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Copyright © 1998 Jeff Grubb and Interplay Productions. All rights reserved. This may not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Interplay Productions.
 
 
 
 
 

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Hers was not an opinion held by the other members of her squad.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Val turned slowly to the squad leader, but the larger woman was already moving towards the access hatch
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

No one knew what they looked like, or what their ships were like inside.

FREEFALL IN DARKNESS
by Jeff Grubb

Space was always dark, and for years that darkness comforted Val.

Her mind realized that there was nothing but void between the beacons of the stars, but her heart thought of the those stars as diamonds scattered against a velvet backdrop. She knew the space between was cold and empty, but always made her feel warm, and was filled with memories. The darkness reminded her of summer camps in Reclamation Georgia, where the fireflies would dance and spark among the ghostly moonlit pines.

Hers was not an opinion held by the other members of her squad. Spex the Tech would talk about the time it took for the light to reach across the eons of space. Maddog Maddox, the burned-out vet of too many battles, would say that the stars were the eyes of the gods - hard and uncaring. Hype, the rookie, would worry about the darkness between the lights in the sky. And Top Kick, the captain and the only other woman in the squad, probably didn't give a damn one way or the other.

Val craned her neck upwards, but the brow of her visor cut off the view of the zenith. Ahead of her, the spotlights from the Terran cruisers played over the shattered wreck, the white circles of illumination rippling over the twisted machinery of the Shivan ship's surface.

Maddog's voice crackled in her ear. "Looks like a major Hollywood opening! All-singing, all-dancing"

Top's voice rasped in weary response. "Cut the cute talk, Maddox. We've got a job here." Top was all business, all professional, and her voice had a steely edge to it, but Val knew the squad captain would rather be anywhere than here at this particular moment.

Val gave the squad leader an exaggerated nod in support. Spex chimed in, "Can we examine the hull, Top? There are micrometorite hits riddling the surface. This thing is OLD."

"There are enough bug-eyes looking at the surface," responded Top. "Our job is to find out what's inside. Val, you got the uplink set?"

There was a cascade of colors over Val's right eye. The visor itself served as her screen, and colored icons pulsed quietly along the base. She reached out with her left hand and gasped one. "Bravo-1 to Control. You read?"

"You're living large," responded Control, in a corn-fed Kansas accent. "Read you live, five by five". Val smiled - the voices at the other end of control seemed to come in two flavors - hayseed and robotic. She preferred the hayseed.

"Link established," said Val, to the group net. "We are on data feed now."

There was a burst of static in her ear. Val could not determine if Top had reacted to her comments. Val turned slowly to the squad leader, but the larger woman was already moving towards the access hatch. Her magnetic boots held the gangway and tugged at her steps like thick mud.

The gangway was a thin extruded bridge from their shuttle to the rear quarters of the Shivan ship, near the engine pods. The superstructure of one shattered pod lay twisted to their right, its oddly-shaped supports bent to resemble the skeleton of some long-forgotten beast.

Whatever had happened to the ship was catastrophic.

"What do you think hit it?" said Hype quietly. Hype was always quiet, and nervous. That was probably why he always carried the big krypton laser in the team. Security issues.

"Major meteor," said Spex before anyone else would answer. "Maybe cruised too close to a black hole's event horizon. Or even one of those micro-point black holes. They're theoretical, still, but its a possibility."

"Leave the speculation for the scientists," snapped Top. "We're here to just gather the data. Eyes up."

Along the base of Val's visor four pips appeared. The cameras mounted within their helmets and weapons had been activated. She reached out and stroked an icon, and a fifth pip appeared.

Hype said, "Don't you think our guys might have done it?"

The question hung there like a wounded fighter in space. No one responded, and not just because they were officially recording now.

No, thought Val, 'our guys', the Terrans and the Vasudans, could not have done it. This was the first Shivan ship anyone had seen up close. Most of what they knew about the invaders' ships was from helmet feeds before the pilots using them were blown up. The few times they had beaten back an attack, the Shivans had chosen to activate self-destructs as opposed to being captured. No one knew what they looked like, or what their ships were like inside.

Until now.

"At the entrance," crackled Top.

"Wait for a moment, Bravo-1," said Control. A short pause, and Val looked up at the stars shining above the pitted surface of the Shivan ship. She thought of fireflies again. "Bravo-2 in position, now. Proceed."

CONTINUE.

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