“And the visiting spaceman asked your father, ‘Who made you The King of The World?’ Such a strange question to ask!” Remir’s blue and white silk uniform ruffled as she laughed at her supposed joke. She calmed herself with a contented sigh and asked, “Well, Princess, what do you think happened next?”
Juzeera didn’t remember the exact details of that particular story—her Handmaiden had many—but she let Remir continue on about how King Werkong had settled their wild planet and named it The World. All the while, she enjoyed the view of her Night One of her Birth Week.
Servants clad in green and black livery carried glass trays, dispensing morsels to the gathered socialites as they waited for the next form of entertainment. Even if one didn’t know the names of all the partiers—which didn’t happen often—they could simply look at the accessories that the guests wore. Coalition Presidents always haughtily displayed their rank by wearing a silver trinket of some kind. Their heirs similarly wore bronze to show that they would one day run a Coalition.
Remir moved suddenly, flipping a curl of her mousy-brown hair away from her forehead. “Would you like to hear the tale of how your parents met? I obviously wasn’t there, but I’ve heard so many accounts of it that I feel like I was there watching their love unfold every step of the way.” The Handmaiden raised her gloved hands as she envisioned the events in her mind. “Queen Ylreha—well she obviously wasn’t The Queen yet—had been working at—”
“That won’t be necessary,” Juzeera interrupted with a smile. “But I bet the Gnab might be interested in hearing it.” She nodded past the woman.
Remir gasped as she realized that the Viewer was standing right behind her.
The red and brown clad man didn’t seem to mind bending over to match Remir’s height. He pushed his holstered rifle to his back before taking her gloved fingers and kissing them politely.
“Goodweek, Viewer Gnab. I was just telling The Princess about—”
Juzeera stepped away as soon as the attention was off her. She glided through the throngs of socialites, her silver sleeveless gown rustled as she embraced her life-long friends and socialites of The World. She had quick conversations with each she met, discussing her Birth Week and what kind of parties her parents had planned for the six days leading up to her twenty-first birthday.
The Tetrahedron of Fleetship Castle glistened with sparkly tinsel and crystal decorations. The marble lattice walls met at a point at the ceiling, making the room a vaulted triangular pyramid. Three stages had been erected in the corners, where three of The World’s finest vocalists each took turns performing for the planet’s most powerful and influential inhabitants. As Juzeera retrieved a cup of chilled fruit from a servant, a sultry alto performed a ballad about a lost lover.
“Do you ever hold still, young lady?” Queen Ylreha hooked arms with her daughter and guided her towards the balconies. Her neatly-pressed yellow gown swished against the flagstones. She seemed to be leading her daughter to the most secluded part of the Tetrahedron, likely to scold Juzeera about whatever complaint she had about her daughter. “By the time I find someone who has seen you, I spy you slipping past in the opposite way they are pointing.”
“I’m sorry that my socializing is spoiling your fun, mother,” Juzeera replied, smiling at the media workers filming the festivities. She turned back to her mother and popped a frozen berry into her mouth. “Perhaps on your Birth Week you could put a collar on my neck to ensure I stay put.”
Ylreha’s green eyes flashed a warning, but her calm countenance never faltered. “I know that it’s a special time for you, but that harsh tongue of yours is going to ruin relationships someday.”
“Speaking of relationships, I just remembered that I need to tell Korvex something.” Wriggling out of her mother’s grasp, Juzeera moved to a table full of her handsome suitors. She gave a Korvex and squeeze from behind. “So what kind of boring political business are you boys discussing tonight?”
Korvex laughed as he pulled her into his lap. “No business tonight, my dearest.” The President of the Entertainment Coalition pushed the auburn hair from her face and kissed her. “Nothing droll on this special night.”
“But the whole week is special.” She tugged playfully at the thick links of his silver neck chain. “Does that mean that you won’t be boring for the remaining five days?”
He shrugged and turned his attention to the next concert performer.
