Alex Kaidan pressed the smiley face icon on his wrist console and all hell broke loose. Well, most of it anyway. The main lights cut out and the deck lurched as the coordinated computer virus and explosives did their thing.
“You better be ready, Dann!”
Following a pause of a length that could only ever be described as unsettling, Alex's second-in-command simply responded with, "Erm."
The artificial gravity suddenly increased in an entirely unintended manner causing Alex to be pulled to the floor and be pinned there for several seconds before it finally went offline completely. He cursed himself for his poorly written virus code as he pushed himself up off the deck, steadying himself so as not to drift away. He then activated the mini-gravs on his oversized boots, anchoring himself to the floor.
He took a deep breath, making a mental note to increase the O2 concentration next time, before he said, calmly and deliberately, "What do you mean, 'erm'? What could possibly warrant an 'erm' in this finely detailed and well-established rescue mission we spent weeks working on?"
“They, er, don’t want to be rescued.”
"Um, well the prisoners don't want to come. They say they like it here."
“They like it?” They’re not allowed to like it - it’s a prison.”
“Actually, it’s quite nice. It’s warm and the food is awesome, ooh and they’ve got this artificial waterfall and...” He seemed to realise that he was wittering, and so finished fairly abruptly with, “Well, it’s better than my cabin anyway.”
"Well did you explain to them that they’re being held against their will for the purposes of alien experimentation and that what's left of their own race is depending on them for its very survival?”
"Hang on," he said. There was a short pause and then Dann returned to the conversation, “Yeah, they don't believe me, but the spokesperson says that even if it was true, it’s a relatively small price to -”
Alex cut him off mid-sentence, “Dann, I’ve just triggered the explosion on the main part of the station. We've also killed the gravity here. Atmosphere is venting out and any second now the institute's security force is going to be on us, and that’s if they haven’t started to abandon the station which, I hasten to add, is now probably well on its way to being in a decaying orbit.”
“Yeah, we felt a bit of a judder - it’s starting to look as if you’re going to have a few angry homeowners down here, let me tell you.”
“Tell them that they’re will be a few dead homeowners very shortly unless they come with us.”
It took him a few moments to process what Alex had just told him, before he cautiously ventured the response, "So....You want me to shoot them...?”
“No, Dann. I meant that the space-station is about to crash into the planet and kill them all unless they come with us.”
He breathed an audible sigh of relief, “Okay, I’ll tell them.”
“Unless you think threatening to shoot them will help at all?”
“Probably not, Alex.”
He terminated the call and ventured into the corridor to which the shuttle's docking needle had breached. It was here that he had been able to deploy the virus onto their system and from here that he had initiated the weaponised drone. Previous generations of Humans would have been comfortable referring to this drone as a remote controlled car with a bomb strapped to it, although they may have been somewhat bemused by the strange protrusion mounted on its surface which gave it the ability to press door buttons. However, all of that was before Alex's time, at least in this incarnation.
Dann Iko, meanwhile, had been tasked with boarding the station via a second shuttle which was larger due to the anticipated quota of returning passengers - a quota that they now seemed to be having trouble meeting. In addition to Alex and Dann, the boarding party also included Sara Heath and Matthias Cho, who had been strategically placed throughout the area to act as lookouts. He switched his transmitter to conference, “Anyone else having difficulties?”
The first to respond was Sara, "What do you mean 'difficulties'? Please tell me you haven't screwed this one up, too."
Her tone made Alex feel uneasy, particularly because she had spoken to him in virtually the same manner as that with which he had just responded to Dann. He thought that it would be wise to reassert his authority, "Do I have to remind you that you are addressing your captain?!"
"Sorry, Captain. Please tell me you haven't screwed this one up too, sir."
"That's more like it," said Alex, confident in his firmly re-established position of leadership, "it's nothing we can't handle. The prisoners simply wish to stay in their cell, that's all."
"They what? I told you not to send Dann to get them. I wouldn't trust that idiot to put his pants on the right way, let alone ensure the fate of the future of the Human race. I'm going to sort it out."
"Remain in position."
Matthias now chipped in, "I'm coming too."
He should have expected this. Matthias would follow Sara out of an airlock naked if she asked him too. Particularly, if she asked him to do it naked, in fact. There were now so few women left that an especially manipulative one like Sara could get men like him to do anything she wanted. In theory anyway - she was here as part of his ragtag crew on a dubiously obtained ship raiding alien facilities rather than being back at The Village, so maybe the others had grown tired of her scheming. On reflection, his whole crew were with him for the wrong reasons, but Alex had to take whatever help he could get.
"Return to your positions. That's an order."
Neither of them replied. Alex cursed them over the open conference channel.
He poked his head out into the corridor only to see several of the station's security guards coming around the corner, as predicted. It was an intriguing sight. The Nedic, who ran the institute, had ten limbs that were capable of clinging on to every surface, allowing them to traverse the corridors with ease. The lack of gravity clearly did not seem to trouble them, nor did the vastly reduced air supply caused by the blast. Bulkheads would have been automatically sealed by now no doubt, but the sudden dip in oxygen levels should have caused anything not wearing a space suit, as he was, to undergo at least a temporary inconvenience. Both of these inconsistencies prompted Alex to speculate whether they had biologically adapted to a life in space. If that was the case, could it be that the gravity was only activated for the comfort of the prison population? He had to concede that he just did not know enough about the Nedic to be able to judge.
The guards had their weapons already drawn. He counted five of them as he unholstered his pistol - a bulky force wave projection device of Un design - and took aim.
One spotted him and dived for cover with surprising agility for a blob with ten spindly limbs. Alex took advantage of the momentary confusion in the others and fired, knocking two down at once.
The other three returned fire with one hitting the wall which he was hiding behind. Alex thanked the various deities he had heard of that the Nedic were not a carnivorous species and as such, did not have forward facing sensory organs. This meant that while it was difficult to sneak up on a Nedic, they fortunately could not shoot straight.
He poked his gun around the corner and fired blindly, unknowingly mirroring the Nedic's firing pattern surprisingly well. Of the remaining guards, one was hit (although it was shot inadvertently by another Nedic), leaving two. Alex felt that it could be a good time to attempt to negotiate, while he had the upper hand but before more of them turned up.
"Stop firing!" he yelled into the collar that came up from under his suit, half-covering his face. The collar not only provided the air he was breathing, but also contained a microphone for his galactic translation software which ran on his wrist console, "I'm just here for the Humans, then we'll leave. There's no need for more bloodshed!"
The translator beeped helpfully and displayed a message on his wrist console suggesting the use of an alternative to the word ‘bloodshed’ as Nedic did not have blood, instead relying on the diffusion of gasses through their many lung-sacs positioned throughout their bodies. While this information went some way towards helping him to understand why the sounds emanating from the translator resembled the sounds of chronic, multi-orifice flatulence, it was less than useful in a fire fight. Alex dismissed the message impatiently and tried negotiation once more, "Sorry about the explosion, um, thing."
Negotiation clearly was not his strong suit, as the only reply was an increase in the number of projectiles that continued to take sizeable chunks out of random nearby structures. It was at that moment when Dann's voice chirped across the conference channel, “We have another situation down here, Alex."
"Busy!" he screamed.
"Yeah, okay, but they’ve decided to stay and wait for the Nedic to, um, rescue them."
A surge of anger swept through his body and he channelled it by standing up, aiming and quickly picking off the last two assailants. He looked around and was relieved to find there were no more guards, but then felt disappointed that there was no one to see the bravest thing he had ever done in his entire life. Instead, he angrily addressed Dann's latest problem, "They want the Nedic to rescue them... from us?!"
"Yeah, that's about the size of it."
Then he heard Sara's voice through Dann's microphone, "You're coming with us, all of you. Humanity shouldn't be spread out at a time like this. We need you and you need us."
Now the prisoners were talking all at once and he could not make anything specific out.
He switched to a private channel as he began the slow walk in zero-G to their position, "Dann, keep her calm, I'm working my way over to you, but we need to convince these people that they're better off coming with us. The last thing we need is Sara going mental on us and-"
He heard the sound of a gun being fired over Dann's microphone.
"Oh Jesus! Oh Muhammad! Oh crap! Sara just shot one of them! Point-blank. Oh no, I think he's dead."
