Stargazer: Episode 1: Under Cold Blue Stars
Everyone’s heard of the Shattered Mirror Universe now. When they hear the name, they imagine evil, moustache-twirling counterparts of themselves and everyone they’ve ever known. They think of tyrants out to enslave them all.
But all that’s a thing of the past.
According to the calendar, the year was 101K.362. Nobody understood what that meant, but that didn’t stop them using it. Only the priests had a clue, and they weren't the kind to share their knowledge.
When they were children, all Skrall heard the legends. Legends of their ancient homeworld, of their struggles, of their empire. Legends of the invaders from another world who ruined it all.
To someone who lives in a little village, light years away from anyone, it all sounds like a bit of a joke.
Sal’e stormed out of a hut, seething with anger at the world and everything in it. She hated it here and everyone knew it.
Like all the Skrall of the village, Sal'e had been brought up on the stories of their ancestors. She'd heard all about the old empire, and of the dark lord who came one day from another place, took over their world, drove it into the ground, and abandoned it. They told her about the refugees who left the dying world, travelling across the stars, looking for a new home.
Most people thought it was all a bunch of fairy tales, but not Sal'e. She wanted to travel, just like her heroes.
Of course, everyone thought she was weird. Didn't they have everything they needed here? Leaving home was dangerous, didn't she know? It was so much easier to just stay here and be a farmer.
It was nighttime. Sal'e lay down on the wet grass, and looked up at the sky. She liked being here, and dreaming of distant places. She soon fell fast asleep, in the light of the cold blue stars.
A being was sitting in front of a computer console. It was humanoid, maybe six or even seven feet tall, and covered in light blue armour. It was looking at an image of a grid, full of little dots. Some were red, and some were yellow. The being hovered the cursor over the yellow points, and read out the data the monitor displayed when he did so.
Another being approached it. It too was covered in light blue armour, but it had orange stripes on its shoulders, indicating superiority.
The one sitting in front of the computer hovered his mouse over one particular point, and said some words in a harsh alien tongue. His superior nodded, then turned around and barked some orders.
It was just another day in the Skrall village. The inhabitants were just going about their business, when they heard a noise from above. They crowded out onto the streets to look for its source. None of them expected to see what was there: a bulky, black cruiser hovering over them. They stared at it, immobile, dumbfounded.
Sal'e was stirred from her sleep by the sound of the cruiser's engines. Her jaw immediately dropped upon seeing it. Could it be? Someone had come from another world? Maybe they were traders or something, she imagined.
Whoever it was, at the very least they'd have stories to tell, and maybe, with a bit of luck, she could come with them or stow away.....
She got up, and ran back to the village.
Six rings came down from the underbelly of the alien ship. The people moved aside to make room for them. The first one stopped a foot off the ground. The other ones stopped above it, each one about three inches above the previous one. There was a flash of light inside the rings, and then they flew back up to the ship, leaving half a dozen armoured aliens in their wake.
The villagers looked at the aliens in amazement. One Skrall, an elderly gentleman in priests' robes, approached them.
"Welcome to our village. I am Erion, the head priest. What are your names?"
One of the aliens snarled. He drew a weapon, and fired. Erion collapsed. His last emotion was one of shock.
The other Skrall tried to run away, but the aliens opened fire on them.
Sal'e had reached the village. The first thing she noticed was the body of a woman on the ground. She instinctively dropped to the ground and checked the woman's pulse. "She's still alive", Sal'e noted with relief.
It was the aliens! It had to be! "But why would anyone want to attack us?", she wondered.
She never saw the alien behind her.
She woke up lying on the floor of an unfamiliar place, looking up at a pure white ceiling. She sat up, and inspected her new surroundings.
Sal'e was in a completely white room. There were no windows, and no immediately evident door, just the one colour. She blinked as the unbroken white made her eyes hurt a little.
The other Skrall were there, gathered in little groups, chattering amongst themselves. Sal'e got up and went over to the nearest group.
"What's going on here?" she asked them. "Does anyone know who these aliens are? What are they going to do to us?"
A middle-aged woman in priests' robes spoke up. "We don't know. We haven't seen them since they knocked us out back at the village, and they didn't say anything even then."
Sal'e sighed. She wanted to go to the stars all her life, but this wasn't how she pictured it.
Suddenly, a wall split in half, and the two segments slid aside. Five armoured beings walked in. The assembled Skrall began shouting at them. "Who are you?" "What are you doing with us?" The beings ignored them. They simply stood in front of the Skrall. One screamed at them in a thick accent, making her alien origins even more obvious.
"All priests will step forward!"
The Skrall murmured amongst themselves. The priests reluctantly walked towards their captors.
They were all shot down before they got within ten feet.
"You are now our property, to do with as we wish. The penalty for insubordination is death."
With that, the aliens marched out, leaving the Skrall alone again.
