Peter Nikovich awoke to a soft but non-invasive sound of beeping. It was otherwise incredibly quiet. From a seated position, getting up was immediately halted by the straps keeping him in his chair. That’s when he realized his whole body was sore and head throbbed in pain.
He looked down and unbuckled the chair’s hold on him. Somewhat seated and looking around him, he was completely encapsulated with only a few instruments that were no longer active save a light that slowly blinked with the ongoing beeping. There was a small, circular window that was heavily smudged with dirt and only let a small amount of light into the pod, and an equally circular metal wheel was below the window in the center of what appears to be a door or hatch.
Peter grabbed the wheel with both hands and turned it until the hatch popped ajar from its hinges, and it let out a loud but brief hiss. He pushed the door completely open to the humid sound of nature, and he was immediately blinded by the tremendous amount of outside light.
Kennith Fountain emerged from his capsule and shielded his eyes from the harsh sunlight. The brightness started to normalize to reveal that he’s in an open field surrounded by jungle. He turned to examine the capsule he was still standing in and didn’t immediately recognize it: a single seat pod barely enough to fit an average person with small thrusters on the top, a metallic shell wrapped around the body, and presumed thermal plating along the bottom considering the heat he felt coming up from underneath.
“At least it’s not my own,” he mused. Then he paused and realized he’s not exactly sure whether it’s his or not. Feeling confused, he lifted his head up to look around and noticed there were a few capsules like his own sprawled across the field. Some were still closed while others had people climbing out of their doors as well. He saw those that did climb out were looking up as short but loud pops were heard overhead in the distance.
Shoshannah Longwall looked up to see two halves of a large spacecraft falling from the sky in the far distance. Their descent was quite slow with occasional glints of white and orange flashing across the hulls followed by loud, echoing pops. The bottom of each half was on fire from atmospheric entry, and there was an excessive amount of smoke in the wake of their fall.
Putting the pieces together, she concluded that she must have been on that ship and this was her escape pod. She looked across the field and was about to call out to one of the other alleged survivors when—all within a span of a second—a white streak struck their escape pod and shredded it in half with a loud clang simultaneously followed by the sound of a large projectile whistling rapidly to the sky before an explosion erupted the earth with fire, dirt, and debris kicked up into the air from where the pod and its tenant once stood.
Cursing aloud, Peter leapt off his pod and hit the ground running for the jungle nearest to him. As he was running, he heard more sounds of orbital bombardment striking around him. In one particular blast, the sound of a man franticly screaming was silenced after another blast rang from his direction.
The strikes themselves weren’t rapid but were often enough to strike most pods in the immediate area in short time. After running into the jungle and resting against a tree, Peter turned around to see the destruction behind him. His own pod was replaced by a crater with fiery debris, and most pods he can see resembled the same outcome. The ones still intact were vacated with more folks seen running into the jungle.
Each remaining escape pod was obliterated, and the bombardment finally came to a halt.
Kennith already had a head start when the bombardment began. Without looking back, he ran into the jungle and immediately scaled a tree. He wanted to get a sight line of the nearest body of water but thought better of it as the bombardment continued.
When it stopped, he carefully climbed up and tried to see across the top of the jungle. He couldn’t see much except.a large hill nearby. He dropped down from the top of the tree and landed softly on the ground thanks to his anti-grav protection.
It was pretty quiet in the jungle compared to the loud orbital artillery bombings that happened only minutes ago. If there were fauna in the jungle, then they’re all but scared off or hiding at this point. What remained were the insects, flora, and inescapable warmth and humidity.
Shoshannah sat against a tree in the jungle trying to sort out what just happened. More importantly, she was trying to figure out what happened to her before she awoke in the escape pod. Her thoughts were interrupted when a man was softly calling out to her.
He had his hand leaning against a tree and was between Shoshannah and Kennith. The man was gesturing her to come over, but she just stared blankly at him. In an act of impatience after looking around, he pushed off the tree and started to run. Not two steps into his run did he trip on something before being pulled upward by several thick vines. His body contorted as he screamed and vanished from sight into the tree tops. The screaming stopped soon after he disappeared.
