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Ray Nothnagel

Silence. Breathtaking, mind-numbing silence. This didn't make sense; Lieutenant Jensen wasn’t even in vacuum yet—he should still be able to hear. He tried to tell someone to check his connections, but his voice didn’t work. He was struck by a sudden grip of fear. Can’t hear, can’t speak; something was wrong. Something that warranted breaking test protocol, but he couldn’t reach the engineers anyway. He couldn’t even abort from here. Panic.

The starfighter lurched, disrupting its calm hover in the flight hangar for just a moment. A control glitch already? They hadn’t even started the preflight checklist.

“What’s he doing?” The engineer checked the ship’s readouts. The movement controls were functioning perfectly; exceeding parameters, even. Whatever the ship had just done, Jensen had meant to do it. Jensen himself must be malfunctioning. He looked over at the piloting computer’s readouts, set in a virtual display he could see only through augmented-reality glasses. Cognitive accuracy high; conceptual consistency strong, aggression levels normal, until... here were some strange readings. Aggression was rising and falling unpredictably, as was personal confidence. Another panic attack?
Remember Elle, Jensen reminded himself. The thought of his wife was his home node, the one calming influence when these panic attacks struck—which they did with frightening regularity. This mechanical mind didn’t work the way Jensen’s human consciousness expected it to, just as with the other test pilots. The slightest fear set off a chain reaction in the neural net that ballooned every tiny problem into a fit of terror. Remember Elle. Remember Elle. Remember—
The Sceptre lurched again. This time it scraped the hangar floor, just barely, with the tip of its weapon boom, then stabilized itself again. The engineer checked his readouts again. When it happened, aggression had spiked and confidence had plummeted. This was definitely connected, but he wasn’t quite sure what it meant. He nervously eyed the fighter’s weapon readiness. It wasn’t loaded with ammo, but even so, in such a confined space, there was probably enough propellant in the barrel to burn a hole in a bulkhead if Jensen was panicked enough to fire. Luckily, the guns weren’t armed.

These readings were out of the ordinary, high even for the panic attacks that had become routine. It was time to break test protocol. Something was going wrong. The engineer pressed the comm switch. “Jensen, we’re breaking protocol. Your readings are spiking. What’s wrong?”
The silence was replaced by a booming cacophony of static, feedback, and mechanical screeching. It continued for a few seconds, then cut out as suddenly as it had started. The noise sent Jensen’s head reeling, and his instinct was to raise his hands to cover his ears. He lost control of his body.
As he spoke, the engineer caught something out of the corner of his eye. The weapon systems, steady at zero readiness just a moment ago, suddenly went live. He released the comm switch and looked back up through the glass to the hangar. The fighter was lurching again, this time turning to the left—to face the engineer’s lab. The weapon boom scraped the floor again, this time gouging an inch-deep gash in the steel floor and bending the boom's tip in the process. Jensen was putting some force into that.

Check the readings again. Cognition dipped below the green zone. Whatever was happening, Jensen suddenly wasn’t thinking clearly. Combined with the craft’s newly primed guns, and the engineer was beginning to share Jensen’s panic. He eyed the umbilical cables connecting the craft to the hangar’s computer systems—still connected. There was still a chance to abort. Looking back to the ship, he was looking down the barrel of a gun.

It was definitely time to abort.
Lieutenant Jensen blinked his eyes open slowly, allowing them a chance to stop being so damn dry before he used them to look around. Coming out of this state was always a trying experience—having one’s mind uploaded into a computer was not part of the design specs of the human body. The entire time that his mind had been inside the Sceptre, his body had remained here in the doctor’s lab. He moved every bit of his body, muscle by muscle, making sure it all still worked. As far as he was concerned, he had to relearn how each of his limbs worked from scratch. First fingers, then toes, and finally he pushed himself up on his elbows, pulling his head out of the machine.

“What the hell happened in there!?” The engineer didn’t even wait for the door to fully open to start what could loosely be called a debriefing.

“Jesus, Glenn,” Jensen rubbed his forehead—partially because of the queasiness and the migraine, and partially just to confirm his still had fingers and a forehead. He never used to get migraines. “Give me a sec to come out of it first.”

“You almost blew up the whole fuckin’ lab!”

“You almost blew out my fuckin’ eardrums!” shot back Jensen. “What was that godawful noise?”

