Authors: Dhayaa Anbajagane
“Wait, Jake?” he asked.
Must be a coincidence
, he thought
, Can’t be the same Jake
“The guy who’s leading this mission, don’t you remember?” she asked.
Kai looked at her nervously. He thought he would blend in but he was getting blended instead.
“Oh well. You must've had a minor concussion. It seems to have messed up your memories.”
Kai sighed in relief. That was science, always stepping in to make a hypothetical conclusion, even if it was terribly inaccurate.
“I’ll fix you up when we get back,” she said and walked to the main bridge.
“So how exactly did I get here?” Kai asked, hoping he wouldn't arouse any suspicion.
“We had the drones search for any of our men caught in the storm,” Trisha said “You’re the only one we found though.”
Pangs of guilt sunk into Kai.
I hope the other maintenance crew guys made it back safely
, he thought.
He and Trisha walked through another door into a huge room teeming with people. There was a lot of commotion going around, and people were walking all around the place, chatting and muttering non-stop. Kai saw four huge screens hang from the center of the ceiling, each one facing outward in a square-like pattern. Below the screens were high tech computers arranged in a larger square, each one with a cadet about Kai’s age working on it.
“I thought we were supposed to heal some cadets,” Kai said.
“The entry to the bay is through that door,” she pointed to a metal door in the corner of the room, “This, on the other hand, is the main deck.”
Kai compared this huge room to the deck on the Orion. He liked that cozy space much better. He hoped the Orion had escaped the storm somehow. It should be fine since he had programmed it to orbit around Zygrade in case of dire emergencies, but that still didn’t shake off his uneasy feelings.
Trisha walked to the end of the room and placed her hand on the scanner next to the door. It slid open with a hiss, letting them through into the main bay.
“Dr. Trisha,” A stout man walked up to them. “We have a batch of cadets that are coming in for maintenance.”
Trisha scoffed, “You treat the cadets like they’re things, Corporal,” she said.
“You treat them how you want to, and I’ll treat them how I want to,” the man smirked. “Just fix them up.”
“Very well,” she stormed out of the bay with Kai trying hard to keep pace with her. “What I would do to take these stupid people down a peg,” she muttered under his breath.
Kai smiled. He had found a weak link on this ship.
Line. Hit. Sinker.
Chris didn’t have any time to worry that Kai had left her all on her own.
The enemy General walked to the middle of the camp, “Cadets! Fall in line!” his voice blared.
She picked herself up and scampered to join the file the cadets had formed. She noticed that there were close to five thousand of them. That was already much superior to the strength Aliea Academy had, and she didn’t even know if this was the only camp the enemy had stationed. It was highly likely there were more camps of the same kind. Aliea might be up against a force of twenty thousand for all she knew.
She noticed that the metal sphere wasn't at camp anymore. She took confidence in the fact that no one had made a big deal out of it, and convinced herself it wasn’t a nuclear bomb. Kai must have been wrong. All that did though, was remind her that she couldn’t talk to Kai until the activity at the camp ceased. Her communication line to him was open at all times, but she decided to talk to him only when she could guarantee no one else would eavesdrop on them.
“Forward march!” the General yelled and the formation walked up to the main door. “Open the doors!”
The heavy doors slowly opened, and light, something that Chris had not seen for a long while now, entered the camp like a ray of hope. But instead of feeling buttery warmth on her skin, she felt cold piercing needles dig into it. She looked at her arms and saw small crystals of ice buried in it. She brushed them off with her hand, her fingers almost freezing from touching their coldness. But then it got worse.
Gusts of wind, hail and rain burst into the camp, washing and blowing everything away. The scenery turned into a pure white canvas of snow. A huge blizzard had started right inside Aliea. Chris could feel her hands trembling, whether it was from fright or from the cold she didn't know. She couldn't understand how a storm like this got inside Aliea Academy in the first place. It wasn't possible. The force field was supposed to prevent things like this from ever happening.
Did these people take the force field down
? she wondered.
“Close the doors! Close, close, close!” the General yelled.
Chris couldn't help letting out a chuckle after watching the short stocky man run around in a fit. She had originally planned to ditch the camp and rendezvous with Kai back on the mothership but that seemed a pretty bad idea right now.
“What’s with this weather?” A girl came over and asked Chris. She, like most of the other enemy cadets, was around the same age as her. Chris found it unsettling that people this young would sign up for such a cause, but she was pretty sure none of them even knew what they were fighting for in the first place.
