Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Lost Jewels of Luna, part 3

Jared looked over his shoulder at the receding jungle behind him as he continued to run. At first, he thought for sure that escape had happened. Then, he saw them. At first, it was only a few women, in their shiny, silver jump suits, but he could see the remaining hundreds in the trees behind the first. All were armed with the now familiar laser spear carried by the warrior women of Callisto, ready to fire as soon as he and his crew were visible. He turned back to the remainder of his crew up ahead.

“They’ve broken through,” he shouted. “Keep going, we’re nearly at the ship.”

He opened his communicator and set it to call the Destiny. “Katie,” he cried into it to his ship’s pilot, “fire up the rockets. We need a quick get away!”

“I’m already warmed up and just waiting for you guys to get back on board,” came the crackly reply.

Jared and the five members of his crew that were running came over a hill and saw the tall rocket named Destiny, that had been their home for the past few weeks. He smiled, but only briefly as the tall rock next to him exploded in a cloud of dust. The women behind him had started firing their laser spears. He ducked and moved to the right to avoid the largest of the rocky debris and maybe avoid another shot. Then, he turned at his torso, continuing to run forward, and fired his ray gun in their direction. He knew he wouldn’t be accurate at this range, but he wasn’t trying to be, so much as he just wanted them to duck too.

A few of his fellow crew were firing over their shoulder as well, but just like him they were not very effective. It didn’t matter, though, because the lead they had gained running through the jungle meant they would reach the ship before the warrior women did. Then, he heard a cry, and turned to his left to see Phil Dixon fall to the ground, a laser spear blast through his back. He saw Alicia reach down and start to grab their fallen crewman, and he rushed up to help. Together, they ran as best they could, Alicia going backwards.

More shots came their way, and Jared looked in Alicia’s eyes. She only nodded, her mouth a grim line of determination. They were gaining, that look said. Another shot came in and hit the ground near his foot, causing him to slip to his knee and almost drop Phil. He scrambled back up and kept running, though.

“Katie!” he shouted at the top of his lungs, hoping that the pilot would hear him. “Give us some covering fire!”

The guns on the Destiny swiveled just then, and started firing. The larger ship guns were far more effective than their hand held blaster weapons, taking out a dozen warrior women in one shot. However, in order to avoid hitting Jared and crew, Katie had to aim back, and thus the women closest to him were still on his tail. Jared dared not look back, but he could feel them getting closer. More shots came. They missed, but they were higher up and landed further in front of him. They were very good with those laser spears, he thought.

As they got closer to the ship, the ramp came down, and on it was standing a tall, dark skinned muscular man in a black uniform that was the spitting image of Jared’s, minus the star and rocket emblem Jared wore. Jared realized that it was Dexter, and he sighed in relief. He was carrying a large ray cannon, and fired off a few shots before the ramp even hit the ground. Coming out behind him were other crew members, firing their own ray guns and giving Alicia and Jared the cover they needed to get up the ramp into the ship. Jared heard Dexter fire a few more shots from the cannon before the ramp closed behind them.

He set Phil down and slammed his fist on an internal ship communicator. “Katie, we’re all on board, take off now!”

The pilot didn’t need a second order, or even bother waiting to make sure everyone was buckled in. The rocket, who’s engine’s had been idling, roared into life and everyone was pushed to the ground as it took off. A few clanging thumps from the walls let Jared know the warrior women were still firing their laser spears at them. After a few moments, the pressure of blast off eased, and everyone was able to stand. Jared looked around the room and found the last member of his landing crew, and old and wrinkled man in a ship uniform that was too large for his skinny frame. He grabbed the old man by his jacked and hauled him to his feet.

“What the hell was all that, Phenius?” he cried.

“How was I supposed to know that the queen remembered me?” he said. “It’s been thirty years since I was here last, and I was a site more better looking then, I can say. At least we got away alive.”

“We were supposed to get away with the ship repaired,” Jared said. “A fully repaired ship would have made a far more impressive sight then the damaged one we’re in now when we land on Io.”

In disgust, he tossed the old man onto the floor, and turned to look back at Phil. The man had a hole in his gut, and blood was pouring out of it. It didn’t look like he was breathing. He looked to Alicia, who shook her head.

“I’ve already called for Flynn,” she said. Flynn was their ships medic, but this looked like it was beyond his skills.

