Friday, May 30, 2014

Blood on the Stars - Part 1: Secrets & Lies - CH. 4 (4)

Hans started up at the screen and watched a fuzzy picture come up on the screen. He had a hard time seeing anything through the static.

“This Tango Foxtrot Zulu Alpha Two Niner Two known as the Albatross. We are having severe engine troubles and electronic failures. Assistance is needed. We are unable to continue on our course. Auto-pilot is down, manual pilot is not responding to any commands. Assistance needed.”
Hans checked their readings to see if they could locate the ship. “I’ve got it on our system and I’m sending in the course change now.”

“Announce it to the passengers? I’ve already sent a message to Five-C-Four to know that we’re going to be delayed from our expected arrival time.” Duke checked a few other readings as the mayday continued to play in the background.
“Yeah, this might be quite the delay.” Hans started resetting their course to intercept with the Albatross and started composing a response message.

Duke turned on the intercom. “Attention passengers. This is your co-captain Duke Willis speaking. We are currently re-routing our course to go to the assistance of a stranded ship in this area. By law we are required to investigate all maydays that are received. Your destination has been informed of the potential delay and we will be back on our way as quickly as we can.”
Duke shut off the intercom and looked back at Hans and gave him the nod to go forward with the response. Hans opened up a general communications broadcast on all emergency channels. “Albatross, this is the Phoenix. We have received your mayday and are heading on an intercept course to give assistance. ETA is five minutes. Please respond.”

They waited for response, but none came.
“Repeat the call? Maybe on all channels this time?” Duke asked.

“Sounds good.” Hans repeated the call. “Albatross, this is the Phoenix. We are responding to your mayday. ETA is about four minutes. Please respond.”
Still there was no response. Duke and Hans exchanged a glance. Normally, communications was the last system to go down. It was very rare for a ship to not be able to respond.

“Maybe the electrical issue extended to the communications system…” Duke tried to sound hopeful.
“Including the backups?” Hans shook his head. “That’s extremely unlikely. Think it could be a trap? Pirates aren’t unheard of in these parts.”

“I haven’t heard about any activity in these parts, but that doesn’t mean much. Did you check the records for that ship? Is it supposed to be in this area?” Duke replayed the mayday to get the call number of the ship again and watched as Hans plugged it into the system.
“Here it is. It’s registered to be in this system, but something doesn’t look right about this entry. I think it might be doctored.” Hans did a deeper search into the information, trying to see if there was anything definitive that he could find.

“Well?” Duke was impatient. They could now see the Albatross through the screen without any magnification. They were close enough to give help or get attacked and the longer they waited, the more dangerous it could be.
“I’m looking, but it’s good. I’m sure this is a doctored entry, but there are no obvious tells. We’re going to have to give assistance. We have no choice in this matter. If someone finds out that we ignored a mayday, even if we believed it to be false, we could be in a world of trouble.” Hans frowned and looked at the Albatross on the screen. “There is physical damage. Small meteors, it could be legit and their screens may have been down which caused the damage.”

“I think you’re reaching for straws right now, but you are right. We really do not have a choice in the matter. Let’s suit up.” Duke got to the locker first and grabbed an atmospheric suit and started to dress. Hans was right behind him, but stopped to unlock a nearby cabinet.
“We should go in armed. You know how to use one of these?” Hans tossed a gun towards Duke who caught it awkwardly.

“Point and squeeze, right?” Duke held the gun like it was a live grenade.
“Never used one before have you?” Hans bit his lip as he thought about what to do. “Yeah, point and squeeze generally covers it. It’s already on its lowest setting. Unless someone has a heart condition it should just knock them out. There is a safety button on the side. Press that with your thumb before squeezing the trigger or it won’t do you any good.”

Hans finished suiting up and attached the gun to the holster on the outside of the suit. “Ready?”
Duke nodded and Hans opened the door into a smaller room. They waited for the atmosphere to be vented before cycling open the outside door. It was a quick walk over to the Albatross and it took very little time before they were waiting inside another small room, this time for the atmosphere to be cycled in so that they could open the door to the inside.

“Ready? Get your weapon out, thumb on the safety. Expect anything on the other side of that door and stay behind me.” Duke stepped forward, his gun already pointed at the door as he hit the button and waited for it to open.
He held his breath, but there was no one on the other side of the door. He stepped out sweeping from side to side, but there was still no one. He checked his suit to see what the atmosphere inside was like. It came back clean, some particulate matter that would indicate that there had been a fire onboard at some point. Otherwise, the atmosphere was clean for breathing, but Hans kept his helmet on anyway, just to be safe.

