Chapter 5 – The True Nature of GirlsBraxden’s breath stopped, and his thoughts vanished. Pressing his body against the tree roots, he prayed for the best. The shorter girl wrapped a tight hand around the small animal’s snout. Angling her head, the taller girl glared at the pirates. The tall girl’s fingers stretched and recoiled across Braxden’s stomach. He thought about moving her hand away, but decided not to. She lengthened her neck further out, pressing deeper into his stomach.
Two pirates appeared. With flickering, semitransparent bodies they stepped into the path. While they appeared like normal soldiers, their clothes were tattered and they actually held laser rifles in their hands. A small metallic orb blinked from inside their chests.
Braxden considered Cindy, the artificial intelligence simulation system on the farm. She could only go about two hundred yards away from her home base. Somehow that orb allowed the pirate holograms a way to explore the world like a normal human would.
“I saw something over this way,” one of the pirates growled.
“We don’t need the boy. We need clues to find the girls. They are the ones he wants,” the other said.
The tall girl’s head twisted around. Noticing her hand, she yanked it toward her chest. Braxden lifted his eyebrows and forced a smile.
“I’m not going back to the Captain without makin’ sure he’s dead.”
“He’ll be dead soon enough. The crops are burned and this moon is not on any system’s charts.”
“I’d rather have his head in a sling or at least an ear, something to show the Cap’n.”
The thought of them cutting off his perfect ears sent shockwaves through Braxden. He gasped. The tall girl rotated her head around toward him and gave him the stink eye.
“What was that?” the first pirate asked.
“I didn’t hear anything.”
“It came from over there by that tree.”
Heart blasting against his chest, he searched the nearby woods for a place he thought they could run. By the time Braxden turned back around, the tall girl had pulled off a tiny piece of bark. She held it at chest level. With a flick of her fingers, she thumped it into the woods. It bounced off a few leaves and settled.
“Over there,” the second pirate said.
The pirates sped off into the woods.
Once they were out of earshot, the tall girl crawled over Braxden. “Nice going, noodle head.” Placing a firm hand against his shoulder, she pushed him into the roots. “C’mon Bria, let’s go.”
“We don’t need boys, especially ones that are idiots.”
“Hey, I’m not an idiot,” Braxden said in the loudest whisper possible. “They were just talking about cutting off my ears. I happen to like my ears.”
“I’d cut one off and give it to the pirates if I thought it’d make them go away.”
Everything inside Braxden stopped, and he placed his hands over his ears. She spun around with a smirk and shook her head.
The short girl and the animal glanced at him as the taller girl led them away. His mind whirled. He didn’t have a home to go back to, and his uncle was dead. He wasn’t even sure he could make it to Ms. Sloan’s before the pirates found him. The tall girl wanted to kill him, but she hadn’t thus far. Sooner or later, however, he might really lose an ear or a bit of his nose or something.
He sighed away the last of his pride. These two girls and their pet were his only hope.
After a long blink, he set off to find the girls.
In less than five minutes, he reached them.
The shorter one looked back and grinned. “Look, your best friend is back.”
The taller one glanced back at him and rolled her eyes. “What do you want, boy? I’m still okay with cutting off your ears, ya know.”
He grabbed his ears again. “Look, maybe we got off on the wrong foot. You stole from my family, and you think I hate you or something. But my Uncle Duncan always said to forgive and forget. So no worries—none at all.”
The tall girl didn’t even look at him. She glanced at the other girl and snickered. “That’s because his farm is on fire.”
Pain burst across his heart, but he forced the pain away. Biting his lip, he squared his shoulders. “Yes, that’s partially true. But I’ve also not made many friends my own age. So this is a great opportunity for me. The whole normal-childhood thing is a big… big concern of adults.”
“And you think we’re normal?” the tall girl asked.
“Hey, you’re all I know, so sure. In this sector of the galaxy, girls walk around the woods with knives and try to kill boys. As far as I know, that is completely normal behavior.”
She shook her head.
“I’m Braxden, by the way. Braxden Pan.”
The tall girl winced. “Pan? What kind of name is that?”
“I dunno. It’s just the name I was given. But you can call me Braxden or Brax.”
“Can I call you Brat?” the tall girl asked.
“No, my name is Brax.”
The shorter girl slowed her pace and drifted back beside him. “I’m Bria,” she said. “And that’s Sydney. And this is Nova.” She rubbed the head of the four-tailed animal.
“Can I pet her?”
“Sure, I think she’ll be okay now that you aren’t strangling me.”
