Captain’s Log – February 18th, 2204, 0900 hours –

This is a Captain Malhotra. Our crew has been tasked with a mission to find a planet to colonize. We have scientists on board who are going to determine whether the planet or planets are habitual enough for all of us. In about 20 minutes, we will be airborne.

Captain’s Log – February 18th, 2204, 0925 hours –

Everything is in check. We are airborne now. Once we break away from the earth’s atmosphere, we will position ourselves to go through THE ZONE. We will be in our target location soon enough and start our mission.

Captain’s Log – February 18th, 2204, 1000 hours –

This is unlike anything we have seen. It is an asteroid belt but not an usual one. This is a chaotic belt, 2 belts in one but the problem is… one is going clockwise while the other one is going anti-clockwise. The belts are circling a giant gas planet. My systems along with the scientists have already stated in their report – no way we are going through that. The planet, without a second thought, is not suited for us. Either we will sink and burn or be hit by an asteroid. Our systems have tracked another planet and has automatically titled it as M-162. Let us find out if that planet is suited for us.

As I read these logs, it was evident that my Dad never went through the chaotic belt. Whatever happened, it happened during the travel to M-162. This is where things got sinister. I must say, it also got emotional for me and definitely for all those who read the logs post submitting the same to the high command.

Captain’s Log – February 18th, 2204, 1025 hours –

Something is wrong in our ship. I don’t understand what is going on. I have just received reports that many of the crew members have been brought to the med bay due to consumption of poison. They are reporting casualties. I have to find the source of this heinous crime.

Captain’s Log – February 18th, 2204, 1050 hours –

Breach in ISS MOONRISER. We have been boarded by soldiers of THE FIRE. They have breached security and entered our ship. How was this possible? How were they able to breach our defenses? Who allowed them in? This has to be stopped. Wait, I see a few them entering the ship’s mainframe. What are they up to? The AI… they are after the AI. No way they are getting it. I am not going to allow it. I must stop them. Either I will stop them or I will die trying.

That was the last log entry of my Dad. From then on, I looked at the video feeds. My Dad and a few soldiers had engaged the soldiers of THE FIRE at the mainframe. My Dad was able to kill all of them but there was one who escaped. He had downloaded the AI and was running towards the hangar to find a jet to escape.

While the soldiers of THE FIRE had injected poison in the food packets of the crew, they also injected poison on the oxygen tanks of the ship which led to the death of most of the crew members. Before anybody could understand what was going on and take precautionary measures, 80 % of the crew were dead. My Dad and the other survivors had put on masks to avoid inhaling the poisonous gas.

I had a closer look at the soldier who was trying to escape. My heart skipped a beat when I realized who it was. It was Dhruv. He had a hard disk in his hand and was frantically looking for a jet but was stopped by my Dad. There was a firefight between them. I watched in horror as more soldiers of THE FIRE came in support of Dhruv and my Dad was pinned down.

The other ISS soldiers did come to support but were outnumbered. It was a well-planned attack and the ISS soldiers were low on ammunition. My Dad was able to get a shot at Dhruv who dropped the hard disk. The former realizing that there was no hope and the powerful AI cannot fall into the hands of the enemy took a drastic step.

Every ship captain had the option to remotely self-destruct the ship or make it crash land. Without a second thought, he initiated the crash land command. His fellow soldiers understood what he had done, they knew they did not stand a chance from here, they gave their last salute to my Dad who returned the same. The ship flew nose first through the atmosphere of M-162 while my Dad and the remaining soldiers got up from their position and fired at the soldiers of THE FIRE.

Dhruv was shocked at the magnificent bravery the ISS soldiers displayed. The coward that he was, he abandoned his men, got on to a jet and flew away leaving behind the downloaded codes of the AI. All the soldiers were killed except my Dad who was staggering on his feet. His body was punctured with bullets, he was coughing up blood yet he was still standing.

The ship crashed on to the surface of the planet and I could see my Dad fall due to the jerk. I saw an outside camera recording the crash, the ship was going at great speed and therefore, the crash was hard enough damaging the bow and the belly of the ship. The ship dragged itself forward due to the impact till it stopped in the same position we all found it now.

Tears welled up in my eyes as I saw my Dad in extreme pain, however, I couldn’t help marvel at the strength and stamina he had. He dropped his gun and slowly started to walk. Amazingly, he reached the control room and looked at his fallen comrades. He was sad, he was crying… he fell to the ground and with whatever energy left dragged himself to the main console.

This was when I heard a conversation between my dad and the AI for the first time. Indeed, it was creepy. The AI was not evolving, it had evolved… it was humanlike. It sounded like a woman in her mid-30s.

“Captain, are you alright? You are hurt. You need immediate medical attention.” The AI said.

“You are kidding me right. Medical attention… in this godforsaken planet.” My Dad replied.

“Please Sir. I can try to help. Tell me what I should do? I have served you for so long. No way I can fail you now.” Said the AI.

