The Evacuation of N’Trea
By Ronald Brandenburg
Published by Ronald Brandenburg at Shakespir
Copyright 2017 Ronald Brandenburg
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This short story is a sequel to The Lonely Station and Shards of the Abyss set in the Other Worlds universe, I recommend that you read those stories first to get a firm grasp on where the protagonist, Jesse Ownsman, grew up and came from before continuing on with this story. If you finish this, or any other story that I’ve written, please leave a review online where you downloaded it from. Thank you and happy reading.
Jesse Ownsman was a highly decorated and honored trooper of the New Order. Jesse had been awarded the Emerald Order of Bravery for his defense of Aridia and the destruction of two Confederate warships. Jesse Ownsman was mopping the floor of the mess hall.
Two days earlier had been the award ceremony on the planet where his current stationed resided: N’Trea. A small backwater station that was important to nobody, but the New Order kept a small garrison to protect the corporate interests of a powerful Lord. A couple dozen dignitaries had attended, along with the entire garrison. He didn’t like the attention and when he was asked to give a speech, he shirked away from the podium after the briefest of thank yous. The base commander stepped in immediately and gave a speech, while Jesse’s lieutenant gave him the sternest of stares. He had been told, in no uncertain terms, that he would be in the doghouse for a long time for embarrassing their visitors. Jesse didn’t remember the VIPs looking embarrassed, but he was still low man on the totem pole; thus, the cleaning detail today.
The unit he had been assigned to did not like him getting that kind of attention either. They were not the crisp troops seen in promotional videos. They were high school dropouts that joined to avoid jail time or get away from bad situations and see the inhabited sector. Having a ceremony with visiting dignitaries had required drilling for the troopers that they hadn’t done since basic. Jesse couldn’t go anywhere without being mock saluted and called “Hero of the New Order” in the most sarcastic tone ever.
As soon as the ceremony had concluded, Jesse had been ordered to his lieutenant’s office and verbally thrashed. That had been followed by extra duties; first breaking down the stage used for the ceremony, then kitchen patrol which meant peeling a mountain of tubers. Today wasn’t turning out any better.
The additional duties were on top of his regular maintenance job, Jesse would be lucky to get four hours of sleep at night. Fortunately, he did not work alone in the maintenance department. If nowhere else, he was welcomed there. The other maintenance guys actually treated him like a celebrity; nobody from the group ever got any attention unless something broke. Jesse was nothing if not a natural mechanic.
One thing that bothered Jesse was the contract between the New Order Military Command and the Hightower Corporation. The contract allowed the Corporation to utilize military assets; this included the maintenance department and it’s assigned troopers. This meant that Jesse spent more time working with Hightower Corporation equipment than military equipment.
“What are you bitchin’ about? Do you realize how lucky we are to get a posting here?” remarked Danny.
“What do you mean?” was Jesse’s casual reply.
“This posting allows us to get hands on experience with corporate mining gear. That means that you can do a few years in the New Order, get discharged, and then jump into a job mining for a corporation making the big bucks!”
“Oh” Jesse had never considered that before. “I lived on a mining station before joining the New Order, I don’t really want to go back.”
“Whatever man, the money is good; there ain’t too many opportunities like this, not unless you were born into an old family. But as far as I know, none of the assholes here are from money.”
Jesse smiled; he liked working with Danny. Sure, he was crass, but he was very straightforward and knew what he was doing with machinery. He went back to dissembling the transmission from a hauler in a deep tray of engine cleaner. A quick look around the shop would have told him that there was only mining equipment in there now. All of it was a high priority because every day it sat in there was a day it wasn’t being used, which meant that the Hightower clan wasn’t making money off of it.
That was about the time Steven came into the shop. He was from corporate and the main guy that brought in damaged equipment and took away the repaired items. This time he had a few bins in the back of his hauler.
“I got more cheap Urmann shit for you to fix.”
“Really? With all the money that Hightower is making from mining Pentazole here, you’d figure they would try to save money by buying better gear.”
“They’re afraid we would steal the good gear and sell it. Nobody else would buy this crap.”
Jesse rolled his eyes. The situation where the corporation was afraid that their own people would steal from them so they bought cheap crap and slowed their own operation down was idiotic.
“Any idea when you guys can fix this shit?”
Jesse just sighed, but Danny answered first, “Do you see the mountain of your broken shit we have in this shop? We will fix it when we get to it.”
Steven had worked with Danny for a long time and knew not to take offense to Danny’s coarseness.
“So, by the end of the week?”
Danny lazily threw a wrench in Steven’s general direction, which he mock duck and walked out chuckling.
“I should really hit him with that wrench one of these days.”
“He will just be replaced and you would have to train a new guy.”
N’Trea was really a moon that orbited the gas giant Tiberius. The Hightower Corporation used ships to siphon off the Pentazole that made up a significant portion of Tiberius’s atmosphere and brought it to N’Trea for purification, pressurization, and transit to long-range ships. Pentazole is very flammable and extremely toxic, which was why Hightower choose to mine it here, on a moon devoid of any major population centers. The New Order viewed the Pentazole operation as vulnerable to attack by the Confederacy since it was a major fuel source for the New Order Military Command, thus the garrison.
