The Garden Gnome

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They toured the house with the real estate agent.
“We love it,” he said. “Is there anything we should know about the house’s past?”
The agent looked down.

“Well…,” he began. He shifted his weight and looked uncomfortable. He scratched the back of his head nervously before he said, “there’s the gnome.”

Mr. Davis frowned. “Excuse me?”

The Garden Gnome outside. The neighbors think it’s possessed.”

Mrs. Davis burst out laughing. “Are you kidding me? The garden gnome is possessed?”

She went outside to the front yard and bent down to examine it. The paint was weathered, and there was a small chip on the hat. “It’s adorable!” She exclaimed. “He just needs a little paint. He’s not possessed, he’s neglected.”

Mr.Davis laughed. He told Mr. Gray that they would take the house. Mrs. Davis bent down and whispered in a low voice, addressing the gnome. “I’ll take care of you if you take care of me, okay?”

She winked at the old gnome and left with her husband.

The couple bought the home and as promised. Mrs Davis gave the gnome a good washing and patched the small chip on the hat. After, she gave the Gnome, who she named Gus, a new paint job — shiny red hat, white beard and fat, rosy cheeks. She found a nice shady spot for him under the Japanese Maple so he would be somewhat protected from the elements. “There! Good as new! You look fabulous, Gus.”

Weeks went by, and every time Mrs. Davis passed by Gus she would always say hi, as if he were a pet. When she tended the Maple tree and the flowers, she would always give him a wash to keep him like new.

One night, when Mr. Davis was away on business, a robber broke into the house. He threatened Mrs. Davis and began smacking her around demanding money. She fell from the violence of his attack. Suddenly, Mrs. Davis heard a loud thud. The robber’s head jerked forward. She heard a hollow sounding thud and then he fell dead at her feet. Laying face down next to the robber was Gus, as if someone had thrown him at the robbers head. Mrs. Davis steadied herself and called police. After she hung up, she stared at the garden gnome laying on the floor, not touching him so as not to get finger prints on him. “Thanks for keeping you end of the bargain,” she said to him.

The next day, Gus the Garden Gnome was in his usual place under the Japanese Maple tree. He seems to have a wider smile on his face as he stood guard of the Davis home.

The First Date

img_6394By Ann Marie R. Harvie

The occasional wave from the lake lapped against the small wooden rowboat Lucien had rented from a man in the small fishing village on Amafrey.  A small, moss-covered mountain range surrounded the lake with its jagged peaks that stretched to meet the white lenticular clouds that smattered the otherwise blue sky.  At the foot of the mountain range, trees covered in red, orange, yellow and green leaves camouflaged the village a half a mile away.  Star and Lucien took in the beautiful scenery as they munched on chicken salad and cheese sandwiches in the middle of the lake.  It was if they had the whole planet all to themselves.

Star took in a deep breath of the crisp, clean air as birds softly chirped in the trees.  The Special Forces Commander felt completely relaxed and was certain that her companion had found paradise.  “This is an amazing place, Lucien,” she said as the continued to admire the natural beauty of the planet.

Lucien smiled.  “Does it remind you of your home world?  When I heard about it, Amafrey sounded very much like what you described to me.”

Star smiled back.  “Yes, it looks very much like where I grew up before the Wardons bombed it.”

Lucien gazed all around him and sighed.  “It must have been amazing.”

“It was.”

Lucien let out a long breath.  “On my world, everything is under domes.  The wars have decimated the landscape.  I don’t know if it will ever recover.  I never saw it as the beautiful planet once described to me.  Now I can imagine that it might have looked like this.”

Star remained silent.  Lucien rarely spoke of his home world.  Like the Pente Force, he and his team mates were presented to Federation Defense as gifts in the hope of defeating the Wardon Empire and bringing peace to the galaxy.  She let out a small sigh.  No one should ever be a gift, she thought.

She tried to gracefully move to his side of the boat and to see the view in his direction.  The boat wobbled, sending her right into him, her face inches from his.  She quickly gathered herself and sat close to the other end of the bench.  Both blushed.  Star looked away for a moment, his sea blue eyes still burned in her memory.   “So sorry.  I didn’t mean to crash into you like that.”

Both teens’ cheeks reddened.  “No, no it’s fine,” Lucien stammered.

Star and Lucien gave out nervous giggles that ended after a moment.  Soon there was an awkward silence.  They had known each other for two years.  The attraction had been there all along, but both were too young to be more than friends.  Now that they were older, Lucien thought maybe they could start to be a little more.  He was from another galaxy and the customs were very different.  He had no idea how to start a bonding relationship with a Terran, or anyone else for that matter.  He tried to break the tension.  “You’re having fun then?  I have to be honest, I’m new to this,” he admitted.

Star’s brown eyes met his.  A happy expression spread across her face.  “Are you kidding?  The place, the food, the company?  You really knocked it out of the…”

Suddenly, a familiar sound played off the soft breeze.  Star didn’t finish her sentence.  Her smile faded.  Alarm began to wash over her face as the noise began to get closer.  Lucien heard it, too.  Both of them searched the skies until a small, black object appeared in the distance. It got larger as it drew closer.  A Wardon fighter headed their way.

