The Away Team

The star cruiser Liberty established an orbit around a planet in an unmapped region of the galaxy in order to affect repairs. The Navigation computers, designated Nav-2 and Nav-4 have failed and the engineers felt that it was in the best interest of the ship and crew to repair the computers.

Engineers Kori Robbins and Frank Taylor had finally repaired the systems with the help from Cadet Lieutenant David Hunter, the teenage son of Mission Commander. Dr. Lance Hunter. The two engineers were just finishing a briefing with Dr. Hunter and ship’s Captain, Kris Roberts.

So, you don’t think it was the black dwarf star we encountered that caused the problems?” asked Dr. Hunter.

“No sir; that certainly played a role in our situation, however, the computer problems occurred due to some sort of Trojan Virus.”

“Interesting; we will have to do more research on this issue once we are back to space flight.”

“So when can we expect to be underway again?” asked Captain Roberts. Frank Taylor briefly viewed his computer monitor.

“For a complete system re-boot we can expect to fire the engines in 19 hours. The Mission computer will also be updated and it will run several simulated navigational problems. In addition, Kori will be updating the space maps for the area of space where in. That will take the longest amount of time.”

“Fine,” said Captain Roberts, looking over at Dr. Hunter, “Then we can schedule to leave orbit in 24 hours, if that’s okay with you?”

“That will be fine” Dr. Hunter replied.

As the group prepared to leave, Frank interrupted them.

“Uh, one other thing captain,” Frank started. We’ve been on this ship now for nearly nine months, and, well, the food is getting a bit usual.”

“Are you looking to see if we can have an occasional steak?” Captain Roberts joked.

“No sir, but I was hoping for some seafood.”

“Seafood?” the captain wasn’t sure he heard correctly.

“Yes sir,” Frank said excitedly. “The planet we are presently orbiting has some large bodies of water, and our thermal imaging cameras have indicated the presence of sea life.”

Captain Roberts looked at Dr. Hunter thoughtfully. It was clear that he had a hesitation about such an away mission.

“What do you think doctor?”

“Well, I don’t know…”

“Sir, we have a 19 hour window. Kori is well capable of running the re-boot, and we will be in a complete downtime mode until it’s done. We can take the shuttle to the surface and be back in 8 hours.”

“We?” asked Roberts.

“Yes sir. I thought that it would be a good opportunity to take David and Susan. They’ve been cooped up in the ship here, and being teens they could use some recreation. It would be good for them to have their feet on something other than a metal floor, and they can log some field experience.”

“I don’t know…” Dr. Hunter said with that common tone of a worried father.

“It seems like a good idea, however it is your call doctor” commented Captain. Roberts “Remember, the Marine Raider Unit has the other shuttle on an away mission in space.”

“Yes, but they will be returning before us” Frank continued.

“That’s assuming they don’t encounter any problems on their mission” replied Dr. Hunter.

“And if needed, we can be back on board in 30 minutes or less.”

Once again, Captain Roberts and Dr. Hunter looked at each other with concern.

“A nice fish dinner” Frank said with a pleading voice and smile.

Dr. Hunter thought about how hard his kids have worked without complaint. He really owed it to them to let them have some time off. And he knew how much his twins would enjoy being on an away team. He looked at Captain Roberts and nodded affirmatively. Captain Roberts looked at Frank.

“Okay, Frank, but if I call you back…”

“We’ll be here in 30 minutes; guaranteed.”

“Just keep us informed of your situation.”

“Yes sir!”

As Frank left the briefing room he was met by David and Susan. They looked at him with anticipation.

“Get your gear; we leave in 15 minutes” he said. Their faces lit with excitement.

“Alright!” they shouted together as they ran down the corridor.

__________

Susan strapped into the pilot seat, Frank into the copilot seat. Despite an age of 16 she had become a proficient pilot. Her twin brother, David, was equally skilled at navigation, as well as ship systems. Frank activated he elevator taking the Shuttle Star from the lower hanger to the launch bay. Susan proceeded to go through the prelaunch checklist calling to Frank and David for verifications. Finally, they were ready for launch.

“Shuttle Star Sierra Romeo Six to Liberty, ready for launch.”

“Shuttle Star Sierra Romeo Six, you are clear for launch. Have a good day.”

Susan’s heart pounded at the thrill of being a copilot on an actual deep space shuttle star mission; even if it was only a fishing trip. For all intention she was pilot in command, however her status as a student shuttle pilot kept her under observation by Frank.

Susan took the controls head on.

“Engines are in the green” she called out. “Moorings released. All personnel show safety lights on” indicating all passengers were belted and secure.

“Stand by for zero gravity.”

