Rise

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Communication

“So I wasn’t even being paranoid?” Alexandra yelled. “Those people who kept trying to stop us back home-“

“Did a horrible job of it, yes.”

“Are they working for … them?

The man, Captain Sorensen, shrugged. “I don’t know, but it’s probable.”

“We should’ve gone to Novea special security, like I said!”

“What good would that’ve done you?” The Captain shook his head. “They would’ve detained you and asked you where you’d gotten the information. You’d still be in lockup.”

Alexandra frowned, looking out the windows of the rickety ship. She could see the rounded curve of the moon. Shul IV was lurking ominously in the background; the skybridge a thin line vanishing against the giant. “How do you know?”

“Know what?”

Small islands hovered underneath them, they were approaching their mark. “About the information … that it’s not what Christopher thinks it is.”

“An unknown vessel can’t stay hidden for long. We have close to unlimited resources and eyes and ears throughout the entire galaxy. We heard about several attacks on a Thousand Swords base and promptly went to investigate.”

“I can’t imagine you were very welcome there?”

“Well, fending off the attackers helped get us in their good graces.” He took a deep breath, as if remembering something he’d rather wish was a dream. “We pooled our resources and towed the vessel to Tirmas. After detailed analysis and diagnostics on the thing, we found the same information your brother did.”

“Only…?”

“We found multiple coordinates, neatly wrapped in data packets, ready to upload. I recognized some of the coordinates, but we ran a full check.”

“Let me guess; coordinates to every system?”

“Nine out of fourteen.”

The vessel was silent for a long time.

“How many-”

“Six-hundred-and-eighty-three billion people.”

Alexandra threw up before falling back in her seat. “Fuck me…”

“There’s a plan in motion,” he hesitated. “The upload will take thirty minutes at the very least. In case your brother has started the upload-”

“You want to blow him out of the sky…” Alexandra mumbled, her mouth tasting like bile. She knew now, why Christopher had come to her first. He didn’t want me to die on Novea. Thinking about it, she would rather have died there, than on this forsaken moon.

“That’s not entirely true.” The Captain took a deep breath again. “No point in holding back now, I suppose.”

Alexandra perked up a little. None of this had really registered; it was too much to take in. She was more and more certain she and her brother would die, though, so any plan containing the word ‘survive’, she would listen to. “There really isn’t…” She answered.

“Due to the nature of all the research and classified information being stored in K’hadmera, there are certain … overrides … in place.”

“Such as?”

“Severing the chains?”

Alexandra frowned. “What?!”

A few of the other men turned around as well. Apparently, this was above their pay grade. “That would cause them to float off into space!” One of them said.

The captain smiled. “There are thrusters in place on each and every one of those islands.” He lowered his voice. “As well as explosives underneath, to sever the chains.”

“So the thrusters will keep the islands level and stable?”

“The thrusters will bring them back down.” He raised his hand, not allowing for any interruptions. “The surface of this moon is exposed to radiation pressure, like any other rock. The electromagnetic radiation increases significantly at high altitudes. By floating everything a few thousand feet up in the air, everything will fry.”

“Then you can safely land the islands again.”

“And evacuate everyone, or tether them down.”

“There’s no way the residents would agree to this!”

“I know…”

Alexandra looked at him for a long time, realizing she knew nothing about these people. “Who the hell are you?”

“I’m special agent Sorensen,” he paused for ages. “Of the Shade.”

Alexandra started laughing. The Shade was the highest ranking, most secretive agency in the entire known universe. Everything they did was black ops, off the books, stealth… “Nobody knows about any of this.” She realized.

“Nobody but you.” He looked at the other two men, who clearly believed he would kill them on the spot. “And these idiots.”

“They’re not with you?”

He shook his head. “Pawns,” he said. “A mercenary band called Bloodmoon or something.”

“Crimson moon…” One of them stuttered.

“Yeah, that’s what I said,” Sorensen answered. “Shade never interferes directly, so we used them to try and stop you.”

“That explains the resources…”

“And why you’re still alive.”

Alexandra couldn’t help smiling, just a little bit. “Yeah, you guys really, really suck.”

