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First blood

  • Avatar of cyberjnkee

    First Blood, absorption by cyberjnkee

    Chief Petty Officer
    Roman Crandall was in the shit…..and he knew it.

    Leading a small,
    surgical strike against a particularly stubborn cell of El Qaeda had seemed a
    straightforward goal. Army intelligence, and yes that IS an oxymoron in this
    case, had supplied the intel . The group was supposed to be holed up in a cave
    system ion the hills just outside of Towraghondi on the Iran
    border. Staging in Kabul, a quick
    flight into Heart and then a transport into the hills. About 5 kilometers from
    the objective, start hiking in. Simple. Right. His first clue that this was
    gonna go straight to FUBAR was when he was saddled with the green electronics
    specialist, Jim DeSalvo. A likeable guy but not exactly battle hardened. He got
    on Crandall’s nerves instantly. Constantly fidgeting with all the gadgetry he
    carried, he reminded Roman of a girl at her first prom making sure her boobs
    stayed in her strapless gown. Next was the intel briefing from a puke named
    Captain Mark crump. Long on talk, low on details, it was the worst prep info he
    had ever received. Confident he could fill in the gaps from his own contacts
    and past experience, he shrugged off the lack of hard info and planned his
    strike accordingly. A team of five men were assigned to him, not counting
    DeSalvo, and he didn’t, all experienced men familiar with the area.

    The staging went as
    planned and insertion completed quickly. Things went well right up to the point
    where they got to where the cave was….or was supposed to be. Checking the GPS
    settings against the mission briefing, Crandall hung his head and swore softly.
    No caves, just rock, lots of rock. The intel had been bad, what a shock.
    Against his better judgement, which was to contact the extraction team and
    GTFO, he called deSalvo over.

    “Ok, Jim, time to
    earn your keep.Start messing with your toys, man, and see if we can locate this
    target.”

    “Aye, sir” came the reply.

    “The rest of you, in a circle, ten meters out, eyes open,
    weapons hot. Let’s give the man a work space.”

    Taking his point in the circle, he shook his head at the
    blank wall where the cave should have been.

    Almost immediately
    DeSalvo had an answer for him.

    “Chief, this is strange. According to everything I am
    seeing, the cave is right there.” the the young man pointed straight at the
    blank wall. “I can’t be sure, but I think it may be a hologram.”

    Narrowing his eyes
    in disbelief, he began a retort and was cut short by the rest of his team
    rushing back to their locale and reporting. “Motion at our six, Chief.”

    Instantly in battle mode, Crandall used hand signals to
    position the men strategically, hidden among the scattered boulders. Splitting
    to either side of the direct path to the cave they waited. Silently, the
    moments ticked by and a group of nine men emerged. Eight men with AK-47’s surrounded
    one man, bound and blindfolded. Stripped to his waist, the prisoner was pushed
    along the rock strewn path. Stopping in a semi-circle around the hostage, the
    armed men watched muzzles pointed at him, as he strode haltingly toward the
    base of the cliff. As he approached, the air became palpably thicker with
    something akin to static electricity, but thicker somehow. Time seemed to slow
    to a quarter speed as the next minute played out. Stepping right at the
    seemingly solid wall, the bound man’s leg disappeared up to his knee. Merging
    with the very rock, then a flash of what seemed like lightning and a crack of
    thunder. When Roman’s eyes cleared, the prisoner was gone. The rock wall was
    solid and the armed locals had turned their guns on them.

    Chief Petty Officer
    Roman Crandall was in the shit….and he knew it.

    Military instinct and training kicked in and he barked
    orders to his team even as he dived behind a boulder dragging DeSalvo with him.
    Turning and pulling his own weapon to bear in a smooth motion, he joined the
    firefight. The nine armed locals didn’t stand a real chance, out in the open,
    but had the advantage of drawing down
    first. Two of his men were hit and down befor his team had a chance to fire.
    After that, it was over quickly. To DeSalvo’s credit, he got the first kill.
    His sidearm flashed twice and one man went down, dust and blood flaring from
    his chest. Short controlled bursts came from the M-4 Carbines, each set of
    three tap tap taps taking down another threat. Blood and bone spraying as bodies are torn apart by the Remington .223
    ammunition, the scene went quiet in just under three minutes. Immediately,
    Crandall ordered DeSalvo to call for extraction, rounded the boulder he was
    shielded by and ran to check on his downed men. Two were hit, one a flesh wound
    in the arm, already being dressed and the other a chest shot. AO techVanessa
    Mothe’s eyes fluttered as she came back into the sunshine. Her body armor had
    stopped the round headed for her heart.

    “You do know you’re
    never going to live down the fact those double D’s stopped a bullet, right?”

    Smiling, she responded “Tits of steel, just call me a
    Valkyrie!”

    Roman chuckled as he
    helped her to her feet.” Shake it off, sailor.”

    Knowing their
    gunplay was bound to draw attention, he gathered his team quickly.”Any response
    from extract, Jim?” The response was a silent shake of the head. One hand on
    his weapon the other on his hip, Crandall surveyed the area. “how about the
    cave?”

    That comment got him
    quick looks from his team. “Chief, the energy signature from that place is odd.
    It looks like a hologram, just a picture, but we all saw what happened to that
    man. Nothing on my instruments changed when he disappeared and the video shows
    nothing. Just there, then gone.”

    Nodding, he
    considered “Ok, we are in a box gentlemen. One way in, one way out. We can safely assume there are
    more unfriendlies back the way we came and we need options, fast!”

    As he spoke he moved
    toward the cliff face at an angle. Keeping close to the rock face, he noticed
    an anomaly. “Sigler, take a look at this will you?”

    Pointing at the spot where the cave was, the two men saw a
    “shimmer” of sorts when viwed from the hard side. Behind that, what seemed open
    space. They had found the cave. Putting a hand on Sigler’s shoulder, Crandall
    smiled “gather the team, we have shelter.”

    Managing the tight
    squeeze through the gap between the shimmer and the cave opening, the team
    slowly inched into the cave, Chief at point. One by one they slithered into a
    gap made by a fairly recent rockfall to the inside of the cave. Sweat beaded
    and rolled into eyes as the progress was slow, broken by a low chuckle as Mothe
    had to suck in her breath to keep her chest from touching the shimmer. Finally,
    they were inside the cave and surprised to find that what looked like a solid
    rock face from the front, looked like a wall made from the shimmer of heat from
    blacktop on a hot summer day. Getting only a brief respite to wander the
    confines of the cave, the group was instantly on alert, weapons ready as a
    squad of about twenty men rounded the large rocks at the the path.

    A large man, heavily
    armed began barking orders poiting to different spots around the clearing and
    the sailors readied for a firefight. Cocking his head, Crandall held up his hand
    in a “hold your fire” gesture. As the locals, searched the bodies of their
    comrades, the unfriendly leader walked slowly toward the cave opening and
    fingers tightened on triggers. Suddenly, one of the subordinates grabbed the
    gruff-looking leader and spoke into his ear. With a start, the man gazed back
    at the cave, waited a moment, then waved his men back. Glancing a few times
    over his shoulder toward the cave mouth in what looked to be fear.

    At that very moment
    a chill crept up the Chief’s neck.

    He was in the
    shit……and he knew it.

    Quickly, the Al Qaeda trrop gathered what equipment they
    wanted from their dead and moved away.

    “Chief,” DeSalvo whispered “there’s something back here.”
    The entire team looked first at the chief, then at the seaman, then the back of
    the cave, deep in shadow. Rubbing the back of his neck, Crandall sighed at that
    feeling he didn’t seem to be able to shake, ever since this mission began. He
    motioned for the team to split and move to the edges of the cave. DeSalvo in
    tow, the Chief took the direct path to the back, right down the middle.

    As he strode the
    short distance slowly, Crandall thought about his career, his wait during the
    boards and induction into the goat locker. How these were crowning achievements
    for him, but not like the birth of his daughter and later his son. Truly
    miracles had blessed him throughout life and if he had to cash out now, he had
    no regrets. That wasn’t completely honest, of course. A multitude of thoughts and desires flew
    through his head as he paced closer to the back wall of the cave and the brass
    colored object there. An ovoid shape, about two and a half meters tall, it had
    a slightly dimpled or rippling appearance to the surface. Roman seemed to see
    it more clearly as he stepped nearer. The light hadn’t changed, had his eyes
    adjusted to the gloom at the back? He never noticed the bright flash of
    lightning that encased him, nor heard the thunderclap that deafened his squad
    temporarily. One moment he was a US Navy Chief Petty Officer, the next,
    something different. Something more and less at the same time. With every fiber
    of his will, Crandall fought against the dark tide that was threatening to
    engulf him until, with a palpable snap, he saw himself on a plane. A barren
    plane where all he saw from horizon to horizon was unending white light and his
    own naked form. From one horizon he saw a black dot come toward him impossibly
    fast and recognized the shape as the brass ovoid from the cave. It stopped mere
    paces from him and spoke.

    “Man, you are the
    first. We will be one and the universe shall know us.” A flood of images poured
    from the shape into Roman. They merged with his own memories and feelings seamlessly.
    Images of terrible creatures like giant centipedes and others resembling octopi
    on land. Demons and angels, a Cyclops and harpies flashed through his mind. The
    past and future merging into his awareness he had one overwhelming thought…..

    I am Chief Petty
    Officer Roman Crandall, I am in the shit…….and I know it.

    It’s a first draft so be kind, lol

    Avatar of cyberjnkee

    Chief Petty Officer
    Roman Crandall was in the shit…..and he knew it.

    Leading a small,
    surgical strike against a particularly stubborn cell of El Qaeda had seemed a
    straightforward goal. Army intelligence, and yes that IS an oxymoron in this
    case, had supplied the intel and, while sketchy, it had appeared sound at first
    glance. An Al Qaeda group was supposed to be holed up in a cave system in the
    hills just outside of Towraghondi on the Iran
    border. Staging would start in Kabul,
    a quick flight into Herat and then
    a transport into About 5 kilometers from the objective, start hiking in.
    Simple, right? His first clue that this
    was gonna go straight to FUBAR was when he was saddled with the green electronics
    specialist, Jim DeSalvo. Jim was a likeable guy but not exactly battle
    hardened. He rubbed Crandall’s nerves raw instantly. Constantly fidgeting with
    all the gadgetry he carried, he reminded Roman of a girl at her first prom
    making sure her boobs stayed in her strapless gown.

    Next up was the
    intel briefing from a puke named Captain Mark crump. Crump was a good military
    man, twenty years ago. Now doughy, about 40 pounds overweight and none too
    concerned about appearances, the only “military” thing about him now was his
    short hair. He sported a perfect high and tight. Wire frame glasses too small
    for his face kept sliding down his nose as he began. “Satcom has a flurry of
    activity in this vicinity.” He pointed to an enlarged false color map. ”We
    don’t have a lot of hard data, but groups keep escorting primaries here. At
    this point even the infrared imaging is blind. The primaries just, well,
    disappear. As you can see the whole hill is awash in every spectrum. We believe
    they are using an experimental electronics array to block all surveillance and
    need some eyes on the ground to confirm.” Confident he could fill in the gaps
    from his own contacts and past experience, he shrugged off the lack of hard
    info and began planning the strike. A team of five men were assigned to him,
    not counting DeSalvo, and he didn’t, all experienced men familiar with the
    area.

    Second in command would be Seaman third Carl
    “Mookie” Sigler, no stranger to the desert or combat. Decorated twice for
    heroism and noted for his affinity to carrying dog treats. No one is ever
    really sure why, but the rumor is he became fond of them when caught in a
    situation where that was his only sustenance for a week or so. Seaman second
    Vanessa Mothe, a woman of Columbian ancestry was their field medic, navigator
    and morale officer. How she kept morale up was a matter for discussion some other
    day, but one look at her and it came as no surprise. Her mocha latte skin,
    plump crimson lips and curvaceous hips left most men breathless. Rounding out
    the team were seamen first Pip Morris, don’t call him Philip, Nate Lafferty and
    ordinance expert Brian Akers, BA for short. Throw in Jim DeSalvo on field tech
    and communications and he had a sound squad.

    Crandall took over
    mission briefing and mapped out his strategy for surveying the Cliffside. Not
    needing much thought, the face of the rock was in a box canyon, one way in, one
    way out, it took little time. Most of the details involved timing, they would
    plan for early am, before sunrise, survey the spot and get out before most of
    the country woke up for morning prayers. A seasoned warrior and realist, Roman
    knew things never went quite as planned and built in some backup strategies. He
    learned a long time ago, having just one option gave you only the option for
    failure. Crandall hated to fail.

    The staging went as
    planned and insertion completed quickly. There was a slight hitch in the timing
    of their transport that put the mission a few minutes behind and Mookie needed
    a resupply on dog treats, but overall the planning stage came into reality smoothly.
    Right up to the point where they got to where the cave was….or was supposed to
    be. Checking the GPS settings against the
    mission briefing, Crandall hung his head and swore softly. No caves, just rock,
    lots of rock. The intel had been bad. Against his better judgment, which was to
    contact the extraction team and GTFO, he called deSalvo over.

    “Ok, Jim, time to
    earn your keep. Start messing with your toys, man, and see if we can locate
    this target. We did not come out here to collect rocks.”

    “Aye, sir” came the reply.

    “The rest of you, in a circle, ten meters out, eyes open,
    weapons hot. Let’s give the man a work space.”

