Updated: Dec 31, 2019
RAVAGERS ACROSS A STARRY SKY
LASER FIRE REVERBERATED thunderously through the white-walled corridor.
Accompanying this was the sound of pounding feet against the white-paneled encasing which made up the walls, floor, and ceiling of the star station. Jotham, a chief investigator into suspect matters and occurrences in the Sector of Arethalia, was host to one of those pairs of feet. Alongside him, Ziragen, his cadet, also hastened for the exit a little ways ahead of them. It would lead them to the landing pad of the star station, where their ship was docked and primed for a quick getaway.
There was a small chance that Ziragen had forgotten Jotham’s previous instructions and had not left the ship set as a compulsory bolt for freedom, just in case they happened to run into any kind of trouble.
Which they had.
That was not to be unexpected. Retrospectively, they knew that it was likely they would run into some trouble. It was hard to dismiss this possibility when one attempted to thieve important documents from one of the most powerful beings in the Cosmos. Moreover, trouble of some kind always seemed to be afoot when Jotham and Ziragen were involved in some capacity.
Back to business, thought Jotham.
Avoid (if practical, of course) getting blasted to pieces.
Put considerable distance between them and us.
By ‘them’ he meant, of course, the Rectoniers––specially trained guards who were in charge of guarding things (and in some rare instances, people) from being examined by other, interested persons. Which happened to also explain why Jotham and his cadet were being chased by a bunch of mad psychopaths who had come to the understanding just moments ago, that they had been had. And quite easily, at that.
They hadn’t been really happy about that, but then again, they weren’t expected to be.
“Zir!” shouted Jotham over his shoulder. Ziragen looked up and flashed him a smile, in the process, displaying a mouth full of pristine white teeth. Jotham ignored his usual show of atypical cheerfulness. “Once we reach the Landing Hangar, get yourself in the Flak Seat and make sure none try and make chase while I work on getting us out of here!”
“Sure thing,” said Ziragen, flashing another grin.
Thundering starships, is there ever a time when his spirits aren’t hightailing it in some degree of elation or another?
“Duck! One’s coming in from the rear and crossing at your right,” came Ziragen’s overly-calm voice over the emphatic din.
Ziragen, of course, didn’t mean that a duck was veering towards Jotham from his right. He meant that a blast of scorching-hot plasma was on the point of smoking a hole through his side, which would then render Jotham quite dead. Ziragen had an uncanny ability to sense when things might occur before they had even transpired. That was, in some part, what had interested Jotham so much in him in the first place.
Of course, if one expended one’s thought upon the matter for any short period of time, that was an ability that would be quite handy to have lying around.
So he ducked. Immediately, a blast of hot air seared past him, just where his head had been.
“That’s eight,” came Ziragen’s voice from behind him. Jotham didn’t turn to look, but he knew that a grin was splitting Ziragen’s face from ear to ear.
“You forgot that I still lead you by one,” he replied cooly. “Nine times have I saved your life, compared to your paltry eight.”
“Irrefutably so, but soon I will have the mastery, in part due to the advantage of my youth, Master Guru. You are only going to get older, while I will indubitably prevail as I blossom in the flower of my youth.”
Jotham could only roll his eyes. Ziragen knew full well how it annoyed him so when he took the liberty to call him that. Master Guru, indeed!
“Ready yourself, Ziragen, we approach our destination,” he said, turning a deaf ear to Ziragen’s meandering words. Responding contemporaneously to his own order, Jotham clenched his hand into a fist, impressing upon the button that would actuate the protective face visor to unfold over his face. Straightaway, his surroundings were profoundly transformed and visualized to the highest degree––by means of the visor’s self-enacted lens, which allowed him to see and perceive things or people in a much more introspective way than he could have otherwise done.
Before them, a vaulted black door loomed, stark against the all-encompassing white walls that ran abutted to it. It was, of course, bolted shut and made of pure steel––no amount of pushing or hammering on their part could possibly be contrived to make it passable.
Be that as it may, Jotham was unworried. He was always prepared for any obstreperous event that might venture to arise. In conjunction with his long strides, he slipped a hand into his coat and pulled out small time-bomb. With effortless ease, he flipped the switch, thus activating it. The seconds began to tick away.
