September 29, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Twenty-seven

Skylar took a seat near the front of the shuttle, strapped in, and settled back. The Cavalier at the controls handled the shuttle with precision and the liftoff was smooth.

It took nearly an hour to reach their desired orbital position above the planet. From this high perch, they waited until the moment was right, to begin their descent toward the base.

Skylar knew the Wyverns' pilots were waiting tensely above, virtually holding their collective breaths. Staring at their scanners, fervently hoping they wouldn't be needed, they would remain on high alert until the shuttles returned to space.

The common mood in the shuttles was edgy, somewhat in anticipation of the mission to come and to some extent nervousness at having left their defenses behind. Skylar could see it in their faces, could sense it in their silence. Every person aboard knew they would be helpless for several minutes should the Klodfons attack them now. Even so, each would choose to be in the assault team rather than sitting vigil in the Wyverns high above.

The descent was flown in tight formation, nearly straight down so as to confuse the local radar systems into thinking they were natural meteorites. The last thing they needed at this point was to have the local military checking out their avridime bombs and laser weapons.

In a very short time, they were close enough to the surface to level out. The first shuttle landed near the door Skylar and Jenna had uncovered. Jenna was leading that team; their mission was to free any other prisoners and to lay out some of the charges needed for the destruction of the base.

Her team was small—five Cavaliers—the shuttle nearly empty, so there would be plenty of room for anyone they picked up along the way.

Conversely, Skylar's shuttle was filled to capacity with five teams of four Cavaliers, each team with their own objective. Once they'd broken into the hangar, one group would hold that area secure, while attaching avridime to Klodfon ships in order to prevent pursuit.

A second team would find and destroy the main computer room, while a third went after the back-up computers. Lissanne’s team was to disable the base’s power generators and lay explosives for their eventual destruction.

Skylar looked at the members of his team. Pasha was a short girl and somewhat chubby, but still looked capable of taking care of herself. Kiernan was compactly built and appeared strong. Grayson was the tallest of the three, close to Skylar's own height and build.

Their assignment was to destroy the control center. The one pack of avridime they carried would be sufficient—the hardest part would be getting in and out of the control room. They each carried a fully charged pistol in addition to the one in their holsters. They also carried two glowsticks each, in anticipation of Lissanne’s success.

Skylar could see a mini aidkit strapped to Kiernan’s belt and hoped it would not become necessary to use it.

The shuttle pilot landed near the large hangar doors. The Cavaliers exited the shuttle, collecting their packs of explosives as they went. Skylar supervised the placement of four spherical avridime bombs at the corners of the doors. Each was the size of a small melon, and quite capable of completely obliterating their shuttle. Skylar noted with approval the respect and professional manner used by the Cavaliers as they placed the explosives.

Making sure everyone was under cover, he gave the signal for the bombs to be detonated. The explosion brilliantly lit the night sky, and the sound echoed off the distant mountains with a sharp crack. The shuttle rocked with the blast. Hopefully they'd be gone before anyone could reach the remote desert area to investigate the light and noise.

When the dust had cleared somewhat, they could see that one of the hangar doors had fallen completely to the floor, helpfully crushing everything beneath it. The other door hung at a precarious angle, its slick surface making a perfect slide for the Cavaliers to make a precipitous but safe descent to the hangar floor.

The crew which was to remain in the hangar began to string long pieces of thin rope down the slanted door to aid in climbing back out. The rest of the Cavaliers slid down the door, split into their teams and began moving rapidly toward their objectives.

Skylar picked himself up off the hangar floor and threaded his arms through the straps of the avridime-filled pack, settling it comfortably into place while his team assembled around him. They followed his lead toward the door by which he’d entered the hangar on his previous visit, another team coming close behind. The door had been repaired, showing no sign of the damage they’d inflicted a few hours before. The Klodfons had always been efficient mechanics.

He looked toward the control panel Rantek had shattered. It had also been completely repaired and there was no sign of Rantek's body. There was a Klodfon draped across the panel where he'd fallen a moment before, the fight already beginning.

Before they reached the door, it slid open. Cavaliers dived to either side for cover and came up firing at the Klodfons now pouring into the area. Skylar took cover behind a large, unmarked cylinder as he fired at the enemy.

Soon there was a pile of armor-plated bodies in front of the doorway, slowing the Klodfons' entrance into the hangar, further aiding the Cavaliers in exterminating them.

Someone yelled to Skylar to get away from the tank and he immediately moved to find other cover, not pausing to find out why. A blast behind him threw him to the floor. As he regained his feet, he looked at the furious flames now engulfing the tank he'd been crouching behind. Acrid fumes filled the hangar, proclaiming to all noses that cinadium was on fire. Skylar sent a mental thanks to whoever had yelled, saving his life.

His laser ran out of energy, and he tossed it aside; the Cavaliers remaining in the hanger would retrieve it once the area was secure. He drew his second pistol from his holster and resumed the battle. Finally the Klodfons ceased climbing over the pile of dead bodies and the firing stopped in their area of the hangar.

The Cavaliers moved cautiously into the corridor, fearing an ambush, but met no resistance. The two teams who'd come through this doorway split up.

Skylar spoke quietly to his group. "Rantek said the control room wasn't very far from this hangar entrance." Gesturing to a nearby cross-hallway, he continued. "Pasha, Kiernan, take that hall; Grayson come with me."

He walked quickly down the hall in search of a door. After several minutes, he heard a shout from behind.

"Skylar!" Kiernan called, "We've found it!"

Skylar and Grayson turned and hurried back the way they'd come, skidding slightly on the polished floor as they rounded the corner. They followed Kiernan to a door made of transparent material. Pasha was re-wiring the door to open it.

The Klodfons inside did not seem to notice the activity going on outside the door. Each mindlessly continued to perform whatever task it had been assigned.

Most of the Klodfons inside seemed to be armed only with short ceremonial daggers. Skylar could see no laser weapons. This would be a short battle.

"Don’t worry about the wiring; we’ll just blast the door down," Skylar said. Pasha stopped her work and watched as he removed the pack from his back and opened it, taking out a fist-sized avridime explosive with a sticky substance on the back. Skylar exposed the adhesive and stuck it to the door, then activated the timer. Everyone backed out of the way.

The charge went off, destroying the doorway and part of the wall as well. As they stepped through the hole into the control room, they were already firing at the nearest of the Klodfons. Without any warning, the lights blinked out plunging them all into thick, inky darkness, lit only by the orange lights on the Klodfons’ helmets and the network of rainbow hued laser weapons.

September 27, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Twenty-six

Deep in conversation with Ensign Hekekia, Skylar was surprised the summons to see the Commander had come so promptly. Extracting a favor from Hekekia to look after Glen for him, he collected Jenna from the other end of the room and they headed for the Commander's office. The planning session was short and intensive. The tactics were quickly laid in place for the total destruction of the Klodfon base below them on Earth. The Cavaliers involved in the assault were gathered and briefed. Skylar was placed in command of the expedition only because the message from Terradia had ordered it. He guessed from the increased animosity in Tyson's manner, the assignment was not his choice. Skylar wondered what offenses he’d committed to gain this much ill will when he didn’t remember ever meeting this commander. He promised himself he’d pursue the matter when he returned from this assignment, though, and let the feeling go for now. He made sure to observe all the niceties, including the final salute before leaving the commander’s presence. He didn’t want anyone pointing fingers at him again regarding a lack of proper protocol.
* * * * *
Freshly showered and in a clean, borrowed uniform, Skylar stood near the shuttle, mini-computer in hand. Several hangar crew members bustled around, fueling and inspecting the shuttle to make sure it was ready to go. Nearly everything was set. As he glanced around the hangar area, he noticed Glen striding across the deck, solemn purpose displayed in every step. Ensign Hekekia trailed in his wake, protesting, "You can't bother him now, he's busy!" Skylar knew Glen intended to insist on going, probably using the same argument he’d used on Earth…that it was his planet and therefore his responsibility to help defend it against all alien intruders. He bit his inner cheek to keep from smiling. He’d have done much the same were the tables reversed. He couldn’t let Glen go back into the Klodfon base, even had he wanted to. It was not only for his own safety, although that was a large share of it, but because his orders expressly forbid it—which might just give him some leverage for the coming argument. A hangar crewman came up to the shuttle, pushing a cart with several boxes on it. "Where do you want this avridime, Captain?" "Just put it in the shuttle, the teams will divide it later. We'll be carrying it in our packs." The crewman unloaded the boxes from his cart and took them into the shuttle as Glen and Hekekia arrived. "Skylar, I tried to keep him in the Rec Hall, but he insisted on finding you and I couldn't stop him,” Hekekia explained, breathless. “It’s all right, he can be pretty stubborn when the mood takes him,” Skylar answered. "What's avridime?" Glen asked. "A high-powered explosive." Skylar kept his answer short and focused most of his attention on the computer he held, checking the avridime off his list. “We’re getting ready for a mission, and I don’t have time right now to argue with you. I’ll join you when I return.” "You're going down to wipe out that base, aren't you?" His voice was accusing. "Yes.” Skylar looked up, meeting Glen’s gaze. “And no, you're not coming. Commander Tyson’s orders are for you to wait on the Charys until we get back. You used to be in the military, so I’m sure you understand the importance of obeying orders. Hekekia will look after you while we're gone." There was a finality in his voice and look that could not be mistaken nor argued with. A long moment passed, then Glen snorted in disgust. “I don't need a baby sitter!" Skylar took a deep breath. "He’s not so much a baby sitter as a tour guide, Glen. He knows his way around. He'll answer any questions you have and keep you from being picked up by security. Think about it; when will you get another opportunity to be on a Dragonstar? Check it out. Don't give Hekekia any trouble. Please.” Glen quietly, answered, “I'd like to be with you on this one. I was in on the beginning and I want to see it through. And it is, after all, my home…my planet." Skylar shook his head. "I know. It just isn't possible, Glen. I'm sorry." He paused, then continued. “I don’t have any latitude in the orders I was given for this mission.” Glen nodded, his lips in a tight line. "All right." Skylar placed his hand on Glen's shoulder, a smile of thanks curving his lips. "We won't be long." Glen looked at Ensign Hekekia with mock severity. "Where do you hide your food, man? I'm starving." "Right this way." Hekekia grinned and was quick to remove Glen from the hangar deck. Skylar watched them go with relief and ducked inside the shuttle to make sure each team would have the avridime they needed. Within a short time, the teams had assembled, and they were ready to launch.

