Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Week 4 - Anaka (Part 1)

Michael Salsbury
The shuttle’s lighting and controls went dark.

Captain Garrick turned to his right.  “Frakes, what’s going on?  We’re starting to drop out of orbit!”
Frakes unstrapped from his chair and ran to the back of the shuttle.  “Something’s disrupted the shuttle’s primary power.  Give me a second.”

Frakes ripped open a panel on the shuttle’s rear wall and began reconfiguring optical wiring.  Within seconds, the shuttle’s control panels and interior lighting returned.  “Got it!”

“Not quite,” Captain Garrick said, “The primary engines aren’t responding.  We’re falling faster.”

Frakes worked frantically at the engine controls, messed with the wiring again, then turned to face the captain and his fellow crewmembers. His face was pale, and sweat ran down his forehead.  “There’s nothing I can do.  We need the Prospect to come tow us back into the shuttle bay.”

Frakes reached for the comm system.

“Belay that, Lieutenant.  The Fleet HQ sent us here to find out what happened to the other ships we’ve lost in this area.  I think we’re about to find out.  I don’t want the Prospect getting too close.  I think we know what happened to the Alameda now.  I’m not letting it happen to our ship..  Strap in.”

Frakes’ shoulders slumped as he returned to his seat and strapped himself in.  “We’re gonna crash.”

A collective gasp came from the rest of the shuttle’s crew.

Garrick turned to face them.  “I’m not gonna sugar coat this.  We’re not about to land softly on that planet down there, but I’ll be damned if I let us crash, either.  I was a test pilot for the first four versions of this shuttle.  I can get it down in one piece without the main engines.  It’s not gonna be pretty, but I can do it.  If you want to take your chances putting on a spacesuit and hopping out the airlock, go for it.  Maybe someone will pick you up.  Otherwise, strap in and hold on.”

The wide-eyed faces told Garrick all he needed to know.  “It’s a big risk, I know.  But having the Prospect come pull us out of here is much, much bigger.  At least right now, we’ve got them in reserve.  If we call them in and they go down with us, well,” he pointed at the planet in the viewscreen, “that’s gonna be your home for a while… maybe a long while.”

Garrick was almost grateful when an alarm klaxon sounded.  He turned back to the controls.  There might be only two other pilots in the Alliance who had ever done what he was about to do, land a shuttle on a planet’s surface without main engines.  He would need to focus.

The shuttle was falling faster now.  Garrick used his knowledge of the shuttle’s other systems to slow its descent, alter its trajectory, and fly it to the ground like a very heavy glider.

“Look at all those wrecks,” Dr. Harrison said, “It looks like a junkyard down there.”

Although he heard the comment, Garrick couldn’t respond.  It took all his skill to get the shuttle down without turning it into a pile of rubble.  In the end, the shuttle skidded across the planet’s surface like a pebble across a pond, before finally coming to rest next to a small, rocky hill.

Garrick unbuckled his restraints and stood up.  The others began doing the same.  Dr. Harrison grabbed a medi-scanner out of a cabinet and began checking the other crewmembers.

“What’s the situation, Doc?”

“Other than a few bruises and burns from the restraints, we’re all fine.  No broken bones, no concussions, and no serious injuries. It could have been a lot worse.”

Garrick nodded slowly.  “I know.  Believe me.  I crashed a few of these before we worked out some of the safety features.  I know it wasn’t a textbook landing, but we made it.  We might even be able to fly this thing out of here if we can get it fixed.  What do you say, Frakes?”

“I’ll have to run some diagnostics, sir.”

“Find out what brought us down.  We need to know if it was something natural about this planet or something artificial.  That’s top priority.  After that, we need a damage assessment.”

Garrick walked back to the pilot’s seat and tapped at the comm system. “Garrick to Prospect, do you read?”

“Prospect here, captain.  What happened?  The shuttle looked like it fell out of orbit.”

“That not far from the truth,” Garrick told his first officer, “Something knocked out our power and our engines.  Frakes got the power back on.  He’s looking at the engines now.”

