Episode 26 – The Spaces Between
Previously on Animus…
Jacob Kale has finally begun to understand more about his unique abilities, discovering he could bend and manipulate time in his mind’s eye. During a dangerous cascading jump to Earth, Jacob slowed time so that he could adjust a mis-calculation, saving them from certain death in causing into an inter-dimensional flux. Reaching the remains of Earth in the future, they began preparing for the next leg of their journey… to travel backwards through time.
Meanwhile in 2193, Jenice Murray has launched Operation Pearl Island – the dangerous move against Admiral Drake and his feared Atlas Fleet. While they waited for Drake to strike, Helen Dyson was reunited with her husband, Benneth, on Earth. In the safety and secrecy of Benneth’s quarters, she revealed to him secrets given by the martyr and LOPO agent, Kristopher Glosten. This file was a secret recording made by LOPO Director Lei Maiyao, and uncovered the details behind LOPO’s 804 Project. Now, Admiral Dyson knows that the catastrophe striking Sydney was a result of Marso-Deka Corp. experiments, and could arguably be blamed on the Triumvirate itself. Maiyao’s recording implicated Jacob Kale as the man could control, or even stop, these vergences with otherspace from growing more frequent and deadly.
However, before Dyson was able to make a decision, the LOPO Agent monitoring them broke into his quarters. Fearing for their lives and the safety of Proper Society, Helen made a definitive choice, and killed the agent with his own disruptor baton. The decisions made next by Admiral Dyson could determine the fate of the galaxy…
Y.S.A.D. Benedict, Australian Province, Earth.
September 21st, 2193
Admiral Dyson stepped out of his quarters with swift silence. He tugged his shell-shocked wife along with a firm hand. The facts that had just been revealed to them were clearly intended for secrecy, or Director Maiyao would have disclosed them to him personally. Perhaps the LOPO agent named “Glosten” had special orders that somehow involved his family; perhaps he was operating rogue. Either way, Dyson had to think fast.
The entire situation had changed. Helen may have made the right choice when she killed Agent Aero, but it was entirely against protocol. A loyalist would have reported it to LOPO, and let them sort it all out.
Benneth Dyson had no love for LOPO. He did, however, love his wife.
There was one avenue left, but it would only buy them scant time. A special clause existed within Yellow Star Alliance regulations. Regulation 400.2 stipulated that a temporary lock down of LOPO assets would be warranted, but only in the case that LOPO assets aboard a starship or series of starships proved to be inoperable or deviant. This regulation’s existence was only known by those with a Level-14 classification or higher.
Right now, that meant him.
Enacting General Order 400.2 was a stupendous risk. It would draw the crosshairs of the entire Civil Triumvirate onto him. If it turned out that Benneth had made the right move, he would be at the very least rewarded. However, if anything else… his career, his life, even the lives of his family, would all be forfeit.
Helen, however, had already forced his hand. Benneth no longer had a choice.
Once outside, he took a good, hard look at the security keypad on his door. Then, he shared a glance with Helen, frowning. “Helen,” he whispered, “you need to trust me now, and keep quiet.”
She looked back at him, nodded her head, and began wiping her tear-stained face clean.
Benneth pressed a red key, and heard a confirming chirping sound. “Computer, Admiral of the Fleet, authorization code one zero zero alpha zero.”
“Voiceprint confirmed,” spoke a mechanical voice.
“Activate General Order four-hundred point two, effective immediately.”
A chirping alert sound came from the keypad. The mechanical voice spoke again. “General Order four-hundred point two. Please confirm you wish to proceed, Admiral.”
Dyson nearly cut the voice off. “Affirmative. Proceed with General Order four-hundred point two, immediately.”
Suddenly, the halls were filled with a quiet, eerie alarm. It sang with a tune unlike anything he’d heard in decades of service to the navy. The neutral lighting in the hallway, and even across the entire flagship, was replaced by a soft and foreboding blue glow, with flashing yellow strobes lining the corridor.
“Come on, Helen.” Benneth took his wife by the hand and led her down the hallway, back toward the flashpads.
“Benneth! What on earth is happening?”
“I’ve locked down all LOPO operations for the time being,” he explained.
“Can you do that?” she gasped.
“Only in extreme circumstances,” he explained. “It’s very risky.” He turned a corner and motioned toward the flashpads. “I need you to come to the bridge, stay in my ready room, and do not speak with anybody. Do not answer any questions. Do you understand?”
Helen nodded nervously at him, and stepped up onto one of the empty flashpads. Benneth stepped up next to her, then turned and took her hands in his. He took a moment to look deeply into her eyes, trying to channel his own strength into her.
“It’s going to be okay,” he whispered.
“I hope so,” she replied. Her eyes started to glisten again, and her voice trembled. “Benneth, there… there were… bodies, coming out of the clouds.”
If he didn’t know her better, he might have thought she’d gone mad. However, she looked at him with such conviction that he knew she was telling the truth. He squeezed her hands gently and nodded without a word, before letting go.
“Computer. Command level, bridge.”
The world flashed around them. Benneth saw the familiar sight of his bridge, and heard one of the officers announce his presence. The bridge, like the rest of the ship, had been cast in blue lighting, signifying the activation of General Order 400.2
“Admiral on deck!”
Benneth stepped off the flashbay. He ignored the strange looks some of the officers gave to the woman accompanying him. Instead, he motioned toward one of the Legion soldiers standing near the flashbay. “Sub-corporal, escort Doctor Dyson to my ready room.”
The Commodore rushed over to him, with a pensive look drawn across his face. “Admiral, Sir.”
“Take us to Orbital Platform L-200.” Benneth glanced to the side, watching as the Legion soldier escorted his wife toward the ready room. She was watching him as she walked, with lips drawn into a thin line.
“Aye, sir,” said West, and turned to pass the order along with a wordless motion.
Benneth approached the now vacant command chair. From the corner of his eye, he noticed two LOPO agents, who’d collapsed on the deck in the corner of the bridge. These were the agents assigned to monitor bridge operations. When he’d enacted General Order 400.2, their monitors had shut down all but their primary motor control functions, placing them into a closely controlled coma.
“I want a full status update,” demanded Benneth with a strong voice. “What’s going on out there?”
