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    poetry


    dots Submission Name: Chronicles of Jim Ch3dots
    --------------------------------------------------------





    Author: wordslinger
    Elite Ratio:    6.54 - 234/97/31
    Words: 11042
    Class/Type: Story/Dark
    Total Views: 1054
    Average Vote:    No vote yet.
    Bytes: 65668



    Description:
       This is Chapter 3. Simple as that.


    Make the font bigger!! Double Spacing Back to recent posts.

    dotsChronicles of Jim Ch3dots
    -------------------------------------------


    Chapter 3: Coincidence
    Jim had been sleeping in his suite when from out of no where he was awoken by a high-pitched beep. He sat up, and looked around, dazed.
    “What the hell?” Jim asked, rubbing his forehead, annoyed. So far, this miraculous, futuristic ship had only managed to wake him up, put him to sleep, or try to kill him.
    “Jim?” Jim heard Larson’s voice over the intercom.
    “Admiral…what can I do for you?”
    “Come to the bridge,” Larson said. “I need to speak with you.”
    “Can’t we do it over this?” Jim whined, motioning to the ceiling.
    “No.”
    Jim sighed, and rolled out of the bed. Within ten minutes he walked into the bridge, his hair a mess and his Fusia 15 half-dangling out of its sheath. Many techies looked on with humorous expressions, Bradley even nudging the next guy and saying something about how “Jim looks like one of us after a shift or two.”
    “Jim!” Larson exclaimed, standing up and hugging him.
    Jim pushed the Admiral back to arm’s length and asked, “What the hell has gotten into you?”
    “Nothing, nothing,” Larson said, sitting down in his chair and swiveling back to the large view-screen.
    “What is it you wanted, exactly?” Jim asked. “I was finally getting some sleep.”
    Larson let all of his digits touch the opposite hands, making a pyramid-like formation, looking perplexed. “Well, Jim, you know that piece of paper you gave me?” he asked.
    “Yeah?”
    “Where did you get it?”
    “My pocket…why?”
    “No, I mean, when did you get it, before you came here?” Larson asked.
    “No…it was here when I got here,” Jim said. “Why, though?” He shuffled his feet absently.
    “We found out what those numbers meant, Jim,” Larson said. “They were coordinates.”
    “To where?” Jim asked.
    “To some place about two days travel from here,” Larson said.
    “So why aren’t we going there?” Jim asked.
    “Well you see – ”
    “And what happened to that ship?” Jim cut in.
    “Jim, it’s been tethered too the Ethiopia and is pending further inspection as soon as we get all the doors unlocked. Now let me answer your question.” Jim nodded. “The coordinates are in an area of uncharted space. That is dangerous and I don’t think it’s worth risking the ship.”
    Jim shrugged indifferently. “How did charted space first get charted?” he said.
    “With a lot of wasted lives,” Larson countered.
    “But I was given that slip of paper for a reason,” Jim said. “Don’t you see that?”
    “I can’t be sure,” Larson said. “But I want to play it safe.”
    “Like you always do,” Jim said. “So then why did you tell me if it means absolutely nothing then?”
    “I figured you might like to know,” Larson replied. “And the only reason we are still alive is because I played it safe.” The Admiral’s right eye-brow ticked once, and then it subsided. To Larson, Jim was like a little kid with his incessant questions and risky logic. He found it unnerving.
    “Hmm…alright,” Jim said. “I’m going to hit the recreational deck now, it sounds pretty nice.”
    “You do that,” Larson said, swiveling the chair in such a way that Jim could no longer see the Admiral’s face.
    “Is something wrong?” Jim asked.
    “No, nothing,” Larson said, rolling his eyes.
    “Alright,” Jim said, turning around and heading out the door. When he was out of hearing range, Jim mumbled to him self, “Something’s got that guy ticked off.” There was no reason why Larson shouldn’t go, Jim thought, its just space. And obviously it was connected, somehow, to Kayla. Jim meant to go there, and soon.
    . . .
    Jake Hallous was chief archaeologist of the Ethiopia as well as the youngest on staff. At twenty-seven, he was almost ten years younger than every other archaeologist and never flaunted it. Graduating from the top archaeology college on Earth, The Federal Archaeology Institute, he was astute and perceptive. When he was in training, he had surprised his superiors with his odd knack of finding answers where they were least expected. At a training dig, he had even discovered a new type of dinosaur, when everyone was sure the site was barren. Jake was now in the Enigmatic Principle’s bridge, examining on a computer the logistics of the ship. He placed both hands on the console and shifted his five foot four frame to the side a bit, then attempted to move a bang of his black hair out of his eyes, finding that a glass plate separated his hands from his face.
    “Damn space-suits,” Jake spat offhandedly. A crewman behind him moved to his right.
    “Left your radio on, did ya?” he asked.
    “Oh,” Jake said. “Well, you are old enough, I think.”
    “That I am,” the man said.
    “Shouldn’t you be working on the other console to bring up the blueprints?” Jake asked, turning his head to examine the crewman.
    “Why…yes!” he exclaimed, raising his hands in the air but quickly bringing them down when he started to float off. “How could I have forgotten!?”
    Jake hated working with laziness almost as much as he hated working with imbeciles. Right now, all Jake wanted to do was cause physical pain to this man.
    “Right. Go back to work,” Jake ordered, concealing his contempt. Hallous then turned back to his computer screen. The computer for the Enigmatic Principle had been locked off and hacking in had been slow-going. So far nearly every door had been opened on the ship, but they had only been able to get specs on its internal workings, not an actual blueprint, like he needed. Jake pressed another button on the screen and brought up the weapons specs. Switching on the intercom, he set it to his personal channel connected to his recorder within the Ethiopia. “Ship had a small fighter bay, as expected of Carrier-class ships, as well as anti-personnel lasers…what’s this…it also seems they had a magnetic accelerator cannon aboard. Location unknown as I have yet to see the ship’s blueprints.”
    Jake wondered why they hadn’t used it during the exchange. They could have easily taken the Ethiopia, as not even destroyer class ships came standard with MAC guns. This one must have salvaged it from a large ship, but how this small thing could over power a ship that might have had one was beyond Jake.
    Jake switched channels and looked over to the man beside him. “Do you got it yet?” he asked.
    “Yup,” the man said. “Just one more…ah, there, here you go.” The man moved to the side, and made a restricted arm waving motion, indicating to move over. Jake did so and looked at the screen. The ship was a simple design, looking very oval shaped up front but blunt and square at the back.
    “Take a look at this,” Jake remarked, pointing his right index finger at the blueprint. The man moved beside him, a questioning look on his face. “Every inch of free space is utilized in this ship – except…look, right there, towards the center, there is a large unused block of space, maybe about six feet by six feet.”
    “What about it?” the man asked.
    “Take me there,” Jake replied. “That’s definitely no fusion reactor and I mean to find out what it is. I have a hunch that it’s that MAC gun that was listed.”
    About ten minutes later, Jake and four demolitions experts moved down the hall that led to the design anomaly. It turned out to come to a dead end, there was just a wall. Jake looked up and down it, and then motioned to one of the experts. “Take that wall down,” he said.
    “But sir,” the expert began.
    “Do it,” Jake said.
