Author's Notes: This should be the final and only continuation of Misunderstandings. Hopefully most of the unanswered questions will be answered, and everything will be brought to a decent resolution. That's the hope/goal anyway.
Outside vs Inside
He could still hear their cries of fear. Their voices continued to plague his nightmares. Once the ship had been tampered with to such a degree the Irkens had easily infiltrated and captured all of the members on board. Drent had always been a bit more reckless than the average crew member, but he never guessed the captain would have taken so many risks just to obtain a few weapons…
Drent was dead. They might not have always gotten along, but Drent had still been an important part of the Resisty.
Now Shloonktapooxis was the only captain left.
His eyes blinked open, and he stared up at the ceiling, drawing his blanket up to his neck. He didn't want to get up… he never did. Every time he woke he had to will himself to move. Eventually he would force himself out of bed because he was still needed.
Shloonktapooxis had proven himself to be a decent captain, but no one really understood the finer mechanics of the ship. If something broke apart they knew how to weld and patch it back together again, but if something went wrong with the computer system there wasn't much they could do.
That's why before he left the Resisty to return to Vort he gave them blueprints and instructions. He tried to make everything as easy to understand as possible. There had been many sleepless nights as he poured over the instructions over and over again, simplifying and re-simplifying. When he finally thought he'd made everything as clear as he could, he'd gone to turn himself in.
He brought one of his hands in front of his face. The Irkens had taken his eye and two of his fingers… he was lucky he hadn't been maimed more. Then he thought about how Laes had lost his hand and he squeezed his eyes shut.
How could he let that happen? His cellmate was innocent. He hadn't meant to drag Laes into any of this…
Even so… Laes survived every situation. A regular Vortian civilian shouldn't have been able to, but Laes did due to a mix of good luck and Irken intervention.
He never thought he'd see the day an Irken would go out of their way to help a Vortian... but Bann had done this... and so had Darden.
He dropped his hand back down and let out a sigh. How many times had he told his crew not to rescue him? The Irkens would do anything to annihilate them… Lard Nar had been prepared to face all kinds of tortures in order to protect the Resisty. He never expected to survive his ordeal.
Even now he was still worried the Irkens would destroy Vort because of his blatant defiance…
At least the Irkens appeared to be too preoccupied with the worms to pay attention to the Resisty right now. That was something he was grateful for.
How long would this indifference last though? Bludon was gone, and the Resisty's 3rd ship, which was now their second, had only been able to rescue a handful of Bludonians. The Meekrob decided to completely cut off ties to anyone off their planet with a giant force-field currently replacing their atmosphere. None of the resistance had heard anything from Plookesia lately which was probably a bad sign.
Their numbers were falling. Their movement was crumbling. If things kept going in this direction there might not be any resistance left.
"Um… sir?" Shloonktapooxis voice sounded muffled and quiet through the door. For some reason the ship's current captain still called him "sir."
He slowly propped himself up and cleared his throat. "Yes Shloon?" he responded loud enough for Shloonktapooxis to hear.
"We um… just received some bad news..."
His body tensed, and his hands gripped the blanket. "Bad news…?" he repeated. There had been enough of that these past few months. He didn't want to imagine what else had gone wrong.
"Yes sir… apparently Foodcourtia has been quarantined. No one is allowed leave the planet…" Shloonktapooxis paused for a moment before continuing. "The Irkens have been arresting rebels from the underground movement there apparently… can I come in?"
His breath caught in his throat. Laes. He'd left Laes on that planet. The Irkens wouldn't mistake Laes for a rebel though. They couldn't.
He dragged a hand down his face. But they would. Laes had gotten himself too involved with the Resisty lately... just being on board their ship was probably enough to warrant a death sentence.
"Yes… alright..." he agreed.
The door slid open and Shloonktapooxis floated through the doorway.
"Any news on what happens to the prisoners?" Lard Nar asked. His voice sounded calm, but his mind was already starting to panic. What was going to happen to Laes and to the other members of the Resisty who decided months ago to stay behind on that planet?
"No… not a word," Shloonktapooxis admitted with a downcast expression. It wasn't very long ago the current captain had been full of bright ideas and smiles. Nowadays it was rare to see even a slight smile from Shloonktapooxis.
Fear and tragedy had changed them all.
"Why are you telling me this?" he asked, pushing the blanket aside before moving to the edge of the bed. "I'm not your leader anymore… whatever we do... it's your decision."
"Boss… I know you've been through a lot recently… but..." he sighed and raised his eyes to meet his former captain's. "But I could really use your help. I don't always know what I'm doing, and I really appreciate your experience, you know?"
