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Written by Van Allen

Published by Screaming Weasel Productions

Distributed by Shakespir

Copyright 2016 Van Allen

Bugs

Written by Van Allen

Screaming Weasel Productions

Shakespir Edition 2016

Copyright 2016 Van Allen

www.VanAllenFiction.com

[email protected]

 

Shakespir Edition License Notes:

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without prior written permission of the author/publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.

 

All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation to anyone bearing the same name or names. Any resemblance to individuals known or unknown to the author are purely coincidental. This is entirely a work of fiction.

 

Cataloguing Information:

Allen, Van

Bugs/Van Allen

FIC028090 FICTION / Science Fiction / Alien Contact

FIC028030 FICTION / Science Fiction / Space Opera

FIC028010 FICTION / Science Fiction / Action & Adventure

Thank You

 

I would like to offer a special thank you to Linda Aksomitis (www.Aksomitis.com), who I found to be a very caring and credible teacher, offering a great online class on breaking into the complicated and not-so-complicated world of E-Book publishing. I took her class in the late fall of 2015 and I have been cooking with rocket fuel ever since. You can find her classes on her website and you can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

This, my fifth short story published electronically, is thanks to her.

Bugs

Table of Contents

Title Page

Acknowledgment

Chapter 1 Tormalinas

Chapter 2 Askelon

Chapter 3 Recreation

Chapter 4 Bio-hazard

Chapter 5 Sigma Alpha Epsilon

Chapter 6 Dark Space

Dedication

About the Author

Other Published Books

Bugs

 

Chapter 1

CNSEV 119 Tormalinas

 

A tingling sensation, that’s what Captain Amy Porter first felt as she began to wake from hypersleep, a tingling sensation that started in the lowest vertebrae of her spin and grew and climbed up the center of her back until it reached her brain stem and there, for a spit second, it burned hot, like a red hot needle jammed into the base of her skull. Within a few brief moments, she recognized the unnerving sensations and the pain as the same she always felt when being revived from hypersleep.

Then Amy heard an artificial, but familiar sentient entity calling her, “Captain Porter, please report for duty.” She tried to ignore it.

Fifteen seconds later, “Captain Porter please report for duty.”

Fifteen seconds later, “Captain Porter please report for duty.”

Fifteen seconds later, “Captain Porter please report for duty.”

Inside her hypersleep chamber, feeling the strength return to her arms, Amy instinctively reached up with both hands and covered her ears.

“Captain Porter please report for duty.”

“Captain Porter please report for duty.”

She now remembered the sound came from inside the base of her skull, just behind her left ear. That bleeping linking implant. She rubbed back there, behind her ear, feeling her bald head. It felt foreign to her, like someone else’s bald head.

“Captain Porter please report for duty.”

She rubbed her head until she could feel the vision returning to her aching eyes and the feeling returning to her leathery fingertips. Rubbing where she had felt that first stabbing jolt of pain at the base of her skull seemed to improve her senses. Rubbing there felt really good to her.

“Captain Porter please report for duty.”

“I’m bleeping revived,” she screamed, knowing no one else could hear her. The vessel’s sentient heard her, but it did not respond.

Amy then took a deep breath, held it, and then sucked in more air, oxygen, deeper, forcing her weakened lungs to work harder, forcing the fog to clear from her mind. She reached down between her legs and retrieved a hypospray stored in the compartment under her seat. She pressed the injector to the muscles lining the left side of her abdomen. She felt a cold pinch there.

“Captain Porter please report for duty.”

Within seconds her eyesight returned to 100% and her lungs no longer burned. She tested all of her skeletomuscular functions. She wriggled her hands, wrists, flexed her elbows and lifted her shoulders, rotated her neck and opened and closed her jaw, rolled her tongue inside her mouth, contorted her spine to the left, to the right, thrusted her hips forward and back, lifted her right leg then her left, extended and then retracted her knees, one at a time, simultaneously rotated her ankles in both directions, clockwise and counter-clockwise, and finally she wiggled her toes.

“Captain Porter please report for duty.”

She did all of the movements again together appearing as if in a spasm all over her body.

“Ahhh,” she yawned again. “That should be enough of a body reboot.”

“Captain Porter please report for duty.”

She reached down between her legs again and pressed in on a small handle she found there, rotated it to the right, and pulled up on it. She heard a hiss as the canopy on her hypersleep chamber retracted. She floated forward out of her chamber and drifted towards the ceiling of the birthing compartment. For the moment, Amy forgot what to do in a weightless environment as she floated up and then crashed slowly face first into the hard metal ceiling and handrail there, leaving a long scrape on her forehead.

“Son of a bleep, that bleeping hurt,” she said.

“Captain Porter please report for duty.”

She pushed off the ceiling, to a close wall and pressed her hand to a panel saying, “Old Texas please.”

A small recessed space in the wall produced a soft pouch with a liquid inside. A voice from the panel said, “Honey, lemon, tea leaves, and tequila, hot, 10 ounces.”

“Captain Porter please report for duty.”

With the small squeeze pouch in her hand, and using the handrails, she pulled herself over and up to the ceiling to a panel containing buttons and blinking lights. She pressed a series and sequence of buttons and then spoke, “Captain Amy Porter of the Commonwealth of Nations Stellar Exploration Vessel 119, CNSEV Tormalinas, reporting for duty.”

“Hello, Captain Porter.”

“Hell bleeping O, Tormalinas,” she said sipping from her pouch.

“I’m sorry Captain, but if you are incapacitated, then I can relieve you and revive your back-up, Lieutenant Huang.”

“I’m revived, and I’m reporting for duty, Tormalinas.”

“Yes, Ma’am. Captain Amy Porter, Executive Officer of the CNSEV Tormalinas on this 856th day of the Carvajal stellar year, your command is confirmed.”

“What’s our status? Are we nearing the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Launch and Extraction Space Station?”

“We are not near CNSSS 15 Sigma Alpha Epsilon Launch and Extraction Space Station. In fact, we are 73.67 spans away from the space station.”

“Tormalinas, why did you revive me?”

Amy rotated herself upside down and pulled herself down towards a small compartment. She paused to take a sip from her pouch then she pulled herself inside the compartment and held on to a shiny handle above her head. She touched the wall and a fiberglass pane dropped over the opening of the compartment sealing her inside. Touching the wall again, she soon felt a strong suction of air start near her feet. The suction pulled air through the compartment from the top down to the bottom.

“According to the protocols you programmed, I am to revive you if this vessel encounters additional exploration and salvage opportunities.”

Amy pressed her hand to the wall. A shower of warm water mixed in with the air flow, splattering into the compartment, sucked through from top to bottom. Amy flinched as the warm sensation of the shower felt like needles or broken glass on her sensitive skin. Within a few seconds the sensation became more pleasurable as the warm water washed away the leathery outer layers of her skin, washing away months of dead skin cells up the drain. She enjoyed the clean smooth feeling. She sipped more warm liquid from the pouch.

“Ooh, that feels more than optimal,” she said aloud. She took a deep breath and stretched her tight muscles. “So, there are additional exploration options?”

“Yes Ma’am. At 1907, I steered us to our present location into a planetary system known as Ashkelon.”

“Show me,” Amy ordered. She took her hand from the wall, stopping the showering water, but a warm gentle flow of warm air continued.

“Yes Ma’am, showing now.”

Amy blinked as her eyesight faded to black. She waited for the standard visual displays to appear in her eyesight. Soon, three-dimensional images replaced the black and in her mind’s eye, she could see outside the Tormalinas, following along with the sentient’s report.

Out of habit, she rubbed that place behind her left ear where the Commonwealth installed its subcranial linking implant just inside her skull. Again, she noted the way her gaunt skin felt against her bones. She took another sip from her pouch of Old Texas.

Briefly, she wanted to see something else in her eyes, not work-related, something just to help get her going, maybe the vineyards of Thalia 6 or an update from the racing circuits of Tanajib 2a.

Maybe later, she said to herself.

When her eyes adjusted, she easily recognized the Tormalinas against the background of space. The Tormalinas looked like countless other Commonwealth space vessels, the only difference being size, some were bigger and some were smaller, but all vessels were gray, metallic, windowless, and oval-shaped, more pointy fore, and more blunt near the engines aft, more round at the top and flat on the bottom where the landing struts and gravitron drives were located. There were no markings or any other identifying features on the outside of the vessel. The images Amy saw in her eyes then panned away from the Tormalinas and showed the target direction, a nearby star system.

“I’ve never seen this system before,” Amy said, while looking around, up and down, turning around in the shower.

“Until 17.32 spans ago, the Commonwealth listed the system as off limits due to hazardous contamination. It’s estimated one of the system’s stars collapsed 2120.59 Newtonian year cycles ago.”

“So, Tormalinas, what are we looking for?”

“Shown here, here, and here, are the three remaining stars of the Askelon system. Now zooming in, the debris, asteroids, and small planetoids shown here in this belt are remnants from the system’s first two planets, believed to have broken up due to high gravitational fluctuations when the fourth star in the system began collapsing into a dark dwarf star shown here. The system has 36 other planets; all outer planets cannot support life as we know it. We classify the debris belt as Askelon 1.

My scans show here, the fifth largest chunk of 24 Major chunks of planetary matter in Askelon 1. This fifth chunk or Askelon 1.5 emits a radiation signature with multiple frequencies and repeating waves. The signals are adhering to a complicated pattern; the signals are not repeating randomly. This suggests the inner planets may have had life, intelligent life at one time before they were pulled in by the collapsing star and torn apart, and that intelligent life may have intended for others to find it.”

“Intended for others to find it or to stay away from it?”

“I suppose both potentials are entirely possible, Ma’am, but we cannot at this time decode the repeating signal pattern.”

“Are there any indications of life on the other debris chunks or other planets?”

“No Ma’am. Askelon 1.5 is the only chunk in the system emitting such obvious evidence. I recommend we schedule a series of onsite evaluations and closely examine the nearest chunks that are easily accessible, 1.1 shown here and 1.6, here, 1.9 here and 1.3 here, and then 1.11 and 1.2 here and here before evaluating 1.5. I am registering this will be the last chance for exploration before we reach CNSSS 15 Sigma Alpha Epsilon Launch and Extraction Space Station. This will also be the most optimal opportunity for exploration of these chunks before they are too close in orbit to the remaining stars.”