    A few minutes later, the explosives were armed. Over all com-channels the demolitions experts warned people to strap down in case of an emergency. A boom resounded a second later, and the men removed the wall. Something quite unexpected meted their eyes.
    “What the hell is that?” Jake asked. He moved up to the entrance of the room and examined the sight. It was a podium; about four feet high, with a golden egg about a foot long hovering right atop of it. The rest of the room was completely empty. Hesitantly, Hallous removed the egg from the gravity field. The other men cringed, waiting for some unknown booby trap. Jake turned to regard them. “Well, what were you expecting, a boulder to crush us?”
    The other four laughed nervously
    “No? Well then get me back aboard the Ethiopia,” Jake said. This object was obviously not part of the ship or of any human design he’d ever seen. But, Jake thought, that was usually the way it was with discoveries in space. The deep void had a habit of spitting out more mysteries than answers.
    . . .
    When the hatch slid open on deck thirteen, Jim almost tripped over himself. It seemed like a valley that ran on forever. When he stepped out, he felt the warm air and breathed it in. Jim wondered if he was outdoors. Over head the sun shined brightly, and clouds moved back and forth, causing shadows on the landscape. Paths led to everything from tracks to jogging paths to basket ball courts. A man was running by and Jim stopped him.
    “Hey,” Jim said, “I thought we were in a ship!”
    “Fooled you, didn’t it?” the man asked. He jogged in place. “I’m Lefty, by the way. Fighter pilot. You must be that Jim guy.”
    “Are we in the ship?”
    “Well, yes, this is the recreation deck. You don’t actually think we’d be fine on a ship all the time? The only reason I’m still sane is because of this.”
    “Oh,” Jim said. “But look, I can see the sky.” He sweep a hand up towards the horizon.
    “Nope,” Lefty said. “A projection. A little ways up you’ll hit the ceiling. The images are projected into the ceiling to give us that feeling.”
    “It stretches on forever,” Jim said.
    “Another illusion,” Lefty said. “This place only runs the length of the ship!”
    “What is there to do?” Jim asked.
    “Everything,” Lefty said. “My personal favorite is the gravity cube; it’s in the center, about a mile from here. Look, you can see it.” The man pointed off too a nearly invisible cube with people floating around inside in the distance. “Best thing here. I believe my buddy Dasher is in it right now, holding off pretty well.”
    “Holding off?”
    “Go have a look for yourself,” Lefty said. “I’ve gotta continue my run.”
    “Alright,” Jim said, waving as Lefty ran off. He then began the walk down the path towards the center. To Jim, this universe just kept getting stranger and stranger.
    . . .
    The coordinates were close by, Larson thought. He took another sip of whiskey, peering around his room intently. The Admiral was quite inebriated. This continuing saga with that Jim character was beginning to itch at him – to break him. It wouldn’t be all that bad; after all, to go see what the coordinates led to…it may even be a good thing!
    “Bah,” Larson spat, standing up, grabbing the chair for support when he began to wobble. “Bet it’s a trap.” And indeed, it could very well be, he remembered. It wouldn’t be the first time.
    Walking over to the bar, he poured himself another glass of whiskey and looked at the bookshelf thoughtfully. Larson raised his right index finger and waggled it in the general direction of the books. “I know you,” he mumbled, placing the glass down on the bar. “I know you.”
    A few seconds later, the Admiral had managed his way to the bookshelf, where he leaned against it, casually reading the titles. Finding the correct one, he pulled the heavy textbook out and hefted it in his hands. “Laden with knowledge,” he muttered, and laughed. Larson sat the book on the bed and tapped the front of the cover. “Give me a summary of this one.”
    “Yes, Admiral,” a voice said from the intercom. “A History: The Last One Hundred Years of the Federation has been accessed. Relaying information now.”
    Larson moved back to his chair and more fell into it than sat down.
    “After the fall of the Soviet Union in the year 2003,” the voice began, “The United States was left as the undisputed champion of the world. President Lincoln, realizing his nation was the only nuclear nation left on the planet, seized control of the U.N. and formed a new government, the Federation of Humanity. All nations became one, and soon all poverty was but a dream. Man focused on the stars, and in 2020, the space age began. Ships colonized Mars, as well as many moons, including Earth’s own. With the exception of the vampire outbreak of 2030, peace and prosperity reigned supreme in the Federation until the First War.
    “In 2040, an elitist group broke off from the Federation, ambushing an entire fleet of ships and disappearing. The President of the Federation sent out many search parties, and eventually located the resistance on the moon known as Io. A communist government had been set up there, running under the old flag of the Soviet Socialist Republic. Their leader was a benevolent dictator, Davis Jefferson. President Jordan Prince, the presiding leader of the Federation of that time, demanded a swift and unconditional surrender of the planet. Jefferson refused, using meteors from the nearby Asteroid Belt and flinging them into Mars, and the Moon. Millions died when the hits came. Under the Articles of War, established by the Federation of Humanity in 2025, nuclear conflict was outlawed. Jefferson also believed in this and so ultimate catastrophe was avoided. After ten years of brutal war, Jefferson, realizing his people and his planet had been decimated, surrendered. Prince had him put to death and all of his citizens relocated in slave camps on the nearby moon, Callisto.
    “The people of the Federation revolted at this, and had all the former citizens of the communist regime released, and Prince was put to death. Time heals all wounds, and eventually, by 2055, all was well again. On April 16, 2060, Kayla Smith, a renown physicist created the first working Star-Drive. This allowed man to travel beyond the Solar System, at speeds unheard of. Still, humanity strived for more.
    “On July 4, 2080, Craig Manes put forth the theory of the slingshot. Using a small space capsule, Manes sent it speeding near a black hole, causing it to be shot around like a sling shot over the other side at one third the speed of light. The odd effect was that not only did the capsule reach this speed, it also traveled through ripples in space-time, causing it to reach its’ destination, a small ship a few hundred miles away, way before it should have. More on this can be found in the Space-Travel section. Ten years later, Manes died attempting to create a tachyon drive, which would allow one to travel to the other side of the universe, if necessary. Man has yet to finish his exploration of the void, and it is only a matter of time before he masters it.”
    “Yes,” Larson moaned. “Don’t I know it?”
    “Dictation finished,” the intercom said. “Thank you.”
    “You’re welcome,” Larson said, taking another sip of whiskey. “You’re so fucking welcome.” He looked at his watch. The date was July 1st, 2099.
    . . .
    Jake had taken the artifact and placed it in a zero gravity chamber on the science deck. Basically, the room was cut in half, one side being a nearly complete vacuum with gravity generators on all sides kicking in to create the zero-g effect. On the other side of the room was a control center where a person could control up to four robotic arms within the gravity room. The egg hung in the center, waiting to be explored. Jake stood at the console on the other side of the glass pane separating the rooms. He was now wearing a shirt whose sleeves were lined with tiny fiber-optics. Any motion his arms made, one of the robotic arms on the other side did as well. He could switch between each of the four arms by saying the number of the arm he desired. Jake hated these rooms because he had, one time, accidentally destroyed a valuable artifact because he couldn’t tell when he was pressing too hard; the robotic arms send no resistance back. He could smash through the other wall and not even feel a thing on his own body. For this reason, Jake only utilized the room for artifacts that he had absolutely no idea about.