He led the way towards the cockpit in hopes of finding someone. According to the information that he had pulled up about the Albatross, it should have a crew of about five people. It was just an interstellar cargo ship.
It didn’t take long till they got to the door that would open to the cockpit. He held his hand up for Duke to stop. He didn’t want to make them both easy targets. He hit the button to open the door, he could hear the mechanism whir, but nothing happened.

Hans glanced back at Duke and shrugged. He holstered his weapon and activated the suit to suit communication system. “It won’t open. We’ll need to open it manually. I can cover you if you can open the door since you’re better with that and I’m better with a gun.”
“Sounds like a plan to me.” Duke pushed past as Hans pulled out his gun again. He kept it focussed on the door, but he split his attention between the door and the hallway. He didn’t want anyone to sneak up on them.

“Okay, got it.” Duke finally said. “Be ready, I’m about to open the door.”
Hans heard the whirring sound again, but this time the door opened to reveal a woman with a very big gun pointed in their direction. “Don’t move or I’ll shoot. Identify yourself!"

Monday, May 26, 2014

Blood on the Stars - Part 1: Secrets & Lies - CH. 4 (3)

Hans was reluctant to talk about his last few moments with the Armed Forces. He hated thinking about the reasons he was forced into retirement. Back then it hadn’t seemed so bad, but the more he remembered the angrier he became about the whole thing.

“So you’re saying that the Armed Forces is hiding aliens from us and you think that there are aliens hidden on Cantun on the Mantou Islands?” Duke narrowed his eyes and leaned forward as if he was examining Hans. “Do you really expect me to believe that?”
“No, but I hope you will because it’s the truth.” Hans busied himself for a few seconds doing a double check on the autopilot system. Everything was going smoothly which was more than he could say about this conversation. He had no idea how to go forward from this point, but he had to say something to get Duke to believe or, at the very least, not tell anyone else what Hans was telling him now.

“I wasn’t sure what I would find when I went to the Mantou Islands. I knew there were tunnels and caverns there and I knew that was where I had to look. So that what I did when I went there, I went underground and I found something. An artefact, but I couldn’t see anything else because there was a light there that was so bright it hurt my eyes. I thought it would blind me and that’s why I need the special equipment to go back and see this time. I know there is more to it then what I found and I am determined to know for sure.”
Duke tapped his fingers on the console, carefully avoiding hitting any buttons or sensitive areas. Hans watched a range of emotions play across his face in quick succession. He tried not to hold his breath waiting for the response that was slow in coming.

“Okay, this thing you found, can I see it?” Duke spoke slowly as if he wasn’t sure of what he was saying.
“It’s at my place, but, yes, you can see it.” Hans smiled weakly, relieved that Duke was deciding to give him the benefit of the doubt in this matter.

“And that’s why you’ve been acting so strange?” Duke was scratching at his chin in thought again. “Because I’m thinking there is more to this than what you’ve said.”
“There kind of is, but that was the short version of events.” Hans ran a hand through his hair and looked back at the console. He couldn’t put off this part of the conversation and this was what had worried him the most. “I got a call a bit ago from an old friend in the service. It was more of a check up on what I was doing sort of call. I think someone has been keeping a close eye on what I’ve doing and if they know that I’ve found something then I don’t think it will end well for me.”

“Conspiracy now?” Duke frowned. “So there is an element of risk and danger involved in this endeavour?”
“You could say that. I won’t out right call it a conspiracy, but I’m pretty sure someone doesn’t want me to be looking into certain things to do with what happened back then. I’ve been a little cagey because of that. I don’t want anyone to catch on to what I’ve discovered until I’m ready for them to know.”

“You know you should have started with that. Much better than the alien angle to get my attention.” Duke smiled. “I’ve never had much use for the government or the Armed Forces. Might be why I wasn’t so quick to warm up to you. If it’s something the government doesn’t want people to know then I want to know that thing. No matter what it might be.”
Hans grinned. “I can guarantee that they do not want people to find out what I’m trying to learn about.”

Duke laughed and stuck his hand out. “You’ve got yourself a partner in this little investigation of yours and I promise to keep mum on everything. I might even be able to find a few things out that might work out in your favour. I know a lot of people that operate on the fringe of society. They could be very useful.”
“What do you mean by fringes of society? You don’t mean….” Hans wasn’t even willing to say it out loud for fear that anyone might over hear. It was silly because he knew no one was listening in, but he couldn’t help himself. He had been a member of the Armed Forces for too long to not be hesitant to say it.

“Yes, the Dregs. I know a good few of them and those people know more than I do. I bet we can get someone to hook us up with someone sympathetic to what we’re doing. Someone who might be able to get us certain knowledge and items that would be hard to get our hands on otherwise.” Duke was grinning like a man who had just gotten away with murder.
“I don’t think so. I don’t think I can resort to that. They’re dangerous people, the Dregs. They live outside the law, outside the government. They’re renegades and revolutionists. There is no way we can trust them.” Hans tried not to let on how much the idea scared him, but he wasn’t sure that he could actually hide it from Duke.