As if on cue, the door opened and Flynn rushed in with a medical kit in hand. He rushed straight to Phil, and paused as he looked at the wound. He gently touched it, looking at Phil’s face as he did so. Phil didn’t respond. He checked Phil’s neck and arm for a pulse. A single tear ran down his cheek and he turned to Jared and just shook his head. Jared nodded. He knew that the man had been dead as soon as the spear blast hit him, but like Alicia, he couldn’t stand to leave his companion behind.

He wheeled back to Phenius, his face turned into a frown and fire in his eyes. He pointed a finger at the old man. “I hold you responsible for his life. When we return to Luna, you will pay for this, I promise you.”

He stormed out of the room without looking back, but had he, it would have been to a surprising sight. Up until now, Phenius had been unflappable. Nothing seemed to put him off, even when it was obviously his fault. But Jared’s threat left him speechless and looking after the young Star Captain with a look in his eyes that could only be described as pitiable.

A few moments later saw Jared in his quarters, staring out the porthole at the stars. A knock came at his door, and he waved his hand to get the automatic door to open without turning around. Alicia walked in a moment later.

“It’s not your fault, you know,” she said. “All of us knew that when we joined this crew, there was a chance it would be our last adventure.”

“It is my fault, I’m the captain,” Jared said. He turned away from the window and sat on his bed, looking up at Alicia. She sat at the large chair by his desk. “I’m responsible for the safety of this crew. I was the one that brought Phenius on board, I was the one that decided to trust him and come to Callisto to get repairs instead of going straight to Io. If I had just gone straight there, Phil might still be alive.”

“All of that is true,” Alicia said, causing Jared to stare up at her in surprise. It was definitely not the answer he was expecting. “You are the captain, as you said. A Star Captain, to boot. You are responsible for our safety. And, if you had gone straight to Io instead of Callisto, Phil would still be alive. For now. There’s no guarantee’s in space travel, and as a Star Captain, you know that. There’s every chance that Phil would have died on Io. And what about Chris? He died, too, and that was no more your fault that Phil’s death was. Death is a part of being a Star Captain. I’ve seen members of my crew die in my career. All I can tell you is that it doesn’t get any easier. But, you are a Star Captain. And our captain. As a member of your crew, if you’re not okay, I’m not okay either. Harsh as this is to say, you just need to accept that Phil is and move on. Later, when this is over, you can morn him properly. Dexter would tell you the same thing. You’re job, right now, is to lead those of us still alive, and complete your mission. If you quit now, Phil and Chris will have died in vein.”

Jared stared at his fellow Star Captain, who was now serving as a member of his crew. Her eyes were as black as her hair, but somehow they were warm and inviting. And he knew that she spoke the truth. He sat up, squared his shoulders, set his jaw and nodded.

“When we return to Luna, Chris and Phil will be buried as heroes of the state,” he said. “But for that to happen, I need to claim the throne, and for that I need the Lost Jewels of Luna. I’m not going to let them have died in vein. We’re going to Io, and nothing is going to stand in my way.”

Alicia stood and clasped Jared on his shoulder. “Well said, Star Captain,” she said. “It is an honor to be a member of your crew.”

Jared realized then that Alicia was the right person to be his First Officer. He had thought several times that it should be Dexter, the more experienced of the three of them, but he was learning that Dexter was somewhat headstrong and more of a shoot first and think later kind of guy. Alicia, while as ready to jump into the fray as anyone, was more slow to action and more prone to thinking her way through ha problem. It was a trait that Jared was getting more and more to like, and one he was trying to cultivate himself.

It only took a few hours for the rocket ship Destiny to arrive at Io. They radioed down to the capital city, Io City.

“This is the rocket ship Destiny to Io City Tower. My name is Star Captain Jared Decker, Prince of Luna,” Jared said into the microphone. “I have come here to speak to your king and retrieving the Lost Jewels of Luna.”

There was a few moments hesitation before a reply came back. “Rodger that, rocket ship Destiny. You are cleared to land at the Royal Landing Platform on the south side of the city. You will be greeted there by the Royal Guard who will take you and your first officer to the king. The rest of your crew are requested to remain onboard your ship.”

“Understood, Io City Tower,” Jared replied, expecting something similar to this. “We will land in the next half hour.”

A short while later, the Destiny was landing on the large, gold and purple colored landing platform. Jared couldn’t help by smile at the pure gaudiness of it all. Even his uncle, who reveled in this wealth and power as King of Luna, would never think of decorating his personal landing pad. It was obviously designed to show off the wealth of Io. He turned to Alicia, resplendent in her dress uniform just as he was, and they both smiled at each other.

