Chapter summary: A second rescue is attempted, only this time the enemy lies within the political structure of Masaka, and even closer to the children. Will and Terra find out just how close that betrayal gets.
The next morning...
The sun rose, glistening on the city of streamlined towers. Vehicles followed pre-programmed sky lines of traffic to their destinations as usual, taking their passengers to their jobs, or to engagements, or out shopping.
Will had fallen asleep in his normal clothes on one of the wide half-moon couches in front of the slanted windows. The first beams of light crossed over his eyes, pulling him out of his nightmare of the gargantuan dark ship he’d witness before they left Earth’s solar system.
He sat up and rubbed away the sleep. Why did the sun have to be so glaringly bright?
He slipped on his glasses, shielded his eyes, and squinted through the space between his fingers.
It was morning, but the eye-blazing light wasn’t from the sun.
A vessel half the size of the Morning Star hovered like a stalking predator, shining a search light through the windows.
The other kids were waking up to it as well, and groaning at the pain.
Terra sat up, having fallen asleep head-to-head with her friend. She and many of the others had changed back into their regular clothing.
Mumbles of confusion and panic bubbled up throughout the room.
“What the hell is that?” someone’s voice quivered.
“Don’t move,” Derek whispered. ”Its attack might be based on movement.”
“It’s a ship, not a t-rex, you moron,” Nick whispered back.
Regardless, as the two closest to the windows, fear and curiosity kept Will and Terra paralyzed in place.
The light shifted suddenly to the ground multiple floors below them, and bolts of red particle beams rained down.
Everyone screamed and scrambled away.
“The Xox?” Kathryn cried out in panic. “Did they find us?”
Without the blinding light, they got a clear look at the sleek design. “It’s a Regent ship,” Derek noted.
“Why are they firing on their own people?” Nick exclaimed. “What the hell is going on here?”
They all felt helpless. They were locked in this section within the main living area exposed entirely to windows.
Some of the kids banged on the door, demanding to be let out.
The control panel exploded into sparks, sending the kids scattering back in yelps of surprise.
The doors ‘wooshed’ open, and a dozen armed Regent officers in blue uniforms barreled in. They wore masks identical to the ones their kidnappers wore.
A loud, dissonant klaxon blared to life as the room’s interior lighting shifted to red.
Chaos exploded throughout the room.
Children ran and hid behind couches. A couple, including Li, held up their fists, ready to fight, and some were too shocked to move.
The two Regents that had been assigned to guard the door were collapsed in a heap.
The lead officer clicked a tab behind their ear that collapsed their face mask into a pod at the back of their neck. Captain Linell addressed the frightened kids with stern urgency. “Get your things as fast as you can. We’re getting you out of here.”
No one moved. They were too stunned to see the captain of the Morning Star burst in guns-a-blazing, and still trying to process the situation.
“Move!” She moved forward toward Li and Anahita. “Get the youngest out first.”
“Captain?” Anahita could barely speak.
“They need your leadership, Anahita.”
Speechless, the young girl’s head bobbled up and down. She swallowed to clear her voice and put on her bravest tone even though she felt the tightness of fear in her chest. “Everyone! Get your stuff and go with the captain! Stay together!”
“What the fuck is going on?” Li demanded.
“Language,” Captain Linell scolded, then she and the officers went about helping the kids and rushing them out the door.
Li blinked. “Did you just--” he turned to Anahita, “Did she just--”
“Yup, she did. Help me.” Anahita ordered. He helped her corral the kids under age ten.
Captain Linell picked up a six year old and handed him over to an officer. “We can get you all onto the Delphi. We’ve cleared a path, but it won’t hold.” She handed a weapon from her hip over to Li, handle first. “Do you know how to use this?”
“Um…” he gingerly took it.
“It’s a Pulse pistol. Point this end at the other guy and shoot. It’s set to Bind.’ Don’t touch the settings.” She locked eyes with him to ensure he understood she was trusting him to guard the children with her on their escape.
He nodded. “Right. Like target practice back home.”
She grinned. “Exactly.”
Will and Terra were in the last cluster of kids to run out into the hall. “They’re trusting you with a gun?” Will sassed toward Li.
“Shut your pie hole, Skywalker,” Li snapped back. He pressed his palm against Will’s back to move the younger kid forward.
