Sannaro, an orphaned Saili teenager turned ASTRISI warrior has his loyalties challenged when humans from his past, now aligned with space pirates, launch an invasion on the Kumani, the ASTRISI home ship, a nomadic space faring people who raised him.
BETWEEN WORLD AND SPACE
Published: Jan 2007
By: Lyssa Thorne
Double Dragon Publishing, Inc
Prologue - Calm Before the Storm
Giovano studied his metallic-yellow colored hand somberly as he ate breakfast alone, then immediately went to work. He didn’t want to face his wife or his children because he was afraid he would lose his temper on them again. It was happening more frequently and it dismayed him.
When he arrived, foreman Aldinon met him. He kept his men working with sheer stubbornness. Giovano was amazed that it didn’t seem to matter to his fellow workers, they even called him Aldy.
"It happened again, Gio! Come."
Giovano followed Aldinon to a bare clearing yards from the seranium processing plant on the hill just above the town.
Aldinon pointed to depressions in the ground.
Giovano bent down to study them. "Independents!"
"They did it cleverly using pads like our own. They stole more seranium last night. It's no good going to the Interstellar Police, either. I've complained twice about these thefts and we still don't get help."
"We're processing a load for that Independent ship Kumani. Tell the captain to tell his bunch to stop or we'll start fighting back!"
"I know what you mean, Gio. The company's already griping about the money loss."
"So tell him!" This job was getting him so frustrated. He had meant to leave this terrible planet years ago. He wanted to see the worlds of the Alliance, not be stuck on this planet and smell the same nauseating fumes of seranimite for his remaining one-hundred-fifty year life and he was still young!
"They'll be arriving midday tomorrow. In the meantime, you've got to control that panic you have, when you go into the mine. I can't keep making excuses for you working in the office. You start controlling it or I'll have to fire you, Gio. And I like you too much."
"But the company doesn't give transportation off-world! I can't afford the fees. Damira would be devastated." Giovano shuddered in panic, his mind went dark and his eyes blurred with tunnel vision. The smell of seranium vapors inundated his senses and his usual panic swept over him. He bolted down the hill away from the seranium processing plant that had started processing the days' load.
Giovano burst into the office, dropped into the chair and held his pounding head.
Aldinon raced after him.
Aldinon entered the office a little winded. "Your usual headache?"
"Yes," Giovano said through his hands. He sat bent over his desk holding his head with his lavender mid-back-length hair obscuring the human who stood above him.
"I'll get you Catowsh."
Giovano only nodded.
Aldinon came back with two blue pills and a glass of water.
Giovano promptly downed them.
"What causes it, Gio?"
"I don't know." He wiped sweat from his brow. "It's even happening at home now, I just get so angry. I've even begun to lash out at my family, I shut Damira out of my mind and I hit my kids without reason. Just a few days ago my son Sannaro came to the table to see what I was snacking on. I got mad and I smacked him!"
"Well, he doesn't have to eat every time you eat."
"He doesn't, yet- I don’t know what’s happening to me. Can we call the Saili Embassy on Arcturus and ask for a doctor to come out here to see me?"
"Ah, Gio, I'm sure it's not that extreme! Besides, the company may not like the added expense."
"At any rate, I want one."
"All right, I'll call Arcturus."
"Thanks, Aldy." As Giovano turned back to his work, the ground shook.
"Not another!" Aldinon rushed out of the office.
Giovano gripped the desk with dread. That horrible odor of seranimite assailed his nose again as rock dust erupted into the air. His vision dimmed. He felt his body hit the floor before he fainted.
Sannaro sat on the bottom step outside his house with his head bowed. He took comfort in his dark hair covering his face as he studied his yellow hand. Why did his skin have to be yellow gold? It stood out terribly in this town of pink and brown skin humans because he wasn’t human.
His leg tickled with a soft furry touch.
*Hi, Nightwalker,* Sannaro sent telepathically to the stray cat as he petted the black furry head.
Nightwalker thought an image of a small boy with shoulder-length black hair, high-slanted dark eyes and yellow-gold skin with a prominent frown on his face.
*Yeah, I’m sad. Mom’s going to be mad at me. I lost my ball she bought me yesterday.* Sannaro felt tears swell in his eyes. He swiped them off his face.
Nightwalker thought of a brown-haired big human boy with a grimace on his face.
*Yeah, it was Jake Arlington again.*
Nightwalker thought about a yellow-skinned woman with silver colored hair flowing down her back.
*I can’t go to mom. She’s getting tired of hearing me always complaining about what Jake did. She’s mad that Devakio broke the second stair. She doesn’t know how she’s going to buy a replacement slat of wood.* Sannaro pulled a splinter from the hole in the stair above where he sat. *And she’s really worried about Dad. She says dad didn’t use to be so angry. I thought he was always that way.* Sannaro shrugged.
Nightwalker thought an image of him spitting and slapping Jake with his claws.
*I wish! But no matter what I do, I just can’t keep Jake from teasing me, Nightwalker! Maybe he’s right, I’m just a weak looser.*
Nightwalker stretched up to put his paws on Sannaro’s knee and he nudged Sannaro’s chin. His thoughts were of Sannaro turning into his brawny short father with lavender hair down to his shoulder blades.
*I wish I had Dad’s strength, but Mom says I won’t get bulkier until I’m around ten. That’s four years from now! What am I going to do with Jake until then?*
The raised antennae-like nerve along the points of his ears began to itch. He received angry thoughts that whipped through his mind like a hot, dry wind. He jerked his head up.
His father approached the house from his walk home from work and bellowed in his head, *Sannaro, what’ve I told you about that cat? We can’t feed ourselves, much less a stupid animal!* He kicked his foot out.
Nightwalker twisted his supple body to avoid the foot before he bounded through the hole in the porch skirting.
Sannaro cringed. *He doesn’t want food. He’s just my friend. He finds enough food on his own.*
*That’s what keeps knocking the trash can down. Next time I see it, I’ll wring its little neck!* He stomped up the stairs and slammed the screen door after him.
He sensed his mother’s anxiety as she met father at the door. *Giovano,* she called cheerfully. *You’re home.*
*Paycheck's been suspended again. Mine 7 collapsed and the company isn't going to pay until that shaft's recovered. How can I feed my family, much less get off this stinking planet?*
*You didn't mean for us to get stuck here,* their mother soothed as she always did.
