Steel (+) Rain: The Indigo Chronicles

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Prelude: Sickbay


Floating through blurred periods of consciousness, Clive struggled to keep his weary eyes open, yet the strenuous effort itself nearly plunged him back into the darkness of disorientation. He fought to stay awake, against the grip of fever that attempted to yank him into a delusional slumber. His eyes flickered open, his sight starting up like the scratchy scenes of an old choppy movie; his vision clouded with the hazy dreary shades of gray and black and white that painted the room. On the periphery of his eyes, he felt a slight pressure accompanied by little black pinpricks that quivered as though something were pressed against it. He thought he saw fast blurs of white rush by every so often but he wasn't sure what they were. The fever that had set in kept him from being able to focus his vision and distinguish the details of his surroundings. His pallid, clammy skin was covered in a sickly film of sweat causing him to stick to his once gray shirt with a grimy adhesive of sweat and blood. The stained shirt was encrusted with hard splotches of dried blood staining the gray with splatters of dark crimson. His shoulder throbbed.
What a nightmare this is, he thought to himself.
On occasion during brief moments of consciousness, his mind was tricked and deceived with hallucinations and pangs of delirium. After a while, he was no longer able to tell apart the reality from the bizarre sights and sounds of his tainted imagination. It all seemed too real.
Was that solitary, dazzling light bulb above him really a light bulb, or the distant flickering image of the sun? Perhaps that cotton rug on the floor next to the bed was not a rug at all but the furry body of something horrible lying in wait for the kill? Clive's current state cast him to look and feel like a completely different man than he really was. He was a man of determination and rational reasoning, not delusions and uncertainty. He was organized and strong both physically and mentally. The fever in a way retrogressed his mind to somewhat primal state, with the drifting sense of awareness absent from it. He had no room in his mind for foolish stories of monsters, aliens and other such myths and legends, although, he was a religious man, a man of honest faith in God and heaven and the cross. Sure, he believed in the existence of angels and demons, yet, what were all the illusions that his mind projected out before him? Not real, he thought, but what was in this fever?
He wished he would get better soon. His mind was in such a jumble with the illness he simply could not think straight. At this point, fitful sleep seemed not so bad in comparison to the confusion of being awake.
Although his eyesight was temporarily affected by the infection, to his un-fortune, his smell and taste remained fully functional, unaltered by the foggy illness that flowed through him. The stench of antiseptic and rot filed the air in unimaginable quantities, and the bland salty mush of canned food disgusted him. Mealtime was the worst time, even worse than the pain in his shoulder and the cloudy vision and the rancid smells; at least in his sleep he was able to dream of delicious home cooked dinners, and was able to forget the horrible taste of the dull metallic food they shoved down his throat. Apparently, it was nutritious. He didn't think so.
Clive shifted uncomfortably in the stark white bed, his bones ached and tendons throbbed in flares of pain. He grimaced as he felt a revolting pop sound from within his shoulder, accompanied by a shock of stinging. The metallic odor of blood that seeped past the other stenches and the pain that throbbed him was too much.
Back into the depths of sleep.

He had never been shot before; the harsh stinging of the wound was new to him, its deep saturation of pain unfamiliar and unwanted. The bullet had severed the nerves that ran down his left arm, forever broken the chance to feel anything with it ever again. To him this was simply gratifying, if this had not happened than he would have felt much more than what he was feeling now. It saved him from the crying of nerves that would have agonized him otherwise. Lashes and cuts ran up and across his arm from having been tangled up in barbwire when he had fallen from the shot.

Clive, Lieutenant Indigo to others, had been overcome with an infection and a fever the previous day, a result from a gunshot wound that had penetrated his left shoulder. The doctors saved him just in time before gangrene set in. Luckily, his arm was saved and as it turns out, the nerves used for movement had remained intact.
He had been taken from the battlefield in a large ship carrying hundreds of other casualties of the war. Men of valor and courage, soldiers of war and of country, patriots that yearned for the warmth of home and the welcoming back of families that awaited them in a similarly restless state.
They were traveling back to America, back to home. At least, that what they were expecting' They were foolish to believe that the beaches of Normandy were their last true battle. Although they would be returning to America, it would not be the country as they last remembered it.
Not even close.
This is the story of the U.S.S. Manticore and Clive Indigo, soon-to-be planet voyager.