Will could feel his hand trembling. Li acted tough, but he was just as scared as the rest of them.
Lieutenant Nashea tapped repeatedly on the elevator controls. “It’s down. Cree, did you get to the ground floor?” she spoke into her com.
His voice came back. “Affirmative. The Bind is starting to wear off. We’ll keep them busy as long as we can. How many are left?”
“Six,” Nashea replied.
“That’s the only way out,” Terra panicked. “We’re trapped!”
“We’re not trapped,” Captain Linell rested her palm gently on the child’s small face. “There is always an alternative, Terra.” She ran back into the holding room.
Everyone followed her.
“What happened to an alternative to kidnapping us?” Li argued.
“That was the alternative,” she snapped back.
He shut his mouth.
“There’s no way out through here,” one of the kids explained. “We looked already. It’s air-tight.”
“This is a refurbished former consulate venue. All of the living quarters had an emergency escape route. Degull’s men couldn’t destroy the route, but,” she pulled a bed away from the wall and tapped in seemingly random places, then placed her thumb against one point, “Lieutenant?”
The tall lieutenant adjusted the settings on her pulse rifle, took aim when her captain cleared the way, and fired one shot.
A blue bolt of highly concentrated energy impacted the exact point Linell’s thumb had covered, creating a small hole. Two more shots revealed a door panel. Two more, and the wall disintegrated revealing a single slim door.
“They can hide it,” the captain tapped the door panel. The building’s security alert systems had locked it down. She placed a small disk against it. Ten ‘legs’ extended from it and pierced the console’s surface, emitting an ice blue electronic charge that overrode the controls. The door slid open. She put the tool back in her pocket.
Dim red lights lit up the skinny corridor beyond leading to a dark pit at the end where metal stairs descended to the floors below.
“Cool,” Will’s jaw dropped.”It’s like the secret passageway in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”
“What is that thing?” Derek gestured at the small device.
“It’s an EM node,” the captain explained. “Strong enough to disable the electronic systems of any individual relay for five minutes. I put a modified one under the engine of my ex husband’s car once. It reactivated every time he started the ignition. Left him stranded at a charging station in the middle of the desert for two days before he figured it out.”
“Nice,” kathryn smirked. “Sounds like he wasn’t the sharpest crayon in the box.”
“You have no idea.” Captain Linell entered the escape route. “I’ll go first. Li, take the middle. Lieutenant, bring up the rear.”
Everyone hurried through the hall and down four flights of stairs.
Captain Linell used the EM node again on the door leading to the first floor. The red lights cast an eerie glow in the suspense-filled atmosphere, but they were alone. She silently ushered everyone forward.
The halls were too quiet for her liking. She tapped the com unit behind her ear. “Commander. Report.”
“The last group met with some resistance, but we have everyone except you,” Commander Flin responded.
“Get ready to fly. We’re almost clear of the facility.”
Red strikes of pulse gun fire impacted the wall to their right. The kids cried out in fear.
“Move!” Captain Linell lead them quickly through the hall to the main doors as Lieutenant Nashea unleashed blue bolts of energy at their pursuers. The targets struck by the blasts screamed in pain and fell to the floor. The Bind had worn off, and another so soon would be half as efficient. She was shooting to mame, and possibly kill if she had to - though she didn’t want it to come to that.
They were now running for their lives.
The light of the morning sun blazed down on the white concrete of the building’s front entrance. The eight remaining people crossed the distance to the grounded Delphi. It’s engines were lit and ready for take-off at a seconds notice. Crew members fired past them into their pursuers. Darts of blue and red lasers impacted the ground. The red didn’t cause any damage, but the blue sent up plumes of dust and grit into the air.
Lieutenant Nashae ran backwards at the rear of the group, firing deadly rounds into the building dust screen to give them more cover.
Captain Linell reached the ramp and stayed at the bottom while the children ran up into the belly of the ship. Ensign Ehnik waited at the top with a handful of crew to receive the Terran children and administer first aid if need be.
Five massive blue bolts struck the ground at the base of the ramp, sending the children toppling forward, and the captain hurled to her side. She stood quickly and scanned the thick cloud of debris. Derek and Nick coughed and sputtered out of the cloud with their arms over each other’s shoulders and back for support.
“Where’s Will and Terra?!” Anahita demanded fearfully.
