Sarhea smiled as she laid out flat on her back atop a large flat stone near the entrance of an isolated ventilation shaft. Heat still radiated from its surface despite the arrival of night hours earlier, and overhead, the brilliant colors of the aurora danced across the starry sky. For the first time in nearly three weeks, she felt a sense of satisfaction, that the path that she was on and her choices were pointing her toward a worthy goal. It had been an eventful three weeks, full of both intriguing and troubling discoveries, all of which seemed entwined with one another.
Aleena had been right about the drones. They seemed to attack at least every other day, and there had never seemed to be any rhyme or reason to their movements. Alarms would suddenly sound throughout the city, sending everyone into a panic as they scrambled to return to their quarters. Sarhea had usually been in the vent ducts and would quickly travel to the nearest main shaft. She had witnessed firsthand how the swarms of strange metallic flying beasts would encircle the mountain and randomly fire their energy weapons down at the city.
That was when her other troubling discovery had presented itself. The blasts from the drones never penetrated past an unseen barrier that enclosed the entire mountain in a protective dome. But when the blasts hit the shield, she could see it, could see the tightly interwoven mesh of red and blue energy. Aleena had mentioned that the shields were top secret, that the military had created them. It was not so. She recognized the energy signature of something far more ancient, something she had not seen since she had been forced from her own world. She did not understand how it could be here, so far from her origins, and it frightened her.
The realization that such energy existed on this world seemed to have awakened something within her. She sensed a strong, nearly overbearing presence around her always. She half expected the sentinels, powerful creatures of pure living energy, to leap out and take control of her at any moment. But it never happened, and after a while, she convinced herself that such an occurrence was not possible…she’d locked the portal away long ago…But it did not change the fact that there was something unusual about this mountain. Since the moment that spark had been awakened within her, she felt as if even the very stone around her was infused with a hint of the living energy that she had so desperately tried to avoid.
This brought her thoughts back to the drones. She had no clue what they were, but they were not the mindless machines the inhabitants of this mountain thought they were. One of the last attacks she had observed had proven rather disturbing. The swarm had come, attacking at random as they usually did. The city’s military, led by the white ship she now knew to be manned by this group called the Alpha Team, had launched their usual counter attack. Ships and drones had battled it out in the skies over the city and beyond, but none of the participants had noticed the few drones lurking in the shadows of old debris and rock formations, watching as their counterparts were destroyed. And when the battle was over, they slipped away similarly unnoticed. No, they were not lifeless machines. She had watched as black, festering energy had risen out of the destroyed drone vessels. This dark energy was very familiar-it had been there every time everything that she had ever loved had been ripped from her life, and now it was here, watching…
Sarhea had made an important decision that day; she would no longer run. No matter how far she traveled from her home world, no matter who knew about her or didn’t know about her, her foe still managed to follow and find her. But no more. She would no longer run; instead, she had decided it was time to take the fight to them. This would be the last world she would she would call home. She would figure out how to bring down the drones or she would die here trying, and this had led to her last decision. If she were to make this work, she would have to learn what she could about this city and begin to strengthen herself for the challenges ahead. She could not risk exposing herself, but she’d inadvertently stumbled across one who seemed willing to put up with her secretiveness.
Sarhea had met up with Aleena on several occasions at one of the three regular meal times over the past two weeks. Aside from quelling the ache of loneliness, Aleena had proven that she was an invaluable asset. If she didn’t know the answer to any of Sarhea’s questions, she would hunt it down or hunt down the creature that did know and report back to her. One of the most important discoveries shown to her by Aleena was the city’s recreation and training center. This complex of massive caverns housed all sorts of aerobic and strength training equipment, as well as stations for fun and relaxation. But the real treasure had been the news that the military training grounds sat in the adjacent caverns. Regular citizens were not normally allowed entry to the military areas without proper authorization, but Sarhea hardly saw herself as regular. Who was to stop her from sneaking in through the vent openings in the middle of the night when the area was empty and locked up tight? Her favorite section of these training grounds was a raised platform covered with a padded mat. Targets and padded figures set up as mock opponents lined the perimeter of one side and there were an assortment of accurately carved wooden weapons to practice with. She had been sneaking in to practice at this station now for two weeks.
