[This is the second in the short series of Demy. You can read the first here.]
“Yes, Mrs. McSonny. No. No. Yes. I think you’re…no, please stop and listen to me. You’re completely missing the point. Was his maths work not perfect? Well…well, there we go then. I don’t really see what else there is to be said other than if he wants me and I clearly work, I shall be round at 5pm, tomorrow afternoon, expecting him to let me in. I’m glad you agree. Tha…nk you for putting the phone down on me. Also, Demy, you’re the best and everyone loves you. You say you want to make me some muffins? Oh you shou-oh forget it.”
I’m not one to be an exposition dump, but at the same time I feel it necessary at this point to completely ignore any requests I know you have for any and all explanations in favour of just getting on with it. I know that’s not at all what you want and I did say I’d get round to explaining everything, but you’ll just have to accept this notion; magic will explain away most things. Some of you will wish to quit reading at this point. I don’t blame you. I used to hate this sort of idea when I grew up with any fiction I read, but I suppose over time I’ve come to learn just how important it is to let go of the situation and have fun. That, I feel, neatly leads on. Do you like lasers?
“At least this time you weren’t waiting out in the rain!” Although the fact he hadn’t let me in yet was slightly annoying.
“That’s very true. How about you let me in now?” Tough, but fair. That’s my line. Well, that and “I’m a tutor who can do magic.” I would have that on my business card if I both had a business card and wasn’t aware of the fact that no-one would take me seriously if I did. Not that anyone does regardless, of course. I’m sure you don’t.
“Yes, of course. Sorry!” Swiftly moving out of the way before we moved, equally so, to the kitchen where all sorts of fun takes place. As we sat down, I felt a different aura around Charlie. A week can change so much about a person. I still saw the grimness he was trying to move on from, but already I saw a boy who had a refreshed perspective on things.
“So, where are we off to this week? Fighting mystical monsters armed with a bow that fires lightning? Oh, oh, what about where we enter a book and experience it?” You might be mistaken for thinking this was a joke on my expense, however I can very much confirm that this was spoken with the intent of implying excitement and curiosity. The arrogance of last week was in decline, fortunately.
“Nuh uh. Where’s your work, McSonny?”
“Here! Neatly bound, ready to hand in!” I know this is boring. Look, if I just skipped straight to the action, you’d quickly get bored. You need to have those quiet scenes for build-up so that the momentum means something.
“Looking good, kiddo.” I didn’t actually look. Far too much fun to be had to spend time going over something I and Charlie knew was perfect. Still, the following response was not one I was expecting.
“So, have you talked to Janbor yet?” Hey, he’s supposed to spend the time thinking about how much I’ve done for him! Not how someone else intruded into my world and…and…oh.
“I have no idea who that Karen girl is.” Puh, teenage boys. So single-minded. The thing is though, I actually had asked Janbor about this when I got home. I know a lot about Karen now. Now, I’m not a petty person (Ha!) but I feel like some things should be earned.
“Oh. Well, never mind. These things happen.” He looked so glum. Oh me and my emotional connections to people. Damn my niceness!
“Oh all right, you got me!” I said as I threw up my hands in a mocking way. All he could do was squint and look at me like I was some sort of crazy person. Even though that was the appropriate response to give, I still felt offended! “This next adventure which you so crave if completed to a satisfactory, but more importantly entertaining, manner I shall bestow upon you the greatest gift of all. It’s”
“A really hot girlfriend?” Oh come on Charlie, you’re better than that. Not only interrupting me, but doing it without an ounce of intelligence.
“…no! Knowledge! Knowledge is the greatest gift of all! Now you get no warning for the jump!”
“The jum…well at least this time I’m sitting down.”
The scene, as is necessary when completely changing the environment in quicker-than-a-blink-of-the-eye. “The year is 9146. We are on board the Earth Forces’ premier ship, Sentinel’s Gaze.” I really hate it in sci-fis when they come up with bizarre naming conventions. Sentinel’s Gaze? What rubbish is that?! “You’re his captain, in charge and ultimately responsible for some 4,000 crew.” That produced an audible gasp and definitely struck a nerve.
“Wait, his?” Of all the things to speak up on when you find yourself in the middle of a command deck of a space ship. In the future.
“I like to buck tradition.” I actually first started off with no gender, simply referring to “You’re metal’s captain”, but people found it odd, for some reason. As if saying a craft is a girl isn’t odd!
“Oh. Well, fair enough.” I think I detected some acceptance here.
