Fade hated dealing with the officers at the hangar bay. Dealing with them was like dealing with the bullies on the playground. Especially when it came to Sergeant Andrews. Sergeant Andrews was a tall thin man with a bulbous forehead. His hair was just starting to turn grey at the sides. Like a majority of the people in Valhalla he thought that Fade was the false Shantic and he made a point of rubbing it in Fade's face.
"What are you doing going down there?" Andrews asked as Fade finished punching in his access code on the digipad.
"Honestly," Fade said, "I'm just going down there to clear my head."
"With the parasitus? You like hanging around with them?" Andrews shook his head. "You're batshit crazy. You must have a deathwish. I wonder what your father would say if he knew that you were taking these personal trips down to the ground level."
Fade grinned. "You want to know what I think about his thoughts, Andrews. I wish they were toilet paper so that I could wipe my ass with them. Nice talking with you Andrews."
Fade went into the locker room and changed into a jumpsuit. The jumpsuit was blue and fit him perfectly. The jumpsuit was made out of a thermal gel-like substance that closely resembled latex. The pore-sized fibers that lined the suits helped to regulate the internal heat within Fade's body. It was so light that it almost seemed to mold to him like a second skin. Not only was it designed to keep him warm in extreme weather conditions but it was also designed for combat situations. Though his body was already strong and durable the suit helped to protect his body from further damage. No one was stupid enough to go to the ground without it.
After zipping up his jumpsuit Fade went into the weapons room. The room was rectangular-shaped, ten meters long five meters wide. He set a black, nylon duffel bag on a metal table and grabbed the weapons most preferable to him: a Saturna 5S77, a Remington 74908, two pistols, a dozen stun grenades, and enough ammo to supply a small firing squad. He shouldered the strap and stepped out onto the landing pad.
The landing pad was big enough to cover a whole Martian street. The shuttles were parked neatly in rows of a dozen, their exteriors oiled to a shine. Maintenance drones worked on them daily, keeping them in prime condition. The exterior design of the shuttle closely resembled a butterfly: round in the front with a long tail, wings sticking out at the sides. They were big enough to hold up to a dozen people.
On his right wrist Fade wore a small bracelet made out of steel. In the center was a key pad,. From this bracelet Fade could type in commands that would be picked up by the shuttle even if he was a hundred miles away. The bracelet could be useful when in a dior situation. As he approached the shuttle he typed in a five digit combination that powered the shuttle up. The back of the shuttle opened into a ramp; once on board the ramp closed behind him.
There were ten crash couches, another couch over by the defense modules, and the pilots chair at the very front. Fade sunk into the pilot's seat and strapped himself in. Buttions and command pads glowed with blue light, beckoning him to take control. The shuttle vibrated and purred around him, reassuring him that he was in command. Just being in the pilot's chair made the misery and uselessness he'd been feeling over the past few months feel like a distant memory.
Years of simulation runs under his belt had turned Fade into one of the best flyers in Valhalla. Even if he wasn't Shantic's true reincarnation Fade had done everything in his personal power to ensure that he was capable of protecting himself and others if need be, whether that was using a gun, hand-to-hand combat, piloting a vehicle, or tracking. But all of the simulation runs couldn't change the fact that what he was doing and where he was going as beyond dangerous. If a Parasitus killed you in a simulation you didn't really die unlike down on the ground. In a simulation you just started at the square one and tried to beat the high score. Where he was going wasn't a simulation, it was real. If a Parasitus killed him it was game over.
Just thinking about running into the Parasitus made his stomach want to do all kind of acrobatics. I don't even know what it is I'm looking for, he thought. May the spirit of Shantic guide me.
Gripping the steering sticks gently in his hand, Fade gently eased the shuttle into the air. He turned it around to face the hangar bay door. The hangar door was a big metal door spanning fifty feet on all four sides. He punched in a command on the flight computer and the hangar door slid open, revealing the velvety black sky beyond.
Fade gently pushed the steering sticks forwards. A burst of fire from the thrusters of the shuttle propelled him forward at a steady sixty miles per a second. On the rearview viewing screen he watched as the hangar bay slid shut behind him, as the grand city of Valhalla grew smaller until it shrunk out of existence.
Before long Fade was flying over the Atlantic ocean underneath a dim sky full of grey clouds. Just ahead of him he could see the ruins of what had once been New York City. It's there, Fade thought. Whatever it is I'm supposed to see, it's somewhere down there.
Using the shuttle's computer he glanced at the rooftops, passing over empty streets and dusty bill boards. The computer showed him digitalized structures of the building, feeding him probabilities of which might be safer to land on. A majority of the buildings appeared sturdy but many of them were structurally damadge due to age. After several minutes of searching, he found a sturdy brick building with a rooftop that was big enough for him to be able to land.
As it turned out the rooftop was perfect; Fade had no trouble making a smoothe landing. He powered the shuttles computers down and checked through his gear to make sure he had everything he needed. He put the shotgun in a holster and strapped it to his back. The grenades and handguns were fitted to his belt. He grabbed his assault rifle and punched a sequence into his command pad that opened the back of the boarding ramp.
