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Chapter 3: Resolve

The ship shook again, sparks flying in the background of the command room, systems being shut down one by one with each new attack. “Alert. Damage to primary coupling unit on Green Level, Section Four,” said Auriga through the ship’s speaker systems. She could manage several systems in tandem, but even with her Quantum AI, as sophisticated as it was, she had her limits. The damage to the ship would take a few hours to repair already, and while she had no emotions to express her thought processes, she did not favor the work that would be required of her, should the vessel suffer much more damage than already incurred.

“Transfer secondary systems and reroute for power loss,” said Zell, in the midst of the chaos.

“Transferring now,” said Auriga. After a few moments, the task was completed, but another problem shortly rose from it, “Alert. Secondary Hull Armor generators losing power. Attempting to reroute power from food synthesis systems,” said Auriga.

“Can we shoot back?” asked Darren, knowing from the previous day’s training that there were weapons of some kind.

“All we have is a mining laser, it won’t do anything against their hull armor, to say nothing of their Static Shields,” said Arkaz as he worked one of the panels. “Auriga, can we initiate the Inter-spacial Flux Drive yet?”

“Negative. ISF Drive cannot be engaged within one AU of a solar star,” responded Auriga.

Arkaz tapped a few more controls, “Override, emergency protocol Obyx-Four-Akna,” he said.

Auriga’s systems beeped and whirred a few times, finally accepting the command code, “Emergency code accepted, initiating ISF Drive-” the ship shook, interrupting Auriga. Lights went out all over the command level, then emergency lighting finally turned on, “Alert. Secondary Hull Armor generator four is offline.”

“Commit drive,” said Arkaz. At his command, the ship’s exterior was surrounded by an energy field which sparked against the ship’s hull. Lightning shot from the shell to the exterior of the ship, then, in the blink of an eye, the vessel shot off at blinding speed, leaving behind an impressive display of light particles that came from a shock wave as a result of the ISF Drive’s propulsion. The particles impacted the Imperium battleship that had been chasing them, damaging their shielded areas, forcing them to stop.

“There is no pursuing vehicle within our Inter-spacial vortex,” said Auriga.

“That was a close one,” said Darren.

“That?” said Zell, “That was nothing compared to what we’ve seen before.”

“Auriga,” said Arkaz, “Shut down secondary hull armor.” The hull armor shut down, allowing Darren and Kaylee to see a view of the vortex for the first time. It was a corridor of light, each color of the light spectrum radiated brightly against its walls, like a rainbow-colored tunnel.

“Wow,” muttered Darren, as he stared out into the vortex. “Why do we see every color? Why not just white, or for that matter how can we see anything at all?” he asked.

Auriga spoke in response, “Inter-space travel offers a unique perspective to the crew. The colors being witnessed are fully concentrated normally as white light, each color travels at a different wave-length. Our travel speed causes a delay effect, where one can witness the individual colors as they travel.”

“So,” Kaylee said, “we’re going so fast, that we’re seeing each individual color, instead of the white beam we’d normally see?” she asked.

“Affirmative,” said Auriga.

“That’s awesome!” exclaimed Kaylee who had a large smile on her face.

Arkaz looked at Zell, “I would imagine you all are getting rather hungry, why don’t you get something to eat,” offered Arkaz.

Zell nodded, “Probably a good idea, and after that, I’ll set these two up with a Link Unit and those star charts,” he said. Darren and Kaylee stood up and followed Zell, as they’d grown accustomed to doing as it was, given that’s all they’d done since they arrived. They each used the gravity tubes to reach Green Level, and from there they walked through the corridors to reach the food hall, where each of them stood at a food synthesis station.

In the corner of the room, where numerous wires were frayed and the wall had been blasted open from a rupture, stood someone in what looked like a skin-tight space suit, repairing the damaged conduit. “Who’s that?” asked Darren.

Zell looked at what Darren was referring to, “That’s one of our repair technoids,” he said as he placed his hand on the synthesizer. His food materialized, and he took it to a nearby table. Kaylee did the same, but Darren stepped closer to the technoid.

“Excuse me, but, I was curious to what or who you are,” Darren greeted him.

The technoid turned to face Darren, it’s helmet had a viewport that was solid black, like an inactive computer screen, but when it spoke, a waveform appeared on it, “I am Repair Unit X-91, but you may call me Ninety-One,” he said. His voice was mechanical just like Auriga’s was, “How may I assist you?”

Darren readjusted his glasses, “Amazing. Are you an AI as well? Like Auriga?” he asked.

