You understand.”
“If you believe you can vex me enough to simply kill you, you are wasting both of our time, time which we have little of. Now, allow me to get to point before you bother with some attempt at witty repartee. I propose a deal. You and your friends disarm the explosives and take me where I want to go and I let you live.”
“Take you where you want to go? Fiend! The only place we will take you is the burning fires of Hell itself!” screamed Mazzy.
“The only trip Evil takes is into the Rubbish of Righteousness!” boomed Minsc. “And Evil will! As soon as Minsc figures out how to get down.”
“I don’t think I can really add much other than a hearty ‘Go frell yourself.’” Bran grinned broadly. “So… Go frell yourself.”
“Tiresome man,” growled ‘Patrick.’ “All of this bravado simply wastes time.” Patrick snapped his head left and made a simple, hard to see motion. Before Bran could react, the Beast surged forward again. The metal atop him flew off with a swipe of a claw as the other wrapped around the spar again. Suddenly, Bran found himself facing ‘Patrick’ while suspended upside down by that shaft.
The pain was incredible. He could feel the sharp edges of the metal tearing slowly through his calf. Teeth gritted from the agonizing pain shooting through his left leg, he spat, “You think a little… torture is.. going to convince me? Freaking amateur.”
“No, Captain, of course not,” ‘Patrick’ smiled so widely his cheek fissured further. “But your dear sister was trying to line up a shot on me. Not that it would do her any good, but it would be unpleasant. Now to shoot at me, they will have to shoot through you. That seemed sufficient to dissuade her from such foolishness. Now, as soon as she and her friend lower their weapons, I will have my Servant lower you and we can resume our negotiations.”
“Sorry bro,” he heard Imoen say softly in his earpiece. “I just can’t get a shot.”
“Right,” he said more to Imoen than to the being. “But I still don’t… really see what we have to talk about, Patty ol’ boy. You want me to help you slaughter all life in the galaxy. Help you and all your buddies kill everyone. I may be a bit.. of a bastard now and then… but I’m not an idiot.”
”No, of course you aren’t, dear Captain,” ‘Patrick’ replied. “And isn’t the pain horrid? Why don’t you order your people to lower their weapons so we can talk like civilized beings.”
“Because… you want it,” Bran replied with the best sneer he could manage with the searing pain in his leg.
“Very well then. Now Captain, I understand your concerns, I do. No one wants to be responsible for such calamity. But you are operating under false assumptions.”
“Really?” Bran jibed back. “You mean you aren’t a being from another plane of existence that feeds off the energy of sentients? You didn’t slaughter two ship’s companies? You didn’t try and kill my crew and steal my ship? Well, boy am I embarrassed. Here I thought I was dealing with a lifeform bent on consuming all life and I find out just now that I was wrong.”
“You attempts at humor not withstanding, all of what you accuse me is true. The death of the crew of the Helios was unfortunate. I did not know what I was doing, and your energy was so… delicious. I could not control myself. As to the Peregrin’s crew, I was starving. And I wanted passage from your ship, Captain. Now, I doubt you would have readily given me passage. These are all true. But it your other assumptions that are wrong. I would not bring my kin to your universe, for no matter how delicious you all are, and you are delicious, our existence would not be possible. Just to think requires that I inhabit a corporeal form. Do you know how… limiting… that is? To not have to even consider physical dimensions as anything other than philosophical constructs to being trapped in a hunk of flesh just to think? No food is worth that.”
‘Patrick’ shook his head, causing part of his ear to slough off. “No. I would not wish this on even the worst of my enemies. However, I am stuck here and I wish to make the best of it. Now I have no desire to consume all of the life in your galaxy. I simply cannot, just like you cannot consume all of the food in this galaxy. All I want is a single world, not even a very big one. A colony world, perhaps.”
“Oh… just a colony world? Just one? So, instead of being responsible for Armageddon, you want me to only engage in genocide. That does make things a lot better.”
‘Patrick’ snorted. “Not even that, dear Captain. What good would it do me to kill all my breeding stock? No, I just require a world with sufficient population to sustain me in perpetuity, for how ever long I exist in your galaxy. And I don’t even want one of yours. I will gladly take one of the other races. An Imperium world? Or perhaps one of the Yolandan worlds?”
Mazzy gasped in horror while ‘Patrick’ smiled. “They would be my preference. They are extremely delicious and I know there is no love lost between you and them. Deactivate your bombs, give me safe passage to one of these worlds and the rest of your crew can go in peace. You can take this ship as well. I am sure it is worth much of the credits you all value so much. Now what do you say?”
