Bran leaned against the front of the navigation console, staring up at the blank viewscreen. He took a bite of an E-Ration bar and grimaced as he got another chance to savor the full range of flavors provided. For perhaps the ten thousandth time in his life, he wondered why in a civilization that spanned thousands of star systems it was still a physical impossibility to make an E-Rat that tasted remotely edible. Taking another excruciating bite, he chalked it up to another one of the great unsolvable mysteries.
“Enjoying your meal?” a familiar voice called from behind him.
“Oh, definitely. It’s an absolute joy,” he replied flatly.
“There is an old Seldaran saying that a shared meal is always improved.”
“Well, I suppose good company could even make E-Rats palatable,” Bran said with a smile as he turned to face Jaheira.
“That is high praise, Captain,” Jaheira replied with a smile of her own. “I hope I can live up to such expectations.”
“I’m sure you will,” Bran replied.
Jaheira came around the console and settled down next to him. She pulled out a silver wrapped E-Rat of her own and tore open the wrapper. Bran saluted her with his half eaten ration bar as she took a bite. Her face remained impassive for a moment before the eventual grimace broke out. Unable to restrain himself, Bran broke out into a wide grin and said, “I can see the truth in that old saying. I know I’m feeling better now.”
Jaheira shot him a hard look, but one that quickly melted into a half smile. “Indeed. As you can see, even E-Rats can be improved on.”
“True enough,” he said, taking another excruciatingly interesting bite.
“Any progress?” Jaheira asked after a few moments of companionable silence.
“I’m not sure,” Bran answered with a shrug. “The last time I asked her she got sarcastic.”
Jaheira pursed her lips thoughtfully. “I see.”
“Yeah. So, how are the others doing?”
“Aerie has Valygar’s leg and suit patched now. Minsc reports that all is quiet and our Yolandan associate is showing an interest in that old Leonis mini that is borderline disturbing.”
“Really?” Bran asked, pushing himself up to look over the console at Mazzy. Jaheira’s impression of the Yolandan’s behavior seemed disturbingly accurate. He’d been involved in weapons maintenance for years, from servicing his own to overseeing the repair of the heavy plasma turrets of a Fenris class dreadnaught. He’d seen it done with the precision of a nanosurgeon and the haphazard way of the terminally careless. But the intensity with which Mazzy was servicing the ancient multibarrel was almost frightening.
“Wow, there’s attention to detail and then there’s making it a damn holy ritual,” Bran said softly as he turned his attention back to his XO.
Jaheira nodded solemnly. “So I noted. My surmise is she desires revenge. My concern is how well she can restrain that desire.”
Bran opened his mouth to reply and found the words being snatched away. “You know, I think she bears watching, but I believe she’ll maintain her control. I think she’s focusing her anger into the weapon, to make it her tool of revenge. Making sure it won’t fail her.”
“An interesting analysis,” Jaheira said with an arched eyebrow.
“I asked myself what I would be doing in her situation,” Bran replied. “And when I compared it to what she’s doing, I felt a sudden sense of relief.”
The eyebrow arched further. “Relief? Because she is showing such particular control? That could also be the exaggeration borne of barely controlled rage.”
“Oh, the rage is there. Trust me,” Bran replied calmly. “I saw it in the Captain’s Ready Room. But she’ll keep it under control. She still has a Duty to perform. She has to avenge her crew.”
For a moment, it looked as if Jaheira was going to object. But instead she simply nodded. “Very well. I hope you are right.”
“So do I,” Bran said, taking another bite of his wonderful E-Rat bar. “Of course, right now, I’m more concerned about getting off this bridge, preferably with some intelligence we can actually use.”
“That is highly dependent on whether Imoen can crack the computer’s encryption,” Jaheira replied.
Bran hesitated before responding, even going so far as to flick his eyes in the direction of his sister. Jaheira arched one elegant eyebrow and asked, “Did you expect that to cause Imoen to announce her breaking of the codes?”
“Considering the perversity of the universe and my sister’s penchant for dramatics… yeah, I guess I did,” Bran replied with a half grin.
