STOWAWAYS

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“What can you see?” Lucy whispered to Carlos.

He lowered the binoculars and shrugged. “Nothing much, except for a couple of guards and patrol vehicles.”

“I’m not surprised. You know there aren’t supposed to be many people on duty today,” Lucy said, kneeling on the floor to search through her backpack.

“You’re right about that. At this time of evening, they’ll still be busy with all their paperwork at HQ.” Carlos scanned the environment again. “It’s good that your knowledge of their routine is impeccable.”

“My knowledge? You make it sound as if I’m the only one who works here!”

“Fine, but I should still commend you for being so organized.”

Lucy took out a smartphone and handed it over to Carlos. “Please save the commendations for later. Time is running out. We should leave now and get to the hangars before more personnel come to join the skeletal security.”

“Did you bring the laser pliers?”

Lucy glared at him. “I’d never forget that, especially as we need it to get inside!”

They were both hiding behind a series of drums which were close to the perimeter fencing of the shuttle hangars. Not too far from their position, they could see three patrol vehicles driving through the airport strips. Security personnel were walking around in pairs. They were wearing brown military uniforms and carried standard laser rifles in their arms. Carlos was watching the last pair of security guards as they scanned the hangars. They stood for a while, appearing to examine part of the tarmac before they moved on.

“Come on, let’s go!” Carlos jumped to his feet. Keeping their heads low, they both ran towards the fence and dropped down onto the ground.

Carlos peered over the ledge and saw another pair of security guards walking nearby. He raised two of his fingers at Lucy, who nodded. He then counted ten seconds and raised his head. They were gone.

He quickly turned a knob on top of the smartphone that Lucy had given him. As he did this, a short burst of light came out of the extended antennae and the laser pliers activated. Working fast, he pointed the antennae at the fence. A laser beam came out of the antenna and began to quickly burn through the metal fence. In no time, a chunk of metal fell to the ground, leaving a small hole in the fence.

Just as the last strand of metal was cut, Carlos dropped down to the ground again. Another pair of guards appeared that very second. Sweat glistened on his face as he counted and waited.

By the time he looked up, they were gone. “Alright, move,” Carlos ordered, pushing Lucy through the small hole in the fence. Once she passed through, he squeezed himself through and picked up the fallen metal. Working fast again, he reversed the setting of the laser cutter and began to weld the fence back together. Carlos was not bothered about doing a perfect job. Because of how limited his time was, all he wanted to do was to ensure that the fence didn’t raise any suspicion.

As the fence was almost repaired, he glanced at Lucy. She had already made it to one of the hangar doors and was signaling at him to hurry up. He nodded and turned off the laser cutter. He took another look at what he had done. It wasn’t perfect, but it held the fence in place.

Carlos checked his left to see if there were any guards coming. When he did not see any, he looked at Lucy. She raised her left hand and held up four fingers. Then there were three fingers.

Three more seconds, Carlos thought. Taking a deep breath, he grabbed his backpack and made a quick dash to join her. Just as he got there, they both ducked down behind a pair of drums. Carlos struggled to control his breathing as two guards walked past them.

After the guards had past, Lucy stood up and walked to the closest door. She took out her smartphone and pointed it at the glass panel on the left. She punched in a code, then the door clicked and hissed open.

Carlos ran up to her and they both slipped in through the door. Another set of guards appeared just as the door slid shut.

Carlos began to gasp for air. “That was very close,” he confessed in a whisper.

Lucy patted his back. “Yes, it was, but then you were pretty good back there. Very fast and efficient.”

“Fast and efficient? You make it sound like I’m a machine.”

“Take it as a compliment,” Lucy whispered back. She removed the backpack from Carlos’s shoulder and opened it. She took out two pairs of goggles and handed one to Carlos. “Don’t forget to put these on,” she said as she put on the other one.

“I know, we don’t want to alert the guards by turning on any of the lights here.”

Lucy nodded. “These goggles will allow us to see and work in the dark.”

