It’s been a while since I’ve posed an update for my sci-fi novel, so here is chapter 6 (it still has yet to be named by the way). If this is the first chapter you’ve come across please check out the prologue, chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3, chapter 4, and chapter 5.
Disclaimer: these chapters have not yet been professionally edited so there will most definitely be mistakes that I did not catch. Also this series contains violence, moderately strong language, and a touch of gore. Reader discretion is advised.
Welcome Aboard the N.E.S. Bengal
Kira shut her eyes as soon as she felt her molecules tearing themselves apart. The pain was agonizing, but only for a moment. When she next opened her eyes she took a gasping breath and braced herself against the glass cell of her teleportation capsule. The pain was gone but she still felt as if she had come up for air after being under the water for much too long. Her heart pounded against her chest like the beat of one of Artemis’s annoyingly loud 20th century rock songs. She stared wide eyed at the luminescent platform beneath her feet before the sudden sound of someone knocking on her capsule brought her back to her senses.
“Sergeant Leonid?” called a muffled, high pitched, female voice. “Sergeant Leonid? Are you alright, ma’am?”
“She’s not used to being ripped apart and reassembled again,” replied Artemis’s muffled voice.
Kira’s raised her eyes just enough to see two pairs of feet standing in front of her teleportation capsule. She recognized Artemis’s large black boots, and figured the smaller pair of boots must have belonged to the woman her first spoke. However, she did not feel well enough yet to lift her head up any further.
“Sergeant Leonid isn’t used to being teleported?” the female voice asked. “Teleportation training is a prerequisite for being authorized to access the Bengal, isn’t it?”
Kira watched Artemis shift his weight from foot to foot. “Um … well, y-yeah?”
Kira scowled at Artemis’s stammered reply. They hadn’t even been there five minutes and they were already causing suspicion. After taking a deep breath, she straightened up and smoothed back her short, dark brown hair. “You’ll have to forgive me, solider. It’s been a while since training, and a simulation is nothing like experiencing the real thing.”
Pushing back her shoulders she raised her chin and pressed her palm to the capsule’s evacuation button. The door slid open with a whistling breath and Kira stepped out, doing her best to keep her balance despite how shaky her legs felt.
She gave Artemis a look that she hoped would tell him to stop talking, before turning her attention to the new women. She was pretty with blonde hair that was pulled back into a tight bun and a broad—although slightly nervous—smile. Thankfully, her stunningly pink eyes—definitely a surgical modification—studied Kira with more curiosity than suspicion.
“I hope you don’t take offense to this, Sergeant Leonid, but you’ve got to be the youngest Chief Master Sergeant I’ve ever met,” the young woman said, tilting her head to one side. “My biometric scanners say you’re about twenty-one years old, correct?”
Biometric scanners? Kira thought, feeling the blood drain from her cheeks. God I hope that isn’t a standard issue program… Although Kira’s heart was threatening to beat right out of her chest, she forced herself to calm down. “That’s correct—“ Her gaze darted down to her uniform stripes for only a moment before flickering back up to meet the woman’s hot pink eyes. “Senior Master Sergeant.”
“Oh my gosh! You must be some sort of prodigy!” she cried with enthusiasm that Kira found inappropriate for a woman of her ranking. “Oh, sorry! I know your names from the teleportation roster, but you probably have no idea who I am. My name’s Penrose Lemta, but most people call me Penny.”
“I think I’ll call you Sergeant Lemta, if you don’t mind,” Kira replied, sounding colder than she’d intended—she was still a bit out of sorts from teleportation. However, she wasn’t going to apologize for her tone. Penrose was her ‘subordinate’, and she would treat her as such to keep up appearances.
Artemis nudged her sharply in the side, flashing Penrose one of his charming smiles. “Don’t mind her, Penny. K’s just a little grouchy from the trip—and I thought she was bad after those teleportation sims we had to go through a couple months ago!” Artemis said, slapping Kira hard on the back.
Kira coughed from the impact and shot him a deadly glare. Penrose laughed, placing her hands on her slender hips. For a woman with such a small and slender frame, Penrose had an ample amount of chest. Artemis eyes flickered from her breasts to her face a few times before seemingly making a conscious effort to keep his line of sight above her shoulders. Kira sighed inwardly. Don’t be dumb, Artemis. A blind man could see those are modified.
Penny chuckled, apparently unfazed by Kira’s chilly demeanor. “Don’t worry, Sergeant Leonid, the first teleportation is always the worst,” she said in an upbeat tone. “Why don’t we take a walk to get your systems recalibrated, hm?”