“Your mission, as dispatched by Commodore Demy.” I should add that he gave me a particularly wry look at this point. “I begin again. Your mission is to investigate the border of human, Antli and Dars’deny space. There was an incident there recently involving one of our craft, the Atlas, which was able to retreat without sustaining too much damage. The Antli are blaming the Dars’deny and, expectedly, vice-versa. This comes on top of heated tensions, with both building up their forces in preparation for war. Commander Ewing was insistent there was more going on, but understandably had little time to investigate before cross-fire caught the Atlas unsuspecting. As a mediator, and ultimately with our best-interests at heart, gather all the information you need and attempt to calm down the situation.”
“Right.” He looked around from the large chair he inhabited. “And how do I do any of that?” Of course when he looked up, the command deck became an awesome expansive sight, filled to the brim with officers and things.
“You’re the captain. I’ll leave it up to you and your very capable crew.” For good measure, I threw in a salute. I think my parting words were not as awe-inspiring as the deck, as I lingered with my hand by my forehead for a good few seconds longer than ideal. A quick tap of his arm, a return salute and off I went.
“So…helmsman. Errm, wherever you are.” Charlie rotated his chair furiously looking for someone in control of some sort of joy-stick or pad or clearly marked directional levers, but all he got was a swallowed “Orders, captain?” amongst the blur of sounds and shapes disorientating him.
“Set a course for the border where the Atlas incident occurred? Maximum speed?” Uncertain, but correct, the ship’s stadium-sized engines burst into motion and the ship jolted its way into faster-than-light speeds and hurled itself through the cluttered cosmos towards its destination.
As the ship entered the system, it moved gracefully through the dark ocean and after a few minutes, entered high orbit above the planet the Atlas was investigating. When being asked for orders, Captain Charlie tentatively asked for a survey of the planet’s surface. An acknowledgement came from one station somewhere in the massive room, with other requests starting to chime in at this point. “Shall we send a message to the local forces notifying them of our arrival, sir?” “Captain, shall we prep weapons? It will take several minutes for the assault cannons to charge to maximum capacity.” “Sir, shall I run an analysis for weapon discharge? It might tell us more about what happened to the Atlas, Captain.” Charlie looked around, still at a loss for his situation. He took a few seconds to himself before responding in order to the quietened room. “Yes, tell the Antil” “Antli?” “Yes, Antli and Dars’deny. Tell them we’re here and to each send one representative. Ready our weapons high enough that they might not detect the increased energy output?” “Acknowledged.” “Ah, good. Yes, do that. If necessary, we can charge them up when needed further. Please, do scan for energy discharges. That would be a good idea.” “Yes, Captain!”
What had Charlie just done? Had he just properly commanded a space-ship with what all sounded like reasonable ideas? This was utterly ridiculous! What on earth was a 17 year-old doing commanding a space ship?! He made a decision to stand up and inspect the rest of the deck, but in looking around once more at the enormity of it all, he sank further into the seat and gripped the arm-rests tighter. A particularly bright light began flashing over…there, somewhere. An officer shouted over, “They received the message and will be here in ten minutes.” Another light and colour followed by another message, “Local energy readings confirms Atlas’ story. Curiously, two of the weapon types, excluding the Atlas’ of course, seemed to vary in power out-put. When they were firing on the same point, they had a higher out-put as opposed to when they weren’t.” Charlie scratched his head for what this all meant. “Weapons are 58% charged, captain. It’ll take 84 seconds to charge them the rest of the way.” Before Charlie had a chance to respond to his reports, the final one came in. “Sir, it seems like there is some sort of installation on the planet’s surface, close to where the Atlas was investigating. Antli and Dars’deny construction.”
Charlie tried to put this all together. He was no space-ship captain, but he wasn’t an idiot. His brain whirred away. Could it be? Yes, that would make sense, but that would need to as well and maybe, well, possibly if that was that. There was a lot to process and slot into various places. “Six and a half minutes till the ships arrive, sir.” Charlie stroked his chin, feeling that this sort of situation necessitated a beard for authority. He didn’t have one and I had no intentions of giving him one. “What’s the status on all our forward firing weapons?” A tinge of confidence. “Sir, the two main cannons are set-up with the alternating-reflex-charge.” Charlie muttered a flat “What does that even mean?” while the tactical officer resumed. “The first cannon is at 65% with the second at 50%. Primary banks are at 80%, point defence systems are fully powered and missile tubes are loaded, but not primed, sir.” Well, that was that then. Whatever that was. The captain slowly emerged from his seat with growing convictions.
