Dar rolled over in bed. The delicate scent of Softsuckle flowers reached his nose. Wait a minute, he thought, opening his eyes and realizing there was a blonde head of hair occupying the pillow next to him. Okay, too freaky, he mused, remembering that his mother wore Softsuckle in her hair nearly every day. No, not his mother lying next to him, but the other woman in his life: his chosen mate, Princess Parnela Vischof.
|Space, Book 3|
He glanced up and saw the stars streaking by. The Marsuian vibrated gently, a feeling that always soothed Darâ€™s restless heart. He wondered how long heâ€™d been asleep. When he left Kruelis, he was in bad shape. The chemicals in his body had gone crazy, poisoning him because he could not satisfy his true love for Parnela. Thinking he'd die, Dar wanted to return to the Marsuian. Heâ€™d left Schmuff instructions for his burial, if needed, and given the Nouian command of the ship.
Fortunately, Parnela changed all that. Sheâ€™d forsaken her mother, Queen Vission, and ran off with Dar, her true love. Now, all seemed right in his life again. He had a female in which to share his love, his ship, and the stars he called home. He only hoped his mother would approve of his mate. Dar was confident she would, if she were still alive.
Parnela rolled over. â€œDar?â€
â€œHow do you feel?â€
He wrapped his arms around her. â€œFine. How long was I out this time?â€ He groaned. â€œThis seems to be an unfortunate occurrence with me.â€
She giggled. â€œOver a week. I was so worried about you.â€
â€œYou werenâ€™t the only one worried. I figured Iâ€™d died.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know how you got us back to the ship, but after we landed, you passed out. Schmuff helped me get you to bed.â€
â€œIf I passed out, how am I still alive? I should be dead.â€
â€œI managed to get some Mind Blow in you, and you came around long enough for us to join.â€
Dar caressed her shoulder. â€œWe did?â€ He furrowed his brow ridges. â€œI donâ€™t remember.â€
â€œYeah, and I guess that was enough to save you.â€
He rubbed his face. â€œI feel bad for not remembering a joining with the love of my life.â€
â€œItâ€™s okay. You were really ill.â€
â€œStillâ€¦Thank you.â€ Dar leaned over and kissed her cheek.
â€œI love you too much to let you die. I stayed right here. Schmuff brought me food and drink.â€ She wiggled from his grasp and got up, heading to the bathroom. The princess paused at the door. â€œAnd we dropped Aggalith and Emelith on Thokinâ€”theyâ€™re doing just fine.â€
Dar smiled slightly, seeing her naked body. â€œI wish I couldâ€™ve said good-bye.â€
â€œIâ€™m sure youâ€™ll see them again; you always have shipments going there.â€
There was a knock on the door. â€œYes?â€ he called.
The door opened and Schmuff poked his head inside. â€œKaptaw?â€
â€œHello, my friend.â€ He beckoned his furry little engineer. â€œI hear youâ€™ve been taking good care of the princess.â€
â€œGa, Eg dok.â€
â€œThank you,â€ Dar said softly, sitting up.
â€œPrigness kndon lef je.â€
â€œShe never left me, huh?â€
â€œAre we on course for Erotis?â€
â€œGa, je tegâ€™di mekka tek.â€
Dar ran his fingers through his hair. â€œI donâ€™t remember telling you that, but thanks.â€ He tried to recall the last time heâ€™d seen his mother. He couldnâ€™t. It had been far longer than heâ€™d wanted, but life had been interrupted by slavery and an epic war between planets.
â€œJe tegâ€™di mekka apikta je lef ikta Kruelis.â€
â€œSchmuff, I told you that before I left for Kruelis just in case I made it back, but died.â€
â€œNo, no, itâ€™s okay. I wanna go home and see if my mother is still there.â€
â€œO-K. Erotis ikt treg leegat yakkas.â€
â€œIâ€™m three light years from home?â€
Dar scrambled from the bed. â€œI need to get a shower and look presentable.â€
The dusty outpost of Aknarra looked even more desolate since the last time Dar saw it. The desert encroached on the small town, devouring the outermost buildings and leaving a thick coating of sand on everything. Sparse greenery dotted the landscape, only the strongest vegetation surviving the years of drought that now plagued the settlement. The town looked deserted.
As the cloud of dust settled, Dar, Parnela, and Schmuff walked down the gangplank of the shuttle. His best friend, Garnic, still worked in long-range communications. His was a welcomed voice to hear after all this time.
â€œThis is where you grew up?â€ Parnela asked.
â€œYeah. Itâ€™s not exactly the same; I guess the droughtâ€™s gone on longer than expected and more have left.â€ Dar walked along looking at all the boarded-up buildings. Even the general store where his mother worked had an â€œout of businessâ€ sign.
â€œHmm, the storeâ€™s closed. I wonder what else is gone?â€ He continued down the street, finding the Aknarra Tavern. â€œThis place is still open. Curious if Krodus is still running it.â€ Grabbing the handle, he opened the door and held it while Parnela and Schmuff entered.
Dar looked around. The inside of the tavern had changed little since the last time he was there. It was dark, dusty, and held only a few aged patrons. A familiar face gazed at him from behind the bar. â€œHello, Krodus.â€
Krodus was a formidable purebred that had made Darâ€™s early life difficult. An odd twist of fate years later brought them together as friends. â€œDar?â€
â€œBeen a few years, my friend.â€
Krodus grabbed a glass and poured Dar his customary Malikin port. â€œI wondered what happened to you. No one has seen or heard from you in years.â€
Dar sat down at the bar and took his drink. â€œWell, like you, I had a brush with slaveryâ€”although mine only lasted about six months.â€ He pointed to Parnela. â€œI would like you to meet my mate, Princess Parnela Vischof.â€
Krodus nodded and offered his hand. â€œPrincess.â€
Parnela took it. â€œHello.â€ She looked up to see the purebredâ€™s head of rich green hair. Krodus kept it reasonably short. He was probably twice the size of Dar.
â€œYouâ€™re Kruelian?â€ he asked.
â€œYes. My mother is Queen Vission.â€
â€œIâ€™m pleased to make your acquaintance. Would you like something to drink?â€
â€œOh, no thank you,â€ she replied.
Dar pointed to Schmuff. â€œAnd this is my Nouian engineer, Schmuff.â€
Krodus offered his hand to Schmuff. The engineer bared his teeth and growled.
â€œSchmuff, thatâ€™s not polite. I told you, Krodus is my friend. Be nice and shake his hand.â€
â€œGa, Kaptaw.â€ Schmuff thrust his hand at Krodus.
The big Satiren took Schmuffâ€™s hand and gently shook it. â€œI guess youâ€™ve told him about me, huh?â€
â€œWell, yeah. But he seems to have forgotten weâ€™re friends.â€ Dar took a sip of port. â€œHowâ€™s your father?â€
â€œHe died two years ago.â€
â€œOh, Iâ€™m sorry to hear that.â€
Krodus grabbed a towel and wiped the dark wooden bar counter. It wasnâ€™t dirty, but he was looking for something to do. â€œAnd Iâ€™m not sure I can keep this place going much longer. The droughtâ€™s pretty much killed off the settlement.â€
â€œWhere will you go?â€ Parnela asked.
â€œSouth. Theyâ€™ve had plenty of rain. If I have to close up shop, Iâ€™ll go to Ozbok.â€
Dar rubbed the edge of his glass. â€œI donâ€™t mean to pry, but have you found a female?â€
Krodus shook his head. â€œMaybe if I leave here; thereâ€™s none left in Aknarra.â€
â€œHave you seen or heard from my mother?â€
â€œMmm, saw her the other day, out walking the dunes.â€
He sighed softly. â€œIs she well?â€
â€œLooks it.â€ Krodus shrugged his shoulders. â€œShe was at a distance.â€
â€œDid a male ever take up with her?â€
â€œI was hoping one would after I left.â€
Krodus refilled Darâ€™s glass. â€œThereâ€™s only a handful of us here. Most have moved to Tarnig or Ozbok.â€ He shoved the cork into the bottle. â€œYou might wanna move your mother to Ozbok; thereâ€™s not much in the way of food or supplies now. The owner of the store closed and moved, taking Cogg with him.â€
â€œHow long ago was that?â€
â€œMaybe six monthsâ€¦I heard Garnic has been making sure your mother is cared for.â€
â€œHe didnâ€™t mention that when I talked to him.â€
Krodus nodded. â€œHe told me when he came in for his pint.â€
Dar tipped back his port. â€œI guess I need to make sure sheâ€™s cared for.â€ He stood. â€œThank you for your hospitality.â€
â€œThereâ€™s always a drink for you here, Dar.â€
â€œAnd if you move to Ozbok?â€
Krodus chuckled. â€œThereâ€™ll be a drink there too.â€
Dar smiled as he opened the door, ushering out Schmuff and Parnela. â€œIâ€™ll see you again, my friend.â€
Once outside, Dar made a beeline for his motherâ€™s house. Parnela and Schmuff had to walk quickly to keep up with him. â€œWhat are you going to do?â€ Parnela asked.
â€œI dunno, but I need to do something. I canâ€™t leave her here by herself.â€
â€œDo you think sheâ€™ll move?â€
â€œIf the town folds up and goes away, sheâ€™ll have to. But Iâ€™d rather get her moved before it does.â€
â€œDo you think sheâ€™d come with us? The Marsuian is quite big.â€
â€œNo. Space is not her thing. Sheâ€™s lived here all her life, and Iâ€™m hoping sheâ€™s got enough sense to move.â€ He covered the last few yards and stopped at the door. The house was a single story building made from blocks of pressed mud and covered with a rough, stucco-like substance. It was the same color as the sand, and showed years of wear. â€œAt least I hope so.â€
Reaching up, he knocked loudly on the solid wood door. It was several moments before it was answered. Denrika stood peering out at him. Her once brilliant green hair was now streaked with gray, and she had quite a few deep lines and wrinkles on her face.
â€œMother,â€ Dar said softly.
Tears welled up in her eyes as she held out her arms. Without a word, he slid into them, embracing her tightly.
â€œDar! Oh, Dar!â€ she cried, her words coming out garbled. â€œI thought you were dead.â€
â€œNo, Mother, Iâ€™ve been rather busy.â€ He slid from her arms. â€œI wonâ€™t scare you with everything bad thatâ€™s happened to me in the last years, but I do have happy news.â€
Denrika dried her eyes. â€œWhat?â€
Dar put his arm around Parnela. â€œIâ€™d like you to meet Princess Parnela Vischof, my mate.â€
â€œMate?! Oh, Dar, how wonderful!â€ She started crying again. â€œAny younglings?â€
He laughed. â€œNo, not yet.â€
Denrika looked at Parnela. â€œThey will be beautiful younglings!â€
â€œUmm, yes, Mother.â€ His cheeks flushed.
â€œPlease, please, come in.â€ She held the door wide for them. They entered, and Dar led the way to the living room. Everything was how he remembered. Not a single new piece of furniture graced the tired old house; the area rug on the floor was threadbare. He felt like he was thrown into a time warp. Part of him felt good to be back in familiar territory, the other part knew Denrika couldnâ€™t stay there.
