The Rebel Princess
It started with a prophecy, one written centuries ago and yet was only discovered at the beginning of the reign of evil. It was during this time my friends and I were born, though it was strange and magical circumstances that brought us together for a cause that threatened to rip us apart forever. In many ways it did, as it tested the ties of friendship, the bounds of love and the depth of hate in each of us. More complicated than a labyrinth of uncertainties in order to understand a picture without having any eyes to see it, we learned too late that that this mirror had two sides, friends and enemies being the same and the body being only a veil to what lay behind. One simple rule we have learned – trust nothing, trust no one and do not trust your eyes, for they are the first to betray you. Young as we were, we had been exposed to battle and death for a long time, waiting for it to claim us also. This legend of our history stretches for two generations, though my story starts at the beginning of the last six years – the beginning of the very end…
Once the White Light has gone,
Darkness fills where it had shone,
Few are able to heal these wounds,
And many of them already in their tombs.
The only hope is of a baby prince,
His parents now are dead long since,
Hidden at his birth he does not know,
Not even his name or the name of his foe,
Because of a rebel he will finally return,
The truth from a dark one he shall learn,
Into a warrior he shall have grown,
And then the lost prince shall be known.
Yet so many secrets still unfold,
Great pain will come which they behold,
And succumb yet to more deceptions of light,
Against one another champions will fight,
With brothers against brothers,
And lovers against lovers,
As only the beginning will it be too late,
To undo those spells that have been cast of hate?
In the dark of space a planet glistened, like an ice crystal hovering in the speckled blackness. The beautiful planet was Purifica, the only planet in the Solar system and property of the Human Empire. It was a planet so beautiful, frozen in time and place, that it hoped it could escape the evil reality of the present. But nothing can escape it, for the present dictates the future and the future stretches on for infinity.
Chapter 1 - Purifica
Elnora stared out at the ice. Mountainous land covered eternally in soft white snow, glaciers persisting their slow and gentle journey, watching time slide by with a mild indifference that only the stars could match. But on the petty human side of things, time was an element that they had never really managed to keep up with.
A shiver ran down her back, the thin, white military uniform that had seemed so suitable only hours ago was proving no comfort in the freezing blizzard. Where next? Was the question that buzzed annoyingly at the back of her mind, although, gratefully, she would not have to answer it. Kenwyn would do that, she thought, Kenwyn was with her, Kenwyn would protect her. She knew he would. He loved her, like a father loves a daughter or an uncle; a niece. He would do anything to protect her and yet, still, her confidence in him had begun to falter.
Her fingers cracked painfully as she adjusted the altitude of her speed bike, accelerating it down past the jutting rock of the ridge and into the valley. As soon as she was clear of cover, red laser beams slashed wildly towards her causing her to roll the bike slightly to avoid them. In front of her, on another bike, rode her companion, General Kenwyn McDowne. The lasers flashed blindingly around them as they dove together into Velret Valley.
Panic, that had been ramming into her since the beginning of this wildness, struck down her defences as she pressed her body close to the bike, feeling its gently thrumming engine as though it were trying to tell her that she would be okay. 'Kenwyn, I'm scared,' she cried into the headpiece, 'I don't know what to do! And whatever it is, I can't do it! I can't do this!'
'Come on, Elnora,' Kenwyn's voice came back almost at once, 'Stop being stupid. You'll be fine as long as panic doesn't blind you and you trust your instincts. Now, stay with me!' Letting his words sink to her core, she somehow managed to push her fear aside. She could almost feel the garrisons emerge on the ridge behind them, upon the mountains surrounding the valley they were trapped in.
Another powerful volley of laser beams lashed around her and it was only luck that allowed her to avoid them, or more likely, them to avoid her as she struggled to keep up with Kenwyn. It was in a sudden calm, after a beam crossed only centimetres in front of her face and she was recovering from the momentary blindness it left her with, that she saw the inevitable. She opened her mouth to shriek a warning, but only a strangled gasp emerged as her friend's bike stalled and barely a second later was caught in the reactor coil by a searing laser beam. It was already too late; Kenwyn's bike exploded into a giant ball of flames, reaching out to grab what they could, before shrinking back into nothing, leaving fragments of devoured ash and charred metal.
Shock cut off her senses as she instinctively ducked the bike down to avoid the debris that was suddenly spewed towards her, as though mocking her, throwing at her all that was left of her mentor. Numbness was quickly replaced by chilling realisation and then slowly creeping fear. She was alone. Alone. And with alarming clarity, she realised that without him she did not stand a chance. Choked by silent tears, she cleared her eyes.
A laser beam hit her bike, shaking it beneath her and suddenly her body moved without her commands as though her instinct had bypassed her mind and commanded her body directly. She leapt, without direction or comprehension of what she was doing but only with purpose – to leave the bike behind and escape. Barely moments later, the bike exploded into tongues of brightly coloured fire that reached out hungrily into the air where she had been.
She plunged, like a rock, through the air, the small snowflakes of the blizzard impacting her like needles. Her scream was silenced by the wind as she plummeted. It was as though she had fallen forever, and with no sense in her body, she felt as though she was floating. Her mind was empty. There was nothing. Nothing but blinding fear that seemed to paralyse her body.
Too soon it was over and she crashed into a layer of ice that shattered beneath her, splintering like glass. Barely a second later, she fell awkwardly against another rock, which in turn, flung her in the opposite direction to suddenly stop as she hit the solid ice. Stabs of pain shot up her limbs in uncontrollable spasms, feeling as though her head would explode with the pressure growing within. Shards of ice rained down upon her like knives as she lay motionlessly in the thin layer of snow.
Only the pain of the fall had crushed the numbness that had closed her mind when Kenwyn had died. Now, as full realisation dawned, she cursed him for leaving her. Cursed fate for not taking her too. Crying, silently, she didn't know how long she lay there. Lying so still she could've been dead.
Finally, after however long she had lay there, her scattered thoughts gathered and began to make sense again. It had fallen upon her shoulders, she realised, to escape from here, from this ice cube they called a planet and return to the rebellion, to warn them at least of the devastation the Empire was planning. Sadly, no joy sprang to life with this knowledge; no sudden spurt of overwhelming courage or something similar that she had once expected would come if ever placed with this responsibility. All she felt was a greater weight upon her crumpled body that she had no reason to want, she felt the pain of her friend's death grate upon her and a bitter surge of resentment, knowing, discovering that she had already failed them.
Her eyes fluttered open and with a considerable amount of concentration discovered she could move. Carefully she picked herself up off the snow, leaving small red marks where she had lain. By some miracle, she found herself relatively unhurt compared to how she should've been. Light-headed, she stumbled forwards, reaching out to support herself on the rock beside her and again she opened her eyes, three images focusing into one.
She heard the gentle hum of the Empire's speed bikes overhead, through the roof of ice she had fallen through, suggesting softly to her that she should move, run, escape from this place. With tears frozen to her face and the blood from superficial wounds smeared across her skin she started along the icy tunnel into which she had fallen.
'Captain Lodine,' Ice Trooper J4 – 7 addressed him, the glowing red visor of his helmet reflecting back off the ice around them, 'it is confirmed that one of the rebels survived the explosions over Velret Valley.' The Captain nodded slowly, then cleared his throat and adjusted the switch on his communicator.
'Captain Lodine to squads J4 and 5, restart the search for the rebel. I want the network of mining passages beneath Velret Valley searched and remember, the lord, his highness the Prince, wishes to have the rebel alive – if possible.' A moment passed as he looked out over the ice landscape, the towering mountains and deep valleys. 'She may be able to run,' he said to the Ice Trooper, 'but not fast enough and she may be able to hide, but never so quickly as to escape our eyes.'