Jaheira snorted. “It seems that one of them needs…”
A loud, celebratory whoop from by the command chair cut Jaheira off.
“To work on their timing,” Jaheira finished in complete deadpan.
Bran chuckled as he pushed himself off the deck. “Well, it’s nice to know that the timing’s just a little off. I’d hate to think that the universe had suffered a complete causality failure.”
“Beyond the dead walking?” Jaheira asked with arched eyebrow as she followed him up.
“Well, beyond the usual weirdness yes.”
“In that case, Bran, I think that reality, such as it is, is safe. For now.”
“She still has a computer,” Bran reminded her.
“Indeed,” Jaheira replied quickly. “All the more reason to see what she has done and not let her curiosity get the better of her.”
“Good point,” Bran chuckled as he and his X.O. joined the small cluster crowding around his sister and computer expert. Imoen sat on the deck cross-legged, a trail of datalines and spliced optic cables leading from the pink-cased Sparky to the open arm of the command chair. She still had yet to look up, her head down, eyes intent on her comp’s display.
“So, Immy, by the whoop, I’d guess you’ve got something?” Bran asked after a few second’s pregnant silence.
“Sliced the encrypt finally. This stuff is top rate. Full featured multilayer encrypt, top of the line stuff. Dual matrix encryption with advanced Dylian overlays. Trillahex Harper’s keylocks and some of the nastiest anti-slicing protocols I’ve seen since… well, since the Intel Maincore. It sucked up most of my normal decrypt like it was free booze at a fighter jock convention. It beat the Icarian protocol like it was a redheaded stepchild. So, I had to back my way out and try a variation of Tingler’s just to get past the initial anti-slicer defenses. And then, I had to..”
“… use one of my own specials to get past the initial lock out codes. Of course, that just got me past…”
“…the initial lockouts. But it finally exposed the system encrypt as opposed to just the lockout protocols. Some pretty fancy stuff there, including what looked like the big, bad cranky granddad of the Rutherford Matrix. Thing is, if you know how to tweak…”
Imoen blinked and tore her eyes away from her display, giving Bran a slightly confused look. “What?”
“We all appreciate you worked very long and very hard at slicing the computer, but please, less with the technobabble and more with the info? So that maybe we can get off this hellship sometime this century?” Bran replied.
“No appreciation for art,” Imoen groused.
Bran stared at her, one eyebrow arched.
“Oh fine,” Imoen groused again. She tapped a few keys and switched into lecture mode, “Sparky is pulling a full download right now and trying to sort out what’s important and what isn’t. I’ve got him focused on the Captain’s logs, searching out anything pertaining to our situation. I’ve got a couple of hits and I’m trying to order them up right now. The files are basically intact, but there is some degradation in the holofiles and such. I’ll do what I can to smooth over the rough patches.”
“What do you have?”
“Gimme a sec. Running them through one last series of preprocessing. And then I’ll toss ‘em up on the main viewer. Chrono order fine?”
“That’ll work Im. As soon as you’re ready.”
“Roll camera one,” Imoen said, looking up from her display as the bridge’s main viewer powered up with an ominous hum. Slowly the telltale shimmer of the ‘blank screen’ holoprojection appeared, marred by the occasional artifact thrown up by the ancient, straining projectors. Slowly, an image began to form in the center of the projection.
The image resolved into the face of an attractive, confident blonde woman, dressed in a dark blue tunic that looked right out of the Fleet museum. Four silver pins on her collar shone brightly, signifying her as a captain. Blue eyes looked straight into the holocam as if she could spear the viewer with just a look and her mouth was a thin line. Her voice only added to the effect, calm but with just the slightest undercurrent of strain, hinting at the depth of anger beneath the control.
Captain’s Log, 12 Dekarn, 1089, 1350 Hours.
