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Chapter 4

-Zyan Brenth – 11 – Landing Compound

Zyan yawned sleepily as he made his way across the quiet Landing Compound towards the Control Tower. The glow of the morning sun was just beginning to peek over the Brenth Mountains to the east, signaling that the day was getting ready to begin. Zyan glanced up towards the sky and saw three stars that seemed to be moving towards each other.

‘Those weren’t there, yesterday,’ the boy thought as he studied the strange acting stars. The Landing Council had decided to begin having twenty-four hour radio watches now that the arrival date for the remainder of the colony was getting closer. Zyan had stayed out of the council meetings lately, learning that he could make more credits working in the Control Tower than he was working for his father. Though, he did still do work for the Colony Leader whenever the man asked him for assistance.

The boy fumbled in his pocket for the keys to the Control Tower before unlocking the door and grabbing the envelopes that had been delivered overnight. The boy studied the different flight plan requests as he climbed the winding staircase that led to the top of the tower. The circular shaped room was lined with windows and had tables lining the walls, stacked with computers and communication equipment. Zyan flipped on the lights to the room before he went around and began powering up the different systems. He had just powered on the last terminal and was taking his seat when Zyan noticed a yellow flashing light on the console in front of him. The boy only hesitated a moment before he flipped the switch and brought the radio terminal to life.

“Stargazer-1 to Landing Control,” a voice called out over the static filled airwaves. “Come in, Landing Control!”

Zyan took a deep breath as he grabbed the microphone and responded to the signal.

“Stargazer-1, this is Landing Control!”

“It’s good to hear your voice, Landing Control,” the voice on the other end of the speaker called out. “We’ve been reaching out for the past hour.”

“Apologies, Stargazer,” Zyan replied. “We are just beginning our day down here. The sun is scheduled to rise in one hour, we will begin with the landing procedures, then.”

Then, Zyan switched the channel and waited until another voice came out of the speaker in front of him.


“Dad?” Zyan asked. “They’re here!”

“I’ll be right there, son,” Zachary replied before the line went dead.

Zyan pulled up the manual on his tablet with the instructions for when the remainder of the colony arrived. Then, he spent the next few minutes making phone calls to all of the head officials. By the time that Zachary arrived at the Control Tower, the majority of the Landing Compound was already preparing for the first Drop to arrive. Zyan continued to spread the word while Zachary took over communicating with the orbiting space ships. Zyan was more than happy to relinquish control of the entire operation when the regular dispatchers began to arrive and went to find Christian.

-Zachary Brenth – 47 – Landing Compound

“Make sure that all safety checks are being conducted before each Drop,” Zachary stated with a serious expression on his face. “We’re not going to be able to form a solid colony if we wind up missing supplies or people due to an accident. Current records show that seventy-percent of all accidents at failed colonies happened within the first year, and that these accidents were due to massive casualties and loss of supplies during the initial settling process. We can avoid becoming one of those statistics by simply doing our safety checks. If you notice any type of irregularity, report it immediately! We need to get the situation resolved, and then double check the other shuttles for the same fault. Don’t take any chances!”

Then, the commander pulled out his data-pad and started going down the checklist.

“We’re going to be experiencing our usual daily rain storm around midday. It will come in from the northwest before passing over our settlement, and moving inland towards the Brenth Mountains.” The man couldn’t stop the smile from spreading across his face. Just one more method for the colony to remember his family and everything they accomplished for the colony. “The storm usually lasts between one and two hours before we’ll be able to fly again. We can use that time to swap shifts, rotate through breaks, restock orientation supplies, and anything else that we have trouble getting done during active landing cycles.”

Brenth paused as he studied the people gathered around the long table. Several of his council members were taking their own notes on their datapads, while a couple seemed to be paying as little attention as possible. The man made a quick mental note of the three counselors before he moved onto his next topic.

