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Seed 3 – Departure

April 17, 2007

Sig was confused. The last thing that he recalled was the Javelin being destroyed. He should have been dead. Why would someone who had destroyed an entire colony ship have bothered to rescue him? None of it made any sense.

He didn’t realize that his System was offline until he tried to figure out how long he had been out. For his entire life, his System had been a part of him, and for a heartbeat, he froze. Losing it was like losing an arm or a leg, and it’s sudden absence left him in a state of shock. He had never really thought about exactly how it worked. How do you move your hand or stand up? You just do.

Sig was so busy trying to figure out this new, unmediated relationship to his body that he didn’t notice the man coming into the room. The man cleared his throat, and Sig jerked to attention.

The man wearing a military uniform, although it was a design he had never seen before. Sig’s first thought when he looked at the man’s skin was that either the lighting was weird in the cell or that his System had been messing with his sight, the man’s skin had a bluish tint to it. It turned out that neither was the case, because when he looked down at his own hands, they looked perfectly normal. Other than the blue skin the man looked human, if a bit ghoulish. He was tall and thin, skin stretched tight over concave cheeks and eyes sunken just enough to make the man look half starved. The man held a small tablet up as if to read it, his hands having the same bony definition as his face.

“You are Sigurd Ashman, correct?” The man had a core worlder’s accent, with it’s slow cadence and precise enunciation. He wondered how they knew his name, but then realized that anyone who was capable of turning off his System probably wouldn’t have any trouble getting his name from it.

“Yeah.” Sig knew that he should have had some cocky reply ready, like a hero in a sim, but didn’t.

“Do you know where you are?”

“No, but if you turn my System back on, I might be able to figure it out.”

The man didn’t respond to the joke. “Food will be provided for you shortly. Is there anything else that you need?”

“I wouldn’t mind getting out of this cell.”

“You know I can’t do that.” The man smiled, but instead of expressing humor, the expression seemed predatory. He stood there, smiling, for a long moment before turning and leaving.

* * *

Devi had just wiped the sweat off of her forehead and was leaning against the exposed frame of the Skitter when she saw Chief Hadlin walking across the bay towards her. She tried to not look hurried as she turned around to get back to work. If a lifetime in the military had taught her anything, it was that you never wanted to be caught resting. Sure, the regs mandated a certain amount of break time per shift, but although command doubtlessly understood the concept intellectually, that knowledge never seemed to be anything other than an intellectual curiosity to them.

“Relax,” Hadlin said as he approached her.

“Something wrong Chief?”

“Depends on your perspective, I guess.” He ran a hand through his greasy, black hair. “Looks like you’ve been transferred. You’ll be headed to the Alabaster.”

She was stunned, and a heartbeat passed before she was able to respond. “Thank you, sir.” It seemed too good to be true, and she couldn’t really believe it until she blinked to bring up her SCF, and it immediately confirmed what Hadlin had said.

Hadlin did something strange, then, he relaxed. He had been the Deck Chief for as long as she could remember, and although it had kept him from doing any real work, there was still plenty of muscle on his stocky frame. For a moment, Devi thought that she was just looking at some senior tech as Hadlin looked past her at the exposed intake assembly and it took him only a glance to assess her progress.

“Looks like you time to finish that. You’re scheduled to report to Bay One at two past. Remember what I told you the other day.” That gave her a little over three hours to finish the repairs, say her goodbyes and report to the shuttle.

“Thanks again, sir.” He didn’t reach out to shake her hand or to embrace her, and he didn’t seem to want her to, either, because he smiled, turned on his heel, and walked off.

If she hadn’t seen the way he looked at the assembly, she would have thought that he was being spiteful, but it seemed that he honestly believed that she could pull it off in the next two and a half hours. Just to make sure that she wasn’t mistaken, she put in a query to her SCF. A few hundredths of a second later, it confirmed what she suspected, her best time on an intake repair had taken over three hours from this stage in the process. Time to get to work.

* * *

Food was delivered shortly after the man had left. It consisted of a thin bread that was surprisingly tasty, and a tofu-like substance that was equally tasteless. It didn’t matter, though, he probably hadn’t eaten is days. It was surprising how quickly he got over the absence of his System. He had expected it to take weeks, but it had only been a few hours, and he was already starting to feel normal.

After that, Sig spent the next several hours, although there was no way for him to be sure, inspecting his cell. The cell wasn’t very large, maybe three meters by four, so it didn’t take very long. Apparently, even in distant parts of the universe, prison cell design was pretty much the same: sleeping area, bathroom, bars. What was odd was that the bathroom was partially closed off, creating an assuredly misleading sense of privacy.

Something bothered him about the cell, but he didn’t figure it out until he was almost done exploring his confines. Everything was incredibly smooth to the touch, feeling like it was made out of glass, but nothing, save the mirror, was shiny. Every surface had a matte finish that was incongruent with the feel of the room.

