Red sunlight scattered across the rocky terrain of Mora as Jackson Trammel trudged his last few steps, a Galactic soldier pressing a plasma rifle to his head. The tip of the gun felt cold and hard against Jackson’s neck, and he shivered. His eyes caught sight of a dozen or so prisoners all standing in line, mixtures of fear and sadness on their faces.
“Get in line,” barked the soldier holding Jackson as he shoved his prisoner into place.
Jackson obeyed. His hands were bound, and twenty plasma rifles were pointed at him. What choice did he have?
He tried not to think of the brother and sister he would leave behind. They would surely get the news of his death. The Galactics always liked to scare Earthian rebels into submission with news of an execution.
Heart pounding, Jackson put on a courageous face as he stared down the barrels of the executioners’ rifles. One quick shot to the head, and it would all be over. One quick shot…
But then he saw them. A group of hooded figures. One man raised a finger and pointed it at the executioners. A brilliant blue light burst forth, filling Jackson’s surroundings. Screams of terror and pain echoed through the area. He closed his eyes and waited for the brightness to fade. When it finally did, he looked up to see an old man with a long white beard stepping toward him. The Galactic soldiers lay dead upon the rocky slope.
“W-what happened?” stammered Jackson. “Who are you?”
A smile crossed the man’s face. “My name is Marius Allen. And you, I believe, are Jackson Trammel.”
Jackson shook his head furiously. “What! How did you know my name?”
“Let’s just say it’s my place to know things like that.”
“I don’t understand,” said Jackson warily. He looked around at his fellow prisoners, all of whom appeared to share his nervousness. “You still haven’t told me who you are.”
“I am the leader of a group known as the Order of Mora,” explained Marius, stroking his beard. “And we have taken an interest in you.”
Jackson shook his head. “In me? Why?” He glanced at his comrades. “What about the rest of us?”
A peculiar expression formed on Marius’s face. “Well, they are most fortunate to be standing beside you. It is you we need. Not them.” He paused for a moment. “Though I must say we should help them too, now that we’ve already taken sides.”
He looked down at the bands binding Jackson’s hands, and they suddenly loosened. Jackson pulled his hands free. “How did you do that?”
“The same way we killed the Galactic soldiers,” said Marius calmly. “With magic.”
Jackson frowned. “Magic? But magic doesn’t exist.”
“Oh yes it does,” said Marius, a strange smile on his face. “How else do you think they support Meniga City?”
“I’ve never actually been to Meniga City. You kind of try to avoid the Galactic capital when you’re an Earthian rebel.”
The old man chuckled. “True. Very true.”
His eyes swiveled from Jackson to the other prisoners. All their restraints suddenly loosened, and they were able to free their hands. The former prisoners muttered their thanks to the old man, though they all still seemed a little wary.
Jackson’s eyes met the old man’s. “You still haven’t told us why you saved us.”
“Because of you,” said Marius. “Because of your brother.”
Jackson’s mouth dropped open in shock. He shook his head. “What? Are you saying Nathan has something to do with this?”
The old man nodded. “Yes, Nathan has everything to do with this. You will come to understand in time.”
“No. I want some answers now.”
“I’m afraid now would not be the proper time to tell you.” He looked from Jackson to the other hooded strangers, the red sun rays illuminating his ancient face. “Now, why don’t you and your friends come with us?”
“Not until you tell me what’s really going on,” said Jackson defiantly, edging toward Marius.
“Do you want us to provide you shelter, or not?”
“Well, yes,” admitted Jackson reluctantly. “But why can’t you tell me what Nathan has to do with this?”
“Later,” said Marius dismissively. “For now, follow us.”
The old man turned to face the other hooded men. He gestured for Jackson to follow him, and Jackson acquiesced. After all, this old man had saved him from certain death. If that didn’t inspire trust, nothing would.
Marius was surprisingly nimble for his age. The rocky terrain of Mora was more than a challenge, even for the hardiest of soldiers, yet this old man was managing the descent easily. At times, he almost appeared to be floating. Jackson rubbed his eyes, but that didn’t change what he was seeing. The old man’s robes glided smoothly as ever across the uneven rocks.
As Jackson walked, he stole the occasional glance at his fellow soldiers. Their faces appeared relieved yet uneasy at the same time. One of the soldiers stepped forward from the rest of the group, joining Jackson right behind the old man.
