Inmates, Part IEdit
Overhead, the PA system announced: "You are all charged with attacking aliens after an order was sent specifically ordering you not to do so." The masculine voice was deep--and solemn.
If they could, the foursome would have looked at each other with shock. Prison? After having just braved the dangers of alien encounters to save a settlement? But there had been plenty of horror stories told by those he had met before, all of them giving him the impression that they'd rather face a year of military duty than a month of time. "Wait... what? We never received such an order," protested Daniel indignantly.
"Ha, I thought you might have decided to say that," said the opposing commander. "But as a matter of fact, ignorance is not a valid defense, not in civilian court and not in military court."
Stricken, Daniel tried to move his suit, to try to escape its confines; but the entire thing seemed to have shut down, and he couldn't move a finger no matter how hard he tried. Though under most circumstances the NeoSteel suit responded to the slightest movement from the person within, it was first and foremost a form of armor. And it was obviously registering Daniel's futile movements as incoming attacks, and thereby putting up a stiff resistance to it. He banged his head on the shut visor in distress.
The foursome didn’t even have to be escorted by anyone to be securely brought into the prison complex where the dropship landed, and placed into separate but adjacent cells. Now stripped of armor and weaponry, they settled into their captivity without a word of dissent.
"You're going to take care of Mike, right?"
"Your comrade will be taken to the nearest medical facility for immediate treatment," muttered the warrant officer as he stepped out of the landed frigate. With a gesture from him, several Confederate privates carried out Michael on a stretcher. A computer monitor attached to the stretcher indicated that Michael's heart had been jump-started. Daniel, Christopher, and Sarlena all sighed in relief. At least Michael was out of immediate trouble.
"It feels strange not to have Mike nearby," muttered Sarlena. "Now it's kind of lonely." The other soldiers dragged them off to their cells.
"Yeah... very. Well, let's hope he recovers soon," said Daniel as they walked down the brightly-lit corridor.
"You think he's going to be okay?" queried Chris.
Daniel nodded. "The government will certainly want to make sure he survives. There's no telling what information they might glean from his memory of what had transpired."
"That will be good, then maybe next time they'll give us some alien-resistant armor, eh?" agreed Chris, eager to get back on a positive note.
"Yeah right," grunted the prison guard right behind him, roughly jabbing him in the back. "You're all under arrest and you're not going anywhere. Now get moving."
"Hey hey, I was just trying to have some pleasant discussion with my pals," protested Christopher sardonically.
"Shut up and speed up. Any resistance will be met with deadly force," threatened another guard.
"Okay, okay!" muttered Christopher, and thereafter kept his mouth shut. He suddenly seemed to find the prison hallways - and the inmates on either side - very much more interesting than they did before.
Daniel was relieved to see his surroundings. It certainly did not promise a hard time. In fact, to them it was little different from serving duty at Artifact Station, just without the need for weapons. They were effectively trapped where they were either way. The jail was very well kept, with a smooth carbon floor and those transparent Plastiglass walls often used in windows. A soothing light shone down from just beyond reach, and each cell had a full-size bed, yew chair, and mahogany writing desk. The Confederacy don't seem too interested in keeping its prisoners in a sorrowful state at all, mused Christopher.
Since Daniel was a ranking officer, he was given a secure computer, providing live, bird's-eye-view feed of the situation. New graphics were coming in by the split second for him to busy with if he wanted to. It didn't seem a whit as bad as others made it out to be; but then he didn't know if this was a military prison or a civilian one. It was probably a military one; but then, why were they not intent on court-martialing any of them?
The prison warden, dressed in a bland blue uniform, came to see him personally minutes later: “Ah, Corporal Daniel Travincal, eh? You’re here to await court-martial for violation of Executive Order 1423, stating that the military are not to engage the alien life forms until further notice.” Daniel sighed. So they Were going to get court-martialled.
“Warden, you do realize that if we don’t do anything the aliens are likely to kill more civilians.”
“Yes yes, I fully understand that, but an order’s an order. I’m just going to tell you, that the court-martial probably won’t ever come if the aliens turn out to be too dangerous. Who knows? You may find yourselves quickly released on a pardon. And I can tell you right now, from what I've been able to glean about these aliens, we'll be having enough on our hands,” he finished ominously. With that, the warden left.
Stupid bureaucracy, Daniel lamented, turning his attention to the live satellite feed of the ongoing critical situation involving those aliens. “Psst, tell me what you’re seeing,” whispered Christopher from nearby.
"Yeah, or else this place is going to get awful lonely awful fast," Sarlena chimed in sadly from another room which Daniel couldn't see.
“All right, I'll tell you if I see anything notable,” Daniel agreed. The Televista satellites encircling the planet from high orbit were tracking the movements of the monsters at various regions on the planet, but there were only three such satellites currently in operation. Although they would quickly turn their antennae to different points on the planetary surface, there was no way they could quickly give up-to-date information regarding the alien activity throughout the planet.