“I apologize for the necessity of the cell, but I’m sure that you understand the reasons.” A woman’s voice came from the entryway, causing Sig to jump, and when he turned around there was once again someone standing there.

Although the woman had the same accent and blue-tinted skin, her features shared little of the man’s harshness. She had an angular face framed by black hair that didn’t quite reach her shoulders, her eyebrows forming attenuated triangles above her green eyes. Where the man’s uniform had been unadorned, hers had several bars on the sleeves that Sig assumed indicated rank.

“I’m sure that you have a lot of questions,” she said.

“Yes-” he began, but she cut him off.

“Unfortunately, I’m not able to answer any of them. I’m not even allowed to ask any. In fact, I probably shouldn’t even be here.”

Sig didn’t know what to make of her. Not for the first time, he wished that his System was online, he felt like he wis missing half of his brain without it. If these people were aliens, or distant relatives, then he should be recording every second of this on the off chance that he survived it.

“That being said,” she continued, “there’s no point in my spending more time here, I just wanted to look you in the eyes.”

Sig didn’t bother responding as she left the room. He assumed that she was the captian, or near enough, and the way that she had spoken to him made it clear that she didn’t expect him to live very long. Then again, it might just be that these people had very different customs than he was used to, but he doubted it.

* * *

Two hours and twenty-one minutes later, Devi felt like she knew what it would be like to be a tech during heavy combat. Her entire body felt like it had been dipped in grease, her eyes were burning from the salt of the sweat that had run down her forehead and into them, and her hands were shaking. But the exterior plating was back on the Skitter, and all of the diagnostics checked out. She marked the repair as complete in the ship’s database, and within seconds, the bay’s daemons came to take the needle shaped ship away.

As she left the bay, she could see Hadlin in his office looking at her, and she might have been mistaken, but it looked like he was smiling at her.

There wasn’t much in her bunk. A picture of her friends, a couple of components that she was going to rebuild one of these days, a couple of tools that she had collected over the years, some clothes. All of it fit in a small bag. She sent a message to Kenichi, telling him to meet her in a few minutes, and then gathered her things and headed to the shower.

The shower helped. The shaking had subsided, and she once again felt like she belonged to a civilization as she walked down the corridors. She felt detached as she passed her shipmates, only a few of whom she even recognized, and that was only because she was in her usual sector, but she no longer felt any attachment to any of them, they were here and this was no longer her home. This was her first major transfer, and she finally understood what it had been like for all of her friends that had transferred before her.

“Devi!” Kenichi intercepted her in the hall, surprising her.

“Hey Kenichi. I thought you were going to meet me at Bay 1.”

He shrugged. “This was closer. So what’s up?”

“I’m being transferred. I’m going to the Alabaster.” Kenichi’s face betrayed momentary shock as she said this, but came back under control almost instantly. She took his arm and started to pull him along towards Bay One when her System alerted her that she needed to be there in ten minutes.

“Congratulations, he said, less than enthusiastic but allowing himself to be pulled along. “How the hell did you pull that one?”

“I figure that Hadlin must’ve put in for me. There’s no other way it could have happened.”

They continued to talk as they approached the Bay, with the usual goodbyes of people used to the Fleet’s constant transfers. They were at the last corner before the entrance, and Kenichi pulled her to the side of the hallway. He looked as though he were trying to decide if he should say something, and couldn’t make up his mind.

Finally, he spoke. “Dev, I’m going to miss you.”

“I’m going to miss you too.” Her SCF indicated, through a flashing timer projected onto her vision, that she needed to be in the bay in under a minute. She gave Kenichi a quick hug, and walked off. She didn’t look back.

* * *

Sig had no idea how much time had elapsed since the captain had come to his cell, but with each minute that passed he felt his fear fading, much the same as getting desensitized to the constant threat of decompression. He tried to keep his mind off of what had happened to the Javelin, he knew that once he started to think about what had happened, it would only be a matter of time before he cracked.

Sig was sitting on his bunk, waiting, when a motion caught his eye. The door slid open inaudibly. Two men and a woman entered the room. He didn’t recognize any of them.

“Get up and stand over there,” one of the men said, indicating a yellow rectangle on the floor in the corner of the cell. The man had the exact same accent that his earlier visitors had used.

The three of them were wearing identical grey uniforms and they had the same blue tinted skin. They were wearing what Sig recognized as body armor, although it seemed too light to offer any real protection, the only actual hard shells being the torso plates and the helmets. They were also carrying what Sig assumed to be guns, metallic tubes covered in a crosshatch pattern with two grips jutting out perpendicularly (although the guards weren’t using them, just holding the barrel), and a pinhole opening on the business end.

Their impatient looks snapped Sig out of his examination. He had no desire to find out what the guns or the people holding them were capable of, he stepped onto the rectangle.