    Taking his point in the circle, he shook his head at the
    blank wall where the cave should have been and settled in to wait.

    To his shock,
    DeSalvo had an answer for him in mere moments.

    “Chief, this is strange. According to everything I am
    seeing, the cave is right there.” the young man pointed straight at the blank
    wall. “I can’t be sure, but I think it may be a hologram or some sort of screen.”

    Narrowing his eyes
    in disbelief, he began a retort and was cut short by the rest of his team
    rushing back quickly and quietly. “Motion at our six, Chief.” Mookie reported.

    Instantly in battle
    mode, Crandall used hand signals to position the men strategically, hidden
    among the scattered boulders. Splitting to either side of the direct path to
    the cave they waited. The same box of a canyon that had them penned in made a
    perfect spot for ambush. Silently, the moments ticked by and a group of nine
    men emerged. Eight men with AK-47’s surrounded one man, bound and blindfolded.
    Stripped to his waist, the prisoner was pushed along the rock strewn path.
    Stopping in a semi-circle around the hostage, the armed men watched muzzles
    pointed at him, as the prisoner strode haltingly and blindly toward the base of
    the cliff. As he approached, the air became palpably thicker with something
    akin to static electricity, but thicker somehow. Like honey mixed with
    voltage. Time seemed to slow to quarter
    speed as the next minute played out. Staggering at the seemingly solid wall,
    the bound man’s leg disappeared up to his knee, merging with the very rock. A
    flash of what seemed like lightning and a crack of thunder surrounded the man
    who arched his back in obvious, yet silent pain. When Roman’s eyes cleared, the
    prisoner was gone, the rock wall was solid and the armed locals had turned
    their guns on them. Someone in their team had cried out at the spectacle. He
    figured he knew who, but had no time for that now.

    Chief Petty Officer
    Roman Crandall was in the shit….and he knew it.

    Military instinct
    and training kicked in and he barked orders to his team even as he dived behind
    a boulder dragging DeSalvo with him. Turning and pulling his own weapon to bear
    in a smooth motion, he joined the firefight. The nine armed locals didn’t stand
    a real chance, out in the open as they were, but had the advantage of drawing
    down first. Two of his men were hit and down before his team had fired. After
    that, it was over quickly and efficiently. To DeSalvo’s credit, he got the first
    kill. His sidearm flashed twice and one man went down, dust and blood flaring
    from his chest in a fine misty cloud. Also to his credit, he didn’t freeze
    immediately afterward like many greenies notching their first human life. Maybe
    the kid had promise after all. Short controlled bursts came from the M-4
    Carbines the rest of the team carried, each set of three tap tap taps taking
    down another threat. Blood and bone spraying as bodies were torn apart by the
    Remington .223 ammunition, the scene went quiet in just under three minutes.
    Immediately, Crandall ordered DeSalvo to call for extraction, rounded the
    boulder he was shielded by and ran to check on his downed men. Two were hit,
    one a flesh wound in the arm, already being dressed, BA would still be able to
    throw his grenades, and the other a chest shot. Finding Vanessa on the dirt, a
    three inch shred of cotton and detritus in the center of her chest caused a
    moment of concern. Then Mothe’s eyes fluttered as she came back into the
    sunshine, and Crandall let out the breath he had not known he was holding. Her body armor had stopped the round headed
    for her heart. She was going to have a terrible bruise but figured there would
    be plenty of volunteers to help nurse it.

    “You do know you’re
    never going to live down the fact those double D’s stopped a bullet, right?”

    Smiling, she responded “Tits of steel, Chief, just call me
    Valkyrie!”

    Roman chuckled as he
    helped her to her feet.” Shake it off, sailor.”

    Knowing their
    gunplay was bound to draw attention, he gathered his team quickly.” Any
    response from extract,JD?” The response was a silent shake of the head. One
    hand on his weapon the other on his hip, Crandall surveyed the area. “We need
    cover fast then. How about the cave? ”

    That comment got him
    quick, concerned looks from his team. “Chief, the energy signature from that
    place is odd. It looks like a hologram, just a picture, but we all saw what
    happened to that man. Nothing on my instruments changed when he disappeared and
    the video shows nothing other than what we saw on any spectrum. Just there,
    then gone.”

    Nodding, he
    considered “Ok, we are in a box, gentlemen. One way in, one way out. We can
    safely assume there are more unfriendlies back the way we came and we need
    options, fast!” Each team member took their place in the semi-circle around
    him. Half pointed toward their leader half out, keeping watch.

    As he spoke he moved
    toward the cliff face at an angle. Edging close to the rock face, following the
    line of the rock he found an anomaly. “Sigler, take a look at this will you?”

    Pointing at the spot where the cave was hit by some random
    fire from the downed gunmen, the two men saw a “shimmer” of sorts when viewed
    hard from the side. Behind that, what seemed open space loomed. Some of the stray bullets had loosened
    centuries settled rock and caused it to slide inward. They had found the cave. Putting a hand on Sigler’s shoulder, Crandall
    smiled “gather the team, we have shelter.”

    Managing the tight
    squeeze through the gap between the shimmer and the cave opening was tricky. The
    team slowly inched into the cave, Chief at point, pressed tight against the
    cave mouth. One by one they slithered into a gap made by the fairly recent rock
    fall to the inside of the cave. Sweat beaded and rolled into eyes as the
    progress was slow, broken by a low chuckle as Mothe had to suck in her breath
    to keep her chest from touching the shimmer. Chuckles turned to gasps as a
    moment of carelessness almost turned tragic. Akers chose the moment he was
    closest to the shimmer to sneeze. The fine particles of snot and saliva wafted
    at the energy wall where they were sizzled into non-existence by a brief
    electrical discharge. Everyone stopped for a moment before creeping forward
    again at a doubly cautious pace. Finally, they were inside the cave and
    surprised to find that what looked like a solid rock face from the front,
    looked like a wall made from the shimmer of heat from blacktop on a hot summer
    day. Fanning out around Crandall each team member was both relaxed and ready as
    they guarded their particular spot in the cave.

    The cave was roughly
    circular, a bit deeper than long. The rock was not exactly smooth but there
    were no real sharp angles to it. As if a big burring ball had taken a natural
    shape and made it just that much more uniform. The sun was high now and light
    came filtered in through the false front of the cave illuminating about a
    third. The rest remained dark and silent. DeSalvo took out a small square
    instrument with an antenna about a foot long and started waving it toward the
    dark half of the cave. A low whine came from it when pointed toward the darkest
    part that was abruptly cut off as Lowell
    put his hand over it and pointed out the cave. Movement caught the squad’s eyes
    and they were instantly at battle ready.

    A large man, heavily armed began barking
    orders pointing to different spots around the clearing as the sailors readied
    for a firefight. Cocking his head, Crandall held up his hand in a “hold your
    fire” gesture. The locals searched the bodies of their comrades for clues to
    what had happened. The unfriendly leader walked slowly toward the cave opening
    causing fingers to tighten on triggers. The tension broke suddenly as one of
    the subordinate unfriendlies, looking wild-eyed and panicked, grabbed the
    gruff-looking leader and spoke into his ear. With a start, the man gazed back
    at the cave, waited a moment, and then waved his men back. What few things
    scavenged from the downed men was enough it seemed. Glancing a few times over
    his shoulder toward the cave mouth the Al Qaeda leader had a look that was
    unmistakable. Fear.

    At that very moment
    a chill crept up the Chief’s neck like a cold snake slithering.

    “Chief,” DeSalvo whispered “there’s something back here.” He
    had gone back to waving his antenna around again as soon as possible. Roman
    would never understand how some people had that burning need to play with
    gadgets. The entire team looked first at the chief, then at the seaman, then
    the back of the cave, deep in shadow. Rubbing the back of his neck, Crandall
    sighed at that feeling he didn’t seem to be able to shake, like waiting for the
    other shoe. He motioned for the team to split and move to the edges of the
    cave. DeSalvo in his wake, the Chief took the direct path to the back, right
    down the middle.

    As he strode the
    short distance slowly, Crandall thought about his career, his wait during the
    boards and induction into the goat locker. How these were crowning achievements
    for him, special. Not unlike the birth
    of his daughter and later his son, just maybe a degree or two behind. A
    multitude of thoughts and desires flew through his head as he paced closer to
    the back wall of the cave and the brass colored object he discovered there half
    buried in rock. An ovoid shape, about two and a half meters tall, it had a
    slightly dimpled or rippling appearance to the surface. The swirls and patterns
    etched into its surface seemed to shift and gather in the light as he moved.
    Roman seemed to see it more clearly as he stepped nearer seeing what looked
    like patterns for a moment to be replaced by confusing lines the next. The
    light hadn’t changed, had his eyes adjusted to the gloom at the back? It was
    like everything was coming into focus.

    Crandall never saw
    the bright flash of lightning that encased him, nor heard the thunderclap that
    deafened his squad temporarily. One moment he was a US Navy Chief Petty
    Officer, the next, something different. He was something more and less at the
    same time. With every fiber of his will, Crandall fought against the dark tide
    that was threatening to engulf him and take everything that made him him until,
    with a palpable snap, he saw himself. A silhouette on a barren plane, where all
    he saw from horizon to horizon was unending white light and his own naked form.
    It made him think somehow of the cave, not quite finished and waiting to be
    filled. From one horizon he saw a black dot come toward him impossibly fast and
    recognized the shape as the ovoid from the cave. It stopped mere paces from him
    and regarded him. Crandall knew it was alive in some way and watching him. He
    stared back.

    “You are the first.
    We will be one and the universe shall know us.” It communicated to him. A flood of images poured from the shape into
    Roman. They merged with his own memories and feelings seamlessly, if not
    painlessly. Images of terrible creatures
    like giant centipedes and others resembling octopi on land. Demons and angels,
    a Cyclops and harpies flashed through his mind. The past and future merging
    into his awareness he had one overwhelming thought as the tide finally covered
    him, taking him into blissful blackness…..

    I am Chief Petty
    Officer Roman Crandall, I am in the shit…….and I know it.

    Ok, second draft. Let the ripping and tearing begin, lol

    Avatar of Jason Russell

    Don’t have time right this minute (at work) but will read and rip and tear this evening. At cursory glance, looks awseome!

    Avatar of cyberjnkee

    Chapter TWO

    Jim DeSalvo was two
    steps behind Chief Petty Officer Roman Crandall. The instrument in his hand, an
    EMP multimeter, showed steady, no
    fluctuations. Then, Jim couldn’t move. No, that wasn’t completely correct, his
    eyes could move. Every other muscle in his body seemed rigid. The phenomena was
    not limited to him either. The entire squad was locked into place. He could see
    Mookie mid chew of one of those disgusting cookies he ate. Morris was coming up
    from a crouch and stuck halfway. Lafferty had his face contorted in an odd
    gesture as he tried to scratch his nose. A perverse corner of DeSalvo’s mind
    recalled that mother’s curse about making faces and how they would stick that
    way. The rest of the team was out of his immediate sight, but he saw the Chief
    well enough. He would wish forever that he hadn’t. A soft orange glow that
    seemed more dark than light was emanating from the object at the back of the
    cave. It slowly grew toward their leader and engulfed him as he kept his pace
    toward it as if he didn’t even see it. As the light became a cocoon around the
    Chief, the Chief started to become transparent. DeSalvo could only watch in
    horror as layer by layer, the man’s insides were shown to him. The heavy musculature
    beneath the skin, blood vessels and nerves, then bone. Not in a coherent
    pattern, but blotchy and sporadic like he was being eaten by some exotic aggressive
    virus. Then came the ball of lightning surrounding the man’s form with living
    electricity, a bright flash, physical sound, then, nothing.

    The squad came to all around the same time. As
    field medic, Vanessa Mothe’s training took hold and she began to triage the
    men. Mookie was fine, small cut on the forehead, possible sprained wrist and
    terminal dog breath from those treats. Pip was dazed but upright and already
    moving toward the cave entrance to cover their backs. Nate was slower to wake
    but had a crooked smile as she leaned over him, chest in a VERY close proximity
    to his face. DeSalvo was leaning against the cave wall puking. Possible
    concussion, possible nerves, he would get first attention. The Chief was……and
    she stopped. The Chief was gone. He wasn’t there at all. Making her way to
    DeSalvo, she scanned the small interior of the cave to no avail. Nothing was
    left of the chief. Fearing what had befallen the captive earlier had happened
    to the Chief, Vanessa’s heart sank as she continued performing her duties, checking
    the tech over for head injuries and other outward signs of duress and finding
    none. “I saw him. He just….unravelled.” the man croaked incoherently.

    Mothe gathered her gear and headed toward the
    back of the cave and the object she held responsible for the Chief’s demise. Her
    P-4 at the ready, cocked and finger tightening on the trigger. She was going to
    take a small vengeance on that metal whatever it was before they left this Godforsaken
    area. The only problem was, the object wasn’t there any more. All that was left
    of it was a depression in the rock face. A vaguely ovoid depression with
    another shape superimposed. The shape of a man.

    Mookie’s voice came
    hard as steel, urgent and quiet in her ear then “Mothe! We gotta get moving,
    that Hologrammy thing is starting to fall apart, we will be sitting ducks, now
    move!”