“Yes, you have served me well. You have served all of us well. That being said, I command you to continue doing your duty. We have been breached. There is a mole in ISS. They were trying to capture this ship or maybe steal the AI codes and schematics. They have failed but it does not mean they will not try.

Stop or discontinue all communication and transmission to the ISS command center. Even the WRDO should not know the location of this ship.” My Dad said.

“It will be done.” The AI replied.

My Dad was losing his breath every second. He took out a machine that was in his pocket. It looked like a transmitter. He switched it on. I zoomed in on it to see its significance. It did not take me time to understand what it was. It was a transmitter that activated the beacon or signal in the watch that Dad gave to me.

“I will be all alone on this planet. No one will come seeking for me. No one will come to look for me. I am also a soldier of ISS. How do you expect me to do my duty like this? I was created to serve the nation, serve the people… serve you but here we are trapped on this planet.” Said the AI.

My head was reeling. The AI… it had developed sentience. How else would it be talking like this? Even Chandni was listening and I could hear her sobbing.

“You are not alone, MOONRISER. Don’t think you are alone. You are an asset to me, to the ISS. You are a hero to all of us. I have activated my secret tracker. If not ISS… my son will find you. In time, my son will come searching for you. He will find you and together, you will avenge me… avenge all those brave men and women who lost their lives to protect you.

Be patient, my dear. Be patient. My son will come. He will….” Saying, my Dad breathed his last.

I continued watching as MOONRISER terminated all communications. One of the reasons why the ISS and WRDO never got to know or track where the ship actually landed. The ship had a lot of unique features, one of them was the ability to be untraceable on multiple systems. After that, I could see the constructor units slowly coming out and accessing the damage of the ship. MOONRISER allowed the oxygen to dry up to flush out all the poison that was injected on to the tanks.

Once done, MOONRISER switched on the exhaust shafts to drain out all poisonous gases. The system turned green once all gases were flushed out and the oxygen tanks started to fill up again automatically filtered from the atmosphere. As the robot units continued their work, MOONRISER then activated a process. It involved releasing a chemical on to the dead bodies lying around and through a reaction, the bodies started to burn themselves. The bodies were reduced to ashes within minutes leaving no trace of anything.

I saw as my Dad was burnt away to ashes after which sweeper units cleaned them all up. Once done, MOONRISER went into hibernation mode… patiently waiting for someone to answer the signal my Dad activated.

“15 years. She waited for 15 years for somebody to come.” Said Chandni, wiping her tears.

I, on the other hand, was angry. I clutched my head in agony.

“They are all dead. They showed no mercy. They killed my Dad, everyone… crashed this ship on this planet. They celebrated this small and petty victory of theirs. It was Dhruv, it was him all this while… the coward. I will avenge my Dad; I will avenge all those fallen souls aboard this ship… I…” I stopped as I remembered something.

“What happened?” Chandni asked.

I got up from my place and rushed towards the hangar as Chandni closely followed. I looked at the video feed, the exact time when Dhruv had dropped the hard disk. I looked at the location and then walked towards it.

“Dhruv had downloaded the codes of the AI on to a hard disk but he was unable to take it. He dropped it during the firefight. Search for it, Chandni. We have to either secure it or destroy it.” I said.

Chandni acknowledged and started to search along with me. As I continued to search, Chandni had found it.

“Sudhir, I believe this is the one.” She said as she walked up to me with the hard disk.

I looked at it and took it in my hands. As I checked it, I said to Chandni, “This is between you and me. Promise me you won’t tell anyone about this. Until and unless, I say or reveal it to the concerned people.”

Chandni smiled and said, “You can count on me on that. Don’t worry, this is our secret for the moment.”

Suddenly, we heard the machinery of the starship start up. It was loud, even though we were used to sounds like this, we still covered our ears.

“Ijaz did it. The ship is fully functional. We are all set to be airborne.” It was Rizwan on the radio.

We rushed back to the control room and saw the screens lit up. After a few seconds, the main screen was up and we were greeted by the AI.

“Welcome aboard the ISS MOONRISER, the date is 18/02/2219 and the time is 1530 hours IST.”

It didn’t take me seconds to realize that we found the ship at the exact date the latter went missing. Coincidence always has a badass way of revealing things that don’t always seen obvious. As if that was not enough, the AI showed how much it had evolved. I could make out the others feeling creepy about this.

“Good to see you, Lt. Com. Sudhir Malhotra, son of Commander Dhiren Malhotra. I was expecting you. This ship is 99% functional and within 30 minutes, we will be fully functional to go airborne. Fuel level is 89% but the main battery is low on charge. It requires either solar power or wind power to be fully charged up for backup power. What are your orders, Sir?”

All our wrist monitors lighted up and we checked it. The ship had automatically designated me as the ship commander and Rizwan as the deputy. Rizwan and I additionally had all access to the AI, the schematics and all other theoretical and technical aspect of the ship. We both had the option to designate anyone else to any responsibility we wanted to. I included Joseph along with Rizwan with the same responsibilities. I designated Chandni and Rooma to look after the communication devices while Daljeet was designated to look after all technical aspects of the ship including the AI.

