Kingdoms of War: A Trial by Fire

Lieutenant Jim Harkness has found himself face-to-face with demons.... And now he must confront his own.

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7. Scourge

Something inside of her was changing, growing and burrowing all at once. Elizabeth Hanson could feel it as she tried to make her way to the medical bay. Her vision was blurred as she staggered down the corridors, holding on to the walls occasionally for support. Crew members approached her, asked if she was alright, and she smiled and told them she simply had a headache, but that wasn't what she had intended to say. It was as though her mouth was now disconnected from the rest of her.

The whispers continued. They told her that practicing medicine was futile - everyone died, especially in times of war, so why bother? But being a doctor was her life. She loved to help people, to see them recover from crippling injuries or debilitating illnesses and become whole again, was a reward unto itself.

Her mouth felt dry, and her eyes still stung, but as far as she knew, the black smoke had stopped - gone when her tears had dried into her skin. The terror was building inside of her - what had that creature done?

Just think, if the captain comes up with a good plan, the war will be over... but we don't want that now do we? War means patients, people to cut open... much more fun.

A surge of malice went through Hanson, and she couldn't believe how quickly the feeling took hold. Her body stopped moving toward the medical bay... instead, despite every effort to fight it, she found herself walking toward a nearby computer terminal.

"Computer, locate Captain Fierro."

"Captain Fierro is in the canteen."

Excellent. Lets go kill her.

****

The darkened lights of the ship's canteen provided her with a nice, quiet place to work. The realisation that she had command of a much larger fleet than she first though was giving Captain Fierro more than a few chills. Over five hundred warships of one class or another, with enough combined firepower to burn a planet's surface to a cinder, were going to be at her beck and call. Talk about a chance to strike a decisive blow!

As she studied the most recent charts of enemy fleet movements and intelligence reports of enemy fortifications, Fierro was also acutely aware that failure would be not only a setback but potentially a disaster for the war as a whole.

"The Gfafians are aggressive. Their preferred means of defence is to attack. Getting into that system will let us cripple their war effort, as long as... oh yes Maria, that's good..." She started to tap at her pad, hoping the enemy would take the bait.

****

"So now you're mobile, let's see what Freedom's Light has to offer eh?" Doctor Courtous stepped out into a corridor and beckoned for Harkness to follow.

Trepidation was the first emotion to run through him, both at using his new leg properly, and leaving the medical bay. He had no idea what this magical ship held, and part of him felt frightened. As he started to place his leg down upon the floor, he struggled to reconcile how real the leg felt as he began to walk.

"How do you like the uniform?" Courtous smirked. Harkness had asked for his original uniform back, but it had been burnt and bloodied, and therefore destroyed. Now he wore the same uniform as the rest of the crew - no other clothes had been available that would fit - and he found it restrictive. Not only was it too tight, but the shade of blue in use was, quite frankly, dull. Unlike Captain Fierro, Harkness had no gold on his cuffs or collar - he was effectively, a non-com, and he didn't like it.

"It is... acceptable." But he knew his voice betrayed his annoyance.

"Well, once we did we'll have access to some stores that will have better outfits. I imagine you're hungry no?"

It occurred to him that he was indeed, quite hungry. Between medical bay food and the field rations of Eshurg, Harkness had not eaten well for several days.

"Food would be very agreeable."

Courtous smiled. "Don't say that until you've tried it, but I dare say what the ship's cook creates is a damn sight better than medical rations. This way." Courtous led him down a corridor, and Harkness continued to be impressed at how normal his leg was.

****

Hanson reached the doors to the canteen and somehow, somehow, forced herself to stop. Her fingers were poised by the button to open the door, and the growing presence within her was urging her to go forward, to take the life of the woman she called friend, but Elizabeth was not going to give in, she was not...

You're only delaying the inevitable. I am going to swallow your soul and use you like a puppet...

Elizabeth clenched her hand into a fist and squeezed so tightly that her nails broke her skin. Blood started to trickle down her wrist, blood mixed with what looked like black soot. Tears welled up, and once again, they were joined by black soot, and smoke. She could feel herself slipping away, as much as she fought it, and her control over herself, momentarily regained, broke again. Her finger pressed the button to open the door, and she strode into the canteen.

****

Fierro had been alone, which was her preference, but she reminded herself that the canteen was open all hours to any crewmember who might want to grab a snack or drink. She looked up, curious as to who was joining her... and grunted in pain as a fist smashed into her nose.

Falling from the chair, Fierro had to be quick to dodge the foot that tried to slam down upon her face, and rolled under the table. When she got back up and span around, her eyes went wide.

"Elizabeth?" The normally beautiful Doctor Hanson looked like a woman possessed. Her eyes were black, and smoke billowed from them. Her face was a picture of determined aggression, and she shrieked as she leaped over the table, hands outstretched, aiming for Fierro's throat.

Fierro side-stepped to her left and smashed her elbow into the doctor's face, who recoiled and stumbled, and when she looked back up at Fierro, the blood pouring from her nose was the same deep black as her eyes - and wispy smoke made her look truly evil.

