Everything all around was a swirl of colors, of light and dark, solids and space. Through the haze, there were sounds that slowly became distinct through the constant ringing of the ears: klaxxons, men and women calling out orders at each other, the hiss and screech of small explosions and the crackling of electrical fires.
“We’re not going to make it!” Val screamed. She jabbed at the buttons on her console, grasped ineffectually at a throttle that seemed to melt away through the gaps in her fingers like smoke.
“Keep the nose up, Mister Velasco,” Kuorum called out, “We’re dead if you don’t keep that nose up!!”
Val looked down at her console. A fleshy, disembodied nose was slowly sliding down the smooth, clear glass of a touchscreen. Val tried, in vain, to push the nose up, but it resisted her with uncanny resilience. “I’m trying!!” Val shouted, as the roof was sheared off, and one of the crewman, Private Wilhelm, screamed as he was sucked off the bridge.
Angrily, rolling his eyes, Zdravko stormed over to her station. “Must we all do everything for you!?” He produced a feather from his pocket and tickled the nose, which sneezed and then sprouted tiny legs and skittered back up to the top of the touchscreen. The shaking on the bridge subsided.
Val looked over at the captain, who shook his head sadly. “Val. I believed in you. How could you?”
She turned and there was her father, his arms crossed, shaking his head. “Always second best with you, isn’t it, Val?” he said. He unfolded his arms and levelled a gun at Captain Kuorum, firing once. The needleshot tore into the Captain’s chest, splitting it open, causing him to explode in a shower of gore.
“I knew you were a traitor,” Zdravko said, right as he was shot as well.
Val faced her father as he levelled the gun at her. She tried to speak, but the words wouldn’t come.
“I had such hopes for you,” said the elder Velasco. The light from the muzzle flash blinded her, and suddenly there was pain in her abdomen…
Val sat up with a start, but a soft, furry hand pressed against her shoulder, keeping her down.
“Captain?..” she muttered, not fully processing what she was seeing… only knowing that there was a moogle kneeling beside her with one hand pressed onto her stomach.
“Easy there, soldier,” Kupello said. Val looked down, and noted that the moogle’s hand was glowing faintly. “You had a big piece of your ship stuck in your side. I’ve removed it, and now my magic is helping to knit you back together.”
Val exhaled and collapsed. She shut her eyes tightly, and pressed one of her hands into her forehead. “So it wasn’t a dream. We did crash.”
Kupello nodded. “Where are you from, kid?”
Val never knew how to answer that question. She had, after all, been born in space aboard her father’s ship. But then GSF went on active duty during the Hivan War, and she and her mother were sent back home to the Velascos’ native Porre – which, back then, was a Guardian prefecture, but now was newly independent. So, which was it? The depths of space, the Kingdom of Guardia, the Republic of Porre?..
“Albrook,” she said, finally. “I’m a soldier in the Grand Army.”
Kupello nodded. “Long time since I’ve seen one of these uniforms,” he said. “Though, probably not as long as most here. Do you know where you are, lass?”
Val searched her memory. “We were in Carrionspace… hiding from White Cell… stumbled upon a planet…”
Kupello listened intently as Val worked it through. He was taking copious mental notes; he wasn’t familiar with this “White Cell” that the girl mentioned, but he knew that any force that would take a shot at the Grand Army (and send one of its massive battleships crashing to the surface of a planet) meant trouble…
“We’re not the most heavily trafficked place in the Core dimensions,” Kupello said, “So, I’d wager ‘stumbling’ upon us is as good a way as any to get here. This world’s called Avalon. In Carrionspace, as you said.”
Kupello withdrew his hand, and smiled. “I’m Kupello, by the way. I represent the city of Grand Casar, not too far from here.”
Val sat up with a grunt, feeling at her side. Her flesh tingled, but was whole and showed no sign of having been split open only a few moments before. “I’m Val,” she said. “Private Valentina Velasco.” She inclined her head to indicate the smoking wreckage of the ship in the distance. “I was driving.”
Kupello’s nose twitched, and he chuckled. “I hope you’re insured.”
Val allowed herself to smile, but stopped as she had a thought. “My captain? Where is he?”
“Dead,” came a voice from behind her. Val turned, and saw Arn Kestrich. He was crouched down, looking directly at her with his one good eye – had likely been there the whole time without making a sound. “Instantly, from what we can tell.”
Val frowned. Kupello patted the girl’s shoulder. “It seems you and the wolf-man know each other, so… I’ll leave you in his care and go see where else I can be of assistance.” Kupello nodded in Kestrich’s direction. “Thank you for the escort, kupo! I am glad to have met you.”
Kestrich arched a brow, but said nothing as the moogle waddled away to find others to assist.
“… How many are dead?” Val asked.
“Too many,” Kestrich said, standing to his full height. “The good news is, we may be safe here from any pursuers. The Web of Worlds lost track of this place before the Great War was won. The bad news, of course, is that we may none of us see our homes again.”
Val sighed. But there was more.
“As a fellow Grand Army soldier, I will do you this courtesy,” Kestrich said. He kneeled next to Val, and brought his face close to hers, so that his eye met hers. “If I find out that you were somehow responsible for this, that you are an agent of your father’s and you somehow colluded to smash our ship into this gods-forsaken rock… I will kill you. Without word, without warning. I will tear your throat out with my teeth and squeeze the last life from you with my bare hands.”
With that, he stood and walked away, leaving Val with yet another wonderful image to populate her nightmares.