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.

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.

Clarity

”So Doctor Omac how are we doing today”, said Doctor Avery, the court appointed Psychiatrist. He was sitting in a plush leather chair at a large finely crafted desk looking at Doctor Omac over his glasses.

“How do you think I feel Doctor, I’ve been imprisoned for attempting to evolve our race. Perfect it, PURIFY IT!”, Doctor Omac squirmed in his full body restraints but was unable to move. The courts considered him extremely dangerous and could not be left unattended or unrestrained. Next to him were two guards both ready to put a pulse bolt through his skull.

Doctor Amil Omac was considered, at one point in his life, to be one of the most renowned and respected geneticists in the field. He was made famous by curing a debilitating disease known as “Scorn”. It was a genetic disease that was handed down from generation to generation that lead to mutations, deformations and in some extreme cases, agonizing death. Those with the disease were seen as impure or unclean and would be chastised in public. Some in our society even went as far as to beat or even kill those afflicted. Doctor Omac managed to trace the evolution of this disease back to a Borite Mining town. He found that the Borite, in combination with the poor living environments and a variety of other bacteria found only in that area created the perfect conditions for this disease to form. It took many generations before the disease took hold, being passed harmlessly from offspring to offspring.

It wasn’t until after the second imperial uprising that the symptoms started to be seen. Many thought it was a form of chemical warfare by one of the houses, others thought it was the wrath of the gods.

Doctor Omac found that it was actually the detonation of the Hydrogen Thermatite bomb that was launched by the House of Ran that triggered the disease. The radiation that spread across the planet mutated everyone’s genetics just enough that the once harmless and dormant disease now had traction to rise up and take a foothold in our history.  Once Doctor Omac had isolated the genetic marker that contained the disease, he was able to formulate a vaccination for it, essentially eradicating it. He won the Empire Award for his efforts and it catapulted his career right to the upper echelons of the Scientific community.

“Now Doctor Omac, what have I told you about your temper.” Doctor Amil reached over and pressed a little silver button on the corner of his desk. This caused Doctor Omac to shake violently as the restraints that restricted his movements tightened and electrocuted him. After a few seconds the torture stopped, leaving Doctor Omac Breathless and drooling. “Let’s go over this again Doctor Omac, how many people have you experimented on, where are their bodies located”? said Doctor Amil.

Doctor Omac looked up slowly, trying to gain control of his faculties, still twitching from the shock. “I lost count 10 years ago” he managed to get the words out between breaths. “Last I recollect I was over 3000 subjects.”  he said. This memory caused Doctor Omac to laugh uncontrollably. Before Doctor Omac could say anything else  Doctor Amil pressed the little button again, sending Doctor Omac into his violent dance. Luckily for Doctor Omac the button is timed. It shocks the patient for 30 seconds then cannot be pressed again for 2 minutes. This kept the attending Doctors from inadvertently killing their patients.

Once the electrocution stopped Doctor Amil walked over to look at the now unconscious body of Doctor Omac. “It’s a shame really, he was so brilliant” Doctor Amil said, he then turned and typed into his Medical Pad the notes from the session.

Doctor Omac started to move again, slowly pulling himself out of the fog of unconsciousness. Doctor Amil turned when he heard Doctor Omac groaning. “Oh good!, you’re awake to hear my verdict of you” Doctor Amil finished the last of his notes, set the med-pad down then walked over to Doctor Omac. He looked Doctor Omac in the face, like he was studying him, to see if he would react to his proximity. Doctor Omac was still trying to get the fog out of his head, groaning and squirming in his restraints.

“Doctor Omac, by the power vested in me by the Imperial Courts and the Council of 13. I do hereby declare you Mentally Unfit for Service in this society. However, because of your knowledge of Genetics you may still yet be of use to this Empire. Therefore you will be implanted with a Psychological Alpha Controller and continually monitored for the rest of your life”, the last few words were slowly doled out by Dr. Amil, He liked to add a little drama to see if it sparked a reaction. “Do you have anything to say in your defence Doctor Omac” Doctor Amil was standing with his hands clasped behind his back, waiting. “I thought not!” Dr. Amil finally said after a few moments.