“I remember how sensitive the sensors in this hangar can be. Even the slightest light can set them off and we don’t want that to happen,” Carlos said, putting on his goggles. “Now I have to say that we are being very meticulous and thorough.”

Lucy took his hand and began to walk forward. “Come now, we don’t have any time to waste on compliments and small talk.”

Inside, Carlos and Lucy walked close to each other. Although everywhere was pitch dark, their vision through the goggles was very clear, as if it was daytime.

After a short while, Lucy stopped and pointed ahead. “There it is, that’s the cargo shuttle.”

Carlos looked at it and nodded slowly.

The cargo shuttle was the size of a five-story building. It was cylindrical, like a water tank.

“So this is the new cargo shuttle that management was talking about?” Carlos whispered, as he regarded the strange shape in front of them.

Lucy nodded. “Yes it is. Let’s get on board, quickly.”

“I saw a preview of it on one of the senior manager’s drives, but I never had the opportunity to see the live model.”

“I did, but only once, when we were doing maintenance.”

“So you beat me to it?” Carlos asked.

“Beat you to what?”

“You saw the new cargo shuttle before I did!” Carlos retorted.

“What does it matter? We’re both going to soon board it, aren’t we?”

“Yes, that is more relevant.”

He watched as Lucy pointed her smartphone at the left side of the shuttle.

“Be careful, the light,” Carlos whispered.

“I know, I’m just using the infra-red scanner. I want to find the cargo bay doors.”

Carlos followed her as she continued to scan the sides of the shuttle, until they reached an open door with a short metal ladder that led inside.

“Look? We’re lucky, they left this cargo door open,” Lucy said, putting away her smartphone.

“Now what?”

“We walk in and hide in one of the storage bays,” Lucy started climbing up the metal ladder.

Carlos climbed in after her and they were soon lost inside the shuttle.

 

***

 

At about the same moment, a convoy of four SUVs was speeding towards the airport. In each of the SUVs were men and women all dressed in camouflaged military spacesuits. They also wore black gloves and thick black boots. They each carried what appeared to be dark helmets with glass visors.

At the central gate of the airport, the convoy stopped. A couple of armed guards came over to the side of the lead SUV.

As the driver’s window slid down, one of the armed guards peered into the SUV. “Captain Daniels, it’s good to see you again.”

Captain Daniels, who was seated next to the driver of the SUV, smiled and nodded. “Yes, it is, Mikey. How’s work today?”

Mikey shrugged. “Slow day. Most of the others are back at HQ. So that leaves just me and a couple of guys to man the airport until they’re through. Where are you heading to this time?”

“We want to get some more energy rations from the Nexus Galaxy.” Captain Daniels held out a device, which displayed a series of codes. “Here’s the authorization from Central Command.”

Mikey scanned the device with his own, then cross-referenced it with his records. “Everything checks out, Captain. Have a safe trip.”

Captain Daniels nodded. “Thank you, Mikey.”

The huge gates were opened and the convoy of SUVs drove in, heading for the hangars at the back.

Once there, the men and women jumped out of the other SUVs and assembled.

Captain Daniels came down and walked over to address them. “Now listen up, folks. I know that a lot of you wish you could be home with your loved ones, but you all know how things get sometimes. Emergencies are never foreseen; that is why Central Command is counting on us to carry out this supply order as quickly as possible, so that we can get back to spend time with our families.”

The members of his audience nodded.

“It is a simple mission,” Captain Daniels continued. “We are to take the water caskets to Nexus Galaxy and collect an equivalent amount of energy rations – no more, no less. Even a toddler can do that, can’t they?”

“But a toddler wouldn’t be able to man the cargo shuttle,” one of the team said.

A few people chuckled at his joke.

Captain Daniels smiled. “I’m pleased to note that some of us still have a sense of humor. Yes, a toddler wouldn’t be able to operate a cargo shuttle, but they sure would listen to me when I tell them what to do. So, are you going to be loyal to my command or not?”

“Yes, Captain,” they all chorused.

