Written 9 months ago
Saga: Destiny's Call
Race and his friends landed on a moon of Fisher and took a lift down to the planet’s surface. A public transport pod dropped them at a station three blocks from the luxury hotel Utopia. The men grabbed their giant bags and took the stairs to the surface. They were just getting their bearing when the scream of a young woman demanded their attention.
“There he is,” came the shriek.
The three men quickly turned to the woman to see if she needed assistance, only to find her pointing in their direction. The excited look on her face alleviated any fear of trouble Race may have had. They were in the entertainment hub of the galaxy, maybe she had seen someone famous. Race turned to look behind him to try and discover what the young lady was pointing at. An empty street lay behind him.
“Who is she looking at?” Race asked.
“You, fool,” Zain laughed, pushing Race toward the mob of people bearing down on him. “Say hi to your fans.”
“What?” Race said, stumbling forward. Before Race could react, the group surrounded him. Race was bombarded with “Thank you for this,” “What do you think about that,” and “Is it true?” He didn’t even know which one he was answering. Somewhere in the mix, media drones showed up, and Race quickly decided he should leave before embarrassing himself or the United Space Marines.
Race turned to his friends, his nerves as shaky as his hands. “Please get me out of here.”
Zain and Konway had already planned their escape. “I gotcha, brother. This way,” Zain said, making a move toward a side street. His massive size intimidated the people in the way to quickly part a path for them.
Konway said a couple of words to politely excuse Race as they made for the hotel. Part of the crowd took up the chase, forcing them to sprint for the resort. Their physical conditioning proved an advantage over the mob's determination.
They lost one mob to collide with another in front of the hotel. They rapidly assessed the area and found an open entrance where private vehicles dropped off the higher class guests. Race followed Zain’s lead as he made for the door. In the driveway, bright light showered down on a couple exiting their vehicle, receiving praise from their waiting fans. Zain slid over the hood of the car with an “excuse me.”
A doorman at the top of the stairs stuck out his hand to stop the charging soldiers.
“I’m a guest!” Race yelled, rushing the man.
“Mr. Allard?” the man gasped. The man quickly grabbed the door to get it out of their way, waving them on in. “Over there,” he directed them to a nearby clearing in the lobby.
Race heard his last name echo through the crowd behind him as he sprinted into the safety of the hotel lobby. He half expected to find another mob of people waiting for him, but pleasantly found relief instead. Thuds echoed through the lobby as the team dropped the weight of their bags to recuperate.
Two other men showed up, one dressed in a black tux and the other pushing a floating cart. “Mr. Allard,” the man said as he approached. “My name is Bartholomew White. I’m the concierge for Utopia. I was told you ran here from the local public transport station. We sent a private car to pick you up at the spaceport. Were they not there?”
“Our flight got in a little early,” Konway informed him, huffing as he tried to catch his breath. “We must have missed it.”
“My deepest apologies,” he bowed. “We should have been tracking your flight a little more closely and planned accordingly.”
“No problem, Bart,” Zain said. “We needed our daily workout.”
“Still, I will address this issue with my staff and make sure that there are no more mishaps on your stay. I will also add some complimentary credits for the casino to your account.” Bartholomew waved the man that had accompanied him toward the group's bags. The bellhop grabbed the luggage and packed them onto his cart.
“Those are them!” screeched a woman rushing the group from the entrance. “I’m glad to see you’ve apprehended them, Bartholomew. I want these men turned over to the authorities at once, they caused quite a commotion, one of them had the nerve to slide over the roof of my car like the Dukes of Hazard.”
“The what?” Konway asked, trying to place the reference.
“Is that Bencie and Jonce?” Zain looked dazed as a man joined the discontent woman.
“Well, at least they have some class,” the woman relaxed a little.
The power couple was some of the biggest stars in entertainment. Race had memorized a good collection of Bencie’s music and Jonce’s movies. They were some of the original clone subjects, which explained the outdated reference no one understood.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Bencie, these men are actually guests,” Bartholomew explained.
