The march of thousands of soldiers could be heard all around for miles at a time. With their swords and shields in hand, these hardened men stomped endlessly across the war-torn badlands, each step firm and bold. An extravagant banner fluttered proudly over them. It was adorned with the color of blood and sweat. It was a symbol of their might, laid bare for all to see. At the sight of that flag, the armies of neighboring nations would cower in fear.
The skies above this militant army were black with a swarming mass of vultures. Some birds flew overhead while others were perched on the branches of thin, gnarled trees. Their covetous eyes bulging, these heartless scavengers waited hungrily, for they knew that wherever these ruthless soldiers went, a feast would soon follow.
Opposite this multitude, several guards at a high outpost in the mountains could see the impending disaster advancing toward their borders.
“Lydak Alliance!” said one of the guards, concerned. “Alert the king at once!”
The other guard nodded. Taking a deep breath, he raised his horn and blew forth into it. All who resided along the deep valley heard the sound of the horn. He then quickly wrote a message on parchment and gave it to a carrier pigeon to pass along to the castle.
The king emerged from the wondrous beauty of his personal garden, which was flourishing in life. He had been taking his morning stroll through the vividly stunning flowers and trees; every flower was deep in color, without blemish, and every tree had grown strong with leaves greener than emeralds. Hundreds of vibrant ruby-red rose petals swirled on the drafts of the wind and embellished the king with its splendor.
“My king, my king!” yelled the servant as he scampered across the field. He fell to the ground in reverence and bowed outside the garden. “I have an urgent message for the king.”
The king met with his servant and smiled gently. “What message do you have for me?”
“The Lydak Alliance approaches our border!” reported the servant. “They have mustered an army of tens of thousands. Their weapons are brandished and their war cries are reaching the heavens. I fear they have come to destroy us! What are my king’s orders?”
Distressed by the news, the king’s face darkened. “A troubling message. They must have heard about the ambassador from Telmoth. We are so close to ending this war, yet they insist on bloodshed…” The king bit his lip in anguish. “Send word for the Judges to take action. Swift justice must be dealt to the aggressors.”
The servant raised his head. “Yes, my king. I shall give them your command.” He ran back to the courtroom of Verras where the twelve Judges were waiting impatiently. They saw servant approaching and asked, “What has the king decreed?”
The servant told them, “The king has ordered that you stop the armies of the Lydak Alliance from setting foot within our borders.”
The twelve Judges replied, “We shall do as the king commands. As surely as the king lives, our enemies will not stand before us.”
The Judges mounted their horses and took flight through the castle gates. The people of the villages tossed flowers and the beautiful leaves of the Orcai tree at the feet of the horses as the Judges passed them by. The natives cheered, dancing and singing songs of jubilation. The Judges hurried toward the southern border. When they reached the main gates, they waited for the advancing army.
Once the enemy drew near, a Judge raised his hand. The army stopped before them. The Judge warned them, “Turn back now or face judgment. This is your only warning.”
A proud portly general, decorated with many ribbons and medals, arrogantly walked to the front. He strutted at the head of his army and said boldly, “As you can see, we have come with over three hundred thousand men. Yet you come to us with only twelve and speak nothing but nonsense. Where is your army? Are they such cowards that only twelve remain? Have them come face us and we shall crush them. Otherwise, there will be no honor in our victory.”
“I’ll say it again. Turn back now,” said the Judge grimly.
The angry general raised his hand and threw it forward, signaling the attack.
The soldiers obeyed their general. With their blades held high, they collectively stormed the gates. Dust rose like a dense fog as they stomped across the arid sand. Screams of fury polluted the air with its stagnant stench, invigorating the soldiers for battle.
The twelve Judges drew forth their mighty weapons of myth and legend, and like the heavy swing of a massive scythe, they plowed through the soldiers, cutting them down by the hundreds in a single blow. The Judges sent thunder, hail and brimstone from the sky. They raised the elements against the opposing forces and trampled on them mercilessly.
The soldiers with all their might could not do anything to stop the judgment that was bestowed upon them. Wave after wave, the soldiers fell like frail puppets. Within one hour of unparalleled destruction, the fear of the Judges was etched upon their hearts. The general, still in disbelief at the sight of annihilation at the hands of only twelve, ordered a necessary retreat.
By the time the king reached the battlefield, the skirmish was already over. On that day, the slain bodies of one hundred and eighty-five thousand men littered the ground. Only the twelve Judges were left standing, and they stood over the battlefield filled with sorrow.
This is the tale of the twelve mighty Judges, who live on to this very day to punish the wicked and preserve the righteous.
Chapter 1 - Delivery
His back against the wall, Darek sat down near the thriving marketplace and placed his satchel by his side. The wait was getting on his nerves. He watched as the crowd moved about. Biting his lip, he glanced at the faces of the people, searching for a certain someone.
Then he found him. An old man came walking down the busy street. Their eyes met.
The old man was grim and solemn, not a hint of anything pleasant in his expression.
He stood near Darek and said, “You’re the delivery boy?”
“That’s right,” said Darek, looking up at him. “And you’re late.”
The man nodded but said nothing in reply.
“What’s the pay for the job?” Darek said. “That’s all I need to know.”
“Five thousand credits.”
Darek jumped to his feet and exclaimed, “Five thousand?” His loud, disappointed voice startled the people around them. “Are you kidding me? I thought this was an off-world job! Some of the local jobs are worth just as much!”
“It is an off-world job,” said the old man, his voice cracking. “But don’t you worry. That’s just the advance. I’m not the client. I’m what you’d call a middleman. When you deliver the package to the real client, you’ll receive ten times the amount.” The man held up a thick envelope and waved it in front of Darek.
Darek hesitated, trying to hide his desperation with a poker face. He needed the money, but such a low advance was suspicious. Too suspicious.
Tapping his foot impatiently, the man said, “Take it or leave it. I already have others lined up for this job.”
Gritting his teeth, Darek snatched the package from the old man. “I-I’ll do it.”
“A wise choice.” The old man revealed a fleeting smile and handed Darek a piece of paper. “Here are the instructions for the delivery. I will deposit the credits in your account by the end of the day.” Then the old man walked away without so much as a goodbye.
As he watched the old man disappear into the crowd, Darek heaved a heavy, heartfelt sigh. He wondered how wise of a choice it really was. Darek had worked in the delivery service for years and knew the risks that came with it. No one cared about delivery boys. Off-world jobs were often dangerous—sometimes even suicidal. Receiving high pay in any other job would be considered a blessing. But for a delivery boy…it usually meant death. If you survive, you bask in glory and riches. If you don’t…they’ll always find someone else.
