Parallax Update #13: The Final Update

As much as I would love to continue these updates, I’m afraid that I’m almost at the end of this draft so I have to cut it off at this point. Parallax is down to a few scenes and I’m trying very hard to finish it up today. No, I’m not superstitious over the title number because it’s just a number. Parallax’s final count will be somewhere around 97,000 words or 388 pages. Anyway, enjoy:

Pratt removed a framed holograph from the last box and carefully placed it on a shelf above his cabin desk. It was an old picture taken at his Academy graduation. Nine years, he thought, as he studied the fresh-faced young ensign in full dress uniform standing with his parents in front of the traditional static Fighter Display that was popular for such things in Anchorage back then. Both of his parents had just received their first Admiral stars and though their expressions looked severe in the picture, he remembered afterward their pride as they congratulated him on his achievement. He made a few final placement adjustments before turning to stare out the small octagon cabin window. He was older than most of the other cadets at Twenty-Two, having attended a civilian college before bowing to family pressure to join the Navy. Still, he had no regrets. The Navy had been good to him. How was he ever going to return to that life? Would he be able?

The double knock on his cabin door and DuBois’s entry banished any further speculation. He turned and gave her a smile. “Took me a while, but I managed to get everything moved in and stowed. How are we doing?”

“The upgrades to Artemis’s Quantum Computers are phenomenal.” DuBois said, handing him a written report. “Inputting and integrating over 120 petabytes of information was no small task, but we got it all in and the computer has come up with some interesting data that points back to an ancient Signiferian underground base on Earth. You made the right decision, Jack.”

He bade her sit. “That’s not what I meant, Ariel. I was talking about how you’re holding up.”

She sat down and it was clear to Pratt that she felt awkward about talking about herself. “I don’t feel like myself, Jack, and my emotions are all over the place. I don’t know whether it’s because of these new perceptions I have or something else.”

“We’ve both gone through some changes.” Pratt nodded. “Some more profound than others.” He set the report aside. “Do you have any family back on Earth?”

“A few distant relatives, but no one close. You?”

Pratt gestured toward the holograph. “My parents. I have a sister and a brother, but they’re both working the ongoing Mars terraforming project. Last I heard they managed to increase the atmospheric density by almost 1 Percent.”

DuBois shook her head. “We’ve been trying to terraform Mars for almost 200 years. That planet just doesn’t want to behave.” She reached into a hidden pocket and retrieved a small brown box. “This came in for you earlier from Navy Command.”

Pratt opened the box and found two gold oak leaves and a set of platinum wings nestled in a bed of soft silver velvet cushioning. “Looks like I got my rank back and my Expert Wings.” He snapped the box shut and set it next to the holograph. “A hell of a time for them to toss me a reward.”

“You don’t have to go back.” DuBois said. “Remember, my original job was to recruit you for Alliance Intelligence. That hasn’t changed and you’d still be fighting to make a difference.”

Pratt stood and fought from scratching at his bandaged head. “That’s the thing, Ariel. I don’t want to keep fighting. No one should have to go through what I have for the past few months. I’m not some epic hero fighting for honor and glory. I’m just a guy trying to survive and do a job.”

“You just defined a Hero.” She replied. “Jack, a Hero doesn’t do what they do because there’s a reward in it. They do it because it needs to be done and no one else is stepping up to take charge. Remember what you told me about Pi1 Pegasi? You went against orders and took on a Locknar Capital Ship by yourself, giving the Defense Fleet the chance to regroup and push the Locknar out. That sounds like heroism to me.”

“I got lucky.”

She shrugged. “Sometimes, Luck is all we have to work with. My point is that you have to keep fighting because, like it or not, you don’t have a choice. Do you think that The Signiferians are going to just let us waltz out of here? Even if we do, they’re going to chase you all the way to Earth and beyond to get what they want.”

“Thanks for reminding me.”

“We’re partners. It’s in the job description somewhere.” She mused. “Somewhere in the back of the manual in teeny tiny print. Anyway, I’m stuck in this mess as well and I can’t do this without you.”

