The End of Infinity
Ghost in the Machine
Solomon Roka moved through the Rüstov super-dreadnaught Apocalypse with the swift, silent purpose of a black ops commando. He was a tall man with a lean, muscular build, short black hair, and three days’ worth of stubble on his face. He wore a formfitting black suit lined with flexible circuitry and carried a backpack filled with all the tools of his profession. Roka crept around corners like a thief in the night, and although the time of day in deep space was relative, he was without question a thief. He was there to steal the future of the Rüstov people.
Roka approached a sliding metal door with a small window right at eye level. As he reached out to open it, a green light lit up on its access panel. He froze in place and his heart followed suit. The door was about to open from the other side. Rüstov sentries were coming through. They hadn’t seen him yet, but he had only a few seconds before they did.
Roka had no cover in the empty passageway. The door on the opposite end of the hall was too far away, but he ran for it, hugging the shadows as he went. The sound of compressed air being released filled the hallway as the doors began to slide apart behind him. He had time left for only a simple choice: right or left. The lack of an exit in either direction was not a problem. The uncertainty surrounding each option was. Roka made up his mind and activated his Ghost Suit. The circuits covering his body blazed with light, rendering his molecules intangible as he leaped through the wall directly to his left. He just hoped he wasn’t diving into a situation worse than the one he was trying to escape.
Roka found himself alone when he emerged on the other side of the wall. He stood on the engineering deck of
the ship, overlooking the Apocalypse’s powerful warp core. He had to get his bearings straight and find his way to the detention block, but first he needed a minute to collect himself and gather his nerves. They were scattered everywhere, which was unusual for him. This kind of operation was Roka’s stock in trade, but this was more than just another job. This breakout wasn’t about money; his own freedom was on the line this time too. There was something else as well. The Apocalypse wasn’t just any Rüstov ship. It was the personal flagship of the Rüstov emperor. Roka was quite happy to go on living without ever having the honor of meeting the Rüstov leader.
Getting back to business, Roka activated a holographic map-finder device on his wrist. It emitted a high-frequency sonar pulse that generated blueprints of the ship and projected them into the air in front him. The ship’s plans glowed brightly in the darkness, faded down, and returned as each sonic pulse sounded. Roka saw where he needed to go. His objective was three hundred feet below him, straight down.
Roka measured the drop with a laser ruler and took out a length of special evaporating rope. He latched
himself to a railing overlooking the ship’s engine, jumped over the top, and dove down alongside the white-hot column of pure energy that powered the starship’s Infinite Warp Core. Air whistled through Roka’s hair as he fell, anchored to the walkway above. He swung his feet out to land as the floor raced toward him. The thin, black rope stretched like a bungee cord, slowing his descent, and then dissolved into smoke as he touched down softly on the ground. The jump would have been perfect if not for the fact that he landed right among a trio of Rüstov Para-Soldiers.
Before the Rüstov even had time to register his presence, Roka flipped down a pair of shades and set off a light grenade to blind his enemies. He grabbed the Para-Soldier closest to him by the wrist, turned, and flipped it over his shoulder. The Rüstov sentry crashed into one of its fellow guards, and Roka detached a small disk from his belt. He slapped it onto the third Para-Soldier’s chest. Electric currents poured out of the disk, ripping through the Rüstov’s body and permanently disabling it. The first two Para-Soldiers were just getting back up when Roka jumped and threw both feet into them, kicking them back
over the edge of the platform. They fell into the warp core’s towering column of energy and were vaporized instantly. The whole fight, if it could truly be described as such, lasted all of seven seconds.
The Rüstov threat neutralized, Roka once again activated his Ghost Suit and phased through the wall on his right. He emerged in the detention block and took a deep breath, mentally preparing himself for what would be the hardest part of the mission. Roka walked down the hall, forcing himself to ignore the pleas for help coming from the prisoners who were locked up in the cells to his left and right. It wasn’t easy. Roka knew what was in store for them. A long time ago, he’d been a Rüstov prisoner himself. It was absolutely killing him to leave them behind, but there was nothing he could do for them. Not here. Not now. But maybe . . . just maybe, if what he’d been told was true, there was hope for them yet.
At end of the hall, Roka arrived at a locked door. He could see through its foggy laser-proof window well enough to make out a prison lab on the other side. This was it. Roka narrowed the focus on his Ghost Suit to phase only his hand. It flickered like a faded movie projection as he
ran it through the lock, shorting out its circuits. The door slid open and Roka entered the lab.
The room was empty, which was good, but Roka still didn’t like what he found inside. In the center of the lab was an operating table surrounded by vicious-looking surgical tools and trays of techno-organic hardware. Roka didn’t know what kind of sick experiments went on in this room, but it was clear that whatever prisoner had spent time on that operating table wasn’t dealing with the standard Rüstov infection.
Next to the table was a stasis pod, large enough to fit a single person inside. Next to that, a holo-screen readout displayed the words “Infection Level: 25%.” Roka plugged a CodeBreaker into a data port on the pod’s access panel, and the cover rose up like the lid of a coffin. Gas poured out from the inside. As the vapors cleared, Roka noticed a red light flashing on the pod, blinking out the words “Incubation Period Interrupted.” He’d set off a silent alarm. Roka frowned and, in a very businesslike manner, knelt down to remove a pair of special suits from his pack. He held one out toward the figure in the pod, who was just waking up. “Put this on. We don’t have much time.”
A groggy voice called out from inside the pod. “What’s going on? Who are you?”
Roka kicked his pack away and stood up, pulling his suit on over his clothes. “I’m Solomon Roka. I’m here to rescue you.”
Jack Blank stepped out of the stasis pod and nearly fell over. Roka caught him and propped him up. “Can you walk?” Jack nodded, and Roka thrust a space suit into his arms. “Put this on. Quickly. We need to be gone before the guards show u—”
They moved into the light and Roka stopped talking.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” Jack asked.
It took Roka a moment to answer. He was locked in a frozen stare, transfixed by Jack’s appearance. “You, uh . . .” Roka shook his head and started sealing up his own suit. “You’ve got something on your eye, kid.”
Jack touched a hand to his face and drew in a sharp breath. He checked his reflection in the stasis pod’s glass lid, and sure enough, there it was. A parting gift from the Rüstov. Just a little something to take home with him. The mark of Rüstov infection surrounded Jack’s eye like a line drawn with black paint.