One of them sat down, covering his head in his hands.

“Wait!” Alexandra stood up. “There has to be other plans! This is entirely too drastic. Can’t we just plant a virus? Wipe the system with an EMP or something?!”

“That’s plan A and B … but if the upload is already in progress, times are a wastin’” He pressed a few buttons on a datapad strapped around his wrist. A green grid popped up, clearly showing explosives underneath the islands, blinking red. “This, I can do right now if I want to.”

Alexandra didn’t want to ask, but did anyway. “And why don’t you?”

“Let’s see if plan C works first.”

“And what is that?”

“Stopping your brother before he begins the upload.”

The shock of stepping into a crowded room took a while to wear off. All around Christopher, the building bustled with life, people pacing back and forth with datapads and stacks of papers. There was nothing here emulating the dreary, grey islands outside; they could’ve been anywhere in the universe.

“We need to get to the broadcast dish,” Nora said, almost knocking a man over.

Christopher spun in amazement. “What do all these people do here?”

Everyone was dressed in a similar fashion; short sleeved shirts and nondescript pants. He noticed a few tattoos and even some glasses, a wildly unpopular choice after cybernetic implants and optics had become available.

“Data mining, analysis, statistics, reports, research and publishing, amongst other things.” Nora answered. “I have no idea what their individual tasks are, but this all belongs to the communications center.”

There were holograms, computers, screens and chairs everywhere, Christopher now noticed the chairs were floating, just like the table by his bed. I’m totally getting one of these if we survive. He frowned and looked at Nora, rushing up a few steps to reach a door to their left. But if we’re going to survive, she can’t… He clenched his teeth and followed her through.

“Who the hell are you?” A voice came.

Nora almost ran straight into the man, but stopped just in time.

“Who the hell are you?” Christopher replied instinctively. The man was one of the spectacled ones; a pair of black horn-rimmed glasses resting comfortably on his nose. His shirt was black with red lines and a logo Christopher didn’t recognize. His pants were beige khakis, his keycard dangling from one of the pockets. Christopher couldn’t see his name, just the letters V, A, N and T.

“I’m Liam Devante, senior analyst here at the communications center.”

Well, there you go.

“I’m master sergeant Nora Hendricks, K’hadmera security. We need to upload some information for broadcast right now!”

Something changed in the man’s face. “Is this about the aliens?”

Nora pushed him against the wall, her arm firm against his throat. “How the hell do you know about that?”

Christopher looked around discreetly. Some of the workers had noticed something going on, but they all went about their business. What a lively bunch.

“Help me.” Liam gasped, clearly struggling to breathe. His arms were flailing, trying to grab Christopher.

“Help you?” He asked, looking at both of them. “I’d trade places with you if I could; that looks sexy as hell.”

“Okay, into the next room!” Nora pushed Liam through the door and Christopher closed it behind them.

It looked like a server room of sorts. Thousands of tiny computers, nodes and humming boxes lit up around the walls, glowing in a sickly blue color. A few were red, and some purple. Christopher had no idea what the lights meant. There was no one else in the room.

“Start talking!” Nora said.

Christopher looked at her. If she’s one of them, she doesn’t want the secret out … this could get ugly fast.

“Well, as you probably know, our primary job is to monitor the red line. We run the most advanced scans in the universe; pinging, listening and looking for any sign of activity out there. We have three superclass telescopes placed deep in the black.”

“And?” Nora pointed her gun at him.

“Three weeks back, one of our telescopes reported a malfunction.”

Three weeks? Christopher frowned. “What happened?”

“It’d be easier if I just showed you.” Liam started punching something into his datapad. He was impressively unaffected by Nora’s gun.

“Careful,” she said. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t like.”

“I won’t.” He mumbled in response, trying to find the most unoccupied wall space. “Look!” He finally said, projecting an image from his wrist.

It was an impressive view of space, a vast and black horizon, stretching for miles. “This is just one of the cameras mounted on the telescope, of course.” He said, pressing a few more buttons. “Let me fast-forward a little…” There was no change in the picture, apart from the time stamp.

Of course… Christopher shook his head. “What are we-”

“There!” Liam interrupted.