Warmth spread over Braxden’s neck and shoulders. He dropped his head. “Sorry about that.”
Bria shrugged. “Eh, I’ve had worse.”
“So Nova’s a Yubbi weasel, right?” He reached out with his right hand and gently stroked Nova on the head.
“Yep. I found her on my planet before I joined up with the Wasure.”
He winced as the word entered his brain. “The Wha-sue-ray?”
“It means forgotten.” She leaned in. “‘Cause last I checked, no one is looking for us.”
“Where are your parents?”
“Taken by local raiders on my planet almost three years ago.”
“What about her?” Braxden gestured toward Sydney.
Expression darkening, Bria shook her head.
His gaze fell on Sydney who was about his same height. He had thought he was the only one who was alone, but she was too. With a twist of Sydney’s head, waves of frustration pounded into him from her one white eye. After glaring at Bria for a second, she rolled her eyes and turned away.
Braxden winced but placed his attention on Bria’s friendly face. “Sydney must have lived on one of the new colonies before the space navy. I heard they had it the worst during the Universal War. Entire continents were wiped out. So she’s a refugee, one of the lost children.”
Bria nodded. “Yeah… something like that.”
“By the way what were those space pirate things?”
“You mean the humans? They’re space pirates.”
“No, I mean the bluish ones that look like holograms.”
“Oh, the holobots?”
“Holobots?” His eyebrows rose.
“Yeah, we just call them that because they are really just robots in holographic form. They can still hurt you, though.”
The trees stopped, and the river bubbled across their path. It meandered slowly, sparkling in the midmorning sun, a huge difference from the raging waters by his house. The walls of the canyon stood in the distance with large yellow and red stone sparkling with cracks of glowing ore. Neverworld glowed pale blue in the pale sky. A few clouds drifted over the distant planet, barely visible from Rison.
A cargo ship sat on the far side of the river. It was shaped like a dune bug with two long metal appendages sticking out the front and folded wings on its side. Around the base, four girls carried large black containers from somewhere. With a shake of his head, Braxden realized they’d been stealing from all over Rison.
Stomping right up to the river’s edge, Sydney continued into the water. She waded across without pause or hesitation as though the river was nothing more than blue wind.
“Ugh, how does she do that?” Bria asked no one in particular. “Up you go, Nova.” She lifted the weasel to her shoulders and let it rest its paws on her head while she fumbled across.
Braxden waded in last but stayed close to Bria. As the cool water splashed against his hot skin, he cupped a few handfuls and swallowed the salty liquid down. After a minute or so, Braxden and Bria emerged on the other side, their pants soaked.
Four girls near the ship stopped and stared. As they held their loads, Braxden eyed the dozens of weapons on their waists, backs, and legs. Skin itching under the weight of their gaze, he turned his eyes toward the ground. Every few seconds, he’d glance in their direction, but he kept his gaze on Bria. With the skin along his neck and shoulders prickling, he took deep breaths to stay calm. The pirates were after these girls, and he had no idea why. However, they had to be special if the Maddox pirate said that he was searching for them.
A shadowy figure walked across the top of the ship and stole Braxden’s gaze. The body appeared human, but the Orange Sun glinted off the ship into his eyes. Two objects folded out from the figure’s back. Each stretched into what appeared to be two five-foot-wide wings that had an L shape.
The figure flashed away. Braxden searched the sky, but the figure whizzed around and disappeared. As darkness stretched over his face, something slammed into the ground in front of him. Braxden froze. His stomach knotted as the figure rose to its full height.
Swallowing hard, his spine curled into itself. Sydney had her knives. He wasn’t sure what this person would have.
His gaze found the figure’s eyes in the silhouette of the sun. The figure was not a girl like Sydney, at least not Sydney’s age. This was a woman, at least twenty years old and just tall enough to stand over him. For some reason, his mashed brain told him she was at least ten times that height.
She had long, dark hair that had bright green, glowing stripes in it. It could be from DNA splicing or just some kind of weird effect. Her skin was pale, and he recognized her features from people living in the Asia realm of Earth or at least one of the Japanese-based planets in the Ginga system. Her monolids lifted and two dark, almost black eyes peered at him.
She levitated from her position. As she rose, her green and yellow wings shone. Each metal wing was made of dozens of sharp geometric shapes and fitted into a compartment that jutted out from some kind of jetpack. The jetpack was on the small side with two large jets aiming down and two smaller ones on rotators that pointed to the side. The huge metallic contraption was locked over her butt with five belts, and a distortion wave wiggled around the back of her thighs. Whatever technology she was using to fly wasn’t far from his airboard.
