The Task
The First Law, Chapter 3
by LaMDoH123
©2019

They were a horror. Their faces were flushed, and their eyes showed nothing but whites. They ran, crawled and leaped, tripping over each other in their eagerness to get to them. Some carried makeshift weapons –hammers, wrenches, mining drills, and saws – while others simply had their hands, reaching before them like claws. They all were covered in cuts and scratches that looked self-inflicted. Many of the marks seemed random, but there was a clear repeating motif of a crude eye, identical to those her mother had cut in the deck and on herself.

The worst part was that Becky knew them all. There was Mrs. Nagato, the kindly old woman who taught the small school on board. Her features were twisted into a rictus of rage. There were David and Li, who had just gotten married a few months earlier. Everyone had remarked what a cute couple the two made. Now Li was trampling David into the deck as he attempted to get closer. Li’s mouth was open in a snarl, drool was hanging from his gums, his face was – gone.

Sebastian calmly dragged the shotgun across the front of the mob, a full-auto volley of shells ripping apart the front ranks. Limbs were blown off, torsos shredded, and dozens of crazed crew went down hard. The noise in such a confined space deafened Becky, and she watched what happened next in silence, the only sound the ringing in her ears. After what seemed like an eternity, Sebastian’s gun ran dry. In a smooth motion, he put it over his left shoulder and maglocked it to his back. His right hand then dropped to his hip and drew the strange club that dangled there. He then set himself, left foot and shield forward, right arm cocked, and waded into the mass.

Growing up on a mining ship, Becky had seen her share of accidents and maimings. It just happened sometimes. The shotgun had been brutal beyond anything she had ever seen. This was worse. Sebastian moved with a ponderous fluidity and grace utterly at odds with the bulk of his armor. He was efficient and precise, and every part of him was a killing weapon. Armored boots stamped down and finished off crew that had fallen, injured but not dead. Elbows smashed bones and pulverized flesh. His shield was used as a bludgeon, battering bodies into walls or crushing necks with its edge. But the club was the true weapon of slaughter. It's every swing stove in ribs and obliterated skulls, often two or three at a time. Never once did he break stride, and while he blocked or avoided many attacks, he was happy to take them on his armor if needed. Becky began to realize something. He was slowly moving forward, into the mob, but he was keeping them all in front of him. Obviously intent on not being surrounded, he still turned around whenever one tried to slip past. Towards her.

“Stay close, girl,” he called, every word punctuated by a killing blow. She realized she could hear again. “I can’t protect you if you stray.”

How she was able to move, and not stay rooted to the spot, Becky could not have said. Everything that had happened in the last few minutes had her numb and running on adrenaline. So she began to follow him, trying not to slip on the slick steps, and trying equally hard not to focus on the gory obstacles underfoot. So focused was she on her footing that she was caught by surprise when one of the mangled bodies leaped at her. She went down, the not-corpse on top of her, its blood splattering her, barely held at bay by her crowbar held across its chest. Its face was inches from her, veins distended and eyes wide, it's snarling, ruined mouth drooling bloody spit on her face. It seemed like it was trying to pin her down, and she shrieked. “Sebastian, help me!”

“Help yourself, girl,” he replied calmly, not turning from his slaughter. Despite the crazy on top of her, she stared at him for a brief eternity, and then she felt something new. Rage. Rage at him, rage at the universe, and, more specifically, rage at the broken thing scrabbling and snarling on top of her. With a snarl of her own, she shoved back at it. She then slid the crowbar so that the hook caught it in the neck and threw it to the side. It flopped over onto its back, and she found herself moving on instinct. In a flash she was straddling it, hammering down with the crowbar. She let out a primal scream of frustration, anger, and sorrow, and the space around her seemed to fade. There was only her and the thing in front of her, and the crowbar she brought down again and again and again.

How long she was like that, she did not know, but eventually, a sound intruded on her narrow world. It was a single word, muffled and foreign at first, repeated with infinite patience and surprising gentleness. “Girl.” She whirled around, starting to rise and ready to attack, and saw Sebastian standing there, regarding her from behind his impassive mask. Before he was terrifying. Now he was horrifying. He was covered in blood and other bits of organic matter, and he stank like iron and voided bowels. Behind him, the stairwell was a charnel house. He motioned with his head at the body. She turned back, shaking with adrenaline, and realized she was still straddling it. Her crowbar had left a dent in the metal deck. Underneath the remains of its head. “I think it’s dead, girl.”