Amy sipped from the pouch and said, “Such a unique star system. However, in my experience, I know there are times in exploration when you do not want to be the first to explore a system. This feels like one of those times. Who are we competing with?”

“Checking. Commonwealth of Nations Stellar Salvage Vessel 44, CNSSV Nebraska has an approved flight plan to reach here in 94.16 day cycles. Commonwealth of Nations Stellar Exploration Vessel Madrid has an approved flight plan for later next year cycle. No other vessels are expected before then. Maybe we should wait for the salvage vessel Nebraska and partner with them?”

“Colonel Keeghan hates pirates and I know the Nebraska. I don’t like them. I don’t think the Colonel would approve of any partnership or delay. Please update me on the status of our shipments to Earth Prime?”

“Yes Ma’am. The shipments arrived at CNSSS 15 Sigma Alpha Epsilon Launch and Extraction Space Station 2.43 month cycles ago and receipt in the Earth Prime system has been confirmed.”

“Well we better be extra careful. The next shipments are going to cost significantly more. Just claiming we were the first to explore the Askelon system will hardly make our stockholders feel happy and optimal. Still, we get to take full credit for the first relics we can bring back, so I think you made an optimal calculation and judgment by reviving me.”

“Yes Ma’am. Thank you Ma’am. Shall I revive the rest of the crew?”

“CNSEV 119 Tormalinas, by my authority as the Executive Officer, I order you to revive the rest of the crew.”

“All at once Ma’am? All 83 of them?”

“Officers, senior staff, senior scientists, and then the rest of the crew in that order and with a six-hour interval between revivals.”

“Yes Ma’am?”

Chapter 2

Askelon 1.5

 

The senior officers and scientists gathered near the rear of the Tormalinas. The crew mingled for a few minutes there until Gunnery Sergeant Melvin Benavides raised a hefty bell high above his head. The bell looked like a small Liberty Bell that might weigh a lot more and might be a lot harder to lift if it wasn’t for the diminished gravity of Askelon 1.5. He struck the bell with his hammer once, then again. The surprisingly loud noise echoed for a while back and forth through rocky tunnels and caverns. When the loud clanging echo of the bell finally faded, Benavides yelled, “Call to order.”

“Congratulations Major,” Colonel Ian Keeghan said as he stepped forward and shook Amy Porter’s hand. “It took me 11 more years of service to go from Captain to Major. Although, I will say half of that time was wasted lost in the Warwick system. Well Major, how does it feel to be the first portal navigator of the bleeping Commonwealth of bleeping Nations to reach the rank of Major?”

Keeghan, a tall thin man, ran his fingers through his thick, rusty red hair, about 30 days of growth. He hadn’t had his hair trimmed, nor had he shaved since coming out of hypersleep.

Amy ran her fingers across her own bald head, mirroring him, wondering what she would look like if she could ever grow hair. She decided she was fond of red hair and if by choice she could grow hair, she would want it to be red. Red hair would be optimal.

She glanced in the direction of Lieutenant Marleen Huang standing nearby. Amy planned to ask Marleen about her hair preferences later. She thought Marleen would look optimal with turquoise hair.

Marleen, a portal navigator like Porter, permanently bald like Porter, is hard to anticipate, but turquoise is as good a calculation as any calculation, Amy thought.

Commonwealth protocols dictated that exploring vessels have two portal navigators also known as dark space navigators assigned. Amy didn’t really like Marleen. Amy avoided her when possible, but lately she thought about bridging the gap, getting to know Marleen better, becoming her friend, finding out more about her to hopefully optimize their service together on the Tormalinas. She was at least resigned to think about it.

“Sir, I sincerely appreciate your confidence in me to approve my promotion. It feels like a long time coming for me, like it’s been long overdue, but no offense Sir.”

“None taken Major, I agree with you. Maybe soon enough the prejudice against navigators will subside. You are a true pioneer, not just a navigator, but also a qualified leader and vessel commander. I hope and expect all the best for your continued success.”

“Thank you.”

“Okay everyone, dismissed.” Colonel Keeghan said.

Gunnery Sergeant Benavides rang the bell again. The crew applauded and most of them went back to what they were doing. Some came to shake Amy’s hand and wish her Godspeed, the standard congratulation in most ceremonies like this.

Amy then watched the crew split up, some heading back into the tunnels and some went back to work on the Tormalinas, inside the vessel and outside. In a rush, she walked over to a trash receptacle and threw up.

“You optimal Major?” Keeghan asked.

“I’ll be optimal soon, Sir. It always takes me some time cycles longer to get used to gravity again.”

“We’ve been here on Askelon 1.5 for two week cycles. It didn’t take longer than a few day cycles the last few times, if I recall correctly.”

“It can sometimes take longer and sometimes less. I think it’s got to be because we’re not actually on a real planet. We’re just on this chunk of a planet, plus this artificial atmosphere. I can taste it. I can taste the artificialness and it is most unpleasant, not at all optimal. Plus with only one-fourth of Earth gravity…” she heaved again into the receptacle and wiped sweat from her face and bald head, “…and then when I look out from here using visuals I can see all the other planetoid chunks swirling high in space above us, in-between those three stars. It feels…” she heaved again into the receptacle, “…dangerous. Not at all like navigating dark space. So, no, I haven’t gotten used to it yet.”

“Well I never did understand how you navigators maintain your sanity in dark space. I know navigators don’t need to sleep, but you may want to try it. I bet that would help settle things down for you, maybe try a sedative.”

“Lieutenant Huang suggested the same things when we first arrived. She said she’s worked in an asteroid field before. I think the Preston 4 Field around Keystone 7.”

“Keystone 7 is ten times worse than this. Since this is your first asteroid field exploration, take it easy. You’re right. It’s certainly a lot more dangerous and peculiar and a lot less optimal than exploring a moon or a solid planet. When you look up you see things in action, unlike being on a planet with a predictable daylight and rotation cycle, nothing up there seems to be moving in a predictable pattern.”

“In 76 years of doing this, you think maybe I’d see an asteroid mission or two,” Amy said.

“Well it was definitely an optimal calculation and decision to schedule onsite evaluations and land us here, bleeping optimal Major. This system with four stars, one collapsed, is a gold mine of stellar data. These caverns you and the Tormalinas located clearly show signs of ancient life. We are very fortunate to have landed here.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

Colonel Keeghan added, “Plus I love it whenever we can beat those bleeping pirate scavengers to the punch. How much longer do you estimate before the Nebraska arrives?”

The Tormalinas sentient chimed in, “Sir, our latest calculated projection shows the Commonwealth of Nations Stellar Salvage Vessel 44, CNSSV Nebraska to be 61.36 spans away, arriving arrive in 60.81 day cycles.”

“You hear that Major?” Keeghan said, slapping Amy on the shoulder. “We’ve got plenty of time for work, sleep, and recreation. I order you to add optimal quantities of all three to your workplan and to the crew’s workplans.”

“Yes Sir. I will.”

 

Colonel Keeghan sat down at a table the crew carved out of the rock especially for his weekly sectional staff meetings. He started by first acknowledging the 16 senior officers, scientists and enlisted staff also seated at the table.

“We can get our status meeting started now,” he said. “Major? You have your wrap-up report ready?”

“Yes Sir. I’ll get started. The Tormalinas will now activate audiovisual links for everyone through your linking implants.”

Gunnery Sergeant Benavides spoke, “Ma’am, my linking implant has been malfunctioning for the last day cycle. I won’t be able to follow along audiovisually.”

“Chief Engineer Charlie Waters spoke up, “Is that because of all the illegal visuals you are quite fond of?”

“Bleep you. Waters. I’m no fonder of illegal visuals than any normal and optimal male crew member. So, what’s your excuse?”

“Please,” Keeghan said, rubbing his temples. “Not now. Major, bleeping continue.”

Amy said, “Tormalinas, before we begin, did you schedule Gunnery Sergeant Benavides for a repair to his linking implant?”

“Yes Ma’am. I can confirm that his implant is malfunctioning, but the next chance for repair will be during hypersleep after we leave Askelon. The repair has been scheduled.”

“Gunnery Sergeant, if you will just close your eyes and use your imagination I will provide sufficient detail for you to follow along with us. It’s a short report, so I’m sure you will be able to keep up.”

Chief Engineer Waters laughed out loud.

“Okay, I’ll continue with my report.

We reached the Askelon system at 1907, six week cycles ago. After scanning the system and the asteroid rings for two week cycles, Colonel Keeghan approved landing protocols for Askelon 1.5. We landing and then launched several search, exploration, and recovery, teams.

Data from the SER teams confirmed what our scanners detected; Askelon 1 or 2 or both may have had intelligent life at one time. SER Team 8 reported the first significant finding. They located a vast underground honeycomb network of ancient deserted alien cities. While it may have hosted a vibrant diversity of life more than 60,000 Newtonian years ago, the planetoid currently is an inactive rock.

Because the surface of this chunk was found to be very cold and inhospitable, the Tormalinas burrowed deeper into a system of caverns SER Team 19 detected. Once we landed the Tormalinas inside these caverns we sealed them off and activated life support protocols. It took our construction destructions teams four day cycles to reconfigure the caverns for life support within acceptable tolerances.

This seemed like a great and optimal place to test the new life support generators we upgraded to 12 year cycles ago in Kovo sector. Teams began exploring caverns and tunnels without space suits immediately. Still it was very difficult and treacherous.

On day cycle six, SER Team 3 reported the loss of Cassidy Worginovski who suffered catastrophic injuries because of a faulty demolitions job.”

Jerry Hines, the senior demolitions expert spoke up, “It was a tragic accident. I don’t agree with the adjective faulty, because there have been numerous problems with the L-3 demolitions lasers since they were procured. Worginovski was a bleeping good technician. Her death was less than optimal. I don’t think it was because of her own fault.”

Colonel Keeghan asked, “Her remains?”

The Tormalinas spoke up, “After my confirmation that her injuries were too significant to support revivication, I had her remains prepared for shipment. I can confirm as of today, her remains were included in the last shipment of findings and acquisitions sent back to Earth Prime. Receipt has been confirmed.”

“I have an open invitation if anyone would like to visit her family with me when we return to Earth Prime,” the Colonel said.

“Continuing,” Amy said. “Several SER Teams reported finding ancient artifacts. A wide variety of these samples were recovered and brought back to the Tormalinas. I might add here that SER Team 4 made use of the site to site portal displacement pads for transporting objects from deep inside the planetoid to the Tormalinas.”