She stood and gave her other suitors a kiss to fit their personalities: a sloppy peck for Bougle and a tender embrace for Elras. For Mehkin—who technically wasn’t one of her suitors—she gave a friendly hug and pressed her lips to the young woman’s cheek.
“Where’s your brother?” The Princess asked, scanning the crowds for Aphod. “I haven’t seen him all night. Is he busy working on a story?” Since Mehkin didn’t have any accessories for Juzeera to play with, she had become accustomed to stroking her lifelong-playmate’s wavy blonde hair.
Mehkin’s coy smirk turned quickly to a frown. “You might need this later—just in case Aphod tries something.” She held out a scalpel.
Bougle, who was almost always uninterested in the group’s conversation, quickly took the blade from her. “That won’t be necessary, my little moth. I’ll hold onto that for you.” He pocketed the knife and resumed silently staring at his Slate.
“Give that back, Bougle!” Mehkin glowered at the stocky man. “That’s for Juzeera. She needs it to protect herself.”
“I doubt The Princess wants to shed blood on her Birth Week.” Bougle alternated between staring at the crowd of socialites, flicking the screen of his Slate, and twisting his bronze ring. Most people would be off-put by his lack of social skills, but those closest to him were use to his idiosyncrasies.
Juzeera had only partially listened to their conversation, but she was fairly certain that they hadn’t answered her question. “I take it you haven’t seen Aphod lately?”
“My brother is working on a special project,” Mehkin replied, pulling another scalpel from her dress. Bougle promptly held out his hand and wiggled his fingers expectantly. She mimed stabbing him in the hand before giving it to him.
“Oh, is it a Birth Week surprise?” Juzeera asked, feeling confused. She made a mental note that she needed to pay closer attention when people were speaking around her.
Elras looked up from whatever he was reading on his Slate and said in a melancholic tone, “I don’t know that it’s really a surprise.” He lazily spun his bronze cuff links and returned his gaze to his screen.
The Princess frowned at him. “Why are you so gloomy today? Your probationary period ends tonight. You can resume courting me tomorrow.”
“I’m aware of that,” Elras shrugged. “But it might be a day too late.”
Before Juzeera could process what he said, Aphod appeared from the nearby balcony. “How is the Birth Week girl?” He pulled her in for an affectionate embrace.
She let him kiss her before replying, “It’s been like a dream.”
Aphod shifted nervously, adjusting the temple-less spectacles on the bridge of his crooked nose. “Technically, if it were a dream, you likely won’t remember anything when you wake up tomorrow.” He cleared his throat and continued, “I’d love to hear more about that, My Princess. Perhaps we could speak privately on the balcony?”
Juzeera wished her other suitors a good night. She couldn’t help notice the cold stares they gave Aphod as he led her away from the group. “Why are they mad at you?”
Aphod smoothed his pale yellow hair and laughed. “You’ll find out soon.”
Soon. Juzeera hated that word. It meant that she had to wait for something to happen. It made her itch with anticipation. What could Aphod possibly have for her on the balcony? The first night of Birth Week wasn’t a time for presents. It baffled her. But the confusion fled her mind as she stepped onto the balcony.
Dozens of candles illuminated thousands of purple flower petals scattered on the tiled floor. The air was moist and sweet, cooling the warmth she had felt from mingling amongst the socialites. In the distance, Golden Glacier Falls glowed under the light of the moon and stars. Aphod closed the door behind them to drown out the sounds of the crowd, but the male baritone performer provided beautiful a ambiance to the scene.
Juzeera tried to listen as Aphod spoke, but her attention was drawn to the night sky. Something flashed in the atmosphere. “Look! A shooting star.” Trying to get a closer look, she stepped on top of the low railing, holding onto a marble column for support.
“There is no such thing as a shooting star,” he corrected, pulling her down. “It’s just a hunk of space rock.”
