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Vai

"All crew to their stations."

I woke with a start. I threw off the covers and slid my feet to the smooth floor. Warpaint was instantly by my side.

The announcement continued. "All civilians stay in your quarters. Be prepared to move to the shuttles if commanded."

I stepped out into the living quarters just as my father stepped out of his bedroom fully clothed in his uniform. Didn't he ever sleep? Did he sleep in his uniform?

He closed the distance between us quickly and placed an old, wrinkled hand on my shoulder. "I need to go to the bridge. Wake your friend and go to the shuttle bay."

"The announcement said to stay put," I said.

My father frowned at me. His dark brown eyes glowered. "Just obey without arguing back for once," he said.

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes.

"Call your friend and go to the shuttle bay. The Armstar and the Fallfrost were just attacked."

"What?" Minmin and Shel. "Who would attack a Gathering vessel?"

"I don't know," my father said, but his eyes quickly shifted away. I almost said the Corruption giving away what I knew. I caught myself as my mouth opened.

"There should hopefully be shuttles - survivors from the Armstar and the Fallfrost - that might come to our shuttle bay. I'm sending you there because I know you have friends on the Armstar."

I nodded. My heart began to beat faster as it began to sink in that Minmin and Shel were in real danger. My hands clenched into fists by my side.

"I don't think this attack is a danger to the rest of the ships since they waited to attack until the rest of the ships jumped away, but just in case it is a bigger threat than I'm thinking - you will already be in the shuttle bay if there is a call to evacuate. And," he turned to Warpaint, "your Aether Shield should be enough to protect the shuttle if needs be."

"Yes, sir," Warpaint said.

My father turned to me and waited.

"Yes, sir," I said.

He nodded and went to the door. "Call your friend and go to the shuttle bay now," my father said and then he was gone.

I called Owen. He answered right away. He was still in his pajamas too in his bedroom, but no longer in bed. I slipped on my shoes.

"What's going on, Vai?"

"The Armstar and Fallfrost were attacked."

"But Minmin and Shel."

"That's why we're going to the shuttle bay in case survivors - Minmin and Shel specifically - come to the Shadow."

"We were just ordered to stay in our quarters." Owen was already putting on his shoes though.

"My father ordered both of us to the shuttle bay so in my book, that supersedes any other orders." I stepped out into the corridor. Warpaint led the way to the elevators.

"Owen," Owen's father said. He was far enough away from Owen that he wasn't projected through my volo. I only heard his voice. "Didn't you hear the orders? We must stay in our quarters."

"Where's mom?" Owen asked.

"She just left to go to her station."

I paused. Warpaint and I were close enough we could see the elevators, but far enough away to not be noticed by others if they weren't looking back. Owen's mother arrived at the elevators and got on with a host of other people.

"Vai just called me," Owen said. He didn't say we were still connected. Maybe he had cut my projection so his father couldn't see it. "Lieutenant Commander Ma'amaloa told him to bring me to the shuttle bay in case our friends from the Armstar arrive."

"Why would they arrive?" Owen's father stepped closer to Owen and his image was now projected as well.

"Vai said the Armstar and Fallfrost were attacked."

"What? Who would be stupid enough to attack a Gathering vessel?"

Owen didn't reply. His hands tightened by his side.

"Okay," Owen's dad said. "Get going then. Keep me updated though."

"Will do."

The crowd at the elevators dispersed to wherever they were going so by the time Owen got there it was only me, him and Warpaint. We went down to the shuttle bay. Two security officers were posted at the doors.

"Where are you going?" the Bundu-Jo asked. "The announcement said to stay in your quarters."

"My father, Lieutenant Commander Ma'amaloa, told us to come here to be ready for escape if the Shadow was attacked." I left out my friends because I didn't feel like giving a long explanation. And I wasn't lying. My dad had said those words. Actually, my friends might have just been an excuse to get me down here. His real objective was probably to have me ready for escape.

The Bundu-Jo looked at the human security officer. The human sighed in an annoyed way with his lips pinched tight, but he waved us through.

We stepped inside. The ship jumped through F.T.L. and stopped. A group of official looking people in Gathering uniforms entered. A human woman was in charge of them. At least I assumed she was since she gave them orders and they separated into different groups around the shuttle bay.