Above the screaming, Sara shouted, "Anyone else want to stay behind?"
The return journey for Alex was tortuous, alone in the smaller shuttle, but he could only imagine the atmosphere of fear and hatred in the other one as both headed back to the ship. With Nedic security on its way and the Human prisoners now compliant, there was nothing to do except withdraw to the shuttle. He did make sure that Dann brought along the corpse of the man who had challenged Sara for a proper funeral - he did not even know his name. Alex was suddenly overcome with guilt. He was the one who had hired Sara. Not that there was much choice, but still it was him who had sent her on this mission. He knew she was a shoot first, ask questions later type - he had even privately admired her attitude at times. Even so, he could not believe that Sara would kill another Human. To kill anything in cold blood (or diffusion lung-sacs, or whatever) was wrong, but to do so in front of that person's family and friends was just monstrous.
Now she was over on the other shuttle, armed, nervous no doubt, probably angry and representing what was supposed to be the best and the last of Humanity. The Human prisoners would never voluntarily join The Village now. Sara was a liability and she had to go. Worst of all, she knew Alex well enough to know that this would be exactly what he would be thinking. He just hoped that she would not do anything stupid.
The Nedic did not bother them for the remainder of the trip. The shuttles passed several of their vessels, but all were bound for the stricken institute and none stopped to challenge them.
By the time Alex's smaller shuttle had docked with his ship, the larger, better powered one had been there for well over twenty minutes. He opened the shuttle's inner airlock and cool air rushed in. He made a mental note - as he always did about this time - to remember to give the ship a name. He had had it for almost two years now and the fact that it was still unnamed was beginning to get silly. He was edging towards calling it the 'Permanent Loan', but was still undecided. He initially had his heart set on the 'Kaidan Maiden' but his crew refused to paint the name onto the side of the ship until he came up with something better. It had turned out to be for the best - the amount of covert missions that they had undertaken where blending in as just another Un vessel had saved their lives since he had acquired the ship was becoming legendary back at The Village. Having 'Kaidan Maiden' plastered across the hull in Human-English lettering probably would have given the game away on more than one occasion. Besides, as the only ship in the Human fleet it did not really matter, especially as the other races did not tend to name their ships.
His thoughts were interrupted by the annoyingly chirpy voice of Liam Tsang over the transmitter, "Welcome back, Captain!"
Liam was a sycophant, which annoyed him, but he had still left him in charge of the ship whilst he and Dann were away. Having never gotten around to giving the crew any kind of formal rank, seniority had become sort of determined by how long each crew member had been there. He did not want to leave Liam in charge, but the only other person with the experience to pilot the ship was Sara. Had he left her behind but not in charge of the ship then questions would be asked, eyebrows raised and so on. For some reason, she was respected by the others, and it was for this reason that Alex had not gotten rid of her a long time ago. That and the lack of anything resembling a replacement. At the time, he felt his hands were tied: even if she did not try to run off with it, giving her command of the bridge would have been disastrous - but he clearly had no idea just how disastrous the decision to bring her along on the mission instead would get.
The outer airlock began to open on automatic. Normally, the first sight of the docking bay through the crack between opening airlock door and bulkhead filled his heart with joy, safe in the knowledge that he had survived another mission and now was back in the welcoming embrace of his ship. Today was different. He had been dreading this moment since he departed the institute.
"Where the hell is Sara and what has she done with the freed prisoners?" he barked at Liam.
"She put them in the brig - sounded a bit weird but she said it was your idea. I guess she's still there with them".
"Liam, we don't have a brig. We've never had a brig. All we have is a padlock."
"Yes, sir. Sorry, Captain Kaidan."
"And stop calling me sir," he added bitterly as he started off towards the only cargo hold they had with a working door on it.
Well before he reached the ‘brig’, he could hear Sara shouting at Dann. When he got there, Sara had her back to the entrance and was trying to convince him that the prisoners should remain that way until they pass a loyalty test, all the time gesticulating wildly with her unholstered gun.
Alex took out his pistol for the second time that day, walked up behind Sara and placed it firmly against her head. She had not noticed his approach over the shouting.
She froze as he calmly said, "Would you like to explain to me why you're waving your gun around near my second in command and our new guests?"
"You don't know what's happening here, Alex."
"No I don't, but that's what happens when my crew don't follow orders and then start shooting unarmed civilians."
"He was threatening to call in the Nedic."
"And so you shot him?!"
"I made a command decision. Now please remove the gun from my head. It's very unprofessional."
"How could you have made a command decision when you weren't in command? Dann was in command; you were supposed to be on lookout. You shouldn't have even been there. So no, I won't remove this gun from your head because you deserve to share the same fate as the man you shot in cold blood."
As he was talking Dann had slowly and deliberately approached her and she allowed him to take the weapon from her hand. The sudden and mass relief that emanated from the crowd was visible.
Alex then added, "Unless, of course, you can convince me of a compelling reason why you were forced to do so?"
"I already told you. He said that he would tell the Nedic that we were there."
"And you tried to talk him out of it for how long before killing him?"
She began to fidget with her now empty hands and looked uncomfortable. Alex knew her well enough to know that she had probably managed to convince herself that what she had done was for the greater good. He also knew that now that she was disarmed and no longer in control, this illusion would break down as she could no longer hide from the consequences of her actions.
"I tried to convince him..."
The atmosphere of the crowd silently intensified as if they all had clenched their fists and gritted their teeth simultaneously.
"Not from what I could hear and I'm sure one or two of these people may disagree with your version."
“Can we talk about this in private?”
"Look, I just panicked, okay?"
"Not okay, Sara. A man is dead. And we don't have many of them left."
"I'll make it right," she whispered, hoarsely.
Alex looked at Dann, "Confine her to her cabin for her own safety until we work out what to do with her."
Dann escorted her away at gunpoint using her own weapon, leaving Alex to face the crowd alone.
Now that he was able to divert his attention from Sara, he scanned his eyes around the room and estimated that there must be close to a hundred of them. A massive number for Humans. There were young children and a few middle aged people. There were not many old people, strangely. It was a fairly even split between men and women.
Somebody in the crowd coughed politely and he realised he was just stood there, staring. Now came the moment he had been dreading. He looked up and addressed the expectant crowd, "Hello," he started, only to stop immediately when his voice exited his mouth at a significantly squeakier pitch than normal.
He silently cursed his nerves, muttered an apology, and cleared his throat before trying again, "Hello, my name is Alex Kaidan. I am the captain of this, the first and only Human ship capable of utilising Strachan currents, allowing FTL travel. I would like to -" he stopped after realising that he had missed a bit, and backtracked, "Oh, that's faster than light, by the way. So - oh hang on. You do speak Human-English don't you? Not Nedic?"
"We can understand both," came a tired female voice from the crowd, "But we can only speak English."
It was a stupid question, he realised. Sara had been talking to them in Human-English and he had already heard their voices over the communications channel.
"Right. Good. Well then, I would like to extend my welcome to you aboard this ship and invite you to join us at the Human colony of New Earth, or The Village as we like to call it."
If he were asked there and then to pick a word to describe the feelings expressed by a typical face in that audience he would have picked 'incredulity', although he might have had to look up the spelling first.
"On a more, um, specific level, I would like to apologise for the way in which you have been treated and say that I'm so sorry for your loss. This should not have happened - our intention was to liberate you from your captors. No matter how comfortable you were, they were still holding you prisoner. Sara - that woman - was not following orders when she did what she did. In fact, she was told to be somewhere else. Now a man is dead and she will be put on trial. In the meanwhile, basic sleeping accommodation has been set up on a different cargo hold and you'll be pleased to hear that its door doesn't lock. You have the run of the ship and please consider yourselves our guests."
A young woman stepped forward. The same one as had spoken previously, "That's it? ‘Sorry’? We don't consider ourselves your guests - we consider ourselves your hostages. Take us back!"
Alex thought that she could be beautiful if she held herself with a little more confidence. She currently seemed to slouch in an unattractive manner.
“Are you the nominated spokesperson for the group?”
"My name is Eleni; the man you shot was called Jens. He was the spokesperson for our group when dealing with the Nedic so now we don’t have a spokesperson. He was also my father."
