The Beginning of the End
(Part 1)
A System Shock 2 Story

By Chris Foncannon
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Chapter 1

Lt. Connor Williams sighed as he walked down the corridor. Why do I have to get stuck doing maintenance on the coolant tubes in the bowels of the Von Braun? I wanted to meet the shuttle coming back up from surface of that planet we we're orbiting. What was the name again? Oh, yea, Tau Seti V. When we arrived in the Tau Seti system two days ago, we picked up a strange signal from the fifth planet in the system. Now the team sent to check it out is returning to the Von Braun. Everyone wants to hear about what they found, and where am I? Stuck down here in the bottom of the damn ship scrubbing conduits. Just my luck.

It seemed to Connor like he was down there forever. There, all done. He put the cover back on the conduit and ran his fingers through his short brown hair. He got to his feet and started to make his way to the elevator that would take him to the docking umbilical. The first thing I'm going to do once I get back to my quarters on the Rickenbacker is take a shower and find out about that shuttle. Suddenly, the lights went out, leaving the dim green glow from the coolant conduits as the only light in the corridor. Hmmm, a power junction must have gone out. Well, while I'm down here, I might as well fix it. Connor pulled out a flashlight from his belt and strolled down the corridor. When he reached the intersection, he shined his light at the junction panel. Sure enough, smoke and sparks were pouring out of it. Except, that was odd, it looked like someone was working on the panel and decided not to finish. But why did the panel explode? Connor took a closer look and realized that some kind of liquid was dripping off the panel and the surrounding wall. What the hell is that?! Smelling the liquid revealed the fact that this liquid was blood. Connor recoiled in shock. What the hell is going on?! Adrenaline surged through his veins, every one of his instincts telling him to flee, to get away from this place. He backed away from the panel and started running. He ran and ran blindly through the hallway until he tripped over something lying on the floor. His flashlight flew through the air and impacted with the wall, making a distinct smash as the glass and bulb broke. After a few seconds he managed to compose myself and think straight. If I seriously plan to do anything other than fumble around in the dark, I need light. Connor crept over to the closest power box and ripped the cover off. After fumbling around with various wires and giving himself a few good shocks, Connor managed to bypass the damaged box. The lights came back up, the sudden brightness caused him to squint. He shut his eyes. After a few seconds, he opened his eyes and immediately wished he didn't. The object Connor tripped over in the dark happened to be a body, and that body wasn't the only one in the corridor. There were at least a dozen bodies strewn all around, quite obviously dead. On top of that, there appeared to be what can only be described as giant worms burrowing themselves into the bodies. A few of them were even to the point that one end of them were in the person's chest while the other was embedded in their temple. The bodies at that state looked like they were growing more muscle and mutating at the same time that they were decaying. Connor bent down to take a closer look at one of the bodies and quickly realized that this body was in fact very alive when it suddenly struck him in the side of the head with it's ugly fist. Connor staggered back in shock as what he thought was a dead body got to it's feet and advanced toward him. That's when Connor's military training kicked in. I need something to defend myself with. Out of the corner of his eye, Connor could see a very large wrench lying on the floor, which probably belonged to one of the unfortunate crewmen lying on the floor. I have to wait for just the right moment. The monster swung at him again. In one fluid movement, Connor ducked under the swing, rolled between the creature's legs, grabbed the wrench and swung it as hard as he could. It connected solidly with the back of the monster's head and Connor was partly satisfied and partly sickened by the loud crunch it made and brain matter that sprayed out all over the place. The monster fell to the floor in a bloody heap. Just as Connor was about to congratulate himself, he heard a series of low growling behind him. He turned around and saw that three more of the "bodies" were getting up and coming after him. There was no way he could take on three of those things at once with only a wrench. So he did the only other thing that occurred to him at the time, he ran the other direction as fast as he could. The monsters chased in hot pursuit. As he reached one of the coolant valves, Connor came up with an idea. He closed the valve, letting the pressure of the plasma build. In one solid swing of his trusty wrench, Connor smashed the electronics surrounding the valve so it couldn't be opened automatically.

