The Tale of Leif

A short adventure from the Talos series By D. Paul Fonseca

 

 

Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

~Murphy’s Law

 

     Vibrations from the enormous engines could be felt beneath the young man’s bare feet as he stood in the corner of the small room. The starship he stood in was docked inside the bay of a much larger jump ship and it wouldn’t be long before the jump ship was underway.

     As the young man waited for Captain Lucky to return, he thought about what he would say.

He’d never imagined pirates would take him captive, but there he was, with his hands bound behind him, and stripped of his all his clothes and weapons.

     Just outside the steel door, an armed guard stood watch, waiting for him to do something stupid, something even more stupid than trying to stow away on a pirate ship. He should have known better as soon as he saw the Destroyer in the landing bay with no military markings. If he had just walked all the way around the ship once, he would have seen the two-tone black on gray Jolly Roger painted on the hull.

     The boy’s thoughts turned to his family, to the home he lost, and to the life he had before the fall of Luna and of Gaia. How many had died that day? How did he get here? That was indeed what the captain of the ship he stowed away on would like to know. It was a complicated story, but the journey had nearly taken his life many times. If he could get through this day, maybe he would live long enough to again one day be free.

     He shifted his posture as he stood, but the ties around his wrists were so tight he could not get comfortable. It was no use. His toes felt cold. The knobby, metal floor sent shivers up his spine. He had been sitting on a soft cot with a metal bed frame, but when the captain had left him to attend to something happening on the bridge, he requested to stand. Now he regretted it. He hoped she would not be long.

     He considered his situation. Not knowing the captain, he was unsure about whether he could trust her with the truth. She was a pirate, after all. Leif had given his word to the man who saved him that he’d not betray his whereabouts. Leif hoped it would not come to that.

     People were coming down the hall. He hoped one of them was the captain. He heard a deeper voice, one unlike he’d ever heard. A man, maybe, but the voice was so deep, Leif imagined a large, beastly man, a pirate or a soldier. As the steps drew near, they slowed and stopped just outside the door.

     The deep voice sighed, and then said, “Captain, I know you have hope, but don’t let this distract you. I know you miss him, but until we get to Hilaeah, you can’t just hang on to half-truths and fly out to the outer rim to follow a hunch. That’s whimsy, and although any member of your crew would take a bullet for you now, if they feel you put them in harm’s way without cause…”

     “I understand,” the captain replied. Yojel, I know he’s out there. I can feel it.”

     “I’ll be on the bridge. The Ferryman is snugged into the repair bay now, so the jump won’t move you much in here. Core services have been attached to the Royal Star. Once the Royal Star goes into the jump, it should be only a few minutes before we call the all clear, but inertial resolve will take twenty minutes. Leap time is roughly twenty-seven hours, twenty-two minutes. You need anything?” Yojel waited for the Captain to answer. There was no sound. Since Leif could not see the two from inside the cabin, he never saw her shake her head.Captain Lucky said, “If you need me, you can reach me on channel 22, as usual.”

     The man with the captain spoke again, “Of course, and what of this boy? Did you find out who he is, or what he is doing here?”

     “I only know that he calls himself Leif. Says he is from Gaia, that he was on Luna when the Kalize invaded. I don’t know if he’s telling the truth, but maybe. I don’t know. If I have any doubts, I’ll kill him myself.”

     “A wise choice, Captain.”

     “Go now, Yojel. May Alon keep you safe,” she said. “And you as well, Captain.”

     As the captain came in, she called to the unseen guard at the door, “Better get going now, you should be strapped in, in  the next ten minutes. The Star is making the jump soon. We’ll get secured in my cabin. I’ll take care of the boy.”

     “Aye, Captain,” said the man outside. His voice was synthetic, coming from a voice transcoder on his neck, a sensor that picked up the movements of the mouth, lips, and tongue. Usually only soldiers wounded in battle got those. Most who lost their voice just lived with sign language, if they still had hands. Leif wondered what the guard looked like.

     Over the ship’s communicator, the captain’s voice came on through the loudspeakers, “This is Captain Lucky. We are leaving this space. Buckle up and prepare for intergalactic jump in five minutes. This is a long haul. So be prepared. Captain, out!”

     The captain came in and stood before Leif. She had put on her space suit, a second skin with armor padded over major arteries and important organs. The stiff round collar around her neck was the only thing not skin tight. As strong as the armor was, it fit her form evocatively. She held a second suit in her hands. It looked like regular clothing, but Leif knew it wasn’t. Captain Lucky dropped it on the bed and said, “Put this on. We’re about to go into a big jump.”

     “How far?” He asked.

     “If I told you, I’d have to kill you,” said the captain, with a smirk. “So put this on and I’ll get your chair out.” She stepped over to Leif, spun him around and released him from his plastic ties with swift action from her knife.

     He shivered in the cold air, still naked from his mandatory quarantine inspection. Then he pulled on the space suit, happy to feel warmth again. He was glad to know, from the quarantine physical, he had no parasites, but the chill of the ships’ air ran deep into his bones.

     As the captain had promised, two stone and Krylon seats were up, pulled from beneath the floor. Even as she pulled two helmets from storage, she ushered him into the seat to her right. Once he sat down, she handed him the helmet and said, “Put this on over your head and turn it to the right until the latch clicks.”

     “I know how to do this.” He said.

     She looked up at him, wondering if he meant to be rude, or if he was sincere. “Good, then connect your air and calibrate the mix. Do it, fast.” Lucky looked at her chronometer and sat down in the seat to Leif’s left, pulling her own helmet on and bringing up a holographic console on the inside of her helmet as it projected into the air before her. The image displayed onto the inside of her helmet glass, but to her it looked as though it suspended in the air before her in three dimensions.

