Treachery of Kings II- Survival

Back to Part II

The Eclipse hung motionless in space near to the Pluto jump-point, its formation lights blinking in the darkness. Onboard the corvette, Lieutenant Gabriel, the ship's chief engineer, sat in the bridge's command seat, usually occupied by the captain. She drummed her fingers impatiently on the arms of the chair.

"Ensign Bleak?" she asked the helmsman. "Any sign of the Seahorse yet?" The young ensign tapped at the NAV console before replying: "No, sir. Sensors report no signs of activity at the jump-point."

Gabriel tutted. "What's taking them so long?" she asked the universe in general. "They're thirty minutes late already, and you know how punctual the captain is. And Commander Breem, for that matter."

***

The rain lashed down upon the ruined hulk of the Seahorse. The small tug ship lay deathly silent in a small crater caused by the impact. The ship's hull was peppered with scorch marks, a remnant of the its sudden entry into the atmosphere of the God-forsaken planet.

Located at the front of the craft, the bridge module protruded outwards, a large hole having been ripped in the top. Through this, the rain poured down onto the bodies of two men, dressed in naval uniforms. One of them stirred.

"Ooh…" Commander Breem moaned as he picked himself up off the floor. He looked around at the scene of devastation before him: computer consoles rapidly flickering on and off; optic cables that had been torn apart; and smoke billowing from the bridge's fire-suppression system. Breem thanked the heavens that he was still alive.

As he turned and his eyes swept the floor, he noticed his captain lying several feet away from him. Breem went over, and rolled the captain onto his back.

"Sir? Sir?"

Captain William de Retz's eyes slowly flickered open. His hand reached up to his head, where blood oozed out of a small cut. "Hell," he muttered. He started to stand, but then winced with pain and dropped back to the floor. "Great, I think one of my damned ribs is broken."

"It's okay," said Breem. "I think I read a pamphlet on first aid once." A smile spread across his black face. "There should be a medical kit around here somewhere." He walked over towards a panel that was half-torn from the wall. "You remember what happened?"

"I remember we were about to head back to the Eclipse when some hot-shot Indie burst out of capsule space and started taking pot shots at us," said de Retz. "Then I remember the main engine getting hit and having to take a dive onto the nearest inhabitable planet. And I remember the rest of the crew taking the two escape pods whilst we tried to stabilize the ship - another brilliant idea on my part. My only recollections after that are some blurred images of trees rushing towards us."

"Well, at least you didn't hit your head too hard. Stupid thing's stuck!" Breem wrestled with the medical kit before eventually managing to wrench it from its hiding place.

"All those years in the service and you're still having trouble with inanimate objects," de Retz joked. "No wonder you never made it past commander."

Breem smiled warmly. "Just remember who's holding the sedatives before you start being funny." He walked back to the captain and knelt down. "Right, let's see what we've got." He opened the medical kit and took out a thin, rectangular device, and proceeded to scan the captain's body with it. "'Fraid I'm going to have to have a look at your chest. Bet it's been a long time since anyone said that to you."

"Too true. And the last person who said it was a darn sight prettier."

Breem opened de Retz's jacket and exposed de Retz's chest to the cold air of the derelict ship. He reached into the medical kit again, but this time pulled out a small, circular gadget and attached it to the captain's ribcage. It began to emit a low hum.

"That should hold you together for a while. The cut on your head should heal itself up pretty soon."

"Thanks, I owe you one." De Retz slowly stood up and steadied himself on a console. "It looks like the computer's had it. At least, it has up here. I'll try the remote unit."

De Retz grabbed a rectangular instrument consisting mainly of a small screen, from his belt and activated it. The screen glowed bright green for a moment, before the familiar crest of the Commonwealth faded into view. Seconds later, text replaced the star-spangled seal: 'Commonwealth Remote Data Retrieval and Processing Unit.'

"Let's see if we can find the computer," said de Retz.

A second helping of text appeared on the remote unit's screen: 'Attempting to establish data link. Searching for compatible transponder signals…' There was a brief pause, before the remote unit silently announced: 'One compatible signal found: Commonwealth Naval Vessel Seahorse, CNV-4733. Connection established.'

"We're in," said de Retz. "Let's see… the ship's communication systems are down, environmental controls are shot and the hull's been compromised in about eighteen places. Our chances of getting this baby up into the big black again are zero."

"And we can't contact anybody either?" said Breem. "I hope they get a move on looking for us."

"Hmm, maybe we can get through to them after all," de Retz said, peering at the remote unit's screen. "According to the short-range sensors, there's some sort of building about three kilometers away. I can't get an accurate reading of what's in there, but there's a chance it might have some sort of transmitter. What're we waiting for? Let's go."

***

Lieutenant Gabriel continued to drum her fingers on the arm of the command chair. The captain and first officer were now two hours late, and a flurry of FTL transmissions to various Commonwealth outposts had revealed nothing.