Chapter 1: Barren White

 Clive woke up still feeling groggy and disoriented from the profound effects of the fever. His nostrils flared as the now dulled smells of the room wafted through them. His eyes fluttered open in a slow shutter; clearing his eyes of the blurriness and obscurity, that somewhat remained form the illness. Now it was easier to see the room, it was a large stuffy room cluttered with makeshift cots and bustling doctors and nurses. Sick, pallid looking soldiers lay sprawled out upon the beds, some of their eyes glazed over like lifeless polished stones, others were watchful, flickering about with wary alertness.
The ashen walls were laced with interconnecting pipes, iron valves jutting out of them at ominous angles like thorns on a long tangled vine. Rusty domed bolts connected sheets of metal that covered the walls and floors resembling a thin silver skin.
A doctor strode up beside him and stopped at the side of the bed. Clive gazed upon the man with a dull curiosity, focusing his eyes on the man's peculiar features.
The aged man puts one in the mind of a rabid dog. Hooded smoky eyes stared down at a chunky clipboard that lay cradled in his stocky arms. He scrawled some words on it, though Clive could not see what they were. His shaggy bone-white hair reminded Clive of a dusty bale of hay. A short plump build and a bulging stomach declared his passion for food and the extra cups of whisky in the after hours. Pasty, liver spotted skin sagged with age. High sunken cheekbones finished off the surprisingly bony look of his face, this together with his outcropping brow made his eyes seem deeply indented into his skull, it appeared a dark cave. His wardrobe consisted of a long starched lab coat and a contrasting pair of black pants, a typical doctoral scheme.
'Hello, mister Indigo'' he paused and scribbled something down again, ''feeling any better?' he said, his voice slipped past his lips with a tedious drone, his words unenthusiastic. It seemed the room's dullness had taken effect on him with its contagious monotony. He looked up from the clipboard and looked at Clive with those hooded gray eyes roofed by a primordial brow. 'Well lieutenant?' he inquired a second time.
Now that his eyesight had improved form the recession of the fever, Clive could look upon the doctor with a vague awareness. He wiped his face of sweat and pulled at his shirt in a swift tug to allow a breeze of ventilation liberate his clammy skin from the annoyance of the warm stuffy air. Then he spoke, clearing his throat in a loud hacking cough, 'Yeah, a bit better, not much though. My vision was a little blurry before but now it seems to have improved,' he said feverishly blinking again, trying to clear away the rest of the haziness.
Clive did have his eyesight back and the infection was retreating somewhat, yet the pain from the bullet wound was still present. Fortunately, though, it was slowly diminishing along with the fever. The unconcerned doctor stared at him for a short while before speaking again
'Well then, I will have you moved to the upper deck where the healthier patients are. By tomorrow morning we should have reached the eastern coastline, and you and the others will be sent home,' the doctor grunted in disparagement. 'The rest of us, however, such as me, will be relocated to a hospital until further notice. Lucky you, huh,' he said, ending in a sarcastic tone. Then he walked away, off to tend other patients, leaving as swiftly as he had arrived.
Clive leaned back onto his ruffled sheets and stared up at the cracked decrepit ceiling, paint peeling off in gray flakes. This old ship had seen many years of war and combat. He was sure if the walls could speak, they would scream of the carnage of hundreds of battles that it had witnessed.

 Bored and weary Clive's mind detached from reality and drifted into his own realm of peaceful serenity where all war was forgotten and forbidden, how he longed for the warm embrace of his home back in Virginia. Living in a small house on the outskirts of a tiny town, he had always wanted to escape its boring atmosphere. Dreaming of embarking on wild adventures to the great beyond of somewhere new, somewhere no man had gone before. Someplace where inspiration and fulfillment would be found around every corner. He was born for exploration and discovery; his soul yearned for the sights and sounds of worlds beyond his still little town. A simple childhood in a simple neighborhood it was. After signing up for the army, a vain last-ditch attempt for adventure, Clive traveled the world. He crossed oceans and deserts, scaled mountains and descended valleys. He thought he did it all, that was until his thirst for adventure was revived again, brought back from the dead after years of the perpetuity and brutality of actual battle. Rather than the patrol that allowed him to tour the world. It slowly grew to the point of tumor like qualities.
He needed to see the unknown, to experience the exciting.
However, the thing is this yearning, this void gap in him that needed to be filled by way of adventure was about to become whole once again, filled up to the extent of overflowing.
As he continued to daydream, with his head in the clouds, he heard thunder, lighting flashed and vivid searing colors radiated from all directions. However, this unusual experience was not fictional at all, no, such things were not allowed in his tranquil world. Such monstrosities could only come from the real one. He could feel shaking percussions smash into him in invisible waves, quite a palpable reality despite its strangeness.
Shaking himself of the last of his delirium, Clive sat up straight and vaulted out of the cot with panicked fervor. He was rewarded with the sharp pain of his wound pulsing away in his shoulder. The room began to fill with alarm and chaos. Howls of confusion confirmed the bizarre reality of the situation as more blinding lights formed from nothing, followed by additional quaking percussions that vibrated through the air. The shockwaves were so great they shook the very core of him, his spine rattled and spirit quivered.
Of all things that happened, the most unusual was the fact that everything had become suddenly still, unmoving. The panicking doctors and screaming soldiers all frozen in a brief moment of still quietness, an eerie icy silence. Then everything began to disintegrate to a bright barren white. His feet met with nothing, not even air, just drifted under him in the emptiness. A desolate white limbo. As Clive floated there in the oblivion of light, dazed and confused, he looked around at what should have been the aged ship he was on mere seconds ago, now an infinite realm of white upon white. He attempted to shout out yet no voice came out, not so much as a whisper.
What the hell is going on, where the hell am I? Oh God, what's happening?
He thought to himself as he surveyed his white surroundings once more. This was all too surreal.
Then through the barren white came a small whirling darkness forming from nothing as it took shape of a minute spiral slowly growing bigger until it enveloped the white, plunging it into an inky darkness.
Then he dropped and hit something solid.
***