Alex now felt doubly guilty. A single tear rolled down the right side of her face.
"I ..." was all he was able to muster.
“We just want to go home.”
He sighed, "We can't. Even if we wanted to. We sabotaged the institute so that we could free you. It will soon be destroyed so you can’t go back there, and we certainly won’t take you to a Nedic planet because it would no doubt result in our capture and probably our death."
"The Nedic aren't like that. They're our friends. They'd let you leave if we asked them to."
"Look, under the circumstances I understand why you wouldn't have much faith in your own species about now, but you can’t trust the Nedic. Just because they’ve been good to you - just because you were having a whale of a time on your orbital pleasure palace - it doesn’t mean that they’ve got your best interests at whatever they have that passes for a heart."
"What are you talking about?"
"We don’t know if they were keeping you as their guests as you claim, or if it was part of an experiment, hell, you could even be their pets for all we know. As far as we can work out from the intel we managed to gather before we came here, the Nedic abducted your distant grandparents from Earth back when it was still there. Now I don’t know if you’ve heard, but now it’s gone and Humanity’s a dying breed. We're gonna have a real problem with inbreeding and genetic disease in a few years time and could really do with some new blood - quite literally - if our race is going to survive then we need to all band together."
“And this is what you call 'banding together'?"
"No it's not. It's completely the opposite. It's a member of my crew going off the rails and killing another Human and it's something that I'm going to have to live with for the rest of my life. She shouldn't've been there. She shouldn't've even been on my crew in the first place, but there's so few of us left and we don't exactly have a queue of people lining up to replace her."
He was aware that he was ranting to a woman who had just lost her father, but he was also trying to vindicate himself from what happened to the others and probably also to himself, "I know you've suffered a tragic loss. I know it’s because of our actions, but you must believe us when we tell you that we only did it because we are desperate. The Earth has been destroyed. That probably means nothing to you."
"Oh, I don't know. I'd say we're pretty well placed to understanding what it feels like to lose our home."
"Look, if I'd known what she'd do..." His voice dropped to a whisper and he looked her straight in the eye, "If I'd had any idea..."
She didn't answer. Neither of them spoke for several seconds, although to Alex and many others in the crowd, it felt much longer. Eleni just stared at Alex while he stared at his feet.
"What's a whale?" A child near the front of the crowd asked, innocently.
His mother shushed him. Alex looked up at the boy and quietly admitted, "I've no idea."
He addressed the whole crowd once more, but avoiding looking at Eleni (who was probably still staring at him), "Please try to make yourselves comfortable while we try to sort this mess out as best we can. I'll be back soon."
With that he turned and walked out, all the while feeling as if he was running away. Probably because he was.
As he turned into the corridor he heard the boy once more, "Mummy, do they have a swimming pool here?"
"I don't think so, dear," she replied.
"Did you hear what happened?" Alex asked Rhyna Shin as he entered the medical bay. He could have just called her but he liked the walk. The peace and quiet of the ship's corridors always gave him the chance to avoid people and their problems for a few minutes. This was mainly due to the fact that the ship was massively underutilised, having been designed to house many Un, who were naturally larger than an average Human.
Rhyna, who was working on a large, fixed-place medical console, turned and briefly half-smiled comfortingly. She replied in a downbeat tone, "Yeah."
Alex sighed. He was relieved that he did not have to go over the details and relive that moment when he heard the shot, but also disappointed that someone else had told Rhyna, who had become his confidant over the years, before he had.
"Alex, it's all over the ship. Of course I've heard."
"I still can't believe she just killed a man."
"I can. Sara’s always been the type to think the means are justified by the end. I bet even now she has no regrets. I never did like her."
"Hardly a time for I told you so."
"True. Although I did."
"She wasn't supposed to be there. I only brought her because I couldn't trust her in charge of the ship. I should've... I couldn't... God, it sounds so hollow now."
Rhyna approached him and put her hand on his shoulder. She looked him in the eyes and said, "It wasn't your fault, Alex. If any of us knew what she'd be capable of beforehand then we would have ditched her there and then."
He met her gaze, then nodded and composed himself.
"So what have you done with her?" she asked, removing her hand and resuming the work she was doing on the console.
"Just confined her to her cabin for now. Dann's guarding her."
She stopped working once again and looked up, "That's a little luxurious isn't it? Considering what she did."
"Maybe, but I wanted her to cool down and tell me her side without a gun against her head first. Besides, the brig was in use at the time."
“You mean the padlock?”
“So what are you planning to do with her?”
"Good question. I promised the Nedics’ prisoners a trial, but there's no telling what The Villagers would do when she's found guilty. The Village doesn't have the resources to man a prison and there's no way they'd pollute their precious gene pool with the genes of a murderer," Alex waggled his fingers mockingly to signify quotation marks around the 'genes of a murderer' part.
"What? You think they'd execute her? That's crazy."
"It’s possible, unless they turn her over to the Un for them to deal with."
"Spending the foreseeable future in an alien prison doesn't sound like fun either."
He shrugged, "Guess she should have thought of that."
"Are you sure they'll find her guilty?"
"Er, yeah," he said, sarcastically. Then the doubt set in, "Of course, why wouldn't they?"
"Well the only witnesses were Dann and Matthias and there's no way Matthias will testify against the love of his life."
"And what about the hundred or so prisoners we just freed."
"The prisoners who don't feel they were prisoners and want to go back? The same ones who probably won't be joining us back to The Village, from what I hear?"
Alex was genuinely confused, "From who? It’s been like twenty minutes since I've got back."
"From ‘whom’,” she corrected him.
“Yes, and news travels faster than you do. Especially when you're meandering through those corridors and stairs."
"Hey, it helps me think."
"The rest of us think in the elevators."
"Yeah, whatever. Anyway, I'm working on the prisoners. And what about me? Don't I count as a witness?"
"Did you see it?"
"I heard it."
"So it's Sara and Matthias' word against Dann's, with you as a supporting witness - odds are still in her favour."
"Are you being deliberately difficult?"
"No, but my genetic donor was a lawyer so maybe it's in my DNA."
The genetic donor she was referring to was one of the original Humans that founded The Village. They came from one of two sources: survivors and abductees. The survivors were the handful of people rescued by the single Un research ship that was covertly monitoring Earth, minutes before the planet was destroyed. The rest were like the Nedic prisoners. Humans donated to the Un by other races from any research colonies that they had established from abducted Humans prior to Earth's demise. Most races had turned over all of their Humans so that the race was not permanently lost, until the dominant race in the known galaxy had banned it and ordered that all races destroy their stocks of Humans. This race went by a name that loosely translated to the word ‘Pathfinders’.
The Un assured the Pathfinders that they had done as they wished, but in actual fact had established a new Human colony on the very large moon that orbited their home-world, instead. They renamed the moon ‘New Earth’, but it had colloquially became known as ‘The Village’. By the time the Un (along with whatever now passed as the Human scientific establishment at the time) had mastered Human cloning, most of these first colonists had died of old age. By this point, it was realised that the lack of genetic diversity would severely hinder any slim chance for survival Humanity had left and so specimens were kept. Eventually, they were able to clone new Humans from the DNA held within the samples from these early colonists.
Very few of these genetic donors lived long enough to see their clones, but it had now become almost impolite not to ask, "Did you ever meet her?"
"Nah,” she said, “Way before my time, but I did come across some of her old notes. Her children passed them on to me after she died - that was weird, meeting them."
"Children, eh? Sounds like your evolutionary purpose has been fulfilled before you'd even begun. You keep in touch?"
"Yeah. A bit. How about you? You were cloned too weren't you?"
She narrowed her eyes, not sure whether to believe him or not. After a time, she ventured a cautious, "Really?"
"It's not like you to keep something like that quiet."
"Well, kind of. He just trained as one. Never actually made it into space. It was a big thing back then."
"Yeah, well, total coincidence. He was bagged by the Sereti with his wife not long before Earth got paved."
"Don't ask? Are you mad? 'Course I'm going to ask! I can’t believe you’ve not mentioned it all this time. Did they clone her too?"
"So you mentioned some notes?"
Rhyna scowled at him, but he did not budge, "Fine, be like that, but I'll get it out of you eventually."
