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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 1

Many decades earlier, technology had advanced far enough to make space colonization a possibility. Of course, not everything could be anticipated. Most of these unexpected issues were able to be worked around without incident. There were, however, some major issues that weren’t able to be gotten around. Those “issues” were the nebula reapers: entities of strength, speed, and ferociousness. The nebula reapers attacked ships and their passengers and consumed them regularly. Fortunately, the creatures would hibernate periodically in clusters, and the first attempts at containing them in energy force fields seemed to work. There were many roving groups of these creatures, and one such group was spotted and contained close to the doomed planet of Colony 52.

Colony 52 hadn’t planned on using its force fields to contain the nebula reapers; it was just a fluke that seemed to work. At first, it was actually a source of pride for Colony 52 that they had stumbled upon a solution to the nebula-reaper problem that other colonies would later emulate. The colonists believed the containment field would be a solution – that the nebula reapers were merely a temporary inconvenience. After all, how long could they live in there? Only they didn’t die — at least not enough of them — and their presence started to scare off supply traffic to Colony 52. As the years passed, the resources of Colony 52 began to dwindle, and the fear of the nebula reaper’s looming threat increased. The colonists of 52 were no longer the vanquishers of the reapers. The reapers were winning — patiently waiting out their captors.

Then one day, disaster struck and an explosion from a then unknown source ripped through space. The cluster of nebula reapers on Colony 52 was freed. Tragically, it wasn’t long afterwards that most of the inhabitants of the tiny planet were gone — more than likely consumed by the nebula reapers.

What was more, this group of nebula reapers seemed to have learned from their captivity. This development made the nebula reapers particularly difficult to contain, and, therefore, a larger threat to the other colonies and their citizenry. Their increased level of aggressiveness, cunning, and even speed was unexpected and alarming. Each reaper also seemed to no longer have a problem attacking its own. Oftentimes, they no longer felt the need to travel as a group. However, when they did move as a unit, they found they had an ample supply of things to feed off of when contained.

Far away from the remains of Colony 52, there was a tiny planet known as Colony 29. It was a planet rich in resources. Because of this plentitude, the colony developed a large scientific community. It was not surprising, therefore, that when the news of the outcome of Colony 52 came to the attention of the Security Force that help from Colony 29 was sought. In particular, there was one man named Dr. Hayato Takahashi [Ha-ya-to Ta-ka-ha-shee], a leading researcher and the founder of the renowned Virtual Reality and Robotics Institute, who was approached for assistance.

Since the nebula reapers were no longer able to be consistently contained as a group, the Security Force was open to new ideas. And Dr. Hayato Takahashi had the most innovative concept of all the scientists on Colony 29 — arming the individual for ground combat. At least this way a person would stand a fighting chance against a rogue reaper. Dr. Takahashi had actually been working on the concept for years despite other people’s insistence that the nebula-reaper threat had been resolved. But Dr. Takahashi persisted. And, though he had yet to complete his work, there were rumors all over Colony 29 that a breakthrough was imminent — that was until Dr. Takahashi’s untimely demise.

Takara Takahashi [Ta-ka-ra Ta-ka-ha-shee] had been in a hospital bed for months. She had been in a coma that entire time. No one knew exactly why she was unconscious for so long. True, the concussion she had sustained was severe, but all of the tests showed that her brain activity was normal. It was particularly difficult to be a doctor on such a scientifically advanced colony and not be able to help a patient. Everything Dr. Thatcher had tried seemed to do nothing. Takara just continued to lie there day after day – so still … so very still. One of the nurses suggested Takara seemed as though she was waiting for something. But what? Another offered that Takara looked like Snow White with her long, straight black hair and wan complexion. The only part of that observation that had been helpful to Dr. Thatcher was the comment about Takara’s complexion. The severe paleness was a sign that Takara’s health was poor. Dr. Thatcher just couldn’t figure out the reason Takara’s health was no longer improving. Strangely enough, it wasn’t until the hospital ran out of room and had to move Mrs. Taylor, a rather talkative patient, in with Takara that a breakthrough occurred.

Mrs. Taylor was waiting to have surgery several days after her admittance. Given that Mrs. Taylor was something of a social butterfly, after visiting hours she would talk to Takara about a television program she was watching or about what the weather was like outside of their shared window. Then one day, as Mrs. Taylor was recovering from her surgery, Takara finally opened her eyes. Mrs. Taylor quickly pressed the nurse’s call button repeatedly.

“Hurry! It’s a miracle! She’s awake!”

