The Beginning of the End
The shelters Carlon had ordered built were literally falling apart. The destruction Jone’s people resorted to left the area outside the ship looking like a failed refugee camp. Not up to anyone’s standards whatsoever. Not even someone as disheveled as Carlon.
He tilted back the one chair still sturdy enough to hold the position, feet up on the cracked table. Janus, his number one partner, leaned against the wall. That gray morning had been dreary like so many others. It matched the mood of the room.
“When you bringing everyone out today?” asked Carlon.
“We thought it might rain so were keeping them in,” said Janus, “we’ll probably start getting them out soon.”
Large hand gestures were one of Carlon’s trademarks. “Why are we waiting, let’s get ‘em out here. It’s not like we can rebuild this stuff ourselves.”
Tanner, bald and number two in command, spoke from the ground where he’d been sitting against the wall. “Yeah, well it’s not like we can build anything without fabricators, so it doesn’t really matter if we’ve got workers or not.”
“What about that tree from the other day?” said Carlon.
Janus stifled a laugh trying to escape his scratchy throat. “No good. A guy got killed trying to do it by hand. Near chopped off his leg, his swing was so bad. Bled to death outside.”
Carlon’s face carried no sympathy. “What does one worker’s bad aim have to do with whether or not a tree gets cut down?”
“Our hand tools aren’t good enough for trees that size,” Tanner said with a sigh. “And we need big ones to make wood planks sturdy enough for shelters.”
“Then make me tools that ARE good enough!” shouted Carlon. He kicked the tabletop. “That bastard Alder ruined us! There has to be a way to get things done without fabricators.”
Janus and Tanner were used to the outbursts; they simply rolled their eyes at each other.
The three men went back to silence. Suddenly, Carlon’s attention piqued.
“What is that?” he said quietly, taking his feet off the table.
Janus froze in place as he noticed it, too. He set one hand on the flimsy table, then jerked his eyes straight to Carlon. They oozed confusion.
A rumbling buzzed through every inch of the space. Soon, it grew to a thunderous roar outside that zoomed by overhead. The men sprinted out the broken door.
A dark blue Colony ship hovered just above the ground about four hundred yards away. The sound had dissipated, but the force of the great ship’s mighty size could be felt even from that distance.
The look on Carlon’s face was that of pure disbelief. “What does that say? Which Colony does it say?!”
Janus squinted to make out the white lettering stamped on the Colony’s side. Tanner shook his head and peered as well.
“Why do you think they’re here?” said Janus. He sounded hopeful, yet incredibly skeptical.
“Who cares?” cried Carlon. “All that matters is they’re here and they’ve got the means to help us. Let’s get over there!”
“Hold it!” Tanner grabbed Carlon’s dirty brown shirt as he tried to run off. “What if they know?”
Carlon paused with the question. His focus became lost. “You think they’d know?”
Tanner shrugged his muscular shoulders. “I don’t know, maybe. It seems weird they’d just show up all of a sudden.”
“I see,” Carlon said after more reasoning. “You know, Tanner, you just may be right about that.”
“How could they possibly know about what happened to Eight? All communications were down,” said Janus.
“Who knows?” said Carlon. “But believe you me, if we were able to keep eight Colony ships secret for five straight years, then I’d believe it if someone found out we blew Eight out of the sky.”
“What do you think they’d do to us if that’s what they’re here for?” said Janus.
“I’d imagine a whole army of red shirts would come busting out the Colony doors,” said Carlon. He sighed and the scruffy beard he’d so long neglected tensed with his jaw. “Although…I have a feeling that’s not what this is.”
Janus strained to the horizon as the great Colony ship came to a soft landing. “What exactly are you thinking?”
Carlon paused for a few moments as he pondered to himself. A wry smile slowly covered his face. “I’m thinkin’ we’ve got ourselves the answer to our dilemma, boys.”
“What do you mean?” Tanner asked carefully.
Carlon gave him a friendly hit to the back. “How would you feel about an entire Colony of workers?”
“Workers?” said Tanner.
Janus smirked. “I see what you mean. Workers, fabricators, weapons…we’ll be back to full strength in no time flat.”
Tanner nodded, still watching the ship. Suddenly, his face lit up.
“It’s Four!” he shouted. He pointed to the distance. “I can see it.”
“You sure?” Carlon asked urgently.
Carlon whooped. “Now that’s what I’m talking about! Archauus has got to be the biggest pushover of all the Commanders. Super righteous, always does the right thing—he’ll gladly offer his help, I have no doubt.”
“What if he knows what we did, though?” asked Tanner.
Carlon waved him off. “Archauus is so noble he’ll believe anything we tell him, no matter what evidence they have.”
“We’ll have to play ‘em good,” said Janus, scratching at the dark skin on his face.
“You bet we will,” said Carlon. He turned to Tanner. “Jone tried to take over and ended up ruining us before she took off for somewhere else. Got it?”
