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prose [ Science-Fiction ]

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by [Eidorian ]

2005-02-11  |     | 

Early morning… I sit on a chair in the mess hall gazing out at the cold infinity of space. My throat burns with the sour and murky liquid they call coffee… Coffee… It has been so long since I last drank real coffee. It was a cool day
of autumn, I was sitting on my front porch, I can still feel the sent of fresh cut grass filling my nostrils. I open my eyes only to find myself back in the mess hall, with spilled coffee all over my uniform. I should change it, so I head back to my quarters, block C number 169. The door opens; the virtual assistant’s voice greets me, rigid as always:

- Welcome back, captain. Is there anything you would like?
- I could use a new uniform.

The closet opens from within the wall, revealing three clean uniforms and a set of civilian clothing. I randomly pick out a suit, and as I take it on, the computer resumes its duty:

- Would you like something else?

It doesn’t take me long to decide, and the bed opens up. Shortly after I hit the sack, I fall asleep. The events of that day long gone by are replayed before my eyes. It was all over the news, every TV station was saying it again and again: a raiding party of the Kai colony attacked and looted a convoy of our trade ships returning from Earth. All attempts of negotiation failed and war was declared; the second day, the entire fleet was being mobilized. And that was about eight years ago…

The siren screaming, followed by the emergency light, blinking in the bright color of embers, wake me up.

- You are needed in the general’s office, I am informed by the same rigid voice, and I can’t stop wondering what it could be about.

I walk through the corridor up to the transporter; I step inside. “Command deck”. I’m covered in a bright light as the transporter runs to its destination with bedazzling speed.

The door opens with a shrieking sound, and I step inside; the general sits at his desk, in front of him two pilots.

- Reporting for duty, sir!
- At ease! After a short pause, during which the general looks at me attentively, he continues. Seeing you have finally decided to honor us with your presence, we may begin. The general is short of stature, somewhat over 120 years of age. He would have been let go a few years back, if not for the war. His uniform is spotless, a perfect example, but a little bit tight; an old scar runs across his right cheek.

- As you all know, soldiers, continued the general, we are at war. What you do not know is that we’ve lost all contact with Earth two day ago. After some reflections and who knows what, the Council decided to send a team of scientist there. Capt., you will take them to Earth. Squadrons B and C will escort you to the nearest jump point. Understood?

I can’t believe what I am hearing, it is pure insanity, I can’t let this go by:
- Permission to speak freely, sir?
- Granted. By looking in his eyes I can tell he already knows what I am about to say.
- Sir, it makes no sense, we should be sending a few cruisers, not some flat-footed greenhorns.
- I know what you mean; as his tone changes I realize he doesn’t approve to this idea either. Although, the … let’s say brilliant minds of the Council agree that in case of an attack or E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event), or anything, they could have sent one final message. Frankly, I don’t really believe this, but I can’t change orders, all I can do is send my most capable man. Now, if everything is clear, you are all dismissed.

As I head towards the door, the general’s voice stops me; the two pilots leave and the door shuts. I already know what he wants, still I turn around; the code of conduct must be obeyed.

- I’d like to talk about the incident yesterday… I sense concern and worry in his voice, yet I remain silent. A few seconds pass. Are you sure?
- Yes, sir. The answer came swiftly, not to my surprise, nor the general’s.
- Very well… Dismissed!
- Sir!

The door opens for the third and final time. I head back towards the transporter, and I can’t help but wonder about the mission and the bookworms I’ll have to baby-sit. Naturally, I have no answers.

The night before the mission… usually the last peaceful sleep; unfortunately, not this time… 351, I’m sitting at the bar.

- Another one. My voice echoes in the room, and so it should, I am alone.

The machine starts to hum quietly as it releases a glass of musty, blood red liquid. An artificial arm places it within my reach. With one sip, half of it disappears.

I get a weird feeling just thinking about tomorrow… This mission will take me a galaxy away from the war, and only to look after some bookworms who haven’t seen the real light of day once in their life? Why me? Could it be because of the incident yesterday? Could the general want to get rid of me? As this foolish thought crosses my mind I find myself smiling. The second time I raise the glass, it feels warmer, much warmer. I empty it and prepare to leave… 525, more than two hours have passed.

