Sample Short Story

Since I pose myself as a writer, I decided it appropriate to show a bit of my work. Below I present a recent sci-fi short story of mine. The story is not taking place in Stellaria per se, but can be easily adapted to fit there. It is a good measure of what you can expect from me in terms of style, pacing and plot. The only thing I have taken the liberty to copy as a concept is the omnitool from Mass Effect because I think it’s a cool (and plausible) device.

 FATEFUL NIGHT

by Drake Vato

 

A sparse, cold drizzle was falling from the dark sky. Signal lights, cast by a variety of hovers and transports, washed over the surrounding buildings in murky tones of red, blue and amber. People in uniforms and hazmat suits crowded the alley.

Captain Koort Darkovitz disliked nights like this. He didn’t stay late at the office so that he could take another shift. Neither he wanted to be given assignments instead of being home with his wife, Mia, who was currently smiling at him from the adjacent seat. “We could always have sex in the morning,” she said coyly.

Koort laughed spontaneously. “Oh, it’s a given. Only I hoped for some sleep beforehand.”

“Same here.”

They both exited the hover. Koort was athletic, of medium height, with steel-grey hair and deeply tanned skin. In contrast, Mia was lithe, slightly taller and though she had no surplus weight, she was endowed enough to make heads turn. Adding in her copper skin and long red hair, she had a kind of exotic beauty rarely seen in a natural human. Koort stepped toward Mia, but she pushed him gently away. “Remember, work.”

He sighed quietly. “Alright, let’s get to it.”

They crossed the street into the alley at the back of a warehouse, where the crime scene was. A lone Ursamorph blocked their way. Koort lifted his holo-badge. The huge uplimal lumbered aside. Beyond, forensic technicians were scanning and documenting the scene, working with professional detachment. Koort and Mia stepped forward and stood before a grisly sight: the mutilated corpse of a young girl. She lay facedown on the polyconcrete ground, her limbs sprawled in a chaotic manner. Her clothes were torn to shreds, and deep, bloody gashes showed underneath.

A short, middle-aged woman in police uniform stood near the body, taking notes on her omnitool. She noticed Koort and Mia and as she turned to meet them, Koort saw that one of her eyes was a cyber implant.

“Temploral Security Agency,” Koort said, reaching for his holo-badge.

“I know who you are,” the woman cut him off impatiently. “The high-tech uniforms, the attitude. Recognizable from a mile away. But Ursas aren’t bright enough for such subtleties.” The woman turned off the haptic interface of her omnitool and faced Koort and Mia again. “I am head detective Arntzen. Now, care to tell me why the Consortium has interest in this case?”

Koort had no desire to answer, but Mia said, “We got a call that a body infected by unknown proteus virus was found. I take it that it is not contagious?” She looked poignantly at Arntzen.

Arntzen was unfazed. She jerked her thumb at a couple of people, dressed in hazmats. “Lab guys gave the green lights half an hour ago. Said it was safe, as long as no one touches the body.”

“So what vector had been used?” Koort interjected.

Detective Arntzen shrugged. “Not sure. Lab guys said the virus was delivered via injection, but only a full analysis can confirm that.”

“No virus made those wounds,” Mia observed, looking at the girl’s body. “Those are large caliber gunshots.”

“Indeed,” Arntzen said. She tapped her omnitool and read. “The deceased is Melissa Platt, aged 23, worked as a strip dancer in club ‘Falldown’. Had a boyfriend named Roy Olmer, a small-time gangster in a local band. Official cause of death is multiple slugthrower shots, mostly to the legs and torso, as well as an instantly lethal shot to the head.”

“Wait, wait,” Koort interrupted. “You already ID’ed the victim?”

“Yes, and we also have Olmer apprehended on the scene,” detective Arntzen replied. “Still… according to Olmer’s testimony, miss Platt had not been the victim,” she added slowly.

Koort and Mia exchanged glances. “How so?”

