Friday, August 22, 2014

1/7/13 - (Faraj) My Kingdom - pt. 1

The Alpha Base Seven Memorial is quiet and still, but then, so is everything else up here on the Moon.

It's a simple thing, really -- even rows of smooth, black, coffin-like blocks, raised up three inches from the lunar surface. Each one bears the name of one of those lost in the silent but deadly conflagration that took place on 3/15, which wiped out the entire base in one go. Over 300 souls lost in the blink of an eye, the victim of an alien invasion they could never have seen coming.

It's a great and noble memorial. Somber and eternal. A solemn reminder of the sacrifice the Space Service calls upon its members to be ready to make at any moment.

But to Faraj al-Ǧazāʼir, the new leader of the Space Service, it reminds him of something else -- the mutable nature of the truth, and how it can and must be shaped for a greater purpose.

The world will never know what really happened here, that day. It will never know that some survived the initial onslaught, and tried to live under the nose of Deep-Ten. It will never know that the weapons platform's stricken commander, former Director Straffer, sought sanctuary here, after his lengthy fall through the vacuum, and engaged in a plan to knock those big guns out of commission.

And it will never know that, thanks to the cowardice and fear of some of its senior staff, that plan was ruined -- bringing death not only to the base, itself, but to billions of people on the Earth when Deep-Ten trained its massive weapons upon them.

Faraj does not like that this must be done. When he spoke with Straffer about what he'd seen at Alpha Base Seven -- how they'd dragged themselves up from  near-death, and actually stood a chance of surviving -- he was filled with admiration and pride. Was it right to bury the truth of their brave accomplishments, just to help their new narrative?

No, it was not. But at a time like this, when all hands were needed on deck, and all minds needed focusing in one direction, it was not the time to add complexities and complications.

So it was decided that the human failings of the dead would not be allowed to ruin the outlook of the living. The world didn't need to second-guess the motives and nobility of its saviors. The world needed heroes, now -- heroes and martyrs.

And if its betrayal at the hands of its so-called protectors had to be swept under a hefty rug of lunar dust, then so be it.

Faraj adjusts his stance, ever so slightly, looking over the horizon at the Earth as it rises into the light. A glittering jewel, blue and green and ever so beautiful. He'd only ever seen the slightest bit of that beauty on his first trip into space, so now, whenever possible, he sees as much of it as he can.

Rank does, after all, have many privileges.

He comes here, to this sad place, to think. He does this at least once a week if he can, and more if he can spare the time. Here, surrounded by black cairns raised to the dead, he can get out from under the avalanche he's been tasked with skiing just ahead of.

And there's a lot of things rolling downhill, right about now...

A beeping brings him back, and he scowls a little, turning his communicator back on: "This is urgent, of course?" he asks as imperiously as possible.

"You asked to be immediately informed when the latest autopsies were performed, sir," his newest communications officer stammers: "They're done."

"I see, thank you," he says, turning his communicator back off, again. He knew this moment would come, this day, but he was hoping for a few more minutes of contemplation, and planning.

No matter. The answers are not to be found here, but back where he came from.

"Brightstarsurfergirl," he says, knowing she can hear him, even through the vacuum outside of his suit: "I'm ready for pickup, please."

"I know," he hears her reply. It's not coming over his suit's communicator.

And she was probably already on her way. 

He barely sees the red and silver streak coming before it gains fullness and form, resolving itself into a girl with silver skin and flaming red hair, riding the cosmic waves astride a red, ruby board. She expertly pilots it right before him, coming just a nose-hair's distance away from the black stone that Faraj was regarding.

"Hop on, Spaceman," she giggles into the void, as if they were sharing some kind of joke.

"I think I'll step, thank you," he replies, doing just that: "A hop might send me a little too far."

"I'd pick you up."

"I know," he says, wrapping his arms around her waist and holding on tight: "Take me to the Egress, please."

And she does, chuckling all the way, as, even after all this time, that joke's never gotten old.

* * *

The ship floats in geostationary orbit over Pontianak, Indonesia -- just outside the atmosphere, not far from where the Imago's Space Elevator once stood.

What does it look like? Faraj has asked every single person who's approached it for their own take on it, and received many conflicting answers. A skyscraper that collapsed mid-construction is popular, as is that one optical illusion where three pipes become four. Other answers are more personal, and less coherent.

Clearly, it was going to be multi-dimensional. In its early stages, it looked something like a sled, but as the Imago built it up -- and out -- it became seemingly less functional, and more baroque. It grew spines and quills, gained curls and spirals, and developed a massive, violent shudder of a mouth in the front -- strange energies crackling between its hungry, steel teeth.

This is what they fly into, careful to avoid the deadly, streaming trails of plasma that slowly move from edge to edge like some lackadaisical gate. The theory is that the field should be covering the entire opening, but, given the state of repairs they found it in, after the Reclamation War, it wasn't completed, yet.

Going through this area always makes Faraj's hair stand on end, and yet makes him feel alive, which is why he insists everyone do the same. He needs to be certain they all understand the stakes, here.