“I think your head has been filled with a little too much propaganda. Trust me, most of these people are not what you think they are. They are no different from you and I, they are only just more extreme in their distrust of our government. So much so, that they are willing to become ghosts, non-entities or criminals.” Duke frowned. “Some of them really are as dangerous as they say, but mostly it’s just lies that the government uses to keep people in line.”

Hans stood up and began to pace a little. He couldn’t take just sitting there any longer when he was so worked up, he had to move. He could never have imagined the conversation taking a turn like this. He had always been under the belief that the Dregs were dangerous people, untrustworthy and here was someone that he wanted to trust suggesting they go these very people. It went against everything he believed in, everything he used to uphold as a member of the Armed Forces.
“Can I think about this before you tell anyone or ask for help from any of these people?” Hans stopped pacing to look at Duke directly. “Can you promise me that for now? It was a big enough risk for me to tell you what I have told you; I’m not sure I’m ready to do what you’ve suggested. Not yet, anyway.”

“Fair enough.” Duke nodded as he spoke. “Let me know when you have decided. And if you want, you never have to meet any of these people. I can handle all the contact and no one will even know who you are.”
Hans gave the suggestion fair consideration and then shook his head. “If we go that way, then I want to be there. I’m the one who brought you into this and I’m not willing for you to take on all the danger.”

Duke held up a hand. “It’s not dangerous for me. Trust me on this.”
“Just give me time to consider it.” Hans took his seat as a soft beeping called for their attention. It was enough to end the conversation for the moment.

“Mayday signal.” Duke said as he checked a few inputs on the console. “Bringing it up on the screen now. There is a video component.”

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Blood on the Stars - Part 1: Secrets & Lies - CH. 4 (2)

It was one of the quietest pre-flight checks that Hans had ever done in his life. Neither said anything that wasn’t necessary to get the job done. It was probably one of the efficient checks either of them had ever done as they finished in record time. With little else to do now that they were good for take-off, they sat in their pilot seats side by side in silence.

Hans knew it was ridiculous, some would even call it childish, for them to be giving each other the silent treatment, but he had no idea how to start what he knew would be a hard conversation. He was almost relieved when Duke got up to go get the passengers settled in for the trip to five-C-four. Running his hands through his hair and try as he might, he couldn’t think of any easy way to start the conversation that he needed to have.
It seemed like hardly any time had passed when Duke stomped back into the cockpit and threw himself into the co-pilots chair. Hans glanced at the time and realized that nearly an half an hour had passed him by. He had been so lost in his thoughts that he had actually managed to lose track of the time.

“Passengers are in their seats and Chee is back there to keep an eye on them. Ready for take-off?”  Duke stared at the console as he spoke, the tone of his voice still hinting to his anger from earlier.
Hans picked up his head set and contacted flight control. “Cantun flight control. This Charlie Delta Emu Tango Five Five Niner asking clearance for planetary take-off en route to five-C-four.”

“You are clear to go Charlie Delta Emu Tango Five Five Niner on runway Five Alpha. Flight plan has been accepted and approved by the central system. Have good flight out.”
With clearance given, Hans started up the ship and began his taxi up the runway. He didn’t need much room in this ship. Before long he was watching the lavender atmosphere fade into the wonderful inky blackness of space. Hans took a deep breath and felt himself relax a little.

Other than emergencies, neither of them would have much to do other than monitor the systems now to make sure they stayed on course and everything went smoothly. The computer could handle most situations without their input until they arrived at the fourth moon of the fifth planet in the system – their destination for the day. With nothing to do and not talking to each other it was going to be a long three hours for them both.
It took only an hour of bored silence before Hans couldn’t put off the conversation any longer. He had to say something, but he still had no idea what he was going to say. It seemed liked anything he could say would be met with disbelief or even more anger. He wasn’t too sure which reaction he was the most worried about. He bit his lip and closed his eyes for a second to gather his thoughts.

“Do you believe that there is life out there besides us?” Hans kept his eyes focussed straight ahead.
“What?” Duke sounded more shocked than angry. It was a bold and odd question to ask of someone.

“Do you believe in that there is life out there besides us?” Hans said each word carefully so that there was no mistaking what he was asking.
“Never really thought about it before, but what the hell kind of question is that?” Anger coloured the last few words of that sentence.

