It had been more than a year since the last fight in Supermax. Sensation was building up among inmates and the fight was shaping up to be a festival. More inmates were betting on Jack this time. On the fight night guards cleaned out the dining hall after dinner and set up a ring made of glass walls. There were some 100 chairs for outside spectators. No inmate was allowed on the floor.
Jack ate the same dinner like other Second Species inmates. As far as defeating the opponent was concerned, he came up with nothing except wrapping plastic bags over his hands and Ethan didn’t have anything to add. After dinner Jack went to the ring under guards’ escort.
“Gshaaaaa.” The sound came in, followed by a black cubic cage about 20 feet tall. Everyone stopped what they were doing and stared at it without a blink.
Ell-o and some 30 guards quickly pushed the cage into the ring. Then he nodded at the warden who in turn nodded at the guards around Jack. They shoved Jack into the ring without a word and shut him in.
“Dang!” The door of the cage opened.
A silence befall the hall.
If Jack didn't see with his own eyes, he would never believe such creature existed. It was a 13-foot tall man, a human who had the skin and the tail of a Zalienin, its greenish blue skin covered by a layer of transparent slime, making it shiny. Its tail had a dagger like sting at its end. Its face was like an avocado soaked in sulfuric acid for too long.
“Shit.” Jack thought this kind of experiment was banned by Guardian Fleets a long time ago.
“Creak. Creak. Creak.” The cage shook as it walked out.
Half of the crowd burst into cheers when the other half sighed and cursed.
It looked down at Jack with an evil grin, its tail hovering in the air.
Standing ten steps away, Jack had no idea how to beat this thing.
It darted at Jack, its left fist coming at his head, its tail swinging at his waist.
Jack jumped back shielding his head with both arms.
“Bam.” Its fist hit his arms when its tail scratched his prison garb.
Jack flew across the ring and crashed on the glass wall, cracking it. He picked himself up amid the overwhelming pain while the tail was shooting at his chest. He grabbed it with both hands before the sting touched him. Its rough surface torn away the plastic wrap on his hands. Then its right fist came down from top. Jack swiftly stepped sideways while letting go of his hands. The sting pierced through the glass window behind him and the fist missed him by a hair. Jack slid past under its crouch and stood up quickly.
The creature turned around and ran at Jack, but was pulled back by its tail stuck in the wall. Jack dashed at it and jumped in the air.
“Pow.” Its tongue flew out of its mouth, shooting at Jack's face.
Jack raised his right hand just in time to shield his face and the tongue grasped the hand.
“Bang!” He plunged on the floor.
A hush fell over the crowd.
“Hahahahahahaha,” the creature laughed hysterically.
Jack took a moment and got up slowly, his hand still restrained by the tongue, venom dripping.
A confused look came over its face as if it saw a ghost.
“Now you are fucked,” Jack said, pulling the tongue with both hands.
Held by its tail and its tongue, it couldn't move but only held onto his tongue with both hands. Meanwhile Jack was gaining inch by inch.
“I surrender. I surrender,” it shouted in a muffled voice.
“Raise your hands,” said Jack.
It removed its hands from its tongue and raised them up in the air.
Jack smiled and gave its tongue a sudden jerk, pulling it out in its entirety.
It coughed up blood and fell on its knees.
Jack jumped over its head, wrapped its tongue around its neck and yanked it as hard as he could. The creature struggled to breath, blood pouring out of its mouth, its hands shaking, its feet kicking. After a few seconds, it collapsed, silent and still.
There was no cheering or cursing, but only dead silence.
Jack looked around and saw no one looking straight at him. The warden fixed his eyes on the dead creature whatever it was. Jack left the ring and returned to his cell. He collected the slime from his hand and put it in a water bottle. He believed someone would be interested in it and he could make some money.
When Jack walked into the dining hall next day morning, he felt eyes on his back. He got his breakfast and found Ethan at the usual spot.
“You bet on me, right?” Jack asked, sitting down by Ethan.
“I did, but you made me worried. When the tongue grabbed your hand, I thought you were done. Even that thing thought so,” said Ethan.
“I don't know why the venom didn't kill me. I was lucky,” said Jack.
“It had nothing to do with luck,” Ethan said in an expert tone.
Jack smiled lightly.
“So I guess we should talk to Dud,” said Ethan.
“He will come to us,” Jack said confidently.
Before they finished their breakfast, Dud showed up.
“Well, I can't wait any longer,” Dud said in an excited voice.
“I’m not in a hurry,” Jack mocked Dud’s tone and winked at Ethan.
“Come on. Give me a break. I always have faith in you,” said Dud.
“What do you think?” Jack asked Ethan.
“Dud, you are in on two conditions. One, you have the air canisters set up outside a waste well. Two, you tell us what you know about the nanobots. Is that clear?” Ethan asked.
“Yes. Now I need to have your words,” said Dud.
“Like what?” Jack asked.
“You won’t leave me. Both of you,” said Dud.
“I promise I won't leave you if you do your part,” Jack said tiredly.
“The same,” said Ethan.
“Let me hear it,” said Dud.
Ethan sighed. “I promise I won't leave you.”
“Good enough. Now for the nanobots, it's not about deactivating them. They are not active,” Dud said quietly.
“So we don't need to care,” said Jack.
“They will be activated when certain situation rises, such as someone tried to escape. When activated, the nanobots release toxins and paralyse you,” said Dud.
“Who can activate the nanobots?” Ethan asked.
“There is only one,” said Dud.
“The warden,” said Jack.
“That's simple. We just need to kill him,” said Jack.
“If you kill him, the entire facility will be locked down, like forever. What are you thinking?” Dud asked.
“What do you suggest then?” Jack asked.
“We just need to make him sick. You know, too sick to get up or in a coma,” said Dud.
“And how are we going to do that?” Ethan asked.
“We need to figure it out. This is our first problem. The second problem is we need to know where the hangar is,” said Dud.
“I got that covered. By the way, we have another one joining us,” said Jack.
“Oh, thank you for bringing this up in time. Now we have four. May I ask his name?” Dud asked in a sarcastic tone.
“It's her,” said Jack.
“You just put another problem in our basket. Female inmates are locked in a different area. How are we going to get her?” Dud asked.
“Can you get us the blueprint of Supermax?” Jack asked.
Dud let out a silent sigh. “Is she trustworthy?” He asked.
“I trust her more than I trust you,” Jack said in a plain voice.
“Fine.” Dud shrugged.
“Can you get us the poison? Jack can get close to the warden,” said Ethan.
“No. I get my stuff from a handful of guards. They don't do anything lethal,” said Dud.
“Maybe Yasily can get some?” Ethan asked.
“I will ask, but I won't hold my breath,” said Jack.
“So the girl is called Yasily,” said Dud.
“You know anything about her?” Ethan asked.
“No, I don't care female inmates. They are all fuck toys,” said Dud.
“Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.” Alarm screeched.
“Time. Up your ass. To the square,” a guard shouted.
“See you guys,” Dud said quickly and left.
Jack and Ethan gobbled down their breakfast and joined others in a file to the square.
At night Yasily showed up in Jack's cell.
“I will get the blueprint. Send for me in three days,” Yasily said as soon as the guard outside closed the door.
“Good. You wouldn’t have any access to poison, would you?” Jack asked, sitting on the bed.
