Chapter 4: A Problem & A Party
Darren walked along with Arkaz on Level Yellow, his Flux Blaster was readied and powered up. “So, what are we dealing with here, in terms of danger?” Darren asked.
“Ninety-One may be a repair drone, but he can carry and use weapons as well as we can. His feet are equipped with magnetic soles, which normally allow him to walk on metal where there is no gravity, like the external of the ship, but these hallways are also metallic, so watch the ceilings,” said Arkaz.
Darren kept an eye on his surroundings, as well as behind them both, “Does he have any weaknesses?” he asked.
“Our weapons will damage him, but if we hope to shut him down, we’ll have to penetrate his external armor and damage the actual circuitry, which will be quite a challenge,” replied Arkaz.
“How much of a challenge?” asked Darren.
“It will require multiple frontal shots,” said Arkaz, “unless someone can get behind him.”
“What do you mean?” Darren asked as he checked around a corner.
“All repair units have a motherboard that has to vent from the unit’s back, it’s just weak enough to allow a single shot to get through the armor,” said Arkaz. There were a few minutes of silence between them as they slowly searched the deck. Each room they checked was powered down, and empty.
“So, how did you get to be on this ship?” asked Darren as they continued to search.
“Actually, that’s a long story. Several years ago, I was once a prominent figure on my homeworld of Lyndar. I spoke against the Imperium Sovereignty, and they arrested me,” said Arkaz.
“I thought they didn’t take prisoners. Zell said that they just execute most people they would normally arrest,” said Darren.
Arkaz nodded and laughed, “They would have indeed killed me, if it had not been for my people threatening interstellar war in that event. Instead, I was made a political prisoner, and during one of the many times they transported me between prisons, the transport vessel docked at a space station. I escaped and found Auriga docked there as well, and I came aboard with the intent to steal the ship. Incidentally, that’s also when I met Ma’Lyr. She’d followed me aboard, and when I initiated the detachment protocols and left the station, she made herself known to me. I’ve since been labeled too much of a risk to follow, so the Imperium gave up their search for me.”
“You must have been a very important person on your world, for your people to go to war for you,” said Darren.
“Not really. I was high-ranking, of course, but the majority of my people don’t even know who I am. I had ties to the ruler of my world, and that solely was my bargaining chip,” said Arkaz.
At that moment a flux blast was fired straight in between them, knocking them to the sides of the corridor. Arkaz fired three shots from his weapon, each shot gave a whistling sound as they traveled through the air. Ninety-One could be seen at the other end, running at high speed toward the duo. Darren opened fire as well, both of them hitting Ninety-One a few times before he darted into an adjacent hallway. Arkaz tapped his Link Unit and spoke through it, “Ninety-One is on Level Yellow, section two. Everyone, be careful, he was heading for the maintenance hatch.”
“Damn, he’s fast!” exclaimed Darren. He stood up along with Arkaz, and they ran toward the maintenance hatch in pursuit, but Ninety-One had already entered, closing the door just as they arrived.
“Kuso!” yelled Arkaz, “We almost had him.” He motioned to Darren to follow him, “This way.” They both ran to the gravity tubes and took them down to Level Blue. Darren followed Arkaz as he dashed through the halls, finally arriving at a door marked by glowing symbols in a line. As Darren took a closer look at the symbols, they changed into the word ‘Engineering’. Could this be the result of the translator device adapting further? It didn’t matter at that point in time, the door spiraled open, revealing a large room with three cylindrical glowing shafts in its center that spanned from floor to ceiling, maybe even further. It reminded Darren of one of his favorite sci-fi shows back home. As the light within the cylinders pulsated and moved from top to bottom, a loud hum could be heard varying in intensity with the same oscillation as the light. At its strongest point, Darren could feel the vibration at his core, it wasn’t until Darren got closer to the center that he found that the room wasn’t just on that level, but rather spanned another level above and below the one he was on.
“What is this?” he asked as he looked at the sheer size of the device. The cylinders seemed to all be connected to a single component.
