AFD~8

Introducing… *drum roll* Chapter 8! …Well, what're you waiting for? Read it!

Darre led the Earthlings down a dimly lit hallway. Several dull booms echoes through the narrow passage. Mairin jumped; Joel took her hand, and she calmed down.

Darre quickened his pace. "Those are Gome cannons," he said softly. "They must be very far off. If they were anywhere near us, the noise would be deafening."

"Where do you think they are?" Brenna asked quietly, as another boom sounded.

"I suspect that they're attacking Meian, one of our moons. We have a base and weapon warehouse there. If that's what they're after, I'll send half the fleet out."

Mairin was having a little trouble keeping up with the others, who were going at almost an all-out run. "Out of… curiosity," she gasped, trying to catch her breath, "how many… people… are on… the moon-base?"

"Hmm…" Darre counted on his fingers as he ran. "Covo, Trian, Lerag… um, about nine. It's a small base."

"You're risking half your fleet for nine people?" said Joel incredulously. "You must really need those weapons."

"No, the weapons are replaceable. It's the base crew we're trying to save."

"Jeez," muttered Carl, "next time, post some expendable people."

"Expendable?"

Brenna tried to explain. "Expendable means that, if they die… well, it doesn't matter if they get killed." She felt strangely ashamed.

Darre stared at Carl as though he had grown a third head. His voice, when he spoke, was harsh. "No Kaenor is 'expendable.'"

It's a nice sort of ship, Joel thought. Not like some Star Wars spaceship. This one looks a lot better.

The ship certainly wasn't a typical spaceship. It was shaped like a submarine, but rounded at the edges. It was purple as the Kaenor sky and sleek as a green bean. (A/n: Whatever you do, don't ask!) It was also big. Really big.

Darre looked proudly at it. "The Tammela," he said, pleasure in his voice. "Tejor - my father - gave it to me. It's the fastest ship in the world."

"Your world?"

"Any world."

"You sure?"

"Well, maybe there's some world with a faster spaceship, but not yours. This ship could start from Earth, loop around the sun, and come back before you counted to ten."

Even Carl looked impressed. "How'd you make it so fast?" he asked.

"I didn't," replied Darre. "One of our scientists - Haeli - designed it." He smiled at their blank expressions. "Our scientists do almost everything for us. The only thing they can't do is remember everyone's names; they've got too much else to remember. While you were asleep, I met with Haeli, and she didn't even recognize me." He chuckled. "Of course, she's our best scientist. We call her Speira-taka: it means 'great scientist.'"

"I've been meaning to ask," said Mairin, "how is it that Kaenors speak mostly English?"

"I don't know." Darre looked thoughtfully at them. "I never really thought about it before. We've always transported to the U.S., and we haven't encountered any other languages. Well, except the Greek alphabet, which isn't exactly a language."

"So, how do we get into the ship?" broke in Carl. "Is there some sort of door?"

"Some sort of door, yes. Follow me."

Darre led the Earthlings towards the ship. He walked… and walked… and walked… until he walked right into the side of the ship.

Except he didn't.

"Whoa! He walked right through the ship!"

"How'd he do that?"

Carl pretended not to be surprised. "It's simple," he bragged. "Anyone could do it. Watch this!" He walked up to the ship… and walked… and walked… and walked… until he was flat against the ship. He pushed against the side, but nothing happened.

Darre's head poked unexpectedly out of the wall, right next to Carl. "Over here," he said, trying not to laugh. "There's only a very narrow bit that you can walk through. I'm just so used to going in, I forgot it's invisible." He withdrew his head.

Brenna stifled a giggle. "That's our Carl, solid as a wall." She, Joel, and Mairin started laughing like crazy. Carl looked embarrassed and insulted.

"It's not funny," he muttered, walking into the ship with as much dignity as he could muster. This time, he made it.

When all five were in the ship (Mairin and Joel still giggling), Darre led them through another hallway (this one lit with soft green lights) to the cockpit. Well, the Earthlings assumed it was the cockpit. It was a large room with windows all along one side, and underneath the windows were countless buttons, levers, and tiny screens. There were six high-backed seats near the control panels. The windows showed the rest of the docking bay, filled with smaller ships of every description.

