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The Fall of Pluton III – Part Two

6th Jun 2024

Dan Mapleston



NO REST FOR THE INNOCENT

For a time it appeared MPS’ quick reactions and the subsequent cover-up – the local media was told an experimental anti-gravity drive had suffered a critical meltdown – had managed to hide the existence of the nightstalkers. Hiraku’s wormhole technology was buried and MPS started to move onto the next scientific advancement. However, it quickly became apparent it was going to be much harder to sever the link between Pluton III and wherever the Nightstalkers were from. A pusk farmer situated a few clicks from the former MPS lab started reporting that his cattle were going missing and a few had been found hideously mutilated. He told the planet’s security forces he could see flashing lights and hear otherworldly screams coming from his fields at night, but he was dismissed as a drunk.

His doubters were forced to take him seriously when residents within Pluton City started reporting the same terrifying screams and shimmering lights appearing down the dark alleys between the towering hab-blocks. Pets began to go missing, followed by the weak and vulnerable. At night the hab-blocks would echo with the shrieks of people plagued by terrifying dreams full of teeth and claws. During the day, sleep-deprived workers would shuffle to work and speak to colleagues about their gruesome dreams in hushed tones. The term ‘nightstalkers’ became a regular whisper around the water coolers and lunch tables.


THE PLUTON DISASTER

Back in the First Sphere, Mazon Propulsion Systems kept a close eye on reports coming from Pluton III and debated whether they should relay the wormhole accident to senior board members at Mazon Holdings, the umbrella company that owned MPS, or warn the inhabitants of Pluton City. However, after deciding the nightstalker incursions couldn’t be traced back to them, MPS remained tight-lipped. It was a decision that doomed Pluton III.

Inner Sphere

Whereas the outbreaks at the facility had seen a handful of creatures emerge through the wormhole, the Pluton Disaster was the first full incursion of nightstalkers. The exact number of portals is unknown and reports vary anywhere from a dozen to 100 but the consequences were impossible to mistake. Hordes of gibbering, writhing beasts flooded the city streets or ripped through hab-blocks. Security camera footage gathered after the event showed the same dog-like creatures, hulking monsters and shambling ‘scarecrows’ that had been seen at the laboratory, but they were joined by other nightmarish manifestations.

What looked like mutated humans with twisted bodies and flaming arms scrambled through the commerce districts, smashing and destroying anything that lay in their path. Pluton III residents, often with children clasped tightly in their arms, dashed from hab-blocks pursued by fleshy monsters armed with razor-like claws. Sadly many were chased straight into the path of a beast that floated above the ground, its one eye carefully tracking its prey, while its tentacles twitched and writhed in anticipation of the hunt.


CONTAINMENT PROTOCOLS

Although the previous outbreaks had remained unnoticed by the Council of Seven, this new invasion of nightstalkers immediately caught their attention. Initially designated as a Plague epidemic, Containment Protocols were declared and Pluton III was locked down – although not before a few desperate souls had made it out of orbit.

Enforcer strike teams made contact with Pluton III the next day and boots were quickly on the ground at first light. But despite the short time, the devastation and bloodshed made a Plague infestation look tame. Those poor souls that hadn’t been victims of the nightstalkers were found wandering the streets muttering and mumbling, their minds broken by the horrors they had witnessed. A few confused individuals, still tormented by visions of the monsters, even attacked the Enforcers before being easily dispatched with a few rounds from a laser rifle. Apart from these deranged individuals though, the Enforcers made no contact with the nightstalkers and failed even to find any bodies of the horrors they had seen on security footage. They made camp and waited for nightfall, while continuing to send regular reports back to the Council.


A NEW KIND OF ENEMY

The first sign that something was amiss came when the strike teams noticed their comms devices were breaking into bursts of loud static. Then they noticed it wasn’t just static. Something was seemingly talking to them, whispering dark thoughts that unnerved even the highly trained and conditioned operatives. Pathfinders were dispatched to scout in the district surrounding the camp, just as a thick fog rolled in from nowhere. Unable to raise their scouts, due to the static plaguing their comms, they were finally alerted to the pathfinders making initial contact with the enemy by the sound of TAG rifles being fired. The cracks of gunfire were strangely muted in the fog until they eventually fell silent. With the radios still down, the remaining Enforcers were forced to wait in the gloom, weapons ready for whatever was heading their way.