Jack told her about the nanobots.
“It will be easier just to kill him,” said Yasily.
“You don't say.” Jack chuckled.
“Speaking of poison, you seem to be immune of it. That blade didn't kill you and yesterday the monster didn't kill you either,” said Yasily.
“Yea, that thing,” Jack said in a distant voice. Then he suddenly realized the poison was in his hand already. He sprang off the bed, grabbed the water bottle on the table and smiled at the stuff in it.
“What's that?” Yasily asked.
“The venom from that thing,” said Jack.
“Awesome. Now how are you going to do it? You don't want to kill him,” said Yasily.
“No. I must know how much to use. I will run some tests. We are going to get out of here,” Jack said confidently.
“Other pieces in place?” Yasily asked.
“They will be. I have a good feeling about this,” said Jack.
In the next three days Jack coated his palms with the slime and touched inmates who had the similar built as the warden. He started with a tiny drop and went up to five drops in which case the inmate dropped dead on the spot. Dud had the canisters installed outside waste well NO. 4. Yasily got the blueprint and Jack memorized it. She would be waiting at an airlock and they would pick her up after they got the shuttle.
The weekend arrived and so did the shuttle that brought provisions and rotated guards. Jack learned it from Dud at noon. Right away Jack walked to a guard and asked to see the warden. Later in the afternoon he was brought to the warden by Ell-o and five guards. When the blindfold was removed, Jack saw Killion sitting behind a glass desk in a posh room.
“I was told you want to talk to me,” Killion said without emotion.
“That's right. I won the second fight,” said Jack.
“I am aware of that,” Killion said coldly.
“You gave me your words to let me join First Species,” said Jack.
Ell-o and the guards burst into laughter.
“Ooooh. Did I say that? You must mishear it,” said Killion.
“Fine. I won't fight no more,” Jack said in a firm voice.
“Let me explain something to you. I keep you alive. You were luck to just lose one eye. If you don't do what I say, you will lose the other one and be fucked by a train,” said Killion.
“So be it. You don't have another fighter as good as me and I know you didn't bet on me on the second fight. Lost a lot of money, didn't you? Want to get your money back?” Jack asked.
Killion jumped up from the chair like a hemorrhoids patient, his face twisted, his eyes shooting red.
Jack stood fast and looked into Killion's eyes with a slight smile. They stared at each other for a minute. Finally Killion sat back down. “What do you want?” He asked.
“After 3 more wins, I join First Species,” said Jack.
“Alright, you got a deal,” said Killion.
“Shake on it,” Jack said, reaching out his right hand.
Killion snorted. “I give you my word,” said he.
“Then you wouldn't mind shaking on it, would you?” Jack asked and reached out further.
Killion looked up and down at Jack. “You better win,” he said and shook Jack's hand.
Jack nodded and left blindfolded. When he got back to the square, he told Ethan and Dud what happened. Now every wheel was rolling.
At dinner Jack was about to eat his supposed last meal here. Sitting next to Jack, Ethan already started.
“Better eat it, you don't know when the next meal will be,” Ethan said while chewing.
“Very true,” Jack said and had a bite.
“I know what I am going to eat once I’m out of here,” Ethan whispered.
“You never tried before. It's a soup. I don't know what's in it. It doesn't look much, but, my god, it is… I don't know the right word to describe it. You can only have it in one place in the whole universe. What about you? What are you going to do?” Ethan asked.
“I think you know,” said Jack.
“Don't call Gloira. It will give you away and they will catch you,” Ethan said in a grave tone.
“I will keep it in mind,” said Jack.
“You should join me. You will make a great pirate,” said Ethan.
“This is the third time you said it,” said Jack.
“I am trying to help you. You are blinded by love. You think it is everything, but I am telling you it is just overflowing hormones. When you get older and look back, you will regret. I did,” said Ethan.
“I will keep this in mind as well,” said Jack.
Dud casually walked past Jack and Ethan. “He is down,” he whispered and found a spot two tables away.
Ethan and Jack finished dinner and hung around. When the clock chimed at the hour mark, they headed out with Dud. On the way they passed two checkpoints without any problem. Guards frisked them, but didn't take a second look. Soon they entered the preparation room next to the square. It had huge windows on one side and a line of cabinets and toolboxes on the other side. Two guards were sitting at the table in the center, one Estian and the other Glycan.
“Alright, you guys know the drill,” the Estian said and stood up. So did the Glycan.
Jack, Ethan and Dud all raised hands over their heads. The guards started frisking them. Staring at the ceiling, Jack kept a relax face and breathed slowly.
“I know you. You are the fighter,” the Glycan said suddenly.
“He is. I remember him. I lost a lot of money on his first fight,” the Estian said and stopped what he was doing.
“You should have bet on me,” Jack said easily, but his heart was racing.
The guards laughed.
“What are you doing here?” The Glycan asked.
“Clean waste wells,” said Jack.
“Really?” The Glycan said and exchanged look with the Estian.
“They probably made a mistake in scheduling. I don't think they will let you do this,” said the Glycan.
“We've done this before,” said Ethan.
“Well, I never saw you three,” said the Estian.
“Different shifts?” Dud asked with a kind smile.
“Maybe, but let me call someone real quick. It won't take a minute,” the Estian said, heading to the phone on the table.
Jack winked at Ethan, dashed to the Estian, choke-held him and broke his neck. Ethan and Dud strangled the Glycan with all their hands.
“Shit!” Jack and Ethan said simultaneously.
“Throw them in the cabinet,” Dud said quickly.
They took out three spacesuits from a cabinet and then dumped the bodies in it.
“How much time we have?” Jack asked.
“I don't know,” said Ethan.
“Doesn't matter,” said Dud.
They swiftly put on spacesuits and went into waste well NO. 4 through one of the service tunnels. The well was long, wide and empty, covered by a thin layer of dust. Ethan got to the control panel on the wall. Jack and Dud grabbed a handle next to it.
"Hold tight,” Ethan said and pressed a button.
“Sssssssssh…” Air was going out. Then the outer door slowly opened. Beyond it was an infinite field of asteroids. It had been so long and he felt free already. When the door was fully opened, the artificial gravity disengaged. Jack kicked on the wall and flew to the opening, followed by Ethan and Dud. Within a minute they exited the outer gate. The gray surface was almost flat except for the dents, large and small, here and there, and it tapered off slowly towards the tower that sticked out like a gigantic needle. Jack remembered the hangar was beyond the tower.
“I found it,” Ethan said excitedly and opened the box near the well.
Jack quickly joined him and took one canister. Ethan took one and Dud got two.
"Where are we going?" Ethan asked.
"The tower over there,” said Jack.
"Stay close to surface," Ethan said and led the way. They used short bursts and picked up speed slowly. Soaked in sweat, Jack was hearing nothing but heavy breathing, not even sure whether it came from him or Ethan or Dud. He was too excited and nervous to think straight. No one talked as the horizon spread in front of them. After some 10 minutes they reached the foot of the tower and now Jack appreciated its true scale. It was magnificent on its own right, standing at least 1500 feet tall. Once they passed it, they dived as the surface dropped like a cliff and immediately stretched out like a plain. Light was beaming out of a huge rectangular opening about 1000 yards away.
“Is that the hangar?” Dud asked.