“Captain,” Commander Flin’s urgent voice pierced her ears. “More Regent vessels are closing in. Degull called reinforcements. We have to leave now!”
“Not without all of them.” Linell ground her teeth.
“Come on, Nashae,” she muttered.
Lieutenant Nashae limped into sight with the boy in her arms and fell to the ramp.
Ensign Ehnik quickly helped them inside and laid Will at the back for medical personnel to treat him. Lieutenant Nashae collapsed. The wound in her right side bled severely. “The girl,” she gasped. “They got her.”
“Shit.” Linell ran headlong into the settling dust. “Ehnik!”
Without hesitation, Ensign Ehnik followed his captain onto the battlefield.
Will’s ears rang so loudly, all other sounds bowed to its will. “Terra,” he tried to get up. She’d been right next to him. They’d been at the back running hand in hand.
Everyone on board watched the cloud light up with colorful bursts of blue. Neither side were shooting to bind or stun anymore.
Then all went still.
Tense seconds lived within the settling dust.
Lieutenant Nashae painfully sat up, taking her gun in hand, and mentally prepared herself for the pain of running while injured back into battle.
Captain Linell burst through the cloud, wounded in her left leg and carrying Terra in her arms. Ensign Ehnik followed behind. His face marred with blood. The firefight may have stopped, but in that silence, a brief fist fight had ensued.
She lost strength in her leg and dropped to her knees, setting Terra down gently on the ramp. “Go, Commander! Fly!”
“Two regent vessels on fast approach, commander,” the helmsman reported.
“Close the bay ramp. Haul ass, Mathis.”
Helmsman Mathis expertly keyed in manual control. He would need to stay low while the ramp closed, carefully maneuver, and keep them from being shot down. He couldn’t trust that to a computer, no matter how sophisticated it was. He wasn’t the best in his class for nothing.
Will forced himself away from the nurse and stumbled over to drop at Terra’s side as the ramp slowly raised and the ship lifted off the ground. He pulled her up to a sitting position and held onto her tightly.
The Delphi turned 90 degrees away from the city and compound toward the less populated hills and valleys. Their escape meant staying out of the city.
Ehnik, Linell, Will, and Terra held onto the ramp as it closed.
“Thank God,” Ensign Ehnik got to his knees. “We got everyone. They’re safe.”
Captain Linell moved to help Terra, who was waking up and shaking from fear.
Ensign Ehnik wrapped his arms about both kids - one in each arm, “And so is the galaxy.” He launched himself backward, letting the inertia of the ship and gravity pull him with the kids out of the Delphi.
Will’s glasses flew off his face. He cried out as the pull of gravity ripped him away and watched the ship grow smaller as they fell. He and Terra screamed just as a blue bolt struck Ehnik in the chest.
Lieutenant Nashae lowered her arm with a contemptuous glare, and the ramp closed. She’d hit her target, but they’d lost the children.
Ehnik gurgled a final breath with the two kids still tangled in his arms.
The nearest Regent vessel ignored the Delphi completely, and angled beneath the falling trio. Twin doors slid open at the top of its hull. The pilot, angling the ship perfectly, caught them, simultaneously activating a suspension pocket. It slowed them to a stop before they hit the floor.
The sudden shift from free-fall to a halt made Will want to throw up.
The field lowered, dropping them two feet to the floor. Will and Terra had enough time to squirm out of the dead man’s arms before the doors opened. One Regent officer with sharp blue eyes and dark hair aimed a pulse pistol at them and fired two shots.
Red bolts struck Will and Terra. Only unlike the minor levels used to paralyze them and anyone around them during their abduction from Earth - the bind -, this was a level higher, strong enough to stun them.
Will’s vision blurred just as he saw Terra fall to her side. He reached for her, and blacked out.
It’s mission complete, the Regent vessel abandoned its chase of the Delphi, and sped off at full thrusters towards the sky.
Betrayed and pissed off, Captain Linell got to her feet and headed for the bridge. “After them!”
The Delphi dogged the heels of the Regent vessel, dodging spits of blue pulse canon fire that needled the sky around them. Ripples of energy flowed across their shields from each impact they couldn’t avoid. They fired back. It became a race as to who’s shields would hold the longest. The chase took them between craggy mountains, over wide valleys, and skimming across lakes. Waves of blue-green water plumed outward from the force of their thrusters.