She sighed contentedly as she let the cool night breeze wash over her. Even now, her muscles ached with the burn of a satisfying workout. Perhaps as soon as tomorrow night, she would set out beyond the safety of the city’s shields to track the movements of the drones. Perhaps she would even make use of the pesky guiding energy that always seemed to stay right within reach, as if awaiting her to call upon it; she could make it show her the way to her targets. She was ready to take her revenge to her enemy. She had failed in defeating similar drone types on other worlds but had learned from her mistakes. She was ready this time, and she would have her revenge…
Sarhea sat up as the energy burning within began to strengthen…No, it was not time yet. Her task could only be attempted at night, and there was not enough night left. Besides, she needed some rest and she had plans to meet with Aleena at lunch. She did not know what the Kalatian wanted, but something in Aleena’s excited voice had intrigued her yesterday. She had to be careful. She hated the discouraging looks she received when she could not respond to Aleena’s questions, but she had to keep her at arm’s length, if only to keep her safe. Sarhea’s friends had a nasty habit of dying around her. But she could not suppress the need for interaction of any sort, so she had decided to carefully befriend the Kalatian.
Sarhea slowly stood and stretched her sore muscles before turning to enter the large ventilation shaft behind her. This one was on the far eastern side of the mountain, roughly halfway up its side. She’d discovered evidence of damage to this area, and after days of exploring, she’d made an important discovery. There was a set of large rooms that appeared to be an old hospital at the shaft’s termination point. All access to the area was sealed off by felled stone, and at this point, she’d only discovered one hard to find vent duct that lead to the area-she had finally found a place to call her own. She was fairly confident that she would not have to fear discovery-the condition of the rooms suggested they had not seen a living soul in years before she discovered them. She had spent the last few days cleaning and making the place feel like home despite all the old medical equipment lining the shelves. Sarhea dropped down into the room, and smiling contentedly, made her way to the makeshift bed for some much needed rest.
It was nearly time to meet Aleena for lunch as Sarhea made her way through the maze of vent tunnels. She was taking a different route to test her mental map of the layout, and soon found herself lost and confused. She hesitated in calling on those ever present guides and decided instead to cautiously peer down through a nearby duct opening to get her bearings. She was surprised to find herself gazing down into the very room she had first awakened in three weeks ago. How did she end up over the hospital? She was about to pull back into the tunnel when she heard a door open in the back of the room. Her eyes locked on the door as a short, rather plump grizzled creature with wiry white hair that protruded from his ears stepped out into the room. He wore thick, round lensed glasses and a strange contraption was strapped to his head that extended another type of looking glass out before him.
“Well then, my boy. Suppose I got you all fixed up for now. The healing’s coming along nicely, but you really must stay on top of your checkups. Doing too much and waiting until the pain is unbearable will only land you back on the operating table,” the older man was saying to someone still in the room.
Sarhea instantly assumed that this was the doctor called Mouser that Aleena often mentioned. Her curiosity instantly focused on the strange old man. She had discovered some old journals in her new quarters that bore the doctor’s name. The writings within were over 15 years old and spoke of strange procedures that seemed to fantastical to believe, including the replacement of lost limbs and using synthetic organs to replace damaged or diseased ones. She shook the thoughts away as she carefully moved closer to the opening in an attempt to catch a glimpse of who the doctor was speaking to. Shadows moved in the room beyond before a figure appeared in the open doorway. Sarhea was barely able to contain a shocked gasp as she pulled back into the shadows. It was the commander. He paused in the doorway as he pulled on his uniform jacket.
“Don’t worry, Doc. I’m healing up fine, thanks to you. In fact, I’ve been mostly pain free for weeks.”
“It’s not the pain or lack thereof that worries me, Raith. That’s some delicate healing you’re going through. It will take at least another year before I would call it complete, but then again, at your rate, it may never completely heal. You really must keep on schedule with your checkups or complications will arise.”
Sarhea peeked back down to see that the doctor was genuinely perplexed. Raith simply grinned at the older man as he adjusted the uniform’s collar.
“Mouser, will it make you happy if I come in every two weeks?”
Mouser crossed his arms with a huff. “Guess I really have no input in the matter, do I? Just take care of yourself, Raith. This city cannot function without you.”
The commander placed a hand on the doctor’s shoulder. “Don’t worry so much. I’ll check back with you in a few weeks, sooner if I need to.”
“I’ll believe you when I see you walk into my office,” Mouser grumbled.
The commander chuckled lightly as he turned from the doctor and left the room. Sarhea watch as the old man huffed in frustration before turning back to the open door behind him. She pulled back into the vent tunnel as he disappeared into his office. What healing had Mouser been talking about? In all the times she had observed the commander these past weeks, he had never appeared injured. And Mouser was not what she had expected. She had learned about nearly every species contained within these walls, but Mouser did not fit any of the descriptions. She found it hard to believe that such a short, round man that appeared to have poor eyesight could be capable of such tedious tasks as had been written about in his journals and spoken about by Aleena. She made a mental note to ask Aleena more about him as she turned and headed back the direction she needed to go.