“The ISF Drive,” said Arkaz, “Keep yourself ready, it’s possible that Ninety-One could be here.”
The door suddenly closed and locked, trapping them inside. Just then, Zell’s voice could be heard on their Link Units, “Contact on Level Green, section four!” Shots could be heard in the background, as well as Kaylee yelling something Darren couldn’t understand.
Arkaz tapped his Link to respond, “We’ll get to you as soon as we can, we’re currently trapped in Engineering,” he said. He raised his weapon to the door and fired it, but the door only reflected the blast. “Any ideas?” he asked Darren.
“Can we unlock it from in here?” he said.
Arkaz shook his head, “Not a chance. The only way we can exit this room now is if someone opens it from the outside. The system is designed to isolate intruders while allowing ship’s security to enter hostile areas.”
Darren thought for a moment, “Is this door’s control unit linked to its detection sensors?” he asked as he walked toward the door control, pointing to it.
“I think so, why?” said Arkaz.
“If I can cross the door’s controller with its motion sensor, I might be able to trick it into thinking someone’s opening it from outside,” he said.
Arkaz laughed, “I hadn’t thought of that. Worth a try.” Darren opened the panel and looked through its wiring to see if he could recognize any configuration. It was a long shot, but he figured that any technology that used such a device might look similar enough for him to be able to work with it. After a few tries and just as many jolts, he finally found the correct circuit, and opened the door. The two ran to the gravity tubes then went down to Level Green where Zell and Kaylee were firing down the corridor.
Darren looked around the corner to see Ninety-One dodging and jumping through the hallway. Then, just as before, Ninety-One dashed down a side corridor toward another maintenance junction, and disappeared. “Are you two alright?” asked Darren as he helped Kaylee to her feet.
“I think so,” said Kaylee. She stood up and holstered her blaster, fixing her shirt afterward. “Damn, he’s fast,” commented Kaylee.
“Yeah, tell me about it,” said Darren. “What do we do now? He could be anywhere,” he asked Zell.
“It’s likely he’ll try to take over the ship, but since the command chamber is on lockdown, he’ll probably try to kill us all and simply wait for an Imperium ship to retrieve Auriga.”
“Well, that’s just fantastic,” said Darren.
“This isn’t working,” said Zell, “He’s anticipated every move so far, and his sensors give him an edge. I think it’s time to level the playing field.” He walked down the corridor to a panel at one side, and opened it. Darren could see lights and buttons on the inside, labeled with various symbols, some of them began to show English as well, just as the door to Engineering had. At that moment, he caught a glimpse of what Zell was after; it read ‘Primary Cortex Regulator Field’. Zell tapped a few controls, then pulled a short lever down, a low hum could be heard behind the wall as it descended in scale to an even lower hum before totally becoming inaudible.
“What was that?” Darren asked him.
“I shut down the protective field that safeguards the Primary Cortex from sending low-level electromagnetic interference. In short; I just made Ninety-One’s sensors useless on this level,” he said.
Arkaz nodded and started toward the gravity tubes, “I’ll get the one on Level Red.” He shot up the gravity tube after tapping the control, Darren and Kaylee also headed toward the tubes.
“We’ll get the one on Level Yellow,” said Darren. He wasn’t sure why Kaylee chose to go with him rather than with Zell, since Darren was still getting used to his flux blaster. He didn’t have confidence that he could protect Kaylee, should Ninety-One attack them. This worried Darren, and it only fueled his desire to be a better shot. The two arrived at Level Yellow and Darren tapped his Link, “Zell, where’s the junction on this level, anyway?” he asked.
“It should be marked with a red symbol or word, and in almost the same spot it was on Level Green,” he could be heard through the device.
Darren found and opened the panel, “Found it,” he said through his Link. He repeated the steps that he’d seen Zell doing only moments ago, and the same sound could be heard behind the wall, “Got it. Regulator is offline.”