When they walked down the exit ramp, the captain of the Royal Guard came up to them and indicated that he was to take them to the royal palace, immediately. There, they would speak to the king in person. Once again, he turned to Alicia, and she nodded as well. As much as he liked Alicia, he really wanted the face of someone he knew well, which left Angus. But, Angus would not be able to pass himself off as the Destiny’s first officer. Plus, Alicia was better at dealing with royalty than Angus.

When they arrived at the castle, everything inside was every bit as gaudy and pretentious as the landing strip was. The people of Io really wanted their guests to know they had money to spare. It only made Jared smile at the absurdity of it all. The original settlers of Io were pirates, and would have happily stripped this castle and the landing strip.

The guards led them to a large set of brass double doors, and then stopped and stood on either side of it, making two rows of six men. It took Jared a moment to realize that he and Alicia were to go through. He pushed open the doors, which were far quieter than Jared was expecting, and walked into a large, mostly empty, throne room. Jared thought it should be filled with courtiers, but apparently the king wanted few witnesses to this meeting. The walls were decorated with banners and portraits of past kings, as well as the flags or ships plaques of several of the pirate ships that originally colonized the moon.

They eye was immediately drawn, however, to the large pair of thrones that sat in the center of the wall opposite the door. They were made out of steel, from the looks of them, and inlaid in bone. Soft, overstuffed cushions were built into the seat and back, making them look immensely comfortable, despite the hard construction materials. Seated in the thrones were two people, and old man with pure white hair on his head and a full bear on his chin. He wore a fine silk purple and gold robe, and had a fine, thin gold crown on top of her head. Obviously, the king.

Seated next to him, however, was someone that had Jared’s undivided attention. She was a beautiful young woman, about the same age as he was. She wore a fine green dress that hugged her curves without being immodest, and a solid emerald necklace that complimented the dress well. She was obviously the King’s daughter, the princess. Her eyes fell to his and he saw they were as green as the dress and emerald. He also saw in those eyes an instant understanding. This, then, was what the poets called Love At First Sight He was smitten with this fine maiden, and all logic be damned. And he knew, looking into those eyes, she felt the same way.

A poke in the rib by Alicia brought him to the present. He turned his gaze from the young princess to the old king, and knelt down on one knee.

“You’re Royal Highness,” Jared began, “We have come to you’re fine kingdom to…”

“I know why you’re here,” the king interrupted. His voice was gravelly and harsh, and the one was from one obviously used to giving orders and having them obeyed. “You, like many before you, claim to be a Prince of Luna, and you come to steal a treasure that has been in my family now for generations.”

“After it was stolen from Luna first,” Jared said. Blurted, really, and afterwards he decided it was better to stand up to this old man that just be defeated here and now because he doesn’t want to give up the prize.

“Look, your Highness,” Jared said, noticing that the king had stopped talking, but hadn’t really acted or looked angry. “We both know that the jewels are useless to you, locked in a safe that you can’t open. I understand that you’ve held them for centuries, and that its’ a source of pride for you and your pirate ancestors. But, I aim to reclaim my throne from my treacherous uncle, and the only way for me to do so is with those jewels. So, one way or another, I intend to leave with them. I’d prefer your permission, but my crew and I are willing and capable to get them in less underhanded fashions.”

His speech over, Jared just stood there, staring at the King and fearful that he had now spoken out of turn in a very disrespectful tone. The King of Io looked him up and down, examining this challenger to his power and possessions. After a few tense moments, the king threw his head back and let loose with a mighty bellow of laughter. He laughed for a good long time, and even the princess on the throne looked warily from Jared to her father and back again. Finally, the laughter stopped, and the king got up out of his throne, made his way down the stairs, and gripped Jared on the shoulders. Old he may be, but that grip held the strength of a younger man.

“My young princling,” the old king said. “I appreciate someone that speaks their mind. It hardly happens around my court, everyone is scared. But,” and this he said in a whisper, “I rather like it that way. I think I shall give you a chance to get the Jewels of Luna. But, keep in mind that I am unwilling to simply part with the Jewels. I am, however, willing to present you with a challenge. I’m a gambling man and I’m willing to bet that you will fail this challenge.”

The king pressed a button on his throne and the whole chair swiveled and turned to his right. He then pushed another button, and a whole section of wall recessed into the floor, revealing a long, very wide, almost bare hallway. At the end of the hallway was a large metal box that Jared recognized right away. The Lost Jewels of Luna. There they were, at last. He was nearing the end of his quest.

