Authors: Mark Wayne McGinnis
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Alien Invasion, #Exploration, #First Contact, #Galactic Empire, #Military, #Space Opera, #Space Exploration, #Science Fiction
Hanna, laid out several feet away, stirred and moaned, “What the hell happened?” She lifted her head up, her wheat-colored blond hair covering much of her face.
“You slipped and took us both down.”
Before she could respond, they heard the heavy clanging of Pharlom footfalls on the stairway. Leon looked around for their weapons—both were sent flying during their tumble. But it was too late, anyway. Looking up, he saw the muzzle of a Pharlom projectile weapon, only inches away from his face.
Hanna sat up and pushed her hair from her eyes. “It was a stupid plan, anyway,” she said, looking defiantly at Leon.
Her scrappy attitude made him smile, even as he glanced up at the seven Pharloms, now in a huddle around them. Still smiling, Leon said, “Take me to your leader,” slowly rising to his feet. He shrugged and said, “I’ve always wanted to say that.”
* * *
Their hands were bound behind them. Seated on the ground, their backs rested against the hull of the same attack marauder. They were a mile above the surface of Trom, where the marauder had landed on one of the immense, gravity-defying cloud-ports. All but one of the SkyTrans transport engines remained moored, several miles away. The open concourse before them was pocked with craters, some ten feet in diameter.
But it was the bodies, the smell, and the ever-present sound of buzzing flies that held Leon’s attention. Men, women, and children lying inert … scattered around as far as the eye could see. Too many to really count. Nearby, a small girl, probably no older than five or six, clutched a blue doll in her tiny lifeless hand. To his left were various damaged port structures, and the control tower, though still standing, had a large, forward window blown out.
“What are they going to do with us?”
Leon felt the warmth of Hanna’s upper shoulder against his own. Although her hair again covered much of her face, he could see her eyes, looking sideways at him.
He gestured forward with his chin. “I think they’ve set this cloud-port up as some kind of concentration camp.” In the distance, fencing had been erected. When he squinted his eyes he could see movement on its far side. He suspected there were thousands upon thousands of prisoners held there.
“Why don’t they just kill us? What could they possibly want with us?”
“Slave labor, for one thing.”
“One thing? What’s the other?” she asked, her attention heightened and her brow creased.
Instantly, her expression mirrored his. “Oh no … no way? How could that even be possible? They’re like made of stone … do they even have the … necessary equipment to do such a—”
Leon shook his head, really wishing he’d omitted that last bit of trivia. “I don’t know anything for sure. Rumors, really. Probably all made up.”
“What kind of rumors?” she spat back.
“I don’t know … just that the Pharloms are … well, let’s just say they’re highly passionate.” He looked into her wide eyes. “It’s not something you’d live through anyway. And hey … from what I’ve heard, they’re not particularly oriented toward any one species or any one gender.”
Hanna continued to stare at Leon for several seconds. “Well, that’s at least something.” She too grimaced.
“Hey, it’s not going to come to that. We’ll find a way off this rock … somehow,” Leon added.
“Well, I hope you think of something soon, because they’re coming for us.”
A low-flying open transport fast approached. A Pharlom was at the controls while two others, armed, stood on the wide cargo-like deck behind him.
A guard appeared out from the attack marauder’s hatch and poked Leon with his rifle. Leon and Hanna got to their feet as the flatbed cargo vessel pulled up, setting down onto the concourse tarmac. Now close enough to see, he noticed the flatbed wasn’t empty. A stack of seven-foot-long metallic bodies lay strapped together toward the back of the transport. He knew what they were—
—AI controlled robots. Tromians used the robots to do just about everything they didn’t want to do themselves. But they were poorly designed. He’d seen a strong wind topple them over. He’d also seen them trip over their own two metallic feet. But now, seeing those still bodies bunched together, he felt an odd sympathy for them. For, at the end of the day, they remained simple mechanical bots. They didn’t deserve to end up this way, nor did the Tromian people.
