Sunday, January 31, 2010

Flora's Story

Flora charged forward, her pitchfork up at the ready, a battle cry on her lips. She sized up her target as she ran forward, determining the best point to skewer it with her weapon. She weaved to the right slightly to avoid a rock on the ground, and then she was upon her enemy. Without hesitation, she shot the fork forward hard, and it plunged deep into the pile of hay on the barn floor. With a grunt, she lifted a large amount of hay up with the fork, and then began to spread it out into smaller piles for all the horses and cows to eat.

“There you go, ladies,” she said as she worked. “That mean old hay monster won’t bother you any more!”

She giggled to her self. This was one of her favorite games to play on the farm, pretending to be the heroes of the legends she loved to hear over and over again. She imagined her pitchfork was a magical spear, and she was a brave knight, saving her people, and cows, from certain doom at the hands of a vile monster. It was always fun to imagine it. Then, of course, there was the reality.

“Flora!” came her mother’s voice. “Are you almost done? We need to finish packing for the trip.”

Ever since her father had died, Flora’s mom had taken over the farm. However, she found it difficult to hire help, as most men, even the most desperate, were unwilling to take orders from a woman, and a good number of those that were thought it was an invitation to court her. As a result, a large portion of the manual labor on the farm was done by Flora, her mom and her little brother, Gregory. The result was some stability, but not nearly as much money as they had when Dad was still alive. This year was looking especially bad, Flora knew. Yesterday, her mom had let slip that if today’s trip to market didn’t turn a profit, she didn’t know if they would be able to pay their taxes when the collector came by next week.

“Coming, Mum!” Flora cried back, and planted the pitchfork into the ground next to her, wiping sweat from her brow. It was a lot of hard work, usually in the sun, since Dad died. The truth was, though, that Flora enjoyed it all. It meant a lot of time was spent with her mother Rose talking in the field. It also meant that she got to do things she would normally get yelled at, like riding the horses and pulling the plow. She loved the animals on the farm, and working with them like this was something that she always enjoyed. Not to mention the pitchfork. Flora just loved using that to fling hay around. Her mother once commented that she could take down a full grown man with just her pitchfork, she had become so proficient in its use.

“Flora, now!” came her mom’s voice, shaking her out of her reverie. Quickly, she ran out of the barn and to the wagon, where her mother was packing the last of the crops.

“Where’s Gregory?” her mother asked.

Flora looked around as if expecting to see him sitting behind their mother. “I dunno, I thought he was with you.”

Rose sighed. “You’d better go check out back, make sure he hasn’t tried to sneak through the bushes and into Mr. Wilson’s fields again.”

Flora nodded, and then headed off to the north end of the farm. Mr. Wilson’s field was less than a mile away, and it took her about five minutes to get to the fence by run. When she got there, she could see tracks in the mud leading through a hole in the fence. That was her brother sure enough. She looked around to see if maybe he was still on this side of the fence when she heard growling coming from the other side.

“Gregory?” she called. The growling turned to barking. It was Bull, Mr. Wilson’s big, mean dog.

“Flora? Save me!” her brother whimpered from the other side. She sighed again. The fool was probably stealing Mr. Wilson’s strawberries and got caught by Bull, who no doubt had him trapped.

“I’m coming Gregory,” she said with a tinge of annoyance on her voice. She looked around again, this time with an eye towards a club, and found a nice chunk of the broken fence that would work. She hefted it a couple of times to make sure she had it’s weight, and then crawled through the fence.

Before she got out the other side, she was greeted by a face full of teeth, saliva and bad breath, complete with defining barking. She stumbled backwards in fear, bumping her head on the fence behind her. Bull moved forward, continuing to bark, and Flora could see that Gregory was up in a tree behind the dog. Without hesitation, Flora gripped the wood in both hands and swung it at the dog. Even standing up at full height, Bull came to her chest in height, and so the swing hit him square in the nose, snapping his head to the side. The dog let out a great wine, then turned back to Flora. It bared its fangs, which looked to Flora to be about the size of her fingers, and growled. She gulped, and raised the board once more. She was trapped between the dog and the fence, and had no room to maneuver, and realized that if the dog attacked her, she wouldn’t’ be able to swing at it in time.

So, she swung again. This time, Bull was ready for such a swing, and tried to duck out of the way, but Flora had swung lower, hoping to hit the dog’s legs. However, due to his duck, she ended up hitting his head again, swinging it around in the other direction. This time, the hit had more force behind it, and actually pushed the dog to her right a few steps, allowing her to get out from behind the fence. When she no longer had the fence at her back, she turned to face Bull once more. The massive mutt was regaining its footing and shaking its head.

She took a step forward, hoisting the board above her, and cried “Get out of here, Bull!”

The dog ducked back again, this time with real fear in its eyes, and turned to run with its tail between its legs. Flora dropped the board, panting heavily. Her heart was thumping from fear, and she suddenly felt tired. She wasn’t sure that Bull would actually run away, but she was grateful that it had.

“Thanks, Flora!” Gregory cried from above. She looked up and watched as he climbed back down from the tree. As soon as he got down from the tree, she reached out and smacked him on the back of his head. “Ow!” he cried, rubbing where she had hit. “What was that for?”

“What was that for?” Flora asked, anger evident in her voice. “How many times have Mum and I told you not to come back here. I should have hit you with the board!” she said, pointing toward the discarded club. “Now come on, Mum is waiting for us so we can go into town.”

Grudgingly, he led the way back to the barn and the waiting wagon. With the three family members reunited, Rose piled everyone into the wagon, and the traveled to town. As they arrived, they met with several other farmers coming into town on wagons, many of whom greeted them personally. Regulars, just like they were. Thanks to having to find Gregory, they arrived late, however, and were near the end of the caravan, which meant that they would not get one of the better spots to set up.

It didn’t take long for them to set up. Even when her dad was alive, this was something that they would all participate in. When everything was set up, Rose set Gregory to hawking. It was probably the one thing that Flora would admit he did better than her. After a few hours, things were looking up. They had done very well, and if things kept up like this, they would not only be able to pay taxes, but they would have a little extra for hiring help with.

Just around noontime, Flora could hear a voice near by. It was one she instantly recognized from her many other trips to market, and it sounded like he was gearing up for one of his stories.

“Mum!” she said, turning to face her mother and tell her about the voice.

“Yes, dear,” Rose replied, smiling at her, “I hear him to. Go ahead, you’ve done a wonderful job here so far. Gregory and I can take it for a bit.”

Without any further prompting, Flora ran off.

“Flora, my favorite fan,” the voice called to her as she rounded the corner. He was tall, and though not in the shape that he must have once been, still held a power in his stance that made one think twice about confronting him. He had short cropped black hair and a trimmed beard that mostly hid a scar that ran down his left cheek.

“Albert!” she cried and ran up to him to give him a hug. The big man returned the hug, then set her back down and rubbed the top of her head.

“Sit down, girl, I’m about to start my tale,” he said, pointing to the crowd, mostly of small children, but with a few adults looking on as well. As soon as she was seated, he returned to the bench he was sitting at and looked back out at the crowd, a broad smile on his face.

“Right then,” he said. “So, there I was, marching with 15 other soldiers and our captain, per the kings orders, to the mouth of the cave. We knew it was the layer of the beast even before getting to the front entrance. The stench of death and decay was everywhere, covered by the smell of brimstone. At the mouth of the cave, we could hear it’s rumbling from below the ground. Our captain ordered us into formation, but it was too late.”

He slammed his fist into his hands, startling everyone except Flora, who had heard this story many times before. It was one of her favorites of Albert’s. She was even willing to ignore that the last two times it was 10 other soldiers.

“The dragon was upon us! A massive beast it was, as tall as the king’s castle, and with a wingspan as wide as five men tall. It reared back its head, and I knew that this was were we found out what caused the brimstone smell. Without waiting, I ducked behind some rocks.

The fire was horrendous. It swirled about me, as if it were a great storm at sea and my rocks were my boat. I kept my shied up and my spear ready in case something changed. But all I could hear was the roar of the fire. It seemed to go on forever, and I began to wonder if the dragon would ever run out of breath and need to draw in again. But, sure enough, it did.”

He stood up then, arms out stretched as if they were wings. He took a deep breath then, and the youngest children in the audience cried out. Flora smiled. This was the best part.

“I was about to close my eyes and pray for a quick death,” Albert continued, “when I noticed something. It was a chink in the dragon’s great armor, a place where age and constant rubbing of its belly on the ground to sleep had taken its toll. There, shining as if a bright jewel, was a small hole in its scales, and bare skin could be seen. I couldn’t pass up such an opportunity, so I struck without hesitation.”

Now e was acting as if he had a spear in his hands, and he was thrusting the spear in front of him.

“In the spear went, right through the dragon’s flesh, and I continued to push it in as deep as it would go. The great creature roared in pain, and it started to topple. I ducked back behind the rocks, but the beast fell backwards, my spear sticking out of its belly and a dark, nearly black blood rushed forth. I hesitated at first, but sure enough the creature was dead. I had done it. The dragon was dead.”

He paused a moment while the children, Flora included, cheered their hero. But, Albert wasn’t done. He dipped his head in sadness at the next part of the story, and Flora did the same.

“But it was at a great cost,” he went on, wiping a tear from his face. “All my fellow soldiers were dead, killed by the dragon’s fire. I knelt and said a prayer for each one of them, reciting their names to God, one by one, until I had finished even the Captain. Then, I returned to the King, and I brought this scale as proof of my deed.”

At this point, he reached into his pouch and pulled something out. It was large, about the size of Flora’s head, and tear shaped. It was rough on the edges and a kind of rust brown color. It had the appearance of fish scale, only larger. It had to be a dragon scale. No one had seen a dragon in this area for centuries, and so Albert’s scale was the closest anyone had gotten to one. It was a local treasure, and it was all Albert’s.

