Peaceful lightness, not a single ounce of weight pulled on Johannes Falkner. The middle aged medical doctor floated behind Admiral Solomon Grienberg. “How far do we have to go?” Slowly the Admiral turned his head to face Johannes. “Quite some distance Joe.” The smirk on his lips was making him smile too. “Jawohl mein Admiral!” Johannes saluted jokingly. Since they met twenty years earlier in preparation for the mission, the two had been friends. One of the first conversations they had was forever etched in Johannes’ mind. “How do you pronounce it again?” Former member of the israeli military Solomon, sat puzzled next to Johannes. “For fuck’s sake, just call me Joe, or if you insist Hans, but don’t try to say my idiotic name!”

Every time that Solomon called him Joe since, while smiling that smirk, Johannes was reminded of that day. “What do you suppose has caused that power out?”

Handling from ledge to ledge the two men floated through the tube inside the Horizon’s sub Alpha ring. “Wish I knew.” Was the short reply from Solomon. An hour ago a power failure had been detected a moment later only emergency lights were on in the command centre. Ordering the others to stay at their positions the two men embarked. One of the tubes in the network had been offline, and pressurized, for a routine maintenance inspection after an adjacent tube through the entirety of the Horizon had shut down for unknown reasons.

An uneasy feeling grew in Johannes. “Where are we?”

“Junction 17 subalpha, tube 4.”

“In space I mean.”

Just replying with “Oh.” Solomon had to thinkthink for a moment. “Outside the solar system, somewhere close to where the Ark1 had it’s incident.” After a pause he asked why Johannes wanted to know.

Uncertain as to why himself Johannes didn’t reply but followed the Admiral. Before them a wide siphon opened up into the faulty tube along the length axis of the ship. Normally the tube they were in would be rotating, so the spherical transport cab would be pushed down their tube, pushed out by the magnetic fields of the tubes.

“We need to go to the sub gamma section, main reator is there, perhaps they can tell us what is going on.”

Johannes knew, they had gone over that plan before leaving. A blackout of the magnitude they experienced shouldn’t occur. There were backups that should prevent such a thing from happening.

The two men stopped for a moment. Ahead of them was a vast tunnel. Two cab lengths from the alpha ring there was an airlock door. When a transit was in progress they opened to let a cab through, and closed right behind the cab, or cabs.

“Maintenance protocol, the tube is pressurized here, but should also on the other side, in case of a catastrophic pressure failure. If I’m mistaken, there is vacuum on the other side.” Solomon stopped in front of the door by grabbing a hold of a step that was hidden in the wall. They were there for maintenance crews.

“Let me guess, we have no way of going through there. If you suggest we open it by force, need I remind you what happens when you get exposed to vacuum?” Johannes looked back. “Or an atmosphere severely thinned if we open that?”

“Relax Joe,” smirking, “there was atmosphere this morning.”

Still feeling uneasy about the enterprise Johannes watched Solomon approach the manual opening mechanism. In a recess near the portal was a leaver which he pulled, he repeated the procedure two more times before the portal, looking like a camera shutter, opened silently. Relieved that there hadn’t been hissing of escaping atmosphere, Johannes followed the Admiral.

On the other side the two men closed the portal with three identical handles that had opened as the first ones had been opened. “Without the command centre in control, and capable of neutralizing any impacting bodies, we should keep these doors closed.” Solomon explained.

“Impacting bodies?!” Stopping handling forward Johannes floated on, past Solomon who had stopped at a handle to turn around to him. “You mean to tell me we could’ve been struck by an asteroid or something back there?” Cold sweat appeared on Johannes’ forehead. “We made it through, didn’t we?”

“Don’t tell me shit like that man, I’m a bloody doctor, not a space marine! I hate the idea of dying, dying in space in particular!”

Laughing Solomon kept moving on.

They passed by a rotating set of siphons, after crossing through yet another shutter like door. As the siphons rushed by they saw that they were closed a couple of cab lengths in. “At least they have gravity.” Solomon stated dryly, but in Johannes’ face was a brewing question.

“Suppose sub gamma has too, how do we enter?” The two men exchanged a long glance. “We can’t jump this!” Johannes pointed at the rotating siphons. “Even if we were to slip into a siphon, and I doubt that we could, the walls would hit us, break every single bone in our bodies.” Solomon looked at the siphons.

