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Posts Tagged ‘Nocturne’s Reaping®’

 

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

 

Chapter 14

 

 

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

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

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

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

Leader Monrage smirked again.

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

Lark turned back toward the console.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lark could tell Leader Monrage was getting agitated.

“No, sir.” Ten replied.

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

Ten headed off to complete his task.

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

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

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

Lark managed to nod.

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

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

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

“There it is.” Leader Monrage stated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just a moment. Hold your pattern.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

 

Chapter 13

 

Lark had thought that the small hovel in the middle of the desert would be her new home. Instead, it was just a shelter from the periodic sandstorms that plagued the planet.

Lark should have known. After all, those destined for the mines were still in the back of the conveyance truck. She found it strange how they went with this unknown group of men without even a word of protest. Then again, maybe they also didn’t know what was worse — the mines or Leader Monrage. Certainly, if Lark still had the choice to remain silent and blend into the background she would have, especially after the way Leader Monrage had manhandled her before.

Still, there seemed to be no way out. Trying to get out of it now would just make things worse. “Either way, it isn’t good,” Lark concluded.

The conveyance van, built much like a tank, rolled to a stop in front of a large complex. When the main hatch was opened, Lark noticed there was little light outside. Did this planet’s sun set so early? That’s when the smell of sulfur hit Lark’s nose. She began to cough, though she tried hard to stifle it.

“Where is the shipment?” a man’s voice demanded.

Lark assumed the man who had just entered the hatch asked Leader Monrage that question. It probably wasn’t a good sign that he was wearing a gas mask. Certainly, if the sounds from the back of the van were any indication, the others weren’t very happy about it either.

“Bring the group forward and three-fourths of the supplies.” the man added.

The group that hadn’t been selected by Leader Monrage moved forward. This time they had to be prodded by taser sticks. Lark watched them stumble and lurch out of the conveyance van. Lark couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. Suddenly, Lark became aware that Leader Monrage was standing next to her. He lingered just long enough to get eye contact with her. He smiled then moved on. Lark figured he could tell she didn’t want to go to the mines. Perhaps, he thought he had this advantage over her now. Not only could he threaten to send Lark there, but there was also probably nowhere else to go on this barren planet.

“It’s a pleasure doing business with you.” the man with the mask called forward.

“Of course.” Leader Monrage called back. “I’m a big believer in situations that are beneficial for all those involved.”

“Yeah, it’s better than having to travel a long way for pickups. There are so many these days. I’m surprised we still have room for everyone. Besides, it’s not as though you’re going anywhere.” the man with the mask laughed.

“Yeah … right.” Monrage said to himself, a tone of bitterness in his voice.

It seemed as though the man from the mines was aware of Leader Monrage’s dream for escape. Leader Monrage certainly didn’t keep it a secret. Lark guessed there was probably no reason to keep it a secret since no one took Leader Monrage seriously anyway. They probably also thought that since Leader Monrage was that open with them that he was trustworthy or at least predictable. Lark doubted either was the case.

After the other prisoners were completely loaded out, Lark noted the conveyance van was almost empty. She looked about her at the empty spots where most of the prisoners had been. Even though Lark had seen them leave, it felt as though they had just disappeared off the face of the planet.

As Lark was looking about her, she became aware that she herself was being looked at. The handful of formidable-looking prisoners who had also been selected were looking at her with annoyance and distrust. Lark turned her face forward and pondered the situation she found herself in. Suddenly, it occurred to Lark how odd it was that she was selected. There was no good reason she could think of as to why she should be here instead of at the mines. Lark clutched at the items she’d been able to retrieve without drawing too much attention to herself. The thought occurred to her that she would have to make herself invaluable in some way and be seen as an asset.

But how could a child be an asset? Lark was smart and a quick learner. Maybe she could excel at something mental — at some sort of strategy. Maybe there was some sort of mechanical expertise she could learn. Leader Monrage had mentioned wanting to escape. He had been disturbed when the man from the mines had suggested Leader Monrage wouldn’t be capable of doing it. If Lark could think of a way, a way to escape this place and the people here … Lark felt herself growing anxious. This was no good. If Leader Monrage saw her stress, it would weaken her position and possibly put her in danger. Lark decided to pray for a while; by the time she was done praying she seemed to have regained her composure.

Time continued to pass, and the van traveled on. Apparently, it was quite a distance from the pickup point to Leader Monrage’s base. There must be a reason he chose to be that far away, but Lark couldn’t think of what it could be. Lark tried her best to stay awake as they moved forward slowly, but her body wouldn’t cooperate. It was probably for the best. After all, she couldn’t stay awake and on guard forever. Fortunately, when Lark did wake up again it was because the conveyance vehicle had lurched forward as it rolled to a stop.

Lark blinked a few times. She needed more sleep – a lot more. It was painful to wake up after such little sleep. Her mind was still a bit fuzzy. That was the moment she saw Leader Monrage approaching her. That jolted her awake.

It scared Lark that Leader Monrage had had all this time to think. If he even knew why he took her with him, he might have changed his mind. The way he smirked when he eyed her didn’t ease her fears. She decided to meet his gaze unflinchingly.

“Everyone, welcome to your new home.” Leader Monrage finally announced. “Go ahead and release them.” Leader Monrage said to the other men. Then, he looked back at the new recruits. “You won’t survive out here alone, so you’d be wise to fall into line. Causing trouble will just get you killed.”

“So, that’s the reason for the isolation.” Lark thought. “It made it easier to control them.” While some of his men released the new recruits, Leader Monrage came to release Lark. Lark realized that someone must have given Monrage the keys to the prisoners’ cuffs. Still, Lark was soon distracted away from how he managed to get the keys; the interest in his eyes when he looked at her was disturbing.

“What I said before was for your benefit. I think of all of them you’re the one most likely to panic and try to run.”

This was Lark’s opportunity.

“I do want to escape.” Lark stated coolly. “Just like you do.”

Leader Monrage stopped smiling. He eyed her with curiosity.

“Maybe someday I’ll be useful in making that happen.” Lark stated.

“Hmmm …” He laughed. “Well … we’ll see, we’ll see.”

He then grew a bit dark and glared at her.

“Don’t make me regret taking you on.” he said. “I’ll take it as a personal insult if you don’t get yourself together. You can’t do anything for me as you are now.”

 

***

 

It had been wise for Lark to buy into Leader Monrage’s vision. It seemed he had felt no one really believed in it. Now, Lark was his confidante in this small way. And he had some investment now in not completely losing her favor. Yet, even so, he would have moments of violence. And the training that he would inflict on everyone to prepare for the escape sometimes tipped to the extreme.

