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Neutral 002

Written by Urendi Maleldil

The General's son looked up at his father in the seat next to him as the shuttle prepared to leave the great Space Port. His father looked down at him and smiled. "Feeling okay, son?" he said.

"Yeah; I'm good," the boy replied "What's it going to be like in space?"

"Like nothing you've ever felt. First there's the launch and you'll feel acceleration like a roller coaster, and then there's the weightlessness where you weigh nothing at all and can float in the air like a feather. Hey; put on your seat belt."

The boy just laughed as his father tightened the straps of the crash couch around him.

This hub of commerce for the Local System Alliance was exceptionally busy these days because of the great economic boom and the explosion of commercial space travel. It suddenly seemed everyone was busy. The colony worlds were growing exponentially as poor men became rich men and rich men became even richer. With the space travel boom there came a greater and greater need for military protection. But the boy cared nothing for economics, the rich, or the poor. He knew only that his dad, the General, was taking him into space.

The General called for a Private who gave him a space phone. "Base one, get me Kalar." he said into the phone, "Kalar? This is the General. Yep. We'll be arriving in about four hours. I'm bringing my son along; he's never been in space before. No, I don't think it will be a problem. He's just going to stay with me until I leave for the Forum."

The boy tugged on his dad's sleeve. "I can't wait to see the space station. Can we fire the guns?"

"Okay great. Thanks Kelar. I've got to go." The General handed the phone back to the Private, turned to his son and gave him a look of feigned disbelief. "Don't be silly. We only fire the guns when absolutely necessary. Most times we don't even need to fire the guns. If pirates come and see the space station they just run away."

There was a great rumble as the shuttle's main engine ignited and they were both pushed into the backs of their crash couches. The boy reached over through the shaking and held his father's hand.

The shuttle accelerated up a curved launch ramp until it was pointed at the stars. There was another jolt of acceleration as the ramp's rocket catapult caught the shuttle and hurled in into the sky, a black speck obscured by the glare of the main engine atop a pillar of smoke.

The violence of launch began to calm as they passed through the upper atmosphere. The deafening noise became a low rumble, and then subsided. The boy felt something rise in his gut like he was falling.

"So, this is space. You can get out of your seat now if you like. The boy gave an emphatic nod and removed the straps and pushed off. He drifted up towards the roof of the cabin. Then he pushed off again and drifted down again.

"Wow. It's like we're in a falling elevator that never reaches the bottom."

"You don't know how right you are, son," said the General, who had flown in space hundreds of times.

The boy gave another push, this one a lopsided one that sent him tumbling end over end until he collided with a wall. The General laughed as the boy rubbed his tailbone. "Son," he said, "I believe you've just discovered inertia. You might want to settle down now though; we have at least three hours before we reach the station."

Eventually the boy got tired from bouncing around the cabin and settled in next to his father for the long flight. They started playing a game where one person tossed a small rubber ball and sent it bouncing around the cabin. It eventually slowed to a point where it was barely moving at all, only drifting. The next person would throw another ball and try to hit the first one. The boy was getting pretty good.

The General was occasionally interrupted by calls on the space phone and he quickly took care of any business he had. "Space flight is all about boredom, son," he said. "We play games like this to pass the time."

About an hour into the flight, there was another call on the space phone. The Private drifted in with it again and said, "Sir, you'd better take this. This one sounds important."

The General took the phone and as he listened to it, his expression became very grave. "Uhuh. I understand. Yep. No reply from the research station either? Well the Warp Point is a very unusual phenomenon; anything could've happened. Check the results from the Long Range Scanners again. And they were ships you say? Alien ships? Okay go to condition red. We don't know what we're dealing with."

The boy sent his ball sailing across the cabin directly into his father's and they both bounced off in separate directions. "Did you see that, dad?"

The General just glanced at his son. "Okay. Just send me the data burst with the tactical info in it," he continued saying into the phone. "Okay. Keep me updated." He hung up the phone but held onto it. "Son, something's come up. As soon as we get to the station you'll have to take the next shuttle back."

"What's going on? What was that about aliens?"

"We don't know they're aliens. We just have important things to take care of. I'm sorry; you can visit again some other time when I can show you around the station."

