Chapter 2: Ethan
“Fleet Ship Hercules, do you copy. I repeat, Fleet Ship Hercules, do you copy?” Are the words I hear as I come to.
My head is splitting with pain. I look around with no memory of the events that transpired. I look down at myself, my body is covered in blood and gore. I notice various cuts from blades on my arms and legs. I feel a tickling sensation, and, raising a hand to my head, I feel the warmth and sting of pain.
I’m a mess, but the sight before me is a travesty. Not a single soul is left alive. The entire bridge crew has been, not just killed, but mauled beyond recognition.
Blood lies everywhere: On bodies, on consoles, on monitors. The floors have large puddles scattered all over. The Sekrid didn’t just shoot these people, they kept shooting. They fired their guns until they were empty and proceeded to use their knives on those who were still clinging to life.
My forearms burn from the knife wounds as I clench my fists closed in anger. My head snaps to the door as it suddenly opens and I pull my pistol from its holster as fast as I’m able, aiming down the sights, my hand trembling.
“Jesus Christ…what the fuck happened here?” I hear as a soldier steps through the door.
Another enters behind him, sees me, and raises his weapon.
“Put the gun down now!” He orders as he advances on me.
Relief washes over me as I drop my pistol and slouch back, resting my head on the wall my body sitting against. I hear the soldier kick my sidearm away. Their leader kneels down in front of me, removing his helmet.
“What happened here soldier?” He asks, authoritative.
“Sekrid…surprise attack…nothing we could do,” I reply before the combination of exhaustion and blood loss causes me to pass out again.
“We now convene for the non-judicial punishment hearing of one Ethan Blake,” The captain says in a general fashion to those of us in the room.
I stand there silent in my service dress uniform, awaiting my punishment to be ‘awarded’ to me.
“Blake. Do you understand why you’re here today?”
“To be honest ma’am, no I don’t. I hardly recall the events that transpired on the Hercules and I have no recollection of my own particular actions,” I explain.
“All that being said, the charges are still present and will be addressed. You are charged with desertion of duties in a crisis situation. You lost your head in the midst of the action and abandoned your post in order to satisfy your want for revenge,” The captain points out.
I say nothing.
“You and the Security Lead on your ship were close, no?”
“So, you admit that when you witnessed him being shot and killed, you forgot about your duties as a soldier first, and proceeded to go on a killing spree,”
“If that’s what you say ma’am,”
“Ma’am, I told you, I have no recollection of what happened on that station. I know Jake was shot. After that…nothing,”
“Let me remind you then,” The captain says as she taps a button on her podium.
A video appears on the screen next to her of footage from the Hercules.
It shows me.
I’m running past civilians who are running for their lives and engaging any Sekrid soldier I can find. She plays the video for several minutes just to hammer the point home that abandoned my duties.
“Do you understand now?” She questions in an obvious fashion.
I stay silent, the answer is rhetorical.
“You could have saved many more lives than you did that day. Because of your actions, people died senselessly. Civilians died senselessly. It’s for that reason that I determine you to be guilty. Do you understand this decision?”
“Yes ma’am,” I respond quietly.
“For your transgression I am awarding you with reduction in rank. Half month’s pay times six. You are stripped of your special forces status and you will be relocated to the XR-Three Zeus where your new classification will be Security Forces-Enlisted,” The Captain lays down her punishment like a hammer on my back and I’m reduced to staring at the floor as I’m escorted from the room.
My bags are already packed and loaded by the time the escorts put me in the transport ship. With a slap on the outer wall of the ship, it lifts off and takes me to my destination.
The XR-3 Zeus.
It’s one of the oldest known stations humanity within the confines of our owned systems. We lost many of them when the war broke between the Sekrid Empire and the UEDF. The Zeus was originally a rearm and dispatching station for ground troops, but in recent decades it’s been retrofitted as a static research station where the many scientific minds commissioned by the UEDF can come together.
As we exit jump space, I set my sights on one of the most massive structures I’ve ever seen. Ships in space are huge. Docking stations are even bigger. But the Zeus…is a whole different level of size.
A relic of the UEDF’s early war efforts, it truly depicts the amount of personnel that were coming in and out at all times during the Evolution Wars. A time where Earth was rapidly trying to evolve its war time tech in order to match the Sekrid Empire In open conflict.
The transport ship works its way around the left side of the station before advancing forward and entering a smaller auxiliary hangar bay that’s used for situations like mine. As the transport ships opens, I notice three people standing on the other side.
