Radecki / Dark : Emerald Flight : Star Wing – Chapter 11 – Rude Awakenings

Elizabeth watched Captain Devereux wait impatiently at the shuttle bay airlock as the atmosphere slowly equalized.  Rusty’s statement that the shuttle had an alien survivor aboard surprised everyone on the bridge.  Now all those that could be at the bay, were there, waiting to glimpse this ‘survivor’.   A new species?  What do we call it?  Heck, what does it call itself?  She’d decided on calling the survivor an ‘it’ since she had no idea of gender, or even if there was one in the classical sense.  How does something survive in a vacuum?  What kind of tech makes up the suit?  How long was it out there?  Was it pirates?  Smugglers?   

Elizabeth checked her tablet, enlarging the box that held an alert from Petty Officer Ratko.  She tapped it open and read.  Got it done, now you owe me one, Lizzy.  Ratko.  P.S.  Let the ball come to you next time.  Manuel is still limping after you ran him over.  He’s looking forward to a rematch.  Call him on it, his backhand’s lousy.  R.

Elizabeth smiled and saved the message.  She wondered if she could actually beat Manuel the next time they played. Could he handle it if I did? Probably,  he’s got a nice… Her reminiscence was cut off by Captain Devereux.  “Commander,  there are two things I want done immediately”, she told Elizabeth.  Elizabeth couldn’t remember hearing the captain sound so excited in a long while.  She listened intently as Devereux continued.  “First, re-plot the field now that the interference is gone.  Make certain we have direction and drift.  Once you’re certain you can find it blindfolded,  I want you to assign someone to image and catalog the pieces brought back.  Then make a roster for an extended EVA mission.  Use your judgment on numbers and equipment.  We’ve got enough time to get a couple larger pieces for study.”

“Yes, Captain. I’ll get right on it,” she answered. A grin that matched Devereux’s grew on her lips.  Image and catalog.  I’ll get to see them first! I am so glad I’m here and not on the Washington.  Captain Dresden would have never bothered to alter course to check a lowly debris field.  She tapped the tablet again, saving the captain’s orders in a box, and highlighting it.  

She moved towards the hatchway, tapping Gogorsky on the shoulder as she moved past him.  “Gogo, you’re with me,” she said.  “We’ve got artifacts to catalog”.  She smiled when ‘Gogo’ said “yesss!”  after a short moment, and she could see that signature fist pump he did when he got excited.  She continued through the hatch and headed to cargo hold D.  She heard his long stride on the deck behind her as he hurried to catch up.  At exactly two meters tall, Gogo reminded her of the old 2-D animated tale of Ichabod Crane. With his large ears and prominent Adam’s Apple, he resembled the fictional schoolteacher to a great degree.

Chop was waiting for them as Elizabeth and Gogorski entered the bay.  Ratko gave Elizabeth a very ill-tempered glare as she approached.  “Gonna need four hundred cubic meters, huh?”, he growled, sounding a lot like the pirate he resembled.  “I got you six hundred, and the shuttle says it has barely twelve.”   he folded his arms and turned his glare on Gogorski, who looked over to Elizabeth.  

“Chop”, she said, “You’re checked out on EVA?”  Ratko’s glare returned to Elizabeth.  She noted there was a glint of interest in it now.  “Yes, I’m checked out, and you know it.”    “I know.  Want to put it to use?”, she said.  “I’m putting a salvage team together, you’re in since you’ve got experience.”  She arched an eyebrow and said, “That is, if you want to.  This is all volunteer.”  “I’m in!”, Gogorski said excitedly, “I..”, Elizabeth silenced him with a look, then turned back to Ratko, who had a very large grin on his face.  “A chance to go floating?  In a heartbeat, Lizzy, err, Commander”, he said, rubbing his hands together.  “I volunteer.”

Smiling, Elizabeth looked over, and up, to Ensign Gogorski.  “I’m checked out for EVA”, he said quickly. “Chief  insisted everyone in Engineering get certified for EVAs and repair.”  He looked down at her, excitement showing in his eyes, and his eager grin.  “You’re in, Gogo”, she said, and turned to Ratko.  She took a moment to think about the situation.  Am I going to have to go EVA?  Thank god no, the captain asked me to put the team together.  That means to oversee and choose a field leader.  The Chief? No.  He’s due time down.    Who else has been out there?  Okay, Ratko’s team leader.  I’ll have hmm, Singh as his second.  She closed her eyes and winced a little at the idea.  Won’t that just please the Chief.  He’ll be chewing my ear off why he should be in charge and out there.  

“You’re in charge, so you’ll be reporting to me, Chop”, she said and fixed what she hoped was a steely gaze on him.  “That won’t be a problem will it?”  Ratko scowled visibly at Elizabeth, then sighed and gave her a piratical grin.  “There’ll be no problem, Commander.  My word on that.”  Elizabeth nodded, then tapped an icon on her tablet, pulling up names with EVA experience, and began selecting the team.  “Singh is going to be your second.  Beyond you, and the others already logging space time, Singh has the most hours EVA.”   the Petty Officer’s grin faded slightly, not quite disappearing from his face.  “Can do, I’ll pick the rest if you’re fine with that”, he said.  “You can send your requests and I’ll approve them.”  Ratko smiled again.  “You got it, Commander, I’ll make certain they’re the right ones for the job.”

#

Rusty watched as Hope maneuvered the winged body onto the diagnostic table.  The lack of gravity made Hope’s efforts easier, as the body would go any direction with just a push.  It was also harder, as the woman’s limbs and wings would tend to splay out, making it difficult to position her on the table.  

“Let me help you, Doc”, Rusty said with a smile. “She’s putting up quite a fight, isn’t she?”  Both he and Jefferies moved at the same time to assist her.  Rusty moved deliberately in front of the older man, cutting off his movement. He grinned and moved opposite of Hope.

Hope looked up at him, then said, “Turgidity.”

“Tur-whatty?”, Rusty queried.  “Doc, I know all sorts of technical jargon, but I don’t know that.”

“Fluid pressure”, Jeffries replied.  “In space with no gravity, fluid sets up pressure in the body so arms and legs tend to…”  “All right, prof, I get it”, Rusty said.  The guy looks for a reason to irritate me, I swear.   He turned his attention to Hope and the being on the table.  Jeffries moved away to help Tsu-tao record images of the salvage.  Lieutenant Ferahim wandered around the two men, occasionally helping Jeffries roll a larger piece over to get a full view of it.

Hope gathered in the wing first, pressing it slowly back against the body. Then, using her other hand to push the arm in, folding gently over the wing to hold it in place.  Rusty mirrored her movements, getting the limbs against the body.  Hope quickly released the arm and drew a restraining strap over the upper chest of the creature’s body to hold it down, then  ran a second strap at the waist, and a third above the knees.   As he gazed at Hope’s actions, his attention was caught by a faint flash of light.   

The diagnostic table flickered as the red heartbeat icon pulsed, with a green line that Rusty remembered was blood pressure. Another showed a white, wildly flickering motion that was brainwave patterns, while a fourth showed a broken blue line that he didn’t recognize.  Ferahim stood next to the table for a moment, peering at the numbers.

There was a flash of light just to his left.  He turned his head, and watched Jefferies and Tao-tsu working on the salvage pieces.  Jefferies would carefully turn the irregular piece over for Tao-tsu image capture.  The two men seemed to be in their own world, talking back and forth as they worked.  I wonder if they’re comparing notes  

He looked over at the statuesque woman admiringly.  She seemed to take no notice of him, but he could feel her gaze.  She’s sneaky, I didn’t even know she was there.  I like that in a woman.  “Why isn’t there a radiation value?”, she asked Hope.  “I do not know”, was all the reply Hope gave her as she continued to adjust straps and slowly move the wings to wrap around the entity.

Jefferies and Tao-tsu walked over to the small crowd around the table.  Tsu-tao stopped a few feet away, content to gaze from a distance.  Ferahim smiled at Tsu-tao, then moved to stand next to him.  He returned her smile with a warm one of his own, and turned his gaze back to the debris.  Oh, I never saw that coming!  Tsu-tao, you devious wrench monkey.  He chuckled then returned his gaze to the unconscious winged girl.  No suit. No protection we understand, and she’s alive after, Morris knows how long, in space.  

“How, by the Morris, does something…”, he was cut off as the shuttle bay doors finished closing and Pryafox began to pressurize the bay.  “How does something, well, live like that?”, he finished.  Jeffries reply was a grunt and a mumbled, “Who knows?”  Hope looked over to him, and said, “I don’t know”, and returned to checking the straps and the readouts. 

Sykes and Tuggle started to gather the portable radiation detector.  The suits made maneuvering difficult, and slow.  Their magnetic boots made faint clunks against the metal deck in the now-thin atmosphere of the hold as they muscled the detector onto the carrier.    “We’ve got adequate pressure, so you all can unbuckle your fishbowls”, Pryafox’s voice came over the speakers.  “Our ETA back to Emerald Flight is about five minutes, so you all can relax and please enjoy the ride.”

Rusty chuckled as he watched Hope focus on the readings.  “I’d almost think you know her, Doc”, he said 

“I do not”, Hope returned, still intent on the readings.  Rusty had seen Hope focused before, but never to this intensity.  She seemed mesmerized by the readings in front of her.   He watched the Aerian turn the diagnostic table to standby and ready it for transfer back to the Emerald Flight

He looked over to the radiation detector.  “I got it”, he said, knowing full well that no one else wanted to touch the delicate looking instrument.  He grinned, and disassembled the detector down into component parts.  He strapped the pieces down securely onto a rolling pallet.  The magnetic wheels kept it firmly anchored to the floor.  Rusty turned on the motor and guided it next to the airlock door.    

He watched Hope wheel the diagnostic table to the door, lock it, and wait.  Leaning against the wall, he waited as Pryafox slowly drifted the shuttle to a precise landing back in its own bay.    The airlock floor vibrated as the doors closed and locked.  Rusty could begin to hear faint noises outside his helmet as pressure equalized.  “When are visiting hours, Doc?”, Rusty said as the shuttle loading door slowly swung open.  Hope, looked up, a puzzled look on her features.  Sykes and Tuggle moved through the airlock, breaking Rusty’s concentration.  He looked up to see Tuggle grab the pallet holding the detector and wheel it through the hatchway.  Hope was close on his heels with the diagnostic table.

Rusty watched Hope for a moment, a worried frown on his face that quickly disappeared. I am going to have to see what’s going on with Hope.  She’s totally fixated on that winged girl.  There’s something about her that the Doc just won’t let go of, and that’s not like her.  The worried look shifted to one of purpose. I think I’ll go see what all this is about.  What does she see in that girl anyways?    His devil-may-care demeanor returned, and he grinned to himself.  Whatever it is, I’m going to find out.  He stepped over to the medical equipment, and began Pryafox load it onto the carrier pallet.

#

Devereux looked down at her wrist display, then spread her fingers to enlarge the data display.   The holographic image enlarged to a full three-dimensional picture of Emerald Flight, the shuttle, and the near edge of the debris field.   “Tactical, get me a display of the full field”, she said.  Her display swerved then pulled back, showing the slightly elongated sphere of material. 

She used her hand to turn the display to a mostly overhead view that showed the location of Emerald flight next to the field.  She murmured quietly at the screen, “Show anything with a organic signature in yellow.”  A number of yellow dots appeared on the screen, most just the near side of center.  She considered the hologram for a moment longer, then collapsed it back down, the hologram shrinking to a small sphere on the upper edge of the wrist display.

“Update the field and send me the data”, she said to Hawkes, who nodded and replied, “Yes, Captain.”  He tapped at his console,  then said, “Mapping and analysis should be finished in two hours, Captain.”  Devereux nodded, and turned to the communications station.

“Lieutenant Martine, contact the Paragon colony.  Tell them, we’re going to be staying here to research this field.  We’ll be here for two standard days before resuming course.  Verify this delay with the colony to make certain we’re not needed sooner.”  “Yes, sir.  I’ll take care of it”, the Martine replied.  Christine watched as the Lieutenant pulled Paragon up to inform them of the delay in their estimated arrival.   Her thoughts drifted as she pulled up the field again.  Scott would have been jumping at the chance to explore that field.  And Thad,  he would be out there already, and we’d be yelling at him to slow down and wait.

She blinked, and felt the familiar ache form around her heart.  Scott, I wish so much you were here. Christine’s gaze unfocused, as if looking back in time to another place, then her eyes blinked, and she looked to the tactical station.   “Lieutenant Hawkes, you have the bridge until I return.”  Hawkes looked up at her, and adjusted his spectacles.  His steady gaze stayed on Christine for a moment before he answered,“Yes, Captain”.  He returned to his board, tapping at it as Devereux stepped through the hatchway, and followed the corridor towards her cabin.  Funny, I was just thinking it didn’t hurt any more, and here I am, walking it off all over again. 

Her footsteps carried her past her quarters, along the slanting corridor down to Engineering, and past the huge, synchronized slipstream engines.  Her pace slowed as she looked over at them.  Scott and Thad both had a hand in every drive that was made.  Everything we’ve got is possible because of them.  Space, and the chance to explore.  

She made an abrupt about-face, and, her jaw set, returned the way she came.  It’s not going to rule my life.  We both made the choice.  It’s done.  Christine Devereux, accept what you can’t change, and wait for the things you can.  Scott, you always had an answer for everything.  

Her wrist comm hummed. Christine raised her arm to chest level, looking down at it.  A small, green dot of light enlarged to a small hologram of Hawke’s face.  “Captain, the shuttle has docked.”   “Thank you, Lieutenant”, she replied, then told Hawkes, “Have a security team with our ‘guest’ to keep the gawkers away, and give Hope an extra pair of hands in case there’s a need for them.”  She knew Hawkes would take the last statement as an ‘in case’ the survivor woke up.  If it did, Hope might need and extra person or two to help calm  or control the situation.

 She tapped at the base of the hologram, which shrunk to a small light on the surface of the comm.  It’s not like I’m not curious.  Something like that wreckage will have a lot of the off-duty personnel down there to get a look at whatever it.  I’m already partway there.  She reversed her direction again, and strode towards the shuttle bay.   

#

Hawkes checked his simulations.  Most of them had progressed adequately, showing that the distribution of security throughout the ship should be adequate to corner and recapture an angry, hostile Star Blood.  Hawkes reflected on his experience.  

Star Bloods are the shock troops of the Aerian military, deployed when extreme military measures are requiredThey use symbiotic organic armor. The armor protects its wearer, and augments strength and endurance. The symbiote also can protect a Star Blood for up to seventy hours in space by burning its own tissue to create oxygen and nutrients for the host. Strength is on the order of three to four times human standard.  

He looked down at his board, then pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose.  He copied all the medical information to the simulation and then watched the scenario unfold.  After fifteen simulations, he concluded the best method was a two step trap.  First, lure the Star Blood into a section of the ship with no immediate cover.  Second, use portable sonic emitters to disorient and push it into the open for tranquilizers or energy weaponry.

With the Star Blood carapaces, Hawkes preferred the sonics, as the weapon required a less precise aim.  The sonics would not knock the Star Blood unconscious, but would severely disorient and weaken it.  Tranquilizers were still the most effective method of control, if used as an aerosol or misted spray. Darts would be effective only if skin and not the carapace was struck.  He made a few personal notes on his tablet, then set them aside, minimized, along the left edge of the screen.  He set the tablet down and returned his attention to the station board.

