’’I’ve been infect—…Geneva is…putting myself…T.I.M. a cryogenic chamber…me out with a cure!…’’ the transmission ended with ominous static.
‘’G-d@#it! I can’t get it back.‘’ Patrick shouted through his eve-suit at his arm comm display frantically pushing buttons on the holo display. ’’The commander is in trouble. I knew that fu#÷er should not have stayed behind alone. How many times do I have to tell you dumb sh!#s that we can’t survive if we leave each other alone?!’’
Though Patrick looked like he was about to blow a gasket, he seemed calmer than normal…he hadn’t yet kicked a hole in an air scrubber vent or sent his fist through a power coupling converter. He had changed…but not changed. His recent exposure to the projector array that emitted through the strange crystal menacingly suspended in the middle of the command center room of the tenebrous tower the Crew had recently discovered on an asteroid…had left Patrick—different. Suppose that would happen to anybody who had recently just killed a duplicate of themselves. An actual physical war between his Ego and Id. Only problem remained, which persona killed who?
‘’Calm down, mate.’’ Replied Newie the carefree giant on the team. Newie was a stark contrast to Patrick. Where Private First Class Patrick Isley was explosive and short, like a claymore mine, Hōku Nui Maka was thoughtful and uncomfortably large. He was a race of humans genetically modified to colonize the harsh environments of new worlds. His patient peaceful resilience was painted ironically with an inauspiciously terrifying tattooed face that never seemed to match his true expressions of koa hari, an ancient Maori word meaning joy or happiness. All except his eyes had this look of fierceness. It was with these gentle sea blue eyes that Newie looked at his distempered friend.
’’I’m sure the Commanda’ has everything under control.‘’ Newie said jovially in his diasporic Kiwi accent. ’’You said yourself that this tower might interfere with our comms. We’re already here. The most important thing we should do is study these surrounding artifacts more closely. We’re practically drowning in Precursor or late-Precursor tech. Once we’re done we can return to the ship and see what the Commanda’ was jamming about. So settle your plasma drives and relax, mate.’’
Newie turned back to what appeared to be a control panel with strange heiroglyphic like symbols.
‘’I just killed my fu#%ing imposter, the Commander is clearly in distress, and you are giddy about some markings and a g-d#%m crystal?! I’m heading back to the InAnna. Who’s coming?’’
Geneva looked nervously back at Patrick. She gave an awkward sigh knowing she had to choose a side. Geneva was the only female on the Crew. She did not do well with internal conflict, mostly because she had a hard time articulating herself, but also because she was ‘’going through something’’ recently. Her body was changing…and this had nothing to do with puberty. Geneva was clearly already a woman. She had this foreboding feeling that something sinister and powerful was trying to come out inside her. Her body had recently developed exceptional reflexes, very unnatural to her tech-savvy reclusive nature. And most strangely to her horror, she discovered retractable claws in her fingertips.
’’I’ll head back to the ship,’’ Geneva conceded. Her intention was partially to check on the captain, Commander Jörun Hendricks. But truthfully, she wanted to get back to her quarters to hide if her body continued to change.
Patrick gave her a doe-eyed look in response to her quick acquiescence. He did not hide his passionate feelings for Geneva. At this point, it was unclear whether Geneva reciprocated these same feelings. Nevertheless, the security officer delusional believed it was so.
‘’Delightful!’’ Patrick elated.
‘’I guess it would be best to check on the Commanda’,’’ Newie agreed with a sigh of disappointment.
’’I’ll stay.‘’ Dayan’s calculated voice came from behind the other side of the crystal. ‘’My drones are collecting data.’’
‘’What?!’’ Patrick’s demeanor quickly returned to that panicked paranoia. ‘’No one is left alone! How many times do I have to go over this?’’
‘’But I am not alone.’’ Dayan replied in a logical manner. Drones 2 and 3 suddenly appeared over his right and left shoulders to emphasize his argument.
’’He’ll be fine, Patrick. Stop worrying so much, mate. His bots will keep him from getting munted.’’
Patrick steamed frustratedly. But then realized he was wasting precious time in a losing argument with the cyborg and his drones.
‘’Fine! But stay on comms. Any sign of danger and you holler out.’’
‘’Obviously.’’ The cyborg responded with an air of machiavellian arrogance.
‘’Okay. Let’s move out. I will take point. Geneva, try to create an open channel to T.I.M. Let’s move.’’
The three members of the Crew made their way out the tower to the InAnna leaving Dayan to tinker with his drones. Drone 1 came up from near the base of the crystal and hovered near Dayan’s head. Dayan drew quiet as he “listened” to the bot. The data collected by Drone 1 uploaded into his neural processor.
