The final installment of Indiegogo fiction, with our profound thanks to all of our supporters. To close out on a bang we made this last one with an extra helping of epic – hope you like it!
Javelin-class Special Ops Ship
The Flight Deck
“Last chance. Shut it off now!” Alex snarled loud enough for everybody on the flight deck to hear, ducking sparks as she mashed a coagulant pack against the spurt of arterial spray. Marsh resumed his protest and Alex felt her brow knit. Wrong answer.
“Zerk!” Her tone was sharp; half question, half command.
A beefy Marine stepped forward, shoving Marsh and some nameless tech out of his path as he drew a heavy KBAR knife off his hip. With a lightning-quick overhand blow, he severed the power cable running into the APU. It parted like a slain snake, the headless neck spitting a final huff of sparks before the APU shuddered to silence. The stench of burned insulation filled the air.
Despite her anger, Alex couldn’t suppress a passing grin at the Marine approach to electro-mechanics. The response was pretty much Zerk’s approach to any problem – the direct application of brute force. The name tape on the Marine’s broad chest said BUTTON, his last name. As she watched him amble away, she understood the nickname: Berserk Button. She’d heard stories about the time he’d spent on the Vanduul line with a MARSOC assault team. When something pushed the Berzerk Button, bad things happened. Even on a ship in deep space, Zerk was a good guy to have around when you needed a problem stomped out in a hurry.
As Revenant’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Alex Posal was responsible for the health and safety of her crew, a job she took very seriously. She’d been overruled when she had asked for the details on the gear that now filled the hold of the Revenant. The kind of overrule that gets handed down from the Joint Chiefs. Between her rank, family ties and utterly obscene net worth that included the gold card of the Mile High Club, there wasn’t a hell of a lot deemed to be over Posal’s pay grade. Whatever was in play here was big ju-ju to have that kind of brass behind it.
Juice groaned as hemostatic foam clogged the hole in his chest. With one hand keeping direct pressure, Alex bit the tab off a fentanyl patch and slapped it down alongside the wound.
That’ll take the edge off.
“Hang on Juice,” Alex urged. She had that gruff, one-of-the-guys demeanors that won her loyalty among the crew that few senior officers enjoyed. Despite her lofty rank, in some ways second only to the Captain, she was more like a sergeant in the eyes of the enlisted. Somebody who could snatch them back from the brink of death on the combined basis of her fine skill and sheer will. She took that trust to heart.
Juice looked up from the floor where he’d fallen when the side of the APU exploded. A chunk of that device was now lodged in his chest. His pupils widened as the fentanyl surged through his system.
“C’mon you pussy its just a lung.” Alex groused with feigned derision as she continued to work the wound. “I don’t let anybody die from a lung. A brain wound maybe, but a lung would just be insulting.”
Juice huffed, the grimace on his face contorting just enough to suggest a pain-wracked laugh. “I’ll do my best doc.”
The humor was a good sign; it meant that Juice wasn’t slipping into shock. A level-three mechanic, Kenny Juiceman was a tough sonofabitch. Alex nodded to the transport medics standing just inside the bulkhead door. “OR-3, prep for debride and extraction. We’ll zip it up and eval for replacement or re-gen.”
The meat-wagon team moved briskly, sliding Juice onto a GravPallet and hustling him out of sight.
Alex stood up, the floor around her littered with blood spatter and a ring of wrappers from paramedic supplies. Her mind turned from the effects of that device in Juice’s lung to the cause and felt anger rise once more, spinning on Marsh with a vengeance.
“Now listen up you son of a bitch, you may think running some top secret science project gives you free reign on this boat, but check Navy regs. In terms of authority, I fall just under God, and it’s a local call from my office to His. When you start injuring members of my crew, you get on my bad side and that… “
Alex stalled, noting the blood that drooled off the end of Marsh’s left hand. “What the hell?”
She stepped forward and Marsh flinched back as though confused by her sudden closeness. Alex grabbed his jacket, turning him to get a better look at the rip in the fabric across his left bicep.