“Darren,” Kaylee called out, but her voice sounded strange to Darren. He turned to face her, and found Ninety-One holding her in the air by her throat, choking her. Darren pulled his flux blaster as quickly as he could.
“It would be wise for you to surrender, Darren,” said Ninety-One.
“Sorry, Ninety-One, I’m not gonna do that,” Darren said calmly, “Let her go.”
“If you do not surrender, I will kill her,” he warned Darren.
“If you kill her, I’ll find whoever is controlling the Ninety-One unit, and I’ll end you!” yelled Darren. Just as Ninety-One was about to make good on his threat, a blast hit Ninety-One from behind, shutting him down. He dropped to the floor, taking Kaylee with him. Darren rushed over to her, and pried open the vice-like grip Ninety-One’s hand still had around her throat. She gasped for air as it finally relented, and coughed uncontrollably for a moment. She hugged Darren, trembling from the shock. He held her and looked up to see who it was that had fired the shot. It was Ma’Lyr. “Thank you,” said Darren.
Ma’Lyr nodded slowly, and knelt down to scan Kaylee for any permanent damage, “She’ll be fine, but maybe you both should rest awhile. This is, after all, very new to you. To be constantly staring death in the face, it’s not something I’d wish on anyone.” Zell and Arkaz arrived through the gravity tubes and checked on Darren and Kaylee.
“Now that he’s offline, we can safely travel to Kajul,” said Arkaz, “Both of you, get up to the command chamber. Darren, since you know how to pilot the ship, I’ll trust you to set a course to Kajul. The coordinates are in the database.”
Darren nodded in acknowledgment and stood up with Kaylee, who was still shaken up. After their usual route, they arrived in the command chamber, where De’Lora was sitting at the science station. Darren sat Kaylee in a free chair, then took Navigation. He entered the coordinates for Kajul after finding them in the database, and the console flashed a button that read ‘ISF Commit’, he tapped the control, and Auriga shot into Inter-space. Darren sighed in relief and sat back against the chair, “Well, at least I’m starting to learn the systems,” he laughed. Darren looked over at Kaylee, who seemed to have calmed down a bit since they got there.
“I assume you shut down that repair technoid,” said De’Lora. Her demeanor was seemingly calm with a hint of sarcasm.
“Yeah, but it’ll have to be repaired,” said Darren. His thoughts returned to the past few days’ events. First, he was repairing a computer for Kaylee, then both he and Kaylee were whisked away and put on this ship, and the whole time they’ve been here, their lives have been at risk. He wondered if this would be their lives now, and if they’d ever find Earth. Should they truly trust these aliens, or should they seek help somewhere else? By his estimate, the rest of this side of the galaxy was very hostile, filled with bandits, mercenaries, desperate people, and finally, these ‘Commanders Of The Galaxy’, The Imperium. “This is just insane,” he muttered.
“What?” asked Kaylee.
“It’s nothing, I just,” he paused, “three days ago, I was sitting at home, working on your computer, and now we’re constantly on the brink of death. I have to wonder if this is our life now.”
“Can you not return to your homeworld?” asked De’Lora.
“No, one of the probes brought us here through an unstable wormhole, we can’t return through it,” said Darren.
“I’m truly sorry for your circumstance then,” said De’Lora.
“Yeah, me too,” said Darren. He made a few course adjustments and after some time, Arkaz and Zell walked in. Arkaz sat in an empty chair, and Zell took weapons, which Darren presumed was his usual post, given the fact that he was the weapon master aboard.
“I’ve placed Ninety-One in a static suspension module in the cargo hold,” said Zell.
“I’d like to be the one to repair him,” said Darren, “That way I can learn the technology even more.” He was sure about this decision, even though it would leave the ship vulnerable to disrepair for a time.
“Dexa!” exclaimed Zell, “We’re being followed! Darren, take us out of Inter-space.”
Darren did as he was told, and the ship slowed to normal space. Zell starting tapping controls frantically to prepare for a battle.
