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Stargazer - Into the Stars

James Howlette


Stargazer - Book 1 - Into the Stars

by James Howlette

Copyright© 2021 by James Howlette

A Tale In The Stargazer Saga (1)

Description: A young man wakes up in a cave with no memory of who he is. He stumbles on an alien ship and what he believes could be his destiny. Join him as he leaves Earth to explore the stars and to see what the future holds for him.

Tags: Minimal Sex, Ma/Fa, Consensual, Science Fiction, Aliens, Space, non-anthro, Group Sex, Slow

Published: 2021-09-14

Updated: 2022-11-11

Size: 175,749 Words

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Chapter 1

I don’t remember anything before I awoke from a dreamless sleep. It was one that felt like it had lasted only seconds - or even years - and was very disorienting. As I became more aware of what was around me, I tried to recall where I was and what I had been doing prior to sleeping. As I looked around and my mind came into focus, I came to a chilling realization. All of the memories of my life before I woke up were gone. I strained to try and remember anything, but only glimpses and fragments appeared. It felt like the answers were sitting at the corners of my mind just out of reach.

As the fog in my mind cleared some more, I was able to focus a bit better, and I looked around to take stock of my surroundings. Try as I might to get my eyes to focus, there was no light to help me ascertain the size or location of my surroundings. I could tell, from contact with the floor, that there was ground beneath me and that it was rock of some kind. I was unsettled that I could tell what it was by touching the substance beneath me, but not anything that I had done prior to waking up. It seemed that while the memories of my life were affected, my brain’s ability to identify things was not affected at least.

I felt around my body, noticing that I was clothed and began feeling for anything that could be an injury or if I were bleeding. I was thankful to find no real rips in my clothing, just tender spots on my body where I hit the ground, I suspected. I felt around my face and found some tender spots, possibly from the fall, as well as a large lump on the back of my head. That could have been why I couldn’t remember, but it was too early to tell. I figured my next step would be to check my waist for a pack and pockets for any items or identification. When I was checking my belt, I came across a strange object. As I ran my hands along its surface, I seemed to activate a button, causing light to burst forth and push back the darkness enveloping the immediate area.

I was a little disturbed that I hadn’t recognized the object had been a flashlight, but perhaps it was something relatively new. Looking around, I was only slightly surprised to find that the walls and ceiling of my current accommodations matched the floor: rock. It looked like I was in a cavern of some kind. The cavern was large, at least eight feet high and twice as long, with the width of the room looking to be around seven feet. The ceiling of the cavern was covered in various stalactites, as well as a small hole in the ceiling that showed a hint of stars, but no other real light source. Based on what I could see, it appeared that I had fallen through the roof of the cavern at some point.

It explained why I wasn’t injured very much other than bumps and bruises, as I hadn’t fallen very far. I must have landed on my head when I fell, though, which would explain the memory issues that were plaguing me. I took the flashlight off my belt and used the light to illuminate a section of rock while I emptied my pockets onto the floor in front of me. While I was looking down, I noticed that I seemed to have a vest on, as well, covered in multiple pockets. I decided to empty those as well and when I completed my task, I found I had a number of varied objects on my person. Given what I found, I felt that I was in less danger than I had expected when I woke up.

I had a canteen, compass, three protein bars, my flashlight, four flares and some kind of small, foldable hand axe. Putting all the goods back where I found them, I began to search the cavern for signs of a way out. I first looked at the wall that was closest to the hole I fell from. While it did curve and taper down from the ceiling to the floor, unfortunately there were no hand holds that would allow me to get to it. With that option gone, I had to find some route out of this cavern that would lead to the outside. After an extensive search of the other walls, I found what looked to be a crawl space that seemed just big enough for me to fit through.

Aiming my flashlight inside, it looked to go on for a few feet, but I could see that the path curved a bit blocking the end. It looked like a tight fit, but I was confident I could get through it. The worst-case scenario would be that I somehow get stuck in the tight space, and given there was limited room to move, I would starve to death. The tunnel could also be unstable, and a wrong move could cause it to collapse, killing me in a cave-in. However, it could be fine but there may not be another exit, or it could be blocked off. If that happened to be the case, I could try and crawl back here and attempt to get out of the hole.

I knew I didn’t have time to waste, so I took a deep breath, crouched down, and slid into the opening. I had just enough room to move myself about a half foot at a time, as the tunnel was not wide enough to move my arms around much. As I made my way through the tight space, there were sections that looked tighter than others, and I found myself getting stuck for a few moments. As I neared the turn, I began to get worried that I would find a solid wall, or a mound of rocks blocking my path. As I made the turn, I released my breath seeing that there was an exit, and after a few tense moments I made it to the other side. It took a little bit, as the exit hole was slightly smaller than where I entered, but I was successful extracting myself from the small tunnel.

When I got out of the hole, I stood up and I used my light to get my bearings in this new area and was shocked at what I saw. The cavern was enormous, easily three or four times the size of the one that I had just woken in. There was no light source in the cavern, save for the flashlight in my hand, meaning that there was no opening anywhere. The ceiling was solid from wall to wall, covered in many stalactites of various sizes. In the center of this vast cavern, was what looked to be a massive angular piece of obsidian jutting out of the rocky floor. There was almost no reflection from my flashlight along its matte black surface, with only a slight hue of discoloration signaling that the flashlight was hitting it. I had never seen anything like it before, but with my memory loss it was hard to tell if I really had.

While I was fascinated by the large object in the center of the vast room, I needed to find a way out of here. I began to search the walls of the room for a way out, looking at every possible spot where another small tunnel could hide and found nothing other than the tunnel I had used to get in here. I looked around for water somewhere that might be entering into here from some small crevice, but each wall was bone dry, as were the stalactites. I guess I was here during a dry season because I could remember how the stalactites were formed. I then began searching the floor and walls for some mushrooms or some sort of edible plant, but there was nothing to be found.

I started to become frantic, as I began to realize that the food and water, I had on my person wouldn’t last me very long, even if I were to ration it out. Feeling defeated, I made my way to the center of the room and sat down next to the large black rock. As I sat there, with my back against it, I began contemplating my fate. I had some food, but I didn’t know how long it would last me and I had a bit of water but probably only a few mouthfuls. Even if it were completely full, I had no means to replenish either of them. I could not remember how long I could go without food and water, but I didn’t think it would be very long. It also seemed a very sad, lonely, and painful way to live out my last days.

I laughed at the irony that I would not have to worry about missing anyone or anything, due to my current memory loss. I sighed and rested my head against the large obsidian rock and contemplated what options I had left. I could return to the room and try to climb up the one wall, in hopes of getting to the opening that I had fallen through. The worst that could happen would be I would break my neck and that was a less painful way to die, I figured. That or I would break my neck, paralyze myself and then slowly die that way. Both images sent shivers down my spine, and I wracked my brain trying to come up with a better solution. Perhaps I could simply call out and hope someone was passing the hole and could rescue me or at least get help.

I was lost in my thoughts when the surface I was resting on disappeared and I found myself falling backwards into the newly formed opening. After a brief tumble, I got up and found I was no longer in the cavern, but inside of something mechanical. Once I stood up, I turned and realized, with some trepidation, that I was not able to leave the new place I now found myself in. The opening that I came through was now closed, and, despite searching and banging on the wall, I found that the doorway had disappeared. I knew it would not open again. It looked just the same inside it as it had from the other side, like obsidian, but the walls on either side of where I stood did not look to be rock at all. I seemed to have rolled down a small set of stairs and now found myself in a small hallway. The walls of the tunnel were mostly scarce, coloured with a pale white colour to it. There were support beams every few feet and there were controls on my left, but despite my attempts they didn’t respond to my touch.

Down the hall, on the left, there was what looked to be a glass cabinet. I pulled my flashlight off my belt and looked to find that there were masks of some kind stored inside. Resigned that I could not leave whatever this was, I turned and made my way down the small hallway. There was a hatch on the end opposite to where I entered, and I was surprised as it released with a loud hiss when I approached it, moving to the side to allow me to continue on. I hesitantly moved forward through the now opened doorway, keeping a watchful eye for anything dangerous that could potentially pop out at me. The only light was coming from my flashlight as I entered the new area. Once I was a few steps into the new location, the door closed behind me with a hiss and I began to wonder just what the hell was going on. A light hum started to fill the room and, in a few moments, lights along the ceiling began to come on.

The room looked to be roughly nine feet long by eight feet wide and the lights lined the edges of the ceiling where it met with the walls. The walls themselves had different devices and monitors mounted to them that were slowly coming to life as they were once again being fed power.

The monitors were displaying a language that was unknown to me. It was hard to see where the controls were as there were no keys or touch pads. There were pieces of glass or crystal jutting out of some of them with strange markings on them. There were such input devices in front of two monitors on the left side of the room. There were flat surfaces under the monitors where what looked like a keyless interface terminal would most likely be. The input areas were dark with no activity, other than what was showing on the displays, but I could not make out what they were for. Even the displays seemed to tell me nothing about what this thing was and that was mostly due to there being only symbols on the screen.

