Episode 71: Arretryp

Ortega jumped from the plinth of black marble, activated his rocket pack and shot for the door of the neon control room. The ion thrust provided by the pack wasn’t meant for confined spaces, but by rapidly activating and deactivating them it was possible to create a fast, reckless “skip” across the ground. His left foot touched the floor midway between the plinth and the door, and his right foot connected in a hop by the exit.

The long hallway toward the exit provided a safer venue for regular flight, and given the short amount of time available before Tan could take off and strand them in this space station forever he was willing to risk it. He propelled himself down the hallway of red metal, shooting beyond the crystalline structures that rested in the holes in the walls. He didn’t notice the crystal that changed its color as he moved beyond it.

The strange machines and weird structures behind the walls took note of the fastest behavior in the corridor in uncounted ages, a speed only noticed thanks to the existing damage. How long had it been since the last orders from on high? Death to Morcalans. Shatter the resistance. Activate the chronospores. Defend. Fall back and defend. Destroy the intruders.

This interloper didn’t have the raw life of the Morcalans, it had something different. And the species was the same. The orders were clear.

{ARRETRYP}

The sensation of the word rammed into Captain Ortega’s mind with the precision of surgical lasers and the force of an avalanche. The impact of the moment suggested that everything was wrong. Every way that Ortega had learned to look at the universe, every element of learned society and biological nature, it was all wrong. Not illusory just… wrong.

He wasn’t flying down the corridor. The crystal had grown from the walls to catch him, and had always been there. Where the rock held his arms and legs, the crystal burned. The burning spread like electricity through a highly conductive metal. Ortega screamed, dizzy.

{You fail,} came the words. {I died so long ago, but still see you fail. Yes… you’re a real hero now, aren’t you?}

The words were coming from somewhere. He wasn’t hearing them, but they were definitely issuing from somewhere. Some unknown sense beyond the standard five brought them. He’d always felt the input from the sense, but didn’t know it could provide different information. Didn’t he?

{Do you not wish to speak?}

“Who are you?”

The burning intensified for a moment.

{I would be you,} said the voice. {You are my escape, Captain Ortega. In this moment outside moments, let fear fade. I’ll bring you so many glories, Andrew… You are not of the Morcalans, but you are the same as they are. Let go of your senses for a time, I’ll only need one day to-}

“Astroguard protocol,” said Ortega. “Protocol. It… dictates the proper circumstances for acting as a temporary host for an alien entity. This isn’t unprecedented… none of the requirements are met here. This is not a peaceful contact. This is not… this isn’t right.”

{ARRETRYP}

The sensation of the crystal holding him in place and the burning returned, with a freshness that suggested it was the first time he had felt it. He’d heard about the first time it had happened to him, but no one believed those stories, did they? He screamed again. Something was wrong with what he was feeling right now. He wasn’t sure what, but something was wrong.

{You don’t need to let me become you,} said the voice. {I requested too much. I am fallen. I faded, as was appropriate. I miss it, so… I miss the stars. Long before the Pyrhians claimed their skies, I loved them. I ask merely for a taste. Let me rest in your mind, as a passenger. Surely you would do me this kindness?}

He’d heard about the first time he’d encountered this voice, but it always sounded like he’d been offered something that didn’t fit the proper protocols for being a host. This sounded different. It fit the protocols, didn’t it? What were they?

“The fool is trying to carjack you, and you’re actually considering it.”

Rogers.

“The Soul Survivor. Ortega, you know… you KNOW that the first protocol is your own common sense, and you’ve little enough of that as there is. How many times have you thwarted me by holding on to the belief that something was wrong? How often have you told your superiors that they were wrong, and needed to be reasonable? For once in your life, do something intelligent. You can’t expect me to-”

{ARRETR-}

“I’m not finished!” shouted Rogers in Ortega’s mind. The crystal and fire retreated, as if amazed at the voice they heard, but they quickly recovered.

{ARRETRYP}

There it was. Rogers’ had interrupted it, slowed the resurgence. It wasn’t as sudden as the last time. It wasn’t bad. It was unpleasant. It was definitely not the first time, too.

{I don’t need to be there in full, even,} said the voice. {The tiniest fragment can live on. Merely take me from here, in the back of your mind. I’ll leave you the moment I find a suitable new home.}

“If you’re not there to reason, how will you know a new home?” asked Ortega. “You might fail in reasoning, or never notice an opportunity.”

{I’ll wait as a seed,} said the voice.

“I don’t need to tell you how wrong that is,” said Captain Calen. “An invasive species is asking you for a foothold, and you won’t give one.”

{You’re interesting,} said the voice. {Most people use memories of their friends and loved ones to construct arguments against me. Why do you use memories of adversaries and unfriendly acquaintances?}

“Different points of view,” said Ortega. “Only a fool refuses to see the wisdom of someone who disagrees with them. Doctor Rogers has shown himself to be brilliant over the years, and Captain Calen has shown herself to be a tactical expert over… I think it’s been almost a day since I met her. A long, busy day.”

{ARRETRYP}

Ortega screamed. He could tell it was in his head, though. The scream didn’t happen. Was the pain happening? He forced himself to open his eyes.

He was flying down the hall, nearing the exit. He needed to quickly deactivate the rocket to avoid crashing. How could he let his mind wander like that?

{ARRETRYP}

Crystal and fire.

{You will not leave,} said the voice. {You will not leave while I am still speaking. You will remain outside of time until you agree. Perhaps… if you agreed to let me ride in a device? A CryptoBrick? Primitive… but serviceable. And secure.”

“Nothing’s totally secure,” said Ortega.

{Do you have a better option? Do you truly have some friend or associate with the expertise required to see the danger? I’m sorry, you don’t have those. Do you have an enemy to speak on your behalf?}

Ortega paused. Was there any reasoning beyond this? Friends, family, loved ones, enemies, allies, adversaries, and rivals flashed through his mind. None fit. There was another category, however…

“Promise it that you’ll send an investigative party to safely assess the situation,” said Captain Mayday. “It isn’t suffering in a way that demands immediate response. It’s the best you can offer, Cadet.”

{No,} said the voice. {No, this isn’t right. It’s not… you never even met him.}

“He didn’t need to,” said Captain Mayday. “I’m there for any Cadet who needs me. The Astroguard needs more people like Captain Ortega. And don’t think I don’t remember you from the time I encountered the Vishnari Viceroy.”

{What? No… he doesn’t know-}

“You see his mind,” said Mayday. “You see what he knows of me. You share minds with him, and a part of him can see your mind as well. I know what you know he knows. And what you know. It’s good to see you again.”

{That’s not-}

Captain Ortega gasped, tumbled, and rolled to a halt. Fortunately, his thruster was off and not pushing him into and along the ground faster and faster. He must’ve turned it off when he realized the flight was going poorly, a fortunate instinct grown from too many close calls over the years.

He stood, and saw the corridor’s exit. At the end of the platform outside, he could still see Calen’s scuttler lifting away. He grimaced, activated his rocket pack again, and launched toward it.

The crystalline bulb at the middle of the hallway flickered and went dark, its power expended. The sensors behind the walls detected the malfunction, issued a repair request that would never be received, and again waited for the next sign of an invasion.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s