The Doomed Voyage: Part 3

  From the logs of Kelust Anton Lomax: Of the three hundred-twenty-four men and women who’d boarded the battle frigate, only forty-six made it to the Odyssey. It had originally been designed as a short-range

 

From the logs of Kelust Anton Lomax:

Of the three hundred-twenty-four men and women who’d boarded the battle frigate, only forty-six made it to the Odyssey.

It had originally been designed as a short-range troop carrier for inter-system conflicts, but under the direction of Marcus Casper, the senior remaining kelust, we were able to retrofit some of the systems with pieces scavenged from the wreck of the battle frigate. After a month of hard work, we’d managed to boost the engine capacity and life-support systems to the levels we calculated would be necessary for all of the survivors to make it to the next habitable planetoid—based on the astronomic records the kybers had been able to pull from the old ship’s logs.

But if our calculations were wrong, everyone on board would die a slow, agonizing death in the harsh vastness of space.

Despite our best efforts, the long-range communications systems remained inoperable. Whoever had sabotaged the battle frigate had done an excellent job of cutting off any hope of reaching the rest of the fleet. And there was no doubt it was sabotage. In scouring the frigate for parts, we were able to determine that all of the blast marks originated from within the ship’s systems. Someone on board had done this to us—statistically perishing in the process.

Once all our retrofitting was finished, General Calix Weston called what remained of the crew together. “Brothers and sisters, our situation is dire. Without long-range communications, our ship won’t even be missed for another month. And who knows how long after that before a search party could locate us.”

I nodded. The odds of any vessel pinpointing the sight of our accident—even assuming a perfect record of our plotted course—were infinitesimal. Space was just too big.

“The engineers tell me that the Odyssey has been successfully adapted for an extended flight, but the ship is simply incapable of traversing deep space. Our journey will be a long one, as we jump from system to system, replenishing our fuel and supplies.”

Based on what I’d heard some of the kybers say about our route, I estimated it would take at least two years. More, if their information was inaccurate.

But that was still much faster than waiting for the odds of being found to come up.

“I have ordered that a beacon be set in the wreckage that will remain here on the surface, detailing our intended route. Perhaps the searchers will find it in time to come find us.”

Unlikely.

“In the meantime, I make you this promise: if it lies within my power, I will return you all to our homes on Ithacor.”

Shouts of elation rose from the assembled soldiers.

I didn’t cheer. It’s not that I desired to stay on that desolate rock any longer, but I had done the calculations. The odds of any of us surviving to reach Ithacor—let alone all of us—was, well, not much better than our odds waiting for rescue. But the general’s speech had the desired effect. The men and women—who’d become more and more despondent as our retrofitting dragged on—were once more energized and eager to brave the wild hazards of space.

Two weeks in the empty stretches between systems dulled that enthusiasm considerably.

When we finally came up on our first destination—a small moon with a breathable atmosphere orbiting a gas giant—our air had grown stale. If that wasn’t bad enough, the ship was only a few hours from drifting.

But we did make it.

The general announced over the intercom that we’d be docking at the lone spaceport and a small team would be sent planetside to assess the situation and begin procuring the supplies we’d need.

The rest of the crew was to stay with the Odyssey, but were encouraged to take advantage of the outside air while they could.

I was one of two kelust’s selected for the mission. The other—Marta Brahe—was a fuel specialist. My own bio specialty had been less than helpful since the completion of the life-support upgrade, and I was interested in finding an opportunity to flex my proverbial muscles again. The rest of the team consisted of three hoplites and the general himself. I questioned the wisdom of the general joining the introductory team, but it was not my place to speak to him.

The moon was frigid, but even so the fresh air was a relief. Our party was met at the entrance to a low control building by two misshapen blobs—like flesh-colored raisins, but almost four feet tall and with shriveled arms and legs. At first, I assumed they were some grotesque decoration, but as we approached one stepped out to greet us.

“We-come, trav-ers.” The speech was so distorted I almost didn’t recognize the words.

“Greetings. I am Calix Weston, General of Ithacor. My people and I come in peace, we have a long journey ahead of us and seek what supplies we can trade for.”

“You must s-eak with Mistress Wyndark. She wi- know.”

“Of course.” The general inclined his head to the strange little blob. “How might we request such an audience?”

“We wi- take you. You must s-eak with the mistress.” The creature turned and shuffled into the building.

I followed the general, but a part of my mind remained fixed on the strange little creatures. They had no discernible head or face, how did they speak? Eat? Breathe? In all my studies, I’d not come across anything quite like them. Perhaps before we left I would have the opportunity to study one more closely.

Or even this mistress of theirs. The way the guard had spoken her name reminded me of something one might worship. Did these creatures exist some kind of colony—like bees or ants—where the queen was a more pronounced version of the others?

But my speculation was wholly inadequate for what we encountered.

The little lump brought us through a series of tunnels to a grand audience chamber. Inside, seated atop a raised dais, was a woman unlike any I’d ever seen before. She was human—if human you could still call her, for she was as far beyond the norm of human beauty as a star outshines a lamp. Every line of her figure, every strand of hair, every centimeter of exposed skin was perfect beyond words.