Darek stuffed the package in his satchel and went back to the Albiore City Delivery Agency, which was only a block away from the market. He stopped to look at his reflection in the front window. He looked like a wreck. He straightened his ragged black jacket, dusted off his ripped jeans, fixed the shoulder strap of his bag and roughly combed his shaggy brown hair with his fingers. When everything looked as good as it could, he smiled at his own reflection. Then he turned bright red as he looked through the window and saw people snickering at him.
He entered the agency through the sliding glass doors.
“Darek,” said the female receptionist at the front desk. “What are you doing here? I thought you went home.”
Walking towards the elevator, Darek said, “Just went to speak with a client.”
“Oh, Darek.” The receptionist frowned. “So you took that job? Leave that job up to the veterans. If you wait a few more days, I’m sure we could get you something more suitable.”
“Thanks for the concern.” Darek stepped into a closing elevator. “But I don’t think I can wait a few more days.”
Darek got out on the fourth floor. He walked down the hall and headed straight for room 406. The door was already open. Darek peered inside.
A man sat at his desk, hammering away at the keys of his computer. The man was thin and pale, his blond hair combed down with a greasy shine. He kept the blinds shut, leaving just an ounce of sunlight through the cracks. As he typed, he kept one hand on the keyboard at all times. Every so often his other hand would venture off, seizing a piece of pie for his pointy lips. The trash bin by his side was overflowing with crumpled pastry boxes.
Even though Darek was at the door, the man ignored him, continuing to work. In an attempt to get attention, Darek rapped on the door. The man didn’t even blink; he intensified his typing until it sounded like a sudden downpour. When he reached the last word on the page, he placed the final period with a slam of the finger and then looked up.
“Darek Wayker,” the man said, as he adjusted his glasses. “Did you take the job?”
“That’s a stupid question,” said Darek. “Of course. Why else would I be here?”
“Heh, all right. Then I’ll take it off the listings,” said the thin man, chuckling. After he stared at the computer screen for a moment, he burst out laughing. “Man, you took it! You really took it!” He laughed so hard that tears jetted from his eyes. “I can’t believe it! You actually took it! The day has finally come!”
Feeling somewhat uncomfortable, Darek gave him a dirty look. “If you don’t need me for anything else, I’ll be going.”
“Wait, wait.” The man calmed down, wiping away the tears. “Darek, we’ve worked together for a while. Do you mind if I’ll be honest for just a second?”
Darek crossed his arms. “I think I’m going to regret this, but I’m listening.”
“I hate your guts, Darek. I really do,” the man said. “You’ve caused me so much trouble. You have no idea how long I’ve waited for this day. You’ve finally chosen a really bad job, Darek. Really bad. Quite a few boys haven’t returned from this one.”
“I bet you’re happy,” Darek said, his eyes narrowing.
The man nodded with a wry grin. “I am. But let me just give you a word of advice—full of truth and clarity. Don’t do it. The job is not worth it. As much as I hate you, I’d be downright heartless not to warn you. Fail this one, Darek. Fail it and never return.”
Darek walked to the Guridoh, the only tavern by the agency. Since it was so close to the delivery agency, many delivery boys would frequent it for meals and socializing. He sat at a table with a few of his friends, including his best friend, Jenson, whom he had worked with several times on occasion.
Jenson was chubby, had curly brown hair, and always wore a set of black goggles atop his head. Though only seventeen, just two years older than Darek, he was highly respected by all the delivery boys. He held the record for the most jobs completed with a perfect success rate. He was also a genius. Jenson would take international placement tests for fun and, though he’d get perfect scores, would never submit them for review. He was a strange person for sure. Darek knew that once Jenson was out of this dump, he’d be able to land a high-ranking government job easily. But he never seemed like that kind of a guy.
Jenson inched his chair up to Darek’s, poured him a glass of sweet punch and asked, “So, how’d it go?”
Darek banged his head against the table in despair, surprising everybody. Darek lifted his head slightly to speak, his forehead now swelling bright red. “Well, I did it. I took the job—the only job that was available.” His head fell back down. He muttered, “It’s all because I failed the last few jobs. Talk about bad luck. And if I fail this one…” Darek sighed.
Even if he didn’t finish the sentence, Jenson knew what Darek had on his mind. All delivery boys had reputation points. Success helped them garner more points, and if they had more reputation points, they would get higher priority when it came to picking jobs. But if they failed jobs, they would lose points. If they had no more points left…it’d be the end. Darek would be booted out—all ties severed—and he’d have nowhere to turn to.
“Now come on, it can’t be that bad,” said Jenson, trying to cheer him up.
“Yes, it is that bad. This job probably won’t be easy. A guaranteed one-way ticket to…”
Darek couldn’t draw up the breath to finish what he was saying. His head facedown against the table, he just stared at the wood surface and sighed. Jenson watched Darek mope for a long time. It hurt to see his friend so hopeless and sad. The pain was unbearable. He needed to help him, somehow, someway. There was only one idea he had in mind, one that was a big risk—but if it could save Darek from his troubles, it would be a risk well worth it.
“Say, I’ve got an idea!” said Jenson. “How about we trade jobs? I’ve got a local delivery to make and it pays well. As long as I’m successful, they’ll never find out we swapped. I’ll let you log it under your name. That way you get both rep and credits.”
Darek said uneasily, “I don’t know. If you mess up, we’ll both be kicked out.”
Jenson grinned. “You think I’m going to mess this up? Who do you think you’re talking to? I’m Jenson the Great! I’ve never screwed up any job in my entire life!”
“Your entire life, huh?” Darek thought about it. It wasn’t a hard decision. Jenson was the best in the business. He straightened up, handed Jenson the package and gave him a great big smile. “Well then—Jenson the Great—I’m forever in your debt. If there’s anyone in the universe who can handle this job, it’s most definitely you.”
Jenson examined the small envelope. It felt pretty light. “What do you think is inside?”
“Don’t know, don’t care.”
Darek took a sip of the refreshing punch. It was called Heaven’s Punch, a specialty of the Guridoh; though, with its thickness, you’d think it was a smoothie. It was so rich, so sweet and creamy that a single cup would make you lose your appetite—which was perfect for those who couldn’t spare the credits for a meal.
