"Stop laughing at me."
"Stop laughing at me."
"Stop laughing at—"
"Does anyone else think it's really weird when she carries on like that?" Commander Goddard asked, crossing his arms. Miss Davenport simply shrugged, and Thelma, expression blank as ever, divided her attention among the three of them. Her crystal blue eyes glanced here and there, toward the Commander, toward T.J., toward Suzee. The android was well aware of the 'invisible' end of the conversation, even though she couldn't hear it. Thelma understood a lot more than anyone gave her credit for.
Suddenly, at the exact same time, both Suzee and Thelma said, "The voices stopped."
Actually, Suzee managed to slur the last couple words so that they mashed together, and ultimately succeeded in making even less sense than Thelma. For once.
The Yensidian narrowed her brightly glowing violet eyes. "Stop laughing at me," she said, before quietly slumping over on her side. Miss Davenport, who was closer, once more kneeled next to the unconscious girl.
Just to check, just in case, T.J. pressed a hand to the girl's throat, and felt an impossibly rapid pulse. Drawing back, she looked up at the Commander and Thelma. "You said the voice stopped, Thelma?"
"Yes. And I instantly experienced an interesting pace adjustment in my circuitry. All my processes are currently running very quickly! Hm. I wonder if this is what one would call 'A Rush.'"
T.J. shook Suzee's shoulder. The girl moaned, but remained otherwise unresponsive. "Do you think you could wake her up, Thelma?"
The android nodded, holding out a hand toward Suzee. There was a brief whirring of mechanical components before an opening near the Thelma's wrist suddenly splashed both women with cold – very cold – water.
T.J. shrieked in annoyance. Seth laughed. Most importantly, though, Suzee opened her eyes. They were still glowing faintly, but at least they weren't purple anymore. She reached up to push soaked blue and purple hair out of them.
"How do you feel, Dear?" Miss Davenport asked.
Suzee groaned, closing her eyes again. "Like I have the hangover from hell," she commented, attempting to roll over, and failing… Mostly because there was a wall on the other side. Commander Goddard kneeled next to her, as well.
"Suzee, do you have any idea where to find Harlan? When you pitched into that En'hegian… Did it know where Harlan was?"
Her eyes fluttered open. "He was… in the middle of the city. That's all I know… I only got the memory from that moment. I can't continue to trace it after I leave."
"Alright," he said. "But at least we have a starting point. Do you think you can walk?"
He smiled. "Well, you're gonna have to. Up with you, now…" Grabbing Suzee's shoulders, he hauled her to her feet, where she stood unsteadily for several seconds before unceremoniously falling to her knees and retching.
The entire area quite suddenly lit up with lightning. White-hot bolts arched among the cadets, around legs and arms, around shoes… even right in front of their eyes. Radu was too stunned to say much, and only felt a mild heat from the crackling ozone. Harlan had absolutely no idea what was happening, until Rosie pulled away from their embrace. She screamed.
The electric discharge ended then, leaving a rather rotten-smelling silence behind. Among the four of them, Harlan was the only one still standing. Rosie had fallen to the ground, covering her head. Radu had done likewise.
Bova, too, was on the ground, but seemed to be unconscious.
"Someone want to tell me what just happened?" Harlan asked, unable to keep the tremor of panic out of his voice.
He heard something, like a million snakes slithering. The noise was getting closer, and without the ability to see, he had to fight back the urge to run away. Harlan Band, he told himself, would not run away.
Besides. There was the little matter of the knee injury…
"Don't have time to explain…" Radu said. Unexpectedly, Harlan felt himself lifted off his feet. Something heavy was nestled next to him… By the static he felt, the Earther surmised that it was probably Bova.
"I see you got your strength back," Harlan said, still having absolutely no idea what was happening.
Radu ignored him. "Rosie, we have to run. You think you can keep up?"
Harlan's face fell. "Run? Why are we running?"
He heard Rosie's voice. "I think so."
And just like that, they were running. Harlan found himself thrown over the Andromedan's shoulder, and as it was jabbing into his lungs, he couldn't ask why they were abruptly on a hasty retreat.
Several minutes passed in the same fashion. Radu continued running. Harlan could hear the sound of slithering somewhere behind them. When he finally had a second to think, he finally put two and two together… They were being chased, and by Radu's pace, they were being chased very quickly.
The mad sprint ended. Harlan found himself being turned around, and being carried backwards.
Radu set him down, and set Bova next to him. "Rosie, are you alright?" he asked.
She was breathless, Harlan could tell, by listening to her breathing. "I'm fine. I'm fine," she managed to gasp. "There's a lot of distance between us now, see?"
Radu looked up, seeing that it was true. They weren't quite as fast as he'd originally anticipated… Maybe when they'd climbed the barrier and toppled down the hill… Maybe that had given them the illusion of speed. Still, they were closing fast, and they'd have to run again, soon.
