Chapter I: DawnEdit
The sky was dark and lonely, peppered with stars so tiny they seemed insignificant. A handful of celestial bodies whirled cumbersomely among intermittent comets and meteor showers. From the depths of space’s delicate silence rose a cold mechanical hum, heralding the presence of the hulking ivory spacecraft, Elephant.
From the deck of the craft, First Lieutenant Bonner Betlar studied the data on the large viewscreen in front of him: A crewmember’s profile had been freshly updated and reintegrated into the ship’s database.
Talley, Thomas H. Captain, MWWV ELEPHANT DOB: 9 Aug 2187 Status (as of 3 Jun 2229): DECEASED.
Betlar stood frozen in contemplation for a moment before the voice of the Elephant’s A.I. computer snapped him back into reality.
“Mr. First Lieutenant, Mr. Secretary Movish has established a satlink to your quarters, and would like to formally swear you in as the one-hundred-and-thirty-ninth Captain of the Milky Way War Vessel Elephant.”
“Very, eh…very well,” stuttered the officer, sighing. “I’m on my way.”
Sprinting through the long, vast corridors of the architectural wonder which he was soon to command, Betler allowed the weight of the past forty-eight hours events to fully sink in before he exhaled deeply and placed his right palm flatly on the touchpad beside the entrance to Suite 1002: The F.L.’s quarters. The hatch’s airlock hissing almost instantly, he strode inside.
“Mr. Secretary,” he barked stoically, “Acting Captain Bonner A. Betlar reporting, sir.” “Bonner,” Movish’s gravelly whisper responded. “Cut the anal ceremonial bullshit. I’ve known you since you were shittin’ in Pampers. At ease.”
“Yes, sir.” Betlar cleared his throat and relaxed his posture. “How are you, Lee?”
“That’s better,” the Secretary chuckled warmly. “Really, I’m honored and proud to officially give the title of Captain to the only son of my dear brother-in-arms.”
Decades earlier, young Leland Movish and Jacob Betlar had risen through the ranks of the Terrain Special Forces as part of the same class of recruits. They were best friends, and Lee was Bonner’s godfather.
“When are the results of Captain Talley’s autopsy due to be released?” Bonner asked soberly.
Movish sighed, looking at the floor. He shook his head, as if to escape a morose thought. The movement was barely perceptible, but Betlar caught it. “Bon, don’t do this—“
“Look, I know he died just minutes ago, OK?” spat the Elephant’s new commander. “C’mon, Lee…I’ve got to know if the thing that killed him—the virus or whatever it is—is transmittable or not. He was in contact with almost every member of the crew prior to having his attack, so I’ve got their safety to think about…not to mention my own.”
The Secretary cleared his throat. “Preliminary tests point to the cause of death being an unknown sort of enterovirus acquired on Earth which manifests itself long after exposure, when there is no hope of destroying it.”
“Earth?” the Captain choked. “None of us has been there for three-and-a-half years!”
“I know,” Movish uttered. “Bon, details are scarce at the moment, but rest assured that we’ll have this whole mess figured out in no later than 36 hours."
Betlar clinched his jaw, his brow furrowing. “Not good enough, Lee.”
“It’s the best I can do, son,” Leland said gravely, as the viewscreen went black.