The nurses arrived soon after; still, Mrs. Taylor felt as though it had been a long time. Mrs. Taylor had been afraid the girl’s eyes would drift shut again, and that the hospital staff would think Mrs. Taylor was just loopy from her pain medication. Fortunately, the girl’s eyes were still open when the nurses got to her. Oddly enough, as they looked upon Takara they noted that Takara’s eyes seemed to be fixated on the ceiling. Mrs. Taylor was rather insulted when one of the two nurses then pulled the curtain closed between Mrs. Taylor and Takara thereby blocking Mrs. Taylor’s view.

“There’s gratitude for you!” Mrs. Taylor exclaimed.

Not long after that, Dr. Thatcher arrived and went beyond the curtain. As he emerged moments later and seemed to be leaving the room again, Mrs. Taylor spoke, “See it’s all the talking I did. The girl just needed to hear a human voice.”

Dr. Thatcher wasn’t sure what to make of Takara’s stare. Her eyes were responsive to light, but she just stared unseeingly forward. Eventually, he snapped his fingers next to the side of her face; however, instead of her eyes moving to the side, they just started to water. Then, about a minute later, her eyes shifted over, and she looked squarely at the doctor. Next, her eyes slid from person to person until she had looked at every one of the medical staff who was staring down at her.

“Let’s remove the feeding tube.” the doctor mentioned.

Takara coughed violently as the tube was removed. Then suddenly, Takara sat straight up in bed.

“Father!” she screamed. “Father!!”

Takara then pulled her knees up to her chest and wept.

“Honey!” a nurse called out. The nurse placed her hand on the young girl’s shoulder.

Takara’s lip quivered as she looked back at the nurse.

“Where — where’s my father?” Takara finally got up the nerve to ask.

The medical professionals looked amongst one another.

“What aren’t you telling me?” Takara’s voice cracked. Her voice didn’t sound right to her; it sounded hollow. “Where is he?”

“Should I get her a sedative?” one nurse whispered.

“No. We can’t risk that.” The doctor leaned down beside Takara’s bed.

“I’m very sorry, Takara. There was an accident. Your father died.”

Takara’s brows furrowed in disbelief. Then, she buried her face in her hands and began quietly sobbing.

“She’ll be all right.” the doctor concluded. He looked at the nurses, who looked helplessly back at him. Dr. Thatcher hadn’t considered what would happen when Takara woke up. Dr. Thatcher had been so preoccupied by whether she would wake up at all that he hadn’t considered what would become of her if she did. When she came into the ER, Dr. Thatcher had seen her with her father — wheeled in on gurneys side by side. He had handled thirteen-year-old Takara’s case. Later, when he heard her father hadn’t made it, he somehow still viewed them as a unit. Now it occurred to him that the young girl was alone. There hadn’t been a single visitor. How could that be, and what would become of Takara now?

“Who’s been paying the bills?” the doctor whispered to one of the nurses.

He received an odd look from the nurse.

“I’m trying to figure out whom we should contact.”

“Oh.” the nurse looked at the girl. “I’ll go find out.”

The first nurse left the room.

“Would you like something to eat or drink?” the other nurse asked Takara. Then, she paused abruptly. She turned toward the doctor. “Is that okay? You haven’t updated her chart.”

“Yes. Only start her on a clear liquid diet.”

“Yes, Doctor.” the second nurse stated before she also left.

Doctor Thatcher waited anxiously for the first nurse to return. Eventually, Takara looked up at him through her tears. The doctor looked at her.

“I’m sorry you had to hear about it that way.” he awkwardly put forth.

Takara nodded.

Suddenly, the curtain was pulled back halfway. The first nurse had returned, and she was carrying in her arms a small brown bear with a purple ribbon tied around its neck.

“I wasn’t sure what you would like. I’ve always liked teddy bears, so I thought I’d give it a try.”

She offered the toy to Takara. Takara looked at it quizzically for a moment then reached out and took it.

The doctor looked at the nurse expectantly. She gestured with her head that they should talk off to the side.

“The bill’s been paid by her father’s institution. There is no other contact information. I’m afraid there might not be anyone who can take responsibility for her. After all, she’s had no visitors.” the nurse informed the doctor.

“Oh yes, she has.” Mrs. Taylor spoke up.

Mrs. Taylor was a bit surprised by the look on the medical professionals’ faces. But then she realized they must have thought she was asleep. She hadn’t really done anything to make them think otherwise. After all, they were used to her speaking nonstop when she was awake.