Star’s head snapped from the direction of the fighter to Lucien.  “Lunch is over,” she said.

Her voice rang in a commanding tone.  Her happy expression changed back to the seriousness of a Special Forces Commander about to go into battle.  Lucien’s continence also changed back to being a soldier.    He nodded in understanding.  Star spied the blanket that Lucien brought with them in case they got cold.  “There’s not enough time to row back,” she said.

Star unfolded the blanket and the two of them hid under it.  It was close quarters, but the time for that moment had unfortunately passed.  Her head turned to find Lucien with a very concerned expression on his face.  “Did you bring a weapon?” she asked.

Lucien shook his head.  “No.  I didn’t think I was going to need it on a date.”

Star bit her lip.  “I didn’t bring mine either.”

She turned from Lucien and peeked out from under the blanket.  She saw laser fire come from the fighter.  An explosion about two miles inland – the same location as their shuttle to be exact – caused the water to ripple and rock the boat slightly.  There goes the only radio we have, she thought bitterly.

Star quickly ducked back under the covers.  “They just destroyed our shuttle.  We’re not safe here.  The villagers aren’t safe.  We need to get to them before the Wardon does.  Follow me!”

She slipped out from under the blanket, being careful to make sure it looked as if someone was still under it, and slid into the cool water.  Lucien followed.  The two swam underwater away from the boat as fast as they could so as not to be seen from the sky.  The noise of the fighter’s engine was loud now, even under the water.  They were a good distance from the boat when Star heard another explosion.  Soon pieces of burning wood shot into the water like spears all around her.  She could feel Lucien swimming behind her and she worried he would get hit with one of the wood pieces.  After holding their breath for so long, both risked rising to the top of the water to get some air.   Smoke from the explosion covered part of the lake like a blanket.  Star coughed a little from inhaling it.

The noise of the fighter began to soften.  Star rolled on her back and allowed herself to float so she could catch her breath and give the appearance of a body if anyone cared to look.  Although extinguished on impact with the water, she could smell the stench of the burning wood all around her.  Her dress, a tea-length lilac garment that was light and airy when dry, now felt heavy and tangled around her legs making it more difficult to swim.   If she were alone she would have ripped it right off, but since she wasn’t she would have to keep it on.  Lucien followed her lead and floated on his back.  When they couldn’t hear the fighter, they swam as fast as they could to shore.

The fighter was no more than a dark speck by the time they reached the beach.  As soon as they were out of the water, they made for the cover of the trees toward the village.  “They blew up the shuttle.  Why?  It was a civilian shuttle.  And the boat.  I don’t understand,” said Lucien.

“They aren’t after us,” said Star.  If they were hunting us, we would already be dead.”

“Why are they here?” Lucien asked.

“Why are they ever here,” she replied sadly.

Star turned her head towards the beautiful trees and mountains.  Flashes of flames and explosions, the burnt bodies of her parents went through her mind.  Hatred filled her.  Not this time, she thought.  They’re not going to ruin this place. They aren’t going to kill these people.

A soft breeze blew, making the leaves on the trees rustle.  Star shivered, partly because she was cold, partly because of her anger.  She began to walk towards the village.  Lucien quickly followed.  “Wardon is going to invade,” she said.  “That fighter was a scout.  I think the invasion force that we just fought a couple of days ago on the edge of the system is still up there and they found themselves another target.”

Lucien stopped walking.  Star turned to him, confused as to why he stopped.  His eyes widened a little and his face paled.  “What are we going to do?”

Star’s gaze went towards the village.  “We need to warn the villagers,” she said with a great deal of urgency in her voice.

Before Star and Lucien could get far, they heard a loud bell ringing in the distance.  The couple accelerated their pace to the village.  “I guess they heard the explosions,” said Lucien.

######

As Star and Lucien got closer to the village, people were quickly walking here and there with blankets, packages and food in their arms.  Many were filling wagons with supplies while others were hitching horses up to wagons.  When the teens got to the center of the village, people were so busy; they barely paid attention to them.  One mother with two children on her hips approached them.  Her eyes were wide and wild and she seemed breathless.  “Where did you two come from?  Look at you, you’re filthy.   There’s trouble in the skies.  Go and see the elder,” she commanded in a motherly tone as she pointed to a rickety old barn.  “He’ll know what to do with you.  I’d take care of you myself, but I have my hands full.”

The teens rushed to the house attached to the barn and knocked on the door.  A large, white-haired man with a wrinkled face answered the door.  One look at the sopping wet teenagers made him gasp.  He recognized Lucien from when the boy asked to rent his rowboat.  “What in Heavens!  Are you all right?”

Star felt there was no time for long, drawn out explanations.  “Are you the elder? Sir, it looks like the village is evacuating.  How soon can you be gone?  The Wardons are coming.”

