The First

Crash

The sound was horrifying. All I could hear was metal grinding against metal and people screaming through the comm unit, telling me they were burning. The once soothing hum of the ship’s power core was slowly dying… All because of a simple mistake, a stupid mistake. My head is killing me. I can taste blood in the back of my throat and my vision is blurring. I can hear people yelling and trying to talk to me but their voices carry no weight. All I can hear is the slow death of my ship and her crew in the background.

“Captain…CAPTAIN!” My first officer is only a few inches from my face yelling at me, trying to bring my thoughts back to focus. “The ship is tearing itself apart. We need to do something now or we may not survive the impact,” she shouted. Impact…Impact with what? I snapped myself out of the daze I was in and looked out over the bow of the ship, it took a few seconds to focus, I had to force the pounding in my head out so that I could concentrate on saving my ship and all that were aboard her.

“Do we know where we are?” I shouted to the ensign sitting at the navigation station. Ensign Yavapi York, a small man who looked older than he really was. “No, Captain. We were not supposed to be out of star-slip for another 4 hours,” he replied, his voice shaky.

You could see the look on his face. He was terrified. They all were. “Kill all the power to the engines. Divert what’s left to the forward gravity dampers and try to reinforce the forward shielding if you can.”

I furiously shouted commands hoping that they could all keep up, hoping that my plan will save all of our lives. What seemed like forever was only seconds. As I shouted out the last command, the collision alarm sounded, the noise was like a giant bell ringing in my skull. I shook the pain off once again and looked up to see the ground rapidly filling the forward windows.

“BOW THRUSTERS 100%, 40 DEGREE UP ANGLE NOW!” I shouted.

The front of the ship started to groan. You could hear the metal starting to warp from the stress we were putting on it. If the bow didn’t completely sheer itself off, it would be a damned miracle. You could see the bow slowly lifting, slowly pulling itself up. The horizon was now in view and it was starting to look like it would be just enough to avoid a head-on collision with the planet. However, at the speed we were going we were going to hit the planet, there was no stopping that.

The impact was deafening. The rocks and trees that scattered the surface were now all tearing and grabbing at the ship as she slid. I could hear explosions all around us and could see nothing but fire out the forward windows. At this point, I wasn’t sure how much of the front portion of the ship was left and I feared that even though we avoided a head on collision with the planet, we still may not survive this landing. The screams of the ship went on forever. Not just that of the crew that managed to make it through the screeches, explosions and sheer destruction that was going on through the ship. But the screams of the ship itself and she was being torn apart, piece by piece.

The silence that fell over me was a welcome relief, the darkness like an old friend welcoming me into their arms. I was ready, I deserved this for the mistakes I had made.  

* * * * * *

“Captain Vargas,” my first officer shouted from behind me as I walked to the airlock of the tiny transport shuttle. “May I accompany you?” she asked firmly. First Officer Talia Shrika is a tall slender olive skinned woman from the Apalonian islands, a race known for their beauty, incredibly fit, and doesn’t normally take no for an answer. “Of course. I was just about to do an inspection of the ship,” I said as we entered the shuttle. As the door closed Officer Shrika slammed the throttle forward and zoomed out of the dock, the force pushed me back into my seat until the dampers kicked in and compensated.

“Are you okay, First Officer?” I asked very calmly. I could see that she was upset. “Sir, permission to speak freely,” she asked with a slight tinge of tension in her voice, you could tell she was upset but her military training dictated that she keep it all inside, it would eventually make her a better soldier, or so they say. I already knew what this was about but I figured what the hell, I’ll let her vent. “Of course, let me have it.”

“ARE YOU NUTS?!” she shouted. You could tell by the look on her face that even she was surprised by her outburst. She obviously had these pent up feelings for some time. She took a minute and composed herself a little more formally. Pulling down on her jacket and brushing the wrinkles out of her sleeves. I had seen her do this once before, just before she knocked the teeth out of another officer. He had told her, in front of several other recruits at an awards ceremony, that women had no place in the military and followed it by saying “Now get back in the kitchen.” It was the last words he spoke normally for two weeks, and no one ever confronted her again.

“How can you choose ensign York as our navigator? He is barely out of flight training. You passed up six other candidates who graduated with higher marks and have far more experience. Also, he’s—” she paused for a moment making a rather disgusted face, “He’s a Taramak!” I held my hand up at that moment to stop her.

“First, you’re an officer. You do not discriminate, because it is just you and me in this shuttle I will let that one pass. But this is your only warning, you make a comment like that again and I will have you brought up on charges, are we clear!” She seemed surprised by my tone and sat straight up in her seat, her look was cold but she gave me a nod of acknowledgment. “Secondly, yes he wasn’t at the top of his class. That’s exactly why I chose him.” You could see the confusion on her face at this point. “The others had been compromised!” I said bluntly. I leaned forward in my seat so that she knew the seriousness of the situation and then explained to her that I had been informed by a very reputable source that the top graduates had been confronted by the other houses and had either been bribed or threatened by the noble houses to sabotage the flight if they were chosen. I went on in length about the corruption, politicking, backstabbing and bribery that is going on right now to get this mission out of the hands of the Military and into the hands of the houses. If the houses controlled the ship, they would make sure that only them, and any that supported them were on this ship. After hearing all of the evidence she calmly, turned to the console and took over control of the ship from the computer. “Officer Shrika?” She gave me a glance, “I apologize for questioning your actions, Captain. It will never happen again,” she said calmly and somewhat coolly, as if to let me know she still wasn’t happy with my decision. I sat back in my seat and looked out the window at the stars beyond. I hoped I had made the right decision in choosing this Ensign, I hoped that he could hold up to the standards that would be demanded of him during this mission.   

