Chapter 1: Arrival
Darren, a thirty-year-old computer expert, sat at his desk, typing on his laptop, speaking with a customer regarding computer repair. He had short brown hair, brown eyes, wore thin-rimmed glasses and a pinstripe shirt with blue jeans. He occasionally got bored with his work as a tech repair geek, but it earned him enough to pay his rent.
He typed some words on the screen, ‘The problem you have is your CPU Core, it’s shot. I’ll have to replace it to fix the computer, but it will cost a bit.’
The screen flickered in the dimly lit room, the time on a nearby clock read ‘12:42 am’. The customer replied, ‘Damn! I knew I shouldn’t have run that program on it, it’s pretty low-end. How much is this going to cost me?’
Darren let out a slight laugh, typing more as he did, ‘Three hundred. That doesn’t include installation and the work itself.’
There was a pause for a few moments, then the customer replied, ‘I’ll have to let you know, I’m not sure if I can get that kind of money right now.’
Darren nodded to himself, reading it and typing, ‘No pressure, if you can’t afford it, you can pick up your laptop anytime. Or, if you’re not sure, I could hold onto it while you figure out your financial situation. I can hold it at no extra cost.’
The customer replied after a minute, ‘That’s ok, I can come pick it up in the morning. How much do I owe you for the inspection?’
Darren shook his head and smiled at the thought, ‘Nothing. I don’t charge for inspection of a device unless it takes over a day,’ he typed.
’Great! I’ll be by in the morning to pick it up, how’s eleven sound?’ the customer responded.
Darren typed quickly, ‘Yeah, that’s fine.’ The conversation ended a few moments later. The next morning, he awoke at ten thirty. Noting the fact that he overslept, he quickly got up, and over the next fifteen minutes, he had showered, gotten dressed, and started cooking his breakfast. His apartment was a basic, one-bedroom apartment that consisted of a den, bedroom, front hallway, and kitchen, most of which was opened up. As he finished making his breakfast, there was a knock at the door. He walked over to the door and opened it, revealing a very cute young woman with black hair and blue streaks. She was wearing a revealing futuristic outfit that showed off some cleavage, but not inappropriately. It was an outfit that made a point of being atypical. “Hi,” Darren muttered, surprised by her appearance.
“Hi,” said the young woman, “I’m ‘Synapse’, I’m here for my laptop.” Her posture was relaxed, and subtle, but she was obviously eye-catching.
“Wow,” said Darren, quickly gathering himself, “Er, um. Yeah, sorry, come on in.”
“Should I buy a boat first, or are you done drooling?” she joked and laughed as she walked in. Darren closed the door and followed behind, gesturing to her laptop. She picked it up, carrying it under her arm, “Listen, I think I might be able to afford this fix after all. I talked to some friends, they loaned me the three hundred, but I was wondering if you could help me out with the rest? Like, a payment plan, maybe?”
He nodded and opened his refrigerator, pulled out some orange juice and two glasses, “Yeah, I mean, I have no reason to doubt you can pay over time, so we can do that. Orange juice?” he offered to her.
She nodded, “Sure, why not?” He poured her a glass, and she took it, taking a drink of it. They both sat down at the table to discuss the deal, the laptop being placed on the counter nearby.
After about a half hour of negotiations, the two reached an agreement. “Good!” said Darren, “I’ll install it as soon as it comes in, and you can pay for the rest over the next few months.”
“Thank you so much,” said the young woman. “By the way, what’s your name?” she asked him curiously, having only heard his PC handle.
“Darren.” he responded as he cleaned up the dishes, “Yours?” he asked in return, “I think it would be a bit odd calling you ‘Synapse’ all the time.”
“Kaylee,” she laughed. She got up and turned up the volume on the TV, where a flash news report was playing. On the screen was a video of a diamond shaped UFO. “Darren, look at this,” she said. He looked over at the TV and was amazed at what was being shown. “I love UFO stuff,” said Kaylee.
“Yeah, me too,” said Darren as he watched.
A male news anchor could be heard giving a report, “...and we’re getting reports that it’s very loud, it’s loud enough to knock out our microphone audio on-site. Again, this is reporting from downtown Warrenville, heading east-bound toward Georgetown,” said the anchor.