Jenson read the directions and found it interesting. “Deliver to a man named Liam on planet XR36-B.” He looked at Darek. “What kind of crazy job did you pick up? No one ever uses a planet ID.”
Darek shrugged, scratching his chin. “Maybe the client thought it’d make things easier.”
“Planet names are always enough.” Curious to find out the name of the planet, Jenson flipped open his pocket computer and accessed the planetary database. He thumbed through it and said, “What the—a nameless planet…outside Federation space! No wonder everyone’s been avoiding this one. Hitching transports won’t even get you within a hundred parsecs.”
“Look, it was literally the only job they had open,” said Darek. “I would’ve waited for another job, but the barkeep is serious about kicking me out if I don’t pay the rent on my shack. But that doesn’t matter anymore because you have a way to get there, right?”
Jenson tried to keep a straight face but soon smiled. “As a matter of fact, I do. I’ll show you something cool later. It’s something amazing…that’s all I’ll say…” Jenson paused. “Speaking of which, I just remembered something. That old man—I forget his name—stopped by. He said he had something to show you. Something about an early shipment.”
“What?” Darek’s face lit up, bright as a summer’s day. It was as though all of his worries vanished for an instant. Even if Jenson didn’t mention the name, Darek knew whom he was talking about. “Rodrey stopped by? And the shipment came in early?”
Without waiting for a reply, Darek bolted for the door. Then he ran through the bustling city streets, tripping several times along the way as he bumped into pedestrians. Though he knew the way to Rodrey’s shop by heart, he still glanced across the street signs, afraid his bubbling excitement would cause him to miss his destination.
His dash soon came to a screeching halt as he reached a suspiciously empty part of the road. Everyone seemed to be avoiding that one area for some reason. He thought he heard a murmur coming from the alleyway and decided to take a little peek. Some people were in the alley. It was the city police. They were wandering about, interrogating some men. Darek’s attention was drawn to the posters they had plastered all over the wall. It was an unsightly picture of Darek in the middle of a meal, belching, with food bits strewn around his lips.
Darek wondered why they were looking for him. He also wondered how they managed to take that photo. He observed them for a while, trying to catch even the tiniest bit of the information from the movement of their lips. The background noise from the cars made it impossible to hear anything. Darek tiptoed closer, his hand cupped around his ear.
While focusing on their conversation, he felt a hand rest upon his shoulder. A shiver ran down his spine. The sudden fright made him want to scream. Another hand came from behind and covered his mouth. Next thing he knew, he was dragged into a building. Darek wrestled to break free, but then he stopped struggling when he realized where he was. It was Rodrey’s shop. He turned and saw Rodrey—the bald, portly shopkeeper.
“What’d you do this time?” Rodrey crossed his arms, looking rather stern.
Darek smirked. “No idea.”
Rodrey shut the blinds to block out prying eyes. “Looks pretty serious. Just this morning, I’ve seen several new patrols.” He opened a slight crack in the blinds and peered out. “You’d better lay low for a while. Who knows what they’re up to?” Rodrey looked back to find Darek already taking a seat by the counter. “But I guess you could care less about that, huh?”
Darek fidgeted, watching as Rodrey crossed the room. He couldn’t wait to see what Rodrey had in store for him today. This was a tradition between the two of them. Every week Rodrey’s shop would receive new shipments, and Darek would get a chance to see some cool stuff. His shop sold all kind of things a delivery boy could use, including the latest hi-tech gadgets and weapons.
Rodrey rummaged through the box on the counter. Then, when he found what he was looking for, he placed it on the counter and grinned. “Ah, here’s something that’ll interest you.”
Darek gaped. It was pair of daggers. Delivery boys were no assassins, but self-defense was always necessary. Local jobs never held much excitement. Off-world jobs on the other hand were trouble. When traveling to other planets, he would often have to deal with guards, soldiers and even thugs. He wasn’t a fighter. Running away was always the best course of action. But having a weapon on hand would make pursuers think twice about charging at him.
“Check it out.” Rodrey pushed the daggers closer to Darek. “Aren’t they nice?”
“Is it okay if I touch it?” Though eager to hold them, Darek didn’t want to get them dirty.
“Sure!” Rodrey said, smiling.
Darek held a dagger in his hand. He warmed up to it, slowly tightening his grip around the hilt. His eyes were mesmerized by the splendor of the blade. It was ivory in color and gave off a chilling glow. Running his fingers across the blade, he marveled at the smooth surface.
“So…beautiful,” Darek uttered, as if he were in a trance.
Rodrey rubbed his chin as he also marveled at the handiwork. “A great bargain too. I know you’re a sucker for this kind of stuff, so I got them as soon as I laid eyes on them.”
Darek blinked in confusion. While he did ask Rodrey to look for something good, there was no way he’d be able to afford this. The quality of the craftsmanship was amazing. He took one last look at the pair and then reluctantly placed it on the counter.
Rodrey didn’t take it back. “What? Not good enough for you?”
“No, it’s not that,” said Darek. “It’s just that—I don’t know. It looks expensive.”
“You’re darn right about that. Cost me well over three hundred thousand.”
“Three hundred thousand!” Darek was awestruck. He grabbed the credit card out of his bag. The credit card looked like a solid black card. But when he pushed a thin button on it, it revealed a small screen. The screen showed him his current balance. He had less than two thousand credits left. “At this rate, I’ll never be able to buy it.”
Rodrey laughed. “Now don’t be so sure.”
Darek raised a brow, his interest piqued. “What do you mean?”
“How about you keep them and pay me back gradually?” Rodrey rested his arms on the counter. “No interest, of course.”
Darek pinched himself in the cheek to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. “Are you sure?”
Rodrey nodded. “You’ve been a good customer. Think of it as special service.”
Darek didn’t hold back his feelings. He jumped for joy and gave Rodrey a big hug, squeezing him until he let out a gasp for air.
“Thanks! Thanks a lot! I’ll take good care of them!” Darek grabbed the blades and tucked them away into his bag. He couldn’t wait to show them off to Jenson. “Thanks again!” He shot out the store, eager to head back to the Guridoh.
As soon as he stepped onto the sidewalk, he heard a voice say, “Figured you’d be here.”
Darek spun around. Officer Bellum was standing in front of Rodrey’s shop. Even with his head down, it was easy to recognize him. Bellum was the hairiest police officer in town. He never shaved and never cut his hair. When he walked, his head was like a bobbling hairball.
