Chapter 13: Aquara
Over the serene planet of Aquara, an archaic spaceship appeared from nothingness with the name of Solaris painted on its side. The planet had no way of knowing why the ship chose to park above it, nor did it care. Covered entirely in water with marine creatures as the only form of life, the deep blue planet ignored the visitors, the first humans and Lanyran it had ever seen and would see for a very long time.
“Welcome to Aquara,” said Rynah. “An entire planet with no land mass. Just water.”
The others stared out the port window amazed at such a thing. Of course, all of the planets they had visited had awed them.
“Suit up,” said Rynah, pressing a button that opened a storage room, holding seven spacesuits. “These may be meant for space walking, but they will work in the water as well.”
“But won’t we sink?” asked Tom.
“Nope.” Rynah pressed something on one of the suits and fins appeared. “This ought to help you swim,” she said, taking note of Tom’s greenish face. “Don’t tell me you are afraid of the water.”
“Not entirely,” said Tom.
“I do not need such a suit,” grumbled Alfric. “We Vikings are great seafarers and know how to navigate the seas.”
“But how will you breathe under water?” asked Rynah.
Grimacing, Alfric took the suit. He hopped around on one foot as he unsuccessfully tried to get his suit on properly.
“It might help if you took off your cloak and your many weapons,” said Solaris. “Just a thought.”
“Here,” said Brie as she helped Alfric unload his many blades and scramble into the suit.
“Is there any way we can let him keep the sword because big boy over there looks like he’s going to cry,” Tom teased when Alfric refused to let Brie have his trusted sword.
“It’ll be fine,” said Brie.
Alfric relinquished his most prized possession, but kept his knives. Brie set it aside where it would be well-protected.
“Everyone ready?” asked Rynah as she checked their suits to make sure they had put them on properly. “Here,” she handed Alfric a belt she had fashioned which would hold a few of his knives.
“I thank you, great lady,” he said.
Rynah suppressed a smile, unsure of how she liked being called a “great lady”. “Solaris, do you have the coordinates?”
“Yes,” replied Solaris.
“Okay, listen up,” said Rynah over the noise as they lowered into the planet’s atmosphere and hovered over the ocean. “When these doors open beneath us, you will all jump. You will sink at first, but don’t panic. This button controls the thrusters on your suit; it will help you swim. This one controls the fins. Pay attention to this indicator bar here” —she waved the square thing on her wrist in front of them— “it tells you how much oxygen you have left. When it turns red, it means you need to get to the surface immediately. We will have about an hour to look around.”
“You’re certain the next crystal is here?” asked Tom.
“I’m not certain of anything,” said Rynah, securing her helmet.
The doors opened beneath them, revealing tumultuous waves that rose and plowed into the surface of the teal water; swirls of pastel green bubbles drifted across the top as honey-colored sunrays penetrated the surface, delving deep within until the elephantine darkness swallowed them. Rynah jumped first, followed by Tom and Solon. Brie tried backing away from the edge, but Alfric pushed her into the water. Muffled gurgling sounds echoed around her ears as she sank below the surface and dropped to the bottom of the sea; the water turned a darker shade of blue with each passing second.
A hand grasped her arm. It was Rynah. She punched a button on Brie’s suit, causing fins to pop out on her feet and arms. Waving her arms like one would when treading water, Brie prevented herself from sinking any further.
“Follow me,” came Rynah’s voice over the radio. “Search for anything that matches the ancient verse or anything unusual. Remember, there are a lot of dangers here, so be careful.”
They moved through the water (bits of green algae wafted past) with tiny, white bubbles escaping their suits each time they breathed. Small lights on their wrists illuminated the dark waters. Brie gasped when a giant whale swam below her. She glanced at Solon, who smiled, enthralled by it and enjoying himself. She hurried after the others. Something stopped in front of her. Taking a closer look, Brie realized that they were seahorses, but they looked different from the ones she had seen on the television back home. Just then, Solon reached out to her and pointed at what appeared to be a wavy, neon light; it was a type of eel.
