Chapter 1 This Dark Earth


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Chapter 1 This Dark Earth

  1. 1. Chapter 1 This Dark Earth The walkway was lined with red and yellow roses; leading to the home that was burned into her memory. Above Hailey’s comet hung motionless in the star sprinkled sky that stretched like a tent overhead. She sat on the door step looking up intently. Cold water spilled over the walk way taking hold of her ankles; it then rose up over the roses and her head. It seemed to drown out everything that had been moments before, leaving nothing but a cold feeling deep in her chest. Her hands pressed against glass, caging her in an invisible prison, watching helpless as she drifted away from everything that was her life. Ashleigh Nixx opened her crystal-like green eyes, the only physical attribute that gave away her prior kryostasis. The moon was brightly shining over the Earth casting its glow into her pale skin, giving her its radiance. Her A.S.P (armor suit prototype) sat sullen behind her, the ocean breeze unable to stir his armor as it did his counter parts hip-length hair and green E.R.C (earth resistance core) uniform. Ashleigh’s nearly opaque eyes scanned the abyss that was the night horizon, her hands clasped behind her back resting on her rope of long copper hair. She was too deep in thought to notice the darkly cloaked figure that smoothly creped up to her. “Memories again?” His deep voice asked. The moon was bouncing off of all the medals on the chest of his uniform and defining his long brown hair and flowing cape, Lynx Marques. Why would you care? I hate you. She thought bitterly before answering. “Dreams.” “Don’t you ever give explanatory answers?” Lynx griped. Ashleigh glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. You’re walking on a mine field. “Only when necessary, sir.” Now go away. Lynx turned around, his dark cape fluttering in the breeze, and walked across the glowing titanium holding flat gazing up at her A.S.P. Its broad shoulders were fitted with protective armor that came to a soft point at either end, a Nexus morph gauntlet on the right fore-arm, and large, sleek, Anti-gravity units on his back where shoulder blades would be. He was one of an unknown number of suits designed by a professor at N.O.V.A (north organization of violence aversion) a big group of pacifistic scientists that wanted to rid the world of military just before the pacific incident. Fitted with a synaptic melding system that linked the consciousnesses of both A.I and pilot, the Neuros system, he was the ultimate weapon. Some pacifists, huh? “You’re a work of art, Volt.” Lynx said to the A.S.P. “Thank you Commander Marques.” Volt’s robotic under toned, eerily human, voice chimed with gratitude. ‘Kiss up.’ Ashleigh thought at him. Volt cocked his large Dragonite head, several of the cameras hidden behind the visor-like transparent steel plate swiveling around to focus on her. ‘I have to compensate for your hostility to the Commander and the Hierarchy.’ He retorted so that only she could hear. She turned around and pressed her palms to the cold steel railing.
  2. 2. Lynx was practically drooling over Volt. His large intimidating frame was dwarfed by the sheer magnitude of Volt’s presence. All of his power and authority seemed to be flowing into the Mech (slang for mobile armor) in front of him, rendering his threatening persona null, making him an easily overlooked obstacle. “Get some rest, Nixx. You’re new members arrive early.” Lynx said as he walked away. He makes it sound like some kind of glee club!!! Ashleigh fumed inside. He stopped at the hold. “I’m sorry about Jake & Cris.” He said without turning around, he was a mere shadow in the hold’s door way. “Thanks.” Ashleigh heard herself say quite sincerely. Maybe he did have a heart, in the void of darkness that seemed to replace his soul at times. Lynx nodded then disappeared into the shadow beyond the door frame, melting into it so smoothly he almost seemed inhuman. The E.R.C military cruiser the Atilisk hovered smoothly just above the sea’s crystal surface, rippling it ever so slightly. Jet Wilson took in the sight of it with enthusiastic blue eyes. It was a graceful mix between a submarine and a yacht with a solar halo humming over the midsection. The rudder and dorms were, once a beautiful mural of blue and red, faded to the point that you could only make out one or two angels now. The Atilisk was over a hundred years old, one of the first commissioned in the fleet of hope, just before the cataclysm, now it was the only ship in this wondrous era of bio technology still functioning. Jet’s A.S.P was a tank-like model, being one of the latest designed to fight the Jedite its chassis was quite akin to Volt’s, with four missile pods, a gattling shield and the double barrel beam cannon tied to the flight model A.S.P that was carrying him. “Do we have to live on an antique?” Jet’s A.S.P griped. Jet rubbed a hand over his neck, blond hair brushing against it. “Yes, James, this is the only way to do it right. No mistakes this time.” “But, I’ve read up on these old hope fleet ships. Several of them had horrible malfunctions that lead to the entire ship destroying itself in a matter on moments!” He was quite serious. And it was true three of the fleet of hope’s ships did tear themselves to bits during a combat maneuver. “James, you idiot! That’s the least of our problems. We’re getting assigned to the ‘Ender’s. Do you know what that means?!” The pilot of the flight unit yelled over the comm. An Ender is an earth-born human that has never set foot in space, they’re usually outcast by those who associate with or are from space. Ender is also what the Hierarchy calls soldiers that don’t have good standing with them because of any and every reason you can think of. For one day there shall be an End to them and they will be no more. “Calm down Mace, this isn’t any other cruiser. Lynx Marques is the Blue squad commander.” Jet said, as if that meant anything in truth. “Oh, well that changes things.” Mace said, throttling his A.S.P to max. “Finally!” Mace’s A.S.P, Rift, shouted. “With all you’re slow driving I was getting bored.”
  3. 3. Ashleigh could see them coming up as fast as Volt would at average speed. Her copper hair was on fire with the sun’s bright morning light and her darn green uniform revealed more of her well shaped figure than she would like. What was left of her team was behind her. Ace Sharp was on her left; he was a full head taller than her and quite well built. He was an Indian by heritage, his hair hung to the middle of his back in a thick black braid. Rush Crimson was opposite Ace; he wasn’t as tall as Ace but he made up for it in mass. He was just about the strongest man on the whole ship in body and spirit, and his military cut sandy blond hair was beginning to turn grey in a few places. Ace put a hand on Ashleigh’s shoulder. “Are you gunna be ok, Ashleigh?” He’d stopped calling her ‘Ice queen’ after Cris died. “Of course she will be!” Rush boomed in with his gruff voice. “Didn’t you see how she and Volt took care of those  Jedite after Cris and Jake were taken out?!” Like that means anything other than I was angry. “I’ll heal” Ashleigh said over the noise of the flight model landing in front of them. It was a very sleek unit with lot of aerodynamic cuts along its limbs, blue and gold paint that was obviously new, and a well balanced light arsenal sporting a sonic blade. “Hoo wee! Lynx sure hooked us up this time! Thank you Lynx! Their beautiful new models with…” Ace continued to google over the new suits. Jet sat in James, eyes on the heads up display as he toyed with the camera, surveying his new unit. Mace, on the other hand jumped down with out hesitation. He was almost the color of Ace’s dark leather vest, with short curly black hair that was almost like wool, every muscle knotted under the skin. He was quite impressive to look at. “You must be the Ender squad. Who’s the captain?” Ashleigh looked to Rush expectantly. He smiled wryly at the request her eyes held in them. “Rush Crimson, at your service kid.” He said extending his hand. “And you are?” “Mace Karsten,” He took Rush’s hand and squeezed. “This is Rift, my A.S.P.” He pointed behind him to the flight model. Its streamlined chassis wasn’t built for anything other than air combat; the way it landed was just one of many testimonies to that fact. But its sonic arsenal was enough to make up for it. Ashleigh looked directly into the ground unit’s main camera when it zoomed in on her. “You’re friend is shy?” She said to Mace. “Oh, no not really, he’s just kinda paranoid.” He said dismissively. The Atilisk hit a minor swell on the sea’s surface, sending a buckle trough the hull. Ashleigh lost her balance and careened into Ace. “You didn’t sleep again, did you?” He said into her ear holding on to her shoulders to balance her. “No.” She whispered back as he pushed away. Jet finally emerged from James’ cockpit. He, too, was well fit, a little broader in comparison to his partner, with a scar crossing his left jaw. “Just hold on a minute, Mace.” He said walking forward a bit clumsily; he’d never been on a cruiser before. “He’s not the Captain.” Mace jerked towards his partner. “Have you lost your mind, Jett?! This whole thing was your idea, stupid!” Jet stopped in front of Ashleigh. Good gods! She’s a Kryos! He thought looking into her crystal green eyes. “She is.” He extended a hand. “Jett Wilson, reporting for duty, ma’m.”
  4. 4. Ashleigh smiled, for the first time in three months. “Glad to have you, Jet. I’m Ashleigh Nixx.” Mace’s mouth dropped open. “A woman, the leader of a squadron?!” Ace laughed. “Let’s get you two situated.” The halls of the Atilisk were painted light colors lined through the center with wave pattern boarder. Each unit of operation had its own color (red = infirmary, yellow = cafeteria/ food storage, ect.) so that new comers and the, ever present, diplomats wouldn’t get lost. They were heading down the red hallway going to the barracks when Lynx came up opposite them guiding, yet another, pacifistic diplomat. “Ashleigh, could you stop by my office later, around noon?” He said commandingly. Oh, how I hate thee. “I’ll try, sir.” She said cursing inwardly. Two words, I must be making progress. “Ok, we’ll talk then.” She nodded slightly, beginning to take her leave. But, the diplomat’s son stopped her. “Are you the blue squadron?” He asked eagerly. Rush laughed gruffly. “No kid, we’re the L3 squad, smallest squad in the fleet.” “The Enders.” The boy said, more to himself than anyone present. Ashleigh smiled. “You’ll make a good pilot, kid.” “My name is Darrin. Not kid!” He said. “I’ll be 16 soon.” Ashleigh nodded. “Training starts at 16; you’re observant, and spirited. You’ll make one fine Commander. True Lynx?” You’re asking me? “Yes.” “Don’t grow up too fast, Darrin.” She said over her shoulder as she walked off. “Adulthood has its share of hardships.” The boy couldn’t help but smile at them as they left. Lynx also watched them leave, or more correctly her, until they had all but vanished beyond his range of vision. For the first time she seemed alive to him, not the android-like recruit without a past. And it was odd that he of all those stationed here, with high ratings in the Specials Soleum, the ultimate military group, could’ve missed the change so completely. Ashleigh had run ahead of the others. Jet was to have Cris’ room, everything had been left in it as far as she knew, and she wanted to see it one last time before it was changed. She entered the access code and stepped in quickly shutting the door behind her. Everything was gone, the walls were bare, and his bed stripped of the linens. She stood in the center of the emptiness, alone, again. Ashleigh retreated to the Holding Flat, the very center of the ship, with the monstrous halo hovering above her. She sat on Volt’s shoulder looking out over the sea. The sun rained down mercilessly on her head. Volt’s chipping black and silver paint was hot beneath her, but she didn’t seem to mind. She just kept starring out over the horizon as the sea lulled softly against it like a pool of rocking molten glass. ‘Why did I falter?’ She thought at Volt.
