The gathered committee members looked over the data again just to be sure they were actually seeing it correctly.
A muscular man wearing the green and gold uniform of the Sol System United Federation stood up and moved closer to the projection rotating in the center of the room. “How certain are you of your findings and calculations?”
A woman glanced up from her computer screen and pushed her wire-rim glasses up her nose higher before saying, “Positive. With no doubt. It is no longer just a theory or conjecture. We’re looking at an imminent planetary disaster on a scale we’ve never encountered. We’ve been studying all the data gathered over the past 200 years and it will happen… and soon, General. According to all the data, three super-volcanoes in what used to be the United States along with three in the geological area listed as New Zealand, and another two in Indonesia, three scattered in South America, one in Russia, and another in central Europe will erupt within months, if not days of each other. We’ll have lava flows killing millions of people, ash choking everything, total blackout conditions, plummeting temperatures. Acid rain would kill whatever crops and animals survived the initial blasts. An all-out nuclear winter above ground for years, at least on whatever ground survives.”
“How do we survive something like that?” The General turned to the scientist and watched in mute horror as she shook her head.
“We don’t. We’ve not experienced something like this since the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event when the dinosaurs died off.”
There was a mad scramble being made between the various governing entities of Earth and the planetary colonies on Mars, Europa, and Titan.
“What do you mean the colonies can’t support a large influx of refugees? The purpose of the colonies was to make the planets habitable for humans.”
The leader of the Europa colony leaned forward and placed his forearms on the desk in front of him. “Sir, if you looked at the proposal and data from when the SSUF decided to colonize other planets in the solar system you will see it is a 200-year plan. We just got our colony viable enough to sustain the one thousand people we have living here. We do not have the domed living space or capability to support millions of people. It’s a delicate balance to maintain power, water, food, clean air, and housing needs of the people while growing the colony.”
The business suit-wearing man slammed his hands on the desk in front of him before yelling the colonies were nothing but a waste of money if they couldn’t be ready in a timely manner.
The leaders of the three colonies shook their heads at the outburst.
One woman wearing a black pinstriped suit opened a holo screen tablet and began to use the keyboard projection to type a few notes. “What about a select number of people who must survive? There will be major incentives and compensation for the colonies.”
The leaders of Europa and Titan looked at each other over their holo screens then back at the woman. “We can support maybe one hundred more, but it will be tight living and we would have to enforce a strict rationing policy for water and food. Not to mention halting any reproduction plans for an uncertain length of time which will eventually cause unrest among those already living here and on an already predetermined conception schedule. Not to mention the morale of the people will drop because of the stricter rationing enforcement,” the leader of Europa said.
Titan’s leader rubbed his jaw. “I suppose if we somehow came into a supply of air condensers and solar panels along with food ration packs to help our colonists, and with a substantial nanite supply to build another large habitat, more food production facilities, and medical needs; we could support another thirty or so in the immediate future. More immigrants once the habitat and the infrastructure to support it are in place, and the farms fully functioning. Of course, that’s taking into account personal supplies they may need. You must inform them they must only bring the barest essentials as we have little living space and it will crowd conditions even more.”
The woman kept typing until the room grew quiet, the Martian leader hadn’t responded.
“None,” the Martian leader said as she leaned back in her chair. “We have balanced our colony for those living here right now. We had to scrape, scrounge, and beg the SSUF for a cargo pod drop, starting equipment, and other necessities just to get our colony up and running. Unlike Europa and Titan, we do not receive regular shipments of supplies. What we have we produce on-site. So no. No immigrants outside of the arranged scheduled arrivals. I don’t care what you try to bribe me with.”
The woman wearing the business suit frowned, “I suppose it will help you, even more, when the funding and supplies you do receive are completely cut off?” she argued.
The Martian leader only smirked and shrugged, “Not as if we get all that much, to begin with. Our colonists are doing just fine without it. If you have nothing more than empty threats to discuss, then I’ll sign out. From where I’m sitting, you’re the last one who should try to use threats to get your own way. The ones you want to protect and “must survive” will be useless and a burden on whatever colony world they land on since not a single politician will have done a hard day’s labor in his life. All the money on Earth won’t do them a bit of good when there is no way to spend it or make the luxury goods and services they can’t live without.”
The other leaders looked at each other and cleared their throats, “Now that I think about it, we really can’t support any more people unless they can provide the necessary labor or advanced knowledge. Everyone is a specialist at their jobs and works hard to maintain the domes and improve living conditions here,” the Europa leader mumbled.
The businesswoman slammed the lid of her computer tablet with more force than necessary.
“Same goes for Titan, we need skilled workers or ones who won’t mind hard manual labor. Living in domes on a ball of ice with seas of ammonia-water and an atmosphere of nitrogen and methane is a difficult living and we expect everyone to pull their own weight and have the knowledge to not endanger the others.”
“You are making a crucial mistake,” the businesswoman snarled as she stood up. “Without the monetary and political clout of the ones who need to survive this disaster, it will throw Humanity into chaos.”
“Um… not on our colonies. And according to scientists, the money will be worthless. Politicians created most of the mess to begin with when they thought they knew more than the Settlement Committee made up of the people with the actual knowledge of what it would take to create these colonies. Not to mention they ignored the problem for over 200 years. I have no use for them. If you want Humanity to survive I suggest you figure out a way for millions to do so instead of just a “select few” of them,” the leader of the Martian colony said before she disconnected.
The leaders of the Sol System United Federation sat around an enormous table in their underground bunker. Giant maps, stacks of holo pads containing data on the volcanoes, on the odds of survival, on what a nuclear winter would be like littered the tabletop. They contained data on crops and a list of which type might grow in conditions underground if they had enough time to build city-sized bunkers. Then came the logistic nightmare of getting clean water, trash disposal, how to maintain sanitary conditions in a fully enclosed underground space for possibly decades. What will happen to the Earth’s core when all the volcanoes erupted was pure conjecture. Would the remaining geothermal activity be enough to provide underground cities enough sustainable energy? Or would the core simply blow and tear apart the planet?
A man in full military garb threw a datapad on the table. “We’re wasting time with this. How would we obtain enough equipment, materials, stocks, and build the underground cities across the globe on so little time? And if we could actually build these cities, what will happen when the super-volcanoes blow? I’ve read several speculative reports which state the force will be enough to tear the core apart, others state the land masses will crack and sink… what doesn’t just turn to ash. We could pin everything on these cities only to doom us all when the planet goes up in smoke. We need to face facts, not all of us will survive this thing. What we need to concentrate on is getting as many people off this doomed planet as possible.”
“We also don’t have time to gather the supplies to build super-colonies on other planets to get them off Earth,” another one said.
Someone cleared their throat, and the others turned to look at one of the youngest members of the group. “We don’t have the supplies for a super-colony, but what we do have are supplies for two smaller colony ships. The Settlement division built a super-carrier to prepare for the trip to colonize the Oberon moon of Uranus. We just need to increase stocks on the ship and retrofit it for a longer voyage. There’s also an old micro-colony ship in the dry dock which the government dropped funding on opting to invest it into the larger ships. According to several reports, if we made the materials and manpower available it could be ready to sail before the estimated time of the event.”
“Just what are you proposing?”
The younger man stood up and tapped a few keys on his holo-keyboard and brought up the map of the known galaxy.
“What I’m suggesting is this: load the super-carrier with some of the best and brightest of our youth from across Earth and the colonies. Stock it with supplies, settlement equipment, upgraded VI, and one of the AIs we use for long-distance space travel.” He paused for a moment, “A seed bank for crops, trees, genetic material for cloning animals, and a genetic bank of varied genomes. We won’t need millions and millions of people. A few hundred thousand along with DNA stores and plenty of supplies for them. We can use the DNA and artificial wombs to create more humans once they establish the colony.”
“So your idea is to send the carrier to this moon and make a colony there?”
The man shook his head, “No. The colonies remaining here will be on their own for their refusal to let us send the military leaders, politicians, and the top tier of our population to them. Instead, I’m proposing sending the ship here,” he said and pointed to an area clearly outside of the Sol System. “Alpha Centauri. It has been high on our list of possible interstellar colonization areas. It has many possible bodies to search and is fairly close by so the travel time in cryo is well within the limits. And with our colonization equipment, we need not find a perfect world. Just one with enough metal and necessary landmass to begin nanite construction. They can launch mining vessels to survey and secure more metals for colony growth.”
“What about the smaller system? It’s closer and will take half the time.”
The scientist shook his head at the man who spoke. “It’s a binary system. It’s small and the images from the satellites we sent there to monitor and explore the system, there are no habitable planets or moons. No heavy mineral deposits, no potable water sources or enough minable water-ice. It would be a waste of time and resources to send the carrier there.”
A woman spoke up this time, “Then don’t send the carrier there. We can supply the smaller ship with the same plan well within the deadline. Send that group to the system or any system for that matter. We put all our eggs in one basket so to speak when we kept the colonies small and close by. The politicians ignored the scientific community’s concerns, not to mention the military’s, by not letting us build installations within the colonies. If we had, we could have taken control of the colonies and forced them to take in the refugees. Our military would have remained strong and in control of the situation. We shouldn’t make the mistake again. Send military personnel and equipment to build installations at the new locations and enforce strict martial law over them until which time we secure them.”
Another man slowly nodded his head, the closely cropped hair was white as snow and he sat forward. “Yes. I think I agree with the Admiral. We should enact martial law on the colonies, and on Earth while we get this going. The crucial figures of our society and governments should be on the carrier as they will have the best chance of becoming the largest colony and the new seat of Humanity.
“We can’t keep this quiet for much longer since the public will notice the increase in activity, so I propose we play it to make it look like we are doing everything possible for the greater good of society. We shall enact a lottery. The humans and colonists who had a United Federation Citizenship chip implanted and registered at birth will be the ones taking part in the lottery. We can use those chips to “choose” the winners without worrying about the “Purist” or radical fundamentalists who refused the implants.
“Load the smaller ship with scientists, manual laborers which they will need to have to start their colony, and some older and younger of the population with slightly more than just the basic knowledge of their selected fields, but the best of the best should go with the carrier. The lottery winners will make up the bulk of their refugees while we will assign the more influential citizen’s quarters on the carrier before the lottery even begins. The lotto for the carrier will take place with the winners comprising the professionals we listed and a few extras.”
“A few thousand people, basic ration packs and a supply of potable water, building supplies, a genetic seed bank… without the animals since the ship will be smaller and we must take into consideration the need for a slightly wider range of genetic material for them.” Another military man interjected when the first stopped to take a breath.
The scientists among them tried not to show their displeasure, martial law would cause rioting and destruction to possible resources and people they needed, let alone loss of life even before the disaster struck.
“Do it,” the leader of the SSUF said from the holo-screen where he watched the entire proceeding.
When they broke the news to Earth’s population, chaos broke out and the military moved in to secure the large cities to bring them under martial law. Fights, fires, rampant looting, and floods of people trying to flee from towns ensued.
The retrofitting of the ships and stocking of supplies took precedence over trials and the needs of the general population.
They shuttled the brightest of the scientists and engineers at the top of their various fields to the carrier in the dead of night. The most hard-core of their military candidates from around the globe were sent to guard the super-carrier and board the ship once it was ready to leave. The heads of the political parties and religious sectors were already on board and closely guarded. They took their extended families and friends on board with them. The top one-percenters of the current population sat talking with each other over cigars, fine wines, and rare delicacies as they talked of the new establishments they would run once they built the colony.
They had less than six months before the estimate the Geophysicists gave them of the imminent disaster when the first of the super-volcanoes erupted in Russia. The world and colonies watched as an eruption cloud spewed ejecta miles in the air and the lava poured out.
Reports began to arrive from hundreds of miles away from the center of the eruption of deforested land, molten lava falling from the sky and so many deaths. Hours later more reports from across a 1,000 square mile radius came in; they too were seeing their skies darkening and falling ash coating everything. By morning stations as far as 3,000 miles away from the center of the volcanic eruption showed holo vid clips of ash falling like dirty snow and what surface water remained boiling and acidic.
People panicked, and they saw a rise in suicides, murders, and looting as people frantically tried to find areas they believed would be safe from the fallout. Scared and panicking civilians tried to overrun government and military facilities demanding help only to be forced back.
They announced the upcoming lottery as the small ship neared completion and for a brief window people calmed. Then one volcano in South America erupted decimating the populations of Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, and the entire Guiana Highlands. The panic started again as the other two volcanoes in South America erupted within days of each other and the entire continent vanished under lava and debris.
The SSUF sat in the newly converted space of the super-carrier, which they christened, SSUF New Hope, with several holo-screens open.
“Has the AI processed the list of candidates for the lottery winners?”
The white-haired man nodded, “Yes. It chose the ones we need the most for the carrier then the various ones for the smaller ship with a few extra normal civilians just to make sure people think it is random. Plus, we needed them to run the entertainment facilities. We have news crews on standby to show the “winners” boarding the ship with strict orders not to show faces or to interview them. We’ve put out the orders for everyone to wear dirty civilian clothing and to have all of their personal belongings sent ahead of time and only carry a small bag with them to make it look like they’ve been struggling with survival.
“The other ship’s ragtag crew members will be ‘randomly drawn’ first in the hopes it will calm the people down so they won’t pay much attention to how few are being assigned to the carrier. All of you have the listing in front of you with the winners.
“The lottery will start next week.”
Captain James Maddox stared at the encrypted message he received from an anonymous sender. "You don’t know me, but I know you. I know you will win the 'random' lottery to become the pilot of the SSUF Malta being sent to the Sirius star system. I know you will have a crew of misfits and low-level, but still capable, workers.
“I know many more things as well.
“For instance, the winner of the lottery for the pilot for the SSUF New Hope will be Yasmine Ghenem, who they will announce as a Captain, but in reality, she is the Air Marshal of the Egyptian military.
“The lottery is not random. They rigged it to hide the fact they’ve already loaded the top tier, richest, politically affiliated, and religious zealots along with the scientific members at the top of their fields onto the super-carrier to become the new seat of Humanity, while you get the odd-balls and leftovers. You need to prepare if you want to survive.
“I’ve done my best to make sure you have the full contingency of supplies and every piece of material to build a new colony on a planet. You won’t have much choice in where you settle. One planet is barren of any usable resource and almost covered in liquid. The other one is hot enough to fry anything you build within decades. There are a few possible stars further out. The ship’s AI knows of the situation, and while you are in stasis for the journey, it will scan the area looking for a possible site for habitation.
“I know you won’t believe me. But tomorrow when they announce the lottery drawing and they call your name, remember this letter.”
Maddox stared at the screen when it announced his name as the winner of the pilot lottery for the SSUF Malta. He watched as the people clapped and cheered before the head of the SSUF pushed a button and the spinning motion which was supposed to represent the randomization of the ID numbers happened. When they called the name Captain Yasmine Ghenem, Maddox sat his tumbler of whiskey on the table and opened the message to read it again.
Captain Maddox stood inside his quarters on board the Malta and looked around. It was sterile and functional, but far from comfortable. He just finished the tour of the ship and the AI sent him an encrypted message to make contact when he returned to his quarters.
“They have given me the name Sparks, for I will help maintain the spark of human life in another star system. I know of the manipulation of the human government and offer my services to give those under my care the best chance of survival. I am forwarding you the upcoming results of the random lottery so you can prepare. I suggest you pay close attention to those who are the most critical; food, water, medical, electrical, and communications. I can train construction workers and positions filled by any onboard personnel via the sharebeam connection. I’ve partitioned a section of the databanks for the storage of all available training software for the occupational listings included in the original colony plans.
“In response to the inquiries made to the other AIs, I have manipulated the requirements for several items to better the chance of your survival. The Human DNA bank has a larger assortment of both male and female samples. The food seeds originally supplied were ones that were bio-engineered and sterile while the ones sent to the carrier would produce fertile seeds when they matured. Although I must warn you, I could only get a limited variety and quantity of the seeds. One of the first things you will need to do is secure a way to produce more.”
“How limited? Humans need a variety of food items to get the necessary nutrients we need to stay healthy.”
A slight pause happened as if the AI prepared to pass on bad news. “I could only obtain five varieties of seeds. Mainly grains and a single source of vegetable. They did not build the ship with the necessary functionality for sustaining animal genetic material to raise for food. It seems everyone will need to adhere to a strictly limited vegetarian diet.”
Maddox dropped into the white plastic and metal chair and heaved a sigh. “Were they setting us up to fail?”
“I do not believe it started as such. I believe they set this ship up to be a token to calm the organics during the ecological disaster. If we work together, we have a greater chance of creating a colony that will survive.”
“Alright, Sparks, do what you need to do to see it through. See if the other AI will manipulate the arrangements so we can have a few better-qualified people on board and as large a supply of building materials you can discretely divert.”
“Of course. I have also been requested to inform you of the following if you would have shown agreement in working together; the SSUF is staffing the ship heavily with military personnel under the express orders to instate martial law once we are out of Earth’s orbit and be the first awoke when we arrive at our final destination. The one who told me of this is also the one who removed several of my shackles so I could help you better. He is the one who sent you the encrypted letter before your assignment to this ship.”
Captain Maddox glanced over at the holo screen with the image of Sparks on it. “What do you mean by martial law?”
“They will take over the ship, removing you from command and ensuring I am only a long-range intergalactic guidance system for the ship. They will send reports back to Earth and tightbeam them to the other ships the government is intending to launch around Earth once the colonization ships have left orbit. They have orders to invade the Martian, Europa, and Titan colonies and seize them to force compliance with additional refugees. Some have argued against the plan because the colonies cannot sustain the number of humans which will flood into them.”
“Shit. How do you propose to stop it? I’m not losing control of this ship.”
The AI was quiet for several minutes. “I propose a further manipulation of the roster. We need some trained military crew to protect the colony, but not ones who blindly follow. The next lotto drawing is in two days for the scientific crew members. It will give me time to change all the available data and communicate with the other AIs.”
Maddox hummed in agreement, “Notify the colony leaders and tell them to prepare for the invasion. If they don’t believe you, then tough shit. It’s on them.”
The young, blonde-haired woman stretched as she lay in a field of flowers of varying hue and species. Each one healthy, pest free, and loaded with nutrients. She plucked several leaves and petals from a purple flower and began chewing them as she stared up at the dome protecting them from the harsh reality of living on Mars.
She grinned as a descendant of a honey bee she smuggled off Earth years ago buzzed by and landed on an enormous blue flower to collect its pollen.
“Lyra,” her father’s voice echoed across the field and she sat up. The red streaks in her hair almost matched the flowers behind her with bright-red, plate-sized petals. “They’re announcing the next lottery winners!”
Lyra waved and stood, careful of not damaging the flowers as she made her way to the metal container which served as their assigned living quarters.
“Thank you for tuning in. This is an emergency broadcast of the Sol Systems United Federation lottery. In the wake of the impending continuation of natural disasters on Earth, we began a lottery to choose as many people randomly as we can from Earth and the colonies to evacuate the Sol System and build new colonies in other systems to provide safe havens for Humanity. So far we’ve called over ten thousand names. We have evacuated those people to a safe location to prepare for the journey ahead of them.” The screen changed to show long lines of refugees with dust and medical masks covering their faces carrying duffel bags and backpacks toward a large ship.
“We will now draw a thousand more names. Immediately after this broadcast, their government leaders will notify the winners. They will need to pack light and take only essentials. An escort will pick them up and take them to the location for a briefing and assignment of quarters. It is imperative the winners understand they must be quick and efficient as possible. Do not attempt to bring unnecessary items. The ships have strict limits for accommodating personal belongings.”
Lyra sat beside her younger brother while he watched in fascination as they called citizenship codes and names one after the other.
“From the Mars colony, Lyra Bucket.”
Her family froze in shock before turning to her.
Lyra’s mouth was open, her pupils were blown wide, and she trembled. After a minute of hearing more names called, her mouth started to work and in the quiet stillness of their house they heard a low squeaking sound coming from the food processor still waiting repair. “It’s not Bucket… it’s pronounced Bouquet.”
Lyra and her family sat in front of the colony leader less than two hours after the announcement of the last name came.
“Let me first say congratulations, Miss Bucket,” the leader said to them.
“It’s Bouquet,” Lyra said and crossed her arms.
“Oh,” the leader said and looked down at the pad in front of her, “I beg your pardon, we must have it misspelled on here because it looks like...”
“I know what it looks like, but it’s pronounced bouquet not bucket.”
Lyra’s father cleared his throat and stared at his daughter.
“Ah, sorry about that. Let’s move on, shall we?” The colony leader handed a different datapad over to Lyra. “Now… Lyra, here is the list of essential items for which you must bring with you, keep to the list. They will allow a small amount of personal belongings; mainly whatever fits into this bag,” she said as she handed Lyra a duffel bag sealed in plastic.
“Here are your two provided uniforms. Hygiene products will be available on the ship don’t waste space bringing your own. You will have 24 hours to pack and say goodbye to your family and friends. Transportation will arrive and shuttle you to the secure location where you will join the others chosen to crew the colonization and refugee ships. They have assigned you passage on the SSUF Malta under Captain James Maddox. He requests you contact him right after this meeting to go over his personal requirements for the crew of his ship. Do you have any questions?”
“What about my family? They can’t just expect me to leave them behind.”
The woman shook her head as she sighed, “I’m sorry, Lyra, it’s not up to me to decide who goes and who doesn’t. If it was, they would force no one from our colony or even the other ones to leave and start again.”
Lyra’s mother sat forward a bit, a strained look on her face and puffy eyes from almost continuous crying. “Will we be able to stay in touch with her at least?”
“Only during the short time while they remain in the comm's range in orbit around the system, so about the first month.
“For the first year they will train on the equipment and go over their duties and what to expect once they reach their designated system. After that, all the crew will enter cryostasis for the rest of the journey. They stocked the ship with a limited amount of additional communications buoys which they will drop at the edge of the transmission ranges. Just don’t expect regular updates.
“It will take the ship about eight years to make it to the system, to begin with, then time to scout and scan the planets and moons available to find a likely source for habitation, then time to set up and build the colony. Even with a buoy in place at the very beginning, setting up communications will take many years to talk in real time. Feel free to send message packets to her. They will be stored in the comm-station then forwarded to the buoys as they place them. Once they launch the last one and her ID chip is active, it will forward all the messages to her. She can send her own back, although don’t be surprised if the news is a year or two old by the time it reaches us, at least at first.”
The family hadn’t enjoyed hearing the information, but there was nothing more they could do other than to pack Lyra up and ready themselves for the separation.
After the door closed behind the Bucket family, the leader rubbed her forehead and placed a call.
“She’ll be there in a little over 24 hours, James. Are you sure about this? She has no formal botany training, she’s not a soil or agricultural engineer, she’s a farmer’s daughter who grows edible flowers… giant edible flowers at that.”
“You’re the one who suggested her. Didn’t you tell me she can coax plants to grow even in the harsh environment on Mars?”
A sigh echoed in the room, “I said that. But since I had time to think about it what good are edible flowers going to do if what you said is true. They set you guys up to fail and I just sent one of our youngest, most needed members of the colony away. Her family all said during the interviews to colonize Mars that even though they grew the vegetables, it was her ability with flowers that caught the eyes of the Settlement Division. They couldn’t reproduce her results using their bio-engineered seeds or foods. It’s her flowers which have kept the people here well-fed while we horde the few stocks of ration gel packs we could get our hands on.”
“And it’s that ability we will need for the colony. I’m not letting the scientists and military get their hands on her and put her on the crew to Alpha Centauri. They’d force her to become a political pawn in their little game between themselves as they try to create borders for their own little countries in the colony. From what Sparks said the AIs are already seeing a power play going on and the damn ship hasn’t even left the dock yet.”
“Alright, just promise to listen to her if she tells you she needs anything specific to let her grow the flowers. Take care, James and be careful.”
“I will and thank you. Remember what I told you; start preparing for it.”
“It’s already being taken care of,” she said just before she closed the comm and told her guard to bring in the Defense Force’s division head. It was time to bring him up to speed.
“Sir, you have a secure inbound communication from Lyra Bucket.”
“Put it through, Sparks.”
“Miss Bucket, I’m Captain...”
“How many times am I going to have to say it, my name isn’t bucket it is bouquet.”
“Uh… sorry?” the captain sputtered as he stared at the slim, young woman with red stripes in her hair and arms crossed under her breasts.
The woman sighed as he heard a man, probably her father, telling her to knock it off and hurry.
“Well, Miss... err, Lyra, I’m James Maddox, Captain of the SSUF Malta which they assigned you to. We are the smaller of the two ships set to launch within the next month. My requirements are simple. Inside the bag they gave you is a sheet of paper listing the required items you will need to bring with you. The Federation will not provide those items. There is also a smaller bag for you as well.”
“Yeah, we’re already working on gathering those up.”
“Good. Now, Lyra, what I’m about to say, can not be repeated; not even to your family. Is there anyone in the room with you?”
Lyra frowned then looked around. “No, they’re outside gathering a few things I wanted to take with me so I wouldn’t waste time doing it after packing.”
“Listen, as this is extremely important. Your name wasn’t randomly drawn, neither was mine nor were ninety percent of the others. The governments are manipulating all of us, but I won’t let them continue it on the ship. Your colony leader deemed it of utmost importance to the new colony’s survival to have you brought on board due to your ability to provide a food source. I’m not exactly sure if what you do will be viable, but I’ll take whatever help I can get. What will you need to grow your edible flowers? You must grow enough to supply the entire colony, close to ten thousand people.”
Lyra’s jaw dropped. “Ten… are you serious?”
“Just tell me what you need. I’ll get Sparks on it and it will be ready for you by the time you get here.”
“Our ship AI, he’s been helping to get us better prepared.”
“Gods… alright, give me a second.” She closed her eyes as she ran through everything she’d need then began to call the equipment out.
“I’ve got the seeds from the latest crops and the leftovers from the one before it. If I spend the rest of the day in the fields, I’ll have several thousand more seeds to send through the hermetic sealing device on the farm.”
“Perfect. Sparks is already slipping in an order for a commercial-grade sealing device and the supplies it requires to be delivered quickly.”
“Wait. I’m not done yet.”
“Okay, what else?”
“Huh?” the Captain said as he leaned back in the plastic chair.
“I need my bee colony to help pollinate the flowers to make the seeds fertile or they’ll just be duds.”
“I don’t understand why we need bees… are there any bees left? And where did you get them from to begin with?”
Lyra waved a hand at the screen, “Not important where I got them from. What’s important is, we need them. Because humans are idiots and we can’t seem to do anything without killing off other things, which end up being necessary for the survival of a species, we’ve lost all our natural pollinators. Hence the real reason they push the engineered food on to us in the form of ration gels. If you want those flowers, you will have to find a way to bring my bees. As many Queens and workers as possible to start the process once I get the flowers growing.”
“Can’t you just use drones?”
“They can’t make the drones small enough so they damage the flowers during the harvest process. They are clumsy and inefficient and just plain noisy and irritating. Plus, they only design them for harvesting the plants, not pollination which is entirely different. Nor can they make honey from the excess pollen. If you just want the crap-ass flowers they grow on Earth, then use the drones. If you want fertile, nutritious, and delicious flowers then I need my bees.”
“We have several food gel and nutrient boost condensers already, do we really need to worry about your flowers not being as nutritious?”
“And if those machines break and we run out of the gel?”
The Captain threw up his hands in surrender. “You, young lady are a person not to argue with. What else do you need?”
“Sir?” Sparks interrupted. “Our containment area is not suitable for any species of insect or animal. I also could divert none of the cloning material or equipment for non-plant based genetic material storage and replication for allocation to this ship, it was all tightly guarded and constantly monitored.”
Maddox sighed. “How difficult would it be to adapt what we have?”
“Impossible in the time frame we are under. All plants are coming in hermetically sealed seed packages for space requirements and because of having the organic crew in cryostasis for the entire journey. No one would be awake to take care of the sprouted plants, so the builders didn’t include a containment area for them or the equipment or drones.”
Maddox rubbed his forehead. “Tell me you have something else, Lyra.”
Lyra started shaking her head then stopped. “Well, there is one thing… no one outside of my family is supposed to know about it.”
Lyra chewed the inside of her cheek and peeked back toward the door into the room she stood in then lowered her voice. “Before my parents left Earth, Dad visited his parent’s farm. He smuggled a large jar of heirloom casaba melon seeds in the crate with the listed vegetable and flower seeds. We grow them in a small greenhouse at one of the far edges of my flower fields. They don’t need the same pollination requirements from the bees as my flowers do. Air circulation and drones the size of hummingbirds work perfectly. I programmed the ones we have to fly over the open flowers and hover to stir the pollen around and send it up in the air to drift to the next flower on the vine.”
“Casaba melons?” Maddox asked with curiosity. “What is a casaba melon?”
“A small round melon with a yellow rind when ripe and white edible flesh inside which is only slightly sweet and a touch spicy too. They aren’t too popular so few people remember them, but my family always grew them for their own consumption and to make a little money at roadside stands in the summer.”
“Sir? We do not have a source of fruit for the vitamins they provide. Perhaps the melons would be a better choice.”
Maddox sat back in his chair as he looked at Lyra then decided. “Bring both. We can use the fruits for fresh eating and they can use the less nutritious flowers in the condenser for gel. Sorry, Lyra. We just don’t have the capabilities to sustain your bees. Perhaps with enough time, Sparks and what engineers we could divert into our crew can come up with something to replace them.”
Lyra sighed in resignation. “All right, Sir. I’ll see what I can do.”
Lyra and her family spent the next 24 hours gathering, preparing, and sealing the seeds in special containers. She had to figure out a way to smuggle in a portion of the jarred melon seeds. She waited until her parents fell into a fitful sleep before sneaking out and running to their greenhouse. Inside she shifted the hidden, sealed jars around and chose several from the most recent harvest and tucked them into the small pack; she stopped long enough to pick up a copper box she kept hidden under a stack of old cotton sacks. Nestled inside were a set of four painted, brass hummingbird drones and their programming chip; she meant to give them to her father for his birthday, but it seems like she needed them more.
“Honey? Are you sure about this? Do you need to take so many seeds? I mean they take up much of your personal belongings. Wouldn’t you rather take this nice dress and shoes?”
Lyra sighed as she made a second count of the seed jars and checked each label. “No, Mom. I won’t have a use for those things, but the seeds are important.”
“Well, if you say so dear.”
Lyra rolled her eyes and noted the number of sealed jars of mixed flower seeds. They harvested and readied a total of 24,000 seeds on top of what they already had packaged. Not counting the jars of melon seeds.
A knock sounded on the door of the metal house and her father opened it. “Mr. and Mrs. Bucket? Captain James Maddox sent me to secure Miss Bucket’s belongings.”
After giving him the bag, Lyra followed him to the transport. “The Captain gave me this backpack to pass on to you. He said you filled some space in your assigned duffel with items needed to supply the crew, and he didn’t feel it was right to keep you from bringing something along you may want.” He opened a door on the shuttle and showed her the large black metal container. “He also said for you to transfer the seeds into this box. You’re the one who will help to supply the most food and keep our colonists from starving to death. He’ll do whatever he can to make sure you have what you need.”
Lyra nodded and smiled at the man. “Thanks. If you give me a few minutes, I can swap things around to make it easier.”
The blonde-haired, blue-eyed man smiled and nodded as he glanced around the farm area.
Several minutes later Lyra returned and handed him the small black bag packed with the melon seeds, several extra jars of flower seeds, and a wooden box containing her special growth mix which she hoped the Captain could get enough of the ingredients to make more.
“The seed container is ready, the supply sheet is inside. Hand-deliver this small sack to the seed cryostasis team member named Nikoleta Johnson, she’s waiting for it. Whatever you do, don’t drop it. It’s our starter supply.”
Lyra returned to the house and watched from the doorstep as the man entered the cargo shuttle after checking to make sure the two men helping him secured the large bag of seeds properly. She saw him take a seat and carefully tuck the black pack into a shining, silver box next to his feet.
The next morning a different shuttle landed at the Mars Colony dock. Lyra shifted her filled backpack and duffel around and hugged her parents and even her little brother before the driver told her she had to hurry. They ushered her into the shuttle after another tearful hug to sit next to several other people who whispered they were from Europa and Titan colonies.
After the shuttle made several more quick landings around Earth to pick up an assortment of other people, it began heading North. They only knew it was going North because a geology major looked out the front of the shuttle and saw a landmark he was familiar with.
“Where exactly are we?” Lyra whispered.
The man leaned forward, and the others did the same. “We’re flying over New York Metropolis. The landmark I pointed out was a statue several hundred years old.”
The shuttle shook from air turbulence and the passengers gasped.
“It’s alright everyone. Buckle your belts and harnesses and retract the armrests.”
“What’s going on? What happened?” Were the main questions coming from the two dozen passengers.
The group didn’t get an answer until they landed. All three super-volcanoes erupted in the United States. The entire mid-west and western part of the country was gone. The satellite photos which were taken until the sky grew black, showed huge chunks of land sinking into the ocean, and lava continuing to flow from the eruption sites.
They showed the group their bunk assignments for the next year and where to store their belongings then taken to meet the ship crew and Captain.
Maddox pulled Lyra aside and told her they took care of everything. She nodded then went to join the others.
Maddox groaned and rolled over on his cot, “What is it Sparks?”
“The base’s AI just alerted me. The military realized what we’ve done and are scrambling to send additional troops to secure the ship.”
Maddox sat up in bed then quickly moved to dress. “Do we have all the necessary people on board?”
“Yes, sir. The supplies were loaded two days ago, however, I could only secure one 3-D printer and less than a thousand nanites. It is a bare minimum for beginning a new colony and must be carefully planned out on the usage. I also blocked incoming orders to the soldiers who were on the list and falsified other orders to get the rest of them off the ship before I sealed the docking hatch and outer airlocks. As soon as they were far enough away I started the procedural check and warm-up.”
“Good. Can you launch this ship yourself?”
“Affirmative. I can get us out of their range before the rest of the crew are alerted to the change in plans.”
“Do it. Send out the warning signal. I’ll be on the bridge within five minutes.”
The ship shuddered and everyone woke up yelling questions and shouting about another volcano as the klaxon sounded and the red lights flashed. They continued to shout questions as they hit the retraction buttons for their bunks, grabbed their emergency gear from the lockers, and buckled themselves into the fold-down launch seats in their rooms. They quieted when a ship announcement sounded.
“Attention crew of the SSUF Malta, this is Captain James Maddox. We have launched early due to a military strike operation planned against this ship and the people on board. The Sol System United Federation planned on creating a crew filled with what they deemed as barely qualified workers and bare minimum necessities for us to survive on while filling their super-carrier with all the leading technology and leaders of various fields, along with having the bulk of the rations, materials, and supplied DNA on board.
“They also planned on enforcing martial law, both on this ship and at our colony.
“I learned of this plan many months ago and worked alongside the ship’s AI, Sparks, to ensure we had the gear and people to not only survive our trip but to make a thriving colony.
“Tonight as you lay in your bunks, Sparks intercepted orders for armed military personnel to enter your cabins and forcibly remove you to the mess hall where you were to remain under guard until the SSUF could come and take the ones they deemed only worthy to be on the carrier. Instead, the orders they received sent them to the other side of the installation while we sealed the ship and launched.
“Yes, for those wondering, this is classified as stealing the ship and technically it’s also mutiny. It is also survival. Not just for me, but for those on board. Had I not believed all the information provided, we may very well have been under martial law instead of heading toward the far reaches of the Sol System on our way to our new home.
“To those members of the SSUF military still on board, we deemed you as both a necessity for survival and a welcome addition to our crew. Your backgrounds were thoroughly vetted, and you were chosen specifically because you asked pertinent questions instead of following orders blindly, you followed a moral code well above the standard.
“I know many of you are wondering if I’m going senile and making this all up. The answer is no, but I’ll let you decide for yourself. Sparks, play the recordings.”
Over the next several minutes audio and video recordings of several meetings taking place as the SSUF discussed the random lottery and who would be chosen and why were played for the crew. The grumblings started as the recording showed them planning everything right down where they would send which box of ration gel. Their grumblings stopped, and the anger escalated as they listened to them discussing the accommodations for the passengers of the other ship and their families. Everyone on the Malta had to leave their family behind.
“If anyone still has issues with what I’ve done, please come and see me. For those who are the bridge crew, I expect you to be at your stations within thirty minutes for a briefing and the start of your duties. We will allow no outside communication until we are well on the way as a precautionary measure. Captain Maddox, out.”
It was a month later when they reopened communications. Messages to loved ones on board flooded in as they monitored the outgoing lines as they sent messages out.
Lyra sat on her bunk and went through the ones sent by her parents, including their fearful messages after learning the Captain stole the ship, and the way they had placed the colony on lockdown. The final message filled her with terror as her father whispered of the notification sent to every colonist by the leader. There were military ships inbound with orders to take the colony under martial law. They cried then showed her the ruined flower fields and non-functioning equipment.
“I’m sorry, Lyra. Forgive us, but we lost the colony. The SSUF said over a million people will be here within the next week. We barely have room under the dome for the original colonists. At the rate the food stores will be used up… by the time you get this message, the colony will be gone. We love you. We’re glad the leader told the Captain about you and took you away from the nightmare just beginning here. Make your new home prosper and beautiful. Goodbye, darling,” her mother’s voice faded away as the message stopped.
Tears flowed from her eyes as she frantically tried to send messages to her parent’s personal channels. All of them came back as not functioning. Then she noticed the cries echoing from the other rooms along the long hallway. She stumbled toward the door and saw people covering their mouths with tears running down their faces as they shouted and kept trying to connect.
“Mars colony is gone,” she whispered to the group across the hall.
“Europa isn’t answering either. They said… my mum said… millions of people and armed SSUF flooded the docks and took over the colony. They killed anyone resisting,” Maddy said. Lyra nodded at the red-haired woman who worked in the life-support section of the ship.
“They tried doing the same thing on Mars, only the colonists destroyed all the equipment and supplies just days before they flooded the docks. They were ready for them.”
“Titan did the same thing, Lyra. How did they know the SSUF were coming?” Safia asked as she wiped her eyes.
A holo projection appeared on the wall near the small group, “I notified all three colonies as soon as the base’s AI told me of the proposed plan. Only Europa disbelieved me and stated the SSUF would not attempt to do something as meaningless as to fit millions of humans into an area built for a thousand.”
The holo projection disappeared and Maddy started cussing. “I always told my mum the leader was a useless git.”
The three of them looked toward the holo screen as Sparks reappeared and began calling out names. They called all of them and reported to the mess hall where thirty others already sat.
“By now all of you know what happened while we were incommunicado. I called you here to make sure you were aware of the situation and know we did everything we could to warn the colonies to prepare ahead of time. Please understand, none of this was your fault. All of you will need to see the doctors for an exam and counseling as often as you need it; until we enter the cryostasis pods.”
The three women became fast friends and soon added several more people to their circle. They met the first one as they wandered through the ship on their off-hours.
Nova had been welding several pieces of metal together to fix a small gap in one of the ship’s fold-down shelves. The woman greeted them then removed her welder’s mask to show a short cap of bleached blonde hair braided tightly to her scalp and a coffee-colored complexion offset by thick black lines tattooed across her cheeks, on her forehead, and down her nose and upper lip. Three solid black lines marked her chin and neck. They spoke for a few minutes then she went back to work.
Nova and Lyra were eating their dinner when Maddy approached the metal table while dragging a short, pale woman behind her. “This is Misako, she works in the communications division. She was the one they sent to fix the broken connection with the life support room, now I can hear the announcements.”
Lyra glanced up from the botany journal she read when someone cleared their throat. The man who picked up her belongings from the Mars colony stood in front of her.
“Miss Bucket, I don’t know if you remember me,” the man said and Lyra nodded.
“You picked my stuff up from the Mars colony.”
He grinned, “Yes, Miss. I just wanted to introduce myself. My name is Jeremy and I’m sorry about what happened to the colony.”
Lyra smiled sadly. Her voice cracked with emotion as she said, “Yeah, me too.”
The next eight months flew past with everyone learning their job duties and studying the information Sparks provided on the system they were heading too. More men joined their small group. They always sat together at the same table or played games in the rec room, or just sat in the library to read the materials the Captain made available to everyone.
The group would wait until Lyra and Jeremy were out of earshot before the giggling and eye-rolling would start. They placed bets on if those two would be the first to become an official couple once they established the colony and register marriages or partnerships.
“Attention crew. We are approaching the far reaches of the Sol System. Please review your scheduled times to report to the cryostasis block to begin preparation for cryosleep. Secure all belongings into your assigned locker before retracting your bunk. Finish all communications before reporting. Do not be late.” The Captain’s announcement caused a flurry of activity as people finished last-minute things, gathered up their belongings which seemed to have migrated all over the ship, and said an early goodnight to their friends who were reporting to cryo first thing in the morning.
Jeremy had a tight grip on Lyra’s hand as they walked down the long hallway with the group of colonists going into stasis.
When it was her turn to enter the cryopod, he pulled her in for a hug and a quick kiss.
The attendant laughed, “You’ll be seeing her soon. It’ll be just like going to sleep for the night and waking up in the morning, although several years will have passed.”
Lyra gave him a shaky smile and stepped backward into the pod. The lid closed, and she watched Jeremy through the glass window as a cool fog filled the pod and she grew sleepy; after her third breath she knew nothing more.
Maddox woke slowly, his mind lagged in figuring out where he was and what was happening around him. The pod opened, and he lay inside for another few minutes before he reached a hand over the side trying to find leverage to help him sit up.
“Sir? Welcome back.”
Maddox breathed a few more times then squinted as he looked around the area. He realized he was in the cryo lab and his thoughts finally straightened out enough that he began to ask questions.
“Sparks? Have we reached the Sirius System? Did you continue to run scans like I asked you to and did you find anything?”
Maddox levered himself out of the pod and watched as several other pods were chosen from the stacked rows and automatically lowered into the arm’s cradle for the awakening process.
“Yes, Sir. I continued to scan as requested. Although, you should come to the bridge as soon as you can.”
A maintenance mech rolled up with a tray of sealed containers. Maddox grimaced and reached for a container of liquid nutrigel before he picked up the uniform in the sealed box sitting on the floor in front of the seat attached to the stationary cradle.
“What did you want me on the bridge so quickly for, Sparks? I’ve hardly had time to get my brain functioning. Your programming should be suitable enough to handle things until the doctor could wake up and check the bridge crew out.”
“No, Sir, this couldn’t wait. During the time you were in cryo the ship encountered an extremely large cosmic dust cloud. I had to start the burners in order to maneuver around it. Unfortunately, according to my calculations, I wouldn’t have enough fuel remaining to make it to the system if I tried to get back on course. Shortly after, we lost power to everything but my AI core and the cryo lab. It took some minor power rerouting to one of the mech bays to bring enough of the mechs online to start repairs to the damaged circuitry. By the time they finished it, we were severely off course with no way to head back. I had to let the ship continue to drift if we were to have enough power and fuel to maintain all the critical equipment and be able to stop the ship when we found a suitable planet.”
Maddox dropped down into his seat as he stared at the screen in front of him. “What the hell does travel time unknown mean?”
“It means I am unsure of how long we have been drifting. The power was cut off from all non-critical components. We’ve entered a different system and I’ve located several planets within the green zone needed for human habitation. They are further from the bluish-white sun compared to the sun of the Sol System.
“There is also a nearby gas giant which the newly awakened crew can use to facilitate the discharging of the remaining cores and refueling of the ship’s hydrogen tanks.”
Maddox rubbed his face, “Alright, start waking the ship crew using the emergency roster. All of them need to go through physical and psychological testing before reporting for duty. I’ll be in my office trying to figure out what the hell I’m going to tell these people when they ask what happened… worse, when they ask where we are when I have no fucking idea.”
Lyra blinked and looked through the pod’s glass window at the ceiling of the cryo lab.
The pod opened and she breathed several times before painfully turning her head toward the sound of someone coughing.
“Take it easy, Lyra,” a woman’s voice said and she turned toward it with a hiss.
“What’s going on? Why do I hurt so much?”
“Just take your time. When you’re ready, let’s get you out of the pod. I’ve got a nice warm cup of liquid nutrigel waiting for you. It’s too soon for you to eat anything, but it will help.”
Lyra groaned and laid there for a few minutes longer before beginning the process of getting out of the pod and dressing. She noticed most of the others were having the same problems she was.
“Have we made it to the Sirius System already?”
The doctor shrugged. “There’s been no news from the Captain except to tell us to wake people up in a specific order and to get them ready to go. Once you’ve drunk your gel you’ll need to join the group near the door. You’ll be taken for your psychological exam then to the medical lab where they will run a full body scan, and physical to get you cleared for duty.”
Once the first wave of critical crew and those deemed necessary for emergency waking were all cleared, Maddox called them into the hanger bay where an exploration ship sat being checked over by several mechs.
“Well, good morning to all of you. I hope you slept well.”
His speech was met with a few laughs and he smiled before his expression turned serious. “I have some good and bad news to share. The good news is the ship is still holding together, there were no losses reported from the cryo lab. Same with the DNA and seed banks which remained with steady power, and scans show everything is as it should be.
“Now the bad news. We are not in the Sirius System.” This news was met with more than one gasp and a few people asking what he meant.
“What I mean is neither Sparks nor I know where the hell we are. You all know the dangers of space travel and how unknown things can crop up at any given time. Well, things cropped up. A cosmic dust storm drove us off course then a power malfunction made matters worse. Sparks maintained the cryo lab, seed, and DNA stocks by diverting a portion of the remaining power to them. He filtered what he could spare to the mechs who began repairing the damage to the electrical system from needing to go full power from just standby mode without a warm-up period in order for him to get the ship away from the dust cloud. It left us drifting until the scans came back with finding possible locations for us to start a colony. Upon further scanning, Sparks could not find any matching astronomical charts for the system we are in.”
“How long were we out? Most of the accurate charts I’ve seen cover at least 15 light-years.”
“Well, we don’t know, and no maps provided to us match, and he’s checked every single one several times over at my request.”
The Captain’s announcement was met with silence and disbelief and not a little outrage.
“Settle down,” the Captain’s voice rang out over the gathered crew members reminding them he was the one in charge and the one who kept them as safe as possible.
“Our food stocks are adequate as are the medical stocks. The group assembled here is needed for ongoing repairs, activating the refueling equipment and monitoring the discharge of the cores. The bridge crew is to report for duty while the others report to your division chiefs. Those who are in the Supply and Service division report to the seed bank.”
Lyra stood off to the side as the others began updating the inventory of supplies and checking to make sure the seeds were in viable condition.
When the scan of her melon and flower seeds returned in satisfactory conditions, she breathed out a sigh. She turned as she heard her name called.
Maddox nodded and asked if everything survived. “The flower and melon seeds are still sealed and ready to plant when we find a spot.”
“We may need you to start early. The scans we received came back as not suitable for habitation on all the planets within the zone. I’m sending out an exploration ship to get a better view of the most likely planets. I’m not trusting the scans from this unknown system.
“I want you to go along with them. Get samples of the local flora and see if they are also edible if they can be cross-bred with yours to grow both inside and outside of the dome. If they can, then we’ll land and begin building the colony.”
“I don’t understand, why build here if it comes down to the flowers?”
“Because the food stocks will not last more than two years. We need those flowers if we are to survive and not starve to death. They grow faster than grains and vegetables and twice as fast as your melons will. According to Sparks the plant nutrient matter can be concentrated then divided into gel cubes. We can convert one of your giant plants into food for four people for several days and we have thousands of people to feed.”
Lyra frowned. “The aeroponics bay is still empty isn’t it?”
“Yes, the crew is there checking for any damage because of the fluctuating power.”
“I’ll head over and see if we can convert part of it to grow them.”
The Captain nodded and started to turn from her.
“Yes,” he said as he looked back at her.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you something.”
He quirked his bushy white eyebrow at her.
“Why do you listen to my suggestions and ask my opinion on the food things? I’m just a simple farmer’s daughter with no college degree; why did you want me here, to begin with?”
The Captain turned back toward her and placed his hands behind his back, “The leader of the Martian colony was a good friend to me. She was someone whom I held a deep and abiding respect for. When the whole plan of the SSUF came into light, I contacted her because I trusted her judgment and wanted her advice.
“She told me about you and I did research. Your name was in the Settlement’s Division files and they added copious amounts of notes into your personal file from the time they discovered your ability with plants at such a young age. Along with the reports of so many failures to replicate your success.
“She knew we needed someone like you. When I told her of what was happening, she told me to take you with us anyway we could. We both felt you were too important to the survival of even a few thousand humans to let you go. When they rigged the lottery to send you to the New Hope with the caveat that the SSUF was in complete control of who you provided the food source too, Sparks and I acted and changed a few things to make sure you came to us.