Jesse didn’t really bother keeping up with the date. The New Order Military Command often operated in far-flung outposts with little to no interaction with the populace. As a result, the troopers didn’t have days off, since that would promote laziness in the eyes of the Military Command. Every few months though, they would rotate the troopers through one of several rehab zones. These zones were closed off to the public and allowed the troopers to blow off steam and relax for a bit before their next rotation. They also served to keep the New Order’s soldiers away from media and civilians.
The days turned slowly by, the extra duties were not slacking off. There wasn’t much else to do except work out, gamble, or sleep; Jesse would have loved to get more sleep. The maintenance depot was an unending stream of corporate mining equipment. An orbiter came into the shop due to a fault in the life support; Jesse was assigned to fix it, but had to bring in Danny for his expertise.
“What are we looking at here?”
“The report says it has a broken life support system, but doesn’t give any other detail.”
“Typical corporate bullshit, they are too busy to tell us what’s wrong with it. They are probably up there watching a ballgame or something and just reported a fault so they could get some time off.”
Jesse shrugged and Danny went on.
“Oh well, this could be an easy fix. Let’s push it into the vacuum chamber and test it out.”
The small orbiter was on a large moving pallet that made it easy to push around the shop floor. It was a simple matter of pushing it into the vacuum chamber, taping a few sensors around the interior of the craft, and closing the doors.
“Alright then, let’s set the chamber to create space conditions and then it will take several hours for the chamber to pull a vacuum and cool down. Keep an eye on these sensors, they will tell you if it is getting too cold or the pressure is dropping too much inside the orbiter.”
“Don’t thank me, next time you’re doing this on your own.”
Danny left and Jesse began the long wait to determine just what was wrong with the orbiter. It was over an hour later when he noticed that the internal compartment was losing pressure. The chamber was at half an atmosphere, while the orbiter was at three quarters.
“Ok, now all I have to do is figure out where the leak is coming from.” Jesse said to nobody.
Instead of bringing the chamber back up to normal, Jesse simply donned a suit and used the airlock to enter the vacuum chamber. Even through the suit, Jesse was cold. To find the hole, he had a slow burning smoke bomb. So he cycled the air inside the orbiter, opened the shuttle’s side door, dropped the bomb inside with the timer set, closed the door, and recycled the air back into the orbiter. It took a couple minutes for the orbiter to push the air back into the cabin of the tiny shuttle, and by the time it had, Jesse read the pressure to be two thirds of atmosphere while the chamber was at one third.
The smoke bomb went off inside the orbiter. The neon green smoke was intentionally easy to spot swirling through the air. Within moments, Jesse realized that it was leaking out through several spots; the door, the floor, and a spot by the pilots cockpit.
“Great, this is going to take a while.”
Jesse exited the chamber the same way he entered and hit end on the machine. It was much easier to put air back into the chamber than to take it out.
Putting a new seal around the door and window was straightforward. Tracing the leak through the floorboards was another matter. Jesse was trying to stay away from his lieutenant as every time he saw him, Jesse was given additional tasks as punishment. So he threw himself into the task of fixing the orbiter. Outposts like N’Trea were given copious amounts of spare parts so that they wouldn’t have to place an order for everything. The New Order Military Command had a limited budget and had to stretch it as far as they could in the war against the Confederacy of Traders. When the Hightower Corporation entered into contract with the NOMC, they were handed a whole bunch of spares for the corporate equipment as well.
“Did you leave?”
Danny startled Jesse with that question.
“What are you talking about?”
“It’s 0600, now I repeat, have you been here all night?”
“I guess so, but I’ve replaced the door seal and the window. There was a crack on the very edge that you couldn’t see until I took the pane out.”
“Go to your bunk and grab a couple hours.”
“No, if Dansk catches me in there, I will never hear the end of it.”
“So be it.”
“Do you have any ideas how air could be escaping through the floor boards?”
“Have you been able to check the underbelly?”
“Not without hoisting it up.”
“Alright, let me grab a cup of coffee and we will set it up. Go get some breakfast and brush your teeth at least, your breath is atrocious.”
Jesse left for the mess hall for a quick bite. The chow line moved quickly because there was very little selection; just cardboard like bread and a vegetable paste that you didn’t want to think about while you ate. Besides that, some synthetic egg scramblers had been cooked at least an hour beforehand. Jesse didn’t even notice though, he had eaten much worse aboard the Uriah and had gotten use to the NOMC fare. Too quickly, breakfast was over and he half-jogged to the bunk that had been assigned to him to grab his kit and brush his teeth. Within fifteen minutes, he was back in the maintenance shop.
“Alright, enough of your dawdling. Let’s push the orbiter over to the hoist. Those points there are lift points to hook chains to without damaging it.”
It took less time to hoist the orbiter into the air than it did for breakfast.
“Yup, there’s your problem. Some corporate miner thought he was a fighter pilot and hit the landing pad way too hard.”
Jesse saw that the entire underbelly of the orbiter was heavily dented and at least four rips had gone completely through the skin. With a shrug, he set to work.
