Chapter 2: The Enigmatic Principle
The door to Jim’s apartment slid open to reveal Gregory talking with another guard. Gregory finished and waved the other guard off. He walked in. Jim was sitting on the bed, glaring at him.
“Is there something you need?” Jim asked condescendingly. “The voices and I were just enjoying a moment of serenity.”
Gregory snorted and said, “I have been ordered, as your escort, to take you to Larson’s quarters immediately.”
“Oh? I’m important?” Jim asked, smirking.
“No – it’s just – ”
“Oh, I see,” Jim said. “So you get to go meet with him personally all the time, too.”
Gregory smiled irritably. How he hated this man, Jim. He was only trying to follow orders – to just get along, and this guy just would not stop. It was as if, to Gregory, he had some sort of hidden agenda. He doubted it, though, considering the apparent ignorance and narcissism of the man. “Listen, Jim, I don’t like you and you sure as Hidyos don’t like me. But can’t you stop being a pain in the ass and just work with me?”
“You got your gun back, and you’re given nice accommodations – nicer than mine,” Gregory continued, “And yet you still persist.”
“Precisely,” Jim said, smiling. “I can’t go anywhere. I’m a prisoner and you people expect me to be nice?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about, but get your ass off the bed and follow me.”
“Oh yes, I’m certainly free,” Jim said, standing up and walking out of the room, Gregory fast behind him. “As free as free can be.”
Gregory led him farther down the hall, about a quarter mile, maybe, to another door. Gregory pressed the red button and it opened up to reveal a suite just like Jim’s. “I thought he was your commander-in-chief,” Jim said.
“Our Admiral likes equality, so he stays in one of the normal suites,” Gregory said.
“I thought you said you had worse accommodations than I do,” Jim said.
“Well, believe it or not, on a ship this big we do have currency and I’m lower class,” Gregory said. “Now enough talk, get in there.” He butted Jim’s back with the rifle.
“Fine, fine,” Jim said, walking in, the door sliding shut behind him. He didn’t find Larson at first, but as he continued on in he found Larson sitting at a table against one wall directly to the left of the hall leading to the door.
“Sit down,” Larson said. Jim pulled out a chair. “Whiskey?”
“Nah,” Jim said. “Don’t care for the stuff. What did you want to talk to me about?”
“Jim, we’ve scanned you and everything and I think you are ready for some explanations.”
“Bout time,” Jim said offhandedly.
“Yes,” Larson said. “Well, I bet you are wondering how we knew where and how to receive you.”
“Yes,” Jim said, though what he really wanted to know was what had happened to his girl, Kayla Namrepus. She had been traveling with the group of five when they fought Cartez and he had taken her over the side of the Golden Spire with him. Jim had followed. By now, Jim thought, he should have found her, alive or dead, but there had been no sign of either of them. He also wondered if this was just another setup, a façade of amiability. Jim shrugged it off though as paranoia.
“Well, we have done experiments with singularities before but until recently we had no idea how to create a singularity,” Larson said.
“Oh? What’s that?”
“A singularity is the point in a black hole where the gravity is so strong it bends time as well as space. Not much is known – but we do know once you pass the event horizon all time gets so slow it comes to a halt. Using gravity generators, we have managed to create dense fields where space was bent, as well as time, but not enough.”
“And how did you know how to do it now?” Jim asked.
“Well we received a transmission – location unknown, from someone that told us how to do it and when to do it. We were told to expect something miraculous. So we did. He said to use a steel ball of a certain size comparable to the gravity we make. We caused it to crumple up from the gravity being so strong. This caused the singularity,” Larson said. “We assume this is what caused the rip.”
“The rip – how you came in. It’s apparent you are not from this world, so yes, theorists have made arguments that singularities are portals to other universes, parallel ones. I guess we created the first and brought you through,” Larson said.
“Well, actually –”
“Trust me, we are sure,” Larson said. “Would you like to hear the transmission?”
“Hold on, I was falling when this light appeared and sucked me through,” Jim said. “That couldn’t have been a singularity point.”
“It was,” Larson said, taking out a thin, inch-long metal slate. He put it on the table and tapped it once. “Open file Transmission.wav,” he said.
“Voice recognition confirmed,” Jim heard a metallic, monotone voice say.
“Where’d that come from!?” Jim exclaimed. “I heard it in my mind!”
“I know,” Larson said, smiling, “Don’t worry. It’s the memory slate.”
Soon, a crackling, static voice came through clearly in both minds. “I am…Expect a visitor at…nine AM…at coordinates 18, 3, 5 in your current zone…”
“There was more but –”
“That was Cartez!” Jim shouted. “I knew it!”
“Cartez! The guy I chased out of a building! He knew it! Wow!” Jim howled with glee. “That bastard! Did he say anything else!?”
“Mm…the rest was just technicalities. For the singularity experiment,” Larson said.
“Damnit!” Jim exclaimed, snapping his fingers. “That guy stole my girl! That’s why I jumped out of a building after him! He always seemed to have something hidden…like a mission or something, and this is the second time he’s messed around with me.”