Tom swam below them. He shone his light onto the sandy floor, watching the creatures crawl across it. “I wish I had my camera,” he said. Fish darted out of his light, only to reappear the moment he passed by. A translucent tentacle dropped before him. Tom swerved to avoid being struck by a monstrous jellyfish. He watched as the sea creature bobbed, waving its tentacles. Continuing on, he spotted something. “Hey, guys, over here.”
Rynah swam up to where he was. She waved the beam of her light on a shadowed silhouette protruding from the coral reef.
“I don’t believe it,” she said. “It’s a ship.”
They kicked harder to reach the sunken vessel, which was coated in barnacles and corals and had become home to a whole array of sea creatures. Once there, Rynah studied the markings on the metal exterior. Solon did too.
“I think it says Heracles.”
“You can read this?” said Rynah in disbelief.
“Partly,” replied Solon as he studied the writing. “Most of it appears to be Greek, but some of the markings are different. These I do not understand.”
“But those are runes,” said Alfric, recognizing some of them. “But how can this be?”
Hovering before the triangular ship, Brie reached out and touched it with her gloved hand, smearing the red algae that covered it. Some of the writing etched on the side resembled the pictures she had seen in dusty library books, though she was never able to decipher them.
“Herclai,” said Rynah. “That is the name of the ship, but I don’t understand.”
“What?” said Tom.
“According to the stories of my people, Herclai was a strong warrior, but with a terrible temper.”
“Sounds like the Greek myth of Hercules,” said Brie.
“Yes, but unlike your earth myths, Herclai stole a powerful object that was said to be able to control the forces of nature. He broke it into six parts and… hid them.” Rynah stared at the ship as a realization struck her: the ancient myths of her planet were true, to a degree. The myth of Herclai referred to the story of the crystals. Could they be the same, yet written as two different tales?
“The six crystals,” said Tom. “Are you telling me this guy visited Earth?”
“I don’t know,” whispered Rynah. She had never believed the tales. She only wanted to stop Klanor. “We need to get inside. There should be an access port somewhere.”
“Found it,” said Tom, pointing at a hatch. “But we’ll need to wedge it open.”
As though summoned, Alfric appeared. Using one of his knives, he pried open the hatch for the pressure inside the vessel to be released. The door burst open. Each of them swam inside. Rynah climbed a set of stairs that led to another hatch. Using all her strength, she twisted the wheel on the door and popped it open, revealing an area that had not been overcome by seawater. She hauled herself into the corridor and helped the others.
“All right,” she said, taking off her helmet, “the air in here seems to be breathable. We need to find the command center. I think it’s this way.”
“There is no need,” said Alfric, pointing at a mummified corpse. “His adornments mean that he is an important member of his people.”
Rynah brushed the smudge off the patch on the uniform. The symbol upon it was similar to the symbol she wore on her security uniform. “How can this be?”
“How can what be?” asked Brie.
Rynah showed them the similar symbols.
“I think there is much about your people’s history that you do not know,” said Solon.
“But if he is the captain,” said Rynah, “what is he doing down here?” She glanced at where the corpse faced as she realized what he had been looking at when he died. Rynah pressed against the panel in front of the remains, trying to pry it open. Nothing. She heaved again. “Alfric, do you think…”
The Viking shoved her aside. He pounded the panel with his fist, noting that it wasn’t very thick. Snatching a fallen metal bar, he jabbed the door with it, forcing it open. Air burst from the sealed room, wafting over them with its staleness.
“Thanks,” said Rynah as she stepped into the dark interior, focusing her light on everything.
A soft humming drew Tom’s attention. Without telling the others, he wandered to the far corner of the room where he searched every shadow. Nothing. Undeterred, Tom felt around the wall. That humming has to be coming from here. He looked at the others. They dispersed, each taking a separate area to search, and ignored him. Guessing that they didn’t hear the soft hum, he continued probing the corner.