*If it wasn't for those damned kids we would've been gone long ago!*
Sannaro heard the double bang of his father's boots as they were thrown angrily to the floor.
*Don't say that, Giovano! You can't help it that they barely pay you enough for us to live! Even without the children, it would be hard to save money.*
*Look at them all with black hair, they don't even have proper hair color and Sannaro's black eyes, they're creepy! I can't even make children right! I’m a hopeless looser. Even you think so!*
A chair clattered to the floor.
Sannaro bowed his head and a sob tore from his lips.
*No, it's the company!*
*I know it is! Maybe I should just leave you and the kids and go off-world alone!* He stomped across the floor.
*No!* she cried mentally and vocally.
Father's mind shut tight as their parent's bedroom door slammed, then the locking bolt clattered home.
"One day you'll find a seranium pocket that’ll get you a bonus enough for us all to leave!"
His roar thundered through wooden house. "That's the day this place supernovas!"
"Giovano, don't shut me out like this!"
Sannaro heard the chair righted again and it creaked under her weight.
He climbed up the stairs and went inside to his mother.
She was holding her head in her hands at the table.
Sannaro’s older sister Varanani and his brother Devakio came out of their bedrooms, where they had been doing their homework and laid their hands on mother's shoulder.
Mother looked up, put Sannaro on her lap and drew her older two into her arms. *Oh, children, I don't know what to do! Sailia is so far away.*
Sannaro saw the images his mother was sending to him of that distant planet and felt a deep longing inside him.
The scene was of gray-green skies and trees with pink bark topped with lavender leaves that grew out of dark mineral-rich soil. A lazy river wound through the forest, sparkling with gold nuggets and other raw metals that washed from the purple mountains in the distance.
The scene shifted to a small village where gold-skinned people with high-slanted eyes went about their business. Their ears pointed twice upward and once more at the lobe showing through long flowing hair of a rainbow of metallic colors.
*Damira,* a young woman with silver hair mind-sent. *Is it true Giovano and you are leaving Sailia?*
*We are, Salinaya. Giovano wants to see the worlds of the Alliance.*
Her eyes widened. *But you'll be so far away from your family! You can't feel their presence from so far away, Damira. I couldn't bear that. Stay and be a teacher; you're a good one!*
Damira shook her head sadly. *I can't. Giovano is my mate and it would hurt me worse to be separated from him. I couldn't live without him and he wants to go so I'll be by him.*
Salinaya hugged her. *Take care of yourself, Damira, you are braver than I am. Come and visit when you can.*
*I will, Salinaya.* Tears rolled down her face. *I'm not braver, I'm just doing what I think is right.*
The image shattered and a deep sadness flooded Sannaro's telepathic sense.
*I never did get to visit her again.*
Tears fell like rain onto Sannaro's head as they left his mother's cheeks. The raw ache of his mother’s loss made his chest hurt too.
Sannaro sensed his mother was desperately reaching for his father who kept his mental shields firm as a brick wall.
Sannaro began to wish he were on that world of wonderful, strange colors instead of their world of dark-brown, broken wood.
A crash of thunder startled him out of his dream, bringing the reality of the all-pervading cold back to him.
Mother asked Varanani to help her make a fire.
*I'll help!* Sannaro squirmed in his mother's lap. He slipped down and ran to the woodpile and tried with all his might to move a log.
*You couldn't pick up a nugget of gold!* Devakio helped Sannaro pick it up.
Sannaro huffed at the insult, but he still allowed Devakio to help him heft it into the fireplace.
He looked up at his mother and was pleased to see her smile at his persistence.
She went to join Devakio and him. She kissed Sannaro on the crown, and then he looked up and sent loving feelings to her mind just as Devakio did.
Varanani moved to them and joined her mind with theirs.
Sannaro heard the bolt unfasten, the door open, then father stepped up from behind and hugged mother. His thoughts were of sadness for his outburst.
The thunder sounded like muffled drums later that night as Sannaro lay in bed and wiped tears from his eyes. It was bad enough that dad had come home angry, he threatened to kill his only friend, his mother and father had fought again, but he also recalled the frustrating day he had at school.
He'd found a remote corner of the playground he'd thought was safe. He pulled out his new ball because he couldn't wait until after school to play with it. He threw the red ball a few feet to the ground and delighted in it jumping right back to his hand.
Suddenly, a boy bounded up to him. "What're you playing with, Sanna?"
Sannaro eyed him carefully. "A skivit."
"Oo, who got it for you?"
Sannaro telepathically sensed envy from the human boy. It made him feel smug that he finally had something better than Jake.
Sannaro swelled proudly. "Mom bought it from the market."
Jake snarled, radiating envy. "I want one, give me it!"
Sannaro jerked it out of his reach. "No, mine! Teacher, Jake's trying to take my ball!"
Jake pushed Sannaro easily against the wall, trying to get the ball.
Sannaro threw the ball away.
When it came back, Jake snatched it out of the air before Sannaro could catch it again.
"Thanks! Someone as weak as you shouldn't have something as neat as this." Jake ran away laughing.
Sannaro had run to tell his teacher what had happened, but she shooed him off. She was too busy to listen to him now.
He knew when his mom found out, she’d be very upset that she’d spent money on a ball just for him to lose it the next day.
Why does she have to know?
He sat up, and then sprang out of his bed to the window. It stopped raining. He could sneak to the Arlington's house and take his ball back from Jake. He would have his ball and mom wouldn't know it had been taken!
Sannaro looked over to his brother's bed to make sure he was asleep before he slipped out the window.
He ran down the gravel road to the corner and went left past the storage warehouse that sat at the top of a small hill above the roadbed.
Two houses later, Sannaro slipped around to the back of the third house.
The night was still a bit muggy from the storm so Sannaro smirked when he saw that Jake had conveniently left his window open.
Quietly, he climbed in.
Sleep on, Jake Arlington. He searched the room.
He was glad for his eyes that could see better in the dark than a human's.
Still, when he saw where his ball was, he groaned- it was just at the edge of the pillow, where the bully's head was.
Sannaro began to concentrate as hard as he could and commanded telepathically for Jake to roll to his opposite side. He almost snickered aloud when the bully rolled over, but he controlled it and cautiously pulled the ball out. He returned to the window and left the house.
