Chris Frederick

The Capsule

Kyle Deniven leaned intently over the glowing panels of his spacecraft's console, contemplating the mysterious appearance of a capsule within the asteroid belt. He ran a hand tiredly through his thick brown hair and let out a deep sigh. His warm hazel eyes flit involuntarily over the console, glancing at the familiar displays. He had been sitting tensely in this cockpit for the past few hours, intently monitoring the strange capsule.

Hours ago, an odd event had occurred in Inner Asteroid Space. Something had emerged from the asteroid belt, and this time it wasn't an asteroid or space garbage. No, this time…it was something different. Kyle had watched as information slowly leaked in, telling him more and more about the strange object. It turned out to be a small capsule, barely distinguishable among the other space debris. Information was vague, but the scanners reported there being a flare of possible fusion exhaust originating in the capsule's general area. Kyle had been immediately intrigued. And so, for hours, he had sat at his pilot's chair patiently, guiding his ship toward the capsule so that he could examine it closer.

Bringing his thoughts back to the present, Kyle found himself impatiently tapping his fingers on the console. Where is that capsule? he wondered. We should have reached it by now! Grimacing in disgust, he was about to leave the cockpit when a bright blue light blinked in one of the displays, notifying him that the capsule was within reach of the ship's gripping claws.

Kyle immediately swung into action. Fingers moving with unbelievable speed, he activated the code that would bring the capsule into the hangar bay. Then, standing up, he smoothed down his shiny blue flightsuit and strode briskly out the cockpit door toward the hangar bay.

The hangar bay doors hissed open with a cloud of steam. Sucking in his breath, Kyle stepped through the steamy veil and entered the chill hangar bay. His footsteps resounded eerily in the large, vacant chamber as he approached the capsule.

It was hardly an amazing sight. Kyle sighed in disappointment as he gazed on its old, dilapidated hull. It was riddled with dents and scratches, looking as if it had nearly been torn apart in the asteroid belt. And although the many buttons and panels that crowded its surface were intact, it curiously contained no rockets or any other visible signs of locomotion. Kyle's face took on a puzzled expression as he gave it a closer look.

What was this thing used for? he thought. It looks like it hasn't been used in centuries, yet it still manages to make it through the asteroid belt. Why is it here? What does it do?

But, try as he might, Kyle couldn't answer these questions. Kneeling down beside the capsule, he began to closely scrutinize it, searching for clues that would help him to come to a better understanding of it. Tirelessly he examined the capsule, studying its every feature. After an hour of intensive inspection and no results, he gave up. Wearily, he returned to the cockpit and slumped down in the pilot's chair.

What am I doing? he asked himself silently. I'm no mechanic. I'll never be able to figure this out, anyway. I should just leave this thing to the engineers. They'll be able to figure it out.

With that, he switched his ship into autopilot and shut off the cabin lights. Leaning gratefully back in his chair, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He had eight hours before he would reach Earth's orbital defense station. That was plenty of time for him to catch up on his sleep…

But Kyle Deniven couldn't sleep. Though he knew he needed it, sleep never came. After laying awake, staring at the cockpit ceiling for what seemed to be a small eternity, he restlessly clicked the cabin lights back on again. Sudden light flooded the room, momentarily blinding him. Blinking his eyes against the glaring light, he glanced at the clock.

And he sat bolt upright.

The time on the clock hadn't changed.

Kyle rubbed his eyes and looked cautiously at the clock again. Sure enough, it was the same as when he'd first attempted to fall asleep. Baffled, he looked around the cockpit. Strange, he thought, everything seems to be working fine. All the displays were glowing softly, providing him with information vital to operating the craft. Yet, Kyle had the odd feeling that something was wrong…

Nervously, he reached over to grasp the radio transmitter and flicked a switch labeled “Transmit.''

Good evening, Orbital Defense 1. This is Kyle Deniven, operating U.S. spacecraft Trailblazer. I seem to have trouble with my chronometric system. Could you give me the time, please?''

Kyle flicked off the transmitter and waited. Long moments went by. Kyle wasn't surprised at the delay. It would take his radio transmission a minute or so to reach Earth, then another minute for their response to return. And so, he waited patiently for the response to come. The cockpit seemed to have suddenly hushed in anticipation. The silence was deafening. Several minutes passed. There was no response.

Ah, Orbital Defense 1, this is Kyle Deniven. Do you copy?''

Once again, silence smothered the cockpit.

