They Lurk Among Us
By Aaron Dennis
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Captain Bragg adjusted his gig line after engaging the F.T.L. drive. The remaining deckhands didn’t so much as make eye contact with their captain. He tried to relax in preparation for the meeting with Shaw and wondered about explaining the mess with Roberts. At least, I got the O’Haras.
“Captain, Hollingsworth here. We have Michaels and Roberts secured in sickbay,” a voice said.
“Copy, stay with them. Are they injured?”
“Shaken; Michaels has busted lips, but he’s fine,” Hollingsworth replied.
Bragg sighed. Those at their posts stirred, wondering what had happened to Roberts and Michaels. Barnes made no effort to say anything, though she was pale. Finally, the Phoenix automatically disengaged F.T.L. due to Eon’s proximity. The purple and green sphere appeared on the tri-sectional screen. Moments later, Bragg was set to touch down.
“Fuentes, take the bridge,” Bragg grumbled and stood. He marched back to crew quarters. In front of the O’Haras’ door, he dismissed the guard. She saluted, and he returned the gesture. He knocked once before entering. “Mister and Missus O’Hara, I sincerely apologize for the display earlier. I hope I didn’t frighten you.”
“What was all that commotion,” Martha asked, aghast.
“A little misconstrued insubordination is all. Things got a little out of hand, but everything’s under control now. For your safety, I engaged the F.T.L. drive, so we’ve already made it to Horizon. I didn’t want to keep you confined….”
“Oh,” Leonard said as he looked at his wife.
They both stood with their arms intertwined. They clutched each other for security; their expressions yet belied their doubt, their contained fear. Bragg smiled meekly as he motioned for them to join him, and they relaxed a little. The three walked to the elevators, passing hurried soldiers along the way. After a ride down, they all exited the Phoenix from the loading zone. The night air hit their palate with a refreshing scent. They stepped onto Eon’s dark surface.
“Take a moment,” Bragg said as the couple gazed in amazement at the planet’s offering.
While it was night and the sky overhead was similar to the vastness above the Alpha colonies, the air, scents, and sounds were a totally new experience to the old couple. The pleasure of being on real soil coupled with the sight of Presh station reaching from the moon nearly brought tears to the eyes of Mrs. O’Hara. They conversed as Bragg left them to their own devices.
He approached the green hangar and swiped his I.D. to open the door. An orange light beside the door hummed. Some gray bugs fluttered about the casing. Bragg looked up for a second, but the metal door came unlatched, demanding his attention. He opened it to see Shaw was sitting at a table with his head in his hands. Two men he didn’t recognize— Shaughnessy and Hayes—were standing guard behind him. The hangar was otherwise empty.
“Welcome back, Captain,” Shaw said as he lifted his head.
His face was gaunt, his eyes puffy from lack of sleep. They passed a worried look.
“Sir, I have a situation,” Bragg mumbled.
Shaw sighed and looked up to the ceiling in desperation. “What is it? You said you brought them.”
“Yes, Admiral. They’re here, just outside, taking in the sights. First of all, Missus O’Hara is sick, some unknown ailment. Second, I have two of my officers under arrest. I-I don’t think I can keep them on my ship. Navigator Roberts was listening in on our conversation, though I doubt she heard much of anything.”
Shaw painstakingly worked himself to his feet. His body was growing weak and achy from weeks of relentless stress. Bragg saw in the man’s disjointed gate, he was all but done in.
“Drop them off here. I’ll have to send them to Hellsview for a little while. Go ahead and bring the O’Haras in,” Shaw ordered.
Bragg left the hangar. He saw the old couple still looking at the dark expanse, the rustling foliage of trees in the distance. It seemed the sights, smells, and sounds had made them oblivious to the fact that there was no one around, no other buildings, no more colony.
“In here, please. The admiral wants to speak with you,” Bragg said as he held the door for them.
Once they entered, he shut the door behind them then he turned to his wrist comm. “Hollingsworth.”
“Sir?” Hollingsworth came back.
“Get Daughtry and McKellen, I need you three to bring the prisoners.”
“Yes, Sir. I’m on it.”
In an effort to loosen his neck, the captain rolled his shoulders. The three guards stepped off the Phoenix with prisoners in tow. Roberts and Michaels stared at Bragg with contempt. He looked away and marched back to the hangar door to swipe his I.D. again. He then held the door open as he motioned with his head for everyone to move inside.
He suddenly did a double-take; Admiral Shaw was gone, and so were the O’Haras. President Montrose was standing behind his menacing entourage. A tightlipped smile was pasted over his face.
“Mi-ster President,” Bragg choked.
Montrose gave a greasy grin. “At least, you got results,” he said as he ambled towards Bragg. “Are these the two who gave you problems?”
“Y-yes, Mister President,” the captain replied and stepped beyond the threshold. The door behind made a loud clank when it shut. “Shaw is ordering them to do time on Hellsview.”
Montrose grimaced and nodded in mock approval. He then turned to his men who stepped up to the soldiers.
“We’ll take it from here,” Shaughnessy said.
“Wait just a moment—” Bragg started.
“Shut up,” Montrose screamed.
Shaughnessy and Hayes wasted no time in manhandling the prisoners, though Hayes had to exert some extra effort to move Michaels. Bragg made eye contact with the young soldier. Neither of them knew what was happening.
