“Are you sure? I know we have a fix on the location but what if…?” Ambrose started and I knew what he was thinking.

“What if the ship is destroyed? What if the ship is not functioning the way it is supposed to?” I completed Ambrose’s questions as the former looked at me. He was concerned and it was obvious.

I met him in the command center and was surprised, Ijaz was the first person to tell Ambrose about a rescue mission to salvage the ship and he was already giving ideas. When I walked up and seconded Ijaz’s idea, Ambrose was dumbfounded. He called both of us in his office. I could make out Ijaz was recovering well and was in a position to talk sense.

“What are you worried about, Ambrose?” Ijaz asked.

Ambrose stared at Ijaz; a smile sprouted as he realized that his old friend was back.

“We have all lived half of our lives serving the nation. I, of all, people… guilty as I am, did go against it but I was forced to yet with this salvage mission, I see that I can reclaim myself. As for you, Ambrose, I know without a doubt that you always looked for an opportunity to track MOONRISER but there was no way anybody could track it.

I know now why Dhiren asked me to create the portable tracker. He gave it to his family, to his son so that one day, we will be able to track that ship and bring it back.” Said Ijaz.

“He should have given that tracker to Ambrose Sir and not me. He should have told about it but he never did. I still don’t understand why.” I said, as I looked at an old photo of Ambrose and my Dad on the former’s table.

“Don’t get me wrong, Sudhir but your Dad had great belief that MOONRISER was not so easy to be defeated. He may have been overconfident about it and that is why he never told us anything about it. I could have been the first person to tell ISS about the tracker but I was kidnapped and was in bondage for so many years.

All the more reason to search and bring back that ship as soon as possible. We have no idea what THE FIRE is planning but we need to be prepared.” Said Ijaz.

I couldn’t argue about my Dad’s character. No doubt, I am his son. If communication was… and is still my weakness, I have also been told that I am overconfident. I still remember Ambrose telling me when I first met him that I reminded him of my Dad and went about talking shit about him. I was angry that time but now, all I could do was smile.

“You have my permission, Sudhir. If that ship is in one piece, we need it. If not, at least salvage the schematics of the ship. The reason why we are unable to build another ship of that size was because of the schematics.” Said Ambrose.

I was confused. The ship’s schematics? I did have the question as to why another ship like MOONRISER was not built. Ambrose looked at me, he understood my dilemma about this.

“We have the blue print for the ship but just building the ship is not enough. The ship was state of the art, it had facilities that even a regular starship will not have. The schematics of every ship is assigned to the shipmaster which in this case was your Dad. The schematics are stored in the ship’s mainframe, in a shipmaster’s computer and a locker that only the captain has access to.

You should understand by now that your Dad’s disappearance meant that all information pertaining to the ship was lost because of which we couldn’t build another ship. What made that even more difficult was the disappearance of Ijaz right after the ship went missing.

 I now give you that responsibility to retrieve the schematics. It is secured by a combination code that only your Dad had but I am confident that a hacking expert can crack it.” Ambrose explained.

“I will do my best to retrieve it. However, you said about an expert hacker that can crack the code. What if THE FIRE were already able to decode it?” I asked.

“Let us hope that they couldn’t. I not sure what they are up to but if we have to beat them, then we need to act fast. Retrieve the ship or the schematics and report to me… only me, Sudhir. Consider me to be your reporting officer for this mission, so you or your subordinate will contact me only for any advice.” Said Ambrose, and I nodded my head in agreement.

“Ambrose, Sir, permission to go with the squad.” Ijaz spoke up.

Ambrose and I were perplexed.

“Ijaz, you are still not fit enough. You are recuperating… and I don’t see any reason why you should tag along with them.” Ambrose said.

“They need an expert to crack the mainframe. They may have someone to do it but I designed the ship, I may have the tools required to access the schematics.” Said Ijaz.

Ambrose looked at me, I smiled and asked, “Can you keep up, old man?”

Ijaz laughed heartily, came forward and said, “My son, I was the only person in the entire ISS to have the right to make fun of your Dad and spank your Dad’s ass. If I can do that to your Dad, then Imagine what I can do with you.”

I couldn’t help but laugh at that comment.

“We leave in 20 minutes. Pack your stuff. We will meet at the airpad.” I said, as I rushed outside to meet my team.

As I walked out, Joseph and Rooma were outside. They wanted to speak to me and were waiting for me.