Bellum was a well-respected officer in spite of his untidy appearance. He took it upon himself to watch over the orphans that wandered the streets, even during his off-hours. He believed that guiding these young men and women during their bleakest time would help them grow up to be fine citizens.
“Oh…you know,” said Darek. “I was just heading to the—um—thing called home.” Darek rolled his eyes, trying a little too hard to act innocent. He discreetly groped the sides of his bag to make sure the daggers weren’t showing. It wasn’t illegal to carry weapons; however, Darek was sure Bellum would confiscate them if he found out about them.
“Well, now you’re going to the thing called the police department,” Bellum grunted.
“I didn’t do anything wrong!” Darek protested.
“I didn’t say you did,” said Bellum. “A Federation law was passed a few days ago that requires everyone, including orphaned children, to be registered for the census. You have to go.”
“What? Since when did they ever care about orphans?” Darek hesitated and then finally said, “Okay, but if this ends up taking a while, you have to treat me to something good! My time is pretty important, you know.”
“We’ll see.” Bellum slapped Darek on the back to get him moving.
The process of registration took Darek a few hours, much longer than he had hoped. He had to wait in line for two hours before he could even begin. And the process itself had been pure tedium from the start. First, they had to get as many prints and scans of his body as they possibly could, and then he had to fill out mountains of paperwork detailing every second of his waking life—or at least it seemed like it to him. It was a nightmare beyond nightmares. After he was done, he was never happier to be alive.
Darek gleefully jumped out the front door of the station with his lips in a photo-perfect smile. “Yes, yes! We’re finally done! IT’S FINALLY OVER!”
Bellum patted him on the shoulder. “See, that wasn’t so bad.”
“You’re insane.” Darek stretched his arms and legs as much as he could. “Those were some of the worst hours of my life. You have no idea how dire the situation was. It was so boring!” Darek put his arm over Bellum’s shoulder. “That said, since you’ve put me through hell, you might as well offer me a little something for my trouble. I can’t let you off that easily.”
Bellum chuckled. “How about a nice cold drink at the Guridoh?”
“A nice cold drink?” Darek’s stomach growled ferociously in protest. “That’s it?”
“All right, all right,” Bellum agreed, scratching his head. “I’ll treat you to dinner. Just don’t get too used to it. A man’s got to make his own keep.”
Chapter 2 - Nostalgia
As the morning sun climbed up the smoggy sky, it baked a shoddy shack with its rays. Standing shakily on the roof of Guridoh Tavern, the shack was Darek’s home. It was thrown together with broken planks of wood, rusted nails and barely-intact shingles. But no matter how crummy it was, Darek didn’t complain. Instead, he embraced its finer points.
For one thing the place was large enough to fit everything he needed: his toiletries, a soft blanket and some clothes. There were a few other things inside. A faded photo of his childhood friends—Slade, Rex and Elize—was pinned on the wall. Catalogs from Rodrey’s shop were sprawled on his blanket. A small watch, which he used as an alarm clock, hung over his pillow. Aside from the daggers he had recently acquired, Darek didn’t have anything of much value.
The thing he loved most about this place was that he could catch the sunrise every morning. Darek continued with his daily tradition and sat on the edge of the roof to get a good view of the city. The Guridoh was not large enough to compete with towers and skyscrapers for supremacy in height—far from it. Luckily, the tall buildings were positioned in such a way that it opened a pathway for the sun to shine through. With the sunrise before him, he began to reminisce his days at the orphanage.
Back then, he was much more carefree. He didn’t have to worry about anything. The orphanage may have been small and poor, and it may have been isolated from the rest of the galaxy, but that didn’t matter. Everything he needed was there—even the best of friends. Every day there was filled with laughter and joy, and he longed to regain those feelings. Even with new friends it was never the same. No matter where he went, he could never find another place he could truly call home. Even though he tried to find happiness in this town, there was still something lacking.
As Darek gazed at the beauty of the sunrise, he wondered what everyone else from the orphanage was doing now. Slade was always a loner. Being the oldest of the bunch, he assumed the position of leader whenever they did tasks and chores. Darek imagined Slade to be a mercenary. Elize was always the kind and gentle one. Whenever someone was hurt, Elize would be the first to go and get help. Darek had encouraged her to be a nurse or even a doctor. And Rex…well, Rex was always a crybaby. Darek remembered all the times he had to help Rex out whenever he was in trouble. Darek couldn’t imagine what Rex would be doing.
“Enjoying the sun?” asked Jenson. He had walked up to the roof and Darek, consumed in his preoccupation, had never noticed. “I was looking for you yesterday. Didn’t I say I was going to show you something? Where’d you go?”
“Yeah, sorry about that,” Darek said. “There was some strange stuff about a census. We had to take photos, fingerprints, retinal scans and everything. First time it ever happened. And boy was it boring.”
Jenson laughed. “I’ve heard about that and I’ve been avoiding it.” Jenson gestured to his bag. “Anyway, let me show you my latest and most spectacular invention!”
Darek searched his satchel. “Ah! I’ve been meaning to show you something also.” Darek revealed his newest pair of daggers, twirling the hilt around his fingers. “Got it at Rodrey’s. Isn’t it awesome?”
Jenson looked worried. “If Bellum catches you with that—”
“Relax.” Darek cut him off and looked at him with disapproval. “You worry too much. He’ll never find out. Besides, what’ll he do? Call the cops on me? You know how he is.”
Jenson shrugged. “I guess you’re right. Anyway—as I was saying—let me show you something amazing.” Jenson opened the bag he had been carrying. “I’ve been a bit jumpy ever since I made this.” He took out a fairly small device that could be strapped on his wrist.
“Wow, amazing!” Darek said. “What is it? A wristwatch on steroids?”
“No,” snapped Jenson. “It’s a personal ITD!” Jenson couldn’t contain his excitement and squealed, “Amazing, right?”
Darek fiddled with the buttons. “ITD? Isn’t that some kind of disease?”
“What? No! It’s an Intergalactic Teleportation Device. This thing can teleport you anywhere in the galaxy. Although, it does eat up batteries like a rodent on peanut butter, so I wouldn’t call it a free ride. You’ll have to recharge the batteries after every use.”
“A teleportation device? Did you make this yourself?” Darek was skeptical. It sounded too farfetched. “And why does it look like a giant watch?” Darek strapped it on to his wrist and tried to move his arm around. “Couldn’t you have made it cooler looking?”