The older man nodded his head. He began to leave his house to walk toward the center of the village. He motioned for the teens to follow him.  “I am Micah.   I saw the ship after I heard the explosions.  I wasn’t sure if you were caught up in that or not. Looking at the two of you, I guess this means I won’t be getting my boat back.”

Lucien’s eyes filled with guilt and fell to the floor.  Star didn’t give him a chance to apologize.  “The Wardons blew up our shuttle and your boat.  They’re here to take your planet.”

The elder turned his attention to the other villagers.  He raised his voice so that he could be heard over the bustle.    “We must go to the mountain and take shelter,” he said in an authoritive tone.  “Take only what you can get in your wagon or carry.  There are provisions and lodging already waiting for us.”

A crowd of about 50 men, women and children, who stopped to listen to the elder, resumed their activity and a quicker pace.  Satisfied that the villagers would make haste in evacuating the village, Star began to head back to the forest to formulate a plan.  Suddenly she felt a large hand gently circle her upper arm.  She turned to see that Micah had both she and Lucien.  “No, child.  We’re going this way.”

Star felt Micah try to lead them away, presumably to safety.  She respectfully released his hand from her arm.  “No, Sir.  We’re not going with you.  We’re going to stay and defend the village.”

Micah stared at her incredulously.  “Nonsense!  Did you hit your head somewhere?  You’re coming with us.  What can two children do against the Wardons?”

Suddenly it occurred to Star that the elder had no idea who they were.  To him they looked like a couple of dirty kids.  “Sir, we’re Special Forces soldiers from Federation Defense.  We were here on a little break.  I think we can help you, but we have no weapons and our communications equipment was in the shuttle.  Do you have any long range communications?  We need to send word to Federation Defense that we’re under attack.”

Micah shook his head.  “No.  We are just a small village.  We fish and farm.  We’ve never needed any help from outsiders.  So now you must come.”

Star remained firm.  “No.  We will stay and figure out a way to get help.  Do you have any weapons at all?”

“Not here.  We do have some defense weaponry built into the mountain to help ward off invaders.  It was installed many years ago,” said Micah.

He grabbed Star and Lucien by their hands and tried to force them to come with him.  “Come with me right now,” he said in the same authoritive voice he used with the villagers.  “There is nothing two little ones can do here.  We will protect you.”

Star began to become annoyed.  The Wardons would be back.  Clearly the elder did not believe her.  She wrestled away from him as gently as she could.  Lucien did the same.  “Stop it, please.  We really are Special Forces soldiers.  We are not your children!”

Micah sadly gazed at the two muddy teens.  “You’re somebody’s children.”

Star shook her head.  “We’re nobody’s children.”

Wagons began to pass them filled with children and supplies.  Micah stepped forward and pointed at the wagons.  “You can be our children.  Don’t throw your lives away because you are alone.  We will protect you.”

Star had enough.  They weren’t going to convince him.  She and Lucien turned away and ran back to the forest.   “Hurry, Elder Micah.  You need to get to the mountain.  Don’t come down until we tell you that it is safe.”

Before Micah could argue further, the pair was halfway to the forest.  He feared for them and what the Wardons would do them if they were caught.  The elder had his villagers and their children to worry about.  He couldn’t help them further.  He went to his house, picked up the sack that he packed before the teens arrived at his door and headed for the mountain.

#####

Lucien and Star stood in the middle of the forest, still wet from the attack on their boat.  Leaves and dirt stuck to them.  They appeared more like filthy beggar kids than Special Forces soldiers.  “What’s your plan, Commander?” asked Lucien.

Star began to walk around with her eyes to the ground if she were searching for something.  “We wait for them to come back.  That fighter was a scout.  He’ll be come back, but with how many more I don’t know.”

She stopped her search and turned to Lucien.  “I also don’t know what Wardon has up there for warships.  If this is the same invasion force that we defeated a couple of days ago, there is probably just the one that escaped us.  But there’s no guarantee.  If it is the same Wardon invasion force, they may want to take this planet as a consolation gift for Emperor Tozar after losing Catta.”

Lucien’s head involuntarily went up as Star spoke, as if he were looking for the ship.  When he wasn’t looking, Star took a minute to admire his handsome face.  She allowed herself just a moment to regret that their time together was so rudely interrupted.  Lucien turned his attention back to her when she stopped talking and she looked away as if she was still searching for something.  “The only inhabitants on this planet live in the village.  If the Wardons saw how small it is on their radar, they may just send a small group to take them prisoner before laying claim to the planet.  They won’t want to waste precious resources.  If that’s the case, we can try to take them out using the element of surprise,” she said.

Lucien’s eyebrows rose.  “Okay.  Using what, though?  We have no weapons.”

Star put a hand on her hip.  “We have us.”

Suddenly, the familiar sound of the fighter returned, but now it was accompanied by another, larger engine noise.  Star looked up to find the source, but the tree canopy kept the invasion force hidden just as it kept them from sight.   The commander turned her attention from the trees.  “Time to go.”

