This is a serial novel, so if you’re new to Sol, it’s best to start at the beginning.
July 25, 2016 / June 3, 2016
As we approached the three moon system of Kolara, I crawled into the pod. Spheroid to Raj, the pod to me. We had agreed on the approach and I felt an intrinsic compulsion to go forward. Somewhere in the back of my head, though, I heard a voice of reason. An internal debate about going through with the foolhardy, hastily concocted plan, which really wasn’t much of a plan at all. We were not military strategists. Neither of us had had training. The suit had made me powerful in ways I only dreamed of as a boy, hell, in ways I dreamed of as a man. But I was still just a man and a broken one at that.
The suit pulled me against the back of the pod, melding me with the hull and sensors. Where the Wedge had speed and not much else, the pod had teeth, and now that I was in the suit, I could feel them. Hard fields, sticky mines, a beam weapon, universal docking collar, stealth, heavy ion thrusters.
As with all things Ensari, it required only a simple thought. The trajectory and ion burn were mapped out with precision. I needed only to follow the instructions my half computer/half brain had concocted with Raj. About 30,000 meters from the Lagrange point, Raj flipped our little jump ship 180 degrees, our engines pointed toward the planet, our prow into space. At 10,000 meters, just as Raj had begun his own heavy ion burn to slow the Wedge‘s forward momentum, I disconnected and swung my pod so it’s engines were perpendicular to the planet, 84.7 degrees to be exact. 1.34 seconds after I crossed the Lagrange point, I fired my own heavy ion engines for 3.4 seconds at 65% power, altering the already fast trajectory of the pod just enough that I threaded the space between Kolara and its first moon, picking up another 4,000 km/hr from the gravitational pull of the planet and its moons. As I passed the planet, I turned the pod around so my main engine faced the Hensie ship.
With my little ship pointed at the little planet, I lit the main engine at only 5% thrust, just enough to lower my speed as I closed the 300,000 meters to the Hensie ship. A day previously, I wouldn’t have been able to calculate the orbital velocities of two ships hurtling through space. But since I had become mostly machine, I was highly certain my math was correct. I would come to a stop about 30 meters from the Hensie ship and navigate the rest of the way in on maneuvering thrusters. Any more thrust and I would have alerted the Hensie to my approach and gotten torn apart by Sharks.
Even from 10,000 meters, the ship was massive. Not as big as Manhattan Project, but big enough that I felt overwhelmed by the engineering and manufacturing prowess necessary to build one thing that big, let alone the thousands they had already fielded. It was purple and metallic, like the Sharks were on Earth, but with an enormous grey keel plunging downward toward Kolara. I approached from the belly of the ship and circled very slowly around to the top of the hull. Raj and I had identified a storage room amidships on the back of the great Whale Shark that was both next to the vacuum of space and near the communications hub.
I would have been hyperventilating as I pulled up to the area on the Braggard marked in my view, but I didn’t breath. My heart, on the other hand, operated as normal and was beginning to race. I focused the thrumming beat of the blood coursing through my veins on the task at hand. I extended the magnetic docking clamps so the little pod held fast and I opened the pod’s docking door. It wasn’t lost on me that only a thin layer of suit separated me from the hard vacuum of space in a foreign star system, or that I was hanging on to the outside of an alien spaceship. There was no room to be scared, just room for awe. In one sense, I actually felt lucky. I was on a space walk, an alien world hung below my feet, a blue star shone brightly in deep space. I had just traveled an immense distance going faster than light, something that was only a theory to humanity two days ago.
I sent a signal to the pod to seal itself against the hull and avoid an explosive decompression. Then, I extended the hard fields on both arms and vibrated them to cutting speed. I plunged them into the metal and the hull peeled or floated away in hot orange drips. As I closed the two semicircles I cut around myself, I felt the pull of the artificial gravity inside the Hensie ship and the circle I cut dropped to the floor below.