She didn’t care what Aphod said—it would still be a shooting star in her mind. Juzeera watched the dim speck streak through the sky in a burst of red and orange. It landed with a distant thud in the forest above Golden Glacier Falls. A fallen star would be a wonderful present to get for herself. She had decided to venture out to the forest to find it when she realized that Aphod was on his knees.
“What’s your answer?” He held up a ring made of fused emeralds that matched her eyes.
The Princess blinked. Her golden bracelets jingled as she pulled her auburn curls behind her ears. “I’m sorry, what?”
“Will you marry me?”
A marriage proposal? So that was the meaning behind the sore looks and the romantic balcony. She had had so many proposals the past three years that she was beginning not to notice anything special about them.
“Aphod, you know I care about you and—”
“Care?” Hurt welled in his eyes before he broke her gaze. He cleared his throat and adjusted his silver tie pin—his normal, fidgeting actions when he was planning his next words carefully. “Juzeera, I’ve known you your whole life. We’ve been courting for six years!” Aphod turned back to her, clearly struggling to control his feelings. “All you can say is that you care for me?”
Juzeera wasn’t going to be bullied into accepting him. “You know how it works: you can’t court me for three months while I sort through my feelings. We can discuss our relationship again after your probationary period.”
He put the ring back in his pocket. “Yeah, the whole probationary period thing. But while I wait, Elras is going to swoop in and steal your heart.”
With a shrug, she said, “Not necessarily.”
Shaking his head, Aphod stormed back into the party. A cheer rose up as she stepped back into the Tetrahedron. Her other suitors seemed to be in much better moods.
King Werkong greeted her with a warm hug. “You didn’t accept him, huh?”
“No, father,” she answered with a sigh. “I don’t feel like marrying him. Maybe another day.”
He let go of her and smoothed his straggly, red beard scruff. “You still have many others who might do the trick. What about that Naz fellow?” Werkong nodded over his shoulder. The King then seemed to notice that his golden epaulettes were smudged and began to polish them with the sleeve of his blue coat.
Juzeera chuckled affectionately. “Oh, father! You never were very good remembering people. President Naz’s wedding was only last month.”
She got her lack of attention from her father, but at least she remembered people better than he did. His distractedness more came from the fact that his head was so full of ideas and thoughts about his numerous hobbies that there was no room for other trivial details. Juzeera was just plain easily bored and constantly needed something new and exciting to make her life interesting.
Werkong patted her back absent-mindedly. “Hmm. Well I trust your judgment to find the best replacement for me when I’m dead.” He gave her a smile before departing.
Finding the perfect future King was proving to be a difficult task. Every eligible socialite man on the planet had shown some interest her at one point or another—sometimes even married men. It saddened her as she realized that she might have to do some hard thinking about finding a more suitable match for herself. Her normal way wasn’t making any progress; she needed to be unconventional in her search.
But that was a task for another day. Juzeera pushed the memories of Aphod’s proposal to the back of her mind and set out to enjoy the rest of Night 1 of her Twenty-First Birth Week.
Tybrik ignored the blinking mute light in front of him. He had already heard the message half a dozen times and made the decision not to comply. The broadcast instructed all new arrivals to go straight to Fleetship Castle, but the last thing he needed was for the planet’s inhabitants to know that he was there.
Safe inside his spaceship, Tybrik hacked into the media stream. Flipping through videos, he glanced through several to see live feeds of the big celebration at Fleetship. After wiping his tussled dark hair from his face, he skimmed the information that explained the event.
It seemed superfluous and unnecessary to waste a whole week idolizing a spoiled princess for staying alive another year. But he had learned in his studies that every planet had their own weird customs; as a Space Colonization Guild Representative, he would need to be understanding of strange traditions, no matter how absurd they were.
Only a couple weeks previous, he had been initiated as a Rep in the SCG. Although he had received top marks in all his core classes, he didn’t feel completely comfortable being put in charge on his first official mission. Sure, Tybrik had gone on several small, insignificant missions during his training, but they were nothing compared to infiltrating an unregistered planet. He didn’t feel up to the task.
