Inside the Spaceship
The long corridor curved to its right, somehow seeming much larger than it was before. Blaze knew that was just an illusion, which just made him appreciate every detail even more. The ceiling glowed with the incandescence of the deep sea, but still provided sufficient light, like when you look up from underwater on a bright sunny day, just without the refraction of light that made everything wavy. The sea blue floor was softer on the feet than the cold silvery metal that was there before. The walls came alive with purple-hued lights that formed holographic images real enough to fool the eye and solid enough to touch.
He stopped to study one that caught his fancy—an object shaped like a sideways S, doused in a pool of green and purple light. Similar to a worm, but its movements indicated more purpose.
He reached out for it, his hand passing clean through the projection. He studied it further, noting the light seemed to bleed out from a small panel lodged into the wall behind it. Yet he knew the panel was also a holographic creation since it was not there before. A touch confirmed his hypothesis that the panel was solid. His eyes shifted about, noting many other images lining the corridor. He smiled—a thousand mysteries to unlock, each a clue to a new technology that would change the course of mankind. The ultimate puzzle that, when solved, led to the ultimate prize.
A pulsating concave blob, from just above his field of vision, caught his attention. He glanced up, listening to its barely audible rhythmic beat that seemed to react to his presence. He stepped toward it and its pulse quickened. He stepped back and its beat eased. Then, in a moment of unquenchable curiosity, he grabbed it, feeling the soft light vibrate in his hand with such increasing frequency it tickled his palm to the point where he had to let go. A small laugh escaped him as he heard Carlson gasp and then relax as the pulsating returned to its original slower beat.
Blaze walked on a few feet further, Carlson in tow. He stopped and gazed down the alien hallway thoughtfully in both directions. “All GBIV, very little ROY,” he said. Then he walked on again, this time making sure Carlson was at his side. “Probably due to their aquatic ancestry. Their physiology must have evolved to allow them to survive in an aquatic environment as well as on land, therefore giving them a higher ocular range with which to view the electromagnetic spectrum.”
“In English?” Carlson asked.
“Notice how most all the colors are blues and greens. There are very few reds, yellows, or oranges. They perceive things differently. They can see into what we call the ultraviolet spectrum, but they shy away from the warmer shades—probably because their ancestors were aquatic.”
“Hmmm,” Carlson feigned interest as he stayed with Blaze. The ship did fascinate him. However, the pace in which Blaze explored did not. If it were up to him, a quick perusal through this hallway would have been more than enough. Unfortunately, he thought, Blaze had a different idea of exploration. Like an anthropologist on a dig, Blaze indulged himself in each area, drowning himself in the tiniest of details. He had been with him for almost forty-five minutes and they still hadn't managed to explore any living quarters, which was where Carlson's true interest lay. Thirty boring minutes on the bridge followed by an even longer fifteen minutes spent traversing this corridor. Under his breath, he cursed Gaines' order.
Loud enough that Blaze got the hint. “Sorry, Lieutenant. I tend to move slowly when I analyze. Care to try a room?” he said, stopping at the nearest door.
Carlson smiled. “No need to apologize. Just a little anxious to see how these things live.” He hesitated momentarily at the doors before cautiously touching the panel next to them.
The doors slid open, revealing a room approximately twenty-by-twenty that was reasonably square in shape, except for the rounded far wall, presumably the location of the outer hull of the ship. To their left floated a black structure with rounded corners that looked like a table with no legs, except for its unusual curvatures. A few feet behind it was what appeared to be another moving 3-D image. A diagonally striped cabinet was located on the back wall. Adjacent to that was a low smooth platform elevated a few feet above the moving blue floor.
Moving! “You first,” said Carlson.
Blaze crouched down and touched the floor. His hand went through the blue light and straight to the soft floor underneath. He pulled his hand back, stared at it for a second, and then repeated his actions. “Remarkable. Simply remarkable.”
“And?” said Carlson.
Blaze ignored him. He walked into the room as if nothing was unusual and went straight to the hovering curved “table” that had sparked his interest. He placed his hand on its surface. It felt solid. He looked beneath it then ran his arms underneath, like a magician waving a hoop over a levitating girl. There was nothing holding it up. “I love this ship,” he muttered.
