An Utterly Wrong Choice (sci-fi story)

An Utterly Wrong Choice (sci-fi story)

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Strategia
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Joined: 06 Apr 2006, 18:32

An Utterly Wrong Choice (sci-fi story)

Post by Strategia »

An Utterly Wrong Choice

No shadows.

That was the first thing he thought of when he stood up and looked around.

No shadows. Three suns. Scorching heat three times per day.

Of all the hell-holes between the Edge of the Rim and the Core Vortex, they had to drop him here. This blazing world of sand, with a narrow rim of glass around the equator. Horcashkon, the Burning World, where all those found guilty of high treason were sent to die in the waterless wasteland that covered both hemispheres.

The soldiers who pushed him out of the landing craft laughed as the airlock door closed and the ship pulled away to return to its carrier, never having touched the surface. He stared at the ship until it was a minute dot in the sky, seeming to descend due to the distances involved, and kept staring until even the dot had gone.

Shelter. Shadow. That was what he needed. He knew the procedure; the prisoner would be dropped in a region a third of the way between one sun and the next, when it was hot but not too hot, when the surface would cool down for about four Galactic Standard Hours, before the next sun came into view and the temperature slowly became scorching. The prisoner would not live to see this sun├óÔé¼Ôäós high noon, he would be dead and burnt to a crisp before the blazing sphere reached its apex. Still, instinctively, he felt the need for shadow, even though he knew there was none. Remote spectral scans of the planet had revealed a surface covered with nothing but sand, except along the equator where the suns were close enough and the atmosphere thin enough to turn the sand into solid glass. There were no caves, no mountain ranges, no oases, not even veins of useful materials beneath the surface. Deepscans had shown the entire planet, from surface to inner core, to be made up of silicon with a sprinkling of scattered iron molecules in the mantle. The nearest solid rock was at least a few dozen feet below the surface, and that was below the belt of glass; out here, it was probably at least a few hundred feet before he would find anything but sand.

So many thoughts, so much knowledge, so little time. He knew the scans weren├óÔé¼Ôäót perfect, even though the Commonwealth propagandized them to be. There was always the chance of an outcrop, a tiny patch of rock sticking up out of the searing sands, hopefully large enough to shelter a human being. The soldiers would never have dropped him anywhere near a visible rock, however, and the ship was high enough for them to have overseen a very wide area. All that was left to do then was start walking in any direction and hope for the best.

North, that would be his best option. The farther away from the unusually hot suns the better. It wouldn├óÔé¼Ôäót help, of course; the planet was huge, it would probably have housed a few billion people comfortably if it hadn├óÔé¼Ôäót been at the exact centre of gravity between the system├óÔé¼Ôäós three suns. There was no way he could walk far enough to make a difference. Walking south, however, led him inevitably to an even hotter clime, if such a word applied to a planet like this, so north it was.

What was he hoping for? To just stumble upon a patch of rock, just like that, with a crack large enough to house a human? And then what? The chances of his surviving high noon were something in the vicinity of less than zero, and even if he did, he would perish from lack of water long before the next sun was over him. He was not sent here to be incarcerated, or for his captors to be able to keep an eye on him, or to keep the population safe from any other heinous acts he might commit, he was sent here to die, plain and simple.

Still, it could be worse. It is said that due to the time dilation along a black hole├óÔé¼Ôäós event horizon, a person could stay alive forever. That punishment was reserved for those who had committed a truly horrendous act, those that wiped out entire planets with gen-tech killer viruses or nanotech Grey Goo or a spacefleet of death, not mere high traitors. At least he would die here, on Horcashkon, he wouldn├óÔé¼Ôäót stay alive forever, floating in space.

He had to throw himself bodily aside into the sand to avoid the probe.

It came down with a loud grinding noise as its nose dug into the coarse sand, throwing up a billowing curtain of the stuff that prevented him from using his eyes, nose and mouth for a few minutes, until he had cleared his eyes and airways of every last grain. His eyes were swollen and tears were running down his cheeks, but he could still easily recognize the probe. It was a civilian model, designed to act as a relay station for ground-based communications when a straight-line commlink was impossible, such as during cave explorations or heavy electrical storms. It also came equipped with a small VidCom unit of its own, in case the expedition├óÔé¼Ôäós primary comms unit didn├óÔé¼Ôäót work, or when contact had to be made with quarantined individuals or the survivors of a crash or disease.