Rynah approached a book situated in the center of the room. Curious, she turned the pages, taking great care not to damage them.
“Why would this be here?’
“Some people enjoy reading,” said Solon.
“No,” said Rynah. “I meant, on a ship where everything is digital, why have an archaic book made of paper?”
“Some prefer the feel of the pages,” said Brie. “My mom refused to buy an e-reader, saying that it takes the humanity out of reading a book.” A downcast look crossed her face as she remembered her home.
Knowing she would never get another chance, Rynah pulled a camera the size of her thumb out and took pictures of the pages. She hoped that Solaris could translate them.
She bumped something. Before she had time to see what it was, a holographic face filled the room as a deep voice resonated around them.
“This is Herclai. Mat—has—my systems are all compromised. Considering the nature of the crys—I—put the ship down. Maybe—I’m sorry. There is no other way. I hope the universe does not pay for our mistake.”
The images vanished.
“It appears that Herclai was a person, not a ship,” said Solon.
Rynah pressed all of the controls she found in an effort to bring back the recording, but failed.
“I still do not understand why that man would be heading for this room when the ship crashed.”
“I think I know,” said Tom as he pulled a panel away, revealing a small, luminescent crystal.
“It’s here!” said Rynah in shock, “But what…”
She rushed over to a computer terminal and pushed the button. The screen flickered to life. Though distorted, Rynah managed to decipher some of the characters on the screen. “That crystal is the power source for the ship. It seems that even after it crashed, it managed to keep some of the systems running and the water from flooding this section.”
“But how could it still be working after all this time?” asked Brie.
“It is a very strong power source. A renewable one I suspect, the likes of which I have never seen. Solaris?”
“Yes,” came Solaris’ crackled reply.
“I am sending you a transmission,” said Rynah. “See if you can…”
A loud thud cut her off. In walked four of Klanor’s men, wearing suits similar to theirs. “And I thought we had beaten you all,” said one, whose name was Stein. “Who are you four anyway?” he pointed at Brie, Alfric, Solon, and Tom.
“No one of consequence,” said Tom.
“Let me be the judge of that,” said Stein. “In any case, it doesn’t matter. Hand me the crystal.”
“No,” said Rynah.
“Brave, but foolish,” said Stein.
No one moved.
“We are leaving with the crystal one way or another,” Stein said, holding out his hand.
Rynah placed it in his outstretched, gloved hand. He curled his fingers around it; a smirk etched on his face.
“Run back to your master with it like the lapdog you are,” spat Rynah.
Stein ignored her comment.
Water burst through a pinprick-sized hole, spraying all of them.
“You know,” said Stein, “I believe this is our cue to leave.” He motioned for the other three to exit. “Too bad you can’t join us.” With a loud thud, he slammed the panel door shut and locked it from the other side.
“No!” Rynah charged the exit, beating her fists against it and using all her strength to force it open, but the lock remained sealed. More water burst into the room, adding to the two feet that had already pooled around their ankles. “Helmets, now!”
All of them fumbled with their helmets. Tom dropped his and chased it across the room before grasping it and ramming it on his head. Water poured in, now swirling around their calves as it deepened. Ping! A washer broke loose under the pressure of the surrounding water, allowing another gushing stream to shower them. Panicking, Brie shrieked as the force of it knocked her off her feet. Rynah checked her oxygen levels. Frowning, she didn’t have much left, which meant neither did her companions.
“Search for a weak spot,” she ordered, “anything that might allow us to escape.”
The others scanned the walls meticulously, searching for any sign of a way out. Nothing. Cursing, Rynah scrambled around the room, in water that had reached her waist, pounding the walls and releasing cries of frustration. Her laser pistol poked her hip. That’s it! she thought. She yanked her weapon out of its holster.
“All of you over here!” she yelled into her helmet’s radio. “When I use this to blast a hole in the side of the ship, the change in pressure will suck each of us out into the water.”