Carlson stepped into the room—and then jumped back as the “wetness” surprised him, as if he had just accidentally stepped in a puddle.
Blaze laughed. “Come on in. The water's fine.”
Carlson looked at his boots. To his surprise, they hadn't even a hint of dampness on them, though when he entered the room he was sure they got soaked. He put his foot in again, toe first, and then pulled it back out. Sure enough, it felt wet, but there wasn't any moisture on his boot. He shrugged and walked in towards the 3-D picture, enjoying the cool sensation on his feet.
“Incredible. Looks like a liquid, feels like a liquid, but in actuality it's just a sophisticated effect. They manipulate their environment with exact precision and then coordinate it with realistic holographic imagery. In this case, they must have controlled the temperature and humidity of the area above the floor just so, then combined it with a fancy light show to simulate the feel of water.”
Blaze waved his arm above the table again, stopping when a violet glow appeared on his sleeve. “Ah, see that. Just like I said.” He moved his arm to and fro, trying to locate the source of the ultraviolet light. “There's probably some ultraviolet image here that we're unable to perceive.”
Carlson focused on a three-dimensional holographic image that was continuously changing before him. It began with two smaller aliens standing side by side. They were fully clothed in colorful form-fitting outfits, knee deep in a swamp-like body of water. The sky was bright with a reddish tinge.
The aliens separated and headed towards different odd-looking trees. What followed after that was a coordinated ballet of motion as they leapt from branch to branch, one alien seemingly chasing the other. One dove into the water, temporarily disappearing before resurfacing behind some vegetation. Then it made an acrobatic dash through water, land, and tree branches, before gracefully landing next to the other. The other one moved quickly and splashed him with water, until both stopped and grinned. Then the image recycled and both aliens were again standing side by side, and the action replayed itself. “What do you make of this?”
Blaze looked for a minute, smiling at the two playful aliens. “Home movies. These must be the kids. And our first glance at an alien world.”
Both paused for a minute, fully taking in the magnitude of that moment.
“Wow,” said Carlson.
“We’ll get a better look later.” Blaze resumed studying the room. He walked to the back and triggered an image. Now he could see the two pilots smoking cigarettes, shooting the breeze, just outside of the ship, yet he wasn't looking through a window. What he saw was an image created by the ship of what was directly outside that area if a window would have been there. He pushed his hand through the image and felt the cold metal wall behind it. The image appeared briefly on his hand before he pulled it away. “Everything is incredible,” he whispered. “Every facet of this ship represents an incredible advance to every existing area of science.” It was his dream come true. “I'll bet the reason this ship is so intact, and most of the aliens survived, is that this computer generated a stasis field to cushion the impact. A holographic airbag, if you will, that appeared instantly throughout the entire ship and held everything in place. That would explain why nothing was thrown about on impact.”
Carlson wasn't listening. He walked over to the platform, stopping briefly to feel his boots. He still couldn't believe they weren't really wet. He felt the platform. It was soft to the touch. He grew bolder and sat down. It was comfortable, and the dampness on his feet began to bother him, so he took the load off and laid down. “Not bad. Think it sleeps one or two?”
“Too small. Definitely one,” answered Blaze. Then he realized something. Something that no one thought of asking. Something important that they needed to know. “Shit. I'll be right back.” He bolted from the room.
“Jesus. Wait up.”
But it was too late. By the time Carlson got up and made it to the door, Blaze was gone.
Gaines saw the transport truck a few hundred feet up the road. It was parked on the edge and he could see the rear doors sprawled wide open in the reflection from his headlights. He pulled up behind it, drew his gun, grabbed a flashlight, and got out slowly. It looked abandoned but he was not about to take any chances.
He shone the beam into the rear, confirming his suspicions that his cargo was gone. Then he studied the ground beneath the cargo hold. There were two sets of footprints in the snow. The smaller ones, making a shorter indentation with an imprint of a standard issue Canadian boot, had to be Rebecca's. The larger ones couldn't have been Dupres' because the imprint was different. But who else's could they have been? And where was Dupres?