“What noise?” Glenn asked, instantaneously transitioning from angry superior to problem-solving engineer. “When did it happen?”

“It was right bef—” Jensen stopped mid-word, rubbing his forehead again. Were the migraines getting worse? “Right before I moved my—oh shit, did I arm the guns?”

As Jensen replayed the incident in his mind, he now—no longer under the panic of silence—realized what he had done. The computer, designed to transform human thought patterns and human actions into something useful for a starfighter, interpreted Jensen’s instinctual attempt to raise his arms as a sign to arm the weapon systems.

“Yes, you did,” Glenn answered with a forced calmness. “I’d rather you didn’t do that again.”

“Well, it was right before I did that.”

“That was when I tried to raise your communications channel to ask you what was wrong. Your readings were all over the place.”

Communications channel.... “That must be it. Something was wrong with my link to my comm system. I couldn’t hear anything. I tried to tell you, but I couldn’t do that either.”

“Well, we know where to look, at least. I’ll have the—” Glenn was interrupted when Jensen suddenly vomited over the side of the bed. He jumped back, barely missing the spew. Jensen’s face was white as a sheet. The nurse, busy up to now wrapping another crew member’s sprained ankle, set that aside to care for Jensen.

Glenn turned to the nurse. “I want a report on his readiness ASAP. We’re doing another run as soon as we fix this communication glitch. And you,” he said to Jensen, “Get a preliminary debrief punched out as soon as you’re done here.” As he walked away, Glenn waved his arms in the air, pointing and dragging some unseen objects. It took Jensen a moment to bring himself out of his funk enough to realize that the engineer was manipulating the interface of his AR glasses.

“Hey Glenn,” Jensen called before the engineer left the room. Glenn turned in place. “Sorry for blowing up. You know how it is coming out of that thing.”

“Already forgotten,” Glenn assured as he stepped through the door.
All the latest technology, and still the computers could do no more than emulate a human mind—and even then, only poorly. The nausea, migraines, and disorientation of coming out of a simulation were only one side effect. Even while still in the machine, the world was perceived through a fog of pain. Most test pilots could not stay in the machine for more than a few minutes at a time; this research facility was aiming to improve that.

The modern starfighter was a technological marvel—weapons capable of demolishing a small cruiser, propulsion capable of transitioning between different interplanetary orbits with shockingly low fuel consumption—but the biggest drain on the fighter’s resources was the pilot himself. With so many systems intended strictly for human survival—air recyclers, heating, and waste disposal, not to mention food and water for longer missions—the fighter was essentially a life support capsule that happened to have engines and weapons attached.

The ships guarding the Cold Frontline had been there for decades. With human crews, they’d all had to be cycled out on a regular basis, and the alien-built Parella Station had become their home base. If the ships were replaced with computer-controlled ships, they could not only accomplish the same mission with fewer ships, but the ships could stay out there for much longer—perhaps indefinitely. Computers don’t breath, don’t eat, don’t piss. They don’t freeze to death and they don’t get pressure sores from sitting in the pilot’s seat for a week. They just fly.

Warren Glenn had been spearheading the project for six years. The neural net computers, at the time the best available in the entire Arm, were beginning to become second-rate. It had taken the computer hardware industry generations to fully recover from what happened to it and its experts during the Bactaran occupation, but when it did—fueled, ironically enough, by the Bactarans’ interest in humanity’s computer technology—it came back with a vengeance. Moore’s Law was stifled for a time, but never quite suffocated. In just six years, the latest and greatest was now ten times faster and half the cost. Glenn was not relishing the task of re-engineering the software to work on new hardware, but it looked like he might have to.

The deck crew had quickly isolated the problem with communications. It turned out the prior test flight had overloaded the subsystem when the pilot had withdrawn. A solution was being implemented and would be ready within the hour. Just as he finished, the nurse reported that Jensen was fit for duty. Excellent news; something might get accomplished this shift after all.
The panic attacks were becoming a serious problem. In fact, at this point, they were now the single most serious problem hindering the project. Most of the other problems were simple glitches, the sort of thing a team irons out in the last stages of beta testing. But every time a bug cropped up, the pilots panicked. It wasn’t their fault; these were hardened combat pilots who had chosen to be test pilots, and all three proved unflappable in any circumstance in their own bodies. The computerized mind must be amplifying fear, creating a feedback loop of some kind.