“Sudhir, don’t be alarmed. Rooma got to know about MOONRISER from Rizwan. I thought… if you have no issues… I would like to be a part of the salvage mission.” Said Joseph.

I wasn’t alarmed but surprised. In a few moments or so, Joseph had changed so much. Was he playing a game with me or was he serious about what he was saying? Besides, ISS will anyway know about the salvage mission one way or the other. I can already visualize the morning tabloids going full blaze about the successful tracking of the ship but for Joseph to be involved in this, there has to be a reason.

“When I was a kid, the main reason why I wanted to join ISS was to be a crew member on MOONRISER. More so, to be a marshaller for the same ship. I used to visualize myself air marshalling the MOONRISER but after I got to know about the disappearance of the ship, I was angered and disappointed.

I still signed up to join ISS and got to know about you, your Dad… like everyone else, my anger towards you was strong. Our reasons for hatred were lame indeed but nevertheless, it exists… but not for me now, not anymore. You are a brave leader, Sudhir. Indeed, the best of the best… just like your Dad.

MOONRISER is more than a ship, it is our legacy and we cannot allow anyone to snatch that from us. We have to bring it back… and we will help you do it.” Said Joseph.

I smiled at Joseph, he was a good man and he accepted the fact that the hatred towards my family and me were lame. I lived with it, however, not for long. Everything was about to change, I nodded my head in agreement and said, “Meet us at the airpad. Take whatever is required. We leave soon enough.”

In 20 minutes, we were at the airpad. Ambrose had a ship heavily modified with the necessary tech and weaponry to assist us during the journey. As we loaded our stuffs, Ijaz joined us and shook hands with Ambrose. Rizwan came forward, took Ijaz’s bag and put it among our stuffs.

“Best of luck, people. Keep reporting your status to me and have a safe journey.” Said Ambrose.

We thanked him and boarded the ship. The air marshaller signaled for liftoff, Joseph was piloting the ship with Daljeet as co-pilot, they acknowledged and took the ship to the skies.

“Good to have you with us, Joseph. Besides, we need someone to pilot the MOONRISER too and you are it.” Said Chandni.

“Don’t make a saint out of a sinner, Chandni. So long as I don’t crash this ship, consider your lives in my hands.” Said Joseph, and we laughed at that comment.

Joseph flew the ship out into open space, we had to utilize THE ZONE to be able to reach the location of the crashed ship faster. Joseph contacted the controllers of THE ZONE to provide access and confirmed the access code. We had to wait for 3 minutes before the signal on THE ZONE turned green. Once it did, Joseph asked us to check our seat belts before proceeding.

Once we gave the signal that we were ready, Joseph flew the ship through THE ZONE. This was not the first time for us yet in my experience, it was just the 2nd time and therefore, I was tensed. The moment we passed through it, we could feel a sudden surge in our body, of something pulling us, a sudden feel of weightlessness and then suddenly, there was a boom sound and we could see ourselves going through a wormhole.

The ship was going at great speed for about 3 minutes till there was another boom and the ship came out of the wormhole. If it weren’t for the seatbelts, we would have been flung onto the walls of the ship.

“Damn, that was quite an experience. Anyone here for round 2?” Rizwan asked.

None of us were answering for we were looking at something that only a few ever saw and lived to tell about. It was the chaotic belt. The description that was given about it matched what we were seeing. It was a phenomenon that had a deep explanation but for now, to keep things simple… it was not one but 2 asteroid belts in one. The catch was… one belt was going clockwise and the other anti-clockwise because of which the rocks… or asteroids were crashing against each other. Many would have thought that there wouldn’t be any more rocks considering the frequent bashing. However, I remember reading a paper about this that was submitted by a researcher a year after the disappearance of the MOONRISER.

According to the researcher, the belt is in existence for about a million years. The part of the universe where it was formed was declared to be not so conducive for living considering meteors or asteroid always circled these areas and the planets in this area where always ravaged by these rocks. The gravity of the planet to which the belt was attached to was said to be a few masses more than the gravity of Saturn, and every rock that flew past this planet was pulled to it which lead to the formation of the chaotic belt.

A terrible thought passed my mind. I had to know if my colleagues had the same thought.

“There was a paper written about this belt. Did anyone read about it?” I asked.

