Crystal Scar (Section 2: The True Experience)
The glow of hot plasma was a splendid sight, yet Gerard couldn’t stand looking at it. His face shield was working. What irritated him was the one month of grueling work that had consumed his waking hours.
He shut off the torch and inspected his handy work. The osmium cockpit from the fighter had been chopped up and was welded together based on the captain’s specifications. It resembled a coffin, but it could’ve been made into a durable escape pod or a drop ship.
Gerard chuckled—if he were making emergency vehicles, he would’ve made an assembly line and saved himself the hard labor. He powered on the crane and used it to lift an EMP torpedo from its crate, and moved it over to the osmium casing.
As the crane descended, it stopped with a jerk and the torpedo was suspended one meter in the air. Although he worked the controls and ran diagnostics on the computer, the machine refused to budge. He pushed a work bench next the crane, and climbed on top of the table to take a closer look.
This crane was a recent model, but it had accumulated rust and some of the joints were cracked. While Gerard poked the crane’s claw with a probe, he used his communicator to check the Sky Breaker’s inventory. Even though these were simple tasks, the ship’s manifest was unclear and the probe wasn’t detecting any problems.
Then he jabbed the probe into the claw and pounded on the torpedo.
Suddenly, the claw released its grip and torpedo dropped into the osmium casing with a deafening slam. Gerard hopped onto the torpedo and scanned it—death by explosion would’ve been painless in comparison to electrical incineration.
Once the scan was complete, he relaxed and picked up his welder. It slipped from his hand and he swore—one of his fingers had been snapped backwards and the bones were sticking out.
He cut off a strip of his uniform and wrapped it around his hand, and hurried to the infirmary. Crew members acknowledged him by Gerard by his rank and fumbled with their tools as he passed through the halls, but they didn’t bother to assist him.
Indifference was a common trait among those who were injured on duty—especially the men with prosthetic limbs.
The crew often hurt one another outside of their duties, and working with them was hazardous. They were barely a functioning crew, though their dedication for gold was unquestionable. No reasonable Federation graduate would enter the remains of a splintered battleship floating within a meteorite field.
Even though Bahaul was an intelligent and fierce leader, the Salvage Division didn’t have the reputation for dangerous work conditions and high pay. The captain was the exception that changed the rules.
Federation files detailed that Bahaul had been a front line commandeer during the peak of the war, yet a surprise attack destroyed his ship and he was reassigned. It was a terrible hit on his career, but he found a fortune among the battle scarred junk. Space was filled with treasure—you just had to know where the graveyards were.
Upon entering the infirmary, Doctor Swog injected a screaming crewman and ejected the blubbering mess out the door.
“Oh boy, the head honcho of the armory. What is it today?” Dr. Swog cleared the examination bench and reset his medical scanner. “Paper cut or sprained wrist?”
“Good guess.” Gerard sat on the bench and unwrapped his bleeding limb.
“I see. If you wanted a day off, I suggest breaking your toe instead.” Swog scanned Gerard’s finger and poked it with a syringe. “You can’t play video games with a broken finger.”
“I’m not playing games. I spend all my time working. My free time is spent drinking with you.”
“A few drinks after your duties is fine. We can’t afford to be alcoholics when the crew doesn’t know when to quit.” Swog hummed as he used a robot clamp to keep Gerard’s hand from moving. The doctor used a spider robot to reset the bones, and manually controlled it to make finite adjustments.
A large man ran into the infirmary and held up his bloodied arm. Swog instructed the man to step forward and he glanced at the man’s arm before handing over a bandage.
“Doc, c’mon! It hurts.” The man continued to hold his arm as if he were a wounded puppy.
Swog set aside his tools and grabbed the bandage he had given the man. Then Swog slapped the bandage onto to the man’s arm—it melded onto the man’s arm and blended with his skin.
Although the crewman had scars all over his face, he flinched and retracted his arm. He stared at the doctor and his face turned pink, but he averted his gaze and dragged his feet as he left the infirmary.
“That was harsh,” said Gerard. “You need to work on your bed-side manner.”
“Blame the job. My occupation doesn’t allow me to reject patients.” Swog returned to the operation and started to fuse Gerard’s bones back together. The doctor was five years older than Gerard, yet he had a white crown sprouting through his brown hair.