“Do you have any idea what’s happening?” asked the soldier, casting a surreptitious glance at the robed men in front of them.
“No, Andy, I don’t.”
“This is really weird. You know, I think I’d heard of these guys before, this Order of Mora. They’re some kind of monks, I think. Never thought they existed, though.”
Jackson smiled. “Well, it looks like they do.”
The red sun of Mora sank low against the horizon, bathing their surroundings in ominous shadows, as they continued their march silently. The monks of Mora kept a quick pace, and the soldiers, fatigued as they were from battle, struggled to keep up. They wound their way around the mountain, through narrow crevices and low defiles, across craggy outcroppings. The heat of the day vanished with the setting sun, and the tiny droplets of sweat now felt cold upon Jackson’s neck.
An enormous valley bathed in dark red hues stretched out below them. Broken war machinery and dropped plasma rifles lay among the dead scattered here and there about the battlefield. There had been no cover in the valley. As soon as Jackson and the Earthian forces had landed on Mora, the Galactics had held the advantage, sniping at their opponents from the safety of the mountains.
Jackson shook his head as he thought about this miscalculation. They were lucky to have survived. Without the intervention of the Order of Mora, they wouldn’t have. Jackson shuddered.
Half an hour later, as the sun finally sunk below the horizon, Jackson spotted a cave nestled against the side of the mountain. It appeared as a slightly darker spot against the dark backdrop of Mora. The darkness didn’t remain long, though, for a sudden blue light suddenly illuminated their surroundings. The monks of Mora held their hands out in front of them, and perched atop their hands were tiny blue flames.
With the aid of this light, the monks led the soldiers to the cave. As they ducked inside, they pressed their hands to torches, and the whole cave suddenly glowed in the same ghostly blue hues. Jackson shuffled in slowly at first, staring curiously at the magical flames. He shook his head and continued on.
The group wound their way along a narrow passage, following its many twists and turns. When the passage finally opened up, Jackson stood at the opening of a cavernous chamber. The ceiling seemed almost nonexistent above. Pale blue light cast its mysterious glow upon the room.
Marius motioned to some chairs. “Please, sit down.”
Jackson obeyed. The other soldiers followed quickly behind him. Once they took their seats, the monks of Mora lowered themselves into a group of chairs across from them. The soldiers looked curiously at the monks. The monks gazed back with their own pensive expressions. At last, after nearly a minute of silence, Marius spoke.
“I wish to speak to Jackson alone,” he said, stroking his long white beard. “As for the rest of you, please feel free to make yourselves at home. I daresay we don’t have the greatest accommodations, but seeing as we saved you from certain death…” His voice trailed off, and a faint smile crossed his face. It quickly vanished, though, as he motioned for Jackson to follow him.
Jackson’s feet carried him along without thought, following the steps of the old man. His mind drifted back to the carnage of the battle. He remembered the green plasma beams passing over his head, the dreadful screams of his fallen comrades. It had been chaos. Pure chaos. His thoughts then traveled to the execution, to the fear that had coursed through his veins, the horrible feeling that it would all end. Yet here he stood now, alive.
Marius led Jackson into a small room and motioned for him to take a seat. Jackson obeyed quickly, then looked over at the old man. Marius lowered himself slowly into the seat and gazed intently at Jackson.
“You wish to know the truth?” he said. “You wish to know what this has to do with your brother?”
Jackson nodded. “Yes, I do.”
“We need your brother,” said the old man matter-of-factly. “And we need you to bring him to us.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Our magic has its limitations,” explained Marius. “We lack the ability to send a message to your brother over such a great distance. However, because of your close connection to him, we believe you can serve as a conduit for our message.”
“And what is this message exactly?”
“Nathan is to make his way here to Mora. Once he gets here, we will explain everything.”
Jackson glared at the old man. “No. This is my brother we’re talking about. He’s sixteen years old. How’s he supposed to get to Mora?”
“That is up to him.”
“If I’m going to help you with this message, I’d like a little more in the way of concrete details.”
“You will send him this message,” said Marius, a quiet anger burning behind his eyes. “We saved you. You owe us.”
“My brother doesn’t owe you anything.”
Marius shook his head. “That is not your decision to make.”
Jackson let out a deep sigh. “I can see there’s no way around this.”
“Finally, you are seeing sense.”