I cross the corridor, I look outside and I’m witness to one of the most breathtaking sights I have ever seen in space: Class B Star Cruiser SC Seirande. I arrive at the docking point, Hammer and Virus are waiting calmly, but I can read anxiousness in their eyes.

- Ok, kids, let’s get inside. We’re heading down the hallway; the neon lights turn on one at a time. Hammer goes left towards the engine room, while we head on towards the command bridge. A medium sized, round room; in the middle, towards the back, the captain’s seat and two command stations each to the left and right. In front, covering one third of the room, the ELM screen displays the stars. About half the space left is covered by panels… After three months of “tune-up” with the latest technology, I start to wonder what will backfire this time…

All panels are highly lit and Virus reports optimum efficiency; my answer is not delayed:
- Let’s just hope so, I’m not really confident of the idea…
- Oh, come now, they know their jobs, right? It sure was refreshing to hear her optimism.
- Yes, theoretically speaking…

For a second, I think I see a smile on her face… something so rare when it comes to Virus, but Hammer’s voice replaces the silence of my thoughts.

- Engines are just fine. Everything is in order. I’m coming up.
- Ok, we’ll meet you at the docking point.
Virus was the one to give words to what was happening.
- Time to pick them up?

Indeed it was time. The five minutes pass slowly, but, finally, six men in white robes arrive, walking in line, lead by a let’s say 27-28 year old woman with long red hair and burning yellow eyes.

- I am Doctor Sheila and I will supervise this experiment, I thank you for agreeing to provide us with security and transportation, and I usually like it when people I’m talking to look me in the eye…up here.

Well, that was brilliant, too bad she didn’t notice I was actually looking at her hair as it gently caresses her shoulders, but who cares.

- Right this way, I reply, pointing towards the entrance.
- So I can see… Boys… At her “command” they all climb aboard and disappear into the ship under Hammer’s guiding.
- This is going to be a long mission…
- It surely seems so, adds Virus, and I am willing to bet she would laugh if she were alone…

A slight shake runs across the floor as the bonds brake. Three seconds, before the engines take on their duty, inertia pushes us into space. The course is set; the escort is here… the mission has begun.

The small… let’s say “dining room” is perfectly shaped for the as of now ten crew members aboard Seirande. The scientists don’t seem too thrilled about their food, but this isn’t a vacation, and most surely they’re not in an 8 star hotel. Anyway, this is a perfect opportunity to find out some answers. I take a seat in front of the good doctor and I start my little questioning.

- So, dr., what exactly is this experiment about?
- Unfortunately, I’m not at liberty to say. It’s so weird to hear such empty words spoken by such a sensual voice… it almost reminded me of a computer. Or, if it pleases you more, how about it’s on a need to know basis, and right now you don’t need to know.
At least she had a sense of humor, but I was far from giving up.

- So… aren’t you too many for this experiment? At least this time she smiled, before she shut me up.
- Since you are not familiar with the nature of this experiment, you really think yourself capable to evaluate the balance of my team? Her smile grew, and her tone changed. You know I can’t tell you, you’ll just have to wait until we get there; you seem like a nice guy, so let’s not argue all the way to Earth, ok?

I could say I got what I wanted, but just as I was about to speak my mind… I got saved by the bell.
- Capt., we need you on the bridge! Virus’ timing, perfect as always. It’s a little hard to get off the chair, though, harder than usual… There is something amiss with this woman.

The doors open before me.
- Approaching jump point, Capt.! she promptly reports.
- Open comlink to our escort; on screen. The stars’ calm fly-by is replaced by the image of two men wearing pilot helmets, just like I used too, some time ago, almost in a different lifetime. Their call signs are engraved on their helms; they wear them with pride, as they should. The area appears secure, I don’t think Kaian warships will jump us now. Thank you for the assistance.
- It’s no problem, though I doubt it was necessary, arrives the answer, and I can’t see whether it has a smile or grin attached to it. I needn’t occupy my mind with small things; and I just hope this doctor Sheila turns out to be a small thing. My meditation comes to an end once more by the always pleasant, always interrupting Virus; it surely is good to have her:
- Squadrons are leaving the area, entering optimum range; your orders?

This technology is more than just interesting. I guess it was easy to locate the regions in space where time-space continuum disturbances were greater, but to build a device to control the effects as we please, I trust it was harder. Even still, time travel isn’t fully experiment yet, but we can travel from one galaxy to another in just a matter of seconds.

