Science Fiction Short Story Contest
Prompt: Spaceship design
"Ever been on XS-523?" Commander Wilson asked as the cage started to ascend. The grating sound that it made, obliterated all other sounds but Commander Wilson's voice could be heard across the battlefield.
"No sir," I replied. "I had never had the opportunity."
"Well, my boy," he said and I could see him mentally pat my back. "This is your chance." He laughed heartily making his bulky stomach dance. Commander John Wilson was an ever-smiling man which was responsible for the cobwebs around his eyes and lips and the permanent pinkish tint on his face.
"Yes sir," I nodded.
Earth and Mars were up against a bad enemy this time. The Zhagharies. They are from another solar system altogether but possessed some high-end technology that had baffled us for years. Our last stage of defense was XS-523 before they entered Earth.
The cage traveled up at a steady speed. It's a small shuttle, equipped with autopilot used to carry men from earth to the space-station and vice-versa. Through the corner of my eyes, I could see the base falling behind. Slowly the gravitational pull set in, I was being pushed into the seat.
As the cage accelerated it rattled like a tin can as it fought against the pull of gravity before all of a sudden it became quiet. My whole body seemed to be lighter. I released my breathe at one go.
"There she is," Commander's voice carried the wonder of a first timer though he had been there a thousand times before.
I looked ahead and through the windscreen, I could see XS-523 or as lovingly called 'Sparta'. It's totally black in color. Against the dark sky, one could barely spot it. Only the lights from it numerous portholes are all that manifests its presence.
For an Intergalactic Army’s space-station it was quite an item. It’s a disc-shaped thing with a communication tower going up and down through the center of it. It had six landing pads extending away from the main plate for external vehicles. It's widest at the middle and slowly tapered at the top and bottom. Sparta was divided in horizontal layers. It was about seven miles in the diameter and five and a half mile in height excluding the protruding communication towers.
At that moment it was surrounded by smaller fighter-crafts of various sizes. I knew they carried a crew ranging from two to ten. Each was capable of carrying loads of ammunition and was always armed to the teeth. At that moment they were on standby.
As I watched, our cage picked the landing pad assigned to it and started to proceed towards it. Sparta grew in size, taking over space in the windscreen and then overflowing its edges. Now I could see the bay doors, the signal-lamps and other details on the body of the station. The long barreled laser guns, the wide-mouthed charge dispensers came clearly into view.
Our cage landed on a movable plate that descended within the pad. The door opened and then the 'Unfasten your seat belts' sign lit up. We unbuckled and disembarked from the craft.
The first person to greet us was a lady in flight lieutenant's uniform. She saluted. Commander returned it and turned to me.
"Meet Lieutenant Zed Murray," he said. I nodded. "Murray, meet flight lieutenant Kelly Wilson. Wilson, show Murray around and debrief him on his duties," he said and added. "You know where to find me."
We saluted him. He returned our salute and left.
Kelly Wilson, a fair and brunet nearly of my age, was just a couple of inches shorter than me. And I am exactly six feet. She had an oval face, with deep-set eyes darker than space itself.
"Follow me, Lieutenant," she said in a business-like tone and marched forward. "Your duties mainly concern the armory and the Central Weapons Control Station. You have fifty minutes to get accustomed to the station and learn about the details. You'll find everything you need in your quarter. I'll meet you exactly in an hour and introduce you to the crew."
She nodded, turned and left without another word.
As promised I found everything I needed on the bunk in my quarter except the time. Not more than five minutes had passed before there came a knock on the door.
"Lieutenant," someone called from outside. I opened the door to find Kelly Wilson. "Lieutenant, you are needed at the Comm Room. Now."
"Lead the way, then." I folded a device into my pocket.
It took us three minutes, jogging through a labyrinth of passages, to reach the Comm Room. She stopped in front of a glass door and put her palm on the glass near the edge. The outline glowed for a moment before the glass dissipated. Disappearing doors!
"This is our Comm Room," she explained walking in. "Our intelligence has just informed of an incoming ship. Intel is about to give us the visual feed but right now we are receiving a message. Commander said you are very good at interstellar languages. Let's see you interpret this," She said and pulled down a rectangular panel floating in mid-air. There were so many of them overlapping each other, that they together formed a wall.
The language I recognized was Pansi, an ancient language used by the population of Pansar, a planet in Eagle galaxy.
"Are you sure of the message?" I asked. "Is it authentic?"
"We can't even read the thing," Kelly said, much vexed. "What does it say?"
What it said was silly, but where it came from was dangerous. I quoted, "Knock knock. Who’s there? There's a bomb for you."
Kelly stared at my face and then at the message.
"What the hell!"
"That's not all," I said. "This language is used by a race that had been extinct for three centuries."
A hush fell in the Comm Room.
"So either that message is a fake or someone is fooling us," Kelly concluded and turned to the man beside her. "Sergeant what's..."
