Which involves rats and Rendar

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After a brief hiatus, it’s my pleasure to welcome you, once again, to Fighting For the Galaxy Fridays!

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…on a Saturday, for some reason.


(For chapters 1-5, head over to the FFTG main page.)

Fighting For the Galaxy
by (13-year-old) T.J. Baer

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CHAPTER SIX

In which T.J. reveals the rat-infested depths of her psychic dreams, Jess rallies surprisingly well after being riddled with bullets, and the gang gets acquainted with the evil Sffons’ mind-reading computer.

* * *

Captain Torel Abrigio thanked God that he had decided to go visit his mother in Philadelphia. When he got to the rubble of the once magnificent GaMi headquarters, he realized that the Sffon had already swept the area and were gone. They hadn’t completely taken over the planet. They had blown up GaMi headquarters and several other buildings nearby, and had landed in a small ship and picked up anyone nearby. Then they had just left. All ten ships were gone.

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“Must’ve been a hit and fade,” he said to his mother as they surveyed the damage.

As he circled the remains of the building, he saw an unmoving form a few feet away from him. Abrigio ran towards the body and knelt down beside her.

“McKinney!” he exclaimed as he recognized Jessica’s face. She had been shot several times by the Sffon and then just left on the sidewalk to rot.

“Is she dead?” his mother asked as they stood above Jessica.

“I think so,” he answered. “She’s not breathing.”

“Check for a pulse,” she suggested helpfully.

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He obeyed. “Oh, my God. She’s still got one.”

He did CPR on her and for a few tense moments, she did not breathe. Suddenly, she coughed and started breathing.

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“Mark!” Jessica exclaimed. She groaned in pain. “Captain?”

“Yes.” Abrigio picked her up and said, “We’re going to get you to the hospital.”

They made good time, and in ten minutes they arrived at the hospital in town. Philadelphia’s hospital had been destroyed, so Abrigio was glad he wasn’t there anymore.

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He brought Jessica into the emergency room and watched as some doctors wheeled her away in a stretcher. She had fallen unconscious, but she was still breathing.

Abrigio and his mother waited anxiously in the lobby for an hour before a nurse came out to tell them of her condition.

“You got her here just in time,” the nurse said. “A few minutes later and we would’ve lost her. We patched up her wounds and she’s recovering. I’m glad to say she’s in stable condition after five shots to the back. Luckily, the bullets didn’t hit anything major, just went straight through and came out the other side.”

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Abrigio thanked him and he and his mother went to Jessica’s room and looked in. She was lying on her back, still unconscious but breathing normally. She was wearing a white hospital gown, but he could see the many bandages through the gown.

* * *

“Somewhere in there, I saw Jessica.”

Rendar and Jen both looked at the floor at the mention of their fallen friend.

“Well, then, maybe I don’t really die,” Rendar suggested hopefully.

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T.J. shrugged, glanced at Mark, then returned her gaze to the violet eyes in front of her. “Maybe,” she said. “Maybe not. I just don’t know. I wish my dreams were more precise, more clear as to exactly what will happen.”

“At least you get a glimpse at what will happen,” Jen said. “That’s likely to be a hell of a lot more helpful than nothing at all.”

Rendar nodded, admitting silently that Jen had a very good point there. “What else about that dream didn’t I hear? How long was it? What else happened after you saw Jessica?”

She turned her face away. “Nothing. The dream ended there.”

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It was obvious as hell to Rendar and Jen both that she was lying through her teeth, but he didn’t know why.

“Now, come on, T.J.,” he said. “What happened?”

She averted her eyes as she struggled to answer the question. “It was nothing.”

“Was it something about me?” Jen asked worriedly.

T.J. shook her head.

“Mark?”

Again the negative.

Rendar looked at Jen, then looked at T.J., then realized what it was about. “It was about you, wasn’t it?” he asked her.

She paused, and for a minute he was afraid she wouldn’t answer him at all.