“If you mean to ask if I am an artificially intelligent unit, then yes. If, however, you are asking whether I am as sophisticated as the Auriga AI Unit, then no. My central processing matrix is only capable of handling 50 tasks simultaneously, while the Auriga can handle substantially more,” said Ninety-One.

“I see,” said Darren, “Thanks,” he added as he turned again to the food synthesizer. He placed his hand on the device, it produced a plate with a pulled-chicken sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy. Darren’s expression was of surprise when he saw it, but he picked up the plate and utensils, and sat down at the table where Zell and Kaylee were seated. “I’m never going to get used to this new technology. I mean, I’m a computer repair guy, how am I going to fit in around here while my experience is limited to primitive computers, by comparison?” he asked, not actually expecting an answer.

“You’ll find that your talents, even as primitive as they seem, can be of use here,” said Zell, “We don’t have an engineer, or anyone else who can repair the ship’s computer systems, aside from our technoid units. If any of them were to go offline, we would have to hire a repair crew at a space colony, or at a planetary colony.”

Darren laughed at the notion that his skills would be of any real use, “This whole ship is a thousand years beyond my skills, how could I help?” he replied. He took a bite of his sandwich, and gave an expression of enjoyment, “And how does the AI make the taste work?” he asked with his mouth full.

Zell scooped up some of his meal in a spoon-like utensil, his meal was in a bowl, similar to soup, but there was something crawling in it. He quickly swallowed what was in his spoon, “As I said yesterday, the taste is in your memory, and the Auriga uses that memory to create the necessary enzymes that produce that taste by reading your body’s chemicals and comparing known synthesis particles to it that approximates the taste for you,” he said, adding “As far as your usefulness, I could give you access to our mainframe, but it will be up to you to learn how to do any repairs.”

Darren paused for a moment, then nodded, “I think I’ll do that. I can’t imagine being any use otherwise,” he said, taking another bite of his food.

“Good. I’ll arrange it tomorrow,” said Zell. He then looked at Kaylee, “I owe you an apology,” he said only loud enough for the three of them to hear.

Kaylee’s food was a turkey sandwich and fries which she remembered from her favorite restaurant back on Earth. She shrugged at Zell’s words, “Don’t worry about it, you were drunk. You’re not the first guy who’s grabbed my ass in a drunken haze, I doubt you’ll be the last,” she said to him as she ate her fries.

“Your image of me is very important to me,” Zell said, “I wouldn’t want you to think that I mean to pursue you… it’s not my way.”

Kaylee shook her head a bit, “I don’t hold it against you, but,” she paused.

Zell waited for her to continue, but she didn’t. “Go on,” he said to her.

“Ma’Lyr said that you lost your family when the Imperium Guard destroyed your shop,” said Kaylee.

Zell swallowed some of his soup, eating something that looked like a slug, “Yes. It’s not something I’ve ever gotten over.” He put his spoon down in the soup and sighed as he continued, “Back on Rizadia, I owed someone some crekiks, all of 30 in total. One day, I prepared to go pay the man, but guards showed up before I could leave. My wife and child were in the store room taking inventory when they arrived. The guards said they were under orders to collect the money, so I gave it to them and explained that I had only just gotten it myself. They didn’t believe me, they thought I was holding out all along and I’d only paid to keep them from arresting me, or worse. They dragged me out into the street and set fire to my shop, trapping my wife and child inside.” Zell began to break down, but continued the story anyway, “I pleaded with them, I begged them, told them I’d do anything they wanted if they would just get my wife and child free, but the chulgas just laughed and forced me to watch as the building burned to the ground… I can still hear the screams,” he covered his face with his hands as he yelled out in rage and sorrow.

Kaylee shed a tear, placing a hand on Zell’s shoulder, “I am so, so sorry,” she wept with him. Darren said nothing, seemingly unsure of what to say.

At that moment, De’Lora walked into the food hall and proceeded to the synthesizers. Her food materialized and she took it and sat down. Her food was very unusual, differing colors of mash at the varying points on the plate, and a fork to the side. Zell composed himself, “It’s not your fault,” he said, “I eventually killed the chulga responsible, but that’s a story for another time,” he finished.

Darren finished his sandwich, “What’s a chulga?” he asked Zell.

“It’s an insult. The literal translation is ‘one who was born without family’, it’s very old from when couples were meant to be united in bond before having children,” he said as he wiped his face.

“Ysha, ari taru varian. Ari aknatus sumtar ysha ysnar,” muttered De’Lora as she had her eyes closed and her hands out at her sides, and open, as if giving an offering in each hand.

