Chapter 6: The Nereus Warp-Gate
Levon woke up 7 hours later. He didn’t feel completely rested, but he figured he could sleep more after they went in through the Warp-Gate. Warp-Gate travel was boring and required little from the people operating the ship. It was akin to riding an elevator and having to wait for hours after choosing a floor.
He got dressed and left for the bridge. When he walked in, Rin was already in her command chair dismissing B group so they could get some sleep before they arrived.
Levon looked through their extensive grocery list. 22 Million to repair and restock the Firebird and even that would not be enough to return it to its former glory. It was going to take the work of almost all the work drones and all the crew to be able to fix the ship within a day. Things were going to be hectic.
“Only a few more minutes now, Captain,” Rin said hours later.
On the map, the Firebird quickly approached an enormous structure floating alone amid the darkness of space, far from the closest star systems and purposely placed there to keep it safe from undesirables: The Nereus Warp-Gate.
“All work in the hangars is done. We just need to decide who is getting off the ship and who repairs. We also need to leave a couple crew members behind to protect the ship,” Levon said.
“Agreed. I suppose we need at least 50 crew in total for the repairs. A couple of EBN pilots and shore party included in that number. We can swap places after 8 hours.”
“Sounds like a good plan,” he said. He laid back in his chair and yawned.
Jael switched the optics screen on as they approached the Warp-Gate. In the distance floated eight massive thin rings spaced out 10 miles from each other, creating a tube. To the top, bottom, left, and right of the tube were four 75-mile long structures that resembled kite shields. These were called wings and they cupped the tube’s east end at a distance of 6 miles. (The tube pointed southwest towards the galactic center). They rotated around the tube at a crawl to create artificial gravity. Laser and kinetic turrets dotted their outer surfaces, along with several hundred docking ports for ships longer than 460 meters that couldn’t fit inside the Warp-Gate’s docking bays. The Warp-Gate was visible in the darkness because of the billions of lights that covered the structures and rings. Inside the tube, ships of all sizes launched into the infinite blackness charged with bolts of red energy that came from the rings, while others appeared in flashes of white light. All of the ships came and left to the different hidden Warp-Gates spread across the galaxy.
“We’re here sir,” Jael said.
“Okay. Set us inside a dock near Dylan’s Shipyard. He’s our best bet to get all this stuff in the next 24 hours,” Levon said.
“Affirmative sir,” Rin answered.
The Firebird approached one of the wings and went under. There were multitudes of skyscrapers and countless numbers of housing units on their undersides. Colored lights and advertisements flashed through the darkness. Space cars, freighters, and transports travelled across sky roads above the buildings. They were marked by flashing yellow-green markers. Several carriers and warships flew to and from the wings. Some docked in numbered floating docking bays dotting the shimmering sky barrier, a semi-transparent yellow energy barrier a mile above the city. It protected the wings from attack and from the vacuum. The bays connected to the wings through thin industrial elevators. Smaller floating gate platforms allowed small space cars and transports through the barrier. Lethal anti-air platforms protected them.
As the Firebird cruised above the barrier, a window appeared on the optics screen showing a green alien with tentacles coming out of it’s face.
“This is Nereus Control station 2007 of the Scupalca family. Stop your approach immediately. State your name, crew information, and give your starship’s identification code, now.”
Ian came up and stood in front of the map.
“This is Yeoman Ian from the starship Firebird. Our ship’s identification code is OF47754266. This is Raptor Squadron under the command of Captain Levon Artyem, looking to dock near Dylan Kore’s Shipyard on the second wing. Our captain’s access code is GD841358745.”
“Affirmative, starship Firebird. Give us a moment to confirm your identity.”
The screen disappeared. The ship continued to float along while armor piercing cannons and laser turrets from the anti-air platforms traced the Firebirds path.
“I fucking hate whenever we have to do this. Those turrets make me paranoid,” Levon said.
The screen returned. “We have confirmed your identity. Welcome Yeoman Ian and Raptor Squadron. We hope you enjoy your stay at Nereus Warp-Gate. Please follow the guide program we will be sending you shortly so you can arrive at your destination. Please remember that it is recommended to bring your own firearms for protection while inside the wings.”
The screen disappeared and a small hologram appeared on Rin’s armrest. She picked it up with her finger and tossed it into the tabletop map. The table flashed and showed an updated map of the Warp-Gate wings, complete with streets and buildings. They were floating above Wing 4. Following the guide, they flew over the central tube, (the tube was covered with an invisible energy barrier to prevent ships from flying into the warp area and causing accidents) and went to the parallel Wing 2, where they floated into a docking bay near the northeast end of the wing in district 8 of 23.