She arched a red eyebrow when she saw us. She stood nearby but didn't say anything. We were close enough we heard her conversation when a call came through.

"The Armstar, Fallfrost and attacking vessels have jumped away," a male voice said. I didn't recognize it. "It seems the tracking systems on the Armstar and Fallfrost have been disabled or sabotaged. We can't track them. We can't open communications with them. We will gather up the escaping shuttles between the remaining G.E.F. and find new quarters for them. Assume all of them don't have any of their things. Not only will you and your staff need to provide them with new quarters, but with new necessities and clothing as well."

"Understood," she said.

"Also, take as many witness accounts as you can. Like I said, we haven't been able to open communications after the initial distress call."

The woman ended the call and relayed the information to the others.

The first shuttle entered the bay. It landed nearby. I rushed to it hoping it was Shel and Minmin.

Hani and Nathan stepped out of the shuttle. Adults and children followed them, but Hani and Nathan were the only ones I recognized from school. Hani had tears streaking down her cheeks. She rushed me and threw her arms around me. I took a step back in surprise. We weren't close.

Her body heaved as she cried and cried. Her face was buried in my chest. I looked to Owen for help, but he just shrugged his shoulders.

"It's so good to see familiar faces," Nathan said. He wasn't crying, but his hands wrung together in front of him. I hadn't ever seen him do that. Of course, I had never seen Nathan in person before, only in school in the ansible. We weren't close to him either. If the Shadow had been attacked and I was forced to escape on a shuttle and I ended up on Fallfrost, I'd be happy to see familiar faces too, even if we weren't close.

"I'm glad you're all right, friends," Owen said easily. He placed a hand on Nathan's back.

"It's all right, Hani." I patted her head.

"It's not all right," she wailed. "I know Rebecca and Mingao didn't get out."

I stiffened. The Corruption had them now.

"What about Robert?" Owen asked.

"I saw him get on a shuttle," Nathan said. "I think he is all right."

"Lineup," the woman said to those that just got of the shuttle. "Don't worry. I'll get you suitable quarters and anything else you might need - clothes, toys for the children." She continued on, but I was distracted as I noticed that there were several smaller children including a younger girl who looked just like Hani. She had slunk up behind Hani and held onto Hani's pant leg.

"I'm sorry," a woman said to me as she pulled on Hani's arm. She looked identical to Hani and the younger girl. "Come on, Hani," she said and pulled a little tighter.

"Don't worry, Hani," I said. More shuttles were coming in now. Nathan left and stood by a man already in line. "You can call on us anytime." She nodded and let the woman pull her away. The little girl still held onto Hani's pant leg.

"Owen!" It was Minmin's voice. They stood in front of a shuttle not far away - Minmin, Shel and El.

"Thank the stars," Owen sighed out. He sprinted over to Minmin and hugged her. The two were exactly at the heights to make hugging easy between them.

I walked over, my long legs rapidly closing the distance. I clasped Shel's wrist in the Bundu-Jo way of greeting. Minmin ran to me and hugged me around the waist. She wasn't crying like Hani had, but her tiny, furry body shook terribly. I let go of Shel's wrist and returned Minmin's hug. I couldn't tell her it would be okay or that it would get better. She knew about the Corruption just as I did. And her mom was first officer. She wasn't going to be on a shuttle. Her father was a communications officer. He probably also wouldn't be on a shuttle. Did she just lose both her parents? I squeezed her a little tighter.

Owen clasped Shel's wrist as I had just done. El placed a hand on each of their shoulders - one hand high the other low.

"We need to meet Esther," she said quietly. "We need to see if she can open the light . . ."

"Welcome to the Shadow. I am Private Lessa." A female Starwatcher with gray fur came up to our little group. She had reshaped her okulus into a tablet. "I'm sorry it's not under better circumstances. May I please get your names to enter into the records?"

"El and Shel of the Edlrian clan," El said, "and Minmin daughter of Prissaha daughter of Liminma."

Minmin released me from her trembling hug and took a step towards Shel and El.