“Want us to come get you?”

“Negative, Prospect.  Absolutely not.  If you’d seen all the wrecks we saw coming down, you wouldn’t want the ship anywhere close to this planet – at least not until we know what we’re dealing with.”

“Confirmed.  We’ll keep our distance.  Just let us know if we can help.”

“Of course.  For now, just know we’re all down and safe.  Doc Harrison gave us a clean bill of health.  We’ll be in touch when we have something to report.  Garrick out.”

Garrick ordered them to grab sidearms, scanners, and provisions from the shuttle’s stores.  As they finished, Frakes returned from his inspection of the engines.

“Lieutenant Ming,” Frakes asked, “could I borrow you for a moment?  Bring a sci-scanner.”

“Yes, of course”

They went outside and returned a few moments later.  “Captain?”

“Yes, Frakes?”

“Whatever brought us down here wasn’t a natural phenomenon.”

Garrick’s right eyebrow raised.  “How do you know?”

There are three engine components that burnt out.  Ming determined that all three are susceptible to an electromagnetic pulse.  It’s like someone picked the three least expensive parts to burn out to bring down the shuttle.  The odds that this happened by accident are about 23 million to one.”

“23.7 million, to be precise,” Ming added.

Garrick nodded.  “Good work.  So we know that all the ships we saw on the way down didn’t just succumb to some natural feature of the planet, and we know how.  What we need to find out now is who’s behind it, why, and how they’re doing it.  We also have to stop them.  I’m told this system is vital to Alliance interests, though no one’s told me why.”

“What’s next, sir?”  Ming tilted her head slightly.

“I can’t imagine we’re the first crew to survive landing on this planet.  I want to see if we can find some other survivors, and see what they can tell us.  I also want to look at a few of the nearby wrecks, to see if we can learn anything more about our mystery attackers.”

They nodded respectfully and followed him outside.

For the next several hours, they explored in an expanding spiral shape around the shuttle.  Each time they grew close to a new spaceship wreck, they stopped to investigate it.

Frakes looked at Garrick. “It’s like the same story over and over.  All the wrecks we’ve found have been picked clean.  It’s pretty much empty hulls and broken equipment.  Nothing but junk.  We haven’t learned a thing about our attackers.”

Garrick held up a finger.  “No, actually we have.  We know what they did to bring us down, thanks to you and Ming.  We also know why they brought us down.”

“We do?”

“Yeah.  Think about what you just said a moment ago.  There’s nothing useful left on these ships.  What does that tell us?”

Frakes’ eyes widened, and smile crossed his face.  “I get it.  It means that whoever’s causing all the ships to crash is coming around to loot them.”

“Precisely,” Garrick nodded.  “That means if we stay at the shuttle long enough, they’re going to come around to try and loot it, too.  We can get the jump on them.”

The creaking of a metal door behind them caused the crew to jump, turn, and draw their weapons.
A shaky female voice spoke.  “Please, don’t shoot.  My name is Anaka.  I’m coming out.”

From behind the door stepped a female figure.  At first, Anaka appeared to be human.  As she stepped closer, it became obvious that the exposed circuitry, bits of metal skeletal features, and wiring betrayed the truth.  Anaka was an android.  True androids were exceedingly rare in the Alliance.  The technology required to make a realistic human form was still many years out.

Garrick stepped forward.  “Anaka, I’m Captain Paul Garrick of the Alliance starship Prospect.  This is Lieutenant Will Frakes, one of our engineers.  This is Dr. Laura Harrison of our medical bay.  This is Lieutenant Lin Ming, of our science department.  Over there is Abel Markov, of our security team.  We’re here on a peaceful mission, trying to find out why ships are disappearing in this area.”

“I am Anaka.  I am an android. You probably guessed that, looking at me.  I was on a ship that crashed here long ago.  I don’t remember much about it.  I took a lot of damage in the crash.  Much of my memory was erased.  I fixed myself as best I could by scavenging items from other crashes.”

“I’m sure it hasn’t been easy, being on your own.  Do you know anything about why ships crash on this planet?”

