This is the first short story I wrote featuring the current version of the Starship Victory. The idea at this point was to create twenty-some odd short stories, each fully formed and roughly laid out as novelizations of a fictional sci-fi TV show.
“You’re sure the Colonel is asleep?” Elorg asked.
Golem nodded. “Yes sir. Sensors indicate his heart rate is down seventy-three-point-six-seven-five percent.”
“No need to be so specific, my boy.” Elorg said.
Golem shrugged. “I just read the environmental computer, Major.”
Elorg nodded. “Activate the transporter.”
Golem fiddled with the controls. “After we get this thing on board are you going to tell me exactly what it is?”
“It’s Top Secret. It would be…” Elorg bit his lower lip. “against regulations.”
Golem grunted. “Like that ever stopped you.”
The space directly above the transporter pad shimmered and twisted. Bit by bit, piece by piece, an object emerged on the pad. It was a coffin with a glass cover.
Elorg leaned over its’ edge. He stared at the body below him.
The small bits of exposed flesh, precious little of this corpse, were frostbitten. His mechanical implants were filthy. Smudged by time, cracked by microscopic debris. Not so long ago this corpse had been in the vacuum of space.
Still, slap some makeup on him and clean its implants; maybe it could be Elorg’s third cousin. Or great uncle.
The servo motors implanted in Elorg’s left arm spun up. He shivered.
Golem motioned toward the corpse in the coffin. “Look at how old those implants are, sir. What? Is this thing from the dark ages?”
Eric Dart watched the Starship Victory churn toward the Excalibur Orbital Platform. The Victory glowed blue, twisted, shimmered and refracted light. For a brief moment Dart could see two of it.That’s an artifact of faster-than-light travel. The starship hits one set of photons and then hits another set all at once. Both fly away at light speed, but the Starship jets out in front of them and more photons bounce off, more and more and more.
If you stare from just the right angle you can see a latticework of duplicates. It’s like staring through a diamond.
Something cold and sharp bit into Dart’s chest. He rolled forward and his face jammed into the window. Technicolor oil slicks blurred his vision. This must be a cheap holographic generator, he thought, it can’t simulate glass effects properly. It probably spends too much processing time on the sky box. That simulated Victory was quite stunning…
A simulated female voice said, “Colonel Dart took a ride on Lieutenant Byron’s shock-rifle. Three lives left.”
Dart pushed himself to his feet. Lieutenant Byron looked at him. Dart shooks his head and ran behind a rock. He braced himself and sidled behind the craggy surface. Why can’t Excalibur Station afford a decent holo-projection deck? These rocks feel like they’re made of foam.
He looked down at his shock rifle. The red icon on the back indicated he still had a few seconds before he could be shot again, but likewise he had a few seconds before he could fire the shock rifle.
Byron fired at the rock formation. The imaginary shot exploded a wad of hot rock and it splattered all around. Dart stumbled into the raining debris.
“Call a time out! Call a time out!” Dart nursed a red-hot wad of melted rock, rubbing it into his shoulder. “It hurts!”
“Oh Jesus! I’m sorry. I didn’t know! I thought this deck was garbage. I didn’t realize it could do proper heat effects!” Byron dropped his shock-rifle and ran over to Dart. He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped some of the psuedo red-hot magma off Dart’s shoulder. “Funny. It doesn’t feel that hot.”
The icon on Dart’s shock-rifle turned green. He fired into Lieutenant Byron’s chest, point blank. Byron bounced a meter back and rolled onto the floor. Dart’s blast knocked the wind out of him. He wheezed and coughed.
He rolled over onto his stomach. “W-what?” he groaned.
A simulation of a female voice said, “Lieutenant Byron was evaporated by Colonel Dart’s shock-rifle. Lieutenant Byron is out of lives.”
The door outside the simulation deck opened beside Byron and a force field pushed him out. The door closed, leaving no trace of its potential location.
The female voice said, “Five minutes remaining…”
Colonel Craig looked at the rank insignia on his shoulder. He was authorized to wear the colors of a Rear Admiral. In a few short hours he’d “officially” have the rank. Still, Colonel Craig wasn’t ready to give up his command just yet.Major Elorg tapped away at the navigation computer. This was all terribly routine. Well, they hadn’t returned to Earth in three years, not since picking up Dr. Picon en route to the Parker Conference, but otherwise this was boring.