Inside a cove, Elnora unwrapped the scarf from around her face, allowing her blonde hair to fall into her eyes. Resigned, now to the fact that they would find her soon and no doubt kill her as well, she could only pray that if, by some fantastic miracle, a stray rebel ship homed in on a signal then not all would be lost when she died. Out of the shoulder bag she unclipped from her back, she brought a messenger, a device, surprisingly, to record messages. Glancing about nervously, she opened the settings and, with shaking fingers, switched it on. 'Please, I am being hunted by Imperial Ice Troopers and I don't have much time. To anyone who finds this, you are in grave danger – everyone is…'
Uniformed Ice Troopers searched the passages, holding their rifles ready as they jogged through the settled snow, which had evidently not been touched for decades. It was not difficult to track the rebel down; you only needed common sense to follow a path of badly covered footprints, anyway. Barely looking at their surroundings they ran through the icy passageways.
The rhythmic treading of armoured boots on the frozen ice sent a chill up her spine, a march of death. The shivers that ran across her skin were not so much from the cold of the ice around her, but the fear of death or worse, torture, that she knew was about to come upon her in such sudden and frightening circumstances. You'll be fine, Elnora, Kenwyn's voice told her as she closed her eyes and waited, as long as panic doesn't blind you and you trust your instincts. With the messenger planted and ready, she had to at least try to escape, surely she owed her mentor that much. She grasped the handle of the Zhoril laser gun she wore on her belt and ran her finger experimentally across the top. Perhaps, she thought with a small smile, perhaps, they would discover that she would not die so easily, perhaps, if she could use her mind. 'I won't die so easily,' she breathed, promising herself.
The Ice Trooper Squads fell silently into their attack positions, raising their laser rifles to the cave halfway up the wall of the passageway. It couldn't have been easier, following her footsteps they had found her and trapped her in this cave.
'The entrance is surrounded, rebel,' Captain Lodine announced, 'You cannot escape, so you must face the charges brought against you by the Human Empire. Drop your weapons and proceed to the entrance of the cave with your hands on your head.'
'Good idea,' she whispered as she stood up. Sighing, she clipped on her shoulder bag again and, bringing the gun to lips, kissed its white handle. 'Here we go.' Trembling, she stepped forwards to the entrance of the cave with her hands in the air. It seemed as though a thousand weapons were pointing at her as she stood there. 'Drop your weapon,' one man commanded, the man she suspected to be their Captain.
'If you say so,' she murmured and dropped it over the edge.
The power of the explosion threw the troops to the ground; most of them knocked unconscious by the blast. Dropping nimbly to the ground she grabbed two Imperial standard rifles from the gloved hands of two troopers. 'I told you I wouldn't die easy,' she murmured, but with that she was gone, flying swiftly out into the blizzard.
The holographic representation of Captain Lodine swallowed, standing on the small, raised circular platform on the bridge of the warship, Thunder Strike.
'Captain Lodine,' the sharp, straightforward voice addressed him, 'Report your progress.' Lodine straightened his back; adopting the military pose that he hoped would hide his anxiety.
'The second rebel spy is still being pursued over the snow mountains of Purifica. Her speed bike was destroyed over Velret Valley two days ago, where her companion was eliminated, but she somehow managed to successfully jump some 30 meters and survive.
'My Ice Trooper squads J4 and J5 tracked her through the mining tunnels to where she had taken shelter and surrounded the entrance. We followed standard procedure but she somehow managed to rewire a laser gun so that the plasma packs ruptured on impact with the ice exploding with the strength of a low power plasma grenade.
'Most of J4 squad was immobilised and the thick smoke could not be penetrated for a few seconds. By that time she had abducted another speed bike and managed to fire two proton beams at our transport pads. There was another explosion that demolished most of our equipment and triggered an icefall. We were trapped in the caves for several hours before managing to dig ourselves out. It was then impossible to pursue and our equipment needed extensive repairs.
'She has not left Purifica, for my warship, Thunder Strike, has been in orbit and has not detected her leaving the planet. We have resumed our search, Admiral, and shall find her soon. That is my report, sir.' He finished.
'May I stress, Captain, the importance the elimination of this rebel. This incident has not only attracted my attention, but that of those higher above me. His Imperial Highness, Prince Kulzeem, has expressed his personal interest in this operation even going as far as taking his protégé, the Lord Xylez, out of the deep meditation and inter-computer training he has been submerged in for half a decade! I have more than one Grand Admiral breathing down my neck about this and there are rumours that the Emperor himself is watching this one. If you… if we handle this correctly and deliver her to our superiors there is great range for promotion. But also, Captain, if we don't, then it is not just your career at stake, but a lot of other necks will be chopped as well. You have already humiliated yourself at letting her escape once, if you don't succeed there will be no chance for mercy,' the Admiral raised his head slightly, 'Two ships will be arriving within the hour, holding two more squads of Ice Troopers under the command of Prince Kulzeem's Lord Xylez. Now, Lodine, I say these words as a fellow man, a fellow human, beware of Xylez. He wears a black mask to hide a face that has not seen sunlight in five years and he knows very little of the universe in which we live. He is not of this galaxy, nor this time and his life here is only a small span of how long he will exist. Beware of him, Captain and don't fail again.'
Iota Twelve – Rebel Base
'Excuse me,' Officer Aven Brentward breathed as he rushed along the glowing corridors in his uniform. Some soldiers smiled greetings as he passed, others just met his eyes, some didn't even do that, too busy to even notice everyone else. This place rekindled old memories for him and he realised, only now, how long it had been since he had been here. This place, more than any other in this galaxy, had the feeling of home.
Within seconds, he found himself, once again, in the main control room. It buzzed with activity, as it always had, computer systems humming and the people rushing around and chatting, working to keep the not-so-new base operational.
'Admiral Orimune?' He tapped a tall alien on the shoulder. The man swung round and his marble eyes widened.
'If it isn't the boy that I once knew!' He exclaimed, using the Geohe sign language to help express his words. 'Aven Brentward! You have finally returned home to Iota! Why have you come back here?'
'I've changed a lot Orimune and I was due for leave from Alpha 1 so I decided to come home and see my sister. You haven't seen Elnora anywhere, have you? I was meant to meet her here this morning,' Aven replied. A confused look crossed the Geohe's face. 'I'm afraid, Aven, that Ms Brentward is not on the base anymore.'
'As you know, General McDowne has always been a father figure to her and in recent years he has become something of a personal tutor. On a routine patrol mission, about a week ago, she recorded some Imperial-coded scatter waves. Officer Brentward and General McDowne left two weeks ago to investigate,' Orimune told him. Aven sighed.
'Do you know where they were going? Every flight in and out of here gets logged, doesn't it?' He asked.
'The General refused to tell us where they were bound, all I know is that they took a ship with Small and Super space drives. He also said something about not having enough time left to teach her everything she needed to know and that it must begin now,' Orimune frowned, 'I don't suppose that made any sense to you either, did it?' Aven's brow creased.
'No,' he replied, 'thank you, Admiral, it's nice to be home.' The Geohe nodded.
The Ice Troopers stormed through the town that the speed bike had been located, knowing that beneath their fearsome strength, none of these simple folk would be left alive. Fearsome, indeed, they thought they were. But Ice Troopers were just bullies in uniform with no minds of their own to even think about what they were doing, what slaughter they were effecting or what vile crimes they committed and were ordered to commit. The reason there were so many of them – enough to hold a third of the galaxy together by force, was because it played on the more dominant human male emotions, the ones they could express freely. It had taken the Emperor decades to successfully breed such a man – the man whose only emotions were anger, aggression and violence but with a completely empty head, no mind and no reason. Now, millions and millions of these Ice Trooper Models were created in test tubes every year to build the Empire's Infantry to maximum. Of course, a few regular humans joined the Infantry and ascended the ranks of the army, but those were a very small percentage of them. Regular humans were more interested in piloting or engineering. But there were a few, like Lodine, who went into the Infantry.