A vessel came into view, a tiny dot in the distance. It was gleaming and puttering, as if it was on fire. It drifted towards the camera, spinning and hissing, clearly out of control.

It was the same ship Christopher had found.

“This is Ocean Two, come in, Island One!” Sorensen’s eyes were filled with worry as he clutched the radio, beads of sweat forming on his dark skin.

“This is Island, over.” The radio cracked in response.

Everyone on the ship let out a sigh of relief.

“Status report, over.”

“Status is just fine, over”

“You’ve not been approached by anyone? Nothing out of the ordinary, over?”

“Not a damn thing, over.”

Alexandra leaned over. “Can’t you contact Nora?”

“What good will that do me, if she’s working for … them?

“She doesn’t know that we know; at the very least, she might give us an indication how far out they are.”

Sorensen sighed. “Galaxy Three, this is Ocean Two…” He gave Alexandra a look. “Come in, over.”

They have the stupidest call signs ever. Alexandra rolled her eyes.

Silence.

“Galaxy Three, come in, over!” Sorensen frowned.

“She must’ve cut her radio.” Alexandra said.

Sorensen nodded. “We won’t arrive for a few minutes … it might already be too late by then.”

“Is there any way to start the upload without going through … Island One?”

“No, everything is controlled from that hub, there’s no way to operate it remotely. All the information has to be delivered directly.”

“Okay, so as long as Island One responds, there’s time, right?”

Sorensen looked at the two mercenaries, then back at Alexandra. “If we survive this, there might be a position in Shade for you…”

“What?”

“You’re thinking clearly and acting decisively, which is a lot more than I can say for these idiots. You’ve been through more than I can imagine today, and you’re still placing the mission ahead of yourself.”

Alexandra felt strangely flattered. “Let’s survive this first.”

Sorensen nodded and smiled. It was a bad look for him. “Deal.” He pressed the radio again, saying, “Island One, are you still there, over?”

“Yes, sir – still here. What do you want us to do, over?”

“We’ll be there in three minutes, don’t let anyone touch the console before then, over.”

“Roger that, sir. We’ll just-“

Silence.

“What just happened?” Alexandra asked.

Sorensen looked grim. “They were cut off … the upload is in progress.”

“We don’t know that! We-”

“Damn it, Alexandra! I know Nora’s with your brother, but this is bigger than that.” He paused for a long time. “We have to sever the chains.”

Alexandra was silent for a long time. “Do whatever you have to,” she frowned, her turquoise eyes barely visible. “I just ask that you bring me to my brother.”

“But when the chains are se-”

“The islands will float up, killing all electronic equipment and blocking broadcast waves. People will be safe, right?”

“In theory, but-”

“It’s final, then; I’m going to see my brother.”

“Disregard that order!” Nora said. “If we don’t get this information out there, millions will die.”

The man sitting in the oversized red chair squirmed. Around him, hundreds of screens glared and blinked, all of them filled with information.

This was the central information hub, containing more information and data than any other place in the galaxy. How can one person monitor all of this? Christopher thought.

“The order was absolute,” the man said. “I don’t know how to-”

Nora pulled her gun, making Christopher wish he had one of his own. “This order is more absolute…” She said.

The man slowly raised his hands. He had a red shirt on, almost blending with the fabric of the chair. There was with a clip-on datapad on his chest; reading E. Carmichael. He had some kind of insignia on his shoulders, and the pad alternated between his name, and his job description; chief communications officer. “What do you want me to do?” He asked.

“Nothing!” Christopher frowned. “Don’t listen to her … obey the order.”

Nora turned around. “I beg your unbelievable pardon?!” She lowered her weapon.

“You’re working for them, aren’t you?” Christopher took a step back.

Nora smiled. It was an honest smile, and her beauty was radiating from her purple eyes. “Yes I am.”

Christopher lost his speech then. In spite of what he’d seen and heard and in spite of the awkward kiss earlier; he was certain she’d say no.

Nora’s weapon was still lowered as she took a few steps towards him. “But you don’t know who we are…” She was inches away now, her eyes piercing his soul; turquoise losing to lilac.

