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Duhrnan marched past us, beyond the ring of drones, toward the window, and tapped his arm. The window darkened, and was replaced with a screen. It was displaying a video feed from a distant valicorr scout ship, orbiting… Astraloth!

I blinked, frozen to my seat. I gazed past Duhrnan’s silhouette and stared at the image plastered on the wall. My home planet was there. Somehow, it wasn’t destroyed by the Shade Beam. The four moons were in slightly different places, but Astraloth remained at their center. I could see both the red mass of the Thala nebula, and in a different section of space, the striking purple of the Toru nebula. Tears streamed down my face. It was miraculous. In that moment, I couldn’t care less how it was possible. Astraloth survived!

I shut my eyes. The oceans, mountains, and trees of my home seemed to beam their energy right into my body. I thought of the orange avians, who’s name I could never remember, and the regal athurlist, the apex predator of the jungles. I thought of my mother, Queen Suranos. She would be down on the planet, still alive. Still alive! Then I thought of the Great Temple, watching over my home city with its regal pillars and flowing rivers, and the great spheres-

The spheres of the Great Temple!

Somehow, the myths were real. They must have really had the power to protect Astraloth in its time of need. I was reeling in my seat. All my life, I took those stories for granted. But something saved Astraloth, and I could think of nothing else.

Duhrnan’s head twitched to the side. Suddenly, he groaned, clutching the side of his head, and he hunched over, moaning. His claws tightened around his skull.

The scarred one approached him, robes trailing the floor. “Emperor-”

Duhrnan whipped around, his eyes full of anger. Veins pulsed violently on his head. “To Astraloth. Maximum speed!” Spit frothed from his mouth.

The valicorr reached for their own holo-gauntlet, and after a brief moment, the window display shut off. The mothership tilted upwards toward space, and a moment later sky was replaced with a web of streaking stars. The entire ship shook like an earthquake- we were pushing speeds thought impossible via slipspace travel. I had to remind myself… the loro were more advanced than us.

The shaking kept growing, and the window seemed to burn in the image of each star, eventually turning pure white, until at last everything ceased with a bang. Astraloth was right in front of us. A thousand stars watched the mother spider descend toward its prey.

Twelve percent energy remaining,” the valicorr said.

No matter,” said Duhrnan, wiping the spit from his lips. “It’s not as showy as the Shade Beam, but we only need a fraction of our reserves to wipe the surface of Astraloth clean. It’s going to take a while, so we may as well begin!” He raised his hands to the air. “Power up the main cannons, and set a course for the surface! It doesn’t matter where we begin… we’ll glass everything. Eventually.”

I strained against my wrists and ankles. “Bastard!” I shouted. “Can’t you give it a rest?! Astraloth was peaceful to you. This war is entirely your doing! The universe is handing you a chance to make amends!” I bared my teeth. “You don’t have to do this!”

Duhrnan stared at me. “And miss the chance to see your face as all life on Astraloth is squeezed dry?” he mocked. “I already missed it once. I don’t want to make that mistake again!” He tilted his head to the side, and inhaled through the slits of his nose. “The quickest path from hope to despair… that is where true happiness resides.”

I lowered my ears, tunnelling into him with my eyes. “I almost feel sorry for you, Duhrnan. You’ve clearly never felt real happiness.”

He grinned. “How astute. But why would I need my own, when I can just take it from others?”

I grit my mandibles. “You’re hopeless.” Duhrnan shrugged.

Then I felt my spirits lift. Skyther fighters and cruisers began to emerge from the planet’s surface. Their engines glowed red, each ship sleek and rounded, with triangular points sticking out the sides. A massive fleet of white starships rose up to challenge the valicorr vessel. A heroic act of defiance against Duhrnan. Astraloth wasn’t going down without a fight.

We watched in silence for a brief moment as black fighters launched from the mothership. The ship hummed as the two fleets silently collided in a torrent of movement, lasers, and explosions. The stars were lit with a colourful show of energy blasts, like a deadly fireworks routine. I gripped the edge of my seat, as a harpoon of red lightning cut through one of the skyther cruisers from the mothership. They looked so small and insignificant from up here.

Duhrnan turned to the valicorr. “There is more resistance than I expected. Inform Ryner of the situation… tell him to bring his ship, the Silencer.” The valicorr nodded, and left the room. “It seems our friend Ryner will be joining us, Jonathan.” Duhrnan waved a hand to him. “Leave Talcorosax here with me. Now, take K, and leave us.”