The small town that they seized was one of the last villages on Purifica, the inhabitants being a race known as the prenomen, the only species able to survive such cold for so long and the only ones able to mine the valuable minerals hidden deep within the ice.
Red lasers lashed through the thin air burning anything they hit. What had once been a peaceful village of families happily isolated from the world and galaxy around them was now ablaze with bright red fire. Civilians ran from their houses in hope to escape, but the bitter truth was known, even within their deepest and darkest thoughts, the corners of their minds, which they would still not admit, that no one would be left alive. Not if they begged. Not if they pleaded. Not if they even told the truth.
Captain Lodine watched the havoc with a grim smile crossing his features. Beside him, Lord Xylez stood, a tall, dark, sinister figure, his face covered by a black mask. He watched with obvious indifference, that of a man who had not used his real eyes for five years and wore a visor now to protect them, that of a man who had not seen or experienced the true galaxy around him.
Despite himself, Lodine felt uneasy in his presence. The man did not speak unless it was necessary, he stood as still as a statue carved from stone and the usual passionate violence that Imperial Officers were famous for did not seem present in him. He seemed to take no joy from watching men cower before him, no joy at hearing them beg and no joy for killing them anyway. It was too unnatural. Inhuman.
Another young prenoman was brought before them, flanked by two troopers.
'Where is the rebel?' The Lord asked, his voice as cold as the snow beneath his feet. The man shook visibly, his eyes widening. 'I… I… don't know,' he stuttered. One either side of him the Ice Trooper moved their weapons silently to his head.
'You don't know? Why not? Did you not tend her wounds?' Xylez asked softly, as though he was reading into the man's thoughts.
'I'm sorry, my Lord,' the prenoman grovelled at his feet, stumbling desperately over his words, 'it was not my fault, my wife, she gave the girl the bandages, before she left.'
'To the mining tunnels, my Lord, to the mines beneath the White Mountains,' he replied.
'When? When did she leave?'
'Only moments before you arrived, Lord, only moments,' he repeated.
'Tell me of the girl. What is she like?'
'Young, human, beautiful for one of your kind and afraid. Afraid of the Empire, afraid of you,' the man replied. With a slight nod the Ice Troopers depressed their fingers on the triggers of their weapons and in a flash of light, the man lay dead.
'Continue to interrogate the rest of them as I inspect the entrances to the mines.'
Lord Xylez entered the mouth of the tunnels. They were darker than he had expected them to be, though that wasn't going to pose much of a problem. With a rush of ecstasy he probed the length of the passage with his mind, a mind governed by the powers of Darkness, it didn't take him a moment to find her and it sent a chill up her spine as he touched her mind with his own. Along the cold and dark passageways, she was a glowing flame, radiating light much more powerful than that of the usual individual. Without realising it he had walked forwards, over twenty meters down the passage. Suddenly a quick flash of startled apprehension brought him back to where he was in time to see the Ice Troopers behind him fire at a shadow on the ceiling. Barely a moment later the boulders of rock and ice had settled in their new resting-place, crushing the three figures beneath.
Aven sat down at the desk in the officer's quarters, the four bunks that lined the walls bringing him back to a place he had known long ago. As a child he had lived in a similar room, all his possessions lying in the draw under his bunk and now it seemed as though he had been taken back to that time, to that world not so long ago. It had been two years. Only two, but two of the longest years of his life.
'You're Aven, right?' a young woman asked as she zipped a red maintenance coverall over her clothes. Aven glanced at her as the third of her eyes blinked open.
'That's right,' he replied.
'My name's Lizyna. Elnora asked me to give you this,' the girl said, tossing him a small silver disk, 'you can use our computer if you want, everyone's on duty at the moment so you won't be disturbed.'
'Thanks,' Aven said distantly.
'You're the brother aren't you?' The girl asked as she checked the contents of her bag.
'Yes, I'm Major Brentward's son. I grew up with Elle during the Exon Crisis,' he replied carefully. The girl shrugged tying up her beautiful curly purple hair. 'Spend as long as you want in here, you can sleep for a while on Elle's bunk if you need to,' she pointed to one bunk, indistinguishable from the rest as she backed out of the door, 'bye.'
Alone again, Aven inserted the message disk into a slot in the desk and flipped the screen of the computer up, pressing the play button. His sister's face appeared on the screen, her skin a startling pale shade compared to his and dark hair, a mixture of deep brown and jet black that was pulled into a neat ponytail. She wore the same red maintenance uniform as the girl who had just left and her almost luminous violet eyes seemed to dance upon his face. The eyes were the only features that had not visibly aged, the rest of her face seemed to have matured, from the way she held herself to the way she did her hair. He realised with a sudden rush, that she was no longer the gawky teenager he had known as his sister, but an adult, and a startlingly beautiful woman at that.
'Hello, Aven,' she said with a small smile, 'A lot has happened since our last holo-link conversation and I have been looking forward to telling you about it all when we next see each other. I achieved Platinum Award Flying Status in an S1 and I passed all three of my final exams, so, now I have Astro-Physics, Alt-Engineering and Alien Physiology all Level Six – a bit of a weird combination, huh? My application got accepted at Alpha 1 so I'll be moving there in a couple of months, isn't that great?
'I am really sorry for not meeting you on Iota, but Kenwyn wanted me to go with him on a mission to a planet called Adyme in the Rumec Solar System. I couldn't exactly pass that up could I? First hand experience? It's going to be a long time until I ever have a chance like this again if I start working on Alpha in a couple of months. I agreed to go with him and he says that we can both have an extended holiday after it's over. It's only going to take a week anyway and if you meet me in the Comler system, behind the third moon of the fifth planet, Hyonis, then we can go cruise the Outer Rim for a holiday or even visit the Unknown Regions. Will you meet me there?
'Well, there is something else as well that I wanted to talk to you about, anyway,' she grinned shyly at him and he wondered suspiciously what she was about to tell him. 'You remember the guy I've been seeing? The human guy? His name's Cirric, General Ashorce's son, and he's been working as an assistant engineer on Iota for the last two years after he passed his finals, that, if you're trying to work it out makes him a year younger than you. Anyway, he's just accepted a six-month training course in the infantry on Gamma and will be returning to Alpha 1 a month or so after I get there. Before he left he gave me a ring and asked me whether I would consider being with him - for the rest of my life. Now don't blow your lid, Ave, I didn't say yes and I didn't say no, I said I would think about it and give him my answer when he got back to Alpha. But I need your help, Aven. Cirric is a wonderful bloke and I know I love him, and I know that he loves me, but, as Kenwyn has pointed out so many times, I'm only eighteen and he's only twenty. It's not likely that I'll find another human guy out there, my age, that I like and who likes me, that is as wonderful as Cirric but still I hesitate – what do you think I should do?
'Well, don't worry about me in the meantime, Kenwyn will look after me and I'll see you around Hyonis then. Look after yourself, Ave,' she gave him a casual salute, 'Elnora out.'
Aven exhaled as he leaned back in the chair and the screen went blank.
The crash of falling rocks reverberated in her ears as the sound echoed down the passage. She froze, hearing an almost silent moan of pain after the short tremor abruptly stopped and stillness reigned once again. Her heart beat faster in her chest and, whilst everything in her body screamed for her to run, run away as fast as she could, her mind screamed for her to stop. And she did.
Her breath quickened, making mist in the air before her. It didn't make sense. She was terrified. Terrified of what might happen if they caught her, but still, she found herself turning, violet eyes scanning sightlessly the ice passage from which she had come. Her eyes flashed, looking from the way she should go and the way she wanted to. Despairingly she realised they looked exactly the same, the only difference between them being the lack of footprints in the snow on one side and the presence of them on the other. Shaking her head she cursed her conscience knowing she must go back, she owed the prenomen that much.