    “Arm 1,” Jake commanded. The four arms floated motionless around the egg, portable gravity generators installed on the ends. The arm with a large 1 painted on the side sprouted to life, the five grim reaper-like fingers making a fist then loosening again. Jake moved the arm over to the egg, and grabbed it.
    “Arm 2,” He said, moving the second arm over and viewing the egg from different angles. It looked to be seamless, except for two small indents in the top of the egg.
    “Arm 3,” Jake said. His right hand took over Arm 3 and he moved it over to one of the indents and pressed the piece in, then after a few missed attempts, managed to press the other one in. Upon doing this, bright white light flowed from the cracks in the indentations. Tendrils appeared to snake out from the two buttons’ epicenters, forming a spider-web of cracks along the egg’s surface. Jake’s eyes widened as he realized this was something far beyond the former Federation of Humanity’s technological wonders.
    The cracks grew larger and larger until the whole egg was a bright, piercing light that was so intense Hallous had to put on safety goggles to dim it. The light then seemed to change forms, becoming a circle about a foot in diameter and an inch thick, hovering in mid-air. It could have been a mirror if it wasn’t so bright. Jake let out a shallow cry and the light pulled out from the center of the circle, creating a frame about a vision in the center.
    In the center, Jake saw millions of stars, planets, and peoples as the viewpoint seemed to speed through the universe, never stopping to go around a planet, instead going through it. It reached its destination. It was a lifeless, desert planet. As it slowly turned, Jake saw a pin-point of grey in the sandy haze of the world. He turned away, then, and removed the glasses. Hallous went to the cleaning tube and removed the shirt.
    Jake mumbled the name as he methodically redressed himself. He had never seen anything like it. It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever laid eyes on and also the most horrifying. Leaving five minutes later, Hallous carried with him information that only one other could know. Admiral Larson.
    . . .
    As Jim reached the cube in the center, he found it was much larger than he at first had thought. A howling crowd surrounded the cube, which was perched on a squat concrete building about two stories high. The cube itself was about one hundred meters to a side, and was opaque. Many armored figures floated around inside, holding many different types of weaponry. Obstacles such as debris from a recently dismantled Gladiator to a trash can float about, providing cover. Jim walked over to one man cheering on the outskirts, and asked, “How do I get in there?”
    The man was old, hunched over, and his voice was rickety. Turning to regard Jim, he chuckled. “Don’t ye know?” he asked. “Just walk in the front door.”
    “Is this the line to get in?”
    “No!” the man exclaimed, slapping his knee. “No one likes the gravity cube, only the crazies! Hidyos, most people can’t even stand the weightlessness!” The man pointed to himself. “Me, I would rather die. Cube-Fights are a spectator sport!”
    “So I just walk in, and then what?” Jim asked.
    “They suit you up and eject you into the cube,” the man replied. “You grab any weapon you can find and start fighting. It’s painful but you can’t die. They made sure’a’that!”
    “Oh…alright,” Jim said. “Thanks.”
    Jim began to push into the crowd, cutting himself a path towards the large double doors a little ways ahead of him. Eventually, he reached the doors. One was cracked open, and Jim slid inside. Why he was still trying to get in after what the man had told him was beyond Jim, but the idea did sound fun, as long as he was winning.
    Jim stood in a large, long hall held up by obsidian pillars on both ends. At the other end was a mahogany desk, where a receptionist sat. Jim walked up to her and pressed the bell on the table. Looking up, she asked, “Name?”
    “Jim Shimuso.”
    “Any thing medical we should pull up out of the mainframe?” she asked.
    “No,” Jim said.
    “Alright, walk off to the door on your left, grab a suit, and get in the jetter,” she said.
    “That’s it?” Jim asked.
    “No,” she replied, pulling out a small red square sticker and placing it on his arm. It was only about an inch wide. “This will keep track of all your vitals, as well as your score.”
    “Score?”
    “Weapons float about. If you are hit in any area with a weapon and that area is deemed a killing blow if made by that weapon, and then you lose a point, as well as freeze for five seconds. To get a point it is quite obvious.”
    “Can I go into the negatives?” Jim asked.
    “No.”
    “Will it hurt?”
    “Of course.”
    Jim shrugged and walked off into the portal to his left. A small staging room was visible in the dim black lighting afforded by the staff. Jim looked to the side and found a row of metallic-looking suits. All had shoulder pads, a chest pad that covered the solar plexus, and shin guards. Donning these, Jim found some foot guards in a bin nearby, along with gloves. The material was light-weight, and Jim doubted it was metal at all.
    Lighted paneling led him further down into the staging room where a cylindrical bore hole much like the elevators was located. Jim stepped into this, and instantaneously he felt pressure under his feet as he was jettisoned into the cube.
    . . .
    Larson strolled into the zero-gravity room, Jake in tow. He did not stop to don the suit, and neither did Hallous. Coming to the window, the Admiral gasped. Larson could not believe his weary eyes. He wondered if his age had finally gotten the best of him.
    “What is that?” Larson said.
    “It looks like a planet, sir,” Jake replied.
    “No…I mean, how does it do that?”
    “Don’t know.”
    “What effects has it had on the room? Any suction?” Larson asked.
    “No,” Jake answered.
    “Have you tried touching it – going in it?” Larson asked.
    “No. Too dangerous. Thought about sending in an arm but didn’t want to risk that, either.”
    “Why so?” Larson asked.
    “I would rather it being in a nullified state than touch anything attached to this ship. Imagine it being something like a black hole and sucking the whole of the Ethiopia up in one crunch,” Jake explained.
    “Who said it was a black hole?”
    “No one did,” Jake said. “But I don’t like touching things far more advanced than us when we don’t even know what it’s for.”
    “I want the records from the Enigmatic Principle on where it’s been in the last two weeks.”
    “Already have that,” Jake said, withdrawing a small strip of metal. A holographic projection of a circle rested about an inch from the metal slate. “Recall EnigmaticLocations.dat.”
    The circle became a blue opaque sphere, and then exploded into letters which coalesced into a table floating in mid-air. “Hmm, Looks like the last time the ship stopped was about two days ago, in an area of uncharted space,” Jake said. He turned to Larson, who looked like he had just seen a ghost.
    “Uncharted…space? Show me the numbers,” Larson said uneasily.
    Jake brought up the coordinates. Larson said, “Compare with coordinates in JimCoords.dat.”
    Another sphere rose, broke apart, and formed a separate table. “The coordinates are nearly the same,” Jake said. “Where’d you get them?”
    “Off that guy we brought in from the wormhole,” Larson replied. “That’s impossible! That means that…”
    “He knew before-hand that we would find the ship,” Jake finished.
    “That rat,” Larson spat. “I’m going to find him. Deal with this…problem.” He motioned to the floating vision.
    “Gotcha,” Jake shouted as Larson walked out, heated. He had suspected Jim of some treachery but up until now had had no proof. The Admiral had questions and he was pretty sure Jim had answers.
    . . .
    Jim felt his stomach lurch as soon as the idea of no gravity hit him. Above him was a large slab of cement with rusted iron bars jutting out at nasty angles. He could hear battle cries above him along with the clank of metal on metal every now and then. Jim waded in the air to drift up to slab. Grabbing hold of one of the iron bars, he peered over the side. A bright white pin-point of light flew at him and he ducked back.