Arntzen expression grew uncertain. “Well… Olmer was in possession of a sawed-off pump-action shotgun during his arrest, and according to forensics there is 95% certainty that the bullets belong to that weapon. Also the FDR test turned positive. So there is no doubt that he was the shooter. Only he claims it was self-defense.”

Koort snorted. “Any evidence to support his story?”

“Well, this is were it gets interesting,” Arntzen replied. “Olmer stated that he was escorting his girlfriend to work, you know, dangerous neighborhood and such, when she suddenly jumps him and tries to kill him. He starts shooting and a near-by patrol cruiser manages to intervene a minute-too-late.”

“Sounds crazy enough,” Koort agreed. “Is the suspect still here?”

“Yeah, over there,” Arntzen pointed. She narrowed her eyes. “So, are you Templars now taking over the case or what?”

“Not yet,” Koort waved his hand dismissively. “We are here because of the proteus virus. Any info on that? Symptoms, possible effects?”

“No idea. There is nothing about it in the datalinks.”

“Can we get a sample?” Mia asked.

“Sure, just ask the lab guys. Now excuse me, but if you are not taking over, I still have a case to solve.” Detective Arntzen went over to one of the forensic technicians and began a quiet discussion.

Koort turned to Mia. “We have two leads.”

“The boyfriend and the victim’s place,” Mia nodded.

“You take the address from the detective and get a sample of the virus. I will talk with this Olmer guy.”

Mia nodded again and headed for the hazmat staff. Koort looked lovingly after her. For the billionth time he though they were a match made in heaven. She was so perfect. And, at the same time, she was his partner. She watched his back, and Koort watched hers. Marriage between agents in the Consortium was not forbidden, but it was uncommon. For Koort it didn’t matter, because as much as he loved his job, he would do anything for Mia.

He went back on the street and approached several police hovers parked in close proximity. Next to one of them stood a male Avatar parahuman cop, guarding a similarly over-muscled man, dressed in plain clothes and cuffed. Roy Olmer had a rugged, somewhat brutish charm. He sat in the backseat of the police hover, looking dour and gloomy. Koort nodded to the policeman and sat in the hover beside Roy.

Koort watched him for a moment and then spoke. “I won’t ask you if you mind to answer a few questions, since it is not only a moot point, but also a lame dialogue opener. So, straight to asking: why did you kill your girlfriend?”

Roy looked up at him, his face contorting in anger and resent. He didn’t say anything. Koort assumed he wouldn’t talk, when Roy spat bitterly. “I already told you.”

Koort fixed him with a cool stare. “Hey, muscle-boy, in case you have bad eyesight, I am a different person,” he said acerbically. “It may not be obvious but you will have to repeat yourself.”

Roy bristled. “I already told you, you shitheads! She attacked me! It was self-defense!”

Koort was neither perturbed, nor convinced. “Explain what happened on your way to club ‘Falldown’.”

Roy considered for a moment, then shrugged irritably. “Lissa called me earlier this night. Said she was feeling really bad, as in, uh, ill or something and wanted, uh, wanted some company on her way to work. We meet at the station, and uh, ya know, talk ‘n stuff. Lissa looked tired and low. Like, like, pale skin, messy hair, unhealthy as fuck. We got off the magtrain, walked down the street and Lissa, uh, suddenly began twitching and shit. She fell and I, uh, I tried to help her up. Then she jumped me!”

“Jumped you, huh? How exactly?”

“She grabbed my arms and tried to bite me in the throat. In the fucking throat, man! So, uh, so I shoved her away, screaming ‘WTF, bitch!?’, and, and she lunged at me, this time trying to gouge my eyes! I dodged and called her out, but she didn’t react. And all the time her motions, her motions, man, they were, like, real jerky and stuff. Man, I tell ya, I’ve seen stoners less zoned out than her. And… and… man… I shot her. I shot her hard. But she didn’t fall. Didn’t even slow down! I… I just kept pumping rounds in her. Deus, it was so unreal.” Roy’s voice slightly trembled. He looked at his hands and subsided.

Koort was pensive. “And you just happened to have a shotgun with you?”

