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PrologueEdit

For as long as I can remember, I've always looked up at the stars. I gazed up, awe-struck, and I thought, 'for every star there's another planet like ours'. It may have been fate, or perhaps coincedence, but one night, about 14 years ago, I stared into a void infinity for the first time in my life. Today I barely remember this, just the memory of full dark, no stars. It might have happened differently, I'm not sure. All I know to this day is that no stars were present in the sky. I was horrified, so much so that I ran back into my house and smothered my face into my bed, trying to hide from the malignant emptiness.

By morning, the sheets were soaked with my tears, and I was nervously shaking when I walked downstairs. My father was the first to notice. A tall, lumbering Salsene with exposing eyes, (a veteran representative for Aeon Pharmaceuticals and veteran of CDF) he was concerned when I collapsed on the fifth step up from the floor and started to cry again. He dropped his newsscreen, set down his synthetic morning beverage and sat down beside me, cradling my head in his stomach. He tried to pry my hands away from my face, but persisted, thrashing my head in all directions, trying to avoid the reveal. Finally, he tore my webbed fingers away to heed a red, wet visage, barely able to see through the waterfalls gushing through the canals that were my tear ducts. He squeezed me harder to his belly and motioned towards my mother for his newsscreen.

She handed it to him, and he changed the view from today's news to a comic strip. My crying quickly morphed into laughing, as I pieced together the four-square puzzle of a bumbling Aian squashed by a gigantic webbed foot. It cheered me up for a while, but the horror of the black stayed longer. To me, the stars had been my family, peering down from their cosmic pedestals, providing security from my darkest nightmares. And with them gone, even for one night, I started to relapse into dreams of Hectocapitus ripping apart our roof and swallowing me whole. And suffice, the horror of the black stayed with me for the rest of the days I could remember.

Part 1 - Into Space....Edit

I stood in line on the first floor of the Huber Agrisoft building in western Centro with my computer-forged resume in hand. I was slightly nervous wearing my tie-less beige business suit. I slung my jacket over my shoulder as someone yelled my name. "Belasco Blafrane!" I stepped up, meeting wits with the tall, rotund Salsene in the shocking blue double-breasted jacket and yellow T-shirt. His matching blue slacks belted to just above his waist raised my eyebrow. "Your resume, sir?" He had a dominating Yesegian accent. I figured he was a Yesegian Salsene. Not uncommon in this area of Centro.

"Here you go, fine sir." I was trying to butter him up as much as I could. He looked at the checklist, then at my eyes. "Is your father Weref Blafrane?" he asked with a smile. I mustered up a 'yes' and brilliantly, he said, "What a coincidence! I'm Xero Jaruun, I was a friend of your father when we served in the defense force together. You like a lot like him. You have his eyes." I did recall Father naming 'Xero' while rounding off a list of names in his barracks. He then examined my resume. "Graduated with honors, University of West Centro, medical class of 3.999. Worked as public representative at Aeon Pharmaceuticals for 4 years before moving to.... relations officer for Centro Security Agency for 4 years? How'd you manage that, boy?" I swallowed hard.

"The same way I'm going to get this job. Relations." I smirked confidently. Xero did the same. "I like your spunk, kid. Just like Weref. Tell him I said hello next time you're home. And say hello to Blaine for me too. How is your mother?"

"Good, good. 53rd B-day coming up, not sure what to get her yet."

"Try some sort of jewellery. She always likes that. She's the real 'bling' type."

"I know." We shared a hearty laugh. Xero typed frenzily on the keyboard, before sliding the holomouse over and clicking hard. He sat back, satisfied.

"You got the job. You'll be on-ship supervisor plus medic. Report tomorrow to Transport Ship K-7. Good luck, kid."

"Thanks, Xero."

I would need all the thanks I could get.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

The next day, I fumbled slipping the spacesuit over my dress shirt and denims, but I managed. Upon stepping up the cold steel escalator to the open door of Transport Ship K-7. A somewhat short, skinny, older-looking Vrah wrangled the controls as a pale, gangling Banshaen radioed the control tower. The Vrah stared at me strangely, wide-eyed. "Cpl. Kreer Pelascan, pleased to meet you." The Banshaen put out a wing. I took it and shook it firmly. "Kreer....that's Salsene. You're Banshaen."

"I was raised in a refugee camp on Archimedes; it was a sporadic hellhole. My mother wanted to put as much distance between her and there as possible, so we flew here and changed our names. You can call me Kreer, though. I can't even remember my real name, I don't really need to."

I was surprised at his eloquence. Most Banshaen I met only spoke....well, Banshaen.

