Sarhea groaned quietly as pain prodded her back to consciousness. She vaguely remembered making it back to her hidden quarters. She’d stripped her soiled clothing and immediately collapsed onto her makeshift bed. She had no idea what time it was and could feel the pang of hunger mixing with the throbbing pain burning down her entire right side. She knew she had to have received significant injuries; she remembered feeling sharp gravel dig into her side. The energy…the energy had dulled the pain. She felt a momentary hint of gratitude before the spitefulness set in-what good was dulled pain when it returned with a vengeance hours later?
Another vague memory came to her. She remembered being led to concentrate on the energy of the blue hued component of her guides, resulting in the peace she had felt. Sarhea’s eyes slowly opened as she stared at the stone ceiling. Back on her home world, the blue element had been called the Light of Peace. Conflicting thoughts immediately began to bombard her mind. If this city’s energy was not connected to the Guardians, then how did its blue element bring peace to her injuries? On her home world, simply being in unity with the Guardians could heal most physical injuries, but here, there were no Guardians…
Sarhea felt an unusual tingling begin build in her left shoulder and slowly start moving down her arm. She lifted her left hand beside her. She could almost see the hint of energy moving down her arm. Her hand began to burn as if it had been asleep. Sarhea’s eyes widened-there appeared to be wispy hints of blue haze raising off her fingers, almost as if it were a flickering vision. What was this? Her curiosity got the better of her as she carefully tapped into that hidden reserve within and allowed the city’s energy to merge with hers. Her vision came alive with color. She watched in confusion as blue energy from her surroundings flowed into her core, then seemed to travel down her arm to leave her hand in a strong manifestation of steady smoke-like hazy blue tendrils. She wanted to be afraid, but all she could feel was a strong sense of peace…the Light of Peace…She didn’t know where the thought originated from but she felt led to place her left hand on the sorest injury site on her right shoulder. She felt a rush of energy flow through her arm and then a peace so overwhelming that it made her feel weak.
Sarhea sighed quietly as her entire body relaxed to the point that she was nearly limp. What the hell was going on with her energy? She could hardly complain about the ease in her pain, but she also could not hold back the growing fear of the unknown. This had never happened before, not without the Guardians’ involvement, and even then the peace had never originated from her. But there were no Guardians here…
Nearly an hour had passed before the strong relaxing peace wore off enough for her to lift her body off the bed. Sarhea’s head swam as she slowly sat and gingerly began to look over her injuries for the first time. Dried blood caked the worst of the abrasions on her shoulder and hip, and her elbow, ribs and knee were badly bruised. She winced in pain after finding a particularly tender bruise along her ribs. But it had all been worth it; she’d killed three drones. A thought came to her; if the blue energy could bring peace, what could the red energy do? She recalled that the red energy had been called the Fire of Life, an element she’d been particularly skilled in channeling. It had been the basis of all her past defensive maneuvers; her understanding of its purpose had been to protect life. If the red energy protected life, did that include healing injuries?
Curiosity got the better of her as she closed her eyes and tried to focus on the red energy as she had earlier on the blue. It was not long before a burning heat began to build in her left arm. Its intensity grew stronger as it moved down her arm and to her hand. This felt vaguely familiar-it was the same heat that nearly consumed her any time she let her anger get out of hand. Her eyes opened at the thought, and she was not surprised to see red wisps rising off her fingers. Sarhea hesitated as she considered whether this was a good idea, but she’d already gone this far; she would never know what she was capable of until she tried. She carefully placed the hand over her injured shoulder. Searing heat flared, causing her gasp and yank the hand away. She glanced at the abrasion as the burn spread throughout her right side. Her eyes widened as she watched the swollen injury redden, then slowly fade to less than it had been, the swelling also decreasing. This was an intriguing development, though it had not gone exactly as planned.
