Chapter 29: Captain Rhodes

Light. White, eye-piercing light. That was all Illien could see. Nothing but a vast dimensionless canvas on which he invariably existed, with no past, no present no future. It was strangely peaceful, not needing to so much as do much of anything in this odd realm. Eventually though, it was time to leave, as the corners of the canvas ebbed away like the page of a book burning in a great fire; slowly reality ate away the edges of the fantasy created by Illien's mind.

But one part of his vision turned not white, but to black as the white transcended before him into the palpable solidity of the medical bay, and stayed that way. The rest of his body seemed to be fine, save for an dull throbbing sensation on the side of his head where he lacked vision. He looked down to find his arms lying at his sides, tubes running out of them like some sort of strange insect's appendages. He tried to move them, which he weakly managed to do so, before setting them down again. The second time was easier, and by the third he managed to reach his hands all the way to his face. His fingers felt more tubes coming out of his face, leading to vials of liquids and fluids that had sustained him in his sleep.

As he curiously explored the many devices embedded about his head, he heard footsteps clanging down metal steps. The Medical bay doors opened and Petra walked in, pausing as his eyes met hers. They stayed like that for a moment, as Illien felt Petra's eyes probing his, as if to see if he was still there.

"Hello." Illien managed to say, though his words were muttered in a slurred manner.

"Is that you?" Petra asked, still unsatisfied.

"Care to hear about the Fourth stellar amendment?" Illien tried.

Petra smiled, though it was clear she was only doing it for his sake. Immediately she began to read and adjust the various medical apparatuses about him, typing in codes and tapping readouts occasionally so that they would give a more satisfactory readout.

"I don't know how you're still alive…" Petra managed, "let alone…conscious."

"Disappointed?" Illien asked, finding difficulty in trying to form the words.

"Of course not." Petra said back quickly, sincerely.

She continued about her triflings a little more, before finally looking satisfied.

"How long?" Illien asked.

"One and a half rotations." Petra replied.

"What?" Illien spat. "What happened?"

Petra had barely even begun too form the words she was going to say before Illien again immediately interrupted.

"Where's Carl?" He asked slowly, dreading an answer he already knew.

"They…They took him, and Emily." Petra answered slowly back, delicately.

Illien surprised even himself with the shocked silence that followed this response.

For a moment, Illien felt nothing. Absolutely nothing at all. Perhaps it was shock, or sheer disbelief. Soon however, the nothingness gave way to a seething rage which built up from within the deepest pit of his being, reinvigorating him with a newfound strength only a brother could feel.

"Who?" He asked, with only the briefest hint of impediment impairing his speech this time. "Hashan?"

"No, it was…It was someone else." Petra answered.

"Who?" Illien demanded impatiently.

"Didn't you see?" Petra answered "The one with the cyborg face. In white robes."

A slow remembrance came back to him as Illien conjured the blurry images from the fight back into his mind. Erik's massive presence holding the aggressors back, Carl trying to shield Emily from them, and a white figure impervious to Petra's bullets.

"Who is he?" Illien asked, biting back the rage he felt for whoever lay behind that twisted metal mask far from him, a rage which gave him the strength to sit up on the medical bed.

"I don't know." Petra answered as gently as she could. "Whoever he is, he's lightyears away by now."

"He could be on the other side of the galaxy, and I'd still find him." Illien said, through gritted teeth.

"You saw how many of them there were, the entire city was being overrun…We can't fight them, at least not alone." Petra said.

Illien sunk back down into the bed and looked up at the slightly grimy, once white ceiling. A sense of hopelessness gripped him more powerful than any he had experienced before. Worse than the plague on Malgraugh, worse than the near crash on New Darthea. This was the feeling of pure uselessness; knowing about the great injustices done, yet being able to do nothing, even if the desire to reverse the problems was rawer than an event horizon.

"We're not alone." Petra said, distantly.

"What's a political science major, a medic and a blood-thirsty pilot going to do against Drell Hashan?" Illien asked.

"And some rebels and the heir to the Rhean throne…" Petra said quietly.

"The…what?" Illien said.

"We acquired some new passengers." Petra replied.

With that, Illien made a frantic effort to get himself out of the bed, much to the groans of his still throbbing mind as he did so, he felt a sudden shortness of breath and began to cough violently as he collapsed onto the floor beside the bed.

"Are you trying to get yourself killed?" Petra asked.

Illien paid her no attention as he called out to the disembodied voice which haunted the halls of the ship. "Tracy, get everyone to meet in the navigation room."

"Confirmed." Tracy answered, before voicing the announcement to the entire ship.

"You're hardly fit enough to stand, let alone-" Petra began.

"Yeah, well you shouldn't have told me then!" Illien snapped.

With that he winced as he picked himself up, his one good eye blurring as he tried to suppress the protests of his legs. After a struggle, he finally managed to get himself to his feet. He found himself staring at someone who looked like he'd been through a war. After a brief moment he realized it was himself. A beard began to line the edges of his jaw, and his bad eye was glazed over slightly. A scar that began just above his eye and ended somewhere in the mess of disheveled hair lined the side of his face that had been assaulted.

