Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Lost Jewels of Luna, part 1

Jared Decker slammed his back up against the rock outcropping, narrowly missing several shots from his opponent’s ray gun. He checked his own ray gun. Still half a charge. Now that he had a chance to think, he took a moment to listen to the shots still coming his way. It sounded like two people, maybe three on the outside. Half a charge was more than enough to take them out. A moment later, the ray gun fire died down as they realized he had taken cover. He gritted his teeth and took a quick peak around the side of the rock. He spotted two of the shooters, one down the rocky path and another across the gorge to Jared’s left. That one spotted him and started shooting again, forcing Jared back behind his cover.

He did a quick calculation in his head of angle and distance, then, just as the gun fire ceased again, poked around the rock with gun raised and shot twice, hitting both opponents. The one down the path just fell to the ground, while the other one had been reaching over the gorge just a bit too much and tumbled head over heels down the dusty, red rocks. Carefully, Jared stood up, looking around to see if there was a third shooter. After a few moments, it appeared that there wasn’t, so he came out from behind the rock, intending to check the body of the man on the path. Maybe he had some form of identification. He didn’t get more than four steps, however, when the shooting started again.

The third shooter was good, and prevented Jared from getting behind his cover again. However, Jared already had his own ray gun drawn, and he ran and dived behind the cover the man on the road has been using, shooting over his shoulder as he went. After ducking behind the cover, he looked up to find the shooter, but couldn’t see him anywhere. He must be using a ray rifle, it was the only way he could have been shooting at him without being seen. The shooting stopped, and he carefully scanned the red rocks of the surrounding hillsides. Finally, he saw what he needed, a glimmer of light, reflecting off the shooter’s gun. It was too far away to hit with his own ray gun, of course, but Jared had an idea. He took aim at a large rock below the shooter, and fired.

He hit the small rock right at the bottom of it, causing it to loosen just enough for it to start to fall. Rocks that were resting above it started to fall as well, and pretty soon, the whole hillside was an avalanche of rocks. He couldn’t tell for sure, but he thought he saw the glint of light consumed by the rockslide.

“Excellent work, Jared!” came a cheerful voice from behind him. Jared spun around, his gun raised, ready for whatever was to come. Before him was an older man with salt and pepper hair, wearing a pressed and clean, yet still old fashioned, red and white Earth Space Force dress uniform.

“Admiral Turner!” Jared said. He spread his arms wide and a smile filled his face. He holstered his ray gun and came up to shake the older man’s hand. The old man, however, grabbed him and gave him a great big bear hug. The two slapped each other on the back and laughed.

“Congratulations, my boy!” Turner said, “You’ve made it past every test I can think to throw at you.”

“You mean…?” Jared started, but couldn’t finish the sentence out of fear.

“Yes, indeed,” Turner said, a broad smile covering his face. “You have officially graduated from the Star Captain University. You are now one of the few, the brave. The heroes of the solar system. I hereby declare you a Star Captain!”

Turner pulled out something that looked like a brooch from his tunic, and pinned it to Jared’s chest. It was a silver rocket ship with the planet Earth behind it. This was the symbol denoting one as a Star Captain.

“I did it,” Jared said, rubbing the medallion on his chest He turned his eyes towards the stars. “I can finally go, and explore the solar system. I can’t wait to tell Angus. He said he’s got his eye on a ship for me.”

“Excellent, my boy, excellent,” Turner said. Then, his face turned serious, and he guided Jared to walk with him down the rocky path. “Jared, before you leave, there’s something important I have to tell you.”

“What is it, Admiral?” Jared asked.

“Jared, tell me, what do you know about the politics of the solar system?”

“Well,” Jared said, confused by the question. This was Star Captain 101. “The human’s from Earth colonized most of the worlds and moons a long time ago. The outer planets are hard to get to, but we still can by taking a months long journey around the asteroid belt. Not long after forming the colonies, the original colonists set themselves up as royalty and nobility. Venus, the Moon, several colonies on Mars and the Martian moons plus the few colonies we did establish on the outer planets, are all ruled by nobility. Earth is now the only planet to not be ruled by a monarchy. Why?”

“And, as you know, you’re not from Earth,” The admiral said.

“Right, I’m originally from Luna, the moon,” Jared said, still confused. “My mother left me in your care when I was just a baby. You’ve told me this story a hundred times. Admiral, what is it you’re trying to tell me?”

