Santora ignored them. He was looking around the room for something more interesting. He found it upon seeing the Senator.
“Senator Michaels, so good to see you again”, the General said with utter sarcasm.
“General Santora” Michaels responded. “What’s going on here? When I agreed to align with you, it was for your help and support of me as Premier of Minas Terra and the alliance we’d forge together.”
Michaels waved his hand towards the murdered commanders. “How is killing these men or threatening me and these children to accomplish any of that? I would just as much rather stay submitted to our commitments with Daria if this is where we’re going?”
Santora raised his hand and brought the back of it hard across the Senator’s face.
“Do not address me as if I’m your equal, you stupid man. I’m not interested in your rule as Premier or of any future alliance. I needed access to your world and your willingness to open that door for me, has secured my authority to be here. Daria’s rule is obsolete.”
Senator Michaels stood to his feet, having fallen when struck. “General, I will not help you any longer. I was deceived and you’ll get nothing from me.”
Without hesitation, Santora pulled his EPW from its holster and pointed it in the Senator’s face.
“I’m not afraid to die General. I won’t help you anymore”, Michaels spoke defiantly.
“I expected such”, smirked Santora. “But what you didn’t count on, was I have no intention of killing you. No, I have better plans.”
Turning his gun towards the cadets, Santora fired. The boy closest was now dead. Senator Michaels staggered backwards in shock.
“You will do exactly as you’re told Senator, or every one of these children is going to die. Their blood is on your head.”
He turned his gun to the next one and fired. Michaels screamed.
“How many more Senator”, Santora asked?
Again, he fired on the next one.
“Stop this!” yelled Michaels. He was now sobbing. “I’ll help you, I’ll help you.”
Santora had a smile on his face. “You want to know something funny Senator. You should have listened to Daria. They warned you about me and told you not to trust me.” He laughed. “You should have listened while you had the chance.”
The General got into Michaels’ face. “Many worlds were warned by Daria about me. And what could Daria do besides talk? I conquered all of them; just like I’ll do to your world. And where will Daria be? Issuing their warnings and doing nothing, just like they did nothing before.”
“They run like scared rabbits. But I’ll hunt them down. I’ll kill them, just like I killed their Prince.”
“Well the last I checked, their Prince was very much alive!” Michaels responded.
Santora went into a furry. Grabbing the Senator by the throat, he picked him up off the floor with raging ease and tossed him onto the empty chairs.
“They brought him back to life you fool. I did kill him. That’s why they run, because I’ll kill him again. But this time, they will not bring him back.” Santora was seething with anger. Zee could feel the evil growing stronger.
“Enough of this,” Santora screamed. Grabbing Michaels by the collar of his shirt, He pulled him towards the portal door. “I have something to show you Senator. I know you’ll do exactly as I say.”
In an instant Michaels was gone, through the doorway projected on the wall, Santora throwing him to the other side.
It all made sense to him now; his dreams, the artwork, the blue light. The photo or artwork somehow created a path between worlds. He didn’t understand how it worked; only that it did.
“I have to get through that door somehow!” Zee was frantic. He was so close to finding his dad. “Maybe I should just run through right now.”
Brimley’s words shouted at him, “Walk it out patiently. Look for the next step.”
He calmed himself down and thought practically. ”Brimley’s right. I don’t even know if what’s on the other side is the same place as my dad. I could end up further away than now. Besides, I’ll be killed before I can even get to that wall.”
Santora turned to the others. “Set charges and put this ship on a crash course. Then get back to Edok. We have much work to do now that we have the Senator.” He disappeared into the portal mist.
Zee was pretending he was unconscious. For the moment, he didn’t know what else to do.
“Next step, next step; what’s my next step?” He wondered.
Santora’s men were setting charges in place as Cadet Edwards started to stir. He was coming out of hyper sleep a little early by Zee’s estimate and moments later, was fully awake and asking questions.
“What’s going on? Are we in the slingshot? Awe man, I have such a headache.” He saw the men up front and started to undo his harness and stand.
With brutal force, Edwards was forced back into his seat by one of the attackers who now stood over him. The cadet was confused and starting to be angry.
“What are you doing?” Edwards yelled.
He was met with a hard hand slap across the face. “Shut up”, was the order.
Pushing Edwards deep into his seat, the soldier reached for the dagger in his boot and brought it up to the cadet’s throat. “You’re all going to die”, he smirked.
Zee saw his chance. Reaching for the attacker’s holstered weapon, he easily lifted it out. Quickly turning it on the man pinning down Edwards, he fired point blank into the soldier’s abdomen.