Jim told him the whole story, in an over-view, it took about fifteen minutes. “And so that’s how it was,” Jim finished. “That’s how I got here.”
“Wow,” Larson said.
“Now what’s yours, Admiral? Who do you report too?” Jim asked, interested.
“No one,” Larson said.
“There is no higher government to report too,” Larson said.
“Well, you see, recently, maybe, oh, two years ago, Earth, you do know Earth, don’t you?” Larson said. Jim nodded. “Well, yes, we had nuclear war. The world had gone into a winter so cold that no one could survive. By this time in our history, we had colonized Mars, had ships that could travel through subspace using the Star-Drive. Me, being an Admiral in the Federal Navy, rounded up all men under my command and left the planet.”
“You deserted,” Jim inferred.
“In a manner of speaking,” Larson said. “Soon after the world government collapsed and everyone else left the planet. Mars ran out of air since the shipments stopped coming, as well as the Moon. Soon they all left, too. A human exodus, truly. Out into the stars, we went, and now anywhere within a few light-years of our original solar system ships roam, looking for another planet to colonize. It is said that some have, though I doubt it. The chances of us finding a suitable environment? Be realistic. We have no air to populate a domed city which we don’t even have the materials to build. It’s a catch twenty two situation.”
“Well, it’s possible,” Jim interjected.
“Highly doubtful. Anyways, we have survived by growing things on deck eleven, as well as deck five. However, we have had some trade with other ships – we have even met up with small fleets,” Larson said. “I have confidence that eventually civilization will rise again. Right now, our ship, being two miles long and one in width, has enough people that we consider ourselves a nation. We even have money! Who would have thought of that?”
“That’s pretty big,” Jim said. “Must look like a giant brick.”
“No, it’s grey on the outside, for one, and the edges and corners are rounded off, we do have windows, reinforced of course against lasers – they look like a mirror to the outside, and in the back, where the engines are, the hull slopes down and gets smaller in width and in height, but only by about five percent of the original dimensions,” Larson said. “As for the bottom, towards the back end, two decks are cut short so at the bottom we can have a fighter bay.”
“Confusing,” Jim said. “But it sounds nice. Sort of like a giant whale, then?”
“Minus the flippers,” Larson said, taking a sip of whiskey.
“Yeah,” Jim said dreamily, losing interest.
Larson perked up. “Oh yes – one more thing, those numbers you gave me –”
He was about to answer Jim when alarms sounded and red lights in the room began to flash. “Pardon me,” Larson said, putting down his drink. “I’ll have Gregory keep you here. I’ll be back soon.”
“Uh…alright,” Jim said, dumbfounded. Larson walked down the hall and out the door. Jim heard him give some orders to Gregory, then footsteps heading away, towards the elevator.
“No damn manners,” Jim said, and took a swig of whiskey himself.
. . .
Admiral Larson strolled into the command room. This room was located in the center of the ship, but view screens all around made it look as if it was at the ship’s head. It was mainly a circular enclosure, with techies manning monitors all over the walls. In the center was a chair on a podium, where Larson sat. From there he received all news and events going on within his ship. He walked up to the throne, and sat down. Putting on the headset, he was greeted by a messenger.
“Speak,” Larson ordered.
“Yes sir. Another ship has been spotted.”
“What class?” Larson asked.
“Carrier-class ship,” the messenger said. “We have scanned them. They have about ten Bullhorn Fighters, but other than that, very little for space combat. No lasers. No MAC guns. The commander wants to speak with you. Oh, by the way, the name of the ship is The Enigmatic Principle.”
“Put him on, then,” Larson said. A part of the ceiling disappeared as a large view screen seethed out of it, hanging from some cables from above. It blinked on to show the face of a haggard, thirty-ish looking fellow who looked dirty, out of order. Larson hated this part. It was when the stupid idiot on the other end would, in his blind ignorance, declare war on the Ethiopia in a desperate attempt to gain food for his people, or, Larson thought, ask for trade. It was usually the former; however the admiral always liked to hope for the best.
“Admiral,” the man said.
“Yes? I understand you requested an audience with me,” Larson said, brushing his shoulder absently. “Speak; I’ve got other things to do.”
“We know,” the man said. “Basically, you have two choices.”
“What?” Larson said, surprised, shifting in his seat. Here it comes, Larson thought. The bum is going to do it. The same cliché, over and over, the same empty threats. The admiral wondered why the man didn’t just hit the self-destruct button now and save the Ethiopia the trouble.
“You can either give us all the food on the ship, or, we can destroy you utterly,” the man said. To Larson, he looked desperate.
“Before you make an accusation of war against the Ethiopia,” Larson said, “You must be aware we are a destroyer-class vessel, we carry more fire-power than you, and out-number you.”
“We will win, trust me,” the man said.
“Ah, yes,” Larson said. “Desperate needs call for desperate measures, eh?”
The man smirked, and then coughed. “I don’t think so,” he murmured.