They gathered behind Rynah, trusting in her judgment.
“Ready?” she asked.
“Not really,” answered Tom.
Rynah ignored him. Taking careful aim, she fired three shots at the far wall. Sparks and deafening echoes filled the water-logged area. The wall ripped apart as water burst through it, forcing what air was left out into the open ocean. Watery arms snatched each of them, ripping them out of the ship and into the open expanse of water amid a rampaging sea of frothy bubbles. Smashing into each other, groans and moans filled the radio as each tried to maintain awareness of the others’ whereabouts.
Once outside the ship, Rynah scanned the area for movement. Three shapes caught her attention. She swam for them; she had to get that crystal. “They’re getting away!”
Solon, Alfric, and Tom raced toward her. They kicked with all of their strength to catch up with Rynah and the three who had stolen their prize. Something whizzed past Tom’s head. He turned in its direction, curious as to what it was. It zipped past again. Laser fire! He banked to the right and rolled over in the water to miss the next onslaught of laser fire.
Alfric had almost caught up with all of them. The fearless Viking charged his quarry and plowed into Stein, knocking the crystal from his hands. Stein elbowed Alfric’s head, nearly cracking his helmet. In retaliation, Alfric punched Stein in the stomach. Stein went for his laser gun. Alfric seized his wrist, pushing the deadly weapon away, and head-butted the man. Stunned, Stein released his laser gun, but managed to squirm free of the Viking’s grasp, giving Alfric a final kick to the head.
Rynah caught up with another of Klanor’s men. She grasped the oxygen tank strapped to his back and held on, forcing him to drop deeper into the depths of the ocean. The man kicked at her. Rynah swerved, but her grip remained firm. A sudden force rammed into her, dazing her, and forcing her to release the man she held. Clearing her head, Rynah looked up. A shark as big as two buses, and with a flat head, swam straight for her, mouth opened wide, revealing razor teeth. She dodged. The waves caused by the creature slammed into her, pushing her further away from it and her friends. The shark swerved and charged her again before—it stopped! Rynah looked up. Above her floated Brie, unconscious.
“Alfric, Brie!” Rynah yelled into her mouthpiece.
Alfric yanked out two of his knives and torpedoed the shark, his strength propelling him through the water. “Come here, you foul beast!” yelled Alfric. “Odin will not save you!” Just as the shark was about to reach Brie, Alfric’s massive form smashed into it; his knives sliced through its delicate flesh.
Rynah shot towards the motionless Brie. She turned Brie over and shook her to wake her up. “Come on,” said Rynah.
Brie’s eyes remained closed.
Not knowing what else to do, Rynah smacked her on the shoulder, hoping it would cause enough sensation to wake her.
Brie’s eyes burst open. “What… where…”
“Are you injured?” asked Rynah.
“No,” said Brie, “I don’t think so.”
“Is she…” Tom swam up to them.
“She’s fine,” said Rynah. “Where’s the crystal?”
Tom never had a chance to answer. At that moment, the same shark swam past them, almost clipping him with its fin. A small glint caught his attention. Tom watched as the shark turned around, taking careful note of what was in its mouth.
Rynah seized his shoulder. “Where’s the crystal!”
The shark charged them again, barely missing them, its massive tail catching Rynah in the stomach and knocking the air out of her lungs. With a grunt, she turned limp in the water as she caught her breath.
“I know where the crystal is,” said Tom.
“Where?” asked Solon.
“In its mouth.”
Dismayed, the others stared at the shark as it turned around to make another pass for them. Somehow, in the scuffle, the crystal had become lodged between its pointed, and very deadly, teeth.
“Anyone got a plan?” asked Tom, “because I don’t feel like being lunch.”
“Distraction is a good policy,” said Solon. “Alfric, do you think you can keep him busy?”
Alfric held up his two knives with a smile. “Let him come!”
“Brie and Tom,” said Solon, “you two will have to get the crystal when it opens its mouth.”
