Hades: Charon Station

The planet Hades glitters like a black pearl. Across its surface, a sprawling city sparkles in the darkness. Spinning with it as it orbits the Omega Star, the space station Charon is tethered to the soil of the planet by a massive elevator that brings goods and people to and from its surface.

Achilles docks in the station. Hades, and Charon by extension, exist on the fringes of Republic space. As a result, it has become a nesting ground for criminals, political refugees, or anyone avoiding government oversight as a rule. At this point, the militaries of the galaxy allow it this freedom. Everyone, they have realized, needs a place to be, and it is better to have as much of the crime localized to one, lawless star system rather than spreading like a disease to the others.

In Lancelot's eyes, Charon is the safest place in the galaxy at the moment. He is seated in his captain's chair, leaned back, his head on his balled fist. When the ship locks into place with a small lurch, he stands and issues orders. There will be no rest. They will repair and resupply, and then they will leave immediately.

He grabs two soldiers and brings them with him to the brig. At the big door, they stop, and Lancelot looks at the two fresh-faced soldiers awaiting his command. They regard him soberly, with mixed fear and respect, as he prefers. Each is a mountain of a man, but they know he could kill them without a struggle.

"I want you two on Arthur. The girl will be mine."

They salute and follow him inside, where Chastity is curled up on the bed. Arthur is seated beside her, and he rises to meet them as they enter. One mountain grabs him immediately while the other plants a fist into his gut. Lancelot passes Arthur without even a second glance.

He grabs Chastity by the hair and pulls her onto the floor. Then, with his open palm, he strikes her hard when she starts to cry. Her face swells red while he drags her from the room.

"Lancelot," Arthur shouts, struggling against the two soldiers. They punch him again, this time with enough force to knock his legs out from under him. He goes limp in their arms.

"I'm done with your games," Lancelot says, dragging Chastity by the hair while she stumbles after him. "I'm done with your lies and your misinformation. So, here is what we will do." He throws her into the wall and drags his pistol from his hip. Cocking it, he presses the barrel into Arthur's forehead. "What do you know about the Guides? How do we wake that one up?"

"I. Don't. Know!" Chastity speaks through sobs, tears and snot smearing and mixing on her cheeks, choking her as she struggles to breath between coughs and whimpers.

"Wrong answer!" Lancelot strikes Arthur across the skull with the butt of his pistol. Blood warms his palm. "You know what I want. Tell me the truth, girl!"

"I am! I am telling you the truth!"

Lancelot growls, presses the cold barrel into Arthur's head once again. "Last. Chance. He will die, and it will be your fault."

"Please! Stop! I don't know. I don't know anything—I don't..." She struggles to her feet, falls to her knees, and then crawls toward him like a child. One of the mountains leaves Arthur to grab her by the neck and hold her in place. She sobs louder. "I don't know. I don't know. I don't..."

"Then what do you know?"

"Nothing. We couldn't figure it out. We couldn't find anything..."

"Stop it, Stephen," Arthur says, lifting his head to meet Lancelot's gaze. "You know this sort of interrogation is useless on a civilian. She'll agree to anything to get you to stop."

Lancelot gives a long, hard stare, and then hits him again with the gun. "Then it's pointless to keep either of you around," Lancelot says. Chastity's eyes go wide.

"Wh-What...I..."

"If I can't even trust your information," Lancelot says.

"P-Please, if I just had Cipher, I could...The biggest hurdle in Guide technology is the language, and we..." She falls back into sobs.

"What was that, about Cipher," Lancelot says, drawing near to her. He made sure to move in a way that kept the pistol always in her vision.

"C-Cipher was my A.I. I-It's processing speed was...We were using it to find matching patterns in the software codes of the Guides a-and...Without it, I don't have anything."

"But you have your brain, don't you?" Lancelot taps her temple with the barrel of his gun. "And you're a genius, yes?"

"But..."

"And you're in a desperate situation," he says, grabbing her tight by the face and holding her, forcing her to stare into his dark eyes. "Because if you're useless to us, then we space you. So, damned if you do, damned if you don't. At least if you try, you stay alive a fraction longer. Right?"

She swallows.

"Right?"

"R-Right."

He holds his gaze on hers before flipping the safety on the gun. Taking her from the soldier, he holds her by the arm and drags her toward the door. The second mountain returns to Arthur, where the first has him pinned him to the floor.

"I want you to understand," Lancelot said to Chastity. "If you even WALK in the wrong direction, I will kill you. Do you understand?"

She nods.

"Good." He looks back at the soldiers. "Do what you want with him but keep him alive. I'm taking her to the Guide.

