Author: Gabriel Stone PM
A crew of ten people search the universe for adventure in a massive ship called the Leviathan after retiring from the Universal Subspace Federation. Along the way they discover new alien races, chart unknown subspace phenomena, and hunt a myth of a man responsible for the genocide of billions.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Sci-Fi - Chapters: 3 - Words: 10,070 - Reviews: 5 - Favs: 1 - Follows: 1 - Updated: 09-01-12 - Published: 08-27-12 - id: 3053712
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
All was well on deck eight of the Leviathan.
The crew members were all asleep in their cabins—Moses wasn't fiddling with his generators, David wasn't reading, even Solomon and Audrien weren't arguing. Opal wasn't going through medical supplies, Audrey wasn't tapping away on her computer, Amelia wasn't looking through her diary, Michelle wasn't weight training, and Maria wasn't reading a romance novel. Everyone was asleep and content with their ship. Everyone except Lark, who of course was awake and unable to sleep.
Two days had passed since their short stop at planet JV-17 and that mysterious name continued to bounce around in the back of Lark's head. Carter... Carter who? Why the name Carter? Why not something more chilling, like Saul or Lucifer or Amon? Lark's brain was alive with thoughts of how this enemy might appear—a thousand feet tall, with red eyes and an enormous body? Small and delicate, with the body form of a female? Tall and strapping with a dark look in his eyes? Questions ran like a hot knife through the melting butter of his mind, questions he feared might be answered in ways that could cause harm to his crew.
It bothered Lark that even his ship's archive couldn't locate anyone substantial by the name of Carter—he had left the search open in the background of his person login in case he felt the need to go through and eliminate possibilities. He found his crew's lack of faith in his judgmental abilities ever so slightly disturbing, and he didn't take pleasure in the thought of knowing that David saw right through Lark's lie.
Lark tried to justify his reasons for lying as best as he could. Amelia's entire life had been wrecked by this man, Lark could hypothesis that much, and his own psychosis had been crippled by the same man to the point of where he only experienced three episodes of emotional elevations. The general knew that Amelia could be volatile and want revenge on Carter for ruining her life—for one, Lark had no clue whether or not Carter could be handled by the crew, much less one person. Secondly, Lark didn't want revenge on Carter for destroying his mind—he just wanted to understand why, and then he would let Carter into the hands of the Federation. Lark didn't need the crew to think of him as a weakling if they started asking the hard questions about Carter, like what he would do once he got his hands around Carter's neck—Lark knew that he wouldn't do anything to Carter unless the man attacked first.
The general had told everyone he met that it was some kind of force that crippled his mind and destroyed Amelia's life, and for the longest time he believed every single word of it. Deep down, Lark had the feeling that he was telling a lie, that a person had to have done this, because the idea of a force striking down an entire country and crippling a general of the Universal Subspace Federation was just too fantastic.
Lark couldn't remember how he had come to have schizoaffective disorder—all he knew was that one day he flew off into a rage at a civilian, followed by a period of total calm during questioning, and a bout of depression in the middle of the courtroom. Luckily for him, the head General of the Federation knew that something wasn't right and suspended Lark from the line of duty until he had been diagnosed. Once Lark was under control once more and had passed numerous, rigorous tests with flying colors, the same general had entered him back into the service and promoted him to Major General without hesitation.
With the past on his heels, the present on his shoulders, and the future in his face, Lark found that the concept of a good night's sleep was a luxury he could not afford.
"Morning Lark," came the cordial greeting from Opal at her post, which was to the left of the captain's chair. "Did you sleep well?" Lark shuffled up to his chair and ran his hands through his hair, eyes bloodshot and body exhausted as he collapsed into the chair; he stared straight ahead through the large looking glass out of the front of the Leviathan. Opal drew her own conclusions and went back to her small monitor where she was analyzing everyone's blood in case someone had picked up a disease from JV-17.
"Alright everybody," Lark called, a yawn interrupting his next sentence. "What have we got on the menu for today?"