The cruiser flew through space. It passed countless suns, planets and nebulae in its travels, before finally reaching an unremarkable barren globe. It may once have held life of some kind, but the cruel hand of fate did something about that a long time ago.
Were there anyone outside to observe, they would have seen their view of the ship blur, change colour, and finally vanish in a purple flash. As for those onboard, they felt only a little turbulence.
The ship was still floating near the same desert world. Nothing had changed. Or had it?
The cruiser landed. Armed humanoids very much unlike any of those onboard awaited it. A man in fancy red uniform stood in front of the hatch.
Said hatch opened, and two armoured beings came out. "You're late." the man in red uniform said. "We were expecting this shipment a week ago. Do you have any idea how angry Stregobor got?"
The beings' leader snarled. She fired back in heavily-accented broken English. "Finding good slaves take time. We bring extra-large shipment. Lots of Skrall."
"Skrall?" The man's ears pricked up. "Show me."
The armoured woman turned and gestured to her subordinate. He walked to the other end of the ship and pulled a lever. A segment of the ship's hull lifted up, revealing the waiting Skrall.
Sunlight filled the sterile cargo hold. Sal'e blinked several times as she tried to adjust to the light.
The man in red stepped back, looked at the Skrall, and nodded. "Very nice", he said. His troops burst into the hold and began leading the Skrall outside. Nobody tried to resist.
From atop a dune, a man watched the exchange through binoculars. He was tall, with tanned skin and a tattoo covering the entire right-hand side of his face. It was a memento of his homeworld, one of the handful that had openly defied Klak and paid for it. Several armed individuals stood behind him.
One of them, a man who could easily have come from London on Earth, if it weren't for his green skin, squatted down next to him, and asked: "How much longer, mate?"
"Not until they've got the prisoners out in the open. If we fire now, they'll lock 'em in, run off, and rendez-vous somewhere else, where we won't catch them. Get it?"
"Yeah, that makes sense, Prush.....apart from the fact that we might hit the prisoners once they're outside, and Liz could shoot them down if they run."
"Probably killing the prisoners in the process, even if Liz actually decides to shoot. You know how she is about collateral damage, Ezzie."
"Don't call me that. My name's Ezracellion."
"Which is long as hell, hence the nickname."
"I.....I just don't like it, okay?"
They could've argued like this for ages, but they were interrupted by a long beep coming from the radio. Once it stopped, a slightly electronic-sounding female voice followed. "Shut. Up."
"You can have this fight for the 56th time once the mission is over. Also, I wanted to point out that the slaves seem to be all out now. Liz out."
There was a click, another long beep, and then static.
"Well, you heard the woman. Move!", Prush said. He grabbed a plasma rifle off the rock next to him, and stood up. A Toa of Stone moved next to him and Ezzie, carrying a missile launcher. Everyone covered their ears, knowing what would come next.
A loud noise rang out as the Toa fired the missile. It struck near the alien woman and the man in red, sending him and one of his men flying.
As he spun through the air like a ragdoll, red energy appeared around his hands and feet, and he landed on his feet, grinning.
As for the woman, she just stood there, apparently unaffected.
The rebels on the dune charged. They slid down the dune and ran at the assembled troops, all guns blazing. Confused, the men tried to run and hide or stood still and were gunned down. The Skrall, seeing a chance, immediately dispersed.
Sal'e got confused. What was going on here? Were they being rescued? Or did someone want to kidnap them again? Her train of thought was derailed by someone shouting "STOP!" at her.
She turned around. One of the soldiers was chasing her. "Probably trying to round us up", she thought.
In a split second, she decided her course of action. She dropped to the ground, as if she had just tripped. The soldier stopped in front of her. He pointed a gun at her, and said: "Get up."
Sal'e jumped onto her feet, spun around, and propelled her foot into the soldier's belly. The man doubled over in pain, and collapsed. Sal'e quickly grabbed his gun off the ground, and ran off. She decided to help the new arrivals. Whoever they are, she figured, they didn't like the bastards that took her village, so they were friends of hers.
The only problem was, she had never fired a gun before. "I'll just have to learn quickly", she thought.
Meanwhile, Prush and Ezzie were pinned behind a rock. The man in red was firing energy blasts from his hands at them.
The Toa with the rocket launcher, along with two other rebels, went after the alien woman.
The two rebels had been quickly disposed of. Only the Toa remained.
Sal'e saw her captor fight a strange being. She carefully aimed her rifle at the woman, and fired, hitting her shoulder. The recoil made Sal'e fall over.
The alien turned around and growled. She saw a Skrall, one of her livestock, lying down on the ground, trying to recover from the shock. She pointed her weapon at the defiant slave, only for massive stone fingers to lock around her abdomen. The Toa grinned as he manipulated the stone hand to lift his enemy as high up as possible.