“I’ve just received official word that the Helios is being officially ordered from the New Venice shipyards to Charesh Station for refit. This is despite the fact that the refit assessment has already been completed by New Venice technicians and refit was supposed to begin on the 15th. That means at least two weeks as we transition to Charesh for refit, never mind time for reassessment and such. We could have her back on the line in a month in a half on New Venice. With the new offensive underway, taking the Helios out of service for at least another month seems counterintuitive. However, the Powers that Be have decided the Helios needs to be retasked for refit, and my protests to LogFleet have been turned down.”
The image paused then faded out. As the hologram dissolved, Bran looked at Jaheira and asked, “New Venice is still there, but have you ever heard of Charesh Station?”
“I’ve never heard of it. Imoen, see if you can find…”
“Way ahead of you. Sparky saw it in the transcripts and ran some searches. I think our next excerpt might answer ya,” Imoen said as she tapped another key.
Once more the face of the Helios’s captain reappeared. This time her jaw was tight and her voice sharp as a knife blade as she spoke into the holocam.
Captain’s Log, 29 Dekarn, 1089, 0932 Hours
“We have arrived at Charesh Station for refit on time. I have just finished my discussions with Admiral Mortimer over the disposition of my command. The Helios has been tasked by the Office of Special Projects as a testbed for a new defensive system. She was chosen as she was an older ship and deemed not critical for the war effort at this time. As if the Helios’s proud service record is not important enough.”
“Instead, we’re going to be on station at Charesh for a period no shorter than four months having the new defensive system installed and tested. Which is trial enough on its own. To compound my problems, PerFleet has, in its usual way when finding caches of trained personnel, reassigned most of my senior officers and NCOs across the Fleet. With my Marine detachment and flight wing already detached, I’m going to be short qualified personnel. I asked Admiral Mortimer for dispensation to protect my crew integrity, but he informed me that with the long layover and the Fleet’s demands for trained personnel, that he was denying my request. The only senior officers and NCOs protected were my Chief Engineer and only two of his senior chiefs.”
“This is going to be a long four months.”
“The next few months of log recordings are pretty dry,” Imoen said as the image of Captain Vico dissolved from the screen. “Pretty much just updates on the refit work and crew assignments. A lot of carefully phrased bitching about her CO and her situation. She didn’t much like what they were doing to her ship or crew.”
“Anything more on this OSP?” Valygar asked from behind her left shoulder.
“Looks like it was the predecessor to the Advanced Research Section. That logo we saw on those combat droids, that’s the OSP logo.”
“So, it’s safe to say that the OSP is involved in what happened to the Helios,” Bran replied.
“I’d say that’s a very safe assumption bro. Especially from the later entries.”
“Anything more topical other than an annoyed captain, Im?”
“Well, I figured you’d need some context.”
“Context is good, but unless there is anything really key in the refit logs…”
“Roger. Getting to the juicy bits.”
Once more, Captain Vico’s face appeared on viewer. The hard set of her features was softer and her eyes no longer bored into the holocam. There was still a tightness in her jaw, but her tone lacked the ice and steel that had laced the previous recordings.
Captain’s Log, 27 Dodekarn, 1089, 1520 Hours
“The work on the new defensive system has been completed and according to Dr. Flavius, all of the initial tests and simulations have been successful. He has petitioned Admiral Mortimer for full fledged testing of the new system. I voiced my reservations about such testing to the Admiral, but without anything more concrete than a feeling that Dr. Flavius is too eager to proceed, I doubt they will carry very far with the Admiral. He seems almost as eager as the good doctor to put this new system to the test.”
She sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “And I can see why. If this system does work as the designers intended, it will give the Fleet a massive tactical and strategic advantage. It could be the ‘magic bullet’ against the Drazeri that we’ve been hunting for so long, something to end this damn war. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.”
As the screen faded, Imoen added, “It looks like they went ahead. I’m skipping the next few entries, they’re primarily logistical issues in test prep and the first couple of tests. Seems the first live tests went well, and there’s nothing in the entries that looks at all probative. Might be in the Engineer’s log or in Medical, but those either didn’t survive intact or for some reason weren’t uploaded to the bridge computer.”
“That’s unusual. The cores update constantly,” Bran said.
