TROUBLE ON THE DOMED CITY OF KANAI

Heidi Skarie

After searching the base, Onolyn Larcomb spotted Captain Zachary Kwao on the palace airport tarmac. He stood out because of his bright red hair. “Zac!” she shouted to get his attention. He looked up and she ran toward him.

“I’ve . . . been searching for you everywhere,” she gasped, trying to catch her breath.

A concerned frown wrinkled his forehead. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m worried about my family.” Tears gathered in her eyes and she looked away to give herself time to regain her composure. She shouldn’t have come to Zac for help. He’d already proven he wasn’t reliable. Worse, he’d been avoiding her, but she didn’t have

anyone else to turn to.

She remembered a time when they were friends—more than friends—but it was before that dreadful mission changed everything.

“What about your family?”

“I’ve lost contact with them.” He looked confused, so she added, “When Samrat Condor conquered planet Alandra my family escaped to a secret outpost on a distant moon. We were corresponding regularly, but I haven’t been able to reach them in six weeks.”

“Most likely there’s a problem at one of the communication stations between here and there.”

“That’s what Queen Koriann said.”

“It takes time to fix those stations. They’re often unmanned and it’s difficult to figure out where the break is.”

“I don’t want to wait any longer. Can you ask Queen Koriann for a ship, so we can fly there? She’ll listen to you; you’re close friends.”

“I’m captain of the guards. I can’t just leave.”

A tear rolled down her cheek. “I should’ve known you wouldn’t help.”

A hurt look crossed his face. “I didn’t say that. I’ll talk to Queen Koriann and investigate further. Can you reveal the location of this secret outpost?”

She glanced around to be sure they were alone. “It’s a domed city called Kanai on one of the moons orbiting planet Ormezd.”

He shook his head, looking puzzled. “I’ve never heard of Ormezd.”

“Most people haven’t. It’s uninhabitable and in a distant solar system that’s not on any regular flight paths.”

“You’re talking about a major voyage across the galaxy.”

“I know, but we could fly there in a little over a week by making a series of jumps. “ She looked at him hopefully. Maybe he still cared enough about her to help.

***

Alone in the cockpit of the Cruiser M14, Zac gazed out the window at the glittering stars and planets against the blackness of space. After confirming the communication stations between planet Borko and Ormezd were in working order, he’d convinced Queen Koriann to send him and Onolyn on a mission. Their assignment was to see if their allies in the domed city of Kanai needed aid.

The ship had a small galley, sleeping area, exercise room and common area—just enough room to transport Onolyn’s parents and sister to Jaipar if they wanted to emigrate. Its hold held supplies for the domed city.

Onolyn walked into the cockpit with a tray of food. “Hungry?”

His heartbeat sped up at the sight of her. She was pretty with short strawberry-blond hair and a slender build. More important, she was the sweetest person he knew. She loved everyone—except him.

“Sure.” He set the controls to automatic and joining her at a small table. She’d prepared standard flight food—nutritional, but not especially tasty. He didn’t care about the food; he just liked being with her.

“I keep imagining the worst,” she said.

He peeled plastic off the tray of food she’d heated. “Worrying won’t help. We’ll deal with whatever the problem is when we get there. Might be nothing more than an equipment failure.”

“Thank you for taking my concerns so seriously.”

“I think they’re valid concerns and we have a responsibility to see that Kanai survives.” He hoped to redeem himself with Onolyn, since he’d messed up so badly on a previous mission. If he succeeded in rescuing her family, she just might forgive him.

***

Excitement surged through Zac as they came out of a hyperspace jump. The large orange Planet Ormezd loomed in front of them, surrounded by multi-colored rings and numerous moons.

Onolyn sat next to him in the co-pilot seat, anxiously looking out the front window. “We’re almost there.”

Zac flew the ship past the outermost green ring, into a deadly asteroid field. Adrenaline rippled through him as he dodged one asteroid after another, enjoying the challenge.

“Watch out!” Onolyn exclaimed as they nearly missed smashing into a large mass. “Stars in heaven, you’d think they’d find a safer place to build an outpost!”

“It’s these asteroids that keep it safe.”

They soared by a moon and entered the second yellow ring where Zac evaded even more asteroids. In the third ring the surface of a grayish-blue moon appeared.

“That’s Barmin,” Zac said. They flew over a large river, then Kanai came into view. When the ship drew closer, Zac saw a newly formed crater near a section of the dome that was crushed. Workers in space gear were clearing debris away from spacecraft.

“Oh no, the dome’s damaged,” Onolyn said. “I hope my family’s all right.”

