“Code 5! Code 5!” The voices screamed and personnel ran all over the place. The transport had been stopping at Indupar only as a checkpoint and to refuel before moving onto Naboo. There was an incident on the transport during processing. Alarms were blaring and alerts escalated up the chain of command.
The transport had stopped at a refugee facility on Indupar and the civilians were being guided off the ramp of a freighter. One of these individuals had been living in a post apocalyptic situation for years now. To her, the greater galaxy had ceased to exist and she had forgotten what civilization was like. One of the personnel had placed a comforting hand on her shoulder and she promptly snatched the stylus from the woman’s hand and jammed it directly into her neck. The woman was promptly dragged away as hot blood sprayed out of her wounds, the strike having landed with deadly precision. Despite their best efforts, the woman would succumb to her wounds.
In the meantime, the incident resulted in a full blown panic with many thinking it was an AMS incident. People screamed and scattered in all directions, ISC Rangers rushing over in an attempt to contain the situation. The perpetrator was grabbed by the bicep and dragged over to a holding facility normally used for quarantine.
And that was exactly how Livi Cross found herself sitting at a table in a room with no windows with her single arm chained to the table. Her other arm ended in a stump that didn’t have a cybernetic. Her hair was frazzled and down to her lower back. There was an animalistic look in her eye, and she was adorned in garbs she hadn’t changed in some time. There was a stench to her that betrayed that she had been living in squalid conditions for a very long time.
Her eyes betrayed she had seen and experienced unspeakable horrors. The sight of so many civilians had thrown her into full blown panic. This room brought her peace. She was alone. She was exactly as she had learned to be back on her homeworld. The homeworld that was now 100% overrun.
Since the launch of ISCRA a few months ago, Galek Ordalos had taken a hands on approach to organizing and managing the day-to-day affairs of the agency. After all, it was a program that he had conceptualized and helped build from the ground up, and in many ways felt a crushing responsibility to ensure its success. It is for this reason that he had spent the past several days working tirelessly within this checkpoint facility. As governor of Indupar and a senior member of the planet’s royal family, Galek had gained a reputation with the media for dressing in expensive fabrics and jewelry, all of which reflexed the culture of his homeworld. Today, however, the prince had opted for a much simpler work attire. He wore a simple navy-blue Pathani suit and white trousers, his hair loosely styled with minimal amounts of product.
Galek had been in the middle of a holo-meeting with ISCRA officials from across the Consortium when alerts suddenly flashed across the screen of his datapad, interrupting the broadcast. Recognizing the alert as a ‘Code 5’, the Induparan royal promptly accused himself from the meeting and exited his office, breaking into a light sprint towards the hospital wing of the facility. Based upon the alert, he knew that someone had been injured, but the details of the incident were still a mystery for the time being.
A few minutes passed, and the woman had already succumbed to her injuries by the time Galek arrived at the hospital wing. While a stylus wasn’t a particular deadly weapon in most hands, the precision blow from a crazed refugee had severed an artery in her neck, causing her to bleed out within only a few minutes. There was, truthfully, very little that medical personnel could do when she arrived. Without a word, Galek hovered over the table where her body laid. The corpse was already covered with a pale sheet, and would be quickly transported to the morgue by the droid workers, in accordance upon the facilities strict protocols for the deceased.
The prince placed a hand onto the cold edge of the metal table, hazel eyes lingering on the body for a moment more before flicking to the left. “Who was she?”
To his left, an ISCRA official stood nearby. He was the same man who had met Galek half-way to the hospital wing, slowly but surely filling him in on the details of the incident. He snapped to attention when the question was suddenly asked. The official briefly glanced towards his datapad, reading from the screen. “Nadira Thapel. Aged 21. Dahonis City native. This would’ve been her second week working at this facility.” That last detail caused Galek to frown a bit deeper.
The offical paused for a moment, clearing his throat. “The family has already been notified, Your Highness.”
Galek sighed, bringing a hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose. Since the facility was converted for ISCRA use, AMS refugees from across the galaxy had passed through its doors, and it was not always a pleasant sight. The prince had seen dozens of men, women and children who succumbed to illness or injury within this same hospital wing, and too often there was little that they could do in those situations. It was a sight the prince still hadn’t entirely gotten used to.
After a long pause, Galek nodded curtly towards the man. “Good.. I will have my office draft a statement to the family – to thank them for this woman’s service.” He finally turned away from the table, starting to walk back the way he came. A few moments of silence passed again before Galek glanced back towards the official, his voice a bit more stern than it had been before. “I want a full report of the situation and how this could’ve happened. I want to know how an infected—"
“She was not infected, sir.” The official cut in abruptly. The words were enough to freeze Galek in his tracks, clear irritation flashing across his dark features. That was a detail that had been left out, until this moment.
“..What did you just say?”
