The Stars of Eden
Three. Planet Haven
The sky was an amazing light blue. White clouds, like long floating rivers, streaked far and wide like a painting. Large, mountainous pieces of earth, floated in mid air that spanned miles across. Rich greens and warm browns formed the tops of trees and steep hill sides. But the serene landscape held a secret. One of pain and despair. Stepping onto those floating islands, one saw the black blast marks that dug deep into the ever thinning layer of dirt. Columns of trees knocked down. The leaves of the ones still standing were withered as the water from the ponds slowly diminished. Wooden homes with roofs of leaves and mud, demolished – fallen into piles of ash and splinters.
The man leaned a foot against the base of a boulder and rested an arm on a knee. He let out a heavy sigh. The grey and white cloth wrapping his body up to his neck were like bandages as loose ends flapped in the wind. His sleek full helmet shined vibrantly in the sunlight. It was shaped like a seed that followed the point of his chin. A gust blew over the edge of the island, causing his silver cape to whip violently. He lowered his gaze to the dark yellow clouds below like how the Maker would oversee his creations. The clouds glowed vibrant for a second and darkened again. A low rumble sounded moments later. A yellow storm brews at the surface. Oh what strange contradictions this planet has. It is a mystery, a wonder of this system. How long must we batter its floating gems? They will tumble to the ground like bodies. Planet Haven gives its people the wings of flight. A land unburdened by technology. The only ones who found no need for it.
He stepped back from the island's edge and adjusted his wrist guards. He stretched his arms in front and rolled his broad shoulders back relieving the tension in his muscles. He was tall and thin, yet lean. He stood alert as an experienced warrior would. There came a soft flap of wings and then gentle thuds to the grass. He turned around.
The angelic looking woman smiled between her sharp cheekbones. Her skin was dark brown while her eyes and lips were the green of a forest. Her long black hair resembled feathers as they fluttered in the wind. She rested a palm on her cheek as her black wings, the length of her body, folded behind her.
When she spoke, it was like chimes on wind. "Well captain, I didn't realize you took the time to admire the subtle beauties of life."
His gaze returned to the landscape. Beauty is usually just a mask for what is really there. Pain.
She smiled. "My world is beautiful isn't it?"
He was silent for a moment. "It is many things Levy. How does it feel to be back home?"
"Oh no Captain Ghost." Levy chuckled. "You see, I don't consider Haven to be my home."
"Then what would you call it?"
"Hmm. A place of familiarities, reminders of lost innocence I suppose. A place where I was born, and because I grew up most of my life on Shadow, it will remain only that."
He looked to the ground. Past memories crawling into his mind and guilt grabbed him. Do you really forgive me for what I did that day Levy? Is there hate under that serene visage?
She hummed at him. "Are you falling into that pit of despair again? What happened? Did the birds look at you the wrong way? Oh Ghost, you know I can't stand you like this."
He hated that she could read him so well through his helmet. He looked back up and restored his composure. "You have news from the lines?"
"Oh," she sighed and shook her head. "I wish it were the good type of news captain. Our air support is losing over the village of Adon. Two of our Shadowcruisers have been badly damaged, they are pulling the rest of the fleet back before casualties get any higher. We're simply being outgunned." Her eyes narrowed. "They're also getting better at shooting invisible ships."
"So the only line of defense Adon has is the–"
"How long can it stand the bombardment?"
"They probably assume we gave up on the village already, so they won't waste their heavier ammunition. I'd give it a day to breach. Less so if they find the generators."
"That doesn't give us much time to regroup."
She ran a hand through her hair. "All of this war waging with Eden is making my feathers fall out," she sighed. "Adon will belong to the empire by tomorrow morning, along with all of its resources if we don't figure something out now. And I hate to make things worse, but it's my job. We intercepted an Eden transmission that hints at a spy working inside Blackstorm. If they get a hold of our cloaking schematics, then it's over. We've pretty much lost."
"They won't Levy."
She laughed. "I think that qualifies as a despairing thought. I really should spend less time around you."
"So what are we going to do captain?"
He frowned. That was the question he asked himself every day, every waking moment. His head spun in circles as battlefield strategies won and failed in countless scenarios, but no one was ever prepared for the real thing. Standing in crap is a world's difference than looking down at it. Maker show me a path. I don't even know if my decisions matter anymore. I knew my life would become the fight, that inevitable thing in the distance. But I never knew it would feel so... soulless.
She stood by his side on the edge of the cliff. "Captain?"
He slowly turned to her, cloth flapping in the wind. "Any word from our jumpy visitors?"
