Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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Voyages of the Earthship Horus:

La Miria

by Michael Joseph


Bette woke me early from trans-dimensional freeze. Her computer generated forties pin-up holographic image was pleasant except in the aftermath of floating in the life sustaining gelatinous mush that filled the sleep tube. Grouchy, that’s the only way to describe my mood after being flushed out like some sort of embryonic fetus. We’d been bouncing from planet to planet scrounging up whatever we could to get by. The year was 2130 on earth. My name? Plato Zhoth, Captain of the Earthship Horus.

"Wake-up, Captain Plato," she cooed. Her syrupy sweet voice seemed to echo off the walls of the dimly lit cabin. Maybe it was just me after the long sleep. "I had to wake you early."

"Early?" I grumbled.

There wasn’t enough water for a proper wash so a damp towel would have to do for my clean-up.

"We are nearing planet 279 in the Cygnus 4 group," she told me. "No official name logged, but historical records show that survey personnel dubbed it 'La Miria'. Long range sensors show life activity near the poles. The rest of the planet is uninhabitable due to elevated surface temperature."

"So?" I snapped back.

"We are in need of repairs and we should acquire more supplies. Water is low and power generator number one is at thirty per cent capacity. Fortunately number two is functioning within normal parameters. This is the only planet where we can resupply within many light years."

"Okay! Okay, already!" I groaned. "Now, all I want is a cup of coffee."

"We ran out approximately four days before your sleep session began. Do you remember?" she reminded me.

"Yes, yes, now I remember," I said as the brain-fuzz started to wear off.

"Would you like a stim-brew instead?" she asked.

"I guess," I answered.

The artificial coffee substitute was hot and black. That’s where the similarity to coffee ended. It tasted like crap and left an awful aftertaste, but it did the trick. Raking my fingers through my greasy grey hair, I threw on a pair of dirty coveralls for the trip down the passage where the rest of the crew would be waiting.

Once out of their sleep tubes, I knew everyone would meet at the mess hall. Dr. Ail-Mer, ships doctor and cook, was fixing some yellow stuff with textured protein that looked almost like sausage and eggs. I didn’t want to know where he got it because there wasn’t any meat or eggs on the ship. I sat down for my second cup of stim-brew and breakfast as Opus Capesius, ship’s engineer, and his second, Xao entered. Opus was half human, half alien grey. Xao was full alien grey and my telepath. Casually slinking along behind them was the "Kitty Sisters", Lilliph and Dolphie, two cloned human-cheetah females. In their leather outfits, they looked great. With spotted cat-like fur covering their curvaceous human bodies, cat ears and short whiskers below their button noses, their playful demeanor helped pass the time on long voyages. Their come hither smiles masked their dangerous side. Enemies who got a glimpse of the long claws on their hands and feet were seldom left alive to tell the tale. Yeah, we’ve been known to get in an occasional scrape or two traveling from place to place hauling whatever pays.

"Hi, Captain Plato," they simultaneously purred.

"Hello, girls," I answered with a broad smile.

Molly, the ship’s navigator, ducked her head to get through the hatch to the mess. Her giant stature belied her amazing intellect. Being able to navigate and pilot the small ship past flurries of fighters and planetary booby traps made her invaluable.

"We need water. Maybe a recycler and some fresh food, too," she told me.

"So I’ve heard. You know where we are?"

"Yes," Molly said, "It’s near the Cygnus 4 system. A planet only listed in the charts as planet 279. I guess they’ve named it La Miria. I tried to contact them, but got no answer."

"I wonder if we can get what we need without currency," I thought out loud.

Bette said, "We have cargo left over from the last shipment to planet Nimbus."

We delivered a load of exotic plants and had soil and some gravel in the hold. We couldn’t even get rid of it on Nimbus, much less sell it for cash. Hopefully, we would be able to find a job or two, something legal, if possible.

As we neared the planet, an immense, swirling vortex of color popped up directly in our path. The huge dimensional door vomited a silver orb that completely filled the view from our bow scanners.

"Holy horse shit!" I shouted, "Get us out of here."

"Too late," Molly said.

