Children of Darkness: Chapter 17
Do you need to get caught up? Read Chapter 1 here
The council sent a tug to drag them back to their old docking bay. Kind of embarrassing but at least they’d survived so Marcus considered it a win. Dr. O’Hare and their little friend came through the battle without a scratch, though it had taken a while to figure out how to bypass the lock to the spare room and get the doctor out.
Marcus stood in the cargo bay. When the alarm sounded letting him know the bay had pressurized he lowered the loading ramp. Iaka and the others joined him. A robed and masked Vencar waited for them at the bottom of the ramp.
“First Councilor Dra’kor.” She bowed deeply. “We’re honored you would greet us in person.”
“I feared if we sent another of the Terren Minor you would have shot him on sight.” Marcus could hear the smile behind the mask.
“First Councilor, may I present Captain Marcus Drake, Solomon Keys, and Dr. Miles O’Hare.”
The first councilor approached Marcus and held out a gloved hand. Marcus shook it. He glanced back at the shiny new airlock door then back to Dra’kor. “Sorry about your door.”
“It was due for an upgrade anyway.” The Vencar handed Marcus a small data chip. “It contains an override code for the new door, should you find it necessary to leave in a hurry.”
Marcus grinned and pocketed the chip. “Thanks. We brought one of the natives from Alpha 114. He’s in stasis and I think we should get him to the med bay as soon as possible.”
“Of course. My people are on their way.” Dra’kor turned to Solomon and shook his hand. “A pleasure to meet you as well, Mr. Keys.”
Solomon managed to nod before turning away from the shiny mask. Looking to spare his friend any further discomfort Marcus said, “Dr. O’Hare’s anxious to tell you all about his research.”
Dra’kor approached the doctor but didn’t offer his hand. “You, sir, have much to answer for.”
“Please, I only wanted to help your people.”
“By harming another people. You are anathema to the Vencar. I would kill you where you stand if it wouldn’t compound the insult to our ways.”
Dr. O’Hare stared, mouth open, at the first councilor. Before he could speak three Vencar arrived, one pushing a hovercart. Marcus used Herc to help them load the chamber on the cart.
“Take good care of him,” Marcus said.
* * *
The trial and deliberation lasted two weeks. Iaka assured him that was a record for the council to reach a decision. Earth got kicked off the council for ten years. A one-year trade embargo was also put in place for all member systems. Only about half the systems in the galaxy were council members so Earth space wouldn’t suffer too much. Pity, that.
Marcus kept his distance from the proceedings. He spent his days watching the Vencar technicians replace the engines on the Star. The new engines would have twice the thrust and be fifty percent more efficient. Dra’kor said they were a gift for his work helping the Alpha natives. Marcus couldn’t wait to try them.
Things had calmed enough that Solomon had a chance to examine the silver sphere he’d gotten on New Vegas. It was a universal translator that floated by your head when activated. Once he finished examining the sphere Solomon spent his time messing with the data chip Dra’kor gave them. Something about using it as a backdoor key to the whole system. Marcus neither understood nor particularly cared, but his friend seemed happy and that’s what mattered.
The hangar door slid open and Iaka and Dra’kor entered.
“You’re practically drooling,” Iaka said.
Marcus grinned. “The techs are making the final adjustments and Solomon is fine tuning the software. In less than an hour I can finally take her for a spin.”
“Have you considered a destination?” Dra’kor asked.
“I hadn’t. You got something in mind?”
The first councilor looked at Iaka. “Do you want to tell him or should I?”
“I will,” Iaka said. She practically danced where she stood. “The council has hired me to head a research team on Alpha 114. We’ll study the natives, discreetly, to make sure they recover from Omni’s abuse. We’ll also make a full study of the planet to properly catalogue the flora and fauna.”
“You seem excited.”
“This is what I studied for. It’s a great opportunity.”
“Congratulations.” He tried to sound happy for her, but since her new job meant he’d probably never see her again he failed. “So you need a lift?”
“Not just me.”
He looked over her head and saw a tech pushing the cryochamber into the hangar. Marcus smiled. The Vencar had attached a new piece of tech to the chamber that generated radiation identical to what was found in the natives’ tunnels. “I suppose a god has his responsibilities.”
“I’m going to tell Solomon the good news.” Iaka ran up the loading ramp.