A quiet prodding at the back of her thoughts beckoned for her attention. Sarhea closed her eyes as she waited for the burning to subside. She needed that peace again…the peace…What if…Sarhea quickly focused on both the energy’s elements together. The sensation that built in her arm could not adequately be described. It both burned and tingled, but the action of both seemed to cancel out all uncomfortableness. She opened her eyes to see a strange flicker of what appeared to red violet flame dancing off her fingers. Panic flooded over her-she was on fire! She abruptly shook the hand, trying to put out the flames, but they would not dissipate. It did not take her long to realize that she was not actually burning. She stared at the manifestation in confusion before the quiet prodding returned. She’d started this experiment and needed to completely it. She timidly moved the flaming hand over her shoulder. Strong, peaceful warmth quickly spread throughout her right side, causing her to close her eyes once more. This was more like it…Now if it only worked…
She opened her eyes and began to examine her injuries. The pain was dulled once again, but the redness and swelling was seemed to be slightly less than it had been. Even the worst of her bruises didn’t seem nearly as bad. She could heal herself-the blending of the energies could heal…The realization left her dumbstruck. She would definitely have to further investigate this development.
Angry rumbling in her stomach drew her out of her thoughts. She needed to find food. She had no idea what time it was and hoped that one of the three meal times was near. She cast a quick glance at the sat-com on a chair next to the bed. Once again, she had left it turned off-she would be hearing from Aleena about that. Sarhea shook her head at the thought of her friend as she slowly moved to the edge of the bed and stood. Despite the energy’s healing effects, her knee was still very sore. She limped over to her discarded clothing and retrieved her cloak. It didn’t take her long to realize that it was ruined. Dried blood had hardened on the shoulder and hip area and it was ripped and tattered from the slide along the gravel. A piece was missing from the sleeve. She would have to find another. She dropped the ruined garment and went to her stash of mismatched abandoned clothing. She selected the best fitting items that covered her injuries and set out in search of food.
Sarhea had climbed up to the open air to discover that it was some time roughly midday. She still had a chance to find food for the evening meal. Now she slowly made her way down a section of familiar tunnel. She felt exposed without her cloak, and the stiff breeze that flowed around her made her determined to find another one fast, perhaps now before dinner. She came upon a familiar intersection. A strange energetic prodding welled within, causing her to hesitate. To the right, she would find the vent opening that led to her usual dining hall; the path to the left would take her to upper level tunnels; straight ahead would take her deeper into the city. The prodding urged her to go straight. Sarhea scowled as the prodding became insistent. Since when did the energy demand things of her? She controlled it, not the other way around. She turned toward the right hand path. Pain flared in her injuries, causing her to hesitate. When the pain eased, she tried to move again, but again the pain flared. The prodding grew stronger, almost to the point she thought she could see the guides without having called on them. Her eyes narrowed angrily.
“Really?” she snapped at the invisible force. The pain did not subside until she finally moved toward the tunnel that would take her deeper.
Sarhea absently trudged through the vent shafts as she spitefully argued with the ghosts in her head. It seemed that this city’s energy had more influence over her than she had initially thought. It continually prodded her along, causing pain to flare if she deviated from its desired path. She was beginning to feel like she was back on her home world with no free will of her own, and it was getting rather annoying. She still didn’t know how this was possible since the Guardians had no access to this place or to her. She had no idea how much time had passed before she suddenly realized where she was. The sounds of machinery and men at work drifted along on the breeze. She also caught the distinctive scent of engine exhaust-she was over the launch bay. Why had she been brought here, to a place that she made a point to avoid? She quickly moved to the nearest vent opening.
The scene below was one of chaos. Uniformed men and women of many species scurried about the cluttered space and a strong sense of anticipation hung heavily in the air. She could not see the source of such commotion from her vantage point but could see where the bulk of the soldiers were headed. She pulled back into the tunnel and moved to a closer location. When she finally found the right opening, she was baffled by the sight that greeted her. Strange hoist contraptions were unloading drones from the cargo holds of several ships. She carefully surveyed the area and counted three drones total. There was no hint of black energy in them. Why were dead drones being brought into the city? She carefully observed the scene to see if she could figure out just what was going on. Her gaze fell to the unmistakable hulking figure of Bud in the midst of the activity, and upon closer examination, she soon spotted the rest of the Alpha Team. Nakyla and Raith were standing next to one of the drones. They were examining something on the front of it, something near its vent openings.