"Can someone at least tell me what happened?" Harlan asked. "I'd settle for the abridged version!"
Radu's own breaths came in gasps, and he spoke hesitantly between them. "…I stopped hearing the voice… Bova's electricity went crazy… that's the only… way I can describe it. It didn't touch us, but it took down about thirty En'hegians."
"…I think I'd have enough control not to hurt you guys…"
"Bova?" Rosie hurried to his side. "Bova, you're okay!" She ignored the faint discomfort of an electrical charge as she aided the Uranusian into a sitting position, then pulled him into a hug.
"Of course I am. That was a lot of energy I expended back there. Had to recharge." He paused. "And I'm still hungry."
"How, though?" Radu asked. "I mean, it happened as soon as I stopped hearing the voices."
"Same here," Bova countered. "I didn't have time to think to reabsorb the energy, so I had to direct it somewhere."
That somewhere had been into thirty-some sentient people. Of course, they were currently enraptured with some sort of murderous rage, but they were people. No one wanted to say anything about that. No one wanted to admit what Bova had done… And as he'd said, at least it wasn't Rosie, Harlan, and Radu. There was a brief silence after Bova's statement.
Finally, Harlan said something. "We enrolled in Starcademy with the understanding that… Sometimes we were gonna have to fight our way out of a situation. With the understanding that sometimes… Sometimes some of us were going to get hurt."
Harlan could not see the soft, subtle, grateful smile that appeared on Bova's face. No one else saw it, either, though. Rosie and Radu were monitoring the advance of the En'hegians.
Yellow and green bodies pressed in on them on all sides, totally ignoring them. Skirting around them, and nearly running into them… Slowly, the group made their way out of the horde of En'hegians.
Suzee leaned against a wall, heavily lidded eyes blank, tired. She smiled slightly, and for a moment, T.J. thought she might have another drunken episode like before. The Yensidian merely shook her head, though, turning to watch the retreating herd.
"If they're following Harlan," Suzee said, "We're going the wrong way."
"They must be heading back toward the Christa," Seth pondered.
"That'd be my guess," Suzee confirmed, doubling over so that her hands were on her knees. Addressing the air next to her, she snapped, "No, you don't have to look away. I'm not gonna puke again."
"Not funny, Cat."
Again, Radu was running. This time, it was at a slower pace, and the only person he was carrying was Harlan. Rosie and Bova trailed behind, and every once in a while, Radu would have to slow his pace even more to allow them to catch up. He, likely, could run for hours. They had, in fact, already been running for at least one. He hadn't remembered himself and Harlan getting that far away from the Christa.
Finally, he sensed the junction that would take them back into the city. They were nearly back, he thought. Now if only there were no En'hegians at the top of the…
It was too much to ask, and he very well knew it. Looking up toward the rocky barrier, he could already see the En'hegians crawling over it.
They'd be on them in minutes.
"Something's wrong," Harlan muttered.
"Yeah… they're… uh… They're waiting for us. Somehow they got ahead of us." Radu backed up a little ways. At least ten pairs of yellow eyes looked down at them. None of them looked very intelligent now.
"…I don't want to die…" Harlan added.
Annoyed, Radu snapped, "We're doing our best!"
"Wait," Harlan said. There was a calm in his voice. A resignation that none of them had ever heard before. "…I don't want to die. But they seem to be after me… I don't want you hurt… if they get to me. I think you should get back to the Christa."
"With you," Rosie said.
Harlan shook his head. "Rosie… I'm blind. I'm injured."
Bova aimed in front of the mass of En'hegians and fired a warning shot. It didn't hit any of them, and it didn't even cause them to back off.
"We're gonna make it," Radu said. And then he tore off, right into the group of them.
Harlan felt claws and teeth tearing into his uniform. Every once in a while, something bit into his flesh, and it hurt. But Radu never stopped running, and Rosie and Bova never fell behind.
He was grateful, but confused. Never would he have thought of leaving any of them behind… But out of all of them, he expected that Radu would have obliged Harlan's request and left the Earther on the ground. Loyalty be damned… Radu, out of all the Space Cases, had been the one Harlan had picked on the most.
Harlan would have left himself behind. Besides, he was blind. Desperation was sinking in… He couldn't imagine living a life without sight. Last he checked, there was no miracle cure for blindness… Not even with today's medical breakthroughs. Regaining one's sight could take years… And the only medical specialist on the Christa was Rosie. Could Rosie cure blindness? Not likely. If she could, Harlan had the feeling that she would have excitedly told him already.
Finally the En'hegians stopped attacking him. He got the impression that they were out of the fray.
"I can see the Christa," Radu said, nearly out of breath.
The only way Harlan knew Rosie and Bova were still running behind them was the fact that he could hear their frantic footsteps… And behind that, the slithering, grating sound of En'hegians against dirt.
