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“Have you gone fucking insane?” Brynas half yelled the question at his younger brother.
“You’re the one that said you need to do something to prove you’re not just some spoiled princeling,” said Tybrin.
“I didn’t mean hunting down vampires on another planet!”
Brynas and Tybrin were the youngest children of King Belduin Elvaris. Their father – an eccentric man, according to the extranet news feeds – had established the first feudal society on an alien world only a few years after the invention of Dark Drive. That was centuries ago, and the old half-elf wasn’t going to die anytime soon; not with modern technomagical aging treatments.
“Look man, we have two dozen brothers and sisters. Do you think anyone is going to notice us founding new colonies somewhere on this gods forsaken planet? ‘Oh hooray, you used daddy’s money to buy desalination technology and prefab housing!’ Get real. You want to be noticed, this is how we get noticed.” Tybrin tossed the tablet down on the bed beside Brynas.
“Neither of us have even been off world!” Brynas jumped off the bed, away from the tablet and the advertisement his brother had on screen. “And you want to hunt a vampire? What do you even know about vampire hunting?”
“Nothing! Read the ad!” Tybrin picked up the tablet and shoved it in his brother’s face. “Look! All we need to do is get transportation to the training facility and bring our own equipment. Dad’s not going to miss a scoutship or anything from the armoury. Hell, he’d probably encourage us to go.”
Brynas sighed and took the tablet. “Fifty fucking years old and you want me to go on a gods damned adventure… What in The Abyss is Grizzly Company?”
“They’re a new branch of Greywolf Corporation.”
“The mercenary company?”
“Yeah. They deal with training greenhorns that don’t have any previous military experience. You sign up, you train, and they send you on a few milk runs.”
“How the fuck is killing vampires a milk run?” Brynas yelled.
“Calm down! Give me that.” Tybrin roughly took the tablet, opened a different window and shoved it back. “Look here. Vampires are super easy to kill with modern tech. The whole sunlight thing? All you need is a UV laser. Dad has a stockpile of prototypes he got on the black market. Easy pickings.”
His younger brother was right according to the info page Brynas was looking at. Vampires were vulnerable to anything that produced ultraviolet radiation. The page included tactics, like using flood lamps for herding and cornering. Even cheap personal armour and shield systems were more than good enough for repelling their strikes and bites. Vampires of every species were a dying race.
“It says here that they don’t use technology. That can’t be right, how’d they get off Hamuvtakat if they don’t use tech?”
“What… you think it’s impossible for a vampire to sneak aboard a transport or mail himself in a coffin? They’re old school, they’re not stupid.”
“What about magic? Don’t most vampires have innate magic?”
“Every team has at least one mage. Come on man, it’s all taken care of! We go grab a few things from the armoury, we take a scoutship to their training facility in the Teakt system, go kill some blood suckers harassing a bunch of colonists, and come back heroes! We keep copies of the combat footage and plaster it all over Epra. We’ll be gone for a few months, tops.”
Brynas pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. He didn’t see how it could be so easy. Then again, his little brother was 46 and just as educated as he was. The man wasn’t stupid. He’d certainly done his research.
“Not a word about this to anyone, understand? We tell everyone we’re going on a singles cruise or some other lame shit.”
“That’s more like it! You won’t regret this.” Tybrin playfully punched Brynas in the shoulder. Both of their parents may have been half-elves, but Tybrin had tended more towards the human DNA than the rest of his family. He was shorter, but stronger and tougher than his siblings.
“I already do,” said Brynas as he rubbed his shoulder.
. . .
Brynas and Tybrin stood around the holotable in the drop ship’s tactical room with the rest of their squad as Lieutenant Urke – a rather fearsome half-orc who had a severe burn scar over the left side of his face, sported a cybernetic eye, and two cybernetic arms – went over the tactical plan.
“Pay attention you dumb fuckwits. I’m not going down there to babysit you. The last team I dropped here thought they were some sort of macho tough guys and didn’t pay attention in the tactical briefing.”
