31st January 2021
It's a Sunday and I'm logged into Meet on PC.
Time for the 2nd and concluding part of Those Dark Places' introductory adventure run by Matt.
Location: Argent III.
Doris and Cyrox were standing just on the inside of one of Argent III's ancillary airlocks. They had removed their helmets after confirming the air was breathable.
They were staring down an arrow-straight fairly long corridor that soon melted into the gloom. Argent class ships were big.
They called out, no reply came.
The extremely dim lighting was tinted with a slight green hue; non-critical emergency lighting.
After stripping out of their cumbersome EVA suits and stowing them away in an alcove, Doris and Cyrox cautiously proceeded down the unpainted metal-grey corridor.
In the silence their suit's underboots seemed to clank against the steel decking thunderously no matter how lightly they walked.
It took them a minute to realise that as well as silence, there was no subtle vibration to be felt through the floor.
They looked at each other.
"Perhaps the powerplant is offline," offered Doris?
Continuing on, they spotted mould growing in the top corners of the corridor, they knew it was a sign of moisture rising and accumulating along the ceiling and probably indicated prolonged faults of some type in life-support.
Things were not looking promising.
The corridor ended at a closed steel door in a wall, it was the only way on. Cyrox took a deep breath and opened the door.
As the door cracked open the pair of them were immediately flooded with horrific smell; a mix of rot, urine and crap, it gave them the urge to retch, they gagged for a few moments, their faces screwed in shock but they held on to the contents of their stomachs.
It took a few moments for them to get their breathing under control and proceed.
There was no light coming through the narrow opening they had left open.
Opening the door wider, they shone flashlights through. It was dark and the lights showed years of smeared results of years of neglect on the walls, the room was filled with filthy old looking barrels, of every shape and size?
Doris and Cyrox had no idea what the room's original use was for?
No one was in the room, there was one other door out. Safe to enter.
Entering and sweeping their flashlights over the room, at the all the barrels, they saw the original colours had long faded, stained now with thickly caked layers of dripped filth and grime, some were empty, others contained brownish water. Pipes and tubes ran from barrel to barrel, moving material from one to another.
Cyrox had a cursory examination and it looked like a rudimentary waste recycling system. Water reclamation to be precise.
It looked still in use, Cyrox wondered what had happened to the original systems? Was this in use? Were their survivors? Why hadn't they seem someone yet?
One other item caught Cyrox's eye, something was plugged into the system, something new that was not brown or caked in crap and looked relatively clean and well maintained.
He found and checked it's serial number, it matched codes from the decommissioned station?
Something had definitely happened there and somehow continued here.
There was only one way onward, Doris and Cyrox took it.
A featureless steel panelled corridor took them into a large and lengthy room, again unlit except this time, for some small strangely shaped bright spots of golden light near the floor. The room was filled with rows of large rounded, flattened cylindrical shapes.
This room seemed also empty, but Doris and Cyrox could hear a sound akin to a gently simmering pan on a hob?
Once inside, it took Doris and Cyrox a moment to realize that the cylinders were century old long-sleep pods. Over a hundred of them, enough here for the entire crew. They were mostly dark and looked inactive, except for a few, in a cluster together that were emitting the spots of light.
Doris and Cyrox searched the pods. None of them contained any people, alive or otherwise. The pods themselves looked completely inactive, jabbing some of the controls got no response, dead, no power was coming to the pods.
They carefully went over and investigated the lit pods. These pods were open and the light was coming from a series of what looked like some sort of portable heat lamps that had been set up inside the the open pods and were connected to wall sockets. There was at least some power in the Argent III.
The pods' sleeping areas had been filled with plants - fruit mostly, heat lamps were being used to grow them.
Along one of the long walls was a recessed alcove draped in shadow, it likely would have contained some sort of control panels for managing the pods and was definitely the source of the faint simmering.
Doris and Cyrox moved round to it, flashlights banishing shadows, as they got closer, they were inundated with a sickly sweet smell.
The alcove contained a vat, thin wisps of steam were curling upwards from the simmering and bubbling yellow liquid within.
Looking closer, Doris and Cyrox would see some dark, undulating, curving shapes just beneath the seething surface. They went closer.
They reeled back in revulsion. The vat was packed with layers of limbs and body parts, not dismembered or amputated but whole and undamaged.
After a cautious examination, it looked like this was the part of an outdated cloning process, one that hadn't been used for decades and was now outlawed.
Doris and Cyrox had a brief discussion, why were they growing clone limbs? Why were they needed? Had these limbs been grown to eat? What had happened here?
It had gone from not promising to outright horrific.
There was one other door out of the long-sleep chamber.
They followed the dark corridor and it went to another door. Beyond the door led into another unlit room, Doris and Cyrox swept their flashlights across the darkness, it was fairly open, seemed semi-circular and almost domed.
The room looked like it may have been the bridge, at least it may have been at some time in the past. Command consoles, wall panels, seating, all stripped away and seemingly random random junk had now replaced it, littering the barely recognisable room.
What once were the viewports had been wielded shut with the salvaged panelling. The room's now exposed reinforcing struts rose up from the floor and up along what would have been cavities in the walls to curve and congregate in the centre of the ceiling like the vaulted arches of some metallic cathedral. A place of bizarre holy sanctity.
