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First Chaos – Third Chapter – Christina

Posted: July 21, 2013 by ceeleeolson in Chaos #1
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Previous: Chapter 2 by Sarah || Next: Chapter 4 by Aaron

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It was the firing of the EMP guns that woke Altair from his sleep. The vibrations were faint enough that most might overlook them, but he was so attuned to his ship that his eyes snapped open as soon as the quivers started to race along the metal deck beneath his bunk. Why, he wondered, would his first officer be firing them at this hour? There wasn’t a weapons test on the agenda for today, in fact there wasn’t one until next month, and no Council ship had been spotted this far out in several decades.

He sat up, and swung his legs over the side of his bed. The warm body that had been sharing his bunk with him stirred and blinked up at him drowsily. “What is it, dear-heart?”

“Probably nothing,” Altair reassured the aboriginal beauty. He brushed a strand of silver hair behind one of her pointed ears, marveling yet again at how pale and pink his skin was compared to hers, and placed a kiss on her forehead. “Go back to sleep.”

Tris watched him for a moment or two while he dressed, but she had trouble keeping her eyes open; soon the room was filled with the sound of her soft breathing as she drifted off to oblivion again. He smiled to himself as he buckled the belt on his pants and held his wrist near the lock on the door. The sensor embedded there read his Cyrex and whisked open with a soft woosh.

Beyond his cabin the corridors and general rooms were empty. He found reassurance in the absence of life. If there had been an… encounter… the ship would be bustling with life, with his crew running to their stations instead of sleeping away in their bunks – like he should be. He debated if he should return to it and the woman waiting for him there; after all, if there had been an issue, his first officer would have alerted him, and perhaps the guns had just malfunctioned. The ship was old after all, and they didn’t have the parts to repair it like they would if they were stationed somewhere closer to the colonies. However, he had made it this far… he might as well check on the helm anyways.

The raised voices emanating from the helm told him that his hopes of the guns either malfunctioning or this being a surprise practice run were futile. He sighed, telling himself that just because they had deliberately shot at something did not mean that the Council had found them.  He forced himself to stand up straighter, rolled his shoulders back, put his most irritated expression on his face, and strode through the sliding doors.

Even though the system announced him, everyone’s attention was too focused on the large screen dominating the room to notice that Altair had stepped on deck. The moon they had been taking shelter behind, its surface pocked and pitted by craters from meteorites and other debris, filled the lower portion of the screen and beyond that was the curve of the planet.

As they were on the opposite side of the world from the sun, it was hard to make out the details of the continents and oceans – all one could see was a mass of black, broken up here and there by the dim lights of cities – but Altair knew their shapes by heart. The Sea of Rell was beneath them right now, encircled by the lands of the Eltari, and beyond that were the mountains the Ternians- who had taken their name from his own people when his ancestors had first discovered this place centuries ago – called home. To the north and south were the colder poles, which were supposedly inhabited by the pale ones.

And streaking across the planet’s atmosphere, pulled in by the heavier gravity, was a Council scout vessel.

“Status report!” Altair barked, startling the crew in front of him. No longer entranced by the images on the screen, all heads snapped around to face him.

“Ah…” His first officer, Marius, scrambled out of his seat and sketched a quick salute. “Sir. We… ah… well… we…”

“Quickly, man. I don’t have all night.”

Someone, one of the engineers perhaps, tittered and Marius’s cheeks turned a ruddy brown from embarrassment. He was young, maybe too young, to be a first officer. Most men and women were not promoted to the post until they had reached their late twenties, early thirties, and had spent ten or more years studying under an Admiral as a lieutenant – though exceptions were made for those who did well at the academy. However, when Altair’s previous first officer had passed away two years ago, there had been no one else he could choose. It wasn’t as if he could send a message requesting a replacement – Command thought he and the ship had been lost on their mission – and at the time he had naively believed that no one would ever discover them.

“We encountered a Council scout.” Marius quickly explained once he had regained his composure.

“I can see that.” Altair said as he watched the orb continue its speedy descent to the planet’s surface. Speed and friction from reentry had turned its silver surface white hot, and fire and smoke trailed out behind it. “Did it sense us?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

Altair glanced at one of the more experienced sensor technicians sitting closer to the screen, but the old man shook his head, “We received no warnings from the system – and the jammers are still engaged, so no one should be able to find us unless they were on top of us.”

“Were they?” Altair asked his first officer.

“Were they what, sir?” Marius stammered.

“On top of us.”

“No, sir. The scout was still a good 2,000 klicks away, and the moon was hiding us from sight.”

“So unless the Council has figured out a way to see around moons or hack through Ternian jamming in the last 50 years, there is no way that scout knew we were here. Is that correct, First Officer Marius?” Altair fought to keep his voice calm, and willed the headache that was brewing to stay away.

The younger man was blushing again, and stammering too. “I… Well… Your… I mean… Our orders are to protect the planet and our cargo at all costs, sir.”

“Yes.”

“Even though the scout had not spotted us, there was a chance that it might, so I took preventative measures.”

“I see.” The scout vessel was growing brighter and brighter as its velocity increased. It reminded Altair of the fireworks the Ternians on the planet below liked to shoot off at the Winter Solstice. “Did it occur to you, that they might simply pass us by? This solar system doesn’t contain any minerals that could be of any use to the Council, or to our home-world, and as long as we remained out of sight, they would have no reason to investigate.”

“No, sir.”