The rear end of the probe flipped open, displaying the VidCom screen, and three identical ones as well for all-round coverage. The bright face of a young man looked at him.

├óÔé¼┼ôHello, sir,├óÔé¼┬Ø the face said. ├óÔé¼┼ôThis is Cral Routhkay on board the news-ship Etaoin Shrdlu, you must be-├óÔé¼┬Ø
Gruffly, he interrupted the young man. ├óÔé¼┼ôI├óÔé¼Ôäóm not in the mood for an interview right now, in case you hadn├óÔé¼Ôäót guessed.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôOh, but we├óÔé¼Ôäóre not looking for an interview. We want to get you off that planet.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôMm-hm, sure, now look, you just get back with whoever├óÔé¼Ôäós your boss on that interstellar tabloid of yours and tell him I hate interviews.├óÔé¼┬Ø He turned and started walking again.
├óÔé¼┼ôSir, I have no boss here. This ship├óÔé¼Ôäós hijacked.├óÔé¼┬Ø He stopped. Hijacked? He turned around again.
├óÔé¼┼ôIs this some sort of elaborate set-up, to actually make sure I├óÔé¼Ôäóm guilty this time?├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôNo, sir. I├óÔé¼Ôäóm with an, ah, underground movement, the Neo-Federatists.├óÔé¼┬Ø Great. My ticket out of here is a criminal organization. ├óÔé¼┼ôWe believe you├óÔé¼Ôäóre innocent, and we could use you.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôUse me? How?├óÔé¼┬Ø
Cral Routhkay waved his hand dismissively. ├óÔé¼┼ôThat is of no immediate concern. Right now, we have a ship waiting to pick you up, just stay there and we├óÔé¼Ôäóll have you out of there in a couple of hours.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôWhy not now?├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôThe carrier that dropped you off is still headed towards the warp point. If we break orbit now and head for the suns, they├óÔé¼Ôäóll come back and we├óÔé¼Ôäóll be in trouble. It├óÔé¼Ôäós almost there, just an hour or so and we├óÔé¼Ôäóll be on our way.├óÔé¼┬Ø

The most boring hours of my life, he thought. But thankfully they├óÔé¼Ôäóre over now. He was sitting inside the air-conditioned shuttle, leaning against the bulkhead behind him like he had been wandering somewhere for days, and watching the pilot├óÔé¼Ôäós HUD display trying to figure out which of the numbers represented the distance to the Etaoin Shrdlu, which was not even a speck in the distance right now. The only way he could see it right now was by watching stars get dimmed or obscured, and using that to get an estimate of its position and size, and used that to determine the speed at which it was growing. It was a pleasurable pastime, compared to the only one possible on Horcashkon ├óÔé¼ÔÇ£ counting grains of sand hoping to trip over a rock.

The pilot was another vigorous young man, lanky, with spiky brown hair. He had introduced himself as Hego, which could very well be his full name given the current fashion amidst youngsters to drop their last names to signify their independence from their parents. Hego seemed like the type to do just that. He had an antique model circuit board grafted all over his right arm, probably just for show given the tendency of old, physical connections to break, but his twitchiness indicated he had at least one functioning implant somewhere along his spine, pumping music, random sounds, psychedelic imagery, a VR game environment or any of a hundred other stimuli into the thick cord of nerve tissue that led directly to his brain.

Still, he was not a half bad pilot for his age, and managed to land the shuttle in the ship├óÔé¼Ôäós hangar bay without scratching more than two other craft and knocking over just one pile of solid fuel blocks in the process. He kicked the retro-thrusters in time, thereby avoiding ploughing straight through the rear wall of the hangar ├óÔé¼ÔÇ£ a common rookie mistake, and the reason why the hangars at every Naval Cadet Training Centre have six feet of clear space between the hangar and whatever room or corridor behind it. Looking at Hego again, he saw him hunched over the controls, his finger hovering above the console, looking for a button to press or a switch to flick. Probably he had just been lucky.

