Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Week 7 - Legacies

Michael Salsbury
“We’ve come a long way since Fraker’s Acre, haven’t we, Kyle?”

First Officer Kyle Rose looked up from his lunch and smiled.  “Yeah, Paul.  That feels like a hundred years ago.  What were we then, eight?”

“Six, I think.  I was in first grade.  Remember old Mrs. Anderson?”

“How could I forget?” Rose laughed.  “I’ve still got welts on my backside.  Any other school system in the country would have fired that old witch for child abuse.”


“Paul, can I ask you a personal question?”

“When’s that ever stopped you?”

“No, really.  When you got back from that last test flight, you told me you were done.  Out of the service.  Retired.  So, why aren’t you?  Why’d you sign up to command the Prospect?”

“I heard it had a really good first officer.”

Kyle chuckled.  “Seriously, Paul.  You told me after Charlie’s accident that the Garrick name was… what did you tell me?... disappearing fast?”

Garrick nodded.  “It is.  My mom and I are the only two left.  I always figured Charlie would get married and I’d get to play ‘Uncle Paul’ for his kids.”

“So you were gonna retire and have some of your own, right?”

“Yeah.  I was.  I am.  Maybe.”

“You can’t do that here.  Captains aren’t allowed to have children aboard.  So why’d you come here?”

“Laura.  After the board cleared me on that last flight, she took me aside.  Claimed she needed me to run the Prospect for a five-year tour.”

Rose looked into Garrick’s eyes.  “No, Boxleitner’s got pull, but not that much.”   He kept looking at Garrick, then smiled.  In his best Marlon Brando, he said “She made you an offer you can’t refuse, eh?”

“Something like that.  I can’t talk about it.  Let’s just say I won’t be signing up for another tour.”

“You’d better not.  I’ll be out of here in six months, and—“

“Married to Renee, I know,” Garrick said, pointing his thumbs at his chest, “Best man, remember?”

“I remember.  I mean it, Paul.  I thought we’d be retiring together.  Traveling, fishing, beer, all that.  Now I’ve gotta wait on you.”

“I know, Kyle.  I’m sorry.  If you want me out sooner, talk to Boxleitner.”

“Captain Garrick,” Comms Officer Nelson’s voice said from his wrist communicator.  “We’ve got new orders – top priority, encoded for your eyes only.”

Garrick looked down at the uneaten plate of food in front of him.  Always before I eat.  Never when I’m having dessert.  “On my way,” he said, grabbing the sandwich and offering the rest to a nearby Tac Officer who eagerly grabbed it.

Garrick stepped into the conference room off the bridge and sealed the door.  He activated the computer and had it decode the orders.  According to the briefing, a stellar cruise ship belonging to the Pindarons had gone missing suddenly.  Its last comm coordinates placed it in a sector at the outer range of Alliance space, near the edge of the galaxy. 

The Alliance had sent in the Prospect’s sister ship, the Harrison, a few hours later.  The Harrison reported encountering an unknown alien craft flying away from the cruise liner, and moved to intercept.  The Harrison hadn’t been heard from since.

Whatever or whoever attacked the Harrison had done so swiftly and effectively enough that the ship wasn’t responding to computer signals asking it for surveillance footage and sensor logs.  It was as though something reached out and swatted both the cruise liner and the Harrison like flies.

“Your primary mission,” the recorded voice of Admiral Boxleitner said, “is to find out what happened to those ships and get word back to us.  Your secondary mission is to make contact with the aliens, assuming there are any, and negotiate a peaceful outcome.  And, as always—“

Garrick cut off the recording.  “I know, I know… don’t scratch the ship.”


Garrick took the Prospect in carefully, slowly.  He encountered the cruise liner first.  Sensor scans showed it to be devoid of life and most of the hull depressurized.  An away team sent to visit the ship sent back footage that made Garrick glad he hadn’t eaten his entire lunch.  What he had eaten was having trouble staying down.