Stumbling back through the passage, over rocks and ice, searching with the beam of a small flashlight she looked around. About to give up she saw the dark cloth that covered the body. Her heart thumped harder in her chest, the sight burning uncomfortably at the bottom of her stomach. Ignoring her instinct, she pulled at the jagged pieces of rock and ice that half covered his body. The razor edges cut her hands, the ice sliced like glass and numbed her fingers, but she didn't notice, desperate to uncover the body beneath.
She fell onto bruised knees beside his body as he drew a strangled breath into his lungs. He wore dark clothes, so unlike those of the Imperial Troopers that it didn't even cross her mind that he could be one of them. Numbed fingers lifted the cracked black mask from his face, a face she recognised as human. His skin was so pale it seemed to glow, looking almost transparent though youthful and unwrinkled. Metallic veins ran over his head, as though he wasn't quite human. Fear grew in her. She knew what they were all too well, she had worn them herself for part of her childhood. They were what the Empire used to control those who could not be controlled. It turned the body into an instrument, a weapon, a slave to them, she knew how it worked, she had been their slave in the darkest part of her life.
The metallic veins grew fast, like the roots of a plant or tree, they were growing, spreading over his skull, fighting to control his body. As they reached his temples, his eyes sprung open in panic, a panic that mirrored her own. Not knowing what she was doing, she thrust her hands forward, digging her nails under the spreading roots of metal, knowing that if they sank their tendrils into his mind he was doomed as she had once been. It, in turn, grabbed her, crawling up her fingers to her wrists with incredible strength. Fusing itself with her skin. Gritting her teeth, she summoned her strength, the courage to do what she knew she must and lunged forward with her arms. The metal roots ripped off his head, tearing the skin away with it; the thin threads of probing metal came away until it was free of his scalp. Like a many-armed creature it struggled as she panicked and finally managed to fling the metal mass across the passageway, droplets of crimson red spraying across the ice. Gripping the handle of a wrist blaster she shot a single beam that paralysed it permanently.
Tears glistened in her eyes, from what, she did not know, perhaps the shock or the pain or the running or the stopping or the fear. She did not know, but found herself crying, pressing her skinless palms against a boulder of ice and watching the blood and water trickle slowly away.
The figure sitting up beside her, placed his hands gently over hers. She had somehow forgotten that he was there, forgotten that he existed at all. Blinking, she looked up at him, from his hands to his face, to his eyes, which had closed gently shut. To her amazement, the damage to the skin on his head had miraculously managed to heal, and as she took her hands from the ice, she watched with fascination as the skin grew back with horrifying speed to replace that which she had lost. Slowly his eyes fluttered open, a sparkling shade of crystal blue.
'How?' she breathed. He seemed not to have heard her, lifting one hand to his eye and slowly bringing it down over the skin of his cheek. Puzzlement crossed his face.
'Who are you?' Elle asked, an uneasy feeling creeping up her spine.
'Who?' He asked softly, fear flickered for a second, 'Who am I? I know I knew just a moment ago and yet it seems to elude me now. I know who I am. But I have no memory of myself. I… I only have a memory of you, just a moment ago. What? What did happen for me to remember?'
Elle shivered. 'There was an icefall and you were hurt. I came to help you but you had been infected, by a machine planted like a virus, planted by a people called the Empire. The machine has gone now; we fought it and won. But more of the Empire will be after us soon so we must run.'
'Why must we run?'
'Because if we don't, it will catch us and from our bodies they will rip our souls,' she replied.
'So that is my name,' he said thoughtfully as the flashlight flickered and finally went out.
'What?' she asked the darkness.
'Do you know the Comler system, Karl?' Aven asked his friend, the large lizard's yellow eyes scanning the landing bay for their ship.
'Of course I know Comler, Ave,' he hissed, 'it's part of the Inner Rim, quite close to the Core Worlds.'
'Would you consider getting extra vacation time by coming with me to meet General McDowne and my sister there and then heading on to the Outer Rim and the Unknown Regions? We could have a great time, you know?' Aven grinned raising his eyebrows. The lizard rolled his eyes.
'And you need a co-pilot to go with you,' Karleos guessed.
'So you're coming?' Aven asked, 'Just think of Almba Beach, or Mount Lyriss, or any of the other vacation spots we can visit.'
'Great,' Karleos groaned, 'Oh great.'
'We'll have a really good time.'
The cold air burned her lungs as she sprinted through the underground passages, the muscles in her legs aching unbearably as they worked the continuos rhythm on the ice. Saul ran alongside her, slipping every few moments. Ice Troopers ran after them shooting their laser beams relentlessly.
The passage veered sharply onto a slope and inevitably both Saul and Elle lost their footing and slid, faster than ever, down. The roof got lower and lower until it looked as though it would meet the ground. Blaster fire cut the ice around them and, realising that they would quickly execute her once she was trapped by the dead end she closed her eyes. She imagined the burning beam of fire cutting easily through her heart and draining from her every droplet of life she possessed. Moments before that blaster beam came; she was sucked under a small gap in the ice, just before the roof joined with the floor.
Suddenly flung out of the middle of a cliff of ice she knew, definitely now, that humans were not designed for flying, however adamant they were about attacking the sky. Within a few seconds, the fall was over and she plunged through a thin layer of ice into freezing liquid that filled her lungs like lead.
The liquid sent needles stabbing into her flesh, like tiny fish taking small bites out of her body. He liquid pulled her down into its dark depths. It was both thick like syrup and thin like water, slamming into her body from all sides, pressing the bones of her rib cage inward. Her lungs burned. She was drowning and getting sucked deeper and deeper. She kicked her legs furiously, desperate to reach the surface as her body screamed for oxygen. There was darkness all around her, no light to tell her which way she must swim to reach the surface.
Suddenly a hazy glow beckoned to her. Her hopes increased as she reached the surface. To her horror, the surface was solid, frozen over. Only one thought was present in her mind and that was that she needed to breathe. She hammered the surface with her feet and fists, desperate to get through. The thick liquid streamed into her lungs once again, blocking them, but still she pounded the ice. Suddenly it cracked, splintering everywhere, allowing her head to emerge into the air. She coughed the heavy liquid from her lungs; spluttering and then drawing in the cold air that hung motionless above her.
Her breath slowed, crystallising in the air infront of her. 'Bless low-gravity planets,' she breathed softly, treading the liquid to keep her afloat.
'I agree completely,' Saul said, having emerged a couple of meters to her left, 'that would've been a lot more painful on a high gravity planet.'
He looked awful, like her, she guessed, his lips turning blue and his white skin becoming even paler – if it were possible. 'We have a problem, Elle,' he told her, 'there are flesh eaters in these waters, probably Hareda. You can tell by the patches of ice.'
Elle swallowed. That was not a good thought. The tales of the Hareda were legendary. They were creatures that would rip the flesh of living beings before drowning them, taking their victims to an underwater cavern where they would be revived and slowly eaten over the course of the next month – at least, that was what was said. 'We'd better get out of here quickly,' she agreed, fumbling in her shoulder bag for an instrument she knew was in there somewhere. 'Climb over the ice to me and we can get out of here.'
She looked around the cavern, searching the high ceiling. It was like the white interior of a grand cathedral, with the roof sloping down on each side, it was beautiful. She found what she was looking for and adjusted the settings with numb fingers. As she did this, she was mesmerised by the patterns of the water below her reflected by the weapon's silver shell. The patterns swirled round, finally forming the image she had dreaded. The Hareda was elegant and sleek, but had an ugly mouthful of oversized teeth.