He probably indeed was. As the shuttle├óÔé¼Ôäós rear hatch was opened (from the outside, with a plasma torch) he heard Cral Routhkay├óÔé¼Ôäós voice. ├óÔé¼┼ôManaged to keep this one together, did you? Ah, well. At least we won├óÔé¼Ôäót have to scrape our guest from the fusion thrusters manifolds.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôG-good, huh?├óÔé¼┬Ø Hego replied.
├óÔé¼┼ôYou might actually be getting better. Now scram, we need you rested just in case the Coms try to retake the ship, they can├óÔé¼Ôäót find our guest onboard or we├óÔé¼Ôäóll be dropped next to him.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôA-a-aye-aye, Sir!├óÔé¼┬Ø He stood up very stiffly with an almost inhuman speed, saluted for a moment and then let everything just hang as he dragged himself out of the shuttle and disappeared through one of the doors in the back of the hangar.
├óÔé¼┼ôYou├óÔé¼Ôäóll have to forgive Hego, he might be wound tighter than a superstring but he├óÔé¼Ôäós the only one of this sorry bunch who actually knows how to fly one of these without crashing more than half the time,├óÔé¼┬Ø Cral said, as he waved his arm indicating the two dozen or so other youths scattered about the hangar doing various things, and without exception looking like Neanderthals while doing it. Two guys, obviously high on wazkal, had put a small cube of solid fuel in a clear space and were busy trying to light a plasma torch. ├óÔé¼┼ôPlease, follow me and I will show you to your quarters.├óÔé¼┬Ø Upon closer inspection, it was obvious that Cral was the leader of the sorry bunch. He barked a few orders and most of the slouchers became active, restacking the fuel cubes or performing maintenance on some of the craft (or doing something vaguely reminiscent anyway). He didn├óÔé¼Ôäót say anything to the wazheads with the fuel cube and plasma torch.

They heard the bang just before the hangar doors closed. Cral didn├óÔé¼Ôäót break his stride, and a slight smile appeared on his lips.
├óÔé¼┼ôLetting them blow themselves up ├óÔé¼ÔÇ£ it├óÔé¼Ôäós the only way I can teach them how not to blow themselves up,├óÔé¼┬Ø he said.
├óÔé¼┼ôTell me-├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôNo time. We├óÔé¼Ôäóre already on our way. Your quarters are on Executive deck. Follow me.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôBut where are we-├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôNo matter. You will find your quarters comfortable, perhaps even luxurious, especially compared to the Patriot Lodge.├óÔé¼┬Ø
So this youth knew the nickname for the traitors├óÔé¼Ôäó prison. A prison where only those who were sentenced to Horcashkon were kept, in complete isolation from the outside world. This kid knew its nickname. A nickname only the inmates used!
├óÔé¼┼ôCral. Stop.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôMm?├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôStop ├óÔé¼ÔÇ£ just for a minute ├óÔé¼ÔÇ£ and tell me something. Anything.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôVery well then. Do you know that the Commonwealth has entered into a treaty of mutual protection with the Kharash Imperium?├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôI don├óÔé¼Ôäót see what that has to do with-├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôOh, it has nothing to do with anything. You just asked me to tell you something.├óÔé¼┬Ø The youth smiled in a somewhat unsettlingly satisfied manner.

This kid was smart. Too smart, perhaps. He wouldn├óÔé¼Ôäót let anything go about their mission, if any, why they picked him up off Horcashkon, or even what the ├óÔé¼ÔÇ£ what was it called again, ├óÔé¼┼ôNeo-Federatist├óÔé¼┬Ø organization did. Moreover, he seemed to be the only one on board who actually knew what he was doing ├óÔé¼ÔÇ£ every other kid (for he seemed to be the only person on board over twenty-something) he saw was either slacking about, engaged in the use of some kind of mind-altering recreational substance or implant, or performing some dubious parody of maintenance on anything that seemed like it actually still worked.

Then it struck him.

├óÔé¼┼ôWhere is the crew?├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôMm?├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôWhere is the crew? The original one, I mean? I haven├óÔé¼Ôäót seen a proper adult since I was dropped on the Burning World.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôOh, we did away with them.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôYou KILLED them?!? The entire crew of a news-ship?├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôI said, ├óÔé¼╦£We did away with them├óÔé¼Ôäó, I didn├óÔé¼Ôäót say we killed them. You must learn to be calm, tranquil even, or you├óÔé¼Ôäóll be as tense as Hego by the time we reach the Bel..... our target.├óÔé¼┬Ø
A slip-up. The first one he made. Excellent. So they were going to the Belt, were they? Probably to one of the famous derelict asteroid-bases used by the Ozargi pirates before the Commonwealth took over this system. But why? Why?