“He was so thankful and sad for my loss, that he immediately released me from the army, and granted me my own farm as a reward. How I came to lose the farm to a centaur is a story for another day.”

Everyone cheered and clapped, and Flora smiled. She loved listening to the story of Albert fighting the dragon. He was a local hero, at least as far as Flora was concerned. Several of the adults tossed Albert a few coppers for the entertainment, but before he could thank them, there was a scream in the direction of Flora’s mother’s stand, followed closely by several more. Then came the smell of burning wood, followed by smoke rising above the stands. Flora started running towards her mother’s cart without thinking, but was held back by Albert.

“Wait,” he said, “you could be running into a dangerous situation. Wait here.”

She looked up at him with anger in her eyes. Of course it was dangerous, someone was setting fires, and it could very well be her mother’s booth that was burning right now. She had to go and help. She struggled against his strong arms, but before she could escape, a nightmare broke through some of the carts, knocking them aside and setting them ablaze.

It was a squat gray creature, about the size of Flora, with a crude, serrated edged knife in one hand and a torch in the other. Its mouth was filled with sharp teeth and its red eyes glared at her with pure anger, and on the side of it’s head were lopsided, pointed ears. Goblins. Flora screamed, then she turned towards Albert.

“Do something, Albert!”

He turned to look at her, and she saw upon his face the last thing she ever expected to see. Stark, naked fear. Then, he turned and ran, screaming. Flora would have sighed in frustration except that she heard the goblin growl, and turned her full attention back to him. It looked her directly in the eyes, smiled a wicked smile, and then began to advance on her, its knife extended threateningly.

Flora backed up, right into the bench Albert had been sitting on before, and fell
over backwards on to the ground. The goblin rushed forward, as if afraid that the bench had somehow stolen it’s prize for the evening. When it saw that she was still alive, it smiled again, and raised its knife, obviously trying to kill her. She panicked and reached out for anything she could se as a weapon, settling on a mug, which was still full of liquid based on the weight. Just as the goblin was about to jab downwards with its knife, Flora swung with the mug, hitting the little creature square in the jaw. The mug didn’t though, shattering to a thousand pieces and spilling the amber liquid of the mead that was inside all over the monster.

Flora didn’t wait to see if her actions worked, rolling to her side and planning on pushing herself up to get away. But then she heard the Goblin scream and hiss. She took a moment to turn and look at him, seeing that the mead has burned his face, like it were made of liquid fire. Smoke was still trailing off its face. She didn’t stick around to see how mad it was for her doing that, and instead crawled away. A few feet away, she got up and ran towards her mother’s booth. When she got there, here worst nightmares were confirmed. The booth was on fire, burning to the ground, along with all the fruit they had just harvested. Her mother and brother were right there, trying to put out the fire, but that’s when she saw another goblin, appear right behind them.

“Mother!” Flora cried at the top of her lungs, but it was too late. Her mother turned to look at her, but the goblin came up behind her and sliced into her back with its knife, causing Rose to drop to the ground in agony. Then, it shoved Gregory to the ground and moved up to him, looking him up and down in an almost predatory way. Flora sprang into action. She leaped across the field, tackling the creature and getting it away from Gregory and her mother. After they landed, she got up quickly, and saw that the goblin had dropped its knife. She went to grab it, but the goblin was trying to do the same, and in the struggle, it was pushed further away from them.

It turned to look at her, its eyes burning in anger. She kicked it in the face and quickly got up to try and run away, but it lashed out and grabbed her foot. She screamed again, not sure how she was going to get away. But suddenly, its grip let up, and she fell to the ground. She turned to look and saw a large man, another farmer, pulling a spear out of the creature’s back. He nodded to her, and then moved off with several other men and women carrying weapons, clearing the area of the creatures and trying to put out fires where they could. She looked at the dead creature, and shuddered in revulsion and fear. Then, she saw her mother, laying face down, blood on her back.

She rushed to her side and saw that her mother was still breathing, but unconscious. She looked around and found the tattered remains of a burnt tablecloth. Using that, she made a bandage and carefully wrapped it around her mother’s midsection, covering the wound on her back. With the help of some of the other farmers that were at the market, she managed to get her mother out of the square and into a nearby inn that was offering people from the market square shelter. After making sure her mother was comfortable and the innkeeper’s wife declared her okay, Flora collapsed into a restless sleep.

She awoke the next morning on the hard wood floor of the inn, next to her mother, who was still unconscious, but appearing to be asleep now. Then, she saw the man sitting across from her. It was Albert, eating a roll of some sort. When he saw that she had awoke, he immediately looked down at the ground, having at least the good decency to look ashamed.

“Tell me why I shouldn’t punch all you’re teeth in right now?” she said.

He didn’t look up from the floor. “I can’t… you probably should,” he muttered.

She was shocked. That was not the answer she expected to hear.

“What happened back there?” she said after a few moments of silence. “You’ve fought a dragon before, why would goblins scare you like that?”

“I…” he started, then stopped. She stayed quite, waiting for his answer. Finally, he lifted his head and looked her in the eyes. “I never killed a dragon.”

“What?” she recoiled back, as if punched in the gut. “But, the stories…”

“Made up. I’ve been lying all this time, just to get people to pay me money.”

“But…” she just couldn’t believe it. “But, the scale! And your scar!”

He reached up and touched his face where his scar was. “Yes, the scar is real, and I did get it serving in the army. It was during a march, an accident, a fellow soldier accidentally hit me with his knife during dinner after tripping on a tree branch.”

She could only just stare.

“The scale is real too, but I didn’t win it in combat with a dragon. I won it over a game of dice.” As he spoke, his voice stayed calm, and she could tell from the look of his eyes that he was telling the truth. “I don’t even know where the guy I won it form got it, but I made up the story I’ve been telling not long afterwards. It got me attention and money. I… I’m sorry, Flora. I’m a fraud.”

She closed her mouth with an audible clip. He looked back down at the floor.

“Why did you come here?” she asked at last.

“I…” he hesitated again. “You’re my favorite fan. You’re my only fan, really. Sometimes, I think of you like a little sister. I just… couldn’t stand to think that you’re last though of me was as a coward, even if that is true. I cam here last night and saw you asleep next to your mother. I aided the innkeeper in applying a poultice to your mother, one that I learned about in the army. Her wound should heal just fine.”

“Wait,” she said, his comment about her being like a sister reminding her of something. “Where’s Gregory?”

“I don’t know, he wasn’t here when I arrived. I had assumed that you had sent him on some errand.”

She stood up and looked all around the room, asking other farmers and towns folk, the innkeeper and the maid that worked the inn. None of them had seen Gregory. She asked Albert to look after he mother, and went outside. She searched frantically everywhere, but no one had seen Gregory. Eventually, she ran into the man that had saved her last night.

“I saw a boy matching that description,” he said, but it was with sadness in his tone.

“Really? When?” she asked, desperate for any news.

“After we had run the goblins of town,” he pointed in the direction the creatures had headed, towards the hills south of town. “The goblins were carrying a boy like the one you are looking for, brining him with them.”

Flora’s heart sank. “Why?” she asked, terror filling her brain. “Why would they take my brother?”

“Any number of reasons, none of them good,” he said. When she pressed, he reluctantly answered. “They could simply want him for food. Perhaps they want to use him as slave labor. Worst case is they plan on turning him into one of them. They did lose a few here last night.”

“Turn him into one of them?” she vaguely remembered some story her mother used to tell about bad children being sent to the goblins, who would feed him a potion that would turn him into a goblin himself, never to return home again.

“No,” she said. “Someone needs to go rescue him.”

The older man shook his head sadly. “No one’s going out after goblins. We’re just farmers here, not soldiers or warriors. I’m sorry, little miss, but the chances of you’re brother even being alive still are slim. I’m sorry.”

And with that, he left. Sadness heavy in her heart, Flora slunk back to the inn, where she saw that Albert was still there, sitting with her mother, who was still sleeping. When he saw the look on her face, his fell. “What did you find?” he asked.

“He’s gone,” she said, “they took him. And no one will go and rescue him. The goblins have him now, and no one will risk rescuing him.”

Albert stood then, and reached out to hug her. He pulled her close to him and stroked her hair, an oddly soothing gesture. “I’m so sorry, little one,” he said. “I’m so sorry.”

Something inside her snapped. “No,” she said firmly, and pushed away from Albert.

“No?” he said, obviously confused.

“I’m going to let this happen. We just lost all our crops, any chance of raising the tax money we needed to keep our farm. I’m not about to tell Mum that we lost Gregory as well.”

Albert looked worried. “What do you plan on doing then?”

“If no one else will go get him, I’ll just have to do it myself,” she said, determination in her voice.

“You can’t,” he said, moving towards her as if he were going to restrain her somehow. “It’s too dangerous. Would you want your mother to be told by me that she lost both her children today?”

Flora, expecting this argument, just shook her head. “I’m going, Albert,” she stared him down, and he stepped back. “I’ve got to. Stay here with Mum and watch over her.”

He sat back down and nodded. “How are you going to rescue him?” he asked after a moment of silence.

“I’ll need a weapon,” was her only response, before she moved off. She spoke to several other farmers until finally she ran into one that had was she needed.

“Yeah, you can take my pitchfork” Albert could hear the man say, and he sighed in concern for the little girl.

Flora followed the directions given by the man that had seen the goblins flee with her brother, and she soon found herself in the hills. They were lightly wooded, and muddy, allowing Flora to follow the tracks of the goblins fairly easily. She was now facing the mouth of a cave, her pitchfork in hand, and wondering what her next move should be. She knew she had the right cave for two reasons. One, the smell, of urine and burning meat, was the same she smelled on the goblins last night. Secondly, after watching the entrance for an hour, she saw one goblin come out briefly before going back inside.