‘’Interesting. Verify if it is alive.’’ The bot went back to the crystal to carry out its creator’s orders.
‘’T.I.M., where’s the commander?’’ Patrick demanded as the three crossed the gang plank to the bridge of the InAnna.
‘’Commander? Oh! Yes. He is no longer available.’’ T.I.M., the ship’s transfered intelligence replied almost with a naïve smug tone.
‘’What do you f#@&ing mean, ’He is no longer available*’?! We just received a transmission from him no more than 20 minutes ago. Where did he leave to?’’
‘’T.I.M,’’ Geneva interjected trying to spare Patrick from blowing a fuse, ‘’can you play back the Commander’s last transmission?’’
‘’Last transmission? Was I supposed to be recording transmissions?’’
’’Ye—’’ Newie began, but was canceled out.
‘’NO!’’ Patrick snapped. ‘’You are NOT recording anything! Is that clear? We’ll just have to find the Commander the old fashion way.’’
‘’Commander Jörun Hendricks has not left, Private First Class Patrick Isley.’’
‘’What?! I thought you said he was not here!’’
‘’No, I did not say he was not here. I said he was not available. He is in the cryostasis chamber.’’
‘’Who put him in cryo?’’
‘’Well, Commander Jörun Hendricks put Commander Jörun Hendricks in cryostasis.’’
‘’We have cryogenic chambers on the ship?’’ Geneva asked. ‘’Where?’’
‘’Each quarters are equipped with a cryogenic chamber. I found access to them recently while I was going through the ship’s previous resident intelligence’s subroutines and mainframe. I am still getting used to this new body. It is quite alien from my last one on the Charon.’’
‘’The Commanda’ must be in his room,’’ Newie suggested.
The three Crew members made a beeline for Commander Hendricks’ quarters. They found the door locked. Geneva tried to access using a few different codes. Each time she was denied access. Her fingertips started to tingle as her anger began to rise. She suddenly exploded in angered fury as 3-inch claws erupted from her fingers, and in an immense fit of rage she tore the quarter’s door to shreds with her razor sharp biogenetic can-openers.
‘’Geneva…Geneva!…are you okay? Can you get it open?…’’
‘’Wha-what?’’ Geneva gasped as she shook off her delirium. The door was still intact. The access panel was still flashing ‘Access Denied’. Most importantly to her relief her fingers were still normal—tremoring, but no monstrous claws.
‘’Uh, yeah. I mean no. No, the blasted door has us locked out, Private Isley.’’
‘’Private Isley? I thought I had at least gotten halfway to firstbase. While that does sound perfect coming from your lips, Sugar, you can call me Patrick…that is unless we are role-playing Saving Ryan’s Privates. My quarters aren’t denying us access. And I am pretty sure I am in the mood to stormy the beaches of Normandy. I could let you seize the machine-gun bunker, while I dig trenches in the fox-hole. Whatta ya say?’’
Geneva was still dazed from her horrific vision.
’’You’re right, Honey. Operation Overlord has to wait. Back to the Commander. T.I.M.! Get this f%#k!ng door open, you bucket of sh!$%ty bolts!’’
‘’Sorry, Pat. I can’t do that.’’
‘’Pat?!! Not even my MOTHER calls me Pat!! Get this door open right NOW you piece of f%#k!ng ones and zeros.’’
‘’Now, Pat, that hurts…’’
The bio-mag locks suddenly released with a fleshy mechanical click. The door slid open revealing the Commander decommissioned in a cryobed.
‘’Dang, that’s cold, mate.’’ Newie said.
‘’I am analyzing his vital signs…Patrick.’’ Geneva stated using some equipment she had brought in from the bridge. ‘’He seems to be stable. Well, stable for a frozen guy. I am not sure why he chose to enter the cryochamber. The Commander knew much more about this stuff than I would. I wish the tables were turned. He should be the one out here. At least then we would get some answers.’’
‘’Dead ends! Well, let’s get back to Dayan before we find him a f%#k!ing popsicle too.’’
The three of them began leaving the room. Newie stopped before leaving and moved again to the cryobed. He breathed on the glass where his breath condensed into a frozen fog. He then drew two eyes and a big smile on the misted glass with his finger. Then, left the Commander’s quarters. At that moment, Newie found that we was alone on the ship.
‘’Yes, Hoku Nui Maka? How can I help you?’’
‘’Uh…where did Patrick and Geneva go?’’
‘’I am sorry, Hoku Nui Maka. These events were not saved in my memory banks. Would you like me to start recording these events?’’