    “Ha-ha!” A voice shouted from above.
    “What the hell, I’m unarmed!” Jim shouted back. He had left his Fusia 15 in his room.
    “Never let you’re enemy know that!” The voice shouted, now from a little to the left. Jim realized he was moving to get a better angle, so Jim counteracted by kicking off the slab to a hovering trash can a few meters away. He hit it and it spun around wildly as he kept going, gaining in momentum. A piece of a Gladiator’s cockpit loomed ahead, and Jim braced for impact. He landed in the seat, head first, and righted himself. Looking back, he saw a fat bearded man wading futilely at the concrete slab.
    Crawling out of the cockpit and over to the bottom side, Jim saw an elongated, six foot pole floating nearby. Grabbing this, Jim looked up to see two men, one thick in the chest, the other lanky, fighting in between four slabs of concrete using what seemed to be short three foot poles. They bounced off the concrete and slammed into one another, constantly, until one seemed to freeze up and collide into one of the slabs. He fell away out of sight. The other raised his hands in victory and moved on.
    “I get it,” Jim said. “Just like shooting armed fish in a waterless barrel.”
    . . .
    Larson walked into his apartment, and instantly called up the intercom menu. He said his personal password and logged in. Tired and angry, Jake wouldn’t take anything from anyone just then.
    “I need to find somebody,” Larson said.
    “Whom?” The intercom voice asked.
    “A Jim Shimuso,” Larson replied.
    “Target located.”
    “What?” Larson asked, surprised. “He’s not in the mainframe.”
    “Target is in the Cube on deck thirteen. For your information, Admiral Larson,” the voice said, “Jim Shimuso is wearing the cube sticker. That is how he was identified.”
    “He’s fighting!?”
    “Yes, reports say he is.”
    “Call him in,” Larson said. “Do it now.”
    . . .
    Jim, using the cockpit as a starting point, kicked off and then rebounded off one of the concrete slabs into another, grabbing hold of an iron bar with one arm and swinging around to the other side. This felt natural for him – that was, until the lanky man lunged at him, pole leading. Jim took his pole and spun it about the front of his body, causing him to press up against the slab and for the lanky man’s weapon to get caught and speed off in another direction. Jim then slammed the pole down on the man’s neck, and a small crackle of static sounded as the pole connected not with the man but with an invisible wall of air surrounding him. The man’s eyes widened as he froze. A voice in Jim’s head said, “One point.”
    “Thanks,” Jim said, dropping the pole. He kicked off and moved over to another piece of floating debris. This is easy, he thought. Here, he found a small pistol, which he figured fired those bright pin-points of light. Rounding the corner, he saw John Dasher stick a man in the chest with a small pole. The man froze and Dasher jumped up towards the top of the cube. Like a quiet predator, Jim followed him. He found it odd that there was virtually no one towards the top of the cube.
    A few minutes later, Jim had the gun leveled at Dasher, who was peering out above a Gladiator rocket booster at something. Jim saw that he had no idea of his presence, and Jim relished that fact. He was about to pull the trigger when he felt an electric shock, and froze. A hand gripped his shoulder and turned him around. It was Lefty, grinning back at him.
    “Almost got him, didn’t ya?” Lefty asked.
    Jim waited five seconds and then said, “Damn you, Lefty!”
    Dasher turned and laughed. “Thought you had me, didn’t you?”
    “Yes!” Jim complained. And then, barely a wine: “I was about to fire.”
    “Nah, I heard you from a mile away. Just moved up and had Lefty come in from the side. You’ve got to watch out for that, you know? Form teams while in here.” Dasher placed his hands on his hips. Dasher had found this Jim guy very interesting and had hoped to meet him, so much so that he’d even set up a meeting in the cube. He had had Righty follow Jim until he got on the elevator to deck thirteen. Then John had had Lefty prompt Jim to go to the cube. It had worked well, John thought.
    “You know,” Jim said, moving the pistol to Lefty’s stomach, “I could get my point back right now.”
    “Then do it,” Lefty said. “It doesn’t hurt that bad.”
    “I won’t,” Jim said. “You got me fair and – ”
    “Jim Shimuso, please report to Admiral Larson’s quarters,” a voice instructed.
    “Damn,” Lefty said. “You is popular.”
    “Looks like Daddy wants to see you,” Dasher said. “Come back sometime. Feel free to float back to the bottom, no one will harm you now that you are protected.”
    “Protected?”
    “When you are called out, the armor you wear freezes anyone who touches it,” Dasher replied. “Now go.”
    “Alright,” Jim said. He moved back down to the center, undressed, and left for the elevator. He privately hoped for another encounter in the cube with Dasher. The next time, though, Jim promised to himself to turn the tables on the man.
    Admiral Larson was sitting at his table when Jim walked in. “Have a seat,” he said. Jim could tell he was hiding something.
    “What is it, Admiral? I was having fun up there.”
    “You’ve been lying,” Larson put it bluntly.
    “What?” Jim asked, surprised.
    “Don’t play with me. The coordinates – ”
    “What about them?”
    “They were the same as the Enigmatic Principle’s last coordinates!” Larson accused.
    “So?”
    “That means you knew! Before it happened!” Larson jabbed a finger at Jim’s face, who stared back blankly.
    “No…I told you I didn’t know how it got there,” Jim replied tenuously. He was almost sure the Admiral was onto something.
    “Lies,” Larson said. “What’s the truth?”
    Jim slammed his fist down on the table. “That is the truth! And there is no way you can know different except to take my word for it!”
    “Well,” Larson said, placing his palms on the edges of the table and leaning on the back legs of his chair, “I guess we shall find out then.”
    “We’re going there?” Jim asked.
    “Yes,” Larson said. “Then we’ll see who’s right.”
    . . .
    Two days had passed. Jim watched; hands clasped behind his back, standing behind Larson’s command chair in the bridge. The large screen in the front showed a picture of the floating debris of a ship, a rather large one at that.
    “It was a cargo ship,” Larson said. “Larger than the Ethiopia, nothing really to it but to carry things.”
    “Is this also the coordinates that were given to you from the other ship?” Jim asked.
    “No, that is nearby, though.”
    “So the coordinates aren’t exactly the same,” Jim said.
    “Close enough,” Larson shot back.
    “Hey,” Jim said. “Any survivors?”
    “I’m about to send out Gladiators to check the wreckage,” Larson said. “Looks like a self-destruction, anyways.” This sounded all too familiar to Jim. He even recognized parts of the wreckage but didn’t say a word. He resolved to wait until the Gladiators found out what was what.
    “Five Gladiators launched,” Bradley said.
    “Why would anyone self-destruct?” Jim asked. He wanted to see if there was some law or moral in this universe that might make suicide a commonality. Otherwise, Jim was pretty sure his suspicions were correct.
    “Many reasons,” Larson explained. “Could have been anything from mutiny to…well, it was probably mutiny.”
    “What?”
    “Jim, remember the old days of sea-travel?”
    “Never been there,” Jim said.
    “Well, many unexplained things happened out on the open sea. Ships were found deserted, things like that. This also happens in space, Jim.”
