The Mysterious Planet
by StarbearerTM     More by this Writer
Gohan is an engineer with Satan as his aide-de camp. How will he and three others, Trunks, Yamcha and 17 cope when trying to escape a war in space between Earth and the Alphers?

This story is done as a tribute to the novel Mysterious Island by Jules Verne, and is written in collaboration with Lord Truhan.



Chapter 01
“Ils étaient sans nouvelles du monde civilisé, perdus sur cette île, aussi bien que s’ils eussent été sur quelque infime astéroïde du monde solaire!“

“They were without news from the civilized world, lost on this island, as completely as if they had been on the most minute star of the celestial hemisphere!”

-Jules Verne, The Mysterious Island (1874)

Through the inky, midnight black void of space opened a tunnel lined with swirling patterns of green and blue. Through it, the Light of Eärendil, a beautifully crafted vessile painted in lavender and white, gracefully exited. The hyperspace gate entrance orbited 300 miles above Theleria Minor. For light years around hyperspace, highways were accessible either by ships that could generate their own hyperspace gate or by relay stations like the one above Theleria Minor.

Theleria Minor’s inner station was the connection point for ships coming out of the hyperspace entrance 300 miles above the planet so they could dock at it. Smaller shuttles ferried passengers from Theleria Minor below to the station where they could board the spaceships moored there in the spokes as flies caught in a spider’s web. Such a minor world was of small consequence, yet in the war torn section of the Messier arm, it was only an eye in a hurricane.

War ripped through an alliance of two empires once bound in mutual need. A complex system defined the relationship between them. In Alpha Centauri the elite worked and learned many scientific discoveries that it kept mainly to its settlements. Manufacturing, was also run on Alpha Centauri planets that were designated as factories, and produced the ships and industrial goods that made their luxurious life possible. Additionally, there were worlds that the Alphers had colonized that were farming communities.

Since Earth had a vast population, they had devoted themselves to pushing out to find new colonies, and spent much on building a large space defense and exploration force, as well as a planetary materials procurement force. Earth had the labor, while Alpha had the greater technology and access to hyperspace gates.

The current war had started with the assassination of the Earth President. He wanted to obtain more resources from the Alphers and other aliens, trying to obtain what some believed was too much for Earth. Following the death of the President, a more passive candidate was elected. Although Alpher secret service agents had tried to cover their tracks, their misdeeds were discovered.

Now, on board the Light of Eärendil, a correspondent sat down in the dining area. Seated at one of the many tables, 17 nursed a steaming cup of coffee. Reaching into his bag, he pulled out the port write and set it down. Next to it, he set an auxiliary crystal to patch into the nearest subspace network. A plug linked the two together. A touch to the top of his unit popped out the projection screen that expanded through a trick of light so that only he could see through the small contact lenses fitted to his eyes. Ciphered keys in hexadecimal further encrypted what his gloved fingers seemed to drum impatiently on. He was converting his notes on his last assignment into the latest article in his chronicle entitled “Truth Brought to You by 17” that was published in The Daily Asteroid.

All around him, occasional clinks of old fashioned crockery sounded, reminding him beyond his private bubble that he was in a common eating area. Unlike many of the other patrons simply eating, he was at work typing up his latest article. Sometimes he would hear a snatch of conversation or rumor that might alert him into a possible new attack or rumor of enemy movement. Then, he would close his article and open another file on his computer to type any information that he might overhear. Most passengers on longer trips aboard the Light of Eärendil had their own cabins, while the shorter trip travelers had seats. A press pass was coded onto the microchip implanted just under the skin of his left hand. The pass admitted him into many places normal people could not go, or military would be barred from entering. Yet few knew he could alter it slightly to assume whatever identity he required. His blue eyes occasionally peeked from up from his device to scan the crowd.

He heard the soft chiming of the approach bell and knew from the announcements that the Light of Eärendil was about to dock. A green light pulsed gently, replacing the electric chandeliers that bathed the dining area in a steady white radiance. Then it faded when the ship glided to a stop. 17 closed his notes file when he happened to look out the window. Just outside he saw the long tube moving out to attach to the ship while the cables shot out from the Light of Eärendil and clamped onto the spokes of the inner station.

17 could see the movement of people getting up from the tables around him, they filed through the set of double doors he sat well back from. Right now, they and others would be disembarking to the tube while letting others get on. Since the dining area was on the deck closest to the ship entrance, any new passengers could stop in to get a bite to eat on their way to their seats or cabin assigned to them. Two transparent sliding doors opened onto the dining area by the far wall, which was paneled with fake wood to a height of a man’s waist along its whole length. Where the wall covering stopped, a narrow sturdy shelf was installed so patrons entering the food line could rest their trays down, help themselves to food and drink selections they extracted from small cubbyholes. In between the labeling sign and the brass rail were columns of plastic rectangular doors. All one had to do was press a button next to the door to open the aperture so the patron could pull the wrapped platter or bowl of food out to set on their tray. Next, the robot behind the aperture would replace the removed item with another for the next customer.

He had a good enough view looking around seated patrons of the people filing into the food line. The double doors hissed open, and 17 spotted two newcomers he guessed had just entered from the space station at Theleria Minor. They were a young man with lavender hair who stood about shoulder height to the older man to his left. With long flowing hair tied at the nape of his neck, the taller of the duo cut a decent figure in the crisp navy blue two-piece suit. The straight collar was buttoned under his bronzed chin, gracing a face creased with a jagged scar over his left eye, and two slashes forming an x on his right cheek. In front of him, someone with a mop of lavender hair bobbed periodically out of view, only to be eclipsed by the taller scar faced suit. From the way they moved while warily glancing at others, 17 judged them father and son, or two close relatives. The war tore apart many traditional families only to glue together others in its wake. The need for human companionship was the same in any age.

Other tired people filed past and exited the line. Behind him, he heard two voices already engaged in low conversation. One was harsh and rough yet spirited, while the other was calm, smooth, and educated with the vocabulary of an engineer. The regimented measured step of their boots indicated military personnel. 17 was skilled at picking the stories out of people, those tales left untold. The tilt of a head, or configuration of clothes could tell him what words might omit.

From behind the trench-coated figure, the two Earth Defense Force officers munched on their C space rations from the limited selection of the galley. Both wore the traditional high collared uniforms, cut with triangular patterns and piping. Their ranks were on their shoulders, indicating the one named Son was a lieutenant commander. His midnight black hair was short cropped to the contours of his head save a few spiky tendrils that hung over his high forehead. Next to him, the bushy haired companion dabbed soup off his prominent beard and moustache. His insignia indicated Captain, and the two sat with posture that tried not to mimic the ramrod stiffness of their training.

“I hope this place we’re assigned to has decent food, sonny. I could cook a better stew with one hand tied behind my back,” joked the thicker of the two voices, over 17’s left shoulder.

“Well my friend, you can make magic out of C rations, but they don’t have to know about it. Let’s just give it a try, shall we?” answered his companion. From the distance of the sound, they were sitting at the table behind him, but not in the bench right at his back. Rather they faced the same direction as he, and he could smell what the two people behind him were eating. The scent of cubed beef and celery mingled with a gross smell of milk, making17’s nose curl.

“C’mon, sonny, who knows what crappy base stock lichenrite, had gone together! You know they beat it out of the geo-agricults this side of the Canopian way!” the one called Satan grumbled.

17’s ears perked up. He had covered the story of the Lichenrite farmers on Osilius 3 who had been driven off by the Alphers Regiment. The Regiment had all but forced them to stop operations unless they skimmed off 60 percent of inventory for their own needs. Then they forced the farmers to adopt industrial farming techniques and implement mass food productions alongside their farms. In effect any pollution remained bound on the farmer’s world instead of affecting those on the Alpher’s home world.

“Well you know my friend, it’s lucky the lichens on rocks made good protein to synthesize food from. You could fake any protein enough to make it seem like meat…”

“Gohan my boy, save the lecture for later and let’s eat,” Satan joked.

