“We will be awaiting your orders, Captain.”
I nodded to Lesna, my second-in-command.
“That is good. It is best that none of you expose yourself to the elements on the planet Hexa. Unless I find that I need reinforcements, I want you to stay here and wait for me, no matter how long it takes. If I have not come back to you within a week’s time, you must send word to the Resha Federation. They will instruct you how to proceed from there.”
“Of course, sir. As you say.”
Lesna disappeared back into the ship, and I headed down to the prison planet, fully prepared for whatever I might find there.
My job, as the strongest man in the Raither Army, was to gather the wreckage of the ship that had crash landed on Hexa a few months prior. It was actually something of a punishment; the assignment was horribly dangerous, and the operation should have been done by several men. But the Federation was convinced it was safer to have only one Raither on the ground working to collect the ship’s wreckage, and because I had been disgraced, I was the underdog chosen for the assignment. My strength had become something of a curse in this aspect.
But I didn’t need to think about that right now. My job was to get myself safely from the ship without any detection so that my crew could wait for me just outside of Hexa’s atmosphere as I collected the missing pieces of the ship and prepared it to be towed back up to Yala.
I couldn’t help but feel a small twinge of bitterness. The Raithers trapped here had been on Hexa for many, many months. In fact, we had presumed them dead. In all the time they were there, they hadn’t thought to go out and try to salvage any parts. Only the commander of the ship had come anywhere close to collecting the missing pieces, and the rest would be left up to me.
Most of the crew had already been saved, leaving the ship behind as a testament to their bad luck. However, the Resha Federation had declared the ship being on Hexa a state of emergency. If any of the diabolical minds entrapped on Hexa were able to catch wind that there was a virtual wealth of resources on the planet, a beakout could potentially occur. There were no minds craftier than those with nothing to do but plot an escape. We could not let the enemies get their hands on the Raither technology. Especially not the kind with the intelligence to learn how to use it.
Whether the Raithers themselves had been able to bring the ship back into working order or not, it didn’t mean that there weren’t threats on the planet Hexa that might be able to do what seemed impossible to my own people. The criminal mind could turn even the most innocent thing into a weapon. Who was to say what these brutal creatures, confined for much of their lives to this planet, might do once they were finally able to escape?
It was my job to see to it that this didn’t happen. The Resha Federation had also asked me to look around for any missing parts to the ship that may have been within the area, so it was probably going to take quite a bit of time before we were ready to leave. They were predicting it might take me about two weeks, but that was barring any unforeseen obstacles. And on Hexa, there were always unforeseen obstacles.
And now, I would embark upon it alone, hoping against hope that whatever evil may be lurking out there, I would not meet my match.
The foliage of the planet Hexa was breathtaking. From above, the planet seemed quite varied in terms of terrain, and it was impossible to tell from a distance just what it might be like as one actually walked the planet, but now that I was off of my ship and immersed in the unbelievably lush jungle-like plant life, I couldn’t help but feel impressed.
My own home planet, Yala, was not exactly rich in this type of plant life, and it had been quite a while since I had enjoyed air of this quality. It was clear that there were no technological advancements made on this planet, and nobody who was imprisoned here was allowed the luxury of a hovercraft.
Even the most sustainable of technologies often had adverse effects on a planet’s air quality as manufacture was often primitive. Here though, on the planet Hexa, the lack of technology made it abundantly clear that there was little pollution, and the planet was as close to its original state as it could possibly be.
“How is everything on the ground, Captain Krechan?” my second-in-command asked through the small device in my ear. “Do you need reinforcements or are you confident that you can handle this matter quietly and on your own?”
“This should be nothing for me,” I said quietly. “Though it would be safest if we were not to speak much. The creatures on this planet are likely to hear, and if they suspect anything, then there is going to be hell to pay. Is that understood?”
“Of course, Captain. Just contact us when you are ready. We will be waiting here for your commands.”
I didn’t bother to answer. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched. But it was too early to tell. The ship was just a few more kilometers away. All I had to do was make it there and assess the situation. I would be able to move from there.
I continued cautiously, unable to shake my suspicion and paranoia. The woods seemed to be alive with formidable enemies; beasts I had only read about during my studies of the Species Anthology all Raithers had been forced to study during our schooling years. While it was important to understand economics, mathematics, and sciences, it was equally important to understand each class of being in the universe and their potential weaknesses and strengths, should our powerful planet someday find itself on the receiving end of an attack.