“So,” Bran replied, grimacing from the pain in his leg.. “All I have to is order my crew to deactivate the bombs and you’ll let us live? Give you a Yolandan world and you’ll make us rich?”
“Captain! You can’t … can’t be contemplating such a thing!” Mazzy exclaimed, her words trailing into a coughing fit.
“And what’s to stop you from deciding my crew makes a good in flight snack?”
“Mazzy, just… shut up!” Bran shouted.
“Bro… you aren’t… you can’t be big bro! I mean, look at him!” Imoen’s voice hissed in his ear. “I mean, I don’t want to die here, but the costs…”
“Captain Bran! Heroes don’t make deals with Evil! They crush Evil! Even when Evil makes Heroes upside down.” Minsc shouted a bit woozily. “Minsc’s head is starting to hurt.”
“Enough!” he growled.
“Indeed. Your Captain is trying to save your lives,” chortled ‘Patrick.’ “As to your concerns… I assure you I am quite full enough right now. Other than a new host, one you stole from me, none of the rest of you will be harmed. Not that I imagine that’s very reassuring, but your other option is being atomized. So, what do you say? Do we have a deal?” ‘Patrick’ extended his hand.
Bran looked at the inverted, smiling face and the proffered hand. He always wondered what it would be like, dealing with the devil. Now he knew.
“What do I say?” Bran replied, smiling back at ‘Patrick’.
“Yes, dear Captain. We are running out of time and this is really your only option. Your answer?”
Despite the pain, his smile widened.
Rocking forward, he brought Wynona up smoothly and fired two shots at the smiling face in front of him. He had time to see the first round strike home, exploding the left side of ‘Patrick’s’ rotten face before he found himself arcing through the air.
As his face accelerated towards the jagged remnants of a support column, he reflected that while that hadn’t been the smartest thing he’d ever done, it definitely ranked as one of the most satisfying. As his first CO, Babydoll, once told him, if you can’t do something smart, do something heroic.
The only problem is that the heroic stuff usually hurt.
That point was really driven home as his left shoulder slammed into the shattered column. His whole left arm flared with pain from the impact. Screaming, he bounced off to crash unceremoniously into the piles of broken decking.
“You… FOOL!” screamed ‘Patrick’ shrilly. His face was a ruin, the left cheek and eye completely blown away. Thick blood poured from the wound. Another wound opened in his chest, more blood spilling out as a nickel-iron slug tore through his chest. “If you wish death, then so be it! I will TEAR the secrets from your heads!”
The scream tore through Bran’s mind, tearing deep into him. A thousand fiery fingers ripped through him, burning into his memories. The fingers cut deep, prying into every corner of his mind. He screamed as a thousand shattered images of his life flashed in front of him, as the being, the thing smashed through his mind.
“YOU WILL TELL ME! YOU WILL!” screamed the fell, alien voice.
Whether or not he heard it with his ears or just his mind, he did not know. He could hear his screams, hear the screams of the others. He could not tell where his ended and the others began. He couldn’t tell if that even mattered.
He could feel all of them, every single mind the Thing had consumed. Their minds pressed against his, tearing at his self like ten thousand vibroblades. He screamed as every sense came under assault. He saw Branwen’s burnt face, a familiar tall, smiling man he’d never seen, the birth of a child, Mazzy in Patrick’s arms, Minsc dancing with a raven haired woman. He felt a young boy bouncing on his knee, the well deserved slap from Khazadan woman, shards of glass in his palm from smashing a wedding picture in grief. He saw PINs, bank numbers, authorization codes, -the shut down code for the device on the plasma injector-. There was a ripple of laughter there, as It found part of what it wanted.
He screamed for it to stop, tried to fight against the flood, but the laughter and the pain only grew. The images flew faster now, an indistinct and blurry sleet of disjointed sensation. But the laughter grew and grew. Their plan was foolproof… wasn’t it? There wasn’t a way to stop the ship from exploding. They’d done their work too thoroughly.
Or had they?
If it assembled enough pieces, enough of the plan… It might be able to stop them. It might find a way. And it was getting those pieces. He could feel It finding the fragments, piecing it together. Focusing its attention even more finely.
If It got what enough in time, it would win. They would die for nothing and this thing would be unleashed on an unsuspecting universe.
The shout cut through the laughter like an energy blast.