“Look at you,” Larson said. “If you are the cream of your crop, and you look as disheveled as you are, what does that say about the state of your ship? This is a suicide maneuver. I’m trying to save you from it. We can trade…”
The commander snorted and turned around, walked off screen. A second later, he came back on. “Admiral, my fighters are leaving the bays right now. I’ll see you in the after-life.”
Larson sighed. This man was crazy. Nevertheless, he would fail. Switching off the screen, the admiral shouted, “All men to battle-stations! I want all twenty-five Gladiator Interceptors in the air!”
“Aye, sir,” a techie said.
“Also, prepare the docking pods!”
He was going to crush this opponent and take whatever he had. When push came to shove, you either killed or you got killed.
. . .
Bradley sat at one of the computer kiosks in the main control room. He was controlling the departure and maneuvers of the Gladiator Interceptors. He pressed a button on the screen and a picture popped up showing twenty five outlines, each one looked like a triangle with two cylinders jutting out from both sides of the triangle, near the points. Then, another window appeared showing him a view from a camera in the docking bay.
“Squads Alpha, Beta, Delta, Ceta, and Theta report,” Bradley said.
“All five of us are ready.”
“Alright,” Bradley said. “Commence. You have permission to leave the bay.”
He watched on the screen as the fighters began maneuvering, five at a time, to the launch pad. The launch pad was, in essence, five long lengths of pole with a bar at one end. The Gladiator would move to the end with the bar, which was the end opposite of the bay’s opening, and latch onto the bar. Then the bar would propel the fighter at hundreds of miles an hour out of the bay, letting go of the fighter seconds before the end of the length. This was needed to break the air barrier created to keep the atmosphere within the bay.
Soon, all five squads had left, and Bradley rolled his chair around to face Admiral Larson. “It’s done,” he said.
Larson turned to him, and smiled. “Good job, son,” he said. “Now get to work on the docking pods.”
. . .
John Dasher was a fighter pilot, a captain, at that. He was about twenty-five, with brownish black, cropped hair and an athletic build. At about six foot one, he was a ladies man and enjoyed a good bar fight as much as the next guy. Hell, Dasher remembered, he had almost killed a man one time! The man had thrown a sucker punch and John had dodged, punching the man in the throat so hard he could no longer breathe.
Dasher walked down the hall, heading for the fighter bay on deck one. The alarms were sounding and red lights flashed over head. He found them slightly irritating.
Passing another pilot, he heard, “Good luck out there, Dash.”
“Hope to see you in Hidyos as well,” John said as he passed. Upon reaching the fighter bay, he walked over to his custom-fitted Gladiator Interceptor, the lead ship of Group Alpha. When Dasher had become a captain, he had had his Interceptor fitted with long-range sensors, better fusion engines and more powerful lasers, not to mention better cock-pit shielding. It had cost him a bundle, but he thought it was worth it.
“Sir,” a techie said, handing him his helmet, “This way please.”
John was led to a vehicle with a platform on the front that raised him into the cockpit, where he was strapped in.
“One minute until bar-out,” the techie said, walking off. Dasher gave a small salute with his index and ring finger and put his helmet on. He pressed the blue button and the hatch closed; the atmosphere equalizing.
“Okay…John…just another dog-fight…against idiots,” Dasher said to himself. “Don’t get distracted…” He looked to a picture stuck into one of the indents of the control panel. The picture was of one of his many girlfriends, her name was Laverna. He liked Laverna; she had given him her underwear after one session, as well as the picture. She always made him feel warm inside whenever they were out on deck thirteen together. Thumbing it, he looked up.
“John Dasher,” someone crackled over the intercom in his helmet. “Move your squad to the bar.”
“Roger,” Dasher said. He switched to squad channel. “Alright, guys, let’s have a drink at the bar.”
A few minutes later, John was thrown back in his seat as he was blasted out into the vacuum, his wingmen following. To his right, ten Bullhorn Fighters were already out of their bay, hovering around it like flies on a watermelon. “Alright,” Dasher said, “Engage. Pinky, I want you on my six, the rest of you, form a V formation and plow through.”
“Dash is going to work!” Pinky shouted over the channel. His ship moved in from behind and Dasher could detect him lingering just beyond his sight-line. The Bullhorn Fighter was an odd design, one that looked like a rectangle, turned on its side, with two large laser cannons jutting out, the back of the laser cannons serving as engines. The cockpit was small but the firepower was large. Three approached Dasher head on, firing. John barrel-rolled to the left, and then to the right, dodging multiple shots.
“Dash! I’m hit!” Pinky shouted. “One you dodged got my wing!”
“Shit,” Dasher said. “Alright, Pinky, you still stable?”
“Yep. Following you.”
Both Gladiators let loose with both of their smaller, automatic laser cannons, etching light into the dark. Immediately, a laser melted one Bullhorn cockpit and the thing drifted off, and exploded, the fusion core fractured. The other two pulled up, and Dasher followed suit.
“Don’t let them get away,” Dasher said calmly.
