First Sci-fi, a mercenary band is tasked with finding out what happened to a space station
|The Pantheon Machine
Deep in the void, even past the bleak Primus observatory on Pluto, Olympus floated. Distant starlight reflected off the twin hulls, bridged bulwarks running symmetrically along each. Crablike servitors welded, connected, and skittered to and fro. You see, this Olympus was not the home of the gods, just those who aspired to be one.
A gleam caught the attention of a servitor, something moving in the black depths of space. The servitor knew nothing was supposed to be out there, it did not compute. But the servitor had only one function. All it knew how to do was fix and build. It went back to its duties, not spending another bit of RAM on the conundrum.
In the main bridge of Olympus, a red sensor beeped. Laudavia eyed the strobing diode, fully aware what it meant. She quickly pulled up the radar scanning for anomalies. Nothing showed, just another malfunction. Olympus had frequent malfunctions, powers surges, and software crashes even the tech officers could not explain. She shivered slightly thinking about what one had said. A ghost in the machine. She mostly attributed that type of thinking to new age tech-worshippers, but a part of her embraced the lore and what it could mean for the project.
Laudavia pressed a small wrinkle out of her turtle neck uniform and sat in the captain’s chair. She straightened the Frontier Corporation pin that attached right above the breast, damn thing always snagged hair. She had meant to cut the curly blonde mess weeks ago but had not gotten around to it. Besides, Captain Blakewitz seemed to prefer it that way. He also might not prefer her in his chair. A bio-engineer at the helm might undermine his authority. But hell, he had her watching the bridge didn’t he?
She enjoyed the view, stargazing from the port window. The universe fascinated her, its vastness, its potential. It was a much better view than staring at screens flashing numbers and the drab buttons and dials that permeated the workstations around the bridge. The proximity alert still flashed, annoying her retinas. Time to switch the infernal device off. Besides they were the only things floating this side of the galaxy.
She got up from the swiveling chair, and was knocked to the floor. A jarring impact shook the space station; she even heard the distant tearing of metal. Alert sirens blared, her pesky diode now one of a thousand flashing lights. Her heart felt like it hit the pit of her stomach. Panic scrambled to assert itself. She forced herself up and over to a com-box, keying for anyone.
“What the hell is going on out there?” She practically screamed. “Hello?” Her anxiety causing her to key the next question hastily.
The com-box crackled back, unintelligible static. A muffled scream. She slumped against the wall, willing her beating heart to slow down so she could think. Breathe in, breathe out. Agonizing minutes passed. Just as she began to get her bodily functions under control the bridge door opened. Captain Blakewitz came through, uniform torn and sweaty. She saw blood on his side, a laser rifle in a white knuckle grip.
“Jim, oh my god. What is happening out there?” She saw the fear in his eyes, heard the cackle of laser fire down the corridor retaliated with a short whipping buzz.
“No time, send SOS on all freqs. And seal the blast doors on the bridge. Do not open it for anyone…or anything.” Desperation laced his voice, he turned to leave.
“Jim…” Her voice sounded small, childlike in her ears.
He answered, turning his head slightly as he walked away. “Once you seal these doors you hide Laudavia, hide and pray.”
The old Galaxy Gen two shuttle bucked and jerked, as it always did coming out of faster-than-light travel or FTL 1. It always made Alec uneasy, no matter how many times he rode in the battered craft. His compatriots sat harnessed in the bay, gritting teeth and cursing. Except Ridluk, who merely stared straight ahead. A voice chirped over the intercom.
“Hope the ride was pleasant, but the vacations over. Breach point in five.”
“Eat shit Jenkins!” Shehara yelled, clipping her smooth helm in place upon the neck guards of the black Interceptor armor. The bladed shoulder guards blended seamlessly in the form fitting suit. The visor rolled back revealing her tattooed face, she smiled as she checked her munitions. The rest of the crew did the same, looking fierce in the state-of-the-art space combat gear. Bought at the low price of stolen.
Gripple flexed his large muscles, rotating his limbs to test range of motion in the suits. One of Alec’s best acquisitions to date, the man could fight like no other. Alec cleared his throat, getting the crews attention, which he focused mainly on the four new recruits picked up specifically for this job.
“You do what I say, when I say. If you wanna get paid you gotta come back alive.” He scanned the recruits, watching them bob their heads in understanding. Earth Expeditionary Forces or EEF washouts mainly, but at the least Terra Imperium had paid for their training and not him. “Remember, we’re facing droids on the freighter, so it’s gonna take more than the normal to kill them. Part of a group calls themselves The Enlightened. Think they got souls. No offense Ridluk.”
“None taken,” said the stoic android.
Shehara snickered and said, “We already know you’re a soulless bastard Ridluk. Say why didn’t they just get EEF to take the ship back?”
Ridluk cracked a brief smile before Alec cleared his throat to continue. “Probably the same reason we always get the job, stuff on that ship ain’t supposed to be on there. Now, Factoria Shipping wants the ship back intact, Shehara.” He made it a point for her, she liked to go overboard sometimes. “Me, Ridluk, and Gripple are going to take the bridge, Shehara you and the new guys create a distraction. Now, let’s combat ready.”
Alec attached the helmet, pads coming to a comfortable rest on his bald head. His beard already banded so it didn’t get caught in the visor when it snapped shut. A HUD display appeared, showing his vitals and accessing his crew’s vitals. They ran through com checks and final preparations.