“We’ve got one shot at this,” he said. Another ship slowed into normal space, alarms buzzed on Zell’s console, he looked down at the readings as he prepared to fire the mining laser in a preemptive strike, but the enemy ship was no enemy at all; it was a peace convoy. “Wait a metka, it’s a peace convoy. What are they doing out here?” he said to himself.
“A peace convoy? From where?” asked Kaylee. She shifted in her seat and crossed her legs.
“Rizadia!” said Zell with a smile. His console beeped a few times more, “They’re sending us a message; ‘Great tidings of joy and peace to you. Please feel free to join our convoy to give offerings to the houses of Rax and Ular’ is what it says.”
“Houses of Rax and Ular?” said Kaylee.
“Rax and Ular are two great houses on Rizadia, someone must be marrying between them. But who?” he said.
“A wedding?!” asked Kaylee with a smile, “Can we go?”
Darren interrupted for a moment, “Do you know either house?” he asked.
“Yes. Rax is my house. My full name is Zell Rax,” he said. “I’m responding that we’ll join them, and that I’d like to speak with the betrothed.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea with the Imperium after us?” questioned Darren.
“The Imperium are heavy-handed to be sure, but even they dare not interrupt a wedding, nor any event connected to it,” said Zell.
“That’s a relief,” said Darren.
Kaylee gasped, “Darren do you know what this means?”
“What?” asked Darren, almost afraid to hear the answer.
“It means we’re going to a wedding! I gotta wash my hair, style it, and find a good dress in that device we got,” she said, “Go find a good suit, I want you to look good on my arm, not like what you’re wearing now.” She ran out quickly before Darren could protest.
Darren looked over at Zell, “How did I get roped into this?” he asked.
Zell laughed, “Women seem to be the same in any part of the galaxy. She very clearly likes you, Darren, and if even a part of you likes her, you should be accommodating, or you may find the door closed when you finally do come around,” he said, “I’ve seen how you look at her, it’s a look I’ve seen many times. I know you’re nervous, you should be, but trust me, it’s worth the leap.”
“I don’t know how I feel yet. We just met, so how could I?” said Darren.
“She’s seemed to have made up her mind about you,” said Zell.
“But how do I know she’s feeling real emotions? What if she’s only acting this way toward me as a way to cope with the fact that we’re stuck here?” said Darren.
Zell tapped a few controls, then turned to Darren, “Don’t you owe the lady the right to make that decision for herself?”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right,” said Darren, “I just don’t want to take advantage of her, you know?”
“So don’t. Let her guide the relationship on her terms. If she finds that she doesn’t really have these feelings for you, then she’ll say so.”
Darren nodded and stood to go to his room to find a decent clothing option, “I guess I’ll find out either way. In the meantime, I’ll be there for her,” he said.
“Oh and Darren,” said Zell, “There’s a focal lens system in the nano unit as well, should you need it.”
“You mean to replace these?” he pointed to his glasses, “Awesome, I’ll check it out.” He left the room and could overhear De’Lora and Zell.
“What does ‘awesome’ mean?” asked De’Lora.
“I have no idea, these humans have a strange language,” said Zell. Darren couldn’t help but to laugh as he walked toward the gravity tubes. He hadn’t thought of that; to them Darren and Kaylee were strange aliens from an unknown world with zero knowledge of this region of space. What the duo must seem to them, Darren couldn’t figure out. He finally arrived in his room and locked the door, taking the nano unit that Zell had bought him, he looked through its features. It wasn’t hard to figure out, since the device was very user-friendly. He was able to link it to his Link Unit for extra control as well, and he’d chosen a focal system to replace his glasses. He activated them immediately to see them, they were far more stylish than his simple Earth glasses, and offered an adaptive lens as well, so his vision would never go out of focus.
