Thursday, July 14, 2011

Starlight Chapter Four

By J.D. FarnWorth

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Starlight station, Module one, Deck 3, July 12th, 2504, 13:12
The crew sat at the table playing poker as Adam entered the Caf-deck. They continued to joke and looked rather happy, at least to the purple bellies observing them from the station’s control room. Their conversation, however, was more dark than humorous.
It is okay, they aren’t watching,” Adam announced as he walked over and poured hot water into his cup. He then filled the small copper colored basket with coffee and dropped it in letting it brew a bit.
Good, if I laugh at one more of Marty’s jokes, I am liable to volunteer for one of those space walks Commander Black was offering,” said Jenny as she nudged Marty with her elbow.
So, what are they up to?” asked Marty, pulling the cards closer for another deal.
They have docked a Firefly transport with Blue Sun markings. I believe it is named the Betty. Has anyone heard of her?”
It’s familiar. Oh wait, that is my ex-wife's name,” answered the captain, looking around with his crazy eye for a response.
Everyone shook their heads, they didn't get out much and the last supply drop was almost a year ago.
What else did you see?” asked Judy.
Captain, you might want to go take a look for yourself,” said Adam, looking gravely at the man.
What!” demanded Judy, standing to her full height and towering over Adam.
Feeling bullied, he answered, “Bodies, maybe 20 or so, they brought them off the Betty and wheeled them into the main casino. They have even repaired the little gravity problem in Modular 4. I wouldn’t have thought that they would have been able to repair the busted board. They have a doctor and orderlies doing most of the work. They have gurneys lined up against the gaming machines,” answered Adam stopping as he noticed the looks from the crew.
What, come on? Bai Too’oh?” asked Jenny sounding as though she was on the verge of a breakdown.
Adam noted something else, she had always been a mystery but her eyes relayed something different. She was confident and in control. Her eyes betrayed her bubbly blond exterior. He turned away avoiding her gaze.
No way!” exclaimed Judy starting for the hatch. “You got to be joking?”
Rod and Marty followed Judy into the corridor leaving Jenny and Adam alone in the Caf-Deck, normally Adam would have been happy to spend time with the beautiful woman. Those eyes, she was hiding something.
It looks like they turned the floor of the casino into a morgue of sorts,” he muttered.
Well, I am going to have a look,” said Jenny, sounding calm and collected. She had dropped the frightened school girl routine.
Jenny, you might check on Zack. He is looking like he has seen better days,” said Adam, he tried not to look directly at her,  unfortunately he betrayed something of himself.
Why me?” asked Jenny, once again more confident.
You are listed as medic on the crew roaster. Aren't you, sunshine?” asked Adam, watching her make up her mind.
You would be surprise what little training. I have in that department,” she answered, as she headed for the hatch.
No, I wouldn't,” he chuckled, he had no real clue why she was on board other than as a place holder for a crew member without a real purpose. “There is a lot more to you than meets the eye. You are from the Core, but not a colonist, you have formal education and that means you are from money. Training in comp…”
She stopped and turned just before reaching the hatch, her eyes bore through him. He had struck a nerve.
“Company Relations,” he said, in the most formal Core Accent he could muster.  “Are you a counselor for Blue Sun? Where you sent her to spy on us?” he asked, his mouth scowled. His father was a constable and he had watched him work his craft on his brother and sisters for years. This gave him an edge getting information when he wanted.
She smiled and relaxed, “You got me, I was sent here to down size this operation.”
He noted the change and went with his other thought, “To bad, you would have made a great Companion.”
Her hand grabbed the frame of the door so hard paint chips fell making the sound of rain. “I know,” she answered, sounding soft and less calm than before.
Their moment was gone and her hand slid across the frame and disappeared out of view.
Adam turned from the table towards the counter and looked for the promised food, he understood that he had been let in on her secret.  “Great, I was hoping someone started something to eat,” he said aloud. He believed she wanted to tell someone, she had enough training in the Companion house to have mentally wrestled with him all day. One of his sisters was a Companion or at least, had been one the last time they talked.