Some hostile force had boarded the liner and killed every member of her crew, and every passenger.  The hostiles had killed everyone aboard in an incredibly brutal and efficient manner.  It was as though whoever or whatever killed these people had been sending a violent, bloody message.  That message was “To us, you are fragile toys to be crushed, broken, or ripped apart at will.”  Some of the bodies even seemed to be partially eaten.  Several members of the bridge crew were physically ill.

“Get the surveillance camera logs, Landon,” Garrick said.  “We need to see whoever or whatever did this.”

“As long as I don’t have to look at ‘em,” Landon answered.  “I already know how the story ends.”

Cruise ship surveillance, being primarily in place to catch thieves and con artists, lacked the detailed sensor scans an Alliance starship collected.  Still, the footage available told the story in morbid detail.  Three reptilian, or perhaps amphibian, creatures breached the cruise liner’s hull and came aboard.  They immediately began methodically marching through the ship and killing every living being they encountered – without hesitation, communication, or rest.  It took the alien invaders less than an hour to kill everyone aboard the cruise liner.  In two sections of footage, the liner’s security team made an attempt to attack the aliens.  If they did anything more than sting the creatures, it couldn’t be seen in the footage.  The aliens literally ripped the security team apart.  It was necessary, albeit difficult, for Garrick and his officers to watch.

“Set course for the Harrison,” Garrick ordered.  “Maybe we’ll get more answers there.”


As the Prospect approached its sister ship, the scanners told similar tale to that of the cruise liner.  The crew of the Harrison had been reduced from four hundred to thirty-two.  The ship’s main power generation was offline and life support seemed to be failing.  There were gaping holes in the hull of the Harrison.  Its engines had been shot up, and there were holes where the weapons should have been mounted.  The scanner data showed it had been disarmed and then disabled.  This was probably a prelude to boarding, Garrick thought.

“Let’s see if we can save what’s left of the crew and get the Harrison running again,” Garrick told the Comms Officer, “Send a Tac team over first to make sure it’s clear, then follow with engineering and medical.”

“Yes, sir,” the Comms Officer said, then turned back to the console to begin assembling the teams and prepping the shuttles.


The away team on the Harrison sent the ship’s logs and surveillance data to the Prospect.  Garrick forwarded the information on to Alliance Fleet HQ, along with his observations and thoughts.  He told Admiral Boxleitner that they’d try to get the Harrison spaceworthy enough for it to return to the nearest Alliance spacedock for repair, then they’d catch up to the alien ship. 

The alien ship was still well within scanner range, and seemed to be in no hurry to leave the system.  It probably didn’t view the Prospect and the Harrison as credible threats.  Garrick was inclined to agree.

Garrick stood, then cleared his throat, and the chatter around the conference table went silent. 
“Let’s start with ship-based tactics.  What do we have?”  He sat back down.

Tac Chief Carson stood up, and called a three-dimensional image of the cruise liner into view.  “The cruise liner had short-range defenses to ward off pirates and a beam in the front for slicing up asteroids.  Its shields were pretty basic, mostly meant to keep it safe in a meteor storm or other low-impact event.  The aliens fired one shot to destroy each weapon, and one more to disable the liner’s main drive.  Their shots were precise and deadly.  They cut through the liner’s shields like they were made of paper.”

Carson then called up an image of the Harrison and the alien ship.  “The Harrison tried to hail the alien ship, and got no response.  They saw only three strong life signs aboard, and an indeterminate number of weak life-like signs.  Thinking that maybe the alien ship was in some kind of distress, they sent a shuttle over to offer assistance.  The shuttle was there briefly, then turned back toward the Harrison.  They received a digital message claiming their comm system was offline and that the shuttle was returning.  When it reached the Harrison, three alien soldiers stepped out of it and began attacking the Prospect’s crew.  The Prospect’s security team was a lot better armed than the one on the cruise ship, just like we are, but the aliens eventually killed three hundred and seventy of her crew.  The security team sealed the aliens in a hallway and kept firing on them until they finally died.  As you can see in the footage here, as soon as the aliens died their bodies vaporized.”

