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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 26

The instructions had directed them to wait for a call before heading to their destination. The actual attack order would be given sometime after they were in the air. Lark had already plotted to be as close to her real target as she could be when the attack order was given — while still being in the prescribed airspace. Still, it might be obvious she was a bit off-center of her course. Lark figured this was the most dangerous time. If Leader Monrage noticed this peculiarity, he might grow suspicious. He might try to communicate with her, or he might just assume the worst and sick another ship on her. That could make things difficult.

Lark decided to get to the location where Monrage’s prearranged course was the closest to her own course as slowly as possible. Then, she would hope that the attack order would come soon after, for that was the moment she and her crew would break away and head for the real target. Once the attack order was given, Lark hoped the other ships would be too caught up in their own missions to worry about her right away. It was a hard balance to maintain. Lark didn’t want the other cruisers to attack her immediately, but she also didn’t want them to ignore her completely either. Lark desired to stop the coup, and yet she was hoping to be enough of a distraction to minimize the damage the other ships could do to the colony. Still, if all the other ships came after her right away she and her crew would surely be destroyed before they could destroy the weapons. In the end, no matter how it went down, it would be up to Owen to get them where they needed to go and away afterward. Then, at 1730 it came: the call. Lark sat up in her chair.

Okay, Captain Smithson, take us up. And remember — try not to make it too obvious.”

Will do.”

Owen took his chair and began to pilot. As much as Lark had learned, she couldn’t touch the skill that Owen possessed. Lark was grateful; she wasn’t sure she could pull off his part.

After several minutes, Owen announced, “We’re getting close to the time we need to veer off.”

Is there any way to delay?”

If I go any slower, Leader Monrage will probably hail us.”

Lark bit her lip slightly. She started counting in her mind as though she were sure the attack order would be given by the time she counted to ten – only it wasn’t.

I …” Lark began.

Green light!” Jensen shouted.

Captain Smithson, correct our course.” Lark advised immediately. “Head us toward the installation at the second set of coordinates.”

All right. We’re out of the designated zone, and we’re headed toward the installation.” Owen informed her.

ETA?” Lark asked.

Ten minutes.”

A beeping noise came from the console.

Incoming call from … Leader Monrage.” Jensen stated with dread in his voice.

Play the static recording.” Lark announced.

Will do.” Jensen agreed.

We’ll use it for two more communication attempts. Then, I’ll have to answer.” Lark declared. “Can you listen in on his other transmissions? I want to know who is coming after us and where they’re coming from.”

Yes, I’ll get on it … there’s no activity … wait. He’s hailing us again.” Jensen acknowledged.

Two down — one to go. Where are we?” Lark asked.

Six minutes away.” Owen informed her.

He’s probably not going to let us get there without a challenge. Where is he?” Lark queried.

Out of range.” Jensen remarked.

Who’s in range?”

Thomas and Smythe …” Jensen replied. “Wait. Monrage is hailing Smythe.”

And he’s where?”

Three minutes off, south by southwest.”

Prepare for evasive maneuvers.”

Yes.” Owen stated.

This is it.” Lark announced.

***

Celeste waited for what seemed like forever. The dampness of the night seemed to settle in her lungs and ache there. She wrung her hands but then thought better of it. After all, she had recently had them manicured.

Suddenly, a strange man began to approach her. He was big with large tattoos all over his face. Celeste shrank back against the wall. She had forgotten to ask Frederick what she was supposed to do if someone did show up. Should she call out to Frederick? She looked briefly toward the entrance of the installation. The man seemed to be coming right toward Celeste. She hadn’t signed up for this — to be assaulted by some thug. She had the urge to run but didn’t seem capable of moving her legs. She gritted her teeth instead. The man stopped a few feet away and looked at her in disbelief.

Do you have Monrage’s payment?” the man demanded.

Wha — what?” Celeste stammered.

The man looked at Celeste as though she was dense.

The payment. I’ve come for the payment.” he repeated slowly.

Oh, yes. The payment. I …” Celeste looked toward the entrance again. Thankfully, this time she saw Frederick coming out of the door with a large, seemingly heavy package weighing down his arms.

Oh, it’s here! It’s here!!” She pointed at Frederick. The man looked at Celeste skeptically.

Yeah, I see that. Thanks.”

The man walked around her and stepped towards Frederick.

This is it?”

Yes.” Frederick returned.

Great. Then we’ll have our engineer look over the item.”

Wait. You take the weapon, and what do we get in assurance?” Celeste demanded.

The man seemed to be angered by that. Even Frederick looked disapprovingly upon her.

Leader Monrage always repays his debts.” the man mentioned.

Of course he does.” Frederick consoled. “And I understand this is just a down payment.”

The man still looked annoyed. He reached for the weapon and took it from Frederick.

We’ll get back to you soon.” the man announced. He turned and left.

Frederick looked back at Celeste.

What?” Celeste snapped. “He could only need the one. Then where would we be?”

I just hope that man doesn’t tell Monrage.” Frederick returned.

Can we leave now?” Celeste pushed.

Let’s get in the car.” Frederick said while rolling his eyes.

Celeste and Frederick climbed into his car. Moments later, a light rain began to fall upon the windshield.

Well, aren’t we going back to the house?” Celeste wondered.

No.”

And why not?”

One can’t be in the middle of a coup and hang out at the first place they’d look for you. We have to lie low until this thing is over.”

If it’s over …” Celeste offered.

And what is that supposed to mean?” Frederick countered.

It means I’m not sure Leader Monrage is going to come through.”

That again. You’d rather everything fall apart than be wrong, is that it?”

Who’s to say I’m wrong?” Celeste glared at him.

Listen, you talk to me if you have concerns. You don’t question a man like Leader Monrage — let alone behind his back to one of his men.”

You’re afraid of him, aren’t you?” Celeste accused. “I’m not.”

Then you’re a fool.” Frederick blasted.

Minutes passed in silence.

So, why am I even here?” Celeste queried. “What was the point of me standing in front of that installation anyway? There was nothing I could have …”

Because you’ve been sitting around doing nothing, letting me take all the risks.” Frederick spat.

Celeste looked over at him.

I can’t believe you. You …” Celeste stammered.

Be careful what you say. I’m the one with the power here, not you.”

Celeste turned forward and stared at the window as it fogged under her breath. She wondered how she’d be capable of staying in a one-sided relationship like this. She couldn’t imagine letting Frederick call all the shots. What was more, if he wasn’t enamored with her anymore it couldn’t possibly last.

Just then, the phone rang. Apparently, the man who took the weapon from them was confirming that everything checked out, and that the mission was already underway. Frederick thanked him.

After a few more minutes of silence, Celeste asked, “Could we at least drive somewhere else? I don’t want to be here anymore.”

This is the safest place to be.” Frederick stated.

Certainly, you know somewhere else we could go?”

Frederick was silent for a moment. Then, he said, “Why yes I do, and it’s not far from here.”

Frederick started up the car then drove a little ways away. Celeste started to stiffen as she recognized the neighborhood. Finally, he stopped in front of the small hovel that she had once lived in with Lark. For a second, she was stunned silent, but then her rage grew.