Nathan Trammel sat in the back of the class, his electronic reader propped up against the edge of the desk. The teacher was going on about quantum physics, but Nathan couldn’t have cared less. He was engrossed in an old book from the twenty-first century. Nathan was fascinated by books. He wanted to write one himself. Not one of those boring technical books about physics. No. He wanted to write a novel.
Sandra Dawkins, the girl who sat next to him, suddenly elbowed him in the side.
“Oww! What was that for?”
“Mr. Roberts called on you,” she whispered.
“Nice to see you’re finally joining us, Mr. Trammel,” said Mr. Roberts, with a slight sneer. “Now, what is the electron configuration for Tarium? Why don’t you come up to the front and draw it for us on the computer board?”
“Um…I don’t think that would be such a good idea.”
“And why would that be, Mr. Trammel?”
“Because I have no idea what you’re even talking about.”
Mr. Roberts shot him a venomous glare. “Well, maybe if you would stop reading silly novels in the back of class, you’d actually learn something.”
Nathan felt the insane urge to hurl a retort at Mr. Roberts, but he decided against it. He was already in enough trouble as it was. After placing his electronic reader back on his desk, he shuffled slowly to the front of the classroom. The eyes of his classmates bore into him as he made the long journey.
Mr. Roberts leered at him unpleasantly while he walked. When he finally reached the front of the room, he grabbed one of the pens for the computer board and began drawing. He couldn’t remember the electron configuration for Tarium, but he gave it his best shot. Mr. Roberts looked as if he was biting back a dozen or so snide remarks. When Nathan finished, the teacher walked over and immediately began pointing out all the mistakes Nathan had made.
Nathan tuned him out as he made his way back to his desk. Without hesitation, he propped his electronic reader against the side of the desk and started reading again. He glanced up every minute or so to see what Mr. Roberts was writing on the board, but he really couldn’t have cared less. Physics was boring.
Halfway through class, Nathan finished the book he had been reading. He thought about starting another one but decided against it. Instead, he closed his eyes and allowed his thoughts to wander. He started to think of ideas for novels, of fantastic adventures throughout the galaxy. Anything but physics.
As he sat there with his eyes closed, he drifted off to sleep. The blackness of his eyelids was quickly replaced by a sight he hadn’t expected. He saw his brother Jackson. The room around Jackson shone with a strange bluish glow, but there was no doubt it was Jackson. It seemed so real.
“You need to come to Mora,” said Jackson. “You need to come to Mora as quickly as possible. Drop everything and come here. I need your help.”
Nathan felt a sharp jab in the side.
“Wake up,” said Sandra Dawkins. “Class is over.”
“Oh…right.” Nathan felt as if he had been denied something very important. He wanted to see his brother again.
Feeling rather depressed, Nathan went through the rest of his school day. During calculus and chemistry, he sat in the back of the room, electronic reader propped up against the desk. His day concluded with English, which was easily his favorite class. Though he tried to pay attention, his mind kept drifting off to the strange dream he had experienced during physics. Before he knew it, his eyes closed, and he was off in his dream world again.
“Please, Nathan,” said Jackson, blue torches glowing behind him. “You need to come to Mora. You might think this is just some dream, but it isn’t. I can assure you of that.”
Nathan turned to look at his brother. “I don’t understand. Why do I need to come to Mora?”
But Jackson didn’t say anything. Instead, Nathan was disturbed by a gentle prodding in the side. He looked over to see the face of Trent Adams, a classmate of his.
“You okay? You were talking to yourself in your sleep. Said something about Mora.”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” said Nathan dismissively. “It was just a dream.”
At last, the final bell rang, and Nathan made his way to the shuttle train that would take him home. On the train, he spotted his sister Arianna. Her face shone radiantly beneath light blonde hair. She was reading something on her electronic reader and didn’t notice Nathan for a few seconds.
Finally, she looked up. “Oh…I didn’t see you.”
Nathan chuckled. “Someone could come and take all your things from right in front of you, and you wouldn’t notice a thing.”
Arianna laughed nervously and buried her face in her reading again. Nathan did the same. By the time the shuttle train reached their stop, he was three chapters into the book. In fact, he had become so engrossed that Arianna had to nudge him in the side to make him realize the train had stopped.
Nathan slipped his electronic reader inside his jacket and walked toward the large building in front of which they had stopped. Its metallic surface shone brightly in the late afternoon sun. A sign above the door read: “St. Louis Orphanage.”
