Pathways (Part 13): Racing Forward

Adima paced up and down the hallway. He had essentially been kicked out of the room as Alard and the computer got deep into their discussion of the disease. In actuality, he didn't mind. While he understood some of the details, most of the things they were talking about were far beyond his ability to decipher.

Still, he thought, they could have at least given him something to do.

"You're going to wear a hole in that floor," Vernus said.

Adima looked over at his CEO, who was leaning back in a chair and looking perfectly content. "What else am I going to do?"

"You could leave," Vernus said. "There's nothing here for you to do any more."

"But Alard and the Sansha - "

"We can handle them," Vernus said with a smile. "And if we can't, the Caldari Navy certainly can."

Adima shook his head. "No," he said. "I need to see this through. I have to know what's going to happen. I have to know that we aren't serving some convoluted Sansha plan. Besides, what would I do if I left?"

"Go see Reena," Vernus suggested.

Adima froze in mid step at the suggestion. His foot finally fell with a heavy thud. "And be worried about something else the entire time?" he asked. "No, I can't do that to her. When I'm with her, all I want to care about is her. Not what some mad Caldari and a supercomputer are cooking up light years away. She'll be fine waiting another day or two."

Vernus shrugged. "Suit yourself."

Something seriously wrong had happened to the staff of the institution, Reena thought. She could hear their mad laughter echoing down the hallways. It was as if someone had released potent laughing gas through the entire complex, only much worse. Because amidst the laughter, there were other sounds too.

Screams and the moans of the injured. The occasional sick crunch or wet thud. Reena had never heard those noises before, but as they continued, her stomach began to churn queasily as she realized it was the sound of someone being brutally beaten to death.

She wanted to do something. She wanted to get up out of her bed and move. But no matter how hard she insisted on her limbs moving, no matter how much she wanted to, she couldn't even muster a single twitch of her fingers.

A few times, she feared she had died of the stress. She could feel her heart thundering in her chest and her breath caught unexpectedly dozens of times. But after a few moments, each feeling passed, and she realized that she was still alive, for what it was worth.

At least, she thought, whatever had affected the staff had not yet spread to her. She took small solace in the fact that even if it did, she would not become like the staff. She couldn't even smile, much less laugh.

A mechanical screech cut through the sound. Reena recognized it. It was the sound one of the vocalizers made when it was suddenly cut off from the speech centers of a patient's brain. Very rarely, it happened by accident, when one of the patients was being moved and a rookie technician had forgotten to go through a proper disconnect procedure.

But more often, it signified that one of the mindlocked patients' bodies had finally given out. Another screech sounded and the laughter grew louder. Reena closed her eyes and began reciting a prayer in her head.

She had gotten lucky once. She doubted she would get it again.

Beckard stumbled forward. He had reached his destination, finally. He had lost a lot of blood. He could barely stand, so he sank down into the chair in front of the computer console.

He looked down at it and realized he had no idea how to work it. He pushed a button, but it did nothing. He knew the ship had power, the lights were still on, despite the huge hole that had been punched in the side from either the explosion or the falling debris.

He pushed another button, but still nothing. "Dammit, turn on you bloody comms!" he choked out, more of a sobbing plea than anything else.

Surprisingly, the comms did just that. The words 'HULL BREACH DETECTED. EMERGENCY COMMS ACTIVATED. BROADCASTING' flashed on the screen. Voice activated, he thought, of course. He sighed and smiled.

"My name is Beckard," he said. "I'm on Tastela. Everything has gone crazy. People are killing each other. It's utter madness."

He leaned back and sighed. He was light headed. There were spots at the edges of his vision. "God has forsaken this planet. There is nothing left here worth saving," he said. "If anyone hears this... Don't send help. Send destruction. Wipe this blight off the face of the cluster!"

He smiled. The spots were growing larger and darker. "End transmission," he said. He had lost too much blood, was still losing too much blood. But at least he had gotten the word out.

"I'm leaving," stated one of the security guards. He stood and ripped off the patch on his shoulder and tossed it to the ground. "Those Caldari were right. There's no reason for us to stay here!"

Lord Jerimiah quivered with rage. "You dare to defy me?"

"I'm sorry, Lord Jerimiah," the security guard said. "But you'll doom us all. I'd rather face my fate than cower here." He headed for the door and began to enter the security code.

"Stop him!" Lord Jerimiah growled at Commander Kozoki.

The Commander slowly turned to the security guard, who had stopped entering the numbers and stared back at the Commander. "Well, you heard Lord Jerimiah," Commander Kozoki said. "Are you going to stop?"

The man hesitated, then slowly shook his head. "No, Commander Kozoki. I'm not."

Another security guard stood. "Neither am I. I'm going too."

"Me too!" another added. More of the guards stood and added their voices to the chorus.

Commander Kozoki turned to the livid Lord Jerimiah. "I'm sorry, my lord, but I'm going too. These men are right. We're going to try and catch up with the Caldari and help them. With God's grace, we'll be back to get you." Commander Kozoki turned to the other men who had not yet joined them. "Those of you who don't want to leave, stay here. I won't force you."

All but three men stood and went to join the dozen who were already planning on leaving. That brought the total to twenty men. The other three remained sitting. Commander Kozoki nodded. "Well, let's move out men."

They opened the door and poured outside. When the door hissed and clicked shut, one of the remaining security officers turned to Lord Jerimiah. "We will never abandon you, Lord Jerimiah. Not as long as the blood still flows through our veins."

"Oh, shut up," Jerimiah huffed.

"Adima," Vernus said, "you should come see this." Vernus was pointing at a monitor at the end of the hallway. It had been playing a cluster-wide news feed when Adima had looked at it earlier.

"What is it?" Adima asked, slowly walking over to look. Vernus pointed at the ticker scrolling across the bottom of the news feed.

"Imperial officials confirm: Contact lost with Tastela," it read.

Adima's face froze. "What..." he muttered.

"I'm checking GalNet now for news," Vernus said, tapping the side of his head, where the comms implant was placed. He suddenly turned pale and gulped. "Uh, seems like there was a distress call from a ship docked at Tastela."

"Yeah?" Adima prompted.

"Well, communication from the planet has been cut totally off," Vernus said. "Imperial officials can't get in touch with it. The distress call said everyone had 'gone crazy' and were 'killing each other'. It sounds like - "

"The damn Sansha. I have to get there. Reena is - "

"I know. Go, Adima," Vernus said. "I'll make sure things are under control here."

Adima nodded, then paused. "If this is what we think it is, you'd better tell them to hurry up with that cure," Adima said.

Vernus simply nodded as Adima turned and ran toward the docking ring.

Part 14

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