The night sky was still split by the occasional flash. Fighting in orbit was barely visible on the surface, but the explosion when a ship met its end was too big to miss, and the pieces raining down through the atmosphere left fiery orange trails reminiscent of meteors.
His watery eyes showing only blurry images of the tiny explosions dotting the sky, Hakken struggled to stand. A dark form loomed over him and then a pair of hands gripped his arms, then another. A pair of people lifted him to his feet. He blinked his eyes several times and looked behind him. The restaurant had collapsed; he was lucky enough to have cleared the doorway right before the explosion. Rubble surrounded the street, and the blue fronds of the decorative grasses were scorched and torn.
Hakken tried to right himself but shooting pain in his hip left him leaning heavily on the two people holding his arms. “I… I think I am injured,” he managed to say. Gasping from the jarring pain, he closed his eyes again briefly, then took in his rescuers. His eyes finally focused.
One of the rescuers was an older woman with graying hair and wrinkles about her narrow eyes. Despite her apparent age, she was still spry, and her thin fingers held firmly to his arm. She wore a loose gray robe with a carrying pouch belted to the side. Her companion was a young boy, a teenager perhaps, with a glittering, fashionable kaftan and black trousers. Both had a similar pattern of ridges to either side of the dorsal ridge rising up from their noses to the tops of their heads, so they were probably relatives. Grandmother and grandson, possibly.
“What’s happening?” managed Hakken. His voice croaked with dust that choked his throat. He coughed and swallowed, then tried to speak again. “There was warning of some kind of attack, then suddenly… it happened so fast.”
The older woman replied, “Yes, an attack. Marauding space monsters! Hordes of them flying past the picket ships and streaking to the ground, smashing into things and creating dust and explosions.” She chuckled in the fearsome way that only an old woman could do.
Hakken tilted his head sideways in some confusion. “How is that possible? The Dominion… the Dominion should be protecting us.”
The young boy took on a haughty countenance and said, “It’s only a matter of time! They’ll be here! The Jem’Hadar will wipe out all of our enemies.”
The older woman shook her head sadly. “The aliens have already landed; we can’t wait for help. We need to reach the shelter station.”
Hakken caught his bearings. Shelter station… not too far; the restaurant was just five blocks from one. Lucky again. He turned slightly and fire lanced through his hip. Wincing, he leaned on the boy for support.
“I’m hurt,” he said. “I don’t think I can walk on my own.”
The boy shifted and wrapped Hakken’s arm around his shoulders and said, “I’ll help you. Come on! We can get there and then we can find out what the Dominion is doing and when the invaders will be dead.”
The old woman released her grip and moved up to the edge of the ruined restaurant, then, hugging the partially-collapsed wall, she peeked out at the thoroughfare. No grav sleds cruised its lanes now; the only sounds were the moans of the dying and the sparks of a ruined power grid. With the artificial lights destroyed, the night was terrifyingly dark. Hakken swallowed.
“I’m a local here,” he said. “The shelter station is that way – only five blocks. We can make it if it’s not blocked by rubble. There’s a park two blocks down. It’s a large, open space; there won’t be anything to collapse and block the way if we can get there.”
A sudden scream cut through the night, and then went silent. A brief gurgle followed, then a very quiet, very fast clicking noise, like a bone rattle falling down a slate roof.
“What was that?” said Hakken. “Are they… executing people?”
“It’s one of the monsters,” said the old woman matter-of-factly. “We can’t stay. Lam, my boy? Let’s go.”
The lad replied sullenly, “I wish you wouldn’t call me ‘my boy.’ I’m practically grown up.” Even so, Hakken felt his grip tighten briefly. The fear from that horrible sound had shaken him, too.
“Come on. This way,” said Hakken. The trio painfully crossed the shattered lane and ducked under the half-fallen awning of a woolery. Dancing light played out of the doorway from the flames that engulfed the products within – blankets, clothing, fine dyed accoutrements.
“Who would be foolish enough to attack Karemma?” wondered Hakken aloud. “Starting a war with the Dominion is neither profitable nor wise.”
“I bet it’s the Klingons!” said the boy. “The ones from the Beta Quadrant! They love to fight everyone. And they’re stupid. They’d do it!”
The old woman shushed the lad—Lam—and said, “It’s not Klingons. Klingons use disruptors and photon torpedoes. These invaders don’t. It was on the informer. They fly through space and tear apart ships and then they fall from the sky and land among us. Like that.” She pointed back toward the ruins of the restaurant, where a jagged chunk of rock stood out from the roof of the building. Studded with gray crystal and black rock, it was still smoking from its transit.
