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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 20

Lark had told Owen she didn’t want to see him for two days. Owen hadn’t thought to ask why she felt that way. Now, he wished he had. How important was it for him to stay away? Was it just that leave happened at that time, or was there some other reason? Certainly, he needed to talk with Lark as soon as possible. He wanted her thoughts on what Leader Monrage’s motivation could be for helping out with the probable coup. And what if it took awhile for Lark to figure out the reason? They might need those two days to iron everything out. Maybe he should go back to the ship and see whether he could run into Lark. Maybe then, he could suggest they meet up tomorrow night instead. Owen headed for the ship.

Owen made good time and managed to slip on to the ship before curfew. He used the hall where Lark’s room was located in order to get to the control room. That way he could pass by her door without arousing suspicion. As he headed down the hall, Owen could see that the door to Lark’s room was slightly ajar and was sliding in slowly. As he neared the door, he could see that it was dark inside. There was also no one in the doorway. Owen felt that was alarming. Owen swiftly went to the door and forcibly pushed it open the rest of the way with the palm of his hand.

Inside, Lark was standing opposite Leader Monrage. They were staring each other down. Suddenly, Monrage reached forward and grasped her arm; he wrenched it. But Lark didn’t react to it. She just kept staring at Monrage. Then, Lark’s eyes shifted toward Owen. For a moment, Owen hadn’t been sure that they had heard him enter and knew he was there. Now, though her eyes didn’t betray any emotion, it was clear to him that she wanted his help.

“You’re needed in the control room … Officer Twelve.” Owen stated.

“And who would need her in the control room during leave?” Leader Monrage demanded without looking at him.

“Jensen. He’s always here at night. He needs to shut down the system in order to run a diagnostic scan.” Owen replied. The scan had been done days ago. Owen hoped that Leader Monrage didn’t know that. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to do another. “You want us to be prepared for … whatever, don’t you?”

Leader Monrage released Lark. He laughed out loud.

“All right. Go handle your little problem, and we’ll take this up later.” Monrage said to Lark.

Lark kept her eyes turned away from Leader Monrage. She stared past Owen and toward the door. She then walked in the direction her eyes were pointing. Suddenly, Lark bent down and quickly scooped up Cinnamon; she pulled her to her chest. Finally, she walked out into the hall.

Owen could tell by the look in Lark’s eyes that she was very upset. Owen then looked over at Leader Monrage, who was smiling with a perverse look on his face. Owen just glared at him from underneath his eyebrows. Then, he turned and followed Lark out the door. He could feel Leader Monrage staring after him.

Owen spotted Lark not far ahead of him walking slowly toward the control room. It didn’t take long for Owen to catch up to her. Lark was almost staring straight ahead, but her eyes were slightly downcast. She was petting the cat rhythmically.

“Jensen didn’t ask for you.” Owen told her.

“I know. That was last week.” Lark stated in a monotone.

“Lark.”

Lark slid her eyes toward him.

“I can’t do this anymore.” Lark whispered. “I have to find a way out. Will you help me?”

“Yes.” Owen tried to give Lark a reassuring smile.

“After we start the diagnostic, we’ll go talk. I have to stay somewhere else tonight. I know it might make it harder to deal with things.”

“Doesn’t matter. I have something to tell you.” Owen returned.

“Good.” Lark said. “That’s good.”

Jensen was not only a navigator, but he also handled the computer maintenance. It was easier that way. After all, if the computer’s navigational system didn’t work it would be he that would face the brunt of Leader Monrage’s wrath. Oh well. It was a small price to pay. He would lose a few hours of sleep, but the quality of the sleep he did get was much improved. Of course, some days seemed less tedious than others. Jensen found it really depended on how the rest of the day went. Some days were more exciting. Working around the unique intricacies of space and going out on shore leave were his two favorite things to do. Days where he sat around waiting to be needed — those were the days that grated on Jensen.

So, when Officer Twelve walked into the room, face downcast and seemingly in a daze, his first thought was at least this was different. His second thought was one of concern.

“Don’t worry. She’ll be fine.” Owen said, shutting the door behind him.

“Of course.” Jensen replied.

Jensen wasn’t sure he liked the familiarity Owen seemed to show Officer Twelve. After all, she was the commanding officer on this ship. She was the leader when Leader Monrage wasn’t around. Still, to look at Officer Twelve now, even with the uniform, she looked like a lost, little girl. Officer Twelve sat in her commander’s chair and began to pet the cat on her lap. Suddenly, Officer Twelve looked up and made eye contact with him. Jensen was embarrassed to realize that he had been staring.

“Could you please run the diagnostics again? I have a feeling we’ll be taking off soon. The ship has to be at optimal performance.”

“Of course.” Jensen set to work.

Suddenly, there was a noise coming from the door. It seemed that someone was trying to open the door, but Owen had locked it. Lark turned around in her chair and watched the door until the knob stopped rattling. When it stopped, Lark allowed herself to breathe. She turned back around.

“I really appreciate you doing this, Jensen.” Lark told him.

“Of course, Officer. I’m glad you appreciate what I do. You know, I have to input all of the changing conditions within the range of a day’s travel: weather, climate, space debris. I wish other commanders would understand the importance of computer optimization.”

When Jensen looked up at Officer Twelve, she was staring off to the side. But then, she looked at him again.

“I’m counting on it to give us an edge.” Officer Twelve revealed.

“Of course.” Jensen smiled. “We’ll be the best in the fleet for sure. Heck, we may already be that.”

“I hope so.” Officer Twelve said.

“Well, the diagnostic scan has been started, but it may take awhile.”

“That’s fine.” Officer Twelve’s eyes wandered downward. Yet, the feeling that Jensen was still looking at her drew her attention back to him. Did he think she didn’t trust him? She grasped the arms of her chair with her hands.

“I’m going to stick around if that’s okay with you.” she told him.

“Sure. No problem.”

“Obviously you could do it without me.” she added.

Lark didn’t want to leave just then. She was afraid Leader Monrage would come in and stop the scan if she left. Maybe it was silly for Lark to think she could stand guard over the computer system. After all, she feared she had little ability to protect herself, which if Lark were honest with herself was the real reason she didn’t want to leave the room. She suspected Leader Monrage had been the one to try the knob earlier. Maybe if she waited long enough, Leader Monrage would lose interest in waiting around. That or he was looking for a key. Maybe she was just fooling herself to think she had any control.

“Do you really think we should stick around here?” Owen whispered to Lark. “We don’t really need the scan.”

Lark turned and looked at the door with trepidation.

“I guess you’re right.” Lark turned to Jensen. “Let me know whether … something interrupts the scan. We’ll make time for it tomorrow morning.”

Owen was surprised by how much of a daze Lark seemed to be in.

“Oh, okay.” Jensen returned. “But I think it’ll go through tonight. Still, it’s nice to have the support.”

Lark wished she could tell Jensen not to trust Leader Monrage. But why cause a problem for him if she didn’t have to? Having to be wary of Leader Monrage certainly didn’t make Lark’s life any easier. If Jensen was fortunate enough to be able to fly under Leader Monrage’s radar, why should Lark ruin that for him? Still, to have someone like Leader Monrage actively trying to undermine her but not have the ability to warn those she needed to depend on was problematic for Lark. Yet, she couldn’t hang out in the control room all night.

“All right.” Lark said. “We’ll leave Jensen to it.”

Owen nodded in disbelief. Lark scooped Cinnamon off her lap. She could tell by looking at Jensen one last time before she left that he was confused. He seemed to be perplexed about Lark’s behavior, but mostly he seemed confused about the dynamic between Lark and Owen. Lark had to admit she wasn’t exactly sure what her relationship with Owen was. Now, she’d have to consider how it would affect her crew. But there was time for that later. She had to deal with Leader Monrage first.

When Lark stepped foot into the hall, she stopped short and looked around her. All the dark spaces down the hall seemed ominous. She could almost feel Leader Monrage’s presence. Still, there was no sign of anyone being around. Owen came up behind her then.

“You ready?” he asked her.

“Yes.” she determined.

Leader Monrage didn’t appear again that night, but Lark kept an eye out for him anyway. She cast a look at her room door, which was now shut. In a way, it was more frightening like that. Was Leader Monrage in there, hiding in the closet waiting for her? She then looked straight ahead. It didn’t matter. She wouldn’t be going back there that night. She’d sleep on the street if she had to rather than go back there. Lark felt a sense of relief when she passed by the security guards. She was free — at least for a little while. She felt the wind on her face and was grateful for it. She remembered when the wind was hot, dry, and dusty on her face. It was hard to breathe then; it was easier now. But it wasn’t completely easy yet. It wouldn’t be, not until she was free of Leader Monrage. But how?