“If you want to know what I’ve been doing I need to know if you believe that aliens might actually exist here in this galaxy. Not many, just some that were left behind for some reason. Do you believe that there might be other life out there?” Hans finally turned to face Duke so that there was no mistaking the sincerity of what he was saying. “That’s what I’ve been looking into. And if you don’t believe then there is no reason for me to continue this conversation.”
Duke scratched at the stubble on his chin and stared at the ceiling for a minute. “Well, I won’t say I do believe and I won’t say that I don’t. What I will say is that I’ve never given it much consideration. My life has been focussed more on just surviving and getting by. I’ve lived all my life on frontier planets, just moving on to the next one every time a place started getting too civilized for me. I like the rough life.”

“Surprised you’re working as a mechanic for Global Space Tech then. Not exactly a frontier type job.” Hans was still debating exactly how much to reveal to Duke but he had a feeling it was all going to have to come out to gain his trust.
“They’re great on the transfers. Now what does that magno-electric pulse thing have to do with the Mantou Islands, the possibility of aliens and bright lights?” Duke looked Hans square in the eye, challenging him to give a straight and honest answer.

“Everything, but it’s a bit of a long story. It has to do when I was flying for the Armed Forces as a test pilot. I encountered an exact same issue when flying a test plane on an uninhabited planet and I saw something that I was never supposed to see. I still have dreams about it even though I think they tried to erase my memory of the exact events. For the longest time all I could remember was a crash, but as the years pass more and more comes back to me.
“I know that I saw something I shouldn’t have, but I’m not entirely sure what. When we had that same issue crop up here I knew I had to go and find out what it was. I needed to find out what happened over the Mantou Islands so that I can remember what happened back then.”

Monday, May 19, 2014

Blood on the Stars - Part 1: Secrets & Lies - CH. 4 (1)

Bright light woke Hans from his sleep. Blindly, he reached for button to shut the blinds thinking he had left them up. He jabbed at the button and heard the light whirr of the blinds moving, but the light stayed the same. With a groan Hans opened his eyes to see the last bit of the blinds recede into the wall slot. It was dark outside, he could see the lights of the city, but that was not where the bright light that had awoken him had come from.

Hans looked down towards the floor to see the light spilling out from under his bed. Hans stabbed blindly at the button to bring the blinds back down and hoped no one would notice the light coming from his window before they could close fully. Taking a deep breath, he leaned down to peek under his bed at the artefact. Tears came to his eyes as he attempted to look directly at the light that was streaming out from under his bed.
Hans sat there for a moment and tried to wrap his head around what was happening. He needed to douse the light, but there was no way that he could get close enough to it with how bright it was right now. Grabbing a blanket, he threw it under the bed, hoping to get it on top of the artefact. He knew he was successful when the light dimmed slightly. It was just enough that so that he could look under his bed without any pain. He dragged it out and wrapped the blanket tighter around it to douse the light a bit more.

Hans sat on the edge of the bed, holding the bundled artefact, entirely unsure what do with it. A glance at the time told him that he had two hours before he needed to get up for work. There was only one thing he could think to try at this point. Squeezing his eyes shut as tightly as he could, he unwrapped the artefact and threw it as hard as could at the wall.
Almost at the moment he heard the second thump of the artefact hitting the floor the light stopped. Hans opened his eyes, blinking at the afterimages that the light had left behind and stumbled his way towards where it had fallen, split into two again. He hit the button, hoping that this would stop whatever he had started and stood back as the artefact put itself back together again. There was no beep this time and he hoped that was a good thing.

Hans looked down at the artefact and back at his bed and sighed. It was too much excitement for him to get back to bed now and far too many worries that he was left with. He bundled up the artefact in the blanket again and shoved it as far under his bed as he could. There was only one thing he could think to do now and that was to go to work.
Even though his morning had gotten off to such a rough start, Hans was enjoying the silence of an early morning in the office. He was able to get all his daily admin duties done before the first person walked in for the day. It was a nice change for him to have all his work done before he had to do any lessons or charters. He even managed to get a few extras done as well as looking into a way to be able to get back into the cavern and still be able to see.

So far there was nothing that he could find that would do the trick and not cost him an arm and a leg. There were a few things he had thought about that would work, but it was all military technology and he knew no one that owed him that big of a favour and could keep their mouth shut. It was really starting to seem hopeless. What he really needed was help.
“In early today.” Duke managed to sneak up on him once again and Hans jumped at the sound of his voice.

“Yeah, couldn’t sleep.”  Hans pushed aside the display and rested his head in his hand. “What can I do for you Duke?”
“Just wishing you a good morn is all and I wanted to touch base about that long haul charter to five-C-four with those miners.”  Duke walked in uninvited and sat in the chair across from Hans. “Seems Nav has come down with a bit of the flu and won’t be in for a few days. Everyone else is booked right up.”

