The cockpit filled with the tinny, metal tapping of Bolts' feet as he walked from panel to panel, monitoring the instruments. His hands moved magnetically to all the dials and switches. He seemed content to be completing his purpose of keeping the ship moving in the right direction while the two Rangers slept in their bunks.
The ship didn't have any rooms. The largest space with a door was the w.c. The beds were placed along the walls, behind the cockpit. If you continue past them, the ship opens up to the small cargo hold. This is where the kitchenette is located as well.
Bolts was ticking his way over to the main panel when an orange light started blinking and chiming on a panel to the side panel. "Oh! We must be close! Time to wake them!" He headed over to the passage where Jak and Ducky were strapped down onto racks, asleep.
As he reached Jak's side, he stopped, aimed his head upward, and started blaring a loud klaxon. "Bwah! Bwah! Bwah!"
Jak and Ducky jerked awake. They both started fighting against the straps, trying to release themselves. Duck was the first to get free. As he pulled the strap off, he kicked off the wall towards the cockpit. His foot kicked Bolts' head, who stopped the alarm, and turned to face him.
"Sir! There's someone trying to communicate!"
Jak slowed his struggles as he registered what was going on. Ducky on the other hand started turning red in the face. His hair and face became the same bright red. He glared at the small bot. "You mean you made that "NOISE" because of the radio?"
Bolts obviously didn't know what the problem was. In fact, it seemed as though he didn't even notice what had just happened. "Of course! You never know who it could be! It could be important."
Jak had finally undone his straps and was floating to the forward panel where he grabbed the pilot's seat to stop his movement. He was smiling as he flicked the switch to the comms. "This is Captain Jak Quasar. Who is this?" Ducky was yelling at Bolts behind Jak.
"I don't care who it is! Unless we've been hit by an asteroid, are hurdling towards a planet, or we've been, god forbid, boarded then and only then are you to blare that infernal alarm!"
"But, sir, what would you have me do, instead?"
"I don't care! Shake us, let the ship's alarms tell us, or answer it."
"But I'm not programmed to answer comms."
"Fine. Well, now you have permission. So, learn." He turned, shaking his head and drifted to Jak's side.
"This is Saturn Station. We've been expecting you, Captain Quasar."
"I hoped you were. I hear you have a package for me to pick up."
"That we do, sir. Dr. Wire has been waiting by the landing port at the authority office."
Jak and Ducky looked at each other. "Authority office? I hope there's no trouble."
"Not at all, sir. She's just telling her family goodbye."
The two men had been smiling at each other until that statement. Then they looked at each other puzzled. Jak turned his head back to the radio.
"Did you say, 'She'?"
"Yes, sir. Dr. Simone Wire?"
Ducky looked back to Jak, "Did he say, Simone?"
Jak nodded. "It seems we were misinformed. Doesn't change anything. Let's get her loaded up."
Turning and drifting to the cargo hold, Ducky told Jak, "It doesn't change anything? It's a woman. Everything has just changed."
He couldn't help but smile at his friend's reaction. "We're do we need to land," he asked while chuckling.
"Please direct your craft to landing platform G-53, Captain." The radio made a static click as the line closed.
Jak could still hear Ducky talking from the rear of the ship. He pulled himself down into his chair and strapped into it. He flicked a light that indicated the ship would be entering gravity, so that Duck would know, but he didn't need to interrupt his rant. He let out another laugh as he gripped the ship's joystick and steered it toward the shiny, silver, spinning space station.
In the time it had taken to steer the ship to the station, both men had pulled on their full space suits and locked their helmets down. The landing pad was a circular platform that extended out from the center tube. Jak brought the ship down and extended the landing gears. Once touched down, the two men gathered by the door. They checked each other's hoses and rigs one last time, then opened the rocket's exit.
Except for the artificial lighting, it was dark. Very dark. If they strayed to the edge of the walkway it became so dark they couldn't see where they were placing their feet. It was about a thirty foot walk to the door into Saturn Station. Ducky was looking around. When he looked up he sighed heavily.
"Uh oh. I heard that sigh," said Jak.
"Huh? Oh. Yeah. Sorry. I just thought we'd see Saturn. I've never been this far."
"I didn't realize. The station should be coming around in a few. Maybe we'll catch it on the way back. There's observation decks inside as well."
"Yeah. Means a lot more when there's nothing holding you back. It's just you and the world."
They had reached the door. As Jak punched the button for the hatch to open into the airlock, he looked back and smiled at Ducky, "Commander Shakespeare? After you."
