"Eric, you have a visitor," Sierra said quietly.
Eric frowned, wondering who could be visiting him. It was still early. As he stared at the door of his cabin, considering the situation, his mind drifted back over the past seven days. After escaping the facility with Sierra and Luna, he'd been prepared for a lot of things. Prepared to die of starvation or dehydration, prepared to die of the cold if the power failed, prepared to wait it out to the bitter end. But, it seemed that he'd caught a lucky break.
A ship arrived within twelve hours, a cargo hauler that happened to be heading for the station, unaware that anything was wrong. When they had found Eric, they'd rescued him...and then they'd detained him. Even in his burned out state, he knew what it looked like. He was the lone survivor of the entire installation that had been destroyed. He'd tried explaining the situation to the crew of the cargo ship, but they seemed to think he was crazy. Even more luckily, before anything unfortunate could happen, another S & R ship showed up.
Eric happened to know the captain of that particular crew, as they'd worked on a mission together a few months ago, and the captain officially took him into custody. Once onboard, he and Luna had been treated for any and all injuries, then, he and Sierra had been subjected to a full debriefing. Sierra had managed to snag a great deal of information relating to the creatures on the infoclip she was stored on. On top of that, Eric's suit, which had camera built into the helmet that had been running the entire time, had recorded its own huge compilation of raw data.
Between the two of them, they convinced the Search & Rescue crew. They weren't entirely sure what to do with him or who to pass him off to, so he stayed with them for an additional day while they made some calls and ran extensive scans on the asteroid and the region around it. They found absolutely no traces of life, nor any remnants of the inter-dimensional energy signature, much to Eric's immense relief.
Finally, the captain managed to get in touch with a contact he'd made in Spec Ops, who seemed like the right kind of people to handle something like this. They got two ships out there pronto, one of them taking over the investigation and another ferrying Eric, Sierra, and Luna back towards civilized space. They debriefed him and Sierra all over again, then brought the three of them back to a military space station.
From there, the man who'd interviewed him, a stern-faced, middle-aged guy named Ingram, told him that he had to consult with a few people to determine the best course of action. Eric knew that was military speak for 'sit down, shut up, and wait while we determine whether or not we want to throw you in prison'. He didn't have any fight left in him and they were at least nice enough to put him up in temporary quarters, so he complied.
They also let Luna and Sierra stay with him.
He'd been here for a few days now, recovering, sleeping through most of it. His muscles still ached and he had terrible nightmares, but he was safe and Luna tended to sleep against his legs, which helped him feel better. He had made it out alive. And now it was the dawn of the eighth day since his escape from Theseus Station. He'd awoken, had some breakfast and had just finished getting dressed after a long shower.
Maybe they'd decided what to do with him.
Eric moved over to the door and opened it up. He was surprised to see someone new standing in the doorway, he'd been expecting Ingram. Instead, this man was much older. He had a shaved head, a scrim of white stubble staining his jawline and very sharp green eyes. He wore a simple black jumpsuit with no insignia, but he was definitely military, he held himself with ramrod precision despite his advanced age and had a pistol on his hip.
"Hello," he said, his voice very rough and gravelly. "My name is William Hawkins. May I come in?" he asked.
"Uh...sure," Eric replied, stepping back out of the way.
The man named Hawkins stepped inside.
"So...uh...what's this about?" Eric asked, going and sitting down.
"I'll cut to the chase," Hawkins replied, fixing him with his intense gaze. "I read up on your actions on Theseus Station. It made for very impressive reading. I'm the head of a...unique and relatively new branch of the government. We're small, we only have one ship and a couple of dozen crew, but we're growing, and we have a very special assignment."
"And what would that be?" Eric asked.
"We hunt down and eliminate or contain alien, paranormal, or otherwise supernatural threats and phenomena," Hawkins replied.
Eric studied the man. He was deadly serious, not a trace of humor. There was no way he was joking, and obviously he must have very high clearance to get onto a military space station and see a detainee like Eric. On top of that, the man exuded command and authority and, above all else, authenticity.
"Are you offering me a job?" he asked after a moment.
"Yes. You are clearly a survivor. You made it through that mess when everyone else around you didn't. You took on an utterly alien, unknown, unknowable situation, and you triumphed. You have a military background, you're still in good shape, you're quick-witted and can think on your feet, you'd be perfect for this job."
"I did have help," Eric replied. "My teammates, Sierra."
"That doesn't make the success any less impressive."
Eric frowned, considering it for a long moment. He knew he should be shocked or surprised or something, but after everything that had happened, even with a week of recovery, his emotions still felt numb and dislocated.
"I'm not the most mentally stable of people," he admitted.
"We have therapists onboard and access to all manner of chemical-balancing drugs," Hawkins replied.
Eric sighed. "What would I actually be doing if I signed up for this? What kind of sacrifices would I have to make?"
"It won't be easy, but you'll have special clearance to get whatever you need and to wherever you need. You'll have downtime between missions. You'll have a crew of dedicated professionals and seasoned veterans that you'll be able to rely on. You likely won't have to worry about money again. You will, however, have to live on my ship. Vacations are definitely an option, but, of course, you won't be able to tell anyone about this. And, of course, you'll have to face down new and unique threats and figure out how to deal with them. Even with your instincts and survival abilities, you could die, and die horribly, during any one of these missions."
Eric considered it for a moment.
"What do you think, Sierra?" he asked.
"I think this sounds like a good idea," Sierra replied.
Eric snorted. "I'll go on one condition."
"What's that?" Hawkins asked.
"I get to bring my cat and Sierra."
Hawkins smiled and stuck out his hand. "Mister Starck, you have yourself a deal."
Eric took the grizzled old man's hand and shook it.
YOU ARE READING
The twelfth novel in The Shadow Wars. Eric Starck is a man adrift. After fighting in the Systems Wars that ravaged the galaxy, he's spent the past three years drifting from one job to the next, never quite feeling comfortable. The latest in a long l...