Elizabeth walked slowly past navigation and listened to the animated chatter at the stations. They’re all excited. It’s not every day we find a new species. She’d noted that while nearing the end of the shift, all crew on deck were awake and talking animatedly with each other. She smiled at the speculation about the alien on board.
She pulled up the EVA list again, checking it before sending it to the captain. Ratko, Rusty, Gogo, Lenz, Martine, Singh. All have their certificates for EVA. She allowed herself a smile. We’re treasure hunters! To think I had to go to a lottery for spots on the first EVA. Most everyone would avoid that kind of duty. Not this time. They were all over each other to be first out the door.
This is going to be the big topic at mess tonight. Everyone will have something they’re sure to have heard from someone, somewhere, that they’ll swear is the truth. Always plenty of scuttlebutt to go around. I wonder what will be the truth. She..it..has wings. Rusty called it an angel. It’s like a fantasy novel!
A tremor vibrated the deck, like a heavy wheeled truck going by a house. Elizabeth turned a puzzled look to navigation. “Microgravity?” she asked Pyrafox.
His reply was drowned by the blare of the emergency sirens. Elizabeth rushed to her post and saw that the infirmary sensors reported an explosion before going offline. “I have no visuals of the explosion site, Commander”, Hawkes reported. “Damage Control, deck two, infirmary, explosion, possible fire”, she shouted into the comm. As she finished, there was a second vibration through the ship. What is going on down there?, Elizabeth wondered. Hope!, She was in the med bay. Was she caught in the blast? Is there anyone else? She checked the patient list. A cold lump settled in her stomach. Right at the top of the list, scheduled for a follow up exam, was Russell Rayna. Rusty! She swallowed her fear and focused on the job, tapping the infirmary channel open.
“Infirmary, report!” Elizabeth said firmly, then waited a few moments. “Infirmary?” She tapped a second channel. ‘`Damage Control, what’s your status?”, she demanded. “Ratko here, we’re enroute. Our board said the quarantine room got slagged”, Ratko said between breaths. Elizabeth could hear his footsteps as he ran towards the infirmary. “Singh, send the Commander an update and hotfoot it once you’re done. Sensors just went down, we’re blind until we get on-site”, she heard Ratko say.
“Understood, use caution when you get close”, she told him. “Ya think, Lizzy?”, Ratko replied. “I sure do”, Elizabeth answered, then asked, “What’s your ETA?” Ratko was quiet for a few moments. She heard his feet shuffle along the deck and the sound of metal scraping on metal. “Two minutes, we’ve got jaws and jacks for beams and heavy stuff if we need them, and two trauma kits. We can’t get there any faster, unless we had a way of teleporting there.” “Hey you three, grab those breaker bars, we may need them”, Ratko said.
Elizabeth’s board blinked and beeped as The captain called in. “What just happened, and what information have you got, Commander?”, Captain Devereux asked her as the hologram cube enlarged to hand size. Elizabeth noted her hair was wet and had soaked her collar. Caught you in the shower, she thought at Devereux. “Minimal information. An explosion’s been reported at the infirmary, some kind of accident’s taken down sensors, and damage control’s enroute. Hawkes is working on getting his security team online so he can get an assessment.”
“Is..”, Devereux started to ask, then Hawkes announced, “ The hull is intact. No decrease in atmospheric pressure.” “That’s fine, now find out what the situation is”, Devereux said. “On it,” Gho replied quickly. Her fingers flew across her board as she checked every sensor feed near the damaged ones. “No direct picture, or sound, Captain’, Lieutenant Gho said, frowning in concentration. “Find me something, anything. I want to know what’s going on by the time I get to the bridge”, the captain said tersely.
Rusty instinctively grabbed Hope, half rolling to put his back to the danger just as the first explosion hit. He felt himself lifted like a toy and hurled away. Another half rotation and he slammed into the storage shelves. His head smashed into a bottle, crushing it and leaking cool liquid all over him. He fell to the floor, dazed, still gripping Hope tight against his chest, and blind from blood coursing into his eyes. Through the fog that threatened to drag him into unconsciousness, he kept trying to put himself between Hope and whatever had happened. Morris, that … kick …what happened? My head … like wool. What … was … I try … run over? He flexed his arms, finding he had them around something.
What is, he felt the thing shift when he squeezed, and a thin moan of pain came from the figure in his arms. Who is this. I … know her…can’t … think. He started to shake the cobwebs out when he suddenly had an urge to tighten his grip and roll. He started to roll away from the wall, then reversed, throwing the person between him and the wall. The sense, the absolute need, to protect the thing in his arms had him hugging the person tight against his chest as he was hammered by a chunk of wall. Rusty screamed in agony.
