Chapter 8: At the Beginning
The shuttle craft bounced and rocked as it entered the atmosphere of Lanyr. Rynah’s adroit skills showed as she handled the controls, keeping the craft as steady as she could. She glanced back at her passengers. Alfric remained calm, as the display of fear was not in his nature. She figured he was a man who never openly displayed fear. Both Solon and Brie looked apprehensive. Brie’s face bulged from the urge to scream. Of all the people to pick, why did Solaris choose the girl? Brie’s lack of courage annoyed Rynah. Her violet eyes flicked over to Tom. Though not liking the turbulence, Tom was intrigued by the construction and mechanisms of the sleek shuttle.
The charred lavender clouds cleared and the turbulence ceased as Rynah dropped into the lower atmosphere. She made out the damaged structures and city below. Smoke still rose from smoldering ruins. Finding a clearing, Rynah steered the shuttle for it, hoping that the ground was stable and not deceiving her. She pulled back on the throttle, released the landing gear, and lowered the craft until a soft thud told her she had touched the ground. She opened the hatch.
The others unbuckled their seatbelts and stood up. Brie wobbled a bit from motion sickness. “Are you sure this is safe?” she asked. “You said yourself that your planet was suffering from severe earthquakes.”
“Safe enough for our purposes,” replied Rynah with impatience. “Solaris has stabilized the magnetic fields for now, but cannot hold it indefinitely. We have an hour, and we must make good use of it.”
She walked over to a panel, pressed a button, and a door slid open.
“Here,” she said, tossing each of them a laser pistol, “you might need these.”
Alfric took his and turned it over in his calloused hands. “I have my sword.”
“Just keep it in case,” said Rynah.
“What amazing construction,” muttered Tom as he examined the pistol enthralled by the technology behind it.
Solon remained silent, while Brie added, “I’m not sure about how to use this.”
“Then you’ll have to learn,” said Rynah as she jumped down the steps and to the scarred terrain before her.
Unsure of what to do, Brie and the others tied the pistols around their waists. Alfric leapt out of the shuttle and strode proudly, while the others took their time. Poor Brie—her timidity forced her to cling to the handle in the open hatch (while horrid thoughts of untold dangers filled her mind) as she delicately put her foot on the charred grass that had once been a royal purple. She trailed behind the others, looking around at the smoldering fires and remains of ships that had failed to escape the fury of the planet. Brie glanced up at the blackened sky with tinges of purple in it and wisps of clouds that seemed to weep at the destruction that had been wrought.
“Brie, keep up!” yelled Rynah.
Brie hurried after the others. The silence unnerved her. No bugs hummed, nor did any birds chirp. Even the wind refused to make a sound. Only death remained. A few bodies lay in the blackened grass. Sadness engulfed Brie as she looked at them and their vacant expressions. The horrors they must have seen. She was reminded of the stories her father had told her mother when he had come home for Christmas one year. She wasn’t supposed to hear, but Brie was unable to sleep and listened in the doorway to her parents’ bedroom. Soon after that, her father had been redeployed back to Afghanistan and died in a bomb blast. The remains of the planet Lanyr brought all of those memories back in a flood that her emotions refused to handle.
“I never asked to be here,” she whispered to herself.
Not wanting to get yelled at again, Brie ran to catch up with the others. No one spoke as they all trailed behind Rynah, who led them to the underground lab, choosing to go in the back way so as to avoid the elevator. They soon entered the city; its collapsed buildings (most of the structures reduced to shells of what they had been, with crumbled brick and stone forming a skirt around them) and uneven pavement that resembled cliffs more than roadways. Brie studied the rubble, exposed pipes, and metal bars that swayed in the wind, only being held by a few screws, waiting to fall. Water spouted from a pipe protruding from the blistered ground, sending a spray of sewage.
“The entrance to the lab is here,” said Rynah, pointing at an exposed steel door, now blackened from the tiny flames the still burned around it, which had once been concealed by an enclosed building, but only the foundation of it remained. She typed a code in the keypad. Nothing happened. Looking closer, Rynah noticed that the circuitry had been severed, meaning that she would have to manually force it open. She wedged her shoulder against the door and pushed. Nothing. Rynah tried again, straining against the effort of opening a door 20 times her weight.
Alfric placed his hand on her shoulder and pushed her aside. His massive size demanded obedience. He grasped the edges of the door and shoved; his sinewy muscles flexing in the bits of sunlight. A grinding noise filled the area as the metal door opened. Once a wide enough gap had been made, Alfric stepped aside and motioned for Rynah to continue.
