Crystal Scar (Section 4: Clashing Natures)
Twenty-nine days and—Gerard flinched and dropped his scanner when he felt someone’s shoe on his ass.
“C’mon! Why ya sluggish on the last one?” said Clide as he picked up the scanner and waved it in Gerard’s face. “And stop droppin the tools! What’s the matter? They don’t exercise in the Federation?”
“You’re depriving me of food and sleep!” Gerard slapped the scanner and it bounced off the floor.
“You wimp.” Clide growled. “You get the same rations and rest that I get.”
“Yeah, I’ve had to lay on the workshop floor for five hours a night. You’ve been feeding me nothing, but protein bars and coffee.” Gerard grabbed Clide’s shirt by the pockets and shook him. “I’ve sat on the toilet at the end of every day and my ass burns endlessly.”
Clide mumbled and cleared his throat. “All right, things look bad… but this is the last rail gun. Heck, it’s the last piece of work you need to do. So, can we finish this?”
Gerard turned away and stuffed his hands into his pockets. “I need to take a dump… Maybe, if I don’t pass out, we’ll get it done today.”
“Ah fuck, I have nothing against you. The captain told me to…” Clide went to the tool box and dug through it. Then he pulled out a pill bottle and handed it to Gerard. “Doc Swog gave me this before the captain ejected him. It’s supposed to help with vitamins, but it also helps at the shitter.”
“Thanks.” Gerard rushed to the restroom and locked the door. He swallowed a few pills and sat on the toilet, and pulled out the communicator he stole from Clide.
Although Gerard was too far away from the Federation to call for help, he could try to contact the decoy ship that was launched earlier. He didn’t know the decoy’s exact location, but he recalled the original flight plan that Bahaul had scheduled. All Gerard could do was send the hailing signal and hope the captain wouldn’t find out.
His gut churned as he squirmed on the toilet. What was he going to do? The captain refused to share his intentions. Even though the crew didn’t question their boss, they clearly had their doubts. Sky Breaker was drifting through space without a proper course and a conceited man refused to answer everyone’s fear.
“This is Sky Breaker. Dr. Swog on the coms. Who is this?”
“Swog, this is Gerard. Where are you?”
“It’s great to hear your voice again. I had to read the old medical records for entertainment.” Swog explained how he had enough food to feed an entire crew, but he had almost nothing to do. The ship was fully automated and the command deck was locked—this was the first time the computer allowed a call to come through.
“I know things are shitty.” Gerard squatted for a moment and sighed. “But can’t you override the ship and call for help or something? The captain’s gone mad, and I’m afraid the next ship we meet will be blown to smithereens.”
“I don’t think Bahaul would do that. I’ve been his doctor for fifteen years—”
“He’s been working me like a slave. I can’t stall any longer. The rail gun system will be fully operational within the hour.”
Swog coughed over the call. He sputtered and gasped, and something clattered onto the floor. “Ah, fucking hell. I knew Bahaul would act eventually, but I didn’t think he would get rid of me first.”
“You know what he’s planning?”
“Bahaul is going to start a war. I’ll do what I can, Gerard, but you have to stop the captain—”
Distorted words and static rippled through the call. Gerard tried to increase the power of his signal, but the communicator crackled—the sound wormed through his ear and crawled down his spine. He wanted to puke until the call was disconnected. When he tried to reconnect, the communicator was struggling to process the signal.
“Gerard!” Clide shouted and banged on the door. “Hurry up. You’re not the only one who needs to shit.”
Although Gerard had lost contact with Swog, he couldn’t give up on the communicator just yet. He initiated an SOS beacon on the device, and shoved it behind the toilet. Then he left the restroom with a frown and a sweat covered brow.
While Clide took his turn in the restroom, Gerard worked on the rail gun. Gerard glued the parts together and rigged the sensors, so the computer would believe the weapon was operational.
