Cosmic tales 8 ghost, p.1
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       Cosmic Tales 8: Ghost, p.1

           Richard C. Parr
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Cosmic Tales 8: Ghost


  Richard C. Parr

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  Cosmic Tales 8: Ghost

  Copyright (C) 2015 by Richard C. Parr

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  This story in the series Cosmic Tales is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, then please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting and supporting the author's work.

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  The droning sound from the Chromium Bullet's hyper drive wound down to an idle hum as Captain Wingclipper pulled the lever and slowed the ship to a steady cruise, ending the hyper space section of the journey. He breathed a sigh of relief as the ship had successfully stayed intact through the intense forces and pressure from travelling at a phenomenal speed. The stars ceased to blur, stabilising to dot the far distant background of space, twinkling like peaceful nightlights against the incomprehensible vastness. He lit a cigar and coughed at the first intake of smoke, acknowledging it had been a while since he had sparked up, admiring the taste and quality of the contraband. He puffed out a stream of thick smog, yellowing the cockpit and flooding the front part of the ship before the automatic fans kicked in and sucked out the pollution. He was so pleased that he'd had them installed. No more crew complaints. The enjoyment of a cigar in peace could commence.

  Helion V and the galactic records library was less than six hours away, and he thanked the maintenance mechanics on Voloxo who had performed an upgrade on the hyper drive, shaving a whole day off the regular journey time. For the first time in a while he had been able to spend his money on the goods and supplies he desired; in fact, he thanked himself for having sufficient notes to be able to enjoy luxuries, having recently avoided the casinos and game dens on multiple planets. He reminisced and began to worry he was turning soft.

  As he took a sharp draw on the cigar, a red light flashed on the cockpit indicating a problem with the defensive shield. For some reason it had been rendered offline. The red light flashed again and Wingclipper pressed the manual override to switch it off. He frowned and stubbed out his cigar, then got up and went to the engine room. He found Elwood and 234 inspecting wires and fiddling with a box of electrics. Sparks dripped from the ceiling.

  "There's a problem with the defence shield. It just turned off."

  "Sir, the defence shield can only be turned off from inside this room," said 234.

  "I didn't touch it," said Elwood. "I'm fixing a fuse box, not tampering with the ship's major controls."

  "It's a strange one," said Wingclipper. "I'm getting into the evacuation pod and taking a look outside."

  "This won't affect our trip to the records library, will it?" said Elwood tentatively.

  "I'm afraid this kind of repair is more important than travelling to the library. You wouldn't want to be in the middle of a deadly exchange with no protective shield, would you?"

  Elwood sighed and cursed silently. The trip to the library was all he had been contemplating for about a week. It was the one place this side of the galaxy that might contain large reference books on the history and whereabouts of the earth. He climbed up the small ladder and continued mending a circuit board with a hot needle and delicate, patient concentration.

  Wingclipper entered Rodeena's quarters while she was practising her reptilian martial art technique. She span around and hovered a foot millimetres from Wingclipper's nose. He saw the intricate patterning of blue and purple spots on her foot and the nature of her scaly, thickened skin. With the emotion of someone who was bored and unimpressed, he told her to remove her foot before explaining the situation. They walked to the evacuation room in the bowels of the ship and stepped into the emergency pod, while Bink cruised beside them. The pod was activated and a hatch on the bottom of the Chromium Bullet opened up, depressurising the room. The sudden change in pressure caused temporary havoc within Bink's circuitry before it automatically adjusted to a space setting, and the ball droid prepared itself to work in zero atmospheric conditions.

  Rodeena lowered the pod and it sank into space. They both saw the underside of the ship and its charred, metallic grids and tiles. Bink followed before the hatch shut them out into the loneliness of space.

  "Don't even try to make a move on me," said Rodeena. "And don't think I've forgotten about what happened the last time we were in here."

  "It's the last thing on my mind," Wingclipper replied. "We have work to do."

  "Work? You're more focused on getting work done? Why can't you be like this more often?"

  "Work is only necessary when there's something to do, otherwise finding work to do when it is not necessary is time wasted. That's what I learned in the galactic military. My job was ninety nine percent boredom and one percent total chaos and panic. We would either be shooting in all directions hoping we didn't kill each other, or playing pool and smoking cigars."

  "And this is a one percent occasion?"

  Wingclipper relit his cigar and said, "Not if you don't nag me," blowing out a smoke plume.

  Rodeena ignited the engines softly and two lengthened rods of robotic arms unfolded from a cross position on the pod's roof. Bink followed and watched the arms as they approached the ship's surface. On a screen within the pod's cockpit came a vision of outside via a camera. Wingclipper used a handle to toggle through options and zoomed in. He scrutinised every minute detail of the tiles as they hovered and slid extremely slowly on the underside of the ship. The robotic hands slid across and the sensors came up with nothing abnormal to report on the screen.