“I will think of something.” Again he displayed the playful smirk.

 

Before leaving the alpha ring they passed two more siphon intersections. Each time Johannes felt his guts turn with them. Behind them the gate closed as they manned the handles. “Back in the danger zone.” Giggling, near laughing Solomon pushed off from the gate.

“Would you shut up?” Closely behind Johannes floated through the long tunnel. “Bad enough that we are here, you don’t have to point it out.”

From ahead Johannes heard muffled laughter.

Grumbling he continued on.

Solomon stopped in front of a gate. He opened the first handle, but paused before continuing on. Puzzled he looked at the numbers emblazoned on the platings around. “That’s odd.” From his pocket he drew a pair of glasses. “You don’t have a connection if the power is out.” Johannes approached one of the other handles.

“Don’t open that.” Putting hia leaver back in the recess Solomon worked on his glasses. “I don’t need a connection, normally I’d be too embarrassed to admit it, but I kept getting lost on this ship in the beginning, so I downloaded the specs.” With a few gestures in empty air he opened the plans of the Horizon. “Just as I thought, this gate shouldn’t be closed, we’re not at the beta ring yet.”

Immediately Johannes pushed away from the leaver. “Is there a hull breach?” With a certain undertone of panic Johannes fidgeted in his pockets for his glasses.

“I doubt it, but we can’t know for sure.” Still studying the detailed plans he turned around a few times. “There,” pointing to the leaver that Johannes had wanted to open. “Next to that leaver should be a hatch. Open it.” Reluctantly Johannes did fumble with the opening mechanism.

A hydraulic hiss filled both men with a moment of sheer terror. “It’s a crawl space, leading along the cryogenic vault.”

“The what?” Still shaking the medical doctor turned around. “In case all rings would be destroyed, and the crew killed, some people had been put into cryogenic suspension, the ship would arrive at RV-p 296 and revive them, so not all was lost. It’s a little known fact.” He further explained that the crawl space would normally be depressurized too, but when a tube was flooded it too was as a security precaution.

After descending into the crawl space they closed the hatch. Other hatches led to other tubes, running parallel to the crawlspace and the tube they had come from, Johannes noticed. Once inside he understood why Solomon hadn’t thought about the crawl space in the first place.

It was incredibly narrow, without gravity that meant they had to be careful not to bump into anything. Next to them were circular lids, a tiny clear window allowed to look inside. People were visible. Johannes knew that they were in cryogenic suspension, but they seemed more like corpses in a morgue, their seemingly lifless features sent chills down his spine.

“Is there a way of knowing whether there was a hull breach in the section we’re circumnavigating?”

“Not for sure.” Solomon decided to go to the beta ring all the way, that way the risk was lower. “There are several tubes in the length axis, yes?”

“Jup!”

“How come the siphons were spinning around this one? Shouldn’t they be serving all tubes?”

Solomon sighed. Although he had the blueprints, he was not in the mood to explain. “Maybe it slipped your attention, but the siphon sections are a lot broader. To ensure safety during maintenance and repair they’re flooded as well, traffic is routed around them unless it’s unavoidable, halted if people are inside.” Solomon stopped, he reached to his right hip, only to reach into thin air. Close to panic he looked around.

This did not remain unnoticed by his companion. “What’s wrong?” He too wished for the sidearm, but seeing they were all alone with other humans and a bunch of cats noone saw fit to be carrying them. “There was a strange sound, not human, nor feline.” The cryogenic units had an independent power supply, but didn’t draw much of it, as they were well insulated from heat by the vacuum of the tubes and crawl spaces.

Still they didn’t tie into the main computer, other than their statuses they did not transmit any data, received none. Distraught by the noise Solomon went through the blueprints, surely the ever paranoid admiralty had insalled weapons lockers in the cryo crawl spaces. After a meter or two he had found what he was looking for. Disguised as a normal cryogenic chamber.

At first Johannes was shocked when his friend opened the chamber but welcomed the gun that floated towards him with gratitude.

“Don’t engage the laser! Just pull the trigger, the overcharged needles will do the rest.” Momentarily they continued through the narrowness.

After a few meters both held on to the rails, the other hand at the gun. Both had heard the weird noise. “Definitely not human or feline. Maybe the cryo chambers?” Johannes’ voice was begging for Solomon to say yes, but the Admiral just shook his head.