“If a team were here already, then why are we going?” asked Desmon. Desmon really was a fuckwit. A young human that had brought a single-shot charge-action rifle; it had to be hand cranked to charge up every round. The idiot thought it made him look cool.
“Brynas, slap Desmon,” said Urke. Brynas slapped the human on the back of the head.
“They’re dead, you moron,” said Brynas. “And if you get me killed, I’m going to haunt you until the day you die.”
“Can’t haunt me if I’m dead, too,” Desmon said, like he’d won a debate.
“Can it!” yelled Urke. He activated the holotable and the surface became a 3D satellite view of the mission area. “Here’s the crashed supply ship that the blood suckers live in. Debris prevents entry anywhere but the starboard cargo bay door; here. Your drop pods will land two hundred metres Southeast in this forest. You’ll hike in on foot. We don’t know where the vampire nest is, so stick together, follow the search pattern, and use your HUD to navigate.
“Gergram and Thelrus are the only two here with any kind of stamina.” Urke was referring to the dwarves. “You lucky little midgets get to carry the flood lights. Keep them on at all times. You see a vamp, you hit the UV burst. Corner it and let the others do the dirty work.
“Brynas is the only one of you with more than three brain cells to rub together, so he’s in charge. You follow his orders like he’s Colonel Laera. Understood?”
“Yes, sir,” said all but one.
“Uh, sir, what’s my job?” asked Dagron, an elven mage.
Urke sighed and placed his face in a cybernetic palm. “Dagron, do vampires have magic?”
“And are you a mage?”
“And did Grizzly Company teach you to dispel magic?”
“Then what the Hell do you think your job is?” yelled Urke at the top of his lungs.
“Uhm… dispelling magic?”
Urke’s metal hands clanked as he slow clapped. He stared the elf down as he did, and Dagron was unable to maintain eye contact for long. “Do I have to explain basic skills to you, Tybrin? No? You drop in 15 minutes. Gear up and get to the drop pods. Dismissed.”
. . .
Everything shook. Brynas squeezed his eyes shut as the drop pod plummeted to the planet, sealed into the one man pod like it was a coffin. In his radio, he heard Tybrin laughing like a teenager on a hovercoaster.
“I knew you were going to get me killed!” Brynas yelled into his radio. All he got back was the sound of the dwarves joining into the laughter.
The extreme shaking lasted only a few minutes. The boosters and inertial dampeners kicked in, and Brynas felt the pod touch down. The door lifted up and he fell forward onto solid ground.
He squinted in the light after the dark of the drop pod. When he felt someone grab the shoulder of his armour, he rolled over and whipped out his pistol.
“Whoa! Easy bro!” Tybrin was standing over him in his heavy armour, his helmet under one arm and his other arm up in the air. Brynas lowered the laser pistol and placed it back in his holster. Tybrin offered a hand and helped Brynas to his feet.
He took in his surroundings. Their pods had come down in the forest as planned, and they were in a neat little group. The others had all gotten out of their pods and had gathered around him. “Alright… It’s midday, and we’ve got… 12 hours before nightfall on this rock. Let’s get to that ship while the vamps are inside. If we don’t get them all before sundown, we book it back here for sub-orbital pickup. I’m not staying here overnight. Let’s move.”
The others fell in behind him as they moved Northwest towards the ship, their helmets’ heads-up displays providing direction. The forest was silent except for the sounds of six heavily armed and armoured men tramping through it.
They got to the crashed transport without incident. It was massive, easily hundreds of metres long and dozens high; the forest being the only reason why they couldn’t see it at a distance. The adamithral armour was immune to corrosion and the ship gleamed in the sunlight.
Brynas slowly and carefully led the squad to the cargo bay doors. They were only open a few feet, just enough to squeeze through. He grabbed ahold of the doors and pulled himself the couple feet up; then one by one pulled his men up and into the ship.
