The Phantom of Choice

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Few days passed that we spent on the Noucra. It was calm days. We were refilling our supplies, especially water and some medications. Last time, we were here, Noucrases gave Srura some pills and ointments and she loved them so much she wanted to try new ones, if they have something for her. They spent days sharing recipes – how she called it – of all different treatment ways.

Some Noucrases were interested in Lamreak and when I told them, he is working on repairing our robots, they marched into the ship and started to help. They really were kind and helpful.

My brother on the other hand was helping them repair their homes. He loved wood work and this was exactly what he needed to get his head off the worries. Of course, I had to tell him about my conversation with the elder. She even accepted to talk with him. And obviously he was not pleased with those words at all, same as me. But the little girl was happy here. She finally was able to run where she liked. She made a lot of new friends here. Seems like, everyone in the tribe already knew about her destiny and they all were just so glad to have her there, they actually gave her everything she asked for. My brother was constantly reminding her not to be so greedy. One day she actually came to the village flying on a butterfly. No seriously. The Noucrases knew how to talk with every part of the nature, they cherished it. And some even learnt how to make animals do what they want. So when a little saviour asked to ride a huge butterfly, they came together to help her accomplish her need. The chieftain of the village – the Noucras that came to welcome us – assured us that it was okay. That this was also part of her education.

The day before we were to leave, we had a serious talk with my brother. He was hesitating to stay, and I was hesitating to take them with me. The journey, I was on, was more dangerous than staying. Of course, I couldn’t tell anyone about what the Elder told me that night. You will save your enemy. She was talking even more mysteriously after that and I did not understand a single word of that. It is not your enemy, but it is your enemy. The worst enemy is that one that you did not fear before. She was confusing me so much.

My brother was sure, staying was not the right option. And I was sure taking them would be way more dangerous. In the end we agreed, they will stay until we find a more suitable planet. The Elder accepted the news as if it will never happen. She just waved her hand saying that such thing is too distant in the future to be predicted.

The day of our departure has arrived. The chieftain came to make sure we have all we need of our supplies. I asked Lamreak to make a small communication device for them, so that they can contact us, if there is something they will need. Also, I wanted a way how to stay in touch with my brother. So I would be able to check on them from time to time.

“So where are we heading now, Verya?” Duncke asked me when we ascended to the orbit of the planet.

“You said that you found a new part of the map from the satellite, right? A place that seems like where the satellite started.”

“Yes, the satellite was moving on a spiral from one spot and slowly widening the circles. Doing the reversed motion, we figured out the possible starting point,” Duncke explained.

“Good, I want you to head there. Something is telling me there will be what we are looking for,” I had a strange feeling in my guts, that starting point is a Spectre home planet.

“Roger that. Calculating the distance. Estimated arrival time in fifteen minutes, starting the engine in five... four... three... two... one,” the window to subspace opened and we jumped inside.

“Keep me informed about every change,” I said and opened a communication channel with the engine room. “Lamreak, any changes on the engine?”

“Let me see,” I heard some clicking sounds on the background. “No, so far, everything is holding well. The engine is being kept on the stable temperature, the core is unchanged. All the repairs worked well and we can finally say that are also totally tested. We have a fully working engine again,” I heard a happy tone of his voice.

Red light started to shine on the bridge.

“Asteroid warning, prepare for emergency ending of the jump. Raising the shields,” the ship warning system said.

“Hold on to something!” Duncke shouted into communication system. I barely managed to hold myself in the chair when the ship stopped. We got hit from various directions. One of the hits threw me out of my chair and I landed on the ground. I covered my head in case something will fall on me. But after few more seconds, the ship stopped trembling from the hits absorbed by the shield.

Duncke helped me stand up: “Are you okay?” my head was spinning a bit, but I was okay.

“Yes, I am good. You?”

“I am well. I am used to this kind of situations.”

“Is everyone okay?” I turned on the internal communication system and asked. “Srura?” I did not hear only her answer. Everyone else was okay.

“I go check on her,” Zorach said quickly.

“What happened?” I turned my attention to Duncke.

“Seems like, we were to fly through an asteroid field and ship wouldn’t be able to survive such damage so we had to have an emergency stop.”