“Ten seconds,” came Jenkins over the intercom once again.
Alec mouthed a quick prayer to the gods of the void, praying for an easy paycheck. He felt the impact of the breach nose, heard the whine of the clamps and the loud hiss of void-foam as it sealed out all-mighty space. Harnesses popped up and the mercenaries were on their feet as the bay door spiraled open.
The initial breach point was in the side of the hanger bay, the cleared the entry taking heavy fire. One of the recruits already down as a laser cleaved his torso. The rest took cover behind a large stack of metal crates. The crew began sending bursts of un-aimed shots over their cover. Laser blasts hailed down, sizzling as they splashed out on the hull proper.
“Full cover fire now!” Alec’s order had the mercenary band on full auto, knocking white uniformed forms to the ground in molten heaps. Alec laid down his own rounds, his MKL-142 firing heavy slugs rapidly as he moved to a large gravi-crane. The loud percussion of his shots seemed to startle the defenders, causing a lull in their fire. It was just the effect he had intended. His own crew picked up their fire, the zap of their lasers a constant thrum.
Ridluk and Gripple joined Alec, he pointed towards a hall and they sprinted toward it, sending bursts of fire down its length. The large corridor contained more defenders sending salvos of laser death back at them. Thankfully support arches lined sections of the death trap, allowing Alec and his group a reprieve. Alec cursed and muttered as he prepped a pulsar. The small ball would release a shortwave EMP disabling anything with circuitry that stood in its radius. He popped out, hurling the pulsar and barely getting back in time as a laser singed his arm.
A soft pop and a crackle ended the hallways defense. Alec dared to peek out again, relieved at the site of slumped bodies. They all came out performing a rolling T maneuver, two men side by side with the other trailing. Resistance was light, most of the defenders caught up in the hanger fighting Shehara. They made their way through the sterile freighter, to the bridge doors. Alec motioned to gripple, who nodded and began setting a charge.
The bridge door opened unexpectedly. A lone figure stood in the doorway.
Alec stirred his drink, watching the neon green liquid slosh around the metallic cup with humorous brown eyes. Discordant electronic music vibrated the small drinking hole. Conduits pumped stale oxygen that still smelled of tobacco out of the air shafts that ran in concentric rings in the circular establishment. Alec shifted his large frame to get a better look at the android waitress, designed just for that purpose. The robot gave Alec a wink and continued serving refreshments to a group of rowdy miners who should know better than to cop a feel on the fake flesh. But then again, real women were in short supply this side of Mars.
Alec threw his cup back, downing the sweet liquid and getting the instant buzz he favored. He motioned for the waitress, pulling a fresh credit chit from his cargo pants. He needed another drink to celebrate a successful job, and to get the android captian’s words out of his head. Stealing a class six freight cruiser back from droid pirates was no mean feat.
The rest of his crew had sought celebration in more happening joints. Alec liked The Turbine, usually empty except for the handful of regulars he knew by name. They usually didn’t mind him stealing away the waitress. The miners however gave him dirty looks and curses under their breath. Fools weren’t getting lucky anyway.
“I’ll take another.” He said smoothly, a smile splitting the long beard and mustache combo.
“Right away,” the android responded warmly.
As she hustled off to fulfill the order, one of the miners stood and began making his way towards Alec, gravity boots clunking on the floor. Dirt and grime covered the man’s orange overalls, highlighting the dirty and grimy face. He spit on the floor when he reached Alec’s table. Liquid courage twisting his face into a nasty snarl.
“Didn’t you see we were havin’ a conversation?” Spittle came out of the man’s mouth when he spoke.
“Say it, don’t spray it pal. Besides I don’t think even a robot could get down with a face like yours.” Alec slung the insult boldly, loud enough so others could hear.
Trouble always seemed to find Alec, he mostly didn’t mind. Trouble is what kept him in business. He pulled a stubby blaster from his waistband, setting it on the table. The miners eyed it, casting glances at one another. No doubt deciding if they could rush him before he got a shot off. Alec shook his head, answering their silent question.
The miners decided to take the safer route, walking away muttering curses.
“See ya,” Alec jovially said as they left the bar.
“Ballistics are illegal aren’t they?” A rough voice said.
Alec turned to see a large, muscled black man smirking at him. The guy looked like money, or at least money’s security. The Martian elite loved to dress their henchmen in the latest fashion of full silk kimonos and baggy silk pants. He had never gotten used to the pointy hat. More than his attire, the man’s presence could be a good thing or something very bad.
“I like the way they shoot, and the impression they leave is well…memorable.” Alec put on his most intimidating voice. A voice that had made men give up information they would rather have not.
The large man harrumphed, clearly not impressed.
“Look I paid Frechin last week, and I’m not payin’ the damned interest. Go tell your fat ass boss that.” Alec said pounding down the drink the waitress placed in front of him.
The man laughed, clearly enjoying Alec’s confusion. “My boss is not Frechin. I work for Mr. Bryrio, and he would like to speak with you.”
Alec’s smile returned, “well why didn’t you just say so. I’m always at the rich and powerful’s disposal.”
Credits trump celebration every time. Alec ordered one for the road, throwing on his knee length duster and holstering his sidearm. He motioned for the goon to lead the way and left The Turbine, tapping the doorway on his way out for good luck.