For several seconds nothing happened. He watched Doctor Omac just roll his head around. Then, like someone had electrocuted him again he started screaming “NOOOOOOO!!!!, you bastards won’t destroy me, I’ll die before I let you implant me with one of those things. I’ll kill you all, just wait, I’ll kill you all”, spit was flying out of Doctor Omacs mouth as he was screaming to Doctor Amil. Doctor Amil waived to the two orderlies that were standing outside the door. As they walked in he reached around and handed the medi-pad to the first orderly. “Prep him for surgery, make sure he is well sedated, we will put one of the new experimental units in this one” said Doctor Amil as he watched Doctor Omac continue to scream.

Doctor Amil turned back to his desk and grabbed another file from the well varnished wood tray sitting on the corner. He opened the file and started flipping through the pages looking at the medical charts. “Please send the next one in would you” Doctor Amil said to the guards now standing by the door. A small little man walked in with limited restraints around his hands and feet, his head was down and he looked like he was in need of a bath. Doctor Amil turned to face the patient “Now Mr. York, how are we doing today!”.

********

Doctor Omac was standing at the medical terminal pouring over the data that he had collected from Captain Vargas. “This is amazing” he kept saying. He was looking at a DNA helix and was able to manipulate its view by using two joysticks on the console. He kept turning it and pulling little pieces off. Then he stopped and stared with his mouth open. “Thats it, thats the key. That’s what I was missing all along!” Doctor Omac said. “What was Missing Doctor” said a voice from behind him. Doctor Omac was so engrossed in the data that he was completely startled and almost jumped when the person spoke. Doctor Omac quickly composed himself and turned to see Captain Vargas and First Officer Shrika standing just behind him. “What was missing Doctor” said Captain Vargas. “It’s nothing Captain, I was just looking over some old Data on another patient that was complaining of a cough. Seems they are actually allergic to a plant that is close to their tent. A simple relocation should fix the issue for now” Doctor Omac was hoping that the answer he gave would appease the Captain and not cause him to ask any more questions.

“Fine Doc but we have a bigger issue at the moment, Katchtuka has run away, it seems your sedative wore off. I’m worried he may be a risk to the people or himself”. The Captain said.

“I was afraid this would happen” said the Doctor as he reached behind him and discreetly flipped a switch on the front of the Medical Unit causing the screen to turn off. He then walked over to a cabinet and pulled a bag out pouring the contents into a glass beaker. Captain Vargas and Shrika watched as Doctor Omac continued to walk between the cabinet and other shelves, mixing different compounds and chemicals into the beaker, finally placing the mixture into a glass vial and plugging the top with a cork. Doctor Omac stirred the mixture in the vile as he walked over to another desk and pulled out a stick of wax. He then used the amputation laser to heat up the stick and melt the wax over the top of the cork.  Once Doctor Omac was satisfied he handed the container to Captain Vargas.

“Here this should work” said Doctor Omac in a satisfying tone.

“What is it” said Captain Vargas, he held the solution up and swirled it in the vial.

“It’s what you asked for Captain, a solution to your problem. Simply throw that in Katchtuka’s face and your problem is solved. Permanently” said Doctor Omac. His face was stoic, emotionless.

At the same time both Captain Vargas and Shrika shouted “WHAT, we don’t want to kill him”.

Doctor Omac seemed to be surprised by their outburst.

“Look, you wanted a solution. Kutchtuka is far too powerful to be left alone and far too dangerous to be left alive. The solution I had been using was a temporary one at best. I knew he was going to eventually become immune to the compound. I have studied his bio-scans thoroughly and I see no way to reverse the process, not with the equipment we have. The only solution is to kill the beast.” Doctor Omac stood in front of the two of them with his hands clasped behind his back. You could tell by looking at him that he would not provide an alternative solution.

“Good Luck to you both, Happy Hunting. And I would advise against breathing the solution yourself. I am unsure what affects it will have on us… normal people” Doctor Omac looked down his nose at them, he was expressionless, remorseless and in his mind, they were all so beneath him.   He turned back to the Medical Unit that stored the captain’s bio-scans and started mulling over the data once more.