“No! I—I—can’t,” shrieked Brie.
“You have small arms,” said Solon. “Meanwhile, Rynah and I will—”
“No!” Brie shrank away in fear.
“I’ll do it,” said Rynah.
Rynah and Tom swam far enough away to watch the battle, but not too far to miss their chance of grabbing the crystal. Alfric and Solon went in the other direction to be bait for the shark. Alone, Brie watched everything, ashamed of her cowardice and wishing she was more useful.
“Arrr!” roared Alfric as he beat his knives against his chest. “Beast of the underworld, come and claim your prize!”
Solon watched in mild humor. “I don’t think that was necessary.”
The shark headed straight for them, its tail swishing back and forth and gathering speed. Its mouth opened wide as it moved in for the kill. Alfric raised his blades in anticipation. The shark dove for him. He swerved out of the way and pounced on the beast’s head, digging his two knives deep within its skull. Wailing and squealing in agonizing pain, the shark twisted and whipped its body around to shake Alfric off.
Seizing their chance, Tom and Rynah sped over to the shark. Rynah pulled the knife she had strapped around her boot and plunged it into the corner of the shark’s mouth. Whipping its tail fin, the shark opened its jaws wide, revealing the crystal.
“Now!” yelled Rynah.
Not liking this plan, Tom summoned his courage and raced for it. He reached for the crystal, wrapping his fingers around it and yanked. It wouldn’t budge. Tom pulled again with more force. Still nothing.
“Do it now!” screamed Rynah as her grip on the knife slipped.
“It’s stuck tight,” replied Tom.
Doing the most foolish (and desperate) thing he could think of, Tom swam into the shark’s mouth and grasped the crystal with both hands, bracing both his feet on the creature’s teeth. Using the combined strength of his legs and arms, Tom heaved with all his might. The crystal popped free.
Tom kicked off with his feet just as Rynah pulled her knife free and the shark’s powerful jaws snapped shut, barely missing him. Treading water, Tom stared at the shark catching his breath. He looked at the crystal in his hands. “I got it!”
Cheers rang over the radio and into his ears. Rynah, Tom, and Alfric swam up to him, patting him on the back. “You are brave for a runt,” said Alfric.
Floating in the distance, Brie watched everything. Why am I always afraid? she asked herself, Why can’t I be brave? Her sorrowful heart wished to join them in the jubilee, but she knew that she had not earned the honor.
“This isn’t over yet,” said Rynah, taking the crystal.
As though to make her point, laser fire rained down upon them. Dodging, Rynah raced for Brie and shoved the crystal in her hands, along with a locator beacon. “Take this to the rendezvous point. When you hear rapid beeps, then you know you are on the right track. Solaris will be waiting.”
“Just do it! The rest of us will distract them to give you a chance.” Rynah pushed Brie away from her and darted off to the others.
Glancing at the items in her hands, Brie kicked her feet and swam away for the ship, disappearing into the blackness of the water. Her heart pounded in her ears and her rapid breathing fogged the visor of the helmet as she trudged through the water.
Beep! Beep! Beep! The rapid beeps of the beacon filled her ears, telling her she was on the right course. “I hope you’re there, Solaris,” whispered Brie.
“I am waiting for you,” Solaris’ crackly reply came over the earpiece.
“Solaris!” Excitement filled Brie as she no longer felt alone.
“Just continue your current course,” said Solaris.
Brie kicked harder, propelling herself through the water, marveling at how the fins on the suit helped. Laser pulses pummeled the reef beside her as though it reached for her, sending bits of coral, sponges, and mollusks into her face (which pelted her visor) and forcing her to stop. Brie looked behind. One man had noticed her departure.
More laser fire struck a shoal next to her, causing her to scream as the school of fish dispersed, bumping into her. She dropped the crystal. Brie dove for it as it landed in the soft sand, sending up a cloud of dust. The man pursuing her had spotted it as well.
