Starblaze and Blasterfire: Part Three
Cassius slid into his seat as Marzai began, "The sorceress Jalitha has been a problem for Eoxan-zortha for centuries. She loves darkness and emptiness and draws her power from the void. She has no love for our city or its people. But now her powers are increasing, and she has allies. Shadow beasts and pirates are flocking to her, and her armies are starting to clash with our brave knights.
"And then, just two weeks ago, our princess Xianna Moonstone disappeared in the middle of the night. There were no signs as to where she had gone. The Chief Mage vanished as well. It was a sore blow to us – the Chief Mage had the power to mobilize the city itself in defense of its people. But it is also believed by many that Xianna Moonstone is the answer to a prophecy concerning Jalitha's downfall." He recited,
"Small of stature, great of heart
Starlight flowing out from hands
No darkness can abide
Leading great and small alike
Casting out the sorceress
And no shadow can hide
Cutting through the endless night
Shattering the void itself
Throwing darkness aside."
Bea snorted – Cassius knew that she had very little patience for prophecies and folktales. She lumped them all together under the derisive banner of "mumbo-jumbo." But something about the rhythm of the prophecy caught Cassius's ear. Cutting through the endless night, shattering the void itself... It seemed to resonate. Did that mean it was true? Did that mean their missing princess really was the key to the prophecy?
If so, no wonder Advisor Marzai looked so drawn and worried.
Could the girl be in danger? If this Jalitha knew about their prophecy, she would take steps to keep it from happening.
Jory sat at the table dealing himself another hand of cards – he seemed to be laying them out to play Pyramids. Bea, Trinian, and Zaraq all looked less than thrilled. Bea said, "So we're not only walking into a war zone – we're walking into a war zone that's about to be overtaken by a crazy sorceress and a bunch of pirates. Mira's heart, are you trying to get us all killed?"
The Grundo stood up. "Please, I beg you, I'm just asking you to take me to the capital! It'll be the safest airspace on our side of Kreludor. And I swear on my ancestors that, as a reward, I shall have your ship refurbished and repaired until Commander Janus would fly in it himself."
Trinian raised his eyebrows. Bea pleaded, "Don't do it! If we jettison him in an escape pod he can fly himself back to Spaceward 6 and we can be far away before Janus realizes it!"
Marzai said, "With the princess gone, I am the highest-ranking official in Eoxan-zortha – I'm needed there! I can't afford to wait for another ship to pass Spaceward 6, or our city could be crushed! It's bad enough that Commander Janus couldn't promise us any aid – you can't keep me from getting back to the city!" He took a deep breath and continued, "I'm very sorry that the commander used force and threats to secure your aid – I'd have stopped him if I knew. That's not the way a civilized man should handle his business."
Trinian raised his mug of coffee. "You're making the mistake of thinking this is civilization. Now when I served under Commander Valka..."
Zaraq interrupted, "If we're done here, I'm working on my bomb project down in the engine room, and I think I have some fuel about to boil over. Call me if you need me."
As he left, Marzai squeaked, "Bomb? Boiling fuel?"
Trinian said, "It's like I told you. This isn't civilization. This isn't even in the same hangar as civilization. This..." he slammed his hand on the table for emphasis, "is the end of the line."
With a shock, Cassius realized that Marzai had tears in his eyes. "Captain Trinian, I beg you! I'll do anything – anything! Xianna's been like a daughter to me since the old king passed on. I have to get back there and find her, and make sure she has a home to come back to!"
Cassius said quietly, "Let's do it. The commander took our cargo – it's not as if we're doing anything else. We're just flying into the city. We're in no danger from pirates – what pirate would waste his time on the Aurora?"
Cassius was certain that Trinian was glaring at him behind his visor. "Don't you have something to go fix?"
Cassius was pretty sure he was going to regret this – but he couldn't look at the poor Grundo's blue eyes and not want to help him. "If you send him off in the escape pod, I'm going with him."
Bea snapped, "That'd give us one less mouth to feed, at least."
Cassius winced, and Trinian sighed. "Well, if it's so Fyora-blast-it important, then I suppose we'd better go ahead. We can't afford to lose crew members, Bea."
Bea crossed her arms. "He doesn't fly the ship or maintain the engines or fire a blaster, so I fail to see what's so important about him. Let him and the advisor go, and we'll all be better off."
Trinian said firmly, "We're going to Eoxan-zortha, and I'm sure that the advisor will make it worth your while. You and Jory go check the hull for Fuzzles. There're a lot of them in this sector of space."