Next they were manhandled onto the transport and told to sit down. Quickly underway, they headed toward the distant fence Leon had spotted earlier. Within a minute the transport rose higher into the air to clear a twenty-foot-high gate. Hanna, on her knees next to Leon, stayed quiet as thousands upon thousands of Tromians noisily milled about below. Above the whirling sounds of the transport drive were the sounds of misery: children’s cries mixed with the sobs and pleadings of both men and women.
Hanna turned toward him. “You have to do something … anything, Leon.”
Leon saw hundreds of tent-like barracks, row upon row of them, toward the outer periphery of the encampment. If he were to make a move, it needed to be in the next few seconds. Noticing the two Pharlom guards were facing forward, away from them, he felt fairly confident he could take out one, just like he’d done on the Pharlom command ship. But two … and the pilot?
The moment came and went. The transport suddenly dropped, descending into the fray below. Pharlom guards approached as the vessel landed and thick, rocklike hands lifted Leon and Hanna onto their feet and half dragged, half pushed, them towards a tent larger than the others.
“Let go of me, I can walk!” Hanna screamed at the guard pulling her along. Leon was thrust forward into the air and landed hard on the ground. A second later, Hanna landed down next to him. A guard stood over her, blocking out the bright sun. A black and ominous silhouette, he tilted his head to the side, as if assessing her as she lay there.
Tent flaps flew open and another granite-skinned Pharlom approached them from behind. Leon, now in a seated position, angled his body around to face him. This one was big, wearing a red sash angled across his chest, atop his body armor. He slowly shook his large, bowling ball head.
“No … not until she’s processed, Gratto,” he said.
“Yes, Warden Derl,” Hanna’s guard replied, stepping away from her.
“Remove their bindings and bring them inside,” the warden commanded. He turned and disappeared behind the flaps of the tent.
As Leon and Hanna were pulled to their feet, the bindings pinning his arms behind his back were freed. He rubbed his sore wrists. Masses of Tromians stood around them, their eyes full of fear and desperation as they watched in silence.
They were pushed into the tent, into the dimness within it. Leon blinked several times, his eyes adjusting to the inside gloom. They were herded to the rear of a line of prisoners. Leon took in his surroundings: The size of a circus tent, it was far larger-looking than it appeared on the outside. Several hundred prisoners were being processed in multiple moving lines. Armed Pharlom guards stood along the periphery where long tables were set up, with Pharloms seated behind them.
Twenty minutes later, Leon and Hanna reached the front of the line. The Pharlom wearing the red sash sat before them. The guard next to him pointed some kind of a device at Hanna, possibly a camera. It made a mechanical clicking sound. He set the device down and picked up another one—a gun. Leon sprang forward but the guard to his right grabbed his arms firmly in his massive hands. Hanna inhaled audibly and looked down at her chest. A small red dot appeared. Blood.
She stayed on her feet, seemingly unaffected by whatever was shot into her. Leon’s photo was taken and then he, too, was shot in the chest. They’d been tagged, like animals in the wild—so they could be tracked. He touched the place where he’d felt the sting and felt a small lump beneath his skin.
Their two guards had them moving again. The big tent had another opening, off to the side, and another line had formed there. One of the guards grunted and gestured for them to follow the other prisoners, then left them.
Hanna’s arms were crossed over her chest. Her head down, she’d become quiet.
“Hey, we’re going to get out of here,” he said. “I promise.”
They crossed from one tent into another … smaller, but just as dark inside. A middle-aged Tromian man, who seemed to be in charge, stepped away from a group of prisoners and approached them. “Hello, I’m Security Commander Larkbadder.” His eyes narrowed as he looked at Leon.
Leon looked back at Larkbadder in disbelief—
of all the people to run into
Larkbadder looked triumphant. “I knew I’d catch up to you, Pike … eventually.”
, Zoo Habitat 7
Boomer fell to her knees at Jack’s side. His battle suit, too, had been retracted. Tears flooded her eyes as she shook him. “Jack! Jack!” Looking up at the nomad in white, she screamed above the howling wind, “You killed him! Why would you kill him?”