The torrent of images stopped so suddenly, it felt like his brain had hit a brick wall at lightspeed. The pain flared higher than lessened, like a spent incendiary. Warmth washed over him, wrapping around his mind like a thick, fuzzy blanket.
“YOU DARE DEFY ME, LITTLE WORM?” screamed the unearthly voice in his mind. “I WILL NOT BE STOPPED!”
“I will stop you,” replied the other voice softly. Its presence swirled about him, a hazy blue cloak surrounding him and the others. It shielded them from a thousand tiny claws, all now clawing ineffectually at the wispy blue shield. He could feel them all, all connected, their pain and their relief mixing.
Looking out, he could see the Thing for what it really was. ‘Patrick’ stood stock still, his fists balled as dark blood pumped from his wounds. A swirling cloud of darkness and purple lightening writhed around the twisted form, a thousand insubstantial claws slashing out. Against this nightmare given form, that wispy blue shield seemed so fragile.
“You are weak!” it screamed. “I will have them and I will have you! I will feast on your mind and grow even more powerful! I will crush your puny shields for you have neither the strength nor the will to defeat me!!”
“You have given it to me. You cannot attack without leaving yourself vulnerable. I can defeat you. Will defeat you.”
Aerie? ‘asked’ Bran.
Yes Bran, the softer, crystalline voice sounded. It is I.
What… what is happening? Imoen asked.
I will explain later, all of you. I need your help. I need your belief, your strength. Her voice pleaded. And I will need your help. You must be ready to act when I ask. Not question, just act.
“You cannot protect them all and fight me too!”
Umm, okay Aerie. Just so you know, this is way trippy, but I’m with you. Imoen said in a swirl of pink.
Say the word Valygar swirled in a dark purple.
You have all of our strength, my Aerie. Both Boo and I are with you as always flared Minsc like a searing sunbeam.
“You are divided. Weak. I will destroy you.”
“You cannot.” Aerie’s voice sounded in a flare of the rainbow. “You already weaken. I am freeing all your souls and you cannot stop me.”
As she spoke, she could see thin slices tear into the swirling darkness that surrounded the wounded figure that had once been Patrick. Flares of blue, of green, of yellow and red burst free from the black. He… felt… heard? cries of joy and relief even through the screams of It. Blackness surged hard against the blue. It flared and weakened, the blue giving way. But other colors raced into the gaps. Purple and pink weaved into one gap as searing white plugged others.
Come love. We must do our part.
Jaheira? Bran exclaimed. How?
I am still unconscious, but we are all linked beyond that. Yes, I am wounded, but that is for later. She needs our strength now.
But… but how?
Just follow me. her voice burst of like the first shoots of spring. It surged forward and he saw how. He grabbed a hold of the trailing comet of his beloved and poured his own strength in behind hers.
It was amazing. He was one and many. He felt/knew/was everything, directly linked to each of them and him to them. He no longer was just Bran Varnas. He was Bran/Imoen/Aerie/Jaheira/Valygar/Minsc/Boo. He knew their pain and their joy. Their secrets. And they knew his.
He met Boo and had his mind blown by the truth of it all. He knew how much Jaheira loved him and they finally forgave each other for Khalid’s death. He knew how much Imoen loved him and what happened to his ‘Captain Spaceman Blast-o-Master’. And approved of the use she’d put it to. He knew what it was like to fly… and what it was like to have those wings cut off and know that he would never fly again. He knew the beauty of the things Minsc had seen. He laughed and cried a lifetime with Valygar over all the pain and life they had seen.
They were a unity, a crew in the truest sense of the word. He always believed his crew was a family, but now he knew it. It gave him a strength he never knew he had, that truth.
Taking that knowledge, he did what he did best. He fought. He swatted away claws, knocking them away from Aerie as she grappled with the thing. It was their battle, but she had to win it. All he could do was keep her safe. He/they fought, trying to keep Aerie’s flanks and back safe.
But for their early success, they were being driven back. For every claw they batted away, another was sneaking through. There were too many gaps in the shields and they could not guard them all, no matter how fast and dedicated they were. He could feel the blows Aerie was landing, but the Thing was scoring his own hits. And it only had to defend himself. Aerie was fighting to defend them all.
They needed help.
They needed to fight together.
One still stood outside of the circle, a dark, pained jolt of red. Fighting, but alone and uncoordinated. Mazzy? he called out.
Yes. she said sadly.
We need you. Join us!
I am not one of you she pulsed sadly. I will fight alongside you, but I am alone.