His stomach grumbled, pushing him to look at what could be made rather then that quick snack he had failed to find.
* * *
Jenny walked down the corridor where Zack sat like a bag of onions. She could see on his face that he felt pain. His eyes were red and his chin was pushed into the crook of his arm. He looks as if he were holding himself.
You okay, hon?” she asked in her soft voice.
Yeah, I just want to be left alone,” he groaned, with a little effort.
When she reached him, she sat down leaning against the welded door. She stretched her legs and reached out with her hands to touch her toes. Her back needed a good stretch. With her hands she reached  up and looked back meeting the young man's eyes.
You are sure prudy,” said Zack.
Thank you,” she answered. She normally would have met his remark, any remark about her looks with an insult. But she felt he needed more from her.
You’re going to be alright?” she asked, reaching out and drying his eyes with the cuff of her jumpsuit pulled over her hand.
I don't like closed in places,” he whispered.
You mean you’re claustrophobic? Why in the hell would you want to be a spacer?” she exclaimed.
He motioned with his hand to keep it down. “I only wanted to be a spacer to get my brother off Regina; he would be dead by now if we hadn't sold everything and bought two tickets to Persephone. We got ourselves into environmental engineering school. Most of our credits went to the school.”
Still, why did you become a spacer?” she asked, smiling at his pain.
By the time, I found out about the claustrophobia, I was already a crew member on the Basure, When Rod and Marty were offered the Starlight assignment. I tagged along. I figured a nice empty space station was as good as it would get for guy like me. Until they sealed us in here,” he answered, popping his head back and hitting the door.
It was then she noticed the little red spot on the door frame. “You need to come to my cabin and let me look at that head of yours,” she said standing and holding her hand out.
Finding the courage, or maybe he just thought he had a shot at the hottest girl in town; he reached out and stood up. She placed her arm around him and walked him to her cabin. She could feel warm liquid on the back of his uniform. He was bleeding and would need stitches. She wasn’t good at stitches, but would give it a go, after all she was the only medic they had.
I will get you all fixed up.”
* * *
The head in Gabe’s cabin was crowded but half of the crew pushed their way in anyway. It smelled and they gave Gabe strange looks.
I should have put the monitors out in the cabin,” said Gabe, looking rather embarrassed at the stench he had just created.
Yeah, why did you put them in the head anyway?” asked Judy, leaning over the captain.
Ah, I was trying to hide them,” Gabe said, snapping back.
Well then, you better pull them out into the cabin because I don't think anyone is looking to come in here,” said Marty who had pressed between Gabe and the sink.
I will later, for now you guys better see this,” answered Gabe, pointing to a man in the docking area. “He has been inserting something into bodies.”
With the loading ramp of the Firefly as a back drop the monitor zoomed in on an orderly who leaned over one of the corpses and drew a mark on the poor fellow’s leg.
What are they doing to those poor colonists?” asked Judy, leaning over the captain to get a better look.
I want to go home,” complained Marty, leaving the group and heading to his cabin.
Without complaint from the corpse, the man in the lab coat shot a gun looking instrument into the womand knee, injecting a large black dot. He looked up at the camera, asking, “How does it look?”
“It looks fine,” answered the doctor.
Mr. Black appeared on the main screen and asked, “Okay, how long will it take to get them up?”
“Not long, the paralytic is wearing off,” answered the doctor.
The crew of the Starlight watched the center monitor as it shifted to the wide angle view of the twenty corpses. Judy gasped as the corpses came back to life, one after the other, they stirred under the sheets.
What the hell!” exclaimed Gabe!
They turned to Gabe and back to the monitors.
The doctor turned from the camera and asked, “How are they feeling?”
“Heart rates are okay, most are in the normal range,” answered the orderly, from somewhere out of camera range.
Gabe pointed at the multi-camera monitor and you could just make out the image of the orderly the doctor was speaking with.
