Divisions Of Reality – Chapter Six

Escaping

“Have you heard the news?”

“What? About Zenok’s son? Yeah, I know the little brat’s gone missing!”

“Yeah, but have you seen the reward? Whoever finds him is going to be a hell of a rich guy. Imagine that Frank, no more slaving away on this gods forsaken station.”

Frank nodded his head dreamily and chuckled slightly. “Well it would have to be a good reward wouldn’t it? Otherwise people would just shoot the kid the moment they saw him. Nobody likes Zenok and I know people who would pay to take a shot at him, or the boy.”

His companion, Eric, snorted. “Silly buggers if you ask me. It’s a bloody big reward and it does specify explicitly that Zenok wants him alive and unharmed. A lot of people need that money in this place.” He sighed and stared down at his tattered, oil stained gloves. He’d been working on this mining station for years without ever having earned enough to get himself off of it. “I sure could do with it.”

Frank’s eyes narrowed. “If I saw that kid, I’d kill him. The last thing we need is another Zenok to take the throne when the first one finally dies. I’ll wager the boy’s as bad as his father. No, if Zenok can’t keep hold of his own spoilt spawn then that’s his problem. I’m not going to waste my time looking for him, even if there is a reward.”

Brian sat huddled nearby, a dark blue cloak covering his body with a hood that concealed his distinctive hair. His heart was beating fiercely as he listened to the conversation between the two working men and his body shivered slightly at their words. He knew they were right. Most people would rather kill him then give him back to the emperor because they would do anything that they thought might hurt Zenok.

Carefully he turned his head slightly so that he could get a better look at the two speakers. They were clearly mine workers. Their clothes were nothing but rags and tatters of filth and their hands and faces were covered in dust. The mining station Aries VII orbited a hostile planet with a ferocious atmosphere, but this planet was also covered in mountains that were full of well sought after minerals. Ships and workers would mine on the planet and then it was all transferred to the station for processing. Both jobs were dangerous and constantly there was the rumble as piles of rocks fell into great churning machines in the bowels of the space station.

Brian turned away from them again and clutched his hot mug of grimy coffee closer to him. He had lost count of the days since he had run away, but with each one he was becoming frighteningly aware that he no where to go and no one to help him. For the past few days he had done his best to hitch hike or steal away aboard ships to try and get as far away from his father as he could. He had not intended to stop off at this place but the last ship he had been aboard was one that he had stolen away on. Unfortunately the captain had discovered him and kicked him off at the next possible location which happened to be this dismal place.

He stared up at the black walls and tried to think. He couldn’t stay here. He had heard other workers having similar conversations about him. These working men particularly despised Zenok because of the working conditions they had to endure and they would murder Brian if they ever found him. It was too dangerous to remain.

On the good side, there were frequent ships arriving and docking at the station and surely Brian had to be able to find one that was willingly to carry him away from this place? So far he’d had no luck but he was certain that someone would help him before long. The only problem was that he had to pick carefully in case anybody recognised him.

‘I’m lucky though,’ he told himself. Zenok had never really showed Brian off to the empire so there were few people who even knew what he looked like. He just had to hope that no one matched his face to that on all of the advertisements Zenok had distributed about the empire.

Unconsciously his hand reached to his neck where the ring was still safely fastened with a piece of string and he ran a finger over the jewel that crowned its top. He knew exactly why Zenok was so intent upon finding him, he’d probably realised what he’d left with his son after their argument. Even though Brian wanted to believe that Zenok was concerned for his safety he knew it was a lie. All his father had ever cared about was the ring. “Well that’s going to change,” Brian muttered. “I’ll show him I’m good enough for him.”

He would prove himself to Zenok without using cruelty and aggression. No, he was not going to fight in his father’s battles or start up his own slave camp in his father’s honour, he would never do anything that terrible. Instead he was going to find the remaining two rings and deliver them to his father. Surely that could buy his love and respect?

He wouldn’t just have to deliver the rings though, but their bearers as well. Zenok had once told him that both ring and bearer were connected somehow, but Brian was worried about what kind of powerful men these bearers would be. Would they possess special powers? Zenok had often said that the one who used the rings could do anything they wanted.