“Gotcha,” Pinky said. “Releasing the glad-missiles.”
Two streaks of particles entered Dasher’s vision from the left, and continued on to follow the Bullhorn’s heat-trail. Eventually, despite the attempted dodges of the bulky ships, the missiles found their targets and caused both ships to implode.
“Looks good out here,” Dasher said. He switched channels to command-com. “This is Dasher, speaking.”
“Speak,” the voice on the other side said.
“Just doing a routine mop-up out here, twenty-five versus ten old fighters was nothing. You are clear to launch docking pods,” Dasher reported. “Over.”
“Thank you, Dasher, we will report back with further instructions. Over and out.”
Dasher sat back in his seat, and breathed deeply. Switching channels again, he told his team, “Good job. Alrighty. That was incredibly simple. Now what?”
“Like shooting fish in a barrel,” Lefty replied.
“For me, you mean,” Righty retorted.
Lefty and Righty were two brothers in their mid-twenties who had been assigned to Dasher’s squad right before the apocalypse. They were even known to start whole bar-fights just by fighting each other after a stupid argument. They were both burly and constantly quibbled and squabbled. Pinky was actually quite the opposite of his name, a dark-skinned man, extremely tall and lanky. He was a naturally cautious man at age thirty, and would always stick by Dasher’s side. The final member of the team, Lola, was a beautiful South-American woman of about twenty. Vivacious and humorous, almost every guy who knew her had at one point tried to capture her heart, all had failed, except Dasher, who had yet to try.
“Boys with their toys,” she said. “Can’t live with’em, can’t live without’em.”
“Don’t I know it,” Pinky said.
“Last time I checked,” John said, “You’re a man whether you’re pink or not.”
Dasher heard laughter and closed his eyes. “One down,” he murmured, “how many to go?”
“What?” Pinky asked.
“Nothing,” Dasher replied, “Just static.” In truth, though, the whole idea had begun to scare him. The idea of being shot and forced to eject into a cold, emotionless void irked him in the deepest way. He didn’t want to die from asphyxiation in a glass coffin, floating laconically about the Ethiopia while she waged war; it just wasn’t a glorious way to die. And, Dasher assured himself, he would die, gloriously.
. . .
Bradley swiveled around in his chair to receive Larson’s commands.
“Bradley, you’re my best, launch the docking pods now. No more waiting,” Larson said.
“Um, sir, may I speak freely?”
“Sure,” Larson said. “What’s on your mind?”
“Sir, why don’t we just torpedo them? They have no lasers to shoot them down and the Bullhorns are gone. We can send out collector-droids to salvage parts, and have Dasher and the other squads blow the damn thing up,” Bradley said.
“Or not,” Larson countered. “Are you aware that eventually a ship will have to land on a planet to get supplies? We are in the middle of deep space. Blowing up a ship and destroying potential food, ammunition, and Gondolus knows what else, is a waste. You understand? So launch the dockers.”
“But sir,” Bradley said. “We might lose lives.”
“That’s why we’re sending Death Walkers. Of course they’ll die, Bradley.”
Other techies looked up from their stations.
“Isn’t it a bit wasteful? A handful of lives for a handful of food?” Bradley asked.
“Actually, no, the trade is not enough. I’d give many more lives for food. I don’t think you understand our current situation, Bradley,” Larson said.
“And what is that? Mass slaughter to fill our bellies?”
“Yes,” Larson said. “Now as much as I’d like to continue this discussion, we are in the middle of a small war. Please, release the dockers.”
“Yes…sir,” Bradley bumbled, swiveling back and pressing the big red button displayed on his screen.
“Docking capsules launched,” he heard a mechanical voice say in his mind.
“Damn voices,” Bradley muttered.
. . .
Laverna Gee was a slim, rambunctious grunt of the first division – the Death Walker squad. With long, brown flowing hair, she was trite and obnoxious, never afraid to say what was going on in her mind. She was tough, as well, an aspect she gained being trained along with an all-man unit. She, along with about twenty others, had been stuffed in and strapped down into a docking pod made to fire out of the same mechanism used to fire torpedoes. The docking pod looked like a cylinder, except at one end was a point, made out of diamond. When the diamond made contact, it busted through anything, and when it detected a stable environment, would open up, revealing the soldiers. Laverna saw it as a sort of force-fed Trojan horse, and had remarked upon it many times when with the guys.
“So, Verna,” Joey said. He sat directly across from her. “You gonna kill any guys today?”
“Shut it,” Laverna said. “I’m working.”
“Wish you were workin’ me,” another soldier said, idly fiddling with a latch on his battle rifle.
“Oh, I can work you,” Laverna said. “I can work you good!”
Another howled and shouted, “Looks like Sam’s getting lucky!”
“Yeah,” Laverna said, taking out her knife, “He’ll be very lucky.”
“Bitch,” Sam said, and sat back again.
“Why thank you,” Laverna said, looking pensive. Sheathing her knife, she continued. “You boys think I’m so damn hot, don’t you? Well?”