Captain Vargas nodded to his first officer and they both left the tent. The Captain took a final look at the Doctor as he walked out. Once they got to the end of the walkway he held his arm out stopping Shrika, then took a look around to make sure there was no one in earshot.

“Keep an eye on the good Doc, I am worried that his PAC unit is malfunctioning. If it is defective or damaged and does not kill him, we may have to kill him. Otherwise we may have a repeat of his” Shrika put her hand up stopping him before he finished.

“I know you are not fond of PAC’s but we need him. Without the Doc we are all screwed.” Shrika said. Now she was looking around to see if anyone was listening in.

“I’ll have Lt. Dodge watch him and bring you regular reports. He’s been trained in covert ops so it will give him something to do” Shrika took one more look around then stepped into the street. “We have more important things right now. We need to find Katchtuka.” as she stepped into the street she grabbed the container out of Captain Vargas’s hand and headed to the command center. “The vial makes a good warhead but we need a better delivery system. I have a Scorpion launcher and a few of the messenger payload rockets in the command center. We can modify the payload container to spill the liquid on Katchtuka once it hits him”. Shrika was walking at a fairly quick pace while she was talking. Captain Vargas was trying to be inconspicuous and not bring attention to either of them while still trying to keep up with her. It wasn’t working very well. He looked around and could see much of the camps eyes were on them, closely watching their every move, discussing what they were doing. When the Captain reached the command center he took a moment and looked back at the Med tent. He could just make out the silhouette of Dr. Omac standing in the tent. If he didn’t know any better it looked like the good doctor was looking right back at him. Shrika was wrong. I don’t have a problem with PAC’s, I just have a problem with this PAC.

Doctor Omac stood at his terminal watching the Captain and Lieutenant head to the command center. He couldn’t help but think that if he could replicate the Captain’s blood it would be the answer to the genetic puzzle that he was trying to solve back on his home world.

“I see you were able to set our monster free” Doctor Omac said, still looking out over his terminal watching the Captain’s actions unfold.

“Yes sir, just as you commanded” said a little mousy voice from behind the Doctor.

Doctor Omac turned to see Ensign Yavapi York, standing in front of him. He was dirty and his clothes were torn and scorched. “Did anyone see you?” the Doctor Asked.

“No Sir, ever since the core explosion the dispersion field has become a part of me. I think it’s actually powered by my body now. I have to be selective when I use it because if I have it active for too long I start to get tired”, the Ensign said as he looked at himself briefly. “You will be able to fix me, right Doc?” the ensign asked.

“Why yes my boy, I will. As soon as we are done with our mission I will set things right” The Doctor was trying to sound pleasant in his response. His attempt just made him sound creepy.

There was a machine in the far corner that made a soft Ding sound and the Doctor perked up “Coffee’s Done” he said and walked over to the device. He opened the lid and pulled out a small vile and looked it over for a minute. He then picked up a small dart and slid the tiny vial into the side compartment. “I have a task for you” the Doctor handed the dart to the Ensign. Ensign York held the dart like he was handling radioactive material then studied it for a moment before looking up at the Doctor in bewilderment. The Doctor went on “I want you to take that dart and shoot Lieutenant Shrika with it!” Ensign York looked at the Doctor a little shocked. “You do want me to fix you right?” the Doctor said looking down at the Ensign.

Ensign York nodded his head vigorously then slipped the dart into his pistol. He started to walk out of the tent then stopped and looked back at the Doctor “You’ll fix me, right?” he said. “Right as rain my good boy” the doctor responded with a sinister smile. Ensign York then pressed a spot on his left arm and vanished, the only visible trace of the Ensign was a series of foot prints that lead into a grassy clearing and then disappeared.

The doctor turned back to his little monitor and started to talk to himself. “It amazes me how that little urchin survived that core breach. I send him to assassinate our illustrious leader and he mucks it up by radiating the planet”.  

