Chapter 26: Loss
The repairs to Solaris had been completed, and Rynah ordered them back into space. Having spent over a week fixing the ship, she did not wish to waste another moment getting back to her mission. Solaris flew the ship herself on autopilot, giving Rynah a break. None of them were aware of the ships following their movements.
Brie slumped on the table in the eating area, her head resting on her arms. She released a puff of air at her side bangs, forcing them to fly outward. A bout of homesickness had struck her, a constant companion, as she thought about her mother and sister, wondering how they got along without her. Not wanting to disturb the others with her worries, she chose to be alone, but solitude was difficult to find on a ship with five people.
As though to prove a point, Rynah marched past them in a huff; her foul mood over Obiah leaving had grown stronger. She looked at Brie a moment. Sighing, Rynah snatched a chipped cup from the cabinet, her face perfectly reflected in it, and boiled a kettle water for tea; she preferred the bitterness of black as it matched her mood. Her fingers drummed on the counter; flakes of paint fell to the floor as she waited for the water to heat up.
She glanced at Brie’s moping form again. Knowing what bothered the girl, but not caring at the moment, she ignored her, or tried. The water boiled. With robotic movements, Rynah ripped open the tea package and placed the bag in her cup while pouring water over it. The refreshing aroma filled her nostrils, but did little to calm her anger.
Brie remained silent.
Rynah didn’t know why, but Brie’s demeanor bothered her. She sat down in front of the girl with her steaming cup of tea. “Hey.”
“Hi,” mumbled Brie, wishing Rynah would go away.
“Nothing.” Brie did not want to tell Rynah the truth. She knew how Rynah felt about her homesickness and just wanted to be alone until it passed. Unfortunately, Rynah refused to be accommodating.
“You’re homesick again, aren’t you?” The words pierced the air the way a person stabbed another.
“Well, yes, but I’ll be fine,” said Brie. She lifted her head, realizing that Rynah had no intention of leaving her alone.
“Sure you will,” scoffed Rynah, allowing her bad attitude to mar the situation.
“What’s your problem?” challenged Brie.
“Horse manure,” said Brie. “You have been on my case since the day I first arrived here. Always riding on me, belittling me, cutting me down. What did I ever do to you?”
Rynah sipped her tea. She stared at Brie with a callous expression, refusing to answer.
“And while we’re here, why don’t we talk about you,” shot Brie.
“What do you mean?” Rynah’s face went cold.
“Why are you here? You gave us that nice speech when we arrived about wanting to save your world and the planets of other star systems, but what is your real reason?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Sure you do,” said Brie, unsure of where this newfound confrontational attitude came from, but had seen jilted lovers before—high school was full of them—and Rynah’s actions from the moment Brie had met her betrayed that part of her past. She read the tone of Rynah’s voice every time she spoke Klanor’s name—the distaste filled every syllable—and she knew more existed between them. “He crossed you. He betrayed you. He destroyed your home and used you to do it. Don’t deny it! I see it on your face.”
Rynah rose to her feet. “You do not want to go there.”
“You are too frightened to go there,” Brie also rose to her full height. “He betrayed you and you want revenge. That is your real reason for kidnapping all of us and bringing us here. You’re just as selfish as he is.”
Rynah slapped her.
Brie didn’t move, refusing to acknowledge the stinging pain on her left cheek. “Sometimes I wish you had left me at home.”
“You wish to go home,” said Rynah. She snatched Brie’s arm and dragged her away.
“What are you doing?” demanded Brie as she tried to pull her wrist from Rynah’s grip.
“Giving you what you want.” Rynah’s long strides hurried down the corridor to the transport room with Brie in tow.
“What do you mean what I want?”
Once at the transport room, Rynah stopped and whirled Brie around until they faced each other. “Since the moment you stepped onto this ship, all you have done is whine about how you wish to return home. You have been a useless complainer since. So here’s your chance.”
Brie stared at the platform in the room.
“Solaris, are you ready?” said Rynah.
“Yes, but if I send her back, she will never be able to return here.”
“Fine by me,” muttered Rynah.
“But…” began Brie.
“You want to go home, right?” said Rynah, her harsh tone quaking with a mixture of tears and fury. “Well, here’s your chance. Go home. Get out of here! You’ve been nothing but useless since you arrived, so do everyone on this ship a favor and leave. The coordinates have been entered into the console pad. All you have to do is push the button.” Rynah turned and left, feeling betrayed by Brie’s constant desire to return home, though it was magnified by the fact that Obiah had left as well and she felt abandoned.