Standing in the center, Dar regarded Denrika. â€œMother? Why are you still here?â€
She settled into her favorite blue overstuffed chair. â€œIâ€™m here because this is my home.â€
â€œI see the store is closed. Krodus told me they left six months ago.â€
â€œYes, itâ€™s been a bit difficult.â€
â€œAnd he said Garnic is helping you.â€
â€œHeâ€™s a good neighbor; he brings me things.â€
Dar growled lowly. â€œMother, why didnâ€™t you move to Tarnig or Ozbok? Aknarra is dead.â€
â€œThis is my home.â€ She fiddled with her fingers. â€œAnd I knew if you ever came home, youâ€™d look for me here.â€
â€œYou couldâ€™ve left a noteâ€¦You canâ€™t continue to live here; everyone is leaving. Krodus is probably gonna close the tavern, and itâ€™s only a matter of time before Erotin long-range communications will move as well. I donâ€™t think the drought will end.â€
â€œDar?â€ Parnela said softly.
â€œYou have the Plexus; canâ€™t you do something?â€
He shook his head. â€œNo. Erotis is fine. Thereâ€™re other places not in drought. Itâ€™s just a matter of moving to a settlement with water. Aknarra has very deep wells, but not enough to sustain crops.â€
Denrika started to cry. â€œI donâ€™t want to leave my home, Dar; my memories are all here.â€
Kneeling in front of her, Dar took her hands. â€œMother, we may have memories of this place, but all of them are in our hearts.â€
â€œIf I move, where will I live?â€
He leaned and kissed her hands. â€œAnywhere you want. I have plenty of drig to buy you a new house.â€
â€œYou would do that for me?â€
â€œOf course! You need only say the words and Iâ€™ll whisk you away from this dusty outpost and put you in a nice new home where youâ€™ll never have to worry about a thing.â€ Dar stood and walked around. â€œMother, I worry about you. I worry that youâ€™re here all alone and thereâ€™s more leaving the settlement every day. Iâ€™d feel better if youâ€™d move where you can get food, youâ€™re safe, and thereâ€™s help if you need it.â€
â€œOh, I donâ€™t know.â€
â€œPlease? Please, Mother?â€ Dar begged.
â€œAnd youâ€™ll come visit me?â€
â€œAny chance we getâ€¦Uh, and hey, who knows, you may have a grand-youngling one day.â€
Denrika smiled through her tears. â€œIâ€™d like that very much.â€
â€œThen let me help. I can get things fixed up in Ozbok for you.â€
She looked around the room, and then sighed deeply. â€œAll right.â€
Dar kissed her on the forehead, feeling the fragile skin covering her brow ridges. â€œIâ€™ll make sure you donâ€™t have a care in the world.â€
It took Dar and Parnela five days to find just the right house. Situated near the middle of town on the rise of a hill, the house was the best resemblance of the one Denrika had in Aknarra. It boasted a wonderful view of the town and surrounding dunes. The floor plan was even similar. Dar felt his mother would be quite comfortable with his choice.
Ozbok was nearly four hundred miles from Aknarra. Dar used the shuttle to take his mother to see the new house. After much fretting, she agreed. Now all that remained was to move her belongings.
Parnela and Schmuff carefully packed dishes while Dar was in the living room helping Denrika empty a desk. As he flipped through some papers, a tattered, yellowed one fell out. He picked it up, studying it. â€œMother, whatâ€™s this?â€
She took the page. â€œAh, yes, your father drew this when he was here.â€
â€œHe did? Why have you never shown this to me?â€
â€œOh, Iâ€™d long forgotten about it.â€
â€œMay I have it?â€
Denrika gave it back. â€œCertainly.â€
Dar ran his fingers over the crinkled paper. â€œIt looks like a map of some sort.â€
â€œEdward said it was a map of his solar system. Itâ€™s supposed to be in the Milky Way Galaxy.â€ She pointed to one circle. â€œHe said thatâ€™s Earth.â€
â€œEarth, huh?â€ He traced his finger from the center circle out. â€œIf thatâ€™s the sun, then Earth is the third planet from it.â€
He turned the page over. â€œWhatâ€™s this?â€ There was a drawing of a large circle with what appeared to be a land mass on it.
â€œHe said that was where he came from. He called it A-mer-i-ca.â€
â€œAmerica,â€ he said softly.
Denrika sat back in the chair. â€œI wonder if he made it home? The science advisors who helped them werenâ€™t sure the tiny little vessel could make the return trip through the wormhole.â€
â€œYeah, I wonder what happened to them?â€ He looked at the paper. â€œThank you, Mother, I shall cherish this.â€ Dar carefully folded the paper, tucking it in his jacket.
Three weeks later, the Marsuian broke orbit from Erotis 3. Denrika was more or less settled into her new home. Dar felt good that she was in a larger settlement and would have more neighbors to keep watch over her. And he hoped sheâ€™d make some new friends.
He also decided he didnâ€™t want to be away so long. Denrika was nearly in her seventieth year, and Satirens lived perhaps ninety years. He wanted the last years of her life to be happy ones. And if it meant taking more time to visit with her, so be it.
Dar stood at the control panel; Parnela sat in the captainâ€™s chair. â€œDar?â€
â€œHmm?â€ He kept his back to her, working the controls.
â€œNow where are we going?â€
â€œAre you going to use the Plexus there?â€
He turned partway. â€œBecause Satiris is where Satirens belong.â€
â€œWhat if you fix the planet and then they donâ€™t want to go home?â€
He turned back, making a few adjustments to the helm. â€œI dunno.â€
â€œWell, you could always take the Plexus to Erotis, right?â€
â€œYeah, but thatâ€™s not the point.â€
She got up and wrapped her arms around him. â€œI know. And I understand your motivation. You have a good heart, and despite your species disliking you because youâ€™re a half-breed, all youâ€™ve ever done was try to help them.â€
â€œMaybe by doing this theyâ€™ll finally accept me,â€ he said softly, laying in the course.
â€œWhat they think shouldnâ€™t matter. Dar, youâ€™re smart, handsome, and successful. You donâ€™t need them to tell you that. Youâ€™re living your dream, and no one can take that away from you.â€ She caressed his chest. â€œWhat they think of you shouldnâ€™t matter. You have friends all over the galaxy who think highly of you.â€
â€œJust for once, Iâ€™d like to hear itâ€¦To have the Satiren High Council accept me.â€
Satiris looked like a tan ball of dust in the front window of the Marsuianâ€™s bridge. Dar stared blankly at it. Heâ€™d never see the planet of his ancestors. Satiris sat in a rather empty part of the Beta Sector. There werenâ€™t any other planets nearby, and trade in that region was sparse. Having been â€œaskedâ€ to work in the dark side by Gwog, Dar had little reason to come this wayâ€”until now.
â€œNot much to it,â€ Dar said as he prepared to put Marcy in high orbit. He poked a button and magnified the image on his computer screen. The planet was nothing more than desert which was dotted with the occasional empty outpost. Several deep scars on the surface caught his attention. â€œLooks like itâ€™s taken quite a few meteor strikes over the years.â€
â€œPerhaps thatâ€™s what knocked it from its position and set the planet into ruin,â€ Parnela replied from her spot in the captainâ€™s chair. Dar had long ago surrendered the seat to her; instead, he preferred to stand at the control console so he could keep track of everything.
â€œMaybe. Itâ€™s strange that no one ever talked about what led to the demise of Satiris.â€ He studied the screen. â€œIâ€™ll put us in orbit, then Iâ€™m gonna take a shuttle down and have a look.â€
â€œCan I go?â€
â€œIâ€™d prefer you stay here. Please.â€
â€œOh, all right.â€
â€œIf everything looks good, Iâ€™ll land Marcy, and we can deploy the Plexus.â€
â€œI hope it works.â€
â€œMe too.â€ Dar watched the controls as the freighter slowly edged into orbit. â€œOkay, sheâ€™s set.â€ He took off his headset and grabbed a phaser rifle from the wall. â€œIâ€™m not expecting trouble, but the one time you donâ€™t take a weapon, you end up regretting it.â€
â€œBetter to be safe than sorry.â€
â€œDefinitely.â€ He went over and gave her a rather passionate kiss. â€œIâ€™ll be back in a few hours. Then weâ€™ll see about landing and exploring more after the Plexus is working.â€
â€œCould I come along then?â€
â€œMaybe, Princess.â€ Dar kissed her again. â€œSee you later.â€ He headed to the shuttle bay. Trotting up the gangplank on the larger shuttle, he closed the door, and placed his rifle on the seat next to him. Heâ€™d given Schmuff orders to monitor him on the surface. And Dar hoped he wouldnâ€™t run into any trouble. He was excited and a bit scared; Satiris may be a deserted planet, but that didnâ€™t mean it wasnâ€™t without danger.
â€œSchmuff?â€ Dar said over the radio.
â€œIâ€™m heading to the surface. Keep an eye on the place, will you?â€
â€œGa, Eg dak.â€
â€œGood, I know you will.â€
â€œKaptaw, ewebbe cafa.â€
â€œYeah, I will be.â€ Dar started the engine and navigated out of the containment field. He didnâ€™t think it mattered where he landed, so he aimed the shuttle toward the planetâ€™s surface.
As he got closer, Dar noticed small settlements cropping up from the dust. He couldnâ€™t tell if they were inhabited, most were nearly swallowed up by the sand. Then he saw what appeared to be a city. It had buildings, which rose hundreds of feet into the air. He aimed the shuttle toward it.
Dropping in altitude, he saw much of the city covered in a heavy layer of sand. Here and there were tiny specks of greenery. â€œSchmuff, can you read me?â€
â€œIâ€™m circling around what mustâ€™ve been the main city; itâ€™s deserted and almost engulfed in sand.â€
â€œNo, donâ€™t see any life; a few bits of green, but mostly sand.â€ He made a lower pass. â€œThereâ€™s a nice flat area to land. Iâ€™m gonna go down, have a closer look, and make sure itâ€™s good. Then Iâ€™ll head back and we can make preparations.â€
Dar brought the shuttle in for a landing. He waited while the dust cleared, checking his instruments to ensure the air was breathable and temperature tolerable. â€œHmm, doesnâ€™t seem too bad, just a lot of sand.â€ He grabbed his rifle and set out. As he stepped onto the pale sand, he sank in up to his ankles. Dar walked carefully, noting that there seemed to be a firm base under the sand. A warm, gentle breeze blew across the barren land kicking up swirls of dust. The landscape on Erotis was similar in parts, so he felt rather at home.
Walking farther, Dar headed toward a mountain range. The deep sand gave way to hard, crusty, cracked sand. It was certainly easier walking for him. He paused for a moment, looking at the two Satiren moons: Sadrik and Thalik. They were full and hung fairly low on the horizon with Sadrik being the closer of the two. Then he studied the surroundings; this might be a good place to set Marcy down and deploy the Plexus. The ground was firm, and from what he could guess, it might have been a dry lakebed. â€œWell, thisâ€™ll do, as long as the lake doesnâ€™t fill back up.â€ He turned in a slow circle taking everything in. There was, indeed, some green left on the planet, but hardly enough to sustain a race of aliens that once numbered in the millions.
Returning to the shuttle, Dar closed the door and took his place at the controls. He pondered if his species would ever return to their former numbers. Could he convince them to come back? And would they? Thoughts flooded his mind with the impending job. He also wondered if the Plexus would work. It was a long shot, but he had to try.
He started the engine. â€œSchmuff?â€
â€œI found a good place to land. Iâ€™m heading back. Iâ€™ll be there shortly.â€
Dar decided to fly around a little more, surveying the area. As he neared another set of mountains, he saw a settlement. This one appeared a little greener than the others. On closer inspection, he saw faint footprints in the sand. â€œHmm, curious.â€ He decided heâ€™d check that out later.