The nomad’s eyes stayed on hers for several beats, then moved toward Jack. “He is not dead. He is simply unconscious.” The nomad turned his attention to the two similarly dressed beings several steps behind him. “Bring her.” The nomad leader headed off toward the distant ruins, not looking back. One of them grabbed her arm and pulled her to her feet. He then hiked her up over his shoulder, like a sack of potatoes, and followed in the direction of the leader. Upside down, she watched the other nomad drag Jack’s unconscious body back to where the now-invisible portal window was located.
* * *
Boomer had apparently lost consciousness somewhere along the way. She had no idea how she’d gotten to this place. Lying upon layers of soft blankets, unmoving, only her eyes took in her surroundings. Muted, amber light filtered down from somewhere above. Subdued voices echoed nearby. Merely ten years of age, she instinctively knew this was a hallowed, spiritual, place. They had brought her to the ruins and she was fairly certain she was underground. More ancient pillars and stone block walls reminded Boomer of the Jefferson monument back in Washington D.C. but this place was older—much older. She didn’t feel she was in any immediate danger. Her thoughts turned to Jack. Had the nomad spoken the truth … was Jack indeed alive?
Boomer slowly lifted her head and brought herself up on one elbow. Two realizations occurred to her simultaneously: Her spacer’s jumpsuit had been replaced with nomad robes, and she was not alone.
“Where are my clothes?” Boomer asked the nomad leader, seated cross-legged several feet away from her.
He didn’t answer. His constant stare was unnerving. As she’d been trained, she assessed her opponent. He was unarmed, leaning back on his arms, which were stretched out behind him. He was vulnerable.
She sprang to her feet with both fists clenched. Without hesitating, she kicked out with a bare foot, instinctively curling her toes back, prepared for the balls of her toes to make solid contact just beneath the nomad’s nose. The move was something she’d practiced hundreds if not thousands of times before. All her training had been customized to fit her small, ten-year-old frame—designed for someone of small stature and physical strength to make the greatest impact possible. She knew that an up-and-forward strike to the nose, done with sufficient force, would first impact the lower, then the upper, lateral cartilage—both fracturing and driving the splintered nasal bone up and back into the frontal sinuses, then into the brain itself.
The expected impact didn’t come. The nomad seemed to vanish right before her eyes. Boomer, now off-balance, fell forward. She tucked in her head and like a rolling ball rose back on her feet, ready to strike again. She spun around to see the nomad was reseated, back where he was only seconds before.
“Please be seated.”
“Where are my clothes? Why am I here?”
The nomad sat up straighter and gestured for Boomer to take a seat on the blanket in front of him. She considered another attack but knew it would produce the same result. The truth was, the man had amazing abilities and she was intrigued.
She sat, but continued to glare at the nomad.
“I am Prince Aahil Aqeel … please call me Aahil.”
“I don’t care who you are. I want to get out of here.”
“You are free to leave at any time. You are not our prisoner.”
“What did you do with Jack?”
“Your friend is fine. The being you know as Ricket has retrieved his unconscious body from where he was placed, near the portal into your vessel.”
“Why didn’t you just take me there too? Why … am … I … here?” she asked, fighting back tears.
Up to that point the nomad’s face remained mostly covered—only a small band open—from where his large brown eyes stared back at her. Now, seeing him up close, she realized his skin had a blue tinge to it. He reached around to the back of his head and released the veil-like cloth covering his face, letting it fall free around his neck. His face was long and handsome. A scruffy beard covered the lower part of his face and, seeing his grin, Boomer noticed he had perfectly straight white teeth.
“You have questions. That is understandable. All will become apparent over time. Most important now is that you understand that you, Boomer, have searched for us, for me … not the other way around.”
“That’s crazy! You’re crazy. I don’t know what you are talking about. I wasn’t searching for anyone. I’m just a kid … I don’t even know you.” She said the words but instinctively knew they weren’t true. She hadn’t known before that she’d been in search of …
, but realized now his words were ringing true.
She spoke without thinking, “I want to learn how you do that … how you move like that.”
He seemed to take that in, giving it some thought. She looked to her left, then to her right. A circle of twenty men and women now surrounded them. Startled, she gasped,
How do they do that?
Like Aahil, long black hair hung down their backs and each had the same bluish skin tone. “We are the Blues,” Aahil said. “This gathering is the Council of One. The elders of the Blues.”