“I know. And there’s a lot in here that’s Sparky’s dloading and sorting, but so far, no Engineer’s or Medical log. I’m not all that surprised actually, because there’s a good bit of corruption in the system. Some data, but a good amount of CFD.”
“CFD?” asked Fentan.
“Sorry, crystal fatigue damage. The crystal storage medium starts to breakdown after a while, especially when subjected to uncontrolled radiation, which I’m betting this ship got a whole bunch of floating around in all that nebular soup.”
“The optineural systems we use in our ships seem resistant to such problems,” Fentan replied with just a little hauteur.
“We can discuss the technological merits of our respective races’ computer systems at a more convenient time,” Bran said flatly. “Perhaps at a point where we are not confronted with a horde of the walking dead.”
“Of course Captain,” Fentan replied with practiced deference. “My apologies.”
“Right,” Bran said tersely. “What’s next Immy?”
“Well, the next log section is a two parter. I think we’ve got our trigger here.” Imoen replied, not looking up from her screen.
“Are you waiting for a drum roll?” quipped Valygar after a few seconds went by and the viewer remained blank.
“It’d be nice.”
“Just play the log,” Jaheira ordered.
“No sense of drama,” Imoen groused quietly as she started the next log section.
Once more, Captain Vico’s face appeared on the viewer. For the first time in the entries displayed, the blonde captain actually appeared … happy. Or, perhaps more correctly, not unhappy. There was no tightness in the jaw and there might have even been the slightest traces of a smile around the corners of her mouth.
Captain’s Log, 3 Enarn, 1090, 0830 Hours
“I am pleased to report that all of the tests of the new defensive system have passed with flying colors. Yesterday’s test was yet another resounding success. OpForce was two OSP Osiris class scout ships, the Isis and Ojibwa. We managed to avoid detection by both of them for the entire 35 hour drill period while never leaving their sensor radius. Both ships are carrying the new Raeleth sensor arrays and knew they were being stalked by a battlecruiser, yet neither one even caught a hint that we were trailing them and were well within energy range.
She broke into an almost predatory grin. “More eloquent officers will wax poetic about the tactical and strategic implications of deploying such a system. I am not one, but the possibilities are tantalizing. We’d be able to close to knife fighting range without being seen, to ambush Drazeri forces in the heart of their own defenses… It’s a heady thought. We could turn this war around in a matter of weeks, push them back to Draz. We could even attack Draz directly and finally hurt them as bad as we’ve been hurt.”
“Of course, all of this talk is premature. We’ve not finished the tests yet, and tomorrow’s test, to see if we can pass through hyperspace cloaked and even disguise our hyper footprint, that will be the true test. I find myself hoping for yet another success.”
Astonished looks flew around the room, with one key exception. While wide eyed shock played across the faces of most of the Gorion’s crew, one member sat calmly, wearing a smug, satisfied grin. Preening in front of her computer, she said, “Pretty impressive, huh?”
“An actual cloaking device? One that worked and allowed the cloaked vessel to use their sensors?” Jaheira managed.
“I kept on hearing rumors about full cloaking, you know something beyond the sensor masks and stuff, but it kept on getting disproved or proven worthless,” Bran replied.
“I’d need Nalia’s help to really decipher some of the technical specs that Sparky dug up for it, but it doesn’t seem like the classic idea. Apparently, it’s some sort of phased ‘cloak’, whatever the hell that is, and it’s tied right into the Helios’s Mectrix drive systems. Not sure how, but these are definitely some weird variations of Faverelli’s multistring hypertheory equations, the ones dealing with multidimensional subspace.”
“Less technobabble, more explanation,” Bran asked with just a little bit of an annoyed edge. “For those of use without the advanced degrees?”
“Simple version is it’s a cloaking device that bends subspace to hide the ship, making it seem like it’s not there when it is. Or at least, that’s the best I can tell. I’m not a hyperspace physicist, even if I did play one for Intelligence.”
“All this is fascinating, but you said this was a two-parter?” Valygar asked finally.
“Right. Second part, coming up.”