The Starlight crew stood motionless. Judy found herself holding onto the captain as they watched the bodies continue to stir under the sheets.
One by one the sheets fell to the floor and the men and the women still dressed in the civilian clothes began to sit up. Their faces were emotionless.
The Starlight crew watched as the people rose from the gurneys and stood up. They all looked to be colonist. They could have been friends and families of most of the crew.
Zombies?” Gabe muttered the question.
No, dumbass, zombies don’t have heart rates,” answered Judy.
No such thing as zombies,” stated the captain, going to one knee from the weight of Judy pushing down upon his shoulders.
So they have heart rates and they aren’t undead, what are they?” asked Gabe.
Up on the monitors the scientist ran them through several drills, starting with the use of a broom. Ten or so stood at one end of the casino and then slowly walked toward the other end sweeping the floor, pushing the purple wall hangings and banners along with the other debris.
Zombies that clean up after themselves?” responded Judy, almost in laughter.
Look! That one is cleaning your favorite poker machine,” said Gabe, slapping his leg and looking over at Judy.
It was the same machine Judy played and the one she sat at just this morning harassing Adam.
I may never play video poker again,” she said, as she answered his laughter with a deadly stare she reserved for the Airlock Inn back home in Freemont. It made most drunkards shy away.
Why are they forcing them to do this?” asked Gabe, feeling the need to change the subject, from the poker machines back to the walking dead.
They’re us.” answered the captain.
What are you talking about?” asked Gabe.
Inject anyone with whatever that stuff was and they have a crew that will do whatever they want,” the captain answered, dropping to his second knee and only remaining upright from sure will.
Mind control,” whispered Judy.
But! What would a bunch of people walking around like, for the lack of a better word, zombies, do?” Gabe asked.
Well for starters, if there was an environmental breach they could still have people to fix a problem,” answered the captain.
Nope, they still breathe,” answered Judy, stepping back from the captain.
Then what?” asked Gabe.
They probably work for a common goal until the task is done or they are dead,” answered the captain, rising to his feet and forcing his way back into the main cabin.
That would make them slave labor,” said Judy mournfully.
They turned at the sound of Adam clearing his throat in the open hatchway, wearing an apron that was three sizes to big. He smiled announcing, “Lunch is on the table.”
Hey! That’s my job,” complained Judy, laughing as she moved passed him. She couldn't help herself from slapping him on the rump. When she slipped into the corridor the smile dropped from her face as she thought of the implication of what she had just witnessed.
* * *
The captain and Gabe watched the monitors as things unfolded. They could hear the crew in the Caf-deck enjoying their lunch, which was a great contrast to the images of the colonist.
Mr. Black filled the left monitor, looking as charming as ever, asking, “Doctor Ryan, how long are you going to have them walking around like half drunken spacers?”
“I am working on it. The computer is having a little trouble controlling so many subjects,” said Dr. Ryan, whose image now filled the right side monitor.
“You promised me that you could control 50 units, with the Walker programming,” stated Mr. Black.
“I know what I said, it will just take a little while to get them running correctly. The subjects are fighting the wetware that I installed just this morning. As the wetware comes online the body’s nerve endings will forget the old path ways and respond to my programming,” answered Dr. Ryan, who while speaking with Mr. Black took the time to remove his glasses and clean them.
“I really don’t care how you do it, just get it done,” ordered Mr. Black turning and moving out of view of the monitor.
“Yes, Commander,” answered Dr. Ryan, he turned away from the monitor and called for his assistant. “Peter, get in here.”
“Sir?” answered Peter.
“Oh, I thought you had left,” said Dr. Ryan.
“No, sir, what is it, doctor?” asked Peter moving with in the view of the monitor.
“Have the soldiers readied; tell them that they will need only their stun sticks.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Oh, and Peter, tell the men to go easy on the subjects, at least with the first few trials,” ordered Dr. Ryan, turning his attention back to the camera.
Mr. Black filled the main monitor once again. “Doctor, how much longer?” he asked, who by the tone in his voice had found his patience once more.