The Starship Victory wasn’t being attacked by Gamar Pirates. The Victory wasn’t battling a space amoeba. The only god-like energy being in five parsecs was Lieutenant Brahma, the ship’s trusty navigator.
But, Major Elorg thought, there was the matter of the coffin. That will furnish the Victory’s new commander with enough adventure to hold us over until next week. Who knows what will happen then.
A status report blinked on Elorg’s display.
He said, “Colonel, it’s Fleet Admiral Behyine.”
Colonel Craig muttered, “Patch him through, if you must.”
Admiral Behyine’s smiling face appeared on the view screen. “Colonel Craig. So nice to see you.” He noticed the insignia on Craig’s shoulder. “Congratulations on the promotion.”
Craig winced and half smiled. “Thank you sir. I look forward to finally resting behind a desk after all these years.” He waited for a couple seconds. “I do hope you didn’t just call me to congratulate me. Is there anything else?”
“I have a message, but it’s not for your ears.” Admiral Behyine said. “I’ve got to take Major Elorg away from you for a few minutes. You understand.”
Colonel Craig waved toward the exit. “Whatever. I’ll see you at the ceremony.”
Elorg nodded and pressed a couple buttons at his computer. He got up and stepped out of the bridge and took a left into the Captain’s Ready Room. He sat down at the head of the desk and pressed on a computer touch screen. It lit up and Elorg typed in his command code. Admiral Behyine appeared here too.
“Are you going to tell me about that…” Elorg thought for a few seconds, “retro classic style Symphonic?”
Behyine nodded. “I didn’t want to keep you in the dark for long, but we can’t risk a long distance communication. Even encrypted, anybody could pick it up.”
“So that frozen corpse is important.” Elorg said.
“If he gets into the wrong hands, The Plattans or god forbid the Asimovs, your people would be in deep trouble.” the Admiral said. “I’m just here to prevent an intra-galactic incident.”
Elorg asked, “Is he what I think he is?”
Admiral Behyine finally made eye contact with Elorg. “He’s carrying a virus that might bring down the Symphony of Life’s entire civilization.”
“He’s got some kind of virus? I don’t think we’re talking about the same thing.”
Colonel Taggart took a couple steps forward. He looked around, did a little pirouette, and took another couple steps. That bastard Dart is out there somewhere. He has to be. Colonel Taggart hid the Red Flag partially behind his back.“There’s no time.” Taggart yelled. “It’s over Dart. I’m almost back at my flag.”
Nobody responded. Taggart listened.
He’s out there. Where is he? “One more point and it’s game over.”
Taggart stepped toward the Blue Team’s flag. He thought, all I have to do is touch the Red Flag to it and that’s it. One more point.
Dart’s out there. Maybe I should take the long way around? Yes. He’s laying in wait. I’ve got to out think him. Colonel Dart hasn’t lost a game of capture the flag in three years. He’s got this—
Colonel Dart dove from above. He drove his shock-rifle’s butt into Colonel Taggart’s face. Taggart collapsed in a heap on the ground. The flag tumbled out of his hands and rolled away.
“Taggart,” Dart stepped on his fellow Colonel’s neck, “This is why you’re still commanding the HUF Colombia, making milk runs carrying Maker parts and hydrogen ions five light years, and I’m set to take command of the Alliance Starship Victory.”
Taggart coughed. “I’ve got a wife and two kids. I can’t stand to have any action and excitement.”
Colonel Dart stared at Taggart for a couple minutes.
Taggart said, “I’m sorry, man. I didn’t mean anything by it. I wasn’t thinking.”
“I take no pleasure in this, Stephen.” Dart said. He stepped back and touched the Red Flag with a single finger. It evaporated in a puff of smoke. “But I need to incapacitate you long enough for me to get back to my base. Remember, if you ever do decide to have more excitement and adventure: come at your problems from angles nobody has ever seen before.”