Captain Daniels nodded. “Now, let’s board and get this mission moving.”

The hangar doors were opened electronically by Captain Daniels pointing his smartphone at a glass panel. As the door slid open, Captain Daniels stepped inside. He then pointed his smartphone at the ceiling of the hangar. The once-dark hangar became illuminated that instant, as several bright overhead lights flooded the place.

The others walked into the hangar towards the cargo shuttle.

“Have the water caskets been loaded already?” a woman asked as she climbed the short ladder.

“They should have, Corporal,” Captain Daniels replied. “But check to make sure they’re in storage.”

The corporal headed to the storage bay and looked around. Inside, there were huge drums all marked ‘H2O’, arranged in dozens.

“Well, soldier?”

“Yes, Captain. They are loaded already.”

“Okay then, lock up the storage bay for departure,” Captain Daniels ordered.

 

***

 

Carlos glanced at Lucy. They were both hiding behind some of the drums.

“They’re about to depart to the Nexus Galaxy,” Lucy said, opening her backpack again.

Carlos looked at her. “Isn’t that where they normally get the energy rations from?”

Lucy took out two helmets from the backpack and handed one to him. “It’s a good thing we were prepared for this trip!”

“I’m surprised,” Carlos frowned, putting on his helmet. “I would have thought they’d be going for one of their usual recon missions to a nearby planet.”

“No, I think this was a last-minute request.”

“I guess,” Carlos replied. “But I was hoping we’d do this on a recon mission, not a water trade.”

“Well, we’re here, aren’t we? It’s not as if we can force them to change their plans.”

“No, but Nexus isn’t like some nearby town. We’re about to embark on an inter-galactic journey. You do know what that means, don’t you?”

“Sure I do, Carlos. We’re leaving our galaxy for another and these helmets will ensure that we survive the conditions during the trip. Once we’re in orbit, we’ll activate them.”

“On that note, we should soon be taking off any moment now,” Carlos warned.

“We’d better get a grip on something stable so that we don’t get tossed around by the g-force.”

“While other crew members are strapped safely in their seats, we have to hide out in this storage bay.” Carlos scanned the environment around them.

“We wanted to tag along, right?”

“You call this tagging along?” Carlos asked.

“What else is it?”

“Whatever. Quickly,” Carlos said, pointing at the backpack. “Get some of those heavy utility belts. We can use them to strap ourselves to floor hinges before the g-force kicks in.”

Lucy took out the thick belts and handed a couple to Carlos and they started strapping themselves down in the storage bay.

 

***

 

Captain Daniels was reviewing the flight process in the cockpit with his two co-pilots.

Corporal Bennett noticed him smiling at the monitor. “Captain?”

“I just remembered something funny, yesterday, one of those technicians that used to service the cargo shuttle came to me asking if she could join us on the next mission off of Earth.” Then he started laughing. The two co-pilots joined in, as if it was a very funny joke.

“A technician wanted to accompany you on your next mission?” Corporal Bennett repeated.

Captain Daniels shook his head. “No, it wasn’t just one of them, actually, there were two!” Again, he burst out laughing.

“Two technicians?”

Captain Daniels nodded. “Yes, the other one came to me last week – a man and yesterday it was a woman. Aren’t people crazy these days? I mean, just imagine!”

“That is really crazy.” Corporal Bennett laughed loudly.

“It is tantamount to assigning a monkey to handle a brain surgery, or asking a school teacher to fix a cavity. A technician is simply that: a technician. What do they know about space travel, piloting, navigation, and everything else we studied back at the Academy?”

“You’re right, Captain,” she nodded.

“Still, I can’t help but remember the two of them and how fervent they were in trying to convince me to bring them along.”

“Do you think they were working together?” Corporal Bennett asked.

“Who knows?” Captain Daniels shrugged. “Possibly. Or maybe it was just a coincidence. I really wouldn’t know for sure.”

“Did you get their names?”

“Who?”

“The two technicians who pestered you.”

