The moon hid in the shadow of the gas giant, a massive ball of hydrogen; a star that never was. Looking through the tall bridge windows, Captain Anderson watched as another security flight of Hornets rotated manning. Three fighters shot out from the mouth of the Bengal, listing port side as they navigated to their formation nodes.
The Admiral took his chin in his hand as he sat at The Chair. "Hmm. Not here Lieutenant Stark. I don't like moons, or planets for that matter. There's too much traffic. Bring us out to Lagrange point two bravo, we can sit out there. With all the standoff it offers we should see threats coming hours before they're in weapons range."
"Yes sir," replied the navigation officer. He tapped in the commands and broadcast them to the other ships in the strike group. When they all returned in acknowledgment, he tapped another key on the console and the helmsman piped up.
"Aye aye, sir." The helsman fired a calculated thruster burn and the Scipio responded with slow, deliberate movement.
Lieutenant Rice sighed. She got up and walked toward the Captain. "Sir, I think he's playing music again. I can hear it in the background when Lieutenant Colonel Gabriel reports his locstat.”
The Captain smiled faintly. “Well, they don't call him Juke for nothing. Tell Lieutenant Colonel Gabriel to get his wingman to turn down the tunes, but if it isn't actually disrupting communications, leave it be for now.”
“Yes sir.” Lieutenant Rice nodded, but her eyes rolled in disapproval, as the communications officer, it was her job to keep the means clean. She turned and spoke as she made her way back to the console. “Shepherd Alpha One, this is Scipio, over.”
In his Hornet, Hawk thought he heard something over the electric guitar and drum beat blaring through his headset.
Lieutenant Rice shook her head and tried again. “Shepherd Alpha One, this is Scipio, over.”
“Ah shit. Juke, turn it off a second.”
Second Lieutenant Neil “Juke” Coleman killed the music and sat silent, waiting for the hammer to come down from up high.
“Scipio, this is Shepherd Alpha One, send over.”
“Shephered Alpha One, please ensure no illicit content is audible when communicating on higher. Over and out.”
Juke chuckled. “She didn't say we can't play 'em right Doctor?”
“She indeed did not. Just make sure we keep it down enough for us to actually hear them when they chime in.”
“Yes sir.” Juke flipped the dial to three quarters maximum; the tunes blared over squadron comms once again.
Standing in the shower stall, Sophine let the hot water run over her hair. She had her hands up against the wall, resting her legs that were sore from maneuvering the pedals for the five hour patrol she'd just completed. Looking down, she watched the water slide down her tired thighs. “Fuck it,” she said to herself as she crouched and sat in the hot spray, crammed in the tiny stall. At that moment, she would have given anything for a bath. As uncomfortable as it was though, it felt better than standing. A few moments of near rapid eye movement ensued until finally she snapped awake. She'd used up enough of the Scipio's hot water reserves. She got up, shut the valve and walked out into the locker room to find her towel.
Moments later she was dressed in fatigues and on her way down the snaking corridors that made up the bowels of the ship she called home. When she got to the berth modules, she dropped her bag and took a seat on the Wolf Pack's common area sofa. Letting her head roll over the back rest, she took in a deep breath and felt sleep creeping up on her once again.
Shuffling came from her mod. She turned her head and listened. The noises came again. There shouldn't have been anyone in there. She'd seen Logan still on his vid call as she made her way up, and Subtext … Subtext? She shot up from the sofa and burst into the room, half believing he would be standing there.
“Jesus Christ!” Ivar yelled, nearly falling backward. “For fuck sakes, what's wrong with you people? Everywhere I go, you guys are jumping out at me like it's April fools day or something.”
Sophine stood in the doorway, staring at this stranger; silent.
Ivar straightend out and raised an eyebrow. He looked her over. She was gorgeous, even with wet hair that clung to her like cellophane, but something was obviously not right upstairs. “Are you okay? Can I help you with something?”
Sophine knew it was impossible, that it couldn't have been Hector, but her heart wanted it so bad that she'd convinced herself somehow that there just might be a chance. She had walked into the room, hoping to wrap her arms around him, saying sorry over and over again before pressing her lips against his. Instead, she'd come in to find this stranger, who now stood glaring at her with an idiot's stare. “No,” she said, “you can't help me.” She walked past him, laid down in her bunk and rolled over toward the wall. As tired as she was, she knew now that sleep wouldn't come. Tears however, came in droves.