"I never knew what I was doing when I was captain," Lard Nar responded, rubbing his temples as he breathed a sigh.
"You built the ship's hologram device, got us connected with Bludon and Meekrob, and you secured our main communication line while also introducing several others."
"The Ultarian wave signal has been compromised," Lard Nar suddenly remembered, jerking his head up and locking eyes with the captain.
"To be fair sir, that one's always been compromised."
Right… Of course it was. That was the one everybody used. It had never been secure.
"Captain Shloonktapooxis!" someone shouted from the hallway. "Captain! An Irken vessel! It's heading straight for us!"
"The holographic shields are up," Shloonktapooxis stated, spinning around to face the frightened crew member .
"I don't know how, but it's locked onto us!" the person exclaimed. "Every time we move it follows! What should we do!?"
"There can't be something wrong with the hologram..." Lard Nar spoke, and he slid out of bed.
He'd slept in his uniform so it was a bit wrinkled. He couldn't care less about his appearance though. Not when there was a potentially hostile Irken vessel heading towards them.
"I did a full scan of it last night and everything was running normally."
"Maybe it's using up too much core energy?" Shloonktapooxis asked.
Core energy was vital for most functions, including the ship's invisibility. Initially the cloaking device had used up too much energy, but he reworked a lot of things to get rid of this problem.
"No, I checked that too," Lard Nar responded with confidence. While the hologram generator still used a lot of power, he made sure there was plenty of energy left over.
"I'll have everyone get to the controls," Shloonktapooxis decided as he hurriedly floated through the hallway. If they were attacked, they were going to put up a fight.
They were supposed to meet with the other Resisty ship near the Plookesian district. It was probably already waiting for them. There were going to be a few Bludonians joining their crew, though Lard Nar doubted they would do much in the way of perpetuating violence. Still, numbers were numbers, and since losing one of their ships, and the Meekrob's backing, they could really use more people joining their cause.
He followed Shloonktapooxis to the control room and immediately noted the lack of panic. One of the crew members appeared to be speaking to someone on the monitor. Were the Irkens really letting them go again? It was hard to believe.
"Um… Lard Nar sir..." the crew member who'd been speaking turned to address the former captain. "The Irken wishes to speak with you um… directly I guess."
Lard Nar slowly approached the monitor. Maybe Laes had a change of heart and asked the Irken to take him back… he swallowed. Hopefully that was it… he didn't need anymore bad news today.
It was Darden. He nearly breathed a sigh of relief, but then he didn't see Laes anywhere on screen. He leaned in close, and the crew member moved his chair back to give the former captain more space.
"What happened?" Lard Nar asked him. He was trying to sound calm, but he was already beginning to feel the familiar weight of dread settling inside his chest. "Where's Laes?"
"On Vort," Darden responded. The Irken had an unreadable expression. It was a bit unnerving.
"You turned him in…?" Lard Nar's voice trailed off. Of course he would. Darden was an Irken… the soldier probably saw his opportunity to get right with the Tallest and took it. That's what Irkens did.
"He's the one who wanted to go there," Darden responded, glaring as he crossed his arms. "I allowed it because right now Vort is safer than Foodcourtia." He pause briefly then continued. "I stopped to speak with you because your vessel is currently heading towards Plookesia. Their planet is no longer there. The inhabitants are gone; dispersed or dead due to the infestation." His antennae flicked back. "You'll be better off finding a different route."
"How did you locate us?" Lard Nar asked. He was sure there was nothing wrong with their cloak of invisibility… they shouldn't be leaving any trace on any radars.
Darden smirked. "I placed a tracker somewhere on board your ship. If you do a full scan of the interior you should be able to find it."
"I assumed Laes would change his mind about Foodcourtia and would want to return," Darden interrupted. He sounded annoyed now. He unfolded his arms and leaned back in his chair. "I was wrong. He's more stubborn than I gave him credit for."
"If you're no longer with Laes… then what are you planning to do?" The Irken wasn't someone the Resisty could trust. As soon as he was able to, Lard Nar was planning to search for the tracker and destroy it.
Darden frowned. "I don't know." He admitted. "But I do know this sector isn't safe. You need to move away from it now before you're noticed." He added, "invisible or not, you won't survive flying into a swarm."
An Irken wasn't used to thinking outside of the Empire. The loyalty they had for their Tallest and their society went beyond what most people could understand. Even Vortians who'd worked with Irkens for a long time didn't fully comprehend it.
An Irken that was completely alone, cut off from the Empire, would be better off dead. That was how their society worked. That's what they all believed.
Lard Nar had no sympathy for Irkens. He'd been threatened, imprisoned, tortured, and his crew had been shot down and killed by them. He had no desire to associate with them at all.