“She was not infected.” The official repeated, suddenly looking a bit more nervous than before. “Her pre-flight tests came back negative, and she was tested again after the incident – also negative. She simply.. Snapped when she encountered Ms. Thapel.”
Galek paused for a few moments. “Where is the woman now, as I am speaking to you?”
The man blinked a few times, then glanced down to the datapad cradled in his arms. He scrolled through it for a few moments. “She has been taken to a holding cell in the east wing, block E21. I believe she is awaiting questioning by—” Galek cut the man off with a hand of his hand.
“I would like to speak with her.”
The offical looked visible stunned, staring at the Induparan royal with a stupid look of bewilderment. He opened his mouth to speak, but quickly caught himself and simply nodded in response. The stern look from Galek was likely a contributing factor for his lack of protest. “I-…Uhm. Of course, Sir. Right this way."
Minutes passed as Galek and the ISCRA official exited the hospital and made their way the holding facility where the refugee in question was being held. They passed through multiple corridors and wings of the facility bustling with activity, weaving between the swarm of workers that buzzed about the halls. With war and the pandemic raging across the galaxy, theirs was a job that never ended – citizens from across ISC territory arriving and working day in and day out for the agency. After a few minutes, Galek arrived at block E21, passing through the security checkpoint and leaving his concealed blaster pistol with the guard. He continued on until he reached the cell where the refugee in question was being held. “Have them open the door.”
The same official from before stepped up. The poor man had trailed Galek this entire time, and had promptly been ignored since he received that stern look back at the hospital wing. “Your Highness, I really must protest. This woman is dangerous—"
“Is she restrained?” There was clear irritation in his voice.
“..Yes of course, Sir.”
Galek didn’t even look at the man. “Then you have nothing to be concerned about. Open the door.” Without any additional protest, the doors to the holding cell were unlocked and opened for Galek, allowing the prince to pass through the threshold. Immediately, his senses were assault by the stench that had filled the air – slowly but surely following it back to its source.
He stared at the woman, and he was conflicted. Hazel eyes fixated on her dirty clothes and stump where an arm should’ve been. He saw the unspeakable horrors she had endured, for he’d seen in it a hundred refugees before. He saw it, and Galek immediately felt pity for her. A part of him wanted to reach out and help, as he had done for countless other refugees over the past few months. And yet, this was the same crazed individual who had brutally murdered an innocent member of personnel. One of his own people. For all the ways he wanted to help the woman in front of him, Galek also wanted to be stern and justly hold her accountable for her actions.
A few moments of silent observation passed, and Galek moved closer to the refugee. The prince moved with measured, carefully steps until he reached the table where she had been chained, sliding into the chair positioned at the opposite side of the table from her. “Do you know where you are?”
Livi gazed blankly as the well dressed man strode in. The way he carried himself, the way he smelled, the way his hair was perfectly in place all suggested he was someone important. She didn’t miss his gaze flicking over to her stump. Even he would be able to tell it was very crudely amputated and there was significant scar tissue left over. Livi’s eyes never left the man’s, piercing into him like shards of glass.
“Does it matter?” She said with her foreign accented Basic. Livi glanced down at her chained hand, the metal jingling softly against the table, “Save us both some time and put me in a fucking prison cell. A cot and some square meals like any other prisoner in this fancy planet,” The girl stated. Prison in a civilized world sounded like a goddamn luxury after what she had been through. Bars that kept her away from others sounded even better.
Livi relaxed in her seat, tilting her head as her gaze flicked up and down before she spoke crassly, “Why the fuck are you wearing an impractical dress?”
Truth be told, the prince wasn’t surprised by the woman’s crude and brash manner of speaking. The woman had undoubtedly been through hell and Galek was not perturbed by the frankly rude way that she addressed him, nor the sharp way she stared at him. What did bother him was the offensive way she referred to his clothes.
“It’s not a—” He stopped himself. The sentence was half-way out of his mouth, and only then did Galek actually realize how ridiculous it sounded. He quickly decided he wasn’t about to argue Induparan fashion with the woman, especially when this was meant to be something resembling an interrogation.
He placed his hands onto the table infront of him, fingers knitted neatly together. Hazel eyes lingered on the stump where an arm should’ve been, a faint grimace brushing his lips. Galek had, unfortunately, seen many refugees sporting similar injuries – a missing arm or leg, or a hand removed just above the wrist. In this woman’s case, the prince assumed that the limb had been hacked off to prevent the spread of the virus. That would certainly explain the scar tissue, indicating a crude removal.
Hazel eyes eventually flicked back to Livi, staring her down critically. “As a matter of fact, it does matter.” He began. His voice was measured and calm, each word tinged slightly by that characteristic Induparan accent. “You are on the planet Indupar. You are currently being held within a checkpoint facility operated by ISCRA, which is located just a few miles north of the capital.” He drummed his hands against the table a few times. “You are here, in this holding cell, because you murdered a member of personnel – an innocent woman - in the hanger bay. Using her datapad stylus.” He did not explode with rage, nor did his voice increase in volume. But there was nevertheless hints of irritation that crept up into his tone and eluded to the emotions that roiled within.