Once past the airlock, they walked helmetless into a long, gravity-less tunnel where they could float up to the circulating ring. The only sound came from their suits clinking into the walls and the constant hum. Eventually, when you've traveled in the cosmos long enough, you drown out the hum. But the silence was too loud and the hum highlighted it.
After about sixty feet, there was a larger hatch with a wheel lock. Ducky grabbed tight and started turning it. It turned about ninety degrees and the seal popped. As the door open, they could see a large group of people sitting in a common area. They all looked up at them. At this moment, the two men were looking down. From the hatch was a ladder going outward. Once they exited the tube, they would be hit with the simulated gravity of the station where the outside walls are the floors. Jak always thought of hamsters.
They climbed down the ladder and planted their feet on the floor. They were hoping someone would be there to greet them, but the look on everyone's face suggested they weren't "welcoming". After they saw who was coming down the ladder, most went about their business. A few looked on for a while longer, but had a puzzled look. Jak decided it was best to check signage before asking for directions.
They followed the direction of the rotation as they walked. The offices were no more than square sheds spaced evenly along the walls. They were scanning the station for anything that may be useful before they leave as well as the sign to the authority office. The shops were all empty. In fact, the only place they seen people was in that common area sitting. In fact, everyone was in a relaxed state.
"How's a station supposed to maintain itself if no one's working?" asked Ducky.
Jak was really concerned and couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong with these people. They weren't doing anything. As in, nothing. They sat, leaned, or simply stood. No one was talking, reading, or anything. They just stared off into the distance once they noticed the two men. Jak saw a sign with an orange arrow and the words "Station Authority" and pointed it out to Ducky.
"There. Let's make our way and ask someone there what's going on."
The commander nodded and they walked "up" the ring to an open area full of the small sheds. Each one had a name plate on the door, but that wasn't going to help them since they only knew the doctor's name and she wasn't linked to station authority. Fortunately, the seating area wasn't contained in a shed. Positioned about twenty feet away and angled away and up from them, they could see the light, honey colored hair of a woman. Next to her was three luggage cases. Jak nodded her direction to Ducky who nodded back at him.
She must have heard their steps, because she turned as they were approaching. She had her hair tied into a bun on the back of her head. Her face had a light layer of makeup and her lips shone a soft pink. As she locked eyes with them she straightened her posture and marched towards them with her hand outstretched.
"Greetings, gentlemen. I am Doctor Simone Wire, pleased to meet you, finally."
The two men slowed their pace before they raised their own. And Ducky's was a little hesitant. This was something Jak noticed in his peripheral. He looked at Ducky's face, but made no mention.
"Pleased to meet you, Doctor. I'm Captain Jak Quasar and this is my right hand, Commander Mallard. Duck for short." She smiled coyly and shook each of their hands. "I see you're just as ready to ship out as we are. It's odd. I rather assumed we'd have a crowd. Being we're headed into unknown space."
Doctor Simone looked over her shoulders. She had a nervous look. Like an upset stomach. She turned back and leaned towards them.
"There's something going on here. I was stationed on Titan, but was to meet you gentlemen here. No one has spoken to me. I've only seen about twenty people in total."
Jak and Ducky turned to each other. "We saw a few on the walk here," said Ducky.
"She's right. There's supposed to be a total of 186 habitants on board," Jak said.
"Should we send a message home?" asked Duck.
"That'll take too long. If there's more people here they could be in trouble." Quasar held his chin in his hand while staring at the floor. Through the floor. The amount of time between the message being sent to the time help could arrive was too great a risk. There were families on board.
"Excuse me. Captain?" Her voice was soft. Yet it somehow pulled him out of his concentration. He turned to see her holding up a finger and giving an awkward smile. "Captain. I hate to interrupt, but if I could get on the ship and off of this nightmare, I'd like that."
"Well, you're free to suit up and head out. Bolts is out there ready and willing to help you settle in. However, I feel that me and Duck need to take a look around." Ducky nodded in agreement. The Doctor on the other hand was a little taken aback by this.
"I'm sorry, Captain, but I'm just not sure that this takes precedence over our mission. If anything happens here before we even launch-"
"Then it's on my head. This is my mission first and foremost, miss. So, please, you're free to head to the ship," Jak raised his hand in a "this way" gesture and smiled.
Doctor Simone grabbed the handle of the cart holding her luggage and pulled away with a "humph", headed to the airlock.
The two men watched as she strolled up and out of view. They smiled at one another before they got serious. "So, where do we start?" asked Duck.
"We need to find anyone in charge. See what they can tell us. We spoke to someone over the radio, so let's get these suits off and head to communications." Ducky responded with a "Right!" and the two men shed they're space suits and headed on around the loop, again.
