Children of the Lonely Stars: Part Four
There was one small window in the hatch of the escape pod. Subi was able to see Filion approaching rapidly as Paloma asked, "If we can land the escape pod, why can't she land the Harmonia?"
Rin shrugged. "I'd assume it's a matter of priorities. The escape pod is designed to protect its passengers when they slam into the ground. It doesn't need to do anything after that. It's not built to. Strixa wants to land the Harmonia in such a way that it will still be able to fly later. And, as we'd like to be able to leave Filion after we're done, we'd like to – whoa!"
The pod was shaking nearly as badly as the Harmonia had been, but Filion was still in their sights. Outside, a flash of green passed their window, then a brief flicker of red – Paloma said in amazement, "We're in the colored sky! We're in the aurora!"
Rin said, "Maybe that's got something to do with why we're rattling around like this, though I really thought aurorae were just lights... augh!"
Subi gripped a strap on the wall for dear life as Paloma was thrown into her lap. Had the escape pod been any bigger, they might have been hurt – as it was, Subi still had the wind knocked out of her. "Oof!" Across from her, Rin curled up to protect his violin as he took a whack to his carapace from Subi's duffle bag.
By the time they had somewhat righted themselves, the mountainous landscape of Filion filled the entire escape pod window. Rin said, "We'd better be ready – gravity will be light, but this landing's still going to be rough."
Subi grabbed Paloma, and they both grabbed two of the available straps. They braced themselves against the walls – Subi realized that they were coated with rubber and padding, which didn't really encourage her – and prepared for the impact.
It came, nearly throwing them all across the room – they actually bounced, and landed again, and Subi shut her eyes tightly to try and quell the dizziness and disorientation that she felt.
Finally, the pod stilled. Subi looked across at Rin in the darkness. "Do we leave?"
Rin shrugged. "What else could we do? Get your stuff, Paloma. We may need to come back here, but there have to be people on Filion for your lady to be imprisoned here. Which means they have food and shelter, which will be better for us than this pod."
Paloma said, "She's still here." Even in the dimness, Subi could see her eyes widened. "She can feel me, a little. She knows that I can hear her, and that I'm closer than I was before. She's happy, even though she's still afraid. And she's cold. She's very cold."
Rin said, "Filion is cold. Get your coat out of your bag, Paloma."
Subi felt for her bag – she was already wearing her beanie and scarf, but she got her coat and her warm boots out of her bag. She was glad that she'd brought them to the Space Station – she hadn't had to wear them since she'd left Neopia, and had nearly left them behind. Then Subi helped Paloma get her coat on, fastening the little girl's hood, and they all slung the straps of their bags over their shoulders as Rin opened the door.
Subi had to stop in wonder as soon as she climbed out of the hatch. They had landed in an impact crater from a much larger object hitting Filion's surface. All around them the mountains rose tall and jagged. The dust beneath their feet was grey and silvery. And above them the sky rippled with red and green and violet and blue and gold.
Next to her, Rin said, "It's marvelous."
Paloma was simpler. "Pretty."
Subi allowed herself a few minutes to just stand and admire the beauty above them. Then she said reluctantly, "First things first. We need shelter, and we need food. I don't know about you, but I ate all the granola bars I packed to avoid Strixa's Alien Aisha food."
Paloma muttered, "That stuff was disgusting."
Rin sighed. "So we're on a cold planetoid with no food and no shelter. Do we have water?"
Subi said, "I've got a bottle."
Paloma said, "So do I."
Rin said, "So we have three bottles of water. That's something, at least. And I saw the flare in the escape pod..."
Paloma cried, "No!"
Rin opened his mouth, and Subi cut him off. "Remember the part about the mysterious readings and the lady in danger? Let's not tell the whole asteroid we're here, okay?"
Rin said stubbornly, "We still need to bring it. If it's a choice between being captured by unfriendly people or starving, I'd rather be captured. At least we'll be alive. Let me get it."
Subi had to admit that he was right – they weren't exactly going for a stroll in Faerieland out here in the depths of space. Rin took a few bounding steps back into the escape pod – as he did, Paloma leapt up and down a few times, smiling as she tested the lighter gravity. "Fun!"