Even without Monrage’s regimen, the conditions on the prison colony would have been harsh. For one, it hardly ever rained there. When it did, it was mostly a welcome relief. The precipitation removed a lot of the dust from the air. It even seemed to lower the temperature of the air a couple of degrees. But more than anything, Lark enjoyed how much the precipitation reminded her of her home colony where it rained quite often. Looking back, she decided she would no longer have minded those stormy nights when she had been left alone. How much better off she had been then and hadn’t realized it. She could curl up on that sofa in the darkened house and hide there. There was nowhere to hide on the prison colony.

Still, it could have been worse. The training all the recruits had to endure was hard, but Lark was determined to keep up. She felt that if she slipped out of the acceptable range of performance that bad things would happen. So, Lark stayed awake when she was told to; ran through obstacle courses in the heat; and hiked miles in the deep sand after being left in the middle of nowhere. She also ate bugs when that’s all there was available and tried to hold her own in bouts the best she could.

And when it would rain and form mud on the ground, she’d crawl through it. Sometimes she would even be forced to sleep in it. Still, she never complained, and she never talked back. So, she was considered less of a nuisance to Leader Monrage than some of the others. There was always a new recruit that would annoy him more by questioning his methods.

When Leader Monrage was busy, everyone would get a break. But when he was bored, he would invent new training methods or just revisit some of his favorites. Time passed slowly, but fortunately it did pass. And one day, Leader Monrage managed to come up with a new strategy with his free time. It was the miracle Lark had been praying for. Leader Monrage wanted to start training the recruits how to fly a transport carrier. Learning would have to be academic at first. He had paid off with supplies one of the prison transport carrier workers, who Monrage had met when the man had stayed on the prison colony long enough to inspect the mines, to hide flight manuals in the boxes. Eventually, they’d have to commandeer one of those carriers for the escape to become a reality.

“Remember how you said you wanted to help me escape?” Leader Monrage asked Lark after he pulled her aside. “Now is your chance to be useful to me. You’re the only one of my recruits that I think is clever enough to pull it off. I probably should have picked smarter recruits. But I guess I only need one. Who would have thought that picking you would be such luck to me?” He stopped, probably feeling he’d been too complimentary. “Then again, I could probably find someone else if I had more time. But who would want to wait when one doesn’t have to? Anyway, it won’t be easy to learn mainly from manuals, but if you want something badly enough you’ll find a way. That’s what I do.”

He smirked.

“Oh, and we’re going to build you a makeshift model of the control panel, so you can practice. But in the meantime …” He handed Lark the manual. “Here. Start reading.”

Lark took to the books with a fervent dedication. Contained in all the technical jargon and diagrams was her only known chance for escape. Yet, this wasn’t a risk-free proposition. It could all backfire on Lark. She would be expected to know what she was doing from the instant she sat down at the controls of the transport carrier. If she didn’t — if she couldn’t pull it off … well, Lark figured she’d be as good as dead. Leader Monrage would have missed his opportunity — possibly his only opportunity. If that were the case, Leader Monrage would unleash his full wrath on her.

So, the only thing Lark could think to do was succeed. The model that Leader Monrage had promised Lark was a bit slow in coming. When it was finally completed, it turned out to be very primitive. Still, all the buttons and such were where they were supposed to be. As long as the transport carrier didn’t have a complicated onboard computer system, one that wasn’t more advanced than the manual described, Lark figured she had a chance. Not a very good chance but a chance.

Lark had a lot of nightmares in those days. Before that time, she hadn’t had a chance to sleep deeply enough to dream. Now that she was trying to learn how to pilot a transport carrier, she was exempted from having to train. So, the dreams came, and there were many. From nightmares about her cousin to ones about Leader Monrage, her dreams were rarely pleasant. A particularly disturbing nightmare involved Leader Monrage.

In the dream, he would come to her room. She would tell him about the progress she’d been making with the manuals. He would listen to her intently as she ran through each step of the process in finite detail. Leader Monrage would then start to laugh violently.

“What is it? What’s wrong with you?” Lark would ask.

“You fell for it. I was just toying with you. There is no escape plan. You’re here for good.”

“But why – why would you lie?”

“It’s more fun for me that way.”

“What … is fun?”

Leader Monrage would then reach out his hands toward her. His hands would wrap around her throat. At that moment, she would wake up.

On the last day she would awaken on the prison colony, Lark had that same dream. She awoke slightly confused, yet she had a chill shoot through her almost instantly. It was a sense that someone else was in the room … lurking. Lark turned her head sharply. She caught herself before she gasped aloud as her eyes fell upon Leader Monrage. He cocked his head to the side. Lark waited while keeping her eyes locked fixedly on his.

“It’s time.” Leader Monrage stated.

“Time for what?” Lark uncharacteristically demanded.

“Time to leave.” Leader Monrage jeered. Suddenly, he grew serious. “Get up! We’ve got to leave now!!”

Lark stood quickly. It was lucky that she had slept in her regular clothes; that way all she had to do was scramble to grab the charts she had made from the manuals. Still, after Lark walked over to him, Leader Monrage grabbed Lark by the arm anyway.

“Boy, you’re slow. What’s up with you? You’d better not let me down. You’d better not have been slacking all this time, or you’ll be sorry.”

Lark cast a look at him.

“Are you sure now’s the right time?” she questioned him.

“It better be.” he returned. “It better be.”

Leader Monrage had been tipped off as to when the prison transport would arrive. Normally, he would learn about a shipment just far enough ahead that by the time he arrived at the rendezvous spot the transport carrier would have just left. Given that the transport carrier had no pattern to its arrival, this had proven problematic for his escape plans. That day would prove to be the one that was different.

Of course, when Leader Monrage’s group arrived at the designated spot to nothing but a patch of emptiness there was a sense of tension in the air. Fortunately, not long after their arrival the lights from the transport carrier cut through the darkness. Leader Monrage sneered. “Ready yourselves, men. This is it.”

Lark was kept away from the ship; she was to hole up near a boulder until the ship was seized. Leader Monrage would then come for her himself. She was too important to be risked at the moment. Certainly, the guards would attack her, the weakest one, if they could. Still, Lark hoped the wait wouldn’t be too long. The impending performance that would either spell her life or her death was weighing heavily on her mind.

Lark could see the lights flicker in the distant darkness. It was the only light she could see. She wasn’t given a light of her own; it would draw too much attention to her, Leader Monrage had said. Lark couldn’t be trusted not to panic and turn on the light.

Panic, yes panic; Lark was beginning to feel that. In fact, it occurred to Lark that this was the first time she had been completely alone since coming here years ago. As her eyes adjusted, the glow from the lights dimly illuminated what was around her. She could see the barren wasteland that seemed to stretch out forever in front of her.

