I always figured I’d be one of those people who would die in the same city they were born, live a boring and predicable life; get married, have 2.5 kids.
Boy was I wrong.
Eighteen years ago, Earth was ‘invaded’ by a superior alien race called Deus, they reached out to us in English because they believed we were ready to join the stars. The Deus saw themselves as Gods; observing species across the Galaxy and elevating them when the time is right. They gave us spaceships and translators that are injected under the skin, so we can communicate freely with the four other species they’ve deemed worthy over the millennia.
When the governments started rolling out the volunteer sign ups I was one of the first on the list.
“Spaceship to Esmeralda?” A sharp pain hits the centre of my forehead, I look up to see my best friend Silas innocently holding a metal spoon between his fingers.
“You’re an asshole” I grumble, picking up my own spoon and shovelling the nutritional breakfast in my mouth.
Like all the other meals on this ship, the breakfasts we are given are an attempt to recreate the foods on Earth, poorly I may add. I was currently enjoying eggs and bacon; probably from some weird kind of space bird.
“Hey, you’re the one who zoned out Pom” He teased, using the derogatory name for an Englishman used years ago in his home country of Australia.
Silas joined the space programme to make something of himself, to explore the stars and become a hero, and didn’t he look the part.
He somehow kept his healthy bronzed glow aboard the ship, his bright blue eyes always looking mischievous, if they put his face on a poster there would be many more volunteers in the programme.
Done with eating I stood up and carried my metal tray to the drop off point where I need to scan my iris to find out what I’m doing today.
Name: Esmeralda Baxter
Age: 25 EY
You’re good to go! Please enjoy the rest of your day aboard the ESV Attenborough!
The computer then spits out a thin sheet of paper made of recycled toilet paper with my schedule neatly written on it.
I grin, first things first: Combat Simulator. Hell yes.
Only a few on board are military, the rest of us are normal people who just wanted to get off the planet, after watching us for 10,000 years the Deus determined we loved shooting things, so to keep our brains active and alert they introduced combat simulators.
I head towards the elevator and mash my thumb the number 5, already eager to make some pixels blow up.
As the door is closing, a hand reaches out stops it. Looking rather pissed off, General Alex Miller steps through the door giving me the stink eye.
I quickly look down, General Miller is second in command of the ship, it’s his duty to make sure the civilians are kept in line. Super-cop if you will. Although the general is a few years younger than me, he’s one of the few people aboard who are military and is known as a serious hard-ass.
“Sorry General” I mutter, I may not be military but it’s always good to try to keep on the good side of one of the men in charge.
He acts like I didn’t speak and pressed the close door button. On the next floor down a few more people join us, as the almighty general decided to stand smack bang in the middle of the lift, the people entering squashed themselves- and me against the wall as tightly as possible.
A few more stops later and I’m finally free from the metal prison and squeeze myself out, General Miller right behind me.
Well shit, it looks like General Miller will be involved in the combat simulator today, there are no special treatment for people depending on their rank, just the higher ups get additional jobs.
The door to the combat simulator slides open, revealing a short corridor with many different types of guns lining the wall, I grab one of the small hand pistols, noticing that General Miller chooses a very sleek looking sniper rifle.
He catches me watching and motions towards the console “We will do a versus today, hurry up and register.”
A bit shocked he spoke to me, I lean over the sensor and entered the room. It’s a massive dome shaped room that will change depending on what simulation is inputted, General Miller set the perimeters to 25 vs 25 instead of the more common choice, people versus the bots.
As soon as the lights dim I jump behind a nearby rock that magically appeared, ready for the fight.
Pop! Pop! Pop!
Sounds like someone has a sub machine gun- the spray of fake bullets echoing all over the room.
The room exploded with noise as 50 people all took aim against each other, I stayed in my position, taking out anyone who came near, eventually more of my team gravitated to my location as people became more tactical with their shooting.
Miller comes up behind me and places his sniper on the rock I was using as a shield “Get to my other side and draw them out,” He tells me, a slight smile on his lips.
“Bait? You want me to be bait?” I ask irritated.
He shoots me a quick look, “You’re holding a handgun” He makes a point of looking at the others surrounding us, all holding much larger and more damaging weapons.
I huff “Fine, but if I get shot I’ll report you to the Admiral for endangerment of a civilian”
He lets out a short laugh and motions for me to move out of cover. Reluctantly I did, thankfully he was a very good shot. The second a body part appeared from behind cover a beeping registered that person was out.
I could hear Miller giving out instructions to the rest of the remaining team, telling them to flank the enemy leaving just a few of us in the centre of the field.
However, he wasn’t the only military man on the team.
On the other team there were two higher ranked officers, both grinning from ear to ear at the prospect of putting down the General of the ship, I could see one of them had gotten closer and was about to pull his own sniper out on me.
I dive behind cover just as a bullet whistles past my ear, I turned to look at the General incredulously, “You asshole, I almost got shot!”
He smirks again, “Maybe you should have taken one for the team, Anderson is a better sniper than I am.” His eyes flicker to mine again “And I almost had him.”