September 24, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Twenty-five

The battle was short, and it wasn’t long before Skylar landed his borrowed Wyvern, taxiing it neatly out of the way of the ship behind him. Lissanne was waiting for him as he climbed out of the ship. She bounced from one foot to the other, a worried frown on her face.

"Commander wants to see us both. Immediately."

He looked at her tightly drawn lips, the controlled manner of her stance, the shuttered expression in her eyes. She didn't seem to want to talk. So be it. He wouldn’t force her to.

He followed her out of the landing bay and down a corridor to the elevator. She punched the button for the correct level and the doors slid shut, the lift quickly taking them to their fate.

As they arrived outside the Commander's quarters, Skylar smoothed his rumpled shirt tucking it in better where the exertions of the day had loosened it.

Lissanne did the same to her uniform jacket and tunic, tucking her hair behind her ears, then took a deep breath before turning back to the door.

If she was this nervous about being called to the Commander’s office, he wondered how strict on protocol her commander was. Lissanne reached out and pressed the door chime to signal their presence and the door slid open.

Skylar smiled and gestured for Lissanne to precede him into the room. She gave him a sarcastic smile as she complied.

The Commander sat behind his desk, his deep blue uniform crisp and neat. Skylar was surprised at his young age; he looked no older than many of the Cavaliers on board.

He was pretending to read some kind of printout as they walked in and did not acknowledge their presence. Skylar recognized the intimidation tactic immediately. He'd used it often enough on cadets. As he had not been invited to sit down, he remained standing, consciously using a relaxed, casual posture, instead of looking nervous and jumpy the way the cadets usually did.

He took the opportunity to examine the room. The Commander's office was strictly standard issue, decorated in the usual blue and silver, but without a single personal item visible. Jenna and Glen sat on a couch near the door.

Jenna was smiling broadly, her joy at once again being on a Dragonstar so great she could not conceal it. She was back in uniform—apparently obtained while she was being treated in the infirmary—and no longer appeared frail; indeed, she looked every inch the Cavalier.

Glen’s face wore a mixture of amazement and worry. Skylar gave a small smile, imagining the type of thoughts which must be chasing themselves around in his head.

"Something amuses you, Captain?" the Commander asked.

Skylar returned his attention to the man behind the desk. "Just the look on Glen's face, Sir. With your permission, I'd like to borrow a shuttle to return him to his home."

"I was quite disappointed that you didn't come to see me right away," the Commander said, his light blue eyes coldly stabbing a glare at Skylar. "Could it be Timorans don't practice common courtesy, or do they simply not understand proper protocol?"

Skylar couldn’t believe someone this rude and petty had been allowed command of a ship where he would have to coordinate the personalities of several hundred people. The insult stung, though he probably deserved some rebuke. He carefully reined in his temper and deliberately kept his face and body under rigid control, not allowing his facial expression or casual posture to change in the slightest degree.

"Timorans generally follow both protocol and courtesy, Commander. Normally I would have enjoyed meeting you and observing all the social niceties, Sir, but I was responding to the red-alert. I felt it was my duty to help fight the Klodfon ships that followed me here."

The commander gave a brief, frozen smile, his eyes like chips of ice. "Next time, it might behoove you to see me first, regardless of what is going on around you. We have well-trained Cavaliers perfectly capable of fending off a few Klodfon ships."

Skylar's temper flared, but his training stood him in good stead. He kept his voice calm. "Yes, Sir. Next time, I'll come disturb you on the bridge in the middle of a battle so you can see I understand how to conduct myself and perform all the finer points of social niceties."

The commander seemed to relax a little. “I'm Commander Tyson. Welcome to the Charys, Captain Skylar.”

"Lt. Jenna and her friend have told me a great deal about a Klodfon base on Sol Three."

Skylar answered. "There's a base there. It's a full-sized garrison, but not fully staffed. Much of the base is not in use." Not wanting to earn another lecture, he kept his voice low, polite, and formal.

"Lt. Jenna indicated as much. I've reported her observations to representatives of the Council on Terradia and requested instructions." He once again looked at the printout on the desk in front of him. Skylar wondered anew at his choice of actions...they were directly out of the textbook, every last one of them. Was this boy so green at command that he was substituting formality and protocol for the experience he didn’t have? He continued to watch him closely.

The young commander looked up, his gaze still cold. "You're welcome to enjoy the hospitality of the Charys until I receive my orders concerning you from the Council." His gaze was sharp as he looked at Skylar. "You may not borrow any craft for any function, no matter how reasonable the purpose may seem to you. I hope I make myself clear, Captain."

Skylar put his hands behind his back as much to appear calm as to control his desire to wrap them around the Commander's throat. "Yes, Sir. Perfectly clear, Sir. May I inquire as to your plans for returning this civilian to his home?"

"No, you may not. That will be decided later. In the meantime, as you brought him aboard, he's your responsibility. See that he stays out of trouble."

Skylar gave a tight nod "Yes, Sir."

Commander Tyson returned to his computer printout and, waved his hand to generally include all in the room. "Dismissed."

Skylar spun on his heel and, beckoning to Glen to follow, stalked out of the room. He wished the door was not the automatic sliding type; it would have felt good to slam it loudly behind him.

Glen moved quickly and followed Skylar into the hallway, Jenna and Lissanne close behind. Skylar was halfway down the corridor to the elevator before the three gained the hall.

"Skylar," Jenna called, "wait up!"

He paused at the controls and punched the button to summon the elevator. The door opened immediately, but Skylar held it until the other three had joined him. They stepped in and the door closed behind them.

"Officer's mess,” he said. "What level?"

"Gamma deck,” Lissanne answered, “but you can't take Glen there, he's a civilian. How about the Rec Hall? It's on Beta."

"Fine." Skylar punched the correct button and the elevator was on its way. Turning to Lissanne, he asked, "Is he always that arrogant, or was that little show just for my benefit?"

Lissanne colored in embarrassment. "No one much likes his arrogance, but he hasn’t always been that way. He was given command just two years ago. I'd never actually served with him before, but I knew him at the Academy. He was pretty formal even then, but nice.

“His grandfather died suddenly and Tyson was called from the academy to take command. I think choosing Tyson for commander is the only bad judgment call the old man ever made."

“You have inherited command?” Glen asked.

“Not usually,” Jenna answered, “but it is Terradian custom that a retiring Commander chooses his replacement.”

"It's a wonder you haven't mutinied yet." Skylar's voice softened as knowledge and reason replaced his anger.

Lissanne’s eyes flashed. "'Yet' being the operative word. Several of us have put in for transfers. I just hope mine comes through before the actual mutiny does."

"You've asked for a transfer?" Skylar asked.

"Yes, to the Aubria. Ensign Hekekia has been telling us how wonderful Commander Mykela is and how he wishes he never left."

Skylar's voice was now filled with interest. "Hekekia's here? How's he doing? I'd like to talk with him. I wonder how well he’s dealing with your commander." He shook his head.

“Tyson’s not so bad,” Jenna chimed in, “I know the arrogance is new, but he’s always been too formal. We shared a first-contact mission to Kiral, once, and he really does very well once you get him to relax.”

Lissanne shook her head. “I can’t imagine him on a first-contact mission. And Kiral! That place is so military…actually, come to think about it, he’d probably fit in very well there.”

Glen spoke. “We had an officer of about the same stamp in our military. We figured out a way to slip into his quarters and not only short-sheet his bed, we put Novocain in his toothpaste and tipped anchovies into his underwear drawer. He looked funny talking for about three hours each morning for a few days. He smelled bad for about a week even though he’d take all his wash down to the laundry every day for that week. Took some of the starch out of him, though.”

Skylar laughed; the girls looked shocked. “Did he find out who had done it?” Jenna asked, eyes wide.

“Nope.” Glen grinned even bigger. “I’d forgotten that until now. Ah, the follies of a misspent youth!” A chuckle skittered between his teeth, answered by all as the elevator stopped at their level and they stepped out.

"I'll see if I can find Hekekia for you. Rec Hall’s right over there." Lissanne pointed down the hallway to the left.

Skylar, Glen and Jenna followed her instructions and Lissanne hurried off in the opposite direction in search of Ensign Hekekia.