Then it hit her. Sarhea’s eyes widened when she realized these were the drones that she had killed last night. A deep worry began to fester within. This was why the energy had prodded her to come here-something was not right. She pulled back to the tunnel and moved to yet another closer vent. She watched as Raith and Bud called out orders to various crews, directing them where to take each drone. She still could not clearly hear what was being said; she needed to get closer. But how was she supposed to do that? Last time she ventured down there, she was nearly caught.
A large crew dressed in white jumpsuits suddenly entered a contained area to her left. She instantly recognized them as the cleaning crew. A memory from one of her conversations with her new contacts came to her. Frieda had mentioned to her that she would greatly benefit from finding a place to contribute. Sarhea had not known where to begin to discover where she would fit, and Frieda had recommended the cleaning crew. She had said it was a great way to see all the different areas the city had to offer, and had also mentioned the crews were in desperate need of volunteers. Sarhea had scoffed at the idea, but seeing the crew now presented her with a unique opportunity. If she could somehow sneak into their midst, blend in, no one would give her a second glance. She could get as close as she needed to anyone. She only had to find a similar uniform.
Sarhea vaguely remembered the place she had dropped down from last time. There had been racks of clothes and plenty of clutter to conceal her. Even now, she watched as the large crew headed that way. She quickly pulled back up and hurried to that opening. The area below was clear enough of citizens for her to drop down without being noticed. She shuffled over to the cluttered racks of clothing. They did not disappoint. She quickly found a white jumpsuit that appeared would fit her and pulled it on. There were several somewhat dirty white caps tossed in a box nearby. She bundled her long steel blue locks into a haphazard bun and pulled the cap on just in time to fall into the ranks of the passing crew as they headed for their supplies.
She was practically ignored as carts of supplies were passed out to all the members. No one found her presence out of the ordinary, and in fact, it appeared that most were strangers to each other. This was going to be perfect.
“Alright, guys. Let’s get this mad house cleaned and get out of here. There’s too many jumpy guys with guns in here tonight. Watch yourselves; when they get like this, they’re unpredictable,” the large Cassarian male at the head of the group announced. He appeared to be in quite the foul mood.
That was it for the crew leader’s instruction. The mumbling group quickly began to fan out to tackle their tasks. Sarhea pushed her cart out with a small group that seemed to be heading toward the center of the expansive cavern. She had to get closer to those drones and find out what the interest was in them. Just as she was nearing her first target, a familiar voice rang out to her right.
“Commander Raith! Commander Raith!”
Sarhea tried to keep from flinching at the outburst as she cast a sideways glance to her right. The stubby figure of Dr. Mouser appeared from around a group of soldiers as he made his way through the crowd. The grizzled, wild-haired older man seemed quite perplexed. She soon spotted Raith emerge from another group, a questioning glare in his eye as he moved to meet the older man. Sarhea diverted her gaze and stooped to pick up a piece of stray debris that was near her feet. The pair began chatting quietly, the doctor’s animated actions growing more pronounced. Raith suddenly straightened and glanced toward the back of the cavern. He quickly motioned the doctor in that direction.
Sarhea once again felt the sharp, insistent prodding of the energy. The uneasy feeling she’d had earlier also returned; the drones were not the reason for it. She slowly began to push her cleaning cart in the direction the pair had gone. She made sure to keep up appearances by stopping every now and then to pick up loose trash or wipe a surface as the other crew members were doing. Eventually, she spotted Raith and Mouser at the back of the cavern near a much less populated area. The doctor was still quite animated as he fiddled with computer against the back wall. Sarhea cast a quick glance around to see several of the cleaning crew already working in the area. They were wiping the desktops and emptying waste cans. No one was currently working on the group of desks near her targets. She subtly picked up her pace.
“…contaminated, so can’t be certain…” she heard the doctor saying as she arrived at the first desk.