On his way home, his telepathy warned him that two people were close by. They were awake and a few meters above him on the small rise.
He looked up and saw a company shuttle outside of the warehouse. Sannaro saw Jake's dad Mr. Arlington sitting at the transport crane's controls lowering seranium canisters into the shuttle. Mr. Aldinon, the foreman, was standing beside him on the stair holding onto the safety bar.
Just as Sannaro began to wonder why they’d be working this late, as if drawn like magnets, Sannaro and Aldinon's eyes locked.
Aldinon grabbed Arlington's arm and told him to stop. He sprang off the step and ran down the hill with Arlington close behind.
*Damn, he saw everything!* blistered through Sannaro's mind.
He panicked and ran toward the nearest house. He scrambled under the porch.
Aldinon's hand scraped Sannaro's arm as he pressed himself against the house.
What did he see that they didn't want him to? Why did they want to hurt him? He had just took his ball back from Jake, that's all!
He was tempted to look into their minds to learn some answers. Then, he remembered his mother's warning that he was not supposed to pry into someone else's mind without asking, it was rude. He was supposed to use his voice with people outside of his family.
The smell of decay assailed his nose.
A black spider tickled the second point of his left ear, hoping the vibrations from its web heralded a meal.
Sannaro was startled when a mouse scampered over his right ankle.
The spider was startled by his sudden movement and bit Sannaro's ear. His ear began to hurt and he broke out in a sweat. His sight blurred a bit around the edges.
Finally, the large arm of the foreman withdrew.
"Sannaro, come out," Aldinon said in a soothing voice. "I was just coming to find out why you are out so late. Your Dad would be worried to know you were wandering around town after dark."
"No!" Sannaro shook his head.
"I'll walk you home. It must be dark and scary in there." Aldinon’s voice was soft and reassuring, but his thoughts were panicked and menacing.
"Go 'way!" His head began to pound.
"Oh, now, don't say that. Come out and everything will be okay."
Sannaro's body shook. "No, it won't, you want to hurt me for seeing that!"
"Aldy, let me try," Arlington's gruff voice called quietly. "If you won't tell anybody about this, I'll let you go without hurting you. Now, come out." But his thoughts were threatening.
Sannaro whimpered and pressed his hands over his ears. He didn't want to sense what they were thinking. Their thoughts were about hurting him!
After a few minutes of silence, Aldinon spoke up again. "Sannaro, I know your dad’s sick."
"No, he’s not sick, he’s just mad!"
"He’s getting mad more often, isn’t he, Sannaro? He’s got green around his eyes. Does anyone else in your family have green around their eyes?"
Sannaro sobbed and pressed his head between his knees, but stayed there.
Arlington took over. "He needs a doctor, but if you don't promise that you won't tell anybody what you saw, we won't have a doctor come to help your dad."
Sannaro shook his head until his neck ached.
Arlington continued. "Your dad will die if a doctor doesn't come, Sannaro. Do you want to see your dad die knowing you could've helped him?"
Through the blur of tears, Sannaro crawled over to the side of the porch.
As he scrambled out, the elder Arlington grabbed him by his hair. "Got him!"
Sannaro panicked. He gathered a small amount of mental energy and willed it into Arlington's mind through the fingers that were entangled in his hair.
Arlington howled and clutched his head.
Once Sannaro felt his hair freed, he ran between the houses toward home.
Sannaro climbed back into his room and collapsed into a corner. He stayed there shaking for the rest of the night.
As soon as mother telepathically sent that it was time to get up, Sannaro sprang up and changed his clothes before Devakio could get up and see him cowering in the corner.
As Sannaro ate breakfast, he was looking at Varanani and Devakio’s eyes to see if they had green eyelids.
*Quit staring at me, Sanna, you’re freaking me out!* Devakio sprang up from his chair and stormed away from the table, leaving it to wobble furiously.
*Devakio, watch your tone of voice,* Mother snapped.
*I’m going to school, though I don’t know why. I never learn anything.* He flew out the door.
Mother turned to him. *What’s wrong, Sannaro?*
Sannaro shrugged. *Jake said Devakio looked like a walking dead. I just wanted to see if it was true.*
*Can’t you just ignore Jake? All you talk about is what Jake did. Devakio wants to quit school.* Tears rolled down her cheeks. *We won’t get any money for food next week. The house is falling down!*
Sannaro bowed his head. He stood up from the table and followed Devakio out the door.
Varanani rushed to catch up with him. *You're acting oddly, Sanna, and it’s not just about Dev.*
*I hate it here! I hate my yellow skin! I hate my pointed ears!* Sannaro sprinted down the dirt road. He was glad when he sensed she reluctantly accepted his outburst as an explanation of his behavior. He didn’t want Aldinon and Arlington to come after the rest of his family because he blabbed about what he saw.
Later that day, Sannaro was sitting in a corner on the playground again thinking quietly about what Aldinon had said last night.
Jake Arlington pulled Sannaro off the ground by his shirt and slammed him against the wall of the school.
"You think you're so clever getting that ball back, midget! My dad said he saw you take it! He's gonna have you arrested for breaking into our house last night!"
"He wouldn't dare! I know something that'll get him in lots of trouble!"
The bully's knuckles jabbed uncomfortably into his chest through the thin fabric of his shirt.
Sannaro began to draw in mental energy like he did the night before, but Jake propelled him sideways into the other wall much harder. His vision burst into a kaleidoscope of colors and his stomach lurched violently.
"I'll smear you on the wall for that!" Jake growled, seemingly, from afar.
Sannaro slid down the wall. His mouth began to water and his stomach heaved. His vision was blurred like he was seeing the teacher approach through a tunnel. He turned away from her just in time to save her clothes from the remains of his breakfast.
"What happened, Sannaro?"
"My ear, Jake Arlington threw me into the wall. I hurt my ear!" Sannaro swallowed the bitter aftertaste of bile. He swept his hair to the side, exposing his ear.
"I see a bruise forming on your second point. We need to get you to the nurse's office and call your mother."
"No, don't! I can stand, see?" He forced himself to stand up, but he wobbled against the wall.
Mrs. M’Buda frowned. "Sannaro, you shouldn’t play down an ear injury. I'll have Varanani released so she can bring your mother to school to take you home and nurse the ear, okay?"