Gunnery Sergeant Benavides asked, “No volunteers to use the site to sites for personal travel?”

“No volunteers,” Amy said.

“I assure you the displacement pads are optimal. They are more than capable of transporting personnel just as well as artifacts,” the Tormalinas said.

“Maybe next time,” the Colonel said.

“Continuing. As expected, the whole network of underground cities, caverns, and tunnels were devoid of life. SER Team 12 reported finding the location and the source of the radiation signatures the Tormalinas detected from deep approach. This may be the most lucrative find of all our travels. We resourced all SER Teams to excavate the device. Shown here, it appears to be a large artificial intelligence device, larger than the Tormalinas.

Several of our engineers worked on the device to see if they could at least access more systems located in the heart of the tunnel network. The device is very similar to some sort of automated data/computer system. The technology is altogether alien and so we have not figured out anything more than it may have once controlled multiple world functions such as communications and life support. It’s an amazing discovery and it has already been shipped in pieces back to Earth Prime.”

“Well that’s good news,” the Colonel said. “What are our current profit margins.”

“Sir, we are anticipating 40 percent profits.”

“39.67 percent to be exact, on a total yield of 17.44 mega-angstroms,” the Tormalinas’ sentient said.”

“Are you bleeping bleeping me?” The Colonel asked.

“Sir, I bleep you not,” the Tormalinas responded.

“The stockholders will be more than satisfied. This single recovery just may be our invitation to a bigger mission. Share this with the crew. If anyone is interested in joining us on our next mission in twenty-five year cycles, I want them to annotate their personnel files.”

“Continuing,” Amy said. “A number of other ancient technologies were also recovered here, some potentially operable and some not. Archeological teams found no evidence of what happened to the life that inhabited the planet. There have so far been no findings of any bio-matter, no bones, no corpses, no tombs, and no burial sites or mummies. As our chief archeologist, Sanghita likes to talk about.”

Sanghita, seated across the table, laughed, and said, “What? I do not believe mummies are unique to ancient Earth cultures. Ancient Egyptian culture delivered to Earth by ancient aliens is a well-documented and supported theory.”

“Continuing. What we can surmise is that the ancient technologies shown here and the cities, tunnels, and caverns were likely made for people or beings much smaller than humans. We are aware there may be more valuable findings deeper in this planetoid and on other planetoids of the system. However, we also remain entirely apprehensive since something caused this planet to be devoid of all life a very long time ago. It is very likely that the planet does not contain more recoverables than we have so far sampled. We also calculate that with continued cosmic events, this system will soon once again become unstable and listed as off limits.

The honeycomb shown here, located 22 kilometers directly beneath us, is in the most pristine condition with almost all of it remaining intact. Here is where Gunnery Sergeant Benavides’ and Sanghita’s teams located a strange cavern or large room that has been sealed off from the rest of the networks. It appears that whoever whatever inhabited the city sealed off this area or perhaps constructed the tunnels and caverns around the chamber.

We were, of course anxious to see what was inside the large chamber. Using the Tormalinas’s deepest scanning array, we could see that the entire chamber was closed off on all sides from all angles, as shown here by this dark shape in the scans. The Gunnery Sergeant’s SER team used old demolitions explosives to gain an entry into the chamber.”

“Old reliable magnetite, we stripped some from one of the Tormalinas’ defensive missiles,” the Gunnery Sergeant said.

“I wish I could have been there to see it,” the Colonel commented.

“Playing now,” the Tormalinas sentient said.

“Bleep. That explains the intense shuddering we heard reverberating through the planetoid last week cycle,” the Colonel added.

“Continuing. Inside the chamber, we found an impressive series of smaller chambers, like a drone hive.”

The Tormalinas showed video from the chamber’s hive and then showed video of drone insects. It said, “My files indicate these were called bees in ancient English and madhumakkhi in Hindi, or just simply bugs.”

“Son of a bleep, those are hideous creatures,” Charlie Waters, the chief engineer, said. “In all my years, I’ve never seen anything like that. Can you warn us before you show anything like that again?”

“I’ll try to be more sensitive,” the Tormalinas said. “Although, humans have lived with bugs for thousands of year cycles before current time cycles. They were considered to be quite harmless in most regards. Humans and bugs have danced around for dominance on Earth for the entirety of Earth history.”

“Not any humans I ever heard of,” Waters said.

“Continuing. Your visuals are showing the chamber. We were not able to scan the chamber before entering it. The chamber is incased in some sort of material that blocks all forms of our scans. Upon gaining entrance, we detected nothing at all of value inside the chamber, just a seemingly endless series of smaller chambers.”

The visual showed Gunnery Sergeant Benavides putting his arm inside one of the small chambers up to his elbow. Then he screamed, “bleep, bleeping bleep,” as if in pain, withdrew his arm fast, and said, “Just kidding.”

“You bleep,” the Colonel said. “You’re lucky my great great granddaughter likes you, I’d fire your bleep just for that bleep alone. You must be less than bleeping optimal in your cranial cavity.”

“Such foul language Sir,” Benavides said. “What would your great great granddaughter Michelle think?”

“She’s older than both of us, so I imagine she’s heard worse.”

“Continuing. We were disappointed to not find anything of any value in the chamber. There was nothing in the larger chamber, but smaller chambers and darkness. Perhaps, we think, the room may have been some sort of food or energy production chamber. No life signs and no bio-matter registered in the chamber.”

Sanghita spoke, “There is some potential the chamber is alien to this planet. It may not have originated from here.”

“As in someone built it here?”

“The chamber is made of altogether different materials than anything we have evaluated in the planetoid chunks so far,” Sanghita said.

“We theorize someone either brought it here or built it here.” Amy said.

“That’s bleeping incredible,” the Colonel said.

“Continuing. Later we were able to get a short burst of power into the systems of the city area where we were excavating. We tried to decipher the alien systems, with no luck. It was somehow apparent that the beings of the planet suffered some sort of plague or some other form of problem that wiped them out long ago.

So Colonel, we believe we have explored this site and recovered all that is worth recovering at this point. We have a recommendation for concluding our mission and returning to flight plans as approved.”

“Any objections to leaving?” The Colonel asked.

No one said anything.

The Colonel said, “I don’t want to leave just yet. When was the last time we all took a bleeping break and had some joy, some merriment, some fun? Twelve year cycles in active mission protocols and not one single day cycle of joy. ‘Work work work,’ my mother used to say, makes for a twisted life cycle.

Two week cycles, we have two week cycles approved before we need to get back on our original flight plan. The artifacts from this expedition will prove to be more lucrative than anything any of us have ever seen before. Most of our crew will retire. I won’t. Most of you will never see each other again. So I am ordering all of us to recreate. Use the remaining two week cycles to get used to life back in the Earth Prime system. It’s not very often that a vessel crew gets the chance to reacclimate before portal displacement extraction. I’m not going to ask if there are any objections, because I already know there are objections. Your orders are to recreate. Thank you for the report Major.

“Now, Sanghita, how soon do you think you can have a tennis court ready?”

Chapter 3

Recreation

“There, all done.” Amy said.

“Thank you Ma’am,” Corporal Munn said to Major Porter, smiling and holding her eyes closed. “I know I’m going to like it.”

Amy held up a mirror for Munn to look into. There in the light emitted by the Tormalinas, Amy had set up an area for her version of recreation. She had started this hobby of hers more than 30 year cycles ago and now, two weeks after they arrived, she found very relaxing and fun. It was something that with years of practice, she had developed a solid reputation for.

“Oh my Bleep,” Munn said looking in the mirror. “You are a true artist.”

She turned left and right admiring the hair styling job Amy just completed on her generous locks of purple hair.

“You’re more than welcome,” Amy replied.

“Rogers was right, you have a gift, many gifts. Ma’am, if you plan to go back out, I want to be on your crew. Just tell me where and when.”

“Cut it out. You’re making me blush.”

“I bleeping mean it. You’re one of the most optimal and best officers I’ve ever served with. I’d follow you anywhere.”

Amy took that as an incredible compliment coming from one of the vessel’s junior mechanics. “I may take you up on that offer,” she said, “especially if they ever make me a vessel commander and I need a bleep hot mechanic.”

Amy took a deep breath. Munn left Amy’s hair shop with a little more spring in her step than before she arrived. Looking up, Amy was surprised to see Gunnery Sergeant Benavides and Colonel Keeghan coming her way. She took off her apron and was ready to be called to duty when they approached her.

“Word is you can trim hair with the bleeping best of them Major,” the Colonel said.

“I’ve cut Melvin’s hair four times since we landed. He seems to like my work.”

“Love your work, Ma’am. Optimal in all regards. Nothing better.”

“With praise like that, I guess I better bleeping see what all the fuss is,” the Colonel said.

Amy put on her apron again and said, “I just happen to have an open chair.”

“Get me next, would you?” Benavides asked.

“You bet, Melvin.”

“Have a seat Colonel,” she said.

He said, “I’ve, I’ve never had a haircut before.”

“No worries. Neither have I,” Amy giggled. “Just take your shirt off, lean back, and try to relax. I’m so honored you are willing to let me do this for you, with you.”

Keeghan removed his shirt and leaned back in the chair. Amy leaned in close and made eye contact with Keeghan.

“It’s a secret, but I have had a fantasy of being able to trim your hair for you for more than a few week cycles. You have the only red hair in the entire crew.”

Keeghan blushed, “I don’t guess I’ve ever come across anyone who gives a bleep about hair like you do Amy. But…” He said holding up a finger. “But… I am aware of an old Mars custom that says something like never trust a bald barber.”

She smiled. This was the first time he called her by her first name. That’s all she heard.

“Okay, I am going to wash and dry your hair and then shave your facial hair. You’ll look and feel so much better for the next two week cycles of recreation, which are Colonel’s orders so I am told. Here. I want you to sip this.”

“What is it?” The Colonel asked.

“It’s my specialty, honey, lemon, tea leaves, and tequila. Where I’m from it’s called Old Texas.”

“I’ve never hear of such things.”

“It’s just a special tonic that navigators sip to help them relax and recover from dark space exposure. I bet you like it.”

The Colonel sipped and then coughed. “Tastes kind of like an old Mexican medicine I tried once when I honeymooned on Mars more than 100 year cycles ago after my first marriage.” He sipped more of the warm liquid. “They told me it would cure a bad case of swimmer’s cough I picked up while diving in the Azul Water Reservoirs.”

