Brothers in Stars
Chapter 3: The Calm Before the Storm
Talinia gripped her blaster decisively and took aim at the target one hundred yards down. With a click of her trigger, she fired a jet of plasma energy straight through the middle. Then, after a pause, she fired twice more, hitting the same spot. She checked her blaster afterwards, squinting at the battery level indicated on the handle. An echoing shot and a yelp caused the green Eyrie to suddenly look up at the booth next to her where a blue Acara was slightly shaken after firing a blast into the second and third rings of her target.
She was about to put away her blaster and lend Mipsy a hand when someone beat her to it.
“Are you all right?” Rohane approached her almost automatically, standing up from where he had been silently watching his teammates.
Mipsy just grinned, waving a hand. “I’m okay, Captain! Just a little rusty after my time at the Academy. I got this.” To illustrate her point, she took up her blaster again and fired – only to singe the upper right corner of the target. “Oops.”
“I think you’re more than just rusty,” Velm called from two lanes down. The Acara shot the red Techo a dirty look, but he just laughed, and his next shot landed at the left side of the center circle.
“Relax your grip, and look down the barrel at the bullseye,” the white Blumaroo began, reaching out to adjust her hold on her blaster. With his foot, he gently nudged her stance. “You’ll be fine.”
Talinia was no longer firing and instead watched as Mipsy took a deep breath and pulled the trigger, blasting a hole right next to the center.
“Yes!” Mipsy jumped up before realizing she was clutching a deadly weapon. She hurriedly stashed it into its holster before resuming her victory dance. “I got closer!”
“You did,” said Talinia, waving from her spot. Velm gave a thumbs-up.
Rohane smiled approvingly. “That’s a good start. Just keep at it and you’ll be as good as Commander Talinia.”
The green Eyrie felt her face burn and she blinked, shaking her head. “Oh, no, I’m sure the Captain is a much better shot than I am.”
“I don’t think I can top Sagittarius Sector’s markswoman and her legendary precision,” the Blumaroo objected.
“Well, I heard you’re the best swordsman in Perseus,” Talinia returned as she joined Rohane and Mipsy.
“I was just lucky I had my dad to teach me everything I know.”
“Oh? Let’s see what you’ve got,” said Velm, who had put his blaster away in favour of two blades forged from meteor metal. “Good thing the Dome of Blades is empty today.”
Mipsy frowned after firing into her target, matching her previous shot. “Aw, but I was already getting so good at shooting!”
“We’ll get back to shooting later, don’t worry,” said Talinia, laughing. “For now, let the boys be boys…and we do also have to work on our swordsmanship.”
* * *
The Dome of Blades was in a far corner of Perseus Sector’s training facility, and was an enclosed area panelled with strong metal alloys, built to withstand even the worst laser sword-related accidents. Most of it was an open space, but scattered to the sides were lockers, benches, computers, closets, and in one case, several rolled-up mattresses and dismantled balance beams.
Talinia and Mipsy sat together, unlit laser swords in hand, as they watched Velm and Rohane spar in the middle. The Techo thrust and swung almost wildly, seeking an opening, but his opponent always managed to evade or parry the blows quickly, shifting easily from a ready stance to deft footwork.
Rohane ducked an overhead slice and responded with a swift riposte. Velm nearly tripped all over his own feet avoiding the blade and blocked an incoming strike with a loud clang that echoed throughout the Dome.
“Whoo!” Mipsy cheered.
But Velm’s respite was short-lived. They locked blades, disengaged, circled, and nothing prepared him for Rohane lunging forward and performing a complex disarming pass that sent the red Techo’s sword spinning to the floor.
“Not ‘whoo’,” said Velm, shaking his head and raising his hands. He grinned. “You win, Captain. Your swordsmanship’s a lot better than they say it is.”
“Like I said, I just have the best teacher I could ask for,” said Rohane, waving a hand as though the lieutenant’s compliment was a mildly annoying bug.