"Uh-huh. And the notes...?"
"Hmm. Well, they mentioned something they used to call a court-martial. It gave military types the power to preside over a trial in certain circumstances and, seeing as though you like to refer to this -" she gave the nearest bulkhead a gentle kick, "- as 'the Human fleet', then you might just be able to get away with doing it."
“Hold a trial myself? You not think that’ll be a little bias, especially when I call myself as a witness?”
“You won’t need to if it happens while our guests are here.”
“Let me think about it.”
“Just a thought. But you’re going to have to do something about it sooner rather than later.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You know exactly what it means. It means you have a habit of putting everything off until the last minute when it’s something that you don’t want to do.”
"Like I said, let me think about it."
Knowing Alex well enough to appreciate that that would be all she would get from him without torture implements, she changed the subject, “How are our new guests doing?”
“Not bad. Considering. Coming across this many Humans is a rare find. I wish Sara hadn’t messed it all up. If they could just be persuaded to join The Village -”
“- I know, they have the potential to resolve so many of the problems we face.”
“It was no wonder Sara was so desperate to get them, but that desperation probably alienated them from us forever.”
They both stood there quietly for a moment or two, then Rhyna attempted to lighten the mood, "Any girls?"
"Lots," he replied.
Despite Alex being well aware that she was a lesbian, there were very few openly gay women left and thinking about it always made him smirk like a child. Over time, she had come to appreciate that the smirking was harmless and had almost grown accustomed to it. Unfortunately, not every Human’s reaction was so benign. Alex had first met her outside a bar in the Northern Quarter of The Village, not long before he had acquired the ship. She was there celebrating finishing her final exams of the Un run School of Human Medicine, but had become separated from her friends. As she left the bar, she was harassed by a gang of men, one of which she had rejected the advances of earlier in the evening. He had punched her in the face just as Alex and Dann were walking up to the entrance. While there were passers-by, most of whom that would normally protect another Human at all costs, the gang made it very clear to anyone who approached that “She's a dyke and doesn’t even deny it!”. Alex had thrown himself at the ringleader before Dann was even aware what was going on, and was rewarded by being beaten almost to death. Following this, the gang had run off and Rhyna had been spared whatever fate they had planned for her, although she and Dann did have to carry Alex to the hospital. The event, in addition to the constant bullying she had endured throughout her teenage years, was enough to make her abandon The Village to gallivant around the galaxy with Alex once he had offered her the position.
"Any good ones?" she enquired.
"Some, yeah, but there’s something, um, disconcerting about them.”
She leaned closer, “How so?”
“Well, they all seem to share a certain 'look'...”
“Yeah, there’s a word for it you use sometimes when you're talking genetics. Begins with an F.”
“You mean phenotype?”
Alex clicked his fingers and pointed at her, “Yeah, that’s it - phenotype.”
“Oh come on, are you suggesting that they’re that all inbred?”
A loud, really not particularly subtle cough suggested that not only was someone there, but had been for quite some time. They both looked at the doorway in unison and were horrified to see a man, a woman and a young boy, who was presumably their son. In the woman's arms was a very young baby.
Rhyna quickly overcame the embarrassed silence, "Hello, I'm Dr Shin, the ship's medical officer."
The woman did not speak, but her facial expression said everything it needed to. The man huffed and said, "We came about our daughter. She was born two weeks ago. My wife thought it would be best to get her checked out by a Human doctor, although we're now starting to wonder about the levels of professionalism in the field."
"Yes, well. Quite. If you'd like to bring her to the table, I'll be happy to give her a check-up for you."
Reluctantly, after being prodded by the man, the woman took her baby over to Rhyna. Alex stood back for a second. He felt that he should have left the room at that point, but it was not often that anyone got to see such a young child. The sight of her, being fussed over by two overprotective parents filled him with hope.
"Are you Captain Gayden?”
He had not noticed that the boy was now stood next to him. He had stayed back while his parents took his sister to be examined.
“Kaidan,” he corrected, "but yes, close enough."
"The others said you were on Eden too."
"Eden? Is that what you called the institute?"
"Eden's what we call home, yes."
“Oh. Sounds nice.”
"Did you blow it up?"
"A bit, yes," That sounded inadequate somehow, so he added, "Sorry about that."
"Oh, I liked it there. Can I ask you another question?"
He shrugged, "Sure."
"When you were there, did you shoot any of the Nedic?"
"I had to. To help free you."
"Free us from what?"
Alex felt uncomfortably like he was about to get himself into trouble again. He looked at the boy's parents who had not noticed that they were talking yet, but then decided to just tell him it anyway, "From the Nedic. They were holding you prisoner."
"Yes, it may not have felt like it but they were."
"I don't know."
"Are they dead, like Jens?"
"The Nedic guards? No, I just use this force wave projection device. See?" he said, instinctively removing the pistol to show it to him. Suddenly, he then realised that if the parents were to turn around and see him offering their child a loaded weapon, it might not increase his already diminished popularity levels and so he quickly placed it back in the holster, "Anyway, that was it. Don't tell anyone I showed it to you."
"But you shot them?"
"I did, but it only stuns things. It doesn't kill them."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, very. In fact, the Un who gave it to me insisted that I know what it felt like before he let me use it on others. Of course he didn't tell me that at the time - he just shot me with it," Alex grimaced as he recalled the memory.
"What did it feel like?"
"Have you ever done a belly flop?"
"Dived flat onto water, so that it kind of smacks you full on in the face and abdomen at the same time.”
“Well, it’s like that, but from space. I wouldn’t recommend doing it anyway. After the initial shock, it washes over you." The boy seemed to be taking it all in, so he continued, "The trick is to dive into it, you see. That lowers the available surface area exposed to the force wave.”
“Right..." he ventured, still confused, "so they’re okay then?”
“Well, they’d be unconscious for a bit, but I have no doubt that your captors will be rescued very soon if they haven’t been already,” he started to digress, probably because each and every one of the boy’s questions made him feel more and more guilty, “Funny thing unconsciousness, no matter what the biology, all races seem to do it if you hit them hard enough with something. Even the Plius and they’re made of rock, well sort of.”
“They’re my friends.”
“What? Oh, the guards? Okay. Well, they’ll be fine.”
“Good, thanks. Can I ask you another one now?" The boy’s questioning was relentless.
"Yes, if you want."
"Why didn’t that woman who shot Jens have one of those guns then?”
He opened his mouth to talk, but then closed it once he realised that he did not have to words to fill it. Instead, he stood there looking at the boy for a long time, completely unable to answer. Why did Sara have a gun? The fact of the matter was that they had been under-equipped for so long, having to barter and steal equipment wherever they could, that once one person had the means to defend themselves, he had never given it a second thought. By now, they had enough equipment that he could have recalled all lethal weaponry, like her projectile weapon, but this kind of situation had never come up before. As a group, they specialised in stealth, hit-and-run tactics. It was rare for them to ever get involved in a fire fight and when they did, it was even rarer for any of them to ever actually manage to hit anything. Sara had killed a man in cold blood, and as he understood it, at point-blank range.
The boy’s mother eventually called him over before Alex was able to muster together any kind of explanation.
While the father was with the baby and the mother was calling over the boy, Rhyna looked up and whispered to him, “Alex, stop procrastinating and go and deal with Sara."
"Uh, yeah. Okay," he said, still fazed. Then he snapped himself out of it, “Yeah fine, I’ll check in on Dann, but I’m going to need to talk to Matthias before I talk to Sara."
She nodded and then shooed him out of the medical bay with her hand.
“Oh one more thing," he said, pretending that he had forgotten, "When you’re done here I need you to give all of our new guests a quick medical and, er, take some samples.”
She knew exactly what he meant. They had been recently been informed by a Human scientist working with the Un that they were close to mastering the technology to be able to extract a type of self-renewing cell from blood and use it to create sperm and egg cells. Alex knew that Rhyna would consider doing this without their permission highly unethical, but still necessary if they could not be convinced to stay.
While clearly not impressed, she was not in any position to argue in front of the family and so simply said, “Fine” in a tone that suggested that it really was not fine at all.
"By the way," he added as he left, ‘procrastinating’ - Good word!”