He slowly made his way to the front. He stepped forward quickly and aimed his gun and flashlight into the front seat. There was no one there. Raising the beam slightly, he noticed the bloodstained passenger side seat and instantly his second question was answered. There was no mistaking it now. Rebecca was exactly what Logan said she was, but maybe she wasn't the one who killed him.
He went around to the passenger's side for a closer look. That's when he saw the second set of tire tracks.
He knew the transfer of so much cargo would have taken some time. He felt the hood of the truck. It was still warm. He knelt down feeling the snow surrounding the second set of tire tracks. It was soft. That meant they left recently. He could still catch them.
Luckily, he was familiar with the area. He got back in the Jeep, drove about a mile ahead, and then pulled over to the side of the road. It was an elevated section of the highway and the surrounding terrain was relatively flat, affording him an excellent view of the road. In the distance he saw the lone red brake lights of a truck driving west. He got back in the Jeep and followed.
It had been a harrowing run for Carlson. Each time he turned a corner he grew more disoriented in the alien environment surrounding him. The longer it took to find Blaze, the more frantic he became. Not only would Major Gaines give him hell for letting Blaze out of his sight, but also because being alone on this spaceship unnerved him more than he cared to admit.
And what if Blaze was up to something?
He took a deep breath, regained his composure, and trotted back up to level three where Blaze had first eluded him.
Sure enough, there he was, hunched over by the door of the room they had explored together. Blaze's breathing was labored and his face looked pale with concern. Carlson approached him with rapid strides. “You mind telling me just what the heck you were doing?”
Blaze stood erect, trying desperately to catch his breath. He failed and hunched over again, waiting for his breathing to ease. “How many bodies did you load aboard the truck?” he asked Carlson between gasps for air.
“What are you talking about?” Carlson responded, puzzled.
“How many aliens did you load aboard the truck?” he asked again.
“Thirteen, plus one that got away. Shit,” Jeff exclaimed angrily.
“What's wrong?” Carlson asked.
“I just did a bed check.”
“So?” Carlson responded not understanding the significance.
“We got thirteen aliens. I counted seventeen beds.”
“So?” Carlson said, a little slow on the uptake.
“That means there isn't just one alien loose on this planet. There are four.”
Nikolai saw the headlights behind them, the glare reflecting off his side view mirror. Whoever it was, they were approaching fast. He looked to Rebecca who also saw them from the right side-view mirror.
“Are you expecting anyone?” he asked, preferring to be cautious at all times.
“No,” she answered. “Slow down. Let's get a better look. If it's nothing, let them pass.”
Nikolai eased off the gas, watching as the vehicle approached. Through the brightness he saw the silhouette of the Jeep. “It's military.”
The Jeep flashed its lights, requesting them to pull over.
“It's one of mine. Stop the truck,” she said.
“That's foolish. They can't stop us.”
“They'll radio ahead and then we'll be facing more than one. Pull over. I'll take care of it,” she said, pulling the alien weapon out of her pocket. She quickly reattached the alien's thumb to her own with a small strip of duct tape.
Nikolai pulled over and stopped. He reached into the side panel and grabbed his gun.
The Jeep stopped a safe distance behind them.
Rebecca stepped out of the cab, keeping her right hand and the weapon concealed in her coat pocket. She hoped to talk her way out of it, and if need be, use her credentials. But if all else failed, she was ready to do the worst. That's when she noticed the man standing at the rear of the truck, illuminated by the Jeep's headlights, was Major Gaines, a scowl on his face, his gun pointed directly at her. “David?” she said, truly surprised to see him. What was he doing here? Did he know?
“Just tell me why?” Gaines said angrily. He moved closer so she could see him clearly, keeping his gun aimed squarely at her chest. He looked at her closely, trying to see her in a new light, but still he saw the same wonderful woman he'd always known. “Why?” he shouted angrily.
“Put down the gun, David,” she said calmly.
“I don't think so, Rebecca.” He walked slowly to his left, peering around the driver's side to see if anyone else was there. He saw no one.
“It's not what you think,” she said.
