Don’t forget to catch up on the rest of the story Here. Radley flipped the comms to an all-channel broadcast. “Mayday, mayday. Chryl spacecraft, come in.” The two gunships waited ominously before them. “Is anyone
Don’t forget to catch up on the rest of the story Here.
Radley flipped the comms to an all-channel broadcast. “Mayday, mayday. Chryl spacecraft, come in.”
The two gunships waited ominously before them.
“Is anyone close enough to help?” Hicklepeck’s scales practically glowed yellow through the face-shield of his pressure suit.
Radley muted the signal. “Quiet, let me do the talking.” Taking a deep breath, he unmuted the comms. “Chryl vessels, do you read me? We are in distress and need immediate assistance.”
The Filtonian flapped his arms to get Radley’s attention.
At least he was quiet.
Radley repeated his request then muted the comms. “What?”
“You can’t really expect the Chryl to help us! You said they—”
“I know what I said. No, I don’t expect help, but if we’re very lucky, they might just leave us here to die.”
“And if not?”
“We didn’t recover many prisoners from the Chryl, but when we did…it wasn’t pretty.”
Radley had never seen such a brilliant shade of yellow.
“Shouldn’t we do something then? Try and escape, or fight?”
“We wouldn’t make it out of orbit before they caught us. And as for fighting, unless you’ve got a pair of force charges in those trunks of yours, I’ll stick with my plan.”
Such as it was.
Hicklepeck cowered as far as the harness would allow him.
Radley opened the broadcast again. “Chryl spacecraft, do you copy? Power is failing. Please, come in.”
Static crackled over the digital receiver, followed by the harsh clicks and guttural noises of a dialect Radley didn’t speak, but would never forget.
“Please repeat, no one on board speaks Chryl.”
A short delay was followed by a blandly digital voice. “Unknown vessel, hold position.”
One of the Chryl gunships shifted out of view. And toward the airlock.
“Understood. We will comply.” Radley muted his broadcast, but left the signal open, in case they said more. “We don’t have much time.”
“I don’t like the sound of that.”
“Focus. We need to get our story straight before they board us.”
“Hicklepeck!” Radley slapped the Filtonian’s helmet. “We might still get out of this, but only if we’re smart about it. Understood?”
He bobbed his head.
“Good, now take that big brain of yours and apply it to this…”
Radley made Hicklepeck repeat the story back to him twice before the digital Chryl voice came over the comms again. “Unknown vessel, power down and prepare to be boarded.”
“Thank you, we will comply.” Radley switched the main systems offline.
“Why do they want us to power down?”
“Because they’re bringing us into an interior dockingport, and that’s when they’d be most vulnerable.”
“Then shouldn’t we—”
“That would only matter if we had any weapons.”
The planet-hopper lurched as the Chryl ship extended a gravity field.
The harnesses kept Radley and Hicklepeck rooted, but anything not strapped in tumbled to the back wall.
Radley took a deep breath. “Remember the plan, Hicklepeck. No deviations.”
They bumped to a halt and the pull of gravity lessened to below what Radley found comfortable.
The airlock opened with a rush of wind as the cabin tried to equalize pressure with the thin Chryl atmosphere.
Radley and Hicklepeck twisted in their harnesses to face their “saviors.”
Four squat, bulbous beings entered through the open hatchway. They were roughly humanoid, but with twin metal tentacles extending from their backs. All of their visible skin had also been replaced with hard plates which gave them a cold, robotic look, especially paired with the digital eyes and scanners affixed to their heads like misshapen ears. Each held an energy rifle.
Radley recognized them as shock troopers from far too many encounters.
The lead Chryl made a quick sweep of the cabin with its scanners before announcing something in its own language.
The shock troopers parted to allow a fifth Chryl to enter. This one was thinner and taller, though still shorter than Radley or Hicklepeck. Instead of tentacles, a single scorpion-like tail extended from his back.
As he spoke, it swayed back and forth. “You will come with us.”
Slowly, Radley undid his harness, keeping his gaze on the shock troopers. “Thank you for rescuing us. I don’t know what we would have done if you guys hadn’t come along.”
“Silence.” The scorpion tail whipped around to point at him. “Your story will be heard in time.”
After exiting the planet-hopper, Radley and Hicklepeck were separated. Two of the shock troopers took Radley, stripped and searched him, then dumped him in a small cell.
A thick metal hatch separated his cell from the corridor, but Radley knew better than to try anything.
