By Jane Maree
I check my star-compass and adjust the Nebula’s course, following the needle toward a small, oddly shaped moon. The double suns to our stern stretch my shadows across the deck as I lean around the mainsail to see. At first, stardust seems to glow around the rock, but as we approach, the floating, glimmering objects shape into swarms of space life.
Luminescent tentacled jellyfish sway hypnotically. Twisting eels weave through clumps of coral that feed off nothing but the thin gases of space. A small dragon-like creature with leafy fins bobs beside a familiar sail-jet that belongs to the woman I’ve tracked here, Kalopsia.
Satisfaction wells within. This is the stardust guardian’s sanctuary.
“Weigh anchor,” I order, securing the tiller.
I sense someone’s gaze and find the old ship’s cook watching me quietly by the mast. I step to him. “This is it, Cookie. This will finally be the end.” He’s been with me through ten years of torment as I’ve sought vengeance. It feels right that he should be here to watch the end.
“For your sake, Pete, I hope it is the end.” Sadness glistens in Cookie’s eyes. He doesn’t need words to tell me that he doesn’t like this, but I need Kalopsia’s wish-granting stardust.
I turn from Cookie, lest doubt steal my resolve. I deserve this.
“I wish for death upon the Nova Alliance,” I whisper. Soon, I can finally leave this pain behind.
Clambering aboard the lifejet, I secure my oxygen mask and push off. Kalopsia’s sail-jet is empty, but stony clumps cover the moon, providing a myriad of places she could be hiding.
I secure my jet to one of these barnacle-crusted formations and, assisted by the weak gravity, leap onto the moon. Pinkish sand plumes beneath my feet.
I check my compass and glance in the direction of the pointing needle. Movement. I draw my pistol.
“You dare to threaten me in my sanctuary?” Kalopsia emerges from behind a boulder. Her hair floats around her cheeks, tinged auburn in the Holuvian suns’ light. “I told you, I don’t bargain with pirates.”
“I’m not here to bargain. Where is the stardust?”
She glares silently.
“Where is the stardust?” I cock my pistol.
Her eyes spark with defiance, and she draws a knife. “You’ve killed enough, Captain Dolion.”
She dares to stand between me and my vengeance? The fool. I curl my finger around the trigger, but Kalopsia attacks. Her blade nicks my sleeve as I dodge. My shot goes wild. She follows with a second swipe, and a leather cord slips from beneath her shirt—a key attached. I grab her wrist, wrestling the knife away and forcing her to drop it. She bares her teeth, but I tear the necklace free, then shove her back.
Out the corner of my eye, a flare rises from the Nebula. A fleet of ships emerge from the void beyond, bearing the spiral symbol of the Nova Alliance. My heart clenches.
They’ll go for the Nebula first, but a stray shot may obliterate this moon before I can find where Kalopsia has hidden her stardust. This key must unlock a chest…
I return my attention to Kalopsia. “Tell me where the stardust is, and we’ll leave. Or else the Alliance will destroy this moon and everything on it.”
“Tell you at what cost?” Kalopsia stamps her foot three times.
The ground lurches, pitching me against the nearest rocky formation. A rumble vibrates beneath me, and a fissure cracks across the sandy surface. Almost half of the moon falls away.
The pink surface of the space-rock blossoms to a burnt orange. Long strands peel away from the main shape—no, not strands. Glowing amber eyes turn on me as a giant kraken spreads its tentacles.
The creature roars as an explosion rocks its asteroid home. I dive for shelter beneath a stone arch as the kraken slides overhead. Green ooze blossoms from a mark on its side—a hit from an Alliance cannon.
The kraken bellows again, and one tentacle reaches past the Nebula to the closest Alliance vessel. It’s fighting for us! But it won’t be enough. Cannon fire streaks the void with red trails. The Nebula fires on the Alliance. The Alliance fires on the Nebula and the kraken.
Within the shallow cave, I stare helplessly as cannon fire hits my ship’s main mast and sends it crashing to the deck. I must find the stardust and finish what I came here to do. Even with a kraken, we cannot defeat the whole fleet. Not without a wish.
Pushing to my hands and knees, I notice a crumpled bed mat beneath me. Is this cave Kalopsia’s room? I scan the shelter and spot an odd-shaped shadow, crusted with barnacles.
A chest. I grab it, but a shadow hurtles into me. Kalopsia’s knife slices across my face in a burning line. I fall back, palm to my cheek, warm blood sticky between my fingers.
“You cannot take it!” Kalopsia clutches the chest, backing away.
Beyond her, the Nebula lurches. The kraken and our cannons have taken out half a dozen Alliance vessels, but a ship rams against the Nebula’s starboard. Alliance soldiers pour onto my deck. Too many.
I can’t just hide here while my crew is captured or killed. I snatch up my pistol—I must have dropped it when the kraken appeared—and aim.
The pistol kicks against my blood-slick palm, and Kalopsia takes the bullet in her shoulder, crumpling.
Seizing the chest, I unlock it. Golden motes glimmer within, and I don’t need proof that this is no ordinary stardust.
But my wish trembles, unspoken, on my lips.
I can wish my ship and crew to safety—a port for repairs and a medic for the injured… or fulfill my thirst for the Alliance’s destruction.
The ache of revenge traps my heart, but I kneel, frozen, as the Nebula keels to one side. After all these years… what do I truly want?