Sal'e couldn't believe her eyes. She had heard tales of beings who could control the elements, but she never thought much of it. And there, right in front of her, the person she'd tried so ineptly to help was now saving her by reshaping stone with his focused will.
The fingers finally released, letting the alien drop. She got to her feet, but before she could do anything else, the hand became a fist, and slammed into her with devastating force. Her armour was dented and cracked all over, and her weapon was now useless.
This battle no longer had any utility, she decided. She signalled her subordinate, and they forced their way back to their ship.
The man in red continued grinning as he walked over to his enemies. Their continuous fire didn't seem to faze him. Prush and Ezzie had no more choice. They crawled away from the rock, then got up and ran. Energy blasts flew all around them, and then suddenly stopped.
The man stood dumbfounded as he watched his allies' ship leave. "That female dog!", he thought. She was abandoning him! Damn her!
Ezzie took aim at the man as he screamed at the sky. He hit him right in the chest, knocking him down, and letting his blood gush out.
He and Prush ran over to him. "It's over, Lantern.", Prush said, pointing his rifle at him.
"You wouldn't shoot an injured prisoner, would you now?" the Lantern said.
Prush looked at Ezzie, then replied: "No."
"Good." The Lantern smiled. "Now I know how soft you are." He slapped a button on his wrist, and instantly vanished.
"Dammit!" Ezzie shouted. "Hey, we still beat 'em." Prush put this arm on Ezzie's shoulder.
"Remove the arm." "Okay."
Sal'e got up. She approached the Toa, and asked him: "Who are you?"
"I'm Toa Praxter. I'm with the Resistance."
"Resistance? Resistance against who?" she asked, confused, "Well, I presume it's the guys who kidnapped us. But who were they?"
Praxter was taken aback. This girl obviously had no idea who Klak was. That meant these Skrall had to be from another universe.
"That's my name.", she said with a smile.
"Alright. Listen, Sal'e. This isn't your world. You're in another universe."
Realization dawned on Sal'e. All the legends she heard suddenly came rushing back.
"Shattered Mirror." she said.
Praxter recognized the term. "Excuse me?"
"That's what this is. They took us through the Shattered Mirror somehow. I heard the stories. Your world's people come to ours, take whatever they want, and go back!"
"Woah, woah, woah! Slow down! Let me explain!"
"What's there to explain? You people are exactly like in the stories I heard!"
"We're not all like that. In fact, most of us aren't. Sadly, there's a bad man around." Praxter couldn't help smiling at that turn of phrase. Sal'e just glared at him.
"A man called Klak took over. He used to be a great hero, but he turned to the dark side. He rules the universe now, and we're the resistance against him."
Sal'e's raged melted away as she burst out laughing. "What, just you lot? Against the ruler of the whole universe?"
"Not the whole resistance, obviously. There are lots of other cells. And we saved all of you, didn't we? Anyway, we caught wind that the governor of this sector was buying slaves from someone. We managed to figure out where the next exchange was gonna take place, and here we are."
"Thanks for the rescue. So, you have no idea who actually kidnapped us?"
"Nope. We were hoping to find out, but that woman wasn't very talkative."
"I noticed." Sal'e smiled. "So, can you send us back?"
"The Resistance captured a ship with the ability to travel between universe a while back. I'm sure we'll be allowed to use it."
"Cool. So, is this what you guys do? Fly around space, saving people from the big bad Clock?"
"Klak. And, basically, yeah."
Sal'e thought for a moment, then decided. "I want to join you." Praxter spluttered.
"I said, I want -"
"I know what you said! But why? This isn't your world, this isn't your fight!"
"Praxter, those bastards tried to enslave me. They shot people I've known all my life right in front of me just to make a point. And I don't have a clue who they are. Now, as far as I can tell, the best way to find the answer to that question is to join you. Also," she smiled for the umpteenth time, "I always wanted to see other worlds. Again, I can't think of a better way to do that. Is there a problem?"
"It's not all fun and games! We fight, sometimes to the death!"
"You think I don't realize that? I want to join your band, Praxter. I am not going back home."
Praxter sighed. "I'll discuss it with the others. In the meantime, go tell your people where they are and that we'll send them back home."
"Fine." Sal'e walked off towards a crowd of Skrall. Praxter watched her as she did so, and muttered under his breath.
He went off to find Prush and Ezzie.
The alien woman walked through the gates of a magnificent mansion. Another being awaited her in front of a fountain. He was clad in a hood and robes that covered his entire body.
"Why do you bother with the cloak?" she asked. "I know who you are, and there's no one else around."
"I find I rather like the look. So, Arante, how goes our little business venture?"
"The last delivery was a disaster."
"Stregobor must be pretty pissed."
"Don't worry about Stregobor, I know how to handle him. Just carry on as normal."
"Just carry on as normal.", Arante repeated. If it weren't for the money, she'd have gutted this man long ago.
TO BE CONTINUED.....