“Then, that means getting you to teach us would be the next best thing to actually studying under General Reynold,” Talinia pointed out, getting to her feet and clicking the button on the laser sword’s hilt. The blade crackled to life and glowed a fervent bluish-white. “You have to teach me and Mipsy how to disarm like that.”
“And me,” the Techo added, raising a hand. “You have to teach me that trick so I can use it against you next time.”
Rohane stared at him, as though in disbelief, before chuckling. “Okay, then we’ll work on this until you can disarm me.”
“Not too long, I want to practice shooting some more!” Mipsy interrupted before making a gesture with her free hand that mimicked the act of exploding.
Talinia sighed. “You’re way too excited to blow things up, Mipsy.”
“We probably shouldn’t give her the flash bombs,” Velm whispered to her – or at least, pretended to whisper so the blue Acara still heard every word.
“I heard that!”
All three of them laughed. Even Rohane joined in before he cleared his throat to get their attention.
“Right, before I teach you Dad’s favourite tricks, we should start with the basic exercises. Anyone who messes around gets an extra thirty pushups as punishment.”
Velm’s face fell. “Hey, that was not part of the deal! Besides, isn’t that too extreme? Someone could pull a muscle! All that exertion…”
“Calm down, he’s probably just joking,” said Mipsy. Her smile became a more nervous one. “Right?”
* * *
Fenlix pressed a button on the projector so that a large space map flashed on the wall. A white line drew itself from the Perseus Sector to Orion, skimming past stars and floating rocks. “We sent our drones to investigate this area, especially Asteroid 52, but they turned up no signs of life.”
“Might be worth a second look, just in case Sloth has some nasty surprises for us,” drawled Hal.
The alien Aisha pondered this, stroking his chin and swivelling around in his chair to face the grey Wocky. “Hmmm…yeah, Sloth isn’t a n00b, he’d do anything to make sure we don’t pwn him.”
“Dad, you’re embarrassing me again!” Vega complained, setting her coffee mug down with slightly more force than was necessary. Fenlix just laughed.
Pyxis’ monitor lit up and the image of an envelope with wings flashed onto the screen. “Ooh, got a Neomail from Engineering!” The orange Grundo clicked the envelope and it opened. “They’ve finished inspecting the Fornax. It’s shipshape and ready for Team Alpha’s mission, but they’ll continue doing more inspections just in case.”
“Speaking of Team Alpha, how is Ro – Captain Rohane, Reuben?” asked Vega. “Since he’s leading them, he must be a bit nervous.”
Reuben blinked from where he was about to raise his own half-full cup of coffee to his lips. “Huh? Oh, probably. I haven’t heard too much about that from him lately, he’s been busy.”
“But General Reynold’s still going with ‘em?” Hal asked, his eyebrows lifting.
“Yeah, he hasn’t changed his mind about that,” the white Blumaroo answered, draining his cup.
“I thought your brother was ready to be captain.”
Reuben narrowed his eyes. “He is! But this is his first time leading a mission. And we already know Sloth and Garoo are going to be lying in wait for the Stellar Ray plans, so Dad wants this to be watertight. All firewalls and data lines guarded, the ship armed to the teeth and shielded, the best route plotted to ensure that we don’t run into anyone…”
Vega furrowed her brows. “Calm down, Reuben, you’re babbling a hundred words a minute.”
“Well, even if he is the general’s son and the General is on board, this mission seems big for a newly promoted captain.”
“I think we get the point, Hal,” said the pink Aisha steadily. “General Reynold knows what he’s doing.”
The Blumaroo shot a look at Hal and took a deep breath. “Okay, I think we can call it a night. We’ll have a test run of the flight path tomorrow.”
“Yeah, Dad’s getting old, he needs his sleep,” Vega quipped, winking at Fenlix, who just shook his head before hiding a yawn behind his fist.