Lark and Owen came upon the church door. It was shut. At first, Lark was again concerned that it was locked. Fortunately, the fear was unwarranted. It opened slowly but smoothly.

Lark breathed out. She stepped inside, and Owen filed in behind her. Lark touched the edge of a pew with her hand. She could lie down on this bench and sleep there. After all, the pews were covered with cushions. If only she could stay there and shut out the bad things.

“So, are you going to tell me what happened?” Owen asked.

“You can imagine.” Lark said while looking off to the side.

“Yes, I probably can.”

“I have to break free. That’s why I’m here — to figure out a way. It felt safe besides.”

“Are you up for having a talk?” Owen put forth.

Lark gave him eye contact.

“Yes, I feel better now.” she told him.

Owen sighed. He was relieved.

“I did get some information out of that Mr. Marlock. You know, the one who works for Frederick. He let something slip. Seems there are other ships, possibly even a fleet. And they probably know what the plan is. I figure we aren’t privy to the information because it may leak out. That is why they’re not around; they don’t want there to be a chance anyone here will find out. From what I’ve been able to discover about Frederick Applegate’s family, I suspect a coup of some kind is about to be attempted. What I don’t know is what is in it for Leader Monrage. I thought maybe you could figure out that part. It would most likely be easier to destroy Leader Monrage’s payment in order to stop the transaction than to try to stop a whole coup once it’s in progress. I mean, whom could we tell? Would they even believe us? And could we trust them?”

“I agree.”

“Well, we have a lot of things to do.” Owen was animated. “I suggest I go pick us up something to eat. It’s going to be a long night.”

“Yes. That would be good. Though, we’ll probably need to eat on the front steps instead of in here.” Lark offered.

“Sure. As for the weather, it’s shaping up to be a nice night.”

Lark nodded.

“Take care of yourself. I’ll be right back.”

Lark could have gone with Owen, she supposed. But she was tired and really didn’t want to leave the church.

“I hope they won’t mind that you’re here, Cinnamon.” Lark said to her cat. “You’re going to have to behave yourself. I couldn’t leave you in the room; something would have happened to you.”

Lark decided she may as well sit down as she waited for Owen to return. She sat down in a back pew with the cat in her lap. She prayed. Then, she turned her thoughts to what Leader Monrage could possibly want from this situation. Maybe if Lark thought about it long enough, the answer would become clear.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 19

Celeste had a lot of explaining to do to her future in-laws about the odd appearance of Leader Monrage and Officer Twelve. They made it clear that, though they were proud of Frederick’s business success, there was no need to invite people such as those to their parties. People such as those. That statement alone made it worth it. Suddenly, Celeste felt a jolt of relief and maybe even excitement. She hadn’t realized how much Lark’s re-emergence had bothered her.

Just when all of her and Frederick’s plans were about to pay off, Lark comes back almost like a harbinger of death. Frederick tried to console Celeste, but Lark’s return just seemed to be an indication that bad things were about to unfold for her. She had been so confident before, but after seeing Lark again that dissolved. Still, Frederick insisted Leader Monrage was the man to make their plan succeed. Thank goodness for that party, Celeste thought. Seeing Lark there — no one would believe Lark about the theft — that it was actually Frederick and she who had stolen the broach. So, how should Celeste play it if her future in-laws did find out about her connection to Lark? Maybe she’d say Lark took it upon herself to try to get them some money. Or, maybe Lark was just born bad.

Celeste laughed. No matter. As annoying as the past was to her now, it had been necessary to steal that broach. Celeste needed the money to lift her into a better standard of living. Frederick, meanwhile, needed to be out from underneath his father’s thumb. The idea of having Lark take the fall for it wasn’t planned, but Celeste had been spotted from a distance running back toward the house. True, she and Lark weren’t the same height or age. They didn’t even have the same hair color. Yet, Frederick saw to it that those types of questions wouldn’t be asked. Frederick had a friend who could help him, but that friend made it clear that someone would have to take the blame. Someone would have to pay — that was the only way Celeste could be free. Ironically, they used some of the proceeds from the broach to accomplish the right outcome at the hearing. Celeste would lie low, and the judge would just accept Lark’s plea. Of course, Celeste had been a little worried that if she didn’t go to the hearing Lark wouldn’t plead guilty, but she did.

And as it turned out, it was for the best. Celeste had nearly destroyed her own future to keep Lark around; Lark owed her something in return. Besides, if Celeste had been sent to the prison planet Lark would have ended up in the foster care system anyway. Celeste sighed. She doubted Lark would see it that way — because Lark was younger she was entitled.

But it didn’t matter now. Leader Monrage would manage Lark. He could probably even convince Lark there was little to be gained in exposing that she and Celeste were related. Celeste breathed.

“Hello, my lovely.” Frederick came up to her at the party. “You seem to be doing much better.”

“I am.” Celeste smiled.

“So, where did she go?”

“I saw her leave through the garden door a little while ago.” Celeste admitted.

“Well, I’ve got to talk with the mayor. Is that all right?”

“Sure. Of course.”

Celeste kissed his cheek. Then, Celeste got to thinking — why should she be afraid of Lark? Lark should be afraid of her. Celeste was the one with the power. Maybe Celeste should make sure Lark knew that. If Lark had left the grounds, it might mean that Lark finally got it. Celeste crossed over to the garden exit Lark left by. Celeste had watched Lark file out of the room from the corner of her eye. She hadn’t wanted to give Lark the satisfaction of knowing she was interested in what Lark was doing. Still, though Lark had walked out quickly it was not fast enough for Celeste.

When Celeste stepped onto the balcony, there was no one there. Lark must have found the gate, Celeste concluded, even though it was hard to see. Celeste headed there just to make sure. Funny, the latch was still secured from the inside. Could Lark have sneaked back into the house? Celeste put her hand on the latch and considered. She was about to leave and return to the party when she heard voices in the garden speaking words she couldn’t quite make out.

Curiosity overcame Celeste, and she lifted the latch. She walked carefully yet quickly toward the voices. By the time she got to the two people, they had stopped talking. In the clearing was her cousin Lark kissing an unknown man. Celeste stood frozen there wondering what to make of it. Who was this guy, and what did he have to do with Lark? Did Leader Monrage know about this? Celeste waited until they left before heading back to the house. Celeste didn’t want a confrontation after all. Celeste returned to the gate. She felt relief when she was able to relock the door. Immediately, Celeste ventured back into the party. She was intent on finding Leader Monrage. Unfortunately, Celeste didn’t see the striking man among the crowd. However, Celeste was able to find Frederick.

“Frederick, where is Leader Monrage?”

“He just left.”

“Oh.” Celeste uttered.

“What’s wrong?” Frederick asked her.

“I have to tell him something. It seems someone isn’t being completely honest with him. Where can I find him, do you think?”

“He’ll be here in three days. Can it wait until then?”

“So, that’s when it is. Yes, I suppose so. After all, even I don’t know what to make of it. Besides, I know you don’t want us seen with him again until …” Celeste stopped herself in time. “By the way, I know you did this thing tonight for me.”

“Yes, I’d do anything for you.”

“Yes, of course.” Celeste mentioned.

“I could send him a note if you want.”

“No, I don’t want to risk our plan. That’s what’s important. I’ll deal with the other soon enough.”

 

***

 

Lark headed for her room. As soon as she could, she tore off the uniform and threw it to the ground. Leader Monrage could control what she wore outside of these walls, but inside this room she could do what she pleased. But was it enough? And what would happen if he did try to control everything she did? Would she even be capable of stopping him?

When Lark sat on the bed, Cinnamon came up wanting to be petted. Lark petted her. Yet, Lark stared blankly out the window as though in a trance. Her mind alternated between the horrible experience of being with Leader Monrage and Celeste that night and the unexpected occurrence that happened with Owen afterward. It was almost too much to process.