“Aliens?” Christopher asked, hearing the disbelief in his own voice.

Nora started laughing. “I’m sorry to say this, Christopher, but we’re all alone in the universe.”

The communications officer, E. Carmichael, cleared his throat and stood up. He was a slender man, with yellow eyes and thick, black hair.

“I’ve seen a lot of movies!” Christopher said, the other two stopping in their tracks.

“What?”

“You have a gun, don’t you Mr. Carmichael?”

The man looked down as if he was surprised to see the black metal in his hand. “Yes, but-”

“And now you’re going to point it at us, and reveal the sinister secret behind all of this. Nora was really on my … on our side the whole time, and this is all some big conspiracy…”

“I-”

“Well, forget it! I’d rather die than succumb to this nonsense!” He grabbed Nora behind the neck and kissed her deep and passionately. Then he took a few steps back. “Isn’t it strange that we still call them movies? In the futuristic settings of old films they always call them ‘vids’ or ‘holos’ or ‘flicks’ or something … I mean, they’re still movies, right?” He frowned and grabbed Nora’s gun, yanking it from her hand and pointing it at the man. “Answers … now!”

The man looked at Nora as if asking for help. “What the hell just happened?” He asked, his eyes wide in disbelief.

Nora smiled beside herself. “I have no idea … but that was smooth as hell, Christopher.”

He allowed himself a short smirk. “Answers,” he repeated. “Please.”

The communications officer raised his weapon. “Well, in any case, you’re absolutely right!” He pointed his gun at Christopher, narrowing his eyes. “They’re still just movies – moving pictures, as it were.” He sighed. “I don’t know why we’d ever refer to them differently, even though the technology has changed.” He winked at Christopher, and then turned the gun on Nora.

Nora scowled. “What are you doing?”

“I can’t let you upload that data!”

Christopher felt a sting, deep within his chest. He’d only just met Master Sergeant Nora Hendricks, but he didn’t quite feel like saying goodbye yet.

Fuck! He burst forward, knocking the man off his feet. It wasn’t hard: Christopher was a big man. Compared, Carmichael was just a toothpick.

The gun tumbled from his hands, as the two of them fell to the ground. Christopher landed on top of the other man, almost crushing him to death. “I thought you were on my side!” Carmichael gasped.

Christopher got up, pulling the other man with him. “I don’t know what fucking side I’m on!” He screamed. He looked at Nora, who was now holding the man’s gun.

“What are you doing, Christopher?”

“I have no fucking clue. Isn’t that kind of obvious?”

Nora nodded. “You need to choose, then.”

“To upload or not to upload,” he mumbled. I can’t trust any of them. He finally pointed his gun at Nora. “He’s just following orders!” He nodded towards the communications officer. “You have a whole agenda of your own.”

Nora frowned. “I share your agenda, you idiot! You’re the one who told me about the attack, remember?”

He let out a scream, kicking a chair across the floor. “Mr. Carmichael,” he said, turning his weapon on the man.

“My name is Emmet, I-“

“What happens if we upload the data?”

“What?”

“What happens?!” Christopher yelled. “You were ordered to keep us from uploading it. Either, uploading it will warn everyone out there of an incoming attack, making us the good guys and your superiors the bad guys…”

Nora took a step forward. “Or, it will do the opposite … making your superiors the good guys, and us…” She looked at Christopher, her beautiful purple eyes wide. “Are we the bad guys?”

Christopher shrugged. “You tell me, Nora.” It was a set-up from the very start, it had to be. Nora was extremely smart and reflected; yet she immediately believed Christopher regarding the information. Then there was that whole thing with the kiss…

“It was my ship!”

Christopher turned back towards her. “What?”

“The ship you found near Tirmas … it was mine.”

Christopher looked at her. Damn, but she was beautiful. Get a grip, Topher! “Which means this information comes from you!” He shook his gun ever so slightly, as if demonstrating that he had no reservations shooting her. Even though he did. I can’t stop thinking about that fucking kiss … even if it was just to distract me. Or worse… “What. Is. It?” He asked through gritted teeth.

“Coordinates,” she said. “To nine of your systems.”


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