Colonel Dart fired his shock-rifle into Taggart’s groin. Taggart curled up in the fetal position. The announcer said, “Colonel Taggart didn’t see Colonel Dart’s shock-rifle blast coming. One life remaining.”
Dart stepped over to the Blue Flag and removed it from the ground. He leaned it on his shoulder and walked slowly back to his base. He reached the flag out and touched it to his own.
The simulated female voice said, “The Red Team has won the match.”
The holographic images faded. Dart, as well as the other remaining member of Red Team, three members of Blue Team, and Colonel Taggart were suddenly in a small, cramped room.
The pain was gone. Colonel Taggart got to his feet and held his hand out to Dart. “Good game. I thought we had you. For a second, anyway.” He smiled warmly.
Dart shook his hand. “Come at problems from angles nobody has ever imagined.”
“I’ll,” Colonel Taggart helped one of his team mates to his feet. “take that under advisement.”
The door opened and Admiral Kohaine stepped in.
Kohaine surveyed the wreckage in the holographic arena. “Ah, Eric my boy! I see you’re still trouncing all comers.”
One of the members of Blue Team groaned.
“The game must have run late. I’m sorry, Admiral. I didn’t—”
Admiral Kohaine laughed. “Still the same Eric Dart from back in the academy. No, the ceremony isn’t for another hour and a half. The Victory is docking right now. Admiral Behyine is briefing your new number two. It’s my job to brief you.”
Colonel Dart nodded.
The admiral motioned toward the door. He stepped outside. Dart followed.
Kohaine said, “We’re wasting no time with your command, Eric. Right after the turning-over ceremony you and the Victory are to proceed to Sirius Colony at maximum speed.”
“The only thing I can think of out there is the cybernetics institute. I’ve read the dossiers about my new crew.” Dart thought for a few seconds. “This has something to do with Captain Golem or Major Elorg, doesn’t it?”
“Sharp boy, but no.” The Admiral turned left down a hallway. “It doesn’t involve Captain Golem at all, and it involves Major Elorg tangentially at best.”
The Admiral stepped up to his office door and it slid away.
Family members, Admirals, friends and Ansible News Service reporters packed into the Excalibur Platform’s auditorium. They babbled and dinned. Isn’t this exciting? A new commander for the Starship Victory. Why, yes. He’s my second cousin… I sold him his shock-rifle.Just off stage Colonel Craig fiddled with his cuff-links. Major Elorg nervously listened in on the crowd. Colonel Dart stood still and waited.
Admiral Behyine stepped out front into the podium. A spotlight came up. He said, “I would like to begin this ceremony with a traditional prayer…”
Elorg tensed up.
“Not the religious type?” Dart asked.
Craig looked at Elorg. “He’s a Symphonic. They’re not quite so evangelical anymore, but they’ve got plenty of faith. Elorg’s just uncomfortable with our old meat-bag superstitions.”
“I’ve never really met a Symphonic before. I’ve seen a couple.” Dart said. “I didn’t think many left the Chorus.”
Elorg shrugged. “Well, I’m one of a special few. The Symphony is an important part of who I am, I just prefer to keep it at an arm’s length.”
Admiral Behyine pointed toward Colonel Craig. “…for exemplary service I am proud to present Joseph Craig with the rank and title Rear Admiral.”
Craig sighed and walked up to Behyine. The other Admiral handed Craig a metal disc. Craig slipped it into the shoulder of his dress uniform.
“It’s a great honor to be here today.” Admiral Craig curled his lips into a sneer. “Eight years ago I took command of this beautiful starship. I’ve saved planets, forged peace accords and discovered new life and civilizations. I negotiated the Plattan armistice. I’ve seen more action than fifty commanders of fifty other starships.”
Admiral Craig saw his ex-wife in the crowd. “I sacrificed a lot of myself for this ship, and today I hand her off. To Colonel Dart I say only this: Keep your eyes open and enjoy the adventure while it lasts.”
The crowd applauded.
Elorg grunted. “I didn’t think he would be so graceful.”
Admiral Behyine stepped back up to the microphone. “Colonel Dart is a capable officer.” he began.
“I suspect he’s going to punch me when I step out there,” Dart said.