"Okay." Sannaro took the teacher's hand.
She guided him to the school nurse's office.
Just as Sannaro lay down on the small cot, his mother rushed into the room. "How is Sannaro, Mrs. M'Buda?"
"He vomited once out on the playground, but he hasn't since. How did you know Sannaro was hurt? I didn’t send Varanani home to tell you yet!"
"I felt his pain and nausea and came right away."
"I knew your telepathy was strong, but I didn’t know it was so sensitive that you felt Sannaro’s pain!"
"Saili ears are very sensitive because they send and receive telepathy as well as hearing." Mother sat on the corner of the cot and swept his hair aside to look at the ear. "Sanna, can you see all right?"
"I have a headache."
"What's this red blot on your ear, Sannaro?" Mother said.
"Oh, it's just a spider bite. I was playing in the crawl space below the porch and a spider bit me."
"How many times do I have to tell you to stay out from under the house?"
"I think one tablet of Catowsh, some ice on his ear and a nap will take care of it." She stood up again and turned to Mrs. M’Buda.
Mrs. M’Buda frowned. "We’re contacting Mr. and Mrs. Arlington on the matter, Auruma Damira. It seems Jake Arlington pushed Sannaro into the wall on the playground."
"Thank you. I need to get him home now."
The lunch bell rang.
Sannaro sensed his mother telepathically calling Varanani and Devakio to come to her in the nurse's office so they could walk home for lunch together. Then his mother helped Sannaro stand up from the cot.
Sannaro took her hand and walked with her toward the door.
"See you tomorrow, Sanna," Mrs. M'Buda said.
"See you, Mrs. M'Buda." Sannaro waved his hand as they left.
Varanani and Devakio joined them for the short walk down the gravel road to their wood slat home.
The processing plant whirred loudly and the stench of processing seranimite hung in the air.
He hated that smell, it gave him a headache if he smelled it too long. He felt the ground below him vibrate.
The miners must be using a big digging machine in one of the mines.
He was glad when they turned the corner to move away from the processing plant.
As they walked inside their home, Varanani called, *I'll get some ice.*
*Devakio, get Sannaro one tablet of Catowsh, please.* Mother settled Sannaro in an armchair.
Sannaro swallowed the pain reliever with a few sips of water. He took the ice, wrapped in a towel and pressed it against the side of his head.
Mother crouched in front of Sannaro and frowned. *Now, Sannaro, what happened?*
*Jake Arlington pushed me into a wall 'cause he's jealous of my ball!*
*Why did you have your ball at school, Sannaro?*
*I couldn’t wait to play with it, Mom, it’s so fun! But Jake wanted it and tried to take it.*
Devakio winced. *That Jake is a pain!*
Varanani put her hand on her hips. *Maybe we should talk to him.*
They gasped and their eyes widened.
*If you talk to him, he'll want to hurt me more!*
*Come on, Sanna,* Devakio said.
*Please?* He fought to control the panic he felt at the thought that maybe Jake's father would want to hurt them too if they confronted Jake.
His mother eyed him suspiciously. *Why are you scared that Jake’s father will hurt Varanani and Devakio?*
Sannaro groaned to himself. He didn’t want her to sense that! *He got mad at me for sneaking into their house.*
Mother glared. *Sannaro, you cannot tell me half-truths, now tell me the whole truth or I’ll have to punish you.*
Sannaro shuddered- he didn't want his mother to send the stinging energy of a mind-slap into his mind. He climbed up to his knees and looked deep into his mother’s ice blue eyes. *I did sneak to their house to take my ball back! Mr. Aldinon and Mr. Arlington saw me walking home. Mr. Aldinon said Dad’s sick. Is Dad sick?*
Mother’s eyes filled with tears. *Why did Mr. Aldinon say that?*
Sannaro felt his own eyes tear. *I saw them, Mr. Aldinon and Mr. Arlington were taking stuff from the warehouse last night. They chased me under Mr. Werner’s porch! They told me that if I told somebody, they would hurt me! Now they’re going to come after me!* Sannaro’s chest ached as a deep sob tore through his lips. He dropped down into the chair again and bowed his head to allow his black hair to cover his face.
Mother hugged Sannaro. *Sh, no one will come after you, Sanna.*
Varanani pressed her hands to her cheeks. *What do we do? Isn’t that illegal?*
Sannaro sensed hot anger overwhelm his mother. She surged up. *It is illegal and I want some answers! We’re going to see Mr. Aldinon.*
Belso sat in his command chair and watched the main monitor on the bridge of the Astrisi star ship Kumani. He was relieved to see that little mud-ball of a planet so his ship could refuel. He shouldn't have let the tanks get so low this time, but that pressing cargo he'd taken on at Arcturus for Vega had taken precedence over diverting for fuel. He'd decided to wait until after they dropped the cargo off.
"What time is it on Regalis?"
"Twelve hundred," Retal called over his shoulder.
"Tell the Ground team to stand by, Nasu," he called his second-in-command. "Take over."
"Yes." The thin man with brown hair nodded.
"Setting orbit," the Zhinar said.
"Right." Belso climbed the stairs out of the control well to go to the flight deck.
As he walked down the hall, he felt a terrible sense of dread. He hated when he felt this way because something bad always seemed to happen. His fuel was too low for him to have a feeling like this.
He entered the elevator and called to the vocal sensor to take him to the Upper Flight Bay.
Shortly after the elevator began to move, it stopped at another floor and a petite young woman with orange-red curls entered. She had a modest cluster of freckles on the bridge of her nose and cheeks. She also called for the Upper Flight Bay and the elevator resumed its course.
He liked the little potter and knew that the last year had been hard on her since she'd lost her mate. It was a shame she was barely into her twenties and already a widow, but such was the way the Astrisi lived. Each day was a struggle for survival.
She frowned up at him. "You look worried, Belso."
"There's a bad feeling I have about this landing, Adara. Are you sure you want to be in the grounding team this time?"
She shook her head. "I've already informed the pottery store at Saratoga to order these bags of clay. Have you seen the rich burnt umber that appears swirled in the throwing once it’s fired? It is so beautiful. I'm almost out of the slip. I’d regret running out of it."
"All right. Just get it quickly. I can't deny, this trip worries me."
The elevator doors parted to a view of a vast open deck with rows of red and white sleek small fighter ships.