Subi bounced a few times – as a Blumaroo, she had always jumped well, and she easily cleared twenty feet, When she settled, a poof of grey dust coating her boots, she had to agree with Paloma, and she did so with a smile. "Fun."
Rin returned, the flare tucked under his arm. Subi asked Paloma, feeling a little silly, "Which direction should we go?"
Paloma didn't see the silliness of it, though. She shut her eyes, turned her head a little, shifted her feet, and then pointed. "The brave are that way."
Paloma nodded. "I can feel them now. They aren't as strong as the scared lady. But there are so few people that they stand out. And out that way are the brave ones. They're scared, too. But they're brave."
Subi liked the idea of brave – she didn't think that space pirates or Alien Aisha outlaws would feel brave to Paloma's strange senses. She said, "I'm willing to follow you that way, Paloma."
Rin nodded. "Let's go, then."
It was easy to walk – the gravity was so light that they could take long steps and move at a running pace with little more effort than a casual stroll. It was actually fairly fun to bound their way across the crater, throwing up streams and clouds of dust in their wake.
They had to slow once they reached the rocky rim, working their way up the slope of the closest pass. These peaks weren't especially large – not the size of Terror Mountain or anything – but their journey had gotten much more complicated as they had to spend more time going up-and-down instead of forward. Subi didn't look at her watch. It was daytime on Filion, but she didn't know for how long, and anyway nighttime wouldn't stop them – they'd have to keep moving to find shelter.
They stopped for a rest on the shoulder of one of the peaks – they'd lost sight of the capsule. Subi worried that they weren't going fast enough. She was already hungry, with absolutely no food forthcoming. Rahm had two granola bars, but they didn't have to talk to each other to know that those were for Paloma. The wind hissed around them, and above them the aurora still twisted and curled.
Then Rin stood up. "Do you see that?"
Subi shaded her eyes and looked at where he was pointing.
There were several figures bounding across the crater – far faster than Subi, Rin, and Paloma had gone. They were still too far away for Subi to see much, but they were clearly headed straight toward them. Subi asked, "Do we try to run? Are those the brave, Paloma?"
Paloma shrugged. Subi didn't like what that probably meant. Rin said, "We might as well get off this rise – make them work a little harder."
They started down the slope – they'd made it to the bottom of the bowl-like valley before one of the strangers soared right over their heads. They had wings – wings that looked as insubstantial as the aurora above them, but that spread wide and allowed them to soar over Filion's grey ground. But they were wearing neat, dull black armor and a faceless black helmet – Subi had no idea who or even what this person was.
And then they drew a blaster and pointed it straight at Paloma. Subi shrieked, "Fly, Paloma! Fly!"
But above them three more of the strangers were jumping over the little valley – back and forth, as good as a net. And two more of them were flying down the slope, blasters already in hand. The first one said, in a strangely flat voice, "You are now prisoners of the Lady of the Darkest Night. Offer no resistance and you will be allowed to live."
Subi's stomach had already twisted into a hard knot – now her heart joined her boots on the dusty ground. This was far, far more than she had bargained for. Next to her, Rin put an arm around Paloma, shielding her from view as much as he could. Then he aimed their flare straight at the spokesperson. "You are now making me very irritated, and I advise you to not threaten my sister again in my hearing. Let us go. We've done nothing to you."
Subi had never known that Rin's quiet demeanor hid a knight in shining armor. She was forced to wonder if this was really the right time for him to express that. They were so severely outnumbered that their bluff couldn't help but be called.
It was – their captors even chuckled a little. The spokesperson said, "Put the toy away, worldborn. Your only hope now lies in obedience. Your lives are forfeit to the Lady of the Darkest Night."
Subi really didn't like the sound of that. She wondered if the person who had transmitted to Paloma was also a prisoner of the Lady. If so, they might be about to find her, but Subi wished they'd found her and actually been in position to help her.
All around them were warriors in smooth black armor and faceless black helmets, their fiery wings spread behind them. What could they do? They couldn't fight so many! Subi and Rin were clerks! They couldn't have fought even one of these people!
And then a voice rang out in the thin, cold air, echoing off the peaks. "Desist, brigands! Desist, servants of dark power and dark madness! Desist in the name of the Children of the Lonely Stars!"
To be continued...