And then, there was the fact that she’d given herself two days to figure out what was going on with Leader Monrage, Celeste, and Frederick. She’d chosen that date because she figured the soonest anything could happen was after leave was over. Also, it hadn’t escaped her notice that the following day everyone would be subjected to yet another roll call and another mandatory lockdown. It would seem that Leader Monrage was once again planning to meet with Frederick and Celeste. There was no way to know how much time was left before their plan was implemented. True, she could let Owen find out what he could, but what if he couldn’t find out anything by then? And what if he was discovered asking around and something happened to him? Lark realized that she cared whether something happened to him. She wrung her hands.

Lark then tried to piece together what little information she already had. Obviously, the need to have a new pilot and the fastest ship had something to do with the plan. There was a lot of secrecy involved in it as well. So, Owen was right; there was a large chance of illegality and danger. What was more, Leader Monrage was probably going to spring the plan on the crew at the last minute, so there wouldn’t be a chance the information would be leaked. That meant that once Lark came back from leave, she wouldn’t have another opportunity to change things.

In the end, even though Lark wanted to help retrieve information, she wondered how she could even manage it. Say there was information at her cousin’s mansion — would it be worth the risk to look for it? If someone saw her, Leader Monrage would go nuts, and Lark would probably be put into solitary confinement — if she even survived. That was assuming there was even anything written down. As paranoid as Leader Monrage was, that was doubtful.

It also seemed Owen would be the one most likely to find something out if there were any rumors circulating. Lark didn’t know why, but she had a feeling Owen may be good at finding out information. Then again, maybe she did know why; he did get a lot of information from her. Either way, it seemed as though she’d have to count on him. People were unlikely to disclose information to her, especially in this uniform. Who would talk with Lark about her boss?

 

***

 

Owen was an observer. That’s how he managed to survive so long in the barren hole that he grew up in. Sometimes the sporadic workings of the climate adapter on his home planet made it difficult to breathe. Those were the worst days, but the other days weren’t much better. There was always intrigue there and people pitted against one another. It didn’t take long for Owen to withdraw — to figure out what was really going on — to stay out of it when he could but take action when he had to. It was safer that way.

Still, as it turned out, being capable of blending into the background could be a useful skill to have at times. Owen touched his glass with his fingers. Lark obviously thought so. He’d been a little worried that she would freak out when he kissed her, but she hadn’t. Owen hadn’t anticipated having feelings for Lark, but there was a connection there. Originally, Owen had thought this position with Leader Monrage would last as long as it was going to, and then he’d move on. But now, he felt a certain investment in taking Lark out of this situation and off with him. Leaving her with that so-called man wasn’t an acceptable option for him. To be honest, and he wouldn’t admit this to Lark, but he was concerned that eventually Leader Monrage would try to force Lark into a personal relationship with him. Leader Monrage clearly enjoyed torturing her when he could. Owen thought Lark could feel that she was in danger with Leader Monrage, but she was trapped. Owen could sense the time was nearing; he didn’t know what Leader Monrage had been waiting for. Perhaps he was waiting until he didn’t need her anymore. Owen suspected it wasn’t that logical. He suspected Leader Monrage enjoyed the anticipation. Still, Owen sensed something bad was building, and it would probably happen after this plan of Leader Monrage’s occurred. Owen couldn’t let that happen. But right now he couldn’t think about that. He needed to get information about Leader Monrage’s plan, so that he could derail it.

Besides being able to talk with then kiss Lark, Owen had gotten something else out of that party. He was able to see that a person other than the three main players had access to the information that he sought. There was a man who seemed to be Leader Monrage’s contact at the house. Owen figured that the conspirators would have to have told him something about what they were doing in order to get his cooperation. And if he was around a lot, there was also a chance that he heard more than they even wanted him to. Still, if he was so trusted by those involved it could be hard to get the needed information out of him — hard but not impossible. The trick was to get him to say something he may not realize was important. Either way, he wasn’t going to get any information on the opposite side of the room. Owen took a sip of his drink. It was time to feel out where Mr. Marlock was coming from. Owen stood and headed toward the bar. He took a seat a few stools down; he allowed there to be a man between them. It would be better to listen to Marlock tell his story to someone else. However, if Owen had to engage Marlock in conversation it was important that he not make Marlock wary of him. Owen couldn’t let Marlock suspect that he came to the bar because Marlock was there.

Owen decided to play it as though he was distracted and stressed. He decided to ask for a club soda. He thought it would get Marlock’s attention. Sure enough, as the person between them stepped off, Owen could feel Marlock shooting him a curious glance. Owen then shot an annoyed look at Marlock, who looked away briefly. Still, moments later Marlock snickered, “What? Not old enough for even this place?”

The bartender picked up on the exchange. He apparently was curious, too. And as it turned out, it fit into Owen’s plan nicely.

“Hard day?” the bartender queried.

“I wish it were only that. Though, sometimes it does feel like one long day.” Owen replied.

The bartender was apparently not going to press, so Owen decided he had to risk being obvious and offer up some more information.

“I’m on call. Who knows how long it will last.”

“On call, huh? A doctor? You seem a bit young for that.”

“A pilot.”

“A pilot? Don’t you have a flight plan?” the bartender wondered.

Owen faked being uncomfortable.

“Usually. But no one tells me anything.”

It was obvious Mr. Marlock was listening in. That was a good sign; it meant he probably had an eavesdropping tendency. Now, how to get him to talk …

“So, I just sit around waiting. Someday I’m going to get my own ship. I’m sick of being someone’s lackey.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Owen could see Mr. Marlock shift.

“They’ll let you take the risks for them, and they’ll let you do all of their grunt work. Still, when it comes to the information you really need — the really important information that you need to have in order to do your job effectively — that they don’t trust you enough to give you.”

Owen could sense the tension coming from his right. He took the opportunity to look at the man.

“Of course, that guy doesn’t know what we’re talking about.” Owen said to the bartender in regard to Mr. Marlock. “He probably owns a fleet of ships.”

“Why would you say that?” Mr. Marlock demanded.

Owen had to continue to seem uninterested. Fortunately, he had a lot of experience with that.

“What I said seemed to bother you. I figured you don’t like to hear working-class men like me complain about their bosses.”

Mr. Marlock glared at Owen; he tapped his drink with his fingers.

“That one thing you said is true. I do think complaining is tedious. Plus, maybe there’s something wrong with you that you don’t know more.”

“So, you’re told everything by your employer?” Owen queried with a hint of disbelief.

Mr. Marlock said nothing but seemed to redden.

“I guess not.” Owen suggested smugly.

“Listen, I can say one thing at least; I’m told more than anyone else in my position. Can you say the same?”

Owen raised an eyebrow. It occurred to Owen that Mr. Marlock recognized him. That was interesting.

“And what is that supposed to mean?” Owen demanded coolly.

“It means you’re the only one of the pilots who hasn’t been told what you’re doing.”

Owen took a sip of his soda. He considered.

“Maybe you’re right.” he said. He took out some money and left it on the counter. “I can’t say it’s been nice talking with you.”

Owen strode out of the bar. He didn’t want to wait around for Mr. Marlock to realize what he’d said. So, there were other pilots. Not around here, though. But possibly nearby that hadn’t arrived yet? Maybe Monrage had ordered a fleet. The rest of the fleet — if there was one waiting in the wings — may have been told the score because they were too far away to leak the information. Perhaps they were even in Colony 9’s orbit right now. It made sense on some level. One ship couldn’t do much, but a fleet that had grown over the years could. Frederick was probably attempting a coup. Owen had seen enough coups where he was from to see the signs.

Also, Owen had learned earlier — before his conversation with Marlock — that Frederick’s family had power on this planet. The family pretty much ran the colony like a monarchy. Actually, it was during that conversation that Owen discovered where Marlock hung out after work. And from Lark’s past, Owen knew that Frederick had a history of taking what he wanted when he wanted it. Asking permission wasn’t one of Frederick Applegate’s favorite things to do to say the least.

Still, there was one major piece Owen didn’t know. Leader Monrage certainly would have demanded a payoff of some kind. Maybe Lark would have some idea what Monrage would consider worth his time and worth the risk.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 18

Lark figured there was no point in arguing with Leader Monrage about the uniform. He had the power to make her life miserable. If her wearing that uniform was all he wanted from her, then she would consider herself lucky. Besides, it wasn’t as though she hadn’t worn this outfit for years. It wasn’t a big deal, Lark told herself. Yet, somehow, Lark couldn’t shake the feeling that it was a big deal.

