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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 28

Lark and her crew lay low on Colony 12 for about a week. It took that long for word to get back to Lark about the fallout from the installation’s destruction. That news would come from Waterburg’s brother, Kenneth Waterburg, who managed to escape from one of Monrage’s crews before Leader Monrage found out he was Waterburg’s sibling. Kenneth had communicated with his brother shortly after Lark and her crew left Colony 9.

Waterburg then planned for a rendezvous with his brother. It was Waterburg’s idea to meet Kenneth elsewhere lest the meeting end up being a trap of some kind. It turned out all right, and Kenneth and his cooking talents joined Lark’s crew. Kenneth, as it turned out, was a bit peeved that his brother hadn’t given him a heads-up about the destruction of the installation. Waterburg then protested that he barely knew anything about the situation before it happened, and that his brother pretty much cut off their conversation that day anyway. Plus, did Kenneth really want Monrage to find out that he had gotten the information beforehand? That was that, and Kenneth didn’t bring it up again. Still, Lark could tell that Waterburg, despite his comically antagonistic relationship with his brother, was relieved he was safe.

Of course, having two Waterburgs on board caused a bit of confusion at first since the crew members were used to calling each other by their last names. Also, Waterburg had refused to give Lark his first name. Lark never did figure out why. Still, given her lack of desire to ask questions and to have them asked of her she decided to remain silent. So, it was determined that Waterburg’s brother would just be called Kenneth — with no last name — from then on. Lark, for her part, decided not to confound the crew too much and permitted them to call her either Officer Twelve or Lark — her last name really didn’t feel like an option for her somehow. Strangely enough, the crew took to just calling her Lark rather quickly. Maybe without Monrage’s costume, the name Lark fit her better. Or, maybe they were just afraid that they could all be linked to Leader Monrage if they used the other moniker. It turned out for the best, especially given that Owen had already taken to calling her Lark. It would have been awkward if Owen were the only one who did that.

As for the story of the incident, most of what Kenneth knew was also known by Lark. However, one piece of information was new, and it concerned Lark’s cousin, Celeste.

Lark found out that Celeste had been in the area of the explosion when it occurred. Lark, for some reason, couldn’t handle not knowing what had happened to Celeste. She, therefore, decided to return to Colony 9 to find out what became of her cousin. In order not to risk her crew, she contracted for a small ship to take her there. Days later, she arrived back on Colony 9 dressed as Lark to see what she could find out. Part of her was relieved when she saw a very much alive Celeste standing amid the ashes and rubble of the installation site.

Come to see what you left of me?” a shrill voice called out to Lark, after all the other bystanders had departed the vicinity.

Lark considered briefly.

You may not believe me, but I’m glad you’re not dead.” Lark answered.

Oh, I believe you, all right. That I believe. How can I suffer unless I’m alive, right?” Celeste returned.

You might not want to stay around here.” Lark advised. “The police are bound to be looking for you and Frederick.”

Oh, so that’s your game. You want me on that prison colony. And what about you? You can be returned there, too. In fact, under the circumstances it may be worth it to me.”

Celeste started looking around for someone. Perhaps in her frantic state she was actually looking for a police officer.

I don’t exist. You saw to that.” Lark reminded her.

Celeste stared back at Lark with confusion.

How do you mean?” she asked with an eerie softness.

I’ve done my time … or should I say your time. Then, there’s Officer Twelve. Leader Monrage took her with him. He’s probably killed her by now.” Lark finished.

Too bad I couldn’t watch that.” Celeste stated.

I’m done.” Lark concluded in disgust. “I’ve done enough for you. If you want to blame me for everything, go ahead.”

I do blame you. You destroyed everything, and what was it to you?!” Celeste screeched. “That was my future you were ruining back then — you and your neediness! You wouldn’t have been much better off if I had been taken to the prison colony instead. Only one of us could have lived, so what that it was I who survived?!”

Lark was dumbfounded; Celeste was serious.

I had to do it. Leader Monrage couldn’t be allowed to keep those weapons. There was no way to know what he would do with them. Not to mention what he would have done with me.” Lark informed her.

Then, why not just turn him in?” Celeste countered.

To whom? And with what proof?”

So, this is your solution?” Celeste gestured with her arms. “This rubble? You could have killed someone — murderer!”

Lark just stared at her. It was pointless to mention how many lives would have been lost because of Celeste, Frederick, and Monrage’s actions.

