Xalata Orbit and Melody Fret: The Hammer of Asttar

By Nick Evans

Young adult, Sci-Fi, Children's


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4 mins

A silent traveller

It was about half a kilometre across by a kilometre long and it rotated along its length in a lazy motion that belied its purpose. It had sat in the outer reaches of the Asteroid Belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, since the solar system had formed and the leavings of the planet-making had simply gathered together to form a band of left-over rock and minerals that rarely moved ... unless they were pushed.

This nameless rock had been pushed, quite deliberately. Engineers had captured it, built massive nuclear fusion devices on it to give it a thrust out of the belt and had detonated the devices to send the asteroid on a new path, towards the terraforming fields on Mars, building a habitable planet out of a hostile environment.

It rushed silently through space, its presence unnoticed by anyone other than those who sent it. Its final objective was to hurtle through the atmosphere of Mars and impact the surface of the Red Planet at high speed, throwing up rock and minerals, spilling out its own ammonia-rich core, helping to kick-start the greening of the planet and the creation of a breathable atmosphere.
But then, something changed.

Chapter One

The moment she was grabbed, Xalata had kicked with both feet, as hard as she could. The satisfying "Oomph!" that exploded from her attacker, when she made contact with her foot, was soon followed by her being wrestled through a door into a much lighter area. She shouted for help, but a gloved hand was quickly wrapped around her mouth so that she could barely breathe, let alone scream.

"You've caused quite enough trouble," said a rough voice, "and we need to keep you quiet. We don't want to wake the bogeyman now do we? Now, are you going to be a good girl and make no noise, or shall we gag you? I have a lovely dirty rag here to stuff in your mouth," and the speaker waved in front of her face a piece of oily cloth that looked as if it had been used for cleaning drains. Xalata nodded to show that she agreed to be quiet, although every part of her was straining with the impulse to scream.

She couldn't see her attackers as they held her from behind, but the sound of their voices was slightly muffled, as if they were wearing something over their faces. She felt a bag being pulled over her head and the last thing she saw was the image of a very derelict-looking area of habitat that had no place being part of the Outpost.

Another voice laughed and Xalata was hauled onto some sort of vehicle where she was dumped like so much luggage. Her hands were tied behind her back and her feet were fastened together with strong, thin bands. Then the hands let go of her and she was left lying on her front while the two attackers evidently climbed into seats on the vehicle and drove silently away - to where, she had no idea.

As she lay there, she felt her hands going numb from the tightness of the bands and so she tested them but they were fastened firmly and, as she wriggled, they cut into her wrists and ankles, making her gasp with pain. Then she tried to move her head to see if she could manage to find a chink of light to see out from under the hood. Nothing. So she stopped moving and listened carefully. The vehicle hissed along on near-silent wheels, making little jolts as it passed over slight unevenness in the tunnel through which they were driving. The two kidnappers - for such they were, she realised in horror - were not talking, keeping silent because perhaps they did not want to give away any more than they had already. She had not recognized the voices, but she was in no doubt that she would know at least the one voice again, if she heard it.

The vehicle travelled on and the silence simply grew deeper. So, what had she seen when she was attacked? The light had been bright in the space she had entered, but the area looked totally unlike the rest of the habitat that made up LunarBase. In fact, it looked more like the images she had seen on the newsfeed about the attack on Habitat 14. As she considered what she had actually seen, she recalled a large space with blast-damaged walls and smoke patches as well as broken furniture and fittings that were strewn around. But was she remembering the newsfeed or was it what she had actually seen? She couldn't be sure as her mind was in a whirl from the adrenalin pumping around her body.

Still the vehicle zipped along and Xalata had a strong sense of motion whenever it went around corners - but that happened very rarely. The gentle hum made her feel quite sleepy and, despite being very uncomfortable, she fell into a sort of shocked sleep where wild dreams screamed around in her head.

* * * * *

She couldn't tell how much time had passed when she felt the deceleration of the vehicle and heard sounds of a much larger space, voices echoing and the noise of heavy machinery. The motion stopped altogether and she felt the two attackers get down from their seats and muffled talk that she could not make out. All at once, rough hands picked her up bodily and carried her away from the vehicle.

"Where am I being taken?" she shouted. The answer was a quick thump on her shoulder.

"Be quiet," the same rough voice again. "We don't want to hear from you at all. I still have the gag so just behave. You, my dear, are just a pawn in our little game."

The other man laughed again, but said nothing. She heard the hiss of an airlock door being opened and she was put down on the ground. Someone cut the binding on her feet and she was dragged upright again.

"Right, now, you walk. No silly tricks - just behave like a nice girl, my dear, and nothing'll happen to you."

With that, one of the men pushed her forward, still with the bag on her head and she stumbled to stay upright as the sensation began to return to her numbed feet and, without any vision, her balance was unsteady.

She staggered along the corridor, guided by a firm hand on her shoulder and lurched through another airlock into a space where there was very little sound. They all stopped and Xalata was pushed down onto a seat and someone undid the ties on her hands.

"Don't make a move until we leave. If you decide to take a peek at who we are, that'll be the last peek you make, my dear." Again with the 'my dear' bit, thought Xalata.

"You can't get out of this room. Food will be brought to you and you'll have everything you need. Your job is to sit and wait." With that, she heard footsteps retreating and the airlock door closing. There was a clunk as it resealed and then everything was silent.

She paused, listened again and then decided it was safe to remove the bag on her head. Rename myself, Edna Bagg, she thought and laughed, despite feeling very scared. As the bag came off she looked around.

There wasn't much to see. She was in a standard type of lunar habitat living space. It was small, with a table and chairs, a couple of armchairs, a large screen on the wall and a kitchen area with a cooler. Everything was a neutral grey colour and there was no decoration or ornamentation at all. To be honest, she thought, this could be my home. But she quickly discovered that it wasn't.

She got up and wandered around to explore the space - first trying the airlock door to see if it would open. Nope - no luck there. Not that she had really expected that people would go to the trouble of capturing her and then leave her in an unlocked room.

In the kitchen space the cutlery was all flimsy plastic - no weapons there then. The cooler contained some drinks and a couple of parcels of ready to cook food: all standard stuff. Through a door to the left of the kitchen was access to a shower room and then a single bedroom with a bed made up. There were clothes in the wardrobe - her size and style: someone was expecting me, she thought.

So why had they captured her? What was the plan? How was she a "pawn" in their "little game"? She thought suddenly about her dad and what he would think when he found she had been captured - if only I had been able to tell him where I was going. And Glitch isn't going to tell - he's in on it! With sharp realization, she suddenly recalled that her friend - so called - had betrayed her. Why? There were plenty of questions - no answers.



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