“Oh, tell me more,” Amy said. She liked the way his tongue licked at droplets of the drink that clung to the hairs growing above his top lip. She watched his tongue licking at the hair there, darting in and out. It took her breath away. It mesmerized her. She stared at the red freckles on his face and she played with the idea that they might connect into some number of stellar constellations if she stared long enough. She wanted to do that, to stare longer.

She wrapped a steaming hot towel around his face and leaned his head back, over a receptacle where water poured into the thick rusty red hair on his head. Amy let her fingers swim through his wet hair. She added some liquid soap and then worked that into a lather. She rinsed that out and then added a second liquid something that made his hair smooth and shiny. She rinsed that out and then squeezed the extra water out of his hair with her fingers.

The Colonel continued, “There’s not much to tell, the marriage lasted six week cycles, 1 week cycle into my very next mission. That’s the story of my life, a wife before every mission. So, I’ve been married eleven times. Only two of them are still alive as far as I know. I have more grandkids and great grandkids and great great grandkids than I’ll ever know.”

Colonel Keeghan sipped the warm concoction again. Feeling extremely relaxed and flushed, he smiled.

He looks more than optimal, Amy thought.

He fell asleep.

Amy let her imagination run. She imagined what it would feel like to feel his lips pressed against hers, to feel the hairs of his face brush against her mouth, her nose, her lips, her chin, her scalp, to feel the warmth of her body pressed against his. She had never experienced sexual relations in 76 year cycles. Something about Keeghan made her want to change that. Something about Keeghan made her feel that he was just the kind of person she would find pleasurable.

She wanted to feel his fingers on her bald scalp, to feel his hands rub her head and pull her close. She wanted to feel him. She wanted to feel him deeply. She closed her eyes while she worked her fingers in his hair. The closeness made her feel more optimal than anything she could remember. Her navigator’s photographic memory allowed her to exercise perfect control of her clipping instruments with her eyes closed. She leaned in close, pressing herself close to him.

She cropped his hair, taking her time and then shaved the hair from his face. She made sure to take in every feature and every inch of his skin, his nose, his freckles, his lips, his cheekbones, his ears, and his strong neck. When she had finished, she checked his shave by touching her cheek to his and feeling the smoothness of his face on hers. Then she opened her eyes and found herself staring into his opened eyes.

“Bleep, I definitely I want to go next,” Benavides said, snapping both of them back to reality.

“I kind of wish I hadn’t waited so bleeping long to try this,” the Colonel said.

Amy blushed. I hope you like it. She handed him the mirror. He looked into the mirror and angled it so he could see her.

“Lovely,” he said. “More optimal than I imagined. I had better get back to some pre-launch duties or something. Would you like to go for a walk along the tunnels when I finish? I could show you how to play tennis.”

“I would love to do that,” she said. The Colonel stood and walked back inside the Tormalinas, a little faster than usual.

“Okay, Melvin. Have a seat.”

“Yes Ma’am,” the Gunnery Sergeant said, smiling.

Not long after Gunnery Sergeant Benavides sat down, he sipped his Old Texas and fell asleep. Amy trimmed and cropped his hair. She enjoyed his haircuts as much as any, but not ever, as much as she just enjoyed the Colonel’s.

She closed her eyes and ran her fingers through the Gunnery Sergeant’s hair. She washed it and dried it and was ready to start trimming. He had already fallen asleep.

She paused for a split second because she thought she felt something different on his scalp, something different than what she remembered from a week ago. She felt a soft spot. She searched for it again and felt it again, there, just above where his subcranial linking implant should be.

She leaned in close to see what was there. She pressed her finger on the spot. To her shock, her finger punctured his skin. Blood erupted out of the hole there and onto her face. She stood there frozen, processing what just happened, calculating what to do next. She was about to attempt some sort of first aide protocol.

Then, Amy watched as what she could only describe as a small alien bug covered in blood and some other bio-slime crawled out of the wound, down and around the man’s neck, down his back, and then up over his shoulder. The thing stayed there inches away from her face. She quickly recalled seeing something similar, a cockroach, which she saw after asking the Tormalinas sentient to show her more insects and bugs after seeing the madhumakkhi or bee during her report.

She reflexively and instinctively brushed away the bug with her hair trimmers.

“Holy bleep,” she said throwing her trimmers at the thing and trying to stomp the thing. She stomped on it hard, but the thing flattened itself or flexed with the pressure of her booted foot and remain unharmed.

Then a piercing alarm sounded in her head, the Tomalinas’ bio-hazard alarm.

The Tormalinas said, “A level five bio-hazard has been detected. All hands are directed to suit up to level five bio-containment protocols. Level five quarantine is now in effect.”

 

Bugs

Chapter 4

Level 5 Bio-hazard

 

Amy hoped this was all a dream. However, somehow Gunnery Sergeant Benavides, now revived by the alarm, with blood oozing from the wound on his head, seemed not to notice his injury.

“What the bleep just happened?” He asked, a little confused, his words slurred a little.

“Get your full suit on now!” Amy ordered, although she suspected it was already too late for him.

Amy kept her suit and helmet nearby at all times as part of her executive officer protocols. She slid into the suit and held her breath as she fitted her helmet in place. She stood still for five seconds while her life support system initialized.

Then she said, “Get your suit back on, now Benavides!”

Benavides carried his suit with him in a small pack as part of command protocols also. He fumbled with his pants, his bare back and shoulders began to change colors and texture. His skin then also started to grow a strange, thin, white hair. Soon his entire back changed and became covered in the same grizzly white hairs. The change, the white hairs, spread to his head and face. He began to scream wildly as if his skin burned with intense pain. He then fell to the floor and began convulsing.

By this time, Amy had her full suit on and grabbed the man to drag him back into the Tormalinas. On second look behind her, she saw a swarm of similar bugs moving toward the Tormalinas coming from the direction of the deep tunnel that led to the odd honeycombed chamber.

She entered the ship and thought about shutting the loading bay doors. But it was too late. When she reached the panel for the doors, nearly every inch of the floor and walls behind her were covered with the bugs. She looked out and saw the bugs were still emptying out of the tunnel by the thousands. They swarmed over her and Benavides. He was still screaming and convulsing wildly as they covered and swarmed past him into the ship.

Through her linking implant, she could hear reports from others that the bugs were all over the underground city by now.

“All sections report,” She ordered.

She felt a hard rumble from the Tormalinas’ engines. Colonel Keeghan must have initiated launch sequence protocols.

Through the linking implant, the vessel’s sentient said, “All hands have 17.35 minute cycles to return to the Tormalinas.

Benavides fell limp and Amy carried him on her shoulder to the medical bay. She placed him into a bio-hazard containment pod and pressed her gloved hand to the container. The canopy to the pod slid forward and locked closed with a hiss. Amy ran back to help more crew reach the Tormalinas. She calculated that a significant number of crew were more than 20 minute cycles away exploring tunnels and caverns and would be left behind.

Three of the crewmembers fell just outside the loading bay doors. They convulsed in their suits. Amy turned them over and saw through their helmets that bugs were inside their suits. She picked up all three of the men and carried them to the medical bay, thankful now for the one-fourth Earth gravity. She stowed each of them in bio-hazard pods.

The Tormalinas was now covered with bugs inside and out. Amy stepped on waves of the bugs on the floor of the vessel. It felt like stepping in grass or mud or snow.

The Colonel spoke through her linking implant, “XO, are you compromised? Are you bleeping optimal?”

“No Sir, not compromised. Yes Sir, optimal.” she answered. “I am aiding crewmembers. The Gunnery Sergeant is compromised and not optimal. Are you compromised? Are you less than optimal?”

“No and no. I am fully optimal for now. It appears these bugs can’t get into our suits.”

“Agreed Sir. I’ve quarantined four crewmembers in bio-hazard containment pods.”

“Bleep,” the Colonel said. “Quarantine pods are just fancy coffins. Only a full medical station commander, a MEDSTAC, can order pods opened once they’re sealed. In every case I’ve ever heard, once you’re quarantined, a medical station performs experiments on you to find out what you have. I’ve only heard of one outcome from quarantine and the experiments to follow: death.”

“Same here Sir, but we have our protocols in these cases.”

Amy knew the Colonel was correct. She also knew that even after death, the MEDSTAC staff continued to perform various experiments until there was no further knowledge to be gained from the contaminated corpses. Contamination in deep space was essentially a death sentence.

She was hesitant to seal anyone else inside a bio-pod with the bugs, but the pods served three purposes. One, it would place the subject crewmember under hypersleep and attempt treatment of the contamination. Two, in the event that this failed, the pods would then cryogenically freeze the subject for later treatment. Three, throughout both of these processes, the pod collected data on the cause and source of the contaminant so the MEDSTAC would have a head start on things before they cracked open a bad egg as crews liked to call them, without knowing why they were call bad eggs.

A bad egg was any quarantine pod or anything else brought onboard that would potentially infect or contaminate a medical station when opened. Amy had coded the highest level of MEDSTAC security for each of the pods indicating that there was a higher than likely chance of the contaminating vectors infecting whatever station they might escape to.

Amy remembered the bio-containment protocols precisely because she had been a member of the CNSLBV 4, the Light Battle Vessel Melbourne, when a MEDSTAC ordered his entire space station detonated, killing himself and all 242 of the station’s personnel after they bravely fought off some contamination. That contamination was something viral, a deadly pathogen that spread from crew to crew. Protocol was to attempt decontamination, but Amy wondered if she had ever heard of a successful decontamination that did not involve imploding the subject site.

Amy remembered that the Melbourne was ordered to the station to standby and upload all data from the station prior to its detonation. After upload, the Melbourne needed to escape blast radius using maximum engine power.

After the station imploded from the 750 megaton micro-singularity, the Melbourne and two other vessels combed the sector for any intact matter. Finding none, the Melbourne delivered the uploaded data to its base of operations. The Melbourne’s crew never knew what had contaminated the station. Deep space contaminations were frequent. Nothing is more conducive to the spread of contagions like an enclosed space-going vessel, but Amy admitted to herself, she had never heard of a bug contamination like this, an alien contaminant. She didn’t have time to think about what she could have done to prevent the contamination. There will be time to think about that later.

“Show me the tunnels,” Amy said.

“Showing now,” the Tormalinas said.

“Colonel, the bugs are coming from the tunnel with the hive chamber,” Amy said.