I’m gonna die here, I want to live! I have to run! He thought desperately. He tried to make his body respond, but found himself rolling on top of Hope, and taking another shock to his body when the diagnostic table collapsed. He braced just before the table slammed into him, keeping himself and the table from crushing the helpless Hope. He could hear voices yelling, but his head was throbbing too much to make sense of the words. He collapsed next to Hope, the table laying on him at an angle, covering him and Hope.
Focus … focus on the words, Rayna. Clear your head. A shadow of motion flowed past him in liquid desperation. “Sykes! Roll man, roll!”, screamed a voice towards the direction his head pointed.. He felt warmth and a light passed his head as a concussive blast made the floor jump. Loose medical supplies and equipment cascaded down on him.
“Holy jumped up Jeebus! Tug! You okay?!”, yelled a voice past his feet. I know that voice, why can’t I remember?
“I’m freaking wonderful!”, came from his head direction in reply. “Where did it get that energy weapon?!” Who are they? If I could think.
There was an odd, raspy growl-like hiss from somewhere to his back. A sudden, heavy blast of wind knocked the last of the medical supplies from the shelves down onto him and Hope. How much stuff is up on those shelves? Rusty moved, and the table shifted. Small bottles and packages dribbled off with small thunks onto the deck.
“It can fly?!”, said the Sykes voice.
“I see the Chief! He’s moving. Stay down, sir. Stay down until it’s safe.”, the Sykes voice said with an urgent calm. Stay down? Just how safe is it here? The Doc, I can’t leave her here. He winced as he shifted again, a sharp pain in his wrist that made his eyes water. An involuntary hiss of pain brought a growl from his back, and the whine of laser fire from his feet and head directions. The rasping, growing hiss repeated, with a series of liquid-sounding words that Rusty could almost recognize.
“Back up! Back up!”, Tuggle said suddenly. “Don’t move…oh Jeebus”. There was another whine of laser fire, and another flash of heat and light. A shock wave bounced Rusty off the floor. He didn’t have the balance to catch himself. The snapping bone sounded like a small explosion as his full weight came down on the damaged wrist. Shock and pain enveloped him, and dragged him down into darkness.
“What in all of dark space is going on?!”, Captain Devereux said as she stepped onto the bridge. Her glare seemed like, if it were possible, she would use it to burn a way to the Infirmary. “Still trying to get an alternate feed for the sensors captain”, Hawkes replied. She took deep breaths. If it was just me, I’d jump in and run hard and fast, and let the chips fall. As captain of a ship, I make a mistake, it’s magnified. Anyone under my command would have to live with the fallout. The mantra focused and calmed her, letting her make sense of the activity.
She watched Hawkes’ hands fly across the tactical board. He didn’t seem to be having any luck in getting a feed, any more than his previous efforts at establishing a visual link to his team. Blind, or might as well be for all the good the system is doing us. It’s time for a decision. “Hawkes, go to the Infirmary and take charge of the situation. Pryafox, borrow Martine and see if you can find a way to get the feeds around the infirmary up. Commander, set up an emergency infirmary. Assign four with EMT training to it in case it’s needed.”
“On it, Captain”, Elizabeth replied, and began tapping her tablet. Hawkes stood up, and went for the door, murmuring orders to his headset and tapping his tablet, getting reinforcements to join him enroute. Pryafox stepped from his science console to tactical and was joined by Ensign Martine as they tried to figure out if there was a re-routing solution. As they were working, there was another vibration in the deck.
“Commander, how is air pressure?”, she asked Elizabeth. “No loss of pressure anywhere in the ship. Damage Control is still being held back by security.”, Elizabeth told her. Devereux ran her hand through her hair. Blind, I hate this. Pryafox spoke up. “Security says the alien is up and active, and armed with some kind of energy weapon.”
“What did it do, take one off of security?”, Devereux asked. “I don’t know captain, let me turn on the audio feed”, Gho replied. The sound of an odd hissing rasp, and a liquid sounding series of syllables leapt into life as Gho switched the security feed to the speakers.
“What’s she saying, Tug?”, came Sykes voice.
“You ask her, I don’t speak alien.”
“Where’s the weapon? You got eyes on the weapon?”, Sykes queried again.
“I don’t see one, maybe it got dropped”, Tuggle replied tensely.
“Stay down! Jeebus, she just ripped the table off the floor anchors”, Sykes said. There was another liquid series of sounds, then a heavy crash.
“Sykes?!”, Tuggle yelled.
“It missed, she’s got lousy aim”, Sykes replied.
“Security, can you subdue the alien?” Devereux broke in.
