Part 3: Existence
I lean in and whisper, “I’m sorry, what the hell did you just say?”
“I said you’ll bring me on board as your prisoner. It’s the only way to flush them out.” Jon stood up and made his way to a workbench sliding the pile of mix matched parts to the floor. After a minute he turns around with his wrists bound in a high grade military shackle. “We need to hurry, if they find out who I am they might sabotage the ship before we get back on. No time to waste Captain.” He pulls his right hand free from the bonds and scratches his neck then slides it back into the shackles.
Walking over I grab his wrist and type in a lock command which tightens the cuffs. Jon narrows his eyes on me. I respond to his stare, “Well, let’s talk about this secret first, then if I think you’re not lying I’ll walk you right into the ship. Deal?” Jon nods and hops back, sitting on the workbench. “OK, what branch are you? And what’s the authorization code?”
“I’m part of the Sigma group and the code is Alpha Nine Zero Delta Four Q, I never remember what’s standard for Q.” The code checks out and the name is one I haven’t heard in a long time. Sigma handles all of the insertion ops, placing people in dangerous locations or within extremist groups, highly trained and normally never announced.
“If you were Sigma wouldn’t you’ve been apart of the team when we shipped off?”
“Your mission was suppose to be under the radar, no flags or suspicion to draw attention off your trip. But there’s been new Intel, someone from the outside is trying to take a weapon hidden on the Hellion.”
“What weapon?” I took a step back and cleared my throat, “I’m the Captain of the Hellion, there’s no shipments on board, nothing’s been cleared, and I know my crew.”
“How well do you know your crew? Like your second in command who served in military ops with you? Maybe Malloy with his dodgy credentials? How about Short?” I couldn’t help but laugh aloud. “That unbelievable, that someone with a spotless record and nearly flawless test scores could be a secret agent.” That statement stole the laughter right out of me. “I know about your top staff, those with the power to move about the ship freely. One of them is the plant, one of them is searching for the weapon.”
I raise a hand, “Hold on. You’ve mentioned a weapon twice, what is it?”
“Not sure.” I shake my head, not satisfied with his answer.
“You have me doubting the integrity of my crew and the safety of my ship, mostly from your attack on the Hellion’s security systems…” he interrupts me with a shout.
“Computer!” the black screen to the left of me lights up, a complex series of line commands and code running through it in a side window. “Run Release Hellion,” the computer runs a few different lines of code and the window closes. “Your ship is free from my hold, but go ahead and continue.”
Obviously, I want to run to the nearest window and make sure the systems on the Hellion aren’t disabled or the ship in chaos, but I don’t want to appear weak or nervous, so I continue, “As I was saying, you do a digital take over and you can’t even tell me what the weapon is?”
“All I know Captain is that without a highjack of your system, I might have been found out by whoever is the spy. The thing I do know about the weapon on your ship is that it has a code name ‘Existence’ and it is in high demand by the tech
extremists.” He moves a hand to draw my attention from the floor, “think about it Charles, the Hellion is a point ship, one of the first to go into a highly dangerous battle and the fastest one out in the known galaxy. A ship like yours is never decommissioned by any military, you and your crew are unknowingly transporting one of the most feared inventions ever created.” Jon hops down and takes a step closer, “The Hellion is at this moment the most dangerous thing to the human race.” Jon pushes past me and grabs the helmet to his suit, “I wouldn’t recommend wasting any more time Captain, we’ve got to find Existence and put it in the right hands.” He puts his helmet on and straps it in. I don’t want to believe him, I don’t like the idea that my crew or ship has been compromised but the whole operation never sat well with me.
I close my collar and strap my helmet on, “Alright Jon, I’ve got an eye on you. Let’s go.”
We go through the motions in silence. I’m too immersed in my thoughts to try and engage him in conversation. The door opens and I see one of my crew working on the outside of the Hellion, magnetic tethers holding them over one of the ships weapons. “Palma? Is that you?” I’m greeted with silence, looking to Jon I see his left hand move and touch his other hand. The speaker in my suit hums and I hear a voice.
“-respond. I repeat, we have lost all audio communications. Captain Johnson if you can hear us please respond.”
