There have been many times in my life when I’ve wanted to just turn around and go home. You know, leave the fighting for someone else and forget this stupid war even existed. Being trapped on an alien spacecraft hurtling through space towards some unknown planet with no idea how you're ever going to get home trumps all of those moments.
I looked out the ship’s window and into the white, fluxing void that is Z-space. Every time we end up here it never ends well.
“Can I just say that this was one of the stupidest plans we’ve come up with? Thus far?” I asked to no one in particular.
“That would make the list up to thirty somethingish by now?” Rachel replied sarcastically.
I made a face at Rachel, but she ignored me and turned back towards Ax, who was busy doing something with the computer. I recognized some things he brought up, like a star map and Z-space trajectory course, but most of the rest was your basic alien technobabble.
“Having any luck, Ax?” Jake asked.
<Negative, Prince Jake. The Yeerks have encrypted their codes tenfold since the last time we accessed them.>
<But you can still break them, right?> Tobias asked nervously.
<I believe I can do it, though it will take time.>
“Yeah, well, we seem to have plenty of that, don’t we?” I said.
Cassie looked at me. “Marco, I know things aren’t looking too good right now, but getting on edge isn’t going to help the situation at all.”
I sighed and opted to lean against the back wall, watching and occasionally scowling at Rachel whenever she turned around. This lasted for what felt like days as we just kept sailing towards our unknown destination.
“Hey, what do you think this species is going to be like?” I said to break the silence.
<I am uncertain. All the data stored in this computer is guarded by over thirty defensive protocols.> Ax said, not even bothering to swing one of his stalk eyes off of his work. < But if the Yeerks have targeted them, they must be formidable to say the least. Something they could use alongside Hork Bajir and humans as shock troopers.>
<Or perhaps their planet is in a strategic location for them,> Tobias offered.
<From what I have been able to discern from our trajectory and the current alignment of Z-space, that is not the case. Their planet is quite a distance from any other habitable planet.>
“Must be an awfully dangerous species, then,” Rachel said quietly.
“So what exactly is our plan for dealing with them?” I asked.
“First things first, we need to get control of this ship, or else we’ll be at the center of the Yeerks’ stronghold. And quite likely trapped in there, too,” Jake said after a moment’s thought.
<Prince Jake, I believe I have gained access to ship controls,> Ax said, with a smug tone. <I should be able to take manual control before we depart from Z-space.>
“Great job Ax!” Cassie said encouragingly.
Just then, the ship began to rumble and shake. The disturbance only lasted a few seconds, and the ship was once more flying steadily.
“What was that?” Rachel asked.
<Guys, I think we’ve left Z-space,> Tobias said. I looked out the window to a sea of stars and blackness, broken only by the large sun we were nearing. A fair distance away, probably about the same for Earth and its sun, stood a lone green and blue planet. If the continents weren’t completely different shapes, I might have mistaken it for Earth. It even had a satellite almost identical to our moon.
“Hmm, that’s odd,” Cassie mumbled. “Is there really only the one planet?”
<It appears so. Not every solar system possesses multiple planets.>
“Though it is lucky that that planet is the right distance away to support life,” I commented.
<Prince Jake, we now have manual control of the ship. Your orders?>
“Turn us around, Ax. Take us back to Earth. No weapons means a short fight for the indigenous species, right?”
<From what we have learned, yes.>
Just then, the ship shook madly, and all of us, save for Ax, fell to the floor.
<Prince Jake, I believe the Yeerks are aware that we have commandeered their ship.>
“Oh, really? I wondered who was shooting at us!” I said sarcastically.
“Oh, this is bad,” Rachel said. “We’re carrying all sorts of explosives with us.”
The ship began to shake again, and two Yeerk craft shaped like large cockroaches came zooming by the window. It was a ship I’d seen all too often.
“We got Bug Fighters coming in fast!”
Ax’s fingers flew over the keypad, and our ship veered to the left.
The sound of the Bug Fighter’s Dracon beams split the silence as it whizzed by, aimed for where we were milliseconds earlier.
“Ax! Turn us around! Take us back to Earth now!” Jake yelled, a hint of fear in his voice.
<There is not enough time. We would be destroyed before we could get out of range of their weapons.>
“Then we fight!” Rachel, of course.
Ax swung one of his stalk eyes towards her. <We have limited weapons, insufficient to defend ourselves.>
“What if we flew towards the planet?” Cassie suggested.
<And right into the Yeerks’ base?> Tobias protested.
“We don’t know how much of the planet they control, and it’s better than being up here where they can just take shots at us,” Jake reasoned, his previous fear seemingly gone.
Two more Dracon beams shot through space, narrowly missing our ship.
“Ok, I vote for landing,” I said.
With a nod from Jake, Ax turned back to the computer and the ship spun in place, the planet slowly coming into view. The Bug Fighters trailed us closely, firing whenever they got the chance. I just kept my eyes locked on the green and blue sphere slowly growing closer.