What follows is an extract of a recording recovered from Sergeant Connelly’s comms upload:

“We can sense movement in the fog but nothing is appearing on the motion detectors and heat sensors. We’re running blind here. Contact! Contact!”

[Sound of laserfire]

“Something keeps darting out the darkness and clawing against our armour, but disappears before we can return fire.”

[Sound of laserfire]

“Comms are still down.”

[Sound of indistinct whispers and static. More laserfire and shouts.]

“Lieutenant Jenkins just said she shot one and the laser blast went straight through it. That’s impossible! Command, these aren’t plague we’re dealing with. Advise how to proceed. Command, I repeat, please advise how to proceed. Contact! Unknown life form. Threat level severe…”

[Sound of laserfire and static.]

The strike team went dark soon after Sergeant Connelly’s final recording.


SCORCHED EARTH

Back in the First Sphere, with no communications in or out of Pluton III, the Council made a difficult decision. Not willing to risk the bizarre creatures making it off-world, the Council instructed the Enforcer ship in orbit to obliterate the planet below, along with any remaining inhabitants. After all, Pluton III was a mostly uninhabited backwater that would hardly be missed, even by those corporations with a stake in its fledgling mining industry. The alternative, on the other hand, was too awful to consider.

Pluton III was wiped from the star maps, corporations were compensated and media outlets were told of a catastrophic mining incident that had accidentally destabilised the planet’s core. And that should have been the end of the nightstalkers. The incident would have been left for xeno-biologists to analyse the data and families would have mourned those lost in the disaster. At least that would have been the end, if it hadn’t been for those few unfortunate souls that managed to escape Pluton III before it was obliterated.

The survivors spread throughout the Spheres – returning to loved ones or finding employment with other corporations. But no matter where they went, they all shared the same nightmares. They all heard the same whispers. They all had a link that connected them to the nightstalkers. A link to the void.

It’s a terrible tragedy that those who fled Pluton III doomed every planet they came into contact with. Everyone they told about the monsters they had seen on Pluton began to suffer the same dreams, the same sense of something scratching at their brain to try and claw their way out. And when enough unfortunates were ravaged by nightmares of eyeless beasts with sharp teeth and twisting tentacles, the nightstalkers would have enough psychic energy to form another portal and break through, ready to feed on the souls of a host of fresh victims.

The bigger the population, the stronger the psychic energy and the larger the portal could be. In some of the most terrible cases, great flying monstrosities would emerge from the dimensional rift and begin dropping scores of hungry worms or other monstrosities from their grotesque bodies. On the ground, they would be joined by lumbering beasts covered in tentacles that would drag their prey into snapping mouths while scores of insidious creatures with multiple arms or juddering walks overwhelmed those who stood in their way.

At first the Council would respond the same. Containment protocols would quickly be declared and Enforcer strike teams would be dispatched to the planet. Although soon the strike teams became battalions and then entire armies. The result was invariably the same though: the planet and its inhabitants would be obliterated from orbit when the nightstalker incursion became impossible to contain. If the Council was lucky they would stop anyone getting off-world and spreading the nightmarish tales but if even one person escaped, it was enough to unleash another portal to the dark dimension. The one silver lining was that dealing with the Plague meant such plans were already established and thoroughly tested.

Now the Council is ever vigilant for the next nightstalker incursion. Their agents report any whispers of terrifying nightmares and often a pre-emptive strike is made against the city, or the entire planet. Even so, it is a dark time for the Galactic Co-Prosperity Sphere as it teeters on the edge of the void.


THE END…FOR NOW

Now you’re up to speed with the latest events of the Warpath Universe!

Do you fancy reliving the moment when rebellious hackers uncovered the secrets of Pluton III? You can experience it yourself, with the alternate reality game over at mazonlabs.com!

It would appear that their lovely shiny corporate website has already fallen victim to an initial cyber attack…

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