  5. 5. A camera swiveled around to stare at her. ‘Not even Kryostasis can warp the soul.’ He responded. Very poetic, Volt. ‘I guess I see.’ “It’s nearly noon!” Ace had snuck up behind her, climbing up Volts dioxis cover on his Vernier rockets. “I know.” She said without stirring. He’s a stupid spacer, child of the Hierarchy, I’m not going. She thought angrily. Ace plopped down beside her. “Go for us. Even Cris knew the value of a little face time with your superiors.” He sighed. “Look if I could I’d bail you out. I know how much you hate the guy.” “It’s not that, Ace.” “You can’t explain it can you? One of those Cris could tell you if he were here things.” Darn you! “Fine,” She breathed to push him off of his soap box. “For you.” Lynx tapped his desk with a pen. 12:30, she’s not coming. He walked over to the open circular window, the salty breeze combed through his brown hair. He was pulled out of his thoughts by two quick taps on the door. “Probably senator Clinton and his boy.” He mumbled as he pushed away from the window and pleasant air. He opened the door then froze. Ashleigh saluted. “Sir.” The look on your face is payment enough for coming. Lynx closed his mouth. “Uh, come in.” He stepped out of the door way. Ashleigh walked in and stood at attention in front of his beautiful dark wood desk. Lynx took a seat beside the one she was standing in front of. “Please sit down.” He said motioning to the chair. Ashleigh nodded, then took the seat. “Permission to speak freely, Commander?” she asked. “Granted.” He said a bit coldly. “Why did you ask to see me?” If it’s for another trap you are so dead! He handed her a folder. “If you haven’t noticed, all of Cris’ belongings were shipped to the main headquarters this morning. This was found among his possessions. I thought I should give it to you personally.” The folder had her name on it in big bold letters. She opened it silently. “Hey you stupid Popsicle!” The letter began. “What gives? I was supposed to hang around till we rid the Jedite from earth. Oh, well, what’s done is done I guess. I have only one request, no revenge; at least not on Lynx, unless of course he reads this. And don’t you dare think about turning back into the emotionless shell you were when we met; doing so would only bring all that I have hoped for to an end. Thanks for making it out Ashes, the others need you.” She blinked profusely to clear her eyes enough to continue reading. “I know this sounds crazy to you but, when I needed you and you were always there. Thank you for that.” Kick their sorry  for me, and undermine the Hierarchy while you’re at it. All my love, Your late friend,
  6. 6. Cris.” Ashleigh’s eyes clouded over, but there was no force on earth or from hell that could make her cry in front of Lynx of all people. “Is that all sir” She said emotionlessly after finishing the letter. “Yes, your dismissed Captain Nixx.” Lynx said, expecting her to say more. Ashleigh stood up turned around and made her way to the door. She had her hand on the knob when Lynx’s voice stopped her. “I didn’t know.” He was standing up now, his body blocking the only windows light and illuminating his frame. Is that an apology? “You’re not God.” Ashleigh said softly. “I feel responsible; I shoved the mission on you because…” Ashleigh’s smile cut him off. “Lynx, forgive your self or life will hold no meaning.” I’m starting to sound like Volt! She opened the door and stepped out. “I’ve forgiven you.” She said over her shoulder before walking away. Lynx sat in silent introspection until he was summoned to the awards ceremony that night. ‘Forgive myself…can I do that? I killed my friend and endangered the one closest to him.’ He looked out the window. ‘She forgave me…’ Mace pulled at the high collar of his new green uniform, his rank pin stabbing his neck as a result. “Man this sucks! Do we have to ware these all the time?” “No.” Ashleigh said pulling on her dangerously short skirt. “Thank God.” “Only for ceremonies and if were invited to greet a diplomat.” Ace explained. Ashleigh pulled at her skirt again. “No matter how much you pull on it ice queen it ain’t gunna get any longer.” Rush said stifling laughter. “You look good Captain.” Jet said to try and ease her fidgeting. Instead she cringed inwardly, not at what he said but at being called Captain. Cris was the Captain, Rush should be, I don’t deserve this rank. She stared intently at the ceiling. Cris why did it have to be you? The squad made their way to their seats. Squad L3 was crossed out of the center piece and ‘Enders’ was written in red marker. “Evil” Ashleigh muttered under her breath. “Ooh look, guys the dead decided to join the living.” A member of the Blue squad yelled across the room. “Go back to your freezer and take your sorry bunch Enders with you!” Ashleigh walked over calmly to him and planted a firm hand on his shoulder, boring into him with an emotionless gaze that would stop any Jedite in its tracks. “Why?” He stuttered, the sorry coward, now that she was so close his courage failed. “Speak.” She commanded in an even but venom filled tone of voice. All eyes were on them as he spoke. “I take it back, you can stay.” He said at long last and rather high pitched. Like I need your permission, you disgusting coward. “Thank you.” She let go of him and returned to her seat. Once seated she put her elbows on the table and rested her chin in her hands. “Coward.”
  7. 7. “Punk.” Ace added. “” Rush grumbled. Ace smiled at Jet and Mace’s bewildered looks. “It’s a tradition that Cris brought with him. If any member of us is insulted we all call the evil doer a name, just to get our two cents in and show our support to the one hurt.” “Freak.” Mace stated, to prove that he understood. “Jerk.” Jet said with a grin. “I like what I’ve heard about this Cris guy, where did he transfer to?” Ashleigh’s head hit the table with a loud crack, her hands closing over the back of it. “Well, ya’ll see, after the Queen self destructed… They didn’t find a trace of him.” Rush explained. Ashleigh’s shoulders shook for a second. No, none of this, I’ll accept it. He’s gone… Forever. “So you’re the pilot that NOVA sent for Volt.” The young dark haired guy said taking her hand and shaking it. His eyes were almost the color of pure gold, they were unreal. “Yes.” Ashleigh said rather coldly. “Well then, let me show you around.” “Hey Ice Queen how about a smile? Come on I just saw one!” “You’re delusional.” Ashleigh said waving him of. “I’ve forgotten how to smile.” Cris smiled knowingly. What exactly did he know about her anyway? Cris… “If I could have you’re attention, please.” General J. Mill’s voice yanked her out of her reminiscing. She lifted her head up and wiped her eyes with her sleeve. Gen Mill was pushing 80, but was in extremely good health, with next to no hair. “This dinner is in honor of our esteemed supporter Senator Clinton. But it falls on the same night as our annual awards ceremony. Tradition must come first or all will fall to the Jedite scum that have infested our planet.” Gen Mill was also the only active member of the military that fought in the first battle against the Jedite on the coast of Africa. “First we pay our respects to those that have paid the ultimate price for this world.” The Crest behind him opened to reveal a monstrous view screen. As he named those who had died in combat their picture came up on the screen for all to see. Then he came to Cris. Several in the audience shouted ‘Ender’ or ‘what’s he doing up there?’ Gen Mill ignored the disrespectful and continued. “Christian Barton was the last to pay the ultimate price in this long drawn out struggle this year.” His picture was there for all to see, his dark brown hair mussed up and in his amazing golden eyes, wearing that familiar grin that everyone in the room had seen on many occasions. Come to think of it he was hardly ever sad. The night continued and the awards were given. Predictably the blue and red squads hogged the spotlight receiving one reward after another.
  8. 8. At what seemed to be the end Gen Mill took off his hat, his bald head was very shiny. “The L3 squad, most of you sorry ’s call the ‘Enders’, were the only squad in over 10 years to lose a comrade and not suffer defeat.” Rush, Ace and Ashleigh exchanged glances. Where they in the twilight zone? “The L3 Captain Nixx receives the 500+ kill ranking to add to her data, as well as the medal of courage. 1st Lt Crimson as well as well as 2nd Lt Sharp also receives this award. For fighting with a fire and dignity unlike any this force has ever seen I salute you.” He saluted each of them as they came up to accept the awards. When Ashleigh came up he spoke four words to her. “He lives through you.” Ashleigh smiled, sadly and happily all at once. She nodded, allowing a tear to streak her pale cheek. There was no round of applause to meet them as they took their seats. There was no nod of recognition by any of the higher ranking officers, only Darrin seemed to revel in there achievement. Ashleigh smiled down at the skull and cross bones she now could add to the right sleeve of her uniform. “So this is what it’s like being an Ender.” Jet smiled. “I like it.” Mace laughed. “I’m just glad I’m not one of ‘them’... anymore anyway.” Rush laughed gruffly and Ace smiled. “Glad to know you have a heart.” Then came dinner; some one had messed with the food it was obvious, but they traded plates and ate it anyway. It was good, although Ace got a mouth full of cayenne pepper, which Rush was allergic to. As dinner was rapping up and Senator Clinton was getting up for his speech a shudder went through the ship. It was just enough to make the water glasses vibrate for a brief second, but it was all the Enders needed to tell them that company was coming and fast. Senator Clinton stepped up to the podium while the others in the room applauded. He was a haughty looking man with dark hair streaked with grey that was concentrated at his temples. Ashleigh glanced at Lynx; he didn’t look too happy and wasn’t applauding with the others. He caught her eye and nodded. He knows! I didn’t think that… oh, Specials Soleum, duh! She nodded, slightly, back. One of the best things about being an Ender is that your table is usually in the farthest and darkest corner of the room, making it all too easy to escape the diplomats’ cloned speeches. The L3 squad creped away from their table and made they’re way up the stairwell. “Drones?” Jet asked as they ran up the treacherous metal stairs. “No.” Ashleigh said confidently. “Warriors, two legions, closing in fast.” “How do you..?” Mace began to ask. Ace shushed him. “Cris doesn’t, didn’t, even know that.” “Ok, let’s roll kids!” Rush yelled as they broke into the open air. “Grace, bring up Enders 1-5 and make it snappy!” He yelled at the Trafficker. “Keep Ender 3 in his docking clasps.” “But you’ll…” Ashleigh started to argue.
