Disclaimer: This is a free work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Copyright © 2020 Rhea V. May All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form, by an electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except quoted brief passages in a review, post, article or other pieces of content. This work is intended for mature audiences only (18+).
Terran Prime station, year 2398 TST
Was he seeing ghosts?
Groaning, Mason rubbed his palms over his face and leaned back, the chair creaking in protest. The Correslink chimed the morning alarm, and he waved impatiently over its surface, turning it off. He hadn’t slept a wink the other night.
How could he, when they might be already on their way to finish him off?
At the thought, he rubbed his good hand over the band circling his neck, the black Dream Skin band that showed to the entire universe he used to be owned by the Havoc Syndicate.
With a sigh, he started from the beginning of the list, for the millionth time. No matter how many times his eyes traced over the document, the name wasn’t there.
He thought he saw someone the other day, among the group that came from Keepers Inc. and Leeweather Holdings. A man from Septimus station, Havoc’s Septimus station and Mason’s birthplace.
By the time Mason recovered from the shock, the man was already gone. In a daze, Mason ran through the empty corridors, looking for him, the former lieutenant in the criminal organization of Havoc Syndicate. To no avail.
Then, last night, he thought to check the shuttle’s manifest, but the man’s name wasn’t in there. What else could he do?
“VALID,” he said suddenly as an idea popped into his mind. “Could you please go over the footage from yesterday, when the group from Leeweather Holdings arrived?”
“Certainly, Chief Miura. Please, hold,” the neuronet answered promptly. “Correct footage identified. What should I be looking for?”
Closing his eyes, Mason focused on remembering the man’s exact position. “The last person on Miss Lima’s right. The fourth down the line.”
“Do you mean the third?”
“What? No, the fourth,” Mason stressed.
“Chief Miura, placing Miss Harris-Pratt in the center, there are three people to her left and three to her right,” VALID detailed.
VALID’s words matched Mason’s memory, except he remembered the man closing the line on the right. Frowning, he ordered VALID, “Show me your footage. Central screen.”
Swiveling around to the entertainment screen on the opposite wall of his cabin, Mason watched the events from yesterday unfold on the screen. VALID had been right. The man was missing from the footage. How was this possible?
“VALID, can you scan the footage? See if you detect any cloaking signs?”
So, the man hadn’t used a cloaking device to hide himself from the cameras. Those distorted the space around a person, sometimes causing a blurring shimmer in the air, sometimes causing an unnatural glint appear on the screens. An advanced neuronet, such as VALID, would be able to tell if a cloaking device had been used.
“Any evidence of tampering?” Mason pushed.
“Negative, the feed hadn’t been tampered with.”
A longer pause. Then, “Negative, Chief Miura.”
Mason clenched his fists, fighting the urge to bury one of them into the nearest surface. Was he hallucinating? Or was the man hiding? Where could he have disappeared to in such a short time? To the Ark? But how? The Ark wasn’t connected to the Eye anymore. To reach it, one had to take a shuttle and make the trek to Earth’s exosphere.
Much more likely he was simply hiding. But why?
And the most important question of all: had the man already announced Mason’s whereabouts to his former employers?
“Thank you, VALID,” Mason dismissed the neuronet. It wouldn’t be able to help him in tracking the man down anyway, if it could not see him. However… “Wait! Did you register any outgoing comms to Septimus station or the Last Frontier?”
“Negative, Chief Miura.”
The neuronet’s words made Mason exhale in relief. “Great. Thank you, VALID.”
“Chief Miura?” VALID said, almost at the same time. “A couple of faulty shuttles have been transferred to Engineering Bay 5. Commander Corvald asks you to take Casey Jenkins, the Vehicle Engineer, and repair them.”
“Very well, VALID. Thanks.”
“Task added to the record,” VALID added in a monotonous voice, different from the inflexion it usually used when conversing. No doubt, a remnant in its code from when it used to be a much simpler entity.
Sighing, Mason got up. After he showered and dressed, he exited his cabin and proceeded in the mess hall’s direction for breakfast. The thought of approaching Casey Jenkins caused him to gulp. He’d noticed her before, of course he did. The Engineering Department wasn’t that big, and she was a beautiful woman.
Far too beautiful for a man like him. Half of one, at that.