We could see our ship as we turned into the orbital spaceport.  “She is beautiful!” I said, even if I wasn’t happy to be her captain. She is an Edan class colony ship, with a complement of 200 active crew members and one million cryo-units. She measured just over five miles long and two miles wide. With the new radiation coating, she was stark white almost resembling a medical frigate. The star drive was located at the bottom of the ship, connected to the main ion propulsion units on either side by a large crescent shaped wing. The bridge was perched at the rear on top of what looked like a giant wedge. The ship had no weapons to speak of, no offensive capabilities. I tried to get some of the new dreadnaught pulse cannons added but the bean counters said it wasn’t in the budget. One of my engineers said it would cost more to reinforce the weapons’ mounting points than it would be to purchase the weapons themselves. The ship just wasn’t designed to be armed. Plus, I had blown all of my budget on the new star drive, which is the heart of the ship.

I wanted to make sure that we would be able to get to our destination without any issues. The longer that we can stay in star slip, the safer the mission will be. With this new unit, we could stay in star slip for exactly one solar week, which meant we could complete this mission in just under one year instead of the five years it would have taken with the older units.  

We started at the bow of the ship and took a slow run to the stern. Using the shuttle scanners, we looked for any structural issues that would cause the ship to break apart in star slip. We were also looking for any explosives that might have gotten attached to the hull.

You see, our beautiful ship was the first colony ship that was created by our empire. She was built to colonize a planet that at the time was more than eight star slips away, about three years time by the original star drive standards. However, we never made it. Shortly before she was to receive her star drive we went to war with The Trax, a barbaric race bent on conquest. We have been at war with them for over one hundred years now. The Trax have an endless supply of soldiers thanks to their cloning technology, and they have adapted a wide variety of weaponry from the vast races that they’ve conquered. We learned some time ago that besides conquest and slavery they look for resources of any value. In our case it’s an abundant metal in our planet’s lower crust called Brilliam.

We use Brilliam on the hull of all of our ships. It’s actually a two stage process, we cover all of the ships in standard Flexsteel, a composite metal impregnated with resins to give it flexibility yet still maintain it’s strength, then we have a machine that keeps the Brilliam warm and we spray it on all of the ships in liquid form. It bonds itself to the Flexsteel as it cools creating a virtually indestructible surface. Even though Brilliam is an abundant resource, it’s extremely difficult to acquire.

For the survival of our race, the global Congress decided to send one million citizens, selected via a lottery, to a system that is out of reach of the Trax. Some of the noble houses wanted the ship for themselves and decided that, if they can’t buy their way into the lottery, they will destroy the only hope of survival that we have as a species.

Once we made a thorough scan of the ship’s exterior and removed three explosive devices, we docked and boarded. Together Officer Shrika and I spent the next 32 hours inspecting the ship. This time we were looking for any attempts at sabotage from within. In that 32 hours we found ten different explosive devices, twelve computer hacking devices, eight hidden compartments designed for assassins or saboteurs, and arrested over 150 traitors working for the various houses. Needless to say, It was a busy few days.

* * * * * *

I awoke to see stars. They were the most beautiful array of stars I had ever seen. I laid there for a while just absorbing the beauty and trying to decide if I had survived the crash or if this was my first view of heaven. Once Dr. Omac peered into my field of vision I realized I must have survived, or I had gone straight to hell. Dr. Amil Omac is a gifted geneticist. A tall slender man with absolutely no hair. To look at him you would think he was on the verge of death. He is pasty white and looks like a skeleton. “It’s good to see you conscious, Captain,” Dr. Omac said in his ever so emotionless tone. Dr. Omac has the bedside manner of a corpse and is constantly under the influence of a device we call a Psychological Alpha Controller or PAC. The only people that wear these devices are prisoners who have a specific skill and are deemed useful to society by the Global Courts, because of his Genetics background he was considered invaluable. The problem is, he was one of the most notorious murderer’s our society had ever encountered.  He was arrested and convicted of  performing medical experimentations on people In an effort to unlock some kind of mutant code that resided in all of us. Because of his so called research, he killed over 3000 people in a little over 20 years, all in the name of science. I considered him a madman and would love nothing more than to put a pulse blast through his skull.

All  of the PACs brainwaves are controlled by the device that is surgically implanted into their brains. There is a small port that protrudes from their right temple and displays a green and red light. Pretty simple if you think about it. Green means they are running normally, meaning there are no thought processes that would cause the device to intervene and alter their brainwaves to be peaceful. Dr. Omac’s device was always red. As I said before he’s a madman. He always perceived people as test subjects. The device continually alters his electrical brain functions so that he resists the desire to treat everyone as test subjects and begin his experiments again. This is the reason why he always seems emotionless.