'Saul!' she exclaimed, shooting the end of the weapon into the air like a harpoon it trailed a metal cord after it. It struck the roof of the cavern and thankfully held. 'Grab onto my legs!' Flicking the switch, she was pulled 60 meters up by the cord. Saul lunged for her legs as she passed him just as the Hareda snatched for them. Its jaws closing around nothing. It dropped reluctantly back into the water leaving them dangling like fish on a hook.
'I don't care for your excuses, Admiral,' the sinister image of Prince Kulzeem spoke darkly, 'once again you have successfully managed to screw things up. I want the body of my protégé and if it is not returned to me within three days we will assume that he still lives. Xylez is not the kind to give up and his powers may even enable him to occupy another body despite his own having been destroyed. But your troops will continue to uncover the bodies.
'As for the two rebels, I want their heads on the end of a force pike to deliver to the Emperor, is that clear?'
Admiral Derrimmon gritted his teeth. 'Perfectly clear, Highness,' he replied.
'Good,' Kulzeem growled darkly as the hologram flickered and faded.
Sitting back in his chair he keyed the inter-ship communications. 'Have we dropped out of Super Space?' He demanded the young officer in charge.
'Yes, sir,' the man replied, 'we entered Small Space two minutes ago.'
'How long have we got until we reach Purifica?'
'Twenty minutes, sir,' the officer reported.
'I'll be on the Bridge in ten,' he told the man before cutting the transmission.
Aven swam in a light sleep. The future had always seemed to be in his dreams, the past in his nightmares but the present, however, was always conveniently forgotten somewhere in the background of the unreal world of sleep. Unfortunately tonight, instead of dreams of Almba Beach and the Outer Rim, he tossed and turned uneasily. Blurred images of the past haunted him, laughing and mocking him as he lay helpless against their onslaught.
The warning proximity alarm woke him in the darkness, sweat trickling over his forehead.
'Does that happen to all humans when they sleep?' Karleos asked, the lights lifting them out of the darkness. Aven shielded his eyes as Karl switched off the alarm system.
'What?' he yawned.
'Your breath quickened and you began to perspire on your forehead,' he explained, 'does it happen to all humans?'
'No,' Aven replied, pushing the covers away and standing up, 'Only when we dream of darkness,' he said, looking over Karleos's shoulder at the instrument panel. 'Why did the alarm go off?'
'I set it,' Karl told him.
'I wanted to be awake for our entrance into Small Space, being so close to the Core Worlds and everything, I didn't want us to run into trouble,' the lizard told him.
'The Shipping Routes run right over Comler, some even go through it and there will be Probe and Destroy Units swarming all over the place once we enter Small Space – I think its good idea if we are on our guard.'
Aven nodded, rubbing his eyes. 'I'm going to go and take a jet-sand shower, you can handle getting into Small Space alone, can't you?'
'I wouldn't be your co-pilot if I couldn't,' Karl replied. Aven grinned.
'Good. I'll see you on the other side.'
Elnora's military boots crushed the snow as she landed on firm ground and she absently shook the crystallising drips from her hair. She tried to stop herself shaking and almost succeeded, rubbing her arms vigorously to keep up the circulation.
'I think we have a new problem,' Saul shivered, blowing into his hands.
'Great,' she groaned, facing away from the water, not wanting to look at it or its deadly depths ever, 'What will fate throw at us next?'
'What do you see around here? It is an almost undisturbed palace of ice, isn't it? The mineral deposits in that lake are rich enough and the tunnels leading to the cavern and away from it clearly indicate that the species you said mined here have been here – but they left and they blocked up the entrance,' he told her.
'Oh, get to the point, Saul, before my hearing freezes,' Elle groaned.
'There is probably a tribe of ice creatures living in there,' he said bluntly, indicating with his head the three tunnels that lead from the cavern.
'Ice creatures?' Elle said uncertainly.
'Ice creatures,' Saul confirmed, 'carnivorous.'
'Those caves are the only way out,' she protested, her breath misting the air, 'and the only way to my ship.'
She sighed, rubbing her hands together to keep warm. 'We're going to have to go through them ice creatures or not.'
'How do you propose we do that?'
'I'm not sure.'
'We are still tunnelling our way through the ice, Captain,' an Ice Trooper reported.
'How long until we're through?' Captain Lodine demanded. He needed these rebels' heads on spikes or, he had been promised, his own would be.
'We'll reach the end of the block in one minute, sir,' he answered, 'we believe that it is a cliff of ice that the passage will emerge from as our micro explosives had no effect in the demolition of the ice.'
'Fine,' Lodine said, 'keep me informed. Admiral Derrimmon has already entered orbit, I don't want to hang about much more than necessary.'
'Well that's the decoy in position,' Saul announced.
'Yeah,' Elle agreed as she came out of the middle passageway, 'That one goes back about a mile, it'll lead us to the ship that we flew here – I think.'
'Why 'I think'?' He asked.
'Because these instruments have been submerged in strange liquids on a freezing planet for the last four days, who knows what they're telling us,' she shrugged.
'Well lets just trust them, shall we?' He suggested, shivering violently.
'Wait,' Elle breathed a look of panic crossing her pale face.
'What?' He asked, 'What is it?'
'Shh,' she said, cocking her head to one side to listen. A faint humming could be heard in the stillness, growing louder and louder.
'What the hell is that?' Saul whispered. He was answered quickly as the ice beneath his feet shuddered with the impact of many laser beams. Panicked, Elnora raised the stolen rifle and depressed the trigger as they stumbled back. Nothing happened. She swore and hurled the rifle towards the opening, then turned and ran as fast as she could.
The Imperials in the opening shot across a metal wire, using a bolt clasp to embed it in the ice on the other side of the lake. One by one they glided across the lake and landed on the other side.
Running along the passage beside Saul, Elle's mind went blank. First-hand experience was what she had wanted when she had agreed to come on this mission with Kenwyn. A bit of excitement before starting work on Alpha 1. Well, she had got that bit of excitement, just a flash, a spark and she had lost Kenwyn and perhaps even herself. Suddenly out of the darkness ahead a figure loomed. Startled, she dropped to the floor to avoid the massive arm of the ice creature that swung towards her. Saul wasn't so quick and was flung across the tunnel and then crumpled when he hit the wall. Lying motionless on the floor.
As his troopers flew one by one across the icy lake, Captain Lodine directed the search from above, watching carefully from the opening. They couldn't run forever, he had known that when he had begun the chase, but Purifica was too alien, too different from the places he knew to have been able to do anything but follow. Under normal circumstances, he would've had her by now, and even under these circumstances he come close five times already but she had been lucky. They both had. But, he knew, luck never lasts. 'Begin searching the tunnels,' he ordered, with a small smile. It would not be long now.
The darkness of the tunnel kept the creature before her in shadow, not allowing her to see him clearly. All he was to her was a large, looming figure with almost snake-like tentacles that lashed out with frightening speed and cut with razor sharp edges – not exactly a medical file, but close enough. The thick tentacle darted for her again, causing her to drop down into a press-up position to avoid it. A second later she bounced back up again, narrowly avoiding it. She could hear the heavy footsteps of the Ice Troopers as they jogged down the tunnel, crushing the ice. She could see Saul, slumped against the tunnel's wall a couple of metres away. Taking a deep breath, she dove beneath the creature as it lunged for her again and slid beneath it.
Fighting for each icy breath she shook Saul gently. He groaned and blinked open his unfocused eyes. Sighing with relief, she helped him to his feet and supported him as they hobbled down the passage. Her muscles screamed for rest and she was so cold she didn't care anymore, dried blood crusted her forehead and blue bruises had started to form on her white skin. Afraid for her and afraid for Saul, so afraid that it paralysed all common sense, she ran,
Voices. Many voices were speaking up ahead. Voices that were coming from communications equipment. Her heart thumped harder in her chest. The footsteps behind her growing louder in her ears as they approached. Frantically she looked about her. They were ahead and they were behind. There was nowhere she could run. Nowhere.