“It’s coming here!” said Kaylee, excited about the news. After a few minutes, the UFO shot through the sky at blinding speed.
“I don’t think we’re going to see it, I mean, the thing was going pretty fast…”, said Darren. At that moment, they both could hear a strange tonal noise coming from outside.
They both went to the window to see what it was, and there, in the parking lot, hovered the same UFO, spinning slowly. “I’m going to go take a look at it!” said Kaylee, darting toward the door.
“Kaylee, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Darren said, following behind her. A few moments later, they were both in the parking lot, slowly getting closer to the device. As they did, it grew louder and spun faster. Symbols on the device began to glow a blue color, while it’s metallic gray color remained in contrast.
Kaylee and Darren both covered their ears, “It’s so loud!” yelled Kaylee. Just at that moment, the device shot out a bright light, and the two of them disappeared. The device got quieter and shot into the sky, again at blinding speed.
Darren awoke in a dimly lit cell. The walls were all metallic, but the floor was padded, almost like carpet. He saw Kaylee lying unconscious, and he tried to wake her, “Kaylee, wake up!”, he said.
She slowly regained consciousness, “Where are we?” she asked him.
“I don’t know, it looks like some kind of jail,” Darren responded. He rattled the bars of the cell, but to no avail, it was locked tightly. “Damn it!” he yelled, hitting the bars.
“Take it easy! You’re not getting us out of here by hurting yourself,” Kaylee said to him, holding him back from doing it again.
The overall room outside the small cell was medium-sized, matching colors and patterns of geometric shapes adorned the walls and floor. At one side of the room, there was an iris door, also metallic, but shade differently to mark it. It opened suddenly to reveal a red-scaled alien with spikes on its head and arms. It stood upright like a humanoid, and had red eyes. It walked to the cell, opened it, and said, “Ka’lak,” motioning for the two to walk.
Darren and Kaylee slowly walked out of the cell, Darren turned to the creature and attempted to get some answers, “I want to talk to whoever is in charge here! You’ve imprisoned us agai--”
“Ka’lak! Pothel jeru!” the creature interrupted, pointing at the door.
“Okay! Fine! We’ll walk!” said Darren. They walked out of the room and into a junction hall that split off into four directions. It was circular, shaped like the iris door, and also had the same designs and patterns that the room had. The creature guided them to an adjacent hallway, and into a room where another creature stood, also humanoid, but instead of hair, she had fur. Her skin had spots like a leopard, and she had a tail reminiscent of a cheetah’s tail, her fingernails were short, but looked very sharp. Aside from those features, she looked almost entirely human. She quickly walked up to Darren and placed a triangular device on his temple, and then one on Kaylee’s as well.
“Ysu ari? Paru taras understand me?” she said.
Darren was surprised, this was the first time he’d heard English since they woke up, “Did you just speak English?” he asked.
“Yes. The orka mavil esa for you, but it takes time, can you fully understand me now?” she asked him.
He nodded, “Yeah” he said, looking at Kaylee, who was excited about the situation.
“Sweet!” she said, “These are translators!”
“How did you know that?” asked the man with red scales. His demeanor was calm, but firm at this point.
“Let’s just say, I’m a technology enthusiast, and I happen to understand these things,” Kaylee responded.
The other woman chimed in, “Now that we’ve got that out of the way, allow us to introduce ourselves. I’m Ma’Lyr, you’re in our medical lab. The red geshyri behind you is Zell.”
“Rolar beast indeed,” Zell scoffed, adding “What do you two call yourselves? We’ve never seen your species before.”
Darren cleared his throat, “Likewise. I’m Darren, this is Kaylee. We’re humans, from the planet you just took us from.”
“Planet? We haven’t been near a planet in three weeks,” said Zell. “We’ve been stuck in this sector of space for some time, the spacial ruptures are keeping us from reaching one of the outposts nearby. To top it off, our probes keep jeratu-kalar. One of them was pulled into one of the ruptures a few uoers ago, but luckily we got it back. Now that I think of it, that’s when you two showed up in our cargo deck.”
Darren was a bit confused at their words, and thought mentioning such would be a good idea, “I don’t think these are working right, I can’t understand some of your words,” he said.
Zell nodded reassuringly, “They’ll take time to fully adjust to the difference in our languages.”