“No, really.” Dart stared at Admiral Craig. “Look at the veins in his neck. They’re ready to burst.”
Elorg said, “Don’t sweat it. Craig can keep it in his pants for five minutes. He’ll just drop off down the gym afterwards and pound some holographic boxers.”
The crowd applauded something Behyine said. He motioned toward Dart.
Dart stepped out onto the stage. The crowd wailed. He smiled and nodded, slowly walking toward the Admirals. He shook Behyine’s hand, then Admiral Craig.
The crowd finally calmed down.
“My entire career has lead up to this moment. The triumphs and the tragedies,” Dart bowed his head, “have prepared me for the rigors of this command. I would like to thank Admiral Behyine here, and Admiral Kohaine. I would like to thank Colonel Veltour, and Admiral Geoth. Your wisdom and experience have shaped me into the man I am today.” Dart paused for a couple seconds. “I just wish Selina and Aaron were out there watching me. Perhaps they still are.”
Dart’s eyes slipped toward the ground.
“But there’s no need to dwell on the past. There’s an exciting future out there, and the Starship Victory is ready to meet it.” Colonel Dart smiled. He motioned toward Elorg.
Major Elorg joined them out on the stage. “It’s,” he began, “It’s getting a little crowded up here.” He nervously chuckled. “I’ve served under Admiral Craig for three years. It’s been an immense honor working with such a great man. I look forward to working with Colonel Dart. I really,” he thought for a few seconds, “can’t think of much else to say.”
The crowd applauded.
Admiral Behyine said, “There will be a reception in ten minutes at The Hanger Deck, down in Section-C. Rear Admiral Craig will be available for interviews and there will be a question-and-answer session at 13:30 hours.”
Colonel Dart smiled. “Pressing matters require the Victory’s attention, so myself and Major Elorg cannot be in attendance, unfortunately.”
Dart stepped backstage. It took Elorg a few seconds to realize Dart was gone and followed him. They marched through several hallways, to the transporter station. Elorg set the coordinates to the Victory’s bridge and they teleported off.
Colonel Dart emerged in front of the command chair in a swirl of light. Elorg followed him a few seconds later, appearing at the Communications Station.
Lieutenant Brahma and Major Hayes were already on the bridge. Brahma was watching a news report at his Navigation Console. As soon as Dart transported in he stood up and saluted.
Dart returned the salute. “At ease. Lieutenant Brahma, is it? It’s an honor.”
Major Hayes looked up from the Security Console. Her body jerked up tight and she automatically saluted.
“At ease…” Dart waved his hand at her. “Lieutenant, get us the hell out of dry-dock. Warm up the dimensional extruder. We’re going to Sirius colony at maximum speed.”
“Sir, you are aware of the collapsed hyperspace-highway between Earth and Sirius, right?” Lieutenant Brahma asked.
Colonel Dart said, “I’ve looked over your file. You can react fifty thousand times faster than any human. You’ve got some kind of limited precognition. You can handle some spatial turbulence.”
“It’s not precognition, sir.” Brahma said. “I’m just smart enough to see a lot of possibilities.”
“Yes, yes, you’re a million year-old Hindu god.” Dart realized he was still standing in front of his command chair. He sat down. “I was just simplifying.”
Brahma started tracing an alternate course. “If I may suggest something sir, if we travel around the edge of the DeBeers planetoid we’ll only lose twenty minutes and we won’t experience any turbulence at all.”
“Duly noted, lieutenant.” Dart said, “But my word is final. Plot a direct course to Sirius.”
“Colonel, if Brahma has reservations about our course I strongly suggest you listen to him.” Elorg said. “He’s always right about these things.”
Dart thought, I have to assert my authority here. Are they already testing me? “Set a direct course to Sirius. Maximum warp.”
The Victory slowly curled away from the Excalibur Orbital Platform. The docking clamps detached. The umbilicus unlocked and accordianed back into the docking hub.The Victory’s engine’s kicked up. She turned about and pushed a kilometer or two away from the station. Finally, the hyperspace drive could kick on. The engines twisted time and space. The fourth through seventh spatial dimensions inflated and the Victory traveled along them.