Peter knew the silence was too good to be true, but it was only a scream without gunfire or explosions. This also got the attention of someone nearby him.
The woman formerly hid behind a tree caught Peter’s eye when she popped out in response to the distant screaming. She had a panicked look on her face before she took off running into the jungle. As she hopped over something, a loud boom was heard by everyone but more so for Peter as a large column of light cut through the treetops and landed atop the woman. This was immediately followed by a loud, fading screech as the light greatly intensified with a penetrating thump and another loud, fading screech.
Dirt and flora shot out from the blast as if a strong gust of wind emitted from the center. What remained was a perfectly shaped circular opening in the jungle canopy and nothing but dirt as if that column of jungle was purged of all biological life. The area was still fizzing from the shock of the blast.
More people started to run upon hearing the bombardment happening again. One by one, beams of light were cast upon them, and they and the area around them were disintegrated. The orbital strikes slowed down as less and less people took off running.
Caught up in the fear, Shoshannah took off running as well. Both Kennith and Peter saw this woman dart through the forest, and—right on cue—a loud boom followed by a bright light had cut through the treetops, but she was very fast as she felt the heat of the light atomize the area behind her. The proceeding thump launched her off her feet and into a tree.
She fell prone to the ground and thought for sure this was it, but no additional attack came. “I’m not taking any chances of them finding me,” she told herself. As she got up, she spotted what appeared to be the mouth of a cave. Still in shock from the attack and forced to hug a tree, she hobbled towards the cave in pain fearing that at any moment she’s going to get fried.
Kennith and Peter noticed she was able to cross the jungle without being attacked while traversing slowly. Taking a chance, they each walked through the jungle just as slowly with Kennith taking extra care looking for any plants that were hungry for food.
Minutes felt like hours as all three walked slowly through the jungle. Periodically, the sky would boom with screeching sounds of energy in the distance which caused them to jump each time. It wasn’t until they each arrived at the cave did they feel safe.
Peter and Kennith were living representations of their Corporation culture: clean, immaculate, and ready to do business. There’s a stark difference between how both of them are dressed, but they both follow their culture’s core principle of professionalism. They are, however, carrying weapons and tools of their trade, but they only compliment to their overall appearance.
Shoshannah was average in height for a Kaltoran. In contrast to her impromptu Corporation companions, she was smaller than them and looked like a wreck (and rightly so): her backside and hair were spotted with dirt and the occasional twig or leaf, the exposed skin of her body looked bruised in areas, and her face had a small gash across her forehead. Other than that, she looked quite stunning.
They haven’t provided me a more detailed description of their characters, so I took the liberty of keeping their appearance ambiguous at least for the purpose of this epilogue.
Not exchanging any words, the three of them moved a good distance into the cave away from the opening. Orbital strikes echoed inside, and the attacks continued as they stared helplessly into the jungle.
“They won’t let up until every last one of us is killed” Kennith said pessimisticly.
“Indeed,” Peter said while still staring out the cave. He then turned to the others and greeted them, “My name is Peter Nikovich.” He paused not for effect but in trying to recollect his thoughts, “I may know who I am and who I’ve been, but I don’t know how I got here.”
“Same here,” Kennith replied. “I assume it has to do with that spacecraft that was shot down, but I can’t seem to remember what.” He added, “The name’s Kennith. Kennith Fountain.”
“Nice to meet you both,” Shoshannah chirped. “Shoshannah Longwall, but you can call me Shosh.” She paused and thought to herself before saying, “My great grandpa had something like this happen to him, and he got over it quickly.”
Peter was first to ask, “he was being attacked by a murderous spacecraft lobbing orbital strikes?”
“No,” she paused. “My great grandma whacked him really good in the head. He couldn’t remember how he ended up on the ground until some time later.”
She let out a cautious laugh and the others started to join, but the laughter stopped as soon as another orbital strike echoed into the cave. They were sobered by both the relief of laughter and the sound of death outside. Peter turned away from the jungle and took a few steps past the others.