Before when Lark had worn the uniform, she felt numb. Now, the numbness was not coming completely. Instead, there was an aching pain in the center of her being as though she was dying inside of herself. Lark was troubled. How could she keep this up for the rest of her life? Despite everything that had happened at the prison colony and since, Lark had never felt this trapped before. Panic began to set in. Then, there was a knock at the door.

“Twelve, open up.”

When she first heard the knocking, Lark had figured it was Leader Monrage, but she had still been hoping it wasn’t. Now it was clear it was. Lark rolled her eyes then spun around toward the door.

She opened the door. Then, she looked up at him from beneath her eyelashes. Despite the anger in her eyes, Leader Monrage smiled. He had won.

“Good. Nice to see you again, Twelve. Should we head out?”

Lark didn’t speak. She just stepped out into the hall. She then locked the door behind her. Maybe there was no point in even locking it; it was hard to imagine Leader Monrage couldn’t get in if he wanted to. Lark kept her eyes cast downward as she turned in Leader Monrage’s direction. She could feel him looking at her for a prolonged moment. When she didn’t respond, he finally turned and headed for the hatch. Lark filed in behind him.

Leader Monrage and Lark climbed into a vehicle. Leader Monrage then started the car. Moments later, Lark recognized the streets they were taking. Not surprisingly, they were heading back toward the mansion they’d visited before. Lark stared blankly out the darkened side window.

“So, that’s the way it is. Silence, huh? That’s fine. Keep that up.” Leader Monrage goaded her.

Lark eventually saw the mansion she had expected appear before her. This time there were many vehicles parked around the property. Great, Lark thought, a crowd. Leader Monrage pulled up next to a valet. The valet stepped forward from the curb and walked to Monrage’s side of the car. Leader Monrage rolled down the window as the valet reached for the keys. Leader Monrage handed them off.

Leader Monrage then opened his door and hopped out. Lark continued to take in the scene from her side window. Suddenly, Leader Monrage appeared inside the frame of Lark’s vision. He knocked on the glass and motioned to her with his hand to follow him.

Lark reached for the handle then pulled herself from her seat. She followed behind him slowly. She felt acutely aware of the stares this time. Without the numbness, it hurt her. The same man as before permitted them entrance into the mansion. Lark started to step toward the small corridor that she and Leader Monrage had headed down the last time.

“Umm …” Leader Monrage started. “We’re not going that way, Twelve.”

Lark turned around and looked at him.

“We’re going through the main door … up those stairs.”

Lark looked at the large, cascading staircase and the huge door at the top. Lark could hear music and many voices coming from within. Lark swallowed hard.

“Shall we go?” Leader Monrage asked with a smirk on his face. He was enjoying humiliating her.

Suddenly, Leader Monrage came toward her, grabbed her left arm, and linked his arm with hers. He pulled Lark up the stairs and toward the door. The massive door was then flung open. Lark stumbled a bit as Leader Monrage dragged her in. Lark felt her heart begin to race as everyone in the room started to turn and stare. Then, many people began to chatter within their small groups so loudly that she could hear them above the orchestra. Lark tried to catch her breath.

“Announce us.” Leader Monrage stated to the man standing on the stairs next to them.

The man fumbled for the cue card in his pocket.

“Leader Monrage and Officer Twelve!” he called out.

Lark could feel herself begin to redden. She wanted to wring her hands or run from the room. But that was the moment she saw her. Celeste was standing at eye level on the other side of the room. As bad as Lark had imagined presenting herself in front of her cousin in her uniform would be, it was in actuality much worse. A look of smug satisfaction crossed Celeste’s face as she smirked at Lark with delight. You could almost feel her relief; Lark was dead and this thing before Celeste would never be believed more than she would be. Lark saw Celeste turn toward Frederick and nod. Now the humiliation was complete. Lark could feel Leader Monrage looking over at her, watching her. Oh, the pleasure they were taking in it.

“Okay?” Leader Monrage demanded.

Lark didn’t experience the numbness she usually did, but she did feel a sort of defiance welling up inside of her. So, since she didn’t want to give her cousin the satisfaction of seeing her crumble, Lark glared back at her instead. Then somehow, after a few moments, Lark was able to steady herself, so that her anxiety all but went away. And as Leader Monrage stepped forward, Lark did, too. They headed down the stairs.

“Let’s get this over with,” Lark thought.

Still, she groaned inside as Frederick Applegate approached them.

“Okay.” Frederick said to Leader Monrage. “It’s done. Just make sure that it never changes back to the way it was. We’re both moving forward with our lives. We don’t want to be mired in the past.”

Leader Monrage and Frederick Applegate shook hands. Lark thought of storming off but couldn’t stand the idea of Leader Monrage dragging her back. So, the less painful solution seemed to be to get his permission.

“Leader Monrage, may I leave now?” Lark asked. “Have you gotten out of this experience what you wanted?”

“What? You don’t want to mingle?” Celeste came upon them then. She laughed merrily.

Lark stared at Celeste in disbelief.

“I wonder whether you’re really as confident as you seem …” Lark mentioned to her.

“You may leave with my blessing …” Leader Monrage stated with an edge of bitterness in his voice. “And my insistence.”

Lark looked down. At first, she was going to retreat out the main door, but there was a huge crowd milling about there. The door was also shut and possibly locked. Instead, Lark could see out of her peripheral vision a couple heading into the main room through a glass door located along a wall to her left. She headed that way — head mostly held down — so people wouldn’t be able to stare her in the eye. Lark wasn’t foolish enough to believe that they weren’t watching her. Leader Monrage forcing her to dress up like a freak then taking her to a formal party had a tendency to do that.

When Lark exited the room, she was confronted by a large balcony with a fence surrounding it. Lark would have to climb over it or turn back. Lark was sure of one thing — she had no intention of going back into that room again. Lark looked about her to make sure there was no one watching; there was no point in confirming their suspicions that she was weird.

After she was sure she was alone, Lark made quick work of mounting the fence. She remarked to herself that all of those hours of Leader Monrage’s training had been good for something after all. On the other side of the fence, there was a large, formal garden. In the center of the garden was a big fountain. It had spotlights around it that caused the falling droplets of water to shimmer. Somehow the sound of the water had a calming effect on Lark. She chose to walk beside the fountain, so she could feel the spray from the fountain strike her skin. That way she could tell that it — that she — was real despite the uniform. Actually, part of Lark wished she could pull the uniform off and dump it into the fountain. Then, Lark laughed at herself. As bad as the uniform was, it would be worse wandering the grounds naked.

Lark then noticed there were some tall hedges that almost formed a maze ahead of her — that or at least a winding path. When the wind picked up, one of her senses picked up on something. Lark could hear a noise to her right. At first, Lark thought that it was indeed just the wind. But then when she stopped and turned toward the noise, Lark thought she heard the sound of footsteps.

“Who’s there?” Lark demanded.

Suddenly, a man stepped forward from behind the hedge. Surprisingly, it was Owen. He looked at her quizzically for a moment. Lark looked down. He was staring at her because of the uniform. Eventually, Owen became aware he was staring and looked just above Lark’s head.

“What are you doing here?” Lark wondered.

“I thought you may need a friendly face.”

“You’re not just after information?” Lark asked.

Owen laughed.

“You never get anything useful out of a party. Even I know that. Besides, I’d just ask you later if I wanted to know something.”

Lark looked at him intently.

“And how do you know I’d tell you?” Lark put forth.

Owen stopped smiling and grew serious.

“What’s wrong?” Owen questioned her.

“You mean, other than this uniform?” Lark returned.

“Yeah, I can see why that would bother you.”

“It was an order.” Lark answered sarcastically.

“I imagine it was.” Owen responded.

“He wants me to wear it from now on.” Lark told Owen. She could feel tears begin to break from her eyes. “I’m not sure I can anymore.”

“Seems you’re at a crossroads.”

“Really? Because I don’t see another path.” Lark admitted. “And it bothers me that you keep insinuating that I should do something to change things. It makes me think you have an agenda.”

“I’m not your enemy.” Owen returned without a hint of defensiveness. “But I guess with my background, I’m not a fan of people who like to control others. I felt trapped for a long time. I don’t really enjoy seeing you go through it. I can see that you’re struggling. I could see it even that first day. I don’t think you realize how obvious it is, but it’s painful to witness.”

“You feel sorry for me.”

“Not you. But the situation you’re in … yes. If you were out of it, you’d be fine or at least on your way to being fine.”