The docking bay was one of the larger ones. It was a russet colored metal building half dipped into the barrier and half into space. It had a huge round blast door with the numbers ‘632’. The inside of the hangar had no gravity in it, meaning that docked ships could float comfortably and easily be repaired. The door opened and the Raptors parked at the bottom east end, away from other ships. Large metal hands pulled the Firebird in with magnets and gently locked it into place inside a massive metal docking rack. Most ships in the hangar were small merchant vessels, scout carriers, and assault ships, except for one large frigate belonging to the North East Risk Management group that was almost twice the size of the Firebird. It took up nearly a fourth of the spacious hangar.
“We definitely wouldn’t want to pick a fight with a ship like that,” commented Rin to Levon and Ian, who were mesmerized by it.
“It isn’t that impressive. We’ve taken on bigger ships than that and made it out alive,” claimed Jael, who turned the optics screen off.
“True, but in our shape, things wouldn’t go smoothly, so we have to get to work and get the hell off this place. Rin, leave Nabu and Obi to handle the ship’s functions while we meet with the whole crew in the hangar.”
“Yes sir,” she said and relayed the orders to the two robots while Ian alerted the rest of the crew through the intercom.
Levon left to the hangar and after 15 minutes of bored waiting, the whole crew sat on the ground before him, all 84 members. He cleared his throat, split everyone into work groups, and assigned tasks.
“Remember your jobs and do them well,” he said at the end, “We’re only going to be here 24 hours…Maria?”
The little girl appeared in a flash of white light. She rubbed her eyes, barely waking up from her sleep protocol.
“Good day, Levon. Good day, everyone.”
“Morning, Maria. I’m going to need your help today. I want you to come with me in your avatar.”
Maria’s face brightened.
“Really? I can get off the ship? …Okay! I’ll go get myself ready then–”
“Hold on. You need to stick close to me, alright? If for some reason I’m not close to you, you stick with a crew member or come right back to the ship. You understand me?”
“Yes, Levon.” She disappeared gleefully.
Garth sat in the corner with his face buried in his arms on top of a crate. Kamilla noticed and stood up.
“I volunteer Garth for staying onboard instead of me since he looks so tired right now.”
His head shot up. His eyes were red.
“Hey man, that ain’t cool,” he whined with a slow groan.
“Yes. Let’s leave him on the ship while we go out for supplies. He didn’t go to sleep after he was relieved. He decided to stay up playing games in the rec room,” remarked Phoebe.
“Gahhh…really, Phoebs? No respect for the commander around here…,” he responded, nodding off. Faye laughed at her dazed boyfriend and hugged him from behind.
“It’s okay. I’ll stay here with him. I’ll cover the first shift for the pilots.”
Yancy and Tania stayed behind with the majority of the crew for the first shift along with Rin, Ian, Nannette, and Baako. The rest of the crew got into small groups and left with a small number of drones.
The Firebird main hangar airlock opened (a retractable door that the launch tubes were attached to) and a number of shore party members, drones, and auto turrets were put out on patrol with Nabu. The Firebird hangar had a retractable bridge extended to the ship racks maintenance walkways so that they could haul supplies inside.
Garth had a hard time staying awake. He sat on a box fiddling with his holographic data pad. Faye, who worked diligently with the other crew to detach and buffer damaged hull plates around the ship, would frown at him. Eventually, she tired of him and walked by to give him a swift kick on the shoulder, which made Garth scream. He began to work harder after that.
The Raptors going out were lightly armed and wore plain black jumpsuits to not call attention to themselves. Dayo, Phoebe, Sabbas, and Aku all left before everyone else with their squad of crewmembers. Sabbas was annoyed with his group since none of them were violent sociopaths or sadists like him. Levon felt it was necessary to provide someone like Sabbas in their group to help in case there was trouble, especially since Aku and Dayo were not good at fighting, and the shore party members in their group usually only did guard duty. They left to buy space suits, armor, food, medicine, and water. Jael, Madison, Emil, and Walther left to go find the ammunition they needed to get their ship armed and ready for combat again.
Levon, Kamilla, Cadoc, and Maria were going to go to Dylan Shipyards. They planned to buy hull pieces, scrap metal, tools, energy cells, and spare parts for the failing systems on the Firebird. The four of them led six crewmembers and several drones through the zero gravity hangar and into the gravity stabilizer hall. The hall went straight and then turned at 90-degree angle to bring the occupants to a horizontal state with the wing’s floor to get them accustomed to the gravity. This was because the zero gravity docks parked ships with the noses pointing at the ‘ground’ (the wing floor) to make storage easier.
