Solaris Seethes (Solaris Saga book 1)

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Chapter 20: An Unexpected Surprise

Morning dawned with a bright sun, reflecting upon the white world of Ikor. Rynah snuffed out the fire, stomping on it until every ember ceased its glow. Each of the five companions donned a cloak, which Alfric had made from the animal skin as he stood watch, its heavy, and quite soft, hide providing protection from the cold.

“What do we do now?” asked Tom.

Rynah didn’t answer. She had no idea what to do, nor how long they could survive in their new accommodations.

“Perhaps we should explore,” said Solon. “The more we know about this place, the better chance we have of finding a way off it.”

“How?” Tom challenged. “There don’t seem to be any people around. For all you know, we are the only ones here.”

“But can you be certain?” said Solon. “We will learn nothing by staying here.”

“The boy is right,” said Alfric. “We should explore our surroundings, and we should stick together. We will walk as far as we can until midday and then return before nightfall.”

To Rynah, it sounded as good as any other plan. “Very well. Let’s just try not to attract any unwanted attention.”

The sun’s rays glared off the white, snowy expanse as they trekked through freshly fallen snow and ice. Nothing could be seen for miles around, except a stark white world of ice. No buildings or settlements were to be found; only a few mountains stood in the distance, looking more like bits of spearmint candy and inviting one to reach out and snatch them. They walked in a single file line through knee high, loose snow, Alfric in the lead once again. He charged through the sparkling snow and ice (having grown up in a world covered by it), his tall stature towering over them as his tiger cloak flapped behind him in the wind. Rynah admired how the Viking walked erect and proud with purposeful steps.

To pass the time, Alfric hummed a merry tune from his halls, one that his wife had sung to his children. “Alfric, is thy father’s name. King, Warrior, tis the same.”

“Saber slayer he shall be called, among the deeds that fill his halls,” sang Brie, picking up the tune. She stopped and glanced at the faces that had turned towards her. She didn’t know why she had said it. It had just come out.

“It fits,” said Solon. “He did destroy that beast we fought yesterday.”

“Saber slayer,” whispered Alfric to himself. “I like it. From now on, I am Alfric the saber slayer.”

Rynah chuckled as they walked onward. The name certainly fit among his titles.

Alfric paused. Shielding his eyes from the sun, he surveyed the area, turning in a circle, his eyes absorbing every detail. Alfric’s brows scrunched together as he stared at a specific spot.

“What is it?” asked Rynah.

“Over there,” he replied. “Something does not match the rest of this place.”

Rynah looked where he pointed. She didn’t see anything among the white background that could have made him nervous, but trusted his judgment. “Lead the way. Everyone, pull out the pistols you’re carrying.”

The others obeyed. Brie looked at hers as though it were a semi-old friend. Having been taught how to shoot by her father, she had an idea of how to use the laser weapon. Solon and Tom held theirs as though they were questionable pieces of trash. Watching them, Rynah realized that none of them knew how to use the laser pistols.

“Hold it like this,” she instructed, demonstrating how to properly hold them. “Point and pull the trigger.” She made a mental note to teach them the proper use of the weapons upon returning to their camp.

Alfric’s long strides charted a course for the disturbance he had seen. No one spoke as they walked. Within two hours, they reached what had bothered the Viking and soon discovered why it had. A fire pit greeted them; the coals still smoldered. Small wisps of smoke escaped the embers, leaving trails in the breeze.

Rynah poked through the ashes with the point of her boot. A frown crossed her face. “We’re not the only ones here.”

She searched around for more clues to who had been camped there that night, but found nothing. Not even footprints.

“He left only hours before,” said Alfric, scooping some ashes into his hand and sniffing them. “These do not smell that old, and the aroma of charred meat is upon them.”

“Did the pirates come back?” asked Brie.

“If they did, they would not have camped here,” said Rynah. “They would have stayed on their ship and we would be dead.”