She shrugged. "Still jumpy. Not a peep from them. They think our system has an agenda to blow them into pieces. We can thank Eden for that. Why? Are you thinking about what I think you're thinking?"
His voice was low. "An alliance."
"We already tried that didn't we? They nearly destroyed grumpy's ship when we tried to make first contact. These aliens are on edge. If we're ever going get anywhere with this, we need to show them we aren't part of the psycho marching band. We need a peace offering."
He smiled. "I'm listening."
"Hails are a no go. Their humongous ship is badly damaged..." She paused, squinting her eyes in the distance. "How do my people ally themselves with neighbouring tribes captain?"
"I do believe the leader of one tribe removes a feather from his head, then a feather from his right wing... then a toenail and offers them to the other tribe leader."
"Tooth, not toenail."
"That explains a lot," he said rubbing his chin.
"I have an idea Ghost and you probably won't like it."
"Not here. We'll talk back at command." She brushed her hair back with both hands. "I know you like jumping around mountain tops captain, but please hurry? We don't have a lot of time to work with."
He crossed his arms. "I'll try not to get carried away."
Her grin was smug, and she turned from him.
"Before you go Levy. What did the commander have to say?"
She shook her head. "Cautious sums it up. He doesn't think it's a good idea to get distracted by the alien ship. I agreed with him, but since I had the time to think about it... well now I'm going to have to say I disagree. Oh he isn't going to like this one."
He's treating this rebellion like a toppled turtle. It's going to end us. Captain Ghost slowly nodded and returned his gaze to the floating mountains.
In a swift motion, her wings expanded to her sides and she jumped from the edge. She was graceful as she glided down, then sharply ascended high above him and over a mountain peak. She was gone. His gaze moved to the sun. It was making its decent from the highest point. Midday. Then we prepare and stand against Eden in darkness. May Nightrun's fist protect us. Thunder boomed from the planet's surface and a flock of birds broke through the tops of trees.
. . .
The ember chamber, proudly named by its builders, was a subsection of the engineering bay that controlled and regulated energy flow from the main power reactor to the rest of the ship. For months, it had been an area of conflict and frustration. Many workers, including the hot blooded variety, would find themselves groaning and asking each other, "Whose turn is it to go down to the asshole of the ship?" Lights shutting off, consoles overheating, automatically sliding doors not automatically sliding open, temperature fluctuations. Whatever the reason was to go down to the ember chamber, there was a sure bet there was going to be a line up. Everyone knew that you had more chance getting your problem solved going down there yourself rather than complaining over the com. Well, simply because the main engineer had turned the chamber com off.
"Confounding piece of molten dung! If you don't work after I replace your power coil for the seventh damned time, Maker knows what I'm going to do to you!"
"Cinder, what are you babbling on about?" The insect antlers on his blue head bent backwards. "I have an entire shield system that needs testing and I can't do anything if it's getting no power."
"Who? What now?" The Ice worker sighed and crossed his arms at the unsurprising response. "Oh yes. I'll be right with you." Cinder tossed an arm. "As soon as I'm finished with the other one hundred and fifty requests that came before yours. So wait in line like the others. Or would you rather something like life support shutdown?" He chuckled. "At least all of us suffocating to death would finally bring me some peace and quiet."
"I wouldn't put it past you."
Ignoring the remark, Cinder looked past the worker standing in the entrance way and saw a mob forming behind him, all obviously needing to fix problems on different parts of the ship. A grey robed figure was amongst them. He had never seen such intricate patterns belonging to any of the world cultures before. He tried to get a look at his face, but there were just too many people. You'd think I was the only damn competent engineer on this vessel. Where is that Char? He's gone from disappearing for a few hours, to not showing up for his entire shift. Off probably getting drunk again. It's the last torch with that fool.
Pushing through the mob, a Fire engineer poked his head through the open entrance.
"Cinder, I've finished repairs on the relays on deck five."
"Music to my ears."
"But... there's an issue with–"
Cinder raised a hand to silence him. "Nevermind. I can't get anything done when I'm being badgered every waking moment." He stood up from his crouched position. "Okay! Everyone. Out!"
Slowly walking forward, he started shooing the mob out of engineering.
"So sorry!" Cinder smiled. "But you'll have to come back some other time that is a long time from now!"
"I'm reporting you to Graveheart for this!" the Ice worker yelled as the doors closed in his face.
Cinder let out a relieved sigh and wrapped a hand around his neck. The Fire engineer who had just spoken with him was moving to leave too.
"Hold on." Cinder grabbed his shoulder. "Do me a favour? Find out where Char is and drag his carcass over here." He turned to face the power core and crossed his arms. "I hate to admit it, but he's the only one who knows how to operate that thing as well as I do."