Race quickly jumped to pardon his friends. “We’re very sorry for any inconvenience we caused you, Bencie. We’ll gladly pay for any damage we caused to your transport.”
The woman looked at Race, but her disinterest quickly turned to surprise. “Race Allard?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Race took to his military formalities, a smile jumping on his face to be recognized by one of his favorite stars.
“Oh my goodness,” Jonce said, removing his shades to share in his spouse’s surprise. “The Republic’s Hero.”
It was the first time Race didn’t cringe at the title. “You know me?”
“Who doesn’t?” Jonce admired him, acting as if it was common knowledge.
“Were you the one that slid on the hood of our car?” Bencie clasped her hands in prayer.
“Yes!” Zain answered before Race could correct her.
Race gazed at him callously, Zain responded with an apologetic shrug.
“Oh my gosh,” she said, grabbing her chest. “Honey, if he left a scratch, we’ll have to have it framed.”
“I don’t think that’s necessary, ma’am,” Race chuckled nervously, rubbing the back of his neck.
“Jonce, get the holo, we need a picture with Race,” Bencie directed him. “You don’t mind, Bartholomew?
“If Mr. Allard is okay with it, I can disable the security protocols here in the lobby for a bit.”
“Hell, yes!” Race answered quickly. “If I get a copy.”
“Of course,” the woman said, falling back to look for her husband.
“Done,” the concierge said, tapping the inside of his wrist. Race noted the slimmer version of his biosensor, unnoticeable when not in use. Race would have loved to get his hand on a piece of tech like that. Bartholomew turned back to the group to finish his orientation. “Gilly will take your luggage to your room. Is there anything else I can get you?”
“Food,” Konway suggested.
“Yes,” Zain agreed. “Where’d the military set us up at, Bart? We have a bet going on, please say basement.”
“We’ve reserved one of the penthouses for you,” Bartholomew stated.
Konway whistled in surprise.
“The military is putting us up in a penthouse?” Race was flustered with disbelief.
“Utopia is splitting the cost of your visit with Rikki-T, in support of the great Hero of the Republic,” Bartholomew explained. “No cost to the military.”
“How nice,” Konway said.
“Hogwash,” interrupted Bencie. “We’ll cover the other half. I’m sure the other guests will want to go in as well.”
“Your generosity knows no bounds,” Bartholomew bowed. “I will update the records.”
“We have got to take him with us more often,” Zain whispered to Konway.
“As a matter of fact, Race, if you ever need a place to stay, we’ve got residences in almost every corner of every planet. They’re yours whenever you need them.”
Race felt a tingle in the back of his head, his powers telling him that a time would come when he might need to take her up on that offer. “Thank you, Ms. Bencie, I’ll try not to abuse it.”
“I’ll just need your citizenship cards to key the rooms,” Bartholomew interrupted.
“Of course,” Race said. He hit the eject button on his biosensor and handed his green card over to the concierge. Zain and Konway did the same with their red cards.
Bartholomew examined Race’s card. “Of course it’s green,” he admired to himself. “I’ll be right back, gentlemen.”
Jonce returned as the concierge left to complete his duties. As they posed for pictures with the famous couple, other celebrities passing through the area took notice and asked to join them. Race had modeled with half a dozen stars by the time the concierge returned to reinstate the photo restrictions.
“I show you have an A.I. registered to you, Mr. Allard,” Bartholemew stated as the last of the guests left.
“She’s currently offline,” Race informed him.
“Very well, but I still must inform you that the use of artificial intelligence is strictly prohibited in the casino.”
“Understood, sir.” Race gave him a thumbs up.
“That gives me an idea.” Zain nudged Konway.
“Enjoy your stay, gentlemen,” Bartholomew said, dismissing himself.
* * *
“I’m not happy with you guys using me like that,” Race called out as he followed his teammates to their room.
“Are you still complaining?” Zain laughed, waving his biosensor at the black panel next to the door allowing them access.
