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View character profile for: Cassandra Jones
View character profile for: Jay Chrysler
View character profile for: Dr Jade Black
View character profile for: Jamie Eastlick
View character profile for: Dr. Artemis K. Pritchard VI
View character profile for: Jason Tanaka
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View character profile for: Fergus O'Malley
View character profile for: Pickman
Despite Cass's begging, she could not stop the lights from fading completely. They were now in total darkness.
'Jade?!' said Cass, reaching out to grab Jade's hand. Jade was breathing heavily, the darkness looming down around them all.
'Everyone, take someone's hand,' said Thomas, 'We don't need to get split up now. Shout if you haven't got a hand to hold.'
There was nothing but silence.
Then there was a bright flash of light and Thomas found himself alone in an empty room.
'Welcome to your nightmare,' said a voice.
Jason Tanaka shot up out of bed in a cold sweat. He hit his head on the top bunk which woke his bunkmate, a hotshot from Mars named Onasi.
"Smeggin' hell, Tanaka! Did you concuss yourself?" Onasi asked.
Tanaka nursed the lump on his head with his hand, only to be surprised that he had hands. He was confused, he remembered being on that dreadful derelict with the rest of the dwarfers...
"Hey!" Onasi snapped him out of his fugue, "You knock your brains out or what?"
"Sorry," Tanaka shook his head, "I had... had a dream."
"Must've been fun if it shot you up into my bunk." Onasi said.
"It wasn't... I was dead... and a rooster... I was trapped millions of years in the future on an old mining ship with a bunch of weirdos."
"You get into the lieutenant's marijuana gin again?"
"No, just my overactive imagination..." Tanaka laid back down and tried to make sense of what was going on. Had the past several years of his life been just a bad dream? Or was this... Suddenly he remembered that today was the day of the major test flight for the new FTL fighters.
Today was the day he died...
Later that morning, in the Normandy mess hall, Tanaka stared at his food tray. Onasi sat next to him. "You alright? You look like someone just walked over your grave."
"Don't say the word 'grave' to me." Tanaka said. "I'm not in the mood for your gallows humor today."
"Yeesh," Onasi smirked, "Don't tell me you're nervous about today's test flight."
"As a matter of fact, I am."
"It's gonna be like every other test flight we've done so far. They just tweaked the Carter-McKay drives a bit for extra speed."
"It's not the new drives that worry me..."
The Space-Corps prototype FTL-capable fighter, code-named "Voidpiercer," was an impressive machine to behold. It had the look of a classic fighter jet from the 21st Century, except the rear section was an array of turbo thrusters. Tanaka remembered how beautifully they handled, they made a starbug look like a horse and buggy, then again most ships did that.
Except at this point he had never flown a starbug. His brain was still trying to make sense of this. An enormous sense of deja-vu fell over Tanaka. He gazed down at his hands, and instead saw feathers.
"Tanaka!" Onasi snapped him out of the vision. "Quit spacing out!"
Tanaka looked down and saw human hands. "Sorry, I'm still not fully awake."
"Well wake up, because we're taking the first two fighters out."
Tanaka nodded, "I'll be ready."
Except even when he was in the pilot's seat he wasn't. He knew what was gonna happen next. He always knew.
"Prepare to activate your drives," the control tower announced. "Remember, strike each comm buoy in succession. We need to see how fast the new drives are."
"Roger, tower." Onasi said, "Tanaka, you ready?"
"...Affirmative." Tanaka said reluctantly.
"Activating drive." Tanaka's voidpiercer made the first jump. It was smooth, no G's were pulled, he slipped in and out of subspace with ease and came upon the first buoy. He fired his gun, it was a training laser so it just fired a harmless burst of light that hit the buoy and marked his time. He jumped to the next, fired, and again. All the while the stone in his gut grew larger.
"It's like he's firing on every buoy at once, incredible!" Onasi marveled over the comm link. "Keep it up Tanaka!"
It happened at the final buoy. A civilian freighter that wasn't supposed to be there. It had gone off course and the crew were attempting to use the buoy to request aid. They were at the wrong place, at the wrong time. The formal investigation conducted by the Space Corps had determined as much, yet it was the moment that haunted Tanaka's dreams ever since. The one thing he never could forgive himself for.
The sudden appearance of a Space Corps fighter in the exact same space as a civilian ship resulted in a catastrophic and nightmarish rending of atoms as the space-time continuum attempted to correct this horrendous paradox of two things inhabiting the same area of space. The investigation kept telling Tanaka afterwards that the crew's deaths were painless and quick, and he knew it was true since he had experienced it himself. However, it didn't make it easier for him to sleep at night.
"This is the nightmare you have every night." Onasi's voice said to him. "The guilt is delicious."
Tanaka found himself back on Blue Dwarf now. The ship was empty. This ship, his self-imposed exile, he deserved to be on this old trash heap. Adrift in deep space with no hope. He looked down at his hands. They were rooster's wings.
"I must say this form is truly befitting of you," Onasi said. "A flightless bird. Not an eagle, not a raven, nothing majestic. Nothing that can fly as well as you could back then. You are what you are deep down... chicken..."
Tanaka couldn't help but agree. The guilt was on him again, like a massive boulder on his shoulders. Crushing him.
"The one thing you were good at. The one thing above all and you can't stand doing it because you killed those innocent people." Onasi appeared in front of Tanaka now. His lips were pulled back into a sickeningly wide sneer, his eyes seemingly too big for his head. "You hide behind your books and your so-called 'laziness' yet what it really is is that you get sick every time you sit in a pilot's seat. You are a coward."
"Yes..." Tanaka said meekly.
"Might I interject?" A voice with a thick Irish accent suddenly spoke up. O'Malley appeared behind Onasi and produced a small taser from his lab coat. Onasi let out a shriek when O'Malley zapped him with it. Onasi's form shifted slightly, revealing a oily shadow made of what looked like tendrils. O'Malley waltzed over to Tanaka and scooped him up. "Pardon my lateness, Mr. Tanaka. Lucid dreaming isn't as easy as it is in the movies."
"What the smeg is going on?" Tanaka asked.
"I believe we're all inside a dream world created by this Quiztail entity. For what purpose I'm not exactly sure but I fear we may eventually share the same fate as the crew of this derelict." O'Malley said.
"Interloper," Onasi said, his voice distorted and his eyes filling with oily blackness. "You are trapped."
"I beg to differ," O'Malley smirked and produced a weird device from his lab coat. "Come along, Tanaka." He fired it at the floor and a swirling green thingy appeared. O'Malley hopped in, leaving Onasi alone in a void of blackness.
Tanaka and O'Malley emerged from the portal into what looked like a land comprised of Tim Burton's worst nightmare. It appeared to be some kind of desert with dead trees and wooden doors just standing in the sand. Except everything appeared to be made of clay.
Tanaka hopped out of O'Malley's arms and onto the sand. "Where the smeg are we, O'Malley?"
"The one place I never wished to explore..." O'Malley adjusted his lab coat and braced himself against the wind. "We're inside Pickman's brain..."