July 2008 Challenge - Second Person
Stardate 06857.8 (11 November 2329)
Independent Freighter SS Eku
Near the Lesser Riven Nebula, Sector 0552
You awake suddenly, heart hammering and your body clammy with sweat.
Blinking to clear your eyes in the darkness of your cabin, you are aware of a familiar voice. Your mother – she is calling out to you. Something in her tone fills you with a sudden chill of apprehension.
“Joey! Quick, get out of bed! I need you to take Melody and get in one of the life pods.”
You frown, and your lip curls in a churlish manner – typical for a sleepy twelve year old boy. “Aw, Mom! Those pods are cold and dark and they smell funny. Can’t you and Dad run drills another time? I wanna sleep!”
Your mother’s tone tightens. There is no ignoring the urgency.
“Joseph Barrabas Akinola! Get out of that bunk and move your tail end – Now!
You grumble but toss the covers aside, your initial fear momentarily forgotten as your puerile adolescent nature over-rides good sense.
“Okay!” you say in a voice that is not quite a whine. “If it’s the stupid Orions, why not just jump to warp? The Eku
can outrun a dog-gone raider!”
Your mother switches on the cabin light, causing you to blink as your eyes adjust. Squinting, you hold up a hand to block the light as you reach for the jumpsuit that hangs over the back of a chair.
“No time for that,” chides your mother. “Hurry up, Joey! I don’t think there’s much time!”
You look at your mother’s face for the first time and you are startled to see the fear in her wide eyes. You’ve never seen your mother like this before. Your stomach clenches as you sense that maybe this is not a drill – that this may be more serious than dodging an Orion raider.
“Mom?” Your pubescent voice cracks in betrayal of your sudden fear. Your mother forces a smile on her face, but the look of apprehension remains in her eyes.
“Shhh, baby, just come on. Your Daddy is probably being over-cautious, but better safe than sorry.”
You pad bare-foot after your mother, still clad in your pajamas. Without thinking, you snatch up your new pocket knife off your bedside table – a recent birthday gift from your father. Your mother is now moving at a brisk walk, not quite a trot. Both of you enter your little sister’s cabin and your mother sweeps the sleeping girl from her cot, still wrapped in her pink blanket. Melody doesn’t stir, except to grasp her yellow stuffed bear more tightly and to place her thumb in her mouth.
Ahead, you see your father and uncle trotting forward. Both of them are carrying pulse rifles. You only catch a brief glimpse of your father – a mix of determination and fear on his broad, dark face. It is how you will always remember your father.
“Joey! Come on!
” your mother hisses in impatience. You realize that you’ve stopped dead in your tracks, staring after the retreating forms of your dad and his brother. Blinking, you quickly catch up with your mother.
As you enter the alcove containing the escape pods, you hesitate. Your mother turns, an imploring look on her face.
“Joey? Baby, come on – get in the pod!”
Something hot and wet is on your face. You taste the salt of a tear that traces by your nose to your lips. You begin to shake your head in sudden determination.
“No, Mama – I can help!
Daddy has shown me how to operate the laser battery – I can do it, just . . . Please!
Don’t make me go in the pod!”
Suddenly, your mother engulfs you in a tight embrace. You feel her breath on your ear as she speaks quickly.
“Joseph – I’m counting on you. Take care of Melody. I love you!”
With strength that astonishes you, she picks you up (even though you are now nearly as tall as your mother, though still slender as a reed) and places you inside the cramped life pod. Your eyes lock for a moment, and you think she is going to change her mind, that she will pull you and your five year-old sister from the life pod.
But your mother forcefully slides the hatch to. You hear the snick-click, snick-click, snick-click
of the locking mechanism as the hatch seals. Your ears pop as the pressure in the pod increases slightly.
Pressing your face against the small window in the hatch, you see your mother for the last time. She’s smiling, but her face is very sad. She touches her fingers to her lips, then touches the other side of the viewport. Suddenly she stands, turns and she is gone from view.
Blinking back your own tears, you tend to your little sister. Melody is still sleeping the sleep of the innocent. You strap her into her couch and she snuggles against her bear. You strap into the next couch, which affords you a view through the small window.
You wait, still hoping that this will be like all the other times you and Melody have been ensconced in a life-pod, to spend a boring few hours in the dark until either your mother or father retrieves you after the threat of danger passed.
The sudden acceleration throws you against your harness, nearly knocking the wind from you. Melody whimpers in her sleep, but her eyes remain tightly closed.
Emergency lights flicker on, emitting a putrid yellow glow that add no cheer to the life pod. Ignoring the many hours of instruction from your parents, you release the harness and slowly float free from your seat. The small pod has no artificial gravity and only minimal inertial dampeners.
Still, the dampeners are enough to prevent you from being slammed against the curved wall of the pod. You guide yourself toward the small viewport in the hatch, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Eku
You are surprised by the degree of darkness you see. The nebula in the background blocks out most of the starfield, but you manage to see the running lights of your family’s old L-Type freighter. And you see something else.
Your mind is unable to fully comprehend the sight. It is massive – far bigger than the Eku.
Bigger than anything the Orions have. You make out right angles and a mass of conduits and other metallic textures, all in deep shadow. The object is hanging in space, moving slowly toward the freighter.
A green glow erupts from the cube – engulfing your family’s ship. It is all more than your 12-year old mind can handle. You faint, and dream only of darkness and bone-chilling cold.
* * *
Stardate 54214.08 (20 March 2377)
Molari Sector – Routine patrol
You awake suddenly, heart hammering and your body is clammy with sweat.
Sitting up, you throw back the covers of your cot and sit on the edge in the darkness, willing your heart rate to slow. Momentarily, it begins to slow to normal. You breathe deeply and exhale shakily. Although a sheen of perspiration covers your body, you are inexplicably cold.
“Lights – one quarter,” you announce to your cabin in a hoarse voice. The ship’s computer obeys, and the darkness is pushed back by the soft glow of the cabin lights.
You sit on the edge of your bunk for several minutes, a frown on your face as you try to recall . . .
But as always, the memory of the recurring dream eludes you. Like trying to grasp smoke, the tendrils slip away. All that remains is your memory of a cold, dark place and . . .
You sigh in frustration and stand, momentarily still, trying to remember. Walking barefoot to the sink, you splash cold water in your face and look in the mirror. Your 60 year-old visage stares back. Your hair is nearly white and your dark face is lined from years and harsh experience, but your brown eyes seem timeless. And you think you see fear in them.
As you straighten, your eye catches the corner of the mirror – a perfect right angle. You feel the hair at the nape of your neck rise.
You shake your head sharply. “Damned stupid dreams,” you mutter, and turn toward the head and the sonic shower, the nightmare forgotten.
For the moment.