Authors: G.P. Hudson
The long, dimly lit corridor stretched out ahead like a long winding snake. Doorways and dark nooks flanked it on both sides. Hostile aliens could be hiding behind any one of them. She needed to be cautious, and quiet. If she didn’t make a sound she might be able to pass without being noticed. If the lights were brighter she could better see where they were hiding. But then they might see her too. That wouldn’t be good. Anki decided that she liked the dim lighting after all and stayed close to the walls, moving slowly, silently.
The ship had an awful smell. A chemical smell. It wasn’t familiar, and she hoped she wouldn’t have to smell it again. She was sure it had clung to her by now. Her mom would have to send her for another shower to get rid of the stink. It was great to finally have a shower after all that time in the lifeboat. How long were they in the lifeboat? She had lost count of the days, but knew it was several weeks at least.
Weeks with no shower and no real food on a tiny ship. They had to eat some ridiculous paste every day. Jon had told her that it was filled with nutrients and that they could live on a little bit a day for years if they had to. The thought horrified her. Years in that cramped space with no shower and only some gross paste for food. The food on the freighter was nothing special, but at least it was real food. She never thought that she would miss chewing her meal so much.
The paste had no taste. None. She thought they must have made it that way on purpose, so that anyone could eat it without saying they didn’t like the flavor. The food on the freighter was simple, but it actually tasted like something. When she first bit into it the sensation had surprised her. Her taste buds came alive and sent waves of pleasure through her. Her mother had to tell her to slow down and not eat so fast. But she couldn’t help herself. Then Captain Seiben brought her some cookies. He said his wife had made them and that his little girls ate them all the time. She understood why. They were so sweet they made her want to spin and dance. Her mother didn’t have to tell her to slow down then. She savored every wonderful crumb.
Anki continued to creep down the corridor, stealthily peaking around each bulkhead. A consistent hum reverberated throughout the ship, but otherwise there was total silence. It struck her how little actually happened on the freighter. On the Hermes there was always something going on. You couldn’t walk down a corridor like this without passing an endless stream of people. She missed it.
Her mother explained that they had to leave the Hermes because of the Kemmar. That Jon had tried to rescue their people from the Kemmar, but in the end the aliens were too powerful. She told her that Jon was a good man. That anybody else would have left their people to their fate. She didn’t understand it all, but she liked Jon. She felt safe around him. She saw how other people were afraid of him, but he didn’t scare her. He showed the world his hard side, like her mother did, but deep inside they were both soft, like Captain Seiben’s cookies, and that is the side they showed her. She did miss the Hermes, but so long as her mother and Jon were with her she knew she could deal with any hardship.
Suddenly there was a sound up ahead. An alien. It came from just around the corner in front of her. She heard it again. Her pulse quickened and the tiny muscles in her arm flexed. Don’t be afraid, she thought. Her mother wouldn’t be afraid. Neither would Jon. She had to be brave, like them. Jon told her to believe in herself. So she did. She believed in her ability to deal with whatever creature lurked around that corner. She crouched as low as she could and stepped forward, slowly advancing on the noise. She stayed close to the wall and raised her weapon. As she drew closer she held her breath. Could she really do it? Could she beat an alien? She had to believe in herself. She had to move. There was no turning back. She decided to go on the count of three. She took a deep breath, calmed herself and counted.
She jumped out of her hiding spot like a panther striking at its prey. Her hand came up and she pointed her fingers and yelled, “Zap, zap, zap, zap.”
“Hello,” said the man standing there. “Off fighting raiders, are you?”
“You’re an alien! And I shot you.”
The man put a hand to his heart and groaned. “You got me. I’m a goner.”
Anki fired again, “Zap, zap, zap!”
The man stumbled backward, his hand still clutching at his heart. He fell onto the floor and lay there with his eyes closed. Anki stared at him, worried. “Are you dead?”
The man opened one eye and smiled. “No, I’m okay.” He sat up and said, “My name’s Milo. What’s your name?”
Anki smiled back, relieved that she hadn’t killed the man. “I’m Anki.”
“Hello, Anki. I’m happy to meet you.”
“What are you doing here?” said Anki.
“Me? I was just heading down to the galley. I’m a little hungry.”
“I know what that feels like.”
“I bet you do. Have you been eating well since you came on board?”
“Oh yes, although my mother says I should slow down when I eat.”
Milo nodded knowingly. “My mother used to say the same thing to me. I always ate my food too fast. But it was only because it tasted so good.”