Roy glanced at him and for a second there was something resembling shame in his eyes. “Had to go out on a job tonight. But Lissa called me. I was already carrying the piece and, and thought, thought to do it later. I’m screwed, aren’t I?”

“That depends on a how good lawyer your buddies can buy you,” Koort said and left the hover.

Koort straightened and looked around. The ERT’s were already carrying out the body of Melissa Platt. The forensics team had left and a couple of police officers were cleaning the crime scene. The rain was making things a bit easier, but even without it the place would be clean within the hour. In the distance, a lone streak of smoke, probably from a fire, rose on the horizon amidst the dim glare of a thousand lights. Busy night, it seems, thought Koort. He saw Mia, who was walking towards him.

“Did Mr. Olmer say anything useful?” she asked while approaching.

Koort shook his head. “The boy was scared rough. Whatever did this proteus virus, it had turned his girlfriend into a crazed psychopath that needed multiple point-blank shots to be put down.”

Mia raised an eyebrow. “You believe him?”

“Depends on what you’ll tell me.”

“Not much. I took a sample of the virus and ran it on my omnitool. It appears to be a specific virus that targets the brain. I found also trace amounts of nanos. Arntzen wasn’t mistaken. The datalinks really have no information on a proteus virus with this kind of profile.”

“Olmer said that the victim called him before the incident. Had said that she felt ill and Olmer claimed that she looked the part. This means that whatever infected her, had happened earlier that night, or days before. Have that address ready?”

“Yeah, though you won’t like it,” Mia said with a slight apprehension.

Koort was silent for a moment, then he asked, “Is it in the Inner City?” Mia nodded. Koort sighed. “It will be a long night.”

“Shouldn’t we call for back-up? I mean, we’ve entered alone around thirty times in the Inner City and rarely things have ended good.”

“And on what grounds we’ll request the cavalry? Even if we come up with a reason, it’ll be hours before we go through channels, all the while soaking under this damn rain.”

Mia looked uncertain. Koort lowered his voice and spoke quietly. “We will only inspect the place. In and out, then we are going straight home. Twenty minutes at most.” He reached out and touched her shoulder. “Trust me.”

Mia met Koort’s gaze and nodded. “Alright.”

They went back to their hover and drove away. The rain had intensified and Koort turned on the VAPOS to get a better visual feedback. He left Harbor District and drove along the outer highway. It was late and there was little traffic. There, on the horizon before the highway, the towering bodies of skyscrapers bathed in radiance and neon glow. Some of them stood on various megaterraces, who were larger and denser the closer they were to the center. There, at the center itself, was the infamous Inner City, hidden below the dazzling glamour, surrounded by luminous towers and covered with skyways and platforms, like the innards of a giant monster. During the Supremacy Wars the city had been bombarded from orbit and afterwards people had just decided to build around the ruins. Thus Inner City was born, at first gradually forgotten, then steadily feared as it’s inhabitants became more bizarre with each passing century. Nowadays only the poorest or most desperate lived there.

Koort got off the highway and navigated around a series of narrow streets at ground level. He finally pulled over in front of a massive metal gate nested between two office buildings. Koort rolled down the window, drew his holo-badge and swept it across the sensor of an access terminal, which stood beside the gate. The terminal beeped and flashed in cyan light. A second later, the gate began rising with a heavy, grinding noise.

“Why they didn’t just seal the place off?” Mia asked nonchalantly.

Koort shrugged. “For starters, even though it’s a hellhole, thousands of people still live there, as the late Ms. Platt did.”

“Yeah, but it is also a safe haven for murderers and all kinds of psychos. Also, only the Great Cosmos knows how many rogue bioroids and war robots are still inside and alive or operational.”

“True, but I heard the city council made several attempts for restoration and supposedly Inner City is now not that bad.”

“Then why all roads are still blocked, except for a few walkways and waystations?”

“You got me. I take it we don’t have to enter too much inward?”

“Yes, the address is located in the outer fringe.”

“Good.”

