Not much to say about this one. Lots of swearing. The pacing is off, and I felt a little rushed, but enough with the excuses, on with the show!
The hologram of the dead admiral faded. Landover stepped out of the bathroom, tablet computer in hand. He read aloud, “89% chance of murder-suicide. You never cease to amaze me, Persi.”
Persi’s hologram appeared. “I am here to serve.”
Landover tossed the tablet onto a cushioned chair. He folded his arms at stared at the dead Huntington. “Well, this is a mess. Now I’m going to have to spend more time on the bridge.”
“It would appear so, admiral.”
Landover turned and faced the image of the JKP on the big screen. “Zoom in, I want to see the hits.”
The image expanded. The JKP’s long body and spinning center-decks reminded him of a ghost ship. Half the hull lights were out, and many of the port windows were dark. No counter-missiles had yet been fired.
A shadow began to fall across the white hull of the JKP. It was a black discordance, some sort of localized interference. “What is that? Can you focus?”
Persi said, “I’m sorry, admiral, but something is occluding the Polk. It is emitting a radiation I cannot compensate for.”
Landover furrowed his brow. “What kind of radiation?”
“It is a combination of frequencies, alternating too quickly to get a lock. Some sort of jamming signal.”
Landover’s eyes went wide. “Oh hell.”
The nuclear missiles slammed into the shadow, popping like Forth of July fireworks, and fading as fast. Once the wave ended, the green targeting lasers connected to the black blob, and moments later the mazers fired. There was no effect.
Landover said, “Get someone to take this body away. Go to battle stations.”
Persi nodded. “As you wish, admiral.”
Alarms sounded throughout the ship. The admiral headed to the bridge.
Alarms were also ringing throughout the station. Redbeard was on the intercom. “All citizens retreat to the core! All citizens retreat to the core!”
Chaudhuri was next to him, staring at monitors, tapping some buttons from time to time to track different missiles. Some were being launched from the station as defense, but most were coming from the FDR. “We’re not going to make it.”
“We have some talented pilots in the Firebirds,” Redbeard said. “We have a chance.”
“How many hits can we take?”
“We might be able to survive a mark five, or maybe three mark fours.”
Chaudhuri watched the monitors. “We have six mark fives, and twelve mark fours incoming. The FDR certainly has more ready for launch.”
Redbeard slammed his fist into the table. “Why isn’t the JKP doing anything?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why not?” Redbeard glared at Chaudhuri. “It’s your ship. We needed it to defend us, and now thousands of people are going to die because it’s doing nothing!”
Chaudhuri shouted back, “I don’t know!”
The dots representing the missiles grew closer on the screen. They winked out as the countermeasures collided with some of the closer ones, and as the Firebirds picked off what they could.
Chaudhuri said, “Four mark fours. One mark five.”
Redbeard reached his hand out and took Chaudhuri’s. “It’s not your fault. We did what we could.”
Chaudhuri threw herself into Redbeard’s arms. “I’m so sorry.”
Redbeard patted Chaudhuri’s hair. “Shh. No more words.”
Chaudhuri said, “I love you.”
The missiles impacted the station.
Jones was in the white room. She sat on a cushioned black chair, apparently covered with some sort of leather. Lim sat across from her, and Cepheid stood at her side.
Jones said, “I was expecting… something else.”
Lim said, “We can’t have a filthy beast wondering the halls of Tuele. You must be sanitized, or contained. Preferably both.”
Jones said, “They’re afraid of infection?”
“They’re cautious,” Lim said. “Can you blame them? They don’t know where you’ve been.”
The black door into night rose again from the floor. Lim stood.
One of the chrome suits lumbered in.
Jones said, “Not big sprinters, are ya?”
Lim’s face contorted with jealousy and distaste. “The Keyaniim wishes you to seal your suit and follow.”
Jones stood. “What about my weapons?”
Lim waved her hand. “Keep them or not. They’re useless here.”
“I suppose I’m not much of a threat anyway.” She clipped her rifle to her back. “Still, I feel more comfortable with them on.”
The Keyaniim turned and walked through the black portal.
Lim said, “Remember to seal yourself. You wouldn’t want to catch an alien cold. There’s no telling what that would do to your body.”
It sounded like a joke to Jones, but a joke with a bite. An alien virus would likely kill her in a most quick and unpleasant way. She snapped her visor shut and activated the seal. She had just over an hour of air available.
As she walked into the darkness, her suit’s HUD flashed with radiation warnings, then went silent as the core computer rebooted. “Oh that’s not good.”
The light started to filter back into the hallway. The walls were dark, like a polished hardwood. The floor had a metallic sheen. Light came from the ceiling, but Jones couldn’t quite find the source.
A deep, robotic voice rumbled in the hall. “Lim was correct, to an extent.” It came from the lumbering metal can in leading her. “Tuele has determined your biology poses little threat. However, she is not yet certain our biology is compatible with yours.”