“Why?”  Garrick asked.

“We can’t be sure, of course, but it was mostly like to keep us from having a corpse to experiment with or examine.”

“I see.  Anything else?”

“Yes.  Judging from the weapons range and accuracy, I don’t recommend bringing the Prospect very close to this ship.”


“They took out the Harrison’s engines and weapons in about fifteen seconds, having never seen a ship like it before.  I doubt we’d get within our own weapons range before they did the same to us.  And they’d do it a lot faster this time since they know what to aim for.  The Harrison was able to get close in a shuttle.  The alien ship’s defenses seem to be designed around taking out larger targets.  I think that’s why the Harrison’s shuttle made it there.”

“Understood.  Biology, what do you have?”

“Sensor data says these creatures are of amphibian ancestry.  Assuming their biology is similar to other amphibian races we’ve encountered, that means they’re cold-blooded and can’t regulate their own body temperature.  They’re also susceptible to dehydration.  The armor they’re wearing in the scans seems to contain circuitry to manage moisture and temperature, according to Engineering.  Some amphibians secrete poison through their skins.  We don’t have any evidence of that here, but can’t rule it out, either.  Judging from some of the weapons fire that hit their unarmored skin, even their skin is pretty tough.  Best guess from some of the things we see them doing in the attacks – they’re about four times our physical strength and at least twice our speed.  They can also climb on the walls and ceilings briefly, but don’t seem to be able to stay there long.”

“Alright.  If I get the gist of what you’re telling me, we need to go over there in a shuttle, board that ship, and be prepared to deal with creatures who are faster, stronger, and better armed than we are… creatures that might stick to the walls or ceiling… and who – maybe, if we’re lucky – will get dehydrated dealing with us and need to run off for a drink.”

They looked him, smiled uneasy smiles, and muttered basic agreement.

“Tac, on Earth, we used to have weapons called flamethrowers.  They were used about a century ago in wars.  They spew flammable gases, liquids, or gels at an enemy.  That might dehydrate our amphibian buddies and allow us to take them down.  See what you can come up with.”

“Yes, sir.”


With the Harrison operational and manned by a skeleton crew from the Prospect and her original crew, Garrick ordered them out of the system and off to the nearest spacedock.

His duty to the fleet now discharged, Garrick was ready to focus on the alien ship.  It was a slow mover, and even now was just at the extreme end of scanner range.  Based on the Tac Officer’s estimates of the alien ship’s weapons range, they closed to a distance beyond the alien ship’s weapons range and matched its speed.

Although he didn’t expect it to work, Garrick followed standard protocol and hailed the alien ship.  There was no response.

“Garrick to Comms.”

“Comms here, sir.”

“Have First Officer Rose, Dr. Blanchett, Engineer Thompson, and two Tac officers meet me in the shuttle bay.  We’re going to try to board the alien ship.”

“Yes sir.”


When Garrick reached the shuttle bay, the others were waiting for him. 

Landon held a strange device.  Garrick pointed at it.  “The flamethrower?”

Landon nodded.  “Yeah.  It has just under a two-meter range, and ejects an oily substance that it ignites as it sprays.”

“You’ll take point.”

“It may not work.”

Garrick smiled.  “And if it does, I want to be behind it.”

They boarded the shuttle and began their approach to the alien craft.

“Captain,” Thompson said, “their weapons are charging up.”

“Try to give me a warning when it looks like they’re gonna fire.”

“Aye,” Thompson said, studying the scanner data carefully.  “Now!”

Garrick jerked the shuttle hard to the right just as a beam from the alien ship fired on their earlier position.

“Still charging, sir…  Now!”

Garrick jerked left, and the beam passed harmless to the right.

This continued until they we close enough to the alien ship that its weapons could no longer safely fire on the shuttle.

Garrick brought the shuttle to rest against the hull of the alien ship.  The Tac Officers began cutting a hole in the alien ship’s hull.  When they finished, the circular section of hull material was pushed through and landed with a thud inside the alien ship.

Landon and his flamethrower went through the opening first. 