“Thanks Danny, I will grind it all down and start welding on patches.”
“Hmmppf” was the only reply.
It was midafternoon when Steven came back to the shop with several more bins of broken tools. Jesse was just finishing up grinding the belly of the orbiter before putting on the patch strips.
“Do you guys do anything around here?” Steven said, setting a bin down hard on the floor, making a racket.
Danny didn’t even say anything as he lobbed a random tool in his direction.
“Hey now, I’m just kidding around. No need to get offended.”
“There was a fly on the wall.”
“Right” Steven placed the bins on an open square of floor.
Jesse smirked and went back to his task; it looked like another long day to repair the orbiter. Looking around the shop was just piles of equipment that needed his attention, there was plenty to keep him busy and so long as he was in the shop, then he wouldn’t be assigned other duties as punishment for the award ceremony.
It was late when he lowered the orbiter back onto the wheeled trolley and pushed it back into the vacuum chamber, just a quick check to see if the seals held. He was able to set the sensors up quicker than Danny did because he wasn’t trying to show anybody else the procedure. He set the controls to lower the atmosphere and temperature in the chamber after a time delay and then suited up. Jesse figured he could save some time by being in the orbiter during the process instead of halting it and entering later. He was the only one in the shop, so nobody would know that he was slacking off while the chamber was depressurizing.
With the suit on, Jesse entered the airlock of the chamber, and then entered the orbiter. He clambered into the pilot’s seat and started the wait. Within minutes, he saw the lights on the chamber controller change from green to red, which indicated that the chamber was active and pulling a vacuum. The chamber was dangerous unless you had a pressure suit on. Jesse knew that it would take over an hour to really replicate conditions in space, but he was tired and before he knew it, sleep claimed him.
Massive vibrations woke Jesse and when he opened his eyes, he saw fire. Through the cockpit window, through the vacuum chamber port, there was nothing but flame. At first, he thought he was dreaming, but the crick in his neck from sleeping in the pilots chair informed him otherwise. The flame just rolled on and on, it wasn’t just a quick fireball. There was no noise though, the vacuum in the chamber didn’t allow for that. Without knowing what was going on, Jesse remained frozen in fear. He didn’t have a radio in the suit and didn’t think to turn on the one in the orbiter. The minutes crawled by before the flames died down. What was left was probably worse than the actual flame. The little that he could see showed Jesse that the maintenance shop was completely devastated.
Jesse cycled the air out of the orbiter and stepped out into the vacuum chamber. It still had a complete seal and was at zero atmosphere. Jesse took a step out of the tiny shuttle and hit the emergency stop on the interior of the vacuum chamber. Even as quick as the chamber can equalize to the outside levels, it was a quick re-pressurization sequence. The door of the airlock swung open and allowed him to leave the chamber.
The roof of the maintenance depot was gone. Everything inside had been flung around and singed, but there was no more fire anywhere. Jesse checked the atmosphere quality display on his suit and was shocked. The pressure was half of what it should have been, and there was no Oxygen. Whereas before he was frozen in fear, now he was galvanized to move as quickly as possible. Jesse bolted out of the ruins of the maintenance depot and headed to the barracks.
They had been wrecked almost as thoroughly as the shop; the roof was peeled back and blackened. He went in anyways. Inside he saw bodies in the beds, some resting peacefully while others had fallen off. He ran through them, looking for any signs of life. Then he saw Danny and stopped, he was lying in his bunk as if asleep. Jesse checked for vitals and felt none. Jesse quickly looked around, saw an emergency kit, and grabbed it. Throwing it open on the bed next to Danny, he ripped the lid off. Inside was an oxygen mask and a cardiac defibrillator. Placing the mask on first, Jesse tore Danny’s shirt open and quickly placed the paddles on each side of his heart, then he zapped Danny.
With a start, Danny came to life coughing. Jesse had the oxygen masked over his face with the life-giving gas flowing at full blast. The seal between Danny’s face and the mask wasn’t perfect, but the flow gave him more than enough O2. Danny’s eyes were wide in surprise.
“What the fuck is going on?”
“I don’t know yet, I just got here and found you.”
“I don’t know Danny; I just saw a fireball while I was working in the orbiter and came out here and found you. I need help; there may be others that can be saved.”
“I feel like death.”
“I think you were dead.”
Danny didn’t have a response to that. He got up and shuffled after Danny, gripping the Oxygen mask and canister tightly. Despite his efforts, Jesse didn’t find anybody else with a pulse. Indeed, everybody else was already turning cold, blue, and stiffening.
“Let’s try a different barrack. Maybe one of them held together better.”
“Jesse, I don’t think there will be any other survivors.”
“I have to look.”
The two left the building and found another barracks that didn’t suffer quite as much. They went in, but didn’t find any more survivors there either. Jesse was giving up hope when Danny suggested trying the medical bay.
“There might be some in there that were already on Oxygen.”
The search turned up three survivors, a nurse and two patients that had suffered injuries prior to the fireball and were in rough shape to begin with. The nurse had grabbed an Oxygen mask when her breath had been sucked out of her lungs. The construction of the medical bay was far tougher than the barracks and thus survived the damage better.
