Sleeping quietly, Kefira Ben-Ami had learnt over the year that when something unexpected happens it usually occurs during the night when you’re fast asleep. She felt warm hands carefully shaking her, attempting to grab her attention. One eyelid opened, followed by the other.
“Kefira you need to wake up!” whispered Lawson in a panic.
Pushing herself up while at the same time attempting to stretch outwards, Ben-Ami gathered her surroundings and realised she had been in a deep sleep within the comfortable confines of her sleeping bag. She looked at Lawson and before she could ask what was wrong, she heard the heavy coughing and wheezing noise coming from one of their guests. Placing herself on autopilot, she climbed out of her bed and made her way over to where Edro sat being comforted in the arms of Sergeant Iyer.
Picking her medical kit up on her way over, she soon made her way over to their young friend to see what was wrong. It had been over ten days since Edro and his younger brother Roburn had joined them. Since then they had discovered that the boys had become lost when they had gone searching in the caves without their families. Edro had explained that their families were miners here on the planet, but since getting themselves lost they had not been able to find the entrance they had originally gone through. Ben-Ami had promised that the boys could stay with them until they were rescued and able to help both boys track down their families. During this time, she had found out that Edro and Roburn’s race was similar in physique to Humans, as such Edro suffered from something similar to asthma symptoms. Unfortunately for him she didn’t carry the right equipment to properly treat him, which resulted in him becoming unwell the last few days. Taking out her stethoscope she warmed it up in her hands before placing it on his back to hear his breathing. He had gotten used to her doing this to him and took in several deep breaths to help her with her examination. He was getting worse. She took out her medical scanner to see if there was anything else she could do, but sadly she knew there was nothing. What medicines she had left wouldn’t help him. She really needed access to her sickbay to help him recover.
“Continue those breathing exercises I taught you.” She said as she continued to listen to his breathing.
Edro nodded and just held tightly on to Iyer’s hand. Eventually he was able to calm himself down and appear more relaxed with his suffering. Pleased he was no longer in any danger, Ben-Ami stood up and suggested for him to get back to bed and to rest. She got up from where she knelt beside him to see Ensign Hathaway holding on to Roburn. It was clear he had woken up from hearing his brother’s coughing fit and had become upset over what he was witnessing. Calming him down through stroking his hair, Hathaway eventually got the toddler to fall asleep in her arms. Ben-Ami just smiled at the pilot as she made her way over to where she kept all of her gear. Lawson followed her over.
“We need to think about getting ourselves out of here.” Lawson quietly said, hoping to avoid disturbing the others.
Ben-Ami nodded in agreement. “You’ll get no argument from me, Montana.” She returned. “However right now where do we go? I know living in a cave isn’t glamorous, but it’s warm, safe and secure.”
“I know, I just feel helpless!” Lawson explained, appearing deflated at their current predicament.
“All we can do right now is survive this and hope and pray that someone will find us!” The doctor said as she packed her gear away before heading back to her bed to fall back asleep. Iyer’s scanner then beeped. Ben-Ami stopped walking and turned to look at the MACO. They all knew what that alarm meant.
Iyer had already pulled out the computer device from his pocket and was quickly trying to work out what it was telling him. “Three of our proximity trips have detected movement.” He announced to the group.
Ben-Ami moved over to his side to see what was happening. Reading the device from over his shoulder she saw what he had reported before a fourth one went off. Adrenaline began to rush over. It was either someone rescuing them, or someone who could potentially be hostile. Iyer had set up the invisible portable laser trips around the cave entrance to give them an early warning system.
“Montana, take the boys further into the cave.” She ordered.
The chef nodded and quickly picked Roburn out of Hathaway’s arms before encouraging Edro to follow her as she took out her phase pistol and handed him her torch.
Hathaway had picked up the phase rifle that was nearby, chucked it at Ben-Ami while picking up another one for herself. Iyer had copied their actions and took his own rifle out before taking up a defence posture behind a boulder. Ben-Ami and Hathaway had done the same and crouched behind a large rock on the other side to where Iyer stood.
Ben-Ami had taken out her own scanner, setting it to silent mode, so she could see how far their guests were. They had gone past the last checkpoint and were mere metres from the caves entrance. Thankfully where they had set up their little camp away from the entrance, behind the boulders they were hiding behind which meant their incoming visitors would not see any of their gear at first. Her scanner kept on refreshing the information it could give her. Every three seconds it updated with more information. Three people were incoming. They entered the cave. The scanner showed they were arm. Ben-Ami controlled her breathing. Looking at Hathaway she could see the young pilot doing the same. Nodding at her, the doctor slowly crept to look through a small crevice that gave them a clear sight to see who was there. Three tall figures stood tall, holding rifles with torches attached to them. They were quickly scanning their surroundings. One of them held a device in their hands. They lowered it.
“Doctor Ben-Ami?” A thick Canadian accent shouted towards their direction.
Ben-Ami recognised that voice automatically and stood up. “Major?” She said as she was confronted with the sight of their MACO leader along with Ensigns Hennessey and Gonçalves.