“Damn right!” Joey shouted. “Hottest babe on the ship!”
Laverna smiled. “You, Joey, just earned yourself a nice whopper of a night on two conditions.”
“Oh damn!” Another soldier shouted. “That shit is gay!”
“What are the conditions?” Joey asked, grinning.
“One, you live through this. Two, I live through this,” Laverna said. “So stay alive, sexy.” She grinned and brought a finger to her lip and ran it along the soft, moist surface.
Another soldier near Joey clapped him on the shoulder. “Damn, boy!”
“Wow,” Joey said. “I’m going to suck up more often.”
Laverna smiled. “Just needed something to do, you answered first,” she said.
“Works for me,” Joey replied.
A green light began to flash in the rear of the docking pod, and a voice from the intercom in each of their helmets told them it was about time for launch. A few seconds later, everyone in the cabin lurched to the side as the docking pod was shot out at hundreds of miles per hour. In the weightlessness, someone puked and the vomit floated lazily about the cabin.
Almost instantly the impact came. Laverna felt the grinding sensation as the diamond point tore through meter after meter of metal alloys, and then the thump as the tiny tracks on each side of the diamond kicked into gear and caused the whole capsule to lose speed, the diamond having reached a suitable environment. The tip opened and all of the soldiers unfastened themselves, filing out. The first thing Laverna saw outside the pod was a hall way, leading up to a two-way intersection. A man walked by, holding an old, decrepit-looking AK-47. He turned in surprise, and fired the weapon. The accuracy was horrible, and Laverna, with a short burst of her battle rifle, put the man down. Immediately, alarms sounded and footsteps could be heard on the metal grates underfoot.
“Laverna, whadda we do?” Sam asked.
“As the commanding officer,” Laverna said, “I want you to take two teams and fan out along the hall in front of us and set up a defensive perimeter. Then have two more teams go on the offensive, I’ll take the one heading for the bridge.”
“Alright, Ma’am,” Sam said, walking off. A few minutes later, defensive teams were moving up the halls, occasionally firing on members of the crew who happened to walk into the line of sight. Laverna had assembled a squad of four, her being the lead member. They moved up in diamond formation towards the bridge, leaving the defensive team behind to set up perimeter. About seven meters ahead, the hallway stopped and turned a hard left.
Gee motioned to her group with two fingers, and then pointed to the wall. The group moved up and backed against the wall. Laverna leaned out and looked around the corner. Seeing this, three men whom had set up trash-cans on the other side fired a few rounds down the corridor. One nearly missed Laverna’s head. She leaned back, keeping cool.
Pointing to Sam, she made a fist, indicating that he should throw a grenade. Following this, Sam withdrew a grenade, pulled the pin, and threw it hard enough that it bounced off the next wall and landed on the ground, rolling towards the enemy. A second later, a loud explosion resounded. Dust flew past the group, and they moved in. Immediately, the three crew-members began firing randomly, and Laverna dropped to her knees, two of the others fanning out to opposite walls and Sam standing behind her. She pulled down her night-vision goggles and flipped them on. Seeing the three, now, she let off a few bursts, and the others followed suit. Two of them dropped but the third, as he fell, shot off a few rounds randomly and Laverna heard someone grunt.
She stood up, and turned around, to find Sam, trembling, a hole the size of a fist in the middle of his forehead. He seemed to be mumbling something, but Laverna couldn’t make it out. Sam dropped to the ground. The other two team members moved in, one, a woman, kneeled to check his pulse.
“Gone,” the female soldier said.
“Too bad,” Laverna said. “He was cute.”
“Now what?” the standing soldier asked.
“Hold on and I’ll tell you,” Laverna said. She flipped on her intercom and contacted the command-com channel. “Laverna Gee to command-com,” she said, “We need to know if we are near the bridge.”
“Read-outs tell us you are, just around the corner and then some,” a voice replied. “Anything else, Gee?”
“No thanks,” Laverna said, switching the com off. She looked to the kneeling woman. “Get up. We have to move.”
The group then moved on, in a triangle formation, Laverna taking the front. They moved up to the next corner and peered around. Two more crew members seemed to be fiddling with the sliding door ahead of them. They had opened the electronics box next to it and looked as if they were rewiring it. Laverna motioned to both her comrades, indicating that they should move out into the hallway. She then moved out from cover and said, “Okay, boys, hands up!”
The two members turned, in surprise. One reached for an AK-47 leaning against the wall and was instantly shot down by one of Laverna’s team. The other, though, bolted through the open sliding door and it shut behind him. The male soldier moved up to the fallen crew-member and checked his pulse.
“He’s out,” the man said, “But not dead. Should I call for a med crew?”
“Not worth it,” Laverna said. “Tried to kill you.”
“But – ”
“I’m in command, so don’t question me.”
“He’ll die,” the man said.
“Who gives a flying fucknut?” Laverna asked. “Which one of you is electronics?”
“Sam was,” the woman said.
Laverna growled. “Gondolus damn it,” she cursed. “Can either of you open this damned door? We need to take the bridge!”