To date, Yala had been undefeated in terms of warfare and hadn’t seen a battle on its own soil in many hundreds of years. We were quite proud of this accomplishment and were not afraid of hiding it. The Raithers were proud warriors, a race that could hold its own in any terrain throughout the galaxy. And yet, being in the forests of Hexa managed to give me pause.
Finally, my heart pounded as I stepped into a small clearing, where the metallic, Raither beauty was jutting out of the ground. Most of it was uncovered, but they seemed to have given up at trying to dig it out of the ground at some point because now most of the machine was surrounded by piles of dirt despite not being fully freed from it.
The plan was that I would go to the ship and slowly, carefully, begin to disassemble it. Once I had a load of pieces, I would place them all carefully at the drop-off point and my crew would teleport them up into the ship, to be stored for safekeeping until we were able to return to Yala. When my mission was accomplished, I would return back to my home planet victorious, and perhaps be able to go back to my old job and clear up the misunderstanding once and for all…
Now wasn’t the time to think about glory and victory though. I had to get to the ship and begin my task. If I wasn’t killed by the creatures of Hexa, I would be considered for a great promotion in rank. After the demotion I had suffered, it would be very beneficial to be able to get whatever shred of honor back that I possibly could.
I would have to begin with the control panel. That was where the most valuable technology lay. I checked my toolbelt to make sure that I had everything I needed before heading into the ship. For some reason, I felt deep apprehension before going inside. It was dark and ominous, almost like a relic of a forgotten past lost in a prehistoric jungle, even though it was the most advanced technology that the Raithers had to date. There was something intimidating about that.
Not only that, but I had no idea what I was going to find inside. Most of the advanced technology that I had been trained to carry did not work within the confines of the prison planet, but I had been equipped with some primitive throwing weapons and knives for my safety’s sake. I had to hope that whatever I might find inside, I would be able to hold my own against it.
I took a deep breath as I began to climb the extended ramp into the entryway of the ship, my stomach fluttering at the prospect of the unknown. I was brave, the bravest in my class according to the field test results, but there was something about this place that got under my skin. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it yet, but I would in time.
My footsteps echoed along the metallic corridor as I headed cautiously toward the control panel, my senses finely tuned to the activity around me. I wanted nothing more than to turn right back around and demand I go back home to my own planet, but I could not be disgraced any further. And this time it would have been my own doing that dishonored me, not an unfair situation I had no control over.
It was rather odd for me to be this disconcerted. I had always been able to hold my own in battle. They had likened me to a gentle giant, whose strength and resilience was unmatched. It made me the target of many an envious soldier, however, which had ultimately led to my downfall.
I jumped at the sound of something clattering at the far end of the ship, right in the control panel where I was headed at that moment. I drew my weapon, my hands shaking, and walked forward, forcing my fear down to the recesses of my body where it most belonged. I had no room for fear when it came to survival. All I could do was fight.
The doorway of the control panel was ajar, which made it a little bit easier for me as I crept forward, sure that I was already going to face my first battle on this strange planet. I pressed my back against the wall before peering inside, hoping I might have the advantage of a surprise attack.
My eyes registered movement in the corner of the room, and I leaped forward with my weapon raised, unleashing a war cry that echoed in the metallic chamber of the control panel. My bellow was met by a shriek of fear, and my eyes narrowed as they fixed upon a slight, mysterious creature of a pale complexion, with the most dazzling green eyes I had ever seen.
“What?” I mumbled, lowering my weapon despite my every instinct telling me that she was not to be trusted. And yet I took a step forward as she cowered on the ground, holding a pillow out in front of herself for protection. A human.
“Please, don’t hurt me. I swear, I won’t do anything to you. You can have the ship. Just please let me go!”
Her voice was soft and gentle but on the verge of hysteria. My heart broke for this pitiful creature. Who knew what kinds of dangers she had faced on this horrifying planet? Even being as well-equipped for battle as I was, the place had a sinister energy that made me wary. I couldn’t imagine what it might be like for a defenseless human. A female no less.
“I do not intend to harm you, human,” I said, clearing my throat and putting my weapon away quickly. The sooner it was out of sight, the better. I did not want her feeling as though I was just toying with her. “What are you doing in this ship? It belongs to the Raithers. It is government property.”
“But nobody was using it…” she said quietly, dropping her pillow down to her stomach and hugging it tightly. She was seated on the ground, in a nest of blankets and pillows. I presumed that beneath her was one of the mattresses from the cots, and I couldn’t help but wonder why she was not holed up in one of the bedrooms rather than by the control panel. What was she hoping to accomplish here?
“No, and nobody will again,” I agreed. “It is broken.”
“Well, yeah, I can see that,” she said, gesturing to a small collection of parts that had been torn from beneath the control panel.