“Is any part of the ship damaged?”

“No... Not really. There are just some small damages of the outer cover. The small service robots already started to repair it.”

“How long of the distance we took?”

“Something little over fifteen percent.”

“Can you get us through?” I asked him concerned.

“Of course. I was the only pilot able to pass these fields without taking any damage.”

“Everyone, get on the bridge, I want you all in the safest part of the ship,” I again said into the inner communication systems.

The first to come was Zorach and Srura: “The communication got damaged in the infirmary, I didn’t hear you said anything,” she explained.

“Lamreak will look on it once we get out of this.”

“Look on what exactly?” Lamreak asked the moment later.

“The communication system in the infirmary, seems like it got damaged.” He only nodded. They all sat down into the free chairs.

“Okay, everybody, hold on tight. We are going to get out of this, but it might be a bit rough. I am raising the shield as well as protective field around the bridge,” with those words Duncke slowly started to move through the object flying around us.

“Those are not asteroids,” Ancelmus stood up and looked through the window. He clicked into scanner and it immediately started to survey our surroundings. “Those are wrecks of a ship. Many ships. The computer says there are at least three different kinds. Four. Five! Some are from Federation, some are Spectre and some are... the computer cannot even identify them. Those are from the races, we did not meet yet,” with every word he said he sounded more and more amazed.

“There must have been some huge battle going on here,” Zorach said looking outside the window.

“You don’t understand. We have always been told that there are no other intelligent races in the universe beside those in Federation and Spectre. And here are pieces completely unknown. If there was another race able to build a space ship, it must have been intelligent,” Ancelmus explained with extreme joy in his voice. “If only I could explore those... Can we stay here a bit longer, please?”

“No, we cannot,” Duncke told him with irritated tone.

“That is on captain to decide,” Ancelmus replied with same manner.

“We are not staying here. And let me tell you why. I have been here before,” the thing Duncke said shocked us all. “You are all too young. Back when I was preparing to be a pilot, we were taught about other intelligent races,” he explained. Yes, he was the oldest member of the crew, but I did not think he was taught different things. I thought the Federation is always saying the same.

“What do you mean other races? And how come you were here before? This is supposed to be unknown part of the universe!” Srura asked him.

“Unknown my ass! I am telling you, I was here before on one of the first missions. I was serving with captain Jemovich in that time. We were on the scouting mission, to see if any of the other races, the Federation battled, decided to come and collect their fallen. But when the Federation realized that spreading the info, that they are not the strongest of the entire universe, could harm them, they changed the education and slowly started to remove everyone that knew. Colonel Jemovich died few months ago and on the board of his ship were many of my companions from those times. But that was not an accident. The crash-landing was planned.”

“I was on that ship,” I said with silent tone. “I remember a system failure. We crashed into water. That is when I met Zorach, he got me and Knave out of the ship,” I said plainly.

“Oh, exactly as I thought, there is more of us here they tried to remove from their ranks,” Ancelmus said with bitter smile. “I always protested in reusing the old parts from robots and ships in constructions. And I did many researches proving them why. But I guess I was right and they did not like it. So they decided to get rid of me in the way most suitable to them. After all, there are too many ships going missing, ships crash-landing or ships being destroyed in encounters with Spectre. I am starting to wonder if there actually are any accidents or everything is planned.”

“And I always protested against the hybridization. They destroyed too many lives in pursuit of perfect form of life. I was the best genetics engineer ever. And when I refused to take part in more of the tests they just wiped my memory. I only found out, when I got on the ship. My scans were always showing something strange in my head and so I programmed the ship to remove it. And it did. And I remembered. I think, I was also put here in order to get removed,” Srura continued with the confessions. I was surprised that almost every crew member was put her to be... sentenced to death.

Another alarm rang through the bridge. Lamreak jumped from his chair and ran to the communication panel.

“Damn it!! The coding of the chip was broken!” he said angrily. He immediately started to press some buttons. “I am countering it.” Ancelmus joined him shortly.

But it was too late.

The communication channel opened.

“Hello, colonel. Long time no see,” generals voice irritated my ears.

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