View Full Version : The First Law, Chapter 1 Revised. Scifi/horror

October 13th, 2019, 07:46 PM
I was unaware that we aren't supposed to post Patreon links, so my first posts got taken down. My bad. Here's chapter 1 again.

It was quiet. The long corridors and narrow stairwells could carry sound a long way, and for as long as she could remember they had echoed with laughter, shouting, voices, the sounds of humanity. But now there was nothing but quiet. Not silence–no spacecraft was ever completely silent. The steady hum of the environmental systems, grav-plates, and the myriad pipes and vents hidden behind the walls permeated the corridors and cabins of the asteroid miner Benjamin Hembrooke. If things truly had been silent, she would have been in real trouble. Not that she wasn’t already. If anything, a danger as mundane as suffocation or hypothermia would have been welcome. At least they were things she understood.

But instead the ship’s systems hummed happily along, and the quiet ruled. It was the quiet of desertion, of the lack of any human presence save her, carefully inching along the corridor. This had been her life since the madness came. An existence of hiding in closets and some of the larger vents, those she still fit into. She had had ample opportunity to be grateful for the exploration she had done when she was younger. That hiding was interspersed with slow crawls down hallways and quick dashes through open rooms. With scavenging for food and water. A life of constant alertness and fitful snatches of sleep. It had been several days – as measured by the ship’s automatic day-night cycle *– since “it” had happened. She still had no idea what “it” was. One minute everything was fine. The next, people were acting strangely, complaining of headaches and jumping at shadows. Then, they went crazy. But being locked in a metal box with over two hundred suddenly-homicidal lunatics that were once your friends and shipmates wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was that they all wanted one thing: her, alive. So she ran, and hid, and in one traumatic instance fought and bit and gouged, because she knew without knowing how that she would rather step out the airlock than be caught.

But now, nothing. No voices chanted in languages that hurt the ears to hear. No familiar faces roamed the halls, sweetly calling for her to come out, promising they weren’t going to hurt her while gripping makeshift weapons. It had been at least a day since she had seen or heard anyone, and now all she knew was the quiet. That, and a sense she couldn’t put into words, something that made her skin prickle – as if some animal part of her knew something terrible was coming and wanted to flee. This feeling had been there since the beginning, but it had only gotten stronger in the last cycle. It was this feeling –an instinct, a pressure– that had driven her from her most recent hideaway atop a tangle of piping in the ore-processing decks and towards the bridge. She hadn’t dared try to access it before, with the patrolling crazies everywhere, but now that they were gone she had decided to take a chance. So far she had been in luck, and her path to the bridge had been clear. If she could get there, and get past the undoubtedly-sealed hatch, and then somehow access the comms system, she could call for help. Someone would hear her, surely, and come save her. Maybe they could even help everyone else. For the first time in days, she began to feel a sense of hope.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, she reached the final flight of stairs that led to the main command deck. She practically belly-crawled up the steps, keeping low as possible, and slowly stuck her head out the hatch and looked around. To her left was the main spinal elevator– disabled since soon after the madness began. To the right was the forward airlock. It was a smaller one – meant for personnel, not cargo – and was surrounded by lockers that held vac suits. Across from her lay the bridge hatch. Everything looked clear, and she got up and approached the entrance to the bridge. It was sealed, as she had expected. What she had not expected was the ruin where the access panel had once been. Someone had completely destroyed it – prying open the panel and ripping out the circuitry and wires. She had hoped that she would be able to access it somehow. She had a knack for electronics, but there was no fixing or hotwiring that she could do to bypass it.

Her heart sank briefly, but then she remembered – the crank! Every hatch had one, a manual system that could be used to open it in an emergency. She looked around for it. There it was! Towards the bottom of the hatch, a metal panel painted with hazard stripes. Her hands scrabbled at it eagerly, trying to pull it open. It wouldn’t budge. Frowning, she pulled harder, so hard she ended up falling backward and landing with a thump on the deck. Groaning and rubbing her sore posterior, she looked at the panel and deflated. It had been welded shut. Someone had taken a welding torch and run it along the edge of the panel, melting it with the door. The panel itself was solid metal, several centimeters thick. There was no way she was getting into the bridge. She curled up into a ball and began to rock. Short, muffled sobs wracked her form. After a few minutes, she gathered herself. She stood up, wiped her face, and stared at the hatch. She wasn’t finished yet. There were tools on this ship that could get her in, and she just had to find them. She searched around, and her gaze settled. Maybe there was something in the lockers by the airlock.

She went over to them and started opening them, softly. The habit of silence was ingrained in her now. They weren’t meant for private use, so there were no locks. The first was empty. She closed it, gently. The second had vac-suits. Again, she closed it softly. The third, fourth, and fifth had more vac suits. She found something useful in the sixth. It was a bunch of hand tools, but there was a crowbar. Maybe that could work. In her excitement, she closed the locker louder than she intended. The clunk of metal was shockingly loud, and she froze. Was that her? She stared at the locker, then at her hand, trying to figure out how that sound had been produced. Then it came again, and she jumped. It wasn’t her! She stood stock-still, and listened. Soon, it came again. It was a clunk of metal on metal, oddly muffled, and it took her a moment to place where it was coming from. The airlock! Something was grabbing onto the ship outside the airlock. Her heart soared. Rescue! The UN! Or a long-range patrol from the Alliance or Hegemony, or maybe the League wondering what an Earth-flagged ship was doing out so far from home! A whole ship full of big, strong spacers and marines who could help her and subdue all the other crew and help them, and cure them of whatever madness afflicted them! They were saved!
All these thoughts ran through her head, and then another, more disquieting one took their place. Why were they here? The ship was out, way out, beyond the normal shipping lanes, beyond the Belt, even. They had been cruising the Trojans, looking for untapped veins. They hadn’t been out of contact for that long, even if it had felt like a lifetime to her. There was, the little voice of paranoia she had developed told her, a distinct chance that whoever was coming through that door was not friendly. Maybe it was those fanatics from the Legion of Truth! At best, she had no idea who they were. Her train of thought was disrupted by a terrible hissing, screeching noise. They were cutting through the outer hatch. She needed to hide. She cast about, looking for somewhere, but the hallway was too open and there were no handy vents big enough to crawl into. Her eyes settled on the empty locker, and she dashed over to it, still gripping the crowbar. She pulled the door open and climbed in, closing it behind herself. She fit, barely, and she could even see a little out the vents in the door. She all but held her breath, and tried to still her racing heart.