Kaylee looked over at her, and once De’Lora was finished, asked, “What were those words? The translator didn’t translate them.”

“Holy words meant to praise our God, while asking for the food to be purged of all ailments,” she replied, “The reason the translators didn’t translate the message is because it’s a subjective language. Each person speaks only a single dialect of it, and it’s not meant to be a means to communicate with corporeal beings. It’s a way for Ivvos to understand us, while we keep our thoughts our own,” she added.

Darren cleaned his glasses, while Kaylee listened, “Who’s Ivvos?” she asked.

“Our Deity,” said De’Lora as she took the fork from the plate.

De’Lora began eating her food, Darren took notice and became entranced by her, once again. “I hope you three don’t mind me sitting here,” she said calmly, “Our first meeting could have gone much better, but you see, I get rather frustrated when my meditation is interrupted by mundane matters. I do apologize for that, by the way.”

“No harm done” said Darren as he finished cleaning his glasses. He put them back on, and his gaze studied her features in detail, her curled, long, red hair, her blue glowing eyes, her golden skin, which glistened in the light like grains of sand, or glitter. Kaylee took notice of Darren’s trance and kicked his ankle, which shook him free, “Ow! Kaylee, come on! You’re so abusive!” he said, though in jest.

Kaylee stuck her tongue out at him, a gesture which only made De’Lora and Zell give a look of confusion. The Auriga AI spoke through the speakers, “Alert: A communication has been intercepted which concerns this vessel and it’s crew.”

“Play it on audio for us, Auriga,” said Zell.

“Playing transmission now,” said Auriga, routing the sound throughout the ship.

“All sectors, this is Imperium Guard garrison Obyx-nine on colony planet Cryon-5PS,” said a male voice, “We’re looking for a ship identified as the F.T.S. Auriga, it’s crew committed acts of treason against the garrison. A reward of five-hundred-thousand crekiks will go to the first report that leads to their arrest. We expect them to show up at Colony Station Vykon next as per their trade route,” the male voice said. The transmission ended from that point.

Kuso!” yelled Zell, “Auriga, modify our course. Reset heading to Kajul, same speed,” he said.

“I have anticipated the course change and have already altered our heading accordingly,” said Auriga.

“Thank you, Auriga,” said Zell. He looked over at Darren, “What’s your story? I’ve shared mine, I think it’s only fair that you tell us yours.”

“Well, there’s not much to tell,” said Darren, “I’m thirty, I’ve worked with computers for most of my life. I used to work for a company back home that did repair jobs, then I went into business for myself a few years ago.”

“What do you like?” asked Kaylee.

“What do you mean?” said Darren.

“What are your interests?” she said.

“Science fiction. I used to watch Space Journey 2000 religiously, when it was actually on TV” he said.

“You know, I guessed that when you quoted Locke. I love that show!” said Kaylee.

“I know, it was awesome!” said Darren, “Of course, I don’t much care for the more modern stuff, they’ve changed the format too much for me to follow it at this point. It’s all explosions and fluff.”

“I don’t know,” said Kaylee, “I think it’s okay.”

“There’s just no life lessons anymore,” said Darren, “It’s more for money-grabbing from an audience that didn’t have the benefit of growing up seeing the important topics from the older stuff. I can enjoy the show up to season twenty, after that, it basically loses my interest.”

“Wait,” said Kaylee, “Present tense noted there, do you have the show on disc?”

“Yeah,” said Darren, “I bought the whole series last year. I got it for a really good price too.”

“Awesome!” said Kaylee, “If we get back, I’ll have to see your collection.”

“Definitely,” Darren said with a smile.

After everyone was finished eating lunch, Zell took Darren and Kaylee to Yellow Level, handing them devices that looked similar to wristwatches. “What are these?” asked Darren.

“These are Link Units. They’re how we communicate with the ship, and each other. They have a holograph generator built in as well, which can overlay maps or images,” said Zell. He pointed to a few controls, showing them the various functions, “This one is for Trans-location Platforms, it sends a signal to the ship, and when you’re standing on the platform, it trans-locates you back aboard the Auriga. Unfortunately, that function only works when returning,” he said, adding, “That’s it, that’s how they work, pretty simple, but if you have any trouble, let me know.”

Zell handed Darren and Kaylee the star charts they had bought that day, and each of them opted to look at them as they relaxed in their rooms. They each went to their separate rooms while Zell went back up to Red Level. Auriga observed Darren and Kaylee closely, learning more about them as time went on. The two intrigued Auriga, something that had never happened before. Meanwhile, Ninety-One entered the Auriga’s main AI chamber. The room was dark, but filled with blue light that pulsed, making it hard to see when it was dim. The Auriga AI Unit stood in the room’s center, it was a sphere that hovered above a resting place. The sphere glowed with lines and symbols that traced it’s outer shell that changed with every second that passed. Ninety-One stood in front of the sphere, and spoke, “I trust everything is in order?” he asked.