An idea sprung into his mind, and he took a roll of black gauze from one of the drawers and strung it across the bad eye to make an eyepatch. I. look. awesome. He silently though, smiling to himself. Let's see someone try to hit me in the face with a pipe now.

"Are you finished, Space lord?" Petra's voice drawled.

"That's Captian Space Lord Rhodes to you." He grumbled.

Petra rolled her eyes. "At least let me unattached the ventilator before you suffocate yourself."

Illien had barely realized the hole in his side where the tube was attached to. Petra unscrewed it, and covered it with a new slot that showed readouts of his breathing. So now I'm a cyborg…Illien guessed.

"Anymore tubes to unlatch?" Illien asked.

"You're good." Petra said.

Illien took two steps before nearly falling again, save for his grip on the med bay door.

"Let me help." Petra said, moving towards him.

"I'm good." Illien growled through gritted teeth, raising a hand.

"Illien, I'm sorry I didn't tell you about the rebels." Petra said. "I want Carl back as badly as you do. We're both on the same side, don't forget that."

Illien discarded the anger from his eyes and nodded, slinging his arm over Petra's shoulder as he limped towards the navigation room. As he did, the weight of the past days' events began to take shape again. Carl, Emily, taken. Illien felt his cheer fade to a coldness which held a bitter fire of malice beneath its frost. No one wants Carl back more than me.

Saito stood staring at a sea of blue spheres slowly orbiting around a central cloud, in the center of which, everyone knew, lay the massive gravity well that held the galaxy together. Her eyes fell on the sphere she thought was Shijima, slowly circling around the galaxy in its outer Mid-Rim sector. Bordering this were the edges of the maw, that dead region of space that formed a natural border between the Rheans and the Ninth Order.

From here she had received the call to go to war with the Ninth Order, after they seized power from the Ninth Order. Her eyes followed the trail she had taken on the Harbinger, battling the Ninth Order across the mid-rim, till she found herself under the command of her uncle, Admiral Szu. The trail continued past the borders of the Outer Rim, till her eyes fell on the region of space they called the fringes. It was here that the rebel fleet was finally defeated at Daedalus and all she could do was listen to the defense force static as her planet was laid to waste and enslaved by the Ninth Order. revenge Saito had vowed, revenge will only end when the Ninth Order comes crashing down.

And now, here she was, fighting in the name of a fledgling rebellion reduced from a raging hyper giant to a dying white dwarf. Yet she would not let the rebellion fade away into insignificance. No matter how small it got, if it came down to just her alone, she would fight to her last.

The doors to the navigation room slid open, giving way to a figure whose presence brought silence upon it. Odeilla, Erik, Gasha, Rene, even Scipio ceased to speak as they turned to face the man who had walked through the door. Even René and Erik seemed at least a little shocked seeing their captain, something which put Saito off a little. If you asked innocent little girl Saito what a space pirate would look like, the man standing in the doorway would have been the very epitome of her imaginings.

A dark fabric ringed his beard-lined face at an angle, covering an eye into which a scar fed into from his forehead, before disappearing into a mess of darkened hair. He wore a tattered green jacket and had a pistol slung at a belt around his waste. He limped through the door, his one good eye scanning the room with a menacing slowness.

After a silence that lasted for far too long the Captain spoke. "So you're the new passengers?"

His voice had a slightly lazy tone to it, like someone over infused with stims, yet there was no question he didn't mean business.

"About time you woke up." The one they called Erik said.

"You must be Captain Rhodes." Scipio said, getting up to meet him.

"And you are?" Captain Rhodes asked as Scipio was halfway to him.

"Scipio." Scipio replied. "We appreciate your making room for us on-"

"I never gave my permission to let strangers on this ship." Illien interrupted.

"I did." Petra said, from behind Illien.

Illien grimaced, not looking back, before composing himself and hauling his body into one of the seats that ringed the central holo projector.

"Well, it looks like we're stuck here together for now." Captain Rhodes began.

"Until we get to the rebel fleet you mean?" Gasha added.

"The what?" Captain Rhodes said back.

"We're only on this ship to get passage to the fleet." Gasha replied.

"Since when did we become a ferry?" Captain Rhodes replied "And since when did you become the Captain?" The last words raised in intensity as he turned to face Petra.

"Since you almost got yourself brain-dead trying to save that brother of yours!" Petra snapped back.

Illien stared dead back into her eyes. Even Saito could feel a line had been crossed right then.

"Don't ever talk to me about Carl like that again." He said simply, menacingly, as if to show that doing so would entail much worse.

Yet Petra stood her ground, the same expression still plastered to her face "If you want to find him, we need their help." She said.

Illien relented, and turned to face the rest of the group. "And why would we need their help?"

"Illien, you saw what the Ninth Order did to New Darthea, it doesn't exist anymore!"

"We'll help you look for the girl." Saito broke in, ending her period of passive listening. "If that's what you mean."