The one in the center is obviously the CO of the station. The person to his right is most definitely for me given that he’s holding a loaded weapon. The third one to his left is another story. She stands with her arms crossed, a smug expression on her face as she stares at me.
The soldiers who flew me here toss my bags out of the rear cabin with a loud thud as I step out of the ship and step towards the three figures in front of me. The soldiers give a quick salute and head off as the Captain steps forward.
“Blake is it?” He asks obviously.
“Yes, sir,” I reply simply.
“I’ll be straight with you. I don’t want you here. I’m pretty sure you don’t want to be here either. I don’t care what kind of prestige you carry with you. After what you pulled, none of that means anything. I’m not going to make your life easy here. Consider this a prison sentence, Blake,” The Captain explains sternly, placing a finger in my chest to add emphasis.
I look down at his finger, then back to his face, raising an eyebrow.
“Happy to be aboard, sir,” I say flatly.
He narrows his eyes at me before stepping back and introducing his cohorts.
“During your stay here, you’ll be interacting less with myself and more so with my colleague here. Dr. Cain runs the day to day operations. You will treat her with the same respect you would give me. And follow her orders just the same,” The Captain explains.
I shoot a glance in the Dr.’s direction and give a nod. It’s an obscure thing for a CO to give that kind of power to a civilian contracted scientist.
Something is off here.
Dr. Cain steps forward “Don’t expect a warm welcome from me either. Captain Anderson and I are in agreement in regards to your recompense while you are here. I expect you’ll carry it out with dignity,” She says with a prim and proper accent.
I give a fake smile “Delighted to, ma’am,” I respond sarcastically.
Cain’s face purses “Treat this as a game all you want, First Class. Or wait…it’s just Petty Officer now isn’t it?” Cain says with a smug smirk.
I clench my jaw, holding my tongue.
“Hall, get this…disappointment out my sight,” She says with a wave of her hand.
The man with the rifle steps forward and motions his head, signaling me to walk with him.
“Flight deck crew will handle your bags. Follow me,” He says.
I silently follow, the Captain’s and Dr’s eyes on us the whole time until we exit through a door that leads out of the hangar. The man with the rifle breathes a deep sigh and relaxes.
“Well that was rough,” he says with a chuckle as we traverse the hallways of the station.
“If you say so,” I respond monotone.
“Look, I’m not gonna treat you like they want me to,”
“Gee, thanks,” I say with a roll of my eyes.
“I’m serious. I know this place sucks, especially after what you were doing. And I’m not gonna lie, the hours suck. But by some grace of God, they’re actually letting you run this show with me. Kind of a second in command type deal,” He elaborates.
“Sounds like a dream job,” I reply with sarcasm.
“And if you’ll step in here, you’ll find the primary bridge. I figure it’s good for everyone to know where it is when they get here,” He says seemingly ignoring my previous statement.
I step in side and look around. The place is…archaic to say the least. Much of the tech inside is still analog. The wiring is outdated, the monitors are still glass, sporting the old green read outs. I hope the rest of this place isn’t like this.
“Damn it!” A muffled voice sounds from underneath one the consoles.
I see a thin pair of legs sticking out as I walk over to the source of the noise.
“Hey, you alright down there?” I ask, bending down to look beneath the console.
“Yeah, I’m fine just—Shit!” She replies as an audible jolt sounds.
She gives a frustrated sigh and slides out from beneath the console, standing up and giving me a frustrated stare.
Beneath a layer of grime and dirt is perhaps the most beautiful woman I have ever laid eyes on. Her hair is a deep auburn, not quite red, pulled up into a messy bun. Her eyes glimmer a deep green, like that of staring at the living trees of a forest in the peak of summer. A patch of freckles dot across her cheeks and over the bridge of her nose. Her cheekbones are defined, creating a sharpness in her eye shape that is piercing.
“See what you made me do?” She says, breaking me form my study of her.
“Oh…sorry, I didn’t mean—”
She raises a hand “It’s fine. The whole thing is probably shorted now,” She says, wiping the sweat off her brow, smearing a patch of grime.
“Well, here, let me take a look,” I say, laying down underneath the console.
“What? No. Do—” She says as I begin moving around connections.
I notice a couple wires that, upon feeding them backwards, appear to be reversed bias.
“Hey, is the power off down here?” I ask.
There’s an audible click “It is now,” She says.
I feel around the floor until I find a screwdriver and use it to unscrew the grounding of the wires, reverse them, and then place the screws back in.