September 22, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Twenty-four

The Dragonstar Charys was on the far side of Earth’s moon, hiding from the local satellites. On the bridge, the young woman at the scanner console was quickly becoming confused. She looked at her screens, punched several buttons and again studied the screens before her. A small sound of frustration came from her as she tried once again. With a negative shake of her head, she turned toward the command area. "Colonel?" . "Yes, what is it?" He stepped to her post, standing behind her to look at the screens. "I'm reading a single craft of Klodfon make, but it's transmitting a distress beacon over the Wyvern channel." "Are you sure that ship is the one transmitting the beacon?" "I've checked it twice; see for yourself, Sir." She repeated the sequence of keystrokes, while the colonel watched. “Interesting,” he said. “Can we get an internal scan?” She shook her head. “Not at this distance, but I’m working on it.” He studied the control board a moment longer, coming to a decision. "Send out a patrol to check it out. I want to know who...or in that ship." "Yes, Sir," she replied. As the young woman made arrangements for the patrol to be launched, the Colonel returned to the command post and put in a call to Commander Tyson’s quarters. Although the commander was off-duty, he had asked to be kept informed of what was going on.
* * * * *
"Can't we make verbal contact with the Charys?" Skylar's voice was edged with frustration. He knew they all felt the same...he could hear it in their voices, could sense it in their ragged breathing. The atmosphere in the small Klodfon ship was charged with fear. Jenna shook her head. "We don't have the right frequency. The best we can do is keep transmitting the beacon on the Wyvern channel you already opened.” "Can we voice transmit on that channel?" Glen wanted to know. "No, only send the recorded distress signal." Her voice was flat and unemotional. Skylar let out a breath, trying to think of a way to keep from being blasted out of the sky by the Cavaliers he knew would be launching soon. Glen spoke again. "Is there any way we can change the recording? Could we tell them who we are, maybe kind of like an answering machine does or tap out a Morse code signal?" "Glen, you're brilliant!" Jenna yelped as she quickly turned off the radio, unstrapped her safety harness and crawled under the console. "What's an answering machine?" Skylar and Lissanne asked Glen nearly in unison. Jenna's muffled voice came from under the panel. "It's a...never mind, I'll explain later." Skylar reached over to Jenna's side of the craft and shifted a toggle switch. Looking intently at the numbers scrolling up the screen, one set began to flash. He moved the switch again and a picture flipped up onto the screen. It was the outline of a Dragonstar. Returning the switch to its original position, he noted the closing distance between the small star in the center of the screen and the large circle at the far edge. Two small squares appeared on the screen next to the large circle and moved toward the center star. "They've launched two Wyverns," Skylar announced tersely. "I'm hurrying," Jenna's voice drifted up from under the console. Moments later she crawled out from under it. "That should do it," she said and re-activated the radio.
* * * * *
"Captain Kiernan, something's wrong with my radio." Cadet Trello’s voice crackled in Kiernan’s ears. Kiernan punched a few buttons on his control panel and frowned at the results. "I’m showing the transmission is now running backwards. Is that what you get, Trello?" "Yes, but who would make the message run backwards? Not Klodfons, that's for sure." "Good point. Maybe someone is trying to tell us they aren’t Klodfons…." Pressing a button to transmit to the Charys, Captain Kiernan spoke. "Gold Leader to Base. Can you scan that ship for life forms?" The response was immediate. "We’ve been trying, but the ship is shielded." There was a pause. "Commander says try to get them to follow you in if you can't make radio contact." Kiernan acknowledged the order, turning his transmission to his wing mate before he spoke. "Hear that, Trello?" "Yes, Sir. I’ve tried but can't raise them on any frequency we've got; I can’t be sure they're even receiving us. What do we do now?" "I've got them in sight. Let's move into standard patrol formation, with them in the middle. If there's a Cavalier at the controls, he'll follow us." There was significant a pause before Trello responded. "And if it's Klodfons?" "The front ship will get blasted and you'll retaliate. Ready?" Kiernan’s voice was crisp and professional. Trello's voice held some uncertainty. "I guess so. I mean, yes, Sir." Kiernan was glad Trello couldn’t see his grim half-smile at the cadet’s hesitancy as they began to maneuver their ships. Kiernan thought momentarily of his own first encounter with a Klodfon ship, remembered his own misgivings. And he’d known that one had Klodfons in it. 'Well,' he thought, 'there's no time like the present for Trello’s new battle experience. At least there’s only one ship for his first fight.' Watching their controls, they moved closer to the Klodfon raider.
* * * * *
"There they are now," Skylar said quietly to Jenna. "Have you been able to receive anything from them?" "No." Her voice was steady, although the atmosphere in the little ship could have been cut and stacked in slabs by now. "Do you think they'll shoot us down?" Glen asked. "It's a possibility," Skylar said. "I hope they won't open fire as long as we don't shoot first. It depends on who they sent out after us. Some of us are jumpy and a lot more eager to fight than others." They sat tensely as the Wyverns flew past them. One ship came up on their right, far enough behind that Jenna said, "That's either a real loose formation, or he's going to shoot us." Skylar glanced up from the controls. "I think they'd have shot by now if they were going to. Just make sure you don't accidentally hit that firing stud." Jenna grinned and held her hands high, far from the purplish buttons. "Yes, Sir." Skylar returned the smile then involuntarily ducked as the second Wyvern passed close over his head and took up a lead position ahead and to his left. "Patrol formation!" Jenna crowed with delight. Lissanne, though silent, relaxed visibly. “I’d hate to be accidentally annihilated by the good guys,” said Glen. “Does this ‘patrol formation’ mean they won’t shoot?” “Probably,” Jenna answered, her eyes glued to the screens before her. The lead ship then began a turn that would take them to the Charys. Skylar followed, working hard to match the moves of the smaller, more maneuverable ship. Soon the Charys came into view. Glen gasped at the sheer size of it, the sound carrying to the front of the small craft above the noise of the engine. Skylar grinned. Even though he’d grown up knowing about dragonstars, he’d had the same reaction the first time he’d seen the Aubria. Now he was relieved to be alive to see one again. The lead Wyvern landed and Skylar came in, giving the other pilot just enough time to get out of his way. The moment the Klodfon ship stopped, it was surrounded by a security team, their weapons trained on the door of the raider. Skylar grinned at the familiar security precautions. Seeing them in action was comforting, somehow. Turning away from the control panel and gesturing toward the door, he said, “It’s your dragonstar, Lissanne. Lead on!” Opening the door, Lissanne exited the ship, her hands held in plain sight. She stopped at the bottom to make sure all knew she wasn’t a danger to them. She was met with perplexed looks on the part of the security guards and a moment of silence. Finally recognizing her, the squad leader smiled. "Lt. Lissanne! Welcome home!" He stepped forward at bit and lowered his laser, the rest of the team following suit. "Thanks," she said, smiled in return. The others from the Klodfon ship joined her just as the lights in the landing bay dimmed and turned red, accompanied by a loud noise. "Battle stations!" she groaned. "Looks like the Klodfons made it back with their buddies." Taking the security squad leader by the arm, she gave simultaneous introduction and explanation. "Glen's a local; he's okay, no security threat. Lt. Jenna's hurt. She needs to go to the infirmary. I'll leave them and this ship," she motioned behind her, "in your capable hands and I'll see you later. Captain Skylar is from the Aubria. We’re going to join the fight.” Beckoning to Skylar, she yelled to be heard over the noise of the alarm. "Let's go find a couple of spare Wyverns. Are you game?" Skylar nodded, and quickly followed her to the launching area.

September 20, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Twenty-three

Jenna's voice was flat, devoid of all emotion. "He must have destroyed the panel so we could get out the doors before the Klodfons could close them."

"There's no way anyone could have survived that fireball,” Glen said, stunned. The man they had come into the base to save was dead—and had died to save him. Skylar had been right; as a civilian he was a liability to the others.

"Glen, take the third seat and strap in. Quick." Skylar spoke crisply. Lissanne stepped back inside the ship and slammed the control that would shut the door.

“But Rantek—” Glen began, unmoving in his place.

Skylar’s harsh voice cut across his protest. “Is dead. Now get in that seat and strap in before we’re dead, too.”

Glen moved, slowly, numbly.

“Move!” Skylar bellowed.

In shock, Glen scrambled to obey, while he shouted almost childishly at Skylar.

“You don’t even care! That man died—died to save us—and you sit here acting like nothing’s wrong and we’re going for a Sunday drive!”

Skylar ignored Glen and swiftly continued to prepare the ship for flight, his face impassive, his attention focused.

Glen tried to make sense of the array of straps that passed for an alien seat belt, his fingers fumbling. Lissanne stepped to his side and buckled the straps around him. She retreated to the corner Glen had been standing in, braced her feet solidly, her back in the corner, and held tightly to the webbing straps, her knuckles going white with the fierceness of her grip.

Glen sat in his seat, continuing to fume at Skylar’s careless attitude toward a man’s death.

Preparations complete, Skylar threw the ship into motion, lifting swiftly between the massive hangar doors and into the bright blue afternoon sky.

"Objective accomplished,” Skylar murmured, half to himself. “I found Rantek and he's beyond the reach of the Klodfons. He won't be forgotten, I'll see to that."

Glen cleared his throat. “How do your people honor their dead?”

“We hold a memorial service,” Jenna said softly, “and share our special memories of our fallen comrades-in-arms.”

“What about his body? We can’t just leave it there.”

“After that explosion there won’t be enough of a body to retrieve,” Skylar said, “We have to finish the battle first. There’ll be time to mourn later.”

Shame washed over him as Glen realized he had once again misjudged Skylar. He was neither callous toward death, nor uncaring of his companions’ safety. What he was, was a competent, professional soldier. He recalled his own days in the army and the necessity of leaving the dead, on occasion, to be buried later when there was time to mourn and honor them.

The important thing at the moment was to insure that Rantek’s sacrifice hadn’t been in vain. They must themselves escape and bring reinforcements back to destroy the base and remove the Clod-fawns from his planet.

"This might be a good time to do some damage to their base before they follow us." Lissanne said.

Skylar shook his head. "I don't want to do any fancy maneuvering this close to the ground, especially with a loose body in the cockpit. We need to let the fleet know about the base and destroy it properly."

Skylar turned the ship in the general direction of Glen's camp. "How's the scanner look?"

"Empty," Jenna replied, then, "No...wait," she paused a moment. "Five pursuit craft."

"We'll worry about getting Glen home later. Let's build some altitude."

The ship climbed sharply, pressing them all into their seats.

Skylar glanced at Jenna. "The firing controls should be on your side; pair of buttons about halfway up your panel on the left. Find them?"

"Think so," Jenna answered, experimentally pressing a purplish button. Twin beams of blue energy reached out in front of the ship, exploding the air at their point of contact. "Got it."

"How close are they behind us?" Skylar asked.

Her eyes scanned the monitor. "Too close. Twenty seconds and closing. Are you going to loop?" The raider shook from the concussion of a shot behind them.

Skylar shook his head. "I'm going to hit full reverse thrust. They'll fly right past us, into our sights."

"Skylar, that's crazy! It'll never work!"

"Trust me." He was calm, his voice assured.

"It’s your skin, Captain."

“It’s your skin, too,” he said.

“Yeah, that’s what’s got me worried,”

Skylar smiled as he slowed the craft as quickly as he could and the Klodfons flew past.

Lissanne lost her grip on the cargo net and slid into the back of Jenna's seat. She scrambled for something to hold on to as Skylar accelerated again, now behind the Clod-fawns.