She had never before questioned the belief that there were only dust and heat out there. After all, why would Leader Monrage choose to be in the middle of nothing if there was something more? Then again, what if there was something else? What if there was somewhere to go now? What if the test Lark was about to undergo was destined to end in failure? Maybe it would be better to go out into the desert and take her chances there. Maybe she could find an oasis. That possibility at that moment seemed better than the possibility of dying at Monrage’s hands. Or, she could turn herself in at the mines. No, that wouldn’t work; Leader Monrage knew people over there. They’d just turn her over to Monrage if he failed to escape, and it would end the same way. And if he did escape, they might punish her and try to get information she didn’t have out of her. That only left the desert as an alternative to the ship. But what if instead of trying to escape without her he went hunting for her instead? Maybe no one else was capable of handling the spacecraft. Lark bit her lip and considered. There wasn’t time to think. If she waited any longer …

“Twelve.” Leader Monrage’s voice stated. Lark whirled around towards him. “What you’re looking for is over here.”

“Is it done?” Lark asked, trying not to show how unnerved she was by his sudden appearance.

“That’s why I turned the light on.” he replied. “You’d better be ready for this. You’d better not have been playing me all these weeks.”

Lark had never guaranteed him anything. In fact, they never even discussed it. But then again, perhaps he could read her well enough to know she was doubting herself and her ability to pull it off. Why wouldn’t she? Lark had never piloted anything before; she didn’t know that she could. But doubting his plan was dangerous. He chose her for this, so it had to work.

“All right.” Lark stated. “Let’s go.”

Lark began to walk past him. He grabbed her arm stiffly and wrenched it slightly. She looked at him. After a moment of his staring at her in anger, he released her.

“Let’s go.” he finally agreed. He smiled. “Let’s get out of here.”

Leader Monrage kept Lark less than a foot in front of him as they walked toward the transport carrier. Every time Lark would walk a bit faster, she would feel Leader Monrage’s presence behind her threatening to grasp her shoulder. It didn’t take long for Lark to catch on that walking too fast wasn’t in her best interest.

When they got to the control room of the ship, Lark was relieved to see that the crew from the transport carrier was alive. They were chained to a bench similar to the one Lark had been chained to when she arrived there. She had mixed feelings about it. The guards from her flight had shown her no pity, and yet she couldn’t help but see herself in the guards sitting before her at that moment. Then, after looking at the guards for a few seconds longer, Lark turned to Leader Monrage.

“Why can’t the pilot fly the ship out?” Lark suggested with enthusiasm.

Almost instantly, Lark wished she hadn’t mentioned it. Leader Monrage’s look turned dire.

“Why do you keep second-guessing me?” he demanded.

She just looked up at him with surprise on her face.

“They learn ways to alert their headquarters if there’s trouble. That’s one of their safety protocols. That’s why they think no one will ever escape; the escapees usually don’t have a pilot of their own. These pilots can’t be trusted.” Leader Monrage explained. “The question is can you be trusted?” Leader Monrage concluded ominously.

He then shoved Lark forcibly.

“Get to the controls. Quit stalling.”

He shoved her again. It occurred to Lark that Leader Monrage wanted to kill her at that moment. Maybe he would have if he didn’t still need her. The only way to save her life now was to succeed. So, Lark turned off her emotions and set to work. She went to the control panel and arranged her charts on a side table.

She followed the instructions she had set up for herself. This was the easy part. It was actually maneuvering the carrier that would be difficult. All the learning of how to drive a land-based vehicle wouldn’t be enough. In fact, in a lot of ways this whole plan was insane. The only way Lark could pull off flying let alone safely landing this carrier was if a miracle occurred. Could Lark just be a natural at it? When the moment came to actually take off, Lark prayed. Then, it was time — the moment of truth: life or death.

The transport carrier jerked upward under Lark’s control. A little more finesse, Lark thought. The controls were more sensitive than she expected. She then maneuvered the large, floating boat toward the guide tunnel. Lark was careful to stay in the middle and avoid scraping the sides of the tunnel. Yet, she knew she had to accelerate soon. Once the ship was lined up within the tunnel, Lark rapidly increased the carrier’s speed just as the instructions had suggested. Lark held her breath while trying to hold the ship steady. The old structure quaked a bit for a moment, but it powered on. And then like a shot, it burst through.

Suddenly, all around them was the dark blanket of space. Lark released the throttle then sat back in her chair. She stared forward in shock for a moment.

“All right.” She could hear Leader Monrage breathe behind her. “Now, I’ll just input our course, and we’ll be off.”

Space was cold and impersonal; she had forgotten. It was quite the shock when compared to the pulsating heat. The air was easier to breathe but sterile somehow. The artificial smell of ozone filled the air. Lark just kept watching the monitor, kept watching as the prison colony got smaller and smaller. Would she really never be there again? Her prison sentence was only supposed to be a few years, but no one seemed to think she would survive it. True, her being with Leader Monrage rather than at the mines meant they may have lost track of her, but Lark doubted they ever looked for her in order to release her on the final day of her sentence.

That prison colony was a life sentence for most. For her, being a young girl in that environment, it should have been a death sentence. Lark had lived day to day all these years trying not to think about it. The fact was she thought she would never view that prison planet from a distance but instead be engulfed by it forever.

Lark breathed out.

“My brother is on Colony 38. That’s where we’re going. My brother and I aren’t close, but he owes me one, and he always repays his debts. I can’t wait to start the next phase of my plan …”

Lark turned her head and looked up at him slowly. He was looming over her left shoulder. The next phase of his plan? Leader Monrage had never mentioned anything specific about another phase of his plan. She could only vaguely remember him alluding to something more years ago. All he ever talked about since then was escaping. Lark looked forward again. She gripped the arms of the chair with her hands. Lark had been so focused on the escape plot; she hadn’t thought about what would happen afterward. Lark was never sure the plan would work, so she didn’t allow herself to consider what having freedom again would be like. Suddenly, she was experiencing how it felt to have it wrenched away moments after recapturing it once more. A weight had instantly sunk upon her. She had escaped the prison colony but not the prison. Lark was still under Leader Monrage’s control. And by the sound of it, he wasn’t planning on letting her go.

“We’ll have to get a better ship. We’ll ditch this one and maybe sell it for parts.”

“What about the guards?” Lark wondered.

“The guards. We’ll drop them off somewhere. Anyway …” Leader Monrage leaned forward, placing his hand onto the console.

“I want to have uniforms and a whole hierarchy for our group. We’ll be feared and admired everywhere we go. I have plans to increase our power throughout the universe. So tell me, do you feel lucky to have met me, Twelve?” He didn’t wait for a response. “Your new life starts now. And so does mine … so does mine.”

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

 

Chapter 12

 

Lark was dropped off in front of the docking port of the star cruiser. Leader Monrage never stayed the night on Lark’s ship. He had his own ship, but he rarely stayed there either. He always liked to skulk around the planets, especially at night. He once said that was how he got most of his information, most of his contacts.

In fact, it was at a local tavern on a different colony that he first heard about the new pilot, Captain Smithson. Lark had to admit that she’d been a little skeptical of Captain Smithson the first time she heard about him because of this. But somehow when she saw Captain Smithson in his environment, her opinion of him began to change. The planet he was from had been quite troubled. This meant that a large portion of the population had been forced to live in underground tunnels. The atmospheric regulator malfunctioned in parts of the planet. The areas where those with power lived were regularly maintained; the other areas were not.