Lark looked off to her side. Now that Leader Monrage had angered her, it was hard for her mood to lighten again. Plus, for some reason, it was hard for Lark to trust Owen completely. Then again, why wouldn’t she have trust issues? It would be odd if she didn’t.

“I can’t figure out what the connection is among Leader Monrage, my cousin, and her boyfriend.” Lark whispered. “If we knew that then we’d know why we’re here on Colony 9. Maybe you could figure out what Frederick Applegate has that Leader Monrage could want and vice versa. I’ll give it some thought as well. Still, under the circumstances and given the microscope I’m under, you’d probably be more successful finding out information than I would.”

Lark turned slightly toward the main house. She waited a moment and listened … for something.

“This isn’t the time or the place to talk about this.” Lark added. “We are on leave for the next two days, so we should have that much time to figure out what we can.” Lark concluded softly. “The night before leave ends, meet me in the place you found me during the last leave. We’ll discuss what to do then. Until then, keep your distance.”

Lark moved past Owen. As she did, he reached out his hand and grasped hers. She turned back around towards him.

“Be careful.” he advised her.

Suddenly, Lark’s wall fell down just enough. Her eyes glistened at him. Owen then leaned down swiftly. He placed his hand on her face. Then, he kissed her with intensity. She’d never been kissed before. Certainly, she never thought it would happen in this uniform. Lark looked up at Owen after he let her go. She noted that he was looking at her as he had when she wasn’t wearing the contact lenses and the makeup. It was as though he could see through the mask; he seemed to see her.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 17

It required a few weeks for all of Leader Monrage’s departure preparations to be made. Though Leader Monrage didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to go, one day he did sigh and say tomorrow would be the day. He said this while standing in front of his promised star cruiser.

“I actually can’t wait to take it up.” Leader Monrage said. “Even though it’s been nice to be back on my home planet again, I think I’m ready to leave. Oh, and by the way, Twelve, I’ve hired a pilot. Not that I don’t appreciate your contribution. Heck, I want you to be the co-pilot and learn how to pilot the ship. Even though you’re just a girl, there is still room for advancement in my organization.”

Lark looked over at him. It was as if he really believed that his organization was a great opportunity for her, and that it had more advantages than other options. Lark tried to look on the positive side; at least he saw a job for her to do. Lark had proven herself on some level. There had to be a slight security in that.

Oliver Bertrand held a dinner for Leader Monrage. It was just my father and Leader Monrage who attended. The next day, my father was there at the takeoff. Leader Monrage offered his hand to his brother. They shook hands. Then suddenly, Leader Monrage spun around in dramatic fashion. He went up the incline and into the ship. I wouldn’t see him again until over three years had passed.

The new pilot was an older gentleman. He looked like the kind of man you would see as a ship’s captain sailing the seas. Lark had to wonder why he signed up to pilot a craft full of fugitives. Leader Monrage introduced Lark to the man as Officer Twelve.

“What? Is that her age?” the pilot asked.

“No, fourteen is her age.” Leader Monrage was annoyed.

Lark had only a rough idea of how many years had passed while she’d been on the prison colony. Yet, once she got to Colony 38 and found a calendar it wasn’t hard to figure out how old she had become. Lark could vaguely remember Leader Monrage asking her when she was born. It was just one of a multitude of questions he seemed to ask of everyone. Still, it surprised Lark on some level that he bothered to remember.

“So, this is the one you want me to train, so she can replace me?”

“Yes.” Leader Monrage began. “But remember our agreement. I’ll get you where you want to go, but she has to be prepared for anything.”

“Does she have any skills?”

“She piloted and landed a transport carrier.” Leader Monrage stated with a sort of pride. “We managed to train her well enough …”

“Well, those are a lot easier to pilot than a cruiser such as this one.”

“Really …” Leader Monrage returned bitterly. “Well, I guess you’ll have your work cut out for you then. Feel free to take the ship up whenever you feel it will be convenient.”

Leader Monrage spat out the last line and stormed off. The older pilot seemed to be unmoved by Leader Monrage’s anger.

“Well, girl, have a seat.”

Lark did that which he requested.

“I expect you to hunker down and work.” he continued. “The longer it takes you, the more of my time you’ve wasted. And that leader of yours better not try to mess with me.” He laughed. “You will learn that about being a pilot. Let people know that if they try to mess with you they’ll pay for it. I don’t mean that I’d kill him. No. But he’ll be left without a way to get anywhere. It’s the only job security a pilot has nowadays. You can’t afford to be intimidated. Anyway, we’ll start with you just observing. It seems as though we’re in a hurry today.”

“What should I call you?” Lark asked earnestly.

“Hmmm … how about Professor? Yeah, that sounds pretty good to me.”

The takeoff was very smooth. Lark was impressed by Professor’s skill. When Lark was a small child, she could remember attending a career day. Parents and other relatives came to discuss their jobs. It was meant to give kids a chance to think about what kind of job they’d want to do in the future. All the presentations were well done, but nothing really spoke to Lark. She figured she’d have plenty of time to find her niche. It never occurred to her that she’d have a career foisted upon her. Lark wasn’t even sure that she could be a good pilot. After all, Professor said piloting a transport carrier was comparatively easy. So, what if she didn’t have that edge that separated an exceptional pilot from just a decent one? In a conflict, that could end up being the difference between life and death. And with Leader Monrage leading a group of fugitives around space, conflict seemed to be inevitable.

“You seem worried.” Professor noted.

Lark looked over at him.

“Worried is good. Too many people rush in and think they’re going to be great just because they want to be. You know, I might actually enjoy teaching you. You don’t talk much, and you seem serious enough. I’m not a babysitter — don’t want to be. But I am interested in showing someone my tricks of the trade — things that could really help a person out if they get into a jam.”

Lark’s mood improved. Was it possible that she could learn the skills necessary to stay alive in this environment?

“I see you’re interested.” he said.

“Yes.” she replied softly.

“Good. There’s only so much one can learn from a manual. After awhile you’ve got to have some real experience. Once we get away from the asteroids and debris — and once our brave leader relaxes a bit — I’ll start training you.”

“Great. I’m glad.” Lark stated. She was surprised she felt a twinge of excitement about it. Perhaps it reminded Lark of her youth. When she learned something interesting at school, she’d get excited like that. It then occurred to Lark that she’d fallen away from learning — that she had slid more toward ignorance. Lark thought it may be time to track down a book when she had a chance. Lark had even been assigned a small room of her own. Maybe, as strange as this situation was, she could eke out a life of her own in some small way.

“You know, it’s actually a good thing I’m training you.” Professor announced suddenly. “I just got to thinking there’s no one else to relieve me. I guess I’ll have to train you on the basics just to be able to sleep. Speaking of which, you’d better go get some sleep now. By my calculations, it’ll be awhile before we reach a good training spot. Then, after your training, I’ll try to get some sleep. Just as long as you remember to wake me up if you get into any trouble. Not that you should. You’ll be going so slowly that you’d actually have to be trying to hit something. Still, there is occasionally a piece of debris moving on its own. Then, you’ll have to call me.”

Lark nodded.

“You’ll find a lot of what you’ll be doing is sitting in this chair watching the monitor.”

Lark nodded again.

“Well, good-bye then. Don’t waste time, girl.”

“All right.” Lark stood up. She made her way from the control room to the hall. There on a bulletin board were room assignments. The room number she was given was the same as the name Leader Monrage had assigned her. At least it would be easy to remember. The diagram said her room was at the end of one of the halls. Lark carried what few belongings she possessed in a small bag. It would feel good to unpack her things in a room of her own.

The key card to her room was hanging next to her door. The number “12” was emblazoned on the key. Lark took the key off the hook. She swiped it against the lock. The door opened with ease.

The room was pitch-black. Lark felt the wall to her left for a light. Eventually, she felt a switch on the wall. When she pressed the switch, a dim light turned on in the corner. If this was the only light, she would have to get another one. She would never be capable of reading by such a dim light.

Lark shut the door and locked it. She then looked about the room. It had very little in it. On the wall to her right, Lark spotted a small closet. A full-size bed was on her left. There was a chest of drawers straight ahead of her attached to the wall. In the middle of the room, someone left a small chair. Lark thought maybe she could move the chair next to the dresser and create a makeshift desk out of the dresser. Then, Lark noticed some blinds to the right of the dresser near the corner of the room. Lark was intrigued; she went to the blinds. She noticed a small ledge underneath it. Lark pulled the string. On the other side of the blinds was a window. Outside the concave window was space — with its small, sparkly stars glittering in the distance. This view made the small room seem so much bigger and more livable. In fact, Lark decided to leave the blinds up while she took her nap. Lark went to the bed and pulled back the brand new covers. She had slept on a nice bed while at Leader Monrage’s brother’s house, but this bed was hers. As Lark fell into bed, she was glad to discover how comfortable it was. The mat she used to sleep on at the prison colony had been stiff and scratchy.