  9. 9. “Be a sitting Duck! I know! Don’t start with me Ice Queen! Just get your Kryos @$$ to Volt!” I’m going to pay for that later. He thought when she glared at him before taking off to her A.S.P. Ashleigh tore across the hot titanium that made up the holding flat. Forgetting about how short her skirt was, or how much her arm still hurt, or even the pounding warning going through her head that told her everything she’d ever need to know about those approaching, she honed in on Volt’s open cockpit and jumped in. “All systems at 100% capacity.” Volt reported to his other half. “Good.” She strapped the harness over her chest and small waist. “How many?” She could see Volt’s calculations scroll through her mind. “130 units all flight warriors.” “Right, bring up the others.” She let her hair down. “Jet, Rush you guys are in charge of the strays, nothing gets near this ship. Ace take the water, I think something may come your way. Mace you’re with me, the plan is divide and conquer. Take one section at a time until we’re clear. Got it?” “Roger!” Came the response from all of her team mates. The warriors were in sight now. They were freakish, like dragons with human faces stretched over the top half of their heads. Their wings were little more than a cyborg skeleton with a thick leather hide stretched over it. The rest of their bodies were always different, some were covered with hide completely, and others had spikes and metal clasps in the areas not covered by a thick fleshy substance. It was like an army of Frankenstein’s mishaps had escaped the lab. “Mace weave pattern second row. Watch it they’re acidic.” Ashleigh said coolly. They entered the fray opposite the other and wove through the mass cutting off every other warrior until they exited. They then dive bombed the center. Jet smiled. “Leaving some for us, eh?” He fired his gattling shield in a slow arc, mowing down an entire line of Jedite. Meanwhile, Ace had his hands full. A ‘squiddy’ had decided to try and undermine the defenders by attacking the ship itself while they fought off the warriors. Squiddies were just giant cybernetic squids with a nasty set of fangs and cutlery, a different blade for each tentacle to be exact. “Little help here, Ice Queen!” Ace breathed into his head set. But Ashleigh had issues of her own. They threw spikes; this was a new feature for this breed of Jedite. Several larger warriors honed in on Ashleigh’s position, their leather wings giving them a slight advantage over the turbulent air. Ashleigh sent Volt into a barrel roll to evade the line of fire. An acid oozing spike sailed past Volt’s sleek head and into the sea. “I could vaporize the lot of you!” Volt yelled at the drooling beasts that were on his tail. Rush shot down another then another, but this was all to boring a fight for him. “Ahrg! To hell with this sorry battle!” Rush yelled. “Get out of the sky kids.” Ashleigh plunged Volt into the crystal clear sea just above Ace and Mac. Taking hold of the squiddy Volt tossed it into the sky using the momentum of Ashleigh punching the anti-grav drive to send it higher than the air borne warriors. “Mace drop!” Everyone yelled at him. “Die you mutant !” Rush yelled when Gabriel’s screen lit green with the lock symbol. In a chaotic burst of flame and blue smoke Rush fired every one of the 300 micro
  10. 10. missiles that Gabriel carried, knocking every last Jedite (including squiddy) into the once clear ocean below, staining it a dark murky crimson with their blood. Ace pushed Mac’s anti-grav drive to the max to get himself back on the ship. “That was exhilarating to say the least!” Mac said as he happily dried off his red painted cassis in the warm sun light. Gabriel ‘spit’ out the remaining gun powder from his missile pods. “You just had to fire all of them didn’t you Rush! You !” He cursed just as badly as his pilot. Volt settled back into his clamps, as the other squadrons Mecha began to come up from the hold beneath the flat. “For Sora.” He said hitting his chest piece with his fist, sending a hard metallic note through the air. “For Sora.” The other A.S.Ps shouted. Sora, Cris’ baby blue A.S.P, she was just as hyper as her pilot was sincere. She was so much like a child, she even said ouch every time she took damage. She was quite akin to Volt in design, sleek with a visor-like transparent steel plate holding 7 cameras, but she was built more for speed whereas Volt was for versatility. Ashleigh didn’t come out of Volt’s cockpit. She sat silently surrounded by her other half, with every display turned off, tears running down her face. A picture of the squad before Dresden was held tightly in her hand. Cris fell out of his chair. “You don’t know how to smile?!” “I must have known once but, as I said before, I’ve forgotten.” She said timidly. Cris caught her emotion. “Do what I do, ok?” He smiled. “Your turn.” Ashleigh tried, but ended up just bearing her teeth like an angry wolf. “Hopeless.” She said detached from all the feeling she had had a moment before. Cris took her by the shoulders his eyes intently on hers. “Don’t you ever say that! Nothing is beyond hope! Nothing is beyond God, nothing! Not even you, Ice queen.” “Nothing…” Ashleigh sobbed her head in her hands, the picture of the squad floated slowly to the floor. Ashleigh woke up stiff in the morning, the panel controls imprinted on the left side of her face. She stretched her arms as far as they would go; her uniform was wrinkled and very uncomfortable. “Volt, what time is it?” She asked freeing herself from the safety harness. “3:45 am, you should get into your room and get some real sleep.” He said opening the cockpit panel for her. Ashleigh nodded. “I guess.” Jet leaned on the metal railing looking out over the horizon as Ashleigh often did. His slim frame filled out his uniform surprisingly well. The Atilisk was one lucky antique, not even 10 hours ago its very existence was threatened, and yet here it was sailing, unscathed, as smoothly as ever. The breeze was fresh on his face and through his hair; he now understood why Capt Nixx enjoyed standing on the holding flat. The breeze and the mist seemed to melt any trace of worry or care that he had felt the day before.
  11. 11. He smiled thinking about Capt Nixx. Of all the people on board she was the most real. Despite the fact that she was a Kryos, she lived more fully than he or Mace had. He was surprised that she’d integrated with society thus far. His father, a member of NOVA’s Kryos investigations unit, had told him that they never get this human on a normal basis. Ashleigh came up beside him leaning her weight on the railing with her elbows. She didn’t say anything just stared out over the sea. “You should be in bed, Capt.” Jet said glancing at her. “Likewise.” She said returning the glance. Jet fidgeted with his cuff. “Hey Capt, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?” “No.” She said turning to face him. He glanced over his shoulder across the 150 yards of empty space behind him. “How close were you and Cris?” Ashleigh cringed. You just had to ask that question didn’t you? “Very.” “I see.” Jet said softly. He would’ve patted her on the shoulder if Ace hadn’t warned him not to if he liked having arms. No. You can’t, not truly. “Good night Jet.” Ashleigh said as she turned towards the hatch. “Hey, Capt Nixx?” Jet called after her. “Yes.” She said over her shoulder. “Are we supposed to call you ‘Ice Queen’?” He asked. She smiled crookedly. “No preference.” “Ok, good night Capt.” Ashleigh trudged to her room and fumbled with the access code on the panel beside her door. She walked into the dark room and slid out of her uniform and into bed. She was tiered and, for the first time in 3 months, she wanted to sleep. “So do you have a name?” Cris asked his golden eyes set on his work. “Ashleigh Nixx.” She said matter-of-factly. He looked up from the panel on Sora’s left boost system. “Ashleigh, wow, you hardly ever hear that name anymore.” He looked her over once. “It suits you.” He looked down again and tightened the water seal over his handy work. Ashleigh watched him intently. “Thank you Cris.” She said absently. “Ah ha!” He exclaimed. Ashleigh stared at him curiously, one eye brow raised. “My dad always said that the old person remained in the Kryos, and, like anyone else, was changed by experience. You just proved it.” “How?” Ashleigh crossed her arms over her chest. “You thanked me.” Ashleigh eye-balled him. “You’re odd.” Cris smiled that knowing smile that seemed to cut through Ashleigh’s mental and emotional walls like a knife through butter. What do you know that I don’t? The rays of the sun burst through the crack in Ashleigh’s curtains, waking her, a bit less than gently. She rose from her prostrate position and yawned. The picture of Cris on her night stand, along with the other members of her unit, stared at her. She inhaled sharply. I should be dead…not you.
  12. 12. She glanced around her room before forcing herself out of the warm covers. Her bare feet touched the cold tile floor and sent a shock up her spine; she jumped back in bed almost instantly. She got back under the ugly grey blue bed sheets and covered her head. Some one pounded on the door. It was Ace; he came by every morning after greeting the sunrise to make sure that she was up. She pulled the sheet off of her head, turning her hair into a frizz ball. Every thing in her room was a memory, the lace curtains, mismatch furniture, and even the ugly bed sheets. It made it hard to let go of grief. She hopped out of bed and ran over to her slippers; the tile floor was like ice. Walking over to the sink just left of the window Ashleigh looked in the mirror as she brushed her teeth then her long hair. Opening her closet she found a pair of jeans and one of Cris’ shirts, the blood stained one. Ashleigh reversed momentum a second too late. Volt yelled a warning as the Jedite queens spike flew directly into his cockpit. The dragonite casing shattered like glass all around Ashleigh her crystal green eyes turning a murky blood red. She was exposed, but that meant nothing. She kicked the vernier thrust to full capacity and made for the queen’s divide point. Every Jedite has a divide point, a weak spot that when hit with enough force literally tares the creature in half. Volt yelled a warning to his apparently indifferent pilot just before the sonic blade hit the queen’s large plate that adorned her left flank. The monstrous creature let out a howl of agony as it met its end, dark blood erupting from it like a fountain. Volt landed near the others. “Never in all my existence have I ever feared for my circuitry!” Cris hoped out of Sora and climbed up Volt. Ashleigh sat in a pool of Jedite blood the cockpit canopy completely destroyed. Cris leaned over the jagged edge of Volt’s cockpit. “Are you ok, Ice queen?” Ashleigh spit out blood. Jedite blood tastes like a salty battery acid and rancid milk. She nearly puked. “Fine.” She said trying to wipe of her face with her saturated sleeve. Cris pulled off his shirt revealing his riveted figure. Ashleigh found herself staring for a brief moment. He started to wipe off her face but she backed away. “Hold still; let me get the worst of it.” He pulled her out of the blood bowl and helped her down. Once they were on the ground Volt flew a short distance away. Cris smiled. “After Volt dries out we can go home.” “Home?” Ashleigh felt an odd emotion pulling at her heart and emptying her stomach. Cris’ golden eyes were filled with kindness. “Yeah, the Atilisk is our home, seeing as how we’re alone in the world.” He smiled. “But even those who are alone on earth have an ethereal companion.” She knew at once that he was talking about God; he always had something to tell her that included Him.
