I wrote this story in 2001 as part of a “Galactic Noir” setting I was working on back then. In it’s tone Galactic Noir was largely inspired by short stories by George R.R. Martin, specifically those from his now out of print Sandkings short story collection (though not so much by the titular story). But it also drew heavy thematic inspiration from the Orion’s Arm group I was participating with at the time, as well as the old World of Darkness gameline by White Wolf.
Unfortunately, after fleshing out several ideas for this setting via e-mail with a few guys from one of the World of Darkness forums (Bryan Conlon, Gabe Carlson, and “Wolf”), the computer on which I stored all our correspondence had pretty much every one of it’s I/O devices break in some way. As a result the relevant information languished for years on the machine’s inaccessable hard drive.
However, this past Christmas season, while rummaging through Circuit City trying to figure out what to spend a gift certificate on, I stumbled across a kit to convert old hard disks for use as external drives. Now that I have access to this stuff again I’ll probably be sticking at least some of it on the web in the near future.
Dead On Arrival is the only actual story I can remember writing for the setting, and consequently also the only “stand alone” piece of writing that my brief perusal could dig up. So here it is.
Note: This one’s going out to the folks on the Dragonstar mailing list in the hopes that it’ll contribute to the currently ongoing discussion of vampires… in… space…
Keep on keepin’ the faith over there guys.
Three days out from Anhydrous Space Dox, salvage tug Starez IV was finally reaching it’s destination, an unusually shaped metalic object recently spotted drifting into the outer fringes of the Anhydrous star system. During closer approach additional scans showed the object to be an old-time cold-sleep colony freighter with about 4000 passangers/cargo units. At the speed it was going it must have taken near on seven centuries to get to this star system.
Well, unfortunately for those would-be colonists someone in the Terran Concordant had invented the distortion drive a couple hundred years after they set out and the system they hoped to settle was now the property of the Pentonics Conglomerate. Probably the Concordant would eventually settle them on one of the current terraform projects. In the mean time those recovering the ship would get a little money from their rescue/salvage efforts.
Starez maneuvered closer to the unweildy bulk of the cold-sleeper. A quick perusal of historical archives suggested no threat of plague aboard so contact and salvage would not be a problem. The Starez fired a couple careful maneuveres to match velocity and position it’s self close to the sleeper’s center of mass, then with a final gentle pulse of the drives (though “gentle” is somewhat relative when dealing with a fusion drive), nudged up against the sleeper.
Concordant law forbade performing salvage on any vessel until that vessel has been towed to the nearest port, inspection of the ship to be salvaged, proper claims filed, sent back New Concord, digitally verrified, fees processed, etc. In practice this is almost never the actual sequence of events.
It took only a few seconds for the Starez’ computer to patch into the primative number cruncher that ran the cold-sleeper, preliminary results indicated cryo-malfunction resulting in 99.95% of passangers dead. In other words, open locker for looting. Not an hour had passed before three spacers from the Starez plugged into suits and blew a lock see what was what aboard the old body-bag. Reports would still have to be filed, but no one would notice the absence of if a few choice items that weren’t rivoted into place.
It had been ages since they had awoken from torpor. There had been five of them to begin with. Rhea, Nick, Vesh, Bill, and Lord Karth.
Lord Karth was their sire of course. A rogue prince of the Bruja, when the Bruja clan still held that name. A genius when it came to the programming and manipulating the primative A.I.s of the time, but violent and unpredictable none the less.
The more floral phrase “Starry Masque” had replaced the old term “Masquerade” in vampiric parlance soon after the first clan-lord finally got the cajones to venture out into the solar system along with the rest of humanity. But the Masque it’s self had remained essentially the same: a code of laws intended to shield the bulk of humanity from true understanding of the fact that blood-drinking undead predators walked among them. Karth had a particularly blatant habit of violating the Masque that would’ve earned him decapitation on pretty much any kindred-inhabited polity inside the orbit of Neptune had he been caught. Passage aboard the sleeper had been an apparently quite successful last-ditch effort to put himself beyond the vengance of several of the more tenacious clan Elders.
Rhea was, in title, his consort. And, though the walking dead have little need of partners in fleshy matters, Karth had had strong attachments to his raven haired mate in life. In death these attachments had merely altered their focus rather than diminishing. Despiter her frail appearance, she had a potency almost to match his own in combat, and in subtrifuge there were a several areas in which she might have gained some advantage over him.
Nick, Vesh, and Bill were only henchmen, Nick the best among them.
The necessity had arrived early on, only 50 years into the journey, for Karth to destroy Bill. Bill had let himself enter blood-lust and in the process had torn apart a ridiculous 631 passangers, thereby dangerously reducing their food supply.