The shuttle slide out of the launch bay as if on a glass rail. As they passed the launch door, they felt the effects of a weightless state. Despite the fact that they had been aboard a star cruiser and in space already, the emergence of the small ship into space and the view of the large blue earth-like planet below was still breathtaking.

The shuttle star glided peacefully towards the planet. Susan followed her flight plan towards a large body of water which had been identified as having a quantity of fish.

“When we arrive I want you guys to put on your side arms. I don’t expect trouble, but we don’t know what kind life is on this planet.” said Frank.

Susan took the shuttle star directly over one end of the lake.

“It’s beautiful” she said. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen water and woods.”

Suddenly there was a jolt; it felt like the shuttle had hit a brick wall! The nose pitched up and the shuttle started to role inverted. Stall horns could be heard.

“Everyone hold on!” Susan shouted. She realized that they were in an imminent stall condition. If it continued, a full stall would follow.

The shuttle became sloppy, like a strong wind tossed the ship around. She glanced out the window. They were too close to the ground to push the nose down and recover, so she decided to let the shuttle lose altitude in order to get closer to the ground. Then at the right moment she would pull the control back, forcing a stall. Like throwing a ball into the air, there would be a moment where all motion would stop and then the nose would fall back. With the shuttle close to the ground, impact would be minimized.

She used the rudders to keep the ship upright and then pulled back on the controls. Just as they stalled, the nose dropped and rather than hitting hard, she was able to lighten the impact. Unfortunately, they needed more horizontal distance. They slid through a meadow and into the woods.

_______

Susan opened her eyes. The sounds of weapons firing and explosions could be heard in the distance. She shook off the fogginess in her head and looked over at Frank. He appeared unconscious. She heard a sound behind her. It was David coming around.

“David, David, are you alright?” she asked.

“I think so. How about you?” he replied.

“Yeah, I think so.”

Susan unbuckled herself and made her way over to Frank to check on him.

“Is Frank okay?” David asked.

“I don’t know. He looks like he might be hurt pretty bad.”

David joined her and started to check Frank’s condition. He was bleeding from is arm due to a deep cut.

“I’ll get the medical kit” David said.

Susan tried to look out the side windows. All she could see were trees. The shuttle star systems were off and the windows had become fogged over. She wiped off the fog covering the front windshield on her side of the cockpit. Peering through the porthole she had created, she could see the meadow they had crossed. In the meadow, both on the ground and in the air were saucer shaped ships. Missiles were impacting all around the ships. There were also soldiers and vehicles exiting the saucers on the ground.  David joined her.

“How’s Frank?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I was able to control the bleeding but I think he has some broken bones. He also has a nasty bruise on his forehead and he’s still unconscious.” David paused to look out the window at the scene that Susan had been watching.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“I don’t know. It looks like were in the middle of a war.” She replied.

_______

High above the planet the star cruiser Liberty glided silently in orbit. The quietness of space gave a peaceful feel to the crew who went about their daily tasks. The command deck personnel felt relaxed. Science officer Michael Richardson was manning the navigation and security console, however he felt somewhat useless as the navigation computers rebooted requiring the ships to be orbit on auto control.  Suddenly, an alarm was heard on the security panel.

“Sir, we have an E.L.T. alert.”

“Source, Lieutenant?” answered Captain Roberts.

“It’s from Shuttle Star six” he replied.

“Can you verify the status of the shuttle?”

“In just a moment, sir” he answered. Michael moved from the navigation console to the science console and began scanning the surface. The E.L.T. is a device which automatically sends a signal indicating a craft, such as the shuttle, has impacted something. The captain keyed up inner ship communications.

“Lieutenant West and Doctor Hunter, to the command deck; urgent.”

“Sir, I have a fix on the shuttle star’s E.L.T. location. Thermal scans are temporarily off line due to the computer reboot; switching to lidar scanning.” Michael paused as he watched his monitors.

“It appears to have landed at the edge of a wooded area. All indications show no apparent damage.”

“Can you verify the crew status?”

“Not without thermal imaging, sir. Also audio communication has no response. Indications are their communications are down.”

“What about visual verification?”

“There is a great deal of smoke in the area. Even the lidar system is giving incomplete information.”

At this point, Lt. West, Dr. Hunter, and Life Science Officer Rosabel San Carlos all arrived on the command deck.

“Lieutenant West, please take the navigators position. Lt. Richardson; complete your scans and meet us in the briefing room. Dr. Hunter and Dr. San Carlos, you’re with me.”

In the briefing room Captain Roberts paused and looked at everyone who was looking back with combined curiosity and anticipation. As he broke the silence, his voice was solemn.