"Slow us down or something," I said. "Or else we’ll get squashed like a bug on the bumper of that giant pinball."

We veered starboard to avoid contact; but the huge vessel maneuvered to stay dead ahead. We braced ourselves for impact as the ship’s reflection in the mirror-like convex exterior of the vessel kept growing despite our best efforts to stop. At the last possible moment, a hatch opened and the silver sphere unceremoniously swallowed our small vessel. Molly set her down in the expansive hanger bay as loudspeakers blared at us to exit without weapons.

"I want everyone at the hatch," I announced over the ship com. "Bette, security mode."

The hanger’s speakers blasted the command once again. I tried to show a calm exterior to my crew, "Look guys, no trouble. Xao, I want all you can get from their minds. Molly, be alert for anything unusual. Lilliph, Dolphie, attack only as a last resort. Smile. Let’s play nice and see if we can trade with these guys."

Bette opened the hatch. We filed down the ramp like visitors on vacation feigning awe at the sheer magnitude of the hangar bay. A couple squads of troopers marched out from the far side of the hangar bay and we were surrounded. I watched as a few of them charged up the ramp into my ship.

"I’m not sure what you want, commandant," I said, "but can’t we work this out without all of this drama?"

"Do you have proper authorization to be in our system?" he asked.

"I couldn’t contact anyone for authorization. We didn’t know who to ask, since our radio communications were unanswered. Can we get it now?" I asked. "Perhaps a fee and some forms..."

"I am Captain Moss De Vire of the Peoples Army of the sovereign planet of La Miria," interrupted the young officer. "You are in violation of our territorial boundaries."

Molly noticed something peculiar. There wasn’t anyone in the line-up that looked over thirty years old. She bent her seven-foot tall frame to whisper in my ear. Glancing at Xao, I signaled that I wanted a private conversation.

"What’s the story on these guys? Why are they so paranoid and why are they so young?"

He came back a few moments later with the answer. "There is a civil war on the surface. It seems that once they reach thirty years old, they are leaders. At forty, retired. Anyone older than fifty has died. I cannot find out exactly why."

As we stood there, the squad leader charged out of the ship wearing a frown. He whispered something into the captain’s ear. Captain De Vire walked to our little group and, as he surveyed us up and down, gave the squad leader a nod. We were cuffed and lined up like we were about to be executed on the spot.

"You have contraband on your ship," he scowled.

"What do you mean?"

"Where do you intend to take this fertile soil and building material?" Captain De Vire asked pacing in front of the crew.

No matter what I said, I knew he wanted to arrest us. It made no difference what we had on our ship.

"You will allow access to your computer and give us all of your records," he said. "If you have nothing to hide, you will comply. If not, we will assume you are rebel sympathizers. Then, your ship will be confiscated for use in the war to defeat the rebels."

"I’ve never been to this planet and have no interest in its war, Captain De Vire," I explained. "I only want to re-supply my ship and make a few repairs. We could trade the soil for water and some fresh food. Then, we will be gone."

The last thing I wanted someone poking around in the computer files. There was stuff in there that would get us arrested for sure.

"Unless you allow me access to your computer, that will not be possible," he said. "You are under arrest for aiding the enemy. You have no authorization to be in our space and you will not allow us to inspect your computer records, so you must be conspirators."

Pacing down the line up, he inspected my crew. When he got to Lilliph, she hissed. He flinched. When he got to Dolphie, she smiled the smile of a cat with a rat in its sights, showing her rather large canine teeth. I think she was hungry. Then, he walked to Molly’s towering form.

"Who is this?" he asked.

Not known for her submissive personality, Molly casually snapped the short chain of her handcuffs and reached for Captain De Vire’s throat. In retrospect, I figure that was a mistake.

Sarge charged out of the ship after his second inspection tour. Seeing his captain turning blue, he sprayed Molly with some viscous green foam. The foam instantly turned as solid as stone. She was hauled down one of the passages.

Xao telepathically relayed the message that she’s all right but scared. I told him to let her know that we would be getting her and the ship out ASAP. He nodded confirming the message had been received.