Commodore West followed. “Admiral, we’ve received reports of similar atmospheric incidents forming across the planet. None of them nearly as severe as what’s happening over Eastern Australia. However, sitreps from the ground indicate that…”
Dyson sat down in the command chair and fixed his Commodore with a stern eye. “Out with it, Commodore!”
“Sir,” he faltered. “We’re getting reports that, well… corpses are falling from the clouds.”
Benneth’s eyes darted up, and fixed the Commodore with a cold look. “Corpses? Are you certain?”
“Yes, Admiral. Corpses, debris, large pieces of unfamiliar structures. I wouldn’t believe the reports if LOPO hadn’t certified their-”
“I believe the reports, Commodore,” Dyson interrupted. “I’ve acquired sensitive intel suggesting these incidents are the result of MDC experiments.”
“But, sir,” West replied, “LOPO claims it’s the Coalition.”
“It’s not the Coalition, Stephen!” Dyson barked. “My intel is confirmed. This is worse than I thought. Get this ship to platform L-200 on the double, and make sure the woman in my ready room is not disturbed!”
Commodore West snapped to attention. “Right away, Sir!”
Dyson punched a button on his chair, triggering a ship-wide broadcast. “All hands, this is Admiral Dyson,” he declared. “We are condition blue, battle stations. This is not a drill. Repeat, we are condition blue, all hands to battle stations.”
L.M.V. Praetor, Earth’s Remains.
February 13th, 2241
In a small ready room located just aft of the Praetor‘s bridge, Captain Metler called a meeting with Jacob and Riles. They’d spent the better part of an hour discussing strategies, presuming that Jacob was able to get them back to 2193.
Captain Metler had gone over the ship’s database, studying the futuristic technology now available to them. The ship’s hull was constructed of a compound none of them had ever heard of before, not even Jacob. Called ‘rhyofene’, this compound was apparently discovered in 2229. It was virtually impervious to all forms of attack, save some of the super-powered lasers developed by the Marso-Deka Corporation. The ship would be nearly invincible in 2193, unless they came face to face with a ship like the Y.S.A.D. Benedict. Even then, the weaponry aboard Praetor was significantly advanced. Most likely, the Marso-Deka Corporation hadn’t even begun developing some of it’s advanced munitions in 2193.
Riles had tested some of the LOPO armor they had found aboard the stolen interceptor. It was impervious to almost every type of weapon the enemy employed in 2193. The personal weapons they’d found were similarly advanced, mostly plasma-laser munitions and disruptor pistols.
“The way I figure,” Riles said, “Long as we don’t get too close to the bastards, we oughta be able t’ take on an entire army just by ourselves.”
“Well, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” answered Metler. “Advanced armor or not, I’d rather not find myself at the center of an orbital bombardment.”
Riles smirked. “Dunno, Cappy. Might put some hair on yer chest.”
“Let’s talk about strategy, objectives,” Metler went on. “The best way to distract Drake is to draw all eyes to Earth. We have access to LOPO history files claiming that on the target date, a series of weather anomalies began striking Earth. We can expect general pandemonium on the Mother Planet; Proper Society hasn’t dealt with disasters like these in over a hundred years. Our first order of business will be to locate a LOPO access point, and have Jane hack into it.”
“Steal intel?” asked Riles.
“That,” replied Metler, “and plant something. A virus, a message, something to make them realize that he is here.” He nodded his head toward Jacob, indicatively.
Riles leaned over and slapped Jacob on the shoulder. “Ya’ smell like bait too, rabbit.”
Jacob sneered at Riles for a moment. “Thanks, Riles.”
“We’re also going to look for our missing intel agent, Alec Troy. If he’s alive, LOPO will have him locked up somewhere extremely secure.” The Captain looked between Jacob and Riles, a dire expression on his face. “This is secondary to diverting the engagement with Drake, but while we’re there, we might as well go for him.”
“That’ll tickle Ivanov’s panties,” quipped Riles.
“Show some respect, Riles,” said Metler. “The Klius Op. was supposed to be about exfiltrating Troy. If we come home with him in tow, all the better.”
Captain Metler turned to study Jacob for a moment next. “You think you’re ready for this, Kale?”
“Yes, sir,” Jacob nodded. “I’ve finally figured out what I need to do.”
“What, exactly is that, Jacob?” asked Metler.
Jacob leaned forward, clasping his hands together on the table between them. “Colonel Wilco helped me put together some arithmetic. We’ve agreed that these anomalies are linked not only in location, but also across time. There are historical data files to prove it. The equations were pretty heavy, but, we believe that if the ship enters one of these echoes at a specific point in space, we can travel backward through time and end up on Earth, during the first incident.”
“Sydney, September 21st,” Riles remarked.
“2193,” added Metler. “Sounds plausible, but I’m still lost on how the hell you’re gonna do it.”
“To put it bluntly,” Jacob answered, “I think I’ve discovered how to manipulate space and time. I will attempt this while we’re trapped inside the original anomaly’s echo.”
Riles smirked, and leaned back into his seat. “Bullshit.”
“It’s not ‘bullshit’,” answered Jacob. It felt odd to use vulgarity the way Riles did, for it hadn’t been built into his natural lexicon. “During the cascading jump, Jane’s calculations were off by less than one hundredth of a degree. It would’ve caused an inter-dimensional flux, but I went to her station and corrected it during the seventh jump.”
Captain Metler shared a look with Riles that was unmistakable. They didn’t believe him, because technically, what he was saying was physically impossible.
“Check the navigational records,” Jacob said, and sat back into his seat. He motioned toward the table before Captain Metler, where a touchpad interface sat idling. “Go on.”
Scowling, Metler reached out and keyed a few commands into the touchpad. A few moments later, he looked up incredulously. “How in the hell…”
“Like I said,” Jacob answered. “I seem to be able to manipulate time.”
“Must be what they were testin’ on him in that monkey room,” Riles told the Captain.
Metler took in a deep breath and cleared his screen. “Well, then.” He looked over at Jacob with a sense of hesitant approval, eventually nodding his head after a long silence. “I think that’s it.” He stood up. “Let’s get to it.”
Jacob stood as well, but as Riles left and Metler headed for the door, he remained. Before leaving, Metler turned and looked back at him.
