This is some fairly old writing of mine, did it about a year and a half ago, but I guess I never actually posted it here, hpffpff. Warning for blood, death, and a very distraught Chua.
Not many passengers were awake, a select few passed by in the dimly lit corridors, wandering tiredly amidst the silence. The roar of the ship’s engines was but a low, dull hum in the guest segment, and the only sound to be picked up save for muffled snoring and some poor soul having a sneezing fit in Cabin Six. The day had gone as smoothly as all the previous ones since the Glory Front’s departure for Nexus.
Even so, Tris grew weary by the minute, eyelids threatening to close themselves behind the visor of xer helmet. With a soft grunt xe pulled the helm up over xer head, ears pricking upwards once free of the slits in the head piece’s sides. If anyone had pointed out to the armour’s manufacturer that those slots did in fact limit ear movement greatly, they opted to ignore the message. But with the extra weight off xer head, Tris set the helm aside and returned to xer position keeping watch over the cabin halls.
Out of the corner of xer eye xe could see another guard, arms crossed and shoulder propped against the smooth metal wall. It seemed like xe wasn’t the only one finding it hard to stay vigilant. Still, the pale furred Chua did just that, chewing the inside of xer cheek to keep awake and ears ever swivelling to pick up any foreign and unwanted sounds. Xe would just be happy to reach Nexus and have a few days’ break from the gruelling repetition. And then it would be back to the same routine, same trip, and probably someone else having horrid sneezing fits for the whole journey. There was a medical bay just around the corner for a reason, and that was surely one of them.
On the thirty-eighth sneeze and a bonus cough that night, a faint thud caught Tris’ attention. Xe drew xer pistol and quietly signalled the other guard, who fumbled out of their stupor and drew their weapon as well. Had it not come from the ceiling, Tris would have been less inclined to alert the clearly tired Cassian. The Chua’s eyes strained, not against the dark, but to catch any slight movement. And catch movement they did, approaching rapidly from far down the hallway. Something, or more likely someone, was in the ceiling. And as no one over the comms reported any need for repairmen to work in this particular area, that someone was unauthorised.
Following a loud metallic crash, Tris didn’t even have a moment to look over the Mordesh blasting its way out of the ceiling before planting three shots in its chest and head. Unfortunately xe didn’t have a moment to check if that had done the job, as the ship was suddenly alive with chaos. Behind xer the other guard was collapsing to the ground in a shower of blood, their killer already pixellating out of visibility. Tris’ eyes flicked to the fresh corpse, catching the smallest of budging in xer direction. That was all xe needed to know to leap back, just in time for the air where xe had just been to be sliced through. The Chua fired a single shot and the Stalker’s form flickered back into view, giving Tris a full-front view of the bleeding hole straight through their face before falling dead.
Without hesitation the small guard rushed for the closest intercom. Passengers were starting to spill out into the corridors, a mess of panicked shouts and screams and all of them paying no mind to the soldier faltering under their scrambling. Xe didn’t manage to reach the communication panel on the wall, but overhead the boom of a voice warning of a security breach gave Tris a small glint of relief.
That relief died when xe turned and saw a figure step calmly out of Cabin Six, rubbing his nose with a disgruntled expression. And holding a gun boasting the Exile insignia. Realisation turned from guilt to indignation and Tris weaved through the crowd and slammed xer fist on the panel. “Exiles hidden amongst passengers in guest seg — ”
At first it just felt like something had hit xer in the eye, like a punch or maybe a rock. But then the pressure grew, followed by the world around xer tilting and a horrid tingling sensation that begged to be scratched. The commotion to xer left had suddenly darkened, and the pain was tremendous enough that xe couldn’t tell if xe was opening xer eye or closing it. But it didn’t matter, the world was still tilting and before xe was even aware of it xe was staring wide-eyed at the ceiling.
The last thing to grace Tris’ vision before it left xer alone in black silence was the Exile from Cabin Six helping the Mordesh to their feet and the two stepping over xer.
