Congratulations to both AVCortez and CanadianBoson for winning! Amazing work. - Lemex AVCortez Between Nowhere and Somewhere (coarse language) (2520) Double kicks thudded as the soaring electric guitar reverberated through the cabin. Six months out of Nowhere and a month from Somewhere, Taco lit a cigarette, dusting the remnants of freeze dried chilli Con Carne from the rusted console. Most would say The Battle Hammer, an M class Freight runner was a little worse for wear. Named after a popular heavy metal band, the space faring equivalent of an eighteen wheeler would get shredded by even the lightest assault craft. The six thruster ship hauled four, seventy meter containers, filled with... Well, Taco didn't know what he hauled. He didn't really care either. The burning tobacco lashed the back of his throat. With the cigarette resting on chapped lips, he popped open the cap of yesterday's liquor. Mic Mannigan's Wiltin' Whiskey. He took a slug from the bottle, patting his hand to the beat of the drum, ash broke away, dusting the dashboard. Licking his lips and savouring the burn, he wiped his mouth as the tar stained plastic that covered the radio unit began to glow. The dirt rimmed screen lit up. A photograph of a women with potent green eyes and dyed green hair appeared. Simultaneously, The man turned down the music and accepted the call. 'Taco, my man!' April's voice crackled. 'You runnin' a dead head? Over.' Taco picked up the receiver. A fat microphone, once steel but now mostly black gaffer tape. 'Negative, April, you know me, rollin' solo. Over.' There was a long pause, Taco's eyes narrowed. 'You never got your I.R.L.F.D. fixed did you? Over.' A shiver ran up Taco's spine as the words echoed through the cabin. He swallowed audibly as he raised the mic. He pressed the button, opening the channel but released it again without a word. The radio clicked. I.R.L.F.D. stood for Infra Red Life Form Detector. A compulsory device on all inter planetary freighters to prevent “people smuggling”... But really to prevent soldiers out in Nowhere going A.W.O.L. 'Shit, Taco, what the fuck, man? You told G you got it done. This'll send us broke. Over.' 'Negative, it's working. Over,' Taco replied. He ran his hand through matted hair before realising he held a lit cigarette. Ash drifted into the windless air as he stubbed it out, spilling buts from the laden tray onto the messy console. He returned the receiver to its hook. Dusting the grey powder from his trousers, he crossed the five meter cabin to the I.R.L.F.D. console. The Battle Hammer's life detector was an old model, it simply held a steady green light if the cargo bays were empty. Red if it it detected life. It was green. Taco belted the console with the inside of his palm. A thud echoed through the room but the light did not so much as flicker. He pursed his lips before returning to his captain's seat, dropping into the cushy chair, he leaned back. 'April, I reckon yours is busted. It's running green how far out are you? Over.' 'I'm reading you clear as day, mate. You've got yourself a Ghost. Over.' 'Ah, fuck it,' Taco said indifferently, and without opening the receiver. April's rig was barely two months out of the assembly line. Taco would have to admit that if there was a discrepancy with the scanners, the Battle Hammer would be to blame. 'You gonna head back and check it out? Over,' April's voice crackled. 'Yes, April, I am going to check it out,' he said. 'Just give me a minute. Over.' 'I don't have time, I'll be out of intermittent range in six minutes. Scanners are showing two Sledgers in the area, want me to put a call in? Over.' Taco thought for a minute, rubbing his stubbly chin. Sledger was trucker slang for a mercenary ship. Normally on their way to Nowhere, to make some coin fighting on the frontier. Always keen to make a bit of money, Sledgers would often help out truckers in a bit of strife. But, there was a catch. Federation ships occasionally disguised themselves as Sledgers. If one of them turned out to be a Fed, and the ghost was a stow away... Well, suffice to say Federation cruisers don't have much time for people smugglers, and April's cool voice would most likely be the last friendly one he heard. 'Negative, I'll sort it out. Just one Ghost? Over,' Taco said. 'Affirmative, just one, second hold. Over.' 'Alright, take it safe. Over.' 'You two, Taco. Catch you on the way back. Over.' The light faded as April's photo faded from the screen and she drifted out of range. Taco rubbed his face, digging in his nose momentarily, he flicked the crusty wad on the floor before reaching under the dash. He tugged at a drawer, but the metal stuck, he shook it violently before it finally ground free. Going Back of House, as they say, required a little more courage than Taco had on his own. He cracked open the snap-lock bag before pouring the white crystals onto the flat drink rest, on the rightside of the dashboard. Chopping at it with his ID card, he leant in. The crystals slid up the steel straw. 