Glenn pored over Jensen’s last flight data. His AR glasses gave him a detailed view of it all. He attached the position of the charts to the floor of his quarters, allowing him to move around them and look as closely as he liked. A grid of columns laid out like city blocks arranged itself across his room, a hundred columns wide—one for each cluster of virtual neurons in the computer—and probably about five times that lengthwise, representing the data over time. Each bar was thin, less than a quarter-inch wide, and they varied in height—the intensity of activity in each node.

Glenn sat on the floor for hours, staring at the tiny columns that existed only in virtual space. The answer was here—he was certain of it. He’d spent days looking over similar data from other tests, but the cause of the problem—let alone its solution—had failed to become evident. In this view, the panic attacks looked like a wall of heightened columns, after which the nodes slowly calmed themselves down, until the next one. The key was on the steep end of this wall—what happened before the attack. He tried cutting out a few seconds before each attack, laying the three column-walls side by side, looking for patterns. Perhaps one node was the trigger, overloading itself and spilling out to the rest of the network. What would that look like? An exceptionally tall column, standing by itself just outside the wall of the panic. However, he could find no such pattern.

Perhaps he was looking at it the wrong way. On a hunch, he tried adding a field to the representation—color, a heat map representing the number of connections to other nodes made by each node. The cooler nodes, blues and greens, would be the nodes that were only linked to one or two other nodes at any given moment. The hotter colors—red, yellow, and even white—would make those nodes with hundreds of connections stand out like a flare.

The columns became a streaked patchwork, with long lines of color running the whole length of the visualization—most nodes maintained a fairly steady number of connections throughout their existence. Before he even started looking for the trigger of the panic node, however, the pattern leapt out at him, screaming to be noticed—a single blinding white column in the midst of greens. It was not very tall, small enough to blend in with the noise—low intensity—but clearly whatever was happening in that node was affecting every node. And there was one preceding each panic attack.
“Node fifty-two!”

The neural net programmer gently pulled off his own AR glasses, pulling himself away from whatever he was working on to see his boss bursting into the office, breathless, in the middle of the night. He looked like hell, but in a good way—the way that meant that they might be about to crack something. “Node fifty-two what?”

“The panic problem. It starts at node fifty-two.” Glenn moved his column visualization from his own private layer of augmented reality to a public one, sending the programmer an invitation to view it. The programmer put his glasses back on, and looked over the data for a few minutes, seeing the pattern Glenn had seen earlier. Hurriedly, he wrote a snippet of code to cap the number of connections in node fifty-two to under ten—limit the damage it can do. This wasn’t a permanent solution, but it would at least confirm that this was where the problem was and provide some test data. The new code was pushed out to the test computer as Glenn called Jensen back to the hangar. They were cracking this thing tonight.
An hour later, Jensen was lifting his head out of the machine. He still had to feel out his fingers and toes, but his head didn’t hurt nearly as much. The entire test run floating in the hangar had gone by without a hitch, the first real success of a run in months. Jensen braced himself to throw up, but it didn’t come. Jensen stood up slowly and walked towards the door.

Still in the lab, Glenn already had the recorded data from the test laid out on the floor, with the same parameters as the last time. There were no walls of intensity this time, however. A much smaller noise of columns filled the floor on which Glenn was working—more in line with what this data was supposed to look like.

“It’s time to move on,” Glenn declared proudly. “You ready to shoot something?”
Things were moving faster than Jensen had ever expected. Twelve hours ago he was reeling from another complete failure to maintain control; now, he was about to be downloaded into a fighter with live ammunition. Something tugged on the back of his mind—perhaps this was too fast? Shouldn’t there be more tests? He pushed the thoughts aside. That was the scientists’ job. He was here to carry out their orders. He steeled himself and lowered his head into the machine. Dozens of electrodes contacted his bare scalp and attached themselves, moving themselves slightly to find their respective perfect spots.

Although mental control of computers was easily done with only a couple of electrodes and could be conducted through a layer of hair, this was so much more intensive. Actually loading all the mental processing patterns and much of the stored data of a brain was something that, until recently, would have required the actual removal of the brain from the skull, nanomachines, and all sorts of other nasty shit. There wouldn’t have been a whole lot of point to it, either. Though the storage capacity for the information contained in the brain was easily obtained, the processing power to actually run it was out of reach until just a few years ago. Sometimes in forensic science the brains of murder victims had been loaded into computers to access their final thoughts, to see and hear through their eyes in their final moments; more than a few prosecutions had been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt—or thoroughly debunked—by this “postmortem neural evidence.”