Once he had tiptoed his way out of the medical bay, he called Dann, "How's it going?"
"All safe and snug, locked in her cabin. She did try to escape so I had to knock her out."
"What? Was that necessary?"
"After she went for my gun? Maybe not. After she kicked me in the balls? Yes, I'd say it was."
"Oh, right. You okay?"
"Wouldn't mind a sit down, to be honest with you."
"Okay, fair enough. I’m going to the bridge to find Matthias so I’ll tell Liam he's on guard duty while I'm there. Once he arrives, you can go and tend to your wounds."
"One more thing, Dann. What sort of gun have you got?"
"I've got two at the minute. Mine and Sara's. Both projectile. Why?"
"I'll tell you later."
The bridge was nothing like that of an old Human-designed seafaring ship. Not that Alex knew anything about those bridges, other than the name. The Un-designed bridge was a sphere in the exact centre of the vessel where it was most heavily shielded. There were no windows, a luxury reserved for the observation lounges throughout the outer layer of the vessel. Instead, images from external sensors were projected onto the walls of the sphere so that it looked and felt like the bridge crew were floating in space with nothing except the consoles in front of them.
The Un visual sensory analogy saw things differently to the Human eye, being better in many regards, and having no trouble discerning the jet black console from the darkness of space around them. As such, Alex had had a thin white outline painted on to the border of the consoles so that the crew could find them when they were not lit up. He had also had some high-chairs welded to the translucent flooring so that the Human crew was able to fully dip their hands into the three-dimensional consoles, which resembled upturned, empty boxes filled with floating lights and virtual icons, and that were designed for the larger Un arm-length. This had only caused a problem on one notable occasion when nobody had seen a patrol vessel because it was behind Alex’s chair. Since then, he had had mirrors fitted to the back of each of the two pilots’ chairs and swapped the chairs with similar ones that swivelled. Of course, this had led to a subsequent problem where the entire bridge crew got nauseous following a fairly standard, turning manoeuvre. The swivel chairs had finally been fitted with brakes and the rest was history.
Currently the bridge was occupied by Liam, whom he had caught in his seat, and the latest addition to the crew, trainee navigator, Jacques Whitman.
"Anyone seen Matthias since he got back?"
"Sorry, Captain," said Liam, sheepishly. Alex was unsure if he was apologising for not having seen Matthias or for having commandeered his chair.
"Nope, sorry. He's not been in here. Have you tried calling him?" suggested Jacques.
"He's not answering."
"Maybe he's having a shower?"
"Either way, I'm glad you're here. I've been meaning to ask you if you wouldn't mind helping me with these stream predictions. When you've got a minute that is."
He thought about it for a second, then decided that he would help the trainee navigator and find Matthias later on, "Yeah okay, Jacques, but don't let me forget to call Matthias again in a few minutes."
"Thanks," he said, vacating his seat so that Alex could sit at the console, "I just can't seem to find any Strachan currents nearby."
Alex began to study the simulations that Jacques had already put together. There was no doubting that he had a talent for this kind of thing, which is why he had appointed him navigator even though he was relatively new. That and the departure of his previous navigator who had been allocated a partner several months before and who was now excessively pregnant. Jacques was a more than capable replacement, but sometimes he was just too thorough.
"This is your problem here," he said after a few minutes, pointing to something in the console that was far too high up for him to see when not in the chair, "I've warned you about this before, your models are always too complex. They're good, but take far too long to run and then you miss things."
Jacques silently watched Alex in awe as he waved his hands around in the console for several further minutes, manipulating the lights in an almost automatic way.
"Here. This is why. We need to reduce the size of this variable about ten-fold. It's all about abstraction."
Barely able to see, Jacques cringed as Alex appeared to wipe away several hours worth of his work with the replacement of a single variable, but he was then amazed to watch the console happily churn out predictions for the locations of the nearest Strachan currents, or streams as they were also called.
"It looks like your nearest stream is about 900 kilometres starboard, and it might just be headed in the right direction too."
"Yessir," Jacques said happily, before adding, "which way are we headed?"
"Home, of course."
"So the prisoners have agreed to come back with us?"
"Well, I wouldn't go that far just yet, but they can't make an informed decision without at least seeing The Village first now can they?"
"I guess not," he replied, still partially unconvinced.
A square of bright light appeared in the blackness of space as the main Un-sized door to the bridge slid open.
Four of the liberated prisoners walked in as a group, Three women including the spokesperson whom he had already forgotten the name of, and a young man who was probably in his late teens, trailing behind.
He quickly and quietly finished giving his orders, "So just head over to that stream and set the sail for that place we just talked about, okay?"
Jacques nodded, then the nod turned into a head shake as soon as Alex turned his back to greet the guests.
"Yes. Hello again..."
"Yes, Eleni, of course. I hadn't forgotten," he lied (badly).
"Are we going somewhere?"
Suddenly, Alex remembered that he had forgotten something, "Oh sorry, one moment."
He turned back to Liam, "Liam, will you go to Sara's cabin and relieve Dann on guard duty. He's been injured."
"Nothing serious I hope," said Eleni.
"Just his, er, pride really," he said, "and possibly also his joy."
There was something else nagging at him but he dismissed it while he dealt with the spokesperson, "So are you here a tour or is there something that you needed me for?"
"We are here to formally ask you once more to return us to our protectors."
"I assume you mean the Nedic, your captors?"
"We do mean the Nedic, but as it is you who are holding us against our will, that makes you people our captors."
"No, I'm sorry. We can't. And for what it’s worth, I sorry you feel that way about us. All I can do is take you with us back to New Earth and give you my word that the Un will be happy to return you to your former enslavers. Anyway, you never know, you might like it there."
"What makes your home better than ours? You're kept by the Un. How are the Un any different to the Nedic?"
"Taller, less limbs, better shots, that kind of thing."
She was not impressed.
"Listen, Lanie -"
"- "Eleni!" she interrupted, clearly getting annoyed now.
"Sorry. Eleni. The Village - New Earth, I mean, is a free Human colony. We manage our own affairs, we have a democracy. It’s not perfect but we’re on the right track. It deserves to be considered, or at least just seen!"
"Please, Captain, the Nedic will be worried about us."
"My decision is final. You will come with us to New Earth and then if you don't like it you can get a lift back to the Nedic from the Un, and if that's not good enough for you then you can damn well walk home for all I care."
She looked at him aghast and he realised that he had overstepped the mark.
"Look, I'm sorry. It's just been a difficult day," he said.
"Really? Did someone blow up your home, kidnap you then kill..." she could not finish her sentence through the tears. One of the other women grabbed her and pulled into a hug to console her. Negotiation really was not Alex's strong suit.
She pulled herself free to face him again, "If you promise to let us leave..."
"I do. You will be free to go. If there was a way of returning you without risking the lives of my crew I would do so right now after what happened, but this is the only way."
He allowed her a moment to compose herself.
"Well then, the least you can do is let me see my father's body."
Alex was surprised, "You don't have it?"
Conscious of Eleni's current state, one of the other women calmly said, "One of your men took it from the shuttle when we got here. The one who wasn't there when you turned up."
She must have meant Matthias.
"Yes of course," he had forgotten all about him, "He must have thought he was helping somehow. I'm on my way to see him now as part of my investigation so I assure you that I will see that.... erm.... her father is returned immediately."
The woman turned back to face Eleni and the three women left as a huddle with the spokesperson crying and the other two looking behind them to scowl at him all the way to the door.
The teenager had remained behind.
"Captain?" he said.
Alex was exasperated, "I'm sorry, but can this wait? I've got to see somebody about a body."
“My name's Reza. I was just wondering if I could join your crew?”
“Because I'm hated enough by your people as it is without resorting to kidnapping a child.”
“Seventeen years old.”
“Kid, do you even know what a year is?”
"Of course I do, it’s one orbit of Earth around its parent star, the Sun - about three hundred and sixty five days, give or take."
That threw him a little. He knew it was somewhere around that, but had always thought it closer to four hundred.
"Yeah... That's right," he said, hesitantly, "Did your institute's environmental controls mimic all that?"
"No, we just had a twelve hour day-night cycle. I learned it from John, our keeper."
He had things to do, but now he was curious. Against his better judgement, he asked, "Keeper?"