“It’s really humid in here.  I feel like I’m in Florida in July.”

Garrick and the others followed him.  The room was well-lit.  Looking around them, it appeared to be filled with crates.  They opened one and peered inside.  It looked like dehydrated food.

Dr. Blanchett pulled out her scanner and swept it in an arc in front of her. “The life signs are coming from this direction.  Four of them are weak, but getting stronger.”

“How many are there?”

“I don’t know, captain.  The signs are weak enough that the computer’s having trouble counting them.”

“Take a guess.”

“I don’t know. Thousands?”

They began walking in the direction of the life signs when energy blasts began firing at them.  Thompson’s arm was grazed, but he got out of the way.  Chaney and Landon took turns firing at the source of the blast, which turned out to be a ceiling mounted turret.  A few sidearm blasts caused the turret to explode in a shower of sparks.

Dr. Blanchett patched Thompson’s arm and they began moving, much more cautiously this time, toward the source of the life signs.  “The life signs are growing a little stronger, captain.”


“It looks something like the readings from old-style stasis tubes, the ones that had to gradually wake up someone up from sleep.”

“You’re saying more aliens are waking up?”

“I’m not saying anything, but if I had to guess, that’s what I’d guess.”

A voice boomed around them, “That is correct.  I am waking up another squad to deal with you invaders.”

“Who are you?”

“My name is irrelevant, but in your language my name would be ‘Slave’.”

“How did you learn our language?”

“I interfaced with the computer system aboard your shuttle.  A primitive device.  Easily breached.”

“Primitive?”  Thompson shouted, “That’s a state of the art optical—“

“I could replicate that device’s function with one percent of my capacity.  It is primitive.”

“Thompson,” Garrick held up his hands.  “Stand down.  Slave?”


“I’m Captain Garrick of the Alliance of Sentient Lifeforms.  We’re here in peace.  Our scanners indicated that your ship is filled with weak life signs.”

“Your scanners are correct.  This ship contains three hundred twenty Melkon warriors in stasis, and one million Melkon eggs, ready to deposit on the planet of our choice.”

Garrick looked at the others.  “This is a colony ship?”

“That is one way to phrase it.”

“OK, then, how would you phrase it?”

“In our galaxy, the Melkon empire covered ninety-six percent of the habitable planets.  Another species, the Dreen, refused to be conquered by the Melkons.  The Dreen began driving the Melkon from all of their conquered worlds.  This ship was one of five sent to preserve the Melkon species, and give it new worlds to conquer.”

“So you’re a base ship for an invasion?”

“Correct, captain.”

“I’d like to talk with one of your crew, to negotiate a peace.”

“That would be impossible.  The Melkon view all species as threat, food, or slave.  The species which created my circuitry became slaves to the Melkon.  The Melkon do not have a word for peace in their language.  The closest approximation is ‘conquered’.”

“You said there were other ships like this dispatched to other galaxies.  What happened to them?”
“Unknown.  I have lost contact with all of them.  They may be destroyed.”

Garrick wished he hadn’t heard that.  This ship may contain the last surviving Melkons in the universe.  The Alliance doesn’t have the right to destroy the last survivors of any race.

“Slave, is there anything I can do to convince you not to wake up any of the remaining crew?”


“Even if I promise to help you find a world where the Melkons can setup a colony?”

“No.  I am programmed to find a suitable world myself.  I have analyzed you and your ships.  Your technology is vastly inferior.  You are weak and lack the Melkon’s warrior skills.  You have nothing the Melkon want, except your worlds, and the Melkon will take those from you in time.  The soldiers are just beginning to awaken now.  You will be dead soon.  This conversation is over.”

“Slave?  Slave?”

Garrick turned to Thompson.  “You’re on point again.  Let’s keep making our way toward the life signs?”

“Are you kidding?”  Blanchett’s mouth hung open.  “We should be getting the hell out of here.”