Half an hour passed, and Dar was back on board the Marsuian, making preparations to land. Parnela hovered around him, wanting to know the details of his trip.
â€œWell, you said there are settlements? What do they look like?â€ she asked.
â€œSimilar to those in Aknarra, except most are covered in sandâ€¦Thereâ€™s one large city; itâ€™s covered pretty well too.â€
â€œIâ€™d love to see some of them.â€
â€œIn time, Princess. Lemme get the Plexus working and then maybe Iâ€™ll show you around.â€
â€œMaybe? Why only maybe?â€
â€œI didnâ€™t see anything dangerous, but that doesnâ€™t mean there isnâ€™t something down there.â€
â€œYouâ€™ll protect me.â€
â€œUh, right.â€ He typed on the keyboard inputting the approximate coordinates of where he wanted to land. Once they got lower, Dar would use his dead reckoning to find the dry lakebed. â€œIâ€™ve never been here before so I donâ€™t know what perils could befall us.â€
â€œCertainly no Satiren left would be a threat. You said your species is a peaceful race.â€
â€œYes. But that doesnâ€™t mean there arenâ€™t other things that might wanna make a meal out of us.â€
She rubbed his shoulders. â€œI think you can protect me.â€
â€œI hope soâ€”if it comes to that.â€ He watched the monitors as the ship slowly descended to the surface. Seeing the dry lake, he adjusted the thrusters. A light blinked on the control panel. â€œSchmuff?â€
â€œIâ€™m getting a warning light. Howâ€™s the power to number four thruster looking?â€
â€œEg chee set. Nakt churg.â€
â€œYou see it, but youâ€™re not sure?â€
â€œNak. Egâ€™ll wurg ong set lakkar.â€
Another light blinked, followed by a buzzing tone. â€œShit! Now Iâ€™m getting a light on six. I can get down with four, but not out of here.â€ He watched the planetâ€™s crust approach. They were going a little faster than heâ€™d like. â€œPrincess, you might wanna strap in. This could be a bumpy landing.â€ He hit the switch for the landing skids. The ship shuddered and vibrated. Dar worked the helm trying to steady it. â€œHold it together, Marcy, you can do this.â€
â€œOh,â€ she said, returning to the captainâ€™s chair and grabbing the shoulder harness that hung behind the seat. â€œAre we gonna be okay?â€
â€œI hope so.â€ Dar held firmly on the controls trying to regulate the descent of the ship. Several buzzers sounded. He poked buttons to silence them, and more sounded. â€œMarcy, donâ€™t let me down now, please.â€ He saw the ground getting closer; dust was kicked up by the massive ventral thrusters. â€œCome on, you can do it.â€
Several seconds passed before the Marsuian hit the ground with a loud rumble. The whole ship shook as the skids absorbed most of the impact. Dar got knocked from his feet. As he sat up, he looked at Parnela. She was stone still in the chair, a rather shocked expression on her face. â€œAre you all right, Princess?â€
â€œThat wasnâ€™t good.â€
Dar stood. â€œNo, it wasnâ€™t. Now Iâ€™m gonna be spending time trying to figure out what went wrong.â€ He turned to the control panel, shutting everything down. â€œMarcyâ€™s always been a good shipâ€”very little in the way of mechanical troubles. I wonder what happened?â€
Parnela threw off the harness. â€œLittle in the way of trouble? Wasnâ€™t it bad fuel that got you captured by the pirates?â€
â€œYeah, that wasnâ€™t her fault.â€
â€œAnd then the conduction conduit blew so you had no aft shieldsâ€¦â€
â€œIt got hit by a disruptor blast from a pirate ship. Come on, give olâ€™ Marcy a break. Most of the repairs Iâ€™ve had to make were battle related.â€
â€œI suppose so. Do you think you can fix whatever is wrong?â€
â€œNot sure. Weâ€™ll have to take a look.â€
â€œWhat happens if you canâ€™t fix it? Are we stranded?â€
â€œUh, maybe. The worst case is I have to take the shuttle, load up on food, and try to make it back to Erotis. The shuttle can only do warp one; so itâ€™ll take me a few days to get there. And then I hope they have the part I need.â€
â€œThis isnâ€™t sounding very good.â€
â€œRelax, Princess, lemme take a look. It may be something simple.â€
â€œI hope so.â€
Dar squeezed his way into the diversion pipe for the number four thruster. It was a very tight squeeze, and he wished Schmuff would have done it instead. But this was his ship, and he needed to find out what was wrong. For the last three hours theyâ€™d been going over the main components of the propulsion system. Now all that remained was a visual inspection of the ventral thrusters. â€œSchmuff?â€ He was thirty feet down the pipe and hoped heâ€™d reach the end soon.
â€œCan you open the diverter coupling?â€
He waited while Schmuff operated a large crank to open the entry where the main engine thrust was diverted into the landing thruster. As it opened slowly, Dar shined a light inside. The thruster pipe was large and dark. A strange odor emanated around him. Wiggling in, he got to the main compartment and had a look around. â€œSchmuff. I smell something.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know. Iâ€™m still searching.â€ He followed his nose, climbing into the downward-facing pipe. There was little in the way of footholds, so Dar got the toe of his boot into one of the deep grooves of the focusing cone and hefted himself higher to find the source of the odor. He moved the light around. â€œAw, I see it.â€
â€œEsha magga, Kaptaw?â€
â€œThe main thermocouple for the diverter is burned out.â€
â€œEg wunkteer whahak?â€
â€œYeah, I wonder why too.â€ He reached up and tried to work the part loose. It snapped off in his hand and Dar lost his balance, falling toward the ground far below. â€œShit!â€ His head smacked the edge of the pipe with a loud crash, his foot lodged in one of the grooves. He ended upside down in the pipe.
â€œKaptaw?!â€ Schmuff hollered, not knowing what happened.
â€œOw,â€ Dar moaned, feeling the blood rush to his head.
â€œIâ€™m okay, Schmuffâ€¦Kind of.â€
He looked to see the ground fifteen feet below. â€œI need all the help I can get right now.â€
â€œHogk kun Eg hek?â€
Dar tried to get free, but his foot was stuck. â€œShit, I donâ€™t know how you can help.â€ He hung for several moments before growling and thrashing about angrily about, his arms and free leg bashing the pipe loudly. â€œFuck!â€
â€œSorry? Not half as sorry as I look right now.â€ He glanced up at his foot, unsure of how he could get free. â€œSchmuff? Can you crawl down here?â€
Dar heard the Nouian clambering down the long piping system toward him. â€œWatch that last step; itâ€™s a big one.â€
â€œGa, Eg nakka.â€
â€œYou know. How do you know?â€
He listened while Schmuff explained that when Marcy was being refitted many years ago at the Newrillian space station, he was working with the engineer, checking the thrusters, and nearly fell down the pipe himself.
â€œNearly took a dive, huh?â€
â€œGa.â€ Schmuff finally poked his head down the pipe. â€œUh oh.â€
â€œYeah, uh oh. Got any idea how to get me out of this?â€
Dar grunted and tried to reach his foot. â€œAh, ah, closeâ€¦â€ Straining harder, he got one hand into the groove just above his foot. â€œUmm, this is helpfulâ€”maybe.â€
â€œKaptaw, frook je fuktt ag puugg pud.â€
â€œHuh? What do you mean â€˜take my foot and push upâ€™â€”Iâ€™m stuck!â€
Schmuff pointed to Darâ€™s free foot. â€œPuugg pud.â€
He studied the situation for a moment. â€œAh, I see what you mean.â€ Dar got his free foot onto the edge of a lower connection ring. With all his might, he pressed his weight on that foot while trying to push up with his other. His hand held the sharp metal of the groove. He glanced over his shoulder at the ground below. â€œOh, this is gonna hurt.â€
With one quick jerk, his foot was free. His hand felt the bite of the metal and he let go, crashing to the ground. Schmuff peered down at him. â€œKaptaw?â€
Dar lay flat on his back, arms and legs sprawled on the hard sand. â€œOw,â€ he whimpered.
Dar and Schmuff searched another hour to discover the thermocouple in the number six thruster was burned out as well. That night, as he lay in bed nursing a sore back, and drinking a glass of Malikin port, Dar tried to come up with a plan. Parnela lay next to him. â€œSo what are we gonna do?â€ she asked, rubbing his arm gently.
â€œIâ€™ve been thinking. I may have a couple options. For starters, those kinds of thermocouples donâ€™t burn out very oftenâ€”in fact, they looked like Marcyâ€™s original ones. So there had to be a reason for them to fail. Schmuffâ€™s checking things in the engine room and mix tanks.â€
â€œWhat are your options?â€
â€œI can venture into the city and see if I can find a place that may have parts. Or, I can load up the shuttle and try and make it to Erotis.â€
â€œIf you go into the city, can I come?â€
â€œNo. It might be dangerous.â€
â€œBut Dar, Iâ€™m getting bored here.â€
â€œSorry, Princess, I canâ€™t risk taking you out there until I know itâ€™s safe.â€
â€œWell, can I at least go outside and stay around Marcy?â€
â€œYeah, I think thatâ€™d be okay. Weâ€™re on a flat, so hopefully youâ€™d see any danger coming in time to get back inside.â€
â€œItâ€™s better than just sitting here staring out the window.â€
â€œLook, as soon as I can determine itâ€™s safe, then you can go with me.â€
â€œWhat do you reckon?â€ Dar said as the shuttle circled slowly over the city ruins. From what he could see, it appeared to have been a grand city at one time. Several buildings towered over the others. The streets were mostly filled with sand; a few scruffy shrubs grew here and there.
â€œEg thriink eeg neg tek finkket aa spakt parkut,â€ Schmuff replied as he looked out the window.
â€œFind a space port? But where?â€
The Nouian scanned the area. â€œMakeeba thekk.â€ He pointed to a tall spire poking out of the sand on the outskirts of the city.
â€œMaybe there, huh?â€ Dar changed course. â€œWell, letâ€™s go take a look.â€
They flew lower and circled twice more. â€œKaptaw, liiuk!â€
â€œAh, yes, I see it. Good call, Schmuff.â€ Dar landed the shuttle near a large building. A portion of it was covered with sand, but enough was visible that Dar saw a broken sign that read, â€œParts.â€
They grabbed phaser rifles and went down the gangplank into the bright sun. â€œHello!â€ Dar hollered, scanning the area. â€œHello!â€ He turned to Schmuff. â€œNo one. Letâ€™s go in and do some shopping.â€
Going to the door, they found it locked. Dar leveled his rifle and blasted the lock. Carefully, he opened it and peered inside. â€œHmm, the place appears in pretty good shape.â€ He noticed skylights providing light inside. Dar entered, Schmuff followed close behind. â€œLetâ€™s start on the first row and see what we got.â€
They went behind the counter and Dar started looking at the shelves. Most contained boxes of parts; others had parts lying out in full view. â€œWell, we seem to be in the environmental controls section,â€ Dar said, picking up a length of tubing. â€œLetâ€™s try another row.â€
Finishing that row, they turned the corner. Dar thought he heard noise far back in the warehouse. â€œDid you hear that?â€
â€œI wonder what it was?â€
â€œEg kndon nakka.â€
â€œYeah, you donâ€™t know either, I was just saying.â€
â€œAnimals? Maybe. Iâ€™m not familiar with Satiren flora and faunaâ€¦Keep on your toes, okay?â€
Dar continued his search. As he walked slowly down the long aisles of parts, the noise got louder and closer. â€œSchmuff?â€
â€œWhatever it is, it sounds like more than one.â€
â€œGa, Eg heggr.â€ Schmuff listened for a moment. â€œKaptaw?â€
â€œEg heggr summaakk beghinkkd udz.â€
Dar turned, listening. â€œYeah, and Iâ€™m not getting a good feeling about this.â€ He readied his rifle and continued down the row. Just as he was nearing the end, he spotted the part. â€œHey, thereâ€™s the thermocouples.â€
â€œGood indeed, my friend. What luck.â€ Dar reached up to get the part. A low growling echoed through the warehouse. He looked to the left and saw a huge, four-legged, dark brown, hairy beast moving toward them. â€œShit!â€
â€œKaptaw!â€ Schmuff cried, pointing to the other end of the row. Another beast was closing the distance quickly.