"Warning," the monotonous voice of XERXES (the computer) boomed out, "dangerous pressure buildup detected in coolant conduit B-247. Automatic safety release protocols off-line. Please evacuate the area immediately,"
Connor didn't have to be told twice. Upon hearing the warning from XERXES, he bolted down the corridor as fast as his legs would carry him. Suddenly, he was knocked to his feet by a tremendous shock wave and a resounding boom. Alarm klaxons followed, and the corridor was bathed in a flashing red glow. He looked behind him and saw green radioactive coolant pouring out of the ruptured conduit. He scrambled to his feet and darted away from the radioactive cloud that was floating down the hallway. If I can only reach the engineering blast door, I'll be alright. As Connor made it around the last corner, he looked in dismay as the blast door began closing. Noooooo!!! He flew down the corridor so fast that everything except the door he was trying to get through became one big blur. Ten feet to go, the door was halfway closed. Five feet, the door is almost closed. Just as Connor slid under the door and into the adjoining room, the door clanged into place and secured with a series of clicks and beeps. I better get to engineering to report this to the chief. Man, she's gonna be pissed! Connor got up off the floor for what he hoped would be the last time that day. He brushed himself off and proceeded to the engine room. As he walked into the engine room, Connor yelled out,
"Hey chief, you're not going to believe what just happened, I accidentally…", he trailed off as he realized that there was no one in the room. That can't be, it's a UNN and TriOptimun requirement for all critical areas of the ship to be manned at all times.
"Get down!" a voice bellowed out behind him. Connor whirled around to see the short, slender frame of Chief Engineer Amy Jones leveling a shotgun at him. Connor immediately hit the deck and the chief fired over him. Something fell to the floor behind him and the chief muttered "Damn hybrids". Connor turned to see one of the monsters he was running from lying on the floor next to him. He leapt up and stared at the chief in disbelief.
"What?" she snapped, "Are you just going to stand there and stare? Let's move! Now!". She took off running to the lift that led up to the core monitoring office. Connor was right on her heels. Once they got up into the office, Connor discovered where the engineering crew went. They were all huddled in the office. Connor surveyed the room and saw two dozen faces looking back with various expressions of fear, anger, and shock. Once the door sealed shut, Connor couldn't keep silent anymore.
"I thought I was having a bad day. Does anyone know what is going on and what those things are out there?"
The chief replied "The shuttle that came back from the surface of Tau Ceti V brought something back, and it wasn't the team. At first, they all seemed normal, but soon after, they began to mutate into those monsters you saw out there."
"That exploration team only consisted of about six or seven people. I've seen more of those things wandering around here than that. I also saw a pile of dead bodies being eaten by giant worm things."
"Oh, yes. The shuttle was also carrying these egg-like things. Those worms come out of them and burrow one end of themselves in a person's chest, take over their mind, and mutate them into those monsters, thus the name 'hybrid'."
"Okay, so let's call security and take care of this problem."
"We already tried that. The last time we heard from Security Chief Bronson, she told us that they couldn't help us because they were busy trying to contain the invasion on the upper decks. Right after that we lost contact and haven't been able to get it back. That was an hour ago. We hadn't even had time to think about what to do before we were hit by those hybrids. We lost many good people before we were able to take cover in here. If I hadn't been looking out the window when you walked into the room, you'd be one of them."
"Yes, thank you for that," Conner said.
"Don't thank me yet, we still have to figure out what to do now." Connor had an idea.
"Since it seems that the rest of the crew is combating this invasion on their decks, we should probably do the same on ours."
"Good idea, we can stock up on weapons from the stash we've been keeping in the engine nacelle, then head to the cargo bays and shuttle control through the coolant tubes." It was then that Connor remembered his escape from the hybrids in the coolant tubes.
"Umm, no we can't," Connor replied sheepishly, "I kind of ruptured the tubes so I could escape from a group of those things." The chief stared daggers at Connor.
"In that case, we're kind of screwed," she said in a dangerously quiet voice. Just then, one of the engine techs jumped to his feet and burst out,
"Chief, what about the ventral access corridor?" This particular corridor was an easy thing to miss, for the crew rarely ever used it. Since the Von Braun was built by a corporate entity rather than a government one, it was designed having it's physical appearances as a priority over actual performance. The idea was that if the ship looked as sleek as it could possibly be, the consumers would take more of an interest in it than if it looked like a big box that happened to be able to travel at faster than light speeds. After the designers put everything in that was necessary, they went back over the blueprints and added hull structures that would make the ship look "sleeker". The ventral access corridor was one of these additions. Since it was an afterthought and had no pre-assigned purpose, it was just turned into a long, unused hallway that spanned the entire length of the bottom of the ship.
"Of course! How could I forget?" she said in an excited voice. "If we take the grav-lift down into the ventral access corridor, we can completely bypass the coolant tubes and make it to the rest of this deck, including the elevator!"
Connor replied, "Then what are we waiting for? Let's get the hell out of here!"