What is this supposed to mean?!” Celeste snapped. She turned on Frederick. “Is this what you really think of me?!”

I just wish you’d show some appreciation for what I’ve given you. You act as though you’re entitled to everything.”

Celeste could feel herself redden as she became flustered.

And you don’t? Now that you’re getting what you want, you’ve forgotten that?!” Celeste returned.

You know what … I almost think you’re sabotaging everything, so I’ll have nothing left but you.” Frederick rasped.

Celeste was so angry at that point she couldn’t bring herself to speak anymore; words were not forming into coherent sentences in her mind. As it turned out, it didn’t matter. For at that moment, a large explosion ripped through the space behind them where the installation had been. Celeste gasped as Frederick leapt from the car. Then, he frantically began dialing a number on his phone.

Let me speak to Leader Monrage. What do you mean he’s busy?” There was silence on the other end of the line for a moment. “Leader Monrage? Are you aware you just blew up the installation! Well?!” There was silence once more. Still, Frederick was sure he had heard breathing again after the man who had answered his call left. “Just tell me you’re going to finish our deal. Leader Monrage?”

Yes?” a hollow voice answered.

Frederick was a bit unnerved.

Are you going to do your part?”

No, I think this concludes our dealings.”

What about your word? It’s your fault the installation was probably destroyed.”

There’s no probably about it. As for my word … I normally would work something out with you. However, by the sound of it, it seems you don’t trust my word anyway, so why should I honor it? Good-bye.”

There was a dial tone that rang through the air. It was around that time that people began to come out of their homes and into the street to see what had happened. A family even came out of the hovel that Lark and Celeste had inhabited years earlier. Frederick dropped his phone and let it smash upon the ground. He then turned and walked in the opposite direction, away from the installation.

Frederick! Where are you going?!” Celeste called after him. She slammed her car door. “Is he not going to honor his commitment after all?”

Frederick spun around and glared at Celeste for a moment. Then, he uttered, “I can’t believe I ever thought you were worth it. You’re on your own.”

Frederick turned and walked away again. This time he didn’t look back.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 25

Celeste was anxious as she entered her bedroom. That was an unusual experience for her. Since everything in the room was exactly how Celeste had specified and in its place, normally just being in this room would make Celeste feel calm. It was everything Celeste had ever wanted and never had — even when her parents were alive. Everything in there was beautiful — the best. Celeste walked over and sat in front of her ornate vanity. She grabbed her silver hairbrush, which was dotted with actual pearls.

She started brushing her hair, and she counted as she did. After awhile, even this exercise didn’t calm her. She slammed the brush down onto the table.

Where is he?!” she demanded as she looked at the clock. It was already 4:30 pm. Frederick had made such a big deal about her accompanying him to get Leader Monrage’s down payment, and now he seemed to be running late. The truth was Celeste wasn’t fond of the idea at all; it seemed like an unnecessary risk to her welfare. Why would Leader Monrage put the whole plan in jeopardy just because he couldn’t bring himself to trust them? Celeste couldn’t help but think he should get over it just as she had to get over his association with Lark.

Speaking of Lark, Celeste had intended to warn Leader Monrage about Lark’s activities with that unknown man, but after hearing about his paranoid nonsense she decided against it. Heck, if he relied so much on his paranoia, he could figure it out himself. Besides, she didn’t really want to deal with Lark again anyway.

Celeste sighed. Why did she have to do this thing tonight? Could she really be the only one Frederick could trust as the lookout at the weapons installation? What if they were caught? Celeste knew she couldn’t handle prison, and it didn’t escape Celeste’s notice that Frederick’s last plan almost landed her there.

Suddenly, her bedroom door was opened.

Frederick, where have you been?” Celeste forced herself to ask in a soft tone of voice. She could see him in her mirror’s reflection.

Frederick crossed the room toward her. It always amazed him how truly beautiful Celeste was, and she knew it, too. He placed his hands on her shoulders.

You’re as beautiful as the day I met you.” he said.

Celeste managed a smile.

In that school uniform, you mean? Surely I look better now. Still, I’m glad I was wearing it. Remember when I asked you how you found me at my school? You said it was my school uniform that tipped you off.” Celeste told him.

Yes.”

And yet, here we are with me waiting anxiously for you.” she added with an edge to her voice.

You know I had to get the codes for the installation.”

Couldn’t you have done that before tonight?” she demanded of him.

Celeste knew she only had to prove to Frederick that he was expecting too much from her, and he’d relent. He’d done it a thousand times before.

But it’s getting so late.” Celeste added. “Frederick.”

She turned and looked up at him with the most vulnerable expression she could muster.

Are you sure I have to go?” she persisted.

He kissed the top of her head.

You know I wouldn’t risk you if it weren’t absolutely necessary.” he told her. “But you’re right. We really should be heading out.”

Celeste was sulking on the way over to the installation. Usually when she did this she could wrap Frederick around her finger — apparently not that night. Frederick in his state of distraction didn’t even seem to notice.

It’s almost five you know.” she brought up.

Good. Then the employees will be leaving.”

But what about … you know.” She paused. “Isn’t it dangerous to be around the installation now?”

No, they aren’t going to be anywhere near there.”

But what if Lark found out I was going there …?”

I’ve been assured she’s been kept out of the loop.”

But …”

Besides …” Frederick interrupted. “Monrage won’t even take off until he gets his down payment. He’s just going to be ready. So, it’s fine. Don’t worry about it. This will be a simple procedure.”

You mean, like the broach?” Celeste mentioned.

Frederick looked over at her briefly.

You’re just trying to pick a fight with me, aren’t you? I mean, really? Who got you out of that one?”

But now Lark hates me, and I’m scared.”

You are, of course, referring to the girl who took the blame for you. You could probably convince that twit you did her a favor.”

Frederick stopped the car.

We’re here. It’s time to earn your part in my future. I’m not in this alone …”

All right!” Celeste yelled out.

She climbed out of the car. Frederick climbed out soon after.

All you have to do is wait near the entrance.”

Yeah, whatever.” Celeste returned.

Celeste headed toward the installation — the one named after Frederick’s father. The couple had visited before. In fact, they visited frequently over the course of a year — right from the moment they came up with the plan. That way the employees would become used to seeing them around the installation. Oh, a year before … things had seemed so optimistic for them back then. Celeste and Frederick had finally come up with a way for Frederick to break completely free from his father’s control and take the power for himself. It was exciting; they really bonded that day. But then, all of a sudden, just as their plan was coming to fruition, there was a letdown — a rift. He just demanded too much from her. Celeste had given him enough. She stopped walking when she got near the entrance to the installation. Frederick came forward and kissed her on the forehead.

I’m sorry.” he said. “But I need you. You’re the only one I can trust.”

Celeste managed a smile. Why should she give up on her dream?

I love you.” he said.

Yes, so do I.” she returned.

With that, an employee came out of the installation and locked the door behind her. She smiled when she saw Celeste and Frederick standing there. There was no hint of suspicion.

