Chapter One: To Wish Upon A Star
It was a race. Who would reach the Head General's office first? Would she or would the cause of the explosions? The idea that there may not be an office to go to or even a Space Station left before she made it didn't deter the Captain whatsoever. It only made her run faster. But the run from East Sector to West was intense. If the transport modules were functioning, the trip would have been much faster.
The Space Station shook. The Captain was thrown against the wall and what little air she was maintaining was crushed from her lungs. If the transport modules were functioning, the trip would have been much smoother as well.
She forced herself back to her feet and continued through the high rising corridors of the Space Station. Her boots clapped against the ivory marble floor as she made her way past many silver doors embedded into royal blue walls. To the right of each door was a placard engraved with the room title and number. She was currently passing East Technology Offices 370Çæ-399Çæ. She had a long way to go.
She would rather have her atoms separated and rearranged in half a proseet, the smallest measurement of time she could think of, than to run the entire way across the Station. She also would rather just step through a hole in space-time and arrive at her destination, but that was a forbidden spell in the Space Station to maintain privacy. To ensure that it wasn't used, a device streamed pulses of energy that disrupted any attempted portals to any location on board. For a moment she questioned the rule.
If her ear communicator hadn't malfunctioned in one of the blasts, she would send word to the Head General that way. She didn't have the means to fix it despite having some knowledge on it. Just breaking it was a hard thing to accomplish.
Just my luck, she thought.
The West Sector was finally in sight and the Head General's office was on the top floor. A left here, a right there, up a few flights, then a sprint through a few more corridors and down the long hall lined with portraits of previous Heads landed her at his door. It too was silver, but it was noticeably larger and the room title and the placard more extravagant. It slid to the left with the small hiss of a vacuum tight seal being released and revealed the interior of the office.
At the opposite end of the round room was a long, steel desk with multiple screens, some clearly attached to monitors while others seemed attached to the very air, but each with warnings written out using intricate symbols—the same symbols used to label the rooms and the keyboards. Past the desk was a tall tempered window looking out on the great void of space. The stars winked with the subtle shifting or heavy rocking of the enormous habitat. Texts, weaponry and various devices on the shelving along the gray walls shook from the bombardment and monitors installed between rows of shelves showed much of the havoc on board.
At the chair behind the desk sat the Head General. His status was clear by the row of badges across the breastplate of his black uniform showing the ranks he went through to reach where he was. The gruff man had salt and pepper hair and a prominent widow's peak. His face was weathered and age lines sank deeply in his skin, looking even heavier from the wear of the situation on his mind. Broad shoulders were set back, furthering the aura of authority his title demanded. A kind mentor or, should one choose to be foolish, a deadly enemy.
He was giving orders to people en masse, but only hushed sounds came from his mouth, mainly frustrated grunts and swears. His steely eyes were focused on the multitude of humming screens around him until the Captain approached, saluting, and they met her violet ones, softening just so.
"Citraevo." The Head General addressed her in a tongue common in the universe, but not widely used in that district. "I've lost visuals and many connections in the East Sector. Is that where you came from?"
"Yes sir," she replied in the same language. "King's forces are making their way through the Space Station starting from the East Sector. If they continue on the path they're taking, it'll cut the Station in half. For now they're being contained, but it's becoming increasingly more difficult because of our—current location." She sent a distasteful look out the window. "Last I heard they were coming up with plans to evacuate East Sector."
"Yes, I was informed of that. I've messaged the Advisory Station in the Gloridus region, but I doubt they'll make it in time. The modules on our end are malfunctioning and portals this far would cost an absurd amount of energy. When they arrived they would be of little help—if they survived. No, they'll be using ships to reach us."
"Sir," she said, her face uneasy, "I don't mean to question motives, but was it necessary to come to the Mikaeda region? It's so distant. I doubt there are any potentials here. They only have a few Advisors, a good portion of them assigned from more populated areas, and they barely need them. What would King want here?"
"You've been briefed. We've lost contact with the Mikaeda Advisory Station and must assume the worst. The very problem is that there are so few agents here, something I plan to bring up to the High Advisory Court. We're here to confirm if our assumptions are true and by the looks of the small army outside, I would say they are so proper action must be taken." He saw her deeper discontent. "Captain, our job is to protect and preserve life anywhere and everywhere. King's job is to destroy that life and he was here so we needed to shift our reconnaissance here. There may be few agents in the region, but as long as there is life, we must be here to protect it."
"Because we're the only ones who would," she muttered.
"Captain, you are out of line." The softness in his eyes vanished. Her pale cheeks reddened.
"My apologies, sir." She saluted again.