With a sigh, Nathan pushed the door open and stepped inside. Arianna followed close behind him, her eyes still glued to her reader. Inside, they passed a desk. The woman sitting there waved happily at them.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Thompson,” Nathan said automatically as he passed the desk.
To the right was a set of stairs leading to the boys’ wing. Nathan took these stairs while Arianna stepped off to the left and up the stairs to the girls’ wing. Nathan’s rom was on the third floor, so he climbed two flights of steps and then made his way to the room. He waved his keycard in front of the door, and it opened.
Inside the door was a small room. Various papers were strewn about the floor where he had left them that morning. His desk was covered in books. Actual books. Not the electronic kind. He had saved up all his money to buy them, which was tough. Credits weren’t exactly easy to come by.
Situated behind the books was a panel that would open to reveal his computer, and sitting below that panel was a photograph that Nathan cherished more than anything. A dark-haired man and light-haired woman stared at him from the frame, smiles on their faces. His parents had been dead now for five years, but he sometimes felt like they were still alive when he looked at this picture.
They had died in the war. Nathan remembered the day the Earthian officer had appeared at the door to tell them their parents’ ship had been destroyed by a Galactic warship. He also remembered how he had wanted to go along with his parents that fateful day. Though he knew there was no point in survivor’s guilt, he still wished he had been with them. Some part of him liked to pretend it wouldn’t have happened had he been there.
Shaking his head, Nathan collapsed onto his bed. He felt completely worn out, as he always did after a long day of school. And it wasn’t that the lessons were demanding. A day of being around all those people simply left him drained.
As he lay on the bed, his eyes closed, and he drifted off to sleep. The image of his brother quickly appeared in his mind again.
“Please come to Mora,” said Jackson. “Please come. I need your help.”
“I don’t understand.”
“This is not a dream, Nathan. I really do need your help.”
“Can you even hear me?”
“Please come to Mora,” repeated Jackson. “Leave as soon as you can.”
When Nathan woke from his dream, he felt slightly sick to his stomach. He had never been one to believe in extra sensory perception, but something about this dream told him it was real. His brother really did need his help.
Just to be sure, Nathan grabbed his electronic reader from the stand by his bed. He pressed a few buttons, and the reader brought up a page detailing the events of the war. After a minute or two of looking through the page, Nathan spotted the news he wanted. His heart sank as he read it. According to the report, Jackson and his contingent had indeed been dispatched to Mora, and from the looks of it, they had not fared well in the battle. Their status: most likely executed.
Nathan sat upright in bed and thought for a few moments. He had no idea how he was supposed to get to Mora, but he’d give it a try. Besides, he had spent the last five years looking for an excuse to leave school and go explore the galaxy. Even with the ongoing civil war, he wanted to see other worlds, maybe even see the war firsthand.
All of a sudden, the solution to his problem struck him: Ben Young. Ben Young was a friend of Nathan’s, two years older. He was working as a cargo handler at the St. Louis Spaceport. If anyone could get Nathan on a ship to Mora, Ben Young was the man.
Nathan leaned back against the wall and pulled his phone from his pocket. He liked cellphones. They were one of the few things that hadn’t changed all that much in the past three hundred years.
Nathan quickly opened up his list of contacts and found Ben’s number. He pressed the button to dial it and waited a few moments before Ben answered.
“Hey, Nathan. What’s going on?”
“The same mostly,” replied Nathan. “I was wondering something, though.” He hesitated for a moment, hardly daring to believe the words about to come out of his mouth. “What would you say if I told you I wanted to go to Mora?”
Ben laughed. “Is this some kind of joke?”
“No, I’m serious.”
“I’d say you were crazy.”
Nathan sighed. “That’s what I thought you’d say.”
“Are you seriously thinking about doing this?” asked Ben. “You do know Mora’s right in the middle of the war zone, right?”
Nathan shrugged. “Yeah, I know. But I have my reasons for wanting to go. You have to trust me.”
“Sure, man,” said Ben. “I trust you. You’re crazy, but I trust you.”
Nathan chuckled softly. “Thanks, Ben.”
“So, you want me to get you on a ship then?”
“Yeah, that’s the idea.”
“I could probably get you into the cargo hold of a freighter bound for Meniga. From there, you might be able to find another ship to Mora.”
Nathan leaned forward in his bed. “There’s nothing that goes straight from here to there?”
“Fine,” said Nathan, with a heavy sigh. “If that’s the best there is.”