They stepped out of the elevator, turned left and walked past the refueling pumps that separated the fighter ship storage with the storage for the larger red and white shuttles.
One shuttle nearest to the lift that raised and lowered ships to the launch deck above was milling with engineers who prepared it to fly.
Belso and Adara approached the ramp to that shuttle and entered it.
Soon he and the grounding team were on their way to Regalis.
As they flew from the upper launch deck, Belso glimpsed the lower launch deck attached to the belly of the silver arrowhead-shaped ship with wings that swept out from it's nose, then came to a point just fore of the massive main engines. His home had always looked beautiful to him even though it was dented and windowless because of the artificial gravity drums that ran continuously right under her hull.
From the corner of his eye he saw a rocket booster falter and go dark. The Kumani swayed toward the direction from where the rocket failed.
"I must get fuel or we'll die."
Ku'an, the fuel specialist shrugged his shoulders. "We always get it."
Belso respected Ku'an for his meticulous handling of the seranium fuel, but, personally, he found Ku'an to be ponderous about wanting everything in his life to be predictable.
Filp turned his head from the pilots' console and frowned. "You don't trust we'll get it?"
"I'm not sure. There's talk that fuel has been missing here, but the sensors show Pirates aren't near."
Filp shook his head. "I don't like that."
"I don't either."
"Let's hope we get the fuel."
He set the shuttle down on the ground expertly.
Belso nodded to her as the ramp lowered to the ground. "This is your stop, Adara. Don't forget, I want you to get your cargo quickly and join us at the Bristol Mining Camp."
Filp smirked. "I wouldn't rush, Adara. It’ll take an hour for us to load up. You know how slow Ku'an is."
"I’m not slow!" Ku'an clipped. "Seranium is very volatile and must be handled with care. If I mishandle even one canister, the whole mountain may explode. You should be relieved that I'm on this grounding team."
"As relieved as I’d feel if a customs official called an inspection," Filp grumbled.
Adara grinned as she passed him and stepped down the ramp.
Belso snorted and rolled his eyes.
Filp closed the shuttle and raised it off the ground again. He flew the shuttle up into the mountains and landed in the small mining camp with the little village just below in a valley.
"Fine landing, Filp." Belso slapped Filp's shoulder as he passed behind him to open the hatch.
"I'll be back soon." Belso left the group, went over to the office and entered.
At the desk was a husky short man with gold skin and lavender hair that grew down to his mid-back. Slicing through his hair were ears that pointed twice upward with another point at the lobe. What bothered Belso about the metallic Saili man was that there were orange and green smudges under his high slanted silver-blue eyes that gave the impression he was less than well.
"I would like to speak with Aldinon," Belso asked in the Human Basic language.
"Aldinon's out inspecting some thefts you Independents did." The man snapped his head toward the door.
Belso raised his eyebrows. "Thefts we did? Aurum, such accusations should not be given lightly. Pirates do exist, but I am not a pirate, I am Astrisi. Although you worlders seem to carelessly class us both as independents."
The Saili man snorted. "What's the difference?"
"Astrisi do not attack until first threatened." Belso stepped back. It wasn't that he feared the Saili, but this man was acting too aggressive for the passive mannered race. "We run a business of buying and selling."
At that moment, Aldinon entered.
"Your assistant has a sharp tongue." Belso put his hands on his hips. He controlled the urge to lay his hand on the laser strapped to his side. Instead, he took comfort in its proximity to his hand.
Aldinon gave the Saili man a sharp warning look. "Gio's just upset by a little theft we had last night."
"We did not do it. I will even volunteer our course log." Belso took a data pad out of a pouch on his pistol belt and held it toward the Human.
The foreman pushed the device away. "No need."
Belso slapped the data pad against his other palm. "Then I will take my seranium and go. You have already been paid."
"That's what they took."
"How long until more is processed?"
Aldinon slapped his clipboard down onto the desk. "About two to three weeks."
"My ship won't stay in orbit that long. Our retro jets are already giving out!"
"I don't know what to say, Commander, other than, that's the best offer we can give you."
Belso felt his face heat up as he thought of his ship erupting into flames and plunging through the atmosphere of this ugly little planet. "You did not understand me."
"Oh, I understood you, but I'm in a bad way here."
Belso relaxed his right arm. "You have more seranium in storage."
"Okay, I’ll give you what I have, but it’s not going to be your whole order!"
"I will be refunded for what fuel I do not get."
"Of course I will refund what you don’t get."
The Saili man named Gio jumped out of his chair, pointing his finger at Belso, as a yellow aura enveloped him. "No! You've got your fuel! You took it last night. You just didn't put it in to make us think you're low and give you more!"
"No, Gio, don't!" Aldinon cried.
Belso recognized the buildup of psionic energy. A Saili could throw that energy and injure a person’s mind. He whipped out his pistol and shot the Saili.
The stunning bolt should’ve dispersed the psionic energy, but instead it flashed and a crackling sound came from the Saili man. His gold body crashed to the floor hard as a statue.
Belso crumpled his brow as he held up his laser to check its setting. He thought he'd set it to stun! It was on stun! How could it have killed the Saili?
Aldinon’s eyes widened and his face turned red. "He's d... you killed him!"
Belso felt cold anger rise in him. "My people will not die, as much as you wish us to. Give us seranium or we will take it."
Aldinon went over to the computer on his desk. "Now wait a minute, Commander, you just killed one of my men! I’ll have to call the authorities."
Belso hated human police, they had justice only for their own. He now knew he wasn't getting his fuel peacefully so he increased the power to his gun and shot the computer.
Aldinon leapt out the door as the sparks from the computer set the curtains in the window behind the desk on fire. The foreman yelped and ran down the hill.
Belso rushed through the increasing flames that now consumed the door to the office.
Filp was leveling his own laser at the fleeing foreman.
"Filp, never mind shooting that dirty worlder. Call for air cover! Ku'an, get that fuel into the shuttle and be as quick as safety will allow!"
"Yes!" Ku'an pushed the warehouse doors open and leapt onto the transport crane.
"Scramble Vizha'i," Filp yelled through the headset in front of his lips. "These filthy worlders refused us the seranium. Cover the seranium transport." Filp reported to Belso, "Scrambling Vizha'i."