Fade stepped out onto the rooftop. A cluster of rain clouds hovered above his head. Somewhere off in the distance thunder rumbled. Below him was a street crowded with abandoned cars and vehicles that belonged to a different century. He pulled out a pair of binochulars and scanned the streets and entryways of buildings. When several sweeps revealed that there were no Parasitus around he marched over to the fire escape.
It was hard to get the door open even with the super strength that all Fourth people possessed. The door was covered in rust and cobwebs. After a minute or two he finally managed to open it enough to be able to squeeze through. The inside of the building was pitchblack. Obviously there was no power. It's a good thing I brought a flashlight with me just in case, he thought.
He pulled the flashlight out of his belt and flicked it on. The beam was strong and illuminated the dark sufficiently. Cobwebs hung down from the corners of the ceiling. He stayed where he was for a moment and let his mind stretch out, searching for any signs of the Parasitus. When nothing alerted them to their presence he began to make his way down the hallway. From what he could see the building had once been an apartment building, probably built in the 21st or 22nd century. There was no one here. All of the tenants that had once lived here were long gone; they were either dust or they were Parasitus. Either way their existence had been wiped out by the coming of the comet.
At the end of the corridor was an elevator and next to that, a door that led to a staircase. He reluctantly passed the elevator and went for the door. Once again he had to wrestle with the door to be able to squeeze through.
He had to climb down eighteen flights of stairs to get to the bottom. He took a moment to snatch a few drinks from his water jug before exiting the building. By this time it had started to rain. Thunder cracked above him as he made his way down the street. The water felt cool and refreshing on his skin.
He kept his senses open. Shantic whatever it is I'm supposed to find, help me find it. He stopped, waiting for some hint. After a moment he felt something-it was very faint but he could feel it none the less, like a vibration that came from within. Fade took turned the corner onto a new street; somewhere just ahead of him was the remains of the once-marvelous Empire State Building. Now the building looked as if it had been gutted. It was amazing that it was still standing after all this time-that anything was still standing.
He kept his rifle at the ready. The last thing he wanted was to be caught off guard by the Parasitus. The vibration sensation he was feeling grew stronger with every step he took. He was jogging now, hair matted to his forehead. The city as so silent that his footfalls echoed all around him. The sun was sinking. Soon it would be night. Already the shadows had lengthened. Each corner seemed to hide something devious and sinister.
Finally, just when the vibration was so strong that it made his blood boil, he saw it: a shade. It was coming in his direction, a glowing blue ball. Shades were spirits of the past, shapeless ghosts of those who had losts their lives and was unable to move on to whatever came next. It was coming towards him, zig zagging back and forth with what seemed like excitement. Just as he could sense them they could sense him too. As far as he knew he was the only one that could see the shades. There were no shades in Valhalla, only on the ground floor.
He stopped, letting the shade come to him. Shades couldn't hurt him. Most of the times they just wanted to communicate, to be set free so that they could be set free. As the Conduit he was the only that could do so. The shade came to a stop, hovering before him. It's glow illuminated the darkness all around him. Streams of misty blue light wafted off the side. It made Fade think of pulling cubes of ice out a freezer.
Without hesitation Fade reached out and touched the outer edge of the sphere. A tingling sensation went up his arm. Goosebumps broke out all over his body. The hairs on the back of his head stood on end. "Go on," Fade said. "Don't be afraid. Show me what it is what you want me to see."
The tingling seemed to ramp up a thousand times. It was excruciating pain unlike anything he had ever felt before. It felt as if thousands of volts of electricy were shooting through his body. His eyeballs rolled into the back of his head. He collasped to the rain-soaked pavement, body twitching as if in the throes of a seizure. Then the twitching stopped and his body became deathly still. Behind the thin layer of flesh that was his eyelids, his eyeballs roved about as his head filled with dreams.
The comet swoops through the vacuum of space, past dying stars, getting ever closer to Earth. Like the last comet that destroyed the Third people, this is no ordinary comet. This comet is malignant and has one single purpose: to destroy. It is a weapon.
In the center of the comet is the plague of all plagues. Inside parasite wiggle and writhe almost excitedly, sensing that they are getting close to their destination. Unlike the last strain of the virus that created the Parasitus, this is a new strain. It's stronger, more volitile. It's sentient, a life form that has never been before. It will cause even greater danger.
Finally, after such a long journey, it enters Earth's atmosphere, gaining heat and speed. And there off to the side is the great city of Valhalla. The comet does the impossibe: it defies the laws of comet and heads directly for the floating city.
On the ground floor Fade watches as the comet collides with the only life that he has ever known; he watches helplessly as his home splits in half and falls out of the sky.
Fade jerked awake. Except for the light of the moon it was so dark that he couldn't see-even with his superior sense of eye sight. The shade was gone. Where was it? Had it moved on? It was still raining? His clothes were sticking to his flesh.