“Jacob?” he asked, curiously.
Turning, Jacob looked across the room at Captain Metler, frowning. “Captain…” He was about to attempt something that had always been considered impossible, and he wasn’t even sure why he was doing it. All along, an odd mixture of logic and emotion had driven him. Every motion, every decision, he’d calculated like a computer; and yet, the only reason he did any of it was because of the strange empathy and feelings of trust that had been developing in his soul. Feelings for these people, which he assumed were as close to ‘friends’ as he’d ever find.
“Can you tell me about Animus?” he asked.
Captain Metler seemed surprised to hear the question, but after giving it a moment’s thought, a look of understanding came to him. He started walking back toward Jacob at a slow, casual pace.
“Well, it’s one of the most beautiful planets you’ll ever see,” started Metler. “The sky there, it’s different than on Earth. It’s brighter, more colorful.” Reminiscence filled his face and echoed in his voice, like that of a lover who’d not seen his partner in far too long. “Dusk there is the most fascinating thing, Jacob, especially at Weatherly Canyon. There are forests, vast forests… tall mountains, broad oceans…”
Jacob felt emotion swelling in his chest. The way Captain Metler described Animus made him feel weak inside, as if he might need to sit or fall to his knees. “Was it terraformed?” he interrupted.
“No,” answered Metler, quickly. His eyes brightened as a smile transformed his pensive face. “It’s one of, I think, seven known planets in the galaxy that did not require terraforming. There are creatures there, Jacob. Strange creatures unlike any we’d ever seen before. Many of them are dangerous, but we’ve domesticated quite a handful. And the cities! Our architects have created a whole new realm of visual artistry, unlike anything they’ll spew under LOPO restrictions.”
Jacob tucked his hands behind his back, to hide clenching fingers from the Captain. He nodded his thanks with a smile. “Thank you, Sir. I just… wanted to know what I was fighting for.”
“Keep fighting, Jacob. One day, you’ll see it with your own eyes.” Metler motioned for the door. “Alright Lieutenant, move your ass. We’ve got a train to catch.”
C.S.C. Lilith’s Omen, Wexel System, Terran Region.
September 21st, 2193
Nearly the sum of an hour had passed, and the wait was vexing to say the least. A Yeoman, too young to be serving on this kind of mission, had stopped by moments ago to relieve Jenice of her empty coffee cup. She smiled politely as the young man turned and rushed off, collecting some other spent items from her bridge staff.
Leaning forward, Jenice wrapped her hands together and watched. Her eyes danced between the forward window and the tactical plot, which was etched into a 2D display on the arm of her command chair.
Still no sign of Drake.
Another ten minutes went by. Perched on pins and needles, Jenice sat and waited for any sign that Drake had arrived. She didn’t doubt for a second that he’d come, but had begun wondering if he were intentionally taking his time. For what reason, she wondered, to sweat them? If so, it was working. She could tell that her staff was growing more anxious by the moment. Something needed to happen, soon.
At long last, an alert siren wailed. Ensign Skyles darted over to his console, and called out a report. “Incoming vessels! Sector five, two-sixty mark fifteen!”
Jenice sat upright. “Activate shields! Charge all weapons and prepare to fire. Mr. Charles, full reverse, move into attack position.”
The bridge became alight with activity. Crewmembers called out updates as they carried out her orders. With a rumble of the engines, Lilith’s Omen was spun about in space, stars streaking past the window, until the incoming vessels appeared as small, growing dots ahead. It would take time for the corvette to reverse her momentum through the vacuum, so they soared backward through space, facing the enemy vessels in a head on, mock retreat.
“I read four enemy cruisers,” called Ensign Bāhir. “Three Cutlass-class, one Khopesh.”
“It’s Drake!” replied Jenice. “He’s here.”
“They’re launching fighters.” Ensign Skyles leaned forward, peering closely at his tactical display. “Um, all of them, I think!”
“Ten minutes to full reverse velocity,” reported Lieutenant Charles.
“We’ll just have to fight them this way,” answered Jenice.
“Commander,” interrupted Bāhir, “He’s hailing us.”
Jenice stood up. Everyone else had gone quiet. She observed her crewmates quietly for a few moments, before acknowledging Bāhir. “Put him up.”
The polarized viewfield came alive, and they were treated with an ugly picture of Admiral Drake’s pockmarked face. A white Legionnaire Navyman’s cap concealed his hair, but a vicious sneer stared at them via eyes so hazel they presented themselves a sickly yellow.
“You must be Jenice Murray,” he declared. “The deviant strumpet who eats from Alan Metler’s hand.”
A flicker of hatred crawled up her spine and nestled itself in her neck. He had a way of trimming his words with such distaste and abhorrence that she felt them etched with malice, nibbling at her soul like those of a vampire. She despised men like Drake the most; these brainwashed fanatics who carried out the Triumvirate’s orders without question or hesitation.
“And you must be Drake,” she countered. “The Butcher of Di’Amadè.”
“Is that what they call me now?” Drake cocked his head curiously. “Di’Amadè was a grand day for the Triumvirate. Over ten-thousand deviants abrogated.”
“Filthy braggart,” Jenice spat. A part of her was just putting on a show, hoping to provoke Drake and distract him for as long as possible. She knew that Ensign Bāhir had already reported Drake’s arrival via the Hunt Link; Captain Crosley would be along soon. However, a part of her truly hated his face, even his existence. It wasn’t hard to present herself as such. “I hope you enjoy being little more than a pawn of Warlord Brecke. What do you want with us?”
“Jacob Kale is aboard your ship,” answered Drake. Leering at her through the connection, his yellow eyes became a hollow tunnel to a dirty soul. “I want him.”
Jenice quickly fired back with a blatant bluff. “Jacob Kale, who’s that?”
“Do NOT insult me, you waste!” he growled, and leveled a threatening finger at her. “If you don’t hand Kale over, I will take him from you!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she replied, then pointed an accusing finger right back at him. “I will not stand here and be insulted by you, Drake! If you attack us, I promise it will not go well for you.”
“Commander Murray,” Drake leered. “My vessel alone is powerful enough to crush you like-”
Jenice turned to Bāhir and made a slicing motion across her neck. Bāhir obeyed, cutting off the transmission at once.
