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“I have not been to Earth since-“The dagger pierced Yvis-Yvas’ chest in sickening flash. Then it disappeared in the gush of green blood. I looked around in shock, but no one was there; the corridor seemed to stretch on to infinity. The Av-Gelshek were trained to never scream, so a pathetic yelp bubbled up instead. What should I do? How could I serve this dying being? Should I tell the others, or would they think I did it? Trembling, I slowly walked down the hall, every footstep an act of insanity. I resented Thamphor for bringing me and the others on board; we were made to feed others, not explore space. His “liberation” turned out to be our death warrant. The halls were lit, but not brightly enough for me. I took one last step and then simply collapsed on the floor and cried. “Sardonia, are you alright?” I could feel Graxiella’s soft touch on my shoulder. I furiously shook my head no. My skin was starting to get very warm. “Sardonia…Sardonia! What happened?” She gently lifted me to my feet. I pointed in the direction of the murder, but still couldn’t speak. “What happened over there?” Graxiella tried to lead me back to the grisly scene, but I wouldn’t budge. “OK….it’s alright. Just stay here.” She walked down the hall so confidently, like one who was truly free. Moments later I heard her voice over the speaker above me: “Medical emergency! Yvis-Yvas has been attacked! I need a medical kit down here now!” Manfred, Allan, and Daphne ran past me so fast that it seemed like some odd, surreal dream. I don’t know why, but I crept down the hall, just close enough to see them fail. I knew they would fail, of course they would. But some little spark of hope remained deep inside me; my heart just wouldn’t totally surrender to this nightmare.
They walked past me, carrying the dead body. I always had a difficult time reading the robots, even under the best of circumstances. The trio proceeded slowly, almost mechanically, as if they had shut off their emotions. They looked straight ahead, their gaze locked on some fixed point so far beyond them. I slid down the wall and the tears came, cold then hot.
We were taught to always serve; if no one was left, serve the dead – honor their memory. I was surprised that I was the only one present in the medical bay. Despite the humming and beeping of machines all around me, it seemed tragically quiet. I stared and stared at Yvis-Yvas’ lifeless form. I stood back and began his funeral statement: “Zzzz’vizzzz Zyvvzzaah Yzivivizzz-“ “I didn’t know that you knew their language.” Daphne entered the room. “I researched their language and funeral customs.” “Sardonia, you’re sure that you didn’t see anything?” The surgical laser over the operating table sliced her in two. Her halves simply fell apart like a tong-tong fruit. I screamed; I screamed hysterically and forgot all about what I had been taught. I was learning new things: fear, uncertainty, and death. My vision blurred and the world turned dark. When I awoke, Graxiella and Denshyk were standing over me. I could hear Allan manically raging and lamenting just outside the medical bay. They injected something into me, something like ice cold syrup that made my head swim. I was still groggy when they sat me down in the fighter bay, but I felt….calm. I had never felt so sure of who I was and what my purpose was. The Universe itself seemed an open book, waiting for me to read it. As my mind became clearer, my existence flowed out from the center of me at relaxed, steady pace. I slowly waved my arms and grinned a hallucinogenic grin. “Sardonia, can you remember anything about the murders?” Manfred’s voice was funneled through a long, winding pipe – or so it seemed to me. Did the others have such a wonderful existence, or was I the only one? “They’re dead. They died…suddenly…horribly…now they’re the lucky ones.” I dreamily replied. Denshyk took a step forward, but Graxiella held him back. Too bad…I could’ve taken the big one on a wild ride. A dagger went through his chest and he made that funny elephant sound. Then he died too. It was really interesting….they all looked about…they ran around yelling and yelling and yelling. They were all so upset over something that was now…in….the….past!
I woke up in my quarters. It was unusually warm and dark. I tried to turn on the lights, but they wouldn’t work. A tiny flame pricked the darkness, then another. Moments later, a third flickering candle stabbed the gloom and another one after that.