“Yes. Yes!” Jack shouted.
“We are low on oxygen, but we should make it,” said Ethan.
“Lucky us, the gate is open,” Jack said, pointing at the opening.
“I have three minutes on oxygen. I will go first,” Dud said and fired up his other canister.
“Wait. Wait. Stay with the plan,” Ethan shouted.
Dud didn't reply and kept accelerating, leaving Jack and Ethan behind.
“Dud, stop. Dud!” Jack shouted, watching Dud reduce to a shining point in the distance. Then it disappeared as soon as it reached the edge of the opening.
“He fucked us! Now we have to follow him,” said Jack.
“You think? We will dive at the edge,” Ethan said quickly.
The opening was growing larger and larger by second.
“Here it comes...now!” Ethan shouted.
Jack pointed the canister towards his back and flew into the hangar. First it felt like crashing into a piece of jello. Then gravity grabbed him and he started free-falling.
"BAM!" He hit hard on the deck and slid under a pod, one of hundreds in the hangar.
Ethan rammed into another one.
Some 50 yards away was Dud wrestling a guard for his rifle.
“Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.” Shots fired.
Ethan propped himself up against the pod, ran for the guard and tackled him. Dud snapped the rifle while Ethan was at it.
“Bang!” Dud shot the guard in the head.
“Jack, come on,” Ethan shouted, waving at Jack.
Jack picked himself up, his head still spinning from the impact, and quickly joined Ethan and Dud. They headed to the ship that stood out from the rest. It didn't look much, black and rusty, its long and shallow fuselage covered by dents. The door at its tail was open.
“Alarm. Alarm. Alarm.” The ear-deafening alarm echoed in the hangar while the hangar gate was shutting down.
“We can make it,” Jack shouted and stepped on the ramp to the door, followed by Ethan and Dud.
Suddenly a torrent of shots rained on them. Jack felt a sharp pain on his right shoulder, but didn't stop and stumbled aboard the ship. Ethan got in right after him, his left arm bleeding. They both turned around and reached out to Dud.
“Leave me,” Dud said and smiled, blood dripping from his mouth.
“Sorry.” Jack shut the door and ran to the front with Ethan.
“You know how to fly this thing?” Jack asked when they entered the bridge, an oval-shaped chamber with a transparent ceiling.
“I can fly anything. Man the gun,” Ethan said, taking the pilot seat and pointing at the weapon station one seat away.
Jack took the seat. “Ah, there is no stick or button,” he said in a confused voice.
“Voice command. Hurry,” Ethan said quickly and started the engine.
A jolt came first and the ship took off, but the gate was completely closed and guards were swamping into the hangar from every entrance.
“Jack, the gate,” Ethan shouted.
“Missiles,” said Jack.
“Boom! Boom! Boom!” The gate was torn apart.
“Good job,” said Ethan.
“Actually, I…” Jack stopped when two frigates flew in through the torn gate. Its sword like fuselage was encircled by three rings at bow, mid and stern.
“Hylocan. Shit,” Ethan said in a fearful voice and landed the ship at the same spot.
“What are you doing? Let's go,” said Jack.
“Wait. Wait,” Ethan said quietly.
The two Hylocan frigates started vaporizing guards with thermal cannons. Meanwhile more frigates flew in and unloaded troves of Hylocan soldier.
“We are fucked,” said Jack.
“We still have a chance. We will go once they are done,” said Ethan.
“There must be a Hylocan fleet out there,” said Jack.
“I know. We will space-jump as soon as we are out of gate,” said Ethan.
“What about Yasily?” Jack asked.
“We don't have time to pick her up. Besides Hylocan probably got her already,” said Ethan.
Jack sighed and nodded. Then he heard voices in his head. “Jack, It's me, Lisania. Don't run.” For a second Jack thought it was his imagination, but it came again. “Jack, don't run. I am here to save you.” Jack shook his head knowing Lisania was on Earth.
After a minute or so traffic slowed down. No more frigate landed and the ones already here finished unloading.
“Buckle up,” Ethan said, wringing his hands.
“Alright.” Jack fastened his seatbelt and took a deep breath.
Ethan started the engine and throttled up on power. The ship shot out of the hangar and plunged into the asteroid field.
“Engaging space-jump,” said Ethan.
“BAM!” An impact so powerful that it shook Ethan and Jack out of their seats.
“Asteroid?” Jack asked.
“No. Now we are fucked,” Ethan said, looking up.
Upon them was a Hylocan carrier opening its belly. Within seconds it swallowed their ship. The inside was cave-like, dark and deep with silver shining.
“I killed a lot of Hylocan. I guess this is fate,” said Ethan.
“I saved one,” said Jack.
“No kidding,” said Ethan.
“I will tell you if we survive this,” said Jack.
A metal tentacle grabbed the ship and rammed it into a chamber barely large enough for it. Another one drilled into the bridge. When its tip opened, Lisania stepped out, followed by two generals. Dressed in a figure-hugging red gown, she was radiating power and sex, her face just like Jack remembered except for her eyes shining in red.
“Lisania?” Jack called, unsure and doubtful.
She bounced towards Jack like a bunny and bear-hugged him. “You remember me!” said she.
“You got your eyes back,” said Jack.
“You lost yours,” said Lisania.
“Just one,” said Jack.
They smiled at each other.
“Ahem,” Ethan cleared his throat.
“Oh, this is my friend Ethan. He--” Jack said, pointing at Ethan.
“She knows. She can read mind,” Ethan interrupted Jack.
Lisania nodded with an approval smile and turned to Jack. “I understand you are worried about Yasily. I will make sure she is fine,” said she.
“Thank you,” said Jack.
“Now let's stop that bleeding and fix your eye,” she said and dragged him with her.
Jack looked back at Ethan.
“Don't worry. Your friend will get his arm fixed,” said Lisania.
They entered the tentacle and followed it to a busy tunnel that was better looking than the cave, but still carried a sort of gloom under red light. If Jack didn't know better, he would think he was underground. He knew Lisania was a big shot, because officers and soldiers touched their foreheads with their right hands when they passed by her.
“So when did you get your eyes back?” Jack asked.
“About a week ago. Don't ask me how they grew back. I honestly don't know,” said Lisania.
“Then you got your badge and called your fleet,” said Jack.
“How did you find your badge?” Jack asked.
“You are not going to believe this. I went to Training Center to see you. Through extracting memories I learned you were locked away. During that process I found something from Erikon's memory. After you were taken away, he was the one who packed your stuff. There was a pin, at least that is what you think, among your personal effects.”
“Yes. That's my lucky charm. Gloira gave it to me. I thought I lost it, but I found it in that chamber where the huge eyeball was held,” said Jack.
“It’s actually my badge,” Lisania said, pointing at the badge pinned on her gown.
“Aaah? Are you sure?” Jack asked, failing to hide his disappointment.
“The rest is easy. With my eyes, it's a piece a cake for me to sneak in and get it back,” Lisania said proudly.
“How did you find me here? Only a few know where Supermax is,” said Jack.
“Among the tens of thousands of minds I accessed in Training Center, one was particular. Its owner was Klaycon. He not only knew you were imprisoned in Supermax, but also knew its location,” said Lisania.
“That motherfucker,” Jack said, grinding his teeth and wrenching his fists.
“I understand how you feel,” said Lisania.