The boy saw none of the image that she did, but understood what she was doing. It proved even more to him that she was in control of everything on this ship and she planned things very carefully.

     The Captain spoke into her microphone in the helmet, “Pops, give me a count down.” Briefly, she checked the hologram console for the boy’s air mixture. It was good. His vitals were normal, just a little nervous from the looks of things.

     On the speaker in her ear, she heard Pops say, “Movement is positive, Captain. We have flow. Jump system is calibrating and initiating velocity induction system in four, three, two, one... Singularity is open and targeted.  Velocity increasing.”

     Out in space, among the glittery stars and a nearby green and gray planet, the Royal Star turned on an axis slowly, then gracefully and without a sound, the ship nudged forward. At first the motion was indiscernible, then as speed increased it took on a lighted glow to it, blue and white at first as if it parted the waves of a great cosmic ocean, then green, an electric vibration of energy coursed its way in currents around the great spaceliner as it initiated the jump sequence. Many ships could jump through wormholes and travel through space, but only a Titan class starship, like the Royal Star, could jump from the Crown of Thor to Haiades, in the Hilaeah system, in just over a day. That speed was nearly mythical. As the speed increased, the ship began to flicker in and out of view. It seemed to elongate for an instant and then it simply vanished.

     Leif had been watching the Captain’s mouth moving, but he heard none of the conversation she had with her crew. One moment he was strapped in, pulling on his helmet and mixing his air supply, using the buttons on the arms of his suit, and the next thing he knew, his arms, legs and stomach grew weak. Heavy gravity pinned him to his seat and he felt like he was going to vomit. Gradually, the sensation subsided. He would have worried, except that the captain remained calm through the duration. He’d been on jumps before, of course – that’s how he got out to the Talos Space Station in the first place, but this one… This was different.

     He looked around the room and realized the walls had become transparent. Everything around him shook. Then from somewhere above, the lights dimmed and he realized the once white light in the ceiling of the cabin was so dim, he could barely tell if it was green or white. His mouth quivered, lips twitched with the feeling of weightlessness and then he turned to look at the captain again. She had her eyes closed and was saying something, but it didn’t look like she was talking to anyone this time. The movements of her mouth were minute and he could only guess that she was praying. Suddenly, she opened her eyes and looked over at him.

     She tapped an imaginary button in the air in front of her. Leif could then hear her steady but heavy breathing. She spoke to him, the sound of her voice sounded as if it was coming from inside a glass jar, “So, you have jumped before. Maybe you did come all the way out from Gaia.”

Leif nodded the affirmative. His head was swimming with ideas. He knew part of his disorientation was the effect of hyperspace, but given the circumstances, he knew that he was willing to take a chance with this woman. He didn’t have much of a choice.

     In hyperspace, most people let their guard down. They get delusional, but mostly, they lose their inhibitions and unless they have had military counter-intelligence training, they tell the truth. Hyperspace had the side effect of being a truth serum. Maybe this was what the pirate captain had in mind. Maybe it wasn’t, but either way, there he was, captive and flying through hyperspace with nothing to do.

     The captain smiled at the young man. She turned her head to look at him and said, “We have some time to kill. I know the travel is rough, but maybe telling me how you got here will take your mind off of it.”

     He nodded again. “I can do that.”

     “I want to hear every little detail.” She said.

     “Okay.” He was shaking. Lucky took pity on the young man. She reached her hand out and placed it over his arm. He hadn’t realized how much he was trembling, but he was glad to have her comfort.

     “You have to control your fear.” It’s not good to breathe so fast on a jump. Breathe slowly. You’ll be fine. The ship is sound and we’ll be okay.” The captain checked her display for anomalies. There were none. She continued, “Why don’t you start with your name? What is your real name, the one you were born with?”

     The boy looked up at the ceiling, at the dim light. He took a deep breath and began to speak. “My name is Leif. Leif de la Morte. I was born on Luna, in the southern colony of Tycho, almost seventeen years ago.”

     “De la Morte? You mean like of-the-dead?” Lucky was wondering again if he was being truthful.

     “Exactly. My family used to perform funerals and took care of the cemeteries on old Gaia. My ancestors were from a long line of morticians. It is why I went into biology. I wanted to focus on life, instead.”

     “Oh, okay… go on then, continue.”

     As you know, I am human and have no extra-human modifications, no bio gear.

     “All natural, huh? Well, you’re young. Maybe in time.” The captain was grinning admiring his vitality.

     “Maybe,” he said.

     “Please, continue.” The captain said distractedly while looking at something in the air.  She flipped through seemingly imaginary video screens, which Leif could not see. It made him wonder what she was looking at, but he continued his story.

     “I had two siblings. My sister, Drea, was two years older than me. My brother, Kyle, was just a toddler, about three when…” He looked away. The pain of that memory was deep and he didn’t want to cry in front of this woman. “When Luna was attacked,” he whispered. Even though he was looking away, he knew she was staring at him.

     He continued. “I studied animals on Luna. It was part of my curriculum. My classmate, Lyssa, and I ran a small animal facility. It took a year to get the license, but when it came through, we moved in, right with the animals, so we didn’t need much extra help. We just had to cultivate more plants. I don’t know if you kept up on Luna Prime news back then, but we had a surplus of oxygen and water for the past six years.” Leif realized he didn’t know anything about the woman. He asked, “Have you been to Luna, or Gaia?”

