03/06/02

PROLOGUE

FIFTH PLANET

UNINHABITED SYSTEM 009723

0909 HOURS, 07.01.3463

                It should have been raining. This was the solitary thought that struck Chadwick as he lay against the cold stone wall. He knew this because his brother had been a great fan of old earth's movies, mostly action and drama. In almost every one of those, it was raining when a big, important event went down. Sometimes, it was raining during the entire thing. So today it definitely should have been raining.

                It was ironic, a beautiful day, apparently very calm and normal. It was a day he should have enjoyed. Although now that he thought about it, he wasn't positive that this weather was normal for this planet. Maybe it normally rained, and today was really very abnormal. That would be his luck. Chadwick wished he could see the sun, he'd always liked being in the sunshine and open air. He wasn't likely to admit it though, being employed by a group of terrorists and pirates wasn't conductive to emotional openness of that kind. It was those same pirates and terrorists that lead to his current situation, as a matter of fact.

                The pirates were always looking for a big score, something that would make them rich and entitle them to gloating rights for the rest of their lives. They were true pirates in every aspect, just like the pirates of old earth's seas. Cruel, egotistical, violent, deceitful back-stabbers, every one of them. Not terribly nice people to be with every day, but Chadwick always figured he needed to make a living somehow. It sure beat pulse drive maintenance, which is what his father and his father before him had always done. Not only did Chadwick find simple maintenance work distasteful; he had no real talent in the area either. He spent his days as an information gatherer and go-man for the pirate gang. A pretty good job for a mere human nowadays. It was a rather routine life, in an odd sort of way, with predictable problems and predictable solutions, in a predictable pattern.

                Which led Chadwick's train of thought to the events of that morning, so far away. He'd woken up in his bunk, as usual. Eaten the same terrible breakfast, been mistreated by the same irritating Hyani. Just dull routine, the same thing he did every day, very unsurprising. The only exception was the fact that they were planet side; the pirates generally didn't tether themselves to any rock unless there was a very good reason. So there was a reason they were here, on this backwater, unnamed planet. There was something very important they had to do…

                So why was he here, against this cold stone wall, pondering his breakfast? Ah yes, they were here to put that thing in safekeeping. Amazing that he had managed to forget. His memory must be going. Well, that was hardly surprising, he was having a very bad day. Just add memory loss to the list of things he was going to be irritated about later. That relic was another thing that would annoy him tomorrow. They had come to this nameless rock to put it into some sort of super-safe. He wasn't sure how exactly his employers had come across this great hiding place, but now he had a sneaking suspicion. Maybe he should have asked earlier.

                They had disembarked from their nondescript cargo ship very early that morning, before the dawn even broke. He and six Hyani from the ship followed their captain, also Hyani, into what appeared to be a ruined temple or coliseum. The roof was transparent in places, which allowed Chadwick to observe the slow development of this apparently perfect day as he walked. He recalled feeling both apprehensive and proud to be included in such an apparently important mission as the only human, in fact the only non-Hyani, present. The blood red rays of sunrise had cut paths through the dimness and dust within the structure as the group traveled. Their convoluted path through the building reminded Chadwick of a maze, specifically the labyrinth of the Minotaur from old earth legend. Chadwick did a quick estimate in his head, he thought they had probably walked about two kilometers within the single building alone before they reached their destination.

                In this case, their destination appeared singularly anticlimactic. A low, unmarked door of a dark, dull metal slid open at the touch of a keypad by the captain. The eight members of the group filed through the doorway, with Chadwick being last, into a circular and unadorned room. The room's only saving grace, as it were, was a row of three skylights that prominently displayed the clear blue-green sky of early morning on this planet. These skylights were also the only source of light in the room. Chadwick was still looking around trying to find a reason for them to be in that boring room when he became aware of a rather interesting fact. The ceiling was getting higher. Belatedly, he realized that the ceiling wasn't rising, the floor was descending. At the time he had found this rather disturbing, but none of his companions appeared perturbed.