Grazing wound, she recognized, but the injury wasn’t trivial, and concern blunted the flow of her anger. She steered Marsh onto a stool and cut a patch of fabric from his brown Cordura jacket, exposing a flap of meat about three centimeters in length. She began to dress the wound, surprised at the level of indifference displayed by the injured scientist. He was either the toughest damn nerd in the sector, or he was slipping into shock. Given his gangly frame, angular features, and large, thick glasses, she wasn’t betting on a robust constitution.
“So tell me about this, this little experiment of yours.” Alex shifted to a casual tone as she plucked fragments from the wound.
Marsh sighed, looking across the flight deck floor at the lone missile on a rolling rack. A veritable Stonehenge of computers encircled the weapon, bundles of fiber optic cable fanning out from the exposed core. Alex didn’t know much about missiles but judging from all the glowy shit inside this one; it wasn’t some run of the mill Vanduul Kingship buster.
“It’s just a fancy door lock,” Marsh said with a shrug. “A deadbolt on steroids.”
Alex scowled at the comment but kept her tone light. “Fleet doesn’t send a stealth destroyer deep into Vanduul space to install a deadbolt.”
Marsh chuckled, then turned to look Alex in the eyes. “That all depends on who is at the door.” He paused, noting the interest that flared in her eyes. Marsh glanced around the flight deck, then sighed once more. “You know who I am, right?”
Alex paused, considered a lie then decided against it. “Dr. Todd Marsh of Miskatonic U. By public opinion that puts you somewhere between Stephen Hawking and Victor Frankenstein, a big big brain from a very creepy family and an even creepier school.“
Marsh’s eyebrows raised up; he wasn’t used to that sort of candor, at least not to his face. But creepy was really just one of the words whispered behind his back, words that haunted his father and grandfather before. The Marsh family was blessed, cursed, maybe haunted; a line of children notable by an unparalleled brilliance and a uniquely odd appearance. Children who suffered from visions, some say visits, of unspeakable, unworldly horrors. Over the years those atrocities garnered names: the Ancient Ones, the Dunwich Horror… Cthulhu.
Being the smartest guy in seven worlds was small comfort when you wake up in a cold sweat from screaming nightmares. Despite all the breakthroughs his family had made, all the remarkable inventions, the shadow of insanity was never out of sight. Over the years some of the Marsh clan had well and truly snapped, succumbing to suicide or ending their days locked away in a padded cell. If a curse indeed hung over the Marsh name, it was a horrible one.
Marsh forced a stoic nod, shoving aside his inner thoughts. “Yes, I suppose that is reasonably accurate. But today Miskatonic is the galaxy’s leading research center for trans-warp signature analysis and gravimetric—“ he paused abruptly, catching himself.
What followed was clearly a well-exercised dumbing-down. “We know more about wormholes than anybody else. Miskatonic had a hand in mapping most of the UEE jump paths in use today.” He pointed towards the glowing bomb. “We built Nemesis by that knowledge.”
“We’re sending some sort of nuke thru a wormhole?”
Marsh tutted dismissively, as though the idea was childish. “A nuke? Oh, nothing so banal. What is a single nuke to a large starbase, much less a planet? One might as well toss a pebble into the sea for all the impact a nuke will have.”
He watched Alex’ puzzled expression and answered the real question.
“The Vanduul are trying to exploit a remnant wormhole that extends into the Sol sector; a corridor to Earth. Nemesis is intended to de-stabilize it, to knock what remains of the gravitic tube off-kilter. A small shift indeed, but it will make the Vanduul end of the line demonstrably unsafe. In a best-case scenario they’ll lose confidence in the jump lane and give up the strategic advantage it would otherwise provide. In the very least they carry on with their experiments but lose many more ships in the process. It may not win the war but—“
“But if you prove it works you can start cutting Vanduul transit all over the galaxy.” Alex interjected, her words followed with a low whistle. She played enough chess to understand what happens when the opponent’s Queen suddenly has to move one square at a time.
“So while I regret the injury to your mechanic,” Marsh went on, his tone increasingly monotone. “I’m sure you can understand the importance of this mission.”
That Marsh was sliding back into his detached self only re-ignited Alex’ irritation. The wound was clotting quickly, remarkably fast actually, and Marsh seemed to suffer little discomfort from what should have been a painful injury. Maybe it was the edge of shock; maybe he was just as big a dick as everybody said. Whatever the case, Marsh was in no danger of dying anytime soon, and Alex had Juice to worry about.
