By J.D. FarnWorth
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Starlight station, Module one, Deck 3, July 12th, 2504, 12:31
Up until a few hours ago, Starlight had felt like home. Now the station felt more like a prison. Air passed through the vents as it always had, but the freedom to walk the emptiness was gone.
Zack sat against the freshly welded door listening to the sound of boots hitting the deck. He felt closed in, more so than anyone else, he also had answered an advertisement and left a past behind. It had taken him days to talk his twin brother into the spacer’s life.
They had grown up on
, a mining world. Where their father had staked a claim and became wealthy compared to the poor folk living in tents just down the road from their home. Regina
When his mother was pregnant, she became sick with what was later called, Bowden's Malady. It is a degenerative disease that affects the muscles and organs of its victims. It didn't matter that she had never been in the mine. She was stricken just the same.
When they were born, they suffered from the same aliment. He ended up with chronic bronchitis that is mostly controlled with an expensive medication called Pascaline. His brother wasn't so fortunate, stunted growth showed more and more as the years went on. Halfling, Space Dwarf, Minor Shrimp were just a few of the names called out by the groups of children that teased his brother.
After ten years of suffering, their mother died and their father lost all hope and reason. The man they called father lifted them into an iron trolley and pushed the boys deep into the mine. They had always wanted to go see the mine that brought their family so much wealth. It should have been a great occasion, but at the end of the line they saw their mother's body under her imported thousand count sheet set. Before they could even scream their father pushed down on the plunger with both hands. With a violent rumble, he dropped the ceiling on his family, killing him instantly.
If it wasn't for his brother's small size, they would have had little chance. Marty climbed to the surface to find help. Days went by before Zack was freed. He had been alone in the dark with what was left of his mother and father.
Zack slammed his head against the freshly welded door, again and again. Starlight was a safe haven, but now he was trapped once more.
* * *
The crew gathered around the large table in the Caf-Deck. Everyone looked to the captain for what to do next.
“Adam, do you have your EC unit?” asked the captain, pulling at his fresh uniform.
“Sure,” answered Adam, pulling it from its holster and warming it up. The screen lit up and an
symbol formed. Alliance
“Give it to Gabe, and everyone else, lets relax and play some poker, and maybe have a snack,” said the captain, sounding a little like he was unsure of what to do next.
Judy moved away from Gabe and onto the business side of the counter, saying cheerfully, “I am sure I can whip up something.”
Gabe took the Electronic Clipboard from Adam and logged into the device.
“That isn’t going to get me bound, is it?” asked Adam, looking confused.
“No, but, you might get to make your first space walk,” answered Gabe, jokingly. He looked over to the captain's facial expression and refrained from laughing further. Without another word Gabe headed off to his cabin.
The captain reflected, “I think I am starting to get the hang of the evil look.”
“Oh, Cap! You have always looked evil,” said Judy looking around the room for support.
Everyone laughed in the Caf-Deck as they relaxed for the first time since their uninvited guest had arrived. Judy rattled the pots around and started to prepare lunch for her captive audience.
Jenny appeared through the open hatch, asking. “What is so funny?”
“Judy was just telling us a joke, so we laughed. You know that the microphones on this deck have been malfunctioning for the last hour or so and if anyone is watching they might be a little more relaxed if we just seemed to be a happy go lucky crew,” stated the captain, once again trying out his evil look.
“So, Gabe fixed, well, rather broke all of the cams or just this one?” asked Adam, smiling, trying not to look directly into the camera or at the captain who looked like he had a facial twitch.
“There are three, one here, one in the corridor and one in the storage room. The have eyes on us, but no ears. So, if they see us sneaking around, they might start to think we are up to something,” answered the captain, slapping the table and laughing like a mad hatter.
“And, are we sir, up to something, sir?” Adam asked, as he also laughed at the captain's antics.
“Yes, that is the point of the laughter. Now does anyone know any jokes?” asked the captain. “Or am I going to have to use my evil look as well as my evil laugh.” He looked around the room at his crew with one eye closed and the other rolled back in his skull.
Everyone chuckled including Adam. He was sure he was laughing for an entirely different reason and wondered if a strange gas had been pumped into the deck.
Someone tapped on the wall and the captain started towards the hatch.
“Not without me,” yelled Adam, standing as soon as he saw the captain rise from the table.
“Are you sure you want to follow me?” asked the captain.
“No, but I want to know what is going on and why Gabe took my EC unit.”
“Very well, follow me and Judy you might want to put a hold on lunch,” said the captain.
“That was what I was thinking, Cap,” she answered heading over to the table to play some poker.
* * *
They entered the cabin and Gabe was nowhere to be found. The room already looked like the command center. It had debris on the floor and clothing spread from one side of the room to the other.
“Gabe, you in here?” ask the captain.
“Yeah, I'm in the head, come in,” he answered, sounding muffled from the closed hatch.
“Hmm,” Adam muttered, looking towards the door nervously.
The captain pulled at the latch and door popped open. He looked back at Adam for support. He decided he would run if Adam took flight.
Gabe had been very busy setting up his equipment in the cramped compartment. He had taped three monitors to the railing, pulled in a power supply from the cabin and even mounted the EC unit on the sink.
Gabe frantically typed on the keyboard linking each monitor to the station’s Prowler system.
“So, what are you up to?” asked Adam.
“We are finding out what those Moon-brains are up to,” answered the captain.
“Can we get caught? I believe someone mentioned a space walk with suit optional?” Adam asked, nervously looking at the large man in the tiny room.
