Rise

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Beyond the red line

Alexandra closed her eyes against the beam of water, enjoying every drop trickling down her body. For some reason, she felt safe here behind the greenish walls, standing underneath the tepid water. Knowing her brother was taken care of – not to mention that they were surrounded by armed forces – was an enormous comfort, even though they suspected her of being behind the attack on the bridge.

What a classy bunch … they haven’t beaten me or yelled at me, and they’re even allowing me to take a shower. Alexandra knew she was naïve, thinking like that. They’d probably strip it all away soon, but hopefully her brother would’ve come through by then, clearing everything up.

“This nightmare will be over before you know it, Alexandra.” She reassured herself, running her hands down her body. She stopped right below her breasts, looking down. I’m skinnier than I used to be.

Alexandra had always been a little thing, but she’d always had curves. She would refer to her breasts only as ‘adequate’, but her hips and her rear were voluptuous and inviting. That’s what the last man to see her naked said, at least. Shit… It has been a while…

“Hey, get it moving in there, will you? We’re not done here!” A voice called.

Alexandra quickly rinsed herself and turned off the water. A warmth spread across her forehead, like she’d been caught doing something bad, but she swallowed the feeling and threw a towel around her body. She stepped in front of the guard, smiling. “Sorry, it was just so good, feeling the water against my skin.”

The guard grunted in response, nodding stiffly.

She walked past him, dropping the towel as she vanished behind a row of lockers. It’s so eerily quiet here…

“I really don’t know what else to tell you,” she said as she picked up a new set of clothes. “We were ambushed on the skybridge, and we fought them off.”

“Tell it to the master sergeant,” the guard said coldly.

Alexandra frowned, putting her clothes on. They were black and dreary, no doubt part of the standard uniform. The pants were tight, but elastic and surprisingly comfortable. The black tank top fit nicely, covering what needed to be covered, but showing off her shoulders and her intricate tattoo. She walked past the guard again, noticing he had a larger cleavage than she did.

A big brute, he was. Standard military cut hair, veiny and bulky arms threatening to shred the uniform. Not the type Alexandra preferred. “So!” She said. “Dusty, here on this rock, isn’t it?”

The guard grunted.

“Yeah … going to be a long summer on Bryden this year, I hear.”

The guard shrugged.

I’m obviously not the type he prefers either… “You know, some small talk wouldn’t kill you.”

The guard looked at her.

“But it might kill me; got it!” She walked into the next room, through the door behind the guard. A woman was waiting for her, dressed in stark white and with a pair of thick framed spectacles.

“Ah, Alexandra Loncar.” The woman smiled stiffly. “I’m Doctor Pierce.”

Alexandra nodded. “Doctor.”

“We’re just going to run some tests on you.”

Why now? I’ve been here for two days. “What are you looking for?”

“Anomalies in your DNA, that’s all I can share with you at this time.”

“Why wait two days?”

The doctor didn’t answer.

“Doctor, why wait-”

There was a deep sound coming from somewhere outside; an ominous sound, like something crashing far, far away. It was faint, but deep, and it was impossible to miss.

The room grew completely silent.

Another boom.

The guard stepped into the room, not saying a word.

All three of them stood in silence; listening and waiting.

The ground shook as another boom thundered. This one was sharper and louder, like a shot being fired. The noise hung thick in the air for a long time before fading, then it was followed by another, and another after that.

“Sonic booms, followed by cannon fire!” The guard said, pulling his sidearm.

“Cannon fire?”

“The AA guns!”

The doctor looked confused. “Anti-aircraft? But that means-”

“We’re under attack!” He said, vanishing outside. “Stay here!”

They’ve found us! Alexandra sat down. “Shit, I didn’t think they would dare attack us here!”

Something thundered into the ground outside, the entire structure rumbling. Then the lights went out, the room falling dark.

“Alexandra, are you there?” The doctor asked.

“Yes, I’m right here, doc. Just stay calm.”

The orange light going along the floors and ceiling intensified, bathing the room in an ominous glow.

“How can I stay calm? They’re coming for us!” She was trembling. Alexandra could see her crouched behind the desk.

“They’re coming for me, not you. Besides, this place is a fortress, right?”

“I guess…”

Alexandra approached the doctor, crouching next to her, grabbing her hands. “Doctor, listen to me.”

“My name is Liana.” She took of her glasses and wiped a few tears. Her big, terrified blue eyes made her look really sweet. Like a completely different person than the stern doctor Alexandra just talked to.