***

Carefully Yamcha kept his charge Trunks in sight. The exuberance and natural curiosity of the boy was one of his most charming qualities, but had to be curbed in some circumstances. At age 14, the boy lacked experience that Yamcha carried, and it was Yamcha’s duty to look after him. A promise by his parents and great affection bound them together like father and son.

Clad in his two-piece navy business suit, Yamcha urged Trunks into the line forming up at the ranks of multiple vending windows. Patrons who wanted a certain item would press a button, causing a small door to slide open revealing the food packaged in translucent wrap. What seemed convenient was made possible by the robots behind each of the stations preparing the food from the store of common rations. Then when finished the total was tallied up at the ‘checkout’ station where each patron paid by inserting their ‘credit’ stick.

Using a single tray, Yamcha quietly asked Trunks what he would like. In the line in front and behind them were many of the passengers patiently waiting for them to make their selections. Ever vigilant Yamcha maneuvered Trunks to always stay a step ahead of him rather than risk having him follow. There was no telling how easily they could become separated in the shuffle from port to port.

“Lichenrite 13 stew’s probably the safest bet, kiddo,” Yamcha whispered over Trunks shoulder.

“C’mon Yamcha I’m not a baby,” Trunks whispered back.

“I know, just hard to accept you’re growing up so fast that’s all,’ Yamcha chuckled back fondly. “Anything you want.”

“Actually what you’re having is fine by me,” Trunks said, pulling the sectioned plate with its translucent round cover out and setting it on their tray. Inching along to the checkout, they reached the drink station, and Trunks scanned the rows of rectangular tables, with benches attached on either side. You could sit up to six people at them, and already the place was filling up since it was common lunchtime.

“Hold this will you?” Yamcha handed him the tray. They stood before the screen that displayed their price tally. Reaching into his inner breast pocket Yamcha extracted his credit bar and inserted it into the slot.

“I’ll find a place to sit,” said Trunks.

“Okay kiddo,” Yamcha nodded, pressing the buttons to deduct the right amount of credits. A green light flashed under the button and then indicated he should remove his stick. Glancing up he saw Trunks already turning his head to scan the different open spots they could occupy. Blue eyes rested on two uniformed men two ranks of tables back, behind some trench coated person with black hair seated behind an electronic slate.

“Over there,” Trunks pointed. Yamcha took the tray from him and both of them exited the line to walk down the aisle separating one side from another. The heads of the tables merged with the walls, while small stools could be dragged over from a closet in the rear of the dining area to set in the other end. Therefore, even if more than six wanted to sit at a table they could add chairs here and there for one or 2 more. Once they reached the table where the trench coated man sat, they got a better glimpse at the uniformed soldiers.

Uncertain, Yamcha stopped suddenly, and Trunks did as well, standing next to him and following his example. The lavender haired teen knew better than to jump ahead when his guardian hesitated.

Something familiar struck Trunks and Yamcha about the younger of the two, of higher rank indicated by the piping on his shoulder. His dark hair was close cropped with a few tendrils curling over his handsome forehead. Next to him sat an older man, with curly hair and a full matching beard. His blue eyes twinkled under bushy brows cheerfully as he turned and laughed at something his fellow officer had said.

“A Lt. Colonel and a Captain of the Earth Defense Guard,” whispered Trunks. “And that man there looks familiar. I can swear it!”

“You think?” Yamcha asked, still holding their tray and letting other patrons step around them. Trunks maneuvered in front of his parent so they could get by. Face to face now, Trunks then took a second glance over one shoulder. Yamcha craned his neck and more closely scrutinized the lt. Colonel sipping from a cup of steaming coffee. Now the captain slapped him on the back and they both chuckled at something else. It was hard to hear what they were saying over the din of everyone’s conversation around them.

“It’s him all right. I’m sure of it,” Trunks nodded eagerly, his blue eyes bright with admiration. “Six months ago that battle of Banard’s Star?”

“Seriously? You mean the one where that war hero singlehandedly stayed behind and laid those mines. But they all look alike after they get the buzz cuts,” Yamcha joked.

Just then, the older captain glanced up. Seeing the two standing there waiting he motioned with one hand. “Hey, you two need a place to sit? There’s room here if you want to join us,” he said with a friendly smile. Yamcha’s eyes read the name Son on the name card badge. The others bore the name Satan.

“Well,” Yamcha trailed off. “You’re sure those seats aren’t taken?”

The dark eyes of the Lt. Colonel now shifted on Trunks and Yamcha, and a smile spread over the lavender youth’s face. In a smooth and polite voice the officer said, “No, it’s quite all right. You’re welcome to join us”

“Wait, I know who you are,” Trunks pointed at him. “You’re him… that hero of the battle of Barnard’s Star.”

“Who me?” blinked Lt. Colonel Son with some surprise and awkwardness.

“Yes! The one who scattered the Second Alpher fleet like a flock of pigeons and sent them scrambling,” Trunks continued.

“Well I wouldn’t go THAT far,” Lt. Colonel Son stammered a bit, loosing that calm demeanor momentarily. “All I did was see a flaw in their plan, and jumped into hyperspace as if I was running… and a simple calculation 20 minutes later…”

“Don’t look now sonny but your’ famous. You’ve got a fan club already,” Captain Satan patted him on the back. “C’mon and have a seat you two. Don’t just stand there gawking at the ‘war hero’ now when you can get a good look from here.”

“Thank you,” Yamcha relented, and Trunks took this as a sign that he could slide down the bench and sit down. His parent set the tray in front of his charge and then slid to sit next to him, so the wall was on Trunks other side.

“So, you know about the battle of Barnard Star?” Gohan said to Trunks with a look of respect and surprise on his face.

“Who could forget? I mean come on you singlehandedly stayed behind with that fleet when the other ran! Then at the right moment, BOOM,” Trunks chattered excitedly. Busying himself with opening the lids on their food plates, Yamcha listened carefully. He pushed one plate before his charge, and then picked up his own utensils from their compartment on the tray to poke into the stew bowl.

“Slow down now,” Gohan laughed gently. “You must remember young man that I was acting against orders. Even though it was the right thing to do at the time, I did have to weigh the potential consequences… my duty was to protect the victims.”

“You did the right thing at the right time, son,” Satan reminded him. “Planting those mines and detonating them at the last minute after the big fake out. I wish I’d been there to see the looks on those Alphers faces when they saw us coming out of hyperspace!”

“You would have sold tickets front row,” Gohan added with another nervous chuckle. He lifted his disposable mug once more, and then drained another gulp of beverage.

“So, young man you sure seem to know your stuff,” Satan grinned at Trunks. “Pretty smart.”

“It was a good piece of strategy, but that alone doesn’t win a battle always,” Yamcha said quietly, glancing back. Raising his spoon, he blew the steam off the greenish brown liquid before sampling it.

“I see,” Gohan said. “You seem to have a slightly different view?”

“The skill of the pilots is also an essential part of the success in a mission,” Yamcha said with a slight smile. “I should know.”

“So, you fly?” Satan asked, sensing a tension building between them.

“I sure did and still do. Commercial,” Yamcha nodded. “I used to fly freight past space pirates. Learned how to out fly most of them. Not to mention flying missions for Capsule whenever they needed special supplies.”

“He was the fastest in the space yachting races ten years running, right?” Trunks said.

“Pretty impressive,” Gohan nodded. “Those space yachting races take a lot of dexterity since you’re not flying in hyperspace.”

“No joking,” Yamcha nodded. “So speaking of flying, where are you headed?”

“We’re going to our next assignment. And counting down the stops till we get there,” Satan joked. Something seemed so open and honest about the captain that reassured Yamcha. Unfortunately, he still felt the protective parental urges overriding this notion.

“It’s a pleasure to see someone so enthusiastic on such a long trip,” Gohan nodded to Trunks. “I am quite impressed how familiar you seem with the battle’s details.”