Darre gestured towards the seats. "Sit down. The pilots are gearing up, but they'll be here any minute."

"You're letting us sit in the cockpit?"

"This isn't the cockpit, Joel; this is just the viewing cabin. The Tammela was originally built as a space yacht, but Haeli outfitted it with weapons when the war started."

With that, the emperor strode through the opposite wall (well, another walk-through wall) and was gone. Brenna seated herself in the first chair. The cushions adjusted automatically to make her more comfortable.

"Hey, sit down, guys! It's really cool!"

The others took their seats and started playing around with the control panels. Carl pressed a black button, and a cup appeared in his hand. Mairin flipped a switch, and her seat started spinning. The lever Joel pulled turned on some strange, quiet music (a bit like someone plucking random strings on a harp), and when Brenna touched a screen, bright colors flashed all over the room.

"All right!" shouted Carl excitedly. "Klon at last!" Gingerly, he took a sip of the pale-green liquid, swallowed, and made a face. "Ugh. I got a good one, all right."

Darre walked out of the wall, startling the Earthlings. "Just seeing how- Hey, who turned on the lights?" He walked over to Mairin's seat and flipped the switch, and her chair stood still. She looked a little nauseous, but a moment later she was fine.

Brenna giggled. "It's like a disco in here. Bright lights, weird music…"

"…all that's missing is the dancers," finished Carl with a grin.

Darre nodded. He touched a screen on Mairin's panel, and the lights went back to normal. Fiddling with the switches a minute, he changed the music from random notes to something like flute music. Then he sat down on one of the empty chairs.

"The pilots came, and everyone's ready to take off. Fasten your seatbelts, everyone. It's the little yellow button."

Carl found the button first and pressed it. Thousands of thin wires shot out from the sides of his chair and entwined to form a closely woven net. "Hey! I'm in jail!"

Darre shook his head and smiled. "No, you're not. The wires generate a special force field that keeps you in your seat. They'll disappear once the field is properly established."

"Cool."

At the exact moment everyone's wires disappeared, the ship took off. There wasn't any kind of warning or indication, other than the view changing from the dock to the black void of space. Brenna leaned forward and touched the invisible mesh. "Say, Darre, how do you get out?"

"There's a switch right over your head, but don't touch it until I come back."

"Where are you going?"

"The pilots don't know where to go yet."

"They don't even know where the moon is?!"

"No, they don't know where we're going. They just run into their ships and await orders."

"Blind obedience?"

Darre gave Carl a look. "Blind? Blind?! Sheesh, Carl, you have more to say than I have time to listen to!" He flicked the switch, stood up, and walked through the wall, much faster than he had before.

Brenna gave Carl a similar look. "Carl, are you trying to be annoying, or is it just an accident?"

Carl shook his head vigorously. "I just have some questions, that's all! Is that a crime?"

"In this case, yes."

"Well, then, I'll be quiet." And he was… for three glorious seconds.

"Shouldn't they give the pilots some sort of instructions? Like, over a loudspeaker or something?"

"CARL!"

"Turbojets engaged."

"Navigational system prepped."

"Plasma cannons charged."

"Radios on standby."

"Floro, put away the chane and get to work!"

The cockpit was buzzing with activity. Some of the pilots were seated at their panels; some were running around, checking on the others.

Darre looked up from the chart he was drawing up. A Kaenor girl with an unmistakable likeness to Labon was standing next to him. A small silver badge shaped like a Z was pinned to her tunic, marking her as a Zeta pilot.

"Ah, there you are, Theta. Have we determined the exact location of the Gome ships?"

"Yes, sire." She handed him a flat piece of yellow something-or-other (it looked like plastic). Darre pressed it against his forehead, and an image popped into his mind. He frowned and handed the thing back to Theta.

"The Gomes are much too close to the moon. We'll have to chose a new strategy. Wing A and Wing B should sweep around and fire on the ships while Wing C flies the ground detachment to the base. Inform the Wing Leaders."

"Yes, sire." Theta bowed and turned to go.

"Wait! After you've taken the message, please check on the Earthlings. They're in the viewing cabin."