Livi’s eyes narrowed slightly as the man continued to stare at her stump after almost giving a flustered quip about his dress.
“It’s not gonna bite you,” She said bitterly to remind him that she had eyes to look at as well. He finally met her gaze before going off into a calm explanation. Conversations like these were very strange to her. Sitting across a table from someone, the other person wearing clean clothes and smelling nice, having a quiet dialogue as if their lives weren’t in immediate danger were concepts she had forgotten. She had learned to trust no one but herself. She expected everyone to always have a weapon. Being chained here in the presence of another gave her anxiety.
Livi didn’t even realize when her heel began to tap up and down as a tic. She exhaled and shook her head.
“I don’t know anything about ISCRAP or whatever the hell you’re saying,” She stated bluntly, “I stabbed her because that’s all I knew to do back where I was. People either tried to kill me or attempted to have their way with me before they killed me. I had to learn to act first and think second whenever anyone got close,” She gave him a severe look as she spoke firmly, “Which is why I’m not going to apologize or make excuses. I did what I did, so hold me accountable and throw me in a cell.”
Galek blinked a few times in response to Livi’s bitter response to his staring, a dark brow arching ever-so-slightly as he regarded her. He paused for a moment before gesturing back to the amputation. “It must have been difficult.” There was, almost, an air of pity to his voice.
He did not speak for a while after that, instead listening quietly until Livi finished speaking. While there had been the hints of irritation in his voice only moments ago, subtle indicators of his underlying emotions, his expression had since become blank and dispassionate. As one point or another, he had leaned back a bit further into his chair, hazel eyes fixated onto the woman and never breaking contact, even despite the severe way she glared at him. Another few moments of quiet would pass before decided to respond.
“ISCRA,” He corrected her. “Is an agency within the Consortium, which organizes the resettlement of refugee’s from across the galaxy. It is the reason that freighter brought you to this planet, and would have likely continued on to Llanic for processing.” Once more, the prince had returned to his calm and measured explanations – though the precise reason he took the time to educate the woman on this wasn’t entirely clear. “Is it the reason you are here, and not wherever it is you say you came from.” Once more, the prince took to steadily drumming his knitted hands against the table – the combined tapping of the woman’s heel and his knuckles filling the brief silence before Galek continued.
“Do you know, it was only that woman’s second week working at this facility. Likely fresh out of university, just making a break into a career of public service. A life full of future possibilities. Until you ended those possibilities.” He tilted his head to the side slightly. There was no anger behind his gaze, but it was clear that the Induparan royal was regarding her critically. "I don't want your apologies, genuine or otherwise. I do not doubt that your life until this moment has been horrific, but do you truly feel no remorse for what you did?" It was a genuine question. Could the woman be as callous as she appeared, or was there more to it than that?
Her last comment lingered at the forefront of the prince’s mind. That was the second time the woman had mentioned being thrown into a cell.“I intend to hold you accountable, but what makes you believe I have any intention jailing you?” He asked, his tone a bit sterner than it had been before. “You have committed a crime, and ISCRA protocol demands that you be expunged from Consortium space. You would be loaded into a shuttle, and sent back to wherever it is you come from.”
Truth be told, she was far from the first arrival to cause trouble, and in its current state, ISCRA simply did not have the facilities to house every problematic refugee who passed through their borders. While it might've been cruel to some degree, sending criminal offenders back to where they came from was best option, in most cases. There would be no solidary cell or tepid meals waiting for her. Only the same horrors that she had dealt with for years since the outbreak.
Livi stared as the man proceeded to give her a very long lecture. While she gave the impression that she was listening, her mind wandered off quite a bit. She began to think about what a luxury it was for this man to be able to have the time to lecture her. For him to not fret about where he would find his next meal or shelter. For him to feel defensive about his state of attire and to correct her on acronyms. What a luxury it was for him to have had the time in the day to spend styling his hair the way he did, trimming his beard and choosing the cologne he wore for the day. What a luxury it was to reflect on how it was the woman’s second week at the facility when Livi had seen lives snuffed out simply because they had shoes to offer or a jacket when it was cold.
There was a moment of silence after the man finished speaking. Livi closed her eyes and took a deep breath followed by a soft exhale. She had to recalibrate and re-learn how to talk with others when it wasn’t a constant sense of flight or fight. There had been a brief visible look of concern when he mentioned sending her back to her planet, but she quickly knew he wouldn’t. He was soft. Back where she was from, the soft ones went first.
“I don’t feel remorse,” Livi said flatly as she met his gaze, “I’m not going to lie to you. I’ve had to let go of a lot of who I used to be and what I thought was normal. I had to live like what you’d consider...animalistic. I don’t even know what tasting a real meal is like anymore.”