'We're in a bit of trouble, aren't we, Elle?' Saul sighed.
'You can say that again,' she replied softly, 'I don't think we can run anymore.'
'Captain Lodine?' A voice asked.
'Yes?' Lodine demanded, swinging around to face the trooper.
'We are searching the three tunnels, Captain, and they have been blocked off at the other end. We should have them within the next five minutes,' the man reported.
'Why aren't you scanning for life forms?'
'The, uh, the scanners won't work properly, sir, there is a dispersed particle field emanating from within the two outer tunnels that has permeated the centre one.'
'Abandon searching them, put all troops on the centre passage. Search it,' Lodine paused, 'Have you got an identification lock on her companion?'
'Sorry, sir, no.'
'That is Hyonis,' Karleos announced after he had set the ship down on the fifth moon.
'It's beautiful isn't it?' Aven breathed, watching the purple planet in the distance, 'undisturbed.'
'Actually, it's a combination of some rather poisonous gases down there. If you enter an atmosphere like that without a reinforced hull you get micro-fractures within the sub-structure of your ship and you'll implode,' Karl informed him.
'It just adds to its beauty, though, doesn't it,' Aven sighed as the planet slid out of sight.
'You wouldn't survive a second down there,' Karleos announced, tracing his readings, 'It's a furnace – up to 350C and I don't even want to mention atmospheric pressure.'
'I don't care, Karl, it doesn't make any difference what its made of. I love it.'
Another of the ice creatures dropped to the floor with a thud, knocked dead by a single blast. Ice Troopers marched passed, not even glancing at what they had killed.
They had searched the tunnel top to bottom, end to end and still there was no sign of the rebels, not a trace. Lodine was destroyed, knowing, bitterly knowing that his career was destroyed.
'Captain, Admiral Derrimmon wished to have your report,' an Ice Trooper told him. 'I have been told to take command whilst you visit his flagship.' Lodine straightened his back.
'Understood,' Lodine growled. He knew his fate, now. If his Second in Command had been told to take over then he wouldn't be coming back. Taking a deep breath, he saluted them, daring fate and walked fearlessly towards it.
It was dark. Her breathing had slowed, but she knew, if only she could keep breathing she would survive. It was difficult, as though she had heavy weights pressing down on her, suffocating her. She dragged another breath into her lungs, but already realised she could not feel her skin. Darkness approached and she was getting dragged in. With hazy thoughts she whispered goodbye. Goodbye to everything that had caused so much joy. Goodbye to everything that had caused so much pain. Was it so bad for her to die, now faced with it she couldn't understand why she had feared it before. She painfully dragged another breath into her lungs. And why continue the pain? She wondered, when there was a world of peace just within her reach, just beyond her grasp. She didn't want to survive. And who could blame her? Without any conscious decision, she stopped breathing and her mind started to grow cloudy. She couldn't feel anything – she just wanted to sleep.
But suddenly warmth squeezed her fingers, waking her gently. Again she took a breath, the pain wiping clean her hazy mind. With effort she returned the gesture, her fingers somehow finding his and inter-linking with them. Another breath she forced into her lungs and she held his hand as though it was a lifeline, holding her above water. Something she clung to now without cause. Light exploded in the darkness of her mind, blinding her. And suddenly she knew, without reason, that she needed to survive. Her lungs opened once more to breathe.
'That is disgusting,' one Ice Trooper breathed, his lips curling into a sneer.
'Correct,' the other agreed, looking at the miniature swamp of decaying bodies and diluted blood that lay in the icy cave dug into the wall of the main passage.
'I don't think there is any point searching that,' the first one announced.
'We have to,' the second reasoned, 'the rebel's could be in there.'
'Impossible,' the other laughed, 'it's not deep enough and who would want to hide in there anyway?'
'Good point,' the second agreed, 'we've been called back in anyway. Lets go.'
They marched out and joined the rest of their squad as they left the mining tunnels. And kept on marching, off the planet, and on to wherever they were taken.
Together, Elle and Saul sat up in the shallow pool inside the small cave. Elnora wiped the strange combination of liquids out of her eyes before daring to open them. What a relief it was to be able to breathe again without pain. Her lungs welcomed the bitter crisp air. Ice crystals ran down her face, tinged with the deep red of Prenomen blood, as she looked briefly at the skeleton she had been lying beneath. Yellow flesh still clung to its bones and its jaw hung open as though he was staring at her. Managing a shy smile she clamped his jaw shut and turned to face Saul. Drowsily, as though he had been woken from a deep sleep, he was prising off the lumps of rotting flesh that had stuck to his face. With a half-hearted laugh, she took his hand and helped him up. She didn't want to look at herself – just looking at Saul made her sick. So without a word they stumbled out of the cave back into the passage. The Ice Troopers were gone and they were on their way home, staggering down the passage. Free…
Captain Lodine walked briskly onto the bridge of Admiral Derrimmon's Warship, Frozen Shadow. The officers there coldly regarded him as one of them stepped forward.
'Captain Lodine?' The Lieutenant asked. Lodine nodded. 'The Admiral wishes to see you now.' He was escorted to a door and let in.
The door slid shut behind him. 'How miserably have you failed, Lodine?' the Admiral asked bitterly, 'Miserably indeed. You've made us both look like idiots. And I do not like being seen as an idiot.' He turned towards Lodine. 'There is, of course, still hope for me to restore my ability in the eyes of my colleagues and superiors, her ship has not left the planet yet and when it does I will be ready for her. I don't think you are going to be so lucky, Lodine.' His black gloved hands weighed the blade, wondering if he could still hit his target. 'Prince Kulzeem, however, has plans, other than termination, for you.' He looked at Lodine again, their eyes locked and Lodine knew, only a moment before the blade's handle grew from his chest, what was going to happen. He fell to his knees, spitting blood to the floor and reaching his hands to the smooth black handle that was now slippery and wedged into his breast bone. With a growl of pain, he pulled it free and slid it across the black floor towards the Admiral. 'If you're going to kill me then you've got to do better than that,' he coughed, blood splattering the floor as Derrimmon walked towards him. He smiled grimly as his boot connected with Lodine's skull. And for Lodine everything was over.
Brushing away the frost that covered the hatch with numb fingers, Elnora pressed her palm against the scanner. She shook as the blue scanner ran up and down then gave a loud beep, confirming her identity. The Scanner Pad flipped open, revealing a Code Skimmer and a Retina Scanner. Carefully she flicked in the code and lent forward to put her eyes against the eyepiece. After a few moments it beeped again and she gasped, 'Open.'
The doors slid shut behind them as they collapsed on the floor. The air was cool but thankfully a lot warmer than out on Purifica. She breathed easily again, the air not burning her lungs anymore. Safe, at last, safe, because of the solid walls, because of the familiar surroundings, because of the artificial light that glowed promisingly. But they were still on Purifica. They were still hiding. They were still running.
'We've got to get out of here,' she said softly, but it was Kenwyn's voice that spoke inside her head. Get out. Get out before it's too late. 'Too late,' she whispered.
Admiral Derrimmon clasped his hands behind his back. 'Lieutenant,' he addressed the man at the Tactical Station. 'I want you to drop a Displacement Bomb on the site of the three underground passages.'
'Sir,' the Lieutenant warned, 'A Displacement Bomb would alter every atom in that region, it would be completely destroyed.'
'I know,' Derrimmon said with a small smile pulling at his lips, 'Do it, Lieutenant.'