Both said no, so Laverna turned on her intercom and radioed the docking capsule team. “I need help,” she said.
“What for, ma’am?” they answered.
“My electronics guy is dead. I need a new one, its clear all the way up here. Report to command-com for me of this, as well. Damn bastards are going to keep hatch-bitching us the whole way through. They always do,” Laverna said.
“Alright, we will send Joey down,” they replied.
“Oh?” Gee said, a smile lighting her face. “Excellent. Over and out.”
. . .
A knock on Jim’s door awoke him. Jim sat up, and walked to the door, pressed the button, and watched it slide open.
“Oh, Gregory, what a surprise,” Jim said nonchalantly.
“Do we really have to go through this?” Gregory asked.
“Jim, I’ve been…” Gregory sighed. “I’ve been given orders to take you to the bridge to meet with Admiral Larson. If you haven’t noticed we’re in a bit of a crisis right now, and for some odd reason he wants you to see it.”
“Is it because I’m important?” Jim asked.
Gregory grunted. “…Yes.”
“So what you are saying,” Jim continued, “Is that important people get asked to go to the bridge to meet with the Admiral?”
Begrudgingly, Gregory said, “Yes.”
“Have you ever gotten a request to meet with the Admiral?” Jim asked, smiling.
“So what are you saying?” Jim asked. “That you aren’t important and that I am?”
Gregory grinded his teeth, and breathed in deeply. “Okay,” he said. “I understand you don’t like being locked up and you find it funny to poke at my nerves, but I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t. I’m just doing my job.”
“As am I,” Jim said, sweeping his arm out and hitting it on the side of the door-frame.
“Will you just come with me?”
“With pleasure,” Jim said, pushing out past him and walking towards the elevator. Gregory followed, and, in the elevator, he called up the menu.
“Bridge,” Gregory said.
“Authentication?” The voice asked. The hologram became a hovering question mark.
“Alpha-Beta-Foxtrot-Zero,” Gregory said coolly.
“Access granted,” the voice said. The hatch to the elevator slid shut, and opened again on the control room.
“Don’t you find that the least bit creepy?” Jim asked.
“No,” Gregory replied. “Get out. Stay ahead of me and to the side. We must be professional about this.”
“I’ll be the most professional prisoner ever,” Jim mocked, walking out. Gregory led him to the center; and on to the podium where Larson sat in his throne.
“Jim,” Larson said, swiveling around in the chair and standing to shake Jim’s hand. “I wanted you to see this.”
“What?” Jim asked. Larson nodded to a techie who brought down the large screen again. Larson told the computer to show the view of the Enigmatic Principle and it came up a few seconds later, the Gladiators hovering lazily about it, awaiting their orders.
“That,” Larson said. “Is another ship. Smaller than ours, carrier class.”
“And?” Jim asked, not impressed.
“They declared war on us,” Larson said.
“We have completely decimated their fighters and I am about to initiate the subsystem destructions,” Larson said. “Do you not see the magnificence of it?”
“What magnificence? What are you going to do to the people on board? Take them on this ship when you steal all their shit?” Jim continued, incredulous.
“No, we are going to leave them there.”
“No food?” Jim asked.
“No food,” Gregory said from behind.
“That’s murder,” Jim asked. “What’d they do?”
“If they had asked for trade and barter, we would have done it. But no, they declared war on us,” Larson said. And with a tone of finality that the admiral himself found disturbing: “And so they die.”
“That’s the way it is. There is no government for them to cling too anymore,” Gregory reminded. “No laws, except those of survival. These people were asking to die.”
“Okay,” Larson said. “Hold on.” He looked down to Bradley, and told the man to initiate the subsystem destruction. On screen, the Gladiator craft began to swirl about the ship, shooting lasers at certain places and causing explosions. “Just taking out as many as we can to be safe. Subsystems are things like air conditioning, gravity generators, and what not. We cannot get them all – by no means, but we can get a lot. Like the engines.”
“Oh,” Jim said. “And then what? Are they just going to give you the food?”
“No, we sent troops over there,” Larson said. “They are taking the place now.”
“Isn’t that a bit dangerous?” Jim asked.
“Incredibly so,” Larson said.
Jim turned to Gregory. “If it’s so dangerous and you’re a soldier why aren’t you on that ship?”
“Because,” Gregory countered, “I am not of the first division. I am not a Death Walker.”
“What are those?” Jim asked, turning to Larson.
“I have my military re-ordered, by division. The first division’s specialty is Space-Jumps, or launching from one ship to another. They are the cream of the crop – the best, and they are trained to die. Absolutely brilliant in combat.”
“So why isn’t Gregory here one of’em?” Jim asked, pointing a thumb behind him.
“Because Gregory isn’t stupid,” Larson said. “He knows the probable death-rate of Death Walkers.”
“Oh,” Jim said, turning to Gregory. “Coward.”
