By: Bull Demon Commander Goddard gazed down over the desolate mountains and valleys of the far out moon. According to the scanners, the mountain beds were rich in detronium, the type of fuel the Christa required. "Suzee says it wouldn't be smart to set her down here," Catalina reported for her unseen friend. Goddard felt his nerves drop at the mention of Suzee and he had to keep telling himself she would grow out of it. At least they all hoped so. "Cat, is there anything Suzee doesn't know?" Harlan Band asked, taking his eyes from the overhead screen briefly. The girls converse and Cat giggled. "Yeah, what makes you so ignorant," she replied. Goddard snickered himself for a second before catching a dirty glimpse from Ms Davenport. She was standing by Rosie's post, arms folded defiantly and foot tapping. He drew in a deep breath. "We may have to risk setting her down. We haven't tried out the new Starlings yet," he explained. "No better time then the present," Harlan boasted. "Yeah, but Commander, I would.." Bova started to say. "If this has anything to do with negativity and doom, Mr.. Bova, I strongly suggest you reconsider," Davenport interrupted. Bova scowled but shut up. "Well, I think it would be neat to go down," Rosie chirped, not seeing why the room was so tense. "It would be," Goddard started. "The atmosphere of the planet is odd. It's got a very strong gravity and I don't want to subject the Christa to that stress." "A Starling could handle it," Harlan told him, not dropping the issue any. Goddard rubbed his chin. He did trust Band to take a small ship down but who could he send with him? "But, like I was saying.." Bova interrupted his thoughts. "Aw, man! Don't ruin it!" Harlan said to the small boy. Bova just dropped his chin down on his hand and sighed. "Never get listened to around here..." he muttered under his breath. The only person who heard him was sitting on the far side of the room, staying out of the big decision. Radu, hid his smile and remorse for the small boy from Uranus. He would do anything to go onto the planet to get fuel and try out a Starling. But if Harlan went.. "All right. Here's what we're doing," Goddard began, moving up from to address the class. "Band, I'm sending you down with a Starling.." "All right!" Harlan's celebration ignored by the others. "Rosie, and Cat are going to ready storage for the fuel. Bova, I want you to take the helm and Mr.. Radu, you're with Harlan on this mission," he finished. Harlan's jaw dropped at the last part of Goddard's speech. "I'm not going with him," Harlan announced, turning to look at the person he loathed so much. Radu dropped his eyes, and tried to look interested in his console. "Mr.. Band, are you questioning my orders?" Goddard asked, nearing the older boy to show his authority. "But he.. He could.. And I might.. What if..." Harlan sputtered, struggling to find the best excuse. Goddard gave him an amused look. "Exactly. I want both of you ready to roll in 15 minutes," Goddard said. Harlan muttered something that the Commander couldn't understand but he turned instead to look at who the remark was most likely meant for. Sure enough, Radu's face had deepened in red with frustration. "Why don't the rest of you get to it?" The room cleared out one by one, Bova taking the helm without any reluctance. Davenport went to help the girls and Goddard stopped his navigator in the hall. "You okay going?" "Sure," the boy replied, though Goddard could read his uneasy fetchers like a book. Goddard sighed. "You'll tell me if he hassles you, right?" he asked. Radu thought for a minute. Harlan would hate him for telling but he hated him as it was. No loss either way. The boy nodded. "Good. Get your gear and be ready for some hard work!" "Certainly," he said and walked off down the hall leaving Goddard to think. * * * * * * "You want to hand me that rag?" Catalina called from inside one of the storage bins for the ore. Rosie tossed in a blackened rag and shown her light in to get a good look around. "Wow.. Looks like they haven't been cleaned out for months!" the Mercurian exclaimed. Davenport cleared her throat. "That's because Mr.. Band was in charge of keeping them clean," she replied and Rosie giggled. "Suzee, don't you think I'm trying?" Cat's voice floated out from inside the bin. "Catalina.." Davenport muttered, getting ready for her normal speel. The girl was ready for her though. "She's not imaginary, she's invisible. There's a difference!" she