Harry F. Rey © 2019
All Rights Reserved
“Don’t let him get away!” Sallah screamed at the top of her lungs through the chaos of the fiery corridor. Two Ingvar soldiers had her by either arm. They’d dragged her out of the Trades Council plenum-turned-battle zone against her will. Her life was of paramount value to the Ingvar star-state, but she couldn’t care less about that now. Not while this Turo was getting away.
His words, spoken only minutes ago, haunted her mind. I have your son, he’d said, with a swirling sneer. Then everything exploded. Sallah had lost sight of General Morvas and Councilor Nexia in the shooting. Ingvar soldiers had also jumped on them, but the smoke and noise of weapons fire made trying to get back to the ship impossible. Yet it was the last thing Sallah wanted to do—the insurrection in the heart of the Trades Council be damned.
“Get off me.” She struggled against their armor-plated bodies, but they did not relent. Sallah’s feet kept slipping against the smooth marble floor; she couldn’t find a grip. Yelling and the ricochet of weapons banged around the air from every direction, stinging smoke encroaching on their position. Sallah yanked her head around to a din of shots being fired, and the two soldiers pulled her back from the brink of the great hallway where volleys of laser shot fired backward and forward into unknown, unseen sets of troops.
“Get back.” One of the soldiers said and knocked her head back against the wall, trying to avoid edging around the corner into the wide trench of ongoing warfare the great hallway had become. Sallah remembered the way. They had to get across to the other side, through the firing range.
A far-off explosion shook the walls of the building, seeming to strike at the core of the planet itself. The firing ceased, but silence did not return. Instead, the screeching sounds of warplanes entering the Targulian atmosphere filled the once-gilded walkway. Down beyond their position, toward the end of the great hallway, Sallah saw figures moving through the smoke. The shapes could be Turo, or even Ales. The only thing clear was her need to get to them.
Her Ingvar captors looked distracted, scanning the now eerily silent hallway through black visor helmets. One had his hand pointed backward in a halfhearted attempt to keep her still. She edged away from the wall, then glanced into the great hallway. It had the air of some ancient temple; high ceilings reaching up to a glass-domed roof to the hazy orange Targulian air. The heart of the Outer Verge, now consumed in inter-factional war, the Union against the Trades Council, while a foreign power circled the planet like some great mountain vulture. And here she was, the former last Tevian alive. She couldn’t let her life end this way. Not while her son might be right around the corner—hurt, or in danger. Sallah gritted her teeth and launched herself against one of the soldiers. With a swift kick, she booted him in the side, and he tumbled away from her into the space of no man’s land, his footing lost to the smooth-edged floor.
“What are you doing?” the other one cried out through his visor. But it was too late. A volley of weapons fire began again from both sides, riddling the Ingvar soldier’s body from the left and right. Puffs of vaporized blood and brain floated into the air as his lifeless body collapsed in a haze of reddish death.
The living soldier floated in front of her, as if suspended in time, now unsure if she was friend or foe. She wanted to leap toward him, grab the sidearm from his belt, flip, and blast him in the back. The sinews of her body, the echoes of Sallah’s yearning for her son she’d thought lost along with the rest of her home-world, ached for the ability to push him aside and sprint to her destiny. Yet something exploded against her back. It felt as if the walls themselves had collapsed onto her as the polished marble rushed up to meet her face. But she stopped. There was no impact. Something, no, someone grabbed her, saved her from being smashed to the ground.
“I have her,” a metallic voice said through the helmet. Sallah caught the edge of her reflection in the onyx visor. The whites of her eyes enraged and bloodshot against skin the color of a dark and stormy night.
“Let’s go,” said another.
The sound of many more boots smacking against the ground joined with the fire of weapons. Someone held her back, as a stream of Ingvar soldiers rushed from behind, firing their weapons to either side of the great hallway, building a wall of cover fire to cross to the other side. A black-gloved arm pulled her back by the chest, and she struggled to no avail.
“This way, general,” a voice said behind her. “Increase fire, don’t hold back,” it yelled to the soldiers holding the line the breadth of the hallway to the narrower corridor across the other side. General Morvas staggered past, helped by two soldiers. His soft, gray hair and distinguished features were dripping in blood from an open wound across his skull, his robes torn and wrapped around an arm as a makeshift bandage. The volley of fire from the soldiers turned into a crescendo of noise and smoke. Most likely no one was firing back from either side, but they kept the rate up as the half-crouched general crossed the hallway like a child being rescued from a fire.
Councilor Nexia came along next, her frail elderly body slung over the back of a soldier as if she were won as a prize of war.