“Now,” he pointed towards the three monitors on the wall. One of them was turned off as the commander of the Exodus was currently aboard the first drop of the morning that was in route. “Admiral Fritz is scheduled to land the Stargazer in the Ambassador Bay tomorrow morning. I assume the process will run about the same as it was when I brought the Ambassador down from orbit. The Exodus and the Explorer will remain in orbit throughout the entirety of the unloading process. When we’re finished, the Explorer will be stationed on the opposite side of the planet from where the core of the Ambassador is positioned. The Stargazer will be positioned on a solar orbit, while Captain Jameson returns back to ACE territory with the Exodus. Captain Gray will be in charge of landing operations on the eastern seaboard with Major Palmer overseeing operations here on the west coast. Are there any questions about the Drop Schedule?”

Brenth hesitated before he changed the subject.

“There’s been rumors going around that the new arrivals are not going to be going through the same training sessions that the remainder of us went through,” the man stated. “They are completely true. Mister Corvan has come up with an improved syllabus that I believe will work better with what we are trying to achieve. If you have any questions or suggestions for the new syllabus, please see Kyle as soon as possible.”

Brenth smiled at the members of the Landing Council before he ended the morning meeting.

“Be safe today, everyone,” he told them in parting as they filed from the conference room. “If we just stick with the schedule, everything will run smoothly.”

“Famous last words,” someone laughed from the back of the group. Zachary just laughed along with the other council members and shook his head.

“Could I have a moment of your time, Commander Brenth?” Zachary glanced up to see that Admiral Fritz was still on the video monitor. The man was pale and looked tired from his years awake during the journey to Soltan.

“Of course, Admiral Fritz,” Brenth smiled politely. He made small talk until the remainder of the council members were gone. “Now that we’re alone, what can I help you with?”

“I believe Darren Adler and Alexander Cummings are going to be a problem, Commander,” the man frowned uncomfortably. He hated delivering bad news. “My team has been deciphering their transmissions, and they have mostly been revolving around a central plot to overthrow the Brenth Regime.”

“Oh?” Brenth asked with an arched eyebrow. He had known that Adler stood against him, but he didn’t know that Senator Cummings felt the same way.

“They keep throwing around the terms Brotherhood and the Purifiers,” Fritz reported.

“Thank you, Oscar,” Brenth managed to thank the man through a forced smile, hiding the fact that his heart was racing in his chest. ‘The Purifiers? Here?’

“I hope you can use this information to your advantage, Zachary,” the man on the monitor said in a serious tone. “I’ve grown rather fond of you and your family, and I don’t take too kindly to people bad mouthing my friends.”

“I’ll make certain that the appropriate individuals get this information,” Zachary acknowledged with a thankful nod. “You’ve done my family a service, Oscar. I’ll make sure that this isn’t forgotten.”

“I know you won’t, Commander,” Admiral Fritz responded. “I will see you in the morning.”

The screen went blank and Brenth leaned back in his seat with a loud sigh.

“Holy shit,” he muttered in disbelief. “How did I get stuck with members of the Purifiers?”

-Cole Brenth – 17 – Landing Compound

The teenager barely smiled as he worked through the influx of cargo being distributed from the bay of the former colony ship. The newly arriving colonists were to be given supplies to help them make it through their first week on the surface before joining a work group. Cole wasn’t upset about the additional work, though. He was still reeling over the nightmare that had woken him in the early hours of the morning. Three ships were hovering in orbit when one of them tragically exploded into countless pieces. It was even more unnerving when his dream switched to an interior view of the ship and he saw people running for their lives as fire engulfed their surroundings. It was as the fires narrowly missed hitting a woman and a little boy that were diving into an escape pod when Cole finally woke up. He was drenched in sweat and went to visit the showers instead of trying for sleep anymore. Then, Cole went to begin his shift early, not knowing how busy his day would truly become. A roar of shuttle engines shook Cole from his thoughts, and he focused on what he was doing, hoping to keep the memory of the nightmare from coming back.

Cole scanned the tag on the grav-cart, linking it to the badge of the courier that was delivering it to the incoming colonist family. Supplies were being dispersed between the new arrivals to make sure that everyone was well prepared for the days to come. Once the ships were empty, three of them were going to be broken down and used around the colony, while the Exodus was set to return back to Earth for its next voyage to the beyond. Captain Jameson, the owner of the Exodus, had been adamant from the beginning that the journey wasn’t going to be a one way trip for him. He preferred to soar amongst the stars than be stuck on a planet for the remainder of his days. Cole secretly admired the man, jealous of the freedom that the man had in his life. Always in control of his own destiny.

