Chapter 1

Updated: Nov 3



Day 1

He breathed and according to Cecilion Civil Code 19.73-RW, he was alive again. The chamber hissed open and he floated out. Cold light stung through his eyelids and he reached like an infant trying to crawl but caught nothing.

His arms ached and his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. Through his mind’s eye a blurry crowd stood in thundering ovation. Many smiled, some laughed, some stared like stone soldiers. He recognized only two, but they all knew his name and shouted it between cheers and hoorahs. Mason. Mason. Mason. He squeezed his eyes shut, fantastical colors flashing, but no memory after the crowd. No mission or objective or reason for the gathering.

His eyes watered in the white light. A black uniform clung to him with openings only for his hands and head. The insignia of Cecilio sealed over his heart; a silver C surrounding a crimson star. The emblem of the Federal System shimmered beside it with four stars; two red and two yellow.

Rust speckled the pod around him. Knobs and gauges gleamed on the command center, one flickering. A low hum rumbled. A sealed door stood on the far side of the pod; a panel tacked to the bulkhead beside it. Stars shimmered through the porthole. Behind Mason, an egg-like chamber rose from the deck; a black screen embedded in its wide-open door. An identical chamber stood next to it, open as well, with its young passenger spinning and reaching in the weightlessness. An enemy? The kid wore the same black uniform, but with a Kisasi pistol fastened to his side. Cecilio’s insignia gleamed off the handle. A partner. He couldn’t have been over twenty. Mason knew the face from the cheering crowd, but the name eluded him.

“What d’you want?” the kid slurred; his dark gaze settled on Mason.

Mason glanced around the pod. No other chambers. “Mission.” His tongue ached forming the two syllables as he approached the porthole. Stars burned like muzzle flashes and a great black sphere eclipsed thousands of them. Another ship. A ring revolved around its middle and twin engines burned blue, but no other light shined from it. Mason turned back to the pod. White suits hung on the bulkhead, billowing like ghosts in the weightlessness. The single–starred insignia of Cecilio flashed red and silver paired with the mark of the Federal System. Two helmets shimmered above, strapped to the bulkhead.

“What’s going on?” his partner mumbled.

Mason’s tongue loosened. “We have a job.” Through the porthole, the pod approached a docking station on the sphere. It jolted and locked into place.

Mason floated to the command center and pressed his thumb against the scanner on the left. Welcome Commander Wyatt, M. flashed across the screen and files blinked onto the display. He scrolled past Standard Procedures, Coordinates, and Emergency Protocols, stopping at Orders. He opened the file. Nothing. After scrolling through more files, he returned to Orders again. Still nothing. His eyes narrowed, but he shut off the display and pushed toward the spacesuits. The helmet’s visor mirrored his face, rough from decades of service and marred by a pale scar down the left side. His fingers rose to touch it but jerked away as his partner crashed into the ceiling.

“Careful,” Mason said. The kid frowned. Mason watched the Kisasi and seized the white suit from the bulkhead. A zipper split the front and a small oxygen tank hung from the back. The fabric seemed to glow in the white light as he slipped his legs in, shrugging the rest on like a jacket. Gel insulation conformed to his body as he rolled his shoulders and zipped the front of the suit. It sealed like a cold embrace. A comlink settled in his ear as he secured the cap and helmet. He kept his eyes on the kid, snapping a tube from the oxygen tank to his helmet and pressing the call button on the palm of his glove.

“This is Wyatt to Cecilio. Call for instruction.” He twitched as static blared. No answer. He pressed the button again. “This is Mason Wyatt to Cecilio Command Center. The pod has docked, requesting further instruction.” The static droned and his finger drummed his leg. No orders – no contact. He ended the transmission.

“Where we at?” the kid peered out the porthole at the larger ship.

“Out of range,” Mason tapped the black screen to life on the door of his hibernation chamber. “Nine months…” His new longest trip. “Nine months away from Proxima B.”

“Space?”

Mason furrowed his brow. “Nine months.”

The kid wrapped his arms around himself. “Man, that’s a ways.”

“The question is where?” Mason brushed his hand along the bulkhead. Orange corrosion dusted the gray glove. “And why?”

“Ain’t it pretty obvious?” The kid’s eyes darted around the pod. He swallowed. “We’re uh…” he frowned and scratched his black curls.

“Your head will clear up in a bit,” Mason pulled the other suit off the bulkhead and pushed it to the kid.

“Not soon enough,” the kid caught it.

Mason opened a compartment below the empty suit hangers to find two hollow slots for Kisasi’s. Cecilio’s insignia flashed on the grip of the kid’s gun as he fumbled with his suit. That made one. Where was the other? Mason narrowed his eyes and closed the compartment.

After three failed attempts, the kid stuffed himself into his suit and clamped the Kisasi to the outside. Mason winced as the kid dropped the helmet. It spun midair until he snatched it and locked it into place on the second try.

“Check?” Mason asked.

