Asleep Among the Stars
By Robert Consiglio
“We are in scanner range of the bogey, Captain,” says First Communications Officer Borlov. “It’s definitely a ship of some sort, but it has no heat signature. It appears to have lost power.”
What could it be doing here, so far from any planetary system? the Captain thinks, swiveling his command chair slightly to glance at Borlov, who is bent over his computer, scanning and analyzing the mystery ship.
“Well?” enquires the Captain, adjusting his cap, upon which is emblazoned the blue dragon of the Artican Space Corps.
“The ship’s life support systems appear to be still operating,” says Borlov. “But what’s this?”
The Captain perks his ears to listen.
“There is a single life form aboard,” utters Borlov. “However, the life form readings are extremely faint. It’s strange…”
“Put the ship on the main screen!” barks the Captain.
All eyes on the bridge of Artican Space Guardian, AS Proxius, focus now on the ship’s main battle screen. A medium sized, sleek looking yet battered grey and blue warship appears on the screen.
“It’s a Jedozian pocket cruiser,” says the Captain. It was a statement.
How could it have possibly ended up here? Borlov thinks, stroking his mustache.
The Captain depresses a red button on his command chair. “Prepare a boarding party, immediately,”
“Yes, Captain Gorkov,” crackles a voice from a speaker near the button.
The Captain’s gaze falls on Second Officer Bersilov. “Use the grapples to secure the enemy ship, and be gentle. Some of these Jedozian ships are set for self destruct if you jostle them too much.”
“I’ll be careful,” says Bersilov.
Gorkov glares at Bersilov, who smiles grimly.
A prone man is dimly aware of a bright white light shining in his face. A musty smell fills his nostrils. He opens his eyes.
Standing above him is tall, clean shaven man with an officer’s cap of Artican Intelligence. In his mouth is a smoldering cigarette at the end of a long cigarette holder.
“Hello, Vladom Versivetch,” says the officer, grinning slightly. “I am Colonel Povlov. You are under my care.”
The man doesn’t respond for a moment, he is aware, for the first time, that his arms are being restrained by a force field.
“How do you know my name?” asks the man, lifting his head feebly.
“We know everything about you, my Jedozian friend,” utters Povlov, aiming a smoke ring at Vladom’s head, but missing.
Vladom looks up and notes the double dragon flag, insignia of the Artican Masters.
“What ship is this?”
“This is no ship,” says the Colonel. “You are on Piasha.”
Vladom absorbs that and then asks. ”Is the war still going on?”
Now Povlov really grins. “You mean the Second Great Continental War? It has been over for over a decade.”
Vladom’s mouth hangs open and he stammers “But, but that’s impossible, the war…”
“It is not impossible,” corrects Colonel Povlov, “It’s a fact.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“No? Well, we picked the computer logs of your ship, Pegasus9, clean and learned a few things.”
“I don’t know about any ship named Pegasus.”
The Colonel ignores Vladom’s interruption. “Pegasus9 departed from the then Kingdom of Jedozia on 1 Before Conquest and…”
“When you say Before Conquest, I assume that you Articans defeated the United Armies and now control this whole planet, am I correct?”
“Yes,” agrees the Colonel. “The Brelum now covers most of Piasha.”
“Then you must have Psychic beamed the people of Piasha to accept your program.”
“We prefer to say we brought rational enlightenment to the great peoples of the planet Piasha,” says the Colonel. “As I was saying, your ship, along with hundreds of warships and space vessels of various types, departed Jedozia on 1 Before Conquest and left the Promus system in search of a habitable planet, or so we surmise. We refer to your cowardly exiles from Piasha as ‘Roteans’ by the way.”
The Colonel removes the cigarette lighter from his mouth and places it on a table.
“Roteans?” enquires Vladom. “What does that mean?”
“It means ‘runaways’ in old Beurlandian,” says the Colonel. “In Jedozian, you are known as Vuchkols, cowards.”
“So that’s where we are now, the Kingdom of Jedozia?” blurts Vladom.
