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, 2398 TST
She was positively fuming. Lima Harris-Pratt stormed into his office and slammed a WEBfolder on his desk.
Zale frowned and folded his arms, leaning back in the chair as he waited patiently for an explanation to her behavior. When she continued to glare at him without speaking, he arched an eyebrow in her direction.
With her index finger, she prodded the WEBfolder, sliding it closer to him. “How dare you?” The question was uttered through clenched teeth.
He sighed and grabbed the folder, opening it to see what made her so angry this time. When he saw the contents, he winced. It was the official recommendation he wrote and addressed to the Keepers Board to postpone the resort project until a new section could be prepared.
“How dare you decide in my stead when it’s over or not? I am in charge of this project!”
Zale swallowed. He got up and circled his desk until he was standing in front of her. When he tried to cup her shoulders, she shrugged him off and took two steps back. “Lima, I… I apologize. I wrote this just after the Black Alert, when…” He trailed off, shaking his head. Words. Mere words. How could he make her see how much she meant to him with just words?
“Well,” she said, pointing her nose up into the air. “You should know I’ve already discussed it with Austin, and he refuses to pull his representatives from the Prime.”
Zale nodded. “I figured as much.”
Strained silence stretched between them. She broke it. “Then, why do it? Did you hate me so much you couldn’t stand sharing the station? Do you hate me still?”
“What? No!” His eyes widened, and he shook his head vigorously. “I never hated you. How could you think that?”
“Because you wanted me gone!” she shouted.
“Yes. So, you could be safe!” he shouted right back. “Can’t you see how much you mean to me? Of course, I’d pursue every fucking avenue if it kept you safe.”
Lima’s shoulders sagged. She stared into his eyes, searching for something. “Is that what you were trying to do?” she whispered.
Zale leaned forward and grabbed her, engulfing her into his arms. “That’s what I’m always trying to do. Even when it makes me look like an asshole.” She chuckled, forehead burying into his chest. “I don’t know what’s this thing we’ve reopened, or where it will lead, but… I will never want you away for other reasons than the ones concerning your own safety.”
She lifted her head and cupped his cheeks. Taking his cue from her actions, he leaned down and pressed his lips to hers. She sighed and deepened the kiss.
He was the luckiest bastard in the universe.
“I forgive you,” she whispered, her lips a hairbreadth’s away from his own.
His golden eyes connected with her own, and the corners of his mouth tilted. “My Lima,” he breathed.
“Yours,” she agreed, sealing the promise with another kiss.
VALID’s panicked voice broke the two of them apart. “Commander Corvald, I have an urgent message from CSO Connaway. He says: Coriolis.”
Zale’s entire body stiffened. In a low growl, he ordered, “Come again, VALID?”
The code word signaling the gravest of dangers, the one they’ve used since kids. Why would Brayden ask VALID to say it now? What happened?
Regardless of reasons, Zale sprinted into action. “VALID, authorize a Red Alert. Sec-imprint ZC486. Then, seal the Prime. Shut off all major sections, and follow up with the people, directing them to the nearest escape pods—”
“I can’t do that, Commander. I’ll issue the Red Alert and seal the Prime, but you must do the rest manually.”
Zale’s mouth snapped closed. Curious insubordination on VALID’s part, or merely caution? “Explain.”
“CSO Connaway will, shortly. He’s on his way to CC with Miss Starr. But…”
Zale lost his patience. “Are you corrupted, VALID? Why are you acting so strangely?”
The neuronet’s answer surprised him. “I don’t know. Which is why after issuing the Red Alert and sealing off the station, I’ll go offline and run an extensive self-diagnosis.”
“Go offline? And leave us blind at a time like this?” Zale roared.
“You’re already blind,” came VALID’s cryptic response.
Zale slashed an arm through the air, the sharp movement conveying the extent of his anger. “Enough! If you go into self-diagnosis mode now, when we might need you the most, I swear I’ll personally crawl into your main maintenance slot and snap your core link in half!”
Silence reigned in response. Chest heaving, Zale turned to Lima, seeing her wide eyes and panicked expression. The alarm for the Red Alert came on, encouraging all personnel to retreat into their specific departments.
Mason Miura, followed by a disheveled Brayden and Tessa, pushed inside Zale’s office, just before the heavy blocker doors clanged down, sealing everyone inside the CC.