'Can you fly a space craft?' Elle asked uncertainly, still covered head to foot in drying blood and melting ice.
'Me?' Saul asked, shocked, 'Didn't you fly this thing in here?'
'Not exactly,' she replied, biting her lip, 'I don't have any qualifications for this type of craft. I was a, um, student, coming out here with my teacher – he flew.'
'Can you fly at all?' Saul demanded starting to get worried.
'Yeah,' Elle said defensively, 'I achieved Platinum Flying Status in an S1, but they, uh, are slightly smaller than this.'
'Do you think you could try and fly this out of here?'
'I could give it a go,' she shrugged, 'but don't blame me if we incinerate.'
'Come on, then,' he urged her, 'get us out of here.' Her violet eyes met his uncertainly, but he had faith and grasped her blood stained hand. 'Computer,' she said clearly, 'Power up launch sequence.'
She sat down in a chair and he took the one next to her. 'Strap in,' she told him, pressing a button on the wall infront of her and both chairs dropped down a level and swung violently round to face a control panel. Lights flashed on in different colours, illuminating her face. She leaned forward and pressed a small button. The screen infront began to open as she continued to flick different switches on or off. She paused, her finger hovering over another switch indifferent from the rest. 'Do you think we need Hydro-jets for take off?' She asked Saul. He shrugged. 'Oh well,' she murmured, flicking the switch on anyway.
'Launch Sequence prepared. Counting down,' the computer announced.
'Hold on tight,' Elnora warned, pushing up a lever on her right and slipping her left hand around a smoothly built joystick as the countdown continued. The ship began to shake as the power built up. Suddenly a flash of a memory caught up with her. 'Oh, damn it!' She cursed, 'Initiation Dampers! I always forget them.' She flipped another switch and Saul promised himself that he would never fly in a spacecraft piloted by her again. The countdown complete, they sank down into their seats as the spacecraft shot up, breaking through the ice that had so loyally covered it.
Saul caught his breath. Purifica was beautiful – perhaps not down on the surface, but from above, it was beautiful. Suddenly, Elle swerved the ship to avoid a falling black object. 'What the hell was that?!' She demanded as the engines screamed their protests.
'I don't…' Saul began to answer, but was cut off as the sound and sight of a frighteningly big explosion answered for him. Purifica, the part he had seen only seconds before, the landscape he had thought of as beautiful was destroyed and all that was left was a dense cloud of nothing. It continued to grow, reaching up as if it was intending to grab them.
'It's sucking us in,' Elle shouted, panicking, 'Push up that lever!' Saul looked around - there were three.
'Which one?' He asked as the engines screamed louder.
'I dunno! All of them!' She yelled back, fighting for control again. Following her instructions, Saul pushed all the levers up. A loud crack echoed in his ears. 'Shut that one down again,' she told him. He did so and the craft shot forwards out of the atmosphere into the calm of space.
Suddenly, with all resistance gone they hurtled forwards fast and uncontrollable towards a blockade of Admiral Derrimmon's ships. 'Watch where you're going!' Saul yelled as they narrowly avoided front on collision with one of the ships. Pushing forwards with the joystick they dived beneath the command ship, trailed by a string of small Imperial fighters, SIFs.
Admiral Derrimmon caught his breath as the Rebel Spacecraft flew swiftly passed, over the command centre; so close he could've read the insignia on its frosted hull. For a moment, he had thought that they would crash straight through the deflector shield and into the command centre itself, but no, the pilot had managed to straighten out. Others of his crew had instinctively ducked and he didn't blame them.
The ship shook as another energy bolt struck it. Without much control, Elnora managed to outmanoeuvre the SIFs and break the lines of the blockade. 'Be careful!' Saul warned, feeling incredibly sick. 'I'm trying to be careful!' She replied. The same thing happened every time they were hit. She would attempt to level them out and avoid the next obstacle, but over do it and go crashing in the other direction, which in turn would get them hit again. The heat of the engines had melted the ice and they now trailed a tail, not unlike that of a comet.
'They've surrounded us - we're going to have to jump to Small Space within the system,' Elle breathed.
'I don't like the way you said that,' Saul commented, 'What's Small Space?'
'It's the strip of compacted space between Normal Space and Super Space, everyone has to pass through it to get out of a Solar System.' They dived beneath another ship. 'And no, it is not a good idea to jump to Small Space within a Solar System – in fact no one's ever done it before – well, no one that's survived, anyway.'
'Oh,' Saul said, 'That gives me great confidence.' They made another sharp turn and it took the artificial gravity a moment to catch up. 'Why is it such a bad idea?' He asked.
'Because the gravitational pull of the sun and the planets in the solar system is about equal to the gravitational pull of Small Space - so theoretically we'll get ripped apart.'
'And you have a plan that will stop that happening to us, right?' Saul asked doubtfully.
'Of course,' she replied, making another swift turn that took gravity a moment to catch up on, suddenly a grey sphere was filling the screen, 'We're going to dive towards that, open the portal to Small Space and simply slip through.' She replied.
'Will it work?' Saul asked.
'Hopefully,' Elle shrugged, 'Don't worry, I know what I'm talking about, I passed my Astro-Physics exam.'
'Somehow,' Saul murmured, 'That doesn't give me much faith.'
'Just close your eyes then,' she suggested and he did.
Elnora whistled softly, calming herself, even as her hands trembled. 'Saul,' she asked, 'Take the controls – I need to set-up the Small Space drives.' His eyes snapped open as the joystick was thrust into his hand. 'What?! I can't fly!' He objected, the ship violently dipping and twisting at his slightest movements. Hurriedly Elnora slipped her hand over his and brought the grey moon back into the view screen. 'Just keep the moon there,' she instructed, turning a dial around and pulling down one of the levers. Checking the readouts she flipped a couple of the switches and, taking a deep breath, fired the starters.
'Here we go,' she whispered, taking back the joystick.
'Good luck,' Saul said.
'We're going to need it,' she replied, flipping open a plastic covering and punching the button within. With abruptness that he had not expected, a yellow coloured portal swirled open, distorting the space behind. The ship began to shake violently again as they were sucked in. Both hands clamped on the joystick Elle pulled it back as much as she could to fight the sudden strength of the resistance against her. Then suddenly, as her muscles began to weaken, they passed through the barrier in a white flash and all resistance was gone.
'What, the hell, just happened?' Admiral Derrimmon demanded, slamming his fist against the metal rim of the nearest console. He had her… He had had her… He had had them both, but now…
'They, uh, they just, uh,' the officer at the sensor's station stammered, 'They just, uh, passed into Small Space, sir.'
'That's impossible!' Derrimmon protested, striding towards the console.
'I know, sir,' the officer replied, 'I know it's impossible, you know it's impossible but they, uh, they just did, sir, they just did it.'
'I think they used the moon's gravity to pull them into the rift, sir,' a different officer reported. 'It has been a theory our scientists have been working on for years, but it was considered too dangerous, as soon as they entered Small Space they would've had an object five million times smaller than that moon and that much more powerful straight ahead of them. If they so much as glanced it, they would've imploded.'
'Can we track them?'
'I'm sorry, sir,' the first officer spoke up again, 'They're gone.'
Derrimmon ground his teeth, seething. 'Set a course for the Fyonig System,' he ordered before walking up the steps and into the turbo-lift.
For a couple of moments after entering Super Space Elle just stared out of the view screen. After a few seconds of silence, Saul turned to face her in the eerie glow of the Super Space Slipstream.
'You did it, Elnora,' he said quietly, 'By the gods, Elle, you managed to do it.'
'Should I be happy?' She asked softly, staring out at the lightning slipstream. 'Because I don't feel happy, I don't feel anything, Saul.'
'We survived didn't we?' He demanded.
'Yes,' she replied, 'but I don't feel alive.'