  13. 13. She smiled tearfully at the memory as it pushed to the fore ground away from all the chaos in her mind and soul. Another knock at the door roused her from her reminisce. She slid the shirt over her head and took one last look at Cris’ uniform that hung in the back of her closet before answering it. Opening the door without a second thought Ashleigh knocked it directly into Rush’s head, with a little more force than necessary to open the heavy double plated metal that it was made of. It gashed a three inch long wound vertically over his eyebrow that began to bleed profusely almost immediately after it had been inflicted. And that my friend is for the other day! She thought with and internal grin, one that no one but she could see or feel. Jett jumped up from his seat on the floor. “Oh, my gosh!! Rush are you ok, man?!” Rush smiled a little bitterly and yet amused. Took you long enough to get back at me. “Yeah, kid. Just a scratch.” He squelched the blood flow with his left hand. “Tell her.” Ashleigh folded her arms over the old blood stains on her shirt. “What?” Her tone was so emotionless it sent a chill through Jet, unnerving his courage and bringing his train of thought to a crashing halt. “Umm…. Err …. Well you see we’re recon in….” He couldn’t bring himself to say it, not after what Ace had told him about the place that the hierarchy was sending them, and after seeing what she’d just done to Rush just made it harder. Rush rolled his eyes impatiently. “Dresden, we’re heading out in a few minutes.” Jet couldn’t see a reaction from Ashleigh, only a glazing over of her eyes. “You think you’re up to it, Capt?” He asked to break a long silence. “Give her a minute!” Rush barked smacking the rookie upside the head with his free hand. Ashleigh yelled into the comm unit for Jake to get clear. But he was late in response; his A.SP was impaled by one of the acid covered missiles that looked like spikes protruding from the queen’s hide clasps near its wings, in this case. She could hear his agonizing scream just before his comm cut out in a serpent-like hiss. Ashleigh could feel a fire rise inside her, like it had the first time she’d encountered this classification of the Jedite; and just as before her eyes became a murky blood red. She wheeled Volt around and began charging the beam cannon. “Ace, Rush, get clear of my trajectory. I’ll fire in 2.48 minutes.” She said in her usual even tone. “!” Rush yelped kicking Gabriel into high gear, pealing out the rubber cover on his treads. Ashleigh continued Volt’s backward flight path and took aim, being programmed for over a hundred years in a frozen glass tube had its advantages. She exhaled slowly and squeezed the trigger. In a brilliant flash of light the aerial threat of the dragon-like warriors was eliminated. “Ice queen, check your pace!” Ace yelled. “You’re on a kamikaze rout into the queen’s head!” Ashleigh turned the comm on hands free. “I know.” She reversed thrust at the last possible moment, using the Vernier exhaust as a weapon, blinding the queen with the massive heat it produced. In one swift and fluid movement Volt had the queen by one of its four massive bone tusks and pinned it down.
  14. 14. “You and I are like in mind my friend.” Volt said rather cheerfully for an A.I. about to be blasted to smithereens by the queen’s auto self destruct. Ashleigh half smiled at the thought of her and her Mech leaving this world of sorrow and chaos together. But Cris’ voice had to spoil it. “Ashes get out of there! We have to fall back!!” He and Sora yelled at her in unison. Ashleigh smiled at his concern. “I’ll hold it here; just get Jake out of here.” Cris snapped Sora into a direct intercept course with Volt. “That’s an order lieutenant, retreat!!!” He yelled at her. “Fight to the last.” Ashleigh responded. That was the L3 squad’s motto, the words they lived by, nothing was worse than retreat. “You can’t be serious!” Cris yelled, something like agony filled his strong voice. His emotion caught her off guard and for a brief moment she faltered. That moment was all Cris needed to knock Volt off the queen and send him careening out of the blast radius. “Don’t you know how valuable your life is…How much you mean to us?” The queen’s self destruct triggered and in a massive sphere of white hot fire and black smoke Cris, Sora, and the hell spawned Jedite were engulfed. Never to be seen again. Ashleigh sat in silence her throat and chest constricted and her heart felt as if it had been rent in half within her. “Cris…” Then it sunk in, he was gone. “No. I…CRIS!” She yelled in agony clutching at the control stick in her left hand and the pain of her heart with the other. That was the end of it… and the Jedite would pay, with their very existence. Nothing could hold back the rage that burned inside her and illuminated her blood red eyes till they seemed to glow with it. They would all go to hell, every last one of them. “Yes.” She said resolutely blinking the memory away. I can’t hide forever. “Great!” Jet exclaimed. “I’ll run an’ tell Ace to get Volt ready.” He said as he ran down the hall. “Are you sure you can handle this, I mean Cris was your best friend.” Rush asked as soon as Jet was out of ear shot. She nodded. “Yes.” Thanks for caring Rush. The trip by ship to Dresden was slow and boring. Rush lost to Mace in Poker, Ace taught Jet the art of emptying at times of crisis and Ashleigh stared out over the Ocean, like always. Her form calm and still as the sea itself, the salt air caressing her face and sticking to her hair. They landed at about noon, on the deserted beach, and looked out with heavy hearts and dark memories at the desert wasteland that was once the green paradise of Dresden. Pieces of debris rose out of the pure white sand, like grave stones for the innocent. A few tattered and withering roses struggled to hold on to any life still within the dead zone. Ashleigh inhaled sharply as the empty pain in her chest expanded, becoming the center of her being for a brief moment. Ace shook his head. “You weren’t ready for this step yet.” He said softly to her as he walked by. I know. She thought bitterly. But two years ago this would’ve meant nothing. Rush slapped Ashleigh’s back. “Ice queen, ya think you can patrol the out skirts?”
  15. 15. “Better than you could, old man.” She said wryly. Rush turned red. “Old! Who’re you calling Old?!” “You.” Ashleigh said walking toward Volt as Rush let out a string of colorful profanities. “That was harsh.” Volt commented to her as she strapped in. She closed the cockpit. “Vengeance.” “Is the Lords.” Volt retorted. Cris had told her that, just before… Ashleigh opened Volt’s sub-router, a small white panel behind the pilot’s seat; it had taken her 4 hours to pry the sucker off. Not including the time it took her to move the 120lb titanium framed pilot seat. A bright pink wire hung loose amongst its black, yellow, red, and blue comrades. Both ends frayed horridly and the plastic casing melted a good inch from the end of the bare wire. She took it between her thumb and fore finger and twisted it back and forth ever so gently whilst she thought. The cockpit was hot, unbearably. Dresden used to be so cool even in the summer now it was a frying pan; slowly cooking the L3 squad into tender morsels for the Jedite. Not to mention that everything in the cockpit was black! Most of it was made of metal, which only intensified the heat. Ashleigh bit the casing pulling it away from the opposite end and twisted the frayed parts back together, securing her handy-work with a piece of electrical tape; that was also black. She climbed out of the oven that her cockpit had become, burning herself in the process. “Hey, Volt?” She asked flapping her loose green shirt up and down to cool off. Volt’s dragonite head tilted down so that one of his seven cameras could focus on her. “Yes my friend?” “When did the wire in your router fry?” His head tilted up again. “Here; four long and hard months ago.” “It’s hard for you, too?” Ashleigh asked as a child might. He nodded, his joints creaking ever so slightly. Rush’s voice barked out of the T-4 com unit on Ashleigh’s belt, destroying the moment. “Hey, Popsicle, ya melting yet?” She could hear Gabriel cursing in the back drop noise. “It’s eminent.” You’ll get it for calling me Popsicle, old man. “News?” Rush folded his sweaty arms across his damp t-shirt. “Nothing. This place is dead. Lynx just wanted us of the Atilisk while the Space trash senator was on board.” Ace pulled the feather talisman out of his damp shirt. “Senator Clinton may be a spacer, but I sensed no hostility from him. Impatience with his son yes, but to us he was indifferent.” Mace’s blood boiled. “It’s all ‘cause o’ last night!” His ASP emulated the same emotion with a surge of excess energy escaping his air vents. “We out did those pathetic mass produced Mech’s in front of the Senator, duh.” Rift shouted. “No.” Ashleigh said into the T-4. “Say what?!” The other Enders exclaimed as one. “Some one else.” She said. “Higher.”
  16. 16. Ace closed his eyes and smiled. You have no idea how much Cris lives on through you, Ashleigh. “Let’s go.” She said huffing from securing the seat into its preordained spot. “The Capt’s right, this is a waste of time. James and I are coming in.” Jet said entering the conversation for the first time. Mace sent Rift into a tight aerial flip. “I second. Anisa and I were planning on practicing together at the range.” ”Well I third it!” Gabriel shouted over the system. “I want out of this  heat now!! My missiles are going to overload if I stay out here much longer, not to mention the  sand is eating my tracks!!” He then let out a string of curses on the Jedite, the sand, and Lynx. “Not yet.” Ashleigh said. Ace laughed. “We’ll take our time coming in, Ashleigh, no worries.” Dresden once housed over 2 million people. Most streets were lined with trees; there were several large parks and even a field in the heart of the city for festivals. You know the whole white picket fence thing. Then came the Jedite. For some reason those sorry mutant cowards attacked the most peace loving and defenseless areas of the planet. Ashleigh jumped from the cockpit and into the sand sinking almost knee deep. She pulled herself out and wiped off some of the sand that stuck to her glistening skin. There was nothing but white sand, black knurled tree skeletons, and ruins as far as the eye could see. She looked for a long time at a white rose plant that was doing its best to survive in the shade of an old keg. Ashleigh bent over it, remembering fondly what Jake had told the group about what the flower symbolized in his home country. As if by magic the ground beneath her began to shake so violently that she was knocked onto her rear. The earth itself began to shift, sand poured into the unseen gulf that had suddenly appeared. Before she could regain her footing a queen Jedite had risen to its full height, and she was on top of it. Ashleigh jumped to her feet before feeling her brain freeze, no brilliant plans, no reactions, not even an adrenaline rush, she just froze. One of the queen’s acid oozing spikes popped out of the cybernetic clasp holding the thick hide onto its back. The force of its protrusion stirred the air around her violently whipping her hair around her face and bare arms. Acid borne upon this current spattered her right arm, melting through it almost instantly. Not even the pain registered! Was this the reason that no Kryos had ever reintegrated with society successfully, did they just shut down like a piece of old Mech? Then something within her stirred a force from the deepest and darkest regions of her slowly surfaced. Slowly she began to reconnect with her senses, first the pain, then the sensation of the warm thick blood pouring from the wound and dripping off of her fingers at a quick tempo. The final feeling being that of a rush of energy, strange and familiar, coursing through every part of her being. As if she’d willed it the air around her began to stir, slowly at first, then faster and faster until it was nearly a twister of considerable destructive capability.
  17. 17. The blood from her wound entered the fray in slender crimson ribbons that swirled in an intricate pattern of intertwining strands. Ashleigh closed her eyes for a moment, unsure if it was really her that was in control of…this. When at last she opened them they were no longer the crystal green that shinned but a murky blood red that seemed to see through everything while exposing nothing itself. The storm around her was indeed under her control, though how and why, at this moment, it chose to show itself was beyond her comprehension. A few streams of blood hit the queen’s hide slicing through it like butter and leaving the surrounding area of the cut sizzling as if rent by acid. The queen screamed in pain and began to reinforce the hide that had been scathed. Ashleigh wanted down; heck she didn’t really even want to come in the first place. This only made things worse. Before she knew what was happening her subconscious sent the majority of the blood that was caught in the storm around her to the queen’s hull. It melted through everything; cybernetics, hide, and bone, as the Jedite’s acid did the Mechs that the ERC used. The monster screamed louder and began to buck and twist, anything to get whatever it was out of her. Volt watched in disbelief, the fact that his pilot had such abilities was quite a shock, and yet some how not. Ace was the first one in visual range, he just about fainted. There was no sign of Volt in the dust storm that the queen was kicking up. “Oh, crap! Rush, Ashleigh’s got company!!” He yelled into his com unit. Rush cursed very loudly. “Why didn’t she call for help?!” He fumed over how well Volt and her took out over half the Jedite army just 4 months ago without needing much help. “Mace you’re the fastest, get your sorry Spacer carcass over there and help ice queen!” “Roger.” He responded a little too happily. Ashleigh felt the armor plating beneath her give way as her blood did its handy work; she slowly slid through the opening into the creature itself. A rancid smell met her as she entered. It was a mess of wires tangled around muscles and joints, a few bone stubs protruded from the burned areas like large white branches. A small voice inside her head was speaking to her without words, keeping her calm and, most importantly, sure. In using this otherworldly ability she felt complete. Instinctually, with a flick of her wrist, she sent a stream of blood through the wall of tissue in front of her like an arrow as she hit the halfway point. She felt the creature buckle; she must have hit the nervous system. She sped up in her decent in a minor panic and ended up falling through it a little too fast. She hit the sand below with a muffled cry of pain before scrambling out from under the queen’s collapsing 40 ton frame. She’d killed it, all by herself, no Volt, no weapon (unless you count the very thing that kept her alive) nothing. She spun on her heel and sprinted to Volt. She felt confusion grab her by the throat while clambering up to the cockpit as fast as she could.