“We won't get caught. These monitors are cloned to the three monitors on the control console. They only think that they are running things. I know my system better than anyone else. That is why I asked who was going to be running my station in the control room. The man they have up there has no idea what he is doing with the system that is in place on Starlight, it is a station computer as well as an interactive gaming computer,” answered Gabe.
“So what does that give us?” asked Adam, waving his hand about. “I am just trying to catch up with the disobedience.”
“Well, if you were up there, wouldn’t you be interested in what is going on and focus on the main events with the only three working monitors?” answered Gabe, pausing and looking up at the monitor.
“Yes, but...” answered Adam, stopping to watch as he noticed the image flicker back and forth.
The center monitor flashed to the hallway and then back to the Caf-Deck. The Prowler program identified each crew member in the Caf-deck and even Zack sitting alone at the end of the corridor.
“They are looking for someone,” stated Gabe, looking to the captain.
“Me? You think they are wondering if I'm up to something.” The captain looking almost hurt by the mere thought.
“Well, aren't you up to something, Cap?” asked Adam.
“Well, yeah, but they don't know that!” Rod leaned back into the head to get a better look at the monitors.
“You might want to slip back to the group. We will keep you posted,” stated Gabe, continuing to tap commands on the keyboard of the EC.
The captain waited at the open hatchway leading to the corridor, “Let me know when they are looking back at the Caf-Deck and I will time my entrance.”
“Good idea, be ready,” answered Gabe raising his hand up and dropping it to signal the captain.
Up on the monitor, the view switched from the Caf-deck to the corridor. The captain appeared in mid stride walking down the hallway. The Prowler system identified him and followed him into the Caf-Deck. The Prowler program held and framed the captain relaxing at the table.
Adam and Gabe watched for a few seconds before focusing on the right monitor.
“Where’s that?” asked Adam, pointing with his out stretched hand.
“That is where Marty and Zack fought, earlier,” answered Gabe, slapping his balled up fist into his hand.
“And where is this other monitor focusing?” asked Adam, leaning closer to Gabe to get a better look.
“One of the lower docking bays. Not far from Reception,” answered Gabe, leaning a bit closer to the monitor.
On the monitor, they could see men moving light cargo from a vessel and walking out of view. They were dressed as orderlies from a
. Light blue, with white skull caps, other than that, they heralded no other information of their purpose or where they had come from. Core Hospital
“They work quickly, that is in Modular 4, where just this morning the captain 'fixed' the gravity. They must have a good engineer. Can you zoom in on that Cargo door?” asked Adam, pointing to the edge of the screen and a small tag mounted on the vessel.
“Yes, but if they change the cameras even the shee-niou they got at my station would be able to detect our tampering,” answered Gabe, pulling his fat finger across his neck.
“Do it and jump back out,” ordered Adam.
The camera moved in close enough to see the ship’s identification tag; ‘The Betty, Firefly Class‘.
“Now back out!” barked Adam.
The screen flickered once and jumped back to its previous magnification. On the screen, an orderly walked back up the ramp presumably to retrieve more cargo.
Adam look on as Gabe continued to enter code into the Electronic Clipboard.
“I think we are okay,” said Gabe.
“Okay, what are they doing with a transport vessel?” asked Adam, moving away from the opened Hatch and closer to the bunks. He glanced at the lower and noted that it looked slept in even though this wasn't Gabe assigned cabin.
“Ship that size could carry almost anything. It might even be armed to the teeth. If I had full use of the computer, I could figure out what kind of Firefly we are talking about.” Gabe leaned back and relaxed on the only stool in the little room.
Adam mulled it over and said, “I would guess it is the an ex-military, it‘s markings are...”
“Wuh duh ma huh tah duh fong kwong huh wai shung! Bodies!” Gabe interrupted Adam's thought and pointed to the monitor.
Adam ran back almost sitting on Gabe's lap exclaiming, “What?”
“Bodies! I see dead people!” shouted Gabe.
On the center monitor, the orderlies pushed what looked to be bodies under white sheets down the cargo ramp of the Firefly and onto the loading dock, pausing to confer with another older man in glasses before pushing the gurneys off camera completely.
“Maybe some kind of cover up?” asked Gabe.
He was known by everyone on the station to be a conspiracy theorist. This time he might be right. It was a thought that worried Adam, not the fact that there were bodies being wheeled onto the deck of the Starlight, but the fact that Gabe might be right.
“Maybe,” whispered Adam, feeling a lump forming in his throat.
The center screen flickered as the one of the casino cams auto focused on the banks of gaming machines, then panned out to show the whole casino, where gurneys lined up with a whole row of one armed bandits.
“What in the hell?” whispered Gabe, sounding like he was going to hyperventilate, as he took shorter and shorter breaths.
The right screen changed to a view of the other end of the casino.
The left moved to an open station view that contained nine images of different points of view of the station. Each image changed as the operator updated the desired camera angles.
With a squelch, a channel opened. Mr. Black filled the top right image.
“Doctor Ryan, How many more?” asked Mr. Black.
The scientist looking fellow wearing a white lab coat and dark glasses filled the top left frame of the multi-camera view, answered, “We have just three more and then we can begin.” The image panned out and he moved from body to body, examining each subject.
Adam leaned back from Gabe asking, “Begin what?”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” answered Gabe, not taking his eyes from the action unfolding in front of him.
“I am going to inform the captain and see what he thinks,” said Adam, pausing at the hatch as he had watched the captain do a few minutes before.
“It should be safe, I think that they’re more interested in what is going on in the casino,” Gabe answered, giving Adam the signal as he had the captain.
Adam disappeared into the corridor leaving Gabe with his equipment. Gabe reached out and pulled the hatch closed, letting out an evil laugh and saying, “After all it is a head.”