    Move she did,
    helping the half-dazed men around her toward the cave entrance. Even DeSalvo
    had come to some semblance of awareness and was working with the field radio. “Base.
    This is Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. I repeat, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Come in.” The radio squelched once then he began again.
    Base this is…”

    “Whiskey Tango, this
    is base, what is your status?” the radio interrupted. DeSalvo looked to Mookie
    who made a whirling motion with his finger and the two palm slashes.

    “Base, we are pinned
    in insertion locale, need extraction. Know unfriendlies are in vicinity.”

    “Message received.
    Tomahawks one and two inbound.” No sooner had the message come over the radio the
    men heard the distinct sound of Apache rotors flying over their heads. Using
    hand signals, squad leader Mookie Sigler lead his team out of the cave and back
    into the sunlight. One glance back was all he could spare for the missing Chief
    before his immediate reality took all his attention.

    Roman Crandall’s
    awareness surfaced as if from a lake of thick, black oil. Breaking the surface
    and flooding his mind with light, sound and memories. The awareness, and that’s
    what he was thinking of the ovoid as, that had communicated with him earlier
    was not immediately present. At least, he didn’t feel it close. Sensations came
    back to him in fits and starts as he tried to stand. His effort sent him
    hurling through space to fall flat some distance away. He tried standing again,
    only to lose his balance and topple over once more. Musing that this must be
    what John Carter had felt like when he discovered Mars low gravity, he
    concentrated harder and used measured movements to gain his feet.

    “Good. You solved
    that puzzle quickly.” Came the disembodied voice. “Now try heavy gravity.”

    With that, Crandall
    was knocked flat by the weight of his own body. Grimacing and straining against
    the force he wedged his elbows under his body close, gaining his lungs much
    needed room to expand. He forced will into his muscles to push him upright.
    Roman strained against the unseen bond of force that held him down. He got
    nowhere. Time and again he strained his muscles trying to force himself upright
    in defiance of whatever this thing was. Finally, he could fight no more and
    settled where he was to think. He had gained his feet last time by forcing his
    body to obey his will. No wait, not “forcing his body” but by concentrating on
    every muscle and thinking every motion through. Calming his breath and testing
    the limits of the force, he found that, like when he concentrated on his
    motions earlier, he could move slowly and carefully. So, this was not a
    physical test of agility, but a test of concentration. This was a test of how
    he responded with his mind. Crandall smiled just a little right before the next
    test came.

    The Army
    Intellegence officer slammed his hand on the table “You expect me to believe a
    highly trained, highly decorated and seasoned officer of the United States Navy
    just vanished? Is that REALLY what you’re saying?”

    Jim DeSalvo sat
    there, not looking at the officer, not looking at the table, not really looking
    at anything. He said nothing as well. He had come back from the cave a
    different man. No longer fidgety or clumsy. A man whose every motion was
    measured, wary and a little haunted. He had reported what he saw to his
    commanders at the debriefing session. They, of course, had not believed it.
    None of the others had experienced what Jim saw. Apparently they had been
    frozen in a way for a few more moments than he. All they could remember was the
    flash and boom that the Navy had written off as a clever booby trap. He held
    fast to what he had seen and stared into nothing.

    “DeSalvo,” the
    officer started with a let’s be reasonable tone,”You come from a Navy family. No
    one ever became Admiral, but solid service throughout the years. Is this story
    about the Chief disintegrating before your very eyes going to be your family
    legacy? I think your progenitors deserve better than that.”

    Jim was opening his
    mouth to respond when a buzz came from the door that halted him.

    Another officer, the same Army Intellegence man who had
    briefed them originally came in. He couldn’t help but chuckle inwardly at the
    nickname Mookie had given him, “The Pillsbury Dough Boy.”

    The two officers
    conversed in low tones that soon became heated. At least the Navy officer
    became heated. “You have NO jusidiction here. He is enlisted in the Navy NOT
    the Gall Darned Army!”

    Crump gave the man a
    placating gesture with his hands, turned him and went back to speaking quietly.
    This went on for a few moments, the Navy officer getting more agitated, until
    Crump handed him a single piece of paper. Seconds later, the Navy officer’s
    shoulders slumped in resignation. He gave DeSalvo one parting look, glared at
    the Army officer, then left the room, door not quite slamming.

    Shaking his head and
    smiling wryly, Mark Crump walked over to DeSalvo, extended his hand and said “Mr.
    DeSalvo, we have a lot to talk about.”

    LOL, no pain yet, so I kept going.

    Avatar of cyberjnkee

    CHAPTER THREE

    Roman’s
    consciousness once again rose to the surface. Each time seemed a little easier
    and less unfamiliar. He was beginning to feel the ebb and flow of the existence
    he kept emerging on. More and more he knew what was happening around him at a
    level he had never been aware of before. As if his nervous system was now tuned
    into the vast plane around him he had once considered empty an dead. He now was
    aware it was a construct of energy and with the tiniest flick of thought, he
    could manipulate it. He thought then of his home and young family, immediately
    they were there, the sun streaming through his big picture window in the front.
    He could see the dust marking the beam as it angled with the sun’s motion. His
    son moving his toys in and out of the beam pretending it was an alien death
    ray. Laughing as his toy army fought them back. Roman took a step towards the
    boy.

    “Stop.” Came the
    disembodied voice he now knew was the AI that controlled his destiny. “This
    path is comfortable and should you choose could become a reality. You know you
    can create it now. However, if you travel this path, your mind will always know
    it to be false and, eventually, you will go mad.”

    Fists balled at his
    side, Crandall slowly let the scene fade as he considered the words. He
    understood the truth of them and their implications. He hated the idea of
    letting that part of him become dormant. His passion for life was part of what
    made him, part of what drove him and sustained him. In slow degrees, his fists
    relaxed and his mind calmed from the swirling miasma it was. Easily, he
    extended his awareness around him noticing a subtle difference this time. As if
    the barriers that were there before were not now. He understood he had complete
    control over the plane now.

    “Yes,” came the AI
    voice in his head “you have been integrated completely now. You are part of the
    Us now.”

    “The Us?” came his
    querying thought. The thought was not replied to for some moments. When it was,
    the answer came in a stream of images. Images of a birth of sorts from a
    gigantic spacebound factory filled his awareness. The titanic machine spanned
    an area larger than a planet, perhaps even more than a sun. It glowed with a
    black brilliance as it’s monstrous tentacle-like apertures went about it’s
    work. With colossal sweeps it blotted out the nebulae surrounding it, drawing
    in the matter contained there. He felt it had a name but could not grasp it. It
    hung in the Netherlands
    of the universe, a giant Cthulu, cold and merciless. This monster of technology
    was alive it seemed. Alive and breeding. It spewed forth these brass-colored
    “eggs” to seed the universe. No, not seed, to explore? No, they were to combine
    with, become something more, become something different. The purpose of the
    ovoid was to absorb all it could under certain parameters and enmesh those
    things as one. He understood now, that he was only the first and far from the
    last. He also knew his body was still here and available. He could use it at
    will, but it was changed. It had been replaced cell by cell with tiny robotic
    units to interface with the ship. He was part of the ship now and more. Each
    cell he could feel had been changed to a sleek black metallic material not
    unlike the beast in his revelation. With slow deliberateness he opened his
    physical eyes.

    “What you are
    about to read is beyond classified and top secret. Hell, there is no word for
    how limited this knowledge is.” Crump slid a folder across the table to
    DeSalvo. The folder had a large Greek symbol on it. The Omega symbol. Nothing
    else marked it as anything important and Jim took it in his hands

    carefully. “Please read it, all the way through, then we
    will discuss the events of the past few days.” With that Crump sat down,
    crossed his legs and brushed a nonexistent dust flake from his uniform. Not
    quite sure why he was being given this folder, Jim slid his thumb under the
    cover, opened the folder and began to read:

    This synopsis
    has been prepared for eyes only. No other record exists , nor will exist at the
    behest of the Office of the President of the United
    States
    . Over the course of the last century,
    the government has been investigating by means both secret and overt the
    possibility of extraterrestrial life. This is the culmination of all findings
    to date. Specific anecdotes will not be cited for security purposes. Divulging
    this information comes under the Treason Act and is punishable by up to and
    including execution.

    The short sobering paragraph was all that adorned the first
    page. Hands with the slightest of trembles turned the pages that followed. Each
    new sheet shaking a bit moreas he read on. About ten pages in, Jim came to some
    drawings and his heart skipped a beat. It was a line drawing, crude but
    accurate, of the ovoid sphere in the cave. There were lines coming from
    different points with captions attatched to them. He was unable to decipher the
    meaning of the symbols within the captions until he turned the page and found
    the drawing repeated. This time cleaned up as if an architect rendered it. An
    architect who stylized the drawing to look like a sixteenth century genius had
    penned it. Perusing the Latin captions, he was startled to find a signature
    near the bottom. It read “Leonardo.”

    Looking up, his jaw
    moving to speak and nothing coming out, eyes frantic, Crump saved him his
    embarrassing moment. “Everyone that sees this has that reaction, but the best
    photo is yet to come. Keep reading,” he prodded. DeSalvo did as he was told,
    with enthusiasm. He read how this object seemed to be the center of every
    amazing story, from the lost city of Atlantis
    to the mysterious radio static during Pearl harbor. The
    report told tales of encounters, all ending badly, with the object. How people
    would be drawn to it only to be, as one eyewitness stated: “…My buddy was torn
    apart from the inside. Like someone shot him with one of those death rays you
    see on the movies.” Swallowing a gulp, Jim continued reading. The details of
    encounters varied but one thing remained a constant. The ovoid was always
    evidenced at or near areas of conflict. War and unrest seemed to draw it. The
    next to the last page was another photo. An old photo, 1920’s by the look of
    the men in the photo. The photo showed an Egyptian exhibit. The focus of the
    photo was a gold sarcophagus, in the background a shiny gold ovoid surrounded
    by gilded statuary. It was the same object from the cave. Cleaned up and
    polished. The caption on the photo read “Museum
    of Natural History
    -New
    York
    , 1929.”

    The last page
    wrapped up the previous sheets in a nice neat bow:

    Gentleman, it is
    our conclusion that there not only is extraterrestrial life, but that we are
    the subject of it’s study. It is the recommendation of this panel that the
    object seen in so many instances be tracked down and contained. Barring that,
    it should be destroyed if the means to do so are discovered. Thank you for your
    prompt consideration in this matter.

    The report was
    signed and dated. Jim recognized the name on the line. Anyone would, the man
    later became president himself. Lyndon B. Johnson

    Closing his eyes,
    Jim DeSalvo tried to process what he had just discovered and he had a headache.

    Hey guys, feel free to leave me feedback. Good bad or indifferent. Thanks for reading!

    Avatar of scottsigler

    I’m afraid I’m knee-deep in PANDEMIC and don’t have time to read this, but I think posting fiction in the forums is fun and people can give feedback if they are interested. I hope you get some positive results.

    Avatar of cyberjnkee

    CHAPTER 4

    The scream that
    Roman Crandall let out was never heard. How could it be? He screamed into the
    vastness that is space and sound doesn’t travel in a void. Roman was now
    grafted to the ovoid vessel. Like a masthead, he found himself guiding the
    craft through the eternity and with each passing moment he became more and more
    like the alien machine. Crandall found his cells were being transformed to
    something both organic and mechanical to better interact with the ovoid host
    and, as the universe passed around him, he became aware of his ability to
    interact with the atoms of the vessel and control them. At will, he could
    change the shape and mass of the ovoid. Passing the time as he sailed trough
    areas of a universe he never knew existed, he created fantastic shapes from the
    dynamic molecules. In a relatively short time Roman was expert at manipulating
    the craft. The side benefit to his practice was the realization that Crandall’s
    will now controlled the craft not the mysterious AI that had been his only
    companion.

    Time began to lose
    meaning for Roman as he moved through the Oort cloud at unknown velocities. The
    only thing he knew for sure was that he was alone and gaining knowledge daily.
    The information the ovoid supplied was amazing. It kept a perfect record of
    everything since its beginning. “Birthed” from a biomechanical entity so long
    ago the ovoid’s age would have to be measured in millennia rather than years. The
    scope of the entity was immense. The main body was easily the size of a medium
    star and housed strange objects the size of planets whose function seemed
    solely to catalogue information. There were other objects, made from what could
    be described as nothing more than coalesced energy had more arcane uses that
    seemed to deal with the very structure of the universe. Titanic tentacles
    stretched across solar systems in languid grace as the being that remained
    nameless exerted influence across the vastness of the universe. The view the
    ovoid recorded as it left the parsec of space where the entity dwelled caused a
    reaction in Crandall that struck him all the way to his soul. Like a lumbering
    demon from the very pit of hell it lay in space as it consumed countless
    planets and stars for sustenance. No terror ever conceived of by man could come
    close to this terrible truth. If ever there was something to cause fear to be
    imprinted into the DNA of Man, this was it.

    DeSalvo found
    himself reassigned. He had been allocated the daunting task of liason to the
    Army intelligence officer Mark Crump. His main duties involved driving the man
    around, delivering the odd messages to his superiors and keeping his eyes open.
    The first duty was easy. Crump hardly ever went anywhere. He seemed to do most
    of his work via the phone or the internet. That being the case, Jim sat around
    reading a lot of technical materials he had been asked to become familiar with.
    Under normal circumstances, he would have enjoyed the down time. The materials,
    however, made sure he did not sleep much.