“Well, my boy,” Turner said, taking a deep breath. “I’m just going to come right out and say this. You’re father was the king of Luna. He was a good man, and loved by his people. But, he was deposed from his throne by your uncle, his brother. He led a violent coup by subverting the Lunar military to his cause. He attacked the castle and took the throne. You’re father and older siblings were all killed in the take over, but your mother hid you by pretending that you were still born. She saw to your safety by sending you to me.”

“Wait,” Jared said, “My father? King? You’re telling me that…”

“Yes, Jared,” Turner said. “You are the rightful heir to the throne of Luna. You’re uncle took the throne unlawfully, but no one could stop him. And none of the other worlds wanted to get involved, as your uncle had the military on his side. It’s up to you to restore things on your native world.”

“How…” Jared started to ask. “This is all kind of hard to take in, Admiral. Is there some kind of proof? How do I know that I am a Prince of Luna.”

“You know already,” the Admiral said. “You ca feel in your heard that I speak the truth. But, if you need proof, you need look no further than your ring. The ring you wear on your left hand is the royal seal of the Court of Luna. You’ve worn it since you came to me. You have a destiny, my boy, to return to the moon and claim you’re throne.”

“Destiny,” Jared said, rolling the word around on his tongue, tasting it, and deciding that he liked it. He looked down at the ring, the only thing he was left by his mother. It was gold, and had a white stone that was not found on Earth in it. He knew that Admiral Turner was telling him the truth. He set his jaw in grim determination. “Yes. I will return to the moon. I will revenge my fallen father, and I will claim my destiny.”

“Excellent, my boy, excellent,” Turner said, slapping the younger man on his back. “Now, go to your friend Angus, I hear he has a special gift for you.”

Jared ran off, down the rocky path to the hills below, where the large, sprawling campus of The Space Academy, where all Star Captains were trained, many directly by Admiral Turner himself. It was here that many famous men and women learned their trade, including Dexter Steele, who sailed the cosmos even now, and the infamous pirate captain Jane Danger, who terrified the space lanes for twenty years before Dexter Steele put her down. Now, it was Jared’s turn to make a name for himself.

The school was located just outside of San Diego, and sat along a cliff by the coast, with a breath taking view of the ocean. Admiral Turner thought that was appropriate for a place where he would train people to explore space, or the cosmic ocean, as he liked to call it. Jared ran past the three main domes that made up the largest portion of campus and straight to the launch pads. As expected, he found Angus covered in his overalls, covered in grease, working on the engine of a rocket. It was a rather small rocket, but sturdy from the looks of it, and it was one that Jared had never seen before. It was mostly unpainted and unnamed, from the look of it.

“Angus!” Jared called.

His friend turned his sweat coated, red-curl-covered head around and smiled broadly. “Jared! I see that congratulations are in order!” He pointed at Jared’s pin.

Jared smiled in return, “Indeed. I’m a Star Captain now.”

“Fantastic,” Angus said, then turned and patted the rocked behind him. “Because I just finished building this puppy here. I spent all year making her, and I’m giving her to you as a graduation gift.”

Jared’s jaw dropped. He looked to his friend and then back to the rocket, unable to believe his luck. He looked the rocket over again. It was still small, for a rocket ship, Jared guessed it could house about ten people, maybe twelve. He could see the command center on the top, where the four bridge crew would sit. Just below them, at the front of the ship, was it’s sensor dish. Near the bottom were the wings, and attached to them he could see the small guns that Angus had put on. Like the rocket itself, they were small, possibly only good for defensive action, but it was better than not having guns at all.

“It’s… fantastic,” he said. “And it’s great timing. I have a mission.”

He filled Angus in on the details of his life that the Admiral just told him. Angus nodded and turned to the rocket. “Well, that is good timing. I’ll have all the finishing touches done by tomorrow, including the paint job. The other members of the ground crew here have been excited to help me with this. It just needs a name.”

Jared thought of that for a moment, and then smiled. “Destiny.”

Angus nodded. Then, Jared turned to his friend once again. “Angus,” he said, “I want you to come with me.”

Now it was Angus’ turn to stand with his jaw open. “Really? I’ve been an engineer here at the academy for the past twelve years, why would you want to take me with you?”

“You built this rocket,” Jared said, “and you’re the best engineer I know. I wouldn’t trust anyone else to make sure the Destiny can take me wherever it is I need to go.”

Angus nodded, and turned to look back at the rocket, though Jared suspected that he was hiding a tear. He turned back to Jared and clasped him on his shoulders.

“I would be honored to accompany you, Prince Jared,” he said, and then bowed. The two went off that night to celebrate, and had a grand feast in town. When he returned to his dorm room, Jared started to pack, but realized he was too tired to really focus on the task, so went to bed.