“We have received an ELT signal from Shuttle Star SR-6” said Captain Roberts. Doctor Hunter’s face showed deep concern.

“At present we do not know why the transmission was activated. We have no communications with the shuttle. Our ability to scan the surface is hampered by our current computer system reboot. In addition, the shuttle star communications system is down.”

“What about their personal communicators?” Dr. Hunter asked.

“The range of personal communicators is only 50 miles without the shuttle’s repeaters” answered Lt. Richardson as he entered the room. “We are orbiting at 200 miles.”

“What have you found, lieutenant?” asked Dr. Hunter.

“From what I have determined, the shuttle landed intact. There appears to be little or no damage, yet the ships power seems to be off. I cannot confirm the crew status due to heavy smoke in the area. The Thermal Imaging Cameras are still off line. In fact, without them I cannot see any life of the life forms that are probably present.”

“What do you mean; any possible life forms?” asked Dr. Hunter.

“Lidar scans have established that, along with the shuttle star, there are 19 other craft in the area; some on the ground, some flying and some in the process of landing. And something else; all indications are that someone is firing missiles at these crafts. It is unknown who they are.”

Captain Roberts looked at Dr. Hunter. He opened inner ship communications.

“Lt. West, Order the return of Shuttle Star SR-4 immediately” he said.

“That is still going to take time. They may need us right now” said Lt. Richardson.

“True, but how do we get to them with both shuttles gone?” asked Captain Roberts.

“I think that I have a way” said Rosabel. The room grew quiet and everyone’s eyes were on Dr. San Carlos.

“Marissa!” she said. Everyone paused in confusion. Then Michael spoke.

“Marissa is a robot!”

“Yes,” Rosabel confirmed, “Marissa is a robot. And Marissa can travel in space without life support. We can send Marissa down to the surface in a probe ship. She can analyze and report back the status and we can then direct her from here on what action she may be able to take.”

“I thought she had a human brain?” Captain Roberts questioned.

“She has her own life support for her human brain which is designed for long term space travel.”

Captain Roberts smiled at the solution. Looking at Dr. Hunter who was also smiling, he again keyed up the inner ship communications.

“Marissa and Engineer Kori Robbins, please report to the shuttle bay.”

He then turned back to the rest of the people in the briefing room.

“Dr. San Carlos, please head to the shuttle bay to meet Kori and Marissa. If you would brief them, and prepare a probe with everything you think Marissa will need.”

______

In the shuttle bay, the prepared probe was mounted on a launching platform. Marissa stood next to the probe.

“You are all set, Marissa?”

“Yes Michael. My computers are fully loaded with all we know of the situation. All systems are go.”

“What about the potential for military conflict?” Rosabel asked Michael. Marissa answered for him.

“The mission has a life priority one status, which sets it equal to my survival conditioning. I am directed by programming to seek all other alternatives before any conflict engagement.”

“In short,” said Michael, “she will use cover and avoidance as her primary tactic. In addition, if required to act defensively, she has been programmed with the standard use of force matrix.”

“I see” said Rosabel, in a reserved voice.

Marissa climbed into the probe and the access panel was secured. Michael and Rosabel entered the launch control room and moved the probe into launch positon.

“As far as her non-combat directives, will her human brain accept those conditions?” asked Rosabel.

“That, we just don’t know. Will she override her directives? I don’t know. And how she will handle her emotions? We will just have to see. She does have the ability to use lethal force and she is aware of that ability. However, she is our only option to help them.”

“I know she has a computer to assist her judgements. However, she is only a 14 year old. I will pray for her.”

_______

Susan and David sat in the Shuttle Star. They were quiet as if planning their next steps. In reality their minds were blank. Confusion has a way of doing that; as if suggesting that not thinking at all will solve all your problems. Susan looked at Frank who was still unconscious.

“We need to get him some help” Susan said as she watched for any signs of change in his condition. “Let’s take a look outside and see how badly the shuttle is damaged. Maybe we can re-establish communications”

“I guess we could. It seems like the battle has moved away from us. But even if we can contact the Liberty, they have no shuttles to get to us. And we can’t get to them.”

“If we are not damaged too badly, I can fly us out of here” answered Susan with a strong and definite tone.

“But it takes two to pilot a shuttle through liftoff, and to dock with the Liberty.”

“Right, and that’s why you will be my copilot” Susan said with a confident smile. “Grab the guns and let’s take a look around.”

David grabbed two pistols and holsters from the weapons cabinet. They strapped the guns on and each applied their thumbs to activate the guns. Once activated in this manner, they were the only ones who can fire their individual weapon. David grabbed the emergency exit handle and pulled the lever, opening the main door. The top half of the door swung up and the steps dropped down with a loud bang! Susan looked at David with a peeved look.