She stared at him for a few seconds, “What do you want from me?”
A few moments of silence passed as Galek listened to Livi speak, hazel eyes observing her carefully - his face once more blank and dispassionate. The momentary flash of concern across her features was not missed, though it seemed to vanish as quickly as it appeared. Whether she believed him or not, Galek had been honest about his last comment. Sending her to her homeworld was close to the last thing he wanted to do. He was as soft as she believed, and quite frankly didn't have the stomach to give that order himself.
And yet, there were plenty of other officials who did. Officials ready to load her into the next shuttle out of Consortium space, just as soon as Galek stepped out of the way.
The prince tapped knuckles against the metallic surface of the table a few times. “I am sorry for all that has happened to you.” He finally spoke, that little of pity had returning to his face now, a frown tugging at the corners of his lips. Beneath his critical gaze and dispassionate expression, there was the hints of sympathy for the woman and her situation. A situation that Galek, given his position and status in life, could never hope to truly comprehend. "But it does not change what has happened. That woman was not a threat to you, quite the opposite, she was trying to help you." He knew that she did not feel remorse, but that didn't prevent the prince from continuing with his lecture just a bit more.
There was another pause in response to her question, his gaze briefly shifting from Livi to stare vacantly towards the wall behind her. Galek wasn’t entirely sure what he hoped to gain from the woman when he left the hospital wing, but he was slowly coming to that decision in his mind. Slowly but surely. "As I said, I have no desire to send you back to where you came from. Neither party gains anything if I do that, and we both leave this room unhappy. Instead, I propose a more productive alternative."
He leaned forward a bit across the table, his eyes returning to fixate on Livi. "I want you to help me. For all of ISCRA's successes, the agency also has its shortcomings. Most of all, we lack the experienced personnel to extract refugees from infected worlds. Few of our organics have the real-world knowledge of how to maneuver on overrun worlds, while you on the other hand, have managed to survive in such an environment, as you have said yourself. Rather than jail you or throw you to the cold, I am offering you the opportunity to make amends for what was done, by helping others make it to safety."
The prince then went back to reclining in his seat. "Those are your two options. The choice, ultimately, is yours."
It was incredible how much this man enjoyed talking. She couldn’t deny he had a soothing voice that was almost melodic in nature. It was a voice and speech pattern that was clearly intended to captivate the audience and hold their attention. She found it disturbingly similar to some of the fanatical leaders that led survivors to commit atrocities against rival gangs. They had all been charismatic and had sold their vision as something everyone could believe in. Faith was a hot commodity when surrounded by nothing but despair.
Livi’s expression remained blank as he apologized for what happened to her. It had nothing to do with him, but it was one of those silly things people often said to fill up space when they had no idea how to tackle a topic. She watched him as he shifted, looked away, leaned forth and then back. He was soft, but he was the dangerous kind of soft. He was the type to play dead and wounded until it was the right time to strike. Those types were often more dangerous than the overt and consistent attackers.
Moments after he finished speaking, the first smile graced her face. She leaned forward slightly with that bright smile.
“How about you go fuck yourself?”
Livi glared at her feet as she sat in the freighter. There was a soldier on either side of her with blasters. She had spent a few days in a cell before she finally decided to join in on the operation. Contrary to what she believed, the complete silence and solitude began to drive her crazy after a while. And so she found herself on a transport with that infuriating pretty man that preached ISCRAP and acted like rainbows shined out his ass.
She had been silent the entire journey, but she knew they were descending. The thought of going right back into the world of infected right after she had come out of it seemed like cruel punishment to her, but she knew she had screwed up with the stylus incident. She had no idea how badly the media was shredding the man apart, but even she could sense her actions had caused a scandal. He needed to make an example of her, and she couldn’t fault him for it.
Livi glanced up at him as they were moments from landing.
“I’ll be far more useful with a weapon,” She said quietly, “Preferably a bow and arrows or knives.”
The soldier next to her prodded her harshly in the ribs with his blaster, “Shut up.”
As soon as Galek finished speaking, the prince reclined back in his chair and waited patiently for the woman’s response. While he did not originally have much of a plan when he first arrived within the holding cell, the prince looked rather satisfied with the opportunity he had formulated and laid out for the woman. There was an unmistakable punishment in forcing her to return to AMS-infested worlds, and yet it was a punishment inherently less cruel that simply injected her from Consortium space.
It was, in Galek’s mind, the best alternative. The prince perked up a bit when she leaned forward and flashed him a bright smile, an expression that caught his attention as it was the first time he’d seen anything remotely close to it from the woman. Her verbal response, while colorful, was significantly less warm than expected.
There was a few moments of pause after Livi spoke, her crude words only initially eliciting a few blinks from the Induparan royal. Slowly but surely, his head tilted to the side ever-so-slightly - striking hazel eyes never breaking contact with her own as a faint smile worked its way onto his lips.