They took an elevator down to the dock’s ground level hangar. It was noisy and full of sentients and machines. Several aliens from the docked ships above wandered, preparing packages and supplies for shipping. Some hauled scrap and full sized titan fuel cells on large bipedal walkers. Some armed Scupalca associates patrolled and protected members of the Scupalca family as they took notes of the objects being hauled up the elevators. Apparently, all official Scupalca family members had tentacle like features on their faces.
Emil and his group waited outside. They had several hover haulers parked in a lot next to an eight-lane metal T shaped street. On the ground, everything looked darker and had a dim orange glow, and the streets and alleyways were dank, dirty, and foggy. The airspace was riddled with space cars, transports, and freighters. Skyscrapers towered above and blocked the sky barrier. They glistened with lights and ads in the gloom. The darkness from space lightly penetrated the sky barrier, adding to the murk. It was chilly. Levon could see his breath occasionally. On the streets walked dangerous looking aliens and normal people; they all lived among each other in the Warp-Gate’s apartments. Freighters and space cars cluttered the streets, and shops, bars, and clubs packed with travelers sat on every corner.
“Aye captain! How’s about ye take a couple of these buggers to make your hauling easier?” Emil slapped one of the hover haulers.
“Thanks for the quick thinking, Emil. It’s going to make things a lot easier. How long do we get to use them?” Levon said.
“Ah. The squid man that gave them to me said 24 hours. 120 Credits each. Not bad, eh? Just go give em back to that little warehouse on the corner. Loran’s haulers. I put em under my name.”
“Great. Well, we’re going to go down to see Dylan. Make sure you guys get all the ordnance we need and a little extra. Meet back here in a couple of hours and let us know if something is up.”
“Aye aye, sir,” Emil said. He, Madison, and another crewmember squeezed into a hauler’s driver box after grunts and complaints. The box was a small metal frame with three seats attached to a metal tub in the back that had metal benches welded to the floor. The whole thing floated a foot above the ground. Obi, Walther, and Jael squeezed into the other. The rest of their crew and armed drones jumped into the tubs. Walther called out from a window.
“Sir, I was wondering if I could go search for more information on Luo after we make our purchases. I promise I’ll work hard after I return.”
“You know I don’t care as long as the work gets done and you don’t get killed,” said Levon.
Walther smiled wide and laughed. Emil started the engine and the two haulers drove off to the southwest.
“Do you really think he will find information on him on this Warp-Gate? The Rexar Cartel is huge.” asked Kamilla.
“Possibly. It’s one of the best places to find information and I hear the Rexar have offices on two of the wings, but it might make it more dangerous. Finding Luo is going to be harder than finding a black grain of sand on a beach, especially if he’s just using word of mouth. We’ll need to keep helping him if he and Tania are ever going to make headway.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right. Hey Cadoc?” She turned around and Cadoc was gone. She looked inside one of the hauler’s driver seats and saw him typing furiously on his holo computer.
“What are you looking up?”
“Oh wow. Good thinking. Well, if you find anything then let us know, yeah? I’m sure Walther will be pleased with the help.”
“Affirmative,” he croaked.
She turned around and Levon was gone. She looked into the tub and saw Levon sitting among the drones and crew.
“Hey! Why are you in here? Aren’t you driving?”
“No. I want to see what it’s like to ride in the back of one of these things with the boys. You drive. Tell the other guys from maintenance to take the other hauler and follow us to the shipyard,” he said. Several crew cheered and a few of them fist bumped him.
“Alright, Captain!” one of them screamed.
“Oh okay…” Kamilla’s face turned red and lit up with embarrassment. “Umm…Levon. I can’t drive…”
Levon and several Raptors leered at her in disbelief.
“Wait a minute…you’re one of the best pilots in the galaxy and you’ve never driven a car?” He let out a loud burst of laughter. Several crew looked like they wanted to laugh, but contained themselves from laughing at a superior who could kill them. She gritted her teeth as Maria peeked into the tub. Unlike the others and their jumpsuits, she wore an ankle length black leather trench coat with black boots.
“Can I try?”
“Hell no. We want to get there in one piece.”
“Oh come on!” she stared at him angrily. Levon thought for a few moments and eyed her face up and down.
“Okay, look. Maria, you’ve never driven before, but you’re an AI, so I’ll give you a chance to drive us there carefully, but if you so much as ‘swerve’ too much, I’m taking over and you’re riding back here with the rest of the crew.”