Garrick looked at all of them.  “Look.  Here’s the situation.  This ship contains over a million aliens.  They may be the last of their kind.  It could land on an inhabited world somewhere that’s not expecting it.  If three of these things nearly took out the Harrison, what do you think will happen when three hundred of them land on an inhabited planet?  And what’ll happen when a million more hatch and grow up to be just like them?  Like it or not, we have two responsibilities now.  We have to protect the Alliance, and if we can save this species, it’s our moral responsibility to do it.”

“Just to be clear, captain,” Tac Officer Chaney made eye contact.  “If it’s down to us or them, we take ‘em out.  Right?”

Garrick nodded.  “Yes.  Alliance first, self-preservation second, saving the Melkons – last.  Kyle, look out!”

A Melkon dropped from the ceiling behind Rose.  It grabbed the man and tore him apart. 

Landon opened fire with his flamethrower.  The Melkon released an ear-piercing shriek and stumbled out of the room.  A second dropped from the ceiling and landed behind Thompson.

“Thompson, down!” Landon shouted.  Thompson hit the floor just as Landon’s flamethrower fired on the Melkon.  This one shrieked and swayed from side to side, burning as it did so, then collapsed to the floor. 

Garrick stood motionless, looking at the remains of his best friend strew around the room.  He felt nauseous, and defeated.  He couldn’t imagine a universe with Kyle in it – until now.  Kyle was an only child.  “The last of his line,” Garrick mumbled under his breath.

“What, sir?”  Landon asked. 

Garrick didn’t hear the question.

As much as he wanted to curl up into a ball and mourn the loss of his friend, Garrick knew he couldn’t.  Not now.  There was too much at stake.  He promised himself, promised Kyle, that he’d think about it later.

“We have to finish this.”

Landon nodded.

A Melkon came up behind Captain Garrick.  Garrick spun to face it and opened fire with his sidearm.  The alien reached for Garrick’s neck.  Landon fired the flamethrower at it.  The Melkon ran out of the room, flames covering its torso.

“Come on,” Garrick waver his weapon toward the hall the Melkon had just taken to escape. 

The team carefully made its way down the hall.

Dr. Blanchett looked at her scanner.  “We’re heading back toward that stasis room.”

“The Melkons must have gone back to wake up more.”

“Is this a bad time to tell you I’m out of ammo?”  Landon strapped the weapon onto his back.

Garrick’s eyes opened wide, then he shook his head.  “Wonderful.”

They entered the stasis room.  Just as Slave had warned them, the walls were lined with hundreds of stasis pods containing fully grown Melkon warriors.  A large oval-shaped bin in the center of the room contained a frozen liquid filled with eggs.

“Wow,” Blanchett said.  “A million little bloodthirsty lizard babies…”

Landon opened a door and peered through.  “Captain, you’ll want to see this.”

Captain Garrick and the others entered the room.  It appeared to be an arsenal.  There was enough weaponry in the room to outfit a thousand soldiers.  Some of the larger items appeared to be artillery, bombs, and other explosive materials.  Thompson ran a scanner over it.

“If I had to guess based on these readings, you could almost cut a hole in the Prospect’s hull with one of these sidearms,” he said, grabbing one and tossing it to Garrick. 

Garrick looked it over.  It had a clumsy feel, having been designed for claws and not human hands, but he puzzled over it for a moment before test-firing it at an empty crate.  The crate nearly vaporized.

“Whoa!”  Thompson’s jaw hung open.  He grabbed more of the sidearms and handed them to the others.  “Even if these don’t stop the Melkon, it might slow them down.”

They stepped back into the stasis chamber.  The two wounded Melkons were there waiting.
Garrick walked over to the egg storage and aimed the Melkon weapon at it.  He hoped it would get their attention.

It did.  The nearer Melkon rushed at him and knocked him back, forcing him to drop the weapon.  Garrick punched the Melkon, screamed, looked down at his hand, and lost consciousness.

Blanchett, Landon, and Thompson fired on the Melkon and killed them with their own weapons.
Blanchett’s scanner beeped. She pulled it out to check the reading.  Her face grew pale.
“What’s wrong?” Chaney asked.

