Broken Horizons – Vol 11, Interlude 1


Arrows didn’t seem like the kind of thing that could provide a defense against [Abyss Breaker Fireballs] but Niminay made it work somehow. That she also managed a bullseye shot with each arrow to take down the last three guards in the corridor was where Hailey began to appreciate how much of a demigod Niminay had become over fifteen years of game development.

“They’re fighting exceptionally hard to protect this ship,” Mellisandra said. “It must have the authorization codes for docking with the [Command Ship].”

“Penny thought they might,” Niminay said. “But she also warned us to expect some surprises.”

“Hasn’t been anything worth calling a surprise yet,” Damnazon said. “Thanks to Cambrell we already know they’ve got an army of [Metal Mechanoids] waiting for us past the next bulkhead.”

“Might have invisible troops there too,” Cambrell said. “I poked around a bit, but the shadows I could reach didn’t stretch that far in.”

“It ain’t gonna be a problem,” Damnazon said, hefting an axe the size of an airplane wing.

“That depends if they’re try to defend the ship, or if they switch focus to killing us,” Niminay said.

Hailey was quietly squeeing inside to, for real, be fighting alongside Niminay. Sure, there’d been plenty of quests in the game where Niminay would join the players for a time, either in solo missions or raid scenarios. That was a preprogrammed npc though. Game-Niminay had a few dozen lines of dialog for each story arc where she appeared and that was it. You could run the dungeon a hundred times and she’d be just as cautious the hundredth time as she’d been the first. ‘Something tells me there’s an ugly surprise waiting for us around that corner’, just like something had told her that countless times before.

This Niminay though? She was alive. She had the same jaded optimism and tempered confidence as her game avatar did, but Hailey caught so many more glimpses of the woman behind the mask of the seasoned [Adventurer] than there’d ever been in the game. The one who knew her own strength but also knew the horrors she’d have to pit those strengths against. The one who wanted more than anything to be back with the woman she loved unconditionally. The one who cursed like a sailor under her breath when she didn’t think anyone was listening in the middle of a fight.

“What do the security terminals look like here?” Hailey asked. “If we can get the codes can we risk transmitting them back to Penswell?”

“Definitely not,” Mellisandra said. “I checked the terminal in the docking bay and the one in central engineering.”

“I thought we left the one in central engineering intact?” Damnazon said.

“We did,” Mellisandra said. “I didn’t. The thing was corrupted top to bottom with malicious…I don’t even know if I can call it spellwork. It was staticky and corrosive. If we’d tried to send any message with that terminal it would have delivered a copy of the [Broken Shadow] along with it.”

“Let’s not send Penny any presents like that,” Niminay said. “I’m pretty sure that’s not quite the surprise she had in mind.”

“That’ll leave it to us whether we want to extend this mission on into the [Command Ship] or head back then,” Hailey said.

“We may not have all that wide of a window to work with,” Mellisandra said. “The human, or human-ish, Council troops are more or less zombies, but the [Artifax] still have enough cognition that I think they’ll figure out what we took, or at least had access to ,when we breech into the data pools.”

“And then they’ll arrange for the docking code to be changed,” Niminay said. “Seems fairly typical for missions like that.”

“You never get the easy ones do you?” Hailey asked, imagining what the centuries of dire conflict Niminay had lived through according to the game lore would really be like.

“Oh, I get plenty of easy ones,” Niminay said. “If anything, Penny gives me too many easy ones. She’s kind of a worrywort sometimes.”

“But for things like this?” Mellisandra asked.

“For things like this, she needs her best assets in the field. Which is you folks. I’m here because I’m predictable,” Niminay said.

“And badass!” Damnazon said.

“You’re all significantly stronger than I am,” Niminay said. “I’m useful because I’m a point Penny knows she can plan around. She knows not just what I can do, but what I will do. Supposedly that makes things a lot easier when she’s coming up with strategies.”

“So if there are surprises, she knows how you’ll react to them?” Hailey asked.

“I think that’s the general idea,” Niminay said. “And I’ve worked with [Adventurers] for a long time, so I’ve got a sense of what you can do too.”

“Is it weird that so many of us know you, or think we do?” Hailey asked.

“It should be,” Niminay said. “I’ve always been terrible with remembering names and faces though, so it’s never that surprising when someone I don’t recognize says hello like we’re old friends.”

“Are there any [Adventurers] who stand out?” Mellisandra asked.

“It’s more the adventures that stand out,” Niminay said. “If you start reminiscing about the descent into the [Sunless Prison], or how damn cold it was battling [Yoturn Icebreath] on [Spine Spear Peak], those moments come back to me with crystal clarity. I’ll probably even remember some of the moves you did, but I need to have that context to bring anything back.”

“You have good memories to bring back,” Cambrell said. “The reward for a virtuous life I suppose.”

Hailey put a hand on the [Goblin][Assassin’s] shoulder.

“For what it’s worth, I think you’re pretty virtuous too,” she said.

Cambrell turned to look at her with a question in his eyes. Hailey nodded her sincerity and Cambrell offered her a wan smile in return.

“Getting to work the day shift has it’s perks,” Niminay said. “I’m glad there are people who handle the night work too though.” She bowed her head in a short nod to Cambrell who seemed genuinely touched by the gesture.

“Looks like everyone’s filled back up on magic and health,” Damnazon said. “Shall we go kick down the next bulkhead?”

“If we wait much longer they’ll start building out their temporary fortifications into something serious,” Hailey said. “So my vote’s for yes.”