The interior of the ship was nearly black, the only light coming through the barely open doors and the small lights mounted on their shoulders and rifles. The dwarves, Gergram and Thelrus, pulled the flood lamps off their backs. The lamps lit up the cargo bay like little suns.
If there had been cargo in the ship when it crashed, it was gone now. The whole bay was wide open and empty. Catwalks ran the length of the bay walls a few dozen feet up. Entrances to passageways into other sections of the ship were spaced evenly apart both off the catwalks and at ground level.
Brynas thought carefully about what to do next. This was the first time in his life he had led anyone, let alone a combat mission. Worse, he was leading a group of idiots. “Okay… We’re going to follow the route that Urke gave us. We head to stern and make our way starboard to port and back moving towards the bow.
“Gergram, you’re up front with me. Tybrin and Thelrus, you’re protecting our asses. Desmon, I’m 99% sure you’re going to die no matter what I do, but you stay in the middle with Dagron. He’s our only protection from magic, so I don’t care what you have to do to keep him alive, just do it.”
“You’re all going to die.” Brynas turned to the source of the voice behind him. There was no one there.
“Which one of you said that?”
“Said what?” asked Tybrin.
“‘You’re all going to die.’ Which one of you assholes said it?”
The other five stared at him blankly. “None of us said anything,” said Dagron.
Brynas searched the confused looks on their faces. If they were screwing with him, they were perfect actors. “Nevermind. Helmets on and let’s go.”
They followed the pre-planned route through the ship, clearing rooms and bays one by one. They’d cleared nearly every stern system and bay – nearly a 3rd of the ship – when they reached the port cargo bay. Unlike the starboard bay they had entered, the port cargo bay was filled with crates.
The crates were nearly as tall as an average human. Stacked two high the crates acted as walls to either side, and more crates ahead blocked their view. The crates were almost perfectly smooth; there was no way to climb them.
Brynas shoved one of the crates, but it didn’t budge the slightest. “Dagron, any chance you know how to fly?”
“No. That’s a difficult spell. I’m not there quite yet.”
“Well, do you have anything that you can use to look over these crates? I don’t want to walk through here blindly.”
“Uhm… Ah! I have a spell that temporary eliminates gravity! I uh… failed my zero-G classes, though.”
“Of course you did. Cast it on Thelrus. Get to the ceiling, tell me what it looks like from up there, then get back down here.”
Thelrus looked like an ugly, hairy balloon as he floated into the air. With a push from Tybrin he floated towards the ceiling and grabbed a light fixture; then shone his flood lamp back towards the floor. “It’s a maze,” he said through the radio. “An actual maze. I ain’t that smart, but even I know someone built this.”
“Shit. Get back down here, now.” Brynas watched just long enough to see Thelrus push off the ceiling, then he looked back down at the others. “This is a trap. We’re going to find a way around.” Thelrus’ flood light slammed down onto the floor in front of him and broke. “Gods damn it you stupid-” When Brynas looked up, Thelrus was nowhere to be scene.
“Thelrus?” No response on the radio. “Computer, ping Thelrus.” An arrow appeared on his HUD, and he tracked it down. The ping indicated that Thelrus was on the other side of a wall of crates.
“Thelrus, respond. Fuck. Dagron, did your spell fail?”
“No. It collapsed.”
“The Hell is the difference?”
“A spell on a person collapses when someone else dispels it, or… the target dies.”
Tybrin put his hand on Brynas’ shoulder. “There was no sound. He didn’t fall.”
They hadn’t even killed a single vampire and one of their own was already gone. “Shit. We’re going back to the other cargo bay and finding a way around.”
“We can’t just leave him,” said Gergram.
“We’re not leaving him,” Brynas told the dwarf, “we’re going to circle back around. We find the vamps and we find Thelrus.”
“Like Hell! You pansies want to leave, then leave. I’m going to find Thelrus.” Gergram stomped off.
“Gergram, get your ass back here, now!” shouted Brynas. Gergram turned around, displayed his middle finger, then turned back and rounded a corner. “Gods damn it you little shit, get back here!” Brynas walked to the corner and turned after Gergram.
