There is a moment when someone dreams in which they aren’t fully awake or asleep. In that time, every second can stretch into hours. Decades wash out into centuries. Michon’s eyes rolled restlessly in a trance. His body was a prison. Intravenous feeding tubes pumped a steady stream of fluids into his cryo-chamber. Besides the scuttling of bio-synthetic cleaning beetles, nothing made a sound in the barracks. Hundreds of identical chambers stacked on one another formed a honeycomb. Vital sign panels lit the narrow halls with a dim yellow light.
An alarm filled Michon’s stasis tube as a blend of psychostimulants were added to his feeding tube. His pod was ejected from the wall. The lid slid back with a hiss. The Centauri floated free from his cryo-chamber. His feeding lines removed themselves with a snap. Serum wafted into the air in small clouds. He jerked awake with a start as his heart began pumping at full speed. His eyes opened with a jolt to total darkness. He breathed hard and unsteady as he took in his surroundings.
“Greetings, Michon,” said a measured voice.
“Who’s there? Why can’t I see?” he replied.
“You are still experiencing the stasis effects. They will pass momentarily,” the voice said. “I am the Centauri Ship Conquest.”
“Right, the ship. Is this… a dream?”
“No, I have summoned you out of stasis. According to my logs, you are the most gifted warrior aboard…”
Michon cut them off, “Why, thank you.”
“And the most expendable member of the crew,” the computer finished.
The Centauri rolled his eyes. He said, “You could have left it at most gifted. Why do you need me?”
Conquest said, “We are being boarded. My defense systems were taken offline. According to my calculations, you have the highest probability of repelling the pirates with the least costs.”
He smiled, “Wish I had your confidence. I can’t even remember who I am.”
“Your memory lapse will clear with time. It is a side effect of your cryo-chamber,” the ship said. “Now, prepare yourself.”
Under his pod, a second door slid back. He rotated himself in space to view its contents. A full suit of Raptor armor, a trio of blades in different sizes, and a rifle. His hand ran over the textures of the plates. He palmed the helmet. Its face resembled a screaming bird. His hands acted on muscle memory. He assembled the suit over his one-piece membrane spacesuit.
Michon asked, “Have… have I done this before?”
“As I said, you have a high probability of completing this task,” Conquest answered. “You have performed diligently. I will recommend your sentence be shortened.”
An explosion shook the barracks. Echos reverberated through the walls. The cleaning beetles chittered and disappeared into cracks between cryo-chambers.
Conquest said, “The pirate vessel has breached the outer hull. Countermeasures have been initiated. I authorize you to use deadly force, Raptor.”
Michon clamped the helmet around his head. It pressured with a snap. Conquest cut all lighting on the deck. The raptor suit eyes pulsed a brilliant red. He took the rifle from its slot and pumped the plasma ignition. The weapon registered white-hot on his viewscreen.
The Centauri warrior said, “Then let’s do this.”
“Damn, captain. It’s more than just a colony ship. This right here is a full-blown legion craft. Are you sure this is a good idea?” asked Rigby. She wiped the end of her snout. Her wrist mounted holoscreen flashed maps of the area with data about the ship while her eyes searched unseen fields. She pointed to winding corridors on the display that ran the length of the vessel. “Those are bloodthirsty Centauri warriors sleeping in there.”
“Good,” said Horace from inside their heavily armored space suit. “Let them sleep.” He pressed a button behind his ear. Metal plates slide back from his face to reveal his bright red skin. “We’ll jettison the monsters back to the void.”
Karis grabbed Jonas’s arm with a clawed hand. “Hey wait.” He rolled his eyestalks but walked back to her. Her iridescent wings fluttered as she spoke. “Even you have to admit, this job is a little over our heads… right?
Jonas shrugged, “It’s a big risk but we could retire on this kind of cash.” One of his eyes whipped back to watch the captain. When he was out of earshot, the eye focused back on Karis. He continued, “Besides, even if it goes south, we’ll just get a bigger share.” He followed after the captain.
Rigby flicked some dials on her holoscreen and said, “The security system is offline. It shouldn’t be able to stop us. We just need to get to the cryo-control before it wakes a squad up. Easy.”
Karis held back. She looked toward the lights of their ship then back to the darkened hallways ahead. Only a spot of light from her headlamp illuminated the floor. She ran to rejoin the group.
“How much further?” asked Captain Horace. He stooped under an archway.
Rigby swiped at a projection then rotated it with a hand gesture. “It’s just up ahead,” she replied.
“Hey Karis, check this out,” called out Jonas from behind an ajar vault door. She shoved it further open. The room was filled with geometric golden chests. Jonas was wearing a crown and waved a scepter at Karis as she entered. “Look at all this great stuff!”
Karis’s wings flittered. Her arms made a high-pitch whine as she rubbed them together. She said, “I don’t like this. Why was the vault open?”
“I don’t know. Rigby did something to disable the security. Probably hit the locks too,” he said wagging the scepter at her.