Becky breathed deeply and shakily, then an overwhelming sense of exhaustion gripped her. “She. She’s dead.” Wearily, she gestured at the name on the tattered jumpsuit. S. Petrov. “Sasha. Sasha Petrov. Bridge crew. We never talked– she was on a different shift. Everyone knew her, though. She was the prettiest girl on the ship.” She looked down. Sasha’s angelic face was completely gone, and strands of her space-black hair were stuck to Becky’s crowbar. “She was beautiful.” With that, Becky leaned to the side and vomited. For some reason, it was important to her not to get Sasha dirty. Her stomach, mostly empty already, had little to give. Still, the paroxysms lasted for minutes, until she was doing nothing but dry-heaving. Shakily, she wiped her mouth, and then – using the crowbar for support – staggered to her feet. She felt empty, in many more ways than one. She turned to look at Sebastian, and found him holding out a small pouch. She looked at him, confused.


“This was near your mother. It’s liquid, of some kind. Vomit has a distinctly unpleasant aftertaste.” She reached out and took it from him. He puzzled her. One moment he was brutal and cold, the next he was kind and gentle. She tore open the packet and sipped at the contents. She grimaced, but still swallowed some. The rest she swished around, and spat out.


“Chicken stock. I think.”


He gestured to Sasha’s corpse. “I could tell you it never gets easier. That it’s always just as horrifying as the first time. But that would be a lie. Eventually you grow accustomed to it. That is the true horror.”


Becky stared at the corpse. She could feel nothing but numbness, and a small sense of happiness that she, herself, was still alive. “I believe you.” She looked at him. “What next?”


He cocked his head at her, measuring her, then pointed in the direction the mob had come from, “The task is not yet done. We go down.”


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They had descended in silence for a few minutes, at the same slow, methodical pace as before. Even though Sebastian seemed to know exactly where he was going, he still stopped to check each deck they passed. He also took the time to step into a laundry, and returned with several towels and rags. He tossed one to her and motioned to her face, and Becky realized she still had bits of Sasha on her. She scrubbed furiously, and saw Sebastian cleaning what gore he could off his armor and weapons. He paid special attention to his shield. He had grabbed several towels, and they were all filthy. At least he was relatively clean. Relatively. Becky figured it would take a pressure wash to rid him of the caked-in filth. He noticed her look.

“Care for your gear, and it will care for you,” he said, and continued on, back to the stairs and down. Once again, she followed. They left the crew decks behind and were getting into the industrial and processing decks– the true heart of the ship. All the time, the strange pressure on Becky’s mind increased, and her tension rose and rose. It took a herculean effort on her part not to shriek when Sebatian suddenly spoke.

“Sixty-seven.”


“What?”

Sixty-seven,” he repeated, not breaking stride. “This ship had a listed crew of two hundred and thirteen. Some will have died in the initial upheaval,” he looked back at Becky, who nodded confirmation, “and I just killed sixty-seven. Sixty-eight, counting your mother. Therefore, there is a question that it behooves us to ask: Where are the rest?”

It took Becky a moment to process that, and then she wished she hadn’t. “The rest?”

He nodded, “The rest. Some – many– will have been killed when it tried to impose its will on them. Their minds will have broken, and their bodies will have shut down. They are the lucky ones. Most others will have their minds broken, but their bodies will live on. They are empty puppets. It was those we fought before.” He looked back at her. “If it’s any comfort, Sasha Petrov died some time ago. You didn’t actually kill her, from a certain point of view.”
Becky wasn’t that comforted. “What about the others?”

Again, he nodded. “The others. A few might retain their minds, after a fashion. They will seem to have free will, their old personalities, everything that made them human. But it is a lie. The thing will have twisted them to serve it, fooled them into thinking they are doing it willingly. Maybe they were at the beginning, seduced by honeyed promises of power or simple survival, but it does not matter now. They have ‘free will’ only in the service of their new master, and it is likely they will be...changed.”

“Changed?”

“Yes. Physically as well as mentally. We will see to what extent.” He paused, and then added quietly, “And it is possible there will be yet others.”
They finally reached the level of the main processing deck and stopped at the sealed hatch. He reached out to the panel, then paused. “Steel yourself, girl. Remember, your mind is your own. Find something to focus on, a poem or lyric, something to repeat in your head. Finger that amulet you took from your mother. Something with meaning to you, to remind you that you are you."