“By shooting down that ship, they’ll know we’re here. They’ll send more scouts to find out what happened. And those Scouts will either report back…”

“But if we catch them in time…” Marius interrupted him.

“And shoot them down like you did to that poor bastard? If we do that, the Council will send its best warships to investigate – and they have bigger guns, and can run faster than we can.”

Silence fell over the helm as the direness of the situation set in. On the screen, the scout vessel had become had collided with the surface of the planet and the flames from its fireball had started a wildfire.

“What is our next course of action then?” Marius asked.

Altair stared at the forest fire the crash had started. It spread quickly, a golden line bisecting the darkness of the night. He prayed to whatever gods would listen that no village or life had been destroyed by the scout as it fell. However, he knew from experience that Eltari were a hardy folk; if anyone had been near the crash, they would probably be able to stand up, brush themselves off, and walk away. “Prepare a landing crew. They’ll need to gather up what’s left of that Scout and bring it back here.”

“And then what, sir?”

“We’ll alter the data on the black box, blast the remains out of the system, and pray that the Council isn’t feeling curious.” It was a long shot – while the Council might not care much about the life of its scouts, it did care about the data they pulled on their travels – but if the remains of the vessel were found far, far away from this system, there was a chance they could continue to fly under the sensors… for now. However, despite his plans, Altair had a feeling the peace they had enjoyed for so long was coming to an end.

His bed was empty by the time he returned to his cabin, but there was a mug filled with tea sitting on his desk waiting for him. A scratchy, barely legible note – half home-world emblax, half Eltari runes – next to the mug claimed that it had restorative properties and directed him to drink it. He was amazed that she still had some of her powders and potions left after being in space for so long, but then she had been carrying several bags when she had come on board with him all those years ago.

He eyed the tea, wondering if he should dump it; despite its purported abilities, it looked and smelled like something dredged out of a stagnant pond. However, even if it tasted horrible, Tris’ concoctions always worked. He downed it quickly, coughing and gagging when it proved to be as atrocious as he suspected. Soon, though, he could feel the headache pounding away at his brain and the tension in his shoulders begin to ease and he sank down on the bed in relief.

Unfortunately, the tea could do nothing to solve the mess they found themselves in. Damn the scout for coming out this far! Damn Marius for not thinking his actions through!

The door to the cabin slid open. For a moment, Altair did not want to look up for fear that it was another member of the crew with more bad news. However, there was only one person on his ship who dared to enter his rooms unannounced. He opened his eyes to find Tris standing over him with her hands on her hips.

“The marines are gathering their gear in the cargo bay. They say you are getting a group together to go planet-side.”

“Yes.”

“And you were not going to tell me about this?”

“I just got back, and you weren’t here.”

“I was checking on our cargo.” She jerked her head towards the back of the ship, her silver hair flipping over her shoulder. Right. The stasis pods and the eggs they held. He had forgotten about them during the chaos of the last few hours. “Will we be going with them?” She asked.

He stared at her for a moment, drawing the moment out for the fun of it. Tris had been begging him for years to return to the surface to visit family and friends. However he had never been able to grant her request as they needed to conserve fuel and supplies.

“Well?” She demanded again. “Are you worried about the beasts? Or my family? It has been ten years since we last saw them, my love; we cannot hide forever!”

Altair smiled despite himself. “While your mother is a fearsome woman, it’s not her, or those things you call animals down there, that frighten me.”

“Then what is going on? First you leave your bed in the middle of the night over ‘nothing’, you send a team to the planet without inviting me, and now you will not answer my questions.”

“Only because you will not let me get a word in edgewise.” He said. “Did the marines tell you anything else?”

“No. Only that they were going to the surface.”

“There’s been a… complication that developed recently. Marius shot down a Council scout vessel as it was passing through the system.”

“But you said they thought you were dead.”

“They do.” They had scattered enough debris and burned a crater into a desolate planet two systems over that no one would question the fate of him and his crew.

“Then why were they here?”

“They were probably just passing through. They didn’t sense us or see us, but Marius was a little trigger happy.” He ran a hand through his graying hair. “I’m sending down a group of men to gather the remains of the vessel so we can shoot it out of system.”

“Then why aren’t we going down with them? I know the world better than any of your men.”

“Have I said that we aren’t going down with them?”

“No…”

“Good. I didn’t think I had. I am getting older though and sometimes…”

She stared at him, her mouth opening and closing, once, twice, three times as she tried to come up with a suitable response. Instead she chose to show him exactly how he felt. The next thing Altair knew, he was on his back and being pressed into the mattress of his bunk by the Eltari woman as she kissed him fervently. She finally pulled away, just far enough to see him better, and smiled down at him. “Thank you.”

He grinned back at her. “I thought that might make you happy.”

“It does. Very very much.”

“It won’t be for long.” He explained as he idly twirled a lock of her hair around his finger. “Only a few hours at the most while we clean up the debris and put out the worst of the fires.” He didn’t dare leave Marius alone with the ship for any longer. Who knew what else the boy might shoot down.

“It’ll be enough.” She kissed him again, long and slower this time.

His body quickly responded to her attentions and he groaned to himself, regretting that they didn’t have more time to indulge in more amorous activities. He told himself that there would be time enough for that after they got back to the ship.  He rolled out from under her and set her aside. “Come on. We have to get ready.”

“What is it you say? Yes, yes, captain?”

Altair eyed her as he straightened his clothing, wondering if he was the one being teased now. “Close enough.”

Tris laughed, the sound echoing in the cold metal room.

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