“Yes!” She yelled and ran into the driver’s seat. Levon closed the tub’s door then looked over its side into the driver’s box while Kamilla was getting in.
“Don’t let her get too crazy, alright?”
She gave him a smile.
“Don’t worry. Maria actually listens to me.”
Maria sat happily in the seat of the hover hauler and turned it on. Kamilla, who sat in the middle, yelled Levon’s instructions to the maintenance crew and then looked over at the face of the little girl. She looked too excited for Kamilla’s own comfort. She sighed, put her safety belt on, and hoped that her Artificial Intelligence reflexes would make her a good driver. The other hauler’s engine started and parked behind them.
The crewmembers around Levon suddenly looked uneasy and gripped metal handles on the walls. Some even used the safety straps they were going to use for the ship parts to tie themselves to their benches. A few of them murmured.
“This is bullshit. That AI has no self-control…”
“Are you kidding me? I ain’t sign up to die like this…,” a dark skinned Raptor said.
“Hey Levon. Which way?” spoke Kamilla into her wrist.
“Hold up. Sending you the navigation information right now. Just toss it into Maria’s avatar.”
A small green file appeared on her computer. Kamilla picked it up and dropped it into Maria’s hair. The avatar absorbed the information and compiled it.
“Okay. I got it. We’re going south, but slightly east towards the end of the wing. The Map says we should be there in 20 minutes, but I can get us there in 7.”
Kamilla felt her stomach drop and Cadoc looked at her with worried eyes.
“Oh, hell no! Captain, yall better do something about this…,” one of the crewmembers yelled. Several started to complain. Levon’s voice came through the communicator on Kamilla’s wrist.
“Okay, calm down, Maria. We’re not trying to cause any unnecessary attention to ourselves and we don’t want an accident–”
The hauler launched itself forward into the mass of traffic, barely missing five collisions in a matter of seconds. Maria stepped on the gas and sped through the crowd of cars, dancing the hauler across traffic lanes, fitting into the tiniest spaces between space cars, resulting in a cacophony of horns and angry yells from pedestrians and cars. Maria laughed ecstatically while Cadoc stashed his eye visor into his pocket and held his computer tightly. Kamilla gripped the seat, digging her nails into the fabric. Levon’s voice screamed out of the wrist computer through the garbled yelling of the other Raptors.
“Maria! Stop this car right now! Holy shi–”
The hauler raced forward to overtake a large freighter, but the freighter suddenly put its turn signal on. She tried to go around its left side, but it accelerated into the lane. Maria spun the driving wheel to the left and forced the hauler over the median strip and onto the lane with opposite traffic. Cars honked and blurred around them and shook the whole vehicle as Maria barely maneuvered through traffic.
Kamilla breathed hard and closed her eyes, trying to control her fear while awaiting the inevitable crash that would send them all into the next world. Maria, on the other hand, looked like she was having the time of her life as she smiled and laughed at the situation. She pressed down the accelerator. She dodged and moved through several large busses while waiting for the opportunity to jump back into the correct side of the road, but steel walls with tiny clearings every few hundred feet separated the roads.
When the opportunity didn’t come, she started to swerve the hauler left and right near the right most lane, causing cars to clear out from fear of being hit. After a minute of dodging tens of collisions, she saw an opening blocked only by bushes. She stepped on the gas and fired the hauler through the median strip, tearing shrubs from their roots and bouncing them into the correct lane at 80 miles per hour, almost tipping the hovering vehicle over.
“Maria! Fucking stop right now! You’re going to get us all killed!” screamed Levon through the wrist computer.
“Calm down, Levon. I know what I’m doing!”
“Maria, please, sto–”
Kamilla’s words were cut short as Maria stepped on the gas again, launching them forward across the city, making the skyscrapers and buildings look like ghostly smudges as they passed them. The light at their first turn turned red and Maria decided that it was too much trouble to stop. She turned the hauler to the left and pressed the breaks, causing the hauler to skid the back its metal tub across the floor. It showered the ground with sparks.
She continued down the new street, going straight, then making an immediate right at the next street.
“Mari, please stop. I’m not feeling so well…the guys in the back have no safety belts!” breathed Kamilla, looking pale as paper. Cadoc continued to grip onto his computer with his eyes closed, trying not to acknowledge the situation and moving his scaly lips in what Kamilla guessed was a desperation prayer.
“Don’t worry, Kami. I won’t let anything bad happen to us. I know a shortcut. The data you gave me told me everything!”