“Thanks,” she said as she stepped into the inky darkness of the doorway.
She pulled a glow light from her belt and clicked it on, holding the yellow light before her. Rynah found the stairwell (which circled in an angular spiral around the elevator shaft, primarily used by the maintenance staff or for emergencies) and headed straight for it.
“Watch your step,” she warned the others.
Her boots clicked against the metal stairs as she descended, gauging each step and testing it before putting her weight on it.
Rynah placed her foot on the next step. Clang! It fell away, crashing and banging into the others as it disappeared. Shining her glow light on it, she peered into the dismal darkness below as more eerie sounds echoed in the distance; particles of dust swirled in the beam. Uneasiness filled the pit of Rynah’s stomach as the realization that their being there was a bad idea dawned on her. Unwilling to turn back, she jumped to the next step, avoiding the newly formed gap, and clung to the cool (a sensation that surprised her) railing as she regained her balance. The others copied her movements. Rynah went to the next step, testing it before stepping on it. Onward this went; the stairs moaned under the weight of those who dared to enter their domain.
Rynah stopped. The stairs had ended, but they hadn’t reached the basement floor. Dismayed, she glared at the dark hole that loomed before her, refusing to show weakness in front of the others. Rynah waved the glow light around, trying to illuminate the bottom, but found nothing, leaving her with only one option.
“We’ll have to risk it,” she said.
“That’s suicide,” protested Brie. “You have no idea how far down that goes.”
“I’m not turning back,” said Rynah.
“Perhaps we could use the rope Tom brought,” suggested Solon. “Brie is the lightest. We can tie it to her and…”
Solon never got a chance to finish his statement, for at that moment, Rynah jumped. Her feet plopped on the cement floor as she buckled her knees to absorb the impact of her landing. She rose to her full height, holding the glow stick above her and allowing the yellow light to illuminate the surrounding area. As it turned out, she had only jumped 10 feet.
“Come on,” she shouted to the others. “It isn’t far.”
Alfric landed beside Rynah, not even bothering to check and make certain he had not injured himself. Next came Tom. Brie stood on the edge, doubting her ability to survive. A smooth hand enveloped hers. Glancing over, she stared right into the reassuring eyes of Solon.
“Sometimes you must risk it all and leap,” he said.
Brie remained where she was.
“It’s okay. I’ll jump with you. Together, one… two... three!”
They both leapt off the metal edge and dropped. Air burst from Brie’s lungs as she crashed onto the ground and rolled. Her knee throbbed. She touched the welt that had formed there, but, though tender, it wasn’t too bad.
Without warning, a hand grabbed hers and hauled her to her feet. Alfric turned her around and checked for injuries, but released her when he found nothing life threatening.
“You are undamaged,” he said.
“My knee hurts,” whined Brie.
“It is merely a scratch. But rejoice in it, for now you can regale those back home about your injury and the adventure that gave it to you.” He clapped Brie on the shoulder, nearly knocking her over.
Not sure if she liked the Viking, Brie meandered over to Solon, who had landed about as successfully as she had. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” answered Solon. “What is life without a few bruises to toughen our character?”
She helped Solon to his feet, wishing this was all just a dream, and followed the others.
A giant, periwinkle, oval shaped door with no handles of any kind towered over them in the darkness. Rynah waved her hand before the door. A holographic pad flashed to life, appearing on the righthand side, awaiting a command. She typed in a series of numbers. Hissing and pressurized air escaped the door as its locks snapped out of place, and the door dematerialized, allowing them entrance.
“Be careful,” warned Rynah. “The ground in here may not be entirely stable.”
As though to add emphasis to her words, the ground shifted; a low rumbling reverberated beneath their feet before dissipating.
“Not entirely stable,” muttered Tom. “That’s an understatement.”
Rynah gave him a piercing stare before strolling through the open doorway into a dimly lit interior; only a few lights remained lighted. Loose and exposed wires dangled precariously from the ceiling, sending sparks like searing rain upon any below them and illuminating broken glass, overturned chairs, and toppled desks that littered the entire lab, all covered in shredded sheets of paper. What had once been a pristine and clean environment now resembled little more than an alleyway in a slum.
“Here,” said Rynah, handing Solon a flashlight that she snatched from a cubby in the wall.
“What do I do with it?” asked Solon, studying it.
Annoyed, Rynah flicked it on and pointed it across the room. “Use it to light your way.” She trampled down some metal stairs to the lower floor.