The boy stuck his hands in his pockets and sulked for a few seconds. Then he came up with an idea and said, "Hey, I can help fight them."

"No, I'm sorry. Aliens are dangerous. I have to go to the tactical room now. You stay here. I'll be back when the emergency is over."

The boy sighed as the General left the cabin and went into the tactical room, hidden behind a curtain. He wasn't allowed in there. Only the General and a few technicians could see what was behind the curtain, no one else. His dad said it was a military secret.

He tossed his ball and bounced it off the ceiling a couple of times, catching it in one hand and then the other. He happened to look out the window and saw three unusual stars in the distance. They moved like nothing he had ever seen before, almost like glowbugs or sparks drifting up from a fire, but these points were blue.

Then he saw shining white points travel towards them from the defense satellites. Even though they were too far away to see in detail, he knew, they were Capital Ship Missiles. He watched as the blue points dodged the missiles and each missile disappeared without detonating.

Instinctively his concern grew for his father and for his planet. He got out of the crash couch again and moved toward the curtain. He pulled back the corner and peeked inside. There were computer screens and blinking lights everywhere. A few techs ran around doing things, but what caught his attention was his father, the General, in the middle of the room strapped into some kind of machine. It went around his head and there were a million wires streaming off of it. It was so grotesque, the boy gave a little gasp. One of the techs noticed him.

"Hey, you're not supposed to be in here."

The General turned to the tech, "It's okay, he's my son," he said in a tired and raspy voice. The boy could see sweat dripping off his father's head as if he was under tremendous stress. "Let him come to me. He's already seen the Neural Combat Net."

He put the boy on his lap. The boy was already a little too big and kept sliding off. "Son, it doesn't look good. I want you to go back in there and get some things together. We may have to run."

The boy nodded and left the tactical room. He was still haunted by the sight of his father connected to that horrible machine, but what frightened him even more was that his father, the General, seemed to be loosing. He looked out the window again.

This time the three blue ships were closer. He could see them for ships now; even make out some details on the hull if he squinted hard enough. The defense satellites were gone. He had no idea where they went, but he could guess. The blue ships were shooting at the planet. Great beams of energy struck the planet and the atmosphere began to blacken. He saw bright points of light flare up through the darkened atmosphere. Secondary explosions.

The boy quickly gathered some things together and was contemplating holding on to his ball when his father came in. The boy stared at him and his father looked back. His eyes were hollow and he seemed a little bit shorter.

The General picked his son up without saying a word, hugged him, and brought him through the cabin into the utility bay. There he pushed him into a lifeboat.

"Aren't you coming?" said the boy.

"I can't. But you have to go."

"Wait," said the boy. "I want to stay. I want to help. I can fight."

The General smiled painfully. "Maybe someday, but to do that you have to live. Right now I have to fight." Without waiting for a reply from his son, the General closed the pressure door and hit the jettison button.

There was a sharp jolt as the lifeboat was released and the boy saw his father shrink in the distance. Then he looked out the window and saw the alien ship bearing down on them. Behind it the planet looked like a black lump of burning coal. It was nearly indescribable, very blue, and very alien. The angles on it gave him a sense of disorientation almost like he was dizzy.

He looked back and saw the shuttle. It looked so small compared to the alien ship. It fired at it a few times, but the alien ship seemed to ignore the Depleted Uranium Cannon rounds, flew straight and fired its beam weapon.

The boy looked on in shock as something on the shuttle ruptured and it began spewing oxygen and fuel which ignited into a jet of unearthly flame that shot out sideways. Then the shuttle turned to face the alien and fired its afterburners. The shuttle shot forward like a bullet. It smashed into the alien and disintegrated.

The boy tried to close his mouth, tried to yell or cry, anything, but none of the muscles in his body would move. The alien ship just plowed through the debris unscathed. Then it paused for a moment as if looking for something. Then it left at an incredibly high speed.

When the boy's limbs started working again, he frantically fiddled with the knobs of the radio, looking for someone; a voice, anything. He heard nothing. And then through the static he heard an alien voice that said, "We are the Sergetti. We propose a treaty of Trade and Research Alliance."

Written by Urendi Maleldil

Copyright © by the author, posted with permission.

Published on: 2005-04-19 (6745 reads)

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