written by Michele Quirke & Jodi Jensen
Etos sat next to his wife’s bed in sickbay, at a loss.
He’d had Kee run a full spectrum of tests, but whatever was wrong with Ada was beyond Kee’s ability to diagnose. After days of labs, scans and research, Etos had finally resorted to having Ada put into an induced coma while her infection was aggressively treated. The treatment seemed to be slowing the changes her body was going though, at least for now.
“Sir,” Kee lit up a panel on the wall. “A planet capable of sustaining life has come into range.”
Etos rose and went to the map. “Zarine, huh? Never heard of it.” He frowned at the statistics. “Only five percent water?”
“Yes, sir. Breathable air, climate on higher end of acceptable comfort zones, but habitable. Subterranean life forms detected.”
“Sounds like a desert.” Etos glanced over his shoulder at Ada, then left sickbay. “Set course for Zarine, and send all of Ada’s stats to my headset hourly. And keep that door locked, Kee.”
Etos went in search of Phea and found her reading on the bridge. “Ever heard of Zarine?”
Phea shook her head. “I guess you haven’t either?”
“Nope, but I’m going to check it out. Come help me get the rover ready, you’re coming with me.”
“What about Ada?” Phea set her book down, but made no move to get up.
“Still sleeping, Kee will keep her that way. This planet’s a desert so I’ll set our suits to cool and stock the weapons. You pack some water and rations, then get yourself ready.” His eyes flickered to the title of her book, Ancient Teachings to Control Your Mind, then back to her. “I don’t know where you got it, but I hope that book’s helpful. Once we’ve explored, we’ll try some target practice with your eye.”
“I searched the digital library and had Kee replicate it.” Phea jumped up from the co-pilot’s chair and beat him to the door. “How long until we get there?”
“Kee?” Etos followed the Schloran girl as she headed for the cargo bay. “Estimated arrival to Zarine?”
“One hour, twenty-seven minutes at top speed, sir.”
* * *
Etos set his and Phea’s suits as cool as they’d go, the heat would have been unbearable otherwise. Their explorations found the surface nearly barren, littered with nothing more than rust colored dirt, boulders and holes in the ground large enough to drive the rover into.
He steered away from one of the holes as he headed for a rocky outcropping ahead that had the only vegetative life they’d seen so far. Not that the blue bush looked appealing, but it did offer a spot of shade.
“Kee, status on Ada?”
After parking the rover in the shade, he glanced at Phea. “Ready?”
She gave him a nervous smile and removed the scarf, exposing the third eye on her forehead. “Ready.”
Etos slung his weapon over his shoulder, and set up a series of rocks along the top of a small boulder. “Now, concentrate.”
Phea squinted at the rocks, her breathing deep and even.
Etos frowned at her third eye. It was open, but normal looking, not the flaming red it’d been when it fired on Cevara. “What did you do before?”
“I don’t know…it just, worked.” She kept staring at the rocks, her forehead creased and her hands curled into fists at her side.
“You were scared, right?” Etos pressed. “You thought you were going to die.”
Phea nodded. “I believed with everything I am that I was going to die. My only thought in those seconds were of wanting to see my mother again.”
“So, heightened fear.” Etos rubbed a hand over the back of his neck as he thought. “Did that book of yours say anything about that?”
“To control one’s mind, one must control one’s own emotions,” she recited, still focusing on the rocks.
Etos had an idea. “Wait there.” He went around behind the boulder and pulled his weapon up to his shoulder. “Get ready, eyes on the rocks,” he called out to her. After checking one more time to be sure the safety was still on, he counted to three, then let out a terrible scream, a warrior’s call as he jumped out next to the boulder.
As he’d hoped, her third eye glowed red for just a second when she startled, but then it dimmed.
Phea’s scowled at him. “Was that screech really necessary?”
“It worked!” Etos grinned and ducked behind the boulder again. “Let’s try it again!” He had to do something different this time though, she’d be expecting the screech. He removed the safety and pointed the weapon at the sky. “Keep your eyes on the rocks,” he yelled. “I don’t want you hitting me with that thing.”
“I’m ready,” she shouted back.
This time Etos counted to twelve, knowing the delay would draw out the tension, then jumped out from the opposite side as he fired into the air.
Phea let out a yelp and her eye glowed a deeper red, this time for several seconds.
He slapped the side of his leg and laughed. “That’s it! Can you feel it working?”
A wide grin spread across her face. “I felt it that time. It was…a flash of hot when I heard the shot, right here,” she pointed to her forehead.
The ground shook beneath them, knocking Phea to the ground. Etos braced the boulder, his gaze darting around for the source.
Behind Phea, emerging from one of the holes they’d driven around, was a gigantic worm-like creature. Wide black eyes blinked at them and a tiny slit of a nose twitched.
Etos froze, staring back. “Don’t move,” he whispered.
The creature, Etos and Phea all remained still, none taking so much as a breath for what seemed an eternity.
And then, his hand slipped, down the side of the boulder, knocking loose pebbles to the ground.
The creature lunged, jaws open, rows of teeth dripping with slime.
Phea screamed and her eye lit up.
Etos made a dive for the girl, and yanked her to her feet. “NOW!”
Her body went rigid as the beam of energy shot from her third eye, disintegrating the creature only yards from where they stood.
Seconds passed as Phea panted, her body shaking, then the ground trembled again.
“We gotta go!” Etos dragged her to the rover and shoved her in. There was no way to know if that eye needed to recharge or anything before it would work again.
As he raced toward Blue, he shouted, “Kee, open cargo doors!”
Ahead another creature was popping it’s head out of a hole. Then another…and another…
“Hold on!” He jerked the wheel so hard the rover skidded, barely out of reach as one of the creatures made a grab for them with a mouthful of dripping fangs.
Phea pointed behind it. “Etos, there!”
Another one, and this time the thing had slithered all the way out and was moving toward them.
“It’s all you!” he commanded, pushing the rover as fast as it would go. “Get that thing!”
Phea opened her mouth and let out a war cry that rivaled his. Her body went stiff again as the beam shot out and hit the creature with more force than he’d thought possible.
As the thing went up in flames, Etos gave a victory cry.
Phea went limp in her seat.
“Hey…HEY…” He reached over and shook her, but she didn’t wake.
Blue came into sight, cargo door open and ready. He sped up the ramp, then ordered, “Kee, shut the doors and get us out of here!”
Etos slammed the rover to a halt and leaned his head back against the seat as they lifted off. Beside him Phea stirred. “One more thing, Kee,” he said as he closed his eyes for a brief second. “List Zarine as uninhabitable.”
Michele Quirke & Jodi Jensen
M. Sydnor Jr.
copyright © M. Sydnor Jr.