You know what’s ironic?” Frederick started after the employee left. “After tonight it won’t even matter whether that employee says she saw us here. Whom is she going to tell?”

Yes.” Celeste smiled. “Well, you’d better get going, my love. I’ll wait here for you.”

Frederick smiled as well then headed into the building.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 24

 

They all headed to the conference room as a group. Then, they sat down and waited. Leader Monrage had yet to show up. Eventually, he did appear with a small group of unknown men. He seemed a bit surprised and maybe a tad annoyed when he saw them all there together waiting for him.

Unfortunately, Leader Monrage then began to prepare the papers at his table … slowly. It seemed to Lark that he was purposefully wasting time. After everything was put where he wanted it on his table, he engaged in prolonged small talk with his group. This caused Jensen to grow antsy. Lark turned her eyes toward Jensen in disbelief. Eventually, Jensen’s distracted eyes fell upon hers. Afterward, he immediately straightened up and stopped fidgeting. Luckily, he relaxed his appearance just in time for Leader Monrage to begin his presentation. Monrage would not have tolerated any distraction from the audience. What was more, he would have demanded to know the reason for it.

Everyone watched as Leader Monrage turned to a nearby man and nodded. The man in question had a list; he started approaching Lark’s crew with it. The man seemed to ask each crew member a question. As the unknown man neared, Lark could hear him asking for each person’s name. Lark managed to get eye contact with Jensen after the man asked for his name. It was clear by the look they exchanged they both knew Lark had made the right decision insisting that Jensen attend the meeting. In fact, Jensen looked downright ashen as he considered what could have happened had he not come. He started staring into space.

Well then, seems we’re all here. Now, we can get down to business. We have a new assignment for which we will need the entire syndicate.” Leader Monrage began leering at Lark. “We’re going to be attacking certain key positions for our customer. The reward we receive will be very advantageous to our syndicate. We have copied each crew’s assignment onto a disk. You’ll be given the disk to insert into your computer at 1700 today.”

Lark was taken aback. Today? Lark had been hoping that Owen was wrong about the mission being moved up. And to make matters worse, the time Monrage had set for them to go forward with his plan was a mere six hours away. Could they even be ready in that amount of time? What if Leader Monrage decided to babysit them until the appointed time?

The disk will create navigational coordinates for your part of the mission. It will also give you instructions on what exactly you’ll have to do for me. There shouldn’t be any questions, so don’t ask any now.”

Jensen looked relieved by how quickly Monrage had finished. He had apparently accepted Lark’s theory about Monrage’s plan as fact and, therefore, wasn’t surprised by the content of his speech. He seemed more concerned about the computer program he left running. Unfortunately, Jensen’s relief was short-lived.

So, since I have you all here, and you’re all so interested in protocols — I have created a handbook, which details the goals for our syndicate after we successfully complete this mission. Yes, this should be very fun. Oh, and be sure to pay attention; there might be a quiz at the end.”

The entire crew just stared blankly ahead not offering an obvious reaction. Lark knew that Leader Monrage was basically blaming them and their manual reading for having to go through with this lecture. Though Lark knew he couldn’t possibly have gotten this whole handout done in an hour, blaming people for their own suffering was just Leader Monrage’s way. However, Lark was a bit concerned about Jensen. Once again, he was becoming agitated. His eyes were huge, and there was a look of disbelief plastered on his face. He then leaned his face against his left hand and stared at Leader Monrage. Lark had a feeling that this was going to be a particularly grueling meeting.

After a long time had passed, it became clear that Leader Monrage was struggling to find something else to say. His sentences became more and more scattered and nonsensical. It actually started to get a little disturbing. Eventually, he sighed. His eyes looked down briefly then darted around the room.

Okay, well, that seems like it for now. I guess you all can go. If I think of something later, I can always call you back here. There’s still plenty of time before 1700. In the meantime, I’ll be on my own ship.” Suddenly, his eyes seemed to lose focus, and for at least fifteen minutes he stared unseeingly into space. No one wanted to say anything to him. All were silent. Eventually, he began to thaw from his stupor. “Anyway, you’re all dismissed. So, leave already.”

Monrage made a movement with his hand as though he were shooing them all away. Still, no one wanted to be the first one to stand.

What’s wrong with you? I said go!” he screamed.

Lark stood with a cold, indifferent look on her face; she glided smoothly toward the door. The crew filed in behind her. It made Lark feel comforted; it felt as though the crew was on her side. After a short time, one of the crew members gained on Lark. It was Jensen. He walked quickly toward the control room. Lark watched as he unlocked the door with his own key. Then, he disappeared inside.

Lark found him at the console upon entering the room. Then swiftly, she turned her attention away from him and toward the corner. She checked to make sure that her scrambling device was still working. Lark found the pale red glow from the button to be reassuring.

Thank goodness it hasn’t been breached yet!” Jensen declared. “I would hate to have left open a connection that could easily be traced back. I had no idea that meeting would take so long; I never would have left it running had I known. Oh, man! I thought for sure I would be too late.”

Lark wondered to herself how anyone could think an official meeting by Leader Monrage wouldn’t take a long time. Then, she realized that not many people had the same type of experience with Leader Monrage that she had — very rarely were crew members asked to attend meetings such as these. Lark sat down in the commander’s chair. Her brain was in a bit of a fog. Having to listen to Leader Monrage’s rant had taken its toll. It was one thing to be in a room with someone who wouldn’t stop talking; it was another thing entirely to have to listen to that person. After all, if Leader Monrage picked up on the fact that she was tuning him out, it would most assuredly set him off.

There!” Jensen declared aloud. He laughed robustly.

Then, he looked around the room at the worried faces of the others and started talking in a more normal tone. Lark was grateful he wasn’t whispering, though. That would have been too suspicious should someone have entered the room suddenly.

Lark went to the screen and had a look at the schematics. There it was as plain as day — the exact location of the weapons Leader Monrage coveted.

I wonder whether the location we’ve been ordered to go to by Leader Monrage is anywhere close to there. Why do I think it won’t be.” Lark mentioned.

Owen came up behind her.

If you’re right, that means we’ll have to break off from formation.” he added softly.

We won’t have much time then.” Lark said. “I think it’s safe to assume we’re basically trapped on the star cruiser now. And even if we weren’t, it’s too late to come up with a way to break into the installation and deactivate the weapons ourselves. So, we’ll have to destroy the installation from the air. Of course, that means we’ll have to be prepared to fend off some ships in case they come after us.”

So, you think my brother’s ship will attack us?” Waterburg asked.

Lark and Owen turned towards him.

I don’t know.” Lark admitted. “But it’s not as though we’re looking to destroy anyone — just prevent them from destroying us. Speaking of which …” Lark paused briefly. “Will there be any projected casualties at the facility?”

Doesn’t look like it.” Jensen replied. “Most of the security is automated. The system is monitored by a computer team off-site. The few workers on-site go home by 1700. I guess that’s not a coincidence.”

Good then. We have a plan.” Lark concluded.

