Four security officers were posted outside Containment to keep unauthorized personnel from entering. It was a complete surprise to find it was someone from inside the room that would need prevention from leaving. Officer Berg saw Paris starting to exit and witnessed the noose which pulled him back inside.
Berg drew his weapon and yelled. “Put your hands in the air and slowly come out of the room. You have nowhere to go.” The other officers drew their weapons as well.
Paris lay dead on the floor. A strange person stood over him. Again Berg ordered, “Hands up where I can see them. Slowly, come out of the room and lie down on the floor.”
The figure standing over Paris didn’t move, nor put his hands in the air. Berg motioned to the other officers.
“Sparks, Johnson, cover the exit. Turly, call for backup.” He began to move towards the room.
Barely haven taken a few steps, a strange canister came rolling out from Containment, into the outer room. From inside, a hand reached for the door knob and pulled it shut.
“Take cover.” Berg screamed. It was too late.
The canister exploded, sending deadly shrapnel around the room. Four security officers now lay dead in pools of their own blood. The ship shook from the power of the blast.
Captain Rawlings pulled himself from the floor of the Bridge. “Lock us down, now.” He ordered. Bridge security immediately responded, locking down the bridge and sensitive systems across the ship.
Turly managed to get a call out for backup before being killed, but no one really knew what was happening. Santora’s forces quickly made their way through the shift and onto the Varnia, overwhelming her. They moved from room to room killing all in their path and securing the way to the bridge.
What no one of the invading force knew, was the blast had badly damaged important cooling systems in the ship’s engine room. Temperatures were rising fast and fuel cores getting dangerously overheated.
Varnia’s Bridge crew knew about it. They could see it on ship’s internal sensors. There was nothing they could do to fix it though.
Rawlings spoke, “We’re going to lose control of the ship. Find a place to put her down, fast! Options anyone?”
The navigation officer chimed in, “Captain, we’re not far from Tridia. We could turn around and head back. It’s an inhabited planet, but there’s plenty of empty desert. We may be able to set her down in the sand, far enough away from people and local structures.”
“Very well,” Rawlings ordered. “Get her down now.”
“Aye aye Captain.”
Several minutes later, the ship entered the Tridian atmosphere. The sky was cloudless and the landscape below could be seen for hundreds of miles. Rawlings surveyed the area. Deciding on a place, he ordered the Varnia to be dropped in that location.
Helm barely had enough control to maneuver on the headings given. But finally, the ship responded and was on course. It wasn’t long though, before control of the ship was completely gone, the overheating fuel cores reaching break-point levels.
The Varnia picked up speed as it descended. Flaps not responding , Helm tried to pick up the nose, in hopes of creating enough drag to slow her down. But this too was failing. Everyone knew they were well beyond terminal velocity.
A carrier, sat at the edge of a heavily wooded forest. Senator Michaels was on the ground, having been thrown down with angry force. A door opened and the driver emerged from the parked vehicle.
Michaels lifted his head and scanned the area. He was greatly disoriented. Although he had seen Santora come and go at least a dozen times before, he himself had never experienced the shift. Just seconds ago, he was on the shuttle craft and now, here, wherever here was.
The driver opened another door for the General and his guest. Santora was just lifting Michaels to his feet when he heard someone calling from the meadow behind. Turning, he saw it was the pilot, who had been manning the shuttle controls after the takeover. With a rope, he was pulling and at times half dragging someone behind him. Santora recognized the uniform of one of the fleet students.
“Where are the others” Santora scowled. He was referring to his other men.
“They’re dead General”, replied the soldier.
“Killed by him?” Santora was in disbelief. This person was a child in his eyes, and indeed Edwards was barely out of childhood. He had just turned twenty one years old.
Like Michaels, he too was in shock, as he took in the surrounding view. His mind struggled to make sense of what was taking place. Unlike Michaels however, he never heard of a shift and so the shock was that much more impacting. He thought he was dreaming.
“No General, there was another. He killed everyone. I surprised him from behind and grabbed his weapon. I would have blasted him but this one came out of nowhere, tackling me through the portal. After I bound him, I tried to enter back through but the linkage was no longer operational. It probably went down with the ship being destroyed.”
Santora turned to the frightened cadet. Grabbing him by the throat, he lifted him off the ground and brought the boys face to his own. Edwards was choking. “No my friend, you are not dreaming. This is real and the pain you’re about to feel will be real if you don’t cooperate. You will tell me now, who is this other person?”
He talked in a deep, calm voice, his mouth so close, Edwards could feel his interrogator’s hot breath. Santora let go, dropping the boy to the ground. Edwards rolled to a sitting position holding his neck. Coughing hard and trying to get air, The General waited for him to catch his breath.
“Who was the other, the one who killed my men?” Santora calmly asked.