Anaka shook her head.  “No.”

“Have you met any other survivors?”

“Not many, but I know that some do survive the crashes, like you.  They live in a settlement, about three days’ walk to the east.  I don’t go there.”


“I’m not welcome.”

“Do you think my crew and I would be welcome there?’

She shook her head.


Anaka pointed to the scanners and sidearms.  “Those.  Technology brings the dark ones.  Night brings the dark ones.”  Her eyes darted around the horizon.  “It’s getting dark.  Come with me.  You don’t want to be outside when they come.”

“Who’s coming?  The ‘dark ones’?  I want to meet them.”

“No,” she shook her head.  “They will take your things.  If you stay with me, they won’t find you.  They haven’t found me.”

“We’ll go back to our shuttle and take our chances there.”

She shook her head furiously, so much so that a piece of loose synthetic skin broke loose and flew away.  “Dozens will come.  They will win.  They will leave you with nothing.  It is their way.  Come, please.”

Markov came out of the room Anaka had been in.  "Captain, that room is lead-lined.  If these 'dark ones' are interested in technology, they probably won't see it in there.  Our scanners can't get through it."

"Do you think we're safer here, or on the shuttle?"

Markov shrugged.  "I don't know.  But if she's been here for years like she says, I think it makes sense to take her advice."

Garrick scanned the others' faces.  "So do I.  Lead the way, Anaka."

Anaka led them into her makeshift home and closed the door, turning a knob to lock it.  "We'll be safe now.  They have never found me here."

"I hope you're right.  What can you tell us about them?"

She looked down and away from him.  "Once, I was exploring.  It wasn't long after I repaired myself.  I saw something.  It was a building.  I hadn't seen a building here, only wrecks.  I thought maybe someone there could help me return home.  I saw them come out of the building.  One of them turned in my direction and started running.  When he got closer, I saw a weapon.  I ran."

Garrick looked down, shaking his head slowly.  "How did you get away?"

"A rock slide.  A large rock rolled over the dark one, killing it."

"You set a trap for him?"

"No.  My programming does not permit me to kill living beings."

"What else does your programming say?"

She shook her head.  "Much was lost.  Some was regained.  I am to explore, to examine, to balance, and to find what has been hidden."

"I see.  You say they like technology.  They steal it.  Is that why they came after you?"

"I don't know.  I think so.  I went back another time.  I saw a large pole come out of the ground.  It glowed blue for a moment."

"And then?"

"I don't know.  I woke up the next day, lying on the ground where I'd been standing."

Ming nodded.  "I'll bet that was the EMP cannon.  It must have caused Anaka's CPU to malfunction."

"Anaka," Garrick took her hands in his, "Many more people will die if we can't stop these dark ones of yours.  Would you please show us where you saw them come out of the ground?"


Garrick shook his head.  "You won't.  You only have to get us close enough to see the place.  We'll take care of it from there."

"What will you do when you are there?"

"We'll try to talk with them, reason with them."

"And when that doesn't work?"

"We'll have to destroy their big gun.  We can't let them keep doing what they're doing."

Anaka's eyebrows raised.  "You are trying to restore balance?"

Garrick pursed his lips.  "Yes, in a way we are.  These dark ones have been taking advantage of passing ships, knocking them out of the sky, and looting them."

"Yes.  That is unfair.  The books must be balanced."

"Then you'll help us?"

"I will show you where they hide.  I cannot help you.  I cannot go near the machine."

"That's fine.  That's all we should need, Anaka."


The next morning, they returned to the shuttle.  As Anaka had warned them, the shuttle had been stripped of any usable technological components, medicines, and supplies.  It reminded Garrick of a photo he had once seen of an automobile assembly line showing a vehicle's outer shell.

Frakes shook his head.  "It would have taken us days to disassemble the shuttle like that.  They did it just a few hours."

"We have no choice now.  We have to go to that bunker.  We don't have the option to fly out of here anymore."