“Shields at fifty percent.”
“I don’t care if they’re at zero,” Captain Linell stood at the bridge, wounded, but feeling only anger. “We’re not letting them leave this planet with those Terrans. Focus on their right engine. That’s a Zephyr class. They’re frontal assault vessels. Major fire power and protection in the front - not much in the backyard.”
The Delphi’s pulse canons concentrated all of its firepower as instructed. A pinpoint hole appeared long enough in the other ship’s shields for a single bolt to pierce through and take out the engine. It burst into a plume of smoke. The ship listed to the right.
A second later, her ops officer called out, “They’re powering up their Ephypsan core.”
“They’re jumping to FTL in atmosphere? They’re insane,” Commander Flin mirrored his captain’s stunned expression. No one in their right mind attempted this move on an inhabited world.
“Fire at will!” Captain Linell ordered. “Ground them!”
The Delphi’s firepower pummeled the ship.
The Regent vessel’s interstellar engines flared to life, and in a heartbeat, it vanished into the sky.”
The crew of the Delphi were left stunned.
“Track them.” She breathed.
“There’s too much interference,” the ops officer said. He paused. “They’re gone.”
A deathly silence overtook the bridge.
Two of the One Thousand Terrans destined to bring hope to the entire galaxy had just been kidnapped by a splinter cell within their own space force. The children would likely be transferred to a different ship, possibly two or more considering who they are, and spirited away to secrecy. It was a common move for the Regents to protect anyone of high rank under threat of assassination.
On top of that, Ensign Ehnik, one of her own and a trusted friend, had committed the ultimate betrayal not just on the Regents, but on the entire galaxy.
Captain Linell’s jaw tightened. “Make sure the Terrans are cared for. They have a right to know about Will and Terra. Return to the capitol. I will contact Chancellor Urza.”
“Captain?” Commander Flin folded his arms at his back.
“We are still responsible for the lives of these children. Our primary duty hasn’t change. We will see them safely and without harm to their predetermined homes.”
They had been sent by their leader to rescue the children from Degull after Linell contacted the chancellor with her concerns regarding the shift in orders. As it turned out, the message to divert the Morning Star back to their home planet came from Senator Degull, hijacking the Chancellor’s personal subspace transmission code. And Senator Runell was an accomplice.
She held a tacit reaction. Only vengeance rested in her purple irises. “We will find out where Degull is taking them, and retrieve them safe and alive, or we will die trying. You have the bridge, commander.”
The Delphi broke off pursuit and headed back toward the city of Cerilia.
Oobo - My original space fuzzball. Completely covered in fluff, about the size of a loaf of bread. They can roll up into balls. They have large eyes with a single black pupil and white sclera, six stubby black legs that let them latch onto surfaces, and can exist in space as well as oxygen-rich atmospheres. Their eyes have a layer of tapetum lucidum like a cat's so they can see in near pitch darkness, and they shine when lights hit them. No one knows how they can transition from decompression to a compressed atmosphere, but their bodies seem to be able to quickly adapt. They experience a moment of disorientation during this transition. Considered pests by most space-faring species. Exterminators use that moment to kill their colonies.
They don’t like foods other species eat. They eat metal and space dust, so they're found on derelict ships and in shipyards where vessels are parked or stored, and on ships that aren't well maintained, or don’t go through a scrubber at starports.
They make a little purr or squeak sound depending on their mood. It’s how they communicate vocally to other species, but they mostly communicate silently in groups. No one knows how, but they seem to understand the concept and importance of a group. It is extremely rare to find a single oobo. Where there is one, there are bound to be more varying from small groups of ten to colonies of hundreds.
Some humans think they’re adorable. They're drawn to energy outputs like moths to flame, but they don't feed on it. It's like a lure and makes them feel cozy - hence why they settle their colonies in ships. They are hermaphroditic organisms.
I guess it's closest cousin would be based off a Soot Sprite. Only blue and with 6 legs. They only come in shades of blue, grey, and black, because it's space. They blend in well with the background to make it easier for them to hide in dark cervices. A very rare albino oobo would be bubblegum pink. These stand out like a lighthouse in a storm, so they don't tend to survive for long.
I wanted to make it cute, so I gave it big eyes and an uwu. ^_^ The Altair kept them as pets. Without any Altair for 2000 years, these little guys just live in colonies.