Time seemed to inch by. Then, just before the designated time, a messenger arrived with a disk. He asked to speak to Officer Twelve. Lark went to the door, and the man handed her the disk.

Be sure to wait until exactly 1700 before you insert the disk.” the man directed her.

Lark looked at him in disbelief. Would Leader Monrage really go to the trouble of trying to tell when the disk was inserted? And why should he care at this point? It was not that long until 1700. Lark thought this could be just another example of how Leader Monrage loved contrived rules. Then again, maybe he just wanted them to believe he could tell what they were up to. That would fit his pattern of behavior as well.

All right. Thanks.” Lark said. “Is there anything else?”

No, that’s it.” the messenger replied.

Okay, 1700. I got it.”

After the man continued to linger, Lark just turned her back on him and returned to her chair. After a few moments, she could hear him leaving. She turned and looked back just to be sure.

All right.” Lark said. “We have the disk.”

She handed it to Jensen.

Now, it’s really going to come down to you and Owen. You’re the ones who will be doing most of the work to pull off our mission.”

Yes.” Owen agreed.

Yes.” Jensen replied with slight trepidation. “I guess it does come down to that now, doesn’t it?”

There were ten minutes left until 1700. It was the slowest ten minutes Lark could remember. She could tell that Jensen in particular was feeling the strain of anticipation. Whether Owen, who was standing by Lark’s side, felt any stress — one couldn’t tell it by looking at him. It actually helped Lark feel better. While the crew was looking to her for reassurance, she could feel silently reassured by Owen’s presence.

Lark watched the clock. At the exact moment that the minute hand hit the twelve, Lark spoke, “All right. Insert the disk.”

Jensen inserted the disk. The program displayed a menu with two links. One link would give them the coordinates for their part in Monrage’s mission. The other link led to instructions.

Let’s look at the coordinates first and see how they compare with our set.”

Jensen posted the information onto the screen.

Just like you thought, they aren’t all that close.” Owen remarked. “It seems I’m going to have my work cut out for me after all.”

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 23

 

Lark was lying on top of a comforter. She was tired, yet she hadn’t planned on actually sleeping. Her goal was merely to rest for a little while. She didn’t honestly think she could sleep, not with all the thoughts that were wafting through her mind. So, instead, she thought she’d stay up and think about her next move for a while. There was only a short amount of time before events were set to unfold. If Lark wasn’t prepared, she would most likely not have another chance to escape. Lark was filled with anxiety. She couldn’t help but wonder what the cost of her freedom would be to everyone else. She reminded herself that preventing Leader Monrage from gathering an arsenal as well as stopping Frederick from taking over the colony’s government should be best for more than just she. Lark breathed. It wasn’t long after that thought that she succumbed to sleep despite her best efforts not to.

Lark awoke with the morning light. She shot up startled. What time was it? Thankfully, the clock said it was still early. Suddenly, she heard a knock at the door. She knew it was most likely Owen, but she was still gripped with uneasiness. The fact was it could be Leader Monrage, and that was enough to fill her with fear.

Lark.” Owen called in. Lark rolled out of the bed. She felt relief. Not only did she recognize his voice, but he had called her Lark. Leader Monrage probably wouldn’t have done that. Lark grabbed Cinnamon and crossed over to the door and opened it. Since there was nothing else that Lark had brought with her, she just left the room.

Did you sleep well?” Owen offered.

For a second, Lark felt as though his words were a criticism of her. It occurred to her that this reaction was probably a result of her time with Leader Monrage. Even if she managed to get away from him, Lark realized it would take some time before she could rid her mind of his influence.

Lark looked up at Owen.

Yes. I actually slept very well.” she replied.

Owen smiled at her. Lark managed to smile as well.

We’ll do the scan and take it from there. I’m actually pretty optimistic about it. Really, I’m looking forward to being on a ship with you in charge instead of Leader Monrage.” Owen informed her.

Lark laughed.

Yeah … me, too.” Lark admitted. “Then again, it would be difficult for it to be worse.”

Yeah.” Owen responded, his voice solemn.

Do you want some breakfast first?” he suddenly asked her.

No, I’ll eat when we get back to the ship. I have the feeling that we don’t have any time to waste.”

They walked rather briskly to their destination. Once they caught sight of the ship, Owen stopped. He looked over at Lark.

Maybe I should go ahead first, so the crew doesn’t get the wrong idea.”

Plus, you can make sure it’s safe.” Lark mentioned.

Yeah, well. I’ll be back for you and Cinnamon.”

Lark smiled at the mention of her cat’s name. She watched Owen head into the gathering crowd of pedestrians walking the usually busy street. As she waited, Lark could feel people glancing over at her with curiosity. She had forgotten she was still in her uniform. How oddly she must look in Leader Monrage’s contraption. Was it possible that someday, possibly soon, Lark would be able to tear off this costume for good? It seemed too much to hope for. Yet, maybe …

Suddenly, Lark caught sight of Owen returning to her. There was a look of concern on his face.

What’s wrong?” Lark wondered.

Owen hesitated.

It seems we’ve been banned from the ship. Everyone else has been recalled.” he started. “They’ve moved up the time table — that or he always planned it that way. Either way, they’ve locked us out. I was lucky to avoid being detained by the guards.”

Lark looked over at the star cruiser. Every once and awhile there was a lull in the crowds, and she could see two guards standing in front of the hatch. She didn’t recognize them.

Is it us specifically or …?” Lark began.

Owen considered.

The gist was that no one is allowed to go in at this point. Yet, the way they looked at me made me think it may be personal. Still, there’s really no way to know for sure at this point. After all, I didn’t have my radio on last night.”

Me neither.”

Owen considered.

You don’t seem that upset.” he remarked.

I’m not.” Lark said, still looking at the hatch. She then turned her eyes toward Owen.

You know about the service entrance, don’t you?”

Yeah, but it’s opened from the inside.” Owen pointed out.

That’s because no one knows the code … but me, of course. I set the code myself in order to regain access. Then, I waited a long time without using it.” Lark answered. “You see, I’ve conceived of this possibility before. And since no one has seen that door opened from the outside, people such as Leader Monrage don’t think that it can be, but it can.”

Owen laughed. He placed his hand on Lark’s shoulder.

Good for you.” he told her.

We should probably head in.” Lark offered. “Of course, we’ll have to be careful. He could be in there.”

If he isn’t now, he probably will be later.” Owen suggested.

Yes.”

He’ll probably seek you out. Are you up for that?”

I guess I’ll have to be.” Lark concluded.

I’ll intercede on your behalf, but if he’s got backup …”

I know.” Lark stated. “But if I hide … I mean can I even hide here on Colony 9? What’s to stop my cousin from throwing me in prison again on some trumped-up charge if her lover takes over? It’s clear she doesn’t want me here. All that I can hope for now is that Leader Monrage isn’t quite ready to dispose of me yet.”

I doubt the crew would allow that.” Owen stated.