“Sergeants Sykes, Tuggle.  Please send me a visual feed, along with any biological data the Ship’s Physician has acquired”, he said firmly.  “Yes, sir”, Tuggle replied with a soft rasp to his voice.  “The Doc heard you and is uploading to your board now.”  A small icon appeared on Hawkes’ flatscreen, glowing blue and pulsing.  He tapped it open, reading the data.  The live feed from Tuggle’s camera allowed him a close view of the being.  The wings are reminiscent of Aerian physiology.  He continued to make notes of the being’s immediate features.

No visible armor, no visible weaponry, wings, no spines.  It doesn’t appear to be of the same race, despite similarities.  “Sergeant Sykes, please press one of the being’s fingers just below the tip?”, Hawkes ordered.  He watched Sykes’ camera close in, then an extended finger pressed against the beings.  Nothing happened.  “Did you note any unusual stiffness in the finger or perhaps a bony protrusion?”, he asked the sergeant.  “Nothing sir”, Sykes said.  “No venom sacks or claws”, Hawkes said dispassionately. There was a long silence, then Sykes and Tuggle said in unison, “Say what?”.    

“Do not touch the body”, Hope said firmly.  “Yes ma’am”, Sykes and Tuggle replied together.  Hawkes watched the view turn, then one person, Tuggle, raised his hand and grabbed the edge of the diagnostic table, and pushed it, following the medical specialist.   Sykes showed a step behind Tuggle in the hallway.  Hawkes noted that if upright, the being would be rather similar physically to the medical specialist, and perhaps a half head taller.

“Sergeants, have you seen a similar being before in your experiences?”, Hawkes queried them as the men followed Hope to the Infirmary.  “You mean, other than Star Bloods? You know more than me or Tug, Lieutenant.  You fought them.”, Sykes replied.  He shifted the carrier left to avoid some personnel in the hallway before moving back to the center of the deck, following the short, slim form of Hope. “I’ve never seen wings on anything other than bugs.”

“Understood”, Hawkes replied, then lapsed into silence.  Am I missing something?  Could this be a Star Blood of some form?  Hawkes brought his tablet from its holster, then tapped open a series of boxes, looking up what was known of Star Bloods. After scanning the physiological information briefly, he was certain this creature had no relation to them in any manner.  It is too small, too light for a Star Blood. There is no symbiote.  And there are no physical markers to any other race in the database either. What is it?  He ran a hand through his hair then pushed his glasses up his nose again.  No matter, once the Doctor runs a complete suite of tests, there will be much more data to compare.

“Move the table there”, Hope told the men.  Once the table was maneuvered into place, Hope addressed the two men once more. “Leave”, she said in a way that had both men almost scurrying for the entry.  Hawkes snapped out of his musings, and returned his attention to the Medical Officer’s preparations.  Monitoring equipment. Diagnostic sensors. Data gathering. More data gathering, and no thought to security or defense, Hawkes thought with a slight flash of irritation.  The infirmary needs security on that creature until we know it’s not needed.  Hawkes keyed the comm channel.  

“Sergeants, you will stay at the medical facilities and maintain security overwatch on the unknown.”  Hawkes paused, then added, “Four hour shifts.  Remain alert.”  “Aye, sir”, Tuggle replied. “We’ll make sure sleeping beauty’s not disturbed.” He heard a chuckle from Sykes.  “Make certain the automatic quarantine security is active. Hawkes out”, he said, then turned to his other duties, designing and running another capture and containment simulation.  

#

Hope stared impassively at the two security personnel.  “Out. By the door.”, she said in a level tone.  “Aye, Doc”, Tuggle said with a smile.  “ You won’t know we’re here.”  

“Yes. I will.” Hope replied with the faintest trace of irritation.

Tuggle suddenly looked like he bit into something sour, and a small grin grew on Sykes’ face as Hope waited for them to leave.  “Never argue, Tug”,  Sykes chuckled, “She’s literal.”  “I noticed”, Tuggle replied.  Hope ignored their chatter; there were other things on her mind at the moment.  Foremost was the patient in quarantine.  The readings have to be confirmed.  I can’t make a mistake.  If the initial values are true, then I may have a sequence I can use.  “No visitors”, she told the security team,  then turned and strode to the quarantine room.  Hope unlocked the sliding door, raising it open, and stepped in.  The winged creature was still unconscious, and still strapped to the table.   The diagnostic table was recording information as it had been left.  Hope switched the computer to voice activation.  “Reset.  Zero all readings.  Turn off all sensors.  Come active”, she said slowly in her raspy, stilted English.

She ran the entire suite of diagnostic scans again. Doing every step by hand, one at a time, in complete detail. Hope made certain there was no result due to genetic drift within known species.  She laboriously tabulated each result and ran comparisons against every genome in the medical database.  She double-checked correlations between every one of them, regardless of how different the values appeared.

The initial data finished in fifteen minutes, and confirmed her first impression.  There was no doubt in her mind, and with that, more questions than she had anticipated.  She set the data aside, then looked over at the quarantine room door, as if trying to peer through it.  

She is my species, one that has never been even hinted at in the historical archives.  How do I begin to explain something that has no history, yet exists?  Is this an enemy, or an ally, or perhaps an experiment by the Creators? I do not know the answer yet.  I will find it.  First, I must know the age of the wreckage.  That will at least be an indicator of when she was trapped.  Hope left the quarantine room, closing the heavy glass door.  She turned to go to the culturing lab, then paused.  What am I feeling?  There’s something I can sense. I can almost know it.

Hope looked over to the desk with the data on it, then back at the shadowy figure behind the translucent quarantine glass, and then over to the diagnostic readouts.  She switched through the screens:  physiology, chemical analysis, brainwave patterns, radiation, energy, nervous system.  She was excited, and frustrated, by the winged Aerian.  What is she?  Somewhat like the Star Blood, and not.  Wings longer than tall yet too small to be functional.  No symbiotic armor.  No evidence of any symbiote whatsoever.  No protection from vacuum, yet, no damage from vacuum. No damage from radiation.  No damage from her, she groped for the proper description. Semi-solid state?  What kind of conditions created that state?

She adjusted the controls, setting a deeper constant scan.  There must be something in the cellular structure.  Could she be old enough? Hope focused, inhaled, and using a calming exercise, quietly counted twelve heartbeats while exhaling slowly.  As she pondered the information streaming across the readouts, she heard the distinctive cadence of the Chief Engineer’s thudding footsteps as he reached the infirmary. 

“Uh, Chief, Doc said no visitors”, Sykes told him. Rusty chuckled and replied, “I’m not visiting.  I’m here for follow-up testing.  Doc still wants to look inside my noggin, and convince herself the empty space is supposed to be there.”   He tapped the side of his head with his knuckles as the two men shared a soft chuckle.  “Go on in Chief”, Tuggle told him.  Hope set the scan to record, then turned to face him.  I will reschedule his scans for later.  She looked at Rusty with a hint of impatience as he toured the infirmary like a tourist gawking at something he’d never seen before.

“Anything new, Doc?” Rusty said with a grin.  “Is our space angel awake? Or is she still gettin’ her beauty sleep?”  He sauntered over to the quarantine chamber where the winged woman lay, then tapped theatrically on the translucent glass.  Hope stared at him, then at the motionless shape just beyond.  An involuntary ‘chrrr‘ of anger slipped past her lips.

“Stop.”  

Rusty held his hands up, palms to Hope, and stepped back from the glass.  She advanced slowly, menacingly towards the Chief, her  arms spreading, as if mantling wings over something precious.  Her angry ‘chrrr‘ repeated as she backed him towards the entry.  Rusty’s smile faltered as he took a step back from her, sensing he had stepped over an unspoken line.  

“Leave.”

She continued to steer Rusty out of the room, her sheer force of personality driving him one step through the hatchway just as a series of warning beeps sounded from the readout panel.  The sound stopped both Hope and Rusty in mid-step.  Ignoring the Chief Engineer completely, she quickly moved to the display.  Rusty blinked at Hope’s sudden shift of attention, then followed her back in.  Hope scanned the readouts, which showed a dramatic spike in brainwave activity.  She turned to look at the quarantine cell, and the world blew apart.

Radecki/Dark : Emerald Flight : Star Wing – Chapter 9 – Fancy Footwork

( From what I remember we were cycling though these chapters about every three days for about two weeks, then reality and other priorities caught up with us.  There is a small easter egg in this chapter.  See if you can find it.  I’ll put up what it is in the next posting.  Happy Hunting!  😉  )

 

An Angel?  What is he talking about?  “..ridge…..opy?”  Elizabeth shifted her feet, and snuck a quick glance back at the captain.  Devereux was working to hide an amused smile as she listened to the Chief.   She turned back to the viewscreens and said, “Chief, what’s your status?”  A strong burst of static drowned any reply.  

If the Chief’s cracking jokes, Elizabeth thought, then they must be all right. 

She moved her shoulder tenderly, then caught herself and rolled her arm like it wasn’t hurting.  When I need to be at one hundred percent, I’m not.  Her attention was brought back to the situation at hand as the captain spoke.  “Chief, if you are hearing this, get yourself and Lieutenant Ferahim back here.”   

Devereux looked over to Elizabeth.  “Keep working at getting through the static.  I’ll feel better when they are out of that interference.”  Elizabeth caught the very faint French accent that crept into the captain’s voice.  

I wonder if she’s as nervous as I am.  

Elizabeth broke from her musings as the Science specialist spoke.  “I think there’s a pattern to the interference.”  She looked over to the lieutenant.  “Show me, screen one display.” She waited as the display shifted, then showed a chart of the interference intensity. 

The graph showed rapid fluctuations that appeared to Elizabeth to have no pattern.  “Don’t look at the little spikes, look at the overall … wait, let me fill it in.   The lieutenant tapped at his station, then the spikes were overlain with a solid color, and the pattern showed itself as a long undulating wave.  “What is your opinion to the cause?”, Elizabeth asked him.  Captain Devereux looked over to the science station as she waited for his reply.  

Elizabeth was thinking furiously.  A regular pattern isn’t seen unless it’s something like a pulsar spinning, then it appears to pulse.  The only regular patterns are in living things or a  She blinked as the realization came to her.  “I think it’s a beacon”, she blurted out.  

She saw  Gho’s face shift as the implication of the pattern became clear to her as well.  Devereux looked over to Hawkes.  “Have the crew stand to stations.  Prep the shuttle for launch.  I want to be ready if we get visitors”, Devereux said. 

“This is Shuttle one, voice check”, came lieutenant Pyrafox’s voice. 

“Check confirmed, Elizabeth replied immediately.  Start launch preparations.”  

“Starting launch prep, aye”, came the lieutenant’s voice.  

Devereux said tersely, “Tsu-tao, are you and the Jefferies receiving the Chief any better than we are?”  

“We hear you, the Chief’s signal is very distorted.  He’s hard to make out”, replied the Ensign. 

“Are you receiving any telemetry from their suits?” asked Elizabeth.  

“Some, reception is very erratic”, replied Tsu-tao.  

“Acknowledged, stand by”, said Devereux.

“Sir, Jefferies and I could move further into the field and see if we can receive the Chief’s transmissions more clearly.”  

Elizabeth looked over to the captain.  Devereux looked to Elizabeth, then shook her head, then turned to talk with Hope again.  

Elizabeth tapped the ‘transmit’ key. “Hold your position for now.  We’re considering options”, She said.  

What did he mean by an angel?, Elizabeth wondered.  In spite of the tension on the bridge, her curiosity had her returning to what the chief said, and turning it over in her head.  Knowing the Chief, it might be anything.

#

How did this get here, and , how in the name of Morris do I find what is projecting this image in all this floating junk?  The debris field had been difficult to navigate.  Pieces of rock, scrap, and unidentifiable debris floated in a loose cloud throughout the central area.  Both he and Ferahim had to take it slow, making a number of small corrections to avoid some of the larger, and more dangerous looking pieces or wreckage.  The large chunk of rock at the center drew at him. The white light  that flickered against the dark, lightless background, struck him with images of a candle in a window, lighting the way home.

The flickering image floated close to the surface of the asteroid, with a large piece of what looked like a thick, irregular sliver piercing the image and embedded in the rock.  The hologram was huddled, arms crossed in front of its face, as if it was trying to protect itself from something. The wings were feathered, white, and  partly furled around the body, protectively, like the crossed arms.  Rusty guessed the wingspan was somewhere around four meters tip to tip. The ‘hair’, or something like hair, shown with a bright copper sheen as his suit lights illuminated it, creating a halo of color around the head of the creature.  

   She. It, must have been caught in the blast and…he shook his head then snarled to himself. Snap out of it Rayna, it’s a Holo, not anything else.  This looks like someone’s idea of an old rock music-slash-video vixen, or a kinky alien date.  Maybe something a guy would dream up after a few too many.

Lieutenant Ferahim landed just ‘uphill’ from Rusty and the hologram.  With her feet against the rock, she hovered at a near right angle to the chief, some five meters away.  His feeling of unease at the tableaux in front of him was echoed by Ferahim through the comm.  “Chief, wha …ou doing?”  The interference was intense.  The suit speakers were constantly crackling in his ears.  His suit camera had   “Just hold on, lieutenant.  I want to look this over, I think we can take it back with us.  We can use it for holo- night.”  

He shook his head and chuckled, then began to look carefully around the image.  If it’s a hologram vid, that means the projector’s here somewhere.  The hand held scanner was useless due to the intense interference, so he turned a slow circle, scanning the cloud of small debris for something, anything that might be projecting the image.  “Lieutenant, do you see any projector near here?  I want to know what’s making this hologram.”  “No …ief”, she said, “Noth …t all.”

Rusty sighed dramatically, then looked down at the image.  “Don’t go away hun, I’ll be right back”, Rusty said to the flickering image.  The two carefully searched the rock around the hologram for any activity.  The scanners were useless due to the high interference, so the search was slowed appreciatively.  After ten minutes of careful searching, they were no closer to finding the origin of the hologram.  “Take a break, darling, while I think about this”, Rusty said with a roguish smile, trying to break the lieutenant’s ice-like demeanor.  Ferahim didn’t react, turning and blipping her thrusters to move her up to the top edge of the rock.

“Chief…up here, now.”  came the static-filled hum of the lieutenant’s voice. Her voice had him suddenly scanning the field for movement.  He suddenly felt exposed, and alone.  To cover his discomfort, he fired his thrusters to floating swiftly up next to the lieutenant, brushing against the sliver impaling the hologram.  Once next to her, she pointed down the backside of the asteroid.  

His eyes followed her finger down  the rock, and to the unmistakable shape of a burn nozzle poking out of  a cloud hanging debris.  His mind whirred as he looked around him mentally noting pieces and striving to fit them like a giant puzzle together.  “This isn’t a debris field”, he said excitedly, “it’s wreckage.”     Ferahim was on full alert, scanning the area, her weapon unlimbered and ready for use.  “Come on lieutenant, don’t tell me that old fossil has you ready to shoot then ask questions”, Rusty said disparagingly as he watched Ferahim study the field.

“Seeing trouble coming first saves more trouble finding you”, she replied, as her helmet turned to face him.  “Hey, was that a dig?”, he chuckled.  “It’s been a while, oh like about two hours, since anyone called me trouble.”  The attempt at a roguish shrug of the shoulders was stymied by the zero-g suit and thruster nozzles.  “You get to know me better and you’ll find I’m not near the mild-mannered engineer I appear to be”

#

Captain Devereux grimaced at the continuing lack of information.   She shook her head, then looked over to her First Officer who was conversing with Gho at the science station.  Elizabeth chose that moment to look up, and her cheeks reddened at the apparent scrutiny.  She shifted the datapad from one hand to the other and rolled her shoulder.  Devereux caught the slight hitch and wince Elizabeth tried to hide.