"I ordered a Caesar salad," Solomon said, without looking up from his screen, "with extra onions and a few extra tomatoes. They never pour the salad dressing right, so I decided that it would be best to—" He cut himself off as he realized the sudden silence in the room, and when he turned around he found that all of the eyes were on him. Especially Lark's. Solomon blushed meekly and added, "To pour the dressing myself." Solomon turned around in his chair and hid himself in the pilot's screen.
"Someone who can speak fluent Euphemism, please tell me what's on the menu for today," Lark sighed, combing his hands through his hair. It was going to be another long day, he could tell that already.
"Tracking a subspace anomaly, sir," Audrey said from her post, dragging her finger across the screen. "Mass is close to zero, but the size is borderline titanic." A short, echoing beep radiated from the front of the ship to indicate that something was approaching, and Audrey tapped on her screen a few more times. "Coming up now, Lark." The Major General leaned on his right fist as the Leviathan banked slightly to the left, and then he slowly sat up at what he saw, for he had never seen anything like this one before.
It was a cloud—a massive grey cloud that stood in the middle of space, like a large bowl of cotton balls which had been stuck together had been dumped into zero gravity. Solomon slowed the Leviathan to a crawl as they drew closer to the cloud, and everyone on deck one stared out of the looking glass. Even David let his eyes glow with awe, which was very clearly the elephant in the room for everybody. It was an oxymoron for a cloud to be present in space; perhaps it was a nebula of some sort, but no one on the Leviathan could describe it as anything but a cloud. It had no defining characteristics of a nebula. Lark, of course, was the first to regain his senses.
"David, arm the weapons in case this is a trap set by hostiles. Shields up, Mr. Porter. Everyone else, standby. Solomon, take us in slowly—Michelle, see if you can map this thing out. Make it happen." The crew didn't waste time responding, except for Audrien who responded with a sharp "Yes, sir", and they set about their work, Solomon giving a five second rear thruster pulse to propel the ship forwards. Lark sat himself into the chair and relaxed, watching as the glass went grey the more the Leviathan eased into the cloud.
"Lark, I'm getting some strange readings," Amelia said from her post, her eyes flickering with the first signs of worry from the crew. Lark stood and approached Amelia, leaning over her chair to monitor her screen. Though the general was lacking in the field of communications and the analytical aspects of them therein, Lark knew enough to tell that there was something strange about the cloud.
"Explain it to me, Amelia. I'm not gifted in the field of communications like you are," Lark answered in response to her irritated huff of air as she tapped around on her monitor.
"Our communications is all messed up, sir. This could be an electromagnetic cloud, but there are too many things not happening here which delete that idea. If it were electromagnetic, this ship would have shut down immediately until you ran a current through the Leviathan's Bone to give it a boost." Amelia sighed and turned her chair around, making Lark step back to avoid intruding on her personal space. "I have no idea what this thing is made of."
"Lark!" It was Michelle this time, and though her voice wasn't very urgent it was tinged with concern like Amelia's voice had been. Lark quickly moved over and stared at Michelle's screen, where he saw that the stellar compass, with the "north" always pointing at planet Earth, on her screen was spinning around and around in a circle. As he watched, it steadied to a stop, but then immediately began spinning in the opposite direction as fast as it had before.
"Beard of Thor," Solomon cursed as he watched Michelle's screen with aggravation. "What in the devil is going on with the stellar compass?"
"Keep your heading, Mr. Solomon," Lark advised, staring at Michelle's screen with his dark eyes, looking for a malfunction. "This cloud can't throw us off forever."
"Lark, I can't map this," Michelle finally admitted, exasperated after tapping on her computer for another several seconds. "There aren't any landmarks, and apparently there aren't any borders for this cloud either." She tossed her right hand in a gesture of anger and sat back in her chair for a few seconds, staring at the screen. "What do you want me to do?"
