Chapter 2: 43°52′N || 18°25′E
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Gottlieb doesn’t know a lot of things.

 

He doesn’t know when Richter’s birthday is, though he’s sure she’s told him twice now. He doesn’t know where Sarajevo actually is, despite having heard the name so often in multiple briefings and having shot the gun there three or four times. He doesn’t know what the difference between the green field-rations and the blue-ones are. Everyone always told him that the blue ones had salt and the green ones didn’t. But he couldn’t ever taste a difference. They both tasted like ass, salt or no salt. He certainly doesn’t know why the sun has gone dark or how that’s even possible.

 

But what Gottlieb is fairly certain about, is that the Earth, his favorite planet, doesn’t look like this. Light returns to the station as the sun returns. The monitors jump back to life.

 

For instance, there is a largely pastel pink continent, shaped a bit like an upside down horse’s head. That sure wasn’t there before. Or that weird ocean there, on the right edge of the planet where he can see a smear of indistinguishable land vanish the other way, as the planet continues to rotate against the orbit of the orbital weapons platform.

 

He rips his eyes away from the monitor, turning his head around to look at the empty ghost of a station behind himself. Gottlieb’s eyes, wide, scan the dancing shadows that sway from side to side beneath the shifting light of the ambient lighting and unmanned consoles hanging all around the room.

 

Something is wrong. Obviously.

 

“KAI! ALARM!”

 

The dark, cold, jagged metal world erupts into sound and light. A wailing siren blares above his head. Red washes over everything, staining everything as if it were soaked in blood as dozens of spinning lights begin to circle around over and over, whirring together with the deafening cry of the alarm.

 

Gottlieb runs, his chair spinning as he hits it with his knee, stumbling forward as he sprints across the room. Something chimes.

[(Gottlieb) has taken {1} DMG from a self-inflicted injury]

He looks at the weird screen that is hovering between the monitors of his station. Gottlieb blinks, clearing his eyes. By the time he looks back, it’s gone. He shakes his clearly delirious head and rushes to the tube, grabbing hold of the pipe and jumping, flying up the cylinder again in a flash, almost too far, his hand grabs the upper rim of the entry to the main hallway he had come down from before and he pulls himself up of it. The man thuds unceremoniously against the metal hallway, picking himself up and cursing about whatever desk-jockey engineer designed the section-based artificial gravity for the station as he runs down towards the observatory, where the party was.

 

The man presses his face against the window, trying to look into the other side. But there is nothing to see on the other side of the window, it is as if the lights were off.

 

“Kai!” shouts Gottlieb at the camera hanging above the door. “Open the door!”

 

Kai does no such thing.

 

Gottlieb clenches his teeth, letting his fist fall against the door as he runs the other way, blue dots blurring on the edges of his vision as if they were all a thousand piercing eyes, bathed in red light, watching him from all angles. He slides around the corner, his standard issue boots thudding loudly against the metal as he runs. The sounds created by them are the only thing that he hears, apart from the gritting of his teeth, apart from the frantic breaths that leave his chest, apart from the mind-numbing cry of the siren.

 

There’s nothing else to do. He has to check for himself. He has to be sure that this isn’t some fuckery with the live-feed. Where is everyone?! A prank is one thing, but when the alarm goes off, the fun stops.

 

Gottlieb rushes towards the upper-gun bay, which lays just above his downstairs ‘office’. Entering into the first sealing chamber, he grabs a jumpsuit and throws it on, making sure that the seal is tight before grabbing a helmet and locking it into place with the notches. Grabbing a small canister of air, he presses it into the slot attached to his side and twists the nozzle, looking at the little display on the screen of his helmet.

 

[SEAL INTACT]

Oxygen: 29:57

“Kai, unseal door two.”

 

The vertical, metal door behind him clicks loudly as it is locked in place so that nobody can open it from the other side. Then, the door ahead of him opens in turn. The next room is another cylindrical chamber, just like this one, minus the suits. A third and final door lays on the other side.

 

Gottlieb crosses the threshold and listens to the door hiss closed behind him as he hurries to the end of the room.

 

“Kai, unseal door three,” says Gottlieb to the blue light, which obliges him this time.

 

There is a loud hissing as the airlock equalizes itself with the open bay area. Gottlieb holds on to the railing, just in case something goes wrong. Protocol is to hook yourself in, but he doesn’t have the time for that in his eyes.

 

The door opens and he steps outside.

 

It’s always an odd sensation, stepping out into space. The sound is different. More accurately, there isn’t any. All Gottlieb can hear as he steps away from the door that closes behind himself without so much as a whisper, is the breath which fogs up his own visor as he stares out past the body of the giant gun, out toward the planet beneath himself. The banshee wail of the siren is just… quiet.

 

Gottlieb blinks. Undeniably. It is undeniably there. The planet.

 

A live feed is one thing. That could be manipulated. But his eyes are something else.