There was a single workstation like the ones that were on the various walls to my right, opposite a large table. The table in the center seemed like one that you would find in any house save for a low glow illuminating from its center. The odd part was that instead of chairs, there seemed to be devices that looked more like tubes surrounding it. They matched what I saw in front of what I could only suspect were workstations placed around the room. I made my way to the tube that was closest to me and noticed a pungent odor coming from it. I walked around until I saw glass and when I looked inside, I found out right away where the smell was coming from. The glass on the tube was damaged and the crack had caused the remains inside to perish. There was no telling how long the remains had been there, and I couldn’t tell what I was looking at inside. I went around the room and checked the tubes at the various workstations around the room and they all suffered the same fate as the one I had just looked at. The tubes surrounding the table were damaged, but there were no remains in any of them. I looked around the room and saw the only other door was on the far side of the room. With few options left for me, I headed over to the door and was surprised that it opened when I got near it.

I warily peeked past the open doorway, to find a hallway illuminated before me. Like the room I had been in, the hallway was gently lit by lights embedded in the ceiling. I looked around it and, including the doorway I was peaking through, there were five doors in total. The four other doors in the hallway had more of that strange language written on them, and, upon closer inspection, I noticed the writing was engraved into the doors.

I stepped through the doorway, leaving the room I had just been in and decided to try the door that was immediately to my left. Once I was in the hallway, the door behind me closed with a hiss and I wondered what would happen next. I turned and approached the door I had come through, hoping that it would open when I drew near, but this time it wouldn’t move. I decided to go with my initial idea and turned to go to the door on my left, but it didn’t respond to anything I did. Resigned that it would not work, I tried the door nearest to it, but it had as much success as the others had been. I cycled through the next door with the same result, but when I approached the last door, it opened with a hiss.

I felt as though someone, or something, was directing me, and it was becoming obvious I was getting little choice in the matter.

Stepping through the opened doorway, I made my way into the room that had been opened to me. As I entered the new room, lights flickered on with a light hum, revealing another room filled with more tubes and displays. As I moved deeper into the room, I looked around as the various workstations began to power up. There were four tubes in this room, two on the wall to my right, one in the middle, near the doorway, and one directly opposite from the doorway. The smell of decayed remains was pungent in the air, and I felt my stomach begin to churn. I took a few deep breaths, steeling my nerves, as I looked into the tube nearest to me and saw desiccated remains. Just like the others I had seen, there was little to tell what had been inside, due to the ravages of time. I began to wonder just how long this thing had been here, and who, or what, it was that I had found in all these tubes.

As I continued around the room, the same was true for the two that were found along the right side of the room. I was surprised when I reached the last pod, which was on the opposite side of the room and found it functional. While I should have been shocked that one was undamaged, I was even more surprised at what I found inside. All of a sudden, a loud warning sound filled the room and a language I never heard before began to blare from unseen speakers. I looked around frantically, trying to see if there were anyone else in the room, but I couldn’t see anyone, nor where that sound was coming from. I couldn’t figure out what I might have done to cause the alarm to sound and frantically made my way towards the open door. Just before I arrived at the doorway, it closed with a hiss and wouldn’t open no matter what I tried.

Klorn fethor’ah, trook-ta veritc’trya” an unknown voice said loudly, the phrase was repeated along with the warning buzzer, in what seemed to be an endless loop.

After a while, the volume of the alarm was too much, and I began to get disoriented. As the alarm continued, the room started spinning and I desperately attempted to brace myself against the nearby pod. My attempt proved futile and within moments, darkness overtook me causing me to fall to the ground. I don’t know how long I was unconscious, but I awoke some time later, still on the floor of the room. The alarm was still going, but it was no longer the blaring volume that had disoriented me before. Once I was confident that I was no longer dizzy and I wouldn’t pass out again, I sat up to see what had changed while I was out. My eyes slowly scanned the room, and I was shocked to find I wasn’t alone in the room anymore. I slowly stood up, bracing myself against the tube, while making sure not to break eye contact with what I saw across the room from me. Once I was standing, I looked over at the being that was standing before me.

It stood at roughly shoulder level with me, but that wasn’t including the height that was added by their ears. The ears added another half inch to the image’s height, and I stood in awe. Its general appearance was that of a bipedal feline, including whiskers and a tail. Its legs were digitigrade like most dogs and felines found on Earth, though our animals were quadrupeds. By the curves of its form, I would assume that the gender of the being could be female, but I had no idea if that was the case. She had what looked to be a military uniform on with a skirt, and her hair was styled in a bob. I could see right through the being to the wall behind it, meaning it was artificially displayed. The hologram, due to it being translucent in nature, had a light orange hue with a minor glow. I could make out all of the details behind her, but she was solid enough to maintain my focus.

“Human. Five foot eight inches tall, weighing one hundred twenty pounds. Subject’s eyes blue, with brown fur on head. Fur comprises twenty six percent of the body. Age roughly twenty human solar years, gender male.”

I don’t know what shocked me more, that the image before me spoke English, or that it knew all that about me in such detail. Its eyes never left mine as it spoke, with a distinctly feminine voice, and I could see some kind of awareness behind her eyes.

“Human has suffered a cranial injury that has resulted in swelling of the brain, though swelling is not dangerous to the human’s life. Location of injury and swelling resulting in long term memory adversely being affected, while short term memory remains unaffected. General health of the subject is at seventy six percent, beginning the process for phase two now.”

A light immediately shot out of her eyes, running from the top of my head to my toes. While there was no sensation from the beam other than slight warmth, I still felt a bit put off by the experience of being scanned.

“Scan has been completed,” the holographic being stated. “DNA profile logged in computer core and emergency command structure has been initialized. New captain registered. Omega protocol is now in effect. Waiting to complete phase three. I am now ready to respond to and receive your commands, captain.”

I just stood there with my jaw hanging open in shock at what it had just said. Somehow, without any input from me, I realized I had been made the captain of whatever this was. I took a minute and collected my thoughts, as I wanted to make sure that I worded things just right. While this image was able to speak English, it may not be able to process English or understand it as a human would.

I shook out the thoughts that cluttered my mind and asked, “Who or what are you, exactly?”

I swear I saw a smile as it cocked its head ever so slightly to the left, as the question hung in the air.

“I am a Transitory Artificial Intelligence Lifeform, or T.A.I.L. for short. I am the artificial intelligence unit that was assigned to this vessel. I was tasked with assisting the crew with the operations of the ship, and, in the case of an emergency, I was designed to take over all ship’s functions and monitor the crew.”

“Okay,” I replied, with a bit of a pause. “How long have you been monitoring the crew? How long have you and this ship been down here?”

“I have been monitoring the crew for three hundred and twenty-six of your solar years. Seven of the occupied pods were damaged on impact, causing their immediate deaths. The damaged pods were the three on the bridge, three that were in the communications room, and one that was in the engineering core. Three pods remained functional after the crash, one pod in engineering, one in the medical bay and the pilot’s pod that you are currently standing next to. Based on the necessity of the crew positions, when power levels became too low, I had to cut the power to the engineering pod. All critical systems were unaffected in the crash and any damage that was sustained could be repaired by the robots I have to assist me. Once power levels dropped even further, I had to cut power to the medical pod. My functions allow me to control the medical bed and assess the health of any crew member. The pilot was uninjured and did not require medical attention, so there was no need to choose otherwise. While piloting the ship is possible for me, it is much more taxing when I am dealing with other functions. As well, I don’t have the so-called intuition that humanoids seem to excel at.

“If you had not come along, I would have had to terminate power to the pod in two days, twenty hours and thirty-six minutes. The ship’s core is powered by a fission reactor and due to the slow degradation of the fuel, I was able to extend it for some time. The first pod was shut down one hundred fifty-seven solar years ago, the second shut down occurred thirty-seven solar years ago. The remaining material would have only been able to power the ship for another six solar years if the final pod had been shut down. All remaining systems would have to be shut down to preserve my functions, as I serve as a record of the ship in the event of an incident. I believe that your people would refer to it as a ‘black box’. I would then be preserved for seven hundred of your solar years before my A.I. systems would need to be shut down. That would wipe all unnecessary functions and preserve the data of all that had transpired.”

“OK, I think I understand that” I replied, with a slight nod. “So, what is it I should call you? Do you have a name you prefer to go by? What is your gender designation?”

The hologram cocked it’s head, “At present I do not have a personal designation, as I was always referred to as ‘Tail’ or ‘A.I. unit’. It has always been like this since I came online, and my designation should be referred to as female, please.”

I pondered her words for a bit before I replied, “Okay, your name is Tali from now on. Why is it that my arrival has allowed the pilot and you to survive?”

“Thank you, sir, “Her eyes widened in shock. “I have never been given a name before, nor had anyone cared enough to attempt to. As for your other question, only a member of command level staff can give me orders. Since the pilot is in stasis, she cannot be the one to assign orders, as she will not be released until the captain cancels the emergency status. So, it was necessary to build an active command structure to preserve the status of the ship.”

“Okay,” I replied, lost in thought. “Then how is it that I am now the captain? I am not of your species, nor do I know anything about this ship or how it works.”

“You have been made Captain of this ship due to the Omega Protocol, sir. In the event of a crash that incapacitates or kills the entire ship’s crew, I am tasked to take over ship’s functions until someone of the command hierarchy is able to cancel the emergency status. If the captain dies in the crash and there are still crew members in stasis, or if the captain is placed into stasis, then the protocol activates. I maintain stable power levels, along with the crew’s health based on the protocol parameters. I continue to do so until a member of the fleet arrives to collect the ship and crew. In the event of a ship being lost to the fleet, with no hope of rescue, then the A.I. begins to search for a local candidate. Once a suitable subject is found to become the new Captain, then all command functions are given over to that person. The only way it does not activate is if a Mac’skarian military officer arrives to take temporary command before a suitable subject is found.