Yu had been wearing night goggles, she ripped them off from around her face and pulled them back to be on top of her hair. “We are glad to see you all.” Yu said with a warm smile.
Ben-Ami walked out to their crewmates and went over to greet them with Iyer and Hathaway joining her. “How did you find us?” She asked the group.
“It took some time to determine where you had landed and then when we found your escape pod we then had to work out where you went.” Yu answered. “Where’s Chef?”
Ben-Ami gestured for Iyer to go find Lawson along with their two guests. “She’s taking refuge further in the cave.”
Yu appeared puzzled at that statement. “How come?”
Ben-Ami hadn’t much time to respond as Iyer had rushed to go and get Lawson and the boys. Lawson was now walking up with the two boys.
“Well this should be an interesting story.” Hennessey remarked from where he stood next to Yu.
“Edro, Roburn I want you to meet members of our crew.” Ben-Ami said, encouraging the two boys to come further. “This is Major Viktoria Yu, Ensign Ned Hennessey and Ensign Cristiano Gonçalves.”
Roburn was still cranky from being woken up from his sleep and only cuddled further into Iyer who had taken the youngster into his arms to free Lawson up. Edro only greeted the other three with a nod.
Yu smiled at them and looked at Ben-Ami. “Natives?” She asked.
“We think so.” Ben-Ami said. “They’ve been lost in these caves for some time and stumbled on to us shortly after we arrived.”
“Do we take them back with us?” Gonçalves inquired.
“Of course, we do Cristiano.” Hathaway countered back with.
“Angela’s right, we can’t leave them here and Edro isn’t well.” Lawson added.
Yu nodded in agreement. “We have a lot of your resources from sickbay back at our base camp.”
“Good.” Ben-Ami said. “Talking of a base camp, I assume you’ve set up in a secure place and the crew are okay?”
“They are.” Yu answered. “We landed on a tropical island and modified one of the escape pods to help us get here.”
“Well why don’t we pack up our gear here and head back with you guys?” Iyer suggested.
“I second that.” Lawson remarked. “Being stuck in a cave for another ten days does not appeal to me.”
“But living in a tent does?” Yu asked the cook.
“A tent on a tropical island, what more could a girl ask for?” Lawson threw back with a grin.
The group laughed and began gathering everything that Ben-Ami’s group had taken from their escape pod to survive. They may have been moving from one camp to another, but Ben-Ami was glad she would see the rest of their crew.
Sitting comfortable, Corporal Jenkins found himself enjoying the meal he was currently having. It was some sort of cooked breakfast that reminded him, on some level, the way his mother cooked an English breakfast. Currently he was in his own room, sat out on the balcony looking out at the bright morning Ardanan sky. It was beautiful. He could understand why High Advisor Tonisus wanted to protect it. The sound of wind chimes going off caught him off guard, he was still getting used to that noise as being the doorbell.
“Come in.” He answered as he looked through the bay doors to see who was coming in.
Opening, the doors made a swishing noise allowing for a tall, blonde and beautiful woman to enter. She had deep sky, crystal, blue eyes. Her blonde hair was as bright as the sun and was tied up into a high beehive style bun. She wore a long, black sleeveless jumpsuit that had flared bottoms with a white lacy shawl that hung from her arms. High-heeled shoes that were encrusted with diamonds (just like other parts of her outfit) made her appear taller. If she was human, she appeared to be in her late thirties or early forties. Her plump pink lips glistened against the sunlight, which only went on to show how immaculate her make-up had been applied.
“Loianna, I wasn’t expecting you.” Jenkins said in surprise to his visitor.
The Ardana woman appeared to glide into the room, still keeping her warm smile. “I’m sorry Liam I didn’t realise I was disturbing you. I can come back another time?”
“No, no, please come in.” The young MACO said, still showing his unpreparedness for his guest. “Please join me out here.” He finally said after standing from his chair and offering her to join him out onto the balcony.
She smiled in gratitude and moved to be with him. He went over to the seat next to his and pulled it for her. Her smile grew at his manners while holding the chair out for her.
“I find your Human mannerism so amusing.” She remarked as she sat down and thanked him. “You say your people believe in equality, but your men appear to act differently around women.”
Jenkins chuckled at that as he took his own seat again. “My mother and father raised my brother and I to be perfect gentlemen. My mother always said when a lady entered the room the men should always pay her presence with their respect. Pulling a chair out, holding a door for them, that type of thing.”
“And it doesn’t matter how wealthy you are?” She enquired.
Shaking his head, Jenkins replied. “No not now, but over a century ago that type of thing did bother people too back on Earth.”
She smiled in appreciation of him sharing more cultural knowledge with her. Since their arrival on Stratos, Loianna and he had spent a lot of time together. “Well I thought I would take you to one of our most revered exhibits from the Plasuan Dynasty.” She paused after realising she had babbled that all very quickly. “That’s if you’re interested?”