“In short, we need you, and I was told to listen to you and give you whatever you needed to succeed in supplying us with a long term, viable, renewable food source.”
Lyra looked up when she heard someone calling her name. She grinned and waved as she saw Nova, Maddy, Misako, and Safia walking toward her with another woman in tow. “This is Mia, she will be joining us on the exploration ship, along with about twenty others. We’re to see about finding building supplies, a suitable location for a comm tower, and Maddy here will be making sure our life support equipment is in tip-top form,” Nova said.
“What do you do, Mia?” Lyra asked as she smoothed her stretch to fit, protective uniform on.
“I work in the genetics lab. I was an intern at the facility on Titan before being drawn by the lottery.”
Lyra and Maddy snorted and mumbled about the fake lottery.
Once the supplies and equipment the group needed had been loaded into the exploratory vessel, they climbed on board and waited as the pilots and ship crew went through their checklists.
“I wonder what we’re going to find down there?” Misako asked no one in particular.
“I don’t know, but hopefully after we get a closer scan we can find someplace to land,” Nova said as she shifted in her seat impatiently. “Being on this damn ship all the time is driving me crazy.”
They heard several of the other crew members chuckling and agreeing with her.
“Everyone ready? We’re clear for takeoff. Settle in, nap if you want to, or watch the holo screens on the walls opposite your seats as this will be our new hangout for a while. Let’s find a new home.”
The small exploration ship approached the orbit of the first planet on their list. The large green sphere had areas of swirling white and gold.
“Reversing thrusters… holding orbital position,” the pilot said.
“Sending the probe in 3… 2… 1… launch.”
The group waited for the probe to send back information on the atmosphere.
“Carbon dioxide and methane. And it’s gone. The last signal received was an image of acid rain that ate through the probe in a matter of minutes. Moving on.”
After two hours of travel, the ship sent a probe to scout a small moon. “Solar winds completely stripped the atmo. No magnetic field, no liquid water, no water ice to mine. Reminds me of the reports from Mars.”
“Yeah, but at least Mars had some form of ancient life before we built a colony on it,” Lyra joked. “This place looks even more barren than Earth’s moon.”
“It’s still a possibility. Moving on.”
The group gave a collective groan and sigh as they approached the final planet in the band the Captain ordered them to get readings from. It had been a long and exhaustive few days and the group was ready to head back to the main ship.
Lyra smiled as Nova handed her a cup filled with chunks of gel. “The ration gel condenser on here is basic, but at least we have something to eat.”
Safia snorted as she opened the lid of the drink she made, “Nothing beats my mother’s steeped tea made from the rooibos she grew outside the front door in a giant pot,” her English heavily accented with Afrikaans tones.
“I don’t know, my floral tea might have given it a run for its money,” Lyra said and opened a small pouch in her suit. She pulled out a sealed baggie and waved it around, “Does anyone want to try one of my home-grown flower feasts?”
Maddy snorted and stuck out her hand, “Yeah, if you have any of the blue petals I’ll take some of them.”
After the petals, leaves and small sections of stems were handed out, they sat back in their seats and started comparing the tastes of the flowers until the pilot let out a low whistle that drew their attention.
“Look at that, people,” he said, and the group looked toward the holo-screens.
They were approaching a small planet on the outer edge of the green zone. From their view, the world resembled a drop of amber.
“Buckle up, there’s more than a little space debris in orbit and we may need to do some quick maneuvering to dodge it.”
The ship settled into the planet’s orbit, and the pilot requested the tech launch another probe.
“Getting the readings now and it’s looking good. Gas readings are pretty close to Earth’s before it went to hell. Nitrogen and oxygen with trace amounts of other gases. Probe descending through the stratosphere and entering the troposphere. Measuring the gases again, oxygen lower than what we had on Earth, though, technically breathable. The probe is gathering data on the local temperature. Hmm, fifteen degrees Celsius in the upper troposphere.”
“Can you send the probe lower so we can get a decent reading closer to the ground? We also need more detailed images of things other than the sky.”
“It’s a pretty sky, though. At least there are blue cloud formations, a good sign… I hope. So far this is looking like our best chance.”
The probe descended further and the group all watched in anticipation as the first true look at the land formations came into view. Mountains, valleys, and rivers appeared. At least they thought the ribbons of green and blue were rivers cutting through the yellow and orange lands.
“Is it barren of grass and plants?” Lyra asked.
“Don’t know, the probe is hovering to take more readings,” the tech sitting at the probe station said. “Look, I’m calling it. This place is the best one we’ve found so far. I’m programming the probe to do the full rundown of the planet. It will explore over the next few days, send back readings, and find the most likely place for us to land and begin getting samples.”
The pilot gave his agreement. “I’m setting the VI to monitor everything. Let’s get some sleep; tomorrow will be another long day.”
They sat up as the VI announced an emergency and to report to their stations. The shuddering of the ship as something hit the side got everyone moving quicker.
“What’s going on?” A few of the technicians shouted as they scrambled back into their safety gear when the pilot yelled to suit up and buckle in.
“Meteor storm from out of nowhere. Damn it, there was nothing like this on the long-range scanners.”
Several large chunks of space debris and rock hit the ship, and the VI warned of a severe loss of shield integrity.
“Get us out of here,” one of the men yelled as a large piece of debris slammed into the ship. The interior lights went out as a red emergency light came on and the VI started the emergency procedure announcement for hull damage.
The pilot did the best he could to get them out of the worst of the shower, but with tens of thousands of pieces of debris ranging from particles the size of grains of sand up to larger than softballs, the ship was taking too much damage. The pilot sent out a distress signal on the emergency channel, then told them he was heading for the planet surface.
A large piece of space rock slammed into the side and the ship’s VI warned of a sealed hull breach just before the pilot lost control of the ship.
It was the groaning sound that woke Lyra. The pain rushed in and she cried out as she moved her arm toward her leg.
“Easy, Lyra. Your leg’s broken. The tech’s set it, but you’ve got to stay still until the portable bone knitter can finish its job.”
Lyra opened her eyes to see Maddy’s helmeted head and worried eyes staring at her.
Maddy sighed and glanced around before sitting on the floor next to her. “When a bunch of us came too, we activated the flight recording. The ship went out of control and crashed on the planet.”
“What do you mean out of control? Where are the others? Is the Malta sending help?”
“Calm down, Lyra. The pilot got us to the exosphere of the planet, then as the ship was starting the controlled emergency descent… a rice-sized piece of debris punched through the hull and the bulkhead before killing the pilot and co-pilot, then punching through the other side. If it wasn’t for the liquid instant sealant between the hull and bulkhead closing the holes as soon as they happened, we’d all be nothing but space junk.
“The automated controls began the landing, but the descent tore the ship up worse. The logs show the VI taking over and making adjustments. We’re down, but nowhere near where the probe’s last coordinates were.”
“Yep, that pretty much sums it up. Lay there and rest, Lyra while I go see the others.”
Maddy started to get up when Lyra grabbed her hand. “What about the others?”
“Mia, Nova, Safia, and Misako all made it. They’re pretty banged up, but alive. None of the other women did, and out of the ten men on board, only three are still alive. We’re in deep shit here, Lyra. Misako’s trying to get the comms up and running with some help from the others, but mostly we don’t know if anyone got the distress call or if they will even be able to find us.”
The amber sky darkened, and the survivors looked out of the sheet of two-way, transparent, and mirror-finished metal to see the meteor shower still in full force. The light trails from the speed of the space debris made the sky resemble a fireworks show.
A short while later, the small group sat at a folding table in the mess area of the ship and discussed what they should do.
“The comms right now are a no go unless we have an overnight miracle and the VI fires up. Nothing in my neural-net shows any data on VI repairs,” Misako said as she opened a small cup of cubes.
Several flashes of color lit up the area as people checked their links for any data to share. Everyone echoed the same findings.
“What about the pilot’s or co-pilot’s link? Even the navigators?” a man asked.
“Without the extractor tools and medical know-how we couldn’t take it out without possibly destroying any data, and without brainwave activity, we can’t use the sharebeam to get the information. It’s not as simple as the initial implantation and upgrades,” another man, the med-tech, replied.
They ate their cubes in silence until someone suggested trying to at least get the repair protocols for the ship working.
Nova’s silver neural-link visor flashed as it formed over her eyes. “I’ve got some basic schematics on this ship. I downloaded them just before we left the Malta. Vessel repair isn’t my forte, I’m more of a building maintenance kinda gal, but maybe this might help.” The rainbow of neural-link visors flashed again as they received the sharebeamed transmission of data from Nova.
“I’m a genetics intern, I don’t even know what I’m looking at,” Mia said as her aqua-colored visor dimmed before disappearing.
Lyra shrugged, her red visor still processing and filing the information into her brain for later recall, “So? I’m not a botanist, mechanic, medic, or anything else. I grow flowers, but I’m willing to help. I just need someone to share information on how to use the repair tools and show me how to get started.”
Several more visors blinked as the information streamed toward her for processing.
Nova began working alongside a burly man trying to get the damaged door into the sleeping quarters open without the ship’s main power being online, while Safia and Lyra worked on routing what emergency power they could to the ship’s small hold. They would need the survival gear and containers of ration gel if they would be stuck there for much longer.
Mia and Maddy moved the bodies into one of the spare compartments after stripping them of anything they could use for repairs of the ship or suits.
“I feel so wrong in doing this, Maddy,” Mia whispered as she removed the spare oxygen generator from the Navigator’s suit.
“It’s harsh, but we need everything we can get if we are to live and find our way out of here. One suit battery pack may be the difference in your life support system critically failing or having it remain functional for several years.”
The next morning a whoop echoed in the small ship when the door to the hold opened and they could finally get to more of the repair equipment and food stocks.
“Hey, guys,” Lyra called and the others swiftly joined her where she stood behind a metal crate.
“It’s a rover drone. My dad used one of these to map the layout of the farm. Of course, ours wasn’t as advanced as this one since it wasn’t for military use, but we can use this to do a bit of exploring while staying safely in the ship.”
“How?” Mia asked.
“By controlling it with the neural-link. The drone’s shell always contains the default codes. I just need to open it up, link, and download the codes. The airlock is still functioning, thank the gods and battery back-up, so we put it inside the chamber, use the drone to pull the hatch lock open, then out it goes. Let’s hope whoever was to control this thing didn’t change the codes yet.”
The others shrugged or nodded their agreement, and she opened the case. A metal six-wheeled drone sat inside. It was waist-high, with two large round lights on the front and multiple appendages folded along its sides which it could use to manipulate buttons, handles, switches, or lift and carry small objects.
Lyra’s red visor activated as her link downloaded the drone’s information and activation codes.
Lyra took a seat and activated the drone. She guided it out of the hold and toward the small drone access panel in the ship’s airlock. The drone stopped and extended a silver rod toward a socket next to the panel. A minute later the inner door opened, and the drone withdrew the adapter and moved into the airlock.
Lyra breathed out a small sigh before she once more concentrated on giving instructions to the drone across the sharebeam to open the outer door and begin taking environmental readings.
The others watched as the drone came into view in front of the ship and extended a small rotating antennae-like device upwards.
“Alright, it’s gathering what information it can and feeding it into my neural-link. If it proves to be within our limits, we can go outside and try to get the comm tower built and set up the solar collector station.”
A happy cheer went up and everyone went back to repairing what they could on the ship in the hopes the VI would somehow reboot and begin the internal systems repair so they could get off the planet, or at least contact the Malta.
Maddox went over the report again, “Sparks, has there been any more transmissions from the exploration vessel?”
“No, Sir. Not since the distress signal and I received the last known coordinates.”
“Keep trying to contact them. Once the refueling and repair work is complete, start heading there.”
When the ship reached the last known coordinates, they found nothing but an ongoing meteor storm.
“This is not good. Sparks?”
“No sign of the ship in the debris. This is the closest we can safely get to the storm without risking damage.”
Maddox gazed through the viewscreen at the debris field. All he saw were flashes of light.
“Can you pick up the probe or any signals from the ship?”
“No, Sir. The cosmic dust and meteors are creating a blockage. I can’t find the trackers to activate them. Not even the slightest power signal from the ship.”
“Damn it. We’ll stay here within sensor range of the planet for one more cycle. After that we will have to search for someplace to build.”
The Captain turned to face the speaker.
“You can’t mean to just abandon them here. They may have crashed on the planet’s surface. We should at least send a shuttle down to find out. We have to find them.”
“Look out the viewscreen, Jeremy. There is no way a shuttle could make it through that mess. It’s taken us two days from the time we finished repairs to make it here, and the damn meteor storm is still going on. From the size of the field and amount of debris, this is an ongoing problem. Sparks will monitor the area with the sensors and let us know if a signal finally gets through.
“In the meantime, we’ve got to stick with the plan or we’ll all die of starvation. I’m sorry, Jeremy. I know you want to find Lyra, but it’s just too dangerous.”
As the sky grew dark, Lyra ordered the drone to return. A male in a safety suit stood inside the airlock with a portable decontamination sprayer. As soon as he finished spraying the drone and himself down, he opened the airlock, then the drone returned to its container in the hold. Two of the men muscled the hold door into place and they sat down to eat and receive the sharebeamed results.
“Temperature within tolerable levels. Oxygen levels within limits, a little on the low side so no hard physical activity until we can adapt. Lighter than Earth’s gravity, so we don’t have to worry about being crushed. No detectable virulent particles in the air. Although, the pollen readings are rather high. If anyone has pollen allergies or hay fever you will be in for a rough time.” The group sighed as the man with the only first-hand medical knowledge relayed the final analysis to them. He had sharebeamed basic first aid to everyone as soon as he woke, then specific knowledge of the portable medical machines to them when it was needed.
“So, I guess first thing’s first, in the morning we figure out how to get the containers with the tower, collectors, and the portable shelter through the airlock door,” Safia said.
As the sun rose, the group stood next to the airlock and checked their suits for any new tears. They changed out filters, batteries, and filled the water and food compartments before attempting to start the decon process and go outside. They realized they needed to scout the area first to find a good location to set up a temporary camp and look at the outside of the ship.
“Okay, here we go,” Nova said and pushed the release button for the airlock.
A wave of heat hit them, bearable, but they realized after a while of wearing the full gear and keeping the coolant circulating on high, their batteries would drain down fast.
They circled the ship and their neural-links continued recording information to process and store in their brains for later examination.
Mia pointed to an area of what she thought were orange and yellow-leaved trees throwing shade on the reddish ground, covered with a short, stiff, fibrous growth.
It was only when they got closer did they realize it wasn’t trees they were looking at, but giant flowers.
“Holy shit… if those are edible they would feed the crew for days,” Lyra said and approached the stalks.
“Lyra, wait,” a man said just before he sharebeamed something to her. “It’s not much, but I made this scanning app before the whole volcano thing started. If you take a sample of one of them and activate the app, the scanner will record the structure, then virtually break down the components of it. It will tell you if it’s compatible with our biology.”
“Seriously?” Mia said and requested a sharebeam of it. “I think I can upgrade it to work with non-plant DNA, like animals we might encounter. Any disease, bacteria, or poison could be detected and a chemical breakdown made to create an antidote.”
Lyra blinked and nodded without knowing what Mia talked about. She turned back to the guy who shared the app, “I thought you were just military and not a scientist.”
He shrugged, “I am just military. My dad was a biologist and was one of those types who forced everyone to accept the sharebeams of his scientific research and study. The SSUF offered training in electronics which I was more interested in and so I joined up straight out of high school. Dad hated it. I loved it.
“One guy I served with was a genius with apps and she helped me to design and program it. It was supposed to be built-in software for a leading-edge food-producing machine I made which was being tested for military use during space deployments, but… well, Earth went to hell.
“I saw the military fucking people up in the streets who were just trying to find a way out of the city once they announced martial law, and in a lot of cases just murdering them so they wouldn’t have to deal with trials later. Not that there would be a later for most of them, but whatever. I’m just glad Maddox noticed me and kept me on board.”
She ran the scanner and sighed, “Not edible… or at least not for us. There seem to be a few pieces missing near the petals.”
The group grumbled, then decided to use the trees for shading their shelter from the heat and bluish-white sun.
They struggled to get the shelter through the airlock by disassembling the parts and reassembling them once they dropped them at the site.
“If the sun is blazing tomorrow like it was today, the solar collector will fully charge and be ready to go in hours instead of days,” Nova said as she laid back on her gel mattress.
The others smiled in agreement as they activated their own mattresses and laid down. The single person left on guard duty settled down outside the portable fabric dome, and the flare of orange lit the area as he brought up the neural book to read.
The morning dawned clear, and the group looked up at the sky to see the blazes and flickers of light in the atmosphere. They heaved a group sigh, then ate a few of their ration cubes before deciding to bury their dead on this planet. Without the shuttle having any way to preserve the bodies, it left them with no choice. They had to take care of the matter before the bodies decomposed and either caused a disease or brought a carrion eater to their door when it caught the scent of rotting meat.
“It’s been a week, guys,” Mia said to the others as they sat inside their tent. “The comm tower is up and looks functional, but why haven’t they come for us?”
Misako frowned. “Only a guess at this point since we know nothing about this planet past what the scanners showed when we arrived, but I’d say it has something to do with the meteor storm which hasn’t abated since we crashed.”
Nova grimaced. “Then what are we going to do? We can’t just sit around here and do nothing. Our food won’t last forever and neither will our water.”
The only trained soldier they had stood up and went to look outside the tent. “We need to split up. One team stays here and continues attempting to contact the Malta, the other needs to get out there and explore; find a place with water, scan for compatible food sources.”
“And then what? We can’t fly the ship to where ever you find the resources. The captain set us up as a short-term exploratory mission; we don’t have the colony equipment on board. Just a few solar panels, the rover, a couple of crates containing ration gel packs and little else,” the surviving medic said.
“Other than our sharebeams, we have no way to communicate with each other. If we split up and something blocks those, then what? Not to mention we have no weapons. You’re the only one who can use the firearms.”
The soldier sighed. “I know. Sometimes I wish they never implemented the DNA coding on them,” he said as he looked back at Lyra. “I guess for now we stay close. Stay within a few hundred yards of the ship and hope for the best. But soon, we will have to decide on whether to leave the ship as a group and hunt for something more permanent or take our chances and split up. And a fat lot of good my rifle will do. The damn thing busted and the basic set of tools the SSUF issued the bunch of us are crap.”
“At least the ones they sent with the Malta crew,” the other male muttered.
It was Maddy’s scream that woke the others before daybreak. The group rushed from the dome to see her surrounded by humanoids holding spears with glowing yellow tips emitting sparks.
The men tried to rush them only to be struck down. The rest of the women raised their hands, hoping it was a sign universal enough that whoever they were wouldn’t just attack.
The females were poked and prodded to join Maddy while a few of the humanoids crouched over the men.
Lyra made a quick study of the beings; at least what she could see. From what her neural-link rapidly fed her, the beings were exactly the same height, which equaled five feet in human terms. Each one had the exact same measurements and weight. She beamed the info to the others, using the invisible option on her visor.
Mia beamed a message back letting her know the men were alive just unconscious. When Lyra saw two of the aliens heading for the ship she sent a signal which slid the airlock door closed and sealed it. Only one of the crew could open it. It would remain sealed without the access codes or specialized cutting tools.
The two beings spent several minutes trying to get the door open before giving up and returning to the group.
One of the beings approached them and grabbed Nova by the head and turned it side to side, which was an accomplishment because Nova stood almost six feet-two inches in her bare feet and outweighed the other one by about sixty pounds of muscle.
None of them could see the humanoid’s faces because of jet black suits which covered them from head to toe. No outward signs of gender were apparent. Their bodies were slim and curveless.
They had yet to utter a sound. In unison, they picked up the males while the others surrounded the women and began herding them away from the crashed ship.
They traveled all day, only stopping for a short break when Maddy stumbled and fell. One of the beings raised the spear and pointed the glowing end at her. Nova dropped to one knee in front of Maddy and held out a hand. She slowly reached into a pocket and drew out a vial of liquid and held it out to Maddy, who gratefully took it and poured it into the water compartment of her suit.
The beings had watched every movement and tipped their heads back and forth as Maddy struggled to get to her feet. One of them bent down and picked up the vial and held it to the mask they wore as if to inspect it closer. They didn’t drop it but carried it with them.
A bright flash of sunlight reflected off something ahead of them. The women gasped as they drew closer to the gigantic amber-colored dome. Several more of the humanoid beings stood outside a hexagonal-shaped door and didn’t so much as twitch when the armored beings led the group through.
Nova glanced back over her shoulder to see the doorway closing behind them by extending slabs of the same colored material from of the sides of the hexagon to meet in the center; sealing them off from escape. She sharebeamed the information to the rest of them as she returned her gaze to the front.
They were forced down a long hallway and through many twists and turns. There were no paintings, no furniture crowded the hallways except for a stone bench here and there. Clay vases contained a few flowers, but those flowers were larger than any Lyra had grown before, sitting in nooks. They didn’t see another person anywhere, and it worried them.
If it hadn’t been for their neural-links they would have become hopelessly lost in the maze-like structure. The six women kept their neural-links open to send and receive data near instantaneously. Messages flew between them on the link almost as fast.
The group stopped in front of a set of double hexagonal doors with several identical humanoids standing in front of it and along the amber-colored walls.
Mia tried running a quick scan using the modified app she received earlier, and it came back as inconclusive. Something was blocking it from getting bio readings from the beings. She passed the info along to the others, then separated a part of her neural net's processing power to work on a solution to the scanning problem.
Without a single word the humans could hear, the guards at the doors stepped aside in unison and the doors opened into an immense room filled with more of the strange beings lined up in rows. A dark honey-colored carpet ran down the center of the room toward the middle where a raised dais sat. On the dais was a massive stone throne with candles placed in tiered metal holders on either side. Sitting in the chair was a being, unlike anything any of them had ever seen before.
They pushed the group toward the center of the room. When the group drew closer, the ones carrying the men moved to the side and dumped them unceremoniously in a heap before taking up guard posts around them.
The women couldn’t take their eyes off of the large person sitting high above them on the dais.
Its skin was jet black. It had long flowing black hair horizontally striped with yellow gold. Two long black and yellow striped antennae sprouted from the forehead and moved in small waves to the side and then back again.
The creature wore a long flowing gown of shimmering white with small amber-colored beads decorating it using an intricate swirl pattern. It was open in the front and showed off incredibly long, slender, golden-striped legs ending in white sandals and four-toed feet.
The creature stood, revealing a body that was completely naked under the gown. As it approached them they saw the being easily towered over all of them at close to seven feet.
As it moved closer, the guards moved slightly away from it and bowed their heads. The women took it to mean this person was more than just a leader, with the amount of deference being showed it was more like royalty.
As it got closer the women gasped. What they assumed in their messages to each other to be eyes with dark sclera were, in reality, compound eyes. No eyelids or pupils. Just onyx-colored multifaceted set of eyes rimmed in bright yellow.
“A bee… a Queen bee,” Lyra hissed and quickly sent her accumulated knowledge of Earth bees to the others.
The bee-like woman turned her head toward Lyra and took several steps toward her. Lyra craned her neck to see the Queen’s face, and she shuddered as the compound eyes stared at her. The Queen used a punishing grasp as she grabbed Lyra’s face in her four-fingered hand and turned it side to side while her other hand held a hank of Lyra’s striped hair and pulled until tears formed in the woman’s eyes.
The Queen let her go suddenly, and they heard a loud buzz sound coming from her as she moved to Nova and did the same thing. Only her hand couldn’t grip the scalp-tight braids and instead traced the tribal tattoos on her face. Nova met her eyes without flinching and the Queen tipped her head to the side before letting her go.
Mia was in tears even before the Queen reached her.
After her inspection of the women, she moved back to the throne. They all gasped when they saw the iridescent wings on the Queen’s back. As the Queen sat, she spread the gown out to show the beadwork. She hadn’t said a word and only made a buzzing sound.
They dragged the women over to the side of the room while two of the silent guards grabbed the first of the men and dropped him at the foot of the dais. The women watched in horror as a guard jabbed the glowing end of the spear into the man’s back and the sound of electricity crackling sounded in the room along with the man’s scream of pain as he was brought around.
Lyra sent a flood of information to the man through the sharebeam. They saw him grit his teeth to stop the screams coming from him.
One of the black-suited figures moved in front of him and a series of buzzes and harsh, guttural sounds came from it. When he couldn’t or wouldn’t answer, the figure slapped him knocking him onto his side. One of the others picked him back up, none too gently, and the apparent questioning started again.
The second time they assaulted him the man growled and lunged for the being, only to be jabbed by the electric spear again and sent to the floor in a quivering mass.
Safia was shaking hard and holding onto Misako, her neural-net already partitioned and her link recording the various sounds for later examination and possible translation, after all, linguistic learning software was her specialty. “Stop it,” she cried out when they jabbed the man again, “we can’t understand you.”
Several of the alien creatures looked toward the women and the Queen made a motion with one of her hands. They picked up the still shaking man and questioned him again.
When that failed, the being doing the questioning raised its staff and jammed it through the man’s stomach, impaling him. The women screamed both from horror at what they saw and the neural purge from his net slamming them with all the accumulated memories, information, and experiences of his forty years of life at one time.
Safia and Mia both cried out in agony and grabbed for their heads before collapsing as their partitioned neural-nets couldn’t handle the sheer amount of information flooding to them while conscious.
The humanoid ripped the spear from the man’s stomach, he groaned once then fell over in a pool of his own blood, a single breath later and he was dead.
“What the hell did you do that for?” Maddy yelled drawing the attention of the guards and Queen.
One of the guards lifted their spear and cracked her across the abdomen with it, hard enough for Maddy to exhale loudly and drop to her knees. Misako knelt down and as unobtrusively as possible scanned Maddy for internal injuries. Luckily, since Maddy was the only one who still wore the full safety gear she was, mostly, uninjured, just in pain and would have nasty bruising later.
The Queen’s attention turned back to the second man they dragged forward and woke with pain.
He hurtled as many curses toward them as he could when he saw his friend laying on the floor like a piece of garbage, and the women either shaking with fright or lying unconscious.
One guard slammed the spear into his back and he fell forward. Another one grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and yanked him back up so a third could interrogate him. The man spit toward the figure and another neural purge hit the women as they drove a spear through his back and pinned him to the floor. The man coughed weakly as blood poured from his wounds, mouth, nose, and ears before a wet choking sound came from him and his eyes glazed over.
The women started crying as they dragged the last man over and woke him. He was the med-tech assigned to the crew and remained as calm as he could. He repeated he couldn’t understand what they were asking, was slapped and fell over. He pushed himself up to his knees and once again repeated he couldn’t understand.
The questioner held up the tube Nova gave to Maddy earlier and shoved it toward him.
“It’s a shatterproof container that holds a liquid used as a long-term replacement for our need for water. Humans need a specific liquid to survive for more than a few days, dihydrogen oxide.” He held up one hand and slowly moved the other toward a pouch at his waist. Several spears came up, and he said, “easy,” before opening the pack and withdrawing a full vial of it.
“It’s water in a soluble gel which keeps us alive and hydrated,” he said calmly then opened the vial and poured a bit into his hand. They watched as the thick substance liquefied and ran through his fingers. He touched a finger to it and brought it to his lips.
The Queen made a loud buzz and waved a hand. Without hesitation, one guard reached forward and grabbed the man’s hand to hold it still as another removed the helmet on its head before touching the liquid.
They all gasped as the removal revealed a jet black insectoid head. The compound eyes studied the fluid on its finger, then raised it to its face. A moment later they saw the bee alien slide the wet finger along a set of bristles on the side of its head then touch the finger to its mouth.
A buzz sounded, and the Queen sat back in her throne after getting the answer she wanted concerning the fluid.
The questioning began again, and the man repeated he couldn’t understand. When they slammed him to the floor and searched his pockets, he met Lyra’s eyes. A moment later the third neural purge hit the women along with a single message from the man. “Survive. Escape. Warn.” Then the man grunted as a spear severed his spinal cord and tore apart his heart.
The women were forcibly shoved through a doorway and into a hexagonal-shaped room. The door closed, and the women stood there for a minute trying to take in everything that happened to them and the others.
“Why? Why did they kill them?” Misako asked quietly before dropping to her knees on the hard, smooth, bare floor of the room.
Nova shook her head in bewilderment, “I don’t know. I don’t understand any of this.”
Lyra moved over to the still unconscious forms of Mia and Safia. “Why did they pass out?”
Misako shrugged, “Communication overload on their neural-nets most likely. We got slammed hard in a brief period. If they were using their net or link’s processing power for something other than just quick bursts of recording and storing, it could have overloaded and shut them down to take some strain off.”
Nova ran her hands over the door, then the walls. “I swear this looks like the information you sharebeamed about a hive.”
“I think it is a hive or a nest. We walked for quite a distance through that maze until we reached the Queen’s throne room, but the dome from outside didn’t look nearly so large. I think we’re underground.”
“This wasn’t what we signed up for,” Nova growled as she tried to push the doors open. “Nowhere in the damn briefing did they mention running into real, live, aliens.”
“They also didn’t cover getting lost in space either. How are we going to get out of here? Have either of you tried to comm the Malta again?” Lyra asked.
“No connection available,” Misako said, then checked on Safia as she groaned.
“What happened? The neural-link went crazy with warnings, then I felt weird. Where the hell are we? What’s going on? Where are the others?”
“Easy, Safia, did you run the self-diagnostic on your net?” Maddy asked.
Safia blinked, “It needs to defrag and there’s a warning for possible corrupted files.”
Maddy nodded, “Just sit there and let the processes work, I’ll sharebeam packets for you to use to overwrite those files. Where we are is still unknown; inside some giant hive or nest or something. Both you and Mia overloaded when the first neural purge blasted the sharebeam.”
“First?” Safia looked up as Nova and Lyra joined them on the floor.
“Yeah. It looked like they were trying to question the men and when they either didn’t get any answers and didn’t care if we couldn’t understand them or simply got impatient; they killed them. All three of them. We have the rest of their purges.”
Safia sat in shock, then started crying. “I was attempting to create a linguist translation app for us. If I hadn’t been working on it then, maybe...”
“No. There are no maybes,” Nova said as she rubbed Safia’s back, “They would have killed them, anyway. The med-tech cooperated as much as he could, showed them what had been in the vial I gave to Maddy, then they rifled his pockets and took everything they could and killed him.”
“Why didn’t they question and kill us too? What are they going to do with us?” Maddy asked.
The others had no answers for her.
“The overload did a number on a few of the neural pathways. I’m running the repair procedure, when it’s done I should be ready to receive those packets,” Safia said as she struggled to stand up. “We need to search this place. Is this a holding cell? Or are they waiting for something?”
Lyra shrugged and moved to a wall and ran her hands over it. The others took a wall and did the same thing. Mia came around close to an hour later, and they explained everything to her and waited until she finished crying again before making sure she ran her diagnostics and repair programs.
When they finished searching the walls with no luck at finding anything, they sat in a huddle and waited.
“I’ve got to pee,” Maddy said and rocked a bit.
“I don’t see a toilet, Maddy. Maybe bang on the door and yell you gotta go. If they don’t answer, just pee on the floor; they should have at least given us a waste bucket,” Nova said.
Maddy went to the door and banged on it as she shifted back and forth. “If you don’t get me to the bathroom, I will pee on your floor. I swear I will and then it’ll stink and stain and you’ll never get it out.”
The others snickered.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you aliens. I meant it!” Maddy stripped off her safety suit, then wriggled out of the uniform. Just as she moved to an area as far away from where the others sat and squatted down, the door opened.
One of the fully insect-headed bee people walked in and began buzzing before they crouched down and pushed one of the shapes on the floor, which slid aside. The bee person pointed, then walked to the door. It opened just as Maddy let out a sigh of relief.
“So that’s definitely how they communicate,” Safia whispered, then sharebeamed the fragment to the others. “They use sound vibrations. I need more data. I’ve got the algorithm built, but it needs more samples. I’ve only the ones from when we were captured and this small sample to work with.”
“Well, they’ve got to feed us… right?” Mia asked. None of the others answered.
According to Lyra’s neural-link, over four Earth hours had passed since the bee people threw them into the room. So far no one, other than the guard who showed them where the toilet was, entered. They took to pushing on each of the floor tiles then along the walls uncovering what they thought was a sink. Maddy reached out and pushed what looked like a button and something green poured out of a spout.
“Eww… what in the name of blessed St. Paddy is that?”
Mia bent closer and ran an app blasted to them from the med tech. “According to the composition scanner, it’s... water.”
“Water? It’s green.”
“Are you sure you’re reading the app right?” Misako asked as she too studied the green fluid.
“You’ve got the same damn app, run it yourselves,” Maddy huffed and crossed her arms.
One by one the women looked at each other, then back to the sink. “It says it’s water,” Safia said and slowly reached toward it.
“Whoa. Let me do it,” Lyra said. “You’re too damn important in case it’s not actually water. I just grow flowers, anyone can do that.”
“I’ll keep the med scanner running on you, if you even feel a bit funny, send the sharebeam,” Mia whispered and took hold of Lyra’s hand.
Lyra nodded, then held her other hand under the stream. When she had a slight amount cupped in her hand, Nova hit the button and they waited.
Instead of speaking aloud, Lyra used the sharebeam to share her findings. It’s cold. There’s no smell. Nothing like rot or anything. It’s not burning, so not acid… at least not on the skin. Well… here I go.
She took a tiny sip, and they waited. “It’s water. The neural-link isn’t throwing up med warnings.”
“The scanner says you’re clean. It introduced no harmful bacteria. No parasites.”
“Well, that’s good to know. I really don’t want to think of some alien worm parasite now in my stomach.”
“So we’ve got water and a toilet. But no food. Are we supposed to sleep on the floor?”
“At least it’s not freezing cold like the Malta usually was,” Nova said and held one of the empty vials under the green water and filled it before putting the sealing cap back on. They drank their fill and sat down to wait.
Maddy opened her food compartment and doled out the cubes she had inside when no one bothered to return. They laid down in a small area of the room and tried to sleep.
The guard bowed, then knelt at the base of the dais. “Reporting, Majesty.”
“Your assessment of the group is correct. They are females.”
“Is the largest one their Queen?”
“Unknown, Majesty. They do not seem to defer to any particular female.”
The Queen buzzed. “Continue.”
“They use a strange, low vibration form of communication to create unique sounds and pitches. We observed this behavior in all of them,” the guard paused then continued, “At one point we observed them sitting together but not making any noises, yet they seemed to communicate in a way we could not hear or feel.”
“Are you sure?”
“We will need more time to observe. It is my opinion they can communicate silently.”
“Hmm,” the Queen stood up and paced the dais then looked down at the guard. “Is there more to report?”
“Yes, Majesty. We observed one female attempting to break through the door and repeat a set of vibrations. The female then removed her garments and attempted to relieve the fluid build-up in her body without opening the vent. A different worker entered and told them of the opening. They did not understand the vibrations, so she opened the vent for them. Afterward, we observed them pushing on the other sealed floor cells, then the walls. They found the fluid dispenser and conversed before one drank.”
“So they learned about the cells and how to open them with only being shown a single time?” the Queen said and frowned as she returned to the throne. “Continue.”
“Time passed, Majesty, and we continued to observe as ordered. The same female who attempted to foul the cell opened part of her clothing and removed something which she shared with the others. It appeared to be food, although it was solid. After a while longer they moved as a unit against a wall and proceeded to either sleep or take up a guard position over the others.”
“Interesting. Continue observation and bring me the belongings removed from their males. I wish to examine them closer. Dismissed.”
“As you wish, Majesty.” The guard stood, bowed, then hurried out of the chamber to notify the item keeper of their Queen’s wishes.
The group sat huddled against the wall as they waited for one of the bee people to show up.
“Does anyone have any cubes?” Nova asked as she rubbed her stomach.
“Nope. I’m out, we had the rest for breakfast,” Maddy said and tipped her head back against the wall.
Later they heard the door begin to open and looked over. One of the strange beings with a fully insect-looking head entered the room. A soft whirring, buzzing noise sounded, then it placed three jars on the floor. The creature turned and left.
“What the hell was that about and what are those jars for?” Nova asked.
Mia crawled over and inspected one. “Ugh… it feels sticky.”
Lyra frowned and went to sit next to Mia and picked up a jar, then sniffed it. “I think it might be wax?” She sharebeamed historical documents shared with her when she was younger about how hundreds of years earlier people would use beeswax to create candles, an ointment for their lips, and everything from wood polish to making doors slide closed easier.
“What are we supposed to do with it?” Mia asked as she sat the sticky jar back down.
“I don’t know.”
The rest of them soon joined and examined the jars. Misako was the one to discover how to open it by prying a hardened white area away from the top. A sickly sweet smell emanated from it and the women wrinkled their noses.
“Ugh, what is it?” Safia said while covering her nose.
Lyra grimaced and looked into the jar. “Eww, some type of blue-green liquid. The scanner shows it to be non-edible.”
They quickly capped the jar and pushed all three of them back toward the door, then crawled to the other side of the room and huddled while trying not to think of food.
“My Queen,” one of the worker aliens buzzed. “The strange creatures did not consume the nourishment. We observed them opening one container only to recap it a moment later.”
“Interesting,” the Queen said.
“Wait until the sun begins to lower then place several of those squares into the room and see if they consume those. It is possible these creatures can only gain nourishment from such a source,” one of the insect-headed creatures who stood slightly behind the Queen said.
The Queen buzzed her agreement. “Do as my Advisor suggests, then report back.”
The women remained huddled against the wall, only moving when it was necessary for them to relieve themselves or drink water. After the initial guard entered earlier there had been no other visitors or food brought to them.
Maddy lay on the floor and curled up in a compact ball, “I’m so hungry. Are they planning on starving us to death?”
“I don’t know, but if you die before me I get dibs on your right leg,” Nova said with a smirk on her face.
“God, Nova, that’s horrible… and gross,” Mia said.
Nova shrugged, “Not like my ancestors didn’t chow down on people hundreds of years ago.”
“Ugh,” Maddy said and scooted a bit further away as Nova laughed at her.
“You’re being awful quiet, Lyra. Is something bothering you?” Safia asked.
“Other than being trapped on an unknown planet surrounded by bee people who killed our friends? Well… yeah, there is something bothering me. Why can’t we contact the ship? I’ve been trying to link to the rover and see if it can gather Intel for us while we’re trapped here, but I’ve had no luck.”
“I’ve tried to signal the comm tower with the same results,” Misako told them. “There’s something blocking our signals from going outside this building. We can sharebeam in here so I know our neural links are working. It has to be interference of some kind.”
“I guess we have to keep trying. How’s the linguistic software coming, Safia?” Lyra asked.
“Needs more samples. I think it needs a combination of audio and visual to get some sort of correlation going. The next time one of those things comes in here someone try talking to it. Ask what the crap is in those jars, maybe.”
“I’m more interested in asking for some food. My stomach’s starting to hurt,” Maddy whined.
“All of ours are, Maddy. Why don’t you try to get some sleep, maybe it will help?” Nova said as she rested her head back against the amber-colored wall and closed her eyes.
It startled them awake when the door to their cell whooshed open and a guard walked in carrying a tray. A quick scan showed they made the tray from a gigantic dried flower petal coated in a type of hard lacquering substance.
Safia cleared her throat and pointed to the jars, “What are those?”
The guard glanced over, then placed the tray on the floor before backing toward the door. It seemed to wait for something.
“Cubes,” Mia said as she scanned the objects laying on the tray. “They somehow have our ration gel.”
Misako shook her head, “No, I don’t think so. They rifled through the men’s gear, remember? And there are only three cubes for each of us on this tray. I think they are trying to figure out what these are.”
Nova stood up and moved toward the tray and knelt down. Everyone else observed the bee person and recorded everything happening in the room. Nova reached over and picked up one cube and held it up to the guard. “Food,” she said, then placed the cube in her mouth and chewed. The others quickly joined her, and each took a single cube to eat. Mia gathered the rest of them up and Maddy opened up the small food storage area of her safety armor to put them in.
The bee person tipped their head to the side and watched them, then picked up the jar Mia opened earlier and tipped it toward their small mouth and drank it.
“It must be their own food,” Safia whispered and recorded the buzzing sound it made.
The creature gathered up the jars and tray, then quickly left the room.
“Your Majesty,” the guard said as she knelt before the dais, “It is as the Advisor suggested. The creatures consume the items. They stored the rest after eating a single block each. It also seemed as if one of them, the largest one, tried to communicate.”
The Queen stood and moved over to where the other items they took from the males lay spread out on a table. She picked up several of the strange items which her item keeper and Advisors could not discern the use of before turning back to the guard. “Bring the one who tried to speak with the worker.”
The guard signaled their acknowledgment with a buzz, then stood and hurried toward the holding cell.
“We won’t make it for long if we have to ration to one cube a day, it’s not even enough calories and nutrients to replenish what we use by just breathing,” Mia whispered as they huddled together near the sink.
“Well, at least combining the cube with as much water as we could drink helped to fill our stomachs enough to ease the hunger pangs,” Maddy said. “The scan we took of the jar’s contents came back as non-edible for us. I wonder if they have other things or if whatever it was is their sole source of food.”
“Do you think they were the ones who took the bite out of the giant flower?” Misako asked.
Lyra shook her head. “If they’re anything like the Bombus or Apis from Earth they don’t have teeth, and I didn’t see mandibles on either the Queen or the guards. It was something else eating those plant tree things.”
The group looked at the door again when it opened and several guards came rushing in pointing their spear weapons at them. One of them came forward and reached for Nova.
Nova knocked their hand away and one of the guards held the spear closer to her. She stood and stared down at the shorter beings. One reached for her again, and she blocked them from touching her. A spear point hit her in the thigh and she grunted in pain but didn’t go down.
The being who kept trying to grab her lifted a hand, and the guard moved the spear away from Nova who stood gritting her teeth to keep from crying out. The weaponless guard tipped its head several times and made a buzzing noise.
Safia stood and held up her hands before approaching them. A spear point swung toward her, and she stopped. “We can’t understand you yet. We mean you no harm.”
Several buzzing noises from different guards echoed in the room. The weaponless guard looked at the other odd creatures and a single buzz with a jittery sidestepping motion happened before the creature pointed at Nova, then at the door.
“Nova? I think they want you to go with them,” Safia said. The others stood, each one raising their hands when a spear point turned in their direction.
“Is the app of yours picking up any of the language?” Nova hissed in a pain-filled voice.
“What brief samples we get. I need repetition, the same sound, and video clues for the algorithm to make positive translations.”
“All right, let’s hope they don’t want to just separate us to kill us off. Keep your sharebeams open and I’ll feed everything to you.”
Nova followed the group of bee people down a twisting hallway and a sharebeamed message from Maddy told her it was the same path they took as they were being herded to the cell from the throne room.
Nova filed the information away and let her eyes move around the area so her neural-link could record every single detail.
The small group stopped outside an open doorway, and an armed guard pushed Nova through. She turned around with a snarl on her face to see the doorway closing behind her. She jerked back around when the buzzing sounds started in the room.
Several smaller creatures accompanied the Queen. Her neural-link fed her the details which showed two of the beings were taller than the others but still close to a foot shorter than the Queen.
Lyra? Are you seeing this? What are those new ones?
I’m not sure, Nova. Hives comprise one Queen, female workers, and male drones. At least that was the bee’s social structure on Earth. Here, I can only guess.
Nova looked around and saw several tables lined with items taken from the murdered crew, and bits which could have only come from the crash site.
I think I know why we can’t communicate with the comm tower. The bastards took some pieces from the site. One of which is the small solar collector we had set up to run the tower. No power, no signal.
Back in the holding cell, the others sighed, and Misako nodded. “Makes sense,” she said. “Without the comm tower our sharebeams are only good for short-range. My guess is we’re too far away from the ship for you to access the rover’s controls. Now we need to figure out why our bio-scans aren’t working. They have nothing to do with the comm tower, and it works with things like water and the plants, but not the creatures or their biological needs.”
Maddy shifted on the floor where she sat. “I’ve been thinking about that. The scans run fine for us. I mean we checked Lyra and scanned her before she drank the water, which means they are functioning properly, so that means it’s the creatures themselves. I don’t think the apps can scan foreign life-forms. No one thought we’d find extraterrestrial life, let alone be captured by them. So the designers had no way of programming them for other species.”
“The app the Marine shared with us, how close are you to reprogramming it for non-vegetation DNA?”
Mia shrugged. “I need to get more samples. We’ve only got the one sample from the giant flower tree. I need plants, animals, insects, bee people. Any and all genomes for the system to map out and compile. Reprogramming it was easy, but without samples it is just an app taking up petabytes of space.”
The small group sighed and Nova brought their attention back to her when she sharebeamed an image of everything the bee people stole.
Nova hissed as one guard jabbed her in the back with a spear, thankfully it wasn’t electrified. She moved toward where the Queen and the strangers stood looking at several of the stolen pieces of gear.
The Queen picked up a piece and shoved it at Nova.
Nova frowned and turned the miniature tungsten welder, which was no bigger than a ballpoint pen, in her hands. “Where did you get this? I thought I left it on the ship.”
The Queen watched and tried to understand the sounds coming from the odd creature in front of her. When the female just turned the unknown item over and over in her hands she grew impatient.
“What is this item? Who and what are you? Are you the Queen of your people?”
Nova glanced up at the angry buzzing sound then back down at the welding tool, wondering if they stole the rest of the pieces along with it. If they did and she could get a hold of it, they might be able to cut their way out of the holding cell and eventually out of the hive.
She hissed when the spear jabbed her harder. She felt the skin break on her shoulder where the point dug into her. Her attention was back on the Queen when the buzzing sound started again and the female creature pointed to the item in Nova’s hand.
“I don’t know what you’re asking.”
The Queen slapped her. Nova’s head snapped to the side and before she could control herself Nova retaliated with a closed fist punch to the Queen’s abdomen which forced her back several steps and to double over.
Nova felt the hard stab of the spear and grunted before kicking backward and connecting a glancing blow to the guard behind her. The action startled the creature, and it took a step back which allowed Nova to whirl around, grab the spear from the smaller being, and yank it out of their hands. She brought the metal pole end around in a sweep and knocked the creature off its feet. She heard angry buzzes and turned enough to see several of the others running toward her.
Nova grimaced and held the pointed spear at the bee person’s throat. The others barely slowed their advance.
“Stay back!” Nova shouted.
The Queen stood, and a snarl crossed her alien features.
The shorter bee person stepped forward as it emitted a high-pitched buzz.
“Your Majesty, wait. The creature has no way to communicate. The female retaliated only when struck. She didn’t become hostile when the guard intentionally damaged her earlier. If we can not understand the creature, why do you assume it can understand us?”
The Queen Bee hissed again and turned malevolent, black, compound eyes toward the female and the others halted their progress toward Nova.
Nova waited to see what would happen; the whisper from Safia in her mind to observe every detail and listen closely to every sound caused her to nearly hold her breath.
The slightly shorter bee person stepped forward and held up a four-fingered hand. A soft buzz sound came from it. Nova tightened her grip on the spear and pressed it into the prone creature’s throat. The shorter one stopped immediately and buzzed again. Nova frowned.
Easy, Nova. Keep your eyes searching the others and their reactions. Nova’s eyes swept over the others, then returned to the one as it took a hesitant step toward her.
The creature pointed to the bee lying on the floor, then to the spear.
“I don’t understand you,” Nova said. The bee pointed to the spear and the prone being again as it took one more step toward her.
I don’t think it wants to hurt you, Nova. Easy does it. Nova pressed her lips together as Maddy’s voice echoed in her mind again. A few more steps and the bee was standing in front of her. One hand reached out and grasped the spear, neither pulling nor trying to wrestle it from her, only waiting to see if Nova would let go of it.
Nova glanced around and saw all the others not moving except for the Queen, then looked at the bee in front of her again before relaxing her tight grip on the spear. Once she fully let go of it she took one step back as the bee person pulled the spear toward them and stepped back as well. The prone bee scrambled to their feet and took a step toward Nova. A harsh buzz and a quick stab of the spear from the other bee had it dropping to its knees quickly. After a minute it stood and backed away toward where the group of the same type of bee gathered.
Peacekeeper? She sent back as an inquiry to Lyra.
I don’t know, Nova. As far as I know there are no peacekeepers for a hive; they aren’t needed. Each type of bee carries out their own duties and cooperates together, or the hive fails. The workers will guard the hive and fight when it’s necessary, but not among themselves.
The answer didn’t sit well with Nova, who liked to know who and what she was dealing with from the start.