He only tolerated Bann and Darden because of Laes. For some reason his cellmate saw Irkens as possible allies even though Laes had also been treated brutally by the guards.
He was tired though. Everyday he struggled with his fears of being caught, of his companions being slaughtered, and the idea that the Irkens would torture Ixane or Shloonktapooxis in front of him. Most of the time the worms were only a passing thought. As long as the Resisty stayed within the boundaries of Irken controlled space they didn't need to worry about getting devoured by those creatures.
At least the Armada made a good shield.
"Shlit..." Darden was typing something. His eyes widened a bit. What was he looking at exactly? "The worms are coming this way and there are no planets between us to slow them down."
"Oh Galre… he's right..." one of the crew spoke from his spot. The picture on the monitor cut out and was replaced by a view of the outside. Off in the distance was what looked like a large mass of writhing worms heading straight for them.
"I hope your ship can withstand some heat," Darden's voice echoed through the speakers. The audio from the transmission was still on. "Fly fast towards the nearest star. These things hate overly high temperatures."
Lard Nar was paralyzed. He didn't know what he should be doing right now. He glanced at Shloonktapooxis who was gaping at the picture of the worms on the screen.
"What are you people doing!?" Darden snapped; his calm tone was completely gone now.
There was a loud thud and their ship was jostled. Had the Irken just rammed them?
"Y-yes," Shloonktapooxis stammered, and he looked at the pilot and the co-pilot. "Let's do what he says for now… um… yeah."
Laes was feeling just a tad bit confused. He'd expected to be beaten a few times on his way to his cell, but that hadn't happened. Instead Pain and Buckram escorted him to the showers so he could wash off the horrible worm and jungle residue that was probably still on his person. Then he'd changed into a new prison uniform that still had his old number on it.
He was kind of expecting to have a -1 label or something on his clothes. It was a bit of a surprise when he saw it was 777; the same number he'd always had.
"It's tough out there isn't it?" Pain questioned, and Laes risked glancing up at the guard's face. The Irken didn't look upset at all.
Blinking, Laes quickly returned his gaze to the spotless floor. It was still as clean and shiny as ever. He grabbed his bad arm and held it close to him. Pain had been the one to hack off his hand, so he was a little uncomfortable right now. "Y-yeah..." he agreed after some hesitation.
"You made the right choice," Buckram spoke. That was weird… it almost sounded like the guard was comforting him or something. Maybe he fainted after leaving the ship and he was currently being hauled around unconscious. This could all just be a dream right now… but then... where was Bann? The dead soldier always showed up to haunt his dreams.
"Our people are dying every day out there… at least in here you'll be safe."
Safe? Laes could feel himself tensing. Was the prison really safe? The guards were merciless with their zappy sticks. A lot of Vortians had died even after the invasion… how could he be safe?
"Here you go," Pain spoke as he and Buckram came to a stop outside of the electric force field of one of the cells. The electricity parted, and Laes took a deep breath before stepping inside.
Once the field closed behind him he sank to his knees and wrapped his arms around himself. He almost had a heart attack already. Being around the Irken guards again with no way to escape if anything went horrible made his stomach do flips.
"Laes?" That… that sounded like… he slowly lifted his eyes. It was too late though. Whoever else was in the cell had just wrapped their arms around him. He was hugged to the point he could hardly catch his breath. "I can't believe it! Our Laes is here!"
"D-dad…?" Laes questioned in confusion. He managed to slip out of her grasp, and he fell somewhat awkwardly onto the floor. "Why are… how are you…?"
His dad's lighthearted tone changed to a more serious one. "We were worried you know," he spoke, and Laes felt himself getting pulled off the ground. "How did you end up getting involved with the rebels? I heard you left with them some time ago."
"I… I didn't have much of a choice..." Laes responded. He couldn't believe it. His father was still alive.
"Kidnapped?" His father gasped, covering his mouth.
"No no… I mean I tried to escape here first but… dad… my cellmate was being driven insane and slowly killed to death..." because being killed usually resulted in death. Right. His brain wasn't working properly now. He felt kind of dazed. Was this a dream? "I couldn't just watch…"
"Oh, so that's how it was!" His father exclaimed, and he let out a sigh. "I thought you were following in my footsteps for a while there… I mean. Gang violence is bad."
Laes raised an invisible brow. He wasn't sure if he should question what his father was saying or if he should ignore it. "Yeah… so… mom 's still alive?"
"Oh yes. She's plenty alive," his father agreed with a nod. "We got to spend a lovely time in a desert simulation not long ago. Apparently it reminded her of a vacation she took that one time way back..." His eyes wandered to his son's missing hand. "Oh wow… son. Your hand. What happened to it?"