They’re fond of me — that’s true — but they don’t know what to make of him. That kind of uncertainty could lead to inaction. By the time they determine to intercede, it would probably be too late. I’ve been living with this fear for a while now. I’m surprised I’ve managed so long really. I could have been killed by him any number of times. I’ll just have to believe today’s not going to be the day. Anyway, we’d better get going; we have a lot of prep work to do. And I’m pretty sure that getting the crew on board with our plan is not going to be easy.”

Lark and Owen blended in with the crowd that was moving in the direction of the service entrance. Then, they filed off unseen toward the small door on the side of the ship. Lark proceeded to punch in her code. For a brief second, she wondered if Leader Monrage somehow anticipated her maneuver and altered the code himself. However, as it turned out, the concern was unwarranted; for the green light came on, and the door slid easefully open as she had planned.

Let’s go.” Lark said, as they quickly slipped inside.

Lark headed directly to the control room. There Lark and Owen found every member of the crew sitting around discussing something in whispers. They all turned when they heard the door open. They then looked at Lark with blank stares. Lark couldn’t tell whether they were surprised to see her or concerned about something that had happened. Either way, Lark could tell they were now looking to her to tell them what to do. But first thing was first.

Lark stepped to the side of the door. Hidden in the corner was a small red button. When she pressed it, it began to glow. She had installed it a long time ago. It was designed to scramble any listening devices that had been planted in the room. It did this by replicating environmental interference. Lark had decided to use it for emergencies only, and she stuck with that. It had been tempting to potentially freeze Leader Monrage out more than once, but she held off. After all, if it happened too often it would be obvious something was up. Actually, there was another one of the devices in her bedroom. Only, she kept that one on all the time. “Let him think what he wanted with that one,” she concluded.

Jensen. Is the diagnostic scan done?”

Yes, um, yes, ma’am … Officer Twelve.”

Then, there’s something else I need you to do. Conduct a thermal scan of the area.”

A thermal scan?” Jensen repeated. “Yes, right away.”

Jensen went to his console and began to work. Stopping by and talking to Jensen the night before had really paid off. He didn’t even hesitate to follow Lark’s direction. Lark turned toward Owen briefly. She motioned with her eyes toward the door. Then, Lark went to sit down in her commander’s chair. Since the crew members were either watching Jensen or Lark, Owen took the opportunity to lock the door.

We may as well have a meeting.” Lark stated.

Without Leader Monrage?” one of the men questioned.

Lark clutched the arms of her chair with her hands. She knew this was a risk. Though there was no hard and fast rule, it was generally understood that you did not have meetings without Leader Monrage. He was just too paranoid for that. If he found out, he would assume the worst. And it wouldn’t just be Lark who would pay the price. Anyone who stayed, anyone who didn’t run out of the room and go straight to Leader Monrage, would be viciously punished.

To trust those whom Lark had never spoken to about Leader Monrage was a big deal. She would have to hope that somehow they would all come to the same conclusion — that Leader Monrage’s current plan was putting them all in danger. Still, just one person wanting to turn her in … but Lark couldn’t think about that right now. She had to trust that her judgment was solid when she chose these men, and that they would stand with her. In the end, Leader Monrage had put Lark in the position that she had to act. The consequences of doing nothing were no longer acceptable.

Leader Monrage has a plan that we haven’t been informed of yet.” Lark found her voice. “It is a plan that will put us in danger of prosecution. It involves the whole fleet. The other crews all know about it and are probably in orbit around Colony 9 right now. We, on the other hand, obviously haven’t been kept in the loop.”

What’s his plan?” one man asked.

I believe it’s to aid a local man in a coup in exchange for weapons.”

Wait a minute. You believe? You mean you don’t have any proof?!” one demanded.

Do you even know whether this colony has better weapons than we have?” another put forth.

Just then, Jensen cleared his throat.

The scan found something, Officer Twelve. There’s a large source of radioactive energy. Apparently, it is in a warehouse facility not far from here. Is this what you were looking for?”

Yes.” Lark replied.

Lark had worn the contact lenses the night before. Now, her eyes were becoming blurry, and they stung a little. Lark decided to remove the lenses. It wasn’t until after they were out that Lark realized that if Leader Monrage showed up he’d know right away that she defied him on some level. If she brought up the fact she had left them in all night, he’d ask to know why. Where had she been the night before?

You mentioned the rest of the fleet probably being around …” a man known as Waterburg started. “My brother works as a cook on one of the ships. I can ask him whether he’s in the area. He has no cause to be; this isn’t his route. Even if he doesn’t disclose anything to me, we can still track him via the communicator signal and tell whether he’s in the area.”

Do it.” Lark returned.

By the way, do you think we should get some food in here?” Jensen suggested. “It sounds as though it may take awhile.”

Lark looked toward the door. If Leader Monrage were out there, she would have heard sounds of his displeasure by now. But then, there was the crew. They looked at her as she looked at them. Did she trust them enough to let them out of her sight? They could easily make contact with Leader Monrage if she did. It was a dilemma. On the one side, how could she expect them to trust her if she didn’t trust them? But was it naïve to trust all of them? Leader Monrage would say yes. And how much of a fool would she be if she did trust them and shouldn’t have, especially after realizing the possibility of betrayal? And what if it proved fatal for her?

Go for it.” Lark finally concluded.

Lark then made eye contact with Owen again. She could tell he wasn’t sure about her decision either. Still, he reached over to unlock the door anyway. A few of the men volunteered themselves to go down to the cafeteria. Lark watched them pass by her with her peripheral vision. Her life was in their hands now. But if she could trust them, or at least enough of them to keep their eyes on the others, then they’d be counting on her to pull this off. She had to focus on that.

Okay. Let me know when you’ve made contact.” Lark remarked.

She assumed that Waterburg hadn’t gotten a hold of his brother yet. After all, Waterburg hadn’t spoken again.

All right. No one’s picked up yet …” Some time passed. “Oh, hello. Is Kenneth Waterburg available? His brother. Yes. I’ll wait.”

Lark looked around her as Waterburg began to engage in small talk with his brother.

Yeah, it’s kind of boring here. I kind of wish I were on your route.” Waterburg laughed. “Kenneth? Oh, you’ve got to go. All right. I’ll catch you later then.”

Have you gotten the location?” Lark asked.

Yes.” Jensen responded.

And?”

They’re in our orbit.”

Lark glanced over when the men returned with the food. They must have heard that last part since their eyes looked wide with surprise. Lark, in turn, was pleasantly surprised when she saw Owen was among them. She guessed he was keeping an eye on them for her. She smiled to herself.

So, what do we do now?” one of the men who just entered the room asked.

Everyone looked to Lark.

First, we need to know what security the warehouse facility has. Then, we need to know the best way to destroy the facility. If we have to, we’ll fly the ship over it and destroy it from the air. We’ll have to use the radiation shield first in order to contain the explosion. Actually, it would probably be a good idea for us to refresh ourselves on the workings of the radiation containment shield.”

The crew members took turns nodding in agreement.

So, who should do the research on the facility’s security?” someone wondered.

Jensen — assuming he’s up for hacking into Colony 9’s server without being detected.” Lark offered.