“That’s what I say to my mother.”
Milo nodded. “Does she listen?”
“Neither did mine.”
“You should be careful, there are plenty of places for aliens to hide here.”
Milo became serious and nodded. “I’ll be careful. But what about you? Aren’t you afraid?”
Anki threw her shoulders back and said, “I’m not afraid of aliens. They’re afraid of me.”
“I bet they are. You’re a brave girl.”
Anki beamed and said, “I’m seven.”
“Wow, you’re big.”
“Well I feel much safer now that you’re on board. Wait, did you hear that?” said Milo.
Anki looked around. “No. What was it?”
Milo smiled. “My stomach. I’m starving. I’ve got to get something to eat. Will you make sure no aliens come after me?”
“Don’t worry, Milo. I’ll make sure you’re safe.”
“Thanks, Anki. See you later.”
Milo turned and walked down the corridor. Anki liked him. She knew the aliens were watching them, though. She had to make sure he escaped unharmed, so she turned and crept down the hallway, back to the serious business of stalking her prey.
Jon slowly walked down the long corridor, head down, shoulders slumped, deep in thought. He headed for the galley, hoping a hot meal might lift his spirits. He had lots of time in the lifeboat to think. Weeks of thinking. None of it did him any good. He didn’t want to think anymore.
He analyzed things over and over. How did things go so terribly wrong? Should he have listened to the Diakans? To Breeah? Should he have left the Reivers to their fates? Turned a blind eye to their imprisonment? To their torture and enslavement?
Tactically that is what he should have done. That would have ensured the survival of the Hermes. But then why were they out here? What was the point of looking for humans if they weren’t prepared to defend them? They were too far from Sol to wait for reinforcements. If they didn’t act, nobody would.
His whole life had been spent fighting for humanity. He joined the resistance when he was a kid, just like his father and his grandfather. Killed his first Juttari when he was thirteen years old. He had taken his time. Picked his target. Stalked it. Timed his move. Killed. Prey transformed into predator. The alien never even saw him coming.
His grandfather said he had left childhood behind. Proven himself. Became a man.
For the first time in his life he had felt powerful. These aliens, who had oppressed humanity for centuries, could be killed. He didn’t fear them anymore.
Before that moment he had been afraid. Always worried they would come, kill his family, and take him away. Turn him into a Chaanisar. They had tried once. When he was five years old they came for him. Apparently he showed promise. Men came in the night. The Governor’s men. Not Juttari. Not Chaanisar. Humans. Selfish humans who cared nothing about the suffering their actions caused. Traitors to their own species. They came and took him from his mother. He could still hear her screams. She sounded like someone had thrust a knife into her heart. Like life itself was over.
But it wasn’t. Not for her. Not for him. His grandfather and his father came for him, and they brought the fury of the resistance with them. Those men learned the meaning of hell that night. It was a time of reckoning, and blood ran through the streets like a river. All collaborators in the region were slaughtered. No one had been spared. Not even the Governor. Until then, no one knew his family were members of the resistance. All that changed.
His family had to leave their home. They fled to the mountains. The Rockies had been a base of operations for the resistance for generations. Now those same mountains became their home. Living that rugged lifestyle made him strong and tough. His grandfather and his father trained him daily in the ways of guerilla warfare. They taught him how to survive. But he was still afraid. Night after night he woke up in a cold sweat, panicked and thrashing about, thinking that he was being taken again. He would scream for help, half awake, and his mother would come and soothe him. Night after night she stayed with him until he fell back asleep. The poor woman. How much sleep had she lost in those years? Nonetheless, the terror of being taken to the Chaanisar stayed. It haunted him until he was thirteen. Until he killed his first Juttari.
He realized that he had power. That he could defend himself, and defend others. His grandfather taught him that it was his duty to fight, not just for himself, not just for his family, but for humanity. What followed was a lifetime of hunting. Humanity would not be enslaved by aliens again. Not while he breathed.
Why should the Reivers be any different? How could he stand by and let an entire human colony be slaughtered and enslaved? Should he have listened to the Diakans and left? The Diakans were just another alien race playing with human lives. They would think nothing of sacrificing a colony if the act benefited them somehow.
Perhaps they shouldn’t have given him command of the Hermes. Someone else might have looked at the Kemmar and decided it wasn’t worth it. The Reivers would have been sacrificed, but the Hermes would survive. Some might consider that action correct. But it was cowardly, and he was no coward. Not since his thirteenth year.
