Authors: Mark Wayne McGinnis
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Alien Invasion, #Exploration, #First Contact, #Galactic Empire, #Military, #Space Opera, #Space Exploration, #Science Fiction
It was then that Leon saw her. Eight stories up on the building to his left—through an open window—was a slender Tromian woman. She looked to be younger than him, perhaps a university student? With a small satchel slung over one shoulder she stood still, watching him. He could tell she was trying to determine if he was friend or foe. A gust of wind billowed her long blond hair—her eyes stayed locked on his. Then her lips moved—she was saying something. Somehow, above the incessant noise outside, Leon knew exactly what she was conveying:
Help me … please help me.
The momentary distraction caused him to lose track of the attack marauder. Leon looked back at the destroyed bridge, then over to the horizon—there, several high up cloud-ports were ablaze—billowing black smoke trailed off like distant smoke signals in the wind. There was no sign of the ship. As a shadow darkened the delivery scout’s cockpit, Leon realized the marauder was directly overhead. Suddenly, he could smell a change in the ozone and the hairs on his arms stood on end. An instant later a bright blue plasma bolt, crackling like thunder, shot down from the attack marauder above. Leon watched as the building to his left began to vibrate and shake violently. The young woman was screaming now and reaching for something to hold on to. Leon accelerated the delivery scout forward, away from the building—he thought he heard her scream something after him. He accelerated out of the narrow alleyway and, once clear of the buildings on both sides, ratcheted the controls all the way to the left, made a sharp U-turn, and reentered the same alleyway. The delivery scout had its sliding hatch door facing in now, toward the building under attack. It was clear the structure was disintegrating from the inside out. Fire spewed out from at least half of the nearby windows.
Leon goosed the scout craft forward while he desperately searched for the same window and the young woman with the blond hair. She wasn’t there.
Did she succumb to the white-hot
plasma blasts—did the floor she’d been on already collapse?
No! There she was … running back toward the same window. Leon wasn’t in the right location. In one fluid maneuver, he had the delivery scout scoot forward three windows ahead, hugging to the side of the building. With the delivery scout hovering in place, Leon was quickly out of his seat and leaving the cockpit. He slid open the hatch and there she was—no more than five feet away. Angry flames flared as if grabbing for her, reaching up and around her from behind.
“You’ll have to jump!”
He didn’t need to ask twice. Arms outstretched, she leapt into his open arms. Her forward momentum plowed them both backward into the delivery scout and down onto the grimy deck. She lay perfectly still in his arms for several long moments. With her head buried in his chest, Leon could smell a faint scent of smoke in her hair. His eyes traveled down to her bare arms, which were still tightly wrapped around him. She pulled back and lifted her face away from his chest. With their faces now just inches apart, she looked into his eyes.
God, she’s more beautiful than I’d first thought
. Something was clanging against the top of the delivery scout. They were being bombarded with debris raining down from above.
“I need to get us out of here.”
He pushed her aside with a bit more force than intended. He scurried into the cockpit on all fours and, without looking, punched the controls forward. All he could do was hope there was nothing obstructing their forward movement. At virtually the same moment, the building … her building, behind them, began to collapse.
The attacking marauder moved methodically away, seeking another target. This time its sights were set on what looked to be a hospital, or perhaps a school. The young woman stood next to Leon now, in the cockpit. Tears filled her eyes as she took in the devastation before them. She turned to look at him. “Can’t you do something?”
Leon glanced over to her.
You mean more than saving your life?
But he kept his thoughts to himself.
She turned around and assessed the dirty, small vessel. “What is this thing? Some kind of trash pickup vehicle? What are you? A garbage man?”
“No! I stole this from the Pharloms.”
“Like … on purpose? You stole a trash vehicle? One that has no weapons and probably can’t even leave this atmosphere?”
“Hey … there were slim pickings at the time.”
She turned back toward the mayhem in front of them. “We have to stop them … kill every last one of them.”
If he’d had any doubts about taking her with him … into the marauder, they were now gone. She would die to protect her home. “Hold on to something, we’re going to steal another ship.”
