By Brubek Coltrane
Chapter 4: The Argonauts
In an old but very comfy black swirly chair, behind a control panel flickering with many different colored lights and buttons, Ratchet B. Rhodes watched looked out the window, as the sun began to set below the treelines. He looked back at the control panel of flickering lights. Then at his brother.
“Illy!” He suddenly burst out.
Illien jumped from what he was doing. Recollecting his nerves, he replied slowly. “Yes Ratchet?”
“How long is this going to take?” He asked back.
“Oh what, this?” Ilene replied. “No time at all.”
Ratchet looked doubtful. “Alright, what’s wrong.”
Illien was pacing about the bridge, looking around for something.
“Looking for something?” Ratchet asked.
“Oh, of course not.” Illien shot back.
“Okay then.” Ratchet replied. “But if you’re looking for the data drive conversion port, it’s definitely not right there.” Ratchet said back triumphantly, pointing to a section of the wall behind him, which had a small red light that was going on and off at intervals of a few seconds or so.
“I knew that!” Illien yelled, burning in mortification.
Walking swiftly towards the terminal, under fire from Ratchet’s laughs, he connected the data drive to the computer.
“Let’s see what Tracy has to say about this.” Illien said. “I forgot to turn her on when we left.”
“Tracy? That voice will someday drive me to insanity.” Ratchet said.
Tracy was the ship’s AI, who was the voice of the computer.
Illien booted up the computer. A cheesy, electronic jingle echoed throughout the bridge.
“Greetings Ratchet and Illy Rhodes” A female computer voice said.
Illien grimaced, and rolled his eyes. “It’s Illien, Tracy.”
“Greetings Ratchet and Illy Rhodes.” Tracy said again.
“Oh for crying out lou-” Illien began.
“What is it you require at this time.” The computer voice asked.
“What I require.” Illien began. “Is for you to call me by-”
“Bring up the star maps for this sector!” Ratchet interrupted.
“Bringing up star maps for the Scorpio cluster” Tracy said, without a hint of emotion.
The Bridge lights slowly dimmed, and the viewports for the windows were closed. Illien sat back in the chair to Ratchet’s left, on the other control panel. The room was now almost pitch black, save for the hundreds of flashing lights and readout screens. Then, from a dome shaped device in the middle of the room, a holographic map of the sector came up.
Hundreds of glowing blue spheres slowly circled around the bridge. Each sphere represented a star system, and it’s place in the explored galaxy. The planet they were on was on, was at the edge of explored space, in an area known as ‘the fringes’. The inner systems, with their super advanced technology and overcrowded city worlds, looked upon these outer systems as ‘barbaric’, ‘uncivilized’ and ‘backwater’, though the people who lived here would most likely disagree.
Illien’s eyes darted around, looking at all of the planets and systems as they circled. A blue light illuminated his face. “Bring up the coordinates.” He said.
The display rotated while the two brothers sat, and stars whipped past at an alarming rate, before they slowed down, and a red, glowing sphere bathed the bridge in a dim red light.
Ratchet squinted as he gazed at the planet. Illien gazed at the swirly, shimmering theme, whose surface was as smooth as a marble, yet it’s watercolor-blended collage of colors was shifting slowly around. Storms. Oh no. Thought Illien. Not those.
“What is that?” Ratchet suddenly blurted out.
“Rhea,” Tracy said. “The third planet of the Lambda Mizar system.”
“Doesn’t ring a bell.” Illien said to himself.
“Wait,” Ratchet said, jumping off his perch on the control panel. “That looks like a gas giant.”
“You would be correct in that assumption.” Tracy said.
“So..” Ratchet began. “So what exactly are we looking for there? It’s not like we can just land on it.”
Tracy paused for a brief moment, before speaking again. “Accessing encrypted file…Processing…Processing…Decrypting.” The computers around the bridge began to hum a bit louder. A long minute passed.
“Was it something I said?” Ratchet joked.
“Something in what you said, yes.” Illien replied. “Strange it has all these firewalls. There must be something there they don’t want us to find. “
Tracy was still processing the data, and Ratchet was getting bored.
“How long is this going to take?” Ratchet asked, not expecting any kind of answer.
“11 days, 5 hours, 30 minutes, 23 seconds.” Tracy abruptly said.
“Wha-” Illien began.
“A one-way entrance bypass protocol.” Tracy responded quickly.
“What does that mean?” Ratchet asked.