“Sallah,” the Trades Council leader cried out. “Come with us, now. The Union are starting a war.”
Sallah pushed against her captor’s arm with all her power. “No! I must find Turo. I must—”
“We have him. He’s on the ship.” Nexia said. The soldier carrying her didn’t stop running. “Get her back to the fleet,” Nexia yelled over the rage of battle toward Sallah’s captor. She was a prize they couldn’t lose.
Powerful armored hands grabbed her from behind, squeezing her sides so hard she felt the pain through the adrenaline rush. There was no way to break free. Turo, Ales—she had to find them. Sallah struggled against her captor, legs flying back in a wild storm of trying to find any weak point in the armor and land a kick to skin.
“Let me go.”
He’d had enough. He didn’t think twice. Like Nexia in front of her, the soldier hoisted her body across his shoulder and ran after the others, darting through the protective enclosure. It was terrifying. The world had turned upside down. All she could see was the smoke from the far end of the great hallway rising up to the glass convex ceiling, here and there blocking out the hazy orange above. Yet through the glass, she saw the flashes of war and the trails of missiles and strike ships painting their destructive pattern. The Ingvar invasion had begun.
The bouncing became rhythmic, and she lost all sense of thinking beyond the next few minutes. Get to the ship, get to Turo. She’d beat that man to a pulp to find out where her son was. She’d swear to the Ingvar to never conduct another experiment again if they did not help her track down Ales. She’d gouge the secrets of galinium and STAR drives from her brain and cast them into the black void of nothingness unless the entirety of the fleet of the Ingvar Empire cast every ion toward finding her son. She’d rip apart the Outer Verge to find…
“Hurl her inside. That’s it.”
Sallah was flung upward, then caught by firm hands and dragged into the confines of a compact shuttle. Nexia and Morvas were stretched out alongside her, being tended to by soldiers with their visors up. The women and men in Ingvar uniform and their faces consumed in the rapid swirl of action. They had no time to think, only do.
“That’s all; time to go,” a voice said. She turned her head to the left through a sharp edge of pain to the two pilots in the narrow cockpit. One was gesturing to get the soldiers out of the shuttle.
“Wait,” Sallah screamed. “I need my son. I need Turo.” She pulled herself to her feet, ready to boot everyone else out of the shuttle and fly around the city-world herself to find him.
“No time,” the pilot yelled back, looking ready to meet her fists. “I’m taking you back to the fleet now. Strap in.”
Out of options, Sallah briefly contemplated jumping on one of the soldiers currently assisting the bruised-looking Nexia and Morvas into their shuttle seats against the narrow walls. Something caught her eye at the back of the shuttle, a soldier she now realized had been standing over someone. He moved out of the way, ready to exit the ship, and then she saw him, strapped in against his will and hands frozen in electromagnetic cuffs.
“You piece of flank,” Sallah yelled at Turo in the crowded confines of the ship. The rest of the soldiers ducked outside to the increasingly loud sounds of weapons fire.
“Strap in!” The pilot yelled from behind her as the shuttle door snapped closed.
“I’ll fucking kill you right now unless you tell me where my son is.” Turo’s green eyes looked up at her, his face smoky and bloodied from the fight, but his eyes alive, and a thin, narrow smile across his lips. The look of a man who, even in defeat, would prefer to watch everything he’d worked for go up in noxious flames than surrender. She launched her fist straight down into his stomach, the straps holding him back keeping him from bending over in reaction to the blow as the ship rumbled into action.
He spat out a gob of phlegm and blood onto the polished floor and returned only a smile. She cocked another fist.
“Sallah, stop,” Morvas called from behind, as the ship jerked up from the ground. She grabbed a metal bar above her head as the shuttle rumbled into the hazy sky. The sight through the windows dissolved her anger into terrified wonder. Targuline had descended into full-on war. Fighters dipped and dived behind the great trunks of Shards; missiles from space streaked across the orange sky as billows of black smoke infected the world.
Sallah turned her attention back to Turo. She held on above as the shuttle bounced around the atmosphere, worried it would drop from the sky at any moment—or perhaps be torn in two from heavy weapons fire. Neither was acceptable. She slammed her free hand into Turo’s throat, squeezing the sinews hard.
“Where is my son?”
Spluttered nothings fell from his mouth. Clearly, he hadn’t expected to be choked. As he raised a cuffed arm, where his wrist-tech sat, she released him from her deathly grip.
“I have him,” he coughed. “Tracked, here.”
Sallah twisted the arm with the wrist-tech, causing him to writhe in pain. Arms were not designed to twist in such a way, but she took comfort in his obvious agony.