After a minute Jack calmed down. “Oh, why did you want to see me in the first place?” He asked.
“I want to give this to you in person,” she said and handed Jack a quarter size hologramer.
“A hologramer. Where you got it?” Jack asked.
“I took it from Kaleen. Your mother gave it to Kaleen when she left you at the orphanage. She asked him to give it to you when you are 14,” said Lisania.
“I left there when I was 13,” said Jack.
“Don't blame yourself. Kaleen didn't plan to give it to you anyway. He hates you for those pranks you pulled,” said Lisania.
“I don't blame him,” said Jack.
“Ah, here we are,” Lisania said and showed Jack into a nearby compartment.
There was a chair in the center, surrounded by a few equipment that Jack couldn't name. Two Hylocan women dressed in nurse outfit saluted at Lisania as soon as they saw her.
“Take care of him,” Lisania ordered.
They nodded and led Jack to the chair. Jack sat down and leaned back.
“Comfy?” Lisania asked.
“Yes. Very,” said Jack.
“Then we will get started,” Lisania said and nodded at the nurses.
“Wait, one thing,” said Jack.
“When you were at Training Center, did you read Gloira's mind?” Jack asked eagerly.
“No,” Lisania said quickly and left.
One nurse shined blue light on Jack and he felt dizzy right away. His mind slowly drifted away as everything faded into darkness.
Standing in white sand and looking at the orange sunset, Jack knew he was dreaming, but everything felt so real. The air was cool and humid, mixed with salty and fishy smell. The wave was gentle and caring, leaving nothing behind. The sky was blue, sad and dull, tainted with orange specks.
Jack turned and saw two boys and a girl running at him. They were eight or nine years old, cute like angels. One boy had red hair and red eyes shining like rubies. The other boy had blue eyes. The girl looked like a miniature Gloira. They surrounded Jack, jumping and smiling.
“Dad, look what I found,” the red-haired boy said, holding up a green starfish.
“I saw it first,” the other boy added.
“But I got it. I am faster.”
“Oh, really?” The girl said and snapped the starfish from the red-haired boy.
“Hey, give it back.”
“No.” The girl laughed and ran away.
“It's mine,” the red-haired boy shouted and chased after the girl.
“I saw it first. It's mine,” the other boy shouted and joined them.
Watching them running on the beach, Jack felt so happy. Then he looked around for Gloira, knowing she wouldn't leave the kids by themselves, but she was nowhere to be seen.
“Gloira,” Jack shouted as night quickly set in. He lost track of time and wandered around looking for her in darkness. Suddenly he saw light in every direction and it glowed so bright that he couldn't see anything.
Jack opened his eyes, both of them for the first time in a long time. It was fuzzy at first, but soon cleared up. He saw a general standing next to him. He knew it based on the triangle signs on her insignia. Colonel's was a square, Major a pentagon, Captain a hexagon, and Lieutenant a heptagon. She was a senior, dressed in red turtleneck sweater and black pants, her white hair fashioned in a bun, her face wrinkled and rough.
“How do you feel?” She asked.
“I can see,” Jack said, blinking his left eye.
“It looks good too,” said she.
A 3D rendering of Jack's face appeared in front of him. His left eye was the mirror image of the right one. After admiring the result for a few seconds, Jack turned to the general. “Thank you. I’m Jack, by the way,” he said and got up from the chair.
“I'm Erienie, Lisania's military advisor. I heard quite a lot about you from Lisania. You even fought against Kalan. Boy, everyone here wants to buy you a drink.”
“You are her military advisor, so Lisania is what? A fleet commander?” Jack asked.
“What did she say?” Erienie asked.
“She said she is royal,” Jack said, recalling the conversation he had with her so long ago.
“She is,” Erienie said and took a long look at Jack.
“What?” Jack asked with a long face.
“You are not very popular among girls,” said Erienie.
''Recently I am, I mean, for the past three months, but...yea, you are right,” said Jack.
“I figure. Let’s go. Lisania is waiting,” Erienie said and opened the door.
They left the compartment, made a turn and strolled down a long hallway with a line of small windows on one side. Jack looked out of one of them and saw Supermax surrounded by frigates, cruisers and carriers. He still couldn't believe Lisania did all this for him.
“You approved this attack?” Jack asked, pointing at Supermax.
“No. It is too much of a risk. Guardian Fleets might track us down. However, once she decides to do something, she will do it no matter what,” said Erienie.
“She is the Queen, isn't she?” Jack asked cautiously.
“Took you this long, huh?” Erienie said with a dry smile.
“She didn't strike me as a romantic type. I don't understand,” said Jack.
“Neither do I. She certainly loves you,” said Erienie.
They stopped in the middle of the hallway and entered a compartment, apparently the bridge. Lisania was sitting in the center, overseeing a dozen also officers. As soon as she saw Jack, she ran to him.
“You look good. How is your shoulder?” She asked.
“Perfect. Where is Ethan?” Jack asked.
“He is fine. He has left with Yasily,” said Lisania.
“I should be going as well. Thank you for saving me,” Jack said in a careful tone.
“I can't take the credit. You were going to save yourself anyway. I must say it was a brilliant plan,” said Lisania.
“Thank you. I really shouldn't take more of your time,” Jack said politely.
“What's your hurry? I have something for you,” Lisania said and snapped her fingers.
Two soldiers dragged an old and sick Glycan into the compartment. Jack knew right away it was the warden. They set him on his knees in front of Jack and Lisania.
“Where is my necklace?” Jack asked in a cold voice.
Upon hearing Jack, Kollin raised his head, his face pale and stiff, his eyes drowned in fear.
Jack clenched Kollin's neck and yanked him up. “Where is my fucking necklace?” he shouted.
“She is the disease and you will regret your role in spreading it,” Kollin said, panting.
Jack tightened his grip, watching Kollin quivering.
“Do it, Jack. Do it,” said Lisania.
“Clank.” Kollin quitted quivering, his arms dangling by his sides.
Jack dropped him and saw a shining chain around his neck.
“You are wearing it, your motherfucker,” Jack said and hauled out the necklace.
“Well done. I know you have what it takes,” Lisania said, patting Jack's shoulder.
“I really appreciate everything you did for me. I owe you one,” Jack said sincerely
“Well, in that case, I demand you to stay at least one day as my payback,” Lisania said with the Queen's mighty.
Everyone stopped what they were doing and gazed at Jack.
“OK.” Jack nodded, knowing he didn't have a choice.
Lisania jumped up like a little kid. “You won't regret it. I promise you,” said she.
Jack squeezed out a shallow smile. He couldn't understand what Lisania saw in him. That was why Erienie said he wasn't popular among girls.
“Let's go home,” Lisania ordered.
All vessels started to gather around the carrier, layers over layers, forming a gigantic sphere. Meanwhile every vessel was glowing brighter and brighter. Jack glanced out of a nearby window. Supermax was no longer there, replaced by millions of pieces of wreckages. Suddenly it became so bright that Jack had to shut his eyes. When he opened them again, he saw an enormous city in a bubble. It was shining lonely in pure darkness, its shape resembling a willow leaf with numerous buildings on both sides. There wasn't a single star.
“I miss home,” Lisania said with a grin.
“Your grace, I just got the casualty report of Supermax battle," Erienie said in a heavy voice.