Everyone answered in the positive including Joseph who added, “I know what you are thinking. However, what we must also know is that due to the disappearance of the ship and the blind assumption that it went through the chaotic belt, all research and travel to this part of the universe was stopped and rendered dangerous.

If MOONRISER would have still been in service, we would have discovered more planets and other interesting information about this part. As per research, we were able to find details of 2 planets but not more than that. The MOONRISER has crashed landed on M-162 which is said to be a dry waste land but also… is not so severely ravaged by meteor shower.”

“What do you mean by ‘NOT SEVERELY RAVAGED’?” Asked Rizwan.

“It means an occasional meteor can fall on any of our heads. I cannot think ahead of the size and speed of that meteor. We have to wear safety outfits if we have to walk on that planet.” Joseph answered.

“Great. There is no guarantee that the outfits would help us.” Chandni commented.

“Let us just hope that the meteors decide not to disturb us and fall in places they would love to. Take us to M-162 while we put on the outfits.” Said Sudhir.

Joseph flew the ship towards the planet. We found out that it was a 1 hour and 45-minute journey to the planet.

“The ship went through THE ZONE and was in contact with us for 20 minutes after which all went dark. Whatever happened, it happened between this time period.” Said Daljeet.

“Even then the question still lingers as to what happened. Something… or maybe someone must have sabotaged the communications system of that ship.” Rooma suggested.

“It is obvious that the crew of MOONRISER was attempting to learn about this planet but considering the location of this ship, it either landed over there or… crash landed.” Said Joseph.

The word ‘Crash landed’ made us look at each other and then everyone looked at me. It was obvious that Dad was on a mission to find habitable planets but why would he stop at just one planet. What had happened to that ship while it travelled from the chaotic belt to its first destination? M-162 was right in front of us. We analyzed the topography of the planet before descending.

Ijaz checked the data and said, “The planet is mostly barren. No trees, nothing. Oxygen content is very low. The good news is… we are safe from meteor showers. You may feel some occasional rocks falling on your head so I would still advice to wear the outfits.” Said Ijaz.

“What about the location of MOONRISER? Where is it?” I asked.

Ijaz clicked a few buttons on the keyboard and then adjusting his spectacles, looked at the data. I saw him go round-eyed over something and I was surprised by that.

“What is it? What do you see?” I asked as everyone listened with baited breath.

“You kids are not going to believe this. Oh, what am I saying! Even I can’t believe this. MOONRISER is way past its service limit, it has been missing for 15 years and even though it is state of the art, its machinery and equipments are obsolete as per today’s standards but… but… the machinery of this ship is still operational.

The computers of this ship have aligned itself to our network. I am… I am able to… access the schematics of this ship though not able to download or gain complete access due to us requiring a code yet this is beyond anything that I have seen.” Said Ijaz.

“I don’t get it. You are saying that the ship… the ship is operational, meaning it is working. It is working even after it crash landed.” Said Daljeet.

“There are no life signs yet the ship is operational. It is running on its own. But how?” Asked Rizwan.

I remembered something that Ijaz said, “The AI, you said about the AI being an evolving one. You designed it then it is quite possible that the AI… it has evolved. It could be the reason why the ship is still operational. Maybe, the AI… it has detected that… we are here. It knows we are here. The tracker on the watch. It was not my Dad but… it was that AI that triggered it.

Joseph, step on it. We will find out for ourselves. The rest of you, back to your seats and fasten your seatbelts. We are close to a discovery of sorts.”

Joseph initiated the descend sequence while we got into our seats and fastened our seatbelts. Our ship steadied itself locking onto the target location and then flew at top speed through the atmosphere. The moment we were close to the ground, the ship slowed down and made a sharp steer left towards the location. Joseph switched off the auto pilot and took control of the ship. When the engines went silent and the ship was idling, Joseph spoke up, “Guys, look.”

We all got up from our seat and looked outside through the cockpit. There it lay, majestic and beautiful as always.

“You see that, Sudhir. The first time it took to the sky, we all looked at it the same way we are looking at right now. Your Dad said 3 words and that became the tagline for this ship – THE UNDISPUTED BEHEMOTH.” Said Ijaz.

The ISS MOONRISER had indeed crash landed; we could make out from the damage the bow of the ship received. It lay on a high raised field facing the ocean. It was indeed a beach and we could see the waves crashing onto the shore. Joseph took our carrier close to the MOONRISER while Ijaz tried to analyze the schematics again. We could see that the entire mainframe of the ship was visible on Ijaz’s monitor.