“Captain?” Michaels gasped.
Bragg looked away, giving only a nod in weak reassurance. Michaels continued struggling a bit, but both prisoners were forced out through the hangar’s back door. Bragg turned to his guards.
“Back to the Phoenix,” he growled. The men saluted and left him. “Sir—” Bragg started to speak, but Montrose raised his hand.
The portly fellow closed his eyes and tilted his head back, exposing extra folds of flab from his collar. For a second, only silence prevailed. Montrose inhaled deeply. Suddenly, two, distinct claps resonated from outside—gunshots.
Bragg opened his mouth in horror. Montrose laughed. In an instant, the captain felt everything he believed in slip from his grasp like grains of sand. He had just led his men to their deaths. Montrose sauntered about in triumph.
“You’re grounded until I have further use of you. Return to your ship at once, Captain,” Montrose commanded.
He was at a loss. A surge of rage welled from within. Bragg gnashed his teeth and clenched his fists as he stomped towards Montrose. The President smiled as he produced a strange and menacing gun from inside his suit jacket. He pointed the sharp, angular, chrome barrel at Bragg.
“Ah, ah, ah,” Montrose admonished. “Back to the Phoenix.”
Bragg shook his head and regained his momentum. As he closed the distance, Montrose squeezed his trigger. A red beam flickered in the air. Bragg looked down to see a small hole in his gray shirt. He prodded at it with his finger. It had gone through the fabric and into his flesh, next to his liver. No pain set in, so he lunged, landing one solid punch in Montrose’s fat face, knocking him to the ground. Unfortunately, the President didn’t drop his weapon.
As Bragg lowered his body weight on one knee to deliver a second a blow, Montrose shot him again in the chest. That time, the captain felt searing pain; his abdomen convulsed, causing him to fall over. Bragg clutched at his chest. The laser had struck him in the sternum. Frightened, he tried to gasp for air, but was incapable. He flailed slightly as Montrose stood over him.
“You were the only one capable of accomplishing anything. A shame, really,” Montrose said in a low and grave voice.
Bragg started to cry as his life ebbed away. All he had wanted was to be a good soldier.
“I’m sorry….” Bragg gasped.
“Yeees, of course—” Montrose smiled.
“Sorry, John,” Bragg said with his last breath.
Montrose growled, loudly. “Up yours, you Navy trash!” he screamed and kicked Bragg’s body.
He then rubbed his cheek. The numbness wore off and pain settled in as he developed a powerful headache. Just then, the rear door opened. Shaw stormed into the hangar. From across the empty space, he saw the lifeless captain and ran over to his corpse.
He closed Bragg’s eyes as he buried his face in his chest. With tears in his eyes he turned to Montrose and stood in a fit of fury, his own fists clenched.
“What the Hell did you do that for?” Shaw screamed.
“Ah, ah, Admiral. You want to go down like him,” Montrose asked, pointing his gun at Shaw.
“I just made the O’Haras watch as your men killed those poor officers. Now, I have to watch you desecrate everything that makes Earth great! I swear, Montrose, when I get the chance, I’ll make you pay for everything you’ve done,” Shaw howled with a firmly pointed finger.
Montrose laughed then corrected Shaw with his own finger, “Everything you’ve done, Admiral…everything you’ve done.” The horror sank in. It was he, after all, who had failed to trust Lay and Riley. Shaw dropped to his knees, grabbed at his hair, and screamed. The empty hangar echoed. “Pick yourself up, you miserable lout. You don’t see the big picture, do you? Do you have any idea what I’m dealing with here? My family cursed me to this fate,” President Montrose pounded his chest as he spoke. “I’m doing everything I can for the benefit of Earth. What’s a few dead men compared to an eternity of alien rule?”
Shaw didn’t understand a word of what Montrose was saying. He looked at him with disgust.
“You’re an idiot, Shaw. You don’t understand anything…but that’s because you don’t know anything. Allow me to educate you.
“Ninety years ago, my family was buried in political affairs. An alien with the promise of power approached one of those geniuses. All he had to do was follow orders, and the Montrose name would come to rule all of Earth. He was too stupid to realize that all that power meant nothing if Earth had to bow its head to a race of alien assholes.
“All I want is what the captain knows. We both know he didn’t destroy these…Lokians, on his own. He allied himself with those Thewls and something else. I need him, so I can free myself and Earth from the grip of these damned Reptilians,” Montrose shouted.
Shaw was stunned. He wasn’t sure if Montrose spoke truthfully, or if he simply had lost his marbles. Then, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he thought about the Bohemian. He met Montrose’s fiery gaze, who looked back with an idiotic jiggle of the head, implying Shaw’s muddled stupidity had finally cleared. The admiral looked down to Bragg then back to Montrose.
“Now, we find a way to relay a message. I need O’Hara to know we have his parents, and I need him to know that if he tries anything, I’ll kill them,” Montrose huffed.
Shaw thought for a second. “Sir, if you kill them, O’Hara will never give you what you want; he isn’t weak like I am.”
Montrose frowned and nodded quite a bit. “Then, you figure something out. I’ll be holding the old fools on my vessel, and Shaw…if you try to take the Phoenix, I’ll blow it out of the sky,” Montrose added with a grin.
He nodded and made his way back to his office to begin the intricacies of sending a message to a man who didn’t want to be found.