“Quiet!” she said in a hushed voice.

David looked back as if to say “oops” and shrugged his shoulders. He stepped down and peered around. Susan followed, however not too closely.

They walked around the ship looking for any damage. The most obvious was the nose gear which was buried into the ground and bent. Also, the nose cone section which housed the forward sensor array was loose. The two teens walked away from the ship to get an overall view.

“I don’t know,” said Susan, “that front landing gear is pretty bad, and I don’t think that nose cone section could stand the forces of a takeoff.”

“I agree” David replied. “However, we can unbolt the nose gear from the shuttle. In a vertical takeoff the assembly will simply be left behind.”

“Sounds good; what about the problem with the nose cone?” she asked.

“I suggest we fly it like it is and see if it will hold up.”

“Okay, but if the nose cone were to come off while we are still in the atmosphere, it will be become very hard to control, and we will lose all sensors.”

“And that’s bad?” David asked in a slightly sarcastic tone. “I trust your flying.”

“We need the sensors to navigate and dock with the Liberty. We will be forced to do a visual approach. If I was landing on the ground that would not be too hard, however landing on a space ship while it is in a moving orbit will be like landing a fighter jet on a carrier in a thunderstorm.”

“That’s bad!” said David.

Suddenly David stopped and put his hand in front of Susan signally her to wait; then placed a finger to his lips to indicate silence. As they listened they both heard voices close by. Quickly they moved to a crater made by an earlier explosion. A large tree had fallen across the hole giving them cover. From the hole they watched as two soldiers emerged from the forest. They ended up about an arm’s reach from the edge of the crater.

“I know I heard talking” one soldier said.

“It was probably one of our patrols” said the other.

“One of the voices was definitely female.” said the first. Both were quiet for a moment as they listened. Susan and David were completely still.

“It was probably Marsh. He has a high pitched voice” said the other.

As Susan and David remained as still as possible, their attention was taken back to the shuttle. Four other soldiers were walking around the ship. They appeared to be giving it a careful inspection. At one point they stopped at the shuttle emblems painted on the side. They seemed very interested in these. Then their interest focused on the open door. Susan and David both felt panicked as two of the soldiers entered the ship.

I should have closed that door Susan thought as she waited. She and David were helpless. With the two soldiers standing almost on top of them, neither could move, nor even make a sound.

As they continued to watch, a soldier emerged from the ship. There was an exchange between that soldier and the others. Susan tried to listen, but could not hear what they were saying.

David glanced at his sister and noticed something move on the other side of her. As they lay in the dirt, he saw a large bug starting to crawl up onto Susan’s back. It resembled what he knew as a Pill Bug on earth, except this one looked part roach. Pill bugs are generally only about half an inch long, however this one was about two feet. David wanted to warn Susan, but was afraid of being discovered. At the same time, he was afraid that Susan would be startled by the bug.

As David considered what to do, Susan felt the bug. She swung her hand at the bug to make him stop, not knowing what she was swatting at. The next time she swatted, she saw David staring at her. He then slowly pointed at the bug, now climbing onto her back near her neck, its antennae swinging near her face.

Susan’s eyes widened as fear gripped her. She looked back at David who silently motioned for her to stay still. David knew that Pill Bugs only eat decaying organic material, and if this was a form of that bug he should leave them alone. Question was did Susan know this. The bug slowly crawled diagonally across Susan’s back. She felt the creature’s seven pairs of legs as it crawled on her. It was all she could do to keep from screaming. She flinched with her eyes closed as the bug continued over her back. As the bug started to climb off of her, its antennae flew past her face almost striking her and she could hear it’s breathing through gills on either side of its head.

The bug was moving towards David and he had little interest in being another hill for it to climb, so he reached over and shoved it away. Immediately it started to hiss loudly. It crawled in a direction which would turn it back to David. As it did so, the bug appeared on the other side of the tree the teens were hiding under. The soldiers saw the bug.

“Oh gross; I hate those things” one soldier said as he raised his rife. David could see the end of the barrel and what appeared to be a silencer. It looked like it was pointed right at him. He closed his eyes and remained still. The gun fired with a muffled thew sound. The bug was only a few feet from David. The sound of the gun was followed by the crack of the bullet impacting the bug. The bug seemed to explode and David found himself covered with the insides of the large insect. He opened his eyes and gave a sour look at Susan. She let out a brief snicker, however she caught herself and they both looked up at the soldiers who now had their backs to them.

“Did you hear something?” one soldier asked the other.

“I only heard the thing explode. It was probably the gas from the bug. That’s why they stink when you shoot one. It’s why it stinks now. Come on; let’s get a closer look at this ship.”

