Gravity Ghosts - A Short Story

A climactic short story of adventurers defending the alien worlds above our horizons in Defend the Sun, a science fiction tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) setting that launches Space Opera science fantasy into Earth's orbit. A "sequel" to a real game session.


A Lucky Red Martian Trooper who Murders.

Goals: Torn between getting revenge and denying his assigned contract on his new friend's life, Skargoth must make a choice. He also wants to honor the fallen Jovian, Bimdoll, by hunting down whoever hired him.

Outcome Roll: 67%


A Calm Uranian Sharp who Controls Gravity.

Goals: To keep his hot-headed "brother from another mother" out of trouble.

Outcome Roll: 50%

It all began with two unlikely companions - one wily do-gooder Synth and one Martian killer with a secret contract on the other's head.

Then their passenger shuttle got hijacked. Then Invaders attacked their festival on Titan. Every time, they chose to team up and stop disaster. And soon enough, the Martian Skargoth saw his kill bounty ILAV-42 as a friend. Too bad, now his reward was forfeit: the identity of the double agent who had made him a fugitive from Mars for life.

They made more friends too, like the researchers who stopped the Invader's psychic outbreak. And Bimdoll, a Jovian smuggler with a heart of gold who died in Skargoth's arms. And if they had ever met, among them would be their time-frozen saviors of Time's Amber.

With the Invaders defeated, Skargoth found a lead. It turned out the guy who ran the whole Festival, the one who had sent Skargoth's fallen comrade-in-arms Bimdoll on a suicide mission, was on Neptune's moon Triton. And that bastard had deep connections with his arch-nemesis. Two birds, one stone.

Together the Synthetic and the Martian departed for the shimmering blue shores of Triton. Unbeknownst to ILAV-42, Skargoth was a contract killer and this Neptunian field trip wasn't a vacation.


"This better be some good shit this time," he muttered to himself.

Spinning around in his curved paneled seat, the Jovian lolled his head upward towards the knocks at the door of the dimly lit nitriglass living chamber, adorned with curved artworks, semi-functional inspirational furniture and neon edge lights. Fading pulses of viscera-exposing transparency shifted across the exposed areas of his dark blue flesh, beneath his Armand X Glashen fitted slate slim-suit, down branching paths like the roots of a tree along the major veins that bore his powder-blue ozonated blood. His short, fine horns of emotion-sending tendrils hung limply across his scalp, nearly covering the gridlike Terran sheet music tattoo across his left temple.

His fading euphoria had been induced by sections of the brain going out of phase with each other, then suddenly restoring to normal in a regular rhythm - a rhythm that neatly matched the crests and peaks of brainwave activity. This wonderful effect could be induced by the highly illegal combination of off-label medical nanodevices and a potent Dark Energy-infused disassociative sedative that they delivered in coordinated pulses.

He knew none of this. All he knew was that Blue Wave was some of the best shit you could get off-giant of Neptune, with a relaxing high, but it was finicky. The high had worn off way too fast again. Nothing like reliable Kry-Max, or steady Dotrizine, or lingering Al-Zark Tonic, or vintage Vericaine, or...

Anyway, all this tech and nobody could ever get feeling good to just... feel good. Between all the shady board meetings and back-room deals that his human business-focused associate was fond of, this Jovian would simply wonder how simple, stupid alcohol was good enough most of the time... was any of this shit even worth trying more than once? Maybe he should wait for this courier at the door to give up and leave a note. The Blue Wave high peaked way too fast unless you got the timing of the injection just right. This Jovian was never one for patience.

Then again, he could slam an 18-ball like a pro, and all that took was a little practice with the company Platinum-tier med-alert/security team on standby. Every time they got all his organs functional again within 4 minutes, no sweat. Eh, another shot couldn't hurt, he thought as he slid out of the chair, scooped his Credits chip off the table and carefully made his way towards the end of the room. He opened the door and looked up, suddenly feeling quite sober.

From the doorway a shadow passed over Nelsk Ya Rell's stunned Jovian face.

"We set out to do something everyone thought was impossible. We sourced everything locally. We had a guy flying that skimmer who got us supplies, tools, equipment, gear, from practically all 77 Saturnine moons, the rings, even on-giant. We needed the best and we had no time to go through the approval process for all that stuff. It was trying to build a city from Day One and a massive learning experience -"

"'That guy' was Bimdoll, you rat bastard duIlghE!" *SMACK*

"On that night of the outbreak the Pangean Dreams Festival got hit by an ion storm that took down our shelters, took down the med-evac shuttle and vehicles - we all went through a lot and we could have never predicted it -"

*SMACK* "Enough!"

