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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5. Infection

Surgery to Harkness was a case of 'grit your teeth, bite down on the piece of wood in your mouth and pray they saw your leg off quickly'. He'd witnessed such a procedure twice, and both times, despite his generally strong constitution, he'd been forced to bring up the contents of his stomach over the side of the ship. It wasn't so much the sight of it, as the sounds of some poor fellow enduring the incredible pain of having their flesh chewed into by a saw.

So, as Doctor Courtous (how could a nose be that big?) prepared him for surgery, Harkness felt more than a little apprehensive. As his hospital bed was wheeled toward the theatre, he found himself breaking into a cold sweat.

"Just how much will this hurt Doctor?" He asked, trying to keep his voice from trembling.

"What?" Doctor Courtous was a few steps ahead, and turned around, confusion present on his face for a moment, before a smile broke out. "Oh, don't worry, we'll render  you unconscious with drugs prior to the actual surgery. You won't feel a thing, I can assure you."

Harkness sighed with considerable relief. "Sir, you have taken a weight off my mind!"

Courtous laughed. "What were you expecting us to do? The days of operating on someone whilst they're awake are long gone."

Harkness said nothing. To him, those days were still very fresh memories, even if, right now, they felt a lifetime ago.

****

Captain Fierro and Commander Morgan waited in the ship's main conference room - a longish room with relaxing maroon walls and windows that let starlight shine in, with a curved, black polished table in the centre - for the rest of the ship's senior staff.

They were seated at the far end of the table, Fierro at the head. She had her head in her hands as she thought about all the recent events that had been going on.

"You know..." She came up for air. "We dock in less than a day and I am no closer to a plan for Command."

Morgan chuckled. "I'm sure they'll understand, given the circumstances."

"Will they? This battle could prove pivotal in the war... and meanwhile we're chasing demons, at one point literally, and certainly figuratively, and potentially uncovering a much deeper, more dangerous problem. They'll love me for that."

"As I've said before Captain, let me handle this investigation. I can get people organised. We'll find out how deep this mystery goes, whilst you help us win this war."

Fierro was reluctant to yield to such a request. This was her ship and her crew, and she felt responsible for everything that happened aboard her... but Morgan was right.

"You're a good friend Rodger. You're right, I should let some of this burden go. Alright, handle the investigation into this Kallis place. First though, we carry out this briefing."

The door chimed. 

"Enter." Spoke Fierro a little louder.

In walked her senior staff. Doctor Hanson, still looking a little shaky but otherwise recovered from her ordeal, Chief Charleston, whose eyes were looking for any possible sign of a threat, as always, followed her. 

Next was Lt. Commander Rousseau, who fit the very definition of male beauty. His uniform was always impeccable, there was never a brown hair out of place, and his face - well, it was surely carved by God himself. Fierro had to admit to herself, in her younger days, Rousseau was exactly the sort of man she'd desired. The smooth French accent completed the aura of sex appeal - unfortunately, Rousseau was also well aware of how he looked and carried with this a certain degree of arrogance. He was also the ship's chief tactical officer, and a very good one, so attitude or not, he wasn't going anywhere.

Behind him was a young woman whom Fierro had a lot of time for. For starters, they were about the same height, so for once, Fierro wasn't having to crane her face upwards. Secondly, Lt. Commander Bocker had an easy-going, can-do attitude about everything she did. She managed to fit the German stereotype of being efficient, but didn't seem like it at first, which sort of added to her charm. Her red hair was tied back, and her engineer's lab coat was somewhat smudged - she'd been working in Engineering even though she was supposed to be off-duty. Fierro would have to speak to her about that (again).

"Please, everyone, be seated." Fierro waved a hand. Hanson parked herself beside Commander Morgan on the right side of the table, and Chief Charleston sat next to her. Rousseau and Bocker took up seats on the left side, and they all looked at Captain Fierro expectantly.

This will be a doozy.

"Before we begin in earnest, Doctor Hanson, how are you feeling?" She asked.

Hanson smiled slightly. "A little groggy still Captain, but otherwise not too bad."

"Good. Now, as you may already know, last night we had an... incident. A man fell out of some sort of vortex and with him came a life form completely unlike anything we've ever encountered. The man was badly hurt but will make a full recovery and is undergoing surgery as we speak. The life form... well, we thought it was dead, until it came back from the dead during the autopsy Doctor Hanson was performing, and attacked her. It's now been incinerated, and as far as we know, is now conclusively dead."

Bocker looked confused. "I'd heard of our new passenger - quite handsome by all accounts! - but not of this creature?"

Fierro continued. "It wasn't exactly a secret but given that we have to prepare this ship for combat I didn't want any distractions. Commander Morgan has been investigating, and our 'guest' has spoken to us briefly about this thing too. Apparently it's from a place called Kallis."

It was Rousseau's turn to look bewildered. "I have never heard of Kallis."

Fierro gave Morgan a glance, who cleared his throat.

"I'm not surprised by this Commander, in fact in the course of trying to find such a world in the databanks I found nothing. I did find references to it though, not as a place, but as a story."

Rousseau scoffed. "A story?"

"Yes, a story. One repeated on worlds across the galaxy, usually serving as a tale to frighten children. It's been a part of some cultures - albeit a small part - for thousands of years, across tens of thousands of light-years."

"Surely that is impossible?" Asked Charleston, a little astounded.

"That's what I thought Chief, but there are too many mentions of it, or variations of it, to be a co-incidence. This place is almost certainly real."

"If it's real then can we find it?" Queried Bocker.

"Originally, I didn't think so..." Began Morgan. "Then something occurred to me." He tapped a button on the table and the screen behind them came on. It was frozen at the moment a spiraling mist of lightening and energy began to appear in a corridor. "This is the moment the alien and the man it was fighting arrived. The ship's internal sensors recorded something that so far, we haven't been able to fathom, but it might the mechanism that brought this creature here."

Bocker sat up, her curiosity piqued. "Can we reproduce this?"

Rousseau shot her a look. "Why would you want to?"

"Because it might be one of the most profound discoveries of our time?" Replied Bocker tartly.

"Indeed it might Commander Bocker, indeed it might." Said Morgan, ending the row before it truly begin. He didn't need yet another argument between those two. "The bottom line is, I have no idea if we can replicate this or not. Bocker, that's where you come in. I want you to look at the data gathered so far, work with your people, and when we dock with Command, get them to look over it as well."

"Yes sir."

"Doctor Hanson..." Morgan began, and Hanson jolted. 

"Mmm? Oh, sorry Commander, I was just feeling a little woozy for a second."

"Are you okay, or shall we continue this later?" Asked Morgan, slightly concerned.

"I'm alright Commander. Please, you were saying?"

"Yes. When you examined the body, did you learn anything?"

"I... it had no organs. None. It was just... black liquid, with bits of bone matter and fatty tissues in it, it was so... strange..." She paused to rub her eye. She couldn't escape the feeling there was something rough under her eyelid. "I have no words to explain it Commander."

Morgan and Fierro looked at each other, then Fierro stood. "That so far, sums up our position. Commander Bocker, you have your orders. The rest of you need to continue preparing this ship for battle. I don't expect us to be at Command for long. Doctor Hanson, take a few hours to rest up, that's an order. Dismissed!"

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