However, he was determined to be the best mission leader he could be. After all, Director Darsk had selected Tybrik to lead the operation. Thankfully, he had the Handbook memorized to help guide him on his adventure.
So he spent the next several hours researching The World’s culture. His attention occasionally drifted to the screen that showed the live feed of the celebration. He matched the facts he learned about the socialites to the faces in the video. It helped him remember who each of the Coalition Presidents and Legatees were.
During his research, Tybrik also learned facts such as: Fleetship Castle was built from the space vessels that brought the colonizers to the planet nearly thirty years previous. The owner of the convoy had proclaimed himself the supreme ruler and named his domain “The World.”
But this king and his family appeared to be only figure-heads, in charge of developing the traditions and shaping the planet’s history. The real laws were made by the Congress of Presidents, men and women who had helped fund Werkong’s expedition to colonize a new planet. The term “President” wasn’t used in the tradition sense due to the fact that the title was to be passed down to their children when they died or retired. Although it was an unusual method for ruling, Tybrik could understand the practicality behind having politics ruled by businesses.
He checked the timer on his screen and saw that it had nearly been two hours since landing. The Space Colonization Guild Handbook recommended waiting that long before venturing out into a new planet. Now that he was more familiar with the planet’s customs, Tybrik felt more comfortable about integrating himself into The World.
Resting his eyes for a moment, he turned away from the screens and leaned back in his chair. Tybrik rubbed his face, forcing back a headache. All the data that he had read wasn’t sitting nicely in his brain. The past weeks of waiting for a mission had made his brain soft. Tybrik regretted not doing more mental exercises to keep himself sharp. He couldn’t afford to mess up on his first mission, especially with his savant of a Rep, half-sister looking over his shoulder. A small part of him was glad that she hadn’t arrived yet.
Hesitating by the ship entrance, Tybrik decided he probably should wait for his partner. He assumed that Haelon had disregarded the Handbook’s instructions—as always. However, he decided to leave her a stealth beacon with instructions on where to meet with him on the surface. It was still very possible that she was off conducting her own side-mission before meeting up with Tybrik, but it was better to be prepared just in case she was simply running late.
After setting the transmission scrambler, he recorded a message for Haelon. “Hey, sis. I’m probably worrying needlessly, but I’m concerned. I know that you’re not happy that Darsk put me in charge; you still need to contact me. I don’t care if you’re sulking on the other side of the planet or not.”
It was a stretch to truly believe that. Since he didn’t know what to think of his sister’s absence, he attempted to remain positive.
“Just let me know that you got here safely,” Tybrik added before ending the transmission. He set the controls to hide the message in the media stream; she would find it eventually and come to his location. Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.
Trying to take his mind of the possible doom that might have fallen on his half-sister, he grabbed one of his firearms and left his ship.
The forest around him went on for miles. He had seen hundred of different plants in his twenty-two years, but none looked like these. Sure, like most trees, these had brownish trunks with some type of greenish foliage sprouting out the tops or the sides. However, these had a strange kind of iridescence to them as the moonlight hit the leaves.
Pushing thoughts of botany out of his brain, he set about exploring the forest. Tybrik has scanned the wilderness before landing and determined that there hadn’t been another human for ten miles.
He could have stayed inside his ship, eating from his stores of ration packs. But he hadn’t had fresh meat in the weeks since leaving the Space Colonization Guild. So he used the tracking skills he learned during his training to follow a small creature. Tiny, padded footprints skipped about in the mud, heading towards caves to the east. Due to his lack of Worldian wildlife knowledge, he had no idea if he would be able to eat it, but the media stream would be able to tell him more about it when he brought it back to his ship. Just to be safe, Tybrik settled on the idea of hunting multiple indigenous beasts before returning.