Solon poked around the small area that was nestled in a conclave with its bluish snow where the sun failed to hit it, providing protection from the fierce winds that plagued the icy world of Ikor. Something brown caught his attention. Kneeling down, he flicked the powdered snow away, revealing a frayed, and ice-encrusted, rope. “Here,” he said, holding it up for the others.

Alfric took it. He studied the ends, noting that they had been cut by a knife, and a blunt one at that. “This is strange.”

“What is?” asked Rynah.

“This rope has been cut, but by a blunt blade. No hunter would be out here with a blunt knife. Such an act is certain death.”

Alfric looked out at the icy expanse. On a clear day, you could see for miles and miles. He realized that when he noticed the small bits of smoke, whomever had been here had seen them as well. “My guess is that one man made this camp and he knows we’re here. We should leave.”

“I thought you said that no one lived in this place,” Tom said to Rynah.

“None that I know of,” said Rynah, “but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t settlements.”

A hollow howl rose up around them as the wind shifted. It’s sullenness chilled each of them.

“I have a bad feeling,” said Brie.

“Agreed,” said Alfric. He walked off, heading back in the direction of their cave. How he managed to navigate back, the others could only wonder. Neither Brie, Solon, nor Tom had any experience with tracking, and Rynah always depended upon Solaris or her handheld navigation device, none of which she had. Each followed Alfric, who walked with confidence through the snow. At certain intervals, he paused and looked up at the sun, noting what part of the sky it rested in before continuing on. By evening, they had reached their camp.

“How much food do we have left?” asked Rynah.

Brie opened a few wrapped packages of meat and placed some on the fire to cook. “Enough for a few days I suspect.”

Rynah grunted. She did not fancy staying there, but had no idea how any of them would ever get off Ikor. “When you’re done, I want all of you to come outside.”

Brie stared at the cave floor. She guessed what Rynah had in mind and didn’t like it. Her aching muscles just wanted to rest.

Outside, all five of them gathered in the dimming twilight while supper cooked. They lined up in a line, facing a pile of iced-over mammoth-sized boulders with black circles on them, which Rynah had drawn earlier using ash from the fire.

“All right,” said Rynah as she walked behind them, “You all have laser pistols, but none of you know how to use them. A failing on my part, but one I mean to remedy. The circles on the boulders are your targets. I want you to hit the center.”

She paused at the end of the line. Rynah aimed her weapon and fired, striking the target’s center and leaving a blackened scorch mark. The others just stared at her. “Alfric, you first.”

Alfric fumbled with the foreign weapon. He preferred his sword over this thing that shot out pulses of energy and light. He copied Rynah’s stance and aimed. He fired.

“Not bad,” said Rynah, even though Alfric’s shot hit the edge of the target. He grimaced and lowered his weapon.

Solon and Tom fired next, each having the same success as Alfric. Brie went last. She lined the target in her sights, holding the pistol with both hands and her legs shoulder width apart. Remembering her father’s instructions, she envisioned herself striking the center of the target. She released her breath and fired. Rynah’s eyes widened. She hadn’t expected to see this: Brie had hit a bull’s eye.

“Not bad,” said Rynah.

“Not bad?” Tom said in surprise. “That was fantastic! Way to go, Brie!”

“It’s nothing,” said Brie.

“It is never nothing,” said Alfric. “That was perfect aim.”

Rynah stepped closer to Brie. “Where did you learn to shoot?”

“My father taught me before he died.”

“He instructed you well. Do it again.”

Not liking the extra attention, Brie calmed her nerves. She aimed and fired. Once again, she hit the target’s center.

Rynah strolled over to the boulders, studying the scorch marks. She never would have thought that Brie would be so skilled. “Very well, this is how it will work. Brie, you will teach Alfric how to handle the laser pistol while I instruct Solon and Tom.”

Brie squirmed under this new scrutiny. She did not feel confident that she could teach anyone anything.

“So it appears that the teacher is now the student,” said Alfric as he stood beside Brie.