Leader Monrage had insisted Lark accompany him on his cruiser to meet with Captain Smithson. She spent most of the journey in a windowless room and away from everyone else. This living situation began to feel quite confining. Occasionally, she was allowed to get food from the commissary. Finally, they landed. She first saw Captain Smithson standing in front of an underground gateway. He was leaning back against a wall, his hands in his pockets. He was staring straight ahead. Then suddenly, as Lark and Leader Monrage approached, he causally pushed himself off from the wall. Captain Smithson turned and looked at them. He waited for a moment watching them then started walking toward them. Lark was surprised to find he didn’t look much older than she did. Yet, his piloting skills were apparently much better than Lark’s.

“You’re Owen Smithson.” Leader Monrage stated.

“That would be correct.” he replied.

Captain Smithson looked at Lark, who was dressed as Officer Twelve, and she looked at him. It had been the first time in a long time that she felt a twinge of feeling deep inside. Something about him reminded Lark of her own life. There was a solemnity in his eyes — almost a wistfulness.

“You’ve talked to Thomas Ingot?” Monrage demanded.

“Yes, that’s why I’m here. I’m assuming she is the reason you had to leave before meeting with me?” Captain Smithson asked in a low tone, referring to Officer Twelve.

“Never mind that.” Monrage advised. “Is Keller okay with you leaving?”

“I don’t know, but if I decide to leave I guess he’ll have to be okay with it.” Captain Smithson stated. “Is that a problem?”

“No.”

“You wonder about my loyalty?” Smithson pondered.

“I don’t think about things in terms of loyalty. But I do expect people to fulfill their obligations to me.” Leader Monrage informed him.

“Fair enough.”

“Good.” Leader Monrage shook Captain Smithson’s hand. “I will, of course, need a preview of your skills before the deal is done.”

“Of course.”

Leader Monrage smirked.

“Very good. Very good indeed.”

 

***

 

Lark waited for the car to pull completely away. Then, she headed on foot away from the star cruiser. Lark didn’t feel like spending the entire evening trapped on the ship with the rest of the crew. She also didn’t want to speak to Leader Monrage any time soon, and there was always a chance he’d come looking for her.

Instead, she decided to spend the time before the nightly curfew at the church. She needed a place to think in peace about everything that had happened. She didn’t want to just stuff it inside like everything else. She thought the church was the only place she could go for that.

Fortunately, the door to the church was unlocked. Still, the lights were dim, and there didn’t appear to be anyone around.

“That’s fine with me,” Lark thought.

She didn’t really want to talk about the past — not when she was so unsure what to think of it herself. Lark slipped inside, carefully shutting the massive wooden doors. She could almost hear her sigh echo through the rafters. Lark went up a few pews toward the altar then sat down. She folded her hands, fell forward then leaned her forehead against the tips of her fingers.

Lark worked to steady her breathing, to let the anxiety release. Still, it was hard. Lark knew she didn’t have all the time in the world. She knew time was ticking by — pulling her back to the ship — to Leader Monrage and all her problems with Celeste. She didn’t have the luxury of waiting at the church until she was ready to face her reality. If only Lark could pretend that she had the time she needed. Maybe then, she could relax and deal with things.

Suddenly, there was a creaking emanating from the door behind her. She sat back slowly then turned around.

There standing in the entranceway was Captain Smithson, slowly closing the door again. Lark stood.

“Is there something wrong?” Lark asked.

“Not with me.” Captain Smithson replied.

“But it’s not a coincidence that you’re here.” Lark started. “Did you follow me?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“I saw you head into the city. I thought it would be a good time for us to talk.” he mentioned.

“About what?”

Captain Smithson looked concerned. Apparently, he wasn’t expecting such resistance. Lark looked off to the side.

“So, how did you get out anyway?” Lark wondered softly.

The change of subject seemed to suit Captain Smithson just fine.

“They released us from captivity shortly after you came back.” Captain Smithson said.

“Captain …”

“Owen. Just Owen is fine.” He paused. “Do you have a name?” he queried.

She looked at him a moment.

“Lark.”

“Lark … all right, thank you.”

“I wouldn’t call me that in front of him.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Lark looked away again; his gaze was intense.

“Have you eaten?” Owen wondered.

Lark looked up in surprise then shook her head.

“There’s a restaurant down the way. It’ll be nice to eat food that hasn’t been vacuum-packed.” he added.

Lark looked at him searchingly.

“All right.” Lark agreed after a minute had passed.

Lark walked past him and toward the door. He filed in beside her as she passed. At some point, Lark became aware that Owen was looking down at her. Lark looked up at him inquisitively.

“I’m sorry. I can’t get over the difference in how you look.” Owen said. “Is this going to be permanent?”

Lark sighed and stared at the street in front of her.

“I don’t know. I haven’t had a chance to think about it yet.” Lark stated lowly. “Maybe when I’m on duty, I’ll go back. Then again, I always seem to be on duty when I’m not in my room. And I did that before —being the way I am now only when I was alone in my room. Still, it might cause unnecessary stress with Leader Monrage if I stay like this.”

“I really don’t see why he should care.” Owen said with irritation in his voice.

“I don’t know.” Lark said. “Other than he likes who I am when I’m wearing the uniform.”

As they walked along, Lark glanced at Owen briefly.

“You know, for some reason your life growing up reminds me of my own.” Lark mentioned softly, her eyes cast downward again.

A pit grew in her stomach as she said the last words. Lark wasn’t used to bringing up topics of conversation; she especially wasn’t all that comfortable talking about herself. After a period of silence, Lark started to wish she hadn’t. She looked at him then, fearful she had said too much.

“How so?” Owen asked smoothly. He was looking straight ahead.

“I guess … the feeling of being trapped somewhere. Dreaming of getting out — assuming there is a way out or anything better.”

Owen looked over at her.

“You got all that from our first meeting? We didn’t even talk.”

“Yeah, well …”

“Then again, you said you could relate.” Owen paused. “I’m surprised you didn’t think I was disloyal. I left the syndicate I was in without permission.”

Lark looked at him intently for a moment.

“Why should I care?” she put forth. “I’m assuming you had cause.”

“I doubt they saw it that way.”

“Will they come after you?” Lark asked.

“They’re not going to bother with that. They don’t have the reach to chase me around space. I was in the most danger that first night. Fortunately, I was already packed, and I was able to do my test for Leader Monrage right away.”

Leader Monrage — why did it bother Lark to hear Owen use his name? Perhaps she wanted to keep the two of them separate. She knew she didn’t necessarily want Owen to be a part of the world she belonged to — not the way it really was. The question was did he even want to be? And if he didn’t, would he be leaving again soon? Then again, what difference could it make? Lark had been alone before. Surely, she could handle it again.

