Of Love and War
By Brandon Victorian
The sensors on the Pride of the Skies gave off a particularly annoying sound to Herc, who had just begun to lose himself in the monotony of the so far boring day. At the captain's console, several screens lighted up with the alphanumeric code which he understood to signal the presence of fuel.
"Hey, kid," He called over to Jayce. "See if you can get a readout on that planet ahead. Sensors say it's got major fuel reserves, and no `meanie-greenies' anywhere."
Jayce had been losing himself in watching the zoggies play around Oon, who constantly tried to no avail to kick at them or swat them away with his lance. Ever since Audric had made them as multi-purpose tool robots, and later coupling them as toys for Flora's amusement, for some reason, they'd taken an immediate liking to the eternal squire. Unfortunately, the feeling was not mutual.
In response to Herc's request, Jayce looked up from the ruckus, and into the planet's image on the monitor calling up the library database, the Pride's computer recognized it as Ventaris III. A world with extensive remains of cities, but no human population.
"I can see why there's so much fuel, Herc," Jayce said. "The planet's covered with ruins. And in this sector of space, most of the planets we've passed haven't been bothered by the Monster Minds, raiders, space pirates, or anything else."
Herc nodded his head. "Yeah, the Outer Rim is kind of like that, kid. I don't think you'll be seeing the monkey minds around for a while." A smile crept up the side of his face as he reclined in his seat. "Looks like we can take a little vacation from tangling with Saw Boss and his cronies."
Gillian had just entered the bridge as Herc finished his sentence. Today was one of the days when he was feeling especially magical, and so he came in floating, as he would do from time to time.
"I wouldn't get too confident, Herc," the old wizard said, raising a warning finger. "Saw Boss has many resources, and now's not the time to underestimate him."
"Aw, old mushroom-head's probably off somewhere, watering his garden." Herc said with a dismissive gesture. "Besides, there aren't any Monster Minds around for light-years. We can get the fuel off of this planet and be on our way before Saw Boss could even get close."
"And we need the fuel, Gillian," Jayce added. "If the sensors are correct, then there's far more than enough to get the Pride's reserves back to full, and be on our way. And if the information Jal gave us is right, then father shouldn't be too far away. We're close to the sector he said he'd be in."
Gillian looked up into the viewscreen, reading the readouts from the sensors' results. And then his eyes widened. "That's Ventaris III!" he exclaimed in his strangely calm manner. "I haven't been there since before the fall of the Ke-Zel Imperium!"
"You know about this place?" Jayce asked his friend.
"But of course, I do, dear boy," Gillian replied. "But it's been a long time since I've been this far off the beaten path. Ventaris III used to be an industrial world of the Ke-Zel Imperium."
"Ancient history," Herc interrupted. That empire's been dead for nearly five hundred years. Had something to do with the ruling twin brothers fighting among themselves."
"Exactly, Herc," Gillian said. "I remember it as though it were yesterday. The brothers, Kelos and Zelos who ruled the Imperium at the end of its golden age, fought terribly over whether magic or science should shape their destiny. Neither believed that the two could work together. And what's worse, the very people they once ruled and cared for took sides in this conflict, thus tearing the Ke-Zel Imperium to shreds."
"What a sad story," Oon chimed in, finally freeing himself from the overzealous zoggies.
"Yes, very sad," Gillian said wistfully. He looked up at the planet once again, and shook his head. "The Monster Minds do enough of a job destroying things. We forget that we still do it too."
"Well, be that as it may," Herc said, "we still need juice. So ruined or not, we gotta land this baby and re-fuel, or we're not going anywhere."
"Right, Jayce said, returning to his console. "Beginning landing sequence."
Within moments, the Pride had landed on Ventaris III and the Lightning League had established a place to refuel, next to the remains of an old Axylyite plant.
An hour later, Jayce was checking the fuel gauge on board the Pride. "Herc, the reserves read full. You can shut it down, now," he said into his wrist communicator.
"Not a second too soon, Kiddo," Herc replied. "These fuel containers down here are so old, it's a miracle they even lasted five-hundred years. We're lucky they didn't blow up in our faces."
Gillian, who was nearby, watching flora fly around on Brock, and talk to the nearby trees, overheard Herc's conversation. "The Ventarians made things to last, Herc." He said to the captain. "They'll hold, even tanks as old as these."
"Herc hummed, as he disconnected the fuel hose from the tank's porthole, and pressed the RETRACT button. "Hope you're right," he said, "or else we'll be flying outta here the hard way."
Gillian called Flora and Brock into the Pride after Herc and Jayce finished the Job. Oon followed but not as closely, as he wanted to stay just close enough to keep an eye on Flora, yet keep away from the zoggies who romped in the tall grass nearby.
"Gillian," Flora began, as Brock lifted her up along the entrance ramp with Gillian, "Those trees are really interesting."
"How so, child?" Gillian asked, smiling at her perpetual innocece, yet sharp mind.
"Well, they said that not many people here were killed during a war. They said that they just all left, one day. They're very lonely. They say that they only have each other to talk to, and that it gets very boring. I feel sorry for them."
"Don't fret, child." Gillian said in his comforting, grandfatherly way. "Ventaris III is a nice world, and I'm sure that someone before long will come back. After all, if they want to make a home here, they wouldn't have much work to do. And the trees would have something to talk about once again."
"Oh." Flora said thoughtfully. "I didn't know there was a war here, either. The trees said that there was, but none of the buildings look blown up."
Gillian nodded somberly. "Indeed there was. But a war fought with magic can have far graver consequences than mere damaged buildings. I will tell the story to you once we are settled back on board the Pride."