 Opening his eyes for the umpteenth time that day only to find more grogginess Clive's vision was started up with the image of the sky and sun above him. Only something was different, something was wrong. It was an opaque red hue, lit up by a large flaring disc. The sun shone a blazing deep ruby that reflected like a prism. Since the lonely star had no cloud in the sky to obscure its radiance, it became the center focus of the heavens floating just above the horizon. It was a red quaking heart, pumping a crimson illumination throughout the body of the sky, its rays like veins.
His shoulder hadn't hurt until he began to pull himself up to see the rest of his surroundings. A dull pain waved in and out of his body as he straightened his back. When he looked down at the ground after finally lifting himself up with his good arm he saw that the soil was charred black with soot. His arms were covered with it too, and as he ran the back of his hand across his face, it came back black as well. Then he looked up at the land, ignoring the ash all together.
Green.
Everything was green; he was surrounded in a world of jades, with the ruby in the sky and the trees of emerald below it became a beautiful masterpiece of earth and fire, it depicted a land of bliss. The treetops were drenched in the red light of the sky for sunset was approaching, or maybe it was sunrise.
For the briefest of moments, Clive thought he was in heaven, he thought he must have died in that crummy bed from the infection. That bright white light he had seen all around him before must have been its gates, or maybe purgatory. However, a solid pinch denied him that possibility. Although Clive was very disturbed about this abrupt change in surroundings he couldn't help but to feel calm, this view was just too stunning.
After a few more moments of marveling, Clive came plummeting back too reality. He looked in all directions searching for some sign of civilization.
Something, anything.
Then he saw it, a distant yet noticeable structure of some sort in the remoteness of the beyond. Surrounded in a blur of puffy mist, it seemed to float upon it as its distorted outlines wavered in the fog and heat. He tried to make out what it was exactly but he was just too far to distinguish anything more than its relative location. The only fact that he was sure of is that it was inhabited. Well, at least that what he told himself.
He began to run towards it, a small limp in his step and his left arm loose at his side. A small flame of hope rose from within his chest.
Maybe I can find answers there' No, I will.
Clive was in such shock he could not even stop to reflect on what had just happened, his mind had no time for such trivial emotions. He could only focus on the important task at hand. He needed to reach that misty building, or whatever it was, it was all he could think of. His brain was working overtime in survival mode, tasked with analyzing and organizing thousands of thoughts that flew in an out of his subconscious.
The closer he got to the distant structure the more twisted and gnarled the trees. With each stride down the dusty path their bark grew darker and darker, eventually, they portrayed a deep sinful black. The once clean crisp air became thick with pollution and rancid hazardous odors. The damp stifling air created an atmosphere that of the deepest jungle amidst the hottest and cruelest rainy season that he had ever experienced during his days as a U.S. soldier. He hacked and coughed as the filthy air consumed his lungs, it was as if the air itself was rotting. Clive's punished senses endured the horrible environment with the hope that help, or at least closure or an explanation, lay ahead.
As he traveled deeper into the oppressive atmosphere Clive could make out earth colored metalwork of some sort through the haze. Before him was the construction he had seen so far away, and now that he was a mere couple dozen yards from it he realized that it really did float upon the heavy bed of fog. Considering the rod-like 'legs' it was supported on were incredibly slim and skeletal in comparison to the colossal body above them, practically invisible in the thick of the air. There were three of them extending out from under its arched bottom, ending in four sharp metallic protrusions resembling oddly fingers in a cross pattern. Swaying gently in the still air the metal of its rickety joints screeched with age and corrosion. It seemed as though it were to collapse at any moment.
The once gunmetal black paint of its yesteryears now sadly withered away to a dull gray hue, laden with cancerous patches of rust that seemed to spread across the metal like a ravenous infection. It must have been there for quite some time as even some vegetation had begun to take root in gaps and fissures of the towering metal carcass.
Clive's flame of hope was doused with the dampened realization that it was indeed abandoned, it seemed as though he had been brought to a forgotten land of some sort. Maybe the rest of this world was not such a beautiful landscape as he had seen before. His thoughts on the place were changing. This dead deserted patch of land may not be the only one like it in this mysterious realm, or whatever it was. Perhaps the rest of the land was indeed black and decayed like this.
CHA-CHAK
An abrupt noise came from behind him, a sound he was quite accustomed to. He had heard it an innumerable amount of times as a soldier. It was the familiar, threatening clatter of metallic words in the deathly language of a gun, a very large automatic gun. Clive raised his hands in hope that he would not have to hear the horrible staccato of bullets that typically followed such sounds.
'Explain yourself, why are you here? You should know better than to wander off into Dead Zones. The pollution itself could kill a man in mere hours.' The voice was deep and gravelly yet slightly muffled as though the speaker wore a mask; it boasted a sense of authority.
Turning around slowly Clive saw an oddly armored man wearing a heavy looking helmet strapped tightly to his head. Dark navy blue glass made up the eyepiece, and under the glass, a thick black cloth covered the rest of his face. He brandished a large chunk of a rifle in his hands. Hefty muscles held the 20-something-pound gun with unsurprising ease. His abnormally large body had such mass it made Clive take a step back in intimidation. It seemed the gun-wielding stranger was a soldier of some sort as his armored uniform bore a small black and white insignia in the shape of a cross, hollowed out in the middle with a small diamond of black. Part of the cross was masked by a thin crescent of black.

