John heard the words repeating in his head, Johnny go get it. It was a coined phrase that his commander gave him for his dedication of always volunteering for difficult missions. The rest of the team, his brothers, would chime in on the teasing admiring his dedication. Today, was another of the Johnny go get it days. He had a new mission to retrieve an important package where no one wanted to go, XA9.
He was uncomfortable being stationed on planet XA12, where he had earned his fourth stripe. There was usually a celebration when the soldiers earned their stripes, but now there was just animosity given, because of the night of the freezing. His brothers had turned on him. It was as if he was back there again, very cold and exceptionally quiet. He could hear the whistling of the wind making him motionless, as he remembered the reaction of his success for following the mission very rigidly. They hated him and now they were jealous of him for being one step away of being promoted to a higher station.
This was going to be his last difficult mission. He stayed still listening to the wind, scratching against his window, realizing the odds were already against him. The wind was exceptionally strong tonight and was screaming it wanted to kill him. There was no way to avoid it, they still wanted him to leave. The package was too important and he had a small window of opportunity to retrieve it. They were expecting him to get it and return no later than 4 am with no questions asked and no resistance.
Although he was already geared up and ready to go, he wasn’t sure about sitting on the ship for such a long time with an empty stomach. He had one flat bread on his desk that he was saving for later and decided to munch on it to keep his stomach stable. An empty stomach didn’t help and neither did a full one. It was a small important part of training that he found invaluable; keeping his body stable inside and out. He brushed off the crumbs to the floor, not feeling like cleaning. More importantly it was a marker for him; indicating if anyone had entered his room. It was his new skill created, leaving markers everywhere as a spot check for any invasive intruder.
But he had another unsettling environmental impact in his room; the cold air. Each compound preserved energy by turning the heat down to near shut off, which was zoned to an individual soldiers room when they were sent on a mission. The frigid air was punishing. John thought it was their way of pushing a soldier out and reminding them of their mission. The sound of the wind had subsided as he heard footsteps in the hallway. Jumping up out of his seat, he quietly went towards the door and laid flat on his stomach trying to take a glimpse of the footsteps. It was two doors down across from him to the right, he recognized the boots. It stopped in front of his door. The minutes had gone by without a knock. The boots remained. There were no whispers, nothing. John got nervous. He couldn’t hear what the boots were doing. It couldn’t be good.
He laid still waiting and watching. Then he noticed another set of feet approaching. It was socks that stood across from the boots. The socks were colorful with strong evergreen and deep blue geometric shapes. But he didn’t recognize them. John moved slowly as he got up to press against the door, attempting to listen to identify the owner of the socks. There was nothing, but muffled sounds. He couldn’t be certain. These doors were very well made, he thought. They were designed to keep anything out from the opposite side, especially when he placed the sweepers on the bottom of it. The sweepers were a magnetic removable add on to the bottom of the door that fit snug, leaving no air space and no visibility to see from underneath. John never used the sweepers.
There was one thing he could do. He needed his sound enhancer, a project he had worked on as an invention, which he was planning to profit from when he graduated. It was the perfect tool to clarify the muffling. Pressing it against the door, it vibrated when he turned it on, startling him and hoping the other side did not hear. With one earpiece in, he listened.
“Are you sure about this?”
“We’re done with him. When he leaves he won’t come back.”
John heard the footsteps of the boots walk away. He laid flat again, to see if the socks had left. Socks was gone. They were planning on sabotaging his mission and preventing him from getting his last stripe needed for his promotion.
Sitting back down at his desk and watching the stormy wind blowing loudly as never been heard before, he imagined the possibilities they had in store for him.
Possibility one is that they could sabotage his tools, making sure they won’t work in the time of need. It was the easiest most accessible thing they could do. John shook his head, amazed that they wanted revenge. If they were done with him, why not let him get his last stripe so he could leave them and they could be free of him. Delaying him will only furlong their misery.
Then there was possibility two. The mission was located where no one wanted to go, planet XA9. It was the worse planet to go to. There were parts where soldiers went in and never returned. And there were other parts where they were often set up, trapped, and had to fight their way back to their ship. That’s the part he was hoping for, he was confident he could fight through anything. They may be planning to place him where he may not return at all. He had to find away to overcome it.
His computer was on. It was the only way he could check the details of his mission again and again. Once on the ship he would be able to transfer the instructions to his handheld comm. John was sure that they planned to change the data sent to his handheld. This was the only time he had to remember the details of his mission to obtain an external copy; just in case his memory failed him. He was going to be ready.
The hour was coming to a close. He hadn’t heard the loud ticking of his old desk clock until now. It was louder than the windy storm. In the hallway, everything appeared to be exceptionally quiet as he walked out of his room, turning the knob slowly as to not alert anyone he was leaving. He punched in the code to lock his door after releasing the door knob, with a desperate attempt to make sure the knob did not make that clicking sound. He walked out of the compound quietly as if he never existed. At least he made it to his ship, where he immediately went to his post.
He checked his equipment over and over again, searching for any sabotage. There was nothing. His temperature was rising. His nerves was getting the best of him, worrying about what his brothers were going to do. He sat comfortably in his seat, transferring, a copy of the details of his mission to his handheld. The mission was the same, so far so good. John chuckled to himself, realizing the conversation he’d overheard may not be about him. He had to admit that his compound had acquired a disturbing culture, where everyone had immaturity in their hearts, but it didn’t automatically mean they were revengeful.