“Yes, let me see,” Captain Daniels rubbed his chin. “I think the guy was Carl? And then the woman was Lou or Suzy, something like that. Yeah, I think it was one of those.”

Corporal Bennett shook her head. “You’re not even sure what their names were.”

Captain Daniels shrugged and burst out laughing again. “Why should I remember their names? As far as I’m concerned, they were just jokers. If they wanted to come on an expedition to outer space, then they should both consider a career change and enlist in the Academy.”

The second co-pilot turned to look at Captain Daniels. “Captain, Navigation has completed the upload of our flight coordinates into the central server and the Engine Room says that the rotors and laser jets are ready to engage.”

Captain Daniels nodded. “That means we are good to go. Alright, tell the Engine Room to release the latches and bring up all wedges and anchors. Once that is done, we can taxi out of the hangar.”

“Yes, Captain,” she said, punching codes into the keypad on her console.

In a short while, the massive cargo shuttle began to taxi out of the hangar and onto the tarmac in front of it.

“Traffic control has given us clearance to proceed with take-off,” Corporal Bennett informed Captain Daniels. “They have assigned us to Runway C17.”

“Did you get the clearance and runway number, Engine Room?” Captain Daniels said into the mouth piece attached to his helmet.

“Yes, we did, Captain,” the Engine Room operator responded. “We are moving towards the assigned runway.”

“Good. Power up our hyper-drive rotors and commence the launch sequence immediately,” Captain Daniels ordered.

 

***

 

At that moment, Lucy was buckling the strap on her belt when she heard the Captain’s announcement. She stopped and looked up. “Did you hear that?”

Carlos stopped fiddling with his own belt and turned to her. “That was the Captain?”

“Yes, and they’re about to launch.”

Carlos nodded. “That means that any moment now, this cargo shuttle will be zooming off into outer space at the speed of light. Come on Lucy, strap yourself in quickly before they do!”

They both continued to secure themselves to the floor while the cargo shuttle moved onto the series of runways. As soon as it arrived at Runway C17, it turned and faced the length of the tarmac, with its nose pointing ahead.

“Attention!” Captain Daniels said. “We are commencing launch procedures right away. We will be moving into the atmosphere at hyper drive speeds. We should be exiting Earth’s orbit in less than seven minutes. I don’t need to remind you all to check your work stations to ensure that there are no loose materials or devices.”

A couple of seconds later, the shuttle began to hum just as its body started to vibrate. It then began to move slowly on the runway. It continued in this manner for a couple of more seconds before it began to rise up off the tarmac. It rose up gradually as if it was being lifted by a huge invisible crane. Once it was about four feet off the runway, it shot forward all of a sudden and disappeared into the skies.

 

***

 

In the cargo bay, Lucy and Carlos were holding onto their makeshift seatbelts as the shuttle flew into the Earth’s atmosphere. Lucy glanced at Carlos and saw that his eyes were tightly shut.

Lucy looked away from him and glanced outside one of the windows. The sky was a bright blue as the cargo shuttle raced into it. Behind them, she could see the brown and green of the receding landscapes and vegetation on the ground.

For a while, she admired the contrasting scenery. She then turned to look at Carlos again and saw that he was now looking at her with a smile on his face. “What’s so funny?”

“I’m in a cargo shuttle,” Carlos said. “I can’t believe it, but I’m actually in a cargo shuttle.”

“You make it sound like it is a big deal,” Lucy frowned. “We are holed up in the cargo bay. We should be out there with the other crew members, not hiding in here like stowaways.”

“But that is what we are! Stowaways.”

“Yes, I know. You don’t have to remind me.”

“And for anyone to be a crew member, they first have to be properly qualified.”

Lucy looked at him angrily. “What do you mean?”

“I mean as a certified crew members.”

“Please save me the moral talk, Carlos. I don’t want to hear any of it.”

“But it’s the truth. I know this trip means so much to you. But we both have to remember that if we really want to be properly recognized, we need to do the right thing.”

“What do you mean?”