Brie laughed. “Only in this. I’m still the student when it comes to the sword.”

“Agreed.”

Dusk passed; the fading purple, orange rays of the setting sun transformed into black shadows as they learned how to use the alien weapons until their dinner had finished cooking. Afterward, they ate and fell into a long desired sleep with Alfric, once again, standing watch for the night.

The next morning found them hiking through the snowy wilderness, heading in a different direction from the day before. Clouds dotted the white sky, covering what little warmth the sun provided as flurries of snow drifted around them.

Alfric took the lead. He navigated through the snow with ease, never once getting lost, nor fearing that he would become so. Thus far, no signs of life greeted them. They were alone, or so it seemed.

A howl whistled around them, but not the wind. Alfric held up his hand. He scanned the horizon as the howl sounded again. Nothing. Knowing they weren’t alone, Alfric raised his sword before him.

“What’s wrong?” demanded Rynah.

“We’re being hunted,” growled Alfric.

The howl sounded a third time, followed by reciprocating calls. Rynah pulled out her pistol along with the others. “We’ll never make it back to the cave in time.”

“We shall make our stand here,” said Alfric.

Rynah didn’t like the idea, but what choice did they have? The cave was too far and there were no trees or anything to provide them safety. “Remember what I taught you.”

The others held their weapons before them, unsure of themselves.

Another series of howls echoed around them as soft grunts approached from behind, growing louder amongst thuds that pounded the crusted snow. Rynah whirled around. A creature the size of a bear, but with the snout of a wolf, and coated in thick, wiry fur the color of sandstone charged them. Rynah aimed and fired, striking it between the eyes. It slowed, but continued to come for them.

“The neck,” yelled Solon.

Rynah aimed again, but the beast kept its head hung low. Tom chucked a snowball at it, forcing it to turn its head, thus revealing the soft flesh under its throat. Rynah fired. Roaring in pain, the creature crashed into the snow and slid across the ice before stopping by their feet.

More howls filled the area. Two others charged from both sides. Alfric spun on his heels, ramming his blade into the head of one. It fell before him.

Brie turned to face the second creature and pulled the trigger, but the cold had caused the gun’s firing mechanism to stick. Before she could fix it, the menacing creature had closed the distance. Tom jumped on Brie, knocking her out of the way. They rolled across the ground as the beast trampled over them and ran off. It stopped. On the ground, Tom and Brie watched as the wolf-like beast scraped its front paws across the snow before charging them again.

“Come on!” Tom yanked Brie off the ground.

They had just gained their feet when a laser pulse struck the creature in the neck. It plowed into the snow, sending ice into the air. Tom poked at it with the point of his weapon. It never moved. Solon stood a few feet away with his laser pistol raised, frozen in his stance.

“Thanks,” said Tom.

“Anytime,” replied Solon, adopting one of Tom’s phrases.

“There’s more!” yelled Rynah.

Five more of the strange animals appeared. They surrounded the five companions, snarling and growling while pawing at the icy ground. Rynah and the others huddled together with their backs facing each other. Each watched the hungry beasts. Saliva dripped from the creatures’ fangs as they stared at their prey.

“What do we do?” wailed Brie.

“Fight,” said Rynah.

“Odin will protect us!” Alfric called out.

Rynah didn’t think the Viking’s fictitious god would be of much use. She raised her weapon and prepared to go down firing. A pang of guilt racked her heart. She had failed in her quest to stop Klanor. She had failed the others, and for the first time, it pained her.

“If there is anyone who can help us,” she whispered, “please, show up now.”

One of the beasts lunged for them. Suddenly, cans of tear gas plopped on the ground, releasing their charcoal green smoke into the air. Everyone choked and coughed on the smoke as they tried to cover their mouths and noses. Bursts of light whizzed through the air, striking the creature that had charged them. It dropped to the ground unmoving. Another jumped at the newcomer. He raised his laser rifle and shot twice, ending the beast’s life.