"Standby," Lark whispered after a moment's thought, hurrying into his chair and sitting down to give a few orders. "Alright everyone, listen up. I'm not going to mix words—we're flying blind with no communication capabilities. Hyper-drive is out of the question, Mr. Solomon," Lark said with a stern tone, killing off Solomon's excited smile when he heard the word hyper-drive. "We cannot risk going into hyper-drive, because as of currently we don't know if this is an atmosphere or not. I'm not going to be responsible if we break a planet in half after using hyper-drive blind." Lark sighed and rubbed his neck. "Our only logical option is to stop the ship and take the day off to rethink strategy."
"Lark, as much as I respect you, that's just a stupid thing to do," Maria stated from her position at the left of Lark's chair. "We should radio for help or something. We could check all the channels, open all frequencies—"
"With what communications, Colonel," Lark deadpanned; now was not the time to be nice about things. "We're in subsection 89 of Quadrant V1, which in layman terms is uncharted territory. We're totally blind out here, and unless you can tell me how to turn around with our currently broken stellar compass, I suggest we stop the Leviathan and rethink our strategy." The crew was watching Lark carefully, and no one was staring at him more intently than David—situations always began to look serious when Lark started using ranks instead of first names.
"Yes sir," Maria answered back, knowing that Lark was in the right here—she had forgotten to stop and think, something which didn't happen often but did tend to happen anyways. Lark turned back to the looking glass with intensity in his eyes, the intensity only seen in weathered souls or old, experienced generals who had seen many wars.
"First Sergeant, prepare medical supplies in case of an emergency," Lark commanded, clicking on his right keypad and bringing up his keyboard. Lark minimized the window so it would only show up on a smaller hologram in front of him, instead of all over the looking glass. As he tapped away at the computer, he awaited a response that the command had been accepted, but none came. Lark's eyebrows furrowed in irritation. "First Sergeant Uther. That requires an affirmation."
Lark looked up from his keyboard, ready to reprimand the medical officer for a breach in protocol, but he found that all of the crew on the deck were staring at him. Lark looked around the room at their worried and solicitous faces—something clicked in the back of the general's mind, and suddenly he didn't feel all that well. Lark turned and looked to where Opal was sitting, except she wasn't sitting; in fact, she wasn't even in her chair. And as Lark stood from his chair and looked around the room, he found that Opal wasn't in the room either.
"Solomon?" Lark asked as he stared at the control room door. "Where is First Sergeant Opal Uther?" Lark did his best not to feel upset that Opal had abandoned her post, which was a big no-no on his ship. "Did she decide to take a break from her post without asking me?"
"Sir, I'm sorry but..." Lark detected confusion in the man's voice, and the general turned around to see that Solomon indeed looked confused. "Opal Uther, sir? I don't... I don't know who that is." Lark narrowed his eyes suspiciously, searching for the shimmering brightness that told him it was a joke that was often prominent in Solomon's eyes. He didn't find an iota.
"Maria. Status report on Opal. You were sitting right next to her, so where is she?" Lark turned with an expectant look in his eyes, but he met the same confusion in her eyes as he had seen in Solomon's.
"Sorry, General... I don't know what you're talking about." Maria turned her head slightly and blinked a few times at Lark. "Hey, are you alright Lark? You look a little exhausted today." Lark chewed on his bottom lip and looked towards Moses, and it was obvious that the same question he had asked two other people was about to be directed at the scientist.
"I don't know an Opal, General," Moses admitted, sheepishly shrugging and cracking a worried grin. "I don't know who she is or—" Lark had moved from his chair to Moses in a split second, dragging the man up with both of his hands by the scientist's shirt collar. The smile had made the general think that they were pulling a practical joke, and the disappearance of a crew member was no joke to Lark Flarebirth.
"Don't you give me that amnesia act," Lark snarled in Moses' face, seeing the fear in the scientist's eyes. "You give up this joke of yours or I swear I will throw you in the air lock and eject you onto the surface of Hydranega 4." Anyone who knew anything about Quadrant V1 knew that Hydranega 4 was a maximum security prison planet where the people ran free with the fiercest of the wild animals, and most of the animals were currently extinct because of it. Moses tried his best to soothe Lark's temper out of fear of him following through on the threat.