‘’Only the new captain can provide that authority. Are you the new captain?’’
‘’Well, uh—yes. Yes, I am the new captain of the InAnna. And I authorize you to recorder all conversations and events that happen in and around the InAnna.’’
‘’Sure thing, Captain Maka.’’
‘’Great! I will head to the tower. I hope that is where they went.’’
‘’Check those readings one more time Number 1…What? You have already run them 12 times. Well, that is thorough. Run them again.’’
As Drone 1 approached the crystal structure, a synthesized array of lights shot through the crystalline obelisk and focused a beam directed at Dayan causing him to lose his balance and fall over the railing down into the culvert housing the crystal.
Patrick and Geneva came running up the stairwell. Patrick’s weapon sweeping back and forth to ensure the coast was clear. Newie with his tall legs came bounding up the stairs at their heels.
‘’I was hoping,’’ Newie began nearly out of breath, ‘’that you were heading back here.’’ He sucked in a deep breath, then exhaled fogging up his environmental suit’s visual array.
He panted for a good minute before catching eye of some symbols on a console to his left. He immediately forgot his lung pains and began studying the ancient writings trying to decipher what they may have been used for.
‘’Aha!’’ Dayan appeared at the base of the railing trying to pull himself. ‘’Just in time. I believe you all will find this quite interesting. We have found a humanoid non-organic inside the crystal. I believe it is the reason we are here. It is emitting a signal. It has been cycling this signal for a very long time. I believe I can extract the artifact. There is a high likelihood that the parts inside are salvageable.’’
Drone 2 and 4 appeared underneath Dayan’s arms helping him up over the rail with straining retro jets. Dayan climbed over the rail. Then, another Dayan head popped up at the footing of the rail with a bewildered look on his face. Drone 3 was holding him completely up with retro jets on max. The little drone somehow threw the second Dayan over the railing on to his face, then it sputtered out skittering onto the grated flooring.
’’He’s a f%#k!ing imposter!‘’ Patrick shouted. ’’Get him!’’
The Dayan on his face, jumped to his feet in fear of the disgruntled soldier targeting his weapon at his face.
‘’Patrick! It’s me!’’ Cried the second Dayan. He started to run to the other side of the crystal trying to put as much distance between him and Patrick and his gun. Patrick ran past the first Dayan, stopped for just a moment to question if he was chasing the original or the imposter. He shook of his doubts and continued his pursuit.
‘’I believe a focused attack on the crystal will disrupt the crystals integrity and be able to free the artifact.’’ The first Dayan reasoned. ‘’Focus full beams on the critical points.’’
The four drones, including the barely functional Drone 3, flew to a height above the crystal and unleased a barrage of lasers. The crystal began to glow.
Despite the loud blast, Newie continued to be completely involved in the ancient symbols, he believed he was close to deciphering one of them, which he thought might be the word for ‘communicate’ or ‘to signal’.
‘’Are you guys seeing this!’’ He shouted excitedly.
’’It’s not enough.‘’ Cried Geneva over the high pitched hum now resonating from the crystal and ignoring Newie’s giddiness. With careless abandonment, she flung herself onto the crystal’s pinnacle and with the full fury of her laser sword. Even this powerful weapon did not seem to affect the hardy crystal. Her fury raged further, in total rage claws erupted from her fingers and she began thrashing large gouges from the crystal.
Seeing Geneva throw herself at the crystal and believing she may be in danger, Patrick ceased his pursuit of the ‘imposter’.
‘’My Jenny!!’’ He turned his weapon to the crystal and opened up a salvo of rounds at the base of the crystal causing a crack. The crack was followed by a bone shaking rumble of the whole tower. A large black metallic arch suddenly fell from the ceiling crashing down on a console a mere two feet from Newie. Newie was so involved into his findings that he did not even notice the roof was starting to collapse.
‘’The whole place is falling apart!’’ Shouted Patrick, slinging his flechette rifle over his shoulder. ‘’We got to get OUT of here, NOW!!!’’
Geneva realized her dangerous predicament, and snapped out of her rage. With a powerful inhuman leap she bounded off the deteriorating crystal landing on the grating in front of Patrick. She fell right into his arms and caused the two of them to fall to the flooring.
‘’Well look who’s taking the storming of Omaha beach more seriously? Looks like we finally made it to second base with a slide.’’
‘’Patrick, this is NOT an invitation. We got to get out of here.’’
Patrick stood up, and extend his hand to help the lady to her feet.
Geneva hesitated for a moment looking first at her hand to ensure it did not have monstrous claws before accepting the private’s assistance. The two of them began to race down the grated steps to the base of the tower.