The doctor stopped at the end of his thought. He stood there for a moment thinking about what he had just said and then walked over to a table that was full of medical devices. He took two devices and stuck them together, he then pressed a red button on the handle of each device. The two devices made a whirring sound then seemed to melt into one larger more complex instrument. Once the transformation was finished the Doctor picked up the new device and walked outside of his medical tent. The instrument was long and slender and had a screen on the handle that presented a variety of sensor data. At the front of the device was a long metal spike. He walked into the middle of the field and jabbed the instrument into the ground and then waited for a beep. “Interesting” he said as he pushed a series of buttons on the device’s keypad. He then walked out a little further and held the device in the air until it beeped again. “Very Interesting indeed” the doctor said.

He looked at the device’s readouts for a moment pondering the data that he just collected. The Doctor looked around to see if anyone was close by. Once he was satisfied that he was alone in the field he took the metal spike and slowly plunged it into his stomach. The Doctor made a series of grunting sounds as he slowly pushed the spike deeper and deeper. Once he had reached a point that he felt he could get an accurate read he pushed the scan button until the device beeped then pulled it out quickly spraying blood all over the ground. The doctor let out loud noise and then double over and fell to the ground. Blood was running down the front of his clothes and started to pool at his knees but the doctor seemed oblivious to the fact that he was bleeding out, he was intently focused on the devices display, mumbling incoherently to himself and occasionally giggling.

When he was done typing the doctor looked down and noticed the blood that was covering the front of him. “This just will not do” he said to himself. He took his lab coat off and started to clean up the blood that was all over his stomach. Once the blood was gone and he was satisfied with the clean up he stood up and brushed himself off. He looked down to see that the hole from the probe had completely sealed itself up. There was only a faint pink spot that would disappear in the next few moments. “It seems that the little Urchin did something miraculous after all. I must remember to reward him later”. The Doctor smiled a little, like he had just processed a sinister thought and filed it away.

“Now how to explain all of this blood”. The Doctor said as he looked down at his clothes. As he was standing there thinking when he heard a little voice behind him. “Doctor…doctor”, the little voice said. Doctor Omac turned to see a sweet little girl standing there holding what looked like a ratted and burned pink stuffed animal. “What is it that you require young one” the Doctor said in his curt tone. “My tummy hurts” the little girl said with a whimper.

The doctor looked around and saw that there were no other adults in sight. “Where are your parents my child…oh, it’s no matter. I have something that will fix your tummy” the doctor said as he walked with the girl further and further away from camp.

********   

“The stars here are beautiful” Shrika said as she took a moment and looked up towards the sky. “I have not been this far from camp, the lights there tend to wash out all of this beauty”. The Captain was looking through the scope of his rifle while she gazed. “It was the first thing I noticed when I woke up” He said back to her.

She looked down at him for a moment then picked up the digital scope that was laying next to her. She held the device up towards the horizon and started to press the power button when the captain slowly placed his hand on the top of the screen and started to press it back down to her lap. “Don’t turn that on. The glare from the screen will give our position away” the Captain said in a soft whisper.

“Take a look, about 4 clicks out”. The Captain was still looking down the scope. He took his hand off of the devices monitor that was now in Shrika’s lap and slowly pointed across the field.

“He’s just on the edge of that tree line, He’s walking this way but I don’t think he’s seen us” the captain said softly.

“Why are you whispering if he hasn’t seen us yet” Shrika said back.

He briefly looked up at her and sighed deeply. “Sound carries out here, the quieter we are the safer we will be” the captain told her.

Shrika repositioned herself lower and grabbed one of the sniper scopes that the Captain had next to him. She held the scope up and found their target. The Scope that Shrika was holding was considered a beginners scope with a sway compensator, Range finder and Threat level assessment computer built into it. “According to this, we are out of range for that rifle.” Shrika said.

Again, the Captain sighed deeply. “I’m aware of that, we need to be patient. He is moving this way, he seems to be tracking something so as long as he keeps his current direction he will come into range. As soon as he is I can pop the shot and take our big friend down”.

Shrika sighed deeply this time. “It just doesn’t seem right” she said. Shrika then rolled over on her back and looked at the stars again. “Do you miss it? Home I mean. Do you miss our planet, everything that was familiar to us?” Shrika said. There was a long silence. Shrika looked over at the Captain and he finally pulled his face away from the rifle scope. “No, I don’t miss it. There was nothing more for me there. Everything that I thought I wanted dissolved when I got assigned to this mission and honestly, I have a feeling that if it wasn’t this mission, it would have been something else that would have kept me from the Council of 13”. said the captain in a tone that would suggest that he was still a little angry and hurt over his assignment.

