Change

I awoke to the sound of a gentle ring in my ear. It was my cerebral comm waking me up as programmed. I layed in bed and looked around my room for a moment, enjoying everything that was around me. I felt a gentle nudge next to me and remembered the escort that I arranged last night had stayed. I got up as quietly as I could so that she could continue to rest. It was the least I could do after the night she gave me.

I softly walked out of the bedroom and across the living area to the kitchen, Not much food was ever made here, I relied mostly on the dispensary. I walked over to the far end of the kitchen and leaned against the wall, “Coffee, one sugar, light cream” I said speaking directly at the wall. You could hear the mechanisms in the wall make a slight noise as they were re-assembling atoms to build a cup, saucer and it’s glorious contents. After a few seconds a door opened in the wall revealing the precious substance. If the planet were to ever run out of this stuff I think there would be a third revolution. You see, the dispensary didn’t magically create this stuff out of thin air. You had to feed it the required materials, it dematerialized it storing all of the basic components, then reassembled those components upon request. If I’m running low on something, it would let me know in advance. The unit I had was one of the newer models. I didn’t even need to cook. As long as it had everything it required, I simply needed to tell it what I wanted and it used recipes from the central database to create the meal. It was one of the things I loved about this condo.

I walked to the large window that overlooked the city and sat down in a plush chair that was perfectly positioned to take advantage of the view.

I was lucky enough to have been given the quarters of the former Head of Political Acquisitions, Roger Mystim. The position was retired after it was found that Mr. Mystim was using his power to supply rebels and embezzle credits in order to fund a coup. When he was caught he tried to say that he was being influenced by one of the houses, an excuse that is widely used as the houses have never been fond of the current political structure. He claimed that he was threatened with death and that he was told that they would make him out to be a traitor  and ruin his career if he refused. In the end that’s exactly what he got, in the form of a public execution that was televised on all channels and repeated every two hours for an entire week. The captions that scrolled across the screen detailed his charges, this was done to discourage anyone else from trying the same. Once the investigation was over they held an officer’s lottery, I was the lucky winner of his quarters. It sits perfectly on the corner of the 21st floor of the State Building looking out over Empire Blvd. One of the first things I did when I moved in was purchase this chair so that I could position it perfectly in front of this window. As I sat down with coffee in hand I looked directly down Empire Blvd at the Council Building, our Capital. It was beautiful all lit up at night.

It was still dark outside and there was moisture building up  on the windows from the rainstorm that was moving in. I waved my hand in front of my face and the window lit up with various digital boxes, each containing different bits of information that I had the central computer collect and store. I had a routine every morning. First was coffee, Check! Then came business, go through my text-comms and determine what needed to be addressed immediately, what could be absorbed and deflected back to my assistant and what could be ignored altogether. Most was whining from my soldiers about one thing or another, those I sent to my first officer to deal with. As I was scrolling through the countless messages a Captain receives I noticed that I had an invitation from Admiral Trejheo, it was for a meeting with the council of 13 in two cycles.

I held my hand in the air made a fist and then extended my index finger, on the window a small circle appeared and I could then move my hand to the “open” icon and make a gesture like I was tapping a button, this opened the announcement and ceremonious music started to play, “Stop Music, read text only” I shouted to the computer.

Yes, I could have just as easily have told the computer what I wanted to do, but I like using my hands. It’s more fun to interact with the system this way, plus the movements help to wake me up.

The text was displayed as the computer read the announcement to me in a soft female voice.

“Captain Vargas,

You have been formally summoned to appear before the Council of 13.

Please make preparations to be available on 7.12.85 at 2100 hours.

Refreshments will be served after.

Thank you

President, Dr. Sandoval.”

Short and to the point I guess. I knew this was coming though, Admiral Trejheo had been quietly grooming me to replace him for the past year. The ceremony is nothing more than a formality that the people need in order to feel like we are accomplishing something. Like all events that the government does, it will be televised on all stations, then rerun  every couple hours for several days. It’s a bit excessive if you ask me but in this case, I don’t think I will get tired of seeing myself on every view screen.

“Computer, set everything else aside for later. Mark the invitation in my calendar and label it as urgent, and tell my transport to be ready in 1 hour”, the computer gave me a chime to announce it’s acknowledgment.