“I don’t think we can benefit from waiting here,” he said to neither of them in particular. “I suggest we push deeper into this cave and see where we end up.” He started walking forward, and Kennith followed. Shoshannah shrugged and followed behind them..
It was rather well lit for being deep inside due to the sloping, natural holes scattered across the ceiling that let sunlight inside. They spent most of their time in silence as they ventured into the cavern partially in awe of the natural beauty and partially due to the occasional air strike loud enough to still be heard.
“I think my memories are slowly coming back,” Peter urgently said, and he turned and looked at Shoshannah as if proving her point. “I remember being aboard a large ship, and I was in the cargo hold with a bunch of other people.”
This triggered some memories for them as well. “That’s right! We were attacked. I just remember running with everyone else. There was fighting or we were in a fight,” Kennith shared.
Shoshannah stopped and stared at them as they were recollecting more memories. It all came back to her, but she barely managed to utter one word to them. They looked at her in worried anticipation.
Shoshannah, Peter, and Kennith were aboard a large cruiser each with a reason to start a new life for themselves. The spacecraft was an armed transport run by a Corporation that specializes in planetary logistics both biological and manufactured.
They and dozens of other people were kept in the cargo hold during travel. They’ve been in space for several days when the ship violently shook.
This startled everyone in the room. The ship shook again to the loud sound of impact. Near the center of the cargo hold rang a sharp but thunderous sound as white and blue light split the air. Emerging from the light was a large Mechonid unit. It didn’t hesitate to start firing upon everyone.
People were flocking to each nearest exit (of which there were several) as energy blasts and screaming reverberated in the room. Due to the chaos that was taking place, intercoms were inaudible to most people except Shoshannah who heard it and everything else clearly: “Abandon ship!”
Kennith was first to reach his escape pod. Those that survived the attack were running down the hallway and taking each escape pod ahead of him until he reached one of his own. He hopped inside as the door automatically closed and barely had enough time to strap in before the ship punched him out into space.
Peter turned a corner and was face-to-face with another Mechonid that blocked one of the escape pod hallways. Its array of purple glowing eyes were fixated on him as he slid under its arm. He stood back up and committed himself to a flat run to the nearest open hatch. The Mechonid must have turned its attention on others as he heard more energy fire behind him but not at him. He hopped inside the pod, watched the hatch close as he buckled into the chair, and looked outside the window as he was hurled away from the ship.
Shoshannah was getting shoved around during the panic. She witnessed several people in front of her get shot and turned to ash as she and everyone around her ran towards the exit. The attack was relentless. Finally away from the Mechonid but hearing another nearby, she made it to one of the hallways that housed escape pods. Most pods have been used, and the few remaining had people running to them. Her eyes widened in despair.
The ship shook violently from another blast, and Shoshannah witnessed the far end of the hallway rapidly pull away, revealing the curvature of a forest and water planet as well as the blackness of space. The people in front of her were violently sucked down the hallway and out into space, a destiny underway for her as she was lifted off her feet and careened down the hallway as well. She screamed in terror as she neared the end of the broken hallway, seeing the other half of the ship already listing away into open space.
In a loud hiss and thud, a blast door instantly dropped in front of her , and Shoshannah crashed feet first into the door. Another woman landed next to her a moment later. They both got up, turned around, and saw only two hatches still open and adjacent to each other. A man down the hallway was already getting up and running to the nearest hatch, and the woman had a head start on Shoshannah as well. Ash cluttered the hallway as a Mechonid far behind the man was turning to look towards them.
The woman stumbled while crossing in front of Shoshannah for the nearest escape pod. Shoshannah leapt over her to reach the next hatch, but she also stumbled and landed on her hands and knees. Looking up, she saw the man about to reach the other hatch before the Mechonid shot him into ash, and its other arm was taking aim her way. She heard the hatch of the first pod closing. Lifting her feet to slide the balls of her feet atop the floor, Shoshannah kicked off into a sprint and dove head first into the pod with the Mechonid’s shot nearly missing her.