Star started towards the sound of the aircraft. Both ships landed in a clearing between the forest and the village on the other side from the beach.  She and Lucien circled around and stayed behind the last tree before the clearing ended.  The pilot of the fighter climbed out of his ship already armed.  The hatch on the transport opened with a hiss.  Soon after, five more Wardon soldiers piled out, all armed with lasers.  They had binders strapped to their belts.    “This is all that’s coming,” concluded Star.

Lucien carefully watched the soldiers line up to move out.  “Still, there are six of them and only two of us.  They have weapons and we don’t.”

Star looked around for forest floor once again and finally found what she was looking for.  She picked up a tree branch.  Lucien followed her lead, finding and picking up a branch of his own.  For a moment, he watched Star hunt around for anything that could be used as a weapon.  Her once lilac dress was now stained brown from mud and was tattered at the ends.  What a disastrous first date this turned out to be, he thought.  She’s never going to want to go back out with me after this.

“Star, I’m sorry about all of this,” he said.  “This must be the worst first date ever.”

Star stopped what she was doing and glanced up at him.  “We can’t think about that now,” she said.  “We have people to save.  It wasn’t your fault anyway.  Wardon always ruins everything.”

The Pente Force Commander looked out toward the village again. The villagers had all escaped to the mountain, much to Star’s relief.  The Wardons were entering homes looking for them.  She noticed that the pilot stayed with his ship and kept looking around.  She assumed it was for stray villagers that may cross his path.  Inspiration struck.  “I’ve got an idea,” she said.  “Stay hidden behind that tree.”

Star put down her branch and began to make some noise as Lucien took to his hiding place.  She walked out a little into the clearing, enough for the pilot to see her.  Star saw the pilot’s startled expression on his face as she pretended to notice him for the first time.  She let in a quick, frightened breath and put her hand to her mouth.  She waited until he advanced towards her before she let out a scared cry and headed back into the woods.  The pilot followed and fired a laser blast into the air.  “Stop!” he commanded in Universal language.

Star took a few more steps to make sure she was in the spot she wanted to be in before she stopped and turned around.  Her eyes were wide with fear and she began to shake as she held up her hands.  The pilot started to advance and stopped when his communicator blasted out an angry voice.  “Why did you leave your post?” the voice demanded in Wardonese.

“Sir, I found a villager,” he replied in his native tongue.  “A dirty girl.  She looks healthy enough for work in the mines or whatever Emperor Tozar wants to do with her.  She’s the only one I’ve seen.  I’ll find out from her where the others are,” he said.

Star stood and listened to the conversation.  She understood Wardonese perfectly.  Yes, come and question the dirty native girl, she thought to herself, trying hard to suppress a smile.

While the pilot had his conversation, Star shot a quick glance at Lucien, who remained behind the tree.  He raised his large branch slightly and raised his eyebrows as if asking her if she wanted him to attack.  Star closed her eyes and opened them signaling for him to wait.  Lucien gave a quick nod and went back into hiding.

The pilot finished his conversation with what must have been the Commander of the Invasion Force and took a tentative step towards Star.  She still wore her terrified expression and had her hands up.  “Where are the other villagers?” he demanded in a thickly-accented Universal.

He waved the gun in her direction and Star gave out a little, frightened cry.  “Oh, Sir!  Please don’t hurt me!  They’ve all gone to worship at the temple on the other side of the island,” she lied.

“Come and show me where this temple is and I won’t kill you!” he barked.

“Yes, Sir!” she said as she started to move toward the pilot.  His attention was focused completely on her as she approached.  Lucien silently came out of hiding and swung the branch with all his might, breaking it on the pilot’s head.  The pilot dropped dead instantly.  Star picked up the unfired weapon and then grabbed one of the pilot’s arms.  Lucien grabbed the other arm and the two quickly dragged the dead pilot behind a large rock.  After they finished, Star brushed her hands on her dress.  “See, I told you we didn’t need a laser,” she said with a quick wink.

“That was an amazing performance,” said Lucien, clearly impressed.  “I wanted to rush in and save you.  You looked really scared.”

Star patted him on the arm as she walked past him.  “Come on,” he said.  “They’ll be wondering where he is.  We don’t have a lot of time.”

Lucien followed Star into the village.  The pair ran from one hiding spot to another until they got to the large prison shuttle.  Star pulled open the access panel and after a quick rewiring, was able to open the hatch.  The two teens entered the ship and after checking to make sure there was no one inside, they found more weapons.  They quickly armed themselves.  Star rushed to the front of the ship and manipulated the radio so that it would broadcast on Federation Defense channels.  Star was quick with her message.  “Federation Base Echo, this is Commander Star of the Pente Force.  I am on planet Amafrey with Lucien of the Hunters.  We are under attack by a small Wardon invasion force.  I don’t know the size of the Wardon warship that’s above us that brought the soldiers.  We need help.  Proceed with caution.”

Soon the voice of Charlie Baker, Commander of the Federation Knights, came over the speaker.  “Acknowledged, Commander.  Help is on the way.”

