But for Duty — Madness Will Win

Prompt : Coming Undone | Word count : 1200 | Genre : Mil-Sci-Fi

Kelton shifted uneasily in the fighter’s cramped cockpit, the targeting reticle firmly on the fleeing Tessera’s ass. He was going to take this one or die trying. Cap’s killer wasn’t going to leave this damned battle.

“Blue Seven, your out of position. Return to formation.”

Kelton sent back a confirmation and hit the throttle.

“Dammit Kelton! Get your ass back into formation, Jackie needs his wingman!”

Only barely able to make sense of what he was hearing through his adrenaline fueled high, Kelton flipped the radio off, knowing full well that he would pay for it later.

Twitching his attitude thrusters as he drove forward to engage the alien ship, he felt as much as saw the warping of space in front of the little craft.

“Frack!” he swore to himself as the little ship slipped away into the between space of a warp transit just as he launched a pair of laser pumped missiles.

Closing his eyes in frustration, not wanting to see the missiles streak harmlessly away into deep space, he only barely felt the twist as his fighter was drawn into the warp conduit behind the Tessera’s fleeing form. A nauseous sensation twisted Kelton’s insides with the knowledge that he should have veered off, that his fighter’s warp shielding was compromised, that he was about to die. Helplessly, Kelton felt the fabric of the universe seal itself up behind him, excluding him.

Kelton desperately tried to remember everything he’d been taught about unprotected warp transit. Humans had copied the mechanics of the super-light propulsion systems from scavenged enemy wrecks, but the first few trials proved that without the shielding, madness was the best of the side-effects a human would experience.

Kelton stared helplessly at the distorted form of the Tessera ship in front of him and wondered if he was going to die here. The thought just sort of floated past, tangible; he reached out to touch it, and wondered at this development; thoughts as physical things. His body was here, he could see it, but he couldn’t see the fighter he was sitting in. If he concentrated, he could feel it, but his eyes refused to see it. It was nonsense, his senses told him he was drifting in a vast pastel wash of nothing. Streaks of distorted light filtered weakly through to him, but nothing measurable was visible, nothing tangible.

He panicked, his logical thoughts were being challenged, what he knew to be true was being superseded by what he was experiencing. But what he was experiencing could not possibly be real. He didn’t have four arms and hands, with eight fingers and two opposing thumbs on each hand. But as he focused carefully, he was able to move each finger independently. Odd. As he flexed and shifted, his mind was telling him that the frame he was viewing was static, unchanging in it’s reference points. Watching his four hands get farther away as he started helplessly, Kelton felt the first real twinges of madness. Conflicting feedback from each of his senses, and all of it clashing with what he thought he knew to be the true facts.

A burst of white noise came from somewhere. Startled at it’s ferocity, Kelton felt his tenuous hold on rationality slip a little further. He knew he needed to focus himself, to push back and reassert his existence.

Knowing a thing needs done and being able to do it are two very different considerations. Briefly wondering if pinching himself would help, he moved his third hand up and tried to pinch his own cheek. But with two thumbs vying for dominance, all he managed was to poke himself. He could feel his cheek with his hand, but he didn’t feel his hand on his cheek.

Dropping his hand back into his lap, he sighed. Starting back at basics, he began to touch each finger to his thumb in an effort to relearn how his hands worked.

Something bushed against and then poked his cheek.

He reflexively swung his hand up to brush it away, but only succeeded in slamming his outstretched fingers into his own face, he felt one of the smaller fingers, the eighth finger on the left hand, pop and snap. He didn’t feel the impact on his face, but the pain radiating from his third hand drew him back to the present.

Blinking to try to focus through the pain, he caught sight of what was probably his quarry, stretched out across an improbably wide spread of his forward visual range. What’s more, as Kelton tried to process this distortion, the ship he was pursuing appeared to elongate; he was flying into the back end of the alien ship, passing through the stretched out imagery as though through fog.

Drawing even with the nose of the alien ship, he turned and looked. Then he felt his grip on reality come undone; staring back at him was his own face, looking confused. He watched as his third hand reached up to scratch a phantom itch. Then he saw the look of pain as his finger snapped, and watched as his head rocked back from the impact.
 Suddenly he felt the headrest slam into the back of his own head; his eyes started watering in pain. He felt his jaw fracture, the impact from several minutes ago only now catching up with him.

Time eddy’s, spatial distortions, Kelton tried to keep up with everything, but when the fighter visually disappeared from around him he broke. His consciousness fled like a scared rabbit faced with hungry pack of wolves.

Coming back to himself sometime later, Kelton slammed his fist into the alarm cut-off, and screamed in pain as his broken finger brought his awareness back to the present. Memories of the warp transit threatened to overwhelm him, he could feel his newly knit sanity slipping away and slammed home the plunger on a Jump-Shot, the cocktail of adrenaline and nutrients to clear his mind and sharpen his focus.

Drifting in space, Kelton completed his assessment of the fighter’s physical status, as well as his own, and fired off a series of sensor signals different directions. He scanned the local systems for ship to lock onto rather than limping home on a dodgy warp coil with compromised shielding. Nothing. Nobody anywhere in space, the only returned signals showed him the Tessera were amassing a huge battle-fleet.

By the Darkness’ shiny tin ass!

He had to get that information back to headquarters, and fast. Scanning again, he cursed silently and came to an unpleasant decision. He was going to have to risk the dodgy warp coils and the madness.

Dialing up the correct sedative, he hoped he would wake up on the other side still somewhat lucid. Then, feeding all the sensor data and his own observations into a shielded hard-file for Command, Kelton programmed the return transit into the fighter and then engaged the drives.

Feeling the fabric of normal space seal off behind him, Kelton used the last of his lucid consciousness to put himself to sleep, sending out a desperate to plea to a God he didn’t know he believed in.

This was a short story (kinda) set in a larger narrative, and truthfully despite four re-writes, I’m still not really happy with it, but here you go, enjoy.

I am a father of four home-schooled boys and one more who’s already moved on into the wide world of work. I work from home as an accountant CPA, CGA in the wild mountains of western Canada. I am married to an amazing woman who has talents and skills I cannot fathom, and I dream of becoming a competent writer, with more than a dozen mostly finished stories on hand at any one time. The next goal is to learn how to publish them with grace and style. If you’d care to follow along with this chaos then by all means, sign up below. And so, as the Vlog Brothers say, DFTBA.

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