Marcus watched her until she disappeared inside. He smiled a sad smile and shook his head.
“Have you considered your future?” Dra’kor said.
Marcus snapped out of his daydream and turned back to the first councilor. “Not really. I’m afraid Earth space will be inhospitable for the foreseeable future. Most of my contacts are there so I guess I’ll have to start over.”
“There’s another option.”
Marcus raised an eyebrow. “I’m listening.”
Dra’kor took a breath and let it out slow. “What I’m about to tell you must go no further. The galactic council has very limited authority to act directly in the affairs of sovereign systems. Sometimes we find it useful to have the option to act through intermediaries. Individuals with the skill and desire to help where they can. You have proven yourself skilled. Do you have the desire?”
Did he? When he was a kid he always wanted to be a knight, like in the stories his mother read to him. An avenger who traveled around the world righting wrongs. He wasn’t a kid anymore though it would be nice to help people. People like the natives on Alpha who couldn’t help themselves. Marcus grinned. “How much does it pay?”
* * *
They emerged from hyperspace and Alpha 114 filled the view screen. Beside them a Vencar warship cruised into high orbit around the planet. The ship carried equipment and buildings to replace the one the cleaners destroyed. After they set up camp the ship would patrol the system to make sure no one caused trouble.
“Let’s head in,” Marcus said. Marcus pushed the throttle forward and did a couple barrel rolls. He grinned like a fourteen-year-old with his first sky hopper. The new engines handled great.
“If you’re through playing we need to get our guest back to his people,” Iaka said.
They rumbled through the atmosphere and landed in the remains of the old Omni camp. The trip to the natives’ caves wouldn’t take as long from there. The ship settled on its landing gear and Marcus and Iaka got up.
“Aren’t you coming?” Iaka asked Solomon.
“I don’t care for jungles,” Solomon said.
“You’ve never been to a jungle, only a clearing,” Marcus said.
“I’ve read about them and I didn’t like it. I’ll stay in the air conditioning, thank you.”
“Then this is good bye.” Iaka leaned down and hugged him. “Thank you for everything.”
Solomon’s face turned bright red and he managed to pat her shoulder.
Marcus shook his head. “Smooth, pal.”
They left Solomon in the cockpit to catch his breath and went back to the cargo hold. They’d locked the chamber down, still on the hovercart. Marcus deactivated the force field holding it in place and powered the cart up. He checked the timer on the wakeup cycle. Ten minutes to go.
“You should put your armor on,” Iaka said. “Let them see their god returned.”
Marcus nodded and did as she suggested. They left the ship and walked the mile to the cave entrance. They went a couple hundred yards in and Marcus immediately heard the ultrasonic shrieks he recognized as the natives.
“They spotted us,” Marcus said. He opened the chamber and the bleary-eyed and still half-unconscious native sat up.
Iaka said something to him and he perked up. A few minutes later the tribe emerged from deeper under the mountain. Marcus helped the little guy out of the chamber. He looked a little unsteady when he set him down but the native stood on his own.
When Marcus looked back up all the natives save the shaman fell to their knees. The shaman approached and bowed nearly double. He shooed their little friend back toward the rest of the tribe.
Iaka listened as the shaman spoke. “He thanks you for bringing his son back safe. Now, put your hand on my shoulder.”
Marcus did as she asked and Iaka spoke again. The shaman removed one of the stone fetishes from around his neck and handed it to her. He bowed again to Marcus and returned to the rest of his people. The tribe got to their feet and disappeared deeper into the mountain.
They returned to the surface and Marcus took off his helmet. “What was that all about?”
“I told him you appointed me your divine representative. He gave me the stone as a gift to a fellow shaman. This should make it much easier to conduct my research.”
“Just be sure you’re good to my people.” Marcus found he meant it. He felt a certain affection for the strange little creatures that made him their god.
“Don’t worry, we’re only here to observe and peacefully interact, no experiments.”
They looked up as a shuttle entered the atmosphere, the first of the supplies from the cruiser.
“I suppose this is goodbye,” Marcus said.
“Perhaps just see you later. We both work for the council now after all. I’m sure we’ll meet again.” She stood on tiptoes and kissed him.
Marcus felt warmth spread through him and decided he would see her again.