“I can fly it by myself then I guess.” Hans closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “We need to get someone hired pretty quick, maybe two someones.”
“I’m on it, but you can’t fly that charter yourself. It’s too long of a haul, not to mention that ship requires two pilots on it. And company policy is clear on that one too.”  

Hans looked up at Duke and bit back the anger in his voice. “Well what else can we do? We can’t cancel that charter. It’s too large of an account.”
“I’m not just a pretty around here Hans. I may be the head mechanic and your right hand man, but I am certified to fly – I just usually don’t.” Duke scratched at the stubble on his chin and frowned. “I don’t like flying, but I can do it and you need a co-pilot. End of story. Marietta can handle ground operations while we’re both gone.”

“Yeah, okay.” Hans glanced at the time. “Guess we’ll start the pre-flight check in about an hour or so?”
“Sounds good.” Duke stood to leave and then squinted at display. “Thinking of going for a star walk or something?”
Hans glanced at the display, he still had his last search up on it. “Just planning a vacation to a sunny destination. I’m light sensitive.”

“Really? Have anything to do with your last vacation?” Duke reached out and pulled the display over so that he could see it better. “Hmmmm…”
Hans stood up and yanked the screen away from Duke and turned the display off. “What do you think you’re doing? Seriously, Duke, what is it?”

Duke planted his hands on the desk and leaned forward. “We may have come to a bit of a truce, but I know something fishy when I see it. Ever since that incident over the Mantou Islands you’ve been acting strange and slightly distracted.”
“What I do in my free time is none of your business.” Hans kept his voice low and mirrored Duke’s stance, leaving less than a foot between them. “And frankly, I could officially reprimand you for your behavior right now, but I’m not going to…this time.”

“This time? Oh, really?” Duke glared at Hans. “And what about you using work time for your personal little secret? Maybe I should report that?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Hans gritted his teeth. It was getting to be a challenge to keep his voice low.

“I’m not the one being ridiculous here. You are up to something, I know it, and I am going to find out what it is.”
“It’ll tell you what it is. It’s none of your business. Now get out of my office and I’ll see you for the pre-flight check at 0900h.”

Duke stormed out of Hans’ office, slamming the door behind him. Hans slumped back in his chair and closed his eyes. He hadn‘t intended to make an enemy out Duke again. It was the last thing he wanted right now with having to already hide his tracks from the Armed Forces. He turned the display back on and stared at blankly at the screen.
“Dammit!” Hans slammed the screen aside and kicked at his desk. He really didn’t need this sort of headache right now at all. Duke was going to be a problem and like or not he was going to have to deal with it right now instead of later. There was only one solution he could think of to make it all work out in his favour and that was to tell the truth.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Blood on the Stars - Part 1: Secrets & Lies - CH. 3 (2)

Hans picked up the artefact and tossed it into the air before catching it. It was fairly light for something made out of metal - at least he had assumed it was some sort of metal. Hans sat up straight as a thought crossed his mind. Every home had a computer capable of doing basic scans. Mostly they were just set to scan life forms that entered the home to keep intruders out, but they could also, on command, scan other things as well.

“Home system, respond.” Hans always felt like an idiot when he didn’t have a specific display to speak to and he hadn’t gotten around to naming his home system yet either. Hans made a mental note to figure out what to call his system because home system was just too much of a mouthful.
“Online. What can I do for you?” Unlike his office computer that sounded like a chipper young woman, his home system spoke in a deep and respectful baritone.

“Can you analyze this object that I’m holding and tell me what it is composed of?” Hans held the artefact out with both hands.
“Scanning.” Was the response to his query. Hans held really still as the minutes passed. He hadn’t expected it to take quite this long.

“Is there a problem computer?” Hans felt guilty disturbing the computer while it was working, which was silly because it was just a machine, but he couldn’t help it.
“I have been unable to identify the materials that are in the object you are holding. Basic elements are recognizable, but are configured in a way that is unfamiliar.”

“So, what you’re saying is that you don’t know what this is?” Hans frowned. It was not the answer he had been expecting at all.

“Thank you computer.” Hans stared with renewed awe at the artefact in his hands. It was all the confirmation that he needed to prove that this was a truly alien thing. Now all he had to do was figure out what it did and why it did it. That was, of course, if it did anything at all. Before he even knew what he was doing, Hans threw the artefact across the room. It hit the wall with a dull thud and split into two pieces.
“Shit!” Hans rushed to the other side of the room. He knelt down to pick of the pieces and stopped as he noticed something that looked far too much like a button on the inside edge of one of the pieces. He hadn’t noticed any seam on the artefact before, but it had broken with a straight edge like it had meant to be opened.

