November 16th 2012
Penny hadn’t moved in seventeen minutes. Admiral Showalter sent for her while she was heading for the after-action debriefing. That she was expecting. What she didn’t expect was the silence. Grandpa didn’t say a word when she came in. Didn’t say a word when she saluted. Seventeen long minutes, he just glared. She could hear the cooling ventilators kick on. She could hear the muffled voices of crew passing outside the door. All of it was deafening in this silence. Five more minutes passed…“Sir, I-” He silenced her with a quick motion of his hand. She stopped. Showalter lowered his hand and resumed his glare.
Penny had been in this situation before. The silence was a new trick but she was okay taking some heat. What she couldn’t take was this gnawing fear churning in her heart, the fear that something bad had happened to Cal.
Two systems away. In the landing bay of the Vanduul Clan flagship, a plasma rifle prodded Cal Mason out of his hiding spot toward the two humanoids and the Vanduul Commander. Sixteen more guns were trained on him.
“What the hell is this?” One of the humanoids said through a heavily modulated speakerbox.
“Hi.” Cal said. He kept his eyes locked on the Vanduul Commander. Apparently, the Vanduul liked directness, so he was going to give it a shot and not flinch. In his head though, he was scrambling for ideas.
The Vanduul Commander drew his knife as he stepped up to Cal. He placed the keen edge against the oxygen tube as he leaned down and muttered something in his face. A mixture of growls and hisses, Vanduul always sounded like a dirty engine starting up to Cal.
“He wants to know if you’re alone.” The first humanoid translated, “I would answer him.”
“Yes, I’m alone.” The blade twisted against the oxygen tube. Another string of growls and hisses.
“He thinks you’re either stupid or insane.”
“Tell him I’ve been called both.” Cal shrugged. He was just going to wait it out, see if an opportunity presented itself. The Vanduul glanced back at the humanoid who translated. The Commander apparently didn’t find it funny. He snatched Cal by the throat and started to squeeze.
The humanoid stepped forward, speaking in rapid Vanduul. The other Vanduul soldiers aimed their weapons. The Constellation’s turret scanned back and forth, the gunner’s obviously terrified of the rapidly disintegrating situation.
Cal struggled to breath against the vice-like grip of the Vanduul Commander. All the shouting started to swirl together. Cal’s vision started to swim. A few more seconds, one last struggle, and he dipped into darkness….
…..running through the fields after school….
….the moons of Davien II overhead…..
…..his parents house in flames….
Cal came to. It took him a moment to realize the significance of that. He was positioned facing a wall. He wasn’t wearing his suit. His head was pounding. He couldn’t move his hands. Felt like they were cuffed.
Cal took another second or two to collect himself before rolling over. He was in the Constellation. They were just lifting off the Vanduul flight bay. The humanoid who spoke Vanduul was standing about five feet away, still head-to-toe in their suit.
“So…” the speakerbox squawked, “how about you tell me what you were doing sneaking around a Vanduul Clanship?”
Cal struggled to sit up, testing the cuffs along the way. He glanced around the hold. A man climbed up from the cargo hold and whispered to the one in the suit, who nodded. Cal only managed to catch one word:
“How about that answer?” it said.
“Sure but let me turn it around. Make it more interesting.” Cal settled back, “You hired the Vanduul to hit that system.”
The humanoid waited quietly.
“What I’m trying to figure out is why you didn’t do it yourself? It has to be much easier for a ship this size to get in and out of a system.”
The figure reached up and unfastened the breathing apparatus.
“So why keep me alive?” Cal continued, “I mean, I assume you stopped that Vanduul from killing me.”
The humanoid unbuckled the rest of the suit. The speakerbox buzzed as it disconnected. They reached up and pulled off their facemask…
It was a woman. Human. Short, cropped hair so black it was blue. Skin as golden as a sunset. Sharp, intelligent green eyes.
“You’re our hostage.” She dropped a devastating grin. “I hope you don’t mind.”
For a second, Cal really didn’t.
Back on the Gemini’s flight deck, a miracle was happening. Pilots, prep-crews and mechanics all stared in awe and disbelief. Everyone was focused on one thing: Admiral Showalter climbing into a fighter. Navigating into the pilot’s seat reminded him how many pounds he’d put on since the last time he wore a flight suit.
He could see his XO Marden and the rest of the bridge-crew applauding as he blasted out of the launch bay. Showalter set a course for the jump-point. As much as he hated this, he wasn’t going to send someone else to prove or disprove his hunch.
When he arrived, he didn’t see anything. Scans told him the same: the system was empty. Something clattered off his wing. Showalter looked up from his scanners. He was flying through some debris.
It took him a second to recognize it. It was Cal’s ship.
Cal Mason finally went and got himself killed.