“At least I believe so.” Mrs. Taylor corrected. When the look on their faces suggested they were going to dismiss her account, she added that the man only came once — the first night Mrs. Taylor was in the room. “I never saw him after that. The strange thing was he left right away when he saw me. At the time I thought he had the wrong room, but then he had burst in here as though he knew for sure where he was going. Still, as I said, he never did come back.”

The doctor and the nurse looked at one another unsure of what to make of Mrs. Taylor’s story. If someone had come looking for Takara, then that could be a good thing. But then why would he come at night? And why would he leave and not return?

“Well, go ahead and call the phone number of the Institute. Maybe they can locate some sort of will or something. If we can’t find a suitable guardian for this girl … Well, let’s see what we’re dealing with before we go there.”

“Yes, Doctor.”

The nurse filed out. The doctor left as well. He figured there was no point in being around until things were settled. Still, Mrs. Taylor was surprised the staff would leave that young girl alone again.

Mrs. Taylor reached out to the curtain. It took some effort and some stretching to get a handle on the fabric; finally, she grasped the divider with two fingers. It took a couple of attempts before she was able to open the curtain wide enough to see the girl.

The girl was looking straight ahead. At first, Mrs. Taylor wasn’t sure the girl was aware that the curtain had been moved. But then suddenly, she looked over at the woman with curiosity.

“Hey, I’m going to be your roommate for a while. It must be very hard for you that you’ve lost so much time.”

Takara’s forehead crinkled.

“How long has it been?”

“Well, I’m not sure. It’s just that the doctors and nurses acted as though it’s been awhile.”

“Well, what day is it?” Takara asked.

“I’m not sure exactly.” Mrs. Taylor reached over and grabbed a newspaper from off her nightstand.

“March 29th.” Mrs. Taylor read.

“The last thing I remember was going to a New Year’s Eve party with my father …” Takara began blankly. “We went into a limousine afterward. I think there was ice on the road that night. Could that have been it … what caused this to happen to us?”

Takara touched her head with her hand suddenly. There was pain there. It started when she saw a flash of something in her mind she didn’t want to think about. Whatever it was, she knew it wasn’t something she wanted to remember.

Takara instead decided to focus on the memories she had from the time right before the accident. Then again, in a way it was more painful thinking of those last moments with her father. They had been attending a New Year’s Eve gala. They had been introduced to the large gathering below while standing at the top of a very large staircase. Takara had worn a long red velvet dress; her hair was pulled back in a braided updo. Takara usually wore her hair in a loose braid, but this was a special occasion. She had even accentuated her hair with red jeweled barrettes. Over her hands, Takara carried a white muff.

Takara’s father, a man of medium height, escorted Takara down the staircase. Her father was always a distinguished man with a kind smile and a pair of small spectacles on his face. This night he replaced his white lab coat for a dark gray suit. He usually worked so hard that Takara wasn’t able to have her father’s full attention very often. But this night her father had made time for her, and Takara couldn’t have been more thrilled.

Takara guessed that the dress she had worn that night must have been ruined in the crash. But that locket her father had given her for her birthday, was that also gone? She needed something to hold on to. Takara looked at the bear. She grasped it to her chest and lay back down on the bed. Takara felt exhausted. She had been unconscious for over three months; maybe she’d slip back under once more. Takara’s eyes watered and tears slipped down her face. Did she really want to stay awake? But then the question of what might happen to her if she did fall away again came to Takara’s mind. She wiped her eyes.

Takara realized that she didn’t have any real control over her future. Yet, if there was something she could do to improve her chances, she decided she would try. The first thing she wanted to do was to get out of this bed and eventually out of this hospital. Takara wanted to sleep in her own bed again.

“Teddy bear,” she whispered. “You’ll like my room. There are a bunch of stuffed animals there you can be friends with.”

Takara curled up in a ball on her side with Teddy wrapped in her arms.

“It will be nice to sleep …”

It was dark when Takara woke up again. Her first thought was one of wondering how long she’d been asleep. Her second thought was one of wondering what that form was that was looming by her side.

“Doctor?” Takara whispered.

Takara could see the man’s eyes glisten from the dim light streaming in from the outdoor street lamps. When there was no reply — only breathing — Takara began to freak out.

“Who are you?” she gasped as she lurched backward on her bed.

Takara turned away and began to scream as the man seemed to reach for her. Suddenly, the light by Mrs. Taylor’s bed came on.

“What’s going on? Are you all right, girl? I’m calling for a nurse!”

Takara could see the man retract from her bed. Takara squinted at him.

“Mr. Tyler?” Takara murmured.

