I had been stuck on this ship for so long I had almost forgotten what an Orokin of his station sounded like. I cherished each word he spoke.
“Bilsa,” Alarez’s voice pulsed out of my console, “we’re here to help, but I need to get this straight: you’re being held hostage by a…”
“…by a Grineer,” I whispered.
“A Grineer?” His scepticism was palpable.
“Yes, named Veytok.”
“He has a name?”
“Won’t let me call him by anything else.” I needed him to believe me but I could tell he was struggling. “The other Grineer are different; they’re still slow but they listen to him and do exactly what he says. It must be a mutation—”
“Impossible.” I could tell he didn’t believe me. “Something like that would have been caught during production and destroyed; only the military Grineer are given—”
“Should have been caught but wasn’t,” I interrupted. “Look, the only reason I’m still alive is the genetic lockouts. I’m Sectarus class; this ship’s cephalon listens to me exclusively. The Grineer need me. Stars, you have no idea what it’s like living with these—”
“Did you say Sectarus class?” Now he was interested.
“…everything is filthy.” I was rambling. “They manufacture filth. My robes have gone from yellow to black. I’m so tired, I don’t even feel Orokin anymore.”
“Did you say you’re Sectarus class?” His voice betrayed his impatience.
“Of course, aren’t you?”
“We’re going to initiate docking,” he said.
I looked out the viewscreen. The massive Executorial Frigate begin to pivot toward our tiny Runner. Its marblesque exterior was aglow in the light of the Sun. How I missed those white hallways with their perfect golden trim, all busy with Orokin of high station discussing the business of empire. I belonged on that ship; it was my birthright.
“Stop,” I exclaimed in a half-shout, half-whisper. “You don’t understand, he’s dangerous. We’ve been raiding other ships, gathering Grineer. Stars, I’ve done things.” I could feel the emotion and fear in my voice. “I… I’ve helped him mass an army of sorts.”
“Right, a Grineer army.” He paused for a moment, then took an audible breath. “Bilsa, listen, whatever you’ve done, you had no choice. You know what’s happening in the System; there’s honour to be found in surviving,” he asked.
“What do you mean, ‘what’s happening in the System’?” I asked.
“The Executors, the Council, they’re all dead or missing; even most of the Sectarus is gone, you might be the last.” His voice was cracked. “Do you understand? The System’s falling apart but we can rebuild it.”
There was a thud outside the hull. Had they docked?
“What about the Tenno?”
“The Betrayers?” he asked. “Hopefully gone.”
“Wait,” I asked, “are you saying your Executorial Frigate has no Sectarus class or Executor? How are you piloting?”
He ignored my question. “We’ve docked. Hurry now, open the airlock doors so we can help you.”
“It’s too dangerous,” I said, “they’re waiting for you. You’ll be slaughtered.”
“Bilsa, you have no idea what’s going on out here. Everything is in chaos. You’re lucky we found you. Nobody can be trusted, but I can help. Open the airlock doors.”
“I can’t; if I open those doors they’ll kill you all. Just talk to me for a while. It’s been so long.”
“Bilsa.” His voice was getting louder. “The Orokin are gone. The infrastructure, the Rails, none of it works; it’s all locked out.” Was he actually berating me? “The Infestation is everywhere, riots….”
“…but they’ll kill you—”
Alarez cut me off. “The Moon is gone.”
“You’re not making sense, Alarez,” I said.
“Nothing makes sense anymore,” he shouted. “Open those doors!”
“I’m sorry, it’s just that we don’t have much time.” He began to calm. “Where is this Veytok now?” asked Alarez.
“All the Grineer are in the docking bay, it’s impassable….” I paused and thought for a second. “Wait, there’s a different way. The emergency hatch, you could extend a maintenance tunnel, come in through the top of the ship.”
“And avoid the Grineer entirely. Now you’re thinking like a Sectarus. Are you alone right now?” asked Alarez.
“Yes. Since they saw your ship, it’s like I don’t even exist. When you get here, I’ll try to seal them in the airlock remotely. That should hold them for a while, hurry.”
I took one last look at the now-grimy bridge that had become my home. I stepped onto the compact elevator that connected the Runner’s decks. At the top level was a systems room used to access the ship’s many segments. I looked up at the hatch on the ceiling when I heard the couplers whiz into place.
“Cephalon, execute now,” I called out.
“Understood, Sectarus Bilsa,” replied the ship’s cephalon.
Moments later the hatch slid open. Dark eyes stared down at me from behind a Dax’s helmet mask. He said nothing.
I addressed him, “Well met, Dax.”
Silently, the Dax scanned the room with his rifle before jumping down and taking position in front of me. In quick succession, three more guards fell in behind him. The guards were bloodied and battle-scarred, their equipment mismatched and worn. Alarez followed. His symmetry was off and his eyes were dull. Was he even Enginus class?
“Thank the stars you’re here.” I reached out to greet him but the Dax grabbed me.
“Hold her down,” said Alarez.
He pulled out a device which I recognised instantly as a genetic descrambler. Where did he get that from?
“My apologies, Bilsa; you seem sweet but I can’t miss this chance.” He threw a switch on the descrambler. “A sample of your genetic code is all I need for full access to the Executorial.” He pointed the descrambler at me. “This won’t hurt.”
My skin got instantly hot and then cooled again as waves of radiation passed through me. “Look at you all,” I said. “You’re just as tarnished as I. It’s really over, isn’t it?”
“The Empire? I’m afraid so.” He lowered the descrambler. “There.”
“Will you kill me then?” I asked, my eyes fixed on the floor.
“Can’t have you outrank me,” he sighed. “But first you’ll command your cephalon to cut off life support to the Grineer in the Runner’s airlock.”
I looked up at him. “I can’t do that.”
Alarez smiled. “Of course you can.”
“I wish I could, but I already told the cephalon to open the airlock. They’re on your ship.” Confusion washed over Alarez’s face just as a drop of blood fell from the hatch above and splashed on the Dax’s helmet. His eyes darted up just in time to see Veytok’s massive frame fall upon him, driving a machete deep into the Dax’s chest. With that, the doors opened behind me as more Grineer flooded the tiny room. The guardsmen stood no chance.
Alarez, the only one left alive, stood frozen. “Bilsa, what’s going on?”
“I warned you not to come,” I said. “I told you they would kill you all.”
He was beside himself, “You’re working with Grineer?”
“Alarez, you were right. The System is a mess and I can’t trust anyone, but these Grineer and I, we’ve come to an understanding.” I smiled as I got to my feet. “But please, will you talk to me for just a while longer? These Grineer are so dull. Where are you from? I don’t recognise your—”
Veytok grabbed Alarez and tore his throat open, his red splattering my robes.
“I told you I wanted him alive!” I shouted.
“No trust,” he said. His words sounded clearer every day. “We have the Frigate and the lab. Don’t need him.”
“Do you always have to kill them before I can visit?” I said.
Veytok grunted. “You are Grineer now, don’t need visits.”