“Captain, I would like to keep you here for another day or two for observation,” Dr. Omac said.

I looked over to his temple and noticed the red light. “I bet you would doc, but that’s not going to happen.”

“How long have I been out?” I asked.

“About 3 days, sir.” I couldn’t believe it, three days. “Doc, give me a brief report on our situation please, as quick as you can.”

The doc looked puzzled at first then began, “Well, as you already know, we crashed. First Officer Shrika has taken control of the situation and started setting up a small camp. She’s currently at the crash site assessing the damage and trying to figure out what can be salvaged. Setting up the medical facility was her first order.” He stopped there and stared at me blankly.

“How many did we lose?” I asked.

“We started with a crew of 215. At current assessment, we have 40 dead, 60 are missing, 32 wounded and 6 who are in critical condition, present company now excluded.” His tone was precise. I started to get up but found that gravity had other plans for me.

“Please take a moment and adjust to the gravity, sir. It is a little heavier than what you are used to,” the doctor advised.

As I slowly stood, I could feel the weight pulling down on me. I wanted to see the crash sight but I needed to adjust, something that I had a feeling would take a moment. The weight was not great but it was enough that I soon felt the strain on me. I was not going to be able to do much physically but I might be able to offer some administrative support until I can get my feet under me for good.

I asked the Doc to get someone to take me to the crash site, “I want to asses the damage for myself, maybe lend assistance if I can.” The Doc gave a short laugh at that notion and started to give me his medical warning, I held my hand up quickly “I understand the risks Doc, I will be careful not to push myself and if I start to feel worse you will be the first to know.” He gave me a look like he was annoyed that I would refuse his counsel but then turned to the other patients and continued helping them.

Shrika did a good job of establishing the medical tent far enough away that we would be out of danger from any secondary explosions or possible radiation leakage. However, we were close enough that, if she continued to find survivors, they could be shipped to the medical facility in quick order.

I walked out of the tent and let my eyes adjust to the flood lights that were set up all around the camp. There were wounded lying on the ground in what looked like electronically induced comas, standard medical procedure for field triage. I walked a little ways from the tent, when I turned the corner to see what the rest of the camp looked like I ran into a very large soldier with a tattoos on the left side of his face and all over both arms.

“I am Ensign 2nd class Kuchtka,” he said in a very deep voice as he snapped a salute. “I was instructed by First Officer Shrika to bring you to the crash site as soon as you are ready.” I snapped a salute back and told him to be at-ease.

“Soldier, how long have you been standing here waiting for me?” I asked. “Two days, sir,” he replied without hesitation.

Kutchtka is a Simawon, an island race known for their massive size, strength and resilience. They are highly sought after by all the noble houses as security guards and soldiers and are known for their unwavering loyalty.

“Well, I’m feeling better so let’s get to Shrika shall we?” he gave me a nod and motioned to the little vehicle parked next to him. I looked at the vehicle, then back at him and chuckled.

Shrika had given Kutchtka a field vehicle we call a Kuma, a four wheeled all terrain vehicle that is mainly used to transport ammunition and field officers on the battlefield, his enormous size overwhelmed the little Kuma. Had there been a roof on the vehicle, he wouldn’t have fit.

“Why did you join the military, soldier?” he seemed very stiff and I was trying to get him to open up a little. Simawon’s are not known for conversation but I didn’t know how long the ride was going to be so I figured I would give it a shot.

“I wanted to do something noble. I didn’t want to be like my brothers, slaves to the houses.” I could sense some anger in his voice. I looked over to see if his facial expression had changed, it hadn’t, but you could feel his genuine hatred for the the houses. This is something I would need to investigate later. I have a feeling that something happened, he witnessed something that changed him. Most Simawon’s are sold to the nobles by their families for money and status. Those that are not lucky enough to be sold are simply stolen and forced into servitude at a young age. Honed by the houses to be killers.

As we pulled up to the crash site, I could see Shrika barking orders to some of the crew. Portions of the ship were still on fire and it looked like she had bots trying to put the flames out. I was amazed at the level of coordination she was commanding. Shrika controlled everything from a small pad on her wrist. As I walked up I could see that she was yelling at an Ensign on the screen. From what I could tell the young ensign was in a mech loader in the bowels of the ship.

“Can I help–” I was cut off by Shrika raising her hand to shut me up. She didn’t even bother to look up to see who she was silencing. Her focus was on the tech on her screen.

“I don’t care about the integrity of the compartment. I want those power cores out here now. You have one hour or I will suit up and do it myself and I will find something… simpler for you to do.” Her tone indicated that this simple job would be far more unpleasant than the lashing he just received.

Shrika turned to see me standing there and realized then that I was the one she just silenced. She was starting to apologize when I cut her off.

“There is no need,” I said. “It seems you have everything under control. I’ll leave you to it and go back to the medical center. I could use a few more days rest.”

The look on her face was priceless. She was trying to control the well of emotions forming and, after a few moments of watching her squirm, I couldn’t hold back any more. I burst into laughter.