She looked back at him questioningly, then simply nodded. The attack marauder was still close. Leon brought the delivery scout up vertically, until it was parallel with the bottom of the Pharlom vessel, which, he now discovered, was a larger ship, especially at this close proximity, than he’d previously realized.
“Where the hell is the flight deck?” he questioned out loud, scanning from one end of the vessel’s outer hull to the other.
“There!” she said, extending a graceful arm, pointing higher up, toward the upper section of the marauder.
She smiled and looked excited. She looked courageous!
My kind of woman.
He brought the delivery scout up, closing the gap between the two vessels. The bay doors were already open and he could see significant activity pulsing inside, where no less than thirty large hulking Pharlom soldiers milled about. Both Leon and the woman took a quick step backward, trying to stay out of sight.
The flight deck was a relatively open space. No fighters or drones around, contending for a parking space. Leon selected a relatively unoccupied area, deep within the bay. He set the delivery scout down and shut off the scout’s drive. They looked at each other. Leon shrugged. “Just so you know, this is probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever done … and I’ve done more than my share of stupid things.”
“Then why don’t you stop talking about it and go actually do something? People are dying out there.” He noticed she was holding his Pharlom pistol. It looked ridiculously large in her small hand.
The delivery scout’s hatch was still open from when he had rescued her. He stepped back into the rear section and tentatively approached the opening. He peeked out. No one was paying much attention to them … yet. He held out his hand. “I’ll take that.”
Reluctantly, she placed the energy weapon in his hand. “I can show you how to shoot that, if you need me to.”
“Thanks, I think I’m good,” he said, not sure if she was serious or just pulling his chain.
Two Pharlom soldiers now looked their way. They dropped what they were doing and began to approach. Leon turned to her, putting his index finger over his lips. Thinking better of it, he pointed toward the back of the hold, mouthing: “Get back there and make some noise. I’ll need a distraction.”
She looked at him with that same questioning expression. He flashed her a big smile and raised his eyebrows.
She rolled her eyes but did step further back into the delivery scout’s hold.
Leon moved forward into the cockpit and stood sideways behind a narrow bulkhead. It didn’t do much to hide his six-foot-two frame, but it would have to do. He heard the young woman clamoring around, slapping the walls, talking loudly—everything she could think of to bring attention her way.
The first Pharlom reached the delivery scout’s open hatch, his big rock face unreadable. He stepped into the scout and made room for his Pharlom friend to join him. Immediately, their combined weight made the vehicle pitch precariously at an angle. The two Pharloms staggered, but still managed to stay on their feet. Neither took his attention away from the noisy, lunatic humanoid female standing less than ten feet away.
The barrels of their guns came up—both pointed in her general direction. Leon noticed they were holding the same projectile-type rifles fired at him earlier. He didn’t want to think what those weapons could do to this beautiful woman. Leon stepped into the open, his own plasma weapon raised. Gripping the pistol in both hands, he fired, then kept on firing. Five plasma bolts ripped into the head of one Pharlom; then five plasma bolts ripped into the other. Leon repeated the same firing pattern, going back and forth three more times. Almost simultaneously, their heads blew apart—two dust clouds hanging in the air. Leon and the young woman instinctively stepped back to avoid the falling pile of rocks.
She glared at him. “Why did you wait so long to shoot? I thought I was going to die right here in this trash—”
“Hey, I just saved your life … again. A simple thank you would suffice.”
She shook her head at him, exasperated.
“By the way, I’m Leon … Leon Pike. What’s your name?”
“Hanna … we need to get out of here.”
– Open Space
After several months away, it felt good to be back on the
again. Jason left Grimes on the flight deck—she’d relayed his father’s instructions that both he and Dira were to report to his ready room—pronto. As they exited onto the ship’s twenty-third deck, there seemed to be full crew on board, and Jason found himself returning salutes as he passed crewmembers every minute or so. Being aboard, though, was also bittersweet. So much of the
was similar to
in design. Sure, this ship was substantially larger—with its forward to aft length reaching a little over one mile. It was also much newer—embracing more advanced Caldurian technology. Much of the vessel, the last time Jason was on board, he’d yet to explore.