He was frightened. He stayed still, holding his breath, trying to discern the danger that he sensed. He was not alone. There was something hiding in the darkness. It was moving, waiting to make its move. There was only one thing that it could be. He grabbed his rifle and stood on his knees. His heart hammered in his chest. The fear within him was so strong that it was almost impossible to breathe.
The Parasitus were out there. They had smelled the fresh meat and decided to come out and play. I made a mistake in coming down here, he thought. What in Shantic's name was I thinking. His hand shook as he fumbled for his flashlight. Gritting his teeth he flicked it on.
There one of them stood in the direct path of the beam. Whatever human qualities the creature may have had no longer existed. The plague was known to cause horrendous mutations to the human physiology. The Parasitus itself was a grotesque looking monstrosity. It was hulking, about a head taller than Fade. There were massive pus filled blisters all along its back, forehead and face. Protruding out of some of the blisters were tentacles that seemed to have a mind of their own. They crawled over the wet pavement, looking for food. The creature had two arms, five fingers on each hand; the Parasitus' hand was so big that it could cover a man's entire face. Its nails were razor sharp.
The creature was looking directly at him. Its eyes were placed along the side of its bulbous head, almost like the eyes of a horse. Once they had been full of human intelligence but now an endless hunger followed by alien instinct was all that remained. For a moment the creature seemed to study him-and then it charged, roaring. The ground shook under its massive feet. Its claws were pulled back, ready to cause damage.
Fade's fear was replaced for the need to defend himself. Teeth grated together in a sort of feral grin, he aimed his rifle at the creature's head and pulled the trigger. Bursts of blue plasma rattled rapidly from the muzzle of his rifle. The Parasitus danced underneath the assault of fire before dropping to the pavement. It continued to wiggled, its tentacle hissing through the air in a desperate attempt to fend itself. With a shot of adrenaline Fade walked over to the creature and emptied another barrage of fire. The Parasitus' screams were deafening. It was impossible to ignore the fact that it was screaming in obvious agony. Fade almost felt sorry for it. Almost. Whoever this unfortunant soul had been he was doing it a favor by setting it free.
He sensed something coming up from behind him. He spun around just as a Parasitus lunged at him from out of nowhere. Fade smartly stepped away and unleashed another unrelenting spray of plasma power. More of them were coming out of the shadows, from the sewers. It's an ambush, Fade thought. It's like they set a trap.
With them closing in like this he had no choice but to bring out the shotgun. He dropped the assault rifle to the pavement and pulled out the shotgun. He faced the Parasitus closest to him, pumped the shotgun, and fired. The shotgun bucked as a large blue ball of plasma-fire burst from the muzzle of the shotgun. It hit the Parasitus with full force. The creature exploded in a shower of severed limbs, tentacles, and pus.
Fade reached for a grenade, pressed the button down, and rolled towards the largest group of Parasitus. Not a second later the grenade exploded, filling the night with a deafening boom. Now that he'd bought himself a few seconds, Fade ran for the mouth of an alley with the Parasitus just on his tail. They filled the narrow alley literally spilling over each other. He fired several more shots from his shot gun and threw another grenade before coming out the other end of the alley.
Just across the street was what had once been a supermarket. It seemed like the ideal place for refuge. He threw three more grenades and ran for the supermarket. He bursts through the double glass doors and-
He collided with something hard and fell to ground. His head was spinning and he could taste blood in his mouth. He staggered to his feet and faced the thing that he had collided with.
In the end it was not what but who.
A young woman stood before him, eyes squinted in the glare of his flashlight. She didn't appear to be afraid.
"Thank asshole," she spat. "You just rain the dinner bell." Then she turned around and ran in the opposite direction.
Fade stayed where he was. Did I hit my head too hard or did I just see a girl standing there? How could anyone be left alive down here that wasn't Parasitus? There was nothing left of the Third people-or so he had been led to believe.
Before he knew what he was doing he sprinted after her.
They burst through a door that led into another street. The woman threw a glance back at Fade and scowled but made no comment when he continued to run after her.
With her taking the lead, it didn’t take long for them to lose the presence of the Parasitus. She led him through a network of streets and alleyways in a path that meandered this way and that. Fade followed her without question or doubt. Wherever she was taking him he could only assume that it was better than facing a mob of alien monstrosities.
Finally they came to a brick building with steel doors. As soon as soon as he stepped inside she latched the door shut behind her. Fade flicked on his flashlight and looked around. They were standing in what was cleary a hideout. There were several gas lamps and candles on the floor; a sleeping bag, and a book shelf of tattered paperback books. He was still taking in the details when he felt something hit him in the back of the head hard.
He fell to his knees and rolled over. The woman stood over him, her rifle gripped in her hands like a club. Her eyes were hard, ruthless.
“Why?” he asked.
In answered she hit him in between the eyes with the butt of her rifle, and for the second time since landing on the surface of the planet in his shuttle, Fade was unconcious.