The Colonel looks at Vladom with a new respect. He is quick! The Colonel thinks. “It isn’t a Kingdom anymore,” he says. “Now it’s the Jedozian protectorate of Greater Articus.”
“Oh,” says Vladom. “That’s a pretty name.”
The Colonel scowls slightly and then continues. “Now, according to your ship’s logs, Pegasus9 was badly damaged by Artican ground fire just after it lifted off and as a result its atomic engines and onboard navigation computer were both severely damaged. Your ship was unable to keep up with the rest of the Rotean armada and gradually fell behind. Then a pursuing Artican star cruiser, AS Rovius, caught up to your ship and engaged it. Your ship put up a heroic defense, according to our records, but in its weakened state, it was put out of commission by our cruiser. Your ship sustained massive damage, but somehow it still remained intact. AS Rovius left your ship for lost and continued its pursuit of the main body of the Rotean fleet. However, none of our ships ever located them. Artican Intelligence is of the strong opinion that the Rotean ships possessed star drive.”
Vladom smiles slyly.
“I can see by your reaction that this may be true,” says the Colonel.
Vladom feels an icy chill slide down his spine.
“In any case,” says the Colonel coldly, “this fact hardly matters anymore, since the Artican Space Corps has perfected a star drive as well.”
Vladom perks up “Is that so?”
The Colonel doesn’t respond, but continues his narration. “And that’s when we come to you, since you are such an interesting case.”
“Oh? And how is that?”
“It seems that your ship’s computer was able to repair itself and reactivate the life support systems. As a result, you were found by our Space Marines, still alive, inside a stasis chamber in a state of hibernation. The occupants of the other stasis pods, however, weren’t so lucky. You are quite a resilient person, Vladom Versivetch.”
“I don’t recall any of this.”
“You wouldn’t, no.”
“I feel exhausted,” says Vladom. “I want to sleep.”
“That is not surprising!” says the Colonel, laughing heartily. “You have been slumbering soundly for over ten years, my Rotean friend!”
Vladom stares at the Colonel, mouth agape. But now it begins to make sense to him. He can begin to piece together in his mind some of what had happened.
“We almost lost you, my friend,” adds the Colonel, “but our doctors are good. They revived you and so now we are here and you can tell me what I need to know.”
“I have nothing to tell you.”
“But you do.”
“You are going to tell me what star system the rest of the Rotean armada was heading for.”
Vladom blinks several times and is silent.
Vladom wipes his eyes and makes out the shape of three figures. They are wearing grey and white trimmed Artican military tunics. He recognizes one of them. It is Colonel Povlov. Vladom notes that he is no longer being restrained. However, when he tries to stand up abruptly, two Artican sentries, standing in front of the entrance, finger their blasters and he sits down.
Vladom is unsure if he had imagined it or not, but one of the sentries, who has bushy grey mustache, had maintained eye contact with him just a moment longer than the other.
What’s going on here? Vladom thinks.
His thoughts are interrupted by a familiar voice. “Good morning!” utters Povlov. “Are you willing to help us or not?”
“You can get everything you want to know from our computer logs you pirated,” says Vladom curtly.
“The files were incomplete,” growls the second officer who is sitting next to Povlov. His eyes are iron grey, but it is his left arm that attracts Vladom’s attention. It is a mechanical arm, totally artificial.
Vladom considers the arm, which gleams slightly, then dares a glance at the officer’s face. He only scowls at him.
“A little war wound,” says the officer. “Perhaps there are some things you would like to ask us first.”
Vladom looks at Povlov, then the officer. “How did you trigger those solar storms previous to your attack on the United Army Confederation?” asks Vladom. “There are some that say it was a freak of nature, but I beg to disagree. It knocked out all of our communications and early warning systems, and then you launched your attack immediately afterwards. It seemed planned, the timing was too precise.”
The officer looks at Pavlov and then says “It was a cosmic event, triggered by the Artican Masters to defeat evil and bring reason and rationality to the people of Piasha.”
“And who exactly are the Artican Masters?” blurts Vladom. “Tell me that!”
“That is not important,” says the officer firmly.