Lark and Owen came upon the restaurant then. There was a line of people waiting to be seated. The wait really wasn’t so long as it had first appeared. Then again, most of the others in line were in larger groups. Lark and Owen only needed a table for two.

After being seated, Lark started to peruse the menu.

“This is nice.” Lark stated. “This reminds me of when I was a child. We went out to dinner for Mother’s Day. It was the first time they let me select something from the adult menu.”

Lark lifted her face to see Owen looking at her.

“So, you’re from here?” he asked.

“A long time ago.”

Owen scanned the environment with his eyes, a look of confusion on his face.

“But I left here. I was taken away when I was still a child.” Lark added. “I wasn’t implying this place is like yours.”

“And that’s when you met Leader Monrage?”

Lark’s eyes glazed over.

“Yes.”

“I heard he was from a prison colony, and that he escaped not all that long ago.”

Lark lifted her eyes to his.

“You … were there? A maximum security prison colony?” Owen was incredulous.

Lark sensed someone coming and looked over at the approaching waiter.

“Hello, may I get you anything to drink?”

“I’ll just have water, no ice.” Lark said.

“Same here.” Owen stated.

“And to eat?”

“I’ll have the chicken sandwich with a side of mushroom soup and french fries.” Lark ordered.

“I’ll take the steak with the baked potato and the mushroom soup.”

“Very good.” The waiter took the menus.

Lark could tell that the waiter was relieved that they ordered something more substantive than water.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t think he heard anything.” Owen mentioned.

“I don’t care.” Lark said. “I was convicted of stealing a diamond broach.” She hesitated. “I didn’t do it, but I confessed.”

Owen looked as though he wanted to ask why, but he didn’t. His eyes drifted to the side. Though Lark appreciated that Owen respected her privacy in this matter, Lark decided to tell him anyway.

“I was covering for my cousin and, it turns out, her boyfriend.” Lark admitted.

Owen nodded; he seemed to understand her.

“That must have been hard …” Owen offered, after a few moments had passed in silence.

Lark looked at him from the side. She wasn’t exactly sure what he meant.

“… Having to be on the prison colony — you being just a child and all.” he added.

Lark looked down. She barely managed to fight back the tears all of a sudden.

“I hadn’t thought of it that way.” Lark told him. “I haven’t felt like a child in a long time.”

She inched her eyes back up to his again.

“I’ve just felt responsible for everything for so long.” Lark whispered.

Owen nodded and seemed moved by her words.

“So, how did you survive?” he asked in a deep voice.

Lark’s eyes darted.

“That’s how, huh? Joining a syndicate.” he concluded.

Lark gave him eye contact once more.

“I guess we do have that in common.” Owen acknowledged. “That’s how I did it, too. So, that means there is one good thing about a syndicate after all.”

Lark actually managed to smile. Then, Owen did, too.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

 

Chapter 11

 

The night air was cool and damp, but the dark, hooded cloak that Lark was wearing cut into the sting of it.

“So, what are we doing here?” Lark queried as she and Leader Monrage stood in front of a large mansion.

“I used to respect you.” Leader Monrage stated. “What happened? One trip to this pathetic little wasteland and you forget who you are now? We created something from you, something strong and self-sufficient. And you embrace sentimentality instead? That little crying child. I mean, seriously. They have control over you if you go back to that. Now you’ve at least chosen to be what you are — at least I thought you had.”

Leader Monrage rang the doorbell.

“I guess we’ll see whether I was right about you. I guess we’ll see whether you can live up to my expectations of you after all.”

The door was opened by a butler. Leader Monrage placed his left foot upon the step and leaned forward toward the butler. The butler seemed very disturbed by this.

“Hello?” the butler uttered with an edge to his voice.

“Get Marlock.” Leader Monrage demanded.

The butler backed away slightly.

“I’ll be right back.” he responded softly.

The door was shut. Before Lark had the chance to react to the absurdity of the situation, the door was reopened. A tall, thin man dressed completely in black opened the door.

“Come in, Mr. Monrage.” he offered.

“Yeah well, next time make sure you’re the one to open the door. Unless, of course, you want questions.”

“Speaking of questions … who’s the girl?”

“She? Who knows. No really, she’s with me. She’ll be of interest to the people inside.”

Leader Monrage turned a smirk onto Lark.

“Ready?” he asked her.

Lark felt a little unnerved. People that would be interested in her? It had been a long time since Leader Monrage had turned his more sadistic attention onto her. Really, it had ended that first day when Lark had been capable of burying her emotions so far down inside herself that even Monrage couldn’t see them. Now, unfortunately, her feelings were visible to him again, and things were escalating. Still, it was important not to react to him. The more she reacted, the worse it would be.

“Fine.” Lark stated coolly. “Let’s get this over with. I have things to do.”

It was harder without the uniform to hide; it was a cover and a shield. But Lark managed.

There was a main area to the mansion, and then there was a series of darkened corridors to the left. Left was the direction Lark and Leader Monrage headed. Then, at the end of a really long hallway there was a massive door.

Marlock took out a card key and swiped it. Just as the door was unlocked, Leader Monrage pushed through the opening into what appeared to be a large room with stairs leading to a podium in the back. That’s all Lark was able to make out before the door slid shut seconds later. Lark was confused by this move of Leader Monrage’s. Marlock looked back at Lark.

“Coming?” Marlock asked in a deep voice.

Lark pulled back the hood of her cloak as she slowly stepped forward. Inside, she could hear voices.

“Yeah, I really am pleased to see that your lovely lady is here tonight. Very pleased.” Lark could hear Leader Monrage proclaim. “I have a surprise for you — a girl of my own. Not as beautiful as yours, but she’s been trying lately.”

Lark slowly pushed the heavy door forward. It squeaked open.

“Oh, here she is. I call her Twelve … Officer Twelve. But you probably know her as …”

“Lark!” a ghastly cry rang out.

Lark’s eyes lifted to the podium. A man sat on a huge throne; standing by his side was a familiar figure. Lark’s eyes met those of her delicately beautiful cousin. Lark watched as her cousin began to shake under Lark’s stare. Sympathy and concern immediately went to Celeste from the man by her side. Apparently, Lark thought, Celeste’s ability to make people feel sorry for her was still as strong as ever. But given everything that had happened, Lark was unmoved by the display.

“What? What are you doing here?” Celeste stammered.

The man next to Celeste grabbed her hand in a reassuring way.

“What is the meaning of this, Leader Monrage?” the man Lark knew to be Frederick Applegate demanded.

Leader Monrage turned and looked at Lark. Lark, in turn, stared at Celeste.

“I’m not dead, obviously. There’s no point in overreacting.” Lark said in a low voice. “Unless you’re worried about there not being a statute of limitations on theft here.”

Celeste turned a shade paler and began to shake more.