“So, you’re really going to do this? Why?”
Nathan bit his lower lip nervously. “Um, this is going to sound really strange. Just bear with me. Okay?”
“I’ve been having these dreams recently,” Nathan told him. “My brother’s in them, and he keeps telling me I have to come to Mora and help him. Now, I know what you’re going to say. They’re just dreams. That’s what I thought at first too. But I don’t know…it’s the same dream every time. I almost feel like it has to mean something.”
Nathan heard silence over the line for few seconds before Ben spoke. “Those dreams do sound kind of weird, man. Maybe they do mean something. I’ve heard the scholars in Meniga are studying all kinds of things we used to consider magic.”
“Thanks for not thinking I’m crazy,” said Nathan.
“Well, I never said you weren’t crazy. But, hey, you’ve wanted to get off Earth for quite a while now. Maybe it’s your subconscious telling you to get a move on.”
“Yeah…maybe.” He paused for a moment, smiling. “Look, I’m really grateful for your help in this.”
“So, when do you want to leave?”
“As soon as possible.”
“Well, if you get down here quickly,” said Ben, “I can probably get you on the freighter that leaves for Meniga at eight. How’s that sound?”
“Thanks, I’ll get down there as fast as I can. See you then. Bye.”
Nathan ended the call, placed his feet on the floor, and sat there at the edge of the bed, shaking with excitement. He looked around the room and spotted a few things he wanted to bring with him. With a few quick strides, he shoved them into a bag and slung the bag over his shoulders. It was six fifteen when he left his room.
Before leaving, Nathan decided he’d have to tell Arianna. He made his way to the girls’ wing, scaled the staircase quickly, and knocked on her door. It opened a few seconds later, and she stared at him with a dreamy, vacant expression.
“What brings you over here?” she asked.
Arianna frowned. “Where are you going?”
“This is going to sound crazy,” said Nathan quietly. “But I’m going to Mora.”
“I’ve been having these strange dreams today,” explained Nathan. “Jackson has been in them. And for some reason, he wants me to go to Mora. He says he needs help.”
“Then I’m coming too,” said Arianna suddenly.
“No, you’re not. It’s too dangerous.”
“He’s my brother too.”
“I know,” said Nathan. “But you’re only thirteen years old. Mora’s right in the middle of the war zone.”
“I don’t care. I’m coming.”
From the look on her face, Nathan knew there was no point in arguing the subject further. He sighed. “Fine, you can come. But you need to stick close to me. Okay? I don’t want to lose you anywhere.”
“Don’t worry,” said Arianna with a strange smile. “I’ll stay close.”
The shuttle train passed swiftly and smoothly along the tracks. Buildings aglow with electronic billboards zoomed by out the window. All Nathan saw were flashes of light, maybe the occasional word here or there. He never paid much attention to billboards anyway.
Nathan looked over at Arianna. She had buried her face in her electronic reader again. He still didn’t understand why she had chosen to come with him, and the more he thought about it, the more he wished he had left without telling her a thing.
He turned to his sister. “You know, you don’t have to come with me.”
Arianna looked up. “What?”
“I said you don’t have to come with me.”
“Yes, I do,” said Arianna. “You’re my brother. Jackson is my brother. Families should stick together.”
“You do realize this isn’t going to be fun, right?”
Arianna nodded. “Of course I do.”
“It won’t be comfortable either.”
“It might even be dangerous,” added Nathan.
She turned her gaze back to her electronic reader and began humming softly to herself as she read. With a heavy sigh, Nathan looked around the shuttle train. It was packed with people, most of them older than Nathan and his sister. Like Arianna, everyone appeared to be busy with something, their faces looking down at the electronic gadgets in their hands. The shuttle train was always like this. No one ever stopped to talk anymore.
A few minutes later, the shuttle train eased to a stop, and Nathan looked up to see the St. Louis Spaceport. He prodded Arianna on the arm to get her attention. She put her electronic reader away, then followed him off the train. Nearly half the people in the crowded shuttle car disembarked along with them.
Nathan pulled out his phone and pressed the button to call Ben. He held the phone to his ear for a few seconds, waiting for an answer.
“Hey, man,” answered Ben. “You at the spaceport?”
“Yeah, just got here.”
“And you’re sure you want to go through this?”
“Yes,” said Nathan. “There’s been a complication, though.”
“Arianna decided to come with me.”