Edwards defiantly turned himself, putting his back towards the General. Santora signaled for his driver to start the engine. Grabbing the boy by his collar and with astonishing ease, the General dragged him towards the vehicle, as if he were pulling a balloon on a string.
At the carrier, he again grabbed Edwards by the neck but not choking him this time. He thrust the boys face up against the very hot exhaust pipes. There was a blood curdling scream. Michaels turned himself from watching, tears streaming down his face.
“This is how I ask nicely.” The General continued to hold his face against the pipe. A few seconds more and Edwards was unconscious. Santora lifted him and like a rag doll, tossed him into the back of the carrier.
“Let’s go, now!”, The General barked at Michaels.
The Senator wiped his tears with a sleeve and begrudgingly crawled into the back seat with Edwards. The sight and smell of burnt flesh made him gag. The pilot, who had arrived with his prisoner, now started to follow behind Michaels. Santora pushed him away from the carrier.
“Not you.” The General spoke with no emotion. “I don’t tolerate failure.”
Raising his EPW to the soldiers face, he pulled the trigger. “Spread the word when we get back.” He instructed the driver. “This is the price paid for not doing your job well.”
No one on the Varnia spoke. They sat at their post the entire way in. By now the invaders were outside the bridge and banging away at the locked door in an attempt to break it down. Rawlings wondered what would kill them first, an EPW blast or the imminent crash ahead.
It wasn’t much longer before the Varnia hit the surface in a flattened, landing pose, sliding across the rough grounds but staying intact. The impact however was too much for organic lifeforms. All on board including the attackers were killed on impact.
In Containment, the devices were hurled from the table and disabled, closing down the temporary portal.
Michaels sat in a hard, cold room. It was dirty, musty and barely lit. Adding to his hopelessness were the loud screams of Edwards, being tortured in the adjoining room. All for the name of the cadet who had taken out Santora’s men on the shuttle.
A window in the wall separated the rooms. Michaels didn’t want to look. Instead, he put his head down on the table in front of him and cried himself into an exhausted sleep.
The Senator awakened to the sound of General Santora entering the room. All concept of time was gone. He didn’t know how long he’d been there. The tortured screams had stopped. Michaels looked to the window and saw the room on the other side was dark.
“Did you get what you wanted, you monster?” Michaels cried. Tears were flowing again.
“I have my name”, Santora calmly replied. “And soon, you’ll have that name also.”
“I can’t go along with this. You’re a thug. I can’t do it.” Michaels put his head down again on the table. He was exhausted and deeply wounded in spirit. “What have I done?” He thought to himself.
Santora spoke gently to the Senator.
“I can be a reasonable man. All I ask is you do what I say. Then you’re on my good side.”
Michaels lifted his head. “Do you even have a good side?”
“Of course I do. I could just go into your world and kill everyone, but I don’t.” Santora tried to reason.
“Or you can’t”, the thought hit Michaels as a revelation. He didn’t know how he knew, he just knew. “I hope Daria can forgive me for thinking they were the enemy.” He felt a hand on his shoulder. A current like electricity was flowing through his body, making him feel stronger and suddenly more at peace. Turning to see who it was that touched him, he was greatly startled and jumped in his seat. No one was there, except Santora, sitting across the room.
“Calm down Senator, everything’s okay. You’ll see.” The General stood. “I told you before; I have something I want to show you.”
He passed by Michaels to another door. The Senator hadn’t noticed it before now. Michaels followed, entering a darkened room.
Santora whispered in his ear from behind, “Tucker. Zee Tucker.”
“What?” Michaels turned his head.
“Shh”, the General put his finger to his mouth. He was smiling. With his other hand he pointed ahead. “We don’t want to wake her.”
Michaels turned to an unimaginable horror. His eyes were now adjusted to the dark and he could see clearly. His youngest daughter lay asleep in her bed against the wall. They were in her room.
Again the General whispered, “Zee Tucker”. That’s the name Senator. Find him. When you do, I’ll instruct you on how to bring him to me.
With that, the General turned and left the room through the door they had entered. Michaels turned to follow but only encountered the back wall of the closet. There was a loud thumping sound as boxes fell on top of him from a shelf above.
“Daddy?” Rebecca’s voice called from her bed. “What are you doing?”
“Everything’s alright honey. You go back to sleep.” He moved across the room to tuck her back in.
“I thought I heard voices. I must have been dreaming. It was really scary daddy. There was someone talking to you, a man I think. He was really evil.”
Michaels kissed her on her forehead. “I love you honey and I’m not going to let anything or anyone hurt you.”
“I love you too daddy.” With that, she turned onto her side and was quickly back asleep.
Quietly, the Senator exited the room and closed her door. Leaning against the wall, he slid on his back to a sitting position on the floor. Again he was crying.