“Show me,” the Colonel ordered. “With your consent, I suggest we launch a bleeping seven series torpedo into the tunnel to seal off that bleeping hive chamber.”

“Agreed,” Amy said.

“Got it. Launching now. I need you up here in your bleeping command seat, Major.”

Amy held on tight to two handles in the wall near her and counted to 10, giving time for the Tormalinas to guide the small precision torpedo down into the tunnel. Then she felt and heard a massive explosion. The Tormalinas shook. Amy almost fell to the floor.

“I’m on my way, Colonel.”

She looked around at the bugs swarming over the floor, walls, and ceiling. She waded through them. They clung to her suit. She made her way to the command room. She swept bugs off her console and her faceshield. Seconds later Lieutenant Huang joined them. Chief Engineer Charlie Waters entered the command room and took his seat.

“Waters, you’ve got to bust us the bleep out of here,” the Colonel said.

“I’m on it,” Waters replied. “Getting out will be easier than getting in.”

Colonel Keeghan worked the console next to his seat to transmit a distress signal.

“Staff report,” Amy said.

“Ma’am,” the Tormalinas sentient said. “Four of the 17 senior staff have reported for duty. Two senior staff are quarantined. I can confirm six section leaders have reported their teams are onboard. We have 39.02 percent of the crew accounted for. We have 8.29 minute cycles before we must launch.”

“Make that bleeping hole now, Chief Engineer,” the Colonel order.

“Yes Sir.”

A series of explosions detonated ahead to the front of the Tormalinas. The entire planetoid shook.

“Show me the opening,” the Colonel requested.

“Showing now,” the Tormalinas responded.

“Give me an intervalled update on staff.”

“I will, Sir,” the Tormalinas responded. “We have 6.36 minute cycles to launch. The landing cavern will be out of air in 7.54 minute cycles. Thirty-seven staff have reported for duty. Another two staff have been quarantined. We have 47.56 percent of the staff accounted for. The next intervalled staff update and a countdown will continue at the four minute cycles to launch mark.”

Amy continued brushing bugs from her consoles. “Sir we should switch to emergency audiovisual and verbal vessel commands.”

“Affirmative,” the Colonel said.

“Switching to audiovisual and verbal console controls now,” the Tormalinas reported.

“Command staff,” the Colonel said. “We are aiming for Sigma Alpha Epsilon Launch and Extraction Station. I transmitted our distress signal. I need bleeping suggestions. What can we do about this?”

“We do not have enough life support in our suits to make it to Sigma Alpha Epsilon,” Lieutenant Huang said.

The Tormalinas spoke up, “I estimate your suits are only good for a maximum average of 32.63 spans.”

Amy said, “Once we can get outside the system, we can flush the vessel and try to jettison the bugs into space.”

The Tormalinas spoke up, “I estimate flushing the bugs will rid the vessel of only 90.76 percent of the bugs.

“Can we flush the ship with methane, radiation, any bleeping thing else that might kill these bleep bleeping bugs?” The Colonel asked, swatting at bugs crawling across his faceshield.

“Sir,” the Tormalinas answered. “We would need to test the bugs for their resistance to each potential. For radiation, staff will have lower tolerances than the bugs. We have 4.00 minute cycles to launch. The cavern will be out of air in 2.99 minute cycles. Forty-six staff have reported for duty. No other staff have been quarantined. We have 56.10 percent of the staff accounted for. I can confirm that 17 crewmembers have expired. Eight crewmembers have failed to respond and my show-me access would suggest these eight have been metamorphed into creatures similar to the creature Gunnery Sergeant Benavides transformed into.”

“Wouldn’t the speed of this transformation suggest that it’s reversible,” Marleen chimed in.

“That remains to be seen,” Amy said.

“Colonel, I must interrupt this discussion,” the Tormalinas said. “The bugs are now behind critical vessel console panels on decks one, three, and four. I am showing multiple systems at risk. I suggest we launch now or we may not be able to launch.”

“Show me the rear loading bay,” the Colonel ordered.

“Showing now.”

“Okay, I don’t think anyone else is going to make it. Launch.”

The command officers each spoke through their implants asking the Tormalinas to lock their seat restraints. With that, perfectly balanced gravitron drives allowed the ship to lift off the rocky floor, shaking the cavern and the large chunk of Askelon 1.5. Any crew not onboard would have felt the signature rumbling of the Tormalinas taking off. The vessel’s engines roared to full strength pushing the vessel out of the deep cavern and towards open space, easily breaking gravity. Locked in, the command officers watched through their linking implants as the vessel left the cavern and traveled through the tunnel back out into the asteroid field.

Chief Engineer Waters said, “Engines operating at optimal efficiency Ma’am.”

“Thank you, Chief.” Amy said.

“Autocorrect to avoid any debris,” the Colonel said. “Speed is of the essence.”

“Yes Sir,” The Tormalinas said. “Understood. We will clear the debris field in 90 minute cycles. When we reach open space, I can initiate flushing.”

“Can you calculate any other remedies?” the Colonel asked.

“My current evaluations of the bugs show they are incredibly resilient, showing adequate resistance to heat, cold, compression, decompression, radiation, and a variety of chemicals such as carbon monoxide, methane, hydrogen cyanide, and chlorine. I believe basic flushing will be our only recourse.”

Just then the chief engineer screamed, “They’re inside my suit. They’re in here with me.”

He thrashed against his seat restraints. Amy could see blood splatters on his face and inside the faceshield of his helmet.

“Tormalinas, please silence the chief engineer’s communications, add restraints to his command seat, and maintain those restraints until further notice,” Lieutenant Huang ordered.

“Yes Ma’am,” the Tormalinas responded.

Additional seat restraints doubled across the man’s chest, arms, legs and head.

“Can we help him?” Amy asked.

“Ma’am, I don’t think so. Not while I am in maximum launch burn.”

She added, “That bug was inside his head. One was inside the Gunnery Sergeant’s head. What’s the possibility of any other crewmembers being compromised? Tormalinas, can you scan for that?”

“I can scan all crew. Scanning now. Scanning will take approximately 2.32 minute cycles.”

The Colonel and the Lieutenant watched as the man wriggled and convulsed inside his space suit. Amy looked away. Several moments later, they saw the change come over his face. They saw the creature. It looked around and blinked. It tried to escape the restraints. Rips began appearing at the seams of his space suit.

“Tormalinas, sedate the bleeping chief engineer,” the Colonel ordered.

“Do you concur, Major Porter?”

“I concur.”

“Yes Sir. Administering sedative now. Also, we will clear the debris field in 37.08 minute cycles.”

The chief engineer slowly stopped thrashing against his restraints.

“My scans are complete. There are six additional crew who are infected with bugs inside their bodies. There is one crewman with a bug inside his spacesuit. Shall I double the restraints for those crew and sedate them as well?”

“Yes,” the Colonel answered. “While you’re at it, I could use a shot of adrenalin.”

“Do you concur, Major Porter,” the Tormalinas asked.

“I concur.”

“Do you concur to sedation of the infected crew or to the adrenalin request of the Colonel or to both?”

“To both, you bleeping bleep!” Amy yelled. She closed her eyes and clenched her teeth to stop them from clattering from the vibrations of the Tormalinas as it pitched hard to the left, up and down, and then back and forth avoiding asteroids and planetary debris.

We’re not going to make it, she thought. The Colonel is feeling it to. He only asks for adrenalin when his nerves are rattled.

 

“Sir, we have cleared the debris field and we are moving at maximum speed to Sigma Alpha Epsilon Launch and Extraction Station with an ETA of 46.11 spans. I am receiving confirmation that the MEDSTAC has cleared us for arrival and decontamination. There are no vessels in close enough proximity to provide assistance to us. I calculate I am carrying nearly 862,000 bugs and the number is growing due to replication. If you still would like to flush, we should attempt it now.”

“I disagree,” Amy said. “We can only flush once, so we should wait for maximum saturation of the bugs before we flush.”

“I’m sorry,” the Colonel said. “I don’t want to wait until we are up to our bleeping eyeballs in bugs, plus we don’t know how many Tormalinas systems we could lose if we allow the bugs to continue their bleeping infestation at the current rate. Please proceed with flushing immediately,” the Colonel ordered.

“All hands, please prepare for flushing sequence,” the Tormalinas said. “Sequence to begin in 10, 9, 8…”

Amy stared at the bugs on the floor, the wall, the ceiling, the consoles, the small brown unremarkable remarkable bugs crawling across her faceshield. Countless numbers of them floated weightless in command room. Several of them seemed to cling to each other forming bug chains and bug clouds. They were everywhere and they were multiplying.

How can they replicate so fast? What do they eat? What do they use for fuel? What was their purpose other than to procreate, spread, and infect? She wondered. What would be the point of creating primordial creatures? Were they the bugs’ slaves, now a part of the hive? Was there some sort of queen bug?

Amy had never seen a flushing sequence before, but she was familiar with the procedure from her command training. Being submerged in liquids always made her nervous.

“Initiating flush.”

With a crackle of electric energy, the air inside the Tormalinas turned into a liquid. The bugs did not seem to mind and they swam about in the liquid not at all different than being suspended in weightless space.

“Aiiiighh!” The Colonel yelled.

“Are you optimal, Sir?” Amy asked through her clenched teeth.

“I’m less than optimal, but acceptable, Major. I just hate water.”

“Technically it’s not water,” the Tormalinas chimed in.

“I don’t give a bleed whatever the bleep it is. I bleeping hate it!” The Colonel yelled.

After several minute cycles, panels aft of the vessel opened. Amy watched as the liquid and all the bugs suspended in the liquid swirled violently around the command room. The level of liquid dropped lower and lower. The liquid drained aft into open space behind the vessel, taking the bugs with it. In seconds, the liquid and the bugs froze into solid chunks of ice.

“Colonel, I estimate that 86.43 percent of the bug infestation is cleared.”

“86 bleeping percent? That’s way less than optimal. I would have hoped for more. Bleep. At least most of them are out of the way.”

Amy saw only a dozen or more of the bugs still clinging to the walls of the command room.

“Tormalinas, can you estimate the bug reproduction rate now?” She said.

“I estimate that in 55.25 spans the bugs will occupy every available space onboard.”

“Colonel,” Amy said. “I recommend everyone remain in suit stasis until we reach Sigma Alpha Epsilon.”

“Tormalinas, can you calculate an estimate of our chances of infection should we break suit containment?”