She scrambled upright into the seat and buckled herself. The punch of the ejection was met with a very jarring collision into another pod or debris, spinning her pod helplessly. She looked out the view port at the streaking of stars and flashes of the planet before blacking out.
“Mishpacha,” Shoshannah told them as they continued down the cavern. “That’s the planet we’re on. Trust me. No idea why we’re here, but we’re here.” They had all suspected, and now their suspicions were confirmed. It’s difficult to ignore the stories of the jungle planet rife with both ancient treasure and mortal danger.
“It’s probably just another spot for picking up or dropping off weirdos and exotic cargo,” Kennith said. The rest silently agreed and carried on. The Mechonid attack on the ship felt like a distant nightmare they’re slowly coming to terms with, and the recent attack on the surface still ruffled their minds.
After some time walking in silence, Shoshannah wondered aloud, “how far does this cave go?”
“Oh,” Kennith nearly stopped to say. He pulled out a handheld device that was thin in appearance but with a sturdy, rectangular frame. The main body of the device was translucent until he activated it, and it became a transparent blue screen. He cursed as he stared at it. “It’s not working.”
“What is it,” Peter asked.
“It’s a tool that helps me figure out where I am so long as I have the maps for it.”
“We should rest up anyway. Let me take a look at it. If there’s something broken in it, then I may be able to fix it.” Kennith considered the offer and handed it to him.
While Peter was tinkering with the GPS tracker, Shoshannah and Kennith took the opportunity to scout not too far ahead to find anything that can help them: food, fire, shelter, and items of interest. Kennith prioritized finding anything that can help start a fire without success, but Shoshannah gathered some moss and types of plants that would be good for tinder and body fuel. She pulled out a bag she had concealed and stuffed it with an ample amount.
“There,” Peter said proudly in Kennith’s direction. Kennith stood up from examining rocks and met with him to collect the device. Peter recounted what he did, “I rebooted it and discovered there was a glitch during boot up. It was only a matter of understanding the type of glitch and patching it up… so-to-speak.”
Grateful, Kennith thanked him and shook his hand. As he navigated the menus, Kennith said to himself, “okay, so where are we again?”
Shoshannah needlessly spelled out the answer to the rhetoric question, “M-I-S-H-P-A-C-H-A.”
It’s not entirely clear how he was able to get global positioning on a planet (or any planet in Haven for that matter) that doesn’t have satellites. As an oversight on my part, let’s just go with something sophisticated like scanning the topography of its immediate area within a fifteen-meter radius and calculating its position based on getting the best match in the map’s database. Yeah.
After pressing some onscreen options, a map of the planet appeared on the screen. A pip on the map showed them positioned somewhere around the center of the Spur continent. “It puts us underneath this large hill or mountain, but what’s this over here?”
Kennith showed Shoshannah and pointed to an odd spot at the foot of the mountain that looked unnatural. “Huh,” she humored. “Looks like either ruins or some sort of canyon. It’s difficult to tell with such a low-quality image.” That was no surprise to anyone as this planet was vastly unexplored, limiting its maps from only orbital topography and photography.
“It’s worth checking out,” Peter grunted while standing up from a short rest and brushing off dirt and rock. “I mean, what other choice do we have?” He looked in the direction they came from.
Continuing their journey through the cave, it was quite some time since the last audible orbital strike. They were not sure whether it was due to their distance into the cavern or that the attacks stopped altogether. Regardless, they were still on edge.
The sound of falling rocks got their attention but not more than Shoshannah with her keen hearing. She was a couple meters ahead of them and highly alert, and those falling rocks were not made naturally. She heard the sound of large feet sliding on the floor up ahead as well as a soft snort. She instinctively stopped walking, bent her knees, and lowered her overall posture. This got Peter and Kennith’s attention, and—before she could say anything—she leapt to the side away from an enormous beast that jumped out of the darkness.
The Feral Nephilim swung four of its large arms at her and missed as it landed just a few meters in front of Peter and Kennith. It glared at them, stood up on its legs, pounded its fists to the ground, and let out a guttural roar.
