Image Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA
“The scene here on Tartalus is one of shock and awe. The starport behind me was assaulted by a group of mercenaries rumored to be part of the P.A.D. around midday yesterday.”
The screen shifted from the reporter’s visage in front of the starport to a series of montages.
“The group had apparently been settled in for nearly a week before the strike, and they had acquired uniforms and passes to blend in during their investigations. Several sources say that the group hijacked a ship from the hangar after a general evacuation was sounded; external camera footage confirms they flew to the roof, then kidnapped a local person of interest: one Rekkis Yuilt, a Hox who apparently went rogue after their Inundation. Local business owners and citizens claim Rekkis was skimming profits from nearly all sales of a locally-made ceramic and halting all trade off-world of the material.”
A close-up diagram of the material came in from the corner, showing an exploded view of the inner layers.
“Terraforming procedures on the planet apparently provided a perfect substrate for making a ceramic with the tensile strength of low-temperature plasteel, while introducing a conductive through-line. It’s a secret among locals how this process works, but with Rekkis out of the way, the product seems to finally be on its way to the galactic market.”
The view snapped back to the reporter – a Jin-Tai, whose long, widely-angular head was supposedly like an amphibious predator’s of the old Human homeworld – as they stood calmly on a local rooftop. Smoke columns whispered thinly upwards in the distance, and traffic around the starport was substantial.
“This is Whystrr Dullen, Holdfast News.”
The screen went to some other story; Rekkis didn’t much care to watch it. They slumped back in their cell, a too-white room of hard linen floor and crystallized plastic walls. Their body still felt awkward, uncomfortably numb; a side-effect of the tranquilizers and the slightly-off atmosphere inside the cage.
A Hox body was long and smooth, reminiscent of some aquatic ancestor from their home planet, with a variety of spiny tendrils along their back and heavy fluorescent colouring. Most Hox had a gelatinous mucus covering on most of their body that kept them fairly regulated against temperature, changes in air and light, and other airborne issues. Rekkis had come out of their Inundation without that layer, and it left them quite susceptible to the slightest irregularities.
The door buzzed loudly, and they whipped their body around, listing to one side as they struggled to move their body properly. Nobody had been to see them since their capture three days ago. Even the guards were automated drones.
When the door did finally open, the sight was both joyous and sorrowful: two of their fellow Hox, as well as an Arcadian, Trivvian & Human, entered. All wore fairly standard clothing, save for one innocuous accessory: a patch denoting a thin blue nebula. Rekkis knew it, and their mind felt like sludge; now was the time, the hour.
“Rekkis.” One of their Hox kin spoke, voice full with praise and respect. Rekkis idly noted the cameras shifting position, heard the subtle whirring of a jammed door lock. “You performed a service that will be honoured for generations to come.”
“And in return, a gorgeous jail cell and a thank-you party.” Rekkis sneered, their mouthless-face curling in on itself. “Elder, I did as you asked, and I know my fate. Just tell me,” they whispered, pressing close against the plastic divider, deep black eyes gazing intently at the assembled group. “did it work?”
“Indeed.” Intoned the Arcadian, their gaseous body contained within a pressure suit; inside, a thin, deep purple form rotated ponderously. “Our contact is in a position of power, and the goods will be available soon in many ports of call. You did well.”
Rekkis exhaled softly, their rows of nub-like feet letting them settle to the floor of their cell. It was soon to be over, then. They had done their part.
“All turns to naught in the dark.” Spoke the Trivvian quietly, shifting on her six feet in subtle rhythm.
“And that without light is lost.” Continued the human, making a gesture Rekkis knew well.
“A pair in the dust, alone they must part.” The chorus of chanting was low but intense, and Rekkis’ body quaked with the mixed feelings of a funeral and a miracle.
“Deep within nothing, they will find the Heart.” The chant hung in the air, pregnant with purpose.
“They will find the Heart.” Rekkis repeated, to no one but the hard white linen below.
They recognized the faces in the crowd as if from a dream; some other life, possibly many other lives. A crowd of fond strangers greeted them as Rekkis was escorted down the aisle towards a raised dais. Atop it sat a large tub, carved ornately with scripture and imagery from their homeworld, and something deep inside Rekkis knew these shapes and words. They spoke of immortality from death, and the endless ocean within all Hox.
Rekkis barely paid the ceremony any mind – their thoughts were as insects in a stiff wind, barely able to gain purchase. Once, they might have wept, or cried in outrage, but the teachings of That Whose Will Is Creation had helped them find a strange kind of peace. They had done their part – the ceramics were now a prized commodity, and easily available. All was to plan. And now they had to finish their duty to the Veiled Host.
They were raised, then lowered into the tub, allowed to settle and say their last words, but Rekkis had none. Even when the fine salt began to pour over their skin, coating them in exquisite agony, they uttered nothing. Consciousness began to slip, the dark corners of space crowding out their thoughts until all was empty, howling void.
And then blessed silence.
After five days, the body was rehydrated – the final ritual of the Inundation – and a new Hox, of different colour, stature and mind, stepped gingerly from the tub.
Rekkis was no more. Their body was for another, their mind reassembled into a new person.
Their deeds were forgiven, and their past left there. And the new body left, unaware of the flame its old owner had set under the universe.