I showered and dressed in my daily regulation uniform and started to head out. I paused at the door remembering the woman asleep in my bed. “Computer!”, a quiet chirp sounded to let me know it was listening, “Give” I paused because I could not remember the name of the escort I played with last night “Give the woman in my bed 1 more hour of rest, then transfer the appropriate credits to her account with a 10% tip. Give her 1 hour to get ready then have Sgt, Menson escort her to a cab”. The computer gave me three distinct beeps to let me know that it had received my commands and queued the events I had detailed. My computer was better than any secretary, it never complained about the company I kept.

********

I awoke to birds chirping and the sounds of people moving and talking outside the tent. I was still in the bed at the med center. I looked around and saw that there were a few more survivors. Some better than others but it looks like the Doc had done a good job of patching them up. My body felt stiff like I had slept on the ground, I also noticed that I had an IV in my left arm and was connected to one of the Medical Monitors by a series of sensors. I was puzzled by this, for a moment I was starting to wonder if the Doc’s PAC unit was broken and he was starting to experiment again. An overwhelming sense of panic started to set in. I had to tell myself that something like that couldn’t happen, the PAC units are designed to kill the patients if the unit ever has a critical malfunction.

I took a moment and mentally prepared to get up out of bed, I knew moving was going to be painful but I wanted to get up and walk around the grounds. I needed to see what was going on, help where I could. I know that it was probably ill advised given the condition I was in, but I am not one to just lie around and do nothing. I pulled the IV out and then slowly pulled all of the sensors off of me, I am a hairy individual so pulling the sensors off needed to be done with care, otherwise I would have a series of bald spots. As soon as I started peeling the sensors off the Medical Monitor started beeping, I quickly pushed the mute symbol on the front of the display to silence the annoying sound. I swung my legs around slowly and noticed that other than being stiff I felt no real pain, I figured the Doc probably gave me something in my IV. I set my feet to the ground and slowly stood up, stretched and actually did a little hop to see if the pain was just delayed. I took a deep breath, I moved around in a little spot realizing that I had adjusted to the gravity as well, I no longer felt like I was being weighed down. I actually felt really good…strong.

“Doc!” I shouted and looked around to see if he was lurking in the corner somewhere, instead I heard a soft moan. “DOC!” I shouted again, louder this time. “Stop yelling, I am not deaf!”, I heard the docs voice in a bed over in the far corner. He had covered himself up like one of the dead. I walked over and pulled the sheet back and made a fake attempt at a girly scream. “I see that you have not lost your unusual sense of humor Captain” he said in his normal dry tone. “What is it that you require?”. As he started to get up you could see that he had really not had much sleep. He looked week and clearly frustrated. “Doc, what did you give me, I don’t feel any pain any more”, he sat on the end of the bed and looked up at me a little perplexed. “I have not given you anything other than supplements and fluids. I have noticed that people are healing faster than they would at home and the only thing I can attribute it to is the increased amount of Oxygen and Nitrogen in the air” he paused a moment and rubbed his face in that way that people do when they have been woken up from a sleep that they rightfully deserved, “This whole planet is like an Oxygen tent that we would use to help burn victims heal”. He slid off the bed and waved his right hand in front of my body. All medical staff is given a multi purpose portable diagnostic device that is grafted to their right arm. It houses a compact but powerful computer and is usually tied to the central network to provide information on all of our races. The access to the central records is dependent on what type of Doctor you are. In this case, Doctor Omac was allowed access to all records because of his genetics background. Since we didn’t have access to the central network, he must have a limited amount of information to reference or he has a stored records back up somewhere. He tapped a few buttons then waved his hand again. I watched his hand move slowly up and down from my neck to my abdomen and looked up in time to see his facial expression change from annoyance to curiosity.

“Although, none have healed as fast as you my Captain”. he said in a confused yet excited tone. “This is miraculous, all of your fractures have healed. No bruising, no scar tissue, your muscle structure…” he stopped his excited rant and continued to scan me. “Doc, you wave that thing over me any more and I’m going to make you buy me a drink”, as he looked up I gave him a wink simply because I knew it would annoy him and at this point, annoying him is all the fun I have . The doc straightened up and quickly walked over to the other side of the tent and started to transfer the scanned information into the Medical field computer. As I walked over with him I could tell by his posture and stride that he had returned to that cold, harsh, methodical, Doctor that he was before he started scanning me. I stood next to him looking over his shoulder at the little monitor, even though I would not understand anything that was displayed, I was a little curious as to how I healed so fast.  