As soon as the first raider was past them, Jenna fired at the ships. She blasted the first one in the engines, transforming it instantly into a glowing fireball. The second was cut nearly in half under her fire and disintegrated before their eyes. Nothing remained but a cloud of sparkling particles, drifting slowly towards the ground.

During the exchange of fire they had climbed steeply, the Clod-fawns seeking their natural fighting ground in the airless void of space. The three remaining Clod-fawn ships were busy using evasive measures to avoid Jenna's fire.

The sky grew dark, then black. The stars came out as they left the Earth's atmosphere and entered space.

Glen had a sudden sensation of falling and it was all he could do not to become ill as his stomach turned inside out. Lissanne began to float upwards until she threaded her arms and one foot more securely through holes in the cargo netting she’d clung to.

"See if you can get the gravity working," Skylar muttered, swallowing convulsively. “Try something on the far top right corner of the panel.”

Jenna nodded and fiddled with several switches before she found the one she wanted. Weight returned with a rush and Glen’s stomach stopped complaining.

A sudden fireball erupted next to the view port, the blast causing all aboard to flinch.

Skylar dove their raider away from the ships chasing them, executing a neat outside loop and emerging behind the trio of Klodfon ships.

"I didn't know these ships were that maneuverable," Jenna remarked as she fired on her targets, destroying another raider.

"Neither did I," Skylar returned. The ship jerked as it slowed. "They must be worse pilots than we thought."

Jenna blasted another ship to fragments. "Either that, or their instruction manual skipped the chapter on 'Creative Combat Maneuvers' written by Captain Skylar."

Glen shook his head in amazement. “We’re about to get blasted into a cloud of dust and you two have nothing better to do than make jokes?”

“Yeah, well, joking about it is better than crying,” Jenna said, blasting the fourth ship.

“You doing okay back there?” Skylar asked.

“I’m managing,” Glen replied.


“Hanging on, Captain,” her cheerful voice replied.

The last Klodfon ship turned tail and ran toward the planet below them.

"He'll be back pretty soon with some of his friends," Skylar said. "Let's see if we can raise the Charys."

He searched the control panel and flipped a switch. “Automated distress signal on the Wyvern channel,” he commented to Jenna, “but I don’t see any other fleet frequency.”

This part of the battle over, and gravity restored to the ship, Lissanne untangled herself from the netting. Skylar turned to his rear passengers and gave Glen a reassuring smile. "Sorry we had to drag you along like this; I meant to drop you off at your campsite before we left."

The threat of imminent annihilation at least temporarily removed, Glen grinned back. "I don't mind. I wanted to see your spaceship anyway. Besides,” he said, "Hannah's not expecting me for a day or so." His voice then became more serious. "How will I get home?"

Skylar frowned and turned back to his controls. "I really don't know. We have to do something fairly soon, before we're out of range. Right now, that's the least of our concerns."

"You mean the one that got away?" Glen asked.

"That, too," Skylar agreed.

“That, 'too'? What else?" Glen’s voice was grave.

Jenna answered, her voice flat and serious. "Have you stopped to consider what the Charys is going to think when we come cruising up in a Klodfon ship?"

"I hadn't thought of that," Glen said, slowly. He grew very quiet as he sat contemplating the possibilities. He didn’t like the prospects those thoughts brought to his mind.

September 17, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Twenty-two

Glen swore. He could hear all their heavy breathing as they stopped their forward motion. He hoped none of them could hear how loudly his heart was hammering in his chest.

He felt Skylar’s hand on his shoulder as he pulled them into a tightly bunched knot. His low voice barely made sound as he warned them all.

"They'll be trying to locate us by sound and they'll also be looking for our body heat. We’ll need to be extremely careful of making noise."

There was a small crack and a green light sprang to life in Skylar’s hands. It was much brighter than the light stick Jenna had been using earlier, and was a deeper shade of green.

“Skylar!” Glen hissed in alarm. “Won’t they see the light from that?”

Skylar shook his head. “Klodfon eyes see well into infra-red, far past what human eyes can detect; but this green is beyond the other end of their visual range. They won’t even notice it. And we need the light; it will be too easy to get lost if we can’t see where we’re going.”

They moved as quickly as they could, but their progress was much slower than it had been. Their silence was very nearly perfect, broken only by the occasional sound of a quiet footfall. Glen knew their silence wouldn't help disguise body heat, but short of dying, nothing could be done about that. And he didn’t intend to do any dying today—he hadn’t seen any space ships yet.

They hadn't gone far when Jenna stopped. A soft humming sound came from the darkness in front of them and a faint orange glow outlined the edge of a corner ahead.

Jenna handed Glen the light stick, a hastily whispered “stay” reached his ears as she snuck toward the corner.

She got to her hands and knees, then laid flat on the floor, inching her head just far enough around the corner to get her eyes past the edge. Within seconds she had pulled her head back and carefully raised herself to her feet again.

The group gathered in a tight knot around her while she delivered her report. Her whisper was almost sub-vocal as she muttered, "They're just around the corner, waiting for us to show up. There's about twenty-five Klodfons, roughly ten lengths down the hall. With four rifles, that's only six or so a piece."

"Without the light how can you tell there are twenty-five of those monsters?" Glen asked

Though her voice was nearly inaudible, the trace of smugness was very clear. "Those stupid lights on their helmets make them easy to count."

"Are they between us and the hangar?" Skylar questioned.

"I...I think so." Her voice faltered a little.

"You're not sure?" he asked.

Jenna's voice betrayed her frustration as she answered, "I...know the general direction we need to go, but I'm not sure of the exact route."

"Are we lost?" Skylar voice held no condemnation.

"Not exactly, but I'm not positive where we are in the dark." She sighed, "Skylar, it's been five years." Her voice shook just a bit.

“Don’t worry about it,” he answered. “Do you know if we need to go through those Klodfons, or can we go around them somehow?"

"If we go through them, we're almost at the hangar." A low male voice whispered.

"Rantek?" Skylar queried.

"Yes. It's only about 30 lengths down that corridor to the hangar."

"Then we fight,” Skylar decided. "The Klodfons can't scan us around the corner. They know we're coming, but not when or exactly where, so we'll have a very few seconds of surprise on our side. We need to kill enough of them, or at least drive them back far enough for us to get into the hangar. Once there, we'll grab a ship and go. Anyone else here have experience in flying a Klodfon raider?" Silence was his answer.

"Fine. Jenna will be my co-pilot. Rantek will take the command chair. Glen and Lissanne will have to sit on the floor and brace themselves as best they can. We'll take the first ship in line to go out.” He took a deep breath and continued to direct them.

“Lissanne, you open the hangar door while we get the engines started."

"Right," she assented.

"Why her?" Glen asked.

"She can run faster than Rantek and you don't know how to open the hanger doors."

"So tell me how. I'll do it.”

"Can you read enough Klodfon to know which button is marked open and which one is marked self-destruct?" Skylar’s whisper was blunt.


"Then skip it.”

"Skylar, I can't read Klodfon either, but I think I can open it," Lissanne's said.

"Hit the wrong switch and you'll destroy the panel and yourself along with it. The rest of us will end up back in the prison block...or dead."

"I'm fluent in Klodfon,” Rantek whispered. “I'll open it."

There was a long pause in the conversation; Glen waited to hear the end results of Skylar’s thought processes.

Finally, he spoke softly. "We'll give you as much cover as possible to give you time to get to the ship. Lissanne, you cover Rantek. Glen, you stay close to Jenna. Any questions?"

There was no sound in response.

“Everyone ready?" There was whispered acknowledgment. "On three."

They all moved as close to the corner as they could without being seen by the Klodfons, Skylar in the lead this time.

"Steady…one...two...three!" Skylar finished, stepping well out into the hallway and beginning to fire at the Klodfons.

It was difficult to see; the only thing they had to aim at were the lights on the Klodfons’ helmets. It soon became brighter, however, with the many-colored laser beams flying in a deadly web.

A high-pitched whine that didn’t sound entirely mechanical raised the hairs on the back of Glen’s neck, and a shiver whispered down his spine. The noise of exploding bits of wall and the sparks and arcs of the electrical equipment embedded in the walls was quite loud. In a strange contrast, Glen thought, the laser guns made no sound at all.

They slowly advanced down the corridor, firing at anything that moved ahead of them. A Clod-fawn laser grazed Jenna's leg, throwing her against the wall. Glen helped her up and she tried to keep pace, but found it painful to put weight on the leg.

Glen dropped the rifle he carried and slid his arm around Jenna’s waist, supporting her. She tried to hold on to Glen with one hand and shoot with the other, but the angle was too awkward to be effective.

"Give me your laser, Jenna. I'll cover you." Rantek shouted at her.

She handed her pistol to him and he fired with great vigor at the Clod-fawns in their path.

Finally they reached the hangar door, having forced the few remaining lizards far enough down the hall to pose little threat.

Skylar opened the door to the hangar and hurried everyone through. Closing it behind him, he used one shot from his pistol to destroy the controls. The lights were on here and he pointed at a ship at the far edge of the hangar. "That one!"

The small group moved across the vast floor quickly. Lissanne and Skylar led, followed closely by Glen, who still half-supported Jenna. Rantek turned away from them and headed for the console which controlled the hangar doors.

The piercing alarm sounded again and Glen knew more Clod-fawns were on the way.

With a final burst of speed, Skylar reached the ship. He slammed the hatch open and directed Glen and Jenna to enter first.

Jenna hobbled to the front of the small ship and slid into the right-side seat. “Glen, you sit there.” She pointed at the floor in the back corner of the ship. There was some heavy netting hanging on the wall. “You can hold onto the cargo straps to brace yourself during flight.”

Skylar entered behind them and settled himself into the left-hand pilot seat. He stared at the control panel for a long moment. Glen found himself praying that Skylar actually knew how to fly one of these ships.

Lissanne hovered just outside the door, rifle at the ready, covering Rantek. Glen moved toward the corner where Jenna had directed him, but did not sit. He watched Rantek’s progress across the hangar through the windshield of the space ship.

Skylar breathed out a deep sigh and began flipping switches and pressing buttons, Jenna following his directions.