Well, one thing checked out. His quarters were comfortable, perhaps even luxurious, just like Cral had said. Probably belonged to the ship├óÔé¼Ôäós skipper, or one of the higher executives. He was assigned a ├óÔé¼┼ôbodyguard and servant of sorts├óÔé¼┬Ø, another wazheaded teenager with a slight blanket of soft fur emerging in his chin and neck. He carried a gun, and didn├óÔé¼Ôäót act like he didn├óÔé¼Ôäót. All he seemed to do if left alone was stare at his weapon from every angle with an even more dazed look on his face than otherwise, and take some wazkal every now and then. He had obviously not been assigned for his protection ├óÔé¼ÔÇ£ he was spacing too deeply for that ├óÔé¼ÔÇ£ and he certainly wouldn├óÔé¼Ôäót be any good as ├óÔé¼┼ôservant├óÔé¼┬Ø, so he concluded that this underage wazheaded idiot was left with him with orders to shoot him if he tried anything funny, like messing with bulkheads, toying with circuitry or trying to commit suicide. No matter. He would amuse himself perfectly well in these comfortable, perhaps even luxurious quarters, even with his ├óÔé¼┼ôbodyguard├óÔé¼┬Ø around. He had a soft bed to sleep in, a small pantry unit stocked with an assortment of foodstuffs, condiments and alcoholic beverages from all over the Commonwealth (and a few illegally imported items from other galactic powers), an office/study with a computer terminal and an assortment of physical books, and even a living room of sorts with a fake fireplace in which fake wood burnt with a fake flame that never went out, and a small, supposedly relaxing fountain connected to a small pond(!) with a few water lilies. Whoever these quarters belonged to, he had an opulent taste, and had managed to satisfy it pretty well in such comparatively cramped conditions. Wherever he really lived, if that was anywhere else than here, he must have an enormous house with living statues made of marble interlaced with nanowires, a lake with rare fish from all over the known galaxy, and of course the indispensable, stereotypical and extremely clich├â┬® stairs opposite the front door.

He decided to leave the wazhead for what he was, went into the office/study and pulled a book off a shelf at random. ├óÔé¼┼ôOf Mice and Men├óÔé¼┬Ø, John Steinbeck, Earth, 1937? No. ├óÔé¼┼ôThe Catcher in the Rye├óÔé¼┬Ø, Jerome Salinger, Earth, 1951? No. ├óÔé¼┼ôTo Kill a Mockingbird├óÔé¼┬Ø, Harper Lee, Earth, 1960? All pretty thick and heavy stuff. Dusty. Probably never opened before. Just another sign of the former owner├óÔé¼Ôäós penchant for status symbols.

Still, the quarters had plenty of other diversions to offer ├óÔé¼ÔÇ£ especially when he found the computer terminal in the office/study had access to the entire ship├óÔé¼Ôäós database, save for several ├óÔé¼┼ôsecret├óÔé¼┬Ø files to which only the ├óÔé¼┼ôdirector├óÔé¼┬Ø had access. He browsed through summaries of the books stacked on the office/study├óÔé¼Ôäós shelves, and quickly found that there only were a few dozen different books or so ├óÔé¼ÔÇ£ most of the remaining books were identical to ones he had already found, and some quick calculations in his mind told him that this guy had more duplicates of every book than he had different books. Typical. He was sneering as he re-entered the living room, where he found the wazhead still staring at his gun as if in a trance. He walked up to him and slapped him on the back of the head, giving the wazhead a good scare and probably turning his good flight into a bad one. He was already showing some minor convulsions in his fingers.

Overall, the days he spent there were pretty uninteresting ├óÔé¼ÔÇ£ not dull, but also not very interesting to look back on. When after four days the outer door opened for the first time since he was deposited here, he found Cral waiting for him.
├óÔé¼┼ôI hope you enjoyed your trip.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôI most certainly did,├óÔé¼┬Ø he said, glancing around at the wazhead who was suffering from his umpteenth bad flight after the umpteenth slap to the head. Once they├óÔé¼Ôäóre into the stuff, they never do learn.

He once again followed the youth around the ship, which looked entirely different from what he remembered. Cables and wires lay across the floor of every corridor, many walls had large holes in them with scorchmarks around the edges, circuitry had been circumvented through custom-made, shoddy-looking connections and it looked like there had been campfires on several locations. The smell of alcohol, tricahol and wazkal was everywhere, and by the time they reached their destination, he was feeling woozy.