    “Isn’t there a black box or something?” Jim asked. He remembered that most aircraft carried these recording devices.
    “Not really. When a ship goes – it goes!” Larson smacked his hands together.
    “Sir?” Bradley asked.
    “Speak,” Larson commanded.
    “Dasher reports that he has found cryo-tubes floating about the wreckage.”
    Larson sat up in his chair. “How many?” he asked.
    “He thinks eleven.”
    “Bring them in,” Larson said.
    “I’m going down to the bay,” Jim said. “Do you want to come?”
    “No,” Larson said. “I’ll find out later.”
    “Alright,” Jim said, leaving for the elevator. As he walked, voices in his head kept on screaming to him that it was what he suspected, that it was all planned and perfectly orchestrated. Jim shut them out, though, wanting to see for himself.
    When Jim got to the bay they were already unloading the cryo-tubes from the payloads of the Gladiator Interceptors. They looked like glass coffins to Jim, and, as the maintenance crews filed by he recognized many of the people in the tubes.
    “Stop!” Jim shouted. Two of the maintenance workers carrying one of the tubes halted and regarded him warily. “That’s…” Jim ran his hand over the top of the tube. “That’s Johan!”
    Indeed, Johan lay, seemingly lifeless on the white cushion within. His skin looked clammy.
    “We’ve got to take him to the science deck,” one worker said. “You can follow us. We’ll reawaken them there.”
    Jim agreed and followed the crews up to the science deck, where he was led to a small room with two round protrusions sticking out from the walls, with two prongs within. Each tube was brought in and plugged into one of the two sockets, and almost instantaneously, the man inside it came back to life, the tube opened, and he was escorted to a rehabilitation room. Johan and Captain Alucard were the last in line. Jim waited anxiously for their reawakening.
    With a hiss of air, both were plugged in. Immediately the tops opened and Johan sat up, rubbing his head absently. Alucard, though, lay in his tube, deathly still. When the maintenance worker moved to inspect the man, he found two bite marks on his neck; as well as a hole in his head. Johan, stepping out of the tube, gave Jim a great bear hug and asked, “What mess have you gotten us – oh…Alucard!”
    Both moved over to the dead men.
    “Looks like the gunshot was self-inflicted,” the worker said. “And if I’m not mistaken…those are – ”
    “A vamp bite,” Johan said. “We blew up the ship because of vamps.”
    “Vampires?” The maintenance worker asked, obviously amused. “They are extinct.”
    “No,” Jim said. “They actually aren’t.” He put a hand around Johan’s shoulders. “You should probably go inform the Admiral of the situation. Me and Johan, though, gotta go catch up at the Cube.”
    “The what?” Johan asked.
    “Trust me,” Jim said, leading his friend out. “It’s damned fun.”
    The maintenance worker reported the outbreak to his superior, whose eyes immediately widened. Soon a report was on the way to Admiral Larson as well as a copy of the Dracula Protocols.
    . .
    Chapter 4: The Planet
    “Is this really the place?” Larson asked, staring out from his control chair.
    “Yes sir,” Bradley said, swiveling around in his chair to face the Admiral. “These are the coordinates of the last destination of the Enigmatic Principle, still tied to us.”
    “Thank Gondolus for no friction in outer space,” Larson said. “Or else, dragging that thing would be…” He let the thought hang in the air.
    “It’s a planet, sir,” Bradley said. The view-screen showed a desolate, barren yellow planetoid. “Desert, mostly. The heat is normal, about one hundred degrees outside, which is actually pretty cold for a desert.”
    “Shouldn’t be a desert, then,” Larson said.
    “Wait, I’m reading something,” another techie spoke up.
    Larson and Bradley in unison: “What?”
    “Looks like a speck…on the bottom left, it just came into view as the planet turned. Perhaps a city?”
    “Doubtful,” Larson rebuked. “Send out Dasher’s team. I want them to scout the area.”
    “It could be dangerous,” Bradley said.
    “That’s quite alright,” Larson retorted, “Danger is Dasher’s middle name. Literally.”
    “Alright,” Bradley said. “But the fact it is desert when it should not be points to tampering.”
    “What?” Larson said. “Tampering?”
    “An intelligent race must have tampered with the biology of the planet, otherwise, it should look different. The speck points to civilization,” Bradley said.
    “You know, I take you for granted,” Larson said. “Perhaps I should promote you.”
    “I like my job,” Bradley said.
    “Have it your way,” Larson acquiesced. “Has Dasher been notified?”
    “Yep. Making his way down now.”
    Larson sat back, and stared up at the metallic grey ceiling. What had become of his once glorious, beloved Federation? Now he was merely a king, Larson realized, a benevolent dictator. When he died, another would take the “throne.” No longer was there a central command, a president – all of it was in Hidyos. Or was it really the survivors of the genocide that were in the pit?
    . . .
    “What the fuck is this thing?” Johan asked, motioning towards the elevator in the prep room under the cube. Both Jim and him were now dressed, Jim having explained the rules of Cube warfare to Johan.
    “It just shoots you in there,” Jim replied. “It ain’t bad.”
    “Yeah, well, what I’d really like to know is why your – ”
    “I’ll tell you when we get in there,” Jim said.
    “You mean to tell me we are going to fight for our lives and talk at the same time?” Johan asked.
    “Yeah…” Jim cocked an eyebrow.
    “Sounds good.”
    “Alright then,” Jim said, relieved. “Just…step in.”
    “Hell no!” Johan exclaimed.
    “Why?” Jim asked. “Just get in the damn thing so we can start. Dasher said to make teams.”
    “You first!” Johan jabbed Jim in the arm. “I’m not stupid!”
    “Would I lie to you?” Jim put on his most innocent face.
    “Of course,” Johan said soothingly, wrapping his arm about Jim’s shoulder. “And would I lie to you?”
    “No…”
    “Well, I’ll go first then.”
    “Great,” Jim said. “Go!”
    “Well, one thing beforehand. You were wrong,” Johan said, shoving Jim into the cylinder. It instantly ejected him into the cube, screaming. Stepping in, Johan said, “Well, it seems safe enough.”
    . . .
    “Jesus!” Johan exclaimed, backing behind a slab of broken-off concrete. Jim hovered up to join him. As he did, a white pin-point of light whistled by.
    “Fun, huh?” Jim said.
    “Already got shocked three times,” Johan said between labored breaths. “Because someone else wasn’t there to help me!”
    “Ah,” Jim replied, waving his hand dismissively, “Zero gravity is hard. I kicked off something and didn’t notice I had no where to land. You know how long it took me to get back here?”
    “Shut up. Tell me,” Johan said, “How did you get here now?”
    “Alright,” Jim said, leaning his back against the concrete. “That vampire you were fighting on board that cargo ship? Yeah, well, he was at the top of that mile-high spire. After we whooped him he jumped, and I followed him.”
    “Stupid – ”
    Johan was interrupted as a man darted by overhead and rebounded off the nearby glass barrier, heading straight for Johan. The man’s eye’s widened, though, when he realized there were two of them, and Jim had a gun. Jim shot him, and let Johan continue.
    Catching the man as his frozen form drifted toward him, Johan threw him off at an odd angle.
    “You were saying?” Jim asked.
