Viperion. A dark orb of purple and red. The debris of ancient loro satellites orbited the planet like undead sentinels of an ancient society. Behind me, the Milky Way shined with innumerous stars. But ahead, beyond Viperion, was the edge of the galaxy, and with it a haunting blackness, devoid of stars, at least none my eyes could see. I was at the ends of the world as I knew it. I grit my mandibles, and my shuttle hummed as I descended toward the rogue planet.
I was leaving behind everything I had ever known.
In the thick atmosphere of the ancient loro planet, I skirted low across the rocky, dusty terrain, so that my signals would be refracted and I would be harder to spot. The surface of the planet was sheer and jagged, with sparkling, sweeping spires of purple and reddish glass. In only a few sparse places could I see any chance there might be life between the craters of glass; tiny, darkly coloured pools of water that may have hidden some struggling bacteria. But otherwise, there was no sign of life. There was no wind. The planet was holding its breath.
My ship hummed, and I inhaled the scent of plastic and sweet soda. I slurped at a glass of root beer, drinking in the sound and taste. I wanted to enjoy it, since for all I knew it might be the last time I ever got to.
It was hard to tear my eyes away from the ghostly landscape ahead of me. I was skirting over the brighter side of the planet, but it was a far cry from daylight. With no star close by, instead this shadow of a world was lit not by a rising sun, but the rising of the galaxy. From here, the stars of the Milky Way looked so clustered together. I had to dim the interior lights of my shuttle to let my eyes adjust to the eternal night.
I was tracking a large energy signature on the surface of the planet with my scanner. It could only have been the valicorr cloning facility, and the Brotherhood’s hideout. The signal blinked at me. I was almost at my destination.
I closed my eyes, but nothing stirred in my mind. No comforting thoughts or images showed themselves. I was all alone in the quiet darkness.
A wide purple structure covered in jagged spires emerged from the crest of a hill. It was adorned with dim lights and I could almost hear the hum of energy coming from it. I dared not fly my ship any closer; if the Brotherhood detected my vessel, then I would surely be destroyed. From here I would have to go on foot.
I touched my ship down, nestled behind a sloping wall of dark glass. I opened the shuttle’s exit ramp, then flicked a few switches with my finger, until the entire ship powered down. No lights, no sounds. I blinked in the dark cockpit, then activated a dim flashlight from my holo-gauntlet to lead the way. I drew my E-pistol, but kept it powered off just in case the signal could be detected by their scanners as I approached, and with my cape trailing behind me I navigated out of the dark shuttle and stepped outside.
My feet gripped against the cold, smooth ground. I filled my lungs with brisk air, and made my way to the lower side of the smooth glass barrier I’d hidden behind.
I took a moment to peer out over the lip. I was on the edge of a barren, sparkling hill that sloped down toward the massive cloning facility. The base was adorned with gun turrets, and I could see a lone Brotherhood ship landed not far from the structure, barely illuminated by the galaxy that hung in the sky. This was definitely the place.
I deactivated my flashlight and holo-gauntlet, so that I wouldn’t be emitting any signals. Then I vaulted silently over the ridge and slid down toward the structure. I scrambled as quietly as I could toward an almost hidden doorway at the base of the building. There were no patrols, no guards stationed at the base. And why would there be? Who would they be expecting to arrive at Viperion?
I hoped they weren’t expecting anyone.
I racked my brain, trying to decipher the buttons on the door’s control panel. Then I punched in a sequence, and the door slid open.
With one last look up at the Milky Way, I slipped into the illuminated hallway.
I traced my fingers along the walls and their ornate glowing engravings. The interior was dim, but much brighter than the outside of the planet. So far, I hadn’t met any signs of the Brotherhood aside from the ship outside, nor had I seen any valicorr. What the investigator had said must have been true; the Brotherhood’s entire fleet was flying over Astraloth. I felt lucky that I had been able to escape them.
But clearly, judging from the ship outside, someone was here.
I scanned the dark walls and doorways for any loro symbols that could point me in the direction of the main power generator. Just like the mothership, my plan was to set this base to self destruct. I knew that a facility like this on such a remote planet would require an immense power source, and that meant something I could exploit. A power generator strong enough to charge this entire station would also be powerful enough to blow the whole thing up. At least that’s what I was counting on.
