Truth and the Goddess Arl - Part Nine
Anywhere but here, that's where Katlyn wanted to be. At home she'd be in the midst of an anti-abortion rally, slopping some food on a tray for a smelly old homeless man, or wandering the streets of a subdivision begging for pledges. Never did she imagine herself lying on the splintery wooden surface of a stage, her leg wounded by a whip, trying to save half a dozen lives without a hope of survival. The little hope that remained dwindled to near nothingness as party from Tattooville approached.
Katlyn had one chance. One good shove and she grabbed Horus's gun, yanking the detached hand free from the grip and tossing it aside. She swung it around just in time to have it knocked from her hand, her ears ringing from shredding of metal and air. One of the women in the group stood glaring at Katlyn, Kai's fallen whip in her hand.
"Is it true?" the biggest of the men asked. He marched past Mama and then Franky's bodies still hanging on the hooks, eyes bulging as he asked Katlyn again, "Is it true? Are you Leaguers? Is Mama a Leaguer?"
Around the edge of the man's frame, Katlyn witnessed several of the other men carefully removing Mama from the hooks that held her up and then placing her, almost reverently, on the ground face down.
Chaos permeated the surroundings. Those remaining in the general vicinity of the stage paid little to no attention to the former entertainment dying on stage. Instead those gathered were more preoccupied with fighting each other.
"Answer me!" the man snapped.
Katlyn gazed into his eyes--eyes surrounded by large looping designs. "Yes," she said. "It's true."
Frowning, the man turned to the others. "Get them back to the ship, all of them." He turned back. "Are there others on your ship?"
"Why do you want to know?"
"No time for this! Answer the question!"
On the floating cart Horus brought up stage, the men and women behind Katlyn's questioner loaded the unconscious bodies for transport. Katlyn looked up at the man again. She had no idea what to tell this stranger. The only thing that gave her any hope of getting out this situation alive was the striking similarity between these people and Mama. They were all hefty individuals, like Mama, and tattooed to the point of ridiculous extreme, like Mama.
"Yes," she said. "Two others."
As he tapped behind his ear, he asked, "Can you walk?" Then he said, to nobody in particular, "Greegan. Two others on the ship."
As the group moved off the stage and in the opposite direction of the designated landing zone, they passed by a lone figure that remained unseen. To them he was nothing more than the foul, smoke-choked air around them.
Daniel Sterling stood transfixed. The scene he'd just witnessed left him in a state of numbness, teetering on the edge of a dangerous cliff. If only he'd been able to control connection to exact points in time, then he'd have been able to warn Alex and prevent the suffering that his little brother just had to go through. Assuming, that is, that Alex survives. All possibilities of death remained at the back of Daniel's mind, unwilling to consider it for even a moment least that single thought jinx Alex's chances.
Maybe with a few more adjustments he might be able to go back to before Alex arrived at this place and did whatever it is that he did to deserve the punishment he received.
Daniel reached for the dial to shut down the window through which he viewed the future--but he hesitated. Shutting it down meant he wouldn't be able to get back to this point. His next search for this particular time period could put him anywhere from ten years ago to ten years in the future. Centering in on Alex was hard enough, finding this moment in time doubly so.
His choices were simple: Stay put and follow Alex to make sure he pulls through, or shut down the machine and make modifications in hopes of warning Alex before it happened. The modifications were possible but theoretical. Even if he could make them, he might never be able to find Alex before the incident occurred. He might never be able to find Alex again. Pure dumb luck had been on his side each time he managed to make contact. Would dumb luck stay with him? Was it worth the possibility of not knowing if Alex survived or not?
None of this would be happening, Daniel realized, if he hadn't invented this damn machine to start with. Somehow Alex got his hands on it, made his own modifications, and ended up in the future. Without the machine, contacting Alex would be pointless because he'd never have been teleported to the future to begin with.
There lied Daniel's third and last option. If he destroyed the machine, he'd prevent any of this from happening.
Daniel flipped the dial on the screen and watched it go blank. His haggard, unshaven reflection stared back at him in the glass.
"All your fault, buddy boy," he said to his reflection. "What kind of brother are you?"
His eyes fell to the sledgehammer leaning against the large white freezer along the back wall. Not just yet. No reason not to try the modifications if they're possible. If he failed that, there's always one more way to prevent it all.
It never passed through Daniel's mind that Alex might be able to repair the destruction that any sledgehammer could cause.
Except for a constant stream of low murmured curses buried in the engine itself, the silence of the engine room always made Sela uneasy. Too many times she'd been down here while the ship was in space. The noise held a comforting feeling of life.
"Any progress?" she asked the rear of Yerik.
He pulled his head out of the opened panel on the side of the engine. He smeared some grease across his cheek attempting to wiping it away as he looked over his shoulder. "Da. Twenty minutes more and engines are optimal."
Sela sighed. "Only way we're getting out of here is by storming the control tower at gunpoint and forcing them to release us. Even that won't work unless one of us stays behind to make sure they keep us released."
"We bring bomb with us. Remote trigger. If we get back and ship is not loose... BOOOOOM!"
"Necessary only if techs foolish enough to relock us."
The recent rash of deaths belonging to the League, to this crew specifically, was far too unnecessary in Sela's opinion, but she wasn't in the mood for that argument. Blowing up the tower wouldn't release them, so Sela would make sure the bomb was disabled.
"Fine," she said. "You finish up here, I'll get the bomb."
As she turned to go, and Yerik started to bury his head back in the engine, a loud whine blared out of the ship's intercom system. Both of them jerked toward the speaker hanging above the engine room doors. Loud and penetrating, the alarm shook Sela's bones.
After a moment, Sela disabled the siren with her SoftPAD. Someone was trying to force his way through the loading doors. Without any idea who or why someone wanted access to the ship, Sela and Yerik removed their weapons and then headed out of the engine room to the adjacent cargo bay.
Across the bay lay the large loading doors. Outside those doors lay the potential threat. Taking up positions on either side of the doors, Yerik glanced at Sela questioningly. It was possible Katlyn had somehow managed to get back to the ship despite her final message. The other possibility was that the security force on the planet wanted another look around for people they missed. Just the fact that the doors were locked would tip the security personnel off that someone else was still inside; they'd left the doors open.
Sela reached back to activate her comlink. The doors began to part before she could contact Katlyn, though. She dropped down in a crouch, gun pointed at the opening forming between the doors. Yerik remained standing, also ready to fire.
Once the doors opened about a third of the way, they stopped. Nobody stood in the opening waiting to be blasted by anyone still inside.
"Put down your weapons!" a voice shouted from just outside the doors. "We've come to get you off this planet! No harm is meant!"
Sela shouted back, "Who are you?"
"We work for the mighty Greegan."
Greegan the pirate? Sela blinked at Yerik before shouting, "What does he want with us?"
"He provides you with passage off this planet to anywhere you wish to go!"
"The mighty Greegan is sickened by the treatment of his mentor and dear friend Mama and wishes to help her in any way possible."
Sela lowered her weapon, dropping it back into its holster strapped to her thigh. "Get in here!"
Yerik remained in position, gun at the ready as two burly men with tattoos dancing along their bare arms entered through the opening between the loading doors, both their guns holstered. Once verified they weren't going to blast Sela and Yerik to pieces, Yerik also returned his gun to its holster.
"Go set the self-destruct," Sela told Yerik. Then she turned to the men. "How does Greegan plan to get around the lockdown?"
One of the men grinned widely. "The mighty Greegan has terrible eyesight, ma'am. He almost always misses the designated landing zone."
To be continued...