She just didn’t know what to do now. A frontal assault was out of the question. Not only did she doubt she could actually do it, she was also sure that there were enough goblins to kill her before she got very far. Plus, she’d never actually kill anything before, and she wasn’t even sure that she could now. Her anger had taken her this far, but now she was only feeling fear. Maybe Albert was right; maybe she shouldn’t have come out here. Then she heard a cry from inside the cave. It was Gregory it had to be. Setting her jaw, she renewed her dedication to rescue him. He may have been a pain, but he was her brother.

She started looking around the hill. Maybe there was another way in? She decided to check around the edge of the hill, and circled around it. She had gone almost completely around and back to the cave mouth when she saw something. It was a rat, coming out from under a bush up against the hill. If she hadn’t been looking right at that spot when it happened, she wouldn’t have even seen it. She crept up as quietly as she could to the bush and pushed it aside. Sure enough, there was a small tunnel on the other side. It was too small for a full grown adult to get through, but she was small enough to squeeze through. At least, she thought so. She hoped that this would be the way in she needed. And that there were no more rats inside.

A few moments later, and covered in dirt and mud, she could see the inside of the cave. It was pretty dark, but a small fire in the middle of the room gave just enough light to see. There were no goblins, at least that she could see, so she climbed out of the tunnel and got on her feet. Before she could look around the room, she heart a muffled sound, which caused her to jump and put her pitchfork at the ready. Then, she saw a figure on the other side of the fire. It seemed to be laying down on the ground. Maybe it was a sleeping goblin? But, it moved and she heard the muffled noise again. She slowly moved forward, and about the time she got to the fire, she could see what it was. It was Gregory, tied up and gagged. Ecstatic at her luck, she ran to his side and started untying him, keeping a look out for goblins. Gregory kept muttering under his gag, and she had to shush him several times.

“We don’t want them to come back in here,” she said at last. Finally, she had him untied, and sitting him up, she took off the gag. Apparently, he hadn’t been listening to her.

“Oh, thank God you’re here!” he cried and gave her a huge hug. But she pushed him back immediately, and, grabbing her pitchfork, stood. She could hear cries from another part of the cave.

“You idiot,” she said, kicking her brother. “They’re on their way. Quick, to the other side of the cave. There’s a hole there, crawl through it. Go!”

Gregory whimpered slightly, but did as she said. She followed, keeping her back to him so she could see when the goblins came into the room. Just as they got to the hole, two goblins came into the room, one with a crude wooden spear and another with one of those wicked knives. The one with the spear threw it, but his aim was off, and it clattered at the floor next to her feat. She felt her heart thumping. She wished she was facing Bull right now.

“Crawl into the hole, Gregory. Go, quickly!” she cried to her brother, who was just standing there, frozen. She gave him a kick to his shins, and this seemed to wake him up. He got down on all fours and started to crawl. It was an easier fit for him, being smaller than her. The goblin with the knife was making his way across the room. At first, it was a slow move, cautious, not sure what Flora would do. But then, it saw that Gregory had gone through the hole. It let out some kind of cry, and charged at her.

Flora panicked. She ducked to the left to avoid the incoming knife, and jabbed out with her pitchfork, but her eyes were closed, so she wasn’t even sure where she was stabbing. The world seemed to slow down. She felt her pitchfork connect to something, and penetrate it slowly. She heard the goblin scream again, this time in an inhuman cry of pain that caused her to drop her weapon. She opened her eyes to see that the pitchfork had punctured and stabbed through the creature’s skinny leg. Blood was spurting from the wound, and the little creature was hopping backwards, clutching the leg. She looked as the other creature was running up towards the first. Then, things returned to normal time.

Without waiting to see what the second goblin was going to do, Flora dropped to the ground and started pushing her way through the tunnel. When she got to the other side, her brother was there, and grabbed her arm to help pull her out. Without saying a word, the two ran back towards town. Flora was sure that the goblins would be following them the whole time, but when they got back, they were alone.

Once in side town, Gregory stopped Flora, and gave her a big hug.

“Thank you Flora,” he said. “I was sure that you were glad I was gone, and that I’d never see you again. They were brewing some kind of potion, I was afraid they were going to turn me into a goblin, just like them.”

Flora looked her brother in the eyes. “Gregory, you’re a huge pain, and sometimes I just want to push you down.” Gregory’s face fell. “But, you’re my brother. As much as I’d never admit it to anyone else, I love you. Of course I was going to save you.”

The hugged again, and then Flora pushed her brother off. “Okay, enough of that. Let’s get back to mom.”

Flora led the two back to the inn. Inside, she saw that most of the people from the night before were up and either milling about or packing up the few belongings they brought with to the inn. She looked around where her mother was sleeping when she left, but she didn’t see her. She panicked at first, but then she saw Albert.

“Albert! Where’s my Mum?”

“Flora!” the big man said, coming up and giving her a hug. “Flora, I’m so glad you made it back. You’re mom…”

“Where is she?” Flora interrupted.

Then, she saw her. Her mom was in an apron, helping the innkeeper with all the people in the room. She seemed to be happy, smiling and laughing at the patrons and other farmers.

“Mum!” Flora cried, and ran across the inn to her mother.

“Flora!” her mother cried, “Gregory!”

Gregory ran after flora, and the three met in a big group hug.

“Oh, I’m so glad that you two are okay,” Rose said. “I was so worried when your friend Albert told me what had happened.”

“I had to go, Mum. I had to save Gregory.” Flora said, crying.

“I know, little one, I know. I’m just glad you’re back, and safe.”

“Me too,” said Albert, coming up behind them.

Flora turned to look at her friend. She knew that he had been lying all this time about fighting dragons, but she just couldn’t bring herself to care. She hugged him, and then looked him in the eyes.

“Now, I have a story to tell you!”

The End

Story, week 4

Well, week 4 is over, and I've got another story for you all. That's four weeks, and four stories, and I have to say, I'm pretty excited. I had a lot of fun writing this one. I think that with some work, I could turn this into a really excellent story. With that, though, I'll just stop rambling here and post the story. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Trouble getting started, but on a roll now

So, I had some trouble getting started with this week's story, but now that I've started, I'm on a roll. I have little doubt that I will have a complete story in time for Sunday. It's interesting how this worked out. I knew how I wanted to story to start, and where I wanted the beginning to go (I've got an actual outline for this story), but for some reason, I just couldn't get a first line. I was stumped on it. Then, I remembered something I learned a while back in a creative writing class I took.

Just write something. Anything. It doesn't matter how horrible or hackneyed it is. Just write it down. The process of writing gets you writing more.

So, I did. I pictured how I wanted the story to start, and simply wrote a description of what I saw in my head. Turns out, not only did it get me past the stall, but it was a good starting line. How about that?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dreams of Love

Anna was excitedly getting ready, doing last minute touches to her hair and make up, checking to see that her dress fit properly. Tonight was the big date. The BIG date. The love of her life was going to take her on her ultimate dream date, something they had worked out weeks ago. She was excited and nervous, and slightly neurotic all at the same time. She had always felt like this relationship was too good to be true. That this man, that she laughingly called her Prince Charming and whose real name was Edward Prince, couldn’t be real. The man of her dreams, and sometimes she wondered if maybe that’s where he existed. Or worse, that he was real, but that his perfectness meant that he had to be balanced out somehow, with some horrible secret. Like maybe he was married. Or, more likely in her mind, he had other women he dated, other Sleeping Beauties to his Prince Charming.

In the end, though, she always shook those thoughts off. Edward was real, and his relationship with her, which had started over a year ago now, was, despite her fears otherwise, perfect. Like any man, he had his flaws. Early in their relationship, he actually thought taking her to a football game was a good date. She went good naturedly, but ever since then, he went to his games without her, which was fine by her. He had a tendency to slurp his soup when he ate, too, which was something that in any other man would be a deal breaker. But because this was Edward, she was willing to over look it. There were other little things that pointed to his being less than perfect, but none of that mattered. He was the love of her life, her soul mate. The two were made to be together. She just needed to stop waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Then the doorbell rang. Excitedly, she smiled and walked to the door. She stopped briefly to give herself a last look in the full-length mirror before opening it. She had on a floor length, strapless ball gown that hugged her curves. It was a brilliant white color, at Edwards request. It had elegant, simple lines, with a faint curl pattern visible on the lower part of the dress. Her black hair was in an updo similar to Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, something she spent the better part of the last few hours to get just right. Her accessories were also simple and elegant, including a pearl necklace and a simply designed diamond bracelet. The bracelet was a gift from Edward, and made her smile. She picked up the white purse that matched the dress from the end table, and opened the door.

There, at the door, was Edward. He had a strong jaw line that was accented by a neatly trimmed beard. His hair was close cut on the top of his head, too, in a way that highlighted his bright, blue eyes. He was wearing a modern black tuxedo with a white vest and tie that matched her dress perfectly. In his hands, he had a huge, beautiful bouquet of red roses. He smiled, seeming to catch his breath upon seeing her.

“You look beautiful,” he said after locking eyes with her again. “These are for you,” and he handed her the bouquet.

“They are beautiful,” she said, meaning it. She put them in a vase that she kept by the door. Since dating Edward, she always kept a vase by the door. He didn’t always bring flowers, but he did often enough that have a vase by the door became very convenient.

“Ready?” he asked, holding out his hand. She took it and nodded.

He led her from her condo to the outside via the elevator, where he looked at her with mischievous smile on his face that had her wondering what it was he had planned. He never would tell her what it was they were doing tonight, only that it would be the ‘most romantic thing she would experience.’ She half-wondered if he was going to ask her to marry him, but that didn’t seem likely. They talked about that, and while it wasn’t something either was against, they were just not ready for it at this point. Still, if he did ask, she was pretty sure she would say yes.