The little monitor displayed an outline of my body and the doc was pressing buttons stripping away layers to reveal all that was me. Muscle, bone, all the squishy stuff. As I was watching over his shoulder I noticed he pressed a sequence of buttons and a faint glow appeared around my body on the screen. At that moment he stopped and frantically typed something into the data pad that was next to him. Before I could ask him a question he turned and blocked the monitor from my view and said “I don’t think it’s anything to worry about. There is so much we don’t know about this planet and it’s effects on us. Increased gravity, more Oxygen and Nitrogen in the atmosphere and a wide array of unusual plant and animal life, all of that can have unforeseen effects. I need to pour over this data a little more and as soon as I find something, you will be the first to know”. He gave me a look I had seen before… from my ex-wife. It was the we are done now and you need to leave look. I gave the doc a nod and started out, as I reached the entrance I looked back “The first to know” the doc shouted back at me. I wasn’t looking for any reassurance from him, I looked at his temple and noticed the PAC unit flashing between Green and Red. I couldn’t decide if this was something I needed to be concerned with or if it was just his excitement over something new interfering with the units processing abilities.

I walked out of the med tent and was blasted with the bright light of day. It felt like weeks since I had been outside and I squinted so hard my face felt like it was going to collapse in on itself. After a few moments I adjusted and could see people working and walking all around. There were more tents up and I could see more equipment stacked up in various spots. I looked down the street and noticed Kutchtka’s large frame standing next to one of the water filtration trailers.

I dreamt of the accident, I dreamt that none of us survived, that the radiation that was thrown into the air slowly killed every member of my crew and the people in Cryo slowly died because there was no one to wake them from their sleep.

I walked over to the Ensign surprised that he was up and walking about. “Ensign” I shouted to him as I got closer. He turned around and I could see that he looked perfectly normal, gigantic, but normal. “Ensign, I wanted to thank you for saving me the other day”. I put my hand out to shake it but he just stood there, staring at me. “Ensign, are you alright”. The massive man just stood there not moving, not saying a word, looking into his eyes it looked like his soul was missing, like all that used to be him was now gone.

I started to say something when I felt a hand softly touch my left shoulder and I turned to see my first officer, the look on her face let me know that not all was well in our little camp. “You need to come with me” she said quietly “You need to back away from him slowly and follow me, the man before you is not the same man that saved your life”, her tone suggested I not argue and do as she asked. She gave a nod to one of the field Sergeants and I watched him walk over to Kutchtka very slowly holding both hands up, I heard him start talking to him softly “It’s OK fella, you are gonna be alright, let’s get you back to your bed” the Sergeant said, like Kutchtka was some kind of child or domesticated animal. I watched the Sergeant grab a long chain attached to Kutchtka’s left arm and use it to lead him back behind one of the tents. I turned to say something and Shrika held up her hand and stopped me. “Not here, I will explain what I know but not here”, she gave a nod and I took a quick glance around, everyone we walked past or came across was staring at me like I was some kind of ghost.

I followed her as we walked  through the camp towards a glass walled structure that I was all too familiar with. “This wasn’t here yesterday, you’ve been busy while I was napping”, I looked over and noticed that Shrika was not acknowledging me, she simply shook her head and walked on.

The unit was a Class 4 Field Station, it’s what we normally use in wartime to coordinate our troops, dispatch orders and even sleep in so that we are close in case all hell breaks loose. They are solar powered, and completely self contained. The only thing that I could see that was missing was the mineral processor that is normally plugged into it. It’s used to provide the required minerals and nutrients from any planet for the food processors inside. I had a similar unit in my condo back home.

We walked in and the windows immediately blacked out and several soft lights mounted in the ceiling came on. Shrika motioned to a chair at one of the deployment stations and then walked over to a bar set and poured us both a drink. I could smell it from here, the fragrance was so pleasant. It was Artiallian Brandy, Shrika’s favorite. She walked over to me and handed me the drink, a small smile came over her “ I am relieved to see you up and about, you actually gave us quite a scare for a while there, you and Kutchtka both”. She stopped and took a sip of the brandy, you could see by the expression on her face that she was enjoying this moment of rest and quiet, or she really needed a drink. “What happened, I’m confused. Yesterday I laid down because I was afraid that I was going to contaminate everyone and today I wake up to find you have salvaged a Field Station, built a small tent city and we have very few wounded left. What the hell happened in 24 hours!”, as I said that last part she almost spit out the brandy that she had just took a sip of. “That bastard didn’t tell you!”, she said with shock. “Tell me what?” I said quickly, she could see I wasn’t kidding, I seriously had no idea what had happened. She sat the glass down, leaned forward and said “You have been out of it for a little over a month now”. Nothing but silence from me at this point. I just sat there and soaked in her words, my heart started to pound and I felt like I was going to burst out in a cold sweat. I couldn’t believe it. A month had gone by. That explains the IV and the need for my Medical Monitor.