The first small glimpse of assertiveness from her supple lips was both attractive and annoying. I had to tear my eyes away from her to where she was referencing. It was a mess over there. Presumably, the other Raithers had been doing their best to repair it. Hopefully, they and they alone had had access to these valuable pieces of equipment. But the human made me wonder.
“Why are you sleeping by the control panel, human? You do understand that you are violating Raither law by trespassing in a military craft, do you not?”
“Um, I do not,” she said, standing up from her nest and eyeing me skeptically, her hands on her hips. Again, her assertiveness was highly attractive to me, except for the way I felt that she was measuring me up, as if waiting for me to do something to prove to her that she shouldn’t like or trust me. “Considering I’m from Earth and I’ve been stuck on this shitty planet for the past year…I think? Time feels funny here. Anyway, I’ve been stuck here. Not wherever the hell you come from.”
“Yala,” I said quickly. “Raithers come from the planet Yala. And this place we are on is called Hexa. It is a planet where all the most brutal monsters in the galaxy are imprisoned. It is more humane than execution. They make their own fates here.”
“Humane?” the human asked, stepping toward me and jutting her chin up. Her auburn hair fell over her shoulders as she did so, and I found myself frozen, waiting for her to continue speaking. She had quite a presence about her. “Do you think that it was ‘humane’ that a girl whose only fault in life was being dumped in this place got torn in half by some freaky red elephant monster and died here? We didn’t deserve this fate, you know. The humans on this planet? All of us were stuck here by a group of freaks who blamed us for the fact that after they abducted and even raped one of us, their men died. You think this is humane?”
For a moment, I thought she was going to strike at me, and I had to keep myself from taking a step back and reaching for my weapon. But to my surprise, she drew a long, shuddering breath and turned away from me, walking back over to the bed she had made and stepping in front of it, as if she were too ashamed of her emotions to look back at my face.
“I heard what happened to the humans on Hexa. We are working on relocating you to a lesser security planet, where survival will not be so difficult for your kind.”
She whipped around and glared at me, fury flashing in her emerald green eyes. “Oh, you are, are you? So you have some hand in whether or not we stay stuck here? What are you anyway? Some kind of cop?”
I shifted uncomfortably. “No. By we, I meant the Raithers. Many have become invested in the fate of the humans. We have some human females on the planet with us as well, and they are rallying for your cause. But the Resha Federation has decreed that the humans imprisoned here were imprisoned with just cause, though the process was not done fairly enough to their liking. The Petchuvians responsible will be put on trial as well.”
The human seemed to consider this for a moment and then nodded.
“Well, it would be nice to be able to put my guard down for a while, at least to try to get some sleep.”
“Is that why you are in the control panel and not in one of the bedrooms?” I asked, tilting my head in curiosity. The human was quite strange to me, but attractive in a way. I had never seen anything quite like it before. It stirred something deep within me that I had never felt before…an urge to possess her.
But that was not appropriate. I was there to do my job and to do my job alone. I could not allow myself to get invested in any of the creatures there, pitiful though they may be. My honor was at stake.
The human looked down at her hands and sighed as if she were afraid to come clean to me about the truth. I raised my brow at her.
“Human. Please tell me what you are doing in here then.”
“All right!” she exclaimed as if I had been interrogating her for hours. “I was trying to fix it, okay?”
“Fix…” I stared at her baffled. She hardly seemed the type to get her hands dirty. I had always imagined repair work being left to the males of the human species. In fact, the males of most species. “You wanted to fix this ship?”
Her eyes turned fiery at the disbelief in my voice.
“You don’t think I could do it?”
“Well…” but she cut me off before I could answer.
“I could do it just as well as you or anybody else,” she said, stepping menacingly at me once again. It was starting to be cute in a way. The human was so slight and frail, and yet the power of her spirit was enough to make even the strongest of men wilt. “I’ll have you know that my planet chose me as one of its leading researchers. I’m a scientist. I have a great understanding of the way things work and their potential. And if you think for one second that just because I’m a woman, I can’t get this ship off the ground, you’d better think again, because—”
I held my hand up, and the human’s tirade halted abruptly, though the angry fire in her eyes stayed lit upon me long after her voice quit speaking.
“I believe that you are capable of great things, human,” I said, eyeing her steadily. She seemed frozen in my gaze, shocked by the admission of my words. It was as if she had never heard such a thing before. “Now tell me, great researcher of Earth: what is your name?”
She hesitated for a moment, her dazzling eyes flickering to the ground a moment before she answered.
“Lila,” she said finally. “Dr. Lila Andrews.”