She kept her gaze hidden below the brim of her cap as she pulled a cloth and unknown bottle of liquid from the cart of supplies.
“What are you saying?” she heard Raith reply. His tone was incredulous.
“…discovered it before, several weeks ago…Computer could not identify…What you brought is pretty close match…”
Sarhea was growing frustrated with the continued noise interference from the front of the cavern. She ignored the warning she felt in the energy as she carefully moved to the next desk closer. Only one other stood between her and the pair of men. Whatever they were talking about was obviously very important. She continued to absently clean the desktop as she strained to listen in on their conversation.
“You’re telling me there is a new species out there? Something that is crazy enough to hunt drones?”
“Maybe, maybe not. Like I said, the sample was contaminated, but parts of it bore a very close resemblance to a blood sample I analyzed several weeks ago that most definitely did come from an unknown species.”
Sarhea furrowed a brow. What was the crazy doctor talking about? She cast a careful sideways glance over at Raith and saw him standing silently in pensive thought.
“Have you seen any unusual injuries come in lately? We have reason to believe that whoever is doing this was injured in the attack. We found that sample near one of the disabled drones. It appeared as though the attacker had been thrown a good distance across rough gravel, so you’d most likely be looking for some nasty abrasions.”
Sarhea froze in the middle of emptying the desk’s trash bin. They were talking about her. She suddenly realized the dangerous predicament she’d put herself in. The warning that she had initially ignored came flooding over her with a vengeance. She had to get away from here. As she quickly turned to leave, the wheel of her cart hung on a loose wire, pulling it taunt. In her haste, her foot snagged the tripping hazard. She suddenly felt herself falling forward and there was nothing she could do. She landed hard on her injured right side and was barely able to contain a yelp of pain. The trash bag that had been in her hand went flying across the floor, losing its contents in the process.
Sarhea was mortified as she covered her face with her arm and bit back cries of pain. She heard sounds of footsteps converging on her location. A hand touched her shoulder.
“Are you alright?”
It was a female voice. Sarhea lifted her arm to see the concerned face of a fellow cleaning crew member. Relief flooded over her as she accepted the Paloan woman’s outstretched hand and began to sit up.
“You?” came a stern voice from behind her.
Sarhea froze, the short lived relief fleeing from her grasp. She knew that voice and knew trouble would most likely be following. Instinctive defensive energy began to well up inside her, and the only way she could keep it at bay was to ignore the threat and focus on the woman’s offer of assistance. She slowly stood but kept her back to the trouble behind her.
“I’m sorry…I’ll clean up my mess,” she mumbled and tried to head toward the trash she’d lost control of.
“Stop right there. You’re not going anywhere. You,” came Raith’s hard voice.
The woman who’d helped her perked up, a worried expression on her face. “Yes Commander?”
“You will finish up here. And you…come with me.”
“Yes sir-no problem,” the woman answered and shot her an apologetic glance as she turned to her new task.
Sarhea finally found the nerve to face her antagonist. She was greeted by stern, hard green eyes.
“Sir, I really need to return…” she started.
Raith’s eyes narrowed dangerously, cutting her off. Her own gaze hardened as the defensive energy tried to flare.
“You will come with me,” he commanded once more and began to walk purposely toward the back of the cavern.
Sarhea hesitated. She wanted no part of this trouble and frantically began searching for the guides’ leading for an escape.
“Move along, Miss,” came a voice from behind her.
Sarhea cast a quick glance back to see a stern Cassarian guard waiting to escort her to her destination. She turned her glaring gaze back to the retreating figure of Raith. He did not even pause to see if she were following. She bristled with renewed anger as she slowly began to move. She felt the curious gaze of Mouser as she passed by.
The guard followed close behind her as they walked deeper into the cavern. She’d not ventured to this end of the ventilation system often as there was nothing of interest here, only several small offices. Raith paused outside one labeled “Security”. She kept her gaze hard as she neared. He opened the door and motioned her inside.
“You can wait out here,” he told the guard, who nodded and took his position outside the door while Raith closed it.