“I follow the news taps every day. It’s great to see how you guys are holding off the Alphers,” Trunks nodded appreciatively. “Something I wish I could do, but I’ve got to wait 3 years before enrolling…”

“Well slow down kiddo, I’m sure they’re pretty flattered to see you’re interested and all, but there’s all kinds of ways you can show your patriotism, remember?” Yamcha cautioned, nudging Trunks.

“Oh, sorry. I sometimes get carried away,” Trunks apologized.

“No, don’t be sorry. We need good young men like you to stay in school and join up when you’re ready of course,” Satan proudly proclaimed.

“You have an interest in the Earth Defense?” asked Gohan, glancing to Trunks. “What branch specifically?”

“Exobotany and engineering. I love learning about species on other planets,” Trunks excitedly related. “But I can’t decide between that and weapons manufacturing.”

“Or materials science?” Yamcha put in. “Remember you said you’d rather stay and enroll in a university program through Earth’s long distance learning?”

“I’m sure a bright young man such as you could do whatever he puts his mind to,” Gohan interrupted gently, smiling towards Trunks. “The main thing is to continue your desire to learn. You never know when what you’ve learned can be useful till faced with the right situation.”

“Says you sonny with your nose in a book all the time, eh,” Satan joked.

“That’s me all right,” Trunks nodded. “I read whenever I can.”

Two large windows ran along either side of the table area, affording a view of the incoming ships blurring by. From occasional side-glances, Trunks attention focused ever more on peering to the plasma screened aperture into the endless star filled field. Yamcha took advantage of this diversion to pull the two soldier’s focus to him instead. Unpeeling the wrap from around his crystallized fruit cube he coughed, “Well, I guess wherever you two are going the regular transport either doesn’t stop, or you’re incognito?”

“Actually it’s the first,” Satan answered, seemingly wanting to reassure Yamcha that he need not be so suspicious. “Relax, buddy. You’re walking on eggshells around us. We aren’t going to bite you, you know.”

“I’m sorry, I just, well I just want to get this trip over with, that’s all,” Yamcha answered with a note of apology.

“I can understand your trepidation,” Gohan nodded, dark black eyes fixing into Yamcha’s brown ones. “But you’re in no danger from us. Is there something you’re afraid of, someone who is after you? Perhaps we can help in some way?”

“Not unless you’re going to Procyon 5,” Yamcha answered. “That’s where we’re headed. I’m sure you’d want to know eventually.”

“Now why don’t we just take that boulder off your shoulder friend? If you want us to mind our own business all you have to do is say so. We’re all Earthmen on a trip, right?” Satan quickly jumped in, leaning towards Yamcha.

“Please, he’s correct, sir. You have no reason to be so guarded. I’m not a person who spreads information around the galaxy lightly. I realize your business is yours alone, but I can’t help but show the concern any fellow traveler would for another’s welfare,” Gohan added, his face filled with concern.

“So lighten up, and let me buy you guys a drink?” Satan offered. “Least I can do.”

“Thank you, I’m fine,” Yamcha said quietly. Closing his eyes for a moment, he looked inwards, cursing his quick to judge nature. Of course, two soldiers were not going to cause him any harm. He had grown so overprotective of Trunks that he had become paranoid.

“What would you like Mister?” Satan asked, getting up and pulling his credit stick out.

“You can call me Yamcha,” he smiled, extending his hand with a still calculated smile. “And this is Trunks.”

Gohan had noticed how Yamcha had given no surname, and how significantly he had not used the boy’s name in mixed company. Just what was this Mr. Yamcha trying to hide? They were clearly Earthen as he and Satan, a nice suit that a typical earth Civilian would wear.

“Pleased to meet you,” Satan extended his hand. “Captain Satan…”

“And you already know me,” Gohan nodded, shaking Yamcha’s hand then Trunks next. “So that makes us even now I’d say.”

“Grape soda for me, if you don’t mind?” Trunks said politely.

“You look like you could seriously use some soda and whisky, or an astro beer,” Satan swung around Gohan to the aisle.

“Actually I like Procyon Pale ale,” Yamcha responded with a slight chuckle.

“Be right back,” Satan waved and strode confidently up to the beverage station.

Yamcha continued to eat his fruit cube while Gohan smiled disarmingly at both of them. He pushed his empty tray to the side. “So,” he said once more. “You’re headed to Procyon five? That’s still two stops from here?”

“It’s the most direct route,” Yamcha confirmed, crumpling the fruit cube wrapper in his hands and setting it down to the side of his plate. Trunks continued to nurse his soup, still glancing from Gohan to the ocean of stars out the side window. However, he found himself more often looking at the war hero seated across from them.

“That’s a farming colony, isn’t it?” Gohan nodded. “Rather remote. I suppose you are the sort of person who likes to be away from the action?”

“Trunks and I have seen our fair share of it, sir,” said Yamcha hesitantly.

“Must have been quite the ordeal then?” Gohan continued. He folded both hands and set them on the table before him, taking one glance out the window where Trunks raptly stared.

“West City, five years ago,” Yamcha answered, his voice filled with anger. “Capsule was my employer! They’re who I flew space cargo for!”

“The sneak attack on Capsule Headquarters?” Gohan widened his eyes. “You two are survivors of that disaster?”

“Yes. Now you understand why I want someplace a bit quieter for the kid here,” Yamcha answered somberly. Equally seriously Gohan nodded, his mind picturing the screams of victims fleeing from bright explosions of fire. In Yamcha’s mind, the echoes of the voices he would never again hear still haunted him. Along with the domes shattering like eggshells and melting into molten slag as the explosions erupted along the buildings one after the other. Until the sky filled with billowing thick smoke that stung everyone’s lungs with its ashes.

“I was pretty young when it happened,” Trunks recounted sadly. “Mom and Dad…”

“I’m sorry,” Gohan answered.

“For his sake I want to be as far away from this madness as possible. I promised them,” Yamcha said with barely restrained anger tingeing his voice.

“But part of you still wants revenge for it, doesn’t it?” Gohan surmised, eyes filled with sympathy. “You never forget it.”

“I know that’s why we owe you guys everything for making those bastards pay,” Yamcha answered.

“Um, sorry to interrupt but I’ve got the drinks,” Satan coughed, standing there with a tray full of cups. Gohan reached up to set them down in the center of the table, and then slid in so he was now opposite Trunks. Satan then sat down and looked at Yamcha’s pain filled face.

“Thank you,” Yamcha answered, relieved for the break from the stream of horrible memories.

“You okay? You look pretty shaken up,” Satan said.

“Just old memories. Trying to fly the kid out of the blasts was hell itself,” Yamcha said, taking the drink Satan passed him. Both of them held the plastic bottles fizzing with amber liquid, the foam creeping up the necks.

“Are you all right, young man?” Gohan asked, taking the can of purple liquid and handing it to Trunks with a plastic cup.

“Huh, yeah I’m good,” Trunks answered with sadness in his face. “I just see him so angry and unable to do anything…”

“We all do what we can in these times, Trunks,” Gohan answered, cracking open the soda and gently tilting the glass so he poured the purple liquid down its incline. “Here, you look like you could use this.”

“Thanks,” Trunks nodded, and saw Satan raise his bottle and toast it to Yamcha’s.

“Here’s a toast to Earthmen, my friend,” Satan said to Yamcha. “Those of us who want to give hell and have gone through it.”

“Amen to that,” Yamcha smiled warmly, succumbing to Satan’s infectious cheer. Suddenly the space that Yamcha thought was so cold now seemed far warmer, and he could gaze out at it through the window like Trunks was with innocent eyes again.

“Agreed gentlemen. I propose a toast to all those who do their part in the war effort, and no contribution is too small,” Gohan lifted his beer bottle.