I briefly paused, considering that I was trying to destroy a massive structure of loro architecture, and what a loss that might be to the research community... But I couldn’t allow the Brotherhood to use the cloning facilities for their nefarious purpose. I clenched my mandibles, and kept walking, my footsteps echoing in the silence.
Then, faintly, I heard the sounds of machinery up ahead. Cautiously, I turned a corner, following the sound into a glowing corridor.
The corridor was made of a translucent material, and it formed an encased bridge through the center of a gigantic room. I gazed in wonder through the glass. Like a massive factory, thousands of transparent pods were being carried across zigzagging lines that crossed through the room. The walls and ceilings were adorned with bright lights that illuminated the sorting room. Mechanical wall-mounted arms grabbed and sorted the pods, pushing them to new conveyors that carried them out of the room. The pods were filled with fluids, and the bony bodies of half-grown valicorr.
I recoiled at the sight, furrowing my nose. My head was reeling, my furred ears dangling low. I was witnessing the dark legacy of the loro right before my eyes; machines that manipulated life, all in the name of war and dominance. I wished it weren’t true, but it was as clear as day.
But, I thought, they’re making more valicorr... Why would the Brotherhood do that? Unless...
I shook my head, and gripped my pistol firmly, aware of the sweat beading on my face. It didn’t matter why. Either way, I needed to destroy this base and stop it from churning out more monsters, whether they were valicorr soldiers or sleeper agents for the Brotherhood.
As I continued deeper into the hideout, I began to see signs of human technology. Brotherhood computers and wires were placed in seemingly random places in the hallways. Disordered TAU machinery filled the rooms. I stepped more quietly now, aware that I was passing through a section of the base that was directly used by the Brotherhood. But it was uncharacteristically scattered and unorganized. The place felt abandoned, even though clearly there was a Brotherhood presence here...
I peered into an open doorway, and saw a wide, empty room. Loro furniture had been pushed aside, and the space had been haphazardly converted into a cloning lab. Clearly though, the technology in this room was of human design. There was no one inside the room, but I shuddered as my eyes wandered between the two empty pods at the far wall, and the operating table in the center. The tanks at the back were at least nine feet tall. I had a sinking feeling that this was where they planned to clone me.
I felt a sudden creeping sensation that I was being watched.
I spun around, and powered on my E-gun with a whine. Breathing heavily, I peered down the dimly lit halls. I could only hear my own breath, could only see my own reflection against the walls.
I held my breath.
Hastily, I crept further down the hall, and entered an elevator shaft. I caught sight of the loro symbol for energy, and pressed the corresponding button. The door slid shut, and I felt the elevator begin its descent, letting out a sigh of relief.
My ears twitched, and my heart began to race. I thought I heard the sound of breathing beside me.
I looked to my side, but all I saw was the wall of the elevator. I couldn’t hear anything.
Then the elevator stopped moving, the door opened, and my attention was fixated on the sight in front of me.
I stepped out into the heart of the machine. The power generator was lit on all sides by orange pads of light. The room was spherical, and I stood on a metal catwalk that extended towards the glowing power core in the middle of the room. There was a net of catwalks that connected together like a spider-web, with perfectly spaced spokes coming out from the central platform and extending to doors on other sides of the room. The pillar in the center reminded me of the energy regulator in the loro mothership. I knew that if I could damage it I’d trigger a similar cascade effect, overloading the station with energy, ultimately resulting in an explosion that would destroy the cloning facility in its entirety.
But the room wasn’t empty. In front of the power regulator, on a thin, folding chair, sat a man. He was young, with pale skin. He was tall for a human, thin, and with a gaunt, shaved face. His hair was long, pale, and wispy. He wore all black clothing, with a black long coat, boots, gloves, and a collar that hugged his wiry neck. He sat calmly, with both arms resting on his chair, which faced me directly. Black, rectangular glasses outlined his eyes, and his lips curved into a shallow smile.
Instinctively, my ears shot back and I lifted my E-gun toward his chest, sparks flitting from the barrel. He sat several meters away from me, and didn’t even flinch at my act of aggression. Instead, he waved with his hand from the arm rest, and said in a quiet voice, “Welcome, Talcorosax.”