- Prepare the jump drive, set course and entry point! These commands left my lips for the first time. I never even imagined I would get to see Earth before retirement, if I ever lived that long.
- Virus, please tell our guests to sit down and buckle up, and engage jump when ready. I can hear her voice through the comlink now…
- To all passengers, please remain seated and fasten your security belts, I repeat, remain seated and fasten your security belts!

The chair feels cold beneath me, it’s for the first time I sit on it since we left; the belt locks up with a silent clink. As the jump drive is brought online, the screen turns red as if the whole ship is engulfed in a bright aura… and then, the stars disappear. I feel my heart beating faster and faster, my eyes start to burn, and I have to close them. As I think my lungs are on the verge of imploding, everything returns to normal. I open my eyes upon a new corner of the universe…

- Virus… I don’t need to say the words, she already knows what I want.
- Coming up on 30o to Pluto, setting course for Earth… ETA 5 minutes. Sir, upon jump we suffered a power surge, Hammer also confirmed and is looking for the source.
- Power surge, you say… How bad?
- None of the systems were affected, we just noticed it.
- If he finds it, tell Hammer to fix it, otherwise, they’ll look into it on Earth.
The sound of metal shifting from its place; I turn to see the good doctor entering.
- Well, I surely didn’t know you owned the ship, dr. She pauses for a second, as if she’s having a difficult time deciding what to say.
- My apologies, permission to step on deck, Capt.?
- Granted, and you don’t have to call me captain, it’s not like you’re under my command, or are you? A smile, I’ve done well.
- Are we there yet? she continues.
- We should be, in about 3-4 minutes.

Finally, there it is, just like a Daerin fruit that keeps growing and growing until we stop, peak orbit, as Virus reports.
- Well, doctor, if you could tell your men to take their equipment to the drop ship, your experiment may begin.
- Very well, and call me Sheila. She leaves.
- Sir, I’m not getting any response from Houston, or the Moon Observatory, and the Europa Station is missing.
- Missing? How can it be?
- I’m not sure, all traces indicate it crashed… TV, radio, everything is dead.
- Scan the surface and find us a remote place to land.

The light blinks once, and again, and yet once more, longer than before; red.
- Sir, the power surge… we are beeing depleted of energy. Her fingers run across the keyboard in order to find an answer to our problems; things really aren’t looking good.
- There is no physical damage to the ship, it must be a virus, reports Hammer through the comlink.
- I can’t isolate it, it’s sourceless, I’d say third generation. There’s nothing I can do; in 3 minutes we’ll lose all power and crash.
- I don’t like this at all. Hammer, get some energy cells, and take our guests down for a visit, fast. Virus, as soon as they undock, prepare to enter atmosphere.
- Sir?
- It’s simple: if we fail, they’ll still be alive, if we succeed, we’ll all be alive, without energy on an unfamiliar Earth, but alive.

It doesn’t take them long to leave; we start to put our plan into action. Just like in all TV series, the autopilot refuses to engage, so here I am, taking my seat, trying to land the ship by myself. I never landed any ship upon a planet, you live and you learn. I punch in the commands, but nothing happens; I repeat the sequence and the engine turns to full burn, this isn’t what I expected.
- Only 70 seconds left, sir.
- Escape pods, now.

Gazing outside, I can see the pile of smoke rising from the crash site. I look to my right and I see Virus’ pod. I turn my eyes back to Seirande; somewhat to the North, another smoke… the drop ship also crashed. I feel the shock as the pod sinks into the soil; I open it, and with my head spinning, I get outside. Virus lands a few meters away, I run over there and help her out; she’s safe, dizzy, but safe.

- What happened?
- Well, we made it just fine, Seirande, though, has seen better days. The motion of her nostrils and her breath indicate a smile, which her face doesn’t reveal. I never ask why, I’m too afraid. I feel so… paternal, holding her, helping her get up… I catch a breathe of her hair, “Andalusian Oasis” if I’m not mistaken. We should meet up with the others.
- Are they all right?
- I don’t know, let’s hope for the best, come on… With her leaning on my right shoulder, with my left hand on my weapon, we start walking upon the soil of this rocky wasteland. She has quite a strong grip. By the time we get to the crater she recovers fully and walks by herself.