Toughing it out.

She turned to Hope once more.  “Any ideas that come to mind, Hope?”  Hope stared impassively at her for a long moment before answering.  “It is extensive”, she finally said quietly.    Devereux nodded.   She turned to the communication station, where Hawkes and the science officer had resumed efforts to find a working frequency.  He looked up at her, then shook his head very slightly before looking down again.

“Shuttle One, what’s your status?”, Devereux said, tersely.

“Shuttle One is one minute from launch-ready, Captain”, came Pryafox’s reply.  His Cajun accent garbled by interference and the shape of his jaw and throat.  “Cycling through the last check routines now.  Downloading the latest updated maps of the field, such as we can get.  That interference is going to make this interesting.”

“Keep it as uninteresting as you can, lieutenant.  The Fleet would frown on me if I have to requisition another shuttle and Navigator”, Devereux replied.

“Can do and will do, Captain. Careful is my middle name.”

Everyone is a comedian,  Devereux thought to herself, a small smile forming on her lips.  The Chief’s rubbing off on the crew.

Hawkes stepped away from the communication station, and approached her.  He straightened, then stated, “Captain, the interference is too much for communications.  With its full spectrum of interference, we can only maintain contact for a few seconds on any given frequency.  Cycling frequencies does not solve the problem either.  The interference is continuously making random pattern changes.”

Devereux sighed, running her hand through her short, blonde hair.  “Were you able to get any kind of information back when you did get a signal?   “No, captain”, Hawkes said. She then turned to Hope.  “Send a medic to the shuttle to join Pryafox, he should be ready for launch.” She shifted to face Hawkes again.  “Lieutenant, keep trying to make contact, we may get lucky.”   Hawkes’ carefully neutral face told her he didn’t expect to get lucky at all.  

Hope nodded, and said, “I will go”.  She headed to the shuttle bay, while Hawkes returned to the communications station.  Devereux looked over to navigation, and then to the science, hoping that one might give her an insight to the situation.  All she saw were earnest young faces, doing what they were trained to do.

She listened to the snippets of conversation,  “Trying suite thirty-one to thirty-six megaherz” …”Keep the drift constant, we’re building a slow yaw” … “Try forty-one to fifty” … “mapping complete to twenty percent of centroid.”

“Shuttle One reporting. The Doc’s aboard, We’re just waiting for the extra medical supplies”,  Pryafox said over the comm.

“Acknowledged, report ready when the equipment’s secured”, she replied.

Elizabeth looked up, then to the Captain.  Devereux shook her head.   I hate making them wait, but there’s no proof they’re in trouble yet.  The Chief’s as resourceful as he is a pain-in-the-butt.  I’ll give them a little more time.

She then looked over to Hawkes, who was still in conversation with Gho.  “Anything new to report, lieutenant Hawkes?” she queried.  “No captain, nothing successful as yet”, replied Hawkes.  Christine nodded, then turned to the screens again.

#

Hawkes looked back to  Gho. She looked up, then back to her board, and said,  “I’m going to military channel-skipping, that’s my last gasp at finding a hole in all that noise.  It’s just too strong and it’s too pervasive through the range we’re set up for.  Theoretically, if we could transmit in the nano-wave range, or very long-wave, we might find something.  Gho lifted her hands off the surface and placed her fists together, then pulled them apart, fingers splayed out.  “Pfft, we’re deaf until they get back in range or the jammer, if there is one, is shut down.

Hawkes watched Gho’s frustration.  He understood it, and didn’t remark on her dramatic gesture.  He looked up to the screens,  and closed his eyes as he took a calming breath. There is no standard response to a non-standard situation.  What is needed is a non-standard answer.

In spite of the stress, he maintained the same impassive controlled demeanor he always did.  There IS a method to defeat this.  He reached his hand up to the side of his head, then stopped.  His deliberate steps slowed as he turned over every method so far attempted, trying to find a flaw or a derivation that might give a way to communicate with Lieutenant Ferahim and the Chief Rayna.  Every situation he could remember was considered for anything that might apply.  

His focus had been on security, not rescue.  He had cross-training implemented, and all of his tactical and security teams were able to fill in where needed in engineering, maintenance, emergency medical, damage control, and communications.  Experience is only gained on the job, training works only for being trained. Hawkes’ pacing slowed until it looked like he was moving in slow motion, each step taking seconds to complete.  His cheek muscles clenched, his head snapped up.  Hawkes stood completely still, eyes locked forward as if peering at some distant scene.

After a few seconds of absolute stillness, he resumed a brisker pace, his tense muscles visibly relaxing as he returned to Gho’s side at the Communication console.  The Captain and First Officer watched him as he moved to the Science officer’s side. When in doubt, ask the expert.

“What have we not considered as communications, Ensign?”, Hawkes asked her.

Gho looked at her console, clenched her fists, and then opened them.  “What about pitching a rock with a note attached to it?”, she said.

Hawkes paused, then looked down at Gho.  “That kind of accuracy would need a targeting assist”

Gho looked up into his impassive face, and seemed completely at a loss to how she should reply.  The pause stretched out for a few moments, until Hawkes raised his eyebrows, and queried,  “Ensign?”  

She fidgeted uncomfortably, then answered, “I…I don’t know.”    

“Try cycling the series with the apparent modulation cycle of the interference,” he suggested.  Hawkes looked at the screen then down again.  “If we match our signal to the intensity variation, we may be able to…”   The speakers squealed with ear splitting feedback.  Everyone on the bridge clapped their hands, filled or not, to their ears, trying to shut out the painful squeal.  Gho quickly cut the speakers and fed the transmission through her console.  The interference peaked then dropped back to a quieter hiss.

Gho shook her head and waited a moment to let her ears quit ringing.  “Cycling attenuates it, sir,” she said in frustration.

He nodded, his mind focused on trying to correlate this latest failure with the other attempts.  “Noted.  Continue your study of the phenomena.”

Hawkes returned to Tactical.  He began running a number of potential security exercises through the computer as he worked at breaking his obsession with finding a communications solution.   He focused on his board as it returned potential scenario results.

He could hear the captain’s measured stride as she approached and stopped just behind him.  “Lieutenant, who besides Lieutenant Ferahim has EVA experience in security?”, Devereux asked.   Hawkes stopped, focusing on the request, then brought up a list of security personnel.  There were six others with EVA experience, though two had more than the rest.  Sergeants Sykes and Tuggle.  “Sykes and Tuggle have a number of EVA missions,  I recommend them as first choice for another EVA team”, Hawkes said as he turned his head to address the captain.

“Have them report to the shuttle, and kitted out for rescue.  If the Chief’s and Ferahim’s  estimated air supplies drop past a third remaining, I want them to be ready to go collect the two of them,” Devereux said.  Hawkes noticed her face was pinched slightly.  She’s worried.  He straightened and turned fully to face Captain Devereux.  “I will make certain they’re ready on time, Captain.”  Devereux looked at Hawkes, then ran her hand through her hair, saying,  “I’m sure they will be.”

#

Hope supervised the installation of the portable diagnostic table and the walk-through scanner in the cargo hold.   Once secured, she used security officers Sykes and Tuggle to test the scanner, using them to check its functions and see if it needed calibration after the move.  The tests showed no deviation from it’s baseline settings, so Hope set it to standby and checked the diagnostic table.   Satisfied that both pieces of equipment were ready, she assisted the loading of the extra medical supplies: anti-radiation drugs, hydration packs, and tissue repair nanites for vacuum damage.  She had also brought bone knitters, though chances of their use were low.

Once the supplies were secured, she walked from the cargo bay to the pilot deck, where Pryafox was sitting back with old-style over the ear headphones on.  Sykes and Tuggle were at the back sitting in two of the crew seats, listening to the music.  To Hope, the noise was a cacophonous mix of sound in a scale that was jarring and at odds with her senses.  “That’s one amazing piece of music”, Tuggle said,  a large smile on his face.  “Something raw, and honest.  Where’d you get it, Fox?”   Pryafox gave Tuggle a openmouthed grin and tapped the headphones off, then lowered them to hang around his neck. “Tha saom good ol’ blooz rahk muzak.  Got that fum a 2005 rad-eee-oh broadcast.  Love det stuff”, he said, playing up his cajun accent, getting laughs from both Sykes and Tuggle.

“Is that tribal music?,  Hope remarked.  All three men blinked as one, and turned to Hope.  She noted that their glances seemed to register astonishment at her observation.  “Well, ah, y’see”, Pyrafox seemed at a total loss to answer her question.  He finally gave up and chuckled.  “Y’all maht be raht onna dat”, he said in his exaggerated Cajun accent, as both Sykes and Tuggle listened, chuckling.

She stood absolutely still for a number of seconds, then moved to sit down in the co-pilot’s seat. She buckled into the safety harness.   “I am ready”, she said tersely.  Pryafox shut the music off, and waited for Sykes and Tuggle to strap themselves in.  He half-turned to Hope and saluted crisply.  “Certainement!  Shuttle one taxi is ready to go.”  he grinned and checked his safety harness.  He slipped the headphones back over his ears, and Hope could hear another dissonant mix of sound emit faintly from them.  She wondered if it had any religious significance, and why a devil would go to someplace called Georgia.

Hope listened with detached interest to Jefferies excited discourse over the comm.  “We need to go deeper into the field, get more core samples”, he said over the comm.  “This really should be marked and studied.   A full quarter of this debris field appears to be non-natural!  I’m seeing what look like parts of a ship, or a number of ships.  This is a treasure trove of data.  This has to be a research priority.  I’ve never gotten results like these before.  There’s organics mixed with the metals, and silicon.  It’s like … like nothing I’ve ever seen!”

As she waited for the shuttle to launch, she brought up Jefferies vitals on her portable screen.  Her misgivings in allowing him to go EVA prompted her close scrutiny of his vitals.   The baseline readings had not changed appreciably.  Oxygen intake was half-again what a standard rate should be, along with elevated blood pressure, and slightly labored breathing. Nothing of immediate concern.  She noted a new regimen for a dietary restriction on carbohydrates and extra time at physical conditioning, attaching the notes to his profile for the colony medical staff. 

“Is there any way to identify who made it?”, Captain Devereux said.  

“I’m a xeno-geologist, Captain.  I wouldn’t know a Arctican ship from a Heftaur one.  Rocks I know, and most of this field is not rock”, Jefferies replied.  “Besides, most of this wreckage reads as organic.   I don’t know anyone who builds a ship like that outside of old science fiction books”

“Understood,  Devereux said. She stopped, for a moment, then said, “See if you can find samples of the wreckage small enough to handle, and bring it on board the shuttle”,

“Aye aye, captain”, Tao-tsu replied.

“Hope, make certain everything goes through decon procedures.”

“Yes”, Hope replied.  Organics. Proteins.  Some of these are artificial designs.  This trace is a protein of a viral transfer coat.  This is chitin, and myelin, and pure carbon traces. What race uses material like that for ships?  Could there be something applicable to my experiments?  I have to get some samples to study in detail. There was an odd familiarity to the material that disturbed her.

The shuttle was given the green light to launch.  Pryafox deftly maneuvered the shuttle from its bay, using short, delicate pulses of the maneuvering thrusters.  He let the shuttle drift about two hundred meters away from the ship, then fired a braking sequence so that the shuttle was rock-steady off the port side of Emerald Flight. Pryafox looked over to Hope.  “Any closer, Doc, an’ we’ll be in the field, an’ that makes maneuvers a little tricky.”   Hope and Pryafox unbuckled.  Hope donned the zero-g suit, with Pryafox assisting her.  While the suits could be worked by just one person, loading extra equipment on them was slow without help.  “Thank you”, she said to Pryafox when they finished.

Pryafox gave the seals a second check, then grinned, showing Hope a thumbs up.  He moved back into the cockpit, closed the airlock door, then began to depressurize the cargo area.  The hiss of air escaping faded rapidly.  Once the bay read zero atmosphere,  the large overhead doors opened.  Hope moved to the main bay, and switched the portable med table and walk-through scanner from ‘stand-by’ to ‘active’.  

“Hey, how you all doing with the collecting out there?”, Pryafox said over the comm.  “The Doc’s ready and waiting.”

“We’ve got the first piece,” Tao-tsu answered. “It looks like some melted stuff.  Pretty light compared to some of the rocks mixed in.  This looks like it’s pretty representative.  What do you think, sir?”

Jeffries took a moment to reply.  “It looks pretty much like most of them, burned and melted.  I’m going to poke around a bit.”

“Check your tether first, sir.”  

“Oh, yes, right.  My tether.”  Jefferies was silent for a moment.  “How’s my tether?”

“You’re fine, though fifty meters isn’t going to let you near any of that other stuff,  this is one spread out bunch of junk.  Emerald Flight,  just how big is this field, again?”, Tao-tsu asked.

“Our telemetry had it at five kilometers at its short axis, and eight on the long axis”, Eleizbeth replied.

“I wonder if all of this is one ship or more.”, Tao-tsu, said.

Hope tuned the chatter out and reviewed the sensor data.  Tao-tsu and Jefferies were tethered a half-kilometer into the field. The radiation counter detected only the slight background radiation of deep space.  Neither Jefferies or Tao-tsu were in any danger from radioactivity.  The concern was the organics that were there. Among the traces were proteins that were found in viruses. The suits were proof against any disease or parasites, but only so long as they didn’t remove them.  Full decontamination would be required as a safety precaution.

“Tao-tsu, how do I work this tether? Oh, got it.  Let’s go to that big piece over there.  I think we can push it back to the shuttle”, Jefferies said eagerly.

“You bring a big piece back, you take care gettin’ it in my shuttle.  Don’t scratch the paint”, Pryafox said with a yipping chuckle.

“Everyone’s a comedian”, Jefferies said in reply, though Hope heard a small laugh in his voice in spite of the gruff sound.

“Shuttle overhead doors open,  you can bring your souvenirs to the doc.  She’s waiting”, said Pryafox.

“On our way.  See you soon, Shuttle One”,  Tao-tsu finished.

Radecki / Dark : Emerald Flight : Star Wing – Chapter 3 – Off to a Rocky Start

Entering her quarters, Elizabeth lifted her left arm experimentally, prepared to feel sharp twinges of pain shoot along her shoulder. Instead, she felt some tightness, but no real discomfort.

That’s good stuff Hope has, she mused with a faint smile. It faded quickly. No wonder the Chief wanted it so bad.

She eyed her bunk, wondering if she dared try to remove her tunic before she lay down. She swung her arm slowly across her body.

It really doesn’t hurt that bad any more. And a little rest wouldn’t hurt. Hope said “light duty” and . . .

Elizabeth’s eyes caught sight of the chronometer on her desk.

Damn it! I’m supposed to be on the bridge in ten minutes!

Her eyes searched the room for the pieces of her uniform, silently praying that last night had been one when she had bothered to hang it up.

Thank god this isn’t the Washington.

Captain Dresden made it a point to conduct regular inspections of his crew’s personal quarters. Officers were subject to even more severe reprimands than non-commissioned personnel. Elizabeth had discovered this very quickly, but not before she was assigned to three extra shifts and some particularly unpleasant duties with the reclamation maintenance teams. Dresden’s quarters had looked as if he never actually used them. 

