Authors: Craig Gaydas
“Well, look what we have here,” he mused.
“Are you going to play nice?” Lianne grumbled.
Kedge held his hands up in mock surrender. Lianne pulled out her sword while Marle deactivated the cell door.
“Good luck,” Marle grumbled and returned to the guard station.
“If you so much as cough wrong, I will remove your head from your shoulders,” she growled and opened the door.
Kedge waved his hands dismissively and motioned us toward the seats. Just as we sat down he clasped his hands together and slammed them down on the table, startling us. I felt Lianne stiffen next to me and realized, even though her hand was underneath the table, that she instinctively reached for the sword.
“So, let me guess why you are here.” He placed a finger to his temple in a parody of deep thought. “There is trouble in paradise and you need my help to fix it.”
Lianne and I exchanged glances but maintained poker faces.
“So, going to play hard to get, huh?” Kedge quipped. “OK, why don't you tell me why you're here already, so I can get back to my book?”
Lianne looked at me and placed her hand over mine. It was a gentle sign of reassurance I previously thought unimaginable coming from her. I always viewed her as the type of person that would stab you in the face rather than shed a tear for you. Her caress rejuvenated my inner strength from the caress.
“Yes, Kedge, we need answers and you may be the person to supply them”, I replied. “But based on our last encounter I'm not quite sure I can trust you.”
“A dilemma within a dilemma, how fascinating.” He sounded bored and traced a fingernail across the cover of the book.
I clenched my fist and bit back the anger. He was testing me. After taking a few short breaths, I relaxed and continued.
“I need to know why there is a lack of humans within the Consortium.”
Kedge shrugged. “I don't know. Why don't you ask your
I refused to back down and maintained my resolve. He was testing my emotional strength which we both understood would inevitably lead to him testing my physical strength. That would be a bridge we would need to cross later.
“I'm asking you,” I insisted. “And I think you know the answer to the question.”
Kedge glanced at Lianne before fixing his gaze on me. “You realize I would have killed you if she didn't interrupt us.”
I shrugged and tried to maintain an appearance of indifference.
“I'm glad I didn't though, because I still have a soft spot in my heart for you. Just consider it another sign of weakness on my part.” He let out a dry cough and leaned back in the chair. His monocled eye zoomed in and out in an attempt to focus on me. “So in my moment of weakness I suppose I will answer your question.”
Lianne crossed her arms and I leaned forward eagerly.
“Humans are looked upon as a fragile species, on the verge of extinction. There is always one thing or another threatening to wipe them out. One day it's a superior alien force, another day it's an internal conflict. Perhaps one day it will be climate change or some rare disease that will threaten to destroy them.” He leaned forward ominously. “Or maybe one day the alien force will return to finish the job.”
“What's that supposed to mean?” Lianne growled.
Kedge brushed her off. “Either way, the Consortium most likely grows weary of humans and does not want to be associated with them.”
Lianne stood up, outraged. “That is ridiculous. The Consortium is built on exploration, education, protection and compassion. In all my years in service to the Defense Fleet I have never seen any signs of what you are saying.”
“Defense Fleet?” I could see his derisive laugh irritated her. “Don't let your naivety cloud your judgment.”
Lianne was ready to reach her boiling point and I needed to diffuse the situation quickly. “If that were true, why trust me as their new Cartographer?”
Lianne pointed at me and nodded. Her face said
I told you so
He stood up and waved his arms in a sweeping motion. “Simple, you passed the test. Look around, Nathan. Your traitor needed you to get to me. He realized that the shock of seeing another human on the planet would cause me to let down my guard. I was foolish and you were a pawn.”
I started to ask him to clarify his statement when a commotion arose from the direction of the guard station. We heard the cell door arm behind us. Lianne moved toward the door but before she could reach it the shouting outside was replaced by gunfire. Kedge stood up and placed his hands face down on the table solemnly.
“I'm sorry, Nathan. It wasn't supposed to be like this,” he apologized. “I didn't know his true intentions until the Defense Fleet showed up.”
Panicked, I turned toward him. “What are you talking about? This was all just some kind of elaborate setup?”
Kedge stopped and his gaze drifted past me, toward the cell door. “It seems we were both double-crossed.”
I followed his gaze and saw his soldiers standing at the door—the same that were taken into custody on Xajax—with weapons pointed at the door.
“Disarm this door,” one of them barked to another.
“You come in here and you will have a very bad day,” Lianne shouted, sword in hand.
The soldier closest to the door—the one with the face like a badger—laughed. “We will see about that,” he tittered.
I was unarmed and desperate to determine who the traitor was. I had to act now before the opportunity was lost.
“It was Kale,” I cried. “He is the traitor, isn't he?”
Kedge made his way to the door and yelled at badger-face. “Hurry up and let me out of here.” Turning to me he shook his head. “Your traitor will reveal himself soon, in the meantime I have my own issues I must address.”
The hum of the electric field vanished and the door opened. Kedge walked through but never made it outside. The soldier—badger face—shot him. Initially I couldn't comprehend what happened and thought I misinterpreted the events as they unfolded. At first I thought the soldier shot Lianne, but soon realized it wasn't possible because she stood on the opposite side from where the soldier pointed the gun. I instinctively examined myself for a gunshot wound, even though I felt no pain. There were no marks on my body and my brain eventually had to accept the reality that Kedge's own soldier shot him.
He crumpled to the floor. Lianne used the distraction to take action. I saw a flash of light as the overhead fluorescent lighting reflected off the blade of her weapon. With a crisp, whistling sound, the blade removed the badger's head from his shoulders as easily as if she were cutting the end off a cucumber. It rolled into the hall, passed a startled second soldier—the Orgellian. He leapt out of the way and looked at the head like it was a grenade, ready to explode at a moment's notice.