And there I was, inside a closet in a Hensie Empire Ship, their largest type of ship ever built, capable of terraforming, or evacuating as the case may be, an entire planet. I had made it inside without raising an alarm, though I couldn’t imagine a hull breach like the one I just created would go unnoticed for long. My first few steps were tentative. I realized as I stared at the strange markings on the supplies in the strange ship, I had no idea what I was doing. Raj and I had planned how to get to the ship, but had failed to think through what I should do once I boarded. I knew from the suit’s intelligence where the communications hub was, but I had no plan on how to get there. I faced the door to the hallway as I tried to reason through my next move. My heart raced. My head pounded as the vessels at the base of my neck pushed blood into my brain.
I searched through my suit’s data but little was known about the insides of an EmpireClass Hensie ship except gross locations of rooms of interest. I dug and dug into data I didn’t know my way around. I brought the search to the front of my thoughts and I felt myself get sucked into search algorithms. The door slid silently open, and deep in the foggy recesses of my brain, amidst the petabytes of data I carried with me, I heard a guttural scream, which the suit dutifully translated.
“ENSARI! ENSARI! Totor, the Ensari are back.” It shouted down the hallway. Then to me, “You’re supposed to be gone.”
I shook off the fog I had mired myself in and my vision focused on the hulking form in front of me. A triceratops without horns. An armored rhino with arms as big as my legs. My suit registered the uniform and informed me this wasn’t even a Hensie soldier. A janitor. I had been found out by a janitor, and even by a janitor, I was outmatched and it had a friend named Totor. It reared up above me and I cowered in fear as I put up my right arm to shield the coming blows. My hard field expanded into a shield in front of me as protection.
The Hensie brought both arms down on me. The force was immense. My suit locked up my body to save me from the bone breaking forces that would have folded me like an empty shirt otherwise. Under my knees, the ground bent with each repeated blow from the Hensie’s heavy arms. Through the hard field, I could see the Hensie’s face. It was contorted into desperate fear. It’s eyes dilated. It’s mouth grimaced. It’s forehead glistened with oily, sweet smelling sweat. It furiously pounded my arm, sending joules of energy into the very cells of my suit. My mind retreated even as my focus sharpened. I could feel parts of me slipping away. The fear holding me in place was being dismantled as my mind and my machine worked out plans of attack. Each strike from the hammer-like fists made the grotesque plan of attack more vivid. At first, I recoiled from the atrocity my mind presented, but each strike rationalized it further.
On the tenth blow, I unhinged my passivism and inaction and let my base nature take over. The suit pumped me full of a chemical cocktail that both soothed my nerves and raised my endorphin response to my newfound bloodlust. The Hensie raised up one last time and I swung my body out of the way, extending my blade-like vibrating hard fields from both arms. As the Hensie swung at the open air where I once was, I brought a vibrating blade up to meet its arm and sliced it through cleanly. It landed with a heavy thud and the Hensie grunted with pain just as the orange light of the alarm went off in the hallway.
I lunged forward and up with both fields extended, piercing the creature’s neck on both sides and then brought the blades together until its head fell. Gore and blue blood cascaded over my arms and chest and the creature sank to the floor. My sensors picked up another approaching Hensie. Totor, no doubt. I moved my legs with blinding speed, so fast that when I glanced down, they appeared to blur together. My vision narrowed on the galloping animal just as it realized what it was running toward and began back peddling at the sight of an Ensari suit covered in its friend’s offal. It had made it halfway around by the time I caught up with it and ran past it at speeds over 55 kph. I extended a hard field and plunged it into its chest cavity as I ran past. It’s body unzipped along the side as it whinnied and grunted and sputtered its way toward death.
The pleasure centers in my brain lit up. The euphoria Raj felt after the Wedge jumped filled and overrode my own senses. The suit moved with controlled speed, a bottle of kinetic energy that, now unleashed, decapitated and severed spines and limbs. The part that wanted to express my new found power and the part that wanted to retreat were warring inside me. I was most definitely in control, but the thoughtful and conscientious part of me was overshadowed by the euphoric joy of killing the two Hensie. The first living things I’d ever killed. A tiny voice in the back of my head cried for help, but my arms and legs churned at higher and higher velocities as I careened down the hallway toward the communication hub. I saw a fully armored guard charging down the hallway carrying what looked like four shotguns fused together. He fired shells at me which my suit registered as lethal, but slow moving.