His eyes spotted her as soon as he entered the canteen. She was waiting in line to get a tray of food with her friends, the other five ladies on the Engineering team. The dark coveralls fit her snugly, her rear being especially emphasized, as the end of her pants were tucked into work boots. Over her blonde hair, weaved with several colorful streaks, she wore a white billowy scarf.
Mason rubbed the band over his neck and closed the distance between them, clearing his throat to get her attention. “Hi, good morning. Have you received the day’s workload from VALID yet? Apparently, there are some shuttles that need to be repaired…”
Casey’s eyes widened when she saw him, and he saw her gulp. Mason hid a wince. After wetting her lips, she spoke, “M-morning, Chief. No, I haven’t checked my Correslink yet. But, sure. I’ll do that now and—”
“No, no. Please, have breakfast and we’ll meet later. Um… right. I’ll just go,” Mason rambled. He wanted to facepalm himself, with his bionic arm so it would really hurt. This was… awkward. He was awkward. He turned on his heel and moved to the end of the line, greeting everyone.
As he waited, he couldn’t stop himself from following her with his eyes, like some creep. This was the first time he’d spoke to her more than two words, despite Casey being a part of the engineering crew for almost two years. He’d seen her around but tried to ignore her like he ignored most of the other women, after a perfunctory greeting.
Mason didn’t like seeing the fear in their eyes. He knew he was ugly, his bionic parts standing out sharply. He couldn’t hide his left eye, or face, or arm.
After he ate, he exited the mess hall and moved to one wall in the corridor to wait for Casey. It was still early in the morning, and most of the engineers weren’t up yet. Seeing Grant, an older mechanic, he waved him over. “Hey, Grant. What’s your schedule today?”
“Morning, Maze. Wide open. Why?”
Rubbing his band again, Mason nodded, then explained to the man that he wanted him to join them on the shuttles job. Mason figured Casey would feel more at ease with another person there, than alone with him.
When Casey joined them a few minutes later, she found the two men going over the repair plans. On the way down to the bay, Mason noticed Casey studying him from time to time. He ducked his head and again, suppressed a wince.
“Chief—” she started.
“Call me Mason, please. Or Maze, like everyone else,” he hurried to say.
“Right. Maze. Um…” She blushed and looked away. “I don’t want to sound…” She sighed and then looked straight up at him. “Are you sure about Grant joining us on the job?”
“What do you mean?” Mason frowned, returning her look.
“What I mean is, I don’t think the man sobered up completely from last night’s party.”
“There was a party last night?” he asked in utter bewilderment.
“Shay’s birthday party, yes.”
Mason had completely forgotten. Shit. He’d never missed a birthday party of one of his crew. And all for nothing; he’d found no trace of the ghost he was hunting.
“Man,” he groaned. “I’m so sorry. I completely forgot.”
“You don’t have to apologize to me,” Casey retorted with an amused smile.
“You’re right. I’ll talk with Shay as soon as possible. Shit.” Mason rubbed the band around his neck again, but stopped when he saw Casey studying it. “Hey, Grant,” he called then, stopping the man who was a few paces ahead of them. “You don’t look so good, man. Why don’t you take the day off and rest? We got this.”
“Are you sure, Maze?” Grant asked but looked relieved. “I feel a little tired, now that you mention it.”
“Positive. Sleep well.”
Casey moved out of the way so Grant could pass by her and waved goodbye to the man.
“Thanks. For telling me. I was distracted and… he shouldn’t operate any machinery in this state.”
“Don’t mention it,” Casey nodded, resuming her pace.
Maze nodded too, then lengthened his stride until they were once again walking side by side. He peeped down at her. She was one of the few women on the station who reached his shoulder. As his cybernetic implementations required his entire anatomy be reinforced to support the added weight, he’d gained a few inches to his six feet.
“You don’t have to be afraid, you know. I won’t hurt you,” he said, causing Casey to look up at him in surprise.
“Well…” she replied, blushing. “I wouldn’t say afraid. I’m more intimidated. Especially since you’re the Chief Technical Officer.”
“Ha!” Mason barked in amusement. “Allow me to put that concern of yours to rest. I am CTO because of seniority. I’m the oldest member of the Engineering Department. But other than that, I don’t even have a fancy degree.”