Brian sighed as he placed a hand to his head. Already he felt his temples throbbing with thought as he scrutinised the ring. So many questions rumbled around his tormented mind and he had no answers to satisfy them. Why did Zenok think that he could use the power of this ring.

“I’m not a ring bearer after all,” he mused. What if his mother had been though? What if there was a connection there? He felt his heart accelerate slightly as it lurched inside of his chest and a deep sickness took hold of his stomach. Zenok had never spoke of his mother. Brian had grown up thinking it was natural to only have one parent until he’d realised something was wrong with that view. He’d tried to ask Zenok about her, but he had simply that she’d died. He always became angry if Brian pursued the subject. No even the guards would speak of her. Brian had begun to suspect that something very nasty had happened between her and Zenok. He shuddered and tried to push the images out of his head. He knew Zenok could be cruel. What if his mother had been a slave? What if Zenok had raped…

No, he couldn’t think like that. Zenok was his father and surely even he wouldn’t do anything like that. His mother had probably died of natural causes or some illness. Yes that was it. Zenok never wanted to speak of her because her memory pained him.

All the same, he couldn’t help but suspect that a dark secret was lurking in his father’s closet.

He tucked the ring back beneath his clothes and drank the rest of his drink, grimacing as he tasted the grit and muck that had found its way into the drink. It wasn’t warm or nourishing anymore either. It had turned cold and bland. He pushed the mug away and then tensed as he heard the scarping of chairs. Looking up he saw the two workmen standing up and heading towards him. Quickly he bowed his head and pretended to be reaching for his drink again. He heard their voices as they passed him.

“Stupid kid. Probably murdered by now anyway.”

“No I’m not,” Brian whispered to himself as his hands clasped the mug tightly.

He could look after himself and he wasn’t a stupid kid that was going to wlak into trouble. He knew which people to avoid and he knew he was despised in the galaxy. He would show them all how stupid he was. He would find those rings and then he would…

Would what? He wanted to give them to Zenok to win his pride but he knew, if the stories of the rings’ powers were true, that Zenok would use them for malevolence.

He pushed that thought away. He had made up his mind. He was bound to Zenok and he must serve him. He would find those rings and take them to him.

“I’ve got to get off this station.”

He pushed the mug away and stood up. He would head to the docking port and begin pestering the captains of ships again. One of them had to let him on board. Then he could begin his quest for the rings. He knew a little about them. He’d looked at the computer in his father’s home just before he’d run away to get as much information as he could but unfortunately it had nearly all been classified. All he knew was that they were powerful, but where they came from or who had them had been beyond his reach.

He’d do it though. Somehow…

********************************

Nick peered frantically at the readout in front of him and gulped as he saw that the attacking ships were drawing closer to them. Zenok’s men seemed determined not to let Nick escape this time. They desperately wanted him and his ring. He glanced sideways at Angel. He had not been completely honest with her when he’d told her his story. He had not told her about the ring. Demitrius had always told him to be wary of people who might steal it. He trusted Angel, even though he had only known her for a few hours. He hadn’t really spoken to anyone since he’d left Earth and it was incredibly relaxing to be able to talk to someone at last who didn’t expect him to be a hero or be the powerful person of legend that he wasn’t. However, for now he kept the ring quiet. He liked her and he didn’t want her to know about in case it changed anything between them.

Angel turned the ship hard in an effort to try and evade the guns of their attackers. There were four ships that had been following them since they left Saturn and they had not shown any sign of giving up yet. Nick and Angel had tried to fight them but Angel had been worried at the fact that they were outgunned and had opted to try and outrun them instead. So far the ships were still in pursuit though.

Nick looked sideways at Angel. She was a stunning pilot. He had heard of AC Free and her piloting skills but he had never really appreciated them until now when she was saving his life. If he had have managed to get off of Saturn then he could never have held them off for this long on his own. He had always wanted to learn how to pilot a ship but Demitrius had always said that it was more important that he learnt how to be a strong warrior.