“Do these probes ever collect anything?” Kaylee asked him with a worried look.
Zell nodded, “Plants, food, things of that nature. It converts them into energy, then reconverts some of it back once it reaches the trinary docking bay, where we store the probes. The unidentified samples are stored in the cargo bay and the rest is kept as energy for later use,” Zell stated, figuring out her line of thinking. “Which means it probably brought you here. I’m really sorry about that, but it looks like you’re stuck with us,” he said.
Darren objected quickly, “Wait, what do you mean ‘stuck’? Can’t you just send us back through the same rupture and send us home?”
Zell sighed, “No, the rupture closed after we retrieved the probe, and we have no way of reopening it, least of all when we don’t even know where your homeworld is. What do you call it?” he questioned.
“Earth,” said Kaylee. She was noticeably worried that they wouldn’t be able to get home, but at the same time, they were trapped on a ship with at least two aliens, both of them friendly. What kind of adventure could emerge from this?
“Nothing I’ve ever heard of, but I’ll give you two some star maps later, maybe they’ll help you find your home, and we can take you back,” said Zell. “Come on, you two need to meet the commander. He’ll need to know about your arrival, so we can figure out what to do with you both,” he added.
The three of them left the medical lab, but not before Zell turned to Ma’Lyr for a last note, “Don’t forget about that Pethari Root we brought back. There’s a good chance we’ll need more food soon, so you might also want to analyze some plants brought from their homeworld, this ‘Urthe’ that they spoke of, just in case we can’t find any reserve energy packs on the trade-planet.”
His pronunciation was different because of his translator, but that was expected with all of the crew aboard the ship. Naturally, Darren and Kaylee would have to get used to such differences in speech. Ma’Lyr nodded as the others left.
“This way,” said Zell, pointing down the corridor. They started walking down the hall, curious to what they would see on this vessel.
“So,” Darren began, “What is this ship, anyway?”
“The F.T.S. Auriga. Federated Trade Ship. It’s not the biggest, but it’s a decent size. The particle weapons suit our needs as well, being able to destroy comets and asteroids for minerals that we need. It has a central A.I. as it’s Core Mainframe, which controls the daily functions of the ship,” said Zell.
Kaylee was noticeably stunned by this, being a futurist, “So the A.I. manages the ship’s systems? When was it installed?”
“Many years ago. Our ships take the name of the A.I. when one is installed, and from that point on, unless a re-installation takes place, it controls the ship. The crew is free to manage whatever systems they want, and sometimes we have to repair it ourselves, but we manage. A ship that’s been paired with an A.I. doesn’t need a crew, it can run on its own, but even with that luxury, we found things can happen that the computer can’t handle on its own, so at a bare minimum, each ship has a crew of 10. Ours is slightly different, however. We don’t have a full crew, and we rarely take on passengers, let alone crew members. Of course, we don’t plan on putting you off of the ship,” Zell laughed.
They reached five clear tubes near one of the walls, and Zell pointed at them, “Here, get in one of them. The control panel inside will have numerous color oriented commands, ‘Red’ for ‘Command Deck’, ‘Blue’ for ‘Science and Medical’, ‘Yellow’ for ‘Personnel Quarters’, and ‘Green’ for ‘Storage’ and ‘Food Hall’. They run on gravity displacement, so you might feel sick at first when you use them. It will pass.”
Kaylee got in one of the tubes, “I’ll go first,” she said. She pressed the red control and the gravity shifted, and she floated upward to the command deck.
Darren and Zell got in two others and pressed the same controls, following behind. They arrived at the command deck and stepped out. Darren stopped for a moment, “So, if we were brought up by the probe, and the probe materializes its cargo in one of the cargo holds, how did we get in that cell?”
“That was my fault, I apologize,” said Zell. “When I found you two, I thought you might be raiders from a shielded transport that’s been eluding our sensors. I put you in the cell as a precaution.”