Solon waved the flashlight around, intrigued by its ability to give illumination without using an open flame. He flicked it on and off repeatedly.
“Want to see something cool?” asked Tom.
“Cool?” said Solon. “I would say it is a bit warm in here.”
“Just hold it like this.” Tom placed the flashlight in Solon’s hand, demonstrating how he should hold it as he made shadow puppets, accompanying his play with noises and differing voices.
“I’m going to get you my pretty—No! Don’t eat me!—It’s too late. Nom. Nom. Nom.”
Solon and Brie laughed at Tom’s antics. Even Alfric cracked a smile, something that didn’t quite fit his gruff and overbearing demeanor.
The playfulness caught Rynah’s attention. She turned away from the flyers hanging on the far wall near where the crystal had been and glared at Tom. “What are you doing?”
“Shadow puppets,” said Tom, with a sheepish grin.
“Shadow puppets?” Rynah released an exasperated sigh. “You are here to assist me. We are supposed to be looking for clues as to where Klanor has headed and you’re playing children’s games? Get to work!” She turned back to the papers hanging from the wall.
Tom took one last glance at everyone, shrugged his shoulders, and wandered to another part of the room. Something cracked underneath his shoe as his heavy foot stepped upon a cracked holopad, which reminded him of the computer tablets that he and his friends used each day, just thinner and more advanced. He picked it up.
Brie wandered over. “An iPad?” she said, taking the holopad.
“Not quite, but similar I imagine,” said Tom. “Hey, that’s right. You guys are still using the iPad. What a piece of antiquated technology. Wait until the Seismo 4000 hits the shelves. Now that has lightning speed data transfers and unlimited storage.”
“Uh, maybe I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“No, don’t worry about it,” said Brie. “I’m sure that the stuff of 2014 seems like the dark ages to you.”
“I didn’t mean—”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m going to wander over there.”
Tom scolded himself for being so stupid and insulting what was considered the most advanced technology of Brie’s day. “Great way to make friends,” he whispered to himself.
Everyone whirled around in the direction of the sound as a single sheet of metal clattered to the concrete floor, sending deafening echoes through what had been a silent tomb. Something moved. Tensing, the five companions inched their way closer. Rynah waved her hand, signaling them to be silent. More movement. Unexpectedly, Alfric reached into the darkened hole and yanked out one of the lab assistants. His tattered lab coat, stained with black smudges, fluttered around him as he sailed through the air in the Viking’s arms.
“Who are you?” demanded Alfric, pinning the frightened man to a desk.
“Please! Please, don’t hurt me!” yelled the man.
“Gaden?” said Rynah. “What are you doing here?”
“Hiding,” replied Gaden, his purple face going ashen.
“Hiding. Everyone here was killed. How could you have possibly survived?”
“How did you?” demanded Gaden.
“Answer her question or I’ll rip out your treacherous heart,” said Alfric, raising his knife.
“Treacherous? I betrayed no one!” screamed Gaden.
“Then why are you here?” asked Rynah.
“When Klanor escaped with the crystal, I hid in the hole there,” said Gaden. “I’ve never left.”
“You’ve been here for the last several days?” Rynah’s voice held doubt.
“No food or water?”
Gaden reached into his pockets and pulled out silver packets. Rynah snatched them.
“Why are you here, Rynah? And who are these… people?” Gaden eyed the others, twirling his handlebar mustache with curiosity, having never seen humans before.
“They are here to help,” said Rynah.
“Yes, but where are they from?”
Brie started to open her mouth, but Rynah cut her off. “Not your concern. Where are the ancient texts?”
“I don’t know what you—”
“Where are they?” demanded Rynah.
Alfric’s grip tightened.
“Okay! Okay! I don’t know where they are. Look at this place! You’ll never find anything here.”
Rynah’s cold expression bore through him.
“They might be over there.”
Rynah marched to where Gaden pointed, shuffling through debris until she found four data crystals resembling thin disks.
“Those are the ancient texts?” asked Brie.
“Yes,” said Rynah, “everything is on these disks.” She put a thin, octagonal-shaped disk, made from a clear quartz material, in the main computer. Despite the bits of insulation that coated it, the computer hummed as it read the disk, still able to draw power. The disk was empty. Rynah put in another. Only logs of the scientists came up. Frustrated, she stuck in the third disk to find that it had data recordings.
“Come on,” she said through gritted teeth as she shoved the fourth and final disk in. “Got it!”
On a wall-sized holographic screen, words appeared in a language that only Rynah understood. She scrolled through them.