There was a momentary pause before both Sykes and Tuggle said “no!”, almost in unison. “We need sonics or a tranq. We got neither”, Tuggle said ill-temperedly. “Any stuff we might have used is on the floor on top of the Chief and the Doc”, he finished.
“Captain, there’s no way to get a feed. The paths have been either fried or severed somehow”, Gho said, then cursed under her breath. Her fingers flew over the tactical board. “Dumb, dumb, dumb! We’re trying to get the feeds in the room! We can access the security team’s personal views from their badges.” She finished then thumped the console. Images of a table leg filled the screen, along with slivers of bright light around the left edge. The name on the view was ‘Tuggle, B. C., Sgt’.
“Good job Lieutenant”, Devereux told Gho. “We can at least see something, and that will help.” Gho nodded, and split the screen, showing the layout of the Infirmary, then superimposing both Tuggle, Sykes, and the alien in the room. “The alien is a best guess, it doesn’t have a comm unit”, Gho said in a tense calm.
“Sergeant Tuggle, Sergeant Sykes, hold your positions.”, Hawkes’ voice broke in over the chatter. “Identify where the alien is in the room”, he said tersely. “Uh, by the medical tables and beds. Three steps from the quarantine room”, Sykes replied. He then added, “I’m just inside the door to the left behind a wrecked table, and Tug is back behind the Doc’s desk.” Two other dots lit up on the screen. Both were huddled close to a wall, roughly halfway between Sykes and Tuggle’s positions. The dot closest to the wall identified as the Medical Officer, the other showed as the Chief Engineer.
Devereux looked at the dots. Hawkes would have a clear line of sight from the door to the alien. “Lieutenant Hawkes, the situation is a stalemate at the moment. The alien isn’t shooting, so see if you can get to the Chief and Hope without starting a firefight, and pull them clear.”
“Yes, Captain”, replied Hawkes. “I will attempt the rescue.” Now if no one starts shooting, we might be able to talk it down and defuse this, Devereux told herself.
Hawkes stopped when he spotted the winged alien. It was, as located, approximately two meters from the quarantine door. He leaned against the corner, protected by the hallway wall, four meters from the Infirmary doorway. It’s on the ground, wings partly open…is that a part of a diagnostic screen in its hand?
He looked to his left and saw a portion of a medical table poking from the wall. The main lighting was off, and the emergency lighting had activated. Their dim, harsh colors of the light pods created the sense of a combat zone to the scene. A large chunk of the door frame of the infirmary was missing. Hawkes noted that it appeared singed and melted. A hole similar in size to the damaged hatchway was a quarter-meter above his head. The blast had continued through the metal, exiting slightly behind him and expended itself against the ceiling.
Small bits of plastic and metal littered the deck from the corner down the hall. There is some kind of weapon, I don’t see where it is being carried. The creature seems improvising weaponry. Is that deliberate thought, or merely a reaction to being cornered?. I need more information. What kind of weapon threw the table into the wall? Or was it a weapon, Perhaps the creature?. He tapped his wrist comm, then keyed the security channel. “Sergeant Sykes, Sergeant Tuggle, can you confirm an energy weapon in the alien’s possession?”
“It’s got one, guaranteed.”, Sykes responded. “It blew a huge chunk of the door out by me.”
“It wasn’t a weapon, L T, it was her”, Tuggle said quietly. “I saw the last shot, it came from her hands.” From her hands. Embedded weaponry is not unheard of. That usually means special combatants. If so, this isn’t a Star Blood derivative. None have internal weapons. Which means it is likely not Aerian, either, despite the vague external similarity.
“Sergeant Tuggle, can you see either the Chief Engineer or the Medical Officer from your location?”
“I can see both of them. They’re half covered by medical supplies”, Tuggle responded. A fluting hiss came from the alien as Tuggle spoke, it’s attention focusing on the noise. It raised the chunk of table as if readying to throw. Hawkes immediately brought the sonic emitter to eye level, aiming it at the alien. The creature noticed the movement, and Hawkes felt the intensity of its gaze. He ignored the feeling of impending mayhem, concentrating on his target.
This feels like a mistake, but I cannot lower my weapon while it is armed. Too much chance of casualties if it is fast as a Star Blood. The standoff continued, Hawkes maintaining his aim, and the alien watching Hawkes. “L T, I can’t…”, Sykes began, and the noise caught the alien’s attention. It screamed and threw the table, it’s arm a whitish blur. The impromptu missile bulleted through the infirmary hatchway, blowing itself to shrapnel against the metal bulkhead next to Hawkes.