She none-too-gently peeled a wad of bloody gauze from Marsh’s arm and dropped it into the stainless steel tray. Then she fired half a dozen staples around the perimeter of the injury, grousing “Well don’t kill any of my men while you go win the war, OK?”
Alex walked up to Zerk, who remained at his post by the flight deck elevator. With a glance back at Marsh, she said: “Keep an eye on him, if he does something stupid again you have my permission to shoot him.”
The Marine followed her gaze for just a moment, his steel gray eyes locking on Marsh. His big right paw eased down and came to rest on the holstered service weapon. Zerk nodded imperceptibly and said, “Rog that.”
With a final grumble, Alex stepped into the lift, stabbing the button for Sickbay. It helped that she could joke with guys like Zerk; it allowed her to vent steam that would otherwise gum up the works. She glanced at the numbers ticking off the display above the door when a thought crossed her mind.
Zerk did know I was kidding about shooting Marsh, right?
“With all due respect Captain, I don’t care what level clearance this project has,” Alex stabbed a finger in Juiceman’s direction. “Juice damn near died this morning. Hell, Marsh came close to killing himself in the process. This Mad Scientist shit has gotta stop.”
Captain Aurelius Ambrosius was one of the youngest men to command a Black Ops Javelin, a privilege usually reserved for people ten to twelve years his senior. His youth, and unconventional thinking, manifest itself in countless ways. From his nickname of ‘Bro’ to a most unorthodox approach to tactical challenge, it was rare that Bro did anything by the book. So his current insistence on following protocol could only mean one thing: these orders came from on high. Not from CENTCOM, maybe not even from the SecDef. Alex eyed him carefully; if Bro was worried about toeing the line, it may well be that orders came from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. That was damn near the top of the UEE’s Mount Olympus, the sort of high ground that no Captain in his right mind would choose to challenge. Alex knew it was futile to bitch, but that rarely stood in her way.
“This isn’t up for debate Alex.” Bro’s voice was deadened by stress. His eyes were fixed beyond Alex when he changed the subject, “How’s Juice?”
Alex glanced at the figure stretched out inside the glass tube. An array of slender robotic arms worked steadily to deposit bio-regenerative proteins within the wound. Alex had cleaned the injury by hand, leaving the long but predictable task of cellular reconstruction to the machines. The damage had been far more severe that it first appeared and Juice had coded twice on the table. But a heartbeat throbbed steadily on the EKG.
“We got lucky,” Alex sighed. “It wasn’t his day to die.”
Ensign Johanssen tried to stay out of sight as he policed the operating area. A junior med tech, he had no wish to intrude on the discussion that was playing out between Alex and the Captain. Head down, Johanssen scooped up bloody instruments, bandages, and the tray filled with small metal fragments. Each piece was placed on a rolling cart and whisked away to decon in the next room.
“Look, we are just about done with all of this.” Bro had little interest in ‘playing captain,’ preferring to manage with a very down-to-earth approach. “The Nemesis has been loaded into a gutted Saber. We’re planning to fly it remotely to within thirty thousand clicks of VARGULF-IV and launch Nemesis in the direction of wormhole VS-2. From the moment the Saber leaves our flight deck, we’ll be headed out. By the time the Saber de-cloaks to launch, we will already be one jump away.”
“But what abou—“ Alex’ response was cut short by the blare of a claxon. A red strobe rotated within the decon room where Johanssen now gaped in frightened dismay. The door slammed shut behind him, trapping Johanssen inside.
“What the hell is going on?” The sudden urgency drove the dismissal of the Bro persona for Captain Ambrosius. As two members of a security team stormed into Sickbay from the outer corridor, Ambrosius snapped a rapid hand signal that deployed them to either side of the locked door.
Alex was working a console with a rapid-fire series of taps. “It’s not a contagion,” she barked over the din. The notion of an alien disease spreading within the confined atmosphere of a starship was one of their greatest worries. Alex spun through screens of data. “Its flagged a xenomorph genotype, something non-human.”