“There,” she said, pointing at a line of text. “It speaks about a crystal with immense power. ‘When two suns meet, so shall the power of the gods.’”
“What does that mean?” asked Tom.
“It could be talking about a binary system. The Jungler Sector has two suns. Maybe that is what it means.”
“What is all this?” demanded Gaden. “Are you seriously referring to that ancient legend of the crystals?” He looked at the four humans. “You are! You and Klanor are both insane! When he asked me about that text…” Gaden cut himself off.
“What?” asked Rynah.
“Nothing,” said Gaden.
“What do you mean Klanor asked you?” Rynah’s face darkened.
“He said it was for research,” Gaden evaded the question. “I never thought he would actually steal the crystal from the lab.”
“You helped him steal it?”
“No, I… it’s not like I had a choice! You don’t know what he’s capable of.”
“Because of you, our planet is dead!” Deep down, Rynah knew that wasn’t entirely true.
“I didn’t think any of this would happen.”
“A lot of people died because of you!”
“And how many more will die if you go through with this foolish mission of yours? Do you think you’re the only one who knows the story? I know who these people are. They come from the Terran Sector, don’t they? You’re going to save our world with them?” Gaden laughed.
“You gutless…” Alfric reached for Gaden, but he flung dust into the man’s eyes. Before Alfric or the others could grab him, Gaden had disappeared through another hole in the wall.
“I’m going to kill him,” said Rynah as she started to pursue him.
“No!” Solon’s stern voice stopped her. Everyone turned toward him. “His life is not worth it.”
“Not worth it?” said Rynah.
“Sometimes the enemy of today is tomorrow’s friend,” said Solon.
Rynah considered the matter and let it go. She snatched the data crystal from the computer. “Let’s go.”
Just then, a low rumble echoed beneath their feet as the ground vibrated. With each passing second, the sound grew in volume until it overwhelmed them, and splits and cracks appeared in the concrete floor as a portion of it gave away.
“Run!” yelled Rynah.
The floor fell beneath their feet as a giant machine, with a drill on its end, emerged from the darkness below. The ear splitting sounds attacked their nerves with each movement. Brie stood frozen before it. Unable to move, she watched, helpless, as the machine came closer.
“Brie!” yelled Tom.
She remained frozen; fear clutched her in a viselike grip, refusing to release her. Strong hands seized her shoulders, thrusting her out of the way. Brie looked up to find Alfric covering her as the machine whirred past, sending rocks, blocks of wood, and ceiling panels everywhere. Without a word, the Viking lifted her to her feet and shoved her to the doorway.
“What is that thing?” yelled Tom.
“A geo pod,” replied Rynah. “It’s used to collect data from the center of the planet.”
An industrial light crashed onto the floor next to them, forcing them to jump out of the way.
“Get up those stairs now!” yelled Rynah.
Alfric snatched Brie, who still allowed fear to control her, and carried her to the giant, steel door and the stairs beyond.
Rynah raced for the doorway. The machine noticed her movements and whirled at her, sending a claw out and smashing the floor before her. She dodged out of the way and veered around the monstrosity.
“Where are you going?”
Rynah stopped. She knew that voice. Turning, she looked into the camera on the machine, which was remotely controlled, and stared at the person on the other end.
“Klanor,” she spat.
“Did you really think I would leave this place?”
Rynah said nothing.
“I knew you would come back here, so I left this little surprise for you. That useless Gaden did his job well.”
Rynah clenched her fist. She knew that weasel wasn’t there by chance. “Why?”
“I told you, I want control,” Klanor’s voice boomed throughout the chamber.
“So you base your conquest on an ancient text?”
“You are using it, are you not? You will find, Rynah, that many of the ancient stories are based on some sort of fact. These crystals contain an incredible amount of data. You, yourself, witnessed how the crystal here kept the magnetic fields of the planet aligned. Is it really that farfetched to believe that they could create a weapon of immense power?”
Rynah unhooked her weapon.
“I will give you one last chance to abandon this foolish mission of yours,” said Klanor.
“And let you take control of the Twelve Sectors?”
“You could join me. I still remember our nights together.”
Vomit crept into Rynah’s throat as she thought about the times she had spent with Klanor.
“It would be wise of you to join me,” said Klanor. “You might want to consider what the cost will be in refusing my offer.”
Rynah wrapped her fingers around her laser gun. Her eyes searched for the one weak spot in the geo pod.
“I am awaiting your answer.”
