And back to both longer story (about 14,000 words) and Sci-Fi. Truth be told while the setting is Sci-Fi that is not the focus of the story. Really, I would term this a psychological horror. Don’t really want to say much more than that because I might reveal something that could spoil the story. Instead, I’ll simply say I hope you enjoy the story!

Marus’ gauntleted hands glide over the docking controls of his interceptor class starship. He engages the cycle system for his ship to extend and attach to the neighbouring Pillar of Frenzy. The Frenzy, as it would regularly be referred to due to all journeyman ships containing a triple moniker, is a vessel Marus knows almost nothing about. Save for the fact that he has been commissioned, ordered really, to rendezvous with whatever it was that was projecting a distress signal loop out across the void of space via the Interstellar Broadcast Light-speed System. It’s a name Marus finds overly long and complicated, which is why it is, thankfully, more commonly referred to as the IBLS. All starships have one. Without it no starship would be capable of communication across star systems and not just communication in the form of messages and orders, like he received to check this signal out. No, the IBLS also facilitates the instant transmission of news across all eleven hundred systems of known space.

With the docking cycle system initiated all Marus can do is wait. It’ll take a few minutes for his ship, The Renegade, to fully dock and seal with atmosphere to the Frenzy and yet he is in no way inclined to review or busy himself with any short term task. Rather, he reclines into the sole seat that occupies the two metre wide and three metre long, if not for all the computer navigational consoles surroundings him on three sides, space. Each of the consoles displays a myriad of colourful lights that blink at him. He knows what each of them does and yet he still, after more than four years of owning this vessel, cannot blot out the flickering neon colours to get some shuteye while in this chair. Not that he needs it as The Renegade comes with a fully equipped personal quarters. In fact, the interceptor class vessel is little more than an engine room, cockpit, personal quarters, small living area and a storage section. It can’t be called a cargo bay. Doing so would be far more generous than the cupboard sized space deserves.

So with time to kill and reclined back in his chair, Marus simply watches the displays and dials dictate the progress of the docking procedure while wondering whether he should again, it would be the fifth time, attempt to make contact with the Frenzy. He hadn’t known before his arrival and setting his eyes, literally, upon the hull of the mid-sized journeyman class vessel that that is the starship he would be faced with. In fact, he’d known nothing other than that a distress loop was being broadcast and he was tasked with rendezvousing and offering whatever aid was necessary. It isn’t the usual sort of mission, if he can really call it that, that a soldier of the Janus Order would be sent on. Typically Marus finds himself neck deep in some conflict or another attempting to broker or enforce peace. Generally, it ended up being the latter. Now more than ever the citizens of known space seem to wish to embark on wars upon one another. Marus doesn’t understand the excuses. He’d much rather the citizens were honest with themselves and each other that the reason for wanting to wage is for no other reason than to satisfy whatever slight they believe has been committed against them. Doing that wouldn’t be justifiable and so they invent reasons that will keep the Unification Space Council, USC, placated and unlikely to issue sanctions and infraction charges against the planets, systems, governments and stations responsible for the bloodshed.

The Janus Order soldier shakes himself free of his thinking dissatisfied with the lack of a conclusion having been reached as to whether he should attempt another communications burst with the Frenzy. Yet, his conclusion now is immediate. No. It would be pointless. Four is already more than standard three rule operating protocol and so instead he will wait until he is aboard to discover whatever it is that has resulted in the Frenzy drifting out in the emptiness of this sector, delta forty seven elle nine one one.

Marus himself cannot imagine why any vessel, let alone a journeyman class, would be in such a bland section of the endless vacuum. It isn’t the sort of place any vessel, save for maybe a transit model captained by a reckless amateur captain might venture. Especially, as this section of space is not part of any traversal route between major colony systems or stations.

His guess, if he were to make one, is that the Frenzy suffered some kind of systems failure and has drifted. From where and for how long he can only surmise. There are no records, presented to him with his orders, which might give a hint as to where and when. He is mildly surprised by that. Then again Janus Order command has become ever more lethargic when it comes to proper information sharing. He knows they’re stretched thin with all the possible threats of imminent war and yet he still finds it inexcusable. Were he not signed into a water tight contract he might be inclined to go AWOL. He shakes the thought out of his head chastising himself as he does. That is not his way. He’s disappointed that the thought entered his head as he catches the distinct long single low beep that signals the docking is complete, in theory. In theory being because it is only the seal between the vessels that has been established. There is another stage that will have to be completed before full cycle has been achieved. Marus doesn’t need to wait for that. He’s clad in a Tera-3 combat suit. Decompression won’t afflict him. He’s in a sealed mass with an air scrubbing filtration system that will supply him with air for days, if needs be, and magnetic boots that will keep him adhered to whatever starship he may wish to venture across or through.

