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Last Flight of the Admiral Stalkforth 15

The first man went over and undid the straps.

When the Admiral was completely free, he reached up and felt his face. All his hair was gone, and his skin felt unnaturally smooth. He sat for a long time, staring at the stars on the other side of the view glass, kneading the bare ridges of his head. Gradually, like a trickle of water escaping ice, his memories began to return. The dark skinned man clad in gray continued to hover at the rim of each, an iron filament weaving the images of the past into a coherent map. In a flash, he recognized the face, and somewhere in the back of his mind a great door opened. Beyond it was a storehouse of images all sealed in shadow. They were soaked in fire and blood and each bayed with its own particular variety of pain.

The Admiral looked over at the other man, “Where is my First Officer?”

“I am him my liege, my name is Jole.”

“No you are not, where is Lord Grefa?”

“Oh, him. In light of your return he’s been honorably discharged and transferred into political life. You’ll see him soon enough when we reach the Capital.”

The Admiral squinted out of one eye. “You bastards forced him out the military?”

“No, it was his own decision my liege.”

“What do you mean?”

Before Jole could answer, a massive dissonant chord rocked the bridge. It sounded like a dozen random piano keys struck simultaneously with a hammer. The stars winked out and the previously blank monitors winked on. Columns of arcane symbols scrolled down their screens.

“We’ve found a null-space vein!” said Jole. “Computer, prepare for transfusion.”

Red light flooded the bridge. A metal limb unfolded from the ceiling like the leg of a giant mechanical spider; it injected both men with a glistening barbed needle and then retreated. A fissure opened under the Admiral's feet and thick gray goo began to seep out. It spread over the walls, ceiling, and floor, hardening as it went, until every surface was covered in a smooth, rubbery substance. Finally, Jole gave the Admiral a black hood and instructed him to put it over his head.

“Ready?” said Jole.

“For what?”

“For null-space. Computer, begin the transfusion.”

Every particle in the Admiral’s being began to pulse. A bitter cold sweat oozed from his pores and coated his body. Somehow, he could feel his atoms align and be reeled into skeins of electricity. His organs crumbled and his blood evaporated into a fragrant mist. Like a collapsing star, he folded in on himself until he was nothing more than an ultra-dense sliver of matter. A human body compressed and stored into a quantum byte.

Though he lacked eyes, he found he could see in 360 degrees. The bridge was soaked in fierce red and seemed ready to collapse. The walls vibrated so energetically that their borders blurred together. His vision fragmented, slipped between the sub-atomic cracks in the ship’s hull, and emerged in the wild landscape of null-space, seeing all there was to see from all angles and in all dimensions. Here, tendrils of purple and white slid through the wet black and interwove. Above and below, halos of blue-electricity surged and spat out beams of energy like polar caps to a sphere of negative matter. Monstrous forms blacker than space itself roamed about, destroying light wherever it was found. The tendrils shied away from these moving voids, instead seeking out the poles and each other, basking in the crackling blue light-rain.

Suddenly the fantastic scene vanished. The Admiral’s sight retreated into the ship and went black.

When he awoke, he felt a hundred years older. His skin no longer seemed attached to his body, his muscles were liquid sliding to and fro, and he was sure his bones would shatter into a cloud of dust at the slightest movement. Despite all this, he felt acutely aware of his surroundings. He took off the black hood and looked around without moving his head. He was still seated in the center of the bridge. The monitors were black again, and the stars had returned in the glass, though now arranged in a distinctly different pattern. In the center of the glass, a large red sun glowed, trailed by what looked like a long string of pearls. A solar system, perhaps? Jole stood to the right, face gray and sallow and eyes sunken into his head.

“That was interesting,” the Admiral said, his voice cracking.

Jole spat out a tooth. It bounced off the floor and rolled into a corner. “It always is.”

“Where are we?”

“The Golden Core, my sovereign”