We were escorted to the brig. From the plentiful cells that were all occupied, I thought that this might be a prison ship. I found out that these people were rebels captured from the civil war.

I asked one of the prisoners who was in charge. The thin man nodded in the direction of the rear of the cell. Unknown to me at the front of the cell was Hoteph, who was actually their leader. Sitting on a bench in the back of the cell, we talked with Eshalm, his second in command.

"Who are you?" Eshalm asked.

"I guess, nobody," I said shrugging my shoulders, "but you can call me Plato."

He was very suspicious of me at first. A couple of hours with my sparkling personality and rapier wit and we were talking like old school chums. Well, actually, it took a planted suggestion in his mind from my secret weapon, Xao, that said I wasn’t a spy. I found out that there were cities below the surface of the planet at the both poles. He wouldn’t go into great detail, but they were fighting a group of fascist fanatics. I also learned that most people in the governing faction succumbed to a so-far incurable disease that struck when they reached about fifty years of age. Dr. Mer confirmed that he had seen men and women over fifty in many of the cells -- but none among our captors.

"It’s not bothering us, only them," said Eshalm. "Serves ‘em right, too. The bastards take whatever kids they find for their schools. Damn indoctrination camps is what they are. They’re never seen again. Probably a few on this ship right now."

"We found out that this ship took anyone who tried to leave the surface," Hoteph said. "They raid our small underground cities for slaves to be used in their factories. All of the men, women and children they capture are never heard from again. They also block all communication with any ships that leave so we wouldn’t know what happened to them."

"We live like rats in the ground." Eshalm whispered as Hoteph walked back to the door. "Hoteph had to try to free his people. We knew we’d be captured. Now we’re here, we must find a way to beat these monsters."

Hoteph, keeping a lookout through the cell door, motioned for silence as heavy footsteps echoed down the sterile metal passage. The door to the cell clanged open and a hog-faced turn-key pointed a gun at me.

"Come," said a rather amusing hog like, semi-intelligent being I nicknamed "Pig-guy". I mentally told Xao hold the fort until I get back. If I wasn’t back in two hours, he should come and get me.

At the end of the passage, there was only one other guard. Pig-guy number one grunted a command. Pig-guy number two punched a code into his console and the door swung wide. I was shoved into a bare cell down another passage and told to wait as the door slammed shut and locked.

It wasn’t long before a couple of storm troopers dragged a small desk and a couple of chairs in the room. Captain De Vire strolled in and motioned for me to sit in the chair, not even offering me a cigarette like they do in the old movies.

"I take it that you’ve met Hoteph and Eshalm?" he asked.

"Who?"

"We’ve been observing your little group in the cell. From the look of your ship, I don’t believe that you’re one of them. We might be able to use you and your crew to gather some information. I can pay well and you will have whatever you want for your ship," said De Vire.

I played along for awhile as he explained the sanitized version of the fascist side of the story. He had the usual BS, you know, trying to help the children and hoping that the conflict could end so everyone would know the immense generosity of the elected government... blah, blah, blah!

While we were busy chatting about the benefits of a totalitarian regime, I received a telepathic com from Xao. Molly was in trouble. She was under some sort of exam that was very painful. He couldn’t tell what was going on, but he could sense her being tortured through the mental link. I was done with this post-adolescent boob.

I interrupted his sales pitch. "I was just wondering, do we get all of these benefits before or after the mind wipe?"

That was all it took. He stormed out and Pig-guy number one came with the furniture movers to clear the room of the table, chairs and, of course, me. As I was about to be tossed into the cell, I nodded to Xao.

Things happened pretty fast after that. Xao convinced Pig-guy number one’s diminutive brain that there was a jailbreak. He rushed out to Pig-guy number two and, seeing him as one of the prisoners, zapped him. Pig-guy number two, also thinking that there was a breakout, promptly fried Pig-guy number one before he died. It made me think of food again. I love barbecued baby back ribs and a brew. We grabbed the keys and tossed them to the other prisoners.