“Jesse, we need to get to the Comms tower and send an S.O.S. to NOMC.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Let’s go.”
They left the nurse with her two patients with promises to come back. The nurse gave them a shortwave radio to keep in touch. The Comms tower was the second tallest structure on the base, behind only the flight tower. The door had been blown in by the percussive blast. They forced their way past it and went upstairs to find a scene of utter chaos.
All the glass had been blown in and the operators had obviously died immediately thereafter. The bodies were all facing towards the same direction and were severely burned. Jesse managed to keep the contents of his stomach, but only by forcing himself to ignore the charred bodies. Danny found the controller first and tried to bring up the channel controller to get a message out, but the display had been fried.
“We’re up shit creek here Jesse.”
“What do we do now?”
“Well we can’t stay here. Whatever explosion that was burned all of the atmosphere on this shitty rock. There are only so many bottles of Oxygen on base and the Comms are dead.”
“What about the orbiter?”
“The orbiter that I’ve been working on.”
“Did you fix it?”
“I was in the process of checking my seals when the fireball passed. But I think it held.”
“That’s better than staying here.”
“We will have to get off this moon before it’s signal could reach anywhere, might even have to fly past Tiberius before we get a signal.”
“Ok, let’s go. What is that?”
There was a shape moving towards the base, a person in another suit, limping badly. The two of them went downstairs and hurried towards the person. Within one hundred meters, the incoming person looked up and saw them, then collapsed.
When Jesse got to him first, he turned the helmet face up and realized it was Steven and he was bleeding heavily from his scalp.
“It’s Steven; we have to get him to the nurse. Help me carry him.”
The two grabbed Steven under his arms and dragged him to the medical bay.
“I can’t work on him here. I can’t take him out of his suit without breathable air out here.”
“Let’s go to the vacuum chamber then. I can rig it to pump normal atmosphere. We need to load everyone and get out of here.”
The nurse gathered three gurney carts and they loaded all the patients up. Plus whatever extra Oxygen canisters they could quickly find and pushed off for the maintenance depot. Jesse and Danny had to clear a path back to the chamber. Then Danny ran off and grabbed a battery. With his knife and some electrical tape, he spliced the chambers power leads to the battery enough to open the airlock and cycle it open. Within minutes, all six were inside the vacuum chamber and it was beginning to fill with blessed air.
The nurse gently took Steven’s helmet off; he had passed out before they had made it to the shop. With access to Steven’s head, she assessed the wound and started to clean it with supplies that she had brought from the medical bay. She must have nicked him with the razor as she tried to shave his head because he came to in a start.
“The Pentazole tanks exploded, all of it!”
“Steven calm down.” Jesse and Danny both moved to hold Steven down while the nurse continued to try to staunch the blood flow. Steven’s actions had caused a renewed flow.
“He is going to die without medical attention. I think he suffered a concussion and has internal bleeding.”
“Jesse, get this orbiter ready for launch.”
The gurneys wouldn’t fit in the orbiter, so Danny and Jesse carried each patient in and laid them down in the Orbiter. The nurse had given each of them a sedative so they wouldn’t move around and re-injure themselves. Once they were loaded up, Jesse closed the door, and hit the emergency stop on the vacuum chamber again. When the pressure equalized again, he opened the large doors and pulled the orbiter out on the trolley. The going was slow as he kept having to clear debris from the path of the motorized trolley. Eventually though, he managed to get the shuttle outside the maintenance depot. Seeing no better place to launch from, Jesse activated the airlock at the rear of the orbiter and stepped back inside.
“Do you know how to fly this?”
Danny shook his head. Jesse looked at the nurse, but she didn’t either. Jesse shrugged, he had the most experience being in space and had piloted a ship before, but he had crashed it on purpose. He also didn’t have to take off in the other ship. He sat down in the pilot seat and looked at the control displays. Thankfully, most ship cockpits were arranged in a similar fashion. In the orbiter, they were designed to be operated by a single operator instead of a whole crew. Jesse found the pre-ignition primer and flipped it. A vibration started building up in the tiny ship.
“Danny, start figuring out how to use the communication link to send an S.O.S. I don’t know when we will start getting heard, but the sooner the better.”
A button started flashing on the board, so Jesse pushed it. A plume of smoke erupted underneath the orbiter on all sides as they slowly lifted off. Their upward progress was accelerating and the garrison was receding behind them. A look out of the cockpit windows informed Jesse that there were no lights at all. Higher up they went and another sight caught all of them; the horizon in all directions was aflame.
“God have mercy” Danny exclaimed.
“The fireball must have cracked open every Pentazole tanker on N’Trea. It is going to consume all the Oxygen on the planet.”
The lights on the dashboard started blinking in an alarming fashion.
“We have another problem. Out atmosphere is slowly venting out, probably through the floor.”
“I thought you fixed that?”
“Well, it is leaking slower than before.”
“Oh, that’s great. We will die slower.”
“Look, all we have to do is get out as far away from N’Trea and broadcast an SOS. Then the New Order will come pick us up.”