“I estimate breaking suit containment presents a risk of 74.83 percent contamination and infection. The bugs are seeking points of infection. As yet, they are not capable of compromising the integrity of our space suits.”

“We gotta know for sure,” the Colonel said. “Low man up,” he ordered.

“Sir,” Amy insisted. “I do not concur.”

“I’m not asking Major. I’m not interested in riding this out in spacesuits for the next 46 bleeping spans. We need to know what will happen if we break the seal on these suits.”

“Your idea is less than bleeping optimal.”

“I do not require your concurrence in this protocol, Major.”

“Sir, I will insist that the Tormalinas document my stern discouragement of this.”

“It’s not your bleeping call to bleeping make, Major. Now bleeping low bleeping man bleeping up, Major. Execute.”

“You’re going too bleeping far, Colonel. Maybe we can all bleeping make it. Maybe there’s another bleeping way. We need to keep bleeping calculating.”

“I’m not bleeping asking you for your opinion.”

“You will have my bleeping opinion.”

“You carry out my bleeping order right now, Major, or I will relieve you for bleeping insubordination and bleeping Lieutenant Huang will carry out my order.”

Lieutenant Huang completely puzzled yelled, “Bleeping define, Tormalinas.”

The Tormalinas replied, “Bleeping is an expletive, considered a colorful, derogatory, and/or exclamatory comment to express abject disrespect and/or disdain or to indicate intense emphasis or added seriousness as an enhancer to spoken language.”

“No, you bleeping bleep,” Lieutenant Huang yelled. “Define last man up.”

Amy and the Colonel turned and stared at Lieutenant Huang strapped into her command chair.

The Tormalinas said, “Last man up is a command protocol where a commander orders the lowest ranking crewmember to break suit containment, exposing the crewmember to the potential contaminants in question. The commander will use the resulting evidence to determine if the rest of the crew are safe or should remain suited up.”

“Sir,” Amy said. “I’m your XO, your executive officer, and I do not consent to this. We’ve suffered enough casualties already.”

“Major Amy Porter, I said execute. Now execute. This is standard bleeping protocol.”

The Colonel’s cold hard stare pieced through something in Amy’s psyche, puncturing right through to her very core.

“Remove my restraints,” she ordered. With her restraints removed, she floated up. “Identify last man up,” she said, grabbing the pull handle on the ceiling.

The Tormalinas replied, “The last man up is Corporal Munn assigned to the engine room.”

Amy turned to the Colonel and said, “I’ll be bleeping back with Munn momentarily.”

“I have visual by bleeping linking implant,” Keeghan said. “There’s no need to bring her to the bleeping command room.”

“You don’t get that bleeping luxury, Ian. I’m bringing Munn to the bleeping command room and here is where you can run your dirty bleeping last man up test.”

The Colonel blinked several times at the sound of his first name. The rush of adrenalin made his name sound alien. He couldn’t remember the last time he had heard his first name. He wanted to strike Major Porter, to choke her with his hands, but instead, he closed his eyes and breathed in and out. When he opened his eyes, Amy had left the command room.

 

Amy returned to the command room with Corporal Munn. Kendra Munn pulled herself upright, slid her right foot into a harness on the floor, and faced Colonel Keeghan alongside Major Porter.

Amy said, “Corporal Kendra Munn, you are the last man up. Do you understand what this means?”

“Yes Ma’am. I do.”

“I will ask you to sit in my command chair.”

“Yes Ma’am. I will.”

“I will order your helmet to be removed and your containment seals broken.”

“Yes Ma’am. I understand this calculation.”

Tears fell from Kendra’s eyes. Tears fell now from Amy’s eyes too.

“Ma’am?”

“Yes Corporal Munn.”

“I don’t want to become a creature, not like Stamatakis, not like Edwards, not like Gunnery Sergeant Benavides. I hereby ask for termination should I become infected.”

“Kendra, we don’t know if the condition is reversible. It could be temporary. We just don’t know.”

“Ma’am, I watched Edwards turn as I was trying to put his helmet on. He had a hole in his head. It was unnatural. It was not optimal. I don’t want to know for one second cycle what that’s like. Promise me that if I am infected you will give the order.”

“I will,” Amy said.

Munn sat down in Amy’s command chair. The Tormalinas activated the command safety restraints first and then the additional restraints.

Munn sobbed and said, “I want my family to know that I believed in the Commonwealth of Nations and that I gave my life for the honor of the Tormalinas, her commanders, and her crew.”

“They will know,” Amy said and waited.

Colonel Keeghan sat and watched, perspiring in his suit. Amy looked into his cold blue eyes and said, “Tormalinas, release my helmet locks.”

“Belay that bleeping order,” the Colonel yelled. “Tormalinas, sedate Major Porter.”

Amy fell limp as a hypospray injector in the wrist of her space suit made contact with her skin. She felt a pinch there and then she felt herself floating, floating away as if being flushed out to space.

Chapter 6

CNSSS Sigma Alpha Epsilon

 

Amy woke up in her hypersleep pod, still in her full spacesuit. No tingling sensation this time moved up her spine, no burning at the base of her skull.

“Tormalinas, I need an update.”

“Yes Ma’am. You were placed in your hypersleep pod by orders of Colonel Keeghan.”

“In my spacesuit? That son of a bleep was trying to kill me.”

“Unlikely Ma’am. He suspected your abilities as a portal navigator would shield you from the harmful effects associated with any bio-mechanical interference.”

“I want out. I want out now.”

“Yes Ma’am. Colonel Keeghan ordered you to be revived at this time cycle. As required, I have alerted Colonel Keeghan as to your revival.”

“Where are we?”

“We are within one span of Sigma Alpha Epsilon Launch and Extraction Space Station.”

“How did the crew get this far in their suits?”

“The Colonel ordered last man up protocols and then recycled life support from suits after crewmembers succumbed to the infecting bugs.”

“You gotta be bleeping me.”

“No Ma’am. I bleep you not.”

“That son of a bleeb, didn’t”

“Yes Ma’am. He did and it was well within his command authority to do so.”

“So he just sacrificed his crew so he could live,” Amy said it more than asking it.

“Yes Ma’am. It was a successful strategic ploy.”

More than 30 spans in hypersleep, and her body barely felt the difference. She felt rested, but she also felt mad. She pulled herself along the walls toward the command room, swimming at times in a sea of swarming bugs.

In the command room she found Colonel Keeghan strapped in his chair and Lieutenant Huang in her executive officer seat. When she entered the room, Colonel Keeghan spoke to her as if nothing had happened. An alarm broke through the silence.

“Take your seat, Major. I’m going to need your steady hand to guide us into Sigma Alpha Epsilon. We have several compromised systems to contend with. Please deal with our latest system failure.”

“Yes Sir,” Amy said.

Huang moved through the waves of bugs back to her seat and Amy sat in her seat and worked the consoles, brushing aside bugs there. “Tormalinas, I need command visuals and verbal control,” she said.

“Yes Ma’am.”

 

“Tormalinas, this is General Akram Khan of CNSSS Sigma Alpha Epsilon. We are reading your life signs. You are registered now as a level J contamination risk. All instructions will be given by the station MEDSTAC General Bridgette Nunez.”

“Sigma Alpha Epsilon, this is Colonel Ian Keeghan. We read you loud and clear.”

“Colonel Keeghan, this is General Nunez. I am scanning your vessel for life signs. I am also in visual link with your vessel and can see inside all compartments of the Tormalinas. I won’t lie to you or exaggerate, but your chance of surviving this infestation of lifeform 0098649 is not very optimal. Is there any chance that once we clear your crew and take samples of the lifeform you can leave this sector and scuttle your vessel?”

“No Ma’am. Once I established our course and speed from Askelon, we lost a number of control systems and our high engine burn capacity. My vessel will be dead on arrival. We do still have thruster capabilities.”

“Okay. Please maneuver your vessel to quarantine docking bay 37.”

“General, with our systems compromised by the contaminating lifeform, we call them bugs, I think we should leave the ship adrift here and attempt rescue of the crew.”

“Colonel Keeghan, my orders are to attempt decon and to secure samples of the bugs for examination. If you can get the Tormalinas to bay 37, we should be able to decontaminate the vessel and rescue your remaining the crew and secure our samples.”

“Yes Ma’am.” Keeghan said. With the communications link closed, he said, “They’re after our bleeping bugs. Bet they don’t give a flying bleep about us.

 

“Sir,” Amy said. “The controls are responsive at less than 83%.”

“78.63 percent to be exact,” the Tormalinas chimed in.

“Tormalinas, can you complete the docking?”

“No Ma’am. My systems are severely compromised and all automated override functions have been cancelled.”

“Give it your best shot Amy,” the Colonel said.

Amy began verbalizing her commands to the Tormalinas. After a few orders, she disconnected her safety restraints and pulled herself through a wave of bugs to a panel under the console. She twisted latches on the panel and it popped open, bugs poured from inside the panel.

“Bleep,” she said.

She pulled a tool kit from inside the panel and unlatched several other panels. Reaching inside and feeling her way past bugs in the panels, she reached wires and pulled them out. She twisted and reconnected circuits and then strapped herself back in her seat. Now she could command the vessel verbally and by use of her hands on the consoles.

“Impressive Major,” the Colonel said, “I’ve never seen anyone do that before”

“Learned it from some pirates,” she said.

The Tormalinas listed to its port side and approached the bay. Amy knew their speed was too fast. They crashed into the rear wall of bay, but came to a complete stop with minimal damage.

 

“We have you Tormalinas,” General Nunez said. “Please stand by for decontamination sequences.

The MEDSTAC ordered various treatments to attempt extermination of the bugs.

The remaining crew, of which Amy refused to even verify their numbers were told to remain restrained in their seats during the decon attempts.

“I’ve never been in a spacesuit for this long before,” Colonel Keeghan said. “How about you two?” He said to Lieutenant Huang and to Amy.

Amy answered, “Navigators are tested by spending not fewer than 100 spans in spacesuits at the academy. It’s part of the career description; able to enter and operate in dark space indefinitely.”

“A hundred bleeping spans? Indefinitely? So you two are not tired of your spacesuits?”

“No,” Amy said.

“No,” Lieutenant Huang said.

“Tormalinas, give me a personnel report,” the Colonel said.

“Sir, there are 14 crewmembers remaining. Two crewmembers expired in their spacesuits in the last span. Also Sir, your life support will expire in a matter of minute cycles, 4.67 to be precise.”