Gregory braced himself, and began to lift the rifle, but then thought better of it and turned to stomp away. To Gregory, the idea that this poor specimen of a man could call him a coward was preposterous. He had fought in many theatres of combat and had never once pulled out before he was ordered to.
“I think you hurt his feelings,” Larson said somberly.
Jim turned back to the man. “Who cares?”
“I do,” Larson said. “And you should. That man was just doing his job.”
“I don’t give a flying fuck. I’m a prisoner and it’s boring,” Jim said. “So I’ll keep being an asshole until I get what I want.”
“Now doesn’t that sound a bit babyish?” the Admiral asked, sitting back down in his chair. “I want this so I’ll cry until I get it?”
“Shut up,” Jim said. “I didn’t ask for this.”
“Neither did I, but if you want it so bad, do you want me to give you temporary status?” Larson asked.
“I don’t really know. Citizen status,” Larson said. “You won’t have to deal with Gregory anymore, and that’ll probably make his day. You give him Hidyos.”
“I know,” Jim said. “So that means I can go?”
Larson sighed, and said, “Yes, you can go. I also give you clearance to come to the bridge. Your password will be simple: Einstein. Can you remember that?”
“Yeah,” Jim said, turning and walking away.
“Doesn’t even say good bye,” Larson muttered to himself. “Where’d he come from? A pigsty?”
. . .
Joey had reached the other three and had managed to open the door. They moved on in silence, down the corridor. It went off to the left and Laverna backed up against a corner, peering out. The same man who had escaped lay at the other end of the hall, an AK-47 in his hands. He appeared to be trying to guard his backside while reprogramming the sliding door, and wasn’t doing very well.
“We do not want to hurt you!” Laverna lied. “Drop the weapon and put your hands behind your head!”
“Fuck you!” The man shouted.
Laverna turned to the male soldier. “I think we have to take him out, but no grenades, we are near the outer hull of the ship.”
“Yes ma’am,” the soldier said. He moved to the edge of the corner, and looked out at the struggling man. “Can’t shoot him without risking being shot.”
“I know,” Laverna said. “What would you recommend?”
“I guess a few potshots,” the man said, taking his battle rifle and sticking it around the side. He fired off a few short, badly aimed bursts and ducked back when the return fire came.
“Don’t wanna kill me, huh!?” The man shouted in defiance.
“That’s right!” Laverna countered. “Please, this is your last chance!”
“Rot in Hidyos!” the man screamed in reply. The group heard the sound of the sliding doors.
“Alright,” Laverna said. “No choice now. Move out, hope you don’t get shot.”
The group moved out into the hall, firing randomly to keep the man confused. He shot back, though, and managed to hit the male soldier in the arm, and he went down. Joey put three into the man’s chest; Laverna put two in his head. The female soldier bent down and checked on her fallen comrade.
“How is he?” Laverna asked.
“He’ll be fine, I’m the medic, so let me just patch him up,” she said, withdrawing a first aid kit from her pack. Taking out a spray-can from the first-aid kit, and then some tweezers, she had Laverna hold the man down and Joey stand guard, while she pulled the bullet out. The man let out a harsh scream but then it was over.
“Those bastards,” the woman spat, picking up the spray-can and spraying the wound. The liquid droplets on the wound then became a more foamy substance, filling in the wound, and stemming the bleeding. “It’s now filled with BioGel, so he’ll be fine for a few hours.”
“Thanks,” the man said, sitting and rubbing his shoulder. “Let’s go.”
The group then moved on, in diamond formation, the wounded man in the rear, Joey to Laverna’s left and the female to Laverna’s right. They went through a few more sliding doors, opening them easily now that the man rigging them had been shot. Gee contacted command-com and found that they were very close to the bridge, now, in fact, it was right down the next hall. Upon turning it, they found five men had set up some sand-bags and a machine gun. They fired with vehement when Laverna poked her head around the corner.
“Those mother-fuckers,” Laverna said, pulling her head back. “They were ready for us.”
“What do we do now?” Joey asked. “They outnumber us and out power us.”
“Grenade em,” the male soldier said.
“Can’t,” Laverna explained. “We are near the outer hull of the ship. That’d pretty much kill –”
She was interrupted by a large explosion. Looking around the bend, Gee saw that the five had pulled back from their position and had set explosives, leaving through the sliding door right as the explosion came, making a large, gaping hole looking out into stark void. Laverna heard that eerie whooshing sound of air and remembered what it had meant the last time.
“Shit!” Laverna exclaimed. “Fall back to the last sliding door!”
The group moved back around the bend and found the sliding door already closing. They jumped through, Joey narrowly missing getting squashed. “Those fuckers,” he said. “They sacrificed part of their own ship just to cut us off from the bridge. There is no way now.”
“There is always a way,” Laverna said.
. . .
Jim strolled into the bridge, walking up to Larson. He had heard the explosions and had gotten bored of wandering around already.
“So,” Jim began.
The Admiral turned to regard Jim. “What, exactly, do you want?” he asked.
“I’m just bored.”