Alone, Brie stared at the button that would send her home. More than anything, she wished to return, but at the same time, she wished to remain—a heart torn in two.
“All systems are ready,” said Solaris.
“Do you think I should leave?” asked Brie.
“It is not for me to decide,” replied Solaris.
“That is not what I asked.”
“I think what you need to ask yourself is what do you really want?”
“I thought I knew,” said Brie, her hand hovering over the button. One push, that’s all it would take and the dream would end. Or would it?
A muffled explosion sounded.
“What was that?” asked Brie.
The ship rocked to its side, sending Brie flying until she crashed into the wall, releasing a muffled grunt. Another explosion sounded, forcing Brie back to her knees when she attempted to stand. Blaring alarms pierced her ears.
“Solaris!” she yelled. “Solaris, what’s happening?”
Brie crawled to her feet, holding onto a sturdy rail for balance as the ship lurched a third time.
“We are under attack,” said Solaris.
Brie ran for the door, but another violent jerk sent her flying sideways as rubble crashed in front of the doors. Coughing, Brie sat up, her head pounding. She noticed the blocked door. She ran for it, using her scrawny (and boney) arms to move pieces of rubble the size of coffee tables—her muscles ached from the effort—and forcing her way through. Another jolt rocked the ship. Brie fell, landing hard on her rear end, where a terrible bruise formed.
Bleep! Bleep! Bleep!
Brie looked over at a computer console as words in red flashed on the screen; even she knew it meant terrible news.
Rynah bolted for the command center of the ship after the first missile strike. A bulkhead crashed in front of her. She dodged and skirted around it, not losing her balance or missing a beat. Another jerk of the vessel failed to send her flying across the floor. As the alarms racked her brain and ears, she pushed harder to reach the command center.
“What happened?” she demanded as she entered the bridge.
“Klanor,” said Tom from the pilot’s chair. “His ship dropped out of hyperspeed without our scans detecting him.”
Rynah watched the holoscreen and the image of Klanor’s ship as another missile left its tube and headed straight for them. “Brace for impact!” she yelled.
Tom steered the ship hard to port. Despite his efforts, the missile struck the intended target, damaging the ship’s engines as its flaps tore away, and fire erupted from them in an inferno cone that stretched beyond Solaris’ bow. Violent motions rocked the ship forward, sending Rynah over the railing and smashing Tom into the command console. Rynah hauled herself up just as her body (along with shards of broken paneling, pens, a cup, and a broken pipe) began to float.
“We’re losing gravity!”
There was no response from Tom.
Glancing over, Rynah spotted Tom’s unconscious form, blood trickling down his face. Despite the pain in her body, she pulled herself to the computer console; with one hand, she held onto the railing, while with the other, she punched buttons on the screen to restore the gravity field on the ship. She dropped to the floor. Relieved to have gravity again, though she knew it might not last, Rynah ran to Tom.
“I’m alright,” he mumbled as Rynah helped him sit up. “Just a small bump on the head.”
Rynah examined Tom’s dilated eyes and knew he had suffered a mild concussion. “Come on,” she said.
“No,” said Tom, “I’ll be fine.”
KER-PLANG! The space vessel rolled 360 degrees; Rynah clung to the metal railing that circled the command console, while clasping her other hand around Tom’s arm. Groaning and creaking resonated around them as flashes of light filled the window, their bodies arched precariously (Rynah’s grip on Tom’s arm loosened from the strain) until the ship had righted itself. They plopped on the floor.
“What was that?” asked Tom.
Instead of answering, Rynah checked the holoscreen and gasped.
“A ship just crashed into us.”
“What?” said Tom, still trying to comprehend what Rynah had just told him.
“Solaris!” said Rynah. “Solaris, status!”
“All systems crippled,” crackled Solaris’ voice over the intercom. “Oxygen levels dropping. Engines are at a standstill.” Solaris’ voice stopped.
“Solaris!” yelled Rynah, worried.
“Intruders,” came the ship’s voice. “They are heading to the engines. Ship wi—”
“We lost her.” Rynah tapped a holoscreen to get it to come up. It fizzled to life, but threatened to go out. She searched through the ship’s systems for a status report. What is Klanor up to? Infrared life signs appeared on her screen, indicating where the intruders were. The crystal! “Tom…”
“Go,” said Tom. “Stop them.”