I entered a state of flow and leapt through the air as I slashed wildly with my hard fields at the ceiling above. The ductwork gave way easily. A moment later, I was on top of the Hensie, the molten slag of the metal ceiling I just dropped through dripped on the back of my oily and armored foe. The cooking sweet smell hit my sensors and then my olfactory system. As I fell on top of it, I drew my projectile weapons and fired point blank into its back. The shells tore through its armor plating and into its torso. Its cratered back splintered in metal and bone. I lashed out with one fell swoop of my right hand’s hard field and severed its neck, killing it instantly.
My superego cried out in my thoughts, but my id drove forward.
The communications door was a step away, and with newfound confidence and swagger and, as I know now, a ton of suit provided dopamine, I opened the massive blast doors and strolled in shouting “The Ensari are Back.” I didn’t know what it meant then, and to be honest, it was overkill macho. It was clear why it terrified the Hensie so much. The five Hensie inside the comm hub turned toward me. A few backed away in fear. The matriarch of this crew, twice as big as the others, charged toward me snarling wildly. I cut her down at the knees then dispatched the others in seconds. When I was standing over the guttural mastication of this group’s leader, a new emotion came to the fore, anger. My sensors narrowed to the health of this one Hensie and her demise. I punched and punched and she was powerless. I was so focused on beating the life out of her over the shouts of my conscience that I hadn’t registered the fully armored Hensie that entered the comm hub and fired its imposing gun. A shell caught my shoulder and flung me across the room. It pierced the suit and cut through part of my shoulder.
The nano fibers wrapped around my bones and muscles repaired my internals and doused the area with pain killer. I fired 10 rounds from my shoulder based projectile weapons as my suit sealed itself back up. The soldier slumped just as quickly as it entered. As I walked over to the console, I ended the leader’s life with the flick of my hard field and got the data I believed I was here for.
I sped back toward the storage closet. I felt vulnerable for the first time. Endorphins, adrenalin and dopamine surged through every fiber of my body. My legs a blur. The tiny voice in my head wailed inconsolably as I reached the top speed of the suit and my body. I moved so fast that I passed a Hensie guard and entered my pod before it could even react.
As I backed away and the decompression rocked the hallway, I fired 102 sticky mines into and surrounding the hole I had made and fired up my main engine on full to sling shot me past Kolara and back to Raj. At 90,000 km, I detonated them all which tore a hole the size of a small building into the side of the Braggard.
A half day later, I arrived back at the Wedge. The drugs and endorphins had worn off and my body convulsed as it tried desperately to heave the contents of my now permanently empty stomach. The blood vessels under my eyes and in my irises ruptured. I was weary and the tiny voice I had quelled previously was now the loudest. I had killed 9 by my own hands with barely any effort and untold more when I detonated the mines. All in less than 10 minutes.
When I tumbled into the Wedge, Raj picked up my desiccated body, my helmet pulled back to expose my tear soaked face, my body heaved. Half day old dried blue gore stuck fast to the front and back of my suit. Raj helped me lay down on the floor of our little ship and just as he was about to speak, he paused and looked up, a gesture those of us who were connected understand as incoming data. Then he raced to his seat.
“Hold on, Rick. We’ve got Hensie coming. I’m getting us out of here.”
I tried to reach out to hold onto the ship, but was too exhausted to move even a finger. My suit did the work and sent tendrils into the plating underneath me. I fell asleep as Raj jumped us home. Another 51 day trip. The coppery smell of Hensie blood overwhelmed my senses. In my dreams, I saw the face of the first Hensie I killed. Ugly and contorted with fear and distress. On replay, the Hensie said “The Ensari are back.” On replay, I wondered where the Ensari had gone.
Chapter 9 – Dissonance by Christopher Hazlett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://robotissmiling.com/2016/01/21/chapter-9-dissonance.