It’s just easier to say the Starship Victory was traveling faster than light.
The Victory sped past Neptune from ninety-six million kilometers away. She passed Pluto at forty-seven million kilometers. She passed within twenty-three million kilometers of Kallisti Station on Eris. As she passed the Kupier belt she ran into turbulence. The bow jerked, but the inertial dampeners did their job. Lieutenant Brahma changed the trajectory with a thought.
The space between Sol and Sirius was pock-marked and dented. The strata of hyperspace between these two systems was stretched far past its breaking point, as it was in many other so called “hyperspace highways.”
Lieutenant Brahma didn’t even put a pretense of using his hands. He simply couldn’t move them fast enough to keep up. At maximum speed the dents in space would be impossible to avoid. He fed trajectory data directly into the Victory’s computer with his mind.
The Victory jerked to the side. The inertial dampeners didn’t block the full effect of this one dent. Colonel Dart bounced out of his seat. Major Elorg slapped the science console, bringing up information about the ship’s experimental labs. They were growing grass in anti-gravity.
The jolt was felt more strongly in the cargo bay. A metal coffin bounced on its side and its glass cover cracked.
The cybernetic implants in the frozen corpse kicked to life. His flesh was frostbitten and freeze dried. It would take a while for the implants to repair him again. They got to work.
“What the hell was that?” asked Dart.
Lieutenant Brahma flatly intoned, “Dimension number seven was collapsed in that region. Compensating already, sir.”
“Does anybody else feel a buzzing in their ears?” Elorg said. He rubbed his neck. “No wait. It’s just some feedback on my wireless network.” He slid his fingers over the cybernetic implant on the back of his head. He fingered a trap door and pulled a small dongle out of it. “I’ll just remove my network receiver until I can figure out what’s wrong.”
Systems on-line. Rebooting bio-machinery. Please wait…The corpse opened his eyes. Just seconds ago he was among his people. Now they were incredibly distant. He could still his his peoples’ thoughts, but they were light-years, maybe light-centuries away. The corpse, #23/42, thought, Why am I here?
He pushed the glass cover off his coffin and climbed upright. Everything is so hard to remember…
Ensign Rodriguez stepped through the door into the cargo bay. He ran a finger along the screen of his PDA Pad. The PDA Pad told him, “Unexpected hyperspatial turbulence. Examine cargo bay inventory.”
#23/42 pulled his system log files off his flash memory. My systems shut down because of exposure to a vacuum.
The ensign went through the inventory on his PDA Pad. He picked each item up and checked for damage. Two bottles of antique Plattan wine shattered. Rodriguez noted this on his PDA Pad.
The Symphonic heard something. Wine. What is wine? Cracked and broken. That I understand. He stepped out from behind a pallet of Sporarian catheters.
Ensign Rodriguez turned to face the Symphonic. “This is a restricted area. You’re not authorized to be back here.” he said.
“Authorization is meaningless. Where am I?” #23/42 asked.
Rodriguez looked the Symphonic up and down. “We’re at the Deck-C Cargo Bay. You look pretty rough. Do you need an escort to the infirmary?”
The Symphonic said, “No.” and raised up his left arm. The implants embedded around his hand sprung to life. A small door opened at the end of #23/42’s arm and a little needle stuck out. He pointed it toward Ensign Rodriguez.
The ensign finally realized what was going on. He ducked behind a crate of wine bottles and tapped his rank insignia. Among other things, it featured a cellular communicator. He said, “Secur—” before he was cut off.
The Symphonic stepped to the side and fired the dart into Ensign Rodriguez’s forehead.
The ensign groaned and sputtered. He flailed around, trying to dig the needle out of his head. But it was too late. Microscopic lasers and drills poured out of the needle on molecule thick wires. They slipped around Ensign Rodriguez’s brain reading and rewiring him one neuron at a time.
“There’s a security alert on Deck-C, Colonel.” Major Hayes said, while running a scan on the area at her computer console.“Drop out of hyper-space until we take care of this problem, Lieutenant. What’s the situation, Major Hayes?” the Colonel said.
Hayes examined the security console. “Scans indicate a bionic life form in the cargo bay. He just attacked a crewman.”