He stared intently at his own panel and fired as one of the ships came within range. He grinned as he saw the beam strike the starboard side of the ship, slowing it down as it veered away unsteadily.

“Nice shot Nick,” Angel said. “That ship’s out of our hair now!”

Nick smiled. “You’re welcome. First chance I’ve had to hit them. They’re staying out of range a lot.”

“They’re trying to follow us to see where we’re going.” Angel snorted. “Do they really think I’m going to lead them to my home? I’m not that blonde.”

Nick chuckled slightly. “But Zenok’s men are. Why does he have such incompetent lackeys? They never seem capable of doing anything but dumb tactics.”

Angel pursed her lips slightly. “You haven’t met his main bodyguards have you? There’s four of them and they are real smart. You’ll be in trouble if you ever run into them.” She turned the ship again in a surprise manoeuvre and Nick gripped hold of the console before him to prevent himself from falling out of his seat. “Hang on, this is going to be rough ride here.”

She turned the ship again and Nick gasped slightly as he stared at the panel. “You’re steering us towards that rock cluster ahead! That’s suicide!” His eyes bulged slightly as he stared at the debris field which was made up of pieces of smashed moon, rock and the dead hulks of spaceships that had been too careless to navigate a path through the cluster. He’d heard pilots speak of this. It was the most challenging route in the entire galaxy apparently.

“Do you want to lose these goons or what?” Angel snapped, frustration at the pursuing ships giving her voice a sharp edge. “We’re going in!”

Before Nick could complain the ship was heading nose first into the cluster and Nick took a deep breath and then almost choked upon it as he saw a huge rock spiralling towards them. “Look out!” he screamed.

“I see it,” Angel said as she calmly steered them around it. “Don’t wet your pants. There’s more to come.”

Nick gripped the panel tight, his eyes watching as the scanners showed Zenok’s three remaining ships following them into the cluster. The rocks were tight on either side of them and, although Nick had confidence in Angel’s piloting skills, he couldn’t help but feel his stomach twinge with nervousness as he saw the debris floating maliciously in their path.

He pressed his fingers against the fire controls and bit his lip slightly. If he aimed for the asteroids and rocks behind them then the debris from the fractured rock might damage Zenok’s ships and the dust might interfere with their scanners to make them harder to track. He carefully aimed and fired. The guns at the back of Angel’s ship fired at the rocks behind them and Nick watched as a huge rock shattered in a satisfying explosion of dust and rock.

“You missed,” Angel commented as she roughly dragged the ship through a tiny gap between two pieces of debris. “You’re supposed to hit the ships!”

“I know what I’m doing!” Nick replied. “Look!”

His plan had worked. One of the ships had been disorientated by the blast and had accidentally collided with another large asteroid. Nick watched as the ship disappeared in an angry blaze of fire and another hastily began to pull out of the cluster as it, too, almost met its destruction in the face of an asteroid but narrowly missed.

Angel nodded. “Good. Very good. You really are a hero.”

Nick rolled his eyes. “That sounded suspiciously sarcastic.”

Angel lashed him a pretty smile. “I like teasing.” She jerked the ship sharply upwards so that Nick gasped as he felt forces pressing upon his body. “Sorry,” she said. “My flying can be quite hard on those not used to it.”

“Uh, just a bit,” Nick moaned, his entire body feeling like a bruise. He barely had time to recover before Angel swung them sharply around in time to avoid a rogue chunk of metal that had been hurtling towards them.

She peered at her own screen and then swore. “Gods damn it, that last ship is still with us and they’re firing!” She swung the ship around again and Nick grabbed hold of his seat as the entire ship rocked. “Get them! I don’t need them distracting me in this place!”

“Hold on!” Nick cried as he tried to prepare for another shot. He targeted another asteroid behind them and once again there was a shower as it exploded but Zenok’s ship flew harmlessly through the dust, weapons still blaring in an array of red laser fire. Nick locked onto the ship and fired but it quickly jerked to the side. “Damn, these guys are good.”

Angel’s face had taken on a grim expression and there was a flicker of suspicion burning in her blue eyes.