Suddenly, the nurse entered the room and was redirected by Mrs. Taylor to Takara’s bedside. The doctor came in soon after, seemingly fearing the worst; instead, they found a strange, thin man of medium height with slightly disheveled, stringy, pale blond hair standing by Takara’s bedside. Despite the girl’s frantic look, the man appeared as though nothing was unusual. His striking business attire made him appear to be less than threatening. Still …

“Hello, you must be Takara’s doctor.” The man offered the hesitant doctor his hand. “I’m Mr. Tyler. I was a colleague of Dr. Takahashi at the Institute … I just received your phone call.”

“Oh, yes.” the doctor said, taking in the scene. “I just wasn’t informed by the nurse’s station that you had checked in.”

“Oh, I didn’t.”

The doctor had taken up Mr. Tyler’s hand; now, he released it.

“You wouldn’t happen to be the one who Mrs. Taylor saw in this room the other day – the one who came to see Takara.”

“Yes, that was me.” the man said, situating the vase on a nearby bedside table to his liking. “I lost my nerve I’m afraid to say. I didn’t know what to say to the child … assuming she could even hear me.” Mr. Tyler looked up. “So, is she ready to be released?”

“I’m afraid not.” the doctor said. “I’ve set up some tests tomorrow to make sure she is all right. I wouldn’t feel right about releasing her until I was sure she was ready.”

Mr. Tyler looked over at Takara.

“Yes, of course. Well, call the Institute again, and I’ll send someone to pick her up.”

“I’m sorry but do you have the authority to take her?”

“Oh, yes.” Takara was surprised when Mr. Tyler pulled something out of his breast pocket. “Here. I am the executor of the estate. I also went to the trouble of becoming Takara’s guardian.”

The doctor took the form and looked it over just to be sure. This whole situation left Dr. Thatcher with an uneasy feeling, but he couldn’t pinpoint a valid objection. He handed back the document. Takara watched the document as it was passed back and forth.

“Do I get to go home?” she asked.

“As soon as you’re released.” Mr. Tyler said without looking at her. He put the form back into his pocket. “As I’ve said, contact the Institute again, and we’ll pick her up.”

Mr. Tyler headed for the door.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge

Chapter 24

 

Nora and Jack were nearly dead when they were discovered by a passing ship — their plane floating seemingly lifeless in space. The passing ship did a scan of the plane. The scan detected life. Therefore, the ship’s crew salvaged the plane. There would be rumors of other survivors from the dead planet known as 52, but for some reason none of those people would acknowledge being from there. Tracking down those survivors wouldn’t be easy as they were scattered about in various colonies, blending in with the people there. But some colonial citizens noted that there were new residents on their colonies; these were colonies that weren’t accustomed to newcomers. Still, the only ones talking about Colony 52 were the two from that broken-down plane. At first the couple’s story seemed unbelievable, but what else could account for the plane and the two teenagers inside of it?

Not surprisingly, no one wanted to go to Colony 52 to check on the story. But, eventually, robotic rovers were dispatched. By the time they inched their way to the planet and sent out information by way of their video relay, the only life they found on Colony 52 were the nebula reapers. Nora sobbed in Jack’s arms when she learned the force field had failed sooner than expected — at least it was sooner than Nora had expected. There was still hope that her family escaped in time, but I never have heard whether or not she found them.

In the end, the information from the rovers — as well as Nora and Jack’s account — was collected by the Security Force. It viewed the discovery of Jack and Nora as useful to understanding what had happened. Yet, it was apparent to most that this tragedy wasn’t just a historical issue to learn from in the years to come. Colony 52’s problem had become a problem for everyone. What was more, the nebula reapers seemed to have learned from their past mistakes. They were no longer moving slowly and as a group. They were, therefore, harder to pin down. Additionally, they were more frenzied in their attacks. Finding the right strategy to contain the threat became a universal concern; the rest of human civilization had to avoid the same fate as Colony 52. Meanwhile, Nora and Jack were left to wonder if, instead of escape, they had just delayed the inevitable. In addition, Nora wondered why they should have lived while others died. But I figure if they hadn’t lived the rest of us might never have known what actually occurred on Colony 52, at least not for a long time. There might never have been an investigation. And even if the truth had been discovered with certainty through other means, valuable time would have been lost. This lost opportunity would have probably cost even more lives.

So ended a dark chapter in our history. Death is one thing; murder is quite another. It is more personal, more intimate. It sickens the soul. And yes, I consider what the Administration did murder. Still, that reality wasn’t mine — not yet. Circumstances didn’t change for me overnight — not that night anyway. The ripple started off small, and the effects were delayed. But, eventually, they would spread decidedly from planet to planet. No, instead of the nebula reapers, different enemies had landed on my home planet of Colony 38.