called out. "I thought you said their wasn't enough room for two people in there?" Rosie asked. "In this dimension, no," Cat replied. Rosie raised her forehead at the response. "Don't encourage her.. Please," Davenport said and Rosie nodded, returning to passing things in to her roommate. * * * * * * "So how fast will she go?" Harlan asked as Thelma showed them how to work the small shuttle. "The Starling is capable of speeds the exceed Mach 25," the android replied to Harlan's delight. "And I trust you won't be finding that out, Mr.. Band," Goddard said, flushing the boy's hopes of speeding around space. "Aw, come on, Commander! Just for a few minutes?" Harlan nearly whined. Goddard shook his head firmly. "They're still in the experimental stages. I don't want you getting cocky out there just yet," Goddard replied. The cargo hold door to the small shuttle slammed shut and Radu came around to join the others. "You understand the guidance controls okay?" "Ye--" Radu began to reply only to stop when Harlan snorted. "Better tell me too. Or, better yet, write it down in simple words so Hairy here can figure it out," Harlan muttered. Goddard frowned and was about to berate the Earther but Radu shook his head. "I understand how to run them. Thelma showed me," he said and Goddard nodded, amazed at his temper control. "You have enough fuel to get to the landing site and back," Thelma told them. "No more." "Right," Goddard said, turning back to Harlan who had started to crawl into the small ship. "So no.." "Dubbing, yeah I know," Harlan said. Goddard sighed. The boy needed discipline or a good scare. He didn't care which came first, but he hoped it would soon to prevent him from slugging the boy over the head. He watched as Radu pulled himself into the Starling and sat in the co pilot seat. He didn't look happy but there was an expression of focus written on his face. He pulled the safely belt on and waited for Harlan to stop fiddling with his seat. "I'll give you two 3 hours. If you're not back, you'll get a call," Goddard said, holding the door to the Starling ajar. Harlan nodded, at last ready to go. "Good luck and please.. Behave." Harlan slumped his shoulders as the doors thumped shut to the shuttle. Harlan watched as Thelma and Goddard left the bay and the heavy doors slowly slide open to reveal the starry sky. Harlan fired the engines with a twist of an emerald crystal and the ship began to rock. "Now, switch on the guidance panel, flip the view screen to eye level, release the air break, and we're off," Harlan muttered as he completed each step. Radu looked out the tiny port window as the Christa's walled disappeared beneath them. The tight quarters were bad enough, let alone being with Harlan. He looked at the navigation screen and pushed a few buttons. The ship would pretty much guide itself to the landing spot. All they had to do was hold it straight so the gravity wouldn't cause them to plummet to the ground. "And last but not least, auto pilot off." "But.." Radu protested, recalling Thelma telling him the auto pilot was a safety feature. "Don't start, okay?" Harlan snapped. "Believe me, I'm not thrilled to have you along. Let's just get this done so we can forget about it." "But don't you think..?" Radu tried again only to meet Harlan's hand a few inches from his face. "Just keep us on course, all right?" Harlan said. "Or do I need to do that too?" "I got it.." Radu muttered, changing a dial's position. "You know.. I don't understand why you're so bitter around me. I mean I-I didn't anything." "Yeah, you did," Harlan remarked. "First off, you try be the first to do everything. Second, you did better on the hyper space essay then I did. Third, you're Andromedan, the race I hate with every part of my being. And last, you were born." The last one stung the worst. Harlan never showed any shred of emotion toward Radu other then hatred. He understood he had lost his father to Andromedans during the war. But that was so long ago. Maybe the fact he had no parents himself made him loose sight of what Harlan was feeling. "I'm so-sorry your father was killed.. But I.." Radu tried again, hoping maybe if he showed the human he felt loss too, they could connect somehow. "Just, drop it, okay? Do your job and I'll do mine," Harlan muttered, setting his eyes ahead of him. Radu nodded and sighed. It was going to be a very long 3 hours. * * * * * * "So, here I am. All alone with nothing to do. But, hey! I'm used to this!" Bova