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May 13, 2024

Anachronocity v6p3

By Josh Brown

Ends and Means - Part Three

Blood boiled in Alex Sterling's ears as he opened up a panel on the side of the first rocket. Any amount of sabotage attempted would go noticed with Bethany standing right next to him and watching his every move. "Go to the last one and start there," he said to the girl. "We'll both work from opposite sides, get done quicker."

"Why bother? We made the same changes to them all. If one is fine they're all fine and the same is true if one is errors, they're all going to error."

"Not necessarily. There's no room for error here. Just check them all."

In the back of her throat, Bethany made a sound of disapproval before moving down the line to the last rocket.

Alex slipped his fingers through a jumble of wires, pushing them aside, to expose the self-diagnostic switch. He didn't want to hit this switch; the procedure would take twenty minutes to fully diagnose any errors, anyway. Next to the switch, though, a wire connecting the deployment protocols to the actual deployment mechanism called out. One little yank and the explosives in these rockets would remain in these rockets, effectively preventing the disastrous events about to take place on Calisto.

After a nervous glance around to make sure nobody was looking, heart rolling in his chest, Alex damned his life and yanked the wire out of the circuit. If anyone discovered this--well, Alex didn't want to think about the consequences. Not that being here could get much worse.

He closed the panel, moving on to the next as calmly as he could muster. While pulling the panel of the next rocket, his eyes raised briefly to lock with Bethany's eyes, dark orbs of knowledge trapped behind the inexperience of youth. Did she know? Had she been watching him closely from afar? Paranoia ran rapid as he forced his gaze away from the girl and back to what he was doing.

Five rockets, five bombs--Alex managed to disable three of the deployment system, barely gathering enough strength to attempt the last one since Bethany was right next to him, checking out the next rocket.

After they'd both closed their respective rocket's panels, Bethany asked, "Find anything?"

"No." Alex wiped the sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt. "No, didn't find anything but I didn't have much time to check. So that doesn't mean they'll work. You?"

"I found something, but I need to check one of the ones you checked to see if they're all like this."

"No--what, I mean, what do you mean? You're probably right, that's not necessary. If one is working, all of them have to be working. I just want to set a good impression."

She knew. She knew. She had to know. Why else would she want to look at one of the rockets Alex had checked? Because she knew what he had done and she wanted to verify before calling in the troops to rip his limbs off his body.

"You sure?" she asked.

"Yes, positive. Come on, let's go watch the fireworks."

Bethany didn't look too convinced. When Alex slipped an arm around her shoulders to lead her away from the tools of his impending doom, however, her face lit up with a smile for a bright, shiny moment.

Then, strangely, she slipped away from him as if she knew something terrible was about to happen.

Alex spun around and crashed head first into a wall of flesh draped in clothes that had apparently been soaked in sweat for years. Powerful hands grabbed his arms like vices, preventing the inevitable fall. A head above him loomed the scarred face of Franky with a goofy grin that screamed a myriad of warnings.

"Franky likes to play," the fallen general said. Each word sizzled in Alex's mind when spoken, his arms seemly fallen numb from the unmovable grip holding him up. Holding him up, indeed, his legs had also turned to wet noodles.

Turning his back on the rockets with Alex in tow, Franky released his grip and bellowed, "Belly bump!" before thrusting his enormous stomach forward, slamming into Alex with the force of a swinging anvil. Alex sailed back and crashed to the ground with a thud. Pain shot up and down his spine, and the back of his head throbbed from the contact with the grated flooring.

As he slowly sat up, a shadow fell across him. Alex dared not to look up, dared not to stand up. He just sat there in the shadow of Franky, disbelieving. "Franky likes belly bumps!" came an excited voice from above. This time Alex braced himself, but it didn't help all that much as Franky again belly bumped him.

Around and around the room they went as if one some psycho carnival ride from hell. Every time Alex hit the ground, there was Franky ready to send him flying again. Somewhere in the throbbing, ringing pain that consumed his body like flames, laughter filled his ears.

"Is good, Frank," called out a heavily accented voice.

Franky hoisted Alex up with one hand; his wide smile taunted.

Sela said, "Can we dispense with these childish initiations? We have a mission to complete."

As Alex stood, struggling to remain on his feet, Jared walked by and slapped him on the shoulder, causing another round of pain to remind him just why he hated this ship, this future. "Guess you're one of us now, Alex," he said. "Welcome to the team."

Everyone stood around a computer terminal in anticipation. Sela stood at the controls with Yerik at her side. Bethany stood on her other side, ready to jump in should anything go wrong and need her immediate attention. Despite being "initiated," Alex would always be second to Bethany. Not that he cared; the whole "join the Pure League" bit was just to garner a little more trust. He hoped when things went terribly wrong here they wouldn't blame him.

"You're about to witness history, young man."

Alex turned to the old man.

"These moments are rare," Anthony said, "but our great-great-great grandchild will study them and say proudly that their ancestors were responsible for saving humanity from extinction. Volumes and volumes will be written about our heroic deeds in the face of adversity. Once this is all over with, those villainous Elders will take full blame from every death that has ever happened in the name of the Pure League's end game."

Oh, people will talk all right. Alex just nodded to the crazy old coot, and then turned back to watch the monitor and the events transpiring.

"Cargo shield up," Sela said.

The cargo bay doors suddenly rumbled to life, pulling apart at a slow, but steady pace to reveal an expanse of stars and the curve of a planet in the corner of the frame. The ship had no weapons, which boggled Alex's mind endlessly, so the rockets would have to fire from the cargo bay.

"Initiating blast sequence."

The first rocket flared to life with a low, steady red light shooting out of its ass. A moment later it shot through the invisible shield covering the cargo doors and disappeared under the bulk of the ship. A second later the next rocket fired, then the next, until all five were gone.

On the monitor, five red blips traveled slowly toward a giant square box. Alex found this disappointing, to say the least. Surely in this era these people would have better tracking equipment. The whole setup looked more like something from the 1980s.

Sela said, "Five minutes until deployment."

The air was thick with nervous energy. None of them seemed the least bit concerned with the fact that they were about to kill fifty thousand people. The ultimate goal of ridding humanity from the Elders evil grasp overrode all sense of morality when it came to human life. Even Katlyn, standing next to that pompous pilot, seemed to accept the loss of life for a greater need.

The moment approached. When the bombs failed to deploy, what would happen? Would all eyes turn to Alex--enraged, murderous eyes seeking blame for this travesty? Would he be killed instantly, without question? Alternatively, would there be some kind of inquiry in an attempt to discover how things went so wrong? Alex hoped for the latter, at least then he'd have a chance to try to save his life.

"Rockets in place," announced Sela. "Deploying bombs."

Here it comes. Time to face the--

"All bombs successfully deployed. Detonating."

What? Alex stared in disbelief. It was impossible. He was the one that designed the changes in the deployment system after Bethany discovered a way to modify the targeting systems. He studied that system and knew it perfectly. There is no way the bombs would deploy.

"It's over," Sela announced. "The building is falling. Jared, get us out of here. The satellites are repositioning. We don't have much time."

No, no, no--this is all wrong.

"We did it, Alex!" Bethany exclaimed, grinning. "I was worried when you said there might be a problem. You should trust yourself more."

What the hell?

To be continued...
Article © Josh Brown. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-07-03
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