“Not in the mood. Now is the time for celebration," Lisania said, smiling at Jack.
The carrier peeled off from the fleet and headed to the palace that occupied an area of 20 blocks. The main structure was a magnificent tower, highest in the city, red like blood, surrounded by three clusters of towers, white like milk.
“Clang. Clang.” The carrier docked at the red tower.
After a minute or two, a senior Hylocan ran into the bridge. He tore up the moment he saw Lisania and hugged her like an old friend. “I thought you were dead,” said he.
Lisania held him tight. “It was close. He saved me,” she said, pointing at Jack.
“Hi, I am Kilrane. I don't know how to thank you. I have been taking care of her since she was a baby. Let me greet you formally," Kilrane said and touched his forehead with Jack's.
“Actually we saved each other,” said Jack.
“Kilrane is the head of my security force. In a way he is more like my father," said Lisania.
“She is the worst daughter. Never listen to me,” Kilrane said, laughing.
“Here we go again. Before you tell Jack my rebellious history, you should hear his adventures. He fought against Kalan," said Lisania.
Kilrane gasped. “We will have a lot to talk about. Anyway, others are waiting. Let's go,” said he.
Sandwiched between Lisania and Kilrane, Jack got off the carrier. After passing the docking area, a short corridor, they were welcomed by five generals dressed in red turtleneck sweaters and five government officials dressed in grey long coats. Lisania personally acknowledged every one of them and took the time to introduce Jack around. They all dropped their jaws when they learned Jack fought against Kalan and treated him as one of them right away. Jack, on the other hand, just wanted to get over with it and kept conversations as short as possible.
“Alright, you guys go back to work. I will show Jack around,” Lisania said and dragged Jack to a small platform. A bubble engulfed them and moved them in a transparent tube to under the city. Heavy industries were concentrated down here, numerous bots assembling all sorts of machineries, endless lines of cargo vehicles flying in and out of factories. They stopped at a shipyard, overlooking a field where hundreds of combat vessels were being constructed. It stretched beyond Jack's sight and he felt his blood boiling.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Lisania asked, her eyes gleaming.
“Yes, quite a view. You guys not only survived but also prosper. How did you even escape from Akenlys?” Jack asked.
"We have Superace to thank for. They saved me. I was four at the time. But my mother wasn't that lucky,” said Lisania.
“I'm sorry,” said Jack.
“It's ironic. Superace was made to kill Hylocan, but they saved us from extinction,” said Lisania.
“I still can't believe it,” said Jack.
“Well then, let me show you,” Lisania said and put her hands on Jack's temples. “It will feel a little strange. Just relax,” said she.
Black cloud was hovering over City Alakus, Hylocan's Capital, along with swaths of Glycan combat vessels. Lightning struck down from time to time at the city outer rim where its shield ended. The last shred of twilight left a taint of malicious red in the sky.
Lisania was standing on her toes and looking out an open window in the Queen's room. Gentle breeze brought along the smell of burning wreckage and rotten flesh. She was only four, but she knew a storm was coming, not from the massive Glycan army outside the city but from reading the minds of the three generals waiting outside the door. She discovered her mind-reading ability about a year ago and she didn't tell anyone.
“Lisania, come here,” Queen Vioael said and patted her knee. She was in her forties but looked much older, her eyes shadowed by black circles, her face dry and tired, her thin red hair tied in a bun.
“Storm is coming,” Lisania said and sat on her mother’s lap.
“Yes,” Vioael said, caressing Lisania's head.
“Whoosh.” The door opened.
Erienie, Optieu and Tealan rushed in quickly. Erienie was Vioael's military adviser. Optieu was in charge of Hylocan armed forces. Tealan was tasked defending Alakus.
“What now?” Vioael asked listlessly.
“Your highness, we lost Terilis,” Tealan said in a desperate voice. He was a senior with a solid built, his hair mostly gone, his face pale and thin.
Vioael flashed a bitter smile. “I thought they might hold longer,” said she.
“They most likely surrendered,” Erienie said in a disappointed tone.
“Can't really blame them,” Tealan murmured.
“General Tealan, what do you mean?” Vioael asked harshly, staring at Tealan.
“Your highness, with all respect, it's just a matter of time,” Tealan said cautiously.
“You believe that Hylocan Reserve bullshit?” Erienie asked, her eyes blazing.
“There is a chance we can avoid total extinction,” said Tealan.
Vioael shook her head in disbelief.
“Tealan, don't kid yourself. I will die fighting,” Optieu said heartily.
“Me too,” said Erienie.
Vioael nodded and looked back at Tealan.
“I guess I am too tired,” said Tealan.
“Anything else?” Vioael asked.
“The latest intel shows Superace are being replaced by Glycan on frontlines. It seems an epidemic is ravaging among Superace and it only infects Superace. This is what Seer told me,” said Erienie.
“Glycan is tying up loose ends,” said Vioael.
“Very much so,” Erienie nodded.
“Seer is still at front?” Vioael asked.
Optieu nodded. "Along with other Watchers,” said he.
“Bring them to palace. No need for them to stay out there anymore,” Vioael ordered.
“Yes,” said Optieu.
“When the final attack starts, how long can we last?” Vioael asked.
Erienie, Optieu and Tealan looked at each other and lowered their heads.
Vioael signaled them to leave.
They exited quietly.
Behind Eriene and Optieu's tough appearances, Lisania saw deaths in their minds. She understood. The war had taken her father, the Field Admiral of Hylocan Fleets, who was killed in the second battle against Superace. She always loved him and she knew he loved her more than anyone. She remembered the day he died. It was cold and rainy. She cried so hard for so long that her eyes bled. It was the tipping point of her life and the war. From that day onwards it felt like a crash in slow motion and now it was coming to its end.
“Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!” It came from above.
Lisania looked out the window and saw explosions over the shield. The darkening sky was lit up all the way to horizon where the last streaks of red lingered. She was scared, not at this view but at what she saw in Tealan’s mind. It was a plan involved turning Vioael and Seer over to Glycan and he already got Seer.
Vioael walked to Lisania. “It started,” said she.
“Zooooom.” A beam of red light pierced through cloud, striking the shield like a bolt of lightning.
Vioael and Lisania backed away from the window.
Kilrane, head of the Queen's security force, ran into the room. He was a senior, his hair white and springy, his face red and sweaty. “Your highness, we have to move below,” he said quickly and picked up Lisania from the floor.
Lisania wrapped her arms around Kilrane's neck. Besides her father, she knew Kilrane best. He always looked out for her and her mother.
“Where is Seer?” Vioael asked.
Kilrane shook his head. “We have to go. Now!”
Vioael sighed and looked out the window one last time.
“Your highness, now!” Kilrane shouted.
They left the room and headed down to the underground city in an elevator. The city went miles deep and spread well beyond the metropolis on the surface. It was designed to evacuate dwellers to other cities in case of a siege, but the previous generations never thought Alakus would be the last city standing. The elevator stopped and its door opened to a long hallway thronged by servants, workers and officials. The moment they saw the Queen, they quieted down right away and made a hole.
Vioael nodded at them and quickly walked down the hallway, followed by Kilrane and Lisania.
“Honey, wait, we are almost there,” said Vioael.
“Mom, I need to talk to you,” said Lisania.
“Wait,” said Vioael.