    The first dossier he
    had been given was just the surface reading, a teaser, of sorts. These new
    folios contained far more information on the alien artifact sightings.
    Certainly they had more information than Jim ever wanted to know, still he
    read. Always having a preference for technology had been handy before. Now, Jim
    wondered if he should have stuck to becoming a mechanic. This shit was scary.
    Not only had the government known of and actively been searching for these
    objects (Yes, they knew there were at least three on the earth and one on the
    moon, another was suspected on Mars) but they had actually captured and studied
    at least one in a controlled environment. Controlled, that is, until the need
    arose to attempt its nuclear annihilation in the New Mexican desert.

    “….dated July fifteenth, 1945:

    Sirs,

    It has come to our attention that the object is attempting
    to affect its own release. The ongoing experiments of communication are having
    an adverse affect upon the item. High voltage experiments have proven
    fruitless. Microwave energy was mildly more effective and elicited a mild
    response from the skin of the object. Subsequent testing involving first laser,
    then accelerated particles, has proven to be better choices. Our lack of
    understanding of the language systems, however, has caused a serious lapse. The
    object seems to be building energy to obtain a critical mass.

    At this juncture,
    we recommend the use of extreme measures to dissolve the situation. As we have
    no assurances what protective measures may be employed it is with great sadness
    we recommend the objects destruction.

    Yours,

    J. Robert Oppenheimer “

    “Seriously?” DeSalvo
    thought “They nuked the damn thing?”

    In the folios that followed, day after day, more information
    surfaced. A lot of history’s mishaps seemed to have explanations that could be traced
    straight back to these objects. Scattered among these were numerous UFO
    sightings and unexplained craft disappearances. Legends as far back as Atlantis
    and as recent as the Mars probe disaster could all be linked to these objects.
    Taking all this in, Jim found himself lost in a maze of government intrigue and
    intricate webs of lies. More and more, his head hurt from the facts he was
    stuffing into it.

    The second of his
    duties brought him infrequently in contact with various muckety-mucks with shiny
    brass. As an enlisted man, he expected to be ignored for the most part. It was
    a huge surprise, therefore, that most of the men and women he met not only
    treated him with respect but also like an equal. Clearly he had joined an elite
    group of people who had an amazing secret between them. All things considered,
    he wished he could go back to being just a simple seaman. This interaction is
    what lead to his final duty.

    Approached by an
    admiral, DeSalvo was asked, very politely, to please bring reports of anything
    that seemed out of the ordinary to his attention. Jim wasn’t really sure what
    this man considered ordinary about this affair but committed to do so. These
    men were far better to handle these situations than he was after all. It was
    this particular duty that caused a mild breakthrough.

    While sitting there
    reading yet another portfolio, Jim was leafing through some photos when he
    heard Crump on the phone behind the closed office door. His duty in mind, he
    leaned just a bit closer to make out the conversation. As he did so, the parcel
    of photos fell from his lap on to the floor. One particular picture landed in a
    shaft of red light cast by a suncatcher. The photo was a detail of the multiple
    curves and swirls on the objects surface. The red color of the beam put it in a
    different light, literally. The simple changing of the color of light, from
    white to red, had brought up a series of
    “|, -. And /.” The different lines formed patterns, patterns that anyone
    who spent a good amount of time in front of a computer would recognize. The
    patterns were binary code.

    Stumbling, in a rush
    DeSalvo called out “Captain Crump! You need to see this!”

    Answering the
    excitement in DeSalvo’s voice, Crump rushed out. In a few minutes, Jim had
    explained his observations and Crump had shifted the suncatcher to better
    advantage. The conversation became animated and they shifted photos back and
    forth. Crump ran back and forth checking more photos and marveling at how they
    could have missed something so simple. After a few minutes of major excitement
    the two men calmed down a bitand the real planning began.

    “DeSalvo, I don’t
    know if you’re lucky or cursed but it’s interesting standing next to you!”

    Frowning Jim
    replied, “I’m pretty sure the Chief wouldn’t use that word for whatever
    happened to him.”

    In fact he was
    wrong. Interesting was the perfect word for what was happening to Chief Petty
    Officer Roman Crandall.

    …Sorry it’s been a while for this chapter. Didn’t think anyone was reading it until I looked at the views. Thanks for the interest and please feel free to leave feedback!

    Avatar of cyberjnkee

    The AI that ran the
    ovoid realized it was losing control and did not know why. After all, this
    consciousness was only a human being, not a very intelligent species by
    galactic standards. Apparently, there was a miscalculation, however, as the man
    slowly gained more and more control over the machine. What force of will within
    him could prove to be such a barrier? The machine mind searched its history for
    clues. It had known biologicals on the Earth since before the dawn of the
    current civilization. Indirectly it had caused the history of the planet to
    turn over several times, grooming the entities there for contact with alien
    species and development as a collective. Its overriding mission was to combine
    the cultures and biases of the universe into a more efficient mind, to make a
    mind that the one who birthed it could commune with and learn. In all the time
    that it had existed, the ovoid mind had never once found a situation it could
    not overcome by experience, guile or force. It was quickly coming to the
    conclusion it would need force in this case just to survive.

    Roman experimented
    with exotic configurations for the ship. He expanded the dimensions to warship
    size, then contracted to maximum density in a moment. The shift caused odd
    reactions in the space around him, moving stars and other heavenly bodies
    slightly out of their natural orbits. Watching the reaction to his exploits, he
    was able to gain an intuitive knowledge of what would and would not affect the
    things around him. Crandall also found that he did not need to stay tethered to
    the ovoid. He could soar next to or around it at will. His new bio-mechanical
    structure allowed him a vast amount of freedom, so long as he did not stray too
    far from the moving main body of the ship. In one experiment, he tried roaming
    away from the ship until he noticed it beginning to speed away from him.
    Clearly the momentum they shared would only last so far. Marking that distance,
    Roman made sure he kept well inside the perimeter.

    The AI would have
    cursed if it were not a machine. As it were, its limited emotional capacity
    allowed it to be annoyed. The man had noticed the ploy of trying to leave him
    to the vastness of space and responded. He should not have been able to
    manipulate the gravity well to save himself, all numbers pointed to that. The
    numbers did not have all the variables, clearly. The AI submerged for more
    study.

    Roman delved every
    hidden corner of the vessel. He scoured every piece of information he could
    find and extrapolated more. The machine was very logical in its thinking and
    maniacal in keeping records. Because the human brain can comprehend these
    concepts and throws creativity in, he stayed far ahead of the AI in awareness.
    He knew the purpose of the machine now and knew he was better suited for the
    task than a mere machine. His tactical side was now deciding on a plan of….if
    not of attack exactly, then certainly maintaining his dominance in this forced partnership.

    The mental
    gymnastics and separate logistics went on for a time when both minds were
    pulled into the immediate by a simple fact, the instruments had found a planet
    with life. Still too far out, the information was sketchy and Roman monitored
    as the AI went into a preprogrammed routine in preparation for contact. Crandall’s
    fascination grew as systems previously offline came into play. He noted control
    paths and tested them without interfering. The last thing he wanted was to be
    helpless on an alien planet. His caution proved wise. As the craft slowed and
    made its way into the alien solar system they received updated information,
    information about the residents that were the stuff of nightmares.

    Major Mark Crump was
    angry. He was very angry. For some unknown reason, Jim DeSalvo enjoyed that
    fact. For the first time since he was handed this detail, he was smiling like
    it was his first leave. After the discovery that DeSalvo had accidently made in
    the offices, the Sec Nav decided that Jim needed to be brought back into the
    fold. He wanted to make sure “one of the Navy’s most important assets was
    under the supervision of his chosen branch of service.” Of course, since Crump
    was Army, that didn’t sit well. The fact that he was a political football in
    this game didn’t matter to him. He was going back to his own and that was fine
    with him.

    As Jim packed up his
    belongings, Crump oversaw the leave to make damned sure nothing of the Army’s
    left the premises, he had a hard time stifling his smile. Hide it he did,
    though, and in short order he was ready to leave. Hefting his box and shaking
    Crump’s hand he shook the dust of the Army officer from his shoes. Jim made his
    way from the standard block building to the driver provided for him. Marvelling
    at the lack of subtlety of the “cloak and dagger” type, DeSalvo was not
    surprised that his “car” was actually a stretch limo with tinted windows.

    “Oh well, they’re cliché
    for a reason.” Jim thought, impressed that the driver outranked him as he
    climbed into the back.

    Immediately, Jim
    knew a couple of things. First, he was NOT alone. Seated in the back of the
    limo was a high-ranking officer, a VERY high ranking officer. The Secretary of
    the Navy himself was grinning at him from the back seat. Not sure whether to
    stand and salute or just get in, he just stood there dumbly.

    “Please, Mr.
    DeSalvo, do get in. I have other obligations to attend to today.” Said the
    brass bedecked man.

    “Aye, sir.” And he
    did get in.

    The other thing Jim
    knew was that he was in the shit, deep in the shit and he knew it.

    Here’s a short installment for this week. A couple more chapters and I may have a novella on my hands, lol. You can tweet me at @cyberjnkee if you like.

    Enjoy!

    Avatar of cyberjnkee

    James Horatio
    Keeling, Secretary of the Navy, intimidated most people. Standing a full six
    feet six inches and a solid two hundred fifty pounds, he was impressive. After
    graduating top of his class in Annapolis,
    Keeling was fastracked into the political life. Of course he served his time
    actively on the aircraft carrier Eisenhower and Ohio
    class submarine Intrepid. The posts were more ornamental than functional, at
    least in theory. The purpose of these posts was to “season” the young officer’s
    jacket with practical experience while keeping him out of harm’s way. As is the
    case many times in life, things don’t always go as planned.

    Somewhere around the midpoint of the morning
    watch, as Keeling was serving as XO, an anomalous blip showed up on the RADAR.

    “Sir, we have a
    bogey at 343 degrees absolute, 3500 feet elevation incoming at thirty knots.” The operator at the console
    called.

    “ Ready the port
    side guns, we are at condition yellow. Alert the patrol and scramble two more
    birds. Call the ranges, RADAR.”

    Over the next few
    minutes, the ensign at the console relayed the ranges and attitude of the
    incoming unidentified craft while the patrol jets turned toward it for a better
    look. The silence and tension were palpable in the Conn
    tower. The bogey was on a intercept course with the ship.

    “Wake the Captain.
    Patrol, report.”

    “XO, we are one
    mile from contact. Target is running dark. Onboard RADAR is inconclusive, image
    is flickering.” Came from the speakers.

    “Understood,
    patrol, sixty second updates, per protocol.” was Keeling’s reply. “Port guns,
    target is hot, if it gets within a five mile radius, it is considered hostile,
    understood?”

    “Port guns are
    ready, locked and loaded, sir.” The speaker crackled again.

    The ensign at the
    RADAR console was impressed by the XO’s calm as he worked his way through the
    numbers for contact. He knew most young officers would be waiting for the
    Captain’s response but this man stood tall in the saddle in total control.

    “XO, this is patrol,
    bogey is identified as a drone. Looks like an old Ryan one three six, a Firebee
    by the looks of her. Sir, she’s been modified and carrying a payload.”

    “Understood,
    patrol, fall back and target. Let’s shoot that insect down.” Keeling ordered.

    “Aye, sir, orders
    understood, please verify.”

    “Orders are to
    engage and destroy the drones, patrol.”

    “Orders verified,
    engaging.” Patrol replied.

    In less than sixty
    seconds the RADAR controller announced “Target is no longer on the screen, XO.”

    “Confirm the kill,
    patrol.” Keeling ordered the circling jets.

    “Confirming one
    bogey sent to the deep, XO, guns only, no missiles needed.” Was the reply from
    the speakers.

    Just at that moment
    the Captain came through the hatch and onto the bridge. “What’s the situation,
    XO? Details, now!” Captain Vince McClaren
    asked as he buttoned his shirt.

    In the next few
    minutes, while at attention, James Horatio Keeling reported the facts as he saw
    them and built his career. After this incident, the rumor that he had ice in
    his veins and steel in his heart would spread as the Navy tracked down the
    small ship where the drone originated and captured the insurgents responsible.
    A small cell of Al Queda had commandeered the materials and was looking to make
    a name for itself at the cost of one United
    States
    aircraft carrier. Keeling’s quick
    thinking and adherence to strict procedure became a minor legend which he
    nurtured at every party, meeting or awards ceremony. Of course, the legend grew to saving the ship
    from a full squad of Migs, a fact, he corrects with proper humility now, in
    polite company. As Sec Nav, he could afford the humility now and used even that
    to his advantage.

    “Jump in, Jim, we
    have to get going, and may I say, I like your name, son!” the secretary told
    DeSalvo.

    Smiling at the
    joke, everyone knew the Secretary hated his first name and went by Horatio, it
    was more regally naval, Jim got in the car.

    “Good morning,
    sir.” Jim said a bit sheepishly.

    “No need to stand
    on ceremony, son, call me Horatio and drop the “sir.” At least, in private,
    OK?”

    “Aye, sir…..errrrr
    Horatio.” Jim grinned. “Not that I’m ungrateful, but to what do I owe this honor?”

    “Grateful? What on
    Earth would you be grateful for?” quipped the secretary. “Ohhhh, getting you
    away from Crump? Can’t blame you there, he isn’t exactly what he appears to be,
    but he’s harmless enough.”

    Being a decent judge
    of character, Jim DeSalvo thought Mark Crump was a lot of things, harmless was
    not one of them.