“You’re an asshole–” she said with a small controlled smile, “–sir.”

It was obvious that she needed the tension breaker.  She has been running full blast with no command support for a while now. After our laugh, which hurt like hell, she proceeded to fill me in on the situation.

“Sir, we are not in a good place. The radio tower is gone. The rescue beacon is missing–” I stopped her there. “What do you mean missing?”

“Just that, sir. Missing. It’s a package the size of a small travel trunk. The compartment that housed it was badly damaged. It could have fallen out when we crashed. There are pieces of the ship scattered for miles in all directions.”  

She held up her tablet and showed me an aerial view taken with one of the search drones. She wasn’t kidding. Besides the crater we made on impact, you could see pieces of the ship everywhere. The devastation was enormous. The fact that so many people made it out alive is a miracle.

“The cryo-tubes!” I burst out. The thought of all of those people overwhelmed me momentarily. I visualized people trapped in their cryo-tubes, burning alive and not even knowing, it was haunting.  

“We think the vast majority of the tubes survived. Most were in the rear section of the ship. There  isn’t as much damage back there and that section had independent power systems to support the tubes. This should have also kept the gravity dampers working. Rescue crews are trying to get to them as fast as they can. They are our main priority right now.” Shrika did what she could to put my worries aside but all I could think about were the people trapped in those pods.

“What can I do to help?” I asked. I felt like shit but I wanted to do something besides sit in the medical tent and have the Doc look at me like a specimen.

“With your injuries, I’m not sure you should be doing anything.” I started to formulate an argument but she cut me off again, “However, I have just the task for you.” She handed me a tablet with a little ball attached to the bottom.

“Take this and have Kutchtka drive you to the far end of the wreckage. It’s a controller for one of the survey drones. There are six currently on patrol. I want you to try to find that beacon.”

Although we had not planned it,  both Kutchtka and I snapped Shrika a salute followed by a “Yes, Ma’am!” Kutchtka was serious, I was just being an asshole. Shrika popped a slight grin then turned back to barking at the Ensign on her screen. I turned to tell Kutchtka I was ready but he was already in the Kuma ready to go.

I walked over and noticed the scowl on his face. As I climbed into the passenger seat and began to ask Kutchtka what the problem was, he floored the accelerator and threw me back. We zoomed off and I could just barely hear his mumbling over the jeep’s electric motor and the surrounding noises.

“Ensign, what’s troubling you?” I shouted over the wind noise. I got nothing, just his unintelligible mumbling. I decided it was time to pull rank.

“Ensign, I asked you a question.” I stated with more authority.

Kutchtka slammed on the brakes, throwing my head against the dashboard and bouncing it back to the headrest. I unholstered my side arm and pointed it directly at his right eye.

“Who do you work for?” I asked. He didn’t move, not even a flinch. I stepped out of the jeep and put a little distance between us, thinking if he tried to make a move I would have time to get at least one or two rounds off before he killed me. I was starting to think that we were not thorough enough with our searches, not careful enough with our scans, and we let this saboteur, this assassin into our ranks. Kutchtka stood up, snapped a salute and said, “I am Ensign 2nd class Takankana Kutchtka from the Simawon Island Ra’ha. I am a warrior,” he lowered his head and looked directly at me with a gaze that would have turned anyone else to stone, “Not a nursemaid!”

After that he stood at perfect attention, as if he was waiting for me to shoot him. I looked around, we were off the main road but still within earshot of the ship. Military instincts told me to shoot him now ask questions later, but we were seriously in need of the manpower and if I was wrong, we would need someone of his size as time progressed. I slowly holstered my gun, I wasn’t sure how to proceed, I was cautious, moving slowly and never taking my eyes off him. In my current condition, there was no way I could take him, if he was an assassin, I would be dead for sure. Then again, if he was an assassin, I think I would be dead already.  

“Ensign, I want you to explain what all this is about. It’s you and me, no one else,” I said. I worried that I was going to regret that comment. The Ensign took a deep breath, “I joined the military to serve, to be a soldier, to fight. I have no fight here. No offense, sir, but I never expected to hold your hand while you play with toys.” He pointed at the drone controller in the Kuma.

“Is that what all this is about? You want a fight?” I couldn’t believe this grown man was having a meltdown because he felt under utilized.

“Listen, you’re a soldier. Sometimes your job is not pretty. Sometimes it’s not fun. But we do what we are told. We follow orders. Sometimes the simplest orders end up becoming the bloodiest battles,” I told him.

He stared at me for what seemed like forever, his face was tense and you could see that he was grinding his teeth. This man was massive and the fact that he was having a little meltdown because he wanted to crush something was a little un-nerving. How would he be in a few month, a year, would I need to have this man chained down and only let him out when I needed to have something killed. The fact that he hadn’t moved or spoke for almost 5 min was making my anxiety grow. I was slowly starting to move my hand towards my side arm, just in case he lost it and decided to go on a rampage. When I was about an inch from my gun he looked over and gave me a nod of acknowledgement. I could tell though that he was still not happy with his situation. We got back into the Kuma and sped off. I decided that small talk was not an option at this point so I instead used this time to get the search drone ahead of us and on a set search pattern.