“Bleep, Sir. Can we share some life support from our suits?” Amy asked.

“Don’t you bleeping think about it, Major.” It took us several tries to cross connect life support systems. I saw five or six crewmembers expire while we tried to figure it out. I won’t have you and the optimal Lieutenant here killing each other just so I might have a chance to live. I’ve killed enough people. Major Porter, if this decon doesn’t work, you will have to order detonation of the Tormalinas.”

“Sir, don’t you feel we should calculate more options?”

“You know the protocol. That’s a bleeping order Major.”

With that, the Colonel removed his helmet and the bug swarm swallowed him in his command chair. Amy looked away.

“Tormalinas, this is MEDSTAC. We will begin subatomic neutralization on the bugs within 45 minute cycles. The treatment worked.

Amy closed her eyes, but Lieutenant Huang watched as waves of blue energy rays swept through the command room, destroying the bugs at a subatomic level, leaving behind only an atomic residue of the bugs. Huang watched as the rays disintegrated the bugs around the command room and also disintegrated Colonel Keeghan, leaving behind his spacesuit and helmet and the same residue.

The Tormalinas said, “I’m showing the decon treatment had an adverse effect on three more crewmembers who expired due to exposure to the rays of the decontamination device.

“Their spacesuits must have been compromised,” Huang said.

“I am reporting the death of Colonel Keeghan,” Amy said, staring at the floor of the command room.

“I confirm the death of Colonel Ian Shane Keeghan.” The Tormalinas said. It then rang a bell three times and said, “Major Amy Porter of the Commonwealth of Nations Stellar Exploration Vessel 119, CNSEV Tormalinas, you are now acknowledged as the commanding officer of this vessel. Congratulations Ma’am.”

 

Lieutenant Marleen Huang looked at the Major and said, “It will be optimal Amy. It will be optimal.”

The Major wanted to say something back to Marleen. She wanted to think of something maybe Keeghan might say in this situation, something harsh about using his first name maybe, but she didn’t have time to say anything. An explosion somewhere in the vessel shook them out of their shock.

Marleen said, “There’s a breach in our hull from an explosion in our quantum fuel cells. Tormalinas life support is now at zero percent. We are venting plasma and it’s possible the Tormalinas will be lost. There’s significant damage to the docking bay.”

“I’m seeing it in my visuals. The bugs are still present at about 42 percent. We’ve got to get inside the station and find clean suits. Follow me,” Major Porter ordered.

“Tormalinas report,” the Major said.

The Tormalinas failed to report.

“Tormalinas report,” Major Porter said again. “Tormalinas report.”

“The Tormalinas is off-line and dead,” Marleen said, undoing her restraints. “We’ve lost visuals.”

Marleen and the Major pulled their way through the command room, through the Tormalinas, through swarms of bugs, down corridors and up and through access routes past burning compartments to the Tormalinas’ loading door. There they found they needed to work the pneumatic cranks manually to force the doors open. They then pulled themselves into the breach in the docking bay hull, moving past thousands and thousands of bugs spilling out into space and floating into and onto the space station, crawling up the sides of the large structure.

Inside the space station, crewmembers pulled themselves along by the wall and ceiling handrails as fast as they could. None of the station crew were in spacesuits. Marleen and the Major still had on their suits. The crew talked of alien bugs contaminating the station. Then they heard an alarm on the station linking systems speaking through their implants.

“This is General Nunez. All hands evacuate to escape pods. Make haste and escape, stellar space station protocol golf-nine.”

“Golf-nine protocol,” Marleen said. “We’re going to have to make it to escape pods.”

“Not if we find fresh suits,” the Major said. “Pods are for station personnel. It will be very difficult to locate an escape pod that isn’t overcrowded. We have a better chance if we locate fresh space suits, plus we have no way of knowing which crewmembers are infected by the bugs.”

A random crewmember overheard them. “Are you saying these bugs infect people?” He brushed a bug off of his arm and it floated away.

“Stay optimal,” Major Porter said. “You’ll be fine if you make it to your escape pod.”

Marleen knew the Major had just lied. If just one infected crewmember made it to a pod of 25 personnel, the entire escape pod would be lost. If just one bug made it into an escape pod, the entire escape pod would be lost. She calculated the odds of any one of these happening to be about 80%. A number of bugs crawled along the walls to her right and above her on the ceiling.

“The escape pods are not certain to be free of bugs. Only the spacesuits have a higher guarantee,” the Major said to Marleen.

“I will follow you Major,” Marleen said. “But my space suit is at critical levels, less than 3%.”

“Give me your hands Lieutenant,” Major Porter said, extending her hands. Marleen extended her hands and clasped the Major’s.

“Now pray with me,” Porter said.

They closed their eyes and just floated, silent for a few moments in the corridor of the space station, ignoring the growing chaos around them.

“Feel the presence of the universe,” Major Porter said.

“I feel the universe Major,” Marleen said.

“Now let’s continue Lieutenant.”

They heard and felt an explosion somewhere in the lower station levels. They hurried now, pulling themselves up four levels, past more scrambling crewmembers.

“Here, main level Verde Alpha, that’s where we need to be,” Major Porter said. “We’re almost there.”

They pushed past more crewmembers and then decided to take a maintenance tunnel around a section where 15 to 20 crewmembers fought over space on an escape pod. To circumvent this fight, they had to go down one level, over two sections, up another level, and then back two sections. Marleen pressed the life support readout on her wrist. It read, “0.00 %.” She remembered the prayer moment Major Porter had shared with her. They kept moving.

They arrived at a section labeled “Displacement Extraction Assembly Crew Only.”

“We’re here,” Major Porter said, entering the space. “This is it. There will be spacesuits in here.”

Marleen said nothing. Major Porter looked back. Marleen floated there in the doorway. Her eyes had glazed over.

Major Porter moved with a fierce sense of urgency now. She pulled Marleen into the mechanic’s area. The mechanics had all made it to their escape pods and left the station, leaving behind the specialized advance displacement suits they used for reassembling vessels and equipment after displacement extraction.

Finding several fresh suits still in their containers, Major Porter put one on and then worked to move Marleen into a fresh suit. She removed Marleen’s helmet and watched as the color returned to her face. She breathed in and out, but she was still unconscious.

Porter watched several bugs crawling along the walls. A few of them floated in the area. A small wave of the bugs seemed to move towards them now. Once Marleen was in a fresh suit and all seals were closed, Porter pressed the activation on the suit’s interface and said, “Revive.”

Marleen woke up.

“Thank you, Major Porter,” she said. “Am I contaminated at all?”

“No, you are optimal. We need to get to the control deck. Did you notice how on the Tormalinas the bugs seemed to be concentrated more near the command center? Let’s go there. I think I have a way out of this.”

They pulled themselves through the station. Where some areas were vacant, other areas were in full chaos because of swarms of bugs or panicked crew or both. They passed a work station where the space station’s hull had been breached by some sort of explosion, a blowout. Mangled bodies floated by, covered in bugs. They also saw one of the Tormalinas’ crew mutated into one of the strange beasts. They recognized the shredded uniform, one of the new archeologists. The beast tried to fight against the weightlessness to get to the two as they passed. They watched as it suddenly convulsed, its belly expanding and bursting, exploding more bugs into the weightlessness of the area. They moved with a faster sense of urgency now.

When they reached the station control deck, they had to move through thick floating clouds of the bugs. The bugs clung to their suits looking for an entryway. They found the command room empty of life except for bugs. Command staff had either escaped or perished. Two unfortunate officers floated amongst waves of the bugs, contaminated and expired.

“Here,” Major Porter said wiping away bugs and then pressing her gloved hand to a sensor panel. “Station, this is Major Amy Porter, Executive Officer of the Commonwealth of Nations Stellar Exploration Vessel 119, CNSEV Tormalinas.”

“Good day, Major,” the station’s sentient said. “How may I be of service?”

“Sigma Alpha Epsilon, by my command, please initiate self-destruct.”

“Wait,” Marleen yelled. “Are you sure we need to do this?”

“It’s protocol,” Porter said. “Golf-ten protocol now. I’m still thinking we might make it out optimal though. You’re going to have to trust me.”

The station’s sentient said, “Major Porter, your authority as the senior remaining officer onboard Sigma Alpha Epsilon Launch and Extraction Station CNSSS 15 is confirmed. Do you require a timer for self-destruct?”

“Yes. Set timer for 15 minute cycles. Mark.”

The station’s sentient then said, “Mark. All ships and personnel in this sector a self-destruct of Sigma Alpha Epsilon Launch and Extraction Station CNSSS 15 has been authorized. All Commonwealth vessels within 25 spans are now at risk. Counting down. 14:59 and counting. Major Porter, the stations implosion will terminate five Commonwealth properties consisting of this station and four stellar vessels. With that, 1456 personnel will also be terminated.”

“Understood. Now upload all station data to a portable container.”

“Yes Ma’am. Download will take approximately 32 second cycles to complete. A command portable container is located in panel 14-12-C.”

She went to the panel and opened it. Bugs spilled out. She reached inside and retrieved a small silver box about the size of her palm. She placed it inside a zippered pouch on her upper right arm.

“Download is complete,” the sentient said. “13:00 minute cycles and counting.”

“Now what?” Marleen asked.

“Now back to the Tormalinas.”

They pulled themselves up and through the station.

“9:00 minute cycles and counting,” they heard through their linking implants.

Chapter 6

Dark Space

 

When they pulled themselves into the damaged docking bay 37, they had to work to get through and past floating, wriggling bugs and dead bodies until they reached the Tormalinas’ loading bays.

“The Tormalinas cannot reach 25 spans before the detonation,” Marleen said.

“There is another way to go farther than that,” Porter said, reaching for the portal displacement pads. “We have the mechanic’ suits. We can initiate a dark space jump and time it for 30 minute cycles.”

“That has never been done before.”

“There’s no better time than now to try it unless you want to stay here and watch the show. Program that displacement pad for 30 minute cycles and I’ll get this one set.”

Marleen did as she was told.

“3:00 minute cycles and counting.”

“Okay when we jump, we need to remain displaced for 30 minute cycles before returning. Activate now,” Porter said.

They then embraced and held on to each other tight. Marleen closed her eyes and held her breath. It was just something she had always done since learning to portal jump. To her, making a portal jump always felt like walking into a cold shower. The last things she saw were bugs, dead bodies, the space station, the Tormalinas, all floating in space around her, and Major Amy Porter, face to face, helmet to helmet. The Major looked peaceful. She looked as if she were asleep.