  18. 18. “Volt, what just happened?” She whispered sliding into the cockpit. A panel behind her rotated revealing a first aid kit. A spindly robotic appendage took and gave to her. “The Dr. in charge of your kryostasis must have altered DNA some how.” Volt said, his third arm handing her a roll of gauss for her arm. Ashleigh took the alcohol out of the med kit and saturated a cotton ball with it. Pain shot up her spine as she pressed it to the sand infested wound. She held her breath while she cleaned it out. He must have seen this coming. She thought, trying to keep her mind off the pain. How could he? I mean that would have to mean… Mace’s voice pulled her out of her thoughts. “Hey, Ice queen, this is Mace. You ok?” “Fine.” She said into her T-4 Ace visibly relaxed as soon as he heard her voice. “Why didn’t you call for backup?” He said in mock anger. “No time.” She said, wrapping the acid burn with gauss. “Call up the researchers Ace. They won’t want to pass this up.” Mace said over the com his voice was weak and his dark face was incredibly pale. Lynx ordered the retreat, but there wasn’t much left of his squad. The new type of Jedite had proven to be more than just a mere upgrade in their technology, it was the next step in the annihilation of the human race. They were just as fast on land as in the air with large feather like wings and some kind of propulsion system on either end of the shoulders. Their legs were powerfully built and could lift them 10 meters into the air with a single leap. A shock of white hair ran from the peak of their aerodynamic heads that had 5 eyes set in a visor pattern around it. The worst part being that they had both acid and sonic capabilities that put a halt to all assaults attempted by the blue squad. The leader was a dark blue, while the others were the typical red or death grey, and seemed to let the three remaining squad members escape. But Lynx could sense something, what was it? A nagging feeling of dread wouldn’t release his mind or soul. He spun around just in time to see the dark blue Jedite pull open its stomach piece and charge something inside him like a particle cannon or beam weapon. “Oh, ! Evasive action!” He yelled to his comrades. But it was too late the beam of charged particles flew at them with blinding speed. Lynx pushed his Model 7 thrusters into reverse protecting all the critical systems but exposing the cockpit. The beam caught the canopy and ripped it apart, sending the chest piece to oblivion, reducing its left arm and nexus cannon to a molten stub, and sending shards of titanium scrap into the left side of Lynx’s body. He cried out in pain as he maneuvered the Mech 7 toward the Atilisk and sent it into motion at maximum speed. Rush stood with his mouth gaping beyond what any one had ever deemed possible. Ace and Mace stood beside him emanating the same shock through their and posture eyes, which nearly fell out of their sockets.
  19. 19. Jet was the last to arrive; seeing as how he was the farthest away. He jumped out of James and ran over. “Holy crap! How’d you and Volt bag her without destroying all the critical systems?!” He said in awed. James had scanned the area several times and had come up with a reading that puzzled him to the point of short circuiting. “There is no sign of any beam or particle weapon fire within the radius of my sensors.” He fumed; he really hated not knowing what was going on in the battle area. Ashleigh withdrew inside herself behind the wall that Cris had nearly destroyed. “A side effect.” She said emotionlessly.  Kryos scientists! She yelled in the silent corner of her mind. Ace placed a hand on her shoulder. “We don’t have to know, but you know they will ask.” Ace was the only one present who could touch her without getting punched or side stepped or (even worse) the glare of eminent death. Maybe it was because his wife (girlfriend at the time) was the one who’d found her broken stasis tube and saved her life. I should’ve died, three times now. She thought bitterly. Jet started to pat her on the back but she shut him down with an emotionless glance in to his blue eyes. Mace kicked at the queen’s tusk, then stared up at its elephant-like head and sharp fanged mouth. “Dude, this sucker is one ugly mother!” His dark skin contrasted greatly with the ivory colored tusk that was ten times his size. “And this is one of the prettier ones.” Rush said with a grin at Jet’s reaction. Ace looked around for Ashleigh but she was nowhere to be seen. Don’t shut yourself out, kid. It only makes things worse. He thought to himself Ashleigh had left the group and sat on Volt’s shoulder. Her hair was unbound and limp on her shoulders and back. Cris scratched his head disarraying his dark hair in the process. “Um… well the Jedite are ugly, leather covered, cyborg lizard-things. I think they could be mutant fish.” Ashleigh frowned. “That’s not a very good description, but I can pull a rough sketch from it.” Cris smiled. “Ok, my turn!” He thought for a moment. “How old are you, were you?” Ashleigh looked down deep in thought. “I think I was 18 or 19. I’ve been out for a few months so I really can’t say for sure.” She sighed heavily. Cris tilted her head up till her eyes met his. “Don’t be ashamed.” He let go of her chin quickly. “My mother couldn’t remember everything either.” His smile returned. “But one things for sure, once you regain almost all your humanity I’m going to have to beat the guys off with a stick.” “Why not with Sora?” She asked innocently. Cris laughed. “Yeah that’d do it, huh?” The research team in the area arrived within an hour after Rush put in the call that a partial queen was available for study. Most of the scientists were students, due to the fact that there were several partial queens (more like several jars of queen jam) were being studied by the professionals.
  20. 20. Every last one of them was in a state of pure ecstasy at getting a specimen like this while still a student or teacher, and every single one of the 400 of them had a million questions. Few of which got a clear answer. Ashleigh sat in Volt’s cockpit with her arms folded across her chest eyes closed to the few students who refused to leave without asking her at least one question. She drowned out their voices with music from her era. Suddenly the music cut off. “Captain Nixx this is Commander Lynx Marques, I request your presence on the research vessel Kandis.” The com system boomed. She rolled her eyes. Just great. “Roger.” She said reluctantly starting up Volt’s anti-grav drive. She picked up her T-4. “Guys, hold down the fort. I’m going to see Lynx.” No revenge, at least not on Lynx. What ever you want Cris. Rush grunted in distaste. “Give us a ring if the sorry  tries anything.” “Right.” Ashleigh answered as she lifted off. Lynx paced the holding flat, it was so tiny compared to the Atilisk, it could only hold a maximum of 5 Mechs and was rusting in all the rivets. His long brown hair snapped at the nape of his neck. His always well pressed uniform was shredded and the left sleeve was completely missing. His arm and side was bandaged and bleeding. Volt landed in front of him with a single low click from his dragonite heels. Ashleigh paused for a moment looking at the damage her Commander had taken in the view screen before she jumped out. “Commander.” She saluted. Her eyes rested with sympathy on his left arm. “You asked for me, sir?” He nodded. “Several members of the hierarchy have, well, they know you’re a Kryos now, and wish to have a talk with you.” He paused to monitor her reaction. There was none, if you discount her tilting her head slightly to the left. “Its best we not keep them waiting.” You sneaky under handed weasel! She thought in a brief moment of anger, but then it passed as she saw how much his movement hurt him. He lead her down a long gloomy corridor that was cold and dimly lit; a red carpet had been hastily laid down the entire length of the hall from the holding flat to the room that they were now headed. Ashleigh rubbed her own bandage. “How’d you get injured?” She asked glancing out of the corner of her eye. Lynx blinked for a moment as if to stifle tears. “We ran into a new Jedite mutation.” He was very solemn. “You’re the only survivor.” She stated. He nodded again, before he unloaded. “We didn’t stand a chance! Ambushed and 3 to1 as we were, Red squad came in as backup, but that didn’t do anything but get more people killed…They told me to warn the others or their deaths would mean nothing…” He stopped walking and there was a long silence between them. Then he spoke after about five minutes of staring at the red carpet. “I was injured while retreating with two others. Half my Mech7 and the other two men were blown to smithereens.”