"Sir!" The soldiers salute and wait for Lancelot to leave before letting Arthur up to have their fun.

-Stargazers part 1-

Lancelot drags Chastity by the throat through the empty halls of Achilles. It is a small ship, dimly lit, with steel gray walls and flooring. The interior is reinforced, suffocating, and inescapable, and Chastity's feet come from under her as she struggles to keep pace.

They reach a gray doorway and Lancelot throws her down. He keys it open and then kicks her inside, where she curls up to cry on the floor. Like the last room, this room is angular and thickly insulated. It is designed to keep her in and keep others out. She stares up at Lancelot, who watches her with hollow eyes.

Grabbing her by the hair, he pulls her to standing and shoves her toward the table. There, the Lady sleeps, no longer held within the confines of its private chamber. Up close, she appears human. A blanket is draped over its body, hugging its seemingly female form. Its hair is blond and straight, its skin porcelain. Chastity comes to a stop, gasping over the Lady.

"This is the last time. Wake. Her. Up."

Chastity braces against the table, crying, and stares at the Lady. "I can't," she whines, and inside she begs for divine intervention. All her life, she never really believed in God. At this moment, she is desperately hoping to be proven wrong. "I can't," she says, and her legs give out. She falls beside the bed, holding the edge, weeping.

Lancelot growls and slams Chastity's head into the bed before letting her collapse onto the floor. "I warned you what would happen," he says. "I won't just kill you, girl. You know that!"

She lies there on the floor, holding herself, crying.

He grunts. "Fine, then, if this won't jog your memory." He smacks her one last time and reaches back, kneeling over her as he grabs his sword and lets it unfold. The blade it sleek and thin. The edge gleams.

"Please..." Chastity struggles until he smacks her again, and then she stares as he kneels on one knee above her. He holds her by the throat, the blade pointed toward her neck.

"I didn't want to kill you," he said, and he sighed. "Such a waste."

Her cheeks burn, and she tastes blood. She closes her eyes and waits, patiently, for her death. She waits, and she waits, and just as the cold steel touches her neck and draws blood, he is lifted from her. She hears him hit the wall across the hall.

Opening her eyes, she finds the Lady standing there, naked save for a blanket tied around its midsection. Kneeling, it gingerly touches Chastity's neck and wipes the blood away. Then, lifting Chastity, its stands.

Chastity winces. "You?"

Lady stares at her, holds her close, and passes Lancelot's unconscious body as they leave the room.

-Stargazers part 1-

Arthur falls back against the wall, his body sore, blood running down his nose. His hands are cuffed behind him, and the two guards are taking turns venting their frustrations. One stands by the door while the other strikes him. Periodically, they switch. The room has grown hot with movement, and they've rolled up their sleeves or removed their uniforms over time.

They switch. A big man, looking more like a mountain than he did before as Arthur's eyes swell shut, approaches and hefts Arthur up by the shoulders. There is murder in his smile. Behind him, the doorway bulges with a metallic groan. Everyone stops to look as the door falls inward, toppling the man beside it and revealing the Lady now in its place.

The remaining guard hesitates. He drops Arthur and reaches for his pistol, but the Lady is fast and lithe. Moving like liquid, the Lady slides into range and drives one hand into his chest. His ribs crack audibly, and he folds into himself while wrestling with his gun. When he draws it, the Lady takes his wrist and snaps it deftly before throwing him, hard, into the far wall.

The Lady then approaches Arthur on the floor. He watches as it reaches over his shoulder, almost gently, and pulls him to standing. Then, holding his cuffs, it twists the chain between them and snaps it in half. Behind it, outside of the door, Chastity peeks in, eyes hollow.

"You're okay!" Arthur moves around the Lady, intercepting Chastity as she falls into his arms. She cries into his chest, her face smearing the blood there. He holds her and soothes her with gentle whispers.

"That man," she says. "He's a monster. He's a complete monster. He wouldn't listen to a word I said, he just kept..."

"I know, I know." Arthur pats the back of her head and helps her to stand. Then, he looks her in the eyes. Blood vessels have burst in her right eye, leaving it red. Bruises are forming all across her face. "Where is he now?"

Chastity looks past Arthur, at the Lady, who stands patiently and without expression.

Arthur turns and regards the Lady, too. "And who is that?"

"That is the Lady. She's the entire reason we were on Canaan in the first place. The greatest scientific discovery in the galaxy, maybe even the entire universe. The first Guide ever found."

"She's a Guide?"

Chastity nods. "And now she's awake, and she's killing."

Arthur looks at the men on the ground. "Maybe, but she's on our side, I think," Arthur looks back at the Lady, "Aren't you?"