The dark-clothed Rectoniers were gaining on them now. Jotham could hear their breath.
Blaster fire swished dangerously close to his side, burning through a part of his cloak.
“Now might be an appropriate time, Master Jotham!” said Ziragen, tenuous consternation laced in an undercurrent through his voice.
They were just several yards away from the barricade and hurtling towards it fast.
Jotham tossed it in an underhanded motion. It hit the door and detonated simultaneously, inducing the door to burst asunder in a powerful blast of vaporous red light. The burnished metal that still remained attached to the frame curled back from the severe heat, allowing Jotham enough room to leap through without mutilating himself. Ziragen followed right behind him.
Incomparable timing, thought Jotham to himself.
Having cleared the doorway, they burst onto the Landing Hangar and sped towards the ship, which sat, engine running idly, just some yards away.
Blast! thought Jotham. “What did I tell you about leaving the engine running idly, as all the while, our fuel burns away into irreplaceable nothingness?! Where in Herald’s Spire, do you believe this stuff grows on? Most certainly not out of a nullity! Thrice-blast it! Now, in addition to potential pursuers, we’re also low on fuel, due in part, to your seeming ineptitude. The former could engender any number of problems! We certainly don’t need a second complication pervading the already-clouded waters.”
Jotham spared a glare back at Ziragen, whom he saw frowning to himself. Well, that’s most agreeably a rare sight.
“You said to keep it going, in case we were compelled to get going fast.”
“I said to leave it in such a condition, so that might actually have a chance at absconding ourselves at any due minute at which we might so choose, not keep the blasted engine running! For once wouldn’t it help if yo––”
He was cut off by a massive explosion behind him. Glancing back over his right shoulder, he saw that he had been close to being hit. Too close.
“Never mind!” he shouted over the vibrant array of objects exploding and shells imploding. “Let’s get out of here before we get torqued!”
“Reaching the ship, Jotham slammed his hand down on the small box that protruded from the ship’s side, causing the hatch to slide open. Making a mad dash to the Pilot’s seat, he leapt into it and prepared to take off. Behind him, he heard Ziragen run into the ‘Flak Chamber,’ as they so called it. He would be lining up the big guns.
Adjusting his headset and pushing his dark, semi-long hair out of his eyes, Jotham pulled on the throttle, prompting the engines to roar with new fervor. Pulling back on a lever at his side, the ship began to slowly rise from the landing dock.
“You on it?!” he shouted into his mike.
“Yep, targets lined up, guns ready. Let’s burn this gas!”
Certainly easy for him to say.
The ship swiveled around smoothly in the air, as Jotham prepped it for takeoff. In direct unison, he caught the sound Ziragen’s whoops fill his ear and the sudden spattering of laser fire, as he went to work at impeding their pursuers from giving chase to them. Outside, he could hear a resounding chorus of shouts and cries, as their belligerent adversaries were blasted into oblivion.
Then, “Oops,” said Ziragen in his ear. “Too soon. They’re alerted, and a small assortment is heading in the direction of the other ships in the hanger. They’re gonna try and blast us to bits in the air. They must want those plans we purloined off ‘em something desperate.”
If he only knew, though Jotham. Lord Cadmus would not be happy in the slightest if news of his most recent ‘endeavors’ managed to reach the ears of the Galactic Council. He was on thin ice as it was. Jotham hoped that with this particular piece of evidence, he might be able to incriminate him in front of the Head Sovereigns and have his tyrannical regime dealt with once and for all. Besides him being a viable existential threat to the entire galaxy, Jotham had other reasons of his own. Personal reasons. Something most other people wouldn’t understand.
“We’ve got to shoot them down before they get in the air!” He shouted over his shoulder. “We can risk letting them follow us, especially when we’re this low on fuel!” The fuel gauge showed that they had 27% left in the reserves. Looking in his mirrors, Jotham sighted their opponents and steered the ship closer to them.
“I’m getting you into position,” he said. “Gun ‘em down!”