     The captain’s eyes were red, and Leif realized that she was saddened. Maybe she’d known someone who was there when it all came apart. After a moment, Lucky said, “I’ve never been there.”

     “Oh,” was all he could say.

     “I had known someone…” She waved her hand and shook her head. “Go ahead and continue.

     “Ok. Well, that day… The day I left Luna.” He said, trying desperately to smooth over the obvious painful memories they both had. “Lyssa, and my friend Dallas and I were on the grounds counting the Gotterlots. They weren’t very big and we only had ten of them; two were still very young. Anyway, Dallas had just met us on the facility and said he was going into the chemical-storage to take inventory. He usually did that when he wanted to take a nap, so we laughed and watched him go down into the underground lab.”

     The captain interrupted, “Wait, back up, the what? Got-er-lots?” She looked at the young man quizzically. “What is a Gotterlot?”

     Leif laughed. Forgetting for a moment that they were in hyperspace, he gathered his thoughts, focusing on the work that once filled his days. “Gotterlots are small vertebrate animals we engineered. They look a little like the ferrets of old Earth before they went extinct. But, Gotterlots are special. We engineered them to have wings and feathers. They were so cute when they hatched.”

     “You what?” The captain was incredulous. It was almost hard to believe a kid this age was doing that kind of work.

“We had a lot of help from our parent company,” Leif added. “FACTOR42 was a huge laboratory working on a project to have humans grow wings naturally. You know, without grafting. So they helped us pick out a candidate animal. They’d had the Ferret genes for centuries already.”

     “Oh, okay, that makes more sense. FACTOR42 has been around forever. Even I know who they are.” Captain lucky turned her head a moment after speaking and checked the time.

     Being distracted momentarily helped Leif realize that he had almost lost the nauseated feeling in his stomach. As Leif looked around the room, he realized that this really was the captain’s cabin. Sparse, but clearly she had this room all to herself. So, when he had snuck onto the destroyer in the belly of the deep space cruise ship, he was not only unlucky enough to find his way onto a pirate ship, but hide in the captain’s own suite! Ironic that her name was ‘Lucky.’ He felt certain that had the captain been a man instead of this young human woman, he would already be dead.

     Scanning the room they were in, he saw that there were a lot of clothes in the closet he’d hid in, more than he would have thought for the captain of a spacecraft, but then, maybe that was the pirate way. He wasn’t sure. On the wall behind them, he noticed a small, framed photograph of two people sitting on a hillside of lush green grass and trees. In the background he could see there were two suns in the sky. The photo could be from any number of human inhabited systems, but he wondered who the couple in the photo could be. The woman wore a headdress indicative of royalty, silver and gems with delicately layered blue velvet.  It crowned her head.  The man in the photograph wore clothes befitting someone of higher status but not royalty. It must have been taken for some special event, Leif deduced.

     The captain was staring at Leif when he turned his head to see what she was doing. “You were saying something about got a lots,” she said.

     “Gotterlots, yes,” Leif said, as he thought back to the day they were discussing. “Lyssa and I had been out in the aviary, feeding the things for the day, Lyssa and me.”

     “You had a thing for Lyssa?” The captain seemed amused when she asked him, “Did you two spend extra time in the lab together?”

     “What? No! No! I mean… It wasn’t like that, I mean, she was great and all, and I liked her a lot,

 but…”

     “You were keeping it professional?”

     “Sort of.” Leif blushed. Then his face went slack. He swallowed hard and asked, “Might I please just continue my story?”

     The Captain, being titillated, pretended to look at her nails, even though she wore gloves. “Please do.”

     Leif sighed and told his tale. “We finished feeding the animals and Lyssa took me back to the lab. She wanted to show me a new suit her father was working on for Calypso Systems. He was one of their top engineers and this was supposed to be some huge new breakthrough for them.”

     “We’d gone up to his labs, but he wasn’t there.” The young man thought back, deep into his memory, seeing it fresh in his mind. “Lyssa told me that her father gave her access to the lab in case she ever needed the suit.”

     “What does it do?” I had asked.”

     “It’s a dead suit,” Lyssa had said. She laughed and explained, “It’s for warfare. If someone put it on they would immediately become invisible to any type of scanner, even invisible to the untrained eye.”

     Leif continued to describe his visit with Lyssa. He told the captain how Lyssa had shown him how to check if it was charged, how to charge it, and how to put it on, take it off. The details mesmerized the captain. If such a suit existed, she would want one for each of her crew.

     The captain asked Leif, “So what happened next?”

     Leif continued, “We went down to the cafeteria to find something to eat. Halfway there, alarms began sounding throughout the building. A voice came on the loudspeakers announcing that Luna was under attack. I mean, we’d heard that the Kalize were getting closer to Gaia, and they’d been threatening the planet and us for a long time, but we didn’t think that would happen. People rushed past us and everyone ran in different directions to get to their homes, or to escape. Then we saw on one of the monitors, the ones usually used to show the news and stuff, in the dining area. It was broadcasting an alert for Kalize ships approaching from Darkside.”

     Leif’s arms waved about. He was frantic in the retelling. On the captain’s helmet monitor, she saw his heart racing. She told him, “Calm down, Leif, we’re here now. It’s long since passed.” She placed her arm around his shoulders and leaned her helmet against his until his oxygen levels and heart rate came down.

     “That’s better,” she said. “Go on, take it easy and continue.”