It took a few moments to register where he was. It was the first place on the ship (besides his quarters) where everything seemed normal. The walls were intact, there was no visible wiring and the air smelled recycled instead of like a frat-house party. There were dozens, no, hundreds of screens on the wall of the round chamber, and computer terminals everywhere. All but a few screens and one terminal were offline, however. Working it was a humanoid with a scaly, light-blue skin, three large bulbous eyes and six arms, ending in slight hands with eight long slender fingers. A Protean in their preferred humanoid form. It was working the terminal with surprising speed, even for a human-form Protean, and was apparently scanning through vast volumes of data almost casually.

This was no ordinary Protean. It was a genetically modified one, a designer humanoid, created by an unscrupulous gen-tech engineer or laboratory and sold on the black market for astronomical amounts of money, and extremely illegal in all known galactic powers. They could serve a variety of purposes, from engineering work to assassination, but this one seemed to be used for data analysis.

├óÔé¼┼ôTireku, any word?├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôKrssss..... We have rrreceived the trrransssponderrr sssignal frrrom ourrr bassse, but no worrrd ssso farrr.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôRecord a VidCom communiqu├â┬®, I want them to see that we have him.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôSssss..... yesss sssirrr.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôJust blink into the camera, that will be enough.├óÔé¼┬Ø

Suddenly, a boom came down from the ceiling, with a small photo-sensitive cell at the end. It was lowered so fast that it took him completely by surprise, and he indeed blinked stupidly into the camera for a few seconds until he collected himself, at which time the boom disappeared into the ceiling again.

├óÔé¼┼ôSssent.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôGood. Now we wait.├óÔé¼┬Ø

They didn├óÔé¼Ôäót have to wait very long. Within minutes, one of the screens flashed an ├óÔé¼┼ôincoming signal├óÔé¼┬Ø message and the terminal started bleeping. The gen-tech Protean switched off all screens except the central, largest one, and switched the transmission over to it. A face appeared on the screen, the first adult he had seen since Horcashkon, which was by now probably at least a few days ago. It belonged to a roughly forty-year-old human, and came with a thick beard, a moustache and a somewhat cross expression.

├óÔé¼┼ôSo. You got him.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôYes, sir, we did.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôAnd the news-ship too. Good work. I didn├óÔé¼Ôäót think your ├óÔé¼┼ôcrew├óÔé¼┬Ø could manage it.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôTo be honest, sir, I expected to be a particle cloud myself by the time we got here, but I managed to keep them from wrecking anything critical. Well, except the primary air regulators, but it├óÔé¼Ôäós still breathable. Mostly.├óÔé¼┬Ø That explained the smell of drugs in the corridors, as well as some other peculiarities he only now realized he noticed back in his quarters. For one, the Tellayrian lilies in the pond had died. He wondered why, but now he remembered they were very sensitive about their breathable gasses.
├óÔé¼┼ôWe have the packages, and the engineers are ready. Send about half a dozen shuttles and you can pull away.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôSorry, sir. The only shuttle pilot we have left is Hego, all the others have either collided with each other or tried to take a spacewalk without a suit. I told them not to take wazkal before a flight, but, well, you know how they are.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôHmm. Well, we only have one craft here capable of landing in your hangar, the liner, so we├óÔé¼Ôäóll have to make two trips. I├óÔé¼Ôäóll send the engineers first, otherwise they won├óÔé¼Ôäót have a ship to disembark on when they reach you.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôYes, sir. I├óÔé¼Ôäóll tell the hangar crew to expect you.├óÔé¼┬Ø

Later, as Cral took him back to his quarters, he tried again.
├óÔé¼┼ôCral. Tell me. What is going on here?├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôThat is still none of your concern, I├óÔé¼Ôäóm afraid. I can├óÔé¼Ôäót divulge any information at the moment.├óÔé¼┬Ø The youth├óÔé¼Ôäós earlier, almost playful manner had gone. He was serious. Pursuing the matter further wouldn├óÔé¼Ôäót lead anywhere. There would be no more slip-ups.

On the brighter side of things, Cral ordered the wazhead ├óÔé¼┼ôbodyguard├óÔé¼┬Ø (who was still staring at his gun when they returned) to come with him, so there was no-one else left in the quarters. Privacy at last. He lay down on the soft bed and slept for more than four hours on end for the first time since his capture by the Coms.