“Do you know who’s in that ship that’s chasing us?” Nick asked as he caught her expression. He lined up another shot, but again the pilot dodged it at the last second and still managed to avoid all the asteroids and debris either side of him.

“I have a vague idea who the dirty creep might be. I’ve got once last idea. Lock on to that asteroid in front of us and get ready to fire,” she said.

Nick’s eyes widened. “But that’s huge! You could fly right into it!”

“Trust me! On my word do it. Okay? Get ready!”

Nick’s clammy hands rapidly moved to take control of the front guns and his lip trembled slightly. Was this going to work? He thought of the ring in his pocket. ‘Please give me some luck. Please, just for once…’

Angel suddenly brought their ship to a sudden halt that almost dislodged Nick from his seat. He grunted as he flew into the console slightly and then watched as Zenok’s ship flew right by them.

“Now!” Angel screamed.

Nick fired at the asteroid and watched as the huge rock split and cracked and shattered under the weapon. Immediately Angel was spinning them around and steering them away as a huge cloud of debris headed towards them. She jerked the ship down and pulled them round several asteroids. All the time Nick was aware of how dangerously fast they were travelling and how quickly the asteroids were flying by them. He did his best to shoot some of the smaller ones out of her path but Angel seemed to know exactly where she was going and never even seemed close to hitting them.

“We lost the last ship!” Nick gasped. “They’re pulling away! They have damage to their port engine!” He punched his fist into the air. “Yes! Angel, that was great!”

Angel smiled and blew a sigh of relief. “Now I can slow us down a little,” she said as she slowed the craft slightly. But we have to get away from here as soon as possible. They’ll be back.”

“Who was that?” Nick asked.

Angel hesitated a moment as she steered them round the final, few pieces of rock before flying them into the welcome emptiness of space. “I think it might have been an imperial assassin.”

“One of Zenok’s?”

Angel nodded. “They’re his bodyguards and his loyal warriors. They are the best. He keeps them sending them after me now and it’s getting harder to outrun them. They know my tactics and they are clever.” She breathed a sigh of relief. “We were lucky.”

Nick peered out of the window, even though he knew he wouldn’t see any ship there. “They really hate you don’t they?”

“They hate AC Free,” Angel spat. “I fight against Zenok because what he does to people is wrong. I fight to free people, to save lives.”

Nick turned his seat towards her. “Zenok says you’re a terrorist.”

Angel glared at him. “And you believe that? I kill his soldiers because I have to when I’m freeing a slave labour camp.”

Nick held up his hands in defence. “I wasn’t saying I believed it! I mean, I was just saying that Zenok hates you and he tries to make people think you’re doing wrong, but you’re not. I’ve heard about you and I heard about that time you freed a slave camp on Embriouse. I always admired you.” His voice was honest. He had always liked to hear information about Ac Free. It was something interesting in his dull life back home but Demitrius had always said that the things outside of Nick’s life were distractions and should be ignored, but Nick couldn’t help but support people like Angel who fought against Zenok. Most people just put up with what he did, but it was time that more people fought against him.

Angel smiled at him shyly and dropped her eyes away from him. “Thanks,” she murmured.

“It must be difficult for you.”

She nodded. “Lonely sometimes,” she admitted softly.

Nick sighed. “I know that feeling.”

They stared at each for a moment and then another panel began to bleep angrily. Angel hurriedly checked a read out and frowned. “It’s another ship coming up behind us.”

“Zenok’s men?” Nick asked as he loaded the guns ready for another fight.

“I don’t think so,” she replied. “They’re sending a message.”

Nick’s brow creased in puzzlement. Who could be contacting them? He looked at the readout and saw that it certainly wasn’t a battle ship that was following them but a mini run around cruiser that kids sometimes liked to use.

“Could be a fan of yours,” he said to Angel. “I’m sure you have loads of guys queuing up for you.”

“Ha, I wish!” Angel laughed. “Let’s hear them out.” She pressed another panel and pulled a lever and then a face flashed up on the screen before her. She frowned as she stared at the man, but Nick gasped in recognition.

“Howard!”

 

Next Chapter

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