The street ahead was dark and run-down, with occasional heavy-duty armored lampposts at intersections. Ruins and derelict buildings occupied both sides of the street, though some showed signs of being inhabited. Rubble and debris littered the streets. Koort turned off the hover’s lights and switched the engines in silent mode. Under the board computer’s guidance, he navigated the gloomy landscape and a few minutes later parked in front of a large tenement tower. Koort killed the engine and he and Mia got out. It didn’t rain here, and only small patches of sky could be seen between the megaterraces. Koort stood for a second and sized up the building ahead.

“Quite the high-rise,” he interjected. “You don’t happen to know the floor, Mia?”

“Actually, I do,” Mia said casually. “It’s twenty-three, apartment 233.”

Koort looked at her in surprise. “You mean you have an actual address here, in Inner City?”

“Hey, you said there’ve been restoration projects. Maybe accurate residential records are among the benefits.”

They walked towards the entrance. Their soft footsteps echoed hollowly between the apartment blocks. Koort glanced around in suspicion.

“Hm, it’s too quiet,” he remarked. “And I don’t see any ubiquitous groups of vagrants huddled around a burning barrel or two.”

“Yeah, I’m nervous, too.” Mia’s eyes darted left and right. “Koort, lets hurry up.”

The lobby doors were not locked. As they stepped inside, Koort flicked the switch for the hallway lights. Nothing happened.

“Well, can’t say I’m surprised,” he muttered. He signaled Mia and both began ascending the wide, central stairway. They moved slowly in the darkness, alert for any sound, but the building was quiet and dormant. Twenty-three floors later, they arrived before a plain sliding door with a maglock. It had no numeration, which probably had worn out long ago.

“You sure this is the place?” Koort peered in the dark.

Mia glanced over her shoulder at the rest of the hallway. “The building had been made during the Old Empire. They’d had strict construction regulations about pretty much everything. I think this miserable relic hadn’t been an exception.”

Koort snorted and tried the manual handle. The door didn’t move. “It seems that there is civilization around here after all. The lock’s still powered.”

“You keep watch, I’ll override it.” Mia stepped forward and activated her omnitool.

Koort turned his back to her, to prevent ruining his darkvision by the omnitool’s soft glow. He observed the hallway and suddenly had a feeling he was being watched. Koort slowly reached for his gun, when behind him the door’s maglock clicked open.

“You coming?” Mia called.

“Right behind you,” Koort replied and, without turning his back to the hallway, entered the apartment and locked the door. The apartment was pitch black.

“What was that about?” Mia asked tensely.

“I think we’re not alone,” Koort said, lowering his voice.

Mia exhaled sharply. “Then lets not advertise our presence.”

“Agreed.”

They brought out small, durable, multi-purpose flashlights and looked around the apartment. It was a single-room studio, four on five meters across, with a walled-off section for the hycab. The furniture was old and sparse. The windows were covered with improvised shutters. Mia turned on her omnitool’s scanner and began taking readings.

“No signs of contamination,” she declared after a minute.

“I expected as much,” Koort said languidly. “If there are clues here, they’ll be tied to the victim’s recent activities.” He reached for the nearby VR shelf and began pulling cases at random.

“One thing I don’t understand,” Mia thought out loud. “Why a lone, young girl would come to live in such a place?”

“Well, to begin with, she may have been a homeless orphan before she stumbled into here.” Koort stopped browsing the VR shelf and opened the solitary wardrobe.

“Plausible hypothesis, but why Inner City? There are plenty of other districts with abandoned residences.”

Koort shrugged, while he tossed a pair of clothes aside. “I don’t know. Maybe she needed to lay low from something. Maybe she was just deranged.” He peered into the wardrobe one last time and closed it. “What personally aggravates me, is that there is nothing here to point us toward the infection’s origin. We’ve wasted our time here.”

“So… we write the case off?”

“Damn sure we do. Even if we don’t, HQ’s going to attribute it to some unknown mutation anyway. What we do now is get the hell out of here, go home and file a cursory report in the morning.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Mia noted dryly.