                The floor of the room that they had been standing in was apparently some sort of large lift, and dropped for approximately a hundred meters. When the lift came to a slow halt, another nondescript doorway became visible, opened but another touch of their commander. This led into a long corridor which eventually ended in an immense, conical chamber that tapered from a massive width of a hundred meters at the archway where the group entered down to a mere dozen or so at the opposite end, more than 300 meters away. The ceiling arched up to a height of thirty meters, and the entire room was a pale, dusty cream colour. Chadwick had stood, gaping at their entrance, wondering what kind of species would build such a place, and then abandon it in apparently perfect condition.

While Chadwick was dumbstruck by the sight before him, he had become aware that the Hyani were leaving him behind. It occurred to him that in order for them to be so unimpressed, they had to be either blind or familiar with this structure. They had been there before, but why hadn't they said anything? The fact had presented itself to him that none of his companions had said a word to him during this entire trip. They had been talking quietly among themselves, but not one of them had even issued an order to Chadwick or thrown any insulting comments his way. He was used to being ignored by the Hyani, but in this case they actually seemed to be trying to distance themselves from him. Chadwick liked the idea of a clandestine mission less and less at this point. Lying against the stone wall as he now was, he wished he had gotten a hint and backed out then.

Instead, he had hurried to catch up with the rest as they moved quietly towards the end of the long room. It became apparent to Chadwick that their destination was a flat, plain wall. When they reached the wall however, the Hyani simply came to a stop in front of it, apparently awaiting something. Chadwick had been very confused at this point; it was just a wall, right? A half-seen hand motion from the Captain and suddenly two Hyani were on either side of Chadwick, holding his arms and immobilizing his legs. The sense of another behind him and then darkness closed in.

When Chadwick had finally woken up, it was two hours later according to his watch. He was in yet another dark, dusty room, and aware of three significant facts. First, the back of his head had hurt like hell, and he thought he felt blood back there. The second fact was that none of the Hyani had been in sight, he had been left alone. The third and by far most disturbing fact was that there was something uncomfortably heavy on his foot. A quick look informed Chadwick that he had been chained to the floor by way of a large manacle on his left ankle.

Chadwick had been working himself up into a rightful state of panic. He had checked his pockets, but unfortunately, he had nothing on him that would help in his current situation. His weapon had apparently been taken by the Hyani, as had his multi-tool. He struggled to his feet, fighting residual dizziness and nausea from his blow to the head, and checked the area within his reach. The chainlike restraint that held him was much too strong for him to break by himself, as he discovered through repeated attempts. He could move in a radius of about one and a half meters in every direction, with one wall within his reach. Once he discovered that pacing this space was getting him nothing but an intense headache, he had laid down against the wall.

Chadwick had lain like that for about twenty minutes, getting more and more desperate. Finally, just as he was beginning to seriously consider doing something drastic like chewing his own foot off, he heard voices. It was the Hyani, returning from the inner recesses of the ancient structure. He instantly forgot that it was most likely that the Hyani were responsible for his situation, and rose to greet them. The Hyani, on the other hand, had a different kind of greeting in mind.

A dagger had suddenly protruded from his chest. Chadwick felt that it was a rather archaic way to die; they could have just as well shot him and achieved the same result. As his blood flowed in a red river down his chest, Chadwick collapsed to his knees. The Captain approached him, and Chadwick had stared at him with disbelief and a sense of betrayal. They had brought him all this way, just to kill him? Apparently, because they all just stood around him, impassive, as the Captain reached down and touched the blood that ran down Chadwick's chest. The crimson fluid stained his hand, and Chadwick fell backwards against the cold stone wall. The Captain turned to a panel embedded in the chamber wall, and placed his bloody hand on it. As Chadwick slid down to the floor, he heard the sound of some ancient mechanism engaging.

At this point, the Hyani turned away from him. They said something about having ten minutes to get out. One of the Hyani had asked the Captain why the human had been chosen. The Captain replied, "No other human will ever get this far without one of us." They walked out. That had been twenty minutes ago.

So, Chadwick had been abandoned in a massive catacomb of ancient structure, out on the edge of civilized space, and he was going to die. He felt the blood pooling around him, and the lights in the room were slowly dimming. He couldn't hear the machinery anymore. Chadwick wished he could see the sun, feel its warmth. It was so cold here.

It should have been raining.