"Ensign Bleak, inform Pluto Space Traffic Control that we're going after them. Lay the Beta Hydra L5 into the NAV computer. We've waited here for long enough."

"Aye, sir," the helmsman said. "We have confirmation from Pluto STC. Thrusters engaged, speed set for standard jump-point entry. Capsule drive is ready."

"Take us in," said Gabriel.

The Eclipse moved forward and, as it entered the LaGrange point, there was a blinding flash of pure white light as the ship entered capsule space.

***

de Retz winced as pain surged through his chest. "I think the batteries in this stabilizer are running down," he said.

"I don't believe you were meant to go trekking across fields five minutes after you've put it on," Breem pointed out. "We'll take a rest here. You don't want to strain yourself too much; after all, I ain't carrying you."

de Retz slowly sat down on the grass. "You're being awfully clever, considering I'm your commanding officer." He smiled. "Not that, that makes a lot of difference down here."

The rain had eased off now, and was reduced to a slight drizzle. The sky was still overcast, though, with not a chink of blue visible anywhere. The officers, having left the wreck of the Seahorse, had found themselves near the top of a grassy slope, the structure, a large white building, could be seen in the distance at the bottom of the slope, near a dense wooded area.

"What d'you reckon that place is down there?" Breem asked.

de Retz shrugged his shoulders and pulled out his remote unit. "The Seahorse's sensors can't get any reading from inside it at all. There must be some sort of dampening field in there."

"Sounds ominous," Breem commented. "In my experience, if people don't what you know what's there, it usually ain't very pretty." He paused. "But whose place is it, anyhow? I didn't realize there were any colonies on this planet."

de Retz tapped at the remote unit again. "Hmm… the computer has no record of a Navy facility here, or Indie activity significant enough to indicate a base. Could be a private installation, I guess."

"Reminds me of that time on Gulatos III," said Breem, grinning. "D'you remember?"

"How could I forget?" de Retz laughed, wincing slightly as he did so. "The Navy assembles a fleet of ships to go and take out a top-secret 'Indie base', and it turns out to be some big factory making expensive furniture. The owner wasn't very happy, as I recall. Mind you, neither would I be if a platoon of heavily armed soldiers burst into my foyer."

"Ah, the beauty of misinformation."

de Retz's eyes misted up with nostalgia, and he smiled broadly. "Those were the days," he said, "on board the Falstaff. There's something to be said for smaller ships. For one thing it only takes you half as long to remember everybody's names. You never forget your command."

"Nor your third stint as executive officer."

"It's funny," said de Retz. "You've been in the service a lot longer than me, yet I'm the captain and you're the first officer."

"Well, I never was as good at sucking up to the admiralty as you," Breem joked.

"Whatever the reason, as long as you're serving with me, I don't mind. You're one of the best officers in the whole damn fleet."

"Yeah," agreed Breem, "and I'm hoping for something better than a gold watch when I retire, for exactly that reason."

There was a short pause in the conservation, and only the wind could be heard as it rushed past them.

"I suppose we'd better go on," said de Retz.

Breem nodded. He stood up and helped the captain to his feet. "Hope we can get that rib of yours' sorted out soon," he said. "That stabilizer isn't going to last forever."

***

There was a flash of brilliant white light and the Eclipse burst out of nothingness into the Beta Hydra.

"Scanning area," said Ensign Bleak. He paused, and then shook his head. "I can't find any signs of the Seahorse."

Gabriel cursed under her breath. "Any signs of anything?"

Bleak tapped at the NAV console. After a few moments, it emitted a positive-sounding bleep. "There are traces of weapons fire. The energy signatures suggest there were two sorts: standard Commonwealth cannons, and modified Indie ones."

"Indies," Gabriel said softly. "That old rust-bucket of a tug wouldn't stand up to much of any attack. Are we picking up any debris, or escape pods?"

Bleak shook his head again. "No, Lieutenant. Whatever happened to the Seahorse, she's not here."

***

A large fence surrounded the perimeter of the white building. The bars emitted a deep, low hum, indicating the several thousand volts of power that surged through the fence.

"Ever get the feeling you're not welcome?" Breem asked.

The Captain checked his remote unit. "There's a heck of a lot of power coursing through this thing. This must have been what the Seahorse picked up, as the whole building appears to be masked by the dampening field. The only way the ship could sense this place was by this fence."

"Any ideas how we can get in?"

"We could climb over, if you don't mind ending up on the side looking like a lump of charcoal."

"This is a new uniform," said Breem, "I don't really want to ruin it just yet. Anything else?"

"I do have an idea, but it's a bit… unconventional."

"Don't leave me in suspense now."

de Retz cast a sidelong glance at Breem then said, "The Seahorse still has a few missiles. I'm willing to bet that one should blow a sizable hole in the fence."

