Monday, March 5, 2012

Stalwarts


In which we re-imagine a famous story from a slightly different point of view...

Belina was startled by the flash up in the sky and shaded her eyes as she looked up to see what it was. The bright dome of Toine's atmosphere nearly washed out the streaks of light, but they persisted in her vision for quite a few seconds; she knew it wasn't her imagination. But she could only imagine what those streaks of light meant.

A meteor burning up in the atmosphere? A satellite explosion? Or perhaps even ... a starship battle?

She yearned for it to be the latter. A space-battle, here! At Toine! Which was, in her estimation, the furthest place from anything of value in the galaxy. As the saying went, "If there's a bright spot in the galaxy, you're at the place farthest from it."

It was true, too. This was the dullest planet in the galaxy, at least in her estimation. And she was stuck with the dullest family on the planet, with the most boring occupation of all: trying to suck the moisture out of the desert in a vain attempt to grow something which might actually be edible.

It was far easier to create illicit drugs for the entertainment market than food for the public market; but her uncle, Lars, was an honest, upright citizen who paid his taxes, voted in all the local elections, and saw fit to give her lots of chores during her off-hours so that she didn't get into trouble. And Aunt Behry was just as straight-laced and ultimately boring as her farmer husband.

It was a curse, Belina was convinced. She had been cursed by the gods for all those wicked thoughts in her head, thoughts of escaping this ridiculous planet and becoming a star-pilot, zipping through the galaxy with a cargo hold full of spices and exotic foodstuffs which demanded high prices. And a crew of subservient males who acquiesced to her every whim.

She sighed. Might as well imagine a plant that didn't require twelve hours a day of care and feeding to keep it alive in this hostile environment. All the native plants on Toine were poisonous. Growing anything of value on this planet was a fool's dream.

Another burst of light from above caught her glance. This one was definitely a meteor; it cut a smooth arc across the sky, moving to the west towards the horizon. She watched the smoking tail lengthen until the tip disappeared over the top of the distant Hopeless Mountains. For a moment, she felt a strong urge to follow that trail to where the rock had landed, to see with her own eyes something that had traversed the long, cold vacuum of space. But she knew that would be impossible. She could not abandon her Aunt and Uncle when harvest time was so close.

Their very lives depended on her.

* *

The General stood nearly half a meter taller than any of his men. Dressed from head to toe in black, his body encased in armor, he gave off an aura of such threatening power that even his own troops' blood turned to ice water in their veins.

He held the rebel Captain in one hand, suspended above the deck of the ship. The Captain struggled for each breath.

"We have received information," the General said in a quiet but menacing rumble, "that you have obtained certain data files to which you are not authorized access."

"I - I don't know what - you - mean!" the Captain sputtered. "We have - many - data files!"

"Don't bandy semantics with me, Captain. You know what I seek."

"I'm - sorry - to - disappoint you ..."

"Not quite sorry enough. Yet." The General tossed the Captain to the floor. "Take him to Interrogation. We will discover the truth."

"Yes, General." Two of the troopers scurried to follow his orders. The General turned to his aide. "Have they found her yet?"

"No, General," the aide said, hesitating momentarily as he pressed a finger to the communications device embedded in his ear. "They have completed a sweep of sixty percent of the ship. They should be complete within ten minutes."

"Very good. When you find her, bring her to me in the Captain's quarters. I will establish a link there."

"Yes, sir."

"We must be very careful here, General," said the man in the gray who stood slightly behind him.

"I agree, Commander Veers," said the General without turning. He started down the corridor towards the Captain's quarters. Commander Veers followed slightly behind him.

"If word gets out that we have arrested the Queen, there will be a backlash in the Senate," Commander Veers said. "It may provoke further sympathy for the rebellion."

"We must move quickly, then," the General replied. "Are you certain there were no transmissions from this ship?"

"None, sir. She was jammed the moment we came in range."

"Very well. The Queen will tell us what we want to know. Although she might not survive the experience."


* *

Where to hide it? Where to hide it? The Queen raced through the lower cargo area, her mind struggling to maintain control over her emotions. She had known this was a possibility all along, but it was always different when the possible became the reality. She held the data chip in her hand, trying desparately to think of someplace to put it where it would be safe.

She assumed that the General would not destroy the ship. She assumed he would bring it back to The Core as a kind of prize to demonstrate his power and proficiency; if not him, then Commander Veers would likely keep it himself. So all she had to do, was to hide it somewhere on the ship where no one would think to look, and then get a signal to someone.

But who?

She thought of Ben again, and it was like a knife through her heart. How she longed to see him again! But he had made his choice, and she had made hers, and that was all long ago and far away. There was nothing to do for it now but keep moving on, she with her mission and he with his.

A maintenance robot appeared on the catwalk, evidently on some mission of its own, probably to clean up the mess from the battle. She hurried over to it.

"Stop!" she commanded. It beeped and became motionless.

"Open your storage hatch." A small compartment on the top of the robot slid open. She put the data chip inside. "Close the hatch." The compartment closed up again. She leaned in close to the robot.

"Secure hatch. Override code B4. Lock." The robot beeped. "Resume." The robot started moving down the catwalk again. She moved out of its way and stood and watched it until it had disappeared through a small access door behind her. Then she ran to the large doorway at the end of the catwalk and hit the button on the wall next to it.

The door slid open. Five troopers stood there with their guns pointed at her head.