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Jan 27, 2023 12:23 PM
Margaret among space debris
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...and then halfway through Citizen Kane, something changes. The jagged machinery and the corroded electric outlets and the imminent proximity to vacuum had all created a dull background haze of environmental danger since Margaret's arrival in this place, but now there's a specific pinpoint of something else there with her. Not a swarm. Not quite a person or animal either.


It's about a hundred fifty meters away, in the direction she'd been heading when she ducked into the room with the laptop. It's a significant physical danger. It's getting closer.


Yikes. Margaret pauses the movie and goes to check the door. If it shuts, she wants to shut it; if it locks, she wants to lock it. Running away is a lost cause in this environment, so her next best option is to fort up somewhere.

Also, she is now holding a large sword. With opals on the hilt and swirly engravings that match her lace going up the blade, because she has built good habits about this sort of thing.


The door shuts. It doesn’t shut very well—it seems that the doorframe doesn’t have anything for the door itself to latch onto—but there’s a heavy rust-encrusted deadbolt welded into place halfway up the door’s length that can still be wedged into a locking position if it’s shoved on hard enough.




...the dangerous thing keeps getting closer.


She has a hammer long enough to move the bolt, then she's standing in the middle of the room with the sword out, being as quiet as possible.


She can hear it coming. First there's rumbling in the distance. Then comes intermittent thudding and sounds of clattering metal.

(But every now and then it goes dead silent. Pauses in place. Listening.)

It's not quite beelining for her, at this point. The danger doubles back on itself sometimes, darts off briefly to one side or the other as though searching other rooms or side passages.

But it's still steadily getting closer on net. Twenty meters. Fifteen. Ten.

(Something further down the hall gets noisily smashed. The danger strafes off to its left. Stops. Listens. Backtracks left and then continues down the hall.)

Five meters. Four. Three.


Margaret thickens and strengthens her natural armor, adds a clear plastic visor protecting her eyes, holds her sword up with white knuckles but steady hands. Thinks about what it could be, what kind of attacks she can try, anything but the fact that if she dies here nobody will ever know what happened to her.


It stops outside the room. Listens. Sniffs the air.

Suddenly, Margaret's vision goes double.

The future vision version of the door shudders, tears loose from its hinges and goes hurtling across the bunkroom. Not long after that, a metallic screech echoes through the enclosure and the actual present door follows suit.


Margaret jumps back out of the way of the door, muttering "oh crap oh crap" and wishing she knew enough about guns to assemble a working one in starscape.


The door sheds some momentum as its lower portion collides with the bed, then sheds most of the rest in a collision with the wall. The small room reverberates with impact tremors and echoes.

When the door's past, Margaret has a clear line of sight to the hallway. To the danger...

Permalink's a huge, meaty thing. Scarred fissures and oil stains and small bits of debris cover its bare, leathery hide. In one of its forelimbs it grips a long, misshapen block of metal.

It looms ominously in place for a couple seconds--drifting back in the microgravity after slamming into the door. It watches her through a single glittering eye recessed deep into its bony face.

(In Margaret's future vision, it's already found its footing again and is leaping back towards the opening. It lashes out with its crude weapon, trying to skewer her against the rear wall.)

The monster finds its footing. With a guttural cry, it leaps.


There's no room to dodge it entirely; she ducks under the spear and braces for impact. If it keeps coming it's going to slam into her, but it's going to get full of sword on the way.


It gets full of sword.

This doesn't stop it. The thing's clearly wounded--the blade's sunk up to the hilt into its flesh and there's blood pooling up around the fatty tissue exposed by the entry wound--but it doesn't flinch or cry out or slow its assault.

(Its future assaults are barely altered either. It's like it committed fully to its line of attack before lunging and doesn't even notice that it's been impaled.)

It slams into her. Its right forelimb--not quite a hand, more like a fleshy vice--scrabbles for purchase on her glittering scales. Its left limb, the one holding the weapon, winds back for an overhead swing that even most people without precognition would consider telegraphed.

(The awkward weapon, edged along one side and heavy, could cave her skull in so easily if it struck cleanly.)


Her sword gets longer inside the enemy's body, acquires more blades forking off the main one--

Her future-vision starts weakening but she deletes the blood from her dress and it returns--

She wrenches her head to one side and the weapon almost misses, catches a horn and breaks the tip off and the shockwave through her head is painful and dizzying but she clenches her jaw and puts it back--

The present and the future and the starscape fight for position in her vision but she can handle it, she has to--


The blade blossoms, some of its tips getting lodged between bones while others rupture organs. A bloody mist erupts from the back of the monster when a sword end punches through its back after bisecting a blood-pumping organ.