Peter immediately ran and dove behind a cluster of stalagmites nearby. The beast turned its attention to Kennith as he took a step back. In an ape-like fashion, it charged at him and swung its two left arms for his head and torso. Kennith leapt back far enough to feel the strength of its fists missing him.
Shoshannah emptied both barrels of her shotgun with a little white smoke climbing out of them. It growled and howled in pain. There was a noticeable gash in its leg, and a few tendrils of what would be its hair snapped off his head revealing a green wound.
Kennith took the opportunity to run opposite from Peter behind a natural pillar. He slid into a crouch and spun around while readying his rifle toward the direction he ran from.
Peter grabbed his drone and held it while he took a moment to study what just happened to this creature. He noticed that it was wearing bio armor that was more protected in the front—a trait Shoshannah had already exploited. His thoughts on his next steps were interrupted.
Before it could turn around to face its attacker, Shoshannah had reloaded and discharged another couple rounds into it. She missed her first shot in a panic sensing it would turn and face her, but her second shot was proceeded by a loud SPRAK.
The feral Nephilim hurled its head backwards, stumbled, and tried to regain its footing. It’s howl turned Into a growl as it took a couple troubled steps forward. It collapsed to its knees and fell prone to the ground. A pool of thick, green blood spilled out from its head.
“Is it dead?”
Shoshannah was the first to inspect the corpse. She almost ran up to it with excitement. Her ancestors fought plenty of Nephilim like this, and it was her great great grandfather she has to thank for attacking it from behind. It’s her same ancestor that gave her the urge to search the corpse for anything useful.
She poked the head with her shotgun, and more blood oozed out. “Oh, yeah,” she said with a little too much chirpiness, “it’s dead.” She tucked away her shotgun and looked over the body.
“Anything,” Kennith wondered.
“Unless you like a loincloth for a bonnet, there’s nothing on this thing.” She picked her head up and looked in the direction from where it attacked. Taking some extra care, she slowly walked into the darker corner of the room they were in. She found that it was a nest it had built; they stumbled upon its hunting shelter as the nest was made from branches and animal bones.
Or at least she hoped it was animal bones.
“Well,” Peter sighed, “I remember a guy wanting a reward for killing a feral Nephilim from another Nephilim, but he didn’t have proof of his kill.”
Kennith had an idea: “Then how about his teeth? Those things were HUGE, and I haven’t seen a Nephilim look like THAT before!”
“That could work.”
Shoshannah pulled out her dagger as she made her way back to them. “Then let me handle this.”
They continued down the cave a bit more on edge and alert, but nothing eventful occurred by the time they saw bright daylight near the end of the tunnel. As they approached, it wasn’t the end of the tunnel but a large opening along the right side as the tunnel bent to the left and continued slightly downhill.
Taking a pause at the opening, they saw the canopy of a lush jungle as well as what appears to be half of a battleship or dreadnaught poking out from the jungle floor. A pool of water gathered along the side of the ship and cascaded down into a waterfall below them. The edge of the tunnel was a sheer drop to the bottom as well. It was then they believed they arrived to their destination.
“How do we get down there,” Shoshannah asked.
“Hang on,” Kennith replied. “Let me take a look.” He narrowed his eyes and found a small clearing with what appeared to be a mouth to a cave. “There,” he called out and pointed. “I bet this tunnel leads out there.”
The sound of wildlife outside had the group worried, but they turned towards the tunnel and pressed on.
Instead of getting brighter, the tunnel started getting darker. The air started to smell musty, too. It was still light enough to see that the tunnel opened to a much larger room full of stonework and masonry. It was an ancient building!
They were marveled once again by another wonder they stumbled upon. It was clear that this building was either buried underground or overgrown through time. Large pillars of stone were collapsed, and the cave-like ground had lines that guided their path like a road.
Following the road lead to a blockage of rubble and debris. They each navigated their way over the tall rubble into a very dark room. Sliding down the side caused the rubble to collapse behind them as more light was let in.
The light revealed a preserved Kaltoran frigate, and it was all for themselves.