The two soldiers walked away.

“It really does stink” said David once the two soldiers were a distance away.

“Shush!” said Susan pointing to the shuttle. A vehicle had just pulled up and three more soldiers got out. They were carrying something and went into the shuttle.

“What do you think they’re doing?” ask Susan.

“I don’t know” replied David.

Just then they came out, maneuvering what appeared to be some sort of cylinder. The size and shape looked like a person could be inside. There was a panel on one end with colored lights. They placed the cylinder in the back of the vehicle and then got in preparing to drive away. Susan started to scramble out of their hiding place, but David pulled her back.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“They’ve got Frank!”

“We don’t know that. And even if they do, what are you going to do. There are still four or five guys over there and, they have guns!”

“And so do we” she replied indicating the plasma side arms they wore.

“I’m sure our guns have more power, but it’s still five to two in their favor. Besides, do you want to just go up and kill a bunch of guys when we don’t have any idea what their intentions are. They could be helping him.

“I guess so” she sighed. David and Susan quietly worked their way to the other side of the crater and slipped out. Checking around first to see if there were any soldiers, they started to make their way deeper into the woods.

“Where are we headed?” asked Susan. She was often the one making the decisions, however David seemed to have a good grip on how to handle this situation.

“Well, first we are going to the lake to wash this crude off me. Then we need to make some plans.”

As they walked they noticed that it is getting darker. The thick trees blocked out the sun, and the smoke from the battle combined with a kind of mist. David looked around to get his bearings. They had flown over the lake; however he only saw it on his monitors. Being a navigator, he felt a pressure to find the lake.

Just ahead he saw a glimmer between some bushes.

“I think it’s just ahead” he said.

As they walked along they began to encounter thorn covered vines. Their uniforms were made of a material that prevented the thorns penetration.

“Ow” said Susan. She wished the uniform covered all of her skin.

“I think it’s just past these vines” said David.

“I just wish we had something to cut our way through.”

At that very moment a blade sliced through the vines in front of them. A girl with red hair stood nearly nose to nose with David. Her face was covered by a visor and a kind of gas mask preventing them from seeing her features. David’s attention was on the glistening blade that was held only inches from his throat.

“What do you think Torah?” asked the girl pointing the sword at David’s throat.

As she spoke, Susan felt something alongside her neck. It felt cold and metallic. She shifted her eyes towards the object to see another sword extending past her throat from behind.

“I’m not sure, Mya” answered a voice from behind Susan. “They did come out of the sky with the other ships.”

“I say we kill them!” replied Torah.

“Ah, so you’re Mya, right?” David’s voice was a rather poor attempt at being suave. Susan stared. This sounded lot like some late night television show.

“My name is David, and this is my sister, Susan. We are kind of new around here and we were looking for some water to wash up with. Maybe you could point us to a place to wash up, and then maybe we could all get a bit to eat together.

Looking away in embarrassment, Susan wanted to tell them this wasn’t really her brother. However, he did have their attention. She quickly spun around and took hold of the one behind her to throw her. The next thing she knew, Susan was on her back with the sword directly at her throat. At the other end of the sword was another girl; this one with brown hair. She also noticed they were both dressed in black.

“Look”, Susan said, hiding her embarrassment with anger, “We are not with those flying saucers, or anyone else in this battle. We are from a star cruiser and simply came down to get some fish for the crew when we were shot down.”

Everyone was quiet, as if waiting for someone else to speak. Then the dark haired girl extended her hand to Susan to help her up and removed her visor.

“My name is Torah, and this is Mya” the dark haired girl said. Mya also removed her visor David and Susan could now see that they looked to be about the same age as them.

“I don’t know why, but I believe I will trust you” said Torah. Her voice conveyed a matter-of-fact tone which seemed cold and impersonal.

“We will take you so your brother can get cleaned up. But first, we will take your weapons.”

Susan realized that the trust was to go just so far. However she had no problem giving up their guns. No one else can fire them. She handed the guns to Mya, and they started for the lake.

David stood waist deep in the cold lake water as he cleaned himself of the bug guts. Mya sat on a rock to watch both Susan and David while Torah’s attention was the forest. Both Torah and Mya were attractive, something that did not pass by David unnoticed.

“How did you come to be covered in such a fragrant smell?” Mya asked David.

“I was rescuing my sister from a giant creature about to attack her” David said with a chagrin look on his face.

“Rescuing me,” Susan exclaimed, “you were saving yourself! And, it wasn’t a creature; it was a big bug.”

“Sister, huh” Mya said. She seemed to like the fact that they were brother and sister.