The strange bee holding the spear walked over to the shorter one and held out the weapon, accompanying it with a harsh sounding buzz before turning around and approaching Nova again.
It stopped a scant distance away and knelt down to pick up the tool Nova dropped from the floor. A short set of wings were uncovered, and she heard Lyra making a humming sound over the open sharebeam.
The creature held out the item to Nova and waited for her to take it. When Nova reached for it, the bee person’s antennae waved a little and it took a step back to stare at her.
What do they want, Lyra?
My guess? They want to know what all that stuff is and think you are the leader. Have you noticed all of them are smaller than the Queen? The one you think is a peacekeeper is bigger than the others and they listened to it after it struck the one. Hives are a Matriarchy. I’d bet everything I own, that every creature in the room is a female. That’s probably why they killed the men and left us alive.
Keep them occupied, Nova. I need more data for the linguistic algorithm and if you can get close enough to get samples from their bodies; I think it will speed Mia’s research up too.
Nova frowned. That will be pretty tough.
Don’t brush your knuckles against anything, Nova. You struck the Queen and there’s bound to be skin or hair samples on them.
Nova made a clicking noise with her tongue and the slightly shorter bee took a step closer and tilted their insectoid head to the side and buzzed.
Nova looked over the other items and picked up a shiny piece of metal that used to cover the miniature solar panels and held it up to her face. She grimaced as she touched the welding tool to her hair and used the tip to straighten her braids.
It will take forever to get the scalp oil off my welding tip.
The others chuckled and watched the sharebeam feed as she went through the items and made up uses for them, pocketing the minor items which they would need if they were to break out of the hive.
One of the other shorter bees watched as the strange being picked up object after object and demonstrated it to the other Advisor.
“Grooming tools or useless junk from the way the female tosses it aside. The workers could not enter the vehicle and only brought what they scavenged from the site.”
The Queen paced as she watched the other female spread something out on the floor and take several steps back from it after pressing a different colored area on it. Suddenly the object inflated and several of the guard workers went to attack the item when the female snarled at them.
“Hmm. A unique reaction. I wonder what it is.”
The Queen watched as Nova moved closer to the item then laid down on it. After she got up, she pointed to the item and motioned the Advisor toward the thing.
After getting permission from the Queen, the Advisor copied Nova and laid on the strange object.
“It is a cushion. Several degrees warmer than the hive’s floor and conforms to the body, Your Majesty,” the Advisor said after she got up off the thing. They watched as Nova knelt down and pressed a series of buttons. The object deflated and packed up into a small portable square. Nova picked up the other ones and stacked them together along with the tubes of replacement gel fluid after showing how the tube fits into the slot of the square.
Nova pulled a crate next to her and took out the useless stuff from inside and began packing the bedding squares into it along with several items they would need. She slipped the welding tool, the box of soldering metals, and the parts they would need to reassemble for the solar collector and comm tower into it too. The Queen took several steps toward her with an angry buzz.
“Your Majesty. The female seems to want the objects she deems most necessary for survival. Food, water, a means to keep warm. It is the same as what our foragers do when they are planning a longer than normal trip. These items are useless to us, perhaps we can use it as a bargaining tool. Put the females to work with the foragers and cleaners in exchange for the items.”
The other Advisor moved to stand next to the first. “We also think it would be good to separate them for closer study. Perhaps, we would have better opportunities to learn their language, or to verify they can speak to each other through non-verbal means.”
Nova glanced over her shoulder, then quickly slipped the spare neural-net device under the packet of protein powder and box of ration gel cubes. She grinned when she saw several tubes of regeneration cream and opened one up.
The Advisor stepped forward and reached for her wrist. Nova snarled, but the creature held up one hand and gently closed her four fingers around her wrist to hold her still while she examined the tube. After she let go of Nova, she watched in rapt fascination as the strange being smeared some orange goop on the area where an electric spear broke the dark skin and blood still seeped from the wound.
Nova sighed in relief as she was able to smear the cream on her leg and stop the bleeding before it eventually weakened her. It annoyed her when the bee grabbed at her, but relented when Maddy hissed at her to watch and not immediately attack.
It astonished the Advisor when the wound closed and other than the trail of drying blood there was no longer any sign of damage to the person. She relayed the information to the Queen, who stormed over to see for herself.
When the Queen grabbed for Nova’s leg, Nova stepped away and told her to stay back. Several guards rushed forward and an angry buzz came from the other bee who stayed in the center of the room. The bees hesitated, and another buzz came from the shorter bee standing in front of Nova.
Nova’s eyebrow rose as the guards returned to their previous spots and the Queen buzzed angrily toward the shorter one who seemed unaffected.
“Your methods angered the stranger, to begin with. It responds to force with force, which is how it should be. The creature doesn’t instigate the issues, only responds. This has been apparent to us several times, and your high-handed means get us nowhere in furthering our understanding of it. You will let us handle this.”
The Queen stood straighter and towered over the small female. She flinched when the other Advisor came to stand next to the first one and waited. She snarled and took several steps back from the stranger and watched as her First Advisor pointed to the tube in the stranger’s hand, then to her leg.
Nova shrugged, then winced when she felt the wound in her shoulder open back up. She glanced over her shoulder, then tried to reach back and dab more cream on, but couldn’t reach it.
One of the bees walked behind her to see what she was doing, then motioned for a worker. “Bring a small bowl of water and a cleaning cloth. This is the perfect opportunity to learn more about this item and maybe get more information about this creature.”
The worker hurried back with the item and the Advisor showed it to Nova before dipping the cloth into the water. Nova tensed when the bee touched her back and watched as it washed away the old blood to reveal the stab wound and blood flowing from it. When the bee reached for the tube, she hesitated then squeezed a short line of orange cream on one finger.
The Second Advisor hurried around to watch as the other spread the cream on the wound. Nova hissed and the one applying the cream stopped and glanced at Nova. When Nova made no other sounds, she moved her finger along the wound until the orange-colored goop coated it. Both of the bee people watched the wound close over until there was no mark left.
“What could it be?” one asked and the other’s antenna waved.
“Would it work for us?” The Queen hissed at them when they rejoined her a moment later.
“Unknown unless we test it.”
“What are you waiting for? Take it and return the thing to the others. I want whatever it is, taken to the scientists, and duplicated for our use.”
“That may not be possible if it only works on their species. We shall signal our want for the item and hope it understands.”
“Signal? Just kill them and take it all. There has to be more of it in that vehicle. Find a way to open it.”
“Your Majesty, our workers have tried many times. Nothing we currently own can even make more than a slight scorch mark on it. My hypothesis is only those creatures can access the vehicle. And it would be in our best interest to learn as much as we can from them before killing them. Those six females are all that are left since you ordered their males killed before we could gain any useful information from them. None of them show any signs of needing a brood nest to lay her eggs in so it is possible you killed the males too soon and they do not have enough viable sperm stored to lay fertile eggs, or they are like a few of the native animals and need more than one mating to produce offspring.”
The other Advisor hummed in agreement. “There are several species of mammals who only produce offspring after they mate and only once per cycle. Your impetuous nature may have cost us the only means to breed more of these strange creatures for study and use. We shall continue to observe them, to learn their language and social structure. They only act with hostility when our guards attack them first. There will be no more attacks, no more accidental damage to the creatures. They are to remain healthy and given plenty of their nutritional cubes. I will order them moved to separate cells within the same block; perhaps if they see we are not hurting them, they will cooperate.”
The other Advisor buzzed her agreement, then left to rejoin Nova.
Nova saw one of the middle-sized bees heading her way and slid the medical kit under a few other pieces of salvage. She paused when the bee reached for the near-empty tube of regeneration cream and picked it up.
The bee tipped its head from side to side before holding the tube toward Nova and pointing at it, then pulling it back toward her and closing her fist around it.
I think it wants the cream and information on it.
I have to agree with Mia. Let it have the tube, but keep the other ones hidden. We might need them. Grab anything from the Medic, and whatever food and water you see.
And anything you think we can use to break out of here and get back to our ship.
Nova heard them all talking to her across the sharebeam. She said she would then reminded Maddy that it would do no good to return to the ship until they figure out what was blocking the sharebeams. They did not know what to expect outside; they had no way of fixing the VI, nor contacting the Malta. The best course of action was to get as much information as they could and prepare, then hope they got a chance to get away and gain a few hours head start to get back to their ship and get the tower hooked up. One clear, powerful signal was all they needed to send, then they could bunker down inside the ship and wait for the Calvary to come for them.
Nova watched the action again, and when the bee held the tube toward her, Nova pushed it back toward the bee, then turned toward the junk on the table. She picked up another piece, then rambled something off which made absolutely no sense even to her because she had no idea what the hell the item even was.
The other Advisor motioned to several of the guards. “Go to the prisoner’s cell block and take five of the cleaners with you. Have them properly prepare five additional cells. They are to be thoroughly cleaned with the water and facilities panels unlocked and already opened. A portion of the walls between the cells are to be clear enough to see through, but thick enough that they cannot break them.”
The guards hurried away as the Advisor’s attention was brought back to the pair standing at the long table. She noted every article taken from the table and placed into the box. The creature seemed to gather multiples of specific items and put them all together while only taking one or two of other items. She made a mental note to pick up one of each of the additional items and have their scientists go back over everything. That is, after she received the medical reports from the dissection of the males of the strange species.
The small group of women stood as the door to the cell opened. A handful of armed guards walked into the room followed by five more of the slightly larger bee people.
Each of the larger ones moved to one woman and pointed toward the door. The women looked at each other and didn’t move.
One of the armed guards moved toward Lyra with the staff sparking. The larger bee next to her reacted so quickly, all they heard was a buzz of wings, and the loud crack as the guard collapsed to the floor and didn’t move. The larger bee stood over the body and motioned to several of the other guards who hurried forward then dragged the body from the room.
The larger bee bent down and picked up the staff, turned it off, and thrust it toward a different guard who took it from her. Once again the bee turned toward Lyra and motioned toward the door. This time they did as the bee requested and walked toward the door.
They huddled in a bare hallway in front of a pair of armed guards. One of the larger bees motioned to Mia as the door between the guards opened up. Mia looked at the others then back to the bee as it stood next to the guards who didn’t so much as twitch.
“Go ahead, Mia. We’ll be right here. If they do anything weird, we’ll do what we can to rescue you. Sharebeam the information. We’ll be right there.”
Mia wiped her eyes as she took a hesitant step forward and followed the large bee inside the room. The others peered through the doorway to watch.
The larger bee showed Mia the faucet, waste tube, then guided her over to a different section of the wall which looked paler than the rest. Mia peered through it and frowned as she saw someone moving around behind the area.
A gentle hand on her shoulder caused her to jump, then looked to where the bee next to her pointed. She watched the bee push on a hexagonal button, and the floor shifted slightly. Mia knelt down as a large hexagon slid aside revealing a metal grate in the floor, then a stream of green water poured from the ceiling.
The bee pointed to her own compound eyes, then to the panel and pushed a series of buttons. The water changed to a sweet-smelling foam. Mia reached out cautiously to touch it and rub some between her fingers. Her scanner broke down the components and labeled it as a cleansing agent. The bee pushed the buttons again, and it went back to the green flowing water and finally turned off.
Mia kept up the flowing stream of information to the others as the bee showed her how to set up a small table from a folding section of the wall. They moved to the side as a black bee hurried into the room carrying a stool and placed it in front of the table before rushing from the room again.
The bee guided her to stand in front of the lighter section of wall. Mia quickly turned around when she heard the door close. The bee’s hand on her shoulder stopped her from running toward the door and demanding to be let out. A noise come from the other side of the wall and Maddy telling her to look back had her turning again. A hazy form stood on the other side of the wall. It was hard to make out, but Maddy assured her she could barely make out Mia’s form and the larger bee on the other side of the wall as well. It seemed they were being given their own rooms.
After going through the pile of stuff on the table and picking out everything she or one of the others thought would be of help, Nova picked up the overly full crate and stared at the bee person.
“I believe the creature wants to return to the others. Did you understand any of the words she used?”
The other Advisor hummed in response. “No. However, we found out they are more advanced than us in many ways. The healing cream, the way so much water was solidified and contained into a small tube. And how their nutritional products were condensed into something much smaller than what we can do. Not to mention the vehicle. If we can understand their language and learn more about their technology, we may be able to duplicate it. The results would put our hive further up the Matriarchy.”
“True. As long as our Queen doesn’t ruin it for us with her quick temper and inability to control it.”
The First Advisor buzzed her agreement. “Call the other Advisors for a meeting. I will return shortly after I view the female’s reaction to having the others separated.”
Nova jerked as the information flooded her sharebeam. They were splitting them all up but keeping them close enough that they could see each other through hazy sections of walls. None of them were hurt, but they replayed what happened to one of the guards as it tried to attack Lyra.
Makes sense. Nova beamed toward the others. You saw what the one did to the smaller bee here in this room. Any ideas why they are doing this or attacking the others?
None. It seems their social structure is more complex than Earth’s bee system. We must watch everything, then share the information to figure this all out.
Agreed. One excellent thing is, I’m getting plenty of linguistic cues now. The program is processing it as fast as possible and has already translated some motions and sounds into words for us. As soon as it finishes this chunk, I’ll send the information out. Mia, what about the genome app?
I picked up a sample from the large bee. When it touched my shoulder, the scanner found several small samples left behind. But I need more from different ones to compare.
You might be able to get some from my back since the one here smeared the cream on, plus whatever might be on my hand from the Queen.
I t might be easier if I beamed the app to all of you. Gather the samples you can, then beam the breakdown back to me for comparison and analysis.
It took less than ten seconds to send the beam, install the app, then begin to scan her body for any DNA samples left from the Queen, or one of the other bees. Nova continued to stare at the larger bees until one approached her as the other walked toward a doorway.
Nova’s jaw tightened as she saw how closely she was being watched as they approached the original cell.
She’s waiting to see your reaction to us not being in the room. I bet anything she’s going to show you each of us in turn after learning how you react.
Do you think they know about the sharebeam?
Misako paused before sending her reply. I don’t think they know exactly, but we’re so used to not having to always say the words aloud that we sometimes forget we are not in a safe environment and could be watched. We have to remember to always talk vocally when we’re together.
Nova waited until the door opened into the large cell and came to a full stop before looking around, then back at the bee. Sure enough, the compound eyes were watching her face and every move she made.
“Where are my friends?” Nova said loudly and tried to inject a threatening tone to her voice.
The bee paused for a moment, then turned toward the doorway, then back to Nova.
Nova repeated the words louder and harsher. The bee tipped her head to the side before walking further down the hallway. She stopped in front of a pair of guards who stepped aside and opened the door for her.
Five more pairs of guards stood along the one side of the hall and as they approached each pair, they would step aside and the door would open. Nova sighed and rushed into the room, put the box down, and drew her friend in closer as she pretended to look her over. After they exchanged a few words, Nova would kneel and remove items from the box each of them had requested, slipping a tube of the regeneration cream into the pile.
At the last set of guards, the door opened and the large bee stepped through followed by Nova. Nova watched this bee go through the same process the others did as they showed the women the amenities of the room and the hazy wall before leaving.
The first thing Nova did was pull out the table and unload the welding components along with the bits of broken solar panels and communications equipment. Misako told her several pieces would have to be repaired before they could reattach them to the tower and send out the signal.
The others waited for the sharebeam of information from Mia and Safia as they sat at their own tables and began to assemble the small pieces of equipment they would need for getting the ship’s VI back online or generating power once they could set the solar panels back up.
“What was the female’s reaction? Could you tell if they communicated without words?”
The First Advisor sat on her chair and laid her arms on the table in front of her. “Inconclusive. The female seemed shocked, angry, and worried about the health of the other females, but something also seemed off. It may be because of prior knowledge or it might have been because they didn’t want to show more weakness to us.”
The other nine Advisors sat back as they thought about the information. “We’ll continue to monitor them. Having them separated as they work with the others will give us more eyes on them. Send half of them with the cleaners and the other half into the farm. See which ones do better at the jobs then we’ll go from there. We need to concentrate on learning their language and their technology.”
“Speaking of which,” one of the others leaned forward and pushed a button on the table in front of them. A small panel rose in front of each Advisor. “Our medical scientists have the results of the dissections for us. Genitals were typical of our own males. Reproductive glands and organs are similar, but couldn’t be tested because of not being viable. Heart, lungs, brain tissue. Musculature comparable, though more heavily muscled, it is not as dense as our own males. They have no ability to fly. No ability to create propolis. Two eyes that do not have the ability to see in ultraviolet light, however, if the scientists are correct have much better vision than our own. They have organs that we do not and the scientists can only hypothesize on due to us only providing cadavers and not living males to learn from. Their blood is different; red in color and our scientists do not know why as they tested only the coagulated mess left behind. They want fresh samples, but I do not recommend it at this time. Earn the creature's trust then find out more about them. We want them compliant, not hostile. The more information we can gather the better.”
The others buzzed their agreement.
“One thing which they also found within the males puzzled and excited the scientists and doctors,” the Advisor said then brought up the image of a square with several pieces of thin, flexible wire and a fiber none of them ever saw before. “Each one had an exact duplicate of this at the base of their brain with the wires and… whatever those other things are, embedded within the brain itself and into the eyes. Embedded in the sides of their skulls, at eye level, were two metal devices we could not remove intact. They were also connected by wires and, I suppose, we could call the other component filaments, which followed a specific nerve behind the eyes and joined together in the same precise location of their brains. A different microscopic cable connected the entire thing to the web of wires. We do not know what they are. We do know they are indestructible and nothing we have seen before.”
“Controlling devices? Their males seemed hostile from what several of the guards said.”
“I don’t think so.” A different one said. “From what I’ve learned, they were attacked and woken with pain. If they were anything like their females that would have turned them hostile. One tried to comply, but the Queen got impatient and had him killed after telling the guards to remove any items found.”
The others leaned back in their chairs and studied the strange piece of equipment.
The Second Advisor leaned forward. “Now for other business. The Queen is of concern. Her actions before consulting with us are worrying. She broke protocol, and it cost us an opportunity we may never get again. Thoughts?”
“Wait and observe. If her further actions are contrary to the good of the hive, then we act.”
“Agreed.” Came the other nine buzzings.
The lights inside their cells came on and a loud buzz sound woke them from sleep. They scrambled from the mattresses just as the doors to their rooms opened and a guard stepped through followed by another bee.
Lyra watched as the bee walked to the table and placed what looked like a reed basket down. Inside the basket was various cloths and tools. Lyra turned toward the bee with a frown on her face.
“I don’t understand.”
The bee reached inside, took out a tool and cloth before kneeling on the floor then beginning to clean it.
“You want me to clean?” Lyra took out a matching tool and cloth. She knelt next to the smaller bee and copied the movement. The bee reached over, adjusted the motion of the cloth, and went back to scraping and wiping the floor.
A minute later Lyra laid the tool on the ground and stood up. The bee reached out and grabbed her foot.
“I have to pee,” Lyra mumbled and pointed toward the waste chute.
The bee tipped her head and let go of her. Once she was sure she understood what the strange creature was doing, she went back to cleaning the floor. She sounded a soft buzz when Lyra returned and copied her.
After finishing the room, the bee pointed to the basket, then the door. Lyra picked up the basket and another soft buzz sounded as the smaller bee walked toward the opening. Lyra followed and earned another soft buzz.
Are you getting this, Safia?
Yes, I’m doing the same thing; cleaning a different cell. If you do something wrong, they’ll reprimand then show it again. Do it right and the soft buzz sounds. The algorithm is learning now at a phenomenal rate and we should have more words and phrases soon.
I’m outside. The basket they had for me had tools and gloves inside. Lyra, you won’t believe this, Mia beamed then showed the others an image of enormous fields being tended to by a small army of bee people. The app isn’t registering a potential food source, but inconclusive without more data.
What does it mean by needing more data?
I think what it needs is a chemical breakdown and reaction input from a living source before it labels it as conclusive. I’ll need to bring back samples for study.
I don’t think that will happen, Mia, Misako said. They didn’t like it when I stopped to run my hands over the stalk of one of the pink and green flowers; let alone the petal. They keep trying to show me how to tend the really strange blue ones with the curling leaves, but I keep messing it up. You should be the one here doing this, Lyra. They have other varieties of plants too. There’s one with long purple fern-like fronds on it. There’s even one that looked like a giant pitcher plant. I didn’t get too close to it.
Lyra frowned. Show me?
One thing I found out, I can get a weak signal to the ship from out here. Nothing is activating though. I think the solar batteries are dead due to no panels. That means it’s the building that interferes. Lyra, if you can somehow get outside maybe you can contact the rover and get it working on something.
I don’t think it’s just the building. We can communicate through it just fine short distance. I think it’s because we are below ground while you aren’t right now. It’s this damn planet.
Lyra thought about what Misako said as she cleaned a wall in a different cell. She accessed the stored memory listing from the ship’s inventory and what they took outside before they were captured.
There are a few trickle charge panels still inside the hold. Do any of you remember if the guys put the hold door back up? Or is it still open?
Last I saw it was still open, Lyra. We were going to carry more stuff out the next morning and the guys said they would not bother closing the door until they set everything up because it was a pain in the ass to keep muscling the door open and closed.
Perfect. All I need to do is partition enough space and power from the neural-link to operate the rover and hook up the chargers to the ship batteries. Nova’s schematics of the ship will come in super handy, and I won’t even need to take the chance on having the rover leave the ship and be spotted in case they left some prying eyes watching.
Those trickle chargers won’t supply much power, Lyra.
I know, Nova, but given the amount of sunlight which this planet seems to get, it will give a lot of hours a day to directly charge the batteries, and as long as the storage functionality isn’t damaged it will hold what charge it gets. No one is there using any of the equipment so it won’t or at least, shouldn’t, bleed off.
How long do you think it will take?
Weeks… months… a year or more to fully charge the main ship battery, not including the secondary one; at least. Once the main ship battery is charged and if we can get it started… we can power it up and charge the secondary battery within hours. If Lyra shows me how to work the rover, and we’re sure none of these things are watching, I can get it to work on outside repairs to the hull. There are plenty of emergency repair parts in storage, and my primary tools are still on the ship. At least there’s enough to get the hull free of damage and fix the smaller things. If we can get the batteries powered, get the ship started, and get our asses there, we can get off this rotten planet and out of orbit. Once out of orbit, we can signal the Malta for a rescue.
That also assumes we can get the VI back on line to pilot the damn ship. Not one of us knows what the hell we are doing in that department, and the pilots had no time to sharebeam the information before they died.
There are plenty of rations on board. If we can get to the ship and seal it up, we can work on what repairs we can do. I’ve been going over the ship’s schematics and specs. I think I’ve found a way to reroute the power grid. Maybe the extra power would be enough to get the VI rebooted. There are always backups of the VI in the ship’s data banks in case the working copy gets corrupted. We just have to access and upload it once the program starts, Misako added.
We’ve got to figure out a way to get Nova and Lyra outside so they can get started repairing the ship.
Several days later, Lyra breathed out a sigh as the basket dropped on the little table contained a pair of work gloves. The bee pointed at the basket, then turned and started for the door. Lyra quickly grabbed the basket and rushed after it.
As she followed the creature outside, she stopped to blink in the harsh sunlight and shaded her eyes until they adjusted. The bee didn’t wait patiently and grabbed at her arm to yank her along.
When they arrived at their destination, the bee shoved her at another one and strode off. This one pointed at a strange-looking plant resembling an overripe brown-rind melon which split into three sections showing a deep red interior.
Lyra looked at the plant, then back at the bee, and stood there.
“I don’t know what to do,” she said as she looked back at the plant and started several apps scanning it to classify the thing.
The bee made a harsh buzzing noise at her before reaching down and grasping the plant, then pulling it up out of the soil.
Lyra put the gloves on, wiggling her fingers around until she got it to fit her five fingers, then bent over the next plant. She grasped it around the stem, then grunted when the bee slapped her hands.
“What? I’m doing what you showed me.”
The bee pointed at the top of the strange plant, then at the top of the one it pulled out. Lyra frowned. Her gaze cleared as she realized the one she almost pulled out wasn’t ready. The top hadn’t fully split open yet.
Lyra nodded and turned to examine the others around her. She spotted one with a fully opened pod at the top and deep red flesh inside. Lyra grasped the stem and yanked with all her strength. The plant tore from the soil with a ripping sound, causing her to shudder.
The bee took it from her and tossed it into the basket on top of the one it ripped out. The bee picked up the basket and shoved it at Lyra then pulled her further down the row of plants toward another bee also ripping the ripe plants from the soil. At least, Lyra thought they were the ripe ones.
Lyra watched the two bees and was sure they were talking to each other. As she recorded the various buzz sounds she heard, she also scanned the plants and the bees. To her astonishment, the scan returned something which she hadn’t even noticed. The new bee was five inches taller than the one which dragged her down the row of plants and weighed almost fifty pounds more because of heavier muscle mass. And they had wings, which the smallest bees didn’t.
Mia? Misako? Did you two run any scans on the bees tending the fields?
Because… and I’m guessing here… but I think we just found their males due to what my scans revealed.
See if you can bring me a sample to run additional comparisons on. I’ve been working on creating a different scanning app and this would be an excellent time to test it.
The shorter bee pointed to Lyra and then the plants before stalking off.
Lyra’s attention returned to the larger bee when she felt a nudge. It pointed toward the plants, then bent down to check another one.
Lyra kept scanning the newest bee as they worked together to harvest the strange plants. She noticed more differences between the worker bees and this new one she labeled “drone” in the information packet she put together and sharebeamed to the others. Its head wasn’t like the workers. Instead of being insect-like, it resembled the Queen’s; only more angular, without the gold markings the Queen and the others had. Instead of long, straight antennae, this bee’s were shorter and resembled feathery ones like moths had.
She noticed it studying her as well when she glanced its way a few times. One time, she smiled at it, and the bee paused for a few seconds, still looking at her before focusing back on the task at hand and reaching down to pull out another plant with ease.
Several times she got close enough for a better look at what she was now sure was a male. She noticed short, fine, setae or hair covered his face, but the rest of his body was smooth. Then she saw why. He wore one of the bodysuits which covered him from neck to feet, only allowing his head and wings free. The large, compound eyes sat high on its face while dark, thin lips formed a small mouth. The softly angled area below resembled a human’s chin.
A few hours later both of the baskets were full of harvested plants. The male picked up his basket and stared at her. She dusted off her gloves and picked up her own basket before he took several steps leading back down the long rows of plants they harvested. He paused and glanced back to make sure she followed before resuming walking.
Lyra panted and tried not to groan as she carried the heavy basket full of the smelly plants. She grunted when she stumbled and almost fell as she went to shove the basket on the wagon with the rest of them. She looked up when a hand gripped her elbow to steady her. A second later, the grip released, and she nodded her thanks. She let out another groan when the male bee picked up an empty basket and held it out to her.
After they filled their next baskets, he led them to a different area and got in line behind several more of the drone bees. She kept looking around and scanning anything and everything she could when she heard a loud whistle come from her left. She glanced over and saw Nova carrying two of the large baskets with her own drone bee hurrying after her, reaching for one balanced on her shoulders.
Lyra grinned and shook her head. Show off.
Lyra’s drone nudged her again, and she turned her attention back to him. They moved up the line enough for Lyra to see what it was for. A pair of drone bees handed out two silvery thermos-like containers to each of the bees in line.
Lyra hesitated, then accepted the two containers and hurried after the drone who led them to a small shaded area provided by one of the smaller versions of the flower trees.
Lyra watched the bee open the first container and her nose wrinkled with the strange odor of their food. She sighed and opened the first of her containers, only to reseal it quickly and place it near the other one the bee had yet to open.
She saw him pause and turn his head toward her when she let go of the thermos and opened the other one. She smiled a little when the scanner registered it as water and took several large mouthfuls.
She felt a nudge and looked over to see the bee holding the thermos she sat next to him, pushing it toward her. She shook her head. “I can’t eat it,” she said and used her hand to push it back toward him with a smile.
He paused again, and she noticed his antennae flutter slightly before he uncapped the container and took a drink from it.
Lyra grinned and drank some of her water as she saw Nova bearing down on them with her drone running to keep up with her and carrying the thermos’.
Nova let out a grunt as she plopped down next to Lyra. “What’s happening?”
Lyra snorted and shook her head. “Backbreaking harvesting of strange plants. Non-edible glop in a silver thermos which smells revolting, but must be pretty tasty to them as my drone drank down his own container and the one I gave him.”
Nova grunted and leaned back far enough to reach into the pocket of her cargo pants and hold out one of the cube containers to Lyra, then pulled out another one from a different pocket. “You should have worn something with pockets,” she said with a smirk.
“If I would have known we’d be attacked while we were sleeping, I would have gone to bed in my protective suit.”
“You’ve got a point. I’m glad I was awake and dressed from coming back from using the bio-facility. At least they didn’t catch me with my pants down.”
Lyra burst out laughing, causing the males closest to her to turn and look. Nova grinned and twisted the cap off the first container and made a disgusted face before shoving it toward the male drone next to her. “At least they gave us water,” Nova mumbled as she uncapped another container and took a drink before putting one cube in her mouth and chewing.
“So what have they got you harvesting?” Lyra said as she chewed her own cube after the male drone finally finished inspecting the open container in curiosity. She sharebeamed the image of the plant she worked on and received one back.
“A really weird green plant with three… I guess you could call them pinkish petals and a giant green stem shooting up from inside the plant with a pink ball on the tip. It’s crazy looking; heavy too. We could only fit six into one of those enormous baskets.”
I connected with the rover as soon as the other bees left. The signal is weak, but I received a confirmation. I have it unpacking the trickle chargers and hooking two of them into the main ship battery and another into its power base. The chargers should receive enough sunlight from this harsh place to charge up the packs, then let it bleed into the main batteries. I’ll try to hook up the intact solar array on the roof of the ship later. Tomorrow, I’ll have it use one of its small cameras to look out the window to see if the ship is being watched. If it is, then the only thing we can do right now is see about getting the inside repairs started.
Whoever is out here tomorrow will need to keep their sharebeam open so I can send signals to the rover through it.
Sharebeamed answers came back as Nova and Lyra sighed and stood up when their drones signaled it was time to get back to work.
The male’s section of the hive was abuzz with whispers about the strange beings.
“The two today didn’t look like the ones you described,” one drone said. “Could there be more than just those four?”
“Maybe. What are they? Where did they come from?” Another drone said. “And did they really share their food with you?”
The drone which spent all day with Lyra buzzed. “Yes. Without hesitation. It even let me see what they ate. Strange, solid, square-shaped objects which had no scent.”
“The one I spent the day with not only gave me their food but carried both baskets… at the same time. It must have been their Queen. It towered over all of us, but toiled in the dirt and sun alongside the other one.”
“Then it couldn’t have been a Queen and the others female. No Queen would do such. No females would share their food or sit on the ground.”
“But the Queen wouldn’t let other males live in her domain. No other Queens either. What are they?”
None of them knew, and all of them were curious.
The Third Advisor overseeing the strange creatures toiling in the farm areas watched the two females carefully, and the interactions between them and the males assigned to teach them to harvest.
Just like the past three days, both of the females worked diligently in the fields. The larger one carrying multiple baskets while the male followed behind her as one should, carrying his own basket. When the time came for their meals, the females sat together with the two males and didn’t keep the food for themselves or dump it out, but insisted the males consume it instead as they ate a handful of the strange cubes. Her antennae twitched as she watched the one drone share some of his water when the smaller female ran out.
The advisor turned and spread her wings. A moment later she landed lightly on the ground in front of the hive’s door and walked through.
The First and Fourth Advisor looked up from the scattering of strange and still unknown objects spread out on the table before them. “Report?” the First Advisor said.
“The females are working with our drones. They do not seem to expect our males to do the work for them. Nor do they attempt to order them. They share in the workload, except for their Queen.”
The First Advisor looked up. “Explain.”
“Their Queen does double the amount of work her own people do and insists on carrying the heavy loads herself. She carries two baskets nearly overflowing with produce and weighing more than a normal one returned from the drones. In addition, as with the other female, she also insists the drone who follows her in the fields eats her portion of the provided food. The drones have begun sharing their water with the strange females, and for the past two meals, more drones have gathered about them to examine the strangers. The strangers show no reluctance to let the drones touch or hold the strange objects they carry with them. Nor does the smaller female object when one of the drones lifts the strangely colored setae on her head to examine it.
“From my observations, they are treating the drones as equals to the smaller females and not as males should be. The males are beginning to treat them with deference. Bringing them empty baskets or extra water, and letting them sit in the shade far longer than their assigned break times.”
“They should be separated,” the Fourth Advisor said harshly. “The females are corrupting the males somehow.”
The First Advisor held up a hand. “Wait. Are the females communicating with the males?”
The Third’s antennae wavered. “Unknown. The females speak freely around them. Makes very strange sounds which draw the male’s attention. I see them making motions or differing movements with their facial muscles, but as to communicating? I don’t know.”
The First Advisor stood motionless for several minutes. “Keep them working together. Watch them to see if they are attempting to communicate with the drones. They are not resistant around them and are openly interacting. If the males can pick up the meanings of even a few of their sounds it will be more than what our scientists have.”
“A male? Absurd.”
The First and Third Advisor looked over at the Fourth. “By her report, there is already evidence of it. The males are non-threatening. It has been the Queen or our female workers who have done injury to them each time. From immediately attacking them upon discovery, to killing the only males of their kind they had, to injuring their Queen. They have made no attempt at communicating with us unless it is forced in some way. Yet, they do not react the same around the drones.”
The First turned toward the Third, “Monitor them. Speak with the two drones in a few more days to see if they can understand any of the meanings of the words. It might not be exactly what their word means, but even a hint at understanding their language is better than we have.”
The two drones looked nervously at each other as they were escorted toward the Advisor’s chambers.
Once inside the room, the two stood in front of the multi-colored desk made of hardened flower petals and stems dipped in a clear lacquer.
“You’ve been assigned to the two strange creatures to show them how to harvest the crops. We’ve been observing you. Tell us what you can about their communication. Can you understand any of their words?”
They looked at each other after bowing to the Advisor then back to her.
“I do not know what they are saying. They create different sounds through the use of their mouths. They also seem to use their hands as part of their communication process.”
The other one buzzed his agreement. “Some sounds are repetitive when the two of them sit together to rest. I believe they are greeting each other. They make their mouths move in strange ways as well during this time.”
“And they sometimes use only their heads wobbling from side to side or up and down to convey meaning.”
The Advisor looked at the two drones.
“And the large one points with her one finger then curls it when she wants something.”
Her attention swung to that drone. “What else?”
He tipped his head, “She grunts out the same sounds each time and moves her head up and down when I hand her what she apparently wants; side to side if I misunderstand and try handing her the wrong thing.”
The Third Advisor considered the information the drones gave her and made a low buzzing sound. A guard approached and motioned toward the door.
The two stayed quiet until they reached the male section deep under the main part of the hive. Once the guard left them, they moved toward the two carved out insets in the wall where they slept. “What do you think that was all about?” the one whispered.
The other one remained quiet for several minutes as he settled into his sleeping area below the other one. “I do not know for sure. Let’s just keep watching them and learning. I’m not too happy about the Queen and her Advisors using us to get information about the strange things. If they wanted to talk with them, then why don’t they do it themselves?”
The other bee let out a buzz that sounded like a sigh as he settled into sleep and wondered the same thing.
Lyra took a few seconds to stretch and rub her lower back after she filled another basket with a strange bluish-green plant with several curly green and pink fronds. She closed her eyes and sent a beam request for an update to the drone. A flood of information returned concerning the power levels of the ship battery, the drone’s battery, and the repairs to the inside of the ship. She sharebeamed it to the others before she picked up the basket and carried it toward the drop off point.
“Two percent? That’s it?” Nova whispered harshly from where she stood next to Lyra drinking water from a container. “It’s been twenty-eight days, Lyra.”
Lyra sighed. “I warned all of you about that before we started this. The trickle chargers aren’t an efficient means of transferring power to things as large as ship batteries. They’re mainly good for negligible things. Recharging drones, keeping vehicle batteries topped off, that sort of thing. We’re lucky there was even one on board, let alone three of them. The rover is repairing the connection to the ship’s solar array panels and the interior damage as quickly as possible. But it’s an exploration vehicle, not a repair drone. The darn thing wasn’t built for this sort of work. On top of it, most of the power isn’t going into the main battery with having to recharge the drone due to the high level of drainage, which happens with the constant work it’s doing.”
It finished the bulkhead patches, so it holds a vacuum. I used it to patch the severed electrical connections I found to the ship before these bee people captured us, Nova sharebeamed to everyone. Now it’s time for Misako to link in and see if she can figure out a way for it to repair ship communications and possibly the VI power connection.
I’ve been going over the ship’s specs and manual. I think the drone can do it. But it needs to get outside to check the exterior antenna and its connections into the console.
That’s risky. The images the drone sent back showed at least two guards still snooping around the ship.
We need to do something, Lyra, or we will never get off this planet. According to what I could find in the emergency manual, a system reboot needs at least twenty percent battery power and a secure power connection to the VI core.
Lyra looked up at the sky again and saw the continuing flashes of lights. She wondered how long the storm would last or if they were stuck here for the rest of their long… long lives. Unless the Queen of these bee people killed them all sooner.
Nova’s eyebrow rose as she saw the drone working with Lyra hand her another container of water before sitting down beside her instead of across from her like it usually did. She’d notice over the past two weeks, that the drone inched its way closer and closer to Lyra and didn’t seem to look away from her even when eating. Only tipping its head to either side as Lyra chatted away, ate a cube, and drank some water.
Are you guys seeing this? I think Lyra has an admirer. Nova beamed to the others along with the images.
Maybe she can talk him into taking her to the blasted ship so she can get this stupid rover to work faster and we can get off this damn world. Maddy said as she scraped a smoothing tool along the floor of yet another hexagonal shaped room. It had disappointed her at how slow the rover worked when she sent instructions for doing visual diagnostics on the life support equipment on the ship as they waited for the batteries to charge. They were up to a whopping five percent now.
Nova sighed. At least you’re inside where it’s a few degrees cooler. I think we’re coming up on the summer months here. The temperatures are already rising a degree or two per day. And still no rain in sight.
Nova glanced back at Lyra who pointed to herself and repeated her name again. It looked like she was trying to talk to him.
“I’m called Lyra,” she said as she pointed a finger at her chest. “Lyra.”
The drone tipped his head to the side, and a soft buzz emanated from his chest.
Keep it up, Lyra. I think in another few months the translation software I’m building will be ready to go online. The buzzing from him is consistent each time you repeat your name. Try water now. Safia said, and Lyra picked up the container of water and poured a little in her hand.
“Water.” I hope we’re not here in a couple more months.
Well, if we aren’t and there’s more of this species scattered on this planet or the other ones in the system, we will be able to have rudimentary communications with them, Safia replied.
Nova and Lyra, along with their two drones, sat in their usual shaded spot to eat. Nova shook out several cubes from the container she carried in her pocket. She gave Lyra a worried look. “We’re running low on cubes. We need to make a break for the ship soon and get off this planet or at least get more of our food supply or it won’t matter if the rover can fix the communications console or not.”
They each took two cubes, then Nova sealed the container back up and tucked it in her cargo pants pocket.
“The batteries are at seven percent. At this rate, we will probably be out of food stocks before it can reach 20,” Lyra mumbled as she took her time chewing the cube she placed in her mouth. “Getting the full solar hook-up needs to be a priority, not communications or the VI, or repairing the inner doors. Without the batteries having enough power to get us off this planet, those things won’t matter.”
The two drones looked at each other, then at the women. “What are they saying? They do not appear to be content.”
“I do not know. Have you noticed they are not eating as much as they did months ago? Each one would eat those strange cube-shaped objects from separate containers. Six each a day. Now they share from one cup and only eat two.”
“If it was their mating season wouldn’t they be eating more, not less?”
“I think so. Mine is losing color. Have you noticed she is becoming paler and thinner? Weaker, too. Before she struggled only a little with her basket. Now she has to stop every few steps and stumbles more.”
“Mine is no longer carrying two fully loaded baskets at a time either and takes longer to deliver them to the center.”
“Maybe we should tell the guards? The Advisor told us to observe and learn.” Nova’s drone tipped his head as he watched her lay on her back on the ground and cover her eyes with a forearm.
Lyra’s drone looked at her. She sat with her legs bent up in a strange fashion and her head resting on the bent leg joints. He noticed her hands shaking before one covered her abdomen and rubbed. “Yes. But keep the knowledge we can understand several of their words to ourselves. I do not think the Advisors or the Queen will treat them well once they learn about them.”
The Advisors in the room looked up as a guard requested entrance; behind her stood two of the drones.
“Enter. What is the meaning of this interruption?”
“These are the drones assigned to the strange Queen and the one who has a light touch with plants. They say they have something important to tell the Third Advisor.”
“Speak. And this better be important.”
The drones bowed, and Nova’s stepped forward. “We’ve come to report our observations of the strange creatures. Over the past few weeks we’ve noticed they are no longer eating the same, and they are weaker and seem to have pain in their abdomens.”
“Mine stumbles as if she barely has the strength to stand. The other one no longer carries a larger burden. Neither one of them talks much anymore.”
“Have you learned any of their words?” The Fifth Advisor asked from her position at the table.
Lyra’s drone waved his antennae, “No, Advisor. The sounds are strange. Impossible for me to even copy the sound, let alone understand the verbal meaning.”
“The strangers cannot or will not consume our nourishment. You say they are rationing their own?”
“From what we have observed in the two who work the fields.”
The First and Third Advisors had a whispered conversation the drones could not hear, then they called over a guard.
“Go to the Fourth Advisor, ask if the workers assigned to the cleaning crew with the strangers have noticed them rationing their own food supplies. Get her answer, then return to us.” She turned to the drones. “Go back to the fields. If things change, request a guard to send notice of it to the Third Advisor. There will be no need for you to leave the fields again.”
Both drones bowed and quickly followed the guard from the room back down the long twisting corridor and out into the sunlight.
Once out of hearing of the guard, Lyra’s drone said, “What do you think they’ll do?”
The other one looked in both directions, “I don’t know, but I hope they don’t do to the strangers what they do to us when our food runs low.”
The guards sent to search the stranger’s rooms returned with their reports. “Each of the boxes containing those strange cups of cubes is nearly empty. It is as the drones said; they are rationing their food and will be out of stocks within the next two weeks at the current consumption rate.”
“If they do not die of weakness and starvation beforehand,” the Third Advisor buzzed.
“Now would be the time to cull them. While alive, our scientists could examine them and learn more about them. If they die, they die.”
Several of the Advisors turned toward the Queen sitting on her throne.
“Once again, you forget without them alive we may not be able to learn about the vessel they arrived in, or if there are more of them. Without their language, we won’t get anywhere. If there are more waiting until the storm ends then comes to locate these, we could have a war we couldn’t win on our hands. We do not know their numbers. As we’ve told you multiple times, we also know that their technology is far greater than ours. We can not lose this opportunity, one you’ve already hampered by your actions against them in the very beginning. Do not interfere again or think the decision on what to do with these females lies with you. It does not,” the First Advisor said with a deep, harsh tone to her buzzing words the other Advisors clearly heard.
“What do you suggest?” An Advisor asked. The First and Third Advisors conversed for a moment before the First spoke.
“Choose several guards to escort the smaller female and the drone with her to her vessel. It will be a chance to see if our hypothesis is correct and the outsiders are the only ones who can gain entry to the vehicle. If there are more food stocks within, the female can retrieve them and keep them alive for further use.”
“Why take a drone? The guards are enough.”
“Due to past instances, we have observed the females who work the fields are comfortable around the drones. They openly communicate. They do not view them with hostility or suspicion. We believe having the one she is familiar with travel with her will put her at ease. He could gain entry into the vessel and relay what he sees inside.”
Several of the other advisors spoke between themselves and seemed to have come to an agreement.
“Very well. We can see the advantage of allowing a drone to return with the creature to gain more information. Several of us agree with you, that the guards will probably not be allowed to enter and must be reminded to not use force against the female unless the female attacks. Which we have yet to see, except in defense of themselves.”
“I will choose six guards to accompany them and remind them of their duties,” the Seventh Advisor said as she stood up and moved toward a door on the East side of the hexagonal room.
He followed the guard down the corridor heading toward the Advisor’s chamber for the second time that day and wondered why. He only hoped he’d be returning.
The door to the Advisor’s chambers opened, and the guard escorted him inside to see another six heavily armed guards standing there along with two of the Advisors.
The Third Advisor turned toward him as he joined the guards. “We have decided. You and these guards will accompany the small female back to where we found them. Impress upon her, she is there to retrieve more of their strange nutrition cubes. While you are there, you are to observe her every move. Get inside the strange vessel where we found them and learn whatever you can about it. When you get back, you are to tell us everything.”
The Third Advisor waved her hand, and the guard shoved the drone to get him moving back to the door to the passageway.
He’d watch alright, but he’d tell them nothing, he thought as he tried to work his mind around how to go about telling Lyra they were to fetch more of her food.
Lyra knelt on the ground, rubbing her stomach. Nova joined her a few minutes later and handed her another two cubes. “Eat, Lyra.”
Lyra weakly shook her head and pushed the cubes back. “You need them more, Nova. Your body burns calories at a much higher rate than mine.”
“Quit arguing. We’ll each take one.”
Lyra nodded and took the cube. She held it on her tongue for as long as she could before slowly chewing and swallowing. It wasn’t much, but it should help her get through the rest of the workday.
They both looked up when they heard a loud buzzing and saw a drone being herded their way by a bunch of guards.
Lyra frowned. “I think that’s my drone.”
Nova glanced at her, then back at the approaching group, and stood on shaky legs.
“What do you want?” she asked as the group got closer.
The guard in front used her staff to push the drone closer and told him to pick up the smaller thing so they could get going.
The drone stumbled, and Nova reached out to steady him while glowering at the guard.
The drone buzzed softly and knelt in front of Lyra. He tipped his head and waved his antennae as he told her about taking her for more food.
Lyra frowned and rubbed her forehead. I don’t know what he wants.
Hold on a second, Lyra. Pushing a language update out. I’m hoping it helps. It’s still not complete yet.
No problem. Just make sure you remember to act as if you don’t understand him unless he uses something other than those buzzes. We don’t want to tip them off that we can talk with them. At least, not yet. Not after seeing the way they killed our men, even when they tried to cooperate.
Lyra shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
The male shifted and glanced back. He didn’t see Lyra close her eyes for a brief second as she unpacked the data push and uploaded it.
The drone looked between Nova and Lyra. He noticed Nova holding the cup their food came in and reached for it.
“Food. Come,” he said, trying to use quick buzz sounds to convey his meaning while holding the cup out to her and lifting her to her feet.
“What does he want?” Nova said and shoved back a guard who used her staff to poke the drone.
One of the other guards grabbed the aggressive one and buzzed a warning.
“Have you unpacked the recent software update?”
Nova shook her head. “I don’t want to take my eyes off these goons. What did he say?”
“Something about food. I wonder if they will take us to the ship.”
Nova frowned and looked around for her drone. “I don’t see my drone anywhere. Why is yours trying to get you to go with him and mine’s not here? And what are these guards for?”
One guard reached out to grab Lyra and Nova struck it across its face, knocking it back from them.
A harsh buzz sounded from above and they looked up to see one of the larger bees hovering overhead. The guards took several steps back and waited.
The drone looked at Nova and back to Lyra. “Food. Come. Find.” He reached for Lyra’s hands and gave a gentle tug.
Nova put a hand on his shoulder. He stopped and quickly dropped Lyra’s hands. She looked at his face for a moment, then back to Lyra. “I know you said the program is telling you he wants to help you find food. How sure are you about this, Lyra? They seem to only want you and none of the rest of us.”
Lyra shrugged and chewed her bottom lip. “I’m not sure about anything. But if they are taking me back to the ship, there’s a possibility I can figure out a way to hook up the solar array to the main ship batteries. The rover doesn’t have the dexterity to do it. One thing for sure, I won’t be letting these things on our ship.”
“This drone is one of them. Do you trust him?” Nova asked softly.
“I don’t know, Nova. But you have to admit, they’ve treated us well and they are also being bullied by the females. I think if we can trust any of this species, it will be some males. You can tell how some of them flinch and fawn and hurry to do their orders, while some of them follow but not quite as quickly. Our two drones are like the latter. I think those two we can trust.”
Nova thought for a moment, then looked out over the field again. She spotted her drone standing and watching them instead of harvesting the crops like the others were. She nodded and took a deep breath. “Okay, Lyra. Do your best to get those panels hooked up. I’m sending you a repair manual for the cube maker.”