    “You’re an idiot,” Johan said. “You jumped out of a mile-high building. He would have just landed and splattered!”
    “No, you see, he had my girl with him.”
    “So? It’s still a suicide. You didn’t have a parachute,” Johan said.
    “I had a feeling otherwise,” Jim said. “Obviously I was right! They did leave.”
    “She’s probably dead, anyways, Jim. Sorry.”
    “Yeah,” Jim said, casually peering around the side to hide his tear-brimmed eyes, “I know.”
    “Enough chit-chat,” Johan said. “I hear two or three infidels around the corner. Care to join me?”
    Jim sniffed, raised his gun, and grinned. They bolted out into the open, firing.
    . . .
    “Dasher,” Bradley said over the intercom.
    John leaned forward in the cockpit seat and looked out both sides of his view. “Yeah?” he replied.
    “You’re clear.”
    “Right.” Dasher switched channels and then said, “Alright, everyone move up to the launchers.”
    A few minutes later, the Alpha squadron was lined up and fired out at high speeds towards the atmosphere of the desert planet.
    “How long till we gotta activate heat shields?” Pinky asked.
    “About thirty seconds,” Righty answered.
    Dasher felt the hull of the ship vibrate as the beginnings of atmospheric resistance smashed into the Gladiator Interceptor. Flipping the heat-shields on, the vibrations were stifled but not completely smothered out.
    “Alright, crew,” Dasher said. “We’ve got about five minutes of interference ahead of us, meaning we won’t be able to talk to each other.”
    “Well,” Lola said, “I’ll see you boys in five.”
    “Roger,” Lefty said.
    “Wilco,” Righty said, mimicking an old space-hero from a video game the two brothers enjoyed.
    “Got you, John,” Pinky said, and they all heard a click as he signed off. Dasher flipped his intercom off and peered out through the plate of glass to view the barren desert beyond. Dasher wondered what lie beneath the sands, what secrets this so-called city might hold, and if the place could be colonized or not.
    Minutes later, the computer notified John that the burn-through was complete, and that he could now send and receive radio transmissions once more. Flipping on the intercom he said, “This is John Dasher. Everyone alright?”
    “…-ese babies weren’t meant to enter the atmosphere,” Righty said.
    “No,” Pinky said. “They weren’t. I have a fuel-leak.”
    “What?” Lola asked. “A fuel-leak? How bad?”
    “I have about two hours worth of fly-time,” Pinky said.
    “It’s more than we need,” Dasher said, “We’re only going on a fly-by, after all.”
    “Damnit!” Lefty exclaimed. “My heat-shield almost didn’t work! Damn malfunctioning pieces of crap!”
    “Calm down,” Dasher said. “Form up, V formation with me in the center, we have about…fifty miles till we do the fly-by over of our target. Heading is due west.”
    “Roger,” they all said, forming up around him.
    “I’ve been thinking,” Dasher said as they sped onward, “If this planet is hospitable, couldn’t we colonize it?”
    “No,” Lefty said, “That’s impossible! It’s desert!”
    “On Earth we had deserts,” Righty said. “And if this is a city it could support all of us. We could…start over, rebuild. Fertilize the landscape.”
    “Yeah,” Dasher continued. He flipped a few switches. “We could land here and finally settle down.”
    “Couldn’t work,” Pinky said. “Admiral would never go for it. Too many unknown variables.”
    “What about Earth?” Lola asked. “Why can’t we go back?”
    “What part about The Long Winter don’t you understand?” Lefty said. “The nuclear fall-out is just the beginning. The cloud cover keeps the sun from getting in – any unfortunates who are still on Earth and manage to survive will suffer a long and cold death.”
    “Some will survive,” Dasher said. “It’s just like the stone age.”
    “Plus radiation,” Righty added.
    “Whose side are you on, Righty?” John asked, smiling.
    “Just thinkin’,” Righty replied.
    “Well, still, people will survive. We are humans. We can adapt,” Dasher said.
    “Naw,” Lefty retorted. “We can survive nature, as a race. Dinosaurs got hit by a comet. They went out. Comet is not natural, at least, Earth-wise. This nuclear fall-out definitely isn’t. Perhaps one day a hundred years from now we could return to Earth; and the clouds would have dispersed and Mother Nature would have healed herself, Gondolus willing, and we could repopulate. But boys, that’s beyond the scopes of our pitiful lives. And even so, where would any ship get enough supplies to last a hundred years?”
    “We manage to recycle almost perfectly,” Dasher said.
    “But not completely perfectly. Eventually, we run out,” Lefty said.
    “Not to mention ship maintenance,” Lola said.
    “Wow, she speaks,” John said playfully.
    “Just have to herd you boys in the right direction,” Lola said. Dasher could almost see her smiling in her cockpit.
    “See the problems we face?” Lefty asked. “The universe naturally tends towards chaos. I’m sorry, but the human race is winding down. We are probably near the last generation.”
    “Pessimistic, aren’t we?” Dasher said with a condescending tone. “Twenty miles left. I think we as a race will survive, by finding hospitable planets like this one.”
    “Like this one?” Lefty spat with disgust. “It’s as barren as the Canadian desert. Now maybe if it was like the Sahara – a lush, beautiful land of fertility, we would do quite well.”
    “The Sahara was once a desert too, you know,” Dasher reminded him. “The world moves in cycles.”
    “Okay, granted that,” Lefty said. “The Sahara was once a desert. Patches of land move in cycles. Not whole worlds.”
    “We can always hope,” Dasher said with a tone of finality. “Anyways, we’re about – Holy shit I’m reading something big on the radar! And it’s moving!”
    “I see it too!” Righty exclaimed. It’s right below – oh shit!” John looked to his left to see Righty’s craft pull straight up as what seemed to be a large worm jumped up through the formation, biting at the Gladiator. The formation broke apart, and John circled back on the worm, to see it continuing to force itself up and into the sky, gaining on Righty.
    “All ships fire at will!” Dasher exclaimed, beginning to light up the worm with lasers. The others followed suit, and they heard a piercing shriek as the worm lowered a bit. “Fire the missiles!”
    Arcs of fire laced out from the Gladiators as they unleashed hell upon the worm. On impact large chunks of burnt flesh fell from the thing, and in its death throes, it shot three needle-like objects from its mouth before smashing onto the sand in a muffled thump. The needles lanced across the sky into Righty’s wing, sending his craft sputtering out of control.
    “Shit!” he exclaimed. “Shit, shit, shit!”
    “Eject!” Dasher ordered. “Eject!”
    The cockpit blew off of Righty’s Gladiator, speeding towards the surface with flames spouting all around it, the other half exploding in mid-air. It hit the ground with a spattering of sand, causing a large crater.
    “I’m alright,” Righty said, coughing. “I see the city.”
    “It’s a mile away,” Dasher said solemnly. “We cannot come to get you; we have to scout out the city. Hmm…alright, you three, go scout the city and get back to the Ethiopia for help, I’m going to land and help Righty. We’ll get to the city.”
    “He can take care of himself,” Lola said.
    “Not really,” Righty replied. “I think my leg might be broken.”
    “Damnit!” Lola exclaimed. “Alright. We’ll go on. Dasher, I’ll see you later.”