She located her trousers draped over the side of her chair and held them up, satisfied that they were presentable. Her duty tunic, which she found buried under her pajamas, was a wrinkled mess. She shook it out, but that proved to be of little help.

I could wear my dress uniform . . .

She turned toward her closet.

No, she stopped herself. Stupid idea!

Glancing at the chronometer again, she swore again.

Damn it, I still need to shower!

She knew without checking that skipping that step was not an option. Taking a slow breath to calm herself, she considered her options.

I can do that in ten minutes. She felt her dismay begin to grow again. My hair . . . !

It was stiff with dried perspiration and, she guessed, probably smelled almost as bad as the rest of her.

Damn! Damn! Damn it!

She peeled off her clothing, forgetting about her injured shoulder, and let it fall in a pile on the floor. She palmed on the shower and stepped inside before making certain itt was warm.

Eight minutes later, she emerged, dripping wet and as clean as she could manage. She rubbed viciously at her hair with a towel, feeling its strands tangle, and wondered irritably once again why she liked to wear it long. Her shoulder tingled fiercely. Elizabeth forced herself to ignore it.

She checked the chronometer.

Damn, I won’t have time to brush it out. She swore silently at herself, thinking of the mess she would have to unsnarl after her shift was over. I’ll just have to pull it back . . . and pray.

It was not at all unusual for her to wear her hair pulled back into a ponytail while on duty, but she usually brushed it out thoroughly first.

She dried the rest of her body, having to reach around to dry her back several times as her hair dripped water down it. After dressing in her underwear and pants, she attacked her hair again, getting as dry as she could manage with the single towel.

That’s what I get for not doing laundry . . .

After sliding into her tunic, she reached back to gather her hair. Gritting her teeth, she threaded her hair through a narrow elastic band, managing to snap only two of her fingers with the band. Waving her abused digits in the air, she resisted the urge to place them into her mouth like a child. The abrupt movements did little to appease her damaged shoulder.

Dressed now, and with her hair passably arranged, she glanced at the chronometer again.

Less than two a minutes left!

She darted out into the corridor, nearly colliding with a passing crew member. Apologizing to him breathlessly, and then trying not to look as if she were running, she resumed her dash toward the bridge.

#

Rusty prowled the main Engineering Deck. He peered into open access panels as his technicians tried to work inside them, generally making a nuisance of himself. The crew had become skittish in his presence. He knew that he was driving morale down right through the deck plates, but he was determined to find out just what was not right with this ship.

“Carson,” he said, walking by a thin, blonde-haired crew member, “watch out for that yellow conduit. You’ll short out the aft radiation sensors.”

Carson started and then stared at the activated micro-welder in his left hand, wide-eyed at just how close he had nearly come to severing that conduit. He swallowed hard and then, very slowly and carefully, deactivated the tool and pulled it clear of the junction.

“Thanks, Chief,” he called out, his voice trembling slightly.

Rusty grunted something unintelligible in response, distracting the technician from realizing that he had not actually looked inside the panel.

He noticed that conversations stopped as he approached. Whispers returned as he passed. Both of these just added to his irritation. It was not at all how he liked to run his department, but he could not shake the feeling that something was wrong, that this ship might be in serious danger.

“Tsu-tao,” Rusty called to the dark-haired technician. “Make sure all the ramscoop feeds are closed and sealed tight before we get too close to . . . whatever this thing is. The last thing we need is to flood the intakes with a bunch of magnetic or irradiated ore.”

“I’m on it, Chief,” the short, but sturdy, engineer replied with a genial smile, making a note on the tablet he carried.

“You’d better be,” Rusty warned him in something that resembled a growl. “Or you’ll be cleaning them out with tweezers.”

Tsu-tao’s smile faded. Swallowing visibly in response to his Chief’s uncharacteristically sour mood, he looked down at his tablet as he walked away.

Rusty’s eyes turned upward and surveyed the ceiling, the equivalent of two decks above him. It was covered in a maze of tubes cabling, most of which were accessed from the deck above. He had not thought to study it before.

“Sandersen!”

It took a moment, but then a male voice answered him from across the wide space of the deck.

“Yes, Chief?”

Rusty continued to stare up at the ceiling as he spoke.

“I want a team to inspect every conduit, junction, and vent up there.”

“Right now?” Sandersen’s voice sounded incredulous.

“Right now,” Rusty replied flatly.

His eyes remained pointed toward the ceiling, but there was no change in the nagging sense of uneasiness that drove him. That was not it.

Still, it won’t hurt to check.

He looked down and his gaze quickly swept the Engineering Deck again.

Maybe it’s not here at all.

“I’ll be on the bridge,” he told Aruna, who had come up beside him. “Don’t break anything while I’m gone.”

“I’ll try not to, sir,” she responded softly, sounding far more sincere than was probably necessary.

Rusty did not look at her as he headed for the main hatch.

#

Devereux sat at the command station, trying to review status reports. Despite her best efforts, she was unable to keep herself from glancing up at the main bridge displays every few minutes. Although they would be entering nominal sensor range shortly, it would be a while before they provided any new information about the mysterious field they had detected. Given the many types of suspense to be had out in space, Devereux was more than willing to experience this kind than that of heading into combat.

Looking up from her desk, Devereux covertly surveyed the other members of the bridge crew, noting with a certain relieved satisfaction that few of them were having any better success at staying focused on their routine tasks than she was. At the helm, Pyrafox occasionally made what were probably unnecessary adjustments to the navigational controls. He leaned forward in his seat, as if by willpower alone he could propel the ship ahead more quickly. She even caught Hawkes taking a glance at the trio of large displays. Only Gho appeared to be solely focused on her assigned tasks.

But then she actually has work to do.

Devereux was tempted to ask for an update, but stopped herself.

She’ll report when she has something to report.

The main hatch opened and Elizabeth entered. Devereux turned to look, watching as Elizabeth appeared to nearly stumble over the hatchway. She also seemed to be slightly out of breath, but trying to hide it. Devereux fought back a smile.

“Nice of you to join us, Lieutenant . . .” she paused, seeing her First Officer’s light-skinned cheeks grow pink. “. . . Commander.”

To her credit, Devereux noted, Elizabeth met her eyes. The young officer was less than not even two minutes late. Still, A a little light-hearted teasing would ease the general tension of the crew—and probably ensure that the Elizabeth would not arrive even remotely tardy for a duty shift for weeks to come.

Like you’ve never overslept . . .

“I’m sorry, Captain,” Elizabeth said, standing straight and nearly at attention. “I was—”

The hatch opened again, interrupting her, and Rusty stepped inside. Devereux was surprised. She had not expected the Chief Engineer to make an appearance on the bridge.

“Is there something wrong, Chief?”

Rusty turned to look at her and seemed, for a moment, to have trouble focusing on her.

Damn. He’d better not be—

“I don’t know yet,” Rusty replied. His words came out as a kind of loud mumble, not slurred exactly, but definitely the indication of a distracted man.

Devereux and Elizabeth exchanged a glance. Elizabeth moved closer to Rusty. He seemed unaware of her until she nearly touched him. At that moment, he stepped forward, staring with fixed intensity at the main bridge displays.

“What’s going on?”

Devereux and Elizabeth exchanged another look. They both knew that the Chief had been briefed when the course was made.

“We’re entering scanning range of the debris cloud,” Devereux said, trying sound as matter-of-fact as possible.

Rusty nodded as if he understood.

“Anything yet?”

Devereux looked toward the main Science station and caught Gho’s eye. The science officer shook her head.

“Nothing new yet, sir,” she said. “From this distance, it still appears to be just a collection of rocks.” Gho tapped some controls. “We’re having trouble getting high-resolution scans,” she reported, frowning. “There’s probably a lot of some ionized dust particles in the way floating around out there.”

Rusty made a thoughtful sound, his eyes never leaving the main screens.

“There’s something out there,” he murmured, loud enough to be heard.

Devereux looked over at Elizabeth, whose mouth tightened into an frown.

“Yes there is,” Devereux agreed, trying to sound calmly reasonable.

She noticed a change in the Chief Engineer’s posture. The muscles along his back and shoulders appeared to relax. Not certain whether to take this as a positive sign or a warning, she considered ways to reach the intercom and alert Hope without alarming Rusty. She caught Elizabeth’s attention and directed her eyes toward the intercom controls on the Science station. Elizabeth nodded almost imperceptibly and then turned her eyes back toward Rusty.

“That’s what it is,” he announced, sounding surprisingly lucid and relieved.

“What is, Chief?”

“That,” Rusty replied, nodding toward the screens. “It wasn’t the ship at all.”

Devereux’s expression tightened with concern. Looking toward Elizabeth again, her First Officer just gave a faint shrug.

“Chief,” Devereux said, calmly. “I don’t suppose you’d be interested in telling us what you’re talking about?”

Rusty continued to stare at the main bridge displays. Devereux wondered if he had not heard her, then he turned around. He looked like a different man from the befuddled one who had wandered onto the bridge. Although his grin appeared to be genuine, Devereux remained unconvinced that there was not something else going on with her Chief Engineer.

Rusty regarded her for a long moment, glanced at Elizabeth, and then back to Devereux. His grin faded, making him seem somehow less menacing.

“It was out there,” he said, smiling happily. “It was out there.”

“What was, Chief?” Elizabeth asked gently.

Rusty turned to her, still smiling, but his eyes reflected his seriousness.

“I don’t know.”

#

Hawkes watched the Chief Engineer carefully. Although the man appeared intoxicated, Hawkes found himself surprised . . . and not quite ready to accede to that explanation. To his knowledge, Chief Rayna had ceased his usage of unauthorized medications ever since returning to the ship. For him to regress now was too great a coincidence for Hawkes to readily accept.

He had seen the Captain and Elizabeth exchange a number of meaningful glances. Based on the direction that their eyes moved, Hawkes concluded that their intent had been to reach the intercom. They could not without attracting the Chief Engineer’s attention, so Hawkes had keyed a silent request for medical assistance on the bridge. He also instructed a security team to report to the bridge, but not to enter it without orders to do so.

Devereux moved closer to the main Science station.

“Anything new?” she asked Gho.

The lieutenant checked her console before shaking her head. “Nothing, Captain,” she reported. “We’re still too far out.”

Devereux nodded, frowning slightly. She looked over toward the Chief Engineer, but he offered no reaction to Gho’s report. Devereux started to speak, but was interrupted by the sound of the main hatch opening.

Hope entered, carrying a medical case. Hawkes noted with satisfaction the two Security personnel that flanked her, but remained outside the hatch, taking positions of each side of the hatchway.

“Hope,” Devereux said. It was almost a breath of relief.

“Captain.”

“Hey, Doc!” Rusty called out without turning away from the bridge displays.

For several moments, no one spoke. Devereux’s eyes directed Hope toward Rusty. Hope placed her case down on a nearby console and removed a portable medical scanner. Hope finished her scan of the Chief Engineer. Although she said nothing while she scanned the Chief Enginner, Hawkes noticed that she appeared to be startled by something the scanner had shown her. It was only the most subtle change in the Aerian physician’s expression, but Hawkes was certain that it was there. The Captain appeared to have noticed it as well.

Hope finished her scan of the Chief Engineer. Even as she stepped back, her dark eyes fixed on the scanner’s readout display. After a moment, she looked up and stared at Devereux. The Captain read something in the Aerian’s expression that made her jaw tighten.

“Chief,” she Devereux said, sounding reasonable, but firm. “I want you to go with Hope back to the infirmary.”

Rusty did not respond, nor did he move for several moments. Finally, he turned slowly around. He regarded Hope critically, as if he had never seen her before.

Although Hawkes saw nothing belligerent in the Chief’s manner, he held his fingers over the control that would summon the guards waiting out in the corridor. He noticed a change in the Captain’s posture. She, it appeared, also waited for the Chief Engineer to protest or resist.

“Chief,” Hope addressed him flatly.

Rusty looked down at the scanner in her hand. Awareness seemed to dawn on him.

“You think I’ve finally gone space happy, don’tcha?”

“Chief,” she repeated. It was a command, not a plea.

The Chief Engineer met Devereux’s eyes. Elizabeth shifted awkwardly on her feet. Devereux’s throat moved as she swallowed, but she remained resolute. The Chief’s eyes moved to Elizabeth, causing Elizabethher to shifted awkwardly on her feet awkwardly. and His gaze then fixed on Hope. Hawke’s fingers hovered above the security alert signal.

The Chief Engineer smiled, but Hawkes saw no signs that he intended to attack Hope or bolt for one of the hatchways. He continued to smile, the familiar bright twinkle returning to his eyes.

“I think you miss me, Doc.”

Hope stared back at him silently. Her large dark eyes revealed nothing. Devereux nodded once to her and then inclined her head in the direction of the main hatch.

“Come,” Hope said.

She waited for him to move in the direction of the hatchway. The Chief Engineer waited for only a moment, and then before headinged for the bridge’s main hatch. When it opened before him, he paused and looked back at Hawkes.

“For me?” he said, grinning with clear amusement at seeing the guards positioned there. “You shouldn’t have.”

He stepped into the corridor, the two security personnel falling in behind him. After a moment, he stopped and turned around.

“Whatcha waiting for, Doc?” he called out. “The Captain doesn’t have all day.”

Devereux exchanged a look with Hope that Hawkes interpreted as silent approval to depart. Hope stared back at the Captain for a long moment and then headed for the hatchway. Hawkes raised his hands from his console and looked at the Captain. Her expression betrayed deep concern as she watched Hope depart. Her eyes continued to follow the Medical Officer until the hatch closed behind her.

Devereux glanced for only a moment at the main bridge displays before turning and returning up the ramp to the command deck. Hawkes regarded her for a moment, and then turned his attention back to his console. He keyed the security monitors so he could follow the Chief Engineer’s progress to the infirmary, to ensure that he actually arrived there.

#

Hope trailed the Chief Engineer and his two Security escorts. She had been surprised by the Tactical Officer’s signal. His message had been brief and vague, giving her little other information than that the situation was potentially critical and she needed to report to the bridge immediately. She had done so, and was still not clear on what had transpired there. Clearly, there was an issue involving the Chief Engineer, but she had witnessed nothing that deviated significantly from his typical behavior. She would follow the Captain’s orders, of course, hoping that doing so might provide her with some answers.

She still held the medical scanner in her hand. The readings that it had produced her troubled her, not so much from that data that it had reported, as it did from what it had not shown her. After they reached the infirmary, she could conduct more detailed physiological and neurological tests that might explain what the portable scanner had reported.

When they reached the infirmary, the two Security personnel stopped outside the hatch and waited for her open it. One took a position on each side of the Chief Engineer with one hand resting openly on their weapon. Hope completed the security procedure quickly and efficiently, standing aside as one of the guards pushed open the hatch. The other one, using nothing more than his physical presence, ushered the Chief Engineer inside.

Hope entered, letting the hatch close behind her. 

“Bed Four,” she instructed them, moving toward one of the starboard cabinets.

Although the diagnostic beds were essentially the same, she had equipped Bed Four for more detailed neurological diagnosis. One thing she had learned during her first voyage on this ship was the wide variety of ways that myriad spatial phenomenon could affect the human brain. She was now also better equipped to deal with human birthing as well. However, sShe was not surprised then suspected the likelihood that she would needed to use either the new equipment or the knowledge was low so soon.

The two Security personnel moved closer to the Chief Engineer. He appeared to ignore them, stepping forward before they approached him. Standing next to the diagnostic bed, he surveyed each of the displays as Hope brought them online.