Yet he had sacrificed his crew. His friends. How long had he known Kevin? How many missions had they gone on together? He had killed him. Sure as if he shot him himself. Kevin and the rest of the Marines died because of his decision. They were warriors. They were all prepared to die. They knew the risks. But he was the one who sent them to their deaths.
I’m a killer, he thought. That’s all I’ll ever be.
It was easy to say the creature made him a killer, but he was one long before the Diakans put that thing inside him. He had been a killer since his thirteenth year when he had been baptized in blood.
Thankfully the creature had been quiet since Doctor Ellerbeck treated him. How long would that last? She said there was an adjustment period. The Diakans were supposed to give him the treatment, but they didn’t. Instead, he had to battle the symbiont for control of his own body. The Doctor assured him that he wouldn’t have a problem with the symbiont after the treatment period. It would remain quiet for a while and then they would work together. As one. That was how it was supposed to work. He hoped she was right.
He reached the galley entrance and silenced his thoughts. The past was no help to him now. It had to be buried. It was the only way to keep his sanity. He straightened his back, took a deep breath, and walked in.
The galley wasn’t a large room like what they had on board the Hermes. It was rather small, which wasn’t surprising considering the size of the freighter’s crew. Like the rest of the ship the walls were a drab battleship gray with no adornments. A few tables and chairs were spread about haphazardly, and a disproportionately large food dispenser stood at the far end of the room.
The only person seated was Captain Seiben, who waved and gestured for Jon to join him at his table. Jon nodded, but first went to the food dispenser and selected a meal. The food wasn’t as good as what they got on the Hermes, but it was light years better than the paste they had to eat on the lifeboat. He took a meat plate, not sure what type of meat it actually was, and afraid to ask. The plate had a side of greens, but those weren’t familiar either. It didn’t matter. He was hungry. He took his plate and walked to Captain Seiben’s table.
“Please Jon, sit,” said Seiben, waving his hand at the empty chair on the other side of the table from him.
Jon set his plate down, pulled out the chair and sat down.
“We will be arriving at the station in a couple of days,” said Seiben.
“Then what?” said Jon, stabbing a piece of mystery meat with his fork, and shoveling it into his mouth. It looked like mystery meat, and it tasted like mystery meat.
“Then we talk to Mr. Jansen,” said Seiben. He looked at Jon’s shirt and said, “How do the clothes fit?”
“They’re fine. Thanks.”
“It’s nothing. You must’ve been wearing that uniform for a long time.”
“It’s been a while,” said Jon, after swallowing another forkful.
“That was a military uniform?”
Jon paused for a moment, studying Seiben, then speared another chunk of meat and nodded yes.
“Were you in some kind of battle?”
Jon took another bite and didn’t answer the question.
“I mean, you were covered in blood, and in an escape pod….”
“Yes, we were in a battle,” said Jon. Why lie? Everything indicated that they came out of a battle.
“I’ve done a fair bit of traveling in my time, and I’ve never seen those military symbols before. Where are you people from?”
“I can’t answer that question. Sorry.”
“I understand. Still, you are far from home. Very far. Maybe hundreds of light years away.”
Jon continued to eat. If Seiben wanted to speculate, that was his business.
“The question is,” said Seiben. “How did you get here?”
“Can’t answer that either,” said Jon, putting down his fork. “Now it’s my turn.”
“I haven’t heard you talk about any authorities. Don’t you have to report the raider attack?”
“I’ve already told Mr. Jansen. That’s all I need to do.”
“I keep hearing that name,” said Jon.
“That’s because Mr. Jansen is the authorities.”
“I thought you said he was your employer?”
“That’s right. Mr. Jansen manages the station.”
“Isn’t there some form of government?”
“The station is owned by DLC. They govern everyone who lives on the station.”
“You really aren’t from around here. DLC is a corporation. All permanent residents on the station work for DLC.”
“Is the corporation not bound by any regional power?”
Seiben shrugged. “No. DLC governs itself. Always has.”
A corporation governing a million people living on a space station. It wasn’t the oddest thing he’d ever heard, but it was different. “How do they defend themselves? Those raiders didn’t look too friendly.”
“The raiders? Those criminals wouldn’t dare attack the station.”
“Is the station armed?”
“Not only is the station armed, but it also has its own military.”
This corporation sounded more and more like a government. “Sounds impressive. Mr. Jansen is in charge of all this?”
Seiben nodded. “He wants to meet you.
“Yeah. I told him about how you killed all the raiders. When we get to the station you’ll be able to ask him your questions in person.”