Once Clide staggered out of the restroom, he was delighted to see the rail gun was complete. He searched his pockets for his communicator, and was dumbfounded that he couldn’t find it. Gerard suggested they go to the mess hall, and report to the captain after they had some real food.
Clide lit up and pulled out his blaster, and stated that they were going to meet the captain. They walked to the command deck, and the crew barely acknowledged him. The men were on stand-by, yet they were distracted and weary. Everyone on the ship had maintained their battle stations nearly a month—the tension had devolved into boring misery.
As Gerard entered the room, Bahaul was working on the control console. The crew exchanged confused looks while they looked upon the primary viewing screen.
A dwarf star resided on the screen. The ship’s sensors filtered the harsh rays that would harm their eyes. Visually, there was nothing special about the ball of burning gas, yet Bahaul had a smile that stretched his face and revealed thin scars on his forehead.
“Ah Gerard, excellent timing.” said Bahaul. “Status report?”
“The weapons system is complete. What—”
“Hold!” Bahaul pressed several buttons on the console. “Good work. Crew, our first class engineer has made our next move possible. Prepare yourselves, we’re charging into battle.”
The men muttered among themselves. They eyed their captain, yet their bodies moved with no doubts.
“Sir, wait. What are we fighting?” Gerard stepped forward and checked the console. “I don’t see anything on the screen and the sensors aren’t detecting any threats.”
“The threat is the enemy that sits before you.” Bahaul chuckled and punched in several commands into the computer. “Brace yourselves.” He tapped the console and the Sky Breaker accelerated toward the star before the screen went dark.
“Captain, are you trying to kill us!” Gerard reached for the controls, but Bahaul slapped Gerard’s hand away. Clide and three other crewmen rushed and separated Gerard from Bahaul.
“Look where we’re going!” Gerard struggled, but the men held him. “Check the maps and status readings! We’re flying into an oven, and we’re going to be melted with your precious gold!”
Even though the crew didn’t release Gerard, the men stopped what they were doing and a few of them questioned the captain.
“I would normally call this mutiny.” Bahaul smirked and said, “But I’ve already removed Swog—a grand physician and a man of conscience.”
Bahaul placed his blaster and a bag full of gold onto the console. “Everyone gets a bonus and a larger percentage of the salvage. When my enemy dies, I’ll give you a life without worry and riches that will outlive your children's’ children.”
Red lights flashed and sirens bellowed through every soul on the ship. They were hurdling into the star. Gerard fought off the men that restrained him and he pushed past Bahaul. The controls denied Gerard access, so he tried to search for an override and shouted for tools to make it happen.
Clide roared and raised his blaster. A crewman leaped onto Clide and wrestled him to the floor. Men pounded their fists against the controls while others cried and prayed. Bahaul displayed the star on all screens as they flew into a solar flare.
Explosive death was guaranteed and unbearable pain for the unlucky bastards. Oblivion never came, rather the disruptive force that froze the men was the incomprehensible silence.
The star was gone. They were speeding toward a shining distortion. Gerard pushed a man away from a console and scanned the phenomenon with the ship’s sensors.
It was a massive meteor formed from crystals or was a glacier from a dead planet. Gerard could only guess—the computer’s readings varied between quartz, plasma, minor elements, and nothing.
As Gerard tried to change the ship’s course, the glowing object opened and the light dimmed. Its shape resembled a ship with a pair long wings on its sides with a pair of shorter wings on its rear. Then it flapped its wings and approached the Sky Breaker without thrusters.
“Bahaul turn the ship, now!” shouted Gerard. He grabbed a man’s blaster and aimed for the captain’s head.
“We are facing an entity that had consumed armies.” Bahaul closed in until the barrel of the gun touched his forehead. “Only I can kill it.”
Before anyone could respond, the ship quaked and the sound of screeching metal pierced their ears. The creature had opened a hinged maw and roared with bolts of lightning.
