Remember to enter your improvement suggestions in the contact form. I look forward to hearing from you. Does it interest you? What do you like/dislike? How could it be improved?
Note: If you purchase anything from links on this site, I may make a commission.
Join our Facebook page.
[In the year of Elnyin 6080.]
The rectangular room had a majestic and important feel to it like decisions that changed the destiny of planets were made there. The walls were adorned with bright curtains in the royal colours of scarlet, white and purple, interspaced with portraits of the Emperor and important dignitaries. A bar with a selection of non-alcoholic beverages was placed along the left wall, while five plush chairs were arranged in a semi-circle around a table in the centre of the room. Each seating place had a computer screen embedded in the table under a glass cover. On the ceiling was a painting of the symbol of the El Empire - two semi-transparent hands holding the stars and planets of the massive Empire. No one would guess from its appearance that it was actually a room on a spaceship.
A sixteen-year-old youth wearing a blue and white Reman Academy uniform was relaxing in one of the chairs. A forgotten drink of exotic Rago juice was tilting in one hand while his other hand flipped the pages of an exciting adventure novel titled “Strikemaster In Trouble.” There was no one else in the room to disturb him as his light brown eyes raced over the pages toward the conclusion.
A sigh escaped from Carl as he closed the book, remembering his drink just in time to save his uniform from a sticky wash.
Taking a deep sip, Carl said to himself, “I wish I could have a real adventure. My life is so boring.”
“Pardon?” came a male voice behind him.
Carl hadn’t heard the door opening. He swivelled his chair around to face the tall, skinny man who had just entered. He was wearing the uniform of the Empire Security Elite - a scarlet shirt with a gold stripe on the sleeve and black pants. Carl’s gaze briefly fell on the pistol strapped on his right hip. It was a Piecer V capable of boring a hole in a man 100 yards away, although not many could hit a target at that range, and, being solar-powered, it never ran out of ammunition. The man's name was Scott Anderson, and he was Carl’s pilot and bodyguard on a journey that would forever change Carl’s life.
“Oh, nothing. I was just mumbling to myself. How long ’til we get to Yekin?
“Ten to twelve hours, depending.”
“Depending on what? The Pure Delight has made the trip faster before.”
“The Pure Delight is one of the fastest spaceships of its size, even the Emperor has ridden on it,” said Scott defending his ship’s honour. “But one of our solar energizers died. We have to stop on Hesnortor to pick up another one, or our speed will be cut down even further. Don’t worry; it shouldn’t take me more than an hour to install it.”
“Only an hour?”
“If they have one at the spaceport, and they should. It’s a fairly standard part.” Scott paused, then added, “You sound like you’re in a hurry to get back to school. What’s up with that?”
“It’s my last time. Three more months of boarding school and I’ll be free.” Carl signed and said, “Well, not really free. I get to go back and help Uncle Nelson in his construction company. Which reminds me, you work closely with Uncle Nelson, don’t you?”
Scott shrugged, “I’ve been assigned as his bodyguard quite often if that’s what you mean.”
“Have you noticed anything strange about him lately?”
“Strange?” Scott looked surprised.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Carl, groping for words to describe a vague inner feeling. “He just seems more grumpy than he used to be.”
Scott grunted, “I’m sure the Emperor’s top advisor has more than enough problems and worries to make him a little grumpy.”
“I suppose you’re right. It’s just that he seems more touchy - or even distant somehow. It’s probably my imagination.”
“Undoubtedly.” Scott turned to go, “I’m going to prepare for our landing on Hesnortor.”
“While you’re getting that part, I’ll wander through the spaceport. I want to see if I can pick up another Strikemaster book.”
“Why? Every one ever written in available at your fingertips.” Scott nodded to the computer screens.
Carl shook his head, “It’s just not the same. You need the feel of a good book in your hands. Besides, I have a collection, and I am still missing a few of the harder-to-find ones.”