Eventually, the noise stopped. There was silence, and then the sound of heavy footsteps. The inner hatch ground open, and revealed what was behind it. At first, her brain struggled to comprehend what she was seeing. It looked like a...picture? It reminded her of paintings she’d seen from churches and temples. It showed a lone figure surrounded by shadow and hideous, misshapen forms half-seen and half-imagined. The figure held up a sword, and light radiated from it, pushing back against the encroaching darkness. Her gaze expanded from that focal point and noticed that the picture was near the center of a piece of metal almost as tall as she was and almost a meter wide. It was slightly curved, and on the right side a gap had been cut. All thoughts about the curiosity of the picture vanished, and her blood ran cold as she noticed the barrel sticking out of that gap. It looked big enough to swallow three of her fingers. The wall of metal advanced, accompanied by heavy footsteps, and she realized what it was– a boarding shield. She’d seen them on the Web, and in holos, but never one quite like this.

The person behind it swiveled the shield, and the gun, left and right, as if methodically sweeping the space before them, then they seemed to relax. They came out of the slight hunch they had been in behind the shield and held it somewhat to the side, allowing her to see the person behind the shield. She could only see them from the chest down, and terror and confusion warred in her mind. Like the shield, it was all a strange mix of new and old-fashioned. He, and she was fairly certain it was a he, wore armor. It was slightly bulky, but did not look cumbersome, and when he moved it gave a slight whine of servos that indicated the suit was powered. The short, stubby weapon he cradled in his right hand was a shotgun of some kind– that much she recognized, but it had clearly been heavily modified. She didn’t know much about such things, but she was pretty sure only elite soldiers wore armor like that. But he wasn’t a soldier, that much was clear by the armor’s color and...accessories. First of all, it was painted dark red, so dark it almost looked black, except for the silver-gray swirls and figures that decorated the bulky plates in fine, intricate patterns. She found them difficult to follow, as if they somehow moved on their own. His form was festooned with pouches, all bulging with who-knows-what. Strapped to his chest was a knife, its sheath filthy and its spiked grip covered in brown stains. Around his waist, he wore a belt that looked like it was made of some sort of animal skin. It had the bullets in loops, and a holster hung from his left hip. There was a gun in that holster, its wood – actual wood! – grip gleaming in the light. The gun and belt were odd when set against the modern armor, but, they weren’t the oddest thing. Not even close. There were – trinkets – hanging from the belt and elsewhere. Some she recognized: a cross, a star, a crescent, a yin-yang. Others she had never seen before, strange things of polished stone, feathers, fur and what looked like bones. They rattled slightly as he moved past her, and she noticed what could only be described as a short pole with a blade-covered ball at the end dangling from his right hip. Like the armor, it was decorated with symbols and now that she saw it the pole was made of wood and animal hide. All of this was odd, but as he walked past her hiding place she saw what was on his back, and it quickly took over her thoughts. He had a sword. An actual sword. The sheath was like his armor, a deep, dark red, and covered in a tracery of silver lines and symbols. It only covered the bottom third of the blade, leaving much visible. She could see it was ornate, covered in runes and lines of script, but nothing compared to the handle. The handle was silver metal and dark wood. The bit just below the blade was shaped like wings, and at the end of the handle there was a gemstone encased by the metal. The whole thing was strapped tightly across his back, the handle protruding above his right shoulder and the tip jutting past his waist.

So many weapons. She closed her eyes, fighting panic. Who was he? Why was he here, why was he dressed like that? These questions and more chased themselves through her mind and her awareness slipped. She realized that she no longer heard footsteps. Had he left? She opened her eyes and stared into the face of terror.

Whereas before she had been unable to see his face, now she could. He was wearing a helmet, which was not surprising. What made her blood run cold was the front of the helmet. It was a grotesque mask, a thing of huge teeth and fangs and exaggerated features, twisted into a leering snarl. There were a pair of horns sticking out of the forehead. The horns and teeth were painted ivory, but the rest of the mask was the red of freshly-spilled blood. The eyes and mouth were things of shadow, deep pits that seemed to suck in all light. Demonic. That word, an old word, sprang to her mind and she found it the only apt descriptor. That’s what he looked like – some demon of war. This figure, this walking avatar of violent death, stood in the center of the room, slowly panning its terrible visage back and forth. She felt like there was a ton of metal in her stomach, and then the motion stopped, and he was staring right at her.

December 18th, 2019, 04:53 PM
I think this was great. It is a strong introduction to a developed world, leaving the reader wanting to know more. I have no opinions or notes on improvement, but just curious why her name hasnt been introduced yet. Maybe give her character some description. Other than that, keep it up. Ill read chapters 2 and 3.