On The TARAZED
H grabbed hold of the bottom rung of the ladder, his fingers threatening to slip free due to the sweat and blood coating them. He could feel the essence that was space wrap around him as the pod from The TARAZED lifted further away from the transport train they had boarded. It was an odd sensation, but one that wouldn’t kill him. Not quickly, anyway.
“Pull him up!” shouted a familiar voice.
He wasn’t looking up. His gaze was transfixed on the scene below where that idiot slave was about to be acquainted with a quick death. The Alte-Ra had swarmed around the young man. Only a few kept a watch on the train above them, but none made any further move to attack. “Fool,” he muttered under his breath as he was pulled onto the pod. The train itself was behind The RASTABAN. It was too large for landing on another train, so they made use of one of its many smaller transport vehicles that were roughly the size of half a car. Each consisted of a cockpit, docking zone, storage rooms, and crew facilities.
Arms wrapped tightly around his neck. “Brother!”
“Zero.” He couldn’t help but smile. “Did I worry you?”
Zero stepped back with a sickeningly sweet smile on her beautiful face. It was a worrisome look for he knew exactly what it meant. Though she was slight of frame, much more so than he, she was just as much pure muscle as he was. “Worried? Me?” she said affably. Then she hit him. Hard.
“Ack!” he grunted as a shock of pain raced up his arm from the force. Blood was dripping from his fingers for the wounds marking it from the battle he had just barely escaped. “Are you crazy!? Can’t you see I’m bleeding, woman!?”
“Not as crazy as you are, you giant lummox,” Zero shouted back. Her golden eyes blazed with fury. Though they matched his in colour, he found that his sister’s eyes were so much more expressive. They told stories of their own.
The other Koa’Alith didn’t even try to hide their laughter.
“What happened down there?” Zero continued placing her fists sternly on her hips. “And where’s the one who went to retrieve your worthless ass?”
He flinched at that and peered through the crack of the hatch as it was being closed. “Back there,” he said.
“You left him behind!?”
He turned his gaze back on his sister. “It was kind of difficult to take him with me when he was the one who threw me up here,” he shot back. He understood her confusion for he still couldn’t believe it himself.
“What?” was Zero’s question after a disbelieving pause.
“Never mind. Why did you let him go after me?”
“Let him is hardly the term I would use. He made me want to trust him.” She wore her usual stubborn haughtiness as she said this. It wasn’t an attitude she adopted when interacting with anyone but him. Even though she was younger than him, she seemed to think herself the elder sister. Considering how she had taken care of him when they were younger, he sometimes forgot she wasn’t.
With a sigh, he glanced over the crew. “Is everyone alright?” he asked.
“We’re fine, H,” one man spoke up from the crowd. He was one of those assisting in putting away the gear they’d used to cut open the roof of The RASTABAN.
The machinery used for such operations weren’t as large as one might expect. There were lasers that required two people to manage for precision cutting as they were on the heavier side. The claws used to pull back the metal roofing used a pully system. Once the claws had hooked firmly into a target, the retract was activated. It caused a horrendous scraping noise, but it got the job done. All these were kept in storage within the docking zone, the place where they currently gathered.
H turned to the slaves they had rescued. At first glace, he could see that most if not all were injured. Blood was everywhere. “And how about you lot?”
One man stepped forward in a poor attempt at claiming leadership. He wasn’t an attractive man with his thin hair receding away from his face, nor did he seem to carry an ounce of true confidence. The others obviously only looked to him because he was willing to speak, even if he didn’t have anything to say worth listening to. He was one of those sporting a reddened shirt and looked to have a nasty gash on his exposed forehead. “I am F-4-1,” he said in a shaking tone. “Who are you?”
He could sense his sister’s impending reaction to such rude words and held up a hand to quiet her before she could say anything. “I am called H,” he said in civilized calm. “I suppose you could say I’m the captain of this train, although we haven’t gotten into the habit of using such titles.”
“And you’re Hy-Mun?” F-4-1 said glaring at him suspiciously.