With the smoke-filled area choking all within distance, the other wolf-like creatures paused in their assault, sniffing the air before darting away. Warning howls reverberated around them before silence fell.

As the smoke cleared, they looked up at the strange humanoid figure standing before them, wrapped in gray coverings, concealing his face, rifle at the ready. They stared at one another for several seconds.

“Who are you?” demanded Rynah, trying her best not to cough.

The stranger remained silent.

Alfric raised the point of his sword. “You will show yourself,” he said, the warning in his voice did not go unnoticed.

“Rynah?” said the stranger, in a hoarse tone, as if he was unused to speaking.

Rynah’s head popped up. She looked closer. She knew that voice. “Who are you?”

The stranger unwrapped the coverings from around his face. His skin matched Rynah’s, but his hair had a yellow tinge to it, “I never thought I would see you here.”

Rynah stepped closer to the new arrival. Perplexed, yet somewhat relieved, she studied the man’s face. “Obiah?”

“The one and only.”

“I thought you had died.”

“Not yet.”

“You know this guy?” asked Tom.

“He was my grandfather’s friend,” replied Rynah. “What happened to you?”

Chilling howls sounded in the distance.

“I think explanations are best left for later,” said Obiah. “The gas scares them away, but they’ll be back.”

“Our cave is too far to walk there,” said Alfric.

“Well, then it’s good for you that I brought transportation. Now if you’ll help me with today’s catch, we can be on our way.”

Thinking it best not to argue, they helped the newcomer load the dead wolf-like beasts onto his hover craft and scrambled into the backseat. Though cramped, none of them complained. Obiah put the thing in gear and sped off, knowing he had a lot of questions to answer.

Before they knew it, they had arrived in front of a giant mound of freshly dusted ice. The companions looked at the dismal place, wondering why their savior had brought them there.

“Don’t look so downhearted,” said Obiah. “It’s much nicer on the inside.” He hopped out of the hover craft, his heavy boots crunching the snow as he walked with his rifle slung over his right shoulder.

The others climbed out of the hover craft. Glancing around, they followed Obiah as he led them to what appeared to be a solid wall of ivory-colored ice. He tapped it. To the others, it looked as though he just hit a random spot, but what they didn’t know was that a nick, the size of a fingernail and the same height as Obiah’s nose, marked where to press. A holographic keypad appeared on the ice. Obiah punched in a code, each button beeping as he did, and a door slid open.

“You may all enter.” He bowed with his arms out in a welcoming gesture. Brie thought he mocked them.

Though Obiah’s home appeared to be nothing more than a mound of snow and ice on the outside, inside the lavish decor, and warmth, startled them. The others breathed a sigh of relief as the cozy air swept over them, tickling their frigid, and numb, cheeks. A roaring fire filled the fireplace in the middle of the granite entryway, crackling and sending embers up into the brick chimney. The fore room lay directly ahead of them; plush couches and chairs formed a ‘u’ around a second fireplace (filled with a warm blaze) with a velvety, sea green rug, inviting them to sit down and rest.

Tom settled in an opulent, red chair, bouncing up and down on the springs. “I like this.”

Solon positioned himself in the twin chair next to Tom, admiring the smooth velvet as he caressed it with the tips of his fingers. Rynah chose the couch. She sat down with more grace and dignity than Tom. Her eyes roamed the place, taking in every detail, such as every shelf filled with knick knacks, the silver timepiece on the mantel, and the lavender draperies that hung in the bay window. “How did you get all of this stuff?”

Obiah shoved off his cloak and coverings, draping them by the fire so that they could dry. “Oh, I procured them after some time. Every so often, merchants, or people of questionable means, stop through here and I trade with them.”

“What do you trade?”

“My services.”

“Your what?” Rynah’s sharp tone hung in the air.

“You are a mercenary,” said Alfric.

“Yes and no,” answered Obiah. “Won’t you sit down?”

Alfric was the only one still standing. He searched the room for an available space and settled on a simple wooden chair next to Brie, his sword positioned in front of him point down. “Explain.”