Skylar found a moment to belt himself in, as Jenna had already done.

"How's Rantek doing?" Skylar demanded.

"He's just reached the control panel," Lissanne reported through the open doorway. "The hangar doors are opening now."

"Good. He's got about five seconds to get here before we're ready to go."

"The hangar doors are nearly fully open now. We've got plenty of room." Jenna said. She glanced back to the control station where Rantek was working and drew in her breath.

Lissanne stepped out of the door of the ship and began shooting.

"Klodfons in the hangar bay. They're firing on Rantek." Jenna’s voice was calm as she reported the events. She might have been talking about the weather. Her actions, however, were swift and economical as she released her straps and began to rise out of her seat.

Skylar's firm grip on her arm returned her to her place. "The best thing we can do for him now is to be ready to go." His voice was low, but the tone of command allowed no argument.

Jenna re-fastened the straps around her.

A large explosion rocked their ship, the fireball centering around the console where Rantek had been standing.

September 15, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Twenty-one

After what seemed like hours, Skylar finally heard heavy Klodfon footsteps coming down the hall toward the cells. Hoping they hadn't been seen on a scanner, Skylar stood and flattened himself against the wall out of sight of the opening.

The footsteps paused outside his cell and the door opened. With the swing of a green arm, an unconscious body was unceremoniously dumped in a heap just inside the door.

The door closed again and the footsteps retreated down the hall. A low whistle came from somewhere outside the cell, probably Lissanne telling him the Klodfons were gone.

Skylar opened the aidkit on his belt as he quickly stepped across the room to the Klodfons’ latest victim and began looking for injuries which needed immediate attention. Finding none, he concluded the man had been stunned or else beaten to the point where the pain itself would render him unconscious. He gave the man two injections, one a painkiller, the other a stimulant. Hopefully, the medications would work together to help him wake sooner.

He was a young man. His hair looked like it had once been a light red, but was now bleached by the sun to golden blonde. One eye was swollen nearly shut. The other eye, green in color, was bloodshot and staring unseeingly at the ceiling. His slightly crooked nose had at some time been broken and allowed to heal improperly. His arms were covered with bruises and probably the rest of him as well, although Skylar wasn’t going to undress him to find out.

Judging by the gaunt look of his large frame, he had not been fed properly and was probably dehydrated.

“They’ve really worked you over,” he said to the unconscious man. “I can’t believe the terrible shape you’re in. I wonder if this is what they did to Jenna, too.” The tattered clothing the man wore was not a Fellowship uniform and looked as if it hadn't been washed in a very long time.

Because of the way the cell doors were staggered, Skylar couldn't have the girls identify the man until he woke up unless he picked the man up and smushed his face against the door. Taking another look at the man’s face, he wasn’t sure they’d be able to identify him even if they could see him.

He stepped to the door and updated Glen and the girls on the situation, then retreated to a corner of the cell. If the man had been stunned, there was nothing to do now but wait.

Presently the man stirred. Skylar was quickly at his side, helping him to sit up. The man blinked several times, wiping at his good eye with a torn sleeve until his vision cleared. When he finally saw Skylar, a puzzled look came over his face.

"Are you Rantek?”

The man tried to answer, but his dry throat would allow no words to pass. He swallowed, then, and just nodded.

“Relax and don't try to talk. I'm Captain Skylar, from the Dragonstar Aubria. We picked up your distress call and I've been looking for you. If you can walk, we'll get you out of here. Think you can make it?"

Rantek nodded again and Skylar helped him to his feet. He swayed slightly, but managed to stay upright.

Reaching through one of the holes in the door, Skylar inserted the identicard in its slot, pulling his arm back quickly before the door took it off with its swift-opening movement.

Stepping out into the hallway Skylar was moving to release the others from their cells, when Klodfons appeared in the corridor.

Skylar only had time to push Rantek back into his cell and hand the identicard to Lissanne before the Klodfons began firing. He took what scant cover was available in the shallow depression in the wall against the now-closed door of Rantek's cell. Although the Klodfons could not hit him here, he was unable to free any others. He signaled for Lissanne to wait until he drew the Klodfons’ fire before opening her cell. She nodded her understanding.

Skylar stepped into the Klodfons’ field of vision and began shooting, diverting their attention long enough for Lissanne to get her own door opened. She also fired at the Klodfons, but the large rifle didn’t fit well in the narrow confines of the cell doorway. She had to try several times before finding a position that worked well.

Lissanne paused long enough between shots to slide the identicard across the corridor floor toward Jenna. Fortunately the Klodfons didn’t blast the card, and it skidded to a stop at the base of Jenna's door, close enough to be reached.

Snatching it up through a lower ventilation hole, Jenna soon had her door open and together the three of them blasted the remaining Klodfons.

As silence reigned, Jenna quickly let Glen out, then once again released Rantek, Skylar stepping close to help support the injured man. The group hurried toward the end of the hallway as a piercing alarm sounded.

"Blast it! Some of them must have gotten away!" Jenna muttered disgustedly as they quickly slipped through the door they'd used to enter the cell block earlier.

*     *     *     *     *

Laser fire exploded part of the wall just above them, the bolt narrowly missing Glen's head. Debris from the wall showered down on everyone. The group retreated quickly down the hall while firing behind them. It had taken him quite a few wild shots before he’d gotten the hang of the heavy laser rifle and began using it with a fair amount of accuracy, bringing down a good share of the Clod-fawns.

Upon reaching a cross-hallway, Jenna cried, "This way!" and the group turned and ran down the hall, trying to put as much distance as possible between themselves and their pursuers before they would need to turn and fight again.

Their speed was hampered somewhat by Rantek's condition, but he seemed to grow stronger with every step, now able to walk on his own, buoyed up by thoughts of freedom. Glen knew that when the adrenaline rush wore off Rantek would be totally exhausted; however, for now it meant he could move nearly as fast as the rest of them.

The Clod-fawns rounded the corner behind them, fired again, and the humans turned once more to fight. Slowly but surely they made progress against this larger group of lizards, as they moved in the direction Jenna led them.

Glen saw Skylar glance at his watch. In the middle of a fight? The man really was insane! Then he remembered they were running against a time limit; their spaceship would leave without them if they didn’t get there soon enough.

“How much time do you have left, Skylar?”

Skylar grimaced. “Not enough, unless the Charys stays a little longer to look for Lissanne. With the Klodfons this roused, if we miss our ride, we won’t live long enough to wait for the next Dragonstar.”

Turning another corner, they moved as quickly as possible. As they passed a small alcove to their right, Jenna stopped, the others skidding to a halt just behind her.

"Skylar and Glen stay in here,” she ordered. “We'll try 'divide and conquer' again."

Skylar and Glen moved into the alcove, pressing themselves against the wall in an attempt to become invisible to the Clod-fawns’ eyes. The rest of the group quickly moved off down the hall.

The Clod-fawns marched around the corner with their typical precision, firing as they advanced. Glen watched them march past, holding his breath and silently praying that none would look their way. If they did, they would certainly see him, as the alcove was neither large nor dark.

By a piece of fantastic luck, or in answer to his prayers, Glen wasn't sure which, not a single Clod-fawn spotted them. He wondered briefly how much charge was left in his rifle, and how he would know if it were running low.

As before, Skylar allowed them to get far enough down the corridor they would not be shooting at him at point-blank range, yet close enough for his aim to be deadly. He watched Skylar for the signal to go.

When it was given they stepped out into the corridor, opening fire on the lizards. This time, the Clod-fawns were quicker to figure out what was going on. The human tactics were illogical enough to confuse them temporarily, though…long enough for the Cavaliers to gain the advantage.

There were still several Clod-fawns left when Glen’s weapon sent a small electrical shock tingling through his hands. Four blasts later, it abruptly stopped firing when he pressed the trigger. He threw the useless weapon aside as the Cavaliers made quick work of the remaining menace.

Reuniting, Skylar's small group scooped up Clod-fawn guns, recharging their own weapons on the move, discarding the depleted rifles as they ran. Glen grabbed up a pair of rifles as they passed the dead lizards. He slung one over his shoulder, adjusting the strap as they moved, and kept the other in his hands ready for use. He didn’t intend to run out of ammo again. The group ran on, following Jenna’s lead.

Without warning, the power was cut, plunging them into an instant blackness, darker than night.

September 13, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Twenty

Glen watched Skylar take a deep breath and let it out slowly before turning back toward himself and Jenna. Skylar looped the card’s chain around his neck and tucked the card itself inside his shirt, apparently for safekeeping.

Jenna moved silently up beside him. Glen followed, "Where'd she run off to?"

"To keep the Klodfons off our backs,” Skylar muttered. “Come on."

Skylar and Jenna both drew their pistols as they continued forward down the hall. With Lissanne gone, Glen wondered how Skylar, now in the lead, knew where he was going.

The thudding grew louder, accompanied now by a deeper boom that reminded Glen of the anti-aircraft guns he hadn’t heard since he had been discharged from the army.

Suddenly, Lissanne crossed the corridor ahead of them at a run, shooting back the way she'd come.

Skylar moved instantly to stand against the wall where he'd be least likely to be noticed. Jenna joined him there within a moment. Glen scrambled in their wake. Jenna opened her mouth to speak, but Skylar silenced her with a gesture. She unslung the rifle she’d been carrying for Rantek and laid it on the floor. Skylar crept as near to the cross-hallway as he could. A dozen…things… burst seemingly from out of nowhere, all intent on their pursuit of Lissanne. They were firing laser rifles at her, the bright beams kriss-crossing in the hall and illuminating it in various shades of red, yellow, and green. Glen thought the laser beams did a better job of lighting the hallway than the dull orange light glowing from the ceiling.

Lissanne’s dodging, unpredictable course down the hall made it hard for the things to hit her. Most of their shots were destroying sections of the walls instead, with great explosions of noise, and flying bits of red-hot metal shards spraying in all directions.

The leading creature fell, a victim of Lissanne's aim. Glen saw its companions move right over the top of it, as if it weren't there.