“I’ll give you time to consider it.”
A few days had passed since Livi and Galek last spoke in that holding cell. It was a new day, and Galek sat on the opposite side of the passenger compartment of the freighter, turned to face Livi and with his hands folded neatly into his lap. His presence on this expedition had been a last-minute decision, and it was clear that the man was entirely out of place.
Whether Livi knew it or not, her little outburst in the hanger bay had been a political nightmare for Galek. The prince had made every effort to publicize and draw media attention to the operations of ISCRA in the days prior, hoping to gain good publicity for the successes of the agency. This, of course, meant that there had been dozens of cameras already in the room when something went wrong. Video clips of Livi stabbing the ISCRA worker had been plastered across the front page of every publication for days, with most blaming the leadership of the agency for failing to take proper safety protocols with refugees. While Galek had been critizied for his expensive tastes in the past, this was the first real scandal to plague him since becoming both Governor of Indupar and a Secretary of the ISC.
It was, quite frankly, the only reason that Galek had decided to tag along for this refugee extraction. It was highly unlikely Galek had actually seen an infected, let alone visited a world which had been overrun, and yet the images of him on the front lines would go a long way in putting the aforementioned scandal to bed.Never mind that the prince was completely worthless outside of his current profession.
What’s worse, Galek looked every the prince and politician for this little expedition, forgoing any sense of functionality in his attire. Quite frankly, if Livi thought his clothing was ridiculous before, the way he was dressed now was likely to drive her up the wall. His black hair was perfectly styled and combed into place, while the air was perfumed by the cologne that he wore – notes of citrus and sandalwood filling the passenger compartment. Galek wore a navy-blue Sherwani with rich gold embroidery, a matching sash draped across his shoulder and wrapped around his opposing wrist. He accessorized the ensemble, of course, with an aurodium chrono on his wrist and a myriad of different rings on his fingers.
The man looked like he was prepared for a Senate session or private gala, and yet here he was.
Minutes of silence passed before either of them spoke, Galek's attention immediately snapping from a particular interesting spot on the wall to regard Livi, hazel eyes briefly flicking to the soldier and giving him a harsh look before flicking back. His head tilted to the side slightly, silent for a moment before he spoke. “Are you doing to stab me when I’m not looking?
The entire journey over, Livi hadn’t said a single thing about the man’s state of attire. It made her eyes bleed. It was as if every time the man talked, his clothes yelled louder. He was a walking disaster and would stick out like a sore thumb. One step off the ramp and they would be swarmed because the man wore a giant neon sign that said ‘EAT ME’. She had a sinking feeling she would be right back where she started - stuck alone on an AMS planet with no way off.
Her gaze flicked over to the soldier that poked her with his blaster. He would likely be first to die because he seemed the trigger happy type. Those ones went pew pew instantly and loudly, not realizing how much it drew infected. She stared at him, wondering what kind of face he was making beneath the helmet. How quickly that smug expression would change as he was watching his own entrails be yanked out like rope before his eyes as infected feasted on him.
Livi’s gaze flicked back to prettyboy as he asked his question. They had landed by then and the others were unbuckling their seatbelts.
“Not to kill you,” She said calmly before a faint grin traced her face, “Only to slow you down.”
With that, Livi turned to the soldier on her right and casually spun a knife handle first towards him to give back to him. He hadn’t even noticed when she had nicked it off him, implying that she had been armed and capable of killing them the entire time. She ignored the soldier yelling at her while flustered, her gaze lingering on the Governor’s hazels for a moment in silence before she turned and walked out weaponless.
The planet was hot and humid as she stepped off the ramp. Mercifully, they had at least granted her request for armor. She checked over her body for any openings for bites before popping a helmet on. Livi looked over at prettyboy and rolled her eyes. He had a retinue of soldiers with him and she kept a respectable distance from the group.
The sound of the ship would no doubt draw out infected if they lingered too long. Livi picked up the pace, moving slightly ahead of the group as she scoped out the surroundings. Their target was a complex that had been left behind even after the valiant Ranger effort to rescue all survivors off the planet. Sources indicated this was the very last complex that housed about five hundred individuals.
Livi moved silently through the terrain, quickly adapting right back to what she knew. For anyone watching her, they would note how carefully she moved and became hypersensitive of her surroundings. She paused to inspect the ground, the marks on trees and various other details that would make no sense to anyone else.
While the sight of might’ve caused Livi’s skin to crawl, Galek saw absolutely nothing wrong with his attire. Why would he? He was the appointed Governor of Indupar. A prince of royal bloodline. A distinqished member of the Galactic Senate. The way in which he dressed now were a perfect reflation of that background. These were, of course, all facts that made him entirely unfit for this mission. While beautiful, his elaborate sherwani provided him zero protection and wasn’t tailored to exhaustive movements. His cologne, sweet and exotic as it was, was a homing beacon for damn-near every infected in a mile radius.