â€œI donâ€™t know what they are, but they donâ€™t look friendly.â€ He leveled his phaser and fired a shot at the closest one. The shot was intended as a warning, perhaps to spook the creature offâ€”it didnâ€™t work. â€œWhat are these things?â€ Dar took notice of the beastâ€™s long, sharp teeth. â€œEnough being nice.â€ He fired, and in a bright flash, the creature disappeared. â€œOne down.â€
Schmuff fired his rifle but missed; the beast was moving at amazing speed. Just as he was getting ready to fire again, the beast jumped clear over him and was on Dar in an instant.
â€œArrrhhhhh!!â€ Dar cried as the creature knocked him to the ground. It growled and snarled as it attacked. He tried to get his rifle to bear on the beast, but it got swatted away by a big paw. â€œSchmuff!â€
â€œMore?â€ Dar gasped as he tried to fight off the beast. It slashed with its claws, gashing him across the face. Then it sunk its teeth into his right thigh. Dar screamed and thrashed. Schmuff saw two more heading their direction. He carefully aimed and fired, eliminating both. Then he spun around and targeted the one attacking Dar. Schmuff had to be careful, he didnâ€™t want to shoot his beloved captain. Dar did his best to fight, but the beast was more than twice his size.
Holding his aim as steady as his scared little body could manage, Schmuff fired. In a flash, the beast was gone, leaving Dar on the floor in a pool of blood. In the distance, they heard more snarling and the sound of claws on the hard floor. â€œKaptaw, ghasse pud!â€
Dar moaned and struggled. â€œI canâ€™t get up.â€ His body screamed in pain. Schmuff grabbed Darâ€™s arm and tried to get him to his feet.
â€œKaptaw, murr aklinas.â€
He slowly got up. â€œShit.â€
â€œYou can run, but I canâ€™t. My legâ€™s chewed up.â€
Schmuff helped Dar back toward the door. The animals were getting closer. Glancing over his shoulder, Schmuff saw three galloping toward them. He gave Dar a shove and turned, his rifle ready. Summoning up all his courage, Schmuff engaged the creatures. Two fell quickly to phaser blasts, the third made it all the way to Schmuff, where it had jaws open ready to devour the little Nouian.
â€œNak!â€ Schmuff cried as the beast hit him with such force it knocked him off his feet. He tumbled to the floor, his rifle lost in the fight. The beast snarled and attacked. Schmuff covered his face in fear. It managed to get its mouth on Schmuffâ€™s shoulder before it disappeared in a flash of light.
Uncovering his face, he looked over to see Dar on the floor, his rifle pointed at him. â€œKa goo, Kaptaw.â€
â€œYouâ€™re welcome.â€ He got up. â€œBut weâ€™re not out of danger yetâ€”more coming.â€
â€œShit,â€ Schmuff hissed as he stood and went to Dar. They hurried outside and into the shuttle. As Dar was closing the door, four creatures burst from the warehouse and headed toward the shuttle.
â€œI hope they canâ€™t get in here,â€ Dar said, limping to the pilotâ€™s seat. He frantically started the engine, hearing the crashing, banging, and slashing of claws on the outside of the craft. â€œWhatever they are, they arenâ€™t friendly.â€
Taking off, Dar circled back. The creatures were on the sand below. â€œI donâ€™t play nice either,â€ he said, switching on the weapons panel. The targeting crosshairs appeared on the cockpit window, and he lined up. â€œEnough fun and games.â€ Dar fired, killing all four of them. He looked over at Schmuff. â€œI had the parts just inches from my fingers.â€
â€œHow are we gonna get them now?â€
Schmuff shrugged his shoulders and winced in pain. â€œMurr faktig.â€
Dar groaned. â€œMore fighting, yeah, great.â€ He looked at his leg; blood ran freely from several gashes. â€œCan you find something to bandage me up?â€
â€œGa.â€ He got up and found a first-aid kit. Schmuff did his best to wrap Darâ€™s leg, and his own injured shoulder.
â€œAt least we know there are parts, and exactly where they are.â€
â€œEeg jakst hekt tek nwat ghasse theem.â€
â€œYeah. Of course we just have to go get them. You, me, and what army?!â€
â€œMakeeba queetta.â€ He held his finger to his lips.
â€œWhat do you mean?â€ Dar lined up on the shuttle bay and landed. â€œSneak in there?â€
â€œWorth a try. We gotta have those parts or weâ€™re stranded.â€ He shut off the engine and noticed Parnela coming down the stairs. With effort, he stood and hobbled to the door. He opened it and found her standing on the deck.
â€œDar!â€ she cried, seeing the blood seeping through the bandage. â€œWhat happened?â€
â€œThis is precisely why I didnâ€™t want you going with me.â€ He limped down the gangplank. â€œThere are animals out there, and they arenâ€™t friendly.â€
She went to him, putting her arm around him for support. â€œDid you kill them?â€
â€œSome, but Iâ€™m sure thereâ€™s moreâ€¦Schmuff and I found a parts warehouse.â€
He held up his hand, thumb and index finger close together. â€œI was this far from having the parts in my hand when they attacked.â€
â€œHow awful! Are you going to try again?â€
â€œYeah, but weâ€™re pretty beat up. Might take a couple of days before I feel good enough to go in there again.â€
â€œDonâ€™t worry, Iâ€™ll do my best to nurse both of you back to health.â€
â€œIâ€™m sure you will, Princess.â€
Five days passed before Dar and Schmuff were feeling up to returning to the warehouse. Even then, both had reservations. Those creatures were fast, powerful, and dangerous. Dar hoped he could slip in without alerting them.
â€œI think Iâ€™ll set down a little farther away, maybe they wonâ€™t hear the shuttle,â€ Dar said as he ate lunch in the galley.
â€œThat might be a good idea,â€ Parnela replied. â€œBut what if they chase you? Itâ€™ll be harder to get away.â€
He rubbed his face. â€œYeah, I know, thatâ€™s a risk weâ€™ll be taking.â€
â€œAnd what about the Plexus?â€
â€œWhat about it? I need to make sure this ship is fixed before I do anything else. If we have to make a quick escape, Marcyâ€™s gotta be able to get off the surface.â€
â€œOnce sheâ€™s fixed, then we can deploy the Plexus.â€
â€œDo you know how long it will take to fix the planet?â€
Dar shook his head. â€œNope. I figured weâ€™d leave it go for a while and I can get back to work.â€
â€œAre there any jobs you have?â€
â€œI can always swing by Jamarais and find a rum shipment that needs hauling.â€ He finished eating and wiped his mouth. â€œSchmuff? Ready to try this again?â€
The Nouian looked at him with fear and dread in his eyes. â€œGa, Kaptaw.â€
Dar put his hand on Schmuffâ€™s good shoulder. â€œI know, I donâ€™t wanna go either, but we have to.â€
â€œUh, Dar? Did you ever find out what caused the problem?â€
He stood. â€œSchmuff found a mix valve for the eunerium that was stuck partly open. That caused way too many charged particles to get diverted into the accelerator.â€
Parnela gave him a blank look. â€œHuh?â€
â€œMy fuel mixture was too hot. Letâ€™s leave it at that.â€
â€œIs it fixed?â€
â€œYup, a little grease and sheâ€™s fine.â€
â€œOh, good.â€ She got up and walked with them to the shuttle bay. â€œPlease be careful.â€
â€œIâ€™m always careful, but I canâ€™t control what I donâ€™t have power over.â€ He held her close for a few moments, kissed her, then headed up the gangplank. â€œIf all goes well, we should be home in an hour or so.â€
â€œIâ€™ll be waiting.â€
Dar waved good-bye as he closed the door. Schmuff was already in his seat, starting up the engine. They flew to the city and Dar found a place to land. â€œLetâ€™s be quick about this. I thought I saw a sandstorm brewing to the east.â€
â€œUgh!â€ Schmuff growled as he grabbed his rifle.
â€œIf we can get the Plexus working, that may help with storms. I donâ€™t know about the nasty creatures around here though.â€
â€œEeg hankt theem.â€
â€œHunt them? Yeah, right.â€
They walked in silence to the warehouse. The sun was dipping low in the afternoon sky. Dar stopped at the door. â€œOkay,â€ he whispered, â€œwhen we go in, I want you to stay back at this end. Keep watch while I get the parts.â€
He opened the door and slid in; Schmuff was right on his heels. Dar crept down the aisle, his rifle at the ready. He listened for noises. All he could hear was the sound of his boots on the floor, and he was trying to be careful with his steps.
Reaching the end of the row, he saw the thermocouples. Gently, he reached up and took four of them, figuring it would be good to have spares. He glanced around, seeing Schmuff standing guard at the end. So far, so good, he thought, tucking the parts into his jacket pockets.
Dar quietly made his way back down. When he reached Schmuff, he tapped him. â€œLetâ€™s go,â€ he whispered.
As they stepped outside, six creatures were waiting. â€œShit!â€ Dar said, fumbling for his rifle. Schmuff was ready and fired. He hit two of the beasts before they charged.
â€œTake the left!â€ Dar swung his rifle and fired at the ones on his right.
The battle was short, and they somehow survived unscathed. Dar looked around for any more. â€œCome on, letâ€™s get out of here.â€ He took off at a mad run, not looking back. Dar knew Schmuff was with him; he could hear the Nouian breathing heavily.
As they drew closer to the shuttle, two more creatures sprang from behind a building and attacked. Dar tried to dodge one, but was tripped when it swung a paw and hooked his leg. He tumbled and got right back up. â€œFuck!â€ Lurching, he caught his balance, turned, and fired, blasting a beast.
Schmuff dove behind a large decorative plant pot. He poked his rifle around the side and fired. The beast swerved, the phaser round missing its mark. The beast turned and made another attack. This time, Schmuff let it get closer before pulling the trigger. The beast disappeared in a flash of white light.
â€œLetâ€™s get out of here!â€ Dar hollered as he resumed his dash. The shuttle was a hundred yards away. Schmuff ran as fast as his short legs would carry. He saw Dar reach the shuttle and take up a defensive position. He gasped for air, his legs getting tired. Nouians werenâ€™t made for running; they were made for trudging through deep snow on their home planet.
â€œArgh!â€ Schmuff grunted, running as hard as he could.
Dar spotted another creature closing the distance on Schmuff. He aimed his rifle and fired, killing it before it reached his friend.