I gulped, and looked up to Jonathan and K.

Jonathan nodded. “Of course,” he said. “Are you ready, K?” He began to remove his coat, casually, revealing a black jumpsuit and grey breastplate underneath.

K smirked, her orange eyes narrowed. “I was made ready.”

Without warning, K kicked my hovering chair away to the left, and all at once the world went spinning. I tried not to get dizzy as I twirled outside the circle of drones, and bumped against the far wall. The holding chair levelled out and slowly spun like a buoyant object in water, and I watched the chaos unfold. Our survival hinged on the next few seconds.

Immediately after the kick, Jonathan ducked, and charged head first for Duhrnan, who spun around to face him. The circle of drones whined as their weapons charged. In a second they would fire on my unarmed companions.

K’s arm shot to the side, and so did her wrist cable. Then she twisted her torso, flinging her arm in a wide arc. The cable whistled as it flew through the air like a supercharged tetherball. The cable itself knocked some of the drones aside, and the hook on the end smashed each drone it touched with vibrant bursts of fire. The drones were cut down by half in just a few seconds, and they focused onto K. The sheer force of K’s arm turned her climbing gear into a deadly weapon, and she continued swinging it around like a flail.

Duhrnan drew his four pistols and spun each in his hand, just as Jonathan engaged with him. Before Duhrnan could get a clear shot, Jonathan threw his coat up onto his face, obscuring his vision. Duhrnan lifted his upper hands to the jacket, trying to peel it off. In the brief second of confusion, Jonathan kicked the gun in his lower-right hand clean out of his grip, and it soared through the air my direction. It clattered to the ground at my feet, and my ears lifted up. Duhrnan clawed at Jonathan’s wrist. He tore the holo-gauntlet clean off. But as he did this, Jonathan grabbed the other gun with both hands, and twisted it out of Duhrnan’s grasp.

Yes!” I cheered from the sidelines.

K slammed more of the drones to the ground, disabling them, but she grimaced, grazed by a few bolts. Her armoured vest was smoking as she ducked behind one of the pillars. Meanwhile Duhrnan pulled the coat off his face, and fired his remaining two guns at Jonathan. Violet energy splintered off Jonathan’s armour pads, and he stumbled back behind the other pillar. Duhrnan sneered, and squeezed down on Jonathan’s holo-gauntlet. The device snapped between his fingers, and he dropped its remains to the floor.

I must admit, Jonathan, I wasn’t expecting this turn of events! You had been such a good little pawn up until now.” He shook his head. “Tsk, tsk. What a naughty boy you are. Can’t pick a side, so you keep betraying everyone. Your poor little head must hurt from confusion.”

Shut it, Duhrnan!” he replied. “The past is in the past. I know what side I’m on.”

Jonathan fired at Duhrnan, who rolled behind the throne with agility almost comparable to Omega. Then my eyes landed on Lupaph.

The great beast had been stalking around, watching the fight, but its eyes fell on me, and it bared its teeth. Slowly, it began to approach.

Beads of sweat formed on my face. Frantically, with my arms and legs still tied, I swung my chest back and forth, tilting the hovering chair even as it tried to level itself. Each time, I dipped closer to the ground. At last, I heaved my body forward, and the chair flipped onto its front for a moment. I pulled my restrained hand toward the pistol. My fingers flicked open as I tried to grab it, but I accidentally knocked it a few feet away, gasping. I tucked my head, bouncing off the smooth floor. My ears flew forward as the chair swung back upright.

Lupaph’s tail swivelled, and his crimson tongue fell to the floor. His teeth were red with blood. Our eyes met briefly, and I saw his body get ready to pounce. I grit my mandibles and looked at the gun, just a few feet away from me. Adrenaline coursed through my veins. I swung myself back to the floor.

I collided with the ground, face first, and shut my eyes. I bit down, and pushed myself back up with my fingers.

Gun in my mandibles, I bounced up. I opened my mouth, and dropped the gun onto my lap.

Lupaph barked, and my ears shot back. He clawed six paws into the floor, and kicked off.

I thrust my pelvis out and rotated it, and the gun slid toward my twisting hand. My fingers fumbled for a second, spinning the gun so that I gripped the handle. My finger pressed against the trigger.