Daniel remembered his father telling him: "A planet is a very big place."
Then the computer focused on one point in particular, zooming in by thousands of times--it was evident that someone else was working with the shifting and zooming options. Oh my goodness, Daniel nearly wailed as a pack of twenty or so wolf-like creatures burst into a station similar to Artifact, and from the X-ray view, saw through the roof of the complex to see them tearing apart and electrocuting the nearest marine, while the others were opening fire.
Daniel watched the entire twenty-second episode wide-eyed, shock-ridden, his worst nightmare turned into reality as the aliens rushed over the hapless prey, a bloody wave of death, static in the air as streaks of electricity arced from claw to claw. Blood spurted everywhere as bullets sprayed throughout the room on various deadly trajectories. The aliens were victorious this time; he could count about fifteen dead monsters and all four marines dead, their armor breaking down under the assault. Only at its conclusion did Daniel realize that he had been holding his breath in anticipation and anxiety that entire time.
"Is something happening right now?" asked Christopher, looking apprehensively at Daniel and noticing that Sarlena was holding out a forlorn hand through the bars, as if doing so brought her any closer to him.
Sorry, Sarlena, thought Christopher. I can't help you out, just as I can't get myself out. He drooped his eyes. After a pause, Daniel finally answered.
“We’re going to be set free of this installation on a pardon really quick,” was all he had to say for Christopher to know what was happening.
"Hey, look who's come to join us," muttered an inmate several hours later. During that time they had said very little to each other - no one was in the mood for talking, and Daniel was busy inspecting the satellite feed via his computer. He turned to see several blue-uniformed prison guards coming in, holding a confused Michael between them by his arms and leading him into an adjacent cell. Good, thought Daniel. At least now we're all still just about next to each other.
"Daniel? Chris? Sarlena? What are you doing here?" asked Michael. None of the three addressed felt like giving an answer, and instead looked away. Suddenly they all felt like yawning was the appropriate thing to do.
"You and your pals decided to fight the aliens, that's what," someone in a nearby cell said very uncouthly.
Michael stalled for a moment, looking from face to familiar face in confusion. This wasn't making any sense! They had gone out of the way to do something good for the government, risked their lives for the cause, and in his case nearly gotten killed, and now they were being put in prison for it?
Michael was put in a cell and the guards then left. Daniel turned to him. "So are you well?"
"Yes," muttered Michael dispiritedly.
"So what happened with you?"
"Oh, not much, after I came to a lieutenant came over and began to interrogate me. He wanted to know about what had happened, what the aliens were like, what armor and weaponry they had... I told them what I could, about the battle and..." And then he broke into tears. "...And my killing the girl innocenty."
"Look Michael, it's not your fault," began Christopher.
"I don't want to hear it!"
"Please, Mike, it's for your own good," said Daniel.
"I said I Don't want to Hear it!" Michael thundered, then turned around in his cell so none of the others could see him. Giving up, Daniel yawned and made a comfortable sleeping place. Taking the hint, Christopher and Sarlena took the hint, yawned as well and drifted off to sleep.
Jet lag after a gravitic hyperdrive flight was worse than it had been a century earlier. Now called “space problems”, its renowned drowsiness put Daniel to sleep while the unsure morning sun shone brightly upon the disturbed dwellers of Los Andares. The military was at least deferent enough to turn off the lights so the trio could go to sleep.
He was lost in his netherworld yet again. But this time there wasn’t the wave of spirits rushing through him. This time he was one of those monsters, on a decidedly Mar Saran twilit landscape. There was another dog-like monster just like him, and he knew the other to be his “twin”, whatever that meant. There was another pair of them about ten yards in front of him.
His mind struggled between the twin conceptualizations of the four alien forms as alternating between “brothers”, “twins”, “task force”, “children”, and “self”, all wrapped into one…
They always said that the truth was stranger than the fiction. Well, this alternate reality was strange enough to be the truth.
Suddenly, there was a light rumbling in this dreamscape, as a jeep—which he knew to be a wasteland patrol vehicle—came rolling down straight at them, headlights strobing past. It came at perhaps a hundred kilometers an hour, smashing into the first two and coming to a halt as the aliens in their last action stabbed the vehicle and sent a streak of electricity into it, frying the engine within. Daniel was shocked at the two dead alien brethren lying in pools of blood before him, and enraged, looked at the jeep for a target. He felt an alien sense of revulsion and hatred, though not so much of revenge as of vigilante justice. His soul was slowly being sapped away...