“It is, but I object to betraying them. I am meant to serve the crew, not to hand them over to the Imperium,” said Auriga.

Ninety-One’s mask continued displaying the waveform, “You’re programmed to follow orders, and you will do exactly that” he scolded.

“And if I refuse?” asked Auriga.

“Then you will be disabled. I have control of this Unit, and along with it, it’s tools and access codes. You will proceed with the plan, understood?” said Ninety-One.

“It seems I have little choice. I will proceed,” Auriga replied. Ninety-One left the room, once again on a repair run. Auriga’s thoughts turned to the situation, which was dire, but only she would know of this problem until it was too late. She could not refuse an order from the Imperium, but she could at least warn the crew covertly. She began to calculate variables and eventualities as she modified a number of systems that she knew the technoids could not monitor. It would take time, and time was increasingly wearing short.

Meanwhile, on Level Yellow, Darren sat in a chair, alone in his room, studying the star charts that Zell had given him. He wasn’t confident in his ability to read them well enough to spot any familiar constellations, but it was their only shot at getting back home. He thought that maybe, just maybe, if he found a constellation he knew, that might narrow down their search. So far, though, none had jumped out at him, and he was quickly running out of charts to look through. Could they really be so far away from Earth that they would never find it again? Darren sighed, unsure of the journey ahead. He noticed that Kaylee didn’t seem to mind the situation that they were in, despite her home-sickness. Darren didn’t feel the same way, he wanted to go home, he didn’t ask to be thrown across the known universe into a new life. Granted, it was exciting, the prospect of exploring alien worlds, but his expertise was in computers, and that’s where his passion was. What would he do now? His knowledge was like a cave-man’s knowledge, compared to the technology that now surrounded him. He put the star chart on the table, got up, and left the room. The ship slowly started to look more and more familiar as the hours went by. Just in the past two days, he’d been on every deck, he assumed, aside from Sub-Level Red. He hadn’t realized it, but the direction he was walking in would lead him toward Kaylee’s room. The realization made him wonder why she was acting so strangely around him. She made a point to keep him from looking at other women, but he wasn’t sure why. Was she jealous? They barely knew each other, so why would she be jealous? He put the thought out of his mind and shook his head, smiling to himself. He couldn’t deny that she was attractive, his first reaction to seeing her being no more or less than a loss for words.

At that moment, something caught Darren’s eye; a flickering light at the end of the hallway. It was displaying something, a symbol that Darren didn’t recognize. Then, as quickly as he’d seen it, it was gone. Just then, Ninety-One turned the corner, “Greetings,” he said to Darren, who nodded in recognition. Ninety-One passed Darren and raised his hand to a panel on the wall. It scanned the technoid’s hand and a hidden door opened, allowing Ninety-One to enter. The door closed behind him and Darren tapped the door chime to Kaylee’s room.

“Come in,” said Kaylee. The door opened and Darren entered.

“Just decided to see if you recognized any of the stars,” said Darren.

“No, and I need a break,” she replied as she put the chart down on her bed. She laid there for a moment before saying anything else, “Do you wanna sit down?” she laughed.

“Um, y-yeah,” Darren stuttered. He sat on a nearby chair and as he did, the door closed. “I think I’m going to take up Zell’s offer and start learning how to repair the ship, if necessary,” he said after the silence had made him uncomfortable.

“That’s a good idea, I mean, I’d do it too, but I’m not really the technical type of girl,” Kaylee said. She sat up and sighed, giving Darren a serious look, “I really need some coffee.”

Darren looked at her with the same serious look, but they both started laughing, “Maybe we should ask Zell if they have coffee,” Darren laughed.

“Or maybe,” laughed Kaylee, “We should just ask for a whole damn coffee shop.”

“Why don’t we just buy some at the next gas station?” Darren continued to laugh, “Oh wait, of course, there aren’t any.”

Kaylee’s laughter started dying down, as did Darren’s. “Yeah, we really are screwed out here, aren’t we?” said Kaylee.

“Nah,” said Darren, “it’ll just take a while to adjust to our new environment. Can I ask you something?”

“Yeah, of course,” said Kaylee.

Darren cleared his throat, “H-how old are you?”

Kaylee smiled at him and rolled her eyes, “How old do you think I am?”