"The keeper of the old knowledge. That's what he called himself. His granddad was the first keeper and he collected all the knowledge of the old world from everybody he could, before they forgot it all. The others hated it then and still do now. They think we should rely on the Nedic for all of our needs, but John said that it’s our duty to preserve what we learned for future generations."
"Oh, right. Well, this John sounds like a useful fellow to have around then."
"He's dead now. He didn't have any children of his own either, so he told it all to me. Guess that makes me the keeper now. This probably all sounds a bit silly to you."
"No, not really. We could probably do with a keeper of our own. To think of the things we've forgotten in a just a few years since Earth was lost... Except chemistry. We kept hold of that one to keep us alive."
"Why only chemistry?"
"Well it's not only chemistry, I'm sure there's other stuff, but it's 'cos there are no plants any more. There wasn't time to save any crops so we have to synthesize everything."
"None? But the institute was full of them"
Alex nearly had a heart-attack, "Useful ones? Crops?"
"Mainly decorative, I think. Nothing edible. We got our food ready prepared from the Nedic."
"Still - plants! Real Earth plants? Well, that was just one more reason why this mission couldn't possibly have gone any worse."
"So what do you eat?"
"We do alright. There's a few things that won't kill us and we can make everything else. The Un have helped us a lot in that department though, and the galaxy isn't shy when it comes to amino acids. Same goes for ethanol - Allah knows how bad it would have been if we didn't have alcohol."
"Alcohol? I've been told a lot about that. Mainly bad things though."
"Well," said Reza, "it's nice to see that you've got your priorities straight. Still, I always thought that the Islamic religion forbids it."
He shrugged again, "We like to hedge our bets when it comes to religion: We need all the help we can get. I'm told that there used to be two or three separate religions at one point but then they kind of merged into one when no-one could remember the difference any more. But still, best not to mention that thing about the alcohol to anyone else."
"Oh, right. Okay, so you think that a keeper would be useful to have around, and I want to join your crew, so problem solved: I'll be your keeper."
"That's not what I meant, kid. Where are your parents anyway?"
"My name is Reza. I told you that so stop calling me kid. And they're dead too."
"At least I think they are. The Nedic took them when I really was a kid, but the others say they were rewarded and moved on to a better place"
"Do you know why? Did they do something wrong."
"Don't think so. I was only young but I do remember them being big supporters of the Nedic like the others. Maybe they're right and they were moved on to a better place."
"I don't think so, I'm sorry Reza."
"Yeah well. Ancient history now."
"Look, by our standards, you're technically an adult -"
"Technically?" interrupted Reza.
"- so I guess you can do what you want and we're always desperate for new crew members -"
"Yes, especially now. But being on my crew will be hard work and I'm not sure we actually need a keeper. You'd no doubt be started off doing the jobs that no one else wants. Ship life isn't easy."
"I know, I know. I've heard the story of Treasure Island."
"Er... Treasure Island?"
"Robert Louis Stevenson's classic? No? Really? You so need a keeper."
"All I'm saying is go and have a think about it before you make any kind of decision. Talk it over with the others. Where are they anyway?"
"Most of them are in the big room with the windows."
"The main observation lounge? Oh right. I did wonder where they got to. Why don't you go and talk to them and then have a chat to Jacques here."
Jacques, who was still concentrating on analysing the new results, waved half-heartedly from the console.
"Why are you trying to put me off joining?"
"Because we're desperate for crew members, and if you insist then a I'll have to say yes -" Reza's face instantly changed from one of serious determination to a beaming smile. Alex continued, "- but if you're not fully committed to what we're doing here then we're going to end up in another situation like this one."
"No need to worry, Captain," he assured, "I am fully committed to the cause."
"The cause. What is it?"
"Oh... well... now you've put me on the spot," he flustered, before venturing, "Something to do with collecting people...?"
"Nice try. We're actually trying to reunite what's left of the Human race. Trying to gather as many people as possible from as diverse a range of genetic backgrounds as possible to ensure the survival of the species and give it the best shot for the future."
"Yeah. That. 100% committed."
"Look, if you're just looking to run away, I can take you to The Village. They're desperate for people too."
"No, no this sounds fine. Although I will get to see this village, won't I?"
"Once or twice, no doubt."
"Then I'm in."
"Hmmm. Well, that's good enough then, I suppose. At least we didn't scare you off at any rate. It would be understandable if we gave you a bad impression. Usually we don't free people against their will."
"Well you have one grateful ex prisoner, for what that's worth. Although, it is tragic about Jens. He was a good man."
"Yeah, I'm starting to get that impression, but you'll be pleased to hear that I'll be starting my investigation momentarily."
"Okay. Oh, one last question, this isn't a Human built ship is it? The stairs are too tall and all of the doors are too wide."
"No, it’s not. Well observed."
"So where did you get it?"
"I borrowed it, and that's two questions. See Jacques about getting a cabin assigned if you're sure about joining the crew. Right now though, I really have to go and find -"
Before he could say the word 'Matthias', Liam called the bridge crew.
"Captain, I've just got to Sara's cabin. She's gone and Dann's been knocked unconscious."
"What? How? Is he okay?"
"He's out cold, but I don't see any blood or bruises. Looks like he's been treated to a force wave. Door's been forced open from the outside too. My guess would be that she had some help."
"Jacques, load up the security feed for that corridor and find out who’s helping her.”
“On it,” Jacques replied.
"What's going on?" asked Reza, who was without a receiver or ear-piece, seeing only the sudden look of panic in both their faces. They ignored him.
“Liam, get Dann to the medical bay,” as he ran out, he shouted to both of them, “I'm headed for the docking bay - that’s where they’ll be going.”
By the time he had run as far as the nearest elevator, Jacques called him directly and informed him, "Got the vid footage, scanning through it now. Yeah, you were right, it was Matthias. I can clearly see him as he shoots out the camera. Bit pointless, that."
“What about the docking bay level?”
He knew Sara's way of doing things. He could not imagine that there would be any way that she would leave the ship without at least trying to steal it. First by trying to manipulate the others into giving her control, but that would always be a long-shot - a distraction more than anything, probably while she tried to hack into the ship's computer to change the command permissions. That would be difficult to pull off, so she would keep an exit ready: the shuttle. Unfortunately, the Un did not seem to have ever thought to add any kind of security to the shuttles, meaning that anyone could just take one.
“Try those that are near consoles but that aren’t too far from the shuttles. Oh, and start with any that are offline - he probably shot those too.”
“Riiiight...,” he said reluctantly, “That might take some time.”
“Do your best, but do it quickly,” said Alex, as he widened the conference channel to include Liam again, as well as Rhyna and the ship's engineers Ava Mbombo and Gino Estefan, "For those of you that aren't already up to speed, we have a situation in progress. Someone has knocked out Dann and released Sara from confinement, where she was placed while I investigated the killing of an unarmed Human. At this stage, we are suspecting Matthias of being involved. If anyone sees either of them, let me know immediately and do not let them leave the ship. Everyone get that?"
"Alex, you're on the wrong channel!" replied Rhyna privately, "Sara's trying to start a little mutiny. Inviting you now"
He accepted the invite and switched to the new conference call to catch the tail end of Sara's incitement, "- rid of him. How many more of these missions he's got us doing are going to go awry? And why is he so secretive about where he's getting his information from? What it comes down to is that he's not good enough to be our captain."
"I agree completely, but who's going to be captain then? You?" said Liam, clearly not noticing Alex's presence on the conference channel.
"Yeah, it's a fair point but what makes you think you'll be any better?" the voice was Ava's. They had never got on particularly well, but he had always respected her professionally. The sentiment was apparently not returned.
"I know how to pilot the ship, I know how to deal with aliens and I know how to get things done. Why not me? Unless you want to be led by Dann, the village idiot."
Then Gino took his chance to speak, "Better than a murderer."
"Yeah well, Kaidan isn't as righteous as he likes to make out. He's not exactly innocent -"
Alex quickly interjected, "- That's enough Sara."
"Captain?!" said Liam, quickly, "How long have you been here?"
"Shut up, Liam."
"Do you mind, we're having a private conversation," said Sara. While her words were confident and defiant, her voice seemed to crack a little suggesting that she was nervous, or maybe afraid.