As a result the armoured soldier rises, unfolding himself, from his single cockpit chair. He refuses to call it a captain’s seat as he isn’t a captain. In fact, in the Janus Order there are no ‘ranks.’ At least there aren’t among the non-command wielding operatives of the systems spanning military personnel. Ranks are instead reserved purely for the hierarchy. Those at the top of the pyramid, more commonly referred to as the point of the spear. He chuckles to himself at the thought that they call themselves the point of the spear as the hierarchy of the Janus Order would never be the first into battle. They are like the human generals of the early twentieth century. They sit well behind the frontlines of battle, safely out of danger, dictating orders and deployments from complete their secure bunkers and bases. Marus knows many soldiers of that era despised their commanders as a result, but he doesn’t feel the same. Rather, he’s pleased the hierarchy never deploy themselves. If they did then he, and others, would have to follow all issued orders to the letter. Plus they’d find out how few of their orders are truly executed in a manner they would find acceptable. It humours the soldier as he stretches the stiffness from his arms and legs caused by his hours of staying sat in place in the cockpit chair.

Once the stiffness is eased Marus does an about turn and strides over the threshold leaving the snug cockpit of The Renegade behind. Now in the small living space, which is comprised of a single sofa as well as a kitchenette area, Marus grabs a hold of several magazines worth of ammunition, his sidearm and burst rifle. He fixes them into place. The sidearm, a heavy calibre fifteen round model, is magnetised to the outer edge of his right thigh, while the rifle is affixed diagonally across his back and the ammunition around his waist.

All the affects had been scattered, neatly, across what is supposed to serve as a dining area, if you can call a thirty centimetre deep bar with a stool a dining area that is. It’s all metal. Everything on The Renegade is, except for the sofa and his bunk. Though, to be honest the sofa feels like it might as well have been cushioned with metal with how rigid and uninviting it is.

But with Marus fully equipped as code dictates for all eventualities, which to him sounds like a joke and why he is often left smirking as he is now, he turns and takes the three steps that put him across the threshold of the living area and into the airlock. He seals the door behind him and then engages the lock. A second later the other beep rings in his head, annoyingly, to alert him that the docking cycle is now fully complete. He shrugs to himself. He often does but isn’t aware of it. It’s a natural instinctive reaction that has become part of his manner. The truth is he does it while answering questions in his own head. What those questions are he would seldom he able to answer if questioned. Though, there presences results in no delay as he jabs the index and middle finger of his left hand into the outer door release of The Renegade. The response is immediate as the heavy plated steel nano-weave covered rectangle begins to slide into a recess at the right of his vision. Marus waits patiently the several seconds it takes for the hatch to complete its transit and then pushes ahead. His second step takes him over the threshold meaning that he is out of his vessel and very much in a thin section of layered plates that form the outer skin of the docking sleeve. He can see nothing of the void of space beyond the confines of the tube. The docking sleeve is opaque. But at least the gantry with its embedded lights that his boots are magnetised too are working now. On his last eight excursions they hadn’t been. That had proved an issue, not for him but for the delegates he’d needed to transport about. During each of the trips he’d lost his quarters. It was to be expected, but that didn’t mean Marus had been happy about it.

He’d been forced to sleep in the cockpit; the delegates’ bodyguards had taken the sofa. Still, he is sure he got the better end of the deal there. Especially, when he woke the next morning, having barely slept, and found both of the bodyguards looking bleary and more exhausted than him. The sight had forced him to suppress a chuckle as he had not been clad in his Tera-3 at that time, which has the added bonus of a polarising visor. The absence of his suit had not been his choice either. Command had dictated that during his six transit runs he was to be out of combat gear at all times while aboard his vessel. That just wasn’t Marus. He lives in his armour and is so familiar with it that it might as well be his skin. Not a bad skin to possess either, he thinks when you consider that it is capable of stopping all blades and most light arms fire.