The fact that the human mind could now be uploaded to a computer without destroying the original was a minor miracle. He felt the familiar pulses from the electrodes, a specialized combination of electrical and sonic pulses designed to coax out the data from each neuron. In the few minutes it took to download a mental pattern, the computer would not have a complete copy of his mind—it was difficult to get at a lot of data, such as older, less significant memories. However, everything important would be downloaded. Short term memory, most significant recent facts, identity, and probably most importantly, the thought patterns a particular person employed, the very core of a person’s personality. Whether they instinctively believed or disbelieved what they were told, where their priorities lied, whether their first thoughts upon answering a question were to answer honestly or to give the answer that suited their ends. Besides those things, anything Jensen thought about while the process was underway would get carried over as well. He always made it a point to think of Elle during this time—once he had forgotten every detail about her during a test, and it was one of the worst flights he could remember.

He closed his eyes and achieved a zen-like calm, focusing on the few things this test mission required. Leave station. Find target drone, at orbital coordinates 358 degrees 12 minutes, delta 143 mark 10. Fire three rounds, no more, no less. Return to hangar. He ignored the self-doubts creeping into his consciousness. They would not serve him now. A heavy shudder went through his body, which suddenly didn’t feel like his body anymore. Most of his body went numb, until the sensations slowly came back, but different. The bed he lay on faded from consciousness, slowly replaced by the feeling of cold metal contacting his bare feet and knees—the familiar sensation of extended landing struts.

Eyes open. The computer translated the impulse to activate his visual sensors. He saw the hangar wall in front of him, the window to the observation lab on his periphery. As he awoke, he began to hear Glenn’s voice. It wasn’t him, only an automated repeating signal. “... respond when consciousness has been achieved. Lieutenant Jensen, upload of mental faculties has been completed. Please respond when consciousness has been achieved. Lieutenant Jensen....”

He spoke. “Yeah, Doctor. I’m awake.” It was a half-truth, but he was as awake as he’d ever been in this damn computer. “Ready to leave the hangar. Open the doors when you’re ready.” He continued to test his own systems. He wiggled the fingers and toes of the Sceptre—radiation vents opened and closed, maneuvering thrusters twisted.

“Not just yet, lieutenant. Don’t forget your preflight.” The preflight checks, of course. How could he forget that? By focusing on the thought, he brought up a virtual checklist. Even more ephemeral than the data viewed through AR glasses, this checklist didn’t even exist on a screen, being projected directly into Jensen’s virtual mind. One by one, he ticked off each system.

“Preflight confirmed,” he transmitted a few minutes later. “Ready to fly, doctor.”

“Copy that. Opening the hangar door. Good luck. Stay safe.”

The hangar hissed as air was drawn from the room, minimizing the pressure differential; the hiss died down and became muffled as the process neared completion. The umbilical attaching the craft’s computer to Jensen’s body in the adjacent room detached itself and retracted to the wall behind him. Two small mechanical arms reached down from the ceiling of the hangar, grabbing the fighter by two anchor points on the side of the craft. The floor dropped out from under him and slid to the side, revealing a patch of starry skies, spinning past. A few minutes passed as the planned launch time approached.

“Approaching optimum release vector. Prepare for launch in three...two....”

The arms dropped the ship, which fell straight out of the hangar into the vacuum of space. The research lab was embedded in the outermost layer—or, from a certain perspective, the lowest basement level—of one of the segments of Parella Station, a series of rotating cylinders arranged into a cross shape. The spin employed by Parella Station for artificial gravity served the purpose of launching defensive fighters quickly—the momentum the ship already had from the spin of the cylinder transferred instantly and easily to momentum in any desired direction. The computer had picked a target drone that was near the expected angle of departure for the expected time of day and calculated the optimum time for release of the craft. And he was off.

He rotated to face his angle of movement, training the more detailed forward scopes on the target’s coordinates, just under two hundred kilometers away. It would be a ten minute flight to the target, with an eighty second window once he reached firing range. He had to get off three accurate shots on a target five meters wide while traveling at 300 meters a second in that time for the test to be a success.