“Come,” says Povlov. “Why do we fence so? You are young and intelligent, Vladom. Why not join us? Your conversion would be painless, and then you could make a great contribution towards bringing peace and prosperity to your fellow Piashans. We could even return you to your hometown in Jedozia.”
“I assume that now everyone in Jedozia worships the Artican Masters like gods and have become mental slaves of your cursed Brelum.”
The officer grits his teeth, but Povlov only chuckles.
“In fact,” says Povlov, “Jedozia now has absolutely no violence and the crime rate is practically zero. We have created the perfect humanity, living more harmoniously and peacefully than at any time in history. Violence and conflict is now a thing of the past.”
“Yet this peace you have created is strictly artificial,” retorts Vladom. “Once the masses of Piasha break free from your Brelum, they will learn how you are making them the mental slaves of the Artican Masters. They will unite against you and destroy you.”
The officer glares at Povlov, his eyes blazing.
“You see General Shoor?” says Povlov, looking at the officer. “The Jedozians certainly have spunk, you have to hand that to them!”
The third Artican officer, a Major, sits bolt upright and roars “Enough! We want information about that Rotean fleet. If we cannot get if from the prisoner voluntarily, we will have to use the probe.”
“Surely you must have heard something about where you were going previous to your being placed in hibernation,” says Povlov.
“If I was, I don’t recall it,” says Vladom.
“You mean you allowed yourself to be turned into a sleeping frozen popsicle without ever being told where you were going?” shouts Shoor.
“If you say so,” says Vladom.
“You’re lucky I don’t blast you,” growls Shoor, fingering his holster in his belt.
“Be my guest,” says Vladom without blinking
“According to your ship’s logs,” says Povlov, withdrawing his cigarette lighter and lighting it, “you were heading towards the Tolarium system when your computer’s navigation systems shut down.” The Colonel flicks his cigarette holder and sighs deeply. “Surely someone must have said something to you about where you might be heading when the fleet left Piasha. Come on, Vladom, think.”
“Oh yes,” blurts Vladom, his eyes lighting up. “I do remember something that the Captain said to me that was pretty important.”
The three Articans are staring at the Jedozian now.
“He said that the Articans were becoming quite a nuisance on Piasha, but like pesky insects, we would squash them.”
In a flash, Genera Shoor draws his stun gun with his right hand and fires into Vladom’s chest, and he collapses like a rag doll.
“I will obtain a mind probe, and then we will pick this arrogant Jedozian’s brain,” growls Shoor, placing his blaster back into its holster. “If not, I am tempted to put him back inside that hibernation chamber until Promus turns into a red giant.”
“Pick him up and take him to the infirmary!” barks Povlov.
The two Artican sentries rush over and lift the prisoner and carry him out.
The elevator slides opens and Colonel Povlov gestures toward a nurse, who, smiling slightly, pushes a patient in a wheelchair out the entrance.
Povlov steps out and his ears are immediately greeted by the clicking sound of heavy boots. He turns and sees General Shoor plodding towards him. His face is flushed.
“I want all the results from this mind probe sent to Artican Intelligence HQ, is that clear, Colonel Povlov?” growls Shoor as soon as he is in earshot.
“Yes, General,” says Povlov, frowning. He scans the room numbers until he spots it: room 502.
“Maybe he will be more willing to talk after I teach him some manners, eh Povlov?” says the General, chuckling slightly as he pushes the entrance and walks into the room, closely followed by Povlov.
Both men gasp. There, lying unconscious on the floor, is a sentry. The second sentry is gone and the prisoner’s bed is empty!
“The urchin has escaped!” roars Shoor. “Search the premises! I want both of them recaptured, alive!”
“That was pretty clever, how you egged on that Artican General to zap you,” says a grey mustachioed man wearing a green camouflaged smock. . On his head is a cap which features a purple star, once worn by the United Armies.
“When I saw you,” says Vladom, “I somehow guessed that you wanted me out of there.”
“How right you were,” says the man, patting Vladom on the shoulder. “The security in Artican Intelligence is like a fortress. I knew that security was light in the infirmary. I’m Kavlov, by the way.”