The maze of gravity-less corridors was almost hypnotizing. They were all a bright egg shell white with all the exposed wires and tubes running throughout. Neon white lights illuminated. Every few feet there was a window with clear views of Saturn on one side and a very small Jupiter, very far away on the other. The hum was still there. The two men had shed their bulky space suits and were in their standard Space Ranger uniforms. They were bright red with shiny chrome shoulders, belts, gloves, and boots. Around their necks were silver bands with wires stretching into their left ears. The loss of weight made floating through the tight space less claustrophobic.
"The Doctor has arrived and is currently touring the ship. Is there any way I can be of assistance?" It sounded as if the small metal being was on their shoulders speaking directly into their ears.
Jak held two fingers to his ear. "No, Bolts, I think we have it under control. If you could, though, see the Doctor Wire is properly put away and then have her contact us. I have a couple more questions." He looked over to his right where Ducky was floating alongside him. The shared eye contact was an acknowledgment between the men. They had the same questions.
Ahead of them was three closed hatchways. One was facing them at the end, the other two were to the right and above it. Next to the hatch in front was posted a sign stating that the direct door was to administrative, the top went to communications, and the right was just labeled as authorized crew only.
"We found comms. We'll be in touch, Bolts. Quasar out." Both men moved forward. Jak grabbed the hatch and pulled it open. Inside was another white tube of an airlock leading to a second hatch. Moving through this doorway brought them to a circular room with monitors and seats spread across every wall and ceiling. There were too many monitors, in fact, for there was only one station occupied.
Duck spotted the man first. He was angled off to the left and slightly inverted along the wall. His black hair looked greasy and the skin they could see was almost grey. He was pressing buttons and flipping switches. Lights flashed all over like small twinkling stars of multiple colors. The man made no movement to show he knew of their presence.
Jak was moving slowly towards the man when from behind, Ducky called out, "Excuse me! Sir? Excuse me!" Jak looked back annoyed and gave a 'What was that?' expression.
The man continued to push buttons. Jak craned his neck trying to see his face, but it was hard to see with the flashing lights of red, blue, and green in front of him and the blackness surrounding. He thought he saw something in the man's eyes for just a brief moment. It looked like it's eyes were shining. Ducky reached up to touch the man's shoulder, "Excuse me, sir." As his fingers touched the soft cloth of the grey uniform the man turned his head with furious speed. The commander jumped back and missed his footing. As he stumbled backwards he felt Jak's arms grab and steady him. They were both staring in shock as the man stared back at them with empty, all white eyes. His eyes never left them, but he was moving his mouth as if he was speaking but nothing came out except a hissing sound.
The moment lasted about twenty seconds, but felt like five minutes. After it ended, the strange man turned back to the display. The two men didn't move. They remained frozen for a moment more. Duck cocked his head towards Jak behind him, "What is that, Jak," he asked with a whisper. Jak shook his head and gently pushed passed his friend. He moved to the front of the man's station to get a better look at his face. There was no color or emotion on the man's face. He could've easily been mistaken as dead if he wasn't working the buttons and switches at the control panel.
Ducky reached for Jak's shoulder, "Something's not right here, Captain." There it was. Sure clue that his partner was scared. There wasn't much that frightened 'ol Duck, but it's a good idea to take notice when something does. Jak nodded and stepped back to Ducky's side. "You're right, Duck. We can't leave here without figuring this out. We may have to postpone the mission."
"That's not a good idea, Cap. There's a lot of people relying on our success."
"We can't just abandon the people on this station."
"Doc Wire is the only normal person we've met, sir." The commander was using proper mission etiquette in calling Quasar by his rank. He only does that when he's really adamant on his opinion for the mission. Ordinarily, he is friendly and charming and treats his friend as his equal. But in times of crisis, he uses the rank to signal his professionalism to the mission.
"Exactly. The people on station are either already dead or we can save them. And we're not going to give up our chance to save someone." Jak looked at Ducky for a moment more and then started his march back towards the door they entered through. The commander didn't wait more than twenty seconds before he followed.
"Where do we start," Duck hollered out. Jak grabbed the handle to the door and before he turned the wheel to open the hatch he said, "Let's ask the one person who is normal." The two men, back in their air tight space suits, floated their way back towards the ship. After leaving communications they had radioed Bolts and Dr. Wire. "Quasar to Bolts. Quasar to Bolts. Come in." A static filled response came back. "This... Bolts...o ahead." Not really trusting the radio waves to carry his voice, Jak used as little words as possible, "Problem. Headed to ship. Out."