Further investigation revealed half cleared and uncleaned crockery was scattered across a number of old crates looking like they were used as makeshift tables.
There were makeshift sleeping cots here too, at least fifteen of them and with the requisite filthily stained bedding.
People had lived here and looking at the evidence, still did.
Doris and Cyrox began discussing how to proceed when they both jumped at the sound of gasping breath.
Instinctively, the pair of them shone their flashlights in the same direction, at a box pressed up against one of the support struts.
The box was small, about one metre across, open fronted but barred. The lights lit up a woman's face inside, pale and distraught.
An equally pale and thin, scarred and scabbed arm came through the bar, reaching out.
"Please be real," a raspy, quiet voice. "Please be real.".
"We have to get out.".
It wasn't too hard to remove the bars. The woman crawled out tentatively, swaying as she stood. Slowly she stretched, joints distinctly clicking as she did so.
She introduced herself as Manuela: One of the missing crew from the station.
"We were wrapping up our decommissioning job when they came aboard through the airlock, they were thin and strangely white-skinned," said Manuela, continuing. "They attacked us, Killed Williams and took Batiste and me prisoner. After that they started searching through our gear, looking for food I think. Then they took us, what they wanted and used our shuttle to get here, I've been locked up ever since.".
The crew questioned Manuela and asked if she knew what was going on?
Manuela said she thought the skinny white people were very strange, when they looked worried they would have good vibes and stand still humming with their eyes closed hoping things would get better.
They seemed to have no language and communicated in grunts. Manuela believed that they must've been descendants of the original crew, several generations removed.
They knew nothing about the engines or powerplant and were using Batiste to try and repair them. The ship's powerplant had developed a fault sometime ago and now had a radiation leak. This had led to widespread mutations among them.
When they sent Batiste back to rest, he said that he's probably already dead from exposure.
When asked about her injured arm, Manuela visibly shook and took a deep breath. She explained that they took chunks of flesh out of her to clone, which was something they understood. The cloned body parts were used as food. Manuela had to breathe deeply for a moment
Manuela then urged the crew to leave, they had been here too long, they needed to leave. Doris and Cyrox agreed, but there was a problem.
There were now three people, but only two EVA suits. If there were any suits aboard the Argent III, they would have to go hunting for them and hope they were still usable
The crew asked if they could reach the shuttle. Manuela was doubtful, it was on the far side of the ship and would probably mean encountering the inhabitants.
The crew did come up with another plan.
Along with Manuela, the crew followed their footsteps back to the airlock. They advanced every step of the way warily through the darkness. With only flashlights to show the route.
They listened carefully along the way too, they shouldn't encounter anyone, unless they had missed a door?
After what seemed like hours, they were back at the airlock, they contacted Big Ounce who was back on The Icarus. They told him that he needed to get some weapons out of the secured locker, suit up, grab a spare suit and get over.
Luckily Ounce was The Icarus' security officer and had access to the secured locker, hastily he grabbed some taser pistols, a spare suit and his own suit.
Suiting up alone was a cumbersome process but eventually Ounce was done.
The walk to the Argent III's airlock wasn't too long but it was intense and made Ounce sweat.
At the airlock it was a long fifteen minutes for Doris, Manuela and Cyrox to wait. One then the other suited up again.
As time passed they could hear periodic, distant faint grunts and cries echoing down through the silent chambers.
Something was up?
Eventually Ounce arrived at the airlock, both doors were sealed and he got aboard the Argent III.
Once out, he handed the suit to Manuela and taser pistols to Doris and Cyrox.
Ounce and Cyrox stood guard, tightly gripping their tasers as Doris spent the time required to help Manuela into a suit.
As they kept lookout, Ounce and Cyrox saw something materialise out of the gloom. Slender and pale with thin wispy hair and riddled with sores, tumours and growths, it was one of the inhabitants.
He stopped dead when he spotted the crew, his grotesque, barely human face went slack with shock, he then began to scream, turning to run.
In that moment of hesitation, he had allowed Ounce and Cyrox to get a bead on him and open fire. Ounce managed to land a shot and he crashed to the ground instantly unconscious.
The two of them kept their pistols raised at the corridor, their eyes peeled and their breathing steady.
No one else came.
The wait was agonising, eventually Manuela was safely in her suit and they all backed into the airlock, closing the inner doors.
A minute and all the air had been evacuated, the outer door silently slid open and they were out.
The crew carried Manuela across the hull of the mute giant ship back to The Icarus over EVA and arrived without mishap.
Once inside, Ounce and Cyrox hurried to the bridge, stripping and discarding their suits like so much trash off along the way. They waisted no time powering up all systems and began a burn at the earliest opportunity.
No one wanted to hang around.
Having plotted the return course to Titan, The Icarus burned as hard as safety tolerances permitted for the next three days.
All the time the crew kept an eye out on the rear cameras and view ports, watching as Argent III and Viduus III silently shrank away, merging into a single white dot in the blackness.
They knew Argent III didn't have propulsion and couldn't follow.... even so....
During the three days, they also tended to Manuela's health and wrote their reports to Cambridge Wallace, they wouldn't get a salvage bonus but it was someone else's headache now.
Then it was time for the long-sleep back to Titan.
Reading, writing, playing and painting are the things that I do.