Nika Veresk
In the shadow of the stolen light

The loud speakers transmitted some rustling and swishing. The crew members could hardly discern the words among the stray signals. Derek shook his head.

“It’s obviously a speech, but I understand nothing,” he whispered into Lora’s ear, “Do you know Tarian?”

“You could say that,” answered Lora still trying to listen carefully. “A UCD,” she barely touched the small gadget at her temple, “is multifunctional, and can work as a translator. The part of the communicator that you see is the receiving part of the gadget, while the part that analyses and archives data is implanted directly into the brain. All the Titanium citizens undergo this operation at sixteen. I’m sure that when you get better, Doctor Borshchevsky will suggest you to have this simple procedure done. The implanted element creates grammar and vocabulary memory zones that allow us to understand foreign speech. Thus we could say that our brain actually studies languages by itself.”

The earthling nodded.

“It could come in very handy.”

“By the way, the Tarian refugees are asking for help from all closely located alien ships now,” Lora added quietly.

After a few seconds all they could hear were some rustling and swishing sounds. Everybody simultaneously looked at Paul, awaiting further instruction.

“We’re going to…” confidently started the captain.

“Sorry captain, there’s some movement!” reported Chris.

The crew members tightly surrounded the holographic projector.

“One of the refugees’ ships manoeuvred and is trying to leave the fire zone,” Paul pointed at the green dot moving to the edge of the projection.

“It’s not being followed,” noticed Oleg. “The cruiser is holding the others at gunpoint, while the fighter planes are yet to arrive in order to cut off the fugitive’s path.”

“The cruiser is ready to fire!” added Chris. He was now at the holographic projectors in front of the captain’s seat and on one of them he showed a detailed picture of the border ship with the embattled artillery

From that moment on, the events started evolving as quick as a flash. The ship with the refugees turned out to be cumbersome and was unable to avoid the line of fire. The first series of volleys hit it directly, depriving the spacecraft of its, though weak, protective field. As a result of the second series, the back engine was damaged.

“They won’t go far with this kind of damage!” sighed Stan.

Then again someone’s speech was heard despite the interference.

“The passenger ship detected our shuttle and is moving in our direction,” translated Lora. “Now it’s us they’re asking for help.”

“They would surely be able to reach Gron and make an emergency landing there,” nodded the mechanic.

“Within the framework of the active agreement between ‘Solar Flotilla’ and Taria’s government,” quickly commented Paul, “we can help their citizens in case of an emergency. Even in times of battle, this can’t be considered an intervention into their domestic policies.”

The crew members nodded in accordance.

“So we are going to just stay there and watch how they fire at the helpless ship until it crashes right next to us?!” said Derek shocked.

“Yes, because we are bound by this agreement,” Paul sat in the captain’s chair continuing to closely monitor the scanners. “Judging by its trajectory, it’ll land next to us. Chris, activate the protective field and get ready to manoeuvre. There could be the threat of a collision. Oleg, you are responsible for the defence arms. Stan, calculate the possibility of using the teleport ray for transporting the injured onboard. Mary, get the spacesuits ready, they could be useful.”

“What should we do?” Derek looked questioningly at the captain.

“Fasten your belts for now,” he answered calmly. “But the night is young.”

“The object is on our right!” reported Chris.

The earthling and Lora sat in the vacant chairs, staring intently through the panoramic glass into the darkness surrounding the shuttle.

“The speed is too high, it’s going to be a rough landing!”

Soon after these words were uttered, Derek noticed a ship approaching them at speed; moving in jerks, losing and gaining height. When it was too close to the surface, it touched the spiky moon rocks which cut into its cover before bursting in all the directions.

“The scanners show that only one of the brake motors switched on! The ship’s going to turn around now!” reported Chris.

However, within seconds; not only did it turn, but it broke into two parts. One of the pieces of debris flew far ahead, disappearing from view of the onlookers and exploded as shown on one of the scanners. The bigger part bumped into several cliffs before halting one and a half kilometres away from the shuttle.

“Scan the debris for the presence of survivors,” commanded Paul.

Stan shook his head gloomily.

“Fifty-two life forms, but I can’t say anything about their physiological state. By the way, before firing the scanner had shown three hundred and seven Tarians.”

“So, our help could be useful,” summarized Paul. “Stan, what’s the situation with the teleport? Can we transport them one by one?”

“No, can’t do that. The damaged ship equipment could cause a lot of interference. If anything goes wrong, we’ll get the Tarians in pieces. But if we stick small beacons on the survivors, then every object’s signal will become stronger and the risk of harm or injury will be considerably decreased.”

“Is there a risk of explosion?”

“Not at the moment, but the engines of the ship are badly impaired; the beginning of a chain reaction is only a matter of time,” replied Oleg. “I think we have about an hour.”

“This mission isn’t directly connected with the interests of ‘Solar Flotilla’: that’s why I can’t give orders to anyone.” Paul looked at his crew.

“We’re coming, captain,” Mary gave a nudge to Oleg.

“Coming,” he nodded in agreement and, walking fast, they left the bridge.

“I can also help,” Lora said, ready to follow them.

“Great! Stan and Chris will stay with me onboard,” decided the captain.

“I want to go,” suddenly said Derek, loudly and decisively.

Paul raised his eyebrow in surprise, while Lora who was already heading to the spacesuit chamber stopped hesitantly.

“A walk in a spacesuit, despite all its advantages, is quite a tiring thing…”

“But I feel great. Besides, Paul said that he can’t order…”

“I can’t order you to go…” specified the captain, “But if your actions put other crew members in danger, it’s a different matter.”

“I can handle it,” confidently said Derek and pointed at the hologram, “Besides, we have little time to evacuate all the injured. Another pair of hands really could do.”

“He’s right,” agreed Chris, “Fighter planes are taking off from Taria. I don’t think they’ll ignore a ship that crashed on the moon.”

“The injured are all around the ship,” added Stan, “Teleporting our rescue team there will save some time, but they’ll have to move around the inside the spacecraft on their own, which can be very difficult.”