* * *

The events of the prior hours didn’t sink in until the airlock doors had cycled shut and locked, leaving Devi in shuttle’s main compartment with the Grey and the man in the black Intel uniform.

She had always liked the Tiburon Shuttle’s design. It was small enough that it didn’t have to carry it’s own FTL drive, the gate could just push it through, and it had short, stubby wings that would allow for atmospheric flight. It wasn’t very big, with capacity for a couple of weeks at the most, but it didn’t need any more than that. It’s singularity of purpose lent it a certain elegance.

She looked at the two men who she would be sharing the compartment with for the next few hours, and decided against trying to strike up conversation, they looked like they had been taciturn even before joining the military, and the training didn’t appear to have helped any. Instead, she decided to pay attention to the Translation process.

Disembarking from the Fulcrum went as smoothly. If she hadn’t been watching out the portholes, she probably wouldn’t have even noticed that they had left the ship. Before the shuttle turned towards the Gate, she could see it, a metallic octagon hanging in space. She knew from training that viewed with the naked eye, it would appear empty until it was activated moments prior to the arrival of the shuttle, when it would suddenly fill with color. The eye simply wasn’t designed to deal with hyperspace, and so everyone saw something different, from intricate geometric patterns to chaotic swirls of color.

The Gate was gradually obscured by the body of the shuttle and about ten minutes later, each of them blinked as each of their SCFs flashed red, indicating that they were about to shut down for the translation.

Devi had translated hundreds of times, but never without the compensators that a big ship like the Fulcrum allowed. Just as the eye was unable to make sense of hyperspace, the mind could not reconcile the discontinuity of suddenly being in a different place than one had been only a moment before, and so there was a brief period of confusion immediately following the translation. At first, Devi attributed what was happening in the compartment to that confusion. Then the man in the black uniform turned to her, the dark ceramic knife in his hand dripping blood.

* * *

The hardest part of the translation for Bryant was acting like he wasn’t used to Gate travel. The truth was that he had been through dozens of uncompensated translations, and his mind had become somewhat numb to the process. He tried to avoid checking his harness to make sure that it was properly disabled. He knew that it was, but something about the risk if he were wrong did something to the mind. He had dealt with it in the past, however, and he did the same now, simply pushing it out of the way like a superficial scrape.

The shuttle entered the gate, and although it traveled an immense distance, there was no sensation of time passing. There was the expected confusion, but it took only a fraction of a section for him to snap out of it, and he released his straps while the other two passengers still had their eyes closed. he pulled the ceramic knife out of it’s sheath in his sleeve.

As he stood up, he saw the Grey’s eyes snap open, and widen in surprise, hand reaching for the ever-present sidearm. Bryant knew that the man had all of the kinetic enhancements that were standard in soldiers, and would be able to draw his gun with blinding speed. What the Grey didn’t know was that Bryant had those same enhancements, but also had a heavily modified metabolic system that was currently in maximum overdrive, burning calories at a rate that, if sustained, would leave his body a lifeless husk in less than eight hours.

He launched himself at the Grey, for a moment marveling at his own speed. It was already too late for the Gray when Bryant felt the needle explode in his thigh, fortunately the shot was off target and it only took out some muscle and skin. He kept moving forward, not feeling any of it as his SCF tuned the pain out instantaneously. Then his knife went through the man’s neck, and he felt it shatter a vertebrae at the base of the man’s skull before it went through the cushion and into the frame of the crash couch.

He pulled the knife out of the man’s neck and turned, not as smoothly as he would have liked, ready to do the same thing to the tech in the couch three seats to the left of the Grey’s body. He saw fear in her eyes, and horror. But he didn’t see any will to fight. She was a tech, she wouldn’t fight unless she was ordered to.

“Stay there,” he said, and she nodded. He walked up to the front of the compartment, barely limping now as his boosted metabolism and other enhancements rerouted and fixed the muscle in his thigh, and keyed his ID into the console to the right of the doors that led to the cockpit. The doors slid open, causing one of the pilots to turn to face him.

“Is everything OK?” the pilot asked him, eyes darting down to where the smart fabric of his uniform was already starting to expel the blood, causing it to bead up. The fabric then formed a membrane on the outside of the beads, allowing them to fall to the floor panels, where they sat there like crimson ball bearings.

“No. We’ve been compromised. New destination.” He connected to the ship’s computer, and sent a new set of coordinates to it. “We can’t risk making contact with the Fleet until we know what’s happened. My superiors will know where to find us.” The pilots didn’t question any of it and immediately set to work. He didn’t expect any trouble from them, this was standard procedure for the security breach.

“Yes, sir.” The pilot turned around, and the other one nodded at something unspoken as they changed course. Bryant used his SCF to check the ship’s heading to make sure that they were going to the right place before heading back into the main compartment to deal with the tech.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 17, 2007 5:03 am

    In case if anyone was wondering, SCF stands for Super-Conscious Functions.

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