“My name is Nyx.” Says a tall lithe girl that looks about my age. Her raven-black hair is pulled back into a tight ponytail, tied tight with small leather thongs. It hangs down the center of her bone white armor like a thick length of dark rope. Striking green eyes smolder back at me from a porcelain face that’s all high cheekbones and sharp symmetries. Her gaze is cool and calculating, like the unblinking lens of some beautiful and lethal machine. Her perfectly sculpted eyebrows are two slices of midnight against her smooth pale skin, and her full lips are the color of wine. “Welcome to Helios.”


The sudden agony of the surge snaps my head forward, and my hands fly up to the sides of my head involuntarily, like they’re trying to block the sudden burst of feelings and information all on their own. When the pain in my head finally subsides and I’m able to raise my head again, I’m shocked when I realize that know exactly who this person is. I doubly shocked that I was ever able to forget.

His name is Ghoul, and he’s my best friend in the world.   


The dead swirl around me like a flock of startled birds scattered into the cold air by our passing and by the sound of boots hammering out a disjointed rhythm against the frozen ground. One by one, their features seem to blacken and distort, faces eaten from within by unseen flames, until they drift away as clouds of ash and bright dancing sparks.


The wall is burning. Tall columns of flame engulf entire sections of the tall wooden structure and thick black clouds of smoke slither into the sky like enormous mutated snakes that twist and undulate in rapturous excitement as they devour the protective barrier around the settlement.


Dex jumps from the platform and onto the ground in a single, athletic motion. “Stay Here.” He calls over his shoulder, shouting in my direction. He dashes after Snow’s small platoon before I can say a word, charging into the deepening gloom of the forest beyond the wall as fast as his thick legs will carry him.


“5 seconds!” Dex screams above the din, his voice clear and strong against the chaos of the scene around me. Instinctively, I reach behind my head and draw the crude sword out of its scabbard with a clumsy, halting motion. I grip the hilt of the sword tight and will my hand not to shake. I fail miserably.


A crowd of young men and women in dark blue naval uniforms – uniforms like the one I’m wearing, I realize – stampede down the corridor on every side. Some are crying, some are screaming. The blaring alarm swallows their cries, filling up the corridor with its steady, pulsing wail.


Here and there I can make out the buried ruins of rectangular concrete structures poking out of the snow and vegetation. The thick gray walls are shattered, none standing higher than a few feet.


“About a hundred of us woke up, all at once, in the forest just north of here.” Dex says. His eyes are distant, catching the slow pulse of the dying embers where the small fire had been.


I tell them about the Jupiter Fleet – missing and presumed lost. I tell them about the fall of the Shatter Line - the swarm of tiny spy satellites (the most recent boasting full AI autonomy) buzzing between the millions of frozen rocks in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

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