Nevertheless, he’d got through it only to then need a massive overhaul of The Renegade which had grounded him for three weeks. That might not sound like long but for a Janus Order solider it is. They rarely are afforded downtime and Marus was no different. With his ship out of action he was tasked with local responsibilities, which he found mind numbingly boring.

The Janus Order soldier blinks himself out of his thoughts, returning him to the present and the reality that he is almost two thirds of the way to the hull of the Frenzy. The only sound he can hear is the lumbering clang of his boots magnetising to the metal walkway below with every step he takes. The diagnostics of his Tera-3 give little in the way of useful readouts, which isn’t surprising given as Marus is trudging, faster than his footsteps would have you believe, down a docking tube. Still, he is content to daydream anymore than he already has. That’s his downtime. It’s done now. From here on out he has to be all business. Thankfully, his suit isn’t a Tera-4. If it was then everything he does, including mentally, would be tracked, viewed, analysed. It’s the main reason he hasn’t put in for the upgrade. He doesn’t want his kind of intrusion. It’s an invasion of his privacy. One of the few things that are truly his own and not dictated by command. They aren’t taking that away and yet they have made a distinct lack of noise about all operatives upgrading. He doesn’t get. Not that he needs to as his right hand lingers near enough to his sidearm that he’d be able to pull it in a second. He doubts pirates are aboard, but he can’t be too careful he knows now that he is within striking reach of the outer door of the Frenzy.

To his surprise is doesn’t react to his presence. Marus’ eyes scan about as if to say he is waiting silently and patiently for admittance to be granted. It isn’t and with thirty eight seconds having passed a sigh passes his lips, his right hand wraps around the grip of his sidearm while he slams the open palm of his left into a reaction panel. Except he doesn’t retract his hand as one might expect when you are performing a slap, upon what is essentially a flat panel shaped button. It’s slightly recessed and inlayed with a pulse sensor so it cannot be triggered by space debris or any particles that might be found hurtling about. Rather, he keeps his open hand pressed against it so that his credentials can be assessed, authorised and the airlock released. It usually takes five seconds but after more than triple that there is still no sign of authorisation or access being granted for him. Marus growls and allows his shoulders to drop. He’s frustrated and chews on the inside of his cheek lightly. This isn’t what he wanted, though it does strongly suggest that the Frenzy has suffered a system failure. With the airlock disabled, in whatever way that it is, that means Marus’ only option is to traverse round to the cargo bay shutter at the rear of the vessel.

The Frenzy is not a cargo vessel. Yet, it does possess a hold, unlike The Renegade, which is used for storing drilling and erection equipment. Generally this equipment consists of drills, bits, anchors, supports and lines as well as other more common and miscellaneous tools. Not the sort of target for pirates looking for a score and yet it wouldn’t be the first time they have hit a vessel like this either.

The soldier weighs up his options. In theory the only avenue he should be considering is to decouple via The Renegade manoeuvre his vessel round to the aft of the journeyman class starship. Yet, Marus feels more inclined to simply forcibly decouple the vacuum seal and take a walk. If command found out they’d be furious. But they’ll never know. After all, it’s not like I will damage the dock, newly refurbished. Plus it’ll shave off a good near ten minutes of time. While that might not sound like much it is if life is hanging in the balance, and could mean the difference between the crew on the Frenzy living and dying.

His mind is made up. He’s forcing a decouple. Marus will give the decision no more thought, so releases his grip on his sidearm and reaches up to the point where the docking tube is adhered to the hull of the Frenzy above his head. His gauntled fingers jab at the seal only to wiggle and drive, millimetre by millimetre, further upward until finally he feels he has sufficient purchase on the rim. Then he readies himself, engages the seal command for The Renegades outer airlock, which he hears slide and lock a few seconds after. Following that he heaves with all his might against the partially compromised seal. At first nothing happens. The seal resists will demands to fail. But the seals refusal doesn’t last.