All of those thoughts quickly vanished when she saw what was waiting for them on the street. Instead of Edwards’s BMW, there stood a large, white horse drawn carriage. White seemed the theme here, with two white horses pulling the carriage. It had four large wooden wheels, the two in the back being bigger than the two in the front. The seats were padded, and there was a roof on the back, providing cover in case the night’s weather didn’t go as planned. On the front seat was a driver, in a while suit and top hat, who tipped it at her as they came outside. And Anna swore that she saw the whole thing… sparkle. It was wonderful!

“My lady,” Edward said, opening the door on the carriage and sweeping his arm to indicate that she should board.

She happily did so, and then after closing the door, he came around the other side and did the same.

“On driver,” he said with an imperious wave of his hand, then turned to her and the two of them laughed at the ridiculousness of it all.

The carriage rode down the road, but instead of heading into town, where she expected to be taken to an elegant restaurant, it was headed out of town, towards the more rural areas. Before she could ask where they were going, she heard a popping noise, and turned to see that Edward had opened a bottle of champagne. Pouring some into two glass flutes, he handed one to her. She smiled upon taking it.

“Why, my dear Edward. Are you trying to get me drunk before we even get to dinner?” she asked, and the two laughed some more.

The countryside was beautiful, and they two enjoyed the view and the excellent champagne in silence as they traveled down the road. It wasn’t long, however, before Anna figured out where it was they were heading. It was right after they turned down the beach road and started following the coastline. Only one restaurant of any note was down he. She smiled and turned to look at Edward, who only nodded, as if reading her mind. Then, he looked off to the distance, and pointed. She turned and saw it as they rounded a hill. There, on top of a beautifully manicured hill was a castle. A princess style castle, complete with towers and spires, it was decorated with blue and green banners, and she could see windows and balconies light by candlelight. It was Ch√Ęteau par la Mer, the famous French restaurant that was built as a replica of a place in France by a local restaurateur.

It wasn’t a very large castle, of course, being just a restaurant, but it was breathtakingly beautiful, and had two stories of dining areas. It was generally only frequented by the wealthy and local celebrities, but lots of people found a way to eat there at least once, just for the experience of it. Tonight seemed no different, as the place was packed, as evidenced by the full parking lot and the overworked valet staff. This posed no problem for them, however, with the carriage pulling to a stop at the main gate. A host in a black tuxedo came out and opened the door, allowing first Anna, then Edward, to exit the carriage. Edward gave him his reservation number, and the man nodded, as if expecting that particular reservation, asked them to wait a moment, and left them. She wondered briefly just how long Edward had been planning this. Edward smiled at her, and in that smile, time seemed to stop. She really did love this man, perfect date or not.

A moment later, the host returned and asked them to follow him. He led them upstairs to a tower near the front of the building. He eventually showed them to a private balcony, where a small table for two, two high backed, padded solid wood chairs and a stunning view of the ocean awaited them. The rest of this floor of the tower could also be viewed, where other diners were enjoying their meals and conversation, but the balcony was positioned in such a way that it was, at most, background noise, and often unheard at all.

Edward, ever the gentleman, pulled her chair out for her, and she sat down, drawing her shawl around her for warmth. The host, noting this, reached up and touched what appeared to be a torch in the wall above the balcony door, but, it turned out, was a very cleaver heater. She smiled at him, and nodded in return, then turned to leave. Edward sat down across from her and gazed into her eyes.

“Shall I order for both of us, or would you like to order for yourself?” he said, lifting the menu.

“I think I’d like to order for myself,” she said, smiling again and taking the menu. The menu was a surprisingly large collection of French cuisine, both well known and things she had never heard of before. Just as she had decided, their waiter appeared. He spoke in thick, almost fake, French accent, and she had to stifle a laugh.

“Bonsoir, la madame, monsieur,” he said, standing at a stiff attention. “I am Gaston, your waiter this evening. Would you like to start with a selection from the wine list?” Edward nodded, and selected a red wine. “An excellent choice, monsieur. Now, if you are prepared, I shall take your order.”

Anna ordered first, and asked for the duck confit, which got her an approving look from Gaston. Edward surprised her, and ordered ratatouille, and when she asked with her eyes, he said “It’s the most amazing ratatouille I’ve ever eaten.”

Gaston agreed, took their menus and headed off to bring their orders to the chief. Anna just couldn’t bring her self to use the word ‘cook’ in a place as fancy as this. The two talked some about the beautiful weather and the view, and a relatively short time later, Gaston returned with their food. They ate without ceremony, continuing the conversation about what had happened during work and life during the brief time since they last saw each other, and enjoyed the view of the waves gently lapping against the shore. The duck was fantastic, and she even tried some of Edward’s ratatouille, which was equally amazing. Now she knew why this place was so expensive. It was worth every penny. After dinner, she excused herself to use the lady’s room, and when she returned, Edward had paid the bill and they were all set to leave.

“Where to now, my Prince?” she said, smiling at him.

He smiled back, a smile that reached up to his eyes. “Why, to the beach, of course. A moonlight walk would be perfect after a meal like that, don’t you agree?”

She did. They exited the castle through a rear entrance and went straight onto the beach. They stopped briefly just before the sand to take off their shoes, and socks in Edward’s case, and then walked into the sand barefoot. Allowing the joy of feeling the sand beneath her feet to get the better of her, she ran off into the moon light coast, giggling like a little schoolgirl. Edward was caught off guard at first, but chased after her, laughing himself. The simple pleasure of running through sand was exhilarating, and she eventually stopped and spun around and around, her dress billowing out beneath her. Edward came up behind her and caught her before she fell backwards into the sand. They looked into each other’s eyes, and he smiled that dashing smile that always melted her heart.

He helped her get back onto her feet, offered her his arm, and the two slowly walked down the beach, just outside of the water line, towards the pier. As they walked, their conversation turned to more intimate things than they spoke about at the restaurant.

“And then the dog jumped back into the lake after it!” Edward was saying as they were both laughing. “Dad had to dive in to get it and drag it back into the house. Took him an hour.”

They laughed for a moment. Then, simultaneously, they paused and looked up at the moon. Edward sighed, and Anna looked up at him, touching his cheek, begging him to talk with that movement.

“You know,” he said, looking back down at her, “I didn’t expect to be here in my life.”

“Here, on the beach, with me?”

“No,” he said smiling, “You were a wonderful surprise, sure, but dreaming of being with the most amazing and beautiful woman in the world is not a new thing for me. The fact that I am here, with you, is exactly where I want to be.”

“Then what do you mean?” she asked.

“I mean, in my life in general. I thought,” he paused, as if frustrated, “I thought I’d have, I don’t know… accomplished more by now.”

She laughed at him, and when he looked down, she held up her arm to ward away any anger he might be feeling. “Oh, I didn’t mean any insult,” she said. “It’s just that, you’re a successful business man, who owns and operates one of the largest, most profitable computer companies in the world. You give thousands to charity every year, and have even started a scholarship fund to aid underprivileged kids get an education in the computer industry. What more could you want?”

He looked down at here, love burning in his eyes. “I forget sometimes,” he whispered.

“Forget what?” she asked.

He stood up straighter then, looking at her with a new determination. “I forget what an amazing woman you really are.”

With that, he leaned down and pulled her close to him. The two were an inch apart from each other, and without a word, they kissed. It was a slow, soft, passionate kiss. The moon was full behind them, over the water, shining down as if it were a spotlight, giving only them light and leaving the rest of the world dark. It was perhaps the most intimate kiss Edward had ever given her, as if he were transferring a piece of his soul to her through the kiss. And she kissed back, willingly, taking the gift and returning it in full.

Finally, they pulled apart from each other. It felt like they had been embracing for centuries. She felt dizzy, light headed, but in a pleasant way, as if she were floating. Then, he told her to look down, with that mischievous smile on his face. When she did, she saw that they were, indeed, floating, about two feet off the ground. Somehow, however, this didn’t surprise or alarm her. She held onto his arm, and he smiled. He pointed to the moon, and she nodded.

They took off like a shot. From the rate at which the ground was receding, they must have been traveling at an amazing speed, but she didn’t feel any sense of movement. There was no wind, no feeling that she gets in the pit of her stomach when moving fast. It was as if the world simply fell away, while they remained were they were.

It took mere moments before the moon came up to them. At first, she wondered if they would simply hit the moon head on, but then, the scene shifted. She knew that it must be them that were rotating to land on the moon, but it appeared as if the sky were turning around so that the moon were positioned below them. They landed on the soft white moon sand, which was somehow spongier and more comfortable than the beach sand.

They stopped and gazed up at the sky. There was the Earth, looking down at them. The bottom half was covered in shadow, but the top half shown in brilliant blues, greens and whites, as if it were a luminous ornament hung in the sky just for their viewing pleasure. She leaned on him, feeling his warmth and loving the sensation of it.

“Is this a dream,” she said, realizing that speaking and breathing in space would normally be impossible. Yet, this all felt normal, and right. “Am I dreaming right now?”

He gave a little laugh, then looked down at her. “Maybe I’m dreaming,” he said to her, and she was hypnotized by the reflection of the Earth in his eyes. “Does it matter?” he asked at last. “If this is a dream, I saw we go with it, and enjoy it.”

She thought about that for a second, and then nodded.

“So,” he said after a moment of gazing at the Earth. “Where shall we go in this dream?”

Her eyes opened wide and light up like Christmas lights. “Oh, everywhere!”

He smiled at her again, and took her hand. Once again, the ground fell away from them and they were zooming through space with no sense of movement. She hugged him, and then decided she wanted to try something. She stretched out her arm, still holding his hand, and then stretched out her other arm. She looked, and saw that he had done the same. They both smiled, and finally, she felt like she was flying. They took a moment to bank and turn and do loop de loops around the Earth, before moving on to the rest of the solar system.

He pointed towards the sun, and said, “let’s start at the beginning.”

She looked towards the sun, then turned back to him and shook her head. “No,” she said, and pointed out away from the sun. “Let’s start at the outside, and work our way back.”