The thing still doesn't flinch. It tightens its flesh vice around her armpit and jams a meaty foot down into the bedframe and drives her bodily along the length of the wall--slamming her wing-first into the corner of the enclosure.

(In the future it's already pinned her there and driven the grime-coated spike it holds into her sternum.)

Its breath smells of rot and its saliva froths near-weightlessly from its lips. Two more eyes, smaller than the first, open up as its face fills her field of view. It stares at her without apparent grief or fear or rage--it'd be hard to put an emotion to such alien features, but some human onlookers might consider those eyes and conclude that they looked happy.


The noise her wing makes as she hits the wall is even worse than the pain that follows it, and she screams, and she can't let it pin her! She has a spiky piece of metal on her arm shredding its flesh-vice as she wrenches herself free so hard her arm hangs useless and wrong, drops the sword and lets it vanish so she can circle around to its side and buy a precious half-second to heal herself.


Its damaged vice slaps wetly against the wall, trying and failing to find traction on the smooth surface despite the blood and grime. It doesn't manage to redirect its momentum as it whips its weapon forward again--the spiked tip clacks against the corner Margaret just occupied (but fails to embed itself there--unlike the brittle and rusty doors/furniture, the walls of the structure resist harm quite imperviously).

The monster wrenches itself around, just as Margaret's future sight snaps back into focus, its perforated insides tearing further apart at the strain... and the movement and the future sight converge on the blunt end of its weapon slamming into the small of her back a moment later.


The blow lands with inhuman force, but it's a weaker hit than the one that broke the door from its hinges earlier. Her assailant is losing a lot of blood now and that seems to matter at least a little, even if the initial injuries gave it no pause.

(Its future movements--clambering after her and hacking at her and trying to bowl her into the opposite wall--will be a little slower and a little less vigorous, though no less single-minded in their aggressive intent.)


Something makes an awful crunch, but she's already in starscape, and heals again before she hits the ground. She doesn't manage standing up, just stays on her knees and makes a massive shield, basically a small titanium wall curving back over her head, with blades that materialize into the monster's insides as it tries to bowl her over. Shield and terrified woman alike slide along the floor with a screech of scraping metal and a shriek of frightened lungs.


Future vision flickers out again.

There’s so much blood. The air tastes metallic and salty and wet. Blows keep hammering down on the aegis enclosing her; bones shudder and titanium dents...






And then it stops. The sounds, the movement, the impacts.


(The taste in the air persists.)


For several moments, Margaret is too tense to do anything. Then she heals herself more comprehensively, exploiting the symmetry of her body in places where her bruises aren't visually obvious, and steps out from under her shield to clean up. This is something of a production, since she can't just get rid of the shield without dropping the corpse on her head. Instead she gives the shield a long handle so she can crawl backwards and only have to shove part of the thing aside to get space to stand up. 

When the last traces of blood and wrinkles are gone from her dress, and the urge to vomit has come and gone, she goes around to the now-doorless doorway.


The doorway is doorless.

The hall beyond is quiet.

(The huge fleshy thing behind her remains lifeless, sinking to the bloodsoaked floor with glacial slowness.)


Good riddance to the thing. She recovers the laptop and sets about exploring further.


She finds a couple more incidental signs of human habitation in nearby rooms--a couple human sized chairs, some badly damaged electronics, a couple kludged together power outlets like the one she found the laptop near, another bed, and a refrigeration unit that doesn't appear to have successfully refrigerated anything in a century or two.

When she wanders off further into the smooth-walled structure, though, the human artifacts becomes sparser and then nonexistent. The halls here stretch out in many directions, and have such uniform features that in some places it might be easier to navigate by danger sense than by visual landmarks.

She may explore this wider expanse for as long as she likes without finding any further pockets of prior human habitation. She does occasionally find less human traces though: more strange objects wrought from strange materials, more wide windows depicting alien stars, and more monstrous corpses--most of them desiccated husks, some so brittle that they crumble if disturbed.


The arm opposite the scroll of language notes acquires a scroll of station map. After she's pretty sure she has it all mapped, she settles down on the bed that doesn't have a rotting monster corpse right next to it and takes stock of her situation.

Given the presence of at least one movie she recognizes, she appears to be in the future, on a station made by a civilization descended from her own. For some reason, they took all the magical girls and references thereto out of their media, which has troubling implications for her reception if she gets rescued. And she does need rescuing: even with the starscape letting her handle all her biological needs safely and cleanly, she probably has a couple weeks at most before she starts cracking up from the isolation. The movies help a lot, but by a week in as counted by her sleep schedule she's talking to the characters (haltingly, in the local language) and she doesn't think it will be very long before she starts imagining their responses.

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