The resonance of laser fire again filled his ears. Looking through his window, which commanded a view of the entire scene, he saw it tearing through the line of ships that rested on the pad. Brilliant explosions of white, orange, and red plumed forth in the air below them, as ship after ship was blown up.
“Ye––!” Ziragen’s whoop was cut short as a bolt of red fire impacted the side of the ship, engendering a purposive aperture through which now gushed bitingly cold air.
Blast! thought Jotham. I forgot to put up the shields! Of all the lame-brained things I could have forgotten…
“Shields, Master Guru, the shields. They’re kinda important, you know,” came Ziragen’s mildly calm voice through his earpiece. “They designed specifically to protect us from hawkish intrusions, such as that annoying missile that just––”
Jotham didn’t have time for Ziragen’s uncensored elucidation. “Yes, I know! Cease with the pointlessly incessant commentary; you’re merely serving to be a distraction, not a help.”
“Just a reminder, Master Jotham.” Jotham could practically hear Ziragen’s all but assured smile in his voice.
“Sibrai, I need the shields, and I need that orifice sealed up now!” said Jotham. A shimmering blue apparition appeared at his right. A head nodded in compliance in concurrence with a feminine repose.
“Yes, Master Jotham.”
Immediately, a blue haze materialized around the entire ship, before coruscating into obscurity.
“Shield is up,” grunted Jotham.
“So I’ve noticed.”
“For once, you’re short on words. A blissful wonder that is.”
“Actually, I was just going to tell you that several Rectoniers have managed to put up their shields, while I was busy obliterating their friends and are in currently in the process of attempting to blast us into oblivion.”
At that moment, small red fires appeared on one of Jotham’s screens, as if to just prove the verity of Ziragen’s words. In his mirrors, Jotham could see several ships rising into the air, guns leveling at them.
“Abort!” said Jotham. “We’ll lose them in space.”
“And if we can’t before…?”
Jotham paused momentarily, then said, “We find somewhere secluded to land on a nearby planet.” If we don’t run out of fuel first, he thought.
Several pulls here, a couple pushes there, and the ship shot into space, engines roaring and fires burning. Darkness blanketed all that rose into the depths of its ever-pervading firmament, and thousands of stars shimmered brightly, their celestial forms like twinkling lights in a sea of the purest blue.
Such a beautiful sight. Even in his forty-five plus years, Jotham was still thrilled by the sight of them. Ziragen didn’t understand this feeling. At nineteen years in the world, he was still cocky, wayward, and thought himself on top of the world, even when he was being pursued by mad alien-freaks whose sole intent was to wipe his pathetic life-form off the face of the universe.
His thoughts were broken by Ziragen’s warning voice. “We’re trailed by six fighters, although one seems to be having trouble with his shields and is wobbling about haphazardly. It might be one that I previously hit, but didn’t entirely knock out all the way.
“Blast it out of the sky.”
“Okay, locked on.” A deafening eruption sounded through the air and Jotham promptly sensed shock waves rolling against their ship’s sheeny exterior: clear and convincing evidence that Ziragen had done just that.
One down, five to go. And the five remaining weren’t phased a bit: they continued to persist in their condemning opprobrium, bombarding the ship again and again. That such small ships can inflict so much damage…
“What is their problem?!!” Jotham grimaced as Ziragen’s voice rattled forcibly through his ear.
Ignoring lingering vestiges of Ziragen’s exasperation that so chose to bear through his voice, Jotham said, “Sibrai, how much damage have the shields sustained?”
The selfsame shimmering figure appeared before him again. “My data says that we are down to an overall capacity of 56% At the rate we’re dropping, and if we proceed to maintain this deluge of torrential bombardment, we have precisely ten minutes before we reach a level of 0%. At that point, we will likely be smattered into a million pieces and cease to exist.”
“So, in other words, it speaks volumes.”
“Yes, Master Jotham, that would be an accurate description. It certainly is decorous that you have been privileged with the capability to comprehend your own fate.” Great, now his artificial intelligence was speaking in snide undertones to him.
“They’re gaining on us.” Ziragen’s voice had taken on a clipped edge. Jotham sharply pivoted his attention from the A.I. back to the former.
