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9.09% The Madman's Clock / Chapter 1: PROLOGUE
The Madman's Clock The Madman's Clock original

The Madman's Clock

Author: FraudOldMan

© WebNovel

Chapter 1: PROLOGUE

DATE: July 10, 2245

It wasn't supposed to end like this.

"Wormhole initiation ready," the lithe, disembodied female computer voice intoned coldly. It was the loudest voice on the bridge, and cut through the near-deafening noise like a torch through the fog. "Awaiting confirmation for final countdown."

The voice seemed to hover over top of the sirens, the voices both calm and panicked, and the deep hum of the experimental gear as it rattled the entire ship from its birth, deep in her hull. The computer's voice seemed to push aside the gunfire to my right, and the stark, increasingly desperate voices of my men. It swept aside the ceaseless, breathless muttering of the Captain's yeoman as he rattled off a constant stream of facts, figures, and reports, in total disregard of the chaos about him. He didn't see it. He didn't hear it. None of them did.

"Captain Paetkau," I snarled through my clenched teeth, "don't you fuckin' do it!"

The Captain's eyes had a faraway look, their deep blue offset by the flashing red of the alert lights. The red flash reminded us that the machinery deep within the ship was coming to life, as if we needed reminding. As if anything else in the universe mattered at all, beside the slow, excruciating progress of the experiment about to be run. That single matter was the Captain's entire existence, and nothing else mattered at all. Not to her, anyway.

She seemed to look right through me, directly toward the main status board on the far bulkhead. She squinted, and I could see that she was reading the endless streams of information that scrolled by too fast for me to comprehend. I watched the displays reflect in those distant pupils of hers, and mixed with the flashing red; she seemed possessed, almost alien. Was it her temporal psychosis doing that, or was I starting to feel the bite of that particular terror? I shook it off. No time to think about that. No time. No time!

"Captain," I said again, stepping closer, "you need to shut this down, right goddamn now."

"Mister Mallory," she said evenly, "you are a Captain of Marines, but I am the master of this ship. I give the orders here, not you." Her voice was as distant as her eyes, calling out from the far off status board which held her in its grip. It was as though she were actually standing there, on the far side of the bridge.

"Captain," I hissed in frustration, as my mind tried desperately to focus, despite the sirens and gunfire. "Captain, you are not hearing me. You aren't hearing a damned thing, are you?"

I pointed toward the starboard hatch, where my men were blazing away, their weapons flashing with every plasma burst. The air warped from the heat of it all. Still, I could still see Raj Sandhu's enraged face as he cut loose, his thoughts broadcast as clearly as could be, his expression almost as deadly as the pulse rifle in his hands. David Forres and Kyle Taggart were giving just as much hell to the enemy, but Kyle was bleeding heavily from a shoulder wound. His face was already drained of color from the blood lose.

"They're right down the starboard passageway," I barked, stabbing the air with my finger. "We can't hold them off forever."

Captain Paetkau shook her head, her tight, black ponytail waving behind her. Her cap kept the overhead lights from her eyes, but I could see well enough how they held to that status board. "It doesn't matter," she said. "This experiment will run its course. I have my orders."

She pulled a small, red keycard from her left breast pocket, and before I could tear it from her fingers, she inserted it into the console in front of her.

"No!" I snarled again. "Listen to me! This experiment is a failure. Ship security is compromised, and I have orders to shut you down!"

"Card accepted," the computer echoed over the din. "Awaiting verbal confirmation."

"Captain," I yelled in her ear, so close to her now that I could smell the scent of navy-issue soap on her skin. "Stop!"

"Authorization six-echo," Paetkau spoke into her headset without passion or hurry. "Confirmed for final countdown. Begin now, please."

"No! Fuck!" I screamed into her ear, though she didn't seem to notice. She didn't hear me at all, anymore. Her focus was absolutely locked on seeing this damn thing through, as though nothing existed but this moment. Her psychosis was total, all-consuming.

"Ten seconds to initiation," the computer confirmed, starting its countdown.

The hum grew louder, and the deck began to vibrate. I felt it inside me, the rattle shaking my bones. My ears seemed filled with the deep, endless hum. It made my nauseous. I wanted to puke.

"Captain!" I heard the voice calling out from my left, but I didn't clue in right away, as I tried to force my voice into Paetkau's consciousness. The voice grabbed at me again. "Captain Mallory!"

I turned to the voice. It was Kyle. "Sergeant Taggart, report!" Anywhere else, it would have been just 'Kyle.' Here though, my instincts barked out the formality without me even thinking about it.

Kyle was breathing heavily, the adrenaline overload and blood loss starting to have its way with him. He was crashing, but holding on through sheer willpower. His voice cut through the rattling gunfire and sounds of impacts like a hot knife through butter.

"We can't hold them back much longer!" he hollered.

"How many are out there?" I asked.

As I asked, the ship lurched to port, and I grabbed hold of the rail in time to stop myself from being thrown to the deck. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that Captain Paetkau and her yeoman didn't lose their balance at all. I saw that the rest of the crew were the same. It was as though they were fastened to the deck, or part of the ship itself. The sense of that was stronger than ever, now. I was watching something from within, yet I was somehow removed from it.

