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Randal Shayne

MSNPC Valcarian 1st Lieutenant Janra Vross: Scared Of The Dark (Arndall)

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(( Arndall ))

(( Kematta Foothills - 17 kilometers from the First City. ))

(( Time Index: 13 Hours before Blackwell arrives ))

 

::First Lieutenant Janra Vross peered in the stygian gloom and made no attempt to hide her discomfort. Ever since her mother had punished her as a small girl for misbehaviour by locking her in a tiny cupboard in her bedroom, she had never enjoyed dark and enclosed spaces. Now memories of those traumatic times came flooding back to her as she looked down the scope of her disruptor rifle. She took several deep breaths and tried to focus on the matter at hand.::

 

Vross: oOBreathe in… breathe out… remember the mission.Oo

 

::Two hours ago, Vross and her team had been sent from their small outpost deep in the Kematta Foothills to investigate a communications burst on a low frequency wavelength usually reserved for Valcarian military distress calls. There had been no information aside from a set of coordinates and a rush of static- but the message was obvious: some of her compatriots needed assistance. Without another thought, she and her team had boarded their all-terrain vehicle with the intention of rendering whatever help they could. Vross had been expecting to find a squad of troops under fire from Caraadian military units and her fellow team members had been relishing the chance to start their kill count. They had not expected to find the distress call emanating from a cave at the base of a steep cliff face.::

 

Vross: oOBreathe in… breathe out… the darkness cannot hurt you.Oo

 

::Swallowing away her anxiety and ignoring the rapid beating of her hearts, she took a step into the cave using one hand to activate the halogen light attached to the front of the rifle just above its firing chamber. In the distance behind her, a bird-of-prey soaring the early morning light let out a piercing shriek having found it's prey. The cavern in front of her was narrow- no more than two meters across and about the same in height- and comprised of fistrium and kelbonite, both mineral that refracted even the most focused of sensor scans but allowed for communications.::

 

Vross: oOA sensor dead-zone in a dark, cramped cave.Oo ::the realisation almost threatened to overwhelm her and she breathed in more sharply than she intended.:: oOBreathe in… breathe out...Oo Trying her hardest to suppress the wave of fear once again, she took one hand off the rifle and came to a stop. She reached into the flap of her field jacket and retrieved the pocket communicator that was linked to the comm system aboard the all terrain vehicle. Holding down the button on the finger length device, she spoke into the small microphone.:: =/\=Everything clear so far. Cave is about two meters across. Clear to proceed. =/\=

 

::For a moment, the communications frequency crackled with static before it faded and was replaced with the gruff voice of her superior, Major Ghamra.::

 

Ghamra: =/\= Affirmative. Proceed with caution.=/\=

 

::For a moment she wondered why Ghamra sounded so annoyed and then she remembered that he always sounded annoyed. But what he lacked in social graces he made up for in engendering loyalty. He might have be rude at the best of times but he was a fierce soldier who had led troops in battle on dozens of worlds across the Imperial Republic. Quite why he chosen to accept an assignment on Arndall she would never understand, not when he could have his pick of any posting within the army.::

 

::It had been Ghamra who had charged Vross with reconnoitring the cave before the rest of the team joined her. She was small- just a hair’s breadth above five feet, light of step and with the agile reflexes of a Tarmarian Lynx. They were attributes that earned her many platitudes during the three years she had been stationed with the small contingent of Valcarian Imperial Troopers assigned to this backwater world, hundreds of light years from the protective cradle of Valcaria. She had successfully infiltrated half a dozen Caraadian military installations without detection and stolen their secrets. There had even been interest from Imperial Intelligence in acquiring her skills, although nothing had come of those enquiries- yet.::

 

::She pressed on for several minutes, the silence only broken by her own soft foot falls. She repeatedly flicked her gaze from the scope of the rifle to the small sensor readout below. It was habit more than anything, given that the sensors were not functional surrounded by so many refractory minerals. She became aware about ten minutes into her reconnaissance that the cave was widening at the same time that it was descending. She was going deeper into the planet. She came to a stop when the rifle’s light fell on what was- unmistakably- rubble. Adjusting the light beam to a wider setting, she moved in an arc, taking in as much information as she could. What struck her was the fact that the rubble was splayed outwards from what was left of what had been rockface. When the realisation hit, she felt her anxiety ratchet up several more notches. Taking more deep breaths and trying with all of her might not to let her hands shake, she lifted the communicator to her face and activated the microphone.::