Another three broke from what appeared to be a clothing shop and gave chase. â€œSchmuff, hurry up!â€ He fired, taking out two of the animals. The third was smart enough to break off the attack. It retreated to a safe distance and watched.
Schmuff ran up the gangplank and collapsed into the rear cargo compartment. Dar closed the door and slid into his seat. â€œI got four thermocouples. That should hold us for a while.â€ He started the engine and saw several more creatures run into the street.
Getting the shuttle into the air, he headed back to the ship. Along the way, he took a detour, flying over the area where he thought heâ€™d seen footprints. Today, there were more prints. Someone or something had to be living down there, Dar thought as he changed course for Marcy.
Parnela was waiting for them. She sat on the steps and stood as Dar landed. He held his hand to the window, thumb pointing in the air, signifying all was good.
â€œCome on, Schmuff, letâ€™s get these things installed.â€ He glanced back to see the Nouian passed out on the floor. â€œSchmuff?â€
â€œNouians nak roon.â€
Dar chuckled as he opened the door. â€œYeah, Nouians donâ€™t runâ€”you get eaten!â€
Schmuff growled at Dar as he got to his feet. â€œBattarrd!â€
â€œThank you for pointing that out.â€ He gave Schmuff a smack on the arm and headed toward Parnela. â€œMission accomplished, Princess.â€
â€œNo one hurt?â€ she asked.
â€œOther than Schmuff being exhausted from running, yes, weâ€™re fine.â€
â€œAny more of those creatures?â€
He wrapped his arms around her. â€œThe streets were full of â€™em.â€ He kissed her. â€œBut I got what we needed.â€
Dar reached in his pockets and removed them. â€œGot a couple spares too.â€
â€œGreat. So youâ€™re gonna fix it?â€
â€œYup, on my list as soon as Schmuff catches his wind.â€
â€œEasy! Easy!â€ Dar called over his headset. â€œJust a little more.â€ He was perched precariously on the slippery, shiny, silver-colored Plexus as Schmuff maneuvered Marcy above the deployment site. The midday sun was brilliant. Dar found himself squinting in order to see. A warm breeze blew across the barren plain. Noise from the Marsuianâ€™s ventral thrusters was deafening. Dust clouds wafted away from the force of the engine trying to maintain such a low altitude.
Without the availability of proper loading and unloading equipment, they had to improvise a way to get the massive â€œtin canâ€ from the front cargo bay. Dar decided to attach the loading winch to the machine and carefully lower it. He discovered, however, that the winch didnâ€™t work well in a situation with gravity. So he instructed Schmuff to tip Marcyâ€™s bow and let the device slide out, the winch hopefully keeping it from sliding too fast.
â€œA little moreâ€¦There! Hold!â€ Dar grabbed one of the tethering cables and slid to the ground. â€œOkay, let the winch out slow.â€ He watched the bulky machine gently settle to the desert floor, resting on the special wedges heâ€™d made to keep it from rolling the wrong way. â€œDetach the winch head.â€
There was a loud clanking as the magnetic winch disengaged and plopped to the ground, stirring up more dust. â€œReel it in and land Marcy over there.â€ He pointed to an area about a quarter mile away. Dar wanted to make sure they were at a safe distance from the Plexus, but close enough so he could monitor it for a while.
â€œO-K, Kaptaw,â€ Schmuff replied. Dar watched as Marcy gained altitude, the winch retracting into the cargo bay.
Dar opened the access hatch and wiggled inside. â€œAh, here we go again.â€ Picking up his instruction sheets, he went to work poking buttons and toggling switches. Soon, the machine was humming away. Dar poked more buttons and the hum got louder. Crackles of energy started flowing through the control room. â€œOw!â€ he barked as the tendrils of energy shocked him. â€œNot this again.â€ Hurriedly, he threw the last few switches and jammed his thumb on the big red button. The device jolted and vibrated roughly. Arcs of energy curled throughout the control room. Dar was shocked several more times. â€œHey!â€
He stayed briefly to check everything, then hurriedly got out. As he closed the hatch, he saw the brilliant white beam of energy being directed into the planet. â€œHope this works.â€ Dar retreated to what he thought was a safe distance and watched for a while. He knew it would take time for the device to start regenerating the planet. There was nothing else he could do.
Walking back to the Marsuian, Dar tried to imagine what Satiris looked like before it fell into decay. The city heâ€™d flown over looked grand, but it was the only city heâ€™d seen thus far. He wondered if there were more. Everywhere else had small settlements, looking much like Aknarra. One that he saw was bigger, reminding him of Ozbok. Could he fix the planet? Would the Satirens come home? His thoughts wandered as he headed toward the Marsuian.
Dar stopped for a moment and looked at the mountains. The Plexus was now about three hundred yards away. He watched the pulsating glow of the machine, and saw the moons rising. Dar thought the shiny Plexus looked odd in the stark surroundings. He hoped that would soon change.
â€œWhat are you looking at?â€ Parnela asked, startling Dar.
â€œAh!â€ He spun around.
â€œA little jumpy?â€
â€œUh, after whatâ€™s happened to me lately, yes.â€
She wrapped her arms around him. â€œI hope it works.â€
â€œAre you hungry? I made bovidis shoulder sandwiches from last nightâ€™s leftovers.â€
â€œMmm, sounds wonderful. Iâ€™m famished.â€ He turned, putting his arm around her, and they walked back to Marcy. â€œYou know, as my mate, you might wanna learn how to cook.â€
â€œWhy? You have Schmuff for that.â€
â€œUh, Princess, he wonâ€™t be around forever. Some day he might wanna settle down, or heâ€™ll get too old to be my engineer.â€
Parnela sighed. â€œOh, I suppose I should take some lessons from him.â€
â€œBesides, no one but my mother can cook a bovidis shoulder like he can. Schmuff gets the skin nice and crispyâ€”just how I like it.â€
â€œI feel they will be a tough act to follow.â€
â€œAnd you must learn how to make frostberry pies; I love those.â€ He guided her up the stairs into the ship. â€œAnd I like game fowl too.â€
â€œIs there anything you donâ€™t like?â€
â€œHot Skrinnian curry!â€
Dar lay in bed looking at the stars. While he was overjoyed to be on Satiris, part of him longed to be racing through space again. He wondered if he could ever settle down and be happy. Or would he roam the stars the rest of his life? Having a life in space was not what Parnela really wanted. He knew at some point sheâ€™d want to call a planet homeâ€”especially when the younglings arrived. Whether it was Satiris, Erotis, or Kruelis, sheâ€™d want to settle.
He took a sniff of the air. Parnela was lying on her side, facing away from him. Dar could smell she was coming into her fertile cycle. No, he didnâ€™t want younglings right now, so heâ€™d politely refuse her affections toward him. He wasnâ€™t sure she knew that he could tell; it was a rather special Satiren adaptation that proved key in preventing overpopulation. Since the species and their whole culture was based on love and joining, the males acquired a keen sense of smell so they knew when the female was in her fertile cycle; it was their only form of birth control.
As much as he wanted her right now, he didnâ€™t dare. His thoughts wandered to his mother. He hoped she was doing well. She seemed settled into her nice new house in Ozbok. Dar wondered if he got Satiris restored, would she want to come home? Then his thoughts shifted to his father, the Earthling he never knew. What was he like? Did Dar have any of his traits? Part of him longed to meet the male that fathered him. Was he still alive? Did he get killed going back through the wormhole? If he was alive, how could Dar even begin to track him down?
The questions kept coming, and soon, it was late in the night. Parnela rolled over and snuggled with him. Dar put his arm around her and nuzzled her hair. He tried to sleep, but the wormhole near Erotis kept occupying his mind. He lay on his back and stared at the stars.
â€œI think thatâ€™s a lie.â€
He sat up. â€œYeah, it is.â€
She rolled over and looked at him. The moonlight coming through the window above the bed cast a faint light on him. Despite his Satiren features, Parnela loved him; he was her chosen mate. â€œSo tell me, whatâ€™s wrong?â€
â€œI wonder if heâ€™s alive. Mother said Earthlings live about as many years as Satirens.â€ He reached over and ran his fingers through her hair.
â€œDonâ€™t tell me youâ€™re getting a silly notion of going to find him?â€
Dar chuckled. â€œEveryone says that about me.â€
â€œYou wanna go through the wormhole?â€
â€œMy thoughts are strongly leaning toward it.â€
â€œThat could be very dangerous; you could get killed.â€
He looked at the stars. â€œI realize that. And I wonâ€™t ask you to come with me. I can drop you on Erotis, or take you back to Kruelis if you want.â€
â€œI donâ€™t want to lose you.â€
â€œYou could lose me at any moment. My jobâ€™s not exactly without peril.â€
â€œCanâ€™t you just settle down?â€
â€œThatâ€™s not who I am, you know that, Princess. Youâ€™ve known it all along.â€
She sighed. â€œYes, I know. And despite your restless nature, I love you.â€
â€œI was born to exploreâ€”itâ€™s in my blood.â€
â€œAnd I understand thatâ€¦So if you go, Iâ€™m going with you.â€
Dar shook his head. â€œI wouldnâ€™t ask you to take that risk.â€
â€œIâ€™m doing it because I want to.â€
â€œAll right,â€ he said softly, hoping he hadnâ€™t just sealed their fates.
â€œWhen are we going?â€
â€œI have some things to do here, then Iâ€™ll give it more thought.â€
The next morning, Dar set out in the shuttle. He wanted to check out some of the settlements heâ€™d seen earlier. Flying parallel to the mountains, he found the settlement with tracks leading from it. As he flew lower, he noticed more tracks in the sand. They werenâ€™t made by a two-legged creature. Nearby, he saw the ones that someone obviously made. He debated about landing, fearing the creatures would come after him.
He circled twice and didnâ€™t see any signs of life. Setting the shuttle down, he got out and made sure he had his phaser rifle. Dar was tired of surprises. The air was warm, dust swirled in the light breeze. The sun seemed to be shining even brighter than the previous day. Just over the top of the mountain, Dar saw the two Satiren moons.
â€œHello?â€ he called in Ontarrin as he reached the edge of the settlement. The buildings were arranged in a semi-circular fashion with something of a courtyard in the middle. Heâ€™d noticed that many of the smaller outposts were set up like that, and he wondered if there was a purpose for it.
As he walked between two of the buildings, he realized that a well sat in the middle of the courtyard. It must have been the gathering place for the inhabitants. â€œHello?â€ he called again. Out of the corner of his eye, Dar thought he saw movement. With phaser at the ready, he walked into the courtyard, seeing large pots with plants growing in them. Some clothes hung on a line, flapping gently in the breeze.
Stopping at the well, he looked down. A clay pot sat on the edge; it was damp from recent use. â€œAnyone about?â€ he called louder. Turning slowly, he surveyed the area. A flash of motion in another window caught his attention. â€œHello? Who are you?â€ He thought he saw green hair.
The figure appeared momentarily in another window. Dar was sure it was Satiren.
Thinking that perhaps this mysterious being didnâ€™t speak Ontarrin, he switched to Satiren. â€œHello, who are you? I mean no harm.â€ The face showed up in a window, but much closer this time. â€œPlease, come out. Iâ€™m friendly.â€ He lowered his rifle and held his hands up, showing he wasnâ€™t a threat.
It was several minutes before the figure appeared in a doorway. Dar gasped. About twenty feet away stood a purebred Satiren female. She was absolutely beautiful, and looked close to his age. His heart beat faster and he could feel his eyes beginning to glow. All his life heâ€™d longed to be with a purebred, and here she was.