The viewer flared to life again, but the image this time was startlingly different. Captain Vico was slumped in her chair, streaks of soot and sweat covering her face. There was a tear in her uniform at the right sleeve and a soot stained white undertunic poked free. Her face was as grim as death as she mopped one sleeve against her forehead, only managing to spread the soot further.
Captain’s Log, 4 Enarn, 1090, 1133 Hours
“The hyperspace test … how do I put this. It was a complete and utter cockup. I know this is the official log, but I can’t express it any better than that. It was a complete disaster. One of epic proportions.”
“Four hours ago, we prepared for a short distance jump from the Charesh system to the New Argonia system to see if we could drop in unexpectedly. Everything looked green. Dr. Flavius said everything was in optimal conditions. We even were well outside of the hyper-distortion barrier for Charesh. Everything was perfect.”
“And then something went horribly wrong.”
“I knew it as soon as we translated. The ship began to shake and tremble, and there was a horrible screeching sound, something completely unearthly. It filled the ship, the hull vibrating with this terrible sound. And then things got worse. Garbled screaming came over the comms from all over the ship. Engineering, Astrogation, Mectrix control, everywhere. Something was distorting them, twisting their words. Then circuits and panels started to simply explode. ”
“I ordered an immediate crash translation to realspace, figuring that we had to get out of hyperspace before the gods know what happens. No sooner did I give the order when Lt. Nerula, my chief astrogator, leapt out of her chair, shrieking. Shrieking like that devil sound. I and a few of my other officers attempted to reach her, to calm her down, but the shrieking only intensified. I… I think I heard her scream ‘Make it stop.’ I… I’m not sure.”
“Before any of us could reach her, she smashed her fists into the Astro console, shattering the control surfaces. And then she… she ripped out broken pieces of console and.. and she … she killed herself. Right there on the command deck. It was one of the most horrible things I’ve ever seen. She died in Rob’s, I mean Cmdr. Cooper’s arms.”
Vico paused and wiped her eyes with her sleeve. “Somehow, someone in Engineering managed to initiate a crash translation. We managed to dump back into realspace with relative success, in that the ship survived the strain. That is the most I can say, as the damage to ship and crew is severe.”
“Lt. Nerula was not the only victim. Dr. Farzad reports seventy-five other casualties, twenty-three fatal, all but two of fatalities suicides similar to Lt. Nerula. The others were caused by exploding panels. Dr. Farzad could not find any correlation between the victims other than a high psi index, but he hopes to have more answers soon.”
“As to the ship, the most pressing damage is to the sensors and communications array. We are currently drifting blind, deaf and dumb as the sensor relays and comm system both suffered severe damage to the external pickups. Repair crews are already in place, but until such time, the best location I can give is somewhere near a nebula. There is also significant damage to many of the ship’s computer and electronic systems, with severe short outs causing minor and major injuries. We also have hull and structure damage on most decks, more prevalent in the engineering sections closest to the Mectrix generator and the cloaking device. Some corridors are impassible.”
“We are attempting to effect repairs and make contact with Alliance personnel while Dr. Flavius and his staff attempt to determine what in the blazes went wrong. Vico out.”
Silence descended on the crew as they watched Vico’s face fade out. Quiet glances were exchanged and it was sometime before anyone could speak. “Is that it?” Bran finally asked.
“No, there’s more. This is what started it. It gets worse.”
“What happens next?”
“There’s a couple of log entries detailing their repair efforts and her growing frustration with this Doc Flavius not being able to figure out what went wrong. The damage was pretty bad, according to the logs, the comm transmitters were completely trashed, but they did manage to get some of the sensors working. They figure out they jumped to the far side of the nebula, which is a long ass way from Charesh, as you mighta guessed. It pretty much like that for about two days before things went bad.”
“You mean for the dead to walk?” Valygar pointed out.
“Well, you’d call that bad, wouldn’t you?” Imoen fired back, her voice sharp.
“Imoen…” Bran interjected.
“Right, right, right. More logs.”