Cole double checked the contents of the next grav-cart before he scanned the tag and put it in the staging area. The young man could already hear the roar of the approaching shuttles that were preparing to land at the compound, a small grin spreading across his lips as he thought about the looks of awe that would be on the faces of the new colonists. Cole felt a wave of nostalgia as he thought about the moment the doors had opened on his own shuttle the first time. The wave of fresh air that had filled the cabin of the shuttle was enough to make the teenager dizzy as he breathed in deeply of the different scents.

“This is the last of the basic supplies, Cole,” one of the couriers was stating as he pushed a grav-cart in front of where Cole was standing.

“I’ll work on getting some more set up for the next drop, Mister Willis,” Cole replied, happy for the interruption to bring him back to the task at hand. “The crews have been working since we got word the others had arrived. My mother was busy leading the effort, of course.”

The blond-haired man laughed along with Cole before handing over his badge to be scanned. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

“There’s always work to be done,” Cole repeated the saying that had slowly become the colony’s new motto. “Is your brother still leading the security detail?”

“That he is,” the young man responded with a chuckle. “He’s let it go to his head, if you ask me. He’s been practicing with a wooden sword the past few months. He said it had something to do with a dream he had.”

“Oh?” Cole asked with a raised brow. “What do you mean, Mark?”

The young man shrugged indifferently. “Who knows with Luke? Anyway, I need to get back to work,” Mark said with a motion towards the barcode scanner in Cole’s hand.

“Oh, right,” the teen replied, getting the hint that Mark needed to be on his way, and Cole wasn’t going to be able to pry anymore information from the younger Willis brother. “Tell Luke that I said “Hi!”.”

Cole scanned the badge and the tag on the grav-cart before sending the courier on his way. They wouldn’t get anything accomplished if they just stood around talking about the work that needed to be done. Cole was about to get to work loading more grav-carts when the eerie sound of the compound’s emergency siren began to wail through the air. The young man ran to the cargo bay entrance and glanced around the compound to see if there was another fire. When he saw everybody else looking up and pointing, Cole naturally glanced upwards towards the western skies in time to see a massive orangish-white fireball ripping through space.

“Holy shit,” the young man muttered to himself. “My dream is coming true.”

“What’s all of the commotion, honey?” Cole’s mother asked when she joined him at the opening to the cargo bay.

Cole could only bring himself to point upwards, making Jessica gasp in surprise when she saw the remnants of the fireball spreading out across the sky.

“Finish this Drop, then meet me in the Command Tent,” Jessica stated before she started to walk down the ramp – shouting orders as she went. “Make sure you lock everything up, Cole!”

“I’ve got this, mom,” Cole called after her. “Don’t worry. . .”

-Kyle – 17 – Landing Compound

The roar of shuttle engines continuously filled the air as the morning Drop schedule got into full swing. Kyle recruited three other people to assist him in giving the different orientation classes just so he could handle the massive influx. Zachary was, as always, more than willing to accommodate and managed to find a few scientists that were happy to help. One of those assistants happened to be Christian, and the young man was certain that Zyan would be along shortly. Kyle couldn’t help but smile when he saw the messy mop of black hair that belonged to his brother’s best friend.

“Oy! Zyan!” Kyle called the eleven-year-old over. Zyan was glancing around the tent as he approached Kyle. “Looking for something to do?”

“I’m actually supposed to be heading to the Reception Zone here in a minute,” Zyan explained. “If I am able to break free from over there at some point, I’ll be more than happy to lend you a helping hand, Kyle.” Zyan glanced around again with a frown.

“Looking for Christian?”

“Yeah,” Zyan nodded. “I wanted to know if he wants to meet up for lunch at the Dining hall? Would you be willing to relay the message for me, Kyle?”

“Absolutely, Zyan,” Kyle smiled.

“Thanks, Kyle,” Zyan grinned. “I’ll see you later.”

Kyle watched as Zyan left the tent before he returned to his task of getting his next orientation class ready. Kyle was nearly ready with the final paperwork when he heard a siren begin to echo across the compound. The young man winced and covered his ears as the eerie tone resounded through the air. Then, a voice followed the alert tone a few seconds later.

“Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! All Emergency Response Team personnel report to Landing Pad-3! This is not a drill!”

Kyle frowned and ran to the doorway of the tent. Outside, everybody was looking up and pointing at something high in the skies above. Kyle glanced upwards to see what appeared to be a white ring of light that was shooting out in every direction, high above the surface of the planet. The young man felt his stomach drop as the emergency tone began to echo across the compound, again. Then, Kyle’s thoughts immediately drifted to Kira and the fact that the young medic had gone up that morning to assist with the reawakening of passengers aboard the Exodus.

‘I hope it wasn’t that ship,’ Kyle thought hopefully, not knowing just how wrong he was.

-Eryk – 8 – Exodus

The boy felt groggy as he slowly woke up from hyper-sleep. He could hear the pod he was inside depressurizing as his senses began to come back to him. His vision was blurry as he tried to focus on the clear lid of the pod and whatever was outside of it. The interior of the pod had a scent of clean linen to it that made Eryk feel happy and relaxed, leaving the boy wondering if the scent was there to help keep the colonists relaxed as they woke back up. Eryk could have sworn he saw a yellow light flashing from somewhere in the room his pod was in, but the boy just assumed that it was a warning light signaling that everyone was waking up. The boy jumped when a face of a young woman with fierce green eyes suddenly appeared on the other side of the glass. The woman appeared to be nervous about something as she kept glancing over her shoulder at the other activity in the bay. Finally, the pod’s door opened with a loud click that made Eryk wince. The boy couldn’t help but to frown as the medic began pulling the pod door open with her fingers.

“Come on!” He heard her grunting as another sound nearly drowned her out. It was the sound of the emergency siren that was echoing through the ship and it filled the tiny boy with dread. He felt his heart drop into his stomach as the young woman continued to yank and pull on the door until it was open far enough for her to reach inside. Eryk was beginning to shake when the medic squeezed into the pod and began disconnecting the different life support monitors. “Give me just a second and I’ll get you out of here.”

Eryk refused to watch the girl work as she yanked several needles from his arms before moving onto disconnecting his heart monitors.

“What’s going on?” Eryk managed to ask between dry lips.

“The Exodus is getting ready to blow up!” The woman replied with more fear than she had intended. “I need you to get off of this ship as soon as possible.”

Eryk could only nod meekly as he tried to keep himself from freaking out. The boy couldn’t stop his feet from trying to run the second that the medic finished unhooking the different needles and monitors.  His knees buckled almost instantly, and the young woman was quick to pull the eight-year-old into her arms.

“Let’s get out of here,” she commented. Without waiting for a response, the medic ran towards the evacuation pods, hoping there was still enough for everyone to get off of the ship. Yellow lights continued to flash on each deck as the medic slipped through the crowds of people that were running for their own escape pods. The woman saw an empty one just as she turned down the corridor that had them inside. “There’s one!”

The medic slipped into the evacuation pod and slammed the palm of her hand against a red button that jerked the pod into motion. The door of the pod slid shut with a mechanical clicking noise before the entire thing jerked backwards.

“Are we going to make it out?” Eryk asked in a shaky voice.

“I believe so,” the woman replied just before she felt the pod slam into something behind them. There were several mechanical clicks as the duo felt the entire ship beginning to tremble. The woman quickly pulled the boy’s face into her chest as the floor of the pod seemed to fall out from beneath the duo. Eryk couldn’t help but to let out a small yelp at the sudden sensation of falling. Through the plexiglass panel, the medic watched as the tube slid past before they were suddenly in space. Then, the woman’s vision was filled with the glow of an explosion that sent the escape pod reeling.

Eryk screamed in terror as the medic held on tightly to her new charge. The pod shook violently as the shockwave from the Exodus explosion hit the vessel, and sent it careening towards the planet below.

“Deep breaths, Eryk!” The medic tried to stay calm, knowing that these pods were meant to take this type of abuse. Her only worry was that the parachutes wouldn’t open in time due to the different atmospheric pressures between Soltan and Earth. “We’re going to be okay.”

“I hope so, ma’am,” the tiny boy whimpered in fear.

“It’s Kira, little one,” the medic said.

“Huh?” Eryk asked in confusion.