Theta smiled before melting into the bustling crowd.

The Earthlings turned as a girl walked through the wall. Brenna guessed that this was Labon's twin, the Zeta pilot; the resemblance was obvious.

"You can turn off the force field now," the girl said with a smile. "I'm Theta. The Zoyl sent me to check on you."

"Nice of him to remember us," muttered Carl, but no one paid any attention.

Brenna flicked the switch and stood up. She looked out the window at the endlessness of space.

"Where exactly are we?"

"We're sitting in space, really. The Zoyl had us put up the gravity deflectors so the pilots can agree on a strategy. We'll be moving again in a minute, though."

Carl was, as usual, dissatisfied. "You don't have a strategy? Don't you guys ever plan ahead?"

Theta gave him the same look he'd been getting all day: the classic 'what-planet-are-YOU-from' look. "Of course we had a strategy planned out! It's just that the Gomes got much too close to the moon for it to work." She turned to the others. "You see, the base is equipped with a Gome detector. If any Gome ships come anywhere near the base, an alarm goes off there and on the planet. Only this time, they scrambled our radar until they were close." She added as an afterthought, "Haeli will have to invent a new detector…"

"So, now you're just planning how to make your plan work in this new situation?"

"Exactly." Theta smiled at Brenna. "It won't take too long."

As she spoke, the view through the windows changed. Brenna could see several objects in the distance, irregularly shaped, and just light-colored enough to make out. The ship drew closer, and the objects became more clearly defined. The Earthlings looked with rapt attention as the forms took the shape of three… potatoes?

"What are those?" asked Joel.

"Gome ships. They disguise them as asteroids, but our sensors can still pick them up."

Mairin's eyes wandered to the last object, much larger than the other three. It was obviously Meian. Its surface was rusty-red, like Mars, but there was a metallic rectangle on it which could only be the base.

Theta gazed at the moon, a strange look in her eyes. "Trian's down there," she said softly. "If this fails…"

Brenna flashed her an understanding smile. "I know how you feel," she said reassuringly, "and the Zoyl certainly won't let this fail."

For a moment, it didn't matter that Brenna was hundreds of years younger than Theta; they shared something deeper than a little difference.

Then Carl starting talking and messed it up.

"You're in love with some guy on the base?"

"Carl!"

"What? Why can't I talk without everyone getting mad?"

Theta shook her head despairingly and walked out.

Darre mentally checked his plan. Unless the Gomes did something unexpectedly - and he was sure they would - his plan would work perfectly. No use counting on the Gomes to follow his plan, though; if something changed, the comm system would allow him to give out alternate orders. He wasn't taking any chances; no, that wasn't quite true. The whole plan was risky. All he could do was hope it worked.

He turned on the comm. "All Zeta and Omicron pilots, assemble by the Trueheart. Repeat, all Zeta and Omicron pilots, assemble by the Trueheart."

Rizo's crisp, clear voice came through the comm (no static on Kaenor comms). "Roger that. Say, once this is over, can we have lunch? I'm starved."

"I'm glad you're so optimistic, Rizo. This little episode might get you killed."

"Oh, you worry too much, sire. The Gomes aren't that smart."

"They're smarter than they look."

"Okay, we'll be extra careful."

"Good. Heather would shoot me if anything happened to you."

"Hahaha, like I'd let those filthy Gomes get me. Over and out."

Darre snapped off the comm. He signaled to the pilot of the Tammela.

The least enjoyable part of his plan was what his ship would do: pull nearly alongside the DeathBlow.

Brenna and Mairin looked at each other. The sort of looks girls give each other when the boys are doing something weird.

And, man, were they doing something weird!

"Incoming meteor!" yelled Joel. "Man your battle stations! Target coordinates 2-6-0-7 through 2-6-2-6 and standby for the signal! Repeat, standby for the signal!"

"Remember, I get to give the signal."

"No way!"

"Yes, way!"

"Oh, quit it," broke in Brenna. "We're supposed to be the saviors of Kaen, not a bunch of goofs playing around!"

Carl frowned. "I'm admiral of this starfleet, and I refuse to speak to civilians."

Mairin rolled her eyes. What a loser, she thought. She wished Joel could hear her thoughts.