  21. 21. She briefly touched his unhurt right arm, her eyes held more encouragement and sympathy that could be expressed in mere words. This changes things Volt. She thought to her ASP. Indeed. He responded. They are adapting to a higher level than we anticipated. Lynx stopped before an ominous looking door at the end of the carpet. He looked straight into Ashleigh’s eyes. “There are three Hierarchy members inside, one for you, one against you, and one neural. This is a trial of sorts. I’m sorry you have to go through it.” Ashleigh smiled inside. You know for a sneaky underhanded hierarchy puppet, you’re ok. She thought as they entered the room. The room was filled with the smell of smoke and perfume. A vase of peach roses in the center of an old wooden table in the far corner was the only cheerful thing in the bare white room. The Hierarchy members were seated around the typical steel square on legs that served every one on every ship in the fleet as a table. There were two men and one woman each seated on their own side of the table, the woman was on Ashleigh’s right, one of the two men was in front of her staring into her eyes, and the other was seated on the left. Lynx stayed outside, Ashleigh had hoped that he would be present; a little familiarity would help in this situation. Ashleigh saluted upon entering the room, and held the salute until the man on her left, a younger man about 27 with silver hair, an all black outfit, long trench coat, and nice gun, saluted in return. The first to address Ashleigh was the woman; she looked like the average secretary from Ashleigh’s time, tall, slender with blond hair in a tight bun and wire frame glasses. “Captain Nixx, we have been looking over your data wile overseeing the selection of a new Blue and Red squadrons.” She said heartlessly. “And have come to find out that you’re very presence is a direct violation of statute 463b paragraph 8 line 2 in the Kryos bill that was adopted in N.C. 3309!” Ashleigh showed no reaction. Still standing at attention, she nodded slightly to acknowledge that she had in fact heard the woman. The man in the black trench coat admired the fact that she was still at attention. “At ease Captain Nixx.” He said smiling only slightly. “Your record also shows that you are quite the soldier. Just last month you were awarded the 500+ kill badge not many soldiers can brag about that, or live that long.” Again she acknowledged the speaker with a slight nod. The woman shook an accusational finger at him. “Zell you know good and well that the military report means nothing to the Hierarchy! She should be placed back into stasis for observation; her psyche just can’t handle anything other than military procedure!” Wow, now that I no longer despise Lynx, God gives me you. “Permission to speak freely, sir?” Ashleigh said emotionlessly. The older man directly across from her nodded his distinguished graying hair, the decorations on his light blue uniform catching a glimmer of true light that cascaded through the smoke near the window. “Granted, Capt. Nixx.” “If what the lady says about my psyche being able to handle nothing but military procedure would it not be to the military’s advantage to use the Kryos in the war against the Jedite?” She paused. “With everything and every one that was once our life now
  22. 22. gone, we are expendable and as far as the scientists are concerned we’re already dead.” Her eyes rested coldly on the lady. “She raises a good point Ms. Greenage.” The older man said, Zell nodding in agreement from across the table. Ms. Greenage was resolute in her opinion. “Guile, she cannot be allowed to stay with any squad, let alone the Enders! Her psyche is volatile at best, she could snap at any moment!” Ashleigh heard a bit of a laugh escape her lungs. “Right; just like any other front line soldier.” Zell clapped his hands. “Well said, Capt. Nixx” Ms. Greenage fumed; this was not going her way. “Did you feel anything when your comrades Cris Barton and Jake Aadland died 4 months ago?” Low blow. “Yes.” She managed to say through a constricting throat. Mr. Guile leaned on his elbows in interest. “What were they, can you put a name to them or did you just feel it without understanding?” I hate you! She thought bitterly, the anger helped drown the pain. “Rage.” Damn the Jedite to hell. “Pain.” I just lost the only person who believed that I could become something alive. “Incompetence and guilt, how could I have been stupid enough to let them die?!” Her last few words were barely audible. Zell looked across the table at Ms. Greenage with an ‘I told ya so’ smile on his lips. Ms. Greenage burst into a rage. “The first one was a fluke!! Dr. Nicosia said that if she hadn’t of gotten pregnant that she would’ve snapped.” She nearly yelled, rising slowly from her uncomfortable metal chair. Ashleigh raised an eyebrow. Zell smiled at Ashleigh’s reaction, perfectly human only inaudible. “Her name was Lauren Sims.” He said as Mr. Guile flipped through his folder. “She married a Grey Barton and gave birth to a son, his name was Christian Barton, and died of cancer 12 years later her husband following only 2 years after in the Red Tide.” Ashleigh took note of how he was a little nostalgic when he said was Christian Barton. “Just look at her! She needs to be evaluated at the very least!” Ms. Greenage’s voice hit a new pitch with those words. “Please explain the extent of the evaluation.” Ashleigh said her eyes alighting on Zell for a moment with one of Cris’ knowing glances. Mr. Guile smiled. “It’s only a week with a Psychologist following you around.” He turned his attention to the dejected Ms. Greenage. “Your request to reclaim her for the Kryos study facility is denied. A simple evaluation will be enough.” Zell stood up and offered Ashleigh his hand. She took it gladly. “Keep up the good work, Capt. Nixx.” He said as Guile waved her out of the room. “Yes, sir.” She said before she left the room. Lynx escorted her back down the length of the dreary hall once again. Ashleigh glanced at his arm. The bandages were soaked through and dripping blood all over the red carpet. They emerged from the white hall of doom and blinked fiercely upon entering the sunlight. Ashleigh rolled her eyes. Volt, could you bring me the med kit? The thought was involuntary, hence the eye rolling.
  23. 23. “Let me see your arm.” She said to Lynx as they stood in Volt’s shadow. Lynx raised an eye brow. “Sure, I guess.” He said holding it out to her as far as the pain would allow. She unwound the gauss, and nearly gasped at the state of it. His arm was shredded, there was barely any skin left on it, it was more the shrapnel than the weapon fire itself that tore it up. “Good night in the morning!” she said under her breath. Volt’s joints creaked when he inclined to hand Ashleigh the med kit that he held gently in his 8 foot long black dragonite fingers. “Here, Ashes.” He said to bring her attention from Lynx’s arm to the med kit. “Oh, Thanx.” She said to Volt, then turning to Lynx added. “I think you should sit down this may take a while.” The white garbed scientists loaded the dead queen onto the Kandis with their out dated mining Mech2’s and set sail within two hours. Rush stood on the shore as they retracted the loading ramp hands on his hips and a scowl on his brow. “Hey! One of our squad members is on board!” He yelled at those hanging around on the deck. His face began to turn red when they denied him an answer. Ace patted Rush’s back. “No worries; Volt’s just a better flyer than any airplane.” He grunted and shoved pass Ace and Jet. Jet looked to Ace for an explanation. “Why is he so up set?” Ace put an arm around Jet’s shoulders. “It’s a long story, kid, but I think you need to hear it.” They walked towards there Mechs, Jet silent and attentive, Ace very careful that Rush didn’t hear him. Ashleigh’s T-4 squawked to life. “Ice queen! Where the bloody hell are you?!” It was Rush and by the tone of his voice he was in a foul mood. Ashleigh had her hands full stitching Lynx’s arm. She looked at him expectantly. “You want me to answer?!” He exclaimed. She held up a bloody hand. “Yes.” Lynx reached around with his good arm to get the T-4 off of the other side of her hips. “It just had to be over there didn’t it?” He thought as he finally snatched it. He cleared his throat before answering. “This is Lynx; Ashleigh is indisposed at the moment. But I’ll be happy to relay a message to her for you.” “I don’t give a flying ! I want to speak with her NOW!” Rush yelled back. Ashleigh rolled her eyes. Rush you’re such an idiot sometimes. “Hold it to my mouth.” She said to Lynx after tying off the last stitch and grabbing the gauss to wrap up her handy work. Lynx held it near her and pressed the button. “Calm down, old man. This had better be good; I’m tending a serious wound.” She said rather sternly, smearing salve over the burn before wrapping it. “Oh, sorry…” He was rather subdued in tone. “Volt can get you home right?” “Rest assured, sir.” Volt said from behind Ashleigh. “Ice queen out.” She said securing the bandages. Lynx put the T-4 on the ground. “I can’t believe they gave you these old T model com units.” He said more to himself than her. “Finished.” Ashleigh announced wiping off her hands.
  24. 24. “Thank you.” He said looking at his freshly tended wound, the pain had subsided greatly. “How can I ever repay you?” Ashleigh slammed the lid to the med kit down hard. I really, really, really want to hurt you for that. “What?” She said without turning to face him. He could hear the hurt and anger in that single word, then regretted saying anything at all. “I’m sorry…I just…Am very sorry.” He opened his mouth to explain why he thought that way then closed it without saying a word more. Ashleigh looked into his dark eyes. There was more to him than she’d ever cared to look for, but it still didn’t change the fact that he was a Jack Ass. “The Hierarchy.” She said reading the unsaid confession in his eyes. He nodded. “My life among them anyway.” He looked up at Volt as he often did. “If only I could break free of their shadow.” He breathed quietly so that he was the only one who heard it, but the wind foiled his plan and carried it directly to Ashleigh’s ear. Her heart broke at the fact that she was so cold to him. “Need a lift home?” Wow, look how nice I am, stupid! “Uh, you don’t mind?” He said unsure if saying anything would help or hinder his situation. “Your Mech7 was pushed too far, its scrap. It doesn’t look like you have much of a choice.” She said clambering up Volt’s leg. “Besides, I wouldn’t have asked if I cared all that much, idiot.” She lost her footing as she heard the words escape her lips. Oh, this is just great. She thought while she hung by her arms from a piece of Volt’s dragonite armor. I’m losing control. Cris turned a bit red. “Did I just say that out loud?” Ashleigh laughed. “No you said it silently, idiot.” “You were just sarcastic, I heard it!” He indicated her with a poke to the arm. “Oh, no you don’t, silver tongued devil! There will be no shifting of the spot light for you my friend.” She said wagging a finger at him. He laughed heartily. “I’m glad you’re loosing control over your heart.” She tensed up visibly. “Loosing control?!” She stood up and began to walk away. Cris started after her. “I said the wrong words.” She ignored him and continued to walk. Ashleigh sat up in bed, the throbbing headache still present from the events of the previous day still nagging at her. She looked at her clock and told herself that 3am was no time for her to be awake. But that didn’t do much good. So she tore out of bed to pace the deck, like she’d done several times before to rid herself of insomnia. Besides the Ocean’s rhythm seemed to ebb away the pain that just wouldn’t leave her soul. She slid out of her room and crept down the hall and up the stairwell. Her bare feet made no sound on the cold metal floor. Once she emerged from the darkness that enshrouded her in the stairwell the moon lent her its radiance, saturating her silken night gown with its light. She took a deep breath of the crisp mist laden night air that blew through her ankle length gown without resistance. She leaned against the cold dew covered railing. Closing her eyes she felt her cares fly away from her into the darkness of the night and the far corner
  25. 25. of the universe, or was it her soul that fled into oblivion’s silent peace? It didn’t matter she was content and painless and that was all that mattered at the moment. A pair of warm hands on her shoulders rent her sharply from her ecstasy. She spun around instantly. Why didn’t I hear him walk up? Lynx?! What the heck was he doing up and out here? Come to think of it why haven’t I twisted out of his hands yet?! ”You should be in bed you know.” He said softly. She twisted out of his grip and planted her hands on the railing. “Yes.” She said berating herself silently for lack of vigilance. “Cris was my only true friend.” Linx said more to the air than her. “I hated myself more than anything when he died; I still can’t let it go…” He inhaled raggedly. Ashleigh felt her heart break inside her. “Sleep eludes you because of guilt.” She finished his thought. “Life begins to mean less with every passing day.” He added. It was as if they were thinking as one. “God is the only thing that keeps you from longing for death.” “Revenge consumes the mind the moment sadness or the memories shrink from the fore front of your thoughts.” “And then the strength that once was caves in beneath the weight of a mournful soul. Then you stand alone in the emptiness, a million miles away from the light that once walked beside you on this narrow path.” They said in unison staring over the silver tipped ocean waves each nursing a loss that the other felt keenly. Ashleigh felt tears stream down her face and fought sobs gallantly, but all that had held her together escaped the desperate grip of her soul, and she succumbed to the pain that she had fought so long and cried. Lynx pulled her into a hug and held her to him, for he too was overcome by the sheer weight of the moment and had begun to cry as well. For the better part of an hour they stood on the holding flat each holding on to the other for strength and comfort. For both were scarred by the departure of their only true friend. Lynx pulled away and wiped the tears out of his eyes with his sleeve. Ashleigh did the same with her hands. He could feel the air’s icy bite through his uniform and cloak. He just now noticed that Ashleigh was only in her night gown and shuddered to think that she could catch her death in such a wind. He pulled off the heavy flowing white and blue cape, the one that Ashleigh hated so, and wrapped it around her shoulders. “Come; it’s too cold out here, I’ll take you to your room.” Ashleigh sniffled and wiped away the last of her tears. “Ok.” She awoke the next morning as the rays of the midmorning sun alighted on her eyes through the veil of light that was her lace curtain, she was still wrapped warmly in Lynx’s cloak, what was that thing made out of any way? A savage knock on the door pulled her out of the limbo one experiences just after wakening from a deep slumber.
