On Dagger's Wings

By SF Edwards



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6 mins


On Dagger's Wings

UCSB DATE: 781.377

Star System: Smegrish, Debris Field

In space, silence means death. In a spacesuit or on a ship the air processor delivers a constant whine. If it stops, you have little time to make your peace. Wearing a spacesuit inside a dead ship, the hum of the air processor all but screams.

My suit’s link crackled as I approached the heart of the wreckage I’d been sent to investigate. I floated through what, only three cycles earlier, had been an alien cruiser. Now it was nothing but burnt and twisted metal. Little of the ship’s original configuration was identifiable. The interference increased in strength as I pressed further into the shattered ship. Something was still on and transmitting. I hoped it was a communications station.

At what appeared to be a junction in the ship’s corridor I found another body. Like the others I’d encountered since boarding, it too was burnt beyond recognition. The hominid form was nearly six metra tall. As I looked closer I made out a patch on the shoulder. I moved in, and bracing myself against the bulkhead, reached out to grab the scorched cloth. The symbol was foreign to me. The round patch was gray with a gold border; four symbols—a fat golden rocket, a tree, then some vine, and a bolt of lightning—surrounded a twelve pointed white starburst within a black diamond. Beneath it was the letters GALACTIC FEDERATION.

The script was similar enough to Confederation standard that I wondered if we’d had any contact with the race before. It could very well be that the ancients had passed the seeds of language to them as they had done to so many other Confed races. That should make things easier once we figure out exactly what happened here, what went wrong.

My linked buzzed. “Any luck finding that transmitter?”

“I’m getting closer, Tomer, but nothing yet, how about you?”

“I think I’ve found the bridge. Odd placement, it’s up against the outer hull. You won’t believe this, it even has viewports.”

I shook my head. This race must be new to space warfare if they’d placed their bridge in such a vulnerable position. “What makes you think it’s the bridge?”

“I found a variety of what appear to be control consoles. There are also several bodies of varying species. Oh, and there’s a chair here that reads ‘CAPTAIN’”.

I shook my head, Tomer had a bad habit of parsing out details. “How many species total?” I asked, pushing off over to the hatch at the end of the passageway.

The ship’s passages and design confirmed that they used some form of artificial gravity. That was consistent with the readings the attack squadron had taken, indicating the ship was equipped with graviton spinners. If they used gravity plating, then I would still be able to walk through this mess.

“I count at least four races, two might be cousin races. It’s hard to tell.”

That stopped me. So far all I’d seen were the hominids. Whoever these beings were, they had a multi-species government. Where did you come from? I wondered, looking around the hulk.

“Praise the cliffs, two of these hominids almost look Anulian my friend. Could this be a lost Catranulian ship?”

Could it be? “I don’t think so,” I replied. “The Catranulians kept excellent records of their colonies, and all of them have already been found.”

I slipped past a buckled bulkhead and found myself facing a sealed doorway. The static in my link increased in intensity so I turned down the gain. The signal was steady and repeating. I couldn’t understand it so it was either scrambled or in some language we hadn’t yet deciphered. The intensity was enough to convince me that the source lay behind this hatch.

I extended a gloved hand to the metal door. I felt heat, even through my gloves. I pressed a glass panel beside the door but nothing happened. Black and yellow striped tape bordered a small hatch below the panel. I pressed the spring button and an access port opened. I found a hand pump and two dials within. The first dial read zero and had instructions for the emergency door hydraulics. The other was labeled AIR PRESSURE and read 1 ATM.

I looked at the door. “I found a chamber that’s under pressure. It looks like it might be where the transmitter is.”

“Do you have a pressure bubble?” Tomer asked.

I felt around in my kit, sure enough I did. “Right here, going to set it up.”

“Any sign of survivors?”

“Not sure,” I replied and stood up beside the hatch. I grabbed a handle with one hand then knocked on it with the other. I held my hand against the hatch. I wouldn’t hear a return knock, but if they knocked back I should at least feel it. There was no reply. “No response to the knock. They could be unconscious.”

“Can you test the air, see what they breathe?”

“I think so.” I slid back to the pressure gauge and looked for any kind of access valve. A small one lay just beneath the dial. I pulled out my test kit and forced the unfamiliar fitting to spray some air into the receiver. Less than a pulse later I had the results. “Seventy-seven percent nitrogen, two percent oxygen, twelve percent carbon dioxide, four percent trace gasses.”

“That’s a low oxygen level. Think there was a fire in there?”

“Most likely. That would explain the high CO2. Most nitro or CO2 breathers wouldn’t go for that mix. I won’t know for sure until I get inside. The hatch is warm, so it must be at least room temperature in there.”

“I’ll head on down, just be careful.”

“Copy that.”

I pushed away from the hatch and removed my atmosphere bubble kit. I set the pressure line with the small sprayer, tracing as circular a border as I could around the hatchway and out onto the deck. I took care to ensure that it wouldn’t intersect any of the damaged bulkheads once it inflated. Once I felt confident that the line was solid I placed the bubble pod against my chest and pressed my back against the door. I braced myself and activated the bubble.