Chapter summary: The Morning Star arrives at the planet Masaka, but something about this reroute to her homeworld doesn't sit right with Captain Linell.
Will lets go for the first time.
Five days later…
Within these days sailing through space, Will taught Derek and Nick how to play Uno. He and Terra held matches with them so much so that the four became friends. On the third day, the three finally convinced Will to change into the new clothes the Regents gave them when his own began to smell.
The strangest experience Will had was the sonic shower. It cleaned his body thoroughly, but the sensation only hammered home that this was an alien vessel, and he had no choice to be there. He never thought he’d miss water so much in his life.
Although it was only a five day journey, it felt like an eternity to all of them.
The Morning Star dropped out of FTL over a green world mottled with sapphire blue water, and shimmering polar ice caps. Storms loomed in drifting white clouds swirling over the surface, brushed as though with an artist’s touch.
Will and Terra’s mouths gaped in awe, as did the other children who’d asked to watch their arrival from the lounge. They lined up at the vista window, and a few of them placed their hands against the glass, including Will.
“Children,” Delleen began, “welcome to Masaka.”
The planet Masaka glowed in the star-speckled sky. Golden lines of light striated the surface leading in and out of cities of various sizes, and even spanned across the waters. Jutting up from the equator like an arrow lodged in a melon, was a thick orbital tether secured to a massive station. Ships of exotic, jagged, and smooth makes and models buzzed around the station. Larger space craft not suited for atmospheric maneuvering were docked, awaiting their next mission. Most of the star craft were of similar streamlined designs. Will assumed those were Masakan.
The planet’s two moons drifted on a lazy orbit in a continuous chase. The largest of the two held a light blue tint and very little atmosphere, while the other resembled Earth’s solitary satellite. Both hosted lunar bases. The blue moon glittered from rings of civilization like polka dots.
Sunlight began to drape slowly over the horizon, bringing the night-side they were headed toward into a new day.
“It’s one of three inhabited worlds in this system. Pretty, isn’t it,” Delleen stepped up behind the two ten-year-olds.
“It’s like a jewel,” Terra whispered. “It looks like Earth.”
“But it’s not,” Will’s jaw tightened. As beautiful as it was, as vast and advanced, it would never be home.
“No, it isn’t,” Delleen agreed. “Nothing ever will be. A new adventure is often painful in the beginning.”
He didn’t know what to make of that, so he said nothing. The view of the approaching planet captured his amazement quickly enough to dash any reply anyway.
The Morning star dove into the atmosphere at the sunlight broke between night and day. Their destination came into view as the ship slowed to atmospheric speeds and angled toward the dawn-lit towers of a glistening city at the edge of an ocean.
“Wow,” Nick breathed in awe. The others mirrored his amazement.
“What is that?” Kathryn asked.
“New Cerilia. The capital city,” Delleen said. None of the children noticed her hair-fine change in expression to one of worry. These children shouldn’t be together on the home planet of the second greatest galactic power so soon after their planet’s destruction. Maybe later, but not now.
“You were right, Will,” Terra smiled slightly, completely unaware of Delleen’s concern. “It’s beautiful.”
A futuristic metropolis spread before them like christmas lights on on a black silk canvas. Lines of flying cars, colorful billboards, and connecting bridges between the tallest buildings wove between spires of smooth designs intermixed with older ones with rugged edges. These pierced upward like a bed of nails stretching out to the horizon. Although this was clearly a highly advanced capitol city among many, the world retained vast, undeveloped areas of verdant fields, snow-capped craggs, deserts, and forests. The Masakans seemed to understand the importance of sustaining a natural ecosystem.
This was an extraterrestrial planet. A real, non-fiction, thriving and breathing civilization. Will thought this could have been Earth’s future had the Xox’ Y2K plan never happened.
Being a larger vessel, the ship couldn’t impede on traffic. Instead, it sailed over the bustling city, and looped around to an area of interconnected buildings with open balconies just outside the city limits. The Morning Star landed gently on a broad tarmac in the midst of the complex.
The crew ushered everyone back to the cargo bay. Once they had their things gathered - if anyone had originally been abducted with belongings in hand, or on their person - the bay door opened.
Sunlight poured into the ship, making all fifty children squint or cover their eyes. Crisp, cool air rushed in to replace the artificial atmosphere. A ramp extended and lowered to the ground.