“The Cap’n wants you to make sure I really have a brain in there?” the Chief Engineer said, snickering.

He stood beside the bed for a moment and then lifted himself onto it. Parts of its metal structure creaked as he settled more comfortably onto its pad. He looked toward the ceiling, seeming uncharacteristically calm and composed. The two Security guards stepped back, taking positions between the Chief Engineer and the hatchway.

“Remain still,” Hope instructed him.

“I’ll do my best not to boogie too much.”

Hope regarded the Chief Engineer for several moments, but he remained motionless. This behavior added to her uneasiness. Despite his customary quips to the contrary, he was being far too compliant. After giving him one more look, she activated the diagnostic scanners. Within a few seconds, the first results appeared.

Respiration normal.

Pulse slightly elevated.

Blood pressure slightly elevated.

The latter two readings did not surprise her. Although both were higher than normal, they were not significantly out of range based on her previous medical scans of the Chief Engineer. Still, Hope noted them in her log. It was data and might prove useful later.

The preliminary blood scans showed no traces of any restricted pharmaceutical substances. This both surprised and frustrated Hope. She had not expected to find any, but their presence would have helped to explain the Chief Engineer’s unusual behavior. It meant the cause was something else entirely.

She waited for additional reports. These scans involved deeper analyses of the Chief Engineer’s body functions, measuring factors such as hormonal levels and tissue density, and would require more time to complete. Hope looked at the Chief Engineer, but he remained uncharacteristically still and silent. She looked back at the readouts just as the next set of results began to appear.

Hope studied each one with increasing incredulity. There was not a single deviation from any the Chief Engineer’s previously recorded medical scans that would account for his unusual behavior. If anything, there was a marked improvement in several of them as his body began to repair itself after years of chemical abuse. All that remained now, was were the results of the deep neurological scans—and . Hope was rapidly losingheld diminishing confidence that those they would reveal anything useful.

The diagnostic indicator flashed blue, signaling that the neurological scans had been completed. The results appeared on the screen. Hope noted without surprise that variations among the different bands fell well within both established norms and those previously recorded for the Chief Engineer . . . except for one.

“What is it?” the Chief Engineer asked, breaking her concentration. “What’d you find, Doc?”

Hope looked up at him, said nothing, and then turned her eyes back to the display. The Chief Engineer turned his head. Unable to see the display clearly from that vantage point, he sat up and looked at the diagnostic readouts.

“Good thing my engine outputs don’t look like that,” he remarked, “Or we’d be spinning in circles.” He studied the graphs more closely. “Or in lots of little pieces.”

Hope said nothing, but continued to stare at the diagnostic display. The graphs showed a distinctive spike in the Chief Engineer’s Gamma band.

“Okay, Doc,” the Chief Engineer said. “Want to tell me what we’re looking at?”

“Gamma,” Hope said.

The Chief Engineer peered at the graphs on the display, clearly without comprehension. “Which means . . . what?” he asked with clear irritation. “I’m going to turn big and green and nasty the next time someone ticks me off?”

Hope turned to face the Chief Engineer.

“No.”

“That’s a relief,” he replied, grinning back at her. “I don’t look good in green.”

Hope said nothing, failing to understand either his meaning or the cause for his sudden amusement. She was nearly certain that her response had not prompted it.

There was a long silence as Hope studied the results again. The Chief Engineer fidgeted. He had stopped looking at the diagnostic display, as it was essentially meaningless to him. He tried staring at Hope, as if willing her to turn around and address him. A few seconds into his little game, his eyes widened suddenly with realization.

“You don’t know what it means either,” he announced. His grin widened. “Do you?”

Hope regarded him for a long moment. His eyes continued to study her expression, although she was reasonably certain that it revealed nothing.

“No,” she admitted. Her voice, normally soft, was barely more than a whisper. “I do not.”

The Chief Engineer burst out laughing. Hope turned quickly to the medical monitors, but none of them signaled that he was in any distress. All she could do was to wait until he regained a measure of control, although his grin never went away completely.

“You really don’t know what it means?”

“I do not,” she repeated. “I will research.”

“I’m sure you will,” the Chief Engineer chuckled. He slid from the table. His boots banged against deck, echoing in the infirmary chamber. “Is there any reason you can think of I can’t return to duty?”

Hope studied him critically. His behavior, while needlessly boisterous, was not atypical. Based on the results of the scans, she had no medical reason to detain him. The spikes in his brain’s Gamma band were not justification enough. At least, they were not sufficient enough that she wanted him to remain there while she conducted her research.

“No,” she answered finally.

The Chief Engineer grinned with triumph.

“You will return,” Hope said firmly, “when I inform the Captain.”

“You do that.”

Hope held the Chief Engineer’s gaze for a long moment. She was the one who looked away, turning to face one of the Security personnel.

“He may depart.”

The Security guard nodded her understanding and stepped back, clearing the way to the hatchway. The Chief Engineering strode past her, seeming to be in no hurry.

“Doctor,” the other Security guard said courteously, and then turned and followed the Chief Engineer and the first Security guard out of the infirmary.

Hope watched the hatch close, and wondered what she was going to tell the Captain.

Radecki / Dark : Emerald Flight : Star Wing – Chapter 2 – Dust to Dust

Elizabeth slid into her tunic, gritting her teeth against the twinge of discomfort as she slid it over her left shoulder. The heat from the shower had helped somewhat, aided no doubt by the analgesic that Hope had injected her with.

I won’t be swinging a racquet with that arm any time soon, she considered sourly.

Wincing in anticipation of another stab of pain, Elizabeth fastened the waistband of her uniform. Relieved when she felt only the slightest twinge from the strained ligaments and muscles, she released a slow breath. She still could not decide which hurt more: the physical pain from her injury, or the embarrassment of being seen tripping over her opponent.

It had happened during the second match of her racquetball game with Ensign Manuel de Marco. He was good, better than she had expected, but not very experienced. Although he had kept her moving on the court, Elizabeth had held back slightly, trying to keep the score close. Manuel had fired in a particularly adept shot. Elizabeth raced over to volley it. Instead of moving toward the wall as she expected, though, Manuel had stepped back. She stumbled over his extended leg, sprawling and unable to stop her slide until she smacked hard against the wall.

And all because I was trying to impress him . . .

A certain amount of off-duty fraternization among the members of the crew was, while not encouraged, expected. Since she had been promoted to First Officer, though, she discovered that those boundaries were now far less flexible. Technically, none of the crew reported directly to her, but she was a member of the command staff now. So it was critical to her career that she maintain a certain level of professional detachment. There was something about Enrique de Marco, though, that kept bringing her thoughts of him back to him. Since he was not assigned to the bridge crew, she had given herself permission to see what might happen if they met while off-duty.

I found out all right, she sighed heavily. It must be a sign.

Sitting down on the edge of her bunk, she pulled on her left shoe, managing to do it with surprisingly little difficulty. She was startled by the tight knot of pain when she attempted the same action with her right shoe. It took her several clumsy attempts with her left hand, with some awkward twisting, but she finally managed to get her foot into it. She stood, wiggled her foot so that the shoe fit more comfortably, and then took a long, slow breath.

Light duty, huh? She looked in the mirror, checking the appearance of her uniform. At least I don’t have to wear a sling.

It was a small consolation. She knew the Captain would review Hope’s medical log at some point during the day and probably ask her what happened.

Assuming that she doesn’t know already . . .

One of the things that she had learned at the Academy, and the lesson had been reinforced during her postings on the both the Emerald Flight and the Washington, was that, like those ships, some information also traveled faster than light.

Particularly, she mused unhappily, the kind that you wished wouldn’t.

#

Rusty eyed the twin slipstream drive cores warily. Quiescent now, as they were traveling under normal thrust, he still could not shake the feeling that there was something off about them. Each one had been tested, calibrated, and re-tested—and not a one had revealed any significant issues.

Seen that before, he mused glumly. But put them all together and . . . KABOOM!

He had heard about it happening, but never on any ship that he had ever been on. The most serious problem he could find on his ship, in fact, was a blemish on the aft coolant flow casing where someone had dropped a tool on it, probably weeks ago. Out of sheer irritation, Rusty had ordered a detail to repair and polish it out.

He studied the engineering status displayed on his desktop monitor, and then the diagnostic reports contained on the tablet his hand. Only an immense effort of will kept him from hurling them both across his office. That was fortunate, he realized, as Aruna appeared in the hatchway.

“Chief?” Her soft, clipped tones sounded hesitant.

Rusty looked up from the tablet, trying to decide whether or not to snarl at her. He wanted to be alone, to puzzle this out without interruption.

Then you should have locked the door . . .

He opted to behave civilly.

She doesn’t deserve it. She’s just trying to do her job.

“What is it?”

“The Bridge has asked if we can send a maintenance crew to the galley. There’s some kind of leak from one of the refrigeration units.”

Rusty looked away from her for a moment. He really had no good reason to refuse. All his engineering teams were doing now was wearing out parts by replacing them when there was nothing wrong with them.

“Yeah,” Rusty finally answered. “Go ahead.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“And Aruna?”

The young Indian ensign paused in the doorway. Rusty saw tension tighten her posture. Seeing it made him realize just how wound up he was.

“Take the rest of the day off.”

Aruna turned, puzzlement evident on her mocha-tinted features. “Sir?”

“You heard me,” Rusty replied. “Do it,” he said, trying to sound gruff. “Before I change my mind. The waste ducts on Deck Two still need to be cleaned.”

“Yes, sir.” A faint smile then formed on her dark lips. “Thank you, sir.”

Rusty grunted, turning his attention back to the status display. Once he was certain that Aruna was no longer there, he allowed himself to smile.

I do have a reputation to maintain, after all.

#

The distance from the bridge to Devereux’s quarters was short, but it gave her enough time to consider her growing restlessness. She had felt it even before Hawkes had interrupted her workout, attributing it to the current monotony of their mission. The unexpected sensor readings had done nothing to fan those feelings, so she assumed they were unrelated. Yet, there was something . . .

Entering her quarters, she palmed the lights up to a brighter daylight level. Activating the “Do Not Disturb” indicator, she began to strip out of her workout clothes. Pulling her shirt off over her head, she caught a whiff of her dried perspiration. Other than for Hawkes and Pyrafox, no one else on the bridge had been close enough to smell her.

It’s not that bad . . . 

She pulled and naked now, studied her body’s profile in the long mirror.

The soft edges she had acquired during her leave of absence were nearly gone. Her legs and hips had regained nearly all of their previous muscle tone. She did not have them back in the same shape as they had been when she been a Lieutenant, but she was close to doing so. Although she had tried to maintain a rigorous exercise regimen during the last weeks of her father’s life, it had been nearly impossible at a time when even sleep had become a precious commodity.

She studied the curve of her breasts for a moment, grateful for the ship’s low gravity. During her personal leave on Earth, she had noticed that they had begun to sag slightly. It was, she knew, as much an unfortunate side effect of being planet-side as it was a reminder of her brief pregnancy. The hollow feelings of loss no longer came immediately upon her at that memory. What she did not expect was the remembered sensation that came unbidden to her next—that of Scott’s touch on her body.

He is gone now, she reminded herself, closing her eyes against the memories. Long since dead and gone.

No matter how many times she had practiced that litany since she had returned to her own present—his future—a part of her refused to believe it. They had touched, talked, and made love. For her, it had happened only months ago, not more than a century past. With some effort, she shrugged away the visions, turned on the shower, and stepped inside. The instantly heated spray cleansed her body, but did little to ease her mind.

#

Twenty-four minutes later, Hawkes heard the main hatch open and looked up from his station. The Captain entered, carrying a mug in one hand, just as he had predicted. Her other hand, though, did not contain the protein bar he had expected. Instead, it held some kind of pastry. Hawkes recognized it as one of the scones from a batch that Ensign Evelyn Jaccard had baked that morning. Apparently, the Captain had opted to sample one.

“Anything new on the sensors?” Devereux asked, taking a small bite from the scone as she waited for an answer.

“We’re still out of the optimal sensor range, Captain,” Lieutenant Gho reported from the main Science station. “It still looks like it could be an asteroid cluster,” she went on, “or maybe a comet, or maybe even some other kind of debris field.” Gho consulted the displays on the station before continuing. “There’s nothing to suggest that there’s anything the size of a planet or small moon out there.”

That, Hawkes considered, would have been intriguing.

Planets and moons were typically not found outside of established solar systems. None of the previous surveys had reported any of the usual signs of a planetary system in the region. Their own sensors now appeared to confirm that as well. Hawkes knew that was no guarantee that one was not present. In his experience, the universe made it a point to remind those who explored it that they did not understand everything about it how it worked.

Devereux stared at the trio of main bridge displays, chewing another bite of pastry thoughtfully.

“Still,” Devereux mused aloud, “it’s odd for it be out here in the middle of nowhere.”

Hawkes found that he had to agree.

“And there’s nothing at all unusual about this region?”

Gho shook her head, her sleek shoulder-length hair casting dark waves across her face. “Nothing, Captain,” she answered. “At least nothing our sensors can detect.” She waved her hand toward the Science station, indicating that the Captain could check the readings for herself.

“What about spatial displacement?” Hawkes asked.

The ensign tapped at the surface of the console and then glanced at Devereux before answering.

“There’s nothing, sir.” She tapped a control, replacing the image on the leftmost main bridge display. “If there’s been any FTL traffic through here, it happened a long time ago.”

The Captain’s posture relaxed slightly. Hawkes felt an undercurrent of relief as well. It seemed unlikely now that they were heading into some kind of ambush. There were no known ways to obscure the spatial displacement caused by the passage of a vessel using a faster-than-light drive, regardless of the technology being used.

Devereux turned toward Hawkes with a bemused expression.

“I hate to tell you this, Lieutenant,” she said, “but it looks like we’re going to get that spot in the history books after all—for discovering a new cloud of space dust.”

Hawkes met the Captain’s eyes for only a moment before turning away. Until he was convinced that the region was safe, he would not share in her amusement. With that thought in mind, he turned back to his station and studied the tactical readouts once more.

#

Hope stood, engrossed in her examination of the data from her last experiment, despite its clear failure to produce the results she had hoped for, It took a moment to recognize that the insistent buzzing sound was the intercom calling for her attention. She had also failed to notice the blinking alert signal. Feeling only a faint twinge of chagrin, she reached over and lightly tapped the intercom control.

“Infirmary.”

“Doc!” a voice shouted over the speaker. “Sanchez tumbled down a maintenance shaft and banged herself pretty bad.”

There was brief delay, filled with a background of unintelligible sounds.

“She’s says she’s all right,” the voice went, hesitating slightly as it added, “but there’s a lot of blood.”

Hope picked up a tablet and linked it to medical monitoring network. It her a moment to determine which “Sanchez” the voice might be referring to, but guessed that it was the one named “Ensign Sheryl Sanchez”, as she was the only one currently assigned to Engineering-related duties. Hope accessed the Sanchez’s medical record and checked the current readings from the Ensign’s embedded physiological monitor.

Pulse rate slightly elevated. Respiration elevated. Blood volume slightly reduced.

While definitely in some discomfort, the Ensign did not appear to be going into shock.

“Bring her,” Hope said.

There was a noticeable pause before the voice returned to the intercom.

“Are you sure?” If Hope interpreted the vocal intonations correctly, the individual sounded both uncertain and incredulous.

“Yes,” Hope said. “Bring her.”

Once again, there was a burst of undecipherable noises.