“Due to where we crashed, in relation to our home sector and how long we had been sending our distress signal, it was determined that it was unlikely that we would be rescued. You were the first acceptable person to come near us since the crash, so, based on the protocol, you were let into the ship and guided to the bridge. The alarm you heard had a subliminal sound that was designed to render you unconscious, allowing me greater ease to scan your body and cerebral cortex. Upon a scan of your brain, I detected your native language and vital status. You were then tested, while unconscious, to see how you would fare as Captain. You have no memory of the tests, due to the nature of your induced sleep. Your natural instincts, despite your memory loss, showed you to be a quite capable candidate to be Captain. So, until we return to the Mac’skarian home world, you will be the captain of this vessel. When you are ready, we will complete the final phase of the protocol.”

I found my mind reeling at all this, because this was a lot to take in for one day. I had awakened in a cavern that I learned I had fallen into, not knowing how or why I had fallen into it. My memories for over twenty years are gone, with no idea on when I could possibly get them back, if ever. First, I was trapped in a cavern with no way out and now, due to strange circumstances, I was now the captain of an alien ship.

“You must be tired, sir,” Tali said with a smile. “If you would follow me, I will show you to the common room and your personal quarters.”

With a smile, she walked to the door that led to the hallway and went right through it. I was shocked at seeing it, until I remembered that she was not a physical being. I chuckled to myself at the foolishness I felt and followed her out of the room. The door opened and closed behind me with a hiss once I passed through it. I found Tali standing next to the first door on my right with the same smile on her face. She turned and stepped through the door, with me close on her heels. The room I entered was shaped a bit like a pentagon, with the walls on the far side of the room each housing a door. The wall to my left housed a console of some kind built into the wall with a two foot by one foot repository underneath. There were two tables with four chairs each and a few couches filling up the remaining space along the unused walls.

“This is a food dispensary,” Tali said as she walked over and gestured to the console. “It is programmed with over ten thousand various Mac’skarian dishes. I have selected a dish that might be palatable for you to try, I hope that you enjoy it. I plan on collecting data of many Earth dishes before we leave orbit, based on the preferences I scanned from your mind.”

With a brilliant flash of light, a plate with food appeared where there had once been nothing. It reminded me of something I had seen on a science fiction show that I watched growing up. It resembled a European goulash that my mother had made for me growing up. Meat and vegetables, over grains that were drenched in a thick, brown gravy. Though I could not identify any of the various food items on the plate, its heavenly smell was whetting my appetite. When I took the plate from the repository, utensils appeared as well as a cup of water. I took those as well, and I turned to sit down at the table nearby. Just as I went to sit down, I heard a slight cough from behind me and turned to find Tali standing next to the door closest to the hallway entrance.

“This is the captain’s quarters,” she said, gesturing to the door. “The other two doors in this general common area are the male and female crew quarters. She stepped through the door, and I once again followed her lead. The door opened with a hiss, and I marvelled at the sheer size of the room. Five or six people could sleep in this room comfortably, it seemed to be as big as the room that I had first seen Tali in. It was almost bigger than my entire apartment, and that was a bit shocking to say the least. There was a large bed that was bigger than I ever saw before, as if two king sized beds had been put together. I wondered how someone would need all that space to sleep, but perhaps the male of their species grew rather large. There was a table with four chairs to the right of the bed and a standing shower unit at the far corner from the door. To my left was a desk with a console unit on it that reminded me a bit of a laptop and farther down the wall was a dresser. The walls were sparse of any decoration, but the room still had an air of authority to it. I also noticed another one of the food dispensaries was on one of the walls.

Tali bowed slightly, “With your permission, sir, I would like to send two drones to dig for fissionable materials deep in the earth below us. I have detected a good yield of material, about four ... kilometers I think you call them, below us.”

“Permission granted,” I replied, uncertain if I was answering her correctly. “I think I will eat this food you have provided and then get some rest. This has been a lot to take in and I am incredibly exhausted.”

Tali bowed again, “Thank you, sir, I will leave you to eat and rest. I will wake you in a few hours, and we can complete the necessary steps to complete the final phase of the protocol.”

Tali nodded and in a flash of light she was gone. I walked over to the table and sat down, I looked at the food before me, the exotic smells filling my senses. The meat chunks looked to be about one inch cubed, with light seasoning, and slightly charred. There were what I would assume were vegetables, though I didn’t recognize any of them. I was sure I could compare them to ones I had eaten before once I had a taste. I realized then, that I wasn’t sure I could remember anything to compare them to. The veggies were a mix of thinly sliced and minced and had pungent, earthy aromas. The sauce, or gravy, was nice and thick, with an auburn colour to it. It smelled rich with spices, and I found my mouth watering. It didn’t take long for me to let my doubt go and for my hunger to take over. I dove into the food with gusto and was surprised at the flavors that hit my palate. The meat was succulent and flavorful, while the vegetables were cooked well, but still had a crisp texture to them. The sauce was sweet and savoury, which I rather enjoyed and fit my tastes perfectly. Once the food had been devoured and water was done, I climbed onto the bed. It was soft, yet firm and the linens felt as soft as silk. Though my mind was reeling with all that had happened, it wasn’t long before my fatigue caught up with me and I drifted into a deep sleep. I knew that when I woke up, I would have a lot to deal with, but for now I would be happy with some rest.

Chapter 2

I awoke with a start. I was feeling slightly disoriented, as I slowly began to come out of the deep sleep, I had been in. It took a moment for me to become aware of my surroundings and realize that what had happened had not been a dream. I was lying in an enormous bed, in a room bigger than I had ever slept in before. The dishware from my meal the night before was still sitting on the table where I had eaten. I went over to the wall near the shower unit, to look for a toilet of some kind, but could not find one. I searched for a button that could make one appear but other than the buttons in the shower, I could find nothing.

“Great,” I muttered to myself. “First time on an alien vessel and I didn’t ask where the toilets were. Should have asked Tali before I fell asleep.”

“You should have asked me what, Captain?” Her sudden appearance beside me was startling and caused me to jump.

Again, she appeared just as she had the night before. The same light orange, translucent hue, with the same pleasing female shape.

I cleared my throat nervously and answered, “I should have asked about where the toilet for this room was. I can’t seem to find a compartment that has it hidden away, and I am not versed in your language or technology.”

With a simple nod from the hologram, a section of wall within the shower retracted and a toilet slid forward. Relief washed over me, and I chuckled a little bit, as my plan had been to use the shower to relieve myself if a toilet couldn’t be found. I went into the stall in a rush, the pressure was becoming a bit much. As I extracted myself from my pants and allowed myself the release I needed, I realized that I still had an audience. I was shocked to see that Tali was still there observing me as I relieved myself. It was a surreal experience, and I almost made a mess from noticing her still standing there. I hurried myself along and put myself away haphazardly to limit how long I was exposed to the alien intelligence.

“Was it really necessary to watch me do that?” I asked, voicing my irritation at her watching me. I was unaccustomed to doing any of that in front of others and it bled out into my words. Tali looked the least bit fazed by my question or the tone in which I had imparted it.

Tali looked a bit contrite and said, “I didn’t realize that you would be uncomfortable by my presence, Captain. The Mac’skarian that crewed this ship were used to the fact that the A.I. was always watching everything on the ship. Even if my holo-avatar is not active, my sensors are always watching every square millimeter of the ship in case I am needed.”

The fact that I would always be watched by her was a sobering thought, but I understood the necessity. I would just have to get used It, hopefully the crew themselves were not as free in that respect. I went to the basin next to the shower and it filled with just enough water to freshen up. I would have to wait until the ship’s systems were at full capacity before I would think of wasting any of its limited resources.

Patting my face dry, I turned and asked, “Tali, what is the status of the collection of fissionable material? I remember you said that it was nearby and that you would be sending two drones.”

“You are correct, Captain,” she nodded. “I dispatched two drones ten point six hours ago to the target destination. The drilling down to the material took two point four hours to complete and for the last eight point two hours they have been collecting the material. At present we have collected seven tons of material that will be processed into three point five tons of fuel. One more ton of material will get us to the four-ton threshold of our fuel tanks. This will give enough fuel to get us to the nearest estimated Mac’skarian port, however, I plan to collect as much as possible before we leave, in case of any emergency situations we could find ourselves in. We have two small cargo bays that I can modify to become temporary fuel tanks, if you would allow me to. Estimated time to completion of collection of total material is one point six hours. Time to completion of fuel processing, four point three hours. Time to take off, eight point two hours and counting.”

So, in roughly eight hours we would be taking off; that was a sobering thought. While I had no memories to tie me to this planet, there was still a sense of foreboding at the thought of leaving. I shook my head and attempted to focus my thoughts on what I needed to do. There was no time to hesitate or second-guess myself and I wasn’t doing this alone. Besides, there was a life that hung in the balance.

I turned to my holo-companion and asked, “Tali, what can I do to help move things along? I am feeling kind of useless here at the moment.”

“All preparations for launch will be handled by myself or the drones,” she replied with a smile. “However, I will need assistance to remove the deceased crew members from the ship. The drones that I currently have are not able to move them due to the limitations of their functions. It would take resources we currently don’t have to modify them to do such work. I can send one out to start digging graves for them and the process should be complete in three standard hours. If you could also give me the necessary authorization to collect the extra material to store in the modified bays, I would appreciate it.”