Koort switched off his flashlight and stepped to the door. “Come, before something decides to make things interesting.”

They walked out of the apartment. Mia paused to lock the door, when suddenly a rustling sound came down the hallway. She turned and reached for her gun, but there was a blur of motion and a shadowy figure knocked her on the floor. Mia yelled and struggled. Koort jumped and kicked viciously the figure, knocking it away from Mia. He pulled out his C.O.O.L. pistol and roared, “Stay down! ‘Hands where I can see them!”

The attacker, a non-descript man, didn’t listen to Koort. He stood up and charged at Koort. Koort fired a salvo square in the man’s chest, but he didn’t stop and slammed into Koort with full force. They wrestled and Koort fell. A hiss erupted from the man’s throat. Koort whipped him with the pistol’s grip, but it had no effect. The man grabbed Koort, drooling and foaming, and clacked his teeth in a series of snapping bites. Koort heaved his legs and tossed the attacker aside, freeing himself. At the same instant Mia’s gun cracked in a hail of shots. Koort, losing no time either, aligned his pistol at the prone man and started firing. The man trashed and writhed under the crossfire, but still struggled to rise. Koort changed his angle and aimed for the head. He fired five more shots and at last the man lay still.

Koort exhaled laboriously. Mia helped him rise and they both stared at the corpse.

“Great Cosmos, did you see how many shots that thing took!?” Mia exclaimed with alarm.

Koort grunted. “Yeah, haven’t seen something like that for a long time. He was probably infected by the same proteus virus that got Olmer’s girlfriend. The boy wasn’t delusional after all.” Koort took out his flashlight and attached it to his pistol. “Light up,” he said to Mia. “We’ve been uncovered.”

Koort and Mia quickly descended the stairs. No additional assailants lurked on the floors or the lobby. Koort rammed the front door and bounced outside, looking left and right. He immediately saw three humanoids who were crowded around their hover.

“Hey!” Koort called. The humanoids, two men and a woman, snapped their heads and immediately rushed toward him.

Koort and Mia took firing stances and fired rapidly at the new attackers. They took the two men down, but the woman reached them and swung her arm wildly at Mia. Mia dodged and twisted on her heel, sweeping her leg in a high-arc strike which sprawled her opponent on the ground. Mia quickly dispatched the attacker with several headshots and reloaded her pistol.

“I think this virus may have gotten far more out of hand than we knew,” she said with concern.

Koort ran to the hover and inspected it. The engine’s access panel was torn away and the machinery inside was ruined. “Damn, they cut us off. This was an organized ambush.” Koort peered down the street. “We’re underpowered and on foot. Escaping will be tough, not to mention our limited supply of ammo.” He rummaged inside the hover’s cabin.

“I may have a solution,” Mia snapped, glancing between her omnitool and a building across the street. “At least in the armament department. Follow me.”

They crossed the street and ducked under an elevated walkway. “According to schematics, there is an external security storage at the next intersection,” Mia explained.

“Hope it’s still intact,” Koort muttered.

They reached the intersection. A large, black armory was built into the wall of a public station, with a working streetlamp next to it. A sign on it, made out of viridian-colored techsymbols, read Urban Protection Emergency Escalation Storage. There were no obvious locks, only a small scanner port with a blinking LED.

“Do you know how to open it?” Koort asked.

“According to regulations, all Consortium personnel should be able to override Old Empire security devices with their ID.” Mia held out her holo-badge before the scanner. The LED stopped blinking and there was a metallic clack. “Thank goodness. For a minute I though it wouldn’t work.”

Mia swung open the heavy double doors of the armory. Inside, there was a row of a dozen rifles, resting on a rack. “It is still intact!” Mia exclaimed.

Koort took out a rifle and twirled it with frustration. “Yeah, but these are only anti-riot arc guns. They lack the punch to stop homicidal zombies. Unless we do some modifications, “ he added and began fiddling with the ARA gun’s interface.