"How do you know about Emily…" Illien began to say before his eyes fell on René, who returned his gaze with a slow shrug.

"Who is she, anyways?" Gasha prodded.

Captain Illien Rhodes turned his furrowed eye towards René "How much have you told them?"

"Only where she came from." René replied.

Illien shook his head, looking at Gasha "Who's you're friend there."

"An old friend, from Edembia." René replied.

Illien raised an eyebrow.

"Why are the rebels chasing a frozen girl halfway across the sector?" Erik asked.

Saito herself didn't know the answer to this question, and was probably just as curious as anyone not named Scipio or Gasha.

"All we know is that she's important." Gasha replied.

The room went silent, as everyone in the room pondered these words. Captain Rhodes' expression was all but unreadable. The more Saito tried to understand, the more lost she became.

"What do you all know then about a man with a mask and a white cloak." Captain Rhodes asked abruplty, cutting the silence.

Saito's shoulder began to tingle as the image of Rezaq beating her into the sand suddenly became a fresh stain again. What did he know about Rezaq? Also, what did Scipio know? It was about time they found out the truth. Santo and Gasha exchanged glances, then turned their gaze on Scipio. Captain Rhodes caught on quickly.

"Care to share your telepathy?" Captain Rhodes asked in a frustrated mockery.

"Why do you want to know?" Gasha said, defending Scipio.

"Do you want to take a breath of space?" Illien asked

Scipio shifted, then at last looked up "An old…pupil."

"You'll have to be more specific than that." Gasha prodded, Saito could see the curiosity dripping from his eye sockets.

"A noble's son." Scipio said, staring past Odeilla. "Had a falling out with his family and their House. When his father tried to get rid of him he tried to..to get rid of them."

"Go on." Captain Rhodes said, sounding almost half-intrigued.

"He tried to burn the family House down, but got badly burned in the flames. When they sentenced him to death, I took pity on him and persuaded the high council to let him be banished to Selene." Scipio continued.

That made sense. The man owed Scipio his life. If it was that simple why'd he keep it to himself? Saito shook her head. Then again, there were so many faucets of Scipio left unturned that Saito realized she wasn't entirely surprised.

"So now he's an arsonist, traitor, and insurgent ." Erik said "Anything else you'd like to tell us?"

"Where does he get his support from." Captain Rhodes asked.

"Probably pirates" Scipio said.

"Woah, woah, hold on." Illien scoffed "Did you say pirates?"

"I did say pi-" Scipio began

"Who?" Captain Rhodes asked menacingly.

Saito noticed his eyes betray him for just a moment, revealing an anger that mirrored Saito's own, a rage springing from deep roots. But this wasn't Saito's anger, not one of revenge; for the fire in his eyes hadn't grown cold yet. This was something else.

"I'm not gonna ask again." Captain Rhodes said, drawing a pistol and letting it hand loose in his arm.

"Illien, what are you-" Petra broke in.

"Not now Petra!" Illien snapped again, this time with the ferocity that was like a growling wolf.

"Which one!" Captain Rhodes said.

Scipio stayed calm, eyeing Captian Rhodes' gun.

"You want a name?" Scipio said. "The last I spoke to him, he told me Drell Hashan was supporting him-"

Captain Rhodes swore. Petra ran a hand slowly through her hair.

"Should've scalped him when I had the chance." Erik broke in.

"You're all dismissed." Captain Rhodes said "This meeting is over."

The passengers they'd taken aboard piled out of the room, as Illien stared at the wall. Petra stood by the doorway as Gasha passed by, the last of the guests. Then the room was silent again, lit up only by the three dimensional map of the galaxy.

"I'm sorry I freaked on you back there." Illien said once he was sure everyone was gone. "It's just…just…I cant think straight…Drell Hashan…"

"We'll get him back." Petra said, the town of her voice affirming the words she'd spoken.

Illien sighed, then changed the subject "How'd I play Captain Rhodes this time?"

"I'd give it a seven." Petra said, staring at the miniature galaxy around her.

Illien gave her a playful shake of the head. Captain Rhodes had been the act he'd put on when dealing with the many shady individuals this side of the fringes. It'd taken the crew through many a difficult trade. Add Erik to the mix and they had a formidable presence against the many scary characters who populated the fringes. But while Captain Rhodes was a hardened space-smuggling veteran, Illien Rhodes was a wreck.

"I should have never taken that deal with Hashan." Illien said "Carl would still be here if it wasn't for me, instead of three rebels and Rhean Royalty."

"Maybe." Petra replied,

"Maybe?" Illien asked, sighing "This time we've got ourselves in way too deep."

"We know who has Carl now." Petra replied "It's Hashan."

"What can we do?" Illien asked "What can we do against forces that make us look like leafs on a river?"

"A lot more than you think." Petra answered.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Illien asked.

"Just wait." Petra said "Let's get you back to the medical bay."

Illien shrugged as he allowed Petra to help him limp back through the corridors, left to wonder what exactly Petra meant by her words.