The Victory’s engines powered down.
Colonel Dart thought for a second. “Lead a security detail down there with Major Elorg. Try to use non-lethal force. We need that bionic life form alive.”
“I don’t think that’s an option. Judging by his implants he’s from The Symphony’s war-bringer days.” Elorg said.
Lieutenant Brahma rubbed his temples with both hands.
Dart nodded. “I’m aware of that, Major. We still have to deliver him to Sirius Colony.”
Major Elorg shook his head. “We can’t just use our shock-pistols. Back in those days every member of the Symphony had a personal shield emitter.”
“He’s trying to interface with our computers.” Major Hayes said.
The Colonel said, “How about we transport him into space?”
“What the hell.” Major Elorg tapped at the communications console. “He somehow got root access to the ship’s computer. We can’t control the transporters from here.”
Lieutenant Brahma grunted.
Elorg stepped toward him. “What’s wrong?”
The lieutenant said, “I can hear his thoughts. I think he’s got some mild psychic abilities.”
The Colonel inhaled deeply and held the breath for a couple seconds. “We need to get down to Deck-C pronto and take out that Symphonic.” He stepped over to the door, but it didn’t immediately open. “Major Elorg, what kind of implants are you wearing today?”
“An electromagnetic spectrum scanner, a music player, my personal organizer, an alarm clock…”
The Colonel ran his fingers along the edges of the door. “I was hoping for something more along the lines of a Swiss Army Knife.”
“I’ve got a knife.” Major Hayes said. She ran her arm under the security console and pulled out a purse. She stuck her hand in and pulled out a ceremonial Gamar klep’tu knife.
“That’s not quite what I had in mind, but it gives me an idea.” Colonel Dart held out his hand to Major Hayes and she handed him her knife.
Lieutenant Brahma coughed.
“Are you alright, Brahma? I mean, you’re not biologically alive. You really shouldn’t be getting sick.” Major Elorg stepped toward the lieutenant.
“Don’t get any closer. It’s my mind…” Brahma motioned for Elorg to get away. “The Symphonic is feeding me ideas, and as much as I hate to admit it, I like them.”
“Gamar steel is known for its durability.” the colonel said. He pushed the blade into the bottom of the door and grabbed a spare PDA pad. He smashed it into the knife’s handle, pushing it most of the way under the door.
“No kidding,” Major Hayes said, “That’s a really nice knife. If you damage it I’ll have to eat your liver.”
The Colonel reached over and grabbed one of the wheeled computer station chairs. He kicked the arm rest sharply, snapping it off. He stomped on it until it was straight. “We can worry about that later. Right now, help me push.” He fitted the arm rest over the knife’s handle, and pushed the remains of the PDA Pad under the knife.
He motioned for the two majors to come over.
He said, “We only need to push it up an inch.” Major Hayes and Elorg took a grip on the arm rest.
Elorg sighed. “That way the ship’s computer will think there’s an emergency and unlock the door. I’ve lived on this ship for years, Colonel.”
“I was just thinking out loud.”
Everything was suddenly clear to Ensign Rodriguez.This intruder was here for a reason. He came to allow mankind the privilege of joining The Symphony a century ago. Mankind, nothing more than a gang of philistines, wasn’t open to that message. Symphony Vessel #42 almost reached Earth, but the previous Starship Victory came up against her. Vessel #42 was destroyed. Most of the Symphonics on board were killed in the explosion, but miraculously #23 managed to survive. His cybernetic implants put him in stasis until he could complete his mission.
Now that #23/42’s cranial implant had done its work Ensign Rodriguez could hear it.
Freedom is irrelevant.
Liberty is worthless.
The only thing that truly matters is being part of the greater whole. The Symphony is the ultimate evolution of that concept. The music played directly on his brain. Everything was suddenly clear to Ensign Rodriguez.
Everyone will join the chorus. Everything will be a part of the Symphony.
Colonel Dart and Major Hayes pried the door up a half inch. Air chugged in, as if the door was vacuum sealed. Major Elorg grabbed at the bottom with his organic hand. The lock disengaged and Elorg pulled the door up to the top.Dart handed Hayes her klep’tu knife.