Breem shook his head. "The missile tube is toast. We won't be able to launch it."

Captain de Retz smiled cheerfully, "I know."

"Then how. . .?" Breem's shoulders slumped. "Wonderful. I guess we should get started then."

"That's the spirit," de Retz exclaimed.

***

The Eclipse was in a high orbit over Beta Hydra IV. This was the only planet in the system that could support human life, and so it was the logical first choice.

"Is there anything indicating the Seahorse?" demanded Lieutenant Gabriel.

"I think so, Lieutenant." responded Ensign Bleak. "I'm detecting small amounts of fusion premix and coolant. They trace out a path that seems to lead to the smaller continental mass. I can't be any more specific, I'm afraid."

Lieutenant Gabriel smiled, "Take us into a low orbit and begin detailed scans of the mass. I want to find that tug now.

"Yes ma'am. Setting course. . .wait a second! Sensors are detecting a PatCom and a small shuttle craft. The shuttle is heading for the surface, and the PatCom is on an intercept course!"

Gabriel swore. "Engage the PatCom! We have to get rid of it and stop that shuttle."

***

Every breath was torture as de Retz helped drag the missile's warhead. When they made it back to the fence, de Retz collapsed.

"I. . .think. . .the. . .stabilizer. . .is drained." he wheezed.

"This looks pretty bad." Breem said with concern. A huge bruise now covered the area where the broken rib was. "I have an idea."

"Oh, no. Run for the hills." de Retz joked weakly.

Breem smiled faintly and then picked up the remote unit. With skilled fingers he plucked out the battery and traded it with the stabilizer's. de Retz's pained expression began to ease almost immediately and he took a deep breath.

"So much for the computer, then" remarked de Retz.

"It isn't that bad. The stabilizer's battery had a little juice left in it. We lost the linkup with the Seahorse but the local scanner still works alright."

Standing carefully, de Retz opened the control panel of the missile. He programmed it to explode in one minute. He then shut the panel and began walking toward the trees. Breem followed silently.

***

The unknown shuttle roared through the atmosphere. A panel suddenly beeped. A explosion had been registered on the sensors. Immediately, the commander of the shuttle ordered the navigator to intercept.

***

Commander Breem and Captain de Retz climbed carefully through the ruined section of the fence. As they began walking toward the structure, Breem remarked, "If anyone's home, they should be comin' soon."

"No use worrying about what you can't change."

"Guess you're right. . .but it seems like nobody is here at all." Breem replied as they stopped in front of the building. Captain de Retz scanned the wall.

Frowning at the readings, de Retz commented, "There is the dampening field, but it's weak at this point. Also, the entrance is locked with a coding that's quite a few years out of date. . .the computer in the scanner should be able to break it in a few seconds."

Even as he was speaking, the entrance irised open. Scanner held in front of them, Breem and de Retz stepped into the building.

"'Project Ragnarok,'" de Retz read off one of the machines as he looked around him. The building was a huge room with rows of machinery. Most of the machines were inactive, but a few of the computers were still glowing softly.

"Take a look at this!" Breem motioned to a cylinder lying horizontally on a platform. When de Retz glanced through the transparent top of the cylinder, he whistled softly.

Lying in the cylinder was a nude man. The man appeared to be nearly seven feet tall, and unbelievably muscular. There was a look of faint contempt on the man's face, and he also had the features of someone that could be incredibly cruel.

To get a better look, Breem leaned against the cylinder. There was a click and a computerized voice stated, "Subject Caine, Robert has been in stasis for twelve point two years. Subject Caine is now being brought out of stasis. Revival will be complete in one minute."

Captain de Retz stared at Commander Breem.

Sheepishly, Breem said, "Um. . .oops?"

de Retz frowned and pointed the scanner at the cylinder, "This is a stasis chamber apparently. As for the man. . .he has cancer. This makes no sense. Every cell in his body appears cancerous, yet he's healthy. Perhaps-"

He stopped talking when the top of the cylinder slid aside. The man inside suddenly sat up violently. With catlike grace that defied his size, Caine sprang from the stasis chamber and stood defiantly. Breem stepped back involuntarily when the huge man's scornful gaze fell on him.

"Who are you?" the man boomed.

de Retz answered quickly, "We're officers of the Commonwealth Navy. I'm Captain de Retz, and this is Commander Breem. Who are you?"

The man's chest puffed with pride. "I'm Robert Caine, the purpose of Project Ragnarok."

The titan's face clouded, "Or at least I was. But I became too powerful, they became jealous of me! They tricked me and locked me in that chamber! They feared me, as well as they should!"

Caine abruptly grabbed the front of de Retz's uniform and lifted him off the ground with one massive hand.