Jenson dug around his bag, pulling out a number of nuts, bolts, circuit boards and wires. “Hey, it’s not like I have access to the finest materials known to man. I scrounged up all the parts I needed from the hardware shop across the street.”
Darek shook his head in disbelief. “You expect me to believe this? It’s large for a watch…but for something as powerful and impressive as a teleportation device, it looks way too small. How’d you even come up with this?”
“Okay, you got me. I wouldn’t exactly call it a new invention. I downloaded the basic schematics from the X-Net. But of course I had to change everything to match the parts I could get. The homemade aspect and the portable size of it would be my part of the invention. A homemade ITD has never been done before!” Jenson took the device from Darek’s wrist and, with a screwdriver, tampered with the inside, making several adjustments to ensure working order. “It wasn’t easy. It took me a few months to save up enough money to buy all the parts I needed for this thing. Not to mention, it also took a few months before I could get it to activate.”
Darek continued to shake his head.
“What? You still don’t believe me?” said Jenson.
“You still expect me to believe you?”
“What you need is a demonstration,” Jenson said with a smile. He jammed a small blue vial into the back of the device and locked it in with a click. The red and green lights on the top screen blinked weakly before staying solid. The ITD emitted a soft buzzing sound.
Seeing that it was working properly, Jenson tied it on his wrist. “Oh and this is the fun part.” Jenson brought out two long boards, which had been protruding from his bag. They were simple wooden boards, but had small straps for the feet. “Follow my lead.” Jenson took one of the boards and locked the buckles on his feet; Darek did the same with the other board.
Darek stared at the board and said, “Explain to me why we’re wearing boards on top of a roof? No wheels, no engine. What is this, a snowboard?”
Jenson ignored his question and eagerly flipped the switch on the ITD. A murky green beam of light shot forth from the ground beneath their feet and extended deep into the grimy sky, past the highest clouds and billows of smoke. The light surrounded them and raised them up off the ground. As the two of them levitated for a moment, they both stared at each other, speechless and dumbfounded.
Jenson began laughing hysterically. “It works! My first test run and it’s going to work!”
Darek glanced around in fright and gasped, “You’ve never tested it before?”
In a blurry flash, they were sucked into space headfirst. The afterimages of their bodies were seemingly stretched like thin rubber while being carried off into the sky by the green streak of light. The stream of light curved and twisted into the form of a spiraling tunnel. Darek kept his eyes shut, afraid to see what was happening. What if they were actually in space? It’d be terrifying to be in space without a spaceship! Without the courage to open his eyes, Darek fanned out his arms and legs, letting his body float about.
Jenson jerked him by the arm. “Hey, concentrate! You’re drifting to the side!” Jenson pulled Darek toward the middle of the tunnel.
Slowly, reluctantly, Darek opened his eyes, one after the other. He looked around and was shocked to see them drifting about in this strange tunnel. “This is insane!” The tunnel was swirling green all around, but it was somewhat translucent; he could see the passing stars and planets on the outside.
Jenson laughed at Darek’s tense face. “Don’t worry and have fun! I was just kidding about the first test run.” Jenson crouched over and put one hand on the board. He then started to spin around. As the board shifted left and right, he drifted left and right. He had complete control over his weightless movement in the tunnel. “Come on, try taking control! This is awesome!”
Darek breathed deep. He bent his knees and leaned down on the board. He got into a crouched position and could feel a force flowing under his feet like the rushing of a river; the mysterious flow pushed him forward, and Darek felt like he was surfing across the galaxy. He began to wobble, so he tried to shift his weight to maintain his balance.
“Now you’re getting it.” Jenson cheered him on.
Darek moved left and right, up and down. And soon enough, he was doing flips, spins and all sorts of tricks. “I think I’ve got this. This is easy!” He clasped his hands on the back of his head and closed his eyes, enjoying the freedom of floating effortlessly. However, due to his carelessness, Darek started to drift away to the boundaries of the tunnel.
“Don’t get too close to the outside!” Jenson warned him.
“What’s the big problem? I’m not that close.” But the closer he got to the edge of the tunnel, the less control he had. When he tried to return to the center of the tunnel, he was no longer able to move the board. He flailed his arms, but nothing he did helped.
Jenson surfed to Darek’s aid right away. “Take my hand!” Jenson stretched out his hand.
Darek used all of his might to reach Jenson. The moment their hands interlocked, Jenson reeled him into the inner part of the tunnel.
“That’s the second time!” Jenson said, exhausted. “Do not do that again!”
“Sorry, I got carried away.”
“That’s okay,” said Jenson. “I was just afraid you’d be sucked into outer space where you’d be devoid of a living, breathable atmosphere and die a relatively quick, but painful death, subject to freezing temperatures, radiation exposure, bullet-like stray projectiles and an inescapable vacuum—which would also cause your insides to swell and boil.”
“There’s no need to explain,” said Darek, sounding appalled at the thought of it.
“Where’s the fun in that?”
The ITD started beeping.
Jenson said, “Oh, time’s up. Try landing feet first or else it’ll hurt. Point your feet at the direction we’re headed.”
The beam of light fell from the sky and touched the ground. Darek and Jenson followed through the light and landed smoothly onto the outskirts of an industrial city.
They stood there in silence for a moment before Jenson said, “Well? What do you think?”
“It was fun.” Darek couldn’t quite find the words to express how he felt. “It was exciting…a little scary, but exciting.”
“I’m not talking about your experience,” said Jenson. “Think of how it can help us with deliveries! We can go to any planet we want, anytime we want and it’s extremely fast too. No more sneaking into freighters or paying for cheap roundtrip passes on the ferry. With this device, we can handle all the long distance deliveries! We’ll practically have a monopoly on it. And ITDs aren’t even mainstream. Once I market this baby, I’ll be rich!”
“That’s great and all, but where are we now?” Darek looked over the surroundings. There was a city nearby and forests all around.
Jenson checked the screen of the ITD. “If everything went well, this should be a planet called Whardhime.”
“Whardhime…” Darek paused as if he were contemplating. “No wonder…”
“You know of it?” asked Jenson.
Darek shook his head. “No…not really. I remember hearing them talk about this place on the news. A planet with high poverty.”
“It wasn’t always that way. There was a civil war a while back and it devastated the economy and depleted their resources. After the war, the Federation thought it’d step in and offer aid so that the population could rebuild the infrastructure. Their plan failed. So the Federation decided to provide transports for the people to emigrate off this planet. No one really lives here anymore. There are a few small towns and cities. But that’s it.”