“Star out,” she said as she quickly ended the transmission and destroyed the radio.

She didn’t have time to reset the channels back and didn’t want Wardon to have access to the Federation transmission.  She glanced out the window and watched pairs of soldiers enter and leave village homes.  She hurried to the back of the ship where Lucien was waiting patiently. “They’ve split up.  We’ll wait until a group of them enters a house and we’ll go behind them and attack,” said Star.

Lucien surveyed his newly acquired weaponry.  A newfound confidence washed over his face.  “Got it.”

“Let’s try to do this as quietly as we can.  If we do this right, we’ll get them all and Federation Defense will only have to worry about the warship up there.”

Lucien gave Star a small smile.  “Yes, ma’am.  Right behind you.”

Star and Lucien left the ship and ran towards a house already searched by the Wardons.  They crouched behind the porch and waited for someone to emerge.  They didn’t have to wait long.  Two soldiers left a neighboring house and entered another.  Star and Lucien got to the house as quickly and cautiously as they could.  They took the Wardons by complete surprise.  They were able to defeat the enemy using martial arts attacks instead of noisy laser blasts.   Star peeked out the front door to see another set of soldiers enter a house not from the path that the villagers took to escape.

As Star watched their close proximity, a knot formed in her stomach.  There was an obvious path to the mountain.  Although the villagers had left a while ago, Star felt the Wardons were too close.  She and Lucien ran inside.  Star was not as cautious as last time.  Her concern over how close the enemy was to the villagers’ hiding place clouded her judgment.  The Wardons heard them coming from behind and a laser fight ensued inside the house.  Lucien and Star ducked behind a couch while the soldiers fired through the kitchen.  The Special Forces soldiers advanced towards the kitchen area and it wasn’t long before they were victorious.  “I’m sorry,” said Star to Lucien after the gun fight.  “I rushed in and made too much noise.  I made it a lot harder for us.  I was thinking about the elder and the villagers.”

Lucien took her by the shoulders and shook his head.  “I was loud, too.  You were amazing.  It all worked out in the end.”

Star looked up into his face and gently pushed his hands away.  “There’s one more,” she said.  “If he heard us, he could be calling for help.”

Before Lucien could respond, they heard Micah’s voice just outside.  A cold chill went through Star.  “Leave his place!” he shouted.  “You are not welcome here!”

Star took off out the door.  Although she couldn’t see who the elder was yelling at, she knew it was the last Wardon.  As she leapt off the porch, she realized that her assumptions were correct. The Wardon was only a few feet from Micah, who held a walking staff menacingly.  The Wardon lifted his weapon and pointed it at the elder.  “No!” Star screamed.

She pointed her own weapon at the soldier.  The Wardon took his weapon off of Micah and trained it on Star.  Both Star and the soldier fired at the same time.  Star missed, but the Wardon’s laser hit her in the shoulder, causing an explosion of pain.   It sent Star reeling and falling to the ground.

Lucien, who came up behind Star, shot the Wardon before he could finish her.  Star stayed on the ground writhing in pain.  She could hear two pairs of footsteps running in her direction.  She rolled on her back and looked up.  Flashes of light began to appear in the sky and soft rumbles like distant thunder followed each flash.  Star knew Charlie and his knights were battling the Wardons.

Soon her view of the battle was blocked by Lucien’s panic-stricken face.  He scooped her up and rushed toward Micah.  The elder tore at the shoulder of Star’s dress so they could get a better look at the wound.  “Come with me quickly,” said Micah as he led Lucien to his house nearby.

Lucien placed Star on the couch and held her hand as Micah quickly got medical supplies.  Star could feel the blood run from her wound down her front and back.  The incredible pain prevented her from speaking.   “It’s going to be okay,” said Lucien.

His sea blue eyes were wide with fear, his breathing rapid with stress.  Micah returned with a basin of water, cloth and bandages.  He pressed on Star’s wound, causing her to cry out.  She squeezed Lucien’s hand as Micah worked on stopping the bleeding.  It was the first time Star had even been shot.  She hadn’t expected it to hurt so much.

Star could hear shouts from familiar voices coming from the village.  Lucien’s Commander, Lia, called for him and Osto called for Star.  Still unable to speak, she pushed Lucien and pointed to the door.  He shook his head and wouldn’t let go of her hand.  “No way am I leaving you,” he protested.  “When they get closer I’ll shout back.”

Micah never looked up from his work.  “Go, boy.  Go get them.  It will only take a moment and the bleeding is nearly stopped.”

Reluctantly, Lucien let go of Star’s hand and ran to get the others.  Micah put something on the wound that numbed the pain.  “The bleeding has stopped now.  That’s incredible – the wound is starting to heal already.  Is the pain better?”

Star nodded.  The medicine was a welcomed relief.  She would be in no hurry to get shot again.  She cleared her throat.  “I think I’ve ruined your couch,” she said weakly.

“You saved me,” said Micah.  “I can live with a little blood on my couch.”