A slight draft in the direction they were heading made the two even more uneasy, suddenly a shape rushed by in the direction of a hatch, a moment later the hydraulic hiss of it closing called them to action.

Hastily the two floated to the hatch, immediately Solomon tried opening it but found it impossible. “Solomon.”

“It won’t open. ”

“Solomon!”

Still the Admiral tried to open the hatch, Johannes grabbed him by one shoulder, jerked him around. Opposite of the hatch, at the next cryogenic chamber sat a weird device that obviously wasn’t part of the ship, or the cryo equipment. An antenna of sorts extended to the small window, data in strange scribbling flashed on a small screen.

“What the hell?”

As soon as he had discovered the device Johannes had initiated a recording on his glasses. “I figure it is scanning the person inside, if we correlate it to the data readings from the cryogenic chamber we might be able to crack their language.” Grateful that the cryogenic chamber communicated wireless Johannes drew all available data from the subject inside.

Half in panic Solomon reached for the device, but stopped at the last moment, as he thought that it might be boobytrapped. “Can we seal that hatch? I’m not so eager for company right now.” Johannes kept recording the display, noticing that the symbols started to repeat themselves.

Feeling his heart beat in his throat, Solomon turned back to the hatch. It was sealed. But from the other side, meaning the creature could reopen it at any given time.

Quickly he reached for his gun. “Seal, not blast open!” Ignoring Johannes’ protest Solomon turned the UV laser on. Using it as a blow torch he welded the edges of the hatch shut. “I am sealing it.” The calmness in his voice had a soothing effect on Johannes. “Alright, I’m getting just repeats now. Let’s get outta here.” Johannes turned the recording off and began moving onward, Solomon looked again at the welded hatch. A small part of him was curious about what was on the other side, but for the most part he was just glad that a possible threat was locked away from him.

Sudden hisses drew his attention to Johannes. The oxygen propelled needles from his gun clinked against the hull of the crawl space. A hissing growl from farther ahead was the reply.

“What?” Johannes held on to the rail with his left, the gun in his right was shaking. “Another one of these things, maybe the same. While we stopped back there it could’ve double backed to the next hatch, could it?”

Solomon shook his head, ahead was no other hatch, except one leading to the Beta Ring siphon section. He too took out his gun, turning the setting from laser to needle. If in deed it was an unknown creature he didn’t want to kill it.

Unless necessary.

Something hit the wall next to the two men, leaving a scorchmark. Immediately both backed away a little, realizing that there was no cover for them, but the creature was sufficiently small enough to duck close to the cryogenic chamber lids. Another hit struck the wall above a cryo lid.

Solomon and Johannes returned fire with the needles.

With a screech the creature tried to flee but got struck. Immediately the electric discharge of the needles paralysed it.

Seizing its weapon Solomon left the creature defenseless, Johannes immediately grabbed its upper extremities, hoping that those were the the hands. “It’s small.” He noted, if it stood upright it might be as tall as his hip.

Examination would have to wait both decided non verbally as they heard ruttling noise from the sealed hatch. Quickly they pushed and pulled onwards to the hatch leading to the beta ring siphons.

 

“Now what do we do?” Floating in a siphon section Johannes still held on to the subdued creature, a few times he worried that the electric shocks from three darts he had found on it might have killed it. But then he recalled the scorchmarks, and decided that even if the creature was dead it was better it, than him and Solomon.

“We call the maintenance cab.” Solomon smirked. Pressing a button only he could see on his glasses. After a few moments they heard the unmistakable noise of a pressurising section behind one of the sealed siphons. Only a second later a spherical cab entered, opened a hatch after stopping seemingly in mid air, suspended and held by magnetic fields.

Floating in was difficult with an alien body in hand.

After Solomon had taken seat, Johannes handed him the creature, seated himself. Only once the two men were buckled up did the cab start moving again.

Relieved did they feel the force of simulated gravity upon them, after hours in zero G they had felt the effects of fluids rising to the upper body, narrow vision and confusion. A few times had both men felt slightly ill.

“What do we do with that thing?”