Johanssen backed up against the wall; open hands raised palm-forward. On the verge of panic he shook his head in a blur of fear and confusion, rapidly repeating ‘it isn’t me.’
“Fuck,” Alex blurted, looking up from the shimmering data plane. “It’s Vanduul.”
The carbines in the hands of the security team pitched up an extra couple degrees, shooters leaning forward. A pair of near-simultaneous clicks sounded a whole lot like safeties coming off. One of the two gunmen started issuing commands for Johanssen to back away from the door.
“It’s not Johanssen,” Alex barked, staring at the 3-dimensional grid map of the room that floated up on her console. Artificial color-codes made the model appear whimsical, bright yellows, blues, and greens…And splotches of intense violet. One of the two security officers pivoted away from the decon door, his muzzle swinging to settle on the media-chamber where Juice lay unconscious.
Alex spun the scan, zooming in on the rolling cart. Violet radiated from a stainless steel pan filled with wads of bloody gauze. In the midst lay a bloodstained patch of brown Cordura.
Alex’ eyes went wide, and she looked up at the Captain. “Shit, it’s Marsh.”
“Marsh, what the hell are you doing?” Captain Ambrosius was pissed, his authority voice cranked up to max.
In the absence of a reply, Lieutenant Jean Chandler filled in the blanks. “Sir, the Saber is running at max speed under cloak. She’s headed towards the wormhole’s event horizon.”
Half a dozen questions burned in Ambrosius’ mind, questions he just as quickly discarded. How Marsh got the Saber launched, and why, were both important, but at the moment what mattered was what Marsh would do in the next few seconds. Ambrosius was faced with the same conundrum.
The plan was to have Revenant exfiltrating while the unmanned Saber encroached across the final stretch of Vanduul space. Having Marsh inside the Saber wasn’t part of the plan; not leaving him behind and certainly not allowing him to fall captive to the Vanduul. Worse yet was the prospect that Marsh was, as suggested by his blood, somehow in cahoots with the Vanduul.
Ambrosius tone was firm, “I want missile lock on the Saber.”
The Captain ground his teeth, fighting back the oily sickness that coiled in his guts. Firing at the Saber would reveal the Revenant to Vanduul scanners. Blowing up the Saber would eliminate any chance of success if, by any chance, Marsh hadn’t just left the reservation. But hauling ass out of the system under cloak could leave Marsh and Nemesis in the hands of the enemy. Every choice was shit, but only one choice seemed a viable alternative. Ambrosius didn’t hesitate.
“Destroy the Saber. Fire on my mark…”
“Sir,” Chandler interrupted. “The Saber has just launched Nemesis.”
“Goddammit,” Ambrosius cursed, all eyes on the forward screen as a small red dot separated from the Saber’s icon, accelerating towards the large funnel-shaped warp in space. It traveled for barely three seconds before planetary and orbital defenses around VARGULF-IV blazed to life, missiles launching by the dozen. The Vanduul had seen Nemesis as well.
Chandler spoke crisply. “Tracking thirty-two inbounds, make that thirty-eight, forty-four—“
The screen shimmered, and a view of the Saber’s cockpit appeared. Marsh wasn’t looking at the camera, but over his starboard wing at the numerous trails curving up from the planet. He spoke in a voice as detached as ever. “I’m not a military man Captain, but I think this is your cue to leave.”
Ambrosius looked at Chandler, who responded instantly. “Vanduul missiles will hit the Saber in about three minutes if we hold this position they will get to us in just over four and a half.”
Marsh cut in as if following a script. “If you are thinking about a rescue Captain, I can assure you it is impossible. I will cease to exist before a missile strikes this ship.”
Whatever intelligence value Marsh represented, it was clear that Revenant staying put was suicide. Ambrosius wouldn’t hesitate to sacrifice his life for the UEE, but he’d be damned if some lunatic would force him to risk his ship and crew.
“Get us out of here,” Ambrosius snarled. “Punch it.” The Revenant’s engines roared, and the hull groaned as the ship wheeled a rapid turn, accelerating violently.