He looked surprise, then nodded his head, a big smile on his face. They flew. They flew away from the sun, and the Earth, past the asteroid belt, and even zipped within site of Saturn and it’s rings, but never went close to any of these place. They just flew past. Until, after only a few moments, they were far away from the sun, in a part of the solar system that was very dark. And yet, she wasn’t cold. At last, they reached their destination. The little planet of Pluto, with it’s orbiting moon of Charon. The two were close, and Anne watched as they moved around each other, like lovers in an eternal dance.

As if reading her mind, Edward turned to her and said, “Shall we?”

They danced then, floating in space, keeping time with the cold gray planets below them. They spun and twirled, held each other close and moved to the music of the stars. When they stopped, they collapsed into each other’s arms, and laughed and smiled. They nodded at each other and moved on, back towards the sun and to the next planets.

They came upon Neptune before Anna was even aware of it. It was a bright blue orb, reminding her of the ocean they had left behind. The flew around it, awed by the majesty of it’s color and silent strength. The moved on and soon came across it’s twin, Uranus. Twin was a misnomer, Anne saw, as the blue of this world was not the deep color of the ocean, but rather the bright blue of the sky. And Anne was also surprised to see that it had rings.

“I thought only Saturn had rings?” she asked.

Edward smiled, shaking his head. “Would you like to see Saturn’s rings?”

“Oh, yes,” she said, and the two held hand again and flew off.

When they arrived, her breath was just taken away. As they arrived, the sun could be seen peaking out from around the back of the world, which caused shadows to be cast on the rings and giving the whole planet the appearance of a record player. Edward took her in closer, though, bringing her right down to the rings themselves. They were like giant circles of ice and snow, and were all the more amazing as they flew through them. Then, Edward took them back up and out the top again, as if they were dolphins, rising out of the water. She smiled and laughed.

“More,” she said. “Show me more.”

They moved on to Jupiter then. The massive gas giant took up their entire field of view in a way that no other world has so far, even the ones they had flown close to. It was as if the world would never stop growing bigger and bigger the closer they got to it. Then, she realized Edward was taking them to the great Eye. The massive storm clouds that made up the eye roiled and moved, and she watched transfixed. It was the most amazing thing she had seen so far this night, and the brightness of it surprised her. None of the other worlds were this bright so far, not even Earth. It was as if Jupiter had an internal light source. Eventually, Edward convinced her to come away, and they continued their flight around the system.

He lead them up and over the asteroid belt, though even from here, the thousands of giant rocks spinning in space were impressive. But then, there was Mars. It was amazing to her exactly how red it looked. From orbit, it had the appearance of Arizona from an airplane. She could see the cracks in the surface that the original astronomers thought were canals, or perhaps dried riverbeds. She turned to Edward, and then dove towards the surface. She touched down in a particularly rocky area of the surface, with very little sand. The surrounding rock formations once again reminded her of the deserts in the South West, with everything having that rust color on it. The sun was in the sky where she landed, and she was amazed at how much smaller it was compared to on Earth. Edward landed next to her, and the two lay back on the rocks, looking up at the sun. She lay quiet for a while, simply enjoying the moment.

Edward eventually got up on one arm and turned to look at her. He brushed some hair out of her face and stared into her eyes for a very long time, a serious expression on his face.

“I truly do love you,” he said.

She smiled. “I truly love you, too.”

He smiled in return, and then leaned down to give her a kiss. It wasn’t the long, deep, passionate kiss from the beach, but more of a loving, tender kiss. Not that it mattered a whole lot, her toes still curled. Then, suddenly, he got up and held out his hand to help her up.

“Come on,” he said, “We still got two more planets to visit.”

She reached out her hand, and he helped pull her up. She shook her head slightly, bringing her self into the present. She had almost forgotten where they were until he said that. Before they flew into the Martian sky, she took Edward’s arm and made him look at her.

“Edward,” she said, her voice sounding tiny and afraid, even to her. “Is this real? Or is this a dream?”

He smiled at her again, but not in any kind of condescending way. It was a smile full of excitement.

“I love that you ask questions like that,” he said. “I don’t really know, Anne. All I know is that I am here with you, and I don’t care if it’s real or not.”

Her heart felt full with her love for this man, and she thought she was going to cry.

“Come,” he said, wiping away a tear that escaped, “Come dance with me around the sun.”

She nodded, and once again took his hand. The two once again flew into the air, out into space, and through the solar system. Before she knew it, they had zipped passed Venus and Mercury, and were heading towards the sun. If she had though that Jupiter was huge, she was mistaken. The sun had completely taken up her field of vision before they had even gotten close to it. Strangely, however, its light did not blind her. Nor did its heat affect her.

The colors were amazing; deep, almost black reds, bright oranges, and yellows so bright they were practically white. And it was all in constant motion, flickering, rolling and extending arms that were miles long.

Edward came up to her then, and put one arm around her waist. He took his other arm and raised her hand with it and, holding her close, started to waltz. They danced in the light of the sun, waltzing back and fourth in time to the movements of the bright star behind them. She could almost swear she heard music this time, a low, deep, primal music. The music of the cosmos itself.

She didn’t know how long they spent there dancing, but she didn’t care. She held tight to him, being close to him, and found that, as he said earlier, it didn’t matter if this was a dream of not. She just wanted to be with him. Sadly, though, the music eventually came to an end, and so did their dance.

“It’s getting late,” he said, sounding as sad as she felt. “I think it’s time to go home.”

She nodded, feeling tired from their journey. She looked down and saw that apparently their dance had taken them away from the sun and back to Earth. Slowly, reluctantly, they descended. They flew through the clouds, an amazing site in and of itself, and down to the road that was just outside her condo. Although she was sad to see the evening end, she felt happy. It was truly an amazing night, and it didn’t matter if all of it was a dream. She would remember it for the rest of her life.

“I had a truly amazing night,” he told her, echoing her thoughts. “It wasn’t quite the evening I had planned, but I think it was even better. I’m just not sure how I’m going to top it.”

They both laughed. Just then, she realized that the sky was getting lighter. She looked over his shoulder and saw that the sun was just beginning to peak out behind the horizon. It was sunrise. They had been out all night. He turned with her and, holding each other, they watched the sun rise. It cast brilliant oranges and pinks across the sky, and Anna could swear that it was as if the sky was smiling at them. She nodded to her self, thinking that it was appropriate.

Turning once again back to the door of her condo, they kissed their good nights. This time, it was a kiss that they both put their full bodies into. She could feel the heat travel through her body, and she felt like the two of them were going to melt into each other. It was a wonderful feeling, and one that she knew would stay with her trough the day.

“Good night, my Prince,” she said.

“Good night, my dream girl,” he said with a wry smile on his face.

She giggled. Then, she turned and went into her condo. She stretched and yawned and found herself being drawn to her bed. She didn’t even bother to undress, simply collapsing into her bed in a wonderful kind of tired. She drifted off to sleep, with dreams of dancing planets and Edward swimming through her head. She had never felt so happy.

The alarm clock buzzed, flashing eight o’clock. Edward shot his arm out and slapped the button that shut the annoying sound off. He rolled over, squeezing his eyes shut, not wanting the dream to end. But it was no use. It was over, and the alarm had only sealed that fate. He thought of Anna and he smiled. She was so beautiful, and it really was an amazing date. He had never experienced anything like that, not even in his wildest fantasies.

He sat up and stretched. He scratched the beard stubble that had grown on his face and ran his hands through the mass of tangled hair on his head. While there, he pulled off the headband like device that was on his head. It was thin and consisted of two thin bars that ran around from one ear to another. He looked at the back of it, which had a box with a few green indicator lights on it. One was blinking, which indicated that the connection with the network box was still on. He set it down on the table next to the network box, which had a similar green blinking light.

He reached over to the box and pulled out a small memory chip. He turned it over in his hand thoughtfully, a slight smile on his face. He then pulled out a clear, plastic container that had a hand written label on it and placed the chip in it. On the label was a single word, ‘Anna.’

“You really are the most amazing woman I’ve ever know,” he said as he placed the chip on a shelf with some other’s, labeled everything from ‘Space Explorer,’ to ‘Victorian Duke.’

“My dream girl.” He reached two fingers to his mouth and kissed them, then touched them to the memory chip. “I’ll see you again tonight, I think.”

And with that, he got up out of bed and headed to the shower, passing the uniform that indicated he was a truck driver. He was humming a tune that he head hear during their dream, a waltz. It was going to be a good day, the thought.

The End

Week 3

Well, week 3 is finished! True confessions time, I had to cheat a little on this one, and finish the last couple hundred words this morning. But, I feel good for having done so. Not only did that allow me to hit my word goal (it clocks in at just over 5,000 words), but it allowed me to end it the way I wanted to. This was a difficult story to write, simply because I'm not good at romance. Still, I'm proud of this one, because it stretched me as a writer. All in all, I'm happy with this story. So, enjoy! These last three stories have all been sci-fi, and I'm feeling a little fantasy this week, so I think Week 4's story will be a good, old fashioned sword and sorcery. Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

For Glory and Honor

The airlock leading to the shuttle bay opened with a hiss, and Lieutenant Commander Sutherland watched as two very young looking officers in their deck uniforms entered the hallway. They were both fresh out of the academy, very noticeable by their lack of tour ribbons, along with the youngness of their age. One was a tall, handsome Caucasian man, who Sutherland guessed was from North America; with close cut light brown hair and striking blue eyes. The other was a hard looking man with dark, almost reddish skin, that the Lieutenant Commander knew meant he was a Native American. He also had close-cropped hair, though his was a deep, raven black, and his eyes were almost as black as his hair.

The two stood at attention and saluted. Sutherland saluted back, waiting for the proper expression before signing the two through.

“Lieutenant Junior Grade Dan Williams and Lieutenant Junior Grade John Littlestone, reporting for duty and asking permission to come aboard, sir,” the Caucasian man said.

