Blank: Begin Again (Short Story 1 of The Blank Series)

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Blank: Begin Again

They could have deactivated me within seconds. Not anymore.

The strain from being inside the wormhole without a harness sent me careening from the main console onto the deck. I wasn't thinking about my odds of escape or my chance for survival. All I knew was I had managed to steal a military reconnaissance vessel, a bullet-shaped shuttle meant for short missions. It was sleek, spotless, and hadn't been commissioned yet. The bridge could seat a crew of four, though I was the only one aboard.

I got to my knees.

"Where are we?" I asked Axiom, the shuttle.

"We are 8 AU from Earth."

I stumbled to my feet and sat down at the helm. The planet before me invoked a grin as I witnessed the smooth icy rings encircling Saturn for the first time. The gas giant's largest moons were specks of yellow and white sprinkled around the pale-yellow planet, with faint swirls of brown and grey hues wrapped around it. I snapped out of it when another stealth vessel appeared from the same wormhole.

"Turn shadow mode on."

"Initiating shadow mode," replied Axiom.

The ghost filters on the shuttle activated to manipulate the vessel's emitted and reflected radiation to match that of its surroundings. My vessel was now concealed. The other shuttle initiated the same tactic and it too dissipated into the background. Their position no longer displayed on the main console map.

A subspace hail came through on the comms system.

I contemplated the urge to ignore it. The smooth, low beeps cut through the silence at one second intervals. Twenty seconds passed before I finally decided it was better to know who was aboard.

"Let the message go through one way."

Aura! Aura Swain! Surrender immediately, that's an order from the Solar Government Space Force. Any resistance and you WILL be fired upon.

Warrant Officer 1 Soren Stowe. He'd survived the blow to the head. Like a cockroach. Somehow, I knew he would.

Then another voice.

Aura, this is 2nd Lieutenant Fuentes. Please, don't do this. This is treason.

Arlo. A desperate breath escaped my chest, though I didn't even need to breathe in this bot body. I was a machine with only my human consciousness intact. The rest of me was dead.

I wished I could have taken him with me. But he was still human... he would only slow me down.

"Breached Fault Protection. Incoming missile, auto-maneuvering sequence initiated," said Axiom.

"Disable Fault Protection. Sever any way this shuttle could be detected."

"Initiating Disabling Sequence."

The missile's trajectory gave away their position. I had no weapons aboard. I knew that much about this half-stocked vessel. The display screen revealed the weapon would fail to make contact.

Another voice came through.

Swain, this is Senior Spacer Mintero. Come on now, you have us out here at zero-dark-thirty chasing you around Saturn. I must say though, your choice in escape routes is quite nice—

Teddy, not now.

It was Arlo again—addressing me as though we hadn't been lovers for the past ten months.

Swain, listen. It's not too late to change your mind. Look, I know it hasn't been easy for you, with the job reassignment... but it will only get worse if you don't come back now. Please... don't do this...

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