I don’t know why, but I always hold my breath when I do this. The bubble burst out of the unit on my chest and expanded until it hit the pressure line. The self-repairing nanofilm of the bubble flexed for a moment then stabilized, shimmering in the dim lights of my suit. I checked my suit, still zero pressure. I reached out to feel the artificial pressure skin. It resisted my touch, but pressing slowly, I was able to reach through the bubble, the film sealing around my hand. Satisfied, I pulled back, just as slowly, fighting the bubble again.

Confident that it would hold, I turned back to the emergency access panel and extended the pump handle. It took fifteen pumps before the gauge entered the green zone and a light came on. A faint hiss accompanied it and when I turned to the door I found it had cracked open. I pushed towards it and slipped my fingers into the gap. It didn’t take much to slide the door open the rest of the way. A blast of air and smoke burst out, filling the bubble and threatening to knock me off my feet.

Dim emergency lighting filtered through the smoky space. I caught a glimpse of status lights and a flickering screen. “Is anyone alive in here? I’m with the Universal Confederation of Sentient Beings. We are here to render aid.”

There was no response, but I placed my hand on my sidearm just the same. In all the time I’d done this job I’d never had to draw it in anger. I floated into the room, unsure what I might find. The static in my link told me that I had found the source of the signal. I drifted towards the terminal with the flickering screen. Waving my hand around to try and clear some of the smoke, I was able to read the bright red letters blinking across it. EMERGENCY SIGNAL BROADCASTING.

“I found the signal source. We should be able to use this to contact their government.”

“Good, let’s hope we can put this mistake behind us,” Tomer replied. “I’m almost to you, nice bubble placement.”

“Thanks, try not to burst it. I’m not sure if I’m alone or not. I don’t feel alone.”

“Trust your gut my friend.”

A motion to my right drew my attention. I turned in time to see a pressure suited shape dive through the smoke towards me. I threw up my hands and partially blocked a punch that caught the side of my helmet, knocking me back. I flailed about in the zero gravity smoke to regain my balance and found my attacker spinning backwards. He hadn’t braced himself for the attack. “Please I mean you no harm,” I called out over the suit’s external speaker.

The attacker lunged at me. Its movements were stiff and clumsy. I’ve got the edge here. I launched myself off the floor towards the low ceiling and my attacker flew beneath me. Two careful jets from my suit spun me about and I landed on his back. My momentum carried us to the floor and I wrapped both my arms around his shoulders. It looked like another hominid. They seemed to make up most of the crew. The helmet was huge, however, easily twice the size of mine. There were familiar yet alien pictographs on the back of it. I almost lost my grip as I tried to translate it.

My attacker fought against my grip, launching us back towards the ceiling. “I have a problem here,” I called out. “Survivor, in a suit.”

“Understood, penetrating the bubble now, be on you in a pulse.”

I continued to wrestle with the being beneath me. It weakened with each passing moment, but the longer they fought me the greater the risk of either of us getting injured. A figure emerged through the smoke. The reversed hinged knees identified him as my Drashig partner. None of the aliens we’d found aboard shared that bodily feature.

“Drashig scum!” the being beneath me hissed.

Startled, I looked down and lost my grip. I cursed myself the moment I realized my mistake. I’m a non-combatant, and my zero-g training had never dealt with hand-to-hand combat. Still, I should have known better. The being slipped from my grip and launched itself at Tomer. They collided just inside the hatchway. The being’s momentum carried them towards the bubble.

I pushed off in pursuit. My hand went to my holster and I discovered that my sidearm had gone. “He’s armed,” I called out and recognized where I’d seen the pictographs on his helmet. “He’s a Pharad.”

“Tell me what I don’t already know,” Tomer shouted. At that moment, the weapon discharged and a Plasma laser round pierced the bubble, shattering it. I spun and grabbed for the hatchway as all the air in the chamber exploded out.

I slammed into the hatchway hard. The impact knocked the breath out of me but I held tight. I twisted around as the world outside my helmet went silent again and looked down the corridor. Tomer was halfway to the end, the Pharad beneath him. “Tomer, are you all right?”

“Yeah but our friend here isn’t.”

Tomer pushed away from the Pharad. A glinting chunk of metal had pierced the clear silicasteel faceplate of its helmet. This was the first time I’d seen a Pharad in the flesh. They’d been under a two century-long space ban for the willful disruption of the Confed hyperspace buoy network. Still, the characteristic chin proboscis and head crest were unmistakable even through the damaged helmet.

“Damned thing nicked my helmet, but it saved my life,” Tomer remarked, flicking the jagged piece of metal. “What in the cliffs is a Pharad doing aboard?”

“No idea,” I replied and looked back into the chamber. The communications console still flickered. Beside it, another console sat on the deck, smashed to bits. The architecture of the device looked just like the Pharad artifacts in museums. “Whoever this Galactic Federation is, they have lousy taste in friends.”

“We’ll have to inform high command of this right away. If the Pharad are back in space, then we could be in for worlds of trouble.”



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