Later, after arriving at a delegate planet, Darren and Kaylee saw each other’s chosen clothing option, and both complimented the other. Darren was wearing a neon-lined three-piece suit, which Zell had told him would be acceptable clothing for the occasion, and Kaylee was wearing a black dress, also neon-lined, and contact lens technology that allowed her natural eye color to glow. The whole crew decided to attend the ceremony, despite the fact that only Zell knew anyone there. There were no whispers of apprehension or of concern over the new guests, as there may be on Earth. Instead, each member of Auriga’s crew was greeted as part of what Darren could only comprehend was an extended family; not blood relation, but those who at least one attendee knew. After the ceremony, Darren asked Kaylee if she would like to dance, and she agreed. The two of them joined what seemed to be at least a hundred people on a large dance floor. Techno-like music could be heard playing loudly over the speakers in the room, and holographic lights danced through the air above the crowd.
Meanwhile, across the room at the quieter section designated for the newlyweds, Zell approached silently. He placed his hand above his chest-line, slowly coming up behind a male Rizadian. He grabbed his shoulder, “Say nothing,” he said in the man’s ear, “That tree in Kanakash must be looking pretty good right now, don’t you think?” said Zell.
“Would you mind repeating that?” said the man.
“I said, the tree in Kanakash must be looking pretty good right now,” Zell laughed. The man turned and smiled as Zell let go of his shoulder.
“Zell! I didn’t think you could make it, we couldn’t get you over a communication line,” he said.
“Yeah, We’ve been to a few worlds over the past few weeks. We even got trapped in a singularity zone where we picked up two new passengers,” said Zell, he placed his arm around the other man’s neck as they walked over to his table. “So, Tekk, my younger brother, who is it that you’ve chosen to marry?”
“It could be none other than the beautiful Ryzia, of course,” he said.
Zell laughed, “So you two finally joined then, you should have married her years ago. Shall we drink to the occasion?”
“Indeed, dear brother, and drink we shall,” said Tekk. The party continued on into the night, and many of the guests had gone home by the end, but the crew of the Auriga remained. Zell had been conversing with his brother and what was now his family, laughing and drinking with them.
At the same time, at a nearby table, Darren and Kaylee had been talking about their situation, which became common conversation at this point. “Maybe it won’t be so bad,” said Darren, “You know, living in this side of the galaxy, wherever we are.”
Kaylee sipped a drink they’d both picked up before sitting down, “Maybe. But it would be good to know where home is, even if we are seeing all of this for the first time,” she said.
Darren took a drink of his drink as well, “Yeah. I guess it really is true, what they say, as amazing as this all is, when it comes to home, there’s no place like it.”
Zell and his brother staggered over to the table, “Tekk, this is Darren and Kaylee, the two people from Urthe I told you about,” said Zell.
“Very nice to meet you both,” said Tekk, “What’s Urthe like?” he asked.
“Well, we have a yellow sun, blue skies,” said Darren, “Large blue oceans, and green forests.”
“On Rizadia,” said Tekk, “We have a red sky, a blue sun, green oceans, and purple forests.”
Zell nodded, “This is true, maybe someday you will see it for yourselves.” They both sat down with Kaylee and Darren.
“Say,” said Tekk, “Which way were you headed, anyway?”
“Kajul,” said Zell.
“A trade-planet? Whatever for?” asked Tekk.
“To offload cargo, why else?” Zell laughed. He took a drink and placed the glass on the table.
“You’re a terrible liar, you know,” said Tekk as he took a drink as well.
At that moment, Darren looked over at Tekk, and saw the pattern on his shirt; a star-sign. “Where did this pattern come from?” he asked. Kaylee looked up to see what Darren was talking about, and she covered her mouth, surprised at what she saw.
“It’s the family crest,” said Tekk, “Why do you ask?”
Zell saw the expressions on Darren and Kaylee’s faces, “Have you seen this star-shape before?” he asked them.
Darren nodded, “It’s one of our constellations; Orion,” he said.
“Then your world must be very close to ours, it’s not far from here, within a day’s travel in Inter-space,” said Zell, “The problem is, even with that information, it will be very hard to find your planet. We’ll have to have Auriga plot a course based on areas that are unexplored by any known space-traveling entity.”