Jenkins who had taken a sip from what he believed was tea nodded in response. “Oh, I am, however, don’t you have any work of your own to complete? I’m sure the office of the Deputy High Advisor must keep you occupied. I would hate to get you behind in your work.”
“Nonsense Liam. I enjoy spending time with you, getting to know more about your race and sharing all there is about mine. High Advisor Tonisus and our military advisors are busy with Ensign Conrad and Second Lieutenant Trommler, while Ensign Metaxas is continuing with repairs to your shuttlepod.” Loianna stated.
In Jenkins’ thoughts he knew what she said was true about them spending time together. Since being introduced over a week ago he had sparked a good working relationship, almost friendship, with Ardana’s Deputy High Advisor. Loianna was an intelligent, beautiful woman yet commanded her respect from her peers with a calm and peaceful manner. He understood why Tonisus had picked her to be his second-in-command. In some sense the two Ardanan leaders’ style of relationship reminded him of how Captain Burton and Commander Levesque were with each other. They trusted each other whole-heartedly with their close relationship, yet were extremely professional in front of others. They made an excellent team, just like Burton and Levesque.
“I should really check in with Ensign Conrad today.” Jenkins stated.
Loianna stood up, “Then let’s do that now before we reach half-cycle.” She said as she offered her hand to him.
Jenkins was still translating some of the Ardanan words and phrases to what they meant. Cycle meant day while half-cycle meant midday. “How can I refuse?” He said back after taking her hand and standing up next to her. She linked her arm into his and led them both out of his room.
If there was one thing that Jenkins would take away from his experience on Stratos was the appreciation of how diverse art could get. He was never one to appreciate it before, but Loianna had gone out of her way to expose him to various paintings, sculptures, music and pieces of literature. They had moved swiftly across the city after checking in with Ensign Conrad and Second Lieutenant Trommler. Conrad had told Jenkins with the amount of cultural observations he was taking, he expected him to write up a report about it all. On the other hand, Trommler had joked with the younger MACO saying that he hoped Loianna knew he was engaged, as he was certain the Ardanan politician had a thing for Jenkins.
“The Plasuan Dynasty occurred just before our cloud cities were launched. It brought an end to a massive global conflict that had killed millions.” Loianna explained gently as they entered what appeared to be a museum.
“Earth went through three world wars too before we reached absolute global peace.” He returned.
“Thankfully the last remaining monarch, Queen Plasuan, unified the warring factions together. She was a mighty warrior, a strong diplomat and quite the artist as well.” Loianna said as they entered a room and came face-to-face with a large portrait of a woman who sat on a throne. She wore a crown, had long regal robes on and quite the determined, yet beautiful face. “She established the Advisory Assembly to help govern Ardana, but she didn’t want any typical government. She wanted it to be a mixture of elected officials working alongside experts in various fields of science, engineering, the arts and religion.”
“You said she was the last remaining monarch, how come?” Jenkins asked as they looked up at the painting of the mighty leader.
“Well due to our global conflict most royalty had been killed off and there was a massive social upheaval between the different classes. Queen Plasuan decided she would not bear any heirs once she felt the Assembly was strong enough to govern without a monarch.” Loianna said. She looked at Jenkins, “Does your world have any monarchs?”
Jenkins nodded. “It does, however they’re only figureheads for their nations. The country I come from has a king and queen leading it. In fact, my country has one of the richest histories of having a royal family.”
“I would love to visit your world one day.” Loianna said with sincerity. “Tell me Liam, you said you don’t have any cloud cities on Earth, do your people all dwell on the land?”
Jenkins found the question an unusual one to ask. “Yes, we all live together in peace and are governed by an elected parliament. The United Earth Government is led by a president and prime minister, who is part of a political party that must gain a majority of seats in the Houses of Parliament to effectively govern.”
“I found the entire process bizarre. We Ardanas either dwell within our cloud cities if you are wealthy enough, if not then you live on the surface or serve as city-dwellers.” Loianna stated.
“That sounds like a caste-system.” Jenkins remarked. “The poor must live below while the rich live in luxury.”
Loianna became shocked and upset by his words. “Liam, I promise you that is not the case. Those who live on the surface choose to be there, they live peaceful happy lives in their small settlements, some even within the caves mining zenite. They trade with us, but don’t want to be among us. Those that do are unable to afford the living expenditures here, so they find work serving our communities in various forms. This way of life has kept us in peace for over half a millennium.”
Jenkins couldn’t grasp why anyone would want to live in a world where two societies co-existed under such conditions. “And everyone is happy with that arrangement?”
Loianna looked around sheepishly, it was obvious she didn’t want anyone to hear what she was going to say. “There are only a small handful of people from the surface who do not favour us, but they keep to themselves.”
Finally understanding what she was saying, Jenkins replied. “Is that why High Advisor Tonisus wants us to find our crew before anyone else does? In case our presence entices those who might be against your way of living?”
“Can you blame him for not wanting to upset the delicate social balance our world sits on?” She returned with.
It was a tough choice, Jenkins couldn’t dispute that, but he still didn’t like it.