Donjon: Abyss - Part One

This is the first installment of my dark science fiction serial (updated biweekly). It follows the adventures of Rega, an escapee on a frozen, prison planet. This is free to all readers, so please share and enjoy!

 Donjon: Abyss - Part One

Rega didn’t know if the bodies outside the burning shuttle had been sent to free or kill her. Whoever the poor bastards might have been, the prison’s outer defenses had claimed their lives—much like she hoped to claim their supplies. Night drew near, she was hungry, and the rifle she’d taken from the prison armory had one shot left.

And the cold. Pervasive. Unforgiving. Even after gritting her teeth they rattled due to her shivers. She gripped the rifle lightly so it wouldn’t freeze to her gloves.

Kneeling on the icy plain, Rega waited in the event someone else had spotted the find. The rifle lacked a scope, preventing her from scanning the area in proper fashion. The rusted blade on her hip was deadlier for its contamination than its edge. She’d found it in the prison kitchen. Both weapons represented options she didn’t wish to deploy. 

She might be an escaped prisoner on Tzentra but she wasn’t a killer.

Not anymore.

Wind tossed her dirty grey cape and she cinched the hood tighter. A storm would hit the plains soon and she’d left the prison with little more than her anger and what the guard had left in his dorm—before abandoning his post like the others. Eighteen orbital periods in that cell and now her captors didn’t care if she escaped or rotted. 

At least she’d never told them anything. 

After several minutes—or perhaps an hour, time was harder to calculate after losing so much of it in that cell—Rega moved closer. Knelt beside the closest body. Covered her mouth and nose with the hood as oily smoke drifted from the wreckage. The craft had split into two sections though only one burned. Flames highlighted the corpses.

None of the twisted forms bore gunshot wounds. All had been torn or sliced apart. 

Rega looked around. Still nothing but endless glacial hell. An opaque mirror mocking her senses and sanity. Nothing lived on Tzentra that could inflict such injuries.

The dark green suit and matte grey armor plates suggested Darshek raiders. Not enemies come to finish her off, nor allies to rescue her. For all she knew both might have died with everything else in the Triangulum during her imprisonment. But raiders were cowards who sought easy targets. Meaning no warships blockaded Tzentra now. Coupled with her captor’s sudden exodus, it indicated one thing.

The war had ended. Her secrets, likely kept for nothing.

A metallic object clanged inside the wreckage.

Rega stood. Aimed the rifle. Narrowed her eyes against the strengthening gale.

Three small figures darted from the smoldering craft. One spotted her, gaped in surprise. The other two raised simple metal clubs. Their braids flapped with each gust.

Strays. Human detritus that had escaped the Colony’s indoctrination camps on the ridge overlooking the plains. Children with no parents. Sometimes they’d stolen tools or equipment in the prison work yards. Fugitives like herself, and just as desperate. 

The gaping child closed her mouth and brandished a knife. “Ours. Get moving or we hurt you.”

Other Strays must be nearby for this one to be so brave. The rifle would deter them only so much. The markings on Rega’s face made up for that. She hated them. Wished she’d never gotten them. It was her one hubris to never admit it to anyone. Not even those who’d pulled out her fingernails every forty days for eighteen orbits.

“I don’t want any of it,” Rega said. “Who brought their ship down?”

The other two Strays mumbled and glared. The first one gauged Rega with eyes that had seen too much. She lowered the rifle. The girl said a guttural phrase to her companions and stared at Rega again. The stink of burning plastic and wires from the ship tickled Rega’s nose but she didn’t look away.

My donjon is a domain of tranquility and purpose…

The old chant came to mind. One she’d repeated often on this frozen world. It had sustained her more than food or anger. 

The girl finally pointed up at one of the few stars visible in Tzentra’s anemic blue sky. “Things from there. Things with no eyes, no skin, no voice.”

Rega clutched the rifle so they wouldn’t see her hands shake. “Where are these things now?”

“Eating,” the girl said as more Strays appeared from behind the crashed ship. “Eating those who can’t run. So run, Purple Hands. Run on now or we all hurt you.”

The other Strays, a dozen in number, pointed clubs, knives, and even eating utensils at her. The loathing in their gazes was nothing compared to the loathing Rega felt inside. She regretted not snatching a Darshek’s gloves. Regretted ever taking the Oath that had changed far more than her skin pigmentation.

“Find peace.” Rega slung the rifle over her shoulder.

The girl spat at her. 

Rega walked into the wind, leaving the Strays to their prize. There was no need to watch her back; had they wanted her dead, more blood would be staining the snowy ground. They were sated for the moment. Come nightfall the situation would be different.

As she walked she made herself not look up at the star the girl had indicated. It wasn’t a star. Or another planet. She’d seen it a few times from her prison cell, through the one window they’d allowed her. The single opening had been intended to break her with Tzentra’s acidic snows and cold temperatures but instead she’d watched that single bright mote. It had given her something to hate, to strive for. To destroy.

Even though she was out, Rega wasn’t free. Her cell size had merely increased. 

But if that mote were still in orbit, and Darshek pirates were flying across Tzentra without challenge…then those wounds on the bodies…

Something was wrong. Very wrong. 

Rega walked faster. 

The cratered plain stretched out from her in a swath of ivory nothing. Beneath the icy coating, violet regolith and alabaster pebbles lay frozen in permanent swirls. The stones resembled the sandy beaches of her homeworld. For an instant she imagined that former life like a murderer recalls one of their victims. Only the darker, terrifying moments came to mind. The rest had been forgotten. Trite, brief eternities where she’d been another person on another world. 

Scattered hulks lay half-buried in the soil, ancient long before she’d become an unwilling inhabitant. Tzentra was more myth than reality; more inertial damnation than torturous hell. The guard’s suit she’d stolen barely protected her from the cold and the ragged cloak invited in more damp than it absorbed. Still, she might make the eastern ridge before nightfall. Once there she could find a ship in the spaceport beside the camps. Maybe even take a Darshek one if more raiders were about. 

Maybe even reach that hated point of light in the sky and--

A clatter sounded behind her. Metal on metal. Children’s voices. 

Rega turned. Unshouldered the rifle. “I said I didn’t want any of it--”

The voices became screams. Clatter segued into cacophony. 

The non-burning piece of shuttle wreckage had changed shape. The Strays stopped shrieking. Some lay still in the snow while others fled. The wreckage whirred.

It stood on four legs. Pincer arms thrust out. A mechanical hiss carried on the air.

Rega broke into a run.

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