“Monrage?”

“That’s Leader Monrage.” Leader Monrage stated in a tone of annoyance as he folded up a local newspaper. He uncrossed his legs and leaned forward towards the butler, who had come to greet him.

“I’m sorry, sir.”

“Well …” Leader Monrage collected himself. “I have been thinking about shortening it to Monrage. After all, times change, and I should as well.”

The butler hesitated a moment under the odd man’s stare.

“Well, what is it?!” Leader Monrage demanded.

The butler cleared his throat.

“Yes … your brother has accepted your request for an audience and will be here shortly.” the butler announced. “That is all I’ve been told to tell you.”

Leader Monrage raised an eyebrow toward his companion, who was sitting next to him. She nodded a subtle agreement. Then, moments later, into the room walked Oliver Bertrand, Leader Monrage’s older brother and my father.

“Oliver …” Leader Monrage stood quickly. “Or, should I say King Oliver? My, much has changed since I was last here.”

“Yes, indeed. Yet, some things are apparently the same.” King Oliver turned toward Leader Monrage’s companion. “Then again, apparently some things have changed. My, Lark, you’ve certainly grown up. I hardly recognized you.”

“I’m not Lark!” the woman, who had decided to remain seated, spat. Her voice was quavering.

King Oliver was taken aback. He looked upon Leader Monrage with disapproval.

“This … lady is Twelve’s sister. She goes by Celeste.” Monrage announced.

“Oh, all right.” King Oliver returned, still quite a bit put out by Celeste’s outburst.

At that moment, I came into the room. I was a girl of ten then, and I was looking for my father. I spied Leader Monrage almost instantly and realized I had made the same mistake I had made years earlier, for I had also interrupted them then. My father came toward me to usher me out the door as two guards on either side of my father protected the king’s back.

“No need for that again.” Leader Monrage put forth. “Why do you keep doing that?”

King Oliver turned toward him.

“Why do you keep hanging out with little girls?” King Oliver countered.

Leader Monrage laughed.

“This one’s hardly little.” Leader Monrage stated, referring to his companion. “And the rest is nothing like that I assure you. You don’t have to worry about my kidnapping anyone.”

“So, what is it you are doing here, Brother? I’d have thought you’d be traveling the universe with your latest companion.”

“Space is not so safe as it used to be — or haven’t you heard?” Leader Monrage joked.

“I have, but I’m surprised you have. It seems you’ve been off the grid for a while.”

Leader Monrage shifted uncomfortably.

“I’m surprised you even tried to reach me.” Monrage returned.

“You’re my brother.”

“Though, you sometimes wish I weren’t.”

“You said it, not me.”

“Let’s not kid ourselves, Oliver. That isn’t why you tried to track me down.”

“Seems we both have items we’d rather not discuss.” my father countered.

I had no idea what they were talking about.

Leader Monrage laughed to himself. Then, he eyed my father squarely.

“So, you remember Colony 52, eh? I’m glad I’m not the only one who isn’t able to forget it. Though, I guess it really is as much my fault as yours what happened to me — you know … the prison colony. Given my fascination with Colony 52 — or at least what surrounded it — I had to volunteer to take those supplies there.”

“Only, you never actually showed up with them.” my father reminded him.

“Oh, I showed up. Not with those supplies, but I definitely showed up. I even brought them something worth as much money as they paid us. It just wasn’t what they were expecting. And I was very late with the delivery, I’ll admit that. Still, I never did feel right about helping them by providing them with those supplies. I didn’t agree with how they decided to handle the situation — how others followed their lead. So, why should I help them when my loyalty is elsewhere?”

Leader Monrage’s companion grew noticeably uncomfortable. My father, however, held his ground.

“My regret has been that you were too young back then to show judgment. Now, I don’t know what to think.”

Leader Monrage sneered and seemed to hiss as he laughed.

“You would know. You know everything … don’t you, Oliver?”

“There was nothing I could have done then … we have no relationship, no pull with the Security Force.”

“That again!”

“What more do you want from me? You stole from me before Aurore was born. And I still helped you after you escaped years later …”

“And you weren’t just a little bit glad I was out of the way?!”

Leader Monrage took a step toward my father. That action was enough to get the guards’ attention.

