Chapter Two: Manda

My head ached like it never had before. When I opened my eyes, I briefly saw things in triplicate.

After a few blinks, it faded to double, then finally single, but still blurred around the edges of my field of vision.

That couldn’t be good.

The automated voice of the Rogue Star’s AI called for an immediate evacuation. All around me, figures dashed and stumbled in the direction of the exit doors.

Pressing my hand against my temple, as if that would stop the unbearable pounding in my head, I staggered to my feet. I fell toward the exit door, banging my shoulder hard on a metal doorway. I tripped over my own feet more times than I took actual steps.

When I spilled out of the Rogue Star, I wasn’t prepared for the ground beneath my feet to be anything other than flat and solid. Instead, it was uneven and shifted with each step. The light was so bright, I couldn’t see anything at first. My knees gave out under me. I landed on a soft, grainy material I recognized as sand.

In no hurry to move or see, I let my body go lax against the sandy ground. My eyes would adjust eventually. My head would stop pounding eventually. For now, I was content to just have stable ground beneath me.

“Are you okay?” A breathy female voice asked near me.

I cracked one eye open only to find the question wasn’t directed at me. Commander Kalyn stumbled across the sand to touch Lynna on the arm. Lynna coughed up a mouthful of sand.

“I’m fine,” she rasped. “Did you see Shenna? I thought I saw her run back in.”

“Shit,” Kalyn gasped. “She must’ve gone back in for her animals.”

“Of course, she did.” Lynna laughed, or it might’ve been a cough.

“Wait, I see her over there,” Kalyn lifted her head to look somewhere passed me. “She’s got her pets too.”

“What about Maris?” Lynna asked.

“I’m here!” Maris’s voice came from somewhere I couldn’t see. “Has anyone seen Aryn?”

“She’s over there!” Lynna replied. The roll call continued on. Through everyone else’s shouts, I heard that all of the Persephone women and the Rogue Star crew members were accounted for. With a sigh of relief, I closed my eyes again and focused on the warm sensation of the sand against my cheek.

“Where’s Manda?” Kalyn asked suddenly. I cracked one eye open. I’d been laying ten feet from her, in her field of vision, this entire time.

“I’m here.” My voice sounded rough and scratchy.

“Oh,” Kalyn gasped. “I didn’t even see you there. Are you all right? Are you hurt?”

At least her concern sounded genuine.

“I’m fine,” I replied. The pounding behind my eyes had finally subsided. With a groan, I pushed myself up onto my knees. My eyes adjusted to the light. I turned my head away from the bright white glare of the sun to find a wall of thick, vibrantly green jungle rising up from the sand about thirty yards away.

Flocks of bright colored birds with tail feathers long enough to touch the tops of the trees filled the sky. The jungle was so thick, I couldn’t see past the first couple rows of trees but I could still see thousands of vibrant flowers and fruits bursting from between thick, waxy leaves.

The gentle sound of lapping water caught my attention. I looked over my shoulder and gasped when I found a sparkling lavender sea gently kissing the shoreline.

After weeks of recycled air, I was grateful for the fresh air. The gentle breeze was sweet, almost fruity. I wandered closer to the water and took in deep, greedy breaths. I’d never seen a place so beautiful in all my life. I never even dreamed a place like this existed. For a brief moment, I thought about never leaving.

The crew would move on eventually.

I imagined what I would say when I told them to leave me here. When I tried to imagine how everyone would react, I couldn’t think of anything. I doubted that they would stop me.

“Captain, someone’s coming,” Aavat called from farther up the beach. I turned to look and for the first time, I saw the state of the Rogue Star.

I’d never actually gotten a good look at the space ship I’d been living on for weeks.

Space ship. Still boggled my mind, but this was life now. Normal, somehow.

I’d seen it from afar on Dominion Outpost Nine but taking in the sights wasn’t my priority as we all ran from Dominion Officials. All I’d focused on then was that boarding ramp, and the sound of shots behind us.

Now I could see… and winced.

The first half of the ship was sleek and untouched. The second half bore the signs of impact. A plume of thick black smoke rose from what I assumed was the engine.

I wasn’t an expert mechanic or engineer, not like Maris and Orrin, but from the look of the Rogue Star, I’d guess it would take a few days to make repairs. Assuming we could find the necessary materials to even work on it.

Looking at the lush landscape, didn’t seem likely.  Unless those trees were of some magical kind of plant, I was pretty sure you couldn’t use wood to patch a hull.