Silence lingered on the other side of the line for a few seconds. “I’m not sure she should be doing this. She’s a bit young.”
“That’s what I tried to tell her.”
Ben let out a deep sigh, which Nathan heard. “Well, it’s your choice, I guess. It shouldn’t be too hard to get both of you on a freighter.”
“Where are we meeting?” asked Nathan.
“There’s a back hallway in Concourse C,” Ben told him. “I’ll be waiting for you there.”
“Thanks for doing this for me, Ben.”
“What are friends for?”
Nathan smiled. “I’ll see you in a few minutes then.”
He ended the call and looked around the spaceport. Crowds of people were moving every which direction, oblivious to the people around them. Some had bags slung over their shoulders. Others were dragging suitcases along behind them. Nearly everyone was on the phone or looking at an electronic device of some sort.
Nathan grasped Arianna’s hand and fought his way through the crowds. They were jostled about a few times, but eventually they emerged near the sign that read: “Concourse C.” Nathan pointed at the sign, and Arianna followed him in that direction.
At the beginning of the concourse stood a security checkpoint. Nathan placed his bag on a conveyor belt, and it passed through an advanced computer scanner. Then, he and Arianna waited in the long security lines. After about five minutes of waiting, they passed through the scanners. The computer output quickly deemed them safe, and the security officers allowed them through.
Nathan scanned his surroundings for the back hallway Ben mentioned. The concourse was very large, though, so he didn’t see anything at first. He motioned Arianna to follow him while he continued to look for the hallway. The crowds were beginning to thin as people walked to their gates to wait for their space planes. With this thinning, Nathan was able to get a better look at his surroundings, and he quickly spotted Ben.
Ben greeted them with a quick wave. He was standing at the entrance to a long hallway, above which a sign read: “Authorized Personnel Only.”
“Come on, quick,” said Ben in a low voice. He was wearing an orange safety vest, and there was a broad smile beneath his mop of long brown hair.
Nathan ducked inside the door, followed by Arianna. He turned to Ben. “So, what’s the plan?”
“Stick close to me, and everything should work out fine.” He paused for a moment, then looked back at Nathan with a concerned expression. “This is your last chance to go back. Do you really want to go through with this?”
Nathan nodded, though he felt a little sick to his stomach.
“Well, let’s go then.”
Ben led them along the hallway, glancing back every few seconds to make sure no one was watching. The dim lights of the hallway cast eerie shadows upon the walls. Nathan kept thinking someone was watching them, but when he turned his head, he saw no one.
At the end of the hallway was another door. Ben motioned for Nathan and Arianna to stop. Then he peeked out the door. After a few moments, he motioned for them to follow him. Nathan looked around warily as he stepped through the door Ben was holding open. Arianna glided through it behind him.
Night had fallen upon the loading field by the time they stepped through the door. The spaceport’s lights provided some illumination. In the light, Nathan saw workers hustling every which direction, intent upon their tasks. No one seemed to notice that Nathan and Arianna didn’t belong there.
“Where are we going?” whispered Nathan.
Ben pointed at a spot in the distance. “You see that ship over there?”
“It’s heading to Meniga. I’m going to sneak you guys into the cargo hold.”
They passed a few workers on their way to the ship. A couple of them cast suspicious glances at Nathan and Arianna, but they appeared too busy to care. Nevertheless, Nathan breathed a sigh of relief when they passed without saying anything.
The spaceport’s lights cast Nathan’s shadow long and ominous on the tarmac. He glanced over at Ben to see a look of concern on his friend’s face. “Is something wrong?” he asked.
“Too many people,” said Ben quietly. “This is going to be more difficult than I thought.”
Nathan looked over at the ship’s loading ramp. Workers were pushing heavy boxes up the ramp, placing them in the cargo hold, then coming back down for another round. This cycle continued endlessly, providing no gaps in time during which Nathan and Arianna could safely board the ship.
Ben paced back and forth. “Okay. I’m going to have to rethink this plan.”
“What was your plan in the first place?” inquired Nathan.
“I was going to sneak you into one of the boxes,” whispered Ben. “But there’s no way I can manage that without anyone seeing.” He continued pacing. “What can work?” he mumbled to himself. “How can I get you guys on there?”
The shadowy forms of the workers continued up and down the ramp at constant intervals. Another worker was driving a large vehicle back and forth, supplying the cargo loaders with an endless supply of new boxes.