Chapter 2

Connor tightened his grip on his shotgun. After visiting the stockpile of weapons stashed in a hidden compartment in the port engine nacelle, the small unlikely band of soldiers (except for Connor of course) proceeded to the grav-lift that went to the ventral access corridor. Each member of the team was wielding either a shotgun or a standard issue UNN pistol. However, since there were more firearms than there were people to use them, some people got the privilege of carrying two weapons. Connor was one of these people since he was the only one in the group who had any military training. He was holding a shotgun loaded with pellets, technically called "antipersonnel rounds", and had a standard issue pistol loaded with armor piercing bullets strapped to his belt. The other people fortunate enough to have a second weapon were the chief and the tech that reminded the chief of the sub-tunnel they were trying to reach. He also happened to be the second-in-command of engineering. His name was Weihua Chen, a medium-sized Asian with spiky black hair and a torso non-proportional to his legs, which earned him the nickname "stumps" from his fellow engineers. At the current time, they had just made their way from the engine room and were next to the grav-lift that would take them to the very bottom of the ship.
Since Connor was technically the highest-ranking officer in the group, he was in charge.
"Alright everyone," he commanded in a hushed voice as to not alert any roaming hybrids to their presence, "Even though this lift was designed for one person at a time, we'll go down two at a time otherwise we'll be sitting ducks. I'll go first with Jones since we're more heavily armed. Then the rest of you go after us in twos. Wei, since you also have two guns, you take up the rear."
"No problem," Weihua said.
"Let's get to it then." Connor and Amy got onto the lift and prepped their guns. "You ready?" asked Connor.
"Ready." Connor pressed the button and they descended into the unknown. Their minds raced as they descended, both ready and willing to fire but praying that they wouldn't have to, that they wouldn't find a hoard of hybrids waiting for them. The lift ground to a halt. Amy and Connor surveyed the corridor with weapons raised. The corridor stretched almost farther than they could see. It appeared to be brand new, like no one had ever been down there, which incidentally wasn't far from the truth. The tunnel was wide all by itself, but off to each side there were elevated recesses in the wall about six feet deep that served no apparent purpose except maybe to give a person a better view out of the viewports that they led to. Connor and Amy couldn't see into these recesses, so for all they knew, there could be an army of hybrids hiding in them, waiting for the team to venture down the corridor. They stepped off the lift and Connor pressed the button to send it back up. They were temporarily trapped and alone so Connor hoped nothing would decide to attack them until more of the team got down as well. The process went on, every thirty seconds two more people would join them down in the incredibly long corridor. Finally, Weihua came down on the lift and Connor did a head count. All twenty-two people were there.
"All right, let's keep moving," barked Connor. He started marching down the corridor, making sure to check each recess as he passed it. One of the techs started walking in front of Connor and yelled out,
"Hey look! A security turret, that is exactly what we need to cover our backs!" The excited tech started running ahead of the group to claim his newly found prize. He thought he could use it to protect himself, which is why he was very surprised to see it pop up and target him. Connor noticed this just as the tech did and yelled,
"Get down!" Everyone dove for cover including the careless tech in front. He didn't even have a chance though, for right as he started to run away, the turret opened fire. The corridor was filled with the exploding sounds and muzzle flashes of a fully automatic machine gun. The tech was hit straight on so many repeated times that he simply "flew" apart in a sickening spray of blood and random body parts. The survivors learned from this mistake and dove into some of the empty recesses in the walls. Most were too terrified to do anything but whimper to themselves and wonder what they did to deserve this. However a few took some potshots at the turret with their shotguns and pistols. Connor knew exactly what to do.
