This story tells of a hand-picked squad of the best scientists and soldiers that travel from the future to our time for a harrowing mission. Retrieve the artifact. This is set within the "Key of Epoch" universe, which is a collection of other stories.
The light shone brightly on the Fleet Admiral's face in the main hub as everyone awaited the order. Finally, after some deep thought, he spoke calmly.
“Everyone brace for hyperspace. Prepare the engines and start it up on my command. Turn off all exterior imaging now and buckle up, gentlemen. If I have to leave his ass out there in the dark, then I will, make no mistake. He knows his orders and he still took the risk. I want all non-essential personnel to prepare for stasis. Come on, People! We only have 6 minutes before our mission is compromised.”
Fleet Admiral J. Martin stood at ease as he spoke, ever composed without an ounce of worry on his face.
Only one monitor was still lit, showing Lieutenant Hatchet in his plated spacesuit directly in front of the ship. He was furiously shouldering small meteors and space junk out of the path of the ship, but still so much remained. The timer on his heads-up display counted down rapidly until he realized he only had 60 seconds to board the ship again. With his wings completely encased, he had to rely on the small boosters on his back to redirect the large rocks out of the way. Lt. Belmont all the while was frantic over the headset yelling at him to return. In a hurry, Hatchet pushed the nearest piece of junk, a decrepit satellite, towards a cluster of small meteors. He pushed with all his might, screaming, and the satellite finally floated away from him. The timer in his view ticked past 30 seconds. He was only feet away from the satellite as it collided into a jagged, drifting rock, erupting in an explosion. He didn't even have time to react before he is blasted away by the silent detonation. His body started to spiral out of control and his boosters seemed unresponsive to his tumbling. Hatchet felt his stomach churning but a hand reached out from the starboard hatch, grabbing his arm and almost ripping it off. Hatchet's momentum threatened to carry him away from the ship, but the hand held him firmly and he was swung into the decompression chamber.
Belmont stood over him as the room filled with air, slapping his helmet and yelling at Hatchet to stand up. Completely disoriented, Hatchet got to his feet and with the help of Belmont, he careened down the corridor to the ship aft where seats were found. They had just buckled themselves in as the ship lurched ever so slightly and the odd feeling of being inside-out overwhelmed them all. Shortly after, the Commander's voice could be heard over the comms saying warp travel was successful along with Four-dimensional travel. They had officially reached the outer edge of the galaxy, four-thousand years ago.
Vice-Admiral Wolf stood next to the commander reading off the telemetry of the ship as they were interrupted by Captain Fish. There, in the doorway, stood a headless golem, human in shape, and with a globe of water in place of his head. Inside the globe swam a multitude of colors and shapes swirling like a miniature galaxy. Deep inside was the remains of a long forgotten species of fish that had attained psychic prominence before being completely eradicated. The only thing keeping him "alive" was the psychic aura that mimicked his personality. Captain Fish was the last of his kind, and everyone on deck stopped to look at this wondrous creature. To any species of the Collective the globe was intoxicating, and so the entire crew looked at him with unwavering gaze. He did not come out from his laboratory much because their stares made him uncomfortable and so he thoroughly enjoyed Hatchet's company because he seemed to steal the spotlight from anyone, including Fish.
“Admiral Martin, I doubt you will find this in your ship's readings, but we have reached Earth. You may not remember, but that is your species' home world. It is now in it's budding stages and has yet to be met with any of its demising catastrophes. I fear for what our impact may have on this world at this point in time and even more so for the existence of you and the Vice-Admiral. All I am suggesting is that we tread lightly here and stay unnoticed. I have found in my studies of your race that something of enormous importance happens at this place in time, but it is impossible to know if it will be halted by our expedition, or hastened because of it. Whatever we may find may either be the salvation for your race's home world and aid in the Collectives' further flourishing; or it may be the cataclysm that hastens entropy across the stars.”