“No?” He peered behind her, searching for her mysteriously large companion. “What is it then Rebecca? Or is that even your real name? What is it? Natasha? Olga?”
Rebecca's face changed, his comments left no room for doubt. He knew. But how? It didn't matter. She had to get away. Slowly, she eased her hand into her pocket.
. David saw her bewildered expression. “That's right. I know everything. Take your hand out of your pocket—NOW!”
She did as he ordered. “David,” she said gently, as she started walking towards him.
“NO! Don't say a word and don't come any closer.” Gaines tensed up. He saw her hand, just like Logan warned him about. “Take that thing off your thumb.”
She hesitated, and then began unraveling the duct tape with her other hand.
“Toss it over to me now.”
She threw the alien thumb and it landed a few feet in front of him.
Keeping his eyes on her at all times, Gaines stepped forward and squashed it under his boot. “Were you going to use that on me, like you did on the Japanese? Were you going to kill me like you did Dupres?”
“I would never hurt you, David. You have to believe that.”
She didn't deny it. That means she did kill Dupres. “Who's in the truck?” demanded David.
“Bullshit.” Gaines waved the gun, motioning her to walk with him to the driver's side. Whoever was in there already knew of his presence and was probably watching him through the side mirrors. “Tell him to come out, now.”
She did nothing.
Gaines fired a shot, just to the side of her head, shooting out the driver's side window. “Don't fuck with me anymore Rebecca. Tell him to come out now.”
She sauntered forward, approaching him in a seductive manner. “We both know you're not going to shoot me, David,” she said, intentionally using his first name over and over again to make it more personal. “We both mean too much to each other.”
“So come back. Turn this asshole over to me. Let me bring you in peacefully and I'll make sure they go easy on you.”
She smiled softly at him. “You would do that for me?”
“Yes.” He kept his eye on the driver's side, approaching cautiously while maintaining a safe distance from Rebecca. Shooting her was a choice he didn't want to make. He waved his gun again, motioning her to back off. She did, slowly, knowing that if push came to shove, he would do it.
Gaines put his back to the side of the truck and approached the door cautiously. Then, with one quick motion, he jumped in front of the driver side window and fired two shots blindly into the cab. Knowing he didn't hit anybody, he reached the gun in and fired lower, just in case the driver had ducked to the floor.
Nikolai jumped down from the roof of the truck. His left foot smashed Gaines' right arm driving it against the window frame and jarring the gun from his grip. The gun clanked off the frame and fell inside the truck, completely out of his reach. Nikolai's other leg cracked into Gaines' forehead, knocking him down.
Gaines fell hard, dizzy with pain. Nikolai landed crouched, like a big cat—then sprung into an offensive stance.
Gaines swiftly got up, stumbling backwards to put distance between him and his attacker. Another punch came quickly at him. He leaned back and rolled with the blow, lessening the impact, only to be on the receiving end of a right hook that jostled his teeth. His instincts kicked in. A left was coming. He thrust his right arm up, blocked the punch, and then jabbed Nikolai in the gut with his right.
Nikolai's abs was so solid, and Gaines' punch so sloppy, he was sure the blow hurt his hand more than it did Nikolai. Still, it gave him a moment to back away and study his adversary.
He was a big man, Gaines thought. No, he corrected himself, not big—huge. He was six inches taller, easily fifty pounds heavier, and judging from the looks of him, that extra weight was all muscle. He looked at Rebecca as he lifted his arms up into a fighting stance. “Who's your new friend?” he asked.
She didn't answer.
Both men squared off.
Nikolai advanced, leading with a right hook that Gaines blocked, and then following with a left jab that connected.
Gaines' eye would be black tomorrow, but he remained on his feet, refusing to let Nikolai know how much that hurt. “Strong, silent type, eh,” he said, trying to distract him. He hoped Nikolai was as dumb as he was big.
Unfortunately, Nikolai wasn't.
He feigned a right that Gaines almost fell for, and then threw a left that Gaines blocked. Gaines countered with a hook, but missed. Then he followed it with a front kick that Nikolai sidestepped. Nikolai pushed his leg to the left, slipped behind him, and grabbed him from behind in a choke hold.