“Study it.” Johannes loked at the snout of the creature, it had a slight overbite, showing a row of tiny sharp teeth. On its head the alien wore down feathers. By the way the downs continued below the neckline of the garments it wore, Johannes assumed that the downs covered most, if not all of the body.

“I hope you won’t dissect it?”

“Nope.” Still staring at the face of the alien Johannes felt reminded of a childhood passion of his. “I’ll put in the tube, take a tissue sample and hope it ain’t dead.”

“You hope?”

“We zapped it with three darts, I wouldn’t recommend that many on a human, let alone a tiny creature such as this!” Solomon too started staring at the creature’s face. “I feel reminded of a dinosaur.”

“Thank you! I felt as if I was crazy.” Hissing the doors opened. A crew of engineers stood in the hallway outside, analysing tools and tablet computers in their hands. They gazed in surprise and wonder through their goggles at the Admiral and the Doctor.

 

“We lost mainpower for the subalpha ring, and also throughout the tubes.” Oleksandra Joshenkova, chief engineer, marched through the control room below the fusion reactor. “But!” She turned to face the Admiral, “It isn’t a problem from our end! Reactor is running at peak efficiency!”

“Do we have communication with the other rings?” Solomon waved his hands to calm her down. “No!” Immediately she turned to a console, pointing at a large screen above it. “Power transfer, communication and tubes are down.” With a little bit of worry in her eyes she turned around to the Admiral. Why do you ask?”

Instead of a verbal reply Johannes held up the Alien.

Oleksandra made a disgusted face. “Ugly thing, Alien?” Both men nodded. “Keep it away from my engines. And me. Why do you want communication?”

“They were between alpha and beta rings, perhaps there’s a ship parked there?” Raising her eyebrows Oleksandra turned to her consoles. While going through the logs she explained that the sensors had detected a power distribution problem with the subalpha power line in that section, before they went out, so it stood to reason that they indeed had a ship parked there. In addition she suspected that they knew where the command centre was located, so they also blocked the subalpha backup reactor fro, kickimg into action.

“They also must be jamming the whiskers, and power lines to the other sections.” Stroking his non existing beard Solomon fondled his chin. “Doctor Falkner here has a detailed scan and recording of the alien technology, maybe we can feed that into the computer, and find them, or counteract their technology?” Reluctantly Johannes handed over his glasses. “Data extraction will take only a moment, Doctor.” Oleksandra smiled benignly.

After a few moments she handed the glasses back. “If you’ll excuse me, I will look for a lab in the hospital capable of handling this.” He excused himself. On his way out he noticed that Solomon kept following him. “Shouldn’t you be in there?”

“What good am I in there? They need technicians, not the admiral.”

 

“Im worried.” Johannes stepped into the cab. Although every ring had medical doctors, and sickbays, the subgamma ring had a hospital ward, subalpha a military hospital. “This critter is getting cold.”

After a few minutes they entered an examination room with an MRT. On the way Solomon had gathered a few armed privates to meet them, just in case there might still be life in the alien.

Wireless communication in the subgamma ring was still possible. A few moments after he had turned the scanner on Johannes shook his head. “I know nothing of their physiology, but I know neurological damage when I see it. We’ve fried it.”

“Dang. Any other information you can give me?”

Shaking his head Johannes scraped a little bit of skin into a dish and handed it to an assistant for analysis. “I want genes too!” He reminded her as she hurried away from the alien, relieved to get away from it. Meanwhile Solomon strode over to the security detail. “I want twenty men, armed, extra batteries and extra clips, ready at the tube access point on deck five, asap.”

Running a second scan of the body, Johannes looked over to him. “I’m just a doctor and not a spacemarine, but isn’t it unwise to attack them? They have effectively immobilised the ship and entered it, blasting them off seems unwise to me.”

Gazing at his friend over the shoulder Solomon made an annoyed face. “I want them in full spacesuits, have one for me too.” He turned his head to the men and women before him. The five saluted and hurried off.

Before he could talk to Johannes their glasses alerted him and the doctor to an incoming call. “I’ve got it gentlemen!” Oleksandra was almost singing to them. “After taking some wiring off the main line, I contacted the whiskers from here.” Both of them were fed an image of a cigar shaped vessel attached to the hull between alpha and beta rings. “Can you align the beta ring lasers?”

Alerted Johannes looked up from his scanner. “No Admiral. They are hardwired to subalpha controls, backup lines to sub gamma control centre are unresponsive.”

