Balastor slammed a tiny metal cup on the gritty counter.
“One more,” he grunted at the bartender. The robot’s wheels and gears whizzed and whirled as it rolled over to the tap.
“Don’t—you—think—you’ve—had—enough—sir?” It put its animatronic claws on its leg sockets, tilted its head, and focused the shutters around its emotionless eyes.
He groaned. He hated being reprimanded by programmed machines.
“How about you pour, and I don’t junk you for parts,” he muttered and tapped the table next to his cup. “Fill.”
The robot sloshed down his drink in front of him. Balastor caught his own reflection in the scratched mirror behind the shelves of liquor. A scar from his scalp to his chin etched through his glowing prosthetic eye. His good eye, dim in comparison, was blue and bloodshot.
“What’r we drinkin’ to, Balastor?” A slap on his shoulder took his attention away from his tattered image. It was Johnston, his trusted crew chief who essentially held Balastor’s entire mining operation together, and the only being in the universe he might call friend.
“Mmm. I’m just not cut out to parent a teenage girl.”
“Aye.” Johnston raised his glass, and they shot back their drinks.
Blastor lifted his hand to knock on Lyria’s bedroom door, but paused. Music and her singing blared through the house. It had been ages since she was happy—ages since those rogue Lycos on one-man drifters left him, his wife, and child for dead on their holiday to the North Mons.
He dug his fingernails into his palm.
A dozen of those bastards boxed in the family’s vintage Hoover Wagon and forced the vehicle into the side of a mountain. He pulled Lyria out of the flaming wreckage, but Elise’s legs were pinned between the dash and the floor. Lyria yanked on his arm. He barely escaped the force of the blast. It was then he realized he and his family would never be safe from Dragoon’s wrathful vindication. He only wished he had been wiser before they executed Elise.
After that he purchased Selene, a moon in the Serepens Galaxy, and started a mining business there. He put his last few cents into cloaking the satellite, and the only way to find it is with precise coordinates. Most of his crew are bots, but the few living beings there have been sworn to secrecy of its location.
His wife’s picture bore into him, but he couldn’t face her.
He whispered, “The girl’s gonna get herself killed if she keeps sneaking out to see some alien boy she met on the Universal Net.” He exhaled. “I can’t protect her,” he growled, then knocked.
“Yeah?” She turned her music down. He poked his head in her room.
“We’re, uh, leaving in an hour. Did you pack everything?”
Her eyes lit up and she smiled. “I only need a couple more things. Oh, dad. I’m so excited. Other than my trip to Efron, I haven’t been off this moon since…” She crossed her arms and fidgeted from one foot to the other.
“Yeah, I know.” He cleared his throat. “Tell me when you’re done, and I’ll get your bag.” He avoided her gaze and closed the door.
He felt his wife’s stare again and exhaled.
Lyria sat in the navigator seat with her e-hollo flipped open. A hand-sized Zane talked back to her.
“I can’t wait to show you everything—the barracks, mess, weapons, the hospital. That’s where I get to continue my training! They just told me. I’m gonna be a doctor!”
Lyria grinned. “I’m so proud of you. I’ll see you soon.”
“I love you.”
“Ehem.” Her dad interrupted.
Lyria shut the e-hollo. Her cheeks flushed pink.
“Uh,” he choked. “Since we’re, uh, flying cloaked, we’ll need to stop at Ymir to fill the tank.”
Lyria scrunched her eyebrows. “But dad that’s…” She punched in some coordinates on the ship’s navicom. A dank planet popped on the screen. “It is. Ymir’s in the wrong galaxy. Wouldn’t we be better off to fuel up on—”
“Efron?” Balastor snarled. He resisted the urge to rebuke her again. “There’s a wormhole not far from Ymir. It’ll take us almost right to Cygnus.”
Lyria slipped her earpods on her ears and cranked her music. She was starting to wonder if Zane was a good enough reason to be stuck on a craft with her father for two days.
Spshhhhh. The thrusters kicked on. Clunk. Nerrrrrrr. The landing gear door opened and the wheels descended. Drool coated Lyria’s jowl. She wiped it with her sleeve and rubbed her eyes. Outside of the ship was a bustling desert city. People, aliens and droids entered and exited tall stone buildings and bartered in an open air market.
Lyria perked up. “This isn’t Ymir?” She had never been before, but she knew it was just a small dark pit-stop.
Balastor’s gut sank into a black hole. But he gritted his teeth. He couldn’t shield her from Dragoon if she insisted on running away from their moon. It had to be this way.
“We’re not on Ymir.” He stood to grab her bags.
The terror in her voice flashed the wreck into his brain…
He fell to his knees and screamed when the Wagon exploded. The shard stabbed his eye and launched him backward. Lyria looked down at him and sobbed. Her face blackened.
“Dad? Where are we?” She clenched her fist and her chest heaved.
He braced himself.
“HOW!” she shrieked. The walls spun around her. “No. Please,” she softly pleaded.
“I CAN’T KEEP YOU SAFE!” He roared and grabbed her by the shoulders. “I can’t.” He stumbled into his captain’s seat. “I… Dragoon,” he sighed. “The accident was my fault. I st—”
A fiery comet thundered through the ship. An incinerating a gash carved through the center. The two were hurled apart.
End of Part 2