“Armored Transport D eight seventeen boarding now.”
Derek clutched his ticket in apprehension. He was waiting with his sisters and Mr. Stonemen in The Sphere's transportation hub. The hub was filled with ingoing and outgoing transports, along with squads of solders supposed to protect the transports. There was a small waiting area for the rare civilian passengers like Derek.
“That's you,” Stonemen said, holding out Derek's ticket. He had been ecstatic when Derek told him he planed to take a visit outside. He had made arrangements and got Derek the first ticket out.
Now it was time to leave. It would only be a short visit. The armored transport would go to an outer colony, Larnadra, that had been cleared of barbarians and colonized by The Sphere. They would offload their cargo there, and then head right back. Derek would have the chance to do a little sightseeing, but not much. He would be completely safe. Apparently.
“Well, come on,” Stonemen said, picking up Derek's small suitcase. He hadn't packed much. He had kept his Great Foundry uniform, because he figured the tough clothes would be able to handle anything the outside threw at them. He touched the bone white hard hat for comfort.
“Goodby brother, I hope you come back soon,” Susan said, wrapping him in the biggest huge she could.
“He will,” Stonemen said instantly. He sounded so certain, it was almost like he was trying to convince the five year old with a forceful argument.
“He'd better,” Maggie said, hugging Derek as well.
“He will.” Stonemen sounded even more forceful now.
“I will,” Derek said, giving Stonemen a I'm grateful, but be quiet look over Maggie's shoulder. The girls were going to be well looked after during his trip, Stonemen had made all the arrangements. Derek had inspected the daycare himself, just to make sure.
“You'd better get going,” Stonemen said, gesturing at the transport.
“Right,” Derek said, standing.
Stonemen handed him his luggage, and shook his hand. He leaned in real close and whispered, “You're on your way up, Derek Wheeler. This trip proves it.” Derek smiled, and Stonemen smiled back. It was strange, but Stonemen's smile, which was quite pleasant, sent a chill down Derek's spine. His face didn't look like it was built to have that smile.
“Goodby!” he yelled, breaking the handshake with Stonemen and running towards the transport. “Don't want to miss my trip!” He waved over his shoulder and then turned, not intending to look back.
The transport was a harsh, metal thing, designed to hold as many solders as possible and give then the best protection. Had a triangular cockpit at the front, with a long passenger compartment going back. The entire back side of the vehicle could open up to allow solders to deploy quickly in and out. Directly under the cockpit was it's main armament, and eighty millimeter cannon. It could swivel independently from side to side and, according to the reports over the radio, it could knock out any White Fleet armor with ease. It also had a fearsome top mounted machine gun, and it's treads were protected by a row of metal armor.
It was not built for comfort. When Derek sat down in his seat, hard metal greeted him, and his behind was almost instantly sore. A solder in gray army fatigues and a gray cap strapped him into the seat, and it got even worse.
Only about half the people in the transport were solders. The rest were civilians who, for one reason or another, needed to go to the colony on Larnadra. They were all seated at the front of the transport, separated from the solders.
There were only two people that really caught Derek's eye. One was a very pretty young lady who was sitting across from him. They exchanged smiles.
The other was the man sitting next to him. He was tall and muscular, and looked like he could squash just about anyone like a bug. He wore a pistol in his hip holster, and had numerous scars on his face and arms. All the solders were highly respectful of him and called him “Colonel,” although he bore no such insignia. His face had a cruel twist in it, and he also eyed the pretty girl across from them. He couldn't have been over forty-five, but Derek could tell he was in the presence of a veteran of many battles.
“Hello, I'm Colonel James Cornwell of the Sphere's army. The best one too,” he said as soon as a solder strapped him in. He voice had a swagger to it. He extended a hand in greeting, and when Derek took it he shook vigorously. “I'm not officially a colonel right now, off duty for some rest, but every solder in this car knows who I am,” a smile danced across his face when he said the last bit. “So who are you? Why are you wearing the uniform of a Great Foundry worker?”
“I'm Derek,” Derek said with a bit of hostility. He instantly disliked Cornwell, although he felt a need to respect him as a veteran.
“I've fought in a hundred campaigns against the barbarians, and no small amount against the White Fleet,” Cornwell boasted, sighing in an extremely cocky manner. He flashed a smile at the young lady. “And I can't die. I'm immortal.”
The last sentence got Derek's attention. His head perked up to hear more.
Seeing that he'd got Derek's attention, along with the attention of many other people in the transport, Cornwell continued. He grabbed the collar of his shirt and yanked it down to reveal a ghastly dried wound on his upper chest. “Back when I was just a Lieutenant, my company was supposed to raid a small village. Turned out it wasn't a small. An entire army of savages was waiting for us. One of them got me right here.” He pointed to the wound. “Went strait through my artery, bleeding like hell. The doc said I was a dead man. But then, all of a sudden, for no real reason, the bleeding stopped. I got better by the grace of God, or someone else, and I went back a slaughtered every savage in that village, paid 'em back. Sense then I've had a grenade go off at my feet and barely scratch me, seen every other man die in a charge, and shrugged off quite a few other bullets. I can't die.”
No one had much to say to that. They waited in silence for the transport to begin moving, to take them on their adventure. The co-pilot came through. “Right, we're going to be moving soon, everyone strapped in?” he asked, double checking everyone's safety belts.
Derek could feel every movement as they lurched out of the transportation hub. He could feel the transport drive through the checkpoint that would allow them out. And he could feel it when the transport slid into the water.