"Where are they?!" Caine roared. "No one crosses me and goes unpunished. Tell me where they are!"

de Retz gasped in pain as his broken rib was jolted. Acting quickly, the captain did the only thing he could think of doing. He lifted his right arm and drove his index finger into Caine's left eye.

As if he weighed no more than a rag doll, Caine threw him across the room and clutched at his eye. de Retz screamed in pain as he crashed to the ground, at least one more rib cracked.

During this time, Breem was not idle. He had some sort of device in his hands, and he aimed it at Caine's chest. Laughing derisively, Caine charged toward Commander Breem.

The device in Breem's hands emitted a puffing noise and fired a small sphere. Ignoring the sudden pain in his chest, Caine crashed into Breem like a runaway freight train. The wind knocked out of him, Breem collapsed to the ground and retched.

Frowning, Caine looked down at his chest where the sphere hit. The wound that had been there a moment ago had disappeared, leaving a single drop of blood. Caine did not worry about what the sphere might have been. In a few minutes, his body would completely dissolve it. His more pressing matter was how to torture information out of Breem and de Retz.

Smiling, he turned toward de Retz and-

-was instantaneously transported to the reenforced holding cell of the shuttle that hovered over the building.

The captain of the shuttle snapped, "Activate stealth mode. Transmit destruct codes to the research building. Take us out of here and get us back to base."

Breem watched dispassionately as Caine was engulfed in a dull yellow glow and disappeared. Quickly, Breem lifted an unconscious William de Retz and dragged him out of the building. Slinging de Retz on his shoulders, Breem ran into the woods.

He hadn't gotten that far when an explosion rumbled behind him. Like an angry hand, the force of the detonation lifted de Retz and Breem off the ground. Spinning through the air, Commander Breem saw the ground rushing toward him, then blackness.

***

"Commander Breem! Commander Breem, can you hear me?"

His entire body aching, Breem cautiously opened his eyes. Above him was the concerned face of Lieutenant Gabriel; and behind here was the clean militaristic bulkhead of a Navy starship.

"Where am I?" he croaked. He was having a hard time concentrating.

Relieved, Gabriel smiled. "You're on the Eclipse. We found you and the captain near a smoking crater. You have severe trauma to your brain stem and spinal cord, but you're undergoing nanite therapy. In another few weeks, you can be back on active duty."

"And the captain?"

Lieutenant Gabriel was about to answer when a weak voice spoke from the bed next to his. "Right here, Tobias. I'm not sure who's luckier. I've got three broken ribs, a punctured lung, a concussion, and my left wrist has been shattered. Not to mention I'm a big bruise. Then again, all of that is easier for the nanites to repair than brain and nerve damage. I'll probably be on my feet in six or seven days."

Breem grinned a little. "That's good to hear, Bill. I was afraid I was gonna lose you back there."

de Retz asked, "What happened after that freak of nature tossed me around like a toy? I sort of hazed out."

His throat dry, Commander Breem coughed. Quietly he replied, "It's kind of hard to explain. It was strange. There I was, a single length of pipe in my hand, when the b*stard charged me. Before I could even swing the pipe, he knocked the wind out of me. I thought he was going to finish the job when he was swallowed up by a yellow glow and disappeared. Just like Talon a while back. Then I picked you up and got the heck out of there."

Gabriel put in, "We have no idea where the shuttle went. We destroyed the PatCom, but the shuttle has vanished. Perhaps it had the transferal technology on it."

de Retz's tone was one of curiosity when he asked, "A length of pipe you say? I was out of it, but I could swear you had some sort of gun that you fired at Caine."

Shaking his head minutely, Breem replied, "No, sir. Just a pipe."

"I see."

Breaking in, Gabriel stated, "That's enough talk for now. You guys need rest. You can give your reports later."

Lieutenant Gabriel tapped a few controls on the bed's panel. Immediately, Breem began to feel drowsy. A few seconds later, he was deeply asleep.

***

Commonwealth Naval Vessel Eclipse, CNV-492
Captain's Log: 12th June 2268.

Well, what should've been a simple mission had turned into a hellish trip on a planet. Not only that, the six crew members of the Seahorse are missing in action. I can only hope that they are alive and are being treated humanely.
My time on the planet has made me come ponder my mortality. I could have been killed many times. The crash, the fence, that monstrosity of a man, and the explosion of the facility, the last two I know next to nothing about. But I realize that there is little that I can do, except try to survive from day to day.
On a much more troubling note, there is Commander Tobias Breem. Despite my condition at the time, I know what I saw. Why did Commander Breem lie to me? So many questions, so little answers. What was that facility? Who was Robert Caine(There is no record of him in the ships database)? Anyway, the ship did have a definition of the word Ragnarok, it's an old Norse word: a battle between good and evil. From this battle, it is said that a new order will be formed. That in itself frightens me.
Captain William de Retz, commanding officer: Eclipse (CNV-492)

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