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A-to-Z Challenge — Letter S

April 22, 2015


Astraeus Earth Force Station, 2115 A.D.

They’d broken protocol. In the heat of the search, Davies had forgotten to assign two other men to wait with Hicks, and he’d gotten him killed. Davies paced along the stretch of the Caverns’ long hallways, his eyes red with fury. Unless the Makaa caught Hicks completely off-guard, he should have had time to alert Davies that the queen hive had broken open. What was it that distracted Hicks? Whatever it was gave a termite Makaa just long enough to attach itself to him. Even a single immature Makaa could paralyze his body and render him defenseless.

Davies recalled the casino’s layout in his mind. Where there cameras? As though standing in the center of the room, he was able to form a complete visual of the casino, wall to wall, an ability the psychologists called a memory castle—he was born with the ability and it had gotten him out of more than on jam. Davies closed his eyes and concentrated on the scene: East wall, no cameras. West wall, camera—uppermost corner, aimed at the center tables. South wall, two cameras—one aimed at the casino entrance, one at the far east tables where they’d discovered the hidden opening. Davies opened his eyes and tapped on his link-in.

“Shannehey, get me the vids from the south wall cameras. Meet me in security!” he barked his orders, his emotions still strained, and ended the call.

Rourke stood at the discovered southwestern entrance in the Caverns. It had taken the men nearly an hour to eradicate all of the Makaa. Their squeals, thousands of them shrieking at once, and the sharp, piercing screech of the queen Maka in all of her agony still echoed in Rourke’s ears. He blinked once, then twice. He couldn’t adjust his eyes from all of the bright blue lights he’d witnessed. The officers were still searching the area for any termites they might have missed. It only took a loose male and female to mature, mate and reproduce thousands upon thousands of those damnable creatures. As horrible as it was to think it, Rourke hoped that they had concentrated on Hicks’ body and not gotten into the walls. They could live in there for weeks, feasting on any material and not emerge until they were too large to stay hidden. And if they made it to the Caverns, Rourke thought and shuddered. He didn’t need to complete the thought, the vision he held was vivid enough.

“Commander?” Davies asked, as he interrupted Rourke’s thoughts.

Rourke turned his head. Davies stood just feet away, his face shadowed with despair. He knew Davies blamed himself for Hicks’ death. He blamed himself too. It was as much his responsibility to insure the safety of Davies’ men as it was Davies’ responsibility. Neither could excuse himself.

“What is it, Davies?” Rourke inquired.

“The casino had cameras. I think something distracted Hicks. I am going to Security to view the vids. Do you want to join me?”

Rourke slumped his shoulders and sighed. “Sure, there is nothing more I can do here.”

As the two men made their way through the long corridors, they walked past Caverners who cowered away from them in fear. Rourke didn’t blame them. Many of them were older generation Earthlings and they knew the horrors of the Makaa. Oral histories were common in such surroundings. Stories of the Makaan War probably filled the minds of even the youngest down there. He tried not to look at their faces. He didn’t need to see their trembling lips and shaking bodies, reactions that even he had held often. It would do little good to evacuate the Caverns. If the termites managed to get into the infrastructure of the Station, no one on board was safe.

When they entered the lift, Rourke removed his containment helmet. The mature Makaa were all dead and if any termites survived, it would take weeks for them to mature. They were safe until then from the parasites. Davies followed suit and removed his as well. They stood silent until the lift reached Security.

As the lift opened, Rourke put his hand on Davies shoulder. “It is my fault too, Charles. Don’t suffer this alone.”

Davies managed a half-smile and nodded, but remained silent. Rourke removed his hand and the two men exited the lift. They walked into the center, heads held down, eyes focused on the floor. Rourke looked up as they arrived inside the video room. Shannehey stood leaning against the table and Adams sat at the desk rewinding the video feeds.

“Anything yet?” Davies inquired as he stood behind Adams.

“Just started rewinding, sir,” Adams replied. The feed stopped and he pushed play. He zeroed in on the time stamp, and then fast-forwarded it. The video whorled with activity, quick flashes of blurred bodies. After another minute, he stopped the feed and checked the time stamp again.

“Let it play,” Rourke ordered.

The video showed Davies and his team moments before they’d left Hicks alone. Davies shuffled his feet and cleared his throat, but kept watching. Seconds later, Hicks stood by the entrance peering down the corridor. The haze of orange from the queen hive only glowed a grainy grey in the black and white feed. A black figured zipped past Hicks and he turned around, his Raython laser readied. He crouched down in the entranceway, his eyes scanning the room. A noise must have startled him because he fell backwards, his laser flung from his hand. A bright flash emitted from the opening at the same instance. All that could be seen of Hicks were his feet jerking for a few seconds and then complete stillness.

Rourke had never seen a hive burst open, but he could picture the scene in his mind—an explosion of thousands of termites scattered everywhere. Apparently a small section of Hicks’ body became exposed with his fall; the containment suit became useless. If the suit had remained intact, it would have taken at least five minutes for a termite to break through the fabric. Hicks could have reached his gun before that happened.

“Enough of this. What about the other vid feed? Does it show that shadowy figure entering the casino?” Rourke asked as he shook his head to release what he’d just seen from his memory.

“Haven’t viewed it yet, sir. Give me a moment to rewind,” Adams declared.

Rourke watched Davies as Adam rewound then fast-forwarded the video. Davies’ jaw was clinched, his brow furled, and his lips pursed together tightly—guilt washed all over his face. Rourke had seen that same look on his own face in the mirror many times during the Makaan War. He’d lost more than his share of officers and civilians. Guilt remained with him to this day. And now this… the memory of this would haunt them both for a long time.

“Ready, sirs,” Adam said as he stopped the video right when Davies and his team left the casino.

The video showed nothing for a few moments. Suddenly, a hooded figure peeked through the containment sheeting at the entrance of the casino. They watched as he entered, sealed the sheeting back up and then crept through the maze of tables. Whoever it was kept his head lowered the entire time, his face never once visible to the camera, but Rourke and Davies both knew who it was—The Reaper.

He sabotaged Hicks, but was it on purpose? And if so, why? What possible reason would The Reaper have for wanting Makaa loose on the ship?

They continued to watch the feed as The Reaper stopped for a moment, possibly spotting Hicks, and then ran past him, completely off-camera. Moments later he reappeared on the camera, darted between tables and then slipped back out through the containment sheeting. Adams zeroed in on the man’s back. He carried a large wooden box under his arm. He never stopped for a second to help Hicks.

“Get Sparks up here, now!” Davies shouted at Shannehey as he tore his eyes away from the video feed.

(more to come in tomorrow’s challenge!)

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  1. A-to-Z Challenge — Letter R | Promptly Written

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