Darren nodded, “Understandable,” he said, knowing they had to take precautions like anyone else, but in the back of Darren’s mind, he didn’t trust them. They continued on toward the command center, taking in the sights as they walked. Each hall looking almost the same as the first, but with specific markings at intersections and doorways. They finally reached the command center, where the commander stood looking out at the space beyond the forward window. The room was well lit but had colors streaming on the walls and floor. The console stations each had a chair of some kind behind them, but there was no crew seated in them. The stations each had various controls lit, some of them flickering or flashing. In the center of the room, there was a galactic map holograph image being projected from the floor, where a light was displaying various lasers at points to create the image. Similarly, on the ceiling, there was a second projector doing the same.
Zell slowly walked up to the man standing at the window, “Arkaz, the two intruders are awake. I brought them here to see you. It turns out that they came aboard in one of the malfunctioning probes. It gathered them like it does our food, and deposited them in our cargo hold,” he said.
Arkaz slowly turned around and looked at them. He stood at roughly six feet tall, had light green skin, long thick blue hair, like dreadlocks, and solid blue eyes. “Welcome aboard,” he said to them, nodding slowly, “I have no doubt you both will fit in here. What is it that you do on your homeworld?” he asked them.
Darren cleared his throat, “Well, I repair computers. Of course, our computers are nothing compared to what I’m seeing here, so I’m not sure how much help either one of us will be,” he pointed out.
Kaylee gently hit his arm, “Hey, speak for yourself there, dude.” she scoffed, adding “I’m what we call a ‘Futurist’, I embrace technology, and because of that, I tend to understand it. I like to learn about advanced tech, and honestly, I’d love to see how this ship works.”
Arkaz laughed, “Well, again, I have no doubt that you’ll both find a place here. I’m ‘Arkaz’, by the way.”
Darren and Kaylee both stated their names, then Darren spoke up again, “So, you’re the commander of the ship?”
“That’s what the crew tend to call me,” said Arkaz, “the truth is, I only keep the title because I was the first one aboard. I’m more of an overseer, to be honest, I make sure the trading system we employ runs smoothly, and I make final decisions on where the ship goes,” he added.
Suddenly, a mechanical female voice plays through the ship’s speaker system in the room, “I believe I have located a method of exiting this region and proceeding to the Trade Colony. In addition, I have also determined that the two creatures that just arrived aboard this vessel are mostly harmless, although their dietary requirements will depend on a more complicated mixture of nutrients than the rest of the crew,” she said.
“Do they need anything that we can’t provide?” Arkaz replied.
The female voice spoke again, “Negative. All nutrients required can be synthesized by using minimal power, and can be converted from other sources, if necessary.”
“Thank you, Auriga. Please set us on course using your calculations,” Arkaz said, adding, “That’s our Artificial Intelligence Core, Auriga. That’s also the name of this ship, by the way. When an AI Core is installed, the ship takes the name of the Core itself.”
“Cool! Zell said something about that earlier,” said Kaylee, looking around the room at the lighting patterns, as well as the consoles. The ship began to move free of the area where the ruptures were occurring, though this movement was barely noticeable inside the ship.
“Zell, assign them some quarters, will you?” requested Arkaz, as he placed his hands behind his back and continued looking out onto the star field outside.
Zell nodded, “Of course,” he said in response. He raised his hand toward the doorway, “I believe you both know the way to the gravity tubes. Let’s go.”
Darren and Kaylee walked together in front of Zell. Upon arriving at the gravity tubes, they each got in one, and tapped the yellow control button, sending them downward into the ship. The movement was fast, but not so fast that it made them disoriented. They passed a number of decks that looked different from the rest of the ship, then arrived at the personnel quarters deck.
Darren looked at Zell after he arrived, “What were those decks just below the command level?” he asked.
Zell raised his hand toward the corridor for them to walk in that direction, “That was the section of the ship where the AI Core is located. The only way to get to it is through access hatches either on the outside of the ship, for installation, or through service crawl ways on the inside of the ship. They can be found on the command level,” he said to them as they all walked. They reached a door after a few moments of walking through the long circular hall. It seemed as though part of the ship was circular in design, judging from some hallways. Zell pressed a control on the side of the iris door, and it opened, revealing a large living space with 2 sections. “This is one of the rooms you can use. Will you both be staying in the same housing, or do you prefer separate rooms?” Zell asked them.
Kaylee laughed and put her hand on Darren’s chest, “As cute a couple that we seem, we’re not actually together. In fact, we only know each other through business,” she said, walking into the room, mid-sentence. “I’ll take this room. Got any clothes I can change into?” she asked Zell.