“That went well,” murmured Skyles.
“Commander,” reported Charles, “I’ve calculated their approach. Fighters will be in attack range in two minutes.”
“They’ve locked weapons,” reported Skyles.
“Defensive pattern Sammy Six!” shouted Jenice.
“Incoming torpedoes, full spread from each cruiser!” answered Skyles.
“Mother of Christ,” cursed Jenice. “Skyles, return fire, keep unloading until we’ve used one quarter munitions!”
“Aye,” cried Skyles, who immediately began sending commands to the armory.
From far away in space, it was a sight to see. Drake’s massive vessel bore down on Lilith’s Omen as she backpedaled away through space. Small, glowing dots closed the distance between them; as they collided in the shrinking gap, tiny but furious explosions erupted.
Lieutenant Charles was putting Lilith’s Omen to the test. He twisted and thrusted her about, evading many of the incoming torpedoes as they broke Skyles’ defenses and soared dangerously close. Ensign Bāhir, ignoring everything else, was furiously updating her sensor screen in an attempt to keep throwing off Drake’s scans.
Flames exploded across the forward window when incoming torpedoes began striking the Omen‘s shields. The ship was rocked back and forth, and the crew shouted updates rapidly over the cacophony of battle. The lights flickered and a few terminals were temporarily knocked offline, but otherwise, they were handling Drake’s initial assault well.
“Down one quarter munitions,” reported Skyles. “Shields destabilized, seventy percent!”
“Comm, report that as twenty percent,” shouted Jenice. “Skyles, keep firing until you hit exactly half of our munitions.” She was momentarily cut off as a torpedo blast knocked her sideways. “Then, cease fire!”
Jenice worried about the ship. She needed to keep the vessel at least nominally operational, while tricking Drake into believing they’d been disabled. Most of this rested on Ensign Bāhir’s talents, but Jenice had to make the right calls. Everything depended on timing. If Drake suspected that something was out of place, he might take a more definitive action.
“Fifty percent!” cried Skyles. “Ceasing fire!”
Jenice darted forward, adrenaline spiked. “Helm, cut all engine activity. Kill all running lights.” She punched her comm channel to the engine room. “Rashid, take the engines off line, now! Full shut down!”
Leaning back into the chair, she tried to maintain an air of calm, but her fingers were gripping the armrests so tightly that her knuckles had turned white. The rumble quieted fast as the engines were taken offline, and when Lieutenant Charles ceased corrective motions, the stars began floating about listlessly outside. They were playing dead.
Two more explosions detonated nearby the ship, but the last few torpedoes spun off harmlessly into space, disengaged. Clearly, Drake wanted them alive. An apprehensive silence gripped everyone, until soft sounds from the computers became their only soundtrack.
Ensign Bāhir broke the silence. “Commander. The Crusader is hailing us again.”
Jenice stood up at once. She straightened her tunic and nodded to Bāhir. “Open a channel.”
There was a chirping sound before Peter Drake’s ugly face filled the screen again. “Commander Murray,” he sneered, “Like a little girl, you’ve been spanked for throwing such a tantrum. I hope you’ve learned your lesson.”
Without turning away from the image, Jenice ignored the remarks. “Munitions status,” she requested.
Ensign Skyles piped up. “Commander, we only have two torpedoes left.”
Good work from Skyles; he’d picked up her cue, and played along with her bluff.
“Target the Crusader‘s bridge and prepare to fire on my order.”
Drake leaned back into his command chair and began laughing. “Commander, Commander. You’ve proven yourself so valiant! Do not waste your last two torpedoes on me! Save them for the fringers, who’ll feed their inbred children from the scraps of your derelict ship.” His singsong mockery changed and he leaned forward, adopting the malicious voice she was most familiar with. “Where’s Alan Metler?”
Jenice didn’t know if Alan was aboard Crusader or not, but Drake’s question posed a significant challenge. Intel they had gleaned from the LOPO networks had clearly stated that Alan, Jacob, Jane and Riles were not in Triumvirate custody, but intel was not always reliable. Drake would assume that wherever Alan Metler was, Jacob Kale would be there also. She had to convince him that Alan was aboard Lilith’s Omen, and for some reason, not sitting at the command chair. during such an important moment. This was the biggest risk she was about to take. It would buy them time, hopefully enough for Crosley to arrive and shake things up. However, the moment Drake found out she was lying, he’d kill them all. She had to stall him for just a little longer.
Jenice took a defiant step toward the viewscreen. She poured her heart into it, acting almost as if the lie was in fact true. “He’s dead now, you son of a bitch,” she hissed. “Engine room. Hull breach. Check your scans!”
Jenice said a silent prayer for the talents of Evren Bāhir. This bluff was a long shot, and she knew it.
Drake stared silently at her for a horribly long moment. Then, at long last, he spoke up. “Another triumphant day.” A smirk took Drake’s face and he leaned back into his seat. “Commander, as you can see now, you have no choice. Surrender your vessel and hand over Jacob Kale at once.”
Jenice pretended to consider Drake’s proposal, even going so far as to rub her chin with a thoughtful gesture. After a few moments, she posed a hesitant question. “If we cooperate, Admiral… what will you give us in return?”
A power-hungry grin took Drake, revealing teeth too perfect and white for his ugly face. “Well, I suppose we can waive the death penalty,” he mused. “I’ll recommend re-assimilation to Admiral Dyson. I’m sure we can find some way for you to contribute to Proper Society.”
“To hell with that,” she spat back. “Mr. Charles, get us out of here!”
“We only have reserve power, Commander,” bluffed Charles.
She overheard Drake, who had turned and was speaking to someone on his ship. “Prepare the grapplers.”
“I don’t care,” she spat. “Give me whatever you can!”
Lieutenant Charles spun back over to his console. “Aye, Ma’am.”
“There’s no escape, Deviants!” Drake declared. “You’re a stain on humanity and I will eradicate you!”
“Shut him off!” Jenice swiped her hand toward Bāhir, and breathed a sigh of relief when Drake’s image disappeared. “Excellent work, people. I think he’s taken the bait. Tactical, he’ll capture us and drag us into forced dock with his grapplers. Go ahead and fire two torpedoes, but program them for indirect detonation.”
