Nothing was the same.
Nothing would ever be the same again.
Chief Petty Officer, Third Class Darius Mynx tried to drown the thought out, but even as he tipped his third glass of amasec back and felt the amber alcohol burn his throat on the way down, he knew there was no denying it. The things he had experienced were…
The empty glass hit the table again, the sound echoing through the packed bar despite the noise of the crowd around him. Mynx had hoped being amongst others would help make him feel connected and human again. But as he sat here, surrounded by the humanity he craved, Mynx knew one thing.
He had never been more alone.
These people would never know the burden he carried. He had seen faces in the coolant vapor of plasma drives, twisted in agony and screaming so loud no one could hear them. He had heard whispers of dead men, and creatures that had yet to exist. For weeks, the voices had scratched at his mind, wearing him down, slowly driving him insane.
Even in sleep he had been unable to avoid them. They came to him in his dreams, formless monsters of smoke and shadow. Mynx still did not know if their shapelessness was a product of his mind being unable to comprehend their true nature, or if it was unconsciously protecting him from it. Voidsmen often told stories of the ghouls and daemons that existed in the warp, the things that clawed at a ship’s Gellar field. The Urathian had not been in the warp when the whispers started, had not been in the warp for almost a full week. And yet…
Mynx watched the bartender fill his glass again. The man said nothing as he tipped the bottle of amasec over, but Mynx could feel his eyes scouring him, judging him. The nerve. What gave him the right? Mynx placed both hands around his drink and drew it towards his chest, recoiling into himself like a turtle might recede within its shell. He glared at the bartender in silent indignation. He would never understand. No one would, except…
Mynx brought the drink to his lips and wondered where the rest of his division was now. Eleven others, drawn from the lowest engineering decks, where the inglorious task of keeping a grand cruiser’s heart beating lay, had experienced what he had. They knew the terrors that kept him awake at night. They understood.
Mynx wondered how many of them were already dead.
Mynx flinched at the sound of his name. He knew the voice well enough. It had whispered to him ceaselessly for weeks. He had hoped in abandoning the Urathian he might have left it behind, but it followed him no matter where he went.
“Leave me be.”
Darius, take us to Xyloneth… Darius. Darius, take us-
“I said shut up or I’ll-”
“Hey, buddy, you okay?”
The bartender touched Mynx on the shoulder. The petty officer reacted on instinct. He reached out with one hand and grabbed the bartender by the collar of his shirt. With the other, he raised his glass and smashed it across the man’s face. It shattered, and blood mixed with amasec as the bartender stumbled sideways before falling to the floor.
Mynx leapt from his stool and bolted for the door. He crossed the bar in long, loping strides. Before anyone could react, Darius Mynx was through the door and gone, disappeared into the cold rain outside.
Mynx wasn’t sure for how long he ran. Hab-block after hab-block rushed by, little more than a neon blur in his rain-soaked vision. It wasn’t until the chill seeped through his standard issue void jacket and into his bones that he slowed down and ducked into the shadow of an alleyway. The adrenaline in his veins had ruined whatever alcoholic haze he’d been building with the amasec. At least he’d run off before settling his tab. Less gelt wasted. And probably the least of his sins at this point.
“Throne help me.”
“That can be arranged.”
Mynx jumped. Devoid of a glass, his hand reached instead for the snub-nosed Navy .357 tucked into his belt. He pulled it out and held the weapon to his head.
“I should have done this long ago.”
“I wouldn’t,” came the voice again. “I would like the chance to talk with you first. Before we come to the inevitable.”
Mynx realized the voice wasn’t in his head. It floated to him from the darkness around him, mixing with the soft hiss of falling rain before alighting on his ears. He turned back and forth, keeping the revolver pressed to his temple as he tried to find the source of the voice in the storm.
“Where are you?”
“Here, Darius Mynx. I am here.”
Mynx turned. A man stood at the mouth of the alleyway, dressed in a long black coat and heavy boots. Despite the rain, his head was bare, his face exposed, but somehow Mynx found himself unable to focus on any of the man’s features. He turned his gaze elsewhere, searching for some means of identification. But there were none.
“Who are you?” the petty officer asked.
“That matters little,” the man said. “What matters is I know who you are, Darius Mynx, Chief Petty Officer, Third Class of the Imperial Navy, assigned, until your recent desertion, to the third engineering watch of the grand cruiser Urathian.”
Mynx felt his blood go cold. He tried to move his arm, to take the gun in his hand away from his head and aim it at whoever this man was. To his horror, he found he could not. None of his muscles would move or respond. It was as if he were frozen.
The man took a step closer, the smile on his face far from comforting.
“Yes, I know who you are, Darius,” the man said. “And you and I have much to discuss.”