All of a sudden, Ben made a beeline for the loading vehicle. Nathan followed hesitantly, unsure if it was a good idea. He grasped Arianna’s hand and pulled her along with him. As they moved closer, they heard the conversation between Ben and the driver.
“Look, I’ve got some friends here who need to get on that ship,” said Ben, keeping his voice low. “I was wondering if you could get them in one of those boxes before it comes out to the loading ramp.”
“I don’t know,” said the man, casting an inauspicious glance at Nathan and Arianna. “That goes against about a dozen regulations.”
“They really need to get on this ship,” Ben persisted, placing a hand on the door of the vehicle. “Besides, you owe me.”
“Remember that time you showed up to work drunk? I covered for you.”
“Fine,” grumbled the man. “I’ll do what you ask. But if we get caught, I’m telling them it’s all on you.”
“And I’ll accept full responsibility,” said Ben.
“Alright, have them meet me at the warehouse in five minutes.”
The man turned the vehicle around and returned to the warehouse for another load. The cargo vehicle quickly became a shadowy form in the distance, silhouetted against the horizon by the spaceport’s lights.
“The warehouse is over there,” said Ben, pointing to a large building in the distance. “Let’s get moving.”
They turned in that direction and walked hastily to their destination. The man in the cargo vehicle passed them going the other direction, his vehicle laden with boxes again. Another vehicle crossed their path, and Ben held out an arm to keep Nathan and Arianna from being run over.
When they reached the warehouse, they stopped at the door and stood awkwardly. Nathan’s heart was pounding in his chest. And though it was winter, he felt a bead of sweat trickling down his neck. He turned to Linea and saw that her expression was as vague and dreamy as usual. She had taken her electronic reader from her pocket and was reading it while they waited.
A few minutes later, the cargo loading vehicle returned. Despite its immense size, its motor was nearly silent. Like everything these days, the cargo loader operated on Tarium. The element abundant to foreign worlds made space travel quick and possible. In small amounts, it powered nearly every device, from electronic readers to cargo vehicles to buildings. Larger quantities allowed for travel through hyperspace. The energy created through the use of Tarium created shortcuts through the fabric of space, allowing travelers to reach distant star systems in the course of a few days.
The man looked down from the driver’s seat. “Come on. I haven’t got all day. You need to get yourselves into one of these boxes.”
“Right,” said Ben. He took a few steps to his right and returned with a large metal tool. With it, he pried the box open. In the dim light, Nathan discerned the contents of the box. It was full of large sacks of food, probably intended as rations for the flight. Fortunately, the box was only half full. Nathan and Arianna climbed atop the sacks and squeezed themselves into the tight confines.
“Well, this is comfortable,” said Nathan sarcastically.
Ben turned to him. “I never said it would be comfortable.”
“Enough talking,” said the cargo vehicle operator. “Get that box closed up so I can move it.”
Ben moved swiftly. He lifted the open flap of the large container and pushed it back into place. Then he handed the large metal tool to Nathan. Finally, he grabbed a hammer and pounded a couple of nails into the side of the box. Normally, he would have sealed it more thoroughly, but he had to allow Nathan and Arianna the opportunity to escape from the box.
As Nathan looked around his tight confines, he was glad to see there were tiny slits in the side of the box. At least he wouldn’t have to worry about suffocating to death.
Once the box was closed, it was loaded onto the truck. Nathan heard the low sound of the vehicle’s motor roaring to life and felt the box shift slightly. Once they started moving at a decent rate of speed, he turned to Arianna.
“You doing okay?” he asked.
“Oh, yes. I’m fine. This is fun.”
Nathan frowned. “I’m not sure that’s the word I’d use to describe it.”
A short time later, the cargo loading vehicle came to a stop. Nathan felt the box move again. His weight pressed against the side of the box, and he felt Arianna’s weight push against him. The box slid up the ramp in a jerky motion for nearly half a minute before the floor beneath it leveled out. Then, the box was pushed into place, and it stopped moving.
Nathan checked the time on his electronic reader and saw that it was a quarter to eight. Fifteen more minutes. The tight confines were beginning to get to him. He could hardly move in the small space between the sacks of food and the top of the box. Arianna seemed to take it okay, though. She was busily reading. In spite of Nathan’s love of reading, he couldn’t imagine reading in such an uncomfortable position.