“The encrypted firewall access coed 110334 is disallowing command ‘AA45-T_++’ because of error no993-”
“English please?” Illien interrupted.
Illien swore he heard a hint of annoyance in Tracy’s voice as she spoke again. “We will not have further information on the system until the timer runs down. 11 days, 5 hours, 30 minutes, 13 seconds.”
“Can you get by that timer?” Illien asked.
“Negative function #224 dissalows-”
“Cut to the chase.” Illien said quickly.
“The chase? I do not understand. There is no need for violence.” Tracy responded
Illien shook his head and put his face in his palm.
“Yes or no?” Ratchet said.
“At the moment, no.” Tracy said. “With the additional assistance of Erik, and an adequate amount of time, maybe.”
Illien looked at Ratchet, and Ratchet looked back.
“They really don’t wan’t us to know something.” Illien said.
“They’re hiding something, and they sure are good at it” Ratchet said. “Who exactly is this guy anyways?”
“Let’s just say, we don’t really have a choice. We just have to hope for the best.” Illien said.
“Well, I hope the best doesn’t mean having my fingers around Hashan’s neck.” Ratchet said. “I quite like them where they are now.”
The blips of the computers, the flashes of lights, the humming of the computer; Illien wrinkled his brow, and folded his arms. Ratchet looked out the view screen. The sun had now completely set, and above them, the stars of a foreign sky twinkling overhead. Moonbeams shone in, and spilled onto the cold metal floor of the bridge, casting symmetrical shadows across them. Behind the towering trees of the forest, the dark sea of stars that Ratchet had grown to love, was in clear view.
Ratchet used to often go stargazing when he was small. Something about them drew him to them. Lying on a field of cool, tall grass, he would lie for hours. He remembered about the constellations he had been taught about in school so long ago. He found it amazing, how even on the same, small planet, different groups of people and cultures saw many different things in the stars. While one would see a crane or a bull, another would see a wolf, or a tree.
Of course, it was all a matter of which way you connected the dots. With an infinite amount of stars in the sky, you could see anything. A vast canvas striped with beautiful dabs of purple, orange, blue, green and green. Nebulae that gave life both literally and metaphorically to the painting that was the night sky.
In a way, the universe was always there to explore. Ratchet thought. Since every culture saw something different when they looked up at the stars, and connected the infinite dots together, not only did they see the vastness of the cosmos, and the beauty of the universe, a piece of themselves stared back. A Crane, a wolf, even a sword or hammer, all these things people could see in the sky. And so when they looked into the cosmos, and saw the vastness of space, and the mysteries of time, in them, they saw themselves. Not a meaningless ocean of stars, but the dark, unimaginably, haunting, daunting, mysterious, yet oh so beautiful painting of the universe, of which they were part of.
Ratchet stood up from his chair and walked over to the window and just gazed at the stars. Illien looked at him, confused for a minute. Ratchet turned to face him.
“Someday I’ll find them” Ratchet said. “No matter what you say.”
Illien sighed. “When that day comes, I’ll be sure to be there.”
As Ratchet started to think of a response, a piece of evidence that he could prove to his older brother that they were still alive! Had he lost hope already? The ship suddenly shuddered, and he was thrown over. Illien glanced at Ratchet, then at the entrance. René was standing there, a revolver raised in her hand.
“We’re under attack.” She said seriously.
“The Militia?” Illien replied.
René shook her head. “No, this is something different.
The ship shook again.
“Hull integrity at seventy percent.” Tracy’s voice called out.
“Begin the launch sequence!” Illien yelled out. “Ratchet, stay here!”
Ratchet rolled his eyes, and replied with a deeply sarcastic “Yes captain.”
Illien followed René out of the bridge, and through the corridor, and out onto the cargo bay balcony. Erik and Petra were on opposite sides of the entrance on the deck below, firing from behind the cover of bulky cargo pods. Illien could hear shots coming from outside, and noticed the cargo ramp was open.
“How did they get that open?” Illien said, pointing to the big open door.
“Don’t know” René said. “Erik said some sort of virus got into the computers.”
René fired two shots with her revolver into the night, then dove. behind a crate as a flurry of shots ricocheted off the floor where she was just standing. Illien gulped, and sprinted down the stairs and leapt next to René, bumping into her awkwardly.
“Sorry.” Illien mortifyingly said.