“My name,” the woman forced a smile as the boy. “It’s Kira. I’m one of the Chief Medic’s assistants.”

“Oh,” Eryk acknowledged slowly. “I’m Eryk. Did my mom and dad make it off the ship?”

“I’m not sure, Eryk,” Kira answered honestly. “We’re going to have to figure out what happened when we finally land.”

“I hope they’re still alive,” the boy mumbled sadly. “I don’t want to be an orphan.”

Kira held back a slight cry at the boy’s words, resolving to help him in any way that she could.

-Zyan Brenth – 11 – Landing Compound

Zyan stared at the fireball in disbelief, the wail of the siren continuing to fill the stunned silence that had befallen the compound with its eerie tone. The boy couldn’t take his eyes off of the glow, knowing that one of the colony ships had just exploded into a blaze of destruction, killing everyone that had been aboard the ship.

‘Those poor souls,’ the boy thought miserably. Then, he turned to the receptionist that he had been assisting for the morning. “Becca?”

“Yeah, Zyan?” The brown-haired woman asked without glancing at the boy.

“I need to go to my father. He’s going to need my help today.”

“Go ahead, Zyan,” Becca responded with a nod, her eyes never leaving the glow of destruction. “I’ll make sure your badge is reassigned, so nobody is looking for you.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Zyan stated before he turned and ran for the command tent. The boy could barely stop the tears from falling down his cheeks as he thought about all of the lives that had just been lost in one brief moment. Zyan pushed his way through the crowd of onlookers, desperately trying to not look back up at the devastation that was raining down far above the Western Sea.

People were shouting all around him as he ran, filling the air with a cacophony of mixed noises that made Zyan’s ears ring. The shouts were mixed with cries of disbelief and sadness as the colonists came to grips with what happened, and the news spread like wildfire ahead of the running boy. His feet pounded against the ground as he dodged onlookers and equipment, the Landing Compound coming to a complete stand still. Zyan couldn’t stop, though. The Command Tent was just ahead of him, and he needed to get to Commander Brenth’s side.

Zachary was in the middle of barking out orders as those around him scurried off to the tasks that the commander wanted done. The noise inside the tent was even louder than outside, and Zyan instinctively covered his ears against the assault. Zach was quick to notice the presence of his son and shoved a data-pad into the boy’s hands.

“The rescue teams are being scrambled now, Zyan,” Brenth told his son. “The counselors are all on route and should be here within the hour. Have them all meet in the conference room. Have Kyle establish comms with the other ships and instruct them to adjust their orbit to avoid the debris fields. Inform Admiral Fritz that he is to remain aboard the Stargazer until it lands tomorrow morning. We don’t need to take any unnecessary chances.”

Zyan was typing on the data-pad as fast as his father was talking, making sure that he got everything that was being said.

“Only rescue teams have air clearance until further notice,” Zachary continued. “Nobody is permitted to leave Landing until we have completed our accountability checks. I don’t want to be searching for missing people that aren’t really missing. Field the questions from the Group Leaders until after the meeting, son. The counselors are going to be busy, but there will be more information put out to everyone in about three hours.”

“Yes, sir,” Zyan nodded, adding the last comments to the data-pad. “Is there anything else, sir?”

“Not right now,” Zachary stated thoughtfully. “Stay on your toes, though. The situation is very fluid at the moment.”

“I will, dad,” the boy quickly agreed. Brenth ruffled his son’s hair before he went back to barking different orders throughout the Command Tent. Zyan just grinned thoughtfully before deciding to delegate some of his duties. He didn’t see the point in staying next to his father when someone else could tell the counselors where to meet. Noticing a security guard standing outside the doorway, Zyan instructed him to tell the counselors where to meet, while he went to deliver his message to Kyle.

-Riley Combs – 23 – Landing Compound

The alert continued to play across the compound for several minutes before Riley finally silenced it. The young man watched in horror as the light dissipated across the sky, the remnants of the Exodus after its rapid disassembly.

‘So many lives were lost,’ Riley thought in disbelief.