 

The upper-gun-bay area is a large, open, flat section of the station where the ‘butt’ of the gun, as it is affectionately called, rests. This is where all of the magic happens. He didn’t quite ever understand why it had to be out here in open space. Something about vacuums or whatever, he doesn’t know. It’s not his job. He’s just the guy who gets to press the button.

 

But none of that is relevant right now.

 

Gottlieb grabs the metal hook, strung to a leash on his belt and attaches it to the railing as he starts ‘walking’ out towards the gun, as if these few steps would suddenly bring the strange planet back out of focus and put the earth back in its place.

 

He reaches the end of his leash, his hand resting on the massive, rectangular body of the gun as he stares out, bewildered, confused.

 

Gottlieb stands out there, lost in the silence of space for longer than he likely should.

 

He turns his head to the right, to a ladder, and redoes his hook, climbing up it. Reaching the top, he stares out over the side, towards where the observatory should be.

 

It’s there, which is a relief in one sense.

 

But in another, it isn’t.

 

The observatory is one of the few places in the station that has windows. Windows are a big problem in space for all sorts of reasons that Gottlieb doesn’t care to bother even wanting to think about. But the observatory, even with all of its space-grade glass, has nothing to offer him.

 

The inside, which should be filled with forty six people, is completely black and lightless.

 


 

“Kai. Cut the alarm,” mutters Gottlieb, looking around the corners of the station with paranoid eyes. Kai hears him immediately, despite the noise and turns the alarm off without a second question.

 

The man is lost in his thoughts and so, following his absent-minded routine that has been ingrained into his nature, his muscle memory walks him down the corridors and back to his ‘office’, back to the u-shaped firing console of the gun.

 

He sits there, with his hands folded in front of his face and thinks.

 

“Kai, give me a crew status report.”

 

The monitor in front of him lights up.

 

[Request Denied]

You do not have the clearance to perform this request.

Your request has been submitted to the captain for approval.

Gottlieb sighs. Kai is such a fucking hard-ass. He needs a workaround so that Kai will let him in. “Kai. I need an auxiliary gunner. Find me one and send them here asap.”

 

[Request Accepted]

Failure.

No auxiliary gunner found on-board.

He exhales. “Give me someone geo-spatial then. I don’t care.”

 

[Request Accepted]

Failure.

No geo-spatial intelligence operator found on-board

“Then give me the fucking cook!” barks Gottlieb, slamming his palms against the console.

[Request Accepted]

Failure.

No cook found on-board

“Yeah. That one checks out,” he says, sighing as he sits back down. “Kai… re-establish contact with Serajevo.”

 

[Request Accepted]

Failure.

Serajevo not found

He nods. He always has that same problem too.

 

Gottlieb looks around himself, honestly scared. But he feels that he’s right to be. The man looks over his shoulder, out towards the empty, large, humming room behind himself before turning back to the monitor.

 

“Kai. Find anyone. Just… anyone.”

 

[Request Accepted]

Success!

Found: Orbital Gunner Gottlieb

Gottlieb glares at the blue light staring down towards him. The intensity of its glow seems ever so much brighter than usual. “Very fucking funny, Kai,” he snaps. “Find me someone else! Please!”

[Request Accepted]

Success!

Found: Unknown

The monitor lights up as the live-feed begins to buzz, his screen zooming in towards the planet, moving in towards the landmass as if he were falling right towards it himself.

[Processing imagery]

[Upscaling resolution]

[Activating smart-context audio]

Success!

Gottlieb stares at the screen, trying to understand what he’s looking at, as the pixels begin to unblur themselves. It looks like an open field, colored with vivid intensity by the warm glow of the sun shining down onto it.

 

The meadow looks… peaceful, it’s beautiful, actually. It looks like it’s spring and the lush and bountifully full of flowers and blossoms that sway back and forth in the subtle breeze.

 

Someone is running across it.

 

Kai zooms in.

 

A person, he can’t make anything other than that out because they’re wearing some kind of robe or something? He squints, trying to make heads or tails of the situation. “Kai, Kick up the sound.”

 

The room fills with the sounds of someone panting, heaving, gasping for air as they run, no, as they sprint. Something is held tightly in their arms.

 

“Is that a…” Gottlieb isn’t sure if he’s seeing right. “Kai. Is that a chicken?” he asks.

 

[Processing imagery]

[Validating image recognition request]

Chicken confirmed.

The person stumbles, falling to the ground as they trip over a root or a rock or whatever, he can’t tell. What are they even running from? And why the chicken? Gottlieb sits down on his chair, grabbing the gun controls as he decides to take over and watch himself. He spins the little wheel, zooming out a tick again as he looks towards the edge of the clearing where several armored and mounted pursuers are chasing the disheveled, robed figure.

 

Gottlieb blinks, staring at the large birds they’re riding on. “Kai… is that a chicken?” he asks again, not sure what he’s looking at.