Sarhea quickly glanced around the small room. It was furnished simply with a table at its center and various computers and electronics which sat on a countertop that ran the length of its back wall. There was only one way in and out. She suddenly felt very trapped.
“Just what are you doing here?” came the demanding voice from behind her.
Sarhea slowly turned. “I was cleaning. Is that not what the cleaning crew does?” she replied flatly, trying to keep the distaste from tainting her words.
Raith’s glare only darkened. “Do you take me for a fool? Where is your security clearance badge?”
She tried not to show the confusion she felt. Raith crossed his arms before him.
“As I suspected. You have no clearance. Now tell me what you are doing here.”
Sarhea was having a difficult time keeping her defensive energy at bay. She could feel the pressure inside building, could feel the heat growing. She could not allow herself lose control.
“I was cleaning, or at least I was trying to before you handed my job off to someone else. No, I do not have a security badge. I was told the cleaning crew needed volunteers, so I volunteered. This just happened to be the group I ended up in at the last minute.”
His only response was a calculating smirk that served only to stoke her growing anger.
“And who told you they needed volunteers? Leesha? Or perhaps it was Tobin…Argine? Frieda? Which of them told you to volunteer?”
Sarhea was momentarily stunned. How did he know the exact names of the individuals she’d recently made contact with? His knowing, challenging gaze brought her out of her stupor.
“Have I done something wrong by speaking with these individuals? I was under the impression that we were free to speak with whomever we wanted,” she spat in reply.
Raith turned his back to her. “I am not stupid. I know surveillance when I see it. The names I mentioned are not ordinary citizens. They are those of influence with access to sensitive information. Had I only noticed you watching one or two of them, perhaps I would not have caught onto you. But when I see you sneaking about, making contact with all four these past few weeks, I know something is going on. It would be in your best interest to come clean with your intent now.”
Sarhea bristled as she desperately tried to contain the raging fury within. She had grossly underestimated Raith and knew immediately that he was going to be trouble.
“Yes, I did speak to Frieda and it was she who told me that I needed to find a place to contribute and suggested the cleaning crew. The contacts I’ve made were simply by recommendation of others and there has never been any ill intention. What crime is there in this?” she demanded.
Raith was silent a moment before he turned back to her with an arched brow.
“And what about just now? What interest could you possibly have in the information Dr. Mouser was attempting to convey to me in confidence? Do you really think your sad excuse of cleaning would fool me? You were not even using the proper cleaner on those desks.”
Sarhea was completely flustered now. The festering defensive energy boiling within screamed for release, but to allow it release would end her freedom in this city.
“Why should I have any interest in what you or your doctor was saying? As I have already said multiple times, I was simply trying to clean. Excuse my ignorance when it comes to cleaning supplies. I was given them with no instruction and had to rely on what I saw those around me using,” she spat in reply, her voice laced with anger.
Raith’s large ears fell back as a threatening growl rumbled in his throat.
“I want the truth!” he snarled and brought his fist down hard atop the table.
The sudden outburst was enough to make her flinch and step back. Her surprise lasted only a moment before she took a rigid, defensive stance.
“You obviously cannot accept the truth so why should I bother trying to give it?” she growled in reply.
She watched his expression grow dark and dangerous as he glared at her in fury. A hint of worry tried to break through the madness boiling within. This guy meant business and he wasn’t backing down. All the stories she’d heard about him were contradicted by the fuming aggressor before her. Somehow, he’d seen through her lies, had recognized her sneaking about without her even realizing it. In fact, she’d only ever seen him once during her surveillance the past few weeks, and that had been one morning she sat with Leesha at breakfast when Aleena had been busy. It seemed trouble had finally caught up with her, but she never dreamed it would originate from within the safety of the city. She was beginning to fear she would have no choice but to allow the energy its freedom.
“We are at war here,” Raith finally growled, his voice low and threatening. “We are fighting for our very existence. It is my duty to protect every soul within these walls, and any threat to that security will be dealt with accordingly.”
Sarhea clenched her fists at her sides as she bristled in fury.