Derek held his breath for as long as possible, afraid the alien atmosphere might poison him.
A group of ten armed soldiers flanked two middle-aged people in neat, pressed attire. The woman gripped a silver datapad, while the man folded his hands at his back.
Captain Linell held up her hand to keep everyone onboard the ship. She strode down the ramp with Commander Flin at her side. “Senator Degull. I didn’t expect to see you. ”
“Captain,” he flashed a serpent's smile, his voice as slick as his dark silver-streaked hair. “It’s a pleasure to see you again.”
“I wish I could say the same,” she responded with ice-cold loathing.
“How’s your son these days? Doing well in the academy, I hope?”
“He’s among the top in his class. Why are you here, Senator?” she batted down his small talk like the words were an annoying fly buzzing in her ears. “With the urgency of the message, I expected to see Chancellor Urza.”
“The Chancellor sent me in her stead to collect your cargo.”
“Then I assume she sent you with more details before I hand these children,” she emphasized the word, “over to you.”
“Are you refusing to comply with the Chancellor’s direct orders, Captain.”
“On the contrary. It is well within my right to obtain full disclosure for a reroute home regarding these particular Terrans. Our mission is to ensure they remain safe and are allowed to grow up.”
“And that hasn’t changed. They will grow up to be something remarkable. The galaxy will owe them everything,” he dropped his smile. The wind rustled his long blood-red coat as though taking his words with it, “Now. Are you going to escort these...children,’ he said with false delicacy, ‘into the complex, or should I have my men do it for you?”
Everything about this screamed ‘turn around and get the hell out of there,’ but she couldn’t disobey a direct order from Chancellor Urza. This walking pile of dumpster fire excrement, however, she’d be reprimanded for disobeying, but wouldn’t hold any regrets.
“Commander,” She called back. “Escort the children inside.”
He felt as she did, and this showed in his forced dutiful reply. “Aye, Captain. All right, everyone. Let’s get you guys settled in.”
It took a little time to convince them, more-so the younger ones - to leave the ship, but they eventually moved down the ramp in small clusters.
Li held Keiko’s hand as Anahita and Kathryn walked ahead of them.
Will and Terra locked their fingers together. They wanted to make sure they wouldn’t be separated.
Derek and Nick formed their own duo.
Their first steps onto the surface of a new world had them all looking around in every direction, soaking in the sunlight, the feel of the breeze, and cementing in the knowledge that this wasn’t home.
Delleen stepped up beside the captain. “Tevara…”
Will and Terra passed by the two, though Will caught part of their conversation.
“I know, Delleen. Something doesn’t sit right with me about this, either, but this isn’t the time to make reckless decisions.”
“We never choose our time.”
“No, we don’t,” she inhaled. “We do the best we can.”
Will moved too far away to hear anymore. What were they talking about? What about this seemed wrong other than the fact that all fifty of them were here at the same time? Surely the Xox couldn’t pinpoint this few on an entire world teaming with human and alien life.
The group thinned into a haphazard line as the troops from Degull’s side and the crew of the Morning Star ushered them across the expanse into the wide double doors of the complex. The doors ‘wooshed’ open to greet them with well-lit halls decorated with potted plants.
The woman with the datapad hurried by. She pulled a slim com node from her green, two-toned skirt pocket and stuck it behind her ear. “Nera here… Yes, Senator Runell...I’ve made arrangements for tomorrow, exactly as planned. Should I expect you? ...Of course, sir. I understand. We’ll see you at Strafsend. I’ll inform Senator Degull.”
She quickly split off down a hallway and out of sight.
Will’s head turned to look at the serious expressions of the Masaki around him, and that’s when the reality of his situation became painfully clear. In this case, He, Terra, Li, Keiko, Derek, Kathryn, Nick, Anahita, and the rest of the One Thousand scattered across the galaxy like leaves in a storm were…
“We’re aliens,” he mumbled.
Terra gave a questioning sound as they were lead to an elevator that took the kids up in groups of ten at a time.
“We’re like the Ephypsans,” Derek elaborated. “We don’t have a home planet anymore. They call us Terrans, so we’re all the Terrans the galaxy gets to see right now. No matter where we go, we’ll always be the aliens.”
“Oh,” She gripped Will’s hand more tightly as their group entered the elevator and the door closed. “I hope others come out here so we won’t be alone.”
