Saturday, October 13, 2018

Brooke’s Battles: Believers (Part II)

The Sharice Davids was an old ship by the time Ecrin and Brooke took over as Captain and Pilot, respectively. It was only capable of traveling at about one percent the speed of light. This meant it would take nearly a month to reach Orcus and Vanth. At the moment, Brooke was sitting in the commissary, which she had little use of, since she did not require much sustenance. It was the middle of the arbitrary sleeping period, and though people were too nervous about their arrival tomorrow to sleep well, most were in their quarters. The kitchen manager came in and flipped on the lights.
“Whoa,” he said. “I didn’t think anyone would be here.”
Brooke looked at her wrist, where there was no watch, because she had a literally clock installed in her brain. “Oh, is it coffee time already?”
He feigned a gradual increase in fear. “Wait, if you’re here...who’s flying the ship?” He was well aware that it was fully automated. An independent pilot was almost never necessary in a technical sense, but a lot of people still felt more comfortable knowing that a person was in charge. The fact that she was nearly more artificial than biological didn’t seem to be a problem. To them, all that mattered was that she was born, and raised naturally, before acquiring any programming.
“It’s not quite time for me to get breakfast going. I come in early, because getting out of bed always wakes up my husband, so he needs the extra time to fall back asleep.”
“You’re married to...uh, Allen?” Brooke tried to remember.
He smiled. “I’m Allen. Married to Richard.”
“Right, sorry. My systems aren’t fully operational.” She was capable of simply downloading the ship’s manifest into her mind, but still preferred to meet and recall people the old fashioned way. Her upgrades were primarily designed to keep her alive, not turn her into a database.
“You worried about arrival day?” Allen guessed.
“I don’t know what to expect. I met Ulinthra in person. The reality that other people magically remember her is not what bothers me. It’s that, even without her breathing down their necks, they are still somehow doing their bidding.”
“It’s always been that way. Despite how much she pissed people off, they always did what she wanted.”
“Hold on,” Brooke said, “you knew her too.”
Allen nodded. “Back in the olden days. Richard and I had this plan to camp in every state in the country. We met her in South Carolina.”
“Forgive me,” Brooke said, “I thought you were standard human.”
“We are,” Allen began to explain. “The Overseer pulled us from our time period, and brought us here. She claims we were married to her in an alternate timeline.”
This gave Brooke pause. Leona was perhaps the most familiar with Ulinthra, having encountered her in multiple realities. When they were trying to defeat her years ago, Leona briefed the team on what they were up against. She had said something about Ulinthra marrying two men once, but didn’t bother mentioning their names. “I think she’s right. I think I heard about that.”
Allen had clearly hoped this was all a big misunderstanding, and didn’t like hearing more evidence that he had been married to a psycho.
Brooke shook her head to comfort him. “Things are different in different timelines. The way I understand it, she wasn’t nearly as bad in yours.” That wasn’t entirely true, but he didn’t need to know that.
Allen nodded, but didn’t seem to really believe that. “I better go start on my checklist. Let me know if you need anything.”
“I have my own checklist on the bridge, but before I go, just one more question. Is the Overseer going to send you back home after this? I just need to gauge what kind of person she is.”
“She’s good people,” Allen said. “She offered to take us anywhere, anywhen we wanted.” He took a deep breath. “Good luck with arrival. I wouldn’t want your job.”
“My job is easy. I wouldn’t want Ecrin’s.”