“We have to become certified crew members,” Carlos replied.

“Please, don’t tell me you’ve become Captain Daniels’ mouthpiece.”

“No, I’m not anybody’s mouthpiece. I’m just talking to you as a friend, Lucy.”

“Yes, I know, but you sound so much like Captain Daniels. You know that he said the same thing to me.”

“He did?”

Lucy nodded. “Yes, when I kept pestering him to let me come on their next trip, he actually told me to just go and enlist at the Space Academy.”

“He said the same thing to me too.”

“And you know what that means, don’t you Carlos? We’d have to wait until next year when admissions reopen, just to enlist in the Space Academy and that’s just enlistment! Then it’s seven years till graduation, then it’s all about primary assignments and postings, gosh. Before we could ever achieve our goal, we’d be looking at another nine or ten years! Who has all that time to waste, just to go on a journey into outer space?”

“But he’s right, Lucy.”

“I didn’t ask you to come along to tell me that,” she spat angrily.

“Calm down Lucy, I do not mean to provoke you.”

“But that’s exactly what you’re doing!”

Carlos shook his head. “No, I’m not deliberately provoking you at all. I’m just trying to say that inasmuch as you don’t agree with Captain Daniels, what he suggested is the truth. If we really want to be a member of any shuttle crew, we have to earn the right to be on their ship. We both have to attend the Space Academy and qualify.”

Lucy sighed. “Well, I guess you’re right. But let’s leave all this morality talk for now and just enjoy the ride, okay? Maybe when we return to Earth, we can continue exploring the other options.”

“Other options?” Carlos repeated.

“Sure. Who knows, there could be other shuttles going to other destinations. We could always sneak onto their shuttles if Captain Daniels isn’t assigned to go anywhere fun.”

“Lucy,” Carlos frowned. “Are you insane?”

Lucy chuckled as the shuttle continued on its upward ascent into the darkness of space.

 

***

 

In the cockpit, Captain Daniels checked the monitors and consoles in front of him. “We are making good progress,”

The two co-pilots nodded. “We should soon be at the outer barrier of our galaxy,” Corporal Bennett remarked.

“That means our entry into the Nexus Galaxy should be imminent,” Captain Daniels said. He leaned forward and pressed a button on the console by his right. “Engine room, how are our laser thrusters doing?”

“Our laser thrusters are working at full capacity, Captain.”

“What about the hyper-drive rotors? What is their capacity and utilization rate as of this moment?”

“Capacity and utilization are at maximum rate, Captain. We are at 10,000 kilojoules and counting.”

“Alright, we are almost at our galactic barrier. Power up our thrusters and rotors to the double of their present capacity so that we can make the transition into the Nexus on the first attempt.”

“Yes, Captain,” the engine room operator replied. “All our thrusters and rotors are being powered up to the double of their present capacities.”

 

***

 

At that moment, Lucy tapped Carlos’s arm. “They’re about to make the jump.”

“The jump?” Carlos repeated. “Oh, you mean the jump between our galaxy and the Nexus Galaxy.”

“Yes, and that means they need to double the energy consumption and utilization levels, otherwise we’ll have to repeat the attempt again.”

Carlos shook his head. “No shuttle captain would want to do that. Who’d want to do a galactic barrier jump more than once?”

“What if they don’t make it on the first attempt?” Lucy asked. “You know they’d have to repeat it, don’t you?”

“Yes, but even the captain would not want to put his shuttle through such an ordeal. It is like working with a hammer, a nail, and a piece of wood.”

“Really?” Lucy asked

“Yes, he knows that without the right amount of force, he won’t be able to hit the nail into the wood on the first attempt.”

“You’re right, and if he fails to get it right, he’ll just keep trying over and over again.”

“With all our knowledge about shuttles and space travel, it still surprises me why we never got to be crew members.”

Lucy sighed. “What is there to say? When I started out as a space technician, I never knew that I would be drawn to all of this stuff. But like a hidden talent, my interest began to grow and grow the more time I spent working on the shuttles. The rest is history.”

