Screams in Space Part 5

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:   : Screams in Space

- You chose the hardest way again, Kiegan the supervisor was smiling sometimes you make me think you do it deliberately. Kiegan had successfully passed the labyrinth, the last simulation, which tested his ability to orientate in unknown locations. By the hardest possible route. Whatever he did he always picked it. But he always managed to pass it. There was something strange with the results with the whole situation at all. It was all so smooth Kiegans results were more than delightful. They were the best he had achieved for the last few years. And the supervisor told him he was not the only one. The whole team achieved perfect results. That made the supervisor share with Kiegan that this would allow the Corporation to accelerate the mission. Kiegan tried to sound indifferent: - Is it that important? The guy looked at him and responded with some unwillingness: - I dont know, but we had orders to watch the results closely. In my opinion they would have dismissed everyone who wasnt absolutely perfect. But, excluding the Whirlwind breakdown, it was all fine and in a second added, - You were about to fail in there, Kiegan. I think you would have fainted if that cable hadnt torn. - Maybe. But I stood it Kiegan shrug his shoulders. His smile was confident. The supervisor shook his hand and wished him successful flight. Yes, right thought Kiegan. But his inner discomfort was leaving him and he was back to the rut of rational thinking. The results of the titular crew were shading in his memory. Those washed brains were for the mental hospital and he had even been expecting to see them fail. What had happened to him? He had allowed a stupid superstition obsess him! Luckily, he had managed to prove himself how groundless his fears had been. He could concentrate on the mission now. Kiegan was sure there would be no problems with it. But he had no idea how wrong he was *** He was gaping at the distractingly glimmering tunnel. His only exit again. Doors? There were no doors at all. When he approached the corner the only thing left of them was the unclear memory, the feeling that something that has to be there is actually missing, that drives you mad. Just walls. And corner. The subsequent meeting with the unknown. It was stirring cold. Maybe from the feeling, from the stress of not knowing what is waiting for you right behind the very next curve of the endless labyrinth. But it was more like from the place itself. From the tunnel. He suddenly hesitated. It wasnt obligatory to take this way. He could go back, there was another tunnel. In this weird moment the darkness seemed more attractive than the radiation of something evil that was coming from the corner he was standing in front of. That was right. There was no reason not to go back and just take a look of the other tunnel. It could be dark but it definitely wasnt hostile. It was Oh, God! Hostile? What the hell was going on with him? He let greater and greater freedom to his subconsciousness and it was beginning to distort reality. He was collapsing in the captivity of madness slowly but firmly. The flashes of rational thinking were just accelerating this collapse. For a moment he recalled the idea of wandering the place of the explosion, blind and deaf for the real world. It didnt seem so impossible this time. Madness was more terrifying even than physical crippling. Nothing was more ominous than losing your mind. The corner of the tunnel was right in front of him. Still and silent. And his disability to understand what waiting for him in the other side was petrifying him. He had never thought the human body could be so tense but he had completely lost control over his legs, hands, even his lungs were refusing to take the next breath. For a long second he had the feeling he would suffocate, but then the stress reduced its gummy embrace a little and the invigorating air filled them again. When he took this way he saw a couple of doors before the turn. He was sure he saw them. But now he didnt remember passing them by. What was worse he didnt remember not passing them by. As if he didnt care for them at all. But it wasnt true. He wanted to look in the rooms; he wanted to see more of this place before making the choice of proceeding on the same way (he would later smile at the thought of the doors after all there was no way he could know what was hiding behind them too, right?). But he didnt stop to see if the doors were locked or not, if there were any signs above them. He didnt even notice them when he passed them by (and now he was too afraid to look back because of the risk to see there were no doors and no way back). As if someone else moved his body to the corner. The burst from behind the corner met him not just unprepared but opened. He had all the shields of his mental essence down, concentrated in the inner fight with his own fears. He had always taken the hardest way in labyrinths. In the moment his hair, no, his skin stood on end with fear, a thought popped up in his head. Yes, this could be a labyrinth. Labyrinths of horrors, behind whose turns you are haunted by the minotaur of the catacombs of your own consciousness. A labyrinth of the unmet expectations, of the vain hope, of the total and ridiculous travesty with everything real. But it wasnt him who decided which way to take. He only suffered the *** - consequences. Kiegan came to his senses. He was on some other place or time for a moment. Meeting his disorientated eyes, Misha frowned disapprovingly. His roots were in Russia and despite the twenty-year practice his accent was still as obvious as a finger in the soup (Kiegan was a little surprised to notice the complete lack of any attempt to have that fixed and most Russians he knew were speaking even more fluent English than himself the only way to guess their nation was their family name; exactly Misha Kravopuskovs unwillingness (or inability) to cover his origin kiss any asses to build a career provoked Kiegans interest and he decided to take him in the team). Now, after dozens of missions in the deep space the giant had the reputation of being the best. And really, if he tried to remember all the occasions when the Russian had saved his or his crews lives, Kiegan would realize all his fingers or toes wouldnt be enough. In the critical situations when you are within a hairs breadth of death and all that matters is the speed of your reaction, Misha acted with the instinct of a shark that had felt blood fiercely and self-sacrificingly. He justified his name, noted Kiegan for himself. The occasions were many, but he remembered one that had proven Mishas abilities more than any tests or simulations. It was in the very beginning of the Russians career as security officer on Death Star, maybe his second or third mission. Kiegan had thought over what happened not only because he was the captain and he felt responsible to avoid its repletion, but cause it was so shockingly unexpected and illogical that he was suspecting it was all framed up by the Corporation or someone who had the power to do it. They had just completed a routine mission successfully and were on their way back when the board computer suddenly ran the short wake-up procedure. And being waken up from cryo-sleep that rudely was more than just