The Captain turned again to his scope. He looked at where the beast should have been but saw nothing, then started frantically scanning the field. Shrika saw his rapid movements out of the corner of her eye and looked up just in time to see the massive shadow of Katchtuka loom over the Captain from his left flank. “Nathanial”, she screamed out loud. The Captain pivoted to his right and was tossed across the hill by the massive creature that was once their friend and crewmate. As the Captain came out of his roll he saw Katchtuka put the rifle stock under his foot and bend the weapon in half as easily as you or I would bend a wet tree branch. Katchtuka tossed the gun out into the field and let out a roar that he was sure could be heard all the way back at camp. The sound froze them both in their place. Katchtuka was now standing between the Captain and Shrika, his massive body looming over them, he was breathing heavy and his stance indicated he was ready to take on the Captain in a one on one wrestling match.

 “Run” the Captain shouted, looking past the giant that was looming over him at Shrika who was frozen with fear. “Run to the field, grab the shell, we may still be able to stop hi…”. His words were cut off by a blow from the monster. The Captain was again knocked a good distance from them. When he hit the ground he rolled and came to his feet. His new found ability to heal and his strength and agility were starting to come through. He would never be as strong as his gigantic friend, but these new powers would keep him in the game a little longer than your average man.

As the Captain slid to a stop he drew his pistol that was strapped to his hip. He began firing at the Mammoth Man, each shot striking its target with a loud thud, but doing no damage to the creature.

He looked again and saw Shrika running out in the field towards the rifle. Katchtuka glanced in the same direction and growled, the Captain put a shot right in his left ear causing the creature to scream in pain. “So you do have a weak spot” he said. Quickly the Captain swapped energy pods so that he would have the maximum capacity in his pistol.

He took the almost discharged pod and tossed it next to his now exposed right ear, as soon as it was in distance he shot the pod, causing it to explode right next to Katchtuka head. The concussion was enough that it stunned the creature and brought him to his knees. He let out a deep moan holding both sides of his head before collapsing to the ground.

As Shrika ran up she stopped and looked at their friend lying on the ground breathing heavily. The Captain was standing next to him with a triumphant smile on his face. “His outer body may be indestructible but his inner organs aren’t. I overloaded his synapsis by detonating a power pod next to his head. The concussion was enough to knock him out. But I don’t know for how long”.

Shrika was still standing there, speechless, holding the cartridge with the potion in it that would end the life of this giant of a man. A man they once called friend. “Shrika!” the captain shouted. She snapped herself back to the real world and out of the wandering thoughts she was starting to form. Thoughts about how dangerous Katchtuka really was. Thoughts about the Captain and his new found abilities and a worry that was forming that more may have been exposed and they may soon have to do this to more and more of their crew. “Sorry Captain, I was just thinking about something” she said. She raised the cartridge up and was ready to smash it on the ground and release the toxins that were within. “STOP”, the Captain shouted again, holding his hand out and throwing himself over Katchtuka’s body. “We need to study him more. He’s out for now and I know how to bring him down again if he wakes up and is still angry. I am still not convinced that he is dangerous”. Shrika was relieved that the Captain felt the same as her. “Lets call for a Kuma and see if we can find a place to lock him up. Someplace where he can roam and we can study him”.

Shrika ordered a Kuma to their coordinates then sat on a rock formation that was next to them. Captain Vargas sat next to her and asked “What’s on your mind”. “What…oh nothing” Shrika replied. The Captain could tell by the tone in her voice that she was lying but given the current situation and state of emotions they were in, he didn’t want to push the issue.

“Are we going to have to do this with all of our crew, all of our friends. Are we going to eventually hunt them all down and put them to death because they have turned into monsters.” Shrika said with a quiver in her voice. Captain Vargas leaned over and put his arms around her and pulled her in tight to him. “I hope not, I really hope not”.