You know, I’ve lost Frederick. I have no money and no house. I have nothing. What am I supposed to do now?” Celeste stammered. “Of course, you don’t know. You don’t think anything through. Nothing is your responsibility.”

Good-bye, Celeste.”

Lark was about to leave when Celeste shouted her name. Lark turned partially back toward her.

Good-bye?! I’m the one who says that. This time I’m the one who’s going to leave you!” Celeste spat. “From this day forward I no longer have a cousin, and you have another enemy.”

Celeste turned abruptly and stormed off. Lark found she was glad to see her go. Yet, she still felt that most of the conversation had been disturbing. Could Celeste really do worse to her than she had already done?

Lark.” a familiar voice called from behind her.

Lark turned to see Owen standing there.

Are you ready to go back to the ship, Commander?” Owen asked.

Lark smiled.

Owen.”

You didn’t think I’d let you come here alone, did you?” he offered. “Are you all right?”

Lark looked at him a moment.

It’s possible to go so far deep into yourself that you become lost there.” she whispered.

A moment passed, and then Owen asked, “Is that what happened to you?”

Almost …” she admitted. “Almost.”

Suddenly, Lark smiled.

Let’s go. I have one more stop to make, and then I’m through here.”

Lark went to visit her parents’ graves and to say good-bye to the people from the church. She and Owen then headed toward the cargo ship for their departure. She noticed that Owen breathed a sigh of relief when they successfully took off.

It will be nice to get home.” Lark mentioned to him.

Home?”

Our ship.” Lark said smiling. “The crew is there. And Cinnamon is there, of course. Oh, and you.” Lark beamed.

I’m glad I made the list.” he joked.

We will all have a lot of planning to do, and I want every member of the crew to be involved. I think we’ll be quite the success. Still, it’s too bad I couldn’t have paid Leader Monrage for the ship. I have this thing about stealing — particularly now.”

I think the years of forced, barely paid servitude should be compensated for somehow.”

But does it even out?”

Well, maybe someday you’ll be able to ‘pay him back’.”

Lark laughed at the way he said that.

Maybe.” she replied. “Maybe.”

Plus, you talked him out of destroying that ship … and wasting his weapon. Oh, that’s right, the weapons were destroyed.”

Weapon …” Lark repeated.

What is it?”

Just thinking that Leader Monrage never did anything until he was paid.” Lark started. “Maybe he was just grandstanding, but I remember he also mentioned something about a weapon. I wonder whether it really is one of the ones from the installation.”

***

Celeste scrounged the streets for days hiding in the alleys and trash receptacles. Life for her was misery. And what was more, she lived in fear. It had occurred to Celeste that Frederick could easily lie and blame her for the whole incident. After all, it would be easy to link her to Leader Monrage through Lark. Maybe that’s why Lark had been involved all along, so that Celeste could take the blame if the scheme fell through. Then, one day she saw a familiar figure and followed him. She couldn’t seem to help herself. She even overheard a conversation he was having. He was looking for someone they both knew.

Out of desperation, she made herself known. What could be worse than how she was living?

Leader Monrage.”

He turned, and a repulsed look crossed her face.

Well, well … you’re still alive. Sort of. I’m surprised you would lower yourself to live like this.”

Celeste flinched. She didn’t like the feeling of being pitied — when it wasn’t part of her plan at least.

Tell me.” she started, her voice barely recognizable. “Did Frederick set me up? Were you in on it with him? Was that why Lark was here?”

An odd look crossed Leader Monrage’s face when she mentioned Lark — it contorted in a grotesque way as though Officer Twelve’s former name had stabbed him.

What of her?” he stammered. Then, he remembered Celeste’s question. “No, why would I care?”

Did he know about Lark before?” she pursued softly.

Leader Monrage began to get antsy. He didn’t care about this woman.

No, not from me. Is that all?”

Celeste considered. She had been so sure. Still, did it really change anything? Frederick had felt no qualms about sending Lark to prison to save them both. Surely he would send Celeste there or have her executed to save himself. Leader Monrage turned to leave before she could respond.

Wait!” she pleaded.

What now?!” He spun around. “Don’t you dare follow me!”

I won’t … unless you want me to.”

Want you to?” he questioned her in disbelief.

You know. I was reminded the other day of where I come from.” Celeste paused. “I’m thinking now that you and I have more in common than I ever had with Frederick.”