“I’m impressed.” Darek smiled. “I thought you only knew everything about our planet.”
“I always research where I’m going. There are precautions to take wherever you go.”
Jenson started walking towards the city.
“Where are you going?” asked Darek.
“Ah, I have a job here,” Jenson said. “It’ll be quick. You can walk around. Just make sure to meet me back here in a few hours. Don’t stray too far. I’ve been told some intergalactic criminals may be lurking around since the Federation rarely patrols this part of space.”
Darek watched Jenson enter the city gates. When Jenson was no longer in his sights, he followed the dirt roads. The roads stretched far past a small forest and into an old, rundown town. The aged buildings cast their decrepit shadows over the scraped, untidy paths of dirt. Weeds were everywhere, taunting a lonely gardener with their resilience. In this ghastly town, there was no banter of children or strolling of tamed dogs. It was a town inhabited by only the elderly. The townsfolk shuffled along the sidewalks, and with their kind eyes, they looked at one other and smiled.
Darek had lied to Jenson. He knew of this place. In fact, he had lived here most of his life. “Marwood hasn’t changed much at all,” commented Darek as he took a stroll around the block. “Same old stores…same old houses…”
He wandered to the front door of a red brick house. The windows and doors were boarded up. Darek tried to take a peek through a crack in one of the broken windows, but it was too dark to see anything. A cobblestone path led the way to an open backyard where the grass had grown too tall for children to run around freely. Though he saw nobody in that playground, the subtle echo of laughing children rang in his ears. With glazed eyes, he watched as a pair of butterflies rested at the top of a metal slide. With his imagination, Darek started to see his old friends—Elize, Slade, and Rex—playing tag around the field.
Darek never thought he would return to Marwood so soon. It had only been three years since he had departed from this town. He had always believed he would only return here when he was close to death. It’d make a fine grave.
While Darek was silently reminiscing, he was knocked off his feet. A man had run into him from behind. The man glanced at Darek and left without a single word. Darek didn’t really get a good look at him. But for the split second that their eyes met, Darek felt uncomfortable: he saw an undeniable fear etched on that man’s face.
“Kid, you all right?” A police officer saw the whole incident over the chain link fence. He rushed to Darek’s side to help him up. “Just goes to show you, you shouldn’t space out. It’s dangerous. Sometimes we get people with a screw loose, if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I know. I was just—” Darek broke off when he saw someone crossing the road. A girl had appeared out of nowhere. She smiled gently at Darek. It was Elize. Darek was sure of it. A mysterious, hazy fog formed around her feet. A sudden gust of wind blew across the street, causing the fog to rise up and cover her from his sight. Darek shouted out, “Elize!” She didn’t respond. He leapt over the fence. But when the fog dissipated, she was gone.
“What’s wrong, kid?” The police officer followed him. “You seem a bit high-strung.”
“Did you see a girl standing here?” Darek pointed to the road. “She was standing right here.” Darek scratched his head, puzzled by her sudden appearance and disappearance.
“Can’t say that I have,” the officer replied.
“Then do you know of any girls that live around here? Have you seen any teenage girls around here lately?” Darek pressed hard for answers.
“Son,” said the police officer, “after the orphanage closed, I haven’t seen a single girl around these parts for years. Now if you are looking for a girlfriend, I must say, this is an odd spot to begin your search. The only ‘girls’ here would start around the age of fifty-five.” The officer paused. “You do seem like a fine young man though. If you’re interested, I have some relatives who live in the city over and they have a daughter—”
“No,” Darek interrupted him, “that’s quite alright.” Then he turned to leave. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m in a bit of a hurry.”
Running from street to street, Darek searched for any sign of Elize. It’s not an illusion! Darek thought. The only image of her in my head doesn’t resemble what I just saw. She looks different, yet I know it’s her! Is it her ghost? Is she trying to tell me something?
Darek struggled to make sense of what was going on, but no answers would dare come. However, in his heart, a strange feeling began to take shape. It was as if he could suddenly sense her presence nearby. In the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of a shadow flitting across the rooftops. The shadow was moving toward the far end of town.
Elize stooped over, examining the dirt. After a quick study, she immediately concluded that the trail was fresh. She looked up and, by visualizing the tracks, determined that the trail ended at a house just a block away. She approached the door of the building and pressed her ear against it, listening for any sound. Elize heard a loud breath through the wood. The target was here, and better yet, he was standing right behind the door.
Her hand shaped in the likeness of a gun, Elize touched the tip of her index finger against the door. Then she drew circles with her finger, wandering about until she could find the perfect spot. Her finger stopped just a foot above the center of the door.
“Gotcha,” she whispered. Her fingernail hardened like steel and extended forth, piercing through the door. The sound of breathing was silenced.
“Target eliminated,” Elize whispered, “I’ll dispose of the evidence now.”
“Elize!” Darek finally caught up to her and gasped, “Elize, it is you!”
Elize turned back to see Darek coming up the road in a hurry. She took one powerful leap and landed on the roof of the building. “I’ve been…compromised.”
A voice came into her head. How could you be so careless? Silence him or else we risk being discovered.
“No, it’s the one we’ve been waiting for.” Sullen, she stared at him for just a moment. Then, as another thick fog swept across, she disappeared into the sky.
“She’s gone…again,” said Darek. “But what was she doing here?” Darek walked up to the door where he last saw her standing and looked around for any clues as to what was going on. He analyzed the ground, then the surrounding environment, and lastly, he examined the door. That was when he noticed it. A tiny, misplaced hole near the middle of the door. But there was more. Out of the hole leaked a dark liquid.
His eyes wide, Darek whispered under his breath, “Blood…”
Chapter 3 - The Judge
A sleek ship elegantly sailed its way through the deep recesses of space. Its contour was like the head of an arrow as it pierced its way across a nebula, its sights firmly locked onto the small planet of Quurtha. This slender spacecraft was the Vagrant, a Recon-class Federation starship. Though it was routinely assigned to patrol the border of Federation space, it was now entering the orbit of Quurtha in order to restock supplies.
When the Vagrant reached the orbiting space station, it slowly eased its approach as it prepared to dock. Shaped like a diamond and having the color of an aquamarine, the station was like a celestial jewel. Embedded at the corners of the station were weak thrusters, which were built specifically for the initial deployment phase and were only used in case of emergencies.