“I hear you. I have the hacker in tow meet us in the lower airlock for an update and assistance,” we make a leap to the side of the Hellion and allow our boots to connect with the ship. “Palma is that you outside the ship?” The head turns and she waves. “Switch to channel five Palma,” we both switch our coms and I waste no time, “the lifepod, it stays between you and me, understood?”
“Understood sir, weapons are live.” Jon and I continue our slow travel around the bottom of the ship.
“Palma another thing, I appreciate the initiative and hard work.” I round the edge of the bottom and pull myself quickly up to the airlock.
I hear Palma stuttering slightly and then take a deep breath before speaking, “The weapons were made to look decommissioned, they’ve been hot since we left. I uh—I’m just fine tuning the calibrations, I didn’t really have to do anything. I’ll be inside in ten.” Before I can consider what this means the airlock opens. We float in and they seal us up, changing the pressure and filling the small space with breathable air. The door opens to Short and Keshav, weapons ready and in hand.
I loosen my helmet and toss it aside, Jon takes his off and looks back and forth between Short and Keshav. “What, no hello? How about a cup of coffee maybe a glazed doughnut?” Short and Keshav look at each other and then back to Jon, then over to me.
“Don’t worry about it, he’s got a weird sense of humor. Let’s take him up to the brig and then I need a little time to sort some things out.” We walk to the lift and take it up.
“Sir,” of course it’s Short to question me first, “what is going on here? Is this the right course of action bringing him on board? He did after all commandeer the Hellion from us.”
“Better we can keep an eye on him Short. You know what they say, keep your enemies close and what not.”
Keshav quickly commented, “I say we dump him out the airlocks without his suit on.” Short turns her head with a look of disbelief on her face, “what? Problem solved.” The door opens and Irish is waiting for us on that floor. He nods and signals for us to walk with him. On the way to the brig Lieutenant Short opens her holocom and lets out a sound of frustration.
“I don’t understand. This was just working a minute ago.” Irish stops suddenly.
“Wait,” we stop and look back while Jon looks the other way. “Short, walk to me with your holocom on.” She takes a few steps and the screen slowly straightens itself out. “Holocom’s displays in a frequency outside of what basic ships communicate on, so they don’t interfere with the systems and vice versa. Only something operating on the same signal could interfere,” Irish looks up to Jon, “I’m guessing the technology in his synthetic right arm is broadcasting at that frequency.” We turn to Jon, who smiles pressing a finger into the back of his right hand. The ship lurches suddenly sending us all to the ground, with the hallway switching to the emergency lights. Jon shoots off into a mad dash, throwing the shackles off to the side. Keshav guns after him.
I get to my feet and turn to Malloy, “Irish, how did you know that he had a synthetic arm?”
Irish shrugs, “Honestly I just took a guess, he kept touching his arm.” If I had time I’d be impressed, I turn from Irish and run down the hall, after Keshav and Jon.
“Get everyone on the ship battle ready, full alert!” I shout as I round the corner on Keshav’s tail. After a while of running I surmise where Jon is going, he’s heading towards the detention center. “Keshav gun!” without looking he tosses it up and over his shoulder, I manage to catch it without breaking stride. We reach the split, the intersection leads into the two different cell blocks, Keshav throws up a few hand signals and checks for my approval, I nod and he goes right while I go left, weapons up and ready.
I enter the first hallway and walk into the long stretch of cells. The door shuts behind me. “Please tell me it’s not locked,” I touch the console next to the door, it’s unresponsive. “Of course it’s locked.” Walking deeper in I find Jon, he’s got the floor panel removed for the cell all the way in the back. I take aim and slowly approach, he’s consumed in his work with the wires in the floor, with a clear shot I squeeze the trigger. The gun clicks and nothing happens, I pull again.
“I think you know I’ve got a jammer. I’m not an idiot.” I pull the trigger another time, then decide to holster my gun. “You never thought it was odd that this wing of the detention cells has an emergency detach, to separate and fire it out into space.”
I answer, inching myself closer to him, “This wing is for the more dangerous criminals, the release is to drop our losses if they break loose. Jettison them and any dangers off the ship.” I loosen my suit and make enough room to reach the knife.
