I woke when I heard the familiar chirp. I knew before I even opened my eyes that it was my dad and that the chirp meant danger. He stood near my bed - looking down at me. I didn't see any trace of the pink gleam in his eyes.
"Get up," he said. "Get your mother."
I touched my ear to make sure all my ear studs were still there. He noticed. It was clear then that he was aware I knew what he was and what my ear studs were.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"Please," he said, "trust me this once. I'm trying to . . ." His face scrunched up in pain. He took in a deep breath, let it out slowly and became expressionless once again. "Trust me." There was something in his voice - something from before - from years ago before he had been infected by the Corruption.
I sat up and swung my legs off the bed. My dad took a step back.
"Hurry," he said. "Get your mother. She won't believe me. There isn't any time."
I put on my shoes. "Where are we going? Should I bring anything?" Maybe he had found a way to fight off the Corruption inside him. Maybe he had figured out the impossible.
The ship shook.
I froze and looked to my dad for an answer. I had been on the Gathering vessels most of my life and that had never happened before.
He grabbed my shoulder and pushed me towards the bedroom door.
"No time. Hurry."
We stepped out into the living room quarters the same time my mom came out of her bedroom. She stopped when she saw my dad. Her jaw tightened.
"What is going on?" she asked. She quickly closed the space between us, grabbed my wrist and pulled me behind her - away from my dad.
The ship shook a second time. This time I thought I also heard a faint explosion from somewhere outside the ship.
"Is the ship under attack?" she asked. "What have you done?"
My father shook his head and reached out for her hand. She took a step back forcing me to take a step back as well.
Pain closed over his face. Pink glinted from his blue eyes. "I'm trying to save you," he said. "Please, come now while I can still withstand the pain."
Her hand slowly reached out toward him. His hand rushed to grab hers. He pulled her out of the quarters and she pulled me with them. People crowded into the corridors and shouted out to him asking what was going on, but he ignored all of them. There was a line in front of the elevators, but they parted for him. He pulled us on an empty one and took us to the shuttle bay.
No one tried to stop him. He took us to the nearest shuttle where a pilot stood. Everyone in the shuttle bay ducked as there was another explosion outside the ship. This time not only was there shaking, but some of the shelves along the wall filled with mechanical tools came loose from their bolts and toppled forward.
"Get them to the Shadow," my dad commanded the pilot. "Only the Shadow. No other ship. Do you understand?"
The human pilot nodded. "Captain, what if whatever is attacking us decides to attack the shuttles? These are only transportation vessels. There aren't any weapons."
"They won't attack the shuttles." My dad sounded confident. It made me wonder what he knew and from my mom's expression, she wondered the same.
"Will the captain and first officer report to the bridge immediately." The second officer's voice came on over the ship's intercom.
Minmin and her mother - the first officer - came sprinting towards our shuttle. Minmin's mother pushed her towards us. "Take her." To Minmin she said, "Don't worry. When we get this taken care of, we'll come back for you."
Minmin shook her head and grabbed her mom's arm. "Come with me. Get dad and come with me. Don't leave me alone."
The first officer patted Minmin's head between her ears. "Don't worry. I don't know who is foolish enough to attack a Gathering Vessel, but they won't win the day. I'll come find you when we are finished."
The ship shook again. The floor rolled beneath our feet a moment before it stilled. Other families were coming now and heading to various shuttles. Pilots and mechanics stood by ready.
Minmin looked at my father. The pink was still there behind his eyes. His hands began to shake. He turned away from all of us and balled his hands into fists by his side.
"Let's go," the first officer said to the captain. She turned away from us confident that they could beat whatever was out there. Confident that she would see her daughter again.
But my dad turned back to us - the pink always in his eyes - the pain always inside him. "I love you," he said to both my mom and me. "Whatever has happened. I love you." He briefly touched his forehead to both of ours before he pushed us both towards the shuttle door. To the pilot he said, "Go now before I can rescind the order. Now!"
The pilot ushered the three of us in. Minmin went to the nearest window and looked out at her mother's retreating back. I looked out over Minmin's head to see my dad fall to his knees in pain. The pilot closed the door. The first officer rushed back to the captain and helped him to his feet. Together they exited the shuttle bay just as our shuttle lifted up and away from them.
The first officer's goodbye to her daughter had only been a temporary one. My dad's goodbye had been permanent. He thought he would never see us again.
The shuttle passed through the Aether Field. There were only four ships in the vicinity. The G.E.V.s Armstar and Fallfrost. The other Gathering exploration vessels had already jumped ahead. The two attacking vessels had used that exact moment to attack - the moment right before the Armstar and Fallfrost made the next jump through F.T.L. I thought the attacking vessels would be alien, but they looked like Gathering merchant ships. They had been retrofitted with weapons.
"The miasmids are making their move," my mom said beside me.
"Are you sure?" Minmin asked.
My mom nodded. "Why else would Gathering merchant vessels attack Gathering exploration vessels? And look they've already stopped fighting. The Armstar and Fallfrost didn't fire back as far as I can tell."
She was correct. All four vessels had come to a stop. The escaping shuttles gathered in one place.
"We need to wait for the other vessels to jump back," the pilot called back to us. "The shuttles can't make the F.T.L. jump. They are on there way back though. They should be here any minute."
The four Gathering ships jumped away at the same time.
"What the hell?" the pilot said.
Why else would the ships jump away together without putting up a fight? My mom was right. It was the Corruption. My father had saved us - had disobeyed the Corruption because he knew ahead of time what they had planned.
"Then I'll never see my parents again," Minmin said quietly. "Or if I do, the Corruption will be inside them."
My mom put her arm behind me to pat the top of Minmin's head. I took Minmin's small hand in mine. She didn't cry, but her hand shook. She rested her head on my arm.
The rest of the G.E.F. jumped back, but it was too late. The Corruption got what they wanted. They won their first offensive strike.
- United States
I write webserials. I've already completed the Shadow series and am currently working on my Ruinsaga series. I will post 5 chapters a week of the Shadow series here. The entire work can be found at shadowserial.wordpress.com. It is free to read on that website.
I will also post 1 chapter a week of RU in? here. You can read it at ruinsaga.com to get caught up.