“You there?” The girl asked.
Chris snapped back, “Yeah, I’m sorry. What were you saying?”
“It’s nothing,” she shook her head. “I’m Lisara, by the way.”
“I’m Chris,” she smiled.
“I haven’t seen you around a lot, did you just enlist?”
Chris panicked, but she made sure her face didn’t show an ounce of it. “I was on the maintenance team for a long time. Just got shifted to camp,” she said.
“Wow, from maintenance to the battle sector. What were you doing in the maintenance sector anyway if you had enough skill to end up in this place?”
“Must have been some assignment problem.”
“Yeah, we do have a big bunch of idiots,” she chuckled.
Though everything seemed cheerful and normal, Chris worried about how long she would be able to keep her identity hidden. At some point in time, these people were going to find out who she really was and she wasn’t betting on receiving a warm welcome after that.
Chris looked through one window at the world outside. No, she couldn’t even call it a world anymore. It was a nightmare of disasters. It was a piece of land left to be tormented by nature’s devils.
“Afraid?” Lisara sat next to her, her red hair drawn into a ponytail. Her grassy-green eyes darted between the window and Chris.
“No, I just think it’s kind of sad to see something like this being ripped apart by nature.”
“Don’t worry about it too much, if I were you, I’d be more worried about what’s for dinner,” she said.
Chris raised an eyebrow.
“Seriously, some of the stuff is downright poisonous,” Lisara sounded grim.
Chris smiled. This girl was like a little kid; excited, bubbly and had absolutely no sense of the seriousness of the situation.
“Well, at least I saw you smile,” she said happily, “Lots of people were wondering if you would ever smile.”
Chris blushed. She hated embarrassing moments like these. People always said she never smiled.
The General interrupted, “Everyone, attention please,” he said. “I want you all in a single file.”
“What’s his deal?” Chris mumbled. “Are we going to try to get out again?”
“Hopefully not. This weather would probably kill us.”
The girls formed one line with the boys doing just the same on the opposite side of the General.
“Cadets,” the General’s eyes scanned everyone in the room, piercing through their very being, “We have an intruder.”
Taylor prepared herself as the Orion approached the Dark Knight’s sub-territory, Dryke.
The planet had a shade of terrifying black, its very color radiating a sort of warning to all those who wished to tread upon it. Streams of red and blue ran across the darkness, radiating intense colors over the surface.
, she realized.
Dryke was littered with volcanoes, and so the planet had many lava-filled rivers and lakes. Lava was traditionally red of course, but if it got hot enough it could turn bright blue.
She programmed the Orion to land on the planet. The ship shook a bit as it changed course and then dived down. A few minutes into their descent, the surface of Dryke came into view. It was rocky and coarse, like a jagged piece of earth. Large rocks littered the surface and sharp spikes sprouted out everywhere. Landing would be close to impossible. If the Orion were to land in one piece that is.
Taylor was pondering the landing issue when she heard a few blasts. She looked outside the window to see red laser beams from the Orion blast the rocks and pillars. It blasted away until there was a patch of land all smooth and level.
Automated landing system
, Taylor thought. The Orion sure had some cool software. The ship touched down onto the temporary landing site and the door slid open.
She set the Orion to ‘Fortress’ mode, which meant it was allowed to use any attack mechanism to protect itself from invaders.
Taylor walked out the door and down the stairwell. She took a few steps on the smooth temporary landing surface. The Orion had made it powdery and fine, like the sand on a beach. The planet itself was quiet and calm and the air around Taylor was completely still, not a trickle of wind brushed past her armor.
She walked her first few steps tenderly, trying to make sure her suit was completely functional. When everything seemed okay she shot forward at an amazing speed, dodging the rocks and pillars with expert maneuverability. The tailwind she left kicked the powdery dust into the air as she sped across the terrain, her legs moving faster and faster.
She hadn't travelled a mile when her suit suddenly powered down. Her legs cramped up and she slammed into the ground. Her suit’s dark aura receded until there was nothing. She went into battle mode and her instincts took over immediately.
Need to get to higher ground
. she thought. She climbed up one of the larger rocks and stared into the gaps between the tall stone pillars that shrouded her. If there were an enemy they had to be in there.
A dark haze de-camouflaged itself from the darkness between the pillars. Taylor unsheathed her sword and pointed it at the unworldly presence, hoping her dark blade would give it second thoughts about attacking her. She was about to charge when someone grabbed her from behind. She felt two hands digging into her shoulders as she desperately tried to loosen their grasp.