“Well, you’ve caught me. There is something you can do for me now.” Leader Monrage started in a newly found jovial tone. His first words had seemed to strike his companion with horror. “We are here to stay for a while. We don’t plan on living in your palace. We can find our own place. Though, I have to admit the occasional family dinner might be nice — if it’s okay with Princess Aurore, of course.”

My dad just stared at him for a moment. I noticed that Leader Monrage’s companion looked upon me with a mark of admiration — or was it jealousy?

My brow furrowed. I realized my uncle was playing a game of some kind — a not fun game. He seemed to be skirting the edges of saying something that he, his companion, and my father didn’t want anyone else to know. I decided I really didn’t like Leader Monrage.

“Do what you want. You will anyway.” Dad finally told him.

“My, that statement brings back memories.” Uncle Monrage whispered.

My father seemed frozen as Leader Monrage and the woman passed us by. I looked after them. I was surprised that, after all of my father’s concern, my father had let him get this close to me. He must have believed Leader Monrage harmless after all — or at least not interested in kidnapping me. Maybe Uncle Monrage didn’t need the money or the trouble. I would ask my father later why he let Monrage come around us. My father just answered that Monrage was his brother. I remember thinking I was glad I didn’t have a brother.

And so, while others continued to struggle with the nebula reapers, we contended with Leader Monrage. And yet, one colony found itself at the time in the enviable position of going forward as though nothing had happened at all. And yet, even there important events were occurring beneath the surface. These events would ultimately affect the outcome for everyone nonetheless.

 

End of Book Two

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Dirge

Chapter 12

 

When Nora arrived, there was already a crowd gathering in the field — this assembling of people occurred despite the cold mist, which continued to hover over them. They looked at her with irritation as she approached. Nora suddenly noticed that not only was there a mix of males and females present, but there were also all types of ages represented as well. Most were her age or older, but surprisingly there were also a few people who were younger than she. It struck Nora as peculiar that the Administration would make an effort to assemble together such a strange mix. Maybe they wondered who would do the best job at the mission at hand and were testing it. Nora shook. No, they could succeed. She had to believe that. This plan of theirs wasn’t just an experiment, which was destined to end in failure.

Then, after thinking about her age, Nora suddenly remembered that her birthday should be coming up soon, and she would be eighteen years old. Of course, she hadn’t thought she’d be spending her birthday under these circumstances. She didn’t think it could get much worse after she was separated from her family, but now that she had no one …

“Well, it seems we have the right number of recruits here.” Mrs. Grafton noticed.

So, there wasn’t going to be a roll call?

“I trust no one entered this group without belonging to it.” Mrs. Grafton concluded with a sort of amusement in her voice, which almost sounded like laughter.

It was true. Who would take their places? In fact, Nora figured if they tried to go back to their original dorms they would probably just be turned in by their former friends in a bid to save themselves — just like that one girl Amber was.

“Anyway, today is the day we’ll be doing the confinement exercise. I know you’ve probably heard about this exercise before, but don’t believe everything you hear. You’ll find if you just think you’ll get through it, you will. So, let’s see … who wants to go first? In other words, any volunteers?”

Nora looked around to see whether any of those near her were going to volunteer. No one did. Well, Nora was sure of one thing; she wasn’t going to be the one to volunteer.

“And your name, miss? Miss?” Mrs. Grafton spoke up. Nora shuddered when she realized Mrs. Grafton was talking to her. Nora looked up at her.

“What’s your name?” Mrs. Grafton asked while fixated on Nora.

“Nora … Montgomery.” Nora’s voice cracked.

“Nora Montgomery. Congratulations. You just volunteered.”

Nora’s hands began to shake. The others around her seemed smug and rather pleased. It was clear that Nora was selected because she had become the least popular of the group. Picking on her wouldn’t get the group agitated; in fact, it would probably score Mrs. Grafton some points. Then, there was also the relief the others would feel. After all, if Nora was singled out they’d probably be treated better by comparison. Nora doubted this treatment was going to be a one-time occurrence either; she feared her being singled out this way was only the beginning of Mrs. Grafton’s harassment.

Suddenly, she could hear someone approach from behind her. Maybe someone was about to volunteer. Then again, Mrs. Grafton probably wouldn’t allow anyone to take Nora’s place at this point. Besides, it seemed clear that Nora would be going soon no matter who volunteered. Even so, Nora decided to turn and smile at the person who felt some pity for her.

“You …” Nora started.

Jack raised his eyes and looked at Mrs. Grafton.

“All right. Let’s head out.” Mrs. Grafton announced.