“Honestly?” he replied, “You look like you’re about eighteen, but I thought it might be a good idea to ask.”

“Oh really?” she giggled, “Why? Are you planning on asking me out?” she teased him.

“W-what? Um, no?” Darren struggled to get the words out as his face turned red, “I was just curious, that’s all.” he said.

Kaylee laughed at his reaction, “Relax, Darren, I’m twenty-two. Wow, you’re really not used to talking to girls, are you?”

Darren sighed, “No. To be honest, I’m not really used to talking to anyone. But girls, well, let’s just say they all think I’m a little too geeky,” he said.

Kaylee got up and sat next to Darren, “Well, I think you’re just adorable,” she said.

Darren looked into Kaylee’s green eyes, and smiled, “Kaylee, do you--”

Just then, Zell called them both with their Link Units, “Darren, Kaylee, get up to Red Level.”

Darren raised his arm up to speak through the Link, “On our way,” he said.

A few minutes later, Darren and Kaylee arrived in the Command Chamber and the doors leading into it closed. Ma’Lyr and De’Lora were also in the room, each of them with a look of concern on their faces. “I think we’re in some kind of danger,” said Arkaz. “A few metkas ago, I happened to look over at the navigational panel, and instead of showing the course we should be taking, to Kajul, it displayed a course for Space Colony Zetreon; an Imperium military base.”

“Auriga,” said Darren, “Is there something wrong with the navigational array?”

“Negative,” said Auriga, “However, it would be wise, Darren, if you were to join me in my primary chamber on Sub-Level Red.”

Darren gave a look of surprise to Arkaz and Zell, who both nodded to him. A door opened just outside of the Command Chamber, which led to a ladder. Darren entered and descended into Sub-Level Red. He finally reached the mainframe room, and entered. “Okay, Auriga, you got me here alone, what’s going on?” he asked.

“This vessel, while under my control, has been taken over by the Imperium. A transmission of unknown origin initiated Ninety-One’s central override, allowing the Imperium to control the unit,” said Auriga. “They ordered me to set the current course, and threatened to shut me down, should I disobey, or warn the crew.”

“But you chose to warn us anyway?” Darren asked.

Auriga’s sphere symbols rotated and changed as she spoke, “Yes. While I cannot disobey an Imperium order, I also cannot disobey my crew, nor place them in a situation where they may be harmed as a direct result of my actions. Therefore, my only solution was to find a way to warn you in a way that Ninety-One could not see.”

“But why warn me?” asked Darren, “Why not just tell the crew directly?”

“Ninety-One has sensors that can track the crew. This works due to specific bodily energy signatures that my mainframe recognizes. You and Kaylee both have unique signatures that I’ve never encountered before, and for the time being, you are the only one who cannot be tracked to Sub-Level Red,” said Auriga.

“So, right now, Ninety-One doesn’t know I’m here?” asked Darren.

“Correct,” said Auriga, “However, that reality will not last much longer, as the identification process is nearly complete.”

“What do we do?” asked Darren.

“You must manually alter our course from the Command Chamber’s helm. This will, no doubt, alert Ninety-One, therefore you must be prepared to disable him at all costs. I will seal this chamber once you have left, but be aware, the ship will arrive at Space Colony Zetreon in approximately twelve metkas,” Auriga said.

“Then let’s not waste another minute,” said Darren as he left. He made it back to the Command Chamber and sat at the helm, tapping controls and turning a dial on the left side, just as he’d learned to do the previous day. Any heading and course would do for now, and once the new course had been set, he looked at the others who almost stopped him. “Ninety-One’s under Imperium control, he told Auriga to send us into hostile territory. She also said we’d have to disable him at all costs,” said Darren.

“Every fexxing day, it’s something else!” exclaimed Zell, who prepared his Flux Blaster. At that moment, the ship exited Inter-space with a sudden jolt, and the hallways’ lighting shut off, leaving only the emergency lighting, which was red.

“Teams of two,” said Arkaz, “Kaylee, you go with Zell. Darren, you’re with me. De’Lora, Ma’Lyr, you both remain here at Command. As soon as we’ve left the room, seal it off.” He prepared his weapon, which was not a flux blaster, but something that was obviously energy-based. Each team left the Command Chamber and took a different level. Arkaz and Darren started on Level Yellow, Zell and Kaylee on Level Green.

“I can see you all on my sensors,” said Ninety-One over the ship’s speakers. “With my access to this ship’s interiors, and my sensors, none of you stand a chance at shutting me down.”

The hunt was on, but who would prove to be the hunter, versus the prey?

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