“We are,” H said with a nod. “Sorry for not showing you my arm in the customary fashion you’re used to, but we try to separate ourselves from our chained past.”
The newly freed slaves seemed confused.
“We call ourselves the Koa’Alith,” he continued. “Freedom Hunters. Each of us was once under slavery and by some fate, escaped and found one another. It is now our goal and purpose to free slaves such as yourselves from the tyranny of the Alte-Ra.”
“How noble,” F-4-1 said in a gruff tone.
“Why you ungrateful little─” Zero started to say.
“We have food, clean clothes, and hot baths for anyone who wants,” H said to cut her off. “As well as medical supplies. For anyone suffering more severe injuries, our healing experts will tend to you swiftly. I’m sure you all could use a rest after what you’ve been through. I’d be happy to discuss more with you at length, but later. Unfortunately, running a train like this requires a lot of my attention. A-L. P-T. Show them to the rooms, would you? And take those in need to the medical wing.”
The two Koa’Alith mentioned nodded and gathered the newly freed slaves to escort them away.
“Rooms?” one of the slaves said as they were leaving the docking port to enter the main car of the train.
“Of course,” A-L said. “Nothing fancy.” He continued answering questions as the door slid shut behind them.
“What?” H asked before Zero said anything. He could feel her glaring at him.
“You know what,” she huffed. “You’re too lenient.”
“They just came out of a traumatic ordeal. You remember how we were when we first escaped.”
Biting her lip, it was clear she didn’t want to agree to anything. “We weren’t rescued,” she finally argued.
“A certain amount of grace is required in situations like these,” he said with a fond smile. “You know that.”
She sighed. “I know. I just don’t like how that man spoke to you. You just saved his life!”
He chuckled. “Shall we head to the cockpit?” he said taking her hand. They had always been close. It wasn’t always the case for siblings to be kept together unless they were twins, but they had been originally bought by the same master. Since then, they had watched each other’s backs and been inseparable.
There were snickers and murmurings from the rest of the crew still gathered.
“What are you all still standing around for? Get yourselves cleaned up. For those who need, try to get some rest. For anyone else, there is plenty of work to be done. You shouldn’t need me to tell you what to do after a raid.”
“Yes, sir!” the Koa’Alith said as one voice before dispersing.
“Now,” H said with a sigh. “Let’s go have a word with Pilot.”
“Don’t you want to see Tonic first?” Zero asked worriedly. She gave his hand a gentle squeeze. “You’re drenched in blood.”
“A common occurrence after a fight. Don’t worry. There will be plenty of time for medicine and bandages later. Besides, the new recruits will be there. Let’s deal with the important stuff first.”
She gave him a hard look with those piercing eyes of hers. “You are important,” she argued with a pout.
He kissed her head. “Thanks, sis.”
“Get away,” she said shooing him with a laugh. “You stink.”
“Right. And you smell like a bed of roses,” he leered with a laugh of his own.
Several hours passed as The TARAZED followed in the shadow of The RASTABAN.
H glanced at the stitches that trailed along his arm. The wound had been more serious than he’d thought. “Thanks, Tonic.”
Tonic was a fatherly man who had a knack for medicine, hence his name. His hair was greying even though he wasn’t all that old, barely in his thirties. After several years with the Koa’Alith, the once skeletal man now was on the verge of needing to lose weight. “Any time, H.” Then he frowned. “Scratch that. Try not to be in here too often, alright?”
He laughed. “I can’t make any promises,” he said as he slipped on the clean shirt Zero had left for him.
“That’s what worries me.”
“You and Zero both.”
There came a knock at the door and Tonic moved to open it. “Yes?”
Zero poked her head in. Her long, luscious curls bounced unbound around her face. “Is he done?” she asked.
“He is,” Tonic said opening the door for her to enter.
“Good. Brother, Pilot would like your presence. We’re coming upon a meteor shower.”
He stood up and took a moment to stretch. “Alright, I’m on my way.”