“You’re so fucking naïve; the New Order doesn’t care about a shuttle of injured soldiers. They are going to cover this up so they don’t look bad and give a propaganda victory to the Confederacy. They will show up, but we don’t want them to help us because they will blame us. Label us terrorists or some shit and blame all of this on us.”
“What do we do then?”
“Send a broadcast to everybody everywhere, tell them everything. That will make it harder for the New Order to cover us up.”
Jesse fumbled with the controls, found the communications node, recorded a message, and sent it out in a matter of moments.
“And now we wait.”
“How long do we have?”
“Well, the heat is working, so it will be oxygen deprivation that kills us. With six of us in here, we might last four hours. We could extend that a little bit if we were to go to sleep. It would make dying easier too.”
Jesse was crestfallen, he didn’t want to die. Life wasn’t great, but it was his and he had survived situations before. Danny was quiet for once too, lost in his own world and he came to grips with the likelihood of rescue. The interior of the orbiter was quiet. The message kept going out on repeat, in the faint hope that somebody close by would hear it and come to their aid.
Jesse was completely oblivious to anything around him when the nurse crept up between the two men.
“What is that?” she pointed up to the cockpit glass.
Jesse looked up and let out a gasp. It was a battleship; the New Order had heard them and come to rescue them. Danny looked up and let out a whoop. They were soon being hailed.
“This is Captain Doma of the Confederate Ship Typhoon, surrender immediately.”
Jesse’s glee turned to fear again. The Confederacy had heard their message and came investigating. Danny was still smiling though.
“What is so funny? That’s a Confederate battleship.”
“They asked us to surrender like we were capable of anything else. Surrender boy, surrender away.”
Jesse clumsily hit the Comms button, “Help, we’re in an orbiter with a leak.”
He scowled at Danny, “Ok, now we get to live another fifteen minutes.”
“What do you know about the Confederacy Jesse? Do you believe the New Order propaganda that they are bloodthirsty pirates? Right now, they are our best bet to living a full life. They will keep us fat and happy, to tell the tale about how they blew up N’Trea.”
“But they didn’t.”
“They can claim it, and if you don’t fall in line then they might air lock you and be done with any dissention. Do you get my drift?”
“Yeah, I get it. I don’t think they’re going to like me too much. I’ve blown up a couple of their ships.”
“Try not to bring that up.”
Jesse returned his attention to the Typhoon. The Confederate battleship wasn’t heading for them, but had dispatched a skip to tow them in. With agonizing slowness, the skip approached. The vibrations from the magnetic clamps were felt minutes later. A floodlight from the skip swept the windshield of the orbiter. A jerk told Jesse that they were under the control of the skip as it towed them towards the Typhoon.
The air inside the orbiter was thin by the time they were ensconced within the belly of the Typhoon. Relief swept over Jesse when the doors opened, but was short lived as a dozen troopers had their rifles pointed inside the orbiter.
“Come out one at a time with your hands up” was the only order.
Danny was closest to the door that could move under his own power, so he went first. Jesse nodded to the nurse, indicating that she should go next. Then, taking a breath, Jesse stepped out into the blinding lights of the bay holding his hands as high up as possible.
“We’ve got wounded, they’re unconscious.”
“We know, you’re going to the hold while we evacuate them to our med-facility. Don’t try anything or you’ll regret it.”
Jesse was led away, unable to see Danny or the nurse. His destination was a poorly lit, solitary cell. He hoped that his stay would be short. There was no way to keep track of time, so he didn’t bother. Within moments of entering the cell, a wave of survivor’s guilt swept over him and he broke down. He had survived by dumb luck by falling asleep inside the orbiter while performing a test. Thousands of New Order troopers and corporate miners had perished in a gigantic fireball. At some point, Jesse fell asleep; his dreams unpleasant.
“Wake up trooper”
With a crash, the cell door opened and a rough hand shook Jesse away.
“Come with me”
Rubbing sleep out of his eyes, Jesse complied with no thought of disobedience. He didn’t put much effort into trying to remember the twists and turns of the ship and he followed his captors. Eventually, he entered a larger room with an officer standing at the front of it. Jesse looked around and realized that he was standing in an observation deck with actual windows that looked out to black inkiness punctuated by stars of every color.
“Name and rank, son”
He quickly thought to give a fake name, but realized that if he was caught lying at this point, they would probably just push him out an air lock.
“Jesse Ownsman, Petty Officer Second Class”
“And what did you do Jesse?”
“I worked in the maintenance department sir.”
“So, non-combatant then. That is good; we’ve found that when you’ve shed blood for the New Order, you become less likely to switch sides. You don’t have to be a prisoner Jesse. The Confederacy of Traders needs men like you to help us keep the New Order from achieving domination over the inhabited sector.”
Jesse was floored; he had never thought that the Confederacy used a tactic like this. The officer continued.
“I’m offering you the chance to continue your career, but for the Confederacy. Otherwise, I’m afraid that we will have to confine you to the cell that you left until we returned to a supply depot. Naturally, I’m not just going to release you without supervision either, but over time you can become a respected member of the Typhoon.”