The kid furrowed his brow.

“Check?” Mason repeated.

“Man, what you talk’n about?” the kid’s voice crackled in Mason’s comlink.

“Good enough,” Mason double checked his suit and triple checked his helmet. “You ready?”

“We’re in space. How ready you expect’n, man?” The kid rubbed his elbows.

Sir,” Mason corrected. “Are you ready?”

“Yeah, sure. Ready…sir.”

Mason kept an eye on the kid and pressed the panel on the bulkhead. The door hissed aside. They lurched forward on a wave of oxygen out of their pod and into the dark airless ship. A green gauge flickered up on Mason’s visor. 7 hours of air.

Frosty bulkheads glimmered in the dim glow of their suits. Doors on either side guarded the other docking bays and pipes ran along the ceiling. “Have you ever been up here?” Mason asked.

The kid shrugged. “Not sure.”

“That’s the hibernation getting to you.” Mason ran his fingers along the bulkhead, slowing his flight to the end of the corridor.

“I remember a whole lot. Just noth’n tell’n me why I’m here. We could be head’n to earth for all I know.”

“There hasn’t been a ship from earth in fifty years.”

“Who’d know with my muddled head?”

“It’ll wear off in...” Mason ran the numbers. “61 hours.”

“That all?”

“It is.” Mason glanced back at the light streaming from their pod. It looked like the modules he studied in history. By some marvel, it still held together. Why such an old pod? Why not an Interceptor? Why not a four-man team? Mason faced the corridor. 61 hours without answers – normally there’d be a debrief. Why not this time? “Name and rank?” He turned to the kid.

“Carter.”

Mason felt around the bulkhead and a screen sprang to life. “Rank?” He pressed the display and the bulkhead moved aside, allowing them to float into a dark chamber.

“Came in second,” Carter said as the door sealed them in.

“Second officer?” Mason looked up at the ceiling. Another door with a panel next to it. The exit.

“Someth’n like that.”

Mason extended his hand. Carter hesitated, then shook.

“Commander Wyatt,” Mason said.

“So I guess you came in first?”

“I did once.” Mason pushed himself to the ceiling and pressed the panel. The room lurched up and their boots collided with the deck. After the initial burst, they floated again.

“What’s this thing?” Carter swallowed and braced himself in a corner.

“It’s a gravity chamber.” Mason turned parallel to the exit in the ceiling and pressed his feet against the bulkhead. “We’re matching the ship’s rotation.” He glanced up at Carter huddled in the corner furthest from the exit. “You may want to come down.”

“Down?”

The chamber accelerated. Centrifugal force glued Mason’s feet to the bulkhead as it became the deck and Carter tumbled from his corner as it became the ceiling.

“Down,” Carter grunted as he rolled onto his back. “’Cause now there is a down.”

Mason nodded, his head light as blood rushed to his feet. The force grew stronger. The door they entered the chamber by lay to Mason’s right and the exit stood upright before him. Sweat beaded on Carter’s forehead as he gasped. “Breathe slow,” Mason clasped his hands behind his back, “and hang tight. We’ll be here a while.”

Carter nodded and closed his eyes. Minutes marched into hours. Mason jumped up every ten minutes, and each time descended a little faster, yet not so fast as on Proxima B. Weaker gravity. Between jumps, he stood with his hands behind his back and his eyes toward the exit. Every now and again he found his gaze on Carter’s Kisasi, and his fingers felt the empty place at his side.

A green light flashed on the panel next to the exit and the door slid open. 4 hours and 52 minutes of air remained.

“On your feet,” Mason said. The kid lay motionless. Mason tapped him with his boot. Was he sleeping? He knelt and jabbed him. “On your feet!”

Carter launched like a spring, his hand on his Kisasi. Mason held his glare. “Right.” Carter nodded; his breath heavy. “Still in space.” He nodded again, as if reassuring himself. His hand slid off the gun.

Mason straightened, his back tight from age and the new gravity. “Keep your eyes open.”

“’Course,” Carter’s legs wobbled. “Why we here anyway?”

“It’ll come to me.” Mason marched out of the gravity chamber into another passageway.

“’Course it will.” Carter followed.

The end of the passageway opened to a vast hall; fifteen meters wide. In the distance, the room arched up, as if they stood on the inside rim of a great wheel. Frosted windows rose on either side cast a cool blue glow onto the grated deck. High above, the windows arched toward the hub of the wheel, where an axle turned the ship like a centrifuge. Metal doors stood like sentries next to each window, numbers gleaming like medals upon them. “2500,” Carter read as he past. “2499…2498,” he glanced back at Mason. “What is this place?”

Mason approached the nearest door and melted ice off the panel with the palm of his glove. It glowed green, he pressed it, and the door scraped aside. Mason’s neck stiffened. Shimmering blue light stung his eyes from hibernation chambers. Thousands, rank upon rank, like soldiers in formation. “It’s a cargo ship.”

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