"Sir," a man called from far right. "We have the video feed from Intel."
"Put it on the big screen."
The big screen meant a bigger rectangular box that shoved all other smaller boxes aside. At first, there was static, then the screen went black. Then an image came up: a small spaceship, like an old bullet, hang lifelessly. There was no light on or any kind of evidence that it was alive. The image remained steady for a while, then a point appeared at the tip of the ship and a string of light shot out. The camera followed the light ray. As if seeing a slow film, we traveled along with the light. It went into a wormhole and vanished.
I tapped on Kelly's shoulder.
"Is this live?"
"No. It was taken about five minutes from now."
"Where is that ship?"
"Sector 42, quadrant 8. Why?"
Sector 42, nearly three light-years from us, had five wormholes for travelling to five different galaxies. Which one was that one?
"Get me a map," I said. The sergeant nearest to me tapped on a screen and brought up a celestial topographic map. I enlarged it and spotted Sector 42.
"Oh Good Heavens," I straightened. Fear gripping my heart I couldn't feel my feet on the deck. "Where is Commander Wilson? I need here right now."
"Why?" Kelly's voice had slightest of strain, maybe infected by mine. "What's the matter?"
"Zhaghar has men who can communicate using Pansi. That message? It’s a decoy. It was sent to keep us from looking."
"Looking? At what?"
"At something we should have seen before if we were not busy in decoding the message. See that ship?" I said pointing at the big screen. It was playing the video in a loop. "It's a spy ship from the Zhaghar carrying High-Density Charges. Those charges are capable of travelling through space and they explode on impact. That release that we saw was sent through the wormhole."
"To... to where?" This time she didn't hide the shake.
I turned to the map. "Get the Commander."
Commander Wilson stood with his hands on his chin scrutinizing the map. On a small screen were scrolling giant numbers. There was pin-drop silence in the Comm Room. My eyes flitted out of the portholes through which I could only see a tiny part of the space. It remained dark.
"This is indeed troublesome," Commander Wilson said. "You are right about it, my boy. It's headed our way."
"What's headed our way?" Kelly asked.
"Why? That HDC of course." The way he said the thing, and I think he mentally shrugged too, made it the daily mail. "I suggest we evacuate. Lieutenants," he called and Kelly and I fell into attention. "We have exactly seven minutes and sixteen seconds. Broadcast code Orange. Immediate evacuation. No man to be left on board. Lieutenant Murray. You'll be in charge hereafter."
"Yes sir," I said. Commander Wilson totally ignored my creases and turned to leave when Kelly stepped forward.
"Where are you going?" There was a hint of emotion in her voice.
Commander stopped and just glanced her way. For some reason he ignored her overstepping too.
"I'll be up on the bridge. No need to keep me posted. Just get everyone out."
It was not long before that the banshee started to wail and scream. The red light flashed like an angry demon and the box blurted out the same line over and over again.
"Evacuate. Evacuate. Code Orange. Every man to dock. This is not a drill. Evacuate..."
Inside the next few minutes havoc ruled Sparta. Warning blared, men shouted, boots clattered on the metal decks. The senior officers took charge of their teams in transporting them out of the space station. Cages, similar to the one we came, and other fighter-crafts lifted off the launching pads one after the other. Like a well-oiled machine, men emerged through the corridors, got off the transporting tunnel, boarded the cages and left. I watched the operation from above with Kelly behind me and repeatedly glanced at the watch. I didn't miss her frequent glances at the bridge but didn't advertise. Occupationally I took reports of the dispersing men. When just a minute and a half was left, just three men remained on Sparta. Commander Wilson, Kelly and me.
"Lieutenant," Commander’s voice boomed through the overhead speaker. "I presume it’s time to leave."
"Yes sir," I said and gestured at Kelly towards the only cage left. She looked up at the bridge. I caught her arm above the elbow and pushed towards the dock.
"I'm not leaving." Kelly freed her arm and started for the bridge. I didn't have the time for this. Commander wouldn't abandon his ship till the last man hadn't departed. Besides, the bridge of every space-station had its own escape pod. I was sure Commander would use it in time.
Without a word I grabbed her arm, again, and almost dragged her to the cage. The engine was stalling, the pilot too happy to leave at the earliest. We had only sixty-five seconds to get to a safe distance from Sparta.
Our cage had just cleared the launching pad when the pilot gasped. We turned to find the wormhole opening on top of us and a ball of light emerging. Without delay, the pilot charged forward. The HDC that had traveled three light-years, was racing for Sparta.
"Dad," Kelly whispered and I turned in time to see a single drop roll down her cheek. Realizations, too late, dawned on me.
Within seconds the ball hit Sparta right on top of the bridge.The internal soundless detonation expanded outward tearing through the walls and shattering the space-station into a million pieces. The aftermath threw our cage out of course into a turmoil. By the time it righted, Sparta was nothing more than a memory.