Crack!

Purple fumes wafted from the beast’s head. Its body careened into me, and I bounced back, spinning against the wall.

Lupaph!” Duhrnan yelled, staring at the lifeless body. Then he shrugged, and his lips curved to a smile. “Ah well. I can just make another.”

A drone rose shakily from the ground, and the barrel of its gun twisted toward Jonathan. Then sparks flew from its side as it was punctured straight through by K’s grappling hook. She extended the hooks, and it latched onto the drone’s debris.

Aw, hell yeah!” she said, as she pulled her newly weighted flail back to her.

Jonathan spoke loudly. “Give up, Duhrnan. You’re outnumbered!”

At that, Duhrnan laughed. His voice lilted and soared through the room, ending in a cackle. “You should know never to say something like that. That kind of setup is irresistible!”

Duhrnan holstered his guns, and stepped out from behind the throne. His teeth were wide, and he opened his arms as he stepped gracefully toward the pillars. Jonathan fired his weapon, and purple bolts sparked against his armour. He laughed, and footsteps filled the room.

Valicorr soldiers poured into the room, and K and Jonathan scrambled around to the opposite sides of their cover. Yellow lasers spread across the room, igniting against the floor, pillars, and walls.

Lookout!” I said, craning my neck.

Duhrnan ducked to the ground, and seemed to vanish. He did vanish! There was no trace of him. He must have been using the same cloaking technology as the shadow scout we found in the generator room on Voren.

Then something completely unexpected happened. The damaged drones lying around the room blasted metal guitar music from hidden speakers, laser lights, and mist. The room was a chaotic mess of sights and sounds, and my ears started to hurt. It was as though Duhrnan had packed an entire rock concert into his robots, and was just waiting for the moment to reveal it. I didn’t know how to react to this absurd explosion of stimuli. But then I realized the brilliance of his plan- with so much ambient audio-visual noise, there was absolutely no way to determine where he was in the room. He cackled sadistically, his own voice amplified through the speakers of each drone, so the source couldn’t be pinpointed.

The music was so loud I could hardly think. My chair slowly spun around, and I gazed into the glowing mist in the center of the room. Lasers, both deadly and harmless, flashed all around. I couldn’t make out where anyone was.

I shut my eyes, trying to ignore the pounding of the drums in my head. The distorted guitar was impossible to ignore. I lost sense of direction, and time-

I felt myself being dragged backwards, and opened my eyes. Waves of heat streaked past me both directions. The metal music and Duhrnan’s laughter faded in front of me as we passed through the arch of the door, which had been smashed open. Two valicorr emerged from the glowing mist, shrieking after us.

I snapped my mind back to the present moment, and flicked my wrist forward. A laser bolt soared towards me, and I flinched. Smoke and sparks burst from the holding chair just above my shoulder. I squinted my eyes, and pulled the trigger, not holding back. Bolt after bolt whizzed past the valicorr, even as more emerged. I hit a few of them, before I was jerked to the side as we turned a corner.

A door slid shut in front of me, and I heard K say behind me, “You know, Duhrnan was right!”

What are you talking about?” replied Jonathan.

“‘You’re outnumbered?’ I mean, come on, man! Don’t say that kinda stuff!”

K spun me around. We were inside an elevator. Jonathan was slipping back into his coat, and K checked me over. “Osax! Are you hurt?”

I blinked, then exhaled. “Surprisingly, I’m alright. Though my face is probably bruised.”

With her fingers, she ripped my restraints free, and I stepped out of the hover chair. The elevator floor was cold and hard. I twisted my body, stretching my limbs. “Thanks!”

No worries, Sax!”

Don’t call me-”

Sax, I know. Sorry-”

Hey!” Jonathan interjected. “Where is Duhrnan?”

I looked him in the eye. “I have no idea. He turned invisible, just like a valicorr shadow scout.”

Of course!” said Jonathan. “It’s not valicorr technology-”

It’s loro tech,” I said.

K said, “Yeah, yeah, whatever. So he’s invisible. He’s not our target though. We gotta blow this damn ship, right? Well now’s our chance!”

I wracked my brain, looking at the symbols on the elevator’s control panel. “There!” I said, pointing. “This one means energy! I bet it’s the power generator!”

Jonathan nodded eagerly. His arm stretched out fully, and waved toward the button. K and I glanced to him. He stepped forward, and carefully pressed the button.