  26. 26. She walked across the cold floor pulling the cloak snugly over her shoulders. “What?” She said drowsily as she opened the door. Ace and Rush exchanged glances. “Is that Lynx’s cape?” Ace asked. She looked down at it briefly. “So?” It was warm and could cover her from head to toe, she liked it now. “Oh, !” Rush howled pulling at his hair. Ace ignored Rush. “Some psychiatrist is coming to take you to a ward, or something!” “I’m having a psyche evaluation.” She said drowsily. “Did you not hear me; he’ll take you away for the evaluation!” Ace reiterated. “But this is my home!” She protested. Rush was kicking the door jam and uttering profanities under his breath. “What’s wrong with Rush?” Ashleigh asked taking note of his behavior. “Just ignore him. It has something to do with Ami-Lii.” Ace said handing her a large manila envelope. “Here you should read this. Lynx sent it.” She looked at it a moment before taking it. “I’ll be out in a minute.” Lynx braced himself to meet the psychiatrist on the landing flat. He had Ashleigh’s records in his hands; the edited versions. The psychiatrist stepped out of the vintage ’01 military helicopter and made her way towards him, smiling. “Are you Commander Marques?” She asked. For a moment Lynx couldn’t find his voice, he was so in awed by her. She was slender with generous curves, average in height with shoulder length black hair and grey eyes that mirrored the early morning mist, and a milky caramel complexion. “Yes, ma’am.” He said once he recovered from the initial shock. He had come face to face with Venus herself. “Nice to meet you, I’m Keilah Prang. Nova sent me to evaluate a Captain Nixx.” He nodded silently. “She’s out at the moment, but I have her file if you would like to review it before meeting her.” Keilah smiled politely. “I never read my patients files until after my initial evaluation. It tends to put them on edge and makes it harder to see them for who they really are.” Lynx was falling deeper with every passing moment. “That is very honorable of you.” She blushed. Lynx felt his heart race into his throat. “Thank you, Mr. Marques.” He thought about saying ‘please call me Lynx’ but that was just a little to cliché for the sneaky little weasel he was. “I do have a question though.” “Go ahead.” Her voice was soft and smooth. “Are you going to take her to a Ward?” He asked motioning for her to follow him into the Atilisk’s interior. She thought for a moment. “I don’t have very good instructions as to those proceedings, sir. But I would like to just shadow her here in her life situation and talk with her every now and then.” She laughed to herself. “I actually got two sets of orders on this case. One demanded that I see her in a Ward the other was more standard protocol and had Nova’s new seal on the front. So I really don’t know, yet.” Lynx smiled. “I’m sure that you will once you meet her.” “You’re quite confident in my decision making abilities, Commander.” She said with a laugh.
  27. 27. He drank in the sight of her with his eyes like a thirsty man drinks water, impressing her image into his mind’s eye so vividly so that he might never forget. “I’d rather be optimistic.” “As expected of any good Commander, Mr. Marques.” She said as they came up to Ashleigh’s room. Ace was still standing out side the door and Rush was sitting beside him. Rush mumbled a profanity upon seeing Lynx and Keilah approach. Ace rolled his eyes. So much for distracting her, he’s more distracted than Rush’s youngest daughter at a foot ball game. “Commander, is everything ok?” He said trying to hide his anger. “Yes, quite. Is Ashleigh up yet?” He responded. Rush grumbled to himself. “On a first name basis now,” He finished with a string of profanity that was quiet enough that no one could make all the words out. “So, ya taking her to a Ward?” Ace asked rather hostilely. “I haven’t decided yet.” She said kindly. “Each patient is different.” Ace visibly relaxed. “Good!” His voice was saturated with relief. Keilah smiled. “I’ll take that as a compliment. Are you a member of her squad?” Ace nodded. “The grouch, too.” He indicated Rush. “Then I’ll be asking you some questions about your friend, you know standard procedure and all that garble.” Rush looked up at her with a bit of contempt before leaving the group, with another of his famous profane groans. Ashleigh leafed through the manila envelope. It was mostly news paper cut outs about a Dr. Nixx, the head scientist in NOVA’s Kryos investigation unit. Her long copper hair was bound in a tight braid that hung over her shoulder. She was quite absorbed in the column she was now reading about his arrest. She didn’t even hear Lynx knock, the first 8 times. When she finally did hear him she quickly shoved the envelope in her desk and slid some clothes on. “What?” She said upon opening the door. Her eyes landed on Keilah instantly. Lynx cleared his throat. “This is Mrs. Prang, your evaluator.” Keilah extended a hand. “I’m glad to meet you.” Ashleigh took it, never turning her angry gaze from Lynx. “Right now it’s mutual.” She looked at Keilah when she spoke to her with a detached emotion, but then turned her venomous glare back on Lynx. “Do you mind if I speak with my Commander privately?” “Not at all.” She said a bit interested in the situation. Ashleigh pulled Lynx in by his collar and shut the door; her rage filled eyes ever on his love struck ones. “What did I do?!” Lynx asked all innocently. Ashleigh was too angry to say anything for about a minute. She just stood there hands on her hips trying to keep her torture training out of her mind. Oh, how I hate you right now! “You abandoned the plan.” She said at long last. Lynx looked unabashed. “I don’t follow.” Ashleigh felt like screaming, if what Cris said about loosing rein over certain emotions was true then was this one of them that you had to keep under wraps? “You don’t
  28. 28. follow?!!! Look you self righteous...” The warning sirens cut her off. “AARRGHH!” She stalked out of the room, blowing right by Keilah. Ace jumped into her train. “You’re in a bad mood, why don’t you take care of ‘em on your own? I’m sure I could get Grace to find a problem with the launch elevators.” He smiled. Ashleigh kissed his cheek. “You’re an Angel!” “Just don’t get killed!” He called after her a sly smile on his face. Ashleigh got to the holding flat in record time. Grace waved her through before shutting down the port unit over the doors. Volt was waiting for her; he seemed to be excited (even though ASPs technically don’t show emotion). “Flying solo?” He asked as she jumped into the harness. “Oh, yeah.” She said enthusiastically. They took off at a blinding speed rivaled only by Sora, who was 20 seconds faster. The mutation wasn’t a new one, just your basic warrior flight model that attacked the Atilisk every two to three weeks. She smirked. Piece ‘o cake. Volt’s Nexus morph gauntlet took the shape of a mace with a 17 foot diameter and 20 foot chain; Volt liked the feeling of it as it flung his enemies into the vast depths of the sea beneath him. Rush paced the holding flat, his burly arms folded across his chest. He was in a foul mood, and Ashleigh taking off to beat the living daylights out of the Jedite without him didn’t help much. Lynx slinked up behind him. “Is Ashleigh always that volatile?” Bad opening move. “You’re just lucky you’re a superior officer, if I was in your boots I’d already be deep fried and in an urn.” He spun on his heel. “Not that I blame her, I mean, just ditching the plan when a pretty face just happens to walk of that Helicopter!! You deserve to have your  kicked by the one you betrayed!” Lynx was about to say something nasty in return when Volt locked into his docking clamps. Now both men were in a foul mood. Ashleigh walked right passed them towards the dorms. “Wait on freaking minute, ice queen!” Rush boomed. “Who the  do you think you are taking off like that?!” Ashleigh turned around swiftly thrusting forward, throwing all her weight into a jab aimed at Rush’s shoulder. Rush’s burly frame flew a few feet from her fist before skidding across the smooth surface of the holding flat. Lynx opened his mouth to say something. “Do you want to join him?” Ashleigh said with a fierce gaze. He closed his mouth. He was thoroughly subdued with that single sentence. If there is one thing that all his years with the Hierarchy had taught him was that Hell hath no fury to that of a woman. Keilah emerged from her place in the shadows near the group. She had a note pad in her hand and was scribbling away.
  29. 29. Ashleigh folded her arms. “I think you’re supposed to stay hidden until you finish snitching on me.” She breathed in her direction. Keilah smiled and stuffed the note pad into a leather bag that was slung over her shoulder. She was no longer in the impressive business suit but a knee length jean skirt and a western style green top. “I think that’s called insubordination.” She said sarcastically. Ashleigh glanced at Lynx and shook her head. “I know.” Keilah walked up to them, Rush was still contemplating if he should just lie there or get up. “Do you do this all the time?” Ace came into the fray from some unknown angle. “She rarely ever gets angry but when she is, the expanse of ocean that surrounds us becomes very appealing.” He smiled, having put in his two cents, and walked over to help Rush up. Keilah smiled. “I see.” She looked intently into Ashleigh’s eyes. “Feel better?” That was the last straw! Mercy at that point was forfeit. Ashleigh hammered Jake into the dock with a well executed kick to the groin. Cris jumped in front of her, his eyes intent on hers. “Feel better?” Ashleigh huffed. “No.” He took her by the shoulders, she didn’t twist away. “Why?” She turned away from him. Yeah, why don’t I feel better, I got my revenge right? So what’s missing? She shrugged. “You lost control, you felt something. You should feel better, or is it that you feel guilty?” Ashleigh nodded. “It was a bit of a low blow, huh?” Cris smiled knowingly. “He’ll live.” Ashleigh blinked away the memory. “Yes.” “Right then, now that you’re feeling a bit better do you mind if we talk a bit?” Ashleigh rolled her eyes. Right, the evaluation. “Let’s get it over with.” The weeks rolled by in the slow monotonous fashion that seems to bore the life out of just about everyone. First one, then two, the next thing anyone knew was that it was three months ago that Ace had gone to see his wife and he still wasn’t back. Ashleigh stared out over the sun colored evening tide, her shadow beside her. She and Keilah had become quite friendly over the time they spent together. At first Ashleigh hated her guts. Who the heck was she waltzing in and pretending to be her friend? Then there was that odd feeling, and something she couldn’t really ignore, maybe she wasn’t so bad. Ashleigh thought back on everything as she stared out over the seascape. “I’m quitting my job.” Keilah said breaking the companionable silence. Ashleigh blinked at her, the question in her eyes. “I’ve sent my report and I like it here. Besides the doc needs some extra help and so does Grace, I could be useful in this fight that until now I have only viewed at a distance.” Ashleigh smiled. “As long as you’re happy with the decision.” Keilah nodded. “I am.” Ashleigh nodded, turning back to the sea which was now a pure gold with red tipped waves.