  "Perhaps it was a fault in the ship's sensory system," said Rodeena. "We should check the electrics from the main cockpit. There is clearly nothing to see here."

  As they discussed their options, Bink bleeped and the noise transmitted into the pod's cockpit, breaking their conversation. Bink motioned to an area a few feet away and Rodeena moved the pod towards it. Wingclipper moved the on-screen camera to focus on an area about the size of a square foot.

  "Are you seeing what I'm seeing?" said Rodeena.

  "Two women at once?"

  She elbowed him, then the robotic claws unfolded and ran their sensors over the surface. Properties came back with an X-ray of a green rectangular block attached to the craft. The scan displayed a myriad of electrics, akin to a tiny city within a casing, connected to larger wires and fuses and a very small computer system running the block. Its primary power source was solar. The claws gripped it and Wingclipper pried the item very carefully off the surface, rocking the pod slightly as it detached, while Rodeena retreated the pod back several feet. Wingclipper stubbed out his cigar again and replaced it in his belt.

  "We should go back inside and examine this item," he said and Rodeena turned the pod around to face the exit hatch. Unexpectedly, as she rotated the pod, every single light on the Chromium Bullet went out.

  * * * * *

  "What in heaven's name is going on?" said Wingclipper, storming around the limited space of the pod with his hands running through is hair.

  "Relax. It could be Elwood accidentally activating a fuse. Let's wait and see if the auxiliary power comes on."

  "I know he's a northern human and slightly dim-witted, but his maintenance skills are astounding. There is no way he could be responsible for this."

  They waited several minutes and Bink came to the window. It communicated a series of bleeps into the cockpit radio.

  "We don't know," said Wingclipper to the ball droid. "Go on board the ship and see what that pair are getting up to."

  As he spoke, Bink retreated to the hatch. A minute later it returned.

  "A--s-a---f-f---h-d-e-----eee---r-e-r-ee," it bleeped.

  "Locked? What do you mean it's locked?" said Wingclipper.

  "I am stuck, in this pod, with a womaniser, in the vast silence and emptiness of outer space," muttered Rodeena. "My day could not be going any better."

  She sighed and sat back in her chair.

  "Something isn't right," said Wingclipper. "There is only one way to seal the exit hatch, and that is from the cockpit. Even Elwood and 234 don't have the password to activate the command."

  At the revelation of his own thought process, Wingclipper's mouth dropped open. He ordered a very concerned Rodeena to pass him the radio.

  * * * * *

  Elwood held his arms out in front and felt at the air, proceeding cautiously as 234 turned on its green night vision lenses and led the way. Elwood nursed the jabbing pain in his index finger from accidentally hot needling himself as the lights went out. He applied pressure to the swelling and hid his hand in his armpit to quell the throbbing. 234 turned its head from left to right.

  "Sir, unfortunately there are no power boxes here to restore electricity. We must activate the auxiliary power in the cockpit."

  They continued along a corridor before reaching the command room. Then, as they emerged from the narrow straight, a sound of clutter hitting the floor came from the medical bay. Instinctively, Elwood shut the door connecting the command room to the corridor. A small torch light flicked on in 234's mainframe giving them a very dim view of the circular table, on which sat the ship's hand held radio. A static female voice came through and Elwood picked it up.

  "...locked out. Do you read me?"

  "I can hear you, Ro. Did you say you were locked out?"

  "...did you press something?"

  "No, no. Listen, is Phoenix with you?"

  "...I'm here, Makelove."

  "Then someone else is in the medical bay."

  "...oh sh...hang on...Rodeena, did you hear him say..."

  Bang. Bang. Footsteps along the corridor.

  "Elwood?" came the voice of Rodeena. "Wh...what was that noise?"

  "Be quiet," he said sternly. "We're not alone on the ship."

  There was a deathly silence and a haunting gap in communication. The static stopped and the footsteps became louder. Elwood turned down the volume on the radio and hid in a corner while 234 stood on the opposite side of the command room with its green night vision lenses faded out. For many seconds Elwood held his breath and stared at the door. All of a sudden came the sound of bleeps from the keypad and the door slid open. The footsteps went directly by him and he began to sweat. The footsteps then made their way to the cockpit entrance where they stopped brusquely. Another keypad lit up and the cockpit doors flew open. The footsteps entered and the cockpit doors closed.

  Elwood's attention sprang back to the corridor where a whirring noise gravitated towards their position. A series of bleeps echoed down the hall and Elwood exhaled in relief. The corridor opened and Bin floated in, then the doors closed and the ball droid stayed in a fixed position close to 234. The radio buzzed more static and Elwood turned up the volume.

  "...happening now?"

  "Not sure, Phoenix. They went into the cockpit. I don't think they saw us."

  "...where's Bink? We saw it go into the ventilation tube."

  "It's with us."

  "...send Bink to follow the spy."

  Elwood ushered Bink over and gave it the command. Bink stayed by the cockpit entrance until it opened, then floated without a sound in the direction of the footsteps echoing along the command room, through to the corridor towards the engine room. Elwood cocked his head across the door but could not see a trace of anything there.