was saying to himself. It was a habit he had picked up from Goddard while he worked on the engines. The Commander was always muttering to himself. Bova found it unusual at first but then he recognized it had entertaining qualities. "Now what to do?" He looked at the screen and sighed. "Empty space. That's all my life is, empty space." He snapped on the auto pilot and wandered around to the other consoles. Just for something to do, he pressed the button that changed scanners from short range to long. A small, red blip showed up on the planet the Starling was heading for. The reading was familiar but obstructed slightly. "Now, that could be a real Spung ship, or an astroid tagged to look like a Spung ship." Bova weighed his options and sighed once again. He recalled Goddard saying not to bother him unless it was a dire emergency. With a shrug of his shoulders, Bova hit the comm button. "Commander to the Compost at your convince." That taken care of, the Uranusian goes back to watching the emptiness of space. * * * * * * "We're on a tight schedule here. Hurry up!" Harlan shouted. He was leaning against one of the scattered trees that dotted the baron planet. He had given Radu the excuse that someone needed to stay and hold the door tot he cargo hold open. The Andromedan dropped another armload of ore in the back of the Starling and just starred at Harlan. "What?" "I've been lugging t-this stuff for nearly 2 and a half hours. You've done nothing. I ju-just thought m-maybe you might h-help some," Radu dared to say. Harlan snickered and looked at the black soot on Radu's pale face. "You don't get it," he started. "Let me make it easier for you. You are stronger then me and have a lot more energy to spare. I am helping by letting you do the lifting. Why, I might screw it up." Radu cringed at the sarcasium in the boy's voice. With a muted sigh, Radu turned back and walked into the dim cave. His heart sunk every time Harlan made a shrewd remark. He wanted to be friends with the boy he found himself envying much of the time. Radu picked up a large chunk of ore and tucked it under his arm. A small cascade of pebbles in the far corner caused him to turn and look to find the origin. "What the?" he muttered, as several figures stepped out around him. He felt a very strong hand clamp down on his shoulder. A blinding light snapped on in his face, not allowing him to immediately see the source. "I must say you children never disappoint me," a deep, malevolent voice said. As his vision cleared, Radu saw his attackers. "Shank.." he whispered. The Warlord hissed and dug his bio claw deeper into the boy's shoulder. "It's been a long time since I had an Andromedan servant," he said. Radu tried to pull away but the claw was stronger then he was after carrying the ore for so long. Shank laughed along with his other guards. "And one that needs some manners taught too." Shank looked at one of the other two guards. "Tox, you are in the midst of training several boys, are you not?" "I am in the last stages of training the next 3 of your best warriors, you heinousness," Tox replied. He was an older Spung, his scales weathered and tight with age. Shank sneered. He still had his claw deeply set in Radu's shoulder with no means of letting him go. Radu couldn't help but wonder what the lizard had in mind and why Harlan hadn't come in looking for him. "Then, I will not be greedy," Shank said. His other hand reached into his war armor and pulled out what looked like a set of sharp nosed pliers with a squeeze lock on the hinge. Radu had seen them in essays before on Spung control devices. Though it had been along time since he had read about them, he knew what they meant. Shank brought the pliers up by Radu's left ear. In anticipation of the pain, the boy drew away slightly. Shank laughed. With a slow and deliberate hand, he set the sharp jaws over the soft part of his captive's ear. With a final look to Radu's nervous face, he slammed his hand around the handles and set the lock. Radu dropped to his knees in a tremendous amount of pain that he wouldn't be able to free himself. "He is your's for training, Tox," Shank said. The Spung looked at Shank with shock on his face. "You will not be sorry, Warlord," Tox breathed, never having had an Andromedan his entire life. He bent down and grabbed the handle to the control device which now had blood seeping out around the jaws. With a sharp tug, he brought Radu to his feet. "I can see that," Shank