"Haven't you done enough damage for one day? Where are you?" said Alex, now in the elevator and headed for the docking bay.
"As if I'd tell you."
"Just come back in, Sara. There's going to be a trial. It will be a fair trial, I promise you that. You'll have the chance to defend yourself."
"Oh good, will I get a gun?"
"I think you've already shown you can't be trusted with a gun, Sara. You'll get a lawyer and the opportunity to explain your actions."
"My actions? If it wasn't for my actions, we'd still be being shot at by the Nedic. My actions caused those humans to come here. Do you think they would have left otherwise? Do you think Dann might've been able to convince them?"
"You didn't see the place. It was idyllic. They never would have left and we were running out of time."
The elevator (which he had to admit really was considerably faster than wandering the corridors) arrived on the deck with the docking bay. All he had to do now was find which of the engineering consoles scattered around the deck she would be on. As the door opened, he saw the first of the consoles, but Sara was not using it. He quickly started towards the location of the second closest one.
Alex tried to keep her talking while he searched, "They wouldn't leave so you shot one of them? You think that was helpful? You've alienated them from us forever, there's no way they'll ever join us now."
"Who cares? We don't need them, we just need their genes. If they can't see what's good for them then we should lock them up and use them as baby factories for all I care."
He could now see the second console at the far end of the corridor and it too appeared to be vacant. There were two other suitable consoles close to the docking bay, but were in opposite directions to each other. He randomly picked the one in the direction to his right.
"Baby factories? Do you even know what you're saying? We're trying to help build a future for humanity here and that's going to take more than genetic material. The choices that we all make now will determine what kind of society it will be and I won't have it built on slavery."
He was running now, and he hoped that his heavier breathing did not give that away.
"Well that's very honourable of you, but we do things your way and there won't be a humanity left to appreciate your idealism. These are desperate times, we need to make tough decisions and you’ve never were particularly decisive, Captain" she spat out the last word.
"That's always been your problem. You think the end justifies the means. It doesn't."
He was not sure how much longer he could stretch out the conversation. As long as she was talking, she was not giving her full attention to the computer hack, and that bought him time. If she was not at this console however, she might even succeed, or at least do enough damage to the system architecture to cause them serious difficulties.
"Yes it does, and everyone on the crew knows that. Everyone but you. Why don't you step aside and let me take over. You're clearly not cut out to be captain."
"You wouldn't last five minutes. This is my ship. Want to be captain? Get your own."
“I’d love to - care to enlighten us as to how exactly you managed to steal an Un spaceship from Humanity’s only allies?”
“I didn’t steal it, I borrowed it.”
“Well now we’re going to borrow it off you.”
"You won't be able to convince them. Whatever their opinion of me, the crew won't follow someone who murders Humans."
"They follow you."
"If you pay attention, we can slowly go through this one more time. I'm not a murderer, whereas you are. Got all that?"
“No?” She asked, her voice purposefully dripping with spite and mock curiosity, “What about-”
Alex did not give her the chance to finish, “-Drop the gun, Sara!” he interrupted loudly, although this time, the words did not reach her via her ear-piece. He had got lucky and had chosen the right console. Sara looked directly up into the force wave projector segment of his gun.
“Captain,” said Jacques, “I’ve found her! I’ve managed to use a different camera and tilt it to see down another corridor, but I can see her-,” he stopped abruptly, “Oh, and you.”
“Thank you, Jacques. Yes, I have her now. Excellent work, by the way.”
“Erm, thanks,” he mumbled in reply, unsure of whether or not he had meant it.
“I underestimated you. How did you find me?”
“Just your M.O. I remembered the way you so gracefully ran away on Iosix.”
It was an old wound, "I didn’t run away, I was covering the exit.”
“As you are now. Drop the gun.”
“I don’t have a gun. I do have somewhere I need to be though, so I suggest you get out of my way.”
“Do you have a date? That might help to explain what happened to that corpse.”
That was low, he knew, but then so was stealing the body of the man you just shot from his daughter.
“I need it.”
“What off Earth for?”
“To make amends.”
“I’m not even going to start to try to comprehend how you think that you’re making amends by stealing a body, but what I am going to do is shoot you unless you drop the gun.”
“I don’t have-” Sara’ denial was interrupted as she was thrown across to the opposing bulkhead by the force wave from his gun.
“Or,” Alex said to himself in a sing-song tone, “I can just shoot you and then collect your gun from the floor here behind the console where you were hiding it waiting for the chance to kill me."
Before he did so, he stopped and looked over at her, "And now you're unconscious. And so now I'm talking to myself.”
Suddenly Jacques screamed into his ear, “Matthias! Matthias is behind you.”
His body tensed and he flipped his head around just in time to meet the barrel of Matthias’ gun, “Drop it please, Captain.”
“Oh, Matthias. What a surprise,” he said before adding sarcastically, “If only someone had warned me..."
“Sorry, Captain, I couldn’t see him down the other corridor,” said Jacques, “I’m coming!”
Matthias grabbed both Alex’s gun and ear-piece from him, keeping the former and throwing away the latter.
“Grab Sara and bring her this way,” he said solemnly.
“Fine,” said Alex, walking close to where Sara's gun lay.
"Not that way, she's over there."
He did not seem to know about the gun, but was smart enough to not let Alex stray too far in the wrong direction.
He turned towards where Sara was slumped and walked over, "You won’t be able to pull this off. You’re no hacker.”
“I’m not trying to pull anything off. Except leaving. Take her to the shuttle."
Alex picked up Sara by looping his arms around her chest and optimistically dragged her towards the smaller shuttle.
Matthias shook his head and pointed one of the guns towards the larger shuttle, then followed behind them, “Faster please, Captain.”
“I don’t suppose you want to tell me why you’re helping her?”
“Because I love her. I thought that much was obvious. People have been making jokes about it for months now.”
“Well, yes, I suppose they have, but only because you’ve been following her around like a lost..." he paused, trying to think of the phrase, unable to complete it, he simply ended the sentence with, "...thing that gets lost a lot."
"What's your point?"
"The point is that it's unrequited.”
“She doesn’t love you back.”
“Oh, yeah I know.”
“She’s a manipulative-”
He interrupted, “I know.”
“You don’t have to do this.”
Matthias opened the shuttle doors and Alex hauled her up the ramp onto the deck while he followed. He was reluctant to put her down as she was quite conveniently placed in between him and Matthias’ gun.
Matthias signalled with a gun once more for him to deposit her on the floor and then back himself onto the boarding ramp, outside the shuttle. He did so.
"Good," said Matthias from just inside the shuttle doorway, “Now all you have to do is let us leave and I won't kill you."
"They'll destroy the shuttle when it leaves without authorisation. Me being dead won't change that."
"Well, tell them not to."
"I can't do that. We can't spare the shuttle and she needs to face justice for what she's done-"
Matthias raised the gun level with his head, prompting a swift re-evaluation, "-But when you put it like that, I never really liked this shuttle anyway."
"Good choice, but I think I've changed my mind. I don't believe you won't shoot the shuttle as we leave."
"Really, we won't. Take it."
Matthias lowered the gun a little, lost in thought. For a second Alex toyed with the idea of taking advantage of his lapse in concentration by going for the guns, but then he remade eye contact, "No, I'm sorry Captain, this is the only way. I know this crew. When they find out your dead, they'll panic and we can get away. But if you live then we die. It's nothing personal. For what it's worth, I actually thought you were a decent boss."
Alex closed his eyes and gritted his teeth, most probably also causing him pull a silly face. It was not the way he had planned to die. He always thought he would go looking the enemy defiantly in the eye, or then again, maybe just a nice straightforward heart attack in his sleep at a ripe old age.
He had been close to achieving something, he had to give himself that. It was nothing compared to the potential though. He was a man with his own spaceship and he had a mission. He was going to save Humanity. Not any more though. Now he was going to murdered by a member of his of own crew. Well at the very least he knew that Matthias Cho would not be getting a good reference from him.
Alex noticed his face was beginning to ache. Matthias appeared to be taking an awfully long time to murder him. Slowly, he opened one eye.
He was still there, but seemed to be incapable of doing following through on the task. The gun was still pointed at him, but now it drooped slightly and his arm sagged.