“Status report,” Brooke asked once she was on the bridge.
“On course, and on schedule.”
“Power levels nominal.”
“Weapons at the ready.”
“Crew status?” Brooke asked.
“Good to go.”
“Captain. Where’s the captain?”
The helmsman on duty jerked her head slightly towards the meeting room doors, like they were in mixed company, and she didn’t want anyone else to know.
Holly Blue was in there, sitting patiently at the head of the table, not doing anything else. Ecrin was pinching the bridge of her nose with both index fingers, the rest of her hand cupped around her mouth and nose. Her eyes were closed.
“Captain? Is something wrong?”
“Why am I here?” Ecrin asked of Brooke without moving.
“I don’t know, did we have a meeting?”
Ecrin opened her eyes, and released her hands. “In an hour, yes, but I mean in general. Why am I captain of this ship?”
“You’re a leader, aren’t you?”
“I was second-in-command at the IAC. Why isn’t Paige here, though, or Leona?”
“Well, Leona doesn’t exist right now, and Paige is gallivanting around some other time period.”
“I’m not equipped for this, Brooke.”
“You’ve been doing this for a month. You’ve been great,” Holly Blue pointed out.
“I’ve been captain of a passenger ship for the last month. We’re about to go into battle.”
“You don’t know that.”
“No one on Orcus and Vanth is going to be happy to see the Sharice,” Ecrin argued. “This isn’t going to go well, and people are going to get hurt, or die. Paige has done this before, can’t you contact her somehow?”
Brooke sat down. “Paige was the captain of a chaperone vessel, one that wasn’t capable of going into battle, and never tried. You’re what, twice as old as she is? And you have experience with police work. You’re the only one who can do this.”
“No, that’s not true,” Ecrin said. “I heard you in there, and I see you with the crew. They trust and respect you. And you have experience training a group of insurgents, and using them to defeat an enemy with superior firepower.”
“That may be true,” Brooke said, but I’m in a committed relationship to the ship. You’re the one responsible for the crew on it, and I need you to start taking that seriously. We will be arriving in Orcan space within two hours. You better get yourself ready. The first thing you should do is order Holly Blue to run last-minute diagnostics check on all electrical systems.”
“Yeah, go do that.”
Holly Blue just sat there like a stubborn child.
Ecrin looked back over when she realized Holly Blue wasn’t moving. “I said go run the diagnostics.”
Holly Blue stood swiftly. “Yes, sir.” She gave Brooke a secret wink as she was leaving the room.
Ecrin reached over and braced herself on the table to prepare for the day. “Thank you for this. I need to talk to Camden, though.”
“Can you?” Brooke asked. “Isn’t he dead?”
Ecrin flung open a knife, and pulled her pants down. Then she started cutting into her thigh—not even wincing at the pain—ultimately removing a small watch face protected in plastic from her flesh. She began to meticulously peel the plastic away. “Right now, for Camden, it’s the year 2000, but that’s always subject to change. We developed a recoil protocol, in case things go bad, and I need him. He called it Threat Level Midnight, which is a joke I didn’t get until several years later.” She began to adjust the watch’s time. “It’s not really meant for something like this, but it’ll do.” Once the time was set to midnight, she placed the watch on the floor. “I would like you to go now.”
“Okay,” Brooke agreed, though she was concerned. As she was leaving the room, she saw Ecrin lift her foot, and slam it down on the watch.
A couple hours later, Orcus was barely in view when another vessel appeared on their screens, warning them that there would be trouble if they didn’t adjust course, and go somewhere else. Captain Cabral ordered her crew to action stations, which was where most of them already were. A lot of them had significant training in their fields, but not all. Some of them had fallen into a life of war in the other timeline because it didn’t look like anyone else was doing it. With time having been reset, they lost all knowledge they gained from that, and had to relearn everything, if not more. Fortunately, space was a big and empty place, and they had a lot of waiting time before they could reach their destination anyway. While Brooke was busy getting to know her ship, and Ecrin busy getting to know her new people, others were just trying to learn their jobs. Personnel reports indicated that the majority of them were ready for action, but as said, there was no telling what they were walking into. No amount of training—be it practical or virtual—could prepare someone for the real thing. “Can we take it?” Ecrin asked the crew.
“We can,” the weapons officer stated. “They are an inferior enemy.”
This is your last warning,” the Orcan ship said again after receiving no response.
“If they want a warning, they’ll get it. One shot, ensign. Let’s give her a haircut.” Funny metaphors. The mainstay of any good ship captain.
The officer did as she was told, firing one missile that just grazed the outer hull of the other ship. It didn’t appeared to notice it. A few moments later, though it began to change.
“What’s it doing?” Ecrin asked.
“It’s getting bigger, sir.”
“How is that possible?”
“It’s not,” Brooke said. “It’s emitting a hologram.”
The holographic image grew and grew, getting brighter by the second, until it resembled a small moon. To the naked eye, though, it just looked like a spot of light. “Sir, there are more,” the communications officer reported.
“More what?”
“More ships. Dozens, no hundreds. Shit, thousands! All around us! They must be darkbursters.”
“No, they’re darkstalkers. Mauve alert!” Ecrin ordered. The alarms rang out, and the purple rights blinked on and off. A darkburster—or in this case, a darkstalker—was a relatively small ship capable of traveling without being detected, but this was only possible by blinding the dark vessel as well. Until they reengaged their own sensors, they were basically just hunks of metal floating in space, and since they were painted black, they couldn’t be seen with the naked eye, unless they were real close. The moon hologram must have been a signal to attack, since that was the only way to communicate with a darkstalker.
All at once, the darkstalkers began to fire at the Sharice, from all directions. Ecrin ordered her crew to fire back, but the enemy ships were so small and spry that they were impossible to target. They would run out of ordnance long before they made any dent against their opponent. It soon didn’t matter, though, as the darkstalkers were targeting the Sharice’s weapons systems, crippling them in a matter of minutes. They had really practiced this. Either they knew someone would be coming after them, or they were just paranoid, and always prepared for it.
The mothership dropped its moon hologram, theoretically signalling the darkstalkers to cease their assault, which they did immediately. After a few anxious moments, it released something from its underbelly. Its exact shape was imperceptible to their instruments, but it wasn’t flying like a missile, because it was too slow. It almost looked like a boarding boat.
Brooke and Ecrin just watched it come towards them as everyone else was trying to get their weapons back online. That seemed unlikely without physical repairs on the outside.
Holly Blue burst onto the bridge. “I know what this is!”
“What?”
“Sir, permission to use the secret weapon?”
“What secret weapon?” Brooke questioned.
Ecrin didn’t answer Brooke. “It’s untested. No one has ever tried to make one at this scale before.”
Brooke wasn’t finished. “What! Weapon!”
“We have nothing to lose,” Ecrin said, still ignoring Brooke. “Do it,” she ordered.
Holly Blue nodded. She looked at the ceiling. “Computer. Execute program Kangaroo-Octopus-Laundry-Bachelor-Yearling Two-zero-two-eight!”
Brooke looked at the screen, which showed a platform rise from the bulkhead, and release a missile, presumably on a collision course with the boarding boat. “What does that thing do?”
“Plot for Orcus!” Holly Blue commanded the computer. “It’s like a giant teleporter bullet,” she said quieter.
The secret missile did collide with the boarding boat, except it must not have been a boarding boat at all. They zoomed in on Orcus on another screen. Just as the missile struck the enemy’s projectile, both of them disappeared. And then the entirety of Orcus disintegrated, and disappeared as well.
“What just happened?” Ecrin asked. “What was that thing?”
Brooke dropped her head, and sighed. “It was Lucius-bomb. We just killed thousands of people.”

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