The bunker turned out to be several hours' walk.  When they arrived, the sun began to set.  Anaka refused to stay with them, and ran away in the direction of her lead-lined home.  Garrick led his crew toward an above-ground entrance, and was surprised to find it unlocked.

He turned toward the others, "I guess they don't expect anyone to drop in on them."

Markov went in first, weapon drawn.  "It's dark in here."

They fumbled for their portable lanterns and flashlights.

"Keep the light levels low," Garrick told them.  "It's possible our friends are asleep down here.  I don't want to wake them up.  Ming, get us a scan of this place.  Interior, life signs, energy... all of it."

Ming took out her sci-scanner.  "One moment sir.  I need to stay still while the scanner attempts to map the place."

Garrick nodded, then whispered, "Let's keep it slow, careful, and quiet."

The other dipped their heads to acknowledge him silently.

"Finished with the structural scan.  Scanning for lifeforms... Now energy readings..."

Ming turned the scanner's display to face each of the others so that they could read it.  The scan showed 32 other lifeforms in the facility, most in a room below them that looked like it might be a mess hall or barracks.  The energy readings peaked in a location not far from them, so Garrick told Markov to lead them in that direction.  If they could find a way to destroy the alien weapon, they might be able to escape without having to deal with the facility's occupants.

When they reached the controls to the weapon, Frakes began taking engineering scans of the device to understand how it worked, and how they might destroy it.

Garrick felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up.  "I think we're being watched," he whispered.
"I agree," Markov told him, and gradually turned up his lantern.

Dr. Harrison shook her head.  "This is not good."

They all turned up their lanterns, to see that they were surrounded by the dark ones.  The dark ones were gray-skinned humanoids with large round, dark eyes, no noses, muscular looking arms, and slender fingers on each hand.

"We're here to talk with you," Garrick said.  "We'd like to reach some kind of understanding or agreement."

"I don't think they're interested, captain," Harrison said, as the dark ones drew closer.

Ming's hand accidentally bumped the control on her lantern, which switched to maximum brightness.  The dark ones took a step backward, then, holding a hand up to shield their enormous eyes, began inching closer.

"Markov, flashlights!"

They all reached for their handheld flashlights.  Following Garrick's lead, the aimed the flashlights at the faces of the dark ones, who stepped backward.  This tactic allowed them to gradually make their way back to the entrance, a few feet at a time.  When the opened the exit door, the flood of sunlight made the dark ones howl and retreat.

"We made it!"  Harrison let out a sigh.

Garrick pointed at the sky.  "We're not out of the woods yet, look at the sun."

They'd spent so much time in the dark ones' bunker that the sun was beginning to set.  When it went down far enough, the dark ones would be out of the bunker and on them in no time.

"Run, people, like your life depends on it."

They ran as fast as they could.  When they stopped for a moment to catch their breath, they could see figures coming out of the bunker in the distance.  This gave them renewed strength to run again.
As they neared Anaka's shelter, they could hear vehicles coming in their direction.  They raced inside the shelter.  Anaka bolted the door.

"You are safe now," she told them, pouring water for them from a container in the corner of the room.

"I'm not so sure," Garrick said, sipping his water.  "They were pretty close when we came in here."

"I don't think they can find us here," she told him.  "Their scanners won't penetrate the lead."

"And ours can't see out," Markov reminded her.  "They could be outside the door right now."

"Good point. Let's keep it silent, everyone.  We'll talk in the morning.  Get some sleep."

This was an order the crew didn't need.  After what they'd been through, they were having trouble staying awake.


"Captain, wake up!"  Markov shook him.

Garrick opened his eyes and tried to clear his head.  As he looked around, he realized that he couldn't see Anaka.  He also noticed that this sidearm, flashlight, and lantern were missing.

"What happened?"

"I don't know, captain."

"Do you think Anaka took everything while we slept?"

Markov shook his head.  "No, I see vehicle tracks and footprints outside.  I think the dark ones paid us a visit while we slept."

"This just gets better and better.  No shuttle.  No weapons.  No lights.  No communications."