The impact made a near torso-sized dent in the bulkhead, and Hawkes instinctively pulled back around the corner. Small bits of metal and plastic bounced across the deck while the alien made another fluting hiss, and crouched, it’s wings mantling about it like a bird of prey. “Sykes, are you injured?”, Hawkes said quietly, drawing the alien’s immediate attention. “Shh”, Sykes whispered. The alien’s head snapped to gaze down and to her right. Is it blind? It’s orienting immediately with any sound. If that is the case, the sonic emitter may be more effective than the simulations projected.
Hawkes slowly slid back to the corner, and braced against the bulkhead, sonic emitter aimed at the alien. He had a perfect shot. The alien was fully framed by the hatchway, still three meters from the quarantine door. If I take it and the emitter does work, then we have the standoff controlled. Why is it so hard to take the shot? I don’t know if the emitter will work. It’s not a Star Blood. If the emitter doesn’t work, the creature could well attack my men, and the Chief Engineer and the Medical Officer. Prudence says it is better to wait, until I can gather more information, or until there is no other option.
Hope regained consciousness, feeling sick and disoriented. As her head cleared, she remembered the explosion. The quarantine room exploded. I must have been thrown away from the blast. She felt the cold, wet liquid, soaking her right sleeve near the wrist, and a heavy weight across her waist. Liquid is cold, so not bleeding. She focused on the things she could feel, noting size, shape, and hardness. Bandage boxes, vials, and bottles. I must be against the storage shelves. She next concentrated on her extremities. Hands and fingers flexed, sore but thankfully unbroken.
She extended her focus to her arms, moving and flexing the right, which moved easily, and the left, which ground bone on bone oddly, making Hope stop after a brief motion.. Dislocation, likely due to impact. Numb. Bones unbroken, indicating impact against a softer surface than the shelving. This weight must be what cushioned the impact against the shelves. I can smell the calcium and protein powders for the tissue builder.
The containers must be spilled. Nothing toxic other than the alcohol. She focused on the arrangement of the shelves, remembering the location of material on each. I am midway between the doorway and the desk. Nothing on the shelves that would explain the large weight. What is it? She thought back to just before the explosion. One of security? No, the Chief Engineer, he followed me back into the Infirmary. His body must have taken the impact against the shelving wall.
She returned to her self-inspection. I need to determine my injuries before I can be of any benefit to the Chief Engineer. She flexed her left foot, feeling a sharp pain as broken bones ground together. She stopped moving the foot, and tried the other. It flexed stiffly, and without pain. Broken foot, bones in arch broken, arch collapsed, causing the pain, she told herself. She focused on the pain, forcing it into a small portion of her mind, walling the sensation off.
“Don’t move”, came a strained whisper towards her feet. “It’s watching you.” She recognized the security guard’s voice. Sergeant Tuggle. The tenseness in his voice stopped her self-inspection. The creature awoke, and destroyed the quarantine room. It must be near. A fluting hiss from past her head confirmed her guess. It has us trapped here. A metallic rending sound caught Hope’s attention.
“Jeebus, it just tore the table off the mounts”, Tuggle said tensely.
“Sergeant Tuggle, can you reach the Chief Engineer, or the Medical Officer?” “The Doc’s awake, Tuggle whispered then “OH SH…!” She heard him roll across the floor as the floor seemed to jump. Hope’s head smacked against the floor, stunning her. She heard vaguely the impact of the desk against the back wall.
The creature’s shrieks of rage filled Hope’s tortured senses with images of explosions, and a painful knowledge that home was gone. She felt, actually shared, the loss, and the despair. Hope wondered if the mind behind that voice was even sane.
It, she, Hope amended, screeched again, the sound battering at her ears. She thought she heard words. Indistinct, and horribly mangled, but words nonetheless.
<< You dare attack a Star Wing?! You will not live to regret your action! >>
Light started to build, and the smell of ozone.
Hope tried to shout, but all she managed was a croaking voice, a ragged whisper,
< Stop >.
The light winked out. Silence descended on the infirmary. The only sound was the hyperventilating of the two guards. Hope felt vibrations in the deck. Boxes and bandages were blown away by a blast of wind, and the Chief Engineer was lifted and thrown away from her, landing heavily on the deck. She shifted uncomfortably as circulation pulsed down into starved tissues. There is no pain. She felt hands lift her up amidst screamed orders by the guards to put her down. Laser fire struck the winged creature, and was ignored. Hope turned her head away from the blistering heat.
She felt herself lowered to the deck with incredible gentleness. She balanced on her good foot, one hand on the wall to keep the weight off the broken foot. Once she was upright, the winged being knelt low before her, bowing her head. In mangled Aerian, it whispered <<Reverence>>