     Leif took a deep breath. He said, “Then the broadcast went out. The screens in the cafeteria all went black, and then blue. They all just said ‘Signal lost.’ I couldn’t believe it was happening. Lyssa grabbed my hand and said come on. She pulled me back towards the central landing zones. She told me that we should get to our community’s landing zone, LZ-32, and get to Gaia. I knew she was right, but then I also knew that I had no idea where my family was. But it was Lyssa, so I let her lead me to the ships.”

     The captain asked, Leif, “Were the ships there?”

     “Oh, yeah, they were there and there were people piling into them fast. Some had already lifted off and were headed to into orbit around Gaia.” Leif cast his eyes away, looking at the walls. “I went with Lyssa.”

     Lucky nodded. She then checked her monitors inside her helmet and noted the ships speed, the elapsed time and the velocity equilibrium calibration. They were still accelerating, the most dangerous time during a jump. During acceleration the ship was elongating, they were elongating, but it was not something that she could see because she was on the ship. Nonetheless, the captain let Leif know, “We’re nearing equilibrium. It won’t be long now. We can take off our helmets in about an hour. I’ll let you know.”

     Across from the captain, the young man took a deep breath and continued his story. “Lyssa pulled me along and we ran. We ran so fast, I think we jumped down whole flights of staircases. When we got to the routing gate, the crowds were flooding though them. I held onto Lyssa’s hand so tightly that she pulled me close and we ran side by side, practically hugging most of the way through.“

     “We turned at LZ-32 and we were both on the list for Shuttle 249. They checked our palms to ID us and let us in. My heart was beating fast and I know Lyssa was the same. Once we reached the ship, they took us in. We didn’t see anyone we knew at first. It was confusing, but Lyssa’s father stood up towards the back of the ship and called out to her, to us. When we reached him. Lyssa was in tears, but happy to have found him.”

     “I bet she was. That must have been traumatic,” Captain Lucky said.

     “It was terrifying.” Leif fidgeted in his seat. “But we made it. Lyssa even …” He broke off his sentence.

     “What?” Lucky asked Leif, “Lyssa what?”

      Leif grinned. “She turned around and kissed me. It was weird, because it was right in front of her dad.”

     “So this was like, a cheek kiss? Had you kissed before?”

     “No this wasn’t a cheek kiss, it was full on, mouth to mouth and even a little tongue, like you see in the movies. And well, we’d kissed once before, but that was so small, it was just curiosity. This really caught me off guard.”

     The captain was smiling back at Leif, intrigued that he’d shared this intimate detail with her. “You’re a lucky guy. She must love you,” she said. But Leif just cast his eyes down and away from her, the reality of that day coming back to them both. “I think she did,” he said. “I’d like to think so.”

     “So, what happened?” Lucky rubbed the boy’s shoulder with her gloved fingers. “I need to hear what happened.”

     “I couldn’t find my family,” he mumbled. “I looked up and down the aisles, but couldn’t see anyone. Then as I came back to Lyssa’s family, I saw my brother, Kyle, standing up next to Lyssa. He smiled right away. Then my sister Drea came up from behind me and hugged me tight. She nearly picked me up.”

     “Drea told me that our parents had been ordered onto another ship to split up families, just in case, and were in pre-flight status about to take off in the next ship over. Lyssa’s Mother was with them. I was so happy that we were all getting out of there. So far we hadn’t seen any signs of the Kalize at all.” Leif turned his eyes to the floor. “That’s when I realized I had to turn back.”

     “What? Why would you do that?”

     “Dallas.”

     “Oh my god.” The captain put her gloved hand to her helmet in front of her mouth.

     “We tried to call him in the chemical storage but we got nothing, not even a busy signal. It was just dead. I figured that the Kalize were probably jamming the air. I had to go and tell him. I had to bring him back.”

     “Couldn’t you just check with the staff, to see if he boarded a ship already?”

     “I asked and nobody had seen him. I figured he was fast asleep in the underground lab like we knew he’d be.”               

     Captain Lucky looked at the boy with new interest. This was a gutsy kid. This was a kid who would risk his life for a friend. She said, “So what did you do? You went, didn’t you? You went after him?”

     “Yes,” he said. “The ship’s captain heard I was leaving and he found me on my way out to tell me that if I left, there may not be a second chance to leave on a shuttle. I’d have to find my own way to Gaia. But he told me where I could find the pods. He knew there were many going unused since most people were taking the shuttle out. I thanked him and ran.”

     “I ran so fast. I ran from the terminal and jumped into a carriage, gunning it to get back to the labs.” 

     “Did you make it in time? Was he there?” The captain was pulled into the boy’s story. So far, she could believe what he was telling her.

     “When I got to the labs, the security door was in lockdown. It wouldn’t open for me. I pounded on the door and it wouldn’t budge. I finally had to back the carriage up and ram it with the bumper.  It snapped right open.”

     "And? Was he there?” She asked.

     “He was there. As I ran down the stairs to him he had a huge glass tube ready to swing at me since he thought someone just broke in. I told him what was going on. He wasn’t sure he believed me. ”

     “What?  He thought you were putting him on?”

     “Yeah. He said, ‘You’re putting me on!’”

     “I’m not, I said. Then Dallas grabbed his backpack. He said there was food in it, his lunch. We might have to share it if we got out of there, and off Luna. Once we were outside, he didn’t need any more convincing.”

     “Why’s that?” The captain had become engrossed in the boy's tale.

     “Because as soon as we got outside we saw two Kalize ships approaching from the southernmost quadrant of the perimeter gates. They’d already had their landing gear down and were intent on landing in the field in our compound. The ship blocked our route back to the escape ships. Then the forward guns spun in our direction and opened fire on us.”