â€œIâ€™m Dar,â€ he said softly.
â€œLukxia,â€ she replied, keeping her distance.
â€œHow are you the only one Iâ€™ve seen on this planet?â€
She came from the building, across a small covered porch, and into the sun. Her skin was tanned from being out so much. â€œI am the lost one.â€
â€œI was supposed to be on the last freighter out of here. I was six when my parents decided to leave for Thokin.â€
â€œI went to play that morning and got snatched by a pack of vulefs.â€
â€œBig mean hairy creatures on four legs.â€
â€œIs that what they are?â€ Dar pointed to his face and leg. â€œI think Iâ€™ve met them.â€
â€œThey took me.â€
â€œAnd they didnâ€™t tear you to shreds?â€ Dar was shocked by her story.
â€œThey took me back to their den, and when they were hunting, I ran away. But by the time I got back to the settlement, everyone was gone.â€
â€œAnd no one came back to look for you?â€
Lukxia shook her head. â€œIâ€™m sure they saw my tracks with those of the vulefs and figured me for dead.â€
â€œMmm, true.â€ He moved a little closer. â€œHow have you survived all these years?â€
She backed away slightly. â€œThe well here is very deep. And Iâ€™ve been careful about how much water I use.â€
â€œHow have you avoided the vulefs?â€
â€œThere is a cavern below one of the houses. When I hear them, I hide.â€
â€œAnd they canâ€™t get you?â€
â€œIt has a very strong door.â€
Dar ran his finger around the rim of the water pot. â€œDid your parents teach you to farm?â€
â€œSome. Most I learned from texts in the old schoolhouse.â€
â€œBut you never learned Universal Ontarrin?â€
â€œNo. I used to know a few words, but have forgotten.â€
Dar sat down on the low wall surrounding the well. â€œI was born on Erotis 3; this is my first time on Satiris.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t look like the others that I remember.â€
â€œNo, my mother is Satiren, my father is Earthling.â€
â€œEarth-ling? What is that?â€
â€œHe came by accident from another galaxy.â€ He pointed to his patch of dark brown hair. â€œIâ€™m a half-breed.â€
Lukxia regarded him curiously. â€œI donâ€™t know what that means.â€
â€œIt means that purebred Satirens donâ€™t exactly like me.â€
She sat next to him. â€œI like you.â€
Dar got a faint whiff of her scent. She smelled lovely. â€œWell, thatâ€™s nice.â€ Every hormone and chemical in his body was fighting madly inside him. He swallowed hard, trying to suppress his emotions. â€œLukxia?â€
â€œYes?â€ She moved closer to him.
â€œYou need a mate.â€
â€œOh!â€ She grabbed him and kissed him hard.
Dar struggled and got free. â€œWait, hang on a minute.â€ He moved a few feet away.
â€œFor years, my body has been crying for a mate. Please, join with me.â€ She stood.
He stepped farther back. â€œNo, Iâ€¦I canâ€™t.â€
â€œBecause I have a mate.â€ He rubbed his face in frustration.
â€œThen take me too. My father had two females.â€ She got up and went to him.
â€œNo, no, itâ€™s not right.â€
She put her hands on his chest. â€œWhy not?â€
â€œLukxia, youâ€™re very special. Youâ€™re the last purebred Satiren female on this planet. You deserve to be joined to another purebred.â€
â€œYou wonâ€™t take me? Why not? I want to join.â€
Dar brushed his fingers through her long, flowing green hair. As much as he hated to admit it, he knew what needed to be done. â€œNo. But if you come with me, Iâ€™ll take you to a suitable male.â€
â€œHe will join with me?â€
He managed a smile. â€œPretty confident of that.â€
â€œWhere is he?â€
â€œIs that far?â€
â€œJust over a day traveling in my ship.â€ As the wind shifted, he got more of her scent. Oh dear, he thought, sheâ€™s coming into her fertile cycle; this trip is gonna be mighty uncomfortable. He hoped he could keep her down in the crew quarters, away from temptation.
â€œIâ€™m ready to meet someone new. Iâ€™ve been so lonely here all these years.â€
â€œSure youâ€™ve been. Do you need to pack anything?â€
â€œJust a few things. I donâ€™t have much.â€
â€œYour new mate will take good care of you.â€ He accompanied her inside as she gathered her belongings.
Lukxia tossed some clothes in a bag. â€œOkay, letâ€™s go. I canâ€™t wait to meet my mate.â€ She left the house and stopped on the porch. â€œIs he handsome?â€
Dar scratched his head. â€œUmm, I think youâ€™ll find him to your liking.â€ He closed the door. â€œDespite all youâ€™ve been through, youâ€™re taking this well.â€
â€œDar, Iâ€™ve been alone on this empty planet with only school texts to educate myself. I read about joinings and the blush, and Iâ€™m ready to experience it.â€
â€œAll right, all right, hang on, weâ€™ll get you there.â€ He led her toward the shuttle. They were perhaps fifty yards from the settlement when Dar heard growling. â€œLukxia? Do you hear that?â€
She stopped. â€œOh, no, vulefs!â€
â€œShit! Run!â€ He gave her a nudge on the arm. â€œGet to the shuttle.â€
â€œJust go, Iâ€™m gonna try and fight â€™em.â€ He saw her take off running. Dar scanned the area, attempting to find which direction the vulefs were coming from. Motion in the foothills of the mountains caught his attention. A pack of eight or ten was thundering toward him.
He glanced back and saw Lukxia nearing the shuttle. Dar turned and ran, deciding to get as close as he could before making a stand. The growling and snarling got louder. When he heard the pounding of their feet on the hard sand, Dar stopped and spun around. Quickly, he leveled the rifle and started blasting. Three vulefs disappeared in bright flashes. Two more charged, the remaining three slowed up. Dar fired, killing one, but the other closed the distance faster than expected. It leaped into the air, mouth open, claws at the ready.
Dar ducked. The beast sailed over him and landed a few feet behind. It skidded to a stop and turned. â€œHa!â€ he jeered, still crouched, he aimed and fired. Then he stood and lined up on the other three. They were keeping their distance. â€œCome on, you want me?!â€ he taunted.
The remaining vulefs decided it was too risky to tangle with Dar, so they trotted off. He walked to the shuttle and up the gangplank. Peering inside, he saw Lukxia hiding near the cockpit. â€œItâ€™s okay, I ran â€™em off.â€
She grabbed him firmly. â€œYouâ€™re so brave, Dar!â€
â€œUh, yeah, all part of the job.â€ He slid from her grasp and closed the door. â€œLetâ€™s get back to my ship; Iâ€™ve had enough excitement for the day.â€
Dar was doing everything in his power to ignore Lukxia. Her amazing beauty, her purebred blood, and the fact she was entering her fertile cycle was almost enough to make him fly the shuttle right into the ground.
â€œDo you have water on your ship?â€ she said from the back.
â€œOh, I want to take a nice long hot shower!â€
Dar bit his lip. â€œUmm, yeah, Iâ€™ll show you to your quarters. Thereâ€™s a shower there.â€
It took roughly ten minutes before they arrived back at Marcy. â€œIs that your ship?â€ Lukxia asked.
â€œYeah, sheâ€™s called the Marsuian. She was built here on Satiris a long time ago.â€
â€œWhy are you here?â€
â€œI have something that might fix the planet.â€
â€œYeah, itâ€™s called the Plexus, and it can make a dead planet come alive again.â€
â€œThen why are you taking me away from it?â€ She came forward. â€œIf you make it alive again, wonâ€™t Satirens come home?â€
â€œI hope so. But Iâ€™m not even sure itâ€™ll work.â€
â€œI dunno, but if it doesnâ€™t, I figured youâ€™d like to be with other Satirens.â€
â€œYes, very much.â€
Dar lined up on the shuttle bay and landed. Parnela was waiting. â€œIs that your mate?â€ Lukxia said, pointing.
â€œYes, her name is Parnela, sheâ€™s a Kruelian princess.â€
â€œYour mate is not Satiren?â€
â€œNo,â€ he said softly. Shutting off the engine, he got up and opened the door. He walked out, Lukxia right on his heels.
Parnela came around the shuttle. â€œDar, whoâ€™s that?â€
â€œHer name is Lukxia. She was accidentally left on the planet when she was a youngling.â€
â€œAre there anymore?â€
â€œI didnâ€™t find anyone else.â€
â€œDoes she speak Ontarrin?â€
â€œNope, just Satiren.â€
â€œWhat are you going to do with her?â€
â€œI have a plan,â€ he said, guiding Lukxia up the catwalks toward the crew quarters.
Parnela wasnâ€™t feeling too good about having another female on board, especially a purebred Satiren female. She wondered if Dar would keep Lukxia as another mate. â€œA plan?â€ she said, standing next to the door as he went in with Lukxia. Dar didnâ€™t reply.
He showed Lukxia to the sleeping quarters. â€œHereâ€™s a place for you to sleep.â€
â€œDar, where do you sleep?â€ Lukxia asked.
â€œI have a cabin on the bridge.â€ He opened another door and gestured. â€œThereâ€™s the shower room.â€
â€œOh! Wonderful!â€ She grabbed his face and kissed him.
â€œLukxia, please,â€ he hissed, wiggling away from her. â€œLook, I need to get us underway. Iâ€™ll check on you later.â€ Dar made a hasty exit. Parnela was waiting for him.
â€œSo, what is this plan?â€ she said, a hint of jealousy in her voice.
â€œJust lemme handle it, okay?â€ He headed to the bridge.
She followed. â€œWhy will you not tell me?â€
Dar said nothing until he was at the control console. Putting on his headset, he contacted Schmuff. â€œHey, weâ€™re gonna lift off. Have you checked the eunerium valve?â€ He waited patiently for a reply. â€œGood? Okay, letâ€™s get going.â€ Pushing a few more buttons, he started the engine. â€œDiverting main engine to ventral thrusters.â€
The Marsuian rumbled as the thrusters slowly lifted the massive ship from the ground. Dar watched the controls and checked readings on the monitor. As they gained altitude, he thought he saw a few patches of green that hadnâ€™t been there before. Perhaps the Plexus was working, he thought.
â€œCome on, Marcy, letâ€™s get to Erotis.â€ He chuckled. â€œYou should be getting to know the way by now.â€
â€œDar,â€ Parnela said in a stern voice. She didnâ€™t like being ignored.
â€œWould you kindly explain your plan?â€
He growled lowly. Part of him really wanted Lukxia, and the other part knew he needed to let her go. â€œIâ€™m giving her to Krodus,â€ he replied in barely a whisper.
â€œHuh?â€ She got up and approached him. â€œWhat did you say?â€
He was silent for a few moments, then sighed. â€œIâ€™m giving her to Krodus.â€
â€œOh, Dar, what a gift! And to think he was your worst enemy.â€ She hugged him firmly. â€œLukxia is so beautiful; I thought youâ€™d keep her as another mate.â€
â€œNo.â€ Everything inside him knew it was a lie. Dar coveted Lukxia, but deep down, he knew she belonged with a purebred.
Once Marcy was on the right heading to Erotis, Dar went down to check on Lukxia. He figured she might be hungry. â€œLukxia?â€ he called as he entered the crew quarters. There was no reply. â€œLukxia?â€ Listening, Dar thought he heard the shower running. Surely she wouldnâ€™t still be bathing? he pondered, pushing the door open to the shower room.