The next fifteen minutes passed so slowly it seemed as if time itself had slowed down. Nathan listened to the pitter patter of feet on the metal floor of the cargo bay, to the scraping of boxes against one another. He felt the impact as the workers pushed a box against the side of theirs. With that came a sudden surge of panic. What if they covered all the air pockets?
Nathan took a few deep breaths to calm himself, though for all he knew, they could have been the last deep breaths he’d ever take. The sliding of boxes continued. Nathan’s ears caught the low grunts of the workers pushing them into place.
When at last the shuffling of feet died down, he breathed a sigh of relief. He and Arianna could still breathe. Nathan peered through the darkness at his sister. Her face was illuminated by the light from her electronic reader. She appeared completely unconcerned about what was happening around them. Deep down, he wished he could feel the same way.
Nathan checked his electronic reader. Eight o’clock. A low rumble caught his attention. The floor beneath him began to vibrate as the ship’s engines roared to life. He felt a wave of relief wash over him. Once the ship took off, he would push his way out of the box. His muscles were beginning to cramp in the tight confines.
The purr of the engines grew louder. Nathan felt the ground beneath him move. His weight pressed against the bottom of the box while the ship accelerated. They were off. He felt a sense of exhilaration. Finally, he was leaving Earth. His greatest wish was finally fulfilled. He smiled as he looked over at Arianna.
“You ready?” he asked.
Nathan held the metal tool in his hands and pried at the side of the box. The nails gave way, allowing the flap of the box to fall to the floor, and Nathan and Arianna crawled out of the tight space.
A day had passed since Jackson Trammel evaded execution on Mora. He sat in a chair in the cavernous chamber, watching the blue flames flicker and the shadows dance along the walls. His comrades conversed among themselves. No one wanted much to do with the monks of Mora, even though those monks had saved their lives.
As Jackson sat in his chair, his thoughts drifted to his brother Nathan. He had no idea if his message had reached its recipient or if Nathan had decided to accept the message. The monks certainly seemed confident in it. But Jackson didn’t completely trust the monks just yet. They hadn’t told him the reasoning behind any of their actions.
Jackson’s friend Andy took a seat next to him. “So, what’re you thinking about?”
“My brother,” said Jackson. “The monks want him for some reason.”
“Do you have any idea what it is?”
“No. They’ve been incredibly vague.”
“Yes, we have.”
Jackson looked up to see the old, wrinkled face of Marius Allen, the head monk. Marius’s hair was shrouded by his hood, but Jackson could see a faint smile on his face.
“So, are you going to tell me a bit more?” asked Jackson.
Marius nodded, shadows dancing on his face. “Yes, there are some things I feel I must tell you. It is only fair.” He paused for a moment and closed his eyes. “It all begins with a man by the name of Cadmus King.”
“The Galactic commander?” said Jackson disbelievingly. “As in the guy who’s second in command to Emperor Armand?”
“The very same.”
Jackson shook his head. “I don’t understand. What does he have to do with rescuing us? What does he have to do with my brother?”
“Allow me to finish,” said the old man, a hint of impatience in his voice. “It all begins with Cadmus King. He used to be a monk here on Mora. It was many years ago. In fact, it has been nearly twenty years since we last saw him.”
“Then why is he a problem?”
“It is because of what he learned when he lived among us,” explained Marius. “As you have seen, we possess powers you might refer to as magic. These powers originate from the planet of Mora itself. That is why the Galactics are so determined to claim the planet for their own.”
Jackson frowned. “I never knew that.”
“Like us,” continued Marius, “Commander King possesses the abilities granted to him by this planet. And ever since his departure, we have sensed a growing evil in the world. It is our belief that Commander King is behind this evil.”
“I still don’t see what this has to do with my brother.”
A frown crossed Marius’s face. “In time you will find out. In time.”
The cargo bay was stacked from floor to ceiling with countless boxes. To Nathan, it seemed like a massive labyrinth. He and Arianna had taken some food from the box in which they had hidden, but it was beginning to feel like they’d never get out of the cargo bay. Everywhere they turned, they saw boxes and boxes of food, as well as other supplies.
“Are you sure we should be wondering around like this?” asked Arianna, who was glancing in awe at the towers of creates. “What if somebody sees us?”
“Do you want to hide in the box forever? I don’t know about you, but it was a little too small for me.”
Arianna shrugged. “I thought it was rather cozy.”
“If you say so,” Nathan mumbled.