     “How did you get away?”

     “We turned and ran through the aviary. Immediately Dallas saw three of the Gotterlots, picked them up and put them in his backpack. I told him he was insane for stopping, but he said there was no way he was going to lose eighteen months of research. After that we bolted through the bio-labs and up into the residential property. We were close to Lyssa’s apartment building so we ran there.”

     The captain mused over this thinking he was up to something. Maybe he’d thought about the suit. Certainly she was thinking about it.

     “I made my way into Lyssa’s family’s apartment with Dallas. It was so quiet in there. Usually you can hear people in other apartments because the whole structure is metal, but not then. It was deathly quiet cause everyone had left. Dallas had asked me what I needed in there. All I told him was it’s something that might help us, so he said okay. We got to her father’s private lab but I couldn’t get in.

     Dallas was quick thinking and went into the tool corral. He got lucky and found a weird vice clamp; it closed like scissors when you turned it. Anyway, he fixed it on the doorknob and turned the lever so it closed around the knob. After a while, the knob just popped right off and we were able to use a screwdriver to turn the door lock open. We got in and …”

     “Wait, why did you go for the suit?” The captain inquired.

     “I was afraid. I knew the Kalize were right behind us.” Leif sounded like he was confessing a sin. “I took the suit and put it on. We looked around for another one but this was the only one. There was a backpack with it, with what looked like a head piece, or mask and some other gadgets so I grabbed that too.”

     The captain was intrigued. She made a mental note of the suit details.

     Leif continued, “Dallas and I decided to run for the landing zone, together, but a little apart in case they shot at us. I felt terrible, like I was betraying Dallas, but I went behind him, running parallel, to him between the buildings.” Leif noticed the motion sickness he’d been experiencing was barely noticeable now. But his emotional discomfort couldn’t be shaken.

     The captain looked at the gauges inside her helmet. The ship was nearing equilibrium. Soon they would be under full speed, an exponential of faster than light speed, or FTL. She smiled seeing this. Her appreciation for the technology she’d stolen warmed her heart. The new ship she’d acquired seemed almost magical.

     Leif picked up on her distraction. He asked her, “What is it? Are we almost at speed?”

     “Very soon.” When she looked back at him, she saw pain in his eyes, something like guilt. “Tell me what happened to Dallas.”

     His eyes wandered around the room. He wasn’t ready to talk. Something choked him up. On the walls, he took note of the little things. Typically, ships don’t have any wall decoration hanging, not like one might see on a planet or a moon. But that one photograph seemed to be affixed to the very middle of the wall in the captain’s cabin wall. The only other furnishing on her wall was a small mirror above her dresser. Leif asked her, “Who are those people in that picture over there?”

     Lucky didn’t need to look at it. She answered him back, “Finish your story and then I’ll tell you about those people.”

     He took the hint. “Dallas and I ran as quietly as we could. We heard an explosion far off, but we didn’t know what it was. We just ran. Dallas kept looking back at me. Something caught his attention and he turned to look at me. He put his hand up, telling me to stop.”

     “What was it?”

     “There was a squad of Kalize troops heading towards us. He backed off towards me, but I could hear their footsteps running, like they saw him.” Leif took a deep breath. “I saw up overhead, one of the escape shuttles launched and was on its way up to Gaia. I waved Dallas to come over to me and we   could make a break for it down the elevator. It was already up with the doors open. I got in and Dallas caught up.  He was breathing so hard. As soon as he was in, I hit the 'close' button, but not before I saw four soldiers turning the corner and heading for us. They saw us. Then the doors shut and we went down.”

     “Where was that elevator going to take you?”

     “To the sublevels of Tycho. Mostly that’s where the commerce happened. There were shops of all types down there, even a movie theater. I don’t know why we went that way. It just seemed like a place to hide. On my way down, I activated the suit.”

     “You hadn’t already done that?” “No, I …”

     “You felt guilty because Dallas didn’t have one?”

     “Yes.” He sighed. “We ran as fast as we could. But Dallas, he got tired easy. He was out of breath. We stopped at a candy shop where the door had been left open. The lights were off but came on when we walked in. In fact, the lighting motion sensors were leaving a trail of breadcrumbs behind us wherever we went. We started filling our packs with whatever we could to eat later.”

     “Dallas asked about the suit. He asked what it did. I told him and he looked like he understood and then he asked. ‘What if you go out and run one way in the suit and I run the other way? ‘

     “I told him I didn’t know. I’d never used it before. It’s supposed to make me invisible, I’d said. But, he could see me, so Dallas started poking around on the suit, patting me down, frantically.” Leif  went on, “He touched something on my wrist and my body just dimmed, like a light switch turned down. It was like I was in shadow.”

     “Oh man.” The captain exclaimed.

     “Yeah. When it switched on a tiny beep came out of the backpack. There was some kind of watch, or bracelet in there. Under the cover of its face there were a bunch of symbols I couldn’t understand. I just put it back in the pack.” Leif looked troubled. “I never found out what that thing does, the watch. Dallas found the spot, the control. He touched part of my wrist and there was a dial on it. When he turned it up, I became completely invisible. Dallas started giggling. He thought it was the coolest thing. As soon as he turned the suit's power up, I heard a ship up above firing up to lift off. It sounded big, like one of the shuttles.”

     “Then what did you guys do?”

     “Dallas said we should run out towards the pet store. He thought that if we let all the animals loose, then the Kalize would have a harder time tracking us. It made sense, so we ran about a block and did just that. There weren’t a lot of animals. But there were at least a dozen dogs.”