“We mean no harm,” Captain Dejar called to the group of individuals coming out of the forest. The being at the front of the group was over seven feet tall, with a beard of wriggling tentacles. I counted six eyes in total. He had a peg leg. My mind went to the old Terran tales of pirates with peg legs, eyepatches, and colorful parrots, and I found myself smiling.

“What brings you to our fortress?” The leader said, his voice like a wet hiss. As he drew nearer, my hand went to my face.

Shit.

I wasn’t wearing a disguise.

None of the human women were. If the residents of this island knew we were an illegal species, we could be in trouble. However, the tentacle bearded leader didn’t react to our appearance. I took that as a good sign.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Aavat asked. Captain Dejar gave him a swift tap on the arm. Qal, the navigator, dashed forward.

“We seek shelter. We’re wanted by the Dominion,” he said quickly.

“Have they tracked your location?” The leader said Qal with a dark look.

“No,” Valtic spoke up. “Our sensors are sophisticated. We would’ve known.”

I thought about how the possible Dominion ship, The Terror, had a tendency to sneak up on us but I certainly wasn’t going to bring it up.

“We don’t wish to make this our permanent home,” Captain Dejar interjected. “We simply ask for a place where we can make our repairs and leave.”

“We aren’t known for our hospitality,” the leader replied.

“Can you make an exception for us? We’re enemies of the law, just as you are,” Aavat said.

“Prove it,” the leader snarled.

Captain Dejar reached into his pocket for his portable console. He pulled up the warrant for the arrest of the entire Rogue Star crew. But not the warrant for the human women. Hopefully these people weren’t on the regular comm channels. If they hiding out, maybe they hadn’t seen all the news. Maybe.

“Please, allow us the use of your land until our ship is fit to fly,” Kalyn pleaded softly. Her voice must’ve struck a chord with the leader, for all six of his eyes softened.

“This is not our land,” he corrected. “We merely reside here. I give you my word that my clan will give you no trouble. However, I cannot ask them to share their hard-earned resources to strangers.”

“Of course,” Kalyn smiled. “We’ll make do on our own. Thank you.”

“I am not the only one in a position of authority,” the leader continued. “Any promises I make are not made on behalf of the others. You will need to come and present your case.”

“Understood,” Captain Dejar nodded.

“I will give you some time to gather yourselves,” the leader said.

“Thank you,” Captain Dejar replied. The leader and his equally rugged followers disappeared back into the trees.

“What the kopa is this place?” Aavat muttered as soon as the welcoming committee was out of earshot.

“Like I said, it’s a safe haven for outlaws and fugitives,” Qal replied. “What were you expecting, a welcome home party?”

“We should consider ourselves lucky they didn’t kill us on sight and loot our ship,” Kovor said.

“They were strangely diplomatic for outlaws, weren’t they?” Kalyn wondered out loud. From my understanding of outlaw colonies, they were usually enemies of the law but strictly held themselves to an agreed set of rules. I thought about saying as much but decided against it.

“Lucky for us,” Captain Dejar laughed dryly.

“We should clear the Rogue Star for re-boarding as soon as possible,” Valtic said. “If they aren’t going to allow us the use of their resources, we’re going to have to rely on our own food stores and shelter.”

“And I need to check our inventory. I think we have enough staribite to make repairs. Now that the engines are shut down, I may as well do an overhaul.”

“Get working on that,” Captain Dejar nodded. Valtic gestured to Orrin and together they walked toward the Rogue Star.

“Maris, Aryn,” Kalyn called. “Search the shoreline for any bits of wreckage we could use for repairs. If it’s metal, we’re going to need it.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Aryn nodded.

“Lynna, check everyone for injuries. Even if they say they aren’t hurt, I still want them checked out,” Kalyn continued. Lynna nodded and headed toward the crew members who were more obviously injured.

Kalyn continued to delegate tasks until everyone had a job.

Everyone but me.

“What should I do?” I asked.

“Oh!” Her eyes lit up like they did whenever she saw me, as if she needed a moment to re-recognize me. “Can you be an extra set of hands to anyone who needs it?”

“Of course,” I replied.

Kalyn gave me a grateful smile before joining Captain Dejar.

I looked around the beach. No one appeared to be struggling with their tasks. I realized Kalyn didn’t send anyone to get the lay of the area.

I could do that.

On the off chance that the Rogue Star was deemed unsafe for re-boarding, I figured we should know our options.

Plus, I really wanted to see more of this stunning place.

Whistling softly to myself, I headed into the treeline.

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