The way had, once again, been quiet and uneventful with very little sign of life throughout the ship. When they reached the hatch that lead out to the ship, the door refused to open. Jak tried first and Ducky joined soon after. The door didn't budge. Breathing heavily, Duck asked, "What's going on?"
Jak shook his head and looked to his feet in thought. "I don't know, Duck. Perhaps someone doesn't want us to leave." He looked up at the commander. Ducky was looking around the walls. He had spotted a group of colorful wires that lead to the door.
"What if I give these a try, sir. Just give em a quick tug." Jak caught on. His friend was bluffing. Yanking wires is considered big no no number one in the unwritten "Space Survival Guide". Their plan relied on the hope that they were being monitored. The captain gave an over exaggerated shrug, "What's the worst that can happen?"
"BWAAAAAAA!" An airhorn type alarm sounded throughout the passageway. The two rangers smiled at each other and waited. "Do not 'yank' any wires!" The voice was a man's voice, but it couldn't have belonged to a large man. It sounded more of a soft, average sound. The voice did, however, carry anger behind it.
"Well, finally, we get to speak to someone," said Jak. "We've noticed some problems with this station."
"There are no problems. Everything is moving to plan."
"Well, maybe, you can let us out then." Quasar looked up at the intercom speaker mounted above him and waited on the reply.
There was a large click from behind as the hatch they had entered opened and five, very pale men came in. They were each in their domed space suits and were armed with a standard laser pistol. Both men jumped in surprise and in the low gravity they started to slowly drift into defensive positions, ready to strike.
The pale men split into two's while the fifth aimed his laser pistol. As they neared the Space Rangers, Jak and Duck began to fight back. They tossed the pale men against each other and the walls. They threw them against the floor and ceiling, keeping behind the bodies to hide from the pistol. The gravity their weapon of choice.
The fifth person stood emotionless, but aiming at any piece of the two men that stuck out from behind his comrades. Anytime one of the unconscious men's arms or legs floated out of the way, the man would target that newly revealed arm or leg of Jak or Ducky. But no safe shot opened for him. He began to drift forward, slowly, impatient for the shot.
Ducky found footing against wall behind him and pulled himself close to it. As he shoved, forcefully off the wall, he also threw the body of one of the men he had just fought. It left him open for just a moment, but before the enemy got the shot off, his comrade's body slammed into him. The force knocked him backwards and before he could stabilize himself, the commander was already on top of him with a right hook.
Floating among the bodies of the pale men, some simply unconscious and a couple dead, Jak and Ducky pondered their next move. Before a decision was made, the voice came back.
"Leave this station now! You will be spared, but the station now belongs to us!"
"Whom is us?" asked Jak.
From the exit, they heard the locks click, but they didn't move. They both knew they couldn't just hand over the station to an unknown threat. They had to stop whoever or whatever had taken over. They both maneuvered towards the hatch leading back into the station, but again they heard a lock click and the voice returned.
"You have been granted an exit from the station. This is your last chance to accept it."
Ducky's mind went to the children and families aboard Saturn Station. "What are you doing?!"
"Countdown to self destruct begins at 60 seconds."
The explorers looked at one another in fear and shock. "We can't leave these people here," shouted Jak. "There's got to be a way to stop this!"
"Jak there's nothing we can do. We have to leave. Now!" Jak's friend had placed a hand on his shoulder. "We have to go, Jak."
The captain immediately felt the responsibility of the situation. He knew Ducky was right, but he had never left anyone behind. He had never walked away from a fight. But this fight was over. He didn't look up, but he nodded and headed to the exit. The commander opened the door for him and the two men bounded towards their ship.
The small robot had prepped the ship for launch by the time they arrived on board. The doctor had herself strapped in , but was scared. "What's going on? What is it?"
"We have to leave. Immediately," said Jak as him and Ducky got strapped into their seats. This didn't make her feel better. In fact, it only made her anxiety worse. "Why?" she shouted. She received no answer from either and Bolts seemed to be unaware himself as he placed himself into his small compartment in the wall.
The ship lifted off the platform slowly. The two men inside working frantically to make the escape faster. It got about 2 meters off the station when they punched the accelerator to move away. Jak was eyeballing the outside of the station wondering where ops would be located and wondered if they would have time even if they knew. It was then that a large orange fireball formed where the station once was. The three humans inside the spacecraft shielded their eyes while Bolts' refracted with metal petals.
They knew the shockwave was headed towards them following the explosion, but they didn't see it coming. Nor did they know what was to follow.