The cell was an odd mixture. It was sterile gray, save for the back bulkhead, which shimmered with a vivid iridescent mural of geometric patterns.
Before Radley could investigate, the hatch opened again and a gasping Hicklepeck was pitched in unceremoniously.
“Are you alright?”
The Filtonian’s scales shifted between the bright yellow they’d had been since the appearance of the Chryl gunships and a dull brown. He pointed frantically to the gills on the sides of his neck.
Hicklepeck didn’t have his breathing apparatus.
Taking as deep a breath as he could in the thin air, Radley pounded on the metal hatch. “Hey! My friend needs help.” Each strike was accompanied by a small shock, but Radley pressed on.
A soft, quiet voice came from behind him. “What’s wrong?”
His first thought was that the cell had closed in on them. The mural now leaned over Hicklepeck. A lean body with dark, chitinous skin knelt there, cradling the Filtonian’s head. Two thin antennae curved up to point at Radley.
“He can’t breathe. His people need a denser atmosphere than this.” Radley shouted so that anyone outside the hatch could hear him also.
“That’s terrible.” The slender figure rose, and the mural folded back into rigid wings behind it. It joined Radley pounding against the metal door. With each electric shock, the wings shuddered.
Radley was becoming lightheaded, and he didn’t know how much longer Hicklepeck had. He turned back to the metal barrier. “If he dies, you won’t be able to question him.”
A digital voice echoed in the cell. “Move away from the hatch.”
Radley caught his companion’s chitinous arm and backed to the far side of Hicklepeck. “We will comply.”
He pushed the other farther back. “We will comply.”
After a moment, the hatch hissed open and Hicklepeck’s breathing apparatus was thrown in. The Chryl guard pointed to Radley. “She will fix him. You will follow.”
“I don’t know how to.” Their winged companion stammered.
But Hicklepeck was already plugging the tubes into his gills.
“I think he’s got this covered.” Radley stepped out into the corridor, following the Chryl trooper.
He was deposited in a brightly lit room, empty save for a short metal table and chair. The Chryl didn’t enter, and the frigid air told Radley why.
“You will wait here.”
“Yeah, all right.” Radley paced around the table, trying to keep warm.
Even that little exertion tasked his lungs more than he liked, but he needed the circulation. If the Chryl expected the cold to soften him up, they’d have to wait a while.
But it would work eventually.
To sell his cover as a hapless traveler, Radley occasionally called out. He knew no one would come until they deemed him “ready,” though he assumed someone was watching. It wouldn’t do to be too put together.
He gave up on tracking time. With only his breaths to count, there was no hope of accuracy, and knowing wouldn’t help him much anyway.
Eventually, the hatch slid open revealing a new Chryl. This one was less humanoid, more blobish. But two long, fully articulated arms were welded onto what Radley took for its back. The fingers of the right hand each ended with a needle.
“I don’t suppose you could have found me a colder room?” Radley rubbed his arms.
The Chryl examined him for a moment with its mechanical eyes.
“It’s a joke. You guys get jokes, right?”
“Yes. Humor.” The digital voice broke into a crackling static, which might’ve been intended as laughter, but there was nothing jovial in the Chryl’s body language. The left hand reached to something on the far side of the hatch and the heat rose.
Radley flexed his half-numb fingers. “That’s better.”
“You will sit.” The right hand gestured to the metal chair.
Nodding, he slipped into the seat. As his bare skin settled on the cold metal Radley winced. “So, what can I do for you?”
The Chryl squatted across the table from him and the left hand produced a small pad. “I have come to hear why you invaded Chryl space.”
“Invaded? That’s a really strong word for two chums lost on a pleasure cruise.”
The Chryl tapped on the pad, presumably taking notes. “You will explain.”
“What’s to explain? My good friend Hicklepeck and I were doing some deep space sightseeing when our ship’s graviton engine went haywire. Neither of us is really handy in the engine room, so we dropped into the closest system and abandoned ship. We nearly got sucked into your planet’s atmosphere before we got things under control again. And that’s when you showed up.”
“And where is your ship now?”
“How should I know? After we left it, the graviton engine fired up again. For all I know, it’s halfway to Andromeda by now.”
“And you just happened to drop into our sector?”
“Honestly, I didn’t even know this was Chryl space until Hicklepeck recognized the coordinates.”
The left hand brought the pad up to the Chryl’s digital eyes. “I see. That’s very interesting, Mister Radley, because your friend told us a very different story.”
To Be Continued…