Worry clouded Star’s face.  “The Wardons have their eye on this planet now.  The Federation Chain of Life will help you.  If you petition for membership, they will install a communications center so you can call for help and give you weapons to defend yourself until help can come,” said Star.

Micah shook his head.  “We have lived like this for centuries.  We will be fine,” he said.  “But you and the boy.  This is a dangerous business you are in.  And no one to take care of you.  Come and stay with us.  Our planet is beautiful and we are peaceful people.  You are still children.  Stay with us and I will raise you, love you and care for you all of my days.”

Star was both surprised and flattered by the offer.  Of course she couldn’t accept – no matter what the elder thought, she was no child, but a soldier who had a war to fight.  Star remembered a time before Tozar personally issued the attack that killed her parents and how happy they were.  For a fleeting moment she let herself imagine what it would be like to have a family again.  She gave the elder a sad smile.  “I was born to fight.  I was genetically created for it,” she tried to explain.  “I have to help keep the universe safe from Wardon so beautiful places like this can exist.”

Micah kissed the top of her head.  “Warrior or not, this can still be your home.   You saved my life.  We have a bond now.  I want you to come back.  You will always be welcome here.”

Star continued to smile until she heard the others coming.  Questions in angry tones directed at Lucien were getting louder.  Soon both teams were in the living room.  Osto, the Pente Force’s second in command and Star’s younger brother, glanced at her on the couch and continued questioning Lucien.  “What were you two doing down here?  What happened?”

Lucien took in a deep breath and let it out.  “We came here for a date.  We wanted to spend some time alone and so we decided to come down here.”

Star saw the cold stares of her friends as a reaction to Lucien’s confession.  Osto put a hand on his Ks-99 laser and took a couple of steps towards Lucien.  “You took my commander on a date and almost got her killed?” he said accusingly.

“Stand down,” said Star weakly.  “We were on a date for like an hour before the trouble.”

“You could have been killed,” said Osto angrily.

“Not his fault,” said Star sternly.  “The Wardons were invading.  I called as soon as I could.”

“If you think you had trouble with the Wardons, just wait until you get back.  Mr. Sanderson is furious,” said Lia.

“Then stay,” urged Micah once again.  “No one will be mad at you here.”

Star smiled and shook her head.  “No.  We have to go.  Thank you for everything,” she said signaling her team for assistance.  “Good-bye Elder Micah.  I hope to come back for a less exciting visit.”

Micah bowed.  “Again, you are always welcome.”

With that, Nine scooped up Star and carried her out of the house.  Lucien apologized for the Wardons destroying Micah’s boat and thanked him for the offer to stay as he left with his friends.

**********

Lucien and Star sat in Mr. Sanderson’s office in Beta Control waiting for him to come in.  It had only been a few hours since her injury and although she was healing at an accelerated rate, Star’s arm was in a sling. She didn’t really need it, but she hoped that it would illicit some sympathy from the head of Federation Defense and that they might get a lighter punishment.  Although he was only 10 years older, Richard Sanderson was not only the head of Federation Defense, he was also her guardian.  Lucien eyed Star’s sling and his face washed over with guilt.  “Star, I’m so sorry.  I wanted everything to be perfect.  I don’t know how much more imperfect the whole thing could have been.”

Star gave out a slight laugh.  “Well, not every girl gets to save a world while on a first date.  Take out having a boat blown up from under us and me getting shot, it wasn’t all that bad.”

Lucien looked down at the floor and then back to Star.  “I want there to be more.  Dates, I mean. Not world takeovers,” he stammered.  “I want us to have normal dates.”

Star leaned in close to his face with a serious expression.  “For a couple of amazing hours, we were just two kids, and it was fun to pretend that’s who we are, but we both know that we’re not.  Dodging lasers and killing bad guys is our normal.  That’s all we get.”

Lucien leaned in a little closer.  “Then that’s what we have.  But I want to have it together.”

And then he kissed her.

The kiss startled Star.  She hadn’t expected him to kiss her, not really.  She didn’t know what to do.  They were in so much trouble already…

Before Star could make any response, Mr. Sanderson came in the door and slammed it behind him.  He threw down a folder on his desk in front of them and sat down.  His face was red and he glared at them in a way that Star knew he was too angry at that moment to speak.  She glanced down at the file he slammed on the desk.  It was the report about the failed invasion on Amafrey.

Finally, Mr. Sanderson was able to find his voice, his English accent trembling with rage.  “You’re grounded.  Both of you,” he began.

The two teenagers said nothing.  “You’re grounded because you just took off and didn’t tell anyone where you were.  You’re little field trip cost me a shuttle and a rowboat.  The rowboat owner says he’ll forget about the boat if I let him adopt you.  I’m so mad right now, I’m almost considering giving you to him.”

Mr. Sanderson’s face turned a shade of deep purple.  He rose from his chair and slammed his hands down on the desk, causing the teenagers to jump.  “You had no weapons.  No communications.  You left yourself vulnerable to attack. What were you thinking??”