As if on cue, Joel nodded. Then he looked rather startled. He stared at Mairin reflectively. Okay, hold on a sec. Did Mairin just talk to me? But Carl hasn't said anything… maybe he can't hear her! Oh my gosh, can I read her mind? Or… um, what's-it-called, telepathy? Awesome!

He wondered if Mairin knew… Hey, Mairin, can you hear me?

Yeah! Oh my gosh, this is so cool!

It works! It really works! …Uh, so what now?

Heeheehee… don't look now, but Carl's pretending he's an admiral again.

Joel did look… and nearly exploded, trying to keep from laughing. Carl was sitting at one of the control panels, flicking all the switches in sight, while shouting orders to imaginary subordinates.

"All fighters, come around and go into attack formation! …Oh, and get me a cup of klon, Cheryl. …Lieutenant Hawkins, have your fighters take evasive action!"

Brenna giggled, but tried to hide it. "Don't encourage him, Joel."

He looks pretty dumb.

I'm sure he's just trying to impress Brenna.

What makes you think that?

Well, duh, he's a boy!

So am I.

But you're more mature.

That's saying a lot, Mairin.

Thinking, not saying.

Oh, picky, picky.

Anyway, it isn't working.

What isn't?

His act. Brenna isn't very impressed.

He's not very impressive.

Exactly.

Do you think he likes Brenna?

Maybe.

Oh, come on, Mairin! You're the expert; does he or not?

You're the boy, you should know.

I don't know everything.

Ha, a boy admits it!

Oh, come on!

Okay, fine.

I think he likes her.

So do I.

Than why didn't you say so?

Why didn't you say so?

Oh, forget it. Brenna's giving me some weird looks.

That's because you're sort of vaguely staring at her.

Whatever. Over and out.

What?

I'm still in that military mood. Bear with me.

Oh, and here I was, thinking you were the mature one.

I'd like to think so.

Actions speak louder than words.

Thoughts.

Whatever.

Are you copying me?

You're copying me.

No, I'm not!

Yes, you are!

No, I'm not!

Oh, this is definitely mature. Let's just leave each other alone.

Fine with me.

This whole conversation took less than a minute (speed-of-thought: it's cool).

Theta walked into the room. "We'll be getting…

The ship lurched, sending Carl flying into the control panel. Theta grabbed an empty chair to keep from tumbling across the room. Mairin and Joel were seated with the force field on, so they weren't affected at all. Brenna, who was already leaning against the window, was pressed against the glass (okay, it wasn't really glass, but it looked like glass, so we'll call it that, and why are you reading this note? Get back to the story, for crying out loud! This is the good part!)

The Tammela was nearly alongside one of the Gome ships. Up close, it looked less like a potato; the asteroid's craters were more easily visible. As Brenna watched, a huge section of the ship disappeared, replaced by a large black panel. With a flicker, an image appeared on the panel.

Brenna's strangled gasp made everyone turn. Carl picked himself up and ran over to her. She had collapsed to a sitting position, with her hands over her face. Only Carl could hear her quiet sobs. He bent over her worriedly.

"What is it, Brenna? Are you okay?"

Theta leaned over and flicked a switch on the control panel nearest to her. She spoke into the miniature microphone that popped out of a hidden panel. "Sire, we have a problem in the viewing room."

"What's the problem?"

"It's Brenna!" Mairin explained. "She-"

Suddenly, Darre was there. Literally. He appeared in the middle of the room. He was at Brenna's side in an instant.

"What happened?"

"We don't know. Right after the ship lurch, she suddenly was this way."

Darre stood up and looked out the window. He groaned when he saw the screen, which had turned black again.

"Oh, no… I knew Tfr wouldn't pass up that opportunity… but to Brenna!"

He knelt by Brenna and put his arms around her. "What did you see, Brenna? What did they show you?"

Brenna looked at him, tears still rolling down her cheeks. She tried to speak, but she couldn't form the words. She leaned her head on Darre's shoulder and sobbed. Darre hugged her tightly, wishing he could make it all right.

You'll pay for this, Tfr, if it kills me.

Next chapter is here, too… Come on, go read it! I know you want to!