“Permission granted,” Sutherland said, completing his salute. “Welcome aboard the UNS Monitor, gentlemen. I’m Lieutenant Commander Mark Sutherland, communications officer and third in command of the Monitor. I’ll show you to your quarters and then introduce you to your eventual commanding officer on the flight deck. In the meantime, if you gentlemen will come with me?”

“Yes, sir,” the two said in unison, which caused Sutherland to smile.

He lead the two down some corridors, occasionally having to step up to make it through another airlock like door. As they walked, he spoke some about the Monitor.

“As you are no doubt aware, the Monitor is a top of the line, cutting edge Carrier, with the capacity for more than 80 fighters, including F-121 Interceptors, F-130 Valkyries, H-90 Eagles and DS-85 Pelicans. You boys, being the newbies on board, will no doubt be flying the Interceptors.”

He could see that Williams was disappointed by not being able to fly the Valkyries, but Littlestone seemed impassive. He thought he would perk them up a little.

“What you may not know, however, is that we just received a squadron of the latest FX-214 Whisper stealth fighters.” He paused to let that sink in, and saw that both officers looked at him with excitement on their faces. The Whispers were so new that no one had even seen one at the academy yet, but everyone had heard about them. “Commander Winters, our CAG Officer, has determined that all eligible pilots will train on the Whispers. She wants everyone to get a feel for the new tech before assigning a crew to the squad.”

He could see both officer’s brighten with excitement at the prospect of getting their hands on a Whisper, but William’s in particular had an amazing reaction to the news. His face lit up like a kid at Christmas, just chomping at the bit to tear into those presents sitting under the tree. It caused Sutherland to wonder about the Lieutenant’s maturity level.

They continued to walk down the corridor, this time in silence, as the two officers day dreamed and Sutherland made a mental note of Williams. He didn’t know exactly what it was about Williams that had him concerned, while Littlestone, who had the same reaction, didn’t bother him. He decided to see if he couldn’t find out.

“So,” he started as conversationally as he could, “I see from your files that you both graduated at the top of your class at the academy. You had your choice of assignment, pending the approval of the CO of said assignment. What made you buys pick Monitor?”

“That’s easy, sir,” Littlestone answered first. “As an officer that just finished state of the art training on the latest state of the art fighters, I felt it only fitting that I should work on the latest, state of the art ship.”

Sutherland nodded. It was arrogant, but not more so than he had heard from other pilots straight out of the academy. “What about you, Williams?”

“Me, sir?” he said in false modesty. “Well, sir, I became a fighter pilot for one thing, to fight in this war. Not to toot my own horn, but I was the best of the best at the academy, sir. Monitor is the best of the best in the fleet, and I knew that it would serve on the front line. I intend to keep my best of the best record by proving myself in real combat, sir.”

There it was, Sutherland though. Glory hound. He’d faced them before, and it never ended well for them. Though, in the case of Williams, he knew that his boast was not a hollow one. He really was the best pilot from his class. Commander Winters would have his hands full with them. He would make sure to pass this onto the Commander when he finished this tour.

The remainder of the tour went pretty much as normal. Sutherland showed them around the ship, including the wall mounted touch screen maps, where the main officer’s mess hall was, as well as where the pilot’s mess hall was, the rec room, gym and finally, their quarters. Given that they were the newest junior officers on board, they would share quarters. Still, a room with just the two of them was better than what they were used to at the academy, and the two thanks the Commander for the tour.

“Tomorrow, bright and early at 0600, you are to be Briefing Room 5,” Sutherland said, reading from his palm computer. “There, you will meet Commander Winters, get assigned to your squadrons, and no doubt get your first duty assignments.”

“Yes, sir,” Williams and Littlestone said in unison, and both saluted.

“Get some rest, men,” Sutherland said, and returned the salute. “And good luck.”

The door closed behind him as he walked away, and Williams and Littlestone looked at each other. They stayed quiet for several long seconds before bursting into laughter.

“Luck?” Littlestone said as they both turned to stow their gear. “He obviously doesn’t know us.”

“Oh, I know all about you boys,” the very angry looking woman said as they arrived at their briefing at 0559. They stood in a terrified attention, holding a salute that had yet to be returned. “Best of the best at the academy,” she said, as she circled around them. “Big fish from a small pond.”

Her gaze held contempt in them as she looked them up and down. When Williams saw this, instead of being further intimidated, however, he became determined to prove to this woman that he really was the best of the best. He clenched his jaw, stopped his trembling, no matter how slight it was, and squared off his shoulder, standing at an even more rigid attention that previously. The commander noticed all of this, and nodded slightly, as if approving of the new attitude.

“Well, your in the ocean now, boys,” she continued. “My ocean. And I am a shark, that eats academy fish for breakfast. You boys got that?”

“Sir, yes sir!” the two said in unison. Winters nodded again. She had heard about their unison ‘sirs’ from Sutherland, and figured these two had plenty of opportunity to practice them at the academy.

“Good,” she saluted them back finally, and the two completed their salutes and put their arms down to their sides. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she said, waving towards the two of them in a grand gesture while speaking to the other pilots in the room. “I’d like to welcome the newest members of the Monitor flight crew.” She turned to look at them, and seemed to get irritated that they had not moved as of yet. “Take some seats, gentlemen.”

Littlestone moved first. He nodded his head and, grabbing Williams by the arm, dragged his friend up the short flight of stairs to find some seats in the middle of the large, rounded room.

“Let’s see,” Commander Winters continued, reading from a computer pad, “we have Lt. John Littlestone, call sign Three-Step, and Lt. Dan Williams, call sign Eagle. Interesting call signs. I can’t wait to hear the story on them. They will be joining Gray Squadron under the command of Lt. Lupo. Lupo, say hello.”

A big wall of muscle with a clean shaven head stood up and waved at the two new recruits and smiled a smile that did nothing to reassure Littlestone. “Hello. You two can call me Big Shot. Welcome to the Grays.”

A few of other pilots sitting near Big Shot cheered and waved as well.

“Okay, now that introductions are over,” Commander Winters re-took control of the conversation, “let’s get on with today’s duty assignments.”

She tapped some commands on the console before her, and the large screen behind her flared to life, showing a list of pilots, patrol routes or other duties. In one quick glance, Littlestone saw that Gray Squadron had a rear patrol today, probably because of the two of them. It was a test flight to check out the new fish. Before he could look any further, however, the lights in the room dimmed and red lights started flashing. Simultaneously, a siren started going off. A female voice came over the comm. system.

“Enemy craft sighted, fighters inbound. All pilots are to report to their craft and scramble to engage. This is not a drill.”

“You heard the woman,” Winters shouted, “everyone move out!”

“This is it,” Williams was saying to Littlestone. “Our first day here, and we get to jump into the action right away.”

Littlestone sighed. Williams knew that while, outwardly, his friend never shared his enthusiasm for battle, once they were out there, the two hotshots were peas in a pod. Everyone was rushing out of the briefing room in an orderly fashion. Before Williams had a chance to question where they would be going, Big Shot came up behind them and slapped them both on the back, causing Dan to loose his breath and cough.

“You two are with me,” he said with a big smile, showing that a few of his teeth were missing. “Since we didn’t have time to assign you two more experienced wingmen, you’ll both be flying as mine.”

“Yes, sir,” William said, happy with this arrangement. Being able to show off in front of the boss was even better than just relying on computer data to prove his expertise.

The two followed him down a short hallway to the locker rooms, where they changed into flight suits. Then, they ran to a lift, traveled in quite for a few moments, and exited the lift into the controlled chaos that is the flight deck. Unlike the ancient nuclear aircraft carriers of Earth’s past that Dan’s father kept at his naval museum, the flight deck of a space carrier was, by necessity, enclosed. It was flat, however, with several of the fighters being brought up on flat lifts through the floor from the maintenance and repair deck below it. It was essentially one long, square tube at the front end of the ship, with crews swarming all over the place and fighter pilots rushing to pull on flight suits and get into their ships.

Big Shot pointed them towards one end of the deck, where several Interceptors waited. The ships were arrowhead shaped with missiles attached, or being attached by crews, to the wings, a small looking, wedge shaped cockpit on the top and a booster thrusting out the back end. All in all, they were perhaps the ugliest fighters in the entire fleet. Or at least, Williams thought so. However, they were the workhorse of the fleet fighter contingent, having been in service for several decades now with little to complain about and plenty to praise about in their performance.

“These two will be yours,” Big Shot said, patting one of the ships and pointing towards another. Williams noticed that the name plate still had the previous pilot’s name there. ‘Lt. Xavier “Zorro” DeMarcos.’

“You’ve got some big shoes to fill there, fish,” Big Shot said to Williams, who blushed and hesitated slightly before he stepped into the cockpit. He briefly wondered what happened to Zorro, but figured it was best not to dwell on such things. As the deck crew did minor, last minute preparations to the fighter, he could see Three-Step in the fighter next to his. He was touching the nameplate on his, another case of the wrong name, and was saying a prayer of some sort. Williams never understood the purpose of doing any of that, but whatever worked for his friend, he would let slide.

He went through his own pre-flight superstitions. He pulled a small wooden statuette of an eagle in flight from his flight suit, and set it down behind some controls so it would be visible, but out of the way. He patted it and said “give me luck.” Then, he patted the cockpit window after it closed, connecting himself with the ship. “Fly for me, girl? Like you did for Zorro, fly for me.”

“Gray squadron, prepare for launch,” came Big Shot’s voice over his helmet speaker as he pulled on his gloves. “Check in.”

He heard the other members of the squadron check in using call signs, and waited until only he and Three-Step were left. “Eagle, checking in,” he said, followed by Three-Step.