"Oh, and that's Pvt. Cando. Used to work for Iron Skulls, from what I've heard. Doesn't talk much. They say he was raised by the Ultima on Skrap."

"Really?"

"Really."

As Kreer and I gossiped like housewives, the launch countdown began. We were ushered to our seats by the wailing sirens. Once we were buckled in, Cando hollered "If you're not strapped in, hope you've said a proper goodbye!!" I wasn't amused by Cando's sarcasm.

Then the ship zoomed into the stratosphere.

Part 2 - ...and beyondEdit

Once we broke free of Centro's unforgiving atmosphere, we were soaring towards Yeseg, a bluish sphere in the density of space. Soon, Cando was barking off statistics like a drill sergeant in the CSF.

"Okay, ladies, we got 5 tons of protein gel in our cargo hold. In addition, we have a mounted infrared satellite on the roof to study a recently discovered asteroid belt along our route. That's an extra 2 tons. The ship weighs 55 tons. Now the total is 62 tons. The payload is 65, so we're skimming it."

"I was never good at math, Cando. I don't need to be good. Spare it." Kreer muttered under his breath. I chuckled, but Cando kept a straight and disapproving look.

About three hours later, we were in idle conversation.

"How many little guys do you have, Kreer?"

"Five. Going for six next month."

"Okay.....what would you be doing if not this?"

"Painting for the finest galleries in Centro. Art is an outlet for the mind to speak, not the mouth or hand."

"Poetic."

"I learned that in school."

We shared a mischevious cackle, like schoolchildren. Cando was unamused. Despite this, he began to speak anyway.

"You know about Skaringer's Gecka?"

"Yeah. Learned it in university," I replied. Cando looked awkward, to receive a response from myself.

"Well, think about Skaringer's Cargo. We've been told about what's in the cargo hold, but are they telling the truth? It's either protein gel or it's not, and we won't know until we go inside the hold."

"Philosophical. I never studied philosophy either. But, I digress. That's a good point," Kreer pointed out. I silently agreed. I didn't want to point out that we should hibernate until we get to

Jokingly, I decreed that we inspect the cargo hold, all three of us. So, Cando put the ship on auto-pilot and we assembled into single file, me leading and Kreer in the back. Flashlights in hand, we scanned the containers. 'Huber Agrisoft Protein Gel - 1 ton' was emblazoned on each of the five huge crates standing face-to-face.

"Pelascan, you go check the manifest over there, me and Blafrane will check the rest of these crates," Cando barked. Kreer obliged. Slowly, me and Cando crept surreptitiously, Cando slightly behind me.

Suddenly, I felt something cover my mouth. Cando's bandana. I turned around to confront him but he greeted me with a solid punch to the head. I fell onto the floor, my hands flailing. He then delivered a sharp kick to my ribs, sending the breath in my lungs into oblivion. He then grabbed my neck and delivered a knock-out punch to my throat.

I woke up, bleeding and dizzy. Cando turned his head from his cockpit chair.

"You took a fall. You'll be okay. When we land on Yeseg we'll get you proper medical attention."

"Why do you think I'm on this ship, Cando?" I spat out a slew of bloody phlegm and saliva. "I can get my proper medical attention by myself."


As I walked over to my first-aid kit, I looked out the window. The reassurance I had left fell onto the floor and shattered.

The stars were gone.

My mouth dropped to the ground, my brain screaming and running in circles.

Utter blackness swarmed around the ship, taunting us. This was in space, not in the sky. I couldn't dismiss this like I did the other time so many years ago.

I fell to the floor in the fetal position, trembling in fear and confusion.

Then I remembered.

I remembered what happened that night.

I had been sitting outside, the sky obscured by clouds. Someone - a Vrah - had come out of the bushes and attacked me, kicking me on the ground like the kid in The Tale of Kulu. He then tore my clothes off and attempted to strangle me. I remembered running up to my room, naked, afraid my parents would see me. I remember leaping into bed and under the blankets to disguise my bareness. And I remember collapsing on the stairs due to my beaten leg. I looked at Cando, and I saw the resemblance.

I stood up the best I could, flexing my knee. I then sprinted as fast as one with a limp could, tackling Cando, throwing him on the floor and stomping on his four-eyed head. I heard a snap and realized I crumpled his neck at the same time I realized Kreer was nowhere to be seen.

EpilogueEdit

I rushed into the cargo hold, flashlight in hand. I felt my hand along the left wall, scanning the area for any sign of him. Finally, success. Kreer was lying on the floor, having been nearly crushed and asphyxiated to death by a crate of gel had I not come in time. And, when the ship landed, Cando's body was wheeled away under a white tarp and Kreer was rushed to the nearest hospital. And suffice to say, the horror of the black died, withered away and vanished.

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