“Give me just a few minutes and we can get started,” answered Dr. Ryan.
Gabe leaned back from the monitor and looked around, asking, “What, what are you going to do to these people, now?” He grabbed the center monitor and shook the image of Mr. Black.
Some sort of test,” whispered the captain.
Yeah, but I can’t make out what sort of test. There is a lot of traffic coming and going from the Betty and at the top of the screen you can just make out the guardsmen and I think they are getting ready for a fight.”
They’re not coming here are they?” asked Jenny as she entered the cabin.
No, we would hear them cutting through the door long before that and besides why would they seal us in here if they were just going to send someone into kill us? The people aren't dead, they were just sleeping, but the doctor installed wetware or something to control them, making them some sort of human slave labor. Other than that we have no idea what they are up to,” answered the captain now out of breath from the long update.
I am sure their plan will unfold soon enough. Now go get some food, while I keep watch for a while,” she said with force and pointed towards the door.
Sounds good, just don’t touch anything,” answered Gabe, pushing himself through the hatch.
And call me if anything happens,” said the captain, following Gabe as he waddled out into the corridor.
Will do,” Jenny said, making herself at home and taking the only seat in the head. Little Jenny, exercising most days as if she were running from someone, the truth was she was running from herself, more precisely her thoughts. She closed her eyes and just made out her father’s face.
She was very young when she left her home planet of Londinium for Sihnon. She had been chosen to spend a life as a Companion. He father’s idea of a status boost that would have worked if he had lived to watch her graduate.
When she left for New Melbourne only her mother came to see her off. They held each other briefly and only spoke a minimal amount of words. Her mother disappeared into the crowded and she walked up into the passenger ship.
As part of her training she was directed to spend a full year in an off-world Companion House. She hadn’t minded putting the distance between her and her family. She had thought a year would be to short and she knew one day she would be forced to return to her family and the company.
Her training house had selected her to work out of the Red Dragon on New Melbourne. It was a resort for the rich tourist from the Core that wanted to go somewhere exotic. Border planets were less crowed and the help were ordered around like slaves and very disposable.
Her status as a Companion training was almost complete by the time the New Year rolled around. Her last client was just about to take his leave to join the celebration of the passing of another year.
Earth was still out there, somewhere in the distant expanse of space, and once a year people gathered to celebrate another of Earth’s trips around Sol. 
She heard the gun fire and the shouts of anger. She hid in her armoire pulling her expensive gowns over her head. The men entered the House and started killing Companions and clients alike. They were dressed in black and used weighted pipes to kill everyone that they came upon.
She flinched as one of the men screamed, “Whore!” and killed her servant girl within a few feet of her hiding place. She watched through a crack in the door as the man pulled the heavy pipe from Jenny’s skull, where he had imbedded it with a single blow.
Cecilla closed her eyes, falling into mediation. Like music on the wind, she escaped the Red Dragon’s Companion house before it was her turn. When she awoke, some time had passed and no noise could be heard. Total silence, telling her it was early morning and it was finished. Her friends lay dead, their servants lay dead and all evidence of the clients were gone, removed by someone unknown.
Cecilla quietly walked about the House as a ballerina might; with precession and practice. She gathered her things quietly and moved to her servant’s body. Where her face once was there was nothingness, the man had seen to that. She had never given much thought into the life of her servant.
She calmly dressed Jenny in her purple formal gown; befitting the little princess that lay at the foot of her hiding place. She had died for her.
She would take her identity, she would never be known as Cecilla again, she would become Jenny Horn a simple resort servant. The thought woke her up from the shock and a new plan formed.
She pulled the cash from her hiding place under the stairs, then from each of the other Companions that lay quietly throughout the house. They all knew were the credits were hidden. All the stashes were there but except for the new red head’s. “What was her name?” she asked aloud. “Well, it couldn’t have been much?” She looked around at the unidentifiable bodies and decided it wasn’t important.
The credits that she found would buy her way off planet and into another life, away in the black.

Cecilla felt trapped, again.