Obiah studied Alfric, taking note of his erect posture and the gaze that observed every detail of his home, especially the exits, without moving his head. Though not loud spoken, the Viking’s statement demanded obedience.

“I am no mercenary, but I do sell my tracking services. Sometimes, people come here looking for adventure or a place to hide. Ikor is a perfect place for such things. When rich folk come looking to impress their girlfriends, I offer to take them where the wild game is. Oh, I always take them to the less dangerous parts where they can kill a beast and take its head.”

A disgusted expression crossed Brie’s face. She hated the idea of hunting just for a trophy.

“Oh, it’s not like that, dearie,” said Obiah when he noticed her reaction. “They keep the head. I keep the meat as payment, along with a few luxuries.”

“And the ones wishing to hide?” asked Rynah, her tone accusatory.

“We all wish to disappear at some point. I find them, they don’t find me. That way, my home’s location remains a mystery to them.”

“But they know you live here,” said Rynah.

“Not exactly. This is only one of the planets I bring them to. I know a few others in this system as well. Anyway, the ones wishing to hide always pay well.”

Rynah shook her head. “You cannot possibly be my grandfather’s friend. He would never have approved of such things.”

“Yes, well, that was a long time ago.”

“Not so long.”

The animosity Rynah felt towards Obiah swarmed around them. Tom and Solon watched the exchange, placing bets on who would win. Brie decided it would be best to keep silent, while Alfric remained stoic; nothing betrayed his face.

“Maybe not to some,” said Obiah. He reached over and grabbed a box off the mantle, opening it. He pulled out some dried leaves, crushed them up, and stuffed them into a pipe before lighting it. “I cannot change the past, Rynah, but you must believe me when I tell you that there was nothing I could do.”

“Perhaps not, but you certainly didn’t stick around.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I don’t want your apologies. I want an explanation.”

“Pardon me,” said Solon, breaking up their exchange, “perhaps you can both explain how you know each other and why you are angry at one another.”

“Fair enough,” said Obiah, “if you explain to me how you four got here. None of you are from Lanyr, or any other system around here.”

“You first,” Rynah spat, arms crossed.

“All right,” Obiah stood up and stared into the fire a moment gathering his thoughts, “Marlow, Rynah’s grandfather, and I go way back. We have known each other since we were both in the Academy of Arts and Sciences. Together, we decided to enlist in the fleet. They always needed people with science backgrounds. While on a routine mission patrolling the Cataran Sector, Marlow stumbled upon a transport that had picked up an old coot who babbled endlessly about the ancient crystals. That is how Marlow learned of them. Now, I never put much stock into the crazy hermit’s story, but he did, or something about it intrigued him.

“You see, he found this book and ancient text written on crumbling pages. I was never very good at deciphering the ancient languages, but he excelled at it. He started reading everything he could about the ancient prophecy. I indulged him, but it all seemed too fantastic.

“You know this as well, Rynah. You, yourself, didn’t believe him when he told you. In fact, you ran away.”

“But I never tarnished his reputation,” said Rynah.

“No,” answered Obiah, “he did that. Though I may have had a hand in it.”

“May have…” Rynah jumped up.

Alfric held up his hand, stopping her. “Continue,” he said to Obiah.

“After years of studying the ancient texts, Marlow became convinced that someone would try to steal the crystal from the geo-lab. He decided to steal it for safe keeping. Of course, he was caught and brought up on charges. There was a formal hearing and his years of service did add to his favor, to a point.”

“But you testified against him,” said Rynah.

“I had to. They had brought me in, and you know I could not have refused a summons even if I wanted to. I knew that Marlow thought the crystal was one of the six, though I never thought he would try and take it.”

“But you made him sound like a madman!” Rynah’s purple face had flushed red, her eyes full of anger.