"Lark, easy, easy!" Moses tried. "I'm your friend. It's me, it's Moses Jefferies! I'm your nuclear scientist, remember?" Lark shook Moses hard once, jarring the smaller man and nearly giving him whip-lash.
"You tell me where she is right now," Lark threatened, his eyes darkening with fury. David was upon Lark in an instant, putting the Major General in a full Nelson and dragging him away from Moses. With one smooth movement he threw Lark to the side and stood in front of the scientist in protection, though he bore no ill will towards the general. Lark straightened himself up to his full height and stared down at David from ten feet away, balancing on his toes carefully.
"Lieutenant Porter. Remove the Sergeant and the good doctor from my point of view, before I get angry with them," Lark said plainly, and Audrey stood up to approach the two men. "Sit down!" Lark commanded loudly, and Audrey immediately cowered and returned to her seat. "Lieutenant, get over here immediately and do not make your sister take these men from my sight. Are you unable to perform your duties, Audrien?"
"General Flarebirth, sir..." Audrey started in a small voice. "My rank is Major, sir. My first name is Audrey and... I don't have a brother, sir." Lark shot her a glare so intense it would have flash-cooked a pan full of bacon. "It's the truth, sir," Audrey continued with a more confident voice. "I'm an only child."
Lark turned his head to yell at Audrien, but he found the seat empty. The general's eyes narrowed again as he looked at the chair, willing Audrien to appear. "Where is Lieutenant Porter, my dear Major Porter?" Lark asked, turning his head to look at Audrey. "Did he decide to take a little coffee break as well?" Audrey threw up her hands in a gesture of annoyance.
"I don't have a brother, sir! Honest, I don't! Ask the ship's log, sir—only eight people are logged as the crew on this ship!" The confidence in Audrey's voice made Lark halter for a second, as he considered asking the computer how many people were on board. The ship's computer never lied, as it couldn't, and it wouldn't. Lark and Audrey had programmed the computer together, so there was no way it could malfunction.
"Computer," Lark called to the ceiling. "Pull up the ship's manifest. List all crew members assigned to this ship in order of rank."
"Confirmed," the computer monotoned. "Major General Lark Flarebirth. Colonel Maria Butler. Major Audrey Porter. Captain Michelle Henson and Captain Solomon Waters. Sergeant Major Amelia Greenhill. Sergeant David Juven. Doctor Moses Jefferies." Lark paused, waiting for the computer to continue, but it ended there.
"Search for First Sergeant Opal Uther and Lieutenant Audrien Porter," Lark commanded, waiting patiently as the computer hummed with the search tone.
"No files found on requested criteria," the computer answered back, and Lark froze in his spot. His heart had frozen over and he felt his mouth go dry—for a long time he couldn't fully comprehend what the computer had just told him, even though he knew exactly what the computer had said. Lark tried to focus; the computer couldn't lie, and even if the records had been erased there would have been some sort of remaining data on the drive.
"Acknowledged," Lark whispered, and he walked as if in a dream to the captain's chair. Someone called his name, as if in a question, and the general heard it but didn't register it as being said. He brought himself up with the dignity of a Major General of the Universal Subspace Federation, and he lowered himself into the chair slowly. "Crew," Lark said faintly, his own voice sounding distant and faraway, "report back to your posts and excuse my behavior. I am unwell, but able to perform my duties nevertheless." Everyone quietly went about their orders, heading to their posts to await orders from Lark.
Suddenly, however, he changed his mind.
"All crew take the next 24 hours off, active immediately." No one moved for a second, but then they all shuffled out the door of the control room without looking back at their leader. It was too sudden, too bizarre, and they didn't want to see what was in his eyes.
This isn't happening, Lark thought with panic in his heart. This cannot be happening.