He was not sure if it was the prospect of living or the pathetic look on his would-be assassin's face that made Alex want to laugh, but he feared that to do so would give him incentive to go through with it.
"You can't do it, can you? You can't kill another Human," was what Alex was about to say, probably followed by, "Come on, Matthias. You're not a murderer. Give me the gun and we can sort all of this out."
Unfortunately, Alex did not get the chance to say any of those words before the sound of a projectile weapon being fired echoed around the docking bay and a bullet hit the railing next to where Alex stood on the ramp.
He dived to the limited cover provided by the floor as Matthias retreated into the shuttle and hit the door close button.
"Captain Kaidan! Are you okay?"
"Who's firing?" Alex called out from the floor.
"That was me, it’s Reza!" he shouted back, "I found this gun on the floor outside."
"Were you meaning to try to hit me?"
"No, I was aiming for the other guy."
"Did the Nedic teach you to shoot?"
He got up and examined the shuttle door. It was locked from the inside. He ran over to Reza.
"I tried to follow you before, but I got a bit lost."
"That's fine kid, but we've got to go."
"Captain!" called out Jacques as he rushed in from the corridor, "Are you okay?"
"Jacques! Perfect timing."
"No. Now, we need to get out of here."
An alarm sounded. One that Alex had not ever heard before, primarily because when it normally sounded, he was either on the shuttle or behind the vacuum safety glass of the docking bay control room. He began to sprint towards the door. The others followed.
"Why are we running? What's that noise?" asked Reza.
"Depressurisation warning alarm."
"You managed to convince them to leave?" asked Jacques, panting.
"Something like that," replied Alex as he crossed through the open airlock door. After he made sure everyone was inside he slammed his palm onto the door seal button.
The door that they had just passed through closed and seconds later, the second door in front of them opened back into the corridor.
"Can't you stop them?" Reza asked Alex as they moved out of the airlock and into the corridor.
"Not from here, and all I could do from the control room is shut the outer door, but that's no match for a shuttle - we'd just end up breaking the ship too."
"I could shoot them?" suggested Jacques. Having seen Alex's facial expression, he quickly added, "Just their engines, mind."
"Who's on the bridge?"
"So who's going to do the shooting?"
"Yeah. Besides, I've never known an engine to be shot that didn't explode and take out the ship"
"So what do we do?" asked Reza
"Nothing. We let them go. There's been too much death here already today. Anyway, they won’t get far in that shuttle. I'm sure we'll run into them again."
"Stop here, Jacques," ordered Alex once they were under way.
"What? Here? We're in the middle of nowhere."
"I know, just do it please."
Jacques reluctantly brought the ship safely out of the Strachan current. Meanwhile, the bridge door opened and Eleni walked in.
"Captain, you wanted to see me?" she stopped as soon as she saw Reza who was also on the bridge, "Reza? So it's true what the others are saying. You really are planning to join their murderous crew?!"
Reza dropped his head and muttered, "Kinda."
"You never really were one of us, neither was John," she spat out, venomously.
Alex climbed out of his chair to meet her face to face.
"I did want to see you, yes. Thank you for coming. I'm afraid I have some bad news."
"You've lost my father's body and the woman who shot him escaped in a shuttle."
"Erm yes. Sorry. How did you know?"
"News travels fast on this ship, Captain. I understand we are your prisoners here. If any of us knew how to work the controls on this ship we would have overwhelmed your crew and stolen it hours ago -"
"-And I'm sure there's still some amongst you that want to do so anyway."
"Well, that is a course of action that I, personally, do not wish for is to pursue. I would not wish to lose any more of my people to you," she spoke these words whilst looking at Reza, and then looked back to Alex, "But just because we are not fighting you, please don't take us for fools."
"Don't you think," she interjected, "that it's all just a little bit too convenient that your crew members escaped just before you started your investigation for your so-called trial?"
"If you let me -"
"Drop the act, Kaidan. There's no point in pretending you’re some kind of decent being, Human or otherwise. We aren't stupid. We know it was all a show, but was there really any need to steal the body of my father?! I just want to see him one last time and say goodbye according to our customs. Is that really so much to ask?"
"No, it's not, but the body was stolen for reasons completely unknown to us. Honestly ... er..." He racked his brain, but it was gone. How could he have forgotten her name again? "... OW!"
Eleni had slapped him probably about as hard as she could and then proceeded to beat him on the chest with both her fists, screaming, "My name is Eleni!"
He did his best to deflect them without inciting her further until Reza ran over and restrained her as gently as he could. The restraint turned into a crying hug, as before.
"Captain!" called out Jacques over the commotion, "Sorry to interrupt, but there's a ship approaching from another stream - Oh no! It's an Un ship."
"I thought the Un were allies?" asked Reza, worriedly.
"They are," Jacques replied, "but only of the Humans of New Earth. We're not exactly official."
"You mean you stole this ship?" Reza asked.
"Yes," said Jacques.
"No," said Alex, "I borrowed it."
"Finally, you're going to get what you deserve then," said Eleni.
"They're calling us," said Jacques, "Shall I take us back into the stream and try to outrun them?"
"No, no, no. Take the call. Best put it on loudspeaker for the benefit of our guests though."
"Captain Alex Kaidan?"
"Significant Yona Stevs," he greeted the Un, "Good to hear you speaking our language!"
"Trying. Difficulties for physiology of mine."
"Better than my Un... er... ish. I like to rely on my galactic translator."
The bridge door opened again and Rhyna walked on to the already overpopulated bridge.
"Usually makes Alex Kaidan sound like moron. No fear. Alas time is short. Breaking many laws not blowing you up."
"Of course, much obliged. We can begin transfer immediately. Might take a little longer. Our larger shuttle was stolen."
"Oh dear. Will requisition one new. Take ours. Careful time next."
"Thank you, Yona. You are most generous."
"Understandable. Lost one on fishing trip, cycle last. Significant Stevs finishing conversation for now"
Alex noticed the bridge crew were staring at him, "What?"
"Was that an Un speaking Human-English?"
"I thought they were going to arrest us!" said Liam.
"Stealing a ship!" finished Jacques abruptly.
"How many times?! I only borrowed it. Now, Eleni," he said, turning to her, "I really am sorry for everything. If you and your people would like to go back to the Nedic..."
"You're letting us go?"
"You were never our captives. We thought we were freeing you. I still say we did and that you'd be better off at The Village, but it has to be your choice. The offer is always open."
"But my father. He died for nothing?"
"I know you don't believe us, but Sara Heath is no longer a member of this crew. When we find her, I promise you that she will face justice for what she did. It never was an act, she broke our most sacred of rules and killed another Human. I don't know why she took the body when she escaped either. I wish things could have been different, but please accept this as an apology. The Un will take you back, just please promise me that you will at least ask if any of your people wish to visit New Earth with us first."
"I'll ask them," she promised, "and thank you, Captain. That's... that's all we wanted."
With that, she left the bridge.
"So this operation has been sanctioned by the Human and Un governments the whole time?" asked Liam.
"Well, I wouldn't say 'governments' exactly."
"It looks like we need you after all," said Liam, "But I knew that anyway. Who else could -"
Rhyna interrupted his spiel, "-Alex, I came to tell you that there are some things missing from the medical bay. It looks as if one of them nicked a few things from there while I wasn't looking."
"Understandable. Anything essential?”
“No, there was an extensive kit in each of the shuttles already, they should have known that already. All that’s missing are a couple of field surgery kits. They made a mess when they were looking for them at any rate."
"Were they after the drugs or something?"
"No drugs in them - just scalpels, syringes, stuff like that."
"Okay, well there's nothing we can do about it now. Come on, you can help me transfer the prisoners."
"You mean guests?"
"So we're not taking them to The Village?" she asked.
"I figured that we'd caused enough trouble for them already, so I called in a favour. Sara made me realise that we can't build a democratic future when people are being forced to stay there against their will. We have to do it right and have faith that people will come on their own."
"Well said," said Reza, "Abraham Lincoln would be proud!"
"You don't know who Abraham Lincoln was?"
"No. No, I don’t but I actually meant you. Who are you?"
“That's Reza,” said Alex, "He's a keeper."