Skylar watched passively as they continued to shoot at Lissanne. Glen wanted to scream at him. How could he just stand there and let them kill her? His own fear of what might happen should the creatures turn and see them, froze his tongue to the roof of his mouth. Apparently Skylar was a coward, more interested in saving his own skin than in coming to the aid of a woman who was in need.

When the fighting had passed them, and the creatures were a good length down the hall, Skylar stepped into the corridor and fired at them. Jenna moved with him and between them they had killed several before the things realized they were under attack from two directions. Ah—he understood now, it was strategy and not cowardice prompting Skylar’s lack of action.

Suddenly Glen realized what he was seeing. These must be Clod-fawns. They were huge! Jenna had been conservative in her description of seven foot lizards. These lizards walked on two legs and used their tails for balance. Covered from head to toe with bright, neon green scales, they reminded him vaguely of a tyrannosaurus rex, only with well-muscled, usable arms attached on the sides of their shoulders.

The helmets they wore were too big for any dinosaur. Glen rather thought they would fit on his own head, though the squarish corners might be uncomfortable. Their faces were different, too… they were definitely lizardish; red eyes with a slit for a mouth, and absolutely nothing where the nose should have been. Glen wondered absently what they would do if they needed to wear glasses, with no nose to hold them up.

They wore black bits of stuff strapped to various parts of their bodies, and Glen recalled Jenna saying something about blast armor. It certainly looked like armor—not the kind knights used to wear—more like a roman soldier’s…breast plates and back plates, helmets, and guards on the forearms and shins.

Other than the helmets and armor, they wore no other clothing. Apparently the lizards had no problem with nudity, but then, Glen couldn’t recognize anything that modesty should prompt them to cover.

Glen watched numbly as the three Cavaliers made short work of the enemy.

As silence descended, Skylar lifted a rifle from the floor and clipped his pistol to the stock of the Klodfon rifle, apparently recharging it. Jenna and Lissanne did the same. Glen came forward to meet them, balancing himself precariously above his shaking knees.

"Are those Clod-fawns?" he asked. Even to his own ears his voice was a little unsteady.

Skylar nodded as he watched Glen’s face. "Are you all right?"

Glen nodded, swallowing hard. “I…I think so.”

“Sorry you came?” Skylar asked.

There was no hesitation before Glen answered. "Not at all, but even with what you told me, I expected lizards to be on all fours on the ground."

Skylar gave a wry grin. “We did try to warn you.”

Glen shuddered, "And these weapons—they're laser guns. Like on TV. This…this is real…and these…Clod-fawns…they’re not from Earth." It was a quiet statement, but said so much more.

Jenna looked up from the weapon charging in her lap. "Neither are we. Glen, I'm sorry I had to deceive you all this time. I didn‘t like having to lie, but when you get stranded on a planet not in the Fellowship, the list of Standing Orders starts with ‘don’t let the locals know who you are’ and goes on to ‘protect them from the Klodfons at all costs’. I'm not a kid without a memory; I never was. I'm a trained Cavalier—a professional soldier. But even if I had told you about the Klodfons in the beginning, would you have believed me?" Her voice was as serious as her face, her somber eyes watching him.

Glen looked at the floor, then at her. "No, especially not in the condition you were in when I found you. I didn't really believe you or Skylar about the Clod-fawns until I saw them myself and I'm still not quite sure this isn't a crazy dream. I'm still not sure I believe all of it yet. It does explain why there wasn't a mark on that dead cougar, though. You used a laser gun, didn't you, Skylar?"

Skylar detached his pistol from the larger weapon and put it away, the silence hanging heavy in the corridor. Setting the now-depleted laser rifle down near its previous owner, also in a useless condition, he addressed Glen.

"Yes, I did, and no, you're not dreaming. Glen, now that you've seen what we're up against, will you please go back to your camp before you get killed."

"No way. I'm in this to stay. It’s my planet, and it’s about time some of us helped you protect it.”

Skylar looked at him for several moments without speaking, their eyes conveying messages enough. Then, apparently accepting Glen's decision, Skylar took a few minutes to instruct him in the art of how to use the stolen Klodfon rifle he’d been carrying.

Between the scales and the armor, Glen realized his own weapon would be practically useless against these creatures. As it did not have a carry-strap, he regretfully laid the rifle down in the hallway, knowing even as he did so, that he would never see it again.

Jenna picked up the spare rifle and re-slung it over her shoulder. Their weapons all at full charge now, Skylar looked at each member of the team, then softly spoke. “Let’s get moving before that patrol is missed. Lissanne, you take lead position, I’ll follow you, and no running off. Jenna, stay right behind me and Glen, take rear guard again.”

Glen nodded his assent. He wasn’t about to be more of a burden on these people, but intended to pull his own weight and assist in carrying out his mission.

Wordlessly, Skylar gave the signal to start.

They moved quickly now, trying to get as near to their objective as possible before another patrol came their way. Stealth was no longer an option; speed became their ally.

Lissanne led them without hesitation through several more long corridors and they entered the cell block. Skylar produced the card Lissanne had given him earlier.

He said quietly, "The best place to hide is in the cells, against the front wall of the cells, just out of sight on the side of the door, one body per cell." Turning to Lissanne, he asked, "Which one is Rantek's?"

Lissanne pointed to one of the doorways, and Skylar nodded. “Which cell is yours?”

She stepped to the door of a different cell, roughly across the hall. Glen noticed that none of the doors lined up exactly, probably to keep prisoners from communicating with each other.

Skylar opened Lissanne’s cell door, remarking, "They'll expect to see you, Lissanne; you can stand in open sight and keep watch for Rantek’s return."

She nodded, "Maybe they'll think I've been recaptured," she said, her voice not showing fear, but also giving no evidence of enthusiasm for the assignment.

Skylar opened the cell next to Rantek’s and motioned Jenna in. Hesitating only a moment, she stepped inside and he closed the door behind her.

The last cell, next to Lissanne’s, was apparently for Glen. Skylar opened the door, then turned and smiled at Glen.

“Your turn.”

Glen stepped in, then turned quickly, stepping back out of the cell. Keeping his voice at a whisper, he asked, "Do you have to lock us in?"

Skylar nodded, pulling the card from the slot to demonstrate it for Glen. The door slid silently closed. "When the door closes, it locks automatically as the identicard leaves the slot."

"Well, can't you leave the door open? I can see all of us getting trapped in here quite easily." Anxiety gave hoarseness to his whispered voice.

"The door doesn’t stay open. That's the general idea of the design; however, we do have the key." He held the card up for Glen to examine as he continued to explain. "As you can see," he gestured toward Jenna's cell, "the holes in the door will give you plenty of ventilation without letting you out. Stand out-of-sight and the Klodfons won’t even know you’re anywhere near, and won’t have reason to do anything to you."

Glen turned from Skylar and more closely examined the closed door of the cell. "Looks like some kind of plastic,” he said, turning back to Skylar.

Skylar gave a half grin. "It's transparisteel—see-through, blast proof armored metal." He re-opened the door and gestured for Glen to return to the cell. Glen swallowed hard and stepped through and Skylar sealed the door behind him.

Skylar went to Rantek's cell and let himself in, closing the door behind him, then moved to the side, out of Glen’s view.

Glen examined the door once more, then took Skylar’s advice and seated himself on the floor of the cell, against the front wall, where the Clod-fawns would never see him, and where, if Skylar and the girls were killed, he would probably die of starvation before anyone happened along to let him out.

September 10, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Nineteen

The sound of the exploding metal echoed up and down the length of the corridor. Glen tightened his grip on his rifle. What in the world had that been? It was plain he didn’t want it hitting him.

"Don't shoot, we're human!" Skylar’s voice rang from the walls.

A female voice came from inside the room, full of wonderment.


"Yes," Jenna replied and stepped through the doorway, her weapon at the ready, the light stick held away from her body to the side. Skylar kept close behind her as he followed her in.

After a perfunctory look both directions down the corridor—his duty as rear guard, and a nearly useless gesture with the light stick gone—Glen followed the pair into the room. He cleared the door, then stepped back just to the right side where he could observe but still hear beyond the door and into the corridor.

While Skylar stood to the left, still near the door, weapon ready, Jenna was cautiously advancing into the room, her weapon still held carefully available. She finally located someone crouching behind a boxy-shaped shadow. Drawing closer, she gave a soft cry of recognition.


Shock and excitement registered on the girl’s face as she also recognized Jenna. She set down a heavy Klodfon rifle and scrambled to her feet.

"Jenna! We all thought you were dead!"

Glen was stunned. How on earth could this unknown woman be on friendly terms with his Jenna? And how did Jenna know her? He watched in shock as the two girls hugged, then Jenna quickly made introductions, calling Skylar by the more formal address of Captain.

Lissanne’s eyes widened with alarm as Jenna told her that Glen was a local resident. She said nothing, however, as Jenna continued, speaking more to Skylar than to Glen and explaining they had previously served on the Octavia together.

Glen felt as if his world were tilting under him, running amok. He tried to assimilate the facts rocketing towards him. These two girls had known each other before; had shared military service together—on a space ship. He was no longer certain of the boundaries of his world, as his universe expanded greatly to include the new details crashing in upon him, and, at the same time, he felt his own importance in that universe shrinking to a pinpoint.

How long had these people been protecting his small planet from annihilation, while the inhabitants struggled to kill one another in petty territorial wars?

He forcefully reminded himself that he was the untrained and poorly armed civilian deep in the heart of enemy territory. This thought abruptly brought his attention back to the present.

Lissanne was telling Skylar and Jenna that she'd crashed and been captured before a shuttle could pick her up.

"How long have you been here?" Skylar asked.

"I'm not sure. Maybe a day or so,” she said, lifting a shoulder in response.

"The Charys doesn't know where you are?"

Lissanne shook her head. “No, but they know I’m alive and missing, and where else is there to land? Captain Kiernan won’t give me up…at least not easily.”

“Neither will your Commander,” Skylar noted.

Lissanne’s only reply was a disgusted snort.

"If you were captured, why aren't you locked up?" Glen asked. She’d make good bait, he’d decided.