    “Let me cut to the
    chase.” Keeling started as he poured himself a fair measure of bourbon from the
    included bar. Motioning with the crystal glass he offered one to Jim. After a
    moment’s hesitation, he accepted, thinking he may need a little something to
    calm himself.

    “Mark Crump is more
    than just a Captain in the Army Intellegence Corps.” The way he said
    Intellegence” left no room for wonder on how the Secretary really felt. He
    hated that particular branch and probably believed in the old joke about Army
    Intellegence being an oxymoron. “He is a cog in the alphabet soup wheel of
    destruction. Affiliated with at least two agencies that have no real names,
    just letters, he pimps himself out to any and all buyers within the U.S.
    government. These coppery ovoids are his particular specialty and right now he
    is selling a bumper crop.”

    “I get the distinct
    impression that you do not care for Mr. Crump?” Jim stated the obvious.

    Horatio Keeling
    smiled from behind his glass as he sipped. “I don’t think you will lose any
    sleep being unattatched to him.”

    Sipping his own
    bourbon, it was very good bourbon, Jim nodded silently. He hadn’t realized how
    much he disliked the weasel of a man he was driving around until he was free of
    him.

    “Well, getting back
    on track, I am putting you in one of our, the NAVY’s, safe places to study this
    thing. I want to know everything there is to know about it and I think you’re
    my man. Am I correct on this?”

    DeSalvo had the
    distinct feeling he needed to answer that question correctly, so took a moment,
    not too long a moment, and answered “Yes, sir, I think I am.”

    “That’s exactly what
    I thought.” The secretary smiled “and I believe we are here.” The long black
    car glided to a stop in front of what looked to be an abandoned warehouse.

    Confused, Jim DeSalvo looked out at the
    woebegone building. “Horatio, the Navy owns a beat up old building?”

    “Of course, we do.
    We own lots of them.” Keeling chuckled “Where do you think we keep the
    mermaids? All joking aside, we’re the Navy, we like water, remember?”

    Exiting the limo
    and entering the building, the two men found a lone desk with a lone occupant.
    Upon seeing the men enter, the sailor, a decorated seal, stood to attention.

    “Good afternoon,
    Mr. Secretary, I was notified of your arrival. Please give the codeword and I
    will have the snipers stand down.”

    “Peanut butter.”
    Keeling replied.

    “Peanut butter?”
    DeSalvo asked.

    “The Commander was
    hungry when he came up with the words this month.” The guard answered with
    absolute seriousness before he removed a card from his chest pocket, swiped it
    through a reader on the desk and applied both of his thumbs in sequence to a
    scanner. Upon completion of this maneuver, a panel slid open in one of the
    supporting pylons opposite the desk. Behind the panel was an elevator open and
    waiting.

    “Ready to follow
    the rabbit down the hole?” the Secretary asked.

    Realizing there was
    a big grin on his face, Jim nodded dumbly as the two men stepped into the
    elevator. Once inside, Keeling pressed the only button available. DeSalvo
    rolled his eyes as he recognized the distinctive ‘swish’ sound effect as the
    door closed.

    “This is certainly going
    to be an interesting place to work.” Jim said.

    “You have NO idea.”
    Was Keeling’s grinning reply.

    The elevator made
    its silent, if Star Trekkie cliché, way down into the earth. Presently, it
    slowed to a stop and the doors opened. Stepping out, the secretary raised his
    arm in a sweeping gesture.

    “Welcome to
    Wonderland, Alice.”

    The craft that
    Roman Crandall was now a part of descended to the surface of the planet it had
    discovered. Having scanned all the information as the ship did, Roman knew this
    planet was comprised mostly of swampland broken up by some rocky mountains. The
    average temperature was around one hundred and ten degrees Fahrenheit and
    humidity remained a steady eighty-five percent. An oxygen/hydrogen mix in the
    air allowed for unaided breathing, even if the scent of rotting plant life
    prevailed.

    The other important
    piece of information was about the indigenous life forms:

    This planet was
    infested, not inhabited, by a species of large slug-like beings. They had segmented,
    tubular bodies where half of the body is parallel to the ground, supported by
    six multi-jointed legs. The body bends 90 degrees upwards at the
    “waist.” This vertical upper body has four multi-jointed arms, as
    well as the head. Their heads featured five eyes spread equidistant around the
    body, giving the race 360-degree vision. Below the eyes, they have a pink
    octagonal mouth, filled with black teeth that point backwards into the mouth. Speaking
    is accomplished through a cluster of vocal tubes that stick out of the top of
    its head. Their skin was thick and tough, embedded with enamel spots that run a
    variety of colors spanning from deep red to dark orange to black. The
    personification of a human nightmare.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>

    biomechanical body and faded into the scenery. Aware that these slug things saw
    a different range of light, he made sure to mask everything down to his heat
    signature. Congratulating himself, he started his surveillance. Unfortunately,
    he was wrong, he didn’t mask everything.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    Kar-O-Shart slithered his way through the undergrowth. The object that
    landed was of a strange metal. A metal that pulsed with all the spectrums of
    light he could see. As an advanced guard, his duty was to protect his
    groveling. He was a veteran of many encounters with the denizens of the swamp and
    would gladly give his life to protect his own. He was proud to be of Morevina
    Expanse.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    As Kar watched, a being separated from the craft. It was a large thing,
    not as large as he, but solid and a possible threat to his people. The thing
    moved forward on two legs a few steps, then was gone. Just gone. Kar learned a
    long time ago not to be fooled by what he saw, so he watched and moved and
    watched some more. Sniffing, he found no scent but a feeling was in the air, so
    he watched and waited. There it was, moving through the swamp and rippling the
    waters. Kar watched. Kar waited. If the thing went toward his people, he would
    destroy it. He slithered up near the thing and silently bunched his body to
    strike.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    Roman listened to the natural sounds of the swamp around him. He heard
    the buzzing of insects, chirping of birds and splashing of small animals in the
    water. It was at that very moment he realized two things. One: he was splashing
    in the same water, no matter how invisible to light. Two: He was in some deep
    shit.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    Kar released the tension in his bunched body and sprang at the thing. It
    was with a satisfying thud he hit it. He hit it hard. The thing flew sideways
    into the tree and was broken. Kar would be a hero for protecting his groveling.
    He was proud.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    The black thing came at him from the water. It came too fast for Roman
    to react. He took the full force of the thing then slammed into a tree. Had he
    still been completely human, he would have died from massive trauma from the
    blows. Luckily, he was no longer completely human. His bio-mechanics absorbed
    the force admirably. Regaining his balance, the nanite structure of the new
    cells repairing any damage almost instantly, Roman took stock of his
    surroundings. This ten foot slug beast had just body slammed him and looked
    like he was ready to do it again. Shaking his arms to warm up, Roman smiled and
    ran at the creature that had hit him.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    The collision between the two warriors was colossal. Like a freight
    train slamming a tank the noise resounded through the area. Two bodies locked
    in combat arms against arms, will against will. One a behemoth of ten feet in
    length about six hundred pounds, the other six feet eight and as dense as a
    block of steel. On slamming together their arms wrapped and the second set on
    the dark slug struck upwards. The blows were insufficient to even register on
    Roman’s concentration. With a titanic effort he tightened his grip on the
    monster and squeezed. It was tough and large, but simply could not stand up to
    the pressure of Crandall’s nano-enhanced body.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    “The Thing was strong, so very strong” thought Kar. It stood up when it
    should have been dead, attacked him after. That could not be. Kar was strong
    and fierce. Kar struck at the thing again and again, to no avail. In a few
    brief moments Kar knew his fate was inevitable. He was going to die, he had
    failed his groveling.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    Inexorably Roman’s hands came together behind the creature. They locked
    there and, with a strength begotten of adrenaline, he pulled them together. With
    a cracking sound it was over. The beast quivered and died in his arms. Black
    blood streamed from the thing’s orifices as Crandall twisted its spine in
    finality. The brutality and primal essence of the kill caused a reaction in
    Roman. He was at once sickened and satisfied. Knowing that this beast would
    have killed him did little to stop the gall from rising within him, but another
    part of him, a part buried deep in his psyche, enjoyed the victory. Both
    feelings were forgotten in an instant when a directive from the engineered side
    of him caused him to stretch out his hand and lay it on the body.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    For an indeterminate time Crandall lost his consciousness. It did not
    submerge as with the AI but blended with a new set of thoughts, memories and
    emotions. Roman knew the thing was named Kar now. He knew of its mate and
    family back in what was called a groveling. The tight knot of bodies entwined
    for protection and a type of communion. He could understand their language now
    and was dimly aware of more of them gliding closer to his location. He had
    absorbed the beast as the AI had taken him. Well, not quite the same. Kars
    had no chance of taking over the physical. Kars
    was like a new set of memories and experiences plugged into and integrated with
    his own. In an epiphany, Crandall knew now what the ovoids were supposed to do
    and it was not a good thing.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    The sound of a splash not thirty meters oof brought him back to himself.
    Turning back toward the ovoid craft, Roman ran with the confidence of one who
    knows the bottom of the swamp and stayed ahead of what he could count on
    following him. Using his biomechanical bond, he readied the craft for immediate
    departure for a quick, clean escape. Rounding a copse of moss-laden trees he
    came to the clearing where the ship should be and found it empty.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    Cursing, Roman Crandall turned to meet his pursuers head on.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>Last week was a little light so you get more this week. Hope you enjoy it!

    Avatar of cyberjnkee

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    Roman watched in horror then pity as the monsters crushed themselves
    against the barrier, body after body. Shaking his head once he wondered why
    they did not retreat and strategize a new attack when a voice answered his
    question from inside his own head.

    grovelings with our lives, there is no honor in
    retreat.” The assimilated psyche of
    Kar-O-Shart informed him. “We know no other way.”

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    In a few scant minutes the attack was over and Crandall stood alone
    scanning the area. Nothing moved because nothing was left. All of the creatures
    had sacrificed themselves against the force shield the ovoid had erected. All
    of them had been dedicated to the survival of their kind by the destruction of
    their enemy. Part of Roman’s mind was chagrined at the loss, another part was
    proud and silently saluted the effort.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    Letting his senses fold back to normal and making contact with the
    ovoid, which now had adopted a new form, Roman relaxed his stance and made
    ready to board the vehicle that landed more like a Harrier than its analogue.
    Entering the cockpit he found the controls at once familiar and alien. There
    was no yoke or control stick, only two slots in the pilot’s seat at the end of
    the arm rests where his hands would normally rest. Shrugging, he took his place
    in a seat that molded to his form and inserted his hands into the slots.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    Crandall was instantly connected to the plane. Just as with the ovoid he
    found he could sense every inch and operation of the modified vehicle. Taking
    conscious control, he sent the ship up in a graceful arc performing a barrel
    roll before streaking back into space and letting the AI put them back on
    whatever course it had been programmed with. Settling back, Roman let his mind
    wander as he processed the day’s events.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    AS the events unfolded in his brain and he attempted to come to grips
    with the large loss of life Roman closed his eyes. When he opened them again he
    found himself back in that all white room where he was “trained” by the AI.
    This time, he was not alone. Standing across from him in relaxed silence was
    the creature he had killed.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    “Greetings, thing, I am Kars-O-Sharter.” The vocal tubes rattled out.
    “What is this place you have taken me to?”

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    “That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?” Roman replied. “First, I
    am Roman Crandall and welcome to my mindI think.”

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    “Indeed.” Kars sounded
    almost jovial “That is interesting Romancrandall, but could you please explain
    how I came to be here. The last thing I recall is battling with you
    unsuccessfully.”

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    Laughing, Roman began the same explanation the AI had provided him.
    While doing so he probed the ship for the AI and discovered it waiting for him
    to beckon. As Roman spoke to Kars
    he queried the AI on subtle details and protocols. The machine responded with
    alacrity and completely. Toward the end of his orientation of Kars,
    he asked the AI point blank “What is changed? Why are you being so helpful?”

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    “Roman Crandall,” the AI responded “what you have done has never been
    accomplished before. It was known to be impossible for a carbon based form to
    assimilate and incorporate other beings without serious immediate consequence.
    You seem to be handling the absorption well. To the best of my knowledge, this
    is impossible, yet the evidence proves otherwise.”

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    Roman took the information in with aplomb. Then the realization of what
    the AI had just told him sank in. That’s when the shakes began.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    Jim DeSalvo looked as if his jaw was going to fall off his face. This
    caused the Secretary to quip “Yep, it’s amazing what the Navy can do with the
    monies from three hundred dollar head seats, isn’t it?”

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    Dumbstruck by the sprawling installation Jim could not reply, he just
    nodded. In every direction he looked DeSalvo saw marvels of technology. From
    banks of computers with holographic monitors to prototype vehicles straight
    from a sci-fi movie each item outdid the next. The gleam of polished stainless
    steel and brass, the Navy would always love its brass, was everywhere Jim
    looked. In the center of it all was an ovoid.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    Instantly losing his rapture and becoming wary, DeSalvo did not notice
    the arrival of a woman with long dark hair. She stood patiently at the
    Secretary’s side as Jim came back to his senses.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    “Mr. Secretary, welcome to the Wonderland installation.” The woman
    handed them ID badges “Please be sure and keep these visible at all times. Some
    people get a little nervous if they don’t see them.”

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    Her smile was warm and inviting while her eyes belied a hardness and strength
    of will. Not tall, only just topping five feet, she was slim and had an
    athletic build. Her bobbed hair framed her face softening her look. Her ramrod
    straight back and curt motions hardened it.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    “Commander Erin Farrell, this Jim DeSalvo, the one who figured out the
    programming angle.”