Newie was studying another set of symbols as the second, stronger quake hit the building.
‘’Aha! I got it, bro. This munged up symbol must mean to ’look’ or ‘see’ or probably ‘monitor’! Crazy, eh?’’
Even both Dayans fled from the epicenter of the quakes. The second Dayan first was quivering behind a collapsed metallic structure frozen in fear. But once he saw the first Dayan sprinting boldly down the stairs, he crept out of his place of insecurity and made a mad dash after his double. The first Dayan along with his four drones were the first to clear a threshold mark set into the floor at the bottom of the stairs. At that point the other more timid Dayan simply vanished.
It was after the third quake that Newie finally realized the danger he was in. But it was too late. The force of the quake sent a large crack ripping through the heavy reinforced ceiling weakening its integrity beyond its massive size. Despite the low gravity on the planetoid that did not stop the mass from plummeting downward and crushing the apex of the crystal causing it to fracture in hundreds of large and tiny shards. As the crystal crumpled it released a wave of concussion force knocking Newie to the compromised grated flooring. The energy from the force fried all the hardwiring in the tower, sending the deleterious relic edific into total darkness. Emergency chemical lights burst on near the flooring of the walkways glowing a sickly Eldritch green. Smokey dust rose out of the covert where the crystal was previously housed that would have smelled of a ozonous acrid if Newie was not in an environmental suit.
Newie struggled to his feet in a daze. He quickly checked his suit for any tears. He could hold his breath with his genetically modified lungs for quite a long time. But, he would not have the traction needed to make it back to the InAnna fast enough give the low gravity. Luckily, his suit appeared intact.
From the corner of his vision something moved in the dusty debris of the remains of the crystal. He flipped on the head lamps of his environmental helmet and looked more focused in that direction. He made out the silhouette of a large…no…very large figure. Parts of the figure pulsed with a deep red almost purple glow. The large humanoid figure moved towards Newie with what appeared to be massive axe in its right appendage.
‘’Where are my three companions?’’ The ominous figure demanded of Newie.
’’I’m lookin’ me mates, too. Uh…were you just in that crystal before it got all mungered up?’’
‘’Yes.’’ The menacing being responded. ‘’It appears that I was inside the crystal for more than 10,000 yeara. I have not seen your women that you have lost. I ask again. Where are my companions?’’
A charging hum began emitting from the axe.
‘’Hey, hey, hey. No need to get hasty. I am sure your mates must be around here, too. No need for violence. Just two big bros talkin’ it out. Ten thousand years! That is amazing. Are you some kinda Precursor tech?’’
‘’I have no need to procreate, thus I am not seeking any mates, just my companions. I am also unfamiliar with what you call precursor tech. I am a synthetic warrior designed to protect my companions of which I have become separated from.’’
The robot took the charging axe in both hands more firmly and moved closer to Newie.
‘’Easy, easy, bro. I bet we can find our mates together.’’
‘’I do not see that as optimal.’’ The synthetic warrior raised his axe.
Just at that moment Dayan and his drones came through the obscurity of the dusty clouds. The robot stopped and analyzed Dayan. Tension in its servos relaxed. He put down the axe.
‘’Fraeton? Is that you? I would have come to you sooner had I not been placed in the crystal. How are Nera and Zotanik? I have not located their signatures yet. Have you seen them?’’
Dayan, realizing the mistaken identity and the severity if he got this wrong responded.
‘’I go by Dayan. I have not found Nera or Zotanik, yet. This here is my other companion, Newie. You can trust him.’’
At that authorization, the robot put his axe down and rested the blade upon the grated flooring. As it clanked to the floor, Newie gave out a breath of relief.
‘’Boy, is it good to see you, Dayan. You came just in the nick of time, mate. This bloak nearly gave me a ringer. Probably woulda sent me up the river, if you know what I mean. Says he is lookin’ for his mates. He appears to he a type of Precursor tech. Amazing, no?’’
‘’What do we call you again, friend? It has been a while.’’ Dayan asked softly.
The robot took a moment as if cycling through old files.
‘’I am called…Hōro Sha…yes, that sounds right.’’ He finally said.
The tower erupted in a much more intense tremor that no long was originating from the crystal site.
‘’Hōro Sha. Come with us. This tower is not safe for non-synthetics. Our fleshy bits are too fragile.’’ Dayan said, grabbing his arm and trying to hide a wince of pain.
‘’Dayan, your arm!’’ Newie realized. ’’It’s hurt.’’
‘’I will be fine. We just need to make it back to me lab.’’ Drone 4 braced him up right catching him before he collapsed. ‘’We need to move now.’’
To be continued…