'Well, your covered head to foot in Prenomen blood,' he reminded her.
'Dried Prenomen blood,' she corrected, itching her arm and flaking some of it off.
'And you've spent the last few days being chased around a frozen planet,' he pointed out.
'I guess that counts for something,' she agreed.
'Once you've got yourself cleaned up, you'll be fine,' Saul predicted, 'and you'll realise how amazing what you just did actually was.' She stood up from the chair.
'Well, one thing's for certain,' she added, walking towards the stairs, 'they're going to have to re-write the Astro-Physics syllabus on Iota because diving through a moon definitely wasn't included.'
'They should be here soon,' Karleos said, moving one of the metal playing chips to a different position on the top level of the game board.
'Yeah,' Aven agreed, contemplating his next move carefully. 'But its not as though Elnora's never been late – she doesn't seem to have figured out how to use a time cube yet.'
'I guess it's a pretty confusing concept,' Karleos agreed, he looked carefully at the three transparent levels of the game board, 'your move,' he reminded his friend.
'Yeah,' Aven bit his lip in concentration and moved one of his chips up a level, 'Onox!' He announced proudly. Karleos had beaten him for the last four games. With a grin his reptilian friend moved another of his chips and laughed as Aven's smile faded. 'You almost had me that time, Ave,' he told his friend, resetting the magnetic field that arranged all the chips on the three levels.
'That is the fifth time,' Aven groaned, 'can't we play switch-card or something, I'm better at those games, Onox is a puzzle and the skills change every time – it's not exactly my strong point.'
'We don't have switch-cards onboard,' Karl apologised.
Suddenly an alarm klaxon began to sound, startling both of them. Karleos was at the computer console in seconds. 'What is it?' Aven asked, sliding into his place moments later.
'Oh, its nothing,' Karl replied with a note of relief in his voice, 'only a P&D drone scanning the area – we're shielded against their sensors so it doesn't really matter.'
'Good,' Aven sighed, leaning back in his chair. Now, all they could do was wait.
Elnora hesitated at the door of Kenwyn's quarters, still unwilling to go in or intrude upon his privacy. Laughing faintly at herself she knocked softly on the metal door and surprised herself by half-expecting an answer. The door slid open.
She stepped nervously in, now clean and warmer after a jet-water shower she felt more alive than she had been before. The door slid shut again behind her, cutting off the last traces of artificial light; his room now bathed in the changing colours of the slipstream. She just stood there. For seconds that dragged on into minutes, she stood there. It was silent, unnaturally quiet, as though all sound had been hushed the moment he had ceased to exist. Conversations echoed around the walls, disturbing memories of what had been not so long ago. Talking, laughing, crying. She heard it all. But it was silent. The room was typically neat and tidy, nothing out of place, just as he had left it – but he wasn't there.
She stood there, for a long time, finding it unbearable but not able to turn and run as she had previously. 'I thought you should know,' she whispered to him, 'that we escaped.' She looked around the room, feeling his presence trapped with its walls. It was his. His clothes, his pictures and his gadgets, the gadgets that he had been constantly fiddling with and never went anywhere without. 'I managed it, Kenwyn,' she told him, 'I did what you told me and we,' she sighed, correcting herself, 'and I escaped.' She took one more step into the room. 'That wasn't why I came though,' she swallowed, allowing the tears to slip silently down her cheeks. It was too much though; the first few triggered everything inside her. Without a sound, she sank onto the bed, wiping her tears on her uniform's sleeve. 'I came, I guess,' she whispered, 'to tell you,' she swallowed again as the tears raked through her body, 'to tell you, Kenwyn, that I remember.'
She placed a small book upon the pillow of his bed. 'I also wanted to give you this,' she laughed through her tears, 'I thought that now that you have the time, you might wish to catch up on some reading in the afterlife and, anyway, I've had that poetry book for far too long. I was going to read you my favourite one, Kenwyn, but now it seems I am crying too much to even think of it. So I'll read this one instead for you, Kenwyn, its another one I like, called Time of Death: -
All is silent now, my friend,
All has been and gone,
We long ago reached the end,
And passed it we went on.
In my heart you have left a hole,
It screams inside its sorrow,
Today, though tears of anguish roll,
I'll still think of you tomorrow.
'And I'll remember, Kenwyn, I'll remember you and what you were to me.'
Captain Lodine opened his eyes sharply in the dark room. They hurt, stinging and aching despite the dim light. Had it just been a bad dream? Or was he in the afterlife? Was this what it was to be dead? No more blood, no more pain. His heart felt as though it was beating for the first time, stronger than ever before.
'Welcome back, Captain Lodine,' a voice he vaguely recognised said. Could it be Satan? He wondered wearily. The bed moved beneath him, bringing him up into a sitting position. No. He refused to believe it. Around him was the Admiral's room and moving swiftly towards him was a figure.
'Yes, Captain, you're alive,' the Admiral's voice told him as a white beam of light fell on a corpse on the floor not far away. He recognised himself, his uniform, his hands and the dagger's blade that he had flung across the floor. 'And you're also dead,' Derrimmon laughed.
'How?' Lodine breathed, rubbing his eyes.
'Eyes hurt?' The Admiral asked. Lodine nodded silently. 'That is because, Lodine, you have never used them before. You're a clone – well, at least your body is. Our dear Prince Kulzeem and his scientists have perfected the technique of transferring one's soul into a different body and I used it, with his permission, on you.'
Lodine blinked, twisting his wrist and inspecting the back of his hand. The scar remained. 'Cloning these days, is rather remarkable,' Derrimmon commented, watching him, 'every detail included in the finished product.'
'Is that what I am?' Lodine growled, 'A product?'
'Yes, Lodine, you're a product. A manufactured weapon of the Empire, a weapon that failed against two rebels.'
Prince Kulzeem meditated. Floating a few feet above the command chair in his revitaliser. A bubble encompassed him, soaking its energies through his delicate skin.
'My search for the Lost Prince has not been productive, Creator,' Kulzeem sent his thoughts through space and time to reach the Emperor. 'He may be weak, weaker than we expected if he has still not surfaced.'
'Do not be concerned,' the Emperor assured him, brushing the matter away, 'the prince will appear. How was your progress with Xylez before the accident of Purifica?'
'He had improved. Whilst connected to the computer over the last five years he learnt much about his skill. He has still not mastered transformation or translocation, but few Masters of the Darkness ever have. He has become adept in elevation and the projection of thoughts, though his skills were not as highly honed as I wished and I doubt he has half the natural ability that I believed he would have. I thought things were going well,' Kulzeem replied.
'They were,' the Emperor told him, 'Everything is proceeding as planned, my servant. Continue your search for the lost prince and he shall come to you.'
'The docking bay has de-pressurised,' Karleos informed his friend, typing in the commands to open the airlock door. It slid aside and Elnora stepped out. A moment passed as she saw her brother and a second later he hugged her. She felt the urge to cry once again, but even if she wanted to, she could not for she had been drained of all tears and all emotions. She only felt happy to have someone else there, someone who knew what they were doing.
'Next stop, Mount Lyriss?' he asked with a short laugh.
'I don't think so, Ave,' she murmured, stepping back out of his arms.
'What?' He frowned.
'I think you'll have to hear the whole story, but first I want you to meet someone,' she gestured to the airlock. Aven watched the tall young man step through. 'This is Saul,' Elnora introduced him, 'and this is my brother, Aven and,' she gestured to Karl, 'my friend, Karleos.' Aven nodded, unsure, to Saul.
'We have a lot to tell you,' Saul said.
'Yeah,' Aven replied, 'It sounds like you do, but first, Elle, why the hell is your hair blonde?' She sighed.
'Don't worry, its darkening as we speak. I had to change my appearance on Purifica.'