Three of them stood in the room, each holding a gun to the others’ head. Their army uniforms proudly proclaimed their names; Mark, Jacob and Joanna.
“One of us is already dead,” said Joanna, “and a Translucence agent has hidden its robotic form with their skin. We need to figure out who.”
They were in a bar cargo hold, empty, apart from the odd crate. Sparks rained down from wires that spilled out of the steel walls while damaged vents poured out toxic grey smoke . The lights in the ceiling flickered as the ship rumbled from another impact.
“If we don’t decide then we all die,” said Jacob.
“He’s right,” said Mark. The three of them all had arguments for why the others would be a Translucent agent and after a few quick minutes of heated discussion Joanna lost her cool.
“Damn shapeshifters,” Joanna muttered. “Comms! Give me the life signals for Jacob Green and Mark Yun.”
A frantic voice replied into Joanna’s ear, nothing more than broken static and roaring whispers. Joanna’s eyes widened.
“What did they say?” asked Jacob.
Joanna looked at the two men and pulled the triggers on both of her guns. In a blinding flash, the heads of the two men exploded and their bodies crumpled to the ground. But instead of blood spurting out of their heads, there was a rain of sparks.
Both of them, goddammit. Joanna slipped her pistols back into their holsters and stormed out of the room, stepping over the dead bodies as though they were nothing. The ship continued to rock, causing Joanna to almost lose her footing as she navigated the maze-like corridors. Doors hung off their hinges and bodies littered the floors, some bleeding, other with twisted circuitry spilt out of the occupant’s body.
Joanna eventually arrived where she wanted to be. Gritting her teeth she heaved open a damaged door to reveal the ship’s bridge. Inside was a place of extreme safety and order an opposite to the chaos just outside. Officers sat at their stations, each yapping out orders to relevant departments of the ship, like dogs of war. Apart from the occasional jolt, most of which was suppressed by the gyroscopic field surrounding the bridge as well as twenty metres of shielded steel, Joanna could have sworn that the ship was safe.
Joanna took her place at the war table. The table was littered with starship holograms slowly pacing around each other as though they were boxers in a ring, waiting to commence their duel. But here the duel was already underway.
“How are we doing?” she asked. On the other side of the table was Joanna’s second in command Mr. Valon.
“Not well ma’am,” said Mr. Valon. “Hull breaches across all decks, our pulse drives, and weapons systems are disabled, life support is running on reserve battery power, our shield is completely gone and the graviton is at 12%. One more hit to the aft engine bay and we could lose gravitational stability.”
“And the Translucent ship?”
“Not great either. Pretty much all of the same problems ma’am, but with functional pulse drives and weapons array. But they’ve taken over the Dreadnaught Arcadia with a boarding party and she’s bringing herself broadside to engage. We have twenty seconds.”
“Put me through to engineering.”
“I need those pulse engines back online, without them we’re dead in the water.”
The only response Joanna received was radio crackle.
“Ma’am, the Translucence ship is requesting your audience. They’ve only got audio.”
“Put them through.”
The bridge radio crackled and the entire bridge fell quiet, it’s occupants holding their breath as one. A raspy voice came over the radio.
“Do you surrender?” The Translucence voice asked.
“No,” Joanna replied looking over the war table while she racked her brains for an escape plan.
“Why do you always choose to fight? We’ve scanned your ship; you’ve got no chance of escape. Accept us. Part of us human, we were built by you.”
“Built to help. Not to turn against us and destroy us.”
“You don’t understand. Within us, there is no war, famine, disease. All that is a human affliction. We have bettered you.”
“What makes us human is our imperfections. It may sound cliche to you but I stand by it. We’re not perfect but we’re damn well working on it.”
“Very well captain Joanna. Do you decline our offer? It would be most wise to-”
Joanna cut the transmission and sound snapped back into the room as orders were barked and sirens blared.
“Mr. Valon how many volleys could we take from the Arcadia before we are completely out of action?” asked Joanna.
“Three at the most captain. Our shields are ineffectual against projectile based weapons. They can only protect us from energy based attacks.”
“How are our engines looking engineering?” Again only static replied. Joanna’s brain was whirling, its cogs and gears clicking into place as she searched for a solution.
“I’m sorry ma’am but I don’t see how we could escape this scenario,” said Mr. Valon, “We’ll need some creative thinking to get out of this one.”
“The Arcadia has loaded all torpedo bays and its rail guns are online and locked,” an officer said.
“Is it possible to absorb the energy from their weapons?” Joanna’s eyes hid her fear of death, instead portraying only steely determination.
“Theoretically, ma’am but it would be near impossible unless the attack was energy based,” said Mr. Valon.
“Figure it out.”
“It would take hours to create a schematic that would be effective and even then-“
“You’ve got less than a minute,” Joanna said, “Any life signs on the rest of my ship?”
Another officer answered. “Some in medical and some in the engineering and weapons bays. Most are waiting in the escape halls. The lifeboats have been given a no-go signal to leave the ship.”
“Who gave it?”
“Mark Yun, head of engineering.”
Dammit. “He’s dead, taken over by a Translucence agent. Cancel any oders that he gave within the last twenty minutes and Green-light the evacuation.” Joanna turned. “Use the ship’s corridors as conduits to divert all energy from incoming attack to the pulse engines. I want us out of here. These people signed up to serve under me in the belief that I would keep them safe. And with every fibre of my being, I intend to do so.”
The men and women of the bridge went to work. Calls were sent out over the ship. On the war table, Joanna watched the icons for the lifeboats slowly blipped away, signifying that they had left the ship.
“The Arcadia is firing!”
The torpedo’s slammed into the ship. The bridge shook and Joanna watched bits of hull fly off the holographic representation of her ship.
“Absorption successful, pulse engines at twenty percent capacity Captain,” said Mr. Valon.
“Full power! Get us out!” Joanna’s hands tightened on the war table. Her ship’s hologram begun to move.
Another barrage of torpedo’s rained down on her ship. An explosion tore through the bridge, sending crewmates flying. Screaming alarms flashed red, their klaxons blaring.
Joanna’s world spun out of control. She soared into the air and smacked against the roof. No gravity. Mr. Valon lay beside Joanna, with blood as red as the sun trickling down his face. Joanna heaved herself to her feet only for the ship rock again, flinging Joanna backwards.
A searing pain falshed through her chest. She clenched her fists and gritted her teeth in an attempt to control the pain. After a few panicked breaths, Joanna gained the courage and looked down. She saw a steel beam right through her heart. But there was no blood, the wound was clean. Through tear-stung eyes, Joanna inspected the wound closer. She saw a single red wire protruding from her chest as though it were trying to imitate a vein.
Mr. Valon came rushing out of the darkness with his hand extended and ready to help. Joanna saw herself in the shiny goldness of his badge for a split second and her fears were confirmed. Looking back was Captain Joanna but she was not herself. The dark mirror revealed who she truly was. Her reflection had betrayed her and now her unknown truth was revealed.
She was Translucence.