He wants them to all feel the same sense of urgency.

Past the crackling field lies a great, open space, its surface dotted with structures as odd and overly-ornate as those outside. Between those strange, beetling and cuboid areas lie great, cylindrical conglomerations of clear plastic and steel girders, looking a lot like an overly-sophisticated maze for pet hamsters. These are the tunnels, workstations, and living areas made by the humans who've come here, so they can work on this alien ship in some semblance of comfort and safety -- however deceptive.

Behind it all, floating in the rear center of the ship, lies the great, ever-shifting conglomeration of wheels and spheres they've come to call the Zero Room. The very heart of the ship, so far as they can tell -- energy source and engine, all in one.

And the thing that's killed more men under his command than he's comfortable with.

Brightstarsurfergirl aims her board over to a simple, flat docking platform in the forward center of the open space, where a number of shuttecraft sit, awaiting their call to be refueled and sent home. At the far end of that platform is the sizable main airlock, where all traffic into and out of the innards of this alien ship must go.

As soon as the two of them are down, the ruby board vanishes, becoming nothing more than a wave of glowing particles. They slip and slide around the silver woman's body as if they were a swarm of bees,  eventually depositing themselves back into her hair, and hanging there like crystal jewelry.

"I never get tired of seeing that," Faraj says, winking, as they approach the airlock.

"That's why I never stop doing that," she replies, giggling a little.

* * *
Once inside the airlock, the avalanche resumes.

He's barely inside the clanging, close-quartered lockers before any number of people need him to sign something, look at something else, or listen to a report. The fact that he's getting out of his space suit does not deter them in this, but no sooner do they surround him than he gives them one !@#$ of an evil look. And they all quickly scatter, knowing this is not the time.

"I really need to get a Second," he reminds himself, aloud.

"You don't," Brightstarsurfergirl playfully chides him: "You need to be in the front. You said so yourself."

"I did, yes," he admits, easing out of the layer of thermal longjohns and reaching into his locker for his proper uniform: "But I'd forgotten what a mess command can be at times."

"Did you not command where you were?"

"Oh yes," he says, smiling as he gets into his tight-fitting, off-white station uniform: "But it was war, pure and simple. We planned, we fought, we recovered, we celebrated. Day after day, year after year.

"And never once did anyone have me fill out a report."

"I'm sure you would have killed them with your pen."

He smiles at that, and winks, finishing up securing his grip-shoes: "It's just possible."

She giggles at that: "How many ways can you kill a person with a pen?"

"Right tool for the job, my dear," he says, reaching into the locker to get his sword.

* * *

The pair of them head from the lockers -- him walking slow and sure on the grab-pads, her sauntering along as though she were back on Earth -- and go through what used to be the central command area. It was everything to everyone when they first arrived here, but is now more of a storage area and repair bay. And, once through that, they enter a long, reinforced tunnel that leads to the rest of the complex. 

The place is a hum and hive of activity. New white-suited workers are arriving every day, it seems, all ready and willing to throw themselves into this project. And no one is leaving until the job is done. 

As Faraj's main job is to make certain the job is done -- preferably well ahead of schedule -- he considers this good. But he also realizes that too many people is sometimes much worse than not having nearly enough. 

Although, given how things are going in the Zero Room, having too many people may not be enough.

A pair of guards are tethered outside the medical wing. They nod as he approaches -- saluting might send them spinning, here -- and one of them makes ready to let him in. 

"I want you to go to the flight deck and check in with Doctor Heila," he tells Brightstarsurfergirl: "See if he's gotten anywhere on the problem I set him upon."

"He hasn't," she says.

"Oh," he says, scowling: "You're there, now, too, then?"

"I am," she giggles: "Should I hit him or kiss him?"

"I'm sure you can find some way to impress the seriousness of the situation upon our good xenotechnician that doesn't involve sex or pain," he replies, not happy to hear this: "But if you'll concentrate there, I need to be completely here."

"I'll do that," she nods, and fades away into nothingness -- doubtlessly going to join herself on the flight deck, though whether it's all the same person, or ripples on the pond of spacetime, is something Faraj realizes he'll never know. 

* * *

The medical bay is large, with strap-beds up against the walls and large amounts of equipment. One poor fellow's being treated for what looks like a compound fracture, and the nurses are having a lot of fun getting him to sit still and stop groaning. One sideways look from Faraj is all he needs, and he straightens right up.

"He's in there, sir," one of the nurses says, pointing to the suite they've started using for autopsies. Faraj nods and walks over that way, taking care to open the door as slowly as possible.

Behind that door, Doctor Fuller is floating over the two tables his subjects lay on. The middle-aged, whip-skinny fellow doesn't even look in his direction before speaking, his voice a Scots brogue so slick and thick it's a wonder he can be understood: "About !@#$in' time you got here."

"I was held up."

"You were !@#$in' paying your bloody respects is what you were doing," he says, looking down at the two men's heads.

"You have a problem with that?" Faraj asks, stepping off the grab-pads and floating up beside him.

"Only when it gets in the way of my !@#$in' timetable."

"I thought you liked that?"