“We can worry about it tomorrow,” said Kaylee, “Right now, I’m determined to enjoy myself.”
Darren happened to look up to see Ma’Lyr walking with a guy toward the hotel room section, “Ma’Lyr seems to be doing just that,” said Darren.
Zell looked up and laughed a bit, “Don’t let her behavior these past couple of days fool you, she’s a partier,” he said.
“Another drink, please,” said Kaylee as a server walked by. He nodded in acknowledgment.
Darren finished his off at that moment as well, “Same here!” he called out. “So, Tekk, Zell said something about being someone of some influence on your world,” he said.
“I don’t think we should get into that now,” interrupted Zell.
“Psh! Nonsense!” said Tekk, “Do you not know the House of Rax?” he asked Darren. Darren shook his head. “The House of Rax is one of the wealthiest, well-known families on Rizadia. We’re royalty, although Zell and me are only tenth and eleventh in line to the throne, so most people only know us by name,” said Tekk.
“Wow! How is it that you’ve never mentioned that, Zell?” asked Kaylee.
“It’s not something I make a public record of,” said Zell, “Too many people could use the information politically.”
“Which is why you should come home to Rizadia!” laughed Tekk.
“No,” said Zell, “It’s too soon. I still haven’t found Kralis.”
The server returned with Darren and Kaylee’s drinks, setting them on the table, “Who’s Kralis?” asked Darren.
“The man who ordered my shop to be burned,” said Zell.
“Why did you go into a business if you’re royalty?” asked Darren.
“I’ve never cared for the royal life,” said Zell, “If I wanted to marry, I would have had to marry from another wealthy house. When I met my wife, she was a commoner. I fell in love with her and asked her to marry me, but in doing so, I forfeited my fortune and rights to the throne. I went into business for myself, and well, the rest you already know. Of course, I could return to reclaim my family wealth if I wanted, but it wouldn’t seem right.” He finished off his drink as well, but stood up, “I think I should get some sleep, this tarfyn will no doubt impair me in the morning,” he said as he walked off toward the rooms. Tekk stayed behind to converse with Darren and Kaylee.
“So,” said Tekk, “Are you two a couple?”
Kaylee looked at Darren, and didn’t answer right away. Darren looked back at her, straight into her eyes, “I-” he was interrupted by Kaylee.
“Just on a date,” she smiled and broke eye contact with Darren.
“Yeah,” Darren said, “I was just about to say that.”
“I sense some hesitation in both of your answers,” said Tekk. Of course Darren knew he was right. Darren wasn’t sure what this was, if anything at all, other than a simple date. He wanted to find out, and he had a feeling that Kaylee did too.
“The whole idea is fairly new to me,” said Darren. Kaylee reached over and took his hand.
“I think we’re both just seeing where this goes. Right?” she said. Darren smiled and nodded to answer her. So now he had his answer.
“That’s how it starts, you know,” said Tekk as he took a drink, “It starts out with glances, then each person has their feelings spark, and both know something is different about the other, but they can’t seem to place exactly what. After a while, that spark turns into flame, and flame into passion, and that’s how love ignites.” He leaned close to them both, “I can see the spark within you both,” he whispered. Tekk sat back in his chair and took another drink, “But you both are nervous, I understand, believe me. But you two have got something, I can tell.”
“You’re drunk, how could you tell any of that?” said Kaylee in jest.
Tekk laughed, “My dear, I may be drunk, but I know love when I see it. Now if you’ll excuse me, my wife awaits,” he said. He stood up and staggered toward the rooms.
“Well, I need some sleep. Would you be a gentleman and walk me to my room?” asked Kaylee.
Darren stood up and offered his hand, “It would be my honor, my lady,” he said. She took his hand, and he led her toward her room. After they arrived, she thanked him and kissed his cheek, and went inside. Darren went to his room as well, thinking about the night as it was, and he decided it had been a very good night. There were a lot of things looking up at that moment, and he was satisfied that even if they couldn’t find Earth, he could find happiness on this side of the galaxy, wherever they are.