Ivar watched the young woman as her small frame shuddered with every sob. He sighed. It didn't take him long to figure out what tormented her so. He wanted to hug her, to put his arms around her shoulders and tell her that everything would be okay, just like he'd done to his little sister thousands of times; but it wasn't his place to say such things. He knelt next to her and spoke softly. “I'll leave you be.” He got up and stopped at the door. “I'm sorry,” he said, before walking out of the mod.
Across the stars, Hector stirred. His eyes opened to a blue hue. He tried to move but nothing happened, he couldn't even turn his head.
It was that voice, that ever incessant voice.
“You can't move, your neural receptors are being blocked by the AMOB. I'll have you know that you passed out on me before we even made a hundred meters from where you'd struck down my good men.”
Subtext looked through the blue haze, peered past a breathing mask strapped to his face and saw Interitus at a control console; tapping away at a keyboard.
“You should be able to move your eyes at least, and hear me well enough I reckon. Try talking.”
“Good! It works.”
“What're you doing?” Subtext asked.
“I'm rebuilding your broken body. Just like I rebuilt those of the three friends of ours you broke earlier in the week. It took the automated medical operations bay quite a while to repair the damage you'd caused. Oh that reminds me, you've been pretty much dead for three days. I threw you in a freezer and kept some cryo fluid pumping through your corpse. You are rather resilient though. I never thought you'd survive that long.”
A synthesized female voice echoed through the large room. “Primary Scan Complete.”
“Finally!” Interitus walked to another console and tapped a few commands.
“Now let's see if we can't -” He stopped, and his brow furrowed. “My my. You are not an average person are you.”
Subtext was confused, his eyes shifting from side to side in anxiety.
“Did you know-” Interitus started, leaning on the console as he looked up at Subtext floating in the liquid. “-your bones are carbon plated?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, good sir, that you've been in one of these machines before.” Interitus raised his eyebrows, “One of quite higher value and quality might I add. I'm not sure I can re-graft your rib cage.” He looked up at Subtext again, an odd smile on his lips. “But we can try, can't we?” His index crashed down on a button.
The AMOB came to life, robotic arms uncoiling from behind him, sharp tools, syringes and spinning cutters on a myriad of jointed appendages.
“I'd love to hear you scream, but if you have control of your diaphragm or other torso muscles while this baby cuts you open, there's no guarantee you'll come out in one piece. So -” Interitus tapped a command and hit that same button. “-there.”
Suddenly, Subtext couldn't breath, air pumped through the mask, but the sensation of breathlessness panicked him, not nearly as much as the sudden jab of pain as one of the many arms slid a blade into his side. His eyes shot wide open as he tried desperately to look down past the mask. He watched a cloud of red plume out from his chest as the mechanical device continued to lengthen the incision. He wanted to scream, but could do nothing. Pain seared into his mind.
Interitus walked up to the glass and put his finger against it, drawing doodles in the condensation. “See, normally you're not supposed to be awake for this, but I figured it would be an interesting experiment to see how long your heart can last before you either go into cardiac arrest or pass out. Don't worry, the AMOB won't let you die,” he said, walking back to the console. “Oh look at that! Your heart rate is over two hundred beats a minute. How impressive!”
A new voice? Subtext thought, hazily through the pain.
Interitus walked to another console. “I'm here.”
“Where do we stand with phase two?”
“It's been difficult, to be honest. I'm not sure I'll be able to maintain it much longer, and I can't get the other side to open. It seems as though perhaps the point of origin is the only point capable of being the link.”
“Find a solution.”
“I have. I can use this point as a meeting place of sorts.”
“That will put the sphere at risk.”
Interitus sighed. “I don't think so, there'll be far too much chaos for them to even think about scanning the planet.”
“Do what you have to do.”
Subtext thought he had heard that voice before. It could have been the pain; it could have been the cortical interference from the AMOB; however Subtext was certain that he'd heard that voice before. Where? When? His mind went dark as the AMOB's gripper took hold of his rib cage and tugged with automated precision. The pain, so intense, opened a maw into which his conscious mind plummeted.