What woke xer from dreams of swirling red and an endless ringing was a heavy foot tripping on xer side, the dull jolt of pain enough to drag Tris to the shores of consciousness. Xe opened xer eyes, and was met with flashes of bright red that penetrated a thick layer of smoke. The smell of blood now clashed with fire and exhaust, and sirens all but drowned out distant screams and shouts over the intercom. Xe patted the floor in search for xer pistol desperately, clutching it with shaky fingers when found and stuffing it into its holster. The Chua sluggishly turned onto xer stomach and rose to xer feet. Xe stumbled to keep xer balance, but still ended up crashing into the wall with a whimper. That second rush of pain was quickly overpowered by the horrid pressure and burning, stinging itch from before. And just as before, the world around xer was now off kilter, as if someone had nudged the camera away from the main focus point. It quickly registered to xer that, whatever the damage was, xe couldn’t see out of xer left eye.
But Tris didn’t have time to soak in the sudden loss of vision, as yet a second person stampeded straight over the Chua. As if not there at all, save for the fact that Tris had certainly felt getting stepped on and kicked back. Xe wheezed and gasped for air but only coughed as smoke clawed at xer throat and struggled to stand again. Through the haze and red flashes the marksman could make out moving shapes, that xe could only hope were people.
People that wouldn’t shoot at xer, especially.
Pressing a gloved hand over xer blinded eye, xe weaved and staggered towards the figures. Xe could feel something warm trickle slowly between the fingers of the glove and down xer hand and arm. Xe didn’t look to see what xe already knew it was. The dizziness that filled xer head didn’t thin out, but xe eased into a weak run nonetheless. Easy to make out were large horns atop one of the figures’ heads, no doubt a Draken—that only meant that these were Dominion citizens. Pushing forward, Tris picked up xer pace to catch up. Those people were heading for the escape pods.
But that fact raised a question that frightened Tris.
Where were the infiltrators?
Panic stacked on panic and xe drew xer pistol, turning this way and that to spot any lurking Exiles. But all Tris could see was red. Keeping xer weapon in hand, the Chua shuffled in place as xer training commanded xe scour the ship for remaining enemies, xer instincts told xer to hide, and logic screamed that the ship was lost. As if to prove rationality correct, the ship quaked with a thunderous groan and threw Tris and the few remaining passengers off their feet. The rumbling did not calm, and the roar grew louder and louder. And if Tris felt like the world was spinning and tilting before, it was nothing compared to how the ship was now lurching to one side. So xe bolted for the escape pods.
There were few left, and a good number of the small vessels had been destroyed. But there looked to be enough to accommodate the handful of passengers left, and Tris as well. One by one they scurried into the escape pods, some doubling and even tripling up. As luck and blood loss would have it, Tris was the last one to reach the pods.
“Wait, don’t close yet!” xe cried out hoarsely, catching the attention of the Cassian woman clambering into the last vessel.
But she barely looked the Chua over before stepping in and shutting the hatch. A stone plummeted in Tris’ gut and xer stride faltered as that flicker of hope quickly transformed into panic. “N-wait, please! There’s room—” Xer desperate pleas were choked out as the vessel and its one inhabitant were deposited through the airlock barrier and off the ship. Tris was left alone amongst damaged and mangled escape pods.
The hand cupping over xer injured eye—now caked with scabs and dirt—dropped to xer side, flinging blood across the floor and smearing down xer side. “Don’t… Please…” The Chua’s whimpers cracked and died off into frail weeps. Xe looked from one damaged pod to the next, but none looked to be in decent enough condition to still function. As the ship’s rumbling shook xer again, Tris spun gracelessly and scampered out of the escape dock, making for the one on the other side.
It was getting harder to breathe, and taking in too much air meant stopping to cough for a moment Tris didn’t have to spare. Xe pulled the sash draped across xer chest and hooked it over xer nose as xe ran. Zigzagging through debris and ducking away from nasty electrical sparks, Tris reached the opposite escape dock and quickly set to finding one that at least still had their hatch. At the end of the row of decimated crafts was one that looked to have only sustained mild damage—but the hatch was underneath large chunks of other pods. Praying to whichever of the Six could hear, xe holstered xer pistol and grasped the unwelcome debris. With all xer might xe heaved the still smoking husk, but it barely budged an inch. With a shrill wail Tris climbed over and around it, trying to push it this way, pull it the other way, anything to get it off xer one chance of survival.
Tris squeezed xer shoulder between the pod and the debris, planting a bloodied hand on the surface and shoved. Xe was all out of energy and near collapsing from blood loss. But terror reigned victorious and the piece dislodged and toppled over with a blaring CLANG. Shaking the ringing out of xer head, Tris grabbed the hatch’s handle and swung it open, tossing xerself inside and locking it shut. The moment xe slammed xer hand on the activation pad, the vessel flickered weakly alive. That was enough for Tris. It shuddered and heaved as it was released into space, and Tris stared at the passenger ship as xe drifted past its once grand form. That was the end of the Glory Front.