It was an hour before we got to the coordinates that Shrika programmed into the pad. I had familiarized myself with the drones controls and had already done a sweep of the outlying area. As we rolled up to the coordinates, the Ensign slammed on the brakes again. As I started to say something Kutchtka spoke up, “Is that what I think it is, sir?”

I looked out over the hood of the Kuma to see a large sphere sitting in a field. There were cables, hoses and wires coming off of it flowing everywhere. You could feel the energy emanating from it. “Yes it is Ensign, that’s the Star Drive.”

* * * * * *

“Captain Vargas”, shouted a short little man peeking his head out of the door of the main conference room located in the Fleet Headquarters.

Captain Nathaniel Vargas stood looking out over the docked fleet, at hearing his name he glanced over his right shoulder and thought to himself, “How unprofessional.” In his opinion, the little man should have walked out of the room, respectfully came up to him and politely let him know they were ready. This was the Fleet HQ, not a sales office. There are traditions to be upheld, a certain level of decorum that needed to be observed. He walked by the little man who was visibly excited to see the Captain, like a puppy excited to see his master.

The little man had a gaping smile a immediately put his hand out for the Captain to shake but Captain Vargas walked by him like he was invisible.

In the room was the council of 13. The highest ranking members of political and military society. These are the people that shape our culture, guide or citizens, give us our lives and reasons for being. These are the people that we look up to… a person he wanted to be.  Now, he was standing before them, the honor he had was overwhelming, composure needed to be held but he could feel the pride pushing to get out of him. As he felt a small smile starting to turn on the corner of his mouth he thought, “If I don’t do something soon, I’m going to bust out in a nervous laugh.”

In the center of the table was the president of our planet, Dr. Thomas Sandoval. He was a very tall blond haired man that came from the far northern region of the planet. He had that typical political look about him. The perfectly done hair, the expensive suit and a big grin. He held a lot of respect with the farming regions as he himself came from a small staple crop farm, which made him a powerful ally with the lower social order. This was how he won his seat into Presidency.  The President had his hands clasped in front of his face and waited for me to get to the center of the room. As soon as I was in the little spotlight that they set up, I assume for effect as there were about 30 hover cams floating around the room, Dr. Sandoval spoke up. “Captain Vargas, I am so pleased to finally meet you. You were at the top of a very short list and from what I was told, the decision to put you in charge of this mission was basically a no-brainer.” He was looking down at some papers in a folder. I assumed it was my profile, or it could just be some random papers made up for show. The President was well know for theatrics. “You are being chosen for a very important mission. Possibly one of the most important missions of our existence”. He said this with such conviction. I was confident that I was going to finally be chosen as the newest council member, replacing Senior Councilman Admiral Oloem Trejheo, who publicly announced his retirement over a month ago. Admiral Trejheo and I have been close friends for many years. I had originally sought his counsel when I was assigned to the Aramark battle group, since then we have kept in contact and he has guided me through my military career. Usually the decision process is very short, candidates to replace council members are chosen years in advance of retirement and traditionally they are not notified until days before their predecessor steps down. Admiral Thejheo told me last year that he was thinking of retiring and that he would be honored if I would be his replacement. It had always been my pursuit to be a council member and with the guidance of Admiral Trejheo and a stunning military career, all of the work and sacrifice was finally going to pay off.

As the president was ending his intro speech about service and dedication I puffed up a little and started to run the acceptance speech I wrote last night, after I got the invitation, through my head. The President went on “As you know we are at war, the toll on our resources, on our people have been great”. I began to think that it was very inappropriate to use my Council admission as a political platform for his reelection but it was his moment so I stood proud and ready. As I was listening to him speak the weight of his words started to bear down on me. “We have chosen you to command a colony mission to a newly found star system,” he said. At that moment I thought my knees were going to buckle, I had to  make sure I was still standing and tried to keep my expression clean, I didn’t want anyone to notice the disappointment that was quickly overwhelming me. I was after all career military, we never let our emotional state show in public. Dignity was of the utmost importance. “Captain Vargas, Captain Vargas!” I realized then I had stopped listening to him and had started to wander off in my own self pity. “I apologize Dr. President, I am just so overwhelmed with this honor,” I said as humbly as I could and with a smile that was so fake I was sure everyone noticed. In reality if I had been allowed to come armed I might have taken out the entire Council at that moment, the thought crossed my mind more than a few times in the last 10 seconds. I stood there for another 45 minutes, smiling and nodding, playing along for the cameras, before the entire charade was over.

Afterwards there was a reception and I was forced to put on that fake smile again and act like I was honored and play the role of the valiant officer. When it was all over, I retreated back to my quarters and pulled out a bottle of 25 year old Calatian Scotch, I had been saving it for a special occasion, “no time like the present” I said to myself. I popped the cork on the bottle and started pouring, “fucking glorified babysitter is what they have made me”, that was the last words I remember saying that night.

I woke up the next morning still dressed in my formal attire laying face down on the floor still clutching the bottle of Scotch. My head felt like it had been stomped on and my mouth tasted like I had been licking the carpet.