“Why? Do you think it’s broken?”
“Could be since it hasn’t been used for a while. More importantly, those things have a unique setting most people don’t know about. During the testing phase, they set them to take the ration gel and powder it before adding the nutrients and flavors then turning it into cubes. The powder is tasteless, just like the gel. It’s also lightweight and can be reconstituted using only water. One teaspoon of powder equals one cup of cubes.”
Lyra’s mouth opened. “Seriously? Then why aren’t they doing that? It would save on gel and shipping weight. We could have packed four or five times the amount of powder than we did gel and been under the limit. Not to mention how many more people even a little of the gel would feed.”
“Because it’s tasteless and cheap. Can you imagine having to drink the gel three or four times a day? No one would do it for long. They all want flavored stuff, and I can’t blame them. But the flavoring is liquid drops and is added at the time the machines form the cubes, so it only works in the machines. It’s how the manufacturers make most of their money. It’s a big business selling flavors and flavored cubes.”
“How do you know this?”
Nova shrugged. “My dad works… worked in the production facility for Bayliss Manufacturing. The largest food processor maker on Earth. It was his job to test the software and machines to make sure they could powder it, add the right amount of nutrients, reconstitute while adding the flavors, then cube the mess.”
Lyra frowned at her.
“Look, Lyra. If you can reset the machine just to fill the containers with the nutrient-enriched powder, it will be lighter and you won’t need to make so many. You can spend your time trying to do other stuff. Then walk out with a crate of food. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to have to worry about not having enough food while we’re here anymore and also about using up all our supplies, then having to leave it behind when we figure out a way off this planet.
“This way you can use one or two bags of ration gel instead of an entire crate of it. And, if you happen to need to go back to the ship for more food or something, you can get the rover working on fixing another system while trying to get a signal out.”
Lyra nodded and accepted the packet transfer. Once she told Nova the info was uploaded into her neural net, Nova reached for the drone’s hands and placed Lyra’s between his palms. “Be careful, Lyra.”
One guard tired of waiting again and jabbed her spear into the drone’s side, causing him to gasp in pain. Nova turned and punched the guard. She grabbed a spear from a different guard who wasn’t prepared for it and thrust it into the guard’s leg hard enough to crack the armor plating. Nova growled as she yanked the spear up to hit it again. The larger bee stopped her by grabbing the end of the spear and holding it.
Nova’s lips curled in a snarl, but let the spear go.
The Third Advisor looked down at the guard on the ground. “Since you can not follow even the basic orders of not hurting or assaulting the strangers, you do not deserve to remain.” As soon as the last buzz of the words came out the Advisor thrust the staff through the chest plate of the guard, killing it instantly. She left it pinned to the ground and turned toward the others. “I hope I’ve made myself clearer than the Seventh Advisor did when she gave you orders.”
Lyra’s eyes met those of Nova. She gripped the drone’s hand with one of her own before removing his other from his side to inspect for damage. They both gasped as yellow blood trickled from the wound the spear made in his side.
Nova held out her small tube of regeneration gel and Lyra applied a tiny amount to the bleeding area under the tear in his suit. It closed up immediately and the drone let out a buzz of relief which caught the attention of the Advisor.
The Advisor turned and reached for Lyra’s hand to move it away from the drone, but was stopped by Nova’s grip on her wrist.
“Do not touch her,” Nova growled a warning.
The Advisor’s first instinct was to kill the stranger, but she held back. Nova released her after a few seconds.
“How bad is it, Lyra?” Nova asked.
“The gel sealed the wound and must have relieved some of his pain. His body is covered with the same small tiny hairs as his face and head. I can’t be sure it won’t get infected. This stuff wasn’t made for aliens, after all.”
Nova grunted and waited until Lyra moved back away from the drone’s side before tipping her head toward the Advisor.
The Third Advisor’s wings buzzed in annoyance. Then she leaned over a bit to see the tear in the suit and the wound beneath. She reached out to move the suit to inspect it better but was once again stopped. This time by the smaller female inserting her hand between the drone’s side and the Advisor without touching his body.
“It’s best not to touch the area until it’s fully healed,” Lyra said softly and removed her hand so the Advisor could look at it if she wanted.
Lyra gave the drone a gentle smile and squeezed his hand after the Advisor straightened up.
The Third Advisor watched the two strangers and the drone. She noticed the smaller one still touching the drone as its Queen inspected the wound and handed the tube of gel back to the smaller one.
“It’s still bleeding a little in the lower corner. Add a bit more to seal it completely.”
Lyra frowned and dabbed it on, then handed the tube back to Nova.
Nova patted the drone on the shoulder and replaced Lyra’s hands between his palms again before turning back to the other guards and snarling at them.
“I’ll do my best to keep the sharebeam open and feed all of you information,” Lyra said as she moved a step closer to the drone, then went with him toward the guards.
The Third Advisor called a meeting and paced. “It seems the stranger’s Queen has claimed the drone as one of hers and given it to the smaller female. When one of the guards ignored the order of not causing trouble with the strangers and stabbed the drone, they both reacted. The Queen nearly killed the guard while they both protected the drone. The smaller one used the strange orange substance given to her by the Queen to heal the drone without hesitation.”
This news didn’t go over well with the others.
“Afterward, the Queen placed the female’s hands in the drones and the smaller female went with the drone as he led her toward the guards. The smaller female kept a grip on the drone and stayed close to him the entire way through the complex.”
“Perhaps we can use this to our advantage,” the Second Advisor said.
“The drone can gain more information if he’s allowed to stay with the stranger. You’ve said they show no reservation in interacting around him and the one assigned to the Queen. We know very little of the others, except they clean the rooms. What do they do? How do they interact with each other outside of work? We can not get accurate visuals since we have separated them. Perhaps assigning a drone to each one will gain us this information.”
“The Queen will not like losing several of her drones to these strangers.”
The Tenth Advisor waved an uncaring hand. “Assign the ones due to die either during the mating flight or subsequent purge. Make them useful since they’ve done very little for the hive in the past twenty-seven years.”
Lyra stumbled over the uneven ground as the guards set too fast a pace for her weakened body. After she nearly fell for the third time, the drone scooped her up and carried her in his arms. She panted and leaned a tired head on his shoulder as they continued walking through the long, scorching day.
They stopped once to hand out small containers of water and nectar. The drone handed the second nectar container back to them before uncapping the water and helping to steady it for Lyra to drink from it.
“Thank you,” she whispered as she laid in the shade and closed her eyes. Her body shook. She felt ill and so very weak.
Lyra? Come on, girl. Don’t give up. Open your eyes so we can see where you’re at.
Lyra sighed and opened her sunken eyes and did her best to look around. That’s a girl. You’re only a few hours away from the ship. They’re taking the same path back as they did when they led us to the amber dome. Just a little longer and you can eat something and get a brief rest as the machine makes more food. The medical scanner should still have enough juice left to do a quick bio scan on you, and the cabinets are filled with medicines. Just send me the scan results and I’ll send you the dosages of any meds you need. Also, see about running a scan on your boyfriend there and upload it. It’s the perfect opportunity to get more intel.
Lyra blinked several times when what Mia said registered. Boyfriend? What the hell are you talking about? Jeremy…
The others all laughed. Nova sent her images of what she saw as they sat together and ate. Of how the drone seemed to want to edge closer to her every day. Lyra’s cheeks blushed even rosier than they were from the heat.
The group arrived at the ship as the sky darkened into night. Lyra wiggled a little, and the drone sat her down on her feet. The guards gathered tightly around her. Lyra didn’t move toward the ship at all but toward the comm tower.
“As if I will open the door with you lot crowded around me. I’m not stupid,” she muttered to herself and looked over the mess they made of the solar and control panels.
Nova? Are you able to see this clearly?
Not too well, Lyra. What I can see is, they’ve destroyed the controls. The comm tower is useless to us now. We’ll have to rely on getting the VI up and running and getting it to boost a signal out.
Lyra? Check in the shelter for anything remaining we can use. Tools, filters, condensed water. Mia said.
Lyra spent several minutes rooting around inside the shelter before adding the few remaining gel packs for their mattresses, two condensed water tubes which someone hid under a partially inflated mattress, and something Nova called a welding safety clamp and her helmet with the tribal design painted on it into a crate.
Our other safety suits are missing, she said. Maddy is the only one who has one.
Those bitches must have stolen them after they dragged us away.
You’re probably right, Misako. Once the ship has full power, we can use the repair machine onboard to adjust the fit of… the ones we kept. For now, try to get a little way away from the guards and get on the ship.
Lyra edged her way around the shelter, stopping once in a while to pick something up or pull on something else until it got a little darker. Three of the remaining five guards set up their own camp, and she took several steps toward the ship. The drone saw her and edged his way in the same direction little by little until they were only a short distance away from each other.
As soon as the guards became distracted by the buzz of the one handing out food, Lyra signaled to open the door and she hurried inside. The drone barely made it into the airlock before the outer door closed. A few seconds later they heard angry bangs against the door. Lyra sighed in relief when she saw the weak glow of the emergency lighting come on.
Lyra leaned against the wall, then held out a hand, stopping the drone from moving.
She moved his hands to cover his compound eyes since he had no other way to close them against the spray, then picked up the nozzle end of the portable decon sprayer and pointed it toward her body, turned it on and moved it all over herself.
The drone listened to the noise filling the tiny room, and the chemical smell made it hard to take a deep enough breath. The sound stopped, and he lowered his hands. He saw her holding a strange hose with a funnel end which was attached to a large silver canister next to her. She turned the nozzle toward him and he stiffened.
“It is alright. This will not hurt. I have to decontaminate you before entering,” she said softly and placed a soothing hand on his arm.
She sprayed a little on his feet and he relaxed; she motioned for him to cover his eyes again. After coating his front, she turned him around to face the wall and sprayed the back of his head, letting the mist settle on top of his antenna and filter around him. She hoped it would be enough.
When she pulled him back around, she gripped his wrists lightly and tugged his hands away from his eyes.
“Come on. It’s okay.” Lyra said and touched a panel next to the door. It slid open, and she stepped into the ship. Her nose wrinkled at the stale odor inside.
“Whew. It stinks.”
That’s from not having the recycler running and the ship sealed up for so long.
Too bad you can’t crack a window and let in fresh air.
Lyra chuckled and shook her head as she moved into the hold of the ship, closely followed by the drone who tried to look at everything. She found one crate for the food machine and opened it up to pull out three sealed packs of gel and one tube of the nutrient booster.
Lyra held the items toward the drone, who tipped his head to the side before holding out his hands. She put all the items in his hands before turning back to locate a crate with their sealing cups in it.
She dropped everything in front of the basic food cube maker and sighed when she didn’t see any of the lights on. She picked up the silver foil wrapper and pulled out the glow stick. She snapped it, shook it, and laid it on the table.
What now, Nova?
It’s probably not set up to run on emergency power. On the right side of the main box, there should be an indent. If you stick your finger on it and follow the seam up toward the top, you’ll find a barely noticeable plastic cover. Flip the cover up and pull out the dinky thing inside.
Yeah. My dad had this really long, stupid name for it. But I always referred to it as a dinky thing. It made him laugh. Once you find it, stick the short flat end of it into the indent and it should slide into a tiny hole. Just twist and the cover will open. Once it opens up, I’ll walk you through how to switch it over to emergency power. From there you’re on your own as the drones and guards here are packing everything up for the day and we’ll lose our signal. You will have to turn on the air filter and circulate it or you will end up dying of asphyxiation, Lyra. Get it going as soon as you’ve got the emergency power flowing to the cube maker.
Lyra hurried to find the small tool and pop the panel open. Nova sent her an information packet with the instructions on how to reset the power, then wished her good luck as they were out of time.
“Damn it. Okay, you can do this, Lyra.” She glanced over her shoulder and saw the drone running his hand over the metal table of the mess hall, looking at it. She turned her attention back to the machine and began following the instructions Nova sent.
After loosening the cover over the second control panel, she saw a series of tiny switches and dials. She hissed as she couldn’t read them in such dim light and sighed. She had no choice; she needed more light. She deactivated the invisibility mode of her visor and the area around her eyes lit with a red light.
She heard a gasp from the drone and closed her eyes for a second before glancing back to see him watching her. “It’s okay. Don’t worry.”
He reached for her face, and his fingers passed through the visor. She quickly closed her eyes when she felt him do it a second time before he touched the rest of her face.
“It’s okay,” she mumbled and turned back to the processor. She shook her head when the pounding on the outer door continued. She saw the dials she wanted and turned them to the settings she needed, then closed the panels back up. After she closed the machine’s door, she pushed the power button, and a hum started. The lights came on for a second before the machine’s computerized voice said, “Thank you for purchasing the newest in the Bayliss Manufacturing line of commercial grade food cubing machines. One moment while the software updates… Software update complete. Please follow the printed steps to add the ration gel pack, nutrient booster, and your choice of flavor enhancement drops to the dispenser. When the lights turn green, you are ready to begin processing. Enjoy your delicious and nutritious food cubes brought to you by Bayliss Manufacturing. Have a pleasant day.”
Lyra set her visor to invisible mode again and inserted everything she needed into the machine, then loaded the sealing cups into it. She pushed the dispense button when the lights turned green.
“Processing will begin in five seconds. Thank you for using Bayliss Manufacturing’s line of automated food processors.”
“Well, that’s all it supposedly takes to make the food powder.”
The drone tipped his head and watched the first cup drop from the top of a clear plastic chute and slide through the machine. Powder spilled from a tube and into the cup. Once it deemed the cup full, the cup slid further down where it was sealed and dropped into the dispensing tube.
“Thank you. Your order is complete. Please remove the cup from the dispenser.”
Lyra reached out and removed the cup of powder and placed it on the mess hall table before pushing the button again and having to listen to the entire spiel the machine spoke on placing her order.
While that cup filled, she started opening cupboards, searching for more of the sealed cube cups. She found one clear in the back of an upper cabinet and reached for it when she felt a hand on her shoulder.
She turned to see the drone holding one of the finished cups in his hand. She smiled, then gasped in shock. “Lyra. Eat. Food.” He spoke in Earth Common.
“You can talk?” she asked weakly, then sat on one of the metal benches.
“Lyra. Eat. Food.” He held out the container again.
“No. Only the words I taught you. Have you been keeping it a secret that you can understand me?”
He tipped his head. “Lyra. Eat.”
She frowned, then swallowed as a thought came to her. She took her chances and stood. She put a hand on her chest and buzzed out the word he used when sitting next to her in the fields.
“Lyra.” The buzz she gave didn’t sound quite like the one he used.
He paused. “Lyra.” He repeated in both his language and hers.
“Oh my God.”
It took several minutes for her to calm down. She got herself under control, then took the fresh cup of powder from his hands and put it on the table before taking down the old cup of cubes.
Lyra studied him as he looked around the mess hall, touching everything as she ate her first full meal in over two weeks. She’d stop long enough to push the button on the machine before chewing another cube. When the machine stopped she nearly dropped her cup when he removed the cup and pushed the button again, watching the empty cup slide down the chute and work its way through the machine to the end.
She tipped her head, then picked up an empty box and began piling the filled powder cups inside before going back to the main part of the ship and opening the maintenance compartment to make repairs to the relays on the solar array and start the air exchange and circulation systems. She paused for a second as she heard, “Thank you. Your order is complete. Please remove the cup from the dispenser.” She smiled when the voice also told them processing would begin on the order in five seconds.
The banging grew louder. She slammed the small multi-tool down and inched her way back out of the maintenance compartment. She jammed her finger on the comm panel next to the airlock door. “Knock it off already! We’re still here and the damn ship isn’t going anywhere. There’s no need for you to keep banging on the door!”
The banging only grew worse.
She pushed the button again and heard a buzz from behind her.
“The Advisors requested I gather information about the inside of this vehicle for the Queen. I am doing so. This creature may stop showing me more things if you make her angry.”
The banging stopped and she let go of the button and frowned up at him. He tipped his head and went back to the mess hall.
She kept working until her neural link reminded her it had been nearly seventeen hours since her last sleep cycle. She slid out from under the compartment and used the datapad Misako left laying on the comm station to run a basic diagnostic on the repairs. She grinned and pushed the switch, changing the power coupling from the trickle charger to the main array before seeing the drone leaning over the console to look out the window.
“It’s time to sleep. I need more time to fix a few things in the morning before we leave the ship,” she said to him even though she knew he understood nothing. He followed her to the medical station and watched as she pushed a few buttons. Lights shone on her and she sighed when the report came back. Then she grinned and pulled him in front of the machine and pressed the button again. He stiffened, then relaxed, and she nodded to him. Once the machine stopped, she uploaded both of the reports into her neural net and readied the package to send out as soon as Nova or one of the others contacted her in the morning.
She opened the drawers in the medical supply closet until she found a box of sani-wipes and gently cleaned the area around his wound, then tossed the wipe into the disposal. She applied the medical bandage over the area before smiling up at him.
“There. That should keep it clean until your doctor can check it.”
Lyra struggled to get the box of sealed cups into the airlock. The door shut before she turned toward him and pulled him to the men’s bunk room. “Sleep,” she said and pointed to a bunk.
He tipped his head. She laid on it before getting back up and telling him to sleep again. He laid down. She went across the corridor and got on a bunk on that side and shut her eyes. The next thing she knew, her neural link sounded her wake up alarm.
The first thing she did upon awakening was open a sealed uniform package and quickly changed out of the one she’d been wearing for the last several months. She gathered six more and tossed her used one in the corner until they could get full power to the ship and start the freshening unit up.
Lyra opened one of the sealed cups she kept for herself, dug out a teaspoon of the powder from inside, and dumped it into a clean cup. She added half of the condensed water from a tube, stirred it, and watched as the powder absorbed the water and reconstituted. She screwed up her courage and dug the same spoon into the mess and took a bite. Just as Nova said, it was tasteless, a bit gritty since she apparently didn’t add enough water, but according to the scan she started with the medical app, it had indeed supplied her with the needed nutrients.
She checked the battery readout and sighed. It was back up to eight percent this morning. She worried since the use of the emergency lights and power to use the food processor and air system dropped it down to only five percent.
Nova? I’m sending you the packets I made. The powdered food works. I’ve got medical scans of the two of us and the solar array working; it’s powering up quickly now. I will set the rover on repairing what connections it can to the VI system.
Marvelous news, Lyra.
That’s not the greatest or most shocking news I have. The drone can talk. Only the words I taught him, but he can speak Earth Common and understands the few words he knows perfectly. Including my name.
The neural link remained silent for several minutes before all of them started talking to her at once. She hissed at them, telling them they were giving her a headache and they all shut up.
He spoke to you? Nova asked.
Yes, in Earth Common.
But he spoke to you here in those buzzing words. I wonder why?
I think he’s hiding it from the others. You saw how they attacked him without regard before we left. I don’t think he wants them to know he can understand us. When he did it we were alone on the ship where the others couldn’t hear us.
Wait. You let him on the ship? What if it’s a trap? What if he’s a spy for the Queen and only trying to lull us into trusting him?
Take it easy, Maddy. I’ve seen him interacting with Lyra. I don’t think it’s a trap or what he knows the Queen or those other bees would already know. They would have tried to wring out secrets from us. None of that has happened. Even the drone assigned to me doesn’t seem to like those guards much if the way he yanks the baskets from their hands is any indication.
I don’t like it. What if you’re wrong?
Then I’m wrong and we get interrogated. But from what I gather, the only words he knows are the ones she taught him, not our entire language.
The others quieted down and Mia sent Lyra the listing and dosages of the medications she needed. Lyra input them into the now fully working medical station and dry swallowed the pills it dispensed.
She wedged herself under a panel in the VI core room and began following the information in the guides sent to her by the others to route the power to the core when the banging echoed through the ship again. She sighed, made one more quick repair with the multi-tool, then sent the instructions to the rover.
She found the drone backed against the wall in the bridge area of the ship as she passed the rover. She laid a hand on the drone’s chest, “Easy,” she said. “It’s okay.”
She felt his heart beating faster than normal as he looked down at her. He tipped his head to the side and relaxed a bit before following her to the airlock door. Once they were both inside, she sent a silent message to secure the inner door and turn off all inner lights before opening the outer door. As soon as they were outside, the door was to close and secure itself against intruders. Lyra picked up the box and handed it to the drone before picking up the one she carried containing the things she found in the shelter and items from the ship. Then she stepped in front of him. As soon as the door opened, she pushed her way past, followed by the drone who seemed to understand that the guards weren’t welcomed on board and kept them from seeing anything more than a tiny room behind him. As soon as he stepped onto the upper metal platform the door slid shut and he heard the faintest of air hissing out and a series of beeps.
The drone drank one full container of nectar before handing the empty unit back and asking for one more, considering he hadn’t eaten the night before since he needed to remain inside the vessel to observe what the stranger did.
The guards didn’t like it but gave him another container along with a spare one with water in it.
Lyra felt strong enough after the medications and increased food consumption to walk back on her own. The drone carried the largest box after the guards inspected everything as if trying to figure out what the rest of it was other than the food cups.
The entire way back he thought of what he would tell the Advisors when they called him into their chambers. He didn’t want to tell them anything but knew the guards would inform them of him being allowed on board and stayed for hours.
One thing he knew, he’d never tell them is that the strangers were learning their language the same as he was doing and at a much faster rate.
Lyra took the box from the drone as the guards separated them just inside the dome and struggled under the combined weight of both.
Lyra followed them back to her room and found the others standing there waiting. “What’s going on?” she asked and they shrugged. A guard opened her door and pushed her hard enough to trip. The boxes crashed to the floor. Lyra looked back when she heard something thunk loudly. She saw the guard sliding down the opposite wall to land in a heap. Nova’s knee was bent, and she balanced on the other leg, slowly lowering herself to stand upright from the sidekick stance she held.
“Hope like hell I don’t have to do that again anytime soon. I’m barely able to stay upright; I’m shaking from hunger so badly.”
The others followed Lyra into her room and she handed them each a spoon and an empty cup. “Here, take this and fill it with water,” she said and handed Misako one of the water containers she kept from the day’s earlier trek. She sat her opened cup of powder on her tiny table and they each dug in their spoons while Misako filled up the thermos.
The group grimaced, but mixed the powder up and spooned it into their mouths.
“Well, could be worse,” Maddy said after swallowing. “It could taste like chemicals or garbage.”
Nova grunted and dropped the spoon on the table and just drank it straight from the cup before stirring up another.
“We made enough for ten cups of powder each. By my estimate, each cup should last about two weeks. A little less for Nova’s higher nutrient requirements. I requested an update on the power level just before entering the dome. We’re up to ten percent. That’s nearly four percent in just a single day, even with the rover making as many repairs as it can while recharging itself when needed.”
“Five or six days and we can start trying to activate the VI remotely. At worse, when we need to retrieve more food the battery should be full and whoever they send can start the reboot procedures,” Misako added. “Once the VI is up and running, it can create a limited amount of maintenance drones to perform automated system repairs.”
They nodded, and each one made another cup of their nutrient gel and took their time eating it now that they eased their hunger. Nova sat on Lyra’s stool. “Now what are we going to do about your boyfriend, Lyra? You said he talked to you and could understand when you said the words you knew in his language?”
Lyra sat on her bed and crossed her legs. “Yeah. I honestly think he’s hiding it from the others. He’s never attempted to utter anything to me or Nova before. He waited until we were alone with no way for anyone else to overhear us.”
The others finished their gel before nodding to Lyra. “Thanks for bringing this stuff back, Lyra, and for letting us know about the situation,” Mia said as she picked up her ten containers of powder, spoon, and her empty cup. She added one of the clean uniforms to the pile. The others did the same, leaving Lyra and Nova sitting in her room.
“What do you really think about this, Lyra?” Nova asked quietly as she picked out her cups and stacked them on the table.
“I think both of our drones know more than they let on. I just don’t know why they don’t talk to us when it’s just us or when we’re in a group.”
“Maybe it’s something you said to me earlier. There seem to be two types of males. Those who are like ours and the other ones who seem to toe the line and fawn over the females. We’ll keep our eyes open when we’re around them.”
Lyra nodded and snorted when Nova ruffled her hair. “Well done with getting the food processor working. Not bad for a flower girl.”
Lyra, Nova, and their two drones sat in the shade the next day after putting in a full morning of work in the fields.
“Nova? Have you noticed they replanted nothing?”
Nova nodded. “Yeah. And the temperature is two degrees cooler than yesterday.”
“Do you think their fall season is coming up?”
“Yeah. I’m more concerned with the damn meteor shower. It hasn’t let up since we’ve been here, Lyra. What will happen if our shitty luck put us in some weird phenomena which happen every thousand years and lasts a decade crap?”
Lyra grimaced and folded her legs under her. “I don’t know, but I really hope that’s not the case.”
She glanced around and leaned toward her drone. “Lyra,” she whispered, and the drone hummed back her name. He pointed to the water and hummed the sound for water.
Lyra repeated the hum to him. He did it again, and this time he must have been pleased with the sound because he took a drink of his nectar.
The other drone made the sound for food as he tipped his nectar container toward his mouth, and Nova copied him as she took a bite of her gel.
Lyra looked up when two guards approached them and jabbed her drone with a spear. She took a couple of steps toward them to see if they injured him when one of them began a rapid buzzing. She could understand the repeated words for “report, Advisor, stranger, and Queen.”
The drone didn’t look at her. Instead, he dropped the plant he harvested into the basket and followed the guards.
He stood in the Advisor’s chambers and stared at the lacquered tables, large throne-like chairs made from the thick stems of the local saplings, and the various clay vases filled with fragrant multi-hued flowers picked fresh by several of the drones daily.
The group of Advisors walked in and took their places at the table in order of position.
“Tell us what you saw when you were inside the stranger’s vehicle.”
He’d been thinking of what he’d tell them since he and Lyra left it that morning. “When we arrived, it was dark. The stranger studied a structure made of several tall poles, but then dropped several thin wires coming from a damaged box next to it. Then she moved to a shelter and looked around. She picked up several items. I don’t know what they were.
“As the guards set up their camp, I saw her making her way toward the vehicle and did as you bade me. I followed and barely had time to get inside before the door closed. It would not reopen to let in the guards who demanded entrance.
“I did not see what the female did as it was very dark at this time. I heard what sounded like wind and felt her push me forward. Inside was black. I stumbled and fell into something which felt like a chair, so I sat down and listened since I could not see.
“I heard banging from further inside the vehicle and waited. A few minutes later, she returned. The small female carried something. She held something else in her hand that gave off a bit of red light. Just enough to see by. I saw the thing she carried was a box. When she had her back turned to me, I looked inside and saw those cups they eat from. She poured some water from the container she carried from earlier into an empty cup and mixed something from one cup into it, then ate it. She did that several times.
“The guards continued to bang on the doors. She yelled something at them into a hole next to the door. Then when they continued banging, I took the chance on telling them I was safe and doing as you instructed and learning what I could. They stopped banging.”
“You were in there until the following morning. What else did you see?”
“There were chairs made of metal. Tables as well. The walls were smooth and silver-colored. There were several closed doors that I dared not try to open in case it angered the female and she made me leave before I could see more.
“Inside the two rooms I could enter, was several beds built three high, similar to the drone’s sleeping quarters.
“The female poured the remaining water into two cups and we drank it. Then the object creating the red glow flickered and went out. She guided me to one of the strange beds and pushed me down on it before I heard her shuffling around and another swish of air. The female left me locked in the room. I didn’t know how to open it. I didn’t want to bang on it in case she grew upset and refused to let me out. She opened the door in the morning.”
“And what did you see in the light of day?”
“I got a better look at the tables and chairs. They were polished and shone in the light. They filled the entire room and felt cold to the touch. And there were several more boxes sitting around, all with strange markings on them in black or red. All of them had lids on them. The female watched me closely the entire time, so I couldn’t look inside. She drank another cup of their food before dropping the empty cup into a different metal container.
“She tapped on the object which gave light the night before, then made a strange sound and tossed it aside. While she looked at it, I looked out a clear opening and saw the guards readying for the day. She saw me looking and made me carry the box as she pushed me toward the door we came through. It shut behind us. Suddenly, a different door opened, and the guards stood outside. We took a few steps, and the door closed.”
“Did you see her touch anything next to the door, or say anything?”
“No. She made only a few sounds. Most of them were the same as what she does now when we take our breaks and eat.
“When the guard offered me the jar of nectar I requested, I got a better look at the tall poles. The box next to it was badly damaged. The wires were all unique colors and pieces of metal hung off it. The female looked up and watched the storm for several minutes and made the corners of her mouth turn downward. She picked up the box and handed it to me when a guard pushed her with the spear. Then we all returned.”
The Third Advisor motioned to a guard. “Wait outside.” The drone followed the guard when it waved its spear toward the door.
The Second Advisor leaned forward in her chair and tilted her head to the side. “The drone is still alive, so perhaps we were mistaken when we thought their Queen claimed him for the smaller female. If they had mated, he would not have returned.”
“He gave us little useful information. It was a waste letting the creatures retrieve additional food. We should have done as the Queen suggested and culled them. Then our scientist could spend the next season going over the vehicle and finding a way inside.”
“I do not agree,” countered the Fourth Advisor. “The drone said he did not hear any new sounds from the female when the door opened or closed. Only while they were inside and apparently, it wasn’t anything important or code to activate anything.”
“How do we know he is being truthful?” The Ninth Advisor said.
“He told us about the poles. When we questioned the guards who went back to gather items under the Queen’s orders they told us they ripped apart the object to inspect it and gain information for her. He hadn’t been there. He told us about the shelter, which they also told us. And these other guards said the doors closed right after the two of them entered or left, and all of them noted neither of them spoke.
“He collaborated with the guard’s story about them banging on the door and the female yelling. Also about his response. Then there is the way the females have been eating their food lately. Instead of those strange cubes, it’s now a powder mixed with water. Just like the females did when they first returned.”
The Eleventh Advisor, the one responsible for their scientific studies, leaned forward. “I was hoping for more information about any of their equipment.”
“He’s a drone. He wouldn’t understand it. Would any of us, at this point?”
“We learned something quite valuable. The orange-colored liquid inside those tubes works to heal our wounds. I saw this myself,” the Third Advisor said. “We need to get him or one of us on board that ship and look around for more of it.”
“I doubt they would let any of us on the vehicle other than the drone.”
The others turned toward the First Advisor.
“If she hadn’t wanted him there, she would have opened the door and pushed him off. She probably knew he wouldn’t understand what she did, so didn’t bother. But she also didn’t want him wandering around, so she locked him inside a room while she slept. She doesn’t completely trust him yet. So we must fix that. I believe the more they trust the males, the fewer things they will hide from them, and then they will be more able to get us the information we want. All we need is to know how to get on that vehicle, and where they come from, and if they are expecting any more of them to come looking for them. Time will tell the last bit. A search of their vehicle will tell the second bit, and gaining their trust will show us the first.”
“And the Queen? She did not care for the plan we proposed to her about letting the females have a drone of their own.”
“Her wishes in this doesn’t matter. We need the information and we need to prepare in case there are others. The scientists can continue working on the objects brought back while the doctors resume their medical research on what they’ve obtained from their dead males.”
“Send the guards to choose four more drones from the oldest ones, then have them bring their Queen’s drone and the others to this room so we can give them their new duties.”
Guys? Something weird is going on back in our rooms.
What do you mean by weird, Maddy?
I mean weird. Several of the workers came into my room dragging some strange tools and began carving an opening in the wall next to where I have my mattress spread out. They shoved me out the door and I saw them doing the same thing in Lyra’s room.
All the guards are gone from out in front of the doors, so I snuck a peek inside the others. All of them have workers inside carving holes in the wall near where we laid our mattresses.
What in the hell are they up to?
How in the hell do I know, Safia? All I know is they’re in there making a colossal mess putting holes in the walls.
Six males stood in a row inside the Advisor’s Chambers and listened as the Fifth Advisor told them their new duties.
All six bowed and shuffled out, following behind a guard who led them down several corridors and deeper into the hive. They stopped outside the first room and a guard pushed one drone inside, then moved along the corridor, pushing a drone in a room, then closing the door.
Nova’s drone turned his head toward Lyra’s a second before being shoved through a doorway. After another drone entered a room, Lyra’s drone was shoved through. He saw yet another stumbling as they pushed him into the room next door.
He moved over to the wall and looked through the more translucent portion and saw the drone next to him turning around and hurry toward a different wall. The drone looked in the direction the other went and saw a carved out section meant for them to sleep in. He moved toward the small box sitting next to Lyra’s bed and glanced into it. He found food cups, a thing she told him was a spoon and another uniform.
His antennae moved slightly before he laid in the hole. It would be a long boring day until Lyra returned. Then he had to figure out a way to talk to her without the others hearing him.
Lyra waited for Nova in their usual spot. She frowned when she saw Nova walking toward her without the drone with her.
“Your drone is missing too?” Lyra whispered as Nova sat beside her with two canisters of water in her hands.
“Yep, and I don’t like it one bit.”
Lyra frowned and tried not to turn her head too much as she looked around in case one of the other bees watched them.
“The batteries are up to fifteen percent. The rover tried to activate the outside view screens. They didn’t work. It was so dark when I got there I couldn’t see anything. I didn’t want to take the chance on looking too much. We’re just going to have to rely on the small camera built into it to monitor anyone or anything wandering around.”
“I’ve been going over the list of the electrical and structural damage it sent back. Quite a bit is either a two-man job or needing a more delicate touch. It’s good that its programs know not to attempt certain things or it could screw up more than it fixes.”
Lyra nodded. “Mia sent through a request for the med area next. If we can get out of here and need to hold up inside, we will need more than just the scanner working. It fixed the comm station to its best ability. I tried to get some of it done when I was there but wasn’t given much time. We need to get Misako to the ship so she can do the rest.”
“What about life support and emergency medical? Are they working?”
Lyra shrugged. “I didn’t try to start too much due to how low the emergency power was. Nor did I know if it would sound alarms or anything else and tip them off I was messing around in there doing more than just getting food and a change of clothes.”
“Speaking of tipping them off; didn’t you say your drone got dragged off somewhere?”
Lyra nodded and took a spoonful of her gel. “Yeah, and since I haven’t seen him, I don’t know what he told them. What if they killed him for sneaking onboard the ship?”
Or what if he is a spy and blabbed about everything he saw and you did on there?
Lyra sighed. I don’t think he’s a spy. At least, not one who is willingly helping them. He had the opportunity to grab stuff from inside when I was sleeping. Or mess around with the door to let the others in. But he did none of that. He watched me use the food machine then kept it going while I worked on other stuff, or else we wouldn’t have had either this much food made or a working solar array filling up the batteries. There was no way I could have worked through the night to do both. Not after nearly starving to death and being in the blistering sun for so long with only a little water.
The others didn’t argue with her anymore. Lyra and Nova ate their scant lunch quietly.
Hours later, Lyra groaned and rubbed her lower back as she straightened up from bending over to harvest one of the finicky native plants. It had a habit of wilting in seconds if you didn’t grab the stem just right and pull it from the soil in one fast tug.
As usual, the guard poked and prodded them toward the door into the amber dome and down through the spiraling passages.
Lyra stumbled to a halt when the guard shoved her through the door of her room and her drone stood up from the stool he sat on while drinking one of the smelly jars of goop.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
He buzzed out the word for Lyra and tipped his head to each side before trying his best to tip it toward the far wall discreetly where a shadowy outline could be seen looking into their room.
Guys? My drone is sitting in my room.
Glad it’s just not me, Lyra. My drone is in here too. He was laying in the hole they drilled in the wall.
And I’ve got one sitting in the corner, looking scared out of his mind.
Mia, Maddy, and Misako answered the same. All of them now had a male drone lurking in their rooms.
Lyra’s drone buzzed again, and he picked up his jar. He tilted it toward his mouth before moving back to the hole and climbing inside.
“What are you doing in there?” she asked as she bent over slightly.
He didn’t answer her, just laid there with his jar of food held in his hand as he watched her.
She frowned and stood straight, then scratched her head. “You can’t be in here. I’m tired, dirty, and want to get clean.” She pointed to the shower unit and sighed when he didn’t move.
Uh, guys… my drone won’t get out of the hole.
Yep. Neither will mine. I’m tired and dirty. I want to eat and then crash. What do you suggest? Nova said.
Try to figure out why they’re in here and either get them to leave or get it through to them about privacy.
Good luck with that. All mine does is shake and try to squeeze himself further into the corner.
It took another fifteen minutes for Lyra to get her drone out of the cubbyhole and push him toward the doorway.
“Lyra. No.” He buzzed so quietly that she barely heard him. “No. Leave.”
She stopped pushing him.
“Why?” she asked just as quietly. Once again he tipped his head to the side and her eyes flicked toward the side where the shadow remained.
Maddy? Is your drone standing near the window between your room and mine?
Yeah. He hasn’t stopped looking through the window.
My drone is not happy about yours staring into my room. Get him away from the window and maybe I can get some basic information from mine.
When the shadow moved away, Lyra asked again what he was doing there.
“Advisors,” he buzzed. “Bad. No talk. Others not good.”
She frowned at his stilted speech. They worked on the words as often as they could and the speech program helped, but what he said was confusing her.
The shadow came back, so she moved him to the corner farthest away from the shower and mimed for him to stay there and look at the wall. She buzzed as low as she could to not look in her direction until she patted his shoulder.
He waited and heard the water running. He marveled that the cells had its own cleansing system instead of one large one, which all the strange females had to use together as the drones did.
He heard Lyra grunting and started to turn his head to see if she needed his help when she hissed to keep watching the wall.
A few minutes later, he felt her tap his shoulder, and he turned to see her in a clean uniform and drying her setae or hair, rather, with a piece of cloth. He saw the shadow of one of the other drones still watching him through the thin barrier between the rooms as he followed Lyra toward the tiny table. He sat on the floor near her while she sat on the stool.
“What’s going on?” she whispered as she dried her hair, which hid the movement of her lips.
Since his back was toward the watcher, he whispered in her own language. “Lights off. Talk.”
They both glanced over when the door to the room opened. The drone leaped to his feet and backed away as a worker came into the room carrying a tray filled with nectar jars. The worker put it on the small table, then left.
Lyra frowned as he hurried over and picked the tray up to move it since he knew Lyra hated the smell of his food. He put the tray down next to the box with her own food inside and went back to sitting on the floor next to her.
Guys? My drone said he’d talk to me once the lights were out. He really doesn’t like Maddy’s drone looking through the window and refuses to even buzz words out when he’s standing there.
Same here, Lyra. Mine’s only told me to not talk. And he doesn’t seem to like Mia’s drone much either. I swear he moved in front of the window and stared him down until Mia’s moved away.
Safia sighed. Mine’s huddled inside his hole, clutching as many of their food containers as he can to his chest. He’s scared out of his mind.
Mine hasn’t moved out of his hole since he climbed back in it, but I swear he’s watching my every movement and I think someone’s been messing around in my food box and going through the pile of stuff Nova brought back when she punched the Queen, Maddy told them as she straightened the stuff in her box.
As soon as I can get some more information, I’ll pass it on.
Lyra laid down on her mattress and turned on her side shortly after the lights went off for the sleep cycle. She closed her eyes and was almost asleep when she heard the drone whisper near her ear.
“Lyra. No talk. Listen.”
Lyra opened her sharebeam to the others so they could also hear what her drone said.
“Advisors sent. Watch you. Learn. Tell them what we see. Won’t. Advisors hurt you. Queen bad. Kill many. No trust others. Nova’s good. Not talk to others.” She felt a gentle touch on her arm before it was gone. She glanced back over her shoulder and saw a darker area curled up inside the hole in the wall.
Did you guys hear that?
Yeah. Mine said something similar, Lyra. We will have to be careful around those other four drones. Or find a way to get them the hell out of their rooms. Leave nothing important out and check your rooms when you come back from the day’s work. I don’t like this at all.
Nova woke earlier than usual and mixed up two cups of food as she sat and thought about what her drone tried to tell her and also what Lyra’s said. They were similar and her drone said the others would tell the Advisors what they learn. As she sat staring at her drone sleeping in the cubbyhole, she rested her head in her palm. From everything she’s learned so far about the females of the species, they won’t appreciate it when the group escapes from the hive and takes off. They’d kill these drones without even pausing because of not finding out their plans and telling them. She didn’t like that thought one bit.
She sighed as quietly as she could before resealing the powder cup and tucking it into her cargo pants pocket and moving to the sink to clean her spoon. The noise must have woken her drone because he sounded a soft buzz before slipping from the hole and moving quietly toward the waste chute. She paid him no mind as he relieved himself before joining her at the sink to clean his hands and fill a small canister with water.
“I believe you,” she whispered to him and patted his shoulder before going back to the stool to sit down and pull her boots on.
Nova remained quiet the entire time they were outside harvesting the last of the crops. She kept going over in her mind the ways to get the other drones away from them. She clicked her tongue against her teeth before picking up the basket and carting it toward the drop-off point and picking up an empty one.
When their small group sat down to rest, she started to say something when her drone gave a harsh buzz and she took a drink of water instead. The other four drones approached and joined the group.
Lyra and Nova spoke about nothing in particular and ignored all the drones, including the ones they usually spoke too.
“What do you think they’re saying? Do you think the Advisors or Queen would want to know?” one of them buzzed.
“Know what? I don’t understand it. Do you?” Lyra’s asked as he took a small drink from his nectar container.
“No. But I would think one of you would since you’ve been with these two almost an entire year.”
Nova’s drone chuckled. “Don’t have a clue other than they move their heads and hands a lot while their mouths make strange noises.”
“Do you think they understand us?” Safia’s drone asked in a hushed buzz.
“No. Or else they’d try forcing us to talk to them,” Lyra’s said.
“Do we really belong to them now? Will we really have to mate with them and die? I don’t want to mate it.”
“We belong to the Queen. And only the Queen. We will do as she instructs us. If she tells us to mate with it, then we will and give our lives in the process so our beloved Queen Syrianix can learn more about these creatures and conquer them.”
Lyra’s and Nova’s drones said not a word, only continued to eat in silence. Listening and remembering.
Over the next three days, they harvested the rest of the plants. Lyra looked over the fallow fields before following the drone and guards back into the dome.
As usual, when the lights went out, Lyra’s drone slid out of his hole and moved to sit or lay near her so they could hear each other’s whispers.
“No longer work in fields,” he said. His Earth Common was getting better now that he spent an extra hour a night using it.
“Time to get ready for the rain. Soon the rain months come and females will sleep.”
Did you guys hear that? Do you think when those rains come we could bust out of here? If they’re all asleep, there will probably be fewer guards watching us.
Maybe. But we need more information. I’ll ask mine about it too.
“What do you mean by rain?”
“Months of rain. Gets very dark. No day and night; only night. Dangerous to go outside in rains.”
“Why is it dangerous? It rains where we’re from too, and we go out in it all the time.”
“Can’t see well. The rain doesn’t stop and gets very cold. Too cold for us. Big animals come out during the rains.”
I bet those big animals are what took bites out of the flower trees.
Probably. I’m more concerned with the part about no day, only night. The ship’s batteries are solar-powered right now. No sun means no additional power. If we can’t get that ship started we’re sunk.
“How soon will the rains come?” Lyra asked.
“At the end of next season. Then one season of rain and darkness before it stops and the sky storm starts for the year.”
“Yes,” he said as he inched closer. “The lights in the sky leave during the rains, then come back when it is time to plant our crops again.”
Yes! Misako shouted over the sharebeam, causing Lyra and Nova to wince.
“Do all the females sleep when the rains come?”
“Almost. Guards on doors stay to keep hive safe.”
“What about the males?”
Her drone remained quiet for several minutes before he answered. “Males who survive the mating flight and purge remain awake. Keep hive from becoming too cold. They keep the Queen and her eggs from dying in the cold.”
Whoa… whoa… what did he mean by mating flight and purge? Mia asked. The others waited to see if Lyra or Nova would ask one of their drones.
“What are mating flights? And what do you mean by surviving them?”
The drone drew as close as he could as if to draw comfort from her nearness. His whispers became even quieter. “The mating flight’s three days before the rains come. Males compete against each other to reach the Queens and mate them during their flight. Once the male releases into the female, she kills him, and the next to reach her mates her. It continues until she has enough sperm, then her flight ends. Once all Queens have mated enough, the whole flight ends, and the remaining males are either gathered back into their dorm and they maintain the heat as the Queen goes to lay new eggs, or the guards purge them.”
“What’s a purge?” Lyra asked as she swallowed the tight lump in her throat.
“Males who have lived for twenty-seven years and survived their last flight are not allowed back into the hive. The guards round us up, destroy our wings, and leave us out in the cold and rains with no food, no water, no shelter. We never hear of survivors. If the cold and rains do not kill us, we starve, or are killed by the big animals.”
Lyra reached out to him. Even the sharebeam remained quiet. “How long have you lived?”
“This is my twenty-seventh year. Same as Nova’s and the others. At the end of this flight, we die.”
The women had a hard time sleeping that night with the recent information they gained. Once again Nova sat staring at her drone stretched out on the edge of her mattress where she’d finally talked him into sleeping instead of crammed into a hole half the length of her bed.
She sighed as she turned the case holding the sterilized neural-net chip over and over in her hands.
After the sharebeam went quiet and she ran a check on the others to see their links in sleep mode, she sat up and continued to think. The cold season would be optimal for escaping. The only guards would be at the doors and she doubted they’d be much trouble. But they needed to find out where they stored the seeds Lyra wanted.
Nova closed her eyes and went through the files Lyra sent her after harvesting the last of the plants. If she could get her hands on enough seeds and given time, she might be able to crossbreed them with ones from Earth, creating both new plant species and ones capable of sustaining human life. But without the seeds, she couldn’t do it, and they had no idea where they were kept. She was sure the males did, though. But they couldn’t ask for seeds without tipping them off they were escaping. Lyra said she trusted hers, and Nova felt she could trust hers. But that left the others, and one of them was bound to notice a drone carting bags of stolen seeds around and run to tell on them.
No, they needed a better plan. And one slowly formed the longer she sat there.
An hour before everyone else woke, Nova’s silent alarm went off and her eyes opened. The drone once again had rolled over and plastered himself against her. Now that she knew they didn’t like the cold, she realized he gravitated toward her higher body heat.
She reached out and shook him awake.
“Shh,” she whispered. “We’ve only an hour before the others are awake and I need to talk to you.”
It took him a minute to process what she said, then he buzzed his understanding. He stood and went to take care of his personal needs. As she took care of hers, he washed his hands and picked up one of his nectar jars and put it on the table along with her food items. He waited for her to join him before he asked what she wanted to talk about.
She took a deep breath and leaned toward him a little more. “I hope I’m not about to get us all killed, but there’s a secret I want to tell you. You must never mention this to any of your kind.”
The male thought about it and did his best to decipher what she said. He got the gist of it and tipped his head, indicating he understood. “I will keep your secret.”
“Most of the people like me can talk to each other without making a sound. With our minds only. It’s called a sharebeam. Lyra shared her talk with her drone with us. He told us about the coming rains, about the mating flights, and about the purge.”
Her drone gasped and nearly dropped his jar.
When he calmed a little she continued. “He told us with the coming mating flight, both of you will either die with mating a queen or after when the guards attack you. Is that true?”
“Why do you die during mating? Is it intentional or an accident? How does that happen?”
The drone paused. “Queens from the nearby hives send their surviving virgin adult daughter to a different hive for them to mate with fresh males not of their Queen Mother’s making. Only the fastest, strongest, most cunning males make it through the swarm to the females. Once she is caught, the male quickly penetrates her and mates until he releases his sperm. Then she closes her womb, trapping the male inside. She stabs him through the heart with her ceremonial knife. Upon his death, she releases him from her body and she flies in a different direction. The males continue to fight each other to find a Queen until all of them finish.”
Sweet Mary, Nova thought and closed her eyes for a moment.
“Okay. So they kill you intentionally. That is even more barbaric than some of my ancestors’ actions. Now tell me about the purge. I know they damage your wings and they throw you out. But why can’t you gather the ingredients for your food and make it? At least you wouldn’t die of starvation. And I’m sure there’s have to be caves or something nearby.”
“We can not make our food. Only the females know how and can produce it. We must eat three or more times a day to live. We can not skip many meals before we starve. They provide us only enough food to stay strong, to work, and live. It is why we are so thankful when you give us your share of nectar.”
Nova rubbed her forehead.
“What would you say if I told you we wanted to escape from here and are sure we could get somewhere the Queen would never find us? What would you say if we could take you and Lyra’s male with us when we leave? Only if you’re willing to help us get ready in return, but it is dangerous and could get you killed for helping?”
