Kingdoms of War: A Trial by Fire

Lieutenant Jim Harkness has found himself face-to-face with demons.... And now he must confront his own.

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8. Goodbyes

Security forces had, under Fierro's orders, taken Hanson's remains to the incinerator. She hadn't been able to be there to give the final order, despite knowing it should have been her responsibility. For that, she hated herself, passing the duty on to Commander Morgan, who had been nothing but sympathetic.

With great effort, she had buried herself in finalising her battle plans, but part of her questioned whether she'd been in a fit state to lead. As she tried to sleep, all she could do was toss and turn and fight off dreams of Elizabeth.

Finally, she gave up on sleep altogether. It was just as well - her communicator beeped.

"Yes?"

"Sorry to disturb you Captain..." Came the subdued voice of Commander Bocker. "But I think I've found a way to replicate the creature's portal."

****

Main Engineering was a thing of pure magic to Harkness. Spanning three decks, it was awash with large grey pipes, batched together in groups of three that ran along every wall and up to the ceiling, where they branched off and disappeared into the walls.

The centre of the room was taken up by an enormous cylinder, a gargantuan construct with blue and red lights that seemed to hum with power. Courtous had told him it was the source of energy for the ship - a 'fusion reactor', that was incredibly powerful. Surrounding it were numerous control stations, that he was told monitored every last little fluctuation and variance the reactor kicked out.

"Sensitive isn't the word. If this thing got too hot, we'd never have time to know we were dead. I don't envy Bocker - her work is incredibly complicated."

Harkness wasn't listening. 'Power' to him was in the form of primitive steam engines that were prone to exploding - that or strong winds catching sails - this was something far beyond him, and he didn't mind admitting to himself a certain degree of fear as the massive construct throbbed with power.

A tall, well-groomed man looked on with suspicious eyes as Bocker tapped a few keys at one of the control stations. Captain Fierro stood behind her, back to Harkness, and whilst he could faintly hear their voices, he had no idea what was being said. He had a feeling he didn't want to know.

Bocker turned, and Harkness realised she was rather lovely. She didn't have the almost angelic beauty that Doctor Hanson had possessed, but she was pleasant on the eyes, and had kind eyes to boot. She looked at him, smiled weakly, then clapped her hands to get the attention of everyone in the room.

"Ok people, we're going to attempt to create a... vortex, for lack of a better word. It's a fold, a bend in the fabric of space and time itself, but a highly localised one. It goes without saying that this will be dangerous, and there's a risk to the entire ship, but if we can pull this off, we can learn more about what ultimately killed Doctor Hanson. I for one, want to find out, so it never happens again." Bocker said something quietly to Captain Fierro, and the captain nodded, then turned to address the Engineering teams.

"To your stations, activation on my mark." She waited a few seconds for everyone to be ready. "Mark!"

Bocker began to tap more commands into the consoles. Her fingers seemed to fly across the keys and on the display screens, diagrams and numbers flowed. Several of her colleagues were likewise engaged, and Harkness could only watch as the reactor at the centre seemed to pulse faster. For a moment he feared his life was about to end, as the red and blue lights flashed faster and faster - and then the universe cracked open.

In the middle of the room, a black hole, blacker than night, ripped into view. surrounded by whispers of blue light. Everyone instinctively backed away, afraid at the unnatural sight of their world being torn open.

"Commander Bocker... what are we looking at?" Fierro's voice was one of quiet awe.

"At an educated guess, a hole in the fabric of reality. It's a doorway to what some scientists like to call the 'multi-verse'. I don't know how these creatures create one - it's taking a lot of power for us to do it."

"And down one of these rabbit holes is Kallis." Said Harkness quietly.

"We have no way of knowing how to find it, or how to find anywhere specific. It's entirely random." Replied Bocker.

Harkness felt something stirring within him. Memories of that first, turbulent moment when he was shot out of his world into this one replayed themselves. The fire, that was followed by pain, that in turn was followed by waking up to see Doctor Hanson... who was dead because of him.

Oh, he was sure Captain Fierro and the others wouldn't hold him responsible. No one would blame him, but in his heart, if he hadn't arrived here...

"I must fix this." He said simply.

"Mr Harkness, what are you doing?" Fierro saw him edge toward the opening.

"Captain..." He did not look at her. "I do not belong here. This is not my time, not my world. I am amazed at your marvelous machines, and what you can do to repair broken bodies, but I miss the spray of the sea and the land of Eshurg that is my home. My only way home is through that portal."

"You have no idea what's on the other side. You could end up on a world made of cheese." She offered a wan smile.

"Perhaps. Perhaps I can find means to avenge Doctor Hanson, and every other life this creature took."

"Look, you could end up..." Courtous started to speak but Harkness cut him off. 

"I could end up anywhere. I accept that. But it is my only chance."

Fierro was giving him a strange gaze, as though seeing him clearly for the first time. "Lieutenant Harkness, you saved my life back in the canteen. You saved all our lives. You are more than welcome to be a part of our world, our family, here on this ship. If though, you have to leave, then I want you to have this..." She stepped to a cupboard and tapped in a code. The door slid open and she pulled out what Harkness could only consider to be a thing of beauty.

The matt-black rifle still seemed to shine as Fierro clasped it in her hands. It was as long as both her arms, with a thin barrel and a sold, ribbed underbelly. Bizarrely, it had two holes at the end.

"This is an F-48 assault rifle. It can fire 400 rounds per minute, and can hold 8,000 rounds. I won't blind you with the science of how, but it's one of our finest weapons. It can also shoot grenades - carrying 25 in total - which can make nice holes in walls or people. The scope can link to your cybernetic eye for accuracy most can only dream of. It's yours, as a thank you, and as a means to protect yourself on your travels."

Despite himself, Harkness felt tears welling up. "Thank you Captain, for all you have done for me. I hope, one day, to find you all again." Taking the gun, he looked it over. His enhanced eye, remarkably, began to give him all the information he needed on how to use it - an incredible tool indeed!

He turned to look at everyone assembled in Engineering, smiling softly as he did. He couldn't find the words, but a nod here, a glance there, was enough to impart his gratitude. He sighed, turned away...

.... and stepped into darkness.

 

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