Hans reached towards the button, paused and then pressed it. He waited for a minute, holding his breath, but nothing happened. Just as he was about to reach for it again he heard a soft beep, similar to the sound he had heard when he took the artefact. Hans pulled his arm back away from the object and watched, eyes wide as the two pieces began to wobble and move. In less than a minute it had reformed into one solid piece again.
Hans sat there and stared at it, not sure what to do now. He had taken a chance and not much had happened, but it was enough to make him that much more eager to get back to the cave and find out what was really down there. For all he knew, he had just sent a signal to an alien and they were on their way to his place right now.

Hans glanced at the door and chuckled at the absurdity of the thought. It wasn’t likely that an alien was going to come bursting down his door. As far as anyone knew, humans were alone in this galaxy. Even if there was a living alien race out there, he doubted that they would suddenly show up on his doorstep to ask for the artefact back.
It was just one more mystery to pile on top of all the other ones he hadn’t managed to solve yet. A small part of him wondered if he should just throw caution to the wind and get what he needed to get back into the cavern and find out what was there. If he knew that the specialized equipment he needed to get would arrive before anyone got curious about what he was ordering, he would have done it, but Hans knew it paid to be cautious.

He picked up the artefact and tossed it from hand to hand a couple times. “I will figure out what you are and who made you.”
He placed it back under his bed and called it a night. Tomorrow he would spend more time trying to figure out how to get the equipment that he needed, but right now he needed to get some rest.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Blood on the Stars - Part 1: Secrets & Lies - CH. 3 (1)

Hans found it nearly impossible to get back to business as usual in the office. All he could think about was that artifact hidden in his apartment and what the symbols on it could mean. He hadn’t had much of a chance to look at it yet. It had been extremely rough weather getting back to the mainland and it had cost him quite a bit of time.

Every time he tried to go over one of the many documents that he had sign off on his mind would begin to wander. He didn’t want to go so far as to say he was obsessed, but it was so hard to get it out of his mind. Hans pressed his fingers to his temples and forced himself to focus on what he needed to be doing at this moment.
"Have a good vacation?" Duke leaned against the door frame of Hans' office. "Cause it looks like you could use another one already."
"It was eventful. I think I'd like to go back some time and check it out a little more." Hans leaned back in his chair and smiled politely at Duke. "Just dropping by for a chat or is there some other reason?"

"I hired a new mechanic. Hope you don't mind, but a good candidate came up and I didn't want to pass on the opportunity." Duke shrugged and stepped into the office. "Left you a memo, but I figured I'd drop by and tell you in person."
"No, I haven't seen that memo yet, but I trust your judgement. You did run this place for a few months before I showed up and that's also one less thing that I have to worry about." Hans crossed a bullet point on a list that was half hidden with other work. "Actually, if you want, we still need to hire another pilot. It's starting to get busy with those new ore deposits found on the further asteroid belt. Lots of people will be making Cantun their home base which means more terraforming needs to be done..."

" other words, we're about to get really busy." Duke finished for him with a grin. "Yeah I can handle that. In fact, I may have a few people in mind for the position."
"That's great." Hans crossed another bullet point off the list after shoving a tablet aside. "Thanks."

"No prob." Duke started to leave, but turned back around after a few steps. "I'd like to say that I think you're doing a pretty good job around here. Rough start aside, I think the company made a good choice bringing you here."
"Thanks Duke." Hans smiled broadly. It was probably the first real smile he had used with Duke. "You know I won't be running this location forever. We're going to have open another location eventually and I can't be both places at the same time."

"I get your drift." Duke turned and left Hans alone with his work and his thoughts.
Hans watched him leave and felt a small weight lift off his shoulders that he hadn't known was there. He hadn't realized how stressed he had felt about the situation with Duke, but that was now one less thing on his mind now; he had enough to worry about. First, though, he had to make through the day at work and then he could think about the artefact.

As hard as Hans tried to focus on work he found himself glancing constantly at the clock and counting how long it was till he could leave. Although he could leave at the end of his shift, he also was well aware that there was a lot of work that couldn't be left undone. Each time he glanced away from his work it was just that much harder to return his focus to the job at hand.
Eventually, Hans ordered Alice to remove all time displays from his office, which seemed to help some him focus somewhat, still his mind kept getting drawn back to the artefact that was waiting for him at home. He still hadn't come up with any good way to decipher the designs on it - if they meant anything at all - other than to go to a professional and he wasn't willing to do that yet.

Hans sighed and dragged his attention back to his work. It was the last thing that needed to get done today so that tomorrow would go more smoothly. He started reading through the incident reports from the week he was gone. All he had to do was sign off on them and send them off to HQ with any notes that he might need to add.
"Still slaving away?" Hans jumped at the sound of Duke's voice interrupting his work. "Didn't mean to startle you, just saw your light still on and wanted to make sure no one was here before I locked up."