####

While the rebels were busy locating weapons, we used their diversion to make our exit. We needed to get to Molly. Xao led us to a cabin near the infirmary where her emotional energy sent beacons to the telepathic grey. Once the alarms started to punctuate the echoing sounds of battle in other parts of the ship, the medical staff beat a hasty retreat leaving Molly unguarded. Ducking the occasional laser blast and negotiating smoke-filled passages as the rebels fought for control of the ship, we found the cabin where they kept her.

There she was, immobilized by stone hard foam. Xao’s mind probes of the medical staff found out that there was some liquid to dissolve it in the infirmary. Dr. Mer went with Xao to find it. Lilliph and Dolphie guarded the hallway.

"It’s all right, Molly," I said as she struggled against her imprisonment. "We’ll get this stuff off, then we can get the hell out of here."

We could hear more blaster bolts and shouts echoing down the passages. All I cared about was my crew and ship. As Dr. Mer and Xao came back with the spray, Dr. Mer looked as if all of the blood drained from his face.

"They’re using them for research," he said as if he were in shock.

"Who?" I asked.

"The older prisoners," he said. "I think that they’re dissecting them hoping to find some type of immunity to the disease. I believe Molly was next."

The spray worked well, dissolving the rock-hard foam. The large lady was understandably pissed. My only concern was getting us out of there in one piece. Lilliph and Dolphie silently led the way, taking out any troopers. Xao could sense anyone who thought that hiding would give them an advantage. We picked up a few weapons and found the way to the hangar where the Horus and Bette waited. Once through the hatch to the hangar by, we saw a squad of troopers standing guard.

Sprinting from one cover to another, we blasted the squad as we worked our way toward the ship. Confused and frightened as Xao went to work on their minds, they recoiled from two spotted human-looking cats and a very angry giant woman attacking whoever was unfortunate enough to be within their reach. The troopers quickly retreated down the nearest passageway. The only one left was so confused, he ran to a corner and hid. The Kitty Sisters needed some exercise so I let them have fun by batting him back and forth a few times before he finally fell to the deck unconscious. I told them it wasn’t right to kill an unconscious man so they strolled back to the ship, a disappointed look on their furry faces.

I tried to contact my computer, Bette, on the com so she would lower the ramp, but there was no response. I pulled the manual release, sending it slamming to the deck.

"Opus, Xao, I need back-up power," I said. Turning to the Kitty Sisters, I told them, "Girls, keep an eye out for intruders."

Dr. Mer, Molly and I went to the bridge. Opus did a good job as usual, and once I had the pilot’s station lights, I entered the security code.

"I’m so glad to see you, Captain Plato," Bette said. "I was able to shut down all of my systems and back-up vital files before those men drained my power reserves."

Opus and Xao entered the bridge.

"I rerouted some of the hidden reserves," said Opus, "but there’s not enough to initiate a power generator start."

"You mean we’ve got to recharge from this giant pinball?"

"Unless you’ve got a trick or two up your sleeve."

"Okay," I said, "You and Xao work on it. Dr. Mer, see if you can find some food and water in the hangar bay. Molly, Lilliph, Dolphie, we are going to find out what’s going on with Eshalm and Hoteph."

We picked up their trail by following dead bodies. We saw a few troopers running either to the battle or away from it. Anyone who thought they might stop us were either ripped apart by Lilliph and Dolphie or chucked against a bulkhead by Molly. Once we got to the engineering control room, Eshalm and Hoteph had things relatively quiet.

"We have the bridge locked out but we’re unable to fly the ship from here," said Eshalm. "We need to take the bridge. Only problem is, we need to have the access codes to fly the ship."

"I’ll see what I can do," I said. "Can you get someone down to where they have my ship to help Opus get me some power?"

He nodded to a couple of his men. I called Opus on the com and let him know they were coming. This thing was getting way too complicated. I called for my telepath.

"Do you think that you can get me the codes to the navigational systems and to the main computer?" I asked. He nodded.

We attacked the bridge dodging searing laser blasts and rock foam showers. Once there, Xao peered into the captain’s brain, found the codes and nodded to me. We obliterated the hatch with a plasma cannon Eshalm found in the weapons locker. Molly, itching to have her revenge, led the way. Careful not to damage the bridge, the raging giantess surprised the techs at the controls as she flung their bodies out of the smoking hole that used to be the door to a couple of clawed cat women. The captain wasn’t so lucky. Molly grabbed one of the blasters and reduced him to stinking vapor.