“It's important!” Lisania shouted at the top of her lungs.
Both Vioael and Kilrane stopped immediately, looking at Lisania in shock. Everybody nearby turned heads.
Vioael got Lisania from Kilrane. “Honey, what is going on?” She asked.
“Mom, Tealan is going to take you and Seer to Glycan,” Lisania whispered.
“You read his mind, didn't you?” Vioael asked quietly.
Lisania looked at her mother in surprise. “You know I can read minds?” She asked.
“We always know and only we know,” Kilrane added.
“But I never told anyone. How you found out?” Lisania asked.
“You are still too young for the truth,” Vioael said in a sad voice.
“OK. Mom, General Tealan is—”
“That is just a fleeting thought. When pushed to limit, everyone might think something like that,” said Vioael.
“But Mom, he already got Seer,” said Lisania.
Vioael inhaled sharply. “Where is Seer?” She asked quickly.
“I don't know. It can't see,” said Lisania.
“Try harder! Try harder!” Vioael shouted.
“I can't see. I really can't,” Lisanai said, crying.
“Your highness,” Kilrane said, grasping Vioael's shoulder.
“Sorry, honey. Sorry,” Vioael said and kissed Lisania. She took several deep breaths and restored her air as the Queen.
They reached the end of the hallway and entered the royal quarters. Lisania could hear other royals talking in panic in the adjoining room.
Vioael turned to Kilrane as soon as he closed the door. “Why can't she find Seer?” She asked.
“Your highness, Tealan is smart. He probably had someone hide Seer, so he himself doesn't know where Seer is,” said Kilrane.
“Get everyone you trust to save Seer! Go,” Vioael ordered.
Kilrane nodded and left them.
“Mom, what about General Tealan,” Lisania asked in a worried voice.
Vioael held Lisania's hands. “There is nothing we can do now. We are outnumbered and outgunned. All I can do is make sure he doesn't take me alive,” she said plainly.
“No, mom, no,” Lisania cried.
“Remember what I told you about Glycan?” She asked.
“They will spare no Hylocan. We will die, but we can choose to die with dignity,” said Vioael.
“I don't want to die. I want to live,” Lisania begged. She couldn't read her mother's mind because of the badge she was wearing, but she knew her mother loved her.
“Lisania, be brave,” Vioael said, wiping off tears from Lisania's face.
Lisania nodded firmly. She wished she wasn't a four year old kid. Then at least she could protect her mother. “Mom, I love you,” she said, holding back her tears.
“I love you too. You stay here. I will be back soon,” Vioael said and left for the adjoining room.
Pushing her eyes to limit, Lisania tried to locate Tealan but failed. Instead she picked up something else deep in the ground and it wasn't Hylocan. There were 20 of them and the leader planned to drill to the underground city and save the Queen. Then she saw Kilrane walk into the room. “Kilrane, Kilrane. Someone is coming to save us. Someone is coming,” Lisania said, jumping up and down.
“Slow down. Who is coming?” Kilrane asked in a doubtful voice.
“I don't know. They look like...They have purple eyes and Estian's ears, but they are not Estian,” Lisania said quickly.
“And you see they are coming. Where?” Kilrane asked seriously.
“Down below,” said Lisania.
“They are not here to save us. They are Superace. They come to kill us,” Kilrane said firmly.
“No, no. Kilrane, trust me. I read their minds. They will save us. I will take mom to them,” Lisania said and darted to the other room.
Kilrane got in front of Lisania in a great stride. “Hold on. Think about it. What if it’s a trap? They only think about it to trick us,” said he.
Lisania thought for a second. “Then I will go to see them first,” she said without fear.
“I know you want to save your mom, but—”
“I will do it no matter what. Are you with me or not?” Lisania interrupted him.
Taken aback by surprise, Kilrane gazed at her for a long second and finally nodded. They left the room and headed to the bottom of the city.
“What do you see?” Kilrane asked while the elevator was creaking down.
“They are getting closer, but I can't see the exact location,” said Lisania.
“This place is a maze. We need to know where,” said Kilrane.
“I can't see,” Lisania said anxiously.
“Bam!” The elevator arrived and its door slid open. Murky water flooded in, rising quickly to Lisania's waist. Kilrane picked her up and walked out. In front of them were four long tunnels, battered and rusty. Each looked like the entrance to hell under dim and flickering light.
Kilrane stood still, his legs trembling. “Aaaalright, whi, which way?” He asked.
“I don't know, but they are coming. I'm cold,” Lisania said, holding tight to Kilrane.
“Mmmmme too, hang, hang on there,” Kilrane said, caressing Lisania's back.
They waited in silence, straining their ears. After a few minutes Lisania noticed water flowing slowly to the second tunnel to the right. “Go with the flow,” she said quickly.
Kilrane ran as fast as he could and they were soon engulfed by pure darkness. “What do you see?” He asked.
“They are coming to us,” said Lisania.
“Really? They are here to save us?” Kilrane asked.
“They are,” Lisania said excitedly.
“Good,” said Kilrane.
“They saw us,” Lisania murmured.
“Freeze!” A strong female voice pierced through the dark.
Kilrane stopped and turned sideway to cover Lisania. Some 20 masked figures dressed in black swiftly surrounded Kilrane and Lisania.
“Princess Lisania?” The same voice asked, lowering her rifle.
“Yes, and you are the Superace Commander Zesus,” Lisania said and jumped out of Kilrane's arms.
The Commander lifted up her mask. She had an oval shaped face with oyster shell looking ears and deep purple eyes, her nose short and small.
“How do you know that?” A figure next to Zesus asked in a hoarse voice.
“She can read minds,” said Zesus.
“You want to say 'That is impossible. None of your parents is a Watcher.' Your name is Lightning, second in command,” Lisania interrupted the hoarse voice.
Lightning lifted up his mask, revealing a cold face similar to Zesus', but rougher and one size bigger. “This doesn’t make any sense,” said he.
“I don't know why,” said Lisania.
“We can talk about that later,” said Kilrane.
“And you are…” Lightning asked.
“I am Kilrane, in charge of the Queen's security force.”
“I know you,” Zesus said and turned to Lisania. "I assume you know why I am here,” said she.
“I do. We must hurry. General Tealan made a deal with Glycan. He is going after my mom and Seer. He already got Seer,” said Lisania.
“Where is the Queen?” Zesus asked.
“Follow me,” said Kilrane.
They took the elevator and arrived at the hallway. To her surprise, nobody screamed or ran away at the sight of Superace, their faces calm and sad, their eyes dull and blank.
“Can you save them?” Kilrane asked quietly.
“We will take as many as we can,” said Zesus.
Kilrane nodded gratefully and cleared his throat. “Listen, Superace is here to save us. Follow them and you will be fine.”
The crowd was stirring with laughter, smirk and snort.
“It's true. They are here to save us!” Lisania shouted.
“That is the Princess,” A servant said, pointing at Lisania.
“This is real.”
“We are saved. We are saved.”
The crowd burst with joy.
Zesus grabbed Lightning. “You take team two and save as many as you can. I will get the Queen,” she said and led her team to the Queen's room. There was no one inside. They immediately checked the neighbor room. Dead royal members blanketed the floor in an orderly fashion, their face peaceful and lifeless, blood oozing out of their mouths.