"I was, but I was able to grab an identicard. I waited until the Klodfons left, then used it to open the door. The actual corridor isn't guarded; they rely on their fancy locks. I was on my way out when I heard your footsteps and ducked in here."

"And they just left the key lying around?" Glen asked skeptically. These Clod-Fawns didn’t sound too bright.

"Could you take us back to the cell block?" Skylar asked, cutting across Glen's question before the girl had a chance to respond.

Lissanne nodded. "Yes, but why do you want to go there?"

Jenna answered, "We're looking for Rantek. Have you seen him?"

"Rantek? He's here, but he's not in the cell block right now. Just as they brought me in, he was summoned to the control room. He was making a fuss about not going with them. My guards left the identicard in the slot and went to help. That’s when I helped myself to the card."

"Control room!" Skylar and Jenna echoed simultaneously, concern coloring their voices before Skylar continued, "Why there?"

"Don't know," Lissanne shook her head. “I just thought I’d get away while I could and send help back for him."

"Lissanne, how were you brought into the base? Through the hangar?" Jenna asked.

Glen wondered exactly how they were going to steal a ship. Suddenly, he realized what a difficult wrinkle he’d put into their plans by insisting on joining them. If they stole one of the lizard’s ships and flew off into space, how would he get back home?

"I'm not sure," Lissanne said. "They stunned me when they picked me up." She shrugged her shoulders apologetically as she spoke. “What do you want us to do, Sir?”

Skylar stood for a moment in thought, looking at each of them in turn.

Glen found himself nearly breathless, waiting for his orders, now ready to acknowledge Skylar’s right to command the group.

"Lissanne will lead us to the cell block. We'll hide and wait there for Rantek to be brought back to his cell. Then we'll let him out. As we leave, Jenna will lead us to the hangar and we'll all get out of here. Glen, you stay right behind Jenna until we reach the detention area. I’ll probably need you to help me with Rantek. People usually aren’t very strong after an interrogation session.” His eyes spoke volumes to Glen as they looked at each other. After a lengthy moment, Glen nodded, and Skylar gripped his shoulder in thanks before turning back to the girls.

Jenna handed Lissanne the dimming light stick and offered to take up rear guard.

Lissanne tossed the light stick aside. “We won’t need this; we’re very close to the lighted part of the base.”

The small group set off, moving quietly and cautiously behind Lissanne’s slender figure.

They turned a corner and found themselves in an obviously used area. Instead of dusty, the floors were polished and slick. Their feet now made quiet tapping noises as they crept along the corridors.

Lissanne had been right; there was enough light to see, but the dull orange light that filled the corridors was unsettling to Glen. It made everything appear stark and sickly, and cast an unhealthy pallor over their faces. It seemed to be a bit brighter along the ceiling, but there was no fixture or panel that was an obvious source for the light.

As they walked, Glen became aware of a distant noise. It was more of a vibration in the floor under their feet than anything else, but it was definitely growing stronger.

When they approached yet another of the numerous cross-hallways, Lissanne stopped the group and cocked her head to one side, listening intently. The noise had ceased to be merely a vibration and became a hollow thudding, quietly at first, then louder, as if whatever was making the sound was moving in their direction. This was probably not a good thing.

Skylar moved up beside Lissanne and spoke softly. .

Glen strained his ears, but couldn’t hear what they were saying. He watched as Lissanne bit her lip nervously for a moment, then shoved her hand into her pocket, drawing out a small plastic card with a hole in one end. A thin chain was looped through the hole and dangled across Lissanne’s hand, the free end swinging slightly between herself and Skylar. She proffered the card. Skylar seemed reluctant, but finally accepted it. There was more discussion. Although nearly silent, it was fairly heated, judging by their faces and body language.

Suddenly Lissanne ducked under Skylar's reaching arm, ran down the corridor and disappeared around the corner.

September 08, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Eighteen

Glen wasn’t sure exactly why he’d pressed so hard to join their little expedition. He felt certain Jenna needed protecting—mostly from the madman now sliding cautiously down the sand dune ahead of him. He absolutely did not believe their story of space ships and seven foot lizards, and there was no way he was going to let Skylar—if that was his real name—paint fanciful pictures for Jenna of finding her past and end up hurting her.

He was sure whatever lay in Jenna’s past, the answers weren’t going to be found by breaking into the side of a sand dune. Skylar had already lied at least once…Glen wasn’t going to let Jenna go anywhere alone with this man until he got to the bottom of the matter.

As they reached the door, Skylar pointed his electronic device at it once again. He looked at Jenna as he spoke.

"Still no movement and only minimal energy readings," he reported. Glen watched as he hung the small tool on his belt and Skylar and Jenna took up their positions on opposing sides of the door.

Glen stood beside Jenna, the better to protect her. There was no way to know what was in there that might not like its door opened, and he couldn’t deny it was a very strange door…. He glanced at Skylar, wondering if he really knew what lay beyond it. The grim look on Skylar’s face wasn’t reassuring.

At Skylar's nod, Jenna pulled the handle down. Glen held his breath.

The massive doors slid aside with only a soft whoosh, and the three figures crept quietly into the…Glen groped for the name they’d given to the lizards…Claudia-Pond, that wasn’t right. Uh, Clod-Fawn base, yes, that was it.

Glen watched as Skylar stepped to his side of the opening and pulled a handle on the inside and the doors slid closed, leaving them in utter blackness.

“Hey!” His protest at having the light cut off sounded loud in the stillness, echoing off the walls of what sounded like a long corridor.

A small pop sounded and a green light began to glow as Jenna cracked the seal on a light stick. “I only have two glowsticks,” Jenna murmured, “so we’ll have to be careful.”

The green light was quite bright in the darkness surrounding them and Glen squinted to protect his eyes. Out of habit he looked to one side, rather than directly at the light stick, having camped enough to know how to preserve his night-vision.

“Now what?” Glen asked. His words bounced off the metal walls again, echoing off into the depths of the darkness. He watched Jenna’s face, almost eerie with the green glow in this strange place.

“Glen,” Skylar whispered. “We need to be as silent as we can. Even tiny sounds travel far beyond line of sight, and we’re not sure how close the Klodfons are.” A strong hand reassuringly gripped Glen’s forearm, taking any censure from the words.

“Right,” Glen murmured and patted Skylar’s hand to show no offense had been taken. As Skylar moved closer to Jenna, Glen considered her anticipation of needing the light sticks in this dark corridor. Had she known the need or had she merely guessed? Glen stroked his chin, watching her, his eyes now adjusted to the semi-darkness of the corridor. If she’d known this place was here, if she’d come out here in order to find it, then it made a lot of sense to have the sticks with her. Could their tale be true, space ships, lizards and all? He’d have to explore this thought later, when he had more time with less confronting him.

He watched the pair reholster their weapons without fastening the safety straps. Jenna folded her strap backwards and tucked it between the holster and her leg, her nimble fingers speaking long familiarity with the holster, though it wasn’t her usual one.

Glen hoped they were faster at drawing their weapons than the lizards were, then remembered Jenna had said the creatures carried rifles, which needn’t be drawn at all. These two must be crazy to go after lizards armed with rifles when they carried only pistols. He grimaced. And they thought he was inappropriately armed! He hefted the comforting weight of his rifle and waited for the signal to move forward.

Skylar indicated for Jenna to lead the way, then stepped behind her, motioning Glen to follow. Glen, watching the command shift from one to the other, wondered who was actually in charge of this little escapade into insanity.

A little way down the hall, there was a depression in the wall to their right. Jenna motioned for them to stay put and disappeared with the light.

"Who's in charge, you or her?" Glen’s whisper was soft, but still the sound echoed down the corridor. He devoutly hoped none of the lizards were near enough to hear him.

Skylar’s voice held the smile Glen couldn’t see in the darkness, but could hear in the murmured words. "It's my mission and I outrank her, so I'm in charge, but she's been to the base before, so I appointed her as our guide." Skylar’s voice was pitched low, but Glen noted in passing that somehow Skylar managed to keep his words from echoing. He tried, unsuccessfully, to do the same.

"If she's really been here before," Glen softly said with surprise, "then why did you need me to bring you out here?"

Skylar’s voice was so quiet Glen had to strain to hear all the words clearly. "She had just barely escaped the Klodfons when you found her. She wasn't sure how to get back here, so we had to enlist your help."

"Is that who beat her up?" Glen's voice became angry. Skylar hissed a quiet ‘yes’ as he put his hand on Glen’s shoulder to remind him to be quiet. Glen lowered his volume once more, "I'll kill 'em for that!"

"You'd better," Skylar said "or they'll kill you. And be as silent as possible; they might be monitoring the corridor."

Glen resolutely closed his mouth, biting the lips shut from the inside as a child might do, his mind racing. He was honest enough to admit to himself he was a little—no, actually, a lot nervous about these rifle-packing lizards—providing they actually existed—but there was no way he was going to abandon Jenna when he felt she needed him most.

Just then, she returned with the light stick. "Guard room. Here's a rifle for you, Glen. Just point and shoot. I got one for Rantek, too." She handed the weapon to him, adjusting the strap on the second rifle before she slung it over her shoulder. Glen noticed Jenna’s voice also didn’t echo down the corridor as his own did and wondered if there was some trick to it.

Jenna adjusted how the rifle hung, then moved off down the corridor. Skylar motioned for Glen to follow once more.

Glen took a second to look at the new weapon in his hand. Making a quick decision, he slung it over his shoulder as he’d seen Jenna do, keeping his own weapon at the ready. Not only did he feel more comfortable with his own as he faced a new enemy, but he knew the qualities of his rifle and was confident it could protect Jenna as he needed to.

Abiding by Skylar’s silent directions, he dropped back into the rear guard position. If they wanted to play army, he’d play along for now. Acting as if he accepted Skylar’s authority over the mission would give him a bit of latitude, and he could step in and take charge when he felt Jenna was in real danger.

They moved forward slowly and quietly. He was a bit relieved to be in the back, actually. Not only was he performing a necessary function, but this gave him a bit of advantage in facing a new enemy. He would have the chance to see these lizard-things before he had to shoot, if they turned up in front of them. Knowing the black corridors they were passing were empty of the…Clod-Fawns—he was pleased with himself for having remembered the name—they were unlikely to be leaping out from some murky corner they’d just passed!