Once in control of the ship, the rebels announced over the com that the remaining troopers surrender or their air would be cut off.

####

We dumped the dirt and rocks and loaded enough food and water for a long and, hopefully, uneventful voyage to some planet where the women out number the men two to one and there is lots of pizza and beer. I would’ve settled for just the beer.

"Generator number one is repaired and a new spare loaded aboard, just in case. I procured a small recycler and replicator," said Opus.

"We could use a crew like yours in the resistance," Hoteph told us. "There’s more to life than just chasing after riches."

I thought, Yeah, babes and beer! but said nothing. He might tell me that there were both on his planet. That was a dilemma I didn’t need. He reached into the bag he carried.

"Some cultures consider these valuable," he said as he pulled out a handful of uncut diamonds. "They are a byproduct of mining for metals."

"I’ll take them off your hands. Maybe I can find somewhere I can pawn them off." We bid our hosts adieu before anything else could go wrong. Closing the hatch, my only destination was away from this planet and their war.

"Bette, are we all aboard?"

"Yes, Captain Plato," she said. "All present and accounted for."

"Get us out of here."

Bette signaled the bridge of the battleship to open the hatch. Finally, our screen showed only sparkling stars forward as the hot red sun grew smaller in the rear view. I went to brew a cup of real coffee.

As I entered the mess hall, I was stunned to find Lilliph and Dolphie feeding a child that looked to be about six. He had to be one of the kidnapped orphans.

"We’re taking him back. We’ve no place for a nursery." They gave me those sad, hurt kitty eyes.

Since the big ship already left, we’d have to find a colony to return the child. Not wanting to repeat the experience of the last few days, we cautiously sped closer to the hostile planet as Xao briefed me on some of the background info he gleaned from the minds of the troopers and prisoners alike.

"They depend on the battleship as their primary defense in space." he said in one of the few times he actually talked aloud. "They use smaller ships for defense closer to the planet, but these have no wormhole generators."

Molly found us a sizeable moon and positioned our ship in the shadow for our approach. Unfortunate for us, once we circled the misshapen moon, we were thrown into the middle of a hot battle between the pinball battleship and some of the trooper ships. Stray pulse laser blasts flew past, nearly vaporizing my ship. We were totally unarmed, but I did manage to pick up a used shield generator on one of our scavenger runs.

"Opus," I asked over the com, "You got that shield generator working yet?"

"Almost," he answered.

A pulse blast hit my forward deflector. "That was close. Opus, the shield!"

We rocked back and forth as Molly slid past particle beams and laser blasts. They weren’t aiming at us. It was our proximity to the battle that put us in danger.

"Dolphie, try to get in touch with the rebels on the pinball ship. Let ‘em know we’re here." I said as she peeked into the bridge. Once she did, particle pulse blasts stopped heading in our direction.

"I’ve got the shield going," said Opus.

"Good," I said. "If you don’t need him, have Xao meet me in the mess."

"Girls, get us out of here." I said. "Dolphie, call the ship again and see if you can find a location where we can land."

Once back at the mess hall, I found Lilliph taking care of the child. Xao walked in.

"Xao, find out if the child can talk. See what you can find for me about where he came from."

After a few moments, Xao said, "He was taken when he was very young. There are only images of the place and the people of his home." That would make things a lot harder. I believed the rebels would know where to bring him. I just wanted to get out of here. Nobody ever accused Plato Zhoth of being a hero.

The area that we were told to land was in the South Polar Region. In the shadow of the red sun at that time of year, it had been relatively cool, at least for a planet that was basically a lave flow formed into a ball. We flew past weather-beaten cliffs that sheltered a hidden canyon. As we exited the ship, we found a path leading to a cave among the steaming fissures. I could feel hidden eyes of the rebels on us as we moved past the opening toward a massive metal door to the underground city.

"Okay," I asked as we approached the door. "Now do we just knock?"