Aleena was unusually quiet and rather pensive as they stood in line waiting to pick up their lunch. Sarhea did not pry as she knew the Kalatian well enough by now to know that Aleena would eventually not be able to hold in whatever was stirring in her head. They picked up their food in silence, but as soon as they sat, Aleena came to life.
“Sarhea, what did you do before you came here?”
Sarhea hesitated mid-bite. “Do?”
“Yeah. What was your job, your everyday purpose?”
Sarhea scowled as she set her utensil down. It was not a difficult question, but one she had to carefully consider how to answer without touching too close to personal matters she wished to avoid. But it was also long past time to give Aleena some sort of information about herself; the Kalatian had done so much for her and deserved a small token of information. She noticed Aleena’s expectant gaze lower and a quiet sigh release.
“My parents died when I was very young, and I was left an orphan. So I suppose my purpose from that point was simply to survive in any way that I could. Surviving has been my only job my entire life.”
Aleena’s hazel eyes widened. “I’m sorry. I cannot even imagine what that could have been like. My parents are gone as well, so I guess I can see why you were so hesitant to speak about it before-it’s never easy to talk about the loss of one’s parents. I appreciate you telling me. Though, if you could go back and change it all, what would you have wanted to do with your life?”
Sarhea paused to consider her answer again. This question was easier to just tell the whole truth. “I would have wanted the simple life that all those around me had-a home, a family. My world was far simpler than any I have come across. We led basic lives-eat, sleep, love, take care of our families-that was our main tasks. Keeping everyone healthy and happy was our ultimate goal.”
Aleena glanced down at her food. “That actually sounds rather nice. Things are so complicated these days and were so even before the attacks four years ago.” Her voice drifted off as she became quiet once more. Sarhea could sense a sadness, a longing, that she’d never felt from her friend before.
“What about you, Aleena? Is assisting in the hospital what you’ve always wanted to do?”
Aleena brightened considerably, almost as if she’d been waiting for the question to be asked. Sarhea raised a brow at the sudden change.
“I do enjoy helping those in need. It is part of being a Kalatian, almost as if it is an inborn trait. However,” she started before reaching into her pocket and quickly withdrew a strange device she’d never seen before. “If I could do anything I wanted, I would design and build electronic devices of all sorts. Here, I made this one for you.”
Sarhea stared at the small black object that Aleena proudly held out to her. She finally took the offering and quietly examined it. It was tapered oval in shape with a small screen and two slightly raised buttons on the wider end. On its right side, noticed another raised button.
“What is it?” she finally asked.
Aleena smiled as she reached over and hit a switch on the side that she had not noticed. A small green light blinked on in the screen. “It’s a modified sat-com. I tweaked it so that it will only operate on frequencies that I choose and cannot be monitored by outsiders. It also has a longer range than the sat-coms that are issued to the military, in theory, but I’ve yet had a chance to test that. I predict that it should work anywhere in Refuge City. Basically, it is a secure communication device.”
Sarhea turned the strange object over in her hand before looking back up at Aleena. “And you made this?”
Aleena beamed proudly as she withdrew a second device from her pocket. “Yes, but not entirely from scratch though. I used bits and pieces of discarded things that I’ve collected over the years. I’ve always wanted one, but hated the idea of the monitored frequencies available to the general public. So I made my own. And now I have a friend that I think will appreciate the freedom of communication this device offers.”
The thought behind the gift was touching, and Sarhea did see its value. There had been several times where the two of them had wanted to do something only to not be able to determine the other’s whereabouts. With this device, they could make plans or change plans with ease. Sarhea smiled widely.
“How does it work?”
Aleena eagerly leaned over and set her device next to Sarhea’s. “Push the first raised button on the front until the display reads 081. When it says ‘connected to 1 unique’, that means our two devices see each other. When you press the button on the side and the light turns red, then you are talking to me.”
“This is pretty clever. And no one can pick up on the conversation?”
“Only if they are standing over your shoulder. I hacked into the communication system to set up my unique frequencies, and I’m fairly confident that the change will never be noticed.”
Sarhea shook her head in wonder. She discovered new things every day. She took her device and slipped it into the pocket of her cloak. “I never pictured you as one to play with such gadgets,” she said with a light chuckle.
“I’ve never really had much opportunity to show it. There are already many here that work with electronics, and a bigger need for workers in the hospital. Perhaps one of these days I can design or improve on something that no one else has, make my own mark on this world.”