Scott frowned, “I wish you wouldn’t. After all, I’m responsible for your safety until you get back to school.”
“Don’t worry. You won’t fail in your duty. I’m not important enough for anything to happen to me. And even if I was, it certainly wouldn’t happen on a barren piece of rock like Hesnortor.”
Scott tapped a communicator on his belt. “You be sure to stay in contact.”
Carl nodded, blissfully ignorant of the danger that awaited him.
Carl wasn’t wrong when he had described the planet Hesnortor as a barren piece of rock. It held one of the few spaceports in the Middle Zone, a vast and sparsely populated region that lay between the Gractor and Neborn systems. As there was no breathable atmosphere, the 40,000 residents lived in a domed town that was linked to the various terminals of the spaceport by enclosed tubes and underground tunnels.
“They haven’t got it,” muttered Carl as he stepped out of a bookstore in Terminal 3. He tapped his watch, and a virtual view screen popped up. After a few commands, Carl learned of a used bookstore in Terminal 5. “Maybe they’ll have it,” he said to himself. Carl touched his communicator, “Scott, I’m going to Terminal 5. They have a used bookstore there.” He waited, but there was no response. Carl shrugged, “Must be busy working.”
As Carl headed for the underground tunnel to Terminal 5, he was unaware that a pair of eyes was observing his every movement. The cold, black eyes were set in a face that had been weathered by too many years spent under hot suns and wilderness living. Short, gray hair framed the face, and a cruel scar ran across one cheek. A Revolt revolver was slung low on his hip in gunslinger fashion. The Revolt, with its rotating chamber and explosive projectiles, was considered obsolete by modern weapon standards but was highly prized by those who prided themselves on deadly marksmanship
Few people used the twisting concrete tunnel that connected Terminal 3 with Terminal 5, as there was seldom a need to change Terminals. As Carl descended into the tunnel, he noticed that he lost his communicator signal. Since it was only a five-minute walk, he wasn’t concerned, but he hurried along because he did not want to get in trouble with Scott for being out of contact.
Suddenly, as he came around a corner, his eyes took in a scene that stopped him dead in his tracks. He had just entered a straight stretch about midway between the two terminals. Halfway down the corridor, five youths had an older man surrounded.
The leader pushed the man against the cold cement wall as he snarled, “You’re using our tunnel. You gotta pay.”
“I…I…haven’t got anything,” stammered the man.
“Actually, you do,” smirked the leader. “You have a way for Brenton here to prove he’s got what it takes to run with us.”
The mocking laughter and faint pleading mingled in Carl’s mind tugging at his compassion even as fear gripped his heart. He knew no one had seen him. He knew he could back around the corner and be gone without any risk. Then he could call the police. He also knew the man would be dead before any help could come. There was nothing he could do. He was unarmed…untrained. If he tried to intervene, there would just be two dead bodies. But his feet refused to budge as his mind raged with conflicting emotions. Sweat broke out on his forehead as his eyes remained captured by the scene.
If I slip away, I’ll never be able to live with myself…and if I don’t, they’ll kill me too, Carl thought. Sometimes you have to do right no matter what…but is this one of those times? No matter what I do, I won’t be about to help him…
Carl saw the leader reach into his pants pocket and draw out a small cylinder. Carl felt sick as he realized what it was. A small button was pushed, and a six-inch slicer blade glowed at the end of the cylinder. Its powerful focused laser could cut through flesh, bone and even some metals. With a grin, the leader handed it to the lad he called Brenton, who did not appear to be more than fifteen. Brenton’s face showed no hesitation, only a grim satisfaction that he was about to prove his loyalty to the gang.
Something snapped inside of Carl. Without thinking, he yelled out, “NO!” He started running toward the group, expecting to die a useless but honourable death.
Go to Chapter Two [coming soon - subscribe to the newsletter for notification].
Go back to Prologue.
Go back to El Empire main page.