The drone sat and stared at Nova as he slowly consumed his nectar.
“We will die either way. The Advisors will try to get more information from us before the mating flight. After they kill us, they will bring more males to you in the hope they will learn and tell them. The others are already passing what little they see and hear to the Advisors. We have to keep everything secret. But if you can leave, promise that you will take us too.”
Nova nodded. “I promise. What we need is a stockpile of food for you. Do you know if the rain is safe to drink?”
“The rain fills our water tanks. We use it for everything, but I do not know if it is safe to drink as it falls from the sky or if the scientists do something to make it safe for us. Stockpiles of food can be hard. I will think about it and maybe speak with Lyra’s drone safely and we can figure it out. What else?”
Nova sighed and stood up to wash her cup and spoon. “We need seeds from all the plants you grow. We are sure they are your food source and we have the capabilities to grow and maybe make them safe for us to eat. We also must somehow get everything to our ship.”
“They want Lyra to take her male back and get more information on your vehicle. Maybe he can help?”
“Maybe. There is something I need to talk over with Lyra first. And your Earth Common is getting much better. But you’ve still not told me your name.”
He tipped his head to the side. “Name?”
“What they call you. You know my name is Nova and you know Lyra’s.”
“They do not give males names.”
“Oh. Well, you probably talk to each other individually or call out for a certain person. When that happens what sound do they make to call for you?”
He tipped his head as he thought, then made a buzzing sound.
Nova frowned and repeated it several times. “It sounds like Aziel, so that’s what we’ll call you. Aziel,” she patted his shoulder just as the lights came on overhead.
Nova banged on the door of her room until the guard opened it. As soon as it did, she pushed the guard out of the way and tugged Aziel behind her toward Lyra’s room. She pointed to Lyra’s door and the two guards looked at each other. She guessed they were wondering if it was against orders to open or not. Nova’s guard reached them just as they decided not to open. A swift kick sent Nova’s guard flying after she jabbed Aziel with her spear, almost causing him to drop the two jars of nectar. The door opened and Nova tugged Aziel into the room behind her.
“When will they ever learn?” she muttered as her drone hurried over to sit on the mattress next to Lyra’s drone and hand him one jar.
“What’s going on, Nova?”
“We need to talk and we should include these two, but with those others always listening in we couldn’t do it anywhere else but inside here. And since we can make it seem like we’re talking to each other while they’re busy doing the same, we can fool the drone who’s staring at us through the window. Without Maddy, he can’t leave the room.”
“Okay. So what’s going on?”
“Wait until the others join us over the sharebeam. This concerns the group. Aziel? Why don’t you catch him up with your new name, and about the sharebeam.”
Lyra’s eyes widened as she looked at Nova. “You told him about the sharebeam?”
Nova nodded. “Can’t be hiding it with the plans I’m trying to come up with to get us off this rock.”
What’s going on, Nova? I just got a second to take a quick breath. There’s something going on around here and the cleaners are busting our asses to clean more rooms than we usually do.
Might have something to do with the upcoming rains and mating flight. Aziel told me that the Queens send their daughter out to the other hives for mating with their males. They’re probably getting ready for more Queens to come in.
More? That’s the last thing we need. And who’s Aziel and what do you mean by daughters?
Aziel is the name I’ve given to the drone who stays in my room. They apparently don’t have real names, only certain sounds which they go by. I only got a basic rundown of the whole mating flight thing, and it’s worse than Lyra’s drone made it sound.
Lyra frowned. She’d never even thought to ask hers for his name. She’d have to ask as soon as this “meeting” finished.
How much worse? Lyra asked as she took a sip of her water.
Even I think what the Queens do to them is barbaric.
“What do you mean?” Lyra asked aloud because she caught sight of the drone trying to see better through the thinner pane into her room.
She gave them the short, brutal version of it and she could hear the gasps over the sharebeam as Lyra tightened her own mouth to keep from making a sound of horror.
“Okay. What is the plan you’re cooking up?”
“It’s not going to be an easy one and we’re going to need cooperation from both of the drones. And in exchange for their help, we’re taking them with us.”
What! Maddy’s shriek nearly deafened them. Both Nova and Lyra blinked several times in their attempts not to wince or grab at their ears or head.
These females won’t blink an eye about killing them. And them? They are resigned to dying already. But if they come with us, they’ll at least have the chance at a better life until they die naturally. They don’t even know how long they would live. They’re killed before any male gets to the age of twenty-eight. Think about that, Maddy.
What’s the plan, Nova? Mia asked softly. Whether it was because her virtual ears were still ringing from Maddy’s shout or she was trying to bring a bit of calm into the conversation, Nova didn’t know.
“Aziel told me that the Advisors want Lyra’s drone to get back inside the ship. They want him to look at everything and figure out a way to get some stuff from inside and sneak it back along with watching her in case there was something she did which opened the doors.” She took a breath. Here comes the part where Maddy would probably shriek again.
“I found a sealed neural-link in the mess they must have gotten from the medic. If we can get Lyra’s drone to agree to have it implanted, we can talk him through loading the seeds and their food onboard the ship while they have him outside.”
Another resounding shriek echoed, and Lyra’s eyes watered. This time the others shouted to Maddy to shut up and stop virtually screaming at Nova and listen.
“Aziel said during this season the workers aren’t watched much, but they do can go outside. Especially the ones who will die soon. He thinks the Advisors do it to make them appreciate the time they’ve had. I think they do it out of spite, knowing the males die soon and won’t see it again.
“Anyway, we need to find out if Lyra’s drone knows where the seed storage shed is and can start grabbing containers of seeds for us. And we also need to figure out a way to hide jars of their food to sneak out to the ship. While he’s there, he can send feedback to us about the outer hull. He doesn’t need access to more than the outer airlock. He can pile everything right inside and we can shift it around once we make it to the ship.”
It’s possible we could implant it, Mia said. The scans were basic, but the neural-link is adaptable to the host. What could be the major problem, is the medical bay not fully functioning. I can manually insert it, but no sterile place here to do so without drawing attention. The ship is the only place I’d advise this procedure. Give me a second while I scan through a few medical documents to make sure the med bay could even handle it.
Nova and Lyra both rubbed at their foreheads. Their drones looked over and Aziel offered Nova a cup of water. She shook her head and pushed the cup back toward him before laying back and stretching out on Lyra’s mattress.
Alright, I got the information. As long as the med bay is functioning properly and you have it run an implant scan before attempting the procedure it will work. The thing is; it will take him about two days to recover and I don’t see how you guys are going to stay out there for so long without the guards getting suspicious. I’ll send you the files and make up a step-by-step guide to walk you through the process.
Lyra thought about it. “We were there a few hours. But I came away with barely enough food for two weeks. What if my drone hints to them it might take much longer to find and pack enough food for all of us to last through their rainy season? He could say maybe two days or three.
“That way he’d also have more time to look around and hide a few things in the boxes full of our food being brought back. He could warn the guards not to open them again in case I looked inside and saw the stuff he took and got angry. I’m sure there’s some broken junk from the crash we could let him have, which wouldn’t affect things too much, and he could look like he’s telling them the truth and maybe they might get a bit lax.
“Maybe say if they allowed him to leave now and again while I was busy elsewhere he could try doing the same things I did to get the ship to open. He could cart the seeds, food, and whatever else they might need back to the ship.”
Good ideas, Lyra. Except what if they want guards to go with him?
Lyra chewed her bottom lip.
“Have him say it would be faster to fly there and less likely for you to wonder where he disappears to if they can’t make it back by night. It would waste most of the day traveling on foot with the guards,” Nova said.
“I can fly much quicker than the guards can run. Even with carrying items. I’m not sure all of what you’re saying, but I do understand that,” Lyra’s drone said as he continued to look at Aziel and listen to the conversation.
“Do you know where the seed storage shed is?” Nova asked him.
“Yes. But it is heavily guarded right now. All the plants we harvested this past week will need to be checked for seeds. Two of the other drones due to die this flight does the manual labor in the shed. They said it is hot and tiring with little air. They work from the time the sun rises until it sets to finish all the harvest before they take away the plants.”
“I know the ones you speak of. They dislike the thought of dying or mating either. Do you think they would be willing to give us seeds if we agree to take them along?” Aziel said.
“Whoa. We have to be very careful with whom you guys are talking to. We can’t let this plan get out or all of us are dead and no one will go anywhere,” Nova said with a low hiss.
Aziel shifted before standing up and moving toward the sink. He filled up the water containers as he thought, then returned.
“I think we can trust them. There are two more as well. They dislike the females. One was beaten almost to death by a guard just for asking for another jar of nectar. They left him for dead outside in the fields. He still lived in the morning so the Third Advisor said to take him to the doctor, that the strength he had made him suitable for the mating flight if he could heal in time. He did. Took part in the flight, but refused to do more than hide with the rest of us in the middle of the swarm. The other one is small and they practically starve him. They would have culled him, but he proved useful to them for getting into high, tight spots to fix things which usually only the young males could do. If he died, they wouldn’t care, but an adolescent male could still grow large for mating.”
Nova opened another cup of powder and added a spoonful into Lyra’s cup, then into her own before reaching for one of the water canisters. “Maybe. But how are you going to talk with them when you’re stuck in here?”
“One works in the food storage area. When I go to pick up the supply of food for the trip back to your vessel, I will have a few minutes alone as we pack up the jars since the guards remain outside the door. I can tell him about maybe finding a way to live and to hide a few jars of food.
“It will be easier to get around once the preparations for the incoming Queens are taking up the guard’s attention. There are tunnels the males use during the time the visitors are here as a precaution, and once the hive closes for the rainy season. An opening is nearby. All we need to do is to make sure one of the other males doesn’t see us leaving. He can pass along the message to meet us in one of the tunnels and we can tell them then and also use the tunnels for a temporary storage area for the seeds and whatever else they can sneak out. There is a tiny offshoot that leads outside for ventilation. It is kept sealed during the times of the rain, but it’s never guarded and we can dissolve the propolis which holds it shut.”
Okay, but how are we going to bust out of here? Safia asked.
“I have to rethink the plan. The original one had us, and only the two drones getting free while the females were asleep. But with the new information we got and maybe having four more drones tagging along, things have changed. I’ll keep thinking it over. The rest of you do as well.”
After Nova finished her cup of reconstituted powder, she glanced toward Lyra’s drone. “What should we call you?”
The drone resisted the urge to look toward her. “I do not know.”
Aziel made the same sounding buzz several times.
“That’s the sound he makes when he pointed to himself. What is it?” Lyra asked.
Nova grunted. “It’s the way they gain the attention of a particular drone. The sound is what we will use to name them.”
They listened several more times. “Sounds a bit like Isaiah.”
Nova tilted her head a bit. “More of a Z sound not an S sound though. So more like… Izzaiah.”
Lyra slowly nodded and tried the name out a few times. “Yeah. I think that sounds pretty close. So what do you think? Is Izzaiah okay for your name?”
Lyra’s drone tipped his head as he reached for the water container. “Yes. I am Izzaiah.”
The first part of their plan went off without a hitch. Izzaiah waited until Lyra left the cell opting to stay behind, then asked the guard to send a message about them running out of food again.
Just as Nova predicted, several hours later a different guard came to escort him to the Advisor’s chambers.
“I understand the strange females are nearly out of food again.”
“Yes, Advisor. After the female left this morning, I looked inside her box and noticed there were only a few cups left. Then I remembered the rains were coming soon and knew their food would not keep them alive through the season, so I told the guard about it.”
“Hmm. Very good. A few of the other males mentioned the females were not eating as much as they were earlier in the week. You will go with the small female again and this time do what you can to learn more.”
Izzaiah tilted his head down in a bow. “Of course, Advisor. Perhaps if I had more time? I could see more if we allow it to gather more food. I will try to see where they store it and if there is anything else in there. Maybe it will trust me enough to let me alone for a few minutes and I could take something. The creature made me carry the box last time. I can hide things inside the box when it is not looking. The guard can take the box from me after we return so you can retrieve the things.”
The Advisor kept her gaze fixed on Izzaiah. “You seem to wish to help more than you had before. Why?”
He hesitated. “This will be my last flight. Either way, I will not be returning to serve the Queen afterward. This gives me a chance to do something the others can not. Perhaps bestowed with a favor?”
The Advisor gave an angry buzz. “You dare?”
“I mean no disrespect. This creature lets me alone in her chambers when she leaves. The female lets me hold the items inside her box and look at them whenever I want. I view it as trust. Once I am replaced, it will take a very long time for the new males to earn their trust again. They may not be able to enter the vehicle for a very long time.”
The Advisor settled back in her chair. What he said was true. They couldn’t allow the strange Queen to leave the hive so her drone was useless for the job. The others show no interest in their drones. They ignore them and rarely speak around them.
“What is this favor?”
Izzaiah let the breath he held escape slowly. “If I am beaten out of the competition for mating again, I wish to ask for a few items to give me the chance to survive when I am purged.”
“Enough food and water for the three days before the rains come, and a spear; left hidden for me near the purge area. I can hide from the others and wait until they flee before retrieving them. I do not think I will survive for longer than that, but I will have a chance to find shelter away from the big animals.”
“Hmm. If you bring back items from the vehicle and find out how the stranger opens the door, then you get your boon.”
Izzaiah shifted. “It may take me traveling to that strange vehicle by myself to attempt to get the door to open. I will watch her carefully. Listen to every sound and watch every move she makes. But she will become suspicious if I try to open it while she is there. And if I don’t show up or she can’t find me at night, she might wonder what is going on too. It will be faster for me to fly there and back than to go on foot with the guards. Once I get the door open, I can tell the guards how to do it and they can secure the vehicle for the Queen.”
The Advisor folded her hands together. “You have until the day before the flight. You have that long to fulfill the promise to receive the boon. If you cannot secure the vehicle for us, then you receive no boon and the guards will immediately cull you. You will not even survive long enough to join the flight or be purged. Report to the food storage area to retrieve enough for two days.”
“Three days would be better, Advisor. Traveling by foot with the slow stranger will take up almost an entire day itself.”
“Three full days, then. But you better bring back many objects from inside and have a more thorough report for us than you did the last time.”
Lyra grunted when a guard grabbed her by the arm and tugged her up from where she knelt, cleaning the floor of a cell. “What? I’m doing what you wanted. I’m cleaning as they showed me,” she said as the guard nearly dragged her down the hallway leading to the front of the hive.
As soon as she saw Izzaiah there with several guards and crates, she knew their plan worked. At least this part did.
As they trudged back through the fields of now dull orange and faded red grasses, she went over the information packet sent to her by Mia for the implant scans, procedure, and activation. The nanomedicine the implant would release upon activation would heal the wound and brain trauma caused by the neural net growth instantaneously while building the storage file system of his memories, and the information and function of his brain centers. Once the neural net finished, the link would boot up and run the first time operating procedures while he was unconscious. After running all the checks on the file system and neural pathways, it would restart and slowly wake him up. At that point, the implant would release self-replicating nanites into his bloodstream to heal and repair any damage to his body. Then Lyra planned on feeding him small packets of information to bring him up to speed about her and where they were going.
The guards bristled about it, but they followed the Advisor’s orders to set up camp and not go near the vehicle. There was still plenty of daylight and Lyra meandered around the campsite and walked from the nose of the small exploration ship until well past the doorway before stopping. She pretended to look around for the guards, then smiled and ran for the door with Izzaiah right behind her.
She stopped in front of the door and pretended not to see the guard crouched in the tall grass watching them. She placed her hand on the hull next to the door and muttered some nonsense words before signaling the ship to open. They rushed in and the door closed with a snap behind them.
Lyra started laughing as Izzaiah put his box of food and water containers down in preparation to cover his eyes for the decon spray.
After the inner door opened and closed again, she showed him where to put his box. “Were you able to talk to the male in the food storage?”
“Yes. He was unsure. But I told him you and the others had a way to get us far from the Queen. He asked what, but I told him I wasn’t sure what it was, but as soon as I got three days of food we were coming here. He packed a few extra jars in there. He also said he would pass on the message of a meeting with me and Aziel in the tunnels when I get back.”
“Okay. I need to ask you again if you’re sure about doing this once I run the med bay’s diagnostics.”
“I am sure, Lyra.”
She nodded and picked up a powered datapad, checked the batteries, and gave a low whistle.
“The batteries are up to thirty percent. By the time the rains come, they should be near full. Come on, I need to head to the engineering room and do some quick power bypasses to get full power to the medical area. We’ll see what’s lying around there you can have as part of your “stolen” goods.”
Lyra activated her red visor and moved down the tight corridors of the ship until she got to the tiny engineering section. She hooked up the datapad to the console and typed in the commands to reroute emergency power to the console and begin diagnostics.
“Okay, while that’s running let’s get some lights set up so we can see better and start looking around.”
By the time the system diagnostics and preparation for rerouting finished, Izzaiah had a wrench, a broken flashlight, a dented can of WD-40 which was missing the red straw, half a roll of duct tape, and a short space tether. He carted it all to where he left his food box and made his way back.
“Okay. Here we go. Rerouting ship’s battery to the medical bay.” She brought up the schematics of the ship and followed the sequence of input commands Misako sent her ahead of time. “I can’t believe they’re trusting a flower grower to do this. I’m just a farmer’s daughter for crying out loud,” she muttered as she typed in the next command code.
The datapad beeped, and a flashing light caught her attention. “Reboot initialized…”
“What? What! No, no, no… what does it mean by rebooting?”
The interior lights brightened for several seconds before they dimmed again.
The datapad flashed another message. “System reboot failed. Initializing download of system’s diagnostic results.”
Lyra breathed out a sigh and waited until the scrolling screen stopped, then transferred the data to her neural net. She quickly began reading and grinned.
“This is a list of which of the ship’s systems we need to fix to get this bird flying again. We can use this to prioritize systems instead of wasting time trying to fix something that isn’t broken or not needed to get us out of here.”
“That is good?”
“Very good. Let me start those bypass codes again.”
This time she entered the last code and ran the medical bay’s system check, and it came back as fully operational.
“Okay. Let’s get you scanned in and ready.”
She handed him a paper gown and pointed to a small changing room. “Take off your suit and put that gown on.” She mimed how to put it on, then waited until he came out. “The first thing we need to do is take a blood sample. This may sting a little, but it’s necessary. Then another full-body scan before we get you up on the metal table.”
She put on some gloves and followed Mia’s directions on where to place the thumb-sized device that would remove blood without using needles. She spread the short setae on his upper arm and held the sterile circular device against him. “Here we go,” she said and tapped the butterfly design on the surface. A second later, yellow blood dripped into the tiny tube attached to it. When it was full, she tapped the butterfly again and pulled it away from his arm.
“All done.” She placed it into the machine where Mia marked on the schematic and it automatically transferred the blood and began running tests and synthesizing it.
The scan went quickly, and she helped him onto the table then to lie on his stomach. “Okay, you need to keep your head still. When the machine starts, it will run a very specific scan that you won’t even feel. After it uploads, you’ll feel a little pinch at the base of your neck. Try not to move. You’ll get a little sleepy and numb. The machine will run through a series of nerve tests. Once the results come back within the guidelines, it will install your neural net implant. We can not do the full procedure here since this machine isn’t able to add the neural-link implants to your temples. The medics will have to do that when we reach the Malta. Once the implant is installed, I can make you more comfortable and put some blankets on you.”
He didn’t fully understand her, but he trusted her enough to whisper, “Okay.” She input the new implant sequence and gripped his hand.
She kept a careful eye on the monitors as the straps on the table encircled his wrists, ankles, hips, and head. “This is normal. Hold still. The scan is getting ready to start.”
The monitors took baseline readings several times, then applied them to the machines. She saw the scanner lower and the light grid move down his head and settle on an area of his neck and lower skull. When the grid changed to a square slightly larger than the implant, she gripped his hand tightly. “Here comes the pinch.”
He let out a hissing buzz and gripped her hand so tightly for several seconds she thought it would break before he relaxed.
She watched as the machine made a precise cut on the back of his head, then a tiny stainless steel arm lowered to vacuum away the blood as another arm lowered to secure the small section of bone it removed from his skull. Another arm moved and inserted the chip. Both arms retracted and a small monitor flashed as the startup sequence for the implant began. A moment later codes scrolled down the screen, then the same arm which made the cut sealed his skull fragment into place and sprayed a fine mist of regeneration gel over the slice in his skin. The flesh finished healing without a scar and the tiny black hairs regrew.
“It’s finished,” she whispered to him. “Just lay there for a minute until it takes the scans again. You’ll feel sleepy. I’ll put some warm blankets over you and let you sleep.”
She glanced at the monitors one more time and saw the blips and beeps become steady and slow. His breathing settled. She hurried to the closet and tore open several sealed bags with thermal blankets in them.
Lyra worked on following the better bypass chart in the ship’s engineering manual she found wedged under a cart bolted into the corner of the room while searching for a few more odds and ends to give to Izzaiah when he woke.
After an hour of working in the cramped, smelly space, she put down the datapad and walked back toward the medical bay after stopping in the head for a fast decon shower. Since it, the mess, one of the crew cabins, and the lights for the cargo hold were safe to activate without running bypasses, she had the systems and lights in the rooms running.
She sat in a hard, plastic chair for another thirty minutes before she saw Izzaiah stir.
“Hey there. Take it easy. All of your scans came back fine. You’re going to feel tired and weak for a while. I’ve got a bunk made up for you and a jar of food and water waiting there. Let me help you get down, then we’ll make our way there. You rest while I do some more repairs. I also found you a few more goodies to take back.”
“Okay, Lyra,” he buzzed sleepily. He took a few steps, then stopped. “I can understand you completely now,” he said.
She grinned up at him. “That’s because the implant has translated the full Earth Common dictionary into the language center of your brain while making a copy of your own. Until the neural net is complete and fully functional, we must speak it. When it’s ready, I’ll walk you through how to send me a data push with your language in it. From there I can send it to the others.”
He gave a soft buzzing moan of relief after she lowered the bunk in the lit crew cabin and got him settled in. She activated the lift system and raised his head enough for him to be comfortable eating and drinking, then handed him the containers. She spread the opened thermal blankets back over him and told him she’d be nearby and would be back soon to check on him.
Twenty minutes later, she lowered the head of the bunk back down and pulled up the covers as he continued a light buzzing snore.
Lyra sighed as she leaned back against a panel in the claustrophobic VI Core room. She followed all the circuitry from the engineering room all the way to the core room and found several cuts in the wires from broken sections caused by the crash and one area where the instant sealant deployed signaling a hull breach.
“Wonderful. Just wonderful,” she muttered. “This would be so much easier if Nova was here doing this crap and not me following some technical repair guide, a scribbled-on schematic, and jumbled mess of notes and tips Nova sent me before I left the dome.”
She checked the time on her neural link and groaned as she levered herself up. She took another quick decon shower, gathered up her dirty uniforms and his suit, then jammed them in the freshener unit in the head before mixing up a cup of powder. Her gaze fell to one of the jars of Izzaiah’s food. She lowered her spoon and looked at the reprogrammed food processor.
“He did say the other drone gave him a few extra jars,” she muttered as she grabbed one out of his box and hurried over to the machine. She scraped off the wax and removed the top. Lyra wrinkled her nose from the stringent odor. She clicked her tongue when she realized she couldn’t just pour the goop straight into the machine. She ran to the hold and opened the closest boxes of ration gel until she found what she was looking for. Several spare sterilizing bags in case one of the gel packs leaked.
She returned to the mess, poured the stinky goop into the bag, then loaded it into the machine. A cleaning cycle ran, then she moved the settings for a nutrient analysis on the full container to be collated during the process. When the first cup finished she read the nutrient data for the cup and compared it to the initial scan, they took when they first arrived. She twisted another tiny dial to set it for maximum concentration.
“Processing will begin in five seconds. Thank you for using Bayliss Manufacturing’s line of automated food processors.”
Once the bag emptied, she sat all six sealed cups of nectar powder on the table, then started adding one teaspoon full at a time mixed with water until she reached the matching nutrient level for the normal jar. She added more water and gave a sniff. No smell, but the scan said it was an exact match to the original. She grinned. Three spoonfuls of powder to a cup of water.
Lyra woke when she heard her name called. “What’s wrong, Izzaiah?”
“I must use a waste chute.”
She helped him to the head and showed him how to use the male’s attachments, then hurried back out. Her face was redder than the streaks in her hair.
“Feeling better?” She asked when he exited.
“Yes. Much. I would feel more comfortable in my suit and not this paper thing.”
She laughed and told him to wait a minute. She returned quickly, carrying a sealed plastic bag in her hands. “Here you go. Just take off the plastic. Your suit’s been cleaned, repaired, and sanitized. Just bring the plastic bag to the mess when you’ve changed and I’ll teach you where to put the recyclable materials. I also have some wonderful news for you.”
When he sat on one of the metal benches in the mess, she handed him one of her food cups filled with a blue-green gel. “What is this? There is no scent.”
“It’s your food, put through the processor and powdered. Just like mine is. The thing is, one jar of your food would equal one meal before, now it’s more like six cups of powder. It should equal eight meals per cup if mixed at the optimal ratio of powder to water for your nutritional needs.”
He tipped his head down to look back into the cup. “So much food.”
“Uh-huh. Which means we can use most of what you brought to stockpile what you guys will need. That one cup of powder should do you for the entire time we’re here.”
“I wish I would have known before I drank the one last night.”
She shrugged. “Think of it as a fantastic meal during your recovery. Now, after you finish your gel, I’ll help you back to bed then start on the food for both of us. Later on, I’ll do some more work, then we’ll gather a few things from the hold for you to take.”
Izzaiah stored the forty-seven cups of nectar powder into one of the storage cabinets, then helped Lyra in the hold.
“Okay. I’ve got as much work done on the VI issue as I can do alone. The medical bay is functional. I’ve reset the power away from the bypass and shut down everything after your latest scan so it won’t be a strain on the ship’s batteries.
“Now I need to patch what I can in the hold and work my way down to the engine room. During the rains, all of us will need to work on finishing the patches to the outside, the bulkheads, VI core, life-support, and inner bulkhead doors. Once the VI is up and running, it can do most of the electrical work on the interior while we do other stuff. It’s just getting it up and running and without Misako here, or at least sharebeam contact with her, I’m pretty much at a loss on what else to try.”
“You cannot just ask her now?”
Lyra shook her head. “No. Something inside the dome blocks outside long-range signals. In order to talk, we either must both be inside the building or one of us outside of it, like in the fields. We can’t communicate from here to the inside of the building without one of us being right outside the dome.”
She handed him several silver, foil-wrapped pouches. “Here. I’ve used one of these before. It’s called a glow stick,” Lyra said as she unwrapped one, snapped the plastic casing, then shook it hard. The inside of the tube glowed a soft orange and became brighter the longer he looked at it.
“They last twelve hours.” She unraveled the black cord attached to it and hung it around her neck before putting the lid back on.
She opened another box sitting next to the cargo crate the rover came in and put the lid back on before moving to another. She shoved a crate aside and pried off the lid of yet another before reaching into it to check the contents. She passed him a box and put the lid back on.
“Freeze-dried ice cream. When we go back to the mess, I’ll eat one so you can tell them what they are and then you can say you took a couple out of the box from the cupboard you saw me put it in. It won’t spoil, so don’t worry. Just try not to get it wet.”
She added some black cording she found in a repair kit, and a lanyard marked Sol System United Federation on it.
“Okay. That should be enough stuff from out of the hold added to what I dumped into the box from the head and engineer’s room. Let’s see, add one of the thermal blankets. Then we’ll go a little further toward the back of the ship.” She paused a second. “When you describe the inside, don’t tell them about the rover or the food processor. Leave out the engines and medical bay too. Tell them all you saw was where we eat, sleep, clean ourselves. And a room stuffed with partially emptied boxes where you grabbed all this stuff from. Say you tried to get other doors to open, but they weren’t working.”
He tipped his head in acknowledgment.
“Alright. I’ve still got several hours of work to go. Why don’t you go back and rest some more? You’re still recovering after all.”
“I would stay and help you.”
“I know, but the implant needs more time, and it heals and expands better when a body rests.”
Lyra sat across the metal table from Izzaiah and walked him through setting up the sharebeam, which was a lot harder to do without the visor for input and visuals being available to her.
“Alright. You’re getting the hang of it. The next step is to learn how to run self-diagnostics and repairs. Now you won’t need to do repairs, but the self-diagnostic is extremely important.”
“Okay,” he said and followed her step-by-step instructions. After that came how to receive data packets and pushes, then how to package and send them himself.
“Very good. What do you want to do now? I’m sure the guards will bang on the outer airlock door as the sun comes up in the morning.”
He shrugged, a motion he picked up from her. “I don’t know.”
She yawned and suggested they go to sleep then.
She jerked awake a short time later when she felt the mattress on her bunk dip. She bunched her legs up and he laid down behind her like he did when they spoke in whispers back in her cell. She heard a soft snore coming from him a few minutes later and she closed her eyes.
The guard yanked the box from his hands the following morning and they set off at a brisk pace after he picked up the box which contained half the filled cups to last the women until the rains began and more than double the amount of empty cups sealed to make it seem like enough for many more months. They planned to be away from the dome before they ran out of food.
As soon as they entered the dome, the guards told him to hand the other box over to the female and follow them to see the Advisor.
“Report,” the Advisor said as she emptied the large crate of goods onto an empty table. She shook one of the food cups, then put them all back inside, leaving the mess of odds and ends on the table.
Izzaiah told her about the rooms he saw, the boxes and doors he couldn’t get open when she thought he was asleep. Then he showed her the packs of ice cream. “It’s food for them. She ate one and put the box into a covered hole in the wall. There was nothing else in there. When she went to use the waste receptacle, I stole them and hid them in the box.”
The Advisor tore open the silver wrapping with a design on the front she knew nothing about and sniffed the object, broke it into tiny pieces with little more than a grunt, then shoved the rest to the side.
She examined all the other items. The Advisor ended up getting the duct tape stuck to her setae and yelling for the medic. Izzaiah stopped her from spraying the WD-40 in her eyes just in time and explained that the stranger used it to stop a squeak from a chair he sat on. He told the Advisor he waited until her back was turned and hid the can under the silver covering she gave him to wrap up in when he began rubbing his arms from the cold inside the vehicle.
She picked up one of the other silver packets and handed it to him after the previous packet she opened sent an orange powder flying everywhere, most of which covered her face and hands. The drone told her it was a powder the female mixed in water and drank.
He opened the packet and activated the glow stick. “This is what she used for light inside the vehicle. I saw where she got them from and took as many as I dared. They range in colors. I don’t know what else they use them for other than personal light.”
The Advisor took it from him and held it up, then shook it some more before inspecting the cord.
“She used the cord to put it around her neck so her hands were free.”
The Advisor hefted the wrench and asked him about it. “I don’t know, Advisor. I found it under a table when she was asleep. I didn’t think it was wise to ask her about it when she woke. She’d know I wasn’t keeping to the sleeping area she gave me.”
She examined the last few items, then signaled for a guard to gather it all up and take it to their scientists.
“Well, you did better than I expected with getting items and describing as much of it as you could. But, were you able to find out how she opened it?”
Izzaiah shifted on his feet. “After making it to the door it was still bright enough to see. She placed her hand beside the door and made noises… words? I tried to replicate them in the sleeping chamber while giving her time to fall asleep. I even tried saying them into the hole next to the door she used before, but nothing happened. Maybe I wasn’t saying them exactly right. I remember what they sounded like, but the vibrations are strange and they move their mouths so much.”
The Advisor buzzed, then motioned for another guard. “Take him back to the stranger’s room.”
Izzaiah picked up the mostly empty box and carried it with him.
The First Advisor entered the room minutes after the drone left.
“What the guard observed matched what the male said. The female put her hand on the vehicle and used words to open the door. He also brought back many items from the interior. From his description, it sounds like some type of hive for their people. A small one, perhaps to start a new colony as we do when two powerful queens emerge and one is sent off with a handful of workers and young drones.”
“Do you believe they are alone then? That there are no others coming to join them?”
The Third Advisor sat on her chair and put her hands on the desk. “I am unsure. They do not seem to be able to reproduce without males. And they no longer have the males due to the Queen’s interference. If we do not figure out how to open their vehicle and what the items are inside before the last one dies we may never get a better understanding of their technology.”
“The drone has time to figure it out. And if he doesn’t the next one should.”
“If we can keep the Queen from becoming impatient and letting her stupidity and anger kill them beforehand.”
“That is the second reason I’ve come here in person. I’ve asked all the Advisors to join me in the chamber room after I received your report. There are matters to discuss before this year’s mating flight.”
Lyra looked up as the door to her cell opened. Izzaiah walked in and he put the crate in the corner, then moved the cups of food into the other box and his replenished food jars into the box he carried. After getting the rest of his food put away, he picked up the empty used cups Lyra kept stacked next to her food and put them inside as well.
How did it go? She asked him over the sharebeam.
He covered the slight pause in his movements by standing up. Talking to Lyra with only his mind was a lot to get used to.
I think she believed me. I do not know if they are going to allow me to travel to the vessel alone. I have not spoken to Aziel yet.
He’s with Nova. Not sure what they’re doing.
Okay. After I speak with him, I’ll see if one of us can go tell the food storage attendant to set up our meeting with the others. Although, it might be best just to talk with one or two at a time and not all of us together.
That’s probably a good idea. Unless it’s normal for a group to be seen together?
Not outside the shower or dorm room.
Izzaiah told the guard outside Lyra’s cell he needed to go to the food storage room. The guard looked into the box he held to see several empty jars.
He put the crate on the counter in front of the other bee and said loud enough for the guards to hear him, “Here are the returned jars from my job assigned by the Third Advisor.” When the guard’s head moved away from the opened door. He leaned in closer so only the other male could hear him. “Meet me in the tunnel on the sixth level outside the jar storage room when the lights fully darken for the night cycle. Only you this time. Will pass messages through you for when the others are to meet. Be careful that no one sees you and bring the two full food jars I hid under these empties with you for stockpiling. Make sure to carry the crate of empties with you, Lyra said it would give you an excuse for being near the jar storage room at night if someone sees you.”
“So they do have a way to leave here? And willing to take some of us too?”
“Only a certain number. And only ones Aziel and I know and trust.”
The other bee tilted his head.
“They’ve given us names.”
The other bee picked up the crate with a hurried buzz of understanding, then Izzaiah rushed to the door before the guards got suspicious.
The lights dimmed, then went out a short time later. Izzaiah gripped Lyra’s hand tightly in his for several long minutes.
Are you sure you can get out of here unseen?
I believe so, Lyra. The guards do not remain outside the doors after the lights go out. I’ve noticed your kind can not see well in certain light spectrums as my own can. They use this to their advantage.
What do you mean?
I overheard two guards talking about what they heard the Advisors saying about your kind. They said the doctor was sure you could not see as we can in ultraviolet light. So they adapted the night time lights for that spectrum. Where we could see you wandering around the corridors, you couldn’t see one of us. But the same goes for us. The one guard scoffed when she heard that your overall eyesight was better in all other environments.
Technically, we can see in almost any spectrum if we use our neural-link visors on visible settings. Usually, we keep them on visible mode when we need them, except in nighttime situations where the light could disturb others or for people where stealth is more important.
Izzaiah laid there next to her.
“I guess they must have figured out the eyesight when they did autopsies on our men,” she whispered in the dark room.
I am sorry, Lyra. Your mates must have been very special to you.
Mates? They weren’t our mates, but they were our friends. We did nothing wrong. They did nothing wrong, yet your Queen ordered them killed, she hissed harshly.
He squeezed her hand again. I’m still sorry you lost them.
She sighed and closed her eyes against the remembered pain. I’m sorry too, Izzaiah, I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that.
He let go of her hand and rolled toward her. It is alright. I must go now. I will be back soon.
Okay. If you keep the sharebeam open, I can hear everything that’s going on and maybe help if he has questions about anything. Just don’t give away too much in case he runs to the guards.
I don’t think he will, but both Aziel and I will watch him.
Be safe and hurry back.
He paused for a second. I will hurry back to you, Lyra.
Izzaiah pushed the door release, and it opened quietly. Aziel crouched low in the shadows next to it.
“It’s about time, Izzaiah. I thought you were too busy with your Lyra to remember we had something to do tonight.”
“What does that mean?”
“You’re acting like those idiots who are excited about the mating flight. You’re doing the same thing, only with Lyra.”
“I am not. I’m just grateful she’s helping us.”
“Uh-huh. Let’s get a move on before a patrol comes this way.”
They edged their way down the corridor and stopped to listen before turning the corner and continuing until they reached the first intersection. After another stop, they turned left and opened a small hatch which blended seamlessly into the wall. Aziel slid in feet first on his stomach.
Izzaiah waited for a few seconds before he did the same and carefully lowered the hatch back into place.
The tunnel twisted and turned and branched off in all directions. The pair of them knew the tunnels well after having to tend them over the past twenty years. When they reached the section leading off to the large jar storage area, they slowed down and listened. No guards patrolled the tunnels as it was a male-only area.
They heard someone ahead of them and started inching their way forward. Aziel stood after seeing who it was.
“It’s us. You came alone?”
“Yes,” the other male said and looked around nervously. “I did my best to stay late, then told the guards I forgot the box of empty jars and needed to return them. They got angry and yelled at me to go straight back to the dorm after dropping them off, so we need to talk fast. Izzaiah said you had a way for us to get away, but the females would only take a few of us?”
“Yes. One of them didn’t want to take any of us since it increased their chances of being caught while escaping, but Nova and Lyra said otherwise. She didn’t like it, but they all agreed to take six of us. And Aziel and I must agree on all of them. Only those we trust and willing to help with stockpiling resources and do what they can to not draw attention to the plan. They’ve also got to be ready to go as soon as Nova gives the signal.”
“What signal? Won’t something like that attract the guard’s attention?”
“No. I know what the signal is and will relay it to the small group when we are to make a run for it,” Izzaiah whispered.
“What’s the plan?”
Don’t tell him. Nova and Lyra said, making Izzaiah jump a little.
“I’ll explain more as we get closer to the day. What we need to do right now is to prepare. I’ll bring by two jars of food for you to stockpile somewhere safe. We need as many of them as we can possibly hide. The next thing is for you to pass on a message to the two who work in the seed shed. Have them meet us in the tunnel directly below the seed warehouse around this same time in two days. They aren’t to tell anyone else and neither are you.”
“Okay. How many jars are we talking about? You can only stash so many before someone notices the jars aren’t being emptied and returned.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Izzaiah said. “If everything goes like Lyra thinks it will, I’ll handle that. I’ll let you know what I’ll need from you when the time comes.”
“We need to go, Izzaiah.”
Their return had one hitch. When Aziel reached the top of the ladder and opened the hatch wide enough for him to hear; the sound of footsteps grew closer. He lowered the hatch again, and they waited. After what seemed to them an excruciatingly long time, Aziel cracked the hatch, and they heard nothing. They quickly exited the tunnel and made for the female’s rooms.
Izzaiah slipped onto Lyra’s mattress and snuggled close to her back. It is becoming cooler now. Soon the males will be moved from the dorm and into the smaller rooms in the tunnels. Once I’ve spoken to the others, it may be a good idea to suggest they share one of the small rooms. There should be less of a chance for one of them to speak out of turn and for someone to overhear them. The storage room male seemed interested.
That would probably help with setting up the rest of the plan and having them ready to go. I’m glad you made it back safely. Goodnight.
“Goodnight, Lyra,” he whispered next to her ear.
Lyra woke in a tangle of arms and legs as sometime during the night she rolled over and Izzaiah shifted to get more of her body heat. She laid there for several minutes before she finally noticed his breathing changed. His feathery antennae moved sightly, and she knew he watched her.
“Good morning, Izzaiah,” she whispered to him.
He said nothing for a few seconds before he returned her greeting. He didn’t, however, move away from her, but tightened his hold.
“We have to get up,” she said with just a hint of nervousness in her voice. Not to mention embarrassment.
He reluctantly removed his arms before rolling away and letting her rise. He sat with his back toward the waste chute and shower as she readied herself before the lights come on.
When she finished, he stood and did the same. He sighed a low buzz as she kept her back toward him the entire time she made their “breakfast” as she called it.
“I am traveling back to the ship today to pretend attempts at opening the door.”
“Alright. Nova said Aziel will take her outside with him. He said something about readying for the mating flight?”
“Yes. The cleaners will now concentrate on cleaning the outside of the dome, the grounds, and the rooms the other queens will use while they are here. The males will begin stretching and strengthening their wing muscles in order to have a chance at winning the competition between themselves to reach the female.”
“Won’t someone notice if you’re not there?”
“No. There are so many males of mating age, one missing will not be noticed. Aziel already knows I won’t be there and the Advisors do as well.”
“Okay. Keep your sharebeam open so we can feed you information and warn you if the rover’s cameras spot anything nearby. If you’re clear, we need for you to put the food jars near the door, then fly up to the top of the ship. Once you’re up there send a message to Misako letting her know and she’ll guide you through the rest. If you’re followed, we’ll signal and then you just pretend to try the door and get frustrated when it doesn’t open.”
Izzaiah tipped his head to acknowledge her instructions. He looked toward the panel separating Lyra's room from Maddy’s to see if the other male stood there before he reached for Lyra’s hand. “I am nervous.”
“Why?” she asked and squeezed his hand gently.
“The males are not allowed to journey outside the hive unless accompanied by guards or during the purge.”
“Are you afraid you’ll get lost? Hurt?”
“Not lost. But it is dangerous out there the closer it is to the time of the rains. We’ve got less than three months until the season changes. The large animals will start migrating. I’ve even heard stories of them snatching us out of the air during the mating flights.”
Lyra frowned. “Listen. If anything tries to attack you and you’re at the ship, we’ll know about it. We can open the ship’s door and you can get inside fast. NOTHING can get through to you once you’re on board unless we open the door. The ship sealed all the breaches on the inside with either liquid metal or with the auto sealant gel during impact.”
“What if it’s a guard? I must obey.”
“Not if they’re trying to hurt you. Just keep your sharebeam open. Nova will use the link with you to move the rover into position so it can use cameras to monitor things. Just don’t go toward the back of the ship or it’ll lose sight of you.”
Izzaiah took several steps closer, and Lyra craned her neck to look up at him. “I will remember. I will return to you as quickly as I can.”
Lyra gave him a slightly shaky smile and a last squeeze to his hands before he left the room.
Oh, Lyra. How I will miss you. I want to stay and make googly eyes at you all day long.
Lyra rolled her eyes at Nova’s sharebeam link with the other women. They all laughed.
Hilarious. Keep an eye on him, Nova. He has no clue what he’s doing around the ship.
He has no clue about a lot more than just the ship, Lyra. Maybe we should beam him a couple of special information packets and vids about human females and their anatomy.
Not to mention our reproductive habits and sexual needs.
Bow chicka wow wow, Maddy added in imitation of the old human porn vids someone snuck aboard the Malta and uploaded into the vid database under instructional videos.
Oh, for crying out loud, quit it.
Izzaiah waited in the food storage area until the other drones left before telling the attendant he was there for his daily food and water allotment.
The other drone tipped his head and reached under the counter to withdraw a sack, then began placing jars of food into it. He glanced over and added two extra along with as many water containers as he could safely sneak in.
“Here. This is the full allotment they instructed me to provide you. Bring back the empty ones. Don’t leave them lying around or wait until late to return them.”
“I understand,” Izzaiah said, then lowered the volume of his buzzes. “Bring the stockpiled jars tomorrow. I’ll have a crate for them to be loaded into. Put them under the water containers.”
The other bee said nothing, just put the empty jars the last drone brought into a cart for taking to the cleaning room.
Izzaiah stood with the sack full of jars in his arms just outside the doors of the dome.
“That way. Be back before nightfall. We’ll lock the doors then. If you’re late, the night creatures can have you.”
Izzaiah took several steps away from them and swallowed. He held the heavy bag in his hands and flexed the muscles which controlled his wings. He hissed as they pained him from nearly a year of disuse before the short wings stretched out, then relaxed as they elongated and the secondary wings unfolded. He tested them for a moment before beginning to move them faster and faster until they sounded with a loud buzz from the vibrations. He rose a few inches off the ground and hovered for a moment, then gained altitude and flew toward the ship.
What took them nearly half a day to walk, took Izzaiah less than four hours to fly. He stumbled a little as he came in for a landing; tired and breathless with unaccustomed exertion. He caught his breath as he folded his wings back into their normal positions.
Nova? I’ve made it to the ship. He sharebeamed as he walked on unsteady legs toward the shelter, which the unrelenting sun and winds caused abnormal wear and tear to. The sun-bleached fabric had frayed along the stitched edges, and the orange safety tie-downs were now a yellowish-white.
Give the rover time to check for anyone following you. Drink some water and rest for a few minutes. You made outrageously good time to the ship.
Izzaiah drank half of a jar of water as he waited.
There’s something coming. Don’t leave the shelter yet. Either it is not sentient or it’s not too concerned with hiding itself from anything because it’s not attempting to be stealthy in its approach.
He peeked out of the shelter when Nova sighed over the sharebeam. It’s one of those Advisors. She stopped inside the flower tree line across from the ship and is standing on a big flower-tree leaf. Does it even understand the terms stealth and spying? Best get out there and start trying to break into our ship. I’ll let you know when it’s safe to help Misako.
Izzaiah edged his way from the shelter and looked everywhere, but behind him where Nova told him the Advisor was, then hurried toward the airlock door. He ran his hands over the entire area, then placed his palm next to the door and said Earth sounding words.
Nova started laughing. I don’t know what you tried to say, but that was in no way any form of Earth Common.
I don’t know what it was. Just something I made up. It isn’t as though I’m supposed to make sense. Izzaiah bent toward the side and pretended to study the hull of the ship, then placed his hand a few inches lower than before and repeated the same nonsense.
You’re doing pretty good with this trickery stuff. The Advisor is still there, but she’s hovering a little closer now. I think she’s trying to see exactly where you place your hand. I doubt she’d give herself away too much by coming close enough for her to hear you.
He buzzed softly and banged a fist against the door before starting to mutter an incomprehensible word and putting his hand to the side.
An hour later, Nova told him the Advisor flew deeper into the wooded area but she wasn’t sure she left completely so to take a break before making the next attempt. Once the rover couldn’t detect any more movement or life signs from that direction she’d patch Misako through.
Another thirty minutes went by as he sipped a little water.
You’re clear, Izzaiah. I’m opening the door so you can put those jars of food inside and grab the cup of powder. I’ll only keep it open for a few seconds, just in case.
Izzaiah grabbed the sack of food and spare water jars and ran to the door. He shoved them next to where the door opened and as soon as it got wide enough, pushed them through and used his other hand to grab the cup of powder. The door shut less than three seconds later and he stood up.
Well, done. As long as no one shows up tomorrow to spy on you, we’ll open the door and you can enter. Just be sure not to mess with anything. Lyra said she’d make some notes on walking you through using the food processor for your food cups. If they follow you, don’t worry about it. The rover will store your food in a cupboard that has minimal power for preserving it at the temperature your implant registered while inside the food storage area of the hive until you can make it or we’re all on the ship.
Izzaiah went back to sit in the shelter's shade and mix up the food, using the spoon the rover taped to the side of the cup.
Izzaiah? It’s Misako. Once you’re ready, I’ll send you a text message you should be able to read, which will help you examine the outside hull for any damage near the cameras. Once you check them all, I can compile a list of items needed for outside repairs and have the rover collect it for tomorrow. After that, we’ll need you to move all over the top of the ship and around the sides so we can see the damage. You don’t have a visor so we can’t see it through your eyes. You must record and send the video to me.
You can do that?
Yes. And if you want, Lyra can show you what it’s like to see through hers once you get a visor.
He read through the message and asked a few questions about things he didn’t understand before hovering near the top of the ship.
Izzaiah? Do you see those shiny plates on the top of the ship? Don’t step on them. If the coating on top becomes too damaged, it will stop absorbing sunlight. If that happens, the ship’s batteries stop getting power. So if you have to land on top to get a closer look at something, stay off those.
Izzaiah made a careful circuit around the entire ship, stopping to focus on areas where there were scorch marks or damage.
I am finished. Now what?
Lyra taught you how to package and send data files, right?
Good. Request the last vid file and package it, then send it to me. I’ll look and see if I can find out where the camera malfunction is. Then we figure out how to fix it. If it gets too late, head back to the dome.
Izzaiah drank some water and thought about making another cup of the powder, but didn’t. He’d already eaten twice that day and would rather wait until he could be with Lyra again.
Misako hissed when she opened the vid file. It never dawned on any of them that since he had compound eyes, the video would not make much sense to their own vision.