“Try.” Solomon ended the conversation.

“You think that’s wise?”

“Is there another option for me to try? Subalpha is without simulated gravity, no air recycling hence soon they’ll suffocate. I’m running out of time to find alternatives.” Keeping one eye on the display, the other on his friend Johannes nodded.

“While you prepare for an attack, I can tell you from their physiology that they’re tailored for one G of gravity, we have a female here, they lay eggs and are omnivorous.”

“Whatever. These Harpies will get to know our lasers if they don’t get off of my ship.” Stunned by Solomons sudden display of hostility Johannes raised his hands.

He noticed the Admiral constantly checking the display in his glasses. The data displayed was probably the cause for the sudden rush.

“Their skin is like,” he looked at the face of the creature. The elongated snout and teeth. “not tougher than ours, but I recon they’ll have better protective suits next time we meet them. Their metabolism is similar to that of a bird,” Johannes paused, bearing an expression of utter confusion.

Sighing Solomon stepped closer. “Calm your horses Joe. The sudden and unexpected pressure got to me. Data suggests we need to act quickly.”

“I know, I won’t undermine your authority in front of the men again, but I felt it’s best to voice my concerns right away.” Desperate to see the lab assistant Johannes looked to the door she went through. “Listen,” he turned away from Solomon. “these things show strange similarities to early birds. I need to examine her more closely. You get rid of them.” He winked marching off.

 

On his way to the strike team, Solomon ordered the auxiliary control centre manned and ready, as soon as Oleksandra gave word, he wanted them to fire the laser across the alien ship’s bow. After those orders were in place he let the men help him suit up. Although Johannes was clear that the aliens breathed the same air and dwelled in the gravity as humans, they might have donned spacesuits themselves and released all the atmosphere from the tube.

“Your canons on beta are ready Admiral! Arming those on alpha could alert the aliens, they might be monitoring the datalines running through that part of the ship.”

“Tell the auxiliary control centre. I’m not in a position to do anything with the lasers.” He wondered if they could even be turned towards the ship. Designed to take out any potential space debris and asteroids, they were designed to fire in outward directions.

“Sir?” He looked through his glasses and the displayed data at a young woman, probably in her early twenties. “Yes Private?”

“Excuse my boldness, permission to speak freely?”

With a sighing nod he gave her permission. “You should remain, in case anything happens to you we’d be without an Admiral for the time being. Your place is in the command centre.” Stunned Solomon had no reply ready. “She’s right Sir.” Her immediate superior closed his helmet, thinning his voice to what was audible over the radio. “But if you insist, we’re not objecting.”

Letting his hands sink again Solomon looked at both of them fully suited. Again he felt the crushing weight of his position upon himself. “You’re right.” He admitted in a grunting voice, but he wanted to do something. “Alright, you folks continue, I will go to the command centre.” He stepped back, as he was the last to donn the helmet, the officer now in command of the strike team closed the door to the maintenance cab. “Just help me outvof this thing, please.” He turned to the two privates still in the hallway with him.

 

“Adjustment complete.” One of the laser gunmen sighed in relief just as the Admiral entered the auxiliary control centre. “Perfect!” He yelled.

“Targeting systems can’t lock on however. I’ll have to aim manually with only the whiskers video feed.”

Install cameras on top of the lasers. “Do it then. Be careful and take your time, I know we run the risk of hitting the alpha ring.”

The officer just mumbled “Aye Sir.” while adjusting the laser.

Invisible to the naked eye, but flashing brightly on the screens, the laser shot missed both the alien vessel and the alpha ring. Within seconds the cigar shaped vessel disengaged, retreated to a distance.

“Reading a power buildup.” Solomons temporary second in command, a lieutenant of the name Nikolai Assanov stated. “Engines or weapons?”

“Unknown.”

Staring at the view screen Solomon silently cursed their inability to scan, or rather interpret the scans of, the alien technology. “Targeting is back online.” The cannonier yelled with delight. “Subalpha is too. Rotation will commence within minutes.” Nikolai exclaimed.

“Lock on the Harpies, hold your fire for now, but keep ready.” Annoyed, but curious Solomon accepted the incoming call from Johannes. “The suit the harpy wears started beeping, but stopped a moment later. If you ask me, they checked her vital signs.”