He was greeted by an impossibly long hallway of crates. Far longer than the ship was wide. Gergram was nowhere to be seen.
That was impossible. Brynas looked back at the group huddled near the entrance, then back around the corner. Near the end of the hall was Gergram, his helmet off, staring back. “Gergram, get your ass back here, now!” He blinked and Gergram was closer. He hadn’t started walking – the dwarf was just suddenly closer to Brynas. Brynas’ breath caught in his throat. “Gergram?” He blinked again. Gergram was closer – he could see Gergram’s eyes. But those weren’t Gergrams eyes. Gergram’s eyes weren’t red. He blinked again. Gergram was closer.
“Brynas, what do you see?” said Tybrin in his radio.
Brynas opened his eyes as wide as they could go and slowly backed around the corner. He stopped when he could just barely see Gergram. “When I give the signal, everyone run. Stay together and cut back to the entrance.” Brynas swallowed hard and strained against the pain as his eyes dried out. But no matter how hard he tried, couldn’t stop himself from blinking. Gergram was only a few feet away, his eyes glowing red, his smile wide. Brynas backed up as far as he could without losing sight of the dwarf.
“Now!” he shouted. He turned and ran, and felt something scratch the back of his armour. The other three ran ahead of him. They could barely breathe in the heavy armour, and the ship was filled with the noise of heavy boots slamming into metal bulkheads.
They ran back through the ship, then turned down a hallway that would skip past most of the stern and take them back to the open doors of the cargo bay and the safety of the sun. They burst into the starboard cargo bay, only to find its doors had closed.
Brynas ran up to where the entrance had been. “Help me!” He yelled, and tried to pry the doors open. Two sets of hands joined his as they tried to move the massive doors.
Two sets of hands? He looked to his left and saw Tybrin. He looked to his right and saw Desmon. Brynas turned around. Dagron was nowhere to be seen. “Where’s Dagron?”
“He was right behind me,” said Desmon. “Oh shit, mama was right. I should’ve stayed on the farm. We’re gonna die!”
“Keep it together! There’s an airlock 20 metres away on the second floor. Let’s move!” Brynas ran to the nearest staircase, the others following right behind him. At the top, Brynas turned down a hall. Sure enough, the airlock was was only a short distance away.
“We should be able to pry the doors open, come on!” Brynas put all his weight into the manual override lever; then began pulling the door open while Desmon pulled from the other side. Slowly but surely, the inner door opened. That was when he realized Tybrin wasn’t there.
Brynas pushed Desmon out of the way. “Tybrin! Tybrin where are you!” Just as with Thelrus, there was no reply. “I’m going back to find my brother.”
“What? This is our last chance!” cried Desmon. “I can’t open the outer door without your help!”
“I can’t leave him! Tybrin! Tybriiiiiiin!” Brynas ran back to the cargo bay, Desmon screaming at him in his radio. From the catwalk, he used the light from his rifle to search the floor. In the middle of the room was Tybrin.
“Tybrin! What the fuck are you doing? Let’s go!” Tybrin didn’t move. Then Brynas realized that he could no longer hear Desmon on the radio. He looked back down the hall, and there was no one there. He turned back, and Tybrin, too, was gone.
Brynas turned to run, and found Tybrin standing in the hallway just past the airlock, his eyes red, open and staring at Brynas. Brynas held his eyes open and slowly walked towards his brother and the airlock. Tybrin didn’t move as he slid into the airlock and began to shut the outer door.
“Don’t blink. Don’t blink.” His eyes burned as he pulled with all his strength. Inch by inch, the inner door slowly closed. Only a foot to go. That was all. Just one more foot. The fear and terror kept his eyes open far longer than he’d ever managed while in staring contests with his siblings as children.
But it hurt too much. Blind fear and adrenaline could only do so much. Slowly, his eyelids drooped against the strain, and his eyes closed briefly before reopening. Tybrin was in the airlock with him. “I’m sorry, brother,” Brynas said mournfully. He raised his rifle and fired.