“Here here,” Trunks added, hefting his plastic cup of grape soda. Yamcha and Satan nodded, clinking their beverage containers in a four-way tag. Visibly Yamcha’s hunched shoulders slumped and he expelled the tension through a long sigh.

“Better already, right buddy?” Satan nodded.

“Nothing beats Procyon Pale,” Yamcha chuckled, feeling the foam slid down his throat.

“You haven’t tried Sirius Stout. Now THAT puts hair on your chest, Yamcha my friend,” Satan laughed heartily. Yamcha felt himself chuckling as well, liking the friendly gleam in the Captain’s eyes. He felt as if he could open up to the soldier and unburden himself, something he had not done in ages. Sharing concerns with his charge was inappropriate because Trunks needed his protection and guidance, not his troubles.

“Excuse me,” said a smooth voice. The four companions glanced up from their drinks to see the slender figure who had been sitting behind them now standing patiently at the head of the table.

“Yes? You want to join us?” Satan asked. “I wondered when you’d stop keeping to yourself at that table when you could join the party.”

“Well you did look as if you were having a good time, and yes I could use some company,” 17 smiled charmingly. His blue eyes were exotically slanted, and he peered at each of the table’s occupants in turn. The long brown coat concealed his exact stature, making it hard to judge how slight or chunky his actual build was. Yamcha felt he was almost as if a predator bred to survive or hunt, like the panthers or cheetahs of old Africa.

“Pull up a chair,” Satan said.

“I take it you all are Earthlings like I?” 17 answered. Yamcha bobbed his head towards Trunks and warily kept his eyes glued to the slender interloper standing by the head of the table. Then 17 dropped the folded newspaper he clutched under one arm in the midst of them. The paper fell right before Yamcha, and he saw the heading “daily asteroid’.

“Aren’t we all in some way?” Gohan asked.

“Who wants to know?” Yamcha asked.

“Well some people make a distinction otherwise,” 17 shrugged, pulling up a chair and gracefully sitting down in it at the head of the table. Resting his gloved hands before him, he glanced at each face in turn.

“We’ve no need for that friend,” Satan dismissed, with a wave of his hand. “Besides, I knew I bought this extra beer for someone.”

“Thank you,” said 17.

“You sure seem friendly considering we don’t know who you are,” Yamcha said hesitantly.

“Relax, Yamcha he seems well intentioned,” Gohan raised a hand. “Let’s not give him the third degree before we even know him.”

“I pose no threat to you, and I’m just a passenger like the rest of you are,” 17 answered elusively. The flaps of his long leather duster coat were folded under him, revealing the tanned pants he sported were nicely tailored to his lean legs. The black shirt he wore with a red cravat was tucked into a matching brown jacket.

“Okay man, what’s your angle?” Yamcha asked.

“Don’t you read the editorials?” 17 pointed to one column.

“Truth by 17? Yeah, I read it,” said Yamcha.

“You’re also a fan?” Trunks asked.

“He’s got good stuff to say, without the extra propaganda mixed in,” Satan nodded.

“Indeed. I agree,” Gohan nodded. Then he spotted the boutonniere 17 had tucked into his lapel of a spotted purple and red flower much like an orchid, but smaller and more delicate. Reading between the lines, the engineer began to put the clues together. 17 had been in more places relevant to the pattern of attacks.

“So Mister… pardon what is your name?”

“17,” he said with a smile inclining his head. Straight dark hair parted in the middle and reached his shoulders. He tucked a strand behind one ear and smiled charmingly at his fellow travelers disarmingly.

“No kidding, you’re 17?” Satan mumbled.

“Well maybe you are and maybe you aren’t,” Yamcha commented neutrally. Doubt still hung over him like a shroud, and he was reluctant to shake it off. Gohan sensed that he would always deliver a healthy dose of skepticism, which was warranted in such times.

“The same side, the same destination, the same resolution,” 17 intoned. “Freedom, equality and brotherhood among those of Earth.”

“You speak fancy like a journalist all right, but still,” Yamcha said warily still glaring at him.

“Please, give him a chance,” Trunks whispered.

“Kid, you can’t expect someone to chant a few slogans and win you over,” Yamcha rolled his eyes.

“Gentleman please. We’re all in the same boat so to speak,” 17 raised a surrendering gloved hand.

“And that would be because you must have heard something about this sector we don’t know,” Gohan stared probingly at 17.

“If I wanted you in trouble I’d have far more to turn into the most interested party. Besides, there are ears all over the place, but few in here,” 17 countered.

“Tensions are higher than you can expect. You two picked a bad time. For the last day, the treaty has broken down. Theleria minor’s right on the boarder of a disputed piece of territory,” whispered 17 ominously.

“But this isn’t in Alpher or Earthen jurisdiction. There’s no direct flight,” Gohan insisted.

“Exactly. The Alphers got wise to some shipments of arms getting through to our side. I just was finishing the latest coverage on it. Tensions are ready to snap. I got the information just last week,” he tapped his ear.

“An instant transceiver for raw news,” Trunks peered around Yamcha.

“Only top notch correspondents have those, and military personnel,” Gohan narrowed his eyes.

“And there’s another reason, Lt. Col. The munitions plant on Beryllium 2 is a sitting target. I’m surprised you weren’t briefed. But there’s been scuttlebutt about it being the next likely hit for a raid, and to get to it they’ll leave a wake of smashed craft right through this route to get there!” 17 warned.

Yamcha asked, “Are you sure?”

“I am,” 17 said seriously. “As I am about Procyon 5.”

“Shit, you have to be joking!” Yamcha grumbled.

“What’s your story and where are you going?” Gohan asked.

“To cover the news of the recent threats on this shipping lane,” 17 said quietly, leaning in towards them. “And it’s my duty to warn you two officers of any latest developments.”

“You’re more than a correspondent, aren’t you?” Gohan leveled his gaze on the slender man. Another invisible duel, or rather challenge had ensued, with Satan, Trunks and Yamcha now made the spectators.

Satan knew how Gohan could judge the measure of a man or woman by careful observation. Just the same sort as 17 employed. Nevertheless, the few seconds soon were broken when 17 next uttered, “Uh huh. You know don’t you?”

“It’s elementary and child’s play when you know what to look for. Though you’re far better at hiding your true nature than most,” Gohan answered elusively.

“And what would that ‘true nature be?” Yamcha continued.

“That’s what he’s getting to,” Satan interrupted.

“I have reasons just as valid as yours. All of yours,” 17 then reassured them, not smiling this time. Rather he shifted his gaze and swept it over the others in a single pass like a searchlight. Only objectivity existed along with a stern determination on his young face. Shifting the palm stylus before him, he moved it towards Gohan across the table. A quick press of a warmth button and the device popped open to reveal its screen. Then he turned the small unit towards the wall away from the others. He manipulated the setting ever so slightly so those images seen to him alone could now be shown to the others.

“So you’ve got a fancy piece of steno ware,” Yamcha grunted. “Ironic since it’s a Capsule product.”

“I don’t see what’s so remarkable about a steno pad,” Trunks scratched his left temple. “I mean most correspondents carry them.”

“It’s not so much what it is, but how it’s used,” 17 answered, and pulled out a small stylus on the side. “I can type information onto it, and also use it like a sketchpad.”

“Pretty but what has this got to do with us?” Yamcha asked.

“A minute or two more of your time, sir,” 17 requested, his hand flying in precise strokes. Yamcha and Trunks sipped hot coffee while Gohan watched the artist dragging his ‘pencil’ across the flat top like an old fashioned pencil on paper.

“Hey, that looks like…” Satan blinked, rubbing one eye.

“You recognize it, gentlemen? Only a few people know of its existence. This and many other things I’ve seen and reported on,” 17 answered.

“Why draw it out?” Yamcha wondered. “Could you be any less clear?”

“He has to draw it out, because any images taken on holographic film can be detected and confiscated,” Gohan answered. “Am I right?”