“Okay, Liana. Are there any weapons here?”

Liana nodded.

“Good. We need to get them.”

“Are you sure that’s such a good idea, the guard said that-”

Another explosion made the ground tremble, and someone was screaming nearby. Whatever it was, coming from the sky, the AA guns couldn’t take it down.

“They’re right over here…” Liana ran into the next room, fumbling with the locks.

Why would a doctor have a key to the weapons locker?

The doctor grabbed a gun and then turned around, aiming at Alexandra. “I’m afraid this is the end for you, Alexandra.”

Alexandra raised her hands. “What the hell are you doing?”

Liana looked up, smiling. “They are coming!” She looked at Alexandra, her eyes turning purple. “I’m glad to see your brother didn’t disappoint.”

“What the hell has he got to do with this?”

“The information your brother carried; it was coordinates; so they would find us and attack us.” She stepped closer, her eyes feeling like they pierced Alexandra’s soul. “Goodbye, Alexandra.”

A shot rang.

“Come on, Christopher!”

“I know time is of the essence, but I’ve still been shot, remember?”

Hendricks extended her hand. “I don’t want excuses!”

He grabbed it and she pulled him onto the platform. “I think I’m falling for you, sir.”

“I wouldn’t do that,” she responded. “It’s a long way down.”

Christopher made the unfortunate mistake of turning around to look. “Shit!” He mumbled. “How high up is this place?”

“It’s not much further now.”

They’d been traversing the floating islands in a manner Hendricks referred to as ‘the hard way’. The infirmary was two clicks south-west of K’hadmera, but Hendricks had taken Christopher to a vehicle the very second enemy ships entered the atmosphere. She’s good in the field as well… This vehicle had taken them three quarters of the way, ascending the floating worlds like no vehicle Christopher had ever seen. It had encased rotors on either side, facing down so it acted like a hovercraft. When the booster was enabled from within, the vehicle shot through the air like some giant toad, leaving blue streaks in the grey fog below.

The vehicle was black with a few deep brown decals, just like the uniforms. The uniforms… Christopher looked down again, but at himself this time. He didn’t feel as self-conscious anymore; the tightness of the black pants more than compensated for by the freedom of movement. They had left the vehicle behind because the islands were so narrow and small at this point, landing on them would’ve been impossible.

Christopher looked up again, looking at the master sergeant’s behind as she vanished over the ledge of the next platform. He grinned and followed.

“I take it these are the same mercenaries behind the attack on the skybridge?” Hendricks said.

“So, you do believe me?”

“Always did … just needed to be sure.”

“How long have you been doing that?”

Hendricks stopped, looking down as she helped him up on the ledge. “Doing what?”

Metal tubes and wires were running down the grey, floating rocks, probably carrying refuse and discharge from the laboratory the master sergeant was talking about. There were lots of points and nodes scattered above the islands, but Christopher had no idea what they were for, or how they worked. “That…” Christopher waved his hands. “Thing you do … with the flirting and the easy-going.” He looked up, but couldn’t see any more platforms. Are we there?

“Always, I think … though not always deliberately.” She stepped to the edge of the platform, looking down. “I’ve always been honest and open. I see no reason to fill people’s heads with lies. It didn’t take me long to realize that people found the openness off-putting.”

“And extremely refreshing,” Christopher added, standing next to her. They’d cleared the worst of the fog, and he could see scores of floating islands surrounding them. He could see thick, ancient chains below each and every island, seemingly carved in granite. These must be what keep the islands from drifting off. Further ahead, amongst the myriad of tiny platforms, he could see structures. They were built on the islands, above the islands and between them; a complex nest of various hubs and housing.

The sergeant smiled an honest smile. “To be honest, I find you a little off-putting-but refreshing as well, Christopher.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“The same reason,” she sighed. She jumped down a few feet, motioning for him to follow. “There’s nothing more satisfying than shutting a man up after a pathetic attempt at insulting me. I get a dozen comments about my gender, my body, my voice or my hair every day, if I’m lucky. About one tenth of them are actual compliments. Nine tenths of those again are inappropriate.”

Christopher followed her and nodded. “So you own it.” He could see metal bridges now, connecting the islands. The rest of their trip would be painless, he figured.

“Exactly! I’m not going to apologize for what I am and what I have. The second I start feeling ashamed is the second I lose!” She jogged over the first bridge, her boots clanking against the thin metal.