Within a minute Marus achieves his goal of severing the connection between the docking tube and the Frenzy entirely. Alarms blare in his ears. It’s a safety protocol system alerting him to not just the failure but also the presence of an organic lifeform in the tube. He ignores both but wishes command would permit the termination of automated warning blasts for things like the presence of organic lifeforms. He understands why they do not, but still he’d prefer if he could. It would make his life easier as he is fully aware there is an organic lifeform in the docking tube seeing as it is him. Such things aren’t that important he reminds himself. Minor inconveniences really. Especially, now that the Frenzy is decoupled and the pitted bluish grey hull is roughly a metre ahead of him with the vacuum of space between. The Renegade having fired automated stabilising thrusters in the proceeding few seconds to stop the vessel from being pushed wildly off its set parallel alignment. Neither ship is static. They are both still tumbling through space, drifting. Just they are doing so very slowly. Barely perceptibly in fact.

Marus feels satisfaction well up from inside to know that he can still force a decouple even after the refurb. He never expected that it wouldn’t be possible and yet it’s good to know for sure. It could, and had on more than a few prior occasions, come in handy during a few touchy moments. Plus, it always served as a great bargaining tool that provided plenty of motivation to get antagonistic parties from opposite sides to quickly come to an accord so as not to end up drifting in the depths of dead space frozen and lifeless. Not that Marus would ever allow such things to reach such a climax. Though, he’d never let delegates of opposing sides of that. They had to believe he was serious.

With an easy way forward Marus pries his feet off the walkway gantry while keeping one hand securely clamped on the edge of the severed docking tube. It’ll soon begin to concertina back into the ring shaped recess of The Renegade, so prior to that Marus needs to swing himself forward and land feet first against the flat section of hull ahead of him. It doesn’t take much, two half back and forth swings of his legs, and then he releases his grip. He hurtles, more a drift really as speed in space in difficult to accurately judge due to the lack of gravity, at the Frenzy’s hull. It works perfectly and sees Marus’ magnetic boots thump, in stereo, into place on the hull. A smile splits his face, though he quickly banishes it, checks all his gear is still in place, which it is. After that he begins to survey the vessel he is stood upon. It doesn’t look damaged, even this close, though he’ll find out soon enough whether it is once he’s inside. Not wishing to waste a single moment he begins to trudge toward what he is pretty sure is the aft of the journeyman vessel.

It takes the Janus Order soldier three and half minutes to plod down the length of the Frenzy and then push himself off only to perform a spin mid-leap that ends in him being affixed to the angled ramp at the rear of the starship. Unlike other classes of vessel the Frenzy does not possess a retractable or folding cargo ramp. In many ways the presence of the fixed ramp should make Marus’ entry easier. Namely, because he won’t have to worry about circumventing any obstructions, which might on other classes of spaceship, be covering the rear access point. Though, he will be forced to decompress the cargo section. It’s unavoidable and Marus just has to hope none of the crew are present. He doesn’t like the idea that they might be but has no other choice. The Frenzy, according to the schematic he surveyed back on The Renegade, has only two points of entry. The sealed and unresponsive airlock that refused him passage and this rear cargo shutter and so with time, perhaps, being of importance he wraps his right hand around the lever release for the door. It’s an old and antiquated looking type of mechanism. It’s the kind that has is seldom seen anymore on more modern vessels and yet Marus cannot fault its simplicity. However, he does question as to why the airlock system has been updated and this not. It could easily be a cost issue. Starships are expensive to maintain and run no matter who you are and what size they come in. He envies not having to personally pick up the tab for any of the costs of his own. It’s one of the perks of being a soldier in the Janus Order.