Zell lightly shook his head, “I’m afraid not, we haven’t had much opportunity to look for clothing where we’re at. Once we get to the outpost, we’ll look for someone who deals with clothing and let you know.”
Kaylee bit her lip a bit and looked around, “Please tell me there’s a bathroom,” she said anxiously.
Zell’s eyes widened, “In that room” he stuttered and pointed.
Kaylee walked to the room in question and responded with a ‘thank you’. Zell closed the door to her chambers and looked at Darren, “I guess I should have started with that, since you’ve been here for a few uoers already,” said Zell.
“What’s an uoer? We were unconscious long?” asked Darren.
Zell and Darren started walking further down the hallway as Zell nodded and said “Indeed, you were. An uoer is one cycle of a fraction of our day. The smallest temporal calculation is a meska, of which, there are one-thousand within a setka. There are sixty setkas in a metka, and sixty metkas in an uoer, twenty-four uoers are in a single solar dar. These are fairly universal, but beyond the dar, each planet keeps its own time-table. Some planets even have differing uoers in a dar.” They passed another door along the way, finally stopping at a third. Zell tapped the control, and the iris door opened, revealing another living space. Darren walked in, “This is really cool,” he said.
Zell laughed, “To be honest, I envy you, just now exploring the life and environment that I grew up in. The simplest things will likely amaze you, but it will take time to get used to everything. Take my advice, take it slow, don’t be too hard on yourself, if you find the adjustment difficult,” he said to Darren.
“You sound like you’ve dealt with that before,” Darren pointed out.
Zell nodded, “Once, yes. We used to have a member aboard who grew up on a planet that rejected technology. To their people, technology was the work of evil, but this individual did not feel as they do. They came aboard the Auriga in hopes of a new life, but they weren’t ready for it all. They took months to adjust to the use of our technology, but it did little good in the end. They were hunted down and killed by the Imperium Guard, over an offense that they could not have known of.”
Darren gulped and could barely muster the words, “What was the offense?” He clenched his jaw, hoping he wouldn’t make the same mistake.
Zell breathed deeply, and sighed heavily, “Daring to speak against the guards for their actions against a defenseless old man. They were simply the latest two victims of the Imperium and its heavy-handed regime,” he said, adding, “Don’t worry about it. Stick close to me until you get used to your surroundings and situation, and you’ll be fine.”
Some time had passed, the ship was almost an hour away from the outpost, Darren and Kaylee had settled in and had met up once again, this time on Green Level, where the food hall was. Zell was waiting for them to show them how to find a meal on board the ship. “How cool is this ship?” Kaylee said to Darren, not so much a question as it was a statement of fact.
“Yeah, it’s really something. But I’d like to go home,” Darren responded.
Kaylee nodded, “I have to admit, I am getting a little homesick as well, but at the same time,” she said, jumping in front of him and motioning with her hands in a wide gesture, “wow!” she finally finished.
Darren laughed and shook his head, “You’d like it too much here. What about all the stuff we’ve got going on back home?” he asked her.
“Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a lot of exciting things going on back home,” she said to him. The truth was, Darren didn’t either. He was bored with the work he was always doing, nothing interested him, he didn’t have friends that he hung out with. There wasn’t anything tying him down back on Earth. He thought about it, but in mid-thought, Zell interrupted.
“This is the food hall, we usually come here at specific times to eat, but since you arrived in between meals, I thought I’d show you how to use the Ration Units,” he said, walking to a device resembling a table. “This is a Ration Unit, it synthesizes food based on what we have in our cargo holds. It converts what we have into synthetic particles, which is then used to make what we eat. First, you place your hand on the unit, then it analyzes your nutritional needs as well as your cravings, and gives you something that is both pleasant to eat, and nutritionally beneficial. Go ahead, try it,” he said.
Kaylee placed her hand on the unit, then a flash of light, followed by a ‘whoosh’ sound, deposited a bowl of ice cream with a utensil resembling a spoon. “I was just craving some ice cream!” she said as she picked it up. She tasted it and smiled, “It tastes just like it! How is that possible?” she asked.