“Me too, but this will never become real history until the day we both enlist as cadets in the Space Academy.”

“There you go again, Carlos. Will you stop preaching already?”

“It’s the truth, Lucy. Neither of us will ever hear the end of this until we study, graduate and perhaps become captains of our own shuttles and I’m sure you’d make a great one too.”

“Maybe,” Lucy said as she watched the distant stars twinkle in the dark space.

 

***

 

In the cockpit, Captain Daniels took a deep breath as he gripped the steering wheel of the shuttle. “Barrier jump is about to commence. Corporal Bennett, engage all engine and navigation protocols.”

“Yes, Captain, all protocols are engaged.”

“Then let’s make the jump immediately,” Captain Daniels said, as he pressed the wheel down.

As he did so, the shuttle began to vibrate and shudder. He could feel the force as his hands shook from the vibration on the steering wheel.

Outside, everything became a white blur as visibility became impaired. Nothing was recognizable anymore because of how fast they were flying. All the stars, moons, planets, and asteroids nearby seemed to have disappeared, or seemed to be swallowed up by the pure white mist that enveloped their entire cargo shuttle.

And just as quickly as it had begun, everything went back to normal again.

Captain Daniels wiped the sweat on his forehead with the back of his hand. He glanced at his co-pilots and saw them doing the same. He smiled. “Engine room, give me a report on the status of our shuttle.”

“All engines, rotors, and thrusters are in good working order, Captain. They are now stabilizing and returning to normal.”

“Excellent. Navigation, what is our present location?”

“We have successfully entered the Nexus Galaxy, Captain. Coordinates of our primary destination have been processed and uploaded to the main server for utilization.”

“Engine room, apply the coordinates and take us to the primary destination, welcome to the Nexus Galaxy, everyone.”

 

***

 

At that moment, Lucy stood up to peer out of the closest window. Carlos struggled with his belt to stop her, but he was too late. By the time he was done, she was already standing by the window.

“Aren’t you taking an unnecessary risk?”

“Aren’t you being a spoil sport by trying to deny me the opportunity to admire this beautiful scenery?” Lucy fired back at him.

“But someone could see us,” Carlos protested.

“And who would not want to see this beautiful view?”

Carlos moved closer to look out the window. As he did, he let out a silent gasp. “You’re right. This place is indeed beautiful. You do know where we are right now, don’t you?”

“The Nexus Galaxy,” Lucy announced proudly as they both admired the scenery.

The cargo shuttle was now flying through what appeared to be a field of flowers. There were several of them and they appeared to have been properly cultivated and planted in straight rows, like crops on a farm.

Each flower must have been at least sixty feet high, because the huge cargo shuttle was able to easily fly between them and not collide with any of their stems. As a result of the height of the flowers, the shuttle was also able to fly underneath their very colourful and wide petals. There were no other plants or trees in sight. At some point, it became easier to notice that the flowers had different heights and colours.

After a while, the shuttle came to a clearing. Captain Daniels pushed back the steering wheel as they hovered for a while, examining the vicinity closely. He then checked the coordinates that Navigation had uploaded to their main servers for accuracy.

Satisfied that all was well, Captain Daniels set the shuttle down on the clearing.

“I want you two to check on the crew,” Captain Daniels instructed his co-pilots. “Make sure that everyone is accounted for and in proper shape. Once that is done, ask them to start unloading the cargo.”

The two co-pilots nodded and left the cockpit.

Captain Daniels adjusted his helmet. He pressed a button on the side of his helmet to activate the visor, which covered his entire face. He pressed another button and began to breathe freely inside the helmet.

“Is everyone’s helmet activated?” Captain Daniels asked over the intercom.

 

***

 

At that point, Lucy pressed a button on the side of her helmet. “We’d better put these on and activate the visors,” she said, handing Carlos his helmet.

“Thanks.” Carlos pressed a button on his helmet. “Any moment now, Captain Daniels will open the exits.”