Maria veered off her lane and went into the opposite traffic lanes again, barely missing a large space van, and then turning left into a parking complex. She made her way up the ramps, driving all the way to the top at 60 miles per hour.
“Mari…what are you doing!?”
Maria ignored Kamilla and continued to the top, climbing 20 stories up to the complex space car landing zone. A maintenance ramp was at the edge of the building and she was heading toward it.
“Maria, NO!” she screamed.
Maria pressed as hard as she could on the gas pedal, driving over the ramp and hurling the hauler through the air and over clusters of buildings. Levon suddenly appeared through the right window, gripping tightly onto the metal edges of the hauler driving box. The dark skinned Raptor from earlier screamed and started to fly out of the tub, barely holding onto a metal handle. Levon pulled himself along the tub edge towards him, reached out, grabbed his arm, and screamed at him to grab onto the frame. He used Levon’s jumpsuit to pull himself closer and gripped the tub. Levon then forced his way in through the window and told the man to get closer. He pulled him inside. Stuffed into a tiny space, Kamilla and Cadoc grabbed them from their waists to make sure that the force of the air didn’t suck them back out since the hauler windows had no glass.
“Stop the Fucking car, Maria!” Levon screamed.
She ignored him. The hauler flew and landed on the ramp of another parking complex four buildings away, making contact with the ground and tossing all the loose articles in the hauler in random directions. The unsuspecting drones in the back clinked and clanged as they bounced around the tub. Levon suddenly felt afraid for the crew strapped into the back. Maria circled around the roof of the new complex, gaining speed, then made a sharp turn and throttled the hauler onto another ramp, launching them through the air, across the street, and onto another parking complex. Levon grabbed onto her arm, looking angrier than she’d ever seen him. She smiled.
“Almost there! Don’t worry, Levon!”
She drove the hauler through a number of space cars that were landing and drove off the edge of the complex and into a curved metal ramp shaped extension from the building that touched the ground. Levon, who was trying to grab onto Maria and take control of the car, started to float, but Kamilla and Cadoc grabbed him and the other Raptor, holding them down. The hauler slammed onto the building and charged down its side at 100 miles per hour and increasing speed. The hauler sped towards the ground, almost completely out of control, and scraped the floor hard with the front edge of the driver box, throwing everyone in the car back and disorienting them.
Maria stepped on the gas and went straight through the business park where they landed. She drove into the grass and moved through several walkways and bridges full of confused and scared pedestrians. She then went back onto the grass, uprooting bushes and blowing dust until they drove out of the park through the main gate and back onto the road.
She drove into traffic and continued down the streets until they went under a highway bridge. She passed it and then turned left into a ramp heading into it. The Highway, Highway 1, ran the whole wing. She accelerated through all of the slow 70 miles per hour cars, and even passed under the space of a huge freighter to avoid having to go around it.
Levon was afraid and felt helpless for the first time in years. He also felt too scared to try and stop the girl. If he stopped her during one of her maneuvers, it would mean instant death for all of them. He clenched his teeth and grabbed hold of Kamilla’s waist and Cadoc grabbed both his computer and the other Raptor. Sirens rang and some space cars with the words ‘Nereus Warp-Gate Guard’ appeared behind them. The Nereus Guards accelerated to match their speed and looked into the driver box.
“Stop the Car! You people are under arrest!”
Maria looked over to the first police car and gave big smile, showing her white teeth, she then pressed the accelerator further and sped forward through the highway.
Preview of Chapter 7:
Cadoc to Levon and Kamilla while riding through the Shipyard:
“I found something.”
“Found what?” Kamilla replied.
“A possible lieutenant of Zradnik Luo. He is here on the Warp-Gate. He docked at docking bay 1009 at the west end of the wing.”
“How did you find that out?” asked Levon as he drove over a scraped hover mini-van.
“Zradnik Luo was traced by a number of hackers and spy networks I keep in contact with. As we know, he works for the Rexar Galactic Trade Group, but all information on his location was lost after his joining. It is rumored that he isn’t just part of the cartel. He is a commander. A Rexar Lieutenant is here on a resupply mission and is here to meet a new business contact. The information says that it is possible that he is part of Luo’s chain of command because he accidentally told a spy that his commander is from Ophion, the Warp-Gate where Walther and Tania were born…
End of Chapter Six. Comeback next week to join Captain Levon and the rest of Raptor Squadron on their adventures across the Kaleco Galaxy! Remember: this web novel is published for free on GFMakina.net. Not sure when it will end, but as far as the current written work goes, it could go on for months to years! Enjoy the ride everyone!