But as the downed ship drifted on, it moved out of direct line of sight to reveal an Exile spacecraft. And therein lay the answer to Tris’ earlier concerns. Of course they had fled the ship the moment their job was done. Xer lip curled into a disgusted snarl as xe eyed the enemy ship, which was a lovely safe distance away from the Glory Front. Which, Tris blearily recalled, was liable to blow at any second.
Xe grabbed for the controls, just as fiery eruptions began to spot here and there on the Glory Front’s surface. Turning the pod around, Tris started the engine and was hurled face-first against the inside of the cockpit as the burst of propulsion pitched the shuttle forward. Peeling xerself back with a groan and leaving red smudges on the glass, xe fumbled with the seatbelt. Xe jerked forward again, but this time was saved from smashing xer nose even more by the belt. “Wh—” Just as the pod steadied once more, it lurched a second time and that was when Tris caught the sound of sputtering.
“Oh no—no no no no no no nonono come on!” xe croaked and ignited the boosters. The pod sped forward, that was for sure, though not because the boosters lit up, but because something in the back exploded. A sob broke out of the frustrated, tired, and frightened Chua. It was too late now, xe was already in the pod, propelling towards Nexus’ form. Tris glanced around and snatched the eject pack bundled parachute that each escape vessel was equipped with. Just in case it didn’t blow xer to bits before reaching the planet’s atmosphere. Xe opted to let the slowly breaking down pod waft at its own pace, not risking something else exploding upon igniting anything. Still, that didn’t seem to be enough, and even as xe didn’t touch anything that could result in more damage, loud pops and flying sparks made that effort seem in vain. This thing was going to blow up no matter what Tris did, xe realised this and buried xer face in xer hands.
As Tris succumbed to despair, Glory Front exploded.
The blast sent the pod careening towards Nexus, and was large enough to engulf the back half in flames for a brief moment. But it was enough to set off even more chaos. Tris roughly killed the engine before any more fuel could feed the flames already threatening to spread, then ducked xer head under xer arms as showers of sparks shooting from all around inside the cockpit. In a whirr of panic, the Chua pulled out the respiratory mask and fit it over xer head. Tris bit back a shriek as it pressed against the scabbing injury on xer face. Strapping the rest of the pack over xer shoulder, xe prepared to eject xerself once reaching the planet’s atmosphere. Which would be quite soon, as xe felt the faint gravitational pull strengthen.
As the escape pod was drawn closer to Nexus, the flames clinging to it grew. The soldier couldn’t be bothered to remember when they had all been told to eject in such an event, and hit the eject button when the pod began to rattle violently. The hatch opened wide as the seat—and a screaming Tris—was launched out of the pod.
The descent was almost enough to make Tris vomit. Every second was a year of uncontrollable spinning, but only for a while before the rapidly approaching ground was growing too close, too fast. The time for xer to deply the slow-fall aegis installed in the seat couldn’t have come sooner. Xe switched the aegis on. A light green barrier sprouted from the seat, encircling it and pulsing with energy. Nothing happened, not at first. But relief swept over Tris as xer fall gradually eased into more of a calm downward glide.
Xe looked out at xer surroundings. Then xe broke into laughter mixed with sobs. Taking the opportunity, Tris dug in the eject pack and procured a small first aid kit. Peeling the mask off xer face was tedious, agonising work, but once it was off xe shoved it back into the pack and rummaged in the medical kit. Xe was too dizzy to read many of the items’ labels, but recognised the roll of bandages immediately and set to covering the blinded eye. It wasn’t bleeding much any more, both a blessing and a bad sign. But as far as the exhausted Chua was concerned, it didn’t matter.
The chair thudded against the ground not long after dressing xer wound. Unbuckling xerself, Tris staggered a few feet forward and looked around again. It was a forest, and not quite morning. The marksman’s last thread of logic was spent on searching for a place to hide; xe limped through the foliage before finding a fallen tree in a thick of ferns and bushes. Practically falling into the bushes, Tris crawled under the tree, where the earth dipped just enough for xer to huddle up comfortably.
Dropping the pack and first aid kit beside xer, Tris collapsed onto xer side and curled into xerself slightly. It wasn’t soon enough that unconsciousness once again swept over xer.