"We've submitted restitution from the proceeds to the families who suffered in the wake of the trag-"

*SMACK* "A bhIth àG! Are you a Terran ape or a fucking Marketing Synth? You beg for your life in bloody PR speak?"

"Mistakes were made, and -"

"Fuck Off." *BLAM* *BLAM* *BLAM* *BLAM*



"Bloody pìoS."

Smoke rising from the barrel of his red-hot shotgun, alarms ringing all above and right through his blood-spattered ears, Skargoth fled from the remains of Ellian MacCarran, past a room with the squirming rope cocoon containing Nelsk Ya Rell, out the curving evaporated nitriglass door and into the dim indigo courtyard of the luxury suites of the Shaw-Ko♉︎ Palatial Resort overlooking Triton's bluest forest, Xhra-Na〰️.

He could have done it cleaner, smoother, quieter... but his rage had taken subtlety off the table. MedTech had come a long way, but even the Platinum-tier boys might have a bit of trouble recovering anything from hot soup.

Judging by how fast and tight security in this place seemed, he had about 2 minutes to escape. And deep down he knew, 2 minutes wasn't enough time.

As he went through the motions - wrapping his fist and punching through nitriglass walls, shredding every camera drone he could see, and brushing off bumps, bruises, and beam wounds, he thought about ILAV-42. Why didn't Skargoth just tell him the truth? He knew the poor bastard would still be waiting for him to come back from his "beer run" for hours, until the Holo News update would pop up: Disgraced Festival Founder Shot Dead! Martian Fugitive Suspect Killed in Escape.

But as he got closer and closer to freedom, he felt a stroke of luck - this kind of place was rich, and probably rich enough to never expect violent action like this could ever happen. He encountered nothing but Tier 1 Automated security, no Tier 2 guards at all!

He reached the 15 meter fortified wall at the edge of the compound and activated a device on his belt. The purple glow of the Phase Disruptor - a Dark Energy module that shifted his density to pass through solid matter - lit up an unexpected grin on his face. He'd pass right through this odd metal wall, out into the Tritonian forest scot-free.


His skull slammed into the onyx metal. Confused, he looked down at his module. The damn light's on. He tried again.


"bhIth àG iThE!" Being an Olympus Mons Martian, he tried again, harder.


Perhaps it was the sudden impacts to his brain, but he finally realized this moon he stood on was the Neptunian homeworld - the home of the first Solarian species to master and harness Dark Energy in all its forms. Secure buildings here would have defenses against his ghostly Phase Disruptor - a tool that had always, until now, gotten him out of a jam.

"*KSSH* Surrender and drop your weapons immediately, intruder."

Behind him, Skargoth heard shuffling feet. It could have been 3 Neptunian Elite Guards, or maybe 10. In light of the adrenaline pounding in his ears, he couldn't tell the difference.

Well, at least he got to have some proper vengeance out of the way. Most in his line of work couldn't say the same thing. With the dead Bimdoll in mind, he thought, First round'll be on you, mate, as he slowly slid his left boot back and bent his knees, just enough to ready himself. Nothing left but to pivot around and charge forward in a blaze of guns and glory.

Behind Skargoth, a reflection passed over the helmet of a Neptunian guard in the middle of the formation. Their comms crackled. "*KSSH* What's that?"

*CLINK* *SHOOOOOM* "HUuuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhh!"

Skargoth turned, shotgun and knife drawn, going from resolve to confusion.

Sprawled on the ground over 15 meters in front of him were 27 elite Neptunian guards, twisted in agony, chromatic skin rippling in waves of black and red, their nitriglass helmets with spreading spider cracks, their hands twitching futilely for their weapons. The air pulsed with rippling refraction waves that came from a small device suspended in the air, as if the scene were viewed through a bending funhouse mirror. One guard, sprawled at the near edge of the rippling waves, struggled to slide his hand one centimeter closer to the trigger of his Dark Energy rifle.

"Gravity is a harsh mistress," came a clear robotic voice from above.

Skargoth, for the first time when responding to ILAV-42, was speechless looking up at the hovering Synth.

"It got your jaw too? I must fix that later brother. That device will cease operation in... 10.. 8 seconds."

"Bollocks!" Skargoth rushed foward.