It eyes him silently, and then moves past him and out into the hall, where its stops, and waits, and watches them.

Arthur follows it with his eyes and then takes Chastity by the shoulder. He squeezes her gently. "I think we should follow...it."

"Probably," Chastity says, her eyes cast downward. She is staring at the guard under the door, at the blood leaking out of his skull.

Arthur lifts her face and looks her in the eyes. She stares through him. "You okay?"

Like Lady, the Chastity is silent.

Arthur takes her hand. "Just stay with me," he says, and he leads her out of the room and to the Lady's side. "I'm trusting you," he says to the Guide, and without a word, the Lady leads them forward, down the hall.

-Stargazers part 1-

Lancelot wakes sore and breathless and pulls himself to his feet. His ribs are broken, he knows that much, but his single-minded rage pushes him through the pain and down the hall. On the way, he slams his fist on the comm. "Helm, this is the captain. The Guide and the girl have escaped. They're running free on the ship. Lock down all halls, all exits. I'll be there for a status report in a moment."

"Sir," the comm. responds, "They—They've already made their way off of the ship, and they grabbed the other prisoner on the way."

Lancelot freezes partway down the hall and grips the wall tightly. His side hurts. His pride hurts more. Slamming his fist once more into the comm button, he shouts, "Get people on them!"

"Sir, yes, sir!"

"And prep two Wraiths and the Zeus armor."

"You're going in your Gigas, sir?"

"Yes, I am!" Lancelot slams the comm off and pushes himself away. He has to use the wall to steady himself in the hallway, but he keeps moving. All that matters now is recapturing the three of them, and, truthfully, with the Guide moving on its own, he could easily do without the other two.

-Stargazers part 1-

The Charon Station crown is a massive bazaar tightly packed into a small, circular platform. Arthur leads they Lady and Chastity into an ever shifting sea of people, looking odd and out of place anywhere but here on Charon. Both women are half-naked, one bloodied and bruised, but they move without drawing attention. That is because the people in Charon all have their own skeletons in the closet, and they are too busy tending to them to care much about what others do or are doing

The crowd swallows them, dissolving their trail like smoke in the air. Arthur keeps them moving, wanting first and foremost to put distance between himself and the Achilles crew. After that, he will find a true refuge and, hopefully, a way off of the planet. From everything he knows of Hades and Charon, they can be just as dangerous to the three of them if they are unfortunate enough to find themselves stranded there.

This area of space is considered largely lawless. Located between the three major governing bodies of the galaxy, it is marked as a no-man's land where all of the refuse from other worlds find themselves, almost as if by calling. Few visitors leave their ships, stopping only long enough to refuel and leave. Those that do rarely leave the station for fear of what might happen planet side. Military forces only make their presence known under dire necessity, and then always with a bullet being their standard form of diplomacy.

The people of Hades find that negotiation is easier when you start it with bloodshed.

The three grab clothes on the way, ducking into corners and changing quickly before returning to their mad rush. The Lady follows Arthur's every command with robotic indifference, and even than it shows more emotion than Chastity can. By this point, the young woman looks more like a doll than their Guide companion, save for the bruising.

Arthur works a slow, wide circle toward the center, keeping his eyes down but always open. There, the Styx land-to-space elevator will lead them to a momentary reprieve and enough freedom to get their bearings. The Lady is important, he knows, but so is their survival. His job is to keep them alive long enough to get word out to the military, any military at all.

They make their way to the elevator—an enormous shaft of gleaming steel at the center of the bazaar—and slip inside. The interior is well-lit and clean. There are dozens of people already waiting inside and, through holographic walls the exterior can be seen. Below, swaths of clouds swirl like dabs of fresh paint. A dark blue sea can be seen, seemingly still, to one side. Grey cityscapes consume the surface of the planet surrounding the elevator's base.

Arthur finds refuge near a wall and keeps his head down. The Lady follows close with Chastity dawdling after. She stares blankly ahead, bruised and gashed but alive. Arthur takes the time to look her over, to worry over her, but knows better than to approach. The demons she is facing now, she needs the quiet to work through it on her own. Lancelot wanted her alive, and he wanted her broken.

Bodies fill the empty spaces around them. The three stay close, packed in tight. The doors close and the lights dim. Music plays, and instructions, and locks click loudly into place. The elevator pauses, lurches, and drops, the initial inertia great enough to make their stomachs churn before the dampeners kick in.

The holographic view shifts. The horizon swells, the clouds rushing up at them and then swallowing them whole. Arthur smiles briefly. They have escaped to the surface, but they are far, far from being safe.