“Hold your battle stations!” Bahaul returned to the console and the men returned to their positions. The captain flew the ship away from the creature’s cry and flanked it. Then he initiated the rail gun system and open fired.
Torpedoes rocketed into the light. The creature ceased its roar and it whaled when the torpedoes knocked some of the glitter from its hide. Then the creature bellowed and it rattled the Sky Breaker, but the creature flinched when the EMP’s exploded within its body.
“Fire again! Once the EMP’s go off launch another volley.” Bahaul glared at the creature as it was blasted by their attack. The men were an extension of his wrathful smite.
We could actually kill this thing. Gerard considered how wealthy they would become if they brought the creature’s corpse to the Federation. He was ready to join the crew, but he noticed a peculiar reading on the computer. The data wasn’t reliable. However, it showed that radiation was constantly rowing within the creature.
This entire journey was too good to be true. Gerard sprinted from the control deck and burst into his quarters. He pressed a button on his personal safe and it hovered a few decimeters off the floor, and he pushed it out of his quarters.
Then he hurried to the launching bay. A few of the crewman were still sitting around and waiting for life or death. There were no escape pods on the Sky Breaker, but the crew didn’t know that the F-57s were space worthy even after they had been stripped of their extra armor and weapons.
Once Gerard entered the launch bay, he locked the door and someone pounded on it.
“Please, we need an escape pod. Spare my daughter!” screamed Sela.
Gerard pushed his safe next to the F-57. Sela pummeled the door, and Gerard swore. He returned to the door and brought them inside.
“Thank you for—” Sela looked at launch area and the single fighter ship. “Take Milly with you.”
He grabbed them and ushered them into the F-57. The cockpit was tight, but there was enough space to fit Sela and Milly. Sela stated she couldn’t pilot the craft and Gerard hit the autopilot function.
While the F-57 sealed its cockpit, Gerard left the launch bay and opened the air lock. Sela and Milly flew out of sight. The autopilot had no destination, so it would prioritize safety, fuel, and life support.
“Gerard, fix the rail gun on mount thirty-seven.” Bahaul’s order blared through the intercom system.
Good, it’s working the way I intended. Gerard ran to the scrap storage and tried to activate the forklift robots. The command screen was streaming onto every console. A chain of explosions had battered the creature, but the next thing to strike it were lasers. Even the creature was flailing in pain, he could tell that the energy beams weren’t killing it.
The robots started to move, but they stopped when Bahaul’s face appeared on screen. “Gerard, fix gun mount thirty-seven that’s an order! The enemy is weak and that gun has the last of our torpedoes.”
“You damned bastard. You’re not the Federation—” Gerard paused. The creature had opened its mouth and its jaw split down the length of its body.
A white light radiated from the creature’s insides. It was a blinding sight, yet for a brief moment dozens of planets and stars could be seen. They stood frozen within a monochrome universe.
There was no time to spout righteous anger.
There was no chance of stopping a phenomenon that defied understanding.
There was nothing, but the moment infinitely driven by life and fear.
Instinct sparked Gerard. He ignored Bahaul and the creature, and found the location of the extra space suits. Once he sealed his suit, the computer connected to the command deck’s visual feed. Bahaul was shouting insults at the top of his lungs while the creature became the light.
Sky Breaker quaked and Gerard was tossed into the air. Before he could land, he was suddenly sucked into space. Scrap metal, crates, and other debris battered his body. Objects bounced off his visor—it was made from reinforced polymer, but it didn’t reduce the loud impacts that rattled his ears.
He tumbled through space until he slammed into a cargo container. Gerard grabbed onto the container and tried to reorient himself. The front half of the Sky Breaker was gone. There had been no explosions and none of the debris were broken pieces from the ship—it was supplies and cargo.
The creature was gone. A star flickered brightly and disappeared.
Gerard pressed the button for open communications and called for help. No one was screaming, panicking, or swearing. He repeated his calls and his breath fogged his visor. It reminded him of the storms that he used to watch as a child.