They shake hands.
“I assume you are all some kind of resistance fighters,” says Vladom.
Vladom turns to stare out one of the portholes of the air car and sees only white, milky clouds. “Where are you taking me?”
“What! Why? I am Jedozian.”
“We know exactly who you are, Vladom,” says a voice from the other side of the air car. It is a large bearded man holding a Jedozian blast gun. “You were with those filthy Vuchkols that abandoned the United Armies on Piasha in your cursed ships to save your own skins.”
Vladom opens his mouth to answer, but Kavlov gestures for him to be quiet.
“What is past is past,” says Kavlov carefully. “He could be of some use to us still.”
“But I want to help you now!” shouts Vladom. “We can fight the Articans here, in Jedozia!”
“It is no longer safe for us in Jedozia, Vladom,” says Kavlov. “The Jedozian Liberation Army has gone over to the Articans.”
Kavlov doesn’t speak for a moment. “The Articans Psychic beamed them relentlessly. The ones who didn’t pledge allegiance to the Artican Masters were exiled to Wendel.”
Vladom’s eyes smolder “The brutes!”
Wendel is a frozen planet in the Promus system notorious for its penal colonies.
“How many of us are there?” asks Vladom cautiously.
“We don’t know exactly,” says Kavlov.
“To Paradeshia, then,” says Vladom grimly.
The door of the air car slides open. Vladom steps out and a cold blast of air strikes him in the face. Flakes of snow begin piling up in his hair.
He turns to look around him and gasps. All around him are the massive snow capped Weimos Mountains.
“Quickly!” barks Kavlov. “The Pedzios may have sent a patrol.”
“Pedzios are with the Articans, I assume?” enquires Vladom.
“Yes,” says Kavlov. “There are air patrols by Artican drones as well.”
Vladom gazes up at the ruddy sky for a moment, but sees or hears nothing.
They arrive at a thick pine forest and begin plodding through the deep snow, single file.
After what seemed like an eternity to Vladom, he discerns several figures approaching them in the woods.
Vladom darts behind a tree trunk, but Kavlov waves him back into the open.
“It’s okay, Vladom. They are with us.”
Three white clad men appear, toting hand blasters. Their eyes are a distinctive greenish color and they all have bright yellow mustaches.
One of them, a large burly Paradeshian man, runs up to Vladom, and before he can react, kisses both his cheeks and wraps his arms around him.
“Welcome to Paradeshia, Jedozians!”
Vladom laughs, more from relief than anything.
More figures emerge from the forest gloom.
“Come,” says the Paradeshian firmly. “We will take you to a place of safety.”
As they plod methodically through thick forest, Vladom turns to glance at Kavlov.
“They are taking us to the Bvers,” says Kavlov.
“What are they?” Vladom enquires.
A buzzing sound is heard emanating from the clouds above.
“Down!” barks a voice.
The Paradeshians and Jedozians bury themselves into the snow.
“Hunter!” says a voice. “Don’t move. They can detect motion.”
Everyone lies motionless until the buzzing noise fades and finally vanishes.
Vladom wipes the snow off of him and looks around.
“Keep your weapons handy!” says one of the Paradeshians. “Pedzios may appear at any moment.”
They plod on silently. Vladom notes that the Paradeshians walk in each other’s footsteps and imitates this action.
Shivering, he turns to look at Kavlov again and asks “What are the Bvers?”
“Tunnels dug into the mountains by the partisans.”
“Quiet!” barks a Paradeshian just ahead of them.
They arrive at a rocky outcropping, and the lead Paradeshian runs forward and begins digging vigorously, revealing a metal hatch.
Within moments, he has pried it open, and everyone climbs into it, one at a time.
As Vladom’s turn comes and he steps into the hole, he hears Kavlov’s voice from inside the tunnel.
“Move it, popsicle!”
There is a gentle serration of laughter from within and Vladom blushes.
Soon they are all inside, and they move onwards, deeper and deeper into the cavernous Bvers, until they vanish, like so many grey ghosts.