"Too fucking many!" Kyle called back. "I'm seeing ten, but it feels like twenty. They're throwing a lot of shit at us!"

"How long, Sergeant?" I asked, knowing the answer before hearing it.

"They're pushing hard," he yelled as his rifle spat plasma fire through the hatch. I heard a scream from somewhere downrange. "Not long. If you're gonna do something," he started but didn't finish, as he turned back to the fight.

"Nine seconds," the computer announced.

"Captain Paetkau, listen to me," I tried, desperate to reach her.

"No, Captain," she muttered distantly. "This experiment will run its course. I have my orders."

I growled, and shook my head. I might as well beg the bulkheads to bend. In desperation, I tore the Captain's keycard from the console, in the faint hope that it would shut down the countdown, or at least disrupt it. The console, a fireworks display of flashing status indicators and data streams, barely seemed to notice my actions, as though it was just as removed from reality as this ship's Captain.

"Everything is fine. This experiment will go ahead," the Captain said evenly, eyes still locked on the waterfall flow of readouts and displays. "I have my orders."

Then, for no reason I could guess at, she turned to look at me, her eyes suddenly wide and fierce. I felt her reach out to me with them, as though through sheer will she could crush me. I swallowed hard, standing my ground, ready for whatever she had for me. At least I had her attention. Then her yeoman muttered something inaudible from her left, and she returned her attention to the status board. Once more, I was outside her notice, outside her universe. Whatever she was about to do, the ship, the experiment, all of it, drew her back in.

"Eight seconds," the computer blared indifferently.

I heard a scream of pain, and turned in time to see Raj collapse against the hatch. Blood spurted out through a wound in his right arm, along with the smoke from the burned flesh. Taggart and Forres were covered in the gory spray, but neither stopped shooting. In a moment, Raj was back on one knee, firing again.

They yelled as they fired, their anger a weapon all its own. They were falling back on their deepest, most instinctual core training, and drawing on every mental weapon they had. The silent, calm professionalism that recon squads were known for was being set aside, but they were not losing their heads. They were digging deep, just like the United Earth Marine Corps taught us to do. Dig deep enough into a fighting marine, and you found more fight. It went right to our core.

"Seven seconds."

I contemplated stepping in; adding my own pistol to the fight, but another shudder from the ship brought me back to my mission. I turned back to Captain Paetkau. She stood straight and still, her hands behind her back as she watched the status board. It was green, seeming not to notice the problems which I knew were there. The board seemed as oblivious as the crew, as single minded as the Captain. The red alert light blanketing the bridge now shifted to green, matching the status boards. The machine below was ready.

"Six seconds."

"Fuck!" I yelled in frustration.

The seconds seemed to stretch out painfully, and I felt like I was trying to run underwater. Everything took too long, and I had no time. No time. No time, goddammit! I looked around me. I had no idea how this ship worked. I had no idea how to shut it all down, and reaching the ship's engineering decks was impossible. I squeezed the railing in frustration, as though I could crush my problems with my bare hands. The metal railing did not give out, nor did the problems blaring around me.

"Five seconds."

"They're coming through!" Taggart hollered.

I turned to see the furious rain of enemy fire tear into the bulkhead just over Kyle's head. Forres growled at the singe of hot metal which caught the side of his neck, but he didn't even stop to check the wound. All three men flipped their rifles to full-auto and started blazing away. Their eyes flashed with each burst, and Kyle's roar almost overtook the thumping racket of the weapons themselves. They stepped into the passageway, out of cover, and out of sight.

"Four seconds."

"Wormhole origin is on the scope and active, Captain," one of the crew called out. "It is a clean opening."

Captain Paetkau nodded. 'Very well," she said calmly. "Start reaching out."

She was waiting for the next bit of information. It came quickly.

"Wormhole destination is opening," the voice called from another station. "We have a clear corridor, Captain. Sensors have found the beacon."

"Three seconds."

I took a deep breath, and drew my pistol. The pistol grip felt good in my hand, a sense of control in the midst of chaos, like a life preserver in the hands of a drowning man. I pressed the weapon against the Captain's right temple. She barely seemed to notice. Her hands stayed behind her back, and she didn't even blink at the feeling of the cold metal barrel. She looked down at her board, its indecipherable flood of data telling her everything, yet hiding its secrets from me.

"Captain!" I was screaming like a lunatic. Maybe I was mad. Maybe we all were. "Shut it down! Shut it down now, or I'm gonna blow your fuckin' head off!"

"Two seconds," that bitch of a computer announced, as though it secretly laughed at my impotence from behind its calm voice.

"Now!" I shouted over the ever-increasing rattle and hum.

"One second."

Just then, ever so slowly, she turned her head to me. Her blue eyes reflected the dancing lights of the board in front of her. They gave her an almost demonic glare, yet there was nothing behind those eyes except the unmovable determination to see this experiment run.

"I have my orders," she said as though we were standing on a quiet bridge. That had been long ago or maybe just thirty minutes ago. "This experiment will run its course. Everything is fine."

I shook my head. She was as deaf to my warnings now as she had been when we first stepped onto the bridge of this damned ship.

"I have my orders," she said for what seemed like the thousandth time.

"So do I!" I yelled.

I started to squeeze the trigger. I knew it wouldn't make the slightest difference.

It wasn't supposed to end like this.

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