“Yeah,” replied David, “she’s been my sister ever since the day I was born.”

David smiled, however no one seemed to get the joke and the smile faded.

“What kind of bug was it?” asked Torah, showing she was listening as well but still maintaining her vigilance.

“I don’t know. It was about two feet long and had a bunch of legs” replied David.

“And it hissed” added Susan wrinkling her nose in a disgusting expression.

“Sounds like a Chzor; you’re lucky” said Torah.

“Lucky?” asked Susan

“Yeah; Chzors have a stinger on their antennae.”

“And what happens if you’re stung?”

“You die” said Mya.

“Yeah, but a very, very painfully” added Torah.

Susan looked back at David with a glare.

With David cleaned up, the four of them started off again. Mya drew her sword.

“I really don’t think you need that” said Susan.

Mya looked at Torah. Torah nodded her head, so she replaced the sword into the scabbard. As they walked David positioned himself next to Mya.

“Do you have a title?” asked David directing his question to Mya.

“Title?” she replied.

“What you’re called; like the resistance, freedom fighters, or something.”

“We are Shadow Fighters” said Torah

David thought that shadow fighters sounded pretty awesome. Susan liked the title as well.

They were in a very dense part of the forest now. The trees were large and very tall, like earths Redwoods. It was almost too dark to see. As they reach a wooded hammock Torah and Mya stopped.

“Climb!” said Torah.

Susan looked at the trees thinking you can’t be serious; climb the trees! She looked back at Torah with confusion, and Torah repeated her command, this time pointing to a spot between the trees.

“Climb!”

This time, Susan spotted the stairs, spiraling up into the trees. David also saw it. They looked up to see a tree house partially hidden in the tree tops. One by one they all made their way up to the tree house.

The house was small. It looked like someone had taken a beach hut and placed it in a tree. Torah explained they had to change their clothes to go into the city.

“We don’t have any street clothes for you, but you can wear these cloaks and hoods. It’s not uncommon for people to wear them. Torah went into the hut to change leaving Mya to watch the others.

“So,” began Torah, speaking to them from inside the hut, “according to you, the purpose of your flight was to go fishing in your space ship, and had no idea that you were among the other ships.” Torah’s voice was full of sarcasm.

“We were going fishing, but not from our shuttle, and we didn’t land. We were shot at and crashed” Susan said, correcting her.

“Okay, and then you left your crewmate behind in the ship to be captured.”

“He was hurt, and the soldiers were on us too fast to help him. He was then taken away.”

Torah came out of the hut allowing Mya to go in to change.

“Well, it sounds like your engineer was taken by the Capellians.” Said Mya

“Is that good or bad?” asked Susan.

“Well, it should be good. He will get medical attention, but they probably will hold him as a possible enemy.”

“Are you Capellian?” asked David.

“No, we are Regorians. You are on the planet Regor. This is our home.”

“The Liberty is our home” said Susan.

“The Liberty is your spaceship?” asked Mya.

“It’s a star cruiser. We’ve called it home for the last nine months.”

“So where is home before that?”

Susan was hesitant to tell them, and then she decided to trust them.

“We are from earth.”

“Earth; I’ve never heard of a planet called earth. Where is it?”

“A long way from here” she replied. Then she decided to ask some questions of her own.

“So, what is all this fighting about?” There was a pause in the conversation. Torah then spoke in a foreboding tone.

“Our planet was ruled by King Stone. He was a kind king and well-liked by the people. He ruled for many years. Then about 15 years ago, when I was a little girl, he and the royal family disappeared. In their absence the Grand Mailord took power. She is a wicked ruler who finds pleasure in taking anything she wishes from the people. She has no regard for the people’s dignity, or their own lives. She uses anyone for her own purposes. She has enslaved many in order to build her military.

The shadow fighters were created to oppose her and protect the people. We are considered enemies of the empire. We have held our own, but now the empress is attempting to take other planets and place them under her rule. That is the reason for this war.”

“I imagine that she is not happy with the Shadow Fighters” said David.

“That is certain. She has made the statement that if any Shadow Fighter is caught, they would receive the ultimate honor by being sacrificed to Zazel, the god of war.”

The three climbed down from the tree house and started along a path through the forest. As they walked, they remained silent. There was a tension about this part of the trip. Susan thought back to Frank. She hoped he was in good hands.

David noticed the foliage was thinning out as they approached a clearing. At the clearing they could see overcast skies, and the wind had turned briskly cold. Torah looked up at the sky.

“It will be night soon. When the sun is gone, it will get very cold.”

When they reached the clearing, Torah and Mya paused. They seemed on the alert here. Torah drew her sword, as did Mya. Their eyes were scanning the forest that surrounded the clearing.