“Well, I don’t want to stay in the cell and you did respond to my hail quicker than the New Order. I guess fixing your gear is the same as fixing corporate stuff.”
“Good, I’m glad you made that choice.” The officer motioned to an unseen aid. “This is Felix; he is going to be your shadow for a while. Welcome to the Confederacy Jesse.”
Felix motioned for Jesse to follow him out of the room; the audience with the officer was over. Jesse gave Felix a once over in the hallway. Felix was a short, bald man with apparent cybernetic enhancements placed in his skull. Nothing was said as the two walked down the hallway. The two eventually stepped into a mess hall, Felix motioned to a table.
“You have been assigned to the Typhoon’s Engineering team, but have several hours before you are required to present yourself. Your friends are at that table; eat and converse. I will be here and will show you your quarter when you are done.”
Felix had a blank look on his face and an emotionless voice that unnerved Jesse. He turned his back and walked to the table, seeing Danny, the nurse, and Steven.
“So did you guys switch sides too?”
“We didn’t have much choice; it was this or stay a prisoner until the end of the war.”
“Is the food better here than on N’Trea?”
“Damn, just can’t win”
Jesse looked around and saw Felix standing with two other men, but not talking to them. He nodded towards them.
“Your new friends?”
“Who didn’t get one?”
“I didn’t, I told them that I was a corporate miner. They must have decided they didn’t have to keep tabs on me like they do you,” Steven answered.
Jesse shrugged, and then turned to Danny, “Are you in engineering too?”
“Yup, hopefully this ship won’t break down like all that corporate shit.”
“One can only hope.”
Jesse was in a gloomy mood and didn’t talk much more as he ate the tray of food in front of him. After a few minutes of silence, he stood up and walked towards Felix, who led him to his new quarters. His new home was a bunk with a couple drawers underneath, a simple curtain to block out the light, not even in a room, just off a corridor with other bunks to each side and below. Opening a draw, Jesse found a new uniform with his name on it, and his new rank; Petty Officer First Class, Jesse had gotten a new promotion it seemed.
“There are wash facilities down there,” Felix motioned off to his right. “I have been moved to this bunk below yours. You still have three and a half hours before reporting to Engineering.”
Jesse nodded and crawled into his new bunk, he was asleep as soon as his head hit the mat.
Another hand was shaking him awake.
“Petty Officer Ownsman, it is time for you to report to Engineering,” the emotionless voice said.
Jesse hopped out of his bunk; the hallway deserted except for Felix. He put on his new uniform and allowed himself to be led away into the belly of the Typhoon. He started picking out landmarks so that he could move about the battleship independently. The ship was massive and took a while for him to make it to Engineering, which he assumed was near the engines.
Danny was already there waiting with his shadow. A tall woman stepped into the room from a side entrance.
“I am the Master Engineer of the Typhoon; I keep this ship operational so that the Confederacy can combat the overreach of the New Order. You are survivors from N’Trea, a New Order outpost; if I catch you degrade the capabilities of this ship in any way you will be executed. Do you understand?”
“Good, the two of you will become familiar with the Typhoon’s systems so that you can assist in maintenance and repair. Go down this hallway and meet Sargent Reilly, he will begin your instruction.”
She turned and headed through a different door that she had entered. Danny and Jesse looked at each other, shrugged, and walked over to the indicated door to begin their new lives.
Weeks went by; Jesse had no idea where they were in the inhabited sector. He didn’t see the nurse, Steven, or the other two that they had saved. He and Danny worked side by side to familiarize themselves with the Typhoon. Jesse was having an easier time of it than Danny was. The Typhoon engaged the New Order several times, Jesse assumed they always won because they survived and there were little in the way of repairs to do afterwards.
Eventually, the Typhoon docked at a station over a Confederate world. Danny talked with Reilly and got transferred off the Typhoon. His only explanation was that he couldn’t be cooped up on a ship all the time. Jesse was sad to see him go, but understood; having grown up on a mining station and never saw a horizon until he joined the New Order.
The only person that spoke to him was Felix, and Jesse didn’t like the sound of his voice. Then he saw Steven again in the mess hall.
“Huh, oh hey Jesse. How are you liking the Confederate hospitality?”
“It’s a lot like the New Order. People tell me what to do and I do it. I still fix stuff.”
“Yeah, I do too.”
“What do you mean; are you still mining?”
“Jesse, I was never a miner.”
“What do you mean?”
“Really, I really have to tell you?”
“Well, I’m not getting it, whatever it is.”
Steven lowered his voice, “Jesse, I am a Confederate operative. I planted to bombs that ripped open the Pentazole storage cells.”
Jesse’s jaw dropped, “You killed all those people?”
“They were New Order troopers.”
“I was a New Order trooper.”
“Yes, and in exchange for extracting me, you were allowed to continue breathing and even brought on as a crew member. That’s pretty good considering the pain you’ve caused the Confederacy. Don’t worry, I didn’t tell them your history, just that you were a good mechanic.”
“So, N’Trea wasn’t an accident?”
“You’re a good mechanic, but thick. Sabotage Jesse, blowing up N’Trea forced the New Order to pull back and consolidate their forces in this corner of the inhabited sector.”