I had always had a mind for numbers and theories not poetry, but in the moment when I first beheld her, I wished to compose such verse as my limited experience couldn’t even comprehend.

When she spoke—her voice little more than a whisper, though it carried easily throughout the room—she addressed only the general. “Welcome to my home.”

“Are you Mistress Wyndark?” In comparison, his speech was like the grating of metal plates against each other.

“I am she.” And she blessed him with a smile.

“My name is Calix Weston, General of Ithacor. My crew and I seek supplies for our voyage. Your people instructed us that we would need to speak with you.”

“Of course.” She clapped her hands and more of the lumpy things emerged from the shadows—somehow even more grotesque in the presence of their mistress. “See to it that they have whatever they need. But I would speak longer with this…General of Ithacor.”

“You are most generous, My Lady.”

I silently cursed his luck, getting to stay and speak—alone—with such a magnificent specimen of womanhood as the rest of us were led away by her repulsive little servants. They took us to a large laboratory deeper within the structure.

“What is this place?” I marveled at the complex machines—far more advanced than anything else we’d yet seen on this little moon.

“The Mistress’s worksho-. Her devices kee- the order of this wor-d.”

Brilliant as well as beautiful. Was there anything beyond this woman’s abilities?

“We’ll need fuel, rations, a fresh influx of breathable air….” Marta rattled off the ships needs like we weren’t standing in the most wonderful place in the universe.

The lumps helped her and two of the hoplites gather things while the other and I explored the rest of the laboratory.

I recognized some of the machinery, and other things I could guess at, but some of served a purpose that alluded me. In the far reaches of the room, were a pair of tables, each hooked up to central cylinder with many mechanical arms protruding in either direction. Some of the arms had tools that I recognized from my studies of the bio sciences, but their locations confused me.

There was nothing familiar about their orientation.

“What is this device? Some kind of medical tool?”

“We wi- show you.”

Some primal fear rose in me at the words.

I turned to see a veritable swarm of the little horrors surrounding me and the hoplite. Marta and the others were nowhere to be seen.

“Perhaps some other time, we should really be getting back to the ship.”

“No, you wi- feed the Mistress.”

The hoplite reached for his gun, but the little monsters rushed him, knocked him off his feet, and dragged him over to one of the tables.

I shrieked and backed away. I’d never been in a battle of any kind. Never meant to be in a battle—at least not a physical battle like that, I was only ever supposed to be with the ship.

They strapped the man down and fired up the machine.

In a matter of horrible seconds, the mechanical arms drained, dissected, and rebuilt the man as yet another of the little lumps. The “excess” of biological material was fed into the cylinder. A message appeared on the side of the device: Cloning material 14%, please provide more bio matter for the genetic re-sequencing.

I glanced around at the mob of little terrors that surrounded me and the device.

Is this the secret of her beauty then? Their mistress is a genetically perfected clone made of the biological matter stolen from these, her servants. Who were once human too.

They were so caught up in the action of the machine—and the transformation of the hoplite—that they’d left me unattended. And why not? I was no threat to them. I couldn’t fight a horde of little raisin-men, or get close enough to dismantle that horrific machine. What could I do?

So I fled.

I ran like I’d never run before. Back out of the lab and down the passages until I had to make a choice: back to the ship, or to warn the general? The ship offered the safety of soldiers and numbers. They could undoubtedly protect me from the lumps that would surely be following after me soon.

But that would leave General Weston alone with them. Even if he was as great a warrior as I’d heard from the whispered stories of some of the more experienced—or more gossipy—crew members, how could one man, alone and unaware, hope to survive. I wouldn’t be of much help in a fight, I’d already proven that. But he’d at least have some warning.

Cursing myself, I turned and raced back to the audience chamber.

The general and the clone of Mistress Wyndark still stood at the center of the room. Both turned as I burst into the room.

“What’s going on, Kelust Lomax?”

“Who dares?” The horror of the truth did nothing to diminish her beauty, but it’s spell was broken.

The words all tried to rush from my mouth at once. “It’s a trap, Sir. She’s a clone. And there’s a machine that turns men into those…things.”

She cooed softly. “What nonsense. Deal with your man so we can return to our business.”

Without hesitation, General Weston drew his pistol and fired.

A shriek of pain and rage echoed into the audience chamber as the clone woman collapsed to the floor, a burning hole centered on her chest.

“Stay close to me.” The general ordered.

“Of course, Sir.” I expected him to lead a retreat back toward the Odyssey, but instead he went deeper into the complex.

The halls were eerily empty as he maneuvered through them.

At last he found the room he was searching for. It was a small laboratory, lacking the gaudy gadgets of the earlier space. Only a stasis pod stood in one corner. Open.

A woman—ancient, and nearly as shriveled as the raisin-men—crawled on weak limbs toward the door.

“I take it you are the true Wyndark?” General Weston lowered his pistol toward her.

With difficulty, she nodded. “I am her.”

“Call off your servants and let us leave with the supplies we need, and I will leave you to…this existence.”

She sighed. “It will be done, General Calix. But know that you could have lived a much happier and safer life here with me, than the one that awaits you in the vastness between here and Ithacor.”

To Be Continued…

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