He wasn’t sure where the woman had found the airpack. He had never seen any made quite like it, and it was a bit more advanced that the ones he’d seen before.
The woman neared, but lingered four feet off the ground. Sydney sighed and glanced up at her.
After five seconds of silence, the woman asked, “Who is this?”
Sydney waved a defiant hand. “Mitsuko, this boy followed us.”
Braxden glared at Sydney for a second as he etched the name into his mind—Mit-sue-ko.
Bria shook her head at Sydney and gestured toward him. “His name is Braxden.”
Mitsuko narrowed her eyes. “I don’t remember telling you to bring back any survivors. I just asked you to see how close the pirates were.”
“They’re still by the farm. Two tried to follow us but—” Sydney tucked her lips into her mouth.
“But what, Syd?”
Bria scowled at Sydney. “Braxden saved us.”
Sydney shook her head. “He alerted us that we were being tracked.”
Mitsuko circled Braxden, the mechanics of her airpack shifting and adjusting as she turned. “I thought you didn’t like boys, Syd.”
He craned his head to watch Mitsuko.
“I don’t,” Sydney barked.
“Yet, you bring one back with you. You know they’re like dogs. If you feed one, then they keep coming back.”
“So, can we keep him?” Bria asked with her eyes wide.
Mitsuko descended to the ground. Her wings collapsed into sheets and folded neatly into the airpack. With a glare, she spun around and walked to the ship. “No, he stays here.” She turned toward the other girls. “Wasure, come. It’s time to leave this rotten moon before we rot with it.”
“Hey!” Braxden yelled. “Don’t I get a say?”
Turning around, Mitsuko raised an eyebrow. “Oh? It speaks.”
“Yeah, I can talk. Don’t I get to say something, especially since you guys—er, girls—ladies have been stealing from my farm.”
As her eyes widened, a laugh sprang from Mitsuko’s throat. “I’ll steal from whomever I like. The concept of stealing is that I don’t owe you a favor. Now, if you want to take your supplies back, you’re welcome to try.”
His gaze fell on the four girls bringing other possible stolen items to the ship. Immediately, the girl in the front lowered a container. Reaching behind her, the girl’s hand gripped something. As the sound of metal sliding against metal scratched across his ears, a blade rose above the girl. The weapon was long, at least four feet and about eighteen inches wide. The razor sharp edge glowed in the midday sun. With a grimace, the girl pointed the weapon at him.
Stomach twisting, Braxden put his hands into the air and took a few steps back. “You know, I always liked this moon.”
Cracking a grin, Mitsuko turned away and nodded toward the ship. The razor girl put up her weapon as the other three girls behind her giggled. She picked up her container and continued loading the ship.
Smirking happily, Sydney turned around and followed Mitsuko. He sighed and took a step backward.
After walking over, Bria patted him on the shoulder. “I’m sorry, Braxden. I hope you don’t starve.”
“I’ll try my best.” His best sarcastic grin spread over his lips.
He rubbed Nova across the head and under the chin. The other four girls disappeared up the ship’s loading ramp.
As the engines of the ship roared to life, Braxden stood and watched. His insides burned, but there was nothing to say. There was no way he could fight his way onto a ship with sword fighting super-girls.
After everyone had boarded, Mitsuko grabbed the hydraulic rod to enter the ship. A red laser blast flashed over the grassy area. It whizzed a few inches from his shoulder, the heat leaving a soft burn on his skin. An area near the hydraulic rod exploded. As the boom echoed through the clearing, Mitsuko’s body flew back, hit the loading ramp, and tumbled away from the ship.
Chapter 6 – Witnessing the ImpossibleMitsuko’s body stilled. A wisp of smoke drifted from her shoulder. Bria’s scream echoed down the loading ramp. Without thinking, Braxden dashed to Mitsuko and flipped her over.
Eyes opening, her hand clenched his. She had a large red bruise on her head from some kind of impact.
“You okay?” he asked.
His fingers fumbled with a tear in her shirt. A black spot the side of his fist had been burned into her skin. As knots twisted his stomach, he touched the red outline. Wincing, she cried out.
A dozen more laser blasts came from the trees. Tiny explosions ignited on the ship’s surface and along the grass.
He yanked her body. “C’mon, we need to go.”
She pushed off the ground with her good arm, but her body wouldn’t move. Fingers gripping underneath her arms, he dragged her around to the loading ramp.