Shrika went on to tell me “Kutchtka was the first to wake up after only a few days. When he first woke up he seemed fine, he spoke to us about what happened on the hill and stood by your side for several days waiting for you to wake up. Then after about a week we noticed that his speech started to decline he was having difficulty forming words, soon after that his demeanor started to change, he became increasingly agitated and violent. One night, Sergeant Olsen found him standing in the middle of the quad, looking at the stars.” Shrika stopped for a moment, grabbed her glass and knocked back the rest of the Brandy in her glass.  “Everyone heard the scream, it was followed by the most horrific roar any of us had ever heard. At first we thought that one of the native creatures that people had been spreading rumors about had finally breached the camp. There were six of us that hit the quad first, all of us armed ready to take down some kind of creature. What we found was Kutchtka standing there, holding pieces of Sergeant Olsen.”

She looked down at the ground for a moment, then reached for her glass, and walked back to the little bar and poured her some more. Once she had topped off her glass she sat back in her chair and continued. “18 people tried to bring Kutchtka down that night. We shot him over 300 times with everything from a small pulse pistol to one of the Scorpion rail guns that we had salvaged that day. Nothing seemed to phase him, if anything the abuse just made him stronger. It was actually Doctor Omac that saved us all. He threw a bag of something at Kutchtka’s face, as he breathed in the powder he started to get slow and dizzy. Kutchtka tried to rub it off of his face but it seemed to make the effects worse, stronger. After a few minutes of stumbling around he finally fell to the ground. The Doc now puts small doses of whatever it is in his food, it keeps him passive. I have asked him several times what it is and he just tells me it’s an old family recipe. Whatever his concoction is, as long as you don’t startle him, hurt him or anger him in any way he stays pretty sedate. The chain is to make everyone else feel comfortable with him being in the camp. But all of us that witnessed his rage that night know, that little chain won’t stop him if he gets worked up again”.

She knocked back the entire glass of brandy, then set the glass on the side table next to her. As she sat there staring at me I began to think that there was more. “What about me” I asked. She stood up and walked to one of the window panes. She placed her finger on the glass and waited for the familiar blue circle to appear indicating that the window was ready for an action to be input. The glass was Gen4 Smart glass, normally tied to the central computer with the ability to display field movements, enemy actions, supply lines and field data. However, this unit was set up to be independent, so the smartglass actions would be limited. She pulled the circle outward and the blacked out glass started to disappear and you could see the sun peer in. She took a moment and looked outside then let go to allow the blackout to return. “What about me” I said again.

“The Doctor was very interested in you after that. But he couldn’t get any viable readings from you. It was like your body had been covered in some kind of field that blocked any of the scans. He said whenever he scanned your body to see if you had internal damage all he could see was what looked like, light. Like your entire body was made of light” she said.

This explains why the Doc was so interested in my scans after I woke up. He found something. Something that he either could not explain or something that wasn’t there before the core explosion. I looked down at the glass of Brandy in my hand and set it down on the table. I had yet to take a sip. I stood up and walked over to one of the book shelves on the other side of the room. There were only 5 books on the shelf and all of them had been slightly burned from the crash. “All of this is a little hard to absorb” I said. Shrika walked over and put her hand on my left shoulder and gave me a soft squeeze, “Are you going to be alright” she asked softly. It was rare to see her show compassion like this. She was normally very formal, very stiff, very….Military. “I’m fine, I’ll be fine. I just need to wrap my head around all of this”. As I stood there thinking about everything she just told me Shrika continued to fill me in on the last month. About getting all of the survivors out of the ship, finding all of the cryo tubes and placing them in the field and connecting them to the stardrive to keep them powered. About setting up the tent city and getting everyone settled. Shrika had accomplished a lot in the month that I was asleep. More than I expected.

“Captain, We still have a lot to do. The beacon was never found. We can’t call home.” she said. The tone of her voice indicated that she was saddened by this. I think she really thought we were all going to be rescued by one of the Imperial Flag Ships or something. After seeing the wreckage the first time I knew we were never going home. After seeing the wreckage I knew we were never supposed to make it to our destination.  

“Shrika, this is what we set out to do. This was our mission. We were to deliver these people to a new home. Save them from the destruction of our planet, start over again. Now, we have that opportunity. It may not be the ideal setting that we had originally been given. But we will need to make it work. As I see it we were extremely lucky.”, I said. “How do you figure Captain”, she replied, then reached down and picked up the glass of brandy that she had poured for me that was on the table, she stirred the liquid inside then knocked back the glass, drinking all of the contents in one gulp.