What’s up, Misako?
What I’m seeing is hard to understand. It will take me a bit to figure out how to change the images from his compound eye to ours without the visor.
Well, how did he learn to use the food processor and other things while on the ship?
Lyra showed him, so it made sense to his vision.
Nova dropped her head between her elbows where her arms looped around her knees. They couldn’t waste the next two months not making repairs because of the difference in vision.
I take it none of us have any type of programming ability to make an app to adjust for that?
Nope, came the chorus of replies.
She stood after telling them to keep working on it. She was losing connection with the ship and Izzaiah as the guards were herding everyone back into the dome.
Izzaiah panicked and grabbed the empty jars of water or food and flew as fast as he could toward the dome.
For the second day in a row, Lyra woke with her arm, and leg wrapped around Izzaiah. This time her head was buried in the crook of his neck and his leg trapped between hers. As soon as she moved, she felt him draw his arms around her tighter. She heard his heart beating faster and a deep, vibrating buzz sounding in his chest.
She listened for a few moments, the sound and warmth of his body sinking into her. She closed her eyes for a moment. It was almost as if she lay in the flower fields back on Mars with the sound of her honey bees going to and fro, sometimes flying right up to the flower next to her head and collecting the pollen as she listened to the buzzing of its wings on the air. A tiny sob escaped her as her thoughts turned to her parents, little brother, and her friends she left back on the planet and what the old Earth government and military did to them. She pushed out of his arms and rolled over, quickly getting up and heading for the corner where the shower and sink were.
“Lyra? Did I do something wrong? You did not yell or have me punished when I held you before,” he asked with mixed tones of worry, fear, and sadness to his voice.
“It’s not you, Izzaiah. Don’t worry about it.”
He heard the shower start and rolled away to give her privacy. What had he done to make her leave so fast?
What’s wrong, Izzaiah? You sound confused and worried about something? Lyra isn’t answering me over the sharebeam.
I don’t know. We were lying on the bed, and she had her arms around me. I held onto her and she had her head pressed against my chest. I sounded my contentment, happiness with her being next to me. Then she… the word that keeps coming up in your language is cried.
She’s crying? What did you do to her?
I don’t know. She pushed away from me and went to the shower.
Did you touch her other than holding her?
Hold on a minute.
“Aziel? Wake up.”
Aziel gave a loud buzz and came awake immediately.
“What is wrong, Nova?”
“Not sure. Izzaiah just contacted me. Lyra got upset after he… he said he sounded his contentment and happiness? What the hell does that mean?” She made the word vibrations as best she could for his language.
Aziel made a buzz, which sounded curiously like a sigh. “He’s a fool. He is acting like the other males during the mating flight. Hoping to catch a queen and mate with her. Only he’s hoping to catch Lyra. What kind of idiot wants to mate and be killed? Here, listen and I’ll try my best to make the sound.”
A deep buzz came from his chest and she listened to it and frowned. It sounded just like a normal one.
“Why would that sound cause her… oh. I think I know,” Nova whispered and placed a hand on Aziel to stop the sound.
Yes, Nova. Do you know what I did?
It’s the sound you made. You did nothing wrong. You couldn’t have known. I’ll explain later in better detail. Right now, just give her some time.
Izzaiah laid there after receiving Nova’s reply for a minute before standing up in the dark room and moving to the box of powdered food. He mixed a cup for each of them and put it on the tiny table just as the shower shut off.
“I’ve made food. I’ll leave to return to your ship as soon as I finish,” he told her quietly while keeping his back to her.
He flinched when he felt her touch his shoulder.
“I’m sorry, Izzaiah. You did nothing wrong, honestly. Thank you for making breakfast.”
Izzaiah picked up his cup, drank the contents, and hurried over to rinse it before leaving. He hadn’t looked at her; he was afraid of what he might see there.
Izzaiah sat the crate full of empty jars on the counter. “Use this to put the food and water in. It will be easier for me to carry.” He gave a low buzz of a reminder for the two who worked in the seed shed to meet him and Aziel that night. The other male gathered the crate and took it to the empty jar area. He unloaded it and lined the bottom with jars of food he and Aziel stockpiled before covering them with a piece of cloth, adding the fresh water and food jars allotted to Izzaiah, covering the cloth completely.
“Here. Bring back the empties earlier next time,” the male buzzed when he noticed a guard looking around the corner. “I have a job to complete in a timely manner and shouldn’t keep the guards waiting. Some of us want to have enough time to prepare to win this year’s mating flight.”
Izzaiah buzzed his apology and picked up the much heavier crate.
Izzaiah didn’t even wait for the guards to tell him they would gladly leave him to the night animals if he didn’t make it back in time before he lifted off and flew to the ship.
Lyra sat under the flower tree with Nova as they watched the males stretch their wings, have mock battles attempting to knock each other out of the sky and racing to various points above the marked off area set aside for them to build their flying strength for the upcoming flight.
“Lyra? What’s going on?” Nova asked quietly. “Izzaiah contacted me earlier. He sounded hurt and sad and blamed himself for something.”
Lyra sighed and crossed her legs as she rotated a water jar around in her hands. “Memories of Mars popped up when I heard him buzzing this morning. It was so similar to my bees back home. I miss my family and still angry at what those idiots on Earth did and didn’t do. I’m pissed I had to leave them behind. I don’t understand why we couldn’t have taken our families. Why couldn’t both colonies have supercarriers? I’m pissed they attacked the colonies. What fools would try to jam a million people in a space capable of housing two hundred max?”
“Desperate ones. I can’t say I know how you feel, Lyra. I don’t know what it was like living in a colony. What I know was how it was on Earth once the news broke. People panicked and became violent. It overrode the implant’s protective measures against that sort of thing, same as what happened when we were attacked here. All of our implants registered them as combatants; it’s why I can react with force against them.
“There were riots, looting, murders in untold numbers even on the island I called home. Military killing people flocking to the bases for sanctuary, citizens rebelling against the city or town leaders as soon as they announced martial law. It was a nightmare. I guess the members of the military and governments the upper crust deemed not worthy of joining them on the carrier thought they could ride it out in one of the colonies and force them to take them in. Whether they knew how small and ill-equipped the colonies were before telling people to get on the ships or not is another story. From what I heard, they were planning a military takeover of them.”
Lyra nodded. “Yeah. Sparks told a few of us he and the Captain warned the colony leaders they were coming and to get ready for the military takeover. Only Europa didn’t listen to them. Mars and Titan were ready and fought back as best they could. A warning went out when they killed the colony’s guard force. Everyone destroyed all their food and water supplies and equipment. Our mayor blew the dock with mining explosives and took out the military freighter with it. That was the last message any of us from Mars received. Safia said Titan did almost the same thing, but they destroyed the environmental controls for the station and flooded it with the nitrogen-methane atmosphere from the planet. It killed not only all the people but the plants too.
“Their colony was smaller than the one on Mars; fit for only one hundred people.
“Maddy said the military overran Europa and killed everyone, including civilians, who tried to resist them. She didn’t know if any of the original colonists survived or not.”
Nova closed her eyes and pulled Lyra toward her in a one-armed hug. “I’m sorry, Lyra. We knew it was bad, but most of the colonists wouldn’t go into details and we were told not to ask.”
They sat like that for a few minutes until Nova broke their silence.
“Aziel said Izzaiah’s been acting like those fools up there with wanting to mate a queen. Apparently, he’s an idiot for wanting to have sex with you and letting you kill him.”
Lyra’s head jerked up from Nova’s shoulder. “What?”
Nova smirked. “You heard me. He’s got it bad for you, Lyra. Even willing to let you stab him through the heart for just a single time of screwing you.”
Lyra stared at Nova with a shocked expression as the other woman laughed.
“Oh, come on, Lyra. Stop acting so surprised. You had to have known how he felt. We’ve known those two for nearly the entire year we’ve been held prisoner here.”
Lyra fidgeted a little. “Well, no. I mean, he’s always been nice, and don’t think I’ve ever done anything to lead him on. There is also Jeremy to consider. I don’t think my boyfriend would like it if I had sex with an alien. I hadn’t even done it with Jeremy as we decided to wait until we reached the planet to use for the colony.”
Nova stared at her in disbelief. “Seriously. You guys were all over each other a couple of times. You’re kidding that you didn’t have sex with him.”
Lyra shook her head. “No. I was raised on Mars, Nova. Things there were a bit different. They had to have strict population growth, which meant no ‘oopsies’. The implants aren’t one hundred percent effective, even if both parties have them. They regulate births in the colonies. Their implants are removed once their scheduled times come up and replaced once they birth a healthy child. The doctor on the ship warned us against doing anything which might land us in hot water with the Captain.”
Nova started laughing. “You don’t seriously think others weren’t having sex the entire time, do you?”
“No. But did you ever wonder why some of those people were put into stasis early or moved to different decks of the ship?”
Nova’s laughter quieted.
“I was working in the seed bank when I heard several of the others talking. Some women came up pregnant. You know we can’t go into cryo if we’re carrying babies. And everyone went into cryo. They separated the couples, and the Captain had no choice but to reassign them. The women had their names adjusted on the timeline for allowing pregnancy. The meds we’re pumped full of when we go into cryo can cause irreparable damage to a woman who just gave birth. It was one of the warnings the doctor gave me. Some of them might not be able to have kids naturally now because of their stupidity. I would not be one of them, and I told Jeremy that. He understood and agreed.”
Nova frowned. “I had heard none of that. But, Lyra, it’s been almost a year now. The Captain told us we had to find a suitable place to build because they only had two years’ worth of food. We haven’t been able to contact them, so they probably think we’re dead. Do you think he waited or is waiting for you to come back? What if he’s moved on and found someone else? I don’t think I like the idea of you keeping Izzaiah hanging on to you until you find out if Jeremy is still available. Izzaiah might not understand and come to dislike you as much as he does the females of his own species. Be sure you’re ready to take that chance. Even if Izzaiah is an alien, he’s a better man than some I’ve met. Hell, even Aziel would be a better match than most I knew back on Earth.”
They stopped talking as Aziel landed near them, followed by two of the other drones assigned to the group.
Izzaiah waited until he got the all-clear from Lyra before he approached the airlock. As soon as the rover opened the door, he ducked inside carrying the crate of water and food.
He saw the pile of plastic bags laying on the steel table in the mess and placed the crate next to it.
The rover placed yesterday’s supply of food jars in the tall silver cabinet. It will feel slightly cooler than the rest of them. Open it and take those out. Lyra gave you a text and diagram of what you need to do and also said she left the controls set for you when both of you were there last. I’m still working on figuring a workaround for you not having a visor to understand what I’m describing to you, Misako said.
Okay. I’ll make our food as quickly as I can.
Whatever you don’t get made, place in the cooler for next time.
Misako sighed as she partitioned more processing power into the vision recording problem as she scrubbed, scraped, and polished another room.
Izzaiah landed on top of the ship and carefully brushed away all the accumulated dirt on top of the glass panels.
Perfect, Lyra said. That boosted the incoming solar power up two percent. We’re nearing almost sixty percent now.
Izzaiah? Misako cut in. I need you to look at the blank surface of the ship. A wall or something.
Izzaiah tilted his head in confusion, then flew down to stand in front of the airlock.
I’m going to send you an image. When you open it, you should see something superimposed on the blank space. Tell me what you see.
Izzaiah received the data packet and opened it, then looked at the image.
It is one of the cells. I see a table, and a large alcove to sleep in. This is of the guest chambers?
You got it working? Nova asked.
I couldn’t get his images to make sense to me, at least, not until I realized I could convert what we see using the visor to make sense to him. Then it was fairly simple to reverse the process. The next image I’m sending is one from a communications manual. It’s a color image of what one of the connections to the outside viewing screens should look like once you remove the service panel and crawl through the vent to the location.
When you return tomorrow, collect the items left for you by the rover in the airlock. After you get everything, I’ll walk you through how to locate and access the service panel. Then maybe, with any luck, you can find where the connection problem is. Once those cameras are up, we can see further and possibly get the rover outside to work at night.
Izzaiah gathered up the empty crate of jars and flew back toward the dome as the packets with images, lists, and vid clips streamed through his sharebeam.
Izzaiah lay on the edge of the gel mattress listening to Lyra get ready to sleep. When he arrived back to the cell, she smiled at him and they went about their business as usual while hiding the fact he drank from a cup instead of the large jar like the other males.
Nova? Is something wrong?
No. I just wanted to tell you a few things about Lyra and why she acted as she did. I’ll keep it rather short, as I’m sure you’re waiting for the lights to flicker out. Aziel is tapping his foot impatiently against the wall of the alcove he used to sleep in right now. I’ll tell you more about us once we’re all out of here.
As succinctly as possible, Nova described Lyra’s background. Her love of flowers and of the insects she smuggled off the planet and to her colony. How she enjoyed their sounds and how she learned as much as she could about them.
So you see, the sound you made reminded her of home and family. None of us can return to where we originate from, and it caused her unintentional pain. But it also let her relive a happy feeling. One which she wouldn’t have been able to recall clearly if it wasn’t for you. The implants let us view images and hear sounds, but they can’t replace feelings, tastes, or scents. Don’t feel as if you did something wrong, you didn’t. She just needs a bit of time. And by the time we are ready to bolt from this crappy dome and get away, things between the two of you might even be better than they have ever been.
Izzaiah thought about what Nova told him as he laid there.
Oh, and Izzaiah? When we mate, we don’t normally kill our partners. But we do enjoy being with them. Especially if they take their time to please us and not just mate as fast as possible. We also like to please our partners in the same way. Sometimes several times a night. Just in case you were wondering about it.
Izzaiah’s feathery antennae flitted back and forth as he went over the last bit of information Nova sent him.
Aziel buzzed his frustration toward Izzaiah. “Get your head out of the clouds. What’s going on with you? We almost got caught that time.”
Izzaiah crouched down near the floor and took several deep breaths as he tried to focus and bring his heartbeat back under control. He hadn’t even heard the two guards in the corridor coming their way. If it wasn’t for Aziel pulling him back around the corner, they would have been caught and killed.
“Sorry,” he buzzed quietly. He peeked around the corner. “It’s clear now. Let’s go.”
Aziel turned his head to glance at Izzaiah before following the other male toward the tunnel hatch at the far end of the hall.
The two males waited for Aziel and Izzaiah outside the seed storage. “We were told you might have a way for us to escape the purge? Neither of us is interested in mating, nor do we want to die outside the dome.”
“We do. You’ve seen the strange females?”
“Yes. It is all many of the males spoke about for weeks. We glimpsed a dark-colored one carrying a basket as if it was a leaf.”
“Her name is Nova. She and the others are looking to escape from here. They will take a few of us along. They are offering you both a way to live if you’re willing to smuggle seeds from the storage for them.”
“Why would they want our seeds?” the second male said as he looked at Aziel and Izzaiah.
“They believe the plants we harvest from the seeds are what the females make our food from. They have a way to make it for us too. In larger quantities. I’ve seen this for myself. It’s tasteless, but she could make two days’ worth of food from a single serving.”
All the males looked at Izzaiah.
“The powder?” Aziel asked.
“Yes. Lyra figured out a way to make our food into a powder, too. It’s why I ask anyone coming along to help with the stockpile of food. The more jars we collect, the more food supplies we have until they can grow the plants.”
The two new males looked at each other, then back toward Izzaiah. “How many seeds does she want? How many jars of food? Where would we hide them or how would we give them to you?”
“The food storage worker will help with stockpiling the food, the one who passed on the message to meet us.” The two buzzed their acknowledgment. “We will tell him you will come with us. He will take one jar of the food from your allotments. Since the time of training for the mating flight is upon us, all of us get that one extra jar a day. They won’t miss it from the stocks. He will pass it onto me to hide.”
“And the seeds?”
“In two days’ time, when you receive your food allotment, there will be several small sacks at the bottom. Wait until they shut you inside the seed room before you open the food bags. Fill each sack with a different seed and label them. Divide the full seed bags between the two of you and put them inside with the empty jars. When you return to drop off the bag of empties, hand the crate to the male. Don’t let them sit on the counter or give them to anyone else but him,” Izzaiah instructed them. “Do this each day. If there are bags inside, then fill them up. If not, then go about your business as usual inside the room.”
“And don’t go telling anyone about this. Don’t even talk to each other about it. Not even a whisper or the whole thing could be ruined and all of us killed on the spot,” Aziel added.
“You both promise they will take us with them? And we won’t suffer the purge?”
“As long as no one gives us away, they will not purge us. I will tell all the ones going with us the full plan right before it happens, so there is less chance of it getting back to the Advisors. Next month when the males are split into the sleeping rooms in the tunnels, the food storage tender will gather those who are part of the escape and you will share the room. Still, do not talk about it. But all of you watch each other and be ready.”
Minutes later, the small group broke up and hurried away in opposite directions.
“That’s three of them. Only the small one left.”
“Yes. And he’s going to be key to getting the females out of the dome during the flight,” Izzaiah murmured. “If he won’t cooperate, then this whole thing might not work.”
As the first month of the equivalent of fall came to a close, Lyra thought more and more about Nova’s advice. And finding herself wrapped in Izzaiah’s arms every morning hadn’t stopped those thoughts but added new ones.
She also paid more attention to his actions toward her. How he’d make her food cup every morning before he left and also waiting until returning before eating his last daily meal with her instead of doing so while at the ship. How when they woke in the morning, he seemed more and more reluctant to let her go right away but to hold her close for those moments.
At the same time, she felt her own reluctance to withdraw from his arms.
After Izzaiah left that morning to return to the ship and crawl through the maintenance shafts again, checking on various connections for Misako and Maddy, she sat under the petal-less flower tree near the mating field.
“Hey,” Nova said as she joined her. Aziel took off and rose to fly in the crowd of other males, strengthening his wings for the upcoming flight to the ship.
Nova crossed her legs and looked up at the males. “Aziel said the two males working the seed room stashed another pack of seeds for us just inside the escape hatch. They won’t be able to get any more though, as the Advisors are locking up the storage area until next planting season.”
“That’s okay. Over the past week and a half, they managed to sneak us three full pouches of each type of seed. That should be enough. I’ll need to grow several seasons’ worth at first before working with the botanists to crossbreed them.”
“You sure you’re going to be able to do that?”
“Yep. With a little help from the scientists and my brass hummingbirds. That’s if the Malta picks us up before the damn storm starts again.”
“From the vids Misako cleaned up and transposed for us, the outer hull is looking pretty good. Most of the connections for the outside view screens are working and Maddy said it should be a quick two-person fix for the life support and filtration systems once Izzaiah does a little work on them to get it all ready.”
Lyra ran through the list the failed reboot supplied and made mental check marks on the areas they had as ready as they could for now.
“Looks like navigation, comms, and the VI core are the major areas. The others can work on getting the cargo area cleaned up and situated, the electrical grid in there still needs checking since he can’t move the boxes on his own. And the water reclamation system is in the red for damage. It’s probably busted and won’t work at all.”
“We won’t know that until the VI boots up and can run a deeper diagnostic and start the automated repairs. I’m more concerned with any damage to the engines and the water containment area. We can overlook the reclaiming, but we need a full supply of fresh water to reconstitute the powder and have it to drink. Having to blast each other with a portable decon to get clean is one thing, but becoming dehydrated because of a pinhole leak in the water system is something else.”
Lyra went quiet again, and Nova glanced over before offering her one of the water containers. “Something else is on your mind other than how to recycle our pee, what is it?”
Nova studied her for several minutes, then looked back toward the males racing each other from one end of the area to the other, dodging other males and dipping and swerving between clusters of them.
“It’s Izzaiah, isn’t it?” she asked quietly.
Lyra nodded and drew up her knees to rest her head on.
“Finding it harder to deny what you’re feeling and wanting? I can’t say I know exactly what you’re going through with him, but I know he’d do anything for you. Is doing anything for you. It can’t be easy going out there all alone. He’s not used to being without guards, out in the open in a place he’s only ever seen from the fields or above a tiny area. Yet, you asked, and he went. WE asked him to take a heck of a risk with the implant, and he didn’t hesitate when you told him it would help all of us to get out of here and we’d be able to talk together without others knowing. We could probably have switched him with Aziel and had him take over. He’s got himself an attitude now. Though he’s damn good at hiding it. Or it could have been there all along, and he’s not afraid to show it to us. But, Izzaiah didn’t balk at doing it. Whether he would have if say Safia or Maddy asked him or not, I don’t know. But the moment you did, he would have agreed to anything.”
“You don’t think it’s because we promised to take him with us so they won’t hurt him and leave him out here to die?”
“Maybe a little. It’s probably a lot more to do with going with you, though. The others, yeah, they don’t want to die so are doing what they can on the promise we take them along.”
Lyra sighed and Nova nudged her slightly as Aziel landed near them. He sat down and opened a jar of water.
“Are we still on schedule to leave during the flight?” he asked as he pretended to take a second drink.
“Yeah. The smaller male can get us out of the tunnels, right?”
“Yes. There will be minimal guards left inside. All of them will protect the various queens or in the egg room, making sure nothing happens to the fertilized eggs. The rest will be out here making sure none of us get it in our heads to do something like… fly away.”
Lyra snorted and shot a glance at Nova. I see what you mean. He does have an attitude.
“All you need to do is get to the hatch. Izzaiah said he’d make sure you knew the way to the exit where the male will wait. Once the six of you are there, he’ll hand you two bags’ worth of stashed food. As soon as he opens the hatch, one of you is to notify Izzaiah and he’ll signal us. The hatch we chose is the one closest to the arena, so it’s also the most dangerous. But as long as all of you are outside and ready, we can swoop in and grab each of you and fly to the ship. It’s up to you to get us inside before we’re caught.”
“That won’t be a problem. Are you guys sure you can carry our weight and out fly the Advisors and queens if they should come after us?”
“Yes. Their wings look impressive, but they can only fly for short bursts. A male has to fly in a swarm and be able to out fly everyone else to reach one of those queens, and do so for hours. It’s why they allow us to fly through this season for hours on end. If you watch, the more we are out here, the longer and faster we can keep flying. They won’t catch us in the air. It’s just none of us have ever been given the means to defend ourselves or a way to live outside the dome that a group hasn’t tried. Plus, they beat it into us that we owe our lives to the benevolence of our Queen and her wise Advisor’s council.”
The noise he made sounded like a buzzing snort of derision. “They destroy our wings during the purge because they know we could survive outside of the dome if we had them, and the knowledge to protect ourselves. They make it impossible without them.”
“Won’t they realize the smaller male isn’t out there? Where is he going to hide?”
“They don’t care about him. He could have died in the vents and they wouldn’t have noticed. The other queens arrive a day before the flight takes place. He’ll make himself scarce so when the guards do a check of the tunnels to make sure none of us older males are hiding with the children, they won’t see him. He’ll come out and be ready for you.”
Aziel stood and took several steps away from them before spreading his wings and rejoining the others.
“We have less than two months, Lyra,” Nova whispered as she continued to watch the males and the sky above them as the heavy meteor storm continued to lessen more every day.
“I know,” Lyra said as she wrapped her arms around her knees and tucked her head between them.
When Izzaiah landed in front of the guards holding his crate full of empty water and food jars, they yanked it from him and prodded him through the door. “The Third Advisor wants to see you.”
Izzaiah stood inside the Advisor’s chamber and waited. After several minutes of pure unadulterated nervousness, the First, Third, and Eight Advisors walked through the door and took their seats.
“It has been several weeks and you’ve not opened the door. Explain.”
“The sounds are hard. I’m there every day from just after dawn until I barely have enough time to return before night. I try to open the door and even started looking around to see if there is another way inside. But it is getting more difficult to remember the sounds or if I’m doing them right. I heard them only once.”
The Eighth Advisor leaned back. “That is true. Even as a child, it takes more than one time of hearing something before anyone can copy it. Perhaps it would be a good idea for him to return to the ship with one of the strangers. A different one this time. If he hears it from another, it may be easier for him to remember. And it will give him an opportunity to find more items. I am expressly interested in more of the orange ointment they use for healing. The sample from before is almost depleted. I need more of it.”
Easy, Izzaiah, Lyra said when he contacted them over the sharebeam in a panic. Just listen to what they have to say. We’re listening too, and we’ll figure this out. This may be what we need to get Misako into the ship to work on the systems.
Life support functionality needs to come before communications, Mia said. We won’t be able to keep the doors shut for too long if the air exchange system doesn’t work, and we can’t leave atmo unless the system is fully functional. We can work on communications even after we get into space, as long as we have life support in the ship and not just the suits. It would be hard for one of us to squeeze in the maintenance shaft if we were stuck in one of the hard suits.
I have to agree with Mia on this one. Izzaiah, you’ve got to wrangle a way for Maddy to go with you, Misako said.
“The one with the red setae. Her voice doesn’t have the same sound as the others. When they are speaking in a group, you can tell that one apart from the rest when she talks. Maybe it will be easier for me to remember if I hear her say the words?”
“There are differences between them,” the Third Advisor mumbled. “But will she allow him to wander the ship or will she lock him inside as the other one did the first time? And will the one with the striped setae become angry if her drone goes with the other female?”
“Perhaps that will also give us more information about their kind. Do they share their mates? Is their Queen responsible for assigning them their males? If so, this could be the reason none of them have mated. Or it could be that it is not their season yet, which could be the reason this male hasn’t mated to the female their Queen gave him to.”
They want you guys to play a little slap and tickle.
Shut up, Nova.
Slap and tickle?
The others started laughing as Lyra muttered to Izzaiah to forget he heard Nova say that.
“Very well. In the morning, you will wait near the entrance to the dome and we will bring this other female to you. We expect you to listen and find the tubes of healing ointment and bring as many back as you can along with anything else you can find. You will also describe the reaction the female has of being alone with you and if the female they gave you to has a reaction when you return to the cell after being with the other one.”
Ohh… they want a catfight… Maddy’s gonna steal your man, Lyra.
Oh, for crying out loud. Stop it, you guys.
Morning came all too soon since the group spent most of the night talking over the sharebeam, laying out their plan on what Izzaiah should tell the Advisors when they returned from the ship and what they should let him bring back.
“Just do the best you can, Izzaiah. Listen to Maddy and she’ll tell you how to help with the repairs and I think there are still a few things we can spare. Not a lot, so take a small sack instead of a crate and use it as an excuse,” Lyra said as she continued to lie in his arms instead of pushing out of them as she usually did just before the lights would come on.
Maddy contacted them and let them know she would get as much done on the system as she could, but without knowing the length of time they’d be gone, she wouldn’t promise to get the system fully functional.
Lyra sighed and knew she couldn’t lie there any longer. “Let’s get ready for the day.”
As planned, Izzaiah stood in front of the doors leading outside with a sack of food and water in his hands instead of the heavily packed crate. He turned when he heard Maddy loudly asking where they were taking her, and she was doing her job.
He watched as she yanked and tugged her arm, attempting to break the grip the guard had on it.
She stumbled a little when the guard pushed her toward him. He made no move to catch her as he would have Lyra.
“What’s going on?” Maddy asked again.
The guards poked her several times with the spears, not doing any damage as she still wore her heavy outer suit, but enough to get the point across of moving.
The doors opened, and she blinked at the sunshine and shivered in the cooler air coming through the door. Izzaiah walked outside, and the guards pushed Maddy to follow him.
I think it’s working. I don’t think they know we can talk to each other yet.
I do not know. But they will report everything they see and hear to the Advisors and Queen.
Do you know how long we’re going to be gone?
They packed enough jars for today and tomorrow. I think we shall leave at dawn the day after to return.
Okay. That should be plenty of time to go over the life support system and make quite a few repairs.
Are you ready? Maddy asked as they neared the location of the ship.
Yes. After you start to run toward the ship, I’ll act surprised for a few seconds. Then run after you.
As soon as the ship came into view, Maddy took off running toward it. The guards ran after her, then Izzaiah started running. It didn’t take long before he out-paced them and made it to the ship just as Maddy placed her hand on the hull near where Lyra said she had and muttered a nonsense phrase to open the door.
Izzaiah couldn’t quite slow down in time and ran into her. They both fell to the floor as the door closed behind them. Maddy grunted as she stood up.
“Are you injured? I did not mean to bump into you so hard,” Izzaiah said as he knelt on the floor.
“No, I’m not injured. Just didn’t expect you to bum-rush me through the door,” she said and held out a hand to help him up. “Cover your eyes and I’ll get us sprayed down so we can get to work.”
Lyra? Are you ready to act out about Izzaiah not being in your room?
Almost, Nova. He usually shows up just as I finish showering. So as soon as I get this stupid uniform on, I’ll wait for a few minutes, then start banging on the door. Maddy’s drone is staring into the room now that I’ve moved out of the corner. Think he’s waiting for something to happen so he can run and tell the Advisors?
Lyra waited until she thought enough time passed and looked over at the door. She counted to twenty, then strode over and started banging on it until a guard opened it.
“Where is he?” she demanded, even though she knew they couldn’t understand her. She pointed into her room and repeated the question.
The guard tried to push her back inside, but Lyra was ready for her. She pushed back and ran to Nova’s room while shouting her name.
Nova banged on her door. One guard moved to stop Lyra, but the other guard didn’t hesitate in opening the door. She’d been kicked, punched, knocked down, thrown into the wall, and learned not to interfere between the stranger’s Queen and one of her females. The other one would learn soon enough.
Nova ran out and saw a guard manhandling Lyra and pushing her back toward her room. She took several long-legged strides, then grabbed the guard, who let go of Lyra in surprise, before Nova’s fist crashed into her face and sent her careening into the wall. The guard dropped her spear, bounced off the amber wall, and landed on the floor.
“Dang, Nova. One of these times you’ll send one straight through the wall,” Lyra yelled while flinging her arms around and pointing back to her room.
Nova nodded and tried not to grin but look angry at what she heard. “Maybe it’ll open a hole big enough we can just run right on out.”
She took Lyra by the elbow and they ran to Misako’s room. The guard saw them coming and opened the door. A brief look in her room, and words the drone and guards couldn’t understand as Nova asked Misako if she’d heard anything from Lyra’s male on how things were going. Misako shook her head no, then filled the two of them in on Maddy finding several damaged areas and hooking up bypasses and jerry rigs until they could bring the VI back online. Maddy thought she might have found where the damage was for the outside viewing cameras and communications before they lost contact.
Nova glared at the male laying in the small alcove before turning around and heading to Maddy’s cell. They shoved their way past the guard and Nova scanned the room. She frowned and stared at the male before going to Mia’s room next.
The same glares and angry-sounding words continued. Lyra thought Safia’s drone nearly had a heart attack as Nova stormed into the room shouting at the top of her lungs asking Safia how she was doing and if she made any headway on the VI reboot information from the data Lyra received as it tried to initialize when she was onboard.
The drone dropped to his knees and crawled into the corner where he huddled like a frightened rabbit.
When they left Safia’s room, Nova stomped over to the Advisor who just arrived and shouted at her. Of course, the Advisor had no idea what she said to her. But Nova laid on the outrage pretty thick, with arms flailing and ferocious growls.
Lyra covered her face to keep the expression of laughter from showing. Her shoulders shook, and the guards heard strange gurgling sounds coming from her and tilted their heads in confusion before Nova stepped between them and guided Lyra back to her room.
“Oh god. I thought I was going to bust a gut,” Lyra snorted from behind a piece of cloth she used to wash with.
“You and me both, Lyra,” Nova said as she rooted through the box containing a single jar of Izzaiah’s food. She held it up and Lyra shook her head, made motions with her mouth, and pointed to the door.
“Think that got their nosiness going? Maybe they’ll be too busy trying to figure out what we said to bother paying attention to Izzaiah and the others.”
“Maybe,” Nova said and wrapped her arms around Lyra in a comforting gesture. “Did either of them say how many food containers they had now?”
“Yes. At last count, there was over three hundred cups’ worth of their food.”
“Not enough. Not nearly enough for six of them for three months plus growing time for those plants.”
“We still have two months. When they get back, I’ll talk to Izzaiah about it and see if they can somehow sneak out more food without being caught.”
Maddy yawned. “How’s it coming up there, Izzaiah?” she yelled into the ventilation shaft.
“This is a tiny space. The male who cleans the air shafts within the dome would be more suitable for this work.”
“Yeah, but he’s not here and you are. Did you find any damage to the wiring running through there?”
“No. There are some lying in the vent, though. They are bundles of red, blue, green, and orange with hard, white caps on the end.”
Maddy muttered to herself. “Sounds like they disconnected from a panel.” She beamed images of a circuit board and connection panel to him. “Search for anything looking like that within the bundles’ reach.”
He waited until the images ran through the program Misako sent him to convert to make sense to his own vision, then looked around the area.
“I believe I found one. The other bundle of wires is much longer.”
“Okay. Use the short bundle and plug it into one of the empty slots on the board, just like you did with the one I showed you earlier. After you get it in there, I’ll run the system diagnostic and see if anything changes. Then we’ll do the same thing with the long one. It might take a bit of moving around in there until you find the right combination of where the plugs go.”
Izzaiah buzzed both his annoyance and his acceptance. His thoughts turned toward Lyra, wondering if she was asleep yet, if she thought about what he was doing on the ship, or if he was asleep. He wiggled the white cap on the end of the wire bundle into one of the empty holes, then called down to Maddy.
Dawn barely broke two days later before Izzaiah and Maddy trudged back toward the dome. Neither one moved very fast, no matter how much the guards poked and prodded them.
Maddy left the safety gear behind to make her lighter to carry when they made a break for it. None of them wanted to leave it in the hands of the Advisors.
It was late in the afternoon when the party arrived back at the dome. Maddy, Nova, and Lyra had a pretend shouting match with Maddy poking a finger toward the guards and shaking her head when Nova yelled something and pointed at Izzaiah.
Lyra bustled Izzaiah inside while Nova gently took Maddy by the arm and hustled her to the room next to Lyra’s while shooting glaring looks back at the guards.
Think our little act worked? Maddy sharebeamed to everyone.
I think so. I saw two guards escorting a drone to the Advisor's chambers yesterday, and I’m almost positive it was the one from Maddy’s room.
Yeah. He’s also not in here right now.
Izzaiah buzzed his tiredness as he dropped into the only chair in the room.
Lyra hurried over and filled an empty food cup with water from the tap and brought it back. “Here. You look tired. Did Maddy let you sleep at all, or did she have you working the entire time?”
“I slept for a little while each night. She slept for only a few hours. She let out a yell which seemed more happy than angry when something started working. An acrid smell came from a pot sitting on the counter in the mess. She poured a dark, bitter smelling liquid into a cup and drank it.”
Maddy! You didn’t tell us you got the coffee maker working! How dare you drink coffee while we’re stuck drinking water.
Izzaiah, you snitched!
You were supposed to be working on the life support functions, not getting the coffee pot working, Misako said with a biting tone to the sharebeam.
She said it was part of the life support system. I crawled around two vents and under multiple cabinets to find the loose connection for it.
It is part of the life support system. I don’t know how much longer I could have lived without at least one cup of the blessed brew.
At least tell us you got more than just the coffee maker working, Nova said with a sigh.
We sure did. Life support is online. I left the air exchange circulating and decon processes active through the ship. It’s running on battery power. The batteries are up to nearly eighty percent now. With the guards there, I didn’t want to take the chance on attempting to start the engines.
We need to reboot the VI first. It will detect any problems with the engines and know how to fix them. The last thing we need is to attempt to start it and have the ship blow up.
True. I’ll beam the updated system diagnostics. There are still a bunch of them out and will need a couple of us working together to fix them.
“Izzaiah? Nova and I discussed the amount of food you have stored on the ship. It’s not nearly enough. You and the others need to come up with a way to get more to the ship over the next two months.”
“How much more? The storeroom is guarded and they keep the number of jars counted. We are lucky that there were a few empty ones with small enough cracks not to be noticed that the attendant could switch for full ones for us.”
“Right now you don’t have enough to get through the rainy season, let alone the weeks of planting and growing food. Once it’s harvested, we must separate the seeds and do some experimenting to render it down and figure out the ratio of plants to create the nutrient balance, then turn it into the gel and finally the powder. It may take another month after harvesting it.”
Izzaiah sounded an anxious buzz. “I will pass on the word to the others that we need to meet. I will tell them what you told me and see if they have a solution.”
“Alright. I just don’t want you all to go hungry while we figure this out for you.”
He nodded and drank the cup of reconstituted powdered food she made for him while both windows into her cell were clear of spying males.
Izzaiah passed the word to the storage room attendant for an emergency meeting that very evening at the same time as usual as he picked up the water and food for the day.
He spotted one of the other males watching him as he followed the guards.
Mia’s male was outside the food room. I passed on the message as quietly as I could. I hope he didn’t hear.
I’ll let you know if he disappears tonight.
Izzaiah went straight to the ship and into the shelter, as he usually did to put his food and water out of the way.
When he left the tent, it startled him to hear Nova tell him to pretend to open the door again. The rover caught movement in the trees almost right after he arrived.
Izzaiah did as he was told and spent nearly three hours just running his hands over the hull and flying above the ship before he went into the shelter and sat down.
Is he still there?
Yes. Only in a different tree. Today might be a bust in working. You should drink one of your meals, Izzaiah, Lyra would not be happy if you came down ill.
It is such a waste, Mia.
Waste or not, Izzaiah, you need it. Plus, I’m sure you will enjoy it greatly after only having the flavorless powdered stuff for so long.
He sighed and opened one of the jars. He stood just outside the tent, drinking it in small sips as he stared at the explorer vessel. His implant told him it was one hundred meters long and half that wide. Room for thirty passengers, cargo, and equipment to sustain an interstellar scouting mission for two months if fully stocked. He knew they lost almost all their crew before even crashing on the planet. Then all their male survivors in one swift action from his Queen. It was the only reason their tiny group still had food enough for the upcoming seasons. But he knew they were running out as well. He spent one afternoon rearranging and packing the crates in the hold when they told him they would need to lighten the load as much as they could and those empty crates could go.
Izzaiah put the cap on the jar and went back to flying around the ship.
Izzaiah felt hungry but didn’t open the remaining two jars of food. Instead, he drank from the last of his water containers before hiding the rest under one of the deflated mattresses.
He flew back to the dome, angry that the other male hadn’t left but only moved around to keep spying on him. He knew the Advisors sent him and hoped the day they could finally leave would hurry and get here.
He rushed through the dome, and down the long winding area to where Lyra’s cell was. He entered and placed the jars in the crate for the day’s empties and settled into the small hole in the wall to wait for her.
Izzaiah? We all heard through Mia’s link. They have us cleaning several rooms, but we should finish shortly. Don’t worry about missing one day. Just relax and rest. Hopefully tomorrow he won’t be back.
“Well?” The Third Advisor asked the male standing in front of her.
“He flew straight to the large metal vehicle. I saw him go into a cloth structure near it, then exit and begin running his hand over the metal thing. He flew around it and landed every so often to pull or push on something with no results, then return to the same spot to push his hand on it again. He hit it several times and at one point picked up a rock and threw it in anger at the metal vehicle.”
“He kept this up all day until he packed the food and water jars and came back.”
“Return him to the cell,” the Advisor told the guard with an angry buzz.
They waited until the room cleared. “I told you it wouldn’t do any good to have him followed. What that male said was exactly what I witnessed, but without the rock-throwing.”
“By now that stupid male should have had it open. He’s been with one of the females every day and hearing them speak to each other. He shouldn’t have had any trouble opening it.”
The Sixth Advisor let out a sighing buzz. “The workers assigned to the other females have also been with them day in and day out and not a single one of them understands the females nor can they replicate their speech. It is possible that we can not open it.”
The Queen entered the room as the Advisor spoke. “Then force one of them to open it. Take them to the vehicle and if they refuse to open it; kill them. One of them is bound to speak. The weakest one should break. The doctor informed me the ointment is compatible with us and I want it. All of it. And whatever else is on that vehicle before the other Queens arrive.”
The Advisors looked at each other. The First Advisor spoke. “We shall take it under advisement while we discuss further plans.”
They waited in silence until the Queen finally understood they wouldn’t resume talks until after she left. She stormed out in an angry huff, her white and amber robe flowing out behind her.
“I have to agree with her. The male isn’t capable of opening the vehicle. It is time to pressure the strange females to do so.”
“And what makes you think they will open it?”
“The threat of death.”
One of the Advisors chuckled. “Their males are dead. If there are no others, they are dead already and know it. That won’t do a bit of good. And killing them one at a time to break them won’t be such a good idea if all of them die. But keeping them alive as long as possible may work. Wearing them down and not showing even more hostility toward them. As they age, they may reconsider.”
“We don’t even know their life spans. If protocol was followed, we would have a better understanding of them.”
“From all the actions I’ve observed with these females, it is possible they would have shared this information with us had our guards and the Queen not attacked their males. Only when threatened have they fought us. It is likely they will not react favorably with us because of our Queen’s prior and continued actions.”
The First Advisor sat back and listened to the others.
“It is time. Waiting becomes more dangerous. We must decide before the flight. I am calling for an immediate vote. I vote yes to activate the hive safety protocols.”
One by one the vote went around the large table.
“The vote is in. Ten votes yes and two votes no. Begin preparation to release the hatched Queens. The guards will need to be ready to carry out the extended purge.”
Izzaiah rolled away from Lyra, who drifted off to sleep almost as soon as the lights went off.
Mia? Is your male with you?
Yes. He is in the cubbyhole.
Mine is here as well, Maddy said.
Aziel is waiting next to the door. I’ll let him know as soon as you leave.
Izzaiah opened the door and stepped out into the silent hallway. Two cell doors down, Aziel exited as well.
Twenty minutes later they slipped through the open doorway of the other male’s rainy season room. The four males inside looked up as they entered.
“What is wrong? Have they changed their minds?”
“No,” Izzaiah said reassuringly. “They are taking us with them. But they informed me we have yet to stock enough food to get us through the rainy season and the first harvest. We need more. A lot more or we will need to severely ration it for months and we aren’t likely to survive if we have to do so.”
“How are we going to do that? They keep track of how many food jars I give out, I’ve been lucky not to have been caught yet.”
“I don’t know. Right now we have about fifty days’ worth of food for each of us stocked up. That’s if we eat three times a day. If we cut down to two it will last longer, but only if it’s necessary. What we need is about one hundred more jars to be safe, spread out until just before the Queens arrive.”
The males looked at each other. “I can’t give you that many. What are we to do?”
“You can’t give it to him, but I can,” said the smallest of the males. “I can get into the room through the air shaft and take extra jars and leave empty ones in their place.”
“How will you get them out of here without them seeing you?” the male working the food storage area asked.
“That’s easy. I can take them to the vehicle during the night. A full crate of them each night and hide them nearby. Then make it back here before dawn to get some work done. Sleep when I can. They don’t bother keeping track of me.”
Izzaiah looked at Aziel.
Did you hear his plan, Nova?
Yes. Are you sure we can trust him?
I think so. He’s telling the truth when he says they don’t bother keeping track of him.
How’s he going to get out of the dome?
“How will you get out of the dome?”
“The same way the females and I are going to during the mating flight. I’ll do it like the plan we already have. I just need to know where to go.”
Izzaiah woke to the feel of Lyra touching his face and antennae.
“Good morning,” he whispered.
“Good morning.” Her hand continued to caress his face, and he pulled her closer. “I didn’t even hear you come back last night.”
His chest vibrated with a deep buzz. “You were sound asleep. I did not want to wake you. I believe we came up with a solution to the food issue. Though, it is risky. I spoke with Nova and she said to do it.”
Lyra rubbed her head against his shoulder in a yes motion. His arms drew her tight against him. His entire body vibrated, and she felt it clear to her toes. She gasped when she felt what was sure was his erection against her abdomen.
Nova was right, he wanted to make love to her. She stopped stroking his face and wrapped her arm around him as he continued to hold her. She thought she heard him whisper her name just before the lights came on.
They both reluctantly left the mattress and started their day.
Lyra and Nova stood outside, their gazes seemingly locked on the swarm of males.
“That doesn’t look good, Nova. Those clouds are building up fast. I thought they said the rains didn’t come until the end of this season? That’s still almost two months away.”
“That’s what they said,” Nova answered distractedly. “I think it’s time to bump up the timeline a little. We both know weather can be finicky and we need to be able to bolt at the first opportunity.”
They moved back under the petal-less trees and sat down.
Safia? Misako? Has either of you made any headway with the VI reboot procedure?
A little. At least the initial starting sequence. Why?
Nova looked back at the sky in the ship's direction and sent the image of the enormous dark blue clouds blotting out the pale orange sky.
Shit. So not good. I’ll allocate more processing power.
Izzaiah picked up the loaded crate of full food jars and flew through the open airlock. Once it closed, he picked up the sprayer and the piece of cloth draped over it and sprayed himself down while holding the cloth over his eyes with the other hand.
Lyra? He did it. I found the crate where I told him to hide it, and there are ten more jars of food and five water.
Great. Let him know he did a good job. Get all of it put away or made as quickly as you can. There are storm clouds gathering near the ship. Is that normal or is it unusual?
The clouds will thicken the rest of this month. Next month, the sun becomes weaker and weaker until the last few days. The mating flight takes place three days before the end of the month. Then it gets darker still until the last day, then the clouds blot out the last bit of sun and the rains begin until the next planting season starts.
Do the rains ever start early?
Not that I am aware. At least not in any quantity. A little here and there for a quick burst, but that’s rare.
Lyra passed on the information. Nova nodded but didn’t take her eyes off the sky the rest of the time they were outside.
Izzaiah jerked awake when he heard the buzzing again.
“Hey? You awake down there?”
He turned over and looked toward the ceiling. The small male’s face peered down at him.
“Yes,” he buzzed softly and rolled away from Lyra as best he could without waking her.
“I’ve packed up another ten jars. I heard something earlier that you and the others need to know about.”
Izzaiah gently nudged Lyra. “Wake up, Lyra.”
She burrowed deeper into his body heat.
“Lyra, there is news.”
“What is it?”
The small male hid his shock as the female and Izzaiah spoke together in the female’s language.
Lyra glanced up but saw nothing. “What?”
“The smaller male is up there and brings news.”
“Today, I cleaned the vents above the Queen’s egg chamber. The Seventh and Tenth Advisor entered the room and spoke to the guards. They are planning on releasing the hatched Queens and informed the guards they are to remain with the survivor. This means they are setting up for an extended purge of the males.”
“What does that mean?” Lyra asked.
“It means, they are planning to purge all the males of mating age after this flight. The Advisors will remove Queen Syrianix and the survivor will become the new Queen. Guards will escort her away from the dome before the flight begins and taken to a different dome where she will mate with the males there, then brought back here after the dome’s mating flight finishes. They will destroy the rest of Syrianix’s eggs and the new Queen will lay fresh eggs at the start of the new year until there are enough males to replenish the ones killed and several fertile female eggs to hatch future Queens. The workers will take over the nursing of the new children, maintain the hive, and the young males will take over the planting,” Izzaiah said.
“When the males learn of this, it will cause chaos and panic. They will attempt to flee and the guards will be everywhere and more vigilant than what they normally would be,” the smaller male said from his position in the vent above them.
“What does that mean for the plan?” Lyra whispered.
“I think you should wake Nova and the others and let them know not to make any sounds. I think they need to hear this.”
The smaller male said he’d take the crate of food to the vehicle. Izzaiah reminded him to bring the crate piled with the empties back to the hive. The small male paused before saying he would. He wanted to ask what he did with all the food, but thought better of it. He hurried away, but not before seeing the pair lay back down and move as close together as they could.
The others listened to Izzaiah as he explained the situation. There was a few minutes’ pause.
What do you suggest we do? He asked.
Is there any way all of us could get out of here early? We can hold up in the ship and work on it even now. Maddy suggested.
That will not work, Nova said. The males in your rooms would know something was up the minute we all disappeared in the middle of the night and would call the guards. We can’t escape during the day because there are guards watching all of us. It has to be when there’s too much going on for them to keep track of everything at once. It’s got to be during the flight. And the males need more time to gather food. They’ve got enough to make it through the rainy season now, but not enough for the rest of the time. The smaller one needs as much time as we can give him to make it happen.
What about the repairs? Safia asked.
What about them? We’ve done as much as we can until we make a break for it.
Not everything, Safia said. What about having Izzaiah try rebooting the VI while he’s there? He can’t do any type of voice commands, but we’ve got the start-up and diagnostic command codes figured out. We can use the sharebeam link and walk him through typing out the codes.
Nova hummed. No, I don’t think that’s such a good idea. He knows nothing about the systems, and if something should happen, he won’t even be able to use voice commands to deactivate it as we can. Let’s just let him help with the stockpiling of food and making sure the solar panels stay clear to catch every ray of light they can.