Vesh was also absent from their company. His body now drifted somewhere between the stars apart from the ship. He had been the first to attempt travel between sealed sections of the ship. Lacking a servicable space-suit after the incident with Bill, Vesh had cycled slowly through the airlock to prevent the damage that sudden decompression would bring. Unfortunately, after being outside for only a minute or so half his vitae had boiled through his skin from the drop in pressure and the remaining half had frozen along with the rest of his body. Somewhere out there his immobile, cryogenically preserved flesh still drifted, unless a micro-meteorite had already shattered it as they entered the system.
Soon after Vesh met his fate, Lord Karth broke open the hydraulic fluid feed to a low pressure actuator and mixed it’s contents with the blood of his meal. It may have defiled the taste of the precious liquid irreperably, but the results were satisfactory as his joints stayed limber in the vacuum beyond. In the days that followed Rhea discovered a moderately less offensive substitute in the cryo-lubricant for the sleep-capsules. Ultimately though the taste mattered little since only one dose of any sort of anti-freeze ever proved necessary.
Between the stars they learned several valuable lessons, not the least of which was how tenuously the ties to old Earth were streached at such a distance. When colonies had gone up around Jupiter and on the Martian surface the kindred there had found their loss of strength and urge to feed came in synch with the respective Jovian and Martian day/night cycles, and noticed their injury from daylight grown less severe from the weaker reach of Sol’s wrath. But out here beyond the solar system there were no planets, no great yellow eye of vengance, and the daily loss of blood borne vitality dwindled to only a trickle. In these dark reaches an entire year might pass before there was any noticable loss. . . unless, of course, one called upon some mystical discipline or other.
Out here the sun faded to become just one among billions of other angry points of light, their strength becomming impotent at such a great distance, as they strove to cleanse from the universe unclean things like the children of Caine. But during their time in the dark sea between, these few of Caine’s children had heard a call of other stars. Stars which through their radiance of orange, yellow, white, and blue shown to the carefully trained inner eye with an inviting red. Oh, yes, over the years they had heard these other stars whispering to them, beckoning them forward.
Unfortunately, all were much farther afield than their 4000 meals would take them, at least if they still desired some leftover kine to graze and pasture at the journey’s end. And as a result they were forced to settle for their programmed destination.
But the call of the distant stars and the eternal searching for the world of their destination made their senses sharp. Keen enough to see the tiny specks of planets across the distnace of lightyears, enough to smell the scant ions burning off the surrounding stars corona, enough to feel the etherial buffet of the stellar winds upon their hydraulic-fluid colored flesh.
Eventually their destination grew close, though still indistinguishable in magnitude from the surrounding stars. Passive sensors picked up radio transmissions from their goal, Earth-style radio transmissions (though, of course they had never heard any other kind). The transmissions were not directed at them, at least not at first. But the information they revealed was the same: Something had happened. Somehow others had arrived before them.
They were still two years distant from their destination when Karth began to prepare.
This would be Technician Gomez first opportunity to loot a salvage ship. Wrecks didn’t wander into Anhydrous every day, maybe only a couple times in a lifetime. There’d probably be something on this derelict he could turn over to a collector for some decent cred.
His suit thrust ports glowed from a small box near his lower back. He drifted, seemingly in slow motion, between the other two “salvage” personnell as they approached the ghost ship. Something caught the Gomez eye, some movement near the third colonist pod from the drive.
The optics of his visor automatically zoomed in on the area …to see three figures crouched on the hull below (Below? Perspective can be tricky in space.) staring back at him.
His first shock was to see that there were actually inhabitants still active aboard the airless vessel. Only a moment later as the three strange figures pushed off the hull, still many yards away, did he realize that they were covered only in the barest threads of clothing and, apart from the tools they carried, virtually naked.
Each remained connected to the sleeper-ship via a thin tether attached to an ankle. One of them was a woman with pale bluish skin, her dark hair shifting in sympathetic motion around her head. Another, a male, had the same coloration, though the third had a light orangish cast to him. Gomez found something about the combination of colors oddly familiar, what was it they reminded him of?
It occurred to him that at their rate they were drifting toward him they must be moving at unbelievable speed considering their only acceleration impulse was from pushing the hull. Were they some genetically engineered “branch” people? He’d heard of humans altered for weird atmospheres, but none for a total vacu . . .
Gomez never finished the thought, he barely had time to react when the female reached him, grabbed his suit by the faceplate and ripped both helment and head off with one taloned hand. Near her Karth had already discovered how to operate the attitude thrusters of the corpse bearing suit in his grasp. Nick gave a wry smile as he scooped a ice-coated globule of red liquid from the vacuum nearby.
Their first victory had come easy, but a greater task was still at hand. This meal had apparently come from somewhere relatively close by. It was some comfort that the pre-existing presence of kine in this star system would make it unnecessary to ration themselves for years while trying to build up a colony. But gaining power in this new arena with it’s unknown technology and political terrain would likely be a challenge in and of it’s self.
Fortunately it was the sort of challenge Karth most enjoyed.