“Gambling is not an acceptable use of my powers,” Race objected, following them in. Zain had come up with the smart idea to try and activate Race’s precog abilities and win some chance games in the casino. Race objected and reminded them that his powers rarely worked that way. Konway had then distracted Race with questions of Annette. When Race was worrying about things, Zain would place a chip in his hand, which Race threw down on the table. Once the two had enough evidence that their plot was working, they started throwing large sums of their credits at the table.
“Shut up and enjoy your millions,” Zain blew him off.
“You just the twins through college, Race,” Konway thanked him. “My wife might even forgive me for the next couple of days.”
His tantrum quickly lost its relevance when Race entered the room. The luxury of the penthouse suite was more than Race could have imagined. Even the ceiling windows that looked out into space from his bedroom on the URS Allard couldn’t compare to the view over New Vegas’s entertainment sector.
The living area made the ship’s bridge seem tiny, and in front of them were three trays of delicacies that looked like something Race would have seen on the holovision. The men grabbed handfuls of food as they passed and went looking for their room.
Zain disappeared into the solo room on the left only to come right back out. “This one’s yours, Race.”
Race and Zain traded destinations. Race entered the room to find a banner from the hotel that welcomed the Republic Hero, along with a short holographic video of Rikki-T wearing a nightgown that left nothing to the imagination. On a worktable near the door, Race found several cards and letters scattered about. He placed his bag in the closet and sorted through the letters to discover requests from famous guests or large businesses. Many offered free products in exchange for his sponsorship. Race found it weird that someone would want to give him something he had needed to work hard for in the past. His favorite letters were from the hotel staff, thanking him for his service. Some even contained stories of family members that served alongside him in the first Cenari attacks. Those he stashed in his bag, while the others ended up in the nearby disposal.
Race checked his biosensor for the time. They were going to have to meet with Rikki in two hours to start their awful assignment. He turned off the blinding hologram and laid down to organize his thoughts for the task ahead. He sunk into the bed as he was surrounded by its cozy fluff, causing his whole body to relax. The comfy cloud was about to put him to sleep when he heard a commotion in the main room.
“Where have you been?” The familiar voice a female ordered, sending a wave of terror down Race’s back. “You were supposed to be here hours ago.”
“We’ve been here for hours. We’re not supposed to meet until the third quarter,” Zain corrected.
“Where is Race?” she demanded.
“He’s checking the perimeter of the building,” Zain tried to cover for him. “We are here for security, and he takes his job very seriously.”
The woman let out an exasperated sound. Race could hear the footsteps approaching. He quickly scoped out his surroundings for a place to hide. The closet and bathroom were too obvious, along with many of the other spots.
Race caught sight of a dark shadow at the base of the bed. He lifted the blanket to see a small two-foot gap in the bed’s base frame.
“I told you, he’s not there,” Zain repeated, loud enough to give Race fair warning.
There wasn’t enough time to find another spot. Race grabbed the frame and used it to slide himself into the small gap. He fixed the blanket behind him as the door to his room opened.
“See? Not here,” Zain repeated himself.
Race wanted to breathe a sigh of relief, but his fear of being caught forced him to hold it instead. The sounds of shuffling signaled that Rikki had started searching the hiding spots he had passed on. They came to a stop as she came up empty.
“Would you like for me to have the Chief contact you when he gets back?”
“I’ll wait,” Rikki replied. Race heard the frame of the bed creak around him as Rikki climbed on top of it.
With Rikki on the bed, Race stuck out a hand to alert his teammate to his hiding spot.
Zain let out a single chuckle.
“What?” Rikki snapped. Race quickly jerked his hand back under the bed.
“Oh, nothing. I just hope you don’t mind waiting. It’s a huge building, and you never know where the Chief’s intuition will take him.”
Race could feel Rikki’s displeasure; it made the whole room uncomfortable.
“Help yourself to some of the food out here,” Zain’s voice trailed off as he left the two alone. “You paid for it, after all.”