'Ohhhhh, yeeeah,' he said as a half sigh. Taco stretched out and his back crackled as he stood up. Pressing his palm against his cheek, he snorted hard again. His throat tight he licked his lips and turned the tunes back up, to full volume. He could barely hear himself think. Perfect. The double kicks pounding, the base heaving. He swung the locker open, revealing the only piece of modern tech found on the Battlehammer, his Vapourgrind Spacesuit. Barely able to keep the grin from his face, there was something about heading through the airlock and into space that still got his motor running... Or perhaps it was because it was always preceded by a thick rail of Ermaine. A somewhat hallucinogenic drug that made a person feel like they could break mountains and walk through walls... He wouldn't be sleeping for a couple of days. The Vapourgrind started as a baggy red jump suit with a bauble helmet. he zipped it up. Folding the front flaps down and hooking them in. A flick of his wrist engaged the locks, sealing him in. Then the magic happened. He pumped the button on the wrist and the suit began to shrink. After ten pumps, the suit was pulled taught across his muscular body. The red jumpsuit hugging his form, he scratched at his head before remembering the helmet. Entering the airlock he engaged the Mag Tether, the device that would keep him from flying off into space. Shouldering the Battle Hammer's laser rifle, he pulled the lever. Though his suit shielded him from the brunt of it, he winced under the force of the pressure change. If his ship hadn't told him otherwise, he'd be inclined to believe he stood stationary. Reds and blues shimmered on the distant horizon, stars twinkled amid dust clouds as he stomped, his boots clinging to the hull. Mind swimming from the drug, he walked along the causeway skirting the first cargo hold. Ten meters high, the monstrous rectangular prism had no intention handholds. Bolted together by rivets as big as his fist, the carriages were hardier than the craft that pulled them. Taco scanned his ID badge over the lock and the door to the carriage opened sideways. The container's lights flickered into life as the airlock sealed behind him... Normally a carriage this size would be laden. The walls lined with crates and boxes, with a thin causeway along the centre. But this one, curiously, was empty save for a white box at its centre. A single clamp holding it in place. Taco narrowed his eyes and, again, scratched at his head only to meet the glass dome. He unslung the rifle and progressed forward. He shook his head violently as his sight began to tunnel. The Eramine playing with his brain, drowning his focus and honing in on the peculiar crate. A perfect cube, it had no lock, and seemingly no opening. 'This is fucked,' he whispered to himself before rolling his eyes. It wasn't a stow-away, and that was good enough for him... Or was it?... Something stopped him. Curiosity? Perhaps. The drug pumping through his system? More likely. Taco traced his palm along the box but swallowed thickly as the cube began to glow. It's matte white exterior turning luminous before his eyes. He thought to turn. Turn to run. But he did not. Taking two steps back he watched as the cube unfolded like a blooming flower. He raised the rifle as the form of a girl, no older than ten, emerged. Her pallid body was locked in place by steel arms, her head wired with more than one hundred thin cables coiling out of rubber pads. 'Oh, shit!' Taco snapped unconsciously. Filled with hurt and worry he began frantically tearing at the claws, and pulling off the cables. He placed a hand on her chest. The girl was breathing, her cotton wrapped chest only just moving. He cradled her head, staring at her closed eyes. Through his glass dome he had a realisation... A horrible realisation... The carriage was pressure controlled, yes. But there was no oxygen. How could she?... Taco's eyes shot wide, as the girl's opened slowly. Hollow, glowing blue eyes. 'Liriad!' Taco shrieked. He dropped the girl. 'Fuck, fuck, fuck.' The man got to his feet as fast as possible as understanding hit him like a Fed Sweep and Destroy. The Battle Hammer's I.R.L.F.D. Wouldn't detect a Liriad. His mind reeled back, back to the orbital warehouse, the grizzled quartermaster: 'Six million dollar job, Taco. God knows why they want this piece of shit. But they were specific.' Who was specific? Who the fuck was specific? Why don't I ask questions... fuck, Taco thought as he turned to run. The Liriad began to move, it's face vacant, emotionless. Her race was the human kind's latest conquest. Taco knew the stories, but that was it. He'd never seen one. The race, physically, appeared to be human, save for their curious eyes, but they possessed telekinetic and psychic powers, far surpassing any of the human Chosen. They were the something, the Federation had found in Nowhere. 