Lark moved her pillow over, so she could look out the window. Then, she curled up and closed her eyes. It surprised Lark how quickly she succumbed to sleep. By the time Lark woke up again, she found she wasn’t sure how long she’d been asleep. There was no clock in the room, and there was no way to gauge time in space. She jolted up. What if it had been a long time? Lark quickly grabbed her key card. She ran out the door then locked her room. Swiftly, she headed toward the control room. Professor was sitting in the same spot she last saw him with his eyes glued to the screen. Lark breathed. Maybe it was because of the name he chose to go by, but this situation reminded Lark of being late to grade school. She sighed then walked up to him tentatively.

“Professor?”

The pilot turned. He almost looked amused that Lark actually called him that.

“Well, it’s good that you came back promptly. We have a lot of work to do. And the sooner we get to it, the sooner I’ll be free.”

Lark just looked at him. That would make one of them, she thought.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 16

Lark could remember the first time she saw the uniform. She remembered thinking how bizarre it looked. The dress and the cape were odd enough — but it was the face paint and contact lenses that made it bizarre. While looking in the mirror, Lark thought her eyes looked sort of like a cat’s or maybe a snake’s eyes.

“Why?” she exhaled.

Though her voice was barely audible, Leader Monrage pounced on her words as though she shouted them.

“We need to strike fear into our enemies. I can’t have some cute kid running around.”

Lark picked up the outfit in her hands.

“Oh, and I want you to introduce yourself as Officer Twelve from now on. No more Lark.”

Lark looked up at him with a disturbed expression.

“What do you mean?”

“Weren’t you listening?! You’re a new person. Officer Twelve is your identity now.”

Lark had thought the need for her moniker would be over once they left the prison colony. She looked at the uniform once more. What could she say to that? She needed time to think.

“Why don’t you get dressed? My brother got us these things. It will please him if you wear them. It will please me. I’ll leave you to it then …”

After Leader Monrage left, Lark just stared at the uniform for a moment. She was completely numb. But really what choice did she have? She couldn’t leave the room without having the uniform on. So, she put it on slowly. The last things she put on were the contact lenses. They weren’t a prescription; they were just tinted plastic. They were meant to create an effect. Since they were so darkly tinted, they would be hard to get used to, Lark thought. How could she wear them every day for the rest of her life? There was no mirror in this room, so she could only imagine what she looked like. Lark breathed. There was no point in waiting around here until Leader Monrage came to get her. Lark finally made her way to the door.

Instantly, when she stepped across the threshold she could sense a presence to her left. She turned a glare onto the figure. It was Leader Monrage standing just to the side of the door; he was leaning against the wall. He was clearly lurking there waiting for her. Yet, when he saw her glare at him, his reaction surprised Lark — he actually seemed excited. He smiled broadly.

“Well then, that will be effective.” Leader Monrage admitted. “Come on, my brother is waiting. This is just the beginning. He’s impressed by my plans; I can tell. So, he’s going to set us up in his smuggling business.”

Lark raised an eyebrow.

“We’re even getting our own ship. Face it, Twelve, we’re on our way up. They’ll be no stopping our little group now.”

Things had been going pretty well with Leader Monrage’s brother. It was a surprise to Lark how well. Still, Oliver Bertrand, Leader Monrage’s brother, was pretty stoical. It was hard to know what he was thinking let alone feeling. Outwardly, however, he always seemed pleased whenever Leader Monrage entered the room. Secretly, Lark wondered whether he wasn’t afraid of Leader Monrage. Maybe she was merely projecting her own feelings onto Oliver Bertrand, but it occurred to Lark that his brother was just humoring Leader Monrage until he left. Then again, maybe Leader Monrage knew that. Maybe that’s why he was so giddy. He knew that, for some reason, he could get what he wanted from his brother, and he was enjoying himself because of it. It was clear to Lark that Leader Monrage had no intention of leaving until he was ready to go.

In the meantime, it was clear that Leader Monrage’s group hadn’t had it this good in years — if ever. The food, the amenities, and the accommodations were all top-notch. It certainly worked to keep the former convicts entertained and everything relatively calm. But there was always this tension around, and it felt as though Leader Monrage could light the fuse anytime he wanted to. Perhaps it was the smirk Leader Monrage always seemed to wear as he stalked the halls. Oliver Bertrand did have security staff members, but they didn’t seem as formidable as Leader Monrage’s crew.

As Lark and Leader Monrage entered his brother’s office, Oliver Bertrand looked a bit surprised to see Lark. Still, there seemed to be a little relief in his eyes when he recognized her.

“Bro, may I present Officer Twelve.”

“It seems as though you got what you wanted.” his brother started.

“Yes, well. It’s a start.” Monrage acknowledged.

“So, why don’t you two have a seat?”

“Don’t mind if I do.” Leader Monrage stated. “Twelve, you may sit down, too.”

Lark just looked at Leader Monrage a moment. Then, she sat down in the chair next to him and across from his brother.

“So, should we talk about that plan we discussed before?” Leader Monrage pursued.

“Ah, yes, the ship. What exactly is it you think you need?”

“I want something fast, but that has enough room in it. You know, for the smuggling.”

Leader Monrage said this last part in a whisper — sort of a mock confidential tone. Oliver Bertrand rapped his fingers upon his desk.

“I see, of course, the smuggling. You know, we call it transport …”

“I don’t like the word transport — you know given everything.” Leader Monrage countered, his expression feigning offense. Leader Monrage sat back in his chair.

“Yes. Well, I can order you a craft such as the one you specified, but it will take at least a week. Still, I can have it made to your specifications.”

“That’s great. I’m in no hurry … unless of course you know something I don’t.”

“No, I haven’t heard of anyone coming here to look for you. Though, I suppose anything is possible.”

“And those guards from the transport carrier — you’re sure they don’t know where we are? I mean, if they talk it will be on you. You’re the one who insisted we deposit them safely somewhere else.”

“If they’ve figured out where you landed, it wasn’t from me.” Oliver Bertrand insisted. “I don’t think you should worry about it.”

“But they may know we’re brothers.”

“If they know that, then they’d probably know that this planet doesn’t cooperate with the Security Force, especially now.”

“Yeah, that’s what I’m counting on …” Leader Monrage stated. “By the way, what does ‘especially now’ mean?”

Oliver Bertrand’s eyes turned to the side.

“You know, the politics has always been strained here. The king is old and has taken ill; he is without an heir. And as you know, there are so many families that have claims to the throne. We don’t need complications from outsiders.”

“Yes, and if I remember correctly our family has one of those claims. Don’t tell me you have aspirations to be a figurehead, Oliver.”

“I will do what’s best for the colony.” Oliver Bertrand responded.

“Ha! You couldn’t keep me tied down to this rock. I would rather make myself king of wherever I place my feet. Other people’s needs aren’t my thing. Of course, that would work for you — less competition.”

“Yes.” Oliver Bertrand nodded. “You’re probably right about that.”

“Well, I guess that’s all for now. Oh yes, I do have a list of supplies I will need from you.”

Oliver Bertrand reached for the list.

“I will work on this.” he assured Leader Monrage.

“Good. I’m glad to hear it. You know, this visit has been better than I expected, Oliver. Much better.”

Oliver Bertrand nodded again.

“Now, who do we have here?” Leader Monrage began.

He had caught sight of something of interest to him near the doorway. It was around then that I first came into the picture. I was only six at the time, nearly seven. My long blonde hair was kept in a loose ponytail. My green eyes were filled with curiosity. I wore a typical school uniform for my colony, even though I was being homeschooled at the time. The outfit was navy blue with bright red cuffs on the sleeves. The buttons were also red. I had only come to see my father but wound up stumbling upon his brother, Leader Monrage, and a strange-looking young woman, who was sitting next to him.

“Hmmm … that’s right. Your wife, Margaret, was pregnant before I left.” Leader Monrage acknowledged. Lark could tell Oliver Bertrand seemed unnerved to be discussing his daughter with Leader Monrage.