“Yes,” she said at last, her voice sounding hoarse.

He hesitantly laid his hand on her shoulder. “What was it?”

T.J. took a deep breath and finally lifted her head. Rendar could see the tears streaming down her face as she tried to find the right words.

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* * *

“What— Where am I?” were the first words out of Lieutenant Jessica McKinney’s mouth when she awoke.

Captain Abrigio stood above her with a graying woman she didn’t recognize, and then she realized with a shock where she was.

“I’m in the hospital!” she exclaimed. “Why—” But before she could complete her sentence, she remembered what had brought her here.

With great pain, she recalled the entire incident outside the remains of GaMi headquarters. The Sffon, her own panic attack, the pain—the great pain—as bullets invaded her body and punctured great holes in her that sent warm red blood cascading down her front and back. And she saw Mark’s face.

“Where’s Mark?” she shrieked.

Abrigio and the woman exchanged glances. “I don’t know,” Abrigio said. “I assumed he was killed in the blast.”

Jessica shook her head urgently. “No, he was there, and then the Sffon came. They must have taken him away!”

A blond female nurse that Jess had not noticed before took Abrigio and the woman to what she thought to be out of Jess’s hearing range. It wasn’t.

“She’s a little delirious from her wounds,” the nurse said solemnly. “Losing friends and people you love can often launch a person into shock. If you say this Mark was killed in the blast, then she’s probably just imagining that he’s really still alive to make herself feel better. It would probably be better to just let her believe that until she’s more fit to deal with her loss.”

“No!” Jess cried from her bed, making an effort to sit up but failing. “He’s not dead! T.J. and Jen and Rendar and Steve are all alive, and so is Mark! I saw them!”

The nurse nodded. “I know, they’re alive. Don’t worry, Jessie, honey, we believe you.”

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“Don’t patronize me!” Jessica screamed. “HE’S ALIVE! Why won’t you believe me? I’m not in shock!”

The nurse pulled out a needle and plunged it into Jessica’s flesh. “You need to sleep, dear, you’re getting too excited.”

“No, NO, don’t make me got to sleep!” Jess protested. “You’ve got to believe me!”

“You’ll feel better after a nice little nap, dear,” the nurse said soothingly, and Jess lay back and decided to succumb to the weariness that attacked her fogged mind. Maybe sleeping would make it all go away.

* * *

“It wasn’t just about me,” T.J. said quietly to Rendar, although she knew that Jen was listening. “It was about you, too.”

He gave her a puzzled look. “But I thought I was already dead.”

She shook her head. “I never said that. You heard me say on the tape that I hoped they killed me instead of you, but I didn’t say when they killed you.”

Jen, who had been attentively listening, sat back until she was in a horizontal position on the floor. “This is getting way to weird for me,” she said. “I’m gonna get some sleep while I can.”

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“So what happened?” Rendar inquired after Jen had fallen asleep, wondering if this was something he really wanted to know.

T.J. shivered at the memory of her fore-dream’s vividness. Rendar noticed that she kept her voice down low. “We were in another room. I think it was a new day, but I’m not sure. Steve wasn’t there anymore. There was a new person.” She glanced at Jen, made sure that the girl was really asleep, and continued. “I didn’t want to say anything in front of Jen and Mark, but they were in it, too. We were in the room for a few minutes with the man, and he didn’t say much, but then they brought in Jen and Mark.” She paused for a moment, then continued. “And then they killed Jen.”

Rendar’s eyes widened. “How, how did she, uh, die?”

She swallowed. “They slit her wrists and let her bleed to death slowly. It was awful.”

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“Then they asked me to tell them how I knew their secret codes. They told me that if I didn’t tell them how that they would kill off my friends one by one in front of me.”

“How did you—” he wondered, but figured it out by himself. “The dream,” he said. “You got the codes from the fore-dream, didn’t you?”

She nodded. “I told them that, but they didn’t believe me. They thought that I had an informant from the Sffon and kept asking me who I got the information from.”