Becky was feeling light-headed, the pressure beating down on her almost unbearable. It was coming from inside the chamber. Her nose was bleeding, and she wiped it. “You mentioned others?” she asked, struggling to find the words.

“So far we have the lucky, the puppets, and the fooled. That only leaves one other possibility.” He looked at her. “Those who serve willingly. Who sees what they serve, understand the nature of the bargain they have made, and accept it. Even revel in it. What do you call someone like that? They are worse than the things they serve, for those are simply doing what is in their nature. You might as well blame water for being wet. But the humans who give themselves, who betray their humanity to dark and twisted powers? They had a choice.” His voice had turned to a growl. “So what do you call them?” With that, he hauled open the hatch and stepped out into the main processing deck.

The space before them was vast, too vast seemingly to exist on a spaceship. At one end, the walls were covered in racks filled with crates of processed and unprocessed ore. Next to them was an enormous hatch that undoubtedly led to the main cargo airlock. Massive cranes hung from the ceiling, no doubt used to ferry the crates from place to place. The other end was a mess of machinery, tubing, and other various pieces of industrial machinery. The middle was free of machinery, doubtless to facilitate movement and loading of the large crates. The whole expanse was well lit, with hardly a shadow to be seen. It was an impressive sight, a monument to man’s determination and science.

Becky had been in here before, and it had always awed her. Not this time. All her attention was taken. In the middle of the space was another sort of monument– a temple to horror, and things old and wicked. Empty containers and other various bits of junk had been shoved aside, except for where they had been piled to form an altar of sorts. Atop that altar stood a figure dressed in robes, who was leading a small congregation of twisted, misshapen figures in what seemed like worship. They sang in a deep register that seemed to vibrate the very air. The words danced in her mind, as if just on the edge of understanding. They beckoned to her, tempted her with knowledge and power if she would just focus on them, figure out their meaning. She found herself drowning in the words, and her subconscious frantically sought for something to hold on to. Unbidden, a memory came to her and she closed her eyes, grasping for it. Becky was much younger, and she had been very ill. She was bedridden for days, and her mother had not left her side the entire time. Without thinking she began focusing on the memory of her mother’s voice, singing her a song, a simple lullaby.

I see the moon, the moon sees me
shining through the leaves of the old oak tree
Oh, let the light that shines on me
shine on the one I love.

She mouthed the words, their simplicity and the sweetness of the memory guiding her back to the here and now. Once she was sure her mind was hers, she opened her eyes again, and finally, let them focus on what was behind the altar, the thing the group were worshiping.

It was some kind of egg, fleshy and large enough to hold several dozen grown adults. It pulsed with a regular, horrifying motion, and each time it did another wave of mental pressure rolled outward from it. Becky had never experienced a strong wind, or wind of any kind, but she had heard of it and now thought she understood what it was like. She almost felt as if she needed to lean into it, and it felt strangely like the carving hanging around her neck was vibrating. She heard a strange rattling and looked over at Sebastian to see that the silver engravings on his armor were glowing slightly, and the charms hung on his person were rattling back and forth. He was looking at her.

“Very good,” he nodded approvingly. He jerked his head at the group. “They’ve got some fantastic basses over there, but they’re really lacking in tenors.”

She stared at him, unsure of how to respond. “Was that a joke?”

He shrugged. She thought it a curiously human gesture. She could almost imagine him winking behind his mask. “Perhaps. Or just an observation.” He looked around. “There,” he said, pointing.

She followed his gesture, gaze alighting on a collection of piping on the wall next to the hatch, a couple of meters above the deck. “I’ll boost you up girl. It’ll be better if you’re out of the way for this.”


She thought about protesting but decided against it. With his help, she half-climbed and was half-thrown up to the pipes. Scrabbling on, she found a relatively secure position and settled in, nodding down at Sebastian to let him know she was set. He nodded back, once, and then turned and began striding towards the altar. She watched with bated breath, feeling oddly like a spectator at a g-ball game. As he advanced, Sebastian reached over his shoulder and pulled the shotgun off his back. When he was perhaps 20 meters from the group, he stopped. Planting himself, feet apart, he began to bang his gun on his shield. He did it steadily, rhythmically. At first, it was like he was providing an accompaniment to the low, disturbing chanting, but then he began to go faster, began to vary the rhythm, and it became clear what he was doing. He was disrupting their chant, offering a jarring counterpoint that interfered with the flow. The chant trailed off, and the knot of figures on the deck rose from where they had been kneeling and turned to him.