Rynah raced out of the command center and down the corridor to the deck her quarters were on where she had kept the crystal. She had to get to it before they did. If she didn’t… Rynah refused to think about what would ensue if she failed.
Klanor watched the holoscreen on the command deck of his ship—which was three times the size of Solaris, with state-of-the-art weaponry (cannons and a flamethrower) and a quad engine system—as destruction rained down upon the outmoded vessel before him. Specks of red, blue, and green flashed, illuminating the scowl upon his deep purple face, as his ships fired their laser guns, releasing their fury upon Solaris.
“They have boarded their ship,” said Stein, referring to the group of men that Klanor had sent to board Rynah’s craft.
A spacecraft, engulfed in flames, sailed past before imploding; Klanor stared at it, detaching himself from his emotions and his sentiments towards Rynah.
“Bring me the crystal,” he said to Stein.
The man nodded.
“And, Stein, do not fail me again.”
Stein inclined his head and walked off.
Solon hid behind a hanging sheet of the ship’s ceiling—lights popped, showering him with red-orange sparks—as he watched three of Klanor’s men, dressed in spacesuits (who had been aboard the vessel that had crashed into them) approach Alfric, who had taken a blow to the head after the last missile strike and stumbled in the corridor unaware of the approaching danger. Wondering what he could do, Solon watched in vain as Alfric shook his head, still dazed. An idea struck him. Solon snatched a broken bulkhead and chucked it at Klanor’s men; it clinked on the floor as it landed near their feet. Just as he had hoped, they stopped, but it had also gotten Alfric’s attention, pulling him from his confusion. One moved toward the metal chunk and picked it up.
With a furious battle cry, Alfric rose to his feet, raising his sword. The intruders shrank back in fear; having never seen a Viking warrior before, Alfric’s infernal demeanor horrified them. They went for their weapons, but the Viking had proven to be too fast for them. Void of mercy, he struck each of them with his blade until they crumpled to the floor.
“Odin is not with you today,” he boasted with pride.
Solon stepped away from his hiding place.
“Thank you, little friend,” said Alfric as he slapped Solon on the back.
“We should find Rynah,” said Solon.
They ran down the hall, unaware that the group they had just killed were not the only intruders, for the ship had carried seven, and they had only stopped three.
Rynah darted through the corridor. Boom! Her feet stumbled as a cannon blast jolted the ship, shuffling until she regained her balance, Rynah focused only on reaching where the ship had penetrated Solaris.
A panel of the ceiling slammed into the floor behind her, almost touching her heels, but Rynah never wavered. She moved forward toward the enemy ship that had stabbed Solaris like a knife (her once unblemished design now scraped and torn, with smoke escaping its sides, filling the cramped area) and was amazed that it had managed to wedge itself in such a way as to prevent depressurization. Anger boiled within Rynah.
Zap! Disconnected and exposed wires hung above her, shooting sparks into the air.
“Solaris?” Rynah whispered, choking back tears at the thought of having lost the one connection to her grandfather. “Solaris, please, answer me.”
“Sys—te—ms—ripp—intru—” sputtered Solaris.
Rynah whirled around. Whap! One of the intruders, wearing body armor that also served as a spacesuit, punched her in the face, sending her reeling backwards. Rynah plowed into the side of the intruder’s vessel, its scalding hull burning through her jacket. Stunned, she slumped to the floor and watched as the man disappeared (the crystal in his hand which he had stolen from her room) with his companion, who had been hidden by the mass of thick, black smoke.
“Engine ro—om.” crackled Solaris’ voice.
The two words floated through Rynah’s muddled brain until she forced herself to focus. Engine room. Fumbling, Rynah reached out for anything she could use to steady herself; she settled on the enemy ship and hauled herself to her wobbly feet. Engine Room! Now fully alert, Rynah realized what Solaris had tried to tell her. She wiped the blood that trickled from her nose and raced through the hallway, ignoring the dangling, broken lights and exposed wires. She had to save Solaris.
Brie flung another steel plank aside in her vain attempt to get free of the murky (as half of the lights had burned out) transport room. Her heart fell when she looked at the lack of progress she had made. She glanced back at the screen as new symbols appeared. “Solaris, what does all this mean?”
“My systems,” crackled Solaris’ voice, “have been compromised.”
“Solaris, don’t go!”
Moments of silence followed before Solaris returned. “Have rerouted power,” she said, her voice clearer. “Those symbols indicate that my engines have been rigged to implode the ship.”
“Implode? You mean destroy it!”
“Yes. I am sorry.”