"As you say, let's 'glaN càiT!'"

"Not with that posh wanker accent!" The Martian lunged, bent down and leaped up into the air, up towards ILAV-42's outstretched hand -


"NO!" shouted ILAV-42, as the energy beam's impact twisted Skargoth's upward momentum to his right, streaking blood in a spiral from the left side of his head - a spiral that suddenly froze in place.

Subjective time continued as normal for all entities in the scene, except ILAV-42.

As the microseconds ticked down, the scene exploded into a grid overlay of wireframes - depicting vectors of acceleration, an exploded diagram of all items ILAV-42 could reach within range, and a rotating cycle of 3-dimensional combinatorial probability matrices.

Skargoth was most likely dead, and his momentum pulled him too far away for ILAV-42's Hover ability to clear them both above the nearby 15 meter fortified wall to safety before the guards inevitably opened fire. After 3.4x10^4 microseconds, zero options presented higher than 11% survival. He had used up 90% of his available time, and he needed altitude.

ILAV-42, seeing no other option, siphoned processing power from a device on his person, and received multiple Code Black warnings at all System levels:

Imminent risk of Overheating and device failure.
Imminent risk of Overheating and device failure.
He proceeded with that plan anyway.

In the remaining microseconds, he expanded the probability matrix to 5 dimensions. As the calculations multiplied within the alloted time, he felt intense heat radiating from the device and ignored it. For the Uranian, time resumed.


The moment began with ILAV-42 hovering high above a macabre twisting red helix of blood that streamed from the side of Skargoth's unconscious spinning body below, a body that twisted upwards and away from him.

In the span of four seconds, ILAV-42 completed the sequence.

He dove downward, shoulder first.

His arm whipped forward, alloyed fingertips then unclasped Skargoth's utility belt, spun it by the clasp counterclockwise to Skargoth's spiral, then his shoulder collided with Skargoth's body and their momentum shifted laterally.

With his left hand behind him, ILAV-42 detached the medical kit from the unspiraling, expanding belt, unclasped and exploded its contents into the air, plucked the nano-repair module from the cloud of parts and rotated his left arm backwards with the medical payload injector to the side of Skargoth's skull.

Simultaneously with his right hand, he plucked a concussion grenade from the unspiraling belt, threw it downwards and squeezed the pin, letting it catch on the spiraling belt clasp as it flew downwards, arming the device.

Then with his now empty right hand, he grabbed Skargoth's shotgun over the top of the barrel, rotated it 28.9° downward and shoved it towards his feet. Then with his right toe, he kicked the falling grenade upwards towards the falling barrel.

With his left hand now free, he grabbed the knife from Skargoth's relaxed grip and prepared to throw it downwards. But too much force would spin the gun out of position, and too little force would fail to pull the trigger...

ILAV-42 slowed subjective time just once more.

"Launch Memories."

The memory began with Skargoth leaning back in the shuttle port, watching departing NexusCruisers hovertaxi beneath the orange Titanian horizon, all while sipping on a cold local brew. "Why did we stop that hijacking? The crooks would have taken us somewhere nice, rich, fancy. Not this backwater."

ILAV-42 stirred his wine glass for a moment. "We were there for a reason, brother. They needed us. And we ended up here, with the Invaders. if we hadn't helped them stop the Primarch incursion - " his expression hardened. "All would be lost."

Skargoth shook his head. "I never wanted to do this. It's not my line of..." He paused. "It's just not my thing, being in the spotlight."

That pause was all ILAV-42 needed to suddenly realize Skargoth's true career. He couldn't rationalize it away any further, the evidence shone as bright as the crater rings of his homeworld Umbriel. He's a killer. ILAV-42 grimly smiled internally, and only because he had enough presence of mind to cut off all expression circuits with microseconds to spare. The Synth sipped his drink. Time to change the topic, he thought, for one more chance to see his favorite Skargothian facial expression of all time. "You know, I've always wondered how with all that hijacking chaos happening, that cannon you wield didn't just... go off?"

Sure enough, on the subject of his weapons Skargoth beamed into his diabolical grin. "The jnorSreG shotgun is a fantastic weapon, but with a puny 2kg trigger pull. After I nearly shot my neighbor's face off while cleaning it... wouldn't have minded much, he's a right wanker... I had a go at fixing that, it's up to 3.7kg now. Juuuuust right."