“We’ll know shortly.” Zac’s chest tightened with worry. Glass-domed cities were particularly vulnerable. “I’ll see if their radios are working.” Zac pressed the radio transmitter button. “Coalition Agent Captain Zachary Kwao from Jaipar on Planet Borko, requesting permission to land.”

After a short delay, a male voice came over the speakers. “State your business?”

“Queen Koriann of Jaipar sent us to investigate your status after all communication was cut off. We’ve brought food, medicine and building supplies.”

“Your help is welcome, but our landing bay was destroyed. Suit up and walk to the entrance of the main dome near where the crew is working.”

After landing the cruiser, Zac and Onolyn went to the locker where their spacesuits were located. Zac turned away from Onolyn as he stripped down to his underwear, acutely aware that she was doing the same just a few feet away. He put on the comfort liner and over that the liquid cooling and ventilation garment.

“Need help with your spacesuit?” he asked. Their suits weighed over a hundred-and-twenty pounds.

“Yeah.”

He turned to face her, feeling awkward. She stepped into her spacesuit and he helped her pull it up, then she did the same for him. Once it was on, he shoved his feet into his boots, and put on his helmet, portable life-support system, and gloves.

He glanced at Onolyn and saw that she was ready too. “Let’s go,” he said, speaking into the mic in his helmet. They stepped into the airlock chamber and pressurized it before opening the exterior door and deboarded the cruiser.

Zac breathed in oxygen from his air tank as he surveyed workers rebuilding the metal framework of the crushed dome. His steps felt light despite his heavy spacesuit and weighted boots. “There must not be much gravity on Barmin.”

“I imagine I’d float into the air without these boots.” Onolyn glanced at her gauge. “It’s really hot out here. The temperature is 202 degrees Fahrenheit. At night, I’m sure it’s freezing cold. I hope the dome didn’t lose its heat regulating system and air supply when it was damaged.” She headed for the entrance.

Zac surveyed the collapsed dome a few minutes longer, trying to judge what could be salvaged, then caught up with Onolyn. When they stepped inside the undamaged main dome, the airtight door sealed behind them and the room filled with cooled air. When the wall monitors turned green, a uniformed officer entered along with a couple workers.

The workers helped Zac and Onolyn take off their helmets and gloves, then the officer asked, “Can I see some ID?”

Zac and Onolyn pulled out ID tags that hung around their necks. The officer scanned them with a handheld computer. “Your tags confirm you’re both Coalition operatives and experienced fighter pilots currently stationed in Jaipar. I’m Major Reed. We’re glad to see someone from the outside world. Our situation has become desperate. An asteroid hit the ground near our smaller dome, causing an enormous explosion. All our spaceships were damaged, as well as our interplanetary communication center, so we haven’t been able to call for help. We’re short on medical supplies and equipment to stabilize the dome’s air and ventilation system. We also need to make major repairs to some walls.”

“Was anyone killed during the explosion?” Onolyn asked.

“Yes, unfortunately there were many fatalities.”

Onolyn’s face turned white and Zac drew her into his arms. He felt her trembling as she clung to him for support. Her build was so slight that she felt small in his arms, even though she was nearly as tall as him.

“Onolyn’s family lives here. How can she find out information about them?”

“I’ll take her to the administration station,” one of the female workers said.

Zac gazed at Onolyn. “Will you be all right going to see about your family without me? These people need the supplies we brought and I should supervise the unloading.”

She nodded, but she looked like she was close to tears.

Zac was hesitant to leave her. “I’ll call you when I’m done. Okay?”

“Come as soon as you can.”

Zac put his equipment back on before leaving the dome. He worried about Onolyn as he helped a crew transport supplies to the main dome. How would she take it if any of her family had been injured or killed during the explosion?

Once he finished unloading supplies, he hurried back in the main dome and called Onolyn on his watch communicator. On the second ring, her face appeared on his screen. He let out a sigh of relief—she was smiling.

“My family’s all right! Can you come to their living pod? They’re eager to meet you.”

After she gave him directions, he headed off. He doubted her family would want to meet him, if they knew he’d betrayed their daughter on a past mission.

***

Five days later, Onolyn walked beside Zac through a lush park filled with fruit trees and edible plants.

“We have to leave soon,” Zac said. “Is your family coming with us?”

“No, they want to stay here.”

“Why? Borko is a habitable planet, without all the dangers of this moon, and Queen Koriann will give them Jaiparian citizenship.”

Onolyn stopped walking. “Mother thinks Jaipar is still in danger. It was under military occupation for ten years, and once they regained their freedom, Samrat Condor’s air fleet attacked them again.”

“We were able to drive them off.”

“They may not be able to next time.”

“True, Samrat Condor remains a threat.” He looked her in the eye. “It’ll be hard for you to be so far from your family.”

She glanced away uneasily, then back at him. “I’m not going back either. I’ve decided to stay with them.”