“Why didn’t they just use the mind probe or something?”

T.J. shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe something happened to it. They only have one, you know. If they had more, it would make dominating planets a lot easier.”

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“Did they kill one of us?”

She nodded again, a salty teardrop tracing a path on her already tear-stained face.

“Who?” he asked. “Me?”

“Yeah.”

He gazed at her, getting the shivers as he asked the one question he had always wondered about himself. “How do I die?”

“Trust me, you don’t want to know. You’ll sleep better nights if you don’t.”

He shook his head, though fear was beginning to grip his mind as he thought of the gruesome possibilities. “No, I want to know. I need to know.”

T.J. hesitated, then met his eyes. “I’m only telling you this because you want to know so badly, because normally I would not tell something like this to anyone. First, they strapped you onto a table. Then they brought over this cage of, of rats.”

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“Rats?”

“Rats. They opened up the bottom of the cage and laid it on your chest. You can probably guess what happened after that.”

nope-trainHe closed his eyes, then quickly opened them after seeing the image of tiny teeth gnawing at his skin, eating through his flesh and biting into his organs. He shuddered. “Oh, my God. And they made you watch?”

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“For seven long hours. And that was just the dream. Rendar, I really don’t want to watch you die, ever. Especially not that way. That’s why we have to get out of here and avoid all that.”

He hugged her tightly. “It’s okay. We’ll get out of here. Don’t worry.”

Neither of them slept well that night, but that was to be expected. The next morning, they arrived at the planet Sffonia and were dragged out of the ship. Mark never said a word the whole time, but then, none of them did. The Sffon and Steve led them through the crowded streets of the capital city of Carilig, all of them in shackles. They were treated like circus animals and were definitely the main attraction as they walked.

Sffon whistled, cheered, and threw bits of food at them as they passed. T.J. was positive that their captors could’ve arranged for a vehicle to take them to wherever their destination was, but this was obviously part of the humiliation of being human on an all Sffon planet. For a moment they stopped while the leader of their little group decided to chat with a man in uniform standing on a street corner. Sffon pushed and shoved to get a look at them, and a blind Sffon woman with a cane ran into Rendar, then started screaming, “I smell a human!” and ran off.

“Man,” Jen muttered, itching her face with her shackled hands, “this really sucks.”

The lead Sffon slapped her face so hard it sent Jen reeling onto the hard sidewalk. “I didn’t say you could talk, human!”

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None of the Sffon attempted to help her get up, so she had to do it herself, which was not exactly easy with her hands tied. Eventually she did it, and the leader seemed incredibly annoyed that she had taken so long. A number of choice words flashed through Jen’s mind, but she was intelligent enough not to say any of them.

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Finally they got to where they were going, a huge room with stained glass windows and statues all over the place. The walls and floor were white marble, and the Sffon with their wicked little weapons looked quite out of place in the cathedral-like room. Speaking of things that looked out of place, there was a monstrosity of technology that most in the galaxy feared immensely sitting on a raised platform at the far end of the grand room. The mind probe.

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As they got closer, Jen could make out more details of the machine. There was a seat with straps attached to the sides of it that were obviously for the prisoner. There was a headband type of instrument that hung above the chair, wires of all sorts trailing off different ends of it. It was definitely not the sort of place that Jen would enjoy visiting more than once, if even once. The foul stench of past prisoners’ pain was all too fresh as they approached the mind probe.

Rendar didn’t care if he got slapped, he had to curse. “Aww, damn,” he said as they prepared to strap him into it. They did not strike him, but one of them smiled at his prisoner’s fear.

“Don’t worry,” the leader said mock-sweetly. “This’ll hurt you a lot more than it’ll hurt me.”

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“How comforting,” Rendar grumbled sarcastically, wanting to punch the guy in the nose.

Rendar closed his eyes an instant before they switched the damn thing on, and wished he were elsewhere. It didn’t hurt as much as it felt like they were ripping skin off the top of his head and yanking out his brain.