Pops sounded as the ship’s jets spun to life. A few moments later, the ship lifted and angled in the air. The loading ramp swung around toward his head. He pressed Mitsuko down and gently lay on top of her, shielding her body. As the ship passed over, the ramp scratched into Braxden’s back. Once the ship cleared, his hand clawed the new wounds along his shoulder blade.
The ship bobbled, but lifted a few feet over them. With a slight whine, the loading ramp closed. About halfway, it stopped, leaving an opening just large enough for someone to fit inside. A second later, the ship lowered in front of Braxden and Mitsuko, shielding them from the laser blasts.
The two metal rods near the ship’s front brightened into a yellow haze. A second later, a disc-shaped mass of energy whizzed over to the tree line. The whole area, at least ten pine trees, burst into flames.
Sydney jumped off the loading ramp which was four feet off the ground. Grimacing, she dashed over.
“Mitsuko! Mitsuko, are you okay?” she screamed.
“We need to get her to the ship,” Braxden said.
“You go. I’ll fight them off.”
He raised an eyebrow and then the other one, causing his forehead to dance. “Me go? What in the world? And what do you think you’re gonna do?”
She was crazy. Thirteen-year-old girls with knives can’t stop space pirates, especially ones with laser rifles. More pirates were probably on their way.
Zipping toward the river, Sydney pulled out the short rod from the back of her belt. With a shake it extended to a five-foot staff. As she ran, she tapped the staff along the ground.
Dust and grass exploded near her feet from laser blasts.
Braxden wrapped Mitsuko’s arm around his shoulder and dragged her toward the loading ramp. Continuous blasts burst along the metal. Pings dotted the side panel and cut through a few wires near the loading ramp. With a glance over his shoulder, he searched for Sydney.
After completing almost a full half circle around the ship and avoiding hundreds of blasts, Sydney sprinted about forty yards in front of the ship and slung a long black needle, almost like a metal chopstick, into the ground. She dashed to her right and four more needles cut into the ground, all about three yards apart.
She leaped into the air. Her hand held the staff as she swung it under her legs and then around her shoulders.
Even though he was steadily moving with Mitsuko, Braxden couldn’t take his eyes away. He had never seen anyone move like that, especially outside of a martial arts movie.
In one swing, she tapped the staff’s edge to all the needles sticking out of the ground. Then she sat down on her right knee with her left leg extended.
Two girls rushed down the ramp. They grabbed Mitsuko’s arms while Braxden lifted her legs. Mitsuko managed to get to her feet and the other girls led her away. Yanking himself onto the loading ramp, Braxden watched Mitsuko disappear inside. After the girls dragged her up a small ladder, Mitsuko hobbled down a tunnel at the top.
Twisting around, Braxden fell on his stomach. The loading ramp was still cracked open. His eyes searched for signs of Sydney, but she still hadn’t moved. She was a sitting duck out in the open.
The pirates noticed too, because the laser blasts stopped. Buzzing, a ringed robot whizzed toward Sydney.
“Look out!” he yelled.
The robot dashed across the sky, lowering down to snatch her. It came within fifty yards, forty yards, thirty, twenty, ten.
Sydney’s back arched, and she opened her eyes. However, instead of seeing one white iris and one green iris, both eyes radiated bright red as though flashlights had been turned on inside her eye sockets. She waved the rod again, tapping each needle once more in the opposite direction.
The surface of the ground rumbled. Braxden turned toward the ship, thinking it was taking off, but it was hovering gently. Gaze falling on the forest, twenty birds took flight. Branches and trunks swayed.
The area around the needles bubbled. Bits of dirt rolled over creating a mound. As a hissing sound cut into his eardrums, dust shot into the air. The ground cracked open and five boulders blasted out. Each shot up at least one story in height. Several were two stories tall.
One of the boulders hit the ring robot and smashed it instantly. It exploded with bits of metal flying into the air.
A small barrier sat before Sydney. Dust rolled off the top of the gigantic rocks, sifting to the ground. Braxden’s mind exploded in slow motion. That was impossible.
The shots from the trees started once more. The red lasers pounded into the new boulder wall, but none could penetrate it.
The glow in Sydney’s eyes faded, and her irises appeared once more. She stood, and with a flick of her wrist, the staff shrunk down to a foot long. After placing it behind her back, she quickened toward the loading ramp.
The bushes across the river wavered. A group of sixteen holobot pirates emerged.