Elorg said, “I can take us down a path to Deck-C that can’t be blocked off.”
Major Hayes quickly glanced back at Lieutenant Brahma. She said, “You coming?”
“Your attempts to stop the Symphony will fail. Resistance is useless.” Brahma’s eyes went flat. Parts of his uniform or skin went transparent for a few seconds. You could see the muscles or bones under his arm. He blinked and flashed in and out of existence.
Major Hayes stepped toward him. “Brahma…?”
Elorg grabbed her shoulder. “I think he’s joined the Chorus. We should leave.”
Colonel Dart ducked under the door and walked into the hallway. “I suspect the Major is correct.”
Elorg pulled Major Hayes back toward the exit and under the door.
“What can we do?” Major Hayes said. “Brahma can rewrite reality to fit his whim.”
Elorg grimaced. “Let’s just hope that the aggregate mind the Symphonic is forming with him doesn’t realize that.”
“Oh my god, Carl. Are you alright?” Ensign Castle saw the Symphonic formerly known as Ensign Rodriguez walking out of the cargo bay. “Does it hurt?” She motioned toward the dart sticking out of his head.“There is no pain now, only the bliss of communion. The music of life is everywhere.” the Symphonic said.
“I’ll call Doctor Pasteur.” Ensign Castle tapped her comm-badge. It didn’t beep. “That’s odd. The communications network is down.”
#23/42 stepped out of the cargo bay and pointed his cybernetic arm at Ensign Castle. She tried to protest, but he shot her in the face with a conversion dart. Microscopic wires unrolled into her brain and began rewriting her.
“Why are we cutting through the kitchen, Major?” the Colonel asked.Major Elorg replied, “Major Hayes gave me an idea. We need knives.”
Colonel Dart stepped over to a dishwasher. “Our shock-pistols are useless. Good thinking. Anything else we should know?”
“Judging by the age of his implants he’s got about five conversion darts loaded in his arm.” Major Elorg picked through a pile of spoons.
“Ah, from back before you got permission from people before you made them join the Symphony.” Major Hayes said. “What exactly do these conversion dart things do?”
“Me? Look, Kylie, nobody in the Symphony has forcibly converted anybody in ninety years.” Major Elorg picked up a butter knife and examined it.
Colonel Dart pulled out a couple steak knives. “You didn’t answer her question.”
Elorg said, “They’re a stopgap measure. They’ll rewrite sections of your brain and put you in wireless contact with nearby Symphonics. It doesn’t have space for an ansible receiver, so their range is limited to about forty meters.”
Colonel Dart handed Elorg a steak knife. “Interesting.”
“They only need to function for a few hours, long enough for the Symphonics to install proper implants.” Elorg said, swinging his knife around a couple times to get a feel for it. Elorg motioned for everybody to follow him and they walked down an auxiliary staircase to Deck-C.
“Does anybody have a plan?” Major Hayes asked.
“Our mission is scrapped. I can’t let half the ship join the Symphony.” Dart said. “I guess we just have to kill anybody with one of these implants, and the original Symphonic who started this.”
Major Hayes gripped her knife a little more tightly. She said, “Great.” but tired to sound unenthusiastic.
Elorg grunted. “What about Brahma?” he said.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.” Dart motioned for his officers to be quiet. He quickly took a peek around a corner. He slowly stepped out and listened closely.
Elorg and Hayes followed him.
Colonel Dart stepped to an other corner and peeked around it. Two crewmen were peeling wall plates off. A cyborg stood behind them. Two little scanners rotated, sticking out of his entirely cybernetic left arm.
Dart motioned to Hayes.
Dart jumped out behind the corner and tackled the Symphonic. He tried to stab upward with his steak knife, but the Symphonic’s organic hand knocked it away. It pulled its’ cybernetic arm up and stabbed Dart in the temple with a pin.
Dart collapsed on the ground.
Hayes jumped at the Symphonic. She swung her klep’tu at its’ jugular. It easily hit its mark, and tar-black oil sputtered out of the Symphonic’s neck.
Major Hayes was confused. She punched the Symphonic in the face; two bones in her wrist cracked.