Harrison brought him a breakfast ration.  He thanked her and took a bite.  "This is something, at least.  We're not gonna starve."

"We're not gonna starve, yet," Harrison reminded him.

Garrick finished his breakfast, then began walking around the wreck outside Anaka's shelter.  Walking helped him to think.  What could they do?  How could they shut down the EMP cannon, save Anaka, and get themselves off this planet without weapons?

He remembered hearing ancient stories about men fashioning blades out of pieces of metal, sharpened to a point on rocks.  Looking around at all the downed spacecraft, there was no shortage of metal.  The planet's gray terrain had plenty of rocks.  The could make swords.

He'd also see images of medieval castles and torches, which were nothing more than bundles of flammable material wrapped around the ends of sticks.  They could scavenge flammable objects from the wrecks, things like old clothing.

Garrick shared the plan with his team, and they began assembling makeshift weapons and torches.  Several hours later, he felt they were ready to try again to assault the dark ones' bunker.  This time, however, they were going to time the attack better.

As the sun began setting, they crouched inside the wreck nearest the dark ones' bunker.  A massive door lifted up out of the ground, and vehicles began driving out of it.  Harrison started to panic, but Garrick's hand on her shoulder seemed to calm her down.

"What are we doing?"  Ming asked.

Markov smiled.  "The captain's increasing the odds.  I counted over twenty-four dark ones in those vehicles, and a few more on foot.  There can't be more than ten inside the bunker right now.  If we let the vehicles get out of sight before we move in, the odds will be better."

"They'll still be against us," Ming said.  "The dark ones know the facility better, and we lost our map when they stole the sci-scanner."

"I know, lieutenant, but every little big helps.  OK, I can't see the vehicles anymore.  Let's go.  Keep silent until we find out first dark one.  Then, communicate only when necessary.  Let's try to keep surprise on our side."

"Surprise?  Won't they be ready for us after yesterday?"

Garrick shrugged.  "Maybe, but they probably don't think we're a threat since we don't have any weapons to use this time, or any lights."

This time, they entered the bunk and began re-tracing their steps from the previous visit.  As they passed a corridor, they heard Anaka's voice.  Garrick made hand motions to tell Frakes and Markov to check it out.  The nodded quickly and headed in the direction of Anaka's voice.  The others continued toward the EMP cannon room.

Inside the room were four guards.  They used the burning torches to push the guards back against the walls and attacked with the swords.  The guards tried to pull their sidearms.  Garrick swung his sword at the guard's hand, knocking the gun away – and some of the guard's fingertips.  He howled in pain.  Garrick stepped in closer and finished him off.  Harrison was struggling with two attackers.  Garrick ran to her aid and dispatched one of them.  Together they helped Ming subdue the last one.


Frakes and Markov followed the sound of Anaka's voice.  They found her in a lab, where two dark ones were apparently breaking her down into parts.  Her arms had been removed, along with one of her legs.  Her chest cavity had been opened as well, with wires and other components sticking out.  The dark ones rushed them, drawing sidearms and firing at Frakes and Markov.  While Frakes kept them occupied, Markov made his way behind then and hit them with a makeshift club he was carrying.  They crumpled to the floor like a pair of old towels.

Frakes worked with Anaka to reattach her limbs and reconnect her other circuitry to enable her to escape.  Anaka thanked them, and showed them a storeroom where the dark ones kept the items they had taken from crashed ships.

Markov grabbed two large packages from the cabinet, and two smaller items, along with their original field packs, weapons, lights, comm bands, and scanners.

"Let's get back to the captain," he told Frakes.


Garrick was relieved when Frakes, Markov, and Anaka arrived.  He was even more relieved to see that Markov had discovered some explosives in the dark ones' store room.  They attached explosive charges to several places on the EMP cannon and set the timers.

They made it out of the bunker in time for the arrival of the dark ones' vehicles.

"Anaka," Garrick asked, "Do you have any other good hiding places?"

Anaka was gone.  Garrick was disappointed, but not surprised.  The android had made it abundantly clear that she did not want to be near the bunker.  She'd probably run for shelter at the sight of the approaching vehicles, which seemed to be turning in their direction.