“What’s happening?” Zale asked immediately. Mason and Brayden started speaking at the same time. Zale threw a palm up, interrupting them. “One at a time,” he ordered. His eyes pinged from Tessa’s determined expression, to Brayden’s angry frown, to Mason’s pinched lips. “Mason.”
“I…” Zale waited while the man gathered himself, no doubt surprised at being called out first. A blush spread over the CTO’s cheeks. “Casey Jenkins, the engineer, came over last night, and… I think she put something in my drink, because I fell unconscious. When I woke up this morning, and reviewed the footage from my private security cams, I saw… she stole my token with the access codes, Zale. She’s a traitor, I’m afraid. I’m sorry, I should have known. I tried to find her, had VALID locate her, but so far, no luck. I don’t know where she is, but she’s still on the station. This I can say with certainty. If she had conspirators, or not—”
“She most certainly has,” Brayden interrupted, gesturing to himself and Tessa. “We were just attacked in the training complex. A masked man tried to kill me.” At Zale’s and Mason’s enraged shouts, Brayden recounted everything. “This was the device the man was using to keep himself hidden from VALID,” Brayden concluded, putting a black box on Zale’s desk.
“And you say the man had worked here for the past two years?”
“Yes. VALID confirmed it.”
Zale looked at the closed door of this office with suspicion. “So, there could be more.”
“It could be anyone,” Mason added grimly. “Fuck!”
How could this be? Every person coming to the Prime, employee or not, was carefully checked. An extensive security check, including the person’s connections, was conducted before the granting of access. It was part of the standard screening led by the Keepers, an action so ancient, it had become tradition. Have they become lax in their search?
Didn’t matter. He, as Commander to the Prime, has failed. He was the one who has grown sloppy over the years. So much so that now he was losing control of his station. Zale turned away from them all, suddenly ashamed to face any of them.
After a second, someone touched his shoulder. He looked down to see Lima has stepped closer to him. “I’m sorry,” he whispered to her.
She shook her head, a fierce expression taking over her features. “It’s not your fault.” With a straight spine, she turned to the rest. “So, someone’s attacking the Prime, our home. I say we fight!”
Zale’s lips formed a sad smile. “With what? VALID’s offline, and we don’t know friend from foe.”
“We don’t need VALID,” Lima protested. “We do this the old-fashioned way. Aren’t we a violent species? We’d become mellow in this day and age, because nothing’s been bothering us since the war with the Arru’Thal has ended. But the instincts are still there.”
Zale looked out and down toward the blue-green planet he took an oath to protect. Earth. And Lima’s words were true, to an extent. Earth’s history had taught them how humans banded together when a common enemy surfaced, only to battle among each other when they had no one to fill up the spot.
Wasn’t this true, when he’d grown up among violence and bloodshed himself?
“She’s right, brother.” Brayden stepped forward. “We come from a prison planet.”
“And I’m an ex-gladiator,” Mason added. “Fighting’s second nature.”
“I come from a frontier world,” Tessa added in a small voice, almost too low to be heard.
All eyes turned to Lima. She laughed and raised her palms. “I’m the rich, spoiled girl, fine. But I know how to shoot.”
The moment was noble, but still, “And if we lose?” Zale asked.
“We die a warrior’s death.” Mason shrugged.
“There’s only five of us,” he continued.
“We’ll find other allies. But we need you, man, because you’re the Commander. No one else can override those blast doors.”
Zale’s eyes connected with Brayden’s. He was giving him an accusing glare, as if to say: “I never seen you back down from a fight.”
Zale closed his eyes tightly, then turned to open his personal vault, pulling out an entire arsenal of weapons. From standard-issue pulse guns, to E-mag rifles, V-grenades, Candite knives, and flak-swords. In silence, everyone outfitted themselves with the weapons of their choosing.
A heavy ball settled in Zale’s stomach, his veins filled with dread. He pushed it all down, because there wasn’t time to dwell in indecision. “There’s going to be madness out there. If the others hadn’t attacked by now, expect a lot of confusion among the people. Nevertheless, we have to initiate the escape procedures.”
“Where will we go? The nearest outpost’s been decommissioned years ago,” Tessa said.
“True,” Zale replied in a rumble. His eyes fell once more upon the planet. “How about down?” That made everyone gape at him. He raised his palms, asking them for patience. “Think. The planet’s been restored for the last three years. The dally was for administrative stuff.”