Despite the darkness of night, it wasn’t too difficult to track the animals. Half a mile from his ship, he caught his prey. It turned out to be a strange, four-legged, cat-like chicken. It was doubtful that the beast was edible, but it had taken such a long time to find it and he was growing hungry. Tybrik set his firearm to stun, zapped it, and put the unconscious creature in his sack. If the data stream told him that it shouldn’t be eaten, he’d let t it go later.
Tybrik was about to begin tracking a three-toed animal when a light shone in his face. A man’s voice asked, “How ya doing, sir?”
Shielding his eyes, he replied in the planet’s vernacular, “Good week.”
The man changed the settling on his lamp and the brightness faded. Between the two of them, it almost looked as though it was day. Tybrik studied the man, who wore red and brown from head to foot. He knew he had seen that uniform before, but he couldn’t place it.
“I see you’ve caught something.” The man gestured at the cat-chicken with a frown. “I thought everyone knew that poaching is illegal this close to Golden Glacier Falls.” He seemed friendly enough, and yet there was a sternness to his voice. “Why don’t you let it go?”
Trying to appear cooperative, Tybrik holstered his firearm. “Sure. Sorry about that. It’s just that I’ve been lost out here for a couple days and haven’t had anything to eat.” He set the cat-chicken down and pulled his bag off his shoulders. If he had taken more than basic self-defense class like Haelon had recommended, he might have been more confident in taking out the tall, muscular stranger. As it was, his options were looking rather limited.
“Lost, huh?” The man in red and brown scratched at his chin. The motion exposed a rifle strapped to his side. “Who’d you come with?”
“I was with some friends up by the cliffs, but I foolishly went hiking by myself. I’m so glad that you found me. Now I don’t need to illegally poach this, ah, dear creature.” Discretely, Tybrik slipped a hand into his pack. He groped for the long tube he was only partially sure that he had packed as he continued, “This is probably too much to ask for, especially since I almost broke the law. But would you mind giving me a ride back to the city?”
The stranger smiled and nodded. “It’d be my pleasure. As a Viewer, it’s my duty to take care of people.” He turned and headed back the way he had come.
Casually strolling towards the man, Tybrik reached out and stabbed him with the needle he had found in his bag. “Sorry about that,” he whispered as the man convulsed. “I can’t have you tell anyone that I’m here. So you’ll wake up in an hour with no memory of meeting me. Take care!”
“Who are—” The Viewer slumped to the ground, unconscious.
Tybrik positioned the man into a napping position, grabbed the stunned cat-chicken, and headed back to his ship. Reluctantly, he moved further north and resent the message to Haelon with an update on his new, more remote location.
Settling into his chair, he searched the media stream for indigenous wildlife. Surprisingly, the animal he had caught was considered a delicacy on The World. As Tybrik ripped the fur off its flesh, his controls chimed. He searched the consul to find that someone was trying to reach him.
Both dreading and hoping that it was his sister, Tybrik accepted the call. The chimes stopped and the screen flashed as an elderly man appeared. Director Darsk simply stared for a moment, his bushy, white eyebrows wriggling as the man thought.
Unable to handle the awkward silence, Tybrik said, “Good evening, Director. Was there something I can help you with?”
Darsk fidgeted in his seat before replying, “I see that Haelon is late once again.”
“Oh, no. She’s here—on the planet.” Tybrik couldn’t believe that he was lying to the Director of the SCG. Haelon was going to owe him for not telling Darsk of her absence. “I sent her to do reconnaissance in the capital city. She should be back in a couple hours. I can have Haelon call you back if you needed to speak with her.” He thought of a more authoritative way to speak. “I mean, as mission leader, I’ll be happy to brief her on the operation details, since I’m her superior now.”
“Cut the hemming and hawing, Ty,” Darsk ordered with a huff. “Your sister has quite a reputation for arriving late. The other Committee members have a bet on when she arrives. Make sure you take note of when she finally shows up. I’ve got quite a bit of currency on the line. Do you understand me, Rep?”
Tybrik nodded before realizing that he probably should have saluted. His hand moved to his forehead, but then he thought that it might be too late to salute, so it probably looked as though he randomly smacked his head.