“Thank you, Captain, but my orders are firm and whether or not it is detrimental to my ancestors is unimportant to me. Only the mission matters. Now go with the Vice-Admiral and round up the squad. I want orbital drop pods prepped and ready in forty minutes.”
Hatchet sat next to Belmont and listened through the fog in his head at his banter about following protocol and not dying. Finally, Hatchet mind's became more clear and he took his first glance at Belmont. What he saw made him jump out of the seat in fear. Belmont sat there talking weakly through coughing fits and his entire left side had veins popping out, almost bursting out of his skin. He was coughing up blood and one of his eyes had burst from the decompression in the ship hatch. Hatchet immediately released the clasp holding his space suit on, lifted Belmont out of his seat, and flew him down the corridors of the ship to the medical ward. Belmont continued to berate Hatchet with remarks on his suicidal and clumsy behaviors, but every sentence was more deranged than the last.
“The Admiral told you to stay indoors, that the ship might handle it, and you still left! ...If my pet Llama and I weren't there to save you, you might still be drifting through the vast empty butters of space.... I ought to strangle you for dancing with all those chickens out there! You'd be lost in the great tea-time of space if it weren't for my dear friend, the Llama...”
Hatchet was more horrified hearing his old friend losing it with each passing second. He finally made it to Medical and all he could think was, “What the hell is a Llama?”
Agent 12 was waiting for them there, already sharpening his tools on the whetting laser. He saw the commotion on the video feeds that lined the back wall. Hatchet was frantic and slammed the now cackling Belmont on the nearest hovering stretcher. Agent 12 was the team's medic and did not care for people to see how he worked his magical hands to save lives. Being the newest team member, he cared even less for how these people felt and right away was pushing Hatchet out the door.
“Thank you Hatchet, but your help is no longer needed. Now please leave so I can help this man in peace.”
The door slid shut right in front of Hatchet's frowning face, and the Doctor began his work. He began to speak to the ship and various pieces of equipment shifted at his command. Metals straps swung over Belmont's limbs, and a robotic arm above him started x-raying him and creating a 3-d model of the victim that floated next to Agent 12. Agent 12's tail was reaching over to the several Surgeon's tables nearby and handing him tools.
He started by spitting into Belmont's eye and tried to hide the smile on his face from no one in particular. His spit was very acidic and foam filled the entire eye socket as Belmont began to scream in pain. However, soon the foam faded and the wound was now completely sterile and cauterized. Before he dove in with with scalpel and pliers at hand, Agent 12 spoke to find just how lucid Belmont really was.
“Belmont, can you understand me? Do you know where you are?”
Belmont's one good eye was circling in a crazy fashion and he only muttered incoherently. Belmont's nanobot spacesuit shimmered as it tried to heal him and repair itself.
“I don't believe this. He is the only one I told the Admiral I was uncomfortable working on. I'm a surgeon, not a technician! The only man qualified to fix this man is himself. I have to do to something, though. Maybe if I tinker in that brain of his I can bring some sanity back to him. He should have known to close his eyes as we commenced four-dimensional travel. No species, not even half-robotic ones can survive seeing the flash of hyperspace.”
With that, He sliced through skin and bone at the top of Belmont's head and began to spit his strange healing fluids inside the skull. Hatchet thought he could hear violent screams as he waited outside, but the medical ward's thick door was locked tight.
Hatchet finally grumbled towards the ship's command deck as he heard that all essential personnel needed to report there post-haste. Everyone except Agent 12 and Belmont were there, including Shreddy, who had just awoke and hadn't even acquired a vessel yet. Without one, Shreddy was just a small floating orb of light and could not interact with anyone in this condition. He could watch and listen, but presuming the upcoming orders were foolish as always, he didn't care to speak to anyone anyway. Wolf paced the room frantically ordering several piloting cadets and uploading data onto his arm's computing apparatus. The Admiral cut Hatchet short as the winged man tried to plea that the doctor was not all he seemed.