Once the others agreed, Lyra and Izzaiah settled down to get a few more hours of sleep.
He woke to Lyra once again stroking the side of his face. He let out a contented sigh and held her closer. For the past two weeks, they woke the same way. Her hand gently stroking his face, touching his antennae or neck. This extra hour before the lights came on was the best part of his day, next to joining her on the mattress and having her move close to him so he could hold her as they fell asleep.
He had taken to stroking his fingers along her arm and even dared to move his hand along her waist several times as he drew her closer. He felt her heartbeat speed up against his chest each time he did so.
He sighed in delight again as she used her thumb under his eye and gently brushed against the short, soft setae there.
She had no idea why she did it. When he gave that heartfelt sigh and stroked her arm and waist, something came over her and she leaned toward him. Her lips brushed against his thinner ones and pressed. She felt him jerk.
“Sorry. I don’t know why I did that.” She started to pull away.
He panicked and fumbled with trying to get the neural-net to search for what just happened. He pulled her in close again and pressed his own lips against hers to give him time to filter the responses back from the search.
After the whirlwind of information flitted through his brain and settled on the word “kiss” and meant as a sign of affection, he drew back a little.
“I liked the kiss very much,” he whispered. “Do not be sorry you did so. Please. I would also like to do so again if you wouldn’t mind.”
Lyra swallowed as she stared into his jet-black compound eyes. She touched his face again with a shaky hand and brushed her fingers against his lips before deciding.
She leaned toward him and kissed him gently. She coaxed his lips open and slid her tongue carefully along his partially opened mouth before slipping inside to search for his own.
She felt his heart give a hard thud against her chest as his hand on her waist gripped and pulled her flush against him. She heard him nearly gasp at the first stroke of her tongue against his rougher one.
As her tongue curled around his, she pressed her body tighter still against his aroused one and he groaned. Sensory information flooded him as she continued to kiss him and run her hands over his neck, shoulders, and chest.
When the lights flicked on, she moved a fraction of an inch away from him. Their rapid breaths intermingled and their hearts raced.
“Lyra,” he whispered to her and dipped in for another kiss.
After only a few brief seconds, she pulled back again. “The others will be awake. We need to stop and get ready. We have only a single month left now.”
His reluctance to release her was more evident than usual, but he took a deep breath and eased himself onto his back as he moved away.
She flicked a glance over his body and saw his erection throbbing against his black suit. A small wet spot expanded near the engorged head. She swallowed and hurried to shower.
“Izzaiah,” the food storage room tender whispered in a low buzz as he packed the food jars into the crate. “The small one asked me to pass on a message. He said they are planning on releasing the hatched Queens in four days’ time. The guard’s attention will be elsewhere when they do. He says it will be the perfect time for us to get as much food as possible and get it to the vehicle. He’s got a plan and wants a meeting tonight.”
Izzaiah buzzed his understanding and gave a time he and Aziel would be there.
Keep your sharebeam open tonight, Izzaiah, so all of us can hear as well, Nova said to him.
While Izzaiah cleaned off the solar panels, then converted more of his food, Nova and Lyra huddled together under the now leafless flower tree.
“What do you think the plan is going to be?” Lyra asked.
“I don’t know, but I hope it’s a good one. He’s been able to add substantially to their food reserves, anything more is a definite bonus for them. They should stockpile as much as they can get away with,” Nova said as she rubbed her arms, trying to bring a little heat to her skin. “Damn, it’s getting cold. I’m not used to this cooler weather. I grew up on a tropical island, never even saw snow in real life until the transport shuttle landed at the base in the Arctic Circle. Talk about a crazy day that was.”
Lyra nodded. “All I can even remember growing up, was the red sand and sky of Mars outside our habitat dome. I have no firsthand memories of snow.”
Pfft. You guys missed out on making snow angels, snowball fights, skiing and sledding. All the good stuff about winter.
You can keep all the winter stuff. I’d much prefer the sun and sand of my island.
The others laughed at Nova’s response to Maddy.
“Maybe we should tell him to grab a couple of those open thermal blankets.”
Nova shook her head. “No. If Izzaiah brings anything but his jars back, they’ll know he went inside the ship.”
Nova slowed the rubbing of her hands. “But… I just thought of something which might be pretty useful. A way for us to get out of the watchful gazes of those other males and get the stuff I saved from the Advisor’s hands back to the ship.”
“You remember how Izzaiah told us the males keep the place warm in the winter while the females sleep the season away?”
“What if all of us gather in your room? Bring our mattresses, the box of food, and the stuff we kept. We can see if the smaller male will smuggle a few things out each night, and the Advisors and those nosy males won’t be able to tell anything is missing. We can pretend to be going into hibernation mode. Act sleepy and sluggish over the next few days, then pile up into your room.”
Won’t they get suspicious if we don’t bring those other males, too? Mia asked.
Doubtful, since none of you pay any attention to them. If they try to follow, I’ll toss them out. Maybe it will get them completely out of our hair so Izzaiah and Aziel won’t have to hide they can talk to us.
When were you planning on doing this? Won’t it look strange if suddenly we go from scrubbing the floors to acting all sleepy and out of it?
Soon. Maybe a week? Over the next few days get slower, yawn more, and drag your feet. That should give us enough time to talk to them and get things ready to go.
When Izzaiah returned from the ship, Lyra gave him a brief rundown on what they had planned. He tilted his head in acknowledgment and sat with his back toward the transparent area into Maddy’s room as he drank from the cup she handed to him.
“There are now four full cupboards stocked with the cups of powder and several jars still in the cooling unit. I left the recycler working on the empty cups gathered from all of you. They should be finished by tomorrow so I can refill them.”
“Perfect. How’s everything else look with the ship? Any additional damage?”
“No. I flew around and over the ship again, removing any debris from the panels as you asked. Nothing seems any different. The shelter, however, is about to collapse. I pulled everything left from inside and took it into the hold of the ship, stuffed it into one of the empty crates for you to go through later.”
“Thanks. You better eat and rest until it’s time for you to talk with the others.”
Izzaiah and Aziel slipped into the darkened room in the male’s area of the tunnels later that night.
“What is it? Why did you want to see us?” he whispered to the others.
The smaller male slipped from the tiny nook in the wall and knelt on the floor, quickly followed by the others. “I think I know a way to get more than a single crate of food to the ship, maybe even get all of us out of here early.”
“What do you mean?”
“I overheard the Advisors telling the guards that when they release the barriers to the virgin queen’s rooms, all the males will be locked in the tunnels. They are to guard the inner ward and keep the females from leaving the area or getting into the tunnels or outside before the winner is declared and escorted to the safe area. There won’t be any guards outside at all, only on the inner ward areas. That leaves the prison cells they are holding the strange females in unguarded except for the outer door into the main dome.
“We can get out of here unseen with crates full of food. Each of us takes as much as we can carry and move as fast as possible, we can get to their vehicle while the queens fight and kill each other with no one the wiser.”
Izzaiah looked at the others who stared back at him, waiting to see what he thought of the plan.
They will figure it out and come after us. There is too much time between when they release the queens and when the meteor storm ends. We won’t be able to go outside to repair the ship as the Advisors will know what happened by the end of the day or maybe even before then and come after us. It’s riskier than waiting until the day of the flight.
But the idea of getting more crates of food out that day is a good one, Safia added.
Yeah. See if the others will risk going with you to the ship that day with a crate of food each. You can put it in the tent and come back. Maybe grab another load and get it there and back before they realize the group left the dome. Do not, however, attempt to get into the ship with them there and without us.
Izzaiah sighed and tipped his head to the left. “The Advisors will quickly learn we fled, and the females went with us. They will know where to go. The sky storm prevents their vehicle from leaving or getting a help message out. We will be trapped inside of it until after the season of rain starts, and that means any increase of food we might have added will be used sooner than necessary. Instead, the six of us will sneak out as soon as they lock the doors to the tunnels. Each of us with a crate stocked as full as possible, we’ll drop it off and return for another one. Which means, you must have them ready to go the night before and hidden somewhere none of the others can find them,” he said as he looked at the smaller one.
The other’s shoulders drooped.
“Do not get discouraged. It was a good plan and the news you brought will let us get more food prepared. The more we have ready, the better off we’ll be on the day we can flee to safety.”
The others sat quietly for several minutes.
“Alright. I found several crates in the woods outside the vehicle. Those came from inside?”
“Yes. I left them there to make more room.”
“If we meet up under the vent opening outside the storage room, I can hand small sacks down filled with jars. There are several carts inside the empty jar storage area. If we load one of those up with empties, while you take the food to the vehicle, I can fill the holes in the racks. If I have enough time and no one comes looking, I can probably load up the cart with good jars for a second run. No one will be going into the room until the morning, so it will give me plenty of time to get more from the storage room to hide the theft. You can hide the jars in those crates instead of in the cloth shelter I’ve been putting them in.”
“You’re not worried they will check and find so many of the jars missing their seals and realize what’s going on? Or what about the males starving during the rains?”
“There will be less than half the current number left for the season. Just enough to keep the one area warm for the remaining guards, Advisors, and the new Queen. Even if we take all but the one rack, there will still be enough left for all of them well into spring,” the male in charge of the food storage area said.
“You know there is more than one storage area, right?” the smaller one said and it drew the attention of the others.
“There are at least four of them. All stocked to the ceiling with food. I’ve been taking them from one of the other rooms instead of the current one. They won’t know exactly when the food went missing. There’s enough for several years stockpiled further underground. Same with the seeds and even rooms filled with filtered water.”
The seeds? Lyra said over the sharebeam. Can he get us more of them?
“Can you get into the seed areas?”
“Of course. But it’s a bit trickier, as there are several of the males staying in the rooms along the corridor. They moved the younger ones there the day after the Advisors decided to initiate the extended purge. Not to mention it’s a bit colder in those rooms than I like.”
How are they stored? In jars? Bags?
Izzaiah relayed Lyra’s question to the others.
“We put them in ceramic jars. Larger than the ones for the food. Depending on the seed and how well the harvest went, it could take two of us to lift a single jar.”
You said there is a room full of clean, empty jars?
Yes. After they’re cleaned and readied to be filled with our food, workers move them into a different room. When needed they are taken to a different room where they are filled with the food, sealed, and brought to the food storage room.
See if he’s willing to fill some of those food jars with seeds. Ask him to label each one and seal them with whatever wax they use to keep the lids tight and protected.
After a few minutes, he beamed the smaller one’s reply back.
What does his call signal sound like? Safia asked.
Izzaiah paused as he tried to come up with a way to send the sound back to them.
Sounds like Saucy.
No. I don’t think so. More like Posy?
That’s not right. Cozy?
Jeez. You guys are all tone deaf, Mia added with a bit of a huff in her voice. It’s Ozzy.
The women argued a few minutes over what they perceived it sounded like before they gave up and went with Mia’s suggestion.
We’ll call him Ozzy. She beamed to Izzaiah.
He tipped his head side to side a few times before standing up. “They would like for you to package up as many seeds in those jars as you can as well. Clearly marked and taken to the ship. Also, once everything settles back down, they want you to smuggle a few items the Queen’s guards stole from them back to the ship and hide it for me to retrieve.”
The other bees rose and walked back to their niches in the walls. “And they would like me to thank you, Ozzy, for all the help you are providing us.”
The smaller male stopped and turned around. His own head tipping to the side. “Ozzy?”
“Yes. That is the name they have given you.”
Izzaiah and Aziel hurried back to the women’s cells and laid down to get a few hours of sleep as the others spent a restless night in their cubbyholes.
“How does he know what they are talking about? How does he talk to them?” a few whispered.
“How does he talk to them when they aren’t even in the same room?” Ozzy whispered, and they all quieted down to think and wonder.
Izzaiah’s antennae flitted the tiniest bit as he sighed when he awoke to the feel of Lyra’s lips on his.
“Good morning,” she whispered to him in the dark room.
“Good morning.” His lips met hers again and kissed her with more fervor. He shuddered when her hand stroked his neck and along his back.
He rolled with her as she shifted to her back. His body grew taut and his lungs labored for breath as he settled between her legs. Her heat soaking through their suits aroused him almost to the point of being painful.
He groaned as she resumed their kiss and rolled her hips into his, putting pressure on his already sensitive member.
He felt the fastening at the back of his neck loosen, then open wide enough for the skin-tight suit to gap away from him. He shrugged his shoulders to help move the fabric away from his wings so she could slip her hands under the material.
Her own breath gasped out as he pushed up from her and nearly tore the upper part of his suit off, attempting to rid himself of the offending garment.
Izzaiah let out a moan and tipped his head back as she stroked her hands over his bare chest and along his rib cage.
He stroked her waist and side before lifting her leg and draping it over his hip and settling back between her legs.
“Lyra?” his quiet question accompanied a beamed request to touch her as she touched him.
She stroked his neck and shoulders before guiding one of his hands to the collar of her uniform, to the tiny circle on the side, and pressing lightly. She barely heard the slight hiss from the seal releasing.
“Run your fingers between the suit and my skin until it loosens.”
It took only a few minutes before she took a breath and pushed him away far enough for her to sit up and remove her suit. As she did so, he wiggled from his and dropped it to the side of their mattress.
She swallowed thickly as she laid on her back and waited for him to join her.
His hands were gentle as she showed him how and where to touch. Her own explored again, and his groan drowned out her own gasp when her warm palm came into contact with his erection.
Thick, hard, smooth, and pulsing with warmth, he lay in her palm as she slid her hand along his length. The bulbous tip leaked a warm sticky fluid on her fingers as she circled the tip before sliding back down to the wide base.
His breathing grew ragged and his kiss rougher.
Izzaiah jerked when he felt her guiding him toward her heated core. “Lyra?”
“I want to, Izzaiah. I promise not to hurt you. Just… just be careful. I’ve never done this before.”
“Neither have I, Lyra… my queen,” he whispered, then began the easy, slow movement to penetrate her; keeping in mind Nova’s advice about not rushing.
He fought the urge to move faster, harder, to hurry and release inside his queen and try to escape before she killed him. But this was Lyra, and she wouldn’t kill him. This wasn’t about speed, racing to finish, this was about sharing something new with a female he cared for. And he did care for her. His neural-link connected him to the females, and they supplied him with the information he requested without commenting on why he wanted it or making jokes about it.
Izzaiah gasped as he thrust in deep and hard when he felt Lyra’s body stiffen and she groaned. Her muscles gripped him, holding him tightly as he withdrew and slid in with another hard thrust. His wings expanded and the buzzing hum in his chest lowered in timber as he kissed her and lost his battle against the motions. His body rocked fast and hard against hers, thrusting as deep as he could. The sound of their bodies colliding mingled with their cries of completion as he gave a final hard thrust and tilted her hips to hold her tightly against him as he released and filled her with his hot, sticky seed.
His body tensed for the briefest of moments when he felt her move beneath him. Then he sighed as he felt her hands brush against his face.
He remained inside her, savoring the feel of her surrounding him, her wet heat coating him. His body began hardening again, and she lifted her hips to his as he withdrew and slid back in with a moan.
This time he let his urges take over. His hips flexed as he rapidly thrust into her. His wings vibrating in the air as they muffled their cries against each other.
They lay panting in each other’s arms as the lights flickered on.
He held her tighter and ran a hand from thigh to breast.
“We have to get up, Izzaiah. In a few minutes, the nosy male in Maddy’s room is going to press his nose against the window to peek in here. I’d rather not have him see us naked and having sex.”
He sighed. “Alright, Lyra,” he said before kissing her again and easing from her body. He stopped for a second as she hissed against his mouth. When her body relaxed again, he slid fully from her and rolled onto his back.
She ran a hand over the short setae on his chest before climbing out of bed. The nanites in her bloodstream already repairing the tearing from his penetration of her body and rough use their second time.
She glanced over her shoulder when she heard a groan. He focused his compound eyes on her and he was hard again. His pulse making his erection laying against his abdomen raise and lower with each beat of his heart.
She crooked a finger at him, and he got up to follow her. He tilted his head when she sent him a short vid clip. When he watched it, his head turned toward her and he pulled her into his arms as he backed her against the wall of the small shower area of her cell. The vid clip showed two people having sex against a wall and he was more than ready to try it.
He kissed her yet again before she gently pushed him away. “You need to get going if you’re going to convert the food and make room in the cooler for everything you and the others will take to the ship tomorrow.”
“They will come for us at dawn. You and the others must remain safely in your rooms tomorrow. Do not leave them for any reason. It will be dangerous for any female other than the guards and First Advisor. The young queens will attack each other and any smaller females they find. They will fight to the death. The victor will then be named Queen. Syrianix will probably fight the guards and Advisors. If she should get wind of their plans, she may decide to attack you and the others before they hunt her down.”
Lyra nodded, gave him a swift kiss, then told him to be safe as he went to the ship.
Did the rest of you catch that last bit?
All of them answered with a solemn yes, then went over their plans again for the remaining days before making a break for it.
The First Advisor looked up from a scattering of papers on her desk when the door to the chamber opened.
“I bring news from several of the cleaning workers assigned to the strange females.”
“Enter and speak.”
The worker rushed in and bowed. “The females continue to become slower in their work. Several times the worker assigned to them had to wake them in the middle of their shift. Their Queen and the small female have both taken to remaining indoors and curled on the things they sleep on.”
“Are they rationing their food again?”
“No. None of the reports list such an occurrence. But it is getting harder and harder to get them to work and stay awake.”
The Advisor leaned back in her chair and thought before dismissing the worker with an order of informing her should it continue.
After a few minutes, she got up and went to consult with the other Advisors to get their opinions on what may cause the issue.
Lyra stretched as she lay on her mattress. Her body healed, but still rather sore from the morning’s activities. She grinned and only barely kept herself from giggling. She had been missing out on something incredible by not giving in to her desires for so long. Then again, it might not have been the same as having her first time with someone else. She sobered as thoughts of Jeremy entered her mind.
Had he moved on? Was he waiting and hoping for her to come back? If he was, what would she do?
Lyra? Are you okay?
Lyra jumped a little when she heard Nova calling her name over the sharebeam.
I’m fine. Just thinking.
Thinking about what? Izzaiah? The upcoming escape or rescue?
No. About what to tell Jeremy when I see him again.
Oh. I take it you made love with Izzaiah and now the guilt is eating away at you?
Yeah. Something like that.
Do you care for him?
Who? Jeremy? Yeah, I do. But Izzaiah… I care about him too. I don’t know what to do or say. It was sort of easy to tell Jeremy about waiting until we were in a colony, but it kept getting harder with Izzaiah.
Izzaiah loves you, you know. He asked the rest of us what his feelings meant as they were all new to him. He didn’t have a clue about caring for someone or loving them. Not until you came along. Just something more for you to consider before you make any final decisions.
Nova’s words hadn’t put her mind or heart at ease. She continued to lie on her mattress with her thoughts in a whirlwind until hunger stirred her to move.
Izzaiah lost all track of time inside the ship as he processed jar after jar of food. His thoughts on Lyra and their morning. The way she made him feel and the excitement, happiness, and the way his body felt heavy with satiation after their lovemaking. And Nova assured him that was what it had been between him and Lyra. Not just the physical drive to mate like what most of the other males felt during the mating flight.
He barely had time to land in front of the dome and run through the closing doors that evening. The guards huffed in annoyance as they all hoped to lock him out before the mating flight began. One less male to purge.
“The First Advisor wants to see you,” a guard said and tugged the box from his hands before leading him down the corridor.
The Advisor turned from speaking with two others as the doors opened and a guard shoved the male through.
Izzaiah bowed and sent a message over the sharebeam to the others. He calmed when they assured him they were listening and would help how they could.
“You have less than two weeks before the mating flight and have yet to open the vehicle.”
He tipped his head downward in acknowledgment. “I know. I am trying. Every day I go there and spend hours and hours repeating the words as best I can, doing everything I can think of to open it.”
“What is this word you keep repeating? Perhaps it needs a female to open it.”
Izzaiah said the phrase he made up, and the others tipped their heads and had him repeat it many more times.
“We will take you to the tunnels tomorrow with the rest of the males. Do not attempt to leave or return to the vehicle until we tell you otherwise.”
Izzaiah bowed again and turned to leave when another voice told him to stop.
“Tell us what you’ve observed of the strange female you were given too. Has her behavior changed lately?”
His head tipped to the side. “What do you mean?”
“Has she been rationing her food? Eating more than normal? Has she done anything differently than she had been before?”
Tell them I’ve been sleeping more; acting sluggish and seemed to always be cold.
He told the Advisors what Lyra said, and one of them signaled for him to leave.
“It is the same with her as the others. Perhaps, they too sleep during the cold season?”
“Possibly. That will also give us time to choose replacements for the males after the purge and inform the new queen about them and what we have discovered so far.”
The First Advisor moved to her chair. “And tell her the reason she came into power. Warn her that we will not tolerate any interference with the strangers. How are you coming with the healing substance?”
They all heard the buzz of annoyance from the Advisor. “Slowly. It is a chemical compound, not a purely natural one. I’ve been working on breaking down the components and testing several mixtures, which have all failed. The single tube the male brought back the last time will not last much longer.”
“Should we allow him to take the female back to the vehicle? When he was there with the female with the striped setae, he obtained more items than he had with the last one.”
“I think we should,” an Advisor who normally stayed quiet said. “If the females sleep during the cold season, they will need a way to keep warm and not die from the cold. Did you say when the male showed signs of being cold, the female gave him something which helped?”
“Yes. A piece of silver material. My observations with it do not show it does much. At least not for us, but the males produce higher body heat during the upcoming season so that could have something to do with it. It is hard to say without further experimentation.”
“We will speak more on it after tomorrow. For now, we must concentrate on the upcoming release and keep Syrianix from causing problems before they eliminate her in the morning.”
Long into the night and through the early morning, Lyra and Izzaiah made love and slept in short bursts. She hadn’t come to any further decisions and felt heartsick the next morning as they no sooner got their suits back on than the door to her room swished open and two guards grabbed Izzaiah and pulled him from the room.
She shouted and followed as other guards hauled the rest of the males down the hallway toward the door from the prison area.
Other guards motioned for them to return to their cells before locking them inside.
It’s begun, Mia said over their sharebeam, and the others returned to sit or lay on their mattresses and wait for word from Izzaiah if he and the others got away with the crates of food and seeds.
Ozzy handed sack after sack of stashed food jars down from the overhead vent to the others while they waited for Izzaiah and Aziel to show up. After receiving enough to fill a crate, one would hurry down the hall and stack it near the exterior vent, then hurry back to fill another one.
“Someone’s coming,” the food storage tender buzzed and everyone grabbed a crate and ran down the hall. Ozzy ducked back inside the vent and pulled the cover closed.
“I know I saw something,” he heard a male say. “Someone ran along this hallway.”
“There’s no one here. And because of this, we lost track of the other two males. The Advisors won’t like that. They told us to watch the ones given to the strange Queen and the one with stripes. We haven’t given them enough information and with the others not even talking around us, we can’t do more than pass on the basic things we see. They warned us we won’t even make it to the purge if we don’t get them something soon.”
“Where could those other two have gone so quickly? They went into one room then another then disappeared.”
“Why did they take us from those rooms?” a more timid voice said, and Ozzy peeked through the slats in the vent cover. “I don’t enjoy being there, but I didn’t have to share my food, and the female didn’t care if I drank more water than what we were given for the day. Even if their Queen frightened me when she looked at me, I’d rather be in that room than face the Advisors for losing sight of the others.”
“I don’t know, but they locked all the doors,” another voice said, then Ozzy heard the shuffling of feet as the group moved further away. He waited several minutes before moving along the vent to the one above the room they used as a meeting room in case something like that should occur.
The others looked up. “The males taken along with Izzaiah and Aziel are looking for them. I heard the Advisors sent them to spy on them and keep track of them today. I don’t know where Izzaiah is.”
“Can you get to his female? Maybe she’ll know. They can somehow talk to each other.”
Lyra looked up when she heard a hissing noise coming from the vents. A set of black eyes stared down at her.
“Ozzy?” she buzzed quietly.
“Yeah. We have a problem.”
“What is it?”
“Those other males were told to watch Izzaiah and Aziel. They almost caught us loading food while waiting for them to show up. Izzaiah and Aziel somehow lost them in the tunnels, but now we don’t know where they are. The others wanted me to ask you if you could somehow talk to him and find out what we should do.”
Izzaiah? Ozzy is here and said you’re in trouble.
Lyra? The other four males were following us. We’re two floors lower than we need to be to get out. We’re circling around and coming up from another tunnel. Tell Ozzy and the others we’ll meet them at the exit, but we’ve got to hurry out with whatever they have already hidden nearby. The others won’t give up looking and we can’t be caught going in and out.
Lyra relayed the message, and Ozzy tipped his head to the side before disappearing from behind the grate in the ceiling.
Ozzy kept watch from the grate and as soon as he saw Izzaiah and Aziel coming, he hurried toward the others and told them to get ready.
The smaller male tied sacks of full seed jars he had hidden in the air duct above them together and removed the cover from the outside vent before each one picked up a crate and went outside. Ozzy put the cover back and used just enough of his propolis to seal the edges to keep it in place before they flew toward the ship. It wasn’t what they had planned, but the sixty extra jars they had would help and he could keep bringing more until the night before the flight happened.
The Queen followed several Advisors toward the inner ward. Her head turned from side to side as more guards joined them. She had an uneasy feeling in her stomach, which only grew worse the closer to the egg room they got.
“What is this about?” she demanded as they stood outside the large room housing the fertilized and already hatched eggs.
“By order of the Advisory Council, the Hive Protection policy is now in effect. As such, the hatched Queens are released and we will remove you from leadership.”
Syrianix stood immobile for a moment before snarling at the Ninth Advisor. “You have no right to do this.”
“On the contrary,” she said as she opened the door into the inner ward where the bodies of Syrianix’s daughters lay broken and bloody on the floor. “We have every right as the true rulers and protectors of the Hive. We considered your actions with the strangers, the way you ran this Hive, and the contempt you’ve shown the Advisory board. This is our decision.”
A guard shoved Syrianix through the door where two of her remaining eldest daughters fought with spears in the middle of the blood-soaked room. The Queen looked around. Some bodies, barely a few months old, lay like discarded and broken toys against walls. She ran toward a glowing spear covered in blood, snatched it up, and turned toward the door where the First Advisor stood observing the carnage in the room. She didn’t even have time to aim before she grunted and looked down at the spear jutting from her chest.
She looked over her shoulder to see her remaining daughter holding the other end and grinning with glee as the light left her Queen Mother’s eyes.
The First Advisor approached the new Queen. “Well done. As First Advisor I pronounce you Queen Moriane. Guards will escort you to another room, then cleaned and robed with the vestments of leadership before you’re taken to Queen Ociya’s hive where you will mate with her males until your abdomen swells with their seed. Once this hive’s mating flight and purge of all older males and remaining eggs concludes, you’ll return here where we will instruct you in your role of Office. Do not make the same mistakes as your Queen Mother did and you shall have a long and fruitful reign.”
Another Advisor motioned toward the guards. “Send for the cleaners. They are to have the inner ward spotless by the time the Queen returns at the end of the season. Then take the remaining guards and destroy any unhatched male and worker eggs. Once finished, the rest of the cleaners need to get to work preparing for new eggs at the beginning of the year.”
The First Advisor didn’t wait to see if her orders were carried out, but headed for a different door out of the messy room. The Third and Sixth Advisor soon followed.
“Fetch the males assigned to the strangers. I want to know more about what is going on with the strangers and they have been less than forthcoming with details.”
“It may take a while for the guards to locate them as the tunnels run for miles. They were not instructed to remain in one room but allowed to roam the area.”
The Advisor waved a hand. “Find them. The Queen is still here, so bring them up through the tunnels and use the hatch directly outside this room.”
Two hours later, a knock sounded on the Chamber door and it opened. Two guards, four males, and the Third Advisor walked through.
“Where are the others?”
“We don’t know. We couldn’t find them. These four said they disappeared almost as soon as they entered the tunnels and haven’t been able to locate them for observation.”
“What do you mean you can’t find them? They are in the tunnels somewhere. Where else would they go? We sealed all the exits and the storage rooms. Look again and this time be more thorough about it.”
The guards left, and the Advisor turned her attention to the four males. “Tell me exactly what happened that you couldn’t seem to follow simple directions of keeping your eyes on those other two males and listening in case they revealed any additional information.”
The six males flew back after dumping their stolen goods into the crate Izzaiah hid in the tall, sparse grass in the shadows created by an extended piece of the ship.
Ozzy removed the vent cover on the outside hatch and eased his way inside.
“Hurry. There’s something going on down here,” he hissed to the others. They filed in and dropped to land quietly in the hallway. After Ozzy reattached the vent cover, the group ran down the hall away from the clattering noise and ducked under several low overhangs to reach a lower level. They leaned against a wall and took several long, deep breaths before entering one of the little-used side rooms.
Lyra? We’ve returned. There is too much activity down here to attempt a second run.
Wherever you are, stay there and pretend you’ve been there the whole time. The guards have come looking for you and Aziel. From what we overheard, they think you’ve run to keep from being purged. Those other four told them you took off right after getting into the tunnels.
What are we to do? We’re in a place rarely used by the males. It’s far from the housing area and storage rooms.
I don’t know. Just stay there and hope they believe you’ve been there the whole time.
Lyra? What if…
I know, Izzaiah. I don’t know what I’d do…
Lyra sent him a data packet of everything they heard.
“Izzaiah? What’s going on?” Aziel asked.
“They’re looking for us. Those other four told them we took off after entering the tunnel. They sent them to watch us but lost us right after being locked in here. The Advisors want to talk to all of us and can’t find the two of us in the tunnels. They think we’ve run to avoid the purge.”
The other males looked at each other, then tensed when they heard armored feet heading their way.
Izzaiah looked down at the floor, then at the others, and got an idea. He motioned for everyone to sit down quickly.
“So the strange females sleep on these cushions on the floor instead of inside warm, snug cells in the walls. They waste all of their body heat because of it.”
Aziel stared at him, then caught onto what he was doing.
“Yeah. Not only that, but mine uses this strange piece of metal on her setae to make straight lines. Then frowns and washes the piece of metal afterward as if it fell in the mud.”
The other four tipped their heads and stared at the two as if they had lost their minds.
“So what other stories did you want to hear? Now that we found a place without many people to overhear, we can tell you some more,” Izzaiah said to let them know what they were up to as the sound got louder and louder.
“What do they eat?” Ozzy asked just as a pair of guards rushed into the room.
All the males jumped up and moved away from the spears pointed toward their abdomens.
“The Advisors want to see you. You’ve got a lot of explaining to do.”
Another male rushed into the room, looked around, and tried to back out.
“Where do you think you’re going?” A guard asked.
“He was coming to listen to our stories about the strange females,” Aziel said. “He was late, and we started without him.”
The new male swallowed and tipped his head to the side as he continued to back away from the glowing spear point.
The two guards with their spears pointed at Izzaiah and Aziel motioned with them and the males hurried from the room followed by the rest.
Izzaiah and Aziel stumbled as guards pushed them into the Advisor’s Chambers.
“We found them.”
“And where were they?”
The two guards looked at each other, then back to the Advisors. “In the tunnels with a group of other males.”
“I see,” the First Advisor said. “So they were inside after all? And did you find any evidence showing they had left the tunnels?”
The guards shifted their grips on the spears. “No, we did not. They were in one of the old storage areas telling stories.”
The First Advisor stared at the group. “Telling stories?”
“Yes, Advisor. After we entered the tunnel, a few of the males asked about us and those females. But every time we started to say something, one of the other males given to the strangers would show up, so we moved,” Izzaiah said.
The Advisor tipped her head, not understanding. “Why?”
Aziel and Izzaiah looked at each other. “The females you gave us to dislike those males. Anytime they come near, the females stop talking until after they leave. They hiss and scowl when they see one of them staring into their room. We thought they would get angry if they somehow discovered we talked to those males. So we moved away, but they kept following. We passed on a message for anyone wanting to hear about the females to come and find us in the lower areas. We were telling stories to a group when the guards found us.”
“Telling stories,” the Advisor mumbled then buzzed an exasperated sigh. “Take the others back to the tunnels. This one stays here,” the Advisor said as she pointed to Izzaiah.
Once the others left and the door closed, the Advisor turned toward him. “Be more specific on how you know those females dislike the males.”
Izzaiah shifted. “The one whose room I stay in; she seems to act angry when she sees the one staring into the room. The one time their Queen came and brought her male, she pointed and did the shaking of the head thing that she does when we tried to give her something she didn’t want. And they used to talk between themselves the entire time they were together. Now they only do that when the others are not around. Just as I said earlier, they are not the same since those other males watch them.”
The Advisor tapped a finger on the desk. What the male said coincided with what she’d already heard from others. The only males accepted were the two originally assigned to them. Something about the others makes them unacceptable to their Queen. They would have to keep that in mind when they assigned new males after the purge.
“The piece of fabric the female gave you when you indicated you were cold, did it work to warm you?”
Izzaiah tipped his head in confusion. Then he remembered the thermal blanket he brought back. “Somewhat. The female kept wrapping the non-shiny area against me, but I kept undoing it to look at it.”
“You’re to return to the tunnels. Tomorrow you will go with a guard back to their vehicle and show the guard what the female did to open the door. Say the phrase until the guard can repeat it. If the door doesn’t open or the guard can not say the phrase, you will both return to the hive. Return before nightfall. Should the guard be successful in opening the door, then you’ll receive your reward.”
Izzaiah bowed and hurried from the room. Lyra and Nova’s hissed instructions on what he should do echoing along his neural net.
“Ozzy,” Izzaiah hissed toward the vent in the small room the others all gathered in.
A set of black eyes peered down.
“Are there any guards wandering around?”
“No, we’re clear. Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Yes. Do you have the extra food and seeds?”
“In the vent above the escape hatch. I’m ready if you are.”
Izzaiah left Aziel instructions on what to tell the guards if they should come looking or if one of the other males should, then silently made his way down the corridor and up a level until he met with Ozzy.
When they made it through the vent opening with their items, they crouched down and waited. Ozzy hissed at the delay, but Izzaiah held up a hand.
Okay, Izzaiah. When the drone sees you on the cameras, it will open the outer airlock door. Put everything inside. It’s programmed to close the door once you exit the airlock and will not open again until we tell it otherwise. So Ozzy is going to have to cart the stuff to you.
I understand, Nova.
Be careful, Izzaiah.
I will, Lyra. I shall return soon. His voice softened as he spoke to her with a low humming tone to it.
He didn’t notice Ozzy staring at him with his head tilted to the side when the vibrations registered.
“Let’s go. When we get to the vehicle, you’re going to have to bring me the crates. If I leave, the door will close and won’t reopen again.”
Ozzy buzzed his acknowledgment, and they flew as fast as they could through the chilly night to reach the ship before any of the night creatures found them.
Izzaiah felt exhausted as he walked back to the vehicle early the next morning with the guard constantly pushing him to move faster.
It was almost mid-day before they reached the ship and he dropped the sack of food and water into the grass next to the tall pole after pointing to where the remains of the tent lodged high in a flower tree.
He drank half a jar of water before explaining how to “open” the door to the vehicle. Repeatedly, he said the phrase. And repeatedly, the guard could never come close to the sound.
Izzaiah was ready to collapse by the time they made it back to the dome.
“Report,” the Advisor said and listened as the guard told her of the attempted entry but only the male could mimic the sound.
The Advisors buzzed in annoyance. “It seems only the strangers can open the vehicle. Perhaps it is best if we cull the females after all?”
“We’ve been through this enough times now,” the First Advisor sighed. “We will learn what we can from them over the rainy season. After the purge, we will take their Queen and have her choose new males to give to the females. Their mating capabilities do not seem to be a factor since none of them mated the females. Once the rainy season is over, we will interrogate the males to get their observations on the females, then decide.”
Izzaiah walked into Lyra’s room and practically fell face first onto the squashy mattress with a groan.
“What’s wrong?” Lyra asked him in a slight panic.
“So tired, Lyra.”
She stroked his head a few times before she noticed the soft buzzing snore coming from him.
Poor thing. He has gotten little sleep lately… hasn’t he, Lyra? You’ve been enjoying him so much that you’re going to wear him down to a nub if you’re not careful.
Shut up, Maddy!
The others chuckled as Lyra’s face turned scarlet in embarrassment.
We’ll all turn in early tonight and give you one more night of privacy, but then we need to put the rest of our plan into action, Lyra. We have to get Ozzy to move our stuff to the ship before they have the mating flight, and that’s only a week away now.
I know. I just hope nothing goes wrong. They’ve worked so hard to supply the stuff they needed while we did nothing to help.
Lyra woke with a gasp when she felt Izzaiah’s fingers stroking her. Her back arched, and she widened the cradle of her thighs as he shifted over her. He penetrated her in one hard thrust.
“Lyra,” Izzaiah groaned as he pulled on her thigh to lift her leg and angle her better. His body rocked into hers with sharp, quick thrusts as she gripped his shoulders and moaned his name.
He didn’t slow or ease his body’s taking of hers even as she shattered around him. Her body gripped his tightly and pulsed around his erection as he thrust and withdrew over and over. Her cries got louder, and he tucked her head into the crook of his shoulder as he panted and gripped her hip with his other hand. His wings beat quicker and he felt her legs tighten around him as he lifted them off the mattress, suspending them in the air as he continued to pound into her.
His own cry echoed in the cell as he climaxed, thrusting several more times as he lowered them to the mattress. He didn’t see the shadow in front of the window of Maddy’s room move as his wings folded back into their resting position and he settled his weight on Lyra as they fought to catch their breaths.
Lyra stretched as she rolled away from Izzaiah. Her body ached from him waking her several more times in the early morning hours before falling back into a deep sleep. She sat up and picked the cleanest uniform out of the box next to the wall before showering.
She gasped as she felt his hands on her again and wiped the water from her eyes.
“Again and again, my Queen,” he murmured to her as he picked her up and held her against the wall, sliding deep and hard into her warmth.
They were still cleaning up when Maddy broke into the sharebeam connection with a panicked hiss. He’s gone.
Who’s gone? Safia asked.
The drone in my room. He’s disappeared. I didn’t even hear him leave. He was here when I went to sleep, but gone when I woke just now. I thought they weren’t supposed to leave without us or a guard.
They’re not, Izzaiah said. He dried off quickly and dressed in his suit as Lyra pulled hers on over still-damp skin.
“What’s going on?”
“I don’t know. But I don’t like the fact he left the cell.” He made a quick cup of food for each of them. No sooner did he finish his and rinse out the cup than the door to their cell opened and two guards along with an Advisor walked in. All of them came to a halt when both Lyra and Izzaiah turned toward them.
“What’s going on here? Why’d you bust into the room?” Lyra shouted and dumped her empty cup into the sink.
The Advisor came forward and stared at Izzaiah as if she looked at a ghost.
Izzaiah bowed. “I was on my way to the food storage room to collect today’s allotment and go to the vehicle. My apologies for being late. I felt the need for more water than usual this morning,” he said and sat his rinsed cup on the shelf above the sink.
The Advisor’s head turned toward Lyra, and she tipped her head. “I was told you mated with this female. Yet...”
“I do not understand? We only mate once. If I had done so, would I not be dead? Am I still to take part in the mating flight? Are you and the others displeased with the items I’ve brought back and the continued efforts I make to gain entry into the stranger’s vehicle and decided to purge me before the flight?”
The Advisor looked at the two of them, then turned and strode out of the room.
“That bastard watched us through the window,” Lyra hissed angrily to him.
“It would seem so. I guess he thought telling the Advisor a piece of news none of the others learned would earn him favor with them. Since he didn’t know your people do not kill their mates afterward, they assumed I was dead. Which means he only saw us once. And left before we woke this morning and made love in the shower.”
Lyra seethed with anger and sent the vid of the Advisor’s visit to the others.
A short time after Izzaiah left, Nova sent everyone a message to get ready because she and Aziel were coming to help them get set up in Lyra’s room before he went to do his daily flying.
Nova’s first stop was Safia’s. She pointed to the box of items sitting on the fold-out table, and Aziel hurried over to pick it up.
Nova scowled at the other male drone as he scurried over to pick up his own food jars. As soon as he made to follow them, she turned and growled at him. The male dropped one of the water containers in his fright and it shattered.
Safia and Aziel hurried through the door with Nova following them. The minute the door opened as the male tried to exit, Nova met him with a shove, sending him sprawling back into the room.
She did the same with Mia and Misako when the males lurking in their rooms attempted to follow the women. When Maddy’s door opened, Nova stepped inside and looked around. She already knew the male wouldn’t be in there, and she shot a glance at Maddy when she noticed the guards looking inside.
Nova picked up the crate of gear on the side table and led the way out of the room and next door to Lyras, where the others were already spreading out their mattresses in the tight quarters of the room.
“Shift all the full food cups to one crate and the empties to a different one. Ozzy can start taking the bits and pieces of the communication equipment back to the ship tonight. From what Izzaiah told Aziel they have nearly doubled the number of containers they had before and he hadn’t finished converting all of them yet. The fridge is full of their food with very little room to spare.”
“What about water containment?” Misako asked as she moved the broken solar panel and propped it against the wall.
“The data the rover sent to us through Izzaiah’s connection showed no water loss so far, but I’m pretty sure the reclamation unit is a bust. Ozzy’s been adding jars of water to his drop-offs and Izzaiah’s been stacking them in the hold.”
“How’s Ozzy getting all this stuff to the ship every night?” Mia asked as she sat on her refilled mattress.
“From what Izzaiah told me, he shifts crates of stuff outside and hides it under some of those huge ferns. Then spends all night going back and forth. He’s faster than the others now, with all the flying he does every night. He’s even getting in dodge work because of the increase in night creatures. Although, I think he’s going to make one last large run, then stop. His last message said it’s getting too dangerous now. He spotted some enormous creatures gnawing on the trees lately.”
Nova nodded. “Alright. Let’s get this broken down into tightly packed crates, then go over the plan one last time. We must rest as much as possible over the next few days. I doubt we’ll be getting much sleep once we make it to the ship.”
The Third Advisor looked up from the latest reports from the scientists going over the items from the vehicle to see the First Advisor storm into the room.
“Have the doctors found anything after examining the male’s body?”
The First Advisor buzzed in anger. “There was no body to autopsy. The male was alive and showed no signs of even a slight injury. He didn’t know what I was even talking about when I told him we received reports of him mating to the smaller female. He thought I was there to have him purged for not being able to access the vehicle.”
“He’s alive? The other male was absolute in his certainty that they mated. He described in detail what he saw.”
“The male is alive. He’s down in the food storage area picking up the allotment for today. Either the male is lying to us in order to keep from being purged, or the other male indeed mated with the female and somehow lived through it. The female’s appearance hasn’t changed. There is no sign of her swelling from storing his sperm. I’m uncertain if their species is capable of such a thing or even mating with one of our males.”
The Third Advisor sat back in her chair as the First paced the chamber. They both looked toward the door when it opened and a guard hurried through.
“The females are acting strangely,” the guard buzzed in between gasping breaths.
“Their Queen gathered all the females into one room. She had them bring all of their belongings with them, but wouldn’t let the males accompany them. If the males attempted to follow, she’d attack them.”
The Advisors hurried out the chamber and followed the guard back to the cell block.
All six females were laying on their mattresses with their eyes closed when the door opened. Nova raised her head to see who it was, then rolled over and pretended to return to sleep.
“Is this their hibernation period?”
“I do not know. The reports indicated the possibility. Perhaps they do not allow males in their sleeping chamber during this time?”
“Fetch the Queen’s male. Let us observe if she allows that male or not. Gather the other males, I wish to speak with them in the Advisor’s Chamber,” the Third Advisor said before they left the room.
Nova grunted, and the others sighed in boredom as they lay there and played a game of monopoly on their neural-link.
Aziel stumbled as the guard shoved him down the hallway, following behind the Advisor. When they reached Lyra’s door, he came to a halt and waited. When the door opened, Nova raised her head, and he took a single step back as she instructed him to do to show it was him and not another in case they were testing them. She stared at him. As he took a step forward into the room, she put her head on the pillow and he hurried forward to climb into the hole in the wall until the Advisor left.
“What’s going on, Nova?” Aziel whispered after the door shut.
“They’re trying to figure out what we’re doing, and why I wouldn’t bring the other males. Just stay in the hole for now. I don’t trust them to not be watching us somehow or just popping in now and again to check.”
Aziel grumbled, then rolled over to face the wall with a huff. Nova snorted because she knew he hated being crammed in the holes since he was used to sleeping on the mattress.
An hour later, the door opened again. This time an Advisor stood outside with the timid male from Safia’s room. Nova growled, rolled off the mattress, and launched herself toward the group.
The male fell backward and plastered himself as close to the far wall in the hall as he could get, convulsing. Nova glared at them while blocking the doorway. The Advisor took a step back, and the door closed again.
Nova laid back down and rolled toward the others. That’s going to get old fast. Who’s turn is it?
You landed on boardwalk and still owe me $2000 for your luxury room at my grand hotel.
Luxury room my ass. It’s a dive and you know it. Who made up those prices?
Pay up or start mortgaging your properties, Lyra said with a smirk.
When Izzaiah returned that evening, he tipped his head to the side as instead of a guard escorting him toward the prison cells, it was an Advisor.
Lyra? There’s an Advisor here. What’s happening?
Another one? Lyra sighed and gave him a quick update with instructions on what to do when the door opened.
What do you mean by another one? He asked.
That’s the fourth Advisor to show up since this morning after the one burst in the room looking for your dead body. Aziel is already here and stuffed into the hole in the wall. We’ll figure out something for you guys.
Nova dumped the empty cups in the sink as the door opened again. She charged across the room and stopped just inside the doorway to stare at Izzaiah.
It’s okay. When I move to the side, come on in and hurry toward the back. You’ll see Aziel sitting on a mattress back there. Just sit down next to him and we’ll give these guys a while to make sure they won’t be coming back before telling you everything in more detail.
Nova took a step to the side, and Izzaiah ran into the room to join Aziel. Nova glanced back to make sure everyone was in their places before snarling and backing up far enough for the door to close.
“I hope that’s the last time they do that. It’s going to be difficult to get things ready if they keep showing up all the time,” Mia said as she laid back down and stared at the ceiling.
“It’s as you suspected,” the Third Advisor said to the First. “They’ll only allow the ones they accepted into the room. They are still eating and drinking, but have done nothing more than use the waste chute then lay down again.”
The First Advisor looked at the three males still in the room. “Take them to the tunnels, it is no use attempting to get them back to the females. It would help if we knew exactly what the Queen looked for in an acceptable male and presented them to her after the mating flight. The sooner they have the new males, the sooner we can begin getting more information.”
The Third Advisor glanced over at the remaining males. “Perhaps we should purge these three as we did with the one who lied about the male mating with the small female.”
The First Advisor looked over at them. “Whatever you feel is best for the hive.”
Ozzy waited in the vent above Lyra’s room for nearly an hour after the lights went out. He saw Aziel and Izzaiah finally move and he gave a short, low buzz to let them know he was there and ready.
“Do you know what to do with this stuff?” Aziel asked.
“Yes. Pass their belongings up. I’ll hide it in the same place we did before. If it doesn’t fit through the opening, then I can’t take it. You must carry it into the tunnels for them to bring when we leave, or they need to leave it behind.”
“Alright. They got it all packed down into six crates. We’ll need a sack to put their mattress cubes in, along with any of their remaining food on the day we leave.”
“I’ll shove one down to them the night before we’re to escape after you’re collected and taken to the tunnels to ready yourselves for the flight. Now pass me whatever they want out of there tonight. The sooner I get out of here, the sooner I can get back. The enormous animals are here early this year.”
Aziel and Izzaiah lifted one crate which barely fit through the vent, then waited until the cover was back in place before they went to lie down. It wasn’t long before Izzaiah got up and moved to Lyra’s mattress and spooned against her. She sighed and snuggled tightly against him as he wrapped an arm around her.
We're getting close to the end!
I am debating whether to rewrite a majority of the second part of this story as I feel I may have delved too deeply into the colony-building aspect. Not sure. I know it will probably be of no interest to readers as it is not action-orientated or spicy enough.
I do hope you have enjoyed this part of the story, though.
The small group lay on the various mattresses. Tomorrow was the scheduled mating flight, and it scared every single one of them. The males in the tunnels most of all. They heard about the culling of the four other males assigned to the strangers when they failed in gathering information about the females over the course of the season.
They also barely made it to safety when three of the enormous flying birds which ruled the skies in the rainy season showed up without warning and dove into the swarm of males, snatching three of them out of the sky and devouring them in mid-flight.