Brayden was the first one to nod. “And the Ark has sent down the first set of habitats. We have everything we need down there. We could go down, regroup, signal for help…”
“… and by the time the rescue parties arrive, we’ll have a nice little community already built,” Zale continued, not in the least surprised his best friend’s thoughts ran in the same direction.
“Provided we survive today.” Mason crashed their bubble of hope.
“And we get rid of every traitor,” Lima added.
“Then, we’d better get to work.” Zale checked every weapon was in its correct place for easy grabbing, then strode to the door, leading their advance.
Every officer in CC stood at attention as he exited, saluting. “Orders, Commander?”
Brayden stopped by his shoulder. “How are we going to play this, man?” he asked, pitching his voice for Zale’s ears only.
After a second of silence, Zale nodded at the men. “Everybody, form a circle.” Then, after the officers complied, he added: “Look to your left. That’s the person you’re watching. Shoot them at the slightest movement. If not, stand down until we’ve cleared you.” He turned to Brayden and Mason. “We’ll pat each down, check if anyone’s wearing one of those little black boxes.”
They found no one in possession of a cloaking device, which made them all trustworthy, presumably. Zale nodded, satisfied, “You, Comm Officer, link me to the Ark.” The man scrambled to do his bidding, announcing it was up and ready.
The Chief Science Officer appeared in holoform in the middle of the room. “Commander Corvald.”
“Maltend,” Zale returned the greeting. “There’s a Red Alert presently on the Prime,” he dove right in, as was his fashion. “I’m ordering you to place one on the Ark as well, and evacuate all personnel down to the planet.”
Maltend’s eyes cut to one side before returning to him once more. “I’m afraid I already did that, Commander. Only I ordered everyone to return to the Prime.”
“I see.” Zale’s tone became deceptively mild. “And when were you planning to inform me of this decision?”
Maltend gulped. “Just before you commed, sir, I swear. There’s been an explosion in the Biology Department. The entire section sealed off automatically to prevent the fire spread, and… Finding no live Bio-Sigs, we also dropped the entire section to the planet, as an extra security measure.”
Zale was silent for several beats. “Order every escape pod to change their course down to Earth. The Prime’s unsafe right now.”
“I understand, Commander. It shall be done.”
“And Maltend, I expect a full debriefing once on the ground. Do you understand?” He signed off before the man could reply.
After instructing the rest of the officers on deck in CC, the entire group moved on to the blast doors separating them from the rest of the station. Zale input his credentials, causing the thick seals to lift slowly.
Everybody trained their weapons on the lone figure waiting on the other side of the doors. Faster than they could blink, the Rendition was gripping Zale’s neck in one hand, pushing him back into the room.
“Haltrosti, release him. What the fuck are you doing?” Brayden’s enraged roar reached Zale’s ears. “Let him go or I’ll shoot!”
Reading the Rendition’s expression, Zale signaled Brayden to stand down. When everyone took a step back, the Rendition released Zale. “Apologies, Commander. Had to get your full attention.”
“By choking me to death?” Zale braced his palms on his knees as he coughed.
“By threatening the most important target of the group.”
A muffled protest sounded from behind the now-closed doors. Haltrosti turned and exited, reentering with a bound Casey in toll. Mason growled and pointed his rifle at her.
“What the fuck, you piece of metal?” Casey demanded once Haltrosti removed her gag. “You left me there, exposed. That wasn’t part of the deal!”
“Silence, traitor,” the Rendition snarled. Then, addressing Zale, “This little one came to me just before the attack, warned us of what’s about to go down.”
“Why?” This, from Mason, who was glaring at Casey.
Casey shrugged, casting her gaze downward. “Because I couldn’t do it,” she mumbled.
“Did Haltrosti do this?” Mason persisted, gesturing to her black eye.
Casey shook her head. “Percival Harper, my… handler. When I refused to give him the token I stole from you.”
Mason frowned. “Let me guess. He took it anyway.”
Casey nodded pitifully, still refusing to meet anyone’s eyes.
“Why all this?” Zale asked. “Why the subterfuge, and the violence?”
Casey looked at the Rendition instead of answering. Haltrosti cleared his throat. “You’re not going to believe this, Commander. But she’s actually part of an invasion twenty-five years in the making.”
“What?” Various exclamations and swore words accompanied Zale’s question. “Invasion?”
The Rendition nodded. “She’s human, but not from this universe.”