“Now, you’re probably wondering why I’ve sent you to the edge of nowhere without any direction.” Darsk scratched at one of his thick, white eye brows. “This is a highly classified mission and I didn’t want to risk anyone getting wind of it. With that said, I hope you’re smart enough not to publish updates on the server.”
“Of course, Director.” A top-secret operation on his first command? Something felt off, but Tybrik shoved those feelings down and focused on absorbing all the details he was told. “I thought it was a simple infiltration to prepare for an envoy—like the Handbook talks about.”
Darsk nodded. “That’s only part of your assignment. However, there’s more to it. There’s a reason that the Committee voted to send you and your sister to the Seytrin Galaxy. You have a personal stake in the outcome of the mission.”
The name Seytrin pinged in his brain. It had been buried down in the deepest places of his brain. As the word surfaced on his mind, it brought with it a plethora of uncomfortable feelings. Tybrik took a breath to calm himself before saying, “Wait. Seytrin is where—”
The Director nodded. “Yes. Blythe disappeared while on an assignment in Seytrin.”
“So, what? We’re supposed to look into Blythe’s disappearance?” Tybrik was more of an expert in research, while his sister’s skills tended more towards the physical side of the business. Neither had any background in forensics or investigation. It just didn’t make sense. But if the Committee deemed that they were the best people for the operation, then Tybrik was going to do his best to prove himself.
“Blythe isn’t the first Rep to disappear near Seytrin. I could have chosen a dozen others for this task. But you and Haelon have unique skill sets that I believe just might help us get intel on what has happened.”
Tybrik nodded. “You can count on us, sir.”
As the call ended, Tybrik wished he had said something more inspiring or brilliant. But as the Handbook taught him, there was no use in wishing he could do things over; he simply needed to focus on doing better the next time.
Moving to the other end of his ship, Tybrik put the raw flesh of the cat-chicken into an oven. He returned to the cockpit and browsed the mission information for the twentieth time. It was almost memorized word-for-word in his mind. He hoped that by continually studying it he might be able to come up with a concrete plan. Following the steps of the Handbook was good for creating structure of the mission, but it didn’t mean that he knew what he was doing.
Pushing away the fears of inadequacy, he checked on his meal. The stringy meat seemed ready. Juices splashed as he pulled it out of the oven. It smelled strangely appetizing despite its odd appearance.
While picking at his food, Tybrik turned to his next task: creating a believable cover identity. He researched the word, “Viewer,” and determined that they were the military force of The World. Since there was only one ruling body, there were no people for them to fight. So the Viewers were simply keepers of peace. Even though many seemed to be very formidable, most appeared to be nothing more than glorified body guards. It was the perfect role for Haelon. Tybrik created background information for his sister’s cover, resisting the urge to put humiliating stats into it.
As for him, Tybrik was uncertain which career he should try to imitate. He could have made himself a Viewer as well, but that might have limited the areas they would have access to. In the end, Tybrik set up a profile for himself as a butler. References were the most difficult thing to establish with covers, especially since all the prominent people on this planet knew each other. So he created a fake merchant family that recently had success selling second-hand items to the less-fortunate. After deleting some death certifications, he created identities for the entire household and support staff.
Satisfied with his work, he was about to get some sleep when his control screen chimed. Tybrik pressed a series of icons and an image of spaceship appeared. The scanners told him that Haelon’s ship had arrived in orbit, but he saw no signs of her. Zooming in, he identified the remaining hunks of his sister’s vessel.
Something metallic brushed against Haelon’s face and she was startled awake. She felt groggy and confused as she slowly processed her surroundings. A bright orange light blinked on the control panel and an urgent notice flashed across the screen. Haelon then realized that she was floating through the cockpit of her ship.
“How—” She rubbed her temple and felt something sticky. Her hand came away red. “Ugh. What happened?”