“Just a few more things,” said Reuben. “Pyxis, confirm with Engineering tomorrow that the ship is ready and they don’t need any of us to look over the systems. Elise, get that simulation program started for the Fornax’s flight path. The rest of us will be watching the simulation to see how it goes and making any needed adjustments. And…uh, that’s all. Get a good night’s sleep, we gotta be sharp tomorrow to check that our route is correct and that we’ve taken everything into consideration – asteroid paths, possible meteors, even ships from other sectors passing through.”
“Aye, aye, sir!” The orange Grundo saluted before he and everyone else began switching off their computers and exiting the control room.
“Copy that!” said the cloud Poogle, saluting.
“See you tomorrow,” droned Hal. He fell in step behind Vega and Fenlix, while Elise hurriedly began arranging the folders left on her desk. Reuben looked on from his workstation as one by one, the members of his team left the room and the doors slid shut behind them.
He looked over at the map; no one had bothered to switch the projection off, but he didn’t mind. Instead, he gazed at it, mentally tracing the path that had been marked through the great expanse of space, and after a long while, he pressed a button on his control panel, and the map winked out of existence.
Reuben was about to do the same with the lights and his own computer, which was still running, when he heard a knock on the door. The white Blumaroo activated his other monitor, which showed him who was outside the room – another white Blumaroo, younger, and with a more serious face.
Then he strode over to the panel beside the double doors and opened them with a quick punch of his code.
“Hey, bro. What’s up?”
Rohane stepped inside, breathing deeply. He looked at Fenlix’s empty seat and pulled it over to sit down in it.
“How was your training with the team?”
“It went well. We had to pull Mipsy away from the firing range, she was too excited about blowing up more targets.” The ghost of a smile flitted across the captain’s face before his more serious demeanour returned, with a touch of unease that made Reuben take his chair and sit in front of him.
“Sounds like there’s more to it than that.”
“I’m so nervous about this mission, Reuben,” said Rohane. “I forgot about it while training and teaching my team how to handle the laser swords, but when it was done and we all left, it came back and punched me in the face.”
Reuben winced as though Rohane had talked about a literal punch to the face.
“I know Dad went through this too when he first became captain. It felt good to know that, but I’m not Dad.”
Reuben sighed and shook his head, giving his brother a small grin. “Of course you’re not. Neither of us are ever going to be Dad. But he’s right – ‘cause I was nervous too, when I led the IT team for the first time.”
“You were?” Rohane raised his eyebrows.
“Don’t get me wrong, I was happy when I made it to chief, remember? But deep down, I was so afraid that Sloth and his goons would break through our firewalls on my watch and I’d never live it down. I kept double- and triple-checking all my work for months after my promotion.”
“But Sloth hasn’t compromised our security! It hasn’t happened.”
The older Blumaroo let out a breath and grinned crookedly. “You mean it hasn’t happened so far. But that sort of feeling comes with big responsibilities, you know? Hey, you graduated from the Academy, climbed through the ranks, and made Captain. Your first mission is just the next step. You got this. Dad and I know you do, and we’ll be here to get you through it.”
“Heh, that’s what Dad said, too.”
“He’s not wrong.” Reuben rolled his chair so he was closer to Rohane, and embraced him tightly. “We’ve got your back. I’ve got your back. We’re running through the route you’ll be taking to Orion to make sure everything goes smoothly, and you’ll have me on the comms every step of the way. Brothers in stars, remember?”
“Dad’s got brothers in arms, but we’re brothers in stars.” Rohane relaxed and returned the hug. “Thanks, big bro.”
“Takes you back to that night we were stargazing, doesn’t it? It’s just too bad the route isn’t anywhere near The Pathfinder, the constellation of the hero you were named for.”
“First, we finish bringing the Stellar Ray plans to Orion, then we’ll think about seeing The Pathfinder up close and personal.”
“Good plan. See, this is why they made you captain. And listen to yourself, now you’re pumped up to get those plans to the Orion Sector!”
Rohane grinned sheepishly. “Better to get it over with. Besides, with all three of us manning the mission, what could go wrong?”
To be continued…