Brie studied the screen. “How do we stop it?”
“There is a way,” said Solaris, her voice fading in and out, “but it is not advisable.”
“Someone has to go directly to the computer console in the engine room and type in this sequence.”
Yellow symbols popped up on the screen and Brie committed them to memory. “Understood,” said Brie.
“But you only have minutes to reach it,” said Solaris.
“Is there a way you can transport me directly there?”
“Possibly,” answered Solaris.
“Brie, a person can only be transported a certain number of times before their body loses molecular stability and they die.”
“Solaris,” said Brie, her voice unusually stern, “will you, or will you not, help me get to the engine room?”
“I can transport you just outside the engine room.”
“Do it then.” Brie stepped onto the transport pad.
“Brie, the entire area is flooded with poisonous gas from coolant leaks. You will only have moments before you suffocate.”
Brie understood Solaris’ unspoken message. She glanced at the red button that would send her home. She could still do it. No one would ever know, except her.
“You still have time to return to Earth—to home,” pleaded Solaris.
“That’s the thing,” said Brie, “I don’t know why I never realized it before, but… I am home.”
“I do not wish to lose you,” said Solaris.
Light encircled Brie as the transporter switched on. She felt her body dematerializing as it disappeared from the transport room, leaving Solaris alone.
“Good-bye, Brie,” said Solaris.
Rynah ran for the open engine room as poisonous gas spilled from it. She had to get there in time if she were to save the ship and everyone on board. Beams of light appeared before her. Rynah stopped. Mesmerized, she watched as a figure materialized before her: Brie.
Brie took one look at Rynah, turned, and dashed into the engine room.
“Brie, no!” Rynah ran for her, but arrived just as the door sealed shut. They stared at one another through the round window with somber expressions. “Brie, get out of there! That place is full of poisonous gas!”
“I know you think I am useless,” said Brie, her voice muffled by the glass, “but this is one thing I can do.”
“Brie…” Rynah pressed the button to open the door, but Brie had locked it on the other side. “Don’t do this. We can work something out.”
“You were on your way here to do the same,” said Brie. “I’m sorry, but they need you more than me.” Brie left.
“Brie, no!” Rynah beat her fists against the door, desperate to open it. In the end, all she could do was watch, helpless, as Brie disappeared in the smoke-filled interior of the engine room.
Brie hurried through the room, past pistons, gears, and valves spilling steam, in search of the console screen Solaris had directed her to, her hand pressed over her mouth in a vain attempt to filter the toxic gas. Coughing, she whipped around, straining to see through the clouds of steam and smoke. She spotted it. Brie ran for the console screen. Racking coughs shook her body; the toxic gas burned her throat and lungs with each breath. Brie tapped the screen, typing in the sequence Solaris had shown her, but her tear-filled eyes from the sting of the fumes prevented her from putting it in correctly. Beep! An error message flashed across the holoscreen.
“Curse it,” she hissed. “Wrong one.”
Brie typed in the sequence again; her eyelids grew heavy and her breathing shallowed from the noxious atmosphere.
“Stay awake,” she told herself.
The console bleeped again. Frustrated, Brie smacked it with her fist as she racked her brains to remember the sequence. It hit her. Fueled with the memory, she furiously tapped the holoscreen, which was covered in condensation, as she put in the sequence to stop the engines from imploding. A pleasant beep told her she had succeeded.
The whirring drum of the engines overheating stopped as they returned to their normal state. Relieved, Brie watched enthralled as the engines reversed and roared back to life, but her moment of victory remained short-lived. Encased in gaseous fumes, her lungs felt as though they had caught fire. Each cough pained her cracked throat and overworked diaphragm. Stumbling, Brie latched onto the side of the wall for support. More coughing ensued until she dropped to the floor unmoving. The last thing her eyes saw before they closed was emerald hair.
Rynah had managed to open the door to the engine room. She grasped Brie under the shoulders and hauled her out. The poison attacked her lungs with each breath. A dark form loomed before her.
“Help me,” pleaded Rynah.
Alfric bent low and scooped both Brie and Rynah into his arms as he carried them out into the corridor where Solon waited.
“Tom,” Rynah shouted over the intercom, “get us out of here.”
The ship lurched as Tom put it into hyperspeed and far away from Klanor’s men.
“How is she?” Rynah asked, referring to Brie.
Solon shook his head. “I am sorry.”
Overwhelming guilt for her earlier words with Brie struck Rynah as she slumped against a splintered wall. Why, she thought, why her?