“What are those things? I though this planet has no life but those things that are flying around close to those ships, what are they?” Rooma asked.

We all looked at the things that Rooma was talking about. I took out my binocular and had a closer look. They were not living things but looked like robot units. It looked like they were checking the ship front and back. I could make out about 200 of them.

“I don’t want to brag about myself but I may have underestimated the power of the AI I had designed. It has evolved, Sudhir. To the extent that in our absence, those constructor units have immediately switched themselves on and started repairing the ship. The damage that you are looking at on the bow of the ship has been repaired substantially with only 5 % remaining. Complete reparation of the ship will be complete in another 2 hours.” Said Ijaz.

“Constructor units!? Dr. Ijaz, what other magical items have you created for the ship?” Rizwan asked.

“Science and Magic are the same thing, Rizwan. You will know once we get into the ship.” Said Ijaz.

“We will once we land on that ship. Open the blast door to the docking station, let us get in and try to salvage the ship. From what I can see, we are taking the entire thing with us with complete repair and restoration.” Said Joseph.

Ijaz agreed, he typed in a few keys on the monitor and within seconds, there was a boom sound. We could see the MOONRISER lighting up like a Christmas tree after which a blast door opened revealing the docking station. Joseph flew towards it and finding a suitable landing pad, landed our ship on it.

As we walked out, we had a glimpse of the docking station. A medium class cruiser of today had the ability to dock close to a 50 – 80 carrier ships but the MOONRISER was a behemoth, a gigantic assault cruiser which could dock an entire medium class cruiser inside it.

Ijaz took the lead becoming a self-proclaimed guide without anyone’s permission… as if we needed one. We followed arming ourselves with assault rifles just in case there was an imminent threat around. He explained about the ship as we walked towards the control room in marvel at every odd detail that was double the size of a ship that we have rode in on. We reached the control room.

“A ship of this size required not just extra manpower but also the most experienced ones who had exhaustive knowledge of a starship’s handling. The ship in itself had a crew of 85000 people including soldiers and special guards to the commander.” Said Ijaz, as he connected his monitor to the ship’s main control unit. As he was working on it, I had a look at the commander’s seat. I walked towards it and touched the seat.

“Look at this ship. It has been here for about 15 years. Weird to see that a ship of this stature lying in this fashion in an unknown planet.” Rizwan commented.

“All alone, hurt… lying on a barren planet with no one to help. I know it is a ship but… still, the feeling of being alone like this just creeps me out.” Said Chandni.

I could understand and feel what Chandni was trying to say, there was no words to explain that feeling. I am one of those people who like to be left alone for some time if required but after sometime, even I feel like I need to talk… let my thoughts and feelings out, be around people whom I prefer.

As per our ISS code, a ship is a thing yet because it is a secondary home to all of us while in travel or in battle, it is referred to as ‘SHE’ or ‘HER’ with utmost respect… to be even more precise, a ship is referred to as a MOTHER guarding us day and night from the evils of the society.

ISS MOONRISER was also treated the same way; however, it was different with my Dad. I remember Ambrose telling me that Dad used to address this ship as though it was his daughter. The AI of the ship was definitely a talk of the town but going by Ijaz’s description, suddenly it became evident. My Dad used to have conversations with the AI as though he was speaking to a person.

Those conversation were said to be recorded but kept confidential, he used to have a passcode protecting those conversations. Ambrose was perhaps the only one who heard of a few of them but they sounded disturbing and creepy, and therefore, never heard them again. I was getting an eerie feeling now… what kind of conversation my Dad use to have and that too with an AI. What made it so disturbing and creepy?

“Sudhir, Ijaz told me to give this to you. It has been downloaded from the ship’s black box. It has all recordings… every detail of what may have happened. I haven’t seen all of it but I felt maybe you should see it first.” Said Daljeet.

Daljeet had a monitor in hand. I could see a mesh of videos from every camera of the ship. I took it and browsed through the videos. There were 1000s of them, I had to see them all when I had the time. For now, I needed to see the ship commander’s logs and related videos to understand the reason for the ship’s disappearance.

I walked away from everyone and sat down near a blast door which read WEAPONS AND AMMUNITIONS.  Chandni joined me as I looked at the folder on the monitor which read SHIP LOG and opened it.

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