“Okay,” the voice said. “We’re on our way.” The intercom speaker hissed into silence.

Hope put the tablet down and began shutting down the equipment, placing those she might want to use again soon in standby mode. Picking up the tablet again, she rechecked the Ensign’s readings then headed for infirmary’s main section, letting the lights dim and the hatch close and lock behind her.

She just finished preparing Diagnostic Bed One when the main hatch opened. Through it came the Ensign, supported by a Human male wearing maintenance coveralls which hid his rank insignia. Hope was forced to identify him from his facial features, finally deciding that he was Ensign Josef Gogorsky, also a technician assigned to Engineering. Dark stains streaked the front of his coveralls. Hope was certain that an analysis would report it was Ensign Sanchez’s blood.

“Bring her,” Hope said, directing him toward the diagnostic bed.

Sanchez’s face twisted with pain as Gogorsky guided her toward the platform. Her teeth showed brightly as she gritted them together. The front of her tunic was slick was a coating of blood. She released a sharp moan as Gogorsky helped her into the bed.

“Remain still,” Hope instructed the Ensign, and tapped the control to begin the diagnostic scan.

Ensign Gogorsky watched with obvious concern, fidgeting as Sanchez continued to breathe rapidly while the scan was run.

“Doc!” Gogorsky called out sharply. “Can’t you see that she’s in pain?”

Hope quickly glanced at the Ensign’s face, but saw no significant change in it from before.

“Yes.”

Gogorsky’s eyes widened, the change in his posture adding to his expression of incredulity.

“Aren’t you going to give her something?”

Sanchez’s eyes also watched Hope as they waited for her to respond.

“Yes,” Hope replied.

Some of the tension on Sanchez’s face eased away.

“When scan is complete.”

Gogorsky’s hands and arms moved in a motion that she could not identify. Hope presumed it was a physical expression of his frustration. She ignored it. Based on established medical protocol, she would not administer an analgesic of any kind until the type and severity of the injury was determined. This might displease Gogorsky, and prolong Sanchez’s discomfort, but such caution was required.

The instruments connected to the diagnostic bed completed their evaluation and alerted Hope that the results of the scan was ready. She studied them quickly, confirming what she had surmised on her own: the Ensign had suffered a deep laceration along the anterior thorax, penetrating the pectoralis major. The ribs had prevented any damage to the organs beneath them. Had she suffered the same injury, Hope considered, it might have proven fatal. Her skeletal structure, at least where it supported and protected her torso, was much less durable.

She quickly considered the proper sequence of treatment, knowing that if she delayed much longer, the Ensign would likely slip into shock. Hope had found Humans to be surprisingly resilient, even after suffering severe—and even life-threatening—injuries. There was a wide variation among Human responses, she had learned, though.

Hope checked the Ensign’s medical record again and then selected a medium-strength analgesic. She loaded an injector and pressed it against the Ensign’s chest, just above the wound. The injector beeped once, emitting a barely audible hiss, and then Hope removed it. Sanchez watched her, still grinding her teeth.

“That’s it?” Gogorsky shouted. “That’s all you’re going to do for her?”

When Hope did not immediately respond, he went on, his voice rising, “You don’t care when we’re in pain, do you? We’re all just some sort of alien experiment to you!”

A moment later, Sanchez relaxed, releasing a long, slow breath. Glancing at Gogorsky, she flashed him a quick, relieved smile, and then settled back into the bed’s cushions. Hope turned away and began gathering equipment from one of the cabinets. She then paused and turned back the face Ensign Gogorsky. Her dark eyes fixed on him.

“You will depart.”

Gogorsky stared back at her, blinking in stunned surprise.

“What?”

Hope considered his question for a moment, wondering if perhaps her instruction to him was unclear. She searched her memory for another Human word that might more accurately convey her message.

“Leave.”

Gogorsky’s eyes widened. His mouth opened, but only sputtering noises came out before Sanchez interrupted him.

“Get out, Go-go,” she said, chuckling hoarsely. “I’ll be fine.”

Gogorsky’s mouth closed. His eyes shifted between Sanchez and Hope.

“Okay,” he finally said, his shoulders squaring in a gesture of mock defiance. “But I’ll be back to check on you later.”

He shot one final glare at Hope and then trudged out of the infirmary.

Sanchez breathed another soft chuckle, shaking her head slowly. “I think he’s got a bit of a crush on me,” she told Hope.

Hope paused for a moment, considering the truth of the Ensign’s statement. Gogorsky’s actions were consistent with some of the mating behaviors she had observed among Humans. Whether Ensign Sanchez desired Gogorsky as a mate, Hope was not yet certain.

“Yes.”

Sanchez stared at Hope, trying to read some meaning into the Aerian’s large dark eyes and flat expression. When she found none, she settled back once more and closed her eyes as Hope began to cut away her ruined tunic.

Dark Renaissance – Chapter 2

Both Sapphire and Selene bought in immediately, and Yellowjakket suddenly became enemy number one to the new government. The recorded power effects and her own movements convinced Control that one person was responsible. Her powers became the enigma, as any locator spell never worked properly, frustrating the casters to no end. That was the true power of triplets. Three different signals confusing the search. Each identical to the others, creating a feedback that destroyed the intent of the spell. The last trick was the most morbid. A small bomb, designed to hide any trace of their identity from discovery. It was something they all understood. If one of them was captured, the others were as good as caught was well.

Serinda was the first to die. She stepped into direct fire to help protect citizens from Control’s press-gangs. Her actions saved fourteen children from Zahrenholt, and cost hers. The detonation had an unexpected secondary effect, the first convincing those in Control that this was a new power. It made them more cautious in their efforts to capture Yellowjakket. The second was to further destroy the ability to track the surviving girls, as the ‘essence’ of Serinda had been thoroughly scattered within the town by the blast, that tracking spells were useless.

The two sisters stopped operating for weeks, then returned with a vengeance. Selene was driven to make her sister’s death mean something, and she threw herself into disrupting press-gangs at every opportunity. The effect was to bring the whole of the Magocracy after Yellowjakket, and propel her into the papers. Other heroes emerged, and for some months, the Magocracy started to lose control in Londinium. Riots followed the press-gangs, as did combat with the newly emerged meta-humans. The newer metas engaged the mages in open combat in the streets. Both sides used power and technology. In this the mages had superiority. Their power, being external, was slower to build, but stronger, and more encompassing in effect. Meta-humans, their power coming from within, were able to fire quickly, but in limited manner. They too could create large changes, but the effort to do so cost them personal energy, so it was seldom done.

The mages, could more freely do so, and did. Creating snowstorms, fire, ice, whipping winds, that affected the metas not in close combat. Sheer numbers overpowered individuals. The press-gangs returned, only now to find any children with the affinity to power, not just potential mages. These were turned into the next batch of loyalists to the Magocracy. Tools to fill the depleted ranks of the press-gangs and other arms of the government.

Not that it was easy. People remembered the old, true past, and fought the new history. They fought with words, memories, guns, and their own abilities, when they had them. But for all the resistance, the Magocracy had taken the first step by organizing. The organization allowed them to defend themselves, and repel individual attacks. That was still the way things were. The mages united to hold onto the reins of power. Until a second power could organize, the mages would remain atop the political food chain.

Yellowjakket had threatened to build that organization. When a villain gets into the papers, and then the local papers start showing what the state-controlled papers won’t, people begin to notice, and question. That’s what happened. Questions became rallies, rallies became demonstrations, Demonstrations became riots. The riots started eating at the base of the Magocracy’s power. It had reached a head last night when Yellowjakket had detonated the south wall of Zahrenholt prison, releasing over one hundred children from the re-education wing. Half had been recaptured in the ensuing hours, but over half got away, disappearing into the alleys and sewers under Londinium, and Brianburgh to the north.

Selene had paid for that audacity with her life, and now Sapphire was the last to hold the mantle of Yellowjakket. She huddled in the wet muck, remembering, holding onto every memory she could recall. Replaying them again and again, trying to shut out the truth that they were gone. Holding onto every thought so that she’d never forget them. Hours passed until her feet and bum went numb from the cold water, and her legs ached as the cold crept into them. She stood slowly, her internal clock telling her it was early evening. She shook out her hair, dragging fingers through the tangled wet mess, then jogged slowly back to the west checkpoint. She had to go find a new place. First though she had to cover for her sister, and herself.

The jog back took another half hour. When she was challenged, she swallowed her despair and told the two on duty in a pompous voice, “Ask the password, wizard, I’m not afraid.” The two smirked and waved her through. That was the secret. There was no password. Odd numbered days you challenged the guards, even numbered days you teased them. Anyone who tried to answer the challenge with a password, those were the spies. That little shift in style had kept the small community safe from infiltrators.

She walked back to the small home in ‘Diagon-tubely’, and changed her hair, and borrowed some of her sister’s clothes. She packed a change of her own clothes in her backpack. She got a couple slices of bread from the oven-pantry, and spread some butter and apple slices on it, Slapping the other bread on top, she bit into it and sauntered out the front door. The first person she spotted was Simon, with his distinct limp. She gave him a wave and continued out towards the checkpoint. Once she reached it, just made another jaunty wave to the guards and jogged off, turning down the tunnel heading north up to Brianburgh.

When she was out of sight, she kicked in her power and sped to the next intersection. She found the small emergency tunnel she and Selene had found on their early forays. She moved past the rubble-camouflaged entrance, and put down the backpack, emptying it. She changed clothes, cached the food and Selene’s clothing, then sped down the tunnel to the other camouflaged end that linked with a side tunnel. The side tunnel linked back to the unblocked Brianburgh storm sewers, which she followed back to the main tunnel. She hopped over the three foot retaining wall, jogged back to the checkpoint, and back to her home.

Once home she flung herself on the mattress, and cried silently for a long time. Later, she made two more trips to her hideout. Laying in more canned food and items for an extended stay. She was going to need locations like these if Control got aggressive in coming after the escapees. She needed to find where the others at the ZaP had directed the children. They had to be moved away from Londinium for their safety.

Dark Renaissance – Chapter 1

The black-clad girl slid under the legs of the first trooper as he tried to shoot. A flick of the hand smacked him hard between the legs. She heard the strangled squall of pain, and the heavy thud of the man falling to the ground. She popped back to her feet and accelerated as bullets pockmarked the ground just behind her.

A quick turn, and a leap caught the bottom rung of a fire ladder. She pulled herself up to the first landing, then moved to the outside of the rail and jumped up, pulling herself to the next. By the time the pursuers had turned the corner, she was halfway up the twelve-story building, well out of reach of accurate fire. “Damn git. You two! Work north and call for backup, block the roads out of the district. You two, the same to the south. The rest with me, we’ll push her east. Start on the first floor. Carror\t and stick. Shoot one, offer a bribe to the others. Someone will crack. She’s a s good as ours.”

The grey armored men followed the golden armored leader to the base of the maze of towers that was called “The Rookeries”, due to most of those that lived here were desperately poor. The buildings stood up like rotted teeth. The brick facade curmbling and fallen from the concrete understructure. Ragged curtains fluttering from broken windows. Some boarded up with plywood to keep out the humid cold. The search went for hours, but the woman had disappeared like smoke. It was an angry group of officers that reported empty-handed to their equally angry captain.

Yellowjakket had pulled a set of jeans and a shirt over her costume, then joined the ranks in the halls as she worked down from the roof. She scooped some grit from the ground, and rubbed it in her hair and on her face and hands. Now properly grubby, she descended the stairs rapidly then moved onto the eighth floor, joining the throng in the market. The number of people made it impossible for the police to search every person as nine out of ten had no radio tag to identify them. Once out in the street again, she ducked back to the crumbling remains of a glassblower’s shop. Down in the basement was an entry into the sewers, and she sped through them back south into the maze of tunnels.

Yellowjakket slowed to a stop when two voices challenged her at a T-intersection of the sewers. “Holdit! Give us the word, mate”, laughed the young man in front of her. He had a pair of old green pants held up by a piece of rope around his waist, and a worn-faded green T-shirt that Proclaimed ‘Sex Pistols – London Calling’ on the front. His thumb on the trigger of a deadman switch was openly shown, as was the girl behind him with an AK-74. She held it loosely aimed at Yellowjakket. Her maroon goose down jacket a contrast to the silver-and-black of the assault rifle. Her Black capris pants covered her legs halfway down her calves, with long mismatched athletic socks peeking out of unlaced hiking boots.

“What’s the word you want?”, she asked the two with a smile. “Oho! She’s a right tricksy one”, the man said. “G’wan, yer good.” The two raised their weapons, the girl giving Yellowjakket a qucik wave and smile, then went to their posts once more. Yellowjakket sped through the maze of tunnels that were home to her and others who defied the authority. At a corner in the sewers whimsically called ‘diagon-tubely’, she angled left and slowed to a walk. Here the press of people was gone, only curtains along the sewer walls, showing where small caves called ‘homes’ had been dug out. She walked down four, and pushed the curtain open to reveal a small three room cave.

Stepping into the cramped first room/kitchen/den, She pulled the curtain shut behind her. Tapping a small light on the stove on, she dropped her backpack and continued to the left, into a small bedroom. The room had been hewed out of the loose earth, having pilings and a thick wood roof to keep the earth from sprinkling down. The bed was a mattress set on crates. The crates were open facing into the room, with each holding some clothing. The mattress, worn and collapsed, had a thick green-striped comforter for warmth.

Yellowjakket stripped out of her costume, and went back into the main room, and poured a pan of water. She grabbed a cloth and did her best to wash the sweat and smell off her body, before dressing in worn jeans and a baggy brown sweatshirt. She crawled onto the bed, and pulled the comforter over her head, losing herself to sleep.

* *************

Morning brought her awake with an uneasy start. She heard vague noises of people wandering around out in the sewer tunnel, but none inside the room. She uncovered, pulled on some work boots, then stepped out into the tunnel. The bright lights made her squint a moment, then she started back towards the entrance. The bustle of people moving to a new day filled the tunnel with sounds and smells. The scent of fried eggs had her mouth watering as she passed an open doorway. She just turned off of Diagon-tubely to the main tunnel when a voice called out, “G’day Sapphy, how have you been?” She slowed, and turned to the young man. “Hey Simon.”

Simon was older than her by a few years, with brown hair and eyes. He limped slowly to Sapphire, his left knee fused and half his foot having been blown off by the invaders four long years ago. His eyes lit up with mischief as he approached and gave her a warm hug. She returned it then stepped back. “I’m going to the front gate, my sister must have gotten up early for her shift today. She forgot to leave me breakfast.” “Musta been early, I din’t see her go by me place.” Sapphire smiled at Simon, then hugged him again. “She probably did. I’ll see you later, Simon.” He smiled and gave a wave, then turned to slowly limp back to the small grill he had set up.

She walked past other small homes with people cleaning their steps or readying for the day. Here in the tunnels, keeping things clean was a constant battle against the environment. Many of the sewers had been diverted so the rain water wouldn’t flood the living areas, but even the best walls leaked. So there was always a humid, faintly moldy smell in the air. Sapphire reached the T intersection and waved to the two girls on duty. “Binny, Susan, Have you seen Selene? I thought she’d come here early for shift.”

The smaller girl, Susan, shook her pale blonde hair. She looked up at Sapphire with one green eye and one blue. “Sorry Saph, not seen ‘er today. She’s prolly out with the others trying to nick a few things.” The other girl, Binny, shook her dreadlocks and stretched a coffee-colored arms our front palms out, fingers interlocked. “I’ve not seen her either, Sapphire. I’m about to end shift and didn’t see her go out with the …”, she stopped as a small child scrambled past screaming as a girl near the same age chased after him, a doll clutched in her arms. The two laughing children disappeared into the crowd.