I slowly got up and maneuvered myself to the bathroom. Standing in the mirror I controlled the urge to vomit for about 30 seconds before I let loose into the sink. My comm rang displaying First Officer Shrika’s call Icon on the mirror. The noise of the ringing was bouncing around in my brain making me want to vomit again. I touched the mirror to let the call come through and to stop the noise. First Officer Shrika’s video feed was displayed in the lower right corner of the mirror.  

“Captain.” She stopped there and took a long look at me through the vid mirror. “Captain, you look like shit, were you mugged last night. Do I need to send security!” I couldn’t tell if she was joking or not.

“No, I’m fine. Just immensely hungover.” I was fighting the urge to vomit in front of Officer Shrika. “What do you need First Officer”?, I let it loose again this time nothing came out, just heaving and bile.

“You have been summoned to Admiral Trejheo’s office sir. He told me to tell you that he knows you’re disappointed…whatever that means,” she sat there waiting for me to respond. “Captain?”

“Tell him I will be there in an hour,” I could feel the bile starting to work it’s way up again. “Make that two hours First Officer.” I touched the mirror and ended the call. I spent the next 20 minutes heaving into the sink praying I would just die.

After a quick shower and some of the greasiest food I could find I made my way to the Admiral’s office, standing outside was my First Officer.

“What are you doing here?” I asked her. “ I was summoned as well,” she replied.

I gave a knock on the door and we were both told to come in. In perfect form we both marched to the Admiral’s desk, snapped a salute and stood at attention. “At Ease,” Admiral Trejheo announced.

Admiral Trejheo stood up and walked over to a small bar that had a crystal decanter of the Admirals favorite whiskey. He poured three glasses and walked over and handed us each a glass. The smell of the Whisky was starting to make breakfast churn in my stomach.

“I have brought you here to tell you that I am very proud of you both. You have been fine soldiers and I couldn’t think of anyone better to command this mission.”

It took all of my strength to keep my cool. I think Officer Shrika could sense something. She has been with me for many years now and like a good First Officer has come to learn my body language, nonverbal cues and when to jump in and take control of a situation.

“Admiral, I know I can speak for both of us when I say we are truly honored.” Shrika said. The Admiral looked at me and asked, “Is this true?” He knew me all too well. But in front of my First Officer I needed to keep up appearances. “Yes, Admiral, I couldn’t be happier,” I said with that fake smile. “Good,” the Admiral pronounced then knocked back his Whisky. This was our cue to do the same. The Whisky burned as it went down then started to mingle with breakfast. Within moments the Whisky and the food were in a struggle for dominance. I had a feeling that this would not end well.

The Admiral spent the next hour telling us the importance of the mission and giving us stacks of files with intercepted, translated and decoded communications from the noble houses discussing their plots to either take control of the ship or outright destroy it. It seemed everyone had an agenda, including the Admiral.

The Admiral looked at Officer Shrika “You are dismissed,” he said. She stood, snapped a salute and walked out of the room without question.

The Admiral went and sat in one of the large chairs at the far side of the room. “We have had many a conversation about your future in these chairs,” he said. “Pour us another drink and come sit.” I cringed at the thought of forcing down more Whisky.

As we sat there sipping our drinks I finally could not contain my frustration. As I took a deep breath to start my rant the Admiral cut me off. “I had no choice, son,” he said to me in an almost apologetic tone. Also, he had never called me son before.

“Excuse me sir?” I said.

“I had no choice. I have been grooming you to be my replacement for a while now. But when they decided to launch this mission I knew right then that in order for it to succeed, in order for it to even leave the planet successfully I would need the best Captain I had. I knew I would need you my boy.” In the years that I have known him I have never seen him emotional. He sat there staring at his drink for a moment before tipping the rest of it back.

He stood up and started to pace in front of me “You need to understand something,” he looked at me and pointed “And this is of the highest level of security, you can only tell your First Officer and only once you have left orbit and hit your first Star Slip.” I gave him a nod so he knew I understood.

“Our planet is dead, our resources are gone, depleted. We have nothing left. Brilliam was the only resource we had that the Trax wanted and we have mined it dry. The last shipment was sent to them yesterday. In a little less than a year they will be at our front door harvesting the planet for genetic material for cloning before they  decimate the planet and move on to the next system. We have been trying to negotiate with them but…” he stopped there and just stood looking at the wall.

I stood and took a step forward when he finally snapped out of his thought and walked over to get himself another Whisky. He gulped that one immediately then poured another and turned me.

“I know you are disappointed but given what you know now I hope you understand,” he finally said. His formal tone was back and this was my cue that the brief personal moment we had was now over and it was time to get back to business.

“Captain, I hope you understand the importance of this mission. I am sorry that things didn’t work out as planned but we need to think of the greater good in this instance,” he walked back over to his desk and started shuffling paperwork. I walked over and sat my glass down and simply responded “…sir!” After a few moments he looked at me and said “you’re Dismissed Captain, good luck.” I gave a salute and walked out the door. As soon as the door shut I vomited in the disposal unit next to the secretary’s desk, It seems like the Whisky won the battle.