'I don't know where I am, or how I even got here.' The soldier gave a careless grunt.
Then, Clive made a foolish decision. Clive brought his injured arm back down to his side because of the pain that's was beginning to build up in his shoulder, the startled man must have thought he was reaching for a weapon because he began to open fire. The bullets that came out, though, looked nothing like the ones he was used to.
In a bright flare of hot blue, a quick burst of searing metal slugs flew out of the nozzle and past Clive with a hissing whistle, the air warped in their wake. 'I said don't fucking move!' screamed the soldier, his finger threatened to pull down on the trigger again. Clive threw his arms back up in the air shaking nervously. The soldier than began speaking through an earpiece located within his helmet, although Clive could not understand exactly what he was saying, only picking up words like 'strange' and 'trespass' and 'hazard'. None of what he could make out sounded good, all he felt like he could do was just to stand still. Minutes past as the soldier just stood there aiming his rifle at Clive like a menacing statue.
Clive's lungs were becoming heavy from the toxic air, dizziness overcame and he collapsed.









Chapter 2: Numb


 Waking up to a dark room Clive saw nothing, heard nothing. Feeling around the walls for anything recognizable his hands met only cold hostile metal. Sitting on the ground, Clive closed his eyes and let the shadows engulf him as he focused on any sounds that could be heard past his metallic imprisonment. Whispers of quietness were all that echoed. Still confused and lost Clive remained calm in order to keep himself together; he didn't want to be insane on top of being locked up. Sleep seemed to be the only option for the soldier.
***
 A bright shaft of light that flew out from one of the walls startled Clive. As he lifted his hands up to his eyes to shade them from the blinding white he could see through small gaps in his fingers something large and gray clatter onto the iron floor, followed by an escaping hand that dashed back into the light, cutting off the light with an abrupt CLACK!
Clive felt around the floor for the mysterious tray, sure that its contents were some sort of food. Almost anything would be better than what he was given on that ship. His hands met with a cold supple slab of some sort. It smelled of salt and blood, a semi-rare piece of meat salted for preservation, accompanied by a just as cold solitary slice of bread. After chewing some of the over-salted meat Clive decided to stick with the bread seeing as the meat could have come from an undesirable source. Trying not to think much about it he finished the other half of his meal and sat back to lean his still painful shoulder against an iron wall.
Mere minutes later the room filled with a loud groan coming from one of the walls. Clive was both at the same time relived and frightened to find that it was a simply the door to his cell opening. A tall figure stood on the metal threshold, silhouetted by the bright lights of the room beyond.
'All right, get up and come with me,' shouted the shadow-drenched man. Standing up as fast as his shoulder would let him Clive hurried into the bright room covering his eyes to shield them. Then the tall man walked out from the dark and into the light closing the door behind him.
As the soldier's eyes adjusted to the environment he could see that the room was nothing like he had ever seen before. All sorts of wires and plugs run about the place like veins of a creature. Large and thin metal boxes portrayed moving symbols and numbers like the radars that he saw on the ship only these were are of better quality and made strange sounds. In the front of the room was a large glass door framed by dark metal, on either side of it stood two soldiers, watching his every move from behind dark tinted glass.