 

Vross: =/\=I’m seeing signs of blasted rock face. It’s odd… it seems to have been blasted through from inside the rockface.=/\=

 

Ghamra: =/\=Inside?=/\=

 

::There was no mistaking the concern in his voice; concern that Vross now shared which was also mingling with a foreboding sensation that told her that nothing good could come from such a discovery. She bit down on the thought of asking to return to the all-terrain vehicle and requesting reinforcements. She did not want to betray her feelings to her superiors::

 

Vross: =/\=Shall I proceed?=/\= oOPlease say no...Oo ::she pleaded to nobody but herself.

 

::There was an unbearably long pause that seemed to stretch in to an eternity all of its own.::

 

Ghamra: =/\=Affirmative. But be very careful, Lieutenant.=/\=

 

Vross: =/\=Aye sir.=/\=

 

::With a shaking hand, she put the communicator pocket into her jacket pocket and brought her rifle to bear once more, moving through the opened hole into the rockface, noting that something had blasted through at least two dozen meters of rock. With each step, a pall of dread fell upon her and intensified. It became harder and harder to maintain her composure; Her chest felt heavy, her hearts raced with adrenaline and her keen senses picked up on every little sound and every echo of her footsteps.::

 

::The passage widened once again to at least twenty feet across and dust clung in the air, as did a fading staleness. Knowing the composition of Arndall’s atmosphere she surmised that the passageway had been blasted through about four or five days previously- certainly no sooner than that. But nothing suggested who was responsible as she descended deeper into planet’s crust.::

 

::Minutes bled into each other until Vross realised that she had been exploring this tunnel for almost half of an Arndall hour. By now she was keenly aware that the tunnel was not a natural occuring formation as it had been at the entrance. The rock was too smooth for that. This was man-made. Fighting against the mounting dread, she tried to rationalise that the Caraadians had established a mine here at some point in the past, or perhaps her ancestors had done when they had dominated the planet two centuries before. But no matter how much she told herself that she could not bring herself to believe it.::

 

Vross: oOYou are being paranoid.Oo ::she chastised herself, but found herself unable to stop herself from adding- oOProbably for a good reason.Oo

 

::She came to a stop again when realised that she had heard something else besides her steps and the racing of her blood that thundered in her ears. It had been faint, indistinct- but enough to attract her attention. She strained to hear in the darkness.::

 

::Then she heard it again- a shrill chattering of sorts. Not words, but of noise. It stirred up odd memories of her childhood. Of folk tales told to children on Valcaria that she had not thought about she since began maturity. Of intelligent creatures- something akin to insects- that came in the night and stole the souls of naughty children. She shuddered, remembering how terrified of those stories she had been. Yes, what she had heard reminded her of stories of the ‘soul stealers’ from Valcaria’s ancient past. It was distant, but something told her that it would not stay that way::

 

Vross: Hello? ::she said softly, not expecting a response. Her words echoed quietly off of the rock before vanishing into nothing.:: Is anyone there?

 

::She started forward slowly, keeping her rifle pointed ahead in the hope that the beam of light caught something. She reached into her pocket once again to retrieve her communicator but her nerves caused her to fumble and it dropped to the floor. Letting loose with a quiet string of vulgarities she stooped down to retrieve the device. Scooping it up into her hand, she pointed the rifle ahead- where she saw something standing in front of her.::

 

::Vaguely insectile, the creature looked down at her, standing over her by at least two meters with four emerald green eyes and two further eyes above them. Clad in what looked ancient and dull gray armour, she saw something carved into the creature’s helmet- which rose into prongs above it’s head- rows of triangles interlaced on each side of three evenly space ovals. Above the bottom and top ovals were three more triangles that bled into one another. It was elaborately detailed, ceremonial even.::

 

::Vross looked down. In one hand or claw- she was not sure what it was- it held the severed head of a Valcarian, the lifeless, glassy eyes staring out into nothing.::

 

::Vross screamed at the sight before oblivion called to her as the creature destroyed her form in a flurry of vicious strikes.::

 

--

1st Lieutenant Janra Vross

Valcarian Military

 

as simmed by:

 

Commander Theo Whittaker

Commanding Officer

USS Blackwell

NCC-58999

Andaris Task Force

C239203TW0

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