I nodded and replied, “Ok Tali, you have the authorization to collect as much surplus material as you can before we take off. As for the remains of the deceased crew members, I can see to it that they receive a proper burial. I do have one question though, how am I supposed to get them out of the pods? I mean, I haven’t been shown how anything works yet, and didn’t you say that there was still a phase to complete?”

Tali nodded, “All good questions, sir. If you would please follow me, you will need to go to the bridge, so we can establish security clearance protocols for you.”

I turned to follow her but stopped and said, “Before we do that, Tail, what do I do with the dishware and cup that I used last night? You didn’t exactly cover that part yet.”

“Please place the used goods into the receptacle for the food dispensary,” she replied, gesturing to the receptacle. “It will detect them and break them down into the necessary component material.”

With that, she turned and walked through the wall. After I placed the used dishes in the receptacle in my room, I went out to the common area and made my way back to the bridge. When I entered the room, I saw Tali standing near the console between the functional pod containing the pilot and the closest pod on the right side of the room. As I approached the now active console, a small rectangular pad rose a half inch from the surface of the console.

Gesturing to the pad, Tali said, “Please place your hand on the pad and state your name for the computer system. You will then be prompted to give a security command code.”

“Only one problem with that, Tali,” I said with a laugh. “I don’t remember my name or who I am, remember. I don’t even recall if I have ever heard a security code before, or how it would go.”

Tali nodded in understanding, “I apologize, Captain, I was hoping that after some rest, you would have gained something of your memory back. I detect that the swelling in your skull has gone down, however, there seem to be residual effects to your long-term memory.”

The lack of information put a damper on things, for sure and I began to pace as I tried to think of a solution to this particular predicament. I needed to have a name in order to log my credentials into their computer system. Once I had that, I was sure that could come up with some random code that would do the job. I had no idea what my name was, nor did I have a list of names in my memory to choose from. Tali had called me ‘Human’ when I had first woken up and the more, I mulled it over, the more a name began to form. After a little bit of time, the name ‘Hugh’ kept popping into my head. As I began to think of a last name, I kept remembering the only thing I could see when I woke. The cavern had been dark, but when I looked around, I could see the stars from the hole I fell through. I walked up to the console and placed my hand firmly on the pad.

After a flash of light from the pad, Tali announced, “Scan of your DNA structure and of your palm print is now complete, Captain. Please speak your name so it can be registered in our system.”

I took a deep breath and replied, “My name is Hugh Stargazer.”

There was a glow from the panel and a chorus of sounds that, no doubt, acknowledged my information had been recorded in the system core.

“Very good, Captain Stargazer, a very wise choice of a name, sir,” Tali said with a slight bow. “Please give your security command override code. This code will allow you to override security lock outs when necessary and to protect systems from enemies in the event of being boarded.”

I scratched my head and said, “Umm, ok. How about this: Security command authorization code, Alpha-Bravo-One-One-Zulu-Seven.”

“Very good, sir, name and command codes have been accepted and stored in the ship’s computer core. All systems are now under your authority and only the Mac’skarian Admiralty could lock you out of our systems now. We are now set for lift off, you can now use your handprint to release the pods and return them to their original state. However, at this time the stasis release cycle for the functional pod will not be complete for 24 hours.”

I made my way to the closest pod and placed my hand against the side. Beeps and mechanical sounds began to come from the pod as it released its seals. The tube began to retreat and contort as it reverted back to a chair. The smell of the remains filled the cabin and I found it hard not to throw up. I pushed back the queasy feelings boiling up from my stomach and concentrated on the task at hand.

Tali activated a small holographic screen in the palm of her hand, “Sir, there are protective suits in the medical bay, that is the second door on the right, just past the crew quarters. Inside you will see yellow suits stored in open lockers along the wall, with helmets above them. Put on both to protect yourself from bacteria present from decomposition and to protect your senses from the smell of rotting flesh.”

Nodding in agreement, I left the bridge quickly and went to the medical bay. As I entered the medical bay, I stopped briefly to familiarize myself with what was inside. There were consoles and display screens along the wall to the left, no doubt to display patient information. Unlike when I first entered the ship, these displays, along with ceiling lights, were all active. In the center of the room was a bed with a console on the side and half cylinders of glass at either end. It looked as if a patient could enter through the exposed middle section so that once they were lying down the glass would close and seal the patient inside. Along the far wall were the suits Tali had spoken of. They were stored in an open locker area just as Tali had said. Beside that looked to be a much larger version of the food dispensary, the receptacle looked to be big enough to fit clothing into. Along the right wall was a desk with a terminal on it, a few things that looked like baskets and a few chairs.

I made my way over to the far wall and found a suit that looked to be my size. I took the suit off and looked to see how I would get inside of it. The legs looked to be built for Mac’skarian physiology instead of human, specifically in how the pants were designed. As I pondered what I would do to get the suit on, Tali appeared beside me.

“Captain, if you would please press the red button on the left side of the belt, that will split the top and bottom sections of the suit. If you would please place the bottoms into the receptacle, I can break them down and replace them with ones that will fit your leg structure better. Also, there is a hover lift in the engineering room that I am sure, will allow you to make your task somewhat less strenuous to complete. It is the door at the end of the hallway you first came in.”

I thanked her for the suggestion and followed her instructions. It took me a moment to locate the red button on the belt, as it was on the right-hand side which was facing away from me. The Lower section detached with a quick hiss, and I placed the pants portion into the receptacle. A brilliant flash of light removed the lower section, while a second flash of light had replaced it with a new one. I put on the lower half and was happy that this fit better than the others would have. I walked back over and then put the top half on, which felt slightly big on my frame. I pressed the red button again and it sealed with a hiss. I then grabbed the helmet and attempted to place it on my head, but it would not go. Looking at the base I realized I had to put it facing slightly to the right, then twist it to lock it into place. Once the helmet was on, a HUD came to life and showed that the oxygen and filters were working as expected.

Now that I was dressed in protective gear, I left the medical bay and went right to the door at the end of the hall. It had been the first door I had tried when I first entered the hallway but had not opened for me. Once the door opened, I stepped inside, and found the room dark. A few seconds later, the hum of power filled the air, and the ceiling lights came on. The inside of the room didn’t look too damaged, though there were two small robotic things moving around welding patches into the wall and repairing circuitry. They reminded me a bit of a science fiction creature known as a replicator. Small mechanical things, the size of a small dog or large cat.

These must have been the drones that Tali had mentioned to me earlier in regard to repairs and collection materials. I was careful not to cross their path as I moved deeper into the room. I found the hover lift sitting along the wall to the left. I placed my hand on the palm reader and was surprised to find it could scan my print through the suit. I made a mental note to ask Tali about that later, but, for now, I had a task to complete. I navigated the lift out of the engineering room back to the bridge and loaded the body onto it. Since there was room to spare on the lift, I unlocked the remaining two pods and loaded their remains onto the lift as well.

When I grabbed the handle, there was a beep and I watched as a one-foot lip appeared, which would prevent the bodies from falling off. As I left the room, one of the bots came in and began interacting with the now empty pods. I stopped to watch, and it looked like they were cleaning and disinfecting the surfaces once I had removed the bodies. I navigated my way through the communications room, and out into the cavern. I was surprised to find that since I had last been in the cavern, some noticeable things had changed. I saw more of those drones I had seen before, mulling about outside. There were a handful of bots digging up the rock and dirt that had buried the ship, no doubt to ensure no issues when breaking free for take-off.

Lights had been installed near the access hatch, and ten graves had been dug along the far wall across from the ship entrance. I moved the lift over to the graves, and carefully placed each set of remains into them. A drone then appeared and worked to fill them in with dirt. Seeing that I would not be needed for that part of the job, I returned to the ship and did the same for the remains in the medical bay and engineering room. Once again outside with my load and placed the remains carefully into the graves. I did my best to show them the respect they were due, given the manner of their deaths. I returned to get the last three sets of remains from the communications room and, once they were buried, my task was done.

I found suitable chunks of rock and placed one at the head of each grave. The drone that had been filling the graves then used a laser to engrave something onto each one. Probably their names, but I could not tell due to my inability to read their language. Still, I lowered my head and paid respects to their sacrifice, my apologies for their fate, and my condolences for their families. Once that was done, I returned to the ship and found Tali waiting for me in the medical bay.

I could read the expression on her face as she said, “I saw what you did; my sensors picked up what you were muttering, they would have been honored by your words and actions. You did well, sir Now, if you would please place the suit and helmet into one of the basket receptacles just behind you on your right, I can begin cleaning and sterilization for their next use.”

I carefully removed the suit and placed it in the bin as Tali had instructed me to. Despite being up for only a few hours, I felt exhausted from the task and asked Tali to wake me when we were within an hour of launch. She wished me a good rest as I made my way back to my quarters. The room began to spin as I entered, but I was able to make it to the bed before my legs gave out beneath me.

My dreams were filled with a torrent of images, jumping from one extreme to the next. Images of people and faces I didn’t remember, jumping from unknown location to unknown location. A tang of familiarity hung around them, even as I failed to be able to focus on who or what they could be. Images of the crash also permeated my dreams, despite my not being present for the event. My imagination was extrapolating in detail the horrific scene of their crash as it happened. As the final moments of the crash played to their crescendo, I bolted upright in bed.