Lianne wasted no time in completing her offensive. The Orgellian was so focused on the head he offered no resistance. She jumped at his large frame, making a slashing motion with her weapon. He fell like a tree, making a feeble attempt to hold in his guts as he crashed to the floor.
Everything around me seemed to move in slow motion. I scanned my surroundings and saw Kedge lying motionless on the floor while the Orgellian's body took forever to hit the floor in the background. Every muscle in Lianne's sword arm rippled while she swung the sword through the air—like some sort of cosmic swashbuckler. I followed on her heels out into the hallway where we were confronted by the remainder of Kedge's contingent. The Tyrrian clipped her shoulder with the butt of his rifle and she responded by slicing his throat open. The Madoc look-alike stepped from one of the cells and I noticed he was unarmed. This wasn't going to end well for him. The bloodlust in Lianne's eyes was too difficult to ignore.
“Get down, Nathan!” she screamed.
Lianne pushed me back into Kedge's cell, but it was too late. The stalk on top of the alien's head flashed brightly and everything went black. Panicked I tripped and smacked my forehead hard on the wall. I crumpled to the floor but saw nothing because I was now blind. What my eyes failed to see, my ears heard perfectly, though. A familiar whistling sound as came from the hallway followed by a wet smacking sound. I assumed that the poor soldier's head had lost its body.
“Nathan, are you alright?” It was Lianne's voice.
“I can't see anything,” I cried. Everything in the world went from an empty black to a dull gray, which I hoped was a sign of improvement.
“You have been temporarily blinded,” she replied. “It should go away after a few moments.”
“What the hell happened?”
“Exorgs have the ability to emit a bright flash of light from the appendage on their head, causing temporary blindness,” she explained. “You will be OK, just take my hand.”
She yanked me to my feet. By the time we reached the guard station, my vision went from dull gray to a watery haze filled with blurry shapes. I missed a large shape on the floor and tripped over it when Lianne yanked me forward. My hand drifted across the barrel of a rifle, its shape seemed similar to the weapon that Marle carried. Lianne lifted me to my feet and we started to move forward but stopped abruptly.
“What's wrong?” I asked breathlessly.
“You!” Lianne gasped.
My vision started to clear and everything became brighter and hazy, replacing the gloomy gray. It was like trying to look through glasses that haven't been cleaned in some time. I saw a person, flanked by two soldiers positioned in front of Lianne. Lumagom soldiers, judging by their attire. I rubbed my eyes in an attempt to clear the remaining cobwebs of blurriness from them. As my vision cleared, the questions were answered. We had found out traitor.
New Enemies, Old Friends
O!” I cried and fell to my knees.
Lianne's sword hand fell limply to her side. I expected her to lash out and slice him in half, but she seemed frozen in disbelief and continued to glare silently at the traitor. It was like she was in shock. Next to me sat Marle's corpse, marred by a singed hole in his midsection. His rifle lay next to him and his position next to the chair told me he had been blindsided by the attack. Calypso's betrayal tore at my heart and tears of anger clouded my recently cleared vision.
When Calypso shifted his gaze toward me, his eyes were emotionless and cold. “The Consortium forced me to do this, Nathan. This was the only way to get their attention.”
“Only way?” Lianne questioned. “What do you hope to gain from this?”
Calypso looked at the soldier to his left. The soldier nodded and smashed Lianne in the face with the butt of his rifle, causing her to slump to the floor. Blood the color of cyan trickled from the corner of her mouth. It resembled a waterfall as it cascaded down her face.
My only line of defense had just been knocked unconscious. Never before had I felt so vulnerable.
“Why?” I croaked. It was the only word I could muster and hoped it would be enough to elicit a response.
Behind Calypso the elevator doors opened and Captain Natronix emerged. My heart leaped with the thought of reinforcements, but it quickly turned to disappointment when he put his hand on Calypso's shoulder.
“The Cirrus is ready,” he said. “We need to go before we are spotted.”
Natronix tossed me a wicked smile, but Calypso waved him off. “Just a minute, Nathan had a question and I feel obliged to answer it.”
Natronix grunted and left with one of the soldiers. Leaving one between Calypso and myself. I thought about rushing him, but realized my hand-to-hand combat abilities left much to be desired so all I could do was stand there and listen to what he had to say.
“Why, you ask?” Calypso echoed. “Let us just say I lost faith in the Explorer's League.” He picked up Marle's rifle and turned it over in his hands. I tensed, believing he would shoot me but he strapped it to his back. “The High Prince maintains the pretext that our missions are peaceful, meant to maintain balance in the universe. We help those in need, like we did when Mars was attacked, when Tyr was threatened, when Vaire had a nasty biologic outbreak, and countless others. We can barely keep up with the countless dangers that threaten inhabited planets, yet here we are, zipping around the universe helping those in need.” He waved his arms in dramatic fashion to emphasize his point.
“So, what's wrong with that?” I asked.
Calypso scowled. “My planet, Charr, slowly rots from within as volcanoes chip away at the stability of the planet's crust. My people are threatened while the Explorer's League continues to ignore it.”
“I don't understand,” I blurted. “That doesn't make any sense.”
A blast rocked the ship and I was thrown hard to the floor, smacking my face on the floor. I could taste copper and feel the blood trickling from my lip. Calypso was thrown violently into the guard station and tumbled over the table. Instead of waiting for him to collect himself I decided to do a little self-preservation. I grabbed Lianne, dragged her inside the elevator and selected deck one. Satou's security code wasn't working, but the elevator moved anyway. The explosions seemed to have knocked out the security systems.