  30. 30. Rush strolled up to the girls. “Hey, Ice queen.” Ashleigh turned around, placing her weight against the railing on her elbows. “We gotta mission coming up in two weeks and Ace still isn’t back.” He was just making small talk; there was something more urgent pressing upon his thoughts. “You can say it in front of Keilah; she just resigned and is going to work here now.” Ashleigh smirked at his reaction. “You mean Shadow girl is going to be here all the time?!” He exclaimed. Keilah rolled her eyes. “Shadow girl has a name you know.” Rush was about to say something profane in response but Ashleigh stopped him. “Out with it Rush!” Rush folded his arms. “Specials Soleum was just calling for your records, they want to recruit you.” His face took on a sour grimace. “They say that another Kryos would be an advantage, seeing as how they are in the most concentrated area for Jedite activity.” Ashleigh swallowed hard. “Was it Colonel Zell?” Rush and Keilah laughed. “Zell is his first name, his last name is Maxwell.” Keilah said putting an arm around Ashleigh’s shoulders. Rush turned back into the herald of death. “Yes, it was. He’s coming to talk with you after the mission is over.” Ashleigh bit her lip until it bled. I’m caught between two worlds. “Don’t do that Ashleigh!” Keilah exclaimed. Ashleigh licked her lip. “Oh, sorry.” Keilah sighed. “I think you need to get some rest, all this studying his getting to you.” Ashleigh nodded. “You’re right.” Rush huffed something about teen age girls and walked ahead of them into the dorm entrance. He stopped at the heavy metal door. “What studying?” So, it was doomed to be discovered. “About Kryostasis.” Rush rolled his eyes. “Ok, kid, get to bed. We’ve got work to do tomorrow.” Keilah rubbed her temples. “What work?” Rush grunted. “My wife’s coming for a visit.” “Some one actually married you!!” Keilah exclaimed. And that did it, Ashleigh walked to her room with the name slinging ‘cat and mouse’ behind her bashing each other with profanities. Keilah climbed into bed, her dark brown hair was wet and dripping off the edge of the mattress. Ashleigh followed suit, the hand welded bunk bed creaked as she hoisted herself up. “Ashleigh?” Keilah whispered. Ashleigh hummed to show that she was listening. “Who is Rush’s wife?” Ashleigh smiled. “Her name is Angel, and God knows that she deserves that title. She is beautiful, kind, understanding, and faithful.” Keilah looked up as if to stare through the mattress above her. “You look up to her.” “Very much.” Ashleigh laughed. Keilah yawned. “I look forward to meeting her then.” Ashleigh blinked as she groggily came to. “Cris?” why the heck am I… Crap!
  31. 31. Keilah woke up to a massive crash that came from the bathroom. She flew out of bed and was in there within nanoseconds. “Ashleigh!” She yelled finding her caught in the shower curtain rod upside down and perpendicular to the tile floor. “How did you?” Ashleigh’s arms were folded. “Your better off not knowing.” She huffed. “Help me down, would ya?” Keilah smiled as she untangled Ashleigh. “And Col. Maxwell thinks that you’ll be an advantage.” She teased as Ashleigh straightened out her shirt. “Har har.” Rush stood on the holding flat brimming with anticipation. In a matter of minutes Angel would land, he could see the helicopter on the horizon. Ashleigh burst out of the Atilisks interior and into the sunlight then made a bee line for Rush. “Two point seven six minutes and counting!” She exclaimed giddily hopping up and down. Rush smiled. “Well, you seem happy.” Cris could see the helicopter on the horizon. “So she’s coming then?” Rush laughed. “I visit her every month; she said it was her turn.” Cris saw Ashleigh out of the corner of his eye, she was at a dead run towards them. She came to a sliding halt beside him, her eyes as wide as a child’s at Christmas. “Is she here yet?!” She exclaimed bouncing up and down. Jake rolled his eyes. “Stop that, you look like a freak!” Dream wrecker. Ashleigh stopped bouncing and resumed her usual emotionless state. Ace knuckled Jake in the head with a growl. Cris smiled at Ashleigh. “There’s nothing wrong with it.” “Why?” “Why not?” Ashleigh shrugged then smiled brightly when she saw the incoming aircraft come nearly up to them. Again with his knowing grin. “I like it when you’re happy.” “I’m happy?” This feeling, this is happiness? Cris laughed. “Well, you seem happy.” “I am.” Ashleigh said with a wink. Keilah accompanied by Jet, walked up to the duo. “Hey Ash, have you seen Mace?” Jet asked as he came beside her, his bright blue eyes looking at the aircraft with a curiosity that rivaled that of a cat. “Did you ask Lt. Anisa Walters?” Ashleigh said as her happiness rushed inside her like the swelling water from a broken dam. Jet rubbed his temples. “I should’ve thought of that.” Keilah put an arm around the two of ‘em. “Forget Mace, he’ll be happier if we leave him alone with her.” Her eyes got that intense light in them that made Ashleigh wonder about her friends up bringing. Ashleigh nodded.
  32. 32. The helicopter landed rather clumsily on the holding flat with a loud clunk. Ashleigh and Jet covered their ears as the engines powered down and the propellers slowed to a screech. Rush ran up to the door of the craft with reckless abandon. His hand gripped the handle and wrenched it open just as the propeller blades ceased their screaming, the shiny dark blue paint of the exterior reflecting his expression of utter delight at the face behind the window. Angel, a well aged woman in her early 40’s sat in the leather seat with a loving smile on her face as her husband opened the door for her. Her hair was a silky light brown streaked with grey that hung to her waist in a loose braid over her shoulder. Her eyes were the perfect picture of a life well lived, a misty grey green that seemed to capture you and hold you in a place of total peace. Rush plucked her out of the helicopter and swung her around, stopping to pull her into a kiss and a long embrace. Keilah smiled almost tearfully. “She loves the sorry  that’s for sure.” Jet and Ashleigh laughed after exchanging glances. The pilot’s door flew open and out ran a young woman about 19 years old, her hair was light brown with blond highlights cut even with her shoulders and layered so that the ends flipped out about an inch or so. She ran into Ashleigh, arms enveloping her almost instantly. “You stopped writing me!” The girl exclaimed as they embraced. “Sorry, Cora.” She managed to say. Cora looked up into Ashleigh’s eyes; those golden brown eyes seemed to hold so much of her mother in them. “Dad told Mom, Mom told me. The cycle goes on forever.” She winked. “You’re too smart for your own good, Cora.” Ashleigh said as they touched foreheads. After introductions were out of the way they all retired to the cafeteria for some sweet stuff that none of them really needed. “Seven months ago.” Cora stated as she and Keilah were in line for seconds. They clicked at once and were immediately telling each other their life stories. “And it still is a source of pain?” Keilah gasped. Cora nodded. “If you think about it everything around here is a memory of that year they spent in the same squad. She can never get away from Him. It’s almost like being haunted.” She grabbed the custard off the ice. Keilah nodded thoughtfully, her hand on her chin. “I wonder why she’s stayed here; I mean soldiers can transfer right?” Cora rolled her eyes. “Think of it as Shakespeare and you’ll understand her reasoning.” She grabbed another slice of chocolate cake and placed it beside the custard on her tray. “They were closer than I’ve ever seen anyone, he believed in her and she was there for him, would you really want to leave the place that you spent most of your time together? Would you really want that person to disappear so completely from your life that you have to think purposefully to remember him after 6 months?” Keilah shook her head. “I see now. It’s all so tragic.”
  33. 33. “Yeah, well, Ash hates it. She says soap opera’s are stupid and that life goes on. She’s like a sister to me and I feel helpless watching her from out side as she suffers within. But, that’s life,” She sighed. “Why can’t it ever be good to those that deserve a break?” Ashleigh smiled at Angel as she was telling how hard it was to keep track of everything this past year. The way she spoke the graceful manner in which she moved, her hands, arms, the way she walked, oh how she longed to be like her. Rush leaned on his elbows entranced by the woman who had chose, 22 years ago, to be his wife. It seemed to him that she hadn’t aged a single day. “So Ash, how has everything been lately?” Angel said before taking a bite of her custard. “Confusing.” She said. “Ah, still using one word answers I see.” She winked. Ashleigh gave her a knowing grin. “Any up coming missions, my love?” She asked her husband. Rush nodded. “In two weeks were heading out to London, seems they’ve got a roach problem.” He smiled grimly. “And the Specials Soleum has decided to take Ice queen off our hands afterwards.” Angel’s eyes bugged out and she nearly choked on her food. “They want my little Snowflake?!” Ashleigh smiled at the old nickname. “I’ve thought it over and I’ve decided to try it out. They’re supposed to be the elite.” “I know that. But did you know that the survival rate is only 15% of all who join!?” Ashleigh nodded a mischievous grin on her lips. “I wonder what Cris would think.” Ace said coming up behind them. “Ace!” Every one at the table exclaimed. “When did you get back?” Rush barked. He rubbed his thick neck. “3 minutes ago.” Ashleigh got up from the table, her wall thoroughly in place to hold back the flood with in her. She thought she got away without anyone noticing. But one of Angel’s grey-green eyes was always on her. Wanting so badly to help the girl out of the in between that seems to throw every simple decision into a life altering change. The darkness that seemed to be in her Snowflake’s eyes pained her deeply. If only she would’ve found out before…
  34. 34. Chapter 2: Change Ashleigh looked out the window, her forehead pressed against the cold glass. She silently stared passed her reflection on the glass to the scenery that moved by. Slender white and black aspens with light lit leaves dotted the wood on either side of the vehicle as it sped along the road. Open fields of wild flowers appeared for a brief moment allowing a glimpse of sweetness before they passed it completely. Ashleigh fidgeted in her seat, the leather squeaked against her new uniform’s dangerously short black leather skirt. Whoever designed those things was a pervert! Her rear had gone numb from sitting in the car for 4 ½ hours. She unlocked her seat belt and turned around to stare at Volt on his Platform truck. She sighed. Volt would’ve had them there hours ago. The driver looked in the rearview mirror. “Hey! Why aren’t you sitting down?!” The man sitting in the shotgun seat laughed. “She won’t answer you. She’s a Kryos.” Ashleigh stuck her upper half between the seats. “Can’t this thing go any faster?” The driver smiled. “Woman you haven’t seen fast yet.” Ashleigh heard the challenge in his voice and jumped back into her seat fastening the seat belt once more across her chest. You’re a pilot. She smirked as he floored the pedal. He handled the little coupe masterfully around the corners. Ashleigh’s hair swished around her face as they flew around them at an insane speed. The guy riding shot gun was pasted to his window as they hung a sharp left near a ledge. “You’re going to get us killed!” He shrieked. Ashleigh laughed. “That’s a new concept!” Her voice dripped sarcasm. The back right tire hit the edge of the drop sending a shower of pebbles and dirt down 300 feet into the river valley below it. He hit the gas as the road became strait once again pushing the little car to its max. The trees and other forest fauna was nothing more than a green grey blur out of the corners of their eyes. A large group of trees appeared in front of the speeding car, almost like a wall, as they rose over a hill. “Ah, ! Over shot!” The driver exclaimed as he hit the breaks and turned the wheel sending them into a spinning slide. Ashleigh laughed at the sensation of all her vital organs getting pressed to the left side of her body.