"Don't worry," the Starwatcher said to her. "We'll get you situated in your new quarters soon. It shouldn't be long before you are reunited with your family."

"Are you telling everyone this lie?" Minmin asked. Her trembling finally stopped.

Private Lessa scrunched up her triangle shaped pink nose in confusion. "It's not a lie, my fellow citizen."

El placed a hand on Minmin's shoulder just as Minmin opened her mouth to dispute Private Lessa's words. Minmin closed her pink mouth and pinched it tightly together.

"I would like Minmin to be placed in my quarters," El said. "She is still a minor and it wouldn't be good for her to be on her own."

I was pretty sure El thought Minmin could handle herself on her own - I certainly did - but it would be easier to talk about the Corruption and the Light if they were together. And maybe with how badly Minmin had been trembling only moments before, it would be good for her to have a motherly figure nearby.

Private Lessa's vibrant green eyes scanned over Shel. "There are only two rooms in the larger quarters."

"It's fine," El said with a commanding tone.

"I'll arrange it," Private Lessa said. "Now, I assume you will need supplies, clothes and whatnot. If you give me a list, I will try to have all the items to you in 24 hours."

El nodded.

"Great." Private Lessa looked at her okulus. "It looks like the quarters are ready. If you'll follow me, I will take you to them. You will be on deck 7."

"I thought that was a restricted level," Owen said. The Starwatcher looked at both Owen and me for the first time. It was easy to miss Owen with his size. It was harder to miss me.

"And you are . . .?"

"Owen Morgan."

"Vai Ma'amaloa."

Her mannerisms had been dismissive before I said my name. She reacted to the name Ma'amaloa as most people on the Shadow did. It was clearer and clearer how well known and respected my father was.

"I see," she said. She fidgeted with her okulus for a few moments before she said, "I'm not sure of a polite way to say this, so I'm just going to say it. Why are you here and not in your quarters?"

Owen looked up at me.

"My father told me Shel and Minmin might arrive here," I said. "We are friends from school. He gave us permission to come meet them."

"Oh, of course," she said. "To answer your earlier question, levels 7 and 8 have been opened for anyone displaced from the Armstar and the Fallfrost. Now, follow me. We have lost communications, so I am supposed to get witness accounts. Please tell me what you know as we walk to your new quarters."

The five of us followed her through the bay and corridor to the elevators. El was the only one who spoke. There were a few things that stood out to me in her recounting. The first was that the Armstar and Fallfrost didn't fire back. It had to be the Corruption. Especially since they all jumped away together without putting up a fight. The other thing that stood out to me was that Shel's father withstood the pain long enough to disobey the miasmids and get his wife and son away from them. I didn't think there were too many people who could do that.

"Here we are," Private Lessa said. We stopped in front of a generic door in a generic hallway on level 7. Sometimes I missed the variety of Mars. "I gave you my contact information. Be sure to send me that list. And if you need anything else, don't hesitate to ask. I sent you the door password," she said specifically to El, "and gave you access so you can change it to whatever you'd like."

"Thank you," El said. She then immediately ignored the Starwatcher as she opened the door and indicated for all of us to file in. She didn't say goodbye to Private Lessa as the door shut in her face.

"When things calm down a little out there," El said, "I'd like Esther to come and live here too. It should be easier for her to hide out here then in either of your quarters."

"True," Owen said.

"I'll be the only boy," Shel said.

I couldn't tell from the way he said it if he was complaining or not.

"You could come stay with me, friend," Owen said.

"Or me," I offered mainly because it seemed like the polite thing to do.

"Maybe," El said. "We'll see how it goes. I'd like him to stay here first so Esther can try to open the light in us and we can all train together. Why don't you two go home and rest," she said to me and Owen. "And you two," she said to Minmin and Shel, "should try to rest too."

"I'm not sure I can," Minmin said.

"Try anyway."

I noticed that El's way of speaking usually came across as cold, but if I looked deeper into the meaning it was always from a place of caring.

"We'll go," I said, "but call us when you call Esther in. I'd like to be here when she opens the light inside you."

"Me too," Owen said.

El's blue lips turned up into a rare smile. "I will."

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About the author

Nova Girl 93

Bio: 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.

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