Lucien cleared his throat.  “It was my fault, Sir.”

“I get that you’re mad, Mr. Sanderson,” said Star with little remorse in her voice.  “But we did stop a Wardon invasion.  It wasn’t like we were looking for trouble.  It just found us. ”

“The fact that you were able to stop the invasion is why I’m only grounding you for a month.  Luck was on your side, Star.  This was a gift.  You were careless and you could have been killed,” said Mr. Sanderson.

The head of Federation Defense eyed the young man sitting next to Star.  “You’re dismissed.  For the next month, you will stay in your quarters except for missions, training and meals.  Am I clear?”

Lucien nodded.  “Yes, Sir,” he said quietly as he got up and left the office.

After the door closed behind Lucien, Star addressed Mr. Sanderson as if she weren’t in trouble.  “We need to protect Amafrey and its villagers.  They are an easy target.  They are good people.  Membership in the Chain of Life or not, they deserve to be protected.”

Mr. Sanderson nodded in agreement.  He sat back in his chair and regarded Star.  “I know what the two of you were doing down there.  I’m only going to say this once — I don’t care that you command a Special Forces team and that you are the best soldier Federation Defense has.  I am your guardian.  You are only 14 years old.  You are too young to have a boyfriend.  There will be no arguments.  The rules that apply to Lucien regarding this punishment apply to you.  Dismissed.”

“Yes, Sir,” she said as she got up and left.

Lucien waited for Star around the corner from Mr. Sanderson’s office.  He touched her arm as she started to go past.  She hugged him tight and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.  “Totally worth it,” she whispered in his ear before she left.

 

End.

Temple of the Raven Sisterhod

IMG_6645.JPGBy Ann Marie R. Harvie

Neptune stepped out of the boat and onto the rocky shore.  She looked up and marveled at the floating islands above her.  The guide smiled at Neptune.  Her gorgeous ebony complexion contrasted beautifully with her white temple dress.  Neptune smiled back and the guide turned and placed her staff into a crevice in a rock near the water.

Soon Neptune heard a creaking sound.  She glanced up and saw a wooden staircase begin to emerge from the mist.  After a moment, it’s decent ended at their feet.  The guide silently began to climb the stairs and Neptune followed.  She breathed in the cool, misty air scented by the surrounding mountain range and felt a peace and contentment that hadn’t been present in years.

The women continued to silently ascend the staircase.  Neptune could hear the sound of the waves lapping onto the shore grow fainter the higher they went.  She licked her lips and could taste the salt on her lips and feel the mountain mist dampen her face.  What a stark contrast to the choking smoke-laden battlefield she had left only 12 hours earlier.  The only smells in the air then were of burnt flesh and freshly splattered blood.

The Temple of the Raven Sisterhood lay situated on the larger of the two floating islands.  A long stairway of cobblestone led up to the large but simple temple.  On either side of the stairway were levels of greenery where Raven Sisters tended various types of vegetation.  As Neptune walked up the stairs, the sisters briefly stopped their work to gaze at the stranger, only to resume their gardening after she passed.  The scent of mint on one side and basil on the other wafted through the air as Neptune approached the temple entrance.

Neptune’s guide went no further and silently motioned her to enter the temple.  Neptune turned to look at the other small island that connected to the Temple Island with small foot bridges.  Simple huts stacked on pillars that covered the island.  Neptune smiled as she heard children’s laughter coming from the huts.

Glancing out over the mountain peaks, Neptune now knew that the battle between the Federation Chain of Life and the Wardon Empire to save the work was worth it.  She stepped into the temple and walked across its stone floor.  Images of ravens in various sequential scenes of battle and serenity decorated the otherwise plain slate walls.  She stopped at the bottom of another stone staircase and glanced up.

A woman with ebony skin dressed in white and gold robes sat in a high-backed chair sat at the top of the stairs.  Neptune took the long, thin parcel she had been carrying on her back to the front and unwrapped it.  When the woman saw the golden staff with the raven on the top, she let in a quick breath.  She made her way down the stairs to meet Neptune, who bowed and reverently offered the staff to the woman.

When the woman laid her hands on the staff, great black wings emerged from her back.  A high priestess ruled over the land once again.  Neptune straightened. Sadness washed over her face.  “I’m sorry the other high priestess was killed on her way to petition for membership with the Federation Chain of Life.  We fought long and hard to get the Staff of Power back to where it belongs.  I hope now that you are ruler you too will consider membership.  I hope this proves that we are on your side.”

The high priestess’ wings expanded and contracted.  “You are a worthy ally.  What will your reward be for returning this to me?”

Neptune shook her head.  “No reward necessary.  Coming here even for just a short while is enough.”

With another deep bow, Neptune silently left the temple.

End

 

One Last Secret

img_6647By Ann Marie R. Harvie

Nine stood silently at the open casket and stared at his friend’s body.  He examined the face of the corpse that was heavily made up with mortician’s wax and coloring to make it look alive.  Nine let out a short huff – it never worked.  When your soul leaves, you’re just an empty shell.