“Or maybe it’s to get rid of all the evidence.” He touches two wires together and the square of floor in front of him starts to slowly rise. “This is it, finally it.” I pull the knife out and aim it at his head, then press the slide back, but nothing happens. He turns around and I manage to put the knife behind me before he sees it, running my hand over it and mentally kicking myself about the safety. “Do you see what this is?” I look at what’s slowly coming up behind him. “It’s the next step, project Existence.” It wasn’t a bomb or a gun, it was unexpected, it was humanoid. Made of metal resembling human by shape and form, with various plates and wire veins, some sort of clear skin tight material bound over it’s arms and legs. “This technology is useless in your circle, but this is what we’ve been waiting for.” He grabbed the side of the machine, a handle pulling free from the side of the casing. “Natural progression Charles, we advance into godhood. We become immortal and shed our flesh, fuse ourselves into the machines that have taken us this far into the unknown.” I press the safety down, “Captain, it’s a new day, I’ll be the first person to break the barrier, to become both man and machine.” Jon turns to me and smiles, “You on the other hand, you’re going to die out in space.” The thought alone turns my blood to ice. He touches his wrist and I lift the ballistic knife to his head and fire. Jon’s head jerks back and he crumples to the ground.
It’s done. I take a deep breath, glad that we hadn’t been jettisoned from the rest of the ship. The lights return and I walk to the door, it was still sealed. Keshav was on the other side. I try to work the controls but nothing responds. “Keshav, get this door open.”
The PA system comes on and I hear Short. “The computers are running without our control, if anyone is in the high risk prison quarters you need to evacuate, Malloy says it’ll be detached in five minutes and counting.” Keshav and I look at each other, then we scramble for the panels. But none of us have tools. Keshav tries to fire his gun but it doesn’t fire. “Four,” I turn and run back to Jon’s body, looking for the controls to the door, but it’s under his flesh and not visible. I need to get the knife blade out so I can strip his fake flesh off, see the buttons underneath. Lifting his head I search for the blade from the ballistic knife. “Three,” the knife is embedded inside of his eye with barely enough to grab, I try to grip the flat of the blade but it’s slick with blood, so I wrap my fingers around what I can, and pull as hard as possible. I feel the edge slicing through my flesh and into the muscle in my fingers, screaming I pull harder. “Two,” I open my hand but see that the blade hasn’t moved. I look around the room, it’s clear of any weapons or tools, then I look at the machine. Project Existence, he was going to use this to survive, this was his way out. “One,” I stand up and walk to the handle of the machine and grip it tight. It stings and burns, little needles protruding from the handle, some unseen thing flowing through my veins and arteries and pumping into my heart. I lose muscle control and collapse on the floor, my vision leaves me, and then slowly sound trickles away into nothing, “Zero.”
I don’t think anyone truly understands what an out of body experience is like, I never did. Standing behind glass, looking down at my lifeless body, watching it crumple and cave in, and then everything inside the room is sucked out, fired into the blackness of space.
I spent most of my time staring at my hands, the light from my eyes illuminating my metal fingers from the emptiness. Someone came, maybe minutes or hours, I’m not really sure. They found me in the glass. They couldn’t hear me, I’m not really sure if I was thinking or actually speaking. But after a few visits they brought me in, sealed in the tube with what remained of the machine. Once inside I could hear sound, what came from me and what came from others. “I’m Captain Charles Johnson of the Hellion, I’m telling you this is me.”
Short looks to the others, they seem as clueless as she does. Keshav raises a hand, “I’m second in command and now I’m Captain of this ship, I’ve got a solution to this…”
“You can’t just dump me out of the airlocks Keshav!” I interject.
Keshav raises an eyebrow, “Both the Captain and the highjacker were there to hear that, how do we verify it’s you in there?”
Looking around to everyone there, I decide to work through the list. “Palma likes to bake pies, Irish has an unusual addiction to knives and unsanitary eating habits, Short hates it when I call her Katie.” Lieutenant Short makes a bitter face at the mention of her first name, “and Keshav you’re like family, always have been and always will be.” Keshav walks over and pulls the release, the tube opens and gives me a bit of room to move. “So what do we do now, how do we handle this?”
Keshav looks at everyone else and then turns to me, “You’re the Captain, you tell us.”
End of Part 3
The End of the short story. Not the last of the Hellion.