“At least the ion igniters are in working condition.” Mia saw Koort’s tinkering. “What are you doing?” she rebuked him.

“Increasing the power output,” Koort replied nonplussed. He finished and the rifle buzzed with a low hum. “There, now this piece zaps for a nice amount of 1.22 megawatts.”

“And the charge will hold for how long? Ten seconds?” Mia scoffed.

“Yeah, maybe with this…” Koort paused and threw the ARA gun’s battery out. He then pulled a bulky container from a pouch strapped to his uniform and connected it to the ARA gun. “…but with this we talk more like a hundred minutes or so,” Koort finished with satisfaction. He looked around and then met Mia’s eyes. “Want one?”

“Is that a fusion cell?”

“Yep.”

“I though this technology was outdated long ago. And dangerous,” Mia added cautiously.

“Dangerous, no. Outdated, yes. But they can be found cheap if you know were to search and I have been saving a pair for a rainy day.” Koort tossed another fusion cell to Mia. “Watch out though. If you cycle that key three times in rapid succession, it goes boom.”

“So, they also double up as grenades?” Mia said dryly.

“I wouldn’t use it like that. It will level a whole building before you even throw it. Think of it more like a suicide protocol.”

“Right, you always buy the coolest stuff,” Mia drawled.

“It’s not my fault the dealer was a–“ Koort began, then suddenly his eyes widened. “DOWN!”

Mia threw herself on the ground and Koort fired with the rifle. The ARA gun discharged a lightning storm which engulfed a pair of infected women, who were about to pounce on Mia. The blue-white nimbus burned through flesh and bone, freezing both virus zombies in place. Koort released the trigger and the two attackers collapsed in a pair of charred heaps.

“1.22 megawatts,” Koort rumbled with satisfaction.

“Koort, we have company,” Mia warned.

Koort looked in her direction and saw a large group of humanoids in the distance, running with sort of a weird stagger toward him and Mia. They were scores of them and more were coming out of the shadows.

“Mia, run, RUN!”

Koort and Mia fled down the street and climbed up on a wide walkway. Behind them, the infected horde pursued with vicious relentlessness. Koort yelled at Mia. “Call for backup! Tell them we have a class five outbreak!”

“Are you out of your mind!!?” Mia yelled back. “There isn’t enough population in the whole city to declare a class five!”

They sprinted along the walkway, wildly dodging debris and collapsed sections in the darkness. A virus zombie suddenly rushed out from a passing staircase. Koort blasted it with the ARA gun. “JUST DO IT!!!” he screamed.

“I CAN’T! The security protocol keeps dropping due to bad connection!!!”

Koort jumped over the walkway’s railing, to land on a crossing below. Mia followed him. She paused briefly to zap the swarming virus zombies, slowing them down.

“Where’s the nearest exit!” Koort shouted over his shoulder.

“In the opposite direction!”

“Great Verge, we’re fucked! Did you contact HQ?”

“I still can’t get a signal!”

Koort looked around and saw an operational access elevator. He stopped and slammed the call button. He and Mia squeezed hard on the triggers of the ARA guns, flooding the area towards the rushing horde with a vortex of lightning. The virus zombies entered the cloud and fell, burned by the flashing storm, but behind others still advanced.

“There must be hundreds of them!” Mia shouted in desperation.

“Case in point for calling a class five!” Koort retorted.

The elevator arrived. Koort and Mia retreated inside the cabin and Koort jammed the button for the highest elevation. Mia exhaled with relief.

“Stay sharp,” Koort snapped sternly. “We won a few moments of respite, but they can still climb the stairs.”

“What’s our next step?” Mia asked, regaining her cool.

“See that comm tower over there?” Koort pointed beyond the elevator’s glass wall. “If we go through those roofs, we can use it to boost the signal. Then we hole up on the platform over there and wait for the cavalry.”

“The response time may be well over an hour,” Mia replied. “I’m not sure the fusion cells will hold out for that long. Also, there’s a chance HQ’ll write us off.”