“And that means the doors for the cargo bay will open too,” Lucy said.

“Our bodies won’t be able to handle the atmosphere here,” Carlos added.

“That’s why we have these helmets,” Lucy reminded him. “For breathing properly on this galaxy.”

“Yes, that’s what I meant.”

Lucy smiled. “You have an impeccable sense of understanding.”

“Don’t throw my words back at me, Lucy. I know –” he stopped suddenly.

Carlos had his back to the cargo door, and Lucy was standing in front of him. When he saw the expression on her face change to that of fear and worry, he was forced to turn around.

But he was too late.

The cargo bay doors had suddenly slid open and there, standing exactly behind him, were four crew members.

At first, nobody moved or said anything. The crew members were shocked to see Lucy and Carlos and just kept staring at them.

“Who are you and how did you get here?” one of the crew members asked, stepping forward.

Lucy raised her hands defensively. “Take it easy. We’re humans too.”

“I can see that!” he retorted. “But how did you get on board this cargo shuttle?”

“Captain Daniels, it’s Frank,” said another crew member, over the intercom. “We have a situation here.”

Captain Daniels was just about to exit the cockpit when he heard the message. “You have a what?”

“A situation, Captain,” Frank repeated.

“What do you mean ‘a situation’? Where are you?”

“We’re in the cargo bay, Captain,” Frank replied.

“Is anything wrong with the cargo? Don’t tell me there’s a leak!”

“Negative, Captain. The cargo is fine.”

“Then what’s wrong?”

“We have stowaways, Captain.”

Captain Daniels’ facial expression changed from confusion to anger. “What? Where? On my shuttle? That’s impossible!”

At that moment, Lucy noticed that the crew members were no longer as alert as they had initially been. Sensing that they might have a chance, she tapped Carlos’s arm and said one word: “Run.”

As they both bolted out of the cargo bay, the crew members were caught unawares. Before they could reorganize themselves, Lucy had already jumped out the door with Carlos close behind her.

 

***

 

Back in the cockpit, Captain Daniels turned on his monitor, trying to access the CCTV view of the cargo bay. He was forced to take his eyes off the monitors when he heard the excited chatter outside.

Lifting his head, Captain Daniels saw Lucy and Carlos running with a couple of his crew members chasing them on foot.

“What the hell?” Captain Daniels screamed.

He turned and bolted out of the cockpit, he came across several crew members. “What happened?”

“There were two of them, Captain,” Corporal Bennett reported. “A man and a woman.”

“What about the cargo? Was the cargo contaminated?”

Corporal Bennett shook her head. “Negative, Captain. The cargo is fine. I just did a scan of the entire bay.”

Captain Daniels waved his hand. “Then ask our crew not to chase them.”

“You mean they should stop chasing the stowaways?”

“Yes.”

“But what if they get away?” Frank asked.

“Get away?” Captain Daniels repeated. “Where to? Where can they hide in the Nexus Galaxy? Our immigration protocols with the inhabitants have not yet been fully formalized. As a result, we are not permitted to set foot on their planet indiscriminately without due authorization and I am sure that those stowaways do not know this. They will be caught by the locals soon enough. So ask our crew not to chase them any further.”

Corporal Bennett nodded.

 

***

 

As Lucy and Carlos were running, they suddenly noticed that they could no longer hear any footsteps behind them. Lucy was tempted to turn, she saw the two crew members had stopped chasing them. Rather, they started to run back to the shuttle.

Carlos noticed that Lucy was looking back with interest. He stopped running and went to Lucy’s side. “Do you think they’ve given up on us?”

Lucy shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. Maybe they want to go back to get a form of transporter, something to help them move faster.”

“You think so?”

“What else would it be?”

“Do you think they’ll use the mini-transporters to chase us?” Carlos asked.

“They could, couldn’t they?”

Carlos shrugged. “If they do, then we’re doomed.”

“No, we’re not doomed!” said Lucy. “We just have to figure out where to hide from them.”

“And where do you think you are going to hide?” a voice asked.