Lisa Knox, the Chief Pilot, was overseeing the Emergency Shutdown Procedure, making certain that every shuttle was being returned to Landing. They were going to need everyone for the search and rescue effort that was getting ready to begin. The only shuttle that had clearance to be flown out of Landing, was the one being piloted by Captain Jameson. Jameson had ran to the shuttle the moment the distress call from the Exodus was heard, and was just lifting off from the runway, when the ship exploded in orbit above. Riley had heard the man swear over the radio as his pride and joy became nothing more than a statistic.

“All approach routes are limited to north and east of Landing,” Lisa Knox was speaking into the comm-unit, her patience in the situation was surprising to the young man as he watched her take control. “All shuttles will line up fifty kilometers east of Landing for final approach. You will land, and immediately taxi to the emergency stations at the sides of the runway. There will be no permissions given for take-offs until otherwise stated by the Command Team. If you are inbound from the west, please circle north around the Landing Compound until you reach the Line of Approach. Stay alert for potential falling debris and also be ready to map out rescue signals from any of the escape pods that may have made it away from the Exodus!” Lisa paused for a moment as she double checked her data pad to make sure she had covered everything. “All flights have thirty minutes to be wheels down! Any questions regarding the incident aboard the Exodus will be diverted until we have more information! Only emergency calls will be handled from this point forward. Thank you and stay safe!”

With that, Lisa pushed away from the console and rubbed her hands against her forehead for a moment. “I knew everything was running too smoothly,” the woman commented with a light chuckle. “I hope that we didn’t lose too many people.”

“Same here,” Riley agreed. The man studied the radar image, watching as the different air-skis and shuttles headed towards Landing. “As long as everyone follows your instructions, we should have a quiet morning.”

“How often does that happen, though?” Lisa countered.

“You’ve got me there,” Riley laughed. “Let’s just hope for the best.”

The monitor in front of Riley made a beeping noise, and the man frowned. “We’ve got a stray,” the man stated as he watched the tiny dot moving northeast away from Landing. “How do you want me to proceed, Captain?”

Lisa’s fingers were already flying across her keyboard as she pulled up the digital call-sign for the air-ski. The woman laughed for a moment before she picked up her comm-unit. She dialed a short number and held the receiver to her ear.

“Sir, it’s Knox,” she began in a quiet voice. “Adler’s taking an air-ski.” The woman paused as she seemed to be listening to somebody on the other end. “Yes, sir. Of course.”

Lisa ended the call with a slight grin on her face.

“What does Commander Brenth want us to do?” Riley asked curiously.

“Watch and observe, Lieutenant Combs,” Lisa advised. “The Commander wants to know Darren Adler’s every move. I’ll make a program that tracks his air-ski’s movements.”

“He has no place to hide,” Riley grinned.

“As long as he isn’t smart enough to find the tracker,” Lisa countered before she changed the subject. “How’s the lumber business treating you, Mister Combs?”

“Better than expected, actually,” Riley grinned, his green eyes were sparkling with excitement. “I’ve even taken on a few assistants to help me get some orders completed. I’ve even got a small field being cleared so I can plant a grove of pine trees. It’s going to help repopulate what we cut down, while also giving me a supply of wood for the future. Once that field is planted, I’m having another field sown with maple saplings and maybe some oak.”

Lisa couldn’t help but smile at the man’s excitement.

“How would you feel about going into business with each other?” She asked with her own smile.

“How so?” Riley countered. “I’m always willing to talk business, Lady Knox.”

“I need a reliable supplier of wagons and spare parts,” Lisa began. “I’m going to assume that you need someone to help you in delivering your lumber, woodcrafting goods, and other things around the country?”

“Unless, the customer wants to pick it up,” Riley shrugged. “Are we going to give each other a discount on goods and services? You wouldn’t bring it up unless you had an amount already settled on in your head.”

“You know me too well, Riley,” Lisa smiled as she settled back into her chair. “The gypsies are going to be far reaching, especially my caravan. Our route is from the farthest hold in the north, all the way down to South Port in Desmond. The plan is to stop in every major city along the route, as well as every holding that is along the path. We will winter in the future capital of the kingdom, and spend the remainder of the time on the road. I’d like to transport your goods for twenty-percent of the selling price, while also buying spare parts from you with a fifteen-percent discount.”

“Let me think about it for a few days, Lisa,” Riley replied. “It’s a decent offer, but I need to go over my books to be certain that it’s fair for both of us.”