Maybe not, maybe your family is gone. But with you, we can at least free them. He thrust out his hand, somehow. Now, please, Mazzy, join us!
She gripped it and with a flash of angry brilliance, Mazzy Fentan joined them and flung herself into the defense with reckless abandon. She fought without fear or concern, pouring her very essence into the battle. In the wake of her charge, they all could feel the deep, soul crushing horror and pain at what had happened to her friends and her love. Others raced to help patch those gaps, to bolster the amazing strength of the woman. He shared his own pain at he loss of Redoubtable and his crew even as he battled claws. He could feel Jaheira share the death of Khalid with her. Each link bound the raging warrior closer to them and bolstered her strength. Side by side, as it were, they battled the darkness and Bran found how much she truly was a kindred spirit.
Inexorably, they drove the Thing back. Fear and rage filled it’s voice as it screamed, No! NO! Servant! Kill them! Destroy their bodies!
It cannot. It no longer serves you. Aerie countered.
You cannot turn it against me! It is of MY MAKING!
No. But I can unmake it. Look.
Before them, the Beast staggered and shook. Seams formed along its flesh and bone. The seams became fissures as all the separate beings melded into it struggled for their freedom.
The Thing screamed its unearthly keen as the fissures widened further. The Beast staggered forward, driven by the Thing’s will, but more and more beings were being freed from with it. Faces of those trapped within pulled free, and with each freed being more of the beast fell away. Claws unwound into bones. Flesh into bodies. With a last shuddering moan, the Beast simply fell apart in a rain of flesh.
Your Servant is no more. Now you will join it! Aerie announced. You cannot hold your victims. I have freed them.
The Thing screamed as the black cloud belched multicolored streams. Long trapped souls streamed away. The Thing’s claws tried to catch them, but the others batted them away. As Aerie opened wound after wound, they helped the others to escape.
You! You cannot do this! You have not the strength! This is impossible!
You are right. But when you attacked my friends, you linked them. You wanted to get all of them at once, but in doing so you gave me the only opening I needed to defeat you, foul thing. Because while I could not, we can. You are defeated. Broken.
Ha! Sucks to be you, bufflehead! Imoen giggled.
Imoen, don’t taunt. Jaheira chided.
Aww. But I want to.
Suddenly they all staggered as the Thing slammed into them with all its force. The multi hued shield shuddered You have weakened me, but I am not finished! I can still destroy you! I will still consume you and save myself!!!
With a final surge, the black cloud swirled around them, hemming them in. It pressed in from everywhere, the claws tearing and rending with maddened desperation. The shield began to crack and shred beneath the assault. They could feel Aerie scream with each blow. They poured more and more into the shield but they could not stem the tide fast enough.
I have you now, you impudent worm! the Thing screamed triumphantly. I will consume your soul! All of their souls! And you will suffer for the indignities you dared heap on me!!
Aerie’s voice was strained and pained. Do not… He / They could feel themselves weakening. They could feel her pain. Think so! Then quickly to the others, she whispered, I’m sorry.
A sudden stab of pain shot through him. He could hear the others echo in shock and surprise as [i]Aerie reached inside of each of them and pulled out some of their energy. She used it to rope in the black cloud in a net of their own psychic energy. As each strand tightened, her plan became clear.
She’d invited the attack to get it inside of her defenses, to make it overconfident. Then, with all of their strength, she captured it and bound it to Patrick’s body, sealing it inside.
They could hear the Thing scream in surprise and fear. They could feel is struggle against them, flailing wildly, trying to escape. [i]Now! Now! Aerie screamed. [i]It is trapped, but I cannot hold it long! Fire! Shoot it before it escapes.
Bran commanded his arm up, bringing Wynona up. He could [i]feel Valygar and Imoen bringing their weapons up. He could feel the pain both mental and physical as Mazzy did the same.
They all took aim and as one, fired.
Round after round his the rotten form of what had once been Patrick Took. Mazzy Fentan’s friend, lover, husband.
Each round tore through flesh and blood and bone.
Each round tore at the Thing.
They poured the fire on as the Thing screamed. Energy crackled along Patrick’s skin as the Thing writhed in pain. Each shot tore away more of the conjoined energy and flesh. It screamed again and again, echoing in the compartment and in their mind.
Then, with a final sigh and a final crackle of energy, the shattered body of Patrick collapsed.
It was over.
A Space Odyssey - Chapter 38 - Total Warfare
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