“Get up!” My roommate, Dylan, shook me. "Get away from me. I was having a great dream." He bounced me on the bed. “Something’s going on. We’re taking off; all crew-including you and me-are supposed to be at our stations. Get up!” Slowly I stretched and sat up. I'd never seen Dylan like this, his face red almost as if he's in a rage, his lips pulled back, and his hands fisted. I'd known him since we were kids, and I'd never seen him like this. "What's happening?" "Get up! Haven't a clue. But people are running around, chaos." He threw my clothes on top of me, and I dutifully pulled them on. Dylan began to hyperventilate. "It'll be okay. Breathe, slower. Look at me. It's going to be okay." He did as I told him, and he seemed to calm down. He licked his dry lips. "Right. It will. I know. You're right-you're always right." Lights flashed red then yellow in the hallway. People were running, just as Dylan had described. We ran, getting jostled and tossed into walls. The announcements blasted through the communication systems, some overlaying the others so that it was frenetically garbled. “This is not a drill. Report. Report. Report. All stations, report in.” “Battalion two to launch deck A and B.” Dylan and I got knocked down, flattened on the deck by a group of front troopers. One of them, Moll, stopped and picked me up by one arm, helping me to my feet. “Sorry, Leeber. You guys know what’s going on?” “No, not a clue," I said. It would have been reassuring if Moll had known what was causing the alarms. He was a soldier. They usually knew everything. "I was asleep, where I would like to be right now.” He snorted in agreement and ran ahead. The sound of his heavy boots felt like drum beats. When we made it to our stations, all we saw were red lights flashing on the screens around us and people on the upper deck moving in hyper speed. That’s when I saw her: our commander, calm, beautiful Beal Jergen. I always stopped, sometimes for only a half a beat, and stared at her. Even with the insanity around us, it was the same reaction. She was in my dreams and fantasies, and she probably had no idea who I was. Directions came through, chopped and rapid. Suddenly it was quiet, and we heard her voice, steady, slow, and distinct. “You are now, in this instant, my fellow warriors. We are on a mission that you will never speak of, that you will not question. If you do, I assure you that you will be imprisoned and likely executed.” I could feel a terrified gasp from the entire ship. We were young, and we hadn’t signed up for this. Most of us were tech support or researchers. “We are about to attack a planet, actually its capital, and there will probably be few survivors.” It all seemed surreal. “There will be collateral damage. You will follow the commands. You will kill. We will begin with land strikes, then six squadrons will ship and drop down where we will eliminate as many of our targets as possible. Some of you, perhaps many of you, will not survive. Squadron leaders will now define your next actions. I am counting on you all, each one of you. Together we are strong. I cannot tell you why we are doing this except that we know of our future and of the vicious killers populating this warring planet. It is critical that we stop them now. The future is not yet written. There are as many futures as we can imagine. Destroying this threat is what we have to do. I give you my strength, each of you. I will be with you. Be true and be strong!” Dylan looked at me, his entire body trembling, tears overflowing. “Cut it out!” I demanded. “Leeber, I can’t. I absolutely cannot do this! Kill me now, please. I will not!” I walked to him, and he held his arms out as if I was going to hug him. I slapped him hard, and he stumbled. “Life is not fair. And it is never what we expect. It is our time to grow up!" I didn't believe a word of it, but it was the only thing I could think to do. Dylan was on the edge, and I couldn't imagine him dropping into a combat zone in this state. "This is happening. We have to do this. Take each moment, moment by moment, don’t think ahead or back, just breathe and deal with right now.” We heard our section being called, and I shoved Dylan out of our bay and down the stairs. Our squad leader was Jaze Stillwater, a person renowned for his effective, although often brutal leadership. There were stories about him biting, twisting, and even dismembering people. Watching Jaze filled me with more terror than the war we were about to face. When he approached us, we instinctively held our hands over our faces, particularly our noses. It seemed he liked to start at the nose. Jaze handed us weapons that most of us had never seen and had no idea how to fire. He pointed one at each of us, and we swallowed hard, trying to look brave and calm. He passed them out, and they were surprisingly lightweight. Lighter than they looked. “When we land, you will fire as quickly as possible. Point the loaded cylinder this way, or, if you do not follow my directions, you will blow your fucking, ugly assed faces off. Suck it up. Here we go.” As soon as we landed, we had to let our eyes adjust to the darkness around us. The terrain was dirt, sand, and rocks, with a high wind that made it difficult to walk. All we heard was screaming. Behind us, a field light flooded the scene, and I wished I had stayed in the dark. The inhabitants of the planet were humanoid. Some were tiny, obviously children; some were fast-moving, looking almost like wisps of light racing through the battlefield. There was no escape for them as we attacked. Hundreds dropped, some on fire, the flames streaming behind them as they ran. The wind carried the screaming so that it rose and fell in waves. “Fire!” Jaze flew around us, one of his powers being flight, hitting some of the crew in the back of the head. Then two of our squadron pointed their weapons at him. Jaze stopped. “We can’t do this. We are peaceful," one of them said. Jaze blasted both of them, their heads bursting, their limbs flying back toward us. Dylan huddled on the ground weeping, his arms wrapping around his head, tucking in. “Get up, fire, just fire into the sky if you have to. You’ll die if you don’t!” Jaze told us. Without warning, two more joined us and wrapped themselves around Dylan, huddling and weeping. Jaze was coming, and I saw Dylan slip his weapon out of his jacket. He was going to fire, to kill Jaze. Traitor. Mutiny. But Jaze had killed two of us, and we were supposed to be the commander’s warriors. Then I saw someone moving at great speed toward us. It was her, Commander Jergen. “Jaze!” She yelled. Jaze glanced over, snarling at the Commander. “Stop, now! Drop that weapon.” She ordered him. “Yes, just one more duty, to teach the crew that there is no escape." He dropped down and casually strode to the three who now begged him not to hurt them. He was going to kill them; Dylan and the other two would be dead in an instant. I aimed my weapon at Jaze. “Soldier, stand down!” Jergen ordered Jaze.
Now it is your turn, what should Leeber do next? Should Leeber simply step back, out of the scene, wait for what will happen next? Should he fire on Dylan and he other two? Should he kill Jaze? Email your choice and we'll send the next installment. Thank you for helping to decide Leeber's fate. firstname.lastname@example.org Check out the next 2 books, The Chi, and The Mac, now on Amazon. And we thank you for leaving an honest review!