She spotted it. With fluid movements, Rynah raised her weapon and aimed. “Consider this.” She fired two blasts at the hydraulics that connected the arms of the pod with the controls; hydraulic fluid sprayed everywhere as the pod flailed about uncontrollably. Rynah ran. She sprinted for the open door as the earth continued to shake beneath her feet.
“Come on!” yelled Tom, holding his hand out to her.
Rynah leapt through the doorway before the ceiling crashed behind her. “Thanks,” she said to Tom.
They raced up the metal stairs that reeled beneath their weight, Rynah in the lead and urging them onward. Brie had to be carried by Alfric until they reached the outside and he put her down, her screams drowning the chaos around them. Once they broke out into the daylight, Rynah motioned for them to head for the shuttle.
They ran across the rotting grass (that had once been a rich emerald with a faded purple tint to it), their feet beating against the ground in their haste. Grumbles resonated beneath them as soft mounds of dirt expanded upwards, forming small hills, and flung sharp rocks into the air that smashed into the dirt beside them, sending gravel flying at them like missiles. Brie shrieked as one hurled towards her. Alfric sprang upon her, snatching her and yanking her out of the way. In her panicked state, she tried to break free of him, beating his chest; her frantic screams hurt his ears, but the Viking just heaved her across his shoulders like a bag of grain and carried her back to the shuttle.
“Hurry!” yelled Rynah, standing in the doorway of the shuttle craft. One by one, the five unlikely companions filed in, taking their seats. Rynah pushed the button to close the shuttle door, ran to the pilot seat, increasing the power of the engines, and pulled back on the throttle.
A red, blinking light informed her that she had failed to initiate the startup procedure. “Oh, shut up,” she muttered to the annoying red light.
Another light blinked at her; its aggravating alarm blared, scolding her. Checking the status of it, Rynah realized that the landing gear had jammed. If she didn’t get it up, she would never be able to leave the planet’s atmosphere. She cursed.
“Do you need any help?” asked Tom, entering the flight deck.
“Just go back to your seat,” snapped Rynah.
“I can help,” Tom insisted.
Rynah stared at Tom’s sincere expression and realized that, for once, she had to trust someone else. “The landing gear is jammed,” she said as the craft jolted to the left. “I need you to go through this access point, reach down, and pull the emergency lever. It’s red.”
Tom looked at the hatch Rynah pointed at. He snapped the latch and lifted it up. Realizing that he would not fit in the tiny space, he got down on his stomach and leaned in until he hung upside down.
“Do you see it?” asked Rynah.
Tom’s eyes roved around the area as his head pounded from the blood rushing to it. There! He reached out for the red lever and pulled. Nothing.
“Oh, why does it always have to be stuck,” he muttered to himself in frustration.
“Pull it now!”
Tom grasped it with both hands, hoping that he wouldn’t tumble in. With a tremendous yank, the lever pulled free and the landing gear snapped into place with a low hum.
“Got it,” he said as he crawled out of the small hatch and placed the cover back over the opening.
Rynah pulled back even more on the throttle and steered the small shuttle craft into the edges of space. Solaris stood ready to receive them with the doors to the shuttle bay open.
“Solaris, we’re coming in hot!”
“Understood,” came the ship’s reply.
Rynah strained against the shuttle’s desire to veer to the left and the gravitational pull of the planet as she headed for the safety of Solaris’ shuttle bay. An ear piercing screech railed against their ears as they crashed into the shuttle bay. Rynah shut off the engines.
“Everyone okay?” she asked.
Amidst the few groans, she ascertained that no injuries had been accrued. Rynah opened the shuttle doors. “Solaris, get us out of here!” she yelled as she dashed for the command deck of the ship. The others followed behind her, Alfric still holding onto the frightened Brie.
They reached the command center just as another ship dropped out of hyperspeed next to them. A beep sounded as a holographic form of Klanor appeared.
“Rynah, really. Can’t we be reasonable? There is no point in you being beaten again.”
Rynah ignored him as she punched keys on the console.
“It’s not too late for you to join me,” continued Klanor. “I am a reasonable man. Your friends can come as well.”
Rynah continued to punch buttons.
“Rynah,” said Klanor, “you should consider my advice.”
Rynah looked up. She stared into Klanor’s eyes with venomous hatred. “Consider this my answer.”
She pressed a button and an ion torpedo headed straight for Klanor’s ship. “Solaris, now!”
The ship pitched as it jumped into hyperspeed and disappeared, leaving Klanor to pother in his anger as fire erupted from his spacecraft.