For the longest time, the two were at a standstill. Race watched the time pass on his biosensor while his stalker waited above. After twenty minutes, Race decided it was best to get comfortable. He crossed his arms and laid his head down hoping to doze off. As long as he didn’t snore, he figured he’d be safe.
A flurry of noise stopped Race from falling asleep. A pair of feet landed just in front of him. Race prayed that Rikki hadn’t gotten the notion to look under the bed. Instead of the covers coming up, something dropped down around her feet instead. Race squinted to figure out what it was. By the time Race realized that it was Rikki’s shirt, a bra fell to join it. Soon, there was a full set of clothes on the floor, and Race debated if the view above was worth getting caught for.
The feet disappeared as the bouncing in the bed returned above him. Humming started to circle the room. Race had heard something similar earlier that day in the hotel lobby; it was the sound of an automated media drone meant to holo-imaging.
“Record,” commanded Rikki to the station. “Waiting to properly reward the Republic’s hero for his amazing service.”
“Stop. Post to media stream.”
The device beeped its acknowledgment. Race contemplated the dire seriousness of his situation. The next thing he heard was the patting of feet heading toward the bathroom. Then came the sound of running water from the shower.
“What is she doing?” Race mouthed the words, too afraid to speak them.
Race heard some splashing, which only confused him more.
“Record,” Rikki ordered her media drone once again. “Even this genetically engineered clone body has its limits,” she faked being exhausted. “Not sure if I’ve found our hero’s yet, though. What? Again? Well, duty calls.”
“Stop. Save for later post.”
Race’s thoughts transformed into a horrific nightmare.
There was more noise from the bed. “Record. Finally, the hero rests. Now to get ready for tonight’s performance. He’s so cute when he’s sleeping.”
“Oh my god, this woman is crazy,” Race dwelled, grabbing a ball of hair in each fist.
Rikki continued to stage a dozen more recordings for her media followers, each one driving Race closer to insanity. The starlet even dipped into Race’s bag of personal items for props. In one recording, Race could tell she had taken a uniform with his name embroidered on it. “I know clones can’t legally marry, but Mrs. Allard does have a nice ring to it.”
When she felt she had enough, Rikki finally departed the room, her clothes still a pile at the end of Race’s bed. Race remained hidden in his fortress, waiting for the all-clear signal.
“darn, girl,” he heard Konway from the other room.
“Tell Race I want him in my room the moment he gets back,” Rikki ordered.
“You sure you got the right marine?” Zain said, trying to build himself up. “You might have a little bit more fun with this one.”
Race prayed for a miracle to divert the stalker’s attention to his friend.
The pink starlet scoffed. “There’s nothing at the top of that mountain worth climbing for.”
“Can’t blame a guy for trying,” Zain conceded.
Race heard the hydraulics of the main door slide open and close as the intruder left. Any moment now…
“It’s safe. You can come out now,” Zain called.
Race let out his relief in a huge sigh. He shifted over onto his back and used the base of the bed to pull himself out, trying to dodge his way around the litter of clothes.
He left his room to find his two teammates sprawled out on different couches watching the holovision. “Were you under the bed the whole time?” Zain sat up to call Race out.
“Yes,” Race said, fuming at his bad luck.
“She was in there for over an hour. What was she doing? And what happened to her clothes?” Konway said, losing interest in the show.
“She took them off and started staging a whole bunch of “encounters” between us to post on her social board,” Race explained, using his fingers to quote.
“No way,” Zain laughed, reaching for his biosensor, “let’s follower her so we can see ‘em.”
“So, let me get this straight,” Konway started to summarize the situation. “You have a superior genetically engineered woman in your room. Naked and hot for you, and you’re cowering under the bed the whole time?”
“Shut up,” Race pouted.
“Amazing body,” Zain commented. “I wonder how much it costs.”
“Well, I’m sure she paid enough for it,” Konway added.