“Now, that seems more genuine.” Lark sniped.

Leader Monrage raised an eyebrow. Apparently, even with all of his intelligence, Leader Monrage hadn’t guessed at Lark’s reaction. In fact, he seemed a bit disturbed by it. Perhaps, he was suddenly worried that bringing Lark to the mansion may have actually ruined whatever plans he had with Celeste and her accomplice.

“Why should I worry about that?” Celeste called out bitterly, regaining Lark’s attention. “That case is closed now. You may have heard that someone confessed.”

Lark’s face began to flush. So, this was the truth? It was hard for Lark to believe, but Celeste actually seemed to view herself as the victim and Lark as the perpetrator. Now that there was no need for Lark, apparently there was no need for the pretense of love either. Leader Monrage cleared his throat.

“Twelve is one of my best officers and commands my fastest ship …”

“I’m not sure this is such a good idea.” Frederick informed him.

A thought seemed to occur to Leader Monrage. His eyes glistened as he detected vulnerability.

“And what choice do you have exactly?” Leader Monrage chided. “I am interested in your offer. But let’s face it — you need me I don’t need you. Whom else are you going to get that is willing and able to do this thing for you?”

Leader Monrage was getting into stride again. One of the things Lark knew about Leader Monrage was that he didn’t like to be taken off guard. Lark’s statement had done that, had almost ruined his plans. But now, he was back in control again.

“You’d think it would be a sign of good faith my bringing her to your attention. Not to mention, it’s proof she does what I tell her. It’s clear she doesn’t want to be here. Still, I don’t like to waste time.”

Leader Monrage turned as if to leave.

“Wait.” Frederick called out. “Come back tomorrow … alone. We’ll solidify the details.”

“Fair enough.” Leader Monrage remarked without turning back.

He then motioned to Lark with his eyes to follow him. She cast one more look at Celeste, who was being comforted by Frederick, before heading for the door. Leader Monrage smirked to himself with satisfaction. It was again going as he expected. Then suddenly, Leader Monrage stopped short right before the door. He turned his face toward Lark.

“By the way, you almost blew it.” Leader Monrage whispered to her.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

 

Chapter 10

 

 

Lark spent more than two months in a prison transport ship before being ushered into a smaller transport carrier. That carrier would take her the rest of the way to Prison Colony Beta. All of the prisoners had been kept in very small rooms — rooms that were the length of a small bed. Lark had thought that under the circumstances this was the only advantage to being small. Even so, the tight space began to wear on Lark. Still, when the prison officials came to deliver Lark to the vehicle that would deliver her to her final destination Lark felt as though she’d have been happy to remain in that coffin forever. But that wasn’t an option. The only options were to either stand up and walk out or be hauled away by force. Given that Lark wanted to avoid being noticed, she chose to comply. What good would the other option do anyway?

The seating on the transport carrier consisted of long metal benches. Every prisoner was chained to a spot on the bench. It was sort of unreal the way Lark was being treated the same way any other prisoner would be. One would have thought she was as imposing as the roughest of the men. Oh well, Lark concluded, this was the reality.

Lark noticed that the carrier was going through a sort of landing tunnel. The lights pulsated over her head. There was a strange reddish haze, sort of like a fine clay dust, surrounding the lights. It not only created an ominous haze — it also gave Lark a bad impression of the environmental quality of the prison planet.

Lark was tempted to look around to see how the other prisoners were reacting but then thought better of it and looked down. Suddenly, and without warning, the prison transport carrier stopped. The abruptness of the stop almost caused Lark to slide into the man next to her. Fortunately, she was able to brace herself before that happened. The chains were then unhooked from the bench yet remained on the prisoners’ wrists.

“Everyone stand.” a female prison guard stated.

Lark had her shoebox on her lap; she managed to hold it between her elbows as she stood. Still, Lark stood before the others. She then reddened. “Too eager,” she thought, “too eager and too visible.” She felt better when the others started to stand one by one as well. Eventually, even the most reluctant prisoner stood, and they were filed out of the transport carrier and into the hot barrenness of the prison planet outside. The prisoners were left, still bound, next to a large rock. Boxes, presumably of supplies, were left nearby. Then, the guards, weapons drawn, backed up toward the prison transport carrier. The hatch was finally closed.

Dust swirled around as the transport carrier lifted. The carrier then turned around, headed into the free-standing tunnel, and was gone. Lark was disturbed by the abandonment but didn’t dare ask anyone else what was happening. No one else bothered to speak either. Still, eventually someone would have to … then again, maybe not.

Then suddenly, the wind picked up, and the dust swirled again. Only, as it turned out, it wasn’t the wind. It was a gang of men on hover vehicles heading for the group. The one in the lead was a pale, rough, tall yet stocky teenager with a purple mohawk and various piercings on his face. His nose was wide, and his eyes were somewhat puffy. He was the first to dismount his vehicle and seemed to have a leader’s air of authority. He laughed as he approached the handcuffed group and proceeded to look over the lineup.

“Oh, poor things, still cuffed.” He laughed like a hyena.

Lark looked down and wrung her hands as the man approached. This wasn’t good.

“And look they’re thirsty. Two, give them some water.”

A lackey began spraying the crowd with a high-powered hose, which was attached to one of the hovercrafts. The gang laughed. Suddenly, the leader stopped right in front of Lark.

“What’s this? You’ve got to be kidding me!” the teen said in reference to Lark.

The others laughed again.

“I’d be doing this one a favor putting her out of her misery!” the leader joked to the others. “But the question is how to do it.”

“Go ahead and kill me.” Lark growled at him.

“What’s that?” The leader focused his attention back on Lark.

“Go ahead and kill me. You’re going to anyway.”

“Yeah right. Sure.” the leader scoffed.

Suddenly, the man put his hands on Lark’s throat and lifted her in the air. Lark looked down at him with intense anger and defiance. He stopped smirking and stared back at her with a cold yet curious expression. The man then dropped Lark, and she fell forcefully to the ground. Lark’s shoebox fell to the ground with her. Lark gasped as the newly-created mud flowed over the precious contents. She picked up her treasures as best as she could with her still shackled hands. But as she did, her emotions seemed to drift away.

“Leave her alone.” the leader finally muttered. “This girl, number twelve, as well as numbers eight, ten, thirteen and eighteen will come back with us. The rest we’ll drop off at the mines.”

The leader then stared at Lark until she looked up at him.

“By the way, little girl, you may call me Leader Monrage.” After saying those words to Lark, he quickly turned his attention back to the others. “All right, recruits. You are the lucky ones. This prison colony may be your home for now, but don’t get used to it. None of us are going to be here forever.”

What did that mean? Under the circumstances, it didn’t sound good.

“It’ll take hard work. People who don’t pull their own weight will be sent to the mines with the rest. We’re not just going to escape. There’s more to it than that. We will succeed. We will triumph. If you can’t help with that, you’re of no use to me.”