“No way!” Casey protested. “But you know so much! Remember that time when the g-spinner got stuck and no one could figure out why and you realized the particles filter wasn’t scrubbing right and that was the problem? Or when the anti-grav engine on one of the hogs was on the verge of exploding? Everyone knows you can’t stop an anti-grav engine from exploding but you somehow managed… Or when the repair bot last week suddenly glitched and, instead of repairing the breach, it started drilling into the hull? You were the one to spot the faulty line of code in the software and—“
“Whoa, alright, alright,” Mason stopped her, pressing his palms into the air. He hadn’t realized she’d been there during those moments. Or that she’d noticed him. “You make me sound heroic or something. Which I’m not. I just meant that I never got to go to university because…” he trailed off, gesturing to the Dream Skin band. “Everything I know, I picked it up on the go. Plus, someone had to repair these,” he finished, pointing to his bionic parts.
“Right.” Casey nodded. Then, after studying him for a moment longer, she declared, “You’re alright, Maze. A nice person.”
Mason flushed and ducked his head but didn’t reply. They reached the bay in silence, and then continued to work side by side in the same manner, speaking only when necessary.
“Casey! Look out!” he called, just as the pin from one of the rear thrusters whizzed forward and embedded itself into the wall, missing Casey by an inch.
The huge sprocket came loose next and hurtled into the air and suddenly Mason was there, right in front of Casey. With a grunt, he knocked it away, changing its trajectory.
“Shit, that would have decapitated me,” Casey said, gasping for breath. “Thank you… Ohmigod, you’re bleeding!”
Sure enough, the serrated edge had caught his shoulder, slicing a deep cut into the flesh. Blood was pouring out, covering his arm at a rapid pace. “I’m fine,” Mason announced after inspecting the wound.
“Fine?” Casey asked, her eyes as wide as saucers. “You need medical. Shit!” She fumbled with her Correslink, then looked up and yelled, “VALID! We need help in EB 5!”
“Dispatching emergency medbots,” VALID recited. “ETA 2 minutes.”
“Come, sit.” Casey rounded on him, pushing him down to the floor. She took off the scarf covering her colorful hair and pressed it to his injury, trying to stem the bleeding.
“Casey, calm down, I’m fi—“
“But you’re not. Just… Shit, maybe I should apply a tourniquet instead,” she stammered, holding back a sob. “I’m so sorry, Maze. I should have been more careful. It’s my fault.”
“No, it’s not. It’s… Look, I don’t even know how this happened. The thruster’s pistons were disengaged. I checked them myself.”
Casey shook her head and finally let the tears roll over her cheeks. Mason placed his bionic hand over her own that kept the scarf in place over the wound. “I’m fine,” he reiterated.
The medbots arrived before she could reply, and she reluctantly stepped back, allowing the machines help him.
“Aren’t you taking him to medical?” she asked when she saw the bots intended to patch him up right then and there.
The cut was bleeding a lot and hurt like hell, but it wasn’t any worse than the countless others he’d received while fighting on Septimus. Mason worried more about Casey, and about the scare she suffered.
“Negative. Situation assessed. Field operation decided,” one of the two boxy medbots answered. “Commencing.”
With a keening sound, she looked away from the mess, gagging a little. “Sorry,” she said, pressing a palm over her lips. “I hate seeing blood.”
“It’s fine,” Mason stated, hiding a wince as the bot pulled a little on the wound. “Are you okay?”
Still looking away, Casey nodded. “Don’t worry about me. Um… I should call this in, right? Get more guys in here, see if we can finish the job.”
“Right. As soon as the bots are done, I’m gonna—”
“As soon as the bots are done, you’ll rest. Take the rest of the day off,” Casey cut him off, finally turning her head to pin him with a stare.
Tickled that she fussed over him so, Mason grinned. “Yes, ma’am.”
Narrowing her eyes, Casey hummed. “Good. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll comm CC,” she replied, stepping away and activating her Correslink.
Mason nodded, but she had already turned her back on him to comm Central Control. With a sigh, he redirected his attention to the bots, watching as they Remwanded the cut.
How did the thruster collapse if the pistons were disengaged? Adding the incident to the ghost from last night, Mason had experienced more excitement in the past twenty-four hours combined than he did in the whole year on the station.
Strange things were happening on their Eye.
Never miss an episode! Follow me on Facebook and get notified whenever there’s a new chapter. Or enter your email and get Sundered Polarity delivered right to your inbox!