“Hey, girls! You hear the latest? Control’s saying they nicked Yellowjakket last night!” Rodney Greyson came trotting towards the three girls. He stopped, placing his hands on his knees, out of breath. He looked up at Sapphire, and his face flushed a deeper red. “Oh bollocks. Saph, I’m sorry, I wanted…bloody hell I wanted to tell the girls…”, he just stopped, and watched the three. Susan and Binny looked at Sapphire, who had gone pale. “You’re sure? Control said that? You’re sure?”, Sapphire said, her hands clutching together at her waist. She twisted her hands, trying to deny his words. “You know Control. They announce all sorts of lies to keep folks under their thumb”, Rodney said. He looked away as he did, the transparent lie floating away like the fog of his breath in the tunnels.

“Saph, come her girl”, Binny said, and hugged her. Sapphire wailed, and broke away, running away from the group down the tunels and towards the surface. “Rodney, you git. You should have waited.” Rodney looked down the tunnel as Susan slapped him on the shoulder. “I know, I know. Lost her twin she has.” “Triplet you git. She’s a triplet. An’ she’s now a only”, Binny told Rodney. She looked down the tunnel where Sapphire had disappeared. “Damn girl, don’t go up today. Stay down”, she said to the echoing footsteps.

Sapphire ran until her lungs burned. She turned and ran, turned and ran, following the tunnels deeper southward, towards Londinium, or London, to those that remembered the changes. London had been part of a bustling Great Britain, when the changes knocked things askew. The government morphed from Parliment, to one controlled by monsters in human form. Control, the not so ‘secret’ arm of the Government, was tasked with capturing political dissidents. The ‘other’ part of their mandate, was to locate children with an affinity for magic, that ability to influence the world via means external to a person.

Those children were taken to Zaherenholt, where they were tested. Children who passed, were then broken via brainwashing techniques, and turned into dedicated students of the ‘Arts’. The others. The ‘lost’, who were too strong-willed, or too impotent to be full mages, were drained of their abilities, and used as fodder for experiments in necromancy and physiomancy, the molding of flesh and bone. Other ‘powered’ children, called ‘metas’ because their abilities were internal to themselves, were culled from the populace, and used as the ‘lost’ were.

These young children were initiated into the ranks of Control when they passed their final tests. As each person reached this point according to their personal ability, the ages in the ranks varied widely from around fourteen to twenty. In every case, they were cold, dedicated, and convinced of their own superiority over the masses. A true, yet twisted meritocracy.

She collapsed against the tunnel wall, sliding to a sitting position with a wet splash. Sapphire curled her legs up, wrapping her arms around them and buried her cries of pain on her knees. She sat and wept for what seemed hours. It had all been so simple growing up. Her mom, Saffron Christian, had been the first Yellowjakket.

Safron/Yellowjakket had been one of the first to take up the fight against the magocracy that grew up in London. She was an American who’d married an Englishman, and emigrated with her husband. Yellowjakket had been in the London papers for years after that. Fighting crime, uncovering conspiracies. It had read like a comic book. Then she became pregnant, and retired. She had triplets, Selene, Serinda, and Sapphire. Saffron, seeing the potential they had, started training them as soon as they could stand, to become heroes. Their father objected, and a nasty, prolonged divorce happened. Their father died two years afterwards, having drank himself to death after losing his children.

Control appeared for the first time the year they were born. It started as the magocracy worked to solidify its hold on the United Kingdom. Control was tasked to hunt down political dissidents, and ‘educate’ them to the new system. Eventually Control’s power spread to finding children to add to the mages as apprentices. The mages were still trying to solidify their hold on Great Britain, as the people, and the meta-humans, fought the system.

Metahumans, or metas, operated internally, rather than influencing the environment like mages. Their abilities came from themselves, rather from their ability to influence the environment around them. This made their powers faster to trigger, while mages took time. The problem mages had was the source of the power is the same for each. Quantum physics. If the mages cut the meta ability to reach to the quantum level, they were effectively cutting off their own link as well. So each meta had to be handled individually rather than all collectively.

Sapphire slowly pulled herself back together, but the empty ache remained. She was alone now. In the most literal sense of the word. He mom had died stopping a bombing attempt by Jihadists in downtown Londinium four years after her husband died. Selene, being the oldest triplet by a few minutes, took over as Yellowjakket. Sisters being sisters, they decided to ‘suit up’ with her and for a short while the fought side-by-side as Yellowjakket, Dove, and Shock.

Their first forays as meta heroes made them realize that all the training in the world doesn’t mean a thing in real combat. You have to get into it, and survive it. Then the training makes sense. As their efforts began to actually make a difference, the found the news reports online and in paper slowly slanting their stories against the metas. Instead of allies against corruption and crime, they became the sinister force behind it. Control began a systematic campaign to kill costumed heroes. Serinda was the one to come up with the idea of all three of them becoming Yellowjakket.

“It’s perfect! We split up, stop trouble, and confuse the hell out of Control. So long as we’re not caught on camera at the same time, we can make it look like one person. It’ll drive them barmy.”

Dark Renaissance – Introduction

She sped through the dank alleyways towards her destination. Her body flickering like a neon light going bad as it constantly shifted location along her route. The clear skies showed her the single moon in it’s waning crescent. That silent sentinel seem to frown down on the city, giving each shadow an ominous sense of waiting. She sped towards Zaherenholt Prison. The massive ziggurat was built on a square mile of land on the edge of Brianburgh’s Industrial district. The soot from the coal-fired furnaces and electric plants showered the downwind area with black, destroying color and rendering everything a shadowy dark.

The slim woman blinked from the corner of the abandoned textile mill, across the half mile of open ground around the ‘ZP’ as it was called. The multiple fences that were intended to impede escapes didn’t stop her in the slightest. A slight popping sound and she would disappear, and reappear beyond the chain-link barrier. She accomplished this four times, then scrambled the last forty feet, snugging tight against the concrete base. Speed was of the essence. Each teleportation had tripped alarms from the seismic sensors in the ground between fences. She pulled the backpack off, and dumped the contents on the ground. She picked up six devices, and teleported again, praying that the map she’d studied was accurate.

The black-clad woman appeared inside the ‘ZP’ with a faint pop. The guards at this base level were robotic, and fell easily to her electric blasts. She placed a charge, then teleported in and up, more confident now of the map’s accuracy. She reappeared a floor up and in. Placing a charge then te;eporting up and in once more, to place the last of the first string. Horns and sirens blared. Safety walls dropped sealing each corridor to itself, containing any potential riot. She ignored them, placing another charge at the opposite end of the corridor. Teleporting down and out, placing a charge each time, she stayed just ahead of the guards until she appeared outside the ‘ZP’ once more.

Here, there was no place to avoid being seen. The guards spotted her, and charged, intending on overpowering her before she could teleport away. Yellowjakket triggered the charges. The bottom ones blew first, followed upwards by the interior charges, setting a resonance in the structure. The rumbling increased as each charge detonated, setting the walls to shaking. The guards slowed the advance, staring at the rumbling building behind the girl. The young woman smiled, then teleported as the walls cracked, then slid down with a roar of shattering stone and steel. Screams issued from inside the building as children from eight to eighteen scrambled for freedom through the breach.

The girl reappeared back at her original spot, taking a moment to watch the prisoners scramble free. There was a faint crunch behind her. She spun, ready for an attack. “You are always where you’re not wanted, girl. Time for you to die.” She tried to teleport, and failed. The man chuckled at her surprise. “Please, I’ve seen that trick before. I came prepared.” He stepped forward, his hand like a striking snake. She tried to dodge, stepping aside and closing, Her hand crackling with power. The man smirked as he mouthed a quick spell, snuffing the building power. His huge paw of a hand engulfed her arm.

She screamed as a hard yank popped the shoulder out of joint. The man smiled, twisting the arm, and tearing another scream from her throat. “You should have never come, Yellowjakket”, he growled over the blaring sirens. He looked up from the struggling woman to the flood of prisoners escaping. “Looks like I’ll be getting a bonus for recapturing this lot, don’t you think?” He jerked on her arm once more, then grabbed her throat, lifting her off the ground. The muscles on his arm bulged as he squeezed. The girl beat at his arm for a moment, then a wet snap caused her to jerk, and hang limp. The man threw the corpse to the side, and started after the escaped prisoners. He plucked at small device off his belt, and held it up.

“This is Montrose, She’s take-”, he started to speak, then a detonation blew him face down as shards of bone pierced his back, and gobs of flesh and blood rained down. He awoke moments later, confused by the blast. It too a moment to orient himself. A squawking noise resolved itself to a voice emanating from the mic on the ground near him. “Montrose! Montrose! Dammit you git, Report! Montrose!” Hamish Montrose pushed his bulk slowly off the ground. A mumbled spell thrust the chips of bone from his body, allowing healing to begin. He looked down at the blood-spattered mic, then bent to pick it up. He shook the blood off, then clicked it.

“Shut it, this is Montrose. Someone dropped a bomb here. Girl’s gone.” “Bloody hell! How she get away? Your incompetence has caused this debacle! When Control hears of this..” “They’ll what!”, he snarled at the mic. “Save your bum from the Processors? Don’t make me laugh.” She didn’t get away. She’s dead. As for the prisoners, we can catch them. They’re all chipped. Get the list and set the Finders loose. The game’s just starting.” He clicked the mic off, then shook himself, and strode towards the blasted wall to cut off any more escaping children.

Dark Renaissance – Prolog

Here it is.  The prolog for the story.  It’s short and I hope you enjoy the buildup .  Please comment and critique to your heart’s content.  I only get better when I learn where my weaknesses and strengths are.

 

Thirty years ago, humanity opened its full potential. Quantum physics had delved deep into the why and where of things, finding in truth that all things are connected in one way or another at the sub-atomic level. Spooky action at a distance indeed, as man found that fiction and science, myth and magic, all had a similar origin in the lowest levels of creation. When it was discovered that with practice, or proper manipulation of genetics, abilities and powers stepped from fantasy to reality. Future, past, all of time, became another tool to manipulate. This kind of ability and power was first jealously guarded by those in power, hoping to hoard it for themselves.

For the first years of advancement, this was true, and a shadow war of sorts developed between those who had the power, and those who discovered that power, and wanted it for themselves. This war created a new world by destroying the base of the old. History looped and twisted, changing with every experiment in time, until all realized that the loops simply fed into one another and created the amalgam that had loosed the power on the world entire. What no one had thought to realize was, that each time someone with power shifted time, they also shifted potential by exposing others in the past to the theories and abilities of the future. This exposure created that opportunity for the power, and abilities to grow outside the controls those in power had hoped to strengthen. In essence, they chased the horse out of the barn before they closed it.

This created the new world. One that constantly shifted with each trip back in time, until time itself provided the final answer by a feedback loop that stopped any rearward development. The world shifted back beyond humanity to find it’s balance, only to find man had been there already. The genie was truly out of the bottle, and what had been a world of man, became a world of powers, aspects, and man.

The heroic age had been born anew. Heroes in capes wielding mysterious and terrible powers. Puissant mages, vile demons, gods, aliens, and men who stepped beyond humanity. In this new world, evil still resided, in more grandiose, and more subtle forms. Tyrannies grew from the ashes. The world had been changed, continents shifted, countries destroyed and rebuilt anew.

North America was split by a body of water where the Great Plains previously existed. The south was drowned. Central America ceased to exist excepting numerous small islands dotting the space between North and South America. The United States was reduced to a shadow of itself. What remained of it was situated east of the Ohio-Mississippi river basin. Canada was split in thrice. The West the South, and the Northeast. Europe was split by the growth of the Mediterranean Sea, cutting Africa by drowning the Arabian peninsula. Despite every change, man still remembered what had been, and wanted to return.

National Novel Writing Month – Brandished Destiny – part 6

Here the heroes begin to try and figure out how best to dispose of the new acquisition.

These are reports and notes of your case with the Nephilim. In truth, this was also a large part of why I desired employment with you. To survive such a creature is amazing by itself. To actually defeat one is nearly unprecedented. It is part of why most Elves know of you, and why some such as …” she thought for a moment “… Cobb tried to use and destroy you. You are a threat to their hopes of isolating humanity from the fae.”

Why do these Elves want to isolate humanity?” I had an idea why, we’re crazy violent. That’d probably be enough to give any group second thoughts about contacting the insane bald apes. “Your philosophy. We have a consistent philosophy that gives us stability. Humans have many philosophies. So many that to Elves, it seems that they are made for convenience sake instead of as a process of thought that leads to society structure. Humans are frightening and incomprehensible. Each human is flexible in terms of social structure and philosophy. To many in Elvish culture you as a race are insane.”

I had to think that through for a bit before I understood it. It hurt to hear things put bluntly, but blunt makes certain there is no misunderstanding. I was definitely more interested in talking about that than I was about the bottle. Sinera didn’t move the overturned coffee cup on top of it. I think she had the same gut-level revulsion of the thing I did. Another thought occurred to me.

Sinera, what is the Elvish attitude towards something like a Nephilim?” Yeah, ask questions and that way I don’t have to start looking into finding the bloody soul-sucking bottles.

A Nephilim is a fearsome entity. It always hungers and hates. A Nephilim is a danger to existence.” She grimaced like something bitter was caught in her throat. “Such a thing is best avoided if at all possible. You humans tend to rush toward an enemy rather than wisely fleeing. Dying does not always save the person whom was sacrificed for. It only results in more deaths than the one.”

I suppose. What would your suggestion be for locating the bottles?” I hoped she didn’t have any so I would get more time behind the desk rather than looking for trouble.

I would not use Magick. Not unless you wish to lose part of yourself to a bottle. In truth, we must wait until there is more evidence to collate with the Nephilim case.I hated my reaction to her statement. I was all for staying in and away from Nephilim and bottles. But I kept seeing friends and co-workers dead because of those things. I’m not sure when my attitude went from ‘case’ to ‘personal vendetta’, but somewhere along the way it did. And like an idiot swashbukling noir-style gumshoe, I was going to go attempt to brace a lion in its den, just because it had to be done.

I hate ‘it had to be done’. It’s way too altruistic and nothing good comes from a selfless act. There are too many people that see selfless as self-serving. People perform selfless acts all the time, diving into the water to rescue a child or a pet, jumping a robber in a store, volunteering to help get food to homeless or shut-ins. In a lot of rescue cases someone gets hurt or killed because they’re not good enough to finish what they started. Sinera had the right of it there. If you’re going to do something dangerous and chancy, you need to be able to finish successfully.

I rubbed the nub of my finger again. It ached, whether from proximity to that bottle or my own tension I don’t know. I took a breath, then a second and reached over to pick the cup up. The bottle was still there, stopper in place. Sinera had taken a step back toward the door to the outer office.

I forced my hand to the bottle and picked it up, then opened the bottom drawer of the desk. I pulled out the empty whiskey bottle (I kept it there to remind me how easy it is to be self-destructive and not be so) opened it and dropped the bottle inside. It barely fit through the mouth. I capped the bottle and placed it back into the bottom drawer and slid it closed. Sinera tapped her cheek with a perfectly manicured nail.

Glass is a good choice. It can accept Magick and obscure the thing from any searchers.”