Oon, who had just barely made it as the ramp started to retract, had managed to haul his armor-plated body up and into the ship's cargo hold, joining Flora and Gillian. He was not angry with the two for not helping him; rather he welcomed it, for eternal squires had to be self-sufficient. But as he caught up with them, he'd managed to hear the tail end of the conversation and was curious to hear more. "War?" he asked. "What kind of war? And is it anywhere near here?" His voice took on a slightly timid tone at the last question.
Both Gillian and Flora laughed, as they watched the zoggies rush in behind Oon; the plank fully retracting behind them.
On the Bridge, Jayce was overseeing the liftoff functions, as Herc rubbed his hands with a sanitary towel before touching the controls at his console. "Nice and easy, kid," he said, as he watched the planet's surface recede from the view of the main monitor.
Herc nodded at the commendable takeoff performed by a boy almost young enough to be his son. "Say, you're getting better and better at this," he remarked. "You know, once we find your father and I get paid, I could use a first-mate."
"Thanks Herc," Jayce answered immediately, "but my father comes first. Finding him and destroying the Monster Minds are first priority. What happens afterwards isn't important."
Herc shrugged his shoulders. Oh well, he thought. Can't blame a guy for trying.
"But this looks important," he said, as he noticed the helm computer bleeping a signal. It was an emergency beacon. The signal shone on Jayce's console as well.
"A distress signal," Jayce said. Someone's in trouble." Herc, are there any other ships in the area that are closer to its coordinates?"
Of course not, Herc thought. There never are. We're the ones who adventure always seems to find, whether I want it or not. Sighing to himself, he checked the sensor readings. Nothing. Figures, he thought.
"Nope. No ships," he said. "No nothing, as a matter of fact. Just the ship that the signal's coming from."
"Then let's go there," Jayce said.
"But of course," Herc replied, half-sarcastically. And it started out to be a nice, trouble-free day.
And somewhere else, not much farther away, Saw Boss was monitoring the Lightning League with intense curiosity. They were falling for the trap. It gave him such pleasure to think that. Soon, the boy and the root would be his.
"How goes phase two of the plan?" He called out to his minions below.
The humanoid form of a Saw Trooper stepped forward. In every way, it resembled Saw Boss in every way: mushroom domed head with spikes, pale bluish skin, and vines growing from and about his twisted body. But this one sported one difference: the red stripes on its chest, like the red stripes on the face of its vehicular alternative form.
"We have completed synthesization of the spore, Excellency, it snapped out. "And the mutation projects for the second experiment are well underway. We should have successful results in less than two days."
"Make it two hours," Saw Boss commanded. "There shall be nothing to stop us this time!"
"As you command, exalted one," the Saw Trooper answered, as it walked off.
The ship was a large freighter, and a badly damaged one at that. Score marks covered its hexagonal surface, and pieces of it floated around as it lay there, dead in space. No doubt, it had been in a battle. On board the Pride, Gillian and flora eyed the image of the ship in the monitor with increasing fascination.
"Lifeform readings?" Jayce asked.
"Only one," Herc replied, studying the sensors' readouts. "But I don't think we can hail him--or her. Sensors say that that old wreck is as about as beat-up as they come every system, save life support a mess. But the person inside seems healthy enough. Life signs are really strong."
"Then let's dock and see if we can.. huh?" Jayce felt a familiar tingling sensation at his chest, and looked down. The root! It was flashing, and very strongly! Something on board that ship must belong to his father! Maybe that person was his father!
"The root! It's reacting very strongly to something on that ship!" Jayce exclaimed. "Herc! Hurry up, and dock with it! Meet me in the docking bay afterwards!" And with that, he leaped out of his chair, and rushed through the bridge's exit; Oon, following close behind, but not doing a very good job of keeping up. "Master!" He called out. "Wait for me!"
Herc couldn't help but smile, as Flora, Brock, and Gillian followed Jayce to the docking bay. Activating the docking sequence, he thought, Maybe today isn't turning out as bad as I thought.
"Payday, here I come!" He said, as he finished the sequence and in turn, made his way to the docking bay.
Inside the docking bay, the hatchway leading to the freighter opened up, and immediately, flooded the bay with smoke. Coughing, Jayce stood back, as did the rest of the Lightning League, until the smoke cleared up. When it did, he made his way into the docking corridor, and into the damaged freighter.
Inside, all was a mess of wires and broken paneling. Sparks shot out here and there, and the smell was simply nauseating. But the prospect of seeing his father again gave Jayce new strength and stamina. As the others moved away from the hatch, he peered in.
"Father?" he called out, but was answered with silence. He called out again, and this time, was answered with a groan. Hurrying through the broken corridors, he finally came upon a figure lying on the cracked paneling, holding his hand to his side. Upon further inspection, Jayce could see, even in the near nonexistent light that it was covered in blood.
The man himself was not his father, as he noticed, which made his spirits plummet. He was heavyset, with a brown leather jacket, and pilot's goggles saddling his forehead, with a rounded, stubbly face that did not resemble his father's in the slightest. But the root was still reacting, which meant that there was still something here that belonged to him.
"Are you okay?" He asked the man, reaching out to help him.
The Man coughed. "Are you, --son of Audric?" He asked through gritted teeth.
"Yes, I am," Jayce answered, suddenly re-energized. "You know my father?"
The man broke into a fit of coughing, and when he finished, answered, "Yes. I know him--left me a message to give to you-- but was attacked by Monster Minds!" Another spasm of coughing.
Jayce helped the man onto his shoulders. "Come, he said. We'll help you. You have nothing to fear now. I'm Jayce."
The man coughed a bit more. "Arxoxa," he choked out between fits. "Captain--of the Sky Bolt."
"Glad to meet you," Jayce said. Now let's get you to the infirmary."
PART 3This story is Copyright Brandon Victorian, All Rights Reserved