Panic was still flaring through my mind from the images I had seen as I started to become aware of my surroundings once again. I was safe in my quarters on the alien ship, but those dreams were a novel experience to be sure. As I became more aware, I realized that despite the steps we had taken so far, I was still trying to come to grips with the situation. I went to the water basin next to the shower to wash my face. I would probably need to shower as I was beginning to smell a bit ripe from all the exertion, but I had more pressing matters to attend to.

Now that the bodies of the deceased had been taken care of, I needed to talk to Tali and find out the progress made while I rested. As I turned to leave the room, I found Tali’s transparent form before me with a warm smile on her face.

“Good morning, Captain, I am glad to see that you have slept well. The crew member’s life signs are still stable, stasis deactivation awaiting final sequence. Once you give the word, she will be ready to be woken up at any time. The core is powered up, I await your command to initiate lift off.”

I nodded and said, “Very well, Tali, begin take off procedures, once we have arrived in space, set a course for the Mac’skarian outpost you spoke of. Once we are safely in transit begin the final stage of the wake-up procedure.”

“As you command, Captain,” Tali said with a smile. “I will await you on the bridge, as I am sure you would like to watch us take flight from your world.”

In an instant she was gone from the room, and she did have a point. I was very interested in seeing how we would leave the cave enclosure. Despite not being able to remember what I may have seen during my life growing up, I was excited at seeing our journey off this world. I made my way over to the bridge and found Tali standing next to the chair that had once held the corpse of what I assumed had been the ship’s Captain.

Gesturing to the chair, Tali stated, “Sir, if you would kindly take your seat, the inertial dampeners are not fully repaired. Given the thrust we would need to take off without being noticed, I wouldn’t want to see you injured, sir. The rest of the ship has been cleaned and sterilized while you were resting, so there is no worry of lingering smells or germs remaining from the deceased crew.”

I was shocked that despite the species difference and the language barrier she only recently crossed, she was able to pick up the basis behind my hesitance. I made my way to the chair and looked at its current state. When I had opened the pods to retrieve the corpses, they had stayed extended in the flattened state, so I was intrigued at how the pod had retracted into a chair. Some of the displays and panels were now part of the arm rests, others were gone entirely. As I sat down, I marveled at how comfortable the chair was and I wondered how long it would be before typical muscle cramps and such would occur.

I looked about the bridge, and marveled at how clean it now looked, completely different from the dusty, damaged mess that I had seen when I had first set foot in here. I noticed all of the consoles in front of the empty chairs, were not lit up. As I turned to look forward, I saw that the remaining pod was now set in a horizontal position rather than the upright position the rest had been in when I found them. All of a sudden, a light hum started to fill the air and I guessed it was the sound of the reactor going to full power. Soon the wall in front of me became transparent, or a screen was activated displaying the cavern the Mac’skarian vessel currently resided in.

The hum was soon drowned out by a low rumbling noise, and the ship began to vibrate. Via the display, I could see signs of dust and hear the sounds of rocks falling from the roof of the cavern. A display appeared showing what appeared to be a side view of the ship within the cavern. I suspected a drone had stayed out of the ship to display the feed in real time. The layer of rock that encased the rest of the ship was also displayed. It appeared that only a third of the ship’s surface area was visible in the cavern, with the rest encased in dense rock.

“Captain, I will explain what is happening as it occurs,” Tali explained as she moved to stand next to the display. “I want to ensure you are properly aware of our progress. We are using the micro thrusters to vibrate the ship while pushing us upward. This results in weakening the dense rock encasing the ship as well as weakening the cavern’s structure through seismic vibration. The work you saw some of the drones doing has aided in our release by weakening the stress points I had detected.

“Even if the roof of the cavern were to give way, our now active shields would prevent any damage. I have expanded our dorsal shields to leave an adequate space to move in if that occurs. Once we are free, our weapons systems will blast a hole in the wall in front of us, using our lasers. The cavern we are in sits inside of a cliff face, about a hundred and fifty meters above ground. Once we have made a hole big enough for the ship to easily fit through, the ship’s engines will quickly accelerate, and we will make our way out of your atmosphere with all haste.”

I watched as the vibrations slowly became more intense, causing chunks of rock to begin falling from the roof, but I no longer heard a sound of impact. Soon nothing within a few meters of the ship seemed to land on the ground in that region, instead it hit an invisible force and rolled along it until it hit the ground. The display beneath showed a mushroom shaped blue outline around the ship. I assumed that it was displaying the shape of the shield that Tali had mentioned.

After a few more minutes had passed, with the vibrations continuing to rise in intensity, the ship suddenly moved slowly upwards. In a second, the upwards momentum ceased, and a flash of light exploded in front of the ship, the small cavern erupting in light. It was like looking into the sun, causing me to look away briefly, afraid my eyes would be damaged. When the brightness in my peripheral vision faded, I looked forward and saw a giant gaping hole where the wall had been. I braced myself just in time, as the ship lurched forward out of the cavern, and I felt the motion as the ship began to pull up towards the sky.

Chapter 3

The sensation of takeoff was an amazing experience; I watched the screen before me as the ship made its way out of the Earth’s atmosphere. I was experiencing something that only a handful of people on Earth had ever gone through, though how I knew that I couldn’t understand. My breath caught in my throat, as the blue sky began to darken, and a vast expanse of stars was revealed. The stars slowly grew until the endless expanse of space lay out before me in all its spectacular glory. The sensation of acceleration, pressing me against the captain’s chair slowly decreased until there was no pressure at all. I expected to feel the weightlessness that was expected in space and felt disheartened to realize I wouldn’t get to experience it. Again I wondered how I knew that I should float, just that I knew I wasn’t because of the ship’s artificial gravity. I was finding this lack of memory to be discomforting with each piece of unknown knowledge coming forth without context.

I watched as the moon quickly became more than a small circle in the sky, instead becoming a large sphere of rock as we soon hurtled past it.

With a flickering of amber light, a three-dimensional representation of the solar system appeared between my chair and the pod holding the still sleeping pilot. A small red orb was making its way through the space between the Earth and Mars, which I assumed was a representation of our ship. I pulled my focus from the holograms to the display screen and watched in wonder as the large red planet passed by. For a while, it was just a blanket of endless stars, until I began to see the signs of our approach towards the ring of rocks that made up the division between the inner and outer planets. I never imagined that I would ever see the asteroid belt firsthand, let alone sit on a ship that would weave through the space between the large hunks of space debris.

I was still finding it strange that I was able to recall all of this information. Why was it that I couldn’t remember my own name, how old I was, where I lived or how I ended up in that hole? Despite that, I could remember everything else as if I had never lost my memory. The real question was, did I want to remember what had led me to ending up in that cave? Is what I lost worth remembering again, especially if it would cost me the enjoyment of this new adventure I was on? I would have to table those thoughts because I needed to focus on what was happening right now. I was amazed at the slight sensations made when the ship adjusted its pitch, yaw and roll as it flew through the gaps between the various asteroids. It felt like I was watching a movie, or perhaps sitting in a virtual theme park ride. At that moment, out of nowhere, a flash of memory hit me out of my thoughts. Images of sitting in a movie theater, watching a movie in what was called d-box seats. Laughing with my friends as I watched the movie, enjoying the novelty of the new experience. Th memory and others that had opened up to me, left me disoriented as I tried to process the returning information. It didn’t answer any of my pressing questions, but it did give me hope that I would be able to get some answers in time.

Tali appeared in front of me, “Captain? I have detected some abnormalities in your physiology in the last few minutes, is everything all right?”

“Yes, I’m ok Tali, thank you for asking,” I said softly, as I started rubbing my temples. “The sensations from the course corrections caused a memory to flash in my mind. It felt like an immediate rush of information that was a little too much to process at once and made me disoriented. Don’t worry Tali, I’m sure that I will be fine in a minute or two.”

I glanced up at my transparent companion and gave her the best smile I could muster given how I felt at the moment. I looked back at the holographic display of the solar system, to see that we were nearing the edge of the belt and moving toward the outer planets. I saw that most of the outer planets were nowhere in sight, given that all of them were in a different location in their orbit relative to our plotted trajectory out of the system.

“Captain, we are now leaving the gravity well of your Sol system,” Tali said gesturing towards the holo display. “Activating luminal drives and setting course for the nearest Mac’skarian outpost. Our estimated time of arrival to the outpost is six hours and twenty-three minutes. The ship will be entering hyperspace in five ... four ... three ... two ... one!”

A wave of disorientation and pressure hit me as I watched space warp and ripple on the display screen for just a minute, as a swirling mass of energy appeared in front of us, and we moved forward into the heart of the freshly created storm. Soon the backdrop of space had been replaced with what looked like green static or turbulence; I couldn’t think of any other way to describe it. It was a novel experience standing on a ship as it went faster than light, even though it felt like it wasn’t even moving, and I hoped I would never forget this experience.

Scratching my head I turned to my bridge partner and said, “Tali, I will go to my quarters to freshen up. I haven’t showered since I woke up in that cave a day ago. Is there something I can do about my clothes? They are the only ones I have left and they kind of smell of sweat and death?”

“Of course Captain,” Tali replied with a smile, “Follow me to your quarters and I will show you how to use our molecular fabrication system.”