“Aurore.” my father stated. “Her name is Aurore, and she is supposed to be with her tutor.”

“She let me go early. I got my work done.” I told my father.

“All right.” my father smiled. “Come shake hands with Uncle Leader Monrage and his friend.”

I headed over to the two visitors to do that which my father requested.

“I’m pleased to meet you.” Lark told me as I grabbed her hand.

She looked even younger up close. “She can’t be a grown-up,” I remember thinking.

“I’m pleased to meet you, Miss …” I responded. I have to admit I was staring at her eyes.

“Lark.” the girl said. Then suddenly, Lark threw a concerned look toward Leader Monrage.

“Officer Twelve!” Leader Monrage exclaimed through his gritted teeth.

“Officer Twelve.” Lark corrected herself.

I tried to smile at Lark reassuringly. Next, I shook Leader Monrage’s hand, too. Though by then, he seemed to have lost interest in me.

“You know, I think I might have another list in me.” Leader Monrage said, releasing my hand.

“Aurore, go find your mother. We have more business to discuss.” my father informed me.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 15

 

“You seem deep in thought.” Owen began as he and Lark walked down the street and away from the restaurant. Lark looked up at him.

“I am.”

“Have you thought much about what we talked about?”

“No, refresh my memory. What did we talk about?”

“What Leader Monrage is up to here …” Owen responded.

“You should be careful.” Lark replied coolly. “If he finds out that you’re asking about him, he’ll turn on you. You don’t want that.”

“And who’s going to tell him?” Owen eyed her.

Lark looked at him intently.

“Not me. I don’t talk to him unless I have to.”

“Hmmm …”

“It can’t be a surprise that we don’t really get along.” Lark said.

“Then, why do you stay?”

Lark could feel herself ringing her hands. Suddenly, she stopped in the middle of the street. Owen stopped as well and turned around.

“Say I wanted to escape …” Lark started. “Where would I go?”

“I don’t know, but you have a star cruiser — a fast one.”

It was amazing to Lark that this man was so candid. True, he wasn’t speaking loudly, but he was speaking in the open air. Anyone could be listening. Lark looked around her. The only people she could see were far enough down the street that they were out of earshot. Chances were that Owen had noticed the same thing. Still, had Lark become paranoid and overly fearful living with Leader Monrage all this time? No, there was reason to fear him. There were plenty of instances to provide reason.

“You know, the thing of it is that Leader Monrage could get you and the rest of us into a lot of trouble. You should know better than anyone how strict some of the laws are here.” Owen mentioned.

Lark looked at him with curiosity.

“It would seem to me pretty reckless for a man to choose to start a scheme here of all places, especially given his stint at the prison colony. Not to mention that he must be aware of what happened to you. What could possibly be worth that kind of risk? Unless, like I said, the man is reckless.” Owen added.

Lark’s eyes shifted to the side.

“Lark, I can tell you’re afraid of him. But is he really worse than possibly being executed?”

Lark cocked her head slightly to the side.

“You really think that what he’s up to is as bad as all that?” Lark pondered. “I mean, the only reasons to be executed here are murder and treason.”

Owen looked down.

“You’d know better than I would. You went with him to his meeting.”

Suddenly, Lark wondered whether she could trust Owen. Why was he so curious about Leader Monrage?

“So, that’s the reason you came looking for me?”

“Part of it.” Owen replied.

“Well …” Lark began, looking down. “I’m not privy to what he’s doing. I just know it involves my cousin and the man she betrayed me for.”

Owen looked surprised.

“It’s getting to be that time.” Lark said with a chill to her voice. “If we don’t return to the ship soon, we’ll be sleeping on the street tonight.”

When she got back to her room, Lark thought a lot about what Owen had said. Part of Owen’s motivation for asking so many questions may have been fear. The laws on Colony 9 were notoriously strict. Risking that kind of punishment really didn’t make sense for him or the rest of the crew. But mainly, Lark began to actively think about what Leader Monrage could be up to. One thing was for sure, Lark had no intention of being convicted of another criminal offense because of her cousin.

“So, what could Leader Monrage be doing here?” Lark pondered aloud. Just after they escaped the prison colony, he would rattle on about ideas he had. He’d have off the wall schemes — most of which made no sense. Lark would force herself to listen. After all, if she didn’t listen and he quizzed her on what he had said then she would be punished. Still, none of what he ever said had anything to do with Colony 9; she would have remembered that. Lark had assumed later, once she knew they were coming here, that he’d been scant with the details because of Lark’s history with this place. Now, it occurred to Lark that he was not even close to being that sensitive. In fact, Leader Monrage’s taking Lark to see her cousin was more of a true reflection of where he was coming from. Lark could tell that he enjoyed watching her reaction — that was up to the point where Lark went too far and jeopardized his plan.

Maybe the real question was what Frederick Applegate had to offer Leader Monrage. Lark had found out that Frederick Applegate was wealthy and related to powerful people. Lark had been given the equivalent of a death sentence for stealing his aunt’s diamond broach. But why did Frederick steal from his own family? The thrill of it? He didn’t want to ask for the money? Perhaps he wouldn’t have gotten anything if he did ask? But if he were on the outs with the powerful people on Colony 9, then what could he offer Leader Monrage?

Perhaps he wasn’t on the outs with his family later on but was back then? Certainly, if Frederick’s family had found out about what either he or Celeste had done, he would have risked losing any power he did have. In a way, even being related to the thief wouldn’t help Celeste’s position with Frederick’s family. Then again, maybe Celeste could persuade them to feel sorry for her. Celeste had a delicate beauty like a china doll. The sad tale of how her bad seed cousin went astray could endear her to people already inclined to be fooled. Still, it would probably be better for Celeste if Lark had never reappeared again — not that Lark cared about that at this point.

In the end, Lark concluded that Celeste really did have no cause for concern. After all, look what Lark was up to now and whom she was hanging out with. It just reinforced the idea that she, Lark, had been the problem all along. How strange it was. Lark had tried to save her cousin. No, she had, in fact, saved her cousin, and now she was the problem.

Either way, Lark was sure Celeste and Frederick must have something to offer Leader Monrage, or he wouldn’t be here. Leader Monrage, likewise, must be bringing something to the table. Even by what little he said, it would seem Lark was a part of that something. Lark shook her head. There was anger in the pit of her stomach. Help her cousin with another scheme? Lark wrung her hands. Leader Monrage would get his jollies forcing Lark to do that. Still, even he didn’t seem to know all the details of Lark’s past. Now, he would have to worry that Lark wouldn’t go through with it.

There was a hard knock on her bedroom door. Lark could tell who it was instantly. She went over to the door and opened it reluctantly.

“You’re still dressed like that?” Leader Monrage demanded bitterly.

Lark kept her left hand clasped securely on the door. She just stared at him.

“I remember when you weren’t this defiant towards me.” Leader Monrage started. “Were you faking who you were before?”

Lark forced herself not to roll her eyes. How could he even be serious? Leader Monrage had never accepted reality. Every time he sensed criticism of himself, he would punish the critic. There had been a time when Lark had been isolated and kept squarely under his thumb. So, she hid herself from him lest he find fault with her. Now, he had the nerve to act as though she betrayed him about it?

“Perhaps I’ve given you too much slack these days.” Leader Monrage added.

So, that was what it was — a threat to control her again. While part of Lark wanted to withdraw, she chose to stand stiffly in front of him instead. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of backing down.

“There will be a party tomorrow night. You will be going. Our customers need to know that you’re over your past. Since you will be there under official capacity, you will wear your uniform then as you will every time I see you from now on. That’s an order not a request.” Leader Monrage spat.

Leader Monrage wrenched Lark’s arm.

“Then again, maybe you’d like me to tattoo the pattern on your face.”

Lark shook her head.

“Good. Then, there won’t be a problem.”

Leader Monrage released her. He then turned and walked down the hall towards the control room.

