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S1A6E3 A Taste for Blood

Due to a now-resolved technical issue, most of the votes for the fate of Deimos in the previous story were lost. Please revisit that story and re-vote to decide their fate so the Hoodwink Team can reveal the results next week!


The Atrium of the Aery space station

BANG.

Vyce ducked behind the industrial conveyer belts where his team worked to dodge the unseen gunshot. A shot echoed through every pipe and corner of the Aery atrium, and for the second time that day, and perhaps for the second time in memory, the entire four floors of the Aery froze in horror.

His chest pumped hot and breath came fast. He made himself count to twenty before rising again from behind the cargo conveyer. The rest of the logistics team did the same, at varying speeds, around their floor. Off the left, their floor ended at a balcony looking into the main Atrium of Aery, where the massive airlock had opened earlier that day to usher in Earl Titus. Four floors opened to form a half-ring around the gaping spaceship entrance and the platforms where entering ships bayed. 

Vyce jogged to the railing of their platform, wrench still in hand. Crumbling rust on the tool formed a grit between his fingers. It smelled of iron, but he could feel sweat on his palms making it even slipperier between his hands.

“The hell happened?” a stocky girl asked, coming up beside him. She had black hair knotted in buns on either side of her head and olive skin, darkened with grime.

“Not sure. Maybe just a bolt shifting?”

“No,” she muttered.

Vyce wiped a stray strand of greyed hair out of his eyes. He was young, still, but he appreciated the grey as a badge of honor earned by hard life on a small station.

Around the atrium, others gathered at their own railings to look down at the central corridor where the Earl’s retinue had disappeared. It was an armored passage some ten-by-ten feet that accessed the central shaft of the Aery station, with direct access to the Duke’s quarters and the station’s vital functions. The outer door was usually open – not that it mattered with all the layers of airlocks within – but today the Earl had left one of his own soldiers to stand at it.

A body of another man lay crumpled on the ground, a stream of red viscera painting the concrete behind him. He was motionless at the feet the Earl’s soldier, whose raised rifle visibly trembled even from where Vyce stood.

“What did you do?” someone yelled from a platform above.

Vyce could see the soldier, small at this distance, take a step back, as though the layers of yellow and black-striped railings lining each platform were not sufficient to separate him from the watchful eyes of the Aery. The slanted eyes of his owl-like helmet flickered back and forth along the atrium balconies.


Stat block of the Soldier of Eis Festung

Mal augurio,” the woman beside Vyce murmured.

Behind the soldier, the corridor airlock depressurized, and the soldier jumped, whirling to point his rifle at the intruder.

Even from where Vyce stood, he could see Earl Titus, in a single fluid motion, step through the gap, seize the rifle, and twist it out of the soldier’s hands. Using its barrel as a cane, he struck the soldier on the head and forced the rifle under his chin to pin him against the wall.

The crowd around them jeered from above at the escalating violence. Vyce felt a knot twisting in his stomach. From his throat to his heart to his belly, he felt uncomfortable tugging.

“He rushed the door and refused my order to stand down.” The soldier’s voice was garbled through his helmet and muffled such that it barely sounded human by the time it reached the floor with Vyce stood. More like a growl of a wounded animal.

Titus cast his eyes up into the crowd of people gathered against the yellow railings at the edge of the four floors of the atrium. “Is this true?”

An explosion of voices answered, accompanied by fists waving in the air, fingers pointing, and a cacophony of expletives and claims ranging from believable to fanatical.

Vyce marveled at the sight. The visceral reaction to the Earl's presence was almost unheard prior to the recent newscasts. But word from the inner planets of the rape of Carpo and the secession of Deimos had changed things. The workers' blood was hot, and confinement in the Duke's station meant there was no one to release their vitriol against.

Until now.

Vyce closed his eyes until the mob had lost its passion and simmered into murmuring. But when he opened them again, the Earl still watched the masses unwaveringly.

“Your Protectorate are here to defend you,” the Earl replied calmly. “It would seem a gross disservice was done here.”

“My Lord, please –” the soldier in his hands thrashed.

All the atrium, except Vyce, watched as Titus turned the barrel of his rifle until the tip pushed under the soldier’s jaw.

BANG.

A second banner of red covered the wall across from the floor, and the body of the soldier slumped to join his original victim.

Without a word, the Earl and the rest of his retinue of troops moved to re-enter their ship. The system preparations would already have been done; they would be departing soon.

Vyce felt his lips curl and he turned away from the scene, back to the packing systems, even as others cheered. Maybe that will satisfy their bloodlust, he thought.

“Aye, get used to it chico,” the woman beside him called to his back, as if to read his mind. “Some of us ain’t too happy about things around here. Things gotta get worse before they get better.”

Stat block for the ATMO Rifle

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