“All you have to do,” the King said, “is make it down this hallway to the safe. Then you’ll need to open the safe, something only a member of the Royal Family of Luna can do. If you can do those two things, the Jewels are yours.”

The King pressed a button on his throne once more and the wall came back up, covering the view of the hallway. “But that,” he said, “will be for tomorrow. Tonight, we feast, and you will rest in my guest chambers. It is not often that we get visitors out here.”

He pressed yet another button, and suddenly the throne room was filled with people, pouring out of doors that were made to look like the walls. No, not people, Jared realized, but robots. Android servants, who brought out tables, chairs, and an amazing amount of food. Jared and Alicia sat and ate. The food was amazing. All grown right there on Io, the King assured them. He asked of their adventures, and the two told the tail of their trip from Luna to Io, including the colossal robot on Mars, Phenius and the Warrior Women of Callisto. The Kind laughed and looked somber at all the right places. Jared was surprised that he seemed genuinely sad at the loss of their crewmates. The whole time, though, Jared wondered where all the people were. Surely the King and his daughter were not the only Iotians.

After dinner, they were lead to their bedchambers. The chambers were truly huge, each one large enough to comfortably house the entire crew of the Destiny. Which reminded him that he needed to report, so he pulled out his communicator and called in. He then took full advantage of the pool sized bathtub and Jacuzzi, the silk bed clothes, and started to head to bed. That was when he heard a noise. He grabbed his ray gun from the holster on the chair, and spun around. Instead of the robot assassin he expected, however, he saw the princesses.

“Please lower your weapon,” she said. “I am here to help you.”

Jared lowered his gun, but was not yet willing to put it away.

“I am Princess Julia,” she said. “And I wish for you to take me with you when you leave here.”

“What?” Jared asked. This was not what he was expecting.

“My father has gone mad,” she said. “All the royal courtiers have been killed or banished for trying to take his gold or his throne. All hogwash, of course, but he has gone insane and believes everyone wants his gold and throne. He plans to kill you tomorrow as well. I will help you, and in return I want you to take me with you when you leave.”

Jared’s eyes went wide. This explained so much. He nodded his head. He would have gladly taken the beautiful young princess anyway, of course, but for this, he was at her service. “I will protect you, Julia,” he said, giving the Star Captain salute. “You are now under my protection, and when I leave here with the Lost Jewels of Luna to reclaim my throne, you will accompany me.”

“Oh, thank you,” she said, and rushed up to him. She wrapped her arms around his muscular frame and hung on as if he were a life preserver. After a moment, she looked up into his eyes, and they kissed. There was passion in that kiss, to be sure, but this, Jared knew, was a kiss of love. Finally, she stopped the kiss and pushed herself away from him.

“Take this,” she said, handing him a small black box with two buttons on it, one red and one green. “The hallway you need to travel down tomorrow is trapped. The red button will enable you to get safely past the hallway guardians. My father has a special trap on the safe itself. The green button will disable that trap. For the last part, you will be on your own. Are you truly a member of the Royal Family of Luna?”

Jared nodded. She sighed in relief.

“Good,” she said. She hugged him once more. “My prince. My Star Captain. I look forward to our life together once we have escaped here.”

And before he could say anything to her, she left the room through what Jared now saw was a secret doorway. He shook his head, and stared down at the little black box. If he hadn’t been holding it, he could swear that what just happened was all a dream. He shook his head and went to sleep.

The next morning, he and Alicia were escorted down to the throne room once more.

“I’m pretty sure this is all a trap,” she said. “The King doesn’t seem all that stable.”

“Yeah, I agree,” he said. “However, I have an inside track that will help us out of this.” He showed her the black box. Her look was confused, but he didn’t explain it right away, hiding the box once more in his jacket.

“Ah, you’re here,” The King said from his throne. Jared wondered briefly if he ever left the chair. “I trust you slept well? Good, good. Shall we get right to it then? I know I’m looking forward to the show.”

With that, he opened the wall revealing the hallway once again, and sat back in his chair, preparing for the entertainment that was to come. “All you have to do,” he said, “is get to the other end of this hall and open the safe. Simple. Ah, just you, my dear Star Captain. You’re first officer will stay here with us and watch.”

Jared nodded to Alicia, who reluctantly took the seat brought in by another robot servant. Jared took a breath, looked over to the Princess, who smiled, and then exhaled as he moved to the hallway. He gave one last look back, nodding to the King, and then drew his ray gun and entered the hall.