The next day, Jared completed his packing and had his baggage sent to the Destiny. He dressed in his finest Star Captain uniform, a smart black jacket that buttoned over the left side with three brass buttons, and his Star Captain badge on the right side. He had clean, pressed white pants with a black striped down the side, and shiny black leather boots. When he reached the launch platform, he saw that the Destiny had been painted, the name proudly displayed next to the Star Captain symbol. He smiled. He spotted Angus, still in his overalls and covered in grease, standing nearby.

“We’re all set, Captain,” he said. “Normally, we’d want a full crew of ten, but the two of us should be fine for a quick trip to the moon.”

Jared nodded and the two climbed aboard. It was his first time aboard her, and he took his time getting to know the ship. He found his quarters, smaller than his dorm, but better, fore they would have a view of space. He walked around the mess deck and kitchen area, nodding. They weren’t fully stocked, but for now they just needed to get to the moon. Proper food and a cook could be found later. Then, he went to the command deck, where there were four seats. Two were for the pilot and navigator, in front. One was for the captain, and the fourth was at a computer station where the ships sensors and weapons were operated. He sat in the command chair and smiled. This was where he had wanted to sit his whole life. Once again, he thought of the word Destiny, and how it was a perfect name for this ship.

A short time later, they were blasting towards space and the moon. Jared sighed as he saw the white orb. He had seen it from Earth orbit before, but he had never actually gone there. In fact, he had never really been anywhere outside the Academy campus. Now, he was going to the place he had been born, a place he just discovered he was destined to rule. The moon. Luna, as its natives called it in an attempt to differentiate it from the other moons in the solar system. On the trip, he did some research on Luna. The current King was Jeffrey the First, who had taken the throne from his brother, Alex. Jeffrey the First had married his brother’s widow, the Lady Sarah. Jared gritted his teeth. His mother was still alive, and she had been forced to marry the man who had killed his father. He would not only get revenge for his father’s death, but he would free his mother as well. This he vowed.

The rest of the trip went pretty quickly, and they landed in Lunar City uncontested. Of course, why should they not be? No one knew who he was or why he was here. Angus stayed behind on the Destiny, claiming he needed to make some tweaks to the engine, while Jared headed straight to the royal palace. The city took Jared by surprise. It was dirty and run down, but had the look of a once grand capital. Beggars lined the streets, asking for what coins he could spare. He looked up at the domes that protected the city from the reaches of space, and saw that the glittering white tops of the buildings looked brand new. This was where the nobles lived, and Jared heard some conversation that made him realize that the state of the city was the result of King Jeffrey and his policies. The city was falling apart, and he didn’t care as long as his sky palace was okay.

Jared took a skiff up to the palace, where he was stopped from actually entering the palace by a large guard. He refused to allow him to enter, even after he declared himself the prince and true heir to the throne. He was ready to draw his weapon when two things topped him. The first was a large retinue of other guards, all armed with rifles and swords. The second was the man that was behind this group of soldiers. He was short, but there was no mistaking the family resemblance. That combined with the crown upon his head made Jared realize this was King Jeffery. He was older and frailer looking than Jared had expected.

“What is all this about?” the King said.

“Highness, this boy claims to be the prince and true heir to the throne of Luna,” the guard said over his shoulder to the king.

“Really?” said the king, who pushed his way past his guards and up to Jared. He looked the boy up and down, eying him closely. Jared wondered what it was he was expecting to find. Then, he saw the ring Jared wore on his finger, and his eyes went wide. Jared couldn’t help but notice.

“Let the boy in,” he said, slapping the guard that had blocked Jared. “Bring him to my study. I shall meet him there briefly.”

“Your highness,” the guard said, switching from gruff barrier to friendly servant at the snap of a finger. He led Jared through a seeming maze of hallways to a large room that had many large desks and tables, and was covered wall to wall in books. He took a seat at a long, square table made from actual wood from Earth. Expensive, he knew, considering that even after two hundred years of colonization, no trees grew naturally on Luna. A few moments later, the King entered the room, and bade his guards to wait for him outside. He came up to the table that Jared was at and sat opposite him. Despite his stature and apparent physical weakness, he was an imposing figure, and Jared found himself flinching slightly under the old man’s keen gaze.

“So, you claim to be the true heir of my throne, do you?” he said at last.

“I am Jared Decker, son of Alex Decker, Prince and Heir to the throne of Luna,” Jared said in as proud a tone as he could muster.

“I see,” Jeffrey said, stepeling his fingers. “And what proof do you offer me of this?”