     “Dogs? Really, dogs?” Lucky seemed incredulous at the idea of dogs on such a low gravity moon. “Are you sure you’re telling me the truth?”

     “Totally. The dogs were big. They only allowed the big dogs on Luna, Mastiffs and Rottweiler. “No! Seriously! I’ve only ever seen the little ones in person. How big is a Rottweiler?”

     “Oh, they can get up to 90 Kilos.” Leif was amused. The captain seemed genuinely surprised.

     “No! That’s enormous! That’s almost as much as I weigh.”

“Hardly!” Leif exclaimed.

     The captain reigned herself in. She could tell she was losing herself in the young man’s story. She couldn’t afford to lose her authority. For a moment, she clicked off her connection to Leif and said something to someone else in her crew. Leif couldn’t read her lips. She’d turned away from him. She returned her attention and asked, “Then what happened to you two?”

     “Well, the dogs ran off in all directions. A couple of them ran with us. If the Kalize were tracking biometrics, they’d have a hard time figuring out which was human, just because the dogs were so big. If they hadn’t been so well trained, they might have been all over us, but they knew the command: hide.  So they ran!”

     “That must have been a sight,” Lucky said.

     “It was.” Leif shook his head at the memory. “We ran together after the dogs. Eventually the dogs ran off on their own way. It was weird running like that too. I couldn’t see my own arms or legs, and Dallas kept punching my arm to make sure I was still there. He also told me that the backpack was invisible too. It was pretty cool, that suit.”

     “We came up on the far side of the center and were close to the central landing zone. But just as our eyes were getting accustomed to the bright light of day, I heard the roar of the engines of what looked like the last shuttle, and it was the one I was on earlier, with my brother, sister, Lyssa and her father. I remembered the shuttle number, 249, and that was on the tail end of the shuttle. I knew I’d missed my ship, but I also felt better knowing that they were up and away from the Kalize.”

     “Dallas handed me his backpack so I could check on the animals and he went off to find something to lock the doors we came out of, just in case we were still being followed. He was not too far off, and I just stood there watching the ship go up into the sky. I shut off the suit, opened the backpack and the Gotterlots came out, climbing up on my shoulders. One was white and the other two were gray.”

     Suddenly a change came over Leif. His face lost its intense, expressive recounting of the past.

His eyes welled up and the captain suspected what happened next. Over the last three years, she’d read every account of that tragic day on Luna and Gaia. She prodded him, “Leif?”

     “It was so loud. Oh my god, it was so loud.” Tears ran down his cheeks. “As I watched, I heard a popping sound from my right and then the shuttle just split into two. Flames went every which way and then the two halves of the ship just exploded into so many pieces.” He sniffled hard, like he couldn’t catch his breath.

     Captain Lucky felt for the boy. Her own pain welled up from depths she had constantly tried to push back. But this, now, she had no doubts this boy had been there. And as she looked on, he was gasping for air, swallowing it in big gulps with his tears flowing on and on. She had to do something. She looked at the gauges. He was using too much oxygen and his body was taking on a surplus of CO2. On the other side of her screen she saw that the ship had reached equilibrium. She unbuckled herself from her chair, knelt before the boy, pulled his helmet off and put it down. He panicked, but then saw she had taken hers off as well.

     As much as Captain Lucky tried not to empathize, the soft inner portion of her heart gave way.  She reached to soothe him with soft words. “It’s in the past,” she said. “It’s behind you. Breathe slowly, Leif.” She opened a drawer next to where they sat and pulled a handkerchief out, wetting it with a tanker of water she had attached to her chair. She handed it to him, motioning for him to wipe his face.

     Leif took it and wiped the pain away. After a few moments, his breathing slowed to normal and he thanked her for her kindness. “I’m okay. I’m sorry. I learned later that none of those ships made it off of Luna in one piece. The Kalize had destroyed everything. Everyone was dead.” His face turned to stone. “My family, my friends, Lyssa.” He wiped his face with his hand. “All of them were lost.”

     “Then how did you survive? What about Dallas?”

     “The blast knocked me down. I hit the ground hard. I didn’t see where Dallas was at first, and then pieces of the ship fell down all around us. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe that everyone I knew and loved was gone.”

     “The Gotterlots had all fearfully climbed back into the backpack. I grabbed the pack in my hand and searched for Dallas, but I couldn’t find him. I just ran away from the wreck that was coming down. Then I heard him screaming my name. He’d been knocked back from the blast like me, but it pushed him between the building and a metal gate. His leg was stuck.”

     As Leif talked, the captain walked over to a wall and pushed her hand onto an outline of a hand on a low part of the wall. The whole wall illuminated. A written message appeared at the top: access granted. “Don’t let me stop you,” she said. “Captain business, is all.” Just then system wide statistics showed up in all parts of the enormous display.

     “Okay. Um, I tried to get Dallas unstuck. Then I heard the soldiers banging on the door he’d locked with a piece of pipe. I panicked. I was so scared. All I could do was run towards the doors where the soldiers were, turn on the suit and then maybe I could catch them off guard, if they couldn’t see me.”

     “They saw Dallas as soon as they opened the door. They didn’t even care that so much of the area around us had caught fire. Three men came through. Three Kalize soldiers in gray cammo walked out and laughed at Dallas. I barely had time to pull on my mask and switch on the suit before they turned in my direction. None of them noticed me. They walked up to Dallas; joking about how they were going to hurt him, kill him. My heart was beating so fast and loud I felt they’d hear it.”