"Whatever," the man says, rolling his eyes: "I got the results in. All the bloodwork, makeup, DNA scans... all that !@#$. And what that tells us is bugger all."

"Exactly the same as the others?" Faraj asks, looking at the terrible expression on the faces of the two corpses -- their eyes white and starting, their mouths open in a silent scream.

"Exactly," Fuller says, reaching down and slowly pivoting himself around, so as to be looking directly down at their skulls: "And this time I managed to take special !@#$in' care while removing the skulls for inter-cranial !@#$in' examination, so I didn't !@#$in' lose half the !@#$ brain like those first few times."

"What did you find?" Faraj asks, pivoting himself likewise, so as to get the same look.

"!@#$est thing," he says, reaching down with both hands and gently removing the skull top from one of them, revealing what looks like a blob of swirling red and coral matter: "You see that, there? That stuff that should be !@#$in' solid?"

"I didn't think brains were solid?"

"Well gold star for you, sunshine. They aren't. But this !@#$ here is a liquid. Totally watery."

"And that's unusual to say the least."

"!@#$ straight it is," Fuller says, closing the skull back up: "If we weren't in zero G it'd be sloppin' all over the !@#$in' table. And I did a check on it. Know what I found?"

"Not what you were expecting, I take it," Faraj smiles.

"The DNA? Completely !@#$in' inert. Not a single !@#$ chromosome anywhere to be found in that mess."

"That is unusual," Faraj agrees, looking closer at the horrified expression on the nearest man's face: "So whatever happened to them in the Zero Room, and no one's still sure what happened at all-"

"Because it happens so quick no one sees a !@#$in' thing, and then they're just screaming and floating away."

"Right. And all the portable surveilance cameras go blank just around them, as if they were giving off a great deal of electromagnetic interference."

"Which would not do this to a person, by the !@#$in' way," Fuller insists: "Bake your !@#$ brains? Maybe. Liquify them into !@#$in' soup and nuke your DNA from !@#$in' orbit? No."

"So whatever happens, it does... this," Faraj says: "And it only ever happens in the Zero Room, while we're testing what's in there. And never the same time, or the same way, or the same position."

"Something in that room's !@#$in' killing people, Faraj," the doctor says, leaning forward: "As your ship's doctor? I'm telling you to stop !@#$in' around with it."

"And I'm telling you that if we want to get this ship out of orbit, and off to fight the thing that's coming, we have to get it working," Faraj sighs.

"Then at least do it by !@#$in' remote or something!" Fuller shouts: "Get everyone out and turn it the !@#$ on then! Watch it on the !@#$in' cameras, have a !@#$ robot do it. !@#$, get that silver tart to do it. I bet she'll be fine-"

"We can't do that,' Faraj says, holding up a hand and looking the man in the eyes: "We cannot send signals into the Zero Room. We cannot run things by remote. They have to be done manualy, in real time. And for that, we need people."

"So not her, eh?"

"I'm hesitant to send her in there," he admits: "If something goes wrong with her, who knows what might happen?"

"Yeah, as opposed to these other poor !@#$ers, here," Fuller sighs, realizing he's not winning this one.

"I share your concern," Faraj says, floating close and putting his hands on the man's shoulders: "If there were any other way I could do this, I would. But we are so close to realizing how to work this machine, and so desperate to get it working. And running out of time."

"I know," Fuller says: "But as your ship's doctor? I have to say this is a mistake."

"I agree," Faraj sighs, turning to go: "But we must continue."

"Aye, we must," Fuller mocks him, however gently: "You'll be wanting them send into space, then?"

"Yes, please," Faraj says: "Clean them up and we'll convene a funeral at 1200 hours, tomorrow-"

"Have to make it the day after," Fuller sighs: "I checked. The ejector's on the !@#$in' blink."

"Really?" Faraj asks, smiling a little: "I'll have to talk to maintenance about that, then."

"Aye, you might," the doctor says, also smiling a little: "You busy, later?"

"I probably will be, yes," Faraj sighs, knowing what the man wants -- and what he wants too, !@#$ it -- "But I'll let you know if anything comes up?"

"Aye, do that, then," Fuller says, letting the pun slide without comment: "Oh, one other thing? You might want to keep an eye peeled. It seems we've got ghosts."

"Ghosts?' Faraj asks, turning around before he gets to the door.

"Got about a dozen reports in, last few days. People are saying they're seeing people one minute, and then they aren't !@#$in' there. Just vanishing, they are."

"What sort of people?"

"Can't get a good look at them, apparently," the doctor admits: "There and gone. Though I got one person what's sworn they !@#$in' said something."

"What?" Faraj asks, intrigued.

"'Intercourse,' if you can !@#$in' believe that," Fuller chuckles.

"Well, at least they've got healthy libidos for being dead," Faraj smiles, wondering what this means but hiding his concern: "I'll keep my eyes open."

And with that he's out and gone, thinking he knows what's going on, here.

And not liking it a single bit.

 (SPYGOD is listening to "My Kingdom" (Future Sound of London) and having an Orion Zero Life)

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