Lark let her eyes lose their focus; she stared straight ahead with a blank expression. Somehow, it gave Lark just the slightest bit of comfort to know she could go numb like this. It seemed to have a positive effect on those around her, too. This man Leader Monrage, in particular, seemed to leave her alone when she suppressed her emotions. His former fascination with committing violence against her was seemingly gone … at least for now. Apparently, Lark was to be almost an appendage, a tool to be used by him. At least there was something of value to being viewed as useful. Lark refocused back on the leader. Leader Monrage, meanwhile, was skimming the crowd. Eventually, his eyes fell upon Lark again.

“You are no longer who you were. Now, you are a member of our syndicate. You will be called the numbers that you were assigned from now on. Fortunately for you, the number twelve was available.” He smirked. “Anyway, you will no longer use your former names. You will not be a part of the rest of them anymore. Your past is dead.”

Lark didn’t react to that, though her eyes did shift. If he thought Lark was going to give up the mementos from her parents, he had another thing coming.

“I mean it, girl. You’ll now be known as Twelve.” Leader Monrage called out.

Lark looked down again. There was nothing left to say.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

 

Chapter 9

Lark sat down in one of the pews while one of her former teachers from the Bible school class comforted her. Eventually, they moved into the church library. Once there, the woman prepared Lark some tea. By the time the tea was ready, Lark’s eyes had dried up.

“I don’t want to pry, but is there a concern about your being here … with your conviction, I mean?”

Lark looked off to the side.

“My sentence expired a long time ago. I just wasn’t expected to live that long.”

The woman clutched her cup. It was so strange to her that Lark was there. In some ways, the girl looked exactly the same. In other ways, it was almost as though the woman were looking at a complete stranger.

“I never understood why they would send a child there. We didn’t hear about it until after.” she said. She reached out her hand and placed it on top of Lark’s. “We would have been there if we had known. Still, I’m glad you’re all right.” she added.

Lark looked up at her. She took up the woman’s hand briefly and squeezed it gently. Then, she let it go.

“I didn’t do it.” Lark mentioned softly. “But I did lie … I did lie.”

The woman nodded slowly.

“Are you going to be here awhile?” she asked suddenly. “On Colony 9, I mean.”

“I don’t know.” Lark answered, growing uncomfortable.

Lark’s pulse began to race. She didn’t want to talk about her job — the reason she survived. Maybe it was silly, but she didn’t want anyone to think less of her. But then, her lying for her cousin had probably made them think differently about her. Why should their opinion bother her now? Then again, maybe it always had.

“Well, you’re welcome here anytime. I’m sure the pastor would love to see you.”

Lark nodded.

“Thank you.” Lark looked down. “I’ll keep that in mind, but I should go. They’ll be locking up soon.”

Lark stood.

“Thank you … for being here.” Lark told her.

“Yes, of course.” the woman returned.

Lark smiled. Then, she turned and headed out of the church and back onto the street. She walked swiftly back toward the docking port. Fortunately, she made it to the cruiser before curfew. On one hand, it was silly; the officer of the ship shouldn’t be locked out for being late. On the other hand, those were Leader Monrage’s orders. So, head cast downward, she headed past the guard and toward her room as fast as she could. She quickly opened the door to her room then locked it behind her. Once safely inside, she leaned her back against the door and breathed out heavily. Cinnamon stretched out and began heading toward her owner.

“I’m glad to see you, Cinnamon.” Lark offered. “I need you.”

Though it surprised Lark there was still water left in her eyes to cry with, tears were set to fall from them nonetheless. Then suddenly, there was a knock at the door of Lark’s room. Lark blinked the tears away then turned toward the door. She hesitated at the knob.

“Yes?” she uttered with some reservation.

“It’s me Captain Smithson.”

Lark opened the door slowly. She found that Captain Smithson was taken aback for some reason.

“What is it?” she questioned him.

“I just saw you rush in. I was concerned something was wrong.”

Lark looked down for a moment. Her left hand, which held the door open, began to shake slightly.

“It has nothing to do with the ship.” she responded.

“You then?”

Lark looked up at him.

“We all have issues.” Lark acknowledged.

“Yes, that’s true enough. I did hear there may be a meeting between Leader Monrage and someone soon. Maybe it has something to do with why we’re here on Colony 9.”

Lark just looked at him.

“I thought you may be as curious as I am about why we’re here in the middle of nowhere.”

“Yeah, but I wouldn’t say that too often if I were you.” Lark warned.

“Just to you.” he said.

“Well, that’s good. Still, I wouldn’t think much of it. Leader Monrage’s plans are never easy to understand.”

“Yeah, I guess I’ll just have to get used to it then … for now.”

Captain Smithson looked as though he was about to turn away. Suddenly, he stopped.

“Oh, and by the way, you looked good like that.”

Captain Smithson smiled and walked away. Lark touched her face. In her rush to catch up with Celeste, she had forgotten to put her uniform on.

 

***

 

The next day, a message was waiting for Lark on her in-room computer. There was to be a mandatory meeting held by Leader Monrage in the control room. Perhaps this was what Captain Smithson was alluding to: the mysterious meeting between Leader Monrage and a contact on Colony 9. Still, if everyone was going to be there it seemed unlikely too many secrets were going to be revealed. It seemed more likely Leader Monrage wanted to make sure that none of the crew members were out and about today, so they wouldn’t see something they shouldn’t.

“Hmm … what are you up to here, Leader Monrage?” Lark asked herself. “Not that you confide your secret agendas to me.”

Lark looked over at her uniform, which she had laid upon a chair, with a certain sense of dread.

“What is the point?” she wondered. “It’s just a check-in, after all. No point in putting that stuff on just to take it off a little while later, right, Cinnamon?”

Cinnamon seemed to mew assent, so Lark dressed in her normal clothes and headed for the control room.

“Officer Twelve on deck!” one of the crew members called out when she arrived.

All turned. Of course there were a lot of surprised looks, but Lark pretty much expected that. Also, Captain Smithson had that same wide-eyed look from the previous night.

“About your business.” Lark announced.

Just then, Leader Monrage’s voice boomed out from behind Lark.

“What is this, business casual day?” Leader Monrage demanded.

Lark turned around towards him. Leader Monrage was glaring at her with intensity.

“What? You don’t appreciate who you are now?” he put forth. “You want to go back to that? Remember what happened the last time you were that person?”

Lark just stared at him unflinchingly.

“Then again, I’ve forgotten how much you resemble … sort of. Maybe you’d like to accompany me to my meeting. It might make things interesting. You know how I like to keep people on their toes. So, be sure to stay just like this.” Leader Monrage hissed bitterly. “By the way, that’s an order not a suggestion.”

Leader Monrage then turned to another man, who had accompanied him.

“Take the roll call.” Leader Monrage stated. “And the rest of you — you’re to stay on the ship today. No excuses. I won’t be pleased if I find out anyone has disobeyed me — anyone. That is all.”