The rest of the group walked on in a sort of disorganized mass without any hesitation. Apparently, seeing Nora do the confinement exercise was something no one wanted to miss. Jack walked ahead as well — but presumably for different reasons. Nora hesitated. Then, Mrs. Grafton cast a look back at Nora; she seemed to stop and wait for her. It was obvious Nora couldn’t get away. So, she went along with the others. She walked swiftly in order to catch up to the group. Eventually, Jack gravitated back towards Nora again — close enough that they could whisper to each other. After a moment, which Nora used to catch her breath, Jack and Nora began to talk in low voices. Still, to cover it up, Nora looked straight ahead at the back of Mrs. Grafton’s head.

“How are you here?” Nora queried softly.

“It isn’t really hard to get someone to change places with you under the circumstances. I made the switch after the others in Group B came out of the dorm. I looked for a guy who was about my age and my height. There weren’t many recruits to choose from, so he doesn’t really look all that much like me. Fortunately, Mrs. Grafton didn’t get a good look at me before. She apparently didn’t bother. Anyway, I guess there is somewhat of a risk that the switch will be discovered. But still, under the circumstances, it’s worth the risk.”

“Will the others report him?”

“Only if they hate him.” Jack laughed to himself. “Really, I don’t know. The fact nothing has happened yet is a good sign. I’m hoping he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t stand out.”

“But what about you …” Nora started.

“I’d rather be with you than wait for my name to be called in a week or two.”

“You think it’ll be that soon?”

“Yes. They’re running out of time. They won’t be able to keep up the shield much longer, I think. That’s how it seems to me given the way they’re acting.”

Nora was surprised that Jack could be so sure. After all, this was his life that was hanging in the balance.

“I just wish I felt there was a chance for success in Group B.” Nora stared down at the ground. “You could possibly survive if you belonged to another group. Maybe you’d be released even.”

Jack looked at Nora a moment.

“I heard earlier that new recruits are going to be brought in to replace the numbers for both Group A and Group B. If true, that won’t go over well, I think, for the others we know. Obviously, the Administration doesn’t think the problem will be resolved soon. There is no safe place.”

“So, they’ve replaced us already. It’s as though I don’t even exist.” Nora remarked.

“I remember you exist. I can’t forget it.”

“Thank you.” Nora replied softly.

Nora finally managed to smile. Jack smiled as well.

“I’ll find a way to visit you as often as I can.” he added. “We aren’t on the same floor obviously.”

“That’s good … I mean the part about you visiting me.” Nora started. Then, she looked him straight in the eye and whispered. “But it would be better for you if you got out of here.”

“Yeah, well.” Jack replied. “We can’t have everything.”

It was strange to Nora that as they approached the gymnasium they weren’t slowing down. Nora became even more stressed when they bypassed the building altogether. Nora had assumed that they were heading there; she had thought the confinement exercise would be in a pool. Now, she didn’t know what to think. The only thing that was apparent was that the confinement exercise was going to be held at a different site. Nora didn’t think there was any possibility that Mrs. Grafton had reconsidered doing the exercise that day. Nora felt like asking where they were going but decided against it. After all, most of Group B was already down on her, so her speaking up now wouldn’t do her any good. Jack did look over at Nora questioningly. She looked up at him just as they all suddenly stopped.

Nora looked around her and spotted a large, rather murky-looking lake. Not far from her was a small deck with a tiny, rectangular watercraft attached to it.

“For some reason, people tend to get wet in the confinement exercise. That’s the reason why we took the precaution of having you wear swimsuits.” Mrs. Grafton noted.

Nora’s eyes widened in horror.

“Miss Montgomery, you’re up first.” Mrs. Grafton stated. “Step forward.”

Nora looked around her. The only sympathy she received was from Jack.

“All right, Miss Montgomery. There is only so much light in a day.”

Nora looked at the ground. This exercise just kept getting worse; it seemed as terrifying as she had feared. And she couldn’t even see someone else demonstrate it first to reassure her that a person could survive it. Then, the thought occurred to her that if she kept delaying the exercise that Jack would most likely offer to take her place. That might make the connection between them obvious. No, Nora couldn’t have that. Still …

Nora’s first instinct at that moment was to look to Jack, but she stopped short. It occurred to her that she was alone earlier that day. It was great that Mrs. Grafton didn’t recognize him from the Group B meeting. And if the others did, they weren’t saying. Even so, she didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that Jack didn’t belong in Group B and had left with the others before Group B’s meeting. If they did find out, would they kick Jack out of Group B or just add back the other guy he replaced? Then again, there had to be a reason that the larger group she had arrived here with initially had been carved up into smaller groups. There might actually be a limit to the number of people who could pilot the available planes. On the other hand, if Jack could get out of Group B and have more time … maybe there was more hope that he would live. Could she really allow him to make this sacrifice for her? Even if he got punished, maybe it would be worth it to get him out of Group B … But then, what if the punishment for the switch was severe? Nora couldn’t think straight. She didn’t have time to think; she’d have to deal with this dilemma later.