“Try it now,”
There’s another click, followed by a beep, signaling the powering on of the monitor. I slide myself out from the console and wipe my hands clean of any dirt that was on it.
She stares at the console frustrated and then looks back to me.
“Are you a technician?” She asks.
I chuckle “Not exactly. My team and I were responsible for maintaining our transport ship back at my last command. We had an analog console in there too. So, I’ve gotten pretty good with it,” I explain.
She stares at me for a moment “Ah, you’re the hothead,” She says bluntly.
I nervously rub a hand on the back of my neck “Yeah…I guess I am,”
She gives a nod before extending a hand.
“Elena…Prydwen,” She introduces herself.
I give a smile, shaking her hand “Ethan Blake,” I respond in kind.
“What’s going on here?” The annoying sound of privilege speaks.
I turn around to see Dr. Cain standing on the bridge, tapping a foot, her arms folded like a disappointed parent.
“I hope you aren’t bothering our technicians here, Petty Officer,” She says sternly.
“Not at all ma’am. More so assisting,” I say, holding the words I want to say behind my tongue.
Dr. Cain walks closer until she’s nearly in my face.
“Is your job title Security Officer? Or Technician?”
“Security Officer, ma’am,”
“Glad we made that distinction,”
“It’s really no problem, Dr. Cain. I’ve been trying to figure that console out for hours. He found the problem,” Elena interjects, trying to defend me.
“I didn’t ask for your input, Prydwen. There’s a reason we make a distinction in jobs. The next time I see you working on a piece of equipment you aren’t qualified to, I’ll ensure you end up as one of those homeless veterans on the streets of some backwater world,” Cain threatens.
I give her a hard stare and clench a fist.
“Something to say?” She adds insult to injury.
“No…no ma’am,” I respond trying my hardest to control my boiling blood.
Cain gives me a satisfied smile “Good, now go learn the job that you’re supposed to be doing,”
I walk past her without a word and join my mysterious partner in the hallway. We continue our jaunt; I can feel the anger still flowing through me.
“You get used to her…eventually,” He says.
“Yeah, I doubt that,” I respond snappily.
He catches up to me and places a tap on my shoulder.
“Right here,” He says stopping at a door. I take my place next to him. He opens the door and I find two beds inside.
“It’s late, we got nothing to do unless one of the pawns has a problem during their rove. I suggest we take the chance to catch some sleep. You look like you need to cool down anyway,” He says, motioning a hand for me to enter.
I give him a glance and enter, taking a seat on the bed that has nothing around it. I lean forward, placing my elbows on my knees and wiping my face with my hands.
He takes a seat opposite myself.
“I’m Dante by the way. Dante Hall. People usually use my last name around here, but you can call me, Dante,” He says, finally introducing himself.
I give him an uninterested look “Nice to meet you,”
Dante gives a nervous smile “I should probably explain some things about this place to you. It’s not exactly your typical installation,”
“That’s pretty obvious,”
“I’m serious though. Dr. Cain in rather no nonsense. And it seems you were on her bad side before you got here. The cap likes to stay in his office at the top of the station. Today was the first time I saw him in a couple months. So, everything pretty much goes through Cain,”
“Why doesn’t anyone say something? Cain has no authority over any personnel that has a rank,”
“She does here. I don’t know how or why, but she does. Andrews is just a placeholder; Cain is the real CO here. It’s important to remember that,”
“I should also mention that it’s not a good idea to ask question to around here,” Dante says almost timidly.
I raise an eyebrow “What do you mean?” I question.
“You’re going to see a lot of really weird stuff around here. This is a research vessel and they experiment and all kinds of crazy things. Just remember it’s above our paygrade and not to stare too long. Scientists here are rather paranoid and are inclined to report people who like they’re studying something a little too hard,”
Dante puts his hands up “That I don’t know. I just do my rounds and go on with my day. Makes it easier that way. You should too,”
I nod my head in acceptance.
“So, let me get this straight: Captain who’s not really the captain. Bitchy new boss. Out in the middle of nowhere. And experiments that are most likely illegal but we don’t worry about it,”
“Sounds about right,”
“Perfect,” I say as I fall backwards on my bed.
I hear Dante rustle around.
“We’ll get started on the fun stuff tomorrow. For now, enjoy the sleep while you can. The life of a supervisor is never an easy one,”
I feel my eyes get heavy and I allow them to close. It isn’t long before the silence of sleep overtakes me and I drift off, anticipating the next wave of crap that waits for me on the other side of slumber.