“Let…Go…Of…ME!” she used her free arm to pull the hands off her and flung her assaulter to the ground.
More enemies emerged from the shadows of the rocks and surrounded her in an offensive circle. They had suits that were just like hers, dark and fear-instilling. Taylor realized immediately that they were all Dark Knights.
“She’s a Dark knight as well,” one of them said.
“We’d better take her to the Empress.”
One of them walked up to her. “Come,” he said.
Taylor knew it was best to obey. It wasn't like she was an intruder but she knew it was in everyone’s best interest that she listen to them. She sheathed her sword and let the Knights escorted her.
She didn’t get why they had attacked her in the first place. She wasn't an intruder. Maybe they questioned her authenticity, but she really didn't think that was likely. She sighed as she looked at her suit. She preferred its rich black color to the now dull, dark gray.
She figured these Knights had used some cloaking shield that interfered with her suit and stopped it from functioning. She walked along with the Knights towards a stone castle. It was a simple structure, with four pillars, one at each corner, and a high brick wall. A large wooden door defined the entrance. Though it was just wood, Taylor could almost sense its impenetrability.
A mechanical voice breached the air as they headed to the door. “
Energy scan completed. Welcome Dark Knights.
The door opened and they headed inside. The inner walls were made of dark grayish bricks and were covered by red banners filled with paintings of knights and dark-skinned dragons. The floor lay beneath a red carpet that ran over the whole of the pathway.
They headed to the end of the corridor and stopped in front of a smaller door, about three times her height in size. One of the Knights walked inside alone. Taylor waited outside with the rest of the Knights.
“Why must you capture me?” she asked them. She didn’t know these people personally, but the familiarity of being a Dark Knight might help her get some answers.
“Beats me,” one of them said. “Razy just ordered us to, and you know what happens if we don’t obey him.”
“Razy,” Taylor muttered. She knew
He was one of the Dark Knights’ strongest warriors, and judging by this Knight’s willingness to talk about him, he was probably the one who had headed through the door. Taylor had hated that guy from the very beginning. He was an arrogant Knight who had a particular thing for making her life miserable.
“Shhh,” another Knight shushed everyone. “Razy will kill you if he finds out you said that.”
“Why would I kill him?” the Knight walked out the door.
, Taylor glared.
He turned to her, “You may enter,” he said.
She followed Razy through the door and into the royal chamber. The chamber was more spacious than the rest of the castle. It had incredibly high ceilings, and wide walls. Two pieces of giant knight armor were situated on either side of the door.
At the end of the room was a high throne. Seated on the throne was a girl around Taylor’s age. The girl had long black hair that almost reached the floor. Her robes were as black as darkness and were decorated sprinkles of white that resembled the stars. Shades of purple, blue and violet danced around the bottom of her robe. Taylor noticed a black ring on her finger, which contrasted greatly against her pale white skin.
This was the Empress of the Dark Knights, and it wasn’t an overstatement to say she looked like a Commander of Death.
“Come forth, Taylor Quasar,” she stood.
Razy stayed behind while Taylor walked up to the Empress, and knelt before her. The Empress lifted her up by her shoulders.
Taylor grinned, “Could we just scoot to the topic?”
“Thank god,” the Empress sighed. “I really don’t have the voice to do all that epic monologuing.”
Taylor chuckled. This was their real Empress. Her name was Andrea, and she was the leader of all the Dark Knights. She was only a year older than Taylor. So, at seventeen, being the head of such an organization was a pretty big feat.
“So what’s the problem?” Andrea asked. “I didn’t think you would come back here.”
Taylor bit her lip, not happy with what the empress had mentioned. “Dire circumstances make the avoidable a necessity,” she said. “My academy is under attack.”
“Aliea is being attacked?” she seemed surprised. “By whom?”
“I still don’t know that,” she bit her lip. “They came in with a huge warship and broke through the Aliea dome.”
Andrea was surprised, “Only our best ship would be able to achieve something like that,” she said.
“Exactly. Where can someone get such a powerful ship?”
“You don't get a ship like that. It is built slowly, upgrading it with parts one at a time.”
“So we’re dealing with a seasoned expert.”
“Most likely yes.”
“Okay. This is what I need,” Taylor said. “You know as well as I do the position Aliea holds with regard to the Dark Knights. Over time we’ve outsourced more cadets to you than any other Academy.”