Jesse couldn’t process what he was hearing and abruptly left the table. He stumbled back to his bunk. Somewhere along the way, he started feeling nauseous and barely made it to a head before he vomited the meal he had just eaten. Clammy and unsettled, he cleaned himself up and continued to his bunk. Felix was waiting for him.
“I’m sorry for that Felix; I just learned something very unsettling and had to leave.”
“I know, I heard your conversation. I want you to know that you’re very lucky.”
“What do you mean?”
“The Confederacy isn’t always lenient towards prisoners of war. Depending on the circumstances, they can be quite cruel. I was a New Order trooper once, but my ship had taken part in an assault on a Confederate stronghold. We were overwhelmed before the assault got underway. I was captured. They castrated me, implanted bionics in my head, and reconditioned my mind. There isn’t a thought in my head that they can’t read. I am now a Null; we’re used as the eyes and ears of Confederate officers in ships like this.”
Jesse just stared at Felix, a fresh horror of the Confederacy staring him in the face.
“So you’ve been watching me, looking for sedition?”
Felix didn’t answer, but gave the barest of nods. Jesse lay down on his bunk, thinking that his position was bad, but could have been much worse. He couldn’t stay with the Confederacy now. Jesse knew that war meant death, but just knowing that they had targeted a corporate mining world was an abomination to him. He didn’t realize that the New Order did the same to Confederate sites. He also couldn’t reconcile these Nulls that Felix claimed to be. During his time with the New Order, he had never come across anything like a Null. Jesse fell asleep thinking about how to get away and back to the New Order.
Another month came and went, Felix was still by his side, but no mention was made of their longest conversation to date. Felix had seemed even more mechanical for a week after his talkative outburst, then returned to normal. The Typhoon had left the dock behind and returned to picking fights with the New Order; but only when its captain was sure of victory. Jesse helped Reilly and the Master Engineer keep the Typhoon in fighting shape.
He had to marvel at the ship, she was beautiful and completely different from his old home. The Confederacy wasn’t afraid of its own personnel making off with pieces of the Typhoon, so it was of the utmost quality, unlike his last posting on N’Trea. Reilly was starting to trust Jesse, and he had Felix recording his every move anyways, so Jesse was tasked with more delicate repairs.
“Do you know when we will dock again at the station that Danny left?”
“Approximately ten days, why?” Felix had gone rigid.
“I just want to see Danny, I miss having a familiar face around” Jesse said, downcast.
“I see” Felix returned to his ‘normal’ stance.
Jesse could tell from Felix’s body language when he was being directly controlled. He knew that the officers of the Typhoon still didn’t completely trust him, but those times were getting further and further apart.
Jesse went about his duties, preparing for the day when the Typhoon would dock at the Confederate station, he wanted to cause as much damage as possible to revenge what Steven had done on N’Trea. Jesse felt justified too, the Confederate station’s only purpose was to repair and rearm Confederate warships.
The only problem with Jesse’s plot was that Felix was always watching him, the only privacy he had was inside his own head. One piece at a time though, the plan fell into place. Every time Jesse had to access the machine code for the Typhoon he would edit a line while doing the work assigned to him. There was no physical evidence that he was sabotaging the ship, and the software was actually running better than ever.
The day that the Typhoon was due to dock with the Confederate station has full of anticipation and energy. Troopers were scuttling all about the ship, making their preparations. Jesse made his way to the engineering bay to report for the day’s duties.
“Ownsman, the reactor is running hot; I need you to perform a diagnostic to see what is going on with it.”
“Yes sir” Jesse knew exactly what was going on with the reactor. The reactor was nuclear and would alternate putting the radioactive block in water to create prodigious amounts of steam and pulling it out to allow it to heat up again. Jesse’s rewrite of the software controlling that process was shortening the time the fuel rods were spending in the water. Eventually, they would overheat and explode, destroying the ship.
Jesse headed down the hallway towards the reactor, with Felix in tow. At the console outside, he keyed up a diagnostic report that told him exactly what he already knew. Quietly, he overrode the warning from the reactor. The full rods were getting hotter by the minute, but they had a ways before they went super-critical. In the meantime, the officers on the bridge were pleasantly surprised that they had more power than usual, but took no other note. Jesse had planned for the eventual cataclysm to occur while docked, to do the most damage possible.
“Petty Officer First Class Jesse Ownsman, come to the forward observation deck immediately!” Felix said, his body as rigid as Jesse had ever seen.
He knew that there was a chance that he would be caught, but thought that by doing it slowly nobody would be able to piece it together. Disappointed, he resigned himself to his fate; probably shot or flushed out an airlock. Felix guided him to the observation deck, but stayed outside while Jesse entered.
When he got there, Jesse was a little surprised. On the observation deck were no troopers with chains to drag him away; just an officer that he had never seen before. Not that that was surprising, the officers onboard the Typhoon didn’t mingle with the enlisted. The lights were dimmed too, more light was coming from the shining stars that from inside the room.
“What are you doing Ownsman?”
“I was performing diagnostics on the reactor like the Master Engineer order me to.”
“No you weren’t, you’re sabotaging the ship.”