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It wasn’t that bad, but it was bad enough. It felt like someone was putting an immense amount of pressure on his forehead and he also felt like his face was numb—actually, more like the pins and needles effect of when your foot falls asleep. Not altogether a pleasant experience.

He wondered briefly what they were learning from his brain.

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Rendar had studied page after page on this mind probe in the computer back at GaMi headquarters, so he pretty much knew how it worked. It interfaced with the brain, actually making the brain believe it was supposed to be there, and asked it questions. The information was then sent back to the main computer screen to be analyzed and reviewed.

After a few moments, Rendar was done and it was Mark’s turn. He said nothing as the Sffon spoke to him as he had done to Rendar.

Next was Jen, then T.J. It was T.J. he was the most scared about. If it asked her if she knew any of the codes from Sffon headquarters, things could get a bit sticky. T.J. was nervous, too. She knew what it was doing. She heard it ask her mind the question of whether or not she knew the code, and before she could do anything, her mind answered. She was doomed. T.J. wished the machine would short-circuit right there.

Rendar watched in amazement as sparks flew from the computer panel. Without warning, the entire mind probe machine shut down. The Sffon puzzled at that, unstrapped T.J. from the seat, and yelled for someone to fix it. Luckily for the Sffon, the computer had had time to print out the last question and answer before shutting down and short-circuiting. Four Sffon guards escorted them into a long hallway where groans and sobs could be heard plainly from behind closed doors. It was obviously a prison.

T.J. shivered as the door was opened to a cell that she recognized as the one in her nightmare. One guard shoved her and Rendar into it and continued down the hall with Jen and Mark. A guard snickered at them before he closed and locked the door.

“This is it, isn’t it?” Rendar asked.

“Yeah.” She walked around the room and glanced around as if this was the first time she had ever seen it. “God, are we in trouble.” She sat down beside him, and he put his arm around her shoulder.

* * *

“Please, Captain, you have to believe me! They are alive. The Sffon came and took them away.” Jess pleaded for him to trust and believe her, again. It seemed that that had been what she had been doing for the past half hour. “I’m positive they’re on Sffonia. I mean, where else would the Sffon take them to?”

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The captain sighed. “Look, Jessica, we’ve been through this a thousand times. Your friends were killed in the explosion. Eventually you’ll discover that I’m right and you’ll calm down. Wouldn’t you like to take another nap?”

“No,” she said, getting just slightly frustrated. Okay, maybe more than slightly. Finally, she decided that the only way to get anywhere would be to take matters into her own hands, even if she was still recovering from near-fatal gunshot wounds.

She punched Captain Abrigio in the jaw.

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He fell backwards and slammed his head on the floor. The blow was just enough to knock him out. Jessica ran over to the supply closet a little ways down the hall and changed into a janitor’s outfit so she could remain inconspicuous in the hospital. She stopped to look into a mirror and adjust her new uniform.

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After pulling down the cap so it covered most of her face in case she ran into someone who knew what she looked like, Jessica walked briskly down the hall. No matter if she had to steal a ship to get there, she was going to get to Sffonia and rescue her friends and Mark.

* * *

“This is amazing,” the technician said as he examined the inside of the mind probe.

The leader looked at him. “What is it now?” he asked impatiently, quickly tiring of this boy’s wonder of every single system and bi-system of the machine.

“Whoever screwed this thing up commanded the probe to shut down. For good.”

“What?” he asked incredulously. “How?”

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The boy shrugged. “I don’t know. The probe can command the brain to do stuff. I guess whoever did it was aware of what the probe was doing exactly, and just told it to shut down or short circuit or something.”

The leader, Karil Sokat, raised his eyebrows. “How could a mere human do this much damage?”

“Sir!” a voice exclaimed. The analytical technician had the printed out sheet in his hand. “She knows our security passwords!”

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TO BE CONTINUED…

Click here for Chapter 7.

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