“Okay, okay,” Andrea complained. “I regret not coming to Aliea with you. Just don’t stick it in my face okay?”
“I need a battleship,” Taylor managed to say. She could hear Razy’s muffled laughter as he tried to remain professional. Andrea on the other hand was completely stunned.
“Taylor,” she said. “You do understand that the Dark Knights are at war as well.”
“WHAT?” Now it was Taylor’s turn to be stunned, “War? With whom?”
“Our ancient enemies.”
“We had Ancient enemies?”
“The White Knights,” Andrea said.
“Why wasn't I called in for this battle?”
“We cannot call one who does not wish to return, Taylor,” Andrea looked at her painfully.
Taylor stood silently. She didn't know what was worse; that she didn’t feel anything or that she didn’t know what to feel.
“Taylor, I am sorry,” Andrea’s face turned remorseful. “I can't help you, or Aliea. I must save all our resources for this battle.”
“How did this war start all of a sudden?”
“Evil things are starting to stir,” Andrea said.
“That is all you need to know,” she said. “Knowledge can be deadly.”
All that did though, was make Taylor worry about the severity of what was going on. The better a secret was kept the bigger the problem turned out to be.
“I apologize for this,” Andrea said. “But you must go back to Aliea and help without our aid.”
“I speak out of turn, your majesty, but heed this,” Razy paused. Taylor rolled her eyes. Razy had always had a flair for drama. He continued, “Aliea Academy is lost forever. The Zeus has been activated.”
Andrea’s eyes widened. She stumbled over her throne. “The Zeus,” she mumbled.
Taylor was stunned as well. She knew what the Zeus could do. Named after the Lord of the Skies, the Zeus, when used the right way, could destroy all the life on a planet. She thought about her friends. Every single one of them was back on Zygrade. They might have survived the initial detonation of the Zeus but the worst thing about the weapon was what came after.
“Taylor,” Andrea said. “It will serve you better if you come with us.”
Taylor stared at her, “I’m sorry, what?”
“Guards!” the Empress yelled out. “Capture this Knight!”
In seconds the guards had responded to the throne room and cuffed Taylor with energy bonds. It all happened so suddenly that she had no idea what was going on.
She looked at the Empress, “But why?” she asked.
Andrea sat there on the throne. Taylor could see that it pained her to do this.
“Aliea cannot be saved,” she said and waved her hand, signaling for the guards to lock her away.
Taylor fought and struggled to get free but the guards had her in a vice grip. She gave up and looked in disgust at her Empress. “I thought you were my friend,” she yelled as she was taken out of the throne room.
The guards stopped by a small room. They made Taylor surrender her armor and provided her with a sleeveless black silk dress. She hated wearing such formal clothing. It made her feel all uncomfortable and weird.
“How am I supposed to kick someone in this dress?” she mumbled.
To make matters worse, she was under house arrest. She was allowed to go around the palace freely, but she couldn't step outside the walls.
She looked out the window at the dull, dark scenery. Her mind felt just as dull. Her closest of friends had just locked her up and prevented her from saving the place that she loved, from saving the people that she loved. She knew Andrea was quite stubborn with her decisions so there was no way she was changing her mind anytime soon.
“You look very nice in that dress,” Razy walked up to her, still in his dark armor.
“Get out of here,” Taylor said in an ice cold tone. She didn't have the patience to deal him.
“C’mon, Taylor, is that how you act towards an old friend?” Razy smiled.
“Now,” Taylor threatened. She used her Elementa, the Elementa of Dark Energy, and a black flame emerged over her outstretched hand.
Razy held his hands up, “Okay, okay, I’m going,” he said and rushed out.
Taylor closed her palm, smothering the flames between her fingertips. A small smile escaped her lips, “Gets them every time.”
Q zoomed along the Universe with Burke. Though he knew the location of the Lambda Driver, it was a long way out. It would take them quite a while to get there.
“You must be careful,” Burke said. “The ones who could bring my Lambda Driver here cannot be simpletons. I think we’re dealing with a dangerous group here.”
“It’ll be fine,” Q said.
“So how much longer until we get there?”
“Can’t really tell,” he said. His Q-maps didn’t let him know how fast they were travelling. It was still adjusting to the Anti-verse. The energy suit’s white light flickered, and Q grasped his heart. His breathing became heavy and his eyes were bloodshot again.