“And it’s a good thing I did,” Obiah snapped. “If they thought he was completely sane, they would have executed him on charges of conspiracy to destroy the planet. I fed them a story of him being overworked and an old man who suffered from a momentary bout of insanity. The tribunal bought my story and suspended the punishment of death. Instead, they sentenced him to five years in a mental institution for evaluation. He was later released.”

“But the damage had been done,” said Rynah. “All of his research—all of his work—gone because of this. You made him look insane. When he was released from the institution, no university would take him. He couldn’t even get a job as a janitor. No one wanted to be associated with the man who tried to steal the magnetic crystal based on some children’s stories.”

“Again, Marlow had no one to blame but himself for that. You know it’s true! He knew that my testimony is what saved his life and gave him the time needed to pass his work onto someone else—you.”

Rynah clamped her mouth shut. “How do you—”

“The whole universe knows that Lanyr has been destroyed because Klanor stole the crystal that had kept the magnetic fields stable for centuries.”

“They know that Klanor is behind all this?” asked Tom.

“It’s not like he’s keeping it a secret,” laughed Obiah, “He announces it every time he looks for new recruits.”

“Why would anyone want to join him?” asked Brie.

“Riches and glory,” said Obiah. “People like Klanor always attract the darker side of humanity.”

“Then that explains it,” mused Solon. “You said the trial was public, one that would have been well publicized.”

“Yes,” Obiah replied.

“Klanor must have been there as well,” said Solon.

“Everyone was there,” Obiah added.

“Then that is how he learned of the crystal. He must have researched it after Marlow’s trial and decided that the legends were true. He may have even seen Rynah there and knew whom to get close to.”

Rynah cast her eyes down to her feet. She always wondered why Klanor had chosen her in order to gain access to the crystal. She wasn’t the only security member assigned to the lab. So he had seen her at the trial. Not that it would have been difficult. She had sat in the front row and even had to testify about her grandfather’s theories. She had tried her best to give vague answers to the tribunal’s questions so as not to incriminate him, but they knew she covered for him.

“I’m sorry, Rynah,” Brie whispered.

“Unfortunately, I wished I had believed him,” said Obiah. “As it turns out, everything your grandfather had said was true.”

“You left after the trial,” said Rynah.

“Yes, well, I had to. I couldn’t stay after that. You weren’t the only one who suffered. I lost my reputation too, except people looked upon me as a traitor. A person wiling to betray his friend for his own gain. I thought I was helping, but…”

Obiah allowed his voice to trail off.

“So I left. Got on the first ship I could find. Traveled around a bit before settling here. Turns out, this place isn’t so bad once you get used to the cold.

“Now, tell me about yourselves.”

The others looked at one another. None of them wanted to elaborate on their stories, but could not refuse since they had made a bargain.

“I have already guessed that your being here has to do with the crystals and the prophecy, so no point in remaining silent.”

Rynah pursed her lips. “They’re from Earth.”

“Earth?” asked Obiah, the word sounding foreign on his tongue.

“The Terra Sector,” said Rynah. “When Lanyr was destroyed, I used Solaris to leave.”

“That old bucket of bolts?”

Rynah shot Obiah a look. “Don’t ever let her hear you say that.”

“You act as though that ship has feelings,” laughed Obiah.

“She does,” said Brie.

“More like an attitude,” added Tom.

“You mean he actually did it?” Obiah stared at all of them.

“Did what?” asked Rynah.

“Marlow once mentioned the possibility of putting an artificial intelligence in charge of one of the ships, but I never thought he would pursue it.”

“He purchased Solaris when she was decommissioned as a military vessel,” replied Rynah, “and spent the last years of his life on her. I guess now I know what he had been working on. He told her about the prophecy. She knew all about it when I boarded her. Seemed to have been expecting me, too.”

“Well, I’ll be damned,” said Obiah as he stroked his whiskery chin, “That old coot did it. Seems like he was right about everything. And so you learned about the prophecy through the ship?”

“Yes,” said Rynah, “she made the calculations and brought them here from their own home planet.”