“Fire! Break down their shields! You want me to do it for you?!”
“I’m trying. It’s just that they’re much smaller than they appear and they stay out of my range by darting and swerving, and it’s a lot more difficult than it looks, and I’m having trouble maintaining my patience.”
Jotham smirked. It certainly is. He wiped a hand across his brow and closed his eyes as a sudden wave of weariness overtook him. “Figure it out, Ziragen. We’re running short on time and fuel, and your ineptness isn’t helping anything either.”
For a moment there was silence and Jotham could almost visualize Ziragen contemplating the situation in his mind, brow furrowed in consternation. Then, “Requesting permission to initialize Project–038.”
Jotham smiled; he wished he had thought of that. “Permission granted. And Ziragen?”
“No crazy antics like last time.”
“You have my word, Master Guru.” The line went dead; Ziragen had taken off his headset in mind of his new undertaking.
Jotham growled in the back of his throat.
“Shields down to 29%” interrupted Sibrai. Already? “Our fuel reserves are also down to 14% My readings advise that we find a place to land, as soon as can be possible.” Wonderful.
“Working on that,” he said. “Sibrai, what planets in this sector can we conceivably land on, before we run out of fuel?”
“Ashkelon is the nearest planetoid we can conceivably land on, Master Jotham.”
Jotham squinted at the readings on his dashboard. “Uhh…does there happen to be any other planet besides Ashkelon?” He did not wish to debark on Ashkelon if he could help it, as it happened to be home to Cadmus, who was said to keep a strong guard against all who would have the temerity to cross the threshold of his domain.
“I’m sorry, Master Jotham. Ashkelon is the only one available to us from where we are currently situated. I suggest taking action in a most punctual function as you can enable yourself to do. Would you like me to set a course to Ashkelon?”
Jotham sighed inwardly. Fine. “Please do.”
“Ok, the tripod is set up, and we are ready to rock and roll,” said Ziragen into his ear.
“Alright, I’m opening the hatchway. And remember what I said about no crazy antics.”
“I remember,” came Ziragen’s nettled voice.
“Good. Let’s do this.”
There was a sudden rush of air behind him as he opened the hatchway. A thunderous BOOM! filled the air and in his rearview mirrors, Jotham caught sight of a massive plume of smoke, balloon into a mushroom cloud behind them.
“Hah-hah! Got them suckers good!”
The smoke, however, was wafting in both directions. Jotham’s eyes began to water, and he coughed. “Hey! Watch where you point that thing!” he snarled.
As well you should be.
“That should hold them for now,” said Ziragen. “Close the hatchway and let’s get out of here, while we have a distinctive chance in our sights.”
“Fuel level down to 10%,” announced Sibrai.
Yup, that’s a problem.
Ziragen appeared beside him and slipped into the copilot’s seat. “We fully disperse of them?” he asked.
Jotham eyed his mirrors. The mushroom cloud of inky grey was getting farther and farther away. As of yet, nothing had emerged from it. “Yes. It appears as if we outmaneuvered them. It might take them a while to find their way out of your elliptic fog.”
“Right on!” Then Ziragen saw the coordinates for their destination. “Ashkelon?! Why in all of Arethraelia are we landing there?!” Before, them Ashkelon rose into view. A red, featureless-seeming wasteland, it was patterned by craters and the red rock that was so inherent to its natural makeup. Jotham took some time before answering.
“That is due, in part––actually, now that I think of it, completely due––to you inattentively leaving our engine running, when I clearly told you to do the exact opposite of said action.”
“Ah…sorry about that.”
“I’m sure you are.”
They were drawing close now. Very close. Jotham began to ease back on the throttle now, as their descent became imminent.
“Fuel level has reached 6%.”
Jotham ignored Sibrai’s monotone of a voice and instead focused on the task at hand: alighting safely upon Ashkelon’s surface as covertly as possible. Ashkelon’s facade drew closer and closer.
“500 feet from the surface level,” Sibrai intoned.
Jotham eased up even more on the throttle and tried to quiet the engines as much as he dared. The least-clamorous entrance they made, the better.