“They’re all being brought out of stasis.  We are in so…much…trouble.”

“Maybe not,” Thompson said, pulling out his scanner.  “If I trace these circuits, maybe…”

Thompson frantically ripped at a panel on the wall and began alternately checking his scanner and manipulating the wiring inside.

Blanchett’s scanner vibrated.  “That must have worked.  The life signs are all holding steady.”


Garrick awoke in the Prospect’s MedBay.  Dr. Blanchett was standing over him.  Garrick started to sit up, but Blanchett pushed him back down.

“Whoa there, captain,” she told him, “You’ve been in a coma for two days.  That Melkon poison is really strong.  It nearly killed your central nervous system.”

Garrick looked at her, “The Melkons, what--?”

“What happened to them?  I’m sure Thompson will tell you all about it later, but here’s what you need to know.  We shut down all the stasis tubes with warriors in them, then—“

“You killed them?”

“Let me finish.  With the warriors dead, we carted away all their weaponry.  That’s headed to Directive 51 land, Thompson tells me.  The Melkon eggs are being taken to an uninhabited swamp world inside Alliance space.  The Alliance is going to send biologists, educators, and other scientists there to make sure the little baby Melkons grow up like good little Alliance citizens.  They’ll have no idea where they came from, at least until they’re ready to handle it.”

Garrick smiled.  “You saved them.”

“Yes.  And you.  And the Prospect.  Not a scratch on her.”

“Nicely done,” Garrick said, his head falling slowly back onto the pillow as his eyes closed.
Garrick slept for another twelve hours.


When he finally recovered, Garrick had several unhappy tasks to attend to.  As captain of the Prospect, it was his responsibility to notify his best friend’s mother that her son was dead.  He knew her comm identifier by heart, and entered it.  Within seconds, Kate Rose’s face appeared on the screen.

“Paul, how good to see you!”

“It’s good to see you, too, Mrs. Rose.”

“How’s Kyle?  What have you two been doing?”

Garrick felt a lump in his throat.  His eyes burned.  “Kate,” he said, tears streaming from his eyes, “Kyle’s dead.”


“I’m not allowed to say much.  He was… attacked by something.  Right in front of me.  It was so fast…”

She was crying now, too.  “My baby…”

“I know, Mrs. Rose.  I’m so sorry.”

“I…. have to go…” she said.   The comm window went blank.

Garrick let the tears continue to flow.  He cried for his brother Charlie.  He cried for Kyle, for Mrs. Rose’s only son, and for himself.  He was now, truly, the last of his line.


“I want out,” Garrick said.  “I’m finished.”

“Paul, I wanted you on the Prospect for a reason.”

“Which is?”

“I can’t tell you now.  Trust me.  You’re where I need you to be.”

“Out in space, killing my friends?”

“You didn’t kill Kyle.  The Melkon did.”

“I could have left him on the Prospect.  I killed him by bringing him along.”

“No you didn’t.”

Garrick sighed. 

“Why do you want out, Paul?  Why retire now?”

He looked her on-screen image in the eye.  “I’m the last one left, Laura.  The last Garrick.  Charlie’s dead.  My mom won’t live forever.  I’m it.  If I die, my mom and dad die with me.”
“I want you to think about something, Paul.  We’ll talk again in a week.  If you still want out, I promise I’ll think long and hard about it. OK?”


“Suppose I let you out.  You go home.  You find someone you like.  You marry her.  You have a couple of kids.  Your family name lives on, and all that.  Just like you wanted.”


“Maybe your kids go on to be something special.  Maybe they don’t.  Now, look at the bigger picture.  You stay on the Prospect.  You teach your junior officers everything you know.  They’re better.  They end up in ships of their own.  They change the universe, Paul.  They make the Alliance and the fleet better.  That’s your legacy, Paul. A stronger Alliance.  A stronger, better fleet.  And your name, the Garrick name, becomes known as one of the fleet’s best and bravest.  Think about that.”

If you'd like to provide feedback about this 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.


Post a Comment