We go around the crater, and we stop as we hear footsteps approaching; we take cover behind some boulders, but for no reason: it’s Hammer. He looks unscratched, you wouldn’t say he’s been through a shipwreck; he’s carrying a scientist on his shoulder, out cold. On his shoulder, the man looks about the size of a child. Fearfully stepping along side them, I see Sheila; her lab coat is a little bit torn and crumpled, her hair is ravaged and her face covered with dust. Hammer puts the man down, his breath is faint and his pulse week. The shock induced a comatose state.
- Are you two all right?
- She seems to be a little shaken. I take another look at Sheila; indeed, her fingers are trembling, and her eyes are staring into the great distance.
- Well, he needs some help. I’ll go to the ship, see if I can find something, Virus you talk to her, we mustn’t lose her. Hammer, got your weapons?
- Always, he replies with a large smile.
- The drop ship?
- Nothing left.
- Keep an eye on them, will you?

I leave them in the safe guard of Hammer and his smile. As I got to know him, there are two things I’d say he enjoys the most: working on an engine and doing anything that implies the possibility if firing his weapons. He got dropped off two cruisers, they said he had a problem with authority, it was lucky I met him at the bar that night…

I arrive and I climb down into the crater; the fire has stopped, and I manage to find a breach in the hull. Inside, the walls are cracked and burnt; some doors are jammed, halfway open, but none pose as an obstacle. The mess hall is turned upside down, but I’m not looking for food. I continue down the hall and I discover the ship goes downward, almost vertically, it broke. It won’t be as easy as I thought but time is the essence. I finally reach the infirmary, and I pick up a case of medkits, it was easy to find, red with a large green cross. As I race back, I find it harder to climb the corridor, nonetheless, I arrive back to where I left my team mates, only too late. Sheila is kneeling over the lifeless body, her eyes staring still to a far off location. Virus and Hammer are just sitting there, it really is awkward. I kneel next to her. My knowledge of psychology and human behavior aren’t as vast as I’d wish; I can’t understand what she’s feeling, I can only imagine. She’s on a planet far from home, most likely, not by her will, her colleagues are dead and she’s among strangers. I lay my hand upon her shoulder, it’s all I can do. She leans on me and starts crying; I’m not really fond of women crying, but this is good for her. A few minutes pass and the tears and sighs stop; she looks up with eyes ran dry and all she can say is:

- They’re dead; they’re all dead.
- Calm down, it’s all going to be fine. We’re here, you’re safe.

She gets up, takes a few steps and gazes at the desert.
- Things won’t be fine, will they? asks Virus. I sense a tint of concern in her tone.

A wind starts to slowly caress our faces, but it soon picks up speed throwing at us sand and pebbles.
- It’s a sand storm, we have to take cover. As she speaks we all gather closer.
- There, behind the rocks. Indeed, an outcrop of rocks stands as a shield between the storm and us. Along side it, we see sand and rocks racing at high speed… but it doesn’t matter now, she knows something, and it’s time to forget about secrets. As the storm stops, we exit our shelter, shaking sand off our clothes.
- I think it would be best to get some supplies from the ship, and on the way, I believe Sheila has a story to tell us, am I right? We start walking.

- I never expected something like this to happen… but let me start with the beginning. The Cormyrean Peace Convention decided to destroy all the biological weapons the nations of the world held. As usual, each side kept a flask, just for security. About a month ago, a faction of eco-terrorists, who call themselves “Earth’s Children”, got their hands on such a vial. They threatened to unleash it unless all technology was outlawed; of course this didn’t happen. We found out they possessed a mutagen agent. They released it inside a prison, just for the sheer fun of it, and had security been tighter, Earth would be safe today. It was just like a disease, rotting people from the inside and turning them into monsters. Although the original agent has a life span of 5 days, it was more than enough to transform about three quarters of the population. By now, only the blood of the mutants still carries the dissease. People were fighting against mutants, and they were losing fast. Last report we received informed us of 16 survivors of the human resistance. Are so called equipment was the vessel for a neurotoxin we were supposed to spread into the atmosphere, but it got destroyed in the fire.

- If we are to be stranded at least it’s good we haven’t encountered any mutants. My words don’t bring much comfort, though.
- Before we crashed I detected a life form in the area, says Hammer in a silent voice, let’s hope it got scared and ran away.