“That’s completely understandable,” Lisa acknowledged. “Make sure you give it plenty of thought, Riley. There’s enough time, for now.”

Another beeping noise drew Lisa’s attention back to the console, leaving Riley alone with his thoughts. The young man thought about how fast he had been able to build up his lumber mill with the help from other colonists. He hadn’t planned on doing any woodcrafting, but Commander Brenth had pressed it upon him the moment the man had saw some of Riley’s work. Riley had initially refused until Brenth happened to present Riley with a decent offer. Now, Riley’s schedule was being filled with orders from the other colonists.

“We need to get the Apprentice Program put in place,” Riley commented. “It’s the only way we’re going to make it into the future that Commander Brenth has visioned for us.”

“It’s a nice vision,” Lisa smiled.

“That it is,” Riley agreed. “That it is.”

“Riley, are you there?” The voice coming across the comm-unit belonged to that of Commander Brenth and Riley stared at the hand mic in confusion before he answered.

“Go ahead, Commander,” Riley acknowledged.

“Pilot Combs, I need you to take a shuttle up to see if there are any alternate routes to get to the Explorer and the Ambassador,” Brenth instructed. “I also need you to assist in plotting a course for the Stargazer to be brought down to the surface.”

“When do I leave?” Riley asked with a grin forming on his face.

“As soon as possible, Pilot Combs,” Brenth responded. “Make sure you take a co-pilot, too. We need as much data about the debris field as you can gather.”

“I will get a co-pilot and leave at once, sir,” the shuttle pilot confirmed. Then, he put the hand mic back in its cradle before turning his attention to Lisa. “Who’s free to be my co-pilot?”

-Zachary Brenth – 47 – Landing Compound

“The Explorer and the Ambassador have remained free of any damage, but we have moved them further out than the debris field, to mitigate any potential threats during landings,” the captain of the Explorer was saying as the other council members listened on. “So far, all of the data that we’ve collected are showing a spike in the fuel mixture within the engine sector of the Exodus that could have caused the engines to overheat and explode. The Overflow Transfer Signal didn’t activate appropriately.”

“What about the escape pods?” Zachary interrupted as he glanced around the room. “How many people were able to make it off of the ship?”

“So far, Commander, out of the eighty-three beacons, only forty-two have been recovered,” Riley Combs supplied. The blond-haired man looked worn out from his time in the tower over-seeing the search and rescue operation. “Everyone from the Exodus that was planet-side at the time of the explosion have been accounted for, as well as fifty-seven people from the pods that have been recovered.”

“Chief Frost, how is the medical team handling the influx of patients?” Zachary asked the obese man sitting at the end of the table. Frost’s face was red with the heat wave that had settled over the Landing Compound, and he had to take several breaths while he answered Commander Brenth’s question.

“We’re a little overwhelmed, Commander, but my team is managing,” the medical examiner informed the group. “The triage teams have been working diligently to get patients stabilized so the surgeons can focus on the more severe cases. There have been seven head injuries from the escape pods, but the majority of the patients have broken bones, or superficial lacerations. Once the remainder of the pods have been recovered, I believe that we should have everyone treated by the end of tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Chief Frost,” Zachary confirmed with a brief nod in the man’s direction. “Make sure that your team knows that we appreciate everything that they have been doing for our colony. I want a list of every soul that was lost during the explosion of the Exodus and every colonist that has been recovered. Do we have an estimate on the casualty count, yet?”

“Nearly, three-thousand colonists were lost, sir,” Josh Grey, the Captain of the Explorer informed the council in a dark tone. “Captain Jameson is still assessing the damages from orbit.”

“Shit,” the commander acknowledged in a grim tone. “Once we are finished with the search and rescue phase, we’ll move on to salvaging as much from the wreckage as we can. Tonight, we’ll have a bonfire where we will observe several minutes of silence for those that have been lost. We’ll also make a formal statement to report our findings of the incident. When we make that announcement, we’ll print up a copy of the report for everyone to read through, if they wish. This should help to stave off most of the rumors that have been springing up about the explosion. Tomorrow, morale is going to be low, but we still need to get the remainder of the passengers off of the Explorer and the Stargazer. We’ll need essential personnel to still report for duty, while non-essential personnel will have the option to remain off for one day, or return to their duties. The Stargazer will land in the Ambassador Bay approximately two hours after sunrise. Judging by the weather reports, Captain Fritz shouldn’t have any issues with the journey.”