On board the ship, Lieutenant Rex Galvin was lying quietly in his quarters, resting comfortably on the couch. It was his fifteenth birthday and his idea of celebration consisted of a good long rest. He did think of other ways to enjoy his day off, but this was the least complex and most satisfying. Besides, there were no acceptable recreational facilities that he could visit because Quurtha was mainly a military base.
The onboard computer beeped to alert Rex of a message. “Lieutenant,” the computer said, “I’m sorry to disturb you on your day of rest, but Commander Blazon urgently wishes to meet with you.”
Rex groaned as he got off the couch reluctantly. Taking his time, he tried to wake himself up by rubbing the tense muscles in his face. A slight yawn broke free as he stretched. “Tell him I’ll be there within the hour.”
“Affirmative, I will relay your message,” said the computer as it shut off the voice link.
Rex massaged his eyes as he stepped into the shower. The showers on board the Vagrant were typical of Federation ships. In order to conserve water for drinking, a cheap synthetic liquid called Vapex was used for showers. Vapex was extremely useful because it was easily recyclable. Ten gallons of Vapex were allotted to every shower. Soldiers could take showers for as long as they wanted because there was no fear of wasting the liquid. The small tubular shower room was riddled with holes where the Vapex would come out in short bursts. For convenience, soap was also dispensed on command with the Vapex. The artificial shower was designed with comfort in mind, so all of the settings, such as temperature and strength of the burst, were fully customizable.
Rex didn’t like Vapex showers much; it just wasn’t the same as the real thing. The synthetic liquid was stickier than water and was accompanied by an odd odor. Rex hopped into the shower for only a few minutes before running out, eager to wipe himself off.
Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, he took a slick razor and shaved off any extra hairs along his cheek. His hands rubbed the skin beneath his chin, feeling for any hairs he may have missed. But while he took a good long look in the mirror, he realized how much he had changed in three years. He was no longer a scrawny, useless runt; he was becoming a man. The rapid transformation had startled him.
Rex had just turned twelve on the day he first walked into the navy recruitment office. At that time they said he was a year too young to begin the physical training, so they placed him in a training program for enlisting children. During his days at the military academy, he often wondered if he was doing the right thing and if he’d be able to handle the intense training that would follow. But no matter how hard things became, one thing pushed him forward: being weak and regretting it. He would never allow himself to be weak again…to be helpless again…never. Things were different now.
Without wasting anymore time, Rex blew dry his red crew-cut hair, put on his round glasses, slipped on his green uniform and left his quarters.
Rex walked along the side of the hallway nervously, twiddling his thumbs as he went. Whenever his fellow officers passed him by, he straightened, gently smiled and waved a greeting. But when they were gone, he went back to his nervous state. Rex tried to calm himself down by looking out the side windows that lined the corridor.
Throughout his year of service it was not often that his commander, Dionus Blazon, would call him down to his office. Even seeing the commander face to face was a rare occurrence. While he had always seen him during large ceremonies and public appearances, it was quite a different thing to see him in person.
The thing that disturbed Rex the most was the commander’s young age. The commander was only twenty-five years old and yet he was highly honored. It was hard for Rex to respect such a young commander. He would sometimes doubt Dionus’ motives, ambition and qualifications. But regardless of his doubts, Dionus had always proved himself worthy of the title. No matter what situation the commander was faced with, he would always resolve them. He was a brilliant tactician, and with only one battleship, he was able to clear the Hapnos system of the infamous pirate crew, the Soulless Marauders. From that one incident alone, he became well known throughout the galaxy.
Rex’s mind wandered back to the outside of the window where he found peace. The sereneness of outer space was what made him join the fleet in the first place. All the thoughts of the dangerously difficult operations and monotonous writing of reports seemed to fade away every time he observed the pristine beauty of the galaxy. He had a deep and inexplicable love of the freedom of outer space, but this bliss only lasted for a short while.
When he reached Dionus’ office, Rex firmly pushed for the bell.
“Come on in.” A small screen on the side of the door flashed on and depicted Dionus’ friendly young visage. His long golden blond hair was slicked back with gel. His uniform was neatly ironed to perfection without a single speck of lint to tarnish its appearance. His body was lean and strong, showing no signs of negligence to its fitness.
Dionus grinned. “Galvin, I’ve been expecting you.”
Rex laid his hand flat on a thin panel that was on the center of the door. A faint red flash was emitted from the panel and it scanned up and down, from the tips of his fingers to the lower edge of his palm. After it recognized the unique pattern of his hand, the door promptly slid open.
Dionus was already standing at the door to greet him. “Please have a seat.” He amiably led Rex to the closest chair by his desk, which was located at the center of this oval office.
“Care for a drink?” Dionus cracked open the fridge and pulled out a few cans of Nitrous, an energy drink popular among Federation soldiers.
“No thanks.” Rex declined the drink politely. He hated Nitrous. It always left a gross, lingering aftertaste in his mouth; for some unknown reason, the aftertaste always brought to mind bug guts—not that he knew what bug guts tasted like.
Dionus smiled. “Just take it. That’s an order. It’s the least I can give on your birthday.”
Rex glanced at the can and felt his stomach cringe. “Yes…sir. Thank you, sir.” He lifted the can and stared apprehensively at it before taking a few sips. The viscous, foamy drink oozed into the back of his throat. He could feel globs of Nitrous roll down his esophagus and land into the pit of his stomach. Muscle spasms coursed their way through his body as the thick fluids flowed into his bloodstream. Rex felt like he had lost control of his body. His legs began kicking the desk ahead, and occasionally, his shoulder would pop up.
“Now about the situation at hand.” Dionus returned to his seat and sunk back into a comfortable position, amusingly watching Rex’s reaction to the drink. “Were you notified about the Judges?”
“Notified about the Judges?” Rex repeated curiously. “You mean the story of the Judges? Are you talking about those fairy tales? I have heard them when I was younger. The Judges are supposedly monsters in human form. They live in the world of the shadows, stalking and executing people who commit crimes. My guess is that it’s basically a story parents tell their children to make them afraid to do bad things. A story to inflict morals, so to speak.” He laughed nervously and said, “They really are quite ridiculous stories, aren’t they? I mean, it’s been told for hundreds of years, and yet no one can prove they exist.”
“Ridiculous?” said Dionus. “Teleportation was long thought to be impossible by the miracle of science; it was believed to be a territory that only masters of the magical arts could enter. The notion that we could teleport ships across long distances was ‘ridiculous’ but now we are more than capable of it! Is it not possible that there was a truth in all of the lies? If someone did see a Judge and told everyone about it, he’d get ridiculed regardless. Then don’t you agree that even if it were true, no one can truly prove or disprove such a wild claim?”