As if on command, the rusty iron door groaned open. The hot, humid air of the underground city was layered with the stink of too many bodies. Guards led us down a dimly lit passage past small rooms where families were housed. I had Xao, Dolphie, and the child with me. Once the guards stopped, they opened a door and motioned for us to enter. After what I saw of the disgusting conditions of the rebel city, I just wanted to drop off the kid and go, screw the reward.

We heard footsteps coming down the hall in our direction. I peeked down the narrow passage to see Hoteph and Eshalm coming in our direction, smiling.

"We just arrived from the battle." Hoteph said. "You’ll be glad to know that we are winning control of the sky. Next, we’ll take their cities on the surface."

"I’m happy to know that. Anyway, we brought our little stowaway," I said. "I’ll bet his folks sure miss him."

"Unfortunately," Eshalm said, "his parents were probably killed by the People’s Army. They always kill the parents or use them as slaves."

"We’ve a place for all of the displaced children," Hoteph said.

We walked further down the tunnel to a large area where there were hundreds of people living in the most horrible conditions imaginable. Cramped into small groups, they cooked, ate and slept in about six square feet for each small group. A common area was set aside for socializing with a crude table and benches. There, men and women sat and talked about the war and traded news from the outside. Every eye followed us as we walked with Eshalm and Hoteph. Navigating around ragged clumps of people, we arrived at the place where the orphan children were. There were at least twenty being cared for by one adult. The dirty clothes and hungry looks of the children broke my heart.

"Here we are," said Hoteph as he reached for the child in Dolphie’s arms.

She growled, showing her sizable canines. Hoteph jerked his outstretched hands back to keep from getting bit.

"It seems that she’s gotten a little attached to the child," said Eshalm.

"Dolphie, could I see you over here for a minute?" I asked.

We walked a few paces out of the hearing range of Hoteph. I said, "Look, I know you really like the child, but we have no place for him on this ship. Anyway, he will be much safer with his people."

"Captain," she said, "look around you. I don’t want little Plato to live like this. Please, we can just keep him until we get to the next planet where humans live. Maybe Earth or somewhere like that. You wanted to go there anyway."

I was shocked to find out that they already named him Little Plato. He looked at me, blue eyes searching for that chink in my armor. He found it.

"You and Lilliph are totally responsible for him. Remember, I’m the captain and what I say goes! Kids included...kids especially!" I said. Feigning outrage, I pointed my finger at the now smiling child. I walked back to where the other children were. It didn’t take much to convince Hoteph to let us have him.

We talked a little about their situation as we walked back. I found out that Hoteph was the elected leader of the people he called Dispers. There were small communities scattered over the habitable portions of the planet. The officials of the government, called the Commissariat, live in splendid underground cities with temperature controlled residences and a thriving economy. The whole city was controlled by a centralized mainframe and communication net. Raids on the small Disper communities provided slave labor for their industry and children to replenish their dying population.

As we made our way to the exit, I asked Hoteph and Eshalm how the war was going. He told me that it had been worse before gaining control of the battleship. Now, maybe, they could use their fighters.

"You have fighters?" I asked.

"Yes," Eshalm answered. "Follow me."

We went to a lift of some sort. I bet we went up at least twenty levels before coming to the top of the mountain. The door opened to an immense hangar full of fighters and troop transports. The roof hatch looked in good working order and the vessels, hundreds of them, were all maintained in good working order.

"Do you have pilots?" I asked.

"You bet," Hoteph said. "Thanks to you they are now free to fight again."

"I think I’ve got a plan." I said as Dolphie smiled.

####

Hoteph gave us a com frequency, encrypted so it couldn’t be intercepted. We were given coordinates to another Diapers colony. Back at the ship, I briefed the crew in the mess hall as Bette prepared the ship for take off.

We flew under the radar to the other pole. We were expected by the rebels. Activity bustled all around as the Dispers prepared for battle. Our plan was to hit all of the installations at once. All net stations would be destroyed. Military installations were to be assaulted and the battle for the sky would begin. Among all of this confusion, we were to bring down the brains of the Commissariat. We were led to another thick metal door and, as the rusty hinges groaned, we rushed down the underground passage to the city where the main government complex was located.