Two brows creased with confusion, while two others nodded with sudden understanding. Trunks stared at the sketch in an effort to comprehend. Anticipating his unvoiced question 17 whispered, “Sometimes the best way to convey information that no one can steal by any other means requires old fashioned ways of extraction.”

“You’re saying that you sketch drawings of things you’ve seen instead of using other ways to take images,” Trunks said.

“Correct, lad. What more secure way to keep information from falling into the wrong hands then to carry it in your memory alone? Especially when you have a photographic memory to begin with?” 17 answered.

“To your memory alone?” Satan repeated. “Wait, that’d mean…”

“I know well what it means, Satan. It appears we are of the same side and mind. But your nature makes it even more crucial for you to be in peril,” Son Gohan nodded grimly

“I covered the recent liquidations of Capsule. Moreover, the military buildups that led you to here. I myself am trying to get to neutral territory, which is far from being safe for anyone now,” 17 replied. Snapping the erase button, he banished the image to oblivion, and then clicked the electronic stylus closed. It vanished into the pockets of his voluminous coat.

“And you just risked showing two civilians such info. You must be pretty desperate,” Yamcha glared at him.

“Now wait a minute buddy, that doesn’t mean he’s a snitch,” Satan waved his hands between the pilot and the reporter.

“Excuse me I’m only trying to show I’m someone you can trust,” the reporter sourly glared back at the pilot.

“Gentlemen calm yourselves,” Gohan hushed them, grasping both their hands and leaning between them. By now their nostrils flared, faces flushed with blood. Satan blinked and suppressed a chuckle at how identical the expressions were on Yamcha and 17’s faces.

“Relax, there’s no need to brawl over this, so knock it off,” Captain Satan barked, a little more harshly then he would have liked.

“He started it,” Yamcha mumbled.

“I’m finishing it, gentlemen,” the Engineer said firmly.

“Please Yamcha, relax,” Trunks urged, grabbing Yamcha’s hand and giving it a squeeze. “We don’t want trouble, right?”

“Right kiddo. Look, my main worry is Trunks here. If anything happens to him, I’ll hand the responsible party their butt on a silver platter,” Yamcha wagged his finger menacingly.

“Nobody’s accusing anyone of anything,” Satan interrupted. “Right sonny?”

“Right. Mister Yamcha, Mr. 17, please take a deep breath. It’s been a long trip for all of us I’m sure. Can we at least drink and continue our conversations in a civilized manner? We’re all friends here, right? All Earthmen?” Gohan insisted, smiling charmingly at all of them. Yet his dark eyes commanded authority that none of them wished to disobey. Trunks felt a surge of something greater then respect bolt through his body, and shivered. At that moment, the engineer seemed like a warrior or angel of light. He rubbed his eyes, and then stared again.

“Anyone need a refill?” Satan collected the empty bottles.

“Brandy and I’ll pay for the next round,” 17 offered, reaching into his coat pocket and passing his own credit wand to Satan.

“No, this one’s mine,” Gohan pushed the credit bar back into the correspondent’s hand.

“Suit yourself,” 17 shrugged mildly.

“I think I’m going to need something stronger too,” Yamcha grumbled. “Yellow Comet whisky but they don’t ship it out this far cause of the embargo.”

“I know just the thing,” Satan winked. “And another grape soda for the kid um… young man?”

Gohan nodded, and his aide-de-camp headed off towards the drinks station again. The gleam of nearby light passed over the reporter’s eyes, and Trunks murmured something. “Wait, state of the art ultra viewers right?”

“You catch on fast,” the engineer said. “Latest model personal lenses, right, Mr. 17?”

“Just plain 17,” the reporter waved dismissively with a slight smile. “After all, we ARE friends…”

At this statement, he looked pointedly at Yamcha. Biting his lip, the pilot reached into his pocket and tugged out a flat foil packet with a paper wrapper. Tearing it open he broke a piece off the sectioned brown slab and munched annoyed on it. “Fine, whatever. Sorry I flew off the handle. However, I’ve had it up to here with war, war and more war all over the place. And I’m not a conscientious objector but I’ve seen enough, here?”

“You act like we’re trying to recruit you?” Gohan blinked at him.

“Well, that was my first impression when you guys offered to let us share your table,” the pilot confessed with a blush to the engineer. “And then Trunks here got so excited…”

“Yamcha please,” Trunks sighed dramatically. “Don’t nag…”

“Kid, your mother, and father don’t want you ending up losing your life needlessly when I’m supposed to protect it,” the pilot answered.

“Nobody’s pressuring you to do anything, friend Yamcha. Please believe me when I assure of this,” Gohan calmly affirmed.

“Besides, we all fight in our own ways, using the talents uniquely granted us,” 17 neatly added.

“You’ve really got a way with words haven’t you,” Yamcha commented through another mouthful of chocolate. There was less edge to his voice however.

Slowly the Light of Eärendil drifted at half power toward the higher orbit of the hyperspace gate. Like a tollbooth of old, the unit allowed smaller ships to enter the hyperspace bypass. Overhead lights on the ship switched to a light greenish cast, indicating the change in ship status. In addition, a gentle musical chiming informed all passengers with a message over the PA, “Approaching hyperspace interlink. You have a half hour to reach your assigned seats or cabins from the impending transit.”

New passengers removed their tickets and adhered them either to their lapels or to shoulders. Yamcha had already done this with his ticket, for the rectangular adhesive patch about the size of a playing card shimmered with its holographic barcode on his left shoulder. Trunks gleamed on his breast pocket of his coat while 17’s was affixed to his lapel opposite the boutonniere. Walking past the main door scanners automatically counted who was supposed to be there. Once the ship was underway, it was no longer necessary to display the tickets so prominently. At least not, till the next stop. Special adhesive glue allowed the wearer to remove the patch and place it somewhere less obvious on their person once the hyperspace transition had been made.

Throughout the next few minutes, the five travelers were well on the way to becoming fast friends. Of increasing concern was where Yamcha and Trunks could go that would be safe. Gohan was concluding that it was not safe anywhere but in a place they had not yet considered. By the time Yamcha finished his chocolate, Gohan asked, “So, friend Yamcha, have you any plans about where else you wish to go? Have you decided perhaps to come with the Captain and me? You’re more than welcome to let us help you and Trunks.”

“I appreciate it, Gohan,” Yamcha said, crumpling up his foil wrapper and then stashing it into a pocket of his jacket to dispose of later. Sometimes it was hard to find receptacles on ships that you just boarded, and he preferred not to leave it on the table when he could just throw it away himself. Part of that meticulous need to take charge of his own fate and clean up after himself, he figured.

“Think nothing of it. We’ll help you guys find a planet to colonize that’s out of the way,” Satan reassured them.

“If I might make a suggestion,” 17 began.

“Some brilliant idea for where I might go? Or some slick words of advice?” Yamcha wondered.

“Well…” 17 began.

“What the hell is that?” Satan suddenly asked, pointing out the window. Already they had departed the station and were pulling out of orbit to pick up the signal for the hyperspace beacons. Therefore, the nose of the Eärendil was already pointed towards an exit velocity.

“What is what?” Gohan wondered, craning his neck to see. Other people had risen from their seats, glancing out the window or jostling for position as they moved from the windows. At first, they saw space rippling and shimmering with sheen akin to oil spilled on a pavement shifted the light in rainbow patterns. This pre hyper aura heralded the opening of a hyperspace vortex. Then space itself bulged and bowed before a pinprick opening expanded into the diameter of whatever was about to transit through in a matter of an instant.

When Yamcha turned and looked where Satan, then Trunks pointed, his blood froze. One by one, gaping blue holes opened up in space like vast maws, disgorging formations of ships with a curved flattened wing configuration. Tiny specks blew up to frightening proportions in less than a second. Their tanned gold resembled the shape of manta rays, and there were at least three that had exited from the first hold alone. Within seconds, the ships scattered the small craft going to and from the hyperspace gate, and turned their course towards the planet.