A part of Galek knew he was out of his element, but those hesitations were sufficiently ignored. His reputation was on the line after that incident back at the facility, and the man was simply too stuck up to admit his own worthlessness in this situation.
Galek watched Livi as she spoke, a dark brow arching slightly while Hazel eyes regarded her carefully. There was something about the way she grinned that was downright unsettling, and a part of Galek was convinced that she was entirely serious about what she said. Nonetheless, the prince did not allow any of that to play out on his face – instead returning a faint, albeit brief, grin.
“Hilarious. Truly.” He cleared his throat. “I’d clap if I didn’t think it would be insensitive.” His grin tugged a bit wider at that, though quickly vanished at what the woman did next.
To his credit, Galek did not initially react as the woman revealed the knife she had nicked off the soldier. He staring at her with a deadpan, dispassionate expression meeting her gaze for only moment before she turned away. Despite the fact that he was thoroughly perturbed, he wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of seeing the shock play out across his face. Instead, he waited until the woman’s back was turned. Only then did his mask begin to crack, his underlying shock playing out across his expression as Galek’s attention flicked over to the flustered soldier.
The prince didn’t have to say anything, for the stern look on his face and the way his jaw clenched tightly spoke volumes. The soldier quickly silenced himself after that, tucking the knife back into place and snapping to attention.
A few moments passed as the ship came to a landing. Without another word to Livi or their entourage, Galek stepped down the extended ramp – his boots sinking slightly into mud as he surveyed the landscape around him. The hot and humid climate was not entirely dissimilar to Indupar, a world known for its near-tropical temperatures and frequently rainy weather-patterns. Instead, he focused his attention on the complex only a short distance ahead. The perimeter fencing around the facility had been torn down and destroyed, and yet the building itself stood largely undamaged. It was the location where their expedition was meant to scout for any potential survivors, before flagging down shuttles to begin evacuation efforts.
Minutes passed as the group continued on towards the complex. While Livi glided silently across the terrain with almost feline grace, Galek and his retinue moved like lumbering Gundarks by comparison. Where she became hypersensitive of their surroundings, pausing to inspect the ground and marks on trees, the Induparan and his retinue moved blindly behind her – completely ignorant to the small, likely significant, details.
What’s worse, is that the distance Livi tried to put between herself and the group was growing smaller and smaller. Entirely unaware that the woman might be trying to avoid the prince and his retinue, he put a bit more oomph in his step. There would undoubtedly be images of their expedition today that would grace the HoloNet, and Galek had no desire to appear as if he was lagging behind Livi.
A few more minutes passed, and Galek had come to stride only a few steps behind the woman.
“It used to be an old government complex.” He began speaking, though it wasn’t entirely clear if Livi was paying attention. Or cared, really. “ISC Rangers led multiple expeditions onto the planet to evacuate the survivors, but this was one place we were forced to abandon. At the time, the infected had overrun this area in particular and made any ground efforts impossible." He kept walking, and he kept talking. “Still, we’ve been receiving multiple distress signals from within the main complex over the past few weeks. It is believed that there may still be a large amount of survivors holed up inside.”
Livi stared at him blankly as he made the one armed joke.
“I can clap just as well with my hand and your face,” She quipped back without missing a beat as she left the ramp. The man was a nightmare and would get every last one of them killed.
As they made their way through the forest, Livi began to quickly realize that the idiot brigade was rapidly catching up to her. A glance back revealed that the Governor was picking up the pace and getting louder with purposely steps in an attempt to close the distance. He was valiantly stepping through mud, grass and other terrain while getting specks of it on his precious dress.
Livi’s jaw tightened as she watched the spectacle, her teeth grinding together. She took in sight of the cameras and other entirely unnecessary things being carried by others. A glance past Galek revealed that someone was actually carrying two suitcases of personal belongings. What the fuck? Was Galek planning on having a picnic or finding a five star hotel somewhere? Livi decided she couldn’t process any of that right now and quickly turned forward again to keep doing what she was doing.
She abruptly came to a stop a few moments later, a look of slight panic reflecting on her face beneath the helmet. She recognized familiar markings and signs on the ground, and it confirmed some of her worst fears. Livi turned to warn the others but that was when Galek loudly began a speech.
She cut him off mid speech with a wave of her hand, “Shut the fuck up,” Livi hissed, “We might be in troubl-”
There was a soft thud as one of the soldiers dropped to the ground. A second later, another fell. Both had arrows sticking out of them. Livi cursed as she grabbed the eccentric man by the arm and dragged him along with her. She bolted into a run as commotion erupted behind them. Blaster bolts were peppering the area, but the attackers knew what they were doing. One by one the soldiers dropped and collapsed.