As the briefing ends, we arrive at the edge of the crater. Sheila and I remain atop, while Virus and Hammer choose to go inside. With small, but steady paces, they start their descent.
- It’s my fault, she says it so clearly and convinced.
- No, it isn’t, you couldn’t have known we’d crash, it was a virus, a programming error.
- All I had to do is say I can do it on my own, they’d be home right now.. alive, all of them, it’s my fault.
- They knew this wasn’t a walk in the park, we must not let their deaths be in vain.

Her voice becomes calm again, it seems as if she resigned all hope:
- But the neurotoxin is destroyed.

I try to find something to say, something, anything, just to make her pain go away, but my thoughts are ended by the noise coming from the ship. I hurry down only to find Hammer lying breathless. Where his stomach used to be, there’s only a hole; through it I can see the ground turn red with his blood. His guts are spread next to the ship, someone, no, something pulled them out. I help Virus up, her leg is broken, and covered in dark colored blood.

- How do you feel?
- A lot better than I look, it’s not just my blood; with her chin, she points towards the crack in the hull. I put her down, with her back against a rock and I turn to examine what she showed me.

Lying on Seirande’s floor I find the body of a creature, which by all esthetical standards I know I have to call unpleasant, ugly as one might say. Its head resembles to the cavemen shown in documentaries in the 20th century. The skin appears very thick and it’s colored in a dark shade of gray. It has no fingers, just three claws, and fur all over; I really wouldn’t call it the evolutionary missing link. Regardless, it’s dead. Virus is just sitting there, caressing her rifle and humming a song; Sheila comes down and closes Hammer’s eyes. Just in case there are other mutants, we have to hurry. I venture inside Seirande, I reach the mess hall again, and pick up some rations. On my way out I stop by the armory. Weapons and clips of empty energy cells are spread all over. I get to the wall, and, after a button’s been pushed, a secret chamber opens. As I expected, the RA76 Energy Shotgun prototype. I ransack the piles on the floor and I find a charged clip; I place it inside the shotgun.

Evening is starting to lay itself outside. We make camp here, as Virus can’t move. After a few more trips in and out of the ship, we have a nice fire.
- She’s got a fever, we don’t have enough water to cool her down.
- No problem, I’ll just stop by the bar and get some ice, can I bring you a drink? Not even I thought my words were funny.

I kneel next to her, she opens her eyes and she finally smiles.
- You have to kill me.
- You’ll be ok, we’ll all be.
- No, there’s nothing that can be done; I’m already infected… before it’s too late… she coughs loudly… KILL ME! She says the words and loses consciousness.

I turn towards Sheila; it’s dark but she sees my face, I know she does… I’ve practically known Virus all my life; she can read the pain in my eyes…
- She’s like a sister to me, I can’t do it. I won’t!
- There is no cure, she’ll kill us both!
- Virus won’t!
- ...She’s... not Virus anymore.

Pain, like thousands of Fedorian ants eating out my knee. I fall to the ground, the rest of my leg falls aside me. She shot me. As I try to get up, I see her aiming at Sheila. There is only one thing I can do to save her, only one thing that I know of, only one thing I’m doing right now. The second burst of energy blasts my left shoulder; at least the pain in my knee passed. I open my eyes, I’m on the ground again, and so is Sheila. I wasn’t fast enough to take the full blow, all she got herself is a scratch, she’ll live.

I hear footsteps, and I try hard to turn myself around, though I shouldn’t: it can only be Virus. I catch a glimpse of her eyes, black, cold, dead. She aims at me once more. I think, I hope she hesitates; her arm starts to shake. I see a dim light in her eyes and tears running across her cheeks; She raises the gun to her head, her lips start to move, and I can read "I’m sorry" on them. Another shot; her body drops with a heavy thump, and the fire goes out beneath the flowing blood mixed with brain tissue. I hear Sheila move over and sit next to me. Only the moon shares her light with us, though we can manage without it. I can’t, I don’t want to hear what she’s saying. I just gaze at the fire dancing in her eyes. I close mine as she approaches to kiss my lips; it feels like eternity until the sensation ends. I can’t open my eyes, I’m so very tired, and I can’t open my eyes.

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