"Yeah, just need to sign off on these incident reports form last week. There aren't many of them, but I figured it would be better to get these done today rather than leaving it for tomorrow." Hans pushed the display aside and stretched. "Guess I didn't figure it would take me near this long."
"I figured you'd be done by now. You're normally really quick with this stuff." Duke wandered into the office and sat down in the chair across from Hans. "Guess you've been a bit distracted today?"

"Why would you say that?" Hans was immediately on the defensive even though he knew there was no reason for him to be.
"No reason, still kind of curious about that little holiday that you took though."

"It was just to get to know the area better. I do that. It's nothing." Hans pulled the display back in front of him so that it was between the two of them. "Now if you don't mind, I do have a lot work to get done. I'd like to get home sometime tonight."
“Nope, no problem at all.” Duke stood up and leaned over top of the display to look down at Hans. “Just can’t figure out why you’d be so evasive and nervous every time I ask you about your vacation time is all. It just seems a little fishy.”

Without waiting for a reply he turned and walked out of the office, leaving the door open behind him. Hans slumped back into his chair and rubbed his right temple. He was getting tired of Duke asking questions, but it was too late to change his story now. If it was just simple curiosity he hoped that eventually he would just let it go after enough time had passed.
Hans finished up his work as quickly as he could before going home. It had been a long day and he was exhausted, but he couldn't go to bed without spending at least a little time trying to figure out what the artefact was exactly. He took it out from under his bed where he had hidden it the night before and placed it on his table.

He stared at it as he ate his dinner, occasionally reaching out to tract the designs on its surface or to turn it on to a different side. It meant nothing to him, but the one thing he knew for sure was that it wasn't something produced by humans. It was a truly alien artefact. Unlike the decayed remnants of civilizations that had passed on before humans were climbing down out of the trees, this was bright and shiny as though it had just been made yesterday.

He had no idea what to do with it or how to figure out what it did, besides give him hope that he was on the right track. He had always believed that the magno-electric field that messed with electronics so badly was more than just a freak of nature. It was unpredictable when it happened - it was never consistent. He had experienced it once before and he remembered what it was like. He had almost downed the experimental plane that he had been flying.
His curiosity had gotten the best of him then too. He still remembered that visit from Ken then as well. Just checking up on an old friend to see how he was doing after his scare. He hadn't found anything like this that time, but he was sure that there had been something there when he had fired all his missiles to lighten the load in hopes of making a safer landing. He had seen something, but it was all swept under the rug.

Hans grabbed the artefact and went to lay down on the couch. He stared at, turning it over and over in his hands. He wanted to figure out what it was so bad and, most importantly, who had built it. He traced the symbols over and over again with his fingers, but it would never mean anything to him. Hans sighed as he placed the artefact on the floor. He just didn't have the skills or knowledge necessary to figure it out and there was no one that he trusted enough to help him right now.
All that he could do now was try to figure out the best way back into the tunnel and into the brightly lit cavern. He had already started searching where he could get the gear he needed, but finding the time to do it was going to be even harder. He had taken up half of his vacation time already and he hadn't been in the position long enough to be able to request a leave of absence. He'd figure it out though, that he was sure of.

Most importantly, of everything, he needed a way to be able to see down there. There were a lot of companies that made specialized equipment for bright environments, but he wasn't sure if there was anything that could hand that kind of brightness. It had been brighter than any light he had been exposed to before and he had done a few close slingshots on stars before.
It was a touch choice and he wasn’t too sure exactly how to go about solving that problem either. He had been thinking on it for days, but he had yet to come up with a solution. Hans glanced down at the artefact sitting still on the floor. “And you’re just sitting there not helping at all.”

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Blood on the Stars - Part 1: Secrets & Lies - CH. 2 (3)

So sorry about the huge break in there, but I have regular updates set for every Monday and Thursday right up into June right now!

Morning came with the insistent beeping of the alarm clock. There was no way to tell the time down here besides his clock. It paid for him to keep a close watch on him. It would be far too easy to lose track of time down here. He put together a quick breakfast before breaking camp and starting off down the cave once again.