Tanner nodded. “She ordered the attack and we lost everything because of her.”
“Think they’ll buy it?” Janus asked, still focused on the dark outline of Four.
“Oh, they will,” Carlon said quietly. “They’ll believe us, and soon,” He laughed openly, “they’ll work for us.”
Consequences of Doing the Right Thing
Gabring’s feet made thuds across the packed dirt of camp.
He hung his head, avoiding eye contact with the few people daring to appear for breakfast. They had no idea what he’d done. How could they? It was almost on par with atrocity. At least the lack of eye contact wouldn’t seem odd. Not anymore; everyone felt uncomfortable. Death hung thick like smoke on a still night.
He could have taken the long way to his usual Fabricator, to avoid anyone who might be roaming, but there was no avoiding this. It would come out, and soon.
“Gabring.” Archauus’ voice sounded from behind. He walked swiftly, filthy Colony coat unfastened, his black and gray-speckled hair uncombed.
Gabring stood straighter automatically. “Sir.”
Archauus stopped further away than he normally would have. Five feet was a requirement, although most kept a distance twice that, just to be sure. Kam had no idea how far the virus could travel across an airborne distance. “Have you seen Mayla? She’s not in her shelter.”
Gabring pressed his lips tighter and he glanced down at his hand bearing scrapes from the previous night. “Last night I did.”
Archauus studied Gabring’s face. Something was off. “Why did you see her last night? Was something wrong?”
A long sigh escaped Gabring. He gathered his courage and looked his Commander straight in the eye. “She’s gone into Colony Seven.”
Archauus dared to sprint forward three steps. His eyes were wild. “What?! Seven? Are you serious?”
“Yes, she’s got a plan to get inside for the cure.”
“Get in?!” Archauus roared. “You knew about this and didn’t stop her?! What is wrong with you, Gabring?!”
“Now, just hold on.” Gabring held up one hand as his Commander grit his teeth and breathed deep. “The plan isn’t a bad one. She’s on to something here.”
“What are you talking about?!”
There was a tree just next to the two men; Gabring leaned against it and shut his eyes. “She told them she wanted to join up with Carlon. That she’s changed sides.”
Archauus groaned. “You two expected her to get in based off that?! They’ll see right through it!”
“That’s what I said. But remember, Ty is a Senior Officer there.”
Archauus shoulders slumped. “She’ll get Ty to let her in.”
“But how can she possibly think he’ll just take her back?” Archauus shook his head. “Old feelings or not, I don’t think Ty would believe it.”
“He’d probably believe the story that Baylen was hitting her, that we took you prisoner and she escaped for help.”
“Baylen?” chuckled Archauus. “Like he’d ever believe that story.”
Gabring couldn’t get himself to say the words out loud. Instead, he held up his damaged hand.
“What is that from?” said Archauus.
“I hit her,” sighed Gabring.
Archauus rose to shouting again. “You what?!”
“I had to!” Gabring sprung up straight from the tree and began to pace the dirt. “You have no idea how hard that was for me, how insane! I mean, hitting Mayla in the face…” He shook his head in shame. “But she was right, there had to be injuries to make the story believable.”
Archauus buried his face in his palms. “Oh, Gabring, what have you done?”
“I’m sorry, sir. Believe me, I was not on board with this. But honestly, she’s kind of right…what other options do we have?” said Gabring. His voice became soft. “Everyone is dying, no progress being made. And Baylen—you know that girl would do anything if it meant saving him. I’ve never seen two people so obsessed with each other.”
Archauus scoffed with a touch of disgust to it. “Yeah, no kidding.”
“My point is, she’ll go to whatever lengths she has to in order to find the cure. Lengths that nobody else would.”
“Lengths that could get her killed.”
“Maybe,” said Gabring. “But also lengths that could stop this virus before it kills every last one of us.”
Archauus took in a long and deep breath, closed his eyes while savoring it, then regrouped. “How long ago do you think she got in?”
“Middle of the night.”
A relieving smile pulled at the corner of Archauus’ mouth. “That’s good, then. If Carlon had killed her, I’m sure he’d be here parading her dead body for us all to see. At least I’d think.”
Gabring didn’t necessarily agree, but he nodded anyway. “Yeah, I’m sure you’re right.”
“If she takes too long, we might have to form a plan to go in and rescue her,” said Archauus. He wrung his hands together.
“Maybe, although I don’t know what good that would do.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that Mayla knows how long Baylen has left. She’s given herself a timeline. Either she’s back before Baylen dies, or not. If she’s not, well…” Gabring shrugged.
“Then I go in.”
“Go into Seven? But what would you do?”
A fiery hatred smoldered in Archauus’ eyes. “I’ll kill every red shirt between me and Carlon until I can get close enough to give him this virus.”
The two men stared into each other’s gaze for many moments. Finally, Gabring spoke.
“Then I’ll be right beside you. But Baylen’s only got days left.”
Archauus nodded once. “If she’s not back by then, we go in.”