The ship lurched forwards, and I cracked my head on the console beside Ax. I felt something dripping down my forehead, and when I checked my hand came back covered in blood.
<Prince Jake, our left engine has been destroyed and we are rapidly losing power,> Ax said looking up from the flashing consoles.
“Can you get us low enough to eject?”
<Possibly, but I do not favour our chances.>
Another Dracon beam rocked the ship, and for a moment I thought I heard the sound of metal tearing.
<Prince Jake, I believe we may have lost one of our side wings,> Ax said, clinging to the control panel.
“What? You mean we’re out of control?!” I cried, holding on to the console I had cracked my skull on.
Rachel leapt to her feet. “Alright, I’m tired of playing the punching bag. Let’s give them a taste of their own medicine!”
“And how exactly do we go about that?” I asked.
Rachel gave me an ‘are you kidding me?’ look. “Hello, we’re on a ship filled with explosives.”
“Are you suggesting what I think you are?” Cassie asked nervously.
Rachel pumped her fist into the air.
“Yeah! Let’s toss a bomb or three at them!” she said excitedly.
Jake looked like he was considering our options. I don’t blame him. This was a totally idiotic plan.
“Alright, Ax, what’s the best way for us to pull this off?”
<There is a hatch in the very rear of the ship. I believe it is used as a waste receptacle, but it should allow us to eject a small explosive device straight behind us.>
“Right. Rachel, Marco, go grab something and stuff it in the garbage chute.”
I slowly rose to my feet and followed Rachel back to the storage area. A few of the missiles and other weapons had come loose, bouncing and skidding around the floor.
I carefully maneuvered around the boxes, crates, and other strange items until I reached the back wall. The garbage chute was easy enough to spot. It had a nice large handle sticking out of it.
“I found the trash can!” I yelled to Rachel, who came walking up next to me, carrying what looked like a metallic black watermelon with bumps around the middle.
“I found the bomb. At least, I hope it’s a bomb,” she said with a grin.
“I don’t feel safe trusting our lives in your hunches, if you don’t mind.”
“Now when have I ever been wrong Marco?”
I decided not to answer that.
With a grunt, I opened the garbage door, and Rachel lifted the strange bomb and dropped it inside. I winced as it clattered against the metal, only relaxing when I shut the door. No sooner had I slammed the door shut than the entire ship shook.
<We have entered the planet’s exosphere,> Ax told us, somehow managing to sound perfectly calm.
“Well the bomb is ready and waiting!” Rachel called back.
There was a long time of silence, until finally Ax spoke again.
The ship groaned as the compartment in the rear of the ship opened, then silence again. Moments later, I heard a distant explosion.
<Direct hit.> Again, as calm as if he were simply reading a book.
“Well, what do you know? It was a bomb,” Rachel said, unable to keep the surprise out of her voice.
Normally I would have made a huge scene over that, but I was just so grateful to be alive.
The ship shuddered again, and I whipped my head around, wondering what had happened.
<We have entered the planet’s mesosphere. I fear however that our ship is too damaged for a controlled reentry.>
“Of course it is,” I muttered moments before the ship began lurching and shaking violently. I fell to the ground, unable to stand, and instead opted to crawl back to the bridge where the others were waiting. Most of them were on the floor, with the exception of Ax, who was hanging onto the console desperately.
Somehow, Jake managed to drag himself up, clinging to Ax for support. He looked through the window, peering down at the planet.
<Prince Jake, we are beginning to gain speed exponentially. I estimate we will hit the ground in three of your minutes.>
I opted to let that one slip radar, just this once.
“Well, Ax, might I suggest slowing us down?” I said as calmly as I could.
<The most surefire way would be to have our ship impact with another object.>
“Ax, we’re headed straight for an object. It’s called the ground!” I yelled, no longer able to stay calm.
“Actually, we’re heading for that!” Cassie said, pointing out the window. Turning around I was shocked to see a huge stone tower rising out from the side of a mountain.
“Oh, man. Ax, turn us! I don’t care how, just get us away from that!” Jake commanded.
<No time, impact time in seven of your seconds!>
We all got as low as we could and braced ourselves.
We were tossed around the room like a bunch of ragdolls. I hit the back wall, getting a perfect view out the window. To my surprise, we were now flying relatively level to the ground. I could begin to make out the shapes of what looked like some form of settlement, most likely a rural village. Another shake forced my head up, giving me a nice look at where we were heading.
“Guys, mountain at twelve o’clock!”
“Morph! Go cockroach! Or fly! Just go small!” Cassie yelled.
As quickly as we could we all began morphing insect. But every second the mountain got closer and larger.
The floor of the ship got closer and larger to me too, until finally I could no longer look out the window. I felt my bones melt away into nothing, felt a thick carapace form over my back. Two whip-like antennae sprang from my forehead, and spiny jointed legs from my sides.
That was the last thing I remembered right before the ship collided with the mountainside, and my world exploded in a cacophony of light and pain.