Before Clive was able to turn around and get a look at the man behind him the two soldiers next to the glass door came up to him and restrained his arms. The lieutenant howled out in pain as his wounded arm was held tightly. His head was pushed down as he was forcefully escorted out the glass door and into the sterile white hallway. All he could see was the metal tiled floor that clanged beneath their steps. Every now and then, they would turn a corner or go up some stairs, a few people passed by but none seemed to take notice to him.
They finally entered a bright room at the end of a lengthy hallway; it had a single chair in the middle of the room. Its metal clad back stained brown with what seemed like ancient rust, and perhaps unsuccessfully scrubbed blood splatters. The two men that restrained him thrust him into the chair and cuffed his neck to the spine of the metal chair, and soon after retreated to the doorway to stand watch. Then the tall, Ghastly Man that had opened the door to Clive's cell strolled into the room taking a seat at an equally mysteriously stained table adjacent to the chair. He smiled, a malicious and ominous smile to say the least. Two eyes black with infinite void told the story of a man numbed to emotion and prone to wrathful passions. His sharp nose seemed to twitch with the anticipation of what was to come. Clive knew very well what was up for him next. This had happened to him before, a memory boarded up in the deepest chasm of his mind. It stung just to remember.
The Ghastly Man chuckled demonically and said, 'So, wandering the grounds of the Dead Zones outside my lab here?' He examined Clive up and down in disgustful intrigue. Unsure what to say the lieutenant just stared back into those abominate eyes. After a long awkward silence, the Ghastly Man stood up and walked closer to him. Raising his hand high in the air, he struck Clive in the face with a loud THWACK! His head thrown to the side from the blow Clive cried out in pain. He could hear the Ghastly Man's voice right next to his ear this time. 'I suggest you start talking now lest I have to start using other more'lets say inconvenient methods, hmm?' Backing away from Clive, he sat back down in the other chair and awaited an answer.
Stuttering Clive tried to explain,' I-I have no idea what happened, I swear I was just on my ship one second and then all of the sudden after some loud noises and bright lights a wound up in a green mountain somewhere else. It''
'You expect me to believe this feeble story? Don't toy with me you filthy scum. Of all the people I have caught on the properties of my lab they have all been in coalition with either the Rising Sun Alliance or some other pathetic organization trying to thwart us.' His smile returned to his horrid face. 'But then again what kind of idiotic operative would venture out into the polluted Dead Zones outside without a hazard suit?' Before Clive was able to reply, the Ghastly Man spat in his face and laughed. Turning around he motioned to the guards, 'Kill this fool and make it quick, I have a rendezvous with Leo.' Then he left the room.
Clive squirmed in his restraints, 'No, NO! Please no! I don't even know why I am here please just let me go.' However, it was too late the Ghastly Man had already left the room and Clive was left there to be dealt with the guards. As the soldiers approached him, Mr. Indigo became numb with fear. It over took him like a deep ocean tide, sweeping him off his feet and headfirst into what he thought would be his last moment before it would all just cease to exist. The two stocky soldiers quietly unlocked the cuff and lifted him out of the chair. Shuffling along he was brought facing a white brick wall stained with a grotesque assortment of more ill-omened browns and reds. Closing his eyes, he managed to mumble out a few pleas but he then realized he would rather die in dignity and decided to stay quiet. Whatever this was, he was not going to let it destroy his integrity as a war-hardened veteran.
Despite what his squad mates had told him as they were dying, he saw neither flashbacks nor any tunnels of light only the flat grimy wall in front of him. He began to count-back from ten as he heard a sudden reloading of a gun from behind him.
He never made it to nine.





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