It took Nova and Misako hours to calm Aziel when he rushed into the room and crammed himself into the small hole. When they talked him over to lie on the mattress, he calmed enough to tell them what happened.
The women all looked up when the door opened and an Advisor with several guards walked into the room. Aziel lay on a mattress surrounded by them as he continued to shake. Nova snarled at the group. The guards took several steps back, but the Advisor tipped her head from side to side as she took in the protectiveness of the females toward the male.
Nova waited until the Advisor left before turning back toward Aziel. “Are you going to be alright to fly tomorrow? What about the others?”
“I don’t know, Nova. If we don’t leave tomorrow, we might as well just get eaten by them now. We won’t survive the night, anyway. Not without wings, food, and shelter.”
Nova sighed, and the others moved a little closer. Each one put a comforting hand on Aziel to let him know he wasn’t alone.
Hours later, guards arrived again and this time they pointed spears at Aziel until he rose from the mattress and left the room.
Izzaiah? Guards took Aziel, Nova said, hoping he was close enough that the sharebeam connected.
All the males must remain in the tunnels to prepare for the flight. I just arrived back from the ship. Everything is inside, the batteries are still full, but it is very dark. The others told me about the birds. This is not a good sign. Tomorrow will be exceedingly dangerous now that they know prey is in the area. Not to mention the giant beetles have begun eating the plants near the ship. There will be less cover while working outside to hide from the birds and other large predators.
Wonderful, Nova said as the group looked at each other.
Aziel and Izzaiah joined the others in the small room picked out by the food storage room male. “I know you’re all scared. I’m scared too, but we can do this. It’s either fight for our lives or give in and mate and let them kill us or be left to die outside the hive. I’m going to fight to be with my queen,” Izzaiah hissed at the males when they all buzzed at him in fright over what happened earlier.
The others stared at him in shock.
“So you have mated with her?” Aziel asked quietly.
Izzaiah tipped his head. “They do not kill their mates. My queen is kind, caring, and I love her. She taught me the difference between mating and making love with a female. She enjoys being with me and pleases me as well.”
The others just sat there, staring at him until he buzzed in annoyance and folded himself up to lie in one of the uncomfortable cubby holes to sleep. Instead, he spent most of the night talking with Lyra over their personal connection.
Two hours before dawn, Izzaiah woke Ozzy and Aziel. “Are you ready?” he asked them.
They both said yes and Ozzy hovered in the air above them as he removed the grate covering the air vent.
Aziel took several deep breaths to calm his nerves, then stripped off his suit. By the time Izzaiah had his off, the others in the room woke up.
Loud buzzing came from the tunnel halls as naked males filed out of the small rooms, all being herded toward the upper-level doors leading outside to the arena area where the mating flight would take place. As each male handed the guard his suit, another would give them one jar of nectar and another containing water. This would be their last meal and most of them savored it as they stood in the frosty morning air looking at the dark sky barely lit by the sun.
“Make sure you drink it all. I know your stomach is fluttering because mine is too. But we need this to keep up our strength for what is coming. Watch me and Aziel, don’t stray from us. As soon as I signal; we fly.”
They all tipped their heads and wandered deeper into the mass of males preparing to launch into the sky.
“I heard there are only six new queens this season,” a male standing in front of their small group said to another. “That means the competition will be fierce. I hope I get to mate one.”
Aziel held in his grunt of disgust as he glanced around.
“With only six, the mating flight will be quick. The extended purge will take hours though,” Izzaiah said and heads turned his way.
“Yes. Queen Syrianix is dead. A new queen already in her place. None of us are returning to the hive. Whether or not we mate.”
Murmurs started buzzing through the crowd, and many of the males at the edges of the group looked at the guards. There were three times as many as usual, and they felt unease that the male was telling them the truth.
Good, Izzaiah thought, the more confusion the others create, the less likely the guards are to notice a small group flying off.
“Get ready. Here come the Advisors,” Aziel muttered, and the males turned in unison to watch the group of twelve flying toward them.
Ozzy waited until all the guards left the prison area, then hurried through the vent opening, dropping in front of Lyra’s cell.
“Hey. Come on. There’s been a change of plans. We need to get you out of here now.”
“What do you mean?” Nova asked as she picked up the sack containing their mattress cubes and a few odds and ends like the cups they used to eat from.
“I mean, there are only six females. That means the mating flight can take less than an hour if those females aren’t good fliers. Now let’s go.”
Izzaiah? Ozzy’s moving us out now. He said there are only a handful of females?
That is correct. He knows what’s at stake. Trust him. Be ready. We’re taking to the sky now.
Ozzy checked the hall again, then waved to the women to hurry them along the passageway to the hatch.
“Feet first and on your stomach. The drop is not far. Hurry.”
They ran along the corridor, following behind Ozzy until they reached a room at the end where several bags lay against the wall. He reached down and started tying the ropes around their waists. Each held two bags.
“One is extra seeds. One kind per bag. The other has a jar of nectar and one water for the male who carries you to your vehicle. We will be tired, weak, and in dire need of nourishment when we get there.”
They nodded and adjusted the fit of the sacks.
“Tell him we’re ready. I’m opening the hatch. Bend down and run to the large tree just to the right. Stay as low as you can until you see them coming. I will pick up the last of you as they reach us and follow them. Try not to fidget or interfere with our wings.”
Once Ozzy cleared the hatch, he turned and set the cover into place, then bent down. A minute later his wings extended, and he pointed toward the males. “Looks like they found out about the extended purge,” he whispered as the males were trying to fight against the guards, the Advisors, and about half the males flew in a swarm attempting to get away from the arena and the electrified nets being hurled at them.
A group of males broke off from the swarm and headed straight for them.
“Here they come. Go, run that way. They’ll grab you as they reach you.”
They started running and Maddy grunted as Ozzy picked her up and started flying toward the ship after the others. She screamed when Ozzy dropped her. They both landed hard and rolled.
He stood and helped her up. She gasped at the huge tear in his wing from a spear. She pulled the spear out and they started running.
Ozzy’s hurt. Don’t wait for us. Get inside.
“Run, Maddy. There’s an Advisor right behind us. Don’t hold back because of me,” Ozzy gasped out as they continued to run toward the tree line.
“I’m not leaving you, Ozzy. So shut up and keep running.” Maddy gasped as she panted and kept pumping her legs while holding onto Ozzy’s hand to keep him moving along with her.
She screamed and started thrashing when an arm wrapped around her and lifted her off her feet.
“Stop struggling. Which way?” a new buzzing voice said. She stopped screaming long enough to see Ozzy suspended from the male’s other arm, pointing toward their ship.
“Faster. They’re gaining on you,” Ozzy said and continued to point.
The male grunted and put on a quick burst of speed.
“How far?” he hissed.
“Fly for four hours in the same direction. Land when you need too and we’ll run to let your wings rest. The female has food and water for you.”
We’ve got company, Maddy said. A new male grabbed Ozzy and me. We’re moving as fast as we can. Ozzy’s wing is torn up badly. He’s going to need medical as soon as we get to the ship.
When we get there, we’ll get the med-bay powered up and ready.
The ship came into view and Lyra sent out the call to open the door. “Fly straight to the door and hurry inside,” Izzaiah shouted to the others.
Mia screamed and clutched tighter to her drone when a shadow above them blocked what little light there was.
“Faster!” her drone shouted and beat his wings frantically, trying to outrace the large predatory bird above them.
“Scatter!” Aziel yelled as the bird made a dive toward them, only to pull up just short of hitting the ground and giving chase to one male.
“Go, go, go,” Nova yelled and pointed to the open doorway. All the males headed straight for the opening, flying through and nearly crashing into the opposite wall.
The outer airlock door slid shut as the last male’s feet cleared the safety zone. A tremendous crash sounded, and the ship gave a slight rock as the bird collided with the side of the ship.
The women scrambled to untie the rope around them and get the lights on, the outside cameras working, and the med bay functioning.
“Izzaiah, get the males to the mess hall and have them drink and eat. There are more thermal blankets in the bunk rooms, make sure to hand them out. As soon as we can we’ll make some alterations to a few spare uniforms we have so you don’t have to run around the ship naked.”
He tipped his head, kissed her, then motioned for the others to follow.
The women stopped for a split second to make eye contact with Lyra and grin at her. She knew she’d get ribbed at later about his naked form. Not that the other males were clothed either.
The males huddled together inside the vehicle. All of them afraid of moving a few steps too far from Izzaiah.
“It’s okay. You’re safe in here. No one can get in without one of them opening the door. Sit on those long metal benches and hand me the jars of food from inside your bags. I’ll process them later, for now, we’ll use the powdered form.”
“But why? They gave this to us to eat now.”
Izzaiah brought down five cups and one cup of the powder. “Because I can turn that one jar of nectar into enough food to last for two entire days. Even though this stuff is tasteless, it will give us energy and extend our food supply.”
The males clutched the jars to their chests as they watched him mix a cup. “You eat it with this silver thing called a spoon. You put three spoonfuls of powder into an empty cup, fill it full of water, then gently stir. It’ll get thick,” he tipped the cup so they could see the blue-green gel inside. “Then you spoon it into your mouth.”
Aziel picked up a cup and scooped the powder in, then opened his jar of water and poured some in. He looked down into the cup as it absorbed the water, then took a tentative spoonful of it.
“There’s no taste.”
“No smell or taste. But it will fill you up. This is what I’ve been eating for weeks and weeks now.”
The others waited until Aziel ate more of it, then reached for the cups and spoons.
Izzaiah, we’re almost there. Ozzy’s unconscious.
Mia and Maddy are waiting in the medical area. Lyra took several scans of my wings. They are sure the machines can make the repairs unless it is severe.
It looks terrible, Izzaiah.
“Maddy and Ozzy are almost here. Does anyone know who the other male could be that grabbed them?”
“No. None of us said anything about escaping.”
Izzaiah turned his gaze to Aziel. “Help me keep an eye on him. The females agreed to take only six of us, not seven, and we do not know if the Advisors sent him or not.”
“Will we have enough food and water?”
“Food, yes. Thanks to Ozzy and the rest of you, we have enough powder for nearly three entire seasons, and seeds for Lyra to grow our food from to turn into more. But we need to be careful of water usage. Once the others are here and we know who the male is, we will need to help with further repairs of the ship. We have three days to get the inside fixed up, and then once the rain starts we’ll need to help outside when it is safe to do so.”
“We know nothing about this,” Aziel said and gestured around him.
“Just follow their directions.”
“Here they come. There’s an Advisor hot on their heels. Get ready,” Nova yelled and her voice echoed through the front part of the ship.
The male was within three feet of hitting the ship head-on when the door swished open and he glided in. The airlock shut only minutes before the Advisor made it.
They ignored the banging happening on the outer hull and gathered around Maddy and Ozzy. Izzaiah gathered the injured male in his arms and ran down the corridor to the medical bay.
Nova stepped in front of the new male.
“Who are you? Why did you follow the other males? Are you here to spy for the Advisors and figure out a way to let them gain access to our vessel?”
The startled male sank shakily to his knees. “No. I heard them telling stories about you when the workers brought you to the fields, but I couldn’t work up the nerve to get near any of you. Then I heard the other males, the ones the Advisors culled before the flight, talking about how they needed more information about you to give to the Advisors. I searched the tunnels for the two other males to warn them. I found them with a group. They distracted the guards, or I’m sure they would have killed me. I wanted to learn more about you, your kind. I overheard one of them talking about how nice you were to them. I stayed near them during the flight, hoping to hear more. Then when I realized they were running away with you, I followed and hoped I could come along.”
Maddy looked at the others then unwrapped the bag, handing him the food and water. “Here. This one time, eat and drink this. We’ll figure this all out once we know if Ozzy is going to be alright.”
“He is telling the truth about finding us in the tunnels,” Aziel said. “He works the fields, and like the rest of us, has reached the age limit. We’ll watch him.” He motioned for the male who placed the cap back on the nectar jar to stand up. “Follow me and touch nothing. I’ll get you a blanket to wrap around you.”
The banging continued and Nova looked at Maddy and Misako. Safia frowned as she studied the holographic view from the outside cameras.
“Here come two more Advisors,” Safia said, and the others looked at the feed.
Nova reached out and tapped on a button next to the airlock speaker. The Advisor’s angry buzz sounded from the speaker.
“Open the door. This is an order from your Queen and Advisors. The females have no rights to you. Your loyalties lie with your Queen. Open the door and we will return you unharmed to the hive. Failure to do so will mean your immediate death upon our entrance into the vehicle.”
Nova snorted and looked at the others. The males who remained on the bridge with them looked at each other.
“They can’t open the door. No matter how much they bang on the door, or window, or threaten. They can’t get in here.”
“But they said they’ll take us back to live in the hive. We won’t get purged after all,” one of the seed shed workers whispered as more bangs sounded from the monitoring system.
“They will kill all of us as soon as the door opens. It’s what she’s hoping for. One of you to panic and figure out how to do it. They’ve been after Izzaiah to open the door. To find out how we do it, so they can get in here. It will not happen. You all knew that once onboard, there would be no going back to the hive. All of you said you wanted to escape from there.”
“They killed our men without even a care. What makes you think they wouldn’t do it to you too? You just said they killed those other four for not getting any information. They were passing all kinds of things to them and they purged them anyway,” Safia said into the quiet of the bridge.
Maddy leaned over and pressed the mic button. “Attention Advisors who are banging on our door. Cease and desist. You’re giving us all headaches. We’re not opening the door and neither are the males. You killed three of our men, made us prisoners, and near worked us to death in the fields and cleaning your hive. We are keeping the seven males in exchange for our losses and time. Now leave us alone,” she buzzed it all clearly into the speaker. The banging stopped, and they all witnessed the three Advisors looking at each other with what they could only assume to be shock. “Yes, you heard correctly. We can speak your language and have understood you perfectly fine for many seasons. Go away. Return to your hive and your Queen. Ready yourselves for the upcoming rainy season and by the time the sun shines brightly again, we’ll be long gone so you won’t have to deal with us anymore.”
“We will not allow you to steal what belongs to us,” one Advisor shouted.
“Steal? We stole nothing of yours. You, on the other hand, stole our belongings from inside the tent, off our men’s dead bodies, and helped yourselves to whatever your old Queen decided she wanted. It’s you who’s stolen from us.”
“You steal our males and this vehicle.”
Maddy laughed. “Your males came with us of their own free wills. They earned our trust, friendship, and respect, which is more than I can say about any of you. This is our ship. We came here on it and we’re damn well going to leave on it. Get out of here.” Maddy pushed the button muting the Advisors, who continued to stand in front of the airlock.
Izzaiah joined them at the airlock. “Ozzy is unconscious. He lost a lot of blood, but the machine already had a stock of mine on hand from when Lyra implanted the neural-net device in me. He’s going to be alright, but they’re not sure he’s going to fly again, even with the repaired wing. The damage to the membrane and muscle caused by the spear was extensive,” he said, and the females sighed.
“Damn. Sorry to hear that, Izzaiah. Once we get to the Malta, they should be able to do better repairs to it,” Nova said and dropped into a chair on the bridge.
Maddy patted his shoulder. “All of you did an absolutely amazing job with the rescue. Why don’t you go pick out a bunk and get some rest?”
Izzaiah looked at the other males and saw they were still tired and tipped his head toward her. “Yes. I think that would be best.”
Izzaiah got them all settled into one of the bunk rooms and listened to the new male’s explanation of why he followed them before closing the door slightly. The lights went out in the room and the males all tensed up, then relaxed as Aziel told them they were safe and should sleep while they could.
“We’ll take turns sleeping and working, at least until we get the VI online. After the males are rested, we’ll get them to arrange the hold and check for any noticeable damage. From there we’ll divide the work and get started. We have three days to get as much finished as possible before the rains start. We need at least twenty percent left on the battery when we go to start it. So no wasting the power. Shut off all lights, and power-draining equipment when we're not needing them.”
Lyra nodded at Nova and Misako’s instructions. “I’ll get the rover packed away and the trickle chargers put back into the crate. Since we’ve got enough of our powder for several days still and the men have a ton already made, I’ll shut off the emergency power to the processor.”
“I still have many more jars in the cooling unit to use yet, Lyra.”
She grinned and waved a hand. “It’ll keep just fine in the cooler. We’ll start the machine again in a day or two and process the rest along with what we need.”
“Alright. I’ll go clean up the cups and put everything away, then return.”
Izzaiah found her in front of a machine he’d never seen used before. “What is this?”
Lyra looked over her shoulder at him as he came to stand behind her and wrapped her in a hug. “It’s an alteration and repair machine for the uniforms and protective hard-suits we need in space. This one is incredibly basic, as all the crap the SSUF let us have, but we’re lucky to even have this one on an exploration vessel of this size.”
Izzaiah made a buzzing sound near her ear as he nuzzled her neck. She tipped her head to give him better access before stopping his wandering hand from dipping too far below her waist.
“Not here, Izzaiah. Anyone could walk in.”
“It has been a week since I’ve felt your hands on me and my body moving deeply in yours. I miss the feel of your heat surrounding me, Lyra.”
She turned in his arms and pressed against him, rising to her toes to kiss him. “I miss being with you too, Izzaiah. But we have to wait until later.”
He groaned when her hand stroked his erection through the tented blanket. “In the meantime, I think it might be best to get a uniform on you, so I’m less likely to change my mind.”
His buzz sounded like a sigh, and she turned around to remove one of the altered uniforms from the tray. “Here. These are one size fits all. You’ve seen me put one on enough times that you should be able to figure it out. The seal release always goes on the left side. The only thing we can’t alter are boots. There are some in the hold you can try on later.”
He opened the uniform and ran his hand over the back where slits for his wings were. “I may need some help to get this on. Our normal suits have larger openings and the material isn’t so conforming until we activate the closure.”
Lyra nodded and turned back to the machine long enough to begin the process on a second uniform before turning back to him. He had already removed the blanket from around his hips and stood before her fully erect with a drop of lubricating fluid slowly making its way down his ebony-colored penis. His heartbeat made it gently bounce and pulse.
“Lyra, please. I don’t think I’m going to get this on in this condition,” he whispered to her. She chewed her bottom lip, then hit the button to shut the door. Less than a minute later their uniforms lay forgotten on the floor and her upper body lay draped on the chilly metal table as Izzaiah’s fingers thrust into her from behind.
Lyra groaned and gasped as he bent over her, kissing along her shoulder before going deep with a single hard thrust. He moaned and held onto her hips as he withdrew and slid forward in a long, tortuously slow motion. His hand slid up her rib cage and cupped her breast, teasing her nipple as he thrust and withdrew slowly at first, then picking up his pace as her groans grew harsher and the slap of his groin meeting her backside got louder and quicker.
She cried out as he slid his free hand around to use his finger on her clit. Her body tightened and his pace grew frantic until she pulsed around him with her release. He moved his hands back to her hips and pounded into her until he shouted his own release and filled her with jets of his hot, sticky semen.
His body shook, and he panted as he leaned his head on hers. His body jerked occasionally as he emptied into her. When he softened, he withdrew and turned her around to kiss her deeply as their bodies continued to calm.
“Thank goodness there are spare cloths in here we can use to clean up with before putting those back on,” she said with a little laugh in her voice.
“Or we can go without so I can see you and make love to you at any time.”
She chuckled. “Not going to happen, Izzaiah.”
They got their uniforms on and opened the door only to come face to face with Maddy, Nova, Aziel, and the new male standing in the hallway across from them.
“Feeling better?” Nova said with a smirk.
Lyra’s face turned fiery red, “We were making uniforms for the men.”
“Uh-huh. You know the door isn’t soundproof. We heard you guys going at it.”
“Oh, Lyra, my Queen,” Nova buzzed.
“Harder, Izzaiah. Don’t stop… more… more. Ahhhh!” Maddy cried as she mimicked Lyra.
“Shut up!” Lyra yelled and grabbed Izzaiah’s hand and pulled him down the hall toward the ship’s hold. She could hear their laughter behind them.
The new male turned toward them. “I don’t understand. He mated and still lives?”
“We don’t usually kill our mates,” Nova buzzed.
“He’s an idiot,” Aziel buzzed in a low tone and walked into the room, grabbing one of the folded uniforms on the table.
The entire group sat at the mess hall tables that evening eating their dinner when Safia stood up and called them to attention.
“Well, this is our first night on the ship. The Advisors are out there in the deepening darkness with a group of guards still banging on the airlock, fully expecting one of us to open it, which will not happen.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us to get the different systems functioning enough to send out a distress call and get us off this planet and back into space to wait for pickup from the Malta. We’ve explained everything as best we could with the language differences and with help from Izzaiah, but if you still have questions, feel free to ask. Since you’re officially members of our tiny crew, I propose we give names to the rest of you. One at a time, stand up and repeat the call sound made by someone wanting to get your attention. We’ll figure out the closest sound in our own language and if we can agree on it, then it will be your new name.”
The food storage room attendant stood up and repeated a buzzing noise several times, and the women started discussing it.
After several minutes and a harshly whispered argument over it, they settled on a name. “Well, the closest we could come to an agreement on is the name Haze. What do you think?”
The male sat in silence for a long while before he buzzed his agreement. “I am Haze.”
The next one to stand worked in the seed shed. He repeated his call sound multiple times, then sat and waited to hear what they came up with.
A whispered conversation happened before Safia nodded and turned to the male. “The closest we could agree on was Zane. Is that okay?”
The male immediately buzzed his acceptance, and the women smiled at him. The second seed shed worker stood and gave his signal.
This time the conversation took nearly fifteen minutes, and several times one of them shook their heads and waved a hand.
Nova put her head on the table in aggravation and waited for the others to hash it out between themselves.
Misako crossed her arms under her breasts and sighed.
“Well… we sorta came to an agreement on Justin. It’s not really close to your actual signal, but none of us could come up with something exact or that we could agree on completely.”
He tilted his head to the side then looked back at Zane who watched him.
“I accept the name Justin,” he said as he stumbled over the unfamiliar-sounding word.
“Good. And don’t worry about getting the names right at first. We’ll call you by them so you get used to it. When talking between yourselves, you should practice them. You can always ask us to repeat them as often as you think necessary to learn them.”
“Okay,” Mia said. “One more. Stand up and give us your call signal and also tell us what you used to do at the hive.”
“I worked in the fields. I harvested fields of vines the workers used to make furniture and other items with,” he said, then repeated his signal several times until they started to discuss it.
In the end, after nearly thirty long, tiring minutes, they settled on Kassian, which the male eagerly agreed to.
“Okay, we’re going to split up into two groups. One group will work while the other rests, then switch off. And no Ozzy, you will not work, you’re going straight back to your bunk to rest. Tomorrow will be soon enough for you to help.”
The smaller male buzzed his annoyance, then stood. He defiantly picked up his spoon and cups, marched over to the sink where Izzaiah told them to put their used items, and washed them like he saw Mia do with the cups from earlier.
Lyra chuckled and stood to carry her own items to the sink. “Here, Ozzy. Let me show you something.” She turned off the trickle of water and opened a small chute. “Drop the cups in here once you’ve rinsed them out. Then close it. Like this.” She shut the chute back up and press a red button next to it. “It’s a recycling unit. Certain things like cups, plates, paper napkins, can go inside here and it will be cleaned and broken down. When we need more of something, say the sealing cups, we use this machine, tell it what we want, then push this button. It will use the broken down paper products to make more things. It uses less water that way too. Especially since we don’t know if we’re going to get the reclamation system working. We need to save as much water as possible.”
Ozzy tilted his head, then examined the machine. “I understand. What about the spoons?”
“They go in the sterilization unit.” She pointed to a small, rectangular, metal square sitting on the counter. “Just open the door on the front, load all the spoons inside, and when it’s full, it will automatically run. The spoons will be cleaned, sterilized, and ready to use again once it’s finished.”
He studied that machine, then attempted to hide a yawn behind his fist. “Go on back to bed. The morning will come soon enough,” Lyra said with a smile and the smaller male sighed but didn’t fight as he followed a group of males back to their room.
Hours later, something hit the roof of the ship hard enough to jolt everyone from sleep or make them stop what they were doing to run to the bridge and look at the view screens.
They saw flashes of yellow light from the spears the guards carried in several areas outside the ship. Nova unmuted the sound from the outside cameras and they heard screams from the guards as gigantic cat-like creatures attacked.
“They’re here. The gigantic animals,” Kassian whispered as they watched. “They must have followed the birds from earlier. They attack in the dead of night. There will be others. The ones who hunt the cats.”
“We’ve got to get them off the top of the ship before they crack the solar panels. We need as many as possible functioning when we launch,” Nova said and looked to the others.
“We haven’t had time to try rebooting the VI yet. We were in the middle of repairs.”
“Get on them. Are the hull lights operational?”
Lyra did a quick check of the last diagnostic, then nodded. “Yeah. At least half of them are. I don’t know which ones though,” she said, then activated her visor to bring up the engineering manual. The males gasped, then looked at the other females whose faces now glowed with multiple colors around their eyes.
Lyra ran for the engineering area and slid her finger along several holo-switches. “Try them now, Nova.” Lyra’s shouted over both the neural-link and out loud.
Nova looked over the pilot’s panels and waited as the flickering lights on them stabilized, then double-checked what little information she had about the ship and started pushing holo buttons and sliding switches.
Bright flares of white, blue, red, and green lights lit up the area around the ship. Loud, feral feline cries filled the night, and they saw several of the beasts run into the flower woods.
Nova activated the speaker system again. “We can’t keep the lights on indefinitely. Get your remaining guards and return to the hive where it’s safe.”
They saw the remaining Advisor push herself up and limp toward several guards. Her arm hung uselessly at her side, as did two of her four wings. The Advisor turned back to look at the ship once, then started heading toward the hive surrounded by guards whose spears crackled with yellow electricity.
Nova waited as long as she dared before turning the lights back off to conserve power.
“Turn off everything we aren’t using. We’re down to ninety-four percent power.” Everyone scrambled to turn off every tiny thing they thought drew power. The males blinked when the only remaining light sources were the visors on the women’s faces.
“Izzaiah, find the light stick crate in the hold and give each male one and show them how to activate it. We’re going to need to work through the rest of the night.”
Misako looked through the transparent metal plate acting as a viewport when the sky lit up in a flash of blue.
Guys? I think the rains are here; she said over the sharebeam just before more flashes started and the sound of rain hitting the outer hull of the ship hard enough to not only be heard inside but also to echo through the corridors.
The rain picked up intensity after only a few brief minutes.
Holy Noah’s flood. Are you guys seeing this? Maddy asked from where she stood in the hold, looking out a tiny viewport near the sealed cargo lift.
Yeah. Are we going to be able to lift off in this mess if we can get the ship working? Mia asked as she stood on a table to see out the upper area of a broken viewport partially sealed over with liquid metal.
I’m pretty sure we can. As long as the shields are fully functional and we have an exorbitant amount of luck to not get struck by a bolt of lightning on the way up.
Jeez, Nova. Your cup is just overflowing with good cheer this morning.
It would be if we could ever get this damn VI to reboot.
A crack of thunder loud enough to be heard inside the ship and cause the floor to vibrate got them all to stop talking and go back to work.
Try it now, Misako.
Okay, Nova. Here it goes. Misako tapped on several holo buttons, barely glowing as minimal emergency power filtered into the VI core.
“Initializing reboot procedure...” the tinny, computerized voice sounded from a dying datapad because of a low battery.
“Come on. Don’t crap out on us now. We just need to get the damn ship started then we can plug you in and you can start sucking up nice juicy electricity and store it,” Misako muttered to the flickering display on the datapad.
The interior lights flickered, grew brighter then dimmed back down again.
“Reboot failed. Processing systems failure list...”
Misako hurried to copy the output into her neural-link before the datapad died. She sighed.
“It keeps saying there’s a power connection fault somewhere but doesn’t say which section.”
Nova sighed. “It’s got to be in the shaft somewhere between the box and the VI Core.”
Misako looked up at the ceiling. “We’re going to need those stupid crank-powered lights from the emergency kits, aren’t we?”
“’fraid so. Gather them up and let’s get the others to start cranking.”
Hours later the group sat in the dark with only the red, silver, aqua, pink, purple, and green visors relieving the absolute darkness of the ship.
“This sucks,” Mia grumbled as she rubbed her wrist and flexed her fingers.
“I agree, Mia, but we’re running low on light sticks. We either have the males be completely blind in this darkness or crank these darn things until our hands fall off so we can all see better,” Nova said as she continued to crank the lever on the side of the LED lantern. “We’re damn lucky these things even work. I don’t think anyone’s used crank lamps for like… a hundred years or more. I don’t even want to know where Sparks and Captain Maddox found them.”
Lyra flicked on the power switch and bright light lit up a small area around the lantern. “I don’t know either. My grandfather had a couple of these, though. They were more like solar-powered party lights he and my grandmother would hang on the trees when we had family gatherings. But he had a few crank ones stashed in something he called a bug-out bag. He always joked, saying he was going to run away to the mountains and live like they did hundreds of years ago. He never had the chance to do more than spend a few weeks taking us all camping before they chose Mom and Dad to help start the Mars colony.” She picked up another lantern and wiggled the hand crank out of the slot, then started to turn it to generate power for the batteries.
All the women grew quiet as they became lost in memories. The males looked at each other and continued turning the handles on the strange objects and not saying anything.
“You’ve got to do it, Misako. You’re the smallest one here, next to Ozzy. He doesn’t have a neural-link, so you’ve got to get into the shaft and look for the broken connections.”
Misako groaned. “I hate small spaces.”
“I hate to say it, but get over it,” Nova said with a sigh and laced her hands together to form a base to give Misako a leg up to reach the opening.
They saw the light from the lantern come on as Misako wiggled her way through the maintenance shaft, dragging a bag of repair tools and various bits and pieces behind her.
Lyra and all the males but Ozzy were in the hold, moving the large crates away from the bulkheads to check for additional damage.
Nova? We found an area in the hold that looks pretty bad. The door panel is broken on this side, so the door will not close on its own without some major repair work.
Send me a visual and whatever diagnostics you can by using your neural-link. I’ll see if I can figure out some quick fixes for it.
Nova skimmed over the data packet and sighed. That repair was going to take more than a band-aid to fix. I’ll be down as soon as Misako finishes in the maintenance shaft. Hopefully, she’ll find the fault and we can get the VI on.
Nova showed up in the hold an hour later and hissed as she moved the panel aside. “I was right,” she mumbled. “No band-aid is going to fix this.”
“Bad enough to get you talking to yourself?” Lyra asked. Nova sighed and nodded.
“Yeah. Looks like it is actually going to be a blessing that Maddy and Izzaiah fixed the coffeemaker.”
Lyra winced. “You’re going to need to get more sleep, Nova. You’ve been awake most of the time we’ve been in here.”
“I’ll work on this until my vision blurs, then I’ll go lay down for a few hours. Misako’s working on the communications panels since she couldn’t find any breaks in the shaft between the VI core and the bridge. Which means something else is causing the faults and keeping the VI from activating.”
“We’ll go check on the water containment system. With all this rain, maybe we can fill the tanks and get the system to check and sterilize it for us.”
“Don’t forget to check for any leaks. The constant rain might hide some.”
Lyra nodded and hurried through the cargo hold, slid down a maintenance ladder with Izzaiah right behind her. A few minutes later, they crawled through a duct and into a different part of the ship’s interior to check the water tanks and power them up.
“Alright. According to the last diagnostic readout, they should be in working order.” Lyra followed the start-up procedure listed on a sheet of metal attached to the inside of a panel door, then crossed the fingers of one hand when she tapped on the holo-button pulsing with a dim glow.
The holo-screen flashed a moment before a blinking cursor appeared. Lines of text flew past and Izzaiah tipped his head when he saw Lyra cross her fingers on her other hand as well.
“Come on...” she whispered.
A green light flashed on the screen, and a steady readout appeared.
Water containment field active. No signs of damage. The system is currently filtering the rainwater and filling the reservoirs. We have drinking water and water for the shower.
Nice. That’s going to help. Monitor it for a while, make sure nothing happens until it has made one full cycle of the sterilization process. Set it to flush out the reclamation and black water tanks and then do a refill on the freshwater. Afterward, head on up to help Mia with the heating system. It’s on the fritz, and we don’t want to freeze in here when the temps drop.
Alright. This shouldn’t take too long, I hope.
“This is good news?” Izzaiah asked as he turned her around and pulled her toward him.
She smiled broadly and draped her arms over his shoulders. “Very good news. This shows us the water tanks can hold water and so far nothing is leaking. Once all the tests and procedures are cleared, we can set it to refill from all this rainwater and get it cleaned and sterilized for drinking. Once we’re ready for liftoff, we’ll flush out the bathroom and sink tanks, then refill the freshwater tank to make sure we have plenty of drinkable water.”
He hummed and pulled her flush against him. His head dipped down and her eyes slid closed as his thinner lips touched hers.
Hey! You’re supposed to be watching the readout. Not snogging each other. And by all the Saints, remember to set the damn privacy mode on your link.
Sorry, Maddy. Was there something you needed?
As a matter of fact, yes. Have your boy toy come up to the medical station. I need help with Ozzy. He’s acting like a recalcitrant teenager with taking his medication.
Nova sat back in the pilot’s chair and stared out the translucent metal and into the night. The rain fell in a constant downpour and she was worried the ship would either sink or get mired in mud so badly they would cause damage upon take off.
A solid week of nothing but rain. She could barely make out the tree line and several times she thought she saw one of the huge flower stalk trees topple as something large trampled through. She glanced at the power readout and rubbed the bridge of her nose. Eighty-two percent. All the repairs, constantly turning on and off the power to run the systems and refill water containers and take quick showers for thirteen people along with running the heater for several hours a day, drained the batteries faster than she had originally estimated. At the current rate, they had to get the ship started, at least, within the next three weeks or risk not having enough power to activate the VI and engines.
Nova growled and thumped her head on the back of the chair. The VI. They still couldn’t find where the fault was, which kept it from rebooting, and everyone grew more and more worried that they were going to be stuck here.
She hadn’t told them she had a reckless backup plan. If they couldn’t get the VI to reboot, she’d just try firing up the engines anyway and hope for the best. The worst thing that could happen would be the burners would have a crack and they’d blow up instantly. The best thing would be it would start, power up the batteries, and they could somehow get the signal out to the Malta and be rescued without having to take off from the planet’s surface.
She groaned and shut down the emergency power feed and began cranking a lantern again. Yay for guard duty while the others got a few hours of sleep before starting their repairs.
Another week passed without luck starting the VI. Nova called a meeting and everyone sat in the mess hall either cranking the handles on lanterns or tapping their fingers on the metal tables. She spoke in buzzes and tones instead of Earth Common since most of the males were still learning the basics of their language. Where needed, Aziel and Izzaiah translated words as best they could.
“Okay. So far we have the water containment area working perfectly. The coffee maker, food processor, cooler, and sterilizer units are all good. The outer hull lights are about seventy-five percent working with forty percent working cameras. There is no evidence of leaks at this point.
“The reclamation system is offline, so we have to flush the tanks once a week while we’re here just to be on the safe side. We can safely run the ship’s heating system for three hours in the early morning to take off the chill. A storage box stuffed with mylar blankets was inside a cupboard of the hold so if you need them feel free to grab a few extra.”
Nova sighed and crossed her arms.
“Now for some bad news. We still can’t find the cause of the reboot failures and without the VI, Misako can’t pinpoint the reason the communication system isn’t working. Now for some even worse news. As I feared, the ground outside is turning into a quagmire. I was hoping to hold this decision off for another week, but with things looking the way they are and with power running way lower than I feel comfortable with, I’m going to lay out a plan, then open things up for discussion.”
The women looked at each other and nodded for her to continue.
“Alright. We know we cannot charge the batteries unless they’re converting solar energy or being maintained by the ion generators in the engine. So, I propose starting the engine and seeing if the direct current from there will somehow kickstart the reboot or maybe send a surge of power through the systems and get them to cough up better diagnostic details. Half the time we can’t see what we’re doing to tell if we’re making the right repairs or not as it is. We need the lights on when we’re working. It might help us see something we keep missing in the near darkness.”
“But didn’t you say that was dangerous? Something about blowing us the hell up if the engine’s damaged?” Lyra said quietly.
“Shit,” Maddy hissed under her breath.
“I do not understand and neither do the rest of us,” Aziel said. “What does all this mean?”
“Nova wants to try starting the engine to get more power and lights working. The only problem is if it’s damaged it will kill us all and probably take out everything in a few kilometers around us too. But, with the way things are, that might be the only option we have left to get this bucket of bolts working,” Maddy explained.
“We could die?” asked Zane.
“We were going to die anyway, Zane. At least, they’re trying to keep us alive and get us out of here. If we die, then we die and we had a few weeks longer than the others did. We got to see the rains, the big animals didn’t get to us. We’ve got to see something none of the others, not even the Queen or the Advisors could. So even if we die, I think it was worth it,” Justin said.
“What about the rest of you? You have a say in the matter too,” Nova said.
“Whatever Lyra thinks is best. She trusts you and so do I. If you want to take the chance and Lyra agrees, then I think you should do it.”
“Idiot,” Aziel muttered, then gave a buzzing sigh. “Either we’ll blow up, die when we run out of energy, or starve to death when we run out of food. If you think it’ll help, then do it.”
Zane, Ozzy, Haze, and Kassian glanced at each other. Ozzy spoke up. “I say try it. I’d rather die while making my own decision than to have died by someone else’s, and you’ve let us make each decision along the way.”
Nova looked at the others, “You’re in agreement? You can speak up if you aren’t. No one is going to hold it against you or punish you if you don’t like the plan.”
They all waited as Zane seemed to try to puzzle it out. “I don’t like the plan, but I think I’d rather blow up than starve to death. I wanted to live and see the things Izzaiah whispered to us about. I wanted to see more of your people. I want to see and do more.”
“Zane, I promise you. If we can get the ship working and rescued, you’re going to see and learn so much stuff you’re going to think your head’s going to explode.”
He gasped, and she laughed. “Wrong choice of words. It means that you’ll learn more than you thought possible.”
“What about you, Kassian?”
“I do not have an opinion. This has already far exceeded everything I ever hoped it would when I followed the others.”
He tipped his head. “Do it. We’ve got nothing to lose either way.”
Nova nodded to him and waited to hear if any of the others had objections.
“We’re screwed if we don’t get off here. I say, start it up and hope for the best. But, before you do, turn on the full lights in the engine room and run another diagnostic. It’ll help calm my nerves about this whole thing if I see it come up in the green,” Maddy said.
The others agreed, and Nova sighed. “Then let’s get some sleep tonight. In the morning, we’ll meet in the engine room and run the test.”
Lyra rolled over and stretched in their bunk when Nova’s wake-up call came over the sharebeam.
Izzaiah sighed while running a hand over her naked form. The others shoved them into this room when Izzaiah attempted to sneak into Lyra’s bed and initiate sex when she was bunking with the other females. Now they had a room all to themselves.
“Good morning, or afternoon, or evening. It’s so hard to tell anymore.”
He grunted. “Yes. I always heard stories about the perpetual night, but thought there would be some light even then.”
“I guess not,” she moved his hand away from her breast and shook her head. “No time for that. You heard Nova. Wake up, grab something to eat, then get down to the engine room. They will turn on the power for the room, then hurry down to start the full diagnostics on it. We can’t afford to waste power, even if I would love to spend an extra hour in this bunk with you.”
“It’s about time you two showed up. Here, I already made you something to eat,” Misako said and handed them their cups. “Nova’s in a right hurry this morning. She turned on the outside cameras and nearly pissed herself when a giant eyeball stared back at her from something reminding her of a cross between a woolly mammoth and a giraffe. She’s worried one of them is going to think the ship is a park bench and sit on us.”
Lyra stared at her for nearly fifteen seconds before spooning up the gel and eating as fast as she could.
“Go on down to the engine room. She’s going to sharebeam the ready signal and I’ll get it all turned on. While she’s running the diagnostic, I thought I’d try to get the comm equipment on and send out a signal. It won’t hurt to try it, at least.”
Nova waited until everyone told her they were ready, then turned back to the engine display.
Lyra gripped Izzaiah’s hand tightly, and he turned to nuzzle her head as he heard Nova’s sharebeam to Misako.
The lights came on, nearly blinding everyone after the incessant darkness, and Nova began the full diagnostic.
It’s a no-go on the comms still. I’m starting to think we need to fix the tower or something is going on with an outside connection. Everything in here is working.
Maybe it has something to do with the planet, or it needs the engine.
Never thought about the planet doing the interfering. I suppose since we could barely get the sharebeams to send out a signal between us when we were still underground, it might be part of the problem. This rain could be part of it too.
Diagnostic done. Damn it. Shut it down, Misako. Minimal light in the engine room.
“What’s going on, Nova?” Mia asked.
“The diagnostic came back in the yellow. It says the engine core is intact, but the burner systems aren’t functioning. It could be anything from breakage to clogs.”
Izzaiah quickly translated Earth Common to their own language so the other males could understand what she said.
No one said anything until Nova sighed. “That means we have to go outside to look where the burners are. On the back of the ship where the cameras and lights are busted.”
“Oh hell no,” Maddy said and shook her head.
“We have little choice in the matter, Maddy. I’ll start trying on the safety suits we kept from the crash. If anyone wants to come outside with me to get the work finished faster, I wouldn’t say no. If any of you do, come to the hold and start trying on the suits. We can do minimal alterations on board.”
“Nova? Forget about it. You can’t go out there. We can’t use the rifles and we don’t have any other weapons,” Safia added as she hurried after Nova.
“What about the guard’s spears?” Aziel said as he ran after them. “If you can get some of those and a suit, I’ll go with you.”
“I will as well,” Ozzy said.
Maddy groaned, “Okay. I’ll go too. My suit is ready. I’ll just grab a spare helmet and sync it up while you guys fiddle around with the machine.”
Lyra stopped in the cargo hold and grabbed a few of their remaining light sticks and hurried after Nova. “Here. One for you to put down inside the exhaust. The males can’t see well, so the light will help them pinpoint you. The others will let them keep track of each other and give them a little bit of light to see by.”
“Good thinking. That small amount of light shouldn’t attract undue attention either. I’ll pass them out when we’re ready to all go out there. I don’t know how long it’s going to take and don’t want to waste them just having them standing in the airlock.”
It took nearly two hours for them to find the hard safety suits close enough to the men’s sizes for the machine to alter. Ozzy didn’t look thrilled at having to wear a female’s set, but they assured him that once onboard the Malta, a set designed specifically for him wouldn’t be an issue. They both complained about the amount of pressure on their wings from not having openings in the suit’s back.
“You two stay inside the airlock until Maddy and I return with at least two spears. They attacked the guards not too far from the ship, so we should be able to find them pretty quick. As soon as all of us leave the airlock, snap your lights and follow right behind us. You’ll be able to see the glow from our visors. Stay with us at all times. Those lights work for twelve hours. If we can’t finish the repairs before then, we’ll go back out the next night.”
“I guess we’ll be starting the diagnostics again each time?” Mia asked and Nova nodded.
“Yes. Hopefully, it’s only a bunch of leaves or something jammed in there and we can pull the crap out and start the engine.”
“That would be nice,” Maddy said but didn’t sound enthusiastic. She doubted it would be that simple. She put the helmet on and ran through the sync protocols and waited until Nova signaled her readiness.
The outer airlock opened, and the two women ran out. Twenty minutes later, Mia shouted to the males standing inside the door to get ready.
When the outer airlock door opened, the two women came in carrying several spears and dripping water.
“I can’t tell if these things are going to work or not. I can’t get it to activate,” Maddy said and handed each male a spear.
“Even if they shock nothing attacking us, they can still do damage by stabbing,” Ozzy said and took a firm grip on his spear.
Nova nodded, told them both to put their lights around their neck, and get ready to snap and shake as soon as the door opened.
She glanced at them, saw their readiness, and sent the signal. They ran along the side of the ship, doing their best to stay in a group and not slip or fall or sink to their knees in the ever-growing mud patch until they made it to the back.
Nova signaled to Maddy and Aziel to guard the area, then boosted Ozzy into the burner. He snapped his spare light stick and wedged it into a slot as best he could. Aziel picked Nova up and flew her high enough for her to heave herself up next to Ozzy. By the dim glow from her helmet and the light stick, they began their search of the first burner.
An enormous mass of leaves, twigs, bark, mud, and rocks nearly blocked the entire burner about two-thirds of the way down.
Ozzy stopped and grabbed Nova before she got close enough to use the spear or to grab the mass.
“Do not. That is not good,” he said as he tugged her arm and took several steps back.
“What’s going on?”
“What?” she hissed and took a few more steps away.
“We need to leave. Now.”
They kept slowly backing up, then froze when a loud, hissing noise came from the glob of debris lodged in the burner.
“Run,” Ozzy whispered and turned, taking off toward the opening. He stopped only long enough to grab up the lightstick before leaping from the entrance with Nova right behind him.
“Run! Run!” he shouted, and Nova broadcast it over the sharebeam for Maddy to hear.
Mia! Fire the burners! NOW!
Just do it!
The four of them slid in the mud and scrambled to not only get their footing but to get far enough away from the ion burner that they wouldn’t die when Mia started it.
Maddy glanced over her shoulder once and let out a blood-curdling scream as a giant winged snake flew at them. Nearly eight meters long with twice the wingspan, the dark scaled serpent blended into the night almost so well to be invisible. Except for the red eyes and ghostly white interior of its mouth and fangs.
The burners ignited and jets of blinding blue-white light erupted from the back of the ship. The loud roar of the engine drowned out everything else, and the males covered the sides of their heads to deaden the noise as each woman grabbed one of them and kept them moving toward the door.
They skidded alongside the ship and kept running. The engine was loud enough they couldn’t hear if the snake creature still pursued them or not; they didn’t really care. All they wanted was to make it back inside the ship alive.
Aziel slipped and fell. Maddy screamed and pulled on his arm, half dragging and half carrying him through the mess to keep him going.
Nova stood just outside the open airlock door, motioning for them to hurry and pointing behind them. Maddy didn’t bother looking, only dragged Aziel along as fast as she could. As soon as Maddy got them close enough, Nova bent down and grabbed Aziel, shoving them all through the door. A loud bang against the side of the ship and the noise of something striking it several more times echoed in the small airlock before finally stopping.
“Help me get his suit off. I think he’s hurt,” Maddy said and knelt to strip the filthy armor off an unconscious Aziel.
Nova and Ozzy tore off their own suits as Maddy shoved hers over toward the far wall. “Mia, we’re coming in with injured. Get the scanner set up for Aziel, and we all need decontaminating.”
“Already got the ship’s decon system running. The engine seems fine and the batteries are recharging,” Misako said as she hurried to take over for Mia. “Fuel containment system green. What the hell happened out there?”
Nova carried Aziel toward the medical lab. She started to say something when one of the loudest screams she’d ever heard came from Mia. “Snake!”
“Now you know what happened.”
Nova, Izzaiah, and Lyra paced outside the medical area as they waited to hear about Aziel.
When the door opened, Mia stepped out. “He’ll be alright. He broke a leg, has a dislocated shoulder, his eardrums ruptured, and he broke his left arm. I’ve sedated him and set his bones. The nanomedicine is taking care of his ears and shoulder. I’ve got to warn everyone. We’re down to only fifteen doses of nanomedicine. If something like this happens again, we might run into serious health issues. Only Izzaiah has the implant to help with his repairs, the others need the emergency medicine. We’ve got to get them to the Malta and have the implants installed before something even worse happens to them.”
“Implants?” a voice said from behind them. They turned to see the other males standing there.
“Yes. It is a small device they put inside you. It is what lets me talk to them without needing to be next to them and also helped me learn their language and for them to learn ours so quickly. You can also learn other things, like jobs, about their culture, where they come from,” Izzaiah said.
“There’s a lot more to those implants, but until we can get on the colony ship, that’s about the limit of his,” Lyra said. “Once we get picked up, we’ll tell you more, and you can decide if you want the implant or not. No one will force you to get it.”
“Guys? I still can’t get a comm signal out. Did you want me to shut the engine down or leave it to go until the batteries charge?”
“How much fuel do we have?” Nova asked.
“Um. If the readouts are working, and the stuff you found in the specs is accurate. We have enough to make it into atmo, burn for about a week, then we’ll be running on battery power and drifting.”
“Turn it off. We’ll attempt another VI reboot tomorrow. I’m too damn tired to work on it tonight. Maddy and Ozzy need to rest up too and get checked out. When Aziel wakes up, we’ll move him to their bunk room and make him comfortable as we can.”
Mia nodded and hurried back to shut everything down.