“Commander?” asked Skyles, who’d turned to look at her with a perplexed face.
“We need to stall him as long as possible, which means getting captured,” she explained. “Make it look good, Mr. Skyles.”
“Aye,” Skyles answered, and turned back around to comply.
“Comm, I want you to wait until the last possible second before transmitting your packet to the Triumphant. He may have reinforcements hiding out, and I want to draw them out if possible.”
“Yes, Commander,” answered Bāhir.
Lilith’s Omen had spun about and was now fleeing on ion thrusters alone. The significantly larger Triumvirate vessels were closing. Crusader had deployed a trio of grapplers – these guided devices would seek out a starship and latch onto its hull with powerful magnetic couplers, connected to the host vessel by long, gilite-fused cables.
Commander Murray walked back to the command chair. As she said, the Crusader‘s grapplers latched onto the Omen‘s hall with a series of muted thumps.
Everyone on the bridge lurched forward for a moment. The inertial compensators, which helped to create a somewhat Earth-like gravity experience, had the unfortunate effect of over-compensating during turbulent moments like these. Jenice scowled, then watched patiently as Ensign Skyles fired two torpedoes from the aft launchers.
The torpedoes soared out into space and exploded, each one very close to the grappling cables. However, the cables came through unharmed, as she’d ordered.
Jenice folded her arms. “Good work, Ensign. Now, we wait until he has us.” She activated her comm panel. “Major Grisham, prepare your troops. We’re being captured by the Crusader.”
Y.S.A.D. Benedict, Earth, Sol System.
A hazy blue wash from the Earth’s atmosphere dropped away, leaving orbital platform L-200 in view from the YSAD Benedict‘s massive forward windows. The platform extended into space from its moorings in the snowfields of the Soviet Province far below. At this distance, the disc-like, angular structure seemed so very peaceful, but Admiral Dyson knew better. The platform housed one of LOPO’s major facilities in the Sol System. It was well defended, and concealed many of LOPO’s most opprobrious operations. A slew of large starships hovered in the platform’s vicinity; vessels under Dyson’s own command in the Mother Fleet. There was no doubt that they were positioning themselves appropriately – to escort and protect his vessel, unless otherwise ordered to attack. The bridge remained preternaturally quiet; the command staff was clearly on edge.
“Launch fighters,” directed Dyson. “Escort formation.”
“Aye, sir,” answered Commodore West. “Launching fighters.”
“Bring us to boarding platform five,” continued Dyson. “Inform Director Fleming that I wish to speak with General Vereor in person.”
Hundreds of starfighters came pouring out of the behemoth at Dyson’s command. These small, one- or two-man spacecraft circled the Benedict until they’d taken up their escort positions, then matched the flagship’s speed as it approached the platform. A tactical plot flashed briefly across one of the forward windows, indicating that the various starships of the Mother Fleet were positioning themselves in what could only be described as a gauntlet, lining their approach at periodic intervals.
The platform grew larger as they approached, until the intricacies of the massive structure became clear to the naked eye. Like most orbital platforms, it was wider in diameter near the planetary edge, and tapered into a smooth, smaller upper deck. The utilitarian contour of its outer hull was peppered by circular portholes that glowed with color from the inside. Running lights, positioned strategically, flashed ice blue and white, wherever the sun’s rays weren’t glinting bright orange off the dutanium hull. Various communication arrays stuck out from the top, stretching toward space and the stars beyond.
Commodore West turned away from the spectacle. “Admiral, I have a response from Director Fleming. He’s… understandably perturbed.”
“I’m sure he is,” answered Dyson. “Has he arranged for my request?”
“Yes, sir,” answered West. “He says that General Vereor is conducting a highly classified interrogation, at the-”
“The SOCEPOM facility,” interjected Dyson. His tone was intentionally forceful; he had to maintain the upper hand as long as he could. “Have Fleming inform the General that I will be arriving at the facility in twenty minutes.”
“Twenty minutes, very good, sir.”
“Continue with the docking procedures.” Admiral Dyson stood up. For a moment, he watched as a series of umbilical docking tubes snaked out from the platform, reaching for his massive vessel. They would clamp the Benedict in place, fill with pressurized air, and provide safe passage from his ship to the platform.
“Commodore, your orders are to keep the Benedict on lockdown until you hear from me directly. Execute comm silence otherwise. Understood?”
“Yes sir.” Commodore West seemed uncomfortable, but he nodded his head curtly nonetheless. “Understood, sir.”
L.M.V. Praetor, Earth’s Remains.
February 13th, 2241
There was energy in the air. Jacob wasn’t sure if it were his imagination, or if some mysterious force had supercharged the molecules his body swam in. Superimposed on the forward window was a large clock. It counted down to the moment when, by his calculations, the next aftershock would occur.
“Two minutes ’til game time,” remarked Riles, who’d strapped in at the tactical station.
“Is it me,” asked Jane, “or are things starting to feel a bit prickly?”
Jane rolled her eyes and quipped, “Shut it, laser-brain.”
Captain Metler interrupted their typical banter by calling up the engine room. “Colonel? How are we down there?”
Johnny Wilco’s voice snapped over the comm. “Oh, she’s buzzin’ alright, Cap’n. Havin’ a hell of a time figuring out how this reactor chomps, but she’s purrin’ like a puss.”
“That’s what I like to hear,” replied Metler.
“Take her easy, alright mate? I am getting some cracked readings on the EM meters.”
“We’ll do what we can from up here. Stay sharp.”
They waited. Each ticking second of the clock seemed to stretch rancorously onward. The vessel was in position. Jacob had calculated their spatial coordinates, based on astrographical data built by the computers to compensate for fluxuations across the span of time. While the vessel floated now between two of the shattered planet’s largest pieces, they would presumably arrive in the heart of the vergence striking Sydney on September 21st, 2193.
The imagery from between the gargantuan pieces of decimated planet was astounding. They could see the crags and divots that once were seabed, submerged canyons, and the spill of continents into an airless sky. Pieces of the late Mother Planet now floated about as asteroids, lit harshly by rays of sunlight that pierced the spaces between.
“T-Minus thirty seconds,” murmured Metler.