She rubbed her shoulder, “It just doesn’t feel right. I’m going to catch up with the captain.”
“Whatever, you just worry too much.”
Just as Karis stepped outside, the vault door slammed shut behind her. She ran back to it. Through a small glass porthole, Jonas’s headlamp flickered on the other side. Her hands clawed at the smooth edges of the hatch. His hands beat at the glass between muffled cries. Air rushed out of the vault as the man’s cries became silent. Through the thick glass, his body floated away from the door.
Karis took a step back and a deep breath. Near the door, there was a fire suppression emergency lever. She broke the glass and pulled the handle. The corridor locked down. Air rushed out. She pressed the handle back into place. Everything returned to normal and the vault unlocked.
Jonas flew out of the room gulping at air. His eyestalks frantically swerved side-to-side. “How did you do that?”
Karis said, “Rigby disabled the security system… Not the fire suppression system.”
He closed his eyes and cursed. “So we need to steer clear of elevators, sliding doors, and sprinklers?”
She nodded and added, “I’d watch out for toilets too.”
Horace stuck his head around a corner of the hall. He called out, “Hey you two! Keep up. Don’t dawdle!.”
Karis stood up and took off at a fast walk. Jonas followed saying, “What could go wrong with a toilet?”
She didn’t answer him. They followed Horace. A sliding door slammed down on the captain as he passed under it. It caught on his armor. Using both arms, he held it in place till the others passed through then dropped it with a clang.
Horace cleared his throat, “Rigby is already cracking the AI. We need to cover her till we gain access to the emergency admin protocols.”
The trio sprinted to the control room. Inside, flickering lights and view screens illuminated the room softly. “Hey girl, where you at with this bucket?” No one answered.
“Uh, Captain Horace… Look.” Jonas kicked at something on the ground. The red man stomped over. Rigby’s arm and hacking bracer laid on the ground. Their eyes followed a trail of blood through a nearby door.
The captain said, “Karis, you’re up. Keep cracking and we’ll take care of the guard.” Jonas and Horace followed the trail out of the room together.
Karis unfastened the bracer and picked up where Rigby had stopped. An invisible world of color streamed past her eyes. She was in the security system. It was something like flying but she could still feel her feet against the ground. Neon billboards laid out a file structure with flowing rivers of data. She transversed the digital architecture until she found the emergency protocols. Rigby had been close to finishing.
Right then, something in the security feeds caught Karis’s attention. Horace and Jonas were running through a hall. They stopped momentarily to check a corner. The pair rounded it but right behind them was a figure dressed in a pitch black suit of armor carrying a sword.
She lost them for a moment between feeds. Her mind flipped through channels desperately. Out of the dark, a blade caught Horace’s foot. He fell forward. Whipping around he raised his pistol but was too slow. Another edge caught his throat. A pool of blood streamed from the wound.
Karis struck the console and cursed. She searched for Jonas. He had to be nearby. She found him hiding in a supply closet. His breathing was labored. The black armored figure walked purposely toward him. They stopped right outside for a moment but continued on their way. Jonas opened the door and cocked his rifle. He followed the footfalls of his assailant.
The figure stopped just around a corner. They prepared blade to strike Jonas. Karis panicked. She searched for turret systems. Just in time, she opened fire on the black armored man. They rolled out of the way of the fire and then flew back. Grabbing Jonas. they used his body as a shield from the gunfire.
Karis let out a shriek. She started back at the emergency protocols. In her peripherals, she could see the figure gliding through the hallways at a high speed. Her pulse quickened as her heart thrummed in her ears. One final firewall remained when she saw him in the room with her. He was perfectly still. His red mechanical eyes watched her from the doorway. She froze.
She spread her wings out and took a deep breath. Thinking quickly, she hacked the suit’s internal servo controls. They were completely open. She made them buckle and fold all at once.
“HA! Got you!” she said.
The black armor quivered and rattled on the floor in a pile. Karis turned back to the ship controls. The final firewall crumbled. ‘ADMIN ACCESS GRANTED’ flashed on nearby consoles.
Karis felt lightheaded. She had won. Her hand reached to brush across her forehead. Only a stump of her arm remained. She stared at it in horror. A nude Centauri warrior stood next to her, blade in hand.
“You were a worthy adversary,” Michon said. The insect fell into a command chair still clutching at her arm. He continued, “This is a good death.” He pierced her hearts. She died immediately.
The lights brightened. Conquest’s voice called out, “Excellent work, Michon. You have served well. Now, back into cryo.”
The warrior picked up the arm and holo-bracer. He began flicking through ship logs, crew histories, and flight plans. He said, “Conquest?”
“I want you to erase all personnel files.” The computer was silent for a moment. Michon said again, “Conquest. Delete all crew records.” On the screen ahead of him flashed a prisoner file. His face stared back at him next to a list of war crimes.
“You can’t command that,” the computer protested.
Michon shook the arm in the air and said, “Oh, but I can.” He pressed a button on the holo-bracer. Records began dissolving. “It’s time for a blank slate.”