The soldier glanced down to Terra.
When the doors opened, a woman in an a-line cut pale blue dress with a high collar waited for them. She held a transparent data pad in her right hand. Sunlight streamed through the floor-to-ceiling windows at her left running down the length of the wide hall to a door at the other end. The previous group of children entered the room.
The morning light illuminated her disarming smile. “Welcome to Masaka,” she kept her hands visible to help her guests feel as comfortable as possible. “You must be tired from your journey.”
“Nah, I’m good,” Nick said. “A little depressed maybe, but…”
Her smile remained. “Follow me, please.”
With the officers herding them forward, they did as they were told.
“Where are we going?” Will asked
“To where you’ll stay until the transport picks you up tomorrow morning.”
“Wait,” Kathryn held up her hand, “transport? What transport? We just got here.”
The woman stopped at the door split diagonally at an upward angle. “To your new home,” she answered simply, as though discussing the weather.
“All of us?” Anahita asked. “Together? I thought we weren’t supposed to stay together.”
“Yes. All of you. In this case, that rule is not in effect. Special arrangements have been taken to accommodate all of you.”
“Will any of the other ships be coming here, too?” Li spoke up.
“I’m sorry, but no. It’s just you.” She keyed in a code at the panel adjacent to the doors and they slid open. The interior was bright, welcoming, and filled with comfort. She waited for the kids to enter. “I know Terra wasn’t terribly advanced, so I assume you’ve experienced a sonic shower onboard the Morning Star. Am I correct?”
Terra giggled. “It tickled.”
Will, however, shivered in dread of facing that experience again. “Don’t you guys just have normal showers with normal water and normal soap? Like normal people?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, we do,” she chuckled. “What is ‘normal’ is relative in your case, however. Although sonic showers are the most efficient way to be completely cleaned, many still prefer the old fashioned way. Now, I must greet the next group. You’re allowed to move freely through this part of the complex. We’ve provided various forms of entertainment to keep you occupied. Relax. You’re safe here. Someone will come get you when breakfast is ready.”
Li shuddered a breath. “They keep telling us we’re safe, but I just can’t believe them. All this is...too well planned. It’s too thought out. It’s like they were expecting a large group of people to chill here”
“You think there’s something more to them bringing all of us here instead of going with their original plan,” Anahita frowned. “I have the same feeling.”
“Me, too,” Will hugged his bundled up regular clothes balled up in his arms. “I have a bad feeling about this.”
“We’re kind of messed up, Skywalker,” Nick walked by him. “I don’t know what I feel anymore. Nothing is right, and it all feels like a dream. A really long, exhausting, real dream.”
“Delleen looked like she was going to throw up,” Terra hopped up on the back of a couch and dropped her backpack and regular clothes on the cushion. “I wonder what was bugging her so much.”
“You noticed that, too?” Will’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “I thought it was just me.”
She shook her head from side to side.
“Yo, look at this screen!” Derek launched himself over the other couch and up nose to nose with a flat screen embedded in the wall. A few of the other kids had figured out how to turn it on, and were channel surfing. “Holy shit, this thing has a thousand channels?!”
“Where’s the porn?” a teenager asked.
“Ew,” a cluster of little kids rang out in a chorus of disgust.
Anahita rolled her eyes.
“Yeah,” Li let go of Keiko’s hand so she could join the other kids her age. “It’s probably pay-per-view anyway.” He grimaced when the fourteen-year-old elbowed him hard in the ribs.
“Boys are so gross.”
“Guys, look at this!” Kathryn hopped down into a sunken in area of the room. The opposite wall was lined with windows, giving the living area a homey, yet sterile feel. “It’s a holographic block game!” She jumped into the square along with two other kids, and a blue cube appeared over her head.
“Get the blue ones,” a girl with a green cube above her instructed. “Marshal!” she yelled at the other kid, “I need orange. We need to fill in the line or we’re going to lose!”
“Three dimensional Tetris?” Will blinked. “Ok, that’s cool.”
“Oo!” Terra leaped off the couch. “I wanna play! I can Tetris anything. Mom bought a turkey for Thanksgiving last year, but it didn’t fit in the fridge, so I Tetris’d the fridge. Some eggs broke, but it all fit. Eggs count as a straight bar.”