He stared at Arion hard, still not believing that the lifeless form before him was once his adventure-loving friend.  A voice in his head asked, “How could this happen?  He was one of the best.”

Nine let out an angry breath and answered his own question out loud.  “War happened.”

Arion’s body was dressed in a black Special Forces dress uniform signifying Federation Defense Forces, the same Nine wore.  His lifeless, white-gloved hands clutched a Federation Chain of Life flag, as was tradition when burying a soldier killed in action.

Just a week before,  Arion’s team was called out on a mission to evacuate scientists off of a planet that had been invaded by the Wardon Empire.  All of the scientists made it out, but three of the five soldiers that made up Omega Force didn’t make it.  The other two were seriously injured in the battle.

After a Special Forces soldier dies, they are never left alone – that’s the code of the Special Forces teams.  A teammate or family member stays with them until they go to Warrior’s Hill for burial.  Arion’s only family was his team, and two of them joined him in the hereafter.  The other two teammates were in the hospital.  Nine volunteered  to stand guard.

Even with the truth lying before him, Nine secretly hoped that his friend would get up.  His common sense knew it wouldn’t happen, but still he wished it.  He never wished for anything so badly in his young life.  He knew he and Arion would never speak again.  No more battle tales and adventures.  No more fighting side by side.  No more anything.

Finally, nearing the end of his lonely vigil in the funeral chamber, Nine spoke to his friend.  “I’m so sorry.  I don’t know what to say.  There are so many things going through my mind right now.  I don’t want to believe it, but here you are.”

Nine stared at his friend, not really expecting an answer.  His face turned red and distorted into an angry expression.  “I’m so pissed right now I can’t even tell you!  I just want to hit something!”  he said through gritted teeth.

He was careful not to make too much noise so that others would not come in to see what was wrong.  This was his time with Arion.  No one else was allowed.  His white-gloved hands balled up into fists.  He lifted them up and slammed them back down to his sides.  “I hate this.  I really hate this, Man!  Not you.  I never thought they could get you.”

Nine’s heart raced from the emotions flooding through him.  He paced from one end of the coffin to the other.  His breath quickened and he paced in an effort to relieve his uncontrollable frustration.

After a few minutes, he stepped back to his position by his friend’s head. Tears welled up in Nine’s brown eyes.  “I’m going to miss you so much, Arion.  I’m going to miss going to Sully’s with you and talking about our missions.  Bragging about how we outsmarted Tozar and his idiot army.”

Tears rolled down his cheeks.  “I guess you couldn’t outsmart them this time.”

As Nine wiped away the tears from his face, he became angry at the smell of the bouquets of flowers that filled the room.  “Man, it’s a good thing you can’t smell all these stupid flowers.  You’d gag.  It smells like a funeral.”

Nine let out a short laugh.  “Well, I guess it is.  But you’d hate it trust me.  It’s suffocating.”

More tears welled up in his eyes.  “I can’t believe it’s over.  I mean, this is it.  I’ll miss your advice, Arion.  I’m sorry I’m making this about me, but I’m really going to miss you.  What I wouldn’t give to hear you laugh at me just one last time.”

Nine once again wiped away tears from his reddening eyes and turned his head sadly towards the door.  “They’ll be coming for you soon and then we won’t even have this.  I mean, this sucks, but soon there won’t be anything.”

Nine turned back to his friend and lowered his head.  “You successfully completed your mission, you know.  All those scientists are all okay.”

Nine cleared his throat.  “Sammi and Frankie didn’t make it, but you probably already know that.  Neptune is standing with Sammi.  Neptune always liked her.  Star is standing with your commander.  She’ll take good care of him until it’s time to go.”

Nine pulled on his dress jacket to straighten it and adjusted his hat.  He swiped at his eyes once more and held his head up.  “I have to look presentable when they come for you.  We can’t let them know we’ve been carrying on in here.  All of this right here, this will be our one last secret.  Never show your emotions, right?  Always look brave.”

Nine reached into the coffin and squeezed Arion’s cold, hard arm.  “And you were brave, Man.  They said you gave it your all.  You were the best of the best and I’m so honored that we were friends.  I love you, Man.  You’re a hero and I’m proud of you.”

Just then there was a knock at the door.  Nine gave no response.  He straightened his posture and put his hands behind his back as the door opened.  Two morticians, General James Hunter, General Matthew Stewart and the head of Federation Defense, Mr. Richard Sanderson entered the room.  “Major, it’s time,” said General Stewart.

Nine could feel Mr. Sanderson’s eyes on him, but he did not look back.  He nodded, gazed at his friend’s soulless face one last time and stepped back to allow the morticians to close the coffin.

Nine felt a lump in his throat when he heard the slight creak of the lid and the small click when it locked into place.  He watched stone-faced as the two generals draped another flag on top of the coffin as Mr. Sanderson looked on.  Nine  took his place at the back of the coffin and walked with his friend one last time into the ceremonial chamber.

End