“What? Why?” he gasped.

“I miss my family.”

“You can’t stay here. We need you on Jaipar. All your friends are there.”

“They won’t miss me as much as my family will.”

“I will.”

Her eyes met his. “I hardly see you now that you’re captain of the guards and when you’re off duty it seems like you avoid me.” Onolyn had trouble keeping the bitter edge out of her voice.

“I didn’t think you’d want to have anything to do with me, after what happened on our last mission.”

“Maybe I don’t!” she exclaimed, exasperated with him. “We were on an important mission and you left the hotel we were staying at without even telling me where you were going. For some reason you’ve never explained, it turns out you went to see Seetva and ended up getting entrapped by that sorceress. And if that isn’t bad enough, when I came searching for you, you knocked me unconscious and locked me in a cage in Seetva’s lab, like I was a lizard or frog to use in one of her potions.”

Zac turned bright red, even to the tips of his ears. “I know. I’m sorry. I screwed up — I feel terrible about it.” He swallowed hard. “I should have explained what happened, but it’s hard to talk about. But I see now that was a mistake. You have a right to know why I left the hotel.”

He crossed his arms cross his chest. “After I left you, I checked into to my hotel room and went to bed. I dreamed I was back in the swamp. Seetva was waiting for me and said I belonged to her. I was terrified. Then you appeared and I tried to follow you, but I lost you in the mist. When I awoke I felt compelled to go to Seetva. I tried to fight her spell, but she’s a powerful sorcerer.

“By the time you came searching for me, I was completely under her control.” He balled his hands into fists. “I’m so ashamed of . . . hitting you and putting you in a cage. Can you ever forgive me?”

“It’s Hendora you should be asking for forgiveness — only she’s dead.” Onolyn shuddered. “You shot her — our partner and friend.”

He stepped back looking as stricken as if she’d slapped him. “You have every right to be angry and hate me. I hate myself. I wish Hendora’s blaster had killed me, instead of me killing her.”

Onolyn felt her anger drain when she saw how distressed he was. She didn’t want him to hate himself or wish he were dead. What kind of person was she to beat up on him when he’d suffered so much already? “Hendora’s death wasn’t your fault. She drew a gun and you fired in self-defense.” She bit her lip, then added, “We were both under Seetva’s horrible enchantment at that point. I couldn’t fight her power any more than you could”

“If I were a better operative, I would’ve been able to fight her spells.”

“We were rookies, Zac! Neither of us were trained to fight sorcery. Helena shouldn’t have put us in that position. She was the trained officer in charge of the mission.” She felt badly for making him feel worse about what happened that night. Heaping blame on him was mean.

“It’s party my fault,” she said. “I sensed that Seetva had cast a spell on you in the swamp. I shouldn’t have left you alone that night. And you had enough inner strength to keep me alive in that cage by sneaking me water and food despite Seetva’s hold on you.

He raked his fingers through his red hair. “That’s not saying much when I was the one who put you there in the first place. It’s probably better for you to stay here, so you don’t risk running into me.”

She clasped his hand. “I’m still your friend. You’re a good person. When we were captured by King Zanton’s you tried to stop them from questioning me and got shot. You almost died for me. And now you’ve brought me across the galaxy to ensure my family is safe.”

“I wish none of this had happened.” He swallowed not wanting to be vulnerable, but knowing he might never see Onolyn again if he wasn’t willing to tell her how he felt. “I’ve been in love with you ever since we met, Fawn, and even joined the Coalition because I wanted to be near you. Then I screwed everything up. Now I’ll never see you again and never have a chance to make it right.”

Her mouth dropped open. “You’re in love with me?”

He nodded, looking wretched. “I know I’m an idiot for loving a woman who has every reason to hate me.”

She stared at him, trying to digest what he’d said. He’d avoided her because he blamed himself for what happened and felt badly about it. He loved her and she’d had a crush on him for a long time.

“Kiss me.” She stepped closer and put a hand on his chest.

His eyes widened, then he hesitantly slid his arms around her and his mouth found hers. The kiss lingered and deepened as she returned it. The sweetness of his kiss caused her to glow all over.

He put his forehead against hers. “I wish you weren’t staying here.”

“I might consider returning to Jaipar.”

“Would you really? I know how much your family means to you.”

“I’ll miss them, but I have to follow my own path.”

“Won’t your parents be upset if you leave?”

“Mother said only a man in love would bring a woman across the galaxy to see her family. She also said, ‘When you find love, you need to hold onto it.’”

“You love me?” The depth of his feelings for her shone in his eyes.

“Yes, I do.” She smiled up at him. “It just goes to show that sometimes when things look the bleakest it might be the start of something wonderful.”