 


 

Azimuth scrambles to her feet, clutching the loudly and angrily squabbling and squawking bird against her heaving chest with one hand, as her blood crusted fingers rip into the soil, pushing herself back up to her feet. Her hood falls down from the movement, the sun reflecting off of her greasy black hair, but not so much off of her caked, muddy, green skin.

 

It’s been two days now. They’re still after her. She should have stayed in the forest. Running out onto the field was a dumb idea. Then again, that would have only bought her a day or two at most. They would have found her there eventually too.

 

“Brakaw!” protests the chicken angrily, flapping and kicking as wildly as it can in its attempt to escape her.

 

She turns her head around, looking back at the forest behind herself as she runs for her life. They’re already on the field. She isn’t going to make it.

 

Clenching her teeth, she lets out a sound that sounds just as angry as the chicken that she’s holding, as she runs up the incline of the small hill ahead of herself. She just has to get over it. Just to the other side. There’s more forest there, she can vanish there again.

 

(???) has cast [Root bind] on (Azimuth)

Something grabs her ankle a second time and she falls, spinning around to her back so that she doesn’t squish the poor bird again. Looking down towards her ankle, she sees the spell bound around it. A root has shot up out of the dirt, enchanted by a magical aura and is wrapping itself around her ankle.

 

She tries to yank her leg free.

 

[Strength Roll]

14 STR * 3 LVL = 42% chance
Rolling for ≤ 41
{Success!}

The spell breaks and her ankle comes loose. Finally some luck. Azimuth jumps up again, reaching the top of the hill, out of breath after days of running. She’s just about empty.

 

And they’re already just about here.

 

She isn’t going to make it.

 

Making an ugly hissing noise, she sets the chicken down on the other side of the hill and gives it a good kick to send it on its way. She hopes that it will forgive her for the boot, but she needs it to get a move on.

 

Azimuth turns back to face her pursuers. She doesn’t have any weapons and she doesn’t have any magic worth using. She ‘unfortunately’ took more after her hulking, muscular beast of a mother, which, in most cases, she has always preferred. But having a real combat spell sure would be nice right about now. Maybe she should have listened to her dad more after all.

 

Go to the magic-academy like him, he said. They’ll find something for you, he said. Don’t be a chicken-farmer like your mother, he said, before getting trapped in a headlock by the fearsome woman.

 

She still remembers rolling her eyes. That sounded like a really stressful life. An academy? Chicken-farming is where her soul is.

 

“Come on. I’m sick of this shit,” says the first man as he approaches on his mount. Some large, bipedal bird that is clearly not a chicken. It’s an anqa.

 

“Then fuck off!” she yells back down at him.

 

The man sighs, the others catching up. “That didn’t work the first three times and it isn’t going to work this time either,” he says, jumping off and grabbing his sword at his waist. “It’s only a few years,” he notes, walking up the hill towards her. “Well. Maybe one more on top because of all of this. But that’s just fair, right?” he asks, tapping against his shoulder with the blade of his sword.

 

“BRAK-!” yells the chicken. She turns around, looking.

 

One of them stands there on the other side of the hill, having circled around her, holding the chicken in one hand, its twisted off head in their other.

 

Feeling her gaze, the woman shrugs and drops the body to the ground, crushing the limp, headless carcass beneath her boot with a sickening crunch as its insides squirt out and stain the spring-painted field with grime.

 

“Come on. Let’s go. You’ll like it. It’s not so bad,” says the man. “Do a couple hours here, take a bath, couple hours there and your day’s done! It’s way easier money than that chicken-farming shit,” he says, grabbing her shoulder.

 

She cracks her fist into his face and the man flies all the way back down the hill, down to the feet of the bird he had rode in on.

 

(Azimuth) has struck (???) for {7} DMG with her fist

[HP: 25/32]

“Fuckin’ hell,” says one of the others, looking at the groaning man who is missing a few teeth. “Told you orcs ain’t worth it,” he says, gesturing with two of his fingers over his shoulder. “Fuckin’ waste of time.” The other two next to him lift their bows, nocking in a couple of arrows. “Let’s go home. I’m sick of seeing green.”

 

She turns her head, looking at the bow that is drawn on the other side of the hill, held by the woman who is behind her.

 

She’s surrounded.

 

Azimuth sighs, lifting her gaze to the sky.

 

She should have listened to her dad. Magic would have been really useful right about now.

 

A whining hiss fills the air and floats over the field, buzzing as if a swarm of raging bees were hounding them. The air itself begins to shake and vibrate much like it would in the depths of a summer swelter.

 

Something…

 

Azimuth sniffs the air.

 

Something smells like… her nose twitches. It smells like the air after a bolt of lightning has struck nearby.

 

She stares up towards the sky, feeling certain that for just the briefest moment in this instant before her death to come, that in that odd space up there where the clouds should be, because they were there a second ago, but aren’t now, that peering through that gap down towards her, is the glowing, radiant eye of god.

 

The forest explodes.

 

 


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