Two metallic shapes emerged into magnified visual range on the largest monitor in the command deck. Charlie gawped at their absurd design. One was rather boxy, as if the combination of a variety of flat-pack boxes. The other was rather sleek and rounded, as if the construction of some of the objects from said boxes. The boxy Antli ship chirped through a message. “Humans, your presence here is most welcome. The Dars’deny are infuriating us.” Another message before Charlie had time to resume. “Pah! Don’t listen to that kineeeeenkik! The Dars’deny defend what is rightfully ours!” Charlie stood up. “Are we able to respond?” “Yes, captain.” “Well then, here we go.” He cleared his throat and tugged on his shirt to straighten it, despite no-one currently watching. “Antli, Dars’deny, I know what is going on.” A sudden hush had been assumed by the deck. Then a klaxon. “Sir, enemy weapons are charging, missiles locking on and enemy ships firing up thrusters!” “Target their engines and fire!” It seemed like Charlie had taken absolute control of the situation. Unfortunately, this control was false, due to his brazen dismissal of being outnumbered and not realising also being outgunned.
Here’s the thing. Being told you have powerful weapons is only meaningful in two areas. The first is if you don’t actually know any better. Why wouldn’t an alternative-reflex-charge be powerful, with a name like that? Actually, that one is powerful. The rest aren’t. The second is if the enemy have more powerful weapons. They did. Nevertheless Sentinel’s Gaze fired its primary cannons and launched a variety of energy bolts towards the enemy ships, whose shields calmly withstood them. They fired back with huge bursts of energy that struck the craft’s shields. One lucky shot broke through striking the hull so severely it began to breach. The command deck was abuzz with frenetic activity, klaxons blaring without pause and frenzied shouting to-and-fro. All things considered, these last fifteen seconds could’ve gone better.
“Captain, we have a hull breach in progress, section 9, deck K! Energy barriers in place, but they won’t hold long!” One officer yelled from their platform.
“Seal off the area and allow it to decompress. It should limit the damage to the hull!” He shouted back. I reckon Charlie was an avid sci-fi TV fan, but he never did admit to it. The ship rocked with another blast of energy and the lights in the command deck flickered.
“But sir, there are still six people in that section!” The shriek managed to silence everyone, including Charlie. His face turned immediately white. The next second was stuck in infinity. Eventually another blast rocked the ship and the chaos began to re-emerge. Then, out of nowhere, Charlie broke his hold, snapped himself to his seat and focused to the image display ahead of him. His voice grew stern, authoritative and for the lack of better wording, kick-ass.
“Divert power from the aft shields and strengthen that barrier. No¬-one dies! Tactical, the main cannon?”
“When you have the next best shot, fire it at the enemy. Do not target to destroy and avoid their communication system. I want to hear them on their knees.” Wounded, Sentinel’s Gaze moved itself to line up a shot as the boxy Antli cruiser came into place. The massive cannon emitted what I can only describe as a type-4 energy displacement concussion pulse, rocking back the emplacement. Direct hit! The box juddered to its side and began drifting in the deep black. The sleek Dars’deny ship made another pass, energy blots slamming into the hull of its target. The primary banks returned fire as the two ships were almost on-top of each other, close enough that they bypassed the shields and were able to damage the belly of the enemy cruiser.
“Antli ship disabled, Dars’deny ship has taken minor damage, its weapon systems look like they’ve been temporarily knocked out, but they’ve diverted the energy to their shields. We won’t be able to take them down without the main cannon.” The officer grimly held on to their console, as if it would erupt in sparks any second due to the last barrage.
“How long till it can fire?” Charlie abruptly responded, not bothering to look at the officer through the dimmed lights.
“The reflex-charge will take another sixty-seconds.” The two abled ships began moving slowly apart, but had turned to still be facing each other. And like a stand-off in a western, this was, well, a stand-off like in a western.
“Hail the two ships. What’s the status on the hull breach?” Captain Charlie, multitasker!
“The crew were able to safely evacuate, the section has been decompressed and the hull breach poses no further significant threat.” An orange light from the vicinity of this response. The captain temporarily relaxed, relieved as he was that for a few seconds he wasn’t rocking about his chair.
“Communications are up, but only the Dars’deny can respond.” Charlie closed his eyes in mental preparation, before sharply opening them with furious intent.