Leif choked up. “I didn’t know what to do. Instinctively, I stepped up to the one closest to me. I was right behind him. But the one closest to Dallas pulled out a pistol and pointed it at him. He fired. Dallas was hit in the shoulder. He didn’t scream, or cry or beg for them to stop. He just looked at those Kalize soldiers as blood ran down his arm. He just looked angry.”

     “Wow…” The captain was impressed. She still wondered if he was embellishing just a little. But from the scars shed seen on him when he was naked, she knew he’d seen some real combat.

     “Dallas was shot. He was bleeding. I wanted to run to him, but those guys were still intent in shooting him, and if they heard me…”

     “So what did you do? Did you leave Dallas?” Lucky doubted it. She felt sure this kid wouldn’t want to leave his friend behind after he’d already gone back for him once.

     “No, I didn’t leave him.” Leif sounded disgusted. “I picked up a big pipe that was on the ground.  Maybe it fell from the sky. Maybe it had been there all along. I don’t know, but the guy in front of me pulled out a sidearm faster than I could react, and he shot the one who shot Dallas. Just like that.”

     “Oh my god, the soldier shot one of his own?” The captain was surprised. It didn’t sound like this was a typical Kalize trooper.

     Leif continued, “Then the guy between them backed away, seeing his buddy go down.”

     Lucky held her breath.

     Leif swallowed hard. “I hesitated smashing that guys head in.  Then the other one dropped his rifle and was too afraid to even turn around. He faced away from me and the one who killed the bug that shot at Dallas.” Leif took a deep breath.

“I didn’t know why he was doing that, but he told the soldier to put all his weapons on the ground. He said that he didn’t come to Luna just to butcher innocent people. As the guy did what he was told, the one holding all the cards heard me shift my weight on some gravel. When he turned to look in my direction, the other one grabbed a weapon up off the ground.”

     “No!” Lucky felt a pang in her stomach. She had a horrible feeling that this boy was talking about Gavin, the one she was searching for. The love she lost on Luna three years ago. Could this be him?

      “When the shot went off, I ran at him. Nobody could see me, anyway.  The man who would not be a butcher was hit in the leg. It was bad, but he was still alive. I hit the other derkshit in the face with the pipe so hard, the back of his head exploded.”

     Lucky sat on the floor and pulled off her gloves. A look of loss had come over her, but when Leif grew quietly concerned, she insisted the young man continue his story.

     He nodded and went on, “I picked up the dead guys pistol, shut off the suit and ran to him with the gun drawn.”

At this point in his story, Leif became agitated knowing he had promised the man who saved Dallas not to reveal his identity to anyone. He said it could get him killed, since he’d become a fugitive of the Kalize Nation. He continued, “When that soldier finally saw me in the suit, I pulled off my mask and pointed the pistol at him.”

     "You’re just a boy,’ he had said.”

     “I asked him why he didn’t just kill Dallas like the others wanted to and he told me he just wanted to go home. He’d been drafted into the war and his orders were to secure the satellite, Luna. He said, there was nothing in his orders about killing everyone, but that’s what was happening.”

     The boy sighed. “So I helped him with his leg and he helped me get Dallas out of the fence. The three of us fled to point seven, a rainforest preserve at the northern end of Tycho. It had been abandoned a few years earlier and since there was nobody there, the invasion seemed to have skipped going there.”

     The captain mused on what she’d heard this boy tell her. This boy was even younger three years ago. He had to have been about thirteen years old back then. In all her years as a pirate she’d never encountered such countenance. As she looked into Leif’s stone cold eyes, she knew he told nothing but the truth. She saw death in those eyes, death, grief and ferocity, maybe even revenge.

     “We evacuated to Gaia. We landed too late. The Kalize had decimated every living thing on the surface of the planet with a twelve-core Locust cluster bomb. I didn’t know that then, but I looked it up later. It spread over the surface in less than an hour. It makes the oxygen in the atmosphere unusable for three hours. It split into twelve missiles and hit all the major landmasses. Almost everyone suffocated. Most of the indigenous animals died as well. When we got there it was over. Can you believe that the Kalize had most of their troops on the surface when that was set in motion? All of those Kalize troops died too. It was such a waste. I can’t believe anyone could order such a horrible, horrible thing.”

     “I can believe it,” Lucky said. Unseen by the boy, the captains fingers dug into her palm as her fist balled tighter into itself.

     Leif said, “Dallas and I and the soldier, we got to Belize. A shuttle was waiting for lift off and its occupants no longer needed the ship. They were all dead.  At least that’s what the soldier said.”  Leif’s eyes glazed over.  “Dallas stayed there in Belize. He was convinced he’d find people.  I just wasn’t ready to face the world like that.”  He sniffed quietly. “The soldier and I went on from there, up into orbit.”

     “You keep calling him the soldier. What was his name?”

Leif hesitated. He thought back to that moment when he'd killed the soldier who had shot at Dallas. The image was burned into his mind. The uniform, his face in fear as the heavy pipe flew at it. Then Leif remembered the patch that had his name printed on it, Drake.  Later on, when he’d asked the kind man, the one who helped them, the good guy with whom he was then fleeing Luna with them, what his name was, he’d said, ‘Call me Drake.’ Leif knew it wasn’t his real name, but it would have to do. So that’s what he told Captain Lucky, “His name was Drake.”

     At this, the captain’s mouth gaped with an horrendous sigh. She stood and walked over to the display board, thoughtlessly reading the stats as they scrolled by. “I see,” she said. Tears of frustration ran down her cheeks as she lost hope again. “So where did the shuttle take you?”