“Alpher ships! Dreadnaught class!” Satan and Gohan mouthed together.

“Dammit it was right!” 17 gritted his teeth. His gloved fingers pressed into the table, and he levered himself out of his chair to glare out at the window like everyone else. Suddenly red pulses of light flared through the window, lighting up the frightened faces of all the diners. Like a sudden flare it was gone, and then pulsed again.

“Shit what do we do?” Yamcha wondered, his heart pounding.

“Get the hell out of here,” Gohan suddenly resolved, his eyes narrowing to angry slits.

Alarm klaxons gonged in the ship, alerting the passengers. Over the loudspeaker orders echoed for passengers to sit down or enter their cabins. Anxiously the five travelers glanced at each other with hundreds of questions. Four sets of eyes looked at Gohan, while he glanced back at them. “You said to stick with you? But are we going to survive this?” Yamcha asked.

“They’re not targeting us, they’re attacking the planet and station,” Gohan answered his eyes following the formations of ships exiting the gates. The hyperspace holes closed, and then people continued to gape at the threatening predatorily ships swooping down on the planet. The central bodies of the ships were curved slightly, with two mounds projecting up like eyes. Dozens of sets of these gun turrets suddenly flared to life, and then fired first from the left, followed by the right planet wards. In groups of threes, they each orbited the planet surface, raining death from space. Two ships broke off and veered towards the station they had left behind. Their guns blazed, sending fiery missiles towards the space gate. Then a ball of fire shortly blazed, sending the space gate to oblivion.

“Holy shit, they blew up the hyperspace gate!” Yamcha cursed.

“They don’t want any ship to escape,” Satan realized. “But this ship’s going to generate it’s own gate…”

“It’ll take twenty minutes though,” Gohan mumbled, looking at his watch.

“Gohan, what now?” Satan asked grimly. “Do we stay here or do we go?”

“Yamcha, 17, Trunks… are you with Satan and I?” Gohan asked, seriously pinning them in his gaze. “You know if we stay here, they might capture or kill us…”

“These are Alpher ships, is there any escape? Besides this ship’s headed the other way!” Trunks blinked in confusion.

Gohan swore, seeing Trunks shocked face illuminated in the silver starlight. He felt the impulse to reach out and grab the youth’s trembling hand. Now the night side of the planet was in view the tiny pinpoints of light clustered into the cities shimmered like fireflies on a hot summer night. They were blocked by the momentary passage of the attackers swooping down, and then suddenly huge pools of radiance obscured them all together. A few seconds later and shifting clouds of dust rose from the scars of the attacks, blocking the spectator’s view from space. Only a deadly silence reflected the burning and exploding habitations now on the planet’s surface for there was no noise in space.

“We don’t want to risk getting captured waiting for this ship to get out of here. Those ships once they’ve finished attacking the planet they’ll pick us off!” Satan gritted.

“We’d better get out of here if we want to survive. Are you with us, I repeat?” Gohan firmly asked Yamcha, 17 and Trunks. Already people had risen from their seats and formed a line that pushed at the double doors entering the cafeteria. However, a greater percentage of the restaurant patrons jockeyed for position at the large windows, their faces pressed to the glass like fish in an aquarium gaping at their own reflections in aghast wonder.

“I’m with you all the way. I cannot afford to be captured with what I know. The information will kill hundreds of thousands more,” 17 replied, rising from his chair. Yamcha and Trunks rose as well.

“What’s your plan?” Yamcha asked, grasping Trunks hand and turning his shoulder to the aisle. The other three were already pushing into the living column of people abandoning their windows to exit.

“First we have to get out of here, and then we need our own ship, and I know where to find one,” Gohan whispered, motioning them around. “But getting it out of here…”

“They’re not just going to give one over,” Yamcha mumbled.

“I can handle that if you can handle the ship. This way, there’s a back service elevator, let’s go now!” 17 pointed towards a back corner of the dining area. Passengers either headed towards the exit or scrambled over others to glue their gaze to the huge windows affording a panoramic view of the battle. Some watched in sick fascination while others gaped in horror.

Outside the ship the attack continued. Blazes of light flared in space as the Alpher attack craft continued to soar planet wards. The dark disc of the planet now blistered with the enlarged bubbles of explosions from the guns flaring in space above. Then the spots faded to black gaping shadows in a matter of minutes. Small specks rising from around the planet clustered around the space station, their guns volleying to intercept the attackers. Yet they were like tiny flies trying to bite rampaging bison. Onboard the station turret guns spun and fired on several trios of attackers pelting it with deadly red blasters.

Light of Eärendil increased its velocity, bearing down on the hyperspace gate. Already energy surged from its engines, forming an envelope around the ship. It zoomed out of orbit, evading blasts or the paths of oncoming ships. Gohan knew they had less than 20 minutes of time to make their escape.

Yamcha and Trunks grabbed hands and kept their heads ducked, bundling after 17 who led the way, followed by Gohan and Satan. “This way!” 17 motioned for them to follow him. Fighting their way through the panicking travelers scrambling to exit, 17, and Gohan reached the utility access that led to the back storage galley. Taking out his gun, Gohan aimed a low intensity blast to cut out the lock. He and Yamcha then shoved the hatch open and urged the others through the narrow aperture.

“This is the robot galley,” Satan commented once they squeezed past food service robots frozen in place. They were on the other side of the galley wall, looking through the tiny windows where people reached for pies, cakes and other refreshments. Yamcha and Trunks squeezed among them while 17 raised his hand to a small access panel to the side of the narrow door marked ‘service use only’.

“Squeeze in folks,” 17 said. They all crammed into the tiny elevator car, the door rolling shut behind them. Only usually large enough for freight and robots trundling it, they were all pressed like sardines. Once the door slid open, they almost fell on top of each other in their haste to escape. Instead of the cream and lavender paneling on the passenger corridors, the utilitarian metal, and ceramics denoted they were in utility hallways. So far, there was no sign of any crew.

“We need to get to the hangar, 17,” Gohan whispered. “We’re going to take one of their pods. Yamcha, Satan, you’ll need to help ‘persuade’ anyone we run into.”

“Got you,” Satan nodded.

“No problem,” Yamcha said, patting his hip. He had had the foresight to bring a civilian blaster, slim and lightweight in comparison to the ones he saw tucked into the holsters of Gohan and Satan. A glimpse at 17’s belt under that voluminous coat also confirmed the reporter had his own sidearm as well.

“Three decks down, but the food elevator probably won’t take us that far,” Gohan murmured.

“Right,” Satan nodded, glancing back and forth warily. Trunks kept close to Yamcha, who had reached to un-holster his gleaming small weapon. It was small enough to fit into his hand with only a half inch of muzzle showing. Satan and Gohan had their own blasters out, the standard sidearm for Earth Defense while 17 reached under his coat.

Pressing close to the walls, they followed Gohan silently through the maze of corridors. Reaching another elevator, Gohan motioned to 17 to follow him first, and then called for them to stop because they heard footsteps echoing. Guns at the ready they all ducked out of site while a patrol of ship crew rushed by. Then 17 and Gohan dashed up to the elevator doors. Another wave of 17’s hand before the chip reader and the door easily slid open. Yamcha and Satan urged Trunks between them and leapt into the fast closing door just as more footsteps echoed from down the hall.

“Too close,” Gohan whispered, wiping sweat off his face. He depressed the buttons for the hangar area, and they all tensed and waited to reach the right deck. Bright red flashes of the alarm shortly flared and painted them in pulses of red light. Once the doors slid open and the bell dinged, Gohan first aimed his gun out, glancing back and forth for any personnel. Satisfied there was none he then motioned the others to follow. Satan brought up the rear after Trunks and Yamcha, while 17 was right behind Gohan. They needed his access chip closest to the front of their party.