"Tell them to be careful. Remember what Ku'an said about seranium volatility."
Filp nodded, then spoke again into his communicator.
Sannaro was pulled by his mother’s hand as she stomped through the hard dirt street with Varanani and Devakio rushing behind. He was so intent on keeping up with his mother, he almost fell into the dark hole that tore through his mind. He telepathically watched in horror as his father's mental essence was swallowed by that black maw, then was gone.
His mother dropped his hand and began to run. "No, Giovano!"
Sannaro joined his voice to hers. "Daddy, Daddy, don't go away!"
Sannaro followed, running as fast as his little legs could go as his mother ran through the streets toward the mining camp.
Varanani grabbed Sannaro by his shoulders, but Devakio ran after their mother.
He wiggled out of his elder sister's grasp and chased after Devakio.
"Giovano, don't leave me!" his mother shrieked, but Sannaro knew she knew he was gone.
She finally reached the edge of town as the alien shuttle was opening its cargo hold. It was white and red, shaped like a bullet with fin-shaped engines that ran down the sides. Painted on the top was a dazzling red firebird. On its breast was a blue four-pointed star with a yellow star in inside it. Inside that star was four green diamonds capped with red chevrons.
The air held the acrid smell of fire. Red and orange flames poured from the windows of the mining office and a black column of thick smoke billowed into the air.
Aldinon ran down the hill and met up with Sannaro's mother. "Damira! No, lady, you must leave! Go to your children. Giovano’s dead and the Independents are angry."
Fighter ships screamed as they sliced through the puffy, white clouds. They hovered like birds of prey, while a fleet of shuttles landed beside the other shuttle at the storage area.
Gritty wind stung Sannaro's face from the landing thrusters.
The wind gust nearly knocked Devakio to the ground as he raced to catch up with his mother.
Rough-looking men and women jumped out and manned the crane, stacking the seranium cases into the shuttle.
Varanani yelped from behind Sannaro.
He heard the gravel scritch in a quick rhythm. He saw a glint of yellow and black of his sister in his peripheral vision.
His mother ran back toward them. "My habi!"
Aldinon looked into the sky. "A fighter's coming! Go, woman!" The foreman ran toward his mother to push her along. Just as he got to her the fighter fired.
Time slowed eerily as Sannaro sprinted behind Devakio toward their mother.
She became bathed in the lance of energy that went through her chest, jumped across to Devakio's middle, then hit the ground just before Sannaro's feet.
A wall of flame erupted ahead of him.
His stomach lurched at the acrid stench of his own burned flesh as he was propelled several feet through the air. Intense pain caused his body to shake uncontrollably. He slammed into the ground. He felt the rocks of the road tear his skin off his face and chest. The fire within his lungs robbed him of his breath before everything became black.
Belso watched in horror as the energy beam went through the innocent woman and the boy. He felt tears sting his eyes when he saw the next tiny boy fly through the air and plow into the ground. He ran to Filp. "Who just fired?!"
"That idiot missed!"
"That cheating foreman!"
"Are you crazy, man? This mountain is made of seranimite! The mines could explode!"
The ground erupted farther up the slope and rained flaming rocks all over the town. Flames were now rising from the poorly built slat-wood houses.
"Hurry up before more mines explode! Filp, I want the name of that junior pilot from your white team who just fired!"
A dark man with sharp features glared furiously down at Belso before he whirled around and joined the mine fire crews who were preparing to prevent more shafts from exploding.
Belso sighed as he watched the crews load the seranium onto the shuttles.
After Adara had browsed through a variety store for a while, she walked out of it. She figured Filp had been right about Ku'an. After all, he was Adara's best friend's mate.
Ba'ia was in the next cubicle from hers in the Large Industrial Sector always complaining to her about Ku'an's finickiness. He insisted things were always done the same way.
She shook her head at the thought.
The acrid scent of something large burning assailed her nose.
She looked up toward the range of mountains just beyond Saratoga and froze.
A large cloud of dark smoke was rising from the peak she knew the Bristol mining camp was located.
She saw a man run toward a hover car and quickly caught his arm.
She allowed the panic she honestly felt to bleed through to her voice. "Sir, are you going to Bristol? My family is up there!"
Adara raced around the vehicle and climbed into the passenger seat.
The man turned over the engine and they rose toward the mountains.
As they went higher into the mountains, the man whispered, "Oh, my God!"
She did not believe in his deity, but she had to agree with his shock- the closer they came to Bristol, the higher the flames leapt into the air.
On the ruined outskirts of town, Adara thanked the shocked man. She held her arms up to shield her face from the raging flames from the burning houses. Her stomach turned as she heard screams echo from the conflagration.
Flaming people were running from town and dropping onto the rocky ground to douse the flames.
Another explosion rocked the ground as she approached the storage warehouse.
Belso felt trouble and apparently they did deny them their fuel. What a shame. How could thing have escalated this bad?
Suddenly, she was drawn from her thoughts by groaning.
It was a little boy lying several meters away from two other corpses.
She went to him and gently lifted him up.
He was burnt badly, but he was still alive.
In her mind's eye she saw a similar scene of her sitting on the deck of the ship as she cradled the cracked skull of her mate Fordo over a year ago.
The Bridge had just issued a battle alert for a pirate attack.
She and Fordo had been in the Large Industrial Sector working, he weaving cloth and she at her pottery wheel.
As they had secured their work, a massive explosion rocked the ship.
He had lost his footing and hit his head on the corner of his loom.
She remembered running over to his stall, falling to the floor and cradling his bleeding head. As she watched the light fade from his eyes, she thought about the children she’d never have with him. Her soul ached for a live child to call her own.
To her surprise, she was filled with a strong desire to take the wounded child. She held him tight to her breast and slipped up to the shuttle that was already packed. She tenderly set the boy down on the deck. "I'll be back for you." She stepped down to the ground again, then rushed around the shuttle.
"There you are, Adara, get in and get into a safety harness." Belso gave her a light shove up the ramp to the cockpit.
Not long after, Adara and her shipmates were with Belso again to fly up to the Kumani.
All the while, Adara thought of the precious cargo she had stowed away. She shivered with anticipation.
A short time later, Filp was landing the shuttle in the Upper Flight Bay on the top of the Kumani.
As soon as it was lowered into the maintenance bay, people ran to meet the shuttle.