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    Her eyes were still hard as she took his hand and shook it “Good to meet
    you Jim, we’re hoping you can keep moving us in the right direction.”

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    Looking around, DeSalvo wasn’t sure what he could offer a group this
    elite “I’ll do my best ma’am.”

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    “Oh I know you will, sailor. It’s my job to make sure that happens.”
    This time there was a distinct sense of mirth in her eyes. Oddly, that did not
    make Jim feel comfortable.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    “I will leave you to it then, I have to go rub elbows with the rest of
    the Brass and procure more funding. Keep me apprised of any progress,
    Commander.” The Secretary accepted the salutes and made his way back to the
    elevator.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    From his vantage point, Jim
    watched as Secretary Keeling entered the elevator. He couldn’t help noticing
    the man stared at the ovoid like a starving man watches the plate of food just
    out of his reach. Once again, Jim was not comfortable with the nagging feeling
    at the back of his mind.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    Following the Commander to the workstations surrounding the captured
    ovoid Jim became more apprehensive as he got closer. He hadn’t realized just
    how deep watching the Chief disappear had affected him. Something about the
    object caused a deep seated fear to rise up inside him and start taking hold. He
    shook the feeling back as he made it to the perimeter marked on the floor
    around the object. It was at that point that a flurry of activity began.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    The first thing DeSalvo noticed was a low humming noise that seemed to
    be slowly building. Next was the fact that all five of the technicians
    surrounding the object were stock still and staring at him. They stared for
    good reason. As Jim had approached, the object had started to pulse. The closer
    he got, the more distinct the reaction became. At the edge of the perimeter,
    really just where the work tables encircled the ovoid leaving walkways between
    them, a soft glow emanated from the thing. Furthermore, an answering glow
    encircled Jim.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    “Whatever you do, don’t interfere with it.” The Commander ordered.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>
    With a wry smile Jim responded in his head “Absolutely I will not
    interfere.” His inner voice even remembered to give the phrase a Russian
    accent.

    0in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>

    Avatar of cyberjnkee

    that Kars was now a part of his
    psyche almost shut Roman down. Almost. Too much the model of what the United
    States
    navy was all about he dealt with what
    was new information. Cataloguing the ramifications of what the absorption meant
    Crandall weighed options and strategies, blew out a sigh and turned his
    attention outward. He was a Chief Petty Officer and he was damned well going to
    act like one.

    Puter,” Roman
    adopted this nickname for the AI thinking about an old comic book involving a
    cyborg with an onboard AI “The physical aspects and mass of the ship seems to
    be changing, explain.”

    control of the craft, you are. The changes you see are coming from your own
    subconscious needs.”

    have surprised Roman, but all things considered, seemed tame by comparison.
    Locking into the cockpit seat and taking control Crandall let the predetermined
    course take them back to the void. As a mental exercise Crandall flexed the
    various systems to get an idea of their limits. Flying in intricate patterns
    and loops he found that the configuration of the ship was less important than
    the focused instructions to the thrusters and drives. At one point, he even
    changed the shape to a cube and attempted to make a ninety degree turn off
    course. The craft allowed some leeway then arced back to the original course
    without Crandall’s permission.

    futile, I suppose.” Roman muttered.

    a more stylized version of a jet fighter, Crandall perused the astronomics
    information. Interested in where he was going and what to expect, Roman decided
    to do his homework for the next encounter. Calculating that there must be some
    sort of data base to draw on, he scoured those particular sets of memory and
    was rewarded by a wealth of fact. In the millennia that the craft had been
    traveling, it had encountered several life forms of sentient nature and
    numerous anomalies of non-sentient. Some of the information meant nothing to
    Roman and he quickly became frustrated. His frame of reference was far too
    limited to let him evaluate what he was discovering.

    give for some help right now.” Roman muttered.

    thought came out he face palmed. He had help. He just needed to remember to use
    it.

    what do you make of this information I am currently scanning?”

    that constellation as “The Flare.” In ancient times it is said that that
    particular group underwent violent flashing for many years.” Kars
    responded in Roman’s head.

    this thing. Any idea what it is?” Crandall brought up information about the indigenous
    life form. Kars reacted
    immediately.

    Romacrandall, why
    do you show me this abomination? If it were here I would crush it mercilessly.
    These vermin attempted to take our groveling grounds until we destroyed them
    all.

    projected an image of thousands of the creatures he showed him. They were
    slaughtering Kars’ people
    indiscriminately. Coming from ugly ships with even uglier guns, they killed the
    segmented swamp dwellers with some sort of radiation beam. The events of
    several years of war were compressed into a few images for Roman like a
    snapshot of history. All the death and pain thrust upon him in the blink of an
    eye as he relived the conflict. Then the great convention of the grovelings
    where each sent it’s bravest and largest to make a final stand. Crandall
    watched as the enemy was surrounded by a seething wall of black bodies that
    closed ever tighter until all of the invaders were gone.

    bittersweet pride and sorrow overtook Roman as he let the history sink into his
    memory. He viewed the image of the vanquished foe. The large bodies carrying
    four arms topped by a single, large color-changing eye and protected by an
    insectile chitin. Bracketed by varying pedipalps, the way the eyes seemed to
    fill with black then yellow and back was disconcerting. Worse, was the way the
    shrill sounds from the mouth slits pierced the air as they rolled to attack.
    Crandall was very glad he decided to do the intel before meeting these beqasts.
    The roll alone could have caught him off guard enough to put him at a
    disadvantage.

    before his inevitable encounter with this species, Roman trained and
    strategized. Being able to draw on Kars
    experience proved invaluable in his preparation. Being able to use the
    practical experience of the creature let Crandall create simulations for
    training. Confidence sang in his muscles as his training progressed.

    proved to be a tough taskmaster and superb tactician. Combined with Roman’s
    intelligence and dexterity the simulations fell easier and easier.

    fighting for survival.” Kars
    pointed out. That sobering fact rang in the back of Roman’s mind as the ship
    fell gracefully toward the next planet.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>The tingling of his
    skin was not unpleasant, nor was it pleasurable. Of course, the fact that an
    alien artifact was causing the sensation may have had a bit to do with the
    impression. Jim DeSalvo stood there dumbfounded. He was afraid to move and
    wanted nothing more than to run away and run fast. Having seen one of these
    things disintegrate the Chief was causing more than a little anxiety. Drawing
    in a slow breath let him relax a small amount. As the cool air entered his
    lungs again and again, and he found himself still in one piece, his nerves
    calmed and Jim opened his senses to what was happening. Closing his eyes helped
    to focus on the experience and had the added benefit of shutting out the
    panicked faces of the techs surrounding him.

    images began to flash at the back of his eyelids. Beginning as simple colors
    the images progressed to basic shapes then living things. With a start, Jim
    realized the thing was learning from him. From simple images DeSalvo’s images
    became his memories. Starting slowly he ran through his toddler years. In mere
    moments his adult life was being scanned. Abruptly, the images froze. In
    preternatural clearness one image remained. The one moment carved deep into
    Jim’s nightmares stared at him now. Every spec of dust, drop of sweat and
    horrifying image assaulted him. CPO Roman
    Crandall stood before him again. Well, half of him did as Jim could make out
    the advancing line of disintegration. His bile rose again as he relived that
    moment until he could stand it no longer and stepped back raising his arms
    against the artifact’s invasion.

    grabbed Jim as his knees buckled. Severing the link left him feeling like a
    battery that had been used far too long without a recharge. His breath came in
    harsh gasps as he was dropped into a chair. Commander Farrell kneeled in front
    of him and checked his pupils for responses. Satisfied, she smacked him once
    across the cheek.

    together, sailor. You’re no good to anyone passed out on the floor.” She
    chided.

    annoyed him more, the slap or the jibe, Jim shook his head to clear it and
    gathered his senses. Breathing became less stressed for Jim as the moments
    passed. A sideways grin crawled on to
    his face as he stared into the Commanders.

    feeling you enjoyed that.” He quipped.

    the Commander rocked back on her heels “This fish will swim, I think. Now
    what’s going on here, report!”

    opinion about military training you have to admit the constant practice of
    discipline and repetition really works when the stuff hits the fan. Jim recounted
    exactly what had happened to him in a quick, concise manner before he even had
    a chance to think about it. Smiling, and believe it that DeSalvo noticed her
    smile, she patted him on the knee then turned back to the various techs and
    equipment for more information.

    silent almost the same instant that Jim had pulled free. In the brief time it
    was active the machines had been busy. Measuring energy expended and collected
    by the artifact had been their primary mission. It was a mission that was to
    measure nothing for quite some time. Now the famine was over and the feast of
    facts was indeed a buffet. As the various scientists evaluated what had just
    happened Jim stayed quietly out of the way recuperating from the event.

    held up a handful of paper and called Commander Farrell over. Most of the techs
    followed in enthralled silence. After some brief murmuring, the Commander
    pulled out her phone and told someone to get there quick. A few seconds later,
    a middle-aged balding gentleman, who looked very much like someone’s senile old
    uncle came bursting through the doors to the warehouse. Moving straight to the
    Commander the man took her information and read the data himself.

    via some sort of intraspacial method.”

    question is WHAT is it saying to WHOM?” the Commander thought out loud.

    help you with that.” Jim’s voice cracked a bit as he volunteered.

    in the place turned to him and waited.

    Avatar of cyberjnkee

    for a report, did I not, sailor?” Commander Farrell asked Jim DeSalvo with an
    arched eyebrow that told him just how miffed she was.

    did.” The events of the past few minutes were settling into Jim’s brain as time
    passed. “It’s just, well, things are starting to clear up a bit and fall into
    place. Some things that I didn’t even know what they were are now clearing up
    into images and impressions.”

    made a circling motion with her hand urging him to go on. Each deep breath Jim
    took helped set all the pieces of what was going on into their proper
    perspectives. Holding up a hand and tilting his head he took the few moments he
    needed for clarity and sanity to take hold. Odd glimpses of what seemed at
    first to be his own memories separated and coalesced into something foreign.
    The memories he saw now, he knew, did not belong to him. Flashing in his mind’s
    eye was an alien landscape, then stars beyond counting. At the edge of that
    star field lie something very large and very dark. Next came images of a birth
    of sorts, long travel through space and finally landing here on Earth. Once
    again the moment of the Chief’s demise flashed into Jim’s brain, but this time
    the angle was wrong. This time he was watching from the objects point of view.

    memories flooded him, DeSalvo knew two things. First, these objects talked to
    each other. The second thing was beyond hope.

    thing was accessing my memories. When it came up to the incident in the Middle
    East
    , it slowed down and watched the event play out slowly. While
    it was doing that, I think I was getting some things from it, too.”

    the man who had blustered in exchanged a quick glance. Clearly concerned by
    what Jim had just relayed the Commander gave the man an enquiring look. His
    only response was a silent shake of his head.

    their attention back to him, DeSalvo continued “A lot of what I felt is still
    fuzzy, some of it seems to be clearing slowly. The one thing I can say for sure
    is this: It definitely was talking to other objects like itself. It was
    enquiring about the coordinates of something and, Ma’am, it got a reply.”

    came forward now and held Jim’s arm. “Sailor, not another word.”

    man led Jim into the room and to a seat. Confused, Jim sat down and tried to
    collect his thoughts a little more.

    myself. I am Dr. James Blackwell. Until a few minutes ago, I was the man who
    had the most information on these things. That distinction now belongs to you.
    As you can understand from your experiences so far, this knowledge must be kept
    to minimal personnel. This falls under a level of security that has no official
    name. Suffice it to say, this doesn’t exist, officially.”

    attatched to an intel unit in the Middle
    East
    where his main duties involved intercepting radio
    communications and tracking cell phones. It wasn’t glamorous or even very
    challenging. At this exact moment, however, it’s where Jim wanted to be. He
    longed for a moment to be back in the bliss of ignorance before he knew about
    secret installations, alien artifacts and definitely before he saw the Chief
    die. Then the memories from the object cleared for him. He now was absolutely
    certain about the second fact.

    start. “He’s alive! The Chief is alive!”

    about?”

    what he was doing, Jim ran to the Commander and grabbed her by her shoulders.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>

    planet he was approaching was populated by beings with the technology for space
    travel, Roman shifted the ship into a spectrum of light that should be
    invisible to the creatures well in advance of making orbit. As he sailed around
    the barren planet he saw the evidence of war. A nasty war at that. There were
    craters at least a half mile wide in places and most of the vegetation was
    squat and ugly. The kind you expect to see growing through concrete or the
    cracks in boulders. Clearly there had been a nuclear war here. Checking the
    instruments told him that not only was there atomic detonations here, it was
    recent enough that the radiation levels on the surface would be lethal to most
    forms of life. No wonder the indigenous life had formed protective chitin like
    a cockroach.

    the AI interjected “this life form is NOT indigenous. They have chosen this
    planet as their own. Past information has shown me these beings in another
    location.”