Orbital Defense 1, this is Kyle Deniven. Please comply.''

When he still received no reply, Kyle cursed in frustration and slammed the radio transmitter back in its proper place. Getting up, he was about to leave the deathly still cockpit when an ominous, grating voice filled the cabin.


Kyle halted dead in his tracks. Was he hearing things?

K-y-l-e D-e-n-i-v-e-n…''

The hairs on the back of Kyle's neck pricked up. That time, he knew he wasn't hearing things. The ship was talking to him.

Kyle Deniven, do not hope to see Orbital Defense 1 again. You now belong to me.''

Drops of sweat trickled down Kyle's face. The cockpit had suddenly become very clammy and oppressive. The horrid mechanical words sounded like the distorted and twisted voice of one who had lost compassion long ago. They sent chills down his spine. For long moments, he hesitated in the cockpit, uncertain. Then, firm resolve melted his fear. Setting his jaw, he walked coolly from the cockpit. The words of the cold, mechanical voice followed him.

You belong to me.''

Kyle tried to ignore the voice. But no matter how hard he tried, the words echoed in his mind. He suddenly felt very alone and very afraid. He realized that he was on his own in the middle of the void of space. As far as he knew, there wasn't a living soul within hundreds of thousands of miles.

Walking swiftly down the corridor leading from his cockpit to the hangar bay, Kyle attempted to outrun his fears. He tried to escape from this twisted nightmare that had engulfed him. But, upon entering the hangar bay, the nightmare only got worse.

The capsule was working. It glowed with an eerie blood-red brilliance. The buttons had come alive, flashing like fireflies gone mad. The entire capsule had begun to vibrate, creating a soft, deadly hum. Mist surrounded it like a mysterious cloak. Watching the device in horror, Kyle acted by instinct alone. Pulling his fusolaser from its holster, he aimed at the machine. Squeezing the trigger, he watched as the ray of energy shot out from the blaster's microfusion generator and streaked toward the capsule. But before the laser could strike the capsule, it disintegrated in a flare of red light. Swearing under his breath, Kyle realized that the capsule was protected by a force shield!

For long moments he stared at the capsule in shocked amazement. In his stunned horror, he was only dimly aware of the figure that had approached him from behind. Only when he felt the beast's hot breath on his neck did he turn.

A glimpse of slanting red eyes and a tremendous paw were the last things he saw before the darkness overtook him.

A horrid stench greeted Kyle as he came back to consciousness. He groaned inwardly at the putrid smell that reeked of death and decay. That smell, he thought, it seems so familiar. Where do I remember it from? He racked his exhausted brain for an answer. He remembered hot breath against his neck, remembered the ominous growl, saw piercing red eyes staring into his…

The memory returned with such vivid clarity that it struck him like a physical blow. His eyes snapped open fearfully. He almost expected to see the beast's horrid face staring into his. Instead, he found himself laying face down on the floor. As he lifted his face from the smooth steel, he felt a stinging pain across the right side of his face. Reaching up cautiously with one hand, he ran his fingers lightly over his face. Warm blood flowed through his fingers. Grimacing in pain, he removed his blood-stained hand from his face. Then, slowly, he twisted himself around so that he could see his surroundings.

He was back in the cockpit again. The console displays hummed softly and glowed with a faint light. Beyond the viewport, the void of space stretched out into eternity. And sitting in the pilot's chair, staring solemnly out at the stars beyond, was Kyle's captor.

The alien had not turned when Kyle had come back to consciousness, nor did it turn now. It seemed oblivious to his very presence, as if contemplating something else. A mane of bright blue hair rippled down its back, contrasting oddly with the dark brown fur that covered the rest of its body. The creature's massive bulk rose and fell in a deep, steady pattern, filling the room with its rasping breath.

Kyle sneered at the huge monstrosity, cursing himself for his fear. This thing was no more than flesh and blood, no more dangerous than a bear or some other such dumb beast. Reaching into his holster, Kyle prepared to impale the alien with his fusolaser. Unfortunately, he reached for a blaster that wasn't there. His groping fingers found the holster empty. Kyle's sneer quickly turned into a look of alarm. He was unarmed!

Sweat mingled with the blood on his cut face as Kyle wondered in horror what to do. How ironic, he thought sourly, that this ship is going to be my coffin. I've flown this ship through the asteroid belt. I've piloted it when it was so battered that it should have fallen apart. It's taken me through the worst of situations. It's even saved my life. But now, it's what's going to seal my fate.