"Unload her fast," Belso said. "As soon as you finish, those of you noncombatants, get yourselves to your quarters. And I want the name of the fighter pilot who fired on the town! I told you to warn them about the volatility of Seranium! We didn’t have to burn the whole mining camp!" He entered the elevator and was gone.
Filp glared at the closed elevator door. "That dung-steeped worlder foreman needed to be taught a lesson. I made sure he got it."
Adara slipped up into the cargo bay of the shuttle and picked up her prize.
As she tried to leave the flight deck, she heard an astonished cry from Ku'an.
"What do you have, Adara?"
She forced herself to keep a casual tone. "My clay, of course."
"Trying to get out of work?" He grabbed her arm and swung her around. "Ha'iko! It's a child, a worlder boy!"
She held the boy tighter and tried to pull away. "He's hurt. I have to take him to Keba!"
"You could have left him for the worlder medics or the carrion- and the last is preferred!"
Adara shook her head and tried to pull away. "No, Ku'an!"
Filp pushed through to see the world child and grabbed her arm painfully. "How did you get him on my shuttle? How dare you compromise my shuttle's security?"
An engineer called Metei pulled Filp away from Adara, then said into the microphone at his lips, "Call Belso. Adara brought a stowaway."
Belso was back in minutes, fuming. He glared at Adara. "Of all the vacuum-brained ideas, a worlder? I know you're lonely because Fordo died, but not stupid!"
"Do we jettison him?" Ku'an said.
Belso's face was pale as he looked at the pitiful black heap clutched in Adara's arms. "No, we've done enough killing today. Look, he’s just a little kid."
"Let's sneak him back on-world," Filp growled.
Belso shook his head. "We're already pulled out and the Space Police are already pulling in. Adara, take him to Keba. He's your responsibility."
"Thank you, Belso."
"Let it not be a mistake, Adara." He whirled to reenter the elevator.
Adara followed with her new ward. She walked with Belso until they arrived at the medical center. He told Keba to treat the boy, then he left.
Keba brought a gurney up to Adara.
"Set the child on the gurney. You'll just have to return home for now. Severe burns have to be treated in an enclosed environment."
Adara nodded her head and left.
"Tila, prepare a burn scrub."
Keba led the gurney into a small room, then pushed it into another room.
He stepped into the other room to wash up and clothe himself in a full white body suit with a full head mask. He walked back into the deeper room. He looked down at the blackened body and frowned. He picked up a pair of scissors and rolled the child over. Only a strip of clothes were left intact on the back so he cut that off. He rolled the child over and cut of the crotch of the pants and pulled them from the child's buttocks. Thankfully, it looked like the boy had been bent forward and the fire missed his genitalia. It was blackened, but only with soot.
Tila walked in with the supplies and looked over Keba's shoulder.
She cringed. "Oh, poor boy."
"Let's get him washed up."
They vigorously washed the blackened skin.
The boy moaned in pain.
"There's dirt and rocks imbedded in the skin on the torso and neck." Keba picked up a pair of tweezers and pulled at a sizable rock, but it held fast.
"What's this?" Keba said.
He picked up the sponge and washed the boy's legs. The sponge came up with a glossy yellow film on it.
"Keba, I don't think this boy's human!" Tila said.
"Scalpel," Keba said.
Tila went over to a box and pulled out the surgical knife and handed it to him.
He lowered it to the edge of the burn on the boy's torso and sliced vigorously. He was met with a slick tough surface. He stepped back and shook his head. "Let's wash the second degree areas and see what we get."
They washed the rest of the boy's body and Keba's fears were realized. The lesser burns showed a metallic yellow skin and odd ears pointed twice upwards and again at the lobe.
Keba stepped back and took his mask off. "He's Saili. I don't know how to treat a Saili. He has a hard shell covering the third degree burns. I can't take it off and I can't clean it."
"But he's in agony, Keba! What do we do? Can't we just put him in a healing tent and turn it on?"
"No, not without cleaning the burns first. All that rock and dirt will just fuse with his body. That would be ghastly. There's nothing I can do." Keba shook his head, then turned around and left the room.
Tila rushed behind him. "You're just going to leave him laying there?"
"Cover him in gauze bandages and keep him as comfortable as possible."
Tila looked back with tears in her eyes.
Keba shook his head, took the burn suit off and walked out of the room.
Arlington now stood in the ashes of his home near the dinner table where the rigid black corpses of his wife Andrea and his son Jacob had been eating their lunch. The fire spread quickly through the house.
He felt a tightening in his chest and pinched his nose to keep the tears back. This was no time for tears. He sneered. "You shouldn't have died, Jacob. I swear, I'll make you pay for destroying everything, Astrisi!"
He was supposed to be wealthy, not devastated! If that Saili had done his part right, everything wouldn't be in ruin now.
Pain blossomed in his head. He massaged his temples to try to ease the headache, but it did no good. Since the little wimpy Saili boy zapped him to get away, he’d had headaches when got upset.
He felt someone was watching him. He looked up and saw the sorrowful yellow-brown eyes of the Saili girl. She gripped a little red ball in her hands.
He barely recalled that Jacob had bragged the day before that he stole that very same toy from the wimpy little Saili. How did she get it back?
"Stop staring at me, girl!" He felt the headache worsen and he turned away from her creepy eyes.
He kicked the ashes of his home, then stomped up the hill toward the mines.
He climbed up a steep trail through the mountains until the trail sloped down again. A small valley appeared once the rock parted.
He moved along the ledge above the valley and slipped into a dark cave. He went to a small crevice and fired up the electrical generator.
A string of light bulbs blinked to life.
He moved farther into the cave until he came to wood pallets with seranium canisters set on them. He moved around them to go to a computer on an old rickety table against the wall. He turned the computer on and immediately opened a communications channel to his most frequented client. "Fenyang, I have the fuel you requested."
"Are you an idiot? I've heard about the destruction of your mining camp. You're crawling with cops!" said the severe featured man with his brown hair pulled back into a ponytail.
"I need the money, Fenyang!"
"You need the money? You'll get nothing from me until the cops leave."
Arlington snarled. "Okay, I'll call you again when things get quieter." He cut the line.
Days later, Arlington glared at the police that swamped the town.