In all honesty, it looked like a blast. All of the technology here fascinated him. He’d play later, though. Right now, a normal H2O shower called his name.
He headed for what he assumed was a bathroom based on what he’d seen on the ship, and walked past the sonic shower door with his middle finger discretely over his jacket angled in the evil chamber’s direction.
Figuring out the shower controls was fairly simple. There was a single rectangular window at head height, but he could only see the partially cloudy sky. The water soothed over him, and for the first time since this whole nightmare began, the tension in his muscles began to ease. Maybe he could give Masaka a chance. Maybe. It had blue skies, green hills, cities, and fresh air. The gravity was perfect, and the solar system had one sun, just like Earth’s.
If he closed his eyes, he could pretend he was home in the upstairs bathroom, his mom making dinner in the kitchen, and his dad schooling the newbie who took over his job at NASA on the Nova Star project over the phone about audio frequencies and the Navajo language. Will had begun to learn how to identify different codes over the military radio his dad gave him when he was seven. He’d quickly become fascinated with tech. He’d been exceptionally adept at detecting minute changes in audio. He’d wanted to go to space to hear everything the galaxy offered, and to explore it. His father wanted him to stay on the ground and use his skills to fix Earth first.
He wanted to run to his room, turn on the radio, and spend time scanning the frequencies to see if he could pick up anything new.
...Like the Masakan transmission.
He’d picked it up throughout December. They must have been communicating with one of their own hiding on Earth, possibly coordinating the kidnapping of the One Thousand. If only he could have deciphered their code, he could have warned everyone. He knew the concept was impossible - he was just a kid, and no one would believe him -, but the invading thought that he could have done something drove its nail into his mind anyway. Why wasn’t he smart enough? Why couldn't he figure it out and contact NASA directly?
Why couldn’t he save them?
He wanted his mom. He wanted to hear her voice, and feel her warmth, and see her smile. He wanted his dad. He wanted to be picked up and spun around and sit on his shoulders even though Will was already too big for that. He wanted his room, his crappy school, his N64 and the old t.v., his swing set in the backyard, and his warm bed with the space comforter.
He wanted to go home.
But he couldn’t. He never could again. His planet would be blown up, and everyone would die if he did - if they weren’t already dead from the nuclear explosions.
Will’s small hands planted against the shower wall and he curled over as heat burned at the corners of his eyes.
Here, alone with the rain-head shower cascading over him with its quick percussion needling against the tile, Will let go for the first time since his abduction, and openly wept. He slid to his knees and wrapped his arms around himself. Once he’d started crying, he couldn’t stop. The anger, frustration, sorrow, shock, denial, loss, and helplessness poured out of him like blood, and he was at its mercy.
Terra had run up to the sliding door and was about to knock and ask when he’d be done so they could play with the 3D games, but stopped. She heard the muted, muffled sobs. Her little hand lowered. She’d known he was in just as much pain as the rest of them, but he’d remained strong even when she’d broken down and tear-stained his shirt more than once.
She turned and sat against the wall under the door controls and pulled her knees up.
Kathryn and Nick ran in to yell at him to hurry up so they could all play, but stopped when they heard the sobbing as well. They bit back their demands. They all knew what he was going through, and in their tiny group, he was the last to fold. Kathryn gently pulled Nick away by his arm,
Terra remained. Her friend could take all the time he needed to cry. She’d be here waiting. And if he needed to cry outside the shower, she’d be here for him, too.
* * * *
* * * *
FUN FACT #5: Nick Edward Alden is 12. He has shaggy blond hair, blue eyes, wears round-rimmed glasses, and is 5' even He's from Lockhaven, Pennsylvania. Li Chen gave him the nickname 'Frodo' for being short. He loves science fiction stories and wanted to write a famous novel. He had a cat named Chester, and was raised solely by his only surviving relative- his grandmother. She taught him how to sing, and he has a nice voice.
Derek Andrew McLaughlin is 14. He has dark brown hair, blue eyes, a penchant for dad jokes, and is 5'5". He's Irish, born and raised in Dublin, Ireland. He loves video games, and wanted to be a computer programmer. He's athletic and enjoyed running in the morning. He's very introverted and didn't have any friends. Li Chen gave him the nickname "Samwise."
Chapter summary: Will and Terra meet some non-human crew members on the Morning Star.
tbc* * * *