“Try not to aggravate those stitches,” Tonic called after him as he left with Zero. “Don’t come crying to me if you do. Like last time.”
H turned back to snap a response, but Tonic had already disappeared back into the medical ward. “Every time,” he grunted. “I’ve never cried.”
“Yes, you have,” Zero chuckled. “Ignore him. We’ve got to hurry.”
“How about I ignore you instead?” he said quickening his pace.
“You have cried though.”
He cast her a glare. “When I was little.”
As they made their way through the halls, he saw F-4-1 coming toward him, but he pretended to have not noticed and kept walking. He was determined to ignore the man for as long as possible. Despite what he said to Zero, he had also been disapproving of the behaviour that had been displayed.
“Why is he loitering about?” Zero growled.
“Who cares?” H said off-handedly. “Did you happen to get a look at how large this meteor shower is before coming to get me?”
“Big,” was the response.
Nodding, he lengthened his stride so that he was nearly running. At that pace, they reached the control room in no time.
“Stats,” H said as the door slid open before him.
Pilot was watching the screens that made up the front of the control room. He wasn’t a very tall man, but what he lacked in height he more than made up for in nearly every other aspect of his personality. Scars marked the left side of his face and neck, and he was blind in the left eye, but that hardly ever seemed to be a handicap with him. “We still have time before we reach it,” was the first thing he said without turning around.
H sat in the seat next to him and surveyed the monitors. They were transparent so as not to obstruct the view through the massive windows that lined the entire front of the car. He could see the Alte-Ra train distantly in front of them. “Have they noticed us yet?”
“They either haven’t noticed, or they don’t care,” Pilot said.
Pilot nodded his agreement. “That’s not the only strange development. They haven’t changed course.”
“Well, they are a large train. Not to mention the fact that the Alte-Ra are arrogant. They probably plan on just sailing through.”
“That’s foolish.” Pilot pointed at one monitor directly in front of him. “Do you see that?”
“That’s what we’re up against. This is no small-scale meteor shower, H. This one is going to be dangerous.”
“That’s the meteor shower?” H said in shock. The screen was covered.
“I told you it was big,” Zero chimed in.
“Understatement,” Pilot said turning to smirk at her.
She lifted her fist as though to hit him, then rolled her eyes instead.
Pilot turned his attention to H. “What do you want to do? We could turn away now and crawl up along the side here to avoid the worst of the shower. We can’t escape it completely because of its size. Or we could try to ride the shadow of The RASTABAN. It’s your call.”
“Stay with them,” H said, his brows drawn in consternation. “Something’s not right. They may be arrogant and think themselves invincible, but they have certain cargo you would think they would want to protect. Given their reputation and all.”
“Moving into position,” Pilot said manipulating the controls. It had taken him a while to get used to the way the train operations worked, but now, he made it look easy. He slid his fingers along the smooth surface of the table in front of him, connecting unseen commands that he had memorized by trial and error. Those first few months had been terrifying.
H watched the monitor as the meteor shower closed in. Something bad was about to occur. He could sense it.
Then, it happened.
“What in the galaxies?” Zero breathed in shock as the first meteors began to pound against the sides of The RASTABAN.
H and Pilot sat in similar confusion.
“Where are their shields?” Pilot asked. “They should have shields. At least half of those are small enough to be disintegrated without making impact.”
“Zero,” H said with a sinking suspicion in the pit of his stomach. “Get F-4-1 in here. Now.” He turned to meet his sister’s unimpressed expression. “I need to ask him a few questions.”
She looked as though she were about to protest, then turned on her heel and left.
“What are you thinking, H?”
He sighed and scratched at the stubble growing on his chin. Since his time as a slave, he had gotten so used to being clean shaven that the new growth was itchy. Still, he was determined to endure it. He would be the first Hy-Mun in many centuries to grow a beard. “Hopefully, just jumped conclusions.”
“Then I believe we have similar thoughts. If their shields aren’t working. . ..”
“If that’s the case, we’d better hope that train can take a beating. Otherwise, we may not make it out either.”