Dar stopped dead in his tracks. Not more than ten feet away was a completely naked Lukxia. â€œUhâ€¦ummâ€¦err,â€ he stuttered, trying to avert his gaze. Every hormone and chemical in his body surged to life.
â€œDar?â€ She turned off the shower and approached, making no effort to cover up.
He turned, putting his back to her. â€œLukxia, please.â€
â€œLook, Iâ€™m a life-joined male, andâ€¦andâ€”â€
â€œAnd what?â€ She slid around so she was facing him.
Dar snatched a towel off the rail. â€œCan you cover up, please?â€
â€œWhy? Were you not taught that Satirens view the body as a beautiful work of art?â€
â€œYes, I was, and Iâ€™m not wanting to look at beautiful art right now.â€ He walked away.
â€œDar, whatâ€™s wrong?â€
â€œMy mind and heart are fighting a terrible battle.â€
Lukxia giggled. â€œYou want me, donâ€™t you?â€
He felt his eyes beginning to glow. â€œNo.â€
â€œI think youâ€™re lying.â€
â€œSo I am, what does it matter?â€
She quickly closed the distance once again, letting the towel fall to the floor. â€œThen take me.â€ Lukxia grabbed Dar and smothered his lips in a passionate kiss. He fought it for a moment, then gave in. His hands encircled her body, feeling her smooth, warm, and wet flesh. The chemicals in his body burned hotter than they ever had.
Darâ€™s body cried for her, his chemistry igniting the passion pent up inside. His mind was nearing the point of surrender. Lukxia was the beauty heâ€™d only found in his dreams. His primal urges yearned to be with her, to give her the experience of a lifetime, and to join with a very rare purebred. Pressing his body against her, he could feel her small but firm breasts against his chest. His hands wandered down, feeling her equally firm and beautifully shaped behind. He felt his blush starting to rise.
Lukxia kissed him ravenously, her arms pulling him even tighter against her. She could feel every chemical coming to life. Chemicals sheâ€™d read about in old texts from the ruined school. They surged forcefully through her body. She felt a tingling in her eyes, and as she glanced over at her arm, she saw the rosy aura starting to show. It was her first blush.
Dar felt the energy building between them. Lukxiaâ€™s blush was flooding over into his. Heâ€™d never felt anything like it. Satirens were designed to share their blush, thus enhancing the joining. Since Parnela wasnâ€™t Satiren, Dar had only shared his blush with her; he wanted more. He wanted to feel it in return. Deep inside his pleasure core he felt an immense amount of energy building. It was almost uncontrollable; an energy unlike heâ€™d ever known.
â€œNo!â€ he sputtered and pushed her away. â€œNo, I canâ€™t do this. Iâ€™m giving you to someone else, and Iâ€™m not going to defile his gift.â€
â€œBut you want me.â€
He walked over and banged his head against the wall a couple of times. â€œMaybe so. But I have a mate, and by tomorrow afternoon, youâ€™ll be mated as well. Can you keep your hands off me? Huh?â€
â€œIâ€™m sorry, Dar. I meant well. Iâ€™ve been alone nearly all my life, living in incredible solitude. And now there is someone in it, someone I find very handsome.â€
â€œI appreciate the gesture, really, but Parnela is my mate. And as much as Iâ€™d like to have another, I canâ€™t take a purebred female.â€
â€œI know,â€ she grumbled, starting to dress. â€œYou said purebreds need to be with purebreds.â€
â€œYes. The health and existence of the entire Satiren race depends on the few remaining purebreds.â€
Dar sat down on a bench. â€œSince Satiris fell into decline, our race has been scattered across the galaxy. As you know, some went to Thokin, others to Erotis, and some even ended up on Gardinisâ€¦â€
â€œIn the dark side?â€
â€œYesâ€¦Many of my classmates found their way to pleasure barges and red districts where they sell themselves for drigâ€¦Lukxia, Satirens are a threatened species.â€
â€œI didnâ€™t know.â€
â€œWell, you do now.â€ He stood. â€œAre you hungry?â€
â€œFinish dressing and come with me to the galley.â€
Dar fumbled as he made a sandwich. Admittedly, he wasnâ€™t much of a cook, and he highly regarded Schmuffâ€™s skill in the galley. He placed the slice of bread on top, and it kept sliding off because of all the meat heâ€™d piled on. Dar growled and put the slice back on, smashing it down with his fist. Placing it on a plate, he carried it to Lukxia, who patiently waited at the table.
â€œSorry, itâ€™s leftovers. Iâ€™m not a good cook.â€
â€œThank you,â€ she said politely. â€œWhat is it?â€
â€œBraised bovidis shoulder.â€
She took a bite; pieces of meat fell out all over the place. â€œMmm, I canâ€™t remember when Iâ€™ve had something this good!â€
â€œThank Schmuff, heâ€™s the cook here.â€
â€œIâ€™ve had no meat for years. Only the vegetables I was able to growâ€¦If I ever see another head of brosh, Iâ€™ll cry!â€
â€œYeah, itâ€™s green, grows in the ground, and makes big heads of sour leaves.â€
â€œHmm, canâ€™t recall ever having it.â€
â€œYouâ€™re lucky.â€ Lukxia scowled. â€œTastes terrible!â€
Dar laughed. The communications panel behind him beeped. He got up and poked the button. â€œYeah?â€
â€œDar, thereâ€™s blips on the screen,â€ Parnela said.
â€œYes, blips. Perhaps ships coming toward us.â€
â€œFour or five.â€
â€œI doubt itâ€™s a welcoming committee from Erotis.â€
â€œDidnâ€™t think they had one,â€ Parnela replied.
Dar let out a big sigh. â€œI thought we were rid of the pirates after I killed Nokkis.â€
â€œI guess not.â€
â€œPrincess, do you remember how to raise the shields?â€
â€œYes, I think so.â€
â€œGet the shields up and Iâ€™ll be there in a minute.â€ He went to the door. â€œI suggest you go back to your quarters and ride it out there.â€
â€œPirates? That sounds dangerous.â€
â€œYeah, it is. Please, go.â€ He darted out the door and hurried up three levels of catwalks. As he burst through the doorway to the bridge, he looked around. â€œWhatâ€™s the status?â€
â€œI got the shields up, and I told Schmuff we have company.â€
Dar put on his headset, then leaned over and gave her a kiss. â€œThanks, Princess, youâ€™re wonderful.â€
She smiled. â€œI know.â€
â€œRight, letâ€™s see what we got.â€ He checked the screen. â€œHmm, they got balls, coming right at usâ€”and Iâ€™m at warp seven.â€
â€œCan we avoid them?â€
A loud beeping noise sounded on the control panel. Dar poked a button. â€œWho is this?â€ he barked.
â€œNeiriis, son of Nekis, brother of Nokkis.â€
â€œI havenâ€™t killed all of you yet?â€
â€œWe are many, and grow stronger every day.â€
Dar rolled his eyes. â€œAnd I thought I was doing a good job of pruning the family tree.â€
â€œSurrender your cargo.â€
â€œNeiriis, youâ€™re just as dumb as your brother; Iâ€™m empty.â€
â€œThen you will surrender your ship and crew.â€
Dar brought the weapons online. â€œNot gonna happen either.â€ Throttling back to full impulse, he lined up and targeted the lead ship, hoping it was Neiriis. Firing a torpedo, he watched it streak from the underside of the Marsuian and disappear into the darkness. â€œCome on, come on,â€ he whispered, watching the weapon track on the computer screen.
A few moments later, Dar looked out the window and saw a bright flash in the distance. â€œHah! Yeah!â€ He laughed and gestured at the window with exuberance. Parnela clapped and cheered. His celebration was cut short as the remaining ships dropped out of warp right in front of him. â€œShit!â€
All four ships immediately opened fire.
â€œSorry, Captain, you havenâ€™t killed me,â€ Neiriis said.
â€œSo much for my one lucky shot.â€ Dar returned fire, hitting them with everything he had. The Marsuian shook and jolted as the pirates unloaded salvo after salvo at her.
Parnela hung onto the captainâ€™s chair for dear life. â€œDar, do something!â€
â€œI am! Shields at fifty percent, Marcy canâ€™t take much more, I need to get us out of here.â€ He yanked on the helm, turned the ship away hard, and hit the throttle. Marcy jumped to warp almost instantly. â€œNeed some breathing room.â€
â€œCan you get us away from them?â€ Parnela asked.
â€œGonna try.â€ Grabbing his tablet, he checked some coordinates, and then made a change in the computer. â€œWeâ€™re gonna be passing near the mouth of the wormhole. I canâ€™t go the other way, weâ€™ll run the risk of hitting the gravitational pull of Carfidiusâ€”which could sling-shot us into the sun.â€ He checked the monitor. â€œTheyâ€™re right on our ass.â€ He saw more ships appearing on the screen ahead of them. â€œOh, shit!â€
â€œNeiriis set up an ambush; weâ€™re headed right into it! Thereâ€™s eight more ships farther out.â€
â€œOh no! What are you gonna do?â€
â€œIf I bank Marcy hard in front of the wormhole, thatâ€™ll change our course and maybe lose â€™em.â€
â€œI hope we donâ€™t get sucked in.â€
â€œMe too. Iâ€™m not ready to head out on that adventure. I need to get Lukxia to Krodus.â€
He changed coordinates and took in a deep breath. â€œHere goes.â€ Hitting the lock key, he felt Marcy begin to bank. Dar monitored their trajectory as they swung away from Erotis. â€œTheyâ€™re trying to match me, but I donâ€™t think they can.â€ He nudged the throttle to warp eight. â€œIf I go fast enough, they canâ€™t catch me.â€
â€œThen why not continue on our course?â€
â€œBecause it may sound strange, but thereâ€™ve been reports of ships hitting head-on in the great void of space. I donâ€™t wanna test that theory.â€
â€œAh, I see.â€
Dar looked out the window. â€œShit, there it is.â€
He pointed. â€œSee that ripple in space? Thatâ€™s the mouth of the wormhole.â€
â€œWeâ€™re headed right for it!â€
â€œNo, no, Iâ€™m gonna swing us to the left.â€ He grabbed the helm and banked even harder. â€œCome on, Marcy, just skim by it.â€ Dar pushed the throttle to warp ten. â€œShit, I can feel it dragging us in.â€ The ship groaned as the opposing gravitational forces pulled at it. â€œAh, come on, Marcy, you can get us out of this.â€ He felt the ship losing speed. â€œPlease, Marcy!â€ He pushed the throttle all the way forward.
â€œWhat about the pirates?â€
â€œStill behind us.â€ Dar fought the helm trying to keep Marcy on course. â€œI donâ€™t know if I can hold it, the pull is too strong.â€
He banked harder, Marcy groaned more. â€œThe pirates are right on our tail.â€ The ship shook as it was hit by a phaser blast. â€œShit!â€
â€œTheyâ€™re shooting at us!â€
â€œThank you, Iâ€™m well aware of that!â€ He leaned harder on the helm. â€œMarcy, come on, you gotta get us out of this mess.â€ The groaning and creaking got louder; somewhere in the forward cargo bay, several loud banging noises could be heard. Dar was sure bolts were shearing off due to the extreme forces the ship was being subjected to. â€œHang in there.â€
â€œAre we going to get sucked in?â€
â€œNot if I can help it.â€ He thought for a moment. â€œSchmuff? Can you reverse the polarity of our shield matrix?â€ His reply was a string of Nouian profanity followed by more questions. â€œSchmuff, I donâ€™t have time for this, can you do it?â€
â€œGa, Eg thriink su.â€
â€œDonâ€™t thinkâ€”do!â€ He watched as the shields went off line. Marcy shook with more phaser blasts. â€œCome on, Schmuff, Marcyâ€™s vulnerable without those shields.â€
â€œWhat will that do for us?â€ Parnela asked.