It was a few hours into his walk when he first began to notice the changes in his surroundings. It had been happening so slowly and consistently that it took him a while to notice that he could see even further than his small light should have made possible. He wanted to pass it off as just getting used to the darkness, but he’d been underground too often to believe that.
His hand trembled as he touched the button to turn his own light off. He closed his eyes tight as he did so and counted to ten. He opened his eyes, blinked a couple of times then held his hand up in front of his face. He could see the outline of his hand which meant he wasn’t hallucinating. Somewhere up ahead was a light source.
Hans switched his light back on and checked his GPS for elevation. He had been steadily going downwards since he had entered the cavern. It didn’t seem likely that the light could be just an exit to the outside, but he wasn’t going to rule it out as a possibility. Little enough was known about this planet and less about this cavern system.
As an afterthought, Hans pulled up the topographical view on his GPS and was surprised to see that he had him under the ocean at this point. It seemed even less likely that this light was an entrance to the surface. Hans shined his light around to get a better look at the rocks on the ceilings and wall and saw that they appeared completely dry. It didn’t make any sense to him and he was beginning to wonder if about the exact origins of the cavern.
He wasn’t an expert in geography, but he was pretty sure any naturally formed cavern under an ocean would have to have some sort of water flow. He knew there was enough calcium, lime and other minerals to create stalagmites and other formations, but none of that existed in this cavern. Even in some of the older man made ones he had explored, water had found its way inside to create those breathtaking natural sculptures that he enjoyed.

Hans picked up his pace as he continued onward towards the source of the light. He tried not to get too hopeful about what he was going to find, but it was hard to not think about it. The cavern seemed to continue on forever with the light getting neither brighter nor dimmer. It was hard to be sure, but it was getting frustrating. Every now and then Hans turned off his light to try and see if the light was getting brighter or not, but as far as he could tell it was staying exactly the same.
His watch beeped at him and he glanced down to see that an entire day had passed him by as he pursued the source the light. It was time to make camp for another night and hope for better luck the next day. It was his last day for moving forward and after tomorrow he would have to start making his way back. Hans prayed that tomorrow would bring better luck, but the light was at least promising.
As his watched beeped in another new day Hans wasted no time in breaking down camp and starting off on his search for the source of the light. He tried to keep his mind occupied on everything, but the light as he walked. He thought about old songs and tried to remember their lyrics, he thought about how things were getting busy enough that he'd have to hire a few more people to keep up with demand. Hans managed to keep himself distracted enough that it wasn't until his stomach growled at him that he realized the morning had passed already.

Looking around he tried to assess how bright the light was. It seemed a little brighter now, but he wasn't a hundred percent sure about it. He ate a few small snacks to keep himself going and continued on after another hour of walking he was sure that the light had gotten brighter. It was also the first time he noticed that the cavern was starting narrow quickly. He could almost touch the ceiling once again and there was less than a meter to each side of his outstretched arms.
Hans quickened his pace as much as he could, but was soon forced into walking doubled over. Eventually he stopped as the width of the cavern became only just wide enough for him to fit through comfortably. Hans dropped his gear and just grabbed the most important items to take with him. He knew that if he got stuck down here no one would find him, but that didn’t seem as important as finding out what the source of the light was.

Hans kept crawling forward and hoped that this tunnel wouldn’t narrow any further, the light was becoming brighter with each step and, soon, Hans found himself wishing for sunglasses. If it wasn’t for the coolness of the surrounding rock he would have thought he was heading into the sun itself.                
He stopped for a moment to tie a piece of cloth around his head to help shut out the light. Hans pushed forward blindly feeling his surroundings with his hands. It was slow going, but he wasn’t about to give up yet. Even with a cloth wrapped over his tightly shut eyes the light was almost starting to be too much for him to take any longer.

Sliding his hands forward he felt an edge to the tunnel he was crawling through. Inching forward he examined around the edge of the opening with his hands, but he could feel nothing beyond that. More than anything Hans wanted to be able to see what was in the opening, but without special equipment it would be impossible to do so.
In a last ditch effort to see if he could continue, Hans laid flat on his stomach and pushed himself as close to the edge as he dared. At the full length of his reach he felt his fingertips brush against something warm and metallic. Taking a chance, Hans pushed himself further forward until he could get a grip on the object. He pulled back as hard as he could and it came loose.

As he pushed himself back into the tunnel he heard a soft beeping coming from the opening. Hans backed up as fast as he could until he bumped into his gear. Undoing the cloth from around his eyes, he finally was able to see what he had taken from the other side of the opening.  It was strangely shaped and there were markings all over it.  Hans turned it over a few times in his hands before putting it in his pack.
Hans picked everything up and started heading out, his head full of plans for what he would need to continue onwards next time. He wanted to know what was in that next cavern past the tunnel. He’d need special gear for that and he wasn’t sure if he’d find it on planet. He had already raised a few red flags with his earlier requests, this time he’d have to be even more careful.

Hans spent the next few days planning exactly how he was going to go about his next visit to the Mantou Islands and how he was going to be able to get all the equipment he was going to need to make it work. It wasn’t going to be easy, not in the least, but he had a feeling it was going to be worth it. In the meantime he had the artifact to study and learn about.