Is that so?” Leader Monrage’s eyes flashed. “So, what exactly is it you want from me?”

I’ll do anything. Just get me out of here.” Celeste begged.

Leader Monrage took a moment to think that through.

Fortunately, I remember when you were beautiful.” he finally said while touching her face with his hand. “Maybe you can be of use to me. Well, come on. You’ll have to keep up if you want to be with me.”

Of course. You say jump …” Celeste started. “I say how high.”

Months passed … and Leader Monrage journeyed with Celeste to a place he hadn’t been for years but couldn’t get out of his head.

There you are.” Leader Monrage stated as he stared at the monitor.

I don’t know why you need me here.” Celeste answered.

Leader Monrage turned. It almost seemed as though he was startled by her. But how could that be, given that he had just spoken to her? There was no way to tell his mood. Since most of the lights in the room were turned down, his eyes remained in shadow. And he had summoned Celeste to this dark room without letting her know his purpose.

I don’t need you here, but I do want you here. I thought you’d be interested.”

Interested in what? A barely visible planet?”

I made a mistake. I see that now.” Leader Monrage stated. “She was under my control until I brought her to that planet of yours — to you.”

You’re still moping over Lark.”

Yeah, well. She was mine.” Leader Monrage turned back toward the monitor. “I trained her well. See how well she did that last day. I didn’t have the heart to destroy her — not when she did it so well — just as I would have done.”

Yeah, whatever.”

Celeste was about to turn to leave.

You did well, too. Incredibly well, in fact. I wanted to show you just how well. You see, Twelve tried to stop me. But I’m going to show her it was pointless. True, the scale is going to be smaller, but she doesn’t need to know that. She also doesn’t need to know that this was the plan — or at least part of it — from before I even knew of her existence. Then again, knowing her she’ll probably blame herself for talking me out of destroying her with the one weapon I managed to obtain. Regardless, what she does know of is this place. I don’t think she will ever forget it. And now, you won’t forget it either.”

Why don’t we go back to our room? I’m tired, but I can stay up for a while.”

That won’t be necessary. I have all I need right here.”

Well, I’m going back to the room.” She turned away from him.

Stop!” Leader Monrage yelled.

Celeste stopped.

I want you to see what you’ve contributed to.”

Me? I haven’t done anything. It was Frederick.”

Celeste’s eyes had adjusted enough to the light that when she turned back she saw an intense Monrage staring back at her.

We’ll see whether you still believe that after …” He paused. “We’re almost in range. You set all this in motion for me. True, I lost Twelve and a ship, but I did get this weapon because of you …”

So, you’re going to destroy that dinky planet?”

No … not directly anyway. Though, they’ll probably wish I had.”

Celeste looked at him skeptically as he started a countdown. He then grabbed Celeste by the arms, so she couldn’t turn away.

Remember this is all because of you.” Leader Monrage insisted. “And just in case you try to blame Twelve for this, you can’t. It’s all you and me. That’s what this little demonstration is meant to show you, and I won’t let you change that.”

You should be blaming that guy she was kissing instead of me.”

What guy?” Monrage demanded in a dark tone.

Celeste was taken aback for a moment.

I don’t know. How should I know? The point is she betrayed you!” Celeste screamed.

Leader Monrage sighed.

But only because you betrayed her first.” He glared at her with ferocity. “But don’t worry. I won’t destroy you for it, but you may destroy yourself before this is all over.”

What is that?” Celeste demanded in a disturbed tone of voice.

Leader Monrage released Celeste then turned from her. Now that he had gotten her interest, there was no need to detain her further.

They took most of my weapons and think they’ve won. I’m about to unleash the ultimate weapon.” Leader Monrage explained. “There are more of these scattered throughout the galaxy, but I can’t free them all now. My down payment is only enough to destroy one of the force fields. I chose this one because it’s weak and because it means something to me.”

Celeste blinked. The reality of what she was viewing had just started to sink in. Leader Monrage turned back briefly to grin at her as he reached his hand out to press a button on the console.

Wait, no!” Celeste cried out in horror.

Leader Monrage pushed the button without hesitation. He then zoomed in the camera toward where the weapon had gone. There was an explosion. Celeste squinted at the image. Then, as it became clear in her sight, she screamed again.

Relax. It’s much too far from us. We’ll be able to escape long before they even realize we’re here. Too bad the same can’t be said of that planet.”