“Doctor!” A gangly man ran into the infirmary and was pushing a man who sat in a hover-chair. The man in the chair was holding a tourniquet around his thigh—his knee cap was exposed and his calf was a purple swollen mass.
“Over here!” Swog leaped away from Gerard and activated another medical scanner. The gangly man lifted the injured crewman onto the bench. As the machine scanned the injury, the gangly man stated how a tool chest had fallen onto the crewman’s leg.
It took a minute for Swog to analyze the crewman’s status before he applied a painkiller. Swog changed the settings for his scanner and he pressed his finger against the crewman’s leg. “You’ll live—I stopped the internal bleeding.”
“That’s great!” The crewman laughed, and said, “When can I walk again?”
“A few hours.” Swog slid the crewman into the hover chair. “Your health plan guarantees a fully functional prosthetic. Our robotics specialist is quite good.”
The crewman’s smile faded and was replaced with despair. Swog emphasized how a cloned prosthetic could be made later, and the gangly man tried to encourage his friend. But the crewman was unresponsive, and gangly man walked him out of the infirmary.
“Swog, I’m no doctor, but I’m sure could’ve done the operation.” Gerard flexed his broken finger. Although his limb was weak, the injury wouldn’t cripple him after recovery. “I could’ve waited for several hours with a simple cast.”
“Bahaul’s health plan is great for the crew.” The doctor returned to his controls and continued his work. A sigh escaped his lips as he stared at the x-ray images. “Critically wounded crewman can receive a mechanical prosthetic and continue working. Or they can be compensated and dumped at the nearest Federation colony.”
Gerard nodded. Unlike the Federation that recruited kept anyone, Captain Bahaul was a man of cold efficiency. If a person couldn’t meet Bahaul’s standards, then they were nothing more than a liability and an obstacle.
“The captain isn’t kind and he doesn’t hide it,” said Gerard. “But he does show respect for hard work, and he’s dedicated to the mission.”
“Ambition and riches…” Swog frowned and rubbed a hand across his face as if he were trying to wipe away his woes. “The crew have their greed. You and I have our sense of duty. All of us have been drawn into Bahaul's agenda.
“If you don’t like him why do you stay?” Gerard pulled out a gold lathe from his pocket. It was a piece of his growing wealth, and personal safe was almost full, yet the gold made him uneasy. Money was part of the job, but the small fortune was easily obtained. “The gold is good, but a man of your skills could make a killing elsewhere.”
“I owe Bahaul a debt. Well, more like a favor now.” Swog removed the robot and the restraints from Gerard’s hand. “I could make a happy life, but what would happen to the souls that are trapped in the captain’s belly?”
“FIRST-CLASS GERARD AGREAS, REPORT TO THE COMMAND DECK.” Bahaul’s voice rang through the infirmary and the hallways.
“Guess I’ll find out what the captain wants.” Gerard stood and shook Swog’s hand. “Thanks, doctor. It feels better, but could you—”
“I can’t give you any pain relievers.” Swog firmly gripped Gerard’s hand before releasing him. “Captain’s orders, no narcotics while on duty. Take care—physical injuries are the least of your worries.”
When the captain’s voice cracked again, Gerard ran out of the infirmary. The conveyor floors and the elevators carried him to the command room, and yet, it wasn’t fast enough.
As Gerard sprinted into the room, Bahaul was ordering the ship to close-in on an elite cruiser. Bahaul grabbed Gerard and forced him to sit at one of the control consoles.
“Use the rail-guns to shoot out that ship’s command deck!” ordered Bahaul.
“I’m sorry, captain,” said Gerard. “Why?”
“It’s a smuggler’s ship! They’re criminals sneaking through space. Do it, now!”
Even though the captain held the fear of man over the crew, Gerard felt the world stand still. Gerard scanned the elite cruiser and detected no identifier signal—a ship couldn’t legally fly without an identification beacon.The Sky Breaker’s logs had recorded five attempts with open communications, but the cruiser hadn’t responded.
With nothing else to do, Gerard aimed the guns at the cruiser and fired.
The rail guns were set to minimal power and the rounds were dummy torpedoes made from scrap. Then the cruiser’s shield burst with a flash of blue fireworks, and the ship stopped.
Metal shrapnel flew through the black void of the viewing screen, and the bodies were left to the conscientious imagination.