  "...come in?"

  Elwood responded to Rodeena's voice and grabbed the radio.

  "Bink is following this...thing. It went straight past me. It still hasn't seen us."

  "...power...auxiliary power....access it through the cockpit...there's a switch...Phoenix will direct you from there...over."

  "Thanks, Ro. I'll get you both back in here as soon as I can."

  Elwood took 234 into the cockpit and to the controls. He marvelled at the display board of buttons and devices gracing the room. He wondered how long it took to memorise the function of each command and if he was capable of one day flying the ship all by himself. At that moment, he looked out the window and saw the emergency pod with the faces of Wingclipper and Rodeena glaring back, while their pod slid across the window. Wingclipper took the radio off Rodeena and put it to his mouth.

  "...stop making mental love to the cockpit controls and get the power back online, earthman...hit the yellow AUX square button and follow the instructions from there...keep pressing 'yes'...we'll be waiting..."

  Elwood found the small yellow button with the letters A-U-X printed in black lettering and hit it hard. He finger tapped the screen as instructions came up asking him whether he was sure he wanted to go ahead with transferring to auxiliary power. Yes, yes, yes, he thought, scrolling through the commands and going to page after page of relaying the same question. Eventually the cockpit lights came on followed by the rest of the ship.

  "Sir, the power is back online," said 234 jubilantly from the command room. A vibration trembled through the ship as the exit hatch opened and the emergency pod meandered back inside. The hatch closed and the room pressurised. Wingclipper and Rodeena waited until it was safe to open the pod door and then disembarked, taking in fresh oxygen and wiping sweat from their faces. A cloud of cigar smoke puffed out.

  In the cockpit, Elwood span around when he heard a flurry of footsteps approach from the corridor and was comforted to see the two crew members safe and well.

  "Where is our guest?" demanded Wingclipper.

  "The last time I heard them, the medical bay," said Elwood.

  All of a sudden there were two crashes from the engine room. It sounded to the crew like heavy items were being thrown against the floor. Whoever it was could be hurriedly searching for something.

  Meanwhile, in the engine room, Bink floated a few feet behind the spy. With meticulousness and stillness, it activated an infra-red beam. The outline of the spy was traced and a heat source discovered. At the same time, Wingclipper sneaked forward with the expertise of a field commander, bashing his arm against the wall and causing noise to reverberate down the corridor. He cursed at himself. The spy was alerted to the sound and received a great shock when they saw Bink scanning their body with a powerful red beam. Wingclipper pounced into the engine room and gasped at the red outline of the transparent figure, then jumped forward and wrestled it to the ground. Elwood joined in and restrained the figure. Elwood thought he must have pressed something when, as they wriggled and fought for control, the transparency faded and a being dressed in green and grey camouflage gear materialised. Wingclipper was outraged at what he saw.

  * * * * *

  "Perhaps I should call you a spy," said Wingclipper to the man tied up in the command room. "Or perhaps I should call you comrade."

  An intense look of guilt passed over the male spy's face.

  "Sneaking in using a standard military issue cloak. Did General Dreadener send you?"

  More silence.

  "I'll take that as a yes. Ok, so what's the purpose of your infiltration? The theft of the ship? Theft of goods? Personal information?"

  "I was sent here to read the records of your ship, to see where you've been, and to update the General on what you are doing. You know how pedantic and paranoid he can get."

  "So the old fart still misses me and wants me back?"

  "It's worse. He gave me specific orders to sabotage your ship, send it flying into Helion V, make it look like an accident. He doesn't care about your crew. He just wants you back to the frontline."

  Wingclipper got up and paced around the room thinking to himself, unsettling Elwood and Rodeena who could only look at each other and wonder what was happening.

  "What would be the purpose of having me
back commanding a group of men? There are no major conflicts occurring. Unless something is about to kick off? That is why he desperately needs my leadership, isn't it? A new threat."

  "Not exactly a threat, Captain Wingclipper. The decision for a new conflict has already been decided."

  Wingclipper froze. "What do you mean...already decided?" he said.

  "A lot has taken place while you have been on the run. A month ago Dreadener attended a meeting of the highest ranked military. There are going to be multiple planetary invasions to decide the existence of particular races. Those who have outstayed their welcome on planets and do nothing but consume resources and spread erroneous religious indoctrination will be wiped out. The galactic military will be dispatched to protect these planets from their own decimation."

  "But surely the battlefield we create will decimate these planets in the process of protecting them?"

  "This is the military, Captain Wingclipper. Protection leads to destruction."

  "Who is the enemy threatening these planets?"

  "We do not know."

  "How can you not know who the enemy is? And what business does the military have getting involved in regional conflicts? This decision of the existence of particular races, sounds like bellicose rhetoric. Nobody in their right mind would attempt to wipe out an entire race. It would lead to mutually assured destruction."

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