Zale scoffed. “She’s obviously lying.”
“Alterrans,” Casey whispered. “That’s the name we took for ourselves on this side, to differentiate us from… you.”
“Madness. Stop lying! If you don’t wish to answer our questions, fine. There’s plenty of time to interrogate you properly after we’re safe.”
“I’m not lying, Commander. Listen to me—” The rest of her words were muffled by the gag Haltrosti replaced.
“So, we’re taking her with us?” Mason asked.
Zale nodded. “What’s the situation out there? We’re all ready to fight, to take back our station—”
Haltrosti shook his head. “It’s all for nothing, I’m afraid. The station’s already lost. There are just too many of them. My brothers, Zeq and Tantrosti, are out there, fighting them. Mell is rounding up survivors, putting them in escape pods and sending them down. You should do that, also, Commander. Before it’s too late.”
“But we can’t leave the station in their hands!”
“We won’t.” The old Rendition handed him a cube full of data vials. “Take care of this for me. It’s a fledgling we made from VALID. It’s got his core code, without the quirks and personality.”
“Haltrosti, listen to me—”
“I invoke the Override Law, Commander Corvald. I am now in control.”
The statement stopped Zale in his tracks. He felt an icy shiver dancing down his spine. Renditions made this station for the humans, way back then, when the Watch was founded. While humans managed the station, a clause was agreed upon: in case of disaster, the Renditions could always take back control for security measures. Such a rule’s been put in place to protect everyone’s lives, because Renditions were capable of amazing computations organic brains could never support.
“I understand,” Zale uttered through numb lips. “And I… we… obey.”
Haltrosti nodded. “If the little traitor’s right, then these Alterrans are trying to open up a portal to get more of their people on this side. We can’t have that. We’d doom the entire Union, not just ourselves. So, us, the four remaining Renditions of the Prime, will stay behind. And blast the entire station to smithereens once everyone is safely away.”
Zale swallowed and stared at Haltrosti. “Will you let me put out a distress signal before we go?”
“I’ve already done that. Rescue’s on its way.”
There’s nothing more to be done around here, Zale thought. It was finished. He felt Lima’s fingers threading through his own, and he returned her squeeze. “Thank you,” he told Haltrosti in a hoarse voice. “Words aren’t enough to express our gratitude for your sacrifice, but—”
“Come. I’ll escort the lot of you to the escape pod down one level.” Haltrosti turned away abruptly, as if out of patience.
Zale met the eyes of every member of this party, before following the Rendition out into the corridor, Lima’s hand still clenched tightly in his fist. Judging by the corpses lying in the corridors, Haltrosti had already cleared a path. Thus, they encountered no problems on the way.
At the escape pod, Zale insisted to go last. When everyone was inside, he turned to the Rendition. “We are the fiery few for the many after…” he began the Keepers’ chant.
“We are the light within the darkness…” Haltrosti followed.
“We are the ones forgotten in the sunny future ahead…”
Everyone in the escape pod joined them for the rest. “We build. We wait. We work. We hope.”
Zale stepped back, entering the pod. The hatch sealed behind him automatically. Everyone joined him at the windows, to give the old Rendition one last salute before the pod was hurtled into space.
Inhaling deeply, Zale turned to his companions. “Return to your seats. Strap yourselves in. Come on, fuckers, look lively! Mason, watch the traitor closely.”
Brayden guffawed and slapped his shoulder before obeying his commands. The rest of them whooped.
Zale dropped into the seat next to Lima, and hugged her tightly to his side, because it was the only thing he wanted to do for the rest of his life. “No matter what happens,” he murmured.
“No matter what,” she agreed.
A/N: Thank you for reading Sundered Polarity! You’re all cosmic…
Due to lack of interest, I’ve decided to stop the episodic installments of Sundered Polarity. Nevertheless, I’ve truly enjoyed this project, and I’m happy I got to see it through. SP has also been an experiment, for I’ve decided to embrace the ‘pantsers’ approach and just… see where it leads. That’s why Sundered Polarity is a little crooked, a tad imperfect.
To be honest, I’m not ready to let this universe go. And I think I’ll keep writing, a sequel for SP most likely. I’m just not sure when, or in which format…
Anyway, if you’d like to be a part of my next projects, and get notified whenever I have something new for you, enter your e-mail address below.
May the stars forever shine onto your path,
Rhea V. May