Zell nodded, “The computer uses your memory to recreate the desired dish exactly as you remember it. Of course, without an AI, that wouldn’t be possible. You can also program it to your preferences, but I’ll show you that once you’ve had a few meals. If you can’t finish a meal, simply place the rest on the unit, and it will recycle it back into energy.” Zell placed his hands behind him and began to walk toward the door, “I wish we had time to allow you to finish that dish, but unfortunately I need to make sure you two can fire a weapon, if need be. Come with me, please,” he said. Kaylee placed the unfinished dish onto the unit, and with the same flash of light and ‘whoosh’ sound, it vanished. They both followed Zell to the firing range, which was located on Blue Level.
“So, why do we need to learn to fire a weapon?” Darren asked Zell.
Zell cleared his throat, surprised by the question, “I don’t know how it works on your homeworld, but out here, if you don’t know how to fire a weapon, you might as well count yourself as dead. It’s not safe out here, between the times we’ve been boarded, raided, or just run into trouble planet-side, it would be enough to kill the whole crew five times over just in the past three months. I don’t want to frighten you, but that’s the reality we live with, the sooner you come to terms with that, the sooner you can prepare for it, and the better off you’ll be,” he said to them.
Kaylee was shocked, but it made sense, “Must be hard to live like that,” she sympathized.
“Yes, but the reward is worth it for most. There are a few planets out there that are like paradise, but personally, I’ve come to terms with what we do here aboard the Auriga, maybe you will too,” said Zell. They arrived at the armory, which consisted of a number of weapons on the walls, as well as a firing range. He picked up a device resembling an Earth gun in shape, but clearly different, and held it by the trigger stock, “This is a Flux Blaster. It works on principles relating to pulse rays, and laser beams. It is a highly destructive weapon, but it’s also standard issue aboard the Auriga,” he added. He tapped a control on the side of the weapon, and it lit up in red along its barrel, it gave off a ‘power-up’ sound. He aimed it down the firing range at a target, and fired the weapon. It was loud, firing a high concentration of energy, like a laser bolt, the target was hit and sparks flew all over the place at the target’s location. Zell powered down the weapon, and placed it on a table close by, “both of you, take a turn, I want to see how well you do,” he said.
Darren picked the weapon up, walked over to the firing stall, armed the weapon just as Zell did, and fired. The shot hit the target in ‘head’ zone.
“Excellent!” Zell said with enthusiasm.
“Actually, I was aiming for the torso,” Darren responded.
“In that case, we’ll work on it. But still not bad, just aim lower. You’ll get used to this weapon rather quickly, most people do. Some advice, it uses energy, so it’s not affected by things like wind, or gravity,” said Zell.
Darren nodded and shot again, this time, hitting his target where he intended. He took a few more shots, some hitting, others missing. Overall, his hit-to-miss ratio was about average for a beginner. He powered down the weapon and Kaylee took her turn as well, whose ratios were about the same. Neither of them were very confident in their aim yet, and each of them would need training, since their aim was about average for beginners. Zell took note of this and finished up the session within a matter of an hour. “I want you both to practice daily. The ship will log your time and accuracy ratio each time, so I’ll be able to track your progress,” said Zell, adding, “Come with me, I’ll get you both set up with a weapon so that when we arrive at the outpost, you won’t be defenseless.”
Darren and Kaylee followed Zell to his workshop, located fairly close to the firing range. He tapped a control, which opened the wall, revealing a number of different Flux Blasters as well as a few rifles. Kaylee noticed one to her liking, “I’ll take this one, if it’s not too hard to handle,” she said, pointing to it.
Zell smiled and nodded, “I was about to recommend that one to you. It’s just as accurate as the standard issue, but it’s lighter, and easier to aim with. It also has a laser guidance system, for easier aiming, though your enemy will see it as well,” he said, handing it to her with a holster.
She put the holster on, latching it and tightening it around her hips so that it would remain in place. It was form-fitting, which surprised Darren, who couldn’t help but notice. “What do you think, Darren? Does it work with my butt?” she teased him.
He stared as she turned her back to him. “Yeah, actually. It works so well, that it might even distract the enemy while we’re running away,” he teased back. Kaylee laughed and smacked his arm lightly, taking it as a compliment. Zell was very confused by their exchange, not convinced that he had understood it all, whether from the translation, or the overall message and obvious playful attitude they shared.