Lark looked over at her hand, which was now shaking. She shut the door and locked it. She had to wear the uniform. It would probably make Celeste feel better. After all, Celeste could pretend Lark really did steal that broach and brought this whole thing on herself. Celeste did nothing wrong; she was the victim. How many times Lark wished her parents were alive! This time was no different. Lark was desperate to have someone to talk to, to hold her, to make it right. She cried that night upon her bed with Cinnamon by her side. By the time morning came, she resolved to change things somehow. She would pray for a way out of the situation with Leader Monrage. She knew one thing; she wouldn’t be the person he and her cousin wanted her to be anymore.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

 

Chapter 14

 

 

According to Leader Monrage, it was fortunate that his brother’s planet wasn’t far. After all, the transport carrier wasn’t very fast — and that was by design. It was part of the Security Force’s strategy to prevent an escape; they only allowed for a certain amount of time to pass before a member of their crew was required to check in. After that, faster ships would be dispatched to track the rogue vessel down. Leader Monrage figured out that he and the other members of his group would have plenty of time to make it to his brother’s planet before those ships caught up to them.

“Oh, but before we start up again there is one more thing …” Leader Monrage stated. “Ten, bring the tools.”

Leader Monrage squeezed himself underneath the console. After a few minutes, he re-emerged with a black metallic box in his hands. Leader Monrage smirked.

“A homing device.” he advised. “Clever, but not clever enough for me.”

Leader Monrage smirked again.

“All right, now I’ll input the coordinates into the stellar map, and we’ll be on our way. Oh, and, Twelve, no need to take it slowly. We’ll have plenty of fuel.”

Lark turned back toward the console.

“Oh yeah, hold on a second before we start off.” Leader Monrage suddenly added.

Lark froze once more. These repeated interruptions were getting hard to take.

“Ten, have the prisoners taken to the prisoner compartments. We don’t want them to know where we’re going. They can probably see the monitor from there.”

Lark had wondered why Leader Monrage had been talking in a softer voice instead of his usual brazen tone. Now, it seemed obvious.

“Why don’t we just dispose of them?” Ten asked.

“Because that’s not where my head is at right now.” Leader Monrage stated. “I just want them out of my way. Is that too much to ask?”

Lark could tell Leader Monrage was getting agitated.

“No, sir.” Ten replied.

“Good. Then, see that it’s done — now. I don’t have the time or the patience for this.”

Ten headed off to complete his task.

“It’s as though people can’t think for themselves on the one hand but question my decisions on the other. And I’m the one who was right … obviously. Even you, Twelve, had doubts.”

“Only about myself.” Lark heard herself say. Why did she say that? It couldn’t have been true. At least the ‘only’ part wasn’t true. Still, her words seemed to please Leader Monrage — a lot. Unfortunately, it seemed to please him too much, for he placed his large hand on her shoulder then. Lark wanted to cringe but froze instead.

“But you see, I trained you. You’re Twelve now. There’s no need for you to doubt yourself.” Leader Monrage insisted. “You will succeed because I will succeed.”

Lark managed to nod.

“Good.” He released his hand. “Then, let’s get going. We don’t have all day.”

Leader Monrage finally inputted the coordinates into the computer. An arrow appeared on the screen. As long as the arrow lined up with the center of the monitor, the transport carrier should move in the given direction. Lark was mostly happy that guiding the transport carrier was so simple. The only problem was that it soon became pretty boring keeping the spacecraft steady. It gave Lark time to think — too much time. What would happen if the Security Force did track them down? Lark’s sentence had expired, but would they send her back anyway? Probably so. They wouldn’t care that they had never released her. The fact that she escaped would be seen as enough cause to send her back. This time she and the others would probably all be sent to the mines. Still, if Leader Monrage blamed Lark somehow, she wouldn’t have to worry about living there long. Either way, here or there, Lark wouldn’t be free.

Still, every time there was a twinkling of light on the monitor, Lark’s eyes would move toward it. Was that a pursuing craft come to overtake them? Perhaps their pursuers had been in the area rather than at a base station farther away. No, it was a star. Lark breathed. She returned her gaze to the center of the screen. Then, she tensed. “How long was this trip going to be?” she wondered. Leader Monrage hadn’t said, and there didn’t even seem to be a way to confirm the existence of Colony 38 on the screen. Was it hours, days away? Would Lark just have to hope for the best? She couldn’t think about that right now. At least she was making progress; Lark would just focus on that. Many hours passed — or what seemed like many hours. Leader Monrage then reappeared behind Lark.

“There it is.” Leader Monrage stated.

There was a small, dark, gloomy, round speck in the center of the screen. Lark’s reaction was mixed. There was relief that they were almost there; Lark would at last be able to get up from this chair. Also, there was no sign of pursuit from the Security Force. On the other hand, the gloominess of the planet coupled with the uncertainty of what would happen next caused her stress. Then, there was the impending landing of the craft; that thought sent adrenaline rushing through her. Another life and death moment was approaching. Lark would be glad when this was over.

As the transport carrier got closer, Lark saw another guide tunnel. Suddenly, a voice came over the intercom asking for information about the identity of the transport carrier and its crew. Lark jumped back slightly. Leader Monrage picked up the receiver; he didn’t seem fazed.

“Yes, we’d like permission to land on Colony 38.” Leader Monrage advised them.

Lark looked up at Leader Monrage. If there was a security checkpoint, how would they be able to land on this planet — or any other planet for that matter?

“By whose authority do you wish to land?” the voice on the other end of the intercom asked.

“By Col. Oliver Bertrand’s authority. He’ll know me; I’m his brother.” Leader Monrage informed him.

“Just a moment. Hold your pattern.”

Lark pulled back on the accelerator. Then, she and Leader Monrage waited. After awhile the man on the other side of the radio said, “All right. You may approach.”

Leader Monrage looked pleased but not particularly surprised. Lark guessed he was right about his brother being willing to help. Lark had wondered about Leader Monrage’s comment that his brother didn’t like him. If true, would it affect whether or not he’d be willing to offer help? It would seem it wouldn’t. It would seem that whatever favor Leader Monrage’s brother owed to Leader Monrage, Oliver Bertrand was willing to pay. Lark hoped for all of their sakes that this wasn’t just some sort of a setup.

Either way, they had to land. This whole exchange had convinced Lark there was nowhere else to go. They couldn’t keep traveling until they ran out of fuel or were discovered by the Security Force. Lark bit her lip; it was time to land.

Lark didn’t seem to have any breath to release as the transport carrier eventually touched down. She realized that she forgot to inhale. Landing wasn’t as difficult as Lark had feared. The hovering capability of the transport carrier was designed to land on a variety of surfaces. She looked up and to the side at Leader Monrage; he seemed pleased.

But fortunately, Leader Monrage didn’t have time to waste on Lark. He was quick to head to the hatch to meet with the traffic control team … and maybe even his brother. By the way Leader Monrage motioned to his men to file in behind him, Lark could tell that his ego had dramatically inflated. It was almost as though Leader Monrage thought his great feat should entitle him to success. These people should just give him power and anything else he wanted. On the other hand, Lark could see how vulnerable their situation was. Leader Monrage could easily rub people the wrong way. Then, what was to stop someone from reporting them to the Security Force? What did they really have? There were only a few tasers taken from the guards, a slow-moving transport carrier with little fuel left, and no money. But Leader Monrage didn’t seem to get it — you’d think he was the one with the upper hand.

Still, maybe it would work for him. Maybe bravado was better than self-doubt. After all, it was doubtful someone such as Lark could have gotten these people to even allow her to land the carrier there.

Lark started to stretch out. She was surprised by how stiff she was. When she attempted to stand, she realized her legs were asleep. Lark tried to rub the numbness away. After a little while, she realized she would have to walk it off. Lark headed toward the back of the ship slowly. None of the other recruits were around. Lark looked at the benches that were of the type she’d once been tied to. Then, she saw the doors of the prisoner compartments in the back. The rooms reminded her of the one she’d been held in on the transport ship, the vessel she had first left her home planet in. As it turned out, there were fewer prisoner compartments on this ship, and surprisingly they seemed even smaller. It occurred to Lark that they were probably designed for prisoners who were too uncontrollable for the benches — sort of a solitary confinement. “It was lucky Leader Monrage and the rest of his group made it this far,” Lark thought. This particular ship was obviously not meant to travel a long distance.

Lark stood in front of one of the rooms for a moment. She stepped toward it slowly. She felt herself reliving what it was like to be on the other side of the glass. She couldn’t resist the urge to peer into one of the windows and get a better look. There she saw one of the guards looking back at her. It was sort of eerie. Her first thought was that she should do something for him, release him somehow. Lark stepped back from the window. She knew she couldn’t do that. Though she wasn’t locked in a room or chained to a bench, she was a prisoner nonetheless — Leader Monrage’s prisoner.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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