“It's too late. It's too late,” Lisania said and slumped to the floor.
“Anywhere else?” Zesus asked.
Kilrane shook his head.
“We are too late!” Lisania shouted, tears streaming out.
“Bop!” Zesus slapped Lisania on her face. "You think crying helps? Use your eyes and find your mom,” she ordered, yanking Lisania up on her feet.
Lisania held back her tears and started searching right away. Because the badge protected her mother from being mind-read, she had to go through countless minds to find her indirectly. Distant rumbling was growing louder and louder.
“The shield shattered,” said Kilrane.
“Lisania,” said Zesus.
“I know,” Lisania said, blood seeping out of her eyes. Suddenly she saw images of her mom holding Seer at the palace central hallway. “In the central hallway,” she said quickly.
They went into a freight elevator and headed to the surface level.
Lisania now saw her mom being dragged by several Hylocan soldiers. “They are moving down the central hallway,” she said in panic.
“We are almost there,” said Kilrane.
“Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!” Deafening explosions shook the elevator left and right.
“Yea, we are close,” said Zesus.
The elevator stopped, but its door jammed. Zesus forced it open and they got out into the wreckage-covered hallway. The roof was riddled with holes and cracks; the walls were slanted; the pillars were shattered. Shells were landing left and right, ripping the floor apart.
Lisania stumbled down the hallway, climbed up a fallen pillar and saw her mom being carried among 20 Hylocan soldiers. “Over there,” she shouted, pointing at the group.
Zesus picked her up and took cover behind a broken wall. Kilrane and others quickly gathered around.
“We are outnumbered,” said Kilrane, peeking over the wall.
“We must attack now. Glycan will come soon,” Zesus said and cocked her rifle. She fired one shot at the group. A thick fog immediately engulfed them. She signaled her team to stay put and sprunt out into the fog herself.
“Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!” Shots fired.
Zesus dashed out of the fog with the Queen on her back. “Fire!” She shouted.
Her team poured bullets into the fog.
Lisania and Kilrane ran to Zesus and took over the Queen.
“Mom! Mom!” Lisania shouted.
Vioael opened her eyes and smiled, her back covered in blood, her body trembling in pain.
"Mom! Mom!” Lisania shouted desperately.
“Baby, I love you,” Vioael said, panting heavily. She removed the badge from her dress and handed it to Lisania. Then she collapsed, her eyes rolling back.
“No. Noooooo!” Lisania screamed, clinging tight to her mom.
“Leave her!” Zesus shouted.
Lisania didn't move. Suddenly she felt a sharp pain on her head and fainted.
Jack came back and now Lisania looked different in his eyes. He always knew she was a tough one and now he knew where it came from. Also she was an orphan like him, but worse in the sense that she had to witness her mother’s death.
“You real father is Seer. That's why you have the eyes,” said Jack.
“Yes. I should hate my mom. She never told me and I love my father, not Seer. However, I have those eyes, thanks to her,” said Lisania.
“What happened to those Superace?” Jack asked.
“They left after helping us settle here,” said Lisania.
The bubble took them to the next stop, a field of trees, each of which were harboring dozens of fetuses. Then it made a turn, brought them back to the tower and stopped at a gate decorated by Hylocan royal emblem, a red snake winding around a silver sword in the center of a wreath of black wings. The gate opened to a short corridor with two doors on either side.
“This is the royal quarters. Only I live here,” Lisania said and showed Jack into the first room on left. It was filled with warm colors and had a floor-to-ceiling window looking down at the city.
“It's just for one night,” said Jack.
“Sure,” said Lisania.
“Your highness.” Kilrane walked into the room carrying a stack of black clothes.
“Aaaah, you got it,” Lisania said and took over the clothes from Kilrane. She turned to Jack. “You need to change,” she said.
“Good call,” Jack said, looking at his prison garb.
“I need to change too. I will see you at dinner.” Lisania gave Jack the clothes and left the room.
“This is the first time I saw her this happy since the war,” said Kilrane.
“She watched her mother die. I can’t imagine the pain,” said Jack.
“She told you, so she is serious,” said Kilrane, rubbing his chin.
“About what?” Jack asked, getting nervous all of a sudden.
“She will make you the King,” Kilrane said in a worried voice.
“You can forget it,” Jack said surly.
“I'm not looking forward to it either. You are Human, a Second Species. As much as we like you, no one except Lisania will accept you as the King,” said Kilrane.
“Good. Help me get out of here,” said Jack.
“NO. Do it yourself,” said Kilrane.
“You think that is possible. She can read mind,” said Jack.
“That is exactly why I can’t help you,” said Kilrane.
“Well. Can you talk her out of it?” Jack asked, pacing back and forth.
“No one can change her mind. Several months ago she decided to find Seer's eyes. It's rumored that Glycan removed Seer's eyes before killing him. No one support that idea. I mean NO ONE. So she left on her own and Glycan captured her. If you didn't save her, she would be dead,” said Kilrane.
Jack sighed and sunk into a nearby chair. “So I'm completely fucked,” said he.
“I wouldn't use that particular word, but I understand your feeling,” Kilrane said and left the room.
Jack changed into the new clothes and they fit surprisingly well, including the underwear. The top was a jacket style suit with high collars and the bottom was a pair of long pants. Jack folded his prison garb and placed it on a chair next to the window. Then he remembered the hologramer. He took it out and turned it on.
Audio only no image.
“Jack, when you are listening to this, you should be 14. I am sorry I wasn't by your side for all those years. I had no choice but to leave you at the orphanage. If I survive, I will come back for you. If you are listening to this, it means I didn't and I have been long gone. Don't feel sorry for me. Jack, my boy, be strong. There is one thing I must tell you. I love you as my own boy, but I am not your biological mother. After giving birth to you, she left so that you could live. It wasn't an easy decision for her, not at all. But I can't tell you who she is. She particularly asked me not to and I won't. As for your father, I really don't know. I asked your mother once, but she didn't say a word. I wish she is still alive and I wish you will see her one day. Bye, Jack. I love you."
Jack listened it again and again. He remembered her voice like it was yesterday and now he knew she always loved him.
“I know you wouldn't leave me. I know. I always know,” Jack murmured to himself and cried silently. After a while Jack calmed down and washed his face. Now the fact that she wasn't his real mother started to sink in.
“Whoosh.” The door opened.
Lisania walked in wearing a different red dress, showing off her well developed figure, her wavy red hair cascading down on her right shoulder, making a beautiful contrast against her milk skin.
Jack swallowed hard, trying to keep his cool.
“I know you like it,” Lisania said, squeezing her breasts with both arms.
“Can you please not read my mind?” Jack asked, blushing.
“Come on. I don't need to read your mind to know that. Let's go,” Lisania said and dragged Jack out of the door.
They got into a bubble and soon arrived at a posh ballroom. Everyone stopped what they were doing at the sight of Lisania. Above them was a ceiling decorated with a swirling galaxy, colorful rays raining down from stars to some 20 tables occupied by high rank officials and military officers.
“We only do this for special occasion,” Lisania said and led Jack to the center table shared by Erienie, Kilrane, Optieu and two others. Taking Jack by his arm, she sat down at the table. Jack sat at the seat at her right.
“Your highness, shall we start?” Optieu asked.