“It doesn’t feel right” said Torah

“I think this would be a good time to get our guns back” said Susan.

Mya looked at Torah. Torah continued to look at the tree line. She motioned for her to give them their guns. As soon as the guns were in their hands, they placed their fingers on the identity pads which activated the weapons.

Without warning the entire clearing was filled with light. Soldiers and lights occupied all four sides, leaving them no retreat. They could see the silhouette of soldiers behind the lights, but due to the brightness it was unknown how many soldiers there are.

“Drop your weapons” the command came from behind the lights. No one reacted to the order. They just stood their ground.

“I said drop your weapons or we will fire.”

There was silence as everyone waited for the next move. Then a flash came from between two lights and a projectile hit Mya’s sword, splitting it in two. The force of the hit knocked Mya to the ground. David zeroed in on the spot where the flash came from and fired his pistol. The shot missed and struck a tree, vaporizing it.

Since everyone’s attention was on this exchange, no one saw the soldier come up behind David. He struck him on the back of the head with the butt end of a rifle, sending him to the ground. The soldier then leveled the rifle at David. Susan reacted instantly and fired at the soldier. Her shot hit the soldier and he was vaporized like the tree.

Susan spun around to engage another soldier, but Torah stopped her by grabbing her arm.

“Listen” Torah said. She had heard a sound that to her was very familiar. On one side of the clearing came a tank. The tank was a hovercraft. As it floated in, the tank was illuminated by the lights. The turret could be seen swinging into position – directly at Susan. They all had no choice but to drop their weapons.

The soldiers confiscated their weapons and led them towards waiting transports. They were large aircraft with four large fan-like motors on each corner allowing them to take off and land vertically. They separated David from the girls.

“Hey” Susan protested.

“There’s nothing you can do” said Torah. “We’ll all end up at the palace together. They just process boys different than girls.”

Susan lost sight of David as she was being loaded into the transport. There were no windows, and the craft had numerous other girls on board who were also prisoners.

David was shoved along the trail to his transport. As he walked along he stumbled. He looked back to see what he tripped over, however there was nothing there. He knew he tripped over something.

“Come on,” said the soldier in an angry tone, “get moving!”

Just then David saw a hand emerge from the bushes. The hand was a slender young girl’s hand. The hand took hold of the soldier’s arm. He stiffened and blue electrical current flowed over his body. Then the hand let go, and the soldier fell to the ground.

David watched as the person responsible stepped from the bushes. David’s wrinkled brow of worry disappeared, replaced by a wide eye smile of recognition.

At the palace the captives were taken into a building where their clothing was taken and searched. Torah and Mya had their clothes returned to them. Susan’s cloak and hood was not returned, however her star cruiser uniform was given back. Two soldiers entered the room and motioned for them to walk towards the large double doors.

“They don’t talk much, do they” quipped Susan

“Quiet; keep walking” said the soldier. Susan thought no sense of humor either.

The large wood and iron doors opened and the three walked down the stone steps and across the marble floor to a large column. As they stood waiting, the column slowly turned exposing the Empress and her throne. As it stopped rotating, the Empress stood.

She was dressed in armor from neck to foot, and wore a royal blue robe draped over her shoulders. Her left hand appeared to be that of a robot, while her right looked to be pale flesh. She also had a metal plate as part of her face and head. All her visible skin was pale; however her eyes glowed blue.

She motioned for the three to approach the throne. As they walked up to the throne, a guard placed Susan’s gun at the base of the throne,

“The one with the golden hair had this weapon; she used it to terminate one of my men.”

The face of the empress lacked emotion, however her voice conveyed distain. She looked down at the weapon with curiosity, but as if not to be bothered with it, she looked back to the three.

“Torah and Mya,” the empress voice held contempt, “you have been classified as enemies of the empire. The mere presence of you in this great hall is defaming.  Due to your crimes against the empire, you both are sentenced to be sacrificed to the great god Zazel. You are ordered to be taken from here to the temple.”

She then turned her focus to Susan.

“You, you are not known to us. What is your name?”

Susan swallowed and tensed up.

“I am Susan” she replied.

“And where is your place?”

Susan wasn’t sure what she meant, however she figure she should not tell her the name of her planet. Instead she used the name of her ship.

“I am from the Star Cruiser Liberty.”

“Susan of the Star Cruiser Liberty, your uniform is not that of a shadow fighter, yet you were found with them. You have also attacked and terminated one of our soldiers. Therefore you have been classified a spy.”

“What? Wait a minute,” shouted Torah, “she’s not a spy. She’s a visitor who got caught up in all of this!”