“A standard issue Flux Blaster would probably suit your needs, Darren,” Zell interrupted, handing it to him. Darren attached the holster and placed the weapon in it, as Kaylee did.
“Well, it looks like we’re all set then,” Darren said. Just then, the ship shook violently, knocking the three of them off of their feet. Darren caught Kaylee, saving her from a head injury in the process. The ship’s lights changed to a pulsing red color, the hallway lights all changing in sequence, with blue and red sections, looking like the lights were moving along the walls.
The ship’s intercom was blaring with an alert sound, the AI spoke through the speakers, “Intruders located on Level Yellow, Alpha Sector.”
Zell took a rifle from the wall and quickly exited through the door, “Come on!” he yelled out. Darren and Kaylee followed behind, knowing he’d need help, even if they weren’t the best shots. Halfway down the corridor, laser bolts started firing into the section. Zell took cover and returned fire when he could. “They’re raiders!” he yelled back to the two humans, who were also taking cover.
Again, the AI spoke through the speakers, “Intruders located on Level Blue, Sigma Sector.”
Zell fired a few shots, yelling back at the AI, “Yeah, tell me something I don’t know!” he exclaimed.
“Unable to give new data based on search parameters,” chimed the AI. The raiders fired a few more shots at Zell, each one hitting the walls, creating a new blast mark. Their weapons were obviously set too high for a raid, they weren’t there for cargo, they were there for blood.
Kaylee took her Flux Blaster from the holster and powered it up, peeking around the corridor to see the exchange. Darren grabbed her to hold her back, “Are you nuts?!” he blatantly asked.
“We can either help him and fend them off, or we can do nothing, and possibly die. I’d rather fight than allow myself to be killed out of blind fear,” she said to him, reaching around the corner and firing her weapon. The blast bolt hit one of the raiders in the shoulder, obviously causing a lot of pain for him. Kaylee wasn’t a warrior, not by a long shot, but she did have a point that hit Darren hard.
“I’ve got an idea, keep shooting,” he said to her. He took his Blaster from its holster and turned the corner leading behind the raiders. Two of them did the same, likely to come in behind them, Darren saw them and fired his weapon, shaken up from the encounter already, and thinking he might actually die on this ship. The bolts shot through the air, hitting one of the raiders, knocking him down and unconscious, the second raider taking cover. “They’re coming in behind us!” yelled Darren as he fired a few more bolts, taking cover behind one of the corners in the hallway.
Zell called out to the AI, “Auriga, Defense Protocol Nine!”
Without a response, some panels opened up from the ceiling of the hallways, and small diamond-shaped objects came out of the openings, firing blaster bolts at the intruders, knocking them out, or killing them, depending on where they hit. This was obviously something that must take a lot of resources to use, and because of that, it must have been a last resort effort to repel an attack, given that Zell’s first instinct was to go against them head-on rather than allow the ship to use this protocol. Very quickly, the fire fight ended, and the devices retracted into the ceiling again, the panels closing afterward.
Zell stood up and quickly went to check on Darren and Kaylee, “Are you two alright?” he asked them.
They both nodded and replied with a yes. Zell motioned for them to follow him, and they did, quickly going to the gravity tubes, “Yellow Level” he said to them, pressing the control. He was propelled to yellow level, and shortly following, so too were Darren and Kaylee, their weapons ready for anything.
Upon arriving at Level Yellow, they saw a flash of light around the bend, followed by what sounded like a group of raiders yelling in pain. Kaylee, Darren, and Zell quickly ran around the bend, and there stood a woman with red hair, in the middle of the corridor. At the end of the corridor laid a group of raiders, burnt and dead. The woman turned around, raising her hands toward them with what looked like lightning in her palms. “Friendly!” yelled Zell. The woman lowered her hands, the lightning disappearing as she did. Her skin was a golden color, and her eyes were a bright blue that seemed to glow. She was wearing a robe that looked as though it was quickly put on, as such, it was almost overly-revealing.
“The chulgas came into my room and interrupted my meditation!” she exclaimed, waving her hands. “Get rid of them, please?” she asked, almost as a command.
Zell gulped and simply nodded, walking past her. “Auriga,” he stated, walking toward the dead raiders, “are there any more intruders aboard?” he finished.
