Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"The Commander's Courage" Excerpt: "Two Truths And A Lie"

"I was on... the command ship in the midst of an active battlefield!"


As we exited the medical bay, and started down those long silver walkways, I quickly learned that any deviation from Cher’s programmed path resulted in an electric shock at my ankles and the android pausing to slowly turn and remind me, “Please remain on the path. Come along, madam.” She always said it in exactly the same tone of voice, with exactly the same inflection.

When we arrived at last in front of a sliding silver door, I felt my stomach lurch; was she going to stuff me in a tube like the soldiers had?

The door swished open, but the compartment inside looked like a normal elevator, with plenty of room for more than one person. Cher stalked calmly inside and turned to face me.
Come along, madam,” she intoned.

The security-bot nudged me forward. I joined the android in the elevator car, and we ascended several levels. When the doors opened again, we must have been somewhere near the top of the ship, because now there were large windows all around. For the first time, I got a glimpse of exactly where I was. Even Cher was kind enough to stop for a few minutes so I could look around.
My mouth dropped open as I stared for so long, my eyes started to hurt.

“Holy space freighters,” I spluttered under my breath. “I’m a long way from home!”
 
I stared out the window at the expanse of star-speckled night sky that surrounded the ship. But it wasn't the stars that got my attention. As I watched, large, clumpy grey shapes zipped back and forth across the expanse, releasing colored bolts that flashed among the white stars.
Not only was I on an enormous space cruiser... It was also the command ship in the midst of an active battlefield!
A jolt at my ankle kept me from staring much longer.
"Come along, madam," Cher coaxed.
I could not stop picturing the floating ships. Something about the shapes seemed familiar...

"Oh!" I gasped. "Now I get—" The words died in my mouth as I nearly blew my whole secret right there to Cher. The android stared at me, servos whirring as her eyelids blinked. I faced forward again. "Never mind," I said quickly.
"Come along," Cher repeated.

I was glad she only said one thing, because it was easier to keep my mouth shut, even though my mind spun at a million miles per hour in my head. I knew exactly where I was this time!
Several years ago, I was hunting for a new idea to write about, and somebody recommended a short-lived TV series they could only describe as a "space western." I had no idea what that meant, but I was always interested in sci-fi, and besides, I recognized a couple of actors on it. I watched the show and loved it so much that I had started creating my own version of it (also combining heavily with some other sci-fi movies I watched and books I read) in story form. I had a contingent of diverse characters that I threw onto an enormous spaceship just like this one, setting them to wandering the halls and finding different rooms, figuring out how the alien systems worked, and just talking with one another...
At which point the story fizzled and died because I couldn't think of any idea cool enough to match the things other people had already done.

I was practically floating with excitement as we ascended the ramp toward the flight deck and the command bridge. It was like coming back from a long absence and finding out where the story had gone without me.

Officers in crisp grey uniforms crisscrossed the walkways. The only distinction I could discern was the shape of the large brooch that served as the rank insignia. Different men and women had different shapes formed in platinum on their shoulders, but I did not understand what they meant. As we progressed across the flight deck, I saw a man with three arms controlling some kind of navigation console. At another monitor, a woman spoke an acoustic sort of language into the microphone attached to her headset.
Cher and I ascended one more flight of stairs toward the commander's quarters.
A laser array scanned the two of us from head to toe, and the door dematerialized in front of us.

The Commander stood in front of his desk, waiting for us. His light-brown hair swept off to the side in a stately, curving coif, and his icy-blue eyes seemed to stare right into me. His eyes never left my face as he spoke.

"This is the stowaway apprehended on Level Six?"
"Affirmative," Cher intoned.
"That will be all, Cher."
"Yes, sir."
Cher withdrew, leaving me standing in front of the commander.
"Disengage security bot," he commanded.
The red light on the box extinguished immediately.
"I am Commander Gerald of the Galactic High Council of Phantessa. Who are you, stranger?"

I needed a cover story, and it was too much pressure to come up with something elaborate and foolproof right then and there. I decided that less information was more. A space station like this would get lots of traffic. Perhaps I could pass myself off as a stowaway from another ship.
"I snuck aboard one of the supply ships headed for this station," I said.

Commander Gerald tilted his head. "Was it the medical supply shuttle or the provision ship?"

I didn't get why he was asking. Did it matter which ship I came on? "There were a lot of crates—" I almost stumbled over my words as a fleeting thought passed through my head: did they even use crates?

The commander shrugged his shoulders in recognition. "Ah, so the ship from Neogratia."

I nodded. "Yes, sir." Inwardly, I fervently hoped this Neo-whatever place was inhabited by “normal” people like me. How embarrassed would I be if he knew that he was unwittingly supplying my lie with details?

His expression relaxed, but I couldn't be sure if it was the flicker of a smile I saw. "I pride myself on stringent security. You could not possibly get past all of the customs checkpoints and scanners unless you found some means of sneaking in and out of crates undetected."

I clearly envisioned the scene in my head as I answered, "I hid behind some larger crates till the guard's back was turned, and slipped inside one of them." I couldn't help grinning smugly, as if I actually had done all the things I had claimed. "Maybe your guards aren't as thorough in checking all the cargo as they would like you to believe," I hinted.

As soon as the words left my mouth, I knew I had gone too far. The Commander's face went from skeptical to mildly amused.

"You're lying," he stated.

I felt my pulse climbing and a flush wash over my face. "What makes you say that?"

The smile dipped, replaced by sternness. "Because everything I've just fed you is an outright fabrication." His eyes narrowed ever so slightly.