Captain Vico’s face reappeared in the viewer matrix, this time her face pinched and gaunt. Dark circles had begun to etch their way under her eyes, but not to the point of dimming the intensity of her stare. She looked tired but determined as she started the next log entry.
Captain’s Log, 6 Enarn, 1090, 1923 Hours
“Repairs to main systems are ongoing. Chief Turin and his crews have done amazing work in the last two days, barely resting as they struggle to repair the damage done by this new contraption. The majority of the sensor arrays are back online although they will need full replacement back at dock. Most of the major structural damage around the phase cloak and Mectrix drive has been repaired. The drive itself should be online shortly. In fact, he anticipates having us as close to full operation within another two days, with one critical exception. The entire communications array is burned out and without dock facilities cannot be repaired.
Dr. Farzad still cannot explain what caused the incidents during the tests. His autopsies show massive amounts of EM damage to their brain tissue but nothing conclusi…”
Suddenly, an alarm klaxon began to wail in the background. Vico’s face snapped away as the computer intoned, “Security breach. Security breach in Medbay. Level one security breach.”
Vico didn’t even look back at the screen as it faded to black.
Imoen wasted no time in linking in the next log entry. Captain Vico’s face reappeared, the tired expression replaced by the loose jaw and wide eyes of surprise. Her voice was flat, almost monotone as spoke into the holocam.
Captain’s Log Supplemental, 6 Enarn, 1090, 2010 Hours
“This log entry may not be believed, but there was a security breach in Medbay. In the Morgue. Apparently, one of the crew, a PowerTech 1st Class Rober Beaumont got up in the middle of his autopsy. He apparently objected to having his internal organs removed and proceeded to attack Dr. Kormolev. Kormolev managed to sound the alarm before PowerTech? former PowerTech? Beaumont killed him.”
“By the time security responded, most of the other crewmen being stored in the Morgue had stormed MedBay itself. Lieutenant Brickmas and her security team managed to contain? Kill? Stop the walking corpses from breaking out beyond Medbay. Casualties were severe and most of Dr. Farzad’s staff as well as three crewmen in Medbay for other injuries died before the security detachment could respond. Two of Brickmas’s security people were killed as well in the fighting. Apparently, it took massive amounts of damage to the dead crewman to stop their advance.”
“What remains of the fallen crewmen are now under close scrutiny by Dr. Farzad and what remains of his team, trying to determine exactly how people apparently dead got up and attacked the living. Dr. Farzad has a theory that it is a result of the strange energy disruptions caused during the cloaked hyperjump test. Dr. Flavius disagrees strenuously, but I’ve ordered the cloaking system disconnected until such time as we figure out what is going on here.”
“If we ever do. Vico out.”
The captain’s face faded out once more.
“So, it started with the first casualties,” Jaheira said quietly. “I wonder why it took two days.”
“M… maybe that’s how long it t… takes for the body to be taken over,” Doctor Av’lina posited.
“It didn’t take long for my crew to rise,” Fentan said darkly.
“M… maybe it took a while to adapt?”
“Yeah,” Imoen replied. “And the speed of adaptation rate kept on going up. At least according to the logs. After that first incident, there was another only about six hours later, this time lead by the victims of the first attack. Apparently one of them accessed environmental controls, managing to poison the atmosphere on three decks before it was ‘contained.’ Didn’t help, as the attacks continued to spread throughout the ship, and the speed at which casualties rose increased. There are also reports of some of the dead… deforming, turning monstrous, but there’s no visual evidence included, so that could just be hysterics. The zombies spread throughout most of the ship within seven hours. They just kept on overwhelming the thin stretched security forces.”
“Anything probative?” Bran asked.
“Nothing really. There’s no actual entries by Vico, just entries in the security logs and the logging of orders. The records also start getting scrambled up at this point. It looks like widespread security breaches in the computer system. People trying to access security functions, defensive systems, navigation before a general lockout was initiated.”
“Basically, Vico was too busy trying to save her ship to leave log entries.”
“Right-o, Bran. By the time she makes her next log entry, things have already gone from worse to unbelievably bad.”