“True,” Zain nodded. Turning his attention back to Race. “Do you know how many people would have killed to have been in that room? I would have given his left arm for that opportunity,” Zain pointed at Konway.
“Thanks,” Konway scowled.
Race moaned his dissatisfaction with the continued conversation.
“I mean, the line could connect a couple of planets.”
Race gave up and headed back to his bed. He had made it three steps when the door chirped. Race sprinted for his entry, fearful his stalker had returned for him.
Zain got up to answer the door. “Identify.”
“Hotel services,” the automated door attendant replied.
Race kept his ear near the door, hoping to hear the encounter. He was ready to make for his tiny sanctuary under the bed again if needed. The main entrance slid open once more.
“I’m looking for Race Allard,” the attendant said. “He has a call in the main conference room.”
Race peeked around the door frame to see Zain waving him out. The musclebound man had already examined the outer hallway for traps.
“Why didn’t you transfer it to the room?” Zain asked.
“It’s on a secure channel, sir,” the attendant clarified, catching a view of Race approaching. “The conference room is the only place with the proper security to handle the call. We don’t normally get too many. Bartholomew asks that you please hurry. We put a hold on a previous engagement to receive the call.”
“Who is it?” Race asked.
There was a short pause. “Of?” Zain asked.
“Of the Galactic Republic.”
Everyone had to step back from the shock. “Well, that explains how high up the order came from,” Race sighed.
* * *
The President was finishing up his meeting when his young aid flashed him the signal that her task had been completed.
“We need to dig up as much information as we can about this organization,” the president ordered. “I’m making this our top priority. Ms. Ruston can’t be happy with the cost our two green cards have put on her. If the organization decided to retaliate, we need all the information we can to protect them. Most importantly, who else is a part of it? Do we even know what it’s called?”
“No, sir,” a few of the senior staff said in unison.
“Well, let's find out. I hate to cut this short, gentlemen, but I have one of our troublemakers waiting for me. Miss Sanderson will contact you all to coordinate the investigations. General Vison, if you would please stay, your insight would be most helpful.”
“Of course, sir,” the General nodded. “It’s been a while since I checked in on the Chief.”
The President mentally noted the title as the group of officials traded goodbyes and funneled out the Oval Office. The President hit a command on the table before him to bring up a hologram of Race in the center of his administrative office in the capitol building.
The young soldier saluted immediately as the two were connected. “Mr. President, sir,”
“At ease, marine,” the President told him. “Thank you for accepting my call.”
Race spread his legs and clasped his hands behind his back, his posture still straight as a plank board. The President chuckled, remembering the military had its own definition of “at-ease.”
“I hear you’ve been avoiding your celebrity hostess,” the President cut to the chase.
“I’m sorry, sir. The orders had set times and designations, I wasn’t aware that I needed to make myself accessible to Miss T outside of those orders.”
“Listen, Chief. I’m going to be frank with you. I know you’re kind of young, and you’ve already seen your fair share of combat and done a great service to your country and humanity. I’m not trying to take any of that away from you, but there’s more to wars than just fighting the enemy.
“I’m not sure how familiar you are with the wars pre-galactic travel, but there are many operations that were deemed successful by the military but had to be called off because the media had made them look like failures. For this fight to continue, we need the approval of the public, which means we need to control the exposure to the media.
“Rikki-T has offered us a channel to do that by using her social followings to leak information we deem fit. To be credible and have that information taken seriously, she needs that link back to your action. Do you understand what I’m getting at?”
The President waited while Race breathed heavily. He wished his empathic abilities were as advanced as Senator Paige’s that he might know what the precog was thinking.
When he did finally speak, they carried a chill. “You want me to play along as Rikki-T’s boyfriend, so you can keep telling everyone that the Cenari are terrorists instead of warning them that they’re all at risk of becoming prisoners in their own bodies while alien nano-bots attempts to assimilate all life in the universe.”