Christopher looked over the edge as he followed, suddenly feeling queasy. For the first time, he could actually see through the fog, but the bottom was still invisible. That pit is bottomless. He hurried to the next island, stopping next to Hendricks again. He couldn’t help thinking about poor Joseph Shul, his body somewhere down in that pit as he tried to discover what was keeping the islands from floating off. He looked at Hendricks, smiling.

“What?” She asked, smiling back.

I’m showing weakness, but who cares… “You’re fucking awesome, master sergeant. When this is all over, I hope I’ll find someone like-”

Her lips were against his, and then the world spun.

He collected himself quickly, his hands finding her hips, brushing against her gun. She didn’t even twitch … she trusts me. Christopher pulled her closer, deepening the kiss.

Hendricks returned the favor, grabbing his neck, her tongue playing passionately with his.

Maybe it’s been a while for her, too. Christopher could feel something stirring inside, a warmth filling up his chest. He wanted her, more than he’d ever wanted anyone. If she’d let him, he would’ve taken her right there. But there’s something… Christopher struggled to think as her body rubbed against his. His hands found her behind, just as firm as it looked. I can’t … I need to … the attack… It didn’t seem as important anymore. Why not just give himself to the master sergeant? Just … right here…

She smiled and bit his lower lip, then started to undress.

Christopher was lost.

“Get your fucking hands in the air!”

Alexandra was sitting on her knees, shaking. “I’m pretty sure they’re up there!” She screamed. Next to her was the body of Liana, gun still in hand, eyes still purple. The information… Christopher!

“Why was she trying to kill you?”

Why aren’t you trying to kill me? These were from the same outfit that attacked the skybridge; she could recognize the uniforms. Uniform! Alexandra suddenly realized. I’m wearing the black of K’hadmera.

“Answer me!”

“She said there was an attack coming.”

“What attack?” The man asked.

For the first time, Alexandra looked at him, turquoise eyes defiant. “Take a fucking guess!” She hissed. “You’re the ones who just came crashing into this building; I’d call that an attack, wouldn’t you?!” If he wanted to kill me, he’d have done it by now. Alexandra reassured herself.

“Give me one good reason!” He said through gritted teeth. “Do you think I don’t know who you are? White hair and turquoise eyes; you’re Alexandra Loncar. You murdered my crew.”

Alexandra shrunk, placing her hands on the floor. What the fuck is going on? She closed her eyes, a tear falling. “I think you just gave yourself a reason.”

The man sighed. “No … not like that! I mean … damn it!” He dropped the rifle, the magazine clattering against his side pocket as it dangled from his neck.

Alexandra was right in her first assessment; these people had lots of credits, but zero expertise.

“I meant one reason to let you live!”

Alexandra stood up, slowly walking towards him. “I think you just gave yourself that, too.” She looked into his eyes, figuring Nora would’ve done something similar. “You’ve never taken a life before, have you?”

The man looked at the dead woman behind Alexandra. “No…” He raised his rifle again. “What else did she tell you?”

“That my brother uploaded the information, giving you the coordinates.”

“Shit! We need to move!” The man picked up Liana’s gun and escorted Alexandra outside.

What the hell is going on? Alexandra thought for the millionth time.

A crimson gull 8A was parked outside, smoke hissing from one of the stabilizers on its rear. Must’ve been clipped by the AA fire. The gull was a low-flying, non-armored spacecraft designed to carry personnel, it was lucky to have survived.

The man vanished around the vehicle, talking to a large man with short, woolly hair. After a few seconds, the man came rushing towards her.

“Alexandra Loncar!” He was muscular and towering, his mere presence commanding respect.

Finally, someone with training, Alexandra thought.

“We need to get to your brother ASAP!” He sighed, climbing aboard the vehicle. “That information he carries; we can’t let him upload it.”

“What?! I thought he already did.”

“I hate to burst your bubble, kid, but we ain’t the people that woman was talking about.”

Alexandra understood less and less. She thought when they finally arrived at K’hadmera, the nightmare would be over. She was content with just staying where she was until her brother was healed and questioned. Shit, shit, shit! You never even told me what that information was … you wanted to spare me. Alexandra looked at the man, a green-hued flame burning in her eyes. “What was she talking about, then?”

“The potential end of the human race.”

Alexandra snorted. “What?!”

The man said nothing, but looked serious.

“You’re not joking, are you?”