The Space Station reeled, dislodging the Captain and Head General from their spots. Most of the monitors buzzed with snow and a few devices toppled from shelves. Hurrying to his feet, the Head General began typing into one of the functioning computer screens.
"He's begun attacks from all sides," he said. "The magnitude of this strike is surprisingly massive."
"It isn't right." The Captain's words were hushed, mostly for her own ears. "Help should be here by now even from the Gloridus Region. They can't leave their own."
"Agents never leave their own by choice. You of all agents should know that." The Captain looked away from her superior officer, her flush more prominent. "I don't doubt them. You shouldn't either." The Head General looked over the screens once more and sighed. He typed something the Captain couldn't see and turned back to her. "I'm calling for an immediate evacuation of the Space Station. Get to the escape ships now."
"Evacuate completely?" She gaped. "We've held off King in the past. We don't need to evacuate. We just need to regroup and come up with a new strategy that will get us on the offensive."
"We have no room for offensive. He has us surrounded and he is moving in quickly. Get to the escape shuttles. I'm going to get the Station as close to the Gloridus region as I can manage. I may be able to break through a part of his line and it'll be a chase rather than being cornered."
"Go now! Don't you dare disobey this order!" He turned on the alarm signaling an evacuation. Red lights flashed and a sharp siren clanged through every room and corridor of the Space Station. The Head General caught the Captain's glance. "Listen to me. You are one of my best officers. Even if you only have the title of Captain, you rank with my top agents, as you would be if Shai—" He paused as the Captain tensed and then gave a brief nod. "I'll message higher ranks to help as well, but my tops will stay behind with me. Help as many agents as you can, but then you must get in a shuttle."
The Captain looked at her forearm where a silver casing reflected the warning lights. There were times to go against a superior officer if her gut told her to and there were times to swallow her pride. Now she had to swallow. She nodded and ran from the office as the Head General typed in a new set of commands on the monitors. King would have to fight hard for a victory. No agent gave up without a fight. It was part of the code.
The Captain came across many agents on her new race to the Evacuation Shuttle Launch Area on the first and second floors. Many were injured and she did her best to help when a medi-agent couldn't be found. Most had partners nearby for assistance. The Captain didn't linger near them. There was enough turmoil in her mind without adding the ache in her heart. Only once before had she felt so useless.
When the launch site was nearly cleared, she was ordered to get to a shuttle herself. She conceded to the colonel ranked agent and found a remaining shuttle—a silver oval with a clear top hatch and thrusters attached to the back—and slipped inside, locking herself in. With one last longing look at her surroundings, she pulled the release lever and a door below the shuttle opened. The mechanic arms that locked the tube in place dropped it out of the Space Station through an invisible barrier protecting those inside from the vacuum. The automatic thrusters switched on and the shuttle's navigation set a course to a pre-determined safe zone.
The Captain could see the ring of dark creatures around the Station and an ominous figure behind them, drinking in his accomplishments with an insidious smile. It was only a charade. Everyone knew. The Organization had been looking for King since it was formed eons ago. This was just another host form so even if they destroyed the body, King still lurked. It was unbearable at times when it seemed like their efforts were in vain, but there was a bigger picture they worked towards. They had to remember that.
The shuttle began its voyage away from the Space Station, joining the silver sea of transports speeding in different directions to safety. The Captain's hadn't gotten far before it received an unfriendly jolt. Her rear monitor revealed the cause.
More of my luck, she thought.
A monster latched onto the bottom of the shuttle. Escape shuttles came with limited weaponry, but the Captain made due. She began a spinning maneuver hoping to shake it off, but it embedded its claws in the thick metal and crawled up the side. The Captain pulled the lever to shut off the engine and then drove it forward again. The jerk knocked the monster loose for a beat, but it held fast near the thruster. The Captain smirked and shut the engines once more. The monitor showed the monster crawling up over the thruster pipe.
"And that's game."
She slammed the lever forward returning power to the shuttle and frying the monster in its tracks, but not before it struck her shuttle with singeing slime and wrecked the navigation and flight controls. The shuttle spun and the Captain could only hold on as the ship was propelled through space with no set course.
She had a really bad feeling that wasn't completely due to nausea. She was out of control in a useless pod in a remote region of space no one knew or cared about. Her E-Com was broken, something else was bound to break on impact and she had very little hope. Wherever she landed, she prayed it had an Advisor she could find. If not, she might just be lost to the ages.
Ita walked the fifteen minutes home from school with her backpack slung over her shoulder and her mp3 player in her ear hidden by her long curls. It was never an eventful walk home. She might wave to a few neighbors as she reached her block or sing a favorite song to herself, but usually she daydreamed. A certain handsome jock was never far from her mind. Christopher Duval, star of the Glade Crest Junior High football team, was everything she wasn't: Gorgeous, popular, gorgeous, athletic, and gorgeous. But most importantly, he was spoken for. She always reprimanded herself for the idiotic thoughts, but couldn't stay mad for long.