Worse yet, the useless idiots had called the Saili in and they were crawling through the wreckage. He saw two of them over at the remains of Bob Werner's porch and had stopped right where the wimpy little Saili had hid from them.
He’d thought everything over that night with Aldinon.
The plan had been beautifully simple.
Aldinon was to act the innocent foreman, frustrated about the thefts and he was to convince the crazy Saili miner to accuse the Astrisi of stealing the fuel.
Aldinon would call in the cops, the cops would arrest the Astrisi, and then Arlington would’ve been clear to open the bidding to anyone who wanted the load of seranium.
Instead, that Saili overreacted and the Astrisi shot him, then raided their fuel stores.
A man walked up to him. "Are you Roger Arlington?"
"Yes, what do you want?"
"You're wanted for questioning at the school."
"This is ridiculous." He strode to the school that was slightly blackened, but mostly intact.
When he entered the principle's office, Aldinon met him with his arms wrapped with gauze from elbow to fingertips. He looked tired and sorry for himself. How disgusting.
The Captain of the Interstellar Police sat in the principle's chair with two yellow Saili standing on either side of him, one was middle-aged and the other was young. "My name is Captain Duward. I have questions for the two of you."
"What do you want to know?" Arlington asked in a carefully controlled neutral voice.
"Do you know about thefts of fuel from the processing plant?"
"I heard about them. I noticed our inventory looked a bit short. I contacted Aldinon when I saw the discrepancy."
"I immediately checked the loading zone near the plant and saw some shuttle marks on the ground," Aldinon said.
"Well, since that’s a routine landing area, the prints were confused by the landing of the Astrisi shuttles."
Arlington held up his two hands. "The Astrisi stole the fuel. Open and shut case, right gentlemen?"
The elder Saili frowned. "I'm afraid not, Mr. Arlington. My tracker has sensed quite a lot of anxiety here, well before the Astrisi appeared."
Arlington rolled his eyes. "Excuse me for not believing your mystical all-knowing power! It doesn't mean crap to human courts."
Duward cocked his head. "You don't like Saili, do you, Mr. Arlington?"
Arlington shrugged. "I merely said that Humans aren't telepathic so their psychic ‘observations’ weren't valid to Humans." He needed to control his temper better or he’d give the cops a clue they could sniff out.
"Do you know about the Saili boy that is missing?" the old Saili asked.
"The kid's a scamp. He goes wherever he wants to go. Who knows where he went?"
"I saw him burned," Aldinon said in a shaky voice. "The same laser fire that burned my arms went through the Saili woman Damira, the boy Devakio and hit the ground before little Sannaro. He flew through the air about a hundred meters before he plowed into the ground!"
"Do you know what happened next?" Duward asked.
Aldinon bowed his head. "No, I was so afraid that more mines would blow, I went back up to the mining camp to direct fire crews to contain the explosions in the mines. If the explosions in those mines weren't contained, it could’ve blown the whole mountain apart! Maybe you could ask Varanani. She may have seen more since she was unhurt."
"You mean, physically unhurt," the Saili elder said. "We have spoken to her. She is in terrible shock. She told me she doesn't remember what happened after her family was killed."
"One of my officers found her wandering the ashes of the town in a daze and brought her to the hospital," Duward explained.
Arlington raised his eyebrows. "So, what's the purpose of this interrogation?" It seemed they were grasping straws and had no proof against him or Aldinon.
Duward sighed. "You're free to go."
"Thank you, Captain." Arlington stood up and left the office.
Aldinon was right behind him. Once they were out of the school, Aldinon rushed in front of Arlington. "Is the fuel still safe in the cave?"
"I checked on it a few days ago. The canisters are at safe temperatures. I called Fenyang to buy the fuel, but he won't get near with the cops crawling around."
"You shouldn't have called Fenyang this soon!"
"Don't flatter the cops. They're a bunch of idiots who have no clue about the thefts."
"Enough, here comes Yothers."
"What I hate more than arrogant Saili is a brown nose corporate rat."
Aldinon shushed him just before Yothers stopped in front of them.
"Do you see the mess this place is in?"
Arlington dug through the ash on the ground with the toe of his boot. "Can't miss it."
"Do you have any idea how angry your superiors are at the Pallas Mining Company?"
Arlington clenched his teeth. "Do you have any idea how much I care about those suits in their environmentally controlled glass offices?"
"Easy, Arlington," Aldinon said. "Mr. Yothers, I was prepared to give the Astrisi the seranium I had left. I knew that Giovano Masanateyak was acting strange. He wasn't working in the mines because he was having trouble dealing with it. I took pity on the man and let him work in the office. I was about to send for a Saili doctor for him. I had no idea he’d do something as crazy as to try to hurt our client."
"How long have these thefts been going on?"
"I think there were two more before this theft," Aldinon said slowly as he thought.
Yothers' face turned beet red. "The profitability of this mining camp was dangerously low before the thefts! We tried to improve our outcome by offering incentives to the miners for finding seranimite pockets. Now look, we are completely in the red with so many mines collapsed and equipment damaged! Both of you have failed miserably in your roles as supervisors! You're both fired. Cash in your loans and get out of this camp!"
Arlington snarled. "If you’d have treated us better than digging dogs, this camp would’ve been managed better. You just better watch your back, Yothers."
"Is that a threat?" Yothers drawled.
"You'll be sorry some day." Arlington stomped off.
"And you, Mr. Aldinon?"
"I did my best for this company for it to end this way." Aldinon walked slowly away.
Once Arlington was out of Yothers' sight, he intercepted Aldinon. "I think it’s a good idea to disappear."
"If Yothers suspects we had something to do with all this, the cops won't be far behind. Let's disappear before they figure something to take us for."
Aldinon looked back at the ruined camp and his eyes glistened. Aldinon always did have a disgusting soft spot for this place, but it meant nothing to Arlington now. There were things to be done. A minute later, Aldinon turned away and they hiked into the mountains.
During the weeks after they left, Arlington couldn't stop thinking about his son, as his body lay blackened in the ruins of their home. He fueled the fire of his rage toward the mining company and that Astrisi who caused the destruction of his job, his family and his life. Someday he was going to make them all pay for his loss.
When Fenyang finally came to take the fuel, Arlington convinced Fenyang to allow Aldinon and him to join his band of pirates. They’d help him take down the Astrisi commander of the Kumani someday. He’d have his revenge.