Yes, of course.” Jensen returned. “I’ll get on it.”

Lark remarked to herself that she’d never felt closer to her crew than she did now. Perhaps Leader Monrage’s presence was always in the way before, making them distrust one another. Of course, it wouldn’t be easy for Lark to trust completely. Still, assuming things turned out well this was a good beginning.

All of a sudden, Lark caught sight of Owen heading purposefully back toward the door. Out of curiosity, she turned toward the door as well. Owen cracked the door slightly and looked out into the hall. Soon after, he slid the door closed softly.

Heads up.” Owen started. “Monrage is on his way.”

The crew members looked between one another. Lark noted that none looked particularly happy about the news.

Quickly, Lark replaced her contacts.

Jensen, continue your work. The rest of you take out the policy manuals and start reading.”

Jensen was almost always on the computer, so it would have seemed odd to Leader Monrage if he was reading instead. Plus, Monrage wasn’t skilled with computers and wouldn’t know what Jensen was up to anyway.

A few moments later, Leader Monrage entered the room.

Well, what have we here?” Leader Monrage demanded.

The impact of Leader Monrage’s entrance wasn’t as unnerving to Lark as it usually was. Lark credited Owen’s warning her in advance for this. Monrage seemed to enjoy trying to startle her.

Manuals, huh? And your cat — is there a reason it’s here?” Leader Monrage asked pointedly.

Lark had forgotten about Cinnamon still being with her.

You saw me leave with her the other night.” Lark returned.

So, why don’t you take it back now?” he demanded.

We’re working on refreshing ourselves on your manuals.” Lark changed the subject. “We haven’t had a chance to do that recently. And it’s not as though we have anything better to do, right? Still, if you’d like us to stop …”

Leader Monrage considered. He looked around the room.

No, that’s fine.” he said. “Still, I wonder about the timing and where you’ve been since last night. I couldn’t find you — but you must have been here somewhere I guess since the guards didn’t see you come in. At least that’s what they said.”

Lark just looked at him blankly. She noted Leader Monrage had asked about her specifically. It was a good thing she hadn’t approached the guards with Owen.

Well, at least everyone is here. We’ll be having a meeting in the conference room in an hour. I imagine you can finish up the manuals by then.” Leader Monrage added.

Of course.” Lark replied.

Leader Monrage walked out just as Lark’s irritated eyes began to water uncontrollably. Fortunately, he hadn’t asked her to read from one of the manuals out loud. Lark removed her contact lenses. She would have to clean them before the hour was up.

So, how are we looking in terms of your work, Jensen? Will it take more than an hour?”

There’s no way of knowing.” Jensen responded.

Just do your best. Unfortunately, you’ll have to go to that meeting. I have a feeling that Leader Monrage will notice if someone doesn’t show.”

Yeah, okay.” Jensen didn’t seem convinced. Yet, instead of arguing the point he quickly set to work again. Lark leaned back in her chair. She breathed. Now, it was a waiting game. It was not safe for them to discuss anything more about the coup now that they knew Leader Monrage was on board the vessel. It was dangerous enough before he suspected them of being up to something.

Should we really continue to read these manuals?” one man asked.

Yeah, it’ll probably be a good idea if you do that actually.”

There was an audible groan.

I’d better refresh my memory of these, too.” Lark announced, wanting to be a good example. “Who knows, he might quiz us on them.”

What about me? I mean, I read them not that long ago …” Jensen started.

A couple of the other crew members rolled their eyes.

I’ll cover for you.” Lark assured him.

Jensen nodded and returned to work. Lark began reading from one of the numerous policy manuals Leader Monrage had written over the years. Unlike the first one, which detailed the plans he intended to use to get a fleet, these manuals detailed how he wanted the crew to behave once they became members of the fleet. Lark soon found she was having difficulty concentrating. Her eyes often wandered from the page to a nearby clock. After awhile, when it became close to the time, Lark just stared at the clock in a daze.

All right. We’d better head down there now.” Lark told the men.

But I’m not in a place where I can stop easily.” Jensen protested. “I really shouldn’t leave.”

Lark was afraid this might happen. She looked over at Jensen.

It doesn’t matter.” Lark told him with an air of decisiveness. “If you don’t go, he’ll come looking for you, and we can’t have that.”

Lark stood.

You’ll have to handle it when we get back.”

She then thought of something.

Can you hide what the computer is doing?” she asked him.

From a novice or a professional?”

The best you can.” Lark replied.

All right. I can do that. I’ll hide it in the background and run another program on top of it to further confuse things. Oh, and I’ll also have to slow down my program. I’m hoping it won’t break through while I’m gone. There is more than one way to slow it down, after all. That way I can keep with the port scan while I’m gone, and I won’t have to start over. All right … there.” Jensen grudgingly pulled himself away. He had a tendency to want to finish what he started, but it had become clear to him while he was talking that Officer Twelve wasn’t going to back down.

Lark left Cinnamon in the control room curled up in a ball on her chair. She then walked to the door in front of the others. Finally, Lark hung back as the others passed by her just long enough to lock the door behind them.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 22

 

Lark was staring into space reflecting on her past when Owen returned with the food.

“Lark, I’m back.” he announced.

Lark turned around toward him and nodded. She then stood and headed for the door. When the two stepped outside, Lark decided to prop the door open with a nearby brick in order to prevent the door from shutting. Maybe it was pointless. After all, they found the door unlocked when they arrived earlier. Still, it made Lark feel better. After she was sure the door was securely ajar, Lark sat on the steps next to the spot she had placed Cinnamon.

“I got your cat some milk and some fish sticks.” Owen mentioned.

Lark smiled with amusement.

“Thank you.” she offered.

Then, Lark looked down and considered something.

“What is it?” he asked her.

She turned her eyes toward him again. She saw that Owen had a container of food in his hands. He seemed to be giving it to her.

“I don’t want to go back to the star cruiser tonight.” Lark mentioned, as she took the food Owen offered her. “I don’t know whether or not I should just stay up all night. Then again, what if I need to be alert tomorrow for some reason? Maybe I shouldn’t risk it. Still, I’m not sure that they’d appreciate me sleeping on a pew. They can’t just allow people to do that.”

“Let’s get a couple of rooms at this inn I saw nearby.”

“I don’t have any money.” Lark admitted. “He doesn’t pay me much of anything. I have to save up just to buy groceries and such.”

“Well, he did just pay me the other day.” Owen replied. “I’ll be glad to take care of it.”

Lark nodded.

“Thank you.” she said.

“So, have you had time to think about what Leader Monrage may want from all this?”

“Yes, actually I have.” Lark replied after swallowing a bite of her sandwich. “I think I may have an idea.”

Owen seemed very interested in what Lark was about to say.

“There was a meeting once years ago. During it he laid out his plans for our little cooperative. He even wrote a booklet.”

“That booklet — do you still have it?”