I looked up to see First Officer Shrika was still sitting in the lobby and jumped up and walked next to me as I headed out. After we got past the entrance and into the Transport Shuttle she finally spoke up, “What was that all about, you were in there for almost an hour sir?” I sat in silence for a moment formulating my thoughts.

“Officer…Shrika. I need you to trust me. Now more than ever. I will tell you what is going on but it’s going to be a while. Just know that what happens from here out is for the greater good of our civilization.”

She stared at me for a moment then finally said “I don’t quite understand sir but if you tell me to trust you I will.”

We sat in silence for the rest of our flight, Shrika was pouring over the documents that she received from the Admiral and I was staring out the window at the planet. I may not be happy with the hand I have been dealt, but I will do my service and make the best of it.

* * * * * *

Kutchtka and I walked to the top of the hill and used the surveillance drone to get a better look at the damage. The Star Drive was sitting in the middle of a field about a quarter of a mile ahead of the rear of the ship, from the markings on the ground it looked like it had ripped off the bottom of the ship several miles back and the momentum from the crash rolled it to its current resting place. There were jagged pieces of metal all around the core, It almost looked like someone had built a protective wall around it.

I took the drone a little higher and started to take still images and send them to Shrika for her to review. However, every time I took a still the screen flickered for a moment then came back. I kept pounding on the side of the tablet thinking that the abuse would make it function better. In reality it was probably interference from the core messing with the feed.

As I maneuvered the drone for another flyby I noticed a small glow on the top of the core. Kutchtka was standing about ten feet away just staring in ah at the large metal sphere.

“Kutchtka, do you see a small glow at the top of the core?” I asked him.

He looked intently at the core before he finally nodded, just then there was a low thrum that could be heard all around us. It sounded like we were standing in the middle of a centrifuge as it was being cycled up. The ground started to rumble and the Drone fell out of the sky, like all of the power was sucked out of it.

Kutchtka and I looked around for a moment before we realized that the sound was coming from the core. We could see the glow at the top start to flicker getting brighter and brighter. I looked over just in time to see Kutchtka flying at me in a full body tackle. We tumbled to the ground and rolled slightly down the hill just as the core went off. There was a fountain of energy that shot straight into the air you could hear the air crackle as it was being vaporized by the energy that was shooting out of the core. Within seconds we could feel waves of heat and brutal force pounding on us I was cocooned under Kutchtka but I could still feel the heat and pressure. I managed to turn my head and to  look up and see Kutchtka’s face, his eyes were clenched tight  and he was gritting his teeth so hard I thought they were going to shatter but he never once screamed out in pain. After about 2 minutes everything just stopped. It took almost another minute for Kutchtka to relax enough that I could try to get out from under him. He placed his hand on the ground to stand and let out a deep moan then collapsed right back on top of me. The man weighed a ton. I tried several times to push him off but he was just too massive. “What does he eat” I said out loud just as Officer Shrika came running up. She let out a slight giggle at the scene then attempted to help me  get free of Kutchtka’s weight. However, the two of us together were also unsuccessful. It took seven men to finally lift him off of me. Shrika had him rushed to the medical tent and told the assisting officer to tell Dr. Omac that he was a priority, she turned to look at me and the other members then whispered something to the assisting officer before he finally motioned for everyone to follow him and left with Kutchtka on the back of the little Kuma we came in. “What the hell happened out here” Shrika finally turned to me and asked. “I’m not sure, we were scanning the core” right then she interrupted me, “you found the core! why the hell did you stay, are you stupid”. I grabbed the drone pad but it was dead, fried by the explosion. “It’s just over the hill in a field, I tried to send you some stills from the drone, but I think the interference from the core stopped the signal from going out”. She was standing about five feet away from me looking me over. “you should have turned around and came back, this area should have been cordoned off until we could assess the damage and determine how to deal with the situation”.  It took a moment but I realized she was right. The star drive core was basically a neutron star compressed and contained, the fact that the explosion didn’t take out half the planet is a miracle. “I wasn’t thinking Shrika, and now I think I may have gotten Kutchtka killed”. As I stood up I noticed she took a couple of step back.

“Exposure” I said. She looked at me and nodded. In our current situation exposure was a death sentence. We would not have enough celendrium to treat anyone that was exposed and with the colony fabrication units still unaccounted for the idea of replicating some was hopeless as well.

Shrika was staring at me chewing on the thumb nail of her right hand. Something she did when she was really upset and was starting to loose control. At that moment I began to doubt myself, the thought that I was not fit to lead was creeping in. With exposure sickness looming it would be just a matter of time before I started exhibiting signs. Sweating, blurred vision, trouble breathing, and swelling followed by a very painful death are the normal symptoms. However, in some rare cases insanity, extreme violence and horrible mutations or deformity can occur.

As I stood up I could feel my ribs that were previously broken were separated again. The pain thrust through me. I forced it back and attempted to stand at full attention. “First Officer Talia Shrika, I hereby rel…” She moved quicker than I knew she was capable of, stopping just a few feet from me, trembling. “Don’t you dare”, she looked me square in the eyes and was breathing heavy. “Don’t you dare relinquish your command”. She threw her hands down and stepped away from me. She started to pace back and forth, I could see that she was thinking about the current situation and what to do.