     “It went up to a jump ship, a freighter, The Juggernaut. It was to take two and a half years to get to Gamla Uppsala in The Crown of Thor. I got to Talos about six months ago. I’d been cleaning up after the traders, but I needed to move on. I don’t want to live on a station anymore. I need to get to some solid ground. That’s when I saw your ship come in today.”

     “I see,” she mumbled. Her hand rested on the butt of her pistol as it hung at her side. Her gut wanted to kill the boy for making her dream, for making her believe that this time she would know for sure that her man lived still. She took a deep breath, and composed herself.

     A beep came from the door. Lucky clicked a button on her dresser and the door revealed an image of a tall, muscular man standing at attention on the other side. It was Pops, her engineer and closest confidant. He was the closest to family she had on board. With more machine in him than flesh, he’d endured several lifetimes’ worth of adventure. His many years of experience made him a very wise advisor. She clicked another button and the door slid back into the wall.

     “Captain.”

     “Pops.” She stepped over to him and held out her hands. “You brought me a gift?”

     “Indeed, Captain.” He handed her a dark pile of clothing. “We found this and other items in a container just outside the Ferryman. I believe this is the item you had us search for.”

     The captain picked up the dark suit and held it before here in disbelief. “I think it may be.” She turned to the young man, who looked shaken, like he’d been violated. “Leif, is this the … Dead Suit?”

     He looked into her eyes and said, “It is.” It won’t work until you’re in it though. It needs the biometrics to function.”

     She turned to Pops, “Thank you, Pops. That is all for now.”

     “Thank you, Captain. I will return to my post.”

     The man left. “Put this on,” she said.

     Leif immediately stood and pulled off his space suit.

     “Don’t try anything that might compromise your situation,” Lucky said.

     He looked at her and pulled on the Dead Suit, “I won’t.”

     Regardless, she put her hand where it might easily pull her gun.

     When the suit was on, he leaned to the floor and pulled the mask out of the pack. Only the front of it was solid, and the back half was elastic, a stretchy black cap, which covered his head completely. His eyes were behind a dark pair of screens. As his body warmth activated the suit, her image and that of the room displayed before him, as though he were looking through eyeglasses. He asked her, “Are you ready?”

     “Yes, but just go dark for a moment. That way, I won’t have to start shooting at you, putting holes in my ship. That would be bad.”

     He nodded, and then disappeared. He spoke to her, “How’s that?”

     “Beautiful.” The captain grinned. This suit is an amazing asset. “Now turn it off and get undressed.”

     He did as she asked. As he dressed back into his space suit, he told her, “I didn’t mean any harm when I came aboard,” Leif said.

     She didn’t say anything. She paced around the cabin and deliberated for some time. She didn’t know what to do with the boy. On the one hand, she felt like there was more permanence in her loss of Gavin, and that upset her greatly. Maybe the boy would always remind her he was never coming back. Maybe she should just kill the boy and keep looking. Her heart was torn.

     On the other hand, maybe this boy was what she needed to start fresh. Leif could be someone to teach, to foster him in to the Pirate way that has been her life and the means by which she’d come to find a glimmer of peace. Maybe he would take her mind off of Gavin and that loss. Either way, she had to decide.

     The boy appeared to be genuine to her. He sounded truthful, and his story was consistent with everything she’d learned about that horrible, fateful day, three years ago. Then there was the suit. He told her the truth about that.

She knew she had to come to terms with the loss of her man someday. With a heavy heart and pain in her eyes, she turned to him. “What are you looking for out here?” She gestured with both arms outstretched, looking around the room and up. “Where were you hoping to go on these ships?”

     “I don’t know.” His eyes turned down.  He really had no idea where he wanted to go, or what he wanted to do.  He just needed to go, get out of that horrible place with terrible memories. “I just needed to move on.”

     Captain Lucky closed her eyes and exhaled. “Don’t we all.”  She then leaned in close, and looked the boy over from head to toe, her eyes settling on his. “You’ll need to earn your keep, boy.” She added, “And from now on, you call me nothing but Captain. Do you understand?”

     Leif nodded. His hopes raised up. He considered his good fortune and his hands trembled. “I understand.”

     Captain Lucky placed the gun back in its holster. She took her hand off the pistol. In her contemplation of Leif, she’d absently taken the weapon out and had been holding it, pointed at the floor as she spoke, but now, with a clear mind, she let it rest.

     The young man swallowed hard, feeling that he was nearly turned to dust and he wasn’t sure why. But he was grateful to continue breathing for the time being.

     “When we come to our destination you will obey my every order, or you will be punished. Do I make myself clear?”

     “Yes.”

     She raised her eyebrow.

     “Yes, Captain.”

     “Good. Now, what is it you want from me?”

     Leif was stunned. He didn’t honestly know what he wanted. He had wanted to go to a new planet, one populated with humans. A planet that was lush and green, like the old Gaia, the planet they once called Earth. But now, after meeting this intriguing woman, someone he might learn something from, he wasn’t sure. He opened his mouth and said, “I want to stay a while. I think… I want to be a pirate.”

     The captain grinned. “We'll see about that.” She picked up her helmet and walked to the door. With a wave of her hand and a command, “Secure cabin,” all of the displays shut off, cabinets and doors closed, and the lights dimmed. She said to Leif, “Now that we are at speed. Get some sleep. You’re going to need your strength tomorrow.”

     “Aye, Captain.”

 

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