ILAV-42 smiled, expression circuits active this time, and raised his glass. "Cheers to things working out just right, brother." *CLINK*

ILAV-42 launched the knife with 42N of counter-rotational force.

The knife tumbled downwards through the air, beneath ILAV-42's lateral body, towards the trigger of the shotgun bearing a grenade against its barrel. Just before the tip of the blade spun into the tip of the trigger, ILAV-42 activated his anti-gravity hover field beneath his feet.


The force of the explosion, directed through the shotgun barrel and angled under ILAV-42's anti-gravity field, rocketed the two upwards.


A reverse cascade of energy beams burst upwards at the two figures as they crested the wall and disappeared over the other side.

After the shock of the explosion and sudden force of gravity, ILAV-42 saw his friend's face grimace in pain, then he knew he was OK.

"My head - where are -"

"Going home, brother."

"Can't see very well... your arm's lit up."

ILAV-42 looked to see the device he had overclocked, his nanotech adaptation module - the universal device that provides Solarians life support on alien planets - glowing with catastrophic thermal runway and sizzling with neon smoke from a beam strike.

"Don't worry brother, I'll be fine."

Floating 10 meters above ground, the pair suddenly shuddered in the air and dropped, crashing and tumbling into the soft Tritonian dirt on the forest's edge.

As Skargoth rushed to pick up his Synth companion and flee, he saw cyan crystals begin forming on ILAV-42's extremities, and electrical arcs and thin streams of smoke emerging from within his internals. "You silly bitch. How do I fix it?!"

The last thing ILAV-42 saw before his systems shuddered, halted, and shut down was Skargoth's scowling face and glistening eye lit up by a glow of familiar purple light.

"Good work, Skargoth."

"Mate, the pleasure is mine."

The pair sat at opposite ends of a long metal conference table. The sound of distant machinery hummed around them, and the dim room was only lit by an expansive window showing a vast view of interplanetary space. A field of asteroids occupied most of the view, and planet Mars floated in the distance. Part of the present Lyserian-purple planetoid surface could be seen covered in organized rows of large-scale devices and vehicles with hooks, claws, buckets, spades and hammers, along with tall, thin reddish structures and white scaffolding around them.

"Your payment. With a bonus for being ahead of schedule. Now, about that hot tip you wanted -"

"No need for that, mate. Let's just see the goods."

With no hesitation a Credits chip skimmed across the table, hardly slowing down from friction.

Skargoth's hand reached down and caught the chip. He looked up with his remaining right eye, the other covered by an eyepatch. "I'm not one to question free stuff, but you'll just hand it over? No proof? What if I was a lying bastard?"

"No need. Uranian Life Insurance policy. They had a big one out on this Synth. Triggered as soon as he logged a shut down event. Quantum life sparks have Quantum Entanglement. Impossible to fake."

"Funny how there's a big payout on a simple Synth. Why that one in particular?"

The still air stirred, as if a ghost had walked across the threshold.

"Ah, you know how this works Skargoth. No client talk."

"Because I am the result of an experiment," echoed an unseen voice in the room.

The figure in the chair sat up suddenly. The room darkened as an asteroid eclipsed the light of Sol.

"A Synthetic, optimized to maximize survival at all costs. It's why I never worry."


The voice chilled as cold as the vacuum outside. "An instrument of death. For Solarians like you to exploit."

The figure at the conference table, after a moment's hesitation, leaned back against the chair with confidence. "Gentlemen, if you please." The darkness echoed with the clicks and hums of multiple weapons being readied from multiple sources. "Skargoth. You were one of the best. A shame to see you now resorting to games and tricks. Final thoughts?"

"I think 'shame on you,' mate, for stabbin' my back on Mars. You think I wouldn't figure it out? You think I wouldn't come prepared? Here's your hot tip: when you need to survive, call the Synth..."

As Skargoth spoke, ILAV-42, enveloped in Dark Energy from the augmented Phase Disruptor, unable to ever return to the realm of normal density since his fragile, damaged life support systems would fail, hovered invisibly in the darkness like a spectre, already calculating the odds.

Skargoth flipped up his eyepatch, revealing a cybernetic eye. The display showed possible courses of action, along with a real-time uplink with ILAV-42.

"You are my eyes, brother."
Odds of Survival for entities S and I: 89%
Odds of Survival for entity E: 14%
Odds of Survival for entities 4 thru 13: 6%
"And call the Martian when you need to kill."

Skargoth slid on a helmet and aimed his shotgun at the glass window.