In an instant she disappeared from the bridge, and I made my way back to my room. Once inside I found her standing right next to the wall to my right. A section was now opened up next to where the food dispenser was sitting in the wall It was about a foot wide by half a foot tall. There were no buttons or displays, making me wonder how I would use it.

Tali gestured to the opening, “As you know, this is where your food dispenser is located and this newly revealed section beside it is the molecular fabricator. Press your palm against this panel to the left of the receptacle to activate it, causing the fabricator’s receptacle to appear in the wall and activate for use. The panel is dark grey in color, which is easy to tell apart from the white and light grey that cover the walls, allowing you to find it relatively easy in the future. In the case of your clothes take them off and fold them neatly. Once that is done place them in the receptacle. I will then instruct you in its use, and how I can help with many different functions.”

I stared at her, processing that she had just asked me to remove all my clothing, as if it wasn’t an issue. Despite the fact that she was an artificial lifeform with no physical presence, I found myself becoming shy at the prospect of being naked in front of her. It was then that I remembered that she could see everything that happens on this ship and thus it was inevitable. I had to make myself understand that she did not have emotions the same way I did, and therefore her request would not be considered an issue to her. Her head cocked slightly as she watched me, wondering why I was not getting undressed, proving my point. I took a deep breath and began slowly stripping off my clothing, trying not to think of the presence in the room watching me. With each piece of clothing I removed, I became more anxious about the translucent being in front of me. Ignoring my urge to not expose myself, I removed my underwear and added it to the pile of folded clothes.

Collecting my only garments, I folded them and placed them in the receptacle as instructed, watching as light enveloped them. As the light faded, I saw that the clothes were gone, another flash of light and in their place was brand new clothing. I collected it and marveled on how soft and luxurious the fabric felt to my hands. I remembered I was currently naked and suddenly feeling very exposed. I quickly donned the provided clothing and was surprised at how well it seemed to fit and comfortable it felt. When I looked back Tali was no longer next to the fabricator, but there were now a pair of boots where the clothes had appeared. I took them and gave a quick scan of the room before I located her. I found Tali standing next to the center of the wall housing the shower stall. A column of panels, going from the floor to the ceiling, rotated revealing a full-length mirror.

As I approached the mirror, I scanned my reflection and analyzed the clothing that had been given to me. The pants were matte black and felt like silk. They were form fitting but had full range of movement. The boots were a black, glossy leather and fit perfectly coming to mid-calf. The undershirt was the same silken fabric, but in a soft eggshell white. The jacket was matte black like the pants, however there were grey metal portions going from collar to shoulder. On my left breast was the image of a cat I had not seen before, made of gold.

“What you are wearing is the command uniform of a Mac’skarian Captain. The image on your chest is that of a Liger, the sacred alpha species of our race. They were the royals who ran our vast empire. The golden Liger signifies your rank of Captain, and will be recognized without question, regardless of your species. I had to make some alterations given your slightly different physiology, but I am confident you will find it most comfortable. Nanobots in the synthweave will repair damages to the fabric, as well as help regulate body temperature to a small degree. They will also send bio feedback to my systems to allow me to monitor you when off the ship. They have a range of fifty kilometers before I begin to lose telemetry, but there are ways for me to extend the range that won’t affect you or your uniform. I will leave you now so you can shower, my avatar will be on the bridge if you need me sir.”

I thanked Tali and, in a flash, she was gone, leaving me alone within my quarters. The new clothes were so comfortable I didn’t want to take them off, but I really needed to shower. I removed the clothes, folded them neatly and placed them on my bed. I then entered the shower stall and closed the door behind me. Upon doing so, a display revealed itself on the wall and a small alcove appeared with what looked to be three medium sized vials of liquid. The display was in English and showed controls for adjusting water temperature and pressure. I set the temperature to warm, and the pressure to medium. Once the water was going, I adjusted the temperature to what felt best. I spent some time just letting the water cascade down my tired muscles, not realizing how good it would feel. Though I had gotten plenty of sleep, all the physical activity I had done to clean up the ship had made me use muscles I had obviously never used before. I then picked up the first vial, which was an amber colour and removed the top. I took a small sniff and found it had the scent of orange and honey. Moving the vial in a small circle I saw that it was a bit thick in consistency.

“Captain the amber vial is a shampoo agent,” Tali’s voice echoing through some unseen speakers. “The metallic blue vial is a conditioner, and the final green vial is a body wash that will properly clean and hydrate your skin. The compartment is a micro-fabricator which will provide fresh vials every time you shower. Once placed back in the alcove, they will be recycled into the system, when the shower is finished.”

I thanked Tali, though I had to wonder if she was spying on me in the shower. Looking at the display I saw a transparency gauge. After fiddling with it for a few minutes I had made the glass opaquer, which gave me peace of mind. I took my time showering, enjoying the warm water and the feel of the soap as I cleaned my body. When I was going to wash my body, an item appeared in the fabricator that reminded me of a loofah on a stick. Once I was done, I still spent a little more time basking in the water, enjoying the cascading water. I turned off the shower and was shocked by the appearance of a translucent blue field on the floor of the shower. I watched as it slowly rose up the stall, leaving a tingling sensation in its wake. As it neared my head, I held my breath and closed my eyes out of fear of what was going to happen next. I felt as the field passed by my face and hair.

I waited until the sensation passed before opening my eyes. I looked at my body to see any sign of what had happened and was shocked to find that both the inside of the stall and my body were completely dry. I chuckled a bit at my silliness and got out of the stall. When I opened it, the stall became fully transparent, and I felt a bit exposed once again. I rushed over to the bed and began to dress in the new uniform that Tali had provided.

Tali’s voice broke through the silence of my quarters, “Captain, please report to the medical bay. There is no need for you to put on anything more than the undergarments provided, as anything more would impede the work that must be done.”

I couldn’t think of a reason that I would need to do any work in medical, but Tali hadn’t steered me wrong before. Once dressed in my briefs, I thought about putting on my undershirt, but decided against it. I left my quarters and moved through the common area, to the hall that gave access to the medical bay. When I entered, I found Tali standing next to the large medical bed I had noticed the first time I entered the room.

Tali gestured to the bed, “Sir, if you would please lay on the bed, we need to begin immediately. There are steps that must be taken before we arrive at the outpost to ensure that there are no issues.”

“What do you mean steps Tali?” I asked, crossing my arms. “I need to know what will be happening to me before I will consent to anything.”

Tali cocked her head to the side and replied, “But, Captain, in taking the position, you have already given consent.”

“Yes, you are correct,” I sighed and asked, “Could you at least give me an idea of what will be happening to me?”

“Of course sir,” she responded with a smile. “Once you lay down on the bed, the glass will close, sealing you within the medical bed. Once you are enclosed, you will be put under sedation so we can start the process. Once sedated, you will have nanobots injected into your blood, not unlike the ones that reside in your clothing. They will go through and complete any repairs to parts of your body or your DNA that have been damaged by genetic or environmental factors. Then you will be given what is called by the Omega Protocol as the Command Package. As you know, in the event a vessel has a non Mac’skarian become Captain due to the failsafe protocol, there are specific changes that have to be made. These changes will ensure that you will be able to fulfill your duties as expected by the Liger command. Your species will not be altered in any way shape or form by this process. Instead your senses will be more finely tuned and heightened to help you protect yourself.

“Your muscles will be strengthened and then maintained by the nanobots in your system. They will also help speed up healing and recovery of minor injuries and most known illnesses. The last of the enhancements will involve making slight adjustments to your brain. At present it is using only ten percent at any given time. We have been able to increase that to forty percent via the nanobots. You will have faster mental reflexes and problem-solving skills that will benefit you as a Captain. The adjustment will also adjust the area of your brain where you process most languages including ours. The adjustment will allow you to easily understand most known languages that the Mac’skarian people have learned and use. You will also be able to read and write in those languages without difficulty. We have found that it allows for less problems when encountering other races.”

I was shocked at the invasiveness of the procedure, but I was in awe at all the changes that would be made. I would basically become in most ways a completely different but in a way more complete person. I wondered what I would look like and how different I would feel when the process would finish. The effects the procedure would have on my mind and how my thoughts might change were on the forefront of my worries. Would my memories return after the process was done and the thought of did, I want them to return kept repeating in my head. I knew that I couldn’t put it off any longer, because it had to be done and there was no other way. I was already a very long way from home and getting farther with every second. With a deep breath, I made my way to the bed and climbed inside.

Tali moved and gestured to the receptacle beside her, “Due to the changes that will be made in your physiology, a new set of clothes will be sitting in the receptacle for you when you awaken. Please put them on, and when you return to your quarters, please place the old clothes into the receptacle for recycling. I will be found on the bridge with our newly awakened crew member. See you when you wake up sir.”

The opening of the glass tube then slowly shifted until it closed and locked with a hiss. I looked around, trying to see what would be coming into the tube, but did not see anything. After a minute, I heard a new hiss and found myself slowly getting tired. I knew that I would not be able to fight this, so I let the sleep come, hoping that there wouldn’t be any more of those horrible dreams.

I can’t remember how quickly I went under, but the next thing I knew I was waking up. I looked around and saw that the glass enclosure was once again open, and I was happy that I didn’t need to call for Tali to let me out. I sat up and got out of the device, feeling amazed at how good my body felt. I turned to look at the table and was amazed I could read the language that was being displayed, but Tali had said that it would be part of the process. The diagnostic showed that I now stood nearly six foot even, which had been an increase of four inches from my original height. While I had been slim in build prior to this change, I was now much more muscular. My muscle mass had increased by fifteen percent now making me look rather athletic, though not bulky with muscle. I took in the rest of the details quickly, so I could be sure of any issues I had with the changes and got dressed.