“I suppose…” Looking puzzled, Rex scratched his head. “But I don’t quite understand where you are going with this.”
“It looks to me like you’re still skeptical.” Dionus sat up and leaned forward. “But not to worry. We’ve already got the evidence we need to prove they exist.”
Rex chuckled. “Is this supposed to be a joke, sir?”
“No joke.” Dionus’ expression was as serious as can be. He reached inside a drawer, pulled out several folders and laid them on the desk. “Take a look at this.”
“What is it?” Rex slowly picked up a report and flipped through the pages, knowing that within these pages, he would have to read something he dreaded. “This can’t be real,” said Rex. “The incident at the MTRI colony was done by one person? Impossible.”
“And that’s just the beginning,” said Dionus. “As you should well know, the MTRI is one of the largest mining corporations. All of their colonies are secured with a small but strong militia. The soldiers they employ are about as well trained as any Federation soldier, and in regards to weapons, they’ve got quite an arsenal.”
Rex placed the folder nicely on the desk. “But I don’t understand. This is just pure speculation, isn’t it? I mean, how do we even know it’s a Judge? There are hundreds of skilled assassins capable of this feat. They could be from any organization.”
Dionus cleared his throat before continuing. “Well, it is true that we don’t know exactly who they are, where they come from or what they call themselves. We have merely dubbed them ‘Judges’ based on the stories of old. But we do know, based on the reports, that the perimeter was not breached, many of the soldiers were killed without firing a single shot and there was no evidence of anyone leaving the premises. In other words, they came from within and escaped without using conventional methods. Even if these are not the Judges, they are still a threat that needs to be neutralized.”
Rex took a few more chugs of the Nitrous and eased more into the ideas that Dionus was discussing. “Okay, let’s assume it is a Judge. Why would he attack a mining facility? As far as I understand, there’s no reason to do so unless he was in dire need of their resources.”
“It seems you still aren’t catching on.” Dionus smiled. “Our investigation has found several survivors near the remains of the facility. These survivors are native to the planet. Apparently, they were being treated as slaves by the MTRI and were forced to endure hard labor.”
“So you are telling me the motivation for this attack is—”
“Justice,” Dionus said strongly. “And as proof of this, the natives were allowed return to their homes unharmed. If we were dealing with thieves, the facility would be missing something, resources or equipment, but it is untouched. If we were dealing with any other form of assassin or even a crazed psychopathic killer, there is no reason for them to let potential witnesses live.”
Dionus got up from his chair and paced back and forth near the window. “This is what I believe: we are dealing with vigilantes—and of the worst kind I might add. They are deadly, idealistic assassins with no regard to the laws we have established. Only God knows how long they’ve been operating. For all we know, they may have been doing this for several hundred years. Worse yet, they continue to do so right under our noses and we are completely helpless about it. If word gets out about this incident, we may have a crisis on our hands. People will doubt our competence as an organized military force and as upholders of the law.”
The intercom buzzed and flashed red. It was an emergency call.
“Excuse me,” Dionus said to Rex, as he activated the intercom.
Dionus took his seat and leaned back. “This is Commander Blazon speaking.”
“Commander, there’s a news broadcast that I think you should see,” said the male voice over the intercom. “May I relay it to your monitor?”
“Very well,” replied Dionus. “You may do so.”
The entire sidewall flickered on, revealing images of a local news reporter who solemnly began reading a new report. “This just in—workers at the largest penitentiary of Yulgurea have reported that all the prisoners on death row are now confirmed dead. From the current details of the investigation, it is now known that the use of a weapon is apparent. As of now, there is no word from officials as to whether this incident is related to the mysterious MTRI colony attack of last week—”
“The timing couldn’t be any worse.” Dionus immediately turned off the monitor with his remote. “It won’t be long before the ferocious wolves of the media will start to breathe down our necks for answers.” He turned to Rex. “I called you here because I believe you are the best man for the job. You have earned my trust over the past year with your excellent performance. Galvin, I want you to deal with this. The culprit must stand trial for his crimes.”
Rex stood at attention. “I’ll get on it right away. Do we have any leads?”
“I’m glad you asked.” Dionus searched his jacket pockets and threw down a few photos. “Just yesterday, there was a report from the local authorities on Whardhime. The victim was a man known as Greg Whelster. Heard of him?”
Rex held the photos in his hand and observed them closely. “He is on the galaxy’s most-wanted list, is he not?”
“Yes,” Dionus said, nodding, “which makes this case so suspicious. His heart was pierced through a door. Murder weapon unknown.” He then pulled out two more photos and showed them to Rex. “But that is irrelevant because we already know who the murderer is.”
Staring at the photos, Rex uttered incredulously, “It can’t be…”
“I’m sorry,” Dionus said, “did you say something?”
Eyes wide, Rex asked, “Th-this is the murderer?”
“Yes, he was last seen at a small town on the planet of Whardhime. After analyzing the scene of the crime, we found footprints and fingerprints that shows this man was there at that exact spot.” Dionus pressed a button on a control panel on top of his desk. The large screen on sidewall turned on again. “Here, let me show you the data we’ve gathered. His name is—”
“Darek Wayker,” said Rex. “I know him.”
“Are you sure?” Dionus asked.
“Yes. Before I joined the military academy, I lived at an orphanage with him and several others. When we were young, we used to play together, so I know him very well.”
“Ah, so he’s a friend?”
Rex shook his head. “Not anymore. He was a friend. After we left the orphanage, we went our separate ways. I no longer have any affiliation with someone who could be considered a criminal.”
Dionus solemnly looked at him. “Then can I trust you with this mission, or will this be too hard for you to deal with?”
“I’ll get on it right away, sir,” is what Rex said, but his voice quivered slightly.
“Good,” said Dionus with a sly grin. “I’ll have the details of your mission ready by tomorrow. See you then.”
Rex wordlessly turned back and left the room. As he went back through the narrow corridor, he stopped and looked out the window. A few small meteoroids drifted about, rolling their way toward the planet. The beauty of these rocks in space mesmerized him and he slowly raised his hands, reaching for it. As he firmly pressed his hand against the window, he realized he would never be able to catch them. He would never save them from burning away into ash. And so he turned away and continued to walk—down the empty and lonely hallway, he walked.