They traveled endlessly through the darkness. Dust was thick on the floor, cushioning sound, and their soft, careful steps did not stir it up enough to make breathing difficult.

Once they thought they heard a noise behind them, but discovered nothing there. At length the light stick grew too dim to use. He watched as Jenna lit her last one and discarded the first. Glen felt they were now committed to their quest—they wouldn’t have enough light to navigate back the way they had come. They set off once more.

She rounded yet another corner, then quickly retreated. Her voice, barely audible, still carried the surprise and nervousness she felt.

“Footprints in the dust,” she said quietly.

Carefully checking the corridor for signs of life, she moved stealthily around the corner, over to the footprints and examined them closely. Her voice drifted toward them lightly. Glen made a mental note to find out how they could both speak so quietly and still be clearly audible to their intended listeners.

“Boots,” she said, looking at the pattern in the disrupted layer of dust. “A single set…human…and fresh.”

She eyed the pattern over a six- or eight-foot distance. “Look, Skylar. See this?” She pointed to part of the tracks. “They keep twisting around as though to watch behind them, too, so there’s probably some Klodfon pursuit." She glanced at Skylar for guidance.

"Are they going where we're headed?" Skylar’s words were softly murmured.

Jenna shook her head. "No, coming from. What do you want to do?"

Glen closely watched him as Skylar considered the footprints for a moment. “Let’s follow the tracks,” he replied. “Maybe they know more specifically where the Klodfons are positioned right now, which would be extremely valuable."

Jenna nodded and turned once again to take the lead, saying, "I doubt it's Rantek; these prints are almost my size, and he's not that small."

Within minutes, the trail led to a closed door. They took up side positions, with Glen beside Jenna. He felt a shiver race down his spine. It was at once exciting and frightening not knowing what might happen when the door opened. He looked at Skylar’s face once again and saw the deliberation there.

Skylar caught Jenna’s eye, silently asking if she were prepared.

The words ‘prepared for what?’ seared through Glen’s mind as he noted the tension radiating from both Skylar and Jenna. The words barely had time to register before he saw Jenna’s nod answer Skylar.

Skylar’s chest seemed to expand with a fully drawn breath before he pressed the button and the door opened. As if the occupant had been waiting for exactly this moment, a bolt of light came through the door at chest level. It impacted the far wall of the corridor and the metal shattered, bits and chunks of glowing shards falling to the floor.

September 06, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Seventeen

Skylar and Jenna glanced at each other with looks of frustration. They reholstered their weapons and waited for Glen to make his way over to them.

"Would somebody please tell me what's going on here?" Glen bellowed before he had quite caught up to them. "And I want the truth. Don’t tell me you're looking for a crashed airplane when you're busting into a door in the side of a sand dune with guns drawn!"

Skylar shook his head and climbed back up the sand dune, motioning for Jenna to follow. She obeyed the silent order without question. Glen let out another roar. "Now where do you two think you’re going?"

"I'll explain," Skylar called over his shoulder, "but not on the Klodfons' doorstep." He continued climbing, Jenna at his heels, leaving Glen no choice but to follow them...that is, if he wanted any answers at all...and Skylar knew he did.

Glen scrambled up the dune in their wake and the three of them slid down the other side.

"What's a Clod-fawn?" The breathless query reached their ears as they came to a stop at the bottom.

"Be glad you don't know," Skylar said, "and I hope you never find out. This is something Jenna and I have to do. Alone. Now, go back to camp."

Glen shook his head. "I'm not moving until I know what's going on here...unless it's to follow you two,"

"Glen..." Skylar's voice was hard.

Jenna looked at the expressions on both men's faces and entered the debate, "Skylar, keeping in mind our timetable, you'd better tell him. He's as stubborn as a gureet and you'll only waste what precious time we have until you do." When Skylar hesitated, she added, "And we'll miss our ride."

Skylar looked at Glen, saw the determination in his eyes, then sighed. Jenna was right; he would have to be told.

Glen opened his mouth to speak, but Skylar forestalled him with a raised hand and motioned for them to be seated on the ground, the morning sun not yet high enough to give too much heat to the sand.

"Before I answer questions, you need some background information. Now realize, Glen, I’m not supposed to tell you any of this; in fact, I’m about to break all sorts of orders. But I know you a little, Jenna trusts you, and I think I can count on your honor—and your discretion?”

Glen hesitated a moment, then nodded his promise to remain quiet.

“Thank you.” Skylar continued. “This isn’t going to be easy for you to hear, and it will be even harder for you to believe, but I’m going to give you the truth. Our schedule, as Jenna pointed out, is tight. I don’t have time to soften it for you, or to deal with interruptions. So listen first, then ask questions when I‘ve finished.” His left eyebrow raised in question as he watched Glen, awaiting an answer.

Glen nodded again, his lips pursed tightly.

Skylar took a deep breath, then plunged into his explanation. “First, you need to understand that neither Jenna nor I are native to this planet. Jenna's from a planet called Terradia, which is halfway to the other side of the galaxy. She was stranded here five years ago when her fighter was shot down. I'm from a place called Timora, which was in another galaxy altogether. I was sent here to find a missing scout named Rantek. Although I haven’t located him yet, I believe he’s somewhere behind the door in the sand dune. That door leads to a Klodfon base which shouldn’t be anywhere near your planet, much less on it.”

“But what’s a—“ Glen started to ask, but was stopped by Skylar’s quickly uplifted hand.

“The Klodfons are very hostile…” he groped for a word that Glen would understand.

“Lizards.” Jenna prompted.

“Lizards,” Skylar repeated. “Thanks Jenna.”

“No charge.”

Skylar turned back to Glen. “The Klodfons’ primary goal is to destroy—or enslave—every last human being.”

Skylar watched Glen closely, assessing the information being given and how it was being received. Satisfied, he continued.

“If they want to destroy all the humans, why build a base here instead of just destroy the whole planet? Or is there something else I’m missing here?”

Jenna’s voice was soft. “My people have been protecting not only your planet, but every other place where the native population aren’t ready to join the Fellowship. Earth is near the front of the battle between us and the Klodfons. Keeping this base secret for the war effort is more valuable to them right now than a hundred million new slaves…or snacks.”

Skylar broke in. “History lesson over. Now it’s time for Current Events. Jenna and I are going through that door, into the Klodfon base. We are going to find Rantek, then the three of us are going to steal a ship and go home. There’s a large space ship, a Dragonstar, in the neighborhood, and with any luck we’ll be able to reach it before it leaves the area. From there, we’ll be able to return to our own ships, and our usual lives. I know all this sounds fantastic, but it's true." His eyes continued to appraise Glen closely as he continued.

"Thank you for taking such good care of Jenna, and thank you for bringing us this far. Now, if you'll go back to your camp, pack up, and go on home, we can complete our business and go home ourselves."

Although Glen's eyes had widened slightly, he had shown no other reaction, listening intently to Skylar’s discourse

He now rose decisively to his feet in quiet protest, his face set. "Nothing doing. I'm going in with you. If you miss your ride and come out some other door, you'll need someone who knows this desert to get you back out of it. What's the use of escaping these...lizard things...if you get lost in the desert and die of thirst? I know your water is gone." His own voice was as hard and determined as Skylar's had been, his chin was thrust forward uncompromisingly. Skylar and Jenna also stood.

Skylar faced the older man before him. Glen did not understand the extent of the threat facing not only him, but the human race as well. "Absolutely not. Go back to camp. You’re a civilian, and a local. I can't expose you to the Klodfons. It’s my responsibility to minimize damage to this planet and its people.”

Glen's chin rose a little and his voice became almost deadly quiet in his purpose. "I'm going in there with you, and you can’t stop me. This is my planet, and I have the right—and the responsibility—to protect it. I have my rifle. Besides, I’m not afraid of a lizard!"

Jenna grinned. "We're not talking gila monsters here, Uncle Glen. I'm afraid…of a seven-foot lizard wearing blast armor, carrying a laser rifle, and a deep hatred for any and every human being. And your rifle just might bruise his knee cap, if you’re lucky enough to hit it just right,"

"Seven...foot...lizard?!" Glen's eyes popped and his mouth hung open, disbelief coating his voice as he tried to gather his wits. "You've gotta be kidding me! Ones that tote rifles?" He turned back to Skylar. "If you’re used to these lizards, then why were you worried about a two hundred pound cat?"

Skylar smiled, "Klodfons I know. Tell me how you’d protect yourself from an unknown animal that outweighs you; keeping in mind you don’t even know what it looks like, so you can’t know when you’re in danger from it."

Glen nodded. “Good point.” Turning to Jenna, he continued. "Even so, I'm going with you. I've been taking care of you for five years and nothing is going to stop me now."

Skylar shook his head. "Glen, believe me. I appreciate your enthusiasm, but this is serious. You're a civilian. I can't take you in there. You're not properly trained and you're not suitably armed. You'd be a liability to me, not to mention how I'd get you home again. Go back to camp where you can stay out of danger."

"Now, just a durn minute, Skylar—" Glen said, taking a step closer.

Jenna stepped between the two men, interrupting their argument. "Would you both quit wasting time?” She turned to her adopted uncle. “Glen, if you go in there, chances are very good you'll die. Hannah will never see your body or know what happened to you. Do you still insist on going?"

Glen’s face twitched for a moment before he replied. "Absolutely! I swore an oath long ago, to protect my country with my life. I can’t go back on that oath now."

Jenna sighed, "I was afraid of that." She turned to face Skylar. "He’s right that we can’t stop him, short of going home with him—unless we stun him and leave him here for the buzzards. Also, it is his planet and he has the right to die protecting it. He knows the risk he's facing, as much as he can without having seen a Klodfon, anyway. Now, let's go before we lose too much more time."

With a final look at Glen then Skylar, she turned and started back up the dune, calling over her shoulder, "I'm going in. Who's coming with me?" Both men hastened to scramble in her wake.