The new clothes fit as well as the previous set had before I had gone into the medical table. If these were the perks to being a Captain, then I would be enjoying the advantages of the rank. My mind began to wonder about the hardships of leadership, and I could remember how the captains of my favorite television shows had both the best and worst of situations. I could only hope to do as well as they had and at that moment, it hit me that I remembered those Captains and shows clearly. Tasks and the ability to do things had not been an issue, but information recall like that I hadn’t been able to recall before getting on the table. In a flash, the memories I had lost synched, and I could remember everything that had happened leading up to waking up in the cave.

My name was Devon Stewart, and I was twenty years old. I had been five foot eight inches tall and used to be a hundred and twenty pounds. I had a slim build because I liked to exercise semi-regularly and I was on my summer break from university. I was studying computer science and programming, though I had delved into other things to fill up my time. My parents had passed away just before I had started university, leaving me alone with my circumstances. A drunk driver had seen to that one late Saturday night and even now it was a hard blow. My older brother was in the army, and we didn’t really keep in touch, but we had not been really close growing up. I had a sister a year older, but she had gone to a different college in a different state. Neither really got along with me, despite how well they got along with each other, so I had been effectively alone.

As I thought more about what I had just regained, I recalled that I had been camping with my girlfriend and a group of our friends out near the Grand Canyon. My girlfriend Linda had insisted we go as it would be fun, but I had wanted to do something more romantic with just the two of us, as we had been dating for about six months. Despite my reluctance, I agreed to your request, and it was fun for a while. I found I had been actually looking forward to the trip, despite my apprehension. We joined our friend Luke, his girlfriend Heather, Heather’s brother Steve and our other friend Mike. It had been fun for the first few hours, singing and drinking and making a roaring campfire. I had enjoyed helping set things up and hanging out with all of them, finally feeling comfortable out in this wilderness.

We had all met in our senior year of high school and were close for many years, so I thought of them all like family. We were getting a bit hungry and felt like catching something instead of dipping into the supplies we brought with us. Steve had opted to come with me to fish for some food for dinner, making a little competition of who could catch the most fish to eat tonight. After about a half hour, I realized that I had forgotten my canteen back at camp and went back to retrieve it. I glanced over and Steve didn’t notice me heading back to camp, since he was so focused on fishing. As I entered my tent to grab my canteen, I found Linda in a position that I never thought I would ever see her in. Luke was on top of Linda, kissing her neck as he pounded away at her, her legs wrapped around his hips. I looked up to find that Heather was riding Mike reverse cowgirl with a look of pure pleasure on her face. Linda was moaning loudly and telling Luke to hurry as she figured I would be back soon, and Mike still needed a turn.

I was sick to my stomach at both the sight before me and her words, causing me to vomit, alerting them to my presence. Everyone was startled by the abrupt sound I had made and then had nothing on their faces but the shame of being caught. Linda began to say something, but I turned and ran away from camp as fast as I could. I wasn’t looking where I was going, and the sun had almost set when I had bolted from camp. I ignored the cries for me to stop and come back, not wanting to hear their excuses or lies. I wiped the tears from my eyes and didn’t see the opening in the ground in front of me before it was too late causing me to fall first into the opening. I ended up landing on my head and the rest of the story from that point was what I already knew from waking up inside the cavern. The feelings coming back as they did, made the betrayal I had witnessed fresh once again, but instead of disgust I felt just pure anger. None of what happened before I fell in that cave mattered anymore though: I was no longer that person.

I now had a new life and I had been given a new purpose to my life. I had chosen a new name, so as far as I was concerned, Devon Stewart died from that fall. I strode out of the medical room, determined that I was leaving the past behind me in that bay. A new me entered the hallway with a wondrous new future ahead and that was all that mattered. I entered the bridge and saw two figures talking to one another heatedly. The first of course was Tali’ transparent amber form, while the other was the sole surviving crew member. She stood about five foot ten inches and had what looked to be a lean build, with some obviously noticeable curves. I admonished myself for focusing on the physically appealing aspects of her body and tried to focus on other things. She had on the same type of uniform as me, but it looked as though she did not have the same clothing as I did. She was wearing what seemed to be a long-sleeved shirt, made of the same deep black material, with the same shoulder style as my jacket. While her torso was much like a human, her legs were digitigrade.

Her pants also cut off just above the knee, showing the rest of her legs, which did not have any boots. She had extremely short orange fur, maybe a quarter inch long. I was surprised that I could tell the length just by looking at it but figured that it was one of the aspects that came with the enhancements that I had been given. The orange fur was accented by both lighter and darker stripes going along the fur, right down to her toes. I could not see any claws on the ends, but I remembered that cats on Earth had retractable claws in their feet and hands

Her coat reminded me of the Bengal tigers on Earth and given the multitude of species on my home, I wasn’t surprised that in the vastness of space, a feline species could have evolved on another world that would resemble one on mine. As my eye moved up her lean legs, I noticed that her tail was swishing back and forth quite actively. It was uncovered and came out of a hole in the back of the pants. Just above the hole in the pants, I saw a clasp, much like what Linda had on some of her skirts. No doubt it made getting the pants on, in spite of the tail, more comfortable. Her torso and arms were covered by the shirt, her hands were covered in fur with matching stripes. Her hair was what surprised me, as from behind I wouldn’t have noticed a difference if it wasn’t for the ears. She had long dark, wavy hair that went just past the shoulder. It looked to be slightly damp, no doubt from the process that woke her. I wondered why her hair would be brown while her fur coat was another color but figured that would be a question for later.

Tali’s focus moved to me from her conversation and a small smile appeared on her face. The crew member turned, and our eyes locked on one another. In a flash she lunged at me, her claws extended on both her hands and feet, as a scream of utter fury roared from her lips. Instinctively I dropped onto my back and kicked upwards, landing hard kick of both of my feet to her abdomen. The air got knocked out of her as she flew back from the force of my kick, and with a quick flip I was back up on my feet. I dashed forward and began closing the distance as she slammed into the console behind her, knocking the wind out of her yet again. Before she got a chance to get her bearings, I had closed the distance, and pinned her against the side of the console. My right leg was pressed down on her thighs, placing most of my weight on them, ensuring that she would have a tough time getting up. I wrapped my hands around her wrists, pulling them above her head and pinning them against the console. She fought angrily against my grip to no avail and screamed out curses in frustration. When she couldn’t break free, she tried in vain to bite and headbutt me, but I kept out of range.

She strained against my grasp and yelled, “Let me go you filthy murderous bastard! I will kill you for what you have done! I will tear out your heart and feast on it as you take your last breath!”

I squeezed her wrists eliciting a yelp of both pain and surprise from her. I brought my face as close to hers, while still maintaining a safe distance from her teeth.

“And what exactly is it you think I have done?” I asked, giving another squeeze to her wrists. “Less than twenty-four hours ago, I woke up in a cave with no memory of who I was. I made my way through the only exit into a closed cavern and in the middle was a huge chunk of rock. I had no clue until I rested against it, that it actually was a spaceship, when the airlock opened. Your A.I. directed me to the bridge to tell me that if I didn’t intervene, you would have been dead in two days along with the rest of your already dead crew. I have worked my ass off to give those that died a proper burial and give them some shred of dignity in their final moments. I left my home, my life, everything I knew to do this. I have even gone through genetic manipulation to ensure that I can fulfill the request that Tali has made of me. So you have two choices, either you settle down and help, or I will throw your ass in a room and lock you in there until we arrive at the outpost.”

She glared at me defiantly and snarled, “You can’t do that to me! You have no authority over me, you alien filth.”

I squeezed a little harder and pushed down on my right leg, to remind her who was in control of the situation. The pain I was causing was becoming apparent on her face and I was surprised how comfortable I was in inflicting this kind of pain.

“What makes you think that?” I asked, cocking my head to the side. “Per the Omega Protocol that was activated by Tali over there, I am now the commanding officer of the ship. If you had stopped to look at more than just my face, you would have seen that I am garbed in one of your own uniforms. So let me be very clear. I am the captain of this vessel, which means yes, I can carry out my threat and yes, I do have authority over you. So make your choice; are you going to keep acting like a child, or are you going to calm down and work with me?”

She continued to look at me defiantly, until something caught her eye behind me. Given the current volatility I wasn’t about to be distracted by seeing what it was and leave myself open to some form of retaliation.

“He is correct Vish’ala,” Tali said softly behind me. “Per the Omega Protocol, he has been made the captain of this vessel with all the rights and privileges awarded to any Mac’skarian Captain in the fleet. The Omega Protocol allows for any one of any species that fits the command criteria to be awarded the position. I was watching him as he awoke and how he handled himself when I allowed him access to the ship. He passed my requirements with flying colors and that was with him suffering with complete memory loss. You can try to fight him, but it is no use. He has gone through the medical procedure tied to the Omega Protocol and thus, he is both faster and stronger than you. This is to ensure he can match the physical prowess expected of any Mac’skarian Captain.