“Kidnap is more like it,” added Tom. “Not that I’m complaining. This has been one heck of an adventure so far, aside from being attacked by pirates and stranded on a desolate planet of ice.”

“Don’t forget the man-eating plants,” Solon said.

“Pirates?” asked Obiah.

“Yes,” answered Rynah, “that is how we ended up here. They attacked us and managed to board Solaris and left us here for dead.”

“And you would have too, if I hadn’t found you. Pure accident too, by the way. I had been tracking a saber tiger, the same one you apparently killed.”

“How do you know we killed it?” asked Alfric.

“You’d be dead if you hadn’t,” replied Obiah, “and you’re wearing its skin.”

Alfric chuckled. He had forgotten that part.

“Well, you must all be hungry,” said Obiah.

“Starved!” Tom jumped up, ready to find the kitchen and food. The others laughed at his usual manner of thinking of his stomach.

“Good,” said Obiah. “I hope the rest of you brought your appetites as well.”

He left the ornate fireplace and motioned for them to follow him. They trailed after the older man as he walked through another well-furnished room, past a dining area (a table made of cherry oak in the center with two vases, each containing marigolds, on the ends), and into the kitchen. They all stared at it amazed. The kitchen stood about 50 paces in width with three well-stocked meat lockers. Four pantries bursting with canned and dried goods lined the wall next to them. But the oven is what caught their attention the most. Lined in gray stone brick, and with the faint smell of garlic and onions emanating from it, the oven looked as though it belonged in an Italian bistro than a recluse’s home.

“Help yourselves,” said Obiah. “You can cook anything you like, just clean up afterwards.”

Forks clinked against plates as they all stuffed their faces with roast meat and noodles soaked in marinara sauce. Even Rynah enjoyed the meal. The food warmed her stomach, which she chased with mulled cider. No one talked while they ate. The meal tasted too good and they were famished. Only when dessert came did they slow down.

“Well, I haven’t seen appetites like that in a long while,” said Obiah, “unless you count mine.” He pointed at his protruding belly. “So what are your plans?”

“To get off this rock,” said Rynah. It came out ruder than she had intended. “I mean—”

“No worries, dear,” said Obiah, “I don’t fault you for not wanting to stay. You have a mission. A very important one.”

“But how are we going to get Solaris back?” asked Brie.

Their faces fell. None of them had thought that far.

“We’ll have to search,” said Rynah. “Those pirates won’t have dumped her yet. They will probably take her back to their place and try to sell off the parts. Though they’ll have a fight on their hands.”

“But where will we start in our search?” asked Tom.

“The way station,” said Obiah. “It’s a place where all sorts of space pilots go, especially the unsavory sort, to find food, rest, and entertainment.”

By the way he said entertainment, Brie knew he meant the adult kind.

“They also get their ships repaired there as well,” continued Obiah, “buy supplies, and socialize. Even pirates are known to stop there.”

“Then I guess that is where we start,” said Rynah.

“Not to rain on your parade,” said Brie, “but we don’t have a ship.”

“Don’t we?” Obiah winked at her.

He stood up, indicating that they should follow. They did, though with less enthusiasm as they were all stuffed, and followed him to another part of his home. Obiah opened a door that led into a dark room. “In.”

They went inside. The door clicked as Obiah shut it before turning on the lights. Jaws dropped as they looked at what sat before them. A ship, sleek in design, rested comfortably in his garage. Support columns stood on each end, forming pointed arches. Though not as big as Solaris, it was a godsend.

“Now this baby here doesn’t talk like yours does, but she can be a bit feisty. Tomorrow, we will stock her with provisions and go in search of your ship.”

“Obiah, we can’t…” began Rynah.

“Nonsense,” he interrupted her. “Helping you find your ship is the least I can do. I owe you that. Besides, I was getting bored here anyway.”

Rynah smirked. “Thank you.”

“Well, now, I think we should all go to bed. There are rooms on the second floor, so pick one. We have an early start in the morning.”

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