The engineer raised a brow. "Where am I supposed to start looking? I haven't seen him show up for his shift in three days."
"I don't care if you have to look in every single bar on every single battle moon. Find Char before this ship combusts into space matter."
"Hm. Fine. But this isn't a favour. You owe me a week's worth of food rations for this." He turned away and grumbled something to himself. Once he left through the doors, Cinder was completely alone.
He rubbed his soar arms and reached to massage his aching back. Despite his dislike for half the people on the ship, a part of him understood what Graveheart had said before. About why it was important to build this ship. It was also a sure way to show off Fire's engineering abilities as undoubtedly the best in the system. He slowly walked to the ember chamber to carry on where he left off.
Well, at least I have another humorous story to tell my nephew today. Your all-powerful uncle, used his commanding status to vacate the engineering bay. That rock hound's going to give me an earful for this one. He picked up a scanning tool and probed the electric panel. It's all about finding the small things in life to enjoy.
The engineering bay doors slid open behind him.
"You'll have to come back during hours of operation, which I plan on nailing to that door very soon!" Cinder chucked softly to himself. Wait didn't I lock that?
The voice came as a calm, low rumble. "We are Forsaken."
Cinder's smile faded as the words echoed against the metal walls as wind would blow through a tunnel. He frowned to himself, turned off by the slight chill that vibrated under his charcoal. He could not place the native tongue. As he faced the person, his eyes widened in recognition. It was the same grey robbed figure he had seen in the mob earlier. A hood protected sight of his face, but he could still make out glowing blue eyes. As the figure stared at him, a sorrowful feeling inside of Cinder started to grow, taking him whole. It was powerful. Vengeful. The figure reached inside of his sleeve and pulled out a small silver sphere. He lobbed it forward and the moment it hit the ground, a flash of red light engulfed the chamber. Cinder felt his consciousness slip away and he toppled over.
. . .
The large, disk shaped craft slowly rolled to a vertical position so it could join with one of the docking ports. As Graveheart gazed at the Aurora through the viewport on the bridge, he was reminded of just how massive the new flagship had become. Less than a year ago, it was just a skeleton of a ship, a bunch of connected panels joined in space. A typical star ship would only be half built by now, but with the combined efforts of all the worlds, this one was nearly complete. The whole thing was unprecedented, and Graveheart got the feeling that its engineers were too busy to fully appreciate it.
A bridge officer turned to him. "Locking clamps are malfunctioning."
"That's fine. Just tell our people in the docking bay to do it manually."
Surroundings gently shook as the Aurora connected. Graveheart grinned to himself. After many days of hard work, he was looking forward to spending time with old friends. Nevermind what the topic of discussion was going to be.
Graveheart turned a corner and saw the back end of a stumpy, green finned creature. His entire body waddled side to side with each step as his tail swept the ground. Graveheart's eyes narrowed and he grinned slightly. He walked up behind the man of Bone and slapped a hand on his squishy head.
"HEY!" Femur jumped back with raised fists, his shoulder gun took aim. His large red eyes blinked as he recognized the tall man before him. Graveheart predicted that reaction perfectly. Femur was still frowning. "Don't do that. I nearly blew your freaking head off."
Femur gave him a sideways glare, and they continued walking down the corridor.
"Can never be too careful. Sternum's been planning something painful for me, I can feel it."
"Yeah. I get the feeling he'd rather see you as a paranoid mess, rather than – well, dead."
An approaching figure caught his attention. His hips swayed side to side and his hands were raised as if carrying a basket.
"Hello hello hello." Pelvis raised a subtle brow at Graveheart. "My aren't we looking well toned this evening."
"Pelvis." Femur placed a hand on his hip. "What are you doing here?"
"Isn't it obvious? My dear friends Cryos, Tekla and princess Zera have come back from a long and arduous journey. I simply wish to welcome them home."
Femur didn't look convinced. Graveheart rubbed his chin.
"Shouldn't you be back on Bone scrubbing that throne chair to a shine for my dear brother?" Femur crossed his arms.
"Yeeas... well. I've grown tired of doing his house cleaning." He spread out all of his fingers in front of him. "My hands weren't made for such cruelty." A finger touched his lip. "At least when you were emperor, I was always more involved in pressing matters."
"Uh huh. Realizing this now are you?"
There came a low rumbling sound, which quickly got louder as it echoed through the corridor.
"Woah! Look out! I can't –"
Pelvis turned around and made a high pitched squeal as he tried to shield himself from the fiery blur. The speeding object collided with him, knocking him on his back.