As the Ixi and the Wocky headed out the airlock, Trinian grabbed Cassius by the collar. Cassius looked away from him, trying not to make the situation worse than it already was. Why did he shoot his mouth off? All he had accomplished was making the captain mad.
And secured passage for Advisor Marzai. It was the right thing to do. Even if Trinian and Bea made his life miserable for it.
Trinian said, "I'll have you know, if we run into any trouble on this mission, I'm blaming you. And I'll let Bea take care of you."
Cassius winced. "Understood, sir."
Trinian said, "I'm going to check navigation with Yaxal. Make yourself useful."
And Cassius was left alone with Advisor Marzai. The Grundo said, "Thank you, Cassius. Thank you."
Cassius sighed. "Don't thank me until we've landed in Eoxan-zortha, sir. I've still got a feeling that this isn't going to end well."
Three days later, Cassius woke as the ship shook, throwing him from his narrow bed and onto the floor – hitting the wall on the way. He grabbed the shelf and tried to pull himself up as he checked himself for injuries. He wasn't seriously hurt, but he was going to have bruises. He threw open the door. "What in Mira's name is going on out there?"
Bea was staggering out of her room already, blaster in one hand, pulling on her space suit and armor with the other. "I don't know!"
Yaxal looked out of his own bunk with all of his ears sticking straight up. "Trinian's in the cockpit!"
The ship shook again as Marzai came out of his bunk and Zaraq rushed in from the engine room – Cassius was able to grab his door in time, but the two Grundos were thrown against the table and hit each other.
The intercom scratched to life as Jory limped in, fully dressed and with his blasters both drawn. "We're under attack! I can't see what it is – it just looks like shadows!"
Marzai cried, "It's the shadow wraiths! Jalitha's minions!"
Bea asked, "Does shooting shadow minions work?"
"Then come on, Jory! Yaxal, take the helm so Trinian can get out there with us! Zaraq, he's probably going to need engine help! Cassius, Advisor Marzai, just stay out of the way, will you?"
Bea had been more unpleasant than usual since Trinian had overruled her objections. But she was one of the best fighters Cassius had ever seen, so he was willing to put up with her temper as long as she was on their side. She was out the airlock before Jory had even grabbed his helmet.
Trinian ran in as Yaxal ran out. "Marzai – what do you know about these things? How can we get rid of them?"
"Well, all the normal weapons work – what they really hate is light!"
Cassius said quickly, "Zaraq! What do you and I have that could explode and make some light?"
Zaraq's eyes lit up. "I like the way you think! Most cleaning supplies are flammable, and I've got some fuel cells that we can detonate remotely. Hmm – ah! Get me some containers of whatever the most flammable stuff you have is and I'll hook it up to some of the little motors that I've been working on! We'll steer it far enough away from the ship that we shouldn't suffer any damage."
Trinian nodded. "If it works, it should give us enough time to get to the moon. We're almost there. Good idea, Zaraq!"
The idea had really been Cassius's, but it didn't matter as long as it stopped the ship from being ripped to pieces by shadow minions. Cassius said, "Marzai, dump out the bins with the leftovers in them from the cooler and bring them downstairs so we can fill them up, if you would."
Marzai nodded, and they set to work.
Cassius judged that the fungus remover was the most flammable – it had the most warning labels on it. But he didn't have a lot of it, so he mixed it in with the second most dangerous-looking chemical, the Fuzzle repellent. As they sat at Zaraq's cluttered workbench next to the roaring engines, the ship continued to shake. Cassius was certain that Bea, Trinian, and Jory were giving as good as they got, but Marzai spoke of the shadows as an endless throng.
He filled all the containers he could with the mixture, and Zaraq attached them to what looked like little remote-controlled spaceships. Cassius didn't bother to ask. He threaded the wicks where Zaraq instructed him to, and then helped carry the mess of contraptions up to the airlock. He found himself grinning despite the danger – he was doing something to help!
Zaraq had radioed the others, and they were all back inside. Trinian looked drawn and worried under his visor. "There's too many of them to fight. I hope this works, or I don't think this ship will make it to the surface."
Yaxal called over the intercom, "Now entering Kreludor's gravitational field! I can land us if you can get the shadows off our tail!"
Zaraq plugged in numbers to a complicated-looking remote with a rather frightening grin on his face as Trinian and Bea threw the little bombs into the void. The Orange Grundo counted, "Five, four, three, two..."
The blast rattled the ship, and the portholes were filled with fire. Sirens started blaring – Trinian cried, "It damaged the ship! They were too close, or too strong, or..."
Yaxal radioed, "The rudders are gone, and so are half the fuel tanks! The wings took a beating, too. I can land us, but you'll want to hold on tight – this is going to be rough!"
To be continued...