“They just disengaged, and retreated from our ship. Makes sense to check their boarding party’s vital signs,” pausing he watched in terror the power buildup in the alien ship sky rocket, a shot of some sort destroyed the tube they were connected to a moment ago, but didn’t sever the ship. “Spine intact, return fire?” Nikolai asked.

“Be my guest.”

Again flashing brightly a laser beam crossed the void of space, striking the cigar where its fire had been shot from. Another bright flash filled the view screen. “Reading a power surge in the damaged section!” Nikolai yelled, everyone braced for an impact that could very well spell disaster for the Horizon.

 

Instead the weapons of the cigar they obviously had destroyed began exploding. “Piking up another power spike!” Hastily Nikolai looked at around his readings. “Not the weapons this time.” All eyes in the room turned from back to the damaged ship on the view screen.

The visual light emitted by the damage faded away and suddenly all trace of it was gone, even the infrared sensors revealed nothimg but empty space. “They’re gone sir.”

“Call up every and any scientist on this ship, we have a lot of work for them.”

 

Slowly leaving the auxiliary control centre, Solomon received a report that the strike team had returned, most of them however were dead or dying from some sort of radiation exposure.

Johannes included his suspicion that the harpys had figured that their missing crewmate was still in that section so they wanted to destroy any genetic evidence, after receiving confirmation from her suit that she was dead.

Slowly he paced through the hallways towards the hospital where the wounded were treated, where his best friend was working.

“Sir?” Oleksandra appeared seemingly out of nowhere. “When the systems came back online, we received this. It is a repeating call.” Glum in his heart he took the offered tablet computer. He listened to the message.

Stared at the tablet, turned his attention to Oleksandra, repeated the message. Explorer had informed them of Ericsson, the automated relaystation and drones. “The crew of the pod on Ericsson is still alive!” Maybe there was a little hope.

With a playful smile Oleksandra nodded. “I was thinking that they might help us. We need reinforcement on our exterior plating, our weapons need more power and I thought that perhaps they could mine some other useful stuff too.” With a touch of her finger she drew up a list of minerals and ores she thought useful for their purposes. After going through the list the two exchanged a long glance. “Do it, send a reply.”

 

Struggling with the patients of the strike team, Johannes felt great relief that Solomon had decided otherwise than to go with them. On his display he noticed the test results of the genetic material lifted from the Harpy were ready for review, but he had no time for that just now. Too many casualties that needed treatment.

 

“Attention all rings, all decks. This is Admiral Solomon Grienberg speaking. After the recent events, which you will be informed about using channel One’s news feed, inter-ring transport is suspend unless absolutely necessary. Each ring will be designed to function autonomously. Outter sections of all rings are off limits as of now, details for this measure will be explained in the news reels on chanel One. Thank you for your attention.” Not wanting to wait for a resolution from the elected officials, eh? Looking into the results of the genetic analysis Johannes sat down in the break room after most of the casualties had been treated.

For more convenience he had transferred the data to his tablet computer, the data goggles gave him a headache.

“I was looking for you.” Solomon had two cups with him, that meant he had gone to one of his secret coffee stashes. Eager for the hot brew Johannes greeted him. “I meant to look for you after finishing this!” He held up the tablet for Solomon to see, after he had sat down on the other side of the table.

In silence the two drank their coffee. Before he had come to find Johannes, Solomon had watched the helmet camera footage of the strike team.

The harpys had been lying in wait for them. Had they not found cover in the maintenance cab, the harpy strike team, in full suit and armor, they would’ve died in their weapons fire.

“I thought about growing some in my quarters. But I haven’t got a green thumb.” He desperately needed distraction from the situation.

Nodding Johannes gazed at the tablet, still displaying the results. Unwillingly he kept reading.

Suddenly his eyes widened, his jaw dropped. “Hope you like my coffee?” Trying to distract himself from the situation Solomon kept stuck to the coffee topic.

“My god, they are from earth! Descendants of dinosaurs I recon.”

“The Harpies? Are you sure?” Suddenly his interest in the current situation was reawakened. “Birds evolved from dinosaurs, these things share genes with them. I thought they looked similar concerning their physiology, light bones, ovaries but no womb and all, but the harpys are from earth, originally!”

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