“That’s nice to know,” Oscar stated with a light chuckle. “I’d hate to try to land in the middle of a blizzard.”

“It’s the damned debris field that I’m worried about,” Captain Grey muttered.

“Same for the shuttle pilots,” Lisa Knox added.

“Understood,” Zachary acknowledged while Kyle made a note on his clipboard. “Let’s send up a recon pilot to scout out a new path to the Explorer. The safer we are, the better.”

“I’m certain Pilot Combs would be more than happy to volunteer,” Lisa added. Zachary just nodded.

“Is there anything else we need to discuss before we go our separate ways for the afternoon?” The commander asked before dismissing everyone to their duties. Then, Zachary went to leave a message for Thorn. He needed the man to do some digging into Captain Jameson’s history. Adler could wait – for now.

-Kira – 18 – Western Continent

Eryk screamed once as Kira set his broken leg before promptly fainting. The young woman winced at the sound of the boy’s pain but maintained her duty to the patient. She made quick work of splinting the boy’s leg with pieces of broken tree limbs and wire from the escape pod’s parachutes. She studied her handiwork for a moment and then limped back to the pod to see if there were any emergency supplies aboard the ship. Though the woman was exhausted and soar from the crash landing, Kira knew there was still work to be done. Eryk relied on her now for his own well-being. She had already made the mental decision to adopt the boy if it turned out that his parents were still aboard the Exodus when it exploded.

‘We’re lucky to be alive,’ the woman thought reluctantly, knowing that the duo still had to be rescued by the search teams. ‘If the battery for our beacon holds out long enough to be found. . .’

She refused to think about what would happen if she had to raise Eryk on a foreign continent by herself. It was a task that she wasn’t completely willing to do, yet anyway. Eryk moaned in discomfort and the medic glanced over to see that the boy was shifting in his sleep. Kira checked the time to see that Eryk had been unconscious for nearly twenty minutes before he started stirring again.

“Don’t move too much, Eryk,” Kira warned the boy as he slowly came to. “There’s only an air-cast on your leg right now. I won’t be able to do anything permanent until we get back to Landing.”

“Where are we, ma’am?” The small boy asked.

She didn’t want to frighten him, but Kira didn’t want to lie to the boy, either.

“I think we’re on the Western Continent, Eryk,” she told him much to the boy’s surprise. “I’ve heard a few shuttles nearby, so we should be rescued soon.”

“At least we didn’t land in the water,” the boy chirped groggily. “I’d hate to be wet right now.”

“Me too,” she said before helping Eryk sip some water from her canteen. “Drink it slowly. We need to make it last.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Despite the humid temperature, Eryk was shivering where he lay propped up against a thick tree. Kira grabbed the boy a blanket and spread it over him.

“What’s this for?”

“You look cold, Eryk,” Kira told the boy. “I think you’re suffering from shock. Are you feeling dizzy or light-headed?”

“I’m a little dizzy and my stomach hurts, ma’am,” the boy admitted quietly.

Kira nodded thoughtfully. The duo glanced upward as a shuttle approached and stopped overhead in a hover pattern. Kira ran out from the tree and began waving ecstatically.

“Remain where you are while we find a safe landing spot nearby,” a voice from the shuttle echoed from a loudspeaker.

Kira ran back to where Eryk was waiting anxiously.

“Did you hear that, Eryk?” Kira asked the boy as she grasped his hands happily. “We’re being rescued!”

“I can’t wait to be out of this forest,” Eryk agreed readily. “My first day on Soltan and I’m already in need of being rescued.” Eryk frowned as a fleeting thought seemed to pass through his mind. “I wish my family was here, though.”

“I know, Eryk,” Kira consoled the child, pulling him into her arms to hold him until the rescue team arrived. “You can stay with me for as long as you want.”

“Thanks, Kira,” Eryk whimpered as he finally let go of his emotions.

Kira just continued to hold the grieving boy as he wept uncontrollably. If his first day on the planet was like this, what would the remainder of his life be like?