"The Ark" by Ellie Hradsky

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The Tomb in the Stars
by Eric S. Brown

 

I don’t know why I write this now. It is unlikely anyone will ever read these words. Being a killer is never easy for a sane mind, but for those of us who were torn away from our homes, our families, to have a rifle shoved into our hands, it is utter Hell.

Nearly half of us either committed suicide or were shot for treason while we were still at the Alliance training camps. No one here except for the veterans and officers even want to fight this war. The whole of Earth thinks it is wrong, but the government does not care.

Us newbies who managed to survive the camps clung to each other, forming a deep comradeship, only to have that taken from us as well as the training ended and we were shipped off to our various units.

On the black last day at the camps, I bid farewell to those who had shared my suffering and was marched aboard a shuttle leaving for the front. I grasped my orders tightly in my hands, wishing I could rip them to shreds and throw them into the cool spring breeze which that swept over the landing platform. As I boarded the shuttle, I noticed an odd painting upon its hull. You see, all Alliance squads are given a nickname to add to their morale and this painting represented my new squad. It showed a dog laying on the ground. Its skull was split open, with brain matter oozing out onto the green grass around it. Underneath the painting, I read the words, “The Dog Kill Squad”. This did nothing to alleviate my fears, and I doubted I would ever see my beautiful wife again.

I guess like everyone else, I had thought myself immune to the draft. I had been a class one citizen of the Alliance. I was famous and wealthy, the hot rising holo-vid writer of my generation. When the papers arrived on my doorstep, I had protested and went to the head of the studio I worked for. I was under contract with them to write their new “War” series of films and prayed that they would pull the necessary strings to gain my freedom, but they did not.

As I climbed aboard the shuttle, I longed for a means to write of my fear and my pain, immortalize it so the world could see it and understand, but we were allowed no personal possessions. I carried only my assignment orders, my rifle, and a bit of field survival equipment issued to me. The seat I had chosen allowed me to watch as the shuttle lifted itself from the ground and broke through the clouds into the eternal darkness of space. I watched the Earth sink into the distance behind us as the shuttle approached the cold storage ship that would haul my squad the rest of the way to the front lines on the outer rim of Alliance space. Even now, Alkar warriors swarmed over the outer colonies, killing everyone in their path.

They marched me onto the storage ship and stripped me of my gear and clothes, shoving me into a tank much like a meat locker. Gas swirled into the hollow metal chamber around me as I screamed. Then the darkness came to my own eyes as they froze solid.

I awoke later inside the chamber which passed for a cryo-bed and knew instantly that something had gone wrong. The hatch of the locker opened, spilling me onto the floor. I lay there shivering, barely able to see as my body rejected being forced back into the world of the living. Spasms overtook me and I wretched and gagged violently.

Red emergency lights flickered throughout the room. A static-filled voice screamed over the transport’s internal comm system.

“All personnel, this is not a drill. Repeat this is not a drill. We have been intercepted by a fleet of Alkar raiders. This transport is being boarded. All personnel to battle stations!”

I looked around the storage room to see how the other members of my squad were reacting, to realize in horror, that I was alone. The corpses of my fellow soldiers floated inside their vats. Only mine had opened. I shuddered at the thought of how they must have died, drowning in their own fluids and waste.

My training overrode reason as I pulled myself to my feet, slipping on the wet metal floor, and rushed over the area where our gear was kept. I dressed in a blur, grabbing my rifle and slinging it onto my shoulder. I opened the compartment next to my own and picked up a second rifle as well. No other member of my squad would be needing it now.

My heart thundered in my chest as I reached the room’s main door. My mind struggling to recall the code to open it. Then I remembered, the door could only be opened from the outside. The Alliance trusted its own soldiers little more than it did the Alkar. If newbies were allowed access to the ship unsupervised, the Alliance feared they might mutiny and turn the transport around for home.

In my rage, I hurled myself against the blast door again and again, until my anger subsided and I collapsed to the floor, battered and bruised. The internal comm erupted with life again, and the frantic voice of an officer pleading for help echoed inside the chamber, as I sat helplessly. Then the comm went dead as the whole ship shook violently. I imagined the hull breaches spewing air into the void as Alkar beam weapons sliced into the vessel around me.

The storage room however remained so far untouched by the horrors occurring outside. I thought of using my rifle to cut my way free but discarded the notion quickly as I remembered rooms such as this were magnetically sealed.

I pressed my ear to the door and listened. I could hear faintly the sounds of combat outside. Officers screamed as they were cut down by the Alkar. Then there was only silence.

My fear gave way to exhaustion as time crept by, and I slept with my head propped awkwardly against the wall. This time when I awoke, my world was dark and cold. The red flicker of the lights was gone. I knew the transport was floating powerlessly among the stars. Death would come with the cold if I did not perish from lack of air first.

I dug through the equipment lockers until I found my squad’s breathing units. They were designed for surface use in hostile environments and not meant to last long. I estimated that if I used every member of the squad’s gear, that I would have enough air for two weeks at most.

One of the squad had been assigned as an engineer, and in his gear I found a small laser welder. I used it to superheat areas of the hull in the room and stood beside the glowing wall, shivering and watching my own breath drift out of the breather-unit’s filters into the darkness around me. My only hope was that someone, human or Alkar, would find this chamber and open it to investigate.

I grew with each passing day to feel more betrayed by my world and more and more helpless. I missed my wife and longed for her embrace -- but even more I missed my art and the feel of my old-fashioned computer keyboard beneath my fingers. I knew I had to find a way to write all of this down, even if just for myself, and my stomach rumbled with hunger. I couldn’t remember the last time I ate.

Then divine inspiration came upon me, and I have now found a way to continue my writing for the reminder of my days. It is not a pleasant way, and the first time I did it was the hardest. His name had been Nathan Sorel, according to the label on his tank and his dog-tags. I am sure he did not mind as my knife slipped into his skin and I drained his blood into my helmet. It was not ink, but it would do. So I hope you will forgive any messiness in these words. I have done the best I could with what was available, and at least now my art can continue until my final breath. When you find me, please take...




Story copyright 2002 by Eric S. Brown incubusvane@aol.com

Illustration copyright 2002 by ehrad ehradsky@suffolk.lib.ny.us



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