René shook her head and took aim from behind the crate. She fired a shot, then ducked back down. Illien piqued his head over, and took his rifle from his back, taking aim. He could barely see anything in the dark, but though the lights in the cargo bay, though very dim, illuminated them, and gave the attackers the advantage. Another chorus of shots rang out beside him, and he ducked back down.
“I can’t see anything! ” Illien said, his back against the wall beside René. “How are you hitting these guys?”
“I’m not.” René said. “But if we don’t return fire, they’ll swarm us.”
She fired another two rounds before ducking again. She quickly reloaded her revolver with a series of clicks and swift movements, with a military-grade precision.
He dared a glance behind the left of the cargo box, and saw Petra firing into the dark. She saw him, and pointed towards something on his right. Illien looked over to his right, and saw Erik shooting a very large and menacingly looking weapon that fired at an alarming rate, yelling curses and intimidating the invaders. What did Petra want with Erik? He looked back. Petra shook her head at him, then pointed back at Erik. Illien looked there, and then saw a switch by Erik’s head-the switch to turn on the frontal floodlights.
Through the rhythm of gunfire, Illien called out. Erik couldn’t hear.
“Erik!” Illien screamed. “Erik pull the switch.”
René fired into the darkness again, and Illien heard someone cry out in pain. She looked in the direction of Erik’s shouting, and aimed her sights down the revolver.
“What are you…” Illien began.
A shot rang out, zipping by Erik’s head, missing it by inches.
Erik instantly turned to them, furious no, berserk.
“Got you’re attention?” René said with a cocky grin.
Illien smiled back nervously.
“Erik! Pull the damn switch!” Illien shouted out.
Erik was still looking at them, but it didn’t seem to register in him. Then suddenly, a shot skimmed his shoulder, and he jerked it back, hitting the switch. Instantly, the floodlight turned on, and the grassy field outside the ship, a dozen or so dark clothed figures covered their eyes, temporarily blinded. René wasted no time, and fired rapidly into the field, jumping from her cover. Erik unleashed his rapid-firing monster of a rifle, spraying them with lead. Petra stood up too and fired her two pistols consecutively in rapid succession.
Illien picked one of the figures, and aimed his sights on them. His narrowed eyes widened suddenly though, as he realized what he was wearing. A backpack bristling with antennas…He had seen this before. Those are disruptor pack things! Illien thought to himself. Those are the things the Ninth Order used on Demetrius 7 to force down smugglers without destroying their ships, and more importantly, their cargo. Those are damn near impossible to get. Illien thought.
Clad in a dark blue shirt, and camouflage pants, and with strange face-paint, the figure shook his head as his eyes tried to adjust to the changing light. Illien squeezed the trigger. A volley of shots hit him, and one of them met his head. Crying out he fell over to the ground, and Illien presumed him to be dead. This is definitely not the militia, Illien thought.
On the grassy fields, a few of the figures fell to the ground, as the crew of the Crimson Wolf unleashed their fury upon them. René fired one last shot which ripped through the skull of one of the fleeing figures.
“Stop firing!” Illien yelled out. “We aren’t made of ammo.”
The scattering group of figures disappeared into the night. The crew came out of their cover, and met in the center.
Illien thought he heard other shots ringing out from the woods, but was too relieved to do anything about it. They’d repulsed the brigands,
“Well. That’s done.” René said grimly.
“Who are those half-witted savages anyways?” Erik asked.
“They’re from the Argonauts.” Petra said, pointing to one of the dead invaders.
On the man’s bloodied chest, a white heron with it’s wings outstretched cloud be seen emblazoned on the blue fabric of the chest man’s chest.
“The Argonautss?” Illien said. “What would they want with u…”
They all fell silent, their eyes set on the crate on the side of the cargo bay. Silence followed.
“Whatever the hell’s in that box,” Erik began “Must be worth a bloody star system.”
“I’m starting to think we got more than we bargained for.” Petra agreed.
“Well, we don’t have the luxury of choice now, unless we want to be eaten by space-cannibals?”
No one disagreed
Illien said. “Well, we’d best get a move on.”
They all stole one last glance at the invaders, with their dark blue vests, and strange painted faces which masked both their emotion and intent. The now stained red white Lotus flower that was emblazoned on their chests, was illuminated by the floodlights.
“Poor devils.” Erik said. “Next time they’ll think twice before picking a fight.”
The cargo bay doors closed as the crew made their way back in to the ship, and closed with a hiss and metallic clanking sound.