Shaking his head from dizziness, Pyrus got to his feet. "Oops. I really thought I got that breaking mechanism fixed."
Pelvis sat up, eyes rolling in his sockets. He gave Pyrus an annoyed glare.
Pyrus drew attention to the glowing red board floating under his feet. It was small, just a bit longer than the width of his shoulders, shaped like a single flame of fire. He smiled at everyone, placed one foot down from it and crossed his arms.
"Pretty neat huh?"
"Certainly gets you where you need to go in a hurry," Graveheart said. "You made it yourself?"
"Sure did. So what's going on? Ah shoot, did I miss the meeting?"
"Nope, you're just in time kid," Femur said. He paused and glanced at Graveheart. "What's this about anyway? I mean, I know there were some ships, boom boom bang, someone died, Tekla finds out she has relatives. Did I miss anything?"
"Who knows what she must be going through," muttered Pyrus.
Pelvis swept the back of his hand to his forehead. "Such unimaginable sorrow. Oh, how I weep for her!"
Graveheart raised a brow. "Yes, it's possible a number of Tek people survived the destruction of their planet somewhere on the other side of a worm hole. We're hoping to figure out just how we're going to get through it and bring her people back. I'm pretty sure none of our worlds have encountered a stable one, so we won't know how to get safely through it. Tekla's knowledge will be needed here. There's also some hostiles involved. No surprise there."
"So ah," Femur scratched his head. "We all rush through the worm hole, get crushed into oblivion. Am I the only person seeing the problem here?"
"I know it's a risk Femur," Pyrus said. "But she risked her life to save our planets from the Beast, don't you think we owe it to her to try?"
Femur sighed and shook his head. Graveheart grinned to himself, knowing Femur just let his argument fall for the sake of the kid's moral integrity.
Footsteps against the metal floor neared the group and everyone looked down the corridor.
"I don't recall Lord Mantel being on his feet this often. All of this running around is really working my calves." A pleasant smirk drew on Jade's expression.
"Jade." Graveheart rubbed the back of his hair. "Our baby boy keeping you busy?"
"Hmm.. not as much as baby girl I presume."
"Well, girls always need more attention."
Pyrus looked back and forth between them with a baffled expression. The others did the same.
Femur frowned. "I wasn't even gone that long! See what happens when I'm not around to get in the way of you two?"
Jade rubbed her forehead allowing her day's stresses to show. "A few more of the mining drills broke. Explain to me again why we decided to use a moon that has thirty times the density of the other battle moons?"
Graveheart rubbed his cheek. "Stronger? Less likely to explode in a fire fight? I also recall it was you who said that."
"True. But I only went forward with it because you agreed to it."
"So it's my fault naturally."
She smiled. "Naturally."
Graveheart shook his head. "Well, latest bad news on this side. Cinder locked himself in the engineering room. Ice and Fire are basically incommunicado."
Pelvis scratched his nose. "Ohhh... metaphors. Pooey. And I was looking forward to seeing the little ones."
"Let me talk to Cinder Graveheart," Pyrus said, "he's a little short for patience even with me, but maybe I can talk a little sense into him."
Graveheart's nod was interrupted by a deafening siren that filled the corridors. The walkway lights flashed red. Someone yelled through the global com.
"*KKRRR* EXPLOSION DETECTED IN THE ENGINEERING BAY! LIFE SUPPORT IS FAILING! *KKRRR*"
Adrenaline kicked into Graveheart. This was no mechanical malfunction. Something was seriously wrong. An explosion in the engineering bay meant the warp coils would threaten to destabilize. He quickly set his arm device to link into the global com.
"Everyone! Escape pods are still inoperable! Make your way to the Aurora docked in hanger ten! Senior engineers to the engineering bay!" He adjusted his com. "Cryos! Problems!"
Cryos' voice came through. "I've detected some energy spikes. What's going on over there?"
Jade pushed Pyrus, Femur and Pelvis forward. "Go! Before this hallway bottlenecks!"
"But Cinder might still be trapped in there!" Pyrus shouted.
"Cryos we're losing life support. You're going to have to take my entire crew," said Graveheart.
"I was looking forward to a welcome back party. Not exactly what I had in mind. Don't worry, I've got you covered my friend. Cryos out."
"Jade go with them."
She frowned at Graveheart. "And where do you think you're going?"
"To keep her from blowing apart."
"I can be of use."
"I know." He held her arms. "But I need you safe."
She blinked a few times as her gaze fell into his eyes. He didn't want to say anymore because he knew she would argue. Leaving her standing there, he turned and ran.