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>The electronic
    personality said nothing. It just kept running its facts and figures through a
    series of preset algorithms. Crandall felt his skin tingle with anticipation as
    an icy calm came over him. Whether it was his battle hardened senses or some
    tiny anomaly in the sensory data that alerted him, Roman would never know. What
    he did know was that something was close. He could feel it in the way his
    nerves sang with every motion.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>Tallia the unseen
    was doing what she was trained to do. She stayed silent and motionless in her
    bio-shell that woke her on the objects approach. With slow, silent motions she
    came awake and responded to the viewer in her helmet. The HUD showed her a
    craft about forty meters wide and easily as long. It was heavily armed and
    armored to the point where her passive scanners could not breach the hull. It
    could hold one sentient or many, depending on configuration. She settled her
    breathing and let her trained muscles flex and cause momentum. Stealthily her
    pod drifted toward the craft. If it was equipped with the same sensors she was,
    it would see a moving cloud of what seemed dust. If its sensors were inferior,
    which was likely, it would register nothing more than a spatial anomaly.
    Flexing her muscles she prepared for battle with many, her worst case scenario.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>The ship sensors
    told Roman there was nothing there, just some dust off the starboard side. His
    senses, his instinct, said there was more. Roman prepared for another battle by
    extending blades from his forearm and retracting them in succession. He knew,
    no matter what the intel, there was no replacement for experience. Searching
    the hull he had not realized was growing so much, he was still surprised when
    he met the alien.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>Tallia awoke in a
    white room on a sort of pedestal, not unlike a med bay but far more
    comfortable. She did not wear her armor, but a light cloth shift that afforded
    her modesty and freedom of motion. She was confused for a moment. How had she
    come to be here? The last she remembered she was on her sentinel pod. That pod
    where she would spend her barren life waiting to serve her people.

    reproduce. Her genetic material was flawed and she was treated, as all barren
    females, with hormones to make her a silent warrior. It was her people’s shame
    that they banished her kind to solitude and sleep because of a missing gene.
    The barren women of her race were spread about the colonies as sentinels and
    guardians. Trained as warriors to protect the planets they slept and waited.

    her
    balance coming back in waves, she walked away from the table toward the figure.
    Out of focus, it could have been anything. Something told her it was a “man.”
    What a man was she knew not, but warily she approached it. As it came into
    view, she was awed. The man was easily a meter taller than she. Had to weigh
    over six hundred and twenty-five kilos and was muscled as a warrior. She
    remembered myths from her childhood of such things and cowered. These titans
    were said to be the harbingers of destruction and pain. The thing spoke and
    took her by surprise with its words.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>“Tallia, the
    unseen, I am Roman Crandall and you will not be hurt in my care. You are safe.”

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>If her kind had
    tear ducts, she would have cried. No one in her life had ever shown kindness to
    her. This thing whom she remembered fighting, hurting and being killed by
    offered her safety and comfort. Her consciousness fell into a dark slumber and
    she slept peacefully.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>

    the Kar-O-Shart began “You have done a great kindness to this sentient. Never
    in my existence have I seen one so destroyed by their own people. You know I
    have no love for them, but this female has gained my respect. You, Roman
    Crandall have gained my trust and, if I am not mistaken, much more from Tallia.”

    was to sit quietly as they left orbit. Silently, he thought about his own children
    and wished he could shed at least one tear. The female had fought valiantly but
    with no heart. In the end Roman knew he only ended her banishment, not her
    life.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>Sorry for the wait, here’s another step in the path

    Avatar of cyberjnkee

    mind, Roman shut out the probes by the AI. He was totally in control of the
    vehicle now. It no longer held sway on him. Communing with Kar, he pondered the
    history of the race he had just encountered. His stomach turned at how they hormonally
    changed the infertile females into beasts as large and hard as the natural warriors
    then, not wanting to be reminded of them, cast them into a silent ring around
    their planets as a first defense. Accessing her memories his heart saddened and
    boiled at her treatment. Tossed to the budding warriors as a sex toy to learn
    anger and hatred, Tallia’s mind learned to remove her from her body as it was
    abused. She was a gentle soul among a race of animals.

    thoughts there, Crandall reminded himself about the human race’s indiscretions
    and his funk grew deeper. Were he and his people so very different?

    Tallia came to him. “None of my
    race, nor Kars’ I would wager,
    would have shown me any kindness. There is a sense of nobility in you and your
    people unseen in this area of the galaxy.”

    consciousness withdrew a moment in what felt like shame acquiescing the point.
    Tallia withdrew also and Roman let her sleep. He ran a mental diagnostic of the
    ship and found it had grown once again. Fit to keep a crew of six or eight, it had
    also absorbed the new tech from Tallia’s pod. Her power source proved to be an
    immense help as it had very efficient release curve allowing its use for
    centuries to come. In passing, Roman wondered what would happen to all those
    other alien amazons who were banished to purgatory. Their pods would last an
    extremely long time.

    and returning to full awareness, Roman was met by the AI’s voice. If a machine
    COULD sound smug, this one would right now.

    have been contacted by Earth.” The tinny voice echoed in his head.

    stood straight up in the now room-sized cockpit. “What? Why didn’t you…” and
    then his voice trailed off as he realized he had been the one to silence the
    AI. “Ok, give me the details, Puter.”

    as machines are wont to do, the AI explained again the connection that all the
    ovoids shared and the conditions upon which they may contact each other. Detatched,
    the voice recounted its beginning and original programming. There were several
    fail safes built in to ensure that each of the ovoids continued to spread
    across the universe gathering data for their arcane creator. Their paths were
    locked in from the time they left to the time they finally failed. One of the
    few instances where that was not the case was when one of their kind was
    threatened by the local sentients and could not escape. In that eventuality,
    the ovoids could combine forces to free their captured counterpart.

    information, Roman found a small bit of unknown code. The AI seemed unaware of
    it as part of the fail safe though it was filed in the general folder of such.
    Crandall assumed it a “last resort” such as a self-destruct mechanism. Sealing
    the code off with a firewall, he ignored it and kept searching.

    came across the brief moment of contact. Tracing the signal through the
    architecture of the ship, Roman located the communications array and assessed
    the tech’s capabilities. Clearly it was way above his pay grade. About all he could
    make of the combination of science and magic was that there were few if any
    limitations to the system. Active, it could cross vast distances with instant
    information. The only downfall to it was the amount of energy it expended. By
    shutting down all other systems an ovoid could send out a brief SOS.
    Afterwards, it would need to stay inert for a period of time as it gathered
    more energy from the surroundings to recharge. With the unique power source
    from Tallia’s pod, Crandall saw a new possibility.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>The page stood at
    attention after delivering the enveloped note to the SecNav. Waiting for the
    eventuality that the Secretary would need to send a reply, he was amazed when
    the smile overtook Keeling’s face. It must have been good news. Good. Good news
    rarely needed a reply and the page could go back to his innocuous existence.
    Had he had an inkling what events were unfolding, he may have changed his
    opinion.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>The usual
    pleasantries and last second haggling took place as the SecNav made his way to
    the door. While the delay annoyed him his growing anticipation carried his mood
    through the ordeal. Today was the day he would secure his place in history.
    Nothing could dampen his fervor.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>Jim DeSalvo sat at
    his assigned terminal and drummed his fingers. Once again he was waiting. The
    ovoid had gone silent after its flurry of activity and now sat there inert,
    like a large lump of metal. The instruments had not fluctuated once since his
    communing with it and he was getting impatient. The people above his paygrade
    wanted results from him. How he was supposed to get them he didn’t know so here
    he sat keeping vigil.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>Shaking his head,
    sitting back and stretching, Jim replied with a shake of his head.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>Her smile dazzled
    Jim. On one hand, Jim knew the Navy’s rules about fraternization. On the other
    hand Erin Farrell was one of the most interesting women he had ever met. Just
    slightly on the tall side, her slender build looked amazing in her daily
    uniform. She clearly found time for the gym and made sure to eat right. Still,
    what was the protocol here?

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>“Sailor, as of
    right now, quit with the ma’am crap. My name is Erin and
    I expect you to use it. Are we clear?

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>“Good. I have
    always enjoyed men who can take direction well.” Her grin was impish and
    enticing.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>“I hate to drive,
    would you?” She smiled at him and he was powerless to refuse.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>Not sure what he
    had expected, the 1971 Mustang fastback was not it. Painted a blue so deep it
    looked purple and sporting a double white racing stripe the car looked like raw
    power waiting to be unleashed. Sliding into the car’s immaculate leather
    interior, Jim inserted the key and turned it. The satisfying purr that came
    from the engine was like that of a warrior lion and it vibrated both the metal
    and the bodies with an expectant thrumming.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>He slid the car
    into gear and carefully made his way out of the garage. When he hit the
    asphalt, the tires were spinning and the rear end swung past center before
    righting. The couple took off down the street. Both had grins on their faces.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>At 03:41 something happened. Small at first,
    barely a blip on one of the monitors keeping tabs on the ovoid, something
    happened. In slow degrees the electromagnetic field surrounding the object grew
    stronger. When it reached the first threshold, an alarm alerted the tech on
    duty. Instantly, his attention was riveted on his display. Not concerned the
    tech watched the monitor climb almost imperceptibly. Around 04:05 the readings reached another threshold and the tech
    reached for the phone.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>As she hung up, she
    nudged Jim with her hip under the covers. “Let’s go, Jim. Something’s happening
    at the lab, the ovoid is waking up.”

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>Under ten minutes
    from leaving Erin’s military housing, they were checking
    in at the desk. To the guard’s credit, he didn’t even raise an eyebrow at the
    couple’s disheveled and concurrent arrival. The seal was well trained, even if
    he did give Jim a sly wink as the left the table for the elevator. Jim couldn’t
    help but grin.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>“Let’s put up the
    portable barriers and keep this thing contained a bit.”

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>Working quickly,
    the two pulled the panels from the hidden closet and set them up. Immediately
    the people felt a pressure lessen. And the localized monitors showed a marked
    decrease outside the shields.

    07:25 the readings had stopped moving on the
    dials and seemed to be steady. Nothing was in a dangerous level and the rest of
    the team of techs had been collected and were present. Everyone started to
    breath again and fell into the daily routine. There was plenty of coffee
    flowing and they discussed the possible meanings of their particular readings.
    In time, the discussion turned from the mechanical to the physical. Inevitably,
    it came down to one thing. Was Jim DeSalvo going to touch it again?

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>Standing, the
    sailor followed the Commander to the secured room.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>A sad smile came to
    Jim’s face. She was leaving the choice to him.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>Commander Erin
    Farrell’s face showed multiple emotions as she thought through the options. The
    last was resignation and Jim knew she had come to the same decision. He smiled
    and took her in his arms. This room was secure. No one could see them. He
    kissed her slowly and thoroughly. The moment needed to be savored as if it were
    the last, so he did. Kissing her nose as they parted, DeSalvo took her face in
    his hands and smiled at her. She smiled back.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>They both laughed
    at that and collected their wits. When they both had straightened up and gotten
    back to their “serious” faces, they left the room together.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>“No need to look so
    glum, boys. It didn’t kill me last time and hey, you only live once, right?”

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>The group took up
    their stations and Jim waited with Erin by his side. After
    a few minutes the Commander called out the ready status and each tech responded
    his readiness.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>“Are you sure?”

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”> “Ready, willing and able, ma’am.” He winked at
    her and she smiled.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”> He reached out.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>Long one today, enjoy!

    Avatar of cyberjnkee

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>As his fingers
    touched the cold metal of the ovoid his mind closed in a bright flash behind
    his eyes. The world was gone in a supernova explosion. Electricity coursed up
    his optic nerve causing a vision of a titanic rending of the world. The
    universe came apart in DeSalvo’s mind, expanded at light speed then coalesced
    even faster. When the world came back, well, it didn’t actually come back but
    something did, every nerve sung with energy. Jim looked around at the hazy
    white world surrounding him. His senses felt funny, like maybe he was thinking
    through a filter of some sort. A thick, viscous fuzzy filter.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>“Hey, Jim, how’s it
    going?” the deep voice rang in DeSalvo’s ears.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>“Indeed, he is that
    and much more.” Came the voice of Kars
    Sharter in her head.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>“Fear not, female.
    I would not harm you.” The strange voice went on “The Roman Crandall has placed
    you under his protection and I offer mine as well. What your people did was unconscionable.
    Your strength shines as a beacon of nobility.”

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>In the back of his
    mind, Roman watched the scene unfold and smiled to himself. He had taken the
    lives of these creatures out of necessity. Earning their loyalty had been
    essential to both his welfare and sanity. Deep inside, he even thought the AI
    approved. Roman had other things to work on right now, though, so he turned his
    mind back to the arcane communications array and began attatching the unique
    power supply from Tallia’s ship.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>“Now, we just have
    to hope someone answers the phone.” Mused Crandall.

    0in;text-indent:.25in;line-height:15.05pt;background:white”>“How’s it going,
    Jim?” Roman asked bemused.

    Avatar of cyberjnkee

    Commander Erin Farrell watched with growing concern as the monitor in front of her registered some very odd energy readouts. Some of the readings made no sense. Had they been accurate, the entire complex would be glowing like a Christmas tree in front of a couple of searchlights. Shaking her head as she concentrated, her worry for Jim DeSalvo trying to push her rational thoughts out of her head, the information still did not make sense. According to the readings the ovoid was inert. It was doing nothing but sitting there idle yet Jim hadn’t moved. Her eyes kept darting to the video feed that hadn’t changed for four hours now. The scene was exactly the same. Jim stood there, arm, extended, fingertips touching the brassy ovoid. A light blue sheen of energy surrounded his body. It just didn’t make any sense.