I turned to the window and pressed a little red button on the frame. The blackout faded away and I was able to look out on the town. Where she had positioned the structure was perfect. The small little tent town filled the window, framing it beautifully. “We are lucky because we landed on a planet that we can actually live on. We could have landed on a planet that was completely inhospitable.”, I said, motioning toward the window.   

Shrika walked over to the window and looked at the town with me. As we stood there watching the people move about I glanced over at her. She had a small smile on her face and tears running down her cheek. You could tell she was fighting the urge to break down. I put my hand on her shoulder and said “This is home now.” she couldn’t hold back any more. The flood of emotion tore through her and she collapsed in my arms. I held her close to me as she buried her face in my chest and cried. She wrapped her arms around my waist and squeezed so tight I thought she might break my ribs again. I let her get it all out. I let her work through this emotional breakdown that she needed. She needed to release all of this now because I would need the strong Shrika, the determined Shrika, the Military Shrika back very soon. She was my first officer, my right hand. I needed her to be there in the event that I could not. I needed her to be strong, sharp and surgically precise in moments of crisis.

After several minutes she finally relaxed. She gently pushed herself away, stood up and walked toward the wall at the far end of the room. She pressed a blue button and a wash basin slid out of the wall full of water and a panel on the wall changed into a mirror. She was still sniffling, wiping tears and snot from her face, looking down at the water.

“Everything will be OK, we will make it OK” I said to her. She put her hands in the bowl and splashed the water on her face several times. She dipped a rag in the water and started to wipe it across the back of her neck. “I really hope so Captain” she replied softly. “We have over 700,000 citizens on ice that are depending on us to make things…OK!”

She pushed the blue button again and the basin slid back into the wall and the mirror transformed back into the matte color that matched the rest of the wall.

I stood up and brushed my clothes off. Shrika made a giggle then pointed to my shirt, “It seems I made an impression”. I looked down at my shirt and noticed a wet outline of her facial features. “I found some of your clothes from your quarters on the ship, I have them here.

As she started to walk over to where the closet would be we heard the chime letting us know that someone was at the door. I placed my hand on the wall next to me and an image appeared from the camera above the door. It was Sergeant Errickson, the Sergeant that led Kutchtka away earlier. He hit the buzzer frantically several times then started pounding on the door. Shrika and I walked to the door and opened it to see what was so urgent. As soon as I opened the door Sargent Errickson shouted “He’s escaped, Kutchtka, he broke the chain and ran off”!

Shrika and I both ran out of the command center and towards the holding area where they were keeping Kutchtka. it was a simple pen, something you would see back on my planet that they kept various farm animals in.

“Tell me what happened”, I realized after I said it that I was shouting. There really was no need but I think I was a little panicked after the story Shrika told me.

“I don’t know Captain, I was leading him back to his pen, he was all calm and everything just like he has been for a while now, then all of a sudden he started to groan, grabbed his head and was acting like his ears were hurting. Then he shoved me to the ground and knocked me out. When I came too, he was gone.” Sergeant Errikson said.

I looked around the area and found Kutchtka’s large footprints leading off into the wooded area just outside of our little town. I started to head in that direction when Shrika yelled out “STOP!”.

“It’s starting to get dark and you can’t go into the woods at night” she said.

I turned around and saw that a crowd had started to form. Someone else from the crowd shouted out “There’s creatures in there, they seem to like people…to eat”. The crowd all started acknowledging and nodding. Shrika could tell that the crowd was starting to make me uneasy, doing her duty she turned to the crowd and took control of the situation. “Everyone, please! go back to your shelters”.

I turned to the forest to see if I could scan the tree line, maybe he had just gotten spooked and thought that the trees were a good place to hide. I could hear Shrika behind me, “We will do everything to make sure that Kutchtka is either captured, or if he has become dangerous” there was a long pause, I turned back around to see her with her head down. “If he has become dangerous, we will unfortunately have to deal with him, for everyone’s safety”.

The crowd slowly started to walk away and go back to their duties or shelters. Shrika came over and stood next to me. “If we can’t control him we will have to figure out a way to take him down. Not sure how, we threw everything we had at him last time and it didn’t even scratch him. Maybe poison or something”. she gave a slight shrug. As we were walking away we heard it. That sound that Shrika had told me about. The most horrific roar ever heard. Shrika and I stood there looking at the tree line until the sun went down. Waiting, listening, planning on what to do next.