Artemis grinned. “Sounds good to me. What do ya say, K?”
Kira didn’t really feel like walking just then, but she decided to push through her discomfort. Thus, she nodded. “Yes. I’d like to get acquainted with the ship as soon as possible.”
“Yeah! We’re really interested in that MCTA stuff. Can you takes us there first?” Artemis asked a little too eagerly for Kira’s tastes.
“MCTA is being tested in our engineering division,” Penny explained. “Only level three security clearance personnel with division eight or higher engineering downloads can access the facility. I’m a navigator so I couldn’t escort you two into the engineering department even if I wanted to. If you really want to see what’s going on over there, Sergeant Hartford, you can ask Sergeant Leonid to get you clearance since she’s the only one between the three of us with access to that department.”
Kira clasped her hands behind her back as she had seen Noire do many times before—she had always thought it made him look so authoritative. “Engineering can wait, Sergeant Hartford. We’ve been assigned to the Bengal to work, not to sight-see. I’m certain we’ll have plenty of time to explore after Sergeant Lemta has shown us around.”
“Sure, sure,” Penny said waving to them as she led the way out of the small teleportation chamber. “The officers encourage us to take advantage of all the N.E.S. Bengal has to offer when we have the time. Honestly, it’s pretty relaxed around here unless you’ve got trials on your schedule for the day.”
“Trials?” Artemis asked.
“Yes, trials,” Penny replied, briefly glancing back over her shoulder at them as she led then down a long metallic hallways without windows. The large square tiles beneath their feet lit up as they walked across them. “You were briefed about your roles aboard this ship, weren’t you?”
“Refresh our memories,” Kira said in a monotone.
“All Tora Corp soldiers brought aboard the Bengal are required to participate in the testing of TCEs at least eight hours a week—that’s the mandatory minimum,” Penny said.
Artemis scratched his head. “Uh, I think my mind beans are still scrambled from the trip. What’s a ‘TCE’ again?”
Penrose paused in her tracks and spun around to face them, causing both Kira and Artemis to freeze in place. “Mind beans?”
Kira released a breath she had not known she’d been holding in and chuckled hoping that it didn’t sound too relieved. “Yes. That’s what Sergeant Hartford has instead of a functioning brain. Please forgive his ridiculous euphemisms, Sergeant Lemta.”
“Pfft!” Artemis said, waving his hand in Kira’s direction. “’Mind beans’ is gonna catch on, and when it does you’re gonna be sorry you didn’t hop on the ‘bean train’ sooner. And at least I don’t make up words—what the hell is a ‘u-phone-ism’ anyway? Sounds like old tech.”
Kira stared at him for a long moment. “Any sort of intelligence is wasted on you, isn’t it?”
Penny laughed, tilting her head back towards the domed metal ceiling a few feet above. “You two have known each other for a while, haven’t you?”
Artemis playfully ruffled Kira’s hair. “Heck yeah! Me and K go way back, don’t we, kiddo?”
Kira grabbed his hand and threw it back down to his side. “Regrettably.” Kira straightened up and cleared her throat. “Now, you were about to remind Sergeant Hartford what a TCE is, weren’t you?”
“Oh! Right,” Penny said, wiping the amused smiled from her face. “TCE stands for ‘Tora Corporation Experiment’. So far we’ve got about a thousand experiments and counting locked away in our onboard containment facilities. Class three personnel, like you, are cleared for testing green and yellow division TCEs. Red division TCE testing is reserved for level five personnel only—basically only the highest officers on board have that sort of clearance. Anyone below a level four security clearance isn’t even allowed to enter the red division containment center.”
Not our problem, Kira thought and decided not to ask any more questions on TCEs. Their primary goal was the MCTA which seemed to at least be within her reach. Artemis was charismatic enough to pry some information out of the tighter lipped Tora Corp employees, so she would leave Cain’s little task to him. Kira didn’t care what they were keeping in the red division, though she sensed from the hint of frustration in Penny’s voice that she did care. Again, that wasn’t her or Artemis’s problem.
Kira kept quiet as Artemis casually flirted with Penny until they reached the end of the long hallway. Penny paused in front of a pair of brushed metal doors, still blushing from Artemis’s last compliment. She pressed her hand to the touchscreen on the door and a hollow female voice sounded throughout the hallway. “Access granted, Senior Master Sergeant Penrose Lemta. Clear to scan Tora Corp employee data chips?”