Zee pushed the dead man off of himself and Edwards and then began working at undoing the harness restraining him in his own seat.
“Hey, we’re going to blow the ship.” Dominic yelled. “There’s no need to shoot everyone. Get up here and let’s finish setting these charges.”
He never looked up as he spoke, a costly mistake. Barely finishing his sentence, Zee sent two rounds, one into his head and the other into his chest.
“Two down, one to go” Zee thought. The pilot was next. He climbed over Edwards who sat in his seat in shock. Moving past the portal, he stopped a moment to look closer at the devices and their configuration.
For a brief moment he was tempted to go through. “No” he thought. “I can’t let all these people die. Step by step. I know how you work and you’ll still be here when I land this ship.”
As he turned from the portal to continue to the cockpit, he was hit hard in the face. The pilot having put navigation on auto, was coming back to help the others. He was without a weapon, otherwise Zee would be dead.
Picking up the gun which had dropped to the floor, he now stood over Zee ready to shoot. He was distracted by a blood curdling scream and couldn’t lift his weapon fast enough as Cadet Edwards tackled him with his shoulder, driving him backwards into the portal. Edwards fell through as well and both of them disappeared. Zee stood to his feet and stared into the misty door.
Tremendous turbulence now began to rock the ship. Zee suspected they were exiting the current. He jumped into the nearest seat and strapped in.
It didn’t take long for depressurization. He was up and moving towards the cockpit. They were on a crash course with a nearby planet. Already having hit the atmosphere, fire was forming around the ship from the friction of entry. Zee could feel the cabin getting hotter.
He took his place in the pilot’s seat. This ship was bigger than any he’d flown before, but the general controls were mostly familiar. He was desperately trying to slow down the vessel and reduce the heat.
Grabbing the comm., Zee was frantically transmitting, “May Day! May Day! Can anyone hear me? This is Academy Shuttle 322, from Minas Terra. We’ve been attacked and are rapidly losing control. Come in! Can anyone hear me?”
Without warning, an explosion from somewhere underneath, rocked the ship. Instantly, navigation and cabin controls were gone. It was too late to pilot her in.
Zee stumbled back to the portal door. Standing there, he pondered what to do next. It was now take his chances on the other side, or die when the ship burned up or hit the planets surface.
“Looks like we won’t get that rematch Brimley”, Zee said out loud. “The Picture!” he screamed.
He remembered the picture Brimley had given him of the game room and dart board. Pulling it from his pocket, he thrust it into the beam of light. Holding it there for only seconds, the image lit up as if on fire. Zee let go. He could tell the portal changed and could see the faint image of the family room on the cabin wall.
He was now running through the ship, unharnessing as many people as he could, dragging them to the portal and pushing them through. Zee was frantic, as there were many to get too and not much time.
Making his way to yet another, he was having a hard time with the harness. It wouldn’t come undone. Just then, he felt a hand on his shoulder. Zee was relieved to see Brimley.
“Brimley”, Zee screamed, “Help me get him un-jammed.”
“I got him Zee, get the next one.”
Together they dragged and dropped ten more people through. He was working on another when the ship began to violently shake. Brimley grabbed Zee and in a run, dragged him by the collar towards the portal. The ship was disintegrating around them.
In an instant, he was in his family room. Unconscious bodies laying all around, his mom was checking on them to make sure they were alright. Sarah turned and saw Zee on the floor next to Brimley and burst into tears.
Reaching for him, he got up and went to her. He knew she needed this moment. For several minutes she held on tight and cried. Several of the boys were starting to awake.
“How many did we get Brimley?” Zee asked.
“Fifteen.” He answered.
Zee started to cry. Brimley moved in closer to put his arm around him.
“Your picture saved our lives.”
Brimley was confused.
“I’ll explain later. For now, just know I found the next step”.
Paris remembered why those numbers were familiar. They were coordinates. He’d seen the plot charts, pin pointing the location of the Safe Access Pod. And now those numbers were changing, updating as the pod and it’s contents moved further away from the spot of retrieval. Coordinates meant the devices could be tracked. Maybe they were being tracked even now.
“I’ve got to let someone know!”, Paris felt a sense of urgency.
As he moved for the door and opened to leave, a strange noise sounded from behind him. Before he could turn to see what it was, a chord wrapped around his throat. With violent force, his neck was broken and he, left lying on the floor. Strange figures, soldiers of some sort were standing over him. A tear trickled from his eye as his vision dimmed. Paris knew he had only seconds left in life and wouldn’t be able to warn anybody.