“Fine, twist my arm.” He took a deep breath, When he exhaled, he tried to force all his pent up frustration out in one massive push. “Where are we on launch preparations?”

“I filed our flight plan for 0700 tomorrow morning, but I left a notation to allow us an emergency launch option. Just in case.” Before he could speak, she raised a hand. “I have another surprise for you if you can take a few minutes away from your private brooding session.”

“Why not?” Pratt said, rising from his chair. “We have at least sixteen hours to kill before we have to do anything. Lead on.”

Pratt made mental notes as he followed DuBois out of his cabin and into the main corridor. His original inspection prior to signing off on the repairs and upgrades was confined to the Main Deck, so as he descended the ladder to the Cargo Hold, he was unprepared for what he found.

Most of the cavernous Hold was still as he remembered it, full of equipment racks and space for vehicle and mobile troop containers. As they went forward toward the ship’s bow, he noticed a doored bulkhead where an open space leading to Artemis’s Chin Turrets should be. He waited as she keyed in an access code before pushing the door open.

The flush-mounted deck hatch leading down to the Chin Turret was still there, but conveniently placed around the perimeter were several exercise machines and a few free-weight benches. Monitors adorned the bulkheads on three sides, causing him to raise an eyebrow.

“You installed a Weight Room.”

“Yeah, isn’t it great? I thought that despite the artificial gravity and healthy menu choices in the food dispensers that we could use with some good old fashioned calisthenics.” She grinned up at him as she tapped a control panel. A twin ring console rose up out of the deck. “We can also use this space as an Auxiliary Bridge in Emergencies. What do you think?”

“You installed a Weight Room.” Pratt took in the view, fighting to keep his temper in check. “Of all the things that could have been installed on the ship, you decided to put in a Weight Room.”

“I thought it was a good idea.”

“It is a good idea; when do you think we’re ever going to have a chance to use it?” Pratt swallowed his anger and forced a smile. “The last thing I’m going to worry about in the heat of battle is how many squats I need to do.” He walked over and studied the control consoles. They were pared down versions of the ones topside but very functional. “We have to remember that this is still a combat ship and we’re the only ones who will probably ever use this stuff.”

Pratt heard footsteps overhead. “Were we expecting visitors?”

DuBois beamed. “Our new crew. When the word came down that you were exonerated, everyone wanted to sign up. Pendrake did most of the selection process and sent me a list of ten of her most qualified people. Besides, we have crew quarters that are going empty and we need help in running this ship.”

“You should have told me.”

“I gave you a full report.”

Pratt remembered the data tablet that he had casually set aside on his desk. “Ah yes. How are we going to pay them? We’re not exactly the Intergalactic Bank of Pratt.”

“I took care of that, Jack.” DuBois replied. “I sent Alliance Intelligence an estimated budget of our expenses for the next five years and they advanced us the money. Of course, there was a small catch.”

“There’s always a small catch.” Pratt said, his anger rising again. “What the hell did you promise them?”

“Nothing extravagant. In return for a Half-Billion Credit Grant, I promised that we would undertake a few side missions for them from time to time with full discretion of whether or not we accept them.”

“In other words, they bought and paid for me.” Pratt rubbed his forehead as he took a seat on one of the weight benches. “I wish you would have said something to me first.”

“You would have said No.”

“You’re damned right I would have said No. I’m not a damn spy.”

“You wouldn’t be.” DuBois held her ground. “You and I are now officially transferred to the newly formed Alliance Investigative Service. Our job will be as Independent Investigators. Cops, if you want to use the old terms.”

“Oh Great.”

“Cheer up, Jack, you’re going to be able to fight the Signiferian Threat and be able to make the Galaxy safe for everyone.” She tapped him on the arm. “Ready to meet the crew?”

Pratt let out a frustrated grunt. “I suppose I don’t have much of a choice. This is still one very long, very long, Day.” He stood and followed her out.

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