â€œIf Iâ€™m guessing right, changing the matter constitution of the shields may act like an anti-matter pry bar.â€
â€œKaptaw, chelds recunfugred.â€
â€œAll right, letâ€™s give it a try.â€ He braced as the ship took a solid hit to the stern. â€œAh, sorry, Marcy.â€ Pushing the button, he turned on the shields. Outside the window was a brilliant blue flash, and then the ship violently lurched to the left. It was everything Dar could do to stay on his feet. As Marcy veered away from the entrance to the wormhole, her warp drive found stable space, and she rocketed off.
â€œWoooohoooo!â€ Dar cheered. He watched the monitor. â€œTwo have disappeared, the rest are losing ground on us.â€
Dar maneuvered Marcy farther away from the wormhole. â€œI need to run her hot for a while so we lose them. Then weâ€™ll double back and put in orbit around Erotis.â€
â€œWe certainly donâ€™t want them finding us.â€
â€œNope.â€ He checked the monitor again. â€œI wonder where those two went?â€
â€œDid they get sucked in?â€
â€œDoes that wormhole only go to the Milky Way Galaxy?â€
Dar scratched his head. â€œDunno.â€
â€œSo youâ€™re saying if we go in there, we may not end up where we want to be?â€
â€œItâ€™s a possibility.â€
â€œHow would you know if we were in the right place?â€
â€œMother gave me something when she was cleaning up to move.â€
â€œA map of the Milky Way Galaxy.â€
â€œWhere on Erotis did she get that?â€
â€œMy father gave it to her.â€
â€œFigures.â€ She stood and wandered over to him. â€œSo you think this map will guide you to Earth?â€
â€œI hope so.â€
â€œAnd what will we do when we get there?â€
Parnela put her hand on his shoulder. â€œDar Meltom, you are such a wealth of information.â€
Dar was going out of his mind. Today of all days, it just had to be. Lukxia was at the peak of her fertile cycle. She was ripe to conceive a youngling, and he knew it. Heâ€™d put Marcy in stationary orbit around Erotis, and was preparing to take Lukxia down to Krodus. Going to his cabin, he went to check on Parnela. â€œAre you ready?â€ he asked.
â€œYes, are you going to get Lukxia?â€
â€œRight before we leave.â€
â€œIs Schmuff coming along?â€
Dar took some drig from his desk drawer and put it in his pocket. â€œIf he wants to.â€
Parnela approached and wrapped her arms around him. â€œThink Krodus will like her?â€
He growled lowly. â€œPretty sure he will.â€
She sensed something was wrong. â€œDar?â€
â€œYouâ€™re acting strange.â€
Dar shrugged her grasp and headed out the door. â€œIâ€™m fine, really.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t sound like it.â€ She followed along.
â€œDonâ€™t worry about me. How about I meet you at the shuttle?â€
On his way to the crew quarters, he picked up her scent. Dar could barely keep his composure. Here on his ship was a beautiful, purebred Satiren female in the height of her fertile cycle, and he couldnâ€™t do a damn thing. Heâ€™d never known such torture until now. It was bad enough when Parnela was in her fertile cycle. He knew she wasnâ€™t ready for younglings, and as difficult as it was, he wasnâ€™t ready either, so he respected that. It was imperative for his sanity that he get Lukxia to Krodus quickly. As much as Dar wanted to finally join with a purebred, he would save that for his friend. Heâ€™d bring him a gift of unprecedented valueâ€”a young purebred female from Satiris, something long thought extinct.
Dar opened the crew quarters door. â€œLukxia? Are you ready?â€
â€œYes, Dar,â€ she called. A moment later she appeared.
He nearly had to hold his breath, her scent was overpowering. He felt his eyes starting to glow, his outward state of arousal becoming evident. No, Parnela canâ€™t see this, he thought, shaking his head hard to fight the sensation. â€œIâ€™ll meet you at the shuttle. Iâ€™m gonna see if Schmuff wants to accompany us.â€ Quickly, he made his escape and went to the engine room. â€œSchmuff? Schmuff?â€
â€œYou wanna go with us?â€
â€œCome on, get moving, I canâ€™t take much more of this.â€ Dar paced nervously in a small circle.
â€œEsha magga, Kaptaw?â€
â€œWhat? No, who is the matter.â€
Dar nodded. â€œGa, my little friendâ€¦Right now is a really bad time to be cramped in a shuttle with her.â€
Schmuff studied Dar for a moment before realizing the problem. â€œOh, shit!â€
â€œYou have no idea how tempted I am to climb into my spacesuit so I donâ€™t have to smell her.â€
Schmuff laughed, then made gyrations like he was joining with a female.
Dar frowned. â€œThatâ€™s not funny.â€
â€œGa, set ikt!â€
â€œNo, itâ€™s not!â€ He went to the door. â€œLetâ€™s go before I totally lose my mind.â€
As they walked toward the shuttle bay, Schmuff offered words of encouragement. Dar was doing his best not to pay attention to Lukxia. Just being in the same shuttle with her would be tough. He tromped up the gangplank ahead of everyone, taking his place at the controls. Parnela accompanied him. â€œWhat happened to females first?â€ she asked, seeing a sour expression on his face.
â€œSorry,â€ he grumbled and started the engine.
â€œDar, talk to me, please.â€
â€œWeâ€™ll discuss this later, okay?â€ He wanted nothing more than to be left alone in his misery.
Parnela wondered what could have him so upset. Was it because he was handing Lukxia over to Krodus? She wondered if Dar secretly wanted to keep her for himself. Lukxia was beautiful, and probably a few years younger than Dar. Parnela saw the way he looked at her, a faint hint of green glowing in his eyes. She figured she couldnâ€™t fault him; Dar had never mentioned joining with a purebred, and Lukxia was one of the purest.
The shuttle flight to Erotis took only fifteen minutes. Every moment Dar was subjected to the beautiful scent of Lukxia, his willpower declined. He wanted her badly. She needed to be with another purebred to make purebred younglings, not some scruffy half-breed. Dar at least wished for his own sake that she hadnâ€™t been in her fertile cycle; it would have made the trip a lot more comfortable.
He landed the shuttle not far from Krodusâ€™s new tavern. The settlement of Ozbok was far larger then Aknarra, yet he found an empty lot where he could land.
â€œAll right,â€ Dar said in a rather authoritarian voice, â€œLetâ€™s go.â€ Quickly, he worked the door and lowered the gangplank. Stepping out, he took in a deep breath of clean air. He needed to purge the scent of Lukxia from his lungs and mind. Dar debated if being tortured by Lukxia was better or worse than fifteen lashes from a Versithian fire whip. At this point in time, he figured it was a draw.
Lukxia, Parnela, and Schmuff walked out into the bright sun. It was Mokas, one of the warmer spring months. Dar took the lead and headed to the tavern. Heâ€™d taken the liberty of tucking a bottle of fine Halgarian champagne in his jacket, pulling the front closed, attempting to hide it. Krodus would probably be doing some serious celebrating with the other gift heâ€™d brought.
Dar wondered if his friend managed to find a female. Aknarra was a dead town, but Ozbok held more promise. Heâ€™d seen a few mature females out and about, the question was: were they already life-joined to someone else? It didnâ€™t matter. Dar was bringing him an extraordinary female, and if Krodus was joined with another, that was perfectly acceptable. Satiren law allowed for more than one partner in a life-joining. Krodus was strong and healthy; having two females would suit him fine.
They reached the tavern and Dar stopped. â€œCan you wait out here?â€ He looked up at the two-story building. It was tan in color, matching its surroundings. A sign hung above the front door: Old Aknarra Tavern.
â€œCertainly,â€ Parnela replied.
Dar opened the door and went it. Krodusâ€™s new tavern was only slightly better lit than the old one, and it seemed like his following of bar regulars made the move from Aknarra with him. The place was edged in dark wood, and the bar looked as if it was made from one large piece of wood that was nearly black. He found Krodus behind the bar.
â€œHello, my friend.â€
â€œDar, two visits in such a short time?â€
â€œWell, I happened to be in the neighborhood.â€ He produced the bottle of champagne. â€œHere, for you to celebrate.â€
Krodus picked up the bottle. â€œCelebrate?â€
â€œCome, I have another gift for you.â€
â€œHuh?â€ He stepped from behind the bar and followed.
Dar went out and stood next to Parnela. He pointed to Lukxia. â€œKrodus, this is Lukxia, she comes from Satirisâ€¦I brought her here for you.â€
Krodus felt every muscle in his body lock up. He couldnâ€™t move, he couldnâ€™t say anything, he was entranced. A gentle breeze blew through, bringing her scent to his nose. Without word, he approached and quickly embraced her, pressing his lips to hers in a passionate kiss. Lukxia didnâ€™t argue. They kissed madly for a few minutes. Krodus let his hands wander all over her body feeling her perfect curves.
Doing his best not to watch, Dar fought the emotions going through his brain. He knew his eyes were starting to glow; he couldnâ€™t fight the arousal he was feeling as he watched the spectacle. He found it funny not a word had been uttered between them. It was love, and words didnâ€™t have a place at that moment. He hoped they would be happy.
Krodus knew what needed to be done and guided Lukxia toward the back stairs of the tavern, his lips locked on hers.
â€œUh, Krodus? What about the tavern?â€ Dar called.
â€œWatch it for me; Iâ€™ll be down to celebrate in a couple hours.â€ With that, Krodus and Lukxia went up and closed the door.
Dar let out a big sigh.
Parnela sensed a hint of relief on his part. â€œCan you tell me what was wrong now?â€
He took her in his arms and kissed her. More than ever he wanted to join with his lovely mate. â€œIâ€™m sorry for being rude, but you have no idea the torture Iâ€™ve been through.â€
â€œYou wanted her, didnâ€™t you?â€
â€œIâ€™d be lying if I said I didnâ€™t.â€ He kept his arm around her as they headed inside so he could play bartender.
â€œWhy didnâ€™t you keep her as another mate?â€
â€œSheâ€™s the purest of purebreds; she deserves to be with another.â€
Parnela kissed him on the cheek. â€œYou did a very good thing.â€
He went behind the bar and found an apron. â€œIâ€™m glad sheâ€™s off the ship.â€ Dar had no clue as to what to charge the patrons; he figured they would know.
â€œThe temptation too great?â€
â€œYes, that, and she was at the peak of her fertile cycle. I couldnâ€™t stand it one more minute.â€
â€œHow did you know?â€
â€œSatiren males have a very keen sense of smell. We know when a female is ready.â€
â€œAnd she was, huh?â€
â€œVery!â€ he said with a crooked smile.
â€œOh, poor you!â€
â€œJoin with me later?â€ he pleaded.
Parnela smiled. â€œOf courseâ€¦Am I safe?â€
Dar took a couple of sniffs for emphasis; he knew she wasnâ€™t in her cycle now. â€œYes.â€
* * *