    “Roger,” Dasher said, turning off his engines and kicking on the hover pads, bringing the Gladiator to a gentle rest on the desert floor. “I’ll see you soon.”
    . . .
    As Jim flipped lazily about the cube, he took a look at Johan, with his pretty-boy eyes and brown tufts of hair. Johan had that naïve sense which could instantly become a battle-hardened intuition for survival. Jim admired him because he would always go for the upper hand and never back down from any challenge. Almost instantly after meeting, Johan had become as that sort of role model friend, and Jim had jumped into a role of the submissive companion.
    “Now what?” Jim asked. “I don’t see any more people. Bet there at the other end?”
    “Probably,” Johan said, with his back to Jim while looking down to the south end of the cube. Jim and Johan had devised a system of directions, calling sky-ward north, ground-ward south, and east and west in their respective places. It had helped them take on many teams of people as well as crafty individuals, whose attacks were uncoordinated and even once resulted in a team of fighters freezing themselves because attacking from uncoordinated angles.
    “We could go down,” Jim said. “Lots of obstacles, though, we could get caught in an ambush.” Jim was right, many pieces of flotsam floated randomly about, obscuring any view. Johan only nodded and brought his rifle to bear. The two had found many sorts of weapons floating about the chamber, Jim’s favorite being the hand gun, and Johan’s being the rifle. So far they hadn’t been frozen in awhile.
    “You only live once,” Johan said. “I say we try for three times or bust.”
    Jim agreed, and, using calculated movements, the two made their way down half of the cube’s distance. At one point they heard battle cries, and moved into position. Between a Gladiator wing and a large fusion engine of some sort, three men were fighting, one held a pole, the other two held curved lance-like apparatus. They all seemed to be bashing each other but were flying back upon contact making any complete kill a near impossibility. Jim moved up north to a piece of floating concrete and positioned himself behind it, while Johan hid behind a Gladiator cockpit and readied his rifle. Jim wondered if these guys had figured out the dynamics of zero gravity combat yet. Probably not, he thought.
    Jim gave the signal and they both unleashed a slew of white pin-points, Jim’s being larger and well-aimed, Johan’s being small and rapid, forcing the men to retreat. One got hit in the torso, the other right under the arm pit. They both drifted off and both friends heard the resounding “One point” in their ears.
    The other with the pole managed to retreat behind the fusion engine, and Jim looked to Johan and nodded for him to get an angle. Moving south, Johan found a niche between a piece of cement and a trashcan that afforded him a view as well as protection from the rear. Jim pushed off of the piece of cement towards the fusion engine, arms outstretched for impact. When he hit, his gun went tumbling out of his grasp as he doubled over, the momentum causing his back to stretch beyond reasonable limits. Groaning, Jim righted himself and peered over the edge.
    The man lunged at him from behind, hitting him full force and sending them both into the Gladiator wing nearby. The man raised his pole to bring it down, but he instantly froze. Jim kicked him away to find Johan, rifle up, six meters away from him, smiling.
    “Almost got you,” he said. “That’s how you help a teammate.”
    Grinning, Jim replied innocently with: “Almost. And I’m a good teammate.”
    . . .
    As Dasher stepped out of the cockpit, he found Righty struggling up the steep incline of the crater he had created. Taking off his helmet, John moved over to the man and helped him the rest of the way.
    “It’s only a mile,” Righty coughed. “We can do it.”
    “Perhaps…” Dasher peered into the distance at city. It seemed to shimmer in the heat. They could make it – he was sure of that, a mile was only a mile, after all, and Righty could walk a little. “Okay, then we have to move now.”
    Five minutes later, Dasher sweated profusely, Righty panting beside him. With each lurching step he felt more and more strength sapped from him. John needed water, and badly.
    “Hey, Dash?”
    “Yeah, Righty.”
    “Do you hear something?”
    Dasher turned his head back to stare off into the distance. All he could see was a single sand dune. He did, however, feel a slight tremor beneath the soles of his boots. “I feel something. All I see is a sand dune, though. Where could it be coming from?”
    The rumbling got louder, and then Dasher recognized it: the dune was moving towards them! Thats no normal sand formation…that was something else, Dasher realized. “We got to run, Righty. I don’t care about your leg!” John exclaimed, beginning to drag Righty along. The man tried to keep up with intermittent steps but really was of no help. It was all up to John.
    The city was only fifty meters away but already he could feel his reserves, already usurped by the heat, draining even more rapidly. It would only be a matter of time before his legs gave out. A sticky, cold layer of perspiration had formed on forehead, and drops of it kept stinging his eyes as he went. The humming began to sound like a locomotive, a living, breathing monstrosity made even more frightful by the fact all the things Dasher had with which to imagine it was the large sand dune and the roar.
    The city was placed on what seemed to be a cement plate, and that rose a foot off the ground; a safe haven only ten feet away from the two. He had almost made it – both of them had, but then Dasher’s legs gave out. They stiffened up, and then jerked spasmodically as he tripped and hit the desert floor, face first.
    Righty, who had up to this point been mostly dragged, was suddenly with out support. He managed to right himself before he too fell to the ground. The thing was only twenty meters behind them and enclosing. Realizing this was the moment of truth, the ultimate trial for himself, Righty forced him self to stand up, and grabbed Dasher’s limp arm. He trudged along, ignoring the biting pain in his leg, growling with each step. He would not lose to a stupid worm, not a fighter pilot. Only a few more feet…almost there, he thought. But then the ground gave out below him, the sand seemingly spilling backwards, his grip failing.
    Sinking into the sand, Righty reached out with one arm and grabbed hold of the cement plate before all the sand completely gave way, revealing a pit beneath, with large teeth churning violently at the bottom. “Dash!” he shouted.
    “…what…”
    “I need you to help! Your arms still work! Climb!”
    John was parched, he felt weak, but he did as he was told. All those hours in the deck thirteen’s weight lifting plaza had helped. He grappled the cement plate and did a chin up, then hoisted himself over the side. Reaching out an arm, he helped Righty up.
    “That was close,” Righty said, breathing heavily while sitting on the ground.
    “I know,” Dasher said, brushing himself off. He felt somewhat rejuvenated – probably a second wind. “C’mon. Let’s find somewhere in the city with shade.”
    The two made their way, slowly, towards the city, and on the outskirts, found a small one story building made of what seemed to be something like cement. One side had a large opening, enough to fit a vehicle in. They moved into here, and leaned back against the wall until they sat on their behinds in the shade.
    “It’s friggin’ hot,” Righty said.
    “Naw,” Dasher countered. “I spent some time in the Canadian desert back on Earth. You have no idea how hot it really should be.”
    Righty seemed to lean his head back and mull this over. Dasher stared absently at the floor. This went on for a few minutes, and then Righty asked, “When will they be coming to get us?”
    “Beats me,” Dasher said. “Could be an hour, or so, at least.”
    “I’ll die if I don’t get some water before then.”
    “You’ll survive.”
    At this, Righty retorted with: “Yeah. But does it look like I want to?”
    A half hour passed uneventfully, and both men began to get curious.
    “I don’t get it,” Righty said, running his hands along the smooth walls of the room they had found. “Why can we breathe?” He turned to regard Dasher, who was using his arm-computer to bring up statistics on the atmosphere.