“Find him.” Her eyes flashed with the power of a supernova. One primed for explosion
“Locate Ales,” he said into the device. The screen built a rudimentary map of the area with a clear green dot showing him less than fifty kilometers away. “Look, he’s still close by.” Sallah tried to make sense of the map, but the shaking shuttle and the moving blocks of images on the wrist-tech made it almost impossible to follow. She kept her eye solely on the distance counter, which steadily ticked upward as the shuttle flew up into the atmosphere toward the void of space.
“He’s on a ship, look.” Turo twisted his wrist-tech farther around, with an edge of humanity in his voice, which took her by surprise. The view of the outside moved around Morvas and Nexia from the hazy, orange battle-scarred sky to the cool blackness of space. Shards poked through the stratosphere, but the normally bustling routes in and out of the planet and its space stations were frozen by the invasion.
She stared past Nexia at the Ingvar fleet assembled in battle formation. She’d flown with them from Aldegar in the odd position she held as both a prisoner and most-valued individual, across their emerging empire. She knew this was every ship the Ingvar had. Battle Cruisers and troop transports, command vessels and fighter carriers; an entire fleet constructed from the scraps of the Crejan occupation force the young star-state liberated themselves from.
They had gambled their empire on this force, throwing everything they had against the Outer Verge, the only power in the galaxy weaker than themselves, in order to seize the STAR drive and power into the unknown universe beyond. Now, with their fifty-ship fleet amassed around the Targulian atmosphere and the Verge descending into civil war, they needed to get their hands on the raw galinium mined in the far edge of the Outer Verge.
Sallah reminded herself she didn’t care for whom she provided the prototypes of the STAR drives or which empire seized on her research. The Union, the Seven Suns, the Ingvar—she cared not for any of them. She had cared only for herself and the chance it may give her to rebuild the world she had lost. Sallah’s hands clasped her stomach as if it was about to explode.
“What’s that?” Nexia called out behind her, pointing to the window and the Ingvar fleet beyond. A single ship with a strange greenish glow around it was racing up from the orange haze toward the mass of ships. Sallah had only ever considered that glow in the theory of her work. It can’t be.
“It’s Ales,” Turo said, shifting his wrist-tech toward her line of sight stuck on the window, staring at the fleet the shuttle jiggered toward. Her throat flicked closed, a lifetime’s worth of tears held back by nothing but a single hope that soon she may be reunited with the son she’d thought lost.
“Tell them to bring him in,” she screamed at the pilot. He looked back with a gasp of worry. Morvas quickly nodded his approval.
“Fleet command, there’s an unidentified small vessel headed right to you from the planet. It’s friendly. Repeat, friendly. High-value cargo,” the pilot said into the comms.
Sallah left Turo in his strapped-down position and pressed her face against the clear window. His ship was getting closer to the fleet, like a single drop edging ever closer to a waiting beast. But the greenish glow around him grew ever bolder. She pressed her hand against the glass as Morvas, and then Nexia, unclipped from their seats and joined her.
“What is it?” Morvas demanded. “Is that a weapon? Is this an attack?”
She couldn’t even whisper a No. Sallah felt as if her mind had been severed from her body. It may as well float in the empty void of nothing. Her mind, her soul, unable to comprehend the things she was seeing. Who had built such a thing? Everything had been theoretical, only experiments. How could her research, her life’s work, sever her son from her once again?
The glow became stronger and ever brighter as the STAR drive ignited its galinium core. The space around his ship warped and swirled in a cloud of green as the horizon point broke free from the ship’s engine, the greenish bubble growing wide enough to encompass the entire Ingvar fleet.
“No. It’s too much. It’s too powerful.” The beat of her heart burst into her skull as the horizon point from Ales’ ship reached its zenith.
“What?” Morvas demanded. “What is? Tell me now.”
The flash forced Nexia and Morvas to turn away. But Sallah did not. Her eyes burned and ached for the briefest moment, but then the darkness returned. The black, blank darkness of space above the hazy orange orb. Now empty except for a long, glowing white streak of nothing where Ales and the entire Ingvar fleet had just been. Whoever had created that STAR drive had grossly miscalculated the proportions of weaponized galinium required.
“Sallah, he’s gone,” Turo said in quiet shock, a note of fear in his voice Sallah would never have thought a man such as he would have.
“Where’s my fleet?” Morvas shrieked. “For infinity’s sake, where is my fleet?”
Sallah said nothing. Her eyes focused on her own reflection as she watched a single tear drip down her cheek. It was too painful to look at the empty space where her son and all the ships of the Ingvar empire had been, now lost in some unknown galaxy.