The ship moved quietly across the galaxy heading to XA9. John shared his compartment with another soldier, Dane, from another compound. There was the usual silence and double checking the preparedness, before settling in their seats. The ship had started with self propelled movement to their destination. Now that they had settled, John was ready for the small talk.
“Are you okay? Scared?”
“Are you talking to me?” John stared straight ahead mapping the galaxy as the ship continued on to their mission, dismissing the word scared.
“Who else would I be talking to? You’re the only one here with me.”
John didn’t take his eyes off the galaxy. He took a deep breath, realizing that he was indeed uncomfortable. It was hotter than usual.
“It’s kind of hot. This is a smaller ship. I think we need to adjust the temperature.” John reached for the gauge and saw his hands shaking a bit.
“The temp is fine. It’s you. You’re nervous. Don’t worry. I’ve been to XA9 before. If you need help just let me know.”
The temp was not fine. It was broken. Dane was an idiot. John got up to check the control panel. He was sure that sabotage had been done. It was the ship, something he had never thought they would be able to do. The ships were always stationed at the yard before any missions. They were repaired, tested, and refueled. Most importantly no one knew which ship they were going to be assigned to. But somehow his brothers knew. They had found out prior and sabotaged it.
“What are you doing? Don’t mess with those controls.” Dane got up to lock the control panel, pushing John away.
“You can’t feel this heat? Someone had sabotage the ship. We need to fix it or return back.”
“There’s nothing wrong with the ship. The temp is okay. It’s you. You don’t look well. Look at you. You’re sweating and shaking like an animal. You’re sick.”
Dane was right. John had not noticed, but he was shaking and Dane wasn’t. He was sweating and Dane wasn’t. It was him. The controls appeared to be set correctly unless they were broken, but there was no indication of that.
“You need to take something. Do you want me to take your mission? I can do both yours and mine. You can stay in the ship. It’s no problem for me. I’ve been to XA9 before.”
“I guess that’s what you would want. To take my stripe for yours. You did something to me. I know it.”
“What would I have to gain? I can’t take your stripe and I don’t know you to have anything against you. You’re talking crazy. Just sit down relax. I’ll get you something.”
John sat back in his seat. If he stood any longer he was sure to fall down.
“Computer, body temperature.” John’s voice was weak. The computer gave him his temperature at his terminal, indicating a temperature of near death 105 degrees.
“Hey!” Dane yelled, shaking John. John had passed out and wasn’t breathing. Dane reported to the station that he had a man down and had to abort the mission.
“No. Stay on course and complete the mission. We’ll take care of the soldier when you return.”
“And his? What about his mission? Should I proceed with his too?”
“First yours. If there is time, you may complete his. I’ll let his commander know about him. Send a complete report before landing.”
XA9 was in its normal chaotic state. Dane had someone on the inside to help him, so his mission was a piece of cake. He secured his package and reluctantly secured John’s package. He was surprised that other compounds were still retrieving those kind of packages, but he didn’t care. He needed to get back to the ship.
The ride back was stifling. He had never rode with a dead body in a seat next to him. But commander instructed him to disengage from John. He had to make good of pretending John was not there. No tampering with the scene. The ship was going to be quarantined and everything including himself was going to examined.
The report was unusually lengthy in description for such a short period of time. Dane outlined John’s death meticulously. He had saw a problem at the very first sight of John. “His face was blotchy red when he walked in, taking off his gloves showing even more warning signs, dark blotchy spots…” Dane wrote that he was expecting a story from John, explaining his horror of a mission gone wrong and resulting in his skin damage. He continued with his details, then wrote a summary of his last bit of analysis.
John came in bewildered and confused searching for something he thought he had lost, as if he had already been on the ship. He tested out every weapon of his equipment he had. I thought he was surprisingly angry or seriously disturbed. I summed it up as him being just nervous. It’s not surprising since we were heading towards XA9. I saw him review his mission several times as if he was studying it. He was extremely terrified. He accused me of sabotage and felt I was trying to steal his mission to earn stripes I couldn’t possibly earn. I was unaware that his compound was engaged in retrieving such packages. I thought it had been banned, but…
Dane was lost for words. He knew he had to rewrite the report to make it just perfect. But what could he say about John’s compound still obtaining packages of life; seeds of humanity? The laws were slowly changing and was destined to ban purchasing seeds of human beings. The shortage was just the sign of the times that their species were doomed to be extinct and no one wanted to continue improperly fertilizing human existence. They’ve seen the horrible results that backfired. Facial reconstruction of beastly features. Limbs that were noticeably elongated. Palms that were thicker and more durable than the average man. Claws instead of fingers and toes. There were numerous changes that were far from what normal was. They had concluded it was the polluted environment that contributed to the surprising results of the fertilized human beings. It left Dane believing that John, himself, was in desperate need of the package. He was dying and now was dead.
After landing, the examiner had given Dane a pass. He was cleared, being free from any possible infections. He had read Dane’s report and saw no truth in it. John was murdered. It was something he had touched. His hands were exposed to a deadly toxin.