“I’m sure you will.”
Aleena shot her a coy smirk. “And when this is all over, you just may be able to have your dream of a simple life with a family. Though, I kind of have a hard time picturing you as the family type. You’ve always struck me more as…I don’t know…the kickass warrior type. But at least you are lucky. There are many Cassarians for you to choose from. Other species are not so lucky.”
Aleena’s last comment took Sarhea off guard. She raised a brow. “I’m not sure what you mean. Others are not so lucky?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to drag down the conversation,” she started.
“No, don’t apologize. Learning about the interactions between different species has always fascinated me. It is still beyond me how so many different species, especially ones that are known to have grievances with one another, can exist together in such tight conditions.”
“It has not always been like this, and plenty of altercations still occur. They are simply quelled quickly as to maintain the peace. As far as your question goes, not all species are as lucky as those who have large numbers here, like the Cassarians, Kalatians, and Taloans. There are plenty of our kinds for us to find mates and have families. There are some species of which their numbers are so few that there is little chance of their survival. It is a sad truth.”
“Can’t they find mates among similar species?”
“Ah, that’s where the real trouble begins. Yes, two individuals of different species can find love and happiness together, but a family with children is often impossible, and there are great risks involved. Most of the time, conception is impossible for a couple of mixed species. Pregnancies that do occur are often horrific and even fatal.”
Sarhea was stunned. She’d never considered such a possibility.
“I have seen many cases over the past six years since the great migration to Talos began. No one can tell you who to love, but I’ve seen lives ripped apart by these interspecies relationships. I’ve witnessed the despair of young mixed couples who were lucky enough to conceive a child only to lose it before it could be born. I’ve also witnessed births so horrific that both mother and child were lost in the process. I’ve also seen the heartbreak of successful pregnancies and births that produced a terribly deformed baby that had no chance of survival and died soon after. It is a terrible and unfortunate truth. Interspecies couples do still form, but most see one partner or both getting sterilized so that there is no chance of these painful results.”
The very thought of sterilization struck her to the core. How could these couples even consider such an idea? There were those who would give anything to have a child but couldn’t, yet these couples could so easily throw away the gift?
“I cannot even imagine…Sterilization? In these troubled times, with so few creatures remaining, how could they give up such an important ability? When this war ends, how will the world be repopulated if members cannot reproduce? And the ones with limited numbers-what if more of their species are discovered alive and well?”
Aleena shrugged. “It is a risk they knowingly take. That very scenario is laid out to them before any procedure is begun. Ultimately, it is their choice. I worry more about the ones who choose to ignore the risks and leave their lives to chance. Like I mentioned earlier-things used to be much simpler.”
“Have there ever been any successful interspecies births?”
Aleena gazed at her thoughtfully before shrugging once more. “It is extremely rare, but yes. One example is doctor Mouser.”
“Yes. He’s actually a hybrid between a Kalatian father and a Paloan mother, though his case is unusual. Those who knew of his ancestry took it as a sign that the two species were compatible. Only half of the couples who tried got pregnant and only half of those pregnancies were carried to term. Of the ones actually born, only a fraction were properly developed and survived. Those that survived tended to be a little…off. Some claim that is why Mouser is so…unique. I hear that Mouser’s earliest studies were done on this topic, but I do not know what became of them. I just know that most choose sterilization over becoming Mouser’s next lab experiment.”
Sarhea did not know how to respond as mixed emotions raged within her. The whole notion of sterilization angered her, but at the same time, her heart broke for those forced into such a predicament. It was their enemy’s doing. They were destroying lives one way or another…
Sarhea felt Aleena’s cautious glance.
“Is everything alright over there? Your eyes…”
Sarhea shook her head as she tried to focus on anything else. Over the past few weeks, she had noticed Aleena warning her any time she allowed the anger to build in her like it had. It seemed the angry stir of the energy within liked to manifest in her eyes.
“Yeah…sorry. So, are we still on for this afternoon?”
Aleena brightened at the change of subject. “You bet. I’m going to crush you at roundball for sure this time!”
“In your dreams,” Sarhea sneered before gulping down another bite.
12 April 2014 at 23:23:37 MDT
Sarhea makes more discoveries about Refuge City and decides to befriend Aleena.
I'm getting really bad about describing these chapters-please don't judge them by my descriptions! Hope you enjoy and as always, all questions are welcome-if something is confusing or doesn't make sense-feel free to ask-no matter how small or trivial-anything to help me make future revisions is welcome!