Again, Captain Vico’s face appeared in the holoviewer. The change wrought in just a few hours time by the time stamp was remarkable. Her face was gaunt and pale with the pale pink of a plasskin bandage covering her right temple. Her uniform was grimy with the tell tale sign of blood spattering the right shoulder. But her eyes… when those blue eyes swept the holocam, a few inadvertent gasps went up throughout the crew. They were flat and almost colorless. They were dead.
Captain’s Log, 7 Enarn, 1090, 0423 Hours
“If the last entry seemed unbelievable, then this one will be a thing of pure fantasy. In the last eight hours, my crew and myself have found ourselves fighting for our lives. Fighting our fellow crewmates, fighting a mutiny by our fallen comrades. A mutiny of the damned.”
“I reported that the crewmen killed in the test rose up and attacked other members of the crew, killing them. Their victims did the same. Their attack was more brutal, more focused. From what we can tell, the corpse of Dr. Kormolev accessed the environmental control systems and changed the atmospheric balance. The change affected three decks before it could be contained, killing nearly eighty-five. We managed to stop Kormolev or whatever he was now. An OSP Marine contingent shot him and his dead conspirators, finding that shots to the head finally slew them. For good this time.”
“But by then, the problem had spread. The eighty-five slain rose up as we tried to police the affected decks. Casualties mounted as deck after deck and section after section fell. They… adapted, changing target priorities from just anyone to officers and crew with specialized knowledge. Those they killed, it seemed as though they absorbed the knowledge of the fallen. Command codes, weapon caches, everything. Once they rose, they turned that around against their crewmates. They turned the ship systems against us until I finally activated a complete system lockout.”
“But even then, they kept coming. They tried to storm the bridge, I assume to take me. We managed to fight them off with heavy loses. Rob led the counterattack which pushed them back, but he took a shot from Major Stel, or should I say his corpse? Rob died and I had to order the execution of my dead.” Vico laughed harshly, a slight edge of hysterics in it. “There were only a handful of left and most of us wounded. I took a blaster round to the leg, and with Medbay cut off, my dancing days are done for a while.”
“After the last attack, we were forced to cut off the Command deck entirely. Lieutenant Brickmas, led a party to hold C Deck while a party of engineers under Lieutenant Corales vented B Deck and cut all computer connections. Brickmas’s survivors pulled back to the Command Deck before the last lift shaft was blown.”
“Most of the crew is… dead? Now the enemy? They are casualties, but they still walk. Whatever they are, I’m down to a total of forty-three officers and crew split between the command deck and main engineering. I have twenty-three with me and Chief Turin has twenty men and women with him. That is how dire the situation is, forty-three of twenty-one hundred left.”
“We at least now know what we face. Well, Dr. Flavius at least had a theory as to what it is we face. He believes that we are up against some sort of energy being. It apparently is a native to one of the higher subspace dimensions and when using the phase cloak with the Mectrix drive engaged, we managed to somehow form a bridge between its home dimension and our own. We saw nothing from it because it has no physical form. Nothing happened for over two days because it took that long to adapt to our environment, but from the number of casualties I’ve suffered, I have to say it has done quite well. Quite well indeed.”
“Flavius marveled at the intellect and adaptability of the creature, thinking perhaps we could reason with it as it learns our modes of communication. He had us capture on of the fallen crewmen so he could communicate with it. And he did. Oh, he did. It was angry with us. We trapped it here, chained it. First, it tried to escape. Then it found that it’s got a taste for us. That it feasts on our minds, on… what did he call it, our neural-electrical energy. As you can guess, negotiations proved less than fruitful when it killed its captors and critically wounded the doctor.”
“And now, knowing our foe and what we’ve learned, we have a plan. We are going to maroon the ship. We cannot allow it to reach an inhabited planet or station and spread. And according to the doctor, we cannot destroy the ship. The ship has trapped it here and he believes the destruction of the ship would not send it back, but free it to roam in our dimension. Considering that it’s taken over a battlecruiser in nearly eight hours, this cannot be allowed to happen.”