He moved slowly, looking back and fourth for any signs of a trap. He wasn’t sure what to look for exactly, but he doubted it mattered. The walls were smooth and metal, cold to the touch. The floor was the same, except that it had a red carpet on it. His footsteps could still be heard, though. As he inched his way across, he saw little else. The ceiling seemed to be one long light, glowing softly. About half way down was when the trap was finally sprung.

Doors suddenly appeared on the previously seamless walls. Jared stopped and aimed his ray gun, but there were hundreds of doors. He wasn’t sure where to aim. And then out came the robots. Hundreds of them, at least three or four per door. The hallway would quickly be crowded thick with the things. All of them were identical, skeletal looking machines, with blinking red eyes and a grinning skeletal like face. Each had a lethal looking blade on its right arm instead of a hand. And he had no doubt that each knew how to use them.

He took a few shots at the robots with his ray gun, but it became quickly apparent that a force shield protected them. The gun would penetrate eventually, but by then it would be too late. He didn’t hesitate any further. He reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out the black box and pressed the red button. Immediately, all the robots stopped where they were and powered down, arms falling limply at their sides. Jared quickly put the box back in his jacket.

“Hmmm…” said the King of Io. He was stroking his beard. “I don’t know how you did that. But, still, you haven’t yet reached the safe, or opened it. Please, continue.”

Jared, confident that there would be no further threats on the way to the safe, simply walked down the hallway the rest of the way. He stopped when he got to the safe and examined it. It was a dark, black metal, with an obvious door and handle on one side. The door was just as obviously locked. In the middle of the door was a plate with the image of a human hand on it. A scanner, Jared realized. He knew, though, that he couldn’t yet touch it. He decided to test the trap, and touched the safe with his ray gun. A shock of lightning arced down from the ceiling and shot the gun out of his hand and across the hallway. He could hear the King laughing from his throne.

Jared reached into his pocket again and pulled out the black box, this time pressing the green button. The lightning field crackled again, but then dissipated. Jared extended a finger and touched the safe. It was cold and hard and smooth, but no lightning. He smiled. Behind him, the King bellowed in rage. Now came the last part. Jared placed his hand on the hand print plate on the safe. It light up, and Jared could feel a tickling sensation on his hand. It made it itch. A few seconds later, the plate turned green and he could hear bolts unlatching. Excitedly, Jared reached down and opened the door to the safe. Inside was a large sack that contained three perfectly cut diamonds, all about the size of Jared’s fists. The Lost Jewels of Luna. He had done it!

The King let out a roar of anger, and Jared feared he would push another button on his throne that would lower the ceiling and crush him where he stood. But the yell was followed quickly by a ray gun shot. Alicia, he realized. Jared placed the jewels back into the bag and sluing it over his shoulder. He then ran down the hallway, retrieving his own ray gun as he went.

When he exited the hallway, he saw that Alicia had her gun drawn and had it aimed, inches away, at the Kings head. The King of Io sat staring at the gun, sweat trickling down his forehead. The Princess raced to Jared as soon as he exited.

“You did it, my Prince!” she said, wrapping her arms around his neck.

Alicia looked at Jared with a single eyebrow raised.

“The princess aided me,” Jared said, pulling the black box once more out of his jacket. “Without her, I would have surely died in there. And as her reward, she will return with us to Luna, where she will be safe from her father’s insanity.”

“Noooooooo!” came the anguished cry of the King.

“Shall I kill him,” Alicia said, putting her gun right up to the King’s temple.

Jared shook his head. “No.” he said. “It is better to leave him here, to wallow in his loneliness and paranoid delusions. Understand this, King of Io. I am now the ruler of Luna, and if you do anything to harm me or a member of my crew, you will have to face the prospect of war with my kingdom. Do you understand?”

The King of Io only nodded his head, but Jared believed he had made his point.

“Come on, Alicia,” he said. “Let get out of here and go home.”

“Yes sir, Star Captain,” Alicia said.

On the way back to the ship, Alicia looked at Jared. “So tell me, Jared. What happens if when we return to Luna your uncle decides he still doesn’t want to give up the throne?”

Jared laughed and turned to look at her. “Do you really think that with you, Dexter Steele and the rest of the crew of the Destiny facing him down he’ll refuse?”

This time it was Alicia’s turn to laugh.

“Still,” Jared said. “I suppose that’s a possibility. We’ll have to face that adventure when we get to it.”

The End

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