“We could have resolved this situation calmly, but instead you start firing. I’m disappointed.”
“Elty! Do not insult us! You know nothing!” Charlie imagined what a human would have to have in their mouth at the time to make whatever noise he just heard and quickly came to a pinecone.
“You were working with the Antli to make a forward base, preparing for an assault on humanity. You pretend to blame the other for the installation, fooling us into helpfully lending our investigative assistance, believing that any possible offensive action would remain between you two. In actuality, you would use this as part of your ruse of arming up against each other instead to engage humanity and take us unprepared. Unfortunately for you, the Atlas took a few too many sneak peeks and worked out that there was enough technology from both of you in the installation to actually belong to both of you, or at least they would have had they been able to stay any longer. With your ruse still building, you pretend to engage each other to make it look convincing, but actually focus-fire on Atlas accidentally. Hoping it won’t be a problem, you try to follow your original plan. Except this time, you didn’t hide the evidence.” It’s amazing, really. He got all of that from the mission brief, the energy samples and his love of sci-fi TV.
“Kerplynti! You kineeeeenkik! It doesn’t matter, our weapons are now back online and we shall eradicate you. You cannot do anything against us. So congratulations, captain, but you fail yourself, your crew and your puny humanity! Hahahahaha.” Okay, so I might need to change the enemy commander to be slightly less obviously bad-guyish.
“You say that, but I wasn’t even concerned if I was correct or not. That was just a stall.” And then came the captain’s smirk, not to be out-done by the captain’s assurance of resolution. So, okay, he didn’t know if he was right or not, but it was a damn good guess and the next bit is fantastic.
“Ha, what are you going to do? Ram us? We can still move and our weapons are available once more. You have nothing!” I imagine that sentence was filled with even more laughing grunts.
“Well, we can fire the main cannon you ever so graciously let us charge without interruption.” He stood up! The captain stands! The deck fills with silence!
“Oh gripklo.” I’m sure you get that gist of that.
“Target their power generators.”
“Target confirmed, sir.” The tactical officer sat there, finger eagerly poised.
“No, don’t! It doesn’t matter now, the plan is known. You win.”
“Yes I have. Tactical, fire the main cannon! Cut comms.”
“Cut, sir.” The communication officer complied, but was confused, as were the others.
“Quick, turn the engines, make us miss our shot!” Charlie turned to where he thought the helms officer was.
Sentinel’s Gaze’s engines burst ever-so-slightly as the main cannon rocked and let loose its stream of energy, just missing the enemy ship. The command deck once again fell to silence, waiting for the Dars’deny response. Charlie returned to his seat in anticipation of the retaliation and found himself in his kitchen, with me sitting opposite.
“You have got to be kidding me, Demy. You have got to be kidding!” I think he thought I was kidding.
“It was dragging on a fair bit, don’t you think?”
“But! You! Resolution?! Conflict! How! WHY?!” And there was me thinking he was intelligent.
“The Dars’deny ship re-opened communications and gave their surrender. Despite the fact they could have returned fire and eventually destroyed your ship, they respected that they weren’t destroyed. Not being destroyed tends to make other things seem not so bad. Unsurprising, right? With the situation known, the Antli and Dars’deny eventually resolve their conflicts with humanity through peaceful negotiation.”
“So…I did win?” Whilst it was obvious he was still coming down from the situational high, I don’t think he quite believed me.
“Emphatically so, actually.”
“Perhaps entertainingly?” And yet, he knew enough to know what was coming next.
“I’d say so, yes.” Here it comes.
“So, the knowledge?!” And there you go.
“Yup, the knowledge!”
“Well…what is it?” He leaned forward onto the table, head in his palm. I produced from my person a small strip of paper. On this strip of paper there was a set of numbers. A very specific set of numbers. Arranged, as they were, they would perhaps make some sort of purpose orientated number chain. I placed it on the middle of the table.
“Job well done, captain.” He grabbed the paper and analysed it for the second it took to realise what it was.
“Uh huh.” I looked at my watch. “Oh, won’t you just look at the time! I better be off!” I got up, but Charlie remained at the table, absorbed in the piece of paper. “Do say hello from me. I guess I’ll be seeing myself out. Bye Charlie.” As I made my way to the door, I heard no reply. “Bye Demy, you’re so wonderful. Thanks ever so much for just making me a star-ship captain! When I grow up, I want to be just like you an-nevermind.”
[Want to read on? You can find the next story here.]