Optieu stood up clearing his throat. “Good evening. Before we start the feast, our queen has a few words to say,” he said and sat down.
Lisania stood up. “We gather here tonight to welcome the man who saved my life. His name is Jack Martin,” said she.
The crowd was stirring.
“Many of you are still wondering why we attacked Supermax. I ordered the attack because Jack was imprisoned there. I know you are worried that we might expose ourselves. I can tell you Glycan will track us down and we will no longer hide. We will fight and we will win!”
The crowd burst into cheer.
“Let the feast begin!” Lisania shouted and threw her hands in the air.
Airborne plates carrying various living creatures flew into the room. There were eggs with moving legs and tails, sausages with tongues and teeth, and noodles with eyes and small hands. Jack had no idea what they were and they were all alive. The plates broke into small parts and moved to each seat where a transparent bottle rose from beneath the table.
“Just dump everything in the bottle,” Lisania said and did so. The creatures was torn into pieces and mixed evenly. Then it began to settle and formed different layers like a rainbow.
Jack followed suit.
“Drink it,” Lisania said and bottomed up hers.
Jack carefully took one sip. “Ahhh…” He exclaimed in joy. The rich and various flavors saturated every taste bud on his tongue, sending his brain into a race. Colors were popping out like fireworks at summer night. Senses were erupting likes christmas morning. Jack looked around and saw everyone dreamy and high. “These are not food. They are drugs,” said he.
“They are food and drugs. Amazing, isn't it?” Lisania asked.
Jack nodded and drank one bottle after another, losing track of time.
The second round came with small cubics made by some kind of thin film. They dissolved on the touch of tongue, releasing liquors, strong and smooth, unlike any spirits Jack drank before. The crowd soon engaged in waves of toasting. Lisania was the focus of attention, but she didn't forget Jack and introduced him around. Jack drank a few shots, but held back from the rest. The last thing he wanted was to get drunk. While Lisania was busy mingling, he snuck out and went back to his room. He stood in front of the window thinking what Gloira was doing right now.
“You don't like it?” Lisania asked, joining Jack at the window.
Jack was taken aback by surprise. “Wow. You sure move quietly. I like it. Thank you very much,” he said, backing away from her.
Lisania moved closer and wrapped her arms around his neck. “I love you. I can do anything for you,” said she.
Jack smiled drily and freed himself from Lisania. “You can read my mind, so you know I love Gloira--"
“You fucked Titaigeal,” Lisania cut in.
“Yes, but I don't love her,” Jack said firmly.
“You sure fucked her good,” said Lisania.
Jack sighed. “I don't want to waste your time. I will leave tomorrow,” said he.
“You still want to find Gloira hoping she will run away with you?” Lisania asked.
Lisania laughed. “Let's just say she would go with you. You two will end up just like Logan and Lilisa.”
“I will take my chance,” said Jack.
“You are going to die before you even have the chance. You were sent to Supermax by Guardian Fleets. What do you think will happen when they find out you are alive?” Lisania asked.
“I am innocent in the first place. It was Klaycon who set me up,” said Jack.
“It doesn't matter. Here is the safest place for you and I can give you anything you want,” said Lisania.
“Gloira is all I want,” Jack said firmly.
“Oh, really? What about your dream? To be a fleet commander in Guardian Fleets. You want that, don't you?” Lisania asked.
“What does that have to do with anything?” Jack asked angrily.
“I can give you something better. I will make you Hylocan King and together we will rule everyone, both First and Second Species,” said Lisania.
“Hahahaha.” Jack laughed, his head rocking back and forth.
“You think I don't have the number. You are right. I don't and I don't need to. Do you remember the huge eyeball on that cargo ship?” Lisania asked.
Jack froze there, his smile fading. He remembered its power and that was when Lisania didn't have her eyes.
“Yea, you remember. Now I have my eyes. Once I find that eyeball, I will be able to kill all my enemies,” said Lisania.
“I am quite sure you will find your king as well, but I am not the one. If you still treat me as your friend, let me leave,” Jack said, looking into her eyes.
“Friends take care of each other. I won't let you get yourself killed,” said Lisania.
“So I am your prisoner now,” Jack said, clenching his fists.
“You are not a prisoner. You can go anywhere you want in the city,” Lisania said in a hard voice.
Jack seized her neck with both hands. “Let me leave or I will kill you,” he shouted at the top of his lungs, tightening his grip.
Struggling to breath, Lisania didn't fight back but just looked at Jack with a slight smile.
“You think I won't do it?” Jack yelled, his hands shaking.
“I…love…you,” Lisania squeezed it out with all her strength.
Jack dropped her and backed off.
“Cough. Cough. Cough.” Lisania sat on the floor catching up her breath.
“Alarm! Alarm! Alarm!”
Jack felt a shake, but it was nothing like an earthquake. The entire floor was descending and so was every building outside. The city was retracting into the ground. Meanwhile slews of fighter jets and combat vessels were spilling out of a dozen or so outlets all over the city. In the distance was a shining cloud made of battleships heading to the city.
“Stay here,” Lisania said, off in a hurry.
Jack stared at the approaching fleet until the tower lowered into the ground. “Either way I'm a prisoner.” He ran out and stepped onto the small platform outside the royal quarters.
“Ground level,” said Jack.
A bubble formed and carried him up in a tube.
“BAM! BAM! BAM!”
Was it explosion? Or missile launching? Jack was too thrilled to think straight. The more chaotic the situation became, the better chance he had to get out of here.
The bubble stopped at a spacious hall, apparently a transportation hub, and busted. There was not a single soul around.
“BAM!” A triangle cone pierced through the ceiling above Jack's head. The cone split from the middle. A Jynese dressed in Guardian Fleets uniform jumped out with a rifle. “Freeze or I will shoot!” He shouted, trailing the rifle at Jack's head.
“I'm not Hylocan,” Jack said, raising his hands in the air.
“What the…Why the uniform?” the Jynese said, lowering his rifle.
“It's a long story. I am Guardian Fleets trainee. Hylocan captured me,” said Jack.
The Jynese took a long look at Jack. “Anyone else with you?” He asked.
“Good, I don't have room for another one,” the Jynese said and motioned Jack to come along.
Jack climbed into the jet and squeezed himself behind the pilot seat, his heart pounding out of control, not sure this was really happening. The Jynese disengaged the cone and left the city. Outside was a battlefield, thousands of jets dog-fighting, frigates and cruisers blowing their big guns and firing missiles. The city changed into a gigantic battleship and its main guns were shooting charges that exploded as laser nets. Anything caught in them was cut into pieces. Hylocan was turning the tide on Guardian Fleets.
“We are losing,” the Jynese said and flew the jet to the nearest carrier.
“Come on. Come on,” Jack said silently, clenching his fists.
The leftover frigates and cruisers abandoned their positions and warped away, followed by carriers. The jet crash-landed on the carrier right before it fled the battle.
- Colorado US
Bio: I am a radiochemist who makes radio-labeled pharmaceuticals. Have no idea what that is? You are not alone. For a guy who doesn't like traveling, there is no place my mind won't go. The deep abyss near Mariana, the desolate ruins at Chernobyl, the lonely tropical forests and the haunting infinity of the universe, to name a few. I often write down those moments and slowly they grow into stories. I guess that is why I started writing. It feels like a waste if I don't.