Luckily, the passage was completely unguarded. As we made our way down the humid tunnel, the only light was the hand-held electro-torches we brought along. We walked for a couple of miles to the end of the tunnel and a locked metal door.

I turned to my crew and asked, "Okay, any ideas?"

Molly walked up to the door, took hold of the exposed locking bars and one by one proceeded to tear them off their mounts.

"How’s that?" she asked.

"It’ll do," I answered.

The hinges squealed as rusty door finally gave and opened. We were refreshed as fresh, cool air blew down the tunnel. The environment of the underground city complex was totally opposite that of the rebels. Well lit common areas were populated with happy, well dressed people. They were all young, like the troopers. I struck me as odd that there was not one fat ugly man or woman in the bunch. We casually walked past them, not creating an alarm even though we were with an alien, a giantess and two cat women.

"Xao, see if anyone knows the way to the main computer complex." I said.

He told me that there was little in the minds of the people here. Ignorance is bliss, I guess. There was one thing though, a map room not far from where we were. As we made our way across the open shopping mall, I heard explosions coming from the surface.

"We have to hurry. Sounds like Hoteph started already."

We hustled to the map room. We found that there was a passage to the main computer complex from the room where we could move unnoticed. It was a cake walk through the tunnel. There were no troopers anywhere in sight, only a few pigmen security guards. One planted suggestion from Xao and we were given passes and the map of the building.

With the passes we were able to go directly to the room that housed the mainframe unhindered. The room was huge. Long rows of towers controlled everything for the Commissariat from air quality to logistical help for the troopers. I located a workstation, but found it was password protected.

"Bette, Bette, do you read me?" I said not sure if our com would reach through the underground facility.

"Yes, Captain. Your com is weak, but readable," she said.

I activated a portable holo projector that I had brought along and was relieved when the familiar image of Bette Page appeared.

"I need to get into this computer,"

She tried to access the database, but failed. The system’s security holo image appeared. It was a man dressed like the people outside the building.

"You do not have permission to use this station. Step away or I shall alert the guards," he said.

"Bette, talk to this guy," I said.

She fired questions at it trying to have it answer anything. Communication and acknowledgement was the first step to breaking the access codes.

As she flooded the security program with simple questions, she worked her way to the back door of the program. I had Xao look around the room to see if there was anything that he could do. As Bette quizzed the computer image, I found out a lot about the Commissariat. The computer generated "disease" was designed to keep the population in check; a program designed by the creators. There was no real government, only programs that made them think that there was one. All of the people were kept happy with a drug placed in the drinking water for all except the military. There was no crime, only happy, drugged citizens.

The computer image wavered. Bette was in. The network went down because of the Dispers attacks and, as the computer was busy trying to re-establish communication with the surface relay stations, we had our chance.

"Bette, tell it to do a maintenance shut down," I said.

The hum of cooling fans one by one stopped. She kept the environmental controls active. Then she programmed a loop, tying up the restart for an indefinite period. Xao disconnected some small, but vital, systems and returned.

"Thank you, Bette," I said. "See ya’ back at the ship. Tell the doctor that we will be there shortly."

Later, as we said our good-byes and headed to our ship, Hoteph had a little surprise for me.

"I found sort of a gathering place for people to drink and eat. There was this beverage there. Do you know what it is?" Hoteph, smiling, said as Eshalm led a loading crew with case after case of some type of malt beverage. I opened a container and heard the hiss which brought back a distant, but beloved, memory. It wasn’t exactly my favorite brew, but the malt beverage felt like I’d died and gone to heaven as it fizzed its way down my throat.

THE END


© 2007 Michael Joseph

Bio: Michael Joseph grew up loving movies such as The Day the Earth Stood Still and War of the Worlds. He lives in Southern California, Long Beach, to be exact, and works at the port of Los Angeles. Now, at the age of fifty-eight, married, but with offspring all sprung, he has time create his own fantastic worlds ... This story is intended as the first of a series featuring the Horus and her oddball crew.

E-mail: Michael Joseph

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