Jesse was caught, he expected troopers any second now. He stayed silent.
“Good, good work Jesse. The New Order is proud of you.”
Now Jesse was completely bewildered, “What?”
“You’re turning the reactor into a bomb to destroy the Typhoon, which has been running rampant in this sector since the destruction of N’Trea.”
Jesse still felt like this was a trick to get a confession from him, and stayed silent.
“Jesse, if you had been caught by a Confederate, you’d be dead by now. I ordered Felix to stay outside so that no one would be listening in. Tell me, how much time do we have? I don’t think either one of us wants to be here when the reactor blows.”
“I-I’ve set it to blow in six hours; after we’ve reached the station.”
“Good, two for the price of one. That station has been a major impediment too. It’s too well armed and armored for a strike, at least with what the New Order can spare right now. I’ve got a shuttle docked at the station that we can use to get clear. I will order Felix to gather you when the time comes. Just continue what you were doing until then, now go bay to engineering.”
Jesse walked out and found Felix waiting for him. Together they went back to the reactor. Minutes dragged by with agonizing slowness; Jesse kept waiting for a detail of troopers to come and take him in, but they never materialized.
At one point, Reilly came by and enquired after the reactor, Jesse gave him the doctored print out. He scanned it, and just shrugged.
“The ventilators aren’t moving enough air. Get up there and make sure we haven’t lost another blower, will ya?”
“Sure thing Reilly” Jesse scrambled away.
He located the section with the slow air and cracked open the louvre, sticking his head in. The blower had gone out. Jesse happily used its replacement to get his mind off the destruction he was about to wrought, or the likelihood of being caught. Within the hour, a new blower was installed and verified when Jesse had a new thought. With only Felix nearby, Jesse found the nearest ship console and logged in under the pretext of checking the ventilation system. With a few edits, Jesse enhanced the ships code.
“Jesse Ownsman, report to the starboard shuttle bay.”
He logged out and followed Felix. Within minutes, they were standing next to the mysterious officer from earlier. The New Order operative punched a few buttons on his wristband and Felix wandered off.
“We had better get going, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, we really don’t want to be here.”
The two entered a shuttle, buckled in, and waited to clearance. Clearance was swiftly granted and they were away. As they left the Typhoon, Jesse got a better look at her. Then, he saw the Confederate station behind it, a symbol of the old, cruel way of thinking.
The shuttle had to cruise out; away from the station to a point where the gravity was low enough to allow the Gaussian field to create a complete bubble before they could jump back to New Order controlled space. It was less than thirty minutes before the cabin lit up with the explosion from the Typhoon. Jesse and the operative both looked back at the fireball and expanding ring of debris.
“That was it? I doubt that destroyed the Typhoon, let alone the station. I blew my cover for nothing.” The operative’s voice was getting angrier and louder.
“It doesn’t matter; I purposefully set it up like that. An idea I had in my last few hours aboard.”
“What the hell, did you get cold feet?”
“No, everybody aboard the Typhoon is dead or dying. Everybody on that station will be dead in a few hours. There is nothing the Confederacy can do; and anybody who comes to rescue them will die as well.”
“What did you do?”
“I programmed all the ventilators to pump air into the station. It’s actually Confederate protocol for a station to refresh any ship’s air supply, I just reversed it. I also programmed for the reactor shell to open instead of go into lockdown when the fuel rods begin overheating. The air around the reactor became heavily irradiated well before the explosion, and the ventilators pushed that air into the station, where is will be distributed inside the station and any other ships docked. The explosion was smaller because it wasn’t contained like it would have been originally, but the effects are deadlier.”
“But the alarms, won’t they shut off the airflow?”
“Nope, that was one of the first things that I did when I came aboard the Typhoon. I learned that from when I lived aboard the Uriah, we couldn’t have alarms going off waking everybody up. The fuel rods heating up would have been discovered by the alarm system.”
“You fight dirty kid, I like it.”
“I don’t, but I don’t like what Steven did on N’Trea either.”
“This is war.”
“I know, but I hope the New Order snuffs out these bastards. The Confederacy has no qualms about striking civilians or turning prisoners into Nulls.”
“I hear ya.”
Jesse looked back at the glowing remains of the Typhoon as it calmly floated away from the station. He silently said a prayer for all those aboard who didn’t know they were already dead.
Thank you so much for reading this short story, I really hope that you enjoyed it as much as I did writing it. My plans are to continue writing this series of short stories about Jesse Ownsman and his adventures. I have a Facebook page for all the books and short stories in the Other Worlds universe, so just search for it and “Like” it to keep a tab on my newest stuff.
About the Author
Ronald Brandenburg III was born in the United States in Alabama and grew up on the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Growing up on a small farm meant having few neighbors and thus delved into the worlds of fantasy and science fiction. Major influences include Harold Coyle, J. R. R. Tolkien, Edgar Rice Burroughs, J. K. Rowling and many others.
Ronald studied mechanical engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville where he graduated with honors. Since finishing school, he is a Systems Engineer for a Fortune 500 company. Alongside table top strategy games and computer games, writing is a favorite hobby.