'Why flee?' A voice stung Taco's brain. Like it were all around him, it echoed. Almost his own voice at first but broke into a woman's, an old woman, his mother. It sang again and again, stinging his drug addled mind. As his mag boots hammered the steel ground, he turned from his flight, meeting the creature's eyes. He was assailed by visions. Falling to his knees, he saw the Liriads extending their hand for friendship after a Federation craft landed on their home-world. Then fire. In a moment, he experienced the two hundred year conflict between his own kind and the Liriads. Liriad children, cut down by machine gun fire, women raped, men enslaved and driven by laser whips into gas mines. Liriads racked by diseases introduced for the soul purpose of annihilation. Gun ships tearing across Olier, their home world, a blue world, with soaring cliffs and crashing oceans. A beautiful world. A beautiful world on fire. Flesh sizzling over the faces of men, women and children. Children screaming. Children crying, their parents lost. Interplanetary missile strikes incinerating cities, annihilating villages and burning... So much burning. He felt hot, like he were there. Amongst the flames. The collective sorrow of a race enslaved was not imparted, but felt. Felt like it were Taco's own. Taco cried. Heavy, streaming tears, he clawed at his helmet. He needed to wipe his face. If he wiped his face the tears would stop. That didn't make sense. He curled up on the ground, clasping his head. Screaming, he begged for the creature to stop. His spine tingled as the visions faded. They stopped and he was filled with longing. Like a toy, taken from a child, he wanted them back. Why did he want them back? Eyes twitching, he looked up. Sweat covered his stubbly face and the involuntary tears had ceased. Wracking mental pain persisted. Taco no longer felt human. Or perhaps he felt more human than ever. The Liriad looked at him from the air lock's interior door. Her ethereal eyes simmering in the distance. As he'd experienced the suffering of a race, she had casually strode past him. 'Thank you,' said the echo. Not his mothers voice, nobody's voice, he simply knew that was what she said. Like the notion of thanks. The very idea of it had been conveyed. Taco shivered as he watched her step into the chamber, locking the door. A momentary flicker of the lights told him that when he opened the airlock, it would be empty. Six months later... Taco dusted the remnants of freeze dried Chilli Con Carne from the glowing dash of the Battle Hammer II. The glossy display glowed as he lit a cigarette and the photo of a woman with potent green eyes and dyed green hair appeared with blip. He tapped the photo, accepting the call. 'Yo, Taco my man, how's the new girl working out? Over.' April's sultry voice slid through the speakers, clean and smooth. 'Stella, a real treat. Over.' 'Well it was about time. Anyway, mate, heel it. Nowhere's gone. Feds are evacuating. Over.' Taco narrowed his eyes, scratching at his matted hair. 'I haven't heard anything about it – 'With a blip the image of a letter, with an exclamation point at its centre appeared on the dash. ' – Scratch that, just got it now. Hold? Over.' 'Affirmative. Over,' April said. Taco tapped the letter, the the screen filled with text: E.F.D.F. [Earth Federation Defence Force] Order, to the attention of: All All craft ordered to exit Sector H123453443D6. Status amendment 3245: No Fly. [VIEW REPORT] Taco wasn't one for military reports, they didn't make a lot of sense to him. But he clicked it anyway... And it made perfect sense. Sector H123453443D6 Status: Code Red. System S88743 Status: Code Red. System S88745 Status: Code Red. System S88746 Status: Code Red. System S88747 Status: Code Orange. System S88748 Status: Code Red. EFDF Fleet CODE X1123 - 125th Marines: M.I.A. EFDF Fleet CODE X3398 - 1023rd Marines: M.I.A. EFDF Fleet CODE Q4432 - Archer Class: Stricken EFDF Fleet CODE Z3245 - 1922nd Airborne: M.I.A. EFDF Fleet CODE Q9983 - Excalibur Class: Stricken EFDF Fleet CODE Q8402 – Excalibur Class: Stricken … It went on, and on and on. Hundreds of ships destroyed and countless divisions missing. Something horrific had happened in Nowhere. Lighting a second from the tip of the first, Taco dragged on the fresh cigarette. A thick plume of smoke whispered through the cabin. 'Well fuck it,' Taco said indifferently. After a short moment of silence April's voice came through: 'What? Over.' Taco chuckled, remembering he did not have to hit a switch to communicate on his new craft. 'Nothing, April, I got it. Turning back now. Over.' 'Convoy? Over.' 'Affirmative. Over.' As the Battle Hammer II swung in space like a tossed stick, Taco popped the lid to yesterday's bottle of Mic Mannigan's Wiltin' Whiskey. Taking a swig, he looked out into the star studded void and wondered what, if anything, he had to do with plight that had befallen his race's expansion. Taco smiled as the cabin shook, the thrusters propelling him back towards Somewhere.