“Maybe … probably … unless of course he took it back when I wasn’t looking. Who knows, maybe he did. Still, it doesn’t matter. It wasn’t in there; that was just the first part of the plan. It’s the part we’ve already implemented — the smuggling network. That’s where Leader Monrage got all the money he needed to buy the fleet and pay the crew. What I’m referring to is the one he planned to start once that first part was implemented.” Lark paused briefly. “You see, one thing that bothered Leader Monrage was the threat of being recaptured — of having to spend his life hiding or fleeing. The fact that we’re even on Colony 9 says that he’s moved on to phase two of his plan. This is a very pro-corrections planet. For him to even step foot here — Frederick must be keeping the investigators at bay. But it’s more than that. Leader Monrage has decided it’s time to go where he wants when he wants. And I can only think of one way he can accomplish that. He’s been promised an arsenal.”

“But doesn’t the fleet have weapons? Heck, don’t we have weapons?”

“Yes, enough for a coup if it’s a surprise but not for a full on space battle. Not enough to intimidate governments and the Security Force. There’s certainly not enough to allow Leader Monrage to act anyway he wants and avoid having to kowtow to those in power. He hates that more than anything.”

Owen leaned back and considered.

“Makes sense.” he agreed. “But does what you’re suggesting even exist here?”

“We’ll have to find out where they’re kept, but the weapons have to exist. It’s the only thing that makes sense to me.” Lark paused. “The question in my mind is whether he is going to use at least some of the weapons for the coup or if he’s going to retrieve them afterward.”

“Okay, assuming that’s the case, what’s to prevent him from using them on us?”

“Let’s just say it would be better for us if he got paid afterward. Like you suggested, I’d rather take on Leader Monrage as he is now — before he has all the weaponry. Actually, there probably won’t be much of a chance to stop him once he has the arsenal he wants. Plus, destroying the weapons is the easiest way to stop the coup. Still, the weapons must be impressive for him to risk this much.”

“I don’t know. Seems he lives for risk to me.”

“He lives for control and power.” Lark corrected. “Either way, we’ll move forward on the assumption that Frederick doesn’t trust Monrage enough to pay him off before the coup. The fact is that messing around with the weapons beforehand might draw suspicion on the three of them and ruin the coup altogether. So for us, it all goes back to having to destroy the weapons.”

“Wherever they are.”

“Yes. Wherever they are …” Lark returned. “… there must be a plan in place to bypass any security. Frederick probably has that covered.”

“Best to get those rooms and take it up at first light.” Owen suggested. “I think wandering around here blindly asking questions about stashes of weapons will only get us locked up.”

“Yes, and now that I think about it, I believe a thorough thermal scan of the area will show us what we need to know.” Lark added.

“Good then. It’s a plan.”

“Owen?”

“Yes?”

“I don’t want anyone killed. Suppose I’m risking the crew or civilians …”

“I don’t want that either, but we have to do something. Monrage with weapons that dangerous isn’t an option.” Owen returned.

Lark nodded. He was right. Still … facing Monrage down wouldn’t be easy. Leader Monrage had years to plan for this; Lark only had days. There was no way to know what contingencies he had in place. And it hadn’t escaped Lark’s notice that it was she alone of all the commanders that he instinctively didn’t trust with the truth.

 

***

 

“That’s good, kiddo.” Professor said. “You’ve come a long way quickly. Of course, some things are just about experience; I can’t simulate everything.”

Lark nodded. Suddenly, Professor looked over at her. He seemed to be considering something.

“You’re pretty young, girl, to be traveling around here with all of these men.”

Lark looked over at him. What was he implying?

“Where are your parents?” he asked.

Lark looked down.

“They’re dead.” she replied.

“So, you don’t have any family?”

Lark looked a bit evasive.

“No.” she started. “I do have a cousin.”

“A cousin? Is she around here?”

“No. I was sent to the prison colony by myself.”

“May I ask why?”

Lark breathed.

“Theft.”

“You don’t seem like the type.”

Lark looked at him. Then, she looked away.

“I don’t mean it like that …” he insisted. “It doesn’t have to define you. If you made a mistake — I realize your life may have been …”

“It’s complicated.”

“Is it? Is it really? Okay, well, if you don’t want to talk about it … but I feel I’ve gotten to know you. I do worry what will happen to you once I’m gone.”

Lark’s eyes shifted again.

“You know, eventually I’m going to be moving on. It seems wrong to leave a young girl like you here in this environment …” he added.

“I had a bad dream the other night.” Lark interrupted him. “I have bad dreams a lot, but you were in this one. Leader Monrage shot you dead. You knew too much or some such thing. I don’t know.” Lark wrung her hands. “But I’ll be glad when you’re safely where you want to be. There’s no point in you getting involved in anything that will wind up getting you on Leader Monrage’s bad side. Sticking up for me won’t help. There’s no way he’ll let me leave with you. In fact, it’ll probably just make things worse for you and for me.”

Professor seemed moved by Lark’s words. He blinked a couple of times.

“Perhaps you’re right, though I’m loath to admit it. You remind me of my little sister when she was your age. Still … promise me something. Promise me that you’ll keep your eyes open for any possibility of escape. Don’t give up on it. You need to be free of him.”

Lark looked away.

“I’m not sure that’s ever going to happen.” Lark admitted.

“But if it does …”

Lark felt a lump grow in her throat. She nodded.

“I’ll try.” she whispered, feeling that the walls had ears.

“Someday, maybe … someday.”

But that day never seemed to come. As the years passed, Lark all but forgot about the conversation she had had that day. Professor did get dropped off safely on the planet of his choosing. Lark took over as the pilot until Leader Monrage expanded his enterprise. Eventually, Lark became a commander of her own ship. Though she was in near constant contact with Leader Monrage via the communications link, having her own ship allotted her the first space she’d known in years. Early on, she was even allowed a say in her crew. They were hired from the various planets; none of them came from the prison colony. Finally, it was as though she could breathe again. Still, the distance made the shock of seeing Monrage when she did have to see him even more severe. Part of it was that the more time she spent away from Leader Monrage, the more her feelings seemed to float to the surface. That certainly complicated things for Lark. It seemed to make relating to Leader Monrage even more problematic; it seemed to agitate him. But Lark didn’t allow herself to think about that. After all, what choice did she have?

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 21

 

Lark would spend hours a day learning from Professor. As he grew to trust in her abilities more and more, he left her alone to pilot the star cruiser in his absence — that or maybe he just needed the sleep.

Speaking of sleep, it was still a little disorienting how dark it was in space all the time. When they eventually did land on a planet, would it be day or night when Lark would usually sleep? Would the planet even have a normal day or night? Some of the colonies not only had atmospheric regulators but also systems that simulated sunlight. This could be used to extend the day longer as well. To her knowledge Lark had never been to one of those places, but she heard it wasn’t the same as having a regular daytime. Lark heard people were not so happy as they were in places with a real sun. Lark couldn’t be sure whether that was the case. There were tough times on Lark’s planet, and they only needed an atmospheric regulator there. Still, if living on this ship was any indication simulated light wasn’t enough for her.