“Silence, Lieutenant. He is the best in his field and I chose him for a reason. Now gentlemen, hear are your orders. We were told that something of great importance to the Collective is here on this planet at this point in time. We have no way of knowing what it is, but it is going to unleash death and further the entropy of the universe if we do not capture and return this artifact to base. You are the best crew in all of space and time and your assembly here is no accident. If we do not succeed and you are still alive, you can bet that you will be spending the rest of your miserable life in exile at the beginning of the universe. We have the best technology ever created in this ship and yet our camouflage is being tested as we speak. It is apparent that other forces are at work here besides my archaic ancestors inhabiting this world. I should then not have to tell you to work at your highest capability. This is a snatch and grab mission and we should be home by dinner if all goes well. Each one of you here will need to grab a telemetry apparatus like the one the Vice-Admiral here has, since that is the only way you'll be able to communicate with the ship once you're outside the cloaking field. I don't want a single human death down there, but be weapons-ready nonetheless. Find this artifact and bring it back here. You have your orders, dismissed.”
Shreddy at this point swirls towards a nearby pilot until the small orb of light could be seen entering the nostrils and mouth of the young cadet. The cadet is lifted from his seat and falls back down. His head goes limp for just a second, until he gets up and walks towards the Admiral with glowing, white eyes. He then began to speak, but it was Shreddy who controlled the brain now and the cadet was just a passenger, trapped inside his own mind.
“Are you done, Admiral? Because here is how it is actually going to go down. That race down there you see, the one you are a distant relative of, has protectors. How else would you explain the constant attack on our cloaking device and the weakening of our comms? Some other force is at work here and they are the ones we want to ask about any artifacts lying around. I say we go down there and start slaughtering some humans until they show themselves. They would have to come out and if they control the artifact, we could take this planet hostage and retrieve the artifact as ransom.”
The admiral glared at the poor cadet that was uttering treasonous talk and spoke through gritted teeth. “Shreddy, If I find out you are out of order or don't adhere to the mission exactly, I will personally tell your race's emissary to dissipate your existence. There is a reason we are doing all of this, and though you think you are enlightened beyond the need to listen to the rules of lesser beings, I still have authority over you. Your orders are set in stone and that is final. Now let that pilot do his job and gear up.”
Wolf stood passing out assorted devices to the squad as Agent 12 waltzed into the room, gleaming. Agent 12 spoke pridefully and ushered Belmont in.
“Everyone, I'd like to introduce the new and improved Belmont, reporting for duty.”
Hatchet and a few cadets gasped as they saw that the nanotech robotic skin that encased most of Belmont's body had now crept up onto his face giving his left eye a new, red glow. The Commander gave no time for congratulatory talk as he commenced speaking.
“Finally. Wolf, get these men up to speed and set orbital drop time for six minutes. The team is assembled, let's go people! Time is of the essence.”
Just then, screens all across the deck began to light up red and an alarm sounded. A frenetic cadet yelled to the Commander, “Sir! The ship has lost all power and control! We are falling and falling fast! Impact with Earth in twenty seconds!”
The Commander furiously began shouting orders, strapping himself into the captain's chair. “How did this happen? Get emergency power on line! Fix our vector and control that landing! Signal Fleet Command and send an S.O.S! Everybody strap in and brace for impact!”
The ship was rapidly spiraling downwards towards earth, colliding with hundreds of pieces of space junk in orbit. The outer hull began to glow red hot and the field of energy shrouding the ship began to flicker. The crew could only catch brief glimpses of vast sheets of snow rushing up at them on the screens and their work of changing the vector of the ship was to no avail. The ship impacted with the ice with such force, its entire crew was pitched this way and that, and shook down to their very core. Huge waves of snow erupted upward and covered the ship as it slid rapidly across the ice. The ice below melted and the ship started to sink downward into the giant sheet of ice, still pushing through and tumbling fast. Almost completely encased in white, the ship finally came to a stop and everything inside was dark.