Marleen felt a splash of energy and then she tasted copper in her mouth. She opened her eyes now. She still held on tight to the Major. She saw Major Porter and nothing else.

“Marleen, I want you to know that it was never personal, the way I felt about you.”

“I know Major. I know.”

“It’s just that they train us to not trust anyone. It’s our training.”

“I know Major. They train us to survive.”

“Do you think it was selfish that I didn’t hesitate to destroy the space station, but I wanted to live, so I was willing to risk a portal jump like this to survive?”

“I don’t know if it was selfish, since the academy trains portal navigators to survive.”

“Do you think it was selfish of me that I brought you here because I know someone will have to remain here in dark space in order for me to get back?”

“It is no more selfish than strategic,” Marleen said, “No more strategic than selfish of me to let you save us, knowing that you would not be saved. Ma’am, you are infected and these new displacement pads do not require someone to activate them from both sides of the portal.”

Major Porter released her grasp on Marleen and pushed away. Marleen held on tight.

“When did I become contaminated?”

“When you ordered you helmet released, Colonel Keeghan countermanded your order and sedation, but not before your seal was broken. You were unconscious. Colonel Keeghan completed his last man up test on you instead of Corporal Munn. It was your intent to do so in order to spare Corporal Munn, wasn’t it?”

“Yes. That was my intent.” The Major let out a groan. “I can feel it moving inside me. It’s moving up into my brain. I don’t want to die like this. Release my helmet.”

Nothing happened. The Major slapped at her wrist. “Release my helmet,” she said again.

“Releasing your helmet requires a command authorization and I do not concur, Ma’am.”

“What?”

The Major shoved harder to push away from Marleen. Marleen held on tighter.

“I intend to bring you back within your displacement suit. The Commonwealth will have its samples of this lifeform.”

“You are not in command Lieutenant. I order you to confirm my order to release my helmet.”

“Ma’am, by your own acknowledgment of infection by a lethal lifeform, command protocols have been transferred to me. I am in command now. That is confirmed. You are now a contaminated sample, property of the Commonwealth. This isn’t personal. It’s protocol.”

Major Porter blinked to look at her readout and saw inside her eyes that command had been transferred.

“So I’m just going to wait here while you watch me die?”

“We have 8.2 minute cycles before I can jump back to light space.”

Major Porter closed her eyes and prayed. Marleen closed her eyes and prayed too.

“So Marleen, tell me about your life as a child while this bleeping bug tunnels through my brain. Would you do that for me to help pass the time?”

“Yes Ma’am. I can do that.

I was born on Mars, not in the nice parts, in the mining district near New New Orleans.”

Major Porter said, “New New Orleans… I always loved that city, such a wonderful and rich people, the food, the music, the sites, the sounds.”

“I guess if you grow up there you just really wish you could be somewhere else, but I bet a lot of places are like that.

When I was four years old. One of the primary educators suggested I take the imagination test. I made toys for my friends. Made them out of trash. The educator called them beautiful. Other kids called me weird, but she called me whimsical. I scored a 169 on the I-m Test.”

Major Porter exclaimed, now slurring her words, “169? That’s more than two standard deviations above optimal. Just like you, they tested me when I was four. I pretended to be in movies. I scored a 134 on the I-m Test. It’s funny how becoming a portal navigator strips us of our imagination, strips us of that whimsical spirit.”

“We need to wait one more minute cycle,” Marleen said. “Is there something you want me to pass on to your loved ones.”

“You know portal navigators don’t have loved ones.”

“I can pass on anything you want to anyone you want me to.”

“I want you to pass on to this one young navigator I knew,” The Major said. “Her name was Lieutenant Marleen Huang,” she slurred each word with some coming out faster than they should and some coming out slower as if affected by a time distortion.

“Tell her, to love somebody. Tell her to find somebody in this universe worthy of pouring all her love into besides the Commonwealth. Tell her that portal navigators deserve love and real lives and deserve to feel the pleasures of relationships. Tell her it’s the one thing I am so sorry I did not do. Tell her to live and live big once in a while. Once in a while, to let go and feel the special optimal joy of connecting to another person even if it is just for a moment. Tell her to just once drink too much Old Texas just for fun and regrets, just to bleep off all the Commonwealth loyalists. Will you tell her that for me? Will you promise? Will you bleeping promise me that you will tell her?”

The major shook Marleen in her grip.

“Yes Ma’am. I will tell her that. I promise,” Marleen said, tears welling in her eyes and she sobbed there inside her helmet, fogging it up.

“Just one more thing Lieutenant.”

“Yes Ma’am?” Marleen asked between gasps.

“If you could grow hair, what color would you want it to be?”

Marleen wondered if this question was the product of the Major’s now diminished brain functioning.

“I’ve always fantasized about growing hair. Lately I’ve decided that if I could grow hair, I would like it to be cropped short and it would have to be turquoise.”

“Oh, I knew it! That’s so optimally funny because I pictured you with turquoise hair.”

“I could never make up my mind, but now, Ma’am, I would definitely choose turquoise, thank you.”

“It would look optimally lovely on you.”

“Major there is some chance your condition can be reversed.”

The Major flinched inside her spacesuit.

“That’s a kind thought,” she said, “but you and I both know there is no recovery from this. You be optimal, Lieutenant,” she said through clenched teeth.

“Sedate the Major,” Marleen said between sobs and gasps. She watched as the Major’s body relaxed. “Now activate the displacement portal.”

She watched as the darkness of space around them erupted with the blinding ambient light of light space. Marleen reached over and dragged the Major into the light as a bug, bloody, and covered in slimy brain fluids, crawled across the inside of Major Porter’s faceshield.

Marleen said, “Cryo-preserve the Major’s body.”

The portal closed behind them.

 

Marleen now pressed the controls on her wrist. “Readout, report.”

The readout showed in her eyes CNSSS 15, Sigma Alpha Epsilon detonated under a golf-ten protocol, destroying all matter within 25 spans.

“Readout. Show me the closest vessel.”

The readout showed in her eyes CNSWV 89, a war vessel, the Toronto was on the way to the location. It would arrive 83.87 day cycles. Her readout showed she had 24.09 day cycles of life support in her suit.

Marleen floated there in space with the Major’s motionless body surrounded by the abstract beauty of the stars. She imagined the universe as a room enclosing her with countless pinpoints of light, dazzling the black canvass before her. She imagined shapes and made up her own constellations. She had created 2049 different constellations of which she could name them all and point them out, mythical creatures, heroes, and objects. She made up stories about them all and played the stories out in her mind. That had taken her just a few weeks. Her readout showed two day cycles of life remaining.

She said, “Revive me when the Toronto is one span away. Maintain emergency broadcast on all signals until I am revived.” Then she began to pray just like all navigators knew how to do. She closed her eyes, slowed her breathing, quieted her mind, and connected with the deepest fabrics of the universe across space and time.

Dedication

I dedicate this short-short story to my one and only daughter, Ashleigh Jordynn Allen. She wrote a short-short story for me about alien bugs when she was about eight years old. She asked me to finish that story for her. I told her I would. This short-short story is only a tangent from her original idea. I’ll finish writing out the first full-length book in a series of books inspired by her original story later in 2017. I know I’ll at least have one book sale. And if I get one positive review after that, I will call this a huge success.

 

Thank you for reading this story. If you enjoyed it, please leave positive reviews with your favorite eBook retailers.

Van Allen ~February 6, 2016

About the Author

Van Allen is a real person. I’m a former Captain in the US Marines. In my 21-year military career, I developed expertise in both combat training and criminal investigations. While in the Marines, I also completed a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Texas A&M University and a Masters in Psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Originally from Houston, Texas and currently residing in Frisco, Texas, I fancy myself a secret physics, statistics, and data nerd. I’m also known today for being a part-time tennis strategy and coaching genius…by my kids…sometimes. If you ever want to talk more about my writing projects, aliens, zombies and what’s real and what’s not, conspiracy theories, Psychology, business, or winning tennis tactics, or even who’s got the best margaritas in the DFW area, drop me a line.

www.VanAllenFiction.com

[email protected]

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Other Published Books

Short Stories

Zombie Outbreak Survival: Zombie Hive Incident published on 10/26/2015

Zombie Outbreak Survival: Get It Right or Die published on 12/15/2015

Zombie Outbreak Survival: The Definitive Test publishing by February 2016

Short-Short Stories

I Tawt I Taw a Putty Tat (Alien Conspiracy) published on 1/1/2016

Zombie Outbreak Hive Incident publishing by April 2016

Zombie Outbreak Panama Incident publishing by April 2016

Memoir Short Stories

Jasper and Van published on 1/2/2016

My First Love published by April 2016

Full Novels

Bear (Horror/Thriller) publishing in March 2016

Bugs (Alien Conspiracy) publishing in December 2016

I would again like to offer a special thank you to Linda Aksomitis (www.Aksomitis.com), who I found to be a very caring and credible teacher, offering a great online class on breaking into the complicated and not-so-complicated world of E-Book publishing. I took her class in the late fall of 2015 and I have been cooking with rocket fuel ever since. You can find her classes on her website and you can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Bugs, my fifth short story published electronically, is thanks to her.


Bugs

After spending years searching for valuable archaeological artifacts, the crew of the Tormalinas, a galactic space exploration vessel, on its way home to Earth Prime, decides to take one last detour to a remote and unique star system with a planet broken apart by extreme gravitational forces. There, among the broken pieces of that planet, they explore ancient alien ruins, finding something never seen before or documented in their archives. Vessel Commander Colonel Ian Keeghan and his Executive Officer Major Amy Porter finally order the crew to relax and enjoy themselves before they load up for their return home. However, like any operation or adventure, the most dangerous point in the journey is that last leg home. Chaos ensues when they encounter a never-been-seen-before xenobiological contaminant, an aggressive and highly volatile alien lifeform. Now the Tormalinas and its crew must race across space and time to save themselves. They have a small chance, but only a small chance. Tensions flare as the officers and crew face life and death decisions, knowing they may not all make it back home alive. Bugs is the short story of what happened to the Tormalinas and its crew.

  • ISBN: 9781310334139
  • Author: Van Allen
  • Published: 2016-02-07 03:50:11
  • Words: 16153
Bugs Bugs