As the target approached, he became more and more engrossed. The resolution of his scopes was such that he could identify the target nearly as soon as he left the hangar, but adequate targeting would have to wait until he was within about 20 kilometers. He was nearly within range... he heard something faintly in his ear.

“...I repeat, abort test. Parella Station is under attack. Abort the test. Lieutenant Jensen, please respond.”

He turned himself around. At first he tried to see the attack himself, but at this distance, to see anything of importance he would require much larger telescopes than his little fighter was equipped with. He quickly accessed Parella Station’s computer tracking system, augmenting his natural—if that was the right word—vision with whatever their powerful scopes could see. A Datura-class frigate, the backbone of the Bactaran fleet, was exiting the Mintaka warp bridge. Its telltale shields, with the appearance of thin leaves running the length of the cylindrical vessel, shimmered with the ship’s movements as if fluttering in the wind. Despite their meager thickness they were renowned for their ability to deflect ballistic weapons. Scientists from the Earth Star Force had not yet learned how they worked and they refused to share.

No weapons had been fired yet, but the frigate’s shields were unfurled, ready to defend itself. Its trajectory, available in the data Jensen downloaded from the station, was putting it sideways relative to Parella Station, its shields protecting the greatest portion of the ship. Jensen scanned the defense force status of the station with dismay: the rotation of the station wouldn’t bring a starfighter launch bay in line for rapid deployment in that direction until well after the Datura would pass. The fighters being launched would therefore have to launch from the other side, and would get a head start traveling in the wrong direction. Being limited in their maximum G-force by the tolerances of their pilots’ bodies would add several minutes to their response time.

The tolerances of their pilots’ bodies.... “Glenn, I’m going in.”

“What?” Glenn was stunned. “You’re in no condition to fight. Return to the hangar, now.”

“Without a body holding me back, I can accelerate three times as fast as the other fighters. I’ll get there before they’re even launched. And my bullets will have...” Jensen ran some figures through his processor, taking into account his position and acceleration relative to the Bactaran ship. “... ten times the usual kinetic energy when they strike the enemy. I should be able to blow right through their shields.”

“Negative, Jensen. Return to base immediately. That’s an order.”

Jensen’s mind was moving faster than it ever had in the computer. “Your authority in a defense emergency is superseded by the protection of the station. Let the Colonel know I’ll be striking. In and out before they know what hit ‘em.” He cut off the connection; Glenn wasn’t going to give in on this.

Jensen was already accelerating towards the Bactaran vessel, pushing the engines as hard as he could go, blowing well past the safety governor that had been installed for human safety. The engines had far more power than was usually taken advantage of; they’d originally been built to carry much heavier weapons and somewhat larger ships than the fighter he was in now. As a result, the Sceptre had many G’s of force available that went unused. He would only have enough fuel to do two runs at this speed, one if he hoped to have enough to make it back to Parella. One run was all he would need, thanks to the extra kinetic energy this velocity would impart to his bullets.

The world blinked out of existence. What the hell? It was back; he’d lost ten seconds. Was his computer core damaged by the G-force? He couldn’t recall offhand any of the physical tolerances of the computer. If that happened again at the wrong time, he could easily crash into the enemy instead of firing at it. He was still two minutes away from the target. He would continue acceleration until he was twenty-five seconds away—giving himself a comfortable margin of error—

Another discontinuity. Ten more seconds were gone. Something was definitely wrong with the core. Eighty seconds to firing time. Keep going. Again the world disappeared, and again. Thirty seconds left—time to stop accelerating. The frigate was now close enough to be visible with the fighter’s own scopes.


He had forty rounds loaded, and he dropped half of them into the frigate’s shield. These would be the twenty most devastating bullets ever felt by the Bactarans.

Quickly, he turned ninety degrees and accelerated, just barely missing a collision with the frigate as he passed. Just as he passed, there was another discontinuity. When the world reappeared, the ship’s scopes were registering twelve guided missiles heading his way. This should be interesting. He suspected the missiles were programmed to fight normal Sceptres, with humans in them; the full theoretical capabilities of this class probably weren’t known to the Bactarans.