They watched the train ahead of them take hit after hit while they waited for Zero to return. It took a lot longer than H would have liked. The first of the meteors reached them, but their shields did their work. Most of the space rock was turned to dust. Anything large enough to escape such a demise caused only slight turbulence. Nothing to worry about. Yet.
The minutes seemed like hours before the door opened once more. Through it walked a rather unimpressed Zero dragging an angry F-4-1 by the collar of his worn-out shirt. The cut on his forehead had been addressed and he was wearing clean clothes, but he looked in desperate need of a wash.
“What is the meaning of this!” F-4-1 said in a flustered tone. “You can’t just drag someone around like that!”
“He’s all yours,” Zero said with a grunt. She moved to sit on the other side of Pilot.
“What did you do?” H asked getting to his feet. He towered over the mousy man.
“Huh?” F-4-1 looked rightly confused. “What are you talking about?”
“The RASTABAN. What did you and your friends do to it? Because we’re in the middle of a meteor shower and they’re getting pulverized. So, I’m not going to ask again!”
F-4-1’s jaw went slack as his eyes glazed over. “It worked?” he said, a slow smile spreading across his horrible face. “It really worked?”
“What worked?” Pilot asked in a demanding tone.
F-4-1 seemed to gather himself. “You should thank us,” he said haughtily.
“Talk!” H roared.
The man trembled where he stood. He looked like he might wet himself if he hadn’t already. “We disconnected a few key wires. Wouldn’t you? We were trying to escape. It wouldn’t do to have them following us.”
“You sabotaged the train!?” H and Zero said as one.
“Yes,” F-4-1 said. Though frightened, he was completely unrepentant. It was clear he had no idea what he’d done.
“That would explain a few things,” Pilot said turning back to the monitors.
H squeezed the bridge of his nose in exasperation. “As much as I admire you for planning out such an escape, you have no idea the repercussions of your actions. That train is going to be destroyed, and everyone on it.”
“Good,” F-4-1 said sourly.
“You don’t understand!” Zero yelled.
“Calm down, Zero,” H said commandingly.
“H?” Pilot said in an awed tone. “Look at that.”
He glanced at the screen, but what he saw drew his full attention. There, on a direct collision course with The RASTABAN was the largest meteor he had ever encountered. “By the ether,” he breathed in horror.
“They won’t survive that,” Zero said in a hush.
“Neither will we,” Pilot added keeping his voice low.
“F-4-1,” H said sternly, “do you know how many Hy-Mun slaves are on board that train?”
“And how many escaped?” He turned to face the cowering slave.
The man paled slightly. “A few.”
“What do you think will happen to them if that train is destroyed by flying space missiles?”
His mouth opened but no words were forthcoming.
“The deaths of everyone aboard that train are on yours hands. Maybe you should think about that before you try coming up with any ideas in the future. Get him out of here,” H said in as disappointed a tone as he could muster. The rescued Hy-Mun had much to learn. First thing, they would need to realize that actions come with consequences.
“H?” Pilot said.
“What is it?” He turned just in time to see a bright light. “What is that?”
“It looks like they fired at the meteor,” Zero said uncertainly. “Can a train take out something of that magnitude?”
Pilot shook his head. “It shouldn’t be able to. Take a look at the screen. Whatever firepower they have shouldn’t be able to do that.”
The sea of meteors had changed, H now saw. “What is that? Why is there a blank down the middle? Where did the meteor go?”
“Exactly,” Pilot agreed. “It’s gone. Completely.”
“Did something happen to our equipment?” Zero asked.
Pilot shook his head. “Everything is in order. A path has been cleared, that’s all I can say.”
“That’s too convenient,” Zero said. “Are you sure?”
“You can see it for yourself, can’t you?”
H couldn’t believe it. How had that happened? Zero was right. It was far too convenient. “Stay with them. We’re getting out of here. But keep your eyes peeled for anything unusual. Something must have cleared the way. I’d like to know what it was. Be ready for anything.”