unpleasant. Figuratively it was the same as if someone splashed you with a bucket full of cold water when you are in the middle of your nightmare, but it could result in fainting or coma. For organisms in the wrong condition it could even lead to death. Kiegan had to thank God that the mission was really routine and they werent very tired. He would never forget the agonizing seconds of helpless confusion that followed the unexpected wake-up. His lungs needed eight to ten seconds to switch to air. He was unable to move but he saw that the door leading to the lock-gate was sliding up. All he perceived then were unclear three-handed silhouettes (he would later realize the third hand was actually the rifle). A red light was flashing in his head but even if not ignoring it he wasnt able to do anything before his lungs took some air in. And while Kiegan was roving on the edge of fainting, a shadow darted ahead. All he remembered after were the vague shouts and a couple of shots, stretched to unrecognizability as if he was in the next room instead of gasping in this one. Then Kiegan finally managed to take a breath and the world was making sense again. He was unpleasantly surprised to see he was the last to get up to his feet. But there were no touchy comments or jeers. Everybody was too shocked to pay attention to who was first and who was last. When Kiegan finally saw what exactly had happened he felt sick and when he thought over it he had to admit they had had the great chance of surviving. Misha was sitting on one of the cryo-capsules; his face stolid as always while Alex was binding up his bleeding leg. And next to the door there you go three bodies, laying in a pool of blood. From the very first sight Kiegan felt disgusted. It was easy to guess what they were taking into account the dirty clothing, the long and uncut beards, the antediluvian firearms in their hands. Space pirates! If the words were unsavoury to taste, the meaning behind them was completely disgusting. (Description of pirates) Alex was the only one to come to herself quickly enough to become an impassive witness of the show. She told them what she saw later, when Misha wasnt around. And if Kiegan didnt know her well he would have thought she was exaggerating. But he was sure she told them what she really saw. She wasnt very garrulous and she had to interrupt her story several times for a glass of water but what Kiegan got from her was enough to get the full picture. Misha fell from the cryo-capsule and very quickly understood what was happening. During the two seconds he wasted to do that the door was still sliding up and the pirates were unable to see him (they were most probably expecting to see the crew flat on the floor and Kiegan had to accept with impotent rage that if it wasnt for Mishas help their expectations would have been met). While the door slid up, the Russian had taken three giant steps to turn out face to face with the enemy. With a single simple and elegant movement of the hands he broke the neck of the first pirate before the other two realized what was going on. His only mistake was that he didnt kill the man with the pistol. The other two were wearing rifles and it would take them too long to aim them at Misha. And he paid for this mistake. While he was trying to pull the knife of the dead pirate out, the guy with the pistol turned on and shot him in the leg Well, Kiegan had seen the Russian play with blank weapons. Romanos words werent strong enough to describe what happened next. The dismembered bodies on the floor made them sound insipid. What Kiegan summarized in the end was that Misha had turned on in the critical situation, eliminated the armed danger, being shot three times (two of the bullets were removed operatively after they came back and the third had pierced his thigh, missing the artery by miracle), and all this for just nine seconds, after which he patiently waited for the others to come to themselves to receive medical care. In the beginning Kiegan was wondering how did the Russian manage to take a breath so quickly. He later realized he just hadnt. Of course, the case aroused many questions. Pirates were generally avoiding Corporation ships and attacking special ship was equal to suicide. You cant get any profit from that you can only get killed. Pirates might be greedy or impertinent but they arent stupid. After their ship was searched thoroughly and no evidence was found the guarantor remained unknown. But there was a guarantor otherwise they wouldnt have been able to get aboard at all. It was a complete mystery where they got those codes from. The only possible explanation was that someone gave them. And it was public secret who it was. Corporations next year budget was changed and the Deep Space Research Department (where Kiegan worked) received double subsidy. He preferred not to think of being a pawn in the endless game for power and money but he knew the truth. A team could be sacrificed if this will give you more gold. And his team had survived by luck. Sabotage or not, all of them were aware that the team had a flawless diamond in the face of Misha. The essence of their missions required his frequent intervention and it was always on the necessary high level. Kiegan was also glad with his choice, even if he was a little concerned with the slight unsociability of the Russian. He was closed (well, not the classic morose fellow, just the kind that prefers ten words to twenty and one word to ten, and it was completely understandable that the others werent burning from desire to speak to the seven feet tall giant). Once Kiegan was staring at Mishas quick movements with the knife and the Russian noticed his curiosity. He then shared that he liked talking to weapons more than talking to humans. And the captain had to agree he commanded their language to perfection. His blue eyes were cold and firm and Kiegan got goose-fleshed every time he met them. Just like now. Misha was respecting the hierarchy but always managed to find a way to express his negative opinion for every single act of weakness. And being thoughtless in a conversation with him was definitely weakness. Misha said very little but required entering into the sense of the words from the listener. Kiegan nodded in sign he was there again. Saying sorry to Misha would be even greater weakness. - The careless will suffer the consequences repeated the giant. His accent was more striking than ever and the words seemed to have gained a new, slightly accusing meaning. Kiegan finally noticed the Russian was sharpening his long knife with carved on the blade tiger. - Thats right, Misha. All of us suffer the consequences. - The careless suffer the consequences this time he stressed on the first word and put the knife in its case with a sharp movement, making it clear that the conversation (if it could be called a conversation) is over. After that without any hurry he headed for the ship with the grace of a lion that admits those who wait to the prey, having taken what he needs. Kiegan turned his head and met the eyes of Amy Steel, the navigator. She shrugged: I have no idea whats wrong with him again, captain. But Kiegan was catching the sense. And he didnt like it. They werent one hundred percent ready for this mission. And it was an extraordinary one. If you arent prepared for it, youd better prepare for rivers of