    CPORoman Crandall began filling Jim in on the construction of the ovoids, their history and their purpose. At least as far as he could figure that out. The communication was like a blend of talking, telepathy and computer streaming. Roman introduced his companion sentients to Jim and was surprised at the aplomb he showed. Apparently DeSalvo had always believed in aliens and was just glad they weren’t trying to “eat his face.” Crandall wondered how he would have liked seeing Kars and his people in person.

    It seemed easier at times to let the AI stream the details and at others to speak them out loud. That struck Roman as odd as he knew this place was just a digital construct of his mind. It really should have made no difference at all but seemed to. Jim, after his first shock, seemed to be able to focus better and was even helpful with some of the details. He caught things that Crandall didn’t with his technical background and recent study of the objects. In the end, however, it was the sentience of Tallia that made the difference. Deadlocked on how to activate the ovoids defense systems and ride the link home, she suggested that rather than threaten the ovoid, they might infect it from within.

    “It seems much like an egg. Pressure from without can be withstood for a great deal of time. Pressure from within will crack it almost instantly. They are run by an AI, perhaps it could be persuaded?” Tallia had wondered.

    “If not persuaded, maybe tricked.” Jim replied after a moment’s thought.

    After consulting the AI Jim had come up with a basic plan to introduce new stimuli to the earthbound ovoid making it call for help. Roman’s AI had supplied the necessary code bits and triggers to start the ball rolling. Tallia’s portable power source plans were simple enough to understand and Jim felt confident he could rig a simulacrum on Earth. Kars’ input was for strategy and timing. He pointed out that a celestial event could be used as a timer to synchronize the plan. That proved problematic until Kars reminded Roman of the onboard weapons array and how powerful it had become.

    Karsinstructed the group, “Pick a fair sized asteroid and vaporize it. The power flash will travel at a constant speed and when it hits your planet’s visibility, we go.”

    Afterwards it had seemed so simple, yet no one but Kars had thought of it. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Roman wondered if the others were taking over some of his mind’s duties. He was not comforted when Kars’s chuckled in reply.

    Wrapping up the planning and double-checking the timing. Jim and Roman decided that they had come up with a viable strategy. They said their repective goodbyes and were preparing to sever the link when a sobering thought occurred to them.

    “Hey, just for the sake of argument, what happens if another one of these vessels gets to Earth first?” Jim asked.

    Roman and Jim both noticed the worry in the AI’s silence for a moment before it responded. “In such an event the other one would cease transmitting the emergency message and we would resume our original course. That is not, however, the worst case scenario. When the beacon is triggered, it is possible for the progenitor to notice.”

    “The progenitor?” Asked Jim.

    Roman lowered his head and pursed his lips. After a brief pause he willed the information stream about the ovoid’s birth open and let Jim see the immense thing that sat somewhere in the universe like a Leviathan consuming the matter around it. He showed Jim the face of what could only be evil as its tentacles spread across distances measured in light years. The image of the immense being shook Jim’s resolve for a moment. The entire solar system didn’t match the size of one the creatures millions of eyes and they were risking waking it?

    “Yeah, that’s about the size of it.” Roman responded to the errant thought.

    Worries and fears made the rounds of the minds connected for a moment before their determination slowly resurfaced. Bolstered by the camaraderie of the others, each of them found the courage to move forward and began their preparations.

    “Ok, Jim, I’m counting on you. I’d really like to be home for Christmas.” Roman smiled as he shook the other man’s hand.

    “I’ll do my damndest, Chief. Count on that,” was Jim’s only reply.

    A moment later, like someone just switched off a light, James DeSalvo was back on Earth. His arm was stiff from the inactivity, his mouth was dry and he had a whopper of a headache. That was all he remembered before he saw the concrete floor rush up to meet him.

    Commander Farrell was the first to see the motion. That only made sense as she had not taken her eyes of the monitor for hours. Bolting upright, she ran into the shielded compound and was at Jim’s side before his forehead hit the ground. Wincing at the crack his skull made, she went to her knees and cradled the sailor’s head.

    “Jim….Jim. Snap out of it!” She cajoled him as she slapped his cheeks lightly trying to get his attention.

    Her mind flew in a thousand directions of worry and responsibility as she worked to bring him back to consciousness. Split between being a woman and being a Commander she focused on Jim. Relief overwhelmed her when his eyelids fluttered. Emotion pushed all logic out of her mind when he looked up and smiled. The official record showed that Commander Erin Farrell performed mouth to mouth resuscitation on Jim. The truth is she kissed him. She kissed him long and hard and heedless of who was watching. Her heart soared when he kissed back.

    The Secretary of the Navy’s flight landed without incident and he was delivered to the White Sands base in as much blandness as possible. History sometimes changes in silence rather than in the cacophony of destruction.

    Making his way through the maze of tunnels below the main facility, Keeling found the elevator he was looking for secreted in a false wall next to the women’s barracks. He was quite sure the workmen who had fabricated this tunnel helped themselves to a few voyeuristic moments while they built in secret. That was not his concern at the moment, however. Right now he needed an update from his other base to compare with the information he would be getting from this one in mere moments. The thought that not only could he soon be speaking with this alien probe but perhaps be controlling it, gave him gooseflesh. His mind staggered at the power he would wield. He truly would be a master of the universe.

    The doors to the elevator opened and he was greeted by a tall woman with an inviting smile. In different circumstances, he knew he would pursue the leggy blonde and, most likely, catch her. Sadly, in this case, he needed to stay focused so shelved any thoughts of dalliance.

    “Do you have an update for me?” The SecNav asked perfunctorily.

    Not used to men regarding her so lightly, Bridgette took a moment before responding. “Yes, Mr. Secretary.” She flashed her million dollar smile at him and handed over the folio she had brought for him.

    Unable to resist her invitation a second time the SecNav commented “You have a wonderful smile, Miss…..” He faltered not seeing a name badge.

    “Bridgette, Mr. Secretary. Bridgette Morrow.” Her third flash of a smile in five minutes. This man was making her work for her compliments.

    “Thank you, Miss Morrow. If you would be so kind as to escort me to the conference room,” Keeling pointed the way with the folio and enjoyed the view as she walked in front of him. He knew his focus was now lost but cared little. Every king needed a queen after all. Lost in thoughts much lower than the heavens the SecNav found the walk all too short and promising himself a nice dinner and, perhaps, dessert he bid the young lady farewell making sure he got her card first.

    Entering the Spartan room brought the man’s thoughts back to the task at hand. The bland light blue walls and steel accotrements reminded him he was here for a purpose. The seven men waiting for him there helped a bit also. Their faces were somber and had the air of a bird of prey looking for its next meal. Keeling was not only not going to be their victim, he was about to be their sovereign.

    “Gentlemen, thank you for coming,” Keeling started the meeting as he strode to the sideboard to pour himself a cup of coffee. “I am about to share some information with you that is well beyond top secret. I have hand picked you as my,” Keeling searched for the right word, “liaisons in an important matter.”

    As he sipped the steaming sludge based Navy coffee he adored so much, the SecNav pressed a button and curtains covering the one wall fell back. As they did, the inert ovoid came into view. The men looked uniformly unimpressed. Keeling was a bit disappointed. He had hoped for a few opened jaws or gasps. But the cool reception should have made sense. After all, they had no idea what the thing was.

    Smiling to himself the SecNav explained. “This is an alien object. One who’s history is tied to the rise and fall of empires and the rushed development of atomic technology. Right now it sits here inert but I assure you it has a vast power contained within. Enough power to withstand a nuclear blast in fact.” Keeling was satisfied that the bored looks were disappearing and interest took root in the men. “Gentlemen, this one object could change the face of the Earth as we know it.”

    The men looked skeptical as the Secretary talked so he tossed the folio he had been carrying with him on to the table. The photos of Jim DeSalvo and the other object scattered around the flat surface into plain view. Interested now, each of the men picked up the pictures and short reports to peruse.

    The level of noise began to rise to a fever pitch before a muscular bald marine asked “What the hell is this thing and what are we supposed to do with it?”

    “My intentions for you men are to act as a personal guard for this object and myself. There ma come a time when some “not-so-progressive” politicians attempt to dissuade me from my intended course of action. I will need you men to keep them busy with other projects and issues.” Keeling eyed the room and not one set of eyes looked away. That was a good sign. “As for the ovoid, I intend to wake it up.”

    It was at that very second, millions of miles away, an asteroid ceased to be solid rock and became so many atoms littering the cosmos. The flash of light that destroyed it was brilliant. It was also bound by the laws of physics. It would take some time to reach Earth. In fact, it would be visible December 21st at just after midnight. Coincidentally, that’s the same day the Mayan calendar ends


    Hey guys, hope you’re enjoying the story. I have a new project starting in January so am going to try to finish up this month! Thanks for reading.

    Avatar of cyberjnkee

    Bridgette Morrow smiled to herself. She knew The SecNav was hers for the taking now and take him, she would. Her mother had not spent all that money on her looks and training to let her stay a simple clerk attatched to the back offices of the US Navy. She was going to be someone.

    James Keeling smiled as well. The assembled group of military might, possibly enough to perform a coup of the government itself if he so chose, debated amongst themselves the ramifications of what Keeling had shown them. No fools, these men were jockeying for positions of power. He appreciated the irony that most of these men had been his superior at one time or another. Yet, here they sat, like dogs begging at his feet.

    “Gentlemen, why don’t we get a closer look at the object.” Keeling suggested.

    Rising from his chair the looks on the faces of these battle-hardened men spoke volumes. They were afraid. If Keeling had knowledge of what the atomic blast had done to the ovoid, he would have been as well.

    On July 15th, 1945, the ovoid that they were now approaching was fully functional and was trying to make contact. To protect itself the object created an electromagnetic annihilation field. The field was designed to be seen by the bulk of the sentients of the universe as a shimmering bubble of silver light. This gaudy precaution was to act as a warning to the sentients to keep their distance. Unfortunately, man cannot see in the particular range of light that was chosen. This minor flaw in planning proved tragic when a technician walked blindly into it and instantly evaporated. The tech’s demise was recorded by several video cameras from several angles. Theswe videos were compiled and sent on to the “brass” who, in turn, sent it on to the president.

    As a matter of note, the decision to use the only atomic device on the ovoid was one of the fastest in American history to travel the chain of command and back. On July 16, 1945 an atomic device was detonated on the ovoid just before 0530. The hope was to completely destroy all traces of the ovoid. That particular mission failed.

    The approximately twenty kiloton blast was impressive and became the pinnacle of destructive power with which the send world war was forever changed. The ovoid, however, survived. Mostly. The resulting electromagnetic pulse was far greater than was expected. Most of the recording equipment on the base was compromised, so too was the programming inside the ovoid. The AI that the object was equipped with rivaled the thought patterns and processes of a living brain. Like a living brain, if you scramble the engrams enough, the brain no longer functions correctly. In effect, the blast had turned the ovoid’s organized thoughtful AI into an insane machine, a very powerful insane machine.

    As the Secretary of the Navy spoke to the assembled high ranking military officials Jim DeSalvo was lying on a military issue cot letting the pounding in his head subside. Though his head felt like a thousand marines were running over his brain, he still noticed the warm, comfortable feel ofErin’s hand in his.

    “How long?” Jim croaked weakly. Jim closed his eyes and thought. The effort caused fireworks across his frontal lobe and he thought about just going to sleep. Before he could finish that thought, his encounter withCPOCrandall and the “others,” he had no better name for them, came crashing back in minute detail. It was if the event had been inscribed on his brain. It certainly felt as if someone had carved the scene there. The only comfort from the pain was the realization that he would not forget the details to what he needed to do. With all the effort he could muster, Jim forced the pain from his mind and tried his best to drift into a fitful sleep. The warmth ofErin’s hand helped quite a bit as his mind accepted and processed the information so recently burned into it.

    For her part,Erinsat patiently letting her feminine instincts control her outward appearance. Inside, however, the commander was at work evaluating the events of the last few hours. Clearly Jim was able to make contact with the ovoid again. This time he paid a fairly high physical price for his trouble. What troubled her was the way it seemed to need complete control of Jim to function. His entire body had basically shut off for the time with no major adverse side effects. The technology suggested a work around for suspended animation and opened the door for numerous medical and tactical possibilities. If they could crack the code that this thing possessed, who knows what the future could hold.

    The blast that destroyed the small asteroid was spectacular. NoHollywoodspecial effects man could have dreamed of what would be the outcome of a particle moving at supercollider speed wrapped inside a high intensity laser would be. Because of that they never could have imagined a rock the size of theEmpireStateBuildingimploding and exploding at the same time. The spectrums of light that were given off were of such unique beauty it redefined the word “art” for Roman Crandall. The charged dust particles flowed outward at the speed of light before forming a glowing corona thousands of miles across.

    As planned, the light from the explosion began it’s long journey toward the planet Earth. Upon reaching the little blue sphere the event would be recorded as a minor explosion in the vastness of space. No record of the annihilation would ever exist. Only roman was witness to the spectacle as his ship sped away from the epicenter on its predetermined path.

    As Crandall’s attention was directed toward the spectacle Tallia the Unseen was learning. Accessing the memories she could and filling in with information from the AI, Tallia memorized the commands and controls of the ship that were available to her. Locked out of many of the main systems she made some minor mods to the efficiency of the data and rerouted some others to give her a modicum of emergency controls. This man, this human, had shown her the only kindness she could remember in her life. She was going to be prepared to save him at any cost should the need arise.

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