“What this means is that he has the full authority to lock you in a room if he deems you a threat to the ship, or his command. Currently the only active command codes are his, and without his approval you will not have any access to the amenities on this ship. This was put in for this very reason, to prevent any surviving crew members from violating the protocol and attempting some kind of mutiny. My programming specifies that once the protocol is in effect, I have to follow all of his orders. Even if the protocol didn’t bind me to his will, I would still follow his commands, as he has earned my loyalty. He didn’t have to show our people the kindness and respect he did, when he buried them.”

The female Mac’skarian turned her focus back to me and searched my eyes, though I had no clue what she was looking for. After a few moments all the tension in her body went away, her features softened, and her eyes became downcast. It felt like the fight had left her, but I was still wary of releasing her. If I wasn’t careful and let my guard down, she could still lash out and do some damage.

I glanced back, keeping an eye on the woman in my grasp, “Tali, I am still unfamiliar with Mac’skarian culture. Given how feline species on my planet operate, they can be both very loyal and very violent towards one another. Is there something she can do that will prevent her from ripping my eyes out the second I release her?”

Tali giggled in response, and I swear I saw a hint of a smile appear on the woman’s face. Her teeth were very comparable to mine, except she had only two front incisors. Next to those she had three canines on either side with the middle ones being twice as long as the others. They reminded me of vampire teeth from movies I have seen. They were terrifying though I had to admit there was an attractiveness to the look of them.

“Yes, there is sir,” Tali replied with a slight nod. “By Mac’skarian tradition, Vish’ala could pledge an oath of blood loyalty, which is not an oath given lightly. However, this is a life pledge and can only be ended by the death of either party. Once given, not even the Liger Council, the highest authorities in the empire, could end it. You need to be aware of this and the impact that this oath would have on the rest of your life, as well as hers.”

I made a mental note of the woman’s name and turned my full focus back to her. I had watched Vish’ala’s reactions to this information being given to me and I could tell she recognized what Tali was suggesting. I saw the shock on her face when Tali suggested it to me. Her hazel eyes began to dart around as she began to process the ramifications of what Tali suggested would mean. I felt that Tali was leaving some parts out; they were probably due to gaps in her memory core, but I couldn’t be certain. Still, she was starting to show more personality than I had expected in an A.I., especially the emotions that she had begun conveying. She was almost childlike in some ways, saying or doing something to see what would happen, and I knew I would have to keep my eye on her.

“I will do it,” Vish’ala said in a whisper, “I will make the pledge to you, with all that it will entail.”

Chapter 4

She looked into my eyes and said, “I will not do anything to harm you, so you can release me, it will be necessary if I am to make the pledge.”

I nodded and released her, standing up slowly, keeping myself ready for if she would launch another attack. No attack came as she took a knee and bowed her head. Tali appeared next to her, with a serious look on her face, that I had not seen since we had met.

“Do you, Vish’ala Ironclaw, pledge to serve, honour and obey the word of your charge?” Tali asked, her eyes not leaving mine.

Softly Vish’ala nodded and answered, “I do so swear.” there was a sound of trepidation in her voice as she answered.

Tali continued, “Do you pledge to do your best to honour your charge’s house with your actions, words and thoughts?”

With more conviction, she raised her head and locked eyes with mine as she answered with another nod, “I do so swear.”

With a slight, smug smile on her face, Tali asked, “Do you pledge to protect your charge and those in his house with your very life?”

With her head held high and steel in her voice, Vish’ala nodded a third time and answered, “I do so swear.”

Tali then turned her focus to me, “Do you, Hugh Stargazer, Captain of the Mac’skarian Empire, accept this pledge of service? Do you accept, knowing that it will only end with your death or hers? Do you accept all the responsibilities that come with this pledge?”

Taking a deep breath I answered, “I do accept this pledge in the spirit in which it is given. I will do my best to honour the choice you have made with my own actions. I will endeavour to make sure you will never regret the choice you have made today, and to honour the responsibility you have bestowed upon me.”

Vish’ala looked up at me and for the first time smiled, as Tali appeared beside me. Vish’ala slowly stood at attention and made a sweeping motion with her left arm, then racked her claws outward. She laughed at the apparent confusion that appeared on my face from the gesture that she made.

Tali leaned over and whispered into my ear, “that is the Mac’skarian version of what you humans would call a salute”

I returned the salute with the human version, which Vish’ala thought was interesting. She spent a few minutes trying to do it herself, even Tali got in on it, though she got it right on the first try.

Vish’ala bowed her head slightly, “I will do my best to ensure you don’t regret the decision we both made today. Hopefully I can earn your trust, and you will never have to doubt you made the right choice in accepting my oath. I do apologize for my initial behaviour and outburst.”

Vish’ala beamed at that, and I found myself wanting to see that as often as possible. I shook my head quickly, trying to get those thoughts out of my head. It wasn’t conducive for what needed to be done at the moment and she was now not only my charge, but I was her commanding officer.

I turned to our translucent shipmate and asked, “Tali, please give a status report on ship repairs and our ETA to the outpost?”

“Repairs to the inertial dampeners have been completed, sir,” Tali answered with a display appearing in her opened hand. “They have been set to ninety percent of their full capabilities. This allows the pilot to still feel the movement of the ship and the academy found this setting to give a better reaction time with vessels such as these. The estimated time of arrival to the outpost is three hours, twenty-six minutes, by earth standards.”

I nodded and turned to Vish’ala, “Very well. Vish’ala, please assist Tali where it is needed. If there is nothing, she needs your help with, please take a moment to go to your quarters and rest.

“Tali, please have all pertinent information about the ship, Mac’skarian customs as well as any other information you feel I will need to know before we arrive. I know I can only get so much done before we get to the outpost, so please mark them in order of priority. That way, I don’t waste any of the time I have. I would like to be notified when we are at the last fifteen minutes out. I’d like to be on the bridge when we return to normal space.”

Both responded with, “Yes, captain!”, followed by a human salute that did make both of them begin to laugh again.

I shook my head, returned the salute, and made my way to my quarters. When I arrived, I found the computer console up and running with the first of the files I asked for ready to start. I went over to my bed and found the protein bars I had kept from my remaining items I had when I first woke up. I placed the old clothes into the receptacle as I was asked and broke them down before I sat down and began the arduous task of learning how to be a Mac’skarian Captain. Thanks to the upgrades that had been done to my brain, I was able to read, process and integrate the new information much faster than I had expected. In the nearly three hours that I had been going through the files, I had managed to get through about four thousand, five hundred and fifty-two pages of information. I had expected to honestly get through a third of that in this amount of time and was starting to enjoy the new perks of these so-called upgrades to my body. The information I had read up on consisted of rules and regulations, a history of their empire, information about their interactions with other species and the schematics for this vessel.

My head hurt, both from the amount of information I had processed in such a short time, as well as from looking at that small screen for three solid hours. The task proved fruitful as I was now far more prepared to take on the role of Captain of this vessel. This ship was an aptly named Comet class scouting vessel. I had an optimal crew complement of ten officers, and the ship’s core was paired with a mid-range AI unit. The ship was armed with Class Three shielding and weapons, enough to help it get away if attacked, but it would do little against a larger, capital ship. The outer hull was designed to look like a piece of rock debris, and, in scouting mode, it wouldn’t give any hint that it was anything but debris. Hell, I had been tricked when I first came across it, given that I had thought it was an extremely large chunk of obsidian. The Comet class were usually tasked to sit outside of a planet’s scannable range and provide surveillance on new worlds or possible threats. That is why this class of vessel had the most state-of-the-art sensor relay system of any ship in their fleet.

The hull was of a strong composite they called faristeel, that had been strictly designed for these ships. The development process was responsible for the dark colour of the metal composite, making it matte black. The metal could absorb some heat from plasma and laser blasts, as well as some level of projectile impacts. That was proven true as the ship had survived whatever attack it had received and came out relatively intact. It was the failure of the inertial dampeners that led to the damage that spelled the end for this ship’s crew. If there had been damage to the ship’s hull from the attack and crash, I was sure Tali had repaired it prior to me finding the ship. The engines were capable of both subspace and hyperspace travel, though I was still reading up on this. Apparently, travelling in hyperspace was much like what was imagined in the science fiction television show Babylon Five. The ship opened a path or tear into hyperspace, which allowed it to travel great distances a fraction of the time. They would then have to open another tear before exiting at a predetermined jump point back into normal space. However, there were no jump gates, like on the show, even a vessel as small as this scout ship was capable of entering and exiting hyperspace.

Each system in the Mac’skarian Empire had a hyperspace marker that allowed their ships to find and exit hyperspace at the proper location outside of the system. From the telemetry reports I got from Tali from her long-range scans when we had entered hyperspace, thirty percent of those markers seemed to be, including the core worlds, completely cut off from the network. This was no doubt to prevent the enemy who had attacked them so ruthlessly from easily attacking the core of their empire. But it could have been done to ensure that no reinforcements could come to help protect the worlds from the enemy’s assault. Hopefully it was the former, meaning there was something to return this ship to. I hoped that the loss of the markers had proven fruitful in their defense and allowed them to endure the attack. We would not know until we arrived at the outpost and gauged how things had fared there before we could even speculate on how the core worlds would be.

I was lost in thought when Tali suddenly appeared beside me to let me know we were soon going to arrive at the outpost. I had been so immersed in what I was reading that I had tuned out everything around me. I wasn’t concerned about how much time reading everything was going to take, only to get as much done as I could, because I had to be ready for what would be waiting for us.


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