He then walked behind where Celeste was standing and began massaging her shoulders.

I just wanted to see the nebula reapers freed.” He hissed in her ear. “I can relate more to them than people, you know. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Beautiful.”

And hence it began.

End of Book One.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 27

The target is within view.” Jensen stated. “ETA … two minutes.”

And our pursuer?” Lark asked. “When will he be within firing range of us?”

At our current speed … one minute.”

Can we increase speed?” Lark questioned.

Yes, but not without compromising our ability to hit the target. It could stray into another district.” Jensen brought up.

Lark stared at the screen for a moment.

Officer Twelve?”

Power us down.”

Down?” Owen confirmed.

Yes, Smythe’s ship doesn’t have our maneuverability. Right, Captain?” Lark mentioned.

Right.”

You can handle it then.”

Yes. I can handle it.” Owen assured her.

Then, use evasive maneuvers between the buildings. It may take us a little longer to get to the installation, but at least we’ll get there. Ready the counter weapons for any confrontation that occurs after the installation is destroyed.”

Lark braced herself as the ship flew through the comparatively narrow spaces. Each turn seemed to be too tight to make. Somehow, Owen managed to stay clear of the obstacles; though, the cruiser did skirt along the structures’ edges more than once. For most of the crew, it was too stressful to watch. But Lark couldn’t seem to remove her eyes from the screen. Strangely, it was almost as though she were watching her own life moving along. So many times it seemed she had been heading for total disaster. Yet, at that moment, she felt a sort of assurance that somehow they were going to make it through all this and come out of it okay.

The installation is coming within range.” Owen mentioned after several minutes had passed.

Scan the building for signs of life.”

None detected.” Jensen responded.

Set the coordinates for the radiation containment shield and deploy it.”

Right … it’s done.” Jensen returned. “Officer, we’re now upon the target. I’m locking on.”

All right then. Take out the installation.” Lark ordered.

“… It’s done.”

The pretty, speckled lights of the streetlamps were soon replaced by a hot, piercing light. Finally, the light was gone, and the crew of Lark’s ship was left with the darkness.

I hope no one was down there.” Lark mentioned softly.

It didn’t take long for the scanner to pick up on the presence of another ship. Though it was still out of range in terms of its weapons, it was coming fast upon them. Jensen zoomed in on the image, which he projected onto the monitor. It was Leader Monrage’s ship.

We’re being hailed.” Jensen stated.

I’m not surprised.” Lark said. “He couldn’t destroy us without letting us know about it first.”

Will he destroy us?” somebody questioned.

If he can … unless it isn’t worth it to him …” She paused briefly. “Put Leader Monrage up on the monitor.” Lark commanded.

Jensen did, and a rage-filled Monrage appeared on the screen. He started spitting venom towards Lark.

Leader Monrage, you may want to reconsider wasting your time pursuing me.” Lark stated coolly. “I know you have sent Smythe after me, but under the circumstances you may want to make plans for your escape instead. The explosion has no doubt alerted the Security Force. And now that you have no incentive to complete the mission …” Lark trailed off. “Unless, of course, you think I’m worth going back to the prison colony for. Bear in mind, this time you might never leave that place.”

Leader, should we use the weapon on Officer Twelve’s ship? We can’t let them get away with this, can we?” someone off-screen asked.

Leader Monrage’s lip quivered. Then suddenly, he got a hold of himself. He considered for a moment.

No, they’re not worth it. I have other plans for this weapon. Believe me, if I had the entire cache of weapons I would.”

The monitor went dead. Lark sat back in her chair and breathed. Then suddenly, Lark removed her contact lenses and crushed them under her feet.

Incoming, Officer Twelve. Smythe has managed to lock onto us.” Jensen spoke up.

Disperse the counter weapons.”

All right …”

Lark, once again, held her breath for a moment.

The oppositional weapons have been neutralized.” Jensen sighed in relief.

Good. We’re going to ascend now. We need to get into space and away from here.” Lark informed the crew.

What about Leader Monrage? He’s still out there.” Jensen wondered.

We don’t have a choice. We can’t stay around here; we’ll be sent to prison.”

We’re criminals?” Jensen asked.

Not really.” Lark said. “But people don’t always know the truth.” Lark paused. “Get us out of here, Captain Smithson, as fast as you can.”

What about fuel?” Jensen worried.

We’ll get it at the nearest refueling station. I’m fairly certain it isn’t that far away.”

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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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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