Laying there in a corner, helpless, Kyle's only instinct was to kill the creature that had imprisoned him in his own ship. Through the haze in his mind, he looked out the cabin door and into the hallway that led to the hangar. My weapons rack is out there, he thought to himself, only about halfway down the hall. If I could just get there, I might be able to get out of this predicament alive.

Slowly, he half-rose to his feet, shifting his weight carefully so as not to alarm the creature. He glanced up. Sure enough, the creature hadn't turned. Then Kyle carefully stood up and began to tip-toe to the door.

Each moment was agony. With each step he took, Kyle held his breath in anticipation. He tested the floor carefully, making sure to be as silent as possible. In this way, he slowly crept out the door and down the hall, towards his weapons storage.

The weapons storage was a small compartment that held several types of fusoguns and a few military grenades. It was closed by a miniature diamond door and sealed with a magnetic lock. The fingerprint identification panel that was hidden beside it would open the door only at Kyle's touch.

Flipping open the hidden panel in the wall, Kyle placed his thumb against the fingerprint scanner. Beside him, the diamond door began to silently slide open. And then, suddenly, the door stopped.

Kyle stared in disbelief at the protective door. It had always worked before! He'd never seen it do anything like this! But he didn't have the time to think about that at the moment. Shrugging his shoulders, he reached into the compartment and pulled out a small fusogun and a hand grenade. Reaching in again, his fingers brushed against smooth leather. Curiously, Kyle ran his hand along the weapon, feeling the curved, pointed sheath in which it lay. It was a primitive weapon, a weapon no other space pilot would be found using. But Kyle was different from other pilots. He was not afraid of the past. He knew that, sometimes, hi-tech weaponry could fail and bring about disastrous consequences. A weapon like this could not short-circuit or break down. In the advanced age we live in, people tend to forget where they came from. Don't you do the same. His father's words came back to him. Smiling to himself in reminiscence, he began to pull the dagger from its sheath.

Suddenly, the compartment's diamond doors began to close. Kyle almost yelled aloud in shock, but caught himself just in time. What's going on here?! he thought angrily, quickly unsheathing the dagger. He yanked his arm out of the opening just as the tiny doors closed. Sighing in relief, Kyle turned to walk back to the cockpit. It was at that moment Kyle realized that the sleeve of his flightsuit had gotten caught in the doors. He felt the small tug on his arm, found that his arm refused to leave the doors. But before he gave it any thought, Kyle jerked his arm forward.

The sleeve ripped. As it tore, it created a horrid tearing sound that reverberated in the hallway. It rang loudly in Kyle's ears. He looked fearfully toward the cockpit and watched as a monstrous, hulking silhouette blocked out all light from the cabin. Blazing red eyes burned angrily in the darkness. The creature gave a low growl in its throat and charged.

Kyle fumbled for his gun. Getting a solid grip on it, he leveled its barrel at the beast and squeezed the trigger. The laser blast zipped down the corridor harmlessly. Swearing under his breath, he fired again. Once more the laser flitted down the hallway, past the charging creature. I can't aim in this darkness! Kyle thought in frustration. He began to shake in terror as the creature came dangerously close. Gritting his teeth in determination, Kyle stared straight into the intense red eyes and fired.

This time, he didn't miss. The creature howled in pain as the laser sliced through its left arm. The reeking smell of ozone filled the hall. But the creature didn't stop its deadly charge. Kyle stared in amazement as the glowing red eyes came closer and closer. Impressive, Kyle thought, admiring the beast's stamina. You deserve a quick end. Rest in peace.

Even as Kyle pulled the trigger, the creature swung its massive paw downward, knocking the gun to the floor. Its sharp claws slashed down his right arm and hand. Kyle grimaced as fresh blood oozed from the large gashes. He watched in horrid fascination as the creature raised its head and gave a loud inhuman cry of triumph. Then, the dreadful head turned back towards him, the burning eyes piercing straight through him.

Kyle met the piercing gaze evenly. He could see pain in the creature's eyes and…something else. With sudden insight, he realized it was shame, shame at having been injured by a human, an inferior race by its standards. The beast had thought him an easy target and had paid for its ignorance. It would remember the burning wound on its arm until it died, would scowl at the horrible memory. And now, it would exact its revenge on him. It would be avenged.