“The plan is this. The survivors are going to make sure this ship cannot return to inhabited space. All small craft and lifeboats have already been ejected and destroyed. The remaining crew will cripple the ship. Those with me will target astrogation, the computer cores and the remainder of the commsystem. Turin’s people will fly us into the nebula and then destroy the sublight engines.”
“We figure the Entity will oppose us. Because of my injuries, my task will be to use what is left of the internal security systems to oppose my dead crewmen from the bridge. All of the survivors of the missions will then rejoin me on the bridge, to await what fate might bring us.”
“I know I send what remains of my crew to their doom. I am sending men and women under my command, under my protection, into a battle with perhaps the Devil himself while I remain behind. But I have no choice. I cannot allow this Entity, this Thing to escape. And so, I must condemn us all to our doom. One we will not escape.”
“May God have mercy upon our souls. Vico out.”
“My God,” breathed Bran as Vico’s image faded from the viewer. His was the only voice to break the silence.
“The poor woman,” Dr. Av’lina said quietly.
“Yeah,” Imoen said sadly, her face grim.
“Are… are there any more entries?” Bran asked after a moment.
“One. But, I don’t think we need to play it Bran.”
“Why not?” Jaheira asked. Imoen bristled before she saw the soft expression on her face.
“Because there is nothing useful in it. No intelligence. Just…”
“Just the last words of this ship’s commander,” Bran said. “She recorded them for a reason, Imoen. Please, play them.”
“We owe it to her,” he said firmly
“O…okay,” she said, lowering her head and keying the final log entry onto the viewer.
The face that appeared in the viewer barely seemed like the captain of the previous logs. Deep lines were etched into her gaunt face and thin strands of grey had appeared amongst the blonde. Her eyes were sunken and bright and the circles beneath them more bruises than anything else. The holocam panned out to reveal her sitting in her command chair and dressed in her dress whites. A pistol sat in her lap and one skeletal hand brushed it, nay caressed it.
Captain’s Log, 28 Enarn, 1090, 1200 Hours
“This is the last log entry of Adrienne Vico, Captain of the Alliance starship Helios. It has been my greatest pleasure, my greatest pride to serve with such a wonderful crew, to serve as this great ship’s commander, and lead her into battle to defend the citizens of the Alliance. And now, I am to perform my last act as the Helios’s commanding officer.”
“My crew is dead, slain by the Entity that has boarded this vessel and waged war on her crew. We could not fight it, we could not turn it back. It claimed the lives of each and every soul on this ship, save my own. I still hear them, calling out to me. Calling out to their captain to release them, to save them from their terrible fate. Some days I could not block out their screams, their cries for relief, for freedom. I would give anything to grant that to them, but for the safety of the Alliance, for the galaxy, for all life, I must consign them to their terrible fate, to drift forever in the birthplace of stars until time itself ends.”
“I know that is our fate, and I accept the price that I must pay. I am the sole survivor of the Helios. The last living soul aboard. And I have stayed at my post until the welcoming arms of the Hinode nebula swallowed us whole. Until our death shroud could be wound round us. And now, as we drift amongst the swirling gases, my duty is done. I can now join my crew in whatever hell we have been delivered to. At least I will no longer be alone.”
“I make this entry as a final act. I pray to all the gods that will listen that it will never be played back. That none will ever find us, that our final sacrifice will not have been in vain. I pray that none find this record, that none will know what we have sacrificed. My crew deserves better than silence of oblivion, but it is the only way our terrible curse can be contained.”
“But if you are viewing this then you have found this cursed ship and we have failed. Now you too are cursed to our fate. And for that I am sorry. Eternally sorry.”
Captain Vico stared at the screen for a moment. She swallowed once and wrapped her right hand around the grip of her service pistol. With one smooth gesture, she brought it up to her temple. She rested her left hand on the control console, her finger hovering over one of the buttons.
“Adrienne Vico, Captain, GASV Helios out.”
The viewer went black.
A Space Odyssey Chapter 25
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