Hakken gulped and said, “I suppose that at least I can be thankful that the restaurant was up to code.”
The little group edged forward into the dark, picking out their route as best they could by the light of stars and fires. Past the woolery was an informer kiosk, the emergency cell still giving light, the screen cracked and showing only the flat, bifurcated disk indicating that it was offline. No information was forthcoming.
The old woman frowned at the kiosk. “They could at least tell us that some kind of response is coming,” she said crossly, then kicked the rectangular obelisk. “Or leave up a map pointing to the shelter! Someone should’ve designed these better.”
“Grandmother, I see something,” said Lam. He took one hand off Hakken to point. “Look, over there. It’s someone else.”
Hakken craned his neck to look. Sure enough, another survivor, lying alone in the middle of the street, with dead bodies to either side. The survivor grasped weakly at the air but couldn’t rise. Knocked down by the blast shockwave, probably.
“Help me get to him,” said Hakken. “I’m a… I’m a medic.”
The old woman leaned against the informer kiosk as Lam and Hakken staggered to the poor unfortunate. In the dark, details were hard to make out, but Hakken could see that it was pointless. A huge, jagged hole punctured the man’s chest. The fact that he still had the strength to reach out at all was remarkable, but the burbling of his compromised chest cavity indicated that he was strangling to death. He wasn’t Karemman, either; his forehead bore the intricate blue tattoos of a Wadi, and he had an elegantly waxed moustache.
“Can you save him?” asked Lam.
Miserably, Hakken whispered, “If I had my medical kit… but I don’t. I was just having dinner. There’s nothing I can do for him now. Help me kneel down.”
Lam took in a sharp breath as the reality of the crisis sunk in, and he helped Hakken to lower toward the ground. Hakken winced at the pain, then leaned close to the dying Wadi. The man couldn’t speak—his injury was too severe—but his eyes focused momentarily on Hakken. His reaching hand flailed and fell onto Hakken’s shoulder. He gripped at the Karemman’s shoulder and neck, blood smearing against Hakken’s orange skin, then he twisted his wrist and pointed before shuddering and dying.
Hakken followed the man’s gesture and saw something moving in the second floor window of a residential building on the corner. It wasn’t a person, nor a domestic robot. It looked, from what little he could see, like a spindly insectoid made of stone. A broad head, like some kind of flattened oval with horns, twisted to a sharp angle and he had the distinct impression that it saw him.
“We have to go,” Hakken gasped. Lam helped him up hurriedly and they rushed back toward the informer kiosk. “Come on! One of those things is out there!”
The old woman grunted and said, “Then why are you wasting time here? Keep up!” She briskly advanced along the lane, passing the remains of small shop-fronts, fallen illuminators, and blasted wreckage from an overturned grav sled. Hakken panted as his hip ground painfully under the flesh. A simple job for a bone mender! But in this blasted wasteland of a battlefield he didn’t even have the time and resources to make a splint.
“It’s coming!” shouted Lam. The doorway across the avenue crumpled as a three-clawed appendage forced it open. Shrouded by the dark, the rocky creature stepped out tentatively, then bent down slightly. Its legs eased backward into a crouch.
“In here,” said the old woman. “Lam, through the building.” She pointed to the façade of a former holo recreation station. The back wall was collapsed, having been blown apart by another impact. The three scrambled into the partial cover of the building as the eerie clicking came from across the avenue. The old woman pointed behind the commerce counter. “Back there, so it can’t see us!” she hissed.
The three moved painfully behind the counter. Lam sunk down, helping Hakken to the floor. Sweat beaded the boy’s face, from the effort of helping to support Hakken. The old woman crouched and rummaged through her carry pouch while Lam peeked out from around the corner. Hakken simply closed his eyes and tried to catch his breath.
A gasp from Lam caused Hakken to open his eyes once more. The boy was scampering back on the smooth floor, and Hakken turned his head but couldn’t see around the corner without moving. He pushed up off the ground, trying to see something, anything, and realized that he could hear the clicking of the creature’s exoskeleton as its clawed feet slowly struck the floor—click, click, pause. Click, click, pause.
The old woman hissed and turned in her crouch, then stood. From her carry pouch she pulled a holdout disruptor. She pointed and squeezed and the tiny pistol spat a sizzling bolt of green energy with a slight whining sound.
Now Hakken could see the beast, as it rose up in response. It thrashed back and forth, and the old woman fired again. She took a step forward and fired a third time. The monster crashed backward against the wall, letting out a high-pitched squealing sound, and a shockwave ripped through the air. The holdout disruptor flew from her hand, her carry pouch spilled her few possessions and she spun around as a compressed blast of sonic energy smashed into her and flung her to the ground.
