A Bridge Too Far

Klocehk ushered Plisken into a small room, just off from the operating theatre. It was cramped, filled with shelving units laden with devices suited to three fingered hands. It wasn’t a cupboard, more like a large storage locker. Although it seemed that it was used for more than just storage as what seemed like a game of chess of some kind had been set up in the corner, two Monee Frogks playing as Plisken and Klocehk entered. Silently in the corner, two grotesquely ‘enhanced’ cyborgs stood silently vigil over the game, their humanity barely visible.
Klocehk made a series of rapid clicks and hisses and whistles, speaking to the others of his species in the room. The others stood up, abandoning their game, one overjoyed at not having to lose, and walked cautiously over to Plisken.
“Friends,” said Klocehk with a smile, or what Plisken presumed was a smile.
One of the aliens extended a hand to great Plisken, obviously the handshake being more universal than was previously thought. Plisken took the hand warmly, though it was in his metal arm which was probably quite cold, but eyed the Monee Frogk with suspicion. He did the same with the other.
“These are others. Think like me. Think like you,” Klocehk explained.
“What do you mean?”
“They want new life. For… not-old ones of same blood?”
“Chil-reen,” repeated one of the other Monee Forgks.
“Yes,” said Klocehk excitedly, as if Plisken’s intimidation had unlocked a long suppressed passion within him, “We have been talking. We want to move. Ssssko wants new home for wife, he old and want new home.”
“So if you are all against this, why capture us, restrain us and then experiment on us?”
“Not all like that. Sometimes there is little choice. Some enjoy it. Many do not. But we have little choice. As warrior, as soldier, you know this, correct?”
Plisken silently nodded.
Ssssko spoke up, a slow and deliberate phrasing to his sounds, taking care when speaking them, almost like they were a prayer. Plisken turned to Klocehk for translation.
“It is a translation of long dead words, words taught to us by the Man of X. It is a common mantra among our people. In your language it would mean ‘The World is Cast in Shades of Grey –“
“And no action is exempt,” finished Plisken.
“Oh, so you know it?”
“Hmm, from a long time ago.”
The as-of-yet unnamed Monee Frogk spoke excitedly, high pitched and rapid whistles echoing through out the storage locker.
“Yess, yess, young Clekklock,” said Klocehk with a smile, “I will ask.” Klocehk turned to Plisken. “Are young one asks if there are many bars on your home, he hopes you will take us away soon.”
Plisken laughed, “Well, there are a couple. I’ll show you –“
Plisken was cut off mid sentence. Horror began to unfold before him, and for the first in a long time, it was not a scene from a memory. Tortured screeches grinded from their mouths as they collapsed into a pile on the floor, their arms helplessly clawing at their heads as unimaginable horrors raced through their minds.
“No! No! No! No!” cried Plisken as he rushed to their aid, trying to think of something he could do. He’d been a Doctor but nothing he knew, or could remember, was of any use. This, this was exactly the kind of thing he knew would happen. These were not weapons. Not tools to be used in war. Not instruments for fighting a cause. These weren’t even machines of death. They were vile. The kind of things madmen dream up in their cells as they search for new ways of killing.
But finally it stopped. Plisken lay knelt on the floor beside Klocehk, the beast’s lifeless body finally coming to a still. Plisken took a moment, gulping down and suppressing his feelings, the only thing that would get him through. What had he just seen? 1000 years of conflict and nothing, nothing he had seen through Three World Wars, the Hinterlands, not even the Fall of the Crucible during the 22nd Prussian War, compared to this. The, the shock of it. Plisken searched around the room looking for anything worse than this so that he might stop thinking about it. And only three things came to mind, and only one he could bare thinking about and it was the only one he could deal with. Plisken closed his eyes, breathing in the dead ridden air around him, the taste striking at his soul. Images of a collapsing galaxy filled his mind, the Collapse of the Seven Galaxies.
He was ready, the memory of today squashed under something worse. Plisken stood up, searching the room for something useful. A chess set, of which he knew nothing about, a scanning device which seemed to resemble a spoon (little to Plisken’s knowledge, it was a spoon) and the two cyborgs still standing over the chess game.