A man darted to the front of the robot pirates. A thick black poncho with light gray etching covered his shoulders and cut at his waist. A decoration of lines and circles marked his right shoulder. The rest of his body was covered in dark heavy clothing. He swept his left arm through the air. For an instant, the sun’s light blinded Braxden, reflecting off a metal hand.
When Braxden’s vision cleared, three holobots had crossed the river and dashed up the bank. Sydney tossed another needle into the ground. Two more boulders rocketed through the grass. A cracking noise cut into the air with a light sizzling sound. He couldn’t see what happened, but only one guard remained.
The final guard leapt and tackled Sydney to the ground. With a twist, her needles tumbled into the grass. Rolling to the side, Braxden dropped from the loading ramp. He dashed over as his breath surged in and out of his mouth.
He didn’t know how she was summoning giant rocks. He didn’t know how she was a ninja at thirteen. He didn’t know why her eyes glowed like flashlights. He didn’t know how any of this was humanly possible, but—unlike the ninja girls—he couldn’t, wouldn’t leave her to die.
The holobot grabbed her wrists and pressed them down. With a large fist, he punched her in the side.
She wailed as Braxden rolled forward. With quick fingers, he scooped up one of the needles off the ground. Within a second, he stood over Sydney and her attacker.
“Stop!” Braxden yelled.
A bluish haze of a face glared up at him, and a smirk rested on the holobot’s lips. “What’re you going to do, boy?”
Braxden hesitated. His heart failed him, and the needle vibrated in his hands.
“Don’t have the heart to kill, I see,” the holobot spat.
“Do it. Pop him!” Sydney yelled.
Braxden stared at her. Pop? What in the world does that mean?
His gaze fell to the needle.
“Do it!” she yelled.
The holobot raised another high fist. Before the holobot could slam it down into Sydney, Braxden dashed over the last few feet. As hard as he could, he rammed the needle into the holobot’s forehead. The holobot’s face spun toward Braxden and twisted into fury. Stepping back, Braxden fell into the grass. The needle stayed lodged in the holobot’s head, but no blood oozed from his wound.
The holobot’s arms rose, and Sydney slid out from under it. She grabbed Braxden’s shoulders, but he couldn’t move. His mind locked in a trace, watching the holobot shake and scream in agony. The holobot’s entire body burned blue, not the normal haze that the holograms usually have over them, but a bright blue like he was a star.
A lightning bolt shot outward from the inside. It was like electricity rolled around underneath the holobot’s skin. It crackled as it slid from his arms to his legs to his face.
The holobot locked eyes with Braxden. “I’ll get you, you little—”
The holobot’s face dissolved, along with the rest of him. A sizzling filled the air. Where the holobot was a moment ago lay a tiny ball about the size of Braxden’s fist. Little electric arcs burst from the ball’s sides.
Sydney crawled over and stomped on the ball, flattening it into a pile of metal and glass.
“Let’s go,” she said.
She grabbed his arm and yanked him toward the ship.
Braxden stared at the other side of the river. The man with the metallic arm stood like a statue. Even though Braxden couldn’t see his eyes, the man’s stare bored holes into his skin—Captain Maddox, the pirate who had killed his uncle. Fury and fear fought in his mind.
Two more blasts came from the ship’s forward guns as Braxden and Sydney hopped on the loading ramp. Once they were inside, the loading ramp ascended to the belly of the ship and locked.
Darkness covered the walls, supplies, and passengers. Angry eyes watched Braxden, almost glowing in the faint red light.
The ship banked, and a ton of weight slammed him into the floor. He glanced at Sydney. Grimacing, she pressed her hands against the carpeted rungs of the cargo ramp.
Ten seconds later, the feeling subsided. He stumbled to his feet and glanced around the room. Two of the girls he’d seen with the stolen supplies were strapped into seats. Bria was next to them. Nova was in a small kennel on the other side of Bria.
The girls he didn’t know widened their eyes and darkened their expressions. Their gazes slid from Braxden to Sydney and back to him again. One of them shook her head in disgust.
He sucked his lips into his mouth. He was alive, and he’d deal with their boy-issues later.
His gaze fixed on the window right above Nova’s kennel. Like a zombie, he stood and made his way over to the window. Placing both hands on the glass, he stared into the blackness of space. Rison grew into a tiny white and green dot.
At that moment, a new existence dawned on him. He didn’t have a family. The farm he’d lived on for six months was lost. He was in space with at least seven girls who hated boys. These particular girls had some kind of superhero, ninja powers. And for all he knew were enemies of the most notorious space pirates that he had heard of which meant Maddox would come for them sooner or later.
That was not how Braxden thought the day would go.
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