Lam scurried on hands and knees to his grandmother. “Grandmama!” he whispered, panicked.
From her bruised face, the old woman said, “Lam. Go. You need to…”
Then she died, too.
Hakken shifted and started crawling toward the far side of the building. Beyond the broken wall was the park, some of the bushes still on fire, and past that the shining white beacon of light that indicated the shelter station.
“Come on,” Hakken said to Lam. He grabbed the boy’s arm, but Lam pushed him off.
“You have to help her!” cried Lam. “She’s hurt!”
“She’s dead,” said Hakken. “She tried to save us. Come on! We have to go in case the creature is still alive.”
Choking down a sob, Lam let out a strangled grunt of rage, then he carefully brushed his grandmother’s gray hair. “She’ll wake up. She’s strong! You’ll see.”
Hakken fought back his rising fear and frustration. “Look, you can see the shelter sign! It’s just over there! If we can reach the shelter we can get the militia to help. They can send someone to get her! Come on!” He tested his weight and found that he still couldn’t stand on his own. Painfully, he crawled to the blasted back wall, over the rubble, and out into the park. “Come on, Lam!”
Lam shook his head, tears running down his cheeks, as the creature crawled out from around the corner of the commerce counter. Like Hakken, it pulled itself, crawling, pushing with one leg, the other a bubbling mass of metal and flesh that sizzled from the disruptor bolts.
Hakken grabbed the nearest tree and pulled himself up, leaning against it, then hopped and pushed off to wobble and grab the next one. From somewhere behind him he heard a crunch and then the flop of a limp body. He didn’t stop to look back. There – a broken park bench. He flopped to the ground and crawled to it and picked up a length of the decorative wood planking. Testing it, he managed to get to his feet, leaning on the makeshift crutch.
Click, pause, drag. Click, pause, drag, came the soft sounds from behind him.
He kept moving, hobbling as best he could across the park. He ducked behind another tree and spared a glance back past the trunk.
The creature continued to pull itself after him. Its claws glistened wetly in the dim firelight, and its head shivered and shook as it let out that odd pattern of rhythmic clicks. Was it laughing at him? Taunting him? It drew itself up and Hakken threw himself to the ground just in time as a sonic shockwave blasted the tree over his head. Wood fragments exploded outward, some painfully stabbing into his face. He blinked away the pain and tried to stand again, hobbling toward the shelter station. In a freakish, slow-motion chase, the creature crawled after him.
He passed a bed of scorched flowers and a broken statue, then the makeshift crutch broke beneath his weight. He tumbled to the magnetized avenue and nearly passed out from the pain shooting through his hip. Rolling onto his back, he looked beyond his feet; the creature inexorably followed. He rolled back onto his belly and crawled, pushed, struggled, and grunted, his grunt slowly turning into a scream as he struggled toward the shelter station and its white flare of security.
He reached, climbing up onto the far side of the avenue. He pushed, forcing himself up the low step onto the walkway. He struggled, his hand reaching out to the matte metal surface of the shelter station, designed to withstand even an orbital bombardment, coded to send Dominion distress signals, bearing enough underground shelter to protect a thousand refugees at once. His fingers brushed the door, sanctuary at last.
The door did not open.
Hakken struggled closer, pushed himself up on one hand. The control panel still glowed with its cool, impassive light. He reached as hard as he could and touched the panel. The system emitted an angry buzz, and the door make a squealing noise and refused to move.
Hakken looked over his shoulder again, then turned over so that his back rested against the door. He reached up over his shoulder to keep pressing the pad, and again the angry buzz came. Across the avenue, the creature stopped. It tilted its head. It watched him.
He let his arm drop to the ground and simply breathed, staring at it. Sweat dripped off his nose and stained his now dirty kaftan. He hefted the last fragment of the wooden plank. He and the creature stared at each other from across the avenue.
Could he magnetize the lane and stop it?
Override the controls and force the door open, using the plank as a lever?
Call for an automated grav sled for pickup and hope that it would not recognize the creature as a person and might hit it, or just block it while he crawled in and it whisked him away?
He ran through the possibilities at the speed of thought. He closed his eyes to concentrate.
Click. Pause. Drag.
Click. Pause. Drag.
He opened his eyes. The creature had pulled itself off the walkway on the far side and into the middle of the avenue. Now… now, now, now…
Now it reared its head up.
He closed his eyes again.
An alien scream pierced the evening air.
Staff Game Designer
Star Trek Online