“So what are you waiting for?” Plisken asked the cyborgs, “The wizard to give you a heart?”
“The Cyborgs turned to each other, and then turned to look around as if they had just woken up. The prosthetic eye ‘enhancements’ whirred and spun as they scanned the room. Finally they clicked into an upright position again and faced Plisken.
“Resource – 236,” one of the cyborgs spoke up, “That is my designation.”
Plisken turned to the other, “And you?”
“I am called Seven of Nine.”
“Of course you are,” sighed Plisken.
“No, wait, Psychic Grid mis-wiring brain patterns. Resource 559. That is my designation.”
Plisken crept closer to the cyborgs, trying to see what was left of them after they had been converted into – into this. Everything seemed to be plated in a black steel and only the grey skinned and lifeless faces remained to show that they had, at one time, been human.
“So what are your names?” asked Plisken as he examined the cyborgs. They seemed unphased as Plisken tapped the metal plating, fiddled with the exposed wiring and stared them straight in their one living eye.
“Resource 559. That is –“
“No, I asked for your names.”
The cyborg stuttered as it search its databanks for an answer, “I – I – cannot remember.”
“Neither can I,” said the other.
Plisken stepped back from his inspection and stood at eye level with them, looking at them like people. “So, do you know what happened?”
“Please specify.”
“Mr. 236, what killed the Monee Frogks? What killed them?”
“An impulse was sent though the Psychic Grid.”
“Yes, I gathered that much. Who, who did it?”
“Triangulating places the attack from near Resource 219.”
“Joshua?” asked Mr. 236, a pang of his humanity rising to the surface.
“And so, he did it?”
“The Cloud reads that Joshua is dead,” said Mr. 559, ignoring Plisken, “Terminated several moments ago.”
Mr. 236 turned away, and Plisken could see that he wanted to cry but could not understand how.
“He left a message in the Cloud. He says: “Cass is a friend. Trust her and ancients, They killed the torturers.”
Plisken stepped back, his old metal arm coiling into a fist. With a roar he lashed out against the wall, a serious dent appearing in the metal. She was no different to her. Mr. 236 and Mr. 559 jumped at the impact, taking Plisken by surprise. Perhaps they weren’t entirely lost.
“Ladar indicates a small shuttle landing nearby. A Starbug.”
“Well, at least she got us a way off of here.”
“Can we come with you?” asked Mr. 236, a tear finally forming in the corner of his eye, it was shed for his fallen friend.
“No,” Plisken said with authority, the pair of cyborgs taken aback. “I would guess that there are a fair few of you on this planet. You are going to need to band together if you want to survive.”
“Is it because she killed your friend?” asked Mr. 236.
“What?” Plisken asked angrily.
“We see everything on the base. You liked them.”
“It doesn’t matter, there is no way we could get you all on the Dwarf anyway. It’s not like I have a mass transporting device on hand, is it?”
“Oh, you are kidding me. Are you saying that this base has a device that can transport all of you onto the Dwarf?”
The two cyborgs stood silently, just the clicks and whirs of their machinery.
Well, they would need to transport resources on and off the ships… Thought Plisken.
“Damn it,” show me where it is then, “If I can’t save them, then I can try and save you. Not like you can survive on your own anyway…” he trailed off into a mumble as he tried to justify increasing the amount of residents on the ship.
“We will all thank you,” said Mr. 236, clearly the emotional one of the couple.
“Don’t ever mention it.”
Plisken climbed into Starbug, probably the last one on board. Inside were all the Dwarfers… except one. Plisken took nothing of it and presumed that Phi was just late, she usually was, and took a seat opposite Cass at the table. Plisken’s eyes burned into Cass, the grey storms of his eyes whipped up into a maelstrom.
“We need to talk when we get back,” Plisken said softly, so that no-one else heard, but tried to retain an edge to his words.
“We need to talk now,” Cass said, brushing aside Plisken’s words. Starbug’s doors slide closed and the engines began to hum. Plisken’s head whipped around wildly as he searched for Phi. Cass didn’t say anything else but Plisken knew, he was old enough to know. In anger he stood up and kicked the chair away from him, the metal frame clattering across the kitchen floor.
Damn it.

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