“Launch,” came the command from Big Shot. And without hesitation, in the same order they checked in, Gray Squadron launched, rushing down the flight deck as fast as they could, so that when they hit space, they were already going at top speeds. As he passed through the force field that kept the flight deck from the vacuum of space, everything went dark and silent, and he took in a deep breath. He always loved this part. There was this brief moment where the gravity of the ship gave way to space, and he could feel the weightlessness before his own ship took over again. It made him feel connected to the universe.

Before he could really enjoy that feeling, however, an enemy fighter craft flew right by him. It was long and thin, slightly curved in the front, like a single talon, with crescent shaped wings on the very rear of the ship. It was so close to him as it flew by that he could count the rivets holding the plating together.

“Keep your eyes open, Eagle!” said Big Shot, sounding annoyed, but continuing. “Gray Squadron, form up on me! Let’s go get these Xenorite bastards.”

Xenorite was the name that an unknown biologist had given the strange, hostile race of aliens humanity had first encountered over 2 years ago. Even though, during the course of the war human’s were now forced to fight in, the true name of the alien species was discovered, Xenorite was what everyone kept calling them.

The dogfight seemed to last for hours. Big Shot turned out to be a very skilled pilot, and it took everything that Three-Step and Eagle had to keep up with him a lot of the time. But, through it all, Eagle learned a few new tricks to pull on an Interceptor, as well as put in a few that he knew that no one else on the squadron knew. During that time, he also got in two confirmed kills and three assists.

Then the tide of the battle turned. The attack on the Monitor had been broken, and everyone switched focus from defense to offense. The fighters moved out to attack the Xenorite cruiser. That was when the alien’s revealed their trap. Hundreds of fighters appeared from behind the small moon their ship was orbiting, and with Gray Squadron leading the charge, Eagle, Three-Step and Big Shot were the first to greet this new threat.

“Break formation!” Big Shot was calling. “Break formation! Return to Monitor, repeat, return to… arrgh!”

Eagle watched as his commanding officer’s fighter was hit by enemy fighters. First one, then a second and third, and finally a swarm of them were flying over and past, as if the human were nothing but a ribbon to cut as they crossed the finish line. But that was before the worst part. A green beam of energy came out from the Xenorite cruiser and latched onto Big Shot. A tractor beam, Eagle thought.

“They have Big Shot,” he said into his microphone. “I’m going in to get him.”

“I’ve got your wing,” came the instant reply of Three-Step, causing Eagle to smile despite the seriousness of the situation. The two of them rapidly dodged in and out of the tail end of the cloud of enemy fighters, mostly focused on reaching the rapidly receeding Big Shot than on taking down Xenorites. But, the aliens had other plans, and it didn’t take long for a group of four fighters to break off from the rest and swarmed on Eagles craft. Despite his best efforts to avoid being hit, he soon found himself taking hit after hit. He knew this was it. His first real battle, and he was going to die in it. He found himself feeling disappointed. Then, another blast hit his ship, and threw him hard forward. He felt a sharp and overwhelming pain in his abdomen, and then his whole world went black.

He awoke lying on his back, staring at a bright, white ceiling with lights just out of his field of vision. He turned to look around and felt his head swim and his stomach lurch at the motion. He groaned, which activated some kind of movement from the other side of whatever room he was in. He figured it must be an infirmary of some sort, maybe back on the Monitor. He couldn’t remember what happened after the dogfight. He kept his eyes closed for the moment, though. The darkness helped ease the sensation that his brain was disconnected and sloshing around in a thick liquid in his skull. A somewhat androgynous voice came to him.

“I knew you would wake soon,” it said, slowly pronouncing each word individually, as if English were not the speaker’s native tongue. “They not believe me that I keep you alive.” There was a smug satisfaction behind that statement, and Dan just had to know who was talking to him. He opened his eyes slowly, only to view a nightmare.

He had seen Xenorites before, but only in video or pictures, and one corpse during training. He had never seen one moving and talking before. They were surprisingly human like in appearance, although with several obvious differences. For one, their skin tended towards a rust-red color, though this one seemed pale compared to the other’s he’d seen, almost pinkish. The close cut hair on top of its head was salt and pepper colored that, on a human, would give the appearance of age and wisdom. The noise was small and flat, but the nostrils were wide and flared. The ears were also flat against the skull, and smaller than a human’s. Earth scientists have determined that their range of hearing was not as broad as humans were. The eyes, however, were the most frightening part of the alien because of how much they resembled a human’s. They were slightly larger than the average human’s, with whites and a corona of color, in this case a light gray, and a black pupil. All in all, they were very human like, and he could even see the joy in the alien’s eyes to be talking to a living human.

Beyond it’s face, Dan couldn’t see much. It had on a loose fitting, bright red outfit that appeared to be made out of some kind of plastic. It also wore white gloves that were made out of the same material. Around it’s neck was what appeared to be a surgical face mask, and Dan’s stomach lurched again as he began to wonder if this was an alien doctor.

“What the hell have you bastard’s done to me!” he said, and started to struggle to get up from his bed. Two things prevented him. First, the swimming sensation in his head returned, forcing him back down. Secondly, he noticed for the first time that his arms and legs were strapped down to the bed. He closed his eyes and groaned again.

“Calm,” the alien said, raising one hand palm facing him. “Calm, human. I save you.”

“You what?” Dan said, opening his eyes again. The Xenorite was pointing to Dan’s stomach area. Moving slowly, he lifted his head to look down. He saw that he was shirtless, and that a white bandage had been taped to the left side of his abdomen. There was some red on the bandage, but over all, it seemed pretty clean.

“I save you,” it said again. “You had metal in stomach. I doctor. I remove metal. Surgery,” the alien said that word very slowly, pronouncing each syllable. “I save you life, keep you alive.”

It smiled and seemed very proud of itself. Dan was very confused. Why would the Xenorites want to keep him alive? Suddenly, he felt very tired, and lay his head back down on his bed, sighing.

The alien nodded. “You tired. Good. You rest, sleep. I come back, check you later.”

Dan wanted to stay awake, find out what was going on, but found that he was just too tired. He closed his eyes and fell asleep almost immediately. It felt like he had just fallen asleep when someone shaking him jarred him awake. He fluttered his eyes open to find himself looking into the very concerned eyes of Three-Step.

“Dan!” he said, stopping the shaking. “Thank God, I was afraid those bastards had done something to you!”

“Wha…?” Dan replied, still groggy.

“Here,” John said, helping Dan sit up.

Dan looked around. He was still in a clean, white room, but this time, he was on a bunk, instead of a hospital bed. A quick glance gave the appearance that this room was more like quarters, with a door leading to a closet, another one to a head, a small table with chairs, and even a dresser or some kind. He noticed that there were two other bunks in the room, and that there was someone else in one of them. Whoever it was didn’t look so good, rolling back and forth and groaning.

John followed his gaze and nodded. “That’s Big Shot. He’s not doing so well after coming back from that so-called doctor. I don’t know what they did to him, but I don’t think he’s going to make it.”

Dan pushed himself out of the bunk and made his way across the room. John was right, Big Shot didn’t look like he was going to make it. The man’s face was black and blue with burses, and he had blood all over the white robes he was wearing. Dan noticed that he was wearing the same kind of robe himself, but his had no blood on it. Whatever happened to the Lieutenant, it was bad.

“Lieutenant?” he said, crouching down and touching the big man on the shoulder. “You in there, Lieutenant?”

“I’ve been trying that for hours now,” Three-Step said. “He’s unresponsive. Just rolls back and forth like that, groaning.”

“How long?” Dan asked, looking back at his friend.

“How long have we been here?” John asked, with a bitter laugh on his lips. “Well, I was never unconscious like you two were, my ship managed to avoid being hit during the run. I’ve been in here ever sense. Near as I can tell, we’ve been here for at least a day, 18 hours minimum. The L T was placed in here by that damn quack they call a doctor about 3 hours ago, and you just got here a few minutes ago. I was afraid you were dead.”

Dan nodded. That seemed to fit how long it felt. He’d always had a good sense of time. Before he could say or do anything else, though, the door to the room slid open, and four Xenorites came in. One was the doctor that he had spoken to before, still in his red uniform. The other two were larger and carried obvious sidearms. They wore more obviously military uniforms, and had the look of seasoned veterans about them.

The doctor was saying something and pointing to Big Shot.

The three soldiers nodded and moved across the room to take Big Shot. Both Dan and John jumped up to stand between them and the lieutenant, but they were prepared for that. Dan was pushed aside easily, still groggy from his sleep and not at full strength from his wounds. He hit the ground hard, and was out of breath and sweating from the exertion. John had slightly better luck, managing to land a punch to the noise of one of the soldiers, which caused him to stumble back clutching the now bloody facial feature. The other two, however, worked together to subdue John. One grabbed him from behind, holding his arms back, while the other punched him in the stomach. Dan watched as the punching continued, and looked over to the doctor, who had looks of concern on his face. When he looked back at Dan, Eagle pleaded with him through his eyes to stop.

The doctor stepped into the room then, shouting something in their alien language, and again pointing at Big Shot. The two aliens stopped beating on John, looked at him, then nodded and replied something short in a shout that Dan thought sounded an awful lot like ‘Sir, yes Sir.’ The two then got their companion up and the three of them lifted Big Shot out of the bunk and carried him out the door. The doctor, however, lingered behind for a moment, looking from John to Dan and the back to John.

“I sorry,” he said in English, then moved out of the room himself.

As soon as everyone was gone, Dan rushed to Three-Steps side. He tried to help his friend up, but found that he was just too weak. John, however, was able to push himself up off the floor. His face was bruised, and from the way he held his ribs, Dan guessed that they were either bruised or broken as well.

“Bastards,” John said. He made his way to one of the bunks and lay down on it. “Probably going to cut him open.”

“What?” Dan said, not sure he heard John correctly.

“Yeah, why else would they take him? It’s obvious even to us that he’s dying. He’s of no other use to them. This way, they can find out more about our anatomy, what makes us tick, and our weaknesses.”