Jacob fought to keep his hands from shaking, to focus on the task at hand and ignore fears of the great unknown. As well programmed and immaculately trained he was, he simply couldn’t ignore the near-paralyzing fear that grappled at him with every ticking second of the clock.
It happened slowly at first. Shimmering, sparkling flashes of blue and white began appearing around the ship. Rapidly, they became more frequent, until the bridge was blinded by a constant wash of flashing light.
Jacob was thrown, without warning, into his crash harness. A deafening noise filled his head, threatening to blot out all of his other senses. A surge of adrenaline blasted his body. His eyes, which had slammed shut on instinct, were pried open by shock and awe.
Through the window, Jacob could only at first see a haze of blue and white, swirling about the ship in erratic patterns. He could distinctly hear the alert sirens, which were blasting about the bridge, warning the vessel of imminent danger.
The choices he made came to him purely on instinct. Just as before, in his quarters, he imagined his life playing in reverse. This time, the memories flashed by so fast, they became a blur. At the same time, he felt everything around him slowing down. Slowing, and slowing.
Remembering what had happened in his quarters, Jacob bent his mind against the inevitable darkness. He did not give in to it; he refused it. He loathed it; he overpowered it. He felt his mind ripped free from the body hosting it, relieving himself from anxiety and the feelings of gravity as the vessel spun about in limbo.
He felt nothing; he merely existed.
He saw the Earth being put back together, reformed by a bright shear of light that ran away from it into the recesses of space. He saw the skies darkening with the blackness of pollution. He saw the globe gradually covering itself with ice, then melting away to a lush mixture of green and brown. Eventually, the blue of water took over, covering nearly the entire planet in its grasp.
When the planet began to melt before him, he started to worry. The rick blues and bright greens became cloud and rock. Soon, both melted into a globe of red, protoplanetary magma.
How is this possible? Have I gone too far?
The thought only lasted a moment. Flashing like distant memories, the red ball began splitting apart into millions of pieces. He thought of the Earth, being formed out of a massive, protoplanetary disc by accretion; he was seeing it in reverse. Rocks split apart into a maelstrom of chaos, until only dust was left. There were two blinding flashes of light, and then, Jacob felt something incredibly massive beginning to pull him toward its center.
The masses of dust began spiraling toward some infinite point in the distance. Jacob felt certain that the LOPO vessel was being pulled toward it just the same. He opened his mouth as if to scream, but in that moment, everything was deafened by an impossibly loud sound. The glare outside became so blindingly bright that Jacob was forced to close his eyes, and even then, he felt a searing heat piercing his eyelids and cutting right into his mind.
Everything slowed to a crawl. Time felt as if it might slow down so much that they’d all become trapped in a state of absolute zero. Light became nothing, and they were left in utter darkness.
Unable to open his eyes, Jacob stretched his mind, just as he did during their cascading jump, when he saw Jane’s navigational console without even laying eyes on it. The vantage point of his mind’s eye seemed to leap light years beyond his self. He saw a glowing spectrum of color filling his vision, only for a few brief moments, before those colors were sucked into one definitive point in space. Everything roiled into a ball of fiery red and white, before all that he knew was replaced by a brilliant flash of energy.
Sheer, ultimate power.
When the light faded, colors of every shade were expelled into the blackness of space once more, then faded into blackness.
Did I just witness the big bang? Is this the formation of the universe that we know? The end? Is this even possible?
Panic struck him as quickly as the thought materialized; as quickly as his mind witnessed the formation of the universe around him. Flashes of light formed around him, and soon, he could perceive clouds of dust, which seemed to materialize out of nothingness. A familiar, searing heat pressed against his eyelids like the unforgiving flames of solar fire.
Another fleeting series of thoughts danced through his mind, like leaves being blown by cosmic winds.
Space-time. Infinite possibilities, dictated only by our perception of the world around us. The expanding and contracting of the universe. Time travel. The big bang. Have we traveled to the formation of everything? Are we traveling back through the formation of everything? Is this how we get back to 2193? How do I pull us out? How did I put us in? Did I do any of this at all, or am I God?
Against his better judgment, Jacob pried his eyes open. He recognized the angular steel and titanium making up the Praetor’s bridge; the oval-shaped curve of the forward window; the brilliant colors of a protoplanetary cloud surrounding them. He saw pieces of rock being bashed together at speeds so fast they seemed ironically angelic. Then, a breathtaking curve of red-hot magma formed beneath the ship, flowing with destructive explosions. The red matter began to cool into rock; steam exploded from fissures in the ground; eventually the brilliant blue of water took its place. The Earth, created before his very eyes.
Jacob wasn’t sure what happened next. He only felt his heart being filled with some desperate desire to get back to where they meant to be. He wanted to arrive at Sydney. Sydney, in the Australian Province, September 21st, 2193. No sooner, no later. He merely blinked, that’s all. He blinked, and there they were, surrounded by debris, lightning, ferocious winds and violent rainfall.
Jacob sucked air into his lungs with violent gasps, as if he’d never breathed before. He lurched against his crash belt and spewed vomit onto the deck. Still gasping for air, he looked to his right. Jane was having a similar reaction; she’d opened her eyes, gasping for air, and grabbed at her harness as if it were strangling her.
“C… Captain!” he cried, unable to turn his eyes any farther. “Captain Metler!”
Relief flooded him when he heard Metler’s voice.
“Kale! What the-“ A violent cough cut off Metler for a moment. “What the hell, status, now, damnit now! Where the hell are we?”
Collecting himself, Jacob rapidly examined his console amid the ship’s violent rocking at the hand of ferocious winds outside. The readouts lifted his heart, a welcome feeling to the paralyzing fear he’d suffered. “Location, Sydney!” he cried. “Chronometric readings are off the charts!”
“Get us out of here!” shouted Metler. “Veston, get the scanners online! Find us a way through this mess!”
Unable to speak, Jane flinched and instinctively dashed her hands across the console before her. Her lips opened, but no sound came out at first. She gagged quietly, before finally finding the strength to speak. “Ja… Jacob… set zero three seven, ascend point seven to three thousand meters!”
“Copy,” answered Jacob. Grabbing the ship’s controls, he began turning against the violent maelstrom to 37 degrees, while engaging the interceptor’s thrusters. “Zero three seven, aye. Ascending to three thousand.”