With his hand in place Marus pushes down on the horizontal lever. At first it resists his efforts but that resistance lasts only briefly. The lever slowly descending toward the lower section of the mounting block it is fastened upon. Once the lever is fully declined there is the clear and unmistakable sound of the interior lock being disengaged and then a set of motors whirring into life to raise the door. However, the door doesn’t rise. Rather, the motors whir for a time and then stop. Marus’ brow furrows before he releases his grip on the lever. It doesn’t ratchet back into place as he would have assumed. Quite to the contrary, it stays in place. Marus nibbles on the inside of his cheek again, thinking. His eyes, brown in colour, don’t move away from the lever. It’s as if he is judging it for its failure to permit him entrance. Still, he can’t give up now. Unless, that is, he wants to cut his way into the Frenzy. He could but it wouldn’t be an agreeable option for him or for command. He’d be reprimanded for sure if he did that and so he grabs the lever and with significant difficulty drags in back up and into its starting position. There is no sound of motors whirring in response to his actions this time. He marks that as a good sign. Still, he wastes no time in forcing the lever down again. The resistance is greater on this second attempt compared to the first. Perhaps the resistance from the lever is even more so than when he’d hauled it back up and into its starting position. He can’t be sure. Plus, doesn’t consider as to why that might be. He doesn’t honestly care. He just wants, no needs, to gain access into the interior of this starship. But still nothing happens. And this time it really is nothing that he is met with as there is no sound of whirring motors. Marus sighs in frustration, throws his head back with his eyes closed and then takes in a long deep inhale. When he finally exhales almost thirty seconds later he does so at the same moment as he unfurls his eyelids. Instantly his brow furrows once more when he spots a box with a blinking light near the centre of his vision. Its presence confuses the soldier. Not because he is unaware of what it is but rather due to why it is where it is. It shouldn’t be here, he thinks to himself. After all, the box is a resistance disengage. In layman’s terms it removes the counterweights necessary for the open and close cycle of the cargo door that facilitates its use while within an atmosphere. The blinking light informs that the counterweights are engaged. They shouldn’t be. Not in space. That particular system is purely for gravitational locations. To make matters worse it should be inside the ship. On the other side of the cargo shutter and not out here or above him on what is essentially a section of the Frenzy’s hull. Its presence concerns Marus and that is without him considering that this switch is clearly receiving power, while the airlock he tried previously was not.

Regardless of his concerns, he needs to disengage the resistance counterweights if there is to be any chance of the motors opening the shutter. He just has to hope that his prior actions haven’t burnt them out. This is an older ship so it’s a real possibility, especially with how his luck has been going thus far on his mission.

That is why before long Marus pushes off against the fixed cargo ramp, disengaging his magnetic boots as he does so. For anyone not well versed in space operations that might sound horrifying and fatal, but Marus has done it many times and under much worse circumstances. Like that time he’d been under heavy fire without cover or a support vessel like The Renegade which he could remotely order to manoeuvre to his position for an extraction. Five seconds is what it takes for him to drift across to the underside section of the journeyman class starship. Once there Marus re-engages his magnetic boots and does so while shifting and turning in the vacuum of space. It looks awkward but has the desired affect and sees his boots clump, with deadened metallic thumps, as they adhere to the metal hull plating. To anyone not in the Janus Order a smile might appear across their face but for Marus it evokes no reaction. He’s more concerned with the counterweight disengage, which he hurriedly smacks with the sole of one of his magnetised boots. In response the activation light flicks off to signify the systems deactivation. That success does draw a smile to Marus’ face. It is a quickly banished expression that is seldom given time to exist and is followed right after by him kicking off against the hull. For the second time in about a minute his boots magnetism is deactivated. That lasts until he pivots once more, now that he is close to the fixed ramp, with a quick series of movements that realign him into what he would consider an upright orientation.

“Moment of truth.” The soldier utters to himself while wrenching the slightly less resistant lever back into its starting position, for what is the third time. Again there is no reaction to his efforts which he defines as good. He just hopes he gets more than a quick whir and then silence when he pushes the lever down. Only one way to find out, he says to himself in the moments prior to him ratcheting the lever down toward the fixed ramp under his feet.

Little resistance is offered, much like it had been the first time when he’d got the sound of whirring, and just like then he is met with that same sound. However, this time after the release of the internal lock there is a series of clunks and bangs. Marus waits with baited breath. His wait is short. Four seconds at most. And then the cargo door, all six metres wide and three metres high of it, begins to creep upward. Marus waits. This shutter isn’t fast. It isn’t designed to be and with the current gap being too narrow for him to have any hope of clambering through or rolling his way inside he has little other option.

That leaves him with time to think and consider. He’s already tried a remote patch to the starships onboard systems. It failed. He expected it would. Though, the failure has left him with no form of distraction to the acutely obvious truth that there is and has been no whoosh of a decompression. That is both in the form s of air sucked out in the vacuum of space as well as items. That’s a worrying sign Marus has to admit and yet he refuses to consider whether it might be ship wide or reserved solely for the cargo section. Still, it makes the counterweight system being active all the more intriguing as it would have to have been engaged from outside. For that reason alone Marus runs a system diagnostics for his Tera-3. He gets little back that might provide answers. Rather, his armours internal systems all show green, as he would expect, while the external sensors provide him with nothing that he couldn’t already see with his own two eyes.

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