"I see Commander Goddard!" Rosie suddenly piped up.
Despite the imperative situation, Radu slowed his pace long enough to turn and confirm that they were indeed in proximity to the Commander. And along with him was Miss Davenport. Trailing a little farther behind was Thelma, who seemed to be supporting a rather ill-looking Suzee.
"Keep running!" the Commander called.
Radu didn't have to be asked twice. His pace quickened again. Behind him, Rosie and Bova groaned, but offered no other complaints.
The landing strip looked eerily like a ship's graveyard at night. As the Andromedan made his way through them, he realized that they were arranged in a very odd pattern. Earlier in the day, he suspected they'd been empty for some time due to their disrepair With the new perspective he had, often from underneath the ships' hulls, he could see why they were arranged as they were.
The arrangements the En'hegians had spoken about. They'd been talking about moving the ships so that the holes they'd torn through the hulls wouldn't show. So that the crew of the Christa wouldn't ever suspect that this race was docile enough… Until suddenly, they weren't.
The best part about having a partially sentient ship was that they didn't have to ask the Christa to open for them. It sensed them, and without a word from any of the approaching crew, the airlock opened. And since it was some dozen feet off the ground, it even extended a spaceway connection they could climb.
Andromedans were not invincible. They were not without weakness. And they certainly got tired. Radu found that it was becoming increasingly hard to both stay on his feet and support the Earther. Digging his toes into the translucent dome, he ascended it as quickly as possible, hoping that Rosie and Bova were close behind.
The pair was actually waiting just outside the spaceway, watching the approach of the final four crewmembers. Rosie had actually volunteered for the task… She didn't want the Christa to close up, and then have to spend the time opening again. The ship seemed to know what she was doing, as it remained open.
Bova didn't know why he stayed. Maybe he was concerned. Maybe.
"I told you to get into the ship!" Commander Goddard spat when he was in close enough range. He paused next to Rosie, waiting until T.J. had boarded. He indicated for Rosie and Bova to go next, and they did. It seemed to take forever for Thelma and Suzee to reach them, but then they, too, were ushered inside. Finally, Seth made his way up the spaceway, and the Christa's airlock closed behind him.
By the time they made it to the Command Post, Radu had already laid Harlan out on the floor. The human's eyes were closed, his knee slightly bent. Despite the fact that he hadn't been running, the whole ordeal left him exhausted, breathless. And they still had to tell the others about the accident that was the cause of all this.
Harlan felt that like Commander Goddard and Admiral Cody, he would end up going prematurely grey.
He heard Commander Goddard's voice in the corridor. "Alright Band…" The ComPost's door slid open. "What did you…"
Someone must have cut him off, because the Commander's voice stopped abruptly.
There was silence for a long time… Not complete silence, though. He could hear footsteps shifting uncomfortably. Could hear their breathing coming in short gasps as they tried to catch their breath. He could even hear the hammering of Radu's heart. The Andromedan wasn't too far away, though without contact, Harlan felt incredibly alone. Automatically, he opened his eyes…
Seconds later, he heard a voice. Suzee.
"He's looking right at me. He's looking right at me and he…"
"Oh, gods. You don't see me, do you?"
Radu was the next to speak, his uncharacteristically rough voice surprising Harlan, and causing him to turn toward it. "Harlan was… in an accident. He was directed into the street… Where he was… hit by a car."
Someone gasped. It sounded like Rosie, even though she knew about the accident. No… Harlan thought. She didn't know how it had happened.
"Band…?" He could hear the Commander approach.
"Commander," Harlan responded.
He didn't say anything else.
"They're… after you because you're injured. They're cannibalistic." Suzee stood, leaning on Thelma's arm and guiding them both toward Harlan. She sat down next to him.
"And there's holes in the ships out there," Radu added.
Harlan felt a hand on his shoulder… A slight touch. It wasn't warm. Suzee was in front of him. It had to have been Miss Davenport. Grateful, Harlan reached up to set his hand on hers.
"You think they can tear through the hull of the Christa, Mister Radu?" Goddard inquired.
There was a pause, before Radu nodded. "Yes. I do."
"Then let's get out of here."
Suzee spoke up next. "…We can't. I… I bartered the old engine parts for the new… Unless the En'hegians didn't make the delivery yet…"
Goddard had to fight to remain standing. He couldn't allow the students see him slump to the ground in despair. He had to be their support. Their strength. "They delivered the new parts just before they… Before they started going after Harlan. They asked about the payment, and I told them to just take what you'd offered."
Harlan bit back a comment about the whole trust issue that Goddard had addressed before they even left the ship… But one other person on the ComPost wasn't so passive and silent.
"We might as well write our own epitaph," Bova said. He laughed, sardonically. "Heh. No one else is gonna be around to do it for us."