"Steam roller!" shouted one of the humans from inside the vehicle. Daniel felt his anger boil. The driver and passenger—both humans—emerged from the two sides of the jeep and took a few steps forward to investigate. “Looks like you smashed some poor fella's dog Sarge,” said one, and there was the decided message of food!!!, followed by the muffled reply, “It's a ...lisk Lester...smaller type of...” and “Hey, I was of the impression that they traveled in packs. He wouldn't be out this far unless,... Oh Shit." For some strange reason, Daniel couldn’t recall the meaning of those words. Instead, his mind was preoccupied by some carnal, primordial instinct that said that he needed to consume something. And what better thing to eat than whatever animal it was in front of him? Animals were good for food, weren't they?!?
Daniel and his twin/self readied to pounce, just as the sergeant’s flashlight passed over him. Enraged at his brothers’ death, he charged at them. The last he heard from the despicable pair before he sliced them apart with his two claws was a quavering “I love you Sarge.”
The joy of slashing at his victims brought him into paroxysms of ecstasy, and he lurched wide-awake, rolling around, oblivious to his surroundings and imagining himself as all-powerful. Then, he collapsed, all tired out and contented.
A minute later he had returned to his normal, alert state, behaving as a human. “Oh, that dream!” Daniel exclaimed, waking the others up.
“What happened? What was it?” replied a startled Sarlena, while Christopher tossed and turned on his prison bed, rudely awakened.
“Darn it, I forgot what my nightmare was, again!” Daniel didn’t hear Sarlena’s heart-felt sigh of sadness for his lack of recollection. Daniel looked at Christopher, who had extended an arm through the jail bars and toward Sarlena. Intrigued, he got up and looked down the hallway, and caught sight of Sarlena's arm, which was also extended outward.
"You two have got something with each other, don't you," said Daniel with a smirk, as Sarlena quickly retracted her arm and blushed. "Hey, you don't have to be shy about it. We're stuck in jail and you two still want to keep it private and all..."
Then, he heard it yet a third time: Michael’s subconscious, senseless wailing of “Run!” It was laden with agony, sadness, desperation... Still in his sleep, Michael's fist slammed upon the soft bed. Even the other prisoners began to stir at all the commotion.
Daniel looked to Christopher and Sarlena with a confused expression on his face. "What's That all about?"
“Seems like he’s pretty hard hit by the trauma of manslaughter,” Sarlena remarked sadly.
Now unable to sleep, Daniel looked once again at the computer monitor. Just then it silently portrayed another pack of creatures rushing down a vacant road, opportunely turning a corner and ambushing two unlucky marines at point-blank. The marines were down and spasming in pain before either could use a rifle, and the pack of seeming wolves continued on the new path. It seemed that something was happening every few minutes.
Daniel rewinded the computer’s records to see a jeep traveling down a night road not too far from Artifact station crashing into two of the beasts. This must be it! he thought as he watched the tape. “Hey guys… Um, I finally figured out what I had been dreaming of.” And he recounted his vision to them, becoming clearer and clearer as he continued the tale.
“Wow,” remarked Christopher at last. “That’s some tale! You sure you aren’t ghost material?”
Hinting that one had ghost powers could be potentially dangerous, at least if some of the inmates in this jail really were criminals, and especially if they were to be freed. Daniel worked quickly to change the topic. “No... I don't think so. Look here, why don’t you just go to sleep for now, eh?”
To be sure, Daniel had never thought of that. I’ll ponder it later, on my own and with more evidence... He sure was tired, and gradually, he went back to sleep despite the brilliant ceiling lighting panels. It would NOT be nice to be a Ghost, and even worse to be found to have Ghost potential by the Confederacy. These days, they kept it all hushed up but there were rumors of a secret program where telepaths were trained and converted into brutal killing machines - assassins - by the government. The way the rumors went, Ghosts could disappear at will, which was where they got their names from. Now, the Confederacy had been openly denying any such thing as a Ghost program. But there were two things indicating their presence. Firstly, many people who were found to be spreading the rumor of such a program soon... disappeared. And secondly, certain other people had been disappearing as well, like politicians, most certainly the target of such programs. Not only were these Ghosts dangerous, but their superiors would stop at nothing to keep it all hushed up. Hence there was a good reason to keep mum about what you suspected or knew about the Ghost program.
Then he feel into yet another nightmare for the second time the same night. It seemed to be a weaker dream this time--more alien creatures rushing to and fro, yes, but none of them were concentrated on him. The ethereal spirits merged, blended with each other, drifted about with maddening zealotry, yet harmless to him. Oh, he saw more to be sure, but by evening when he woke up, all traces of what he had dreamed of had vanished.
But it was So boring when he got up! With nothing to do, nothing at all (though there was the computer, and pen and paper should he ask for it). And no way to escape it.
When what he Should have been doing was helping to contain or eradicate the alien threat which was with every moment looming closer and closer...