The Symphonic shot her with a conversion dart.
Elorg stepped out and watched. “Well, crap.” he said. He dropped the steak knife on the floor.
Instinctively, Lieutenant Brahma always knew the truth. There are no individual minds. Everyone who claims to exist is really just the product of a deranged universe trying to comprehend itself.The difference was now he accepted it on a conscious level.
The ground around him rippled. Slowly the bridge mutated and transformed. All the technology was replaced with century old Symphonic equipment. The command chair transformed into a table with a series of implants, cybernetic arms, and installation kits. They were all pulled directly from #23/42’s mind, and would work perfectly as soon as he brought his new converts up to the bridge.
#23/42 looked at Elorg. “You are Symphonic. I cannot hear your thoughts. Is your transmitter damaged?”Elorg said, “No. I removed it.”
#23/42 was puzzled. “Why would you do such a thing?”
“I didn’t want you to destroy my mind and make me join your little cancerous growth in Symphonic society.” Elorg watched the other Symphonic.
Colonel Dart groaned. He wasn’t letting the conversion implant take his mind that easily.
“I do not understand.”
“Times have changed,” Elorg saw the designation tag on the other Symphonic’s chest. “#23/42. We are a society of individuals with a much more limited hive mind.”
#23/42 said, “Change is irrelevant. Advancement is irrelevant. The Symphony isn’t the Symphony any more. I must return us to our former glory.”
“I didn’t want to do this. It’s probably not going to work, but I have no choice. I’m not fast or tough enough to just kill you.” Elorg said.
Elorg pulled out his network dongle. He slid his organic hand up over the implant scaffold in his head. He found a slot without an implant and inserted his network dongle.
Elorg’s mind reached out to #23/42. Their thoughts merged. Their minds merged.
Elorg remembered #23/42’s entire life. He remembered discovering mankind’s existence. He remembered the central hive mind deciding to spread the Symphony to Earth.
He remembered vessel #42 being destroyed.
But #23/42 remembered Elorg’s life. He remembered being born on Planet #815. He remembered his mother and father. He remembered going to school, being somehow different, wanting an escape.
He remembered leaving Symphony space behind. He remembered traveling to Earth, joining the Alliance Fleet, working on other ships. He remembered Elorg’s last few years on the Victory.
Slowly #23/42 gained Elorg’s enhanced sense of individuality.
“Oh, my.” #23/42 said. “I don’t think I understand the universe anymore.”
Elorg’s sense of individuality spread to Ensign Rodriguez and Ensign Castle. And Brahma.
Rodriguez screamed. The implant in his head hurt. He pressed his communications badge. He said, “Doctor Pasteur to Deck-C…”
Colonel Dart, Major Hayes and the two Ensigns laid in cots in the infirmary. Doctor Pasteur installed anti-scar kits over where she removed the Symphonic implants. #23/43 sat on a chair, watching them. He felt awful.The colonel awoke after a few minutes.
“What happened?” he said.
“I’m sorry,” #23/42 said. “I didn’t understand that other entities don’t want to join the Symphony.” He leaned his head to the side. “I was just acting according to my programming.”
“So we’re fine?” Dart looked at Hayes and the ensigns.
“Yes, Elorg made me realize my error.” the Symphonic said.
Dr. Pasteur walked into the room. She said, “I removed your implants. You’ll be fine once the painkillers wear off and the anti-scar kits patch you up.”
Dart nodded. He ran his hand over his rank badge and tapped it. “Colonel Dart to Bridge.”
“Sir?” Elorg said.
“How’s Lieutenant Brahma?”
The major said, “He’s back to normal. Don’t worry. He never really conceptualized individuality before, so he was easily caught by #23/42’s stray psychic projections.”
Colonel Dart said, “And what are we doing about… the Symphonic? #23/42?”
“He wanted to apologize to you personally. After that we’re going to transport him to Sirius Colony, so that Alliance technical institute can have a look at him.” Elorg said.
#23/42 looked at Dart bashfully.
“Well, apparently there was no long term harm done. I accept your apology.” Colonel Dart sat up. “Major, can somebody show me to my quarters?”