He was awakened by a loud buzz, which stopped almost immediately. It repeated itself a few times, until he was clear-headed enough to realize it came from the door. He went over and opened it. Outside, again, stood Cral.

├óÔé¼┼ôGood morning. I trust you slept well?├óÔé¼┬Ø His friendly manner had returned.
├óÔé¼┼ôMm-hm.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôGood! You know what to do, I presume. Follow me, please.├óÔé¼┬Ø Not friendly. Jovial. Somewhat unsettling.
├óÔé¼┼ôWhere are you taking me this time? Am I actually going to do anything now or are you just going to show me off again?├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôOh, no. The operation will take place within a few hours. We need you to oversee it.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôOperation? What operation?├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôYou├óÔé¼Ôäóll see.├óÔé¼┬Ø

Cral led the way to the bow of the ship, to the forward observation deck, and from there up a tower into the bridge. The room was cramped, even though it was at least three hundred feet wide where they entered it, and about six hundred at its widest. It tapered off to a nose about thirty feet wide, where a large, complicated helm console was located. Looking towards it, he could see a holographic map of the system for navigation, another holo-map of the galaxy with markers attached to each system to determine where the most interesting news could be found, and a bank of consoles overseeing the deployment of the ship├óÔé¼Ôäós several dozen shuttles. Behind him, he knew, was a massive assortment of consoles, computer terminals, compact communications devices and independent computers ├óÔé¼ÔÇ£ the ship├óÔé¼Ôäós communications control, the nerve centre of the ship, where reporters in shuttles or on planetary or lunar surfaces sent their pieces, and from which they were relayed to the massive broadcast dishes at the sides of the observation deck and on huge dorsal and ventral towers, from which the news was dispersed to anyone with any sort of communications device.

There was no-one else present.

The entire bridge was devoid of personnel, leaving only the silent hum of electronic and quantum devices to fill the air, which smelled stale, as if no-one had been here since the air recycling system was destroyed. A disembodied voice spoke.
├óÔé¼┼ôPreparing to assume orbit. Disposal systems on-line and ready. Chutes at 100% capacity.├óÔé¼┬Ø
Androgynous and artificial, it had to be the ship├óÔé¼Ôäós main AI. He wondered what all of it meant. Separately, the phrases were perfectly normal for a ship├óÔé¼Ôäós AI to use, but put together they made little or no sense. Waste disposal in orbit? That was anything from rude to downright illegal, depending on the waste being disposed. Moreover, the disposal chutes could not be at maximum capacity. Standard procedure was to dump it when possible between 70 and 80% capacity, and he had heard the chutes being emptied the day he was brought on board. There was no way that even this sorry excuse for a crew could have produced that much waste in such a short time. Plus, the computer would have issued a ship-wide warning when capacity reached 90%. This was irrational.

Cral was walking forward, and was motioning him to follow. When they were both standing in front of the primary viewscreen, Cral spoke.
├óÔé¼┼ôWould you do the honours?├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôExcuse me?├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôYou├óÔé¼Ôäóll see.├óÔé¼┬Ø With that he walked away.
├óÔé¼┼ôWait! Cral! I demand.....├óÔé¼┬Ø but the youth had already disappeared. Puzzled, he turned around and faced the viewscreen. Along the left edge, a bluish bulge was growing slowly.
├óÔé¼┼ôLow orbit in twenty seconds.├óÔé¼┬Ø The AI again.

What the.....? This didn├óÔé¼Ôäót make sense. Some unknown mysterious organization picking him up from the Burning World with a news-ship, a crew of youths, the AI spouting irrational phrases and now Cral leaving him alone, all by himself, on the bridge? He sat down in the skipper├óÔé¼Ôäós chair to think things through.

├óÔé¼┼ôLow orbit achieved.├óÔé¼┬Ø The AI├óÔé¼Ôäós voice startled him out of contemplation.
├óÔé¼┼ôWell..... very well.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôDisposal systems ready. Initiate dump?├óÔé¼┬Ø
Oh hell, why not? ├óÔé¼┼ôAffirmative. Dump it all.├óÔé¼┬Ø

That proved to be the final, greatest mistake of his entire life.

He heard the clunking of the disposal chutes.
├óÔé¼┼ôFocus viewscreen on planet.├óÔé¼┬Ø He might as well watch the stuff burn up in the atmosphere.

