An entry to the Prose category.
The children sprinted through the corridors of the station, screeching and twittering in a peculiar language. Their eyes flashed and shone with excitement, for today something special was going to happen. Running and laughing, bouncing off the walls, ducking under pipes, the shouts of annoyed adults falling on deaf ears, they passed through the rambling halls until they came upon a wide open space. The children quietened as they crossed the edge of the cathedral like hangar. To their right the vast mass of a Vindicator hung in the air above them, over a kilometer from end to end, held in place by impossibly powerful magnets. Gun turrets bigger than an apartment squatted on the hull, locked in a forward position. Despite their inactive state they exuded a palpable sense of menace, their massive destructive potential only temporarily leashed. The children ducked their heads and walked as quickly as they dared.
As the group reached the far edge of the hangar, they passed through a doorway into a much smaller space. The room was crowded with children of all ages, forming a ring around a figure in the center. The older children and young teenagers kept to the walls, boys bickering and showing off, girls clustered into groups, both genders throwing nervous glances to the center. They were old enough to understand. The younger children pushed and shoved, almost falling over each other to get as close as possible. They didn’t want to miss a word. The newly arrived group were given space to get a little closer, several boys around fifteen moving to let them past. They attempted to seem uninterested but it was a hollow act. Their eyes shone with the same eagerness as those half their age.
The object of their attention sat on the floor in the middle of the room. Long red braids fell over one shoulder, the arm below it flashing a mechanical white. A black tank top did nothing to hide the sockets embedded in her spine. The woman sat amongst the chaos of the children, her eyes closed, breathing steady, completely at peace. The tattoos on her face shimmered between deep blue and black as the nanites within them shifted. She had been sitting there for several hours without saying a word as she waited for the news of her arrival to spread around the station. This was the third time she had visited this region in as many years, and with each visit the crowd around her had grown. An unseen threshold was crossed, and the woman opened her eyes. A ripple spread outwards as the children instinctively shuffled backwards. She smiled at the assembled youths and raised her left hand above her head, the cybernetics whirring softly as she did so.
She began to speak.
“Do you know how Curse got its name? It is an ancient tale, as old as the Cartel itself. For we were not the first to make this place our home, and the echoes of those who came before can still be heard… if you listen.”
Her voice is soft, but it carries. Every child in the room is watching, listening in intense stillness.
“Before the Cartel came here, before the Minmatar, before the Amarr, Curse was the home of the Jove. The Jovians are a strange people; they are pale and tall, and live incredibly long lives. Nobody has seen one for a long time now and some even whisper that they might all be dead. We in Curse know better. I have seen the ruins of their Empire, and I have heard their whispers.”
A shiver passes around the room.
“The Jovians suffer from a disease, a sickness embedded deep within their souls. It drives them into a madness, an unstoppable depression from which they can not escape. Once it reaches its final stage, they simply lay down and wait to die. Their society couldn’t take the strain, and they collapsed. The centuries after their fall are a mystery, but it is thought that at some point in this period the Gray Demon was created.”
This time the shiver is accompanied by excited whispering. The children know this story.
“The Gray Demon has been seen many times since the Cartel settled in Curse. The first stories all come from the Heaven constellation, but over the decades he has been identified in every constellation in Curse. It is thought that he is the result of Jovian genetic experimentation, the botched result of a desperate attempt to cure themselves. As a way of avoiding the steady loss of emotions, he was simply created without any. To avoid starvation from indifference, he was given the ability to go into a kind of hibernation, sleeping for years or even decades. Nobody knows exactly how long he’s been prowling the stations of Curse, lurking in the depths and creeping through the vents.”
A rattling sigh of air causes many of the younger children to look around, wide eyed and staring.
“The Demon is an ambush predator. He folds his long, thin body into gaps and crevices you’d never imagine anyone could fit inside. He waits, just his arms and head free to move, and goes so still he seems a part of the wall. He waits…
The silence is oppressive. Nobody breathes.
“Then he… STRIKES!”
The last word is shouted and more than a few screams burst out around the room. The woman laughs gleefully and the children join her, the kind of relieved laughter that means they’ve remembered it’s all just a story. She smiles widely and raises her arm for quiet once more. The hush falls back across the room.
“The Gray Demon may be real, or he may just be a story. The Jove are definitely real though, and it is from one of the only examples of their culture that we get the name for our home.”
She sits up straight, beginning to recite a verse she has clearly learned by heart.
“Once we were mighty,
Stars bent to our will,
Our reach was infinite,
Our power incontestable,
With outstretched hands we tried,
To touch the face of perfection,
But we came too close,
To that which is not due mortals,
And our punishment is our Curse,
Our endless sorrow.
So always remember children, make sure you never forget as long as you live.”
She pauses a moment to make sure they’re all listening.
“Perfection ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.”