Livi kept running until she came across a ditch. Not wanting to argue, she bodily shoved Galek over the edge, tossing him into the ditch. She jumped in right after, landing in a crouch beside him. Livi clamped her gloved hand right over Galek’s mouth before he could say a single word, shaking her head furiously to let him know this was serious. No talking.
The commotion they left behind alerted the infected, and it was clear that had been the intent all along. The attackers wanted to lead any intruders into an ambush and steal their supplies. Livi kept her hand pressed over Galek’s mouth as droves of infected rushed past along the ground above them and just beyond where they hid.
Sometimes the infected weren't the worst things to come across on these worlds.
Galek merely stared at her with deadpan expression when returned with a quipped. While he wasn’t entirely sure if she had been serious about wanting to stab him, somehow Galek knew she would gladly backhand him given the opportunity. He really couldn’t fathom why, but still.
“Now you're just being rude.”
Minutes passed, and the group had begun to approach the proximity of the compound. Galek was, unsurprisingly entirely unaware that Livi might’ve been somewhat perturbed by the sight of him and his retinue. Any glares or expressions of disgust went entirely over his head, hazel eyes trained on the building up ahead. In his mind, the cameras were a necessary asset of this expedition. Why would he come himself, if the entire thing was not filmed and distributed across the HoloNet? In many ways, it was really Livi’s fault in the first place, for stabbing that woman with a stylus and causing such a scandal that Galek felt the necessity to compensate.
As for the suitcases? There was no picnic planned, but that didn’t mean Galek neglected to bring necessary supplies. Necessary supplies, of course, being a handful of different outfits and elaborate ensembles – rich fabrics and gaudy accessories stashed neatly within each suitcase. While Livi and the soldiers adorned standard ISC armor, Galek had half a wardrobe to select from.
Keeping pace with the woman, Galek valiantly trudged through the damp and marshy terrain – his boots stinking deep into the muck with every step. Graceless, loud steps. Eventually the prince glanced down at the hem of his attire, a grimace plastered across his face upon noticing the specks of mud that had been kicked up and clung to the expensive fabric of his sherwani. Despite looking thoroughly displeased, he did not slow his gait. Clueless as he might’ve been, it was important that he appeared to be leading the charge.
Galek had been in the middle of what was, in his mind, a very important speech when Livi cut him off. He was explaining the valuable context of the situation, and the woman had the nerve to wave him off dismissively. As if, somehow, what he was saying wasn’t important. As if something else could possibly be more pressing. “Excuse me?” He blinked. The prince was not actually used to someone cutting him off when he was speaking, and for the briefest moment he looked thoroughly offended. “Who do you think your ta—”
To his credit, Galek actually did shut up - but that was only when the guard to his left suddenly dropped like a sack of potatoes. Forgetting the intense lecture he was about to unleash upon Livi, the prince spun around with a whirl of expensive fabric, hazel eyes widened with a mixture of terror and disgust as he looked down at the man who had previously been guarding his flank.
The poor soldier had arrow stuck through his eye, the bolt having pierced through the visor of the helmet. He was a dead man, but his body still twitched and convulsed.
Suddenly feeling as if he was going to throw up his lunch, Galek barely even noticed as Livi grabbed his wrist and tugged him in the opposite direction. His feet drug through the mud for several long, agonizing seconds before he finally began to run alongside her. The rest of his retinue fell in the same fashion as the first guard. As they did, the live-feed of cameras was interrupted as they were dropping, sinking into the mud. The men carrying his suitcases quickly followed, a small explosion of expensive silks, embroidered sashes and gaudy accessories erupting as the luggage burst open upon impact.
Galek’s feet carried him forward until they reached the ditch, only then hesitating on the next step forward. Quickly glancing over the edge, the prince spun around to look at Livi, his mouth immediately opening to protest. Surely, she didn’t mean to have him crouch down in the—
Galek yelped as he was unceremoniously shoved into the ditch, falling a short distance before landing flat on his back with a thud. Damp and marshy as the terrain was, the prince immediately found himself buried a few inches into the mud – the entire back side of his attire, and the back of his hair, for that matter, covered in muck.
The gloved hand came to press across his lips before the prince could scream out in frustration, which was quite frankly the most reasonable course of action, in his mind.
Unable to do so, he instead stared at the woman in front of him. For the first time, there was no deadpan expression, but instead Galek looked as if he were ready to bite the woman’s head off – hazel eyes narrowing into slits and launching silent daggers towards the woman.
His intense glare only broke as a group of.. humanoid figures began to pass by overhead! Salvation! Surely they must have been fellow survivors. Surely. Galek’s muffled voice reverberated against Livi’s palm, unable to make any noise above a whisper but clearly attempting to gesture towards the figures overhead. He even went so far as to point towards a very kindly looking man.
It was only after a few seconds that the prince realized this kindly looking man didn’t have a jaw. Or eyes.