The light-blue planet now filled the entire viewscreen. They were so close that he could see no space around its edges. He saw the garbage float away from the ship and into the planet├óÔé¼Ôäós deep gravity well. Something struck him as odd. He didn├óÔé¼Ôäót see any broken devices, pieces of metal, organic refuse or anything of the sort float away from the screen. All he saw were regularly shaped metal boxes. Containers. Chemical containers.

Then he suddenly recognized the planet. Taul Kethereon. The administrative centre of this star cluster.

Oh. Shit.

He saw the containers enter the atmosphere, immediately being whisked away by the high winds of Taul Kethereon├óÔé¼Ôäós thermosphere before they even began to burn up. He watched in horror as the containers were being scattered across the entire planet.
├óÔé¼┼ôShip! Scan the contents of those containers!├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôPlease specify.├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôScan the containers falling into the planet├óÔé¼Ôäós gravity well! Analyze their contents!├óÔé¼┬Ø
├óÔé¼┼ôScanning..... Scan complete. Containers contain hitherto unknown strain of Borthkelian Plague, suspended in pure trizoathene.├óÔé¼┬Ø
The most virulent plague in the known galaxy, carried by the most aggressive acid in the known galaxy. Thirty-three billion people. He had just perpetrated the largest massacre since the Commonwealth-Kurizni War, two hundred and sixty-four years ago.

After that, everything happened very fast. He was in a daze. He remembered approximately what happened ├óÔé¼ÔÇ£ the escape pods launching, the Commonwealth Bureau of Investigation boarding the ship armed to the teeth and clad in military-grade powered armour, his arrest, his trial, Cral├óÔé¼Ôäós testimony that he and the other youths had been his hostages, the sentencing, the incarceration, the day he was taken out into the sun for the last time and loaded into a ship similar to the one that dropped him on Horcashkon. He finally snapped out of it when one of the soldiers opened his cell door and led him to an airlock. Outside, he could see a black mass, surrounded by a ring of bright material. A black hole.

He was shoved inside the airlock, and out into space.

He had been right. He could have suffered a worse fate than Horcashkon. Now, he had an eternity to think it over.
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Snipawolf
Posts: 4357
Joined: 12 Dec 2005, 01:49

Post by Snipawolf »

Man, I would hate to be thrown into a black hole! Well, have fun retard, you shoulda been more cautious :twisted:

Nice story
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Zoombie
Posts: 6149
Joined: 15 Mar 2005, 07:08

Post by Zoombie »

Hey! Only one person is allowed to choose the "I am zoombie" choice in the poll.

ME! Ahahahahahahaha!
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Peet
Malcontent
Posts: 4381
Joined: 27 Feb 2006, 22:04

Post by Peet »

and me, just cause....yeah.

:)
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Zoombie
Posts: 6149
Joined: 15 Mar 2005, 07:08

Post by Zoombie »

I will now use my mind powers to make your head explode.
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rattle
Damned Developer
Posts: 8278
Joined: 01 Jun 2006, 13:15

Post by rattle »

There's an option missing... "I can't read/I refuse to read"
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Guessmyname
Posts: 3301
Joined: 28 Apr 2005, 21:07

Post by Guessmyname »

Very nice!
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Kixxe
Posts: 1547
Joined: 14 May 2005, 10:02

Post by Kixxe »

Good but Anti Climatic. I was expecting more! :P
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Andreask
Posts: 282
Joined: 16 Dec 2005, 21:08

Post by Andreask »

I will deliver whenever i am ready, be assured of this.
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CompWiz
Posts: 537
Joined: 16 Apr 2006, 04:20

Post by CompWiz »

lol
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Strategia
Posts: 575
Joined: 06 Apr 2006, 18:32

Post by Strategia »

Umm..... why have we..... five Zoombies? O_o lol
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CompWiz
Posts: 537
Joined: 16 Apr 2006, 04:20

Post by CompWiz »

we need to make a separate forum for story's...
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hunterw
Posts: 1838
Joined: 14 May 2006, 12:22

Post by hunterw »

CompWiz wrote:we need to make a separate forum for story's...
probably not
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Zoombie
Posts: 6149
Joined: 15 Mar 2005, 07:08

Post by Zoombie »

Strategia wrote:Umm..... why have we..... five Zoombies? O_o lol
Five for the mountain kings of earth. And by that I mean: If I had five me's, I'd play Risk 2210 against myself.

And more to the point...check out the PM I just sent ya.
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