Gaines' training kicked in. Using his heel, he kicked Nikolai in the shin. Then he repeatedly pounded Nikolai's cold hands with his knuckles until his grip loosened. With his neck free, he tilted his head forward, then snapped it back fast, head-butting Nikolai in the mouth. With momentum on his side, he spun around quickly and delivered a follow-up right hook.
Gaines' fist smacked into Nikolai's palm, like a fast ball in a catcher mitt—and Nikolai squeezed. Nikolai stared angrily at Gaines, tasting his blood as it trickled onto his tongue. Then he threw a right hook of his own.
Gaines caught Nikolai's wrist before the powerful blow hit. It was a mistake. Now he was locked in a test of strength and Nikolai was clearly the stronger man.
Nikolai shifted his weight and used his momentum to toss Gaines into the hard steel of the truck. He followed with a devastating right that split Gaines' lip.
Gaines' mouth filled with blood and the pain filled him with desperation. He panicked, knowing it was now or never. As the next powerful punch flew toward him, he ducked, hearing the powerful impact of Nikolai's fist colliding with the truck. He counterattacked lower. A jab to the groin that folded Nikolai, quickly followed with an uppercut that crunched his jaw and straightened him out.
Gaines pressed his advantage. He eyed Nikolai's head and decided to treat it like a football. He stepped forward and kicked up.
But Nikolai caught his boot. Then he turned his wrists, twisting Gaines' ankle in a direction it wasn't meant to go in, and threw Gaines aside. He shook off the nausea of the low blow, and charged Gaines, who was attempting to get to his feet. His shoulder thrust into Gaines gut, his arms wrapped around Gaines' waist, and the two men tumbled over with limbs flailing wildly.
Gaines tried to get up. He used the momentum of the roll and got on top. Then he coiled his arm ready to strike another blow.
But Nikolai’s knee shot up, thrusting deep into Gaines' ribs. The impact sent him flying off before he could land the blow.
Both men quickly got up.
Gaines favored his right side. Blood dripped from his nose and mouth coating the left side of his face. He spat red into the snow. “You ready to give up yet, you big dumb son of a bitch.”
Nikolai remained silent.
Gaines feigned a jab then threw a right cross.
But Nikolai had anticipated his move. He deflected the punch and latched hold of Gaines' arm. Then he sidestepped, placed his free hand on Gaines' elbow, twisted his torso, and spun Gaines into the truck. Nikolai held Gaines in the arm-lock and thrust a bone-crunching side kick into his exposed rib cage.
A short involuntary scream escaped Gaines' throat. He winced from the pain.
Then Nikolai shoved his forearm powerfully into Gaines' arm, snapping the bone in two.
Gaines collapsed to his knees. His right side paralyzed from pain. His breathing labored from broken ribs scraping against his innards.
Nikolai paused. The battle was over. Gaines was not getting up. He stepped away as Rebecca approached. “It is over.”
“Very nice,” said Rebecca. She twirled the gun in her hand like a cowboy. “We sparred together in training all the time and I rarely beat him.” She shook her head and focused on Gaines. Oh well, she thought. She aimed her weapon at Gaines' head.
Gaines gazed up, too injured to do anything. His eyes stared at hers pathetically, like a lost puppy. Everything he knew was a lie. He had failed and the woman he loved was about to end his life.
Rebecca saw his defeated eyes and chuckled. “Just for the record David, my real name's Valeri Ignosovitch, and I never truly cared for you a day in my life.” She tensed her finger to pull the trigger.
“Nyet!” Nikolai shouted, grabbing her hand. “We have done what we came here to do. We are agents of the Soviet Republic.” He showed her his gun which he kept unused within his jacket. “We may kill, but we are not murderers.” He let her go.
“Look at that, David. It's your lucky day.” She laughed out loud. She stepped closer, grabbed his hair, and stared into his bloody face. She puckered her lips, as if about to kiss him. Then she smashed him in the face with her gun. As he fell unconscious at her feet, she turned to Nikolai. “I'm sick of this country. Let's go home.”