“My goal is the same as yours, Chief,” the President defended. “I want to keep people safe just as much as you do. People have a hard time trusting their neighbors as it is, you want to give them a reason to think they’re some techno-zombie? Besides, wasn’t it you who suggested the Cenari were less of a threat the more they stay in the shadows? Or was that from the guest hanging out in your subconscious?”
The President hated playing that card. Illandra had just barely told him about the marine’s compromising experience when briefing him on the situation on Alpha Prime. She had told him how much help the alien had been in defeating the Cenari, but a compromised soldier was still compromised, hero or not.
“Tranagra has done more for the human race than either of us have, sir,” Race said, finally putting his thoughts into words.
“And I’m grateful for that,” the President stopped him. “I’m not trying to put you in a bad spot here, Chief. Rikki has offered to pay you handsomely for your cooperation. I read your report on the outer rim and the abuse those people suffered. She’s already donated millions in your name and created a non-profit to help them, all like you wanted. Think of how many people you can help just by tolerating her for a little bit.”
The President could see Race’s contempt shift toward compassion. The President didn’t expect to see such a big heart behind the man that shredded an army with his mental prowess. At least it gave him a direction.
“Just try and give it a shot, Chief, see how it feels. At least until you’ve had a chance to see the payoff.”
“Is that an order, sir?”
The President knew if he made it an order, he would lose the marine’s respect, maybe even turn him into a personal adversary. With the Chief’s fame and powers, he could take on the whole establishment if he decided to. “I won’t force you to do anything you don’t want to, Chief. But it would be a huge favor to me if you at least considered it. Who doesn’t want the President of the Galactic Republic to owe him one, eh?”
Race took one last deep breath. “I’ll play along, for now, sir.”
“Thank you, Chief,” the President submitted. “Enjoy the rest of your trip. I hear New Vegas throws a heck of a party.”
“Will do. Thank you, sir.” Race snapped to attention as his hand came up to salute.
The President clicked the controls to cancel the call. He took a deep breath and sat back in his chair to replay the conversation in his head.
“You keep handing out favors like that, and you’re going to end up owning most of the Republic,” the general gave his unsolicited opinion.
The President moaned with displeasure, distracted by his thoughts of Race.
“Will there be anything else, Mr. President?”
“Yes, General. What do we do if the man we made a public hero and has the powers to bend the universe and detect any threat decides to turn on us?”
“We have countermeasures in place for that, Mr. President.”
* * *
Race boarded the ship bearing his namesake, happy the whole assignment on New Vegas was over. Major Jenson and a couple of members of the team were waiting to greet them. Race looked around the cargo hold, surprised to not see the redheaded female member of the team awaiting him.
“Good to have you back, Chief.” Henry saluted Race, along with the other members of the team.
“Glad to be back,” Race said, returning the salute, he was getting accustomed to being on the other side of command.
The Major was quick to get to business. “How did it go? We heard rumors of an attack?”
“Staged attack,” Race clarified. “Publicity stunt by Rikki. I wish I would have known that before I broke the guy's nose.”
“Don’t mind him,” Zain interrupted. “He’s still a little hungover.”
“Or concussed,” Race snarled, rubbing the bump on the back of his head.
“I didn’t hit you that hard, you sissy,” Zain smiled slyly.
“Anyway, any word on our next assignment?” Race was eager to put this whole ordeal behind him.
“Alpha Prime,” the major responded.
Race took a deep breath. “darn it, Illy,” he whispered to himself.
“What was that, Chief?”
“Nothing, sir. How long until we get there?”
“Gunny Keegan and the engineers got a little more power out of the engines. We should be there in two to three weeks. Why don’t you and your crew take the rest of the day to get situated and we’ll brief tomorrow morning?”
“Yes, sir,” Race saluted, dismissing himself.
“Thank you, sir,” Konway added, following them out.
“Oh, Gunny Reece,” Henry called out to them, “your wife was trying to get ahold of you. I told her I’d have you call her as soon as you were back on board.”
“Well, that was quicker than expected,” Konway replied.