He thought about the doctor who took Big Shot away, the same doctor that he saw when he first woke up. He seemed very excited that he had saved Dan from certain death. It didn’t seem very likely that he just took Big Shot away to cut him open without
trying to save him first.

“I’m not sure that I buy that,” he said after a bit.

“What?” John said.

“That doctor,” Dan said, explaining. “I’m not convinced that he’s willing to just cut into Big Shot without trying to save him first.”

“Are you serious?” John was instantly angry. “These things are trying to kill us all! We’re at war, remember? What possible reason would there be to save Big Shot? It’s just not how they think, Dan.”

“Normally, I’d agree, but there’s something different about that Doctor.”

“Did they cut into your head?” John was almost yelling now, and started to get up out of the bed, but flinched and grabbed his ribs when he did so. He sat back down, and then sighed. “Did I ever tell you why I joined the military?”

“No,” Dan said, “I don’t think you have.”

“Four years ago, when this war started, do you know where my mother was?” He didn’t actually wait for Dan to answer, which was good, because Dan had no idea. John never talked about his mother, and Dan figured he was about to find out why.

“My mom was at Vega 4 Research Outpost. You remember that? A station full of civilian scientists that were researching a new terraforming method. Then, the Xenorites show. Do you remember what they did?”

Of course Dan did. Every single human being knows what happened to Vega 4.

“They attacked without provocation. And they didn’t just settle for destroying the outpost. No, they slaughtered every last person on the station, leaving them behind as proof of their viciousness. My mother, Dan. My mother! They’re animals! Every last one of them. They don’t want to save us. They want to torture us, find out what we know, and then kill us for sport! That so called doctor of theirs? He’s just the best with the tools.”

His energy spent, John seemed to collapse into himself, and then lay down on the bed. Dad stayed where he was in quiet contemplation. Up until today, Dan would have agreed with John about the Xenorites being animals. Vicious and without morals. At least, that’s what the reports all said, and he believed them. But, he still couldn’t bring himself to believe that the doctor from earlier was like that. There was real concern and kindness in those eyes.

The next day passed without any conversation between the two. Once, a guard came in, weapon dawn the whole time, and gave them food. Dan ate, but John declined any food offered by the aliens. Later, after both John and Dan were sleeping, Dan was awoken by a gun poking into his back. There were to guards, both armed, and the Doctor in the room. The Doctor indicated that Dan should be silent by pointing to him and then putting his hand over his mouth. Dan did as ordered, and gut out of bed and walked down the corridor. He was taken back to the medical bay he had been in before, and the Doctor came in behind him, saying something to the guards, who remained outside.

The doctor indicated that Dan should sit, then went to a desk and picked something up. He walked over to Dan and picked up his arm, indicating that Dan should open his hand. The Doctor then dropped something into it.

“I sorry,” was all he said, and Dan saw that he looked genuinely remorseful.

Dan looked into his hand, and saw a pair of dog tags. He knew instantly who’s they were, and he clutched them tight in his hands.

“I try everything I know, but humans not like us inside. I try. I sorry.”

Dan looked across the room at the alien that stood before him, realizing that this was a gesture of good will.

“I believe you,” he said after moments of silence, and meant it. Suddenly, glory seemed very fleeting, and not worth fighting for.

The silence stretched on for some time before Dan breached it.

“Now what?” he asked.

“Now,” the Doctor started, but then hesitated. He looked Dan up and down, then nodded to himself, as if deciding something about Dan. “Yes. Now, them,” and he nodded at the door as he said that, “They will kill you. You and you friend. They will ask you questions, and if you no answer, or if you yes answer, they will kill you.”

Dan saw sadness in the alien’s eyes. He only nodded, though. “That’s to be expected. We don’t serve much purpose alive if we don’t have any information to give.”

“No,” the Doctor said. “No more kill. No more death. I help you. You and you friend. No more death.”

He pointed to Dan’s hand, and Dan looked again, turning the dog tags over. That’s when he saw a small key card. It must be to the cell he and Three-Step where in.

“Here,” the Doctor said. “Map to fighters. You fighter there. Go, escape. No more death. No more kill.”

He handed Dan another small, flat card, but this one had a button on it. Dan pressed it, and saw a map appear as a hologram before him. Better yet, the map showed where all the living things on board the ship were. This was amazing. With this map, he could easily avoid any patrols or other Xenorites to get to his ship and get out.

He looked up in awe at the alien doctor. Then, he reached out his hand. The Xenorite hesitated, looking at the offered limb as if unsure of how to proceed. Dan helped by grabbing the Doctor’s arm and putting it out, then flattening out his hand. Dan then gripped it with his, and shook his hands.

“Thank you,” he whispered. Then, the doctor knocked at the door. Dan was taken back to his cell with Three-Step, who still lay on the bed, trying to ignore Dan. Dan didn’t care at this point, though. He held up the dog tags.

“Big Shot is dead,” he said simply, but for that he only got a grunt.

“The Doctor gave me his dog tags. And with them, a way to escape.”

That got John’s attention. He rolled over, and Dan showed him the key card.

“You believe that butcher in there?” John said. “It’s probably a trap. A last bit of sport with us before killing us.”

“Be real for a second, John,” Dan said. “Why would they do that? Why not just kill us? Besides, if they are just going to kill us anyway, wouldn’t you like the chance to escape before they do it?”

This caused John to pause, then he sat up. “Okay, if I can take a few of them out before I go, I’m in. Let’s see what this little toy of yours does.”

They went up to the door, but found that there was no lock on it. At least, not on the inside. That made sense, if this was a prison, why put the lock on the inside?

“Okay, wait,” Dan said. “He also gave us this.”

He turned on the map, and John looked it over in surprise. “That still doesn’t get us out of this room.”

“No, this key opens something, and my guess is it’s the lift. It will take us directly to the launch bay, where we can get out of here.”

“We still need to get out of this room,” Three-Step said, feeling like a broken record.

“I know.” Dan said. “They have to come back with food tomorrow. What if we fake an illness? Get the Xenorite that comes in to lower his guard, and we escape?”

“This isn’t a movie, Dan,” John said. “That never works in real life.”

“Let’s just give it a try.”

“Whatever,” John said, and returned to his bed.

Dan waited. It took what felt like another day, but sure enough, eventually the door opened and in came a guard. Dan fell to the floor instantly, clutching his side, where the bandage still was. He groaned. The guard, keeping his gun on Dan, came further into the room to check out Dan. He didn’t get far, though, before one of the chairs from the table hit him across the head and knocked him out.

“Okay, so it worked,” he said, picking up the gun. It looked odd, but had a normal trigger, so John figured that he could at least fire it, if not anything fancy. “But, don’t let this go to your head. We still gotta steal a ship and get out of here.”

They exited the cell and crept their way down the hall until they reached what looked like a lift. Dan inserted his card key, and the door opened. Then, inside, he inserted the key into the only slot inside, and the lift moved. He checked his map, and sure enough, they were heading straight to the hanger deck.

“Traffic looks light in the hanger bay,” Dan said, “Must be in FTL. That could be a problem.”

“We’ll get to that when we get there,” John said, pointing his gun to the door as the lift came to a stop.

No one was in immediate site, but the two ducked behind some barrels that smelled like oil. They did a quick view of the hanger bay, and saw that, sure enough, one of their ships was sitting at the bay, near where they were.

They made it over to the ship by crouching low. When they got there, they saw it was John’s ship, which was what Dan expected, his being the only ship that didn’t take a hit before being dragged on board. Dan climbed up to the cockpit and opened the canopy while John stood watch. He got as far as climbing into the pilot’s seat to do the pre-flight check before he heard John swear below him. When he looked out, he saw why. Several Xenorite soldiers with rifles of some kind were running towards them, yelling at them, probably to stop or freeze or something similar. They must of set off some kind of alarm.

“Get the ship started up, Dan!” John shouted, firing back at them. Then, he started to climb up the ladder into the rear seat of the cockpit. He didn’t get half way up, however, before being shot. Dan watched in horror as he saw the bullet burst out the rear end of his friends skull. John was dead instantly, and fell to the ground below him. The alien’s kept firing, bullets bouncing off the thick metal of the hull.

Tears streaming down his face, Dan punched up the controls for the fighter, closing the cockpit and starting up the engines. He turned on the ships guns and fired off a few shots at the soldiers, which sent them scattering for cover. That gave Dan the time he needed. He taxied the ship onto the runway and started it down the tube. He saw that, indeed, the ship was in FTL, which presented a problem for him when he exited, as his ship was not going FTL. Best-case scenario, he would end up in a random part of the universe, alone. Worst case scenario, the ship exploded upon exiting the cruiser. But, he didn’t have much choice. There’s no way these soldiers would let him live now, and the Doctor would not be able to help this time. So, he gunned it.

He closed his eyes just before exiting the force field holding in the atmosphere of the ship. The ship lurched to the side, and it felt like it was hit by another ship. Had he rammed into the side of the cruiser? Then, there were other jarring pushes to the ship as it jostled back and forth. He opened his eyes to read controls and try to re-gain control of the ship. But nothing he did worked. Suddenly, the jostling stopped, and he found himself in normal space. He was still in a solar system, because he could see a sun. Judging by it’s size, he would guess he was in this system’s outer planets. He hoped it wasn’t a Xenorite controlled system, because that would help him get home.

He put out a broadcast S.O.S., and then sat back and prayed. Surprisingly, he got a return signal after only an hour. It was from the Monitor! He was still in the same system the dog fight took place in. The Xenorite cruiser must have hidden out in the outer planets, probably for repairs, before hitting FTL a few days later. He would be picked up by the Monitor now, and get proper medical care from human doctors.

He looked at the dog tags in his hand, and thought of Three-Step. He knew something that the alien Doctor had told him was true. No more killing. No more death. His desire for glory was gone. This war needed to end, and it would only end due to people like that Doctor. And Dan Williams had determined right then and there to become another one.

The End