“Clear, Mia,” Penny said cheerfully before turning to face them. “Alright, Sergeants, arms at your sides and face forward, just like in base training.”
Kira and Artemis did as they were instructed, allowing the ship’s A.I. to scan them. It hardly took more than a second before the A.I. spoke again. “Chief Master Sergeant of Tora Militia Artemis Hartford, and Chief Master Sergeant of Tora Militia Kira Leonid cleared for entry. All access to appropriate level three security areas granted.”
“Thanks, Mia,” Penny said as the door slid open for them. “By the way, that was Andromeda—Bengal’s onboard A.I. I call her Mia for short and so do a lot of other employees. She’s the most sophisticated A.I. around. She monitors nearly every part of this ship.”
“Nearly?” Kira asked.
“Well, I’m told that the only parts of the ship Mia’s been barred from monitoring are the red division testing facilities—there aren’t any audio or video devices allowed in there,” Penny explained. “Don’t get me wrong, Mia’s still got that area locked down tight with protocol security measures, she just can’t see or hear what’s going on in there.”
So it all comes back to the ‘red division. This woman must really be obsessed, Kira thought as Penny led them into a large central hub area. Like the Tora Corp Transportation center on earth, this room’s ceiling was made of thick, tempered glass. Kira found it truly amazing that it didn’t shatter beneath the extreme pressures of space. The glass allowed them a lovely view of Earth which floated amidst a seat of blackness and distant stars. Although the hub didn’t have many furnishings—there a few uncomfortable-looking metal benches pushed against the wall, a couple of plants protected behind glass enclosures, and a massive laser projection up on the far wall which Reid Zarlok’s scruffy face was taking up. Zarlok winked and gave all of his employees passing through the hub a ‘thumbs-up’, his grin looking too wide for his face.
As in the transportation center on earth, the hub was bustling with people dressed in militia uniforms, lab coats, and expensive, tailored suits made from the finest materials money could buy. Though, as Kira scanned the room, she saw that there were no more data chip scanners of any sort—she supposed Andromeda had all that under control.
Penny led them through the crowd of people to a large counter arena right beneath Zarlok’s ridiculously huge projection. The bored looking solider behind the desk who was tossing a ball of blueish energy up and down, immediately sat up at attention when he caught sight of Penrose. Kira could tell by his stripes—or rather, lack thereof—that Penny was his senior officer, which meant she and Artemis were as well.
With a quick snap of his fingers the ball of blueish energy disappeared and he smiled broadly, his cheeks turning pink. “H-hello, Sergeant Lemta! New soldiers?”
Kira guessed that the boy must have been around her age—maybe a little younger, but not by much. Penny nodded once. “Yep, yep! They’ll be needing their orientation packets.”
“Right,” the solider said, flicking his forefinger and thumb out causing a translucent blue screen appear before him. “Mia, please pull up new recruits identity data.”
“Immediately, Senior Airman Jones,” replied Andromeda’s smooth, womanly voice from somewhere behind the desk.
The translucent blue screen filled with lines of information—which Kira couldn’t read because they were backwards to her—along with both Kira and Artemis’s pictures.
Jones tapped the screen a few times before minimizing it. “Alright Sergeant Hartford, and Sergeant Leonid, you’re orientation files are being downloaded to your data chips right now,” he said with an exuberance that only came from youth.
Kira, on the other hand, was not as excited as Jones. Instead of having that information that was supposed to be downloaded to their data chips immediately at their disposal, she and Artemis would have to study it, and study it well. She would probably have to connect Archimedes to Artemis’s language chip to help him navigate the ship—after all, he was not as competent with studying as she was.
“Alright, are your maps downloaded?” Penny asked, setting her hands on her scant hips. Kira and Artemis exchanged hesitant looks and murmured ‘yes’. “Okay! Let’s start our tour then.”
Kira briefly shut her eyes and released a steadying breath. Thank goodness they were still going to be given a tour. As Penny marched toward the large archway to their left—one of the four large archways leading away from the hub—Kira turned away from Jones and gently nudged Artemis in the side. “Pay attention,” she hissed. “We’re both going to need to know the lay out of this ship.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Artemis said with an airy wave of his hand. He ruffled her hair. “Chill out, will you? I got this.”
Kira grimaced as Artemis’s hand fell from her head back down to his side and he started after Penny. Needless to say, his ‘I got this’, hadn’t exactly inspired confidence. He had said that many times before when he clearly hadn’t ‘got it’. She just hoped for his sake, as well as her own that this time he actually meant what he said.