“I would think that a bit of explanation is due.” Marsh continued as if oblivious to the chaos on all sides. His tone would have felt right for some low-key documentary. “As the unfortunate accident with the APU forced me to accelerate my timetable, Dr. Posal by now will have divined that my blood is, shall we say, of dubious origin.”
Marsh looked at Alex, who stood next to the Captain’s chair. “I am not a Vanduul spy dear doctor, although I am, at least to some extent, their creation. For the past several years, Vanduul scientists have carried on an experimental program to leverage wormholes; tunnels through space-time. I will spare you the astrophysics. No wormhole is more important than VS-2, the remnants of a bridge between Vanduul space and Earth.”
Chandler cut in on the narrative. “Sir, Nemesis just detonated inside the wormhole’s perimeter.”
“Yes,” Marsh acknowledged, “time is short now. If I may finish without interruption. I was perhaps a bit misleading about how the Vanduul were using the remnant wormhole. The bridge was far too tenuous to have allowed a ship to jump into earth-space. Their goal was far more insidious. Due to the nature of space-time physics, these Vanduul experiments sought to reach across light years of distance and centuries of time, back to a 1920s Earth on the earliest fringe of air travel. Space was but a distant glimmer. Their goal was to inject a Vanduul presence into our history, to retroactively impact our technological development. One bloodline was selected to become a human-Vanduul hybrid.” A glower crossed Marsh’s face. “Mine.”
“My family suffered horribly from latent genetic memories of the Vanduul homeworld, images of monstrous creatures that the human mind couldn’t begin to deal with. Lacking any grasp of aliens on distant worlds, my ancestors dubbed them demons. Old Gods.”
A brilliant light flared from the center of the wormhole. Spider-webs of lightning fanned out across the curved surface of the event horizon. Energetic particles vomited into space.
Chandler looked up from his sensors, a newfound fear in his voice. “That’s no minor de-stabilization Captain.”
That was an understatement. Data points were willing the forward screen faster than Ambrosius could process. The missiles rushing from VARGULF-IV remained his primary concern. The first wave was nearing the half-way point between launch and impact. He stared at the missile tracks displayed on the center screen, both trailing and projected. Clusters of red lines converged on the Saber and the Revenant. They’d hit before Revenant could make the jump.
Marsh continued, ignoring the events around him. “Despite our boundless suffering, the Marsh family didn’t fold. We didn’t succumb to Vanduul manipulation of our very chromosomes. We seized upon the brilliance gifted to us to pursue our own ends, to unravel the mystery of our boundless affliction. It was a search that turned first to the occult, searching the four corners of the earth for demons and ghosts before our eyes turned to the stars in search of aliens. It has taken centuries, science beyond measure, but we followed the trail to its source.”
He pointed at the planet below “There. It all started there.”
Ambrosius heard the words, but their import was lost to the image on the forward screen. The projected missile tracks were diverging, bending away to the Revenant’s starboard. Ambrosius eyes narrowed, turning towards the wormhole.
The growing holocaust was tearing the wormhole apart at the seams. If the intent was to destabilize, Nemesis was exceeding the mark. Waves of gravitic energy surged into space, bending light into curved streaks. The hailstorm of missiles were no longer just shifting in trajectory; they were shedding parts; fins and curved panels of skin were peeled away by the claws of gravity run amok. Missiles that didn’t come apart at the seams were sucked whole into the gaping darkness.
The Saber was not immune from the onslaught. Much like one of the missiles, the small vessel began to fall into the maelstrom. But Marsh seemed unconcerned with his imminent demise, focused instead on the effect that the runaway wormhole was having on the planet itself. Ambrosius stood from his chair and gaped.
The atmosphere of the planet tore away, a gauzy wrapper twisting up and into space. The surface followed, dirt and buildings, the vast expanse of ocean. Layers of continent peeled up in buckling strips. The wormhole was becoming more of a black hole, devouring the planet.
Every engine blazing, Revenant raced against the expanding reach of gravity. Ambrosius watched the main display as the Saber plummeted into oblivion. On screen, Marsh looked down at the biblical level of destruction. His eyes were flat and black, like the eyes of a shark as he uttered his final words. “Father, I’m home.”
Armageddon clawing at its heels, the Revenant engaged its jump drive and disappeared in a thunderclap of light.