“100 feet from the surface level.”
The atmosphere, which consisted of a dark, hazy murk of yellow-tainted clouds, inlaid with streaks of swirling black, seemed to push in on them from all around, thick and oppressive.
As Sibrai informed them that they were currently 10 feet from the surface level, Jotham turned to Ziragen. “Now, let’s hope we can do this without being apprehended by Cadmus’s cronies. Next time, take care to listen to everything I say, so that we can avoid placing ourselves in situations such as this and hopefully, not entangle ourselves in––”
At that instant, there was a loud thump against the ship’s side, and Jotham’s head slammed forward into the control panel, causing a shower of sparks to spray upwards.
“Shield’s integrity compromised. A capsize of the ship’s external structures is imminent,” said Sibrai. The warning alarm began to ring.
Jotham had just enough time to realize that the ship had been hit with an exceptionally-powerful force when it was rocked again. Instead of falling forward this time, Jotham snapped backwards, the only thing keeping him in his seat being his seatbelt. At the same time, Ziragen cried out in pain.
Disoriented and momentarily having lost his bearings, Jotham instinctively reached down to his hip for his blaster. With a loud, creaky strain, the ship upended itself and then nosedived into the ground. All around them, glass shattered as someplace, somewhere, an aperture was made in one of the windows.
The ship was close enough to the surface that it didn’t jar as much as it might have in other circumstances, but it still managed to send a vibrating and painful jolt down Jotham’s body. Upon impact, the fuselage cracked and seemed to fracture with the resound and reverberation of a massive thunder roll. Jotham undid his seatbelt, at the same time coughing from the thick, putrid smoke now wafting in his direction.
Then, the ship simply split.
It literally split in two. From top to bottom, it cracked and splintered, and the dusky smog-infested sky appeared overhead, growing wider as an ever-widening fissure ran down its side with a torrential outburst.
Jotham stumbled at the jarring impact and then went flying forward, the ship rolling over on its side. Coughing, choking on the foul air and bleeding in a thousand places, Jotham half-ran, half-staggered through a large breach in the ship’s side.
He couldn’t see Ziragen, didn’t know where he was. Yanking himself out of the way of a piece of falling debris that very nearly impaled him, he began to crawl his way to a clump of ragged and sickly bushes that jutted out of the uneven landscape. Wreckage was flying everywhere, and the smoke was growing by the second.
Having made his way safely to the bushes where he could not be seen, he turned about and looked at the ship in sudden, mounting shock. He stared in ever-growing horror as the grasping knowledge finally told hold of him and he realized what was truly happening: someone or something was pulling the ship apart.
Then, as he watched from afar, the ship stopped shaking.
In the haze, a figure descended. The figure was clad in scarlet, the very hue of fire itself, and it landed on the ground with another resounding BOOM. Straightening, the figure strode with authority and purpose to the dismembered ship, a flowing black cape whipping in the wind behind him.
Jotham swallowed. The insignia that was emblazoned on the back of the cape was that of Cadmus.
Like a specter of the night, the figure disappeared into one of the many gaping apertures that had been created during the ship’s demolition.
Moments later, he appeared, hauling some unknown thing out of the burning wreckage. With his face turned towards him, Jotham got a good look at their adversary’s features. If it weren’t for the dark red eyes that glared out from the figure’s head, he would have sworn that he was human.
The figure turned away, and Jotham got an even better look at what it was that he was dragging with him: Ziragen. Upon this, he froze.
Ziragen had the plans.
The figure wasted no time. Without pausing to look for anyone else who might have been onboard, he vaulted into the air, disappearing into the dusky night.
It took some time for Jotham to process everything that had just happened, and realize at the same time that he was stranded.
Not only that––but without Ziragen or the plans.
There was only one thing he could do now. Quickly, he reached inside one of his pockets and pulled out a circular, orb-shaped object. He eyed it for a moment, then, making his decision, pressed down on the red button in the middle. Immediately, a small flickering of blue lights blinked in and out twice, assuring him that the signal had been sent.
Satisfied, he put it back and began to plan out his next move.