The energy-based hatch to the captain’s ready room was open and Jason heard his father’s familiar baritone as he leaned in, knocking on the bulkhead.
“Don’t be shy, get in here,” his father bellowed.
Jason, with Dira in tow, entered the ready room and found his father, Ricket and Granger, the tall Caldurian, seated at the conference table.
Granger had a smug look on his face. As tall as any human, Caldurians were similar in looks to the triangular-shaped headed Craing. With large eyes, they pretty much fit several stereotypical depictions of aliens in movies.
Each of the integrated displays, situated around the large compartment, displayed a different planetary system. Jason recognized about half of them; others, he was fairly sure, he’d never seen before.
“Have a seat.”
Jason and Dira did as instructed.
“Hello, Captain … it is good to see you again. And you, as well, Dira,” Ricket said.
Dira replied first, “You’re looking well, Ricket. I like your new uniform.”
Jason then noticed they were all wearing new uniforms. Gone was the dreary, drab gray one, and everyone was garbed instead in navy blue, with a lighter blue piping around the sleeves and collar. The uniforms also looked substantially more formal.
Jason, surprised at seeing Granger even wearing a uniform, asked, “You’re officially part of the crew?”
His father answered for him. “Granger’s officially an Alliance officer. We all are. With the exception of a small fleet being provided for Earth’s defense … about thirty thousand ships, the Alliance fleet has been strategically dispersed throughout the Allied worlds … with no less than one hundred and eighty thousand warships.”
“That was very generous of you,” Jason said.
“Not generous at all. Maintaining a fleet that size does not come cheap. It’s an expense that needs to be distributed among all Alliance members.”
That made perfectly good sense to Jason, but he noticed his father still hadn’t answered his question. Jason tried again, “So, Granger … what exactly is your job … your command?”
“We’ll get to that in a moment,” his father interjected, looking annoyed at Jason’s persistence.
Jason and Dira exchanged a quick glance. She, too, was leery of the Caldurian. On the positive side, he was a genius and knew this ship like no other. But he’d proven to be not only opportunistic, but also untrustworthy. He’d even provided Caldurian technology to the Craing for some stint of time.
The admiral picked up on Jason’s less than pleased expression, but continued on anyway, “As I mentioned, your paperwork has been processed and fast-tracked. You are officially vice-admiral within our Allied forces. Congratulations.”
Jason nodded and said, “Thank you, I think. I’m not sure what that higher rank entails, but I’ll do my best … whatever that is.”
“What do you mean?” his father asked.
“Even a vice-admiral basically holds down a desk-job position. I’m assuming I’ll oversee, or help oversee, some of our Allied fleet assets.”
His father chuckled at that. “You … a desk job? How long do you think that would last? A week? Maybe two? No. Your services are required in a different regard.” The admiral paused, as if to collect his thoughts. “Look … things are different now. While the Craing Empire is no longer a threat … no longer even an empire … their vast interstellar military today contributes the bulk of the Alliance fleet. With that said … there are monumental situational changes happening throughout the galaxy … beyond that, I can’t be concerned. The Milky Way has quickly become a galactic mess. Infighting … piracy … old conflicts, wars reigniting. It all comes down to interstellar instability that affects the Allied worlds. We don’t want another Craing situation … not ever.”
Jason shrugged. “What can you do? I mean, is it our job to police the galaxy?”
The room went quiet as the admiral continued to stare intently at Jason.
Then realization set in. “Oh, come on … you can’t be serious?”
More silence. Ricket was looking down at the table. Granger was smiling.
“I’m policing the galaxy … a fucking policeman?”
The admiral, not doing a very good job hiding his own amusement, said, “Policing is your description, not mine. It needs to be done and it needs to be done now.”
Jason saw Dira in his peripheral vision and she too was amused.
Why is this so funny
to everyone else?