Down the corridors marked with the ciphers for “pod bays’ they moved, pressing close to the walls. Only a short distance around a bend an adjoining hall was filled with rounded doors at intervals of ten feet. They were double sided and thick, pressurized airlocks that each led to a cylindrical mini pod craft with small engines. Half the craft length was comprised of fuel tanks and ship engines, Gohan recalled, with enough seating for perhaps ten crew.

“Company,” Satan hissed, nodding with his head.

“Satan, get into position. Fast and hard,” Gohan whispered. Just out of sight of them, three of the party bent almost double and stole out into the open. Yamcha watched from a distance with Trunks, letting the professionals handle this part. Gohan and Satan got off shots, but only Satan’s connected. One of the uniformed men crumpled, bathed in blue light while the other ducked out of the shot landing right near his shoulder.

“Crap,” Yamcha gritted, as the main trained his gun. Then a shot fired from behind sizzled just past, felling the guard who crumpled when his muscles all contracted at once. 17’s hand held up the weapon he had drawn and fired with pinpoint accuracy.

“Nice shooting,” he commented, releasing his grip on Trunks.

“No problem,” 17 nodded, walking past them to where Gohan and Satan stood examining the access panel. Pressing the back of his gloved hand yet again to the flat square ID panel, he then waited before depressing a few buttons. Ciphers flickered on the tiny screen, a chime dinged, and they all breathed a sigh of relief to hear a steady click and a slow hiss heralding the inner door spiraling open. 17 then Gohan led the way through the cylindrical airlock about ten feet in length. Automatically the door hissed shut behind them.

After a short walk down the tube to the berthed pod, they reached the second airlock door that led to the hangar bay. Once the door spiraled open, it revealed a larger chamber, with high ceiling sloping in a gentle curve overhead. Four squat cylinders were berthed in half moon shaped cradles, each with their noses pointed towards a shut hatch. Gears and coasters under the cradles fit into twin grooves, indicating the cradles were free to move on their own with the pods on top. When ready for launch the hatch would slide open, then the cradle bearing the respective pod would shift forwards and release after the ship’s nose was out. The gentle nudge would propel the craft far out enough into space so that the engines did not have to fire until the pod had fully exited.

Heading to the nearest ship, the party assembled beside its large cradle. 17 climbed up the access ladder to the ship door itself. 17’s raised hand beside the latches caused a chirping confirmation, and the ship door slid to reveal a dark space behind it. Tiny lights flickered in the floor, showing arrows that marked the way to enter. AT the same time, a dull red glow illuminated the pod’s interior, bathing them in an ever-brightening light so they could see enough to climb over the seats.

The cabin of the pod was about thirty feet long by ten feet wide. At the far end was a translucent sliding partition that partly concealed a pilot and copilot’s single seats behind flickering instrument panels. Spongy carpeting cushioned their feet, running in a strip along the aisle separating three seats up the left side and two flanking either side of the door that led in. A double seat covered the back of the cabin, hiding a small rectangular access panel that must lead to the engines. Over each seat was a storage locker, while other hairlines in places in the rounded concave walls were the shapes of more storage doors.

Yamcha made his way up front, sliding the panel aside to reveal the pilot’s seat. Settling into it, he then rested his hands on the control yoke and buttons. A curse escaped his lips when he saw the unreadable Canopian script. “Shit, I can’t read this language!”

“Not to worry, Gohan can,” said Satan.

“We still need to get out of the hangar door,” Gohan commented. “17, Yamcha, turn the ship systems on, but delay the engine warm-up I’m going to arrange us an exit.”

“Out there in the airlock itself?” Satan asked, as Gohan climbed over the seats and went down the aisle to the hatch on one side.

“So can I,” 17 murmured, leaning over Yamcha’s shoulder.

“Where’s ignition?” Yamcha ran his hands through his hair.

“Don’t power the ship up yet. Wait for me to get back,” Gohan instructed, his head, and shoulders tucked through the doorway of the pod. Satan hung back to watch him while Trunks sat in the seat immediately behind Yamcha.

“That’s start…” 17 reached over Yamcha’s hand. Fighting the urge to slap it aside Yamcha leaned over and grumbled.

“Sit down will you, you’re cramping my space,” he joked sarcastically.

“Shall I label everything?” 17 asked.

“Hah ha,”

“No I’m serious,” 17 answered, reaching into his pocket, and pulling out a small pad of paper.

“I thought you didn’t use real paper anymore,” Trunks mentioned.

“Well that’s start, and that’s the navicomputer. And then there’s the coordinate programmer there,” 17 pointed.

“All in the same relative place, but the other things for environmental controls are ass backwards,” Yamcha commented, miming running his fingers over the buttons.

“Don’t touch that, it’s the jettison system!” 17 sharply cautioned as Yamcha froze his hand over a relay of blue gleaming lights.

“Thanks for not telling me till the last damn minute,” Yamcha mumbled through his teeth. “Okay, you say that’s up, and down. Then that’s pitch and yawl. Two joysticks. Got it.”

Outside the ship, Gohan grimaced, aiming his gun at the inner wall of the hangar bay. He singed a metal panel, and then peeled it aside. While Satan, 17 and Yamcha waited, he melted the connections between a few of the exposed wires. A tiny current stopped short and he knew the first part of his task was accomplished. Then slowly he reached for another wire, knowing he had only seconds to avoid the explosive decompression and leap onboard the ship.

Slowly the auxiliary door rolled open in front of their chosen pod, accompanied by the hiss of pressurizing air. Gohan clung to the railing of the pod support, pulling himself hand over hand to the hatch. Satan himself reached out his hand, eyes partly shut to the whoosh of air rushing out of the pressurized bay to the void of space only yards away. Spikes of hair plastered to Gohan’s face and he grabbed Satan’s extended hand. With a grunt, Satan leaned back and hauled Gohan inside. Someone else grabbed Satan’s shoulder, and he saw both 17 and Trunks bracing themselves inside the craft, with a death grip on his aide-de camp. In an undignified heap they all landed. From up front, Yamcha depressed a switch and the hatch slammed closed.

Gohan felt Satan’s arms shortly around him, then suddenly release. Still the pressure of slender fingers on his shoulder did not let go. A thrust forward and then he felt the steady pull of artificial gravity diminish. Gracefully each passenger levitated from the floor at the same time the forward view from the pilot’s area blurred with movement. Then it seemed there was no reference for up and down as each of them grabbed onto something to keep from floating away.

“We’re clear of the ship; we just shot out the auxiliary door!” Yamcha called from up front. A small joystick held in his left hand controlled pitch, while the handle in his left controlled velocity. Smoothly the star field shifted into the sight of all the passengers, synchronized with Yamcha’s own hand movements. Through it, they saw him bank and turn, until the lavender underside of the Light of Eärendil dominated the upper half of the forward screen.

“Great. Use the bare minimum to keep as close to the Light of Eärendil as possible!” Gohan called from the seat he had grabbed onto. Trunks slender hand still clutched Gohan’s sleeve, and the boy was wide eyed with the sensation of weightlessness. Beyond the artificial gravity of the Eärendil, the pod was free from its pull.

“Keep the gravity off,” Gohan added, steadying him with one hand while guiding Trunks towards a nearby seat with his other.

Satan and 17 each clung to a seat, scrambling to push them into a place where they could strap in. To his left Satan maneuvered himself into the nearest seat, while 17 hovered in the one just behind Yamcha. “That’s the magnetic field switch,” he pointed.

Gohan guided Trunks floating body to a seat, and helped buckle him in. “I’m not used to weightlessness,” Trunks sheepishly explained.

“Just sit where you are, and relax. Satan, any idea how many supplies this ship has?”

“A quick look tells me we’ve got a few days worth of food for ten people, and oxygen,” Satan said from his seat. Already the shifting views in the front moved in

Gohan grabbed the nearest handholds, which happened to be the corners of the seats then grabbed the edge of the panel screening the cockpit from the passenger area. Walking on his hands, he then maneuvered himself to sit in the co pilot’s seat. 17 hovered between them, still holding onto the corner of Yamcha’s seat with his left hand while pointing out controls with his right.