He quickly took note of their positions and vectors. When a guided missile was tracking a moving target, it didn’t go to where the target was; that would ensure that it would never hit it. Instead, it had to aim where the target was going to be, using a recursive formula that continuously compounded its own velocity with the target’s velocity. The basic missiles would simply use the target’s current velocity for this projection, but more advanced guidance systems would estimate where the target was going to be accelerating to further refine its tracking. By analyzing the changes in their velocity, Jensen could reverse those formulae to figure out where the missiles thought he was going to be when they hit—and make sure he was elsewhere. A blessing from Glenn—one of his side projects from a few years ago, a piece of software that luckily managed to be loaded into Jensen’s databank.

A few seconds later, he had a map of the missile trajectories. Their projections clearly indicated they did not expect the Sceptre to accelerate quickly. Good news. He began to reverse his acceleration, maneuvering just outside the range of the missile trajectories. They flew past him at incredible speed. Soon, he was once again accelerating towards the frigate, when once again the world disappeared.
Pain. Incredible, searing pain. He felt as if his shoulder was sliced top to bottom with a rusty knife, and his leg was burning. He knew this represented damage; had he been hit while he was blacked out? He regained enough composure to analyze the damage. His right weapons boom was sheared clean off, taking with it a gun and half of his remaining ammo. Whatever had done that must have clipped part of his engine, too; the fuel line was ruptured and leaking, with the fuel catching fire. The uneven weight and acceleration was now causing him to spin wildly out of control.

Blink. Another discontinuity, shorter this time. There was no way for this to end well. He couldn’t get out of this spin without—another discontinuity—without the engine that was now on fire. Another blackout. Whatever had been damaged by the acceleration was getting it even worse from the spin. Each time he returned to the world from a blackout, the pain hit him anew. Perhaps worse, his last known trajectory was in fact a collision course with the enemy—the best trajectory from which to fire bullets. He was unable to get any readings in this spin, but he doubted his velocity had changed.

His moments of consciousness were limited to fractions of a second now, in between seconds-long blackouts. Sure enough, the enemy vessel was getting larger each time he came to, until....
Lieutenant Jensen opened his eyes. His zen-like calm had been disturbed by some noise. That sounded an awful lot like weapon impacts. What the hell was going on? He sat up in his bed. Was the station under attack? Why wasn’t he in the Sceptre yet? He stood up, heading towards the door to the laboratory. Glenn would have some answers for him.

He was stopped cold by Lieutenant Teke, one of the Colonel’s bridge officers, barging in through the door. Teke grabbed Jensen and slammed him against the wall, hard. “What the fuck were you thinking?”

Jensen heard Glenn’s voice, coming up just behind Teke. “Lieutenant! He won’t remember anything.”

“Why the fuck not? Wasn’t that him in that fighter, or some sort of computer version of him?”

“It was, but it wasn’t. The Sceptre didn’t come back so the additional memories didn’t get grafted back onto his frontal lobe. He won’t remember anything since he went into that machine.”

Jensen was putting pieces together. The Sceptre had flown and not returned. Simply losing a ship wouldn’t have Teke slamming him against a wall like this. Had it crashed into the station? Is that what that noise was?

“The Bactarans were coming here to defend us, jackass,” Teke filled in. “They had information that the Sanxons had broken through the frontline and were coming to help. You,” he stopped himself short. “That ship of yours attacked them and chopped their ship nearly in half.”

Jensen was white as a sheet. Staring blankly ahead, he groped on the bedside table for his AR glasses. How could he have done this? He didn’t do anything. He didn’t remember anything. As his glasses turned on, he retrieved the external visual logs from the station. He watched in horror as the Sceptre, on fire and spinning out of control, crashed into the Bactaran ship, cutting straight through the shield and slicing a massive gash through its hull. As it pierced the other side of the cylinder—the side facing Parella Station—it broke into four pieces upon contact with the other shield. One of those pieces headed directly towards the station. That must have been the noise he had heard earlier.

Teke turned to the door. Two privates, station security, had entered while Jensen was watching the recording. “Get him to the brig, and don’t let him out until I tell you.” One of them produced a set of plastic cuffs and approached Jensen as he stood there, dumbstruck by what was going on.

“I didn’t do anything,” he nearly screamed, tears beginning to well in his eyes as they fastened his wrists together. “I wasn’t in that ship. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t do anything.... I didn’t.....”
The cell was not airtight, but it sure felt like it. Just enough ventilation to keep a man alive, and nothing more. It was dark. Only a few glowing strips allowed him to see enough to not run into walls.

And there was silence. Breathtaking, mind-numbing silence.

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