“Miss Montgomery!”

“What do I have to do?” Nora finally asked.

“That’s the first helpful question you’ve asked me.” Mrs. Grafton sneered. “Go to the dock, and the man there will give you your instructions.”

As Nora made her way to the dock, she couldn’t help but feel guilty, for she had potentially chosen what was in her best interest over what was best for Jack. What if the longer they waited to tell the truth the worse the consequences would be for him? She couldn’t help but compare his situation with hers. What if she had spoken up when she was first taken? The only positive thing about her worrying over Jack’s fate was that it kept her from overthinking what was about to befall her. The reprieve from her anxiety about her own situation ended when she got a close look at the small vessel; it reminded her of a coffin. She shrank back.

“Hey … hey.” the man at the dock uttered.

Nora finally looked away from the vessel and at the man briefly. Then, her eyes skirted to and fro.

“What’s your name?” the man asked.

“Nora …”

“Nora, my name is Gerald.”

She took up and shook his hand.

“This isn’t so bad really.” the man insisted.

“Really …?”

The man then leaned forward and whispered, “Now, please don’t make me force you in there. I’ve done it before. I don’t want to, but I’ll do it again.”

Nora hesitatingly stepped forward.

“Good girl, I’ll help you inside.” the man said.

Nora cringed as the man lifted the large lid up. There was a faint odor of vomit inside the capsule.

“Get inside.” the man demanded, this time without any compassion in his voice. As Nora hesitated again, he basically shoved her into the capsule. By the time she managed to sit up, he had slammed the cover onto the capsule’s frame. Nora clasped her hands to her head as the noise from the slamming reverberated in her ears.

Nora had held her breath to avoid inhaling the stench while on the dock. Now, as she found herself inside the capsule without the luxury of fresh air to breathe in, she breathed in the putrid air instead. Nora was almost caught up in the instinct to gag. However, as the capsule began to sink, Nora was distracted away from the smell and engulfed by fear. As the water level on the sides of the windows began to creep up, Nora could see Jack on the shore watching her. At first, it was as though she could focus in on his eyes. Then, he became a blur.

Though Nora tried to control her breathing for a moment, she found herself on the verge of hyperventilating anyway. Nora placed her hands on the glass. No water was leaking into the capsule, but there also didn’t seem to be any source of oxygen in the vessel. It was so small and so confining. Nora was overtaken by the need to make sure there was a way out of this trap. Nora began to strike her palms against the hatch repeatedly.

Of course, once Nora was able to slowly dislodge the hatch from the vessel the water from the lake began to leak in. As the water began to fill the tiny place she occupied, there seemed to be no turning back. Nora then increased her efforts to break free, but the lid didn’t seem to want to give her any more of an opening. So, Nora began to use her feet to kick the cover free. Nora took one last breath as the hatch finally gave way. She then put all her strength behind swimming toward the surface.

Nora began to feel her lungs ache. She soon worried that she didn’t have the lung capacity to make it to the surface. Try as she might, she couldn’t resist the urge to breathe. She tried breathing out slowly in order to buy herself more time. However, it wasn’t long before her lungs demanded oxygen brought in. Only, there wasn’t any air to breathe just then. She could see the vessel slowly being pulled toward the surface beneath her as she began to grow lightheaded. She clawed at the surface. She could see wavy forms above her and to the right, but they seemed so far away.

By some miracle, just as she felt herself losing all her strength, she broke the surface. Nora could see a group near the water’s edge. She heard Mrs. Grafton acknowledge that the capsule had made a strange jerking movement moments earlier. Then, the woman told the crowd that they were following protocol and bringing up the capsule.

Nora began coughing violently. And yet, her sounds were faint when compared to the noise produced by the rest of Group B. For, when the capsule came up empty its members gasped and screamed aloud. Nora could see Jack, who stood in the middle of the group, staring at the capsule like the others. Then, he got this questioning look on his face. He slowly started to turn to the right and seemed to trace the ground with his eyes as he did. Nora wanted to call out to him, but her lungs seemed to have seized. She couldn’t breathe despite making every effort to. It was at that moment that the dark spots that had begun to appear in her eyes overcame her, and she passed out.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2016

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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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