Pulling her petite body across the wide panel, she searched for the gravity switch. More lights illuminated the panel. Her head spun as she tried to isolate each image. All the colors merged together, making it difficult to tell one from the other.
Beeping added to the confusion. Haelon tied back her dark, tangled hair into a messy knot. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll see what you want as soon as my feet touch the floor.” Reading the words from such a high angle didn’t help the massive headache forming in her skull. But she focused on scanning the mass of buttons for the color and shape that she wanted.
“There you are!” She pushed off the view screen, flying to the other side of the cockpit. Her fingers grasped the blue lever before the rest of her body floated past it. Haelon pulled, but she didn’t have enough force since her feet were dangling free in the air. Readjusting so that her bare toes were planted firmly against the wall, she heaved until the blue bar moved to the on position.
The floor’s gravity apparatus resumed its function, causing Haelon to fall to the chilly floor. She landed painfully on a hip. Rubbing her sore behind, she stood and returned to the panel to assess her situation.
Oxygen levels were stable and holding, the engines still functioned, and there weren’t enemy ships nearby.
“So what’s the problem?”
Haelon understood that the computer wasn’t going to talk back. Her people had tried that once, but it had ended badly. So they banned artificial intelligences. However, speaking aloud helped her process her feelings and the situations that she had gotten herself into.
She tapped a series of buttons until the screen showed her that there had been an impact—a chunk of the hull was scraped away.
“Where’s that cursed hole?”
The minor opening could easily be fixed once she landed at her destination. However, the hole was over the cargo hold. Haelon slammed her fists on the controls; all of her food and water had been in there.
Taking a deep breath, Haelon muttered, “It’ll be ok. I’m almost there.” Oily, black strands fell out of her hair knot. She tucked them behind her ears and continued her conversation with herself. “I can get through this. I’ve been in worse situation. I’ll just have to find Tybrik quickly—hopefully before I die of hunger or thirst.”
Being positive made her sick to her stomach, adding to her discomfort. She wanted to have a fit and throw things across her cockpit. But her sense of survival was stronger than her need to have a tantrum.
The panel beeped as an image of a planet appeared on the screen. It was nothing special; she’d visited dozens of planets in her four years as an SCG Rep. Now if it had floating cities or had been overrun by the indigenous animals like other worlds she had been to, she might have been more excited. But this one merely had basic, Earth-like geography, and nothing else.
Another light blinked green, indicating an incoming message. Haelon tapped it and settled into her seat.
“…happy that you have chosen to visit us. Please make your way to Fleetship Castle. King Werkong and Queen Ylreha will be pleased to meet you. Enjoy your stay!” There was a minor pause before it continued, “Welcome to The World! We are happy that you have chosen to visit us…” The message repeated on a loop. Haelon punched the button to end the message—she didn’t need to hear it again.
Tybrik was most likely already on the planet. She tried to remember what the Handbook said about first visits to new planets. Whatever the protocol, her brother was sure to follow it to the letter. But Haelon had never been good at complying with the Space Colonization Guild’s guidelines; she preferred to complete her missions using intuition and logic.
“Think, Haelon. Thi—ow!”
Thinking too much made her head spin. She moved across the cockpit to find her medical box. Health basics had been a part of her training, but she rarely ever needed to treat herself. And it had been over four years since taking those classes. Haelon did the best she could to follow the instructions on the healing wrappers. She had to restart multiple times because she forgot to clean the wound before bandaging it, as well as missing the step to apply an antiseptic ointment.
There was one thing she knew how to use properly from the box; Haelon removed the stimulants and put the kit back into its drawer. Pocketing all but one, she stabbed her thigh with the needle. Instantly, she felt alert. She would have nearly-limitless energy for two hours. Sadly, though, it did nothing for her dry, cracked mouth. Trying to forget that she only had three more stims, she set about planning her next move.