said, already pleased with the warriors handling skills. "Let's get the other one." Shank began to walk out of the cave, the other's following. Tox was still dragging Radu, who now had water welling in his eyes. He just hoped Harlan could get away. * * * * * * Harlan looked at his watch and gave a big sigh. They were due back at the Christa in 15 minutes or else Goddard would be calling. "Stupid Andromedan.." Harlan spit out, his back still against the tree. The cargo hold was over half full, not good enough on Harlan's standards. Caught up in his world of how he would blame Radu for them returning late, he doesn't hear the group approach from behind him. As Shank began to speak, Harlan wheeled around, only to meet Shank's second guard. "May I say how pleased I am to see you again, Harlan Band," Shank said, walking around him. Harlan immedately had fire in his eyes and looked over to Tox holding his partner with the plier device. Harlan felt a sudden pang of sorrow for Radu but it quickly left once he remembered who he was thinking about. "Warlord Shank," Harlan muttered, disgusted to see him. Shank came down right into his face. "Yes, you will have great fun on my ship," the lizard sneered. "I think you'll sit in the dungeon for a few years before I use you. Maybe that cocky attitude will rot out of you." "I'm not going anywhere," Harlan insisted, crossing his arms despite the claws in his shoulder. Shank laughed. "Really? Oh, Tox, bring your new project over here," he said. Tox gave an abrupt yank to the pliers and Radu uttered a near silent cry as he stumbled forward. "Would you like to see your friend tortured?" Harlan dropped his eyes and thought. He was an opportunity to get back at the Andromedan for all he had done. "To your knees, slave," Tox shouted, and made the lock even tighter. Radu sunk to his knees without a fight. Harlan watched his crewmate kneel there, shaking with both fear and pain. "I'll come," Harlan said quietly. Shank sneered and watched his guard take him by the upper arms. "Take them to the shuttle. One you arrive back the Earther goes to the dungeon. The Andromedan is your's, Tox. Treat him well," Shank ordered, meaning his statement to be a joke. "Get up, you lazy fool," Tox muttered, yanking Radu to his feet. Harlan is shoved into step behind Radu. The entire walk to the small Spung shuttle, Harlan can't help but look at Radu's ear, and feeling grief every time another drop of blood slid down his neck. * * * * * * Goddard watched as Rosie helped Catalina out of the final fuel bin. Both were covered in deep, black soot though Rosie still had a slight glow beneath it. Cat coughed and wiped her hands off on her shirt. "Ugh! I f I ever have to do that again, I swear I'll..." she nearly shouted. "Don't worry," Goddard assured her. "Band has duty for the next 4 months. At least." "He deserves it for life.." Cat muttered and Rosie giggled. "Why don't you ladies go get cleaned up before..." Davenport paused before saying anything more. "You touch anything." "Sure, Ms Davenport," Rosie said. Both girls left via the jump tubes before Davenport could stop them. She just dropped her face into her hands. "That includes the jump tubes..." Goddard smiled. "Don't worry. I'll have Thelma flush them out later," he said, looking at the shiny interior of the fuel storage. "My, they did a good job." "Yes, they have been very hard at work," Davenport said. "For once." "I think they always try hard," Goddard replied. "It may just not seem that way." Davenport raised an eyebrow. "They have more dedication the boys," she said finally, as they began to leave the cargo hold. "Oh, now I wouldn't go that far," Goddard scoffed. "I mean Mr.. Band and Mr.. Radu have gone to do a very hard job." "Hard for whom?" Davenport asked, walking through the door to the hall as Goddard held it for her. "Both," Goddard replied. Davenport snorted. "I can just see it now: Harlan sitting in the cockpit of the Starling while Radu does all the lifting and stacking. Not my idea of dedication or teamwork, Commander," she explained. Goddard shrugged. "Maybe," he muttered. "But at least Mr.. Bova is keeping a good eye on things." both walk into the Compost as he is saying this. He nearly bumped into Davenport who stopped and folded her arms. Bova was asleep, flopped over the back of the helm. "I'd say his eyes are making sure they lids have no holes," she said. Goddard scowled and went to wake up his dozing officer. Go to part two!