Penny showed them the different sections of the ship, and, as Kira had anticipated, the layout of the N.E.S. Bengal was quite complicated. I guess I will have to program Archimedes to give him directions after all, Kira thought glumly to herself as she glanced over at Artemis who looked utterly confused.
After being shown the cafeteria, mall area, weapon range, training facilities, the mental hospital—which they had been told Tora Corps criminally insane test subjects were held—and beta-testing areas, Penny finally led them to the section of the Bengal that they were most interested in. “And here we are,” Penny said brightly, thrusting her arm toward a pair of reinforced steel doors. “Tora Corp’s famous engineering labs! Behind these doors the greatest inventions the world has ever seen are being developed. This is where you’ll be working, Sergeant Leonid. Aren’t you excited?”
Kira could not stop the slightest of smirks from forming on her lips. “More than you realize, Sergeant Lemta.”
Kira’s stringent gaze fell upon the ominous steel doors set into the sterile white wall before them. This should be a quick job. I’ll get in, grab the MCTA while Artemis snoops around for information on Tora Corp corruption, and then we can leave.
Almost as if reading her thoughts Penny went on to say, “Oh! I should tell you now that the rules are the strictest in the engineering labs. Protocol is followed to a T there. No authorized materials go in no prototypes come out of there without express approval from General Kipling. The anti-gravity shoes are fun, but trust me they’re not worth borrowing for a joy ride—Sergeant Aldan got discharged for just trying to sneak those babies out of the lab.”
“How’d he get caught?” Artemis asked.
“Mia,” Penny replied simply. “She’s got eyes and ears all over this place. Besides that there are scanners all throughout the Bengal that run independently from Andromeda’s programing. Between the scanners and Mia, it’s pretty much impossible to get away with shenanigans here.”
Artemis snorted a laugh. “Shenanigans…”
“It means ‘mischief’, you dolt,” Kira snapped, having to restrain herself slapping him in the stomach. “Stop laughing.”
Penny chuckled. “Well, to be fair, it is a pretty funny word.”
“Right?” Artemis said, his eyes lighting up as he and Penny shared a strange ‘idiot moment’.
Kira shifted uncomfortably watching Artemis and Penny smile at one another like they had forgotten she was there. She cleared her throat loudly, jarring them out from their daze. “Shall we continue our tour now, Sergeant Lemta?”
“Yes, of course!” Penny said, her cheeks turning pink as she averted her eyes from Artemis and hurried past them. “Follow me! We’ve still got a lot to see.”
Artemis was just about to prance off after her like a dog that just had been called to a meal when Kira grabbed his arm and tugged him back. “Artemis, I swear to god, if you mess this up I will never forgive you. This is dangerous. Do you understand that?” she whispered harshly.
“Huh? What are you talking about?” Artemis asked, raising a brow.
Kira merely shot him a knowing look in response.
“What? Penny?” Artemis asked, laughing softly, so as not to draw attention. “I’m just being friendly. Cool your jets, K, we’ll be fine. I ain’t gonna mess anything up for us.” He then leaned in closer. “We probably shouldn’t be talking about this here because of, you know … GLaDOS.”
Kira’s face scrunched up. “Who?”
Kira shrugged and shook her head. “I don’t know what apertures have to do with this.”
“Seriously? You’ve never heard of Portal and you choose to say aperture?”
“Why is that so strange? It’s synonymous with the word porthole.”
“No! Not porthole, Portal! You know, the video game?”
Kira cast him an apathetic look to which Artemis rolled his eyes. “Okay, never mind that. Just, you know, watch what you say,” he said, discreetly nodding to one of Andromeda’s touch screen command pads. Now she understood. He was worried about the ship’s A.I. overhearing them and for good reason. Kira would have to create some sort of scrambling programming to shield Andromeda from recording their private conversations.
He clapped his hand on Kira’s shoulder. “Look, we’ll talk later. Let’s just finish our tour, yeah?”
Before she even had a chance to reply, Artemis strode forward, following after Penny. Kira clenched her jaw and grudgingly went after him. She would knew she would have to keep a keen eye on him—he got distracted so easily, especially when buxom women were involved.
Penny led them though a large common area and down a long hallway at the end of which were two double doors with the word ‘Dormitories’ glowing upon a glass pane above them.
“Since you two are Chief Master Sergeants you get your own state rooms. I heard they’re really nice—I can’t wait until I get promoted to your levels!” Penny said, flattening her arms down to her sides so she could be scanned.