Lucy turned. “Who said that?”

“What you are doing here,” the same voice came again.

Carlos and Lucy froze. This time, they had both heard the voice. It was clear and loud and it had come from behind them. Fearing the worst, they slowly turned around.

 

***

 

At that moment, Captain Daniels was supervising the offloading of the cargo from his shuttle. His crew were stacking the drums of water carefully, one on top of the other, when they heard the screams.

Everyone stopped to look at each other. Then they glanced at Captain Daniels. He only nodded and smiled. “The stowaways have been discovered by the locals. Alright, get on with your work already! I’m sure they’ll be here soon to meet us. We don’t want to keep them waiting now, do we?”

As their captain was speaking, some of the crew members had stopped what they were doing to whisper and point. Captain Daniels saw their sudden change in mood and turned to see what the fuss was all about.

Overhead were some strange creatures, flying all around. They seemed to be hovering high above the flower petals, obviously surveying the cargo shuttle and all that was happening down below. Seemingly satisfied at what they had seen, the creatures began to descend one by one.

As they landed, the crew members began to slink back into the shuttle.

But Captain Daniels stepped forward to greet the creatures. “Don’t mind my crew,” he said with a smile. “They are obviously not used to seeing you and your kind, your majesty.”

“I understand, Captain Daniels,” one of the creatures said, as it stepped forward.

The creature was a giant bee. It must have been at least twenty feet in height, because it effortlessly towered high above Captain Daniels. On the head of this particular bee was a golden crown and it was holding a staff made of pure gold. The other bees joined their king by its side.

The king bee nodded when it saw the crew members creeping out of hiding. “They better get used to coming to the Nexus Galaxy. How else do they want to gain sufficient experience in space travel?”

Captain Daniels nodded. “Well, they will learn, soon enough.”

“I see that you brought more water for us.”

“Yes, your majesty we did. My Command Base urgently needed to replenish their stock of energy rations and since this is the only form of exchange that you accept, they decided to send me and the crew to get more from you.”

“You understand why we must insist on water. For us here in the Nexus Galaxy, water is a precious commodity that is very hard to come by.”

“I understand, your majesty,” Captain Daniels said.

“Speaking of things that are hard to come by,” the king waved his hand. Lucy and Carlos were brought forward by two bees. Their hands and legs had been bound tightly. “We came across these two running around on our land.”

Captain Daniels fumed. “They are nothing but stowaways, your majesty. We only discovered their presence after we landed here.”

Captain Daniels looked at them more closely. “You again? Aren’t you those technicians, the ones who have been bothering me about space travel?”

“You know them?” the king bee asked.

“Yes, I do. They are both technicians who have always wanted to travel to space. I believe their names are Carl and Suzy.”

“My name is Lucy,” she spat.

“And I’m Carlos.”

“I see,” Captain Daniels replied. “And what did I tell you both about space travel?”

“Do you think I have the patience to waste years of my life for this?” Lucy retorted.

“Then how do you ever expect to qualify as a space cadet?” Captain Daniels asked.

The king bee raised his hand. “I don’t think there is any need for quarrelling, Captain Daniels. I now understand what is happening.” He turned to Lucy and Carlos. “So you both want to explore outer space?”

Lucy nodded. “Yes we do, your majesty.”

“Then it is decided,” the king bee announced. “You shall stay on our planet and explore outer space.”

 

***

 

A couple of hours later, the cargo shuttle prepared for take-off. As it began to fly out of the fields of flowers, Corporal Bennett nudged Captain Daniels. “Captain, are we going to leave those two there with them?”

Captain Daniels glanced out of the cockpit windscreen. Far below, he could see Lucy and Carlos, still bound, in the midst of the gigantic bees.

“Of course,” Captain Daniels replied. “You don’t expect me to challenge the ruling of the Nexus Galaxy’s King, do you?”

The dream of space travel had ended for Lucy and Carlos, but their outer space exploration adventure had just begun.

 

THE END

Lamees Alhassar