He shook his head. “I’m sorry for attacking you, but we wouldn’t have been in this mess if we’d managed to stop you.”

“But where did the information come from? How did my brother obtain it? What the fuck is going on?!”

“The Thousand Swords, the outfit your brother was part of … they found something out there, beyond the red line.”

“What the fuck were they doing in uncharted space?”

“They were always in uncharted space…”

“Of course…” It all made sense now. That’s why her brother wouldn’t talk about it. That’s why he was completely cut off all those years. “What did he find?”

“A derelict ship.”

“Hardly unheard of.”

“This was.” The man took a deep breath as the vehicle rose from the ground, the broken stabilizer causing it to jerk and spit. “The design … it wasn’t human.”

“Drop your weapons! Do it now!”

Christopher felt like he awakened form some strange slumber. His hands were underneath the master sergeant’s top, cradling her breasts. Thankfully, they were both still dressed. He couldn’t really remember what had happened.

“Drop your fucking weapons and get down on the ground.”

Do I even have a weapon? Christopher looked at Hendricks, as beautiful as ever, her eyes almost glowing purple.

The man screaming was soon joined by another. He couldn’t see their faces underneath the helmets. Helmets… They came from the sky. Christopher’s mind was slow and muddled, but he gathered these were the same people who attacked the skybridge. “I think I’m unarmed…” He finally mumbled.

“I was talking to her!” He nodded towards Hendricks.

She took a step back, her hands raised. Her jacket was on the ground, but her fully loaded gun was resting comfortably on her left thigh. Her breasts were threatening to spill out, after Christopher’s rough idea of foreplay. “Take it easy,” she said, jutting her breasts towards the two men.

I don’t even remember… He looked at the men. They’re not going to fall for this. They can’t!

“She’s gorgeous,” the man said. “But you don’t know what she is.”

Christopher frowned. “What do you mean?”

“That information you have, you can’t-”

The man was cut off before Christopher even heard the shot. The other one grabbed his arm limply, before realizing he’d been shot as well. Looking at Nora with disbelief and defiance in their eyes, they both vanished over the edge, tumbling into the depths below.

Finally, Christopher found himself, reaching for the gun he didn’t have. “Shit! That was fast!” He exclaimed, looking at Nora.

“They were trying to keep us from getting the information to the right people. I’m not about to let that happen!”

“Good to know!” Christopher lied, following her across the next bridge.

They had entered the jungle of pylons, nexuses and structures now. “Welcome to the most sophisticated laboratory, communications hub and research center in the entire damn universe!” Nora smiled, jogging along the next bridge. Clearly, she knew where they were headed.

You were trying to keep us from getting there, too. Christopher realized, thinking about the sudden and awkward kiss. The man’s final words echoed in his head. You don’t know what she is… Christopher still needed to get to the communications hub though; to let the universe know.

K’hadmera proper was a rich and prosperous town, built as pompously as the temples of yore. The streets were bustling with rich people, buying and trading art, dining at the finest establishments. It worked like any other metropolis really, only built on floating rocks on the far end of the universe. Right next to the red line.

The other part of K’hadmera housed the most advanced research facility in the universe. The K’hadmera communications hub was one of the few places in the universe that allowed near real-time broadcast to every single system. It sounded strange to Christopher, that the most remote moon was one of the few places to do that. From what he’d gathered, though, the signals achieved a ‘cascade’-like effect as they hit new nodes, travelling in a cone throughout the known universe. This way, a remote station like this could ensnare every system as it sent out the signals.

Who the fuck is she? Christopher got chills, thinking about the derelict ship. It was the 21st Tirmas day drifting out in space – Tirmas being the closest habitable planet, where one day lasted for 28 hours – when he happened upon it. He and Erick were the only two people aboard, and none of them recognized the design of the ship. The materials were known, but the aerodynamics and the sleek design was something they’d never seen. They tried to get it operational, but it was bone dry. Tanking it with their own fuel didn’t help, so they copied everything from the ship’s systems and headed home.

Aliens or no, the info wasn’t very hard to decipher; it pointed at a massive attack, starting with K’hadmera, closest to the red line. From here, they would target Alexandria. Christopher didn’t understand any of it, but from what the others said, they would make the sun go supernova.

He didn’t know who ‘they’ were, he didn’t know how they would do it and he didn’t know what they would look like when they showed up.

Looking at master sergeant Hendricks gave him some ideas, though.


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