Jared paused for dramatic effect. He had expected this question, so he held up his hand, displaying the ring.

“That ring proves nothing,” Jeffrey said. “Several of those went missing during the attack that resulted in my brother’s death. You could have stolen it, or bought it off the black market.”

“I did no such thing,” Jared said, slamming his fist on the table and standing up half way out of his seat. “My mother left this ring with me when I was left on Earth!”

Jeffrey nodded. “I see,” he said at last. Then he freed his hands and placed them flat on the table. “I always suspected that lying wench of hiding her youngest from me. I never did believe the story of still birth.”

He paused a moment then looked at Jared. The two could not be more opposite. Where Jared was young, Jeffrey was old. Where Jared was handsome and fit, Jeffrey was ugly and fat. The king sighed, and it sounded like defeat to Jared.

“I am an old man,” the King said, “and you could easily take me in a fight. But I am not willing to give up my kingdom so easily. You still have no conclusive proof that you are who you say you are. Bring me such proof, and I will gladly release the Throne of Luna to you.”

“What proof would you have of me?” Jared said. The only real proof he had was the ring.

“Long ago, at the founding of his great city, the original settlers of Luna unearthed three great, shining white jewels,” the king said.

“The Lost Jewels of Luna,” Jared said, having heard this legend before.

“Yes, the very same,” Jeffrey said. “They were lost to history, during a bloody regime change that lead to the monarchy. Legends say that the loosers of the battle took the jewels, and fled the system. The legends go on to speak of how the jewels traveled to Mars, where they were stolen by the kings there, and eventually taken by the pirate queen, Jane Danger, and the three jewels now reside on the moon of Io in orbit above Jupiter. They have always resided in a safe that can only be opened by a member of the royal family. If you are such a member, you should have no trouble opening the safe. Bring me the Lost Jewels of Luna, and that would be all the proof that I need.”

Jared narrowed his eyes. He could kill the king easily, but doing so would bring the whole castle guard down upon him. He was not prepared for a siege, or to take the kingdom by force. He realized that he hadn’t really thought this through. He had no choice.

“I’ll do it,” he said.

“Good,” the king said, “I’ll give you a month to return before I kill your lying mother.”

“What?” Jared said, standing fully up out of his chair now.

“I can’t allow such a lie that threatens my very throne to go unpunished, now can I?” the king said. “I must set an example. But, in fairness to you, I will simply imprison her for a month before killing her. If you return before then, she goes free.”

“No one can make it to Jupiter and back again in a month!” Jared said, “It’s impossible.”

“Surly not for a member of the royal family,” the king said, a wicked smile displayed on his face. He stood then and turned to leave.

“One month, oh Prince. No more,” Jeffrey said, then left him in there alone with his thoughts.

Jared slammed his hands down on the table and left the palace. He stormed down to the launch pad, where he saw Angus in a discussion with some other mechanics. His friend waved, but then Jared told him what had happened at the palace, and Angus’ face dropped. But only for a moment. He hitched up his tool belt and looked at Jared with a set determination.

“So,” he said to Jared, “we’ll need a crew if we’re going to do this.”

Jared smiled at his friend. This was what he needed.

“How do we go about getting one?” he asked.

Angus turned and entered the rocked and went straight to the communications room, Jared following. “We’ll send out a message along the Star Captain frequency. We’ll have a crew in a matter of days.”

“That will really work?” Jared asked. He knew of the Star Captain frequency, of course. It was used to ask fro help from other Star Captains. But he never thought of it as a place to advertise for a crew.

“Of course,” Angus said.

Sure enough, a few days later, they had a line of people. Some were Star Captains themselves, other’s were experienced Star Captain crew, having worked with others. There were so many, that Jared and Angus had to interview them to get the eight they wanted to give them a full crew. Some of them they gave tests to, and other’s they knew one way or the other from the interviews. In the end, they had six that worked out well.

This included a pair of twins, Chris and Kate, who were collectively the best pilots and navigators in the solar system, at least according to them. Angus was able to verify that, though, relating stories he had heard from another Star Captain the two had worked for about how they managed to sling shot their rocket around the sun to avoid being captured by pirates.

Another was Flynn Jones, an expert in field medicine, ship’s doctor and self-proclaimed poet and songwriter. He gave some examples of his work, singing a song he wrote for the two as well as providing a resume of his time as a member of the Lunar Star Fleet as a surgeon. Jared was happy to have him aboard. Not only was a doctor needed, but some live entertainment would be welcome.