Visibility was completely shrouded by the ferocious storm. There was lightning, debris, thick clouds of smoke and streaks of water, but they could see nothing else. They had to trust the vessel’s proximity sensors to warn them of any obstructions, such as stratotowers or other ships. Fortunately, they encountered no such deadly obstacles.
What they did encounter brought reactions from them all.
A human corpse came out of the fray, smashing against the window with arms and legs prostate. Jane shrieked, Riles cursed, Metler yelped. Jacob stared at the body for a moment; its skin was scorched black, with dead eyes glaring at him through the window. He couldn’t tell if it were one man or a woman, but it was knocked away when another body glanced against it and spun off into the maelstrom.
“Jesus Christ!” cried Metler.
“Hold on!” Jacob fired the vessel’s emergency boosters, and the whole lot of them were slammed violently into their seats. Two more bodies glanced against the window, leaving behind a smear of blood. Jacob grit his teeth and held his ground, unwavering from their flight until they were clear of the destructive storm.
As the clouds parted, the darkness of a dusk sky was unveiled. The Coral Sea stretched out beneath them to the right, with the curve of Australia’s northeastern shore before them. They could barely make out the Australian Province’s northern peninsula and the island beyond in the distance.
“I reckon that there’s Australia, folks,” murmured Riles.
“Yes, but when,” replied Captain Metler. “Kale, is that chronometric reading up?”
Jacob tried again to calibrate the chronometric scanner. It took a moment to calculate the Earth’s position against recorded solar cycles, but when it was finished, he breathed a sigh of relief. They had arrived.
“Aye, Captain,” he answered. “September 21st… 2193.” He released his crash harness and spun around to look at Metler. “Right on time, sir.”
Releasing his harness as well, Metler stood and stared outside, dumbfounded. “I don’t believe it,” he whispered.
“Believe it or not, sir… we’re here.”
Jane, who’d been tapping at her console, nodded her head and spun around as well. “Confirmed, Captain.” She turned to look at Jacob, and shook her head. “What did you do?”
Jacob looked back at her. “I… I don’t know.”
“Listen, folks.” Riles was already walking toward the space between Metler’s command chair and Jacob’s station at the helm. “I hate to break up the reunion, but now that Doctor Who here’s gotten us back in time, we might wanna fry up a game plan.”
Captain Metler smirked at Riles. “Good point.” He sat back down and punched up the engine room on his command console. “Wilco, what’s your status?”
Colonel Wilco’s voice answered. “My head’s buzzin’ and the engine’s acting like it just got off, but all systems are nominal. What the bloody hell happened out there?”
“Never mind that,” answered Metler. “Run diagnostics, then get your ass up here.”
“Fair enough,” answered Wilco.
“Jacob?” Metler motioned forward. “Take us northwest, to the Soviet Province. Locate LOPO platform L-200. That’s where we’re headed.”
“Aye, sir,” answered Jacob. He turned around and began plotting their route.
“Mind explainin’ why we’re walkin’ right into the shit hole of the galaxy, Cappy?” asked Riles.
Captain Metler leaned back into his seat. He began to smirk, and glanced over at Riles with an ornery look. “Because, Riles, that’s where we can cause the most damage.”
SOCEPOM facility, Platform L-200, Earth.
September 21st, 2193
Korynn Fleming, Director of Deviant Control, called orbital platform L-200 his home. From his expansive office atop the platform, he could see the facility’s roof, the curve of the Earth beyond, and hundreds of stars in the distance. Right now, the sun was moving toward the western horizon, casting a brilliant glow across the rooftop. It also glinted off the warships that had lined up to escort YSAD Benedict as she approached from the southern hemisphere.
Fleming had just been informed that Admiral Dyson had enacted General Order 400.2, and was on his way to meet General Vereor at the SOCEPOM facility. His hands were tied; Regulation 400.2 would essentially cripple the efforts of LOPO, at least locally, until the Civil Triumvirate could make a resolution. While he thought, briefly, about escalating the matter to Lei Maiyao immediately, he felt it more prudent to confront General Vereor first.
Taking his personal mag-lift car, Fleming made way for the SOCEPOM facility. It was buried deep inside the security maze that kept his operations in check, but his mag-lift car bypassed all of those checkpoints. He valued efficiency, after all.
The car stopped at the reception foyer in Detention Area E. He stepped out with a terse frown drawn across his lips, ignoring the fact that the LOPO agents around him had snapped to a sudden and brisk attention. He walked through the corridors to the SOCEPOM facility’s control room and came to rest at the door. A robotic arm extended, plugged into his monitor, and briefly conducted a scan.
“Access granted,” spoke a computerized voice. “Thank you, Director Fleming.”
The door slid open. General Vereor was hovering over one of the many consoles in the control room. Fleming stepped right in and walked fearlessly over toward the General’s side.
“Prisoner 1955-D is not doing so well,” rumbled Vereor’s mechanically altered voice.
“Yes,” answered Fleming, “because you lack finesse, General.”
Fleming’s voice was distinctly British, and spoke of a wealthy, privileged upbringing. His journey to the upper echelons of LOPO was not without sacrifice, however. He’d lost a fair bit of hair for his age, disassociated himself from his family, and all but lost the ability to feel love or happiness. His soul was one of blackness and death.
“Forgive me, Director Fleming,” answered Vereor. “I haven’t the time to ‘finesse’ the prisoner.”
“Perhaps you should learn to make the time,” answered Fleming. He leaned over and punched up some of the prisoner’s medical scans. “You see this?” he asked, motioning to the readouts as they cycled through. “You’ve already caused minor damage to his cerebellum here, and here. Plus, the activity registered across most of the cerebral cortex is far beyond advised limitations.”
“And?” replied Vereor.
“You’ll risk damaging his memory retention, perceptual awareness…” Fleming shook his head, scowling. “You might as well have conducted a full-wave brain-scan, ripped what you could before his neurons turned to toast.”
General Vereor turned slowly, rising to his full, augmented height. He stared unblinking at Fleming with his cybernetic eye; the other squinted derisively. “Perhaps you’d like to take over the interrogation, Director.”
Fleming made a dismissive gesture. “Admiral Dyson is coming to visit you, General. I felt it prudent to inform you personally.”