    “It’s got about the same combination as Earth. Well, actually, it’s exactly the same. Isn’t that odd?” Dasher said.
    “And look at these markings,” Righty said. “This one right here, it looks like a cloud or something. Come look.”
    Dasher moved over, and indeed, it seemed a swirling cloud of dust was depicted on the wall. The interior was smooth silver, the engravings jet black. “I don’t know what it is. Maybe a storm of sorts?”
    “No, because look over here.” Righty pointed to another symbol, one of a lanky humanoid figure. “Think those are the guys that lived here?”
    “They could still be here, you know,” Dasher reminded him.
    “Doubt it. They woulda found us by now. Man, they got all sorts of weird stuff.”
    John wondered what kind of race had populated this city, and why they hadn’t expanded outward. The heat wasn’t bad – in fact, not even enough to create a desert. Maybe they were the ones creating the desert? Dasher shook his head. These weren’t questions for a fighter pilot, they were for an archaeologist. His job was just blowing things up. And he liked it that way.
    . . .
    Looking over the blueprints, Jake had finally found the location of the MAC gun. It was located towards the back of the ship, near the engines. Hidyos, Jake reminisced, from the Ethiopia’s view the apparatus could be seen jutting out like a bad boil in the Principle’s smooth surface.. It was a crummy installation, but hey, Jake thought, if they had used it they could probably have put the Ethiopia out for the count.
    So why hadn’t they used it? This was the very question Jake was trying to answer as he took the transport ship from the Ethiopia to the Enigmatic Principle. When he reached the engine room, in the center was a large stalk of electronics that housed the magnetic accelerator cannon. Boxes of heavy tungsten shells lay forgotten nearby, the fusion core complex only meters away. It was dangerous to keep a heavy MAC gun near a fusion reactor, Jake realized. But then again, these people hadn’t even used it. So obviously there was a reason here.
    “Maybe they were trying to get killed,” Jake said to himself as he ran a palm along the side of the MAC gun. The air pressure had been restored to the Enigmatic Principle after many repairs, but the air still smelled a little off to Jake.
    The magnetic accelerator cannon, Hallous recalled, using high-powered magnets would propel an object at high speeds out of the cannon, ripping through most ship’s hulls in seconds. It was a brute force weapon capable of much destruction. A ship that had one was usually the victor in any battle.
    In fact, Jake recalled, not a single battle had been recorded between a vessel without a MAC gun and one with one where the one without had been victorious. He turned to three crew members who had accompanied him.
    “Take this thing out. I have orders from Larson to have you remove the three middle missile turrets on the left side of the ship. You are to install this,” he ordered.
    “Yes sir,” one man said, walking past him to the MAC gun to begin the unhinging process. Jake pointed a thumb over his back, motioning that the other two get to work. He made his way back to the transport.
    Such an odd thing, that they could have destroyed the Ethiopia yet had chose death instead, Jake thought. Perhaps death was the only way of getting away from…from what? Hallous didn’t know. But he would find out.
    . . .
    Jim and Johan had finished up at the cube a sweaty, tired mess. They retired to Jim’s room, and now sat at the two-person table, enjoying some wine from the agricultural deck. Jim had taken a shower but Johan had yet to do so; he couldn’t figure out how to work the thing and he was afraid to tell Jim.
    “Did you hear?” Jim said.
    “What?” Johan asked. “What happened?”
    “We’re now in orbit around a planet,” Jim replied. “Supposedly a team of guys, Dasher’s, I think, went down there to check it out and one crash-landed. Dasher and one of his buds are in the city now.”
    “There’s a city?”
    “Yeah,” Jim said. He folded one leg over the other, leaning back in his chair. “The city sounds interesting. I want to see it.”
    “Oh, do you? You think Larson is going to do that? From what I hear he is one cautious guy,” Johan said.
    Jim pursed his lips in thought. It was true – Larson was a softy, in his opinion, but nevertheless, he believed he could get a ticket down there. “Do you suppose we might be able to use our advantage to muscle ourselves two seats on the first expedition down there?” Jim asked.
    “And how would you do that, Jim?”
    “He suspects us. Thinks we are withholding information from him. Well, let’s barter with that info!” Jim waggled a finger in the air.
    “What information? We have none to barter with,” Johan shrugged.
    “He doesn’t know that!” Jim snapped his fingers as if in revelation. “All we have to do is call him up and say we’ll tell him what we know if he lets us go down there.”
    “What if he just says he’ll torture it out of you instead,” Johan said. “In the name of the security of the Ethiopia and what not. It’s happened before in history. Guy tries to barter and instead gets castrated. You know the deal.”
    “Nah, Larson isn’t that kind of man, I hope,” Jim said. “Hell, we can get a ride down there!”
    “And then what?”
    “What do you mean?” Jim asked.
    “What happens when he asks for his info that you have?”
    “Oh…well…we wander around the city and find something and tell him about it like we knew it,” Jim said. “Or we could just make something up.”
    “Yeah. Fat chance,” Johan said. “You really wanna go down there, don’t you?”
    “It…” Jim paused, searching for the right phrase. “It tickles my fancy, if that is how you say it.” He then sat up, and called on the intercom. “Admiral Larson, please,” he said. The intercom said the man was in a meeting but Jim brushed it off as “poppycock.”
    The intercom then routed him through to Larson, who answered with a terse “What now?”
    “Good morning, Admiral,” Jim said cheerfully.
    “Technically it’s nine at night,” Larson replied monotonously.
    “What ever,” Jim waved dismissively. “I heard about your little excursion to that planet. Well, I want to go down there.”
    “And why on Earth would I let you do a thing like that?”
    “Because I know about that planet. I know things that you don’t, and I want to go see it,” Jim replied.
    “I thought you didn’t know anything.”
    “I know much,” Jim said mystically. “I offer a trade: You let me go down and I’ll tell you what I know.”
    “How about you tell me now or I jettison you into outer space?” Larson asked. Jim gulped.
    “Well…uh…” Jim coughed. “You see, I uh…have the password for a data-bank down in that city. I don’t know what is in it, but I know it is something you could never get to with all your technology unless you have this password.”
    “Again, I can jettison you.”
    “Um, yes, I know, but see – ”
    “He is the only one who can activate it,” Johan cut in. “So we want to go down there to help you get it.”
    Jim nodded meekly, as if the Admiral were in the room. “Yeah. Can you get us down there, then?”
    The two heard Larson sigh. “I guess so,” he said. “You’ll be accompanied by some soldiers, of course. I don’t exactly trust you two.”
    “That’s fine,” Jim said. “Thank you.”
    “You’re welcome. Now if you don’t mind,” Larson said, “I’ve got other things to do.” He cut off the intercom and Jim looked to Johan bleakly.
    “Thanks for saving my ass on that one,” Jim said.
    “Wouldn’t be the first time,” Johan said. “You have a way of putting yourself in these situations, Jim. Ever wonder why?”
    “Nope.”
    At this, both men laughed and took another sip of their drinks. After a half an hour, Johan left for his suite to go try and fiddle with the shower again and Jim took to reading a novel from the book case nearby. It seemed that this ship had an extensive library somewhere on board, and Jim meant to find it one of these days.
    . . .




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