“Oh Sardonia, you just were never meant for this.” Shevu’s voice crept out of the shadows. Before I could get up, she held me down. “Please, why are you here?” I squirmed under her grasp. “To comfort, from one agonized soul to another.” “I don’t understand.” My words were a squeal and a whisper. “That’s what’s so terrifying isn’t it? The unanswered questions, the unknown waiting in the dark?” “I didn’t murder anyone. It’s not my fault.” “That’s the thing – murder. So senseless, so untimely. To not only kill a living thing, but to kill off that sense of security that gets us from one day to the next. It’s so cruel….so far from what we expect – or want.” Allan barged into the room. “Leave her be! For God’s sake Shevu, she’s been through enough!” “I’m sorry Allan. I’ll leave now.” Shevu quietly walked across the room, but she looked over her shoulder when she got to the door. “Cruel witch!” He hissed – when she was gone. “How are you holding up?” “I’m….I’m…not sure anymore.” Allan turned on his flashlight and found the control panel. “You take all the time you need. We’ve all been through a lot these past 48 hours.” His last sentence came out oddly cold. Was he shutting down his emotions? He repaired the environmental controls and turned the lights on. “There! A bit of light will cheer you up.” He started to walk out the door. “I’m coming with you.” “You sure?” “Yes. It’s something Thamphor told me once: ‘Courage is out there – fight for it!’ I understand that now.” “The old Nethasian had his moments, didn’t he?” Allan put his arm around my shoulder.
On the bridge, Manfred was driving everyone hard. I had never seen him like this before. He was going through tactical displays so fast that I could hardly keep up. Several of the crew had decided to keep safe in their quarters – I knew how that felt. I looked around, wondering when – or if – this would ever stop.
“There is a pattern!” Manfred’s triumph was strangely muted. “The attacks took place here, here, and over there. Look at the times they took place. If you give me a few minutes, I can offer a good guess about the time and place of the next attack.” “What about a motive?” Allan looked up from his console. “That we can wring out of the killer when we catch her.” Manfred walked out the door. “Nordip, Kervan, Givan – let’s go. I want to prepare a little something special for our murderer.” “I’m coming too.” I followed them as they walked down the hall. “Good. We can use an extra pair of ears and eyes.” Manfred didn’t bother to look back, but kept striding down the hall. We passed Shevu and Sithim as we made our way to the PECC. There was something in Shevu’s eyes that was hard to read. There was this…kind of heightened awareness that seemed unnatural…even for her. She was caught in the middle of this dark madness like the rest of us; hopefully she would survive it. “Kervan, increase the sensitivity on the thermal imaging array.” Manfred ordered. “Done. But that won’t pick up the drone.” He answered grimly. “You think it’s her?” Givan was checking the hall. “There’s no telling what is going on inside that machine.” Kervan sneered. “I’ve kept my eye on her; it’s pretty easy to monitor technology like that.” Manfred brought up Renata’s signal. “See? She’s right there.” “What about that small army she’s building?” Givan walked back into the room. “It will have to run on old Empire frequencies; I’ve got the key to all of them.” Manfred tapped his plastic blue head. A long, thin needle glinted in the dark. It jabbed into the back of Nordip’s head and came out of his skull right through his forehead. His skin turned a pale white, he shuddered, and then dropped to the floor. We rushed him to the medical bay. Allan and Shevu worked frantically to save him, trying everything they could. “Try stimulating his neo-cortex!” Allan’s voice was frothing with frustration. “It’s not working.” Shevu’s response was puzzled – but I didn’t know why.
“No, no! Increase the electrical current here and there!” I could tell that Allan’s hope was slipping away, but he courageously held on to it with all his might. “Yes! See? He’s going to make it, just a little more-“ The lights went dark. By the time Manfred got them on again, Nordip’s lips were moving. “Too late.” The frightened Goothalk whispered. “Not so my friend.” Allan worked the controls faster than I could follow. Some of the color began to reappear in his patient’s feet. “Now rest.” “We cheated him.” I was beginning to think we could win. “Allan and I will stand guard to make sure he fully recovers.” Manfred ushered everyone out of the room. An hour later the medical bay was flooded with sulfuric acid. Everything inside, including Nordip, was completely dissolved.
We all met on the bridge; it was the only place we knew was safe. We stood in a circle, so we could see each other; for a long time no one dared move or even speak. Manfred was the first to break the silence. “We will get to the bottom of this, I promise. I’ve adjusted the PECC controls to detect all known bio-rhythms and alien technology. It’s just a matter of time.” The alarm went off and the lights went out. As the emergency lights came on, the computer announced: “Self Destruct sequence initiated. Two minutes to self destruct.” “What?!” Manfred brought up the ship diagnostic panel. “Cognitive aaaaaray….interface….error coooode….logic parameters…logic parameters….degraaaading.” Our captain walked into a nearby wall, bounced off, and walked into it again. “Manfreeeeed…….neuro-function algorithms failing…..re-booooting primary cognitive….reboooooting….reboooting…” Allan was convulsing on the floor. A dagger went through the back of Graxiella’s skull. She died on the spot. “Well now,” Hefu stepped from the shadows, “that’s all settled.”
© 2013 Benjamin F. Kaye
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