The beam of ultraviolet light did no damage. The visage of his brother smiled. The last thing Brynas saw was the fangs.
. . .
“Brynas. Brynas, wake up. Brynas!” Someone slapped him across the face and he bolted upright. His brother.
“Tybrin!” Brynas threw his arms around his brother. They hugged for a few seconds before Tybrin pushed him off.
“We gotta get out of here, man,” said Tybrin.
Brynas looked around. They were in some sort of large barn – it could have been from a dairy farm on Epra. But there were no cows or goats here.
On the opposite wall were hundreds of people suspended vertically, unconscious, pincushioned with needles attached to tubes. White fluid entered their bodies through some tubes, and red blood came out of a single large one from the inner thigh.
“Where are the others?”
Tybrin turned and pointed. Gergram, Thelrus, Desmon and Dagron were suspended among the other people. He turned back and pulled on Brynas’ arm. “Too late for them, let’s just go!”
“Go where?” came a disembodied voice. Brynas recognized it. It was the voice that had told him they were going to die.
Brynas stood up with help from Tybrin. “Stop toying with us! Show yourself!”
“Oh, but I do love the theatrics.” Tybrin’s eyes went wide, and Brynas turned. Gergram – or someone that looked like Gergram – leaned against the wall.
“What the Hell is this place?” asked Brynas.
The image of Gergram turned into Desmon. “I was sure the son of the great King Elvaris would know a barn when he sees one.”
“Barns are for animals, not people!”
The image of Desmon changed into a pale human in a lab coat. “But aren’t we all really animals? Oh, I’m not here to debate semantics with you.” The man smiled, revealing fangs. “No time for that. We have urgent business. You see, this whole colony is populated by vampires, and I’m afraid we’re running low on blood supplies. Not enough coming through Grizzly Company, I’m afraid.”
Realization struck Brynas. “You set this up!”
“My boy, we run Grizzly Company. Stupid recruits get diverted here to become… I guess the term “blood bag” is a tad offensive, isn’t it? The point is, we need blood and those that are detrimental to the gene pool provide it to us!”
“Then why are we alive?”
“Ah, yes! Simple. You boys are going to set up colonies of sapients on our planet! Once the population is naturally expanding, we will occasionally… harvest… some of the colonists for use as… well… blood bags.”
“And if we refuse?” said Tybrin.
“My, my, you are defiant! My boy, who do you think sent you the advertisement for Grizzly Company? Did you think it was just some random junk mail? Who do you think wrote the fake information page on vampires? We planned for you to come here. That pain in your neck? In your stomach? You’ve both already been bitten. The final stages should be setting in now. You are turning into vampire thralls. You’ll maintain all of your faculties, but you’ll hunger for vampire blood. And we’ll provide you with just enough to keep you alive. And maybe if you boys are good, we’ll give you enough to make you vampires.
“Now, my pets… Kneel.”
At the vampire’s command, Brynas felt himself slowly fall to his knees. Tybrin managed to struggle against the vampire for several seconds, but even he wasn’t strong enough to stop himself.
“We’ve created videos for you both. You can take them home and show your father just how you hunted down the vampires, avenging your fallen comrades. Then you can come back with supplies and people and begin establishing the colonies. We have some nice beaches on this planet too… maybe a resort? Ah! I’ll leave the particulars to you.
“We took the liberty of delivering your scoutship here. Now, off with you both! You have a lot of work to do.”
. . .
“And this just in from the Elvaris dynasty. The two youngest sons, Brynas and Tybrin Elvaris, have broken from tradition and are establishing two new colonies on an alien world. The brothers had secretly left home and cleared out a vampire nest on Cholla 342 seeking to make names for themselves. Their father honoured them with more startup capital than any of their siblings had ever received, and the two will be founding their colonies on the very planet that they rescued from vampires.
“That’s all for me tonight. This is Yana Maninsky of Hamuvtakat Galactic News, signing off.”