“Brie?” said Solaris.
Brie raced for the white crystal determined to not disappoint the others a third time. She snatched it and hugged it close as she kicked the ground with her legs and took off.
Her pursuer watched her every move. Changing the range on his weapon, he increased the intensity of the laser pulse. Aiming, he had Brie in his sights. He pulled the trigger.
A blast crashed into a salmon-colored coral reef (with strips of seaweed waving in the current) before her. Halting, Brie swerved to the left and dove behind a patch of seaweed and water sponges. She peeked out. The man aimed straight for her. Brie took off, swimming as fast as she could just as another round of laser fire pelted the spot where she had just been. Gasping for air, now that her oxygen was almost gone, Brie swam as fast as she could. She kicked with her legs and pulled with her one free arm, while the other clutched the crystal.
Beep! Beep! Beep!
I still have that thing? thought Brie. She checked the beacon, realizing that she remained on the right course and didn’t have far to go. The man behind her closed in. Swimming harder, Brie heaved for air, sweat pouring down her brow and into her eyes, making it impossible to see.
“Help!” she yelled.
“We’re coming!” came Tom’s voice.
Brie pushed harder. Her vision dimmed as the oxygen in her suit had run out. All she breathed now was the air her lungs expelled. Something crashed into her from behind. Struggling, Brie kept her hold on the crystal as she kicked whomever had attacked her. Strong hands grasped for her arm. Brie twisted and turned to shake him off. Her captor remained glued to her. With ease, he yanked her hand back and pried the crystal from it. Brie reached for it, but the man kicked her in the stomach, finishing what lack of oxygen hadn’t; Brie blacked out.
Another set of hands grabbed her shoulders and pulled her upward. “Brie!” said a worried Tom. “Brie, wake up!” He kicked for the surface of the water, breaking through the white crests with a tremendous force. Without hesitating, Tom ripped off his and Brie’s helmets. Cool, refreshing air brushed their faces, invigorating them.
Brie eyes flickered open as she took a deep breath. “I’m okay.”
The others popped out of the water just as Solaris appeared, hovering low, the force from her engines, causing waves that bobbed them up and down like mere toys. Her cargo hatch opened. Out dropped a basket, splashing in the water. They all climbed in the metal structure.
“Now!” yelled Rynah.
With a jerk, the basket ascended into the air, swaying in the downdraft caused by the ship’s engines, as Solaris rolled the automatic chain. They slumped in the metal basket as it slowly lifted up into the belly of Solaris; a screeching hum surrounded them as the cargo bay doors sealed shut.
“Is everyone aboard?” asked Solaris.
“Yes, get us out of here!”
Solaris’ engines roared to life as she fired her main booster rockets and careened out of Aquara’s atmosphere and into space. As the planet grew smaller, it wondered why they were there in the first place. Seemed like a lot of trouble for one tiny crystal.
“The crystal,” said Rynah, “where is it?”
Crestfallen, Brie looked at her feet, hanging her head.
“Where is it?” Rynah’s insistent tone didn’t help.
“I—I lost it,” mumbled Brie.
“I lost it!” yelled Brie. “Someone had followed me and he took it.”
Angered, Rynah smashed her fist into the side of the ship. “You lost it! I gave you one simple task and you lost it!”
Brie shrank beneath Rynah’s fury.
“You are useless!” continued Rynah in her rage. “Utterly useless! I don’t know why Solaris picked you for this mission because you haven’t shown one ounce of courage. The only thing you have done this entire trip is panic like a child and moan about your pathetic planet you call home. I swear, I will never trust you with anything again.”
Having heard enough, Alfric pushed Rynah away from Brie. “That is enough,” he said in a calm, but stern, tone, silencing Rynah’s rampage. “It is not her fault.”
“But she’s right,” muttered Brie, “I am useless.”
With great sadness in her heart for letting them all down again, Brie left the cargo room to seek solitude. I am useless, she thought to herself. How will I ever make it up to them?