“So I am a threat? I’m a threat because I dare talk to those you consider above me in my quest to learn about this place that I must call home, a threat because I dare try and find a place to fit in? Forgive me for not seeing how any of this is a threat to your security!”
Sarhea could feel the defensive energy burning beneath the surface of her skin and knew it would come pouring out at any second. Her fragile control over it was nearly gone. The nerve of the pathetic creature before her. She had done nothing but attempt to clean up his team’s fumbled attempts to kill the drones. The desire to unleash her fury upon him was nearly overwhelming.
Raith’s posture became rigid as he stepped back from the table. “I can see this…” he growled threateningly.
His words were interrupted by the sudden sounding of alarms, distant explosions and the shrieks of frightened citizens. His fury melted into surprise, his eyes widening, as he spun about. The door flew open without warning and the guard who’d led her to the office appeared in the opening.
“Commander Raith, sir! The drones…they’re attacking!”
“What? Have all crews report to their stations!” he barked.
“Yes sir!” the guard acknowledged and disappeared from sight.
He spun back toward her, his gaze uncertain, until it fell back to her.
“What a coincidence. I drag a suspected spy in for questioning and the damn drones launch an attack!” he snarled in fury and turned from her.
Sarhea froze, the defensive energy’s fury finally finding its way to the surface. She could feel the heat radiating from her skin and knew it would probably be seen in her eyes.
“You dare think I had anything to do with this attack? Those…THINGS have destroyed everything that I have ever held close, have taken everything and everyone that I have ever cared about! Accusing me of being a spy is bad enough, but to say I’m in any way associated with our MUTUAL enemy is…”
Her venom laced words trailed off as she fought to keep herself from launching across the room and ripping apart anything she could get her hands on. She gripped the edge of the table and lowered her head. She could feel her world spinning out of control. Her natural vision was fading into the energized sight she normally only experienced when she called upon it-the energy was taking over.
“Go. Get out of here. I’ve got more important issues to deal with. If I catch you snooping around in secured areas again, if I get any indication that you are running surveillance on unsuspecting citizens, you will not get off so easily. If you are truly doing as you claim, I expect the proper channels to be utilized. Go, get out of my sight before I change my mind,” he growled and turned toward the open door.
Sarhea heard him step out, heard him summon a guard somewhere beyond, telling him to escort her safely from the area. Then there was nothing but the sounds of the chaos beyond. Sarhea remained as she was, bracing herself against the table as she struggled to get the energy under control. Now that her antagonist was gone, the task proved much easier.
“Come along now, I don’t have time for this,” an impatient voice prodded.
Sarhea finally lifted her head to see a stern Kalatian guard waiting nervously by the door. She pushed herself up off the table and defiantly made her way to the opening. She looked out just in time to see the Alpha Team’s white ship lift off its launch ramp and streak out through the launch duct. Fools! They were only going to make it worse! Sarhea was still fuming as she followed the guard to an exit tunnel she’d never been through. He silently pointed at it, motioning for her to leave. She quickly joined the crowds of frantic citizens as they fled and entered more familiar areas of the city. Once she found a place safe enough to enter the ventilation system, she pulled herself up.
Once in her tunnel world, Sarhea finally released her pent up fury. It took control of her, sending her into a blind flight through the ducts. She had no idea where she was going or how long she had run. She suddenly found herself at the rim of a main vent shaft, staring up into an evening sky ablaze with the sights and sounds of battle.
Ships and drones streaked across the sky, cannon fire flashed in all directions. Many blasts bounced off the shields around her and she watched disabled drones fall useless to the ground around the city. But the true source of their power, in most cases, escaped unharmed. The burning energy within her grew once again until she finally let loose a rage filled scream. When her breath was spent, she collapsed to her knees. With the energy released, fatigue and pain were able to return. Her shoulders slumped and for the first time in years, hot tears came to her eyes and she began to cry.
A word to the wise-don't be caught doing something wrong by an overly tired Raith and definitely don't try to lie to him-I think the man has a built in lie detector...
This is a fun little scene I've been waiting to write-I hope you guys like it!
CotL and characters © ME