The Keyaniim said, “Limitations of your language. You often call your ships ‘she.’ Also, Tuele has offspring which she has nurtured. The appellation is appropriate in this context.”
“Your ship? It’s alive?”
They walked down the hall, at a gentle, slow pace that was driving Jones crazy. “Where are we going?”
“A safe room. A comfortable one, we hope.”
“What then?” Jones’s fingers tapped the hilt of her sidearm.
“Then,” the Keyaniim said, “you can remove your armor and be comfortable.”
“Am I a prisoner?”
The Keyaniim said, “You are a prisoner by your choosing. Not by ours. You will be comfortable soon.”
Jones muttered. “Goddammit. You keep saying ‘comfortable.’ Is this another ‘limitation of the language?’ Are you going to turn me into food?”
The Keyaniim seemed to cough.
Jones said, “Did you… did you just laugh?”
“No,” The Keyaniim said, “comfortable means comfortable.”
They stopped and a once hidden door slid open. The room within was small with enough room for a couch and end-table. There was a shelf and a wardrobe that would fit her armor. There was another door, open, showing a small bathroom and shower within.
“This is like my dorm room in college.”
The Keyaniim said, “Yes. Forgive the lack of food. We want to make sure that there are no biological incompatibilities.”
“Wait,” Jones said. “You can read my mind?”
“Not all of it.” The armored suit gestured to the door. When this door closes, you may feel free to remove your armor and clean up. There is an outfit for you in the drawer.”
The Keyaniim turned and continued down the hall. The door closed and sealed.
Jones sat on the couch. It was not as soft as she remembered. She wondered if she flipped the cushions she would find her bed linen.
The readout on her visor screen indicated the atmosphere was safe. “Clean up, eh?” She put her finger near the bottom of her visor, hesitating to flip it up. She could stay in her armor, but the air supply was limited. She gritted her teeth and flipped the screen up, unsealing her suit.
The air was warm. The smell of patchulli from her friend Winter’s latest visit was still haltingly fading. “My God…” She set her helmet on the table. She felt a pang of violation- they read her memories.
Yet they were good memories. Comfortable ones.
She took her armor off and placed it in the closet. Her clothes were soaked with sweat and splashed with dried blood. She peeled them off and tossed them in the corner with a scowl.
The shower stall was clean as crystal. That wasn’t part of her memory. She was a bit of a slob in college. Winter always complained, but she smelled like a hippy, so what did she know?
She scrubbed her whole body with the soap and washcloth, as if she could wipe away all the blood she had spilled on the JKP. She was a soldier. She knew how to kill. It was what she was for.
Then why was she crying?
She stood out of the stream of the shower and leaned against the wall. Tears streaked through the suds on her face. She slipped down until she was sitting on the shower floor. Water flowed around her toes in little bubbly streams.
Cepheid was right. She did accomplish her mission. So why did she feel like she failed?
She shouldn’t have survived. Too many people were dead because of her. She should be too. What was left for her? What now? What kind of life should she be allowed to have, since she ended all those others?
She stood up and leaned her head into the shower. The soap flowed away from her skin, and soon she was uncovered under the water once more. She turned it off and stepped out onto a fuzzy carpet. An over-sized towel was on a rack.
Once dry, she walked back into the little dorm room. The drawer had an outfit in it. Black with thin white trim along the collar and down the legs and arms. It was tight, and hugged her body like a glove. She looked into a full length mirror, angling her body to get a better look. “Damn…” She smiled. “You all are pervs. Feels really good though.”
A beep came from the mirror. A voice followed. It was calm, gentle, human. “Ms. Jones?”
Jones cleared her throat. “Yes?”
“I can assure you that we do not find your species physically attractive. Your choice of outfit was chosen by the same scan as was used to create your surroundings.”
“I’m not sure I have the guts to wear this outside.”
“Our scan has a wide margin of error. We can provide for other attire.”
Jones put her hands on her hips. “Doesn’t leave much to the imagination.” She smirked. “Fuck it. Not like it matters now. It’ll grow on me.”
“I assure you, Ms. Jones, it is inert.”
Jones chuckled. “Just a figure of speech.”
Jones folded her arms across her chest. Suddenly she felt more exposed. The Keyaniim was joking with her, and it made her feel like the invisible eyes on her were more human. It was one thing to have aliens staring at her tight outfit, but the thought of a human…
She shook the thought off, dismissing it as silly. Why should she care? Logic seemed to be less strong than her nerves right now however, but considering the circumstances…
The voice spoke again. “We think it’s time we were more open with you. May I reveal my unarmored self to you?”
Jones said, “This is the first time you’ve said ‘I.'” She felt her arms tighten across her breasts. “It’s only fair, seeing as though you can read my mind that I at least know who I am talking too.”
“Very well.” An image faded into view in the mirror.
All thought of modesty vanished from Jones’s mind. She stumbled backward to the couch and fell on it. “Jesus Fucking Christ!”