“Silence!” shouted the Empress. “You have already been condemned and should you speak again, you will be executed immediately.”

A soldier raised his gun at Torah. Susan gave her a strong angry look to stop her from interfering.

“Susan of the Star Cruiser Liberty,” the Empress continued, “since we have need of your skills, you will be sent to the Imperial Labs where your brain will be removed and installed in a Spybot”

The Empress held up her hand looking over the prisoners at the soldiers in the audience chamber. The soldiers started to move towards the three when the great door slammed shut. Everyone looked across the audience hall to a lone figure walking towards them. The features of this person were hidden by a helmet and slotted visor. The figure wore a type of battle suit that was familiar to Susan; the arms were crossed concealing her hands.

“Who dares enter the audience hall uninvited?” asked the Empress.

“I am here for the one called Susan of the Star Cruiser Liberty. She is wanted by my people, and I am here to take her with me.”

Susan immediately recognized the female voice of this visitor. A smile formed on her face.

“No one enters this hall to take from me what belongs to me… and lives.” The empress motioned for the guards to fire upon the stranger.

With a swift motion the stranger threw two glowing disks at the two guards. These laser tipped throwing stars stuck the guards, bouncing off the wall behind them, dropped them to the ground.

Other guards started to respond, however the stranger engaged the guards skillfully with Tai Kwan Do as they approached. The guards did not know how to defend themselves from this combat art and fell on right after another.

“Jade!” Susan fully recognized her now and shouted excitedly. It was Lieutenant Jade Yamada, a Marine Raider from the Liberty.

Torah and Mya each used their combat skills, throwing two guards and leaving the Empress unprotected. Torah looked down and saw Susan’s gun was still at the foot of the throne. She grabbed it and pointed it at the Empress.

“Good-bye your Grace” she said as she pulled the trigger. Nothing happened!  She tried a second time but still noting. She turned to Susan.

“How do you get this thing to work?” she yelled.

Susan shouted back, “You can’t shoot it, only I can.”

She tossed the gun to Susan; however the Empress gave an evil grin and closed the pillar before she got a shot off.

A guard came up behind Susan and grabber her. She spun around connecting her right foot with the side of his head, dropping him.

“You’ve been practicing” Jade exclaimed.

Susan smiled and nodded affirmatively. Then she looked over at Mya to see a soldier had her around the waist and was carrying her away. Susan was too far from them, and it appeared he would be successful; however a figure blocked their exit.

“Excuse me sir” said Marissa as she placed her hand on his arm.  He stiffened, dropping Mya, and blue electrical current danced over hid uniform as he dropped to the ground.

In just a few moments all the guards were subdued. Susan ran to Jade and gave her a hug.

“Come on,” Jade said, “Frank and David are in the shuttle outside waiting. We have to go before more guards show up. Your friends can come too.”

Susan looked at Torah and Mya. She was excited about having them onboard the Liberty; however they looked back in sadness. Like daggers, the sadness hit Susan who realized they were not coming.

“Guys, you can get out of here and get away from all this” said Susan. “We have plenty of room.”

“We can’t go,” said Mya.

“Yes, it would not be fair to our people to leave,” added Torah, “we must stay and fight,”

Susan felt Torah did not want to stay, however it was her sense of loyalty talking. It was nice to be with other girls her age and she felt that she had made friends. She also knew that David would be sad as well.

Susan walked up to Torah, trying to find the words to say good-bye. Torah put her hand on Susan’s shoulder.

“Perhaps, one day, our paths will cross again. And if not, we will always have the memories we made here.”

As Mya watched standing near Jade, she thought she saw something in her extreme peripheral vision. She looked in that direction but saw nothing. Suddenly a golden field of energy formed in the room and a man in a space suit appeared out of thin air.

Everyone stood in awe as the man extended his arms and the energy field covered Susan and Torah.

“No!” shouted Jade. However in a brief second they were gone. No trace that anyone had been there was left,

The sound of guards shouting and running towards them caused Jade to act. Marissa joined Jade and they looked at Mya.

“We need to go” Jade said to Mya. “We will need your help if we expect to find them. Please come with us. Once you are together again we can get you both back home.”

Mya hesitated. The guards could be heard in the hallways. She felt without Torah, she would not escape. Tears filled her eyes. Then she turned back to Jade. Unable to speak, she nodded in the affirmative. As she ran, she spotted her sword as well as Torah’s. She grabbed then and the three of them ran to the waiting shuttle.

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The Experience

Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn. (C. S. Lewis)

J. Rae Moore

Writer of MG and YA Fantasy. Author of nothing. Reader. Quintessential introvert. Often confused. Looking to publish Youngspell. Contact at j.rae_moore@yahoo.com

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