Kyle saw all this in the creature's eyes in an instant. He knew he only had one chance to save himself. As the beast raised its massive, hairy arm for the coup de grĂ¢ce, he knew what he must do. With a last burst of strength, he gripped the dagger in his left hand and lunged. He drove his arm up, thrusting the blade into the creature's throat. He shoved it through flesh and bone, severing sinew and artery. There was a gurgle of pain above him as the creature felt its own blood running freely from its throat, drenching its fur and staining it red. It swung at Kyle, but too late. The dagger had done its work. The monstrous, hairy body fell over Kyle like a dead weight, burying him with its dying breath. And Kyle, overcome with exhaustion, was unable to remove the body that was lying over him. Once again, he lost consciousness, engulfed in thick fur and warm blood…

Kyle vomited on the floor of his spacecraft in agony. He had just managed to drag himself out from under the corpse of the giant creature, a feat that had taken him almost a half-hour to do. He was in horrible shape. Blood stained every contour of his flight suit and his face smelled of vomit. Well, Kyle thought grimly, at least I'm alive. I could have wound up dead, like this guy. He glanced over at the dead creature. I've got to admit, though, he was tough about it, to the very end. I admire that. He gave the corpse a solemn salute. Poor thing, he thought, it had a whole life ahead of it. A life that I ruined. What a sad world this is. He shook his head sadly. Oh, well. All's fair in love and war, I suppose…

Slowly, Kyle rose to his feet. The exertion nearly knocked him out. Stars danced in his hazed vision. Determinedly, he walked toward the cockpit, each step screaming at him in agony. The tourniquet that he had applied to his gashed and bloodied arm pained him incredibly. Gritting his teeth against the pain that threatened to drown him with its intensity, he entered the cockpit and thankfully returned to his comfortable, cushioned pilot's seat. Groaning, he leaned back and closed his eyes. What a day, he thought. Man, it's going to be great to get home. With that, Kyle reached for the ship's controls and began to steer it back to Earth.

Or, rather, he tried to steer the ship back to Earth. Looking dumbly out into space as he turned the steering mechanism, Kyle noticed that the star pattern didn't change. The ship didn't budge from its current course. What the? Kyle wondered in amazement. What's happening to my ship?

Then, suddenly, it all became clear. The day's events snapped into place in his mind. The final piece to the puzzle that had been bothering him since he first discovered the capsule clicked into place. He slapped his forehead in frustration. Of course!

With a strained effort, Kyle rose from his chair and walked as fast as he could down the corridor. Entering the hangar bay doors, he found the capsule humming cheerfully to itself, flashing with multi-colored phosphorescence.

Sneering, Kyle strode past the capsule, ignoring its very existence. He already knew he couldn't bust through its force shield, so he didn't bother firing at it. He also knew what the terrible machine's purpose was. He remembered how everything had gone wrong once he picked up that accursed capsule. He remembered the ship being unresponsive to his commands, remembered the weapon compartment doors sliding closed on his arm, remembered the eerie voice that had spoken to him in the cockpit. This was no innocent capsule, by any means. No, it was a work of genius: built to look small and defenseless, yet, in essence, being extremely deadly. It was like a parasite, attaching itself to ships and then taking control. It was capable of piloting the ship all by itself, was capable of manipulating the ship to serve its own twisted, mechanical will. Kyle knew that the only way to stop such a monstrosity was to stop the ship, disposing of the capsule's only means of control. This in mind, Kyle quietly slipped the hand grenade from a pocket in his flightsuit and approached the ship's main power generator.

Within moments, he was standing directly in front of the fusion generator. He knew that what he was about to do would end all hope he had of piloting this ship home, would probably seal his fate. But he didn't care. It didn't matter to him anymore. He accepted his fate, so long as it was his fate, brought about by his actions, not that blasted capsule's! With that, Kyle removed the pin from the grenade, tossed it at the generator, and ran the other way as fast as he could.

But Kyle's strained body had reached its physical limits. It was fatigued, battered, and bruised. It could no longer move. Kyle crumpled to the floor as his legs buckled underneath him. Dimly, he heard the sound of an explosion, was aware of the lights going out, heard the humming of the capsule fall silent. He smiled in grim triumph. He had defeated the capsule and its alien passenger. He had survived. Yet all he could think of was getting back to Earth, being back on solid ground, being in a familiar, friendly place, surrounded by friends and camaraderie. His heart ached to be home.

Lying there, lost in his dreams, Kyle was unable to see the bright points of light rapidly gaining on his ship, was unable to receive the radio signals they were sending his way. He had no way of knowing that even as he dreamed, the ships were coming to bring him home.