“Negative. The raider ship has broken pursuit and has entered a course that would place them within the Kinlan Expanse in roughly one stellar day. It is likely that they were following us from that point,” replied the AI.
Zell searched through the raiders for anything that could be useful, “how did they get aboard?” he asked.
The AI replied over the speakers, “It appears they used a highly modified Trans-location Platform which was able to target alternate areas of the ship.”
“Very well, scan the bodies, find any survivors, vaporize the dead, and transfer anything useful to the cargo bay,” said Zell. He stood up and began walking back to the trio standing in wait. “De’Lora, these two are the new arrivals, Darren and Kaylee,” he said to her.
De’Lora nodded to them, then looked back at Zell, “How did those raiders get aboard? The Trans-location room is locked down,” she asked him.
Zell scratched his head as he replied, “Apparently, Auriga thinks they had a modified trans-location platform. They used it to bypass the link and stabilize random jumps.”
“Creative… and annoying,” she said to him, adding, “I’m going back in my room to finish my meditation, perhaps then my mood will be better for a proper introduction to these… new arrivals.”
Zell nodded, “Will you be joining the trade team for once?” he asked her as she stepped into her room.
De’Lora turned to face him, “Really, Zell, you know me better than that. How many trade missions have I gone on?” she asked.
“Two. Both of which were for scent sticks and body paint,” he replied. “Just thought I’d check with you first. If you change your mind, you can join us any time,” he said.
“And as usual, if you happen to find anything I might like, please do let me know,” she smiled, and pressed the control to close the door, locking it in the process.
Zell motioned for Darren and Kaylee to follow him. Darren was distracted by De’Lora and didn’t notice the motion. Kaylee turned back around and pulled him by his shirt collar, “Oh, you’re a typical guy alright,” she muttered, practically dragging him, but quickly snapping him out of his daze.
“Alright! Okay! I’m paying attention!” he said as he came out of his apparent trance, now walking on his own.
Zell looked back at them for a moment, then ahead again, still walking, “Don’t be too hard on him. De’Lora is… unique, to say the least. Her species are the Aushika, they hold special powers that, to this day, still mystify nearly all who encounter them. Their bio-electric field can be used either as a weapon, or as a means to pacify those around them. It can be specially tuned to almost anyone, in nearly every species I’ve personally encountered so far. Her appearance aside, she is found to be attractive to most, and part of that is because of her bio-electric field. I’ve seen many have the same reaction that Darren just did,” he said.
Kaylee was intrigued, “But not you?” she asked Zell.
Zell simply laughed under his breath, and said, “No. I’m… damaged.” He spaced out for a few seconds, clearly reliving something in his mind in that time, but just as quickly as he had stopped, so too did he begin again, walking down the corridor. He said nothing more of what he meant, and that was enough to tell Darren and Kaylee that it was something he didn’t want to talk about.
“So,” Darren said after a short pause, “what are we about to learn about next?” he finished, knowing full well that Zell has taken it upon himself to teach them about the ship.
Zell led them back to the gravity tubes, “You’re going to learn how to operate the panels in the command center. It’s important for everyone aboard to know how to operate this vessel, should it’s primary AI core be shut down suddenly. Each panel on the ship controls the ship’s systems, everything from weapons, to our Inter-spacial Flux Drive,” he said.
“Wait a minute,” Darren interrupted, “Are you saying that this ship can travel faster than light?” he asked.
Zell turned around to face them both, the gravity tubes lit up as he spoke, “Technically no. It’s not a form of propulsion technology, rather, it envelops the ship in a shell of non-linear space which allows it to travel quickly. The ship itself is removed from normal space during this event,” he clarified. He entered one of the gravity tubes and tapped the control, sending him up toward the command deck. Darren and Kaylee followed afterward. They met in the command center, where Zell had placed each of them in a station. Kaylee was to learn weapons first, while Darren was learning helm control. The lessons took roughly forty-five minutes in total, and neither Kaylee, nor Darren, felt as though they had fully understood it all, though Zell reassured them that they would eventually learn it well enough to operate the ship without instruction. The ship neared the trade-planet, which made Darren nervous. Were they ready to venture onto an alien world, filled with new and bizarre sights and individuals? They were about to find out.