Who could possibly not be madly in love with Chris Duval? she thought. It should be illegal to be that bangin'! Can't wait to see what summer does to him…
The school year was drawing to a close and all of the future eighth graders like Ita had two things in mind for the upcoming year; the two big events that students looked forward to their entire junior high career. One was the overnight field trip to Washington D.C. The other was the eighth grade social. It didn't look promising for Chris to ask Ita to the social, but she had stopped kidding herself a long time ago. Her friends wouldn't let the night go sour.
Rebecca Hutchinson, always referred to as Becca or the speaker risked earning a broken nose, and Neely Brevad, a girl as kind as she was vain, had been Ita's best friends since the second grade. A chance meeting in the playground where Neely was being harassed by a group of kids brought Ita and Becca to the rescue. The rest was history.
Ita trudged up Crystal Street to the third house from the top. By then she wished she had remembered a hair tie. The May warmth brought beads of sweat to her neck and her hair scratching over it made her itch. She forced her key into the keyhole, jiggling it with a groan until it budged. A soothing draft broke over her face as she walked in, locked the door and went up the foyer stairs. Her little sister was playing with a ten-piece jigsaw puzzle on the coffee table in the living room. It might have seemed strange for a nine-year-old, but she wasn't an average nine-year-old. About seven years ago Marisol was in an accident that Ita always blamed herself for. She didn't think about it much for how badly it upset her. They were children. It was in the past. Ita knew she should leave it there, but the damage was brought to the present as a constant reminder and punishment.
Ita noticed the orange prescription bottle on the table and the empty glass of water beside it. Did her punishment have to come at an innocent girl's expense? It didn't seem right. She sat next to Marisol who looked up and smiled with big brown eyes dancing with giddiness.
"It is home!" She had never called her Ita or even Raquel, her full name. Before the accident, she called her It—pronounced eat—and Ita never expected to hear anything else out of her sister's mouth. "Look! The puzzle is a dolly!"
"It's a very beautiful dolly."
"Her name is Mari just like me." And then she went back to work trying to fit the same piece into the wrong spot, not thinking that maybe it belonged somewhere else. Ita kissed her sister's forehead and stroked her golden brown waves before going upstairs.
"Ita!" The sounds of food preparation stopped and Patricia Garcia-Ramirez peeked out from the kitchen doorway. Patricia shared the same brown eyes as her daughters, but her slim build was closer to Marisol's. It was partly why her comforting words about Ita having hips and a butt like a beautiful Latina and not a stick made little impact. "I'm needed at the salon tonight. I know it's Tuesday, but I got called in. You know the drill. Mari eats at seven. She's in bed at nine."
"Aw, but I wanna go to Becca's house!" Ita jutted her bottom lip to a preposterous distance.
"Gracias, mija." She disappeared into the kitchen again.
Ita knew her mother worked too hard. Her father left a few months after Marisol's accident and Ita was forced into being older than she should be. Time she should have spent with her friends was devoted to her sister and chores. Fond memories of her father were mixed with a painful resentment; she despised him for leaving them in a bad way. Her mother worked two jobs to support her daughters, especially Marisol whose medication and doctor's visits were costly, but they had little to show for her toiling every other night—sometimes every night—and rarely a weekend free.
Ita dropped her bag on her bed and went back to more pressing matters, scrutinizing herself in the full-length mirror as she thought about her fantasy jock and the event he wouldn't be accompanying her to. With one hand she pinched the rounded nose her father gifted her with. Her other hand poked her braces. Between those and sheathing her body in jeans and t-shirts, she was socially doomed. It was no wonder that Chris didn't know she existed let alone would ask her to the social. Very little stood out about Ita Garcia-Ramirez. Lost in gloomy reverie, it took an extra moment to register when her mirror reflected a flash across the sky through her window, distracting her from her teenage ranting. She hurried across her room and threw the curtains fully apart. A great white stripe streaked through the sky.
"A shooting star."
Ita had never seen a shooting star before. She clasped her hands and squeezed her eyes shut. Half a minute passed and when she looked again, the star was long gone. She smiled and returned to the mirror.
"Something remarkable," she said while inspecting herself. "Something to make me special."
Another minute passed without change. Ita sighed and left her mirror to start her homework. All she had going for her were book smarts and barely even that. Average looks and average brains. She was utterly invisible. The real problem was that she was thirteen and had no teenage smarts to speak of.