Garrick pointed his sidearm at the driver of the lead vehicle and fired.  He missed, but it panicked the driver enough that he swerved into the vehicle to his right.  The two collided, sending the right-hand vehicle into a nearby pile of rubble, where it flipped onto its side.  The lead vehicle's driver recovered his composure and increased speed toward them.

The timing of the EMP cannon explosion worked in their favor.  It took the remaining vehicle drivers by surprise and led to a spectacular crash.

Many of the dark ones survived their crashes and were making their wait toward the crew.  Each crew member fired and fired, killing one dark one or another, until their weapons were exhausted.  They fought with their makeshift swords, or with their bare hands.

Their lanterns were beginning to die out.  The flashlights had long given up their power.
The remaining dark ones surrounded them know, smiling, knowing they would soon get their revenge on those who had destroyed their source of livelihood.  They inched closer and closer to Garrick and his people.

Just as the last lantern began to fade, Garrick saw Anaka heading their direction, followed by a large group of people armed with makeshift weapons like those Garrick's people had been using earlier.  Anaka's group attacked and killed the remaining dark ones.

In all of this, Garrick had forgotten to put on his comm band.  As soon as it snapped onto his wrist, it activated and audio began emitting from it.

"Captain Garrick, this is the Prospect.  Are you there?  Can you hear us?"

"Garrick here, Kyle.  We're OK.  Exhausted, but OK.  I think we've solved the Alliance's mystery, too.  We're ready to come home.  We've got some survivors here, and some things for the engineers to have a look at.  Send down all the shuttles you can, and a couple of scanning teams."


Back on the Prospect, the cargo bay was turned into a temporary shelter for the survivors brought up from the planet.  Garrick promised to get them to the nearest Alliance base, from where they could get transportation to anywhere else they might want to go.

Anaka had tried to bunk with the other survivors, but they refused to accept her.  Garrick found her space in some unused crew quarters, and asked Frakes to work with her to restore her to factory condition if he could.  Frakes welcomed the challenge, and Anaka seemed to appreciate the attention.
In the dark ones' bunker, the crew found records indicating what Garrick had suspected.  The dark ones, or Slyne as they called themselves, were colonists on the planet.  When an alien spacecraft crashed there, they tore it apart and learned its secrets.  One of those was an EMP cannon.  They scaled this up, and used it to take down any visiting spacecraft.  They kept and used what they wanted from each craft, and sold the rest on the black market.  It was a small operation, but had been very profitable for the Slyne.   The survivors of the crashed ships were subdued and looted, but given enough to survive on.


As the Prospect prepared to leave orbit around the planet, an unfamiliar ship came into scanner range. The lifeforms aboard matched the Slyne.  Garrick ordered the ship to combat alert.

"Captain," Comms Officer Baker said, "The spacecraft seems to be signaling the bunker."

"Hail them."

"No response."

"They're powering up weapons, captain," Tamlin told him.

"Bring up the shielding and flip on our weapons."

The Slyne ship used its EMP cannon to disable the Prospect's shields and weapons, then closed in to board it.

Garrick ordered his security team to arms and had them equipped with the brightest light sources aboard, surgical lights from the MedBay.

The Slyne boarding party was blinded.  The Alliance security team pushed its way onto the Slyne ship and eventually captured it, along with many of the crew, who were placed in the brig.  They would face trial for their crimes against Alliance shipping when the Prospect reached an Alliance outpost.

If you'd like to provide feedback about this week's story, click here.

About the Author

Michael Salsbury / Author & Editor

In his day job, Michael Salsbury helps administer over 1,800 Windows desktop computers for a Central Ohio non-profit. When he's not working, he's writing, blogging, podcasting, home brewing, or playing "warm furniture" to his two Bengal cats.


  1. Wow! very interesting story! It could be the bones of a novel. Good writing, Mike!

  2. Wow! very interesting story! It could be the bones of a novel. Good writing, Mike!