"Everyone, listen up!" he yelled, "Those of you with shotguns hold your fire, you won't even dent those things, you'll just waste ammo. Everyone with pistols, load armor piercing rounds and open fire!" The confidence in Connor's voice seemed to rub off on his motley crew as they immediately pulled out their pistols and started firing. The turret was strong, but it had no chance against them. After a brief exchange of fire, the turret took all the damage it could then blew up in a fiery explosion. The survivors cheered. It was the first positive sound that any of them had heard all day. Amy walked over to Connor.
"Why are the turrets shooting at us? They're supposed to be controlled by the computer." As if on cue, the voice of XERXES boomed out in the expansive corridor,
"The Many demands to know your intentions. It has been decided that you are to be punished to the full extent of the law. I apologize for any inconvenience."
"Great, now the computer has turned against us," Weihua muttered. Suddenly the group heard the sound that they had prayed they wouldn't. All at once they looked down the hallway and saw at least two dozen hybrids running at them, some of them with shotguns and some with large pipes.
"Everyone, take cover!" Connor screamed, "People with shotguns in front." Connor knocked the remains of the turret down into the corridor and ducked behind it. Everyone else dove back into the recesses they had just emerged from. "People with pistols, pick off the ones with guns. Shotguns, hit whatever gets to you." The hybrids advanced, some even shot at the group, a useless action considering everyone was behind cover for the time being but it showed that they were devoted to wiping the humans out. Once they got into range, Connor yelled out, "Fire!". The corridor erupted into a chaotic array of gunfire, screams, and bodies hitting the ground. For a bunch of civilians, the engineering crew was fighting rather well. Hybrids were falling left and right, but then they got to the point where they couldn't possibly miss. Techs started hitting the floor clutching mortal wounds, desperately trying to cut off the flow of blood the speeding shotgun slugs released with explosive force. Connor was claiming many kills. There were no more hybrids with guns anymore, but the ones with pipes just kept on coming. One of these started running towards Connor, who, in response, stood up and pulled the trigger. * crack * Connor realized in dismay that his shotgun had jammed. He dropped it and immediately pulled out his pistol and started to aim. However, before he could bring it to bear, the attacking hybrid swung his pipe and smashed it into Connors left hand, send the pistol flying across the floor. With his left hand obviously broken, Connor used his right hand to reach the only weapon he had left on him. Connor dodged another attack from the hybrid and swung the wrench he'd been carrying since he picked it up in the coolant tubes. The wrench hit the hybrid squarely in the chest, causing the hybrid's entire ribcage to collapse. Since death wasn't instant, Connor continued to hit the hybrid until it finally died. The fight didn't continue for long after that. The previously new-looking corridor was now riddled with bullet holes and stained with blood. Bodies and weapons littered the floor and smoke filled the air. Connor took a status report. Their little crew was down to fourteen people, with two of those people nursing minor injuries. Both of those two were given a med hypo, which they immediately used. Connor pulled one of his own from his pocket and injected his broken hand. Instantly he could feel the nanites realigning the broken bones and casting an organic "glue" to repair the bones and make them stronger than before they were broken.
"Alright," Connor said, "Let's collect anything we can salvage and move on." He picked up his pistol and shotgun and repaired them, then put the pistol and wrench on his belt. He then unloaded all the hybrid's shotguns and distributed the shells among his crew. They then proceeded to the other end of the corridor without incident and went up the lift the same way they went down, in twos. They got up and Amy looked at Connor.
"Now what?" he asked.
"Now we need to go to Fluidics Control to purge the tubes of the leaked coolant before the core overheats and the emergency shutdown procedure occurs." Just as the chief said that, every light, every air circulator, every system, and the normal humming from the engine stopped. The group was plunged into pitch-blackness and a deathly silence as the entire ship lost power and shut down.

To be continued…


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