“I’ll take over, 17. You buckle in for now,” said Gohan, realizing what was going on before him. Yamcha was unable to read Canopian writing, and 17 had been an interpreter. Now 17 settled into the seat just behind Trunks who was buckled into the seat behind Yamcha. Across from him, Satan found the seat behind the co pilot, leaving 17 to find a seat in the second passenger row.

“What’s your plan?” Yamcha asked, his eyes still focused straight ahead. Gohan admired how the pilot’s eyes did not deviate for a second even when speaking to him. Stars dragged in a slow crawl, and still the underbelly of the Light of Eärendil was clearly visible, showing his ability to keep pace.

“We’ll use the hyperspace field from the Light of Eärendil and hang close till we get into hyperspace. Once we’re inside, we’ll then use our engines and take another course,” Gohan said.

“Can you do that?” Trunks asked.

“Easily,” Gohan nodded.

“He’s right,” Yamcha nodded, with a grin. “I’ll just stay right with the Light of Eärendil, and follow them in. I’ll stick to them like glue!”

“You’ll need all the finesse you can muster, because those Alphers are going to come after us,” Gohan nodded, patting his shoulder. “But once we reach hyperspace you’re going to have to break off.”

“Makes sense,” Yamcha nodded, his left hand pitching the shift to the left as he saw the Eärendil slightly banking. “Just the right moment I hit bam full power. You can count on me.”

“These ship sensors I’ll use to sweep and detect the pulse when they’re going to open the gate.”

“This craft needs a name,” Satan tapped his lip.

“Does it matter?” 17 asked.

“All ships need a name,” Yamcha nodded. “Besides I kind of like this craft.”

“Any suggestions for a name?” Gohan asked, glancing around at his small crew.

“How about the Sunrise?” asked Trunks.

“Simple, but it works,” said Yamcha. On the panel before him, a red blinking light caught his eye and he saw the Light of Eärendil suddenly bank and turn. Not wasting a second his hands angled the control levers to match perfectly. Behind him, the passengers saw the view field shift and roll to the side, then turn 90 degrees to face another constellation of stars.

“What’s going on?” Trunks asked.

“We’ve got company,” Yamcha announced grimly.

Tiny blips on the locator between them showed the pod as a red X and the shape of the Eärendil almost atop them. Miniature manta ray shapes in sickly green passed across and buzzed on the locator like tiny fireflies. At least five, now six were clustered around moving in and out of view.

“And more to come,” Yamcha whispered.

Gohan frowned at the distant specs of gold whizzing diagonally across their path. Again the Light of Eärendil banked at a thirty-five degree angle, and then spun one eighty the opposite way. Yamcha’s shoulders moved more dramatically, his hands tense on the controls sticking the pod’s course to the Light of Eärendil’s like a shadow. Red flashes of light caught everyone’s eyes in the bottom of the screen, and then they saw the greenish pulses overhead soaring towards the specks buzzing around like bees in a swarm. Eärendil’s guns were returning the fire, and the next series of pitches and turns swerved around more frequent blossoms of red fire.

At a forty-five degree angle, an approaching Alpher warship swung straight at them. Its left and right guns blazed one after the other. Hissing through his teeth Yamcha banked to the left mirroring the Light of Eärendil’s adjustment. Green blazes shot from overhead, sliding down to a central point and landing a hit on the attacking craft. Then they pitched starboard and veered after the Eärendil swerving around to face another warship that had maneuvered head on.

“Look out!” Gohan managed to get out before the blazing red light grew rapidly into the size of a basketball and headed directly at them. Stars spiraled around as Yamcha pushed the ship into a spin after the Eärendil banked and rolled away. The shot vanished out of the forward view and space was only shortly clear once more. No longer was the sight of the Eärendil visible, until Yamcha’s hands glided the rods, and then it slid once more into view.

“Excellent!” Gohan panted, his eyes glued to the scanner. He saw that the numerals flickered to higher readings, but were still not telling him what he needed to know, other than the pulses of other Alpher ships suddenly spilling out of hyperspace.

“Not out of the woods yet, dead ahead!” Yamcha barked, cutting him off.

Another Alpher warship appeared right in front of them, while a second whizzed across the immediate view. Two green traces on the locator blipped dangerously close to the blue shape of the Eärendil only a small distance before the X. On the forward viewport, they saw the deadly near miss and the green blazes from overhead that sizzled towards it. Tiny speckles of light erupted along the blur as it broke off. Straight ahead the warships’ cannons fired, twin pulses sizzling head-on towards them. Again Yamcha banked, matching the Eärendil’s evasive swerve.

“They’re everywhere,” Gohan frowned, his expression as dark and grim as Yamcha’s. Now eleven blips signifying warships buzzed around the Eärendil on the locator.

“We’re really stuck,” Satan shook his head. “We don’t have any weapons in this bucket!”

“The Eärendil’s fighting them but she’s blocked in,” Yamcha called back, still staring straight ahead as his hands danced on the controls, the ship around them locked in a desperate tango with the Eärendil ahead and above them.

“Shouldn’t we pull back?” 17 asked.

“We’d be dead if we weren’t below them,” Yamcha explained tersely. “They’re a shield and I’m keeping just under their tail as it is! You want me to pull back and we’ll all get creamed out there!”

“Just keep doing what you’re doing, and we’ll stay alive,” Gohan reassured him, his eyes glued now to the increasing numbers on his energy scanner. He then diverted his gaze to his watch, seeing that already 17 minutes had passed. Then the readings jumped and he inhaled a sigh of gratefulness. Sure enough, an energy pulse was fast materializing before the Light of Eärendil.

“Yamcha, get ready! Everyone hang onto your seats, this is going to be rough!” Gohan shouted, pointing at the flickering numbers skyrocketing on his scanner.

“Finally,” Yamcha gasped, seeing space stretch and skitter like water on glass. Stars distorted and blurred as if seen underwater. Then a tiny blue pinprick sparked open, quickly expanding into an indigo gap that filled the entire view before them.

“NOW!” Gohan ordered, seeing the Light of Eärendil move forwards. Foot pressing on thrust, Yamcha throttled an extra burst to match the Eärendil’s own engines firing. The entire ship shuddered and rattled with the force of the transition. Around them the stars were no more, instead replaced by the blinding streaks and undulating blue and purple of the hyperspace conduit.

Between them, the locator flickered with a dull blue field under the X that was they and the trace of the Eärendil. Sweat blistered on all their foreheads as they watched Gohan lean closer to Yamcha. Teeth rattling together all five passengers gripped tightly to their seats.

“Heading?” Yamcha asked.

“Hard-a-port 180! Break off now!” Gohan ordered. Yamcha shoved the levers accordingly, before he jammed his foot on the thrust. Eärendil shot out of view, and the field of view blurred to streaks as they turned into their own course. Gohan and everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief to see the Eärendil’s shape shift off the locator from the center X.

“Don’t celebrate yet,” Yamcha snapped. A loud pinging sound flashed red in his face and Gohan’s. Four red pulses dinged into view on the locator.

“Dammit, Alpher warships! In the hyperspace vortex!” Gohan cursed. It was only natural that the Eärendil was pursued into hyperspace though. His stomach squirmed to see the red blips converging on the blue one, and then his eye flickered to the energy scanner.

“Right ahead, watch it…”

“They’re nuts, they’re firing on the Light of Eärendil!”

“No…”

“We’re dead! Hold on!”

“Hold her steady….”

“I can’t… outrun it… the shockwave…”

“Oh my god I’m going to puke!”

“BRACE yourselves for impact!”

“HANG ON it’s going to HIT!”

“Nooo!”

Five voices cried out in the ensuing shock that slammed into them and sent them spinning. A bone crunching shock whipped them hard, power flickering on and off as reality whirled out of control.



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