With that, Leader Monrage stormed out of the control room.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

 

Chapter 8

 

The questions were pointless; Lark didn’t know the answers. Yet, for some reason they were inclined to believe in her guilt anyway.

“This is good,” Lark thought. There was no point in both she and Celeste ending up in prison. It was the fault of that guy Celeste talked about and Lark’s fault for being a burden. Besides, Lark was just a child, and Celeste was an adult. Surely Lark’s punishment would be less severe than Celeste’s.

Unfortunately, it didn’t go well with the judge. Since Lark was not forthcoming with the location of the diamond broach, she was deemed unrepentant. Apparently, throughout Lark’s life she hadn’t been told how seriously theft, especially of high cost items, was considered by the government of this colony. Why would she have been made aware? Her parents had been capable of providing for her needs, and she was told stealing was wrong. Then, there was the fact that Lark had never even had access to anything as valuable as the diamond broach.

Panic began to set in as the judge pronounced the sentence. Lark would, in fact, be sent to Prison Colony Beta — an adult prison colony. There were audible gasps in the gallery, but an example was to be made. Lark’s generation had to be sent a message; she was going to pay.

Prison Colony Beta was another thing Lark wasn’t familiar with. Yet, the bright girl was quick enough to put it together based upon the reaction of those around her; Lark’s life was over. She would never leave Prison Colony Beta alive. As Lark was led away in cuffs, she looked around the gallery. Though there were many sympathetic faces, there was no one there for Lark. No one would intervene on her behalf.

Lark’s public defender had managed to obtain permission for Lark to take a few of her shoebox treasures with her — the ones deemed harmless.

 

***

 

Officer Twelve had left the blinds open, so the sun streamed into her room as it rose. She noted how much she missed the sunlight when she was in space.

“The light is truly beautiful,” she thought.

“Well, Cinnamon, I may as well get ready.” she spoke aloud. “I have to get those supplies before we leave here. Who knows when that will be.”

Officer Twelve climbed out of bed and proceeded to change out of her white nightshirt and into her uniform. After she locked up her room, she mixed in with the other crew members, who had come back on board the night before but were departing again.

One of the things Officer Twelve appreciated about the members of her crew was that they were used to her uniform. The same couldn’t be said about other people. Much to her dismay, every time she went somewhere new there would be stares. Still, somehow it didn’t seem as though they were staring at her.

Officer Twelve decided to put in the order for the supplies at a local store. They could assemble the order, and she could pick it up later. She figured it would be less awkward than maneuvering through a crowd of shoppers in her uniform.

“Now what?” Officer Twelve wondered as she stepped out of the store and into the sun.

Perhaps a walk would take up some of the time. Officer Twelve walked a familiar path down some streets, in front of some houses, and by a church. Unfortunately, any feelings Officer Twelve had about these places were buried so deep that she couldn’t feel them — or at least wouldn’t allow herself to feel them. It probably didn’t help that life had moved on without her. Officer Twelve sighed. It was about time to pick up the supplies. That is, after all, what she set out to do when she woke up that morning. Then, she’d head back to her ship.

When Officer Twelve had time off, she usually spent it reading reports and star maps. The research had proven quite useful over the years. She also liked to learn about places she might see one day. After the atmospheric regulators had been deemed reliable, new colonies were constantly being set up. It amazed Officer Twelve how every colony always had a distinctive feel. Even if the buildings and layout were the same, the people were different. Things always go a different way from the way you’d expect when people are involved. Such was the way with Colony 9. If a place got in your blood, then it became more important than it would be otherwise. Maybe there was somewhere else that Officer Twelve could attach to, somewhere without the memories. Well, at least she had her ship.

Officer Twelve boarded the ship about an hour later. As the night began to descend, Officer Twelve was surprised by how bright the streetlights had become. Not long afterward, crowds began to mill around. Officer Twelve went to the window and sat in the chair next to it. It occurred to her then that some kind of street festival was going on. They had strung multicolored party lights between the streetlamps. Cinnamon came up and jumped in Officer Twelve’s lap. Officer Twelve petted her as she watched the people go by.

It was then that she saw her. A flash of recognition caused a jolt of emotion in Officer Twelve. This emotion created an impulse to stand. She carefully set Cinnamon down upon the ground. She then ran from the room and out of the star cruiser. When Officer Twelve got out into the festival, the woman she had seen seemed to be gone. Officer Twelve looked around her for a moment. Then, she decided to head off in the direction that she last saw the figure going.

It wasn’t easy making it through the crowd, but eventually she caught sight of the tall, well-dressed blonde woman. Could it be she? But how? Had she been capable of turning her life around this well? Many a night Officer Twelve had feared what had become of her. She convinced herself that the woman would be all right somehow. Still, Officer Twelve never expected this much of a turnaround in the woman’s circumstances. Maybe things could work out. Certainly, she’d never seen the woman in such beautiful clothes before. Yet, Officer Twelve reminded herself that she had always hoped the woman’s life would turn out well. And Officer Twelve had purposefully stayed away, so that it would. She hadn’t wanted to mar the woman’s potential happiness with the realization of what had become of the girl. Why remind the woman if she had put it from her mind? Still, as she stood there, Officer Twelve couldn’t help but want to talk to the woman again. So, despite her intentions not to approach the woman, Officer Twelve began to mouth the woman’s name with the excitement of a child.

But then, Officer Twelve froze before the words could come out. The woman had turned to her left and smiled. A man came up to the woman, and she latched on to his arm. The woman then tipped her head against the man’s arm and walked with him that way. Officer Twelve had thought a lot about this man — the one who had been to blame for it all. If it hadn’t been for him, none of it would have happened. That’s why Officer Twelve had worked to piece together information on his identity. She knew there was a blood relationship between the theft victim and this man. It wasn’t hard to find his name and eventually his picture.

But she was with him — seemingly in love with him. How could she? Officer Twelve’s eyes began to water. How could she reconcile with him after what he did to her? Of course, there was the possibility that he didn’t do anything against the woman at all. The woman stopped and looked back just as Officer Twelve placed her hands upon her eyes and crashed upon her knees.

Officer Twelve sobbed there among the many strangers for what seemed like a long time. Eventually, she could hear those around her pondering whether or not they should ask her what was wrong. Officer Twelve stifled a sob then pulled herself up slowly. She couldn’t go back to the ship — not like this. There was only one place she could think to go — the church from her youth. Officer Twelve stumbled along the streets. The wind began to pick up by the time she reached the door to the church. Tiny drops of water — like daggers — plowed into her face. She just couldn’t breathe. She struggled with the knob.

“Help.” she mumbled.

Suddenly, the door opened.

“What’s wrong? Are you all right?”

Officer Twelve looked up pleadingly at the woman who answered the door.

“Lark? Lark Tampy, is that you?”

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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