“I agree, we should…” Niminay’s suggestion was cutoff by a pulse which hit the ship they were in like hammer hitting a gong.

The pulse passed through Hailey like an ocean wave, plucking her from her feet and slamming her into the wall of the corridor, which suddenly seemed to be the floor.

Whatever gravitic projectors were still functional seemed to have been knocked out of alignment with each other since ‘down’ was very much a different direction from one step to the next.

“Oh look, a surprise,” Niminay said.

She’d managed to keep her feet.

Because of course she had.

The rest of the team was sprawled across the corridor in various uncomfortable positions when the lights valiantly struggled back to life.

“What just hit us?” Damnazon asked. The variable gravity of the corridor wasn’t giving her any problems which made Hailey wonder just how strong the pulse that had hit them had been to have knocked their tank off her feet too.

“Something from outside the ship,” Mellisandra said. “There’s nothing onboard that could pack that kind of punch.”

Hailey took a second to orient herself and hopped into one of the storerooms to her left. Beyond the storeroom a security door to one of the dorsal weapon bays had been melted to slag and beyond that a clear view of the stars awaited her, just past the flickering remnants of the ships environmental shielding.

Stepping back into the corridor, Hailey slammed the door closed in time to prevent the explosive decompression which followed the shields last gasp from pulling everyone in the corridor out into the void.

“Melli, I need you to calculate something for me,” she called out, not sure whether she wanted to be right or wrong in her guess.

“I’d need to know the distance we were from that explosion to know what it’s mana cost was,” Mellisandra said.

“Not that. I need to know which direction the [Command Ship] is in,” Hailey said.

“Oh my,” Niminay said. “That would be a surprise.”

“What?” Damnazon asked.

“Uh, give me a second,” Mellisandra said. “There. It should be in that direction.”

She pointed towards the decompressed storeroom.

“How far,” Hailey asked. “Should we be able to see it from here?”

“No. It’s too far and too shielded. At best you’d notice it when it occluded a star,” Mellisandra said.

“What about the bright glowing nebula? Would it occlude that?” Hailey asked.

“There is no nebula in that direction,” Mellisandra said.

“There is now,” Hailey said.

“That’s not a nebula,” Niminay said. “Is it?”

“Another quick calculation if you’d be so kind? If the [Command Ship] was turned into a matter conversion bomb, how big would the explosion be?”

“Uh, oh, according to the data you brought us it weighted in at around two hundred thousand metric tons right? That would be a planet killing explosion,” Mellisandra said.

“As in all life on the planet wiped out?” Hailey asked.

“No. As in no more planet at all. Just a rapidly expanding cloud of dust.”

“What would the aftermath look like?” Niminay asked.

“A nebula of superheated particles,” Mellisandra said. “Bits that were cast off and not converted. And a shockwave from the radiation. If I still had an active link with Brendan he could work it out in more detail. I’m just going by what I can get from our residual connection.”

“Someone blew up the [Command Ship]? With all that loot onboard?” Damnazon asked.

“We don’t live in a world where that’s a good sign, do we?” Cambrell asked.

“No. We don’t,” Niminay said. “Penny’s going to need to know about this. Right away.”

“No sense worrying about the docking codes anymore I guess?” Hailey said.

“I’m afraid we’ve still got some fighting left to do though,” Mellisandra said. “Our arrival pad got trashed in the battle in the docking bay. If we want to get back our options are to find a skiff, or die and swim back through the void, or take control of the [Command Deck] on this ship.”

“Dying’s the slowest option,” Cambrell said. “And the least comfortable.”

“We need to take the [Command Deck],” Niminay said. “We can purge the corruption from the ship’s system there and send a message back.”

“I’d be all in on carving a path to the bridge, but I don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” Damnazon said.

She’d advanced to the bulkhead and peeked through. With a quick tug, she tore the reinforced steel door from its hinges revealing the troops in the corridor beyond.

They weren’t moving.

In fact from how they had slumped down to the deck, Hailey could only picture them as giant puppets whose puppeteer had left them tangled in their strings.

“It could be a trap,” Cambrell noted, without much concern.

“It’s not,” Niminay said, wariness and certainty carrying equal weight in her words.

“What happened to them?” Mellisandra asked.

“Their controller is dead,” Hailey said.

“The [Broken Shadow]? Can things like that die?” Damnazon asked.

“I don’t know,” Hailey said. “But I’m pretty sure it’s not in these things anymore.”

“Wait,” Mellisandra said and stepped up past the bulkhead to kneel down and inspect one of the [Metal Mechanoids]. “Their master may be dead, but these things aren’t.”

“Oh. OH!” Hailey jumped forward, dealing with the variable gravity without thinking about it. “Let me see him!”

Under her fingers, Hailey felt the whir of gears and servos humming along and in the [Metal Mechanoids] eyes she saw what she thought might be awareness.

“Melli, can you hit him with your strongest single target dispel?” she asked.

“Sure, but why?” Mellisandra asked.

“I want to test a theory Tessa had,” Hailey said.

The first dispel did nothing. Nor did the second. Nor the third.

“I’m starting to run low on magic,” Mellisandra said after the twelfth dispel.

“If I’m right, one more should do it,” Hailey said.

For a moment it looked like the thirteenth dispel had achieved as little as the first twelve, but then the [Metal Mechanoids] eyes changed, shifting from a deep crimson to a beautiful sky blue.

“I’m free.” No more than a whisper, yet they were the most important words Hailey could imagine hearing.

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