“Admiral,” Bradley said, swiveling around in his chair, “Laverna’s group is radioing in. They are requesting a direct audience with you.”
“Patch them through,” Larson said. He put on the intercom, and listened.
“Admiral, we have a serious problem,” Laverna said over the speaker. “They have blown the hull in the passage between where I am and the door to the bridge. Over.”
“Oh,” Larson said. “Well, my reports are telling me that you four are the only ones left on board, the others were ambushed and slaughtered. They – ”
“Sir!” Bradley exclaimed, “They are preparing to jump!”
Larson looked back down to the console. “Laverna, they are preparing to jump out of system! If you do not take the bridge we will have to destroy the ship!”
“Hey,” Jim said. Larson looked up. “Isn’t their bridge on the head of their ship?”
“Yes,” Larson said.
“Well then can’t we just blow up the glass? Suck em all out to space?” Jim asked.
“How are we going to do that?” Larson asked.
“I don’t know,” Jim said. “Just like…blow it up. Have a fighter shoot it.”
“We can’t,” Larson said. “That glass is laser-reflective, all glass has been since the first war.”
“Don’t the fighters have torpedoes?”
“Yes,” Larson said. “But that would destroy the bridge completely.”
“Okay,” Jim said. “Can’t you just get somebody to do a space-walk, then?”
“Hey,” Laverna said over the intercom. “I’ve got my suit on, I could do the walk. I could blow the glass. Over.”
“You are forgetting the fact,” Larson reminded, “That we cannot control the ship if the bridge is a vacuum.”
“Use spacesuits,” Jim suggested.
Larson breathed in deeply, and then turned back to the intercom. He was getting too old to be the masterful tactician he once was. “Get that door open and get out there, then. Only one of you, I want to have options if this fails. They will jump in five minutes. We’ll destroy them in four.”
. . .
Laverna turned off the intercom, and turned to Joey.
“Can you bust that door open for just a second?” She asked.
“Yes,” Joey said. “What about later? I thought you said -”
“I’ll give you later if you can give me now,” Laverna said. Pressing a button on the inside of her suit, a helmet formed over her head and the hissing sound of air resounded from within. “I only have fifteen minutes of air.”
“Do it, my time is running out,” Laverna said. She nodded to the other two, and Joey popped open the electronics panel beside the door. He took out a flat-nosed screwdriver and stuck it in an indent between two circuits, and then smacked his palm down hard against the handle. A spark flew, and the door slid open. As soon as it did, the three other squad members backed against the walls, air escaping and causing suction. Laverna stepped out hastily, and the door closed behind her.
She felt the air get colder, the suit not being able to fully compensate for the instant change of temperature. Now in space-mode, the suit automatically turned on the magnets within the soles of her boots, and she was able to manually turn them on or off. Switching it off, Laverna floated up and out of the hole in the armor. She grabbed a piece of twisted metal and diverted her course along the surface of the hull until her whole body hovered over it. She reactivated the magnets and felt her body flip over and latch down onto the outer metal.
Laverna Gee walked the final meters of the hull to where the laser-proof glass began. Looking up, she saw John Dasher, floating above her in his Gladiator; it turned so that he had to look up to see her. The ships lasers were charging, a deep, pulsating green and blue. Over her intercom, she heard his voice. “Not much longer, babe, and I’ll have to send you to Hidyos,” he said.
How she wished she could be in the cube with him right now. Then he’d pay for that. “Dasher, go die,” Laverna said. “I’m trying to work.”
“Fiesty,” Dasher said, and pulled his Gladiator up and out of view.
She took out her pistol. It was made to work in a perfect vacuum. Aiming it at the glass, she fired. Instantly, it all shattered at once, and through her suit Laverna heard the demonic hissing of air shooting out into space, along with the muffled screams of the crew being sucked into the dark abyss. She watched with little remorse as their bodies were flung out of her eye-line.
Command-com connected to her transponder. She acknowledged them, and they told her she had about twenty seconds left. Gee took out a grappling hook and shot it down onto the floor of the bridge. She dislodged the magnets, pulling her self down. Once down there, she used the magnets once more to walk over to a computer.
“Alright, command, how do I disengage?” she asked.
“In the commander’s seat there should be a personal screen. On it would be a cancel button, of course, as is the standard,” Larson replied.
“Yes sir.” Gee walked over to the podium and made her way up the side. As was expected the screen did show a cancel button, however, it was locked out by a password entry window. “Damn it, we need a password. Over.”
“Can’t help you there,” Larson said. “Five seconds.”
“Shit,” Gee cursed, looking around disdainfully. In a last ditch effort, she took out the pistol once more and shot the screen. It sparked once and then drifted about the bridge, wires dangling about.
“Countdown canceled,” a voice said in her intercom. “Thank you for using Nadroj computer systems.”
“Damn head-talkers,” Laverna said. “Command, we’re clear.”
“Good job,” Larson said. “Now just hold there until we can come and salvage your team. Over and out.”
“Over my head and out my ass,” Laverna said, sitting down in the commander’s chair.
. . .