Goddamn military and their competitiveness. I roll my eyes then lay on my stomach, wiggling to the other side of the cover.
I could sense his questioning eyes on my back, but I kept going, ignoring him and he began shooting again.
Looking up I could see there were 4 left on our team and 7 on theirs. Now 6. Time to put all those video games I played back on Earth to good use. Usually I’m one of the first 25 to be out, but now I’m determined to win, and win with style.
While the rest of my team picked off the others, I slowly creep around to their location, like a ninja I thought to myself. I waited close by their position but just out of their eyesight, they are way too focused on the fight to look around the area they’re in, I’m sure military training doesn’t cover sneaky civilians.
When only one civilian and the two soldiers remained, I made my move.
Still as slow as before, I move to right behind them, when the other soldier began unloaded a clip I roll out of my position and held my little handgun to Anderson's head.
“Hi” I smirked before pulling the trigger.
Quickly before the other solider could remove his finger from his trigger I quickly shoot him in the stomach while a sniper took out the remaining civilian.
The two soldiers stood up laughing as the simulation dissolved around us “That was brilliant, did Miller tell you to do that?” Anderson asked, pulling himself up on my outstretched hand.
Miller made his way over to us and shook hands with the other solider, “Nope, didn’t even know where she went, one minute she was next to me and then she’d vanished” He turns to me, “You should consider signing up to the civilian militia, you’re good. I’m General Alexander Miller.” He holds his hand out to me.
I took it carefully “Esmeralda Baxter. And no thanks, I don’t have the discipline for a militia,” I grin “Plus I like to have fun”
He lets out another smirk “I believe it.” He raises his voice to reach the other 46 people in the room “Okay, one round down! Two more to go, same perimeter.” He barked as Anderson jogged over to the console and punched in another simulation.
I groan, that was intense.
Silas moves next to me and casually put his arm around my shoulder “How was CS? Nathaniel and Velana haven’t stopped complaining about it since getting to the canteen”
I shrug his arm off my shoulders where it fell heavily behind me “we played with General Miller and two other higher ups. It hurts.”
Silas grins widely “Yeah, Velana told me about you cosying up to the higher ups. You’re not thinking of joining, are you? I don’t think military life would suit you.” His voice turned more serious near the end of the sentence, almost as if he was worried for me.
“Absolutely not, I enjoy having relatively free will on this ship thank you very much! It was weird having a conversation with them though. They always seem so untouchable and serious, who knew they were real people like us?” I took a bite out of my ‘tuna’ sandwich.
Halfway through lunch I noticed a change in atmosphere, officials were running around the outside of the room while civilians dotted between tables in a panic.
Fabian, a small adorable girl who works in the kitchen came over to our table, looking very panicked “Guys, did you hear? They were trying to keep it from us! How could they do this?” A nervous lump settled in my stomach, what’s going on? She takes a deep breath before continuing “ESV Hawking and ESV Blackman have vanished! They think it’s a terrorist group, kidnapping humans! Why would they do this? We haven’t done anything wrong!” She starts wailing, I looked to Silas who seemed to be trying to process this information like I was, we’ve only been a part of the alliance for a few years! We’ve been very cooperative why would someone do this?
Suddenly Silas jumps up “This is bullshit,” He looks around desperately “I’m going to find someone to explain this. Why would we not hear anything about this? It can’t be true” He said it so confidently, but I could see the look in his eyes, the slight quiver of his lips. He believed the reports.
Silas ran towards the exit, determined to find an answer to all this madness and I turned back to Fabian “Where did these rumours come from?” I tried to ask calmly.
We were a very long way from Earth, if this was true we were all just fish in a barrel.
“One of the cleaners overheard Admiral James, he said the situation has escalated so was briefing the pilot and a few officials on what was going on.” She sniffed.
Wait, how could a cleaner get that close to the briefing room? I let out a breath, it doesn’t make sense, it’s just a rumour. I look up to see a Miller across the room, we make eye contact and I jump up, if anyone will know what’s going on its him!
He sighed as I got close, probably regretting speaking to me earlier “General, what the hell is going on?”
He rubs the back of his neck “The rumours are true, though I don’t know how anyone heard the reports. We suspect a mole. At the moment there’s no need for concern as ESV Darwin are investigating.”
I huffed “Why keep this from us? It’s not your job to dictate what we can and cannot know!”
Irritation flashed in his eyes “Why do you think I’m telling you this information? The Admiral only knew for a few days and was advised to confirm the reports before telling the ship. We were going to release the information today; the Deus don’t like secrets and we’re trying to stick to their damn rules!” His voice had raised considerable by the time he had finished his sentence.
I took a step back, hands raised in a come in peace motion “Alright sorry sir. Tensions just a bit high at the moment.”
He sighed “Yes, well I have things to do. Announcements to make. Our ship is currently suspended from any interstellar movements until we can figure this mess out.” He gave me a curt nod before spinning and storming off through the exit.
Well this little journey just got a lot more interesting.