“Talia, If I have truly been exposed then it’s just a matter of time before I start showing signs. YOU WILL have to take command…and soon!”.

Shrika shot him a look and pointed her finger. I had never seen her this angry. She finally got her thoughts to the point that she could formulate words then let me have it.

“You need to get your head on straight. This crew looks up to you. Exposed or not you are their Captain. It is too soon for you to be bowing out. It will crush them all and we will not survive. Until you are no longer physically or mentally capable of giving orders you will continue to be the Captain” Her hands were trembling and she was starting to cry, I could see the tears welling up and starting to run down her cheek. I started to walk over to try to comfort her but got as far as her arms reach. She shoved me back “NO, No!”

Her emotional state was deteriorating. As I watched it unfold I could see that it was more than just me, it was more than just the crash or the people trapped in the ship. There was something more that was eating at her.

“Talia, talk to me.” She jumped up off the large flat rock that she had collapsed onto and brushed herself off. After a few moment she had managed to stuff all of those emotions down and pull her composure back together. She took a couple of deep breaths and wiped the tears and snot off her face with the dirty sleeve of her field jacket. Once she felt she was put back together  enough she walked over to me and patted me on my shoulder.

“It’s Ok…I’m Ok Captain. I just need some rest. I have been up for a long time now and I don’t think I have had much food or water.”

She walked away and got onto a mag-sled that was parked just at the end of the road. I hadn’t noticed how she arrived earlier, hard to catch those details when your stuck under a Giant.

She jumped on the sled that looked back “you want a ride back to camp” she shouted.

“No, I think I need to get my head together first”. She gave me a wave then took off towards camp. I didn’t believe what she said. I knew there was something else that was bothering her but now was not the right time. Hopefully when she was ready she would come to me, talk to me.

I decided to walk to the core and take a look. I figured what the hell, I’m already exposed, what’s a little more. When I got to the sphere I could still feel warmth emanating from the surface. I was still a good two meters from it but you could tell that there was still energy inside. I had a feeling that we were not done with the fireworks. I put my hand to the ground and could still feel the low thrum of the core. I found a white rock sitting next to one of the panels and decided to write a warning for everyone, so that we didn’t have a repeat of today’s event. I walked back out of the jagged metal maze and found one of the larger pieces of the hull that faced the hill. I wrote in big letters.

RADIATION HAZARD, STAY BACK 100YRDS.

I figured that would be enough for now, until we could get it properly blocked off. I turned and started heading back to camp. I knew I had a long walk but with the Sun coming up I figured it would give me time to enjoy the scenery and put together a plan for everything.  

It took me several hours and a few stops but I finally made it back to camp. I knew I could not risk exposing the entire camp so I decided to walk all the way around the main center and try to come up to the Medical tent through the back way. I got to the edge of the clearing where the tent was and walked in through one of the open sections. Dr. Omac was standing at the edge of the entry looking at me with a very puzzled look.

“Why did you come in that way Captain, we have a proper door” he said.

“I didn’t want to risk exposing the camp”, I was surprised he asked the question. A man in his position should know the risk of radiation exposure and secondary exposure. He walked over to me with a small hand held scanner and ran it up and down my body. Then pulled out a small device that resembled a gun but instead of a barrel on it there was a small metal ball. He took the ball and placed it on the side of my neck and pulled the trigger. It gave me a very hard jolt that made my facial muscles twinge. The gun relayed information back to his medical unit. He stood there and simply said “interesting!”

I sat on one of the empty beds and after a moment decided he needed a little prompting. “Are you going to fill me in good doctor or should I just guess”. He gave me a slight glance then replied with information I was not expecting.”Captain, neither you nor Kutchtka have been exposed. Given the information I received I’m not quite sure I know how that is possible”.

I let out a chuckle, it felt like I had been holding my breath and my lungs finally forced my body for air. The doctor looked at me and continued with his diagnosis “however Captain. Both of you now have a peculiar anomaly in your genetic code. Something that I was researching before….” He suddenly cut himself off then gave a slight shudder. I had heard of this before, the PAC unit just kicked into overdrive because the Doc had brought up a powerful memory. I waited a moment then moved to his side. I knew that once the moment had passed he was going to be a little wobbly.

I was standing on his right side when it finally stopped and he returned to the real world. He seemed a little startled that I was standing there. He must lose all memory of the moment. “Captain, is everything alright, did you need assistance?” I realized then that he has lost the last several hours. The PAC unit must have altered his brain to the point that he does not remember what brought on the memory. “No Doc, I’m fine, just checking on the others”. He gave me a swift nod then returned to his duties. I had witnessed a PAC control event before but not one as powerful as that. I pray that unit never malfunctions.

I decided that it had been an eventful day and that I needed to rest. I went ahead and grabbed one of the empty beds in the tent and figured if it was needed the doc would kick me out. As I laid there I looked up at the blue sky, Talia was right, I needed to get myself together and get to work. I’m the Captain and these people need to be able on depend on me.