“Hardly,” Koort objected, though he didn’t sound certain. “Still, if it turns out we’re on our own, this could very well be the end.”

“That sounded morbid. You really think so?”

“We don’t know how many creatures are out there, we have no getaway and we’re in the middle of Inner City with mostly standard-issue gear. Yeah, things are looking grim.” Koort glanced as the elevator’s doors opened. “Worry later. Move now.”

The elevator had stopped in the lobby of a defunct monorail station. A series of makeshift bridges and platforms connected the surrounding rooftops into a loose plaza of sorts. Koort and Mia traversed the area, passing by run-down shacks and dwellings, adapted from scrap parts and holes in the buildings. An increasingly loud thrashing noises and clatter echoed from below. The comm tower stood on the top of a building that had been long ago buried underneath a myriad of other constructs. Mia climbed up and opened the tower’s control box. Koort stood watch, gripping his rifle tightly.

“It’s a mess up here!” Mia spat with disgust, ripping off circuit boards and inspecting electronic components.

“Well, tidy up quick then, because we’re on the clock,” Koort replied tensely.

Virus zombies began stumbling out of the monorail station. Koort holstered the short-ranged ARA gun and took potshots with his pistol. “Hurry,” he said, his voice strained.

Mia fiddled her omnitool and connected a cable from the control box to it. The fingers of her left hand flew furiously over the amber-colored haptic interface. “There, I’ve got it! Transmitting now!” Mia began speaking into the omnitool’s microphone. “To all city units! To all units! This is Templar Mia Darkovitz! We have a possible class three bioweapon outbreak in Inner City! I repeat, possible class three outbreak! Send a Paladin division immediately!!!”

The virus zombies were already swarming the rooftops. Koort swept his ARA gun wide, trying to catch as many targets as he could in the electrical field. Mia yanked her omnitool free and jumped down to Koort, who urged her on to move.

“Why are they homing in on us!?” she yelled.

“No time for questions! Run for the platform!”

They bolted toward a narrow gangway, virus zombies hard on their heels. Several meters ahead a door and an access hatch burst open and infected humanoids began pouring out. Koort charged them, activating the haptic blade of his omnitool. He slammed his shoulder in the leading zombie and slashed another at the throat, creating an opening. Mia also got past and turned her rifle to electrocute the survivors.

“Almost there!” Koort shouted.

The gangway was suspended precariously over a forty-meter chasm between the buildings. It passed along an elevated terrace and ended at a lone, bare-bone platform. Koort and Mia ran full speed along the gangway, trying to clear the unstable passage before their pursuers could destabilize it. Suddenly, half-dozen virus zombies appeared on the terrace above and jumped off in a suicidal attempt to reach the gangway below.

“Koort, LOOK OUT!”

Mia shoved Koort aside, who fell forward. At the same time a virus zombie knocked Mia off the gangway. She barely managed to grab the railing, when the whole gangway rattled under the added strain. Mia’s grip slipped and she fell.

Koort shrieked in anguish. “NO!!! MIA-A-A-A!”

Below, a blindingly bright light erupted in the darkness. A thunderous roar shook the whole area. The explosion blew away the debris, the zombies, the platforms, everything. The gangway leapt high in the air, hurled by the detonation. Koort tumbled helplessly around. He hit an unknown surface full-force and lost his senses. Then something touched his head. The world plunged into silence and darkness.

 

***

 

Koort came into consciousness with extreme pain. He inhaled sharply, but the pain only intensified. His whole body felt broken, making even gasping bring agony. A flash of thought crystallized in Koort’s brain and galvanized him. He abruptly opened his eyes and turned his head. The effort nearly made him collapse. He lay at the base of a set of ruins. Dust still settled around, with debris falling irregularly here and there. Koort willed himself to rise. He looked at the destruction in horror.

“No, no, no, no…”

Pain seared his senses, as he began trembling. His legs buckled and he fell on his knees, unbelieving, broken, devastated. The ruins towered before him, already silent and forlorn, like a giant grave.

Koort began wailing at the same time as sirens echoed in the distance.