“See that dark spot in the distance.” Leader Monrage had come up behind Lark while she was sitting alone in front of the monitor. Lark flinched slightly. Then, she thought about Leader Monrage’s words. Dark spots were pretty common in space. What would make this spot so special?

Leader Monrage pointed at the screen.

“If you look closely enough, you can see a faint energy field around it. And then, there’s a small planet right here, not all that far really.” He gestured at the screen. “Why anyone would want to live there I have no clue. Then again, I’m pretty sure they found out about it later, and now it’s too late to move. Star cruisers tend to avoid this area altogether. I wonder how much some of them would pay for us to transport them out of there. I mean, they’re contained, but still — one small electrical disruption and disaster occurs. Imagine the amount of energy that force field must use. I’ve heard stories about it, but I don’t know for sure. I don’t think I can know until I experience it firsthand. I don’t suppose the crew would appreciate us getting any closer.”

Leader Monrage leaned over the console.

“Let’s do it. They won’t know.”

Lark looked up and over at Leader Monrage. He looked at her in return. Then, he reached over and placed his hands on Lark’s shoulders.

“Go ahead.” Leader Monrage whispered.

He squeezed her shoulders with his hands.

“Should we get Professor?”

“Who?” Leader Monrage asked with some irritation.

“Never mind. I can handle it.” Lark conceded.

“Good girl.” Leader Monrage finally released Lark.

Lark turned the ship gradually towards the spot Leader Monrage had pointed out. Slowly, very slowly the spot got bigger.

“Zoom the camera in on the force field.” Leader Monrage insisted.

It took a moment for Lark to remember which button made the screen appear bigger. When she found it, the image expanded. Lark squinted at the image. It almost looked as though something was moving in there. It seemed the darkness was moving, but that couldn’t be. Then, Lark noticed there were lighter ones moving inside the force field as well. It seemed to almost be an intricate patchwork of serpentine pieces, gliding and sliding over one another in some sort of patterned way. Lark’s stomach dropped, and she felt repulsion. Leader Monrage, on the other hand, seemed transfixed.

“Where I’m from, they call them the nebula reapers, and that’s them in their prison. In case you’re wondering, they are named that because their forms remind people of emission nebulae. Not that you can see that from here.”

Lark slowed their approach in as non-obvious a way as possible. She also began to move the ship somewhat off course. By the time Leader Monrage realized the entities were sliding off-screen, some of the other crew members had awoken and come into the room looking for him. He glared at Lark but then turned to meet up with the men. He proceeded to usher them out of the room. It seemed he really didn’t want them to know he’d gotten this close to the nebula reapers. Lark was grateful the other men had shown up when they had — she’d hate to have to get any closer.

Suddenly, Leader Monrage popped back into the control room.

“Tell ‘Professor’ to relieve you. We’re going to have a strategy meeting in the mess hall.”

Lark watched as the large pulsating force field disappeared from the screen. It was so disturbing; Lark figured it would be difficult to shut it out of her mind. Chances were that the image would revisit her in her dreams just like every other unpleasant thing she’d faced. Lark shivered.

Then suddenly, a thought occurred to Lark. She decided there just wasn’t enough time to mull over the nebula-reaper incident any longer. She didn’t want Leader Monrage to come looking for her. Lark slowed the ship as much as possible then put it on autopilot. She then went and knocked on Professor’s door. Not surprisingly, he wasn’t pleased to be woken up. Lark could hear him grumbling on the other side of the door. Still, she wasn’t afraid of him. After dealing so long with Leader Monrage, very few other people actually scared her. Professor pulled the door open with some force, displaying his obvious irritation.

“What is it, girl? I’m supposed to be sleeping. It hasn’t been that long. I’ll come out when I’m done. That’s what I usually do.”

“Leader Monrage told me to get you. He wants me at a meeting. He’s expecting me.”

Professor looked dumbfounded for a moment. He considered.

“Fine. Just give me a second.”

Professor then shut the door. Lark considered waiting for Professor but decided against it. After all, the longer Lark took to show up, the worse her reception would be. They didn’t seem to be heading anywhere dangerous — at least not at the moment. Plus, she’d slowed them down to a crawl. The more Lark thought about it the more she felt the need to get to that meeting as soon as possible. In fact, Lark figured if she was out of breath by the time she arrived it would please Leader Monrage; she was right. Then again, maybe he just enjoyed seeing her stressed.

Lark noticed there were no other seats at the table with the rest of the men. So, Lark dragged a chair as carefully as possible from a nearby table to right behind a couple of the men. She sat down. Leader Monrage continued with small talk for a while — possibly to save face that he had waited for Lark’s insignificant presence.

“All right. Let’s get this meeting started. As you all know, as wonderful as it is, this ship is just the beginning. We’ll need fuel and food someday. And we don’t just want to be running from the law. We need to be able to go where we want when we want. We’ll need power for that. If we get that, they’ll turn a blind eye to our past transgressions. I’ve laid out the first part of my strategy in the booklet I’ve made available to all of you. We are going to establish ourselves as the most reliable and indispensible smugglers in operation. We will first begin our venture in regions that aren’t friendly to the Security Force.”

“Then what?” one of the men asked.

Leader Monrage smiled in a way that was a cross between amusement and annoyance.

“By then, we’ll have the means to destroy anyone who tries to mess with us. And yes before you ask. I have some idea of where I can get what I need.” Leader Monrage informed them. “But first things first, I expect everyone to read my booklet thoroughly — we’ll say within a week. There will be a test.”

There were groans.

“You’re dismissed.”

The men stood then and began to file out. Lark stood as well.

“Officer Twelve.” Leader Monrage called out. She froze and looked up at him midway through standing.

“Have you noticed that the other men don’t glare at you as much as they used to?” he began.

“No, but I guess now that you mention it …” Lark stood the rest of the way. She was now standing at a higher position than the sitting Monrage.

“It’s because you’re a pilot now, I suppose. It makes you seem as though you’re in another class. I do admit I am grateful that they no longer question my judgment in having you around.”

“They …”

“Not directly. They know better than that. But you had to have heard the whispers, seen the looks.”

“Yes.” Lark acknowledged.

“I guess it’s good I didn’t listen to them, right?”

“Yes.” Lark replied. She began to fear where this was headed.

“I’d be interested in hearing what you think of my plan.” Leader Monrage offered.

“The first part or the whole thing?”

Leader Monrage leaned back and grinned.

“I have to keep some things to myself. I don’t want anyone taking my idea and using it for himself.”

Lark couldn’t believe it, but he was serious.

“No, I was referring to the first part of my plan.” Leader Monrage continued. “It may take years to implement, but that shouldn’t be an issue for you now that I think of it. You have nowhere else to go, nothing else to do.”

Lark just looked at him.

“Oh, yes. You weren’t here when I passed these out. Come, take a booklet.”

Leader Monrage held the booklet just out of reach. She was sure he planned to rip it away before she could take it. Still, what choice did she have? So, Lark began reaching for the brochure slowly. Then, just as her fingers grazed the pages, Leader Monrage spoke once more.

“Next time.” he said. “Get here sooner. You’re not worth waiting for.”

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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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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