Hazel eyes suddenly widened with equal parts terror and surprise, Galek’s muffled voice suddenly going silent and a chill running down his spine. Livi would’ve been able to tell simply from the look in his eyes – a look she’d likely been a hundred times before – that this was his first encounter with an infected. The few individuals infected by AMS that he had seen were all early stage patients, still only showing the characteristic sickly pale complexion and yellowing of eyes. They were often put out of their misery before they advanced further.
The kindly man that Galek had desperately tried to point out earlier? Well, now he lingered. Due to a lack of eyes, the creature could not actually see the pair huddled in the ditch – and it didn’t appear it had heard his muffled voice. Instead, it sniffed the air vigorously, head snapping in difference directions as it attempted to locate the source of the sweet, spicy fragrance that was entirely foreign to the marshy environment. Clearly, the scent of citrus and sandalwood was something this particular infected enjoyed.
As it lingered above them, a groan escaped from the space where its jaw used to be – where a tongue now hung freely and dripped thick globes of black salvia. It dripped down onto the thigh of Galek’s attire and soaked through the fabric, causing him to visible squirm a bit.
Luckily for the both of them, the cry of infected in the distance was enough to draw away the creatures attention. It shambled off elsewhere, leaving Livi and Galek alone once more in the ditch. The sound of blaster fire had died down, the world suddenly becoming exceptionally quiet. A quick glance above the ditch, however, would reveal that danger hadn’t hardly passed them quite yet. The mysterious assailants – the ones who had executed the guards – were now fanning out from the compound, quickly crossing the distance to collect upon their plunder.
The prince only had to glance for a brief moment, his eyes quickly turning back to Livi. Slowly but surely, Galek reached down to the holster on his hip, pulling free the sleek blaster pistol that the prince had brought with him. Gripping it by the barrel, Galek did perhaps the smartest bloody thing he’d done since getting on the shuttle. He handed the weapon to the woman in front of him.
The fact that the man was still attempting to talk and scream with her hand on his face perplexed her. Her gaze flicked down to rocks nearby, mentally calculating if she could remove her hand, grab a rock and clock him over the head before he screamed. This would have been much more seamless if she had another hand, but with one she had more steps to add in the process.
It wasn’t until she saw him actively attempting to reach out towards an infected that she realized he had never seen one before. Horror settled at the pit of her stomach and she knew she had an uphill battle from here on out. Livi pressed her hand firmly against Galek’s mouth as the infected he flagged hovered above them.
Livi gritted her teeth as the globs of saliva fell on the diplomat, and she half expected him to screech and get them both killed. She glared daggers at him the entire time, hoping he had the sense to remain silent. Outside of a bit of struggling against her grip, he mercifully remained quiet until the infected walked away.
She exhaled a sigh of relief and looked away, peering above the edge of the ditch to observe the movement ahead. Livi glanced down only when she felt the man nudge her to get her attention, handing over his weapon. The surprise was visible on her face, and she hesitated for a moment before taking the blaster.
Livi placed her hand on the lip of the ditch and moved to get up. She paused halfway through, thinking about this. She had fully intended to hoist herself up and bail. She knew she could survive and find a way out here. It would be incredibly easy to leave the idiot behind. However, Livi quickly realized he was a homing beacon for aid. He was likely important enough to where more transports would be arriving to rescue him. As a result, he was her ticket out of here. This meant that she needed to keep him alive at all costs.
Her teeth ground together for a moment before she stepped away from the ditch and crouched back down next to him. She eyed him for a second, seeing the first hints of terror in his face since they arrived. It reminded her very strongly of the first time she had seen one. It also reminded her for the first time she felt alone after watching her parents die in a shootout. When she spoke, her tone had less of a bite to it than usual.
“Look,” She said firmly, her voice perfectly calm in spite of their situation, “I know what I’m doing. But you have to listen to me and follow my cues. There is no chain of command here and no rules. Sometimes the survivors are far worse than the infected,” She felt silly explaining all this, but a part of her began to believe that perhaps words had a better way of getting through his skull than action, “You have to blend into the environment or they can smell you.”
Livi grabbed a glob of mud and smeared it on his chest. She also grabbed a hold of his sash to thoroughly wipe off the infected saliva which carried the chemicals to turn him before tearing that piece off to toss, “You have to cover yourself fully. You can’t smell like you’re not from here.”
Her head whipped around as she heard the snap of a twig in the distance. Livi cursed inwardly and lifted up slightly. While remaining hunched, she walked along the length of the ditch, motioning for Galek to follow. She could tell when they were a bit further away as they couldn’t hear the commotion from earlier anymore.
“We need to find a way for you to communicate off planet that you’re still alive and need an extraction,” That was going to be exceedingly difficult to pull off. There was no way to tell what kind of survivors still remained on the planet. For all they knew, the last standing compound was full of insane humans that had long given up on society.