Vereor withdrew somewhat. “Dyson?” he asked. “Why?”
“I don’t know,” answered Fleming, “but he’s activated General Order 400.2.” He nodded his head toward one of the idling consoles. “Perhaps if you paid more attention to your comm panel, you’d have noticed the alert.”
Seething, Vereor hissed at Fleming and spun about, jabbing his mechanized fingers into the controls. He keyed in a few short commands, then opened a comm channel. “All units, this is Vereor. Initiate code Memory Delta. Stand-by for further instructions.”
“He’s on his way, right now,” remarked Fleming. “I could remain if you’d like.” He lifted his chin defiantly.
Vereor glared at Fleming. “That might be warranted, Director.”
Y.S.S.C. Crusader, Wexel System, Terran Region.
The Class-Three Corvette was never a particularly attractive vessel in Peter Drake’s opinion. They were first developed by the Marso-Deka Corp. in 2155, and were outlawed by the Triumvirate after a number of them had been spirited away by fringers and Coalition operatives.
Drake watched with ire as the Lilith’s Omen was brought into the Crusader‘s primary docking bay. She was a small vessel in comparison to his strike cruiser; 37 meters in height, three decks, 150 meters in length. He could fit three of these vessels in the Crusader‘s bay, even with its entire fighter compliment in dock. Regardless, up close and personal, her size was at least impressive.
The magnetic force field shimmered gold as Lilith’s Omen was brought in. The massive grappling cables tugged her up, revealing more of the corvette’s intricate details. The hull was scarred by countless battles, but here and there, fresh panels had replaced the damaged ones. Various maneuvering thrusters stuck out here and there, like inglorious additions as an afterthought to a primitive design. The ventral turrets stuck out from either side of the ship in an ugly fashion; the dorsal ones at least had some class to their design.
Drake sneered at the vessel. “Protonic Cannon Burst turrets,” he remarked, glancing momentarily at the Crusader‘s captain, who’d accompanied him. “How quaint.”
“Indeed, Admiral,” answered Captain Roberts, a dark-skinned man of the utmost composure.
Docking clamps extended from the floor, latching onto the Lilith’s Omen and securing her in place above the magnetic force field. The grapplers released, withdrawing up into the high, vaulted ceiling. A passenger ramp extended from the portal into space, drawing across the magnetic force field to provide a safe walking pathway between the captured vessel and the deck. Then, with a snap and a hiss, the corvette’s boarding ramp opened.
Four people began walking down the ramp. As soon as the docking bay’s brilliant lights found them, Drake recognized the woman as Jenice Murray, the corvette’s acting Captain. There was a man alongside of her, middle-eastern, and two Coalition marines accompanying them.
Drake walked toward them with a virulent sneer. “Commander Murray,” he greeted. “What is this, parley?”
Commander Murray answered curtly. “I would hope that we could discuss the terms of our surrender as adults, Admiral Drake.”
Drake walked toward her, stepping out onto the passenger ramp as she approached. Two Legionnaire soldiers followed him at once, their rifles wielded and ready for use.
“Adults,” he scoffed. “Commander, we don’t even consider you people as humans.” He stopped as they came close, leering at the woman as if she were some sort of leper. “You’re deviants,” he seethed. “Filthy.”
Commander Murray had the nerve to smirk at him. “Filthy is a word that embodies you, Admiral.”
The words ignited a fire deep within Drake’s soul. For a moment, he glared at the woman in silence. Then, he lashed out and grabbed her by the neck. Though she gasped and choked, she did not resist him. With a growl, Drake threw her to the floor, and pinned her against the passenger ramp with his knee in her stomach.
“How dare you speak to me this way,” he hissed.
The middle-eastern man took a step forward, but immediately stopped when Drake looked up at him, and the Legionnaire soldiers leveled their rifles at him.
“Rashid,” choked Jenice, “don’t!”
Drake looked back at the her, snarling. “Yes, Commander. Ward off your rat like a good little girl.” He held her there with his hand, choking her just enough to keep her silent. He didn’t want to kill her; he wanted her to suffer.
When she reached up to try and stop him, he caught her hand with a fierce grip. Raising his eyebrows in a warning manner, he tightened his fingers and began forcing her hand toward the edge of the passenger ramp, where the magnetic force field shimmered gold.
Certain purified solids, such as what coated the ramp’s bottom edge or the hull of a spacecraft, would pass through a magnetic force field without issue. However, the force field was designed to block liquids and gasses, which was why they were most commonly used in space, keeping a vessel’s synthetic atmosphere locked inside.
Porous materials, however, such as the human body, were both solid, liquid, and gas combined.
When she realized what he was trying to do, her fight intensified. Daring eyes turned fearful and desperate, flicking over to watch her own hand as he forced it down.
“Ssshhhh,” he shushed her, like a father would to a crying infant. He was, quite simply, stronger than her. He forced her hand downward, until her trembling fingers came in contact with the magnetic force field.
The skin and flesh around her fingers was ripped free by the force field, and floated away into space. A horrific scream worked past her strangled neck, and filled the docking bay with the pained sounds of torture.
“Commander!” Rashid cried. He made a move to advance on Drake, but one of his own marines reached out and grabbed him, holding him back.
Drake felt a thrill of excitement filling him as he pushed the woman’s hand farther into the force field. He watched with sick fascination as she suffered. The meat around her bones was torn apart, and the bones left behind began to sizzle and blacken. The blood was exsanguinated from exposed arteries, spewing into dust. Adrenaline coursed through Drake’s body, and for a moment, he considered simply casting the bitch aside, throwing her body through the magnetic force field and into space as a withered, skeletal lump.
With a gasp, Drake pulled away and stood to his feet. Jenice pulled her arm out and curled it close to her, cradling her blackened and skeletal hand with pathetic sobs. A trickle of perverse pleasure crawled down Drake’s spine as he watched the woman writhing on the floor in agony.
Finally, Drake managed to pull his fascinated eyes away from Jenice, and turned to address the soldier behind him. “Lieutenant, have these cockroaches arrested,” he ordered. “If anyone resists, throw them into space.”
“Understood!” barked the Lieutenant.
“Welcome to the Crusader, Commander,” Drake murmured, before turning and walking away.