by Robin Tyler
Articus wants to know where the fabled stars are.
Articus trekked across the rolling hills, his scarf blowing gently with the wind. Ahead of him lay the entrance to an ancient sanctuary, and behind him, he had his skif parked. This was the moment he had been waiting for. He would find the answer to where the stars had gone. Not a single light source cut through the darkness while the dark clouds hung low towards the ground, and he would have been lost if he had not had his night vision. Articus didn't remember the time when there weren't clouds in the sky. No one did. After little walking, Articus came to the entrance of the sanctuary, and he was slightly disappointed when he saw a simple hatch protruding from the ground, and not a magnificent gate. He checked his map, and double-checked that this was definitely the place. He lifted the lid of the hatch, and stared down into the darkness. He couldn't see the bottom. He knelt down, pulled a rope from his bag, and tied it to the side. Once it was secure, he began to lower himself down.
As soon as Articus passed under the surface he noticed the eerie silence. Above there was a breeze, or the insects. Down here, none of that existed. Once Articus felt solid ground, he loosened the rope, and started into the darkness. He took note of the floors slight incline. A smooth, metal pathway led him on, and every so often he passed by a door. Articus turned up the sound sensitivity on his helmet, listening for anything that might be lurking in the darkness. Soon he came to a fork in the path, he looked both ways, but saw no difference between the two. He turned right, and continued walking. Articus soon realized that these pathways went on and on, so he decided to check a door. He pulled his knife from his side, and lodged it into the edge of the door. Slowly he was able to pry the door open, and he silently stepped inside.
Articus nearly hurled in his helmet as he saw the canisters of body parts that littered the room. He could hardly believe his eyes. He scanned the room as he struggled to keep his food down, and found medical tools sprawled across the floor, and beds against the walls.
A hospital of some sort. Why is it in a sanctuary?
Articus looked around one last time, and stepped outside.
Articus checked several more rooms, most of which were like the first. No matter how hard he tried, he eventually puked, and had to wear his helmet with the intoxicating aroma fused into it. Finally, he decided to again continue down the hallway. Several minutes later, he came to a promising door. Unlike the others it was significantly taller and in the shape of a circle. A dusty control panel sat beside the door, so Articus tried it and nothing happened when he pressed the buttons. He got close to the door and pressed his ear against it. Silence. He stepped back, and pulled his blaster from his belt. Taking aim at the panel, he pulled the trigger. The laser sent sparks in all directions, and left almost nothing of the panel. Suddenly a noise pierced the air. The first noise he'd heard in hours. The door began to open, but stopped halfway. He squeezed inside and kept his hand near his blaster.
The room appeared to be some sort of control room with computers and panels arching around one singular pillar. He tiptoed forward, and turned up his night vision. On the far end of the room, glass panels were set into the wall. He walked up to the pillar in the center of the room and studied it. It was completely smooth except for a thin crease that ran from top to bottom. He drew his knife from his side, and set it into the crease. He began to pry it open, but stumbled backwards as it instantly swung open. Articus fell on his back, and his blaster slid several feet away from him. He sat up, and straightened his armor. Standing on his feet, he stared into the pillar. The front panel lay on the floor, exposing the strange, slimy mass inside. He leaned in closer, curious to know what it is. Suddenly, the thing began to pulse and move. Articus jumped back and reached for his blaster. It wasn't there. Sweat began to bead on Articus's forehead as a long, thin limb protruded from the mass. Articus frantically began searching for his blaster, and when he saw it, the mass had grown three limbs with distinguishable claws. Articus lunged for his weapon and landed on top of it. Fumbling with it in his hands, he spun around and aimed it at the creature. It was gone.
Articus breathed heavily under his helmet as he slowly scanned the room with his blaster at the ready. To one side of the room he heard a squishing sound, and he swiftly pointed his gun in that direction. The sound of growling began to fill the room, and Articus could see the arched back of the creature. Articus pulled the trigger on his gun, and hit the thing square on the spine. It squealed, and dropped to the floor with a loud thud. Articus sighed, and slid the blaster into its holster. An eerie cracking noise sounded from the creature's corpse as two slimy hands reached over a computer. Articus drew his blaster again as the creature lunged towards him. For a brief moment, Articus saw its face. Several glowing yellow eyes ran down the middle of its face and multiple long tentacles flowed off of its scalp and around its chin. Before Articus could take a shot, it had its clawed hands around his neck and shoulder, and the two bodies fell to the floor. The blaster slid several feet as the two wrestled with primal ferocity. If Articus had not been wearing armor, he surely would have been torn to pieces. They rolled across the room, slamming into computers and chairs. The creature curled its legs between it and Articus and kicked him across the room. Articus slammed against the door and felt his armor crack. Dazed, he stood and reached for his knife. Also gone. He scanned the room and saw his gun not too far away. The creature slowly crept towards him, and Articus saw it had grown an extra set of arms.
That's a problem.
Articus aimed his wrist at the creature, and several pebble-sized objects shot out of his gauntlet across the room. They landed in front of the creature, and began to roll down the slope of the room. Quickly, Articus pressed a button on his forearm and several arcs of electricity shot from them. They penetrated the darkness with a powerful blue light, stunning the creature. It held its hands over its eyes as it jerked away from the source. Articus took his chance and lunged over a table to his blaster. He spun and pointed the barrel towards its head. He pulled the trigger, and the laser screamed through the room. It hit its target, and the slimy head exploded with a satisfying pop. The corpse fell to the floor with smoke trailing from its neck.
He'd done it. Articus dropped his arms and slung the blaster in its hilt, and he walked over to the control computers. The room filled with the smell of burnt flesh, and Articus sat himself onto the desk. He leaned his back against the ancient screens, and tried to take in what just happened. His mind was filled with questions.
What was that?
Where are the stars?
He shook his head and started to remove the helmet. He slid it off of his head and stared into the darkness. He wiped his forehead, and set the helmet down on the computer top. As he set it down, he felt something click under the helmet. Suddenly, a distant whirring began to start, and lights began to glow blue throughout the room. He jumped up, and threw his helmet back on his head. He drew his blaster.
The room began to shake, sending dust flying from all surfaces. Monitors and buttons began to glow, and beeping sounded throughout the room. He spun around and tried to escape through the door, but it closed before he could get out. Crashing sounded all around him, and he could feel himself elevating. The floor began to level out as Alarms sounded. Articus wobbled over to the glass, and looked through it. His breath was taken away as he saw his skif, parked on the field outside.
I'm flying. This is a ship. A spaceship! A whole mothership!
He trembled as he spotted village lights far in the distance.
How far up am I?
Through the window he could make out shapes of mountains and forests. After several minutes, he village lights disappeared, and the skif faded from view.
I'm in the clouds.
Articus walked over to what appeared to be the prime control board. He pushed a small lever upwards, and Articus felt himself begin to accelerate upwards. He pushed it little more, and he suddenly burst above the clouds. A brilliant, warm light poured through the window, practically blinding Articus. He shielded his eyes and tried to see what was outside. Once his eyes adjusted, he peered outside. His breath left him as he saw the stars. Completely surrounding him the glittering diamonds sat nestled in the black abyss. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Tears began to pool in his eyes, and he remembered the stories of stars his father had told him. The stories didn't prepare him for this. He sat down at the prime control board, gripped at two levers, and readied himself for what lay beyond.
He had found the stars.