What?” he said, staring at us. “Close one eye, see how good your depth perception is.”

Honestly, you’re doing a pretty epic job for only having one eye,” said K.

“…Thanks.”

The elevator glided toward the “Energy” room, and we waited in silence. My eyes fell to K’s makeshift flail, with the drone impaled on the end of it. I could hardly believe we made it out of the throne room alive.

I can’t believe we finally came face to face with Duhrnan,” I said. “That was wild. I wasn’t expecting the metal concert!”

Jonathan said, “He seems strangely fixated on using music to toy with people’s emotions.”

K shrugged. “Well, it worked! If he was trying to distract us, he did a great job.”

Yes,” I said. “But he failed to kill us.”

True!” K smirked. “It was insane in there- I’m so glad I have this armour. Osax, did you see me swinging this around?!” She grinned, lifting the cable.

My ears lifted. “Yes, I did. You were great!”

K’s eyes landed on Jonathan. “You know what I can’t believe? In the chaos of that battle, you still found time to pick up your jacket.”

He rubbed his collar defensively. “What? I love this coat.”

Good thinking, using it to blind Duhrnan for a second,” I said.

His lips twitched into a smile. “Thank you.” He bowed his head.

The elevator stopped, but the door didn’t budge.

They must have locked the door,” I said. “K?”

On it.”

She took a step back, gripped the flail a few feet from its end and swung it twice. Then she slammed it against the door, busting it open.

The energy room was large, with a massive pillar in the center, presumably the ship’s power regulator. It pulsed with energy every second. Computer terminals and doors ringed the walls, and several valicorr waited. We charged in, guns blazing, taking them by surprise. K flung her flail, throwing it into soldiers and computer terminals. Panting, we stood in the room, valicorr bodies around us. Connecting to a computer, K downloaded a map of the mothership onto her holo-gauntlet. My gauntlet was still destroyed from the myrok attack, and Duhrnan had crushed Jonathan’s. I figured out how to lock the doors, though admittedly Duhrnan could probably override it if he wanted, and we puzzled over the regulator.

We have to hurry,” I said, “Astraloth is in danger, and the skyther fleet is being torn apart as we speak. We have to prime the ship to self destruct. That pillar regulates the ship’s energy. If we destroy it, the cascade effect will gradually overload the ship with energy, resulting in system shutdowns, explosions, and once the energy surges to the engines, a slipspace fracture.”

K looked at me. “Slipspace fracture?”

Jonathan interjected. “Space around the mothership, centered on the fracture’s focal point in the engines, will crack like glass, accompanied by a fiery blast as the energy discharge ignites the fuel and any localized matter.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “Basically, the mothership will explode, spectacularly.

On top of that, leading up to the explosion, the energy buildup in the ship’s communications system will begin to discharge, effectively turning this whole ship into a massive jamming unit. Meaning, our comms won’t work until we get off the ship.”

K nodded, and the three of us stood in silence. The gravity of the situation was beginning to settle on me. We stood at the center of the ship we had been hunting for weeks, on the precipice of retribution. Astraloth somehow escaped total destruction, yet was in the middle of another assault. The mothership was crawling with valicorr soldiers, and beyond it, a massive space battle raged on.

How much time do you think we will have, after sabotaging the regulator?” I asked Jonathan.

He took in a deep breath. “It’s impossible to know. But I would guess twenty minutes, maximum.”

My ears lowered. K’s expression hardened. Jonathan’s eye darted between us. It didn’t need to be said that if we were still aboard when the ship exploded, we all would die.

Let’s do it,” said K. Then she swung the drone in her hand a few times, before launching it toward the central pillar. The pillar shattered, spewing sparks. The lights changed to a red colour, a klaxon sounded, and I smelled ozone.

I had never felt so powerful. At this point, there was nothing Duhrnan could do. The menacing arachnid that was the mothership was doomed. The first of our targets was finally destroyed. It was only a matter of time. I hated the smell of melting rubber and plastics, but this time, despite my better judgment for health concerns, I inhaled deeply, savouring the scent. It was a victorious smell.

Then my eyes fell to my companions, dimly glowing in the red hues. It was time to escape.

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About the author

Seb Woodland

Bio: I'm a writer, game developer, artist, and musician. Just a creative guy working on art and trying to make his way in the world.

-There is always hope-

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