Next was fellow Space Captain Alicia Rhea. Alicia had graduated just a year before Jared from the Academy, and had already made a name for herself as a warrior without equal. She requested to be his first officer, and, as Angus was happy to stick to the engines, Jared accepted.

Phil Dixon was a man with a long history of working for various Star Captains over the years, including Alicia. He was a weapons expert, both ship board and personal. He gave a demonstration of his knowledge of ray guns and saber use, and was able to tell from the outside of the ship what it was armed with, a feat that surprised Angus given that he had just completed building the ship a short time ago.

The final member they found was Rick Edwards, another man with lots of experience on Star Captain crews. He had experience as a pilot, navigator, engineer, weapons expert and even cook, which made Angus happy. But his real area of expertise was in communication. He spoke eight languages fluently and another three more brokenly but passable enough to get by. Jared felt that if they found themselves dealing with native life or even the stranger refuges of exiled Earthers, someone like Rick would be good to have around.

But past these six, the rest were simply not good enough, and Angus was adamant that a full crew of ten was needed. Jared sighed. He was beginning to feel like this quest was doomed from the start. Then, a shadow fell over him and he looked up to see a large brick of a man smiling down at him. His skin was the color of rich, dark chocolate, and his black hair was kept short and close to his skull. He had a broad grin which showed off gleaming white teeth and seemed to bounce around in his eyes, as if he was in on a joke that you were not.

“Greetings, Star Captain,” the man said. “I hear that you’re looking for a crew. I’m looking for a ship. I think we can work something out.”

It took a moment for Jared to recognize the man. “Dexter Steele?” he said. The man only nodded. “What are you doing here? A Star Captain of your status should be captaining his own crew, not looking to work as part of one.”

“Nonsense,” the larger man said, slapping Jared hard on the back. “I heard about your claim to the throne. Being of noble blood myself, I understand your need. I’ve had other Star Captains crew for me before, and am just wanting to do the same.”

“Well, I,” Jared started, hesitating. “I’m not sure I have a position for you. I’ve already got my first officer, and it would be unfair to her to change now.”

“That’s quite all right,” Dexter waved him off. “Truth be told, I’ve had some things happen to me lately that have made me realize that I’ve been a selfish, arrogant jerk. It’s resulted in me loosing my crew and rocket ship. I called the only person I knew that could help in times like that.”

“Admiral Turner,” Jared said, nodding his head in understanding.

“Indeed,” Dexter said. “He told me that I needed to remind myself what it’s like to not be the system’s greatest Star Captain, to do something lowly and menial, and to work for someone else. I see that you haven’t yet assigned anyone as your engineer’s assistant. I’d like to voluinteer. I was top of my class in engineering, and it’s been a long time since I got my hands dirty. It will be good to do that again.”

Jared and Angus looked at each other for a brief period of time. Eventually, Angus gave him the thumbs up symbol, and Jared smiled. He turned back to Dexter.

“Well, then,” Jared said, slapping the big man on his back, “welcome aboard the Destiny!”

“Now we just need one more,” Angus said.

“That would be me,” a voice said. The woman attached to that voice was not at all what he expected from a Star Captain crewmember. She was short, no more than five feet, and very thin. Her skin was pale, and she wore large glasses. “I am Maria Martil of Olympus Mons on Mars. I am a computer technician, and have a vast personal knowledge of our solar system.”

“Maria!” Steele called at the mousy woman, who smiled in return.

“Captain Steele,” she said. “It is good to see you again. I heard that you lost your ship, I am gratified to know that you are still plying the space ways.”

Steele turned to look at Jared. “I’ve worked with her before, she’s brilliant,” he said, waving his arms for emphasis. “If you need to know something, she’s the girl to ask. If she doesn’t know what it is you need to know, she knows where to find it. A must have on your crew, especially on a long journey like we’re about to take.”

Jared looked at Angus, who smiled and nodded. He felt for a moment like he and Angus had been doing that a lot lately. “Well, a recommendation from Dexter Steele is good enough for me. Welcome aboard the Destiny, Maria.”

“Thank you,” she said, accepting his outstretched hand.

Jared let out a sigh and smiled. They had a full crew, and it was a good one. And they were a good crew, all heroes in their own rights, and all of them willing to help him retrieve the Lost Jewels and reclaim his throne. A few weeks ago, all he wanted to do was fly a rocket ship into the void and find adventure as it came to him. Now, he found himself with a real quest, and a goal that he never dreamed could be his.

With a full crew, they loaded the last of their supplies and prepared for takeoff. They were underway that same day, and set course for the outer planets. Jared was sure that with this crew, he could make it.

To Be Continued…

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