Artemis and Kira mimicked Penny by pressing their arms flat against their sides as well. The doors beeped and slid open with a breathy squeak that reminded Kira of the sound decontamination chambers make with their release their antibacterial mist. Penny led them through the doors and down another hallway lined with metallic wainscoting. There were doors at regular intervals on either side of them.
“This is generally where the E-1’s stay. They’re bunk rooms that house about four people each. Men’s dorms are on the right and women’s dorms are on the left. After curfew Mia locks all the bunk rooms in this section to prevent any hanky panky, if you know what I mean.”
“I don’t think there are many definitions for ‘hanky panky’, so yes, I know what you mean,” Kira replied monotonously.
Artemis laughed loudly and slapped her hard on the back, the force of which nearly made her stumble forward. “Don’t be such a wet blanket, K! Penny’s just tryin’ to liven up the tour for us.”
“Sergeant Leonid is all business I see! General Kipling is going to love you,” Penny said, winking back at Kira. Her face suddenly brightened up with excitement. “Hey! Maybe you’ll even get to meet Mister Zarlok! Sometimes General Kipling holds banquets for upper division enlisted and Mister Zarlok is usually in attendance. Sometimes Mister Zarlok will promote you right on the spot and then you get transferred to the Tora space station orbiting Neptune. You guys are E-9s so you’re shoo-ins for at least an invite!
Kira made a face. “I thought Tora’s Neptune station was just a myth.”
“So did I until my friend Jodie got promoted and sent there,” Penny said. “She’s been so busy she hasn’t even gotten the chance to write me.”
They continued down the long E-1 hallway, and at the end of the corridor was a glass elevator. They stepped inside and Penny said, “E-7 through E-9 please.”
As soon as she gave the command the elevator moved up so smoothly Kira could only tell they were moving by the floors the rushed past the elevator’s glass walls in a blur of white, gray, and black. When the elevator came to a halt they stepped out into a large, domed chamber with doors lining the concaved wall before them. Directly across the hall from the elevator was a huge archway that led to another hall. There was a fountain in the middle of the room that gushed a glowing bluish substance that was most certainly not water—Kira’s best guess was plasma.
Penny threw out her arms, smiling broadly. “And here we are! Home sweet home! This area is the E-7 and E-8 rooms. We, unfortunately, have to bunk in pairs here.” She motioned to the door directly to their right. “That’s mine and Maria’s room, for future reference,” she said, flashing Artemis a flirty smile.
He grinned and began to move towards her, but Kira grabbed his arm and held him back. Unfortunately she couldn’t stop him from saying, “The A.I. doesn’t lock the doors after curfew up here, does it?”
Penny only giggled in response and motioned with her hand for them to follow her. Penny led them down an archway and to a much smaller domed room with a glass ceiling from which one could view the starry heavens that surrounded them.
“And here is the E-9 chamber. This is you guys,” Penny said. “There are laser plaques on the doors, so just find your name and head inside—I’m sure you guys will want to rest before dinner in an hour or so. I remember when I was first teleported up here, the journey kicked my butt!”
Kira nodded her thanks and excused herself to find her room—she didn’t think Artemis and Penny were too broken up over her sudden desertion. She found her door quickly and wasted no time in entering her chambers. The room was spacious and separated into several sections by frosted glass dividers. There was a small kitchen area at the back of the room with a food tablet and beverage dispenser, a little metal table and two metal chairs. The living room area had a rectangular, uncomfortable looking, white couch and the latest model of laser projectors was on to displaying Reid Zarlok with his big cheesy grin, giving her the ‘thumbs up’. She scowled and said, “Projector off.” The projector shut off on her command and all the remained was a blank, white wall.
The bedroom area was plain with only two nightstands on either side of the bed—that looked about just as comfortable as the couch—a dresser, and an interactive mirror mounted on the wall. Beside the sleeping area was the bathroom which featured a shower, toilet, sink, and mirror—nothing exorbitantly fancy.
However, the very best part of the room was the ceiling. Just like out in the hall the ceiling was made of glass allowing her to see the beautiful cosmos that they were weightlessly floating in. She fell back on the bed and was glad to find that it was far more comfortable that it first appeared. She stared up at the starry sky above her and for a moment she forgot that she was only there to steal some dumb hunk of metal. For a moment she just reveled in the magnificence and serenity of space.
For new fairy tale, Prince of Prophecy, and Writer’s Corner updates every Wednesday and Saturday, follow this blog!