“We need a crew. I don’t think 7 of us can handle a ship this size.” Said Joseph.

It was easier said than done.

“Chandni, contact Ambrose. Give them our status. Tell him, we found the ship and now we need a crew. Give him the correct location… and better use a secure channel.” I said.

Chandni acknowledged and got on the comms while Rooma looked on.

“MOONRISER, recharge the backup power batteries. Use any means available to have them recharged. Wait for further orders.” I said.

“Acknowledged, Ship Commander.” MOONRISER responded.

We could hear the sound of machinery again. We all looked at the main screen, MOONRISER had brought out all the solar panels and positioned the same towards the sun. We could see the status of the battery on the screen, it would take an hour to recharge them.

“Sudhir, Ambrose is on the line. We got a problem.” said Chandni.

I was confused. What could be the problem? I activated my comm and said, “Sir, this is Sudhir here. Over.”

“Sudhir, we are under attack. THE FIRE had brought in a huge naval force. There have been heavy casualties. Before we could engage them, they destroyed one of the space stations. We are unsure as to how they were able to build a force this strong but we don’t have time for that. Forces from all over the world had engaged the enemy.

However, just 30 minutes into battle, we were all contacted by Dhruv, the one leading the assault. He has ordered for a ceasefire and has given us an hour to surrender to the terms and conditions of their regime. If not, the fight will start again and he will make sure that no one survives this onslaught.

I am sending you the images.” Said Ambrose.

We all looked at the screen. We gasped in horror as we saw one of the space stations explode after continuous missile fire. It was a gruesome battle, we couldn’t calculate as to how many ships were lost, how many people lost their lives.

We then heard Dhruv’s threat – “We do believe in unity but not at the cost of our freedom. We believe that every one of us has been given a piece of land for ourselves to thrive but if someone else comes into our land and throws their laws at us, we cannot accept that.

This war can end once and for all if the WRDO cease to exist and every country is given the freedom to live and thrive the way they want. If not, this war will go on, more lives will be lost. We have the upper hand now and we have the power to destroy anything in our path.

You have underestimated our silence. Good for us, for we have created a force unlike anything within the shadows and now, this armed force will take over all… if you are unwilling to decide on our clause. You have one hour to decide and if the answer is NO, the war will continue.

Over and out.”

I was burning with rage.  A coward like Dhruv leading an army, taking innocent lives… I clenched my fist as I remembered how my Dad died, how the crew of MOONRISER died. Chandni touched my clenched fist trying to comfort me. She was angry too; we all were angry and wanted to avenge the fallen souls.

“That foul mouthed bastard. Running his mouth like he owns the universe. We need to answer back. We need to do it now.” Said Joseph punching the console next to him.

“Ambrose is ready to provide a crew. The problem is how will they reach this planet. We are at war. One of the zones has been damaged and if they try to send in troops, they will kill them all. They will get to know we are up to something and the war will start again.” Rooma said.

“Guys, you might want to see this.” Said Rizwan, we saw as he was browsing through the camera feeds of the entire ship.

We joined him as he clicked one feed and zoomed on it. We saw something and we all saw it with eyes wide with astonishment.

“Tell me the location.” I said.

“Next to the med bay. It is storage room… and a big one too.” Rizwan responded.

We ran to the room, opened the blast door and once inside, looked at the thing. It was THE ZONE feature installed inside the ship. I never knew the MOONRISER had this feature of this size. It was big enough to bring in a drop ship inside the MOONRISER.

Joseph walked towards a switch board and clicked 2-3 buttons; the entire room lighted up. One look at the room and we were quick to realize why this was installed here.

“Your father is truly a mysterious man. He asked me to design a secret tracker to give the location of this ship when the time came but apart from that, he secretly asked THE ZONE experts to install the feature in this room. This room can house 30 mid-size drop ships at one time if the MOONRISER required to staff and re-staff more crew members, the drops ships would come through this ZONE and land them here.” Said Ijaz.

“Chandni and Rooma, you know what to do. Get in touch with Ambrose. MOONRISER is going to be staffed again for a payback.” I said.

“Are we really doing this? Are we bringing MOONRISER back to commission?” Joseph asked, I looked at him and then remembered what he said before we started our trip to find this ship.

“We are, Joseph. This ship has been here for so long. She was alone, hurt, betrayed… but now, it is time for us to give her the honor she deserves. Our enemies rejoiced at her disappearance but now, it is our time to rejoice. We are bringing her back… and together, we will laugh at our quivering enemies.” I said.

“It is good to be back. Thank you all for coming. We are ready to take this fight to the enemy, Ship Commander.” MOONRISER responded, and we all looked at each other surprised.

It will take a while to get used to this but for now, we were creeped out by how human MOONRISER’S AI had become.

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