She could send a message to the planet on a wide channel to determine Tybrik’s location, but the indigenous people would receive it as well and know where she was. Haelon wracked her brain and remembered about scrambling messages within a planet’s media stream. Her eyes searched for the right button amongst the blinking lights, only to discover that the scrambler had been knocked along with the cargo hold.
Her next idea consisted of landing on the planet at the outskirts of a city and stealing food. She set about preparing to leave the atmosphere.
“Don’t be broken. Please don’t be broken.”
There was a hiss followed by a clang. A hunk of twisted thrusters flew past her view screen.
“And there go my landing stabilizers.” Haelon ended the descent sequence with a sigh.
What made her maddest wasn’t the fact that her ship was useless, nor that she was without food or water. She hated that the SCG Committee put her little half-brother in charge of her. Haelon had worked tirelessly for four years, traveling to newly colonized planets and establishing a connection with the Guild and original After-Earth colonies. Haelon fueled that anger, which helped her keep hold of her last strand of consciousness.
Sure, her previous mission had ended with less than civil relations. But it wasn’t completely her fault. If the “Grand Warlock” of Egthandor didn’t want to be shot in the foot, then he shouldn’t have requested her to be his “Vampire Mistress.”
But Tybrik was straight out of his training. He hadn’t even been on a real mission yet. With him, it was all, “Follow the rules and everything will turn out alright.” Well Haelon’s experiences taught her that the Handbook’s guidelines didn’t always have the answers. Sometimes a Guild Rep had to depend on their instincts and respond accordingly.
Still, her intuition occasionally failed her. Like the situation she was currently in. Haelon was running out of options.
Reluctantly, she searched through the beacon network to see if Tybrik left her a gloating message about how he beat her to the planet. Still, if she could rewire her transmitter, it just might send him a distress signal. Haelon didn’t like the idea of being rescued by her half-brother, but she didn’t have much choice. She decided that she could play the overly-grateful sister, luring him into a false sense of superiority until she sprung her trap and got back the position of lead Representative.
For years, she had despised Tybrik. He was the illegitimate spawn of the woman who stole her father from her mother. But a few years after Ty was born, his mother was also left for a third woman. Such was the life of many SCG Reps—filling the loneliness of traveling from planet to planet with whomever they come in contact with. However, Haelon and Tybrik had always resented their father for his philandering ways.
In his defense though, he did try to make up for it by visiting a couple times a year and sending gifts. He even helped Haelon in her Guild training. As she reminisced about the good times with her father, her fatigue jumped to the memories that weren’t as pleasant. So she pushed them away and focused on the task at hand.
She had two messages in the beacon network. The first was from Tybrik. He left her some fretful message about how he is worried that she is dead. It might have been a more touching sentiment if it had come from anyone else, but she knew better than to think that he was really concerned for her safety. Haelon typed a quick note about the coordinates he had sent her before opening a recording from Director Darsk.
“Representative Haelon, I have reason to believe that you haven’t yet arrived at your post. I’d like to remind you that this is your last shot at redemption. One more mishap and I’ll have you cleaning washrooms the rest of your life. Now, report immediately to—”
Haelon ended the transition, not wanting to hear anymore. She hadn’t realized that Darsk’s previous reprimand was an ultimatum. Calling in and saying that her ship was a derelict would probably be the last nail in her metaphorical coffin. So she resolved to find a solution herself without the need of Tybrik to come save her.
Hunger was beginning to set in. There was something about knowing that she didn’t have any food that made her ravenously starving. It might have also been the stims in her body, breaking up what little fat she had into instant energy. In addition, her throat felt dry and dusty, making her coping mechanism of muttering to herself quite painful. But she focused at the pounding at her temple wound and the hunger didn’t seem as bad.
For hours, she went about addressing the blinking lights on the panel in front of her, all the while trying to formulate a decent plan for getting out of her mess.
Eventually, Haelon decided that her best bet was to use her telescopes to scan the regions around the main cities. She didn’t like it, but it was preferable to attempting a crash landing and infiltrating an unknown culture for a sip of water.