Laes glanced down at his stump. "The Irkens cut it off," he replied without giving it much thought. His eyelids felt heavy and he was feeling light headed. It was a relief to know his father was still alive and his mother probably was too. What about his niece though?
"Have you heard anything about Latikka?"
His father's expression fell. Oh no… did something bad happen to her? "Latikka died during the invasion… I thought you knew…"
He probably did know that… he probably just didn't want to remember.
"It was the debris remember?" His father continued. "Her dad told us about it while we were in that giant cage thing before the prison was constructed. She was crushed to death. She died instantly."
Of course. He remembered his sister's husband saying that now… at least his parents were both ok though. Yeah. At least they weren't dead.
"Laes… are you ok?" his father asked.
"No," Laes responded; his vision blurring from the tears. His sister, Juelee, Bann, Gashloog, and Latikka. They were dead, and there was nothing he could do about it. He started to tremble and he covered his face with his hand. He sank back down onto the floor sobbing uncontrollably.
His father reacted with no hesitation at all. Laes felt his father's arms around him again, gentler this time, and then very slowly he was rocked a little from side to side. "There there son..." his father's voice was calm and soothing. "I'm here for you… it's going to be alright."
"S-so much happened..." Laes whimpered. It was hard to breath. He didn't want to think at all right now.
"Life can really be harsh sometimes can't it?" his father responded, hugging him a little tighter. "Cry all you want ok? It's not good to bottle it up."
"D-dad…?" Laes brought his hand down and opened his eyes. He could feel the tears running down his cheeks.
He sucked in a shaky breath. "Why are they both gone...?"
"They might be dead son, but they're not gone," his father responded. He continued the slow rocking motion. "Whenever someone dies they're not gone. We still have our memories of them. Plus no matter how dead they are, our feelings for them won't change. I still love my little girls no matter what."
Laes was pretty sure this was the most sentimental he'd ever heard his father be. He wiped away his tears and took a few deep breaths to calm himself. "Do… do you ever dream about them?" he asked.
"Oh yes," his father answered, and he stopped rocking. "I see them both in my dreams sometimes. They're always together and they always look happy. It's like they're telling me not to worry about them and that they're doing ok even though they're not alive anymore."
Laes grasped his father's hand to him. His father was a smart guy, but he was also someone who was easy to talk to. "Thanks dad..."
"Of course Laes, anytime," his father responded, hugging him more than before. "Cry whenever you need to, and if you need to talk about anything I'm going to be right here because, well, I can't really go anywhere else, but even if I had the choice I'd choose to stay here with you."
"You're lying." Laes managed to smile. "You'd choose to be with mom if you could."
His dad let go of him and sat back. "Now Laes, you and I both know if I left you right now she'd hit me for it, probably more than once. She loves us both and I'm sure she's happy we're here together."
"You're probably right about that," Laes agreed, and he glanced over at the cot nearest to him. It looked a little bare."So… is that one mine?"
"Ah yeah… hang on I owe you a blanket and a pillow," his father responded as he stood up and walked over to the other cot. "I was lying on them since the mattresses here are harder than the floor. I'd sleep on the floor but its too cold right? So yeah." he reached for the extra blanket and pillow on his caught and grabbed them both.
"Do we still have that grey mush stuff to eat…?" Laes questioned, wanting to hope but knowing he'd probably be disappointed if he did.
"Yes, twice a day," his father nodded. "That hasn't changed at all unfortunately."
Laes deflated a little. Even though he expected that answer he still felt disappointed. "We're still making ships and weapons right?"
"Yes, but no more inventing," his father replied as he passed the pillow and blanket to him. "It's all about production now. We make Gigadoomers and the new models of Spittle Runners mostly. All day. Every day." He perked up a bit. "My shift starts in a couple hours." His expression brightened. "Maybe they'll put you on my team."
"There's shifts now?" Laes asked, blinking. Just how much had changed since he'd been gone? He wasn't even gone for that long.
"Yup. Twelve hours give or take..." His father frowned thoughtfully. "Actually, just give. We don't really work less than that." He grinned. "But that's ok. It's not like we're doing anything else right now. Besides, no one is really sure if we should get used to everything because the Tallest haven't been by to officially approve the changes yet. At least that's what someone heard one of the guards muttering about the other day."
"Umm… well, now that you mention it... one of the Tallest might be dead," Laes offered.
His father shook his head and sighed. "We're going to be waiting a long time before something's finally made official then."
Laes managed to smile. His dad hadn't changed at all. He found this a bit comforting.