Freaking elves. I pulled the drawer back open then picked the bottle up. I focused, imagining layers of Magick coating the whiskey bottle and trapping the Magickal traces that seeped through the glass. A second layer to do the same again, and a third to hide the traces of the first two. Dragon Magick is so convenient.

It is disconcerting when you do that, Fern. Your Magick smells like a Dragon when cast. Anything sensitive knows a powerful caster is nearby. If you were being searched for your Magick would be a beacon of light in the dark night of the new moon.” Sinera had a rather intricate way of saying ‘Your Magick stinks and anyone can find you when you use it.’ I wondered if the smell as she called it was affected by wind and/or weather.

At least whoever’s looking for the bottle won’t be able to find it.”

Not Magickally, however, you are the one who defeated a Nephilim. Nearly all fae know of you by reputation. Where else would a Judge go to leave a dangerous item?” She made it sound so logical. I knew there were gaps in the process of ‘bottle’ to ‘Fern’, but she was right. If I did have a reputation as wide-ranging as she hinted at, I would be the logical place to look first. Which meant there had to be a better place to hide the bottle. Fawn. They had an evidence locker that it could be hidden away in. But Fawn is my sister, and who would I go to if I wanted to hide something like a soul-sucking bottle? KISS…keep it simple, stupid.

I left the bottle in the bottle at the bottom of the desk. Out of sight out of mind and at least for now out of my hair. I really like the idea of destroying it, but I would need something like Rynun’s blade to do it. That’s what I needed last time. And Rynun was at the lake Mom and Dad’s cabin was…I could give it to Rynun! That was simple. All thoughts of leaving it in the desk flew away and I grabbed the bottle then checked my pockets for keys. Sinera concentrated and was suddenly in camo pants with a blue and black checked shirt with a longbow and a large knife. On her back was a quiver with about twenty arrows. She then broke the bow down and stuffed it in the quiver and zipped up the cover, hiding both bow and arrows inside the camouflaged tube. The knife was in the open with a thread tied around it, a ‘peace tie’ Elves used when visiting the human world. It kept potentially lethal mistakes to a minimum.

Where are we driving?”

We’re going to see an old friend who might be able to break this thing.”

You mean the native spirit. Rynun, correct?”

Yes, him. His knife shattered the original bottle. He might be able to destroy this one also.”

It is a welcome idea. I would prefer it destroyed.” We agreed on that completely. I never wanted another one this close to me again, ever. My skin crawled slightly as the bottle in the whiskey bottle clinked brightly against the glass surrounding it. I grabbed my trench coat that I hardly ever used and put the bottle in an inside pocket. I had Sinera drive us out there, and it was only mildly adventurous. She never drove off the road, and she had a valid license though I wondered if the officer just gave her the license so he didn’t have to sit next to her while she drove. The car moved constantly, at time rocking on the suspension as she put it through a particularly quick shift of direction. I was happy when the turnoff to the cabin appeared ahead of us.

The trees and the land here had been blasted by the Nephilim. Somehow it had killed the forest by drining the life out of the wood, and the animals in the area. Now, most of the dead trees had fallen and a rich moss grew prolifically on them. Small pines, about three meters tall, were rapidly growing to fill in for the dead wood. Insects buzzed and butterflies floated on the breeze. The gravel road widened as it emptied into a clearing. To our left was the cabin. Fawn and I had started coming out here again just after Zhira was born.

The wooden walls had been cleaned and re-painted. The old car that sat next to the cabin didn’t pulse with spiritual malevolence, but was just a normal vehicle. It didn’t run. Dad had pulled the engine long ago and had used the shell of the car to hide the emergency generator from thieves. It must have worked because it was still hidden in the cut out trunk. Mom had made the hood into an impromptu flower garden and Fawn and I had replaced the missing wood she used. The small box garden was in place and this year Fawn was making plans to turn it into a butterfly lure for Zhira. It had been a lot of work, but the results were well worth it. Ahiah was gone, as was nearly all of the damage that the Nephilim had caused.

The only reminders were three bare spots on the ground in the small clearing behind the house and down the hill by the lake. No grass grew on them. Two of the spots were where our parents had spent years trapped by a spell gone wrong, and the third was where the bottle had shattered and Ahiah was drawn into the ground. The spots soured my mood, but that changed when Rynun walked out of the woods to us. Sinera bowed deeply to the little brown man, and I kneeled and gave him a heartfelt hug. He returned it and smiled broadly.

Fern, you’re the picture of health. But you didn’t come here for me to tell you how healthy you are. What reason do you visit an old brown man?” He looked like what he said. Old, brown wrinkled skin that was almost bark-like in its appearance with deep furrows and folds. His eyes were a crystalline grey with a shoulder-length shock of pale hair with a slight brownish tint. In height he barely came to mid-thigh, making him an average six to eight year old in height. His features were a little bulbous like a caricature of a human face. His smile though was pure joy and peace. Kind of like a favorite grandfather, getting along in years but still very spry. It made me feel guilty for not coming by sooner or more often.

I have something bad I want to destroy. You’re the one person I could think of with experience.” His eyebrows raised, then shot up like they were trying to fly off his head.

Spirits no! Fern, you’ve found another!?” He looked stricken, and badly in want of a drink.

There was no help for it. I pulled the whiskey bottle out with the little blue metallic glass bottle inside. He slid backwards, legs sinking into the soft earth to his knees.

An Elf left it on my desk. He said there were three others most likely in Halifax. I haven’t heard of any demons, and you’re still out here rather than in town, so nothing’s come to get, um, you know, Ahi..” I shut up when he started waving his hands wildly. He turned to gaze at Sinera, who responded with a deep bow from the waist arms outspread as if to welcome all to her. The two finished their extremely formal bow, then Rynun turned back to me again.

You’ve come up in the eyes of many, Fernie. An Elf actually working with you. Interesting times indeed.” I rolled my eyes.

Did that just come to you or have you been saving that cliché for just the right moment?”

His laugh was the hearty donkey-like bray I remembered. “Too true Fernie! I can’t put ont over on you, can I? The world changes every day, sometimes more than others.” He gave me another bright smile and started to sink into the ground. I stepped quickly forward before he could disappear and lay my left hand on his shoulder.

Wait, Rynun. Can you destroy this bottle?” I still had it in my right hand. He looked back at the bottle-in-bottle, and shrugged.

Fernie, you and your sister don’t need me. I’m an old man with a few tricks. Wars are for the young to fight.” He disappeared into the earth which closed up behind him like nothing had happened. I got two things from that discussion. One, maybe Fawn and I together could wreck the bottle. Two, something big was coming, and we were going to be in the middle of it. Yeah, they were pretty unsubtle hints. But then, I’m an unsubtle girl and not always very swift on the uptake, and I’d had enough of cryptic meanings to last me a lifetime without more being added to the list. Sinera walked to stand beside me.

So, I take it we’re going to have to find our own way to dispose of it.” That summed things up nicely. I just wish I knew more about what Rynun was talking about. Too much hidden meaning and I didn’t really think I had time to figure out who, what, where, how, and why. Actually, I had part of who; me and Fawn. And I had a big what; war. I don’t know what kind of war, or who is going to be involved on both sides. And I still had the gods cursed bottle.

I shoved it back in my inside pocket with more force than I probably needed. The faint ripping sound as the pocket tore seemed to be just the icing on the cake for the day. I took the keys from Sinera and drove back to my office, and spent the time yelling at the other drivers. It wasn’t proper but it was cathartic.

National Novel Month – Brandished Destiny – part 5

WE get deeper into the situation.

 

CHAPTER 3

After Judge Caddus left, and thoughtfully left the bottle under my coffee cup, I called Sinera in to ask her take on the conversation.

He is truly disturbed by finding the item. It is not his only concern however. I do not have a notion of what his other concern might be. He is very careful with speech and mannerisms.”

So asking him directly is not going to be an option.”

Sinera shrugged, then sat down in the guest chair. “I do not believe so. If he would have given an indication of concern, I am certain that it would have been obvious enough for a human to recognize.” Ouch, burn. She was correct though. Elves are raised on politics, which means being able to read small tells better than a professional gambler. Humans are just not as in tune with each other as Elves are.

Okay, then let’s find out if there is anyone who has collapsed recently and acting like a vegetable.” It’s what the bottle does to people. I hate the idea of looking for victims, but right now it’s the only idea I had.

Are there any patterns that the previous perpetrator used? If those using the bottles are after similar things, what the original was targeting, these new users may target also.”

I went over to the files and made of show of looking through them, but I had intimate knowledge of Hervald’s habits. He wanted attractive women, and had frequented singles bars for them. I don’t think that someone would do the same thing. But it didn’t hurt to check out. Singles bars are good places to make contacts. Hervald went for the high-end places. Not the best place to hunt targets. Missing debutantes tend to stand out. Homeless don’t.

Sinera, can you check with the police if there’s a sudden rash of disappearances of homeless people in any one area? They seem like a natural target if someone wants to hide what they’re doing.”

Sinera nodded. “I can do the search. Would you prefer immediately, or Monday morning?”

Immediately. We’re on the clock. We can charge…” I smacked my head. He left before I could bring up price. Note again, listen for what Elves DON”T say. Not only had he hooked me with the bottle, he’s getting my efforts for free. I wanted to pull my hair for falling for such a trick. Sinera looked at me with an enigmatic smile that perhaps I was actually learning something. Freaking Elves.

I pulled out the old file on Hervald Thensome and walked with it in hand back to my desk and read the notes I made. The first one “This sucks!” was how I felt right now. Score one for old notes. I’d ran into Hervald the third bar I had spent an hour at. He invited me up to an apartment, then tried suck my sould out with the bottle. He ended up getting himself when I tripped him trying to escape. The question now would be Fawn. She deserved to know. As a cop, she had resources I couldn’t touch, and I had contacts that she could never talk to. It was a good balance when we weren’t on opposite sides of the law.

I sat down and grabbed the old candlestick phone and dialed her number. Each rotation of the dial was pure enjoyment. How many people do you know that can still use a rotary phone? It’s fun compared to the push button or touchscreen. Slower definitely, but fun. The desk sergeant, Richie Pomeroy, picked up on the third ring.

Hauser House, Pomeroy speaking, how may I help you?”

Hi Richie. Fawn in?”

The line was quiet for a few moments then Richie said with exaggerated politeness, “She’s still out at the scene. I’ll pass on the request.”

Richie didn’t like me much, and the feeling was mutual. I didn’t like him in high school when his idea of paying attention to me was as a way to hang with Fawn. We both ran him off when we got wise to what he was doing. After that things happened to my locker and any stuff I didn’t keep an eye on. The culmination was the self-defense classes. His dad ran the class and he and I were called up to demonstrate a few self-defense moves against a surprise attacker. I threw Richie down harder than I needed to once. He retaliated with a full football tackle which knocked the wind out of me. When I got my wind back, I went after him. His dad and Fawn had to break us apart.

He mellowed and turned into a good cop, but he still held a grudge, and I wouldn’t let go of mine either. We were unfailingly polite, but that was it. Strange how that works. Maybe the Elves weren’t so different after all. And maybe I’m a six foot Amazon.

After the call, I doodled random notes to see if any inspiration would hit and I’d have a way to start this investigation. Sinera would take likely most of the day remaining talking to the various Houses to see what, if anything unusual had happened in their territory. I started to get up and check on Sinera and get a few numbers to call and give me something to do instead of brooding.

Fatelli Investigations.”

Shortstuff, we need to talk. I have something creepy as hell and want your take on it.”

Some victim a vegetable and glassy eyed like three years ago?”

She sputtered on the other end of the phone and I would have grinned at surprising her but the upside down cup on my desk with one of the four missing Glass Bottles under it sobered me up real quick.

I got a visit from Judge Caddus from the Elven enclave. He convinced me that we have a real problem. So yeah, I wanted to talk to you. Richie Pomeroy has a message from me to call since you weren’t at your desk.” I took the next few minutes describing our chat and what the Judge had left on my desk. Fawn remained quiet through the whole talk, but I could feel her anger building. Some deranged THING brought those back to Dayning. She did not want to wait for the body count to rise.

Do you think that demon’s back too?” Fawn. Direct and to the point. Forget the bottles and focus on the bottle user. That’s the best way to shut trouble down.

No idea right now. I’m hoping he’s gone and not coming back. Once was more than painful enough for me.” I rubbed the nub of my little finger again. It had started throbbing when I saw that bottle again. Fawn gave me a complete run-down on the victim. Young, blonde, pretty, and missing from work after not calling in sick yesterday. This was almost identical to Hervald’s victims. I really REALLY didn’t want it to be Hervald again.

She’s gone, isn’t she?”

Fawn sounded sad and angry at the same time. “Yes, she’s gone, if it really is that bottle again.” She paused for a moment. “Come by the station, you’re going to be a professional consultant to our house. You’ll get full pay and full access to our database and whatever we get from overseas or the ‘states.”

Do you think it’s world-wide? We’re just Halifax, not the capital.” I hadn’t even thought of the possibility beyond our little city on the island. Halifax wasn’t always little. Over one hundred fifty years ago it was the largest staging area for ships bound to Europe that existed. World War 2 as it was called demanded equipment, food, and troops to fight off a merciless regime. Halifax had hundreds of ships if not thousands, pass through her port back then. Now, we were still a shipping port, but just one of many. The real large ones were south and west, where the majority of Canada’s population still resided. Montreal and Quebec City were the real shipping magnets. Boston and New York are the largest ports near by in the USA.

No, it’s here with us. Part of me wants to know why us, why here, why now. Just, why. It may be we’re just seeing a tree and missing the forest. But there’s not been anything from the USA or Europe that says there were any weirdness like here.”

Did what we ran into get all that much publicity?” I should have thought of that question ages ago. I remember being written up and what had occurred did reach the papers and the ‘net. It died fast though, more lurid stories pushed The bottle story out of the news in a few days. That’s what I remembered at least.

I don’t remember too much. I know the station was up in arms with the same guy disappearing from cells without any understanding why. And when we got him, he was clinically dead. The coroner nearly blew a gasket when he got ready to autopsy Hervald. He disappeared right out of the cooler, and no one was in the place except the coroner and he never left it. There are still stories floating around about it at the house.”

So maybe not so much publicity, but enough weird to make those around the case remember very well according to Fawn.

Getting back to the offer, I think it’s a good idea. I can watch your back and vice-versa. It was our folks that made the trouble, and what do you want to bet it’ll come looking for us because of that?”

“Shortstuff, that is paranoia talking, and yes I just happen to agree. I’ve seen plenty of weirdness and more than a few times it came back around to its origins. We can’t rule out a link. I hate thinking about it, but we, and especially you, have seen what happens. There’s no such thing as coincidence, it’s all Magick and weirdness.”

I couldn’t argue. I’m sure Sinera was listening to the conversation. She told me once that her hearing could hear a fly’s buzz on the far window in my office from the hallway. That’s way beyond what a human could ever hope to do. Magick could augment hearing so humans could, but Magick is always of the ‘direct’ approach if no detail is added. So, hearing would be boosted to hear the fly, and every other sound would be too. I wouldn’t want to experience having everything dialed to twenty on a ten point scale. That’d be a good way to liquefy your brains. How Sinera handles it is beyond me. I put the receiver back on its hook and set the telephone back on the desk. Sinera came in with some papers in hand. She placed them on my desk next to the candlestick telephone.

What is this?” I was hoping she’d give me a clue what the papers were about. I was certain it had to do with our conversation as Sinera tends to listen and anticipate what I might ask for. She’s not perfect at it, but she is a lot better than I ever could be.