Hanson lunged for Fierro again, flailing wildly, without any finesse, and Fierro backed away, careful not to trap herself in a corner. She parried the first couple of blows then planted a foot into Hanson's stomach, but Hanson didn't flinch, and dazed Fierro with a headbutt.

She could taste blood in her mouth and realised it came from what was almost certainly a broken nose. There was no time to process what was going on, because a frenzied hand, nails extended, raked across the side of her face. Fierro screamed in a burst of pain, as her skin was split open.

"Elizabeth! What are you doing? This isn't you!" She shrieked, trying - desperately - to reach the woman she hoped was still inside.

A foot came down on Fierro's knee, and she cried out in pain once again.

Another foot came down, but Fierro rolled under the table beside her and then kicked out, catching Hanson's leg, but again, she barely flinched.

Realisation came to Fierro. She wasn't far from the kitchen, where the utensils, including the knifes, were kept...

Despite the pain in her knee, she snapped another kick at Hanson, who was trying to push the table away, then darted for the kitchen. She needed to find something, anything, that could help her.

That was when the doors to the canteen opened once again.

Hanson snarled, looking up at the intruder - or rather, intruders. Doctor Courtous entered, the smile that always on his face vanishing at the sight of Hanson. Following him was the man supposedly from the past, Harkness.

Hanson let out a piercing, blood-chilling scream, and started to make her way toward the pair, smashing plastic tables and chairs out of her path.

Fierro pushed open the door to the kitchen and hoped that the newcomers could buy her time to find a decent weapon.

****

"Fancy a burger? Trust me..." Said Courtous as he opened up the door to the canteen. "The burgers are actually really good..." He trailed off, gasping in sudden shock as Doctor Hanson, hair disheveled and eyes jet black, turned to look at him, her face contorted in fury. His ears throbbed in pain as she screamed and started to charge toward him.

"Get down!" Harkness yelled and pushed Courtous to the floor as Hanson picked up a chair and flung it at them. He smashed the chair aside with his new, powerful arm - but was too slow to avoid the fist that hooked his jaw. Staggering back into the corridor, Harkness looked up, seeing for the first time the beautiful angel he had seen, now transformed into a demon. Memories of his fiery arrival into this strange new world came flooding back - and he snarled.

"The monster survives, by destroying a good woman. Are you too cowardly to face me openly?"

Hanson hurtled forward again, swinging punches, but Harkness deflected the first couple of swipes then drove his new metal fist straight into Hanson's face.

A fountain of black blood erupted as Hanson's cheek bone fractured and her skin ruptured. Not keen to let her regain her composure, Harkness followed through by using his new leg to place a powerful kick into her stomach and Hanson was sent sprawling across the floor of the canteen.

****

The ongoing commotion was a good sign that the thing controlling Hanson hadn't managed to kill both Courtous and Harkness - at least, not yet. Fierro scattered the dining knifes across the floor - she wanted something big, meaty, and... aha! The eight inch, gleaming cleaver was promising.

Grabbing the handle, she hobbled back out of the kitchen, back into chaos.

****

Hanson got back up, but slowly, gingerly, not appearing to be in great pain, but perturbed by the strength of Harkness. The will of the creature growing inside her was strong, but the flesh it found itself in was weak, and starting to waver. It had to mature quickly, if it were to escape, let alone achieve anything.

Harkness strode forward purposefully, not afraid. He had faced demons before and he would do so again. To his right, from the kitchen, came a clearly injured - yet also determined Captain Fierro, holding a large cleaving knife. Doctor Courtous rose to his feet, unarmed, but at the very least providing numbers.

Black fluid poured from Hanson's wounds and the smoke that flowed away from her almost obscured her from sight. Courtous, thinking smartly, turned the lights all the way up, so she couldn't seek to hide within the shadows and get the jump on them.

The being that had once been Elizabeth Hanson let loose another shriek, and ran toward Harkness, drawn inexplicably toward him, somehow aware that he had interfered with its schemes before. Courtous tried to help, chucking a chair at her that she pushed away, and Fierro started to move forward. Hanson's fists were flying once more, but Harkness, aided by his enhanced vision, and improved strength, ducked and dodged and then slammed another fist of metal fury into Hanson's ribcage. A second blow swiftly followed, delivered to her jaw, and then he slammed his artificial foot down hard upon Hanson's own, and slammed his fist into her face once more.

Fierro wanted to cry. Hanson was her friend, but she was gone now, her body being broken before her eyes, and her very essence had been consumed, eaten up by whatever had taken over her. Harkness tripped over the thing within her flesh and pinned her down.

"Now Captain, you must act now!"

For one, brief second, Fierro hesitated. Then, to spare her friend further pain, she slammed the cleaver down upon her neck - and did it again, and again, until finally, the body of Doctor Hanson stopped moving. At that moment, Fierro dropped the knife, sank to her knees, and burst into tears. Behind her, Doctor Courtous tried - and failed - to keep the tears from his eyes. Harkness sat back, and found himself joining them.

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