Darkness filled the space beyond. Smoking red markers tinted the air, highlighted by floodlights mounted high behind the army that encircled the ship. Blue lights faded to distant perspective toward where a city sparkled serenely beside the nearby mountains. It was quiet and peaceful, the air cool and dry, unlike the stickiness of Verdaris. A whistling roar shocked the air as the remainder of their escort touched down with a series of abrupt screeches a short distance away.
Aggie glided down the ramp and proceeded across the short stretch of pavement separating them from the crowd while Creena followed nervously. Stars winked from the blackness above, the galaxy’s spiral arm still visible as a pale smear overhead.
Aggie proceeded forward, neither impeded nor intimidated by the press of people. No one uttered a word, only stared with strange, startled expressions as Creena followed a few steps behind, moving cautiously forward amid the shuffle of feet and occasional rattle of a shifted weapon.
Just when she was beginning to think that they’d recognized they were harmless someone yelled, “Hands up!” and she lifted her arms high, clumsily dropping the stungun with a thud. A soldier rushed forward, thrusting the muzzle of a primitive weapon in her face.
“Turn around,” he ordered as another soldier wearing heavy gloves retrieved the stungun, examining it closely.
Great, she thought. Now they’ll really think we’re dangerous.
“Hands high, you hear me?”
Several others clustered around them and she heard his weapon hit the ground. A moment later rough hands frisked her from shoulders to ankles. She glared at him angrily for being so rude but said nothing. After that he shoved her forward. People continued to gather on the tarmac, all staring as an eerie silence charged the air. She thought self-consciously of her Code Orange uniform which was in horrible condition since her adventures on Verdaris. The crowd continued to part as they approached, allowing them to pass, but everyone looked shocked, as if they’d never seen a girl or ‘troid before. And truly amongst the vast crowd she saw no children, few women and no ‘troids. Step by step they proceeded toward an armored vehicle bedecked with flashing lights.
Her heart pounded in her ears as anxiety and fear fogged her brain. What was going on? Why were they treating her like this? From behind the soldier shoved her toward the vehicle’s open door which was now only a few meters away. Before she could enter another strange lasomag crossed her path. A soldier exited the vehicle and yanked her hands behind her back, securing a pair of heavy restraints around her wrists before pushing her inside and strapping her into a seat.
The interior was filled with more soldiers, but in their midst was a man in a different type of uniform, tan but not ornate in the slightest with several bent bars on the sleeves. Apparently he was in charge, judging by how the others deferred to his directions. The man didn't look mean, just stern, and maybe a little bewildered. At least he looked as if he had some authority to do something, hopefully to help.
“Uh, sir?” she said quietly, putting on her most compliant Mira III behavior. “Can someone help us send a message?”
He stared at her for several long moments. “My God!“ he finally answered. “You’re only a kid. A kid!”
“I know, sir,” she replied politely. “I need to send a message. To Mira III. Using tachyonic transmission capability. You do have that here, don’t you?”
The man didn’t answer, only stared as if he hadn’t understood a word she’d said. Heavy chains clanged and she turned her head to see another soldier securing Aggie to a floor hitch.
“Tell them we’re on our way,” the man ordered the driver.
“Yes, sergeant,” he replied, picking up a handheld device from under the console which he spoke into as directed.
The door slammed with a heavy thud, the jolt punctuating the situation like an unexpected blow. Gradually her racing heart settled into a heavy rhythm of its own, initial surprise succumbing to the dark intensity of utter and complete emotional shock. Everyone was staring at her, their expressions in some unexplainable way reflections of her own.
She swallowed hard and stared straight in front of her, trying to figure out what to do now. This was definitely not the kind of assistance she had in mind. Aggie’s photoreceptors had dimmed to standby but she suspected the ‘troid was taking it all in, regardless. Hopefully she’d come up with something to get them out of this one.
The vehicle roared to life, gears turned and fell somewhere beneath the floor, then engaged. The engine changed pitch, jerked forward slightly then slowly started to move.
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