All the vehicles constructed in The Sphere were amphibious. The Sphere was suspended above the water, so it would have been rather inefficient for them not to be. Derek felt the mechanical gears that somehow kept the transport afloat spin into action underneath him.
After they had gone a little ways Cornwell slid down a metal covering, revealing a small window. He and Derek gazed out of it, and for the first time in his life, Derek saw The Sphere.
It was nothing like the one's on propaganda posters. It was like a gigantic ball bearing, suspended over the water. Of course, the words gigantic do not truly do it justice. It blocked out the sky, and cast a vast shadow that the transport, ant like in comparison, would not escape for several hours. The vast metal legs that kept The Sphere from tumbling into the ocean were of varying sizes, as if the builder hadn't had any clear idea of the most stable size. Some were two hundred feet wide, others were only fifty feet. There were dozens of them, arranged in no clear order. Aside from where the legs met the surface, The Sphere's surface was completely smooth. Not a single window was on it's surface. It was a world in itself, and there was no reason why anyone would need to look outside.
Derek saw a part at the very bottom of The Sphere's metal surface suddenly break open, and a transport came sliding out onto the waves. The metal then returned to it's original position, seamlessly blending back in to the side. It was as if it had never opened at all.
“Ah, I've seen it all before,” Cornwell said, sliding the metal cover back over the window, suddenly shutting off Derek's view. “Now let me tell you the story of when I wrestled with a mutant spider to reconnect with my squad...”
The trip settled into a pattern. They would constantly travel across the water, a spare pilot would take over when the other one needed some rest. The horrendously uncomfortable seating prompted many walks up and down the cabin, giving a rest to people's behinds.
The only one who didn't seem to mind it was Colonel Cornwell. He told war story after war story, all of them about him. Most were basicly the story of him killing ridiculous amounts of savages with only small variations. He would always kill the women and children among them as well. “It's like mercy killing,” he said one time when the pretty woman (who Derek had found out was named Sara) asked. “Living as a savage is a life worse then death. They don't have any order or administration. They're really nothing more then animals. And the mutants! They're even worse! They aren't even human! They're dumb brutes, the lot of them, and they live for murder. Strong as hell of course, I wouldn't like to run into a few of 'em in a dark alley. But all in all easy to kill, unless you get some with a human leader.”
“Some are led by humans?” Derek wondered. “But they're just as stupid aren't they?”
Cornwell's voice became hushed. “Well, most of the savages yes, but, there have been traitors to The Sphere.” A collective gasp ran through the listening passengers. A wicked smile came onto Cornwell's face. “Yes, greedy, immoral men, who care only for money. Usually they're deserters, which is why I always have any man who even talks about desertion shot on the spot. Bad for moral to have that kind of talk about. Anyway, these men, if they're smart enough, can round up an army of mutants and wreak havoc on the colonies. Luckily most of them don't get any boats or transports, so they can't cross from island to island. Usually we'll surround the island they've overrun and blast it to hell with artillery.” He abruptly leaned in towards Derek. “Have you seen what a full spread of Defender Rockets can do to a small island?”
“No,” Derek answered, knowing he was about to find out.
“Couldn't be more devastating if you used nukes. I've seen entire forests reduced to burning ashes by Defender Rockets. Nothing living left for miles around. They can devastate a small island from end to end, and do serious damage to a large one. When a volley of those get fired, no mutant or traitor can escape it.”
“Aren't there some that acquire ships?” asked a very smartly dressed man who had been asking many other questions over the last few days.
Cornwell scratched his chin. “There is one group. Called King Cadry's legion. They're the largest and best organized of the mutant tribes. Led by a deserter named Cadry. King Cadry as he prefers to be known. They've got a large number of ships, and are always raiding us. They haven't launched any major operation in ten years however. And they're raids have decreased in frequency too. My bet is that Cadry is loosing control of his army. You know I once got into a real good scrap with a mutant from his army. Massive guy, three feet taller then me. Knocked my men about like a rag doll. But he stopped to taunt me, and I put a bullet in his head. Never taunt a man before you kill him. Gives him an opening.”
A tired looking co-pilot entered the area. Unlike the primary pilot, there was only one co-pilot on board, and he had to stay up most nights. “Everyone, me and the pilot have just received a message from a nearby colony on Landia. They've had a malfunction in their main support systems and are in need of supplies. We're the nearest transport and will be moving to assist them. We're only a few hours away from them anyway.”
“Landia?” Cornwell exclaimed. “There isn't any colony on Landia. It's just a tiny little outpost. What would they need with a big transport like this?”
The co-pilot looked tired and irritable. “They have wounded. We need to support them. We're the closest, and it should only take a few hours. You'll get to step on dry land for awhile anyway, so don't complain.”
A collective sigh ran through the passengers when he said “dry land.” Everyone in the transport was going stir crazy from the days and nights together. And the horridly uncomfortable seats. The next hours were spent waiting for the moment when the transport would pull up onto the beach.
“Doesn't make any sense,” Cornwell kept saying. “I didn't know there was still a outpost even on Landia. Pretty small island. No natural resources. Don't know why we were interested in it in the first place. Doesn't make sense.”
A exclamation of joy came from many passengers mouths when they felt the transport pull up onto the beach. The co-pilot came through and told everyone to remain seated until they got fully out of the water. Derek was excited. It would be the first time ever that he saw the outside. How big would the sky be? What kind of plants and creatures would he find?
The back of the transport opened, and the solders rushed out to secure the immediate area. The passengers undid their belts and got up out of the painful seats. They rushed to get outside, to see the air.
Derek blinked in sunlight for the first time.