They were far enough away and the light was dim enough that Becky couldn’t quite make out their faces, but she could see enough. They numbered thirteen in total, and they all looked misshapen. Flesh was too lumpy, arms were too long, and hands seemed twisted and malformed. Some didn’t stand up, and instead crouched on all fours. Two or three looked like they were bigger than Sebastian, even in his armor. They were a riot of twisted, mutated flesh, each one seemed different and unique in their own nauseating way. She watched, numb with shock, as these creatures looked at Sebastian, then at her, and then all silently turned and looked at the figure on the altar.


This was wearing robes of some kind but seemed – at least from here – to be physically unchanged. It alone had not turned around but instead remained standing and facing the egg, arms spread in supplication and whole body swaying slightly. As if prompted by something unheard, it lowered its arms and balled its hands into fists at its side. It seemed to take a deep breath, as if irritated at being interrupted. Without even turning around, the figure gestured curtly with one hand. Letting out a chorus of sounds ranging from howls to wheezes, the group charged Sebastian.


He set himself, gun up and braced against his shield. She expected him to fire, but he waited. Becky’s breath caught in her throat. Sebastian wasn’t far from her, and as the group grew closer their deformities became clearer and more terrible. Hands had turned to claws or flailing tentacles. Bones had been twisted, lending them strange and malformed gaits. Some bounded along the floor like animals. Some crawled, dragging themselves along with swollen arms. Jaws hung too low, massive teeth protruded from gums – some mouths had become beaks – and their skin was a riot of colors and hues. But they weren’t entirely different. They all shared a single feature – each one’s head had swelled to accommodate a single, bulging eye, as if their normal ones had swelled together. These looked human, but for their size, and for some reason that bothered Becky the most.


This cavalcade of horrors closed the gap swiftly, and still Sebastian waited. He waited as they closed to 10 meters, 8, 5, then his weapon spoke. He snapped his aim from figure to figure, putting several shots into each. Becky had seen this gun rip through dozens of crew with a single burst, and she expected the same result. As a group they staggered back, and about half the creatures went crashing down, bodies shredded. The rest recovered and rushed past them, but Becky watched with horror as some of the downed began to get up, seemingly unperturbed by shattered limbs and exposed innards. Others, legs destroyed, joined those crawling along the ground. Only one stayed still, its head and upper chest completely gone.


Sebastian’s gun clicked empty, and he maglocked it to his back while they were reeling. She expected him to draw the club again, but this time he reached over his right shoulder and drew his sword from its sheath. The blade flashed silver as it emerged, shining despite the low light in the chamber. He set himself and waited. Five meters, three, two, one. Then he exploded into action. The first of the creatures to reach him swung its oversized fists downward in a crushing blow. Sebastian twisted aside, moving faster than she would have thought possible. The fists crashed into the metal decking, denting it, and the overbalanced brute went down hard as Sebastian slashed the sword across its legs. One of the crawlers leaped at him, and he batted it down with his shield before crushing its skull with an armored boot. Another reached for him with the flailing tentacles that had replaced its arms. He spun the blade in a circle, deflecting the reach and disarming the creature – literally – before putting the swordpoint through its swollen eye.


Becky watched, enthralled. When he had fought before Sebastian had been firm, a single immovable object like a rock in a stream. Now, he was the rock and the stream, bending and weaving aside from blows, avoiding attempts to grapple him in close, always moving, never standing still. He maneuverd the bulk of his armor and shield with impossible ease. His blade shone, and though he and everything else were soon splattered with viscera, it remained unblemished. The wounds it inflicted seemed to pain the creatures immensely, and they recoiled when struck. Quite unlike, Becky thought, their reactions to being hit with gunfire. It was over in less than a minute. The final creature was one of the shot ones, scrabbling along the ground. It snarled and leapt at his legs. He met it with an armored knee, sending it crashing back onto the deck. It writhed on its back, and Sebastian dropped to one knee beside it and drove his sword down through